Click here to read Episode One: Friendly Games.
Episode 2. “Helpline Operator”. Script and Summative Comments [’70s cop drama, 30 min, color]
[Opens with standard montage of sedans, blue and brown, tailfinned and otherwise, gliding over federally-funded blacktop. Then the obligatory shots of people having evenings out; white folks speaking, each to each, in bistros with virgin white tablecloths and deferential brown waitpeople. The opening theme, the jazz-fusion “Horehound’s Groove”, chikka-chikkaing mid-tempo and mid-range as the familiar deadpan voice of TV’s Brock Horehound intones gravelly, secure in his poses as omniscient oracular figure, director, and producer of the series.]
Horehound: There are times when a man has to stand up for what he believes. Sometimes, that willingness to risk your neck gets it cut off though. But no matter. When times get tough, you go inside yourself and make the best of things. I’m not on the force anymore, but I can still do my part. I can still be a concerned citizen.
[IN KEEPING WITH THE FEEL OF THE SERIES, which often is similar to that of a civics class filmstrip, we start off with a slide show presentation. A number of pictures, each spaced out in four-second intervals: a ghetto child, African-American, staring bleakly out of windows streaked with grime that predates the child’s existence; a black and white shot of a row house, windows boarded up as one might expect; a superannuated pick up truck, bumpers rusted to where one can safely say they couldn’t actually bump much of anything without becoming dust, balanced on blocks on a patch of dirt in front of an archetypal sharecropper’s cabin.]
Horehound: This… is the city. Los Angeles, California. A city of material wealth and good times–for some.
[More shots, but this time of people in more felicitous circumstances. A white toddler in a pink dress tonguing what could be her first ice cream cone, her parents beaming toothpaste ad smiles behind her. A tanned, thin boy, smiling much like the parents or the sugar-glutted toddler in the previous shot, capped and gowned and shaking the hand of some anonymous educational authority as he collects his diploma. ]
Horehound: But what about the others, the forgotten ones who don’t know where their next meal is coming from? What about those who linger cold, hungry, forgotten? Those whose pulses flutter in anonymous rooms, what about them?
[A shot of a bedridden female, seventy-five if she’s a day. Her face contorted in apparent anguish, as if cold in spite of the blankets that shroud her desiccated form. This would be her last Christmas. This would be her last Easter. Her relatives would bitch to each other about lugging her highboys and footstools, her sofas and player pianos, down her stairs. The bitching would come sooner than later, and it would linger through many days and nights like the pitter-patter drizzle from a stalled out cold front. There would be fights and recriminations, and the stories from the parents to the children would render her demonic in action, but with a caricaturist’s edge in the manner of cartoon robber barons. A frame featuring a newborn child, resting in a bed of collard greens in an unsullied metal garbage can. I question the veracity of this shot.]
Horehound: When you’ve been on the force as long as I was, you see it all. The pimps, players, and prostitutes.
[Disturbingly feminine in the manner of Gomer Pyle USMC’s Frank Sutton wearing eyeliner in certain of the color episodes of that popular homespun series, the voice of the self-styled Concerned Citizen–as with all these episodes, they are produced and directed by series star Grant Cameron–lilts upward on the “tutes” in prostitutes. To counterpoint his assertion, the viewer is treated to an African-American entrepreneur in a wheelbarrow-red crushed velvet suit, huddling with a pair of non-ethnic pubescents in a street corner’s mistridden twilight.
This frame lingers for a beat or two longer than those which preceded it, as if to call attention to the contrasts that flash out from the cathode glass as if the glass were kaleidoscopic. Black and white. Male and female. Dressed and undressed. Power and whipped. Destroyer and the fruit of his labors. Caretaker and slaves.
I hasten to add here that I do not share the oft-atavistic viewpoints of the oeuvre of Grant Cameron. I find his philandering and his Nixon/Reagan toadyism contemptible. Those who know me, who have learned from me, know that I am a scholar of high repute, with prestigious publications and a record of highest achievement.]
Horehound: You see those who have been abused, and their abusers.
[I would like to add that I am a member in good standing of the Association of University Professors, who is very seriously considering legal action against my former employers. When under the employ of my former university, I was also a trusted member of many a committee.
It had been said that I was in line for a Department Chairmanship if I just stayed the course. Thus, I don’t feel it necessary or even humane to have to justify my political beliefs in this document.]
Horehound: And sometimes, you see strides being made.
[Here a black boy, waiting for a permanent front tooth to come in, smiling gleefully over a bowl of oatmeal in what appears to be an institutional setting, if row tables that stretch to infinity and walls tinted in the familiar foam-green of evacuation shelters are any indication. Undefined are the parameters of the neglect that placed this boy in this situation to begin with.
