20 Apr 98

I'm Sorry I Couldn't Stay Here With You, I've Been Troubled by a Lot Of Chickens Running Around in the Studio

I'm Sorry I Couldn't Stay Here With You, I've Been Troubled by a Lot Of Chickens Running Around in the Studio.

In 1991 and 1992, I was fifteen, and my mother decided to break into radio with a variety show. I don't remember how she arranged the air time. We did it for free, and the show lasted six months. It went on the air every Saturday morning at 10, on 1520 AM, in West Chester, PA.

I'd forgotten about it until I found an old program schedule and script on a word processor disk. Some excerpts follow, with comments.

Poor fat Ralph, engineer on weekends and evenings, hoping for a way to break into FM.

Lots of people thought my Mom was on drugs. If you didn't cluck, she'd kick you under the microphone table. Some weeks it was chickens, some weeks horses, one week whales. I always suggested giraffes.

This was a recipe for disaster. Ralph was hungover and depressed. He didn't want to call my mother on the studio phone. It always ended up with sound board catastrophes, screeching feedback and long silences. Twenty percent of the show was, "Hello?" Tap-tap-tap. "Hello? Is this on?" Tap-tap-tap.

Random poetry reading. "The Highwayman," or Phillip Larkin or Derek Walcott, or haiku. I once read a short-short by Richard Brautigan over the air. I remember the piece, about a girl who says the words "It was a tall building in Singapore." Richard, with the junky's way with words, describes the girl as a "bright sound-colored penny."

This was clown that made a honking noise. It was interviewed on topical issues. "Now, Generic Clown, what do you think about economic sanctions against China?"

And it would reply, "Honk. Honk. Hoooonk."

This is a philosophy I still follow, six years later.

I wrote "The Idiot Family." A representative dialogue:

PA: Everybody out of the car. Lock the doors. Jane, get your brother out of the trunk.

HALFWIT: I need the keys.

PA: They're right there in the ignition.

HALFWIT: But the door's locked.

PA: They closed the restaraunt?

MA: No, dear, the car door is locked. The restaurant is open.

PA: Then let's go inside.

LITTLE (from inside trunk): What about me?

HALFWIT: Don't worry, Little. We'll get you a doggy bag.

PA: There's a dog in the trunk? I'm allergic to dogs.

MA: That's not a dog. That's our son.

PA: Phew. I would have felt bad about leaving a dog in the trunk. Let's stop on the way back and get some allergy medicine for the poor thing.

MA: For who?

PA: For the dog, of course. What, do you think there's a cat in the car?

BIG: There's a cat in the car?

HALFWIT: Oh, can we keep it? I always wanted a cat.

PA: We've already got a dog, now. We'll have to let the cat go.

MA: What dog?

PA: The one in the car.

BIG: I thought there was a cat in the car.

MA: No, that's just your brother.

BIG: He bought a dog?

PA: No one is having a dog in this house, and that's final.

HALFWIT: We're not in a house. We're in a parking lot. So can we have a dog?

PA: We'll have to settle for a cat.

BIG: I'm hungry. Can we eat?

PA: The cat? No. Maybe the dog.

MA: Is this a Chinese resaurant?

HALFWIT: No, Mom, it's a Burger King.

MA: Is that fancy?

PA: They named it after royalty, didn't they?

MA: I suppose they did. Leave the dog in the car.

BIG: What dog?

MA: Sorry, I was looking at your sister. Let's go in.

Local lunatics, and sometimes, my friends from High School. My mother would invite them without telling me. Very few people were willing to come more than once.

Written by my mother. A weekly report on local extraterrestrial activity. Once, we framed it as an interview. A young woman came into the studio and asked if she could give the alien report. My mother asked her how old she was.

M: I'm 13, but when I was 7 I went out in my back yard one day - we live in Downingtown - and I was standing 12 steps from the back door and suddenly I knew.

W: You knew?

M: Yes, you see I could feel them and I knew they were there and that they were going to come for me some day.

W: Who?

M: The Other People, the Other People they call themselves magic names, but I knew when I was 7 that they were there, and I called them the Other People. Nobody could see them but me, and I could walk 12 steps from the backdoor and stand there and they would come.

W: Weren't you scared?

M: No because they are very quiet and sunny and when I would stand there they would come and whisper things into my ears.

W: Like what did they say?

M: Oh, secrets about everything and how stupid it is here on earth and how I should come to live with them and leave my parents. And now the great day has come.

W: Do your parents know you're leaving?

M: Oh they don't understand. They don't see me going, they just say I'm getting older and I'm miserable, but they don't understand that the Other People have been calling to me little by little since I was seven years old and now they are calling to me to leave here and come with them forever.

W: Are they good, the Other People?

M: Oh yes.

W: But if they are good, do you think they would ask you to leave your mother and father?

M: Oh yes, I have to leave my mother and father now. I can't help it. Sometimes I'd like to stay, but really the Other People have taken me over now and I belong to them and whatever world they want me to live in they'll tell me.

W: Oh.

M: You see they are coming to get me today and there's no use worrying about it because I have to go. Goodbye Earth. So I thought I'd stop by and see you and tell you about them and that it is sort of an alien report, isn't it?

W: I don't think you should go.

M: What is there here? School? And listening to people tell me to do things their way, when I know that the Other People are a whole new world and I want to go there? So, I'm leaving earth today. Goodbye.

After the Alien Report, someone would re-read "The Highwayman."

Mom liked records of trains chugging. "Until next Saturday, here is the sound of trains. In particular, this is the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia. Goodbye!" Sometimes the records would skip, the trains caught in sonic amber. At 10:54, the listeners would ride out with us, on the tracks, into Saturday afternoon.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents