Michael Phillips, The Airstream Chronicles - Union troubles in the Airstream

Union troubles in the Airstream

Arty hadn't been out to the Airstream for a couple of days, so I went into the double-wide to see what was up. I was on my way to the spare bedroom/studio when the lovely Mrs. Bell grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the spacious living room.

"Ramona, please...not while Arty's home!"

"No mjp! Don't go in there! He's very, very angry. Yesterday on the way to the little boys room, he kicked the cat and screamed like a wounded chupacabra, and I cried and cried until he came out. He just walked through the house like a zombie! He wouldn't even look me in the eyes! I think he's possessed, mjp! Help me!"

She clung to my arm and sobbed, looking up at me from time to time to gauge my response. "Sound's like the old man's on the rag again," I offered, "Let me see what's bugging him." I grabbed the spare bedroom/studio doorknob and twisted, but it was locked. Unusual, since the only time Arty ever locked the spare bedroom/studio door before was when he was having a bout of urinary tract trouble and he holed himself up in there with a case of mason jars and a stack of old "Redbook" magazines. I pounded on the door but there was no answer. I knew Bell was in there because I could hear his Tesla coil sparking. I pounded again.

"Ramona, I warned you to stay the fuck away from me!" came the reedy, unelectronically altered, off-the-air voice of the boss. "Leave the pork chops by the door and I'll get them when I'm god damn good and ready!"

"Arty, it's me," I said. There was a long pause, then the sound of a bottle breaking and electronic equipment falling to the ground. The door jerked open and Bell stood there unsteadily, staring at me through puffy, red, crusted eyelids.

"Who the fuck are you?", he screamed, the stench of his breath practically rendering me unconscious, "I paid off that Discover card bill months ago!"

"Arty, it's me, mjp. What the hell's going on? Your wife is scared shitless!" Bell stuck his head out into the dollhouse sized hallway and looked from side to side several times, then he pulled me into the spare bedroom/studio and locked the door.

It was worse than I had imagined. The room was a shambles, the bulbs from several overturned shadeless lamps were slowly burning indentations into the forest green deep shag carpeting, creating a noxious smoke that filled the room. Papers were everywhere, empty Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets and liquor bottles covered every level surface. An ashtray had overflowed onto the Peavy Four Channel MixMaster board, and the Sangean laptop computer was buried halfway into the soil of a pot that used to hold a large decorative fern in the corner. The phones had been smashed to bits, and his Realistic Super Pro Star Broadcast Quality Microphone was jammed in to the acoustic tile ceiling. Bell himself was pacing back and forth wearing only a yellowed Holiday Inn towel and a disturbing scowl, his dirty bare feet walking back and forth over the broken glass and enema and bondage porno magazines that littered the floor. It was almost the worst I'd ever seen him.

"Arty, what's the matter man? How long have you been hiding in here?"

"MJB, I can't take it anymore," he said, ignoring my question, "Day in and day out...the same god damn thing! I tell you, I'm going mad!" He bent over to pick up a half-eaten chicken leg from the carpet and almost lost his towel skirt. He cinched it up and jammed the greasy leg bone into his mouth. He chewed for a few seconds and then abruptly spit the mouthful onto a framed TV Guide cover of Bea Arthur as "Maude."

"Arty, Jesus Christ, what's wrong? You're going off the deep end. Sit down and tell me what the problem is, maybe I can help."

He plopped down in his on-the-air chair, coming to rest on a half eaten Sara Lee cheesecake. "MJB, I can't do the radio show anymore. I'm burned out. If I have to shill for one more shitty C. Crane product I'm going to grab one of my several legally registered handguns and blow my fucking brains out!" He leaned back in the chair and moaned, pounding his chest with one fist and digging the cheesecake out from under himself with the other. "Too much pressure!", he screamed, over and over, until I lunged at him and knocked him backwards in the chair. His head hit the edge of an army surplus metal desk and he was out cold. At least the moaning had stopped. I opened the door to air out the room and the vivacious and lovely Mrs. Bell ran in, saw Arty laid out on the floor and promptly fainted.

I stood for a while looking at them sprawled out next to each other, unconscious and happy, and I thought of the last days of the Third Reich. Well, not exactly, but it was a bit much, and I too had had my fill, so I picked up an old Pahrump Warren G. Harding Preservation Society Meeting and Ice Cream Social flyer and wrote out an official union grievance on the back, informing Bell of my intention to go on strike as of noon the next day. I plastered the note to something sticky on the wall, and went back out to the Airstream to fry up a veggie burger and pack for an extended road trip, leaving the aging lovers to themselves.

mjp
6/26/96

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