I put the record on the green felt turntable and set the needle on the longest cut and cue it up and at the right moment let it go and head outside the studio to the back fire escape to get some air. It’s two in the morning and I am afraid of falling asleep at the wheel here and getting a call from someone in management who is hearing the click, click, click of an expired 33 rpm lp being broadcast to a three-state area through our 50,000-watt transmitter. “That’s not what our advertisers are paying us for.” I’ve heard it before.
It’s Sunday morning by the calendar but by feel and emotion it’s still Saturday night, the only night we stayed on the air past midnight. If any of the other kids who worked here were around, we’d find some of those old 45s that the station got as promotionals – songs and bands that no one had ever heard of – and we’d take them out onto the fire escape and fling them like Frisbees out over the dark parking lot and across the main street of town and watch them fade and then reappear under the streetlights.
But tonight I am alone and I lean on the rail and feel the cool of coming morning on this summer night. In a moment I see the guy walking down the sidewalk on the other side of main street. I know about him, but he was one of those townies that nobody ever saw in daylight. He is walking fast, obviously happy, but not drunk. And there he stops, as always, in front of the storewindow of McClung and Morgan, our town’s locally-owned department store. He does not look around. Nobody has been on this street since the movie let out at ten o’clock and he knows that. He faces one of the female mannequins in the window – always the same brunette – a perfect body all dolled up in the fashion of the day – and begins to sing to her. If the other guys were here, we’d be bent over with laughter, but I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
He sings from the bottom of his lungs and looks up at her and spreads his arms wide, like the crooners on TV:
Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa, Men have named you . . .
I know the song, it’s Nat Cole and it’s about some gal who is hiding a broken heart. He keeps singing. Not a great voice, but not bad, either.
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?
I back carefully from the rail and open the door to the studio carefully so as not to intrude on this sad serenade.