I am at the radio station waiting for the DJ to finish his set. A big time personality, listeners love him for his charisma and practiced speaking style. He’s not quite as big as the other DJs, on the account of him missing out on the big promotional events for the station. He’s still undeniably better than the rest of them however. I’m nervous.
The radio in the meeting room is naturally turned to the stations channel. I hear him expertly fade out of the last pop love song and transitions into the latest single by an up and coming independent band. It’s a bit less accessible lyrically than most of the music the station plays but it’s catchy melodies and pop flavored beats captured an audience despite that. Most people I’ve met agree that he’s likely the reason the song’s had this much exposure. Some even tell me that he might have made the band with it.
The song ends and I hear him fade out and say his goodbyes once again to his audience. Despite being on the air for years he somehow seems to find a way to make every intro and outro feel personal. The door opens. I stand up to greet him. He stares past me, not noticing me. He almost walks right past me. I speak up. “Sir, I…?”
He turns to me. “Ah, I didn’t notice you there,” he remarks, “which is impressive I suppose, considering how keen I am to the people around me.” His eyes are a glassy steel blue. His hair is a mangled mess of curls, his lips pale against his speckled dark skin. He’s dressed in a casual white button up and blue jeans. Plain, very plain.
He chuckles. “You’ll have to forgive me for ignoring you. You have my full attention now.”
“Yes, I um—what I mean to say that I’ve been hired to be your new assistant.”
“Fantastic! Let’s do lunch and get to know each other then, shall we?”
His gaze is unnerving, his eye contact is off.
“No need to be so formal, my boy. Now, could you show me to the door?”
We do lunch. I placed I picked a across the street a block away. Sandwiches and panini. This is more agency than I’ve generally been trusted to have. We talk.
“Now, if you’re to be my assistant I’m going to be trusting you with a lot of decisions, but considering you found this great place on the first day of the job I think you’ll be be a fine fit.”
“With all do respect, the place is right across the street. I mean you walk out the door and it’s right in front of your–”
I stop. Horrified. A moment, then he laughs a deep, hearty laugh.
“You meant to say it’s right in front of my face? Don’t be shy, boy. It’s no fun if you can’t make a few jokes at my expense.”
I sulk for a bit. Despite his good humor I still feel like an inconsiderate idiot.
“Let me tell you something,” he starts to speak again, his voice immediately grabbing my attention, “ all my previous assistants, they’d always go out of their way to please me. Drive me halfway across the city for a meal at some restaurant they’d heard had great ambiance or some incredible dish. You? You took me right across the street for a damn sandwich!”
“I’m sorry, I–”
“Don’t apologize! See, this is exactly what I want. An unpretentious, easy food. Grab the damn thing and maybe dip it into some sauce and take a bite. No need to worry about table manners or dressing up for the occasion.”
He goes quiet for a moment, then takes a large bite of his sandwich.
“Despite having both their eyes working, none of those others could ever see it. I’m just happy to be a person, sitting here and enjoying a meal. It’s that simple.”
I’m sitting here in his home, a spacious, grandiose place marked by the strong lines of the walls, marbled columns, and glass screens. It’s broken up by the curved surfaces of his furniture, which seem to double as high design concept works that you’d find downtown in a store stuck amidst art galleries. He’s on the floor, slumped against the back of his fully modern couch, fists balled up at his sides, eyes blankly skyward. The tasteful decorations and trinkets picked out by his previous assistants are laying trashed on the floor. This place is a deathtrap.
Turns out he produced some big albums before he was a DJ. He even did some of the album art for the artists he worked with. Gave him a keen ear for talent, helped him pick his selections. Everything he did was well received. He retired after the accident, dropped the pseudonym he used as a producer. Others kept bothering the people he worked with to help them get in with him, trying to make it big, but they all kept silent. His wife chose the place. She left shortly after.
“Why me?” he asks. “After the accident, I couldn’t paint, couldn’t draw. Even if I could still see, having my fingers broken like that—even after they healed I couldn’t even play an instrument. I couldn’t even work a damn mixing board properly. My hands and my eyes, they almost made even my ears useless.”
“But now you work, at the station, picking up great artists all the time and finding hits that no one else could. Even if you aren’t producing them, just your word makes them.”
“But how much of it has even been worth it? I pick them because I can hear all the parts of the music that no one else can, because they have been taking it for granted, because they’re distracted. Sure, the station’s giving me more freedom these days, but only because they know I’ll pick the hits. They haven’t bothered to learn anything about what it is that makes this music good. The other DJs just try to copy me and play the same tired tunes when they can’t. Nobody’s bothered to even understand any of it. Aside from you.”
I’ve never been able to summon up words I felt would be good enough to bother articulating. Rarely ever felt I could add anything to a conversation regular people were having, let alone him. Now more than ever, I can feel those words stuck in my throat, my tongue swallowing itself and choking me. He slumps further, his fingers go slack. He cries, eyes dead ahead and open, for what can only be described as a long time. I sit on the bar stool the whole time, slumped, useless. Finally, he lifts his hand up, outstretching it like a child to his parent. There I am, standing above one of today’s great personalities, a charismatic man of renown taste who’s made the careers of many. A wise man nearing his fifties and a foolish boy of early twenties.
“Help me,” he says. His eyes seem to be staring into an even further distance.
Nighttime after the award ceremonies. Big time names, and even bigger after parties. Nearly every artist he’s picked has gone on to be nominated for an award or win one. He’s even received a special reward for bringing to the spotlight so many new idols. He’s even been outed as the producer and artist for the previous musicians he’s worked with. His ex-wife met him there. She makes it clear that she wants to come back, though his daughter is indifferent. He shakes the hands of many who can’t be bothered to look him in the eyes. He doesn’t notice of course. Everyone tells him that he’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves for his fine work on those albums. New artists waiting to be discovered hand him their demos. People offer to buy up the originals of the artwork he did for those album covers and lament what a tragedy it is that he can’t make more.
We’re parked on a hill in LA, looking out at the city below us. A half eaten cheeseburger meal and tonight’s award lay carelessly in the backseat of his car. We sit on the hood and he fingers and empty revolver, spins the chamber. I play with a single bullet in my fingers. He massages the underside of his jaw with the barrel. I am nervous.
“I’m sitting here, trying to think of one good reason, aside from the fact that it’s not loaded, that I shouldn’t pull this trigger,” he says.
I can’t either.