The day my wife leaves, I fall asleep en route to
the stationthe first time in twenty-seven months, since I began taking Provigil and
Effexor together. Id had plenty of sleep, Id gotten a workout helping her load
the truck, but, bam: four in the afternoon, and I drive maybe ten miles of the
Florida-Georgia Parkway without remembering a thing. At the I-10 on-ramp, I jerk awake,
and its only then that I go off the road. The ditch is flooded. I barely avoid the
water, kicking up this big plume of mud. My hearts beating so hard it hurts. I get
out. Above me are these massive power lines, humming and crackling. A semi roars by. For
no reason, I wave. Its December but hot. Im shivering. The trucker honks. He
could just as easily be calling 911 for someone to come fish my fat corpse out of the
ditch; people would have their simple way with cause/effect and blame it on the Stephanie
situation. I slap my face. I have a game. I get back in. The rest of the drive Im so
rattled, I turn on my own radio station and try not to think about what people will say
about Stephanie. But I get there, and instead everyones talking about some kid Duke
His name is Jason Truax, and hes a senior in high
school, no experience whatsoever. Marsha Marsh, our receptionist, who despite her name
is Cuban, says Duke showed the kid around, then bugged out and didnt tell anyone,
Jason included, what his responsibilities were. People are afraid hes there to take
their job. Its her cousin that Stephanies leaving me for, so I know Marsha
knows. She doesnt let on. She hands me my paycheck and keeps yammering. Jason,
Hes still there, a big blond yutz, hunched over
a console in the editing room, marking up press releases and wire copy. I stick my head
in. He jumps up like I caught him jacking off. "You need to use this?" He points
at a cart machine, but must mean the room. "I can move."
"Later," I say, which is a pointless lie.
"So long as youre done in ten minutes."
Dietz sees me, hangs up the phone, and rushes over.
The kids father owns Truax Mobile World, Inc., Dietz says, and his grandfather is
Billy Ray Truax, who played football at FSU not long after they stopped being a
womens college. "The trailer sales is a smallish account," Dietz says.
"This is about Billy Ray."
"They dont make em like that
anymore," I say, though Im unfamiliar with Billy Ray Truax. I started out
twenty years ago doing news, spent time as a deejay, and drifted into sports. Dietz
breathes sports. He used to produce my call-in show and do color. More than once, he shook
me awake on the air. Then he got married, had kids, and got promoted to sales director. My
meds started working better and I got by fine solo.
Lassiter, the program director, is finishing up his
show: Todays Country. This involves flavorless pop music that arbitrarily
qualifies as country. His Arbitrons are double anyone elses.
"That Jasons a swimmer," he says.
"Dukes been talking about him for months, remember?"
I make a who-can-make-sense-of-what-Duke-says face.
"This summer," says Lassiter, "the kid
won some race by a zillionth of a second. Duke got so excited he spoke in tongues."
Lassiter tries speaking in tongues. "Thats why he hired him."
Lassiters lying. No one, not even him, listens
to us when we do swimming. Dukes grandkids swim. Duke does play-by-play (I begged
off, pleading ignorance), snagging older kids from the team, weak swimmers with only an
event or two, to do color. Id guess thats where he found Jason.
"Are we sure," I say, "that hes
not just an intern?"
"Marsha did the paperwork. Hes getting
eleven smacks an hour, dude."
Dude. Lassiter is in his forties. The other day
I heard him say word to indicate accord.
I go out the back door. No ones around. On my
cell, I call my shrink. Shes not there. Its the service. "Tell her Bob
Deldermuth needs new medsstat."
"Stat?" the operator says.
"Dont you watch TV?"
"Religiously," she says.
"I dont even have a TV," I blurt.
"Yesterday I had three, but my wife took em. I have DishNetwork, and nothing to
watch it on."
"How does that make you feel?"
Im sweating like its August. "Why
dont you just give her the message, okay?"
"Im telling you, anyone could do that job.
Talk into a tape recorder, play it back, listen to yourself, really listen.
Youll save tons of money. Youll have yourself some new TVs in no time."
Im not rich, but money isnt my most
pressing problem. "I have an HMO," I say. "It only costs me the ten-buck
"Even that," she says, "adds up."
The door opens and of course its Jason. He
mouths the word sorry. I frown. Im done, he mouths. I wave him off.
His shoulders sag, and he goes back inside. I feel a blast of A/C. "Are you
new?" I ask the woman. "Do you have a name?"
"Everyone has a name," she says. "You
have my number. Call any time, hon."
