The Annoying Radio  Wade Rubenstein



              The elevator was as slow and creaky as a Leonard Cohen lament. No escaping its groans in the Chelsea Hotel. Irked by the noise, pretty Mandy stopped unpacking. In a violet silk dress and black Jimmy Choo heels, she paced around the cramped room, her head swiveling.


              “Looking for something?” said Andy, Mandy's tall, lanky, tennis-star boyfriend. The pair had flown to New York together. Andy was competing in the U.S. Open, where Mandy would sit in the stands and clap, and let the TV cameras promote her fledgling acting career.


              Andy had made the hotel arrangements. Dirty and shabby to Mandy's eyes, the place seemed an odd choice. She watched Andy reach across the sagging bed and thrust a hypertrophic arm in a bag the shape of ten tennis racquets. Out came a dog-eared copy of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. She sighed at the sight of it. A paperback. A black hole.


              “Oh my God, you're not spending our first day in New York reading, are you?”


              “Course not. Have a little faith in me. Just give me a few to finish this DFW essay, okay? Talk amongst yourself.” He glanced at Mandy and smiled sheepishly – a smile the media gobbled like a Happy Meal. But Mandy wouldn't swallow. She knew the tricks too well, herself, he thought. Beautiful, self-confident and financially independent, he figured she'd be perfect, if only she were better read. Glancing up at her photogenic face, he said, “What are you looking for?”


              “Where do you think they hide the TV in this dump?”


              “Dump? Oh Mandy – you can't be serious. The Chelsea's historic. All these writers stayed here. Thomas Wolfe. O. Henry. Bill Burroughs. Check it out,” he said, pulling a dark-blue hardback from the top drawer of the nightstand. “It's the friggin' O.E.D.”


              “Andy, what are you talking about? Why're you being so lame?” She pulled back the bangs that framed her heart-shaped face and gave her hair a frustrated tug. Having wedged boyfriend-time in between films and recording sessions, arguing wasn't how Mandy had hoped to spend their days together in New York. Naturally, she'd play the loyal girlfriend in the stands, glittering high above the tennis court, hemmed in by dull people who were so anti-gum. But when Andy wasn't playing tennis she wanted to have fun. Go dancing. Books? Not on the itinerary. Looking around, she noticed an ugly gumwood cabinet. Inside it, in place of a TV, she found a chartreuse Bakelite radio – its resin clashing with her violet-tinged lips and hair. Studying it, she said, “Hey Andy, sorry. Do you think this thing still works?”


              “I don't know. Turn it on and see,” said Andy, his face half-hidden in an essay about playing meta-tennis in a midwestern tornado. The piece had to be some kind of metaphor, he figured, but for what? Metafiction could be so annoying.


              Mandy scowled, then stopped herself. Danger: frown lines. Sulking, she twisted a nipplish knob on the enormous radio. Its face gave off a malevolent green light. The speakers issued oceans of static. Perfect, she thought. A broken AM radio and a book-addled boyfriend. Strikes one and two. Clamping her hands to her satin-clad hips, she stared at Andy, who'd curled sideways on the mattress, his paperback splayed between long fingers. She smiled a glossy-lipped smile, and said, “Andy – you know you shouldn't read in this light. Roger tunes you with his serve as it is.”


              Andy peered over his book, and said, “Ha. Good one, Mandy. Too bad Roger isn't in my quarter this year.”


              Mandy cocked her head and aired her pointy, pink tongue. “Well, I'll bet Roger isn't reading right now. I'll bet he and Mirka are out having fun.”


              Andy rubbed an itch from his nose, and said, “For your information, I hear they can like, practically lecture on Bergengruen. They definitely don't bicker like something out of Cheever. But whatever. So the radio doesn't work?” He jumped from the bed, a flurry of long, elastic limbs, like a great dane puppy broken free of its leash. As Mandy stepped back, he trailed a hand across her shoulders, then fiddled with the radio tuner himself. It was broken, all right, he decided. He shook the antique, then smacked it. An old-fashioned program jingle filled the air:   Jiiiiiim and the Haaatchet/Book Radio 66/W-B-U-K/The Book. Mesmerized for a moment, the couple stood side-by-side and listened as the program began.


