I've known Rusty Humphries for more than a decade now, and I count him as one of my best friends. I suspect, however, that I am one of dozens, if not hundreds, who account him so, because Rusty has a way of earning friendship quite readily.
Rusty had one of the top radio talk shows in America when we met, and after having me as a guest on his show, he was kind enough to train me in the art of hosting a radio show.
He trusted his training so well that he allowed me to sit in for him when he was obliged to miss the show a few times. I suspect that some of these times might have been manufactured for the purpose of giving me experience.
I remember that after the first segment of my first show as guest-host, Rusty called one of the producers of the show to say, "Tell Card that he sounds like he's on NPR!"
I realized, upon hearing this, that I was using the microphone training I had received long before from Stefan Rudnicki, the brilliant director, producer, and narrator of my audiobooks.
When narrating an audiobook, all my training as an actor was out the window. "Talk into the microphone as if you were speaking to a friend just over his shoulder, so that your voice remains quiet and level," said Stefan. "The microphone and the listener's volume control will decide how loud you'll end up being; but for recording purposes, you should never sound like you're shouting or even projecting your voice as if you were on stage."
Well, I had completely internalized that instruction, so there I was in Rusty's studio speaking as intimately and quietly into the microphone as I would if I were narrating an audiobook. But the result was exactly as he said: I sounded as if I thought I was on NPR.
No, not even that, because I didn't sound like a newsreader or commentator. I was speaking as if I were a disk jockey putting on classical music for an audience that did not want my voice to distract from their listening experience.
"Rusty says that you're putting them to sleep," said the producer. "A lot of Rusty's listeners are in cars. Someone's gonna die."
So I changed my model of how to speak. I switched to my stage-presentation voice -- projecting, speaking with energy, and being funny whenever I felt like it.
After that next segment, the producer relayed Rusty's response: Much better. Now do it more.
After that terrifying first show, I guest-hosted for him a couple more times. Then Rusty's boss at the time offered me a show of my own, filling in a blank time slot on Saturday mornings.
It was, quite possibly, the worst imaginable time slot in radio. Late night is actually pretty good, and drive-time is best. Weekdays are way better than weekends, and Sunday is far better than Saturday. Saturday morning is pretty much the sinkhole of the radio broadcast week.
But in Hawaii, my show was on at three in the morning, and that's late-night, so most of the call-ins came from there.
Now, there aren't any long-haul truckers in Hawaii, because any long hauls are done by airplane or boat. But there were insomniacs, people working late, and maybe one guy who really liked my books and was jazzed that I was hosting a show at that ridiculous hour.
So I did get a few calls from listeners who wanted to talk about issues of the day, and one call from a listener who wanted to say nice things about one of my books. I handled all the calls as Rusty taught me, and the producer who was assigned to my show did a brilliant job of getting sound clips and sorting through the few calls we got, and ... it worked out fine.
I loved it, right up until the network hired the person they actually wanted for that time slot, and my temporary gig was over. I will always be grateful to Rusty for that. I once had my own radio show. That was an ambition I didn't even know I had.
But Rusty's and my association didn't end there. We've done more on-air work, as well as a podcast partly based on this column. You can find it at http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/osc-rusty/, or on iTunes by searching for "We Review Everything."
Because it's an ad-libbed conversation, there's a lot of material that isn't in these columns. Rusty and I don't always agree on everything, which can be fun, because Rusty and I both understand the almost-lost art of having a conversational disagreement which remains civil and respectful, and doesn't put our friendship at risk.
Which brings me to Rusty Humphries's short and wonderful book, 7 Ways to Win Political Debates with Your Liberal Family and Friends and Still Keep Them as Family and Friends.
Rusty quotes Charles Krauthammer as saying, "Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil."
Which about sums up the nature of public "discussion" today. In that climate, it can seem impossible to carry on any kind of conversation about politics, because liberals immediately accuse conservatives of unspeakable thought-crimes, and can't hear anything conservatives say to try to defend their views with, like, evidence and stuff.