She hangs up, and I hold my cell in front of my face
and look at it. I slap my face. Im awake. Ive been awake. This all happened.
The new night guy comes in as Im loading up the van and Marsha Marsh
is leaving. Hes a pale young man anyway, but when she stops to tell him about Jason
Truax, he takes off his gigantic sunglassesthe kind old people wearand goes
practically translucent. He mutters something: Im toast or maybe Im
a ghost. Whatever he says, Marsha doesnt refute it.
"I knew it," he says, loud enough that
Im sure thats what he says. He puts the shades back on. Marsha pats him on the
arm, calls the world a crazy place, makes eye contact with me but gets in her car without
mentioning Stephanie. The night guy slams the front door behind him.
All the office people leave. No one says anything to
me but good night. By now everythings loaded and Im sitting on the bumper of
the van, waiting for Dietz. I consider going to get him.
Jason Truax walks out like someone whos spent
the day breaking rocks. He apologizes for inconveniencing me. I tell him to forget it.
"Hey, are there manuals?" he says. "For
all that equipment?"
"Im sure there are," I say.
"Right," he says. "Thanks." He
sounds sincere. I dont introduce myself, and he drives away, rap music blaring, in a
battered pickup with Truax Mobile World painted on the side.
When Dietz finally comes out, I ask him if hed
like to do color tonight. For old times sake. "Itd be a nice change of
pace from the solo act."
He raises an eyebrow when I say solo act.
"I wouldnt get paid any extra for it."
I grin. "Thats what its about, is it?
What it all comes down to? Money?"
"Yep." Hes studying me like hes
afraid Im going to cry.
"Fine," I say. Whatever else I do,
cryings not in the cards. Various shrinks have tried to pinpoint when this started
(Im not sure) and make something of it (off-task). Of all Stephanies
grievancesmy weight, my lack of ambition, the porn (her idea, originally)my
not being able to cry seems like the one that should have provoked mercy.
"I should go," Dietz says. "My turn to
cook. Some meal-in-a-bag thing, but still."
Though we are friends, Ive been to his house
once since he got married. Hes had to do games for me on days I called in sick, for
which his wife Im sure dislikes me. He starts to go. Then he sees all the red mud on
my car. "Word of advice," he calls, pointing. "Get a Jeep."
I drive a six-year-old Toyota Camry. "I had a,
you know," I say. "A thing."
"A sleep thing?" Dietz says. He comes over
to me. "The games in Tallahassee, right? Oh, man." Meaning that I have an
hours drive on my hands. "Have you been ..."
"No," I say. "Its been
twenty-seven months. Its probably a fluke. Im fine."
Dietz snaps into action. He calls his wife and before
I know it, hes driving me to the game.
We talk about sportsin other words, nothing at
allall the way there.
The game is so lopsided I cant imagine who
wouldnt have tuned out after the first quarter. Dietz and I still work well
together, though. I pause, and hes just there: a quick stat, a comment,
something Im talking too much and caring too little to think to say. One of the
schools has a world-class cheerleading squad, and all game were pestered by their
parents, who want us to broadcast the halftime routine. I lack the strength to fend them
off. Dietz points out that were radio. More than one parent brings up
swimming. Theyre relentless. Dietz breaks down and agrees to watch the routine and,
afterward, interview the squads captain and the coach.
I watch some of it myselfthese girls and the
boys who throw them. Am I cheered? No. Im old enough to be their father. I look upon
these flying, newly muscled bodies, the hoisting, hands on hands, feet, shoulders, asses,
and imagine cheap beer, fogged car windows, college rejections, disappointing jobs, doomed
marriages. If I were their father, Id handle it badly, that my kidsgood
kids!are no longer children.
I walk the perimeter of the grounds of the school,
stirring up endorphins. A precaution. Its dark but still absurdly hot. Marriages
end. Fact of life. The nights full of revving cars and muffled pep bands. I stop on
the empty bleachers behind the baseball field. I dial Stephanies cell. Its
call-forwarded; on the voicemail, Vic Santiago promises to attend to all my insurance and
investment needs if I will just leave my name and number. I do.
Then I fall asleep. I may not even have gotten the
whole number out. Happily, in one of the dugouts is a couple, presumably doing what
teenagers in dark dugouts do. They see me keel over. They tell me they thought I had a
heart attack or something. "Or something," I say. "My hearts black
with poison and remorse," I say, tapping my chest, "but its fine."
Theyre spooked. Youth. Theyll eventually see enough to join the unsurprised.