              “Aaaaaaaaaaaaah – good afternoon everybody, how are you today? Dale Peck here with Jimmy Wood. Welcome aboard, everyone. We'll be discussing the world of books, and taking your calls. Jim, how about if we get things rolling?”

              “I'm ready to roll, Hatchet. How 'bout you? Nice weekend?”

              “Great weekend. I lost count of how many stories I read, five collections, I think – no, one was a galley for that Tibor Fischer novel.”


              “I took it.”

              “Like it?”

              “Interesting. Good writing. Good story. But maybe not the knockout punch you'd want after sporking Martin Amis in the ahootie the way he did.”

              “Ugh. Hatch. Do me a favor. Let's not pick the Yellow Dog scab again. Folks, we've got plenty to get into before we visit the Sunday Times Book Review and, hold the phone, that Laura Miller piece. Unbelievable, wasn't it? I mean, Hatch, I can't tell you how many people called me this weekend, saying, ‘Did'ja see it? Did'ja see it?' Trust me, I saw it. Plus we've got more fallout from Godoff and the apple dumpling gang. Yaddo stories. Bread Loaf. Reports from the white nights in St. Pete's. I'll leave it to you, Dale – how about if you lead off?”

              “I'm good to go, Jim. You know, I haven't been to the Yaddo thing myself, but I've heard they warn you to pack light – laptop and a smile. That sort of thing. Y'ever go?”

              “Can't say that I have, Hatch. You know I'm a married man. The draw would have to be somethin' special. Bring back Henry James and I'll go. Jayne Anne Phillips and Elwood Reid ain't no Henry James, not by any stretch.”

              “Elwood Reid? No kidding. I could've sworn he lived in the Catskills. He's already in the woods. What's he doing at Yaddo?”

              “Jane Anne Phillips, maybe,” said Jim, laughing.

              “Please. Pabst Blue Ribbon is probably more like it. And, whadda yuh know, Moody and Franzen – the wonder twins – no-shows at Yaddo this go-round. Too busy counting their royalties or what there, Jimmy?”

              “Hard to see hysterical-realism playing well in the woods. Talking turds. Sticky garters. Where's the grace in that, Hatch? I mean, God and nature aren't even part of the question. And Moody –”

              “Don't get me started on him. Please, Jim. You know better.”

              “All right, we'll move on—a quick break, folks, then we'll go to the phones.”


              As a baldness remedy ad began, Mandy smacked the radio back into silence, then looked at Andy, whose mouth had dropped open. “Let's get outta here,” she told him.


              “Fine, turn off Book Radio,” said Andy. “It's only, like, the best radio show there is. You can't get it in Austin. Only here.”


              “So you want to sit around and listen to some geeks? You're joking, right? A-Rod, I wanna be with you,” said Mandy, distressed, another expression she massaged away with her manicured fingers. The lines. The lines.


              Gripping Mandy's shoulders, Andy kissed her plump lips, then said, “Fine. Let me get uptight all day going into my match. I mean, Henman, first round? He's like, only the one guy who beat me all summer. The man knows most of Macbeth by heart. Definitely all of the soliloquies. You should hear him do his thing in the showers: ‘Fear not, Macbeth, no man that's born of woman / Shall e'er have power upon thee.' But he's not your problem, so don't worry yourself.”


              “It scares you that Henman knows some Shakespeare?”


              “Mandy, trust me, you can see it in his game – the way he volleys. His strokes are practically iambic,” said Andy, his light-brown eyes widening with boyish awe.


              “Oh my God, you're crazy. I never would have guessed that you were such a—”


              “What?” said Andy, his jaw thrust forward.


              “Bookworm,” said Mandy, spitting out the word like phlegm. She looked limp, dejected. Turning away, a sob catching in her throat, she said, “Oh Andy. I thought you were like, this great tennis stud. You had my senses working overtime. I thought you were my number one.”


