Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Little Night Magic

Oy. The last post I got up here was. . . well WASN'T what I'd intended. I was ATTEMPTING to introduce a "style" of column-writing that I used 'back-in-the-day' when I indeed wrote a regular, monthly column published by HAMPTON ROADS SURROUNDINGS MAGAZINE. The format was the execution of TWO different 'stories' running together (a Dorothy Parker specialty) distinguished by the main 'story' sans indicators while story #2 set off by parentheses & interspersed at intervals. Well. End result: dismal failure. Now in fairness to me, dear reader, a large part of the formatting failure was secondary to a computer virus. In fact, I couldn't use my trusty friend for several days and TLC by a competent tech. But i, too am to blame for not at least prefacing this awkward literary technique with a bit of warning/explanation.

So, by way of - it is hoped - remedy, I've elected to re-write a 'story' originally done in my column and utilizing that elusive but effective-when-you-get-it technique. It is about a REAL personality, popular in the 80's who did what I oh-so-envied: hosted a radio call-in news talk show. What follows, then, is nothin' but the truth.
A Little Night Magic from the Call-In Man
(Ham and wry from Charlie, the wizard of words who keeps half of Hampton Roads huddling around their radios half the night.)
First of all, scotch any rumors that Charlie Huddle is a fat, old inflammatory commentator. He's tall (6'5"), of medium build, and only forty-four. Perhaps expecting a Howard-the-Wolf-Cosell, one is instead faced with a warm, brown-eyed, bespecled 'panda' of a man who speaks slowly, deliberately, in a full, resonant voice.
"I'd rather be quoted than swooned over any day," he tells me so you can see that Charlie is just the boy who was cut out for interviewing and, more importantly, hosting a news talk show.
Now for some, a news talk show would rank as entertainment somewhere between a sprig of mint and a single roller skate. But the ratings of WTAR's "Call-In Show" would lead us to believe that those people would be in the minority. And the powers that be, showing a convincingly aristocratic disregard for the minority, went out on something of a broadcasting limb in their placing of Charlie Huddle at the helm of a four-hour call-in talk show, six nights a week.
In talking with Charlie, it is borne home that his is (at least) a dual career. But a choice had to be made for our purposes - such as they are - so you will be meeting Charlie Huddle, host of the "Call-In Show". That's how it must be. I will NOT discuss Charlie Huddle, the magician. Some other time, maybe. By no means a parvenu in the broadcasting arena - he was doing live interviews of restaurant patrons at The Green Derby in his hometown of Ivanhoe, Virginia when he was just a cunning little shaver of sixteen, Charlie has had a rather flamboyant track record which has had him hired and fired at least ten times in as many cities over the past fifteen years. The recurrent impedimenta to his tenure seem to be his strong anti-racist and anti-war sentiments and not-so-strong tendency to keep his opinions to himself.
In Charlottesville, during the late sixties and early seventies, he was fired nine different times - rather ceremonially - by WINA without actually leaving the station's employ. He was outspoken, abrasive, argumentative and had a little way of attending anti-war demonstrations and sit-ins and then refusing to disburse that got him arrested several times. You can see where that would make his employers edgy in Charlottesville although they were edgy in Minneapolis as well. He finally left Charlottesville for a variety of reasons he says - "advancement and more money in Minneapolis" plus a "small cadre of white supremacists " who had a little way of applying pressure to the station.
Charlie neither boasts nor laments his alleged approbrium. He likes to think of himself as successful - and not just successive - at what he does. He's interesting because he's interested. He's been an announcer, an actor - Shakespearean and non, a lighting and set designer, a welder, a farmer. His formal education was at UVA in engineering. Some type of Renaissance Man, is what we may have here, folks.
(I DO wish I could tell you about his magic act. You'd LOVE hearing him say, "When we do something like dividing a girl into six parts, we don't emphasize the cutting or the torture." Was I glad to hear that! Or about how he "did the buzz saw years ago and had actually contrived for it to throw a stream of tiny bits of blood and flesh out into the front rows.")
Enough of the past. Currently, the man is a monitor of sorts, plugged in to the people and events of Hampton Roads via those telephone lines. With a relaxed candor that is met with infrequently, he spoke of his callers and guests.
"Sometimes a caller is being such a buffoon that I just heap the most extravagant harshness on him." As the brands of buffoonery range from the idiopathic to the drug-and-alcohol-induced, one can extrapolate to the type and intensity of harshness. In the more serious discussions on politics and economics, he tries to avoid name-calling. This is especially true of race issues and peace and war. THERE run the long fibers of Huddle's prejudices! He concludes, "After you've called someone a racist, what remains of the conversation?" What indeed.
People DO go on. If, after Charlie says, "Go ahead. You're on the air," some caller counters with, "Stop me if you've heard this," the "Call-In Show" would be two instead of four hours. But they don't when he does, so it isn't. Even his guests often display too rich a gift for utterance. Charlie cuts them off - sometimes smoothly, sometimes not so.
