I was in middle school the summer the college station began playing “Letter to Belgium” by the Mountain Goats over and over and over. I didn’t have my own computer or MP3 player, and I didn’t have any taste of my own until WDBM became my station. I’d turn it on as soon as I got home, and the only three reasons I’d turn it off were 1) bedtime, 2) Monday evening, which meant sports talk and country music, and 3) “Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss,” the Bloodhound Gang’s second most famous song, which I, budding prude, thought was the absolute nastiest thing I’d ever heard. If I heard the opening notes of that song, I would drop whatever I was doing and run to the radio to turn it off. Since WDBM had, and still has, a pretty small playlist for a radio station, it played “Uhn Tiss” and “Letter to Belgium” a few times a day. But I was so proud of myself for discovering the college station. It had no commercials, and what they played sounded so weird and different to a thirteen-year-old in mid-Michigan, but a good weird. And good weird is a vital currency in middle school, which must constantly be weighed against bad weird, or else you spend three minutes every lunch hour looking for a table that will let you sit with them.
“Letter to Belgium” reminds me of the summer I stayed up until three A.M. every night to watch anime and the Boondocks. All I did was read, worry, draw, talk to myself, and sometimes even write poetry if I was feeling extremely brave. I wore blue and black T-shirts – I had one peridot-green V-neck for when I was really chipper – and Gap jeans that my mother bought me in muffled body indignity and that inevitably fit me badly, or little high-waisted track shorts I would pull down to my hips, resulting in a super-mushroomish look for my legs. Sometimes when my parents were gone, I would point the radio towards the door and turn it up very loud and sit outside, but mostly I learned all the words to “Letter to Belgium” lying on a white-and-blue striped foldout couch in my parents' basement. Interpreting the lyrics and ascribing meaning to them never even occurred to me. I loved the song blindly.
Yeah, we’re all here, chewing our tongues off, waiting for the fever to break. When we walk out in the sunlight we tell everyone we know it hurts our eyes, when the real reason we don’t like it is that it makes us wonder if we’re dying. … And Carrie’s got the feeling that the people next door will close in like a wolf pack should we make one small mistake.
“Well, that’s cheerful,” my mom said when she heard me singing along.
I was also proud that I’d discovered the college station all by myself – that is, it belonged to me, not to the friends I had at the time, who I knew weren’t friends even as I counted them as friends for lack of a better term (and lack of of better friends). I remember them listening to the White Stripes. I still hate Jack White’s voice, which I’m sure is a pretty nice voice objectively.