to What Should I Do With My Life?
Reads the News
Good Day Job
Lady J, as she goes by
on the radio, wasnt sure whether she wanted me to use her story. She
likes hiding behind her throaty voice and kittenish byline, letting the
rest be an ageless/faceless mystery. Who is she? Whoever the listener
imagines her to be. Oh, you go right ahead, do whatever you want,
she decided, but I sensed that wouldnt be the last time shed change
So Ill stick with Lady J. When I take her picture (while riding
in a bus) I suggest she bun her hair and shy from my lens.
Her radio work is what one might call her sideline, her hobby, but
that would be measuring it only by the amount of time she spends doing it.
She can be heard on one of the local Minneapolis rock stations for an
aggregate total of seven-and-a-half minutes per morning. Each half hour
from six a.m. to eight a.m., the music breaks as Lady J reads the
90-second news segment live. She leaves the station and arrives at her
regular day job before nine. Reading the news allows scant chance to let
her personality out, but thats okay. It pays almost nothing, and
thats okay too. Its radio. A little goes a long way. Its her
Somedays, it seems to make everything else bearable you know
what I mean? Its just always been there.
Growing up in St. Louis, she had three brothers. Her father
wouldnt let her play with them because he didnt want her to turn
into a tomboy. She was also very heavy, at fifteen weighing sixty pounds
more than she does now. The kids at school teased her about her weight and
her voice, which was very deep. Ooh! Shes got a boys voice! She
The radio became my best friend, she said. She loved to spin
the dial and be transported. She managed to lose all the weight and as a
senior was voted prom queen. Her favorite station also held a contest
not a beauty contest, but an aspirational contest to win an internship,
sort of What do you want to do with your life? She was crowned Miss
KEZK, and was interviewed on the air for ten minutes.
When I heard my voice? Oh, man, that was it. I fell in love with
She attended college in Indiana. On the university station she went
by Lady New York because she had cousins there and it sounded more
cosmopolitan than being from the Midwest. Her father didnt approve of
studying broadcasting; he wanted her to take computer science, which would
give her options. She took some business to please him, got her
degree in psychology, and begged to be given a chance to try radio.
After college, she gave herself five years. She found gigs in
Syracuse and Birmingham. She knew she couldnt indulge this forever, so
she set milestones. She wanted to be in a major market,
and she wanted to cover a major news event. In 1991,
she moved to Minneapolis (major enough) and covered the Persian Gulf
War (not that she went to Dubai with the presscorps, but the station
devoted a larger portion of every hour to news during the war.) Shed
met her milestones enough to look herself in the mirror with pride and
say I did it. Her five years were up. It was time to move on, find
something respectable, get on with her life.
Lady J became an auditor for a big accounting firm one of those
ones thats no longer around. Its been merged, and then the merged
firm eventually imploded after a string of ethical improprieties were
revealed. She never witnessed that number fudging. Back before the merger,
she respected her work and the firm.
Mergers so often change things. Its the #1 complaint I hear, the
generic version of which goes like this: I was fine with it. It
wasnt my dream but I liked my work. Then the company was sold, and the
culture changed. They were squeezing more money out of our customers, and
I was on the front line, making excuses, hocking for a firm I no longer
Lady J had been there seven years prior to the merger. One day she
had a new boss, and the fun seemed to evaporate. After a year of it, Lady
J needed an outlet. She started moonlighting in radio again. A little
Sunday afternoon gig, then the morning news. Her boss at the accounting
firm seemed to resent it, but couldnt do anything about it.
Whyd she care what you did with your free time? I asked.
Simply put? Because she was a bitch. She resented anyone who
seemed to be having more fun than her. She considered it disloyal. She
said I should be putting that energy into my firm work.
Did she discriminate against you because of it?
I noticed I wasnt being sent to the most prestigious clients.
But I was unhappier anyway, so my enthusiasm wasnt what it once was. So
I dont know if you could call it discrimination.
As auditors, they spent most of their time at client worksites.
They kept careful timesheets, and it was considered treason to not be on
time and well-dressed every single day. Had to represent the firm! One
morning the radio station asked Lady J to record the daily entertainment
report. It aired later at 9:30 a.m. but it sounded live. Lady J
was at her client, the University of Minnesota. Someone heard it, mistook
it for a live report, and called Lady Js boss, who immediately called
the regional headquarters to start her termination. Lady J went about her
workday with no idea this was happening. The next morning she stopped by
the office for a meeting. The regional manager heard she was there, pulled
her out of the meeting, and told her she was history.
For cheating the company.
It should have been a simple misunderstanding. When the University
of Minnesota sent a certified letter testifying Lady J was on site at the
alleged time, her job should have been restored. When the radio station
sent a certified letter stating the entertainment report was taped, not
live, she should have been reinstated. Instead, she had to hire an
employment attorney, who assured her that he could get her job back. It
was a slam dunk case.
But did she really want to go back? Theyd shown their true
character. Maybe her boss was a bad egg, but the firm had backed her up
despite evidence otherwise. The firm hadnt been the same since the
merger, and all the other accounting firms were being gobbled up.
I was disappointed with their utter lack of humanity. I didnt
want to go back to a cancerous environment. I wanted to be where people
appreciated my talents. That experience convicted me about what was
really going on.
How easy it was to label her passion that thing I used to do
when I was young! Not until someone tried to take it away did she
realize she would never give it up again.
She had just signed an agreement to purchase her condominium.
Unlikely to ever again have a comfortable salary, she forfeited her escrow
That hurt. Oh, that really hurt. I was mad, and my anger
helped me. You can survive on nothing when youre mad.
She rented in a much cheaper neighborhood, begged for a night shift
at the radio station, and went back to school. Picking up on her
psychology degree, she studied full-time towards a Masters in Social
Work, which she earned eighteen months ago. She is now a licensed
therapist at the Hennepin County Medical Center, working with at-risk
teens, mostly 16 to 18 year old girls on welfare. (We were headed there on
the bus from the radio station).
I miss the nice salary. I cant lie about that. She paused,
remembering fondly her old lifestyle, then her mind moved on to another
thought. Im not sure where I belong. I went to college, I come from
a good family, I am supposed to be a professional, right? I have never
been near a welfare line. Growing up middle class, you are very aware and
very proud not to be lower class. But these girls are teens. Theyre
easy to want to help, though not easy to help. Bottom line?
It doesnt pay a lot, but it allows me to do what I love.
So its really a day job?
She shot me a look. Dont disrespect me. Its a good
day job. Its my contribution. Im doing good. The radio is my
fun. If I had to choose? She paused. Well, I guess I dont.
Thats the point.
At the hospital, I wasnt allowed into the one-on-one sessions
but there were already two girls waiting in the lobby for Lady J, or Mrs.
______, as they called her. They called me lumberjack and Paul
Bunyan. One had brought her eight-week old daughter to show Lady J; she
was proud and wanted Lady J to know she was doing good. The other begged
Lady J for her stylish clothes. You ever going to throw that away, Mrs.
______? You can give it to me first. They idolized her.
The main way I rub off on them is as a role model, she
admitted. I dont see them enough to make a big difference with the
problems they face. I teach them enough to learn that such-and-such, like
him hitting you, its wrong, its not normal. But not enough to get
him to stop. Some girls want to see me more, but as their mentor, not as
their therapist. I dont pretend otherwise. Thats kinda the deal.
I heard you this morning, Lady J, the first girl
Really? What did I say then?
I dont remember. But I heard you.
Lady J sneaked me a smile.