That's because the Left isn't interested in evidence or argument. It's all about emotions. Pity for suffering people, who are always oppressed; and if they're oppressed, it's because conservatives are oppressing them, and if you speak for the conservative side of an issue, you are oppressing those suffering people, and so you have to be browbeaten and bullied into (a) silence or (b) confession of your sins and complete capitulation to the "ideas" of the Left.
I've known a couple of liberals who don't act that way, but they are rare (and therefore very precious to me). Most of the time, the way to deal with political differences with friends and family members is to never discuss them. I have learned this the hard way more than once.
But as Rusty himself has experienced many times, often people won't leave you alone. Throughout the book he keeps coming back to one horrible gathering where a rich and narcissistic woman came to the party for one reason only: To put conservative talk-show host Rusty Humphries in his place.
I know what it's like to have somebody absolutely refuse to leave you alone. I once went to a writers conference in Brittany, and on the train back to Paris, I was constantly accosted by a drunken, in-your-face Irishman whose stupidity and belligerence were intolerable. At first I tried addressing him with civility, as if he were human, but that had no effect.
He would go away for a short time (accompanied by his snotty-looking hipster girlfriend) and then come back with a new round of insults. Our train car contained mostly writers, most of them English, and whenever the guy was out of the car, one or another would give us commiserating looks, or reassure me that "he's drunk," as if that meant he was harmless.
But he kept threatening physical violence, and since I've never been in a fight in my life, it wouldn't have ended well for me.
Now, Rusty's attacker in his story was not drunk -- or not at first, anyway -- and Rusty was, unlike me, fearless.
Here's the thing. Rusty's book isn't about how to devastate liberals in arguments, because liberals don't actually argue. That is, they don't put forth ideas with supporting evidence. They just call you names, accuse you, vilify you.
And if you stoop to their level and angrily hurl back names at them, you will lose, because you are proving their point by showing the "hate" that they think all conservatives are motivated by.
Yet if you frame things correctly in your own mind, you can prevail in such encounters, not by finding something crushing to say, but by letting the liberals destroy their own arguments in the eyes of onlookers.
In other words, you can try to keep the peace and defuse the situation by being amiable and, if necessary, leaving the situation. But if they won't let go, then you allow it to be clear to everyone that they are the aggressor while you just let them have their say. "Smile and nod," says Rusty. "Smile and nod."
I'm oversimplifying like crazy. What I'm trying to say is that in this very short and cheap book (three bucks for the Kindle edition, six bucks for the paperback on Amazon), Rusty teaches you how to keep the peace among family and friends, despite political differences; and if somebody insists on making war, Rusty teaches you how to "win" -- without ever looking like or being the bad guy.
Now, I didn't actually read the book. Instead, I downloaded it from Audible.com and listened to it on my three-hour commute to Lexington, where I teach my weekly classes at Southern Virginia University. It took about an hour to listen to the whole book.
And it was a great hour.
It was like having Rusty in the car with me, except that he didn't hear me when I answered him. And it's like no other audiobook I've ever heard, because it never sounds like he's reading anything (except the copyright page, and he makes it funny). Instead, he sounds like he's telling you stories and then reaching conclusions about them.
When you listen to stories told by a master raconteur like Rusty Humphries, you're going to enjoy it way more than merely reading it, because when you read the words on a page or a screen, you can't hear Rusty doing celebrity voices or acting out the parts.
But even in print, it's worth reading, because the whole point of this book is this: You can have a different opinion from liberal friends and family members, and still keep them as family and friends. You don't have to crawl into your shell, or drop all but your conservative friends, or disrupt a family reunion.
If you follow the principles in Rusty's book, 7 Ways to Win Political Debates with your Liberal Family and Friends, you'll be one step closer to returning America, if not to civil discourse, then at least to cross-cultural friendships and good relations among family members.
That's a good thing, in my opinion.
OK, I'm kind of addicted to Alexa, the genie that tries to serve you diligently when you call to her in whatever Amazon device she's hiding in.
But sometimes she can drive you crazy. It's like sometimes she isn't listening. You have to get close to the device and yell before she hears you.
The most maddening thing, however, is that in playing music, she only understands the concept of artists and songs -- not albums.