But a lot of things go unsaid, don’t they?]
Horehound: An interested party on the force suggested that I might get a second chance if I did some community service work, to prove my goodwill toward mankind. After considering a list of options, I settled on working as an incall operator at a Helpline right here in my Silver Lake neighborhood.
[Exterior shot of red-brick one story building, centered in an unwavering expanse of blacktop punctuated by white parking lines. This could be a bomb shelter, a grim joke of a playroom for a Dakotan protestant church, a front for any number of sinister operations. ]
Horehound: The Miracle Cure Helpline is a non-denominational initiative brought forth by concerned parties in the Los Angeles area. It is estimated that over six thousand people call the Helpline weekly. The Helpline has five branch offices that work in concord to respond to manifestations of emotional, mental, or behavioral sickness.
[Here a lingering, almost pornographic, still frame of a telephone. A multi-line job, with a couple of extensions flashing a hold signal and a lone line solidly lit. ]
Horehound: Occasionally, the Helpline works in tandem with the Los Angeles Police Department to remedy the most severe situations, some of which are criminal in nature.
[Two uniforms haul a smacked-up junkie out the front door of a modish split-level. Incredible restraint shown by the series producers here as they resist the temptation to leave the spike in the horseman’s arm.]
Horehound: The director of the Helpline, Sam Stevens, was once a Los Angeles policeman. He knew my situation, and was more than willing to lend a former brother of the badge a helping hand.
[A shot of Horehound here flashing teeth and shaking hands with a short, porcine white man with a distinctly inkwell-black combover.]
Stevens: Brock, old boy! Great to have you aboard!
[Stevens smiling unctuous, in the manner of taxcutting politicos the world over. Yet there’s a certain distraction about his manner.]
[Horehound nods curtly here, as if telling Stevens to cut the bullshit. I know this look, as my experiences in academia caused me to give it to more than a few phonies and malingerers.]
Stevens: You’re going to have to forgive me, but we’re a bit shorthanded today. There’s been a wave of LSD use in this area, and we’re getting a lot more phone calls than we can handle.
[Here Stevens makes a sweeping gesture, intended to encompass all of the phones in the room. Horehound nods in his direction.]
Horehound: You can only do so much. Let me get started-
Stevens: Not so fast, Brock. First I think you should read this pamphlet, if for no other reason than to become familiar with our protocols. It shouldn’t take you too long–then we’ll get you started.
[Stevens hands a chapbook sized pamphlet to Horehound, who sits down at a table and begins what, judging from the upcoming dialogue, appears to be an admirably spontaneous close reading of the text.]
Horehound: The OPM, or Operator’s Procedure Manual, is a document that equips the Helpline tenderfoot with the practical knowledge necessary to provide able and timely assistance to a diverse and unpredictable range of callers.
[In a motion that certainly defies all credibility, Horehound brandishes the front cover of the book to the camera, shamelessly, without any notion of accounting for the fact that there simply is no one in his midst in the shot itself for him to be making this absurd explanation to.
Of course, all of us involved in American Studies both here and abroad understand why jingoists like Grant Cameron–the producer/director/star of this series–insisted upon making these vapid stabs at hyperrealism. They intended their shows as works of social programming, as direct slaps in the faces of those brave souls who dared to attend Woodstock, who dared to participate in a quest for peace, love and enlightenment, who dared to try to do something about the hegemonists and misogynists and nationalists who dominate/d the domestic political scene.
In short, those of us involved in American Studies understand the primacy of our educational mission as deconstructing the power struggle and letting them know, in the words of 80’s punk rock group AV-DV, that we aren’t going to take it anymore! They can cut our funding, but they can’t force us to compromise our educational missions!]
Horehound: The manual provides helpful tips to the reader, tackling many topics that are part and parcel of working the Helpline. With its convenient distillation of personality disorders into simple, easy to understand graphs and charts, the OPM makes it easier for virtually anyone to provide capable Helpline assistance with a minimum of training.
[I would like to add, however, that there is much to be said for the succor of a relationship with a department hospitable to academic pursuits that seek to make sense of the challenges of our culture. For those of you in positions to hire an eager young hand, I am willing and eager to adapt to what any department might ask of me.
I’ve done it before, after all. In ways you can’t imagine.]
Horehound: In some cases, a bare minimum of training. Before I had even read the entire OPM, I received a tap on my shoulder.
[Horehound makes a startled face–hey, your chocolate’s in my peanut butter–and turns around to see Jayne Mansfield minus some of the hard end-of-the-road miles. A dress, clingy and blue like the Pacific on a schoolroom globe. Lips, red and O’Keefian in their suggestiveness.]
Horehound: How can I help you? And what can I call you?
