My Blackberry otherwise soothing "Notifier ChiGong" alarm rattled me from brief, dreamless sleep exactly fifty-nine minutes ago.
It took a minute to get my bearings: 'You're in Vermont,' I thought. 'Time for your Saturday Light Brigade interview.'
I tiptoed around the bedroom, quietly putting on a few layers of clothes; with a dozen friends sleeping in bedrooms on every floor, I'd have to do the interview outside where the current temperature is 46°. I pulled on a cap and gloves, slipped my headphones into my ears, dialed the radio station's number, and stepped out into the crisp, morning air.
"Hello," I said, half asking. "This is Benjamin Wagner calling for my 'Mister Rogers & Me' interview."
"Oh, Benjamin!" the woman at the other end of the line said. "I was just about to call you. Good morning! May I put you on hold? We're just finishing a puzzle segment, then Larry will take a call, then he'll speak with you. Ok?"
"Ok!" I said, endeavoring to make sense through my gravelly, three hours of sleep voice.
She put me on hold where I was able to listen to the show. The host, Larry Berger, was reading a brain teaser over acoustic bluegrass music in a cadence and tone not unlike Mister Rogers himself.
"Imagine that you're in a room with only two exits. One is blocked by a thousand magnifying glasses that focus the sunlight to a super-hot ray of sunshine that will burn you alive. The other is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon that will also burn you alive. What do you do?"
He paused a second, then said, "We have Benjamin on the line. Benjamin, what would you do?"
"Oh my," I said, startled, confused and scrambling to make sense of the riddle. "G'morning, Larry! Well, I suppose I would try to make friends with the fire-breathing dragon and ask him to make an exception and let me pass."
Larry too was startled.
"I'm sorry, this is Benjamin Wagner on the phone, kids. I thought you were a listener calling in with the answer. Hello, Benjamin."
"Well, Benjamin, the answer is, leave at night."
As I struggled to make sense of the riddle, Larry explained to his audience that, just as they were Mister Rogers' neighbors there in Pittsburgh and on Public Television, I was his neighbor in Nantucket. I stood looking out over the backyard, the woods, and mountains beyond just a few beats behind it all on account of the odd juxtaposition of geography and technology. Here I am in the mountains of Vermont with a radio show in my Blackberry headset speaking with a host in the basement of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum broadcasting to three states about a television icon I met in another state and time altogether.
Our conversation was brief. My explanations were simple, if a little studied from years of describing how I met Mister Rogers, how we set about making the film and fundraising to finish it. I refrained our thesis three times: Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.
And then it was over.
Afterwards, I sat on the back steps and listened to the show's next segment ("The Saturday Light Brigade is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Children's Theater production of 'Aladin & The Magic Lamp'), before quietly disconnecting.
I'm sitting in the back room overlooking the valley now. The leaves seem to be turning from pale green to a thousand shades of yellow, red, orange and brown before my very eyes. The clouds drift slowly to the east. And time marches on, just a tiny bit more meaningfully than a few minutes before.
I still think the dragon would have helped me out. As Mister Rogers used to say, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.'"