and Jason, "the Chef"
A Quick History of Creepfest. Also, How Jason's Salsa-drenched Gas Station Pickle Mash Convinced Us We Could Be on TV.
For the first time, Vince and I were in agreement about the show. Even Jason seemed to be happy, and he was never pleased about anything he helped create. We all sat at Al's that one Spring night almost a decade ago, where we had proclaimed over burgers: "Finally, Yes! -- Creepfest is ready for the masses!"
We'd only been doing it a year, but it had felt like ten. Really, there were just a handful of episodes, but each one had been an egg. There was always a lot of consideration, and more fine tuning went into one show than the last as we got better and more driven. Also, we had jobs, which were a drag and got in the way.
|The beer of choice back then. We|
called it "candy".
We didn't feel that bad, though. Like I said, it was all for shits-and-rocks. One thing we found, though, is that even without that drunk, late-night impulse, the idea of doing a monster show was pretty sexy, and a superior distraction from our day jobs.
So there we were, pressing on with it, and each time getting better. It was an early choice to scrub all three of us on camera, and just knock it down to me and Vince as the primary hosts, since we were the greatest opposites -- me being practical and reserved, and him being irascible and take-charge. Jason would be on the show also, but only once-or-twice an episode, which his timid ego didn't mind -- and really, he had a Gremlins-like aversion to bright lights and cameras, anyway.
Known as "The Chef", Jason would whip up dishes that had something to do with the movie we were hosting; of course, the ongoing joke was that Chef was really lazy, and his grand, promised entrees would turn into flimsy, gross-out gruel. I think for our Christmas episode ("Silent Night, Deadly Night"), he had boasted plump hot wings and cranberry sauce, but had delivered frozen hot dogs drenched in mayonnaise.
In the year to come, Creepfest would overwhelm our lives. Always, we were planning new episodes, hunting for oddball knick-knacks we could pepper the set with, and running all over town to shoot cut-away sketch segments that would goof on the movies. And always...always dodging. Dodging classes at school, bosses at jobs...anything that wasn't Creepfest, we didn't want.
Jason and I had no idea Vince had put the tapes into circulation until we found out by accident at a party, where everyone started coming up to us and quoting lines. We had no idea what they were talking about, until we found them watching it in the living room!
Right there on Alex Justinger's big screen sat our dirty mugs, the high definition really working its magic on the beads of sweat pouring down our foreheads thanks to the unforgiving Alabama humidity. This was enough to send Jason running for the nearest toilet and me right up to Vince, who was lounging on the porch, trying to talk his way into some silver-haired artsy chick's pants.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"They love it! Didn't I tell you they'd love it?"
"You never told me anything. Jason's blowing into a paper bag!"
Vince rolled his eyes at this. Poor Jason: no respect from this guy!
I was getting so flummoxed: "We all agreed we're not ready to show it to anyone! We've still got a ton of stuff to work on -- the writing, our delivery. What about the set?. It STILL looks like we're sitting on Jason's back porch and trying not to get his parents' things dirty."
"I like the set." Vince was so calm. No matter how hairy things ever got, he stayed Hannibal Lecter-calm. "They love the set, they love it all! Don't you hear em' laughing? We're gonna get laid."
What could I say? Vince rarely fried my blood like this.
This was when Vince pulled his favorite grab-and-go snack out of his pocket, a Pickle-in-a-Pouch. "Now come on. Keep calm and have a pickle."
"I don't want a pickle, thanks."
"Come on!" He tore up the resealable package like a cave monkey. God, I can still smell that sour juice dripping on his hands as he broke the shaft apart. "Break a pickle with me."
"It's a peace pipe, come on."
"I don't want it."
"You'll take it and you'll like it." But he pressed on, shoving the pickle into my face as I batted my head away. The artsy chick, to my surprise, hadn't run away with her nose pinched, but cackled with laughter; I guess she thought this was some shtick. Vince smiled: "Why don't you put the pickle in your mouth and settle down?"
"Get your pickle away from me!"
Vince relented. He had a great sense of timing -- when to kill a gag, and when to take it further. So he stopped pestering me and retracted the half-pickle. Then, he swallowed it whole like a Coney Island gypsy. In fact, I noticed at that point, like a carnival sword swallower, he had a captive audience around him...and me. Before, I was too perturbed by the rank gas station pickle hanging in my face to observe, but now I saw that the silver-haired artsy chick wasn't the only one amused by the charade. All the party people were ganging in on us, forming an impromptu theater in the round, howling with laughter.
I shrunk. Most of them I knew from classes at UAB. They had never really noticed me before, or my strained interplay with Vince -- where he'd poke holes in my self-fortitude. I wanted to hit the guy. Never before had he amplified me like this in public. ...But slowly, I was feeling good about it all. This was the way we acted on the show. People had obviously seen it, and were familiar with it enough by now to go along with us. Vince was right: they had loved it! He was just beginning to flash his Jack Nicholson smile at me -- as if showing he had been proved right -- when Jason appeared on the porch.
