I used to think Radio studio’s were dark dingy places with scary looking equipment that hummed in a low threatening way. The machines had little blinking lights that never blinked in any discernible sequence. They used to look like underground missile command centres. It all seemed far too technical and important just to allow someone to talk and play music to the public.
Kurt looked around the studio. It was flooded with light and looked achingly modern. Lots of brushed steel and glass. He’d never been able to figure out how the music actually got played. When he’d first been invited into a studio he was expecting a really sophisticated CD player with a mic propped up against it. He had been assured by some prepubescent tech that it was ‘all done by computers’ now.
It’s weird how technology becomes more sophisticated, but looks simpler and easier to use. God, I feel old.
He’d been doing a weekly radio slot for a small commercial station in London for a few years. It was only an hour of his life and it was great exposure. The coffee was good too. They always had food available for the hosts and guests. There was an immense amount of fruit, but it remained largely untouched compared to the baskets of muffins and Danish pastries. Kurt was very tempted by a cake but had to stop himself. As he got older he had discovered that his body was rebelling. His waistline was determined to expand no matter how little he ate, or how much he exercised. He would have loved nothing more than to accept the inevitable; let his body spread a bit and find its natural shape. Unfortunately his body formed part of his image. He had to keep it in check. He extolled the principle of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ to his audience so he had to live that specific piece of advice himself.
It was the biggest snag in his job. If you accept money to dispense advice you had to follow it yourself, or at least be seen to follow it. Kurt hadn’t figured out how to get fat in private.
Nobody likes paying for advice from a hypocrite. Go figure?
The DJ was sitting on the other side of a desk with screens and microphones between them. While he was talking the DJ motioned for Kurt to put some headphones on and prepare for the segment. He did as instructed.
The opening twangs of ‘Losing my religion’ by REM played. That song had always taken him back to the early nineties. He always associated it with the time in his life, when he met Martha.
* * *
It had been peak of his career in the US and what would eventually become the end of it. Kurt was performing his seminar in a small off-broadway theatre in New York. He was scheduled for a run of five matinee shows before moving on to do his first shows in Canada. The theatre was pretty small, sandwiched between a dry cleaners and a deli, with seats for about 150 people. To Kurt it felt as though he’d made it.
Martha was the one that bought him back down to earth. She was working in the theatre as a production assistant. She was nineteen and doing an overseas work placement as part of her university course. It turned out that meant being an indentured servant in the theatre and sleeping in a flee-bag hostel for a month. She was basically the gofer, anything she was asked to do by anyone that was part of the permanent staff or the ‘talent’ she had to do without question or complaint.
Martha was the person that greeted Kurt when he arrived at the theatre for his first performance. He was in his mid-twenties at the time and his ‘fame’ hadn’t really clicked in his head yet. He was still the same guy he was before people started paying him for his advice. He didn’t understand the idea of asking other people to do things for him that he was perfectly capable of achieving himself.
He remembered, perfectly, how Martha looked when they met. His mind had encased the image in amber to preserve it. He often found himself straying back to that mental image recalling how his wife used to be. She had long brown hair tied into a ponytail that reached down between her shoulder blades. Huge thick rimmed black glasses that made her grey eyes look big, they were big enough already without the glasses; she looked constantly startled. A warm smile and big tempting lips. She had been dressed very modestly too, in a white vest with a check shirt over the top that flapped open tantalisingly, with baggy jeans and scruffy sneakers.
The one thing that had captivated Kurt completely was her voice. It was entrancing, her clipped British accent immediately made anything she said worth hearing. Her voice and composure added merit to everything. The way she spoke and the way she moved were in stark contrast to the way she dressed. She moved as though she was draped in an expensive dress and walked in high heels. It made the clothes she did wear look like a costume.
Martha showed him from the stage door through the backstage area to his meagre dressing room where another woman was waiting for him, she offered her hand. “Hello, Mr Sampson. I’m Kate the theatre manager. We’re so glad to have you here for the week. If there’s anything you need just ask Martha,” she said. Kurt never saw Kate again. But he insisted on seeing as much of Martha as he could.
Because of Martha’s position in the theatre she always had a hundred and one things to do. Kurt hardly saw her the first few days, apart from when she poked her head around the door shortly after he arrived to ask if there was anything he needed.
On the third day Kurt was prepared.
“Hi, Mr Sampson. Is there anything you need?”
“Hello, Martha. Please, I keep asking you to call me Kurt. If it’s not too much trouble can you get me a cup of coffee?”
“Sure, no problem.”
A little later she came back with the coffee. Kurt tried his hardest to strike up a conversation without any success. Martha was very obviously trying to get away to begin her next task.
He took a sip of his coffee and feigned a grimace. “Sorry, but could I get some sugar?”
