Monday, March 07, 2005

The World in My Ears as I Walk

As I have mentioned before and will mention again, pride being its own engine, four or five workdays I drive my wife to her job in downtown Oakland, park the car and walk home. I do this because back in December my blood pressure worried my doctor and he gave me a month to get it down. In mid-January I started walking.

It's worked. I am getting some gaudy numbers. Last night having sat very still for 15 minutes with a cat on my lap, I was 115/69. Good job!

As I walk I listen to a radio attached by a band of elastic to my arm. I use earbuds so I'm not so cut off from the world I get run down like a dog in the dirt. I try to listen to Terry Gross (Fresh Air!), but my little radio has trouble holding the station because she's on 91.7 FM -- the band is crowded; the signal is not overpoweringly strong. When the atmospherics aren't quite right (which is most of the time) I listen to Michael Krassny on 88.5 FM. Michael Krassny is public radio epitomized. When he is good -- that is, when he is working on a topic I care about -- he is splendid, and when he is bad -- again it's a matter of topic -- zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

But the last couple of weeks I have discovered a third alternative: Al Franken on 960 AM. I tried Franken and Air America when they became available in the Bay Area last fall, and he moved between frantic and wooden and he was not that funny and I was embarrassed for him.

Either he has gotten better or I've gotten less frantic as I've accepted the fact that I will probably not see the Promised Land of an America where the instrument is an instrument of our collective goodness, not our collective greed and envy in my lifetime. If we must retreat a thousand miles, we will. But we will come back, though perhaps only our bones will make that journey. (Metaphor alert. Metaphor alert.)

Anyway, Franken now seems far more comfortable on radio, and the comic bits he does are certainly funnier. This morning he was parodying a bit that Rush Limbaugh apparently does, the premise of which is that someone listening to the show in the studio is making comments off mike that Limbaugh reacts to. Some of you are old enough to remember those great Bob Newhart bits in which he was on the phone with someone.

Think back. Lincoln's press agent listens patiently as the President talks about the Gettysburg Address. Then: "Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it."

Limbaugh does something like this with "Mr. Snerdly" -- according to Franken. Snerdly interrupts Limbaugh with something even ruder than Limbaugh's latest nonsense, and Limbaugh repeats the comment. Franken's conceit was that Mr. Snerdly has come on Franken's show and Franken says something like: "We would never talk about Rush's racist comments about Donovan McNabb. (Pause) What's that Mr. Snerdly? He is a racist."

No quite what he said, but you get the idea. It's a bit that depends on nice timing , and Franken played it well. His general talk and interviews are good, too -- though he seems to ignore his gal sidekick, but, hey, he is the show, end of story. It is now like real radio, relaxed at times, angry at times. But there is no longer a sense of suffering through your child's piano recital, caught between your desire that the kid do well and your understanding that between excellence and what you are hearing there is a great gulf fixed.

In other words, I no longer feel that listening to Al is itself an act of charity for which there should be an income tax deduction.

Bonus: Here's the Newhart bit.

What's that Abe? You're getting a lot of complaints about Grant's drinking? I don't see the problem you knew he was a lush when you appointed him. Your gag writers? Your gag writers…you want to come back with something funny. A joke about a town drunk. I can't promise anything Abe but I'll get them working on it. You got the speech? You haven't changed the speech have you? Abe whattaya change the speeches for? A couple of minor changes. I'll bet. Alright, what are they? You what?! You typed it. Abe, how many times have we told you…on the backs of envelopes! I understand it's harder to read that way but it looks like you wrote it on the train ride coming down. Abe could you do this? Could you memorize it and then put it on the backs of envelopes? We're getting a lot of play in the press on that. How are the envelopes holding out? You could stand another box. Alright I'll send them out. What else Abe? You changed four score and seven to…to 87?! I understand, but Abe that's meant to be a grabber. Abe we test marketed that in Eerie and they went out of their minds. Trust me. Well Abe it's sort of like Marc Antony saying, "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I've got something I wanna tell ya!" See what I mean Abe? What else? People will little note, nor long remember. Abe what could possibly be wrong with that? They remembered. Abe they'll remember it, it's the old humble bit. You can't say it's a great speech. I think everybody's going to remember it Abe. Well you come off like a braggart, don't you see that. Abe, do the speech the way Charlie wrote it, would you. The inaugural address swarmed didn't it? Anything else? You talked to some newspapermen. Abe I wish you wouldn't talk to some newspapermen. You always put your foot in…that's just what I mean Abe. No…no…no…you were a rail-splitter, then an attorney. Abe it doesn't make any sense that way. You wouldn't give up your law practice. Would you read the biog, you're causing a lot of trouble on this end. Abe listen, before I forget, we're coming out with an Abe Lincoln t-shirt on Tuesday. Could you work that into the speech?"

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