The synthetic voice stretched over the airwaves. Each radio would then allow it’s listener the pleasure of being christened by Rick Robertson, who slouched in his ragged swivel chair for the twelfth year in a row. Rick would then say “total devotion,” in his raspy signature voice which would then be followed by a series of drum machines and guitar bends. Then one brief ad by a local sponsor. Charles New, The Accident Lawyer. His voice was much smoother. More delicate.
“If you’ve been hurt at work and you want the money you deserve please come to me. I will make you rich. I promise. I will make them pay. It’s the least I can do. And please, please always, always tune in to Rick Robertson here at The Big Shocker.”
Rick looked over his talking points for the evening. Underneath them was, “don’t take no for an answer” in red ink. No had been circled twice by Rick’s station manager T. Davis who claimed that The Big Shocker was losing it’s edge.
Devotion. Dedication. Loyalty. Don’t ever forget about respect. It was what The Big Shocker expected of each listener. Every Tuesday at ten a.m. the shock tops would anticipate being interrogated and questioned about every part of their life by Big Rick the Shocker himself. If they fought back Rick would send them to the Batter’s Box: a sequence of the show where all past listeners who couldn’t cut it were dehumanized.
Rick Robertson wore all white. It was his cache. A white shirt and pants to indicate a certain cleanliness and order. White shoes that were disposed of upon the sight of even the slightest scuff or mark. His hair was parted down the center and a nub of silvery goatee protruded from his chin. His hands were firm, there was no wedding band.
“Okay boys and girls let’s get moving here. I want to start with my favorite part of the show and your favorite part of the show. Something we like to call ‘Just what exactly is wrong with people?’ I hope to god you are dedicated and have some answers for me because I can’t just have a conversation by myself. Okay the phones are lighting up. I can see Freddy from Wilmington is on the line. What’s up Freddy? Can you tell me just what exactly is wrong with people?”
“Hey Ricky great to be here on The Shocker again.”
“Great to have you on the show, so what do you say, is it them or is it me? I just don’t get it, what exactly is wrong with people?”
“I was asking myself the same question the other day. Since it’s nearly Christmas and all I figured I would buy my family a ham at the Shop and Go. I let some elderly woman in front of me because hey, she’s old, she deserves the ham. What does she do? She takes all fifteen of them and hocks them in her cart. Excuse me miss, I ask her. She ignores me. Excuse me ma’am! Can I please have one of those delicious cured roasts for my family? She totally ignores me. I start to raise my voice, “Excuse me. Excuse me. I’m right here in front of you asking a question,” and then I hit the fire alarm. Finally she looks back in that florescent lit meat department. “They’re for charity,” she spews out of her little feeble mouth. Well I had just enough of this.”
“Freddy, Freddy. I can see you’re angry and you’ve got every right to be angry. The question is, did you show dedication?”
“I took every ham out of that old bag’s cart and threw them on the floor, only after unwrapping each one, so nobody could eat them. Not my family. Not her family. Not her charity. She started shaking and crying and I told her to go home while she still had a little life left in her. Hey thanks for having me on the air Ricky, great hearing from you.”
“Wow. What a shock top. Freddy from Wilmington letting the old and feeble have it. Way to go Freddy. Total dedication. Beautiful. Total devotion. Smart and savvy Fred. Okay now we have another caller. Patricia from the Valley. What’s up Patty? Can you tell me what exactly is wrong with people?”
“Hi Rick, I’m a fan of your show. Been a loyal listener since you started in 1993. Well, I think a lot of people just have no idea where to put their efforts these days. That’s why I started getting out there and canvassing for our boys on the right. It’s important to get out there. With enough signatures, things can really change. Well, I went to this one house with a group of young idiot guys. Total slackers. Made me sick. None of them had voted in their whole lives. I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t want to sign so I just asked them for a contribution. They didn’t want to give me a contribution. I told them it doesn’t matter who they vote for so long as they voted. They told me to leave. So when I walked onto that drive way I used my ice pick and slashed each one of their tires. That’s three guys, twelve tires, you can call me a shockette alright. Thanks Ricky.”
“Alright, that’s what I like to hear. Definitely. Show those kids some respect. Let them have it. Hell yeah. Okay our next caller is Cindy from Dawn County. Speak to me Cindy.”
“Rick, great to be back on. My niece is a painter. You know like Mona Lisa or something. Paints all day in our basement and makes the whole house reek. She’s been making this big deal about herself lately. Everybody’s on her side, she can just paint away her problems, you know what I mean? I’m just different. I work maintenance at the local hospital. Late hours. One night I had enough, all the sickos at my job. The uninvited. The way they smell. Well I come back and she’s upstairs making out with her boyfriend and the place reeks like that paint stuff. I mean it really reeks. I made sure to be real quiet and took every last one of those canvases and paint brushes and threw it into a big, black Husky bag!”
T. Davis nodded his sizable shiny head. He approved. Rick was unfazed by his superior’s presence who wore dark glasses while on the air. He stood immobile behind a glass wall that separated Rick from the control board.
“She’ll never paint again!” the caller proclaimed.
“Cindy, what a devoted shocker you are. Unbelievable. Who needs a bunch of painters lazing around with their idiot boyfriends who can’t get it up. Can’t own up. Can’t become a shock top. Shave your face. Become a man, goddamn it! Take care of your child. Okay. Now we are going to another one of our sponsor’s. This is a good one shock tops. Be sure to check out Finnigan’s bar and grille. Home of the best oysters on this side of Dover County. Go to Finnigan’s and make yourself feel good for a change! Okay our next part of the show is going to be, ‘what makes you sick?’ Can’t wait to hear from you here at The Big Shocker. This is Rick Robertson, your host, ready to slam and command you.”
