Let's travel back in time as I reminisce about my highest paying job ever...
I don’t know whether I should try to sleep for two hours or not. I don’t think I can. I won’t be able to get up, despite my alarm clock. I started training last night: overnight shift in the radio division of CBS on West 57th, engineering the Mutual Radio news. It’s a temporary gig, maybe nine months, probably six - no promise of anything beyond that. I got a call from a guy who got my name from a friend. Before I could butter my toast I’m told to come in and train. And I have to join the IBEW. It’s a union shop. Because it’s a union shop it’s also the highest paying job I’ve ever held: on the over-night shift I’ll earn roughly $65 an hour.
I went in from 1:15 AM to 8:15 AM. It’s my job to run the board, mixing the announcer’s voice with the acts and nat. sound. Acts are actualities, short reports from the scene or soundbytes of politicians and celebrities and authority figures. Nat. sound is natural sound, sounds from the scene, people screaming, brakes squealing, guns firing, etc. All this stuff is culled by cute girls and boys fresh out of journalism school and recorded onto carts. Carts are cartridges, the same size and shape as 8-tracks but made to cue up to inaudible tones. Then they can be fired precisely and - if you’re reading the script - in the right order. It’s not as easy as it sounds. When you fuck up, you fuck up across four or five hundred radio stations and on the Armed Forces Network. Then you have to write a trouble report in triplicate.
I was dragging my ass when I got home. I also left my MetroCard at work, which means I had to head over to the Italian Social Club on my block to get change for my bus ride in tonight. I stood over some goombah until he broke a twenty for me. The Italians have put in a pool table and a big screen TV. They arranged some plush dark green leather couches around the TV. On the big screen was a show in Italian. I could make neither heads nor tails of it but seemed to be a dance competition. Hot Italian chicks in skimpy outfits shook their money-makers. They looked good to me.
These Italian guys got it figured out. They get away from the gals, have a few drinks, play some cards, watch some TV, play some pool - who knows? They relax, speak Italian to each other, have a good time. I wanted to join them but picked up my money, said “Ciao” and beat it out of there.
I board the bus around 11:40 PM, get into the city by 12:30 AM, walk up one block from the Port Authority, get on a city bus, go uptown a ways, switch buses, go crosstown a ways and then - boom, I’m at work.
I’m being trained by a bitter cripple. I don’t know if “bitter cripple” is the right term these days. It’s probably insensitive. But if you ever met Andrew you’d call him a bitter cripple, too. He’s probably the most bitter cripple I’ve ever met. Surely, he’s the most bitter cripple to ever train me on the job. I’ve been trained by emotional cripples before but never an actual, bitter cripple.
Andrew stands about five-foot three or four. That’s enough to be bitter about. Any guy five-foot three or four is automatically bitter, right? But Andrew is not only short, Andrew is short because he’s crippled. His legs are all bent up. There’s something wrong with them.
He reminds me of this kid I grew up with - Michael - who had Spina Bifida. It caused his body to bow. He had a bent back and when he ran it was the strangest sight. He was a nice kid but knew he was different, a freak. All the kids let him know. Me too. We jeered, “Banana Back! Banana Back!” It was the cruelest thing. I was nine and knew Michael would not grow up to be a happy adult. I knew he’d never fit in, would always be an object of easy ridicule. Hell, that’s one of the purposes cripples serve: to make the rest of us feel superior.
Andew makes me feel superior. He’s almost Quasimodo, this guy. As he hobbles around the studio, I imagine him moaning, “The bells! The bells!” He hobbles and bitches while he does. Andrew hates just about everything: “Yeah, I used to do college radio...” he said to me, after I mentioned my talk show on a local station, “...but I got thrown off by this bastard. After fifteen years, this bastard threw me off. I did a fifties and sixties show - played nice stuff, stuff people like - but I got thrown off because the new management didn’t think I had enough listeners. I hate that guy.” He segued from how much he hated this to how much he hated that with such ease that I found myself so absorbed I could barely follow the training.
“I’m forty. I live with my mother - she’s eighty-two and has Alzheimer’s - in the East Village. I’ve been there eighteen years. I’ve been here for sixteen - 1982 I got this job.” Andrew does his work with remarkable skill. He does it as only a man who’s been doing the same thing for sixteen years can. He flips levers, spins dials, punches buttons all while telling you how the new traffic woman on the morning show is “...much better looking than that pig who used to be on there. Man, she was ugly.” He says this while wearing a greasy baseball cap pulled down over his unwashed hair, his seaside T-shirt with a stupid saying covered in dandruff, while stinking of cheap soap and medicine. I can’t sit too near because I get a big whiff and he smells bad. He scratches his mangy beard, takes off his glasses, rubs the bridge of his nose, looks at his glasses, cleans them and smells bad the whole time.
I - of course - will never point this out to Andrew. That would be rude.
Andrew got a little miffed with me when I answered his question, “You like sports?” in the negative. I wasn’t THAT negative, actually. I said, “I can take them or leave them.” And I can. “Seems most people into public radio don’t like sports. Most people into alternative stuff don’t like sports.” Andrew huffs. Then “I don’t mean that as an insult.”
“I never really got a taste for sports but I follow certain teams.” I try to weasel out. Andrew doesn’t seem appeased. Joking, I add, “What do you think of the New York Liberty?” (the woman’s basketball team). “They’re dykes. A bunch of lesbians. I’ll watch them on the TV but I wouldn’t got to a game. I don’t go for all that homosexual stuff.” Andrew the Bitter, Smelly, Homophobic cripple. On women: “Fuckin’ cunts. Looks and money, that’s all they care about.” Southerners? “A bunch of fucking hicks.” Blacks? “The lazy fuckin’ niggers never have to work around here.” Jews? “Cheap fuckin’ kyke bastards, me included.”
At this point, you may be wondering why I’m doing this job. Why does anyone do any job? For shelter. For food. And this job is the highest-paying I’ve ever had. Goddamn Union Wages. It pays so well I’ll put up with anything to make this kind of money. Even Andew the Bitter, Smelly, Homophobic, Misogynist, Racist Self-hating Jew Cripple can’t dissuade me. It is a Union position and if you work the overnight you can actually sleep on the job. I did.
It was my first night and Andrew saw I was tired. “Why don’t you go into the lounge and lay down for awhile?” he suggests. “Really?” I say, never having actually slept on the job. “Yeah, go ahead. I’ll come wake you in two hours.” he offers.“ Thanks,” I say. Is he being generous? or does he just not want me around? Or will he ask me for a favor in return, down the road? Who cares? I’m sleeping on the job!
I try to find my way to the lounge but get lost in the corridors. I pass many doors leading to the 60 Minutes set. On the doors are signs reading AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, beneath the famous stopwatch. I eventually find my way back to Studio A and ask Andrew for more directions. He’s fast asleep. I poke him several times - hard. He won’t wake up. I wander out again and eventually find the dark, quiet room. It’s got a low, long, comfy couch and I lay out for two blissful hours of Mike Wallace investigative dreams.
When I wake up, I go back inside and sit with Andrew some more. He’s still asleep.
I won’t wake him.