The Transcendental Receiver
I was entranced by the advertisement for a newfangled radio wave receiver. In it, some childishly drawn green-faced character that reminded me of a magician was fiddling with the knobs and switches of the device. His hands were green with long, slender, devilish fingers. Behind the mustached magician and the machine he was manipulating, the sun was either rising or setting. The advertisement said, “Control your own four channel destiny.”
It seemed a lot like one of those ads in comic books for things like X-ray specs and giant monster posters that had been so tantalizing to me as a kid. This ad said its device wasn’t designed for receiving AM or FM or short wave radio signals nor designed for the frequencies of police or fire or aviation or maritime communication. It was designed for receiving the wavelengths of the metaphysical, the spiritual and the transcendental.
I was cautious. I was skeptical, wondering why – like those X-ray specs that were supposed to allow kids to see through a woman’s clothes for only 99 cents – if they worked, then why didn’t every kid in the country have a pair? But I needed something. I needed to be a part of something greater than myself. So I committed to a new self by trashing my old receiver and sending in the hundred bucks for the new one.
The contraption came. I wired it to the outdoor antenna. I plugged it in and turned it on. The green lights and the spectrum of the frequency dial illuminated. Nervous yet anticipating, I plugged in my headphones. What was I expecting to hear, a direct communication from God? I listened but I heard nothing , just static. I turned the knob, running through all the frequencies, but all I could hear was the noise of static. I went back outside and turned the antenna. I ran back inside but nothing changed. There was nothing but noise all along the dial. So I went back outside. I moved the antenna to the other side of the house and rewired it.
Still, nothing but static all across the dial.
I ripped the headphones off, screaming, “Fucking piece of shit.”
“What is it?” my mother called from the living room.
She came to my room. I was furious. I explained how I’d gotten gypped with the receiver.
“Hold on. Let me see,” she said.
I handed her the headphones. She popped them on her head.
“You don’t hear it?” she asked.
She handed me the phones back. I put them on.
“You mean the static?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “It’s a gospel program. Coming in loud and clear.”
We went back and forth with the headphones. Her hearing. Me not.
Then I asked her to move the dial. She put the headphones back on. She began manipulating the knob like that green magician in the ad with his devilish, green hands.
“Here’s another one,” she said.
She listened for a while.
“What’s it talking about?”
“Medicine, I think. And herbs and candles and incense and astrology.”
“Incest?” I asked.
“What?” my mother asked.
I motioned for her to take off the headphones, so she did.
“You said they’re talking about astrology and incest?”
“No. Incense. The fragrance sticks you burn.”
She handed me the phones. I put them on, but I only heard static, so I gave them back, shaking my head ‘no’.
“See if there’s anything else,” I said.
She twisted the dial. She stopped again. Her eyes and brows said she was listening.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Politics,” she said. “Some guy yelling about politics.”
She handed me the headphones again. And again, nothing, so I returned them.
She turned the dial a bit more. She reached a spot and began fine tuning. After a few minutes, I asked again what she’d found.
“Some man claiming he turns into a werewolf at night,” she said.
“He’s serious?” I asked.
“Yes. He seems convinced. And there’s good evidence.”
“Motherfucker,” I screamed, yanking the device off the counter, and with it, the cord out of the wall and phones off my mother’s head.
My mother knew my rage. She commanded me to stop.
“Why?” I seethed. “I’m gonna smash this goddamned piece-of-shit to pieces.”
“No,” she said. “Wait. Let me pay you for it.”
I wanted to cry, knowing nothing was ever going to change. I wanted to cry but crying is for weaklings, so I raged inside with the fantasy of slashing some villain’s face to ribbons with a knife. It was a brutal, violent fantasy that helped me. Better or worse than the ones of hanging myself or blowing my brains out? I don’t know, but the fantasies seemed to alleviate the need to commit the actual crimes.
“How much did you pay?” she asked.
“A hundred bucks,” I said.
She put out her arms. I handed the receiver over, knowing she’d pay later.
She left with the device. She went into her room. She plugged it in, along with the headphones. And I rarely saw or heard from her after that.
In the end, the experiment was a total bust. I’d tossed out the old receiver that had at least given me Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones of FM. I’d lost my hundred bucks with no gain in a new self. And I still had those fantasies of stabbing and slashing some vaguely defined but very bad person in the face for his elusive and mysterious crimes. And I was still left with the fantasy of hanging myself from a doorknob with a necktie.
But it worked out okay for my mother, at least. Those programs she listened to convinced her that smoking was bad, so she began smoking less. And it might have been better that she spent as much time listening to the radio as she did before gossiping on the phone about pointless, nonsensical bullshit with my aunt. Then again, she started giving consideration to the real possibility of real werewolves living among us. So I guess it’s hard to say exactly how it worked out for my mother.