by Evan Hume
This summer has made it painfully clear just how heavy 2016 is on nostalgia and violence. The two are inextricably linked, as recently demonstrated by the rhetoric at Donald’s coronation. It doesn’t feel exactly like history repeating though; it’s more like a terrifyingly campy pastiche of the last century with a bunch of CGI thrown in. I’ve recently developed the strange habit of listening to shortwave radio and can’t help but wonder if it’s this wistful yet hostile climate that has led me to this vestige of a pre-digital, Cold War milieu. Despite dramatic shifts in technology, the airwaves are still full of hobbyists, propagandists, and coded transmissions; an odd convergence of banality and intrigue that seems to thrive on nostalgia and violence.
The majority of the English-speaking conversations I’ve eavesdropped on pertain to what types of amateur radio equipment people are using. When the conversations take a political turn the content is predictable (at least with the American hams): middle-aged men cautiously optimistic about a Trump victory. But skipping around between frequencies of Morse code, evangelism, and shoptalk last Wednesday around midnight I stumbled onto a conversation between three men with heavy southern accents. The first sentence I heard stopped me in my tracks.
Man 1: Well I’m gonna have to tell ya, full confession – I have no idea what a Pokémon is. I’ve heard you guys say it and it’s a new word to me. I don’t know what it is.
Man 2: I doubt there’s a definition that’s, uh… one of the Oriental companies-– Nintendo, I think-– are the ones that come up with it and, uh, made a game out of it.
Man 1: So, it’s like a kids’ show? Some kinda video game or somethin’?
Man 3: It’s both. It’s a cartoon and a video game.
Man 1: Well, ya see, there I am again.
Man 3: I ain’t never played it, I just heard ‘em talkin’ about it. [Inaudible] looked at each other, shook our heads.
Man 2: They started out with little Pokémon figures and things and it grew to I don’t know what all, but my son’s got about every Pokémon that there is in, uh, one form or another. We buy him Pokémon games every year for Christmas and his birthday. There’s tons of ‘em out there.
Man 3: There’s another one called Minecraft and when you look at it on the TV it looks like before Nintendo. Everything’s square, everything’s a block, everything’s really, really super low resolution. It’s a pretty good size, too-– there’s a lot of followers on that. People used to complain that that’s all there is, now they’re revertin’ back to it.
Man 2: Uh, Minecraft is his other thing that he’s into. He’s a Minecraft or a Pokémon, everything that he does.
Man 1: I, my kids never owned a video game of any kind, shape or form, ever.
Man 2: Well, we keep talkin’ about ways to get him, you know, motivated to do somethin’ else, but we keep drawin’ a blank ‘cause that’s all he wants to do.
Man 1: He’s eleven?
Man 2: Yeah, he’s eleven.
Man1: Well, hell, by eleven I think I probably had two jobs, uh, two tattoos, and [inaudible].
Man 2: Yeah, but you were a… you were a Superman.
Man 1: Either that or an idiot. One of the two. But yeah, eleven years old, man, he should be chasin’ girls and thinkin’ about gettin’ a tattoo.
Man 2: Well, I can forget the tattoo, I hope. But, uh, he ain’t got around to chasin’ girls yet. I don’t know if he knows whether or not they exist.
Man 1: Now you’re scarin’ me.
Man 2: Well, not from that standpoint…
Man 1: Well, I know what you’re sayin’.
Man 3: Yeah, eleven years old that’s where the [inaudible] and that kinda stuff comes in.
Man 2: Yeah, I think Hal said he was twelve or thirteen and he had a full-time job.
Man 3: Yeah, I had to get a work permit to get my first one. That was at the boat shop.
Man 1: I worked fifteen years old, full-time in the summer. [Inaudible] daddy at thirteen was workin’ doin’ dishes at a Chinese restaurant.
Man 3: We used to flip burgers after school and we’d steal ‘em and take ‘em fishin’ with us after we got done.
Man 1: When I was comin’ up in the years I said there was two jobs I would look for last and I never did have to work on ‘em and one was a fast food place, like the regular big-name fast food places… and packin’ groceries. Those would be a last resort, but I never did have to do them.
Man 3: Yeah, I was at the boat shop. Paintin’ and mowin’ grass soon turned into puttin’ windshields on boats and installin’ gauges and cables. Then in high school I got into puttin’ blades back on boat propellers, pitchin’ and balancin’ the things. Yeah, but that, uh, work permit and mowin’ lawns for somebody, that didn’t last too long.
Man 1: Well, I know you’re probably not gonna believe this one, neither.
Man 2: Maybe, maybe not.
