Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"WPLX-TV"

WPLX-TV is in trouble. We’re almost out of money and are consistently last in the ratings. This morning’s Nielsen overnights ranked us fifth in total viewers, behind the other three networks as well as a painting of some birds at Jeff Martin’s house, who I guess had a big dinner party.

Our 11pm newscast is a revenue black hole. We have two anchors. Don Mason is illiterate and relies on an earpiece connected to Richard Honeydew, who is blind, who has his newspapers transferred to Braille by Susan Table, deaf, who has news radio broadcasts transcribed for her by Don Mason. I tried to explain how inefficient this is to Don with a clear flowchart, but he couldn’t read it and Richard Honeydew was on vacation. Our other anchor is Charlotte Green, who is dyslexic, allergic to water, or a pyromaniac. It’s two of the three. During a get-to-know-everyone game the fire alarm went off before she could tell us which one was a lie.

Our producer, Scott Chalmers, insists on keeping them around because they have what he calls “bangable faces,” which are “pure ratings gold.” Scott is colorblind. Scott wants to be a Hollywood movie producer and acts like one by putting his stamps in the upper-right hand corner of his envelopes. But I guess everyone does that, not just Hollywood movie producers. Oh, he also sleeps with young actresses, promising to cast them in his projects. They don’t realize until it’s too late that his only project is the 11pm newscast and by casting them he means he will plant cocaine on them and call the police so he can break the news and they will have lead roles on the 11pm broadcast. I guess you could call him a sleazy guy. But don't call him that to his face. To his face he likes to be called Sven.

I have been the associate sports producer since I gave up about three years ago. Technically my job is to secure film of high school football games from fourteen year-old electronic media students, but in reality my job is to sit and think about what I’ve done with my life to wind up here. So I made a few mistakes in college, big deal. Slaughtering fifty bald eagles at the Moore Park Fourth of July Celebration is a crime now? No one alerted me. So sue me if I wanted to bring some exotic and fresh meats to the barbecue. I actually did it to impress Rachel Telephone, who told me she was really into slaughtering endangered birds to eat their meat. Turns out Slaughtering Endangered Birds to Eat Their Meat is the name of a horrendous heavy metal band and the act their name signifies repulses Rachel. Lesson learned.

My only respite from this life is my boat on Lake Hopatcon, a man-made water pit the state says is not suitable for swimming or washing cars. They even say that “Lake Hopatcon is so filthy that defecating into it would only be a disservice to the turd.” The more turds they can get in there, they say, the cleaner it gets. But I enjoy nothing more than lying out there on my boat, surrounded by the grunts and wheezes of diseased wildlife, trying to forget about my work life. The sun slowly poisons my skin with UV radiation and it is wonderful.

I was on my boat last weekend and fell asleep in the sun. I thought I died, but unfortunately when I woke up to a mutant frogbird’s forked tongue flicking my face, I realized I was merely alive and roasted. When I came to work this morning everyone was eager to tell me I had a sunburn as if I hadn’t noticed. Perhaps I’ll start pointing out obvious things about them by saying things like, “Someone’s wearing a shirt,” to Charlotte or “Nice cocaine mustache,” to Scott.

“Nice tomato face,” says Scott.

"You look like Rudolph's nose," says Don. I laugh and he gets deathly serious. "I was talking about Eric Robert Rudolph's nose."

We have story meetings at noon and today Scott wants something big. “We need something exciting, something fresh, something the other stations don’t have,” he says. “Our series on the ugliest dead dogs isn’t taking off like I’d hoped. We’re even losing to Cynthia Price’s talk show.” Cynthia Price is a local mime whose talk show confuses the public.

“How about I shoot myself on air?” I suggest. “I’m tired of being unnoticed and underappreciated.”

“No,” says Scott. “Who would tune in for you dying? No one gives a shit about you.”

“He’s right,” says Charlotte. “It would be like watching a moth die.”

“Besides, you look like a roasted pink baby. Who wants to see a baby commit suicide?”

“Not me,” says Don, taking a momentary break from his full rack of baby back ribs to catch his breath. “I only like to see adults commit suicide.”

“Where’d you get that heinous sunburn anyway?” says Scott.

“My boat.”

Scott rubs his soul patch. “A boat…Could we get your boat in the studio?”

“I guess so.”

“Is it fast? How many horsepower?"

“Fifty.”

“Fifty horses? That’s not very many.”

“They’re fifty dead horses.”

“So it doesn’t move at all?”

“Right.”

“Huh. Well then I suppose we’ll blast your boat off of a ramp with rockets.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“We could be a ratings hit.”

He sees how little that impresses me by the aggressive way I don't respond.

