|I wouldn't do that if I were you. It'll just attract more of them. Beer?
|I look down from the crown of the bull pine, where I'm stringing a hunk of rope through the plastic insulator of my new seventy-five foot long wire antenna. On the dirt road below is Arnie the auto guru, his thumb crooked in a pull tab, the silver can of Coors glinting in the morning sun. With the nylon rope clenched in my mouth, I can't answer too early or don't mind if I do, and a second later I hear the happy fizz of suds greeting the atmosphere.
|The them Arnie was referring to is radio waves. As we sit in the grass drinking beer, he squints up at my antenna. In a few weeks the mists off the Pacific will deposit a fine jade patina on the naked copper wire, but right now it's shiny as a newly-minted penny. The thin strand running from the bull pine to my bedroom window slices the bright sky in two, as though our ancient blue eye has finally lost some of its vaunted flexibility after four billion years and gotten a prescription for bifocal contact lenses.
|Pink, says Arnie, as Mindy drives by in the yellow pickup she wangled out of the divorce settlement with her latest ex. The most highly respected faith healer for cars here on the coast, Arnie's talking about the truck's aura, not the paint job. Some pretty deep pink. She better get the linkage in that slushomatic tranny checked out soon.
|Then the conversation meanders back to them. The first time Arnie thought about radio waves was when those crystal sets you could assemble yourself from a hobby kit were so popular. Every kid on the block built one, except him. He didn't need to. He had a radio in his mouth, a radio tooth, to be more exact. The twelve-year molar must've come in rotten, because he hadn't been chewing with it more than a couple of months when it began to hurt, and his mother took him to the dentist to have the cavity drilled out and patched up with a silver filling.
|As soon as the Novocaine wore off, Arnie began hearing music and disc jockey patter from a local Top Forty broadcast. Aside from the fact that he couldn't tune the tooth to any other stations, it worked every bit as good as a crystal radio. In many ways, it was actually better. He didn't need earphones, for example, because the music was already inside his head. He used to sit in the classroom smiling at his teachers because he was grooving on rock and roll instead of learning geometry theorems and Spanish verbs. The dumb old fuddy-duddies never suspected a thing.
|About the time he was a senior, he made a great discovery. One afternoon he accidentally chomped some of the foil wrapper along with the chocolate in a Hershey's Kiss and picked up a Chinese shortwave program on his radio tooth. At first he wasn't positive the language really was Chinese, since he'd never heard anyone speaking it before, but it sure sounded the way he guessed Chinese would sound, and at seven o'clock in the evening he heard the station give its call sign in English.
|The Voice of Free China it was, out of Taipei. It turned out the station broadcast in English for two hours every night. Arnie's favorite part of the show was the nostalgic Chinese music from the thirties. Those heartbreak beautiful ballads, like Theresa Tang's lilting Fragrance of Night, used to bring tears to his eyes. Oh, When Will You Come Again, that was another of her smash hits. Haunting as moonlight on the sea, the songs still played in his head sometimes. There were also, of course, news bulletins from Taiwan, variety shows and a Let's Learn Chinese program. He mailed off several reception reports to the staff at the Voice of Free China, writing to let them know the signal was usually clear, though he did occasionally get minor interference from a slightly impacted wisdom tooth. They sent back lovely QSL cards with butterflies.
|Too bad Arnie didn't pay much attention to the language lessons. They might've come in handy when he went over to `Nam, right after flunking out of high school. He was in an armored division. You couldn't pick up any radio stations inside a tank, no matter how good your tooth was and how much tinfoil you chewed. Too much steel in the way.
|The drugs were very cheap and very plentiful in Vietnam. Arnie signed up for a second tour of duty. A few weeks after fending off a maniacal, bloody Cong assault on the air base at Pleiku, he began thinking about all of those radio waves in the air. If a little microwave oven could make a roast beef piping hot by simply jiggling its molecules with teeny waves, just think what a hundred kilowatt transmitter could do to your brain. And there were thousands of them, blasting out vibrations on thousands of different frequencies, bombarding us around the clock, knocking our neurons for a loop. If one frequency didn't get you, if you weren't sensitive to it, another surely would.
|Is our century a disaster? asks Arnie. No wonder everybody's running around like their brains have been scrambled. Blame it on Marconi. When I got out of the tanks and back Stateside, you better believe I had that radio tooth yanked, pronto.
|I have several questions I want to ask, but it's time for Arnie to mosey along. He claims he has some serious thinking to do about the Warsaw Pact. And there's bound to be trouble over in Hong Kong the minute the squirrely Brits hand over the keys to those clowns who brought us Tienamen Square.
|I'm about to see something I've never seen before -- Arnie without his baseball hat on. Before he leaves, he takes it off to show me the double layer of crinkly aluminum foil he has stuffed inside.
|Of course, he says, casting a last baleful glance at my antenna, the only way you would really be safe is to wear a suit of armor all the time.
|A few hours later, from my perch up in the bull pine, where I'm cinching down the sagging nylon rope with a double clove hitch and two half-hitches, I see Mindy coming down the road in a tow truck. Her yellow pickup is hanging off the back, looking for all the world like an unhappy urchin trying to dig his heels in as he's being dragged off to the barber shop or the dentist's.