[Our protagonist, as they say, turns on the charm here. His face is almost contorted into the courtly smile of the English Department suck-up, the deferential supplicant who always knew how to wheedle his way into certain “considerations.”]
Gladys: I’m Gladys Collins, and I’ve been on this job for some time. I’ll be your trainer, so to speak, showing you the ropes and helping you get your feet wet.
[I knew this Department toady type only too well. All smiles and backpatting. Kind words to your face, thrusting blades to the meaty part of your back. Oh, sure, he wants you to get what you deserve; a schedule that is somewhat convenient, with classes that don’t meet before dawn in some auxiliary air raid shelter they call a “portable”. But his qualifications always merit that he get first suck at the teat of the Department. And I mean teat literally–our Department Chairperson, a so-called feminist who let her clit drive her like some Seven Habits book.]
Horehound: Well, I’ll say this. You’re certainly a step up from Stevens.
[His smile takes on a more familiar, almost combative, grim edge. His smile is a Just Say No! t-shirt on a sixth grader, or the fixed thousand-yard-stare of housewives with Election Day signs at congested intersections.
His name–the lackey, that’s all you can call him really–is Matthias Carlos. Don’t let the Hispanic surname fool you–he had an Ivy League doctorate and a host of five hundred dollar suits. And he could charm the skin from snakes.]
Gladys: Well, Brock, we all do what we can here. Though I appreciate the flattery.
[Here she smiles at him, coquettish, and I reflexively find myself trying to see if there’s a ring on her finger. Not that a ring is a reliable indicator, if the job interview that procured me my last job is anything to go by.]
Horehound: It’s no flattery. Let’s just say that I appreciate the warmth of your manner, and can see how it might translate into success on the Helpline.
[My first thought when I stepped into the office of [University Name Withheld] Department Chairperson Sarah Clancy-Allinger: she ain’t much to look at. The Streisand nose was almost a deal-killer, even though her body was long, thin, and–if the short skirt and the calf-squeezing thigh-high boots were anything to go by–willing.]
Gladys: Oh, are we talking about the Helpline? I had no idea you were interested in such things.
[Gladys dropping the hankie, so to speak, triggers only more memories of my interview with Sarah.
Sarah set the terms of discourse, as they say, by stretching her legs in the direction of my feet, occasionally deigning to let her spike heel or her soft toe brush against my shin or my calf. She wooed me with all the right words: Deleuze-Guattari, Derrida, Foucault. She spoke with passion about exciting developments in Theory, and in spite of my efforts to remain professional, I could see where the lines were becoming blurred.]
Horehound: I’m very interested in helping. I’m what you might call a concerned citizen.
[We had long since stopped considering the power of discourse or whatever by the time our three hour interview had concluded. Sarah intimated that she felt a powerful professional connection with me, and hinted that connection would lead to me being on a faster track as far as Intradepartmental advancement than some other, lesser lights.
Sarah named names. Priscilla Dock, a retired schoolmarm with a stick up her ass for mechanics and such. Carolyn Brannon, another old bat who taught in t-shirts and always seemed to have some leafy treat lodged between her teeth. And others; the superannuated, the malcontented, those who stood athwart the path of cultural criticism.
When I left the meeting, I assumed that Sarah Clancy-Allinger and I had forged an understanding. She had left me with the impression that I might just be able to slide into an Instructorship that had been vacated at the last minute, telling me that she would, and here I quote, “know more at the meeting.”]
Gladys: Concerned, huh? Well, why don’t you tell me what you’re concerned with in particular?
[I of course played it cool. I didn’t call Sarah before the Pre-Semester Departmental Meeting. Far better, I figured, to just impress her with my acumen and my no-nonsense approach to pedagogy at the meeting.
As a general rule, though, when I’ve played it cool in my life, I’ve miscalculated. I’ve watched grounders trickle through my legs and girls fling themselves into the arms of inferior men, time and again. I should’ve known better.]
Horehound: I’m concerned with the sick, the hungry, the malcontented. I’m concerned with doing the best job here that I can to show….
[Horehound trails off, as if oblivious to having practically talked this woman into his bed. Of course, the home viewer knows why he trailed off. The confrontation of embarrassing facts is not conducive to picking up trainers at telephone helplines, or for that matter conducive to much else.
I know all about the confrontation of embarrassing facts. I certainly don’t need to footnote that, either.]
Gladys: To show what, Brock?
[Horehound just stares in her eyes, bleakly, blankly, and it’s obvious here that he’s not even thinking about Gladys anymore. He’s considering empty cupboards, holsters unmoored by the ballast of revolvers, days stripped bare of purpose, in which each stray moment lingers and becomes part of a body count of moments, stacked against all doors, windows, and vents like malevolent snowdrifts.
I too am familiar with that manner of consideration. I find myself moored to it throughout the entire commercial break.
The commercial comes and goes, and we are treated to the hopeful string progressions, the highway cloverleaf, the water tower, the Hollywood sign. We linger on the impassive red brick building, and soon enough we are back with Horehound, leafing through the pamphlet yet again.
His voice surges forth even as his lips remain still.]
Horehound: Gladys left me to the OPM and my thoughts, and eventually I circulated around the room and listened into some phone calls, with an idea toward understanding the techniques used by the more seasoned veterans on the Miracle Cure Helpline.
[Though the Departmental meeting mentioned above was supposed to start at 9 AM on a Monday, I took it upon myself to arrive at Sarah’s office at 8:30. I wanted to thank her for the opportunity to teach, in whatever capacity I would be able to labor for her. In case the decision hadn’t been made yet, I wanted to stress my credentials. As those who know me can attest, I have performed with distinction any task asked of me.
I wasn’t prepared, however, for the scene that greeted me when Sarah answered my knock on her closed door. Not one coffee cup on her desk, but two. Her face was contorted in mirth, as the bass-plagued “hearty chuckle” of her partner in conversation punctuated her face’s contortions.
I could smell him from where I stood; not a cologne smell, but something more pheromonal. As he stood up in a white suit borrowed from either Thomas Wolfe or Ricardo Montalban, and shook my hand in a way that conveyed something approaching respect. Not because I was anything special, per se, but because he respected me as a person, or a fellow scholar, or as a partner in the same educational enterprise. Sarah was actually the first to speak. She wanted me to meet Matthias Carlos. Matthias Carlos had just agreed to accept an Instructorship. What she left unsaid was my position.
I was to be an adjunct. Not a teacher of Cultural Studies, but instead of something more odious. Composition. Not the subject for which I had specialized in school, or the subject I had interviewed with Sarah to teach. Composition. The ass-end of any school’s educational mission.
I was better off having stayed in Montana, teaching at the technical college. Educational backwater or no, there were advantages. Local trim was cheap and plentiful, and my publications conferred upon me an air of scholarship that couldn’t be present in a mere “adjunct” situation.]
Horehound: After a short period of observation, I was permitted to man a phone. Because of the manpower shortages alluded to earlier by Sam Stevens, I was immediately thrust into the fray. I was to fly solo, and offer what help I could.
[I smiled. I shucked. I jived. I grabbed a top hat and cane, and went Ted Danson Blackface. I staved off unmanly tears.
I told Matthias Carlos that we should observe each other’s classes, and provide constructive criticism to each other. I told him that I was quite interested in reading the article he wrote about the University Student and the Learning Curve, in which he posited that students learn composition at a rate that is independent of what the teacher might suggest. I congratulated Matthias on his impending book deal; a collection of stories to be put out by a University press.
After a few more exchanges of that ilk, Sarah asked me if I could leave the office. Matthias was to make a presentation at the Departmental Meeting, and she wanted to discuss it with him. Unstated but implied was that I would be vestigial, at best, to that discussion.]
Horehound: Not very long passed before the phone rang.
[After being kicked to the curb, as guests on daytime talk shows seem fond of saying, I was left to walk to the meeting. A solitary figure trudging a solitary path on an unfamiliar campus, casting woebegone reflections off all the windows I passed.
Though the walk was but a few minutes long, it provided me with a much-needed opportunity to regroup. To deal with the unfortunate incident that had just happened, and to attempt to refortify myself, to buttress my position and my standing in the department.
Though there was rage, to a degree, on my part, I kept it well-hidden, attempting to use the negative energy to summon forth positive outcomes.]
Horehound: Miracle Cure Helpline. Brock here.
[One wonders if the terseness of that greeting would be countenanced if the MCH or the OPM actually existed.
When I walked into the classroom where the meeting was to be held, I was still licking wounds, so to speak. Nonetheless, I maintained the bearing and the carriage those who know me would expect from me. I wore pressed khaki pants, a shirt of deep indigo, and a whimsical lavender tie. I could feel the eyes of all the women in the room–the neglected who pulse like flowers breezed to and fro; the broken-in, who have been pulled and pushed and stretched beyond recognition; the heartsick, who suck in their stomachs in front of mirrors in a motion as reflexive as it is repulsive and sad–taking hold of me in one place or another place. Some women focused on my body. Others on my “accessories”. Still others, on my eyes.
Women who focus on my eyes can see things about me I dare not tell anyone. I am convinced of this as an essential fact.]
Horehound: What seems to be the trouble?
