the love of radio

i remember once walking with dad down the sidewalk in venice, behind a woman who was wearing a long, tailored coat, her hair up in a messy twist at the back of her head, high-heeled shoes, and no pants. the jacket came to just below her buttocks. as we came up behind her, i snuck glances at dad, who looked straight ahead with a poker face. he pretended not to see anything. then we had to wait at the stoplight, right next to the woman, who stood in front of us while dad's eyes shifted to the left, the right, dipped down for a brief second, then away again. meanwhile i tried to contain the glee i always feel when he's reacting to something: he's here! he's present! we've got his attention, folks....both of us were trying to see if she was wearing panties. i found the temptation to watch my dad almost irresistable, because he is always appears to be completely composed (even if the poker face gets a bit much) and in situations where he genuinely doesn't know what the fuck to do, i cannot resist the urge to giggle about it. maybe that means i am permanently 16 years old, in some reptilian, incorrigible corner of my brain. or maybe it means i like the unpredictable's effect on people who thrive on the predictable. maybe that's mean. but it's too funny, it can't be, can it?

she remained silent and composed, but neither of us could look directly at her. i was maybe more embarrassed, but secretly delighted. this, after all, was why i lived on Venice Beach, which is like nowhere else on earth. jim morrison was here...joe frank was here....countless movie stars lounged around these shabby tables, caressed by salt air, watching the human parade every day....what more could you ask?

when the light changed, i jumped into the street and began to walk around her, to get in front of her so we wouldn't be walking behind. dad hustled to keep up with me. i shot a glance to the side, but found i couldn't look. i really couldn't do it, that is, look to see if she had panties on. in the end, i chickened out. but it didn't really matter.

at that time it was spring, a misty, shrouded-in season near the southern california coast, which i find beautiful because the light is gentle and takes on so many variations; and because the air is damp and salty, and alive in a way inland air is not. "it's all the negative ions," said an old neighbor, jeffrey eisen, who surfed the malibu waves daily. jeffrey talked about the subtle ways in which the world around us, depending on where we live, can be beneficial or destructive. i knew him for the four years i lived in malibu, and i knew him very little or not at all. i loved his mother and father, though, and still think of them quite often. they are two stars in my universe that still shine in my mind, but whom i can't visit. i think i didn't seem to appreciate them as much as i actually did. i was frozen in my own private turmoil then, and had so little energy left over with which to make contact. the time i was able to give them (they seemed always available to me)was given grudgingly, which makes me sad now.

people who are older fascinate me. they have seen so much more than i have. even if you disagree with their ideas or choices, they have stories. and anyone who simply wants to share time with you, without judging you or demanding more than you can give, without self-serving motives, is a friend. i didn't appreciate that then, as much as now. it's taken a while to begin to see the difference between people who kiss your ass, or let you kiss theirs; and real friends.

i'm not sure my dad knows the difference, and this is a source of heartbreak for me. but he himself has been a source of heartbreak for so many years, period; layers of frustration upon heartache upon resentment upon let's stop this negative-emotion sandwich, could we? and just call it a day? i can accept his limits, and have for all these years. finally i just want to be able to live in my reality, and not be told i'm nuts. it really doesn't seem like so much to ask....does it? r.e.s.p.e.c.t find out what it means to me. sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me sock it to me. a little respect when you come home.

he won't give an inch, he won't acknowledge that my opinion counts for anything in the family system, in any way. the price of admission to his family was, and always has been, that i pretend i'm okay while dying inside, and also take the entire blame on my head for not being ok. that's the part i just can't swallow anymore. it turns to tumor laden ulcer jello and infects the air around me with rotten brain twists and paranoid compulsiveness. emotional spasming and flailing and a hell-world of distorted thinking. i would much rather have my peace pipe, and smoke it, and if it brings me peace, that adds two more years to my life, even if it takes one off for respiratory reasons. as i haven't found anything better, this is what it is. i have my medicine bag, with prescription pills from my doctor, and powdered leaves and roots that i buy from individuals around the planet, through the internet. it is a marvelous bag and anyone with a mood disorder generally has one. this is not the only treatment, however. the other part of the treatment is that i surround myself with people who love and adore me, in all my imperfection, who want to be witness to my own symphony of mistakes and masterpieces.

my friend kate is having a similar experience: her family has designated her the Crazy One. she's the actress, the firey redheaded talent who blazes through life like a social Santa Ana wind, creating situations, dancing on the bars, flirting with girlfriends, and dressing up as Nurse Goodbody for Halloween. she gives herself so spectacularly to people, they take it for granted; so when her brother stood up at her 45th birthday gathering, and said to the crowd, "how do you guys stand being around her?" in a joking-but-not-funny way. "i just died inside," she told me. "and my friends, god bless them, they said, 'we love kate.' but oh, my god. it hurts my heart, cindi. i just couldn't believe he stood up and opened his mouth and --that's-- what he said."

