Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What are the chances?

When I first got the notion that being a radio DJ would be a goal worth pursuing it was not without a lot ribbing from those around me who thought I should count my blessings because I had a good job cleaning bathrooms and sweeping floors in a department store.

I was barely out of high school and earning one dollar and fifty cents an hour as a janitor at J-Mart. My nightly responsibilities included keeping the floors clean and shiny by sweeping and mopping the isles and then waxing and buffing them, emptying what seemed like tons of trash, scrubbing sinks, toilets, mirrors and polishing anything that had chrome plating, and of course I did windows. Lots of windows.

I was working with another teenager who had recently graduated from high school across town and had it not been for destroying his pitching arm in some sort of on-field mishap he may have gone on to become a major league baseball star with the Milwaukee Brewers who had drafted him just a few months earlier. But here he was, like me taking any job he could get because like me, he had a girlfriend at home who was expecting a baby around the same time mine was.

Mike Seufer's cup of coffee with the major leagues was as brief as our friendship. We knew each other for less than a summer. But during those few months we had a lot to talk about and a lot of time to do it. We were the only people locked in a big store from the time it closed at 10:00PM until the store manager and other daytime employees arrived at eight the next morning to open for another business day.

As Mike and I labored though the all-night hours we always had WCOL piped into the store's public address system, that seemed to make the hours pass a little quicker. And even though we both hated our jobs we were thankful that our buck and a half an hour came with free health care. Aside from the other financial responsibilities that we were both choking on we had all of those prenatal bills to contend with.

Both of us had lost whatever was left of our youth at the same time. Our conversations about our respective futures often consisted of things neither of us would ever do. That is until two nights after I first heard a song called "It's a shame" by a group called The Spinners while sitting in the break room at J-Mart on a Friday night. I called the radio station to ask about it and the all-night DJ, Beemon J. Black told me that it was a demo and wasn't yet available in record stores but if I wanted a cassette copy of it I could come to the station and get it.

The following evening was my night off so I went downtown and when I was let into the WCOL building I met Beemon and ended up hanging around the studio until his show ended around 5:30 in the morning. It was the first time I watched a radio DJ work and all I could think of was my own crummy job and how a guy just one year older than me had one I would have killed for. He and I went to White Castle for breakfast that morning and the more we talked the more I knew what I wanted to do for a living.

When I returned to work the next night I was telling all of this to Mike and he was laughing and saying things like "you'll never get out of this place." Not long after that we both quit our jobs and went our separate ways, I never saw or spoke to him again. After all, aside from landing in the same job and having a few things in common because of our ages and our circumstances for a few months there really was no reason to. He grew up and stayed on the west side of town all of his life and I remained in my own familiar territory on the south side.

Fast forward fifteen years when I am a WCOL DJ.

My son Ricky was a sophomore in high school and his best friend was a kid named Mike Seufer Junior. He told me that his dad had told him stories about working with a guy named Rick Minerd. He told him that several years earlier he worked at a store called J-Mart and wondered if it were just a coincidence, or if it were possible that two kids who were in the belly's of girls who never met, and who would never meet each other, but who had boyfriends whose paths had only crossed by happenstance would one day grow up, meet one another and become best friends.

Of all of the unlikely scenarios that have been my own life this one boggled my mind more than most. I wondered the same thing. What are the chances? Forty years have passed since I last spoke to my son's best friend's father, but I can still hear his laughter when I first mentioned to him that I would one day get Beemon's job. I remember him saying back then that he planned to become a policeman.

I did that too. After twenty years in radio I decided I had enough and became a cop. But unlike that J-Mart job I miss those radio days. I also think I missed a lot more in life besides what might have been a long friendship with Mike Seufer and a great deal of my youth. We both missed that and a few other things along the way. It's a shame that Mike never got another shot at the big leagues and that he never became a policeman. I know he would have been good at both.

But hey, those kids we worried about and talked about before they were born, when both of us were just kids ourselves made it through life just fine, mine is a deputy sheriff and a supervisor in the detective bureau and his is a big shot at the Ohio State University. Not bad for a couple of store janitors. I guess stranger things happen every day, but I haven't seen many.

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