By Lin Brehmer
11:40 PM EDT, September 27, 2012
How do you write Lin's Bin?
Lin's Bin starts with a question.
Is it OK to compliment a woman on her breasts?
Where does the time go?
Why are teenagers so cranky?
The questions come from clueless frat boys, from wistful mothers, from grade school kids trying to understand older brothers and sisters.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
The questions collect like snowflakes on a February afternoon. After 10 years of creating Lin's Bin on 93XRT, I am knee deep in questions that are each in their own way unique.
Do you have any tips for surviving the family vacation to Florida?
These are not so much essays as reveries, and those questions that stir the ghosts of my past are always the easiest to write. Ask me about a family vacation and my father walks out of the shadows.
There was Frank Brehmer at dawn. Lean, taut, with a crew cut so level you could have landed fighter planes on it. Short sleeve collared shirt revealing the U.S. Navy anchor ink he will always regret. Frank Brehmer at dawn surveying the 1968 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon with the look of real wood. He squinted through the rear window.
The back seat was folded down. Blankets and pillows were sandbagged against the luggage. Twelve square feet of travel playground, wrestling mat, bunk, a cage to contain three boys so practiced in the art of psychological torture that one of them would grow up to be a disc jockey.
There are questions about music.
What's the deal with the cowbell?
There are questions no one ever thought to ask before.
What did Pavlov do with the leftover canine saliva?
There are questions we have all heard a hundred times.
Is the age of chivalry dead?
Ginger or Mary Ann?
On the one hand, the distillation of womanhood to a pair of stereotypical sitcom characters highlights the sexist reptilian simplicity of the male brain. Woman as a composite of fictional attributes designed to distract men from their primal quest for pizza.
On the other hand, Mary Ann wore gingham.
How do these quilted patterns come together for a four-minute radio feature?
I choose a question based on a simple test. Will I be able to answer this? If I think I can, I pursue its conclusion without pity. I have never turned back.
"Lin, can you explain black holes?"
This may shock those few of you who know me well. I am not a physicist. Yet, it was a question that bore examination. So for three hours I read as much as I could about "black holes," which led me to read about The Large Hadron Collider and the God Particle, and I realized that it would be easier to make stuff up.
"I don't want to know how the universe came to be. I want to know why."
As the structure of Lin's Bin takes shape, I send an email to a demented genius who lives in Ohio. "Pete," I'll write, "this Friday we will answer the question, "Who decides who the cool kids are?" And Pete Crozier, who began producing Lin's Bin when it was invented by program director Norm Winer 10 years ago, sends me pages of movie or television quotations that refer to the cool kids.
I hunt for songs whose lyrics can punctuate a well-turned phrase. I construct a miniature soundtrack for these short stories.
The recent Lin's Bin piece entitled "Is it still a man's world?" included James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's World"; Liz Phair's "Never Said"; Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls"; The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb"; and Urge Overkill's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon." There were cultural references culled from "Pride and Prejudice," "Tootsie," "The Office" and the HBO series "Girls."
In the final draft, it is a script with directions and insertions. I record my voice and send it to Pete. It will take him a few hours to layer music and bits of dialogue on top of my voice. If he feels more music is needed, he will find it. Time has built a level of trust where he has become like the director who has earned "final cut."
I meet listeners who say to me, "Those Lin's Bins are pretty good. Who writes them for you?"
I do. Every syllable. Without editorial comment. Only one person on earth reads Lin's Bin before I record it. My wife. She keeps me out of trouble.
Lin Brehmer hosts the XRT Morning Show with News Anchor Mary Dixon from 5:30 to 10 a.m. Monday-Friday. Lin's Bins is a feature that runs at 7:15 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.
As a young high school teacher, all I hear about from veteran teachers is how "kids nowadays are just not the same as they used to be." What makes kids today different from those of the past? —Brette Book, Chicago
Lyric: It's a different world today and I just don't understand
What makes kids different from those of the past?