              “Hey, I am world number one. Mandy, what do you want? Books help me relax. They keep my unforced errors down. Ask any guy on the tour. Most of them read more than me.”


              “Really? What about Mark Philippoussis?”


              “Are you kidding? He's like, big into Proust. Flaubert. Anything on Paris. Try again.”


              “Oh, I don't know. Maybe you're right. I did hear Marat was working on a novel,” Mandy said.


              “You did? I didn't know that.”


              “Yeah, but he's sooo Russian.”


              “Holy crap. Marat's writing a novel? That's so wrong.”


              “Oooops, I shouldn't have said anything,” said Mandy, lips pressed together, pleased.


              “Man, those Russians piss me off,” said Andy.


              Mandy stroked her boyfriend's clotted forearm. “It doesn't make him any better than you,” she told him.


              Flexing, Andy said, “Yo, I can serve 150, you know. Brad says I'll hit 160 one day.”


              “See that? You stick to your racquets, honey. Who cares how well that big Russian writes?”


              “What do you mean by that?” said Andy.


              “Wow, you're really getting defensive. And it's not very attractive,” said Mandy, hitching her purse strap over a shoulder. “If you don't feel like going out, this seems like a good time for me to do some shopping.”


              Aiming a finger at her, Andy said, “You've read Marat's novel, haven't you?”




              “He didn't show you a chapter?”


              Mandy bit her lower lip.


              “Holy crap, I can't believe it.”


              “It wasn't even a chapter. It was just a poem, an ode,” said Mandy. “It didn't mean anything to me. I mean, you just know he shows these scribbles to everyone. Like those two blondes he brought to the Open last year.”


              Shoulders slumped, Andy said, “I feel so violated.”


              “Well, you better get over it, honey. Big match tonight. First round,” said Mandy. She slipped a room key from the nightstand into her Fendi bag, and strolled to the door.


              “Do you really have to go? C'mon stay. We'll play Scrabble. I'll keep the radio low. You won't even notice it,” said Andy, following her.


              “Kiss-kiss,” she said, and placed a hand on Andy's chest, calming him down a notch. Then she craned to smooch his cheek, and closed the door behind her.




              A few days later, freshly showered after his second round match, Andy made his way to the rostrum before the assembled press, a hand raised against the blinding crush of flashbulbs. An ATP spokeswoman in a florescent yellow dress tapped the microphone and said, “Check, 1-2-3,” before stepping aside.


              “How's it feel to be through to the third round, Andy?” shouted one reporter.


              “Any surprises from Ljubicic tonight?” shouted another.


              “Ljubicic claims no member of the tour will discuss the work of Novakovich with you – is this true?” said a third.


              Roddick studied the third reporter's face – dark-eyed, fierce, fired up with some agenda, he figured. “Are you Croatian, by any chance?” he asked his questioner.


              “What if I am?”


              “Then maybe you were paying attention when the tour elected Ljubicic spokesman. 'Cause I don't remember that vote, myself. What I do remember is drinking slivovitz with Goran, back at Wimbledon, last June. Goran and Josip are friends, actually. He told me he'd love to introduce us sometime. That answer your question, or you gonna pull the pin on another one?”


              The reporter took a long look at the floor, avoiding the hot stares of her colleagues.


              “Thought not,” said Andy. “Hey – the next time you hang with Ljubi, tell him, he'll never beat me with a backhand that has less pace than my grandma's.”


              At this, the ATP spokeswoman in yellow stepped in front of Andy to explain what he had really meant by this comment. As she spoke, the star spied his tennis coach, Brad, stage right, and slipped from the podium. With Brad, Andy strode to a waiting Continental. They climbed into in the back of the car.


              “Where to, gentlemen?” said the driver, a Russian lilt adding wryness to his appellation.


              “We're going to ABC, you said?” Brad asked, voice gravelly, looking to Andy for affirmation.


              “No, KGB. The bar. Barry Yourgrau's reading there tonight. But Mandy's coming with us. So we have to swing by the Chelsea.”


