“You’re never going to wake up,” I said.
He looked at me with steely, cold eyes. And he took another shot of vodka and sucked on a lime.
“It’s my birthday. Let me enjoy myself,” he said and coughed a seed out of his throat.
“Shouldn’t you be awake tomorrow? You’re on call.”
I don’t know why I expected him to listen. No one ever listens. The name’s Chip Baker. I’m a Radio Personality for International Public Radio (IPR) and no one ever listened. Even when my show was called “Thanks 4 Listening” no one seemed to give a damn what I had to say. I don’t know why I thought Ethan, my little cousin—the large, barrel-chested fireman—would listen to me, Radio Personality—small, angular, balding, brooding—C. M. Baker.
My wife didn’t listen to me—may she rest in peace.
“Don’t go on that African Safari,” I told her. She was a photographer for IPR.
“I have to,” she said. “How else will I supply the listening public the images they so need to see.”
How could you argue with that?
And so she went off with a whole crew of sordid misfits (a clergymen, 2 telephone operators and a Zoicterranean Sea Fisherman) and never returned. Some believe they got lost and were swallowed up by the sands of the Sahara; others believe they were in the jungles of South Africa and set up camp there in The Lost City of The Forgotten; I think that’s all nonsense. She got swallowed by a sand leopard or some strange specious of indigenous plant yet to have been discovered by the listening public.
No one ever listened. I just had one of those faces; which is why being in radio didn’t seem to work out for me—perhaps television would have made more sense.
And so I drove Ethan home and he stumbled up to his apartment and sloppily he tripped his way to bed. He had to work at the fire station that following morning. His job was simple: make sure that if there were any fires, he’d call up all the fireman and they’d ride to the rescue. But I knew Ethan more than he knew himself; there wasn’t any chance that fool would wake up!
“Now listen here, Ship.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. She took out a cigarette from her desk drawer and lit it using the dwindling end of her cigar. “You just aren’t getting the ratings we want here.”
Deborah Icon was the CEO and founder of IPR. She was a smart, elderly lady who spent most of her time smoking and passing judgment on those who didn’t. She called me to her office that morning.
“And what ratings are those?” I asked.
“Any at all. You have no ratings because you have no viewers.”
“I’ve been trying to liven things up at the station, like you said,” I said. “So I painted the walls yellow.”
“You know what they say, ‘a well painted room makes a whole difference to the atmosphere.’”
She inhaled her cigarette.
“You know you shouldn’t smoke,” I said. “It’s terrible for you.”
She coughed. “Says who?” she asked.
“Haven’t you been around the last 100 years?”
“I’m 67,” she said. “So, no. And I don’t see how that has anything to do with my smoking. You’re a real foolish man to believe anything like that. I’ve been smoking since I was 11. No wait. Grade-school! 4, then.” ‘
She pulled out from a refrigerator beside her desk a bottle of what appeared to be water.
“Vodka?” she asked.
“I always like to spike my drinks with alcohol. Makes the day fly by. Makes it more bearable.”
“You mean you filled up that whole fridge with bottles of water laced with alcohol?”
“Laced? Of course not.”
“Good. That’d be dangerous.”
“It’s all alcohol.”
I shook my head, disapprovingly.
“Bad idea,” I said.
“Bad idea. Like you thinking that painting your office will give you better ratings?”
“Everyone loves a flashy color. You yourself said I had to add some—what was it?”
“I said you should add some flare or you’ll be fired.”
“I thought you said that I should add some fire and it’ll be flared. But Fire? Flare? Either way, I added both. I lit a few candles, too.”
“I bought candles. They were inexpensive.”
“The candles? They cost a buck 50 each.”
“You need to add flare to the airwaves. You can’t do that by painting the wall and putting up a few candles.”
“Um, I put up more than a few candles. I put up at least a half-a-dozen.”
“It’s just not cutting it, Fillip.”
“So we may be cutting you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re going to be fired.”
“What? Like the candles?”
“No. Like you’re going to be out of a job.”
My mouth fell open.
“I’ll give you my deliberation at the end of the day,” she said while simultaneously taking a drag and drinking her drink.
Well, saying I was upset was an understatement. My whole world was shattering before my very eyes. Everywhere it was ripping at the seams. My lovely wife had, just a few weeks previous, gone and got herself lost in Africa on Safari; my brother decided that he wanted to be the first man on Mars and went up by way of slingshot and vanished; and my sister, Tabatha, took up lion taming and moved to Nebraska. I was losing everyone and everything. Now my job, the only thing I had left, was going to be shot away from me, almost as roughly as Brother Philip was shot off to Mars.
So the next few hours I did everything I could to spice things up. I even bought more candles. But the listeners just weren’t listening and the ratings dropped even more—it went into the negatives, by God! And so, I was summoned mid-afternoon back to Deborah’s office.
“This isn’t fair,” I said. “You said you’d give me until the end of the day. It’s mid-afternoon.”
“Did I? I changed my mind.”
Well, I was desperate. I needed to keep my job. So I did what any desperate Radio Personality would do. I bribed her.
“Maybe this will change your mind,” I said. I placed a candle on her desk; a perfect bribe.
As I set the thing down I knocked a bottle of water all over the desk. I picked up the bottle as fast as I could, getting some liquid on my hand.
“Sorry,” I said.
Deborah livened up when she saw what the candle was. She could careless that I just spilled her bottle everywhere. She was beaming.
“Is this what I think it is?” she asked.
“Yep. A Cigarette Aroma Candle,” I said.
“Smells just like a pack of big ones.” She smiled.
I leaned my head on my wet hand. It smelled oddly like Ethan-the-fire-fighter’s breath did the night before. She wiped the liquid off the candle with her blouse and took the cigarette that was in her mouth to lite the thing. Next thing I knew there was a great flash of light and Deborah was running across the room towards the window. Her blouse and hair were in flames.
“Sabotage!” she yelled and she threw herself out the window. I sat where I was, utterly shocked.
It all happened so fast. First she was smoking and the next thing I knew she was out the window, a ball of flaming hysterics!
“What happened?” her secretary asked, running into the room. Noting that the desk was on fire, he quickly threw open the door of the refrigerator.
“I wouldn’t do that!” I warned. But he wasn’t listening.
And he began pouring bottle by bottle onto the flaming desk. With each bottle, the flames grew and grew.
IPR had been around for a good 50 years. It had just had its anniversary in July. I stood on the curb outside watching the IPR building burn. Watching as it crumbled in on itself.
“Where’s the firemen?” Deborah asked. She was singed and sitting on the opposite side of the street watching her legacy turn to ashes, cradling her broken arm in her breast.
I thought about Ethan and the night before and how he probably wasn’t going to wake up to wake the fireman.
“I don’t know,” I said as the building crumbled more.
“You’re fired,” she said. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“Thanks for listening.”