“Oh, sure Kurt, I’ll be right back.”
That’s the tactic he decided to employ for the rest for the week. Kurt kept making small requests in an effort to get Martha to keep coming back to him. Then he’d try his hardest to talk to her. As the days rolled past his requests became more trivial and pathetic.
“Martha, could you get me a towel? Please… Can I have a fresh bottle of water? This one has been left out and now it’s a little warm… Any chance we can turn the heating down in my dressing room?
The low point, but in retrospect his personal favourite, was: “Can you meet me in my dressing room after the show and pour me a drink?” In fact that request was the straw that broke the camels back.
“You what?” Said Martha.
“I’d really like it if you would meet me for a drink after the show?”
“That’s not what you said. Mr Sampson. I may not be the most important person here, but I’m not your personal, fucking, assistant. I have lots to do and you are certainly not my top priority. You’ve been chasing my arse for stupid little requests all week and I’m fed up with it..” When she was angry her accent softened a bit, it wasn’t quite so posh.
Kurt held his hands up. “I’m really sorry Martha. I haven’t meant to make your life difficult.”
“Well, you fucking have. I don’t know what’s up with you performer types. You sell a few tickets in a flea-bag theatre and you think you’re hot shit…”
“Martha, please. Let me explain.”
“The only reason I’ve been asking for things is so I could have an excuse to see you. I just wanted to talk to you.”
Martha hit him hard on the top of his arm. “You stupid bastard. Why didn’t you just ask? You could have saved me running around after you all week. You’re an arsehole.”
Kurt couldn’t help laughing. “Say that again.”
She hit him again. “Arsehole.” Her demeanour had softened a bit but it was obvious he’d left a less than ideal first impression.
That night after the show they went to the deli next door. Kurt couldn’t remember how the shows had gone that week, he was only interested in Martha.
As the run ended he was supposed to move on with his tour. Instead he decided to stay with Martha in New York while she finished her placement then returned to London with her.
Within six months they were married.
* * *
Kurt came back to himself when the song ended and a man began shouting at him about double glazing. The DJ was waving at him across the desk. “Whooo, hello? Kurt are you with us?”
“Sorry Dan, I was miles away.”
“Somewhere great.” Kurt smiled. Someone great.
“Sorry to pull you back, but we’re about to start.” He put his headphones back on and jabbed at the screen in front of him. The adverts ended and a cheesy jingle played. “I’m happy to welcome Kurt Sampson back to the show to answer some of your questions. Hello Kurt.”
“Hi Dan, great to be back as ever.”
“If you have a problem give us a call, Kurt is here for you. He’s the author of numerous chart topping self-help books and has recently finished a sell-out nationwide tour. He’ll be with us for the next half-hour, so get your questions in.” He jabbed at the screen again and the next song began to play.
Kurt made idle chit-chat with the DJ and producer, but his mind kept going back to Martha. His remembered image of her from so long ago was still clear and perfect. When he compared it to to how she was now the differences were subtle but disturbing.
She was still beautiful, her big eyes were surrounded by lines instead of glasses, but they weren’t due to laughing. Her smile only crept out now and again but never as a result of anything Kurt did. Her big lips had diminished into a hard disapproving line and her clothes complimented her demeanour; elegant and graceful but ultimately cold.
“OK it’s time for our first question. Who’s on the line?”
“Hi, my name’s Justin.”
“Hi, Justin. How can I help,” said Kurt.
“Hi, Kurt. I’ve been having trouble with my temper. I seem to lose my cool over the smallest things. Is there anything I can do?”
“Well, anger is a strong emotion. Usually we get angry over small things when we are stressed or emotional about something else. Are there any other parts of your life that may be affecting your mood, or have you always had a short temper?”
“I think I’ve always had a short fuse really.”
“OK, no problem. All I can suggest is that you try to build up your self-control. Anger is a knee-jerk reaction. If you get angry quickly, it’s usually your go-to emotion. You have to attempt to stop yourself and think. Is what you’re angry about worth a response? Anger can be tiring, and make the situation worse. You have to try and take a negative situation and turn it into a positive. To do this you have to to more than simply react.
“Of course this can take time, so the first step is to try and avoid confrontation. If something upsets you and you feel yourself getting angry make a conscious decision to walk away. This should give you enough distance to cool down and think the situation through. Over time the thinking time will lessen and anger will no longer be the first emotion you reach for. Will you try that for me?”
“OK, thanks, I’ll try.”
“Thanks, for your call Justin,” said the DJ. “Next we have Alison, I believe she has a question about optimism.”
“Hi Dan, Hi Kurt. I guess I’ve always been a negative person. I wondered if there’s anything I can do so I can start seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty?”