              At the mention of Mandy, Brad allowed his sun-creased face a quick scowl of disapproval, then leaned toward the driver, gripping the crushed-velvet upholstery of the empty, passenger's seat. “Okay driver, we'll be going to KGB, wherever that is, but first we're stopping at 23rd and 7th.”


              “Yes, address of Chelsea Hotel. Who doesn't know this address?” said the driver, peeved to have his intellect doubted by a young idiot and his older, gray-stubbled companion, Uncle Idiot.


              Brad gripped Andy's knee until Andy turned toward him from the window, then said, “Listen, I know I'm not your media coach, but you've gotta stop stirring the pot at press conferences. Guys are going to try to mess with your head. Save your mental energy, capisci?”


              Andy waved Brad off, saying, “Ahhh, Ljubicic ticks me off—I mean, Novakovich doesn't even write in Croatian. He's American, but I'm not allowed to mention him. I'll bet Ljubicic thinks Gary Shteyngart writes in Russian. Ha. Dude's about as Russian as Sharapova. Less.”


              Brad patted Andy's thigh and said, “You just don't get it, do you? It's not about you, Andy. You're a player. He's a hater. Before your match, I saw he had this Latin tome in his locker, so I asked him if he'd ever read Winning Ugly. He grunts at me, right? And he says, ‘What's that? Some girly novel?' The loser! He hadn't even heard of my book.”


              “Yeah? I admit he's one up on me there. 'Cause your book does suck.”


              “Get outta here. You're pullin' my leg.”


              Andy laughed, and said, “No, I'm not. It's awful. Unless you like books that say the same five things, over and over, with no sense of character, no narrative line. Dude, you thought up a paragraph and you stretched it into a book. Good for you.”


              Brad lifted his baseball cap and gave his steel-wool curls a rub. “Whaddaya want to bet I've outsold half the people you've read, put together? It kills me the way you look up to these writers like they're gods, when you've got a best-selling author right here in the flesh. Bud, I beat all of your gods to the Pantheon. You hear me, man? You've gotch'yer god right here.”


              Andy broke up again, then gripped his crotch, and said, “Here's yours. Pen the hymns.”


              Brad groaned and tugged the bill on his baseball cap a bit lower. In a moment, they pulled to the curb on West 23rd. Andy got out and disappeared into the 12-story hotel, then returned hand-in-hand with Mandy. He opened the back door to the car. Brad gazed up at his client and smiled.


              “Move,” said Andy, a pack of Red Camels dangling from the pocket of his black T-shirt.


              Brad huffed, said, “You're the boss,” and slid closer to the opposite door.


              “Not there,” said Andy. “I'm not squishing next to You, and Mandy isn't either. God gets to sit up front.”


              Shaking his head, Brad got out and trudged around the car, while Mandy sat in back. As Brad opened the front passenger door, Andy gaped at his coach's baseball cap, which had “Metallica” embroidered in gold across the top.


              “You're not wearing that hat to KGB?” said Andy.


              “What's wrong with my hat?”


              “Dude, you're determined to humiliate me, aren't you?”


              “Fine. You don't want the hat, I'll take off the hat,” said Brad, and they set off for the bar.


              “Driver, would you mind putting on the radio?” said Andy.


              “Sure. Radio. What station?” said the driver.


              “Do you know BUK?”


              A grin split the driver's broad, blue face. “Sure. The Book. Is on. I am listening quietly. For you, I turn up volume.” A commercial for a “male enhancement” pill concluded, followed by an ad for casino gambling. Then a string of rapid-fire words issued from Dale Peck's reedy voice:


              “Dale and Jim here, back on The Book, talking about the world of publishing. We'll be chatting with Joy Williams at the top of the hour. A bit later we'll have the Shoe, David Shoemaker, from Counterpoint. In the meantime, we'll be taking some of your calls. Doris from Rego Park, you're on with Dale and Jim.”

              “Take it away, Doris,” said Jim.


              “Yikes. Do we have to hear this geek-talk in the car, too?” said Mandy. “Driver? Don't they have K-ROCK in New York?”


