Rattlesnakes and Free Testosterone Levels

The assembled production crew of Anthracite Tonight, meeting in the storied “Boca Grande Room” in the rear of the Five-Points Highway Diner, has hit somewhat of an impasse. Hadley Codfaldt, world-famous radio guy (when all the satellites are working properly) asks for clarification regarding the need to have a full-time rattlesnake on set. Vick Banzler, the Graphite County DA and renowned regional herpetologist, explains the perilous nature of having a slithering time bomb like this on set.  Morris boasts that as TV talk show host, he has no qualms about letting a rattlesnake potentially upstage him. Morris asks the production team if they should name the snake, as it will have such a prominent role in the show’s branding. Vick Banzler rattles the rafters when he ask what a person has to do to get a root beer float around this place. Morris wonders if “Root Beer Float” isn’t a fitting name for their newest on-camera celebrity. And whatever you do, don’t call him a mascot . . .

Live and Direct from Blasting Cap

A Slithery Signature Element

Vick Banzler, the district attorney for Graphite County, explains why he chose a four-foot sidewinder from the family milking compound to figure prominently in the syndicated talk show Anthracite Tonite! “This fellow is going to be an integral part of the show. I would go so far as to say he’s going to be the signature element.” Vick Banzler embellishes his soliloquy with a bow as if he’s performing in front of a medieval jury.

I glance across the table at Hadley Codfaldt. “You realize, of course, how much self-esteem I have as a host to let a rattlesnake upstage me? You won’t see that from most hosts, they’re too insecure. I, on the other hand, have no problem with it.”

“So what’s the deal?” Hadley asks. “Are you going to sit behind the desk while you interview guests, letting the snake crawl on you?” He winces at Vick. “It sounds to me like you’ll have a tough time booking guests if that’s the tack you’re going to take.”

Pit Viper vs. Guinea Pig

“No Hadley, you’ve got it all wrong,” says Vick. “This is a pit viper you’re referring to, not some docile, domesticated guinea pig. You don’t just let a creature with this much malice in its DNA crawl all over you without reeling under the irreversible consequences.” He wraps up his line of torrid cross-examination, picking lint from the sleeve of his dark pinstripe suit coat. “It’s all the more reason why we need supervision on the set at all times and a ready supply of anti-venin.”

“Here’s the deal, Hadley,” I interject. “We have to make this talk show different than all the others on TV. It has to stand out, to rise above the competition. And the way we do it is with this snake.” I glance up at Vick Banzler. “Shall we name it?”

Vick shrugs as he takes a seat. “It’s your call, lad.” He turns his angular face to the crumbling ceiling and shouts, “Is there any way to get a root beer float around this establishment?”

“So what,” says Hadley, “are you going to keep it in a burlap sack on the set?”

A Cottonmouth Just Won’t Cut It

“Here’s the deal.” I pause to sip my water. That root beer float sounds awfully good. Maybe I’ll have dessert after all. “One of my bits is going to be a return to live commercial reads. Remember when Carson did live reads? You still do them on radio of course, all the time. They’re a staple of the industry–even when they’re prerecorded but still sound live.”

“Granted, I just did one today for free testosterone levels” Hadley nods. “But where does the rattlesnake factor in?”

Live Sponsor Reads under Intense Duress

“My celebrity guests will be required to deliver live sponsor reads during the time they’re on the set with me. They must execute the commercial announcement flawlessly, as judged by the applause meter for the studio audience. Added pressure will come from me holding the snake two inches from their faces. And if they buckle under the pressure, they will be subjected to an entirely new level of trauma after the spot has concluded.”

“What happens if you get bit instead of the guest?” Hadley asks.

I start twitching. “That won’t happen.” There’s a crack in my voice. “Will it, Vick?” I realize for the first time that hosting a live TV show can be very dangerous business.

The Best Lawyer Venom Can Buy

Morris continues his conversation with the smooth-talking radio personality, Hadley Codfaldt, about new rules for the pro football league. Hadley wonders if they shouldn’t change the name from Pro Football League to PROfitable Football League. The Five-Points Highway Diner erupts when the dashing Vick Banzler, Graphite County DA, bursts into the room. Decked out in a black Western-cut suit and black cowboy hat with that mesmerizing Errol Flynn smile, he grips an undulating burlap sack in his gloved hand. Amid whistles and cheers, he introduces the star attraction, a four-plus-foot sidewinder. The room quickly grows hushed and anxious as the suave man pretends to have a problem containing the snake. He calls the unruly reptile a rising star, then quickly amends it to a “writhing” star. It is agreed that this one has been chosen for a very special and high-profile position. The only question is, can Morris Crimpanfortis make it through an entire taping without putting the hospital on alert?

A Very Debonair Rattlesnake

Rewriting the Playbook for Daring Roster Moves

Hadley Codfaldt and I discuss the pros and cons of providing roster spots for wild animals in the pro football league, including various positions where they could possibly start. It sounds a little sketchy to me. “If it’s a league rule, I’ll be curious to see how those franchises that notoriously bend the rules handle it,” I observe.

“Of course, we all know who you’re talking about,” Hadley chuckles. “And don’t forget about their lawyers.”

Out of the Burlap and into the Fluorescents

“Did someone say lawyers?” Vick Banzler, the district attorney for Graphite County, strides into the room to adoring applause. The debonair barrister tussles with a burlap sack, clenched in a black-gloved hand. “I’ll show you a lawyer,” he chortles. He jerks a hand inside the sack and cleanly pulls out a four-foot sidewinder, all hissing and squirming, rattling its tail to beat the band. “Well, what do you think? Not bad, right?”

“Whoa, Banzie!” Breathless, Hadley Codfaldt pushes from the table.

