Michael Phillips, The Airstream Chronicles - Sold out in the Airstream

Sold out in the Airstream

"Here they are MJB. I need you to sign these papers. Just like you did with 'The Art of Talk,' sign Art Bell on all of these. It's just like signing the book, I'm told."

"Jesus Arty, there must be 1200 sheets here!"

"1500, MJB. 'THE QUICKENING!' is going to be big. Really big."

"Well, I'll sign them, but it's going to take a while."

"Time is of the essence. My publisher, Joseph B. Xerox needs these right away."

"Well, tell Joe it's going to be a few days."

"MJB, I don't think you understand. These have to be ready by morning! Xerox has ten illegal immigrants in his garage ready to put these things together!"

"Well if you want to help I suppose we could pull an all-nighter and get these signed."

"I have important business to attend to, MJB. I won't be able to sign any of them."

Bell turned and left the Airstream, leaving me with a foot high stack of paper to sign his name to. I'd signed the Avery labels for his first book, 'The Art of Talk,' but that was only 500, and I did it in an afternoon. This stack was going to take a bit longer. It was a pile of blank sheets that Arty's "publisher," Joseph B. Xerox, planned to insert into the signatures before binding them, creating the appearance of a personally autographed book. Since I work for Bell, I had to do it, but it was going to be a pain in the ass. I had just started in on the signing when Bell burst back into the Airstream.

"MJB! stop signing! There's been a change in plan. I need you to fix the heaters in the double-wide."

I followed Arty into his prefabricated home (which, he likes to say, is "Damn near as good as a real house"), and he led me to the heater. It was a typical gas-fueled wall unit, and it seemed to be frightening Bell.

"You smell that MJB? You smell the gas?"

I didn't smell any gas. But to humor Bell, I said that indeed, I did smell gas, and perhaps we should evacuate before "she blows". It didn't occur to me until Bell and Ramona were ensconced in the Airstream that saying I smelled gas may have been a bad idea.

By midnight Ramona was passed out in the Airstream breakfast nook, snoring happily and drooling on my new seat cushions. Bell sat staring at a painting of the devil and drinking all my Knob Creek bourbon. I was sitting on the floor signing the god damned sheets of paper that were to be inserted into "THE QUICKENING!"

"Um, Arty, how about signing some of these? It's not like you're busy or anything."

"MJB," he whispered, "I think this picture here is Satan incarnate!"

"No, Arty, that's just a watercolor. Satan is nowhere in the area, okay? Come on over here and put your Hancock on some of these."

Bell leapt to his feet and ran (or I should say, tried to run) out the door of the Airstream. He missed the first step (as he often does after imbibing) and came to rest in the dusty dust just outside the Airstream. He was still, so I figured he'd be all right there until morning. I closed the door and tried to get some sleep.

* * *

I awoke to Ramona stroking my shoulder. "mjp...mjp, wake up. It's time to get Arty's breakfast ready and I can't find a frying pan."

I pulled myself out of the bunk and gave Ramona the lowdown. "There's no gas in the double-wide. Go ahead and make the old man's breakfast in there."

"Oh no, I'm afraid to light the burner in there. I don't want to explode the place, mjp!"

"Well, there's nothing for him to eat in here. No sausages or eggs. I don't know what you can make for him."

"I see breakfast patties in the freezer."

"There's no meat in those. He'll throw up if you try to feed them to him. I'm telling you the double-wide is safe. When I told Arty I smelled gas I was just pulling his leg. Don't worry about it."

Ramona seemed a little disappointed, but she finally left to fix Arty's breakfast in the double-wide. She kicked him as she left the Airstream, "Get up you lazy son of a bitch. Breakfast is ready."

Bell dragged himself up and into the Airstream. "MJB, you get those signatures done? I have to bring them over to Xerox now."

"No Arty. I sacked out right after you hit the dirt. We can finish the signatures in an hour or so, but you have to help."

He gave me a bleary-eyed dirty look and dragged his hung over ass to the Airstream door. "I'll sign some, but I'm telling you, I'm not happy about it. Hey MJB, how about a little eye opener?" I found the last bottle of Knob Creek, and it still had a swallow remaining in it. Bell grabbed it from my hand and headed to the double-wide.

* * *

By ten o'clock we were finished signing the papers. Bell had only managed to sign a hundred or so in between trips to the bathroom to relieve himself of the previous nights indulgences. He jammed the "Autographed" sheets into a grocery bag and held the bag out in front of me. "Here, take these to Xerox. He's waiting for you." I started to tell him that I wasn't about to deliver the damn things, but he just turned and stumbled into the bedroom (the sleeping bedroom, not the radio studio bedroom). I picked up the keys to the Geo from the counter and went to make the important delivery.

* * *

"mjp, where the fuck have you been?" Xerox coughed, "I've had my men waiting since seven!" His men were slumped across various boxes in Xerox's garage. The looked less than enthusiastic about tipping the "autograph" sheets into the book signatures. The apparent leader cursed me out in Spanish as he took the bag of "autographs" and set his crew to work.

I hung around for a while to watch the work, and I have to say that these guys didn't seem to be too quality conscious. Some of the pages were wrinkled and folded due to the way Bell had unceremoniously stuck them into the grocery bag. That didn't seem to bother them though, as they collated even the most damaged sheets into the rest of the book. Some of them also seemed to be none too concerned with keeping the pages right side up, and were inserting them however they happened to come up in the stack. I'd seen enough, and headed back to the compound.

* * *

"MJB! Where the hell have you been? There's plenty of work to be done around here, mister!"

"I was helping with the 'autograph' pages Arty. Give me a fucking break."

"How does it look? Is 'THE QUICKENING!' almost ready to ship?"

"Oh yeah," I lied, "It should be going out today." Bell pressed for details about his latest masterwork, and I just said "Sure" to any questions he asked. He seemed to be very excited about the book's potential for sales.

"I think we're going to sell all those books within the first month," he blathered, "my huge audience will snap them up in a heartbeat!"

"Arty, do you think you'll have enough copies? I mean, if you really have an audience of fifteen to twenty million, only one out of every twelve thousand listeners will be able to get one. What if two of every twelve thousand order? You'll be caught short."

"MJB, you're a god damned nay-sayer! One of every twelve thousand is good enough for me, pal."

And apparently it was. The fifteen hundred sold out in two weeks. When I mentioned that Howard Stern had sold fifteen hundred books the first thirty seconds his went on sale, Bell grew cloudy and sent me out to bottle prostate tablets.

mjp
5/6/97

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