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January 23, 2023

Warren Pieces 4: Tune In, Turn On

By Jonathan D. Scott

"Don't stand there in the rain." The young woman with the long legs and striking figure reaches across the leather seat of her Toyota Avalon to open the passenger door for the older, stout, slightly balding man with an umbrella. "Get in, Warren," she says.

Warren drops into the seat and shakes his slightly bent umbrella before closing the door. "Thank you for your kind offer," he says.

"Sure. I know you usually take the bus home from work, but I hated to see you waiting in this weather." She uses a finely manicured hand to switch on the wipers and the radio.

A pained expression comes across Warren's face. "Would you mind if I asked you to turn that off?"

"The radio? You don't like that song?"

"It isn't the song, although I hardly classify that puerile whining as a song. It's radio I can't tolerate. I never listen to the radio."

She pauses the car. "Jesus, Warren. You really are strange. I've never heard of anybody who was too stuck-up to listen to the radio."

"It's not pride," he says, wiping his wet glasses on his sleeve. "It's simply bitterness, all due to the perfidy of pulchritudinous sirens like yourself."

"Huh?"

"It so happens, my dear, that I have some dry cleaning waiting for me at a small establishment in Kensington. If you would be so kind as to drive all the way up there before you take me home, I will take the opportunity to share my heart-rending tale."

* * *

I was in the fragrant springtime of my life (says Warren), studying liberal arts at a prestigious university. In my sophomore year I developed an intense interest in the Ferghana style of Uzbeki classical music. To help promote public awareness of this sadly overlooked genre, I volunteered to host a radio program on our 50-watt college station. Admittedly, the time slot I was given -- between 2 and 3 a.m. on Monday mornings -- did not offer ample opportunity to reach a wide audience. Nonetheless, I was overflowing with youthful enthusiasm, and so impressionable that I was considering abandoning my academic goals and pursuing a career in radio.

However, it would be grossly negligent to give you the impression that musicology and mass communication were my only interests. A certain young lady by the name of Roxanne Skenazy also volunteered at the station. She was the hostess of a two-way talk program entitled "So What's Your Problem?" For an hour every evening she took calls from listeners and gave them practical advice on subjects ranging from good study habits to ways to extract more pleasure from the act of physical love. One evening, on a whim and quite anonymously, I called and confessed to carrying a shameful burden in life, to wit, that a stripe of unwanted hair grew down my back. In a voice full of sympathy she said that in the game of life a little foliage on odd parts of the body wasn't any sort of disqualifier, and I should strive to like myself the way I was.

Never in my wildest speculations had this simple concept occurred to me. I instantly fell desperately in love with this dulcet angel whom I judged a combination of Florence Nightingale and Sigmund Freud. However, being a young man of reserved and studious habits, I had little hope of competing with coarse upperclassmen who flaunted unhygienic grooming and faux criminal personas. Still, the fire burned deeply in my bosom.

So you can understand how I was taken aback when she threw open the door of my dorm room one afternoon, making her entrance while I was in the process of applying acne medicine to the inside of my thighs.

"Hey, Warren," she said, apparently unperturbed that I was crouching bowlegged and wearing nothing but severely unwashed jockey shorts. "How's tricks?"

I flushed with embarrassment and grabbed for my bedspread.

She flopped down on the now exposed sheets of my bed. "I was up late studying on Sunday night and caught your show."

"You did?"

"Yeah, I thought it was far out."

"You did?"

"Yep. I especially liked one song. I can't remember the name but it was real groovy.

"Jurabeg Nabiev's Gidjak?"

"That must have been it. A real toe tapper."

In the style of the day she wore a long skirt made from patched blue jeans, broken flip-flop sandals, and a loose sweatshirt with a comic rendering of Albert Einstein across her braless chest. My heart was aflame. "Very few people today," I said, my eyes roaming over a stray bit of ankle, "have an appreciation for the plucked-string dotar."

"Well, you're looking at one chick that does. You know, Warren, I've been asking around about you."

"You have?"

"People say you're a cool guy."

"Which people?"

"Well ... just about everyone on campus. They all say that you're really hip."

"They do?"

"Yeah. There's a dude I know in your western phil class who says you're a whiz at expressing your opinions."

It was true. The child was the father to the man.

She casually pulled her skirt, revealing the more of the lower part of a leg unshaven since puberty. "I'd just love to get to know you better, if you know what I mean."

I didn't, but I was frantically trying to guess. "I have nothing on my schedule this afternoon," I said with a sudden swell of expectancy.

"That would be cool, Warren, but I'm afraid it'll have to wait. You see, I'm leaving to go to D.C. for a Militant Feminists for Peace rally. That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I won't be able to do my radio show next week, and I was wondering if you would mind filling in for me."

"Me?"

"You bet. You have just the sort of street-wise attitude that can help people."