The girl hands me my phone, which is still going. I hand her a dollar and Lassiters
business card. She accepts. I hang up. I was asleep for six minutes. I cant say why
I gave her those things, why she took them, or why I even had Lassiters card. Me,
Ive put away childish things. Bob Deldermuth sees through a glass, darkly.
I make it behind the mike in time. No ones the
wiser. I ask Dietz how the thing with the cheerleaders went. "Just what youd
think," he says.
The next morning, I pack up whats left: whats mine. Our house
is a rental, and our lease is up Tuesday. When we moved in, the house was on a lake. The
lake has a sinkhole in it that every seventy years or so sucks all the water out. This
happened a few days after we moved in, and now the lake is a marshy prairie. Experts swear
it will fill up again. Even lakeless, its been nice, way out in the country. When
the bugs werent too bad, wed take a boombox and some CDs out to the end of the
dockLucinda Williams, Wilco, Emmylou Harris, that sort of thingand have
non-alcoholic cocktails. Yes, we fought, but no worse than most couples. Stephanie fell in
love with someone else. To listen to her, it was more or less an accident. Vic Santiago is
her AA sponsor, and so probably helped save her life, then things no one planned on
happening happened. Maybe shes right. The heart wants what it wants. She and I were
happier here than a lot of other places we lived. I cant even say Shreveport
without getting a little sick.
Im thirty-nine years old. I have a job, a
paid-for car, and, yesterday aside, good control over my condition. My family, most of
whom are still in Cleveland or its exurbs (a brother in Chagrin Falls, a sister in
Oberlin, cousins in Akron), loves me. I had a happy childhood. I can start over, lose
weight, get a dog, find someone else, build a deck, have kids. In this part of Florida,
unless you get too close to Tallahassee or the beach, land is cheap. I can get a lot, put
a trailer on it, and build later.
One moment Im sitting down to tape a box full of
stadium cups and melamine dishes, thinking about all this. The next Im packing up
the rest of the kitchen, still mulling, but deploying a care Id never use and
bubblewrap I never bothered to purchase, because its all a dream. What wakes me up
is the phone, though I somehow think that thats the dream, and dont
pick up as Stephanie says she appreciates how adult Ive been and is just calling to
make sure Im doing okay.
When I realize Im awake now and that Ive been
sleeping, Id been asleep for hours. The phone had even rung beforeDietz,
saying his wife would be happy to come take me to work. Hed followed me home from
the station last night, without incident. I check my watch. No game today, and my show
doesnt start until seven, but I have a phoner with a NASCAR flack in an hour. I
dont have enough time for Dietzs wife to come get me. I pop an expired
Dexedrine spansule, wash it down with a Red Bull Energy Drink, shave, shower, and hope for
On the way in, I call my shrink. Its the service
again. My shrinks out of the office today, and the receptionist is sick. "Are
you the same woman as yesterday?"
"I am," she says. "It was an uneventful
Im in radio; I know that sexy voices are
inevitably disappointing. Case in point: me. If it was all about voice, Stephanie would
have driven away down a road flanked with eager supermodels. "Yesterday I drove ten
miles sound asleep."
"Hypnagogic hallucination," she says.
"Ten miles? Cmon. Youd be dead."
"Are you a doctor?" Im running the A/C
full-tilt, but its nowhere near as hot as yesterday.
"Just a student."
"Pre-law," she says.
"Same difference," I say.
"Animal House," she says, catching
"I think I love you," I say.
"So what are you so afraid of?"
"David Cassidy," I say, catching her
reference. "Nice. No, really."
"You dont love me." Its a voice
three degrees shy of husky, a voice too womanly to giggle. Its a voice you can crawl
inside of and order out for the best pizza you ever had.
"How do you know?" I ask. "Youve
never met me."
"That," she says, "is what they all
"Theres a they?"
"Theres a world of they."
"My wife just left me."
"Women," she says. "Youre driving
now, arent you?"
"Im on my mobile, but no. Im
not." For you, it might be dangerous, talking and driving. For me, its a
lifesaver. Im right where I ran off the road yesterday. My ruts are full of water
and look like they were made by Truckogsaurus. "It definitely wasnt a
hypnagogic hallucination," I say, merging onto I-10. "It was sleep. I
didnt remember a thing."
"Ten miles is a lot."
"Its not my record," I say.
"Listen, isnt there another doctor On-call? For emergencies?"
"If it was really an emergency," she says,
"you wouldnt be driving."
"Im not driving," I say, relieved she
didnt ask about my record.
"Youre making me hot," she says.