[After some pause, in which we get Horehound staring pensively, he says this. The implication is clear. In this scene, the caller gets no voice, no face. Horehound might as well be reacting to the plastic of the phone, though given his trademark deadpan mien, it would seem that is what he’s reacting to.]
Horehound: Your voice is very weak! Again, what’s going on?
[Very well, then. I found myself a seat in a homely student desk in the back of the room. There was no way that I was going to put myself out, so to speak. No way that I was going to Teacher’s Pet it up front. No way that I was going to give Matthias and Sarah the satisfaction of watching me raise my hand or take attentive notes in orderly cursive.
I exchanged pleasant smiles with the women on each side of me. One an elderly heifer, who wouldn’t be relevant to any narrative I was the center of. The other, a bit younger, a bit more relevant.]
Horehound: So what exactly happened?
[At first, there were just glances. She would throw me one, I’d give her a couple back. I noticed the blue eye make-up, caked around eyes that were pretty, even soulful, amidst the crows’ feet that framed them. But I felt myself responding to the swell of her breasts–expanded due to a recent bearing of child, it turned out–which pressed against the cheap fabric of her blouse, fabric loosened only slightly by the top three buttons of her blouse remaining defiantly unfastened.
Horehound: Uh huh.
[She knew what those breasts did. They did what they were meant to, what they had always been meant to. Breasts that scored middle-aged erections in high-school English classes from humpbacked teachers. Breasts that were tickets to honor rolls, to valedictions, to Jacuzzi sex at post-grad parties, to daterapes in frat houses, to more high marks from those with gradebooks and so-called power. Breasts that felt hot as embers when they pressed against men on the cramped mass-transit cars of DC, Boston, New York. Breasts that promised love but delivered something far short of it. Breasts that made you come and then stole your wallet as you caught your breath.]
Horehound: Yeah. But that’s not answering the question.
[“The question.” I like girls to be a little younger, a little less obviously housewives with SUV’s and subscriptions to insipid women’s magazines. That said, she was a co-worker. More likely than not, there could be something there.
I was unable to introduce myself to her before the proceedings began. However, I was able to cast more than a couple world-weary glances in her direction, as if to say that here we were, and weren’t we above this all.
She smiled back at me, as if to say yes. Completely, yes.]
Horehound: Uh huh.
[By the first coffee break, I felt emboldened to talk to her. To see if we were just captives to chemistry or pheromones, or if there was something more there.
Myself, I’ve never been quite sure how attraction works. I prefer books to people. I always have. And when I have gone for women, at least those of my own age, I prefer the easy shots. The plain, lumpen gal, who will see that I have a good personality, at least for a while. The halitotic, the limping, the sad-eyed.
Angie was her name. She put sugarcubes in a Styrofoam cup for me, then poured coffee on it. As she handed me the cup, the sleeve of her blouse grazed my wrist, and the hairs on my back were set on edge.]
Horehound: So what happened then?
[The obvious thing to do, really, would’ve been to grow a set of balls and ask Angie to lunch. But that wasn’t what I did. I watched her walk out of the room, not looking back, but slowly enough to where I could get out of my desk and catch up with her. But no. I remained seated until the room was cleared, until people had split off into pairs or trios and made their cliquish ways to lunch, ad hocing a grocery list into my memo pad: onions, green peppers, salsa.
I was thinking of making quesadillas for myself, as a way of cheering myself after that morning’s debacle. Adjunct. The bitch made me an adjunct.]
Horehound: I understand, it is hard.
[On my way out of the office that morning, Sarah handed me a key to the adjunct office, suggesting it was finally time for me to see my new professional home. I had to see it some time, and lunch hour had to be killed somehow. On the floor, chipped, sullen tile; it was as if someone had uprooted the floor from The Blackboard Jungle and transplanted it into this homely “planning space”. Mix and match office desks in pairs throughout the room, six rows deep. Each of these desks was separated by a filing cabinet as dented as a junkyard Cadillac.
Posters on the wall, of course. Some anti-drug propaganda, which I found jarring in a college environment supposedly populated by adults beyond the reach of such paternalistic bilge. 8×10 pieces of paper, with a picture of some US historical figure (Frederick Douglas, Thomas Jefferson, and Susan B Anthony, for example) coupled with a few paragraphs about their accomplishments, sanitized for your protection by the middlebrow perspectives of mainstream historians.
