The stillness

Feb 14, 1976: I had done something wrong. I don’t remember what, but I had been sent to my room. It was after dinner. I was almost 10, but not quite.

Being sent to my room was not the worst thing that could happen. Sometimes, when I did something wrong, I got the belt, or the nearest piece of two-by-four. Sometimes I got a talking-to. Sometimes I had to write a penance 50 times–”I will consider my words before talking back.” But tonight, I was just sent to my room. It was after dinner, so it was just my time, as far as I was concerned.

I had a train set–a pretty nice one–with it’s own plywood platform (my dad worked at a plywood mill), and a few plastic trees, stations, and railroad workers. I developed some facility in using the connectors, and could sculpt some satisfying layouts. This night, I was just enjoying watching the train respond to the gentle pressure of my fingers on the potentiometer that controlled the speed of the train. And I was listening to the radio.

The radio was my church from a very early age. I had been given an incredible radio as a child. It was the size of a modern toaster oven, and had buttons like piano keys that allowed one to choose from multiple bands that one doesn’t see on most consumer radios: Long Wave, Short Wave I, Short Wave II, AM, FM, etc. You could tune in the local AM station, or you could find stations that broadcast in Morse Code, or random tones that sounded both cool and ominous.

This night, I was listening to KAGO Klamath Falls, the AM station that played American Top 40 (as I write this, I am audiating both the American Top 40 jingle and the jingle for KAGO, though it’s been 45 years since I’ve heard either one). Watching the train go around the track, and through the tunnel, and get faster and slower in response to my hand on the dial, I listened to Casey Kasem describe the top 40 hits of the time. Each song was familiar, as KAGO was a Top 40 station, and it was what was playing in the school bus, and my step-mom’s car. I remember thinking about the ranking of the songs:

  • Wow, that song Bohemian Rhapsody is so new-sounding and weird, but it’s also sad, and I like it
  • Junk Food Junkie is funny
  • Dream Weaver should be higher. It’s really cool
  • Golden Years! I love that song! Should be in the Top 5!
  • Oh! What A Night: I don’t know what it’s about, but it seems very grown up, so I think I should like it
  • I Write The Songs: I sing this to myself all the time, except when no one is around, and then I sing it at the top of my lungs! Greatest song ever!

So, as I was watching the train go around, and mentally commenting on the hits of the week, I was also formulating in my mind what I thought would be the number one song in the nation on that evening. Even before Casey was at number 15, I had decided that 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover was going to be the number one song.

I didn’t have any evidence that led to this conclusion. I just knew it. It wasn’t necessarily my favorite song that week (I think I Write The Songs was my jam at that point in time), but I just had this feeling in my shins that 50 Ways was going to be the number one song.

And then I forgot about it. I got lost in the train. I got lost in hearing ELO sing about an Evil Woman, which was so interesting, and exciting-sounding, and new, but confusing as well. What was an evil woman about? I got caught up in imagining what a Love Machine would look like. I tried to imagine what the sexy part of You Sexy Thing looked like. Remember, I was almost 10. And the train was going around and around.

And then, it happened. It was time. The number one song in the nation was: 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.

I knew it. How did I know it? I was right. How was I right?

A great stillness came over me as I realized that I had merged with the will of the nation, and the list of possibilities of how this could have happened ran out. That stillness, and the wonder of having been correct in my projections, lasted a long time.

I can still call it up, as I struggle with more current concerns–the memory that I was right, once, when I was almost 10, somehow sustains my 50-something self. That stillness…

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