"Ooh, baby, ooh."
"Mockery will get you everywhere," I say.
"I really may love you."
"I know," she says, and hangs up. I know
its crazy, but she sounded like she meant it.
Everyones pretending to be too busy to show Jason Truax how to use
anything. Several of us give him the evil eye so he wont even ask. He busies himself
circling stories in the Atlanta and Jacksonville papers. He asks Lassiter if he can use
the production-room PC to add a news-headline scroll to our web page. When Jason gets it
set up and asks for the password, Lassiter says only Duke has it. Duke, who can barely
turn a computer on, hasnt shown his face all day.
I boot Jason out of production to tape my interview.
Its December, but my demographic cant get enough NASCAR. Ill say this:
no sport gives the speciously credentialed more free food and gear. Back in the day,
Stephanie and I made lost-weekends of it. Daytona, Atlanta, Darlington, etc. Suddenly I
feel a presence. Paranoia, I think, from that Effexor/Provigil/Dexedrine/Red Bull
cocktail. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see something move. I shout the Lords
name in vain. The flack keeps right on debunking Dale Earnhardt Jr. conspiracy theories.
From behind the computer table, Jason Truax rises. He makes a yikes grimace.
Paranoia, hell. Deldermuths Razor: the simplest explanation is just the simplest
The flack asks if Im okay. Never better, I say.
We wrap it up.
"Im so sorry," Jason says.
"I just wanted to ..."
"Forget it." My heart wont slow down.
"Next time, ask if you can watch, okay?"
He nods. "Youre Bob Deldermuth, right?
Ive been listening to you all my life."
"Ive only been here four years."
"Really? It seems a lot longer."
"Thats a compliment?"
He frowns. "Yeah," he says. "Hey,
Im sorry to hear about, you know. Mrs. Deldermuth. My mom left once. She came back.
It was rough."
If this kid knows, everyone knows. "Im sure
it was," I say.
"I want to be a journalist," he says.
"News. But maybe sports."
"I want to be a dentist," I say, in the
manner of that elf from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which Stephanie and I
watched together last week in an otherwise dark and silent room. Then she went to bed and
I watched a porno. I pop the cart. I say it again: "I want to be a dentist."
Jason stands there, blank. My heart begins to slow
down. "Its not you," I say, mopping my face with a paper napkin.
He cocks his head the way a big blond dog would.
What the hell. I show him how to work the board.
Marsha is the first to peek through the little square
window and notice. Moments later everyone in the station is filing by. Dietz shoots me a
palms-up what-gives look. The night guy flips me off. "You want to learn radio,
Jason?" Lassiter says, clamping a hand on my shoulder, "my man Bobs the
one to teach you."
Im feeling better. Its nearly time for me
to get ready for my show when I hear Dukes booming voice, calling Jasons name.
Duke spent the day scouring memorabilia stores. Hes holding a plastic bag with a
program in it. On the cover, Billy Ray Truax strikes a vintage 1950s knee-up stiff-arm
pose. Duke is an excitable man, but Ive rarely seen him more excited.
"Granddads in Key West," Jason says.
"Well be there for Christmas. If you want, Ill get him to sign it for
"Could you?" Duke says. "My god,
itd mean a lot." He thumps the program. "I was at this game, you
He launches into a blow-by-blow version of it. I
escape. A half-hour later, Jason stops in the studio to thank me for the lesson.
"Is that why a big kid like you doesnt play
"If whats why?"
"Getting compared to your granddad. Not wanting
"Ten seconds," the night guy says.
"No," Jason says. "Its because I
suck at football."
That cracks me up. He looks grateful. "Maybe I
can teach you to be my color guy." I say this on a whim, but, realistically, Dietz
cant keep doing it. Hes already working twelve-hour days on the sales side.
"You drive, right?"
"Whats driving have to do with it?"
"Everything and nothing," I say. "You
want to do it or not?"
"Five," says the night guy. "Four.
Jason gives me a thumbs up and leaves.
Its a long night. The night guywho, as my
producer (his Legends of Country show follows), is supposed to be screening
callslets everything through. I get people speculating about who in pro football
might be gay, people who think we should do winter swimming too, and countless conspiracy
theorists who want to talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After the first hour I ask the night guy what his
"If someones getting fired," he says,
"its not going to be me."
If taking calls from cretins was going to get me
fired, it would have happened years ago. "Cmon. Hes a kid. Its just
an after-school job."
"Watch your back. Word to the wise."
"My back? Youre all talking about Stephanie
behind my back, every one of you jerks, and Jason, whos been here two days,
is the only person whos said anything to my face."