“And you can paint a message on the side of the boat for when it shoots across the screen. You could confess your love to whichever unfortunate woman you’ve been masturbating to lately.”

We get the boat into the studio by bribing a dozen of the Lake Hopatcon mutated turtlemen to carry it. To disguise them we put then all in trench coats and mustaches, so they are totally inconspicuous; just twelve private investigators hauling a wooden boat down the freeway.

The leader of the turtlemen, Franklin, negotiates our price – fifty dollars and a garbage bag full of collared greens. Luckily Don had ordered a garbage bag full of collared greens as his side item from the barbecue restaurant.

In the studio Scott builds a ramp out of the anchors’ desk and some chairs. “You’ve destroyed the set,” says the set designer.

“You’ve got to break a set to make a set, baby,” says Scott.

“That doesn’t make sense. And don’t call me baby,” says Richard O’Flannagan, our eighty year-old set designer.

“I’ll be calling you Laverne once this stunt gets us to number one.”

Richard walks away hiding a smile, pleased that after seventy-five years of hoping, someone may finally call him Laverne.

The ramp is built and the boat is in position. Cindy Rockets, our county’s #2 rocket saleswoman/stripper rigs up the rockets. The boat is supposed to launch from the weather greenscreen across the newsdesk and land by crashing through the sports desk. Fine by me. I paint the finishing touches on my message just as Scott counts us down from five.

“Good evening, I’m Don Mason.”

“And I’m Charlotte Green. Welcome to the WPLX 11 o’clock news.”

“We’ve got something special in store for you all tonight. Perhaps you’ve seen the promos running all day or perhaps you will see the magazine ads we purchased for this event that will run in four months, but regardless, it’s happening tonight.”

“That’s right. In an attempt to make more of you watch, we are launching a crappy boat through our studio with rockets. But I guess if you're already watching there's not much else we can do. How are we supposed to get other people to watch?"

"Well, Charlotte," says Don, "if we scream loud enough our voices will travel over to channels four and seven. On three, Charlotte."

One, two, "TURN THE CHANNEL TO FIVE TO SEE A BOAT BLOW UP!" they yell.

"...AND TO SEE A HOT GUY IN A SUIT," adds Don.

Scott stands at the Ratings Meter Robot and gives a thumbs-up as its pointy arrow surges upward. He puts on his sunglasses, a signal that means he's either excited or ready to fuck and we should get out of his way unless we want to be fucked, according to last Wednesday's memorandum.

I watch all of this from behind the sports desk. I feel its cheap fiberboard. I smell its manure odor. I taste blood in my mouth. That's not desk-related. That's cold sore-related.

Charlotte lights the rockets just before Scott screams something about waiting until the end of the broadcast so our advertisers will actually pay us. Sparks rain down from my boat. Scott throws down his headset and tries to diffuse the fuses, but ends up burning his hand and falling into the boat. Don and Charlotte hop inside the boat as well, thinking this a golden opportunity to impress acting agents. They smile for the camera and Charlotte improvises, "Look at all of these catfish."

I know I should get up from the sports desk, what with the rocketboat pointing at me and all, but I don't move. It plays in slow motion. Scott waves for me to get out of the way. Sparks explode from the back of the boat. Cindy Rockets climbs in the boat and begins an extremely unappealing striptease. Don and Charlotte pretend to cast fishing lines. Some more people get inside. Our intern, then some truck drivers, then a few baseball players, Derrick the Vampire, and the cartoon character Beetle Bailey. Maybe they’re here to be a part of our station’s history, or maybe they’re here because they got bad directions to the costume party happening next door.

The rocketboat takes off and soars through the air. It's the most successful thing we've ever done. It hangs under the lights for a second. My message, painted onto the side, flashes right in front of the cameras. "I like mine with lettuce and tomatoes; Heinz 57 and french-fried potatoes," it reads. The fact that that was the best thing I could come up with seals it in my mind. I have to leave this planet.

The rocketboat crashes on top of me, all two thousand pounds plus the combined weight of the WPLX-TV evening news staff. I die instantly, my body turned to a pile of fertilizer for the local news.

Scott looks to Don and Charlotte. A beat of silence. They notice the red camera light is still on.

"Good evening," says Don. "We have breaking news. A local sports news anchor has been found dead in the WPLX-TV studio. Who is to blame? This sinister boat, or you for not tuning in more often?"

I see tonight's ratings in real-time because I am a ghost and can do that. We get a 0.8 Adults 18-55, putting us in fourth place behind the other two newscasts and an infomercial about socks you put on over your shoes to keep your shoes warm.

We do beat WFLG-TV, which is airing a documentary on William Jennings Bryan. That guy just can't catch a break.

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