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Bittersweet Symphony
by Feech
Feech -- all rights reserved
to Bear, with Love

Do you ever get the feeling that the world is just humouring you?

You hear that things are getting better. You hear what you want to hear. They'll tell you anything.

Who will? Anyone will. Honesty isn't really as popular as people make it out to be. If you just show a little sensitivity to the truth, people will protect you from it.

Tell folks that SCABS are discriminated against, and they'll tell you that before SCABS it was gays, and before that women, and that people learn over time. Mention that gays are discriminated against, and the humouring takes one backwards step into racism. "See!" They say, "African-Americans used to be treated as lesser. The time will come when homosexuals, too, are regarded fairly."

Talk about the time last year in Texas when you saw a Norm man beat up for his color, and the comforting backtracks to the past treatment of women. "See..."

Yes, we see, but we want to believe it will get better, and the humourers want it so much they will comfort you with falsehoods that in the next moment they must retract in order to defend those who are being abused now. For the world that actually cares is the world that pretends things are better than they are.

"Think what you want. People are generally good. Do what you want to do. It's your right. Everyone is an individual. Individuality is valued. Someday someone will appreciate you for it."

When? When that someone, someday, reads a pamphlet or diary left behind and says, "This man was far ahead in his thinking. If only mankind had known then what it knows now."... And then that someone publishes that pamphlet or diary and it is banned in the schools in twenty states?

I'm not talking about myself, either. Oh, I will. Give me long enough and I will. It is the nature of my job, to pretend I am somebody, to make-believe that I have some sort of effect, that I make a difference.

No, I'm talking about so many great men from so many different societies... And so many not-so-great, but so well-meaning, men from any given time in our history. Humans will ever be racist, or clannish, and will always separate into factions of some sort or another.

It's the nature of man as the Beast. Man is not meant to be able to comprehend the teachings of the acceptance of all, the teachings of the best philosophers in every day. Man is a clannish creature, and those who do not behave this way will tell you it is not so. Why do they tell me what I want to hear? Because they want to love everyone around them, and maybe they would be just a little too afraid to do so if they admitted that, deep down, their neighbors were hopeless cases.

I appreciate the humouring; if I didn't, I may as well never have worked so hard to be with Christopher.

Christopher is a champion humourer. If his soul weren't so open and kind he might be able to look darkly upon his situation, but as it is it falls to me, when I am not with him and missing him and getting into these moods, to recognize the true nature of man and why it is that if there is some natural goodness to us all, it is sure as Hell not going to be witnessed here.

Christopher is one of those men who somehow manages to see past the majority of the truth and sight only that portion of the population who desires to see as he does. I can be like that, when I think about Chris. It's easy to give back to him what he gives me. Which only proves what a selfish bastard I am.

I sit up here in the radio station and make-believe that words I say affect life stories throughout the range of my station's signal.

Of course, where I work now that signal doesn't reach very far. Perhaps a little finger of my show touches LaCrosse, beyond the bridge that connects Minnesota to Wisconsin. The mountain that cuts us off to the south interferes to the point of obliteration. I should drive, sometime, north with my car radio tuned to this signal, just to see how long it lasts in that direction.

Of course, that would mean that this place can contain me even on a real day off.

Christopher, Christopher. There are nights I wish he would not be able to sleep so he would call me and I could comfort him and in so doing get myself the Hell out of this funk.

This place isn't so busy as at our old home. Tonight, in fact, there's just me. Sandra the secretary slash back-up-phone-answerer and mail-checker disappeared an hour ago and the room still has that change in the air as if the door just closed.

The novelty of wheeling in my captain's chair from console to computer wore off long ago. Now I just feel like my legs are being overworked.

Someone once told me that everyone has an image in their head of what the DJ's on any given station look like. I asked what they had thought of me before they met me, and they said they hadn't listened to my station.

If a man sends out songs in the dark and nobody listens, does he have a face?

You will excuse me. It is two AM.

You know, I really think I am the only one who matters to me who sees my face any more. Christopher's eyes aren't so good since the Flu shifted his form.


