Wyoming High School. Late October. The office of Ken Miller, laconic guidance counselor with a graying Beatle’s haircut.
“I want to get into the WHY program.”
“You missed the cut-off,” said Ken.
“I know – but it hasn’t started yet, right? You’re still picking students?”
“It starts next week – but – ”
He looked through my records, grimaced.
“Wow,” he said. “There’s no way you could do WHY.”
“Because – ?”
“You’ve got a C-minus average.”
“Look at my English and Math! Bs! B-minuses. I got a Pass in typing. If I take WHY that only leaves one class.”
“The WHY students earn the right to be in WHY, Alex. It’s a privilege. It’s not for every student.”
“I’m a senior! C’mon – my grades’ll be fine – ”
“I can’t – ”
“And I just got a new job.”
That stopped him.
“And look – I’m gonna do it, anyway, whether I’m in WHY or not. I just thought maybe – we could work something out.”
“What do you mean you’re gonna do it anyway?”
“At night. It’s at night. I’m not skipping classes – ”
“But I thought if I could do it through WHY – if I could get credit for it – maybe I could get something out of it – WHY could get something out of it – ”
“What’s the job?”
“I’m doing stand-up at a night club in Clifton.”
“You’re really doing that – regularly?”
“Every week, so far.”
“Yeah. Y’know, I’ve already got a radio show.”
“I mean, this isn’t McDonald’s or some internship at my Dad’s dental office. I write these shows – write and perform my own act. I’m getting paid along with the other comics. Adult comics.”
“Ken – this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life and I’m already doing it. Isn’t that what WHY’s all about? Wouldn’t you want to have someone in WHY who’s driving the bus, instead of having the bus driven over them? So to speak?”
He looked at me, the gears in his brain turning.
“It’s at night?”
“So, you’d do WHY at night? And during the day – ?”
“I’ll take my four classes – just like every other WHY student.”
“Mm. I don’t know if that – ”
“Other students are gonna be watching TV at night while I’m working. What’s the difference?”
“That’s not how it’s supposed to – ”
“Fine. I’ll do it during the day – ”
“Work at a night club?”
“I’ll work at WAIF and the club, day, night. I’ll be writing, doing research, rehearsing – ”
“Hnh. They’ll have to sign off on it – whoever’s running it. The owner? He’ll have to fill out the paperwork – ”
“Not a problem.”
“And you’d have to pick up your grades.”
Dave, Bucky and Bob ate lunch. I plopped down with my tray.
“I’m in WHY.”
“No, you’re not,” said Dave. “Seriously?”
“I just cut three classes a day out of my life – !”
“For what?” said Bob.
“The club’s at night!”
“I’ll work at WAIF during the day.”
“Doing what? Defumigating?”
“Don’t they share broadband with a deaf school during the day?” said Bucky.
“A deaf school? A deaf school?” said Dave.
“What?” said Bucky.
“What’s a goddamn deaf school need a radio station for?!” said Dave.
“Confirmation that they’re really deaf,” said Bucky.
“WAIF does share broadband!” said Bob, pissed. “They’re not on the air till five!”
“Look – ” I started.
“So, why don’t we get credit for the Six Pistols?!” said Bob. “That’s all you’re doing!”
“So, go get credit, Bob! I asked. Sue me for asking!”
“What a douche!” Bob fumed “They friggin’ love you here!”
“Please,” I said. “I kill myself on our shows, Bob – ”
“I kill myself on PreCal,” said Bucky.
“You’re gonna go home and watch TV all day!” said Bob.
“Yeah, and you’ll be watching Dallas while I’m working – so, we’re even.”
“Actually, I do PreCal at night, too,” said Bucky.
“You make me fucking sick!” said Bob.
“Y’gotta admit – it’s a great scam,” said Dave.
“It’s not a scam!” I said. “It’s work. I’m gonna be working on my act!”
“When you’re not watching TV,” said Bucky.
“Fine. When I’m not watching TV.”
“Bastard!” said Bob.
A couple senior girls came over. Senior girls never came over.
“Did you just get in WHY for working at a night club?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Actually.”
“Thanks. Thank you!”
They left. The others stared at me.
To cement the deal with WHY – Wider Horizons for Youth – I started interning at a radio station a couple days a week. But instead of WAIF, I decided why not intern at WEBN, the most popular rock station in Cincinnati during that late-70s peak of progressive rock. But the DJs and staff at WEBN were so coked-out and self-absorbed that they never noticed or cared whether the interns actually came in or not. For three weeks, I mindlessly stuck labels on commercial cartridges. But one afternoon, after witnessing, horrified, as their #1 DJ dismissively scratched a stylus across David Bowie’s just-released Scary Monsters and then flung it into the garbage, I stopped showing up altogether. No one ever called to ask where I had gone or if I was ever coming back in. Ken never questioned me about it. In fact, no one seemed to be aware that I had ever been there in the first place.
Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up my sincere effort to be a radio intern, so I drove to WAIF eager to volunteer. But helping out there was ludicrous. I was already a DJ so there was no need to prove myself. And the station really was off-air until five pm. When I arrived, the only person there – Tom Knox, the General Manager – just stared at me sideways. Undaunted, I gave myself the task of organizing their “record library” – stacks of tattered, heavily used albums lying all over Tom’s office floor. (And, of course, he didn’t want them sorted.) After two days I abandoned my interning efforts and relegated myself to sitting at home, watching TV, and working on my act.
WHY had gotten me out of three classes at school, but that still left English, pre-cal, chemistry and typing. Chemistry was beyond me, but I seemed to be struggling through it, especially when I made it to class. English and math I felt secure in. But typing, I loved.
Typing was a blow-off, but the only class that directly impacted what I was doing at WAIF and the eye. At home, my parents had a crappy old manual Underwood typewriter with six or seven keys that stuck whenever you hit them and I’d fight the thing just to get a page out. The models in the typing class, on the other hand, were not just modern cartridge typewriters, they were IBM Selectrics with keys you barely had to touch and built-in, erasable correction tape. The teacher, a brittle octogenarian, didn’t seem to care that I’d taken up permanent residence in her class as long as I was touch-typing and my speed was improving. So, while all my peers were in the gym working on hoop shots, I was in the typing lab churning out scripts.