ACT ONEToday I drive and listen to This American Life, a weekly radio show from 90.5, WBEZ Chicago, a show hosted by Ira Glass; a consistency in my life for the last decade. I drive south of Pittsburgh, through the hills dotted with steel mills and coal mines, through the hills lined with rivers and rivertowns, through the hills just on the threshold of autumn.
I drive and listen to Ira. This week, stories about break-ups. I am not in the middle of a break-up; there is no break-up in my immediate past, nor one on the near horizon. But when I listen to the radio, to Ira especially, it's nostalgia I seek.
Ira says, “During a break-up, you just stare at what happened. There's a Before. And there's an After. And you just can't believe it.”
I am driving down Highway 51, crying behind the wheel of a late model Jeep Cherokee, laughing because I am crying for every break-up every one of us has ever been through. Which is also to say, I am in love with you, Ira.
It is love for you that sets me afire. Ira Glass, from the Allegheny foothills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I listen to you on WDUQ 90.5 FM,—this is a love letter. I’m D. Gilson.
ACT TWOIra, you probably get these letters all the time. And If we found ourselves on the verge of summer, when love is a love that is disposable, like the unfinished crossword from last Sunday’s New York Times, I would tell you to disregard this one, too. But it isn’t summer anymore. Not even close. And thus, I know my love is true. Don’t think I’m crazy.
Mr. Glass, let’s be honest: you are sexy. Your voice is beyond metaphor, sir, but suffice it to say, I am buying whatever you are selling. And what are you selling? Lifestyle, really; which is both necessary and frivolous, organic and manufactured. You are selling a service. You are my therapist and best friend and lover, a trinity beyond holy. When I type “Ira Glass” into the search bar of Google Images, it is like soft-core porn, or again, nostalgia: both joyful and heartbreaking.
Ira, I am all-too-aware you are all-too-hetero. At a party in Washington last March, I met your ex-girlfriend and please, know this: if you can be with her you can sure as hell be with me. She seemed nice enough, and funny enough, but really, did she understand you like I understand you? Did she have coffee and toast ready when you wake up, when you walk to our kitchen in the plain boxershorts of atheism? Did she prefer you two days unshaven, the feel of your slight beard against mine? Did she coo as lovers do, running her fingers through your salt & pepper hair without asking it to be more pepper, less salt? Did she write you love letters?
ACT THREEIra, would it be too much to title my book My American Life? It would, I know, but when you speak, I listen. When you talk about your mother, it is my mother. When you talk about music, it is the song I sing. I am with you at a diner in West Virginia when you sit down for coffee with coal miners. I, too, take mine black with two Sweet'N Low. I am with you in New York when you rebuild unbuilt buildings; they are my buildings, too. Your American Life is My American Life is Our American Lives. Is our America.
Oh Ira, I have to be honest, when I said it is love for you that sets me afire, it is how I feel, but Frank O’Hara wrote that to his friend Grace Hartigan in 1957. But it is how I feel, and you can trust me, I who takes you everywhere by radio and iPod, by plane and train and automobile. I who will never leave you nor forsake you for the coldness of television. I who wears the eyeglasses of hipster intellectualism, thick and black and plastic, just like yours. I who loves you, even though we break up each week with your sign-off: “I'm Ira Glass. Back next time with more stories of this American life.” Ira, turn off the radio. Take a walk with me. Kiss me under a bridge in Pittsburgh or Tulsa or Albuquerque. For god’s sake. Forget the airwaves. Love me in real time.
D. Gilson is a Ph.D. student in American Literature & Culture at George Washington University. He holds an MFA from Chatham University and his chapbook, Catch & Release, won the Robin Becker Prize from Seven Kitchens Press. Find him at dgilson.com.