I was completely nonplussed. Up to that point I had assumed my street wisdom was limited to my knowledge of the chemical composition of asphalt. "I never looked at it like that before," I said. "But I am very good at discerning the failings of others."

"Of course you are, Warren. That's why I want you for the job. If you do a good job -- which I know you will -- I'll be really grateful when I get back. I mean really grateful, if you catch my drift."

I caught it.

* * *

Knowing that most professional announcers create an on-the-air persona, I decided to adopt a sobriquet derived from the protagonist of a book I was then writing -- an historical novel about a disfigured Peloponnesian cobbler who attempts to introduce the decimal point into the Roman numeral system.

"Is this Xerxes?" asked my first caller.

"It is indeed I," I said. "What's your problem?"

"It's my roommate. He's a real slob. Leaves his dirty clothes all over the dorm room. So far I haven't had the nerve to tell him how much it bothers me. Do you think I should be honest with him and ask him to try to be a little neater?"

I didn't need to think this one over. "Of course not. That sort of verbal approach usually yields little. I find that most people simply refuse to entertain any negative ideas about themselves. Actions speak much louder than words. Go out and purchase several containers of Rit dye. Number 12 fuchsia would be an excellent choice. When your roommate is absent, gather up as many articles of his wardrobe as possible, take them to the laundry room and wash them in hot water and dye. It will be an object lesson your roommate will not soon forget."

There was a prolonged silence on the other end. I could tell he was impressed. "Are you sure, Mr. Xerxes? That seems pretty drastic."

"If you want lesser advice, go somewhere else."

Suddenly my ears were met with a dial tone. The caller was probably already on his way to the fabric store.

This, I decided, was going to be easier than I thought.

* * *

It was toward the end of the hour when I received her call. She identified herself simply as Molly. There was an undercurrent of desperation in her young voice, and I knew at once it was imperative that I dispense the best possible advice.

"It's my boyfriend," she said. "I really, really love him, but lately he's been pressuring me to go farther with him -- physically, I mean -- farther than I feel comfortable with. Do you think I should tell him how much I love him and ask him to wait until I'm ready?"

I took a deep breath and thought hard. "Bengay, my dear."

"What?"

"The popular over-the-counter unguent. Apply it liberally, not neglecting intimate areas."

"But ... but doesn't that stink?"

I was astounded at the woman's obtuseness. "That is precisely the point."

"But ... I don't understand how that will help."

I wasn't able to conceal a light laugh. "I've given you advice. Whether you take it or not is up to you. But it's the future of your romance at stake, not mine."

"Well, if you really think ..."

"I do."

* * *

The next night Molly called back. "Things didn't work out very well, Xerxes," she said. "I used the Bengay like you said. My boyfriend said it really turned him on. It reminded him of when he played football in high school. I had to struggle to keep him from grabbing my blouse in the delicatessen. By the time he took me home, he was pretty mad. He said he thought I was a tease. I really don't want to lose him, Mr. Xerxes. What should I do?"

I scratched my chin, a gesture that was of course wasted on her. "If we aren't able to dissuade him physically," I said finally. "Then we must use psychology. Fortunately, there are fewer things in the universe more fragile than the male ego. I advise you to invite him to your dormitory for what you promise will be a memorable evening. Have the lights lowered and romantic music playing. One of the Barrys is preferable -- Manilow or White, it makes little difference. After our subject arrives, invite him to undress in front of you. When he does, which he surely will, laugh uncontrollably at his anatomy. The laughter of a woman when confronted by a man's most prized feature has the same effect as a fire extinguisher does to a match."

* * *

The following day I found a picture postcard in my letterbox. It was the image of the Statue of Liberty holding not a torch but a burning bra. On the reverse were these words in a delicate female hand: Dear Warren, I just know you're doing an out of sight job on the show. I have every confidence in you. You are so groovy. Just remember to be yourself. Affectionately yours, Roxy.

Be myself! Another astounding suggestion. Once again I was filled with a rush of emotion that went far beyond admiration. I took the postcard, tied it up in lavender ribbon and placed in under my pillow.

* * *

"Mr. Xerxes, this is Molly again. I did just what you told me to do."

"Wonderful, my dear. I hope the two of you now will be very happy."

"You don't understand. I had him take off his pants. When I started to laugh, he did, too. He said he liked a woman who had a good sense of humor. Then he asked me to take off my clothes. I didn't know what to do. He finally stormed out, telling me he couldn't stand much more of my teasing. I'm so afraid of losing him. I think I should just give in. Maybe it would be all right after all."

A picture of Roxanne lying prone across my bed flashed through my mind, enhanced slightly by my colorful imagination. I was determined to solve this poor young woman's problem. Drastic action, I realized, was called for.

"My dear Molly. If you compromise your principles now, this man will never respect you. You must assert the rights to your personal boundaries. There is only one course left open. I recommend you purchase a small handgun, possibly an American Derringer stainless steel Remington standard Model 1. Keep it handy at all times. Tuck it into the garter of your stockings if you wear one. When your boyfriend makes an unwanted advance, produce the firearm and explain your position to him clearly and in words impossible to misinterpret. I assure you that he will apprehend your message."

