Frank Talk
  Brian Palmu

“Frank Herter. Host radio, 93.9. Frank Talk from midnight to five. Insomniacs, dipsomaniacs, paranoids, disgruntled ex-Amish. I don’t discriminate. Call in now. 1-800-799-HELP. That’s 1-800-799-HELP. State your problem right away. No mumbling, no sobbing. We’ll be right back, but first, a few messages.”

Frank threw the headphones onto the console. He propped his feet against the desk’s edge, drew a smoke, lit up, and pinched and pulled his nasal septum. He’d been a fixture on the lucrative morning drive for sixteen years, yukking it up with co-host Marnie. He tired of the forced bonhomie, though, and it eventually came through on-air in strangled aggression, towards her, the callers, and, outside five-to-nine, the world. The afternoon slot was next, less coin but with a tad more creative freedom. He used it to fashion his own noose. The five-foot-six program director spilled coffee on flow charts listening to Frank’s between-hits patter on “rule-bound Napoleons who think rank is power and pleasure is insubordination.” The count was now 0 and 2, but just one month into this last-chance gig, he couldn’t care less if he struck out.

“Herter here. You’re on the air. What’s your problem?”

“Mr. Herter?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

“I ... I guess it’s unusual ...”

“Most things aren’t. Get to the point.”

Frank’s thoughts flashed to the morning comedy duo, then to his afternoon social satire. Now he was sneering at fucked-up loners. The wall clock’s second hand mocked him with running tongue clucks. Twelve ten. Four hours fifty minutes to go.

“My girlfriend of five years left me.”

“Find someone new.”

“No, you don’t understand. She just walked out one day when I was still at work. I didn’t even know there was a problem in the relationship.”

“Well, her leaving should have been your big clue.”

“But there was no resolution.”

“Move on.”

“I found out a year later – that’s two months ago – that she died in another city. Of lung cancer.”

“We’ve all got to go sometime. Death doesn’t make reservations.”

“I smoke. She didn’t. Said it never bothered her. Now I wonder if she knew about the cancer before she left me.”

“Can’t ask her now. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“So I’m walking back to my car from the bar late at night. Back alley. Guy jumps me. Pins my arm back. Breaks it. Robs me of two hundred bucks.”

“Leave the cash locked up next time. Plastic for the big bar bill.”

“Took a leave of absence from work. I go back, and they lay me off.”

“We all get fired. Don’t let them mess with you.”

“It’s not that easy. I am – was – a journalist. The profession’s dying.”

“There’s other jobs out there. You’re in the communications business. Quit making excuses.”

“I’ve been taking Percocet for the pain –“

“It’s in the past, let it go.”

“No, for my arm. The doctor didn’t set the cast right. They had to re-break the arm and set it again. Other complications. Anyway, I only get a few hours sleep at night. I finally drift off, and the guy in the apartment next to me turns on, or up, some death metal.”

“Bad taste in music, sure. But buy some good earplugs and move on.”

“I call the landlord. Music stopped. Next day my car’s keyed in the underground garage.”

“You have deductible?”

“Yes, but now Slipsnot, or whatever the band is, is cranked up at exactly one fifteen a.m. every week morning.”

“At least he has a regular job.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means he’s working, probably at some scummy job, hates it, but doesn’t complain, gets home where he can finally relax, but then has some busybody up his ass about volume.”

The dead air continued for several seconds.

“Don’t you ever complain about things, Mr. Herter?”

“This show’s about your problems, pal, not mine. Nobody cares about my problems, anyway. The best thing is to –“

“Move on, I know.”

“Good. Well, you got the message. Be right back, folks, after several words from those paying our bills.”

Frank stubbed out his cigarette and yanked the headphones off once more. He reached for a mickey of rye in the hollowed-out ground level compartment. After two healthy tilts, he returned the bottle to its original place, got the producer’s finger cue, and clamped on the pots.

“Herter here. You’re on the air. What’s your problem?”

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