by Michael Brendan Dougherty
Good evening to you. And how you be? Steve Somers here and you there…. Those words probably saved my life. More than once even. Almost every Friday for two years, I left my little office in Arlington Virginia, and drove to suburban New York, to my fiancée. Each time, I had to chose: I-95 or Pennsylvania. On this dilemma, I quote no lesser authority than Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men.
It had been a point of great contention, between my father and my uncle Misha, whether it was faster to take I-95 all the way up, as my uncle and most other people would have it, or whether, as my father fervently believed, I-95 was so heavily trafficked, so miserable, so corrupt, especially in its Delaware portion, that one should take the long way-up to Harrisburg and the across the great state of Pennsylvania at top speed.
The father was right. From my pit on the edge of the federal city, it was better to take 270 to Harrisburg, from there to Scranton, and across I-84. A six-hour trip, almost guaranteed, if you could get beyond the initial jam-ups. I-95 could get you there in five hours, without having to stop for gas. But it could take nine. It also features approximately $30 in tolls. Stubbornly I chose I-95 anyway, hoping it would break my way.
The result: exhaustion, back problems and much cursing. Over 100,000 miles in just over two years. I’d like to brag that my pure devotion to my fiancée kept me from driving off the Delaware Memorial Bridge. In truth, I had Steve Somers, who is as crossed up with frustration and affection as I was.
“The Schmoozer” hosts the late evening hours on WFAN; he carries on until midnight after my Mets games. There is something about the show that is exciting and soothing at once. It’s irresistible, this combination of old-timey radio production, Mets-Rangers homerism and (an adopted) Jewish New York patois that seems to be going extinct, and thus more charming: “Alright already!”
He writes his opening monologue in longhand-often in the short time that broadcaster Wayne Hagin is recapping the latest Mets disappointment. He puns and spits with excitement. His WFAN daytime counterpart issues judgments in the mode of an aging Eastern Bloc officiocrat, reading half-legible notes out of a disorganized file. Authoritative but arbitrary. “You can’t take Posada’s bat out of the lineup, ya caaan’t,” he says through deli meat. But Somers changes from topic to topic like a twelve-year-old showing off his comic book collection in a treehouse. “And this!” he shouts, as he plays a highlight that delights him.
His habit of nicknaming players-”The Lighting Rod” for A-Rod, or “Barroid,” for Barry Bonds-seems facile at first. But, I swear, they grow on you with repetition. They invade the way you think of people, even when they are totally odd. I will never hear Jason Giambi’s name without thinking “the Sultan of Shot.”
“The Schmoozer” not only sat shotgun on my rides home, but also on trips to Nashua High school to see Barack Obama and all the way to Pittsburgh to see Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Wherever I run, WFAN chases me. Somers was a daily relief from the chatter in my own business about “clinging to guns and religion” and “Huckabee as natural Vice-Prez.”
Soon, he’s going to get me through a Mets season in which our opening day infield includes Daniel Murphy, Alex Cora, and Luis Castillo.
God love you: I’ll be communing with you soon, Steve. When the hangover of a “Bad Ollie” start is wearing off, around midnight. When I can travel sixty blocs up the West Side to the Henry Hudson Bridge. When the city is clear and cool, and mostly unburdened of the Westchestarians like me who are trying rosé this summer because the Times told us to: I’ll turn the dial to you.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is (still) a contributing editor to The American Conservative.