“AMERICA’S FRIGHT FACTORY!”
ANNOUNCER: And now it’s back to “AMERICA’S FRIGHT FACTORY!” [Canned applause and whistles as the camera pans across to empty space, and then down to where a gray-haired old woman sits in her wheelchair, her knees covered with a plaid wool blanket.]
RIBEYE: Welcome to “America’s Fright Factory!” Mrs. McGreevy!
McGREEVY: Oh, my! Are we on the air now?
RIBEYE: We sure are, toots. Tell our viewers what brings you here today. Why did you want to compete on “America’s Fright Factory!”
McGREEVY: Well, Buck, I’ve had my eye on you for a long time. Do you remember, when you were just starting your career, you posed for pictures in After Dark? All you were wearing was a cowboy hat and a python; and I thought, “That young man has talent.”
CARTUCCHIO: Nothing wrong with looking at pictures. Just don’t touch anybody. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap.
McGREEVY: So, I’ve been following you since then. Of course, I watch “America’s Fright Factory!” every week. And lately I’ve wanted so much to help my little grandson, and I thought, “Why not write to Buck?”
RIBEYE: Your letter was very touching, Mrs. McGreevy. Tell us about your grandson.
McGREEVY: Oh! Little Patrick. He was always full of mischief, running around the house and screaming at the top of his lungs. Since the cancer, he doesn’t run anymore. But he sits and smiles at me, and his blue eyes are so bright. Here’s a photo.
CARTUCCHIO: Why, that kid’s balder than you are, Buck!
McGREEVY: Our house sits on a street where there used to be a chemical plant, and my daughter—that’s Patrick’s Mom—thinks that has something to do with it. I just wish she could get some medical insurance to pay for his treatment.
RIBEYE: No medical insurance? That’s rough.
McGREEVY: Yes. The cheap insurance doesn’t cover the treatments. We had the good insurance from Patrick’s Dad – he had a union job. But all those jobs went overseas, and we just didn’t want to move to Burma with the factory. We still did all right while the Meth lab stayed open. But then they had to shut it down, and Patrick’s Dad went away. My daughter was working five jobs, but they were all part-time. And then this Virus came along, and she can’t work at all. It reminds me of the stories my grandmother used to tell us, about the Potato Famine.
RIBEYE: Well, Mrs. McGreevy, you’ve come to the right place. You’ve got a lot of spunk, and here on “America’s Fright Factory!” we’d be honored to offer you a bailout. Not a handout! We know you’d be too proud to accept that, and I’m sure you’re not a Commie. No, you’ll earn your bailout by acing the TRIAL that Dr. Cartucchio has designed for you. If you make it, “America’s Fright Factory!” is prepared to underwrite two months of out-patient care for little Patrick, plus a visit from a licensed Batman impersonator. We’ll even take a picture of Batman with your grandson, so you have something to remember him by. [Canned applause]
But first, let’s hear a message from our sponsor, POXGUARD!
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CUT to a video of a casually dressed young couple relaxing on a sofa with their dog.
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CUT to a video of a little girl riding her bicycle along a leafy, suburban street. The child stops to speak with a neighbor, who turns to cough into his fist, and then pinches the girl’s cheek.
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[ Happy music – PoxGuard theme song ]
CARTUCCHIO: Gee, Buck, that sounds like an excellent product. I certainly hope your viewers will subscribe to PoxGuard at the earliest opportunity.
RIBEYE: I hope so, Dr. Cartucchio. You turned me on to PoxGuard several months ago, and I invested a bundle. All the other pharmaceutical companies you recommended have done fine, too. I appreciate you looking out for me, dude, (reaching over to touch Cartucchio’s elbow).
CARTUCCHIO (shrieking): Don’t touch me, you animal! No touching!
RIBEYE: Sorry, Doc. You know I don’t have Covid, though. Your contract specified that I had to have a complete physical before you would come near me, and the Covid test was negative.
CARTUCCHIO (spraying disinfectant): Those tests are worthless. Besides, you could still give me Lyme Disease, or Hantavirus, or Bubonic Plague. How many times have I warned you not to eat raw meat when you go hunting? Those deer are carpeted with ticks and fleas, but you can’t wait to build a fire before you begin stuffing yourself.
RIBEYE: You’re right, Doc. I should always take your advice. Sometimes a man just gets hungry. Anyway, what have you got planned for Mrs. McGreevy?
CARTUCCHIO: We know Mrs. McGreevy is young at heart, Buck, and so with this TRIAL we wanted to honor her youthful spirit. As you can see, the team has constructed a giant skateboarding ramp out of plywood and two-by-fours. It’s the kind of structure the kids love to play on these days, and just solid enough for one gutsy granny to show those punks a thing or two, and demonstrate her skills in handling a wheelchair. Afterward it all comes apart, and we can sell the materials to a contractor I know. Take a closer look. The track curls down and around in a big loop, where Mrs. McGreevy will gather momentum for her dash up the ramp, and then she’s airborne.
RIBEYE: That’s amazing, Dr. Cartucchio. What is that area just beyond the ramp?
CARTUCCHIO: That’s the tricky part, Buck. After she flies off the ramp, Mrs. McGreevy has to clear a thicket of sharpened, bamboo stakes whose tips have been painted with Covid-19. Once she’s past the bamboo hazard, which isn’t very long, really, she’s all set to make a comfy landing on a giant mattress stuffed with corn husks, which we can sell later on to a tamale company.
RIBEYE: You’ve thought of everything, Dr. Cartucchio. And there she goes! Godspeed, Mrs. McGreevy! Hey, I thought that wheelchair was motorized.
CARTUCCHIO: No, she’s turning the wheels herself. She’s pretty strong for an old gal, but I expect her arms will be tired tonight, assuming she makes it over the hazard.
RIBEYE: She’s not going very fast yet.
CARTUCCHIO: Well, she should pick up speed in the loop. There! See? Now those wheels are spinning. And there she goes, headed up the ramp! Up, up, but, uh-oh. Wait a minute. She’s slowing down now, losing that momentum. Looks like she’s just barely going to make it over the top. Whoops, she’s falling straight into the bamboo. Too bad!
RIBEYE: We’ll never forget you, Mrs. McGreevy! You were all heart, a great contestant who reminded us what it means to live in a free country. I’m proud to have known you, Mrs. McGreevy. Let’s give her a big hand, folks! [Canned applause and whistles.]
Author Robert Johnson is a dance critic “living” in New York City.