This column will say a lot of things about me that aren't necessarily true. For one thing, I'm neither obsessive nor compulsive, but I can easily become obsessed for short bursts when the stars are aligned correctly. The right woman, for instance, can drive me off a cliff. Yet this is a flaw in my system that I've come to recognize and understand, even appreciate. I take precautions. I don't date that much anymore. And when I do, I act like an ass. Say what you will about me, but it's been years since I've found myself broke and filthy, screaming obscenities up three flights to someone I'm not even sure is home.
You need to know this about me because you need to know that I'm equipped to identifying areas for self-improvement and, if I can't attack them, I can at least mitigate them down to minor personality tics.
So when I tell you that a few weeks ago I gave up talk radio for Lent, I assume you’re going to passively label me as a practicing Catholic, a Republican, and maybe even an octogenarian. I'm none of those things. What I am is a spiritually curious WASP, a politically indistinct though slightly libertarian cynic (although some would call me politically selfish - considering that I want the government there to keep bombs out of my PATH stops yet I don't want Bloomberg watching my weight), and slightly younger than I look.
Talk radio is just a habit that crept up on me. But first let me attempt, probably naively, to sidestep a political discussion. Talk radio isn't necessarily bad. In fact, under the right circumstances, it can be educational - not math and science educational but what's-going-on-in-the-world-outside-my-sport-coat educational.
It's mostly entertainment peppered with facts. Only those that take it seriously need worry about its impact on society. And these are usually the same people who take death metal, video games, and Britney Spears seriously.
My addiction started many springs ago when I got into WFAN, New York's #1 sports talk juggernaut. At first, it was mostly background noise at work in the afternoon, something to keep me awake. It was lively and funny, and every once in a while it would pull me out of my own world and into the park for a few seconds.
It wasn't long before that habit spilled over into my morning. I started with Don Imus, and soon I had the radio on all day. I'd turn it off whenever I quit working - sometimes 4:00 p.m., sometimes 10:00 p.m, but to be honest, except for baseball or if Imus had on a rock star or someone I was mildly curious about, I really wasn't paying attention.
Then there was 9/11, and along with all the fear, frustration, and the morbid need to dig deep into what was going to be uncovered as those long and dark days went on, I was not only listening almost 24/7, I was scanning, bouncing from station to station trying to get another take, another fact, some shred of hope, some answers.
It wasn't long before that got me hooked into right wing radio and all the mouthpieces who perhaps didn't have answers, but at least well-defined points of view. These were people I could agree or disagree with without the repercussion of upsetting a friend. These were people I could yell at. Or with.
Oh. Cue the obsession.
I still mixed in heavy doses of Sports talk. Also financial talk - as the markets plummeted and my portfolio shriveled, I listened in from time to time for somebody to tell me that my early retirement wasn't in the shambles it seemed. And then I dove into any kind of talk I could get on the dial. Tech talk let me know which virus had a hold of my laptop that week. Health talk I considered a form of very low-impact exercise. I even developed a taste for those weirdos in the middle of the night, with topics that never strayed far from aliens, ghosts, and witchcraft, if only to get me to stop thinking about the WTC for a little while.
Like any addiction, it got to be six years in the blink of an eye.
Recently I began to notice a few things about myself that I didn't like. First of all, I knew too much. There was too much information in the kitty, and it would come spilling out an inopportune times (see the above bit on dating). There was also the constant need to know more, and honestly, if information isn't making me money or helping me to be a better human being, it's strictly a brainy form of cocaine. I was also getting edgier, angrier - and this rage festered over stupid things, like too many illegal aliens in Texas, or the lack of trans-fats in my fast food. And finally, I was seriously considering subscribing to podcasts.
Podcasts. The Reader's Digest of the young and hip.
I had better things to do.
So I shut it off. Actually, I did it a few days before Lent, but since I didn't want to give up drinking again (talk about edgy!), I cheated.
Now, with a few weeks under my belt, I can recommend this to everyone. Quit talk radio. Now. I don't care if it's Rush Limbaugh or NPR or Mike and Mad Dog, just turn it off.
Beyond all the benefits that come with stopping a mindless addiction in its tracks, you get the added bonus of finding something else to wrap your brain around. I personally have dipped back into my massive CD collection and reintroduced myself to bands and artists that I haven't listened to in years.
And hey! I like All-American Rejects!
I'm also talking on the phone a lot more, rekindling relationships. And I realized I can think of a thousand people I'd rather have a drink with than Al Franken.
At the end of the day, I just feel better. There's no longer a glut of useless information kicking things out my brain - good things like pleasant memories, remembering to be polite, or my locker combination down at the gym.
Most importantly, I have hope for the future again, and while it was 9/11 that beat it out of me, talk radio sure sustained the emptiness. And it occurs to me, once you stop letting people tell you how much the world sucks, it's easier to see the beauty.
Flawed though it may be.
Having spent most of the eighties in and out of various colleges, Jonas Foster ducked the 9 to 5, wrote a book, and then made a mint selling the right information to the right people. He once dated a supermodel, although he refuses to offer which one, and now habitually combs Manhattan in search of the next.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
4.2.07 @ 9:57a
I'm addicted to every show on NPR that has people talking. I'm not going to give any of it up, for lent or anything else.
4.2.07 @ 10:57a
"Podcasts. The Reader's Digest of the young and hip."
That's so funny.
As much as I love NPR, I do have to shut it off, simply because some times the announcers just go on and on and on.
4.8.07 @ 1:40a
First of all, I knew too much. There was too much information in the kitty, and it would come spilling out an inopportune times (see the above bit on dating).
No shit. I've never been a talk radio guy, but I can relate vis-a-vis internet newswires and such. Hunter S. Thompson said, when he came out as a true junkie, that politics junkies were just like any other kind of dope junkie, a total drag to hang out with. BOORS. Newswire junkies are just so, and I've come to despise what's in my head half the time, particularly when someone says something like 'You're Mexican, what do you think about the border?!?'...
And I'm with ya about music. And movies, and any genuine dialogue, via the phone or over a beer or whatever...
Speaking of which, I need to read less and re-visit my owncollection, perhaps to listen the newly re-united RATM. They were damn good:
The microphone explodes, shattering the molds
Ya either drop tha hits like de la O or get tha fuck off tha commode
Wit tha sure shot, sure ta make tha bodies drop...