"I feel an obligation to be civil to my guests . . . I don't invite what I consider to be 'garbage' into my studio." Elaborating on that point - with a furrow in his brow, his face assuming a slightly soiled look - he spat, "If I had had Robin Cook on when he said 'Andrew Young was Jimmy Carter's pet Coon', I'd have said 'You're garbage and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out'." He feels it would be more public-spirited of Cook and others like him to mail such comments to the zoo.
Rather than resort to unpleasant scenes and repercussions - apparently there were some doozies in South Boston and Minneapolis - he avoids having his 'bete-noires' on his show. Tom Johnson, President of the School Board, for example, will not have an invitation forthcoming. "If I voiced all my thoughts about or to him," Charlie allows, "he'd probably be able to sue and collect." Speaking of which, I asked him whether he was sometimes a little bit short of spontaneous, more guarded, HERE than in other cities. "Yes. I am. It would be a wrong thing for me to do otherwise. If I were to place (my employers) in an indefensible position. . . .I could bring down the castle." And, too, Charlie has his health to consider.
(If I WERE telling you about his magic, you'd see those other sides of Charlie - the puckish, the lyrical. But I must refrain. From telling you his favorite illusion is levitation. "I lean in the direction of having a beautiful girl in a diaphanous costume, stretch out full-length who floats in the manner of a person who would float when sleeping. . . . It's poetic, enchanting.")
We were talking about health. Charlie is genuinely impressed with the facilities and people in the medical profession in Hampton Roads. He is concerned, however with, "What would happen if the funding ever dried up?" He loves having doctors on the show to discuss such potential crises, although his invitations have been ignored of late. It seems lawyers are advising their clients NOT to go on talk shows. What physician, one wonders, would want to miss the opportunity of sparring with the caller who asked Charlie, "Would you agree that the AMA is a capitalist pig organization?" The shores of the Chesapeake Bay remain as moist as ever in the face of such observations. And I guess there would be takers but it was clear that nothing THAT caller said could detain Charlie past bus time.
And isn't THAT something that has this town a-whisper. Busing. His intensity HERE makes the Robin Cook thing sound like a sneaking, tip-toe performance. "I keep trying to tell myself that the School Board isn't villainous; isn't just like the 'old Norfolk Establishment' trying to re-segregate schools, but I can't make a case for them and they seem completely disinterested in making a case for themselves." Then, in an interesting glimpse of autobiography, he went on to say, "It's only because I'm too civilized, and old and tired, to bring myself to picket their homes and throw eggs at them." Furthermore, "As a parent, I would not have been able to get terribly excited about the inconvenience. It seems to me that busing is a tiny, tiny, tiny price to pay."
Charlie lives in an integrated section of Norfolk. He sees improvement in race relations in Hampton Roads but it is slow. "Each generation will be just a little bit better because the parents work so hard to inculcate the children.." By way of illustration he spoke of "a beautiful little black girl who rode past me on her bicycle the other day. She was smiling and when she reached me, she hissed, 'Mother . . . . . .!' That's so sad, you know? Because it wasn't a prank. It was hate."
While his emotional oil was running hot, he mentioned a few things around town that annoy him, although compared with what he calls "massive resistance" to integration, most other 'problems' leave the gentleman with hair unturned. He cavils with the Blue Laws which he sees as "ridiculous and contributory to the breakdown of law and order." He indicts religious groups in this area as well as in the horse racing and parimutuel betting in Virginia. Charlie LOVES horse people - not the underworld types and touts - and does NOT believe horse racing would bring an influx of criminals to the area. More strongly than his feelings about these issues, are those on interference by any large, too powerful, organized religion.
(Did you know that the rabbits used in the magic acts are of the same sex? So they don't get on one another's nerves? AND that they undergo negative training: ie, ". . .a fresh rabbit is better. It looks more bewildered and astonished.")
Having finished our probing into the people and life of Hampton Roads, Charlie began to wax philosophical. "I try to figure out what I really think about things rather than just what I SAY I think." He has, as a companion piece to THIS metaphysical inquiry, a favorite example. It has to do with species and how some are endangered. "In theory, although I value people more than animals, and there are very few imaginable cases where I would say a person and an animal are on a par, (AND THEY MIGHT BE???) I value species more than I value people in my hierarchy." I'm sure you're curious as to what brought on all of THIS bruhaha. Well, I had heard Charlie ask the question, "Given the choice, would you kill the last ten people or the last ten tigers?" He said HE would kill the people, preferably ones he did not know.
Now I yield to no one in my admiration for tigers as a species, but I was strangely comforted to be among the KNOWN in Charlie's life. I asked which ten people would make the job easier for him. He chuckled, as if to toss the query off as rhetorical but then added, "Well Tom Johnson and some School Board cronies would be primo candidates." He was laughing. And not to worry. We still have lots more than ten tigers around. Right? Remember, this is a guy who's good at what he does AND a guy who doesn't think it's bad to say something outrageous.
(He's also the guy who said, "This is what life IS for me - doing a magic show and getting a standing ovation which is honestly motivated." But that's another Charlie. . .uh. . .story.)
Hope ya 'got' it! L. . . .
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