I stare transfixed at the writhing creature. “Is this the one we’re gonna go with?”

“Well, he’s got a couple brothers and sisters back at the pump station. I like this one best because his pattern is so well defined, you can really see the diamonds.” He holds the snake up to the glare of the fluorescent lights, pointing to its body like a game show model pointing to the features of a washing machine. “As you can see, the dorsal scales are quite pronounced.”

“That’s great Vick. You think you could put it back in the bag now,” says Hadley, settling back in his seat. “Maybe stow him outside…way, way outside?”

Make Way for the Director of Talent

Vick Banzler laughs to himself, talking gibberish to the snake as he stuffs it into the bag, guffawing when the head pops back out. Vick supplements his income as DA by milking poisonous snakes for their venom. His family has a menagerie of over five hundred lethal reptiles at their marble estate in the neighboring town of Blasting Cap.

He then pretends to drop the bag atop the table, which he really didn’t have to do. Hadley Codfaldt is about to have a cow, and I’m laughing up a storm.

“You’d better get used to handling this rising star,” says Vick to me. “Or maybe I should say “writhing” star, If you want him on the set with you at all times, you’re taking a big chance. You’re going to have to be on top of your game. This bad boy will strike numerous times without provocation if it feels in the least way cornered.”

“Yeah right,” I say, losing a bit of my luster. “I suppose it’s never too early to rehearse.”

“I don’t get it,” says Hadley Codfaldt. “What’s with the snake?”

“I can explain,” I say. “This is the reason Vick Banzler is my Director of Talent.”

Belinda Bessemer: Co-anchor with Baggage

In this installment, Morris Crimpanfortis addresses some rather provocative and sensitive issues involving Belinda Bessemer, co-anchor for the local Silt Ridge Midnight News. We are treated to a rather vague and unsettling description of the Grilled Canary Gentlemen’s Club, where Belinda performs nightly, apparently to the howling adoration of a good portion of the local male population. Like everyone else in this crumbling coal region, Belinda supplements her income in order to pursue her on-camera dreams. Morris goes way overboard in proving to the world – and in particular his gazillionaire father, Morris Crimpanfortis IV – that he doesn’t have a clue what a gentlemen’s club is, much less having ever frequented one. Later, Morris is hounded by Jonas Cider at the Five-Points Highway Diner to name him co-host of Anthracite Tonite. Feeling the heat, Morris is ready to grant Jonas his wish, when none other than Hadley Codfaldt, world famous radio personality extraordinaire, enters the room to great fanfare . . .

Peach Pie and Patchouli Oil

Are You Still Here?

I finish my meatloaf. Tony asks if I want dessert. They don’t have any peach pie tonight. I remember I still have Verona Kendermants’ homemade soap in my suit pocket. I pull out the bar and hold it to my nostrils, taking a deep whiff.  Now that’s dessert!

Jonas Cider makes a face as he glances across the table at me. “What gives, Hoss?” He gestures to the cube of iridescent soap. “Have you started huffing now? Is the stress that bad? I can make it better you know, just let me be your co-host.”

I jolt from my reverie and pocket the scented soap. “Aren’t you playing your rockabilly tunes at the Grilled Canary tonight?” I refer to the local gentlemen’s club.

Not that I know the first thing about what goes on in such an establishment. Let’s be clear on that from the get-go. I KNOW NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT WHAT GOES ON IN A GENTLEMEN’S CLUB!

I have heard through the grapevine that women are a part of the tableau. If you say so, I am in no position to refute it. Thank goodness. If my father, Morris Crimpanfortis, IV, ever catches wind that I’m even thinking about patronizing such a purportedly unscrupulous enterprise, he’ll hit the roof. No thanks, I’ll never hear the end of it. AND CERTAINLY NOT IF IT INVOLVES ONE OF OUR ON-CAMERA PERSONALITIES!

Leering Hooligans Need to Get a Life

I’m teetering on the brink as it is because my co-anchor for the Silt Ridge Midnight News is supposedly a topliner at the Grilled Canary. I realize that people need other jobs in order to make ends meet, but I wish Belinda Bessemer would stop bragging about doing what she does in front of a bunch of leering hooligans!

“Morris, I thought I’d find you back here.” The unmistakable deep-throated voice of Hadley Codfaldt catches my ear. Hadley does afternoon drive on the local AM radio station. He specializes in political commentary, but doesn’t take sides one way or another. Neither too far right nor too far left, he basically opposes all politicians.

“Hi Hadley,” I say. “Pull up a chair.”

“I’m not disturbing anything?” He looks at Jonas then at me.

“I was just leaving.” Jonas drains the last of the water in his smeared glass. Standing up, he flexes the elbows of his scarred leather jacket. “Don’t forget what I said about Sasquatch. That project will make you forget about everything else.” He looks Hadley straight in the eye, nodding respectfully. “Hadley,” he says quietly, stepping around the radio personality.

“Have a good night, Jonas.” Hadley slides into s nearby chair and orders a sweet ice tea, extra lemon. “And let’s see if we can find a clean glass, Tony,” he calls after the aged waiter. Then he turns to me with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve finally figured out a theory that’s been driving me up the wall,” he chortles.

“What’s that?” I ask.

Hadley’s Wild Take on Fixing Pro Football

“One day, wild animals are going to be playing in the pro football league,” he says. “It can’t go any other way. The market share is just too viable for the league to ignore. I’ve always wondered how they’ll pull it off, and then it came to me this afternoon during a Sildenafil spot. Are you ready for this? Each team declares one starting position to be filled by a wild animal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bear or a leopard. Take your best shot.”

“Bloody good. VERY bloody well played.” I nod at my old friend, wishing I could reach for the bar of handmade soap and take a deep, satisfying whiff. “Will they be required to wear a helmet and pads?”