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Getting to say “Thank You”

Nov 8, 2013 • 1:43 pm • Leave a comment

I always listen to NPR in my car, doing errands, driving to and from work in Berkeley. NPR is the background of my driving. Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Ira Glass, Teri Gross. I like it near the end of the hour on All Things Considered when they might have some arts or quirky or odd items; something moving, a story of someone in Kansas struggling with their life, or the creative joys of someone in Maine. They enfold me, wrap around me as I sit alone in my car heading to CVS, the health food store, the hardware store. So I'm just like millions of others, listening to NPR just as one would have listened to locals talking a hundred years ago, sitting on the front steps of the country store, trading stories.
But I also have a bit of an obsession about the interviews that the NPR reporters put together. First they give the skillful intro, piquing your interest, then the meat of the story, then the reporter's skillful ending, tying it all together, and lastly, my obsession: the final flourish of the interview, asthe interviewee says "Thank you". Calmly, simply, quickly: "Thank you" I listen intently to these endings, always wondering, "What will the person being interviewed say?"
I want them to keep it simple.
Sometimes I even beg them out loud as I'm driving: "PLEASE, keep the ending simple." Almost all the time they do.
Just "Thank you" and then its over. I breathe a sigh of relief. They did it right. Some variations are allowed in my book: "My pleasure." "It's been a pleasure." These are acceptable. But then there are those who say far too much, who ramble, who lose focus in the final seconds of their fifteen minutes of fame. Disaster. I feel sorry for them, I wish they could rewind and just go back to that simple "Thanks."
Naturally, along with this has come the desire, the fantasy to be able to say "Thank you” myself, on the air: the simple, elegant ending to an NPR interview. Being interviewed by Noah Adams or Scott Simon. My fantasy.
The chances of this are slim. I write and illustrate children's books, and there's no particular reason why NPR would want to interview me. My parents also wrote and illustrated children's books and my father illustrated Goodnight Moon, but even that seems like a long shot. If he was alive they would interview my father and he could have had the chance to say "Thank you," to Scott Simon, but he passed away 25 years ago, so that's not even worth thinking about.
Then one day last week it came! My chance. HarperCollins has republished The World is Round, the only children's book written by Gertrude Stein, on its 75th anniversary, a gorgeous exact reproduction of the original, printed on pink paper with deep blue type. It was one of the first books my father illustrated, and looks just as good as it did in the original. I wrote an introduction to it.
Out of the blue the PR person at Harper emails me  to say that NPR Weekend edition wants to do an interview about Stein and my father.
The day comes. I am nervous before the interview, sitting in the little radio booth at the Journalism School radio station on the University of California campus. Don Gonyea's voice comes through the headphones and away we go. He puts me at ease. Perhaps I don't make a total fool of myself, though I have no desire to listen to the broadcast of the interview, after the fact. I tell some stories about how the book was created, then he says the little wrap up to the interview. Winds it all up, and then:
And then:
I blow it.
I space out, I forget, I don't know that this is my big moment. Dead air. Don comes on again and kindly says "That was where you were supposed to say thank you." He once again gives the ending to the piece, or an approximation of it, and there is my chance: "Thank you".
Done. My fifteen minutes of fame tied up in the perfect knot:
"Thank you."

 

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