I saw he had bayed his anxiety for the moment. But with Vince around, you were never comfortable too long. So Vince decided to take the other half of the pickle, and toss it over the heads of our dear audience to the Chef, who caught it alertly.
Vince said, "Hey Chef, nice pickle, but you promised Huevos Rancheros!"
Jason stiffed up as he held the brittle pickle hard enough to mash it into a gooey paste. This was when somebody next to him squeezed a glob of salsa right on the mash, and the laughter lifted high into the night at the conclusion of our makeshift live show.
We had to do some pretty heavy tap-dancing to get Jason on board. Of course Jason pulled the same argument we knew he would all along: "It was all just for fun. We're makin' movies in the backyard, like a bunch a' kids!"
He griped like this for an hour, barely taking a break long enough to reach down for a bite of his cheeseburger.
We sat on the patio at Al's after Alex's throw-down. Around us the after hours crowd stumbled in from their night clubs and house parties. Jason pointed to them and made a good point: "Who's gonna watch us on TV at night? Everyone's here."
"Then we do it for the ones who can't be here," Vince said. "We do it for that lonely kid at home who doesn't have a car, whose parents won't buy him one to go out and cruise the town in.
'We do it for that lonely kid at home who doesn't have a girlfriend.
'We do it for that lonely kid who can't even buy a porno cuz his parents are so in on his life that they check under his mattress every time he's at Wednesday night church, and the only chance he even has to see a boob is when he surfs late night TV while they're sleeping.
'Jason, let's give him that boob. 'Matter of fact, let's give him two!"
"He's right, Jason," I added. "Creepfest can do that for him."
Well, Vince may have had passion, but I had known Jason longer. He was never one you could bait with mission statements. So I tried simple math. I told him it was a marvel that Vince could put two Creepfest tapes into the fray -- passing one to somebody in class and the other to a co-worker at Blockbuster -- and within a week the tapes had multiplied so much within the town that the latest generations were like copies of the Phoebe Cates pool scene from "Fast Times" that had been watched too much by Vince's hypothetical "lonely kid". I told him it was something we had to move on.
Jason settled back in his seat, and took a long sip of Coke; if Creepfest went South, he could blame his dim judgement on a sugar rush.
So this brings you up to date. See us standing there in the parking lot of Al's, celebrating in the street light. Hear our cries of declaration -- that we'll take this town by the airwaves and submit it to our will.
But sadly, this will all be short-lived, because Jason does bring up a good point: for Creepfest, the audience is niche, and those TV Money People are not in on the joke.
A Hard Dose of the Ole Reality
What was great about Creepfest is that it was fun to make, people loved it, and it didn't cost any moo-lah. We knew a lot of kids from UAB who were dropping whole paychecks on making movies. But for us, well...
First, there was the set, which we didn't rent, 'cuz we had Jason's back deck. His parents never minded us making a lot of noise, and his dad, Gordon, would sometimes cook us steak before shows and regale us with stories of the '70s.
|The things we do for free|
All told -- for each show -- we were likely to spend more of our precious greenbacks on beer and junk snacks than anything else.
Of course, there was a grim downside to this shoestring mentality: when money never enters your mind, you're astonished when it's suddenly forced to. Like when this fat guy at a cable access station reclined back and wiped the potato chip grease off his mouth long enough to tell us it was gonna be $250 for thirty minutes of time. And we needed 2 HOURS! We thought this figure was grossly inflated. Fortunately, this was one of two local cable stations in town, so we went to the other one, only to have another fat guy tell us he was getting top dollar from Mountain Spring High School to re-broadcast their Varsity football games, and we'd have to better their offer with a thousand dollars and one cent...for FIFTEEN MINUTES!
|Your typical cable access station manager.|
So there we were, where you can see us at the beginning of the summer. See that school is out, and Creepfest Fame is on our minds. But all we can do is work. If we don't hear back from the TV Money People soon, then we're left with no choice but to pool our paychecks, and crawl back to the fat man with the potato chips.
Jason and Vince stuck with their usual jobs at J. Crew and Blockbuster, respectively, where they begged bosses to amp up their hours. As for myself: a professor at UAB hooked me up with a job at WKEN, the TV station. The job wasn't so bad, but the professor said I'd be earning "not much money, but a king's ransom in experience!" -- so that really sucked. Now, I know what you're saying, and Vince said the same thing -- over and over again:
"Ya retard! Don't you get it? You're on the inside. You're connected now at the TV station..."
And I'll tell you what I told him: it's not that simple.
Well, what they did was stick me in this hot storage closet in the basement, where I would stay the whole day. There was even a dank little kitchen with a Coleman camp stove and mini fridge so I wouldn't bombard the break room of the front office with my roach killer scent. Nope, a part of the inner circle I was not. 'Matter of fact, I was more likely to run into a mutated, comic book Cockroach Man at the TV station than anyone who could get Creepfest on the air.