I hit the button on the first ring. Nothing distracts me from answering the phone, anyway... It seems, somehow, that having little to do can be as tiring as all the slave-driving that went on with my old show. I think I miss-- no, this is home now.

"Ninety-six point five All Night, do you have a request to send out?"

"Hello."

The voice is oddly mechanical, yet not of the type used in a vodor. It sounds sort of like those recorded voices on the public service phone lines. It sounds like it comes from recordings of a woman's voice.

"Hi, to whom am I speaking?"

Now there is a shift, and suddenly a flash of recording from that old rock opera: "Kilroy... Kilroy..."

"I... see."

I get a lot of calls and emails from the university, but this is certainly more unusual than most, even on a slow, late night, which is when I do really tend to get the weirdest. "And what can I do for you, Kilroy? Do you have a request?"

"Yep," says a child's voice, cheerfully. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps..." This last obviously lifted from the plaintive, polished strains of the song itself.

"Right," I can't help but chuckle, "You got it, but it appears that you have the song on recording already. What does it matter to you if I play it?"

"I have power over you," intones a deep, masculine voice. "Play what I tell you to play, and you care about me."

I check to see that all is going according to schedule with the songs being broadcast. I decide to continue this chat a bit longer.

"You do care about me, don't you?" Pleads another, childlike voice.

"...Sure..." I say, fumbling with buttons quickly so I can reply. I should be able to talk and do this at the same time, but the equipment here still feels new to me. "Sure, I care. You guys are my fans."

I speak with a grin in my voice and a touch of sarcasm, but this time an earnest young man's voice, still with that mechanical, jacketed sound, answers me. "Fans? Sure! How do I know anyone else is up besides you? I'm your biggest fan. Anyone broadcasting his alertness in the wee hours is my best companion in the world. You know, during the day there are people to watch. At night you care, because you're awake and you wonder if anyone's listening, and I am."

Actually, kid (I feel sure, somehow, that this is a kid, a student at Hayden Heath), I know people are listening because the station would not have hired me without knowing the stats on who's listening when and who it's worth paying to be here. Into the phone I say, "Thanks for listening. Can't you watch people at night, too? Don't you hang out with anyone?"

I almost feel sorry about having asked, but it's out. Sometimes I forget how many around here have SCABS. Maybe the kid can't go out. But he seems unperturbed... Although maybe he just doesn't have a "perturbed" setting in his voice collection.

"Nobody here at night but me," rasps an elderly sound. "If there are people here, I watch them. And I speak to them. Funny thing is, they never seem to see me."

"Hm?"

"I'm kidding," says another voice. The effect is beginning to get a tad jarring. "I stay up here from my own choice. We sound booth operators are hot commodities. Only one other in the whole rest of the school. And this way I don't need a dorm room."

"I... See..." That is strange. Of course, so is living with a Grizzly bear, but I would defend it to anyone. It's all in how you look at it. How do I know what this person looks-- or even sounds-- like? And what does this person know about me? Only that I work at the town radio station and that I take requests. And all that I know is that this person wants to hear "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Well, that I can do. It's my job.

I really have no right to be tired... Tired of working nights, tired of knowing that while this kid is calling me and making some semblance of contact, my own husband is sleeping soundly in our bed across town.

Sleeping soundly. No, I have no right to complain. But it all comes down to protection again. We hole ourselves up in this little town, and everything's alright. What about when something happens and we have to leave?

Sometimes in this room, at night, I feel young and vulnerable all over again. Maybe it comes from moving into a college town, but I get the fear that there will come a requirement, a changing, a time when all of a sudden some voice of authority will charge us with returning to the lives of responsible members of society... Men who work not for each other but against the increasing pressure of Society versus... Take your pick... Gays, SCABS... I don't feel responsible sitting here sending out sounds. With Christopher's job, I can afford to think of this as supplemental, if I really need to. No, I feel like we've been getting away with something, and as if pretty soon we're going to be found out.

"How long is your shift tonight?" Inquires the next recorded voice of Kilroy.