i told her, "i should have been at your birthday party." we are tentatively reconnecting after a major blowout a few years ago. i parted company with everyone in my life a few years ago, and she was just part of that---but the two of us had a history anyway, of exerting mental wackiness on each other. like just about any other friend i know. i told her she was worth the hassle and i loved her. i think she's beginning to believe me. i asked off for her birthday, tim and i made plans to go after he returned from an afternoon job; but then the job ran late, and i discovered the gathering was in westlake village rather than woodland hills, and we are in the well-traveled heart of the hollywood flats, party central on weekends. so i called her, which is when i found out how far it was; and it was already late; and tim was tired and i was losing momentum fast. next year we'll communicate and i'll be there. i just want a friend i can trust to come to my birthday party...and if i can't be that friend, i won't have that friend. a previous friend refused my parties while i went to hers, and i never knew what that meant, but it felt vaguely shitty. that friendship went by the wayside and i've decided it was out of my hands, because i tried several times to communicate and was rejected. so it goes. communiation.

i think that's why i got into radio. as a kid i turned away from the people who occupied my present, because there was literally nowhere for me to go with them. no matter what i said, it was wrong. and i sincerely believed that i was crazy. but i also wanted to be heard. i wanted to stand up and be counted, without being attacked. i wished i was on the student council, because they got to make the announcements over the P.A. at school. you would sit in home room and their voices would come out of the speakers with daily announcements and each time a student spoke you could see her or him in your minds eye, and some of them were funny and fun to listen to. i was a geek in high school, nowhere near student council material, so i regarded that world, and those kids, with envy and admiration. they were just glorious kids. and they got to be on the P.A. what a life.

if i couldn't have that---and i couldn't---i could at least listen to voices that came from elsewhere, over the radio. in a suburb of houston, i turned on the little box and listened to people who were broadcasting from the shimmering silver towers that reflected heat and light into your eyes as you drove along the freeways in the boiling heat. i especially loved moby in the morning on 97 Rock. early morning, getting ready for school in the little downstairs bathroom, with my curling iron and hair dryer, listening to moby, was the best part of my day; except for the evenings i would retreat to my room and into my own world with the radio. downstairs everyone would be watching TV together, and the atmosphere crackled with things that made me uncomfortable. things were better in my room. especially with the goofballs who played music and made me laugh.

i couldn't figure out why anyone would voluntarily submit to unhappiness, but that's what my antennae tuned in loud and clear on the family wavelength. tension, unresolved bitterness, power struggles---always unspoken, but demonstrated with an unblinking stare, a banging of pots and pans(the sound still makes me jump, like a frazzled vietnam vet), or a sly jab from any family member calibrated just perfectly to convey contempt, yet slip beneath dad's radar so that if i protested, calling the attention of others to the exchange, he or she would say, "oh, you're so sensitive---can't you take a joke." what can you say after that? stop being a cunt? standing up and saying, "stop being nasty to me," was out of the question. i would be told once again that i was mentally disturbed and needed help. there was no way to even the score. and, i didn't really want to. i couldn't understand the need for a score in the first place.

i liked my baby half brother and sister; they were the only ones who were any fun. at the same time, they were aware of my place in the family, and had no problem sassing back, which was a problem, because i had to babysit and make unpopular pronouncements like "it's time to go to bed now." the power struggles never ended. it was the family theme. not always, but frequently enough to make me sink into a near-catatonic state of hopeless detachment, reaching for my headphones and my books. dealing with my young charges was both delightful and frustrating, like everything having to do with the people whose house i was a part of. i was always happier to have them, because the more people you can engage in fun, the cooler things can be. and sometimes we could have fun. but then our having fun was not exactly sanctioned ---children were to be seen and not heard.

i have captured a little of that on tape, in fact. i had one of those little cassette player/recorders, a fabulous thing for getting me out of the unpleasant present; headphones in, and i'm out. one morning as dad and suzanne had left me and mel in charge of the kids, finishing up breakfast, my baby brother glenn picked up my cassette recorder and was exploring the buttons, which were fascinating, as they could be pushed in, or popped out. the result was a little recording of family happiness, right in the middle of a tears for fears song. i'm the person in the background grumbling to be obeyed, and it's my voice yelling "shit!" as i discover that glenn has, in fact, pressed 'record' on my favorite tears for fears cassette tape. i'm not a happy camper.

only in retrospect, 25 years later, do i have enough distance to begin to make sense of the strange mental rituals we practiced in those houses we lived in. what you're raised with, you assume everyone has to deal with; but then you look around at other people and see that some of them are actually happy, confident, joyous, secure, and surrounded by friends--and you think, why can't my life be more like that? why am i stuck here in hell, not two feet away? where's the friggin door, i want out of this mindset?

the battles being fought back then were not my own, regardless of the fact that they were fought over me. they were my parent's battles, an unsolved love triangle that i unwittingly landed amidst. nothing was in my power to change; no matter what choices i made, the bitterness would not go away.

and i was an earnest kid, always agreeable to talk about what i really thought. the problem was, they didn't want to hear it. they were bent on "correcting" me. in much the same way, maybe, that dad's teachers and parents were bent on breaking his bad habit of writing with his left hand. and they did.




