The long yellow tiled hallway, high school, early 1960’s. The janitors took great pleasure in waxing and rewaxing the tiled floors, making them the prefect place to do a long, slow slide to a locker. Hitting the lock just right, the combination set, it popped open and I got our most next load of books. There was a tap on my shoulder.
“Name?” It was the new teacher.
“Roger.” I was not sure what I’d done.
“See me after school; heard your voice a mile away. You’re going to be the lead in the school play, Father of the Bride.” He smiled. “Lose that smirk, I’m serious.”
He was gone, striding along making small slides as he did.
Two years later the mirror fogged as I tried and tried again. It would be painful to make this change, I knew that when I started. There was less than a week until the first interview for the radio station. I regretted having signed the mimeographed sheet in the student union. Freshmen were supposed to be seen and not heard, to stay out of these upper class things.
Clark, one of the guys on the 4th floor of the dorm who seemed to know more than the rest of us, or pretended he did, said that I needed more enunciation and less mumbling. I took his advice to heart.
Ted Lux was the big radio personality, the station manager, the guy who always wore and coat and tie, may have even slept in it. To get on the station you had to pass Ted’s heavy questioning and to do a demo tape.
I walked into the studio, a place where silence and microphones lived in harmony, where large velvet lined turntables stood ready, and mysterious dials flickered when they picked up sounds from distant galaxies, or so I imagined.
“Sit down,” Ted said. He had that radio voice that we’d heard so much about, but I noticed there was a gap between his front teeth, one that he did his best to hide behind the mike. He handed me a small piece of typed material to read.
I whizzed through the text making all the stops and hitting all the marks. Ted looked up, hand over his mouth as he coughed. “Little fast, but good. Experience?”
“No, other than a play and some public speaking, that’s it.”
Ted checked off something on a clipboard. “You’ll start as a news reader, and if it all works out, you’ll probably be in line for a show of your own, but not for a while since we’re full up right now.” He rose and shook my hand. “Read the collegian and if your name is on the schedule come in.” He looked at his clipboard. “Keep practicing that diction, OK? We try to make it sound professional here.”
Ten years later I am sitting alone in a room with a long wooden table and 35 empty chairs. The top of the table is gleaming even in the indirect light. All the walls are covered in a velvet curtain except for the one behind me. That wall is a screen, a semi-transparent one, on which images will be projected.
I made the cut, of thirty or so applicants, the only one to get ten minutes with the boss, the Secretary, in his busy day. Along the way I had to impress and repeatedly so, a series of increasingly important people as I climbed the ladder to the elevated status of briefer. Large and small egos tried to instill their personal view of making a point, and I tried my best to listen politely. After all it was a winnowing, and I was the winnowee.
Speak to the man, that’s what I had to do. It wouldn’t matter if he were small, tall, short, black white, whatever. I had to focus on the face not more than ten feet in front of me, forgetting that the timing of my talk was important to the men behind the curtain, the ones flipping my acetate slides to coincide with my reasoning. I had ten minutes, that was it.
He came in laughing, asked for a phone, motioned for me to stay and not leave, spoke into to the phone, hung up. “Let’s go,” he said as he leaned back in his chair.
Recently. I was feeling poorly and have made it to Urgent Care in Palm Desert, 450 miles from home. The doctor is asking me to take deep breaths stethoscope at his ear. “Where are you from?” He asks.
I tell him Pittsburgh. He stops the examination. “You have no Pittsburgh accent at all, you know that? I get a bunch of Western Pennsylvanians in here and they all sound the same, the Pittsburgh thing is hard to miss.”
“Guess it was drilled out of me, starting in high school.”