Even then, when I wanted to listen to Dvorak, I asked for his music, and Alexa came back with a performing group called The Antonin Dvorak something-or-other, which was not at all what I wanted. Ask for the New World Symphony and you'll get one track. Ask for the Largo from the New World Symphony and Alexa will answer that she doesn't know how to do that.
But there are workarounds. You can always listen to Mozart, and he composed enough, and there are enough separate recordings, that you can go all day.
Same with Beethoven, except that you sometimes get five recordings of "Fur Elise" in a row, which isn't torture, but it's not what you wanted.
I just spent all day listening to "songs" from The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. What I learned is this: These musicians never play anything I don't want to listen to, and everything is superbly performed.
One thing Alexa can do is let you listen to audiobooks from Audible.com, and if you're an Amazon Prime member, it's kind of included. I think.
But I've been an Audible.com customer for a long, long time, and so my two accounts on Audible dated from the halcyon days before Amazon bought Audible. Therefore, Alexa, being a creature of Amazon (one thinks of her rising like a nymph from the murky waters of the great river), couldn't play me anything from my nearly 1000-volume library of purchased audiobooks.
So, in order to get Alexa to read to me, I got a new Audible membership tied to my Amazon account, but it quickly became clear that I would have to re-buy any book I wanted Alexa to play for me. What I needed was to combine all three memberships into one, so I could keep that thousand-volume library and have the books within Alexa's reach.
Because I remembered the days when Audible was still kind of small and you could talk to people who knew what they were doing, I thought: I bet they still have people who understand their software and can do what I need.
So instead of trying to live-chat or write emails to Audible, I asked for a phone call.
I got a very helpful young man who listened carefully, showed me that he actually understood what I wanted to have happen, and then told me that he could do part of it right now, and part of it would have to be handled by somebody at a higher level of authority.
So I gave him all three of my account names, followed his instructions, and watched as my computer screen showed my smaller Audible membership get folded into my Amazon-linked account, books and credits at all.
The only reason he couldn't do the same with my larger library was that there were more than 800 books and more than 35 credits. That's a lot of money tied up there, and they wanted to make sure the transfer was handled without error.
Within 36 hours, the larger account was also merged. So now I have one Audible account, I lost neither credits nor books, and Alexa can read me any book from my Audible library.
Audible still does customer service, even though it's owned by one of the big monopolies.
There was only one drawback. The normal way I display my library is to list the titles newest-first. That way, even when I forget the title of a new book I bought, I can find it because it'll be on one of the first couple of screens in my library.
But when they merged the 800-volume library, they got registered in my Amazon-linked membership as new titles. Therefore all those 800 volumes are displayed, in no discernible order, before I can drill down and find the stuff I bought last week.
But you know what? I can live with that. I am living with that. And when I ask Alexa for a particular title, she finds it. I get to listen to any of my books, as long as I'm in the same room with Alexa.
I hear they're coming out with phones that can link to Alexa on the move. When I can get Alexa into the car with me, playing anything from the Amazon Prime music library or any audiobook I already own, then I'll be content.
But even if it works great, I'll probably keep my Sirius XM satellite radio, because I like my favorite stations, including news stations -- and I love being able to keep listening to my stations all the way across the country, regardless of whether I'm near a broadcast station or cellular service.
Yeah, I'm spoiled. It's one of the good things that I'm glad I lived long enough to see: So many options to get great music without flipping tapes in and out, without having to keep searching for listenable stations.
Of course, that need to spin the dial looking for some station to help keep you awake on a long drive stood me in good stead one time. I was driving our old rustbucket Datsun B210, which only had AM radio, on my way from Greensboro to a science fiction convention in Austin, Texas, and as you can guess, I passed through a rather long stretch where I couldn't find any station I could stand.
So, for the amusement value alone (to keep myself awake instead of dead), I started listening to a religious station, which had a preacher leading a full-throated revival meeting.
Now, I had reserved an hour of time at the convention for whatever I wanted to do, and as I listened to this preacher, I thought: I can do that.
And thus it was at that convention that I gave the first performance of my "Secular Humanist Revival Meeting," which, for a time, was quite popular at sci-fi conventions in the South. (It didn't work as well the one time I tried it in Michigan, because all over the South, when I call out to the "congregation," southerners know how to answer. Northerners don't.)
