Transcript of secret meeting in the Airstream
[What follows is a transcript of a top-level secret meeting that took place earlier this week in the confines of the Airstream. Present were Bell, his publisher Joseph B. Xerox, "C" Crane, Andy Taylor (the Sheriff of Pahrump), and myself]
Bell: Okay, I've got a few things we need to address today, but first I'd like to hear what you all have to say. "C," I know you had some questions...
Crane: Yeah, well, it's just the return figures for the products sold via the 800 number. Uh, MJB, you have those forms I gave you? [rustling of papers] Anyway, so far this quarter the returns are running at an acceptable rate...
Bell: 30, 35 percent?
Crane: Right, right. What I'm wondering is if there isn't some way we can put some kind of 'no return' clause in really small print in the catalog?
MJB: I don't know "C." I think you're obligated to take back the stuff that's defective.
Crane: [sighing] I thought as much. Arty, see if you can work in a mention to that effect in the radio spots...you know, maybe say it really fast like those lease terms in the car ads? Or kind of mumble it under your breath?
Bell: That's brilliant "C." I could whisper it under a classic Cusco track! What would that mean to the bottom line if we refused returns?
Crane: Shit, are you kidding? It would double our profit margins.
Bell: Andy, you pretend you didn't hear this part...
[laughter from around the table]
MJB: Easy for you guys to laugh. You know when people call that "customer service" line I'm the one who has to listen to them complain.
Bell: Don't be such a pussy MJB. Besides, who pays for the phone lines that come in here anyway?
MJB: Well, I do.
Bell: Yeah? Well...that's not the point. You just clam up and do your job, kid.
Xerox: I was meaning to talk to you about those autograph labels you did for the book MJB. We had a few hundred books returned because the labels were in upside-down, or stuck to the back cover.
MJB: I just signed 'em Joe, I don't know who actually put the things into the books.
Xerox: Oh. Art, do you know who put the stickers on?
Bell: Hell if I know. The only books I saw were the two copies you sent to me.
Crane: Joe, I remember you saying something about dropping the stickers off at Mailboxes Etc., and having the gals over there slap 'em in before they sent them out...
Xerox: That's right, that's right. Well, I have two Mexicans working in my garage right now peeling those things off and putting them back on where they belong.
MJB: That sounds messy. How's it working?
Bell: MJB, if all you're going to do is criticize, why don't you get the hell out of here and leave us men to attend to business!
MJB: You told me to sit here and record the meetings, Arty. You know what happens when you try to work the cassette recorder.
Bell: Jesus Christ, you know that was the whiskey! I don't think I broke the last one anyway. It was working alright when I left here.
MJB: The door was broken off and the tape was spilling out of the cassette...
Bell: [waves his hand in my direction and turns to Crane] that was your machine by the way "C"...
Crane: Sorry, no returns.
Taylor: Art, why the hell did you ask me to come to this meeting?
Bell: Oh, Andy, remember when I called you about those kids driving by here late at night and screaming death threats at me?
Taylor: Yes, I remember. You called me 17 times that night. Pissed off the wife so much I ended up on the couch.
Bell: I never called 17 times! I mean, no, no absolutely not, I couldn't have possibly called that many times.
Taylor: I have the answering machine tape art. Besides, I talked to those kids, and they said they were just trying to drive by and you jumped out from behind a mesquite bush and started shooting at them.
Bell: They've been threatening me!
Taylor: Art, I'm on your side. Wasn't it me who got the city council to pay for the chain link fence around your god damn patch of dirt here?
Bell: People were sneaking underneath my home and listening to private conversations...
Taylor: Art, stop it. Now you know as well as I do that there isn't anyone within ten miles of here. MJB, you ever see anyone sneaking around out there?
MJB: Just the hookers that come around when Ramona is home and have to hide out in here until she goes to her "Rockin' Republicans" meetings.
[Bell glares at MJB and raises his fist, silently mouthing threats]
MJB: Come on Arty, it's hardly a secret.
Taylor: He's right you know, Art. For Christ's sake, can't you be a little more discreet? Now unless there's something important you need to say to me, I'm leaving. And don't call the station house tonight, understand?
Bell: You have no idea what goes on around here when the sun goes down! All hell breaks loose!
[the sheriff gets up from the table to leave]
Bell: If you can't protect me, by god, I'll have to handle things myself!
Taylor: Well, you do what you have to do art, but if I get reports of wild gunfire tonight, I'm going to come out here and lock you up again. We've got your cell all warmed up and waiting for you.
[Sheriff Taylor leaves and Bell slouches down in his chair]
Crane: Well...I guess that's it then?
Xerox: Yeah, I have to get a move on. Got a long drive ahead of me.
[Crane and Xerox say goodbye to Bell and leave the Airstream]
Bell: See what I mean?
MJB: What? I can barely hear you Arty...
Bell: I said, see what I mean. You see how hard they make it for me? All I ever wanted out of life was a radio show, a good woman and an endless supply of Wild Turkey, and look at what I have to put up with. Well, at least I got two of those things.
[Bell rises from his chair very slowly, turns and stares out through the tattered screen door]
Bell: Yeeeaaaaah, I don't know. I'm not sure I've got it in me to keep up the radio show, MJB. It's wearing me out...the preparation...imagine having to watch the NBC news every night! Maybe I need a vacation. I'm stressed out. Do you realize that I tried to wipe my ass with my own newsletter the other night? I'm all mixed up. I just don't know...
MJB: Well Arty, you just lay low for a while. I'll handle the show.
Bell: That's what I'm afraid of! When you do my show I can't even tell that it isn't me! You scare me, MJB! If I didn't know any better, sometimes I'd think you're one of them!
MJB: Now you're talking crazy. Go on in the house, put your feet up, put a little Cusco on the boom box and have a couple of cocktails. You know, the NBC news is coming on in 15 minutes.
[Bell begins to weep quietly, and stumbles out the door. He staggers toward the double-wide and almost makes it to the steps before stepping into an old zinc bucket and tumbling end over end into a pile of old tires. MJB shakes his head and goes out to extricate the boss once again.]