Is This Heaven?
by Mike Palecek
In the film "Sir, No Sir!" there is a brief account of a clandestine anti-war radio station, "Radio First Termer," operated from a brothel in Saigon by Dave Rabbit, an active duty American service member.
In my first book, "KGB," one of the characters operates an underground radio station in Sioux City, Iowa.
I think part of the allure of writing fiction is that you can make things occur in the world that you want to happen.
The stop light on your way home is always green, your lawn turns brown and you don't have to mow, your car never runs out of gas.
You can place a radical radio station in downtown Sioux City, even though as you drive around the city the air is not electric but stifling.
Elana Usak is the owner, reporter, crew of Radio Free Siouxland.
Usak was my grandmother's maiden name. I never met her. She came from Prague in the very early part of the last century. She was pregnant with my father during the trip over on some big ship called the Washington. She lived in a boxcar in South Dakota for two years. I don't recall ever seeing a picture of her.
I don't know why they came over from Prague.
Or why they came out here: Ellis Island; Chicago; Verdigre, Nebraska; Winner, South Dakota.
But it must have took some kind of spirit. Wow. I guess it's up to me to imagine what she might have been like.
Elana is pursued by agents of the Federal Communications Commission.
She employs help from a sympathetic instructor at Morningside College. She meets Paul, her starry-eyed backwoods groupie, gets thrown into the Woodbury County Jail.
She becomes part of a prisoner plot to take revenge for the killing of the poor in the invasion of Panama, the destroying of millions of American lives by the prison industry, the murder of Iraqi people in the first Gulf War, the slaughter of so many peasants in El Salvador whose crime was to try to breath the same air also coveted by Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
I am sitting here in the living room with the two cats. Emily is getting ready to go to work at Hy-Vee. Ruth and Sam are already at work. I'll go over to Dordt College soon to sweat out my sins on the stair-stepper, then to work at the group home until eleven.
The noon "AP News Report" just came on the radio.
If I were a young person maybe I'd hop up to shut it off. Instead how about sticking my fingers in my ears and singing loud, "Da, da, da ... da, da, da ..."
Is it over?
Here's to Dave and Elana and my grandmother.
[The book can be purchased on Amazon.com, or ordered through a local bookstore.]
Paul Novotny sat in traffic counting steps.
The noonday glare pissed him off. He clenched his teeth and slammed down the visor.
It's the sensitive types who climb the water tower with high-powered rifles. Paul resumed his reverie. They drive us to it. The bastards.
Hiking his sweat pants into the fold between his ribs and chest, Paul raised his chin to view himself in the mirror and see if he was gay.
Paul strained to tune the radio. In his peripheral vision he saw the light switching to yellow. He sensed the cars around him sliding away.
The white Camry with gold stripes behind him shouted its horn. Paul held up his finger to the rear window and continued to search the dial with his left hand.
"Paul Harvey, good day."
"You look wonderful tonight."
"With atrazine ... Gggll ... I'm Bob Edwards."
The Camry edged closer, nudging Paul's tan Escort.
Paul decided to dis' the out of town plates.
He leaned into the brake pedal, motioned the Camry driver around and walked the radio tuning arrow right.
The right lane had cleared, but the Camry driver blew his horn, rolled down his window and shouted at Paul to get the fuck out of the way.
She had to be there.
The light changed to red. The lanes filled up around Paul. The Camry inched back. A black and white Sioux City police cruiser pulled up next to Paul. He pushed the shifter into first and stared ahead. Paul turreted his head right. The black officer glared at Paul until Paul looked away.
He watched the light while moving the knob with his right hand.
The light clicked to green.
Paul moved away within the flow.
He spread his thighs and picked his balls free. He signaled and moved to the right lane. He put his left hand in the window and gave the Camry a no-look finger. Paul turned right up Nebraska Street.
Looking up the hill he saw the walk way between Norwest and Penney's, the sidewalks littered with walkers, lingering fog, orange and yellow blinkers.
Paul steered with his knees while he lit an Old Gold.
He rolled his window down.
The KZOO morning show went to commercial. Paul eased in behind a purple mini-van and tried again.
He heard crackling. His arm ached.
Then he noticed a familiar tone. He back-tracked and fine-tuned.
"Good day, my friend," the deep female voice brought the day's first smile.
Paul cranked the wheel, and on the green cut-off a Yellow Cab to park on the curb. He put the car in gear, stopped the engine, then turned the key and sighed in relief at the return of the voice.
"This is Radio Free Siouxland, broadcasting the seeds of the revolution with legs astride the weather ball in downtown, on top of the Terra Centre, Sioux City, Iowa."
Paul pulled the lever to recline the seat. He tugged the emergency brake and pushed the button locking the doors. He pried each heel from his tennis shoes and watched the road and foot traffic with narrowing eyes.
He strained to see the weather ball on top of that one building next to the cop shop.
"When the weather ball be red, we all be dead. The weather ball be green, Wall Street obscene. Weather ball be blue, they come lookin' for you. Weather ball be white, no brothers in sight.
"Yes, the weather ball be black, bad times are back.
"But you know that rain is good for the crops, don't they say?
"But today we play! We're going to send out some Jackson Browne, Lou Reed and Mr. John Prine for you this morning.
"This is Elana ... at KFU."
Pretending to sleep, Paul watched a mail carrier in shorts and knee socks coming down the sidewalk with an antenna sticking out of his mailbag.
"Remember, all next week I'll be on a clandestine remote from the Southern Hills Mall. Bring your Walkman and we be jammin'."
The mailman passed without incident.
Paul swiveled his head slowly and saw two brown men on the corner, a line of sweat down both of their white T-shirts. Aha! thought Paul. Wetbacks. He turned up his radio as a sheriff's car sped by. Paul scrunched further down.