It was a lot of fun -- and it began because I had a half-broken radio in a beat-up old car and there was no satellite radio, and no working tape deck or CD player in the car. So when you're stuck with a sow's ear, sometimes you can make it into a silk purse.
But I like it better the way it is now. I like having dependable wireless earphones, so I can just drop my .mp3 player in my pants pocket or my jacket pocket and still listen to it. I like having satellite radio in my car so I'm never a captive of whatever broadcast radio is playing locally.
I like having GPS even when I know the whole route I'm using -- because the GPS tells me how many miles and minutes I have left to cover. I like having a tablet I can use to play games in bed while I'm waiting for a bout of insomnia to pass.
No matter who the president is, no matter how stupid the political discourse is, no matter how bad the movies get, I can still surround myself with a milieu that fits my preferences. This is a pretty good time to live.
Until we get another solar flare like the one that fried everything electrical back in 1859 ("the Carrington Event"). Then it'll be interesting to see how many people are killed by planes that can't fly and also can't land, and how long it takes the massive part of our economy that absolutely depends on electronics to recover.
If they ever do.
And on that cheerful note, let me turn to another product that may not be terribly interesting to female members of my listening audience today. In other words, I'm going to talk about a product for the use of males who wish to maintain dryness, comfort, and freedom from odor in the region of their nether bifurcation.
If you're still reading, it's because you chose to keep on after you were warned, so I'll speak more freely now. Awhile ago I reviewed a lotion called Freshballs, which dries quickly and does the same job of maintaining crotch dryness as baby powder, but without getting a puff of airborne powder in your nose.
I still use it, I still recommend it. But it's only fair to let you know that there's a dry product now that works every bit as well. The same folks that brought us Dude Shower and Dude Wipes -- which I also used often -- have now come out with Dude Powder.
Here's why it's better than baby powder. It doesn't form that fine aerosol of powder that gets in your lungs. Well, maybe it could form it, but you'd have to work at it.
You shake the powder onto your hand. It's grey (which makes it way manlier than white baby powder), and it's just a little heavier, so you don't get a visible cloud of the stuff when you shake the bottle.
It goes on more smoothly and efficiently than baby powder, and I get less spillage onto the floor or bedspread or wherever I am when I apply it. Now, here's the weird thing. A few moments after you put it on, you get a "cold burn." It's not painful, but you're aware of it, as some kind of chemical reaction goes on. It quickly fades, but I've got to say that it feels kind of good, like the spiciness of a good cinnamon candy.
And it works at odor prevention better than baby powder and just as well as Freshballs lotion. So ... it's another option for guys who are serious about maintaining crotchety hygiene. Dude Powder. Amazon sells it, and so do others.
I was also going to tell you about some really cool science and economics books I've been reading ... but they'll still be good and worth talking about next week. So let's call it a day.
Except for this: How about that trick play at the end of the first half of the Super Bowl! That was when Philadelphia won the Super Bowl, as far as I'm concerned.
And about that halftime show with a large image of Prince performing with Justin Timberlake. I've heard some people, including some from Prince's entourage, griping about how it was "disrespectful" to have Prince give a virtual performance after he died.
Which may be just about the stupidest thing I've ever heard. By that token, any showing of Gone With the Wind must be disrespectful, because Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard and Hattie McDaniel are all dead, so how dare we put them up on the screen to watch them perform?
Look, Prince was as flamboyant and self-exhibiting as any performer ever was, without using a pole. The Super Bowl was in his home state, and a headliner like Justin Timberlake, who isn't dead, was willing to share the stage with -- no, to be completely upstaged by -- a two-dimensional image of Prince performing a song for, like, a billion people.
Oh, yeah, like he would have turned down that gig.
Great Super Bowl. Great halftime show. And because I didn't have tickets, I didn't freeze my backside off getting into and out of the stadium, and nobody stood up in front of me during the entire game, which seems to be the norm now at all sports events and pop concerts. My wife and I could watch the Super Bowl in comfortable chairs, with great camera work getting us far closer to the action than we could ever have been at the stadium.
I don't think I'm ever going to a live game or concert again, as long as watching it on TV is an option.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com