"Whos Stephanie?" he says.
He has those sunglasses on. Its hard to tell if
hes serious. I give him a look.
The next caller, according to my screen, is
"Brian." His topic: "FSU kicking game."
"Brian, in Monroeville, youre on the
"Hey, Bob. You okay to drive home?"
Its Dietz, patched through from the private
"Were on the air," I say. "Brian."
On the other side of the glass, the night guy laughs like hell.
Dietz is flawless. Wide right this, hangtime that. At
the next break I call him back and tell him Im fine. What am I going to do, ask him
to come follow me home? Then I screw up my courage and tell him about Jason. Not only
isnt Dietz mad, hes thrilled. His wife is teaching yoga classes. Hell be
a hero when he tells her he can watch the kids.
I have the next day off. I get through to Dr. Jacobys office first
thing in the morning. The receptionist says she got the message from the service and was
about to call to see if I could make it at one. "Today?" I say.
"Youre kidding. Dont you people have a Christmas rush?"
All she says is yes, today, in a North Florida accent
so thick and bovine I have to play a Dusty Springfield CD all the way through just to
regain the will to live.
I hose the mud off the car. I finish packing. I call
the realtor who sold Dietz his house and make an appointment to look at lots.
On the way to Tallahassee, I call Vic Santiagos
office. Hes not in. I ask for his voicemail. I tell it Im serious about
getting my insurance needs squared away.
Dr. Jacoby asks if I think its ironic, the
condition flaring up the same day Stephanie left.
"Thats one of my pet peeves," I say.
Her office is freezing. Im in Dockers and a Hawaiian shirt. Shes wearing a
wool suit covered with cat hair. "Misusing ironic. You mean
She doesnt apologize. "Do you think
"You mean the opposite, I think," I say.
"You mean, do I think theres a connection?"
She sighs, exasperated. The woman at the service was
right; I make a mental note to run tape on tomorrows game. Which I should do anyway,
so Jason can learn from his mistakes.
I tell Dr. Jacoby I have a theory. When I was
repainting the nursery, I didnt have a mask. The hydocarbons from the paint affected
my hydrocretin-sensitive cells. Yesterday, the effects of that faded. After the thing in
the morning I was fine.
"The nursery." She might have at least said,
I see someones been on the internet. She just sits there. Weve covered
this territory. To sum up: my record is thirty-some miles of I-75, coming back from the
Firecracker 400. I totaled Stephanies Mazda. She, too, was asleep. She was eight
months pregnant. We werent otherwise hurt. Afterward, we avoided that room. Careful
with the cause/effect assumptions. This was a while ago. Other things happened.
"Wed painted it really bright colors. It
needed to be redone. To get our deposit back."
"You could have hired it done. Or forfeited the
"Thats what Stephanie said. She had a
girlfriend pack the room." Marsha Marsh, in fact, whos expecting, again, and
took everything. "Look, this is no time for me to throw away money."
"Thats not what I meant. You took the
initiative. Why do you think you were motivated to paint that room," she says,
"and unmotivated to do other things?"
I just shake my head. If I tell Dr. Jacoby that I
havent called in sick for weeks, that Im re-racking my life just fine,
Im afraid shell dial down my meds. I avoid eye contact and stammer. She
prescribes Ritalin and ups the dosage on the Provigil. She tells me to exercise daily. I
tell her I am. She looks at me over the top of her chunky glasses.
A relationship is simply what two people choose to
"By the way," I say as Im leaving,
"the new woman at your service is terrific." Because Im sure there have
"I never meet those people," she says.
"But Ill be sure to convey the compliment."
Those people for a moment sounds like a racial
slur. "Other patients have said things, right? About this new woman. I can
tell." Probably its not, of course. A slur.
Dr. Jacoby says no, no ones said anything.
"Whats terrific about her?"
This stops me short. "Her phone manner," I
finally say. "Its amazing."
I wait for a moment for her to say amazing how?
Across from the drugstore where I get my prescription
filled is a Play It Again Sports. On a whim, I buy a used treadmill. They dont
deliver and I tell them thats okay, I dont have any place for them to deliver
it to, yet. On another whim, I stop and buy a TV huge thing, picture-in-picture, the
works. Two scrawny kids lash it to the roof. Im out of there before I realize I have
no way of getting it down alone. Truax Mobile World is on the way home. The man who waits
on me is an older, more rabbity version of Jason. I dont want any favors. I
dont mention Jason. I ask Jasons father how business is. He curses both the
month of December and the American president. I tell him I voted for the other guy. He
frowns and looks at me as if hes trying to place me. I get this all the time.