“Hi, Alison. That’s an excellent question. Optimism is just a state of mind. Our life experiences define our approach. For example if you are raised from an early age to see the good in things you will probably be an optimist. So it’s just about training your mind to perceive the upside. Unfortunately, there isn’t a switch you can flip to suddenly be an optimist.
“The first step is to take a look around yourself. The people surrounding you. Chances are they are pessimists like you, it’s very difficult to be optimistic if you live in a negative environment.
“The next step is to think of a positive goal in your life. It doesn’t have to be big or life changing, just something that you know will improve yourself. This goal needs to be your motivation, and to achieve that goal you will have to adopt a positive attitude.
“As you go along this path to your goal you will face challenges. Even when you fail, which you will, you must give yourself support, not disapproval. This means using a lot of positive ‘self-talk.’ We all speak to ourselves, mostly internally, but sometimes aloud. You must learn to make sure that internal monologue is a positive voice not a nagging hinderance.
“It takes time, and you will question yourself, but you must always remember, when the glass is half full there is plenty left. When it’s half empty something is missing. Hope that helps.”
“Thank you, Kurt. That’s wonderful.”
The questions kept coming, and the answers spewed forth with ease. Sometimes he would actively quote passages from his book, then he’d begin performing bits of his stage show.
It’s all the same. Sometimes it feels like I’m a singer. Performing the same words in the same order. Yet, still, people want to hear it.
Kurt always thought that if he got famous enough they’d be able to make and market a doll of him with a pull string and a voice-box. When pulled he’d say the six preloaded advice soundbites he used throughout his career. The trouble was it might put him out of business.
He knew he had a limited amount of advice to give. His skill had always been saying the same thing over and over again but in millions of different ways. If you ripped pages out of my books, you could muddle them up, swap between them and the message would still be the same.
“OK, we’ve only got time for one more question. It’s an email question and the sender has asked to stay anonymous. ‘Dear Kurt, I have very low self-esteem, and find myself constantly worrying about my husband cheating on me. I don’t know if it’s my issues that make me suspect him, or if there really is something going on. I don’t know what to do. Should I confront him, or am I my own worst enemy?’
He looked around the studio at the DJ and the producer. Do they know? Are they trying to fuck with me? The studio suddenly seemed hot and a surge of anger ripped through his chest. He tried to calm himself, then realised he was on air, and the silence was stretching out in front of him.
The DJ tried his best to cover, he was waving his hand frantically to get Kurt’s attention. “Sorry if you lost us for a moment there, guys. We seem to be having a few technical difficulties, but we’re back now. The last question was about self-esteem and suspicions of a lover cheating. Any thoughts Kurt?”
Kurt coughed into the mic gently clearing his throat. It felt like he had a splinter lodged down there. “Yes, well. Self-esteem is a tricky thing. The best advice I can give you is: Don’t confront your partner about your suspicions of them cheating. You need confirmation first. At the moment you don’t know if your suspicions are a result of your low-self esteem. The only problem here is your self-esteem issues, the doubts you have are a by-product.
“To bolster your self-esteem you have to find the cause for it being low. You might think it’s your job, your family or your love life, when the truth is only one person can make you feel worthless. You. Nothing can make you feel bad unless you let it.
“You have to learn how to love yourself. When you do something positive, reward yourself. Learn to appreciate what you do on a day to day basis no matter how small. You are alive, you matter. No matter what you think, you are worth something because you exist. Who is the judge of your self-worth? You. Only you can make yourself feel bad, which means only you can make yourself feel better.
“I hope that helps you, anonymous.”
With that Kurt immediately removed his headphones and left the studio without looking back at the DJ or his producer. He went straight into the bathroom and splashed water on his face.
Keep it together. They don’t know anything. I’m being paranoid. I need to get out of here; find a drink. It’ll calm my nerves.
The anger was still there after the initial shock at the mention of ‘adultery’.
He came back out into the office outside the studio. The producer was waiting for him. She was a small, mousy woman. “Everything alright Kurt? Is there a problem?”
“Yes there is a problem. I don’t care if you think what I do is a crock of shit. But it doesn’t give you the right to turn my segment of the show into ‘Jeremy-bloody-Kyle.’” By the end he was shouting into her face.
She cowered away from him. The DJ behind the sound proof glass turned his head noticing the aggressive body language. “I don’t know what you mean?” She said in a squeak.
“That last question. That thing about cheating spouses. That sort of issue has no place on this show. It cheapens what I do, and cheapens me by having to answer it.”
The producer looked as though she was about to cry. “I’m sorry Kurt. I didn’t mean…”
“I don’t give a shit what you meant.” He burst through the doors on his way out startling the people in the corridor. Time to find that drink.
The producer watched him go wiping her eyes and shaking.