Rick unbuttoned half of his shirt. It wasn’t even half way through the show and he felt bloated as usual. Bloated before lunch once again. He felt old. His hands were sore and swelled up. Things were different before he became The Big Shocker. He was a volunteer fire fighter with a wife and kids. He ate organic food. His hands didn’t swell up. Now Rick’s friends distrusted him. His kids wanted nothing to do with him. Outside of the radio show he was repeatedly told to get counseling.
The office was covered in mauve wallpaper and the mixing board was cobalt blue. Behind the controls room there was the storage facility. Davis called it, “The Dump.” Here they stored all of the unopened mail from back when T. Davis started the network. Years of letters, some containing hazardous material, stowed away in this musky room with hardly any light. Davis was vigilant of never opening mail and he let listeners know this during the T. Davis segment of the show, “God’s Orders.” “Go ahead and send us something, just don’t expect that it gets read ever,” Davis would tell the loyal audience.
Rick had never set foot into The Dump unless Davis was out sick and there was mail to dispose of. Rick took a swig from a little plastic bottle under his desk. He didn’t know how long it had been there. Maybe weeks. The contents were bitter. A few drops leaked onto his pants. He cringed.
T. Davis was pacing in the back. An ebbing sound would come from behind the glass when he paced. He always wore the same satin blazer which reflected sinuously along with his lacquered, pale head. He switched a dial on the board.
“Okay, I’m back. So let’s hear it, what makes you sick? First up is Mike Popular from Mechanicsville. Come on Mike, tell us out here in the shock land, what makes you sick?”
“Mike Popular. Is that you?”
“Rick I need the rent,” came from an airy woman’s voice.
“Who is this?”
“You really screwed us this time. That’s it. We’ve had enough of you. You make us sick. We responded to your ad. Everything was supposed to be real easy. We let you stay with us and live in the closet or whatever. You requested it. My friends and I talked it over and said you could make our meals and give us your cash. We said sure, as long as we’re in school why not. You agreed to pay for my classes. All of this just goes unfulfilled. We even let you lay on the couch on weekends. At first you totally gave us your money. ‘Good boy,’ we told you. Good boy. You wanted to be here and now you won’t pay. Our rent has been due for three months. That was our agreement. Now we have talked it over and we’ve had enough of your nonsense. You need to pa-”
T. Davis struck his hand against another dial on the board again hastily. He took his glasses off.
Rick was sweating.
“Okay, Mike Popular. Great. Good to hear from you Mike. Very good indeed. Let’s move along. Okay our next caller is Trey, from… Well we don’t know where he’s from. What’s up Trey, what makes you sick?”
“Yeah this is Stacy’s boyfriend. I’m tired of your game Rick Robertson.”
T. Davis left the room and stopped screening calls. The empty void in the room opposite to Rick swelled with discomfort. Davis’s dark, satin blazer hung off the chair seated behind the board.
Rick began to shake.
“That’s right. I’m telling you. I’m tired of this little charade. You put out some cute little ad. You come to my girlfriend Stacy, and Natasha’s house one day and ask to secretly stay in the closet and I’m supposed to act like I don’t know you’re there. Like, I could care less what you’re into man. I don’t know you from anybody else, and nor should I. Come on. It’s whatever. But hey, I see your little snacks everywhere. Those raisins. Beef jerky. The pretzel in the couch cushions. On the mantle. Your stupid spandex white pants and all those canvas white shoes that you keep chucking into the girl’s garbage can. What the hell is that? Now the girls used to have money coming in. That was cool. Now they don’t and it’s not cool and they aren’t paying any of the rent because it’s ‘taken care of’? Hey Rick, I’m not only Stacy’s boyfriend but I’m also the landlord son. Me and my dad are tired of your little game here. Enough is enough. I’m throwing away all your shit man. It’s gone. You hear me? The trash is going out.”
Rick was speechless. He pushed his hand over his hair. His hands were trembling. Stacy came back on the line.
“Rick, he is lying. Just trying to scare you. We haven’t thrown anything out yet. We will though. If you don’t pay for our rent, though, by noon today then you can say goodbye to your white outfits and your nose hair trimmer. You can say goodbye to the fitness DVD’s we took from your closet. It’s all going to charity, so we don’t know what else to say but good luck in the future.”
Trey hung up. The phone went mute. All of the callers hung up. Rick placed his head on top of a mess of papers. They pressed into his forehead with a precision almost like massage. The desk smelled of stale coffee and after shave. One of the phone lines lit up. He had a caller. Who could it be? Voraciously, he picked it up and spoke into the microphone.
“Alright, a mystery caller. Who could it be. What makes you sick mystery caller? What’s your name shock top?”
“You know my name.”
“Who is this?”
“You know who this is.”
Rick paused, “I’m sorry I don’t.”
“Oh hey Davis, isn’t it a little early for ‘God’s Orders’?”
“Listen up listeners. Forget about this mess of a show you just heard. You’re hearing the voice of the New Big Shocker. That’s right. Me. That’s right you heard me. Rick Robertson is over. Finished. You finally exposed him for what I’ve always known him to be. A cash slave. A homeless idiot with debt. Without convictions. Where’s the shock in that? Goodbye old Ricky, you can let yourself out through the fire exit. See you in the future. You won’t be getting a last check. Now starting Monday it’s going to be The Big God T. Davis show of Regret. Bring your biggest regrets to the table of shame and prepare to get slammed. Total misfortune. This time no one gets out alive. Not even you Rick Robertson. You will be our first topic of the show, ‘how I fell apart,’ goodnight sinners.”
The microphone was now completely dead. The radio cut out and the room had turned pitch black. Davis had shut off all the power in the building. It was bright outside. About eleven thirty.