On November 20, 2013 my dear friend Mark Manning celebrated the 500th consecutive broadcast of his radio show, the Wednesday MidDay Medley on KKFI 90.1 FM. The two hour segment featured a host of talented musicians and spoken word performers who shared their favorite work or debuted something new to mark the occassion.
I've worked with Mark on several projects on KKFI and have been a frequent contributor to the Bad Music Comedy Hour, host during the station's annual pledge drive and interviewed for various performance based projects.
In celebration of the 500th broadcast, I decided to do something new and Mark was gracious enough to encourage me. I shared an original short story never been performed or read out loud to an audience live or over the airwaves. The energy in the studio space was electric as the performing arts world sat elbow to elbow breathing quietly during each performance.
The experience was a beautiful tribute to Mark Manning and the incredible work he does for Kansas City Community Radio. Thank you, Mark for allowing me to be a part of the magic!
For those that are interested, I've decided to publish the story below which has been edited down from it's original version to fit a five minute format:
Thoughts shared with Mark prior to my reading: I've been thinking about the connection between my story and your radio show. I think that the story shares the appeal of having an audience that you can't see or hear - similar to radio. It was something that I loved as a child, thinking that an audience was there (when they weren't). It's like my imaginary friend, but instead, I had an imaginary audience.
My At Home Audience
One of my early childhood memories was when my mother would take me to department stores when I was three years old. She would roll my stroller into the three way mirror outside of the women's dressing room so that she could shop freely. Slightly closing each side of the mirror, Mom would enclose me into a reflective pyramid while she spun the clearance racks of The Jones Store. I chatted and laughed tirelessly at my triple reflection. I was my own best audience.
It was around that age that I realized my reflection was a great form of entertainment. On many occasions Mom would take me out of my high chair during lunch time so that I could watch myself eat grilled cheese sandwiches in the narrow chrome strip of metal that was on the corner of the kitchen stove. There was something about watching myself do the most mundane tasks that seemed to be an endless source of fascination.
It was when I turned six that I realized what I wanted to do for a career. While most little girls my age wanted to be princesses or ballerinas, I wanted to be a host on the QVC Network. Not just any host, but specifically one that sold Joan Rivers' jewelry.
Whenever I flipped channels on TV, I always seemed to stop on QVC. The host had great poofy hair, plastic shiny coral nails that were an inch long and color coordinated clothes and make-up in rich jewel tones. The host would sit and measure the length of crystal laden broaches and pendants with her long talons saying things like "this rose gold crystalized ring is about one half inch in length and is perfect for the spring season" or "I can't tell you how many compliments I've received from this pendant and today's price is only $49.99, a fantastic deal for one of the most versatile pieces of jewelry you will ever own". There was something oddly hypnotic and compelling about hearing Joan Rivers' gruffy voice while looking at glittery images of the sparkling crystalized fabrige eggs. I loved when the camera jumped to a close-up of a ring, rotating slowly on the television screen showing the intricate detailing and shiny inlayed stones.
It wasn't long before I had the brilliant idea to host my own program. Digging in my mother's jewelry box, I would find the fanciest costume jewelry she owned and sit in front of the full length mirror behind the bathroom door through my parents bedroom. The phone cord would stretch to the mirror, if I ran it correctly over the bed and I would watch myself in the mirror playing the role of both Joan Rivers and QVC host. I'd measure jewelry with my fat nubby fingers, describe it thoroughly, take phone calls from viewers and update the at home audience on the amount of time left to purchase jewelry before the clock ran out.
Occasionally my make-believe QVC program would interrupt my mother's business calls -
"Yes, we can get that shipped out to you by next week, no problem" my mother would say. "This diamond stud earring set is a perfect holiday gift for the woman who has everything". "Bess, I need you to get off the phone. I'm speaking to a customer". "Hello caller! Who's this and where are you calling from today?" "This is Loretta from Lancaster Pennsylvania." "Loretta! Thank you for calling. Have you purchased Joan Rivers jewelry before?" "BESS! I mean it. Get off the phone."
Sometimes I would call the weather line instead.
One day, I boldly decided that I didn't want to pretend to be a QVC host, I had to actually apply for the position. I knew I was much too young at the time, but I mustered the courage to call the blinking phone number at the bottom of my screen and speak directly to a QVC customer service specialist. My mother forbid me to ever call the QVC number, but I figured that for a job interview, it was acceptable.
Hello, thank you for calling QVC. Please tell me your name and from where you're calling.
I'm Bess Wallerstein and I'm from Kansas.
I held and held and held. All of the representatives were on another line and I was assured that I was next. Several recordings were played giving me options to purchase various items from other departments. I kept waiting to hear something about employment, but I never heard the correct prompt.
When I finally spoke to a person, I was asked my phone number which I gave. But, when it came to a credit card, I froze. I didn't have that information and after a few more questions, the operator realized I wasn't over the age of 18 and was therefore not allowed to purchase anything and abruptly hung up the line.
I was devastated and my palms were sweating. All I wanted was an opportunity to be on the QVC Joan Rivers Jewelry show and I wasn't even able to say that on the phone. I was too busy answering questions before I got the chance.
The following day and week and month my mother started receiving calls from QVC representatives. Apparently they had received her personal information and wanted to know if they could contact her directly about specials and merchandise deals. Upon the third phone call, she suspected my involvement and said "Don't ever give our phone number out to strangers or call QVC ever again."
But, Mom walked out of the room and that was the end of the discussion. After that, the phone calls from QVC seemed to stop and I started to lose interest in pursuing my dream of being a host on the QVC network. I knew that calling back was the only way that I could possibly hope for a future career as a host. As much as I wanted to dial that 1-800 line and immediately demand to be connected to Joan Rivers herself, I knew that I feared my Mother's potential punishment more. She had given me a warning and should I have pressed the issue again, who knows what privileges might have been taken away, or worse, that I would not be allowed to watch QVC ever again.
"Oh well" I thought. I still had the audience in the mirror that loved my show. So, I walked upstairs to my parents bedroom, sat down on the floor next to the full length mirror and took my next caller.