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A Brief Autobiographical History of My Life vis-vis the Metaphysics of Radio

John Dos Passos' prose poem "When You Try to Find the People" (1948) appealed to an already existing interest of mine in radio .


My dad was an electrician, and after retiring from the Air Force in 1969, he worked on TVs and radios for all his coworkers,who somehow always forgot to pay him. He took me along.


Once he was behind a big TV set tinkering around and a big wrapped paper capacitor blew up in his face, and he came out looking like someone from a minstrel show.

I remember buying a maroon Philco Transitone 1953 shortwave radio at the parish garage sale when I was in grade school, and I would listen to it at night with the only light being its glowing dial, and tuning through the frequencies, and hearing the chattering teletypes and other machines communicating with each other on the lower frequencies, and wondering what if it’s Martians until I scared myself.

* When You Try to Find the People

(c) John Dos Passos


When you try to find the people,

it comes down maybe to a boy seventeen who's worked all day in a chainstore; at last he's home (his old man's a rummy, his folks don't understand him, his hours are too long and his pay too short, he needs a new pair of shoes, he's scared to pick up girls; he wants a sports model car, to own a messjacket, to be manager and sit at a broad slick desk, somewhere dimly sometime to be President); he's nuts about radio;

he runs up four flights of stairs (its an old dwelling converted to flats), he keeps his ears closed to neighbors voices, phonographs, favorite programs, girlie doing the scales on the piano, somebodys steak frying, unlocks the attic door, slams it behind him, breathes happily the hot close air of old chests full of mothballs and dry dusty lumber and glue from busted tables and chairs;

under the dormer on a threelegged table securely propped by a packingcase nailed to the floor so that it can't jiggle stands his two-way set:

sending and receiving.

short wave; when he pulls the earphones over his un-combed hair that he ought to get cut (his pimples are terrible, he forgot to write for that cure for acne, nights in bed an agony of woman dreams): the switch is right, he's plugged in; his ears glow with the hum from the warming tubes: he's on the air, resounding immensity, concave with

voices, dotted with signals,

limitless sphere: his ears are everywhere, his tongue, trigger of wisecracks (Have you heard this one?), talks to everybody, to unseen hams,

to unknown stations that fade roaring

on the horizons (last night he tinkered with that con. tamer until he fell asleep in his chat) of the power of his

homemade set:

the policecars are talking, heavy cops voices: three darn fire on Conduit Road, man abusing woman at Locust and State, fight in bowling alley back of Freeland Stree .. is George on Catalina Island, talks like a guy knows a lot . .. our little yawl

the race .. she jibed

. . . I

cracked her over and she held .

... before we knew what it

was all about she turned on a dime and we had about thirty-foe cents left . . . okeydoke on Long Point.

.. had us a

time . .. Joe (he sounds like a heel), he's going to a dance tonight, went downtown and hired him a soup and fish . .. that crazy galoot that won't stop talking he's a vegetarian, worked all week on his crystal set to tell the world about carrots, ain't hep to a thing . . . Fred picked up Melbourne last night, now he's shooting for Bombay. How's for some swing? ..

ears throb to a rumba band and a woman's small voice whining tangos in Havana:

up in the attic the window's dark, must be late; supper;

when he pulls off his earphones it's the universe gone

and left only the cramped restriction of every day, the Worn soles of his shoes, the frayed trouser cuf, the spots on

his only good necktie,

the crazy need for change.

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