issue 29: March - April 2002 

 | author bio

halfti.jpg (9376 bytes)HALFTIME
Mark Winegardner

The day my wife leaves, I fall asleep en route to the station—the first time in twenty-seven months, since I began taking Provigil and Effexor together. I’d had plenty of sleep, I’d gotten a workout helping her load the truck, but, bam: four in the afternoon, and I drive maybe ten miles of the Florida-Georgia Parkway without remembering a thing. At the I-10 on-ramp, I jerk awake, and it’s only then that I go off the road. The ditch is flooded. I barely avoid the water, kicking up this big plume of mud. My heart’s beating so hard it hurts. I get out. Above me are these massive power lines, humming and crackling. A semi roars by. For no reason, I wave. It’s December but hot. I’m shivering. The trucker honks. He could just as easily be calling 911 for someone to come fish my fat corpse out of the ditch; people would have their simple way with cause/effect and blame it on the Stephanie situation. I slap my face. I have a game. I get back in. The rest of the drive I’m so rattled, I turn on my own radio station and try not to think about what people will say about Stephanie. But I get there, and instead everyone’s talking about some kid Duke McKibbon hired.
      His name is Jason Truax, and he’s a senior in high school, no experience whatsoever. Marsha Marsh, our receptionist, who despite her name is Cuban, says Duke showed the kid around, then bugged out and didn’t tell anyone, Jason included, what his responsibilities were. People are afraid he’s there to take their job. It’s her cousin that Stephanie’s leaving me for, so I know Marsha knows. She doesn’t let on. She hands me my paycheck and keeps yammering. Jason, Jason, Jason.
      He’s still there, a big blond yutz, hunched over a console in the editing room, marking up press releases and wire copy. I stick my head in. He jumps up like I caught him jacking off. "You need to use this?" He points at a cart machine, but must mean the room. "I can move."
      "Later," I say, which is a pointless lie. "So long as you’re done in ten minutes."
      Dietz sees me, hangs up the phone, and rushes over. The kid’s father owns Truax Mobile World, Inc., Dietz says, and his grandfather is Billy Ray Truax, who played football at FSU not long after they stopped being a women’s college. "The trailer sales is a smallish account," Dietz says. "This is about Billy Ray."
      "They don’t make ’em like that anymore," I say, though I’m unfamiliar with Billy Ray Truax. I started out twenty years ago doing news, spent time as a deejay, and drifted into sports. Dietz breathes sports. He used to produce my call-in show and do color. More than once, he shook me awake on the air. Then he got married, had kids, and got promoted to sales director. My meds started working better and I got by fine solo.
      Lassiter, the program director, is finishing up his show: Today’s Country. This involves flavorless pop music that arbitrarily qualifies as country. His Arbitrons are double anyone else’s.
      "That Jason’s a swimmer," he says. "Duke’s been talking about him for months, remember?"
      I make a who-can-make-sense-of-what-Duke-says face.
      "This summer," says Lassiter, "the kid won some race by a zillionth of a second. Duke got so excited he spoke in tongues." Lassiter tries speaking in tongues. "That’s why he hired him."
      Lassiter’s lying. No one, not even him, listens to us when we do swimming. Duke’s grandkids swim. Duke does play-by-play (I begged off, pleading ignorance), snagging older kids from the team, weak swimmers with only an event or two, to do color. I’d guess that’s where he found Jason.
      "Are we sure," I say, "that he’s not just an intern?"
      "Marsha did the paperwork. He’s getting eleven smacks an hour, dude."
      Dude. Lassiter is in his forties. The other day I heard him say word to indicate accord.
      I go out the back door. No one’s around. On my cell, I call my shrink. She’s not there. It’s the service. "Tell her Bob Deldermuth needs new meds—stat."
      "‘Stat’?" the operator says.
      "Don’t you watch TV?"
      "Religiously," she says.
      "I don’t even have a TV," I blurt. "Yesterday I had three, but my wife took ’em. I have DishNetwork, and nothing to watch it on."
      "How does that make you feel?"
      I’m sweating like it’s August. "Why don’t you just give her the message, okay?"
      "I’m telling you, anyone could do that job. Talk into a tape recorder, play it back, listen to yourself, really listen. You’ll save tons of money. You’ll have yourself some new TVs in no time."
      I’m not rich, but money isn’t my most pressing problem. "I have an HMO," I say. "It only costs me the ten-buck co-pay."
      "Even that," she says, "adds up."
      The door opens and of course it’s Jason. He mouths the word sorry. I frown. I’m done, he mouths. I wave him off. His shoulders sag, and he goes back inside. I feel a blast of A/C. "Are you new?" I ask the woman. "Do you have a name?"
      "Everyone has a name," she says. "You have my number. Call any time, hon."
      She hangs up, and I hold my cell in front of my face and look at it. I slap my face. I’m awake. I’ve been awake. This all happened.


The new night guy comes in as I’m loading up the van and Marsha Marsh is leaving. He’s a pale young man anyway, but when she stops to tell him about Jason Truax, he takes off his gigantic sunglasses—the kind old people wear—and goes practically translucent. He mutters something: I’m toast or maybe I’m a ghost. Whatever he says, Marsha doesn’t refute it.
      "I knew it," he says, loud enough that I’m sure that’s what he says. He puts the shades back on. Marsha pats him on the arm, calls the world a crazy place, makes eye contact with me but gets in her car without mentioning Stephanie. The night guy slams the front door behind him.
      All the office people leave. No one says anything to me but good night. By now everything’s loaded and I’m sitting on the bumper of the van, waiting for Dietz. I consider going to get him.
      Jason Truax walks out like someone who’s spent the day breaking rocks. He apologizes for inconveniencing me. I tell him to forget it.
      "Hey, are there manuals?" he says. "For all that equipment?"
      "I’m sure there are," I say. "Somewhere."
      "Right," he says. "Thanks." He sounds sincere. I don’t introduce myself, and he drives away, rap music blaring, in a battered pickup with Truax Mobile World painted on the side.
      When Dietz finally comes out, I ask him if he’d like to do color tonight. For old time’s sake. "It’d be a nice change of pace from the solo act."
      He raises an eyebrow when I say solo act. "I wouldn’t get paid any extra for it."
      I grin. "That’s what it’s about, is it? What it all comes down to? Money?"
      "Yep." He’s studying me like he’s afraid I’m going to cry.
      "Fine," I say. Whatever else I do, crying’s not in the cards. Various shrinks have tried to pinpoint when this started (I’m not sure) and make something of it (off-task). Of all Stephanie’s grievances—my weight, my lack of ambition, the porn (her idea, originally)—my not being able to cry seems like the one that should have provoked mercy.
      "I should go," Dietz says. "My turn to cook. Some meal-in-a-bag thing, but still."
      Though we are friends, I’ve been to his house once since he got married. He’s had to do games for me on days I called in sick, for which his wife I’m sure dislikes me. He starts to go. Then he sees all the red mud on my car. "Word of advice," he calls, pointing. "Get a Jeep."
      I drive a six-year-old Toyota Camry. "I had a, you know," I say. "A thing."
      "A sleep thing?" Dietz says. He comes over to me. "The game’s in Tallahassee, right? Oh, man." Meaning that I have an hour’s drive on my hands. "Have you been ..."
      "No," I say. "It’s been twenty-seven months. It’s probably a fluke. I’m fine."
      Dietz snaps into action. He calls his wife and before I know it, he’s driving me to the game.
      We talk about sports—in other words, nothing at all—all the way there.
      The game is so lopsided I can’t imagine who wouldn’t have tuned out after the first quarter. Dietz and I still work well together, though. I pause, and he’s just there: a quick stat, a comment, something I’m talking too much and caring too little to think to say. One of the schools has a world-class cheerleading squad, and all game we’re pestered by their parents, who want us to broadcast the halftime routine. I lack the strength to fend them off. Dietz points out that we’re radio. More than one parent brings up swimming. They’re relentless. Dietz breaks down and agrees to watch the routine and, afterward, interview the squad’s captain and the coach.
      I watch some of it myself—these girls and the boys who throw them. Am I cheered? No. I’m old enough to be their father. I look upon these flying, newly muscled bodies, the hoisting, hands on hands, feet, shoulders, asses, and imagine cheap beer, fogged car windows, college rejections, disappointing jobs, doomed marriages. If I were their father, I’d handle it badly, that my kids—good kids!—are no longer children.
      I walk the perimeter of the grounds of the school, stirring up endorphins. A precaution. It’s dark but still absurdly hot. Marriages end. Fact of life. The night’s full of revving cars and muffled pep bands. I stop on the empty bleachers behind the baseball field. I dial Stephanie’s cell. It’s call-forwarded; on the voicemail, Vic Santiago promises to attend to all my insurance and investment needs if I will just leave my name and number. I do.
      Then I fall asleep. I may not even have gotten the whole number out. Happily, in one of the dugouts is a couple, presumably doing what teenagers in dark dugouts do. They see me keel over. They tell me they thought I had a heart attack or something. "Or something," I say. "My heart’s black with poison and remorse," I say, tapping my chest, "but it’s fine." They’re spooked. Youth. They’ll eventually see enough to join the unsurprised. The girl hands me my phone, which is still going. I hand her a dollar and Lassiter’s business card. She accepts. I hang up. I was asleep for six minutes. I can’t say why I gave her those things, why she took them, or why I even had Lassiter’s card. Me, I’ve put away childish things. Bob Deldermuth sees through a glass, darkly.
      I make it behind the mike in time. No one’s the wiser. I ask Dietz how the thing with the cheerleaders went. "Just what you’d think," he says.


The next morning, I pack up what’s left: what’s mine. Our house is a rental, and our lease is up Tuesday. When we moved in, the house was on a lake. The lake has a sinkhole in it that every seventy years or so sucks all the water out. This happened a few days after we moved in, and now the lake is a marshy prairie. Experts swear it will fill up again. Even lakeless, it’s been nice, way out in the country. When the bugs weren’t too bad, we’d take a boombox and some CDs out to the end of the dock—Lucinda Williams, Wilco, Emmylou Harris, that sort of thing—and have non-alcoholic cocktails. Yes, we fought, but no worse than most couples. Stephanie fell in love with someone else. To listen to her, it was more or less an accident. Vic Santiago is her AA sponsor, and so probably helped save her life, then things no one planned on happening happened. Maybe she’s right. The heart wants what it wants. She and I were happier here than a lot of other places we lived. I can’t even say Shreveport without getting a little sick.
      I’m thirty-nine years old. I have a job, a paid-for car, and, yesterday aside, good control over my condition. My family, most of whom are still in Cleveland or its exurbs (a brother in Chagrin Falls, a sister in Oberlin, cousins in Akron), loves me. I had a happy childhood. I can start over, lose weight, get a dog, find someone else, build a deck, have kids. In this part of Florida, unless you get too close to Tallahassee or the beach, land is cheap. I can get a lot, put a trailer on it, and build later.
      One moment I’m sitting down to tape a box full of stadium cups and melamine dishes, thinking about all this. The next I’m packing up the rest of the kitchen, still mulling, but deploying a care I’d never use and bubblewrap I never bothered to purchase, because it’s all a dream. What wakes me up is the phone, though I somehow think that that’s the dream, and don’t pick up as Stephanie says she appreciates how adult I’ve been and is just calling to make sure I’m doing okay.
      When I realize I’m awake now and that I’ve been sleeping, I’d been asleep for hours. The phone had even rung before—Dietz, saying his wife would be happy to come take me to work. He’d followed me home from the station last night, without incident. I check my watch. No game today, and my show doesn’t start until seven, but I have a phoner with a NASCAR flack in an hour. I don’t have enough time for Dietz’s wife to come get me. I pop an expired Dexedrine spansule, wash it down with a Red Bull Energy Drink, shave, shower, and hope for the best.
      On the way in, I call my shrink. It’s the service again. My shrink’s out of the office today, and the receptionist is sick. "Are you the same woman as yesterday?"
      "I am," she says. "It was an uneventful night."
      I’m in radio; I know that sexy voices are inevitably disappointing. Case in point: me. If it was all about voice, Stephanie would have driven away down a road flanked with eager supermodels. "Yesterday I drove ten miles sound asleep."
      "Hypnagogic hallucination," she says. "Ten miles? C’mon. You’d be dead."
      "Are you a doctor?" I’m running the A/C full-tilt, but it’s nowhere near as hot as yesterday.
      "Just a student."
      "Pre-law," she says.
      "Same difference," I say.
      "Animal House," she says, catching the reference.
      "I think I love you," I say.
      "So what are you so afraid of?"
      "David Cassidy," I say, catching her reference. "Nice. No, really."
      "You don’t love me." It’s a voice three degrees shy of husky, a voice too womanly to giggle. It’s a voice you can crawl inside of and order out for the best pizza you ever had.
      "How do you know?" I ask. "You’ve never met me."
      "That," she says, "is what they all say."
      "There’s a they?"
      "There’s a world of they."
      "My wife just left me."
      "Women," she says. "You’re driving now, aren’t you?"
      "I’m on my mobile, but no. I’m not." For you, it might be dangerous, talking and driving. For me, it’s a lifesaver. I’m right where I ran off the road yesterday. My ruts are full of water and look like they were made by Truckogsaurus. "It definitely wasn’t a hypnagogic hallucination," I say, merging onto I-10. "It was sleep. I didn’t remember a thing."
      "Ten miles is a lot."
      "It’s not my record," I say. "Listen, isn’t there another doctor On-call? For emergencies?"
      "If it was really an emergency," she says, "you wouldn’t be driving."
      "I’m not driving," I say, relieved she didn’t ask about my record.
      "You’re making me hot," she says. "Ooh, baby, ooh."
      "Mockery will get you everywhere," I say. "I really may love you."
      "I know," she says, and hangs up. I know it’s crazy, but she sounded like she meant it.


Everyone’s pretending to be too busy to show Jason Truax how to use anything. Several of us give him the evil eye so he won’t even ask. He busies himself circling stories in the Atlanta and Jacksonville papers. He asks Lassiter if he can use the production-room PC to add a news-headline scroll to our web page. When Jason gets it set up and asks for the password, Lassiter says only Duke has it. Duke, who can barely turn a computer on, hasn’t shown his face all day.
      I boot Jason out of production to tape my interview. It’s December, but my demographic can’t get enough NASCAR. I’ll say this: no sport gives the speciously credentialed more free food and gear. Back in the day, Stephanie and I made lost-weekends of it. Daytona, Atlanta, Darlington, etc. Suddenly I feel a presence. Paranoia, I think, from that Effexor/Provigil/Dexedrine/Red Bull cocktail. Then out of the corner of my eye, I see something move. I shout the Lord’s name in vain. The flack keeps right on debunking Dale Earnhardt Jr. conspiracy theories. From behind the computer table, Jason Truax rises. He makes a yikes grimace. Paranoia, hell. Deldermuth’s Razor: the simplest explanation is just the simplest explanation.
      The flack asks if I’m okay. Never better, I say. We wrap it up.
      "I’m so sorry," Jason says. "I just wanted to ..."
      "Forget it." My heart won’t slow down. "Next time, ask if you can watch, okay?"
      He nods. "You’re Bob Deldermuth, right? I’ve been listening to you all my life."
      "I’ve only been here four years."
      "Really? It seems a lot longer."
      "That’s a compliment?"
      He frowns. "Yeah," he says. "Hey, I’m sorry to hear about, you know. Mrs. Deldermuth. My mom left once. She came back. It was rough."
      If this kid knows, everyone knows. "I’m sure it was," I say.
      "I want to be a journalist," he says. "News. But maybe sports."
      "I want to be a dentist," I say, in the manner of that elf from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which Stephanie and I watched together last week in an otherwise dark and silent room. Then she went to bed and I watched a porno. I pop the cart. I say it again: "I want to be a dentist."
      Jason stands there, blank. My heart begins to slow down. "It’s not you," I say, mopping my face with a paper napkin. "It’s me."
      He cocks his head the way a big blond dog would.
      What the hell. I show him how to work the board.
      Marsha is the first to peek through the little square window and notice. Moments later everyone in the station is filing by. Dietz shoots me a palms-up what-gives look. The night guy flips me off. "You want to learn radio, Jason?" Lassiter says, clamping a hand on my shoulder, "my man Bob’s the one to teach you."
      I’m feeling better. It’s nearly time for me to get ready for my show when I hear Duke’s booming voice, calling Jason’s name. Duke spent the day scouring memorabilia stores. He’s holding a plastic bag with a program in it. On the cover, Billy Ray Truax strikes a vintage 1950s knee-up stiff-arm pose. Duke is an excitable man, but I’ve rarely seen him more excited.
      "Granddad’s in Key West," Jason says. "We’ll be there for Christmas. If you want, I’ll get him to sign it for you."
      "Could you?" Duke says. "My god, it’d mean a lot." He thumps the program. "I was at this game, you know."
      He launches into a blow-by-blow version of it. I escape. A half-hour later, Jason stops in the studio to thank me for the lesson.
      "Is that why a big kid like you doesn’t play football?"
      "If what’s why?"
      "Getting compared to your granddad. Not wanting to be."
      "Ten seconds," the night guy says.
      "No," Jason says. "It’s because I suck at football."
      That cracks me up. He looks grateful. "Maybe I can teach you to be my color guy." I say this on a whim, but, realistically, Dietz can’t keep doing it. He’s already working twelve-hour days on the sales side. "You drive, right?"
      "What’s driving have to do with it?"
      "Everything and nothing," I say. "You want to do it or not?"
      "Five," says the night guy. "Four. Three."
      Jason gives me a thumb’s up and leaves.
      It’s a long night. The night guy—who, as my producer (his Legends of Country show follows), is supposed to be screening calls—lets everything through. I get people speculating about who in pro football might be gay, people who think we should do winter swimming too, and countless conspiracy theorists who want to talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr.
      After the first hour I ask the night guy what his problem is.
      "If someone’s getting fired," he says, "it’s not going to be me."
      If taking calls from cretins was going to get me fired, it would have happened years ago. "C’mon. He’s a kid. It’s just an after-school job."
      "Watch your back. Word to the wise."
      "My back? You’re all talking about Stephanie behind my back, every one of you jerks, and Jason, who’s been here two days, is the only person who’s said anything to my face."
      "Who’s Stephanie?" he says.
      He has those sunglasses on. It’s hard to tell if he’s serious. I give him a look.
      The next caller, according to my screen, is "Brian." His topic: "FSU kicking game."
      "Brian, in Monroeville, you’re on the air."
      "Hey, Bob. You okay to drive home?"
      It’s Dietz, patched through from the private line.
      "We’re on the air," I say. "Brian." On the other side of the glass, the night guy laughs like hell.
      Dietz is flawless. Wide right this, hangtime that. At the next break I call him back and tell him I’m fine. What am I going to do, ask him to come follow me home? Then I screw up my courage and tell him about Jason. Not only isn’t Dietz mad, he’s thrilled. His wife is teaching yoga classes. He’ll be a hero when he tells her he can watch the kids.


I have the next day off. I get through to Dr. Jacoby’s office first thing in the morning. The receptionist says she got the message from the service and was about to call to see if I could make it at one. "Today?" I say. "You’re kidding. Don’t you people have a Christmas rush?"
      All she says is yes, today, in a North Florida accent so thick and bovine I have to play a Dusty Springfield CD all the way through just to regain the will to live.
      I hose the mud off the car. I finish packing. I call the realtor who sold Dietz his house and make an appointment to look at lots.
      On the way to Tallahassee, I call Vic Santiago’s office. He’s not in. I ask for his voicemail. I tell it I’m serious about getting my insurance needs squared away.
      Dr. Jacoby asks if I think it’s ironic, the condition flaring up the same day Stephanie left.
      "That’s one of my pet peeves," I say. Her office is freezing. I’m in Dockers and a Hawaiian shirt. She’s wearing a wool suit covered with cat hair. "Misusing ironic. You mean coincidental."
      She doesn’t apologize. "Do you think it’s coincidental?"
      "You mean the opposite, I think," I say. "You mean, do I think there’s a connection?"
      She sighs, exasperated. The woman at the service was right; I make a mental note to run tape on tomorrow’s game. Which I should do anyway, so Jason can learn from his mistakes.
      I tell Dr. Jacoby I have a theory. When I was repainting the nursery, I didn’t have a mask. The hydocarbons from the paint affected my hydrocretin-sensitive cells. Yesterday, the effects of that faded. After the thing in the morning I was fine.
      "The nursery." She might have at least said, I see someone’s been on the internet. She just sits there. We’ve covered this territory. To sum up: my record is thirty-some miles of I-75, coming back from the Firecracker 400. I totaled Stephanie’s Mazda. She, too, was asleep. She was eight months pregnant. We weren’t otherwise hurt. Afterward, we avoided that room. Careful with the cause/effect assumptions. This was a while ago. Other things happened.
      "We’d painted it really bright colors. It needed to be redone. To get our deposit back."
      "You could have hired it done. Or forfeited the deposit."
      "That’s what Stephanie said. She had a girlfriend pack the room." Marsha Marsh, in fact, who’s expecting, again, and took everything. "Look, this is no time for me to throw away money."
      "That’s not what I meant. You took the initiative. Why do you think you were motivated to paint that room," she says, "and unmotivated to do other things?"
      I just shake my head. If I tell Dr. Jacoby that I haven’t called in sick for weeks, that I’m re-racking my life just fine, I’m afraid she’ll dial down my meds. I avoid eye contact and stammer. She prescribes Ritalin and ups the dosage on the Provigil. She tells me to exercise daily. I tell her I am. She looks at me over the top of her chunky glasses.
      A relationship is simply what two people choose to believe.
      "By the way," I say as I’m leaving, "the new woman at your service is terrific." Because I’m sure there have been complaints.
      "I never meet those people," she says. "But I’ll be sure to convey the compliment."
      Those people for a moment sounds like a racial slur. "Other patients have said things, right? About this new woman. I can tell." Probably it’s not, of course. A slur.
      Dr. Jacoby says no, no one’s said anything. "What’s terrific about her?"
      This stops me short. "Her phone manner," I finally say. "It’s amazing."
      I wait for a moment for her to say amazing how? She doesn’t.
      Across from the drugstore where I get my prescription filled is a Play It Again Sports. On a whim, I buy a used treadmill. They don’t deliver and I tell them that’s okay, I don’t have any place for them to deliver it to, yet. On another whim, I stop and buy a TV— huge thing, picture-in-picture, the works. Two scrawny kids lash it to the roof. I’m out of there before I realize I have no way of getting it down alone. Truax Mobile World is on the way home. The man who waits on me is an older, more rabbity version of Jason. I don’t want any favors. I don’t mention Jason. I ask Jason’s father how business is. He curses both the month of December and the American president. I tell him I voted for the other guy. He frowns and looks at me as if he’s trying to place me. I get this all the time. It’s my voice. I keep waiting for him to say something—he advertises at my station, his son works there—but he doesn’t. I get what seems like a good deal on a used trailer that smells like tar. I write a check for the whole thing. He’s got connections, he says, both for lots and in a mobile home park. I tell him I’m set. Even as we’re finishing up the paperwork, with my name right in front of him, he acts like he’s never heard of me. We just talk about my TV and what all it does.
      The store takes the TV back, no questions asked. I buy something I can handle myself. After that, I swing by the Don Pablo’s on Capital Circle that Stephanie used to manage, before they refused to pay for rehab stay #2 and fired her. The store’s vacant. Whole chain, out of business. I pull around back and despite being in full view of the Office Max a hundred yards away piss on the wall. Feels great. A cop even sees me pissing but just shakes his head. I wave. The heat has broken, and it looks like rain. By now it’s after business hours, so I call my shrink’s office. It’s not her. I ask the woman if she’s the only one there. She says she knows what I want. I say I have no idea about that. She snorts and says that Kelly will be back tomorrow.
      I call my bank’s Anytime Line and punch in the numbers I need to stop payment on the checks for the treadmill and the trailer. It keeps me focused all the way home. I lug the TV in but don’t unpack it. I should. This is my last day with satellite. Instead, even though Stephanie left the bed, I go into the empty nursery, now blister-white, open all the windows, spread out on the floor, and listen to the rain. In no time, I’m out. All night, I sleep, and while I have no memory of tossing and turning, when I wake up it’s like I’ve just run a marathon.


Stephanie’s mascara is smeared, and so is Marsha Marsh’s. Could be the rain. Lassiter has a hand on each of their backs, and they’re all hunched over the reception desk. They see me and stop whatever they’ve been saying. Lassiter smiles insipidly. "Alrighty then," he says, and rushes off.
      Stephanie stands. She’s wearing a sundress. This is the Vic Santiago influence. With me it was big shirts, the kind of thing a woman with large breasts wears when she thinks large breasts are ugly. The heat has broken. It’s seasonably cold. I took a Dexedrine along with double the Ritalin and am starting to feel it. We exchange pleasantries. Marsha pretends to be writing something.
      "Your boss says he got a call from some high school girl’s mother," Stephanie says, "who told him her daughter saw him have a heart attack or something, only he recovered and gave the girl his business card. The mother thought it might be serious."
      "Lassiter has no heart," I say. "He’s also not my boss. Just the p.d."
      Stephanie never met Duke. This isn’t the kind of workplace that has a lot of dinner parties. Stephanie and I haven’t invited a lot of people over. Dietz and his wife were there once. "Obviously, it was you," she says. "And it wasn’t a heart attack, was it, Bobby?"
      Marsha has dropped the pretense and is watching us. I’d move, but a private conversation could go on and on. Here is best.
      "It’s under control," I say.
      Everyone at the station is finding an excuse to walk down the corridor behind Marsha’s desk, slowly. Even Jason and Duke, who walk by abreast, theoretically immersed in conversation.
      "You’ve got to stop harassing Vic," she says.
      "What are you talking about?"
      "Vic has lawyers, okay?"
      "Lawyers plural?" I say. "This Vic is some catch."
      "Don’t be this way. You had a girlfriend all along. She called me, Bobby. Okay? She called me. Don’t give me that look. She told me you drove ten miles sound asleep and claimed it was a hypnotic hallucination. The bitch blamed it on me." She uses an ugly word to modify bitch. I wonder if this, too, is the Vic Santiago influence.
      "Hypnagogic," I say. "When did she call?"
      Stephanie shakes her head. "Does it matter? Here." She lifts a Xerox box from the floor and thrusts it into my solar plexus. I hold on. "I took these for what I told myself was your own good. It was mean. I’m sorry, okay?"
      I don’t have to look inside. A percentage of male users of Effexor experience abnormal ejaculation (I’ll spare you the specifics). One day Stephanie came home from work with two tapes —bought, not rented. For a while we incorporated porn into what we did. It helped. She’s an addictive personality, and might well have empathized when my interest took on a life of its own.
      "Thanks," I say. "Is that all you need?" I am so, so tired. "I have a game, right, Dietz?"
      Dietz is standing in the corridor, trying to look transfixed by a plaque the Seminole Boosters gave Duke McKibbon. "Excuse me," he says. "What?"
      Stephanie walks into the downpour, no umbrella and not bothering to hurry. Her wet sundress adheres to her shoulders and wondrous hips, like shrink-wrap. She’s not wearing panties. She doesn’t look back or hurry. She’s technically still my wife. For now, I know this woman better than anyone on earth. Someday, I may not even know where she lives.
      "Careful working up such a sweat, dude," says Lassiter. "With your heart problem and all."


All of which brings me to the tape. In real time, the game was throttle and blur. But I ran tape on the clean feed, so this next part is reconstructed from that.
      At first I’m talking at auctioneer velocity. Jason—who’d gotten a broadcasting textbook from the library and on the drive there peppered me with questions—keeps score and keeps quiet. How I answered those questions I have no clue. We go to commercial. There’s a pause and then the night guy asks what I’m on. At the time I thought the jig was up. Listening to it, I’d say he was kidding. I don’t answer. Then Jason, in a whisper, asks if he’s doing okay.
      "Chimeindon’tbeafraidsaywhat’sonyourmindit’sjustagame, talk! say! do! be!"
      I remember Jason looking like the guy in that commercial, listening to Wagner, his hair blown back from the death-angel force of it. Probably I’m exaggerating. The night guy mimics me.
      Jason loosens up and, despite me, gets heard. He’s watched several million hours of ESPN. He actually, with conviction, says both "this guy must be buttah, because he’s on a roll" and "boo-yeah!" He also calls me Bobby D. I let this go on until the end of the first quarter. "You’re doing high school basketball in Monroeville, Florida," I finally say. "No boo-yeah. No more Bobby D."
      "I didn’t know I said that. Did I say that?"
      I announce that I need to pee. You hear me taking off my headset. Moments later, the night guy says, "Primo performance by the Bobster. Damn."
      "He is on something, I think," Jason says. "My mom was on a lot of stuff at one point. Prescription stuff. That’s why Mr. Dietz called in last night, right? About Bob driving home?"
      The night guy just laughs. "Keep saying boo-yeah," he says. Jason takes his headset off, too. Then some fumbling as we put our headsets back on. Jason’s explaining that a job gets you out of school in the afternoons. I ask why he doesn’t work for his dad.
      "You ever work for your dad?"
      "I did. He was a foreman at a steel mill. I worked there Christmas breaks. Loved it."
      "I’m not cut out to sell trailers," Jason says.
      "I actually bought one today," I say. "From your dad."
      "My dad? My dad’s in Key West with my granddad."
      "It looked like your dad."
      Jason doesn’t answer. I mumble stuff about the first-quarter stats. I’m talking a little slower. Right before we go back on, you can hear me tell someone I’ll think about it. Cheerleading parents. They heard the thing two days ago and want equal coverage for their kids. I’ve played this part of the tape a lot. I can’t believe I left the door open. I can’t believe I didn’t give them a polite no.
      Jason starts making comments about different players’ weaknesses that would be more appropriate if we were talking about NBA millionaires rather than teenagers from North Florida. I just let it go. I don’t even remember him doing this.
      "Why do you drive the truck," I say during the next break, "if you don’t work there?"
      "It’s the old truck. It’s for sale."
      At the next break, you can hear a Britney Spears song. Cheerleaders are doing something. Different parents come up and tell me this is nothing compared to what their kids will do at halftime. Again, I say I’ll think about it.
      "So why aren’t you swimming?" I ask Jason. Wanting to know why is junk food the soul stupidly craves. "You know, I didn’t know until last night that there was winter swimming."
      "What happened last night?" he says.
      "Someone called and said we should broadcast it."
      "God," he says. "That’s even worse than cheerleading."
      I shush him, apparently because I’m afraid the parents are within earshot. "What’s wrong with cheerleading?" I say, in a venomous near-whisper. " Your first time on the air and you think you know what makes good radio and what doesn’t?"
      The night guy tells me to let the kid have it.
      "You know why everyone at the station’s so cold to you, right? They think you’re going to take their job."
      Jason laughs.
      "Why did Duke hire you?"
      I remember Jason shrugging. The night guy asks what Jason said. "To take your job," I say. Jason starts to say something, and I talk over him. Basketball stuff. The night guy cusses us out.
      And so, we come to halftime.
      Again I say I have to go pee. For the next few minutes, I’m in a stall in the Monroeville High boys room, fighting hyperventilation. There’s nothing on the tape but ambient whatnot. A school band plays a medley from "The Lion King." A contest is conducted; someone fails and the crowd groans. Jason tells the night guy that I’m really going to broadcast the cheerleading exhibition.
      "Perfect," he says. "Look, don’t bullshit me. Seriously, why did Duke hire you?"
      I get back right then. "What are you going to say?" Jason says.
      "The secret’s not having something to say —" I say
      " —it’s saying something," says the night guy. "You fucking blowhard."
      I don’t say anything. You can hear Jason take off his headset. Moments later, the night guy throws it back to us. And so I do it. I don’t know how I did it, but I do: describing their every vault, their every sad, wobbly pyramid, with terminology I didn’t know I had. For maybe thirty seconds, it’s dull but fine. Then I hold out a microphone to capture the clapping and the boy-band music. "It’s a truly gorgeous display, ladies and gentlemen," I say, "and I wish you were here to see it. These girls are beyond the shadow of a doubt the most stunning and wonderful and lively and lovely cheerleaders this reporter has yet seen. Bob Deldermuth would not pull your leg. These are girls you’d be proud to have as daughters, nieces, neighbors, lovers, or friends. These are girls that make you proud to be drawing breath. Their skin is perfect. Their skin is perfect and you could see that if you were here? Jason Truax, did you notice that their skin was perfect?"
      I don’t know at what point in all that I fell asleep. Oh, hell. That line is so blurred for me, I’m not even sure it’s right to call it sleep.
      There’s some dead air, then Jason, out of breath, puts on his headphones. "What do you think it will take," he says, "for Monroeville to get back in the game?"
      "You’re the color man," I say. "What’s your precious book say?" By now I must be awake.
      Jason starts to talk about certain players and their defensive shortcomings.
      "My lord, but those girls were wonderful," I say. "Do you know what?"
      "Um, no." Jason says. "What?" The fear in his voice is just awful.
      "It made me want to cry," I say.
      Jason pulls the plug on me, which I didn’t know he knew how to do.
      There’s seventy-four seconds of dead air, then the night guy is swearing like a hothead in a mob movie. When I come back on, I’m furious at first. Then I try to reconstruct what happened and can’t, then I beg Jason and the night guy to let me do the second half as if nothing happened. I’ll be fine. Given my ratings, I say, it’s possible no one was listening, or listening all that closely.
      We do the second half as if nothing happened. During commercial breaks, no one says more than the bare minimum.


Jason drives the van back to the station. The rain is ridiculous, and he has to pull over several times. Still, we don’t say a word to each other. There are three cars in the lot, mine, the night guy’s, Jason’s truck, and Duke McKibbon’s Cadillac. "Whatever you do," I say as Jason pulls in, "don’t apologize. Don’t accept any blame for anything. And I know you’re about to say something about the time your mom left, but here." I hand him ten bucks. "Don’t."
      He shoves the money in my mouth. For whatever reason I accept this. I chew it. I swallow.
      I am the only one fired, of course.
      It’s Dietz who talks me most of the way home. But right near my ruts, I tell him I’ve arrived. I mean to call the service, but it takes me the rest of the way home to summon the nerve. When I do, hosanna, it’s her. Kelly. "It’s me," I say. "Bob Deldermuth."
      "I’ve been thinking about you," she says.
      "Same here."
      "I think you need a creative outlet. There are studies that show that’s a help."
      "I’m a man of few skills," I say. "Though I did just eat ten dollars."
      "You know how to sweep a girl off her feet," she says. "You’re in your car, aren’t you?"
      What she hears is the rain as I get out and run from the car to my empty house. I get in and stamp my feet and apologize. "I can’t sing," I say. "Can’t dance, can’t draw. I hate gardening. Anything handy: no."
      "Don’t ask. I did take acting lessons once."
      "You’re kidding," she says. "I have an agent."
      "I thought you said you were a law student."
      "I was on one of those reality TV shows." She says which one. I never heard of it. "I thought it might lead to other things. It led to this. Hah."
      "My teacher described himself, in his own brochure, as ‘a Suncoast dinner-theater legend.’ The lessons were pricy to work with a guy like that. Also I was self-conscious about how I moved."
      "How do you move?"
      "I’m in the process." I am sitting on a stack of boxes by my back door. I know, now, that I’m not going to ask her about calling Stephanie.
      "Me, too. When did you live in Tampa?"
      "Bradenton. My wife got transferred there to open a restaurant." Which made me think of Stephanie, which made me think about being alone for Christmas, and I flashed on the Christmas she was first in rehab, when I went home and saw my brother do a birthday party for our sister’s twin daughters. "I could be a clown," I say. "My brother is a clown. He lives in Chagrin Falls and his clown name is Cousin Blammo."
      "C’mon. Chagrin Falls?"
      "It’s true," I say. Swear to God. "He’s good: juggling, magic, jokes, pratfalls, the works. He’s a math teacher, but he makes a lot of money on the side, clowning."
      "I’ve always wanted to, you know," she says. "Be with a clown."
      "That’s common," I say.
      "Never call me common," she says, and hangs up.
      I walk to the back door. It’s dark as hell, but then lightning flashes. The lake is filling up. Cleveland, here I come.

İMark Winegardner 2002

This electronic version of  "Halftime" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author.

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author bio

Mark Winegardner is the director of the creative writing program at Florida State University (http://english.fsu.edu/crw) and the author of several books, including the novel Crooked River Burning [see TBR review, issue 26] and the upcoming short story collection That's True of Everybody (Harcourt 2002), of which this story is a part.


tbr 29              march - abril  2002


Michel Faber: Some Rain Must Fall
Jackie Kay: Physics and Chemistry
Mark Winegardner: Halftime
Jean Harfenist: Pixie Dust
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