I was made the "Ingest Operator" for the five, six and ten o'clock news. What is this? Well, if you've ever watched the news, and that dense anchor with the fake hair and blinding tooth job talks over video footage of something like a plane crash, or he leads into a packaged story by a reporter, I'm the guy putting all those three-quarter inch tapes into the machine so they have something to roll. It was a pretty easy job, and I liked it okay. It's just I was like Quasimodo, all alone down there. I just needed a gargoyle to talk to.
Creepfest has its Night in the Sun. Also, we meet Eric Paradise, the Ghost Boy, and embarrass some high-power people
I need to be very careful in the way I spell things out from this point on. See, some investigations are still pending, and not all the guilty parties have been identified. But I can speak as to mine and Vince's involvement, as we've been cleared of any wrong-doing, and the authorities agree with us that the dickheads had it coming. I probably shouldn't be telling you any of this, but in fact the story of Creepfest can't be told without mention of how we came to war with Candidate Sue McClusky, her rabbel of Secret Police goons, and pretty much the whole whitebread, affluent community of Mountain Spring.
So, oh well, here we go.
And now, you're up to date with the situation we were in, which brings me at last to tell you about the moment when Creepfest finally got its night in the sun, and hit the signal of the Greater Metropolitan area and its outlying 'burbs. And I have to say it was all thanks to Vince, who had heard me tell him "No" so many times he was getting sick of it. So, in the spirit of that fateful night...
LET'S GO LIVE NOW TO STATION W-K-E-N, WHERE THE BROADCAST LEGEND CREEPFEST IS ABOUT TO BE BORN, AND WILL SIGNIFICANTLY CRASH A REPUTATION OR TWO ALONG THE WAY!
HERE'S ONE OF THOSE SOON-TO-BE-DISGRACED DIRT BAGS right now: "W-K-E-N Live at Ten" News Anchor Rich DeMure, finely inspecting all his abhorrently botoxed facial features in the desk-stand mirror of his office.
Across from his desk sits a very important person, Station Manager Annetta Graves. Usually tempered, she seems anxious tonight...
"I couldn't make it any clearer to you if I spelled it out, Rich" she pleads. "Ask McClusky the scripted questions only!"
DeMure scoffs, "C'mon! This is a very important night for the candidate. We need to make her look good."
"A stylist makes her look good. We are objective journalists."
DeMure waves her off as he runs the lint brush over his coat. "I'm a professional, please! But I care deeply about this issue, and I want to make sure an audience of two million people get the right idea! Plus, just look at her..."
The amorous anchor drops all his grooming accessories and looks to the television atop his wet bar, where the linebacker frame of Candidate Sue McClusky is aglow in her own campaign commercial. DeMure is ever-so-enchanted. "She doesn't need my support, Annetta. Just look at those lush lips, movie-star hair... I just love a woman in a pants suit..."
What can she do, fire her top news anchor three minutes to air? He's a pig-headed prima donna, sure, but oh well -- her options are bupkis. So she just rolls her eyes and leaves the office. Rich DeMure doesn't even notice she's gone as he takes one more hygienic leap and goes for a gulp of Cool Mint Listerine.
|"The Ghost Boy" passed this photo|
around the office after his cruise.
(he asked a Korean couple on the
boat to take it for him because he was
"Thanks!" DeMure says, relieved. "I needed that."
But after The DeMure catches his breath and the crisis is forgotten, he steadies himself, and is confused to find the Ghost Boy still standing there! How dare he?! A rich asshole spits mouthwash in your coffee, and you HAVE THE NERVE to stand there with your eyes bugged out in contempt?
"What's your problem?" the appropriately pissed-off pundit yells. "You a fuckin' fink? You ride the short bus as a kid or somethin'?"
(Just toss him, Rich; he's a used Kleenex.)
And The DeMure does exactly that, pushing him aside and storming off to the studio. (I guess he's never seen a celebrity before.)
Lucky for him, the secretary is talking on the phone with her favorite heavy metal show playing behind her, and she doesn't care to look up. "Can I help you?" she breathes.
|Crack security at WKEN|
Without hesitation, the secretary pushes a button and the door leading toward the newsroom buzzes open. "Public records room, third door on the left."
"Why thank you." He giddy-ups through the door, now in full Vince stride: wide, loose and on the look-out.
THE GHOST BOY ENTERS THE CONTROL ROOM and, per regular, goes unnoticed by everyone. He doesn't take offense, though, because these folks in the control room are so burnt out by their routine jobs that a dump truck of A-bombs and ice cream could ride through without alarm. The Ghost Boy takes a seat at his narrow work space in back of the room just as the broadcast begins and the news theme attacks:
"THIS is the Nighttime News!" Proclaims the taped announcer. "With W-K-E-N Live at Ten News Anchor Rich DeMure!"
He watches as the director down in front lazily cues up tape and pushes buttons: "Cue VTR-1; ROll VTR-1..." she says. And on and on -- all while she reads the latest "Cosmo". The Ghost Boy shrugs his drowsiness off and takes a seat at his work space, thinking of that rich asshole on the monitor before him who denied him his all-important coffee.
