The night crew at WLHV Public Radio were getting a little punchy. It was the ninth day of the fund drive, and they were running short of enticements to bring in donations. Not that much could induce pledges after 8:00 PM, but the skeleton crew of volunteers were committed through 9:00—Daniel Stein, a veteran of twenty years of fund drives, whose high forehead and white beard made him look like the icon of his Marxist politics; Karen Murakowski, a schoolteacher taking a year off to bond with her infant daughter, who nevertheless welcomed a few hours alone in the company of other adults; Phil (no last name given), currently in residence at the Sixth Street Shelter, who one might suspect came for the donated food and the free coffee, but who was surprisingly personable over the phone and wrote donors’ names and messages in a legible hand—a treasured quality; Adam Jackson, in the Aperture Science T-shirt, whose grad work involved tracking the spread of the ash borer beetle; and Sophia Williams, from the School of Pharmacy, who’d volunteered for the first time last fund drive and who this time had brought along her roommate, Glendaliz Rivera. Overseeing this lot, and providing the on-air patter, were Indigo Marshall, who hosted the weekend roots music program, Gary Castiglione, control room operator extraordinaire, and Asmita Rao, one of the morning hosts.
To spur more involvement from whatever diehard station faithful were listening despite the absence of regular programming, Indigo and Gary had hit upon the idea of inventing limericks to celebrate popular programs and inviting listeners to send in their own—with a pledge—to be read on air.
Sometimes touching and sometimes ironic
This American Life is iconic
Ira Glass’s delivery
Leaves his audience quivery
The listening urge becomes chronic
That was their latest effort. So far, the comments accompanying the few pledges that had come in hadn’t risen to the challenge, however. They’d been of the ordinary sort—words of encouragement, support for particular programs, and the occasional political view or plug for a local business, including one mysterious one for the Eastwood Home for Muddled Children.
“ ‘Muddled Children’? It must be a joke,” Asmita had said.
“Maybe it was actually ‘Muggle Children,’” Gary had suggested. “Maybe they’re Harry Potter fans.”
But Daniel, who had taken the pledge, insisted the caller had said “muddled.”
“We still have three dinners for two at Chez Antoine available, for pledges of $100 or more,” Indigo was saying.
“Though donations of any amount are welcome,” put in Asmita. “Ten, twenty, fifty dollars—”
“Two hundred fifty dollars,” added Gary. “Or two thousand fifty, if you happen to have that lying around.”
It didn’t hurt to ask.
Two phones rang; David and Karen got to work.
“Here’s one from the Internet,” said Asmita, handing Indigo the printout, “and it comes with a … not a limerick. It looks like a rap?”
“Ladies and gentlemen, sisters and brothers, Tango Ten from Springfield says …” Indigo cleared his throat and then, with an attempt at rhythm, read
this call goes out to the queen
of the Wildside Diner
aint none finer
girl I’m waitin’ for you
I’m here creatin’ for you
why you hesitatin’
I ain’t overstatin’
you’re my love potion
come to my side
wanna make you my bride
true love is implied.
He paused, and Daniel, Karen, Phil, and Adam clapped. Gary looked admiring; Asmita looked disapproving. Sophia and Glendaliz exchanged glances and giggled.
“So that, uh, was a proposal, I guess,” said Indigo. “You heard it here, folks. Pledge and propose! Like Tango Ten.”
“Now that, see, that’s romantic,” said Phil. “Hope the fella gets the girl.”
“A bit public, though, wasn’t it,” said Asmita. “Kind of coercive. I suppose it’s better than putting it up on a jumbotron at a ball game, but not much.” Behind Asmita, Gary rolled his eyes. Indigo merely gave a minute shrug and rattled off the toll-free number again.
“My husband put a ring in a cupcake and gave it to me to find. That’s how he proposed,” Karen recollected.
“What if you swallowed it?” asked Sophia. “An engagement ring’s a lotta money.”
“She woulda been sparkling on the inside,” murmured Glendaliz. Then she giggled again. “For a while, anyway.”
