Jus’ Chillin’

In college, I had a radio show with my friend.

Cliff & Jay, Jus’ Chillin’!

It was a great gig: We had the 2 am to 6 am shift, all the time in the world to comb through WMFO’s massive record collection, including one of the largest jazz portfolios in the Boston Area.

We were aggressively unprofessional and amateurish. We actually got canceled because (as we were told in our appeal meeting) we used profanity and made too many references to illicit drugs and alcohol.

Okay, fair. But what do you want? It was a 2 am slot!

There’s something special about that slot, knowing that everyone listening is in some extreme experience of their own — pulling an all-nighter, drinking away their sorrows, having a cigarette after making love, walking home into the sunrise.

We did it up right for them. We got really loaded, played some incredible music, had some fun conversations, and pondered life out loud. We’d let each other run soliloquies, which sounded amazing in professional-grade headphones.

And we fucked up a lot too. I remember one time my friend, E, called the show. I was so excited to hear the phone ring.

“Yo! WMFO Mo-Fo Radio. Cliff and Jay Jus’ Chillin!'”

“Dude, you guys have been off the air for like a full minute. Total silence.”

“Oh, shit. I must have hit the button.”

Jay stuck his head in the doorway, arms full of records. “You hit the button?!”

My bad.

But we got callers anyway, and not just college kids. People who lived in Boston, who worked. And if we got callers who were grown-ass people, that meant we had listeners who were grown-ass people, which sort of surprised me.

Why would a grown-ass person listen to a bunch of kids fumbling around at a radio station, passing a whiskey flask, and misquoting Kerouac?

I got my answer 27 years later.

I was at a stop light and my thumb hit the radio dial by accident while I was wiping the fingerprints off the touch screen. The station jumped from 91.1 to 90.7, that is to say, from KCSM Jazz to KLAX College Radio in Berkeley.

“That was, um…. yeah, that was Charlie Parker. At least, I think that was Charlie Parker. Sorry, brain fart… we’re gonna go with that. Charlie Parker! Next up, something you’ve probably never heard of… an EP I found in the bathroom cabinet of all places… Not sure what it was doing ther. Anyway, I got a special surprise for ya.”

Her voice was simple and kind.

It made me laugh out loud. At her, at me. I had to stay tuned in.

Against the backdrop of the polished radio voices out there with their flawless transitions and pre-written plugs for products they have to pretend to care about, hearing a college kid fuck up a Charlie Parker credit was music to my ears.

It’s the cracks and turns in the branch that make it interesting.

When she came back, she gave a speech on staying in the moment. It started off good but then got terrible, totally forced and contrived. She meandered, probably because she liked the way her voice sounded in the headphones.

Humans should grow like the rest of nature: unpredictably, sometimes lovely, but mostly twisted. When things get too perfect, they stop being human.

She apologized for meandering and then said what she really wanted to say. It was the best part of her speech.

At 20, we strive for perfection. At 50, we are bored by it. We know better.

How beautiful that a 20-year-old college student can deliver such joy to a grown-ass man at a stoplight, simply by making mistakes on her path to perfection? And back again.

She didn’t give a number to call, but if she did, I would have given her a ring.

“Play some more Charlie Parker,” I would say. “And keep doing what you’re doing.”

Sometimes it’s almost painful to be old, to know where all the potholes are, and still have to watch people drive over them.

But I guess that’s the good part, too: life looping back on itself.

Right in front of us.

Happy New Year, folks! Enjoy looking at life. 🙂