Its my voice. I keep waiting for him to say somethinghe advertises at my
station, his son works therebut he doesnt. I get what seems like a good deal
on a used trailer that smells like tar. I write a check for the whole thing. Hes got
connections, he says, both for lots and in a mobile home park. I tell him Im set.
Even as were finishing up the paperwork, with my name right in front of him, he acts
like hes never heard of me. We just talk about my TV and what all it does.
The store takes the TV back, no questions asked. I buy
something I can handle myself. After that, I swing by the Don Pablos on Capital
Circle that Stephanie used to manage, before they refused to pay for rehab stay #2 and
fired her. The stores vacant. Whole chain, out of business. I pull around back and
despite being in full view of the Office Max a hundred yards away piss on the wall. Feels
great. A cop even sees me pissing but just shakes his head. I wave. The heat has broken,
and it looks like rain. By now its after business hours, so I call my shrinks
office. Its not her. I ask the woman if shes the only one there. She says she
knows what I want. I say I have no idea about that. She snorts and says that Kelly will be
I call my banks Anytime Line and punch in the
numbers I need to stop payment on the checks for the treadmill and the trailer. It keeps
me focused all the way home. I lug the TV in but dont unpack it. I should. This is
my last day with satellite. Instead, even though Stephanie left the bed, I go into the
empty nursery, now blister-white, open all the windows, spread out on the floor, and
listen to the rain. In no time, Im out. All night, I sleep, and while I have no
memory of tossing and turning, when I wake up its like Ive just run a
Stephanies mascara is smeared, and so is Marsha Marshs. Could
be the rain. Lassiter has a hand on each of their backs, and theyre all hunched over
the reception desk. They see me and stop whatever theyve been saying. Lassiter
smiles insipidly. "Alrighty then," he says, and rushes off.
Stephanie stands. Shes wearing a sundress. This
is the Vic Santiago influence. With me it was big shirts, the kind of thing a woman with
large breasts wears when she thinks large breasts are ugly. The heat has broken. Its
seasonably cold. I took a Dexedrine along with double the Ritalin and am starting to feel
it. We exchange pleasantries. Marsha pretends to be writing something.
"Your boss says he got a call from some high
school girls mother," Stephanie says, "who told him her daughter saw him
have a heart attack or something, only he recovered and gave the girl his business card.
The mother thought it might be serious."
"Lassiter has no heart," I say.
"Hes also not my boss. Just the p.d."
Stephanie never met Duke. This isnt the kind of
workplace that has a lot of dinner parties. Stephanie and I havent invited a lot of
people over. Dietz and his wife were there once. "Obviously, it was you," she
says. "And it wasnt a heart attack, was it, Bobby?"
Marsha has dropped the pretense and is watching us.
Id move, but a private conversation could go on and on. Here is best.
"Its under control," I say.
Everyone at the station is finding an excuse to walk
down the corridor behind Marshas desk, slowly. Even Jason and Duke, who walk by
abreast, theoretically immersed in conversation.
"Youve got to stop harassing Vic," she
"What are you talking about?"
"Vic has lawyers, okay?"
"Lawyers plural?" I say. "This Vic is
"Dont be this way. You had a girlfriend all
along. She called me, Bobby. Okay? She called me. Dont give me that look. She
told me you drove ten miles sound asleep and claimed it was a hypnotic hallucination. The
bitch blamed it on me." She uses an ugly word to modify bitch. I wonder if
this, too, is the Vic Santiago influence.
"Hypnagogic," I say. "When did she
Stephanie shakes her head. "Does it matter?
Here." She lifts a Xerox box from the floor and thrusts it into my solar plexus. I
hold on. "I took these for what I told myself was your own good. It was mean.
Im sorry, okay?"
I dont have to look inside. A percentage of male
users of Effexor experience abnormal ejaculation (Ill spare you the specifics). One
day Stephanie came home from work with two tapes bought, not rented. For a while we
incorporated porn into what we did. It helped. Shes an addictive personality, and
might well have empathized when my interest took on a life of its own.
"Thanks," I say. "Is that all you
need?" I am so, so tired. "I have a game, right, Dietz?"
Dietz is standing in the corridor, trying to look
transfixed by a plaque the Seminole Boosters gave Duke McKibbon. "Excuse me," he
Stephanie walks into the downpour, no umbrella and not
bothering to hurry. Her wet sundress adheres to her shoulders and wondrous hips, like
shrink-wrap. Shes not wearing panties. She doesnt look back or hurry.