              “Metallllll,” said Brad, pumping a fist as he twisted to face the pair.


              Andy reached up to direct Brad's face back toward the dash, saying, “God, stop being so everywhere, will you?”


              Mandy took Andy's hand and squeezed it. “Really, Andy. I'm sick of this book stuff. Words words words. Let's go to Webster Hall. Let's go dancing,” she said, and puffed out a voluptuous lower lip.


              Andy pressed her proffered lip with a finger, and said, “Shh. Baby, I've got an idea. Why don't you sing that nice song about candy? Just do it silently, so I can hear the radio. Deal?”


              Mandy folded her arms and looked out the window, whispering an oath to herself.


              “On the car-phone – Bruce from Flushing,” said Dale.

              “Hey guys, die hard Bellow fan.”

              “Bruce,” said Dale and Jim.

              “I got a bone to pick with Hatchet, about Moody.”

              “Yeah, what's that?” said Dale.

              “I'm mean, the worst writer? You gotta be kidding me. There's so much worse. To start, you got –”

              “Bruce, bruce—how many times have I covered this? For Chrissakes, listen to the show, will you? Sheese. You completely missed my point.”

              “Which was what?” said Bruce.

              “That, with his talent, you'd think he could do better,” said Dale. “What's wrong with saying that?”

              “Hatch was flattering him,” said Jim, cracking up.

              “I was. Now will all'a you's get off my back? I mean, give it a rest, will you?”

              “Okay,” said Jim. “Not to break up the fun here, but I'd be remiss not to tee-up our coming conversation with Joy Williams. Our little ray of Southwestern sunshine, right Hatchy? Brother. I won't name names, but a top editor at Knopf told me the new stuff she's working on is blacker than ever. I mean, grim.”

              “No kidding, Jimmy. Hey – does it get more ironic than that name? Joy, please, for cryin' out loud, could you write something that isn't darker than Dickens? At least Dickens gave you a bit of sweet with the bitter. Talk about Bleak House. Joy, lighten up.”

              “Not exactly climbing to the top of the charts with that stuff,” said Jim.

              “The Quick and the Dead?”


              “Good writing, though. Nominated for a Pully. Okay, back to the phones,” said Dale. “Who's up?”

              “We've got Scott from Park Slope,” said Jim.

              “Hi fellas. First time, long time,” said Scott.

              “Welcome aboard, Scott. What's on your mind today?” said Dale.

              “One point—I don't know if you've seen the ARCs for Vernon God Little?”

              “That's that Pierre thing, right? I've heard it's good,” said Dale.

              “Yeah, they're calling it the next Confederacy of Dunces,” said Jim. “What about it?”

              “Just that. Doesn't it kill you the way every supposedly comic novel since '81 gets touted as ‘the next Confederacy of Dunces'? Can't we declare a moratorium already? There was one Confederacy. There won't be a next,” said Scott.

              The hosts paused a moment, as if in reflection.

              “Good point,” said Dale.

              “Big footsteps to follow,” said Jim.

              “Big book,” said Dale. “I guess we'd have to agree, Scott. Enough is enough with these silly comparisons. Thanks for the call.”

              “Thanks guys. The slush pile always melts so much faster with your show on.”

              “Get back to us Scott,” said Dale.

              “All right, folks, time for a break, then we'll chat with Joy,” said Jim.




              Mandy balked at attending the reading when she saw the sooty, red-brick tenement building that housed KGB. She opted instead for a solo ride to Webster Hall, where Andy and Brad later met her, in the car. She came out of the dance hall, stepping and kicking with Thomas Pynchon and Melanie Jackson, arm-in-arm-in-arm—a chorus line of three. After exchanging sweaty goodnight hugs with the couple, Mandy slipped into the Continental. Andy gaped at her and turned up his palms.


              “What?” said Mandy.


              “Why didn't you introduce me?” said Andy, flabbergasted.


              “To who? To those guys? Why would I?” she said.


              “Don't you know who they are?”


              Mandy shrugged, and said, “Not really. I mean, we were dancing together for a while, no biggie. We didn't go get blood tests.”


