THE ROCK STATION has a standup DJ booth and phone lines that tie into the board. A red light flashes to show a call coming in. With the flick of a switch the caller’s voice will come over the speakers (but not over the air) and you can go about your business, having your conversation through the monitors and the mic. A lot of drunk and lonely people call on the late shift, wanting to hear their song, talk about life for awhile. I don’t have to answer if I don’t feel like it.
A pair of girls phone in one night, chatty and giggling. We talk awhile and they suggest that we meet. But I’d been warned.
“Chicks’ll call with the sexiest voice,” Dan Man, the drive-time jock told me, “then you’ll meet up and she’ll look like some zombie pig farmer.”
“From hell,” Chuck Buckle added. (Chuck is the only DJ to use his real name. “Why change it if it’s already cool?” he says.)
So when the girls needle me into agreeing to a get-together, I devise a plan that allows easy exit. “Meet me at the intersection of Island and Country Club Drive at 9:05 next Thursday night,” I say, trying to sound mysterious and cool. “I’ll take Island. When our cars pass, flip on your dome light.”
“Okay,” they chime in. “Look for a shiny black Jag.”
“Black Jag?” I reply. “Awesome.”
I picked two streets I knew would be deserted and dark. Driving through once alone, I make a second pass and then on the third see a car coming. It’s black alright. A beat-up old LeBaron with the right headlight hanging from its socket and a Bondo clawmark down the side. Laughing, I flash my brights and the LeBaron flashes back.
It’s a big intersection and our cars sit a good ways apart. We both pull forward. They flip on their dome light just before we cross. The driver is a bug-eyed girl with a big gap between her front teeth but cute as a brand new Shih tzu. The passenger-side girl has dimples and a head full of bouncy gold curls. Their windows are down.
“Hit your light!” Dimples screams.
I flick it on and forget to be cool, fumbling with my window, waving both hands, never expecting them to look half-way good. At the cross street I whip the car around, open my door and stand in the middle of the road with arms up. They roar away, howling mischief as their tail lights fade. The streets are still. They never return. Looks like this time, the joke was on me.
“Hello?” The speakers amplify every little thing. There’s a sniffle then hard breathing for awhile. Some women call to talk dirty, but that’s mostly Buckle’s shift. Not really my thing. “You there?” I ask. “Say something or I’m a hang up.”
“Is this really the DJ?”
“This is really the DJ,” I reply in my radio tone.
“Listen, I’m just gonna tell ya up front,” the caller says. “I been drinking a little tonight.”
“I’m on Sunday morning, midnight to six,” I tell her. “Everybody that calls me has been drinking.”
She laughs and we make small talk for awhile. Sounds young but not dumb, a little anxious but not unsure. If that makes sense. Seems like a pretty nice girl.
“I bet it’s cool having your voice go out to all those strangers,” she says, “people calling, playing music through the night…” I hear rustling in the background, like a plastic bag.
“Yeah, it’s all right,” I tell her. “Got a song you wanna hear?”
“Can you put on ‘Tuesday’s Gone’? I really need to hear that song tonight.”
Something about the way she says the words makes me ask. “Why’s that?”
“Because I’m tired of living this life and that’s the song I want to ride out to.” She says it flat, real matter-of-fact. I can’t think of anything to say back. “Pretty messed up, huh?” she asks. “Hope I’m not freakin’ you out.”
“No, it’s okay,” I reply. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Long story. Even if I told you it wouldn’t make no sense.” There’s a catch in her voice; she swallows hard. “You just get so tired, man.” Rustle and breath; the flick of a lighter and a long exhale. “You probably wouldn’t understand. You’re busy.”
“It’s three in the morning. I’m really not that busy.”
“Things ain’t been the same since my mama died. There’s not really anybody I can trust or talk to. Takin’ too many pills, drinkin’. Money. Doin’ stupid stuff. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.”
“How old were you when your mom died?”
“Thirteen. You think you get over it, but nah, stuff like that, it don’t ever leave you. I just feel so lost sometimes.”
“Me too. Sometimes.”
“Yeah? What do you do when you feel really bad? Like really, really low.”
“Listen to music. Talk to my friends. Talk to God. I don’t know. ”
“I pray sometimes but it don’t feel like it does no good. Drinking helps for a while but all your same old problems are right there waiting when you sober up, man. Sometimes I drink and pray at the same time — pray not to have to drink so much, drink to not have to pray. I know that sounds crazy.”
“Hang on a sec,” I tell her, segueing Bob Seger into Skid Row. “So why ‘Tuesday’s Gone’?”
“Cause that’s the name she gave me,” she says, her voice cracking on the last words. “Tuesday’s gone, baby. Train roll on.”
Twenty seconds or so pass, neither of saying anything.
“I think Tuesday is a really pretty name.”
“It’s alright, I guess. That’s my middle name. My first name is Angela.”
“Mine’s Jamie. Nice to meet you.”
“Why they call you Hollywood on the radio?”
“Cause I got big crazy hair and wear sunglasses all the time.”
“I bet you’re one of them DJ’s that looks like you sound.”
“I’m just the late night guy at a small town rock and roll station.”
“What’s Chuck Buckle look like?”
“Like if you shot a homeless Mick Fleetwood out of a cannon into a liquor store.”
“Chuck Buckle looks like the dude from Fleetwood Mac?” she laughs.
“If he was homeless, yeah. He’s got that awesome radio voice though.”
“I like your voice better,” she says. “It calms me down. Really, I’ve been wantin’ to talk to you for a long time. But I was afraid to call.”
“Well, thanks. A lot of times it feels like nobody’s listening.”
“Oh yeah. We’re out here. All us crazy children of the night.”
“I’m here too. Talk all you want. But instead of ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, I’m gonna play ‘Ride On’ for you. In fact, I’m gonna play it next.” I grab the cart from the rack and cue up cut eight. “Send it out to Tuesday or Angela?”
“Angie,” she says, leaving a bit of dead air between the words. “But call me Angel.”
I play Bon Scott’s swan song and speak slowly over the long intro, sending it out to Angel and all the lost crazy children of the night.
“One of these days,” Angel says, speak-singing the lyrics as they roll along. “Gonna change my crazy ways….” We’ve got a ratty old couch round back behind the amplifiers. I walk over and sink down into it, listening to Angel breathe and talk and sing.
“Sure I’m not bothering you?” she asks.
“Nah,” I tell her. “I’m here ‘til dawn.”