The Domino Effect (for Diana Fabbri)
I was a teenager when I fell in love with radio. It was the ’70s, and late one night when I couldn’t sleep, I heard a sultry-voiced DJ cooing, “The flutter of wings, the shadow across the moon, the sounds of the night, as the Nightbird spreads her wings and soars above the earth into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel. Come fly with me, Alison Steele, the Nightbird, at WNEW-FM until dawn.”
I was hooked.
I’ve taken every chance I’ve had to get on the airwaves ever since.
While in pursuit of those airwaves in Provincetown, Massachusetts, I met a soft-spoken, kind-eyed woman named Diana Fabri.
One of the countless magical things about Provincetown is its radio station, WOMR, which plays everything from folk music to punk rock to classical.
I figured if they were willing to follow up The Clash with Beethoven, maybe they’d let me read some of my memoir on the air.
I’d come to some notice as a chef and food writer, so pretty much every time I tried to get on the radio folks, wanted me to talk about food. I wanted to talk about my crazy family.
I walked into WOMR in the fall of 2003 and asked to speak to the person in charge. The receptionist directed me to Diana who was the operations manager. I wasn’t sure what a radio station manager might look like but was delighted to find a cute, spunky, smiling woman sorting through albums as if each one were made of gold.
“Oh I love this one, this one, too, and this one,” she practically sang.
I told her I wanted to read my memoirs on WOMR. I thought she might roll her eyes and groan, but instead she shouted.
“Good for you!”
She agreed to submit my request.
The powers that be (whoever they were) wanted me to do a show about food, not about my family.
I offered a compromise: “What if I do both?”
Diana said, “You have 15 minutes. That’s the longest one uninterrupted voice should be on the radio; people just have no attention span. Tell me how you want to fill it.”
“I’ll read a memoir for 10 minutes then follow it up with 5 minutes of recipes. We can call it Bite Me!”
“I like it! Let me run it to the top and see how it flies.”
I was back in NYC cooking for a wedding when Diana called me.
“I can’t seem to convince them.”
“Okay…,” I groaned, “Thanks for trying.”
She stopped me in the midst of my self-pity fest.
“You’re giving up that easily?! Let’s talk them into it!”
Diana arranged to have me call in an audition that she taped over the phone. I read a piece called “The Devil and Mrs. Goldstein.”
A few weeks later she called sounding like she’d just won the lottery, “You’re in, baby!”
There was only one small hitch, they felt “Bite Me” was too vulgar for public radio.
“What if I change it to ‘Bite This’?”
“Do it, baby!”
I had a business to run in New York City, but it wasn’t an problem. Diana pre-taped my shows, whenever I came to town. From one of the many albums she loved she found me an upbeat little melody for my theme song.
Sitting with Di Di, as I called her, for hours as we taped my shows, her kind eyes beaming as she smiled from ear to ear, was pure joy.
How often in life do you experience pure joy?
Thirteen years later, “Bite This” is still going.
Knowing I had to come up with new shows every year kept me writing. The format of following a memoir with recipes became that of my first published book. The audition I read for Diana over the phone became Chapter 1. The book has been adapted for the stage and is now a play.
I’ve had the honor of going all over the country on my book tour, from Naples, Florida, to Los Angeles to St. Louis, but nowhere was more special than in November of 2016 when I got to read in the event space at WOMR and look into the audience to see Diana’s face, once again, smiling ear-to-ear.
The spunky powerful lady I met in 2003 had been weakened by pancreatic cancer, but she hadn’t let that keep her home that evening. I wanted to honor her while I still had time.
I started thanking her for championing me and then was overtaken by the moment and went on to explain that if Diana had not gotten me on WOMR, I would not have written the book and if I had not written the book, none of us would be sitting there sipping wine and having such a lovely time. The crowd, (most of whom did not know about her cancer), gave Diana a well-deserved and hearty round of applause.
She smiled and nodded, humble to the core, as always.
After the show, Diana and I embraced. As sick as she was, she still managed to give me a killer hug.
I thought of a radio show I used to listen to that started with, “Soft and warm the quiet storm.”
I wondered if this would be the last time I saw her.
Diana and I made plans to get together this month when I was coming back to Provincetown, but she died two weeks before I got there.
A few days after I arrived in Provincetown, I was staring out at the bay. It was a drizzly, hazy morning and the gray enveloped the bay like a soft blanket.
I closed my eyes and heard Diana’s voice.
“DO IT, BABY!”
For you sweet lady, I will. I will.