The Shirt Heiress Tucks Me In

It is going on 2:30 in the morning. Morris Crimpanfortis has had a positively horrendous day in this little backwater coal town that time has long since forgotten. At least he is able to square things away with the electric company and get the TV station back on the air. It is pretty embarrassing though, going dark at the start of your local midnight newscast because you didn’t pay your electric bill. Who is to blame for that? Morris realizes that there is going to be one of those calls to Chicago in the morning that will find Morris, yet again, pleading for additional funds to cover the essentials – like power and toilet paper in order to keep the station on the air. At least his landlady, Madame LoZelle, is sympathetic to his plight. She is the only sane descendent of a famous shirt manufacturing family and has been able to retain possession of the world-famous mansion. But on her tight budget, she can’t afford for Morris to be late with his rent check again . . .

Winding Down After Heavy Air Turbulence

An After-party Following the After-party Following Another After-party . . . 

My days at this two-bit coal town are so hectic, so rife with mayhem, it makes my stay in Burbank seem tame by comparison.

As usual, we hold our Silt Ridge Midnight News after-party in the snow-covered parking lot in back of the Graphite County Opera House. Bruce Shellerdahl serves up his world-famous haddock tacos.

After being overcome with nerves and getting sick to my stomach when we lost power, I start to perk up and actually have a little fun at the party. Everybody lightens up and brushes off the mistakes. I try not to think about having to get back up and doing this all over again in only a few short hours.

Belinda Bessemer makes a triumphant exit in her Mercedes stretch limo and heads over to the Grilled Canary Gentlemen’s Club for her last set of the night – though we are well into the morning hours. I still don’t know what goes on in that sort of sordid establishment – AND NEVER WILL; It is something I definitely don’t intend to investigate.

Francesca LoZelle: An Heiress Smooth as Silk

Me and the shirt heiress, Francesca LoZelle, watch a lot of satellite TV together. That is, of course, when the satellites are working.

Madame LoZelle is older than me, but I don’t know by how much. We never discuss her age. But you can see when the light is just right that she must have been some kind of looker in her earlier days.

Forgive me: I know I’m not supposed to notice stuff like that.

When we watch satellite TV, on those nights when it’s working, we wear matching red-and-white striped pajamas made of the finest silk money can buy. Silk nightwear used to be one of the staples of the LoZelle garment empire, when it was running strong. So much has changed since the Great Sunspot Dilemmas (both iterations) tore the economy apart.

When I get home from the after-party, we watch my sister Noreen on the satellite doing a press conference from the Chicago Loop earlier in the day. She announces a whole new campaign for Kentucky Power Glide. They are a consumer lawn mower manufacturer and one of Daddy’s biggest clients. They are launching a major outdoor display above the Jersey Turnpike at the Alexander Hamilton service plaza. A few thousand eager and enthusiastic reporters were at the press conference earlier today when my sister announced this new and daring campaign.

My After-Party Bedtime Rituals

Getting ready for bed, I brush my teeth four times, use mint-flavored floss, and then power down some ultra-potent mint mouthwash. I wear a pair of red-and-white striped silk pajamas and three sets of midnight green low-rider briefs. I wear one of my 2,648 hand-painted silk ties around my neck to complete my ensemble and then gear up for some vivid, haddock-inspired dreams.

Francesca LoZelle clears glasses and plates and prepares to retire to her quarters on the second floor when I reenter the bedroom. I sleep with Buttons, her toy poodle. “Those were good cookies you got in BIG Allentown today,” I tell her. I flip back the silk sheets and Buttons eagerly hops in. I hope he stays in one place tonight. Sometimes when he moves around, it keeps me up.

“You need some power sleep if you expect to be fresh in the morning,” she says.

“I guess so,” I chuckle good-naturedly.

No Schmaltzy Stuff

Francesca LoZelle tucks me in, but she doesn’t bend down and kiss me on the cheek or any kid stuff like that. “Tell me something,” she says, standing beside the bed, wobbling tiredly in her imported bunny slippers.

“Yeah, what’s that?” I feel myself drifting off.

“Doesn’t it bug you to see your sister getting all the attention, and you’re stuck here?”

My eyes snap wide open. Why did she have to pose that question at this hour? “I don’t know,” I say. “I haven’t given it much thought.” That was an all-out lie. It bugged me to no end, and now I won’t be able to get any sleep in the short amount of time that’s left before I have to get up and do it all over again. I swear, I’m going to pass out in the loge seats of the opera house before noon tomorrow.

Madame LoZelle leaves the room. I roll over and watch the snow gently falling out the window of the fourth-floor garden apartment.

I realize that there’s only one thing I can do; there’s only one way to get out of this mess. I have to start pitching up a storm, and getting a slew of shows produced so I can move back to Burbank and put this sorry gloomy chapter in my life behind me.

But that still doesn’t mean I’ll be able to go to sleep.

Riding Shotgun on the Rollercoaster to Ruin

As mayhem breaks out on the set of the Silt Ridge Midnight News, Morris has a gut-wrenching flashback to the pandemonium that erupted on the set of the infomercial in Burbank. This was the last show he produced for Daddy’s network, and the repercussions are still being felt. Fast-forward from that fiasco to tonight: the way people are screaming at Morris and pounding his back reminds him of the confusion in the Burbank soundstage when his contest featuring the powerful herbal cleanse went horribly awry. Tonight’s culprit is the station’s lead anchor, Buster Monroe Madison, who comes on set with a sizable chip on his bib-overall shoulder based on a bad day at the construction site. And if he keeps up his profanity-laced rant, the Federal Communications Commission will shut down the operation immediately, no questions asked. But there is a silver lining in this raging scenario – if people can just keep calm for two seconds . . .

The Banshees of Burbank

Line Monitor Lament

“…Three…two…and…“ Bruce Shellerdahl finishes the countdown. “…action!

Frozen at the massive switcher console. I fail to punch up the line monitor. On the news set, Buster Monroe Madison, our distressed lead anchor, continues to deliver a profanity-laced diatribe aimed at a building contractor who did him wrong earlier in the day. The swearing sounds tinny and vile through the studio IFB, yet nothing goes out over the air – which is a major victory for me.

People in the control room scream at me, punch me, nudge me, smack me and put me in a full nelson. They sound like a gaggle of demons, shrieking at me to punch up the live feed on the line monitor.

Cue the Generator!

“Punch us up, boss! What’s the problem?” Exasperated, Bruce Shellerdahl leans past me and stabs the button that takes us to air.

Suddenly, the place plunges into darkness. Everything stops running, even the fans. People panic, running around, screaming, knocking into equipment, running into each other. They shriek and carry on like banshees.

“Generator!” Bruce shouts. “Where’s the backup generator? Why hasn’t it kicked in yet?”

“Is there any gas in it?” Jerry, our sports director, snaps. “Has anybody checked it lately…Mr. Crimpanfortis?”

“Call the engineer!” B-double-M thunders, with that ONE CERTAIN WORD liberally interspersed for maximum impact. “This is totally (INSERT ONE CERTAIN –ING WORD) unacceptable!”

Angry, disjointed voices ring out in the pitch dark. Then the incessant lighters start flicking. I just hope no one takes the opportunity to light up a butt or a stogie.

Big Revelation Occurs in the Dark

I chuckle to myself as I figure out what just happened. I sit at the darkened console with a sheepish grin that no one can see. The electric bill hasn’t been paid. I’d sent a fax of the past-due notice to Noreen and told her to pay them or else there were going to be problems. I guess she didn’t follow through. Or maybe Daddy nixed the deal in just one more way of making me into a man. Be that as it may, it saved me a whole lot of problems tonight. The station will thankfully survive another day.

I suddenly feel very confident. “Take it outside people. We’ve obviously got some massive technical problems that I–and only I–can clean up.”

They wander out the rear stage door for fish tacos and cigarettes.

But That’s What the Lighting Tech is Supposed to Do

I have rarely felt so totally in control. The adrenaline courses through me, making everything real and alive. I haven’t felt this close to the edge since the night in Burbank when everything tanked. I somehow feel oddly back on my game. After everyone leaves it is totally quiet. I hear tinkering in the studio and wonder if someone is back there trying to sabotage things. I get up from the board and peer into the studio.

Dooley, the chief lighting tech and my erstwhile mechanic, has my Corvair Monza up on risers and is changing the oil.

Like any good lighting guy, he clenches the end of the flashlight in his teeth.

Disastrous Oboe Recital in Brooklyn

We meet the anchor, Buster Monroe Madison, in the middle of a rant on the set of the Silt Ridge Midnight News. Buster is having a profane cow over the fact he was stood up today by a drywall supplier. This took place at a construction site where he was doing his regular job, or his “day job.” Another way to look at it is his “paying job.” In any event, the day job allows him to pursue his dream as a newscaster on the Silt Ridge Midnight News. Morris Crimpanfortis V is manning the switcher in place of Fenton Phickowlski, who couldn’t make it because of an oboe recital in Brooklyn. “Five . . . four . . . the production team counts everyone down, Morris breaks out in an uncontrollable sweat. If BMM doesn’t stop swearing, there’s no way Morris is going to punch him to air. There’s too much riding on this. Daddy’s station may get fined or lose its broadcast license altogether if the FCC enforces its longstanding rules regarding profanities. People scream at Morris to put the ranting anchor on the air. What is Morris going to do?

Calamity on the Set!

Newscast off to a Rocky Start – Before it Begins

I sit at the massive, albeit antiquated video switcher and wrap on the headset, wondering who wore it last.

I hate it when things don’t go according to plan. There’s no way I’m supposed to switch tonight’s newscast. Fenton Phickowlski, the normal board-op, has an oboe recital in Brooklyn. So here I am. Yet again.

My stomach turns summersaults. Tonight’s particular newscast is getting off to a rougher start than most. I wonder if I should cut back on the tailgating. Maybe it’s giving these people too much of a false sense of security, a sense of entitlement.

 A Bad Day on the Jobsite

Through the headset, I hear our problems being magnified with each passing second. Our lead anchor, Buster Monroe Madison, is on a hard-charging rant and turning the air blue. A general contractor during the day, B-double M (as he is affectionately known throughout the valley) shows up for a typical newscast wearing a shirt and tie over his bibs. So it appears that he’s more into his day job than the newscasts. Yet he loves doing the news, that’s what he’s schooled in, that’s what he’s passionate about, and he looks forward to the time when he’ll be able to quit his “day job” and cultivate a national audience.

But this is not the way you go about getting an audience. I don’t think, anyway.

Buster Monroe Madison is swearing up a storm. Whatever happened at work today really has him in a foul mood. I’m sorry he had problems with a certain group of subcontractors, but he needs to get ahold of himself. We’re seconds from going to air, and he’s got more vitriol spewing from his mouth than one of Vick’s prized snakes!

You Can’t Be Using that Word!

Dear Heavens, this man needs to control himself. He belts out that ONE CERTAIN WORD over and over again in every form of grammatical acrimony known to man. He might as well have been playing goalie at the Gates of Hell. Everything was getting past him, including his sanity! And all he can do is scream BLOODY MURDER about it!

I may be slow about a number of things, but I do know this for certain: the Federal Communications Commission does not tolerate any swear words over the air on broadcast TV. It’s been that way for centuries.

Everyone has to clean up their act. And Buster Monroe Madison is no different. Yet he’s not turning down the heat one bit. His rant now turns personal, and he’s screaming about a specific drywall supplier doing him wrong. I just hope he doesn’t mention the name of the supplier on the air. That would constitute free advertising, and I know Daddy would never, ever stand for that!

His language is so strong that even Belinda Bessemer, who must get it all the time at her place of employment, tells him to dial it down a notch. This coming from a co-anchor wearing a sheer, tiger-print kimono.

What Am I Going to Do?

Can’t B-double M see, we’re going live soon? But these drywall people apparently yanked him around, telling them they would deliver in the morning, and then an hour later, and an hour after that, and so on and so forth until it’s all of a sudden the afternoon and no drywall! And now he launches off on a whole new diatribe.

The opening sequence pops up. The announcer’s taped voice booms, “Live from the WXX studios, in the heart of the biggest bituminous vein in all Creation, at the intersection of the Blue Mountains and the Appalachian Trail…fasten your seat belts for the WXX Midnight News!”

Freezing Up at Go-Time

“Standby!” barks Bruce Shellerdahl, the fill-in news director. He frames up a tight shot on Buster Monroe Madison and kimono-clad Belinda Bessemer. Belinda gets a sly grin as she glances at the cussing Jesse, then at the camera, then at Buster again.

“Five…four…” the countdown commences.

I freeze at the controls. This is insane. I can’t put this on the air. At the very least, we’ll be fined thousands and thousands of dollars if not losing our broadcast license altogether. And though this isn’t one of Daddy’s big stations, it will have repercussions throughout his network. This station will get tied to the others. So the FCC will fine other stations in the network just to make their point, even though those properties had nothing to do with this gut-wrenching fiasco.

The pressure on me is enormous, impossible to comprehend. Everyone is screaming at me to punch us to air.

But I can’t! Not with Buster Monroe Madison still swearing like that!