Shes technically still my wife. For now, I know this woman better than anyone on
earth. Someday, I may not even know where she lives.
"Careful working up such a sweat, dude,"
says Lassiter. "With your heart problem and all."
All of which brings me to the tape. In real time, the game was throttle
and blur. But I ran tape on the clean feed, so this next part is reconstructed from that.
At first Im talking at auctioneer velocity.
Jasonwhod gotten a broadcasting textbook from the library and on the drive
there peppered me with questionskeeps score and keeps quiet. How I answered those
questions I have no clue. We go to commercial. Theres a pause and then the night guy
asks what Im on. At the time I thought the jig was up. Listening to it, Id say
he was kidding. I dont answer. Then Jason, in a whisper, asks if hes doing
talk! say! do! be!"
I remember Jason looking like the guy in that
commercial, listening to Wagner, his hair blown back from the death-angel force of it.
Probably Im exaggerating. The night guy mimics me.
Jason loosens up and, despite me, gets heard.
Hes watched several million hours of ESPN. He actually, with conviction, says both
"this guy must be buttah, because hes on a roll" and
"boo-yeah!" He also calls me Bobby D. I let this go on until the end of the
first quarter. "Youre doing high school basketball in Monroeville,
Florida," I finally say. "No boo-yeah. No more Bobby D."
"I didnt know I said that. Did I say
I announce that I need to pee. You hear me taking off
my headset. Moments later, the night guy says, "Primo performance by the Bobster.
"He is on something, I think," Jason says.
"My mom was on a lot of stuff at one point. Prescription stuff. Thats why Mr.
Dietz called in last night, right? About Bob driving home?"
The night guy just laughs. "Keep saying
boo-yeah," he says. Jason takes his headset off, too. Then some fumbling as we put
our headsets back on. Jasons explaining that a job gets you out of school in the
afternoons. I ask why he doesnt work for his dad.
"You ever work for your dad?"
"I did. He was a foreman at a steel mill. I
worked there Christmas breaks. Loved it."
"Im not cut out to sell trailers,"
"I actually bought one today," I say.
"From your dad."
"My dad? My dads in Key West with my
"It looked like your dad."
Jason doesnt answer. I mumble stuff about the
first-quarter stats. Im talking a little slower. Right before we go back on, you can
hear me tell someone Ill think about it. Cheerleading parents. They heard the thing
two days ago and want equal coverage for their kids. Ive played this part of
the tape a lot. I cant believe I left the door open. I cant believe I
didnt give them a polite no.
Jason starts making comments about different
players weaknesses that would be more appropriate if we were talking about NBA
millionaires rather than teenagers from North Florida. I just let it go. I dont even
remember him doing this.
"Why do you drive the truck," I say during
the next break, "if you dont work there?"
"Its the old truck. Its for
At the next break, you can hear a Britney Spears song.
Cheerleaders are doing something. Different parents come up and tell me this is nothing
compared to what their kids will do at halftime. Again, I say Ill think about it.
"So why arent you swimming?" I ask
Jason. Wanting to know why is junk food the soul stupidly craves. "You know, I
didnt know until last night that there was winter swimming."
"What happened last night?" he says.
"Someone called and said we should broadcast
"God," he says. "Thats even worse
I shush him, apparently because Im afraid the
parents are within earshot. "Whats wrong with cheerleading?" I say, in a
venomous near-whisper. " Your first time on the air and you think you know what makes
good radio and what doesnt?"
The night guy tells me to let the kid have it.
"You know why everyone at the stations so
cold to you, right? They think youre going to take their job."
"Why did Duke hire you?"
I remember Jason shrugging. The night guy asks what
Jason said. "To take your job," I say. Jason starts to say something, and I talk
over him. Basketball stuff. The night guy cusses us out.
And so, we come to halftime.
Again I say I have to go pee. For the next few
minutes, Im in a stall in the Monroeville High boys room, fighting hyperventilation.
Theres nothing on the tape but ambient whatnot. A school band plays a medley from
"The Lion King." A contest is conducted; someone fails and the crowd groans.
Jason tells the night guy that Im really going to broadcast the cheerleading
"Perfect," he says. "Look, dont
bullshit me. Seriously, why did Duke hire you?"
I get back right then. "What are you going to
say?" Jason says.
"The secrets not having something to say
" I say
" its saying something," says
the night guy. "You fucking blowhard."
