At the close of Tuesday’s show Diane Rehm tells former defense secretary Leon Panetta, “How great to see you.” The slight emphasis on the word “great” tells me they’ve met before, but more importantly, that Diane likes Leon. He is not, I can tell from Diane’s inflection, a dick. That’s important. I trust her judgment.
Diane has spasmodic dysphonia, a degenerative vocal cord disease, which makes every utterance sound like a deathbed confession, slow, deliberate, strained. You can tell if Diane doesn’t agree with a guest because she speaks even more slowly than usual. She pauses between words, taking full breaths in between, so that even I find myself paused in my own mundane activities — applying eyeliner, usually, or washing my coffee mug—in order to better track her slow march from subject to predicate to period. That’s what Diane wants us to do. Gather round, listen closely. This is her show.
Diane’s voice is all quills. It’s wood rubbed against the grain. Her voice is an old wool blanket you can pull around your shoulders.
Today Diane is talking about the Global Economic Slowdown and I want to push my face straight through the radio’s speakers until my head is surrounded by Diane’s wooly voice and I’m inhaling all her smells. I think Diane smells like my mother getting dressed for Junior League meetings: expensive lipsticks, soft leather handbags and Aquanet.
I imagine Diane cooking me dinner. She is talking to Alice Rivlin of The Brookings Institution about the U.S. dependence on foreign trade and putting a pot roast with fingerling potatoes into the oven, just for me. She strokes my head and then places one perfectly manicured finger to her lips, telling me to be still, Alice is talking, Wall Street is jittery, dinner will be on the table soon. I am patient. Diane’s pot roast is never overcooked and Alice is nearly done talking about investing infrastructure.
Diane is more beautiful than my mother.
Sometimes conspiracy theorists get through the phone screening process and Diane has to handle them live on the air. She gracefully waits for a pause in the caller’s tirade and then says, as if she’d orchestrated the entire thing herself, “Thank you…for…your comments…Next caller…” And just like that we’re hearing from Ted in West Chester, long-time listener, first-time caller.
Last week Diane asked retired four-star General Wesley Clark if he would support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for President. Wesley told her “yes” but that’s not enough for Diane. “She…is your…candidate,” Diane repeats. “She is my candidate, yes,” is Wesley’s response. “Nobody else out there…on the Democratic side…that you would support?” Wesley now has no choice but to go into the specifics of why he supports Hillary. Diane does not tolerate question dodgers. This is how I imagine Diane will be when she asks me about my dates:
“Is…he your…prom date?”
“He is my prom date, yes”
“Nobody else out there…that you would take…to the prom?”
And then there we’d be, me and Diane, standing in the formalwear section of J.C. Penney’s, giggling about the boy in my World History class who I think is cute, even though I’m not currently taking World History because I’m married and 20 years out of high school and we don’t even have a J.C. Penney’s here in North Carolina. But that doesn’t matter to Diane and her centuries-old voice.
When Diane’s producer tells her that time is almost up she tells her guests in her slow, guttural drawl “I want to hear…what you have to say…quickly.” Diane has no patience for the long-winded. Diane only cares about us, the waiting ears in cities like Charlotte and Nashua and Chillicothe and Walla Walla. She knows we have stuff to do.
Diane is pushing her words, strangled and ragged, out of her degenerating vocal cords, just for us, just for me. And her words are all velvet spikes tumbling out of my radio that I gather in my arms and hold until she comes home to pull the covers up to my chin and whisper, slowly, slowly, “Good night.”
About the author:
Amanda Ann Klein is Associate Professor of Film Studies in the English Department at East Carolina University. Her flash fiction has appeared in Fat City Review and Geeked Magazine. Her scholarship on film and television has been published in Jump Cut, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Flow, Antenna, Avidly and numerous anthologies. She is the author of American Film Cycles: Reframing Genres, Screening Social Problems, & Defining Subcultures (University of Texas Press, 2011). She also blogs regularly over at Judgmental Observer, a blog about media and popular culture, and curates the true story blog, Tell Us A Story.