When I was in the eighth grade, I must have gotten tired of Cousin Brucie and the other AM radio pop music shows as my fingers moved to the left of the dial to 710 one fateful night. There I heard this man talking. No music, no jingles, just this man talking. And like countless other kids perusing the radio dial I stopped. He was telling a story. A story about being a kid. I heard the story. I think it was about a kid eating hot polish peppers. Completely by accident, I had discovered Jean Shepherd.
For the next five years of my adolescence I added Jean Shepherd to the radio shows I listened to (prepositions should never end a sentence but this sounds right). He was the person who has most influenced my writing (such as it is) and my annoying sense of humour. No my favorite show was not Saturday Night Live. It was the Jean Shepherd Show. Mondays thru Fridays at 10:15 and Saturdays, live from the Limelight, at 10:30.
I was getting too old for Boy Scouts. During my last summer at Camp No-Be-Bosco the kids from my cabin started smoking banana peels. It was 1966. The smoke was real harsh and nobody really got any buzz worse than the buzz from standing too close to the camp fire.
Egged on by my new Boy Scout friend M- (I've been reading Stendhal) I wrote a letter about smoking banana peels to Jean Shepherd. The incident forgotten, I was looking for a summer free of school and was watching the All Star Game with my older brother.
The phone rang. It was M- His voice was quivering. Mr. Mustache, Jean Shepherd is reading your letter! He not only read it, he embellished it. He talked about how our Scoutmaster always talked about brunch. He called the show, "the silly season".
The young person suddenly is frozen in a dilemma. "Mom, Dad, Jean Shepherd read my letter on the air!"
And what was the letter about Mr. Mustache? My father would ask. It was about smoking banana peels at ....
Suddenly I knew. I had a dilemma. My greatest triumph and I couldn't tell anybody. Anybody official anyway. This could not go on any college applications. It would be a secret that I could only share with my immediate peer group.
It was that day that I moved from childhood to adolescence. "Mom, I met Allen Ginsburg!
"Really, where, my mother would ask."
"Smoking marijuana at ---" This story I would also have to keep to myself. The child becomes a man. Little secrets are kept to the grave.