She Was Only
An Optician's


    You came here from the Middle West
    And suddenly impressed
    The population hereabouts.
    But I got news for you
    I'm from Missouri too
    And frankly dear

The radio program "Poole's Paradise" came into my home between one a.m. and two a.m. It came from WWL, 870 kHz, 50,000 watts, owned by Loyola University of the South. There were some 1200 airline miles between the lower reaches of the Mississippi River and the north shore of the St. John's River where I lived.

This would be in the winter of 1946. The massive marshmallow all-encumbering television was not yet part of our consciousness. Radio was still a radio of style. Gordon McLendon had yet to juke-box it, so we were listening to programs that were especially diverse, set up --- as originally envisioned --- to serve diverse sectors of the nation. WCKY in Cincinnati for hillbilly music. WLAC in Nashville for Black music. KSL in Salt Lake City for late night jazz.

These voices out of the night defined the cities for me. Because of a sexy lady broadcasting over WKAT in Miami, Miami was sexy. WBT in Charlotte did programs for college students, thus that city was young and hungry for love. With Bob Poole, New Orleans was a city of jokers:

    She said she felt like a young colt but she looked more like an old .45. [Woman screams].


    I told her to slip on anything and come on down, so she slipped an the top step. [Transcription of woman's laughter recorded at 33-1/3 rpm being played at 78 rpm].


    In America it's Mother Goose, in Russia it's Popper Gander. [Sounds of woman screaming].

I remember all these miserable jokes because I kept a Three-Way Ring Notebook filled with them. The moment Bob Poole said "She was only an optician's daughter --- but two glasses and she made a spectacle of herself," I would jot it down, lit only by the pale rose glow of the pilot light. (It reminds me now of a time some fifteen years later when I would do the same to my amorphous dreams fresh upon awakening to take to my Jungian analyst who was working with me to figure out why I was so sad).

If you wonder how I stayed up listening to New Orleans on the family Philco until two a.m. and then made it to John Gorrie Junior High School the next day for Miss Herlong's Math 4 class --- the answer is that I didn't. I was there in sines and cosines (in body) --- but in spirit I was away in the soft and warm.

    Went to her house where she once hung out
    Girl friend leaned out, said "Get outta here boy!"
    Went to JennyLou's to get something to eat,
    Waitress looked at me, said "Pop, You sure look beat!"
    It's early in the morning;
    0 it's early in the morning;
    Yes it's early in them morning
    And I ain't got nothing but the blues!

Miss Herlong and her cosines were only tangential to the world that I was developing by the light of the 6SJ7s. The Philco was a floor model, built in the days when there were radios that looked like miniature cathedrals. It had a 35-pound speaker, stood four-and-a-half feet from ground to dial, and had a little hinged door atop to hide the lights from a mother who would want to know what the hell her kid was doing listening to the radio at such an ungodly hour.

The volume had to be low, so it stood very close to the head of the four-poster bed handed down from a grandfather who had never known radio or "Poole's Paradise" or even sines and tangents and a row of vacuum tubes at the back which turned electric when first ignited by the switch hidden just above the speaker (the first instant the radio was turned on, there was a blue flash that travelled over the isinglass, separating filament from plate). The cathodes would settle down, within seconds, to a roseate glow that gently bathed the maps on the far wall and then, blessed St. Aether, the sounds reflected off the nighttime sky waves would begin to seep in. We had to wait for our pleasures in those days.

The sound of an announcer's voice from New Orleans (or New York, or Charlotte, or even Havana) convinced me finally and irrevocably that I was not alone. Which --- at that age --- was powerfully important. For I have a theory, which has to do with youth, and communication, and the brain of the young. It says that the essence of pubescent boyhood is one of secrecy. It works like this:

For most if not all of our childhood we are convinced that our heads are made of glass, that anyone can see into our brains to tell if we are lying, cheating, stealing the jam or whatever. When we start to grow tall (of a sudden, people are not looking down on our heads) we begin to fantasize our own secret hates and loves and desires. Because of previous conviction that everything can be seen, we have to guard our words, our faces, our actions. Because of this fear, we are unwilling to speak with parents and adults. Some people call it shyness: it is, rather, the fear of being too well known, that our words --- meant to deceive them --- will reveal us. It is the existential fear of the young.

And too: because of this fear, we create a series of barriers. Loud sounds (loud voices, loud music, loud cars, loud laughter). Too, something outside ourselves --- booze, non-invasive friends, fast-moving cars --- to speak to us, or rather for us.

Go on to Part II

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