"Four AM. You gonna stay with me?"

"You bet! I'll call back later and give another request. Could you play another one?"

"We'll see how the schedule goes. Feel free to call back."

"Okay, thanks, I'll be waiting for my song."

As soon as the connection breaks, I no longer know whether my caller is actually listening.

For all I know, Kilroy will never ring this radio station again. For all I know, Kilroy dropped dead there in his university sound booth and no one will notice that he is gone until the one other operator finds him... Sometime. And the likelihood that I would ever hear about his death is certainly not very high. He, or she, might be silent forever as far as this radio station is concerned and I might wonder, at night, whether something happened to my "biggest fan" or whether they just stopped listening, or just decided against phoning in again. What if another student dies, and I hear of it, and assume it is the one who was identified to me on the phone as Kilroy, but it is not, and for the rest of Kilroy's life there is a DJ at the Hayden Heath radio station who assumes that Kilroy is dead?

I really must get some other thoughts into my head. I'm sinking into that funk again; the one that seems to haunt me, nights, since Chris's and my move to Minnesota.

Back home, before he leaves to his dream job and I go to bed, things seem completely right with the world for the merest moment. I am not an unhappy person. I can't even tell myself, honestly, that I am in any way miserable. I have married the most wonderful man I can imagine, and now, at last, things seem to be going right for him.

It is this separation that eats at me and makes irrational fears grow in my mind when Sandra leaves and I am in charge of dispensing music to other awakened souls in the area. I don't like not knowing what's going on with him right now. Thinking of Kilroy and all the remotest possibilities sets me to thinking of my husband and all those possibilities. Leave me alone here long enough, and it gets very dark indeed. Where we used to live, I was so used to the house that I could see nothing other than a peaceful, if melancholy, image of the big bear spending his time at home and waiting for my return each evening. It hurt, it hurt a lot, knowing how helpless he felt and that I was his only real connection to the outside world. Here, though, somehow this whole thing has got turned around. And our new place is still not settled as permanent in my mind. I keep feeling as if Chris is blissfully sleeping thousands of miles away, and it will take days for me to reach him when I finish here.

That is probably the lightest turn my imaginings take while I work in the wee hours. Before, I could always phone him up if I worried about how he was or whether he was safe and well. I almost dial, several times a night, and I know he has the same temptation during his office hours in the daytime. But in the best interests of each other, we can't check up unless the other of us phones first. The last thing either of us wants to do is deprive the other of sleep.

You know, sometimes I don't even pay attention to the music. I wish it meant as much to me as it does to the people listening. I suppose that must be how other performers feel, too. Wishing that they could see or hear or feel it spontaneously, to get the full effect.

Time to get ready for another pause. I lean forward and turn on my best voice and attitude, then speak at the right moment. It does seem to me, at these times, that this may just as well be done with computers as with human beings. But this is a late-night, I-wish-Chris-were-here-and-I-feel-useless thought. Other times I really do love my job.

"Good morning! My name is Rod Hughes-Swift and I'm up All Night, taking requests by email and phone, so if there's anything you'd like to hear I'd love to hear from you"--Would I ever. What a slow night--"We have some Eagles, Beatles by request, Melissa Etheridge, and a whole lot of great nineties hits coming up. I'll be here until four when Todd will take over, bringing you a full album by vote from the past week. Thanks for listening, stay with us!"

There, that's done. I check to make sure the advertisements are playing as necessary and then wheel on over to the computer terminal. I thought I heard a new-mail blip.

Yes, there seems to be a message. Good, gives me something to think about. I decide to read it aloud in conjunction with playing the song, later. It's going out to someone... Request sent in from Pennsylvania, according to the signature. That's kind of odd. They must have gotten our email address specifically to do this-- there's no way our signal would be received out there.

It just goes to show, I suppose... I suppose some people do try to reach out, and do nice things for people, like Chris... But how many? The majority are still just plain human. Someone like Chris would tell you that "plain human" is basically good, but I'm not sure. I'm just not sure.

