Dan Chaon and Stacey Richter
Come along now, all you late night rock and rollers, all you
lonely hearts and night owls, come along and let us fly through this
thunderstorm to the sad window of Dave Deagle, the old disc jockey.
Dave Deagle!—now semi-retired, now a lowly part-timer at a small
town radio station, now an aging man who dwells in a third floor room
in his daughter’s house. Observe if you will: Dave Deagle alone
in the radio station at night, sans assistant, sans producer, sans secretary
to answer the phones. He is not yet ready to admit defeat, but things
conspire against him. Flashes of lightning have made him jumpy. His
hands are shaking, the equipment is not compliant and he fumbles with
it. He’s trying to think, trying to make the transitions between
songs smooth, trying to speak in his usual mellifluous voice, but moths
come. The pests get drunk on the lightbulb and then attack Dave Deagle
when he turns on the mic—striking soft blows upside his head and
crash-landing against his table or the sound board, fluttering madly.
Another flash and his nerves stand up. The lights dim and flicker briefly
and Deagle prays that the electricity doesn’t go out. He can think
of nothing worse than being stranded in this studio room, in the dark.
Folks, the phone is ringing again, but Dave Deagle won’t answer
it. He ignores it even after he’s finished segueing between songs,
even though the red phone light above his “On the Air” sign
blinks and blinks. They hate him out there, the listeners. There are,
he believes, a whole group of them—boys and girls, men and women—all
of them angry, vicious, unforgiving of even the most minor mistake.
The last time he’d answered the phone, it had been an unidentified
male. “Can I speak to a pathetic has-been named Dave Deagle?”
the caller whispered, and Deagle knew he should have hung up right away.
But he’d always felt that it was important to face such people.
Sometimes, you could win them over.
“You’re talking to him! Dave Deagle here!” he said
manfully. “What can I do for you?”
“I was just wondering,” the caller said. “I was just
trying to figure out if you even know what a good song is?”
“Well, maybe you can tell me, my friend,” Deagle said. His
felt a hollowness in his throat, but his voice was calm. “Request
lines are open!” he said. “What would you like to hear?”
“I’d like to hear your obituary,” said the voice.
“You suck, man.” And Deagle was speechless. He could feel
the malevolent lilt of the caller’s voice creeping over his skin.
He sat with the phone pressed to his ear. He’d spent his life
gracefully parrying such cranks, but at this moment something passed
through him—a shadow, a transparency of himself drifting beyond
the corporeal outlines of his body. He opened his mouth, but the caller
had already hung up.
And sad to say: he can’t seem to shake it off anymore, like he
used to. He signs off, he shuts down the transformers, and his skin
prickles. He picks up the pace as he hurries into the parking lot toward
his car, his key already extended like a small dagger, which he will
use if someone attacks him bodily. But no one does—it’s
completely silent and dark as only one o’clock in the morning
in a small town can be, and it is dark when he arrives home, to the
house of his daughter, Kat, where he is now residing in a room on the
third floor. She has not even left a light on for him—does not
particularly care about him, but merely tolerates his presence. Does
not love him. Is not a comfort to him in these difficult times.
Yes, my hard rocking friends, these
are difficult times. It might be said that this is Dave Deagle’s
darkest hour, and it certainly must be admitted that he’s been
humbled, disgraced, brought down by larger forces, many of them beyond
his control. Several times in his life, he has stood before the stern
gates of minor fame. He’d once been the # 1 rated Top 40
disc jockey in the Omaha metropolitan area. He’d been on the air
in Indianapolis, in St. Louis, in Denver, and he has interviewed a number
of the most luminous recording artists of the last 35 years, several
of whom he’d known personally, on a first-name basis. When he
turned 50, he’d appeared on local television in Denver, where
he was feted as “Denver’s Oldest Teenager.”
Now, at 68, he has been let go, set out to pasture, cast aside. Due
to a number of cruel circumstances and poorly handled debt, he may spend
his old age as a pauper. Make no mistake: Dave Deagle is not a cynical
man. He still believes that there is a chance for a final, happier chapter
to his existence. But yes, a terror does come over him. Alone, removing
his hairpiece, which is held to his scalp by a special, uncomfortable
adhesive tape, he can’t help but look at his shrunken face in
the mirror. Alone, with the thunderstorm still at work in the distance,
he can’t help but listen to the sound of Kat perambulating through
the hallway below him, checking on Cody, her two-year-old illegitimate
son. He sits on the edge of his narrow bed, sipping furtively from a
plastic bottle of scotch he has hidden in a night-table drawer. He doesn’t
know whether Kat would care or not, but he’s still careful to
conceal it from her. He refuses to appear pathetic. He will not give
anyone the satisfaction of thinking that Dave Deagle finished out his
life in despair.
You can read The Listeners in its entirety in
issue 2 of Swink.
Dan Chaon’s most recent book
is a novel called You Remind Me of Me. He lives in Cleveland.
Stacey Richter is the author of the collection My Date
with Satan. Her stories have been widely anthologized and have
won many prizes, including three Pushcart prizes and the National
Magazine Award. Find out more about her work at www.staceyrichter.com.