The Day I Crashed Pacifica by
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(155 Stories)

Prompted By Interviews

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Recently, a flurry of studies, books, anecdotes, and urban legends claim that swearing is a sign of authenticity, honesty, and even intelligence. I don’t know. In most instances, I find that swearwords, used judiciously and with the all-important element of timing can be expressive and effective. I don’t recall when I began swearing, but it was a long time ago, and I haven’t let up yet. There are times, however, when a curse can be a curse.

I had finished my first novel and had secured an interview at KPFK, Los Angeles’ Pacifica station. At the time, Pacifica was going through a bitter internal war and they had long been at war with the Federal Communications Commission over the use of profanity. Pacifica had recently broadcast George Carlin, that beloved commissioner of swearwords, performing his infamous “Seven Dirty Words” routine. Well, to coin a phrase, the shit hit the fan. An ensuing lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled that the FCC had the authority to censor “indecent” language during hours when children were likely to be among the audience.

I had been invited to speak to a progressive news talk person at KPFK about this new novel and to read a few passages for the audience. The novel was set in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s and its characters often found profanity to be as expressive and effective as I do. When I arrived at the station, Sonali, the interviewer and I spoke affably about the novel and the nature of her questions. She told me she planned to videotape the interview and upload it to the Pacifica web site. She introduced me through the soundstage glass to the control room engineer, a lovely woman named Shana. She also described the ongoing tension that existed between the Pacifica Network and the FCC and asked that I take particular care to avoid any profanity that might be lurking in the text of my tale.

I assured her that I was a seasoned reader and would be sure to skip any dirty words that might spring up in dialog. She suggested I might want to highlight any indecencies as a precaution but I confidently repeated that such a precaution wouldn’t be necessary. After all, I had written the f—ing book and was intimately acquainted with every paragraph, sentence, and word. And so we began.

The Q & A went well. She asked about my motivation for writing the book. I wanted to set the record straight about what the New Left was all about. She asked what qualified me to write such a book. I told her of my participation in both civil rights and antiwar movements and my studies in American history. We talked about the outcome of the antiwar movement, the confusion between hippies, the counterculture, and the political Left wing, and more.  She invited me to read.

I opened to a scene set at the 1968 Democratic Convention. For the audience, I explained that Madeline, one of the story’s protagonists and underground newspaper stringer is interviewing Roger, a romantic but confused infantile leftist and informant. “You think these kids out here . . . ” Roger swept his arm across the park, where a flood of people streamed onto the grass with each turn of the traffic light. “You think they want to strike a deal with a cop out like ‘Clean Gene McCarthy’? Man! They see us with him, they’re gonna think we’re ratting them out. And we will be.”

“Why?” Madeline scribbled furiously without looking up.

“Because,” Roger snapped. “McCarthy may wear flowers on his tie, but he’s still a stooge. They elect him, you think we’ll stop bombing Hanoi? Shit, man. He’ll just wring his hands harder than the others. The fucking guy’s sucking the fire out of a bunch of kids who think electing stooges to the Presidency is the answer.”

I became aware of a large, sweeping movement just beyond my peripheral vision. I looked up. Sonali was waving her arms at Shana who was staring intently at the audio board and twirling dials. I stopped reading. “What happened?” I asked.

Sonali ignored me. She spoke into her microphone to Shana. “Did you get it?”

Shana raised a thumb.

Sonali turned to me, eyes blazing. “Luckily, the time delay saved us. Keep reading. We’ve got dead air right now.

Yikes. I had blown it. I hadn’t even noticed my taboo boondoggle until now.

“Keep reading!”

Feeling terrible, I continued reading. “Okay,” Madeline said. “Who’s got the answer?”

Roger eyed her with suspicion. “You’re with me, aren’t you.”

“I’m interviewing you, aren’t I.”

“Okay.” Roger lowered his voice and leaned into her. “I got the answer.”

“Okay,” she replied, leaning toward his warm, blond features. “What is it?”

Roger grinned. “Stop the fucking thing. Stop The whole fucking machine. Now. Right here. Shut it down. Do the Rosa Parks thing. Stop the buses, stop the work, close the gas stations, boycott the subways, turn off the television, quit writing letters to Congressmen, stand up and kick ‘em in the moneybags.”

“Damn, man.” Madeline closed her notepad. “You sure know how to talk dirty.”

I looked up. Sonali’s head was buried in her forearms on the desktop. Shana was twirling dials.

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Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

Visit Author's Website



Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Fun story, Charlie. Sounds like you did great in the interview part of the program, it was just the language in your novel that was problematic. I love that when the interviewer suggested you highlight any profanity, you thought that wasn’t necessary. Even your character Madeline knew that Roger was talking dirty, but you didn’t notice. How much trouble did they get into from your interview?

    • This tale was fun to write. Sorry it was so late in arriving. And actually, when Madeline remarked to Roger that he knew how to “talk dirty,” she was referring to his revolutionary “tear the roof off the motherf—ker” rhetoric about overthrow, not his profanity.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Love this Charles! Of course you wrote the dialogue, so it was second nature to you at this point, and you didn’t even notice the many “F-bombs”. You were just repeating the dialogue. Were you banished forever? Chastised? Just kept on truckin’?