And then, of course, the corner of the room with amenities. A coffee machine that dated from sometime in the mid 70s; imaginably, it boasted a faded signature from dead Yankee Joe DiMaggio. Some random sweet treats on a metal TV tray; honeybuns and Little Debbies scattered on the flat surface like refugees on a Miami-bound raft. A telephone; a multi-line job curiously like Horehound’s, though I knew from looking at it that there wasn’t more than one line. Not in this office. Signs over the telephone: Five (5!!) Minute Limit For Calls–We Share This PHONE; PLEASE take Messages from phone and put message in box of person called. A Florida Gators football schedule from a couple of years back interested me especially, and I immediately recognized why; its garish orange-and-blue provided the only hint of color in the entire space, in its hideous aggregate of sullied earth tones. And that schedule coupled with the fatuous Great People In History poster assortment made one thing perfectly clear: nothing of any import, drama, or heft could happen here. Not in this backwater, declaimed the decor. Not by you folks, the desks and the battered office chairs added. Exhaustion overcame me as if someone had slipped me a sedative. I sat down at a desk and put my head down, then jerked it up with alacrity. The desk was sticky, as if jelly or some other sugary confection had dried on it, had made the surface its own.
Horehound has remained silent for an inordinately long period of time. The wall behind him, bleak like that of the adjunct office, makes me ask myself what kind of director would choose such bleakness to cast in a sympathetic light. The wall makes me ask what kind of educational institution would force its bright young talents to labor in such aesthetic indifference. The wall stands, as stoic as Horehound, and I can’t help but think Grant Cameron knew full well the consequences of the aesthetic he glorified on Concerned Citizen.
Extreme Potato Chips. Extreme Cola Drinks. Extreme SUV’s frittering away our nation’s finite resources. A billion lurid corporate reactions to grimness, drabness, and purposeful, institutionalized irrelevance. Talking dogs on skateboards eating pieces of deep-fried fat and drinking kerosene, as the nation’s voters adjust the steel plates in their heads and beam in their votes, reaching consensus on all the issues, consensual or otherwise, before taking the bus to Jupiter for ether and strychnine cocktails.
All at once, Horehound pulls a shit-eating grin as malevolent as a draft notice.]
Horehound: Right, sir, all right. Just go ahead and sleep it off, and stop worrying about the Martians bombing us…. Yes, sir, ain’t no one going to bomb America…. Right, sir, we have the best military in the world. Good night, now.
[The “comedy” bumper, that of the classic whaa-wha-wha sound, plays as Horehound rolls his eyes, as if completely dismissing the voice on the other end of his phone. The implication is unavoidable: that weakness is the province of fools, and that fools find themselves set up for ridicule.
I remember my father demanding complete silence in “his” living room whenever any Grant Cameron program was on television. Whether it is this, the short-lived Concerned Citizen or the show that Cameron is truly known for, his 1951-1962 Badge and Gun, he would insist upon not being disturbed as Cameron went through his wooden, hokey paces. Father would watch these shows in a state of reverie, as if convinced somehow that these shows were the antidotes to his menial job and his nicotine-clogged lungs and heart.
The scene shifts to a suburban home, where a tidy, trim housewife walks through the house turning off lights, darkening rooms one by one.]
Horehound: America is the greatest country in the world for many reasons. Freedom of expression and material abundance are just two of the reasons. One of the keys for us maintaining our primacy on the world stage is safe and effective conservation of natural resources, while alternative fuel sources–solar power and natural gas being just two of those–are developed. Do your neighbor a favor and turn off the lights!
[Nixon. Ford. Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Bush. If the show were being developed today, Horehound could give the same speech.]
His lines are finished. Exterior shot of Helpline building. Then a shot of Horehound wrapping up an animated phone conversation and then making notations on unlined typing paper in tight script.]
Horehound: Weeks passed. I developed a reputation for basic competence, at first, then that reputation gave way to respect for my tact and ability to defuse awkward situations. My experience with the Los Angeles Police Department bore a certain weight here, but my ability to grow into the job had more to do with instincts. With the ability to communicate, to empathize. To care.
[After I was finished inspecting what would be my office space, I walked back to the building where the Departmental Meeting was being held. I thought about the perks of my old job: blowjobs from strumpet secretaries, free weed from the Department Chair, who tended it on his ranch, respect.
I had been warned not to shit where I ate upon leaving my Wyoming employer. I had been told that I had a good thing there, but that I had blown it. Moving east without a signed contract was foolish. I replied that so was living in a cultural backwater.
At that point, I felt tears welling up. If it was possible, I would’ve eaten my words, with stir fried vegetables and chutney. I was lost in my thoughts, rancid as they were, when I felt a hand tousle the back of my hair, a hand that felt more like a breeze from some idyllic ocean than hands I had known. Angie.]
Horehound: Even as I worked the Line day in and day out, I began to notice staff turnover. Specifically, I noticed that someone’s attendance, of late, had been sporadic. When I asked Sam Stevens about her attendance patterns, he seemed evasive–at best.
