Time to dial down the dialing in

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my car in the Rite Aid parking lot on Cherry Street in Burlington, waiting for my daughter to finish an evening rehearsal for a Lyric Theatre production she was in. I was listening to WFAN sports talk radio out of New York City (66 on your AM dial when the stars align and the signal makes it to Vermont), and decided that the slightly crazed and badly socialized callers who were bashing my football Giants needed an explanation for a particular coaching decision from a previous game. I called, got through, and – to use the comedian’s parlance – I killed. I would have made the talking heads on the football pre-game shows sound as knowledgeable as my wife when it comes to the Great American Sport of Concussions and Permanently Disabling Injuries.

How little does my wife know about football? Once, years ago, I was watching a game on TV in the middle of winter and the reception was pretty bad: All fuzz and snow. My wife sat down on the couch beside me with a magazine, and after about ten minutes looked up and asked, “What sport is this? Football or baseball?”

In any case, my brother, who lives in a suburb of Manhattan, happened to have been driving and listening to WFAN when “Chris from Vermont” weighed in on the Giants. He immediately called me on my cell phone. “I kind of thought you had a life,” he said. “Are you really calling into sports talk shows now?”

Short answer? Yup. Sadly, that night in the Rite Aid parking lot was not an aberration. Last month I was on “Mad Dog Unleashed,” Chris Russo’s Sirius Radio sports talk show. Again, I was trying to add a small dollop of sanity to the conversation among highly opinionated, middle-aged guys who believe that a Tom Brady football jersey looks good on a 45-year-old man with a Mini Cooper-sized paunch.

Yup, that could be me. It’s only a matter of time before I start painting my face on game day.

Calling radio talk shows has been, until now, a secret vice of mine. Not THAT secret, of course, since I do introduce myself as “Chris from Vermont.” But it isn’t something I am especially proud of, because – as my brother observed – it does suggest that I have a wee bit too much time on my hands.

This probably isn’t healthy. Yet it also brings me back to my childhood in a fashion that always leaves me rather content. Growing up, even in elementary school, I used to fall asleep listening to AM talk radio. I listened to Jean Shepherd, the radio raconteur who these days might be known best for writing and narrating the movie, “A Christmas Story.” Or I would listen to the news out of Manhattan. The first time I called into a radio program was when I was 14 years old. We had moved to Miami by then and I offered my opinions on the Miami Dolphins. It was appropriate that I was offering my wisdom on a team that only two years earlier had been – literally – perfect, since I was a geeky ninth grader with mediocre grades and a Super Size Meal for a stomach. I also had braces and orthodontic headgear. I was perfect for call-in talk radio.

Now, among my resolutions for 2011 is that I am going to try and dial down my dialing in. Really, there has to be a better way to spend my time.

Still, don’t be surprised if the next time you’re listening to talk radio, you hear “Chris from Vermont.” If you think the guy is smart, I’ll take credit. If not, just remember: There are a lot of guys named Chris in the Green Mountains.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on January 9, 2011.)


Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.