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The Idiot Box 3: Monkey Trouble

One long summer, I worked for a video clipping service in San Diego. The pay was great -- not as good as working in them canneries in Alaska, mind you -- but earning $8 an hour to watch TV sounded like a damned good idea. If only I could get paid for watching the strippers, I thought, then my life would be complete.

Before I go any further, I should tell you I end up drunk and crying in a jail cell. Oh yes, and there are monkeys involved -- evil monkeys. As my doctor testified at the trial, the human brain wasn't meant to handle more than say "an hour at the most of local television news." And I was watching 3-6 hours a day.

I watched the 4:30 Early Edition, the 5 o'clock edition, and 6:30 edition. Later, I'd be punished for a minor transgression and would be assigned Channel 10's 6:30 edition. (The punishment was having to stomach the Michael Tuck commentaries: "That's my opinion -- what's yours?")

Once the supervisor left for the day, there were only three people in the office -- me, "Crazy" Doris -- who didn't like to wear panties because "they're the shackles of the male hegemony", and a '60s burnout who I knew only as "Slappy." And once the bossman was gone, Slappy and Doris would haul out the liquor, and drink like sailors on leave. But let me say, even drunk, they were video clipping professionals.

Slappy was the vet of our group and my first week there he taught me how to fast forward through the weather segment, the sports segment and any story on politics. See, the whole point of the business was to sell the clips to PR firms, businesses and individuals who would be interested in buying the news footage, and use it for promotional purposes. Apparently the company made a lot of dough doing this.

"Hey, college boy," Slappy'd say, "pay attention to the medical breakthrough stories -- there's money to be had there." In fact, I began to notice that these "breakthroughs" sound a lot like press releases. "They are," Slappy'd slur.

"Pay attention to them heartbreaking stores about the cripples," Slappy would say. "Some good samaritan business is gonna buy that cripple a wheelchair or something. There's good money there."

"There's no money in plane crashes," Slappy explained, "but there's always good money off a rape. Rape is easy money." When I pressed Slappy about why someone would want to buy tape about a rape he just shrugged and said, "It's just good money, that's all I know."

Anyhow, as the days went on, something began filling my heart -- a coldness, a blackness. But when I told Slappy how I felt, he just laughed and said, "It's called bitterness, boy. Have some rum."

But the rum didn't take away the feeling of betrayal. During an hour broadcast there was nothing more than maybe 10 minutes of news -- the rest was just filler. "They're just ripping off stories from the paper!" I screamed one day, "What he just read -- that exact same sentence except for a word or two was in this morning's paper!"

Doris giggled. Slappy laughed.

"Goddamn it," I said, "that's not funny! I mean aren't journalists supposed to go out and get a story?" Slappy laughed some more and poured another drink.

Even with fast forwarding it still took about 5-6 hours to get through the shows, because I had to input notes into the computer and rewind to get the correct spelling of names, which was a big deal. And by the time I got home my Grandmother would be watching the 11 p.m. edition, which would give me horrifying flashbacks.

Now the monkeys.

I once remarked to the bossman that I thought a monkey could do a better than most of the newscasters in San Diego. It was, you know, a joke. But when I said it, a fearful pallor crossed his face, and his eyes began to dart around the room. "I gotta go," he said and ran away from me like he owed me money.

When I told Slappy what happened he shivered.

"You know about the monkeys!" he screamed and began backing away from me. "You know, don't you?"

"I was joking, Slappy!" I said laughing.

"You know about the monkeys!" he screamed and he ran off.

Out of the side of my eye I saw Doris. She had a gun. "I gotta kill you, nigger," she said. But before she could fire, I tackled her and wrestled the gun out of her hand.

"What the hell is going on, Doris?"

"The monkeys -- the monkeys at Channel Eight!" Doris screamed.

I began backing out of the office. "You'll never get home alive!" Doris rasped, as she tried to stumble to her feet.

"Monkeys at Channel Eight?" I thought to myself. "I gots to know."

So I decided take a field trip, and find out what all this monkey stuff was about. I snuck into the studio during the 6:30 edition. I saw the door to the newsroom. But there was no one there. But then I saw a door with a heavy bolt that said: "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY." So kicked it open, and when I looked in, I saw the monkeys. Thousands of them. All at typewriters. Some smoking cigars. It all made sense now. The mindless chatter, the inane stories, Blowhard sports anchor Ted Leitner. The monkeys were writing the news. And then I blacked out and woke, smelling of liquor and bananas, in a jail cell.

Slappy bailed me out. "You gave us quite a scare last night. You screaming about monkeys last night and you took off your clothes and ran off."

"What are you talking about? I saw monkeys writing the news at channel eight!"

Slappy laughed, "Kid, they found you stinking drunk, naked, at the zoo in the monkey cage. That's what you saw... you know, our offices are only a block away from the zoo...."

Anyhow, I only got probation, and the next summer I got a normal job working at a paper bag factory. It only paid minimum wage, and I worked my ass off, but not a monkey or a TV newscaster was in sight.


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