[Angie. We might as well have been alone on a soundstage. She smelled of fresh fruit, of soft summer rain falling outside your window on a day when you don’t have to be anywhere, when you don’t have to answer to anyone.
If she had asked, I would’ve gotten in a car with her and driven over borders, as many borders as it took for us to erase our presents and pasts, for us to be together. She smelled that good.]
Stevens: Gladys is a great worker. She communicates well with a lot of people. But you’re right, Brock, I haven’t seen her in weeks, it seems.
[She said she noticed me staring into space, and wondered if everything was okay. If you only knew what it took me not to collapse in her arms, to slide down the front of her torso, to swim into her, to meld into her form, Whitmanian atom on Whitmanian atom.
I asked her to share a drink with me after the Meeting. I told her I felt we had something in common. She accepted, and agreed that we might just have common ground at that.]
Horehound: Have you noticed anything unusual about her behavior patterns? Her demeanor? I’m relying on you here, Sam.
[What I noticed about Angie as I waited for the hours to pass. The way her smile went crooked when she was working the Class Participation angle. How she looked over at me when some old heifer talked about how we needed more discipline in the classroom, as if to say that we were above such well-intentioned, yet misguided, colloquy. As the sun went low behind the trees, I could see Angie and I moving pressing against each other under night’s cover.
I felt my pants pockets, to see if the Breath-a-sure was there. It was. I knew I would have to let it work its magic before we went to get drinks.]
Stevens: You’re “relying” on me? Brock, you need to let go of the badge.
[Stevens’ corpulent visage is wrenched in amusement, while Brock’s nostrils begin their telltale flare.
I also hoped against hope that my car didn’t have that stale smell of mildewed carpet that it seemed to have more and more that summer. The smell came and went without warning, and was beyond reprieve or redress.]
Horehound: Let go of the badge? What do you mean, let go of the badge?
[I found myself able to let go of certain things, at least for the moment. The coy smiles and sly innuendos exchanged by dark, handsome Matthias and his boss/lover figure, Sarah Clancy-Allinger, she of the hyphenated name and the heightened libido, she who moved me cross-country, transplanting me with less fanfare than she would a potted fern, and planting me in barren soil.
Adjunct. I would have to get a second job, or a roommate, or both. I could see it now: me reduced to living with a smelly Edith Bunker clone, some native of the festering boils that pass as Northern Jersey municipalities, some Newarkite with corns or some Patersonian with the gout. I could see myself splitting cans of tomato soup with her as she stank up my couch and solved the puzzle, at an ear-splitting volume, while watching Wheel of Fortune.]
Stevens: Brock, let me be perfectly honest here. You rely too much on police intervention for this job. Not every situation requires a police cruiser to stop by someone’s house.
[And I could just imagine what my job would be. I could see myself, shelving books in some B Dalton, clocking eight dollars an hour as my Eurotrash students stopped in just to overturn displays and piss down my throat.
I would, of course, have to look into other adjunct gigs. I would become acquainted with all the shabbily-outfitted adjunct offices in the area; with their discard furniture and their fecal carpets, with their windows that shed no light into anything, anything at all.]
Horehound: You know something, Stevens, the boys were right about you.
[Despite the gloom I couldn’t avoid feeling, I kept a stiff upper lip, as they say. I knew that I would be sharing libations with the sort of woman who looked much less timeworn after a few of them. In the spirit of that sort of amity, I found myself smiling and participating in discussions, even as the interest of not a few of my colleagues flagged. }
Stevens: The boys? I’m not following you here.
[Boys in blue, who gossip, who backstab, who infight and relegate each other to shit detail, who cheerfully malign each other’s reputations. Boys with guns, each sucking hind-tit, each wanting to be the Chief, to be the man. Boys who take orders who want to take control. Those boys will kill you dead as soon as look at you.
I should know. My father was a cop. But my father, God rest his soul, is not central to this narrative.]
Horehound: The men you served with, Stevens, they know how soft you always were.
[Horehound is in full-on grilling mode here, and the lighting is such that Horehound is lost in shadow (practically) while the rotund Stevens sweats under the glare of the lights. This would be one of the perks of having complete creative control over the series; the ability to prevent “your” character from showing ass.
Would that I had such creative control over my own life.]
Stevens: You’re calling me soft. I don’t get you, Brock.
[Soft, not in the manner of Angie’s hand when I slid mine into hers just to see what it felt like. Soft as in exhibiting a cowardice I too exhibited at points during my rendezvous with Angie.
We took separate cars. She couldn’t stay too long, or so she said. We met at a TGI Friday’s, across the street from a shopping mall doing brisk business. On the way into the establishment, I took her hand and told her she looked lovely. She rat-a-tat-tatted a tittering laugh and told me to hush, even though I hadn’t said anything.
