A TYLERTOWN TELETHON
Christmastime at the Treadway house on Deadwoods Street in Tylertown was always special. Violet decorated every visible square inch of her two story wood frame house, where she lived with her lively parakeet, Otto, with lights, tinsel, garlands, and Christmas cards from many years past.
This particular afternoon during the Christmas season of 1978, the Treadway living room was busy with the monthly meeting of the Duck County Ladies Club. On the worn flowery sofa sat Donna Glotz, lost in a repeat episode of F Troop. Beside her sat Wilma Rae Soar, owner of Tylertown's own Beauty Barn, busily taking meeting notes.
Sitting on the staircase was her only employee, known to the others simply as "the girl who sweeps up hair", picking at a slice of fruitcake, and listening intently. Nearby, in a large bird cage, perched Otto, dividing his attention between a worn photograph of Joyce Dewitt and the falling fruitcake crumbs on the worn carpet, out of reach.
"And, finally, ladies," Violet continued, arranging a tattered garland on the mantel. "The community college has asked us for help this year’s fund raising event Suggestions?"
Donna glanced away from the flickering screen. "I suggest we let the school raise their own money. We have better things to do...well, not really. Violet, you get terrible television reception he…how can you-" She was interrupted by a quivering voice from the corner of the living room. It was none other than her soon to be ex husbands former cell mate, Carl, his spindly frame wrapped around Violet’s rarely used portable record player, purchased in the Fifties. He had accompanied Donna to the meeting, along with his ever-present stack of Broadway cast recordings.
“101 Strings perform Hits from Camelot!” Carl screeched, flipping through Violet’s small collection of records. “Yeech! What a terrible record!” Across the room, Otto folded his head under his wing. “I would never buy this record, let alone listen to it, let alone…have it in my house!”
From the sofa, Donna snapped back. “Will you shut up over there, you nitwit? Do you want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the car?” She dramatically shrugged her shoulders. “And you don’t even have a house, you moocher-“ Carl slunk lower and dug deeper into the stack or long playing records.
“Donna, really, talking to your husband like that.” Violet smoothed her dress, and tapped at a flickering table lamp beside her. “Larry, you just go on and say what ever you want. It must have been hard for you, being in jail and all-“
That’s not Larry, that’s Carl, his cell mate. “Donna explained. “Don’t ask what they’re still doing together. It’s kinda creepy. “ She took a long gulp from her can of Rheingold.” They do kinda look alike, though…anyway, Larry got his job back, driving the bus out at Gumpy Lake…on the Christmas light bus tour, even thought the last time he was behind the wheel of that bus, he ran someone over. He’s on probation for a month with no pay.”
“Too err is human.” added the girl who sweeps up hair. “Forgive and forget.”
“Whatever,” Donna mumbled, not looking back. “What are we doing raising money for that dumb community college? This Christmas, we should be raining money for people who really need it…me! I can’t even pay my rent! And that no good husband and his pencil armed pal are eating me out of house and home!” She pointed shaky finger at Carl, who was busy defacing the dust jacket of The Longines Symphonette's complete treasury of nostalgic holiday music, CHRISTMAS at the FIRESIDE, with a nail file.
Next to her, Wilma Rae Soar shook her head. “Donna, if you didn’t get fired from your job so many times, maybe you wouldn’t be so behind in your rent. After all how tough can it be, writing for a newspaper? No stress there.”
“Creative writing is considered by many mental health professionals to be therapeutic.” interjected the girl who sweeps up hair. “Even calligraphy skills are-“
Donna slapped the arm of the couch. “Alright, that’s enough!” She turned to face the girl who sweeps up hair. “Can you just cut it out with your little sayings and bits of helpful information. You are about as helpful as that bird there!” From the nearby cage, came a loud hissing and ruffling of feathers.
Violet Treadway was accustomed to these diversions from her scheduled meeting itinerary. In a previous incarnation, the Duck County Ladies Club was known as the Tylertown Writing Club and most meetings were spent, in addition to entering poetry contests, enjoying oral presentations of creative works by fellow members (occasionally accompanied by visual aids presented on Violets personal overhead projector), were spent, listening to Donna complain about her job, her house, her soon to be ex husband, as well as how poorly she was treated by the residents of Tylertown, Piney Fork and Gumpy Lake. The writing club officially disbanded two years ago, after one of their members, young Candy Dish, hopped onto a freight train one foggy night and left Duck County and her abusive mother and brother for Pittsburgh.
But Violet had missed her house being full of life and concentrated on reassembling the former group, with a new goal, to help those in need elsewhere in Duck County. Now, this holiday afternoon, it was just like the old days.
“You want stress, Donna?” Wilma Rae continued, banging her own fist on the sofa. “You try washing and setting Millie Carnations hair, while she is squirming in the chair on a pile of Sears catalogs and stuttering and spitting on about how she should get better service at the Two Buck Cut at the Hilltop Mall! One of these days, I am going to drag her by her overall straps, toss her into the trunk of my car and take her to the Two Buck Cut at the Hilltop Mall and pay for her wash and set myself!” She gasped for breath and patted her bosom.
“Miss Carnations plan would have succeeded, “the girl who sweeps up hair summarized. “She would have received a free wash and set as well as a free ride to the mall. “
The rest of the room was silent for a short second, Carl put down the record jacket and nail file, cleared his chicken-y throat. “When you know who and I were you know where, we used to raise money by…” he shivered like a wet schoolgirl “…putting on a show!” He giggled creepily, collapsing against the record player.