Instantaneous access to any information lessens the urgency of learning.
What can you teach me that my phone doesn't already know?
"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
Dialogue: I got a new phone, too. I could edit a feature length film with this phone.
Why are kids different today?
The Rolling Stones/"Mother's Little Helper"
Lyric: Things are different today I hear every mother say
Have you heard about the school children of Vitoria da Conquista in Brazil? School authorities are sewing microchips into school uniforms so each student can be tracked like a nuclear submarine.
"The Hunt for the Red October"
Dialogue: I present you, the ballistic missile submarine Red October.
Sly and the Family Stone/"Somebody's Watching You"
Lyric: Somebody's watching you …
We can only assume that some kids will remove the offending piece of clothing whenever they want to go off the grid. Then, we will have no choice but to inject a sub-dermal tracking device inside the human body.
Dialogue: Kendall insists that you be injected with a sub-dermal tracking device. I'll have a receiver that will allow me to follow your movements on-site. Yeah, you won't even really know that it's there ...
The Police/"Every Breath You Take" intro and instrumental bed
In Brazil they call these microchip-enhanced outfits, intelligent uniforms. We never had intelligent uniforms although I knew some kids who were no smarter than their Thom McAn shoes.
On my block we didn't need a tracking device, we had Henrietta. She was a large middle-aged woman that reported on everyone's activities. She was known among my friends as the FHBS. Forest Hills Broadcast System:
"Mario was throwing some bottles by the railroad tracks."
"The Brehmers were cleaned out last weekend, cleaned out."
Much like contemporary cable news channels, Henrietta's pronouncements often contained very little information that was actually true. But in tracking the movements of kids up and down the street, Henrietta was the best we had.
Hoodoo Gurus/"I See You"
Lyric: I see you, I see you, I see you
Chicago Public Schools do not sew microchips into the uniforms of their students and I'll tell you why. They can't afford it. Yet. But that doesn't diminish the stalking of America.
The surveillance of kids in our world is a burden some of us never had to face.
Imagine a world where you are on Candid Camera all the time.
"Candid Camera" theme song
Lyric: Smile, you're on candid camera
The Doors/"The End"
Street corner camera globes. IPhones that take better movies than a VHS recorder. Private homes ringed with security cameras.
A teenager who wants to steal a furtive kiss needs to be in denial or an exhibitionist because someone is always watching.
"Apocalypse Now" version of The Doors/"The End"
Instrumental intro with chopper sound effects
These kids today are never too far from the sound of the rotor blades beating the air as parents hover. They hover at playgrounds and soccer fields. They hover near the schools ready to swoop in like Navy SEALs for an improbable rescue.
Even when a kid is out of sight, they are just a one touch speed dial away from, "Where are ya? Whaddya doin? Are you on your way home?"
Some of our listeners will tell you about a time when they left the house after breakfast and came home for dinner and if they showed up before that, it was because they were bleeding from the head.
Dialogue: I know, I know. When you were young, people were better. Ah, nuts. People were always rotten, but the world was beautiful.
I don't know how much safer the streets were, but the gang-bangers were better choreographed.
West Side Story/"Cool"
Orchestral instrumental portion
Of course, kids only seem different these days because everything is different. We have driven the kids from the streets to their rooms where they make virtual contact with friends. They play games with classmates without leaving their bedroom. They carry on simultaneous conversations without opening their mouths. And who can blame them?
Nanci Griffith/"It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go"
If they venture out, they must accept all due warning. Don't go there, be careful, and remember there's a curfew.
What makes kids today different? As the world closes in around them, there are fewer places to hide, and the deeper they dig within themselves, the harder it is to reach them.
Nanci Griffith/"It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go"
Lyric (at the end of the song where she sings): There ain't no place in this world for these kids to go.
This is Lin's Bin on 93XRT.
Reprinted with permission of Lin Brehmer and WXRT. © 2012 by Lin Brehmer.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC