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!

Batting Averages vs. Area Codes

Morris has been denied entrance to the stage door by a member of the security detail that he himself had hired. Undeterred, Morris lets himself in through the will call office of the Graphite County Opera House. Shuffling through the littered confines of his office, he whiffs the feint aftermath of another of Verona Kendermants’ patchouli soap masterpieces. He checks the fax for anything vital that had come in since he’d been at the Anthracite Tonite preproduction meeting. Morris recalls a reality show he pitched Noreen not long ago in which employees took odd jobs to support themselves doing something that they truly loved. Noreen scoffed at his proposal, calling it hackneyed and without merit. Morris senses the same sort of scenario with members of the news crew. They have been busting butt at their day jobs, just so they can support the love of their lives: televising the local news. Morris wishes they wouldn’t take everything out on him, to the point of wanting to kill him. But that’s not even the worst part. The night suddenly gets a whole lot more hostile and unmanageable . . .

Making News the Old-fashioned Way

Not So Sleepy of a Town

I let myself in upstairs through the door of the former will-call office. I pause in my littered office to observe the aftermath of another busy, nonstop day. I haven’t really stopped working since 7:30 this morning. When you consider the after-party won’t get over until around 1:30, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep. Oh well, it’s all a part of Daddy’s plan to make a man out of me.

I wonder how that’s working out for him.

Dead-end Market Offers Hope

Wading through mail strewn across the floor, I pause at the fax machine, wondering if anything hot had come in during the time I was at the production meeting at the Five-Points Highway Diner. Everything looks quiet. Subdued.

Not at all like the boisterous voices from the production crew down the hall. Everyone is in high spirits as they prepare for another nightly newscast. I have to keep reminding myself that these people are dedicated professionals. It is not their fault that they reside in a small market with no traditional network television presence. They have taken drastic means in order to make ends meet so that they can pursue their first love: bringing the nightly news to a needful and sleep-deprived public.

As Elusive as Job Security

Noreen and Dirkie Tirk and just about everyone else in the Chicago corporate office make fun of me for putting all this effort into producing the news every night. I maintain it is vital to provide the informational lifeblood to the viewership of our isolated market. No one has ever measured the ratings in the overnights. I can’t help but think that we’re pulling close to a 35 – though it sometimes feels like 35 total households . . . not a 35 share,

As a sign of his mounting frustration, Daddy doesn’t fork over much in terms of payroll or for field remotes, not unless the story has national implications and he thinks he can score some much needed points with the FCC (which, may I remind everyone, hasn’t happened yet).

So I’m saddled with a cast and crew who have a diverse roster of day and night jobs: cab drivers, EMT personnel, mechanics, laborers, contractors, counselors, exotic dancers and scads of retail workers. The general sales manager delivers pizzas. Account executives perform a variety of jobs including waiting tables, tending bar and detailing cars. When you are doing your errands there is no telling when one of them will pop up, like at the very BIG New Allentwon Costco.

But the fact they get tired out doing these other jobs engenders a feeling of frustration and hostility that sometimes erupt into bitter tirades on the set. I try to let it go in one ear and out the other, but sometimes the scathing rebukes hit pretty close to home.

The Jerk Stops Here

This whole scenario reminds me of a pitch I did recently. As usual, Noreen shot it down. The weekly one-hour primetime reality show dealt with a fictional boss, new on the scene, who pretended to be a tightwad and came off as arrogant, entitled, conceited and critical. Employees quickly reached their fill of the jerk and become angry, jaded and bitter.

The whole point was to show how anger and bitterness can eat you alive. We all have it in us to carry a grudge, just like we all have it in us to love. The overriding question is: which will you choose?

So during the arc of the show, we get a real feel for the makeup of people and how they react in certain situations – both positively and negatively.

Noreen claims this is a tired old hack of a storyline that’s been done a thousand times before – and besides I’m giving myself too much credit.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her.

“Don’t try to sandbag me, Morey. I know you want to play the part of the boss.”

I hadn’t really given it much thought until now, but maybe she was right. Maybe I did want to play the part of the fictional boss who appeared to have so much fun being such an insufferable jerk.

It’s Showtime! Gulp . . . 

I glance at the clock on my littered desk. My gut clenches. We’re less than four minutes to air. But it only gets worse.

Bruce Shellerdahl fills the doorway to my office. “Boss, you’re on the switcher tonight!”

The bottom drops out for me. “Not again!”

Bruce nods. “Fenton called off, so it’s all up to you!”

WXX Newscast: Bare Wires and Bloody Fists

We meet some of the hardworking on-camera personnel who make up the tough-as-nails WXX Silt Ridge Midnight News broadcasts: It starts with a sprawling tailgate party with haddock tacos off a food truck as personalities gear up for another big night. Belinda Bessemer arrives in a late-model Mercedes limo, fresh from her first set at the Grilled Canary Gentlemen’s Club. Mindy Pentagee springs from the back of an ambulance, ready to deliver the latest weathercast, and Jerry Runcklastor rattles off a patented line that makes Morris think of a possible game show mixing batting averages and area codes. A security guard stops Morris from entering via the stage door, even though Morris is the boss and his dad owns the TV station. Morris resigns himself to entering the station another way, realizing that this is one more attempt on Daddy’s part to make a man out of him. He wishes it wasn’t so difficult sometimes. Now, he gears up for another gut-busting night of reporting the news, followed by an even more gut-wrenching after-party

Torture at Midnight: A “Typical” WXX Newscast

Let’s Get the Show on the Road (kill)

The snow lightens up as I drive slowly back through town from the Five-Points Highway Diner to the TV station. My sphincter clenches as I think about the upcoming upheaval of egos. Every edition of the Silt Ridge Midnight News is like a train wreck, where the passengers are akin to demonic trash-talkers. They may be stunned for a moment upon initial impact but then shake off the cobwebs and keep coming and coming like rude and determined zombies. Producing an installment of the WXX news would make a fine reality show, brimming with angst, egomaniacal drama and prima donnas run amuck; I just wish I weren’t the one starring in it.

Kicking It with Haddock Tacos

A glow rises above the back entrance of the opera house. Party lights are strung across the lot illuminating a bizarre form of tailgating. Bruce Shellerdahl, our food editor, fixes fish tacos for the hungry cast and crew from the warmth of his gourmet truck. Isn’t this grand? A knot clenches in my gut.

A Mercedes limo pulls up amid massive fanfare and pounding flashbulbs. Belinda Bessemer exits from the rear. She lights the cigarette dangling between her lush red lips and tugs at the revealing hem of her shear, tiger print kimono. I just hope like heck she changes into something more conservative before hitting the anchor desk.

As she struts in platform heels toward the stage entrance in back of the opera house, I wonder if I should question her most recent wardrobe choices. Then I pull up and realize I have bigger fish to fry. I hope against hope she doesn’t cross the threshold with that lit butt. Then I’d have to call the fire marshal, and man-oh-man, what a stink that would cause!

WXX Newscast: Tailgate Edition

An ambulance with siren blaring and its flashers on drifts into the dirt parking lot, ripping up clots of mud and snow. It skids to a clean stop beside Bruce’s food truck.

Mindy Pentagee, a competent and enthusiastic EMT, skips out the rear in heels and a way-too short skirt. It’s enough to make you blush. And she’s not even the stripper. Oops, I didn’t mean to say that. I’ve never seen Belinda at her place of business and I don’t know what she does – honest! I would never look, never in a million years!

Belinda, Belinda, Belinda! I glance around and see she’s detained at the side door, yakking with one of the horde of male stagehands who are always vying for her attention. She signs her autograph on his polo shirt, smiles dimly, blows smoke on him and grinds out the butt with a stacked heel.

I heave a big sigh of relief. Catastrophe averted.

I turn my attention back to Mindy. More blinding flashbulbs announce her arrival. I wave at her but she doesn’t wave back. It’s nice to have Mindy on set, because fistfights have broken out before, as well as people coming at you with exposed wires. Mindy always makes sure to pack some extra bandages.

Batting Averages vs. Area Codes

A Yellow Cab skids on a patch of ice, nearly sideswiping me. The tailpipe rattles after the engine shuts down. “Evening boss,” says Jerry Runcklastor, wrenching from behind the wheel with a butt dangling from his mouth. Jerry is our Sports anchor. “I feel a good one coming on tonight,” he says, blowing smoke. “I’m ballpark ready and home run hungry”

“Not bad,” I say. I mull it over in my head. “’Ballpark ready and home run hungry’.” I wonder if he’s taken out a trademark on that catchphrase. It’s definitely worth the money if he hopes to brand his sportscasts.

I get a flash for a new game show concept. It mixes batting averages and area codes. I don’t know if I should syndicate the show as a part of sportscasts or just fold it into a nightly syndicated offering in access.

Giving the Green Room a Wide Berth

As I step through the stage door, a security guy stops me. “You’re not allowed to go in there Mr. Crimpanfortis,” the burly man says. “I thought we agreed.”

“I know, I know,” I say sheepishly. “But that was then. This is now.”

“I’m with you, man,” the hulking man says. “I hear what you’re saying.”

“But you’re not going to let me through, are you?”

“You know the rules. You enter through your office and go down the main hallway, avoiding the green room.”

“The green room, of course,” I say. “But my father owns this station,” I remind him.

“I’m sure he’s a fine man,” the security guard says.

I strain to see past the maze of people, all carrying on and having a grand old time. I scream at them to knock it off and get ready for the newscast, but they ignore me. My voice is drowned out in all the mayhem. Here is the result of Daddy refusing to pay the news crew what they’re worth. They all need other jobs in order to supplement their incomes to do the thing they love.

Everyone knows Daddy is filthy rich and they blame me for withholding their paychecks, making them seek other forms of employment.

It’s just one more lousy excuse for them to beat me up.

Our Very Own Little “Sauna of Doom”

Morris restores order at the overwrought production meeting for the Anthracite Tonite talk show. People have just been delivered a gut-punch by Honus Kryburn, who takes the opportunity to get up on his high horse and tell everyone that one day they will pay exorbitant tolls on everyday roads, including roads you take to the corner grocery store. Vick Banzler then gets into it with Wendy Tavares over the toxicity of certain species of reptiles. Wendy wonders why the production can’t employ “everyday garden snakes” to motivate celebrities to do proper “live” reads. Vick takes great exception to this and points out to Wendy she isn’t even calling the snake by its proper name. Inez Unkley has a “drop the mic” moment when she calls the set of Anthracite Tonite a “Sauna of Doom.” Tony, the aged Director of Catering and Crafts Services, wraps a soggy piece of coconut cream pie in used tinfoil, as Morris runs late for the taping of the Silt Ridge Midnight News. Morris engages in a full-on war of nerves and pitches his dinner in the smelly men’s room before staggering into the snowy parking lot . . .

The Pit Viper and the Coconut Cream Pie

Sometimes a Bent Spoon is All You’ve Got 

The crowd of wannabe executive producers crammed into the back room of the Five-Points Highway Diner becomes unruly. There are a number of factors for this: the restaurant has backed down the heat in order to save money, so that now you can see your breath; the meals are taking forever to arrive; and everyone is up in arms about the latest prediction from Honus Kryburn about every street in America becoming a toll road.

I need to restore order. “People! People, listen up!” I clang a bent soup spoon across the side of my smeared water glass. “We’re gathered here to discuss the business at hand. Namely, the direction of Anthracite Tonite.” I drop the spoon atop the table. “Me and Vick Banzler have already made great strides this evening, choosing a sidewinder as our snake of choice for the celebrity live reads.”

“Could you go over that once again please, chief?” Wendy Taveras asks.

“Okay.” I make sure everyone has quieted down before proceeding.

Reading a Commercial and Living to Tell About It

I patiently explain to the assembled crowd how every guest celebrity appearing on Anthracite Tonite will be required to do their own live reads of commercial announcements. If they flub up at any point along the way, they will have to deal with the snake. It fits in with my “Game Shows with Consequences” mantra. We give game show contestants way too much leeway. “They need to start sweating if they blow an answer of something like that.” I then bring up the part about the Vegas casinos; everyone has to cough up money in order to win something.

Getting into the Weeds with Snakes

“I don’t know,” Wendy cautions. “If you want to involve a snake, why can’t you do it with a garden snake?”

“You mean a garter snake, Ms. Taveras!” Vick Banzler, the Graphite County DA, snaps to attention. “I can’t tolerate people referring to them as garden snakes. It’s a ‘garter’ snake. And no, Wendy, to answer your question, a nonpoisonous reptile will not carry the gut-wrenching drama of a fully engaged pit viper ready to discharge. Do you realize the adrenaline this is going to produce – not only in our celebrity guests, but also our audience? People are going to be glued to this show, positively glued to it, I tell you!”

“Well what about the people who have to work on the set?” Inez Unkley queries. “I’m handling hair and makeup. It sounds like everyone’s going to be sweating up a storm. This is going to become a sauna of doom.”

“’A sauna of doom’,” Vick Banzler purrs. “I love it. That has quite a foreboding, yet voluptuous ring to it.”

“I get verklempt when I think of the groundbreaking aspects of this talk show,” I am humble yet defiant. “Once we launch, it will be the bellwether for television in the future. No longer a passive experience; this is going to manufacture adrenaline and leave the pretenders in the dust. Me and everyone in the room this evening, we’re all on the precipice of greatness.”

It Should Never Encroach on Your Coconut Cream Pie

Tony, our overworked waiter and the Director of Catering and Craft Services for Anthracite Tonite, slides a lopsided slice of coconut cream pie on the messy table before me. “Mr. Crimpanfortis,” he says, “management wanted me to inform you that you left the top down on your convertible and your interior is filling up with snow. Are you aware of that, sir?” He draws away from the table, barely straightening up. “And there’s also the matter of your unpaid account.”

I salivate over the jagged slice of coconut cream pie, then glance furtively at my watch. Reality sinks in. I get a sinking feeling, knowing that the Silt Ridge Midnight News is next.

“Can I have this to go Tony?” They all look at me. “What?” I shrug at them as I slide from the booth. “I need to use the men’s room.”