    I learned to swear from a girl I highly admired on my freshman floor at Brandeis. Everything was “fuckin’ this’ or “fuckin’ that”. I thought she was SO cool! So I tried it out. No one expected such language from this little gal. It did startle people and added punch to whatever I said. Joette went on to become the youngest woman judge on the CT Supreme Court, so I guess it didn’t hamper her career.

    • No, Betsy, I was not banished forever for my flying inflagrante delicto profanity. I was asked back to discuss and read my next resistance novel A BOWL FULL OF NAILS only this time, I was invited by a broadcaster at KPFA in Berkeley, and have on and off made appearances on Pacifica to talk about our theater productions, etc.

      Funny about Brandeis, profanity, and career trajectories: my partner, Susan, attended Brandeis from ’66 to ’70. Her roommate, freshman year adorned their dorm room with flamboyant pencil sketches of penises. She went on to become Chancellor of the northern half of the Cal State University system and then on to become Undersecretary of Education under Arnie Duncan, and is close pals with Jill Biden. Go figure.

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Charles, how interesting that Susan also went to Brandeis. My brother was Class of ’69, so overlapped with her, and my husband Dan would have been a freshman her senior year. Things were really getting interesting there. Her senior year, Brandeis hosted the National Student Strike Center, gathering data on all campuses that had gone on strike (as Brandeis did) when Nixon bombed Cambodia. Was she involved with any of that? I came in Sept, 1970, just after she graduated. We were a closely screened class, trying to weed out the “radicals”, so everyone just got stoned, but there has always been a strong sense of social justice on campus, right from its beginnings in 1948.

  3. Ah Charles. you’re a hard dog to keep on the porch. ain’t you?

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Loved this, Charles. As someone who tries her best not to, but still drops the f-bomb, I get it. The language was integral to the characters in your book (which I enjoyed). I’ve shocked a couple of people when the word slips out of my mouth. But when I did it in front of one of my grandkids, who reprimanded me, “Gramma, you said the f-word,” I knew it was time to keep that word inside my head, where it happily resides.

    • I spent a fairly long time watching my language during kid rearing time, Laurie, but as you may imagine, the larger collectives, circuses, and theater companies that we often gathered in corroded many a young ear. As regards the language in the novel, Pacifica was highly sensitive because of their visibility. Because of Pacifica’s lefty leanings, and because Pacifica had been the defendant in the Supreme Court case involving George Carlin’s language,the FCC seemed to lend an ear to the Pacifica proceedings with great enthusiasm.

  5. First things, first: Is the novel to which you’re referring GATES OF EDEN? It sounds like something I would like to read! It says on the Web that it came out in 2012 but is that a re-issue? This story sounded like it went back farther than that.
    Second, I was active in the campaign from keeping Pacifica from going corporate back in the 1990s so it’s interesting to hear an inside story about the kinds of internal tensions that were going on in preserving what had begun as a kind of “people’s radio” network.
    Thirds, thanks for the engaging story of an interview. Once again, your opening gets our attention with a three word sentence, “I don’t know,” right after. a long, conceptual one. And you foreshadowed the challenge you were going to have in distinguishing “blue” from “normal” language when you told her you, after all, had written the f–ing book!

    • Yes, GATES OF EDEN is the novel in question. It was published in 2012, but it’s an expansive historical piece that follows seven major characters as they come of age and political awareness in the 1950s and become active in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s. Gates ends in 1970.

      Congrats on joining the battle for Pacifica during those times. That was a tense and often ugly battle that never quite ended. I consider you to be a survivor! I still feel a bit ashamed about that performance, not because of the language uttered, but because of my arrogance in thinking I would have the presence of mind to spot a bleeper before I recited it. Ah, well.

  6. Marian says:

    I guess the swearwords seemed so natural in the context of your novel, Charles. Love how you describe the scene. I am not a regular Pacifica listener, but Sonali is still on the air, so at least she didn’t suffer any long-term consequences.

  7. What a fun read! I used to have a show on KPFA called Pennies From Heaven. It was about financial and estate planning. An attempt to give listeners (many of whom ‘hated’ money but had it anyway) some important information, and at the same time, offer them a way to give it away to Pacifica. There were a few caller who cursed when they called in, but I only had to cut off one that I recall. The most famous person I interviewed was Suze Orman, the day her first book made the NYTimes bestseller list.
    I’m going to have to look for your books. It will be fun to read about those days when we thought we could change the world. I was there!
    Thanks for this nice read!

    • Hi, Penny. Thanks for your comments! I’m glad you enjoyed my interview story. And KPFA was and is part of the general, wild and wooly Pacifica family, complete with accompanying internecine warfare :-)!

      I’m delighted that your interested in my resistance novels! I’m actually working on a third one now, set in radical theater movement of the late 1960s. In fact, much of the action in this third novel takes place in the Bay Area with a fictional version of the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

      I would humbly offer that we not only tried; we DID change the world. Think of some of the outcomes from those times: the rise of the civil rights movement, feminism, environmentalism, minority studies and academic reform, community organizing. The list goes on… Anyway, you might enjoy a visit back to those days. Thanks again.

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