I dont say anything. You can hear Jason take off
his headset. Moments later, the night guy throws it back to us. And so I do it. I
dont know how I did it, but I do: describing their every vault, their every sad,
wobbly pyramid, with terminology I didnt know I had. For maybe thirty seconds,
its dull but fine. Then I hold out a microphone to capture the clapping and the
boy-band music. "Its a truly gorgeous display, ladies and gentlemen," I
say, "and I wish you were here to see it. These girls are beyond the shadow of a
doubt the most stunning and wonderful and lively and lovely cheerleaders this reporter has
yet seen. Bob Deldermuth would not pull your leg. These are girls youd be proud to
have as daughters, nieces, neighbors, lovers, or friends. These are girls that make you
proud to be drawing breath. Their skin is perfect. Their skin is perfect and you could see
that if you were here? Jason Truax, did you notice that their skin was perfect?"
I dont know at what point in all that I fell
asleep. Oh, hell. That line is so blurred for me, Im not even sure its right
to call it sleep.
Theres some dead air, then Jason, out of breath,
puts on his headphones. "What do you think it will take," he says, "for
Monroeville to get back in the game?"
"Youre the color man," I say.
"Whats your precious book say?" By now I must be awake.
Jason starts to talk about certain players and their
"My lord, but those girls were wonderful," I
say. "Do you know what?"
"Um, no." Jason says. "What?" The
fear in his voice is just awful.
"It made me want to cry," I say.
Jason pulls the plug on me, which I didnt know
he knew how to do.
Theres seventy-four seconds of dead air, then
the night guy is swearing like a hothead in a mob movie. When I come back on, Im
furious at first. Then I try to reconstruct what happened and cant, then I beg Jason
and the night guy to let me do the second half as if nothing happened. Ill be fine.
Given my ratings, I say, its possible no one was listening, or listening all that
We do the second half as if nothing happened. During
commercial breaks, no one says more than the bare minimum.
Jason drives the van back to the station. The rain is ridiculous, and he
has to pull over several times. Still, we dont say a word to each other. There are
three cars in the lot, mine, the night guys, Jasons truck, and Duke
McKibbons Cadillac. "Whatever you do," I say as Jason pulls in,
"dont apologize. Dont accept any blame for anything. And I know
youre about to say something about the time your mom left, but here." I hand
him ten bucks. "Dont."
He shoves the money in my mouth. For whatever reason I
accept this. I chew it. I swallow.
I am the only one fired, of course.
Its Dietz who talks me most of the way home. But
right near my ruts, I tell him Ive arrived. I mean to call the service, but it takes
me the rest of the way home to summon the nerve. When I do, hosanna, its her. Kelly.
"Its me," I say. "Bob Deldermuth."
"Ive been thinking about you," she
"I think you need a creative outlet. There are
studies that show thats a help."
"Im a man of few skills," I say.
"Though I did just eat ten dollars."
"You know how to sweep a girl off her feet,"
she says. "Youre in your car, arent you?"
What she hears is the rain as I get out and run from
the car to my empty house. I get in and stamp my feet and apologize. "I cant
sing," I say. "Cant dance, cant draw. I hate gardening. Anything
"Dont ask. I did take acting lessons
"Youre kidding," she says. "I
have an agent."
"I thought you said you were a law student."
"I was on one of those reality TV shows."
She says which one. I never heard of it. "I thought it might lead to other things. It
led to this. Hah."
"My teacher described himself, in his own
brochure, as a Suncoast dinner-theater legend. The lessons were pricy to work
with a guy like that. Also I was self-conscious about how I moved."
"How do you move?"
"Im in the process." I am sitting on a
stack of boxes by my back door. I know, now, that Im not going to ask her about
"Me, too. When did you live in Tampa?"
"Bradenton. My wife got transferred there to open
a restaurant." Which made me think of Stephanie, which made me think about being
alone for Christmas, and I flashed on the Christmas she was first in rehab, when I went
home and saw my brother do a birthday party for our sisters twin daughters. "I
could be a clown," I say. "My brother is a clown. He lives in Chagrin Falls and
his clown name is Cousin Blammo."
"Cmon. Chagrin Falls?"
"Its true," I say. Swear to God.
"Hes good: juggling, magic, jokes, pratfalls, the works. Hes a math
teacher, but he makes a lot of money on the side, clowning."
"Ive always wanted to, you know," she
says. "Be with a clown."
"Thats common," I say.
"Never call me common," she says, and
I walk to the back door. Its dark as hell, but
then lightning flashes. The lake is filling up. Cleveland, here I come.