She thought I was kidding. Me, the big jokester.]
Horehound: I’m calling it as I see it. You’re unreliable. Everybody knows that.
[We secured a booth, and sat opposite each other. I kept stealing glances underneath the table to see if our feet were touching. I wanted ankle-on-ankle action, but was thwarted in every attempt to pull that off.]
Stevens: Sure, Brock. Hothead. Everyone knows what you are. A mark for the badge.
[In a different setting, it seems almost too obvious that Horehound would make it possible for Stevens to wear his teeth as a necklace. Likewise, in a different setting, I would’ve sat next to Angie. I wouldn’t have hesitated when trying to kiss her, giving her an opening to push me away. Giving her some leverage over me.]
Horehound: I think you’d better shut your mouth now, before I mark you.
[Almost counterintuitively, their voices have grown quieter in conflict. Stevens has stopped backing down. He catches a breath and then issues a directive to Horehound.]
Stevens: Brock, I’ve got some business to take care of. When I get back, I want you gone. Understood?
[Horehound nods. Stevens turns and walks out of the room. Horehound then makes his way to a Rolodex.]
Horehound: I knew I had to act fast. I knew Stevens was covering up something, or at least not cooperating. I knew things I couldn’t say. A cop just knows.
[A cop, as a spurned lover, knows many things. When a situation gets hinky, for example, a cop knows when to call for back-up. A cop understands positioning, stroke, hand, leverage.
Spurned lovers understand those things as well. But too late. After the drinks. After the hard-on has subsided and after the waitresses have started whispering about his inability to sit upright at his table. After the worst is over.]
Horehound: I telephoned Gladys, but she failed to answer. All I heard was a ringing telephone, over and over again, a ponderous ring, a sad, sad thing.
[You might wonder what got me up from that table. Perhaps it was my real fear that the waitress, who I had just sloppily propositioned, would be a student of mine that semester. Perhaps the alcohol had ceased to have much effect, and I knew I needed to repair to my abode for some vomiting and a severe headache. I wonder myself, even now, what drove me to take a chance like that. No payoff. Just risk.]
Horehound: I lifted the Rolodex card with the address of Gladys Peterson, and got in my vehicle. I drove to her home as fast as late-afternoon traffic would allow. Here I was working on instinct alone, but I knew–somehow–that I had to get over there.
[Here we get an extended driving scene, with Horehound adhering to all traffic laws as one would expect. Would that I had adhered to all codes of professional conduct. That I had followed what behavioral models existed.]
Horehound: When I arrived at her residence, a sedan was parked crooked in the driveway. Her front door was unlocked. I took liberties. I let myself in.
[A shot of Horehound’s face, racked with concern. Then a living room, strewn with ashtrays and lamps, the debris emblematic of the breakdown of the straight world, the law-abiding world where people conduct themselves with decorum and dignity. The camera’s eye shifts to Gladys, cowering in the corner, bruises framing her frightened eyes.]
Horehound: Who did this to you? Tell me who did this to you!
[Gladys curls up fetal, here, as Horehound reflexively lights a cigarette. Implicit in the lighting is the assertion of his manhood, as he plays the role of replacement alpha male in the situation. ]
Gladys: It’s over. It’s over. It’s all over.
[Horehound takes another drag. The incidental music here isn’t incidental at all. It’s ridden with purpose, pumped full of testoteronic horn blares. Horehound moves as if to cradle her up into his arms, but pulls back, as if driven by “police instinct.”]
Horehound: Gladys, what are you talking about?
Gladys: In the kitchen. You’ll see. In the kitchen.
[Horehound drops his Chesterfield on the carpet and stomps it, then makes his way through the door. A pudgy male form, face down on the tile. Horehound reaches for the convenient wall phone, and we are left to assume what he’s saying and who he’s saying it to as the music continues to play at full volume.
He walks back into the living room and casts a look at Gladys, still balled-up and sobbing in the corner. Horehound closes the front door behind him and makes his way outside, into the rain, into the darkness. As the credits roll over his retreating form, He delivers a de facto epilogue.]
Horehound: Sound and fury, signifying nothing, they say. They would say that it was life that was lost. They would say that this could be worked out, given time.
[Horehound gets into his sedan as a squad car rolls up to the Petersons’ home, siren squalling and lights flashing.]
Horehound: But there is nothing to work out. As is often the case, there is nothing to work out.
[And so the episode ends, with a cop who has outlived his usefulness leaving an investigation just as it begins. It is important to note here that the ratings fell drastically between Episodes 1 and 2, and that the freefall would continue until the end of the show’s six episode run.]
Anthony Gancarski, the author of the 2001 collection of fiction and poetry UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS, can be reached at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.