Jim’s Blog: Lean Times
Written by Jim Bartlett on February 22, 2018
Last weekend, the American Top 40 show on Sunday at the 80s was from February 1984. It gave me flashbacks to a time when I was a far younger man, a time that was pretty awful for a while but eventually turned out OK.
In the fall of 1983, married six months, I had dragged my wife to a small town in Illinois. “Not the ends of the earth, but you can see them from there,” as I described it. I did not like the radio job I had taken there, however, but it turned out that they didn’t like me either. One Monday morning in February, I was called into the boss’ office and fired. Ann hadn’t been able to find a job yet—she was, as she likes to say, “watching General Hospital professionally”—and with no steady paycheck coming into the house (one-bedroom basement apartment, actually) lean times were coming.
I cannot remember precisely how we got by. I got unemployment, I remember that—and we qualified for some of that free government-surplus cheese they were handing out back then. (We still have the box that it came in.) At some point during that time—and I can’t remember the exact date anymore—my best friend, who had heart trouble for as long as I’d known him, died at age 23.
We two kids were getting a series of lessons in what real life is like, and it wasn’t any fun.
I applied for radio jobs all over the country, and we’d have moved—if it had been necessary. As it turned out, the other radio station in town had an opening, and I took it early in April. The day they wanted me to start turned out to be our first wedding anniversary. When I told them that, and how we were planning to celebrate with our first dinner and a movie in a long time, they were nice enough to let me start a day later.
(The movie was Splash, the mermaid comedy with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah.)
I ended up working for that station for a couple of years, so that chapter of the story has a happy ending. But for a while last Sunday afternoon, listening to “Karma Chameleon,” “That’s All” by Genesis, and Kool and the Gang‘s “Joanna,” the happy ending hadn’t happened yet, and all I could feel was how it was to be young and jobless, mourning the loss of a friend, and wondering what disasters were yet to come.