              Clenching his face, Andy said, “That's so wrong. Do you know where they're going? Did they say?”


              Brad waved a hand in his client's face, saying, “Whoa, Andy – don't forget, Flavio Saretta, day match, tomorrow. Wicked forehand.”


              “Yeah, yeah. As if Señor Tongue might lick me,” said Andy.


              “One never knows,” said Brad. “Why stay out all night and tempt fate?”


              “Okay, all right. Back to the Chelsea, then. Party pooper.”




              In Andy and Mandy's room, after a night lit by the green glow of the radio, the couple descended the hotel's long staircase to the lobby, palms sliding along the worn mahogany banister. Andy was racing. Mandy trailed slowly behind. Idling outside they found their regular driver for the tournament behind the wheel. Brad watched the pair approach from the car's front passenger window.


              “Good morning, guys,” said Brad, as the driver pulled into traffic, heading for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the LIE.


              “Morning Your Dudeship,” said Andy, bowing his head. “Sleep okay in the Pantheon?”


              Brad winced, and said, “Do we have to start with that again?” Seeing Mandy turn toward the window and stare into traffic, he gave Andy a look, wooly eyebrows arching. “Are we cool?”


              “Oh yeah,” said Andy. “Don't worry about her. She's fine. Aren't you Mandy?”


              Mandy continued staring out the window, and said, “Why wouldn't you go dancing with me last night?”


              “We were at the reading.”


              “Well, what about tonight? You're like, doing all this tennis stuff all day, while I'm just sitting around. I need to move, you know?”


              “Fine. How about, after my match, we do some writing exercises? Just the two of us.”


              “What about me? I could show you guys some inside stuff,” said Brad.


              “Writing exercises?” said Mandy.


              “Yeah, you know. Like—write a story from beginning to end in a single sentence. Or write—”


              “Wait. Are we on, like, some reality show, Andy? Tell me right now. You're punking me, aren't you?” she said, scanning the car's interior for hidden cameras.


              “No, for real,” said Andy. “Or we could always kick back and journal for a while.”


              “Oh my God, you really are crazy,” said Mandy. She fell silent as the car nosed into the white-tiled Midtown Tunnel, emerging moments later in the forbidding brownfields of Queens.


              The extended silence soon began to fray Andy's nerves—vividly, he saw the coming match versus Saretta, the Brazilian with the supposedly magical forehand. For a minute that felt like an hour, he debated with himself—did he dare to ask the question rising in his throat? Sighing, he turned to look at Mandy. She was wearing a diaphanous, white cotton dress. What a babe, he thought. But she wouldn't even glance his way, her line of sight fixed out the window closest to her. So touchy. What was her problem? he wondered. Was she here to be supportive, or what?


              Andy tried to play her game himself, staring out his window, but after another long moment, despite himself, the question popped from his tongue.


              “Driver, would you mind putting on the radio?”


              “The Book?” said the driver.


              “Uh-huh,” said Andy.


              “You sure?” said the driver.


              “Uh-huh. I'm sure.”


              Brad chewed a thumbnail furiously, while the driver reached for the dash.


              “Roth and Updike? Could we give that one a rest, please? I mean, once, you could have compared them – once upon a time, ten, 20 years ago. After Updike picked up his second Pulitzer, you might have argued he was better—maybe then, but not today,” said Dale. “Today the comparison stops with their ages. What are they, both about 70, correct?”

              “Yeah, sounds about right, Hatch. But I'm with you, Sal, I prefer Updike, although longevity's gotta count for something. In the last ten years alone, Roth's got what—a Pully for Pastoral, NBdoubleCs for Counterlife and Patrimony, a PEN/Faulkner and a Pully nomination for Shylock, an NBA and another Pully nomination for Sabbath's Theater. What's Updike added to his trophy case in the last dozen years?”

              “Yeah, but—” said Sal.

              “No buts. Goodbye,” said Dale. He signaled to his producer to end the call.

              “Jerome from Manhattan, on The Book,” said Jim.