"YOU WORK MUCH THIS WEEK?" I ask Jason.
"No, not a lot," he says on the other end. Behind him I can hear the hum of soft retail muzak. "They're bringing in all these high school kids cuz they work cheaper. Fifteen-year old bastards."
I switch the phone to my other ear as I change tapes robotically. I wipe some sweat away. The Injest department/Storage Room B2 always gets hotter in the first few minutes of a show. The "A" Block is where all the top news is featured, and for ten minutes my arms work like an octopus, ejecting tapes faster than I can put them in -- all to keep pace with the show. Somewhere upstairs is "the booth", where the powers-that-be cue the roll from my machines, and some anonymous finger types the captions to match the video. It may all be slick, pressure-cooking work, but it's only taken me a couple weeks to get the flow; now, I'm so good that I usually talk on the phone, just to ease the boredom.
"Keep at it," I tell him. "Between the three of us, we could probably get a show on the air by August."
"With all my bills to pay? Not likely." Jason is so negative I can hear his actual spirit breaking.
"Well, just cancel one of your Internet porn accounts, and that's an extra hundred a month!" I jest, but I don't hear him laughing.
Just then, I hear the door behind all the cardboard boxes of Christmas decorations squeak open, which sets me off because no one besides me ever comes down here except the pest control guy.
"Hello?" I ask to an empty room. ...But there's nothing... "Hello?" I say again.
Jason senses danger on the other end: "Everything okay?"
I pause as I hear Rich DeMure on the monitor next to me end the "A" Block and take the show to a commercial; and then everything is silent. Suddenly, from behind the boxes in front of me, emerges a life-size plastic Santa Claus, humping his way into the air and being ravished by some unseen presence around the corner. "Ho, Ho, Hooooooo!!!!" He orgasms. The unseen entity behind him -- the voice of the Santa -- then slowly reveals himself.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I say to Vince.
Vince drops the Santa to the ground. "Just thought I'd check out some of the broads in broadcasting."
"Mike, Mike?" Jason exclaims over the receiver. "You alright?"
I hang up the phone. "They let you in the building?"
"Yeah, I made out with the receptionist." Vince throws his Jansport down on a nearby desk. It doesn't occur to me that Vince never carries a lot of stuff around, and I've never seen him with a backpack before. "I just wanted to see where you work. It's nice."
"Thanks," I say. "Look, I'm in the middle of a show. Just hang out over there. We'll go eat after."
"You got it," Vince says cooly. But of course, he immediately breaks the space I bubbled him into, and sidles up next to me where my neat, organized shelf of tapes lays in front of the machines.
"Don't touch!" I throw my arm at his waste like I'm a make-shift turn-style. "These are the show tapes. They have to be in a certain order according to when I ingest them."
"You're gonna eat all those?" Vince smiles.
"No, you put them in the machines so they can
cue em' up to play."
"So they have no idea what the tapes are they're cuing up? It's all on you to make sure they're the right ones?"
"You got it," I say proudly. It's pretty much the only thing about my job I am proud of.
"That's gotta be stressful," Vince says. "Once at Blockbuster I put a porno tape in a 'Veggie Tales' box."
"Blockbuster doesn't rent out porno."
"Yeah, it was from own private collection. Oops."
I shrug the sick puppy off just as I hear the News Theme attack over the monitor. I get back into my position, hunched in front of the machines and waiting for my cues. "The show's back on," I say. "Just stand in that corner over there and don't touch anything."
Vince silently complies and backs up a couple feet.
I go to work, feeding the tapes in just a few seconds before they're rolled. "So what are you really doing here, Vince?"
"Honestly, I wanted to see how much it really costs to buy some time on this station."
"You're kidding. This station's a network affiliate. They charge through the nose." I feed a tape in. "Plus they wouldn't let 'Creepfest' play here anyway."
"And why is that?"
"It's a prestigious outfit with big advertisers. I told you this, man: the days of local TV stations making late night monster shows are over. They died with Ghoulardi."
"Well anybody can buy time, so what's the harm in looking into it?" Vince pulls a crumpled-up sheet of paper out of his pants and scans over it. "Like this 'Sue McClusky'. Looks like she bought a whole lotta time."
I'm so alarmed with the sight of the paper that I almost miss a cue. "Where'd you get that?"
"What's got your panties in a twist? It's public information."
"Yeah, but you're not supposed to take it. It's station property!"
I reach for it, but Vince smugly pulls back like I'm a cat going for a toy. "I'm givin' it back on my way out. It says here she bought two hours today alone."
I settle back to my perch, drafting a mental note to make sure I escort him out of this place like he's Snake Plisken. "Tonight's a big night for the candidate," I say. "We're doing a story on her followed by a remote interview. Then she's bought all this time after the show to address the voters directly." At this, I look down to my long row of tapes and pick up the one at the very end marked 'Sue McClusky: the Sue McClusky story'. I show it to Vince. "You know how much this tape costs to play on this station?"
"According to this paper, more than my pop owes the sharks."
"In other words, more than we could afford to pay -- and that's even if they'd agree to put us on in the first place. See, it ain't cable access. They don't have to take our money."
"Okay, I get ya, I get ya." Vince leans against the wall, depressed.
Just then, I hear Rich DeMure on the monitor, coming out of a tape and preparing to take the show to another commercial: "...and authorities say the virus will mean certain death within twenty-four hours. Well, next on W-K-E-N Live at Ten, my exclusive interview with Mayoral Candidate Sue McClusky....I'm getting goosebumps.... Don't go anywhere." (This last part almost sounds like a threat to the viewers.)
I relax at my post and turn to Vince. "You want some coffee while we're at break?"
"You have time to run to the break room?"
"No, I have a pot here. You just have to run it off a battery; if you plug it into the wall outlet, the lights blow out."
"Yeah! I'll take a cup a' Joe."
(Here, I made the biggest mistake. Jesus! How could I have been so stupid? At that moment, in mid-commercial, I left the machines and the tapes in front of them. I went to the kitchen, and looking back now, I know that's when he did it. Vince took a tape out of the Jansport backpack I had never seen him carry before, and quietly exchanged it with one from my stack.)
NOW LOOK AT THIS RICH ASSHOLE BEHIND HIS rich asshole desk. The Ghost Boy is so appalled, watching from the control room as the anchor prepares himself like he's going to the prom. There's not an inch of this guy that hasn't been peeled, plucked, or powdered, and he's got a team of stylists still working on him, crowded around his anchor desk like HE'S the one being elected.
"How much time?!" He barks at the director in the booth.
The director pushes the button for the intercom. "Thirty seconds." The finger comes off the button. "You smug prick," she mutters.
"I better not have that goddamn caption guy spell my name wrong on the Chyron again. You hear me in the booth?" He barks. "It's DeMURE! Not DeMoore! You do that, or remember there's a million people in this town that can spell it right."
But no one in the booth cares to take a note of that. The rich asshole is white noise on the monitor.
"THIS GUY'S A REAL PRICK," Vince says about the anchor as he watches him at commercial. The team of stylists still surrounds him vigorously, even as the ten-second countdown begins.
"Never met the guy." I come back to the machine bank with two cups of coffee. I hand Vince his.
"People'd rather watch this guy than us?" Vince scoffs. "What's the world coming to?"
I put my coffee down and stand at the ready. The countdown reaches its last three seconds, and the stylists clear out just as the feed goes live once more.
"Welcome back," he leads in, and the caption comes on below his name: "Rich DeMure"...
He continues: "Much has been said about Candidate Sue McClusky. She has been described as brash, bold, and beautiful. But who is the real Sue McClusky? Well tonight, I hope to find that out...."
Here, I take the next tape off the stack and routinely feed it to the machine.
DeMure goes on: "As a civic leader, Sue McClusky has worked tirelessly for years, and oftentimes right alongside the voters -- both rich and poor -- to make this city a better place. In this tape, for example, you can see her meeting with some of her constituents at a local ghetto recently..."
This is when the powers-that-be upstairs roll the tape, and it takes me a second to process what I see over the monitor:
"Wait a second," I think out loud.
"You can see Sue McClusky is a candidate who likes to get her hands dirty..." DeMure's voice presses on. Has he not noticed yet?
"That's not the tape!" I yell to Vince. "It's the wrong one!"
"So where's the right one?" Vince offers.
"I'm looking, I'm looking!" I say as I frantically search. "Even if I can find the right tape, I can't override the booth."
UPSTAIRS, THE GHOST BOY WATCHES THE NEWSCAST GO SOUTH before him. Not too surprisingly, no one in the control booth has noticed. The director continues to read "Cosmo"; everyone else is resigned to clock-watching the end of their shifts. He observes the rich asshole in his natural habitat, beyond the glass. Even he is oblivious to the train wreck he is now spearheading before his millions of adoring fans:
"Here you can see Sue McClusky meeting with one of these poor voters, promising she will do what she can to improve his inner city plight."
IN HER OFFICE, FINISHING UP SOME LATE NIGHT paper work, Annetta Graves happens to glance up to find some zoo special on her television. Did she change the channel and forget about it? No! She's watching her station. The WKEN logo is right there!
As panicked as I am at that moment two floors below, who can prepare one for the wrath of Station Manager Annetta Graves? She picks up the red phone to the control booth.
THE GHOST BOY SITS QUIETLY, reserved in all his enthusiasm, as the phone rings and the director takes her hand off the "Cosmo" long enough to answer.
What he hears is a frantic voice on the other end, nearly loud enough to shatter the glass between the booth and the studio. It is, in fact, so loud that Rich DeMure can hear what the problem is through his ear piece. He breezily checks the monitor that is planted in the desk below him, and sees a rhinoceros by the apparent name of "Sue McClusky" just GIVING IT to an apparent tax-payer.
All the Ghost Boy needs is popcorn as he watches the director drop the phone in terror and quickly dismiss the tape with the push of a button. The screen cuts back to a speechless Rich DeMure, caught dead-on like a deer with his pants down.
And now, the Ghost Boy, thinking about his coffee spiked with used mouthwash and the rich asshole responsible for it, punches a few buttons on the keyboard in front of him...
DOWNSTAIRS, I HOLD MY HEAD IN MY HANDS, knowing that my short-lived career as an injest operator is deep in the cold, cold ground. On the monitor, I can hear that my mistake has finally been realized:
"Folks, our apologies," the anchor says.
I look up, and see the man behind the desk attempting to shake his shame and move on with things. But that's when the caption flashes on the screen below him:
|"That was obviously NOT the tape of our Candidate meeting with voters..."|
"What the hell?" I say.
Vince laughs behind me. "That the guy's name?"
"No," I say, totally perplexed. "It's not."
On the screen, the anchor changes tactics: "Um, let's move on with our show, shall we? We actually have Candidate Sue McClusky with us tonight, live via our remote hook-up."
The screen splits, and the Candidate appears on the other half, looking appropriately appalled.
"Sue, I apologize for that error. I assure you it was not my fault." I could swear to God Rich DeMure was looking through that screen directly at me.
"It's...alright, Rich. Don't, um, worry about it." McClusky steadies herself in her seat. Clearly, it isn't alright, but the professionals move on.
"Sue," Rich proceeds, "I'd like to talk about your platform to assist the homeless."
Sue: "My platform consists of five simple points, Richard. Number one, I believe in closing down several downtown homeless shelters. They are simply too expensive to run. Now, I know this may seem excessive, but it creates the perception within the homeless community that we are accepting the problem rather than correcting it, giving them something to run to rather than to run from-- wait, what's happening now?"
Now, McClusky has obviously looked to the left of her camera, and seen what it reads on the monitor -- what is being piped out to all WKEN viewers:
"That supposed to happen?" Vince says.
"No," I say. Actually I'm a little relieved right now. Even though I'm sure I'll still be fired, this is no longer all on me. "Someone in the booth's flipped."
NOW, THE GHOST BOY TYPES "My Impulses Come from Satan" and presses 'enter', sending the candidate's message, via subtitle, into the ether.
He's hardly surprised it takes the director so long to realize he is the culprit. Down in front, she turns to him. "Don't type another thing. You're fired!"
"I'm sorry, man," he finally speaks. "My impulses come from Satan."
"Get out of your chair and get out of this booth!"
"No problem, man," the Ghost Boy says. "Just let me type my resignation letter." He puts his fingers back to the keyboard and types one last message, just as Rich DeMure is wrapping up his interview with the candidate due to "technical difficulties":
MY MOUTH IS WIDE OPEN and still trying to process what I'm seeing. Behind me, I can hear a non-stop, keeled-over cackling, like Vince is watching a hobo slip in shit. Hell, I even begin to crack a smile, too -- now that I know someone in the booth shares the blame for tonight's fiasco.
But then, my half-smile dissipates, as Rich DeMure gets over the phony b-roll and the defaming subtitles to take the show off the air:
"Ladies and gentlemen, obviously we have had many technical problems with our show tonight.... (he struggles to speak)..."I'm Rich Manure--- DeMURE... I will be back tomorrow, right after I rape those bastards responsible."
And the screen goes dark.
"This is priceless!" Vince howls. "Now this is good TV."
I turn to him calmly. "Vince," I say, "listen to me very carefully. Did you change that tape?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did you take the tape of Sue McClusky meeting with poor voters and trade it with the one of those rhinos fucking?"
He is silent, which I take to mean 'yes'.
"Do you know what is happening right now? That pissed-off man you just saw on the TV is on his way down here to fire me! It's all thanks to you--"
But I'm cut off right there with the sound of the door squeaking open for the second time tonight by someone other than myself or the bug guy.
Thinking quickly, Vince whispers to me, "Just hide, then!"
Without another word, Vince pushes me into a back corner of the room, behind a bunch of boxes marked "'90-'91 Expense Reports". From my hidden post, I can hear the stomping of Rich DeMure down the stairs, and then his inflamed voice.
"You!" He belts to Vince. "Ingest Boy!"
"Hey," I hear Vince say in his soothed, breezy voice. "You're that TV star, Rich Manure. We never met before; I put the tapes in the machine here, or whatever."
Before Vince can be a wise-ass anymore, DeMure takes him by the collar and kicks him -- actually kicks him on the ass! -- up the stairs and out of the room.
THE GHOST BOY HAS BEEN FIRED on the spot. Like all others he has seen be laid off at this place before, security is now supposed to appear and escort him off the premises. Problem is, there is no security this time of night, and everyone in the station is too busy dealing with the present fiasco -- answering angry phone calls from viewers and dodging the FCC -- that he has fallen by the wayside, and it doesn't appear anyone even knows he is partly responsible. This is a benefit of being a Ghost Boy.
And just as no one is prone to seeing a ghost, it is why he stands alone in Rich DeMure's office, unnoticed by the whole panicked lot of the night staff in the newsroom outside. Here, he takes a big glob of mouthwash, swishes it around in his chompers for a good thirty seconds -- like it says in the commercials, to adequately fight all the Gingivitis and gum decay -- and then spits it all back into The DeMure's "World's Greatest Newsman" coffee mug.
It is just then that the door to the basement is slammed open with the battering ram-head of some greasy, curly-haired Italian-looking guy. Rich DeMure follows behind him, his pie hole a tapestry of enraged obscenity: "You will never work in production again, do you hear me? Nor will your kids -- nor will it even be possible for you to have kids! I am prepared to find your wife or girlfriend and make her barren! You have ruined a sweet, sexy woman's reputation today, and I won't have it!"
The Ghost Boy holds the coffee mug in his hand as he saunters out of DeMure's office and continues to watch the show, getting closer and closer to the scene. He stands idly by as DeMure continues to kick the Italian guy's ass, ruffling his tucked-in shirt out of its pants to reveal a Blockbuster Video polo underneath.
At last, this guy makes it to his feet. He faces the anchor, who is catching his breath. The Ghost Boy watches, riveted, as this Italian Stallion reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a pair of dark sunglasses. He flips them open, and tucks them snugly over his eyes.
"Well," Vince says, "as Jack Burton always says, have you paid your dues?"
"Yes, sir," the Ghost Boy answers, now drawing the sights of the winded, jarred journalist, "the check is in the mail."
"Who the hell are you?" DeMure asks the Ghost Boy.
"Oh, I'm Eric Paradise, sir. I do the captions." And he hands DeMure the "World's Greatest Newsman" coffee mug, about a split second before the man can register that he is now facing the other half of tonight's "technical difficulties".
This is now more rage than Rich DeMure knows what to do with. He begins to lunge for Eric Paradise, but Paradise is too quick, and he ducks out of his way. In the insanity, DeMure forgets he is holding the coffee mug that has just been handed him, and his sudden arm movements toss all the cold, backwash substance onto his face and suit.
"This is cold!" DeMure freaks. "This isn't coffee. This isn't coffee!"
But Vince and his newfound compatriot -- partner-in-crime -- Eric Paradise are far down the hall, toward the street.
"I ASSURE YOU CANDIDATE McCLUSKY, we had no idea-- Well, we will go on the air this instance with a full retraction-- Then, there is nothing we can do to-- Yes, I understand. Good luck to you."
Annetta Graves hangs up the phone in her office and sits stock-still. Her station -- her career -- has just been cold-cocked, and what can she do now? Sweet Jesus, she needs a drink, or someone to kick in the balls...whichever comes first.
And wouldn't you know it: just then, the door opens and Rich DeMure stumbles in, wiping the cold, flemmy mouthwash off his eyes with a thin paper towel. "Well," he says, "we don't have to worry about that happening no more, Annetta. I fired those punk kids responsible."
"That's wonderful," she says. She can hardly break a sweat or raise her voice. "And now you're fired, Richard."
He stops dead and nearly laughs. "What?"
"You said 'rape' on our newscast."
DeMure is so taken aback he can barely bring words up his throat.
"Also, we have just lost one hundred thousand dollars because a person you humiliated on the air has decided she no longer would like to advertise on this station, effective immediately."
"But that wasn't-- But I didn't-- Is she mad at me?"
And what, now, can DeMure do? Plus, he's pretty sure he tore a disc throwing that Ingest douche out of the building. In tears, he quietly leaves her office.
Annetta thinks: that feels a little better with one problem solved. But now, "What the hell are we gonna do with the next two hours?"
This is when she hears the theme. It comes from the TV on the table next to her which previously bore the image of two rhinos at a Saturday night disco. The theme is introducing some show she has never seen, and just when she was expecting to have dead air for the first time in WKEN's esteemed sixty-two year history.
I hear it too. Even though I'm sure it has been safe for quite some time, it takes me several minutes to come out of my shell-shocked state, and exit my cover from behind the storage boxes. Now, what has made me even more hesitant to move -- more hesitant to come out of shelter and look around -- is the sound of the Creepfest opening title theme coming from the WKEN monitor which was previously airing the newscast.
I sidle up to it, and sure enough there it is on the TV. I slowly pan my eyes from the TV to the ingest machine, where -- yes -- I now see that Vince did not stop messing with my equipment when he threw in the Discovery Channel video. In the deck, I see a tape marked "Creepfest -- Episode 9, 'Last House on the Left'", rolling along.
NOW IN THE NIGHT, across the Greater Metropolitan Area, Creepfest, the monster show, is entering the homes of thousands -- MILLIONS! -- if you stretch even further into the suburbs.
Down the highways and into the subdivisions, the flicker of lights crease the dark dens and bedrooms.