“It was in a little tiny bag—I couldn’t have swallowed it.”
“I don’t see what was so coercive about that rhyme,” Gary said, trailing Asmita to the coffee. “It’s not like the guy named her or anything.”
“Only where she works,” Asmita retorted. “How many employees do you suppose the Wildside Diner has?”
“Maybe she’s a patron. Maybe she and Tango Ten just like to eat there.”
“Or the whole thing could be a fiction,” said Daniel. “Maybe Tango is just practicing his craft.”
Phil and Adam’s phones rang, and then Sophia and Glendaliz’s.
“There’s another couple online contributions,” said Sophia. “Hey, one’s a reply to Tango Ten. Ha!” she crowed, “he’s got competition!”
“What do you mean?” asked Asmita. She scanned the printout. “Well that’s just great,” she said, pressing her lips together in an angry line.
Gary peered over her shoulder. “Whoa, drama.”
“The volunteers are restless,” Indigo said into his mic. “They’ve cooked up a little dram—oh, wait, I take it back; this is donor drama, not volunteer drama. It looks like the rap from Tango Ten has gotten a reply, but not from the queen of the Wildside Diner. Raja Tal has this to say:
Tango save ur sweet talking
u aint dancin man you aint even walkin
sidewindin crawling my girl aint fallin
for faux, she got real
grind you under my heel
I’ve spoken, ur chokin
ur dishwater, down the drain
she’s sippin my champagne
she aint strayin she’s stayin
the power of my rhyme
keep her in line.”
Indigo whistled. “There you go, folks. Raja Tal is, uh, staking his claim to the affections of the queen of the Wildside Diner.”
“What a troglodyte,” said Asmita. “The queen needs to lose both those men.”
“I don’t really like rap much,” Karen confided to no one in particular. “It’s too violent for me.”
“If it figures into the Wildside queen’s decision at all, Raja donated twice as much as Tango,” Indigo told the listening audience.
“I like rap,” said Gary. “Wish I could come up with rhymes at the drop of a hat.”
“I don’t know; you were doing all right with the limericks,” said Indigo.
“Nah, I was struggling.”
“They don’t really make them up at the drop of a hat,” said Sophia. “They practice. They’re always practicing.”
“Always practicing,” echoed Glendaliz, nodding.
“Practice just makes them perfect … idiots,” said Asmita, ever mindful of the FCC.
“Has anyone considered that Tango and Raja might be the same person?” said Daniel.
Phil barked a laugh and shook his head. “That’s one messed-up fella. Schizo. Competing with himself over a girl.”
“No, no. Just role playing. Performing—taking both parts. A one-man show. It’s a good way to reach an audience,” Daniel said, nodding at the illuminated on-air sign.
“No,” said Glendaliz, shaking her head.
“Different email addresses and credit card numbers,” Sophia said, pointing to the details on the printouts.
“What do you think, folks? Tango Ten or Raja Tal? Or do you agree with Asmita that the queen of the Wildside Diner should ditch the both of them? Call in with your pledge and let us know,” said Indigo.
Daniel’s phone rang. “This is WLHV,” he said. “Thanks for calling in. How much will you be pledging tonight?”
“Another message from Tango Ten!” exclaimed Sophia, eyes on the computer screen.
“Did he make an additional donation?” Adam asked.
“Asmita, you’ll like this one,” Gary said, handing her the paper. “Too bad about the T-and-A; Indigo won’t be able to read it on air.”
“Are you kidding? The listeners are on tenterhooks. Just bleep it out. Ladies and gentlemen,” Idigo said to the audience, “It’s getting serious. Tango Ten isn’t backing down. He’s sent us an additional donation, and this rhyme:
Raja, you’re all gas and no fire
all brass and no choir
to you she’s tits and ass
I reach higher
keep her in line?
baby knows her own mind
Babydoll I’m talkin’ to you now
you unmade me with the kiss you gave me
now only you can save me
and I’ll save you, just us two,
Raja, you’re through.
Baby, I’ll be waitin’ for you.”