Man 1: From the age of fifteen on I lived at home and I’d eat there at home, but I never, my mom and dad never paid for clothes, doctor bills, or anything for me from the age of fifteen on. I paid for it all.
Man 3: Sound to me like your mom and dad knew what they was doin.’
Man 1: [Laughs] One could think that. When I got up to workin’ full-time I think in them days I’d give ‘em hundred and twenty, hundred and fifty dollars a month just for livin’ at home.
Man 2: In today’s world that’s known as child abuse.
Man 1: [Laughs] That’s true, they’d probably go to jail. Now, keep in mind they didn’t tell me that I had to do that. That was my decision. They didn’t say ‘you’re on your own.’ It was all my decision and actually there was a motive behind it. I kinda come and gone the way I went. I lived there, didn’t get in a lot of scrapes or anything, but I worked, drove a car, ya know, whatever and I led my own life and I figure if I’m payin’ there ain’t a whole lot they can tell me what to do.
Man 3: Amen… It’s the other way around now. “I want to come and go, want you to put money in my pocket, I want a two-liter bottle, oh, by the way, my car needs gas, can you lend me some money and pay my phone bill?”
Man 1: Yeah, you left out this part: “Um, you’re tryin’ to run my life. If it wasn’t for you guys, I’d be somebody. Uh, you got your finger on my tail, I’m like a mouse goin’ in circles. Um, can you bail me out of jail? Uh, can you give me some more money? Yeah, can you pay for the phone? And by the way, uh, you’re runnin’ my life, but can you give me some more money?”
Man 2: That sounds familiar.
Man 1: Yeah, “I’m my own person, I’m my own individual, uh, I’m livin’ on my own. Did you pay my car insurance? And I need gas. But I’m independent. Leave me alone. Don’t mess with my life. Give me some more, though.”
Man 3: Yeah, “Put some more on my card.”
Man 1: “Can you charge my card for me? Get more cash on it. My phone’s gettin’ ready to run out, too, but don’t you mess around with me, I’ll call the cops. You’re abusin’ me.”
Man 3: Yeah, if you see a seven, ten, eleven, twelve year-old that’s willin’ to get out there and run around in the yard, dig in the dirt, build a tree house… if you run into one of them, you’re runnin’ into a minority now.
Man 2: You got that right.
Man 3: “Don’t you know there’s a hole in the atmosphere and if I go outside I’m gonna get cancer?”
Man 1: “Just give me another bag of chips or Oreos and get the hell out the way from the television.”
Man 3: “Grandma, can you bring me another soda pop? Get some batteries for the remote.”
Man 1: Livin’ a dream, ain’t it? Well, livin’ a nightmare actually… You heard of reality TV, this is reality radio.
Man 3: R and R… “I got a C plus on my report card. How much is that worth to ya?”
Man 1: Yeah, let’s negotiate that.
Man 2: C plus, huh? Oh, wow. Green don’t come in until A’s are involved. You don’t even get quarters for C plusses.
Man 3: “Well, that means I’m above average.”
Man 2: Above average? What, moron?
Man 3: “On a curve…”
Man 2: Right… Steep curve. Like suicide curve.
Man 3: Well, you remember gradin’ on a curve, don’t ya?
Man 2: I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know what it means.
Man 3: It ain’t a percentage of how many you got right out of how many you had. A curve means that most of the kids that were involved got this answer right, therefore that… you see what I’m gettin’ at? It’s all relative. It’s comparing you with the other kids. Not like 75 percent of the questions you got right, it’s more of 50 percent of the kids they picked got that question right. You see what I’m gettin’ at?
Man 2: Yep.
Man 3: It makes it so everybody looks real good.
Man 2: Everybody’s equally stupid.
Man 3: One of the worst whoopins I ever got was when I didn’t come back home when I was supposed to. We was out in the woods settin’ up camp and mom and dad had to come looking for me, and that wasn’t very pretty. And they didn’t call you on your phone back then and have you come home.
Man 2: You were way out of ear’s distance.
Man 3: I got a whoopin’ that night… kinda like that skit Bill Cosby did, uh, his wife pulled out the paddle like a samurai sword and said, “The beating will now commence”?
Man 1: Well, you’d definitely go to jail for that today.
Man 3: Well, I sure didn’t stay out later than I was supposed to and I sure didn’t stay out of ear’s distance for a long time. When we got done I understood what was expected, there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever. And I think I said I was sorry about five hundred times, but it didn’t matter.
Man 2: Yeah, I’m gonna go get the dog, see how that’s goin’, see if I can get him out. He’s been pretty quiet tonight in all this thunder.