Here we are, in Hayden Heath, Minnesota, miles and miles from home, making a new home where nobody cares what my husband looks like. The very length of the drive to get here only emphasizes how rare these places are. Chris tried for years to get employment somewhere. When Hayden Heath's staff reached out to him, it was the answer to everything he needed, rebuilding his faith in humanity... And somehow eroding mine.

It seems to me that if people were as nice as I can be when Chris brings it out in me, there would not be such an obvious line encircling Hayden Heath. I almost want to send out warnings on the airwaves every night: Don't graduate! We've been out there! Stay here and hide in your sound booths and computer labs and biology rooms and dorm commons. Pretend this is all there is. No matter how prepared you think you are, you can't be. There is no preparation for the rest of the world for you kids with SCABS.

Chris has had to come here to hide. In order to reach out, he has had to enclose himself in this town.

And I along with him, spending nights in this small station and worrying that something will happen to take away my husband's happiness. This seems to be the only place. Coming here wasn't progress. It was a stroke of good luck that will fade if the slightest change in the fortunes of this town takes place.

It reminds me of something, but I can't think what. All I know is that, from two to four o'clock in the morning, it looks too good to be true.

I want to calm down. I want to settle in and believe we have found what we are looking for, here.

I know I have not yet, though. When I lie in bed with his pillow hugged tightly in my arms where I can smell it, I know this is not any kind of solution unless we are together. It seems sometimes that his work makes him more distant from me in his eagerness to teach and help. When I could be seeing his classes, getting to know the students and what he does and understanding his days here, I am sleeping so I can earn money all night.

What gets to me the most is that the he cannot tell me of the students who affect him in the deepest and most meaningful ways. He tells me some of what they say, those that he volunteers to counsel, but I have no idea at the end of his day who else he has felt the touch of since last I saw him.

Jealous... Isn't the right word. It is that I am his husband, and everything that matters to him matters to me. He tries to tell me, but it's not the same. I know he's helping those kids, but towards what end? What does happen when they leave here?

On the other hand, there is this message that the sender claims is from Pennsylvania...

I suppose there could be other places that accept people like Chris. Like the students here. But we have yet to experience any of them. Not that I've looked, I have to admit to myself with a touch of shame. I was too busy making our living while Chris battled with discrimination and loneliness and the constant search for that magic place that it seemed never would appear...

It is easier to shed the effects of discrimination when you're actually working. My enthusiasm helped him, and now he helps these kids, with his office door always open and his time given freely. I have no right to complain.

But it is human nature, when overtired, to be weighed down by doubt and worry and things that go bump in the night.

He has been worried about a certain student. One whose name, of course, I do not know. I know about some of the students in his regular classes, but the ones that come to him for counseling could walk up to me and introduce themselves and we would never know each other from Adam.

"It's a terrible case," Chris said to me, wearily, one weekend that we shared, allowing his great, furred bulk to sink with a loud onto the sofa. "I'm really not qualified. But she has no money to gain counseling elsewhere, and she and a friend and some of the staff from her high school have told me the whole story. For some reason, she trusts me."

"I can see why," I told him, settling next to him and rubbing his fur in circles with a massaging pressure. "You are the world's largest Teddy bear."

He grinned with his flews, then sobered again. "That's actually pretty accurate, Rod. The poor girl has as much as said that she's glad I don't smell like a man. She has only been comfortable with a few men in her lifetime."

I never know how much it is all right for me to ask in these cases, having been reminded many a time that these things are confidential, and I found myself choking on all sorts of questions. All I could say was, "Well, if you... I mean, whatever you can..."

"I know. I know, Rod. Thank you." "I love you." "I love you, too." There was a pause. I swivel in my captain's chair now, letting the memory of the conversation surface so I have something to cling to of the awake Chris, the Chris I have been with. It makes him seem closer, somehow.

"I don't know what to do for her except be an ear."

"You excel at that, Bear," I told him.

He sighed and turned slightly onto one side. "It's such a... You think you have it bad, and then you meet someone like that..."

It seemed the matter would be left at that, and in the ensuing weeks of silence concerning the mystery girl I grew, I admit, even a little surly with Christopher. How dare he keep from me something that caused him pain! How the Hell was I supposed to fix it if he wouldn't, could not, tell me what was wrong?

I reach a slot in my schedule where I can play Kilroy's requested "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and do so. I wonder if the person is still listening. Another check on the email, a few more requests. People must be getting their second winds.

Ever wonder whether you just tell yourself what you want to hear? I certainly don't have anyone here to do it for me right now.

When I pause and introduce the show, I can't help entertaining the idea that I may be connecting with listeners out there on a personal level, just through my voice. I can hear an echo of myself in my mind: Hi, my name is Rod Hughes-Swift...

I imagine there are those who are tuned in to the station, suddenly brought to attention by the beginning measures of their favorite song or, in this case, by the abrupt sound of my greeting. A greeting I make without a target, except the possible listeners who may or may not be awake, or in the room, or alive. I almost hear the drone of my station as white noise in some dorm as a student pays no attention whatsoever to the radio or to my work, typing diligently at a report due in the morning. I imagine, though, that some people turn to the speakers or prick up their ears, and a few might even be glad it's me. I mean, the station must have hired me specifically for some reason. Must have. Maybe.

I imagine a few voices around Hayden Heath actually vibrate in response, either sincerely or sarcastically... "Hi, Rod..."

... Before life goes on and the radio fades into insignificance-- unless a treasured melody comes on. I wonder off and on whether each song I play is enjoyed by some one person, or whether only a select few actually matter to anybody anymore and we are, most hours, just wasting our time.

Maybe if I worked during the day, with the votes for the album of the week and so on coming in, with other DJ's at remote (sort of-- the strip mall on the highway) locations broadcasting with me, I wouldn't think these things. Then I wouldn't have so much time to think these things.

I wonder if I'm afraid that we will stay in Hayden Heath happily ever after.

At that strip mall on the highway, Chris finally updated me a bit on his student, the one whose mention always darkened those glittering, deep-set eyes even further.

He stopped at the display window of a Christian bookstore, the sappy kind that always make me cringe. "Look," he said, nodding to a tray of jewelry in the window.

"What is it, Bear?"

"My student, the-- one with the abusive father. That's something very different about her."

"What is?"

In a society where we preface everything with a name, where our name is who and what we are, it unsettles me not to hear a name to go with someone, especially someone so intimately connected to my husband. She tells him everything. Her only other real, close friends live elsewhere. I am so proud of Chris, hearing of this and knowing what he does for people, but at the same time it makes him that much less mine. And as noted before, in these moods I am a selfish bastard.

Well, who wouldn't want Chris all to himself?

Then again, I was the one who told him that his SCABS just meant there was more of him to love.

Not that I couldn't love it all.

"That," he said, nodding his massive head at some pins on a corner of the velvet-lined tray. "She belongs to some kind of computer group. They talk about-- changing into things. Only it's not SCABS support. It's all people who want to change into something, whose desire is to become physically what they are not."

I heard him almost let out her name by mistake. He caught himself and went on. A few customers exited the store, carrying those little white bags with gold and grey lettering, appearing serene bacause they were buying religiously sound merchandise.

"-- She-- talks a lot about wanting to become a fish, or at least gain the abilities of a fish of some kind."

"She wants to become a fish?" I tried to say it non-judgmentally.

Chris looked at me. "Fish are a classic symbol of escape. It makes sense, given what she's been through. Although she says she has had some inkling of that desire since she was very young. Only there was no application for it, until she met a man who was attracted to her."

I nodded. This was another point where, if it was okay to tell more, he would. It was not my place to ask questions. I placed my hand on his shoulder and leaned on him slightly, which didn't imbalance him at all. He stood placidly on all fours and gazed back at the jewelry which he must have just barely been able to see by holding his face right next to the glass.

"He evidently helped her to discover that the idea of-- turning into a fish turns her on."

"She tells you these things?"