Violet held a finger in the air, in her best chairwoman’s pose. “That’s a great idea, Carl. A show! We all have a talent that we could put to…good…use...” She stopped and glanced at Otto, busy preening himself in his tiny mirror. “…except for you, Otto. Any talent you have, well, it stays in that cage!”
“Oh, Violet, don’t be so hard on that old bird!’ Wilma Rae exclaimed. “What has he done recently, that’s so bad?”
Donna laughed unpleasantly. “Well, remember last summer when he got out of his cage and flew over to the radio station, and fooled with the antennas wires, so that when noon rolled around, listeners didn’t hear Bargain Bill Butler and his all new Classifieds? Instead what came out of the radio was - “ she struggled to continue, Rheingold beer flowing upwards from her throat to her nasal passages, “ – Love to Love you baby on an eight track!” She exploded in a fit of laughter and suds, causing Carl to turn his head in disgust.
“It took Bill Butler hours to find that 8-track player!” Violet remembered. “Well, a show it is. To raise money for the Duck County Community college!” she paced behind the sofa, thinking. “Someone has to write the show for us.” Donna wiped beer from her nose and slunk deeper in the cushions.
Carl sprung to his feet. “Hey, Donna writes fer that paper here in town. Maybe she – “ Donna hid her face in her hands, as Carl thought briefly. “- knows of somebody who can do it fer us!”
Donna sat straight up and grinned. “Well, it just so happens that I do know of someone, who would…love…to write for you….” Her grin turned into a mischievous smile. In the corner, the flickering table lamp sputtered and blew out.
A few miles away, at the dusty, smelly, damp Fish Wish Pet Store at the Hilltop Mall, Jimmy Sweeney leaned against the glass storefront and sighed. Across the terrazzo floor, the Jean Scene was full of well figured young ladies and men, being fitted in the latest denim pants and skirts, as disco-enhanced Christmas carols filled the air. Without even so much as a Christmas card to compose, Jimmy was sure his writing career was over for sure, even before it had started.
Four weeks later, the Duck County Ladies Club had reconvened for, as Violet had named the event, The First Duck County Talented Telethon production meeting at the almost empty Pasta Palace located in the Piney Fork IGA strip mall. The ladies club had asked, via Bargain Bill and his All New Classifieds radio show, for all interested Duck County residents to attend, but none had so far, most likely because almost no one listened to Bargain Bill’s radio show, opting to tune into Lotto Lounge an hour later instead.
“Well, of course it’s a talented telethon,” Donna Glotz mumbled, sucking in a long string of thin spaghetti. “Who would want a telethon with untalented people in it?” Across the checkered cloth covered table, a weathered forehead nodded in agreement. It was stuttering Millie Carnation, who had agreed to participate in exchange for a free plug for her Seven/Eleven store on Main Street in Tylertown. “You should have used the name I suggested,” Donna added. “The whole county -“
Nearby, at the salad bar, Wilma Rae shook a tong-full of iceberg lettuce under the clear sneeze guard. “ – laughs at you? Correct me if I am wrong, but who would want to listen to a telethon called “The Donna Glotz Show? We would lose money, not make it….look, Violet, chick peas AND bitsy bacons! What a salad bar this! Millie, you should have things like this in that trough you call a salad bar at your Seven/Eleven!” She returned to filling her plate, and added innocently. “Oh, I forgot, you’re too cheap.”
The chair in which Millie was sitting shook violently. “W-w-whats wrong with c-c-cabbage, onions and f-f-trench dressing?” She tossed her checkered cloth napkin up to the table. “That’s a s-s-salad bar. Humph!”
“And she charges a dime to use her rest room. She’s cheap like that, I tell you.” Wilma Rae took her overflowing salad plate to join the girl who sweeps up hair, quietly picking at a bowl of moutons, at a small table.
“A penny saved is a penny earned,” The girl who sweeps up hair commented. “And raw cabbage is full of minerals.”
“Shut up.” Donna mumbled, taking a large gulp of Blue Nun. “Do we always-“ She was interrupted by a gust of cold air from the front door., accompanied by a hatted and scarved Jimmy Sweeney, vinyl briefcase clutched to his chest. He closed the door behind him, yanking his hearing aid cord before it became stuck in the jamb. The garlicky humid air of the restaurant quickly fogged the lenses of his taped eyeglasses. “- Oh geez, look what the wind blew in.” she added.
Violet Treadway rushed to the door. “Jimmy? You look like you walked here all the way from Tylertown!” She pried the briefcase from his grip. “In this cold, too. It must be twenty degrees out.”
“T-t-twenty t-t-two,” Jimmy stammered. “M-m-ma wouldn’t d-d-drive m-m-me. W-w-waste of gas, she said. And I’ve Got A Secret w-w-was on.”
“H-h-here’s a secret for ya,” Millie Carnation laughed and bit into a bread stick, causing crumbs to fly in the air.. “She sounds like my kinda g-g-gal!”
An hour later, the club had pushed aside the Corel pasta bowls and salad plates and were poring over Jimmy's tomato sauce stained “script” for the telethon.
“Correct me if I am wrong, but how can anyone show their talent if they have to stick to a script?” a worn Wilma Rae observed. “ For example, how can I display my talent for curling hair, if I have to talk about…” she squinted at the page in her hand, “…handling and chopping…whatever that means…”
Jimmy picked at his forehead, and adjusted the single lens left in his eyeglasses. “Handel and Chopin, they’re classical composers. I thought the people of Duck County could use a little culