• Otter Views: In the Window: My Career as a DJ

    A semi-annual checkup sent me Monday to a Monterey dental building that seemed converted from some earlier use. The spacious floor plan and general airiness of the place suggested real estate or insurance offices, but the picture windows were the clincher.

    The many dental practices I’ve patronized over the years did not have picture windows. If anything, they had one or two small windows set high on the wall, as if to discourage any thoughts of escape. If larger windows were present, blinds often masked the views.

    There’s probably some sound medical reason for this. Perhaps daylight interferes with the beams cast mouthward by those swing-necked dental lamps that look like E.T.’s head. Also, the patient would not want the dentist to glance out the window, even momentarily, at a passing parade or Blue Angels fly-over.

    On the other hand, a picture window can be a nice feature for the patient. Reclining in the chair Monday, waiting for the technician to fire up her little tooth buffer, I watched a blackbird perched high on a tree. The sky behind the bird was Tahoe blue, and warm October sun spangled the tree’s yellowing leaves.

    It was a very restful scene. Then – zzzzZZzzzZZZzzz – the buffer wheel spun to life. I closed my eyes and drifted into a reverie, or as close as one can come to reverie in a dentist’s chair. My mind’s eye projected a slide show of picture window views I could recall. Sunlit ocean scenes segued to a vista of dormant volcanoes, then to a panorama of mist-shrouded jungle cliffs. Other windows framed tree canopies of various kinds. Avocado trees heavy with fruit, plum trees in riotous bloom, coco palms rattling their fronds, maples and aspens smoldering with autumn color.

    Amid these picture window views was one anomaly. Nearly all the windows I could recall were ones I looked through to see something outside. But in Sonoma one winter, I wound up in the opposite situation. I sat behind a big picture window, and passersby were supposed to look in at me. I was the view.

    It wasn’t a “living mannequin” deal, although I have seen some astounding mimes posed in fashion store windows. No, this was a big old family grocery store that in 1986 fronted Sonoma Plaza. I can’t recall the store’s name, but we’ll call it Marinelli’s. I don’t know if it’s still there. Like the town, it may have morphed into something sleeker.

    I spent that fall and winter in Sonoma, living out of my van, harvesting grapes and walnuts in exchange for parking. It was a bucolic life, but good jobs were scarce for van hobos. At length I managed to string together three small jobs. I’d pick fruit or nuts in the morning, coach junior high volleyball at mid-day, and spin jazz records for a small local radio station at night.

    Appropriately for wine country, the station’s call sign was KORK. Its low-watt broadcast signal could be picked up off the air by passing cars and in nearby neighborhoods. Very nearby neighborhoods.

    I didn’t realize how small and local KORK was until the owner described the set-up. We were in the crowded Sonoma Hotel bar he also tended. In retrospect, it was probably not the most propitious setting from which to launch a deejay career.

    “You’ll be in Marinelli’s front window,” he explained. “That’ll give the station added visibility. I’ve got two turntables and the sound board set up in there, and a speaker broadcasts out onto the sidewalk. You’ll engineer your own show. Your shift runs from 6 to 10 p.m. The pay is five dollars an hour.”

    Before I could grip his arm and share how excited and grateful I was, he held up his hand. “There is one . . . um, idiosyncracy.”

    “What’s that?”
    “Well, the store closes at 8, and the owner locks up then.”
    “You mean, I’ll be locked in? Can I have a key?”
    “No, the owner doesn’t trust a deejay with a key. But it’s only for two hours. My shift here at the bar ends at 10, so I’ll be right over to let you out.”

    What can I say? I was young then. Younger, anyway. And the thought of spinning records in a storefront window before a throng of sidewalk listeners held a certain antic appeal. Until I actually did it.

    What I learned was that picture windows trap and hold winter cold extremely well.

    Once the store closed and the heaters shut off, my little deejay station turned arctic. By the time my shift got under way, it was pitch dark outside and the streets and sidewalks were empty. The picture window showed only my shivering, wool-mittened reflection. By ten I could also see my breath.

    Still, I was happy spinning jazz in an icy window for an unseen audience nearby, even if no requests came in. Then one night the boss arrived early. He handed me a fancy bottle of wine.

    “I’d like you to do an on-air KORK giveaway,” he instructed. “First caller wins this excellent Sonoma cabernet.”

    You can guess the rest. I flogged that excellent wine for three hours, and no one ever called. Finally it sunk in. The occasional sidewalk vagrant aside, station KORK had no listeners. Or no listeners who drank wine, which in Sonoma is the same thing.

    When the boss unlocked me from the store that night, I returned the wine, then pulled off one frosty mitten and shook his hand. “Th-th-thanks f-f-for the job,” I shiv- ered. “It’s been an education.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 24, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views


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