October 3, 2008







staying would have been a mistake. leaving was the right thing. i treasure every memory i have of the radio station, which gradually had changed as the 90's ended; different moods prevailed there. it was no longer the place i entered. it is still a wonderful radio station.

the reason i wrote about my experience online is that kcrw is a public radio station---it is your public radio station. having built my radio career elsewhere, i felt that kcrw was just as lucky to have me, as i was lucky to have it. i worked for a very modest salary, and i'm very proud of the work i did there. playing the politics was a last priority; there were other things on my plate outside of work; at the same time, working anywhere involves other human beings. i have had some things to learn about myself and others; leaving without slinking away quietly brought support from unexpected quarters. at the same time, no one crosses r*** without consequences. i tried many times to communicate privately with my boss, without success. writing this web page cost me in unexpected ways with unexpected people. some of those lessons were not ones i wanted to learn, but i would do it again. it was difficult to talk publicly about what happened, because i do care very much about the quality of my work. a lot of soul-searching followed my sudden demotion and departure. and in a business where confidence is a must, i took a real hit. my belief is that to be "real" on the radio, a genuine personality and community voice, that i myself have to come from a centered and strong place where i am certain of support, both personal and professional, behind the mic. i now believe that i grew away from the radio station when i met and fell in love with tim, the man who has changed the course of my life when i met him in 2002.

i was no longer plugged in to the kcrw way of doing things internally, and at some level, i think i knew. at one time the people at the station were people i partied with and enjoyed; the entire chemistry of the place had changed, and i no longer wanted to be personally involved; as this personal connection grew more tenuous, over the last year, i felt a growing sense of unease. as i juggled the various tasks i was handling, i was aware that my announcing was not as streamlined as it was elsewhere on the air. i had spoken about that in the fall of 2004, with my immediate supervisor, with whom i checked frequently for feedback. when i was demoted for stumbling on the air, he had given me the thumbs up for some time, which is why i felt blindsided.

there was some truth in what ruth asserted--that i tended to stumble. but that had always been true. i took issue with the idea that it was worth removing me from my job without warning; but at the time of my demotion i left peacefully and voluntarily. on the last day of work, i sent out an email of farewell to the staff. many, if not most, of them, came and asked me what the "real" deal was, why I was leaving so suddenly. and i told them what i wrote here on the blog: that ruth had been concerned about my stumbling on the air, and replaced me. i watched peoples faces for reactions, because i really wanted to know: did they feel it was justified to kick me off in this way, while blaming the change on my incompetence? not a single person was unsurprised, at least if my ability to gauge reactions is on target. i realize that sometimes you don't want to tell a person an uncomfortable truth, like "you're a freak!" and such. the issue was very important to me, because radio is important to me. kcrw was important to me. the experience was a watershed moment for me. trust me on this one: do something controversial, and you will find out how people really feel about you. but only do it if you are ready for that.

was i ready? as ready as i'll ever be, i guess. i knew that without tim in my life, i would not have been able to make such a move, take such a stand. i knew that i was risking looking like a complainer, which is about the last thing i aim to be in any situation. the subtleties of having decided to speak up are still revealing themselves---and no, it's not fun. a good friend once told me, "you live in a fantasy world." that is not where i want to live, even when others promote and feed the fantasies to their own ends. the goal is to make contact with others through what i do, not in spite of what i do. decisions open you up to criticism. and there are always those who criticize first, and iron out the nuances for themselves later. we all choose how to slant the way we see ourselves, especially in this city where stories, legends, images and myths play out in addition to our actual lives--fame and public image are part of what makes L.A. what it is: a place of magic, where we can take ideas and slide them against each other, where differences between races and lifestyles seem more intermixed than they are in most cities.

radio itself is wonderful and should always go on.

management takes the tougher jobs, while the talent gets behind the microphone and does a totally different thing. both are important. as i look around at the business i see a very different set of opportunities than there were in the late 80's, when i started out. kcrw's music programming makes it unique, and its music library is a national treasure. please support it. until something better comes along, kcrw is the place where raw talent is sifted and meets the world through creative programming provided by individuals, not committees or focus groups. it is your, our, radio station.