"I don't think I can do that, Xerxes," she said after a significant pause. "It just doesn't seem right to pull a gun on the man I love."

"Right?" I was amazed by her lack of courage. "Is it right that you have been put into this untenable situation? If I were you, this situation would have been rectified long ago. For goodness sake, woman, summon some fortitude and do your duty."

"I, I don't know," she stammered.

"Well, I do," I said firmly.

* * *

"Who is this?" I inquired into the microphone the next evening. "Speak plainly. I can't understand you."

"It's Molly," sobbed a weak voice. "Something awful has happened."

I felt a wave of impatience, but I held my emotions in check. After all, I was a public servant. "What is it now, my dear?"

"I ... don't know how to tell you this, Mr. Xerxes. I bought a gun like you told me to. When my boyfriend put his arm around me and tried to unbutton my blouse, I ... I took it out and was going to ... to make my point, just like you said. But I had never used a gun before. I thought they had safety locks on them or something."

"Oh dear."

"I never felt so horrible in my life. I realized that I had shot the only man I had ever loved."

"Is he ... how is he ... ?" I asked, fearing the worst.

"I just grazed his foot," she said, gasping. "He's going to be fine. It's me that's gotten the worst of it. The dorm captain called the police when she heard the shot. They came and were going to charge me with assault with a deadly weapon, but the president of the university came down and bailed me out. He said he had no choice but to order my immediate expulsion from school. I'm packing my things and heading back to Iowa." There was a brief interlude of tears and choking. "C-Can you help me?"

This was truly an unforeseen development. I simply couldn't fathom how my foolproof plan could have gone awry.

"I confess I'm out of suggestions," I said to her, "other than to remind you there is excellent train service out of Pittsburgh."

* * *

Saturday dawned cold and dreary. I was sick to my stomach. I had literally ruined someone's life. Worse than that, I had let down Roxanne. She had entrusted the collective soul of the university to my care. I lay in dread of the confession I was obliged to make.

The inevitable moment came. Roxanne came bounding into my room about eleven a.m. "Just came by to offer you my undying gratitude, Warren," she beamed.

"I don't deserve it." I lowered my eyes to the floor, a rather disturbing action as I was not as fastidious as I am today. "I ... I let you down, Roxanne."

"Let me down? Of course you didn't."

"Oh, I did. You told me to be myself. I'm afraid that self was woefully inadequate to dispense personal advice. I was instrumental in having an innocent young woman expelled from the university."

She smiled with what I first took to be a smile of forgiveness and encouragement. I was wrong.

"Ah, the case of Molly. You don't understand, Warren. You did just what I knew you would. I've had a terrible crush on Molly's boyfriend, Scabbers, for months. I just haven't been able to figure out a way to get her out of the picture. I knew before I went away she wanted some advice about their relationship. I very kindly gave her a tip to call in the show after I arranged for somebody to take my place who was sure to fuck things up royally. That somebody was you."

I was appalled. The curtain fell from my eyes, and I realized that what I had taken for love was simply the ignorant infatuation of a naïve schoolboy. And whom I had taken for an angel was, in fact, a devil in a tie-dyed midi-blouse.

"B-but what was all that about showing my your gratitude when you got back?"

"Oh, yeah. I almost forgot." She reached into her macramé handbag and fished out a small brown box tied with a bright red bow. "For you," she said. "It's a rock that somebody threw at a cop. Hit him square on the helmet. I managed to find it and save it. Bound to be an historic relic."

* * *

"It was about three years ago," Warren says to the young woman driving the Avalon, "that I received an unexpected letter postmarked Des Moines. It was a thank you note from Molly. She had used the Internet to locate Roxanne from whom she obtained my real name. She wanted me to know that getting away from college and Scabbers was the best thing that ever happened to her. She eventually went to nursing school, met and married a handsome doctor, and by then had three nearly grown children, the oldest of which she had named Xerxes. The happy couple was planning to take an early retirement to a small Caribbean island they had purchased with their spare change. Roxanne, it seems, after a brief residence in the California State Penitentiary, became the host of an all-night neo-conservative radio program in San Jose."

"Oh, come on, Warren," she says, flashing her sultry dark eyes at her companion. "You didn't really get a girl thrown out of college by telling her to pull a gun on her boyfriend. I don't believe that."

Warren smiles. "There's my dry cleaner up ahead. I confess I forgot that I must make a brief stop at my bank. Unfortunately, it's all the way back into town. I'm sure you won't mind."

-- Jonathan D. Scott

Article © Jonathan D. Scott. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-10-12
1 Reader Comments
Diane Smith
10/30/2009
11:13:16 AM
Jody,
Very clever story. I love the arrogance and large vocabulary of Warren. Now I want to know if she will drive him to the bank.
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