In his prime, Jean Shepherd hypnotized audiences for hours with stories about bumper stickers, TV commercials, Green Stamps, and the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Like most great discoveries, I found Jean Shepherd purely by accident. Sunday nights presented a precarious dilemma until Jean came along. I didn’t want to close my eyes because the next thing you knew, the sun would be pinching my cheek. It would be Monday morning, the beginning of another week of Junior High School.
My primary goal, therefore, centered upon pushing Monday morning as far into Sunday night as my sleep-deprived brain permitted. My pre-Jean Shepherd solution to the Sunday night dilemma involved listening to Rock and Roll music on a radio underneath the covers. One night, while switching from one Rock and Roll station to another, I found “Shep.”
The experts at the time might have called it “experimental radio.” Whatever it was, I had never heard anything like the smooth jazz overlaid by that voice, the one that put an arm around my shoulder and whispered, “c’mon pal, I got some cool places to take you to.”
When I first tripped over the threshold of this new world, the silky voice in the night was talking about cigarette coupons. It told a story about two friends who “made the same dough,” yet one of them had a new TV, and a boat, and a Ford Mustang, and a vacation home in the country—all purchased with cigarette coupons. It soon became clear to the other sad sack that he was an idiot not to smoke “Wonkies,” the brand with the coupons, the kind his buddy smoked. Of course the poor slob who smoked the Wonkies was dying of cancer, but it didn’t matter, because he had been smart enough to get the boat, and the car and the vacation home for free. He had enjoyed a lifetime of smoking Wonkies, and now his family could use the boat and the other goodies after he died.
The music swelled a bit louder. Now the voice talked about life on other planets. Did the inhabitants have better bathrooms than ours? Did the people have jobs, or could they just go to the bank and ask the teller for as much money as they needed to feed and clothe their families, with enough left over to go to an amusement park or take a quick vacation on another planet. Everyone had to be on the honor system, or there wouldn’t be enough money to go around. But these were aliens, after all, not human beings, so there would probably be no problem.
The voice kept talking. It swept me away. I lay there listening to my radio. I felt like a five-year-old kid attending the circus for the first time with his Dad. The world outside was crazy as hell, but I had it made in the shade, hypnotized by another one of Jean Shepherd’s stories. Monday morning had disappeared over the horizon—miles, and miles, and miles down the road.