"You know, as I sit in my window and watch you all hurrying to work I wonder if we've used up all our tokens, you know? If we're coming to the end of the line. You been hearing about the Truth Commission in South Africa?
"Why don't we have a Truth Commission in the United States? Who killed Bobby Kennedy?"
Paul shot up and worked the knob as she drowned in static.
"You killed Martin King? Why? Excuse, me, Mr. Haig, Ms. Kirkpatrick, Mr. Abrams, just how many people did we kill in El Salvador? And did we care that they had their heads cut off, their organs stuffed into their mouths?
Paul stuck his right hand into his front right pocket. He dug way down, fishing for a cigarette. He pulled up a watermelon Lifesaver.
He picked off what lint he could and stuck it into his mouth.
"Yes, Mr. Clinton why can't Leonard Peltier get a fair trial?" Paul's lady went on. "What is the FBI up to around here? Let's organize a Cub Scout tour of the Hoover building and that CIA compound and that National Security Agency.
"What's this all about? May we help you citizen?
"Yes, I'd like to read that file and that one over there, too. And I'll take two of those chartreuse folders with the burgundy clips. Yee-ees. Honey, there, Mr. Director, come sit on my lap and tell me what you been up to today, now chil'."
Paul felt motion.
He felt as if he were slipping off the planet, like Apollo I in free-fall.
His rear bumper hit the front bumper of the yellow taxi behind him. Paul jerked around and saw the vehicle was empty. He started the car and pulled up a few feet.
"You know what I'm saying?" she said. "Poverty is not the problem, but the solution. We need to look for the lie, friends, look for the lie.
"Listen. Y'all. I got to be gone. I can hear the pitter-patter of little jackboots on my walk. Lou and John will have to stay the night with me. Seems that we're out of time. No more tokens to play today.
"Here's that Jack Browne I was promising. Lives In The Balance. I've been waiting for something to happen. Y'all be good.
"Until tomorrow — stop obeying."
Elana saw Paul Novotny pull in front of the beer truck.
She saw Woodbury County Sheriff Jeremiah Williger driving slowly past.
From her second floor perch she noticed the navy blue Ford and the two insurance men who could have been Federal Communications Commission agents in another life. The springtime morning air chilled the sweat on her forehead.
She closed her eyes, sucked down the pancake aroma from the Nebraksa Cafe below her and considered her good fortune.
Her living room was full of plants and radio machinery, second-hand stuff, microphone, mixing board, transmitter, cart machine, CD players she had picked up at a ham operators swap meet during the Sturgis Rally summers ago, all on a bare, shining hardwood floor.
The antenna ran up the inside wall to the roof and connected to the line running up the side of the First Security Tower, giving her use of the largest building in the city.
They were getting close. She felt it. She thought about staying off the air for a while.
Returning to the office living room, Elana shook her head to get the sticky hair out of her eyes.
Holding her cup with both hands in front of her face she stepped close to the poster of a bridge in Prague hoping to see her father.
The laminated newspaper columns and her diploma from the "U" attempted to fill the south wall and cover the pockmarks in the legal pad-yellow texture.
She moved in swaying elephant steps to the bookshelf, uneven strips of boards from the alley Dumpster supported by chipped bricks and concrete blocks.
She had lifted them from the FirstStar Bank construction site on Western Avenue and hauled them up the two flights in her backpack on successive August solo Hamm's Lite party nights.
She scanned the titles for something new: Journalism texts, Radio For Dummies, The Complete Manual of Pirate Radio, Radio Free Berkeley Yearbook, Basic Electronics, FCC Rulebook, Czech Book of Verbs.
A year's worth of The Sioux City Journal, Des Moines Register, Sioux Falls Argus Leader and New York Times was stacked neatly in piles next to the bookstand.
Elana returned to the window, the sidewalks and streets now empty.
She shook her head and snorted softly.
She was probably the only person ever to move to Sioux City to get away from the Twin Cities.
She put the cup under her nose and breathed deep, expanding her economical chest. She squatted and set the smoking cup on the window ledge, and resting her chin on her arms, welcomed the chill of the spring morning.
Why did that angry little man park at the curb each morning?
Was the beer man single or did he have three kids and a house with no trees up on a hill east of the mall.
What would it be like to be the older man there in the suit, walking with a briefcase from the '50s from his brick home and grandkids in Morningside.
Maybe she could become a teaching Franciscan at Briar Cliff, eat with a group and play cards, or walk giggling to a movie in the evening.
They'd excuse one little ol' abortion, forgiveness is their cash crop, for Jesus-mageezuz.
Ride in a station wagon to the dog races in Omaha on the Fourth of July. Drink keg beer from flowered paper cups on a fairy tale June evening sitting on donated lawn chairs in one humongous wooded back yard.
Elana sipped her coffee and spilled on her top. She patted her breast and saw that the square Ford sat empty.
She leaned her forehead into the screen and watched the heel of a black shoe going into the building.
She sprinted into the dining room, flopped onto her stomach and pressed her ear to the floor.
She heard a flurry of scuffles and thuds coming up the stairs.
Shh. Shh. Boomboomboomboom.
She grabbed her jacket from the wall, scooped tapes into her backpack, unhooked the screen, lifted it and brought it inside, setting it against the wall.
Two alternating hammers beat the door.
"FCC! Open the door!"
A plastic photo ID slid under the door along the wood floor.
She got down on all fours to read it.
Why were good looking guys always mad at her?
Elana stepped through the open window, grabbed the ledge and eased herself down to hang.
A retired couple from Sergeant Bluff, seated in one of the front booths, startled when Elana's white Reebocks popped down to slam the middle of the cafe window.