              “Here we go,” said Dale, sounding gleeful.

              “Take it away, Jerome,” said Jim.

              “Yeah. I got something to say about this Updike issue.”

              “What about it?” said Dale.

              “It ain't fai-uh,” said Jerome.

              “What's not fair?” said Jim. “People like the books or they don't.”

              “Did you see the review that Kakutani gave him?”

              “For Seek My Face?” said Jim.

              “Yeah, for Seek My Face. Did you see it or not?”

              “I did,” said Jim. “She retitled it:   In Your Face.”

              Laughing, Dale said, “What a rejection that was, gee whiz. Didn't she call it ‘bogus'?”

              “Why are you laughing? It's not funny. It's ROTTEN. She hates him. And Philip Roth couldn't carry Updike's jock! I don't wanna he-uh no mo-uh about that stupid write-uh that made his name abusing a piece uh liv-uh. But the stupid New York Times won't give Updike a break. It ain't fa-uh.”

              “Jerome, a reviewer shouldn't write what they think?” said Dale.

              “She's ruining Updike's caree-uh! He's the greatest writ-uh ev-uh! It ain't fai-uh!”

              “Jerome, Jerome. Get a grip. Nobody would tell you Updike isn't an all-time great. The question is, what's he written worth reading in the last dozen years? Can you name one book for me, please? Where's the list? Can somebody give me the list of his novels? Somebody. Okay, here we go. Ready Jim? Going backward from Face. Gertrude and Claudius. Read it?”

              “No,” said Jim, stifling a yawn.

              “Toward the End of Time.”


              “In the Beauty of the Lilies.”

              “I did read that one. Awful.”



              “Memories of the Ford Administration.”

              “You're kidding. I never even heard of that one. Was it a comedy, I hope?”

              “Maybe we've found that next Confederacy of Dunces, after all, Jim?” said Dale, snorting and chortling.

              “Shut up. Shut up! I'm telling you, John Updike is the greatest write-uh of all time! He's a poet. Philip Roth don't write no poetry. I don't want that idiot Kakutani reviewing him again! Not ev-uh! That's it!”

              “Did Jerome just hang up on us again?” Dale asked his producer. “Oh no. He's gone.”


              Andy turned as he felt a whirr of motion at his elbow. Mandy was now staring at him, teeth bared, neck straining.


              “What?” said Andy.


              “If we don't turn this radio off, right now, I swear I'm gonna lose it.”


              “Why? What's the big deal? It's some people talking, so what?”


              “It goes or I go.”




              Mandy pinched her lips and nodded. She looked prettier than ever, thought Andy, who suspected she could create this effect at will, like an octopus changing its colors to suit its emotions. Andy pressed his hands together, and said, “Don't do this.”


              “Fine. Then no more Book Radio.”


              “You mean, for now, right?”


              “For the rest of our time in New York.”


              “Naw. But I'm not even into the second week yet.”


              “You want, I turn off radio?” the driver asked Mandy, the car locked in heavy traffic as they passed the ugly piles of brick called LeFrak City.


              “It's his choice to make. Ask him what he wants,” Mandy told the driver, who glanced at Andy in rear view mirror.


              “Oh man,” said Andy, as he tried to think. He loved Mandy. But if she left, he knew he'd soon find other girls. New York was the modeling capital of the country, after all. And lots of models were enamored of a strong service game. Some of them probably even like DFW, he figured. But what substitute would he have for The Book? K-ROCK? NPR? Forget it, there was no alternative. It all boiled down to supply and demand. Relieved by such mathematics, Andy sighed and cleared his throat. “Leave the radio alone,” he told the driver.


              “That's it. I am so outta here,” said Mandy. “We're over.”


              “Hey Mandy—what're you doing tonight?” said Brad, smiling.


              “Driver, stop the car, please. I'm getting out.”




Postscript:   Andy Roddick went on to win the 2003 U.S. Open. About a year later, after losing his title, he fired his coach, Brad Gilbert. At this writing, Roddick began to interview new candidates for the job. The emerging likely favorite appears to be David Foster Wallace.