With Kelly demanding I supply her with a young native, I phoned Miguel, the taxi driver I had stayed with when I first came to Independent Nation. His family were the only natives I knew.
“Wasser,” he said. “Good to hear from you. I always worry about you, you should call more often. You want taxi? Only a hundred dollars.” He laughed at his little joke, the last time we met he had taken advantage of it being my first day in the city and my total obliviousness to the value of money.
“Thanks Miguel, nice of you to care. No I don’t need a taxi this time, I need to get in touch with Pablo, is he around?”
“How should I know? I am out working. He is out working.”
“Can you take a message for him?”
“I can’t right now Wasser. I’m driving. It’s not safe to drive and write at the same time. That’s how Charles Dickens died.” (Miguel, for all his good points, knew very little about Victorian literature).
KJ had been standing by while I exchanged pleasantries with Miguel, but eventually lost patience. “Oh give it to me,” she said, snatching the phone from my hands.
She introduced herself to Miguel and explained why she wanted to interview Pablo about the fact he couldn’t afford to go to Independent University because all the grants and aid funding were targeted at undeserving westerners. She didn’t name names, but anyone who knew her even vaguely would have realised she meant me. I could hear Miguel laughing at her not-so-subtle digs.
Miguel gave her a number where she could reach Pablo at work. Not Pablo’s number, but that of a colleague’s colleague. After a few phone calls and ten minutes of journalistic determination she managed to get through to Pablo and arranged to meet up in two days’ time.
“That’s the day of my show,” I said, “my first radio show’s on Monday. Tell him to meet us here, he can be one of my audience.
Pablo wasn’t working that day. In fact nobody was. The President decided to make the day of my first show a public holiday. The Luke Wasser Radio Show Bank Holiday. Okay, the official excuse was that it was Mrs President’s birthday, but I knew the truth. History was being made that day.
She passed the phone to me. After exchanging greetings and pleasantries, all of which made KJ scowl impatiently, we agreed that he’d come and meet me at the station.
“Okay, but I have to leave at one,” he said, “I have to go on the demo.”
“That’s fine,” I said, “it’ll only take a few minutes. You just have to explain why you can’t afford to go to university and what you think about the government grants going to foreigners.”
My first show was probably the greatest musical compilation ever. It’s still downloadable on YouTube (493 visits and counting). After the dreadful contamination of the playlisted opening (a U2 track) I opened my show proper with the Queen is dead as it is simply the greatest track ever. Greatest song ever, except that it’s so much more than a song, it’s Johnny Marr’s finest hour. Then some Fall, Wire, Dead Kennedys, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Fuck, I’m good. I’m what the Independent Nation was waiting for. I’m what the world was waiting for. I am Luke Wasser! You may bow down to my genius.
Carl sat with through the show, as did Kelly. It was station policy that you had to have a member of the Committee overseeing your first broadcast, to ensure that you could function, work the mixing desk, and didn’t suddenly break out into broadcast tourettes (some people who are polite as nuns in the rest of their life suddenly break into sweary fits as soon as they go live on air. It’s some obscure form of panic reaction and really funny to listen to nice middle class girls swearing like porn-show-sluts).
I had quite an audience with me. As well as Carl and Kelly, KJ and Pablo arrived midway through ready to record our newspiece as soon as I’d finished. Four people. This meant that there were easily more people listening to my show in the studio than there were on campus.
After the show Kelly did her usual spiel about there being too much swearing and talking over records, but otherwise it was universally agreed that my show was a triumph. This show was a one off, a bank holiday special, but I would be starting my regular show the next week.
Carl and Kelly left, saying they had work to do, which doubtless entailed many hours gazing into each other’s eyes saying “I love you,” every few minutes. I was glad to be away from them.
A blonde girl took over from me. “There’s no following that,” I warned her. She looked confused and smiled slightly, as if hoping that that would be enough to make me go away. She introduced herself as Julie Roberts, opened with a Blondie track and spent much of the show giggling to herself.
Whereas I had assembled a heaving throng of no less than 4 people to enjoy my show (and I have it on good authority that at least two of them enjoyed it) the blonde girl only had one hanger on, a guy I recognised as a DJ in an afternoon slot.
As I retreated into studio two with KJ and Pablo, KJ told me the gossip on the pair.
“He’s madly in love with her,” she whisper, “comes in for every show she does, pretends he’s preparing his own show. She’s changed her slot six times now to avoid him, but he always manages to find out.”
“Spooky,” I said. “He must have some sixth sense.”
“Well, it’s not actually difficult, the running order’s on that wall over there.”
“Clever. With investigative skills like that are you sure he’s a DJ and not a member of your journalistic team?”
Kelly would have scowled at this comment, giving me one of those oh-so-sexy screwed up faces. Not KJ. She just kicked me.
“Anyway,” she said, “to business. Pablo, if you could stand here, I want you to tell me about your studies, the grades you got, then I’ll ask you some questions about what you earn, how much it costs and how difficult it is to get any form of grant funding. Then I’ll interview a spoilt western brat who’s lavished with vast sums of IN funding.”
Pablo laughed at this.
“She’s got you to be the spoilt western brat? You must really like her.”
“Actually,” I said, “it was my idea.”
It took about an hour to get the piece recorded. Pablo’s piece was done in one take, but KJ took every effort to humiliate me, asking the same questions in a dozen different ways until she got the answer she wanted. With careful editing I was sure that she would manage to portray me as an absolute monster, useless, idiotic and a useless drain on taxpayers money. It was exactly the piece we’d set out to do and I was proud of it.
It was one O’clock by the time we finished.
“I must be off,” Pablo said. “I want to be near the front for the demo.”
KJ’s news ears prickled at this. “Demo?”
“It’s a pro-democracy demo. The people are demanding the right to vote. Every year taxes are increased and all we get to see of the money is another new palace for the President and his wife.”
“I should go,” KJ said, “this is exactly the sort of local politics our station should be reporting on. We need to ignore the boundaries of the campus and take an interest the country we are living in.”
“I’ll string along too,” I said. Not because I was interested in the demo, but because I was keen to hang out with someone other than Carl and Kelly, and I somehow sensed that KJ and Pablo would lead my life into interesting directions. Of course, I little understood how ‘interesting’ those directions would be. I might have opted for going home and watching telly if I’d realised that this particular ‘interesting’ would involve bullets, deaths and hiding in cellars with two dozen men in chicken costumes. But I was bored, and interesting seemed the go-to place.