“All right; that’s not too bad,” Asmita conceded. “Listen, I’ve got to make a bathroom run. Keep out of trouble, everybody.” She slipped past Indigo and Gary and shut the door behind her silently, leaving Gary rhapsodizing over the most recent message.
“Dude’s freakin’ awesome.”
“You wouldn’t happen to be Tango Ten, would you?” inquired Daniel, raising an eyebrow.
“What? Me, no. I told you, I can’t come up with rhymes.” Gary said, blushing.
“He shouldn’t kiss and tell, though,” said Glendaliz, frowning at the printout.
“Aww, c’mon. It’s only ’cause the queen of the Wildside Diner’s so hot,” Sophia said. “Right? C’mon.” She elbowed Glendaliz.
Adam’s phone rang. “A vote in favor of Tango Ten’s suit,” he reported, after hanging up. “Oh, and a hundred-and-fifty-dollar pledge.”
“A response from Raja Tal just came in,” said Sophia excitedly. The others crowded round the computer. “With a—pffffft—five-dollar additional pledge. Cheapskate.”
Everyone leaned in to read.
“That’s why I don’t like rap,” said Karen, looking up from the screen.
“You gonna broadcast this one?” Gary asked. “Might be better to call the police.”
“What does it say?” asked Glendaliz, craning her neck from behind the others.
“You bet I am,” said Indigo, hitting print.
“It’s good theater, I suppose,” said Daniel, but his tone and raised eyebrows expressed misgivings.
“Folks, it’s getting dangerous here,” said Indigo, voice mock grave. “We’ve just received the following electronic missive from Raja Tal:
Tango, I’m gonna feed your punk ass lead for bread
bitter pills to swallow, gonna empty you hollow
leave you to wallow
in a Red Sea flood of your own blood
So Tango, if you’re out there, watch your back!”
“What the hell was that?” demanded Asmita, who had reappeared halfway through Raja’s latest rhyme. Gary explained. Asmita’s hands flew to her temples.
“Oh for crying out loud. Didn’t I say to keep out of trouble?”
“Aww it’s just a pose, like Daniel said,” said Indigo.
“No not a pose,” said Glendaliz, taking out her phone and tapping the keys rapidly. “Stupid Claudio! If he’d of just not mention the kiss.”
“Who’d of thought Ray would hear, though, huh?” said Sophia. “Public radio listener, yeah right.”
“Wait, you’re the queen of the Wildside Diner?” asked Adam. Seven pairs of eyes regarded 5-foot, 140-pound Glendaliz with new interest and curiosity.
“Oh, so unbelievable?” she asked, with a lopsided smile. Then, to Sophia, “I gotta go; they’re both gonna show up here. I told Ray not to come! But he didn’t answer.” She looked up at Asmita. “What did you call him? Trog what?”
“Troglodyte,” said Asmita. “Caveman.”
“Yeah, that. Sorry to bail on you, but it’s nearly done for the night, right? You finish at nine? I’ma see if me and Claudio can be gone before Ray gets here.” She shook her head. “Troglodyte.”
“Well I’m still going to call the police,” Asmita said. “It’s a threat, aired over the radio.”
Glendaliz nodded and headed for the door, stopping there to turn and wave.
“See you back at the apartment,” she said.
“Take care, sis,” said Sophia.
And then the queen of the Wildside diner, whose belly conveyed abundance rather than excess in the way it spilled slightly over the top of her jeans, and whose bust and arms, barely contained by her black t-shirt, expressed exuberance and confidence, disappeared down the stairs of the WLHV building.
One more rhyme came in that night, about fifteen minutes later, accompanying a twenty-dollar pledge. It was from the queen of the Wildside Diner:
Raja, listen to what I’m telling you
my rhyme quelling you
makin it clear,
spellin it out, here
I’m done with your cave
ain’t your slave
won’t be kept in line by your rhyme
make my own place and time, doin fine
you threaten me or mine?
troglodyte, that ain’t bright
dim light, hit the switch: goodnight.
(Also posted at Asakiyume mita)