What are people supposed to make of all this? The trusted news anchor Rich DeMure -- whom they have eagerly invited into their homes five nights a week for years -- admits to pleasuring strangers in rest stop facilities, right after the spitfire, no-nonsense, shoe-in Mayoral Candidate Sue McClusky reveals she does the bidding of the devil himself? And now this...this "Creepshow" somethin' or other?
Oh well, they think. And feet recline back in Lazy Boys. Popcorn is popped and sodas are tabbed. In basement dens, middle school boys drop their D & D character sheets and gather 'round the tube. In the dorm rooms of UAB, beer is chugged. Drinking games are made. Everyone watches as Vince and I adorn the screen and introduce the movie; we acknowledge Jason, "The Chef", as he promises his grandiose entree, which will just turn out to be potted meat later on.
And I have to think that somewhere out there, under the broad transmission umbrella of WKEN -- maybe in the endless, roaming tract houses of suburbia, or the black, wandering hills of the rural back-country roads in the outer reaches of our city, is a house, where the hypothetical "lonely kid" Vince spoke of that one night over burgers at Al's, sits alone, enduring some final words of abuse for the day from his mother, coming from somewhere down the hall: "Eugene, get some sleep! You have church first thing tomorrow!"
And with her now retiring to bed, he closes the door to his room and turns on the TV, hoping to see...just, please, Jesus: one solid -- even accidental, and only for a second -- areola. Then, what he finds is our show, and the opening shower scene of "Last House on the Left"...
THE NEWSROOM OF WKEN, usually quiet and modest this time of night, has become damage control central. The cubicles up and down it are full of interns and graveyard shift producers with de facto assignments to work on the morning show, but who are now spending their energy answering phone calls from befuddled viewers and advertisers alike.
"Do you want us to take it off?" an assistant asks Annetta Graves, who downs an aspirin.
"What, and have dead air?" She has made her temporary office close to the newsroom -- in Rich DeMure's old asylum -- where she can see Creepfest trucking along on the TV atop the wet bar, which she hasn't been shy about going up to every now-and-again between angry phone calls from her all-important advertisers.
"You may want to take another aspirin before the next phone call," her assistant says again.
"Why? Who is it?"
"Shit," Annetta says. Cowboys Car Dealerships is her largest advertiser -- next to, of course, Sue McClusky. One bad word from its CEO Rafe Meal would mean putting her station on credit indefinitely. She takes one more little pill, and silently signals for her assistant to patch it in. She takes a deep swallow, and picks up the phone. "Hi, Rafe, how are you this evening?"
"Annette, Good Goddamn, what'd you put on this station here tonight? Looks like a bunch a' cave dwellers talkin' 'bout tits n' ass!"
Annetta shrinks in her seat; just the shrill voice of this hillbilly is enough to drive her cheeks blood-flush. She can almost hear him adjusting his ten-gallon hat over the receiver. Plus, "ANNETTE"? They've known each other for ten years -- mostly over the phone -- but he never could get her name right, the chauvinist dope. "I understand your anger, Rafe. This was an accident, I assure you, and we simply don't have anything to put on in its place--"
"Accident?" Rafe screeches. "You could use that excuse on April Fools' Day, Annette; problem is its early June and I don't see it rainin' outside. Ha!"
What the hell does that mean? Annetta thinks.
"Tell you what. These boys are 'bout the funniest Goddamn sumbitches I ever seen on this station. They're even funnier than those boys who get hit in the nuts with the baseball bats."
Again, she thinks, what the hell does that mean?
"We gotta see more of em', Kewpie doll. I wanna talk to em' at my car dealership first thing Monday morning--"
"Talk to them? Rafe, I don't even know who they are."
"--Make sure they're at my place 8-sharp," Rafe goes on. He hasn't heard a thing she's said. "This is a real deal breaker, Annette-baby. 8 SHARP!"
And the phone goes dead.
Annetta takes a swig of bourbon she swiped from The DeMure's wet bar, where she can see on the TV on top of it that the Creepfest boys are counting down the "Top 5 Bloody Sex Scenes" in horror films.
She shakes her head and puts it down on the desk. So where are you people?
At that moment, Annetta Graves could find Vince right outside, sprinting to his puke-green piece-of-shit Acura with his new-found friend Eric Paradise, previously the Ghost Boy.
"I can't believe you like 'Big Trouble in Little China'!" Paradise says.
"Get in the car, ya mook, we're gonna go meet some friends and celebrate."
As they get in Vince's car, Paradise asks, "What are we celebrating?"
"Cool. Do we get paid?"
Vince turns the key in the ignition. It takes it a couple rolls to start. "Paid and laid."
And at that moment, Annetta Graves could find Jason, fresh off his shift at J. Crew, and more in the dumps than ever. He walks through the empty aisles and dimly-lit alcoves of his neighborhood Best Buy, where he normally comes to cheer himself up. He can't shake the thought of all those fifteen-year-old puberty cases taking his hours, and management not paying him his due respect. Yep, he's more certain than ever that Creepfest will never see the light of day, and the world will just keep spinning out its routine, everyday disappointments.
But this is just when he approaches the TV displays, and what the hell is this?
To be continued...