Once, on a night like tonight, I stood on a swivel stool (which you must never do) and climbed onto the topmost part of the table supporting all of the equipment keeping WUOG running through the night. It was late. Real late. 3 a.m. late. The kind of late where everything is a good idea and words are hilarious and without meaning.
I opened the small window and carefully CAREFULLY went through. And there. The roof. The station was at the top of Memorial Hall in those days (god, I sound ridiculous, those days) so it was a secluded area ripe for mischief. There was a too small storage area near the bathroom we had dubbed the Malkovich Room after the movie none of us watched where you could leave things for fellow djs. Concert tickets and shirts, “prohibited materials,” and sometimes a telescope. Mind you, the area around Memorial did have quite a bit of light going on but every once in a while, it’d be dark. Like that night.
I forget what I put on that night. Probably some long sad jazz record that I should’ve paid more attention to but didn’t because I was and still am a dumbass about such things. But I had grabbed the telescope and a random hoodie out of the storage area and sat there on the roof, in the rain, trying to will myself into a movie scene. Popular culture seems to hint that folk leave dramatics behind in their teenage years. Anyone who has actually lived and interacted with other people can tell you that isn’t true. Dramatics are helpful at times. Like when you’re trying to find yourself and you’re working the late shift at a college radio station.
I was then, like tonight, pondering the nature of friendship. How it is such a fragile thing. How friends move into and out of your life. How badly you can miss a person who is still around. I wasn’t a very good friend in those days (ugh, those days again). I could blame a lot of it on being a first gen student, adrift in a city ten times bigger than my hometown. I could also blame it on my lonesome nature. But truthfully, I just didn’t know how to be a good friend. It’s something I’m still working on. I worry sometimes about the people I might have hurt. Who hurt me.
So I’m leaning up against the window, telescope useless because someone’s turned on the lights in the stadium, and I’m in the rain. Great idea kid. But it was somewhat peaceful listening to the jazz floating through the window. I was so convinced then that this, THIS is what it meant to be a creative person. Putting yourself into situations where you’re alone and can be inspired to work on your craft. But we know that’s not it. At least, not all of it.
I had a friend once. He was amazing to see onstage. Prowling and preening. Crowds eating it all up. I was jealous of the attention he could hold. But I knew him as a person, too. And I think about how many hours I watched him work on the craft. He’d spend days and weeks trying to fit too many syllables into a line. He taught himself how to sew his own stage clothes, he fixed his own gear, the true one man band. But one night he was hanging out at the radio station, it was raining.
“That whole fake it til you make it thing?”
You think you’re faking it?
“I know I am. But how can you hope to be good at something if you don’t just do it?”
So if I want to be a writer I should just pretend I already am?
“Well, no. But do what writers do. Write. Edit. Talk to people. Stay up too late.”
Does that work for you Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll?
He got quiet.
“No. But it helps.”
I should’ve stayed in touch with him. But I didn’t. He moved away, maybe to NYC or somewhere, and I haven’t heard from him since. But on rainy days when I’m feeling particularly stuck, I think about him, faking his way through things. I can’t even remember his voice. All I hear is rain and jazz. I wonder if he made it. He’d probably say something like “oh no, we’re all making it all the time and we’re all faking it all the time too” or some nonsense. And I’d laugh and we’d just sit quietly for a while.