Have you ever noticed how disappointing it is to see your favorite radio personality for the first time? Back in Pennsylvania I used to listen to a great morning show on my way to work. There were two co-hosts, a man named Steve and a woman named Melanie. They were witty, cosmopolitan, charming, riveting, and they had the most amazing voices.
Steve was a rich baritone with a full, resonant timbre and a trace of a dashing accent that might have originally been anything from South African to Australian. He enunciated with excruciating precision, yet had the vocal versatility to capture emotional nuances in a way that would make a brilliant actor delivering a Hamlet monologue sound like a robot in a bad Flash Gordon flick.
One day I made the mistake of turning the radio on when my wife was in the car with me and was quite annoyed to notice a dreamy expression creeping over her face when Steve started talking. Her head kind of tilted to the side, her eyelids began to flutter, and a faint exclamation of delighted surprise escaped from her smile.
As she turned toward me, I noticed her pupils were slightly dilated. “Why don’t you ever talk to me like that?” she scolded.
I squawked out some sort of an indignant retort which only served to reinforce her opinion of my desultory and unromantic voice. In frustration I reached for the knob to turn off the radio, but my hand froze in mid-reach, for just then Melanie laughed! I don’t remember what Steve had said to make her laugh, but I will never forget that tinkling trill that danced joyous from the speakers and floated around the interior of the car on fairies’ wings.
Then the goddess spoke. Her voice was like sunshine on buttercups in a breeze-kissed spring meadow. Its melody bubbled out of the speakers, caressed my ears as it entered, then slid giggling down to rest in a warm pool of comfort deep in my heart. I let out a long ragged sigh like a desperate dehydrated man in a desert with salt-cracked lips who has just discovered a gigantic pitcher of ice cold lemonade sitting on top of a cactus.
My wife reached over and slapped me. “Watch where you’re driving! You just about creamed that little old lady in the Toyota Corolla…and for goodness sake, wipe that goofy grin off your face. You’re giving me the creeps!”
Her voice sounded coarse and vulgar in my ears. “Have you ever considered seeing an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor?” I inquired. “I read somewhere that 15 percent of American housewives have polyps on their vocal chords and don’t even know it.”
Surprisingly, my wife seemed to be open to the idea and promised to schedule the appointment as soon as she got home.
“I’ll try to get it on the same day as your orthopedic appointment.” She winked.
“My ortho appointment? I didn’t know I had an ortho appointment. What’s it for?”
“For your cervical fracture.”
“But I don’t have a broken neck!”
She just looked at me then with a smile that made the hairs on the back of my neck snap to attention with a crisp salute. That panicked a flock of goose pimples that had been napping on my spine and they began stampeding from the base of my skull to my tailbone. I somehow lost interest in the topic and returned my attention to the radio.
I became aware that Steve and Melanie were announcing that they were broadcasting live from the Oak View Mall for a radio station promotion and would sign autographs for any of their listening audience who wanted to meet them. I tried not to act too excited, but I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I only hoped I could talk my wife into going. I decided to try the roundabout approach.
Summoning my most nonchalant voice, I enquired, “Hey. Did you ever wonder what radio people look like?”
“I was going to ask you the same question.”
“Just out of curiosity, we could swing by the mall and take a peek at Melanie. Oh…uh…and Steve…too…of course. Melanie and Steve. It’d be interesting to see if they look as good as they sound.”
“Why? What do you think Melanie looks like?” My wife was eying my neck like a logger sizing up a Sitka Spruce.
“Oh…I…er…I have no idea…hard to tell from a voice, you know.”
Actually I had a very vivid idea of what Melanie looked like. She obviously had the skin of Nicole Kidman, the cheekbones of Michelle Pfeiffer, the eyes of Halle Berry, the smile of Julia Roberts, the body of Catherine Zeta-Jones, the pout of Angelina Jolie, the nose of Elisha Cuthbert, and the hair of Monica Bellucci.
“Really?” My wife had a faraway look in her eye. “You must not have much of an imagination, I didn’t have any trouble visualizing Steve.”
“Is that a fact? So what do you think he looks like?”
“He has Matthew McConaughey’s smile, Patrick Dempsey’s hair, Viggo Mortensen’s eyes, Tom Cruise’s jaw, Brad Pitt’s abs, Jude Law’s chin…”
I cut her off. It was too humiliating to hear her talk like that. “Wanna bet?”
“If you’re right, I’ll do dishes for a week.” I thought that was quite generous of me.
“Very funny! We have a dishwasher. How about if I’m right, you take elocution lessons.”
“It’s a deal, and if you’re wrong?”
“I’ll make that ENT appointment!”
I did a U-turn right there in the street and headed for the mall. When we got inside, the line was so long that I couldn’t see Melanie no matter how hard I craned my neck and stood on tiptoe.
My wife tugged at my sleeve. “Can you see him?”
“Steve, of course!”
I couldn’t see him, or Melanie either, but something seemed odd. The people in line ahead of us were wide-eyed with anticipation, clutching notepads and cameras. The women giggled excitedly to each other over the makeup compacts that seemed to be universally and busily deployed. The men were all coincidentally standing in poses that bulged their unremarkable biceps and pecs, while at the same time rendering their bulging stomachs unremarkable. One fellow looked as if he might pass out before he made it to the front of the line from the strain of sucking in his considerable beer belly.
That wasn’t the oddest part, though. There seemed to be a steady line of other folks approaching from the somewhere ahead of us, and moving toward the exit. As they passed, I noticed that many of them had notepads and cameras as well, but they were in a completely different mood. Some hurried by, head down, as if embarrassed to be seen by us. Others smirked at us knowingly. A couple of girls were burying their faces in each other’s shoulders, giggling a high embarrassed sound like you would expect them to make if they had just dropped an ice cream cone on the front of their blouse.
I was about to ask my wife what she made of that, but she was busy with her makeup compact and some blemish cover. So instead, I crossed my arms so that my fists were tucked behind my biceps and sucked in my stomach. The line moved faster than I would have guessed and soon we were close enough for me to identify the radio station’s display. I clenched my fists a little tighter behind my biceps and craned my neck some more. I could see a couple of radio station employees sitting at a table handing out brochures, but Steve and Melanie were nowhere in sight.
About three minutes later, I had gotten close enough to the radio station booth to distinguish voices, and it was then that the awful truth suddenly struck me, for lo, out of the throats of those two employees came the unmistakable dulcet tones of Steve and Melanie.
It was unbelievable. Melanie wasn’t even close to what I had pictured. She had the skin of Tommy Lee Jones, the cheekbones of Michael Jackson, the eyes of E.T., the smile of Yoda, the body of Kirstie Alley, the pout of Gollum, the nose of Barbra Streisand, and the hair of Sinead O’Conner. Steve wasn’t much better. He sported Buster Keaton’s smile, Britney Spear’s hair, Steve Buscemi’s eyes, Don Knotts’ jaw, Chris Farley’s abs, and Jay Leno’s chin.
We didn’t even bother to get an autograph. We stepped out of line, went straight to the Hallmark card shop and bought each other one of those ridiculously mushy cards the size of a sheet of plywood all covered in ribbons and lace and poetry and stuff. As embarrassing as it was, a few good things came out of the whole experience. My wife got a clean bill of health from the ENT doctor, I no longer endanger little old ladies in Toyota Corollas while listening to the morning show, and both of us have learned to cherish the treasure we hold rather than some fictitious fantasy created in our own minds.