"Yes, she does. She desperately needs to be told that her thoughts are all right. She spent her whole life so far believing that sex is a bad thing. She did not--" he looked at me earnestly, seriously-- "ever feel any sexual arousal herself. None that she could define, anyway. Until her new friend got her one of these."

"Which kind?"

"The fish. I can barely see it there on the tray, but I'm pretty sure I'm nodding in the right direction. The symbol for Christ."

"How do you know what that stands for?"

"She told me. And she didn't know until-- he-- her friend told her. She said that he learned it used to be drawn in the sand by Christians when they were persecuted, and if the person they were speaking to also drew such a fish, they could feel safe in discussing the next meeting place of the Christian people in the area."

"Really."

He nodded. "Evidently it turns her on."

"Fish."

"That fish. The Christian fish. A little gold, generic fish. It's the first thing that ever put the idea of pleasure into her head... Sexual pleasure, I mean."

"It doesn't even look like a real fish," I noted. "I mean, there are no fins except for the tail, and it's hollow."

"That's just it," Chris explained. I began to realize how long we had been standing in front of the shop window, and how nobody had yet given us a withering stare or even a disgusted glance. We both have had some strange sensations in adjusting to the treatment of SCABS around Hayden Heath. Chris has spent time in the university, and is probably adjusting quicker than I, who spend all my time in this radio room. "I think-- she-- has never really had a specific fish in mind. That could be any fish. It's open to her mind, her imagination. It's so open that that fish could be her."

"MmHm." What was I supposed to say? Being a supportive listener is harder than it seems, sometimes. I hit upon, "Well, that's good, then, that she is making friends with a man, right?"

He shrugged. "Yes."

"What's-- oh. Tell me if you can."

"What's wrong? Well, nothing, really. But it occurs to me that if she goes to visit him frequently, and things progress as they have been, then, well, then I might miss her."

I ruffled his fur. "If she needs you this badly, I don't think she's suddenly going to forget you."

"I don't know." He sighed, his massive ribcage rising and falling dramatically under his loose hide. "She met him when they were both travelling out East. It'll be so far away, and I won't know how she is..."

"I guess that's what we get for becoming attached to people."

"Yeah..."

"Is this, if I may ask, the same guy you told me about who she managed to make friends with earlier? Or is this a different person?"

"A different person. He seems all right. He sent me an email, telling about the two months over the summer they spent together. He tells me that he has had no sexual contact with her himself. He is trying to teach her, just as I am, although more intimately in his case, how to please herself."

I thought that over, and said, "You know, Professor Bear, it seems this abused child of yours has collected herself quite a crowd of benefactors."

He wrinkled his flews in a bit of a smile. "Sometimes I worry about that."

"That she'll end up in the wrong hands?"

"No... It's the same old thing again. That she'll end up in the right hands, and that despite the fact that I'm certainly busy enough from day to day I will be jealous of whoever helps her the most."

Busy. Day to day. Jealous.

Well, maybe a little. Maybe I am just a little jealous of anyone, including my husband, whose job involves such intimate contact with others, who really makes a difference.

What if he didn't need me?

But he does. I know he does, and it gives me the pride I have had in anything I have ever done right. One of those things, of course, was marrying Chris in the first place. Then again, he brought that out of me too. It seems as if everything I do has been enhanced by him and his openness, yet I am never really connected to him.

Damn money anyway. Maybe we should both turn into bears and trundle off to live in the North Woods somewhere.

Heck, there are even some nice forests around here.

More buttons. More switches. More commercials. More songs. A time slot open for requests; going in order, I call up the email again and read off the dedication.

"Okay, this one goes out to Laurie, and your boyfriend Angelo writes here that you'd better appreciate it because he managed to get a dedication to you all the way from Pennsylvania this fine morning. So, Laurie, from Angelo, here's Guns'n'Roses and 'Don't Cry'."

I wonder about that as the signals make their way out. Do these people have a view in their minds of my face, as I have of theirs? Is it anything close to accurate? Is mine? I know less of Angelo and Laurie than I do of Kilroy. Oh, wait. I know Angelo's email address. I could harrass him, thereby knowing that I had harrassed him, and adding to my store of information.

