Variations on Stolen Themes (I)

When reading the things my friends write, I’m often sent on a trip back in time, as something mentioned trips a memory, and begs to be relived and then recorded here, as a sort of variation on their themes.

Theme: Radio Shows
Variation: Chicken Heart, Cosby, and Me

Rana mentioned old radio programs, and I was suddenly seven years old, lying on the bed farthest from the window in the end bedroom in my grandparents’ house in New Jersey. The wallpaper is multicolored, green, orange, and yellow daisies. The front window is blocked by an a/c unit. The closet, a tiny thing in the corner, has a curtain instead of a door.

Instead of a nightstand there’s an old wooden desk under the a/c unit. The wood is dark brown, nearly black. The top is scarred and stained, and holds a lamp, a gun-metal gray manual typewriter, and a radio that I always thought was the transistor radio that my mother built as a science project when she was a girl, but have since learned was not. It’s old enough that it still hums when my small fingers find the dial in the dark, and turn it on.

Talk radio was my talisman, then, against nightmares. As long as the radio was on, the real world was represented, and I was safe. (Talk radio, late at night, is still my defense when my over-active imagination creeps me out.) But on the night I’m revisiting there is nothing comforting about the sounds emanating from the ancient machine.

The program is Bill Cosby’s tale of hearing the Chicken Heart story on a radio program when he was a boy. He tells part of the story, and the image of the pulsating Chicken Heart is engraved indelibly into my brain, not as part of a comedic bit, but as one of those things that retains the power to chill for reasons that are never discovered. It’s a stupid story, made surreal by the situation, I am lying in bed, in the dark, hearing the faint murmur of a dinner party in the dining room below, surrounded by the soft whir of the air conditioner, and I am getting goosebumps because I am listening to a radio show about getting goosebumps while listening to a radio show.

Hour later, my grandmother comes in to turn off the radio. “You should be sleeping,” she says. She turns the a/c power to a lower setting, pulls the soft pink comforter up around my shoulders, and I smell her L’Aire de Temps perfume, and the powder she uses after her showers, and the earthier scents of coffee and lipstick when she bends to kiss my forehead, squeeze my hand, and tell me she loves me.

Back in the here and now, I wonder if it is not the Chicken Heart story that caused my general aversion to chicken.

And if I close my eyes for a moment, I fancy that I can smell my grandmother’s perfume and powder.


I’ve felt one step behind all day today.

It began with the dogs waking up at six this morning to demand a bathroom break. I don’t know what’s happened to the cute animals who used to sleep through the night without a problem, but they’ve been replaced by pod puppies who are whiny and demanding. Unfortunately, ignoring them is not possible, as the bedroom has light-colored carpetting.

Then, we missed the 7:30 alarm, and didn’t get out of bed til I woke on my own at 7:49. Twenty minutes makes a huge difference in morning prep-time, and we were late to our first Sunday of being part of the choir at church. I hate being late. Especially on the first day of something. I had time to grab water to bring along, but Starbucks was out (time) and I woke too late to make pre-church coffee at home. (One of the women in my confirmation class and I have decided that coffee is medicinal, and therefore does not count as “eating” before Communion.)

Then there’s the fact that I’m not a true alto, so really really low notes are difficult for me. I’m more of a lyric mezzo, which is a lighter voice. I don’t have the upper range of a true soprano – I can hit high E comfortably, and high F when I’m really warmed up. I chose to be an alto this morning, because we were late and I didn’t want to push myself without a warmup, but now I’m thinking I should switch, if only to prove that the top line does NOT have to be sung shrilly. (I hate shrill oversung sopranos).

None of the music was difficult. Some was quite pretty, but we’re singing a long Gloria in Excelcis as part of the service (the entire congregation), and the hymnal page number is never listed beside it (probably because it’s done every day from Easter until the return of Ordinary Time, and most people know it), but when you haven’t grown up singing it, it’s hard to catch up. You would think that sitting two inches from the organ would help, but there’s no clear melody line in the keyboard part.

Also the woman sitting next to me kept switching between singing the Soprano and Alto parts, sometimes within the same song. Her very pretty Mediterranean Blue and Lime Green sweater did not make up for this. Not at all. She does have a nice voice though.

By the end of church it was 11:30 and I still hadn’t had coffee. We went directly to Cracker Barrel, because I was craving French Toast, and I can’t abide IHOP. Serious coffee drinkers will understand why the term “restaurant coffee” is one of the scariest I can ever hear. But the French Toast was lovely, and the bacon was delicious. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten either of those things. Worth every sip of the scary coffee.

It’s now a bit after 10, and I’m sitting in bed, with dogs sprawled beside me. We all just got back in from the back yard, where they did their doggy things, and I watched a spotted gecko climb the living room screen. Poor little thing is missing a foot.

I’ve felt a step behind all day, and so I’m going to get a jump on the morning by signing off early, and getting some sleep.

And tomorrow?
The first thing I’m going to do is have a decent cup of coffee.