the sixth caller“The sixth caller will get the chance to win today’s special prize!” The voice crackled through the cheap speakers on my brother’s radio. I’d listen before school every day to that pathetic radio station. Sure it’s easy to call it pathetic at this perspective, but all those years ago, nobody was more pathetic than me as I raced to the telephone.

I’d tried so many times before to get on the radio, I really knew it was an exercise in futility, but I still bucked the odds. This contest was a little different; whoever the particular “winner” was had to show off some kind if talent in order to win the prize.

It had been a year or two since the band teacher gave me the ultimatum, “Band or sports – you can’t do both!” I quickly retired the old hand me down horn that my older brother had played. It was cracked and tarnished… a washed out horn. I always suspected that’s why it never got me above second chair…

“You’re the sixth caller! – What’s your name?!” The voice boomed in my the phone and over the speakers. I was aghast! I couldn’t believe I’d won! Or was on my way to… After the local disc jockey learned my info and special “talent,” he told me to hold the line while they went on advertisement break.

The DJ told me as soon as he introduced me after the break to begin playing my trumpet. While I was on hold I began to get nervous… I mean really nervous. I still played the trumpet alright, but when my older brother, who is one of those people who just seems to be great at everything, volunteered to play for me, my mind raced.

Split second dilemma… Play myself or let my brother bail me out and make me look like a hero. I quickly handed the trumpet to my brother as I held the phone. “Okay, are you ready?!” Came the overly exuberant voice. “Yes,” I timidly spoke up. “Okay! – Heeeeeeere goes! – Hit it!!!!”

My brother took a deep breath, pressed his lips to the mouth piece and began as I stood holding the phone. I was a little nervous because it had been so long since he’d played, but this was my brother we were talking about. He was just barely too heavy to walk on water!

My brother blew hard… Too hard… His fingers began to dance quickly on the three valves. Before it could register what was happening it was over… My brother had done some type of elephant impression… The DJ laughed at me and quickly hung up the phone.

I didn’t say a word to my brother who was begrudgingly dropping me off at school. My brother, the one who barely slowed down and refused to stop for traffic as he slowed his old truck that I’d learned to position myself on the running board in order to jump off into a dead sprint to keep from face planting… What was I thinking…?

I wanted so badly to look or sound good to win, that I forfeited my character… Not so different from the majority of our society today. It often takes some time to come up with enough wisdom to grasp that winning isn’t worth trading our character for and that a winner is measured over a lifetime… not for being in the right place at the right time.

I never knew how many kids listened to the radio in the mornings before school…

Until that day…