Who else has Angelo sent email to today? His granny? The President of the United States? Why "Don't Cry"? Is it because Laurie is here and her boyfriend is there, and she must be lying awake at night missing him, or is it just that she tends to be nocturnal and he knows she likes the song?

I send out a few more requests and wait for four o'clock. Time slows down the closer it gets to quitting time, and even though my mood lifts, knowing that for a short time I will see Christopher and hold him and get him ready for his day, this is when my sullenness can also reach its peak. I'm tired, I've had enough, I don't want these little lights blinking at me and the computer screen glowing mercilessly and the monitor telling me so damned reliably what's playing.

Playing to a sleeping town. People used to know me, used to schedule around my show. Now whole lives revolve around Chris and I'm invisible.

Alright, that's not fair, Chris loves me above all else, and anyway my talent isn't exactly nil.

And who knows? Sometimes I like to fancy that each minute this station is on the air is a minute that changes the course of a life, even though I will never know it. If a request is played when the intended recipient is tuned in, what does it mean to that person? If I weren't working, would Kilroy really be unable to contact anyone else who is awake at this hour? Somehow I doubt that, but still... And if a request goes out, and the intended recipient is no longer tuned in, does the very fact of that song's airing affect someone else, someone who would never have thought to ask for it but wanted it very badly? How many people does a request really reach? However many it is, I am the medium between the person with the request and the person or people it reaches.

Of course, we are just talking about a few minutes of oldish music here.

I don't really listen to the songs that often. I make up my mind to listen to the next request, if another comes in before I go home. Slow, slow night. I'm all caught up already. Maybe--


"Hello, this is Rod with Ninety-six point five All Night, may I play a song for you?"

"Hello."

I'd swear that's Orson Welles. "Kilroy?"

"Play a song for me," a woman's voice suggests seductively.

"What'll you have? Make it good, alright?"

"Hmmm... Lemme seee....." The child considers for some time.

"Do you have any idea what you want?"

"Something... Meaningful. Nobody stands out."

"How do you mean?"

"Ever notice how every year the Box Elder Bugs gather in the Box Elders, and they all look exactly alike?"

"Box Elder Bugs?"

A gruff throat-clearing precedes Kilroy's continuance. "Box Elder Bugs are possessed of red and black warning coloration, and are the natural prey of no creature. However, this tends to make their annual gathering on the sides of houses something of a menace, as they swarm in the hundreds and are not decimated by predation. For a quick and easy Box Elder Bug control, simply spray your house with a mixture of water and ordinary dish detergent.

"And they all up and die," says a teenaged boy's voice, "And you can't even tell one from another. Don't you think people are like that?"

"People? Why?"

"You can't tell one from another. From up here in the booth, I could be talking to anybody, and anybody could be talking to me. And then, if I were to, say, fade into a crowd somewhere, and some one of the theatre students decided to decimate that crowd, with, say, dish detergent, and I never showed up at school again, they would never be able to identify me out of all the crumpled corpses.

"Now would they."

"I... Guess not. Yes, I guess put that way people are a little like that. So, something... Meaningful, then."

"Right. We just don't know whether we're spraying dish detergent and water all over the one person who did such a brilliant job with the sound on our last show. We wouldn't know him from Adam. Yet the whole species, the whole race, is a menace... At least, we all look the same."

"Do we?"

"If you're not really looking, we do."

"I guess so. What kind of meaningful song, then, Kilroy?"

"Do you have 'Bittersweet Symphony'?" Kilroy asks in a voice patched together from what sounds like several.

"Don't you have that one yourself?"

"No," barks the masculine answer. "It only counts on the radio."

"Right. I see."

"Can you play it?"

"Sure. Good choice. I'll be sure and listen with you."

"Hey, thanks. It's good to know someone else is awake and pondering at this hour."

"Likewise, Kilroy."

My own voice, recorded, comes back at me.

"Thanks for listening."

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