Just when you think you know your mother.
In these advanced days, my mom and I have a familiar menu of topics: The grandchildren, troubling medical issues, ghostly shades of hair (mine), favorite Seinfeld episodes, faulty lawn sprinklers, art, writing, whether I still take cream in my coffee (I do), whether she is taking her pills (she is), and the greatness of Meryl Streep and certain Florida evenings.
During a recent visit, we fired up ye old coffee percolator circa 1965 -- back when people liked their coffee burned at the stake -- and sat across from each other in the kitchen to just talk. As I shoveled cream into my coffee, she dropped the bomb.
"I like Howard Stern."
It was as if she said, "I like that "Blurred Lines" song -- especially the video." I asked her to repeat herself.
"I like Howard."
Howard Stern? My private, stop-the-car-to-listen radio pleasure for the last 20 years? The man who brings us the endlessly fascinating and cranky Eric the Actor? The man who is arguably the best celebrity interviewer -- the best interviewer of anybody? The man who turned me on to satellite radio?
"I've never heard his radio program," said my mother, sounding more like herself.
She's never heard about the late great mess of a man, Hank the Angry Dwarf, the musical stylings and romantic habits of Beetlejuice, Jackie the Joke Man, Artie, the spaceman Riley Martin, Fred's sound effects, Richard's father's phone calls from Kansas, why fans holler "Baba Booey" during golf tournaments, Robin's unique pilgrimages and purgings, and Howard being Howard for four hours a day.
Perhaps it's just as well. Although my mother clearly can surprise me (years ago she suddenly announced she likes Jennifer Lopez), I'm guessing she would not be drawn to Howard's Wack Pack.
Her Howard is strictly TV's Howard Stern -- one of the judges on America's Got Talent. I don't watch the show because I prefer Radio Howard because radio, at its best and rarest, remains the most intimate medium. And Howard, when he's not plugging AGT, is my own Garrison Keillor (I've imagined Howard interviewing Keillor -- I'm not sure it would go or end well).
I'm not sure how my mother found TV Howard. Then again, she does love herself some Dancing with the Stars and, apparently, talent shows in general. I don't watch talent shows because I don't need to be reminded that my talents are best left un-televised much less judged by the nation.
I did want to get to the bottom of her Howard attraction.
"He's honest and straightforward."
You said it, Mom.
She likes the way he talks to the contestants, letting them know when they need improvement, consoling and encouraging them -- other times being brutally honest.
"Some of them need to hear that," she said, defending Howard.
Defending Howard? My mother?
Part of me wanted to take her to my car and have her listen to Eric the Actor's latest angry phone message, play along with Howard's "Dumb as a Rock" game featuring dancers without stars, hear Fred drop crow sounds during the grating sounds of Mariann from Brooklyn, and generally hear words and situations that do not come up during Mass.
Would she like and defend Howard then?
Maybe she would.
Because if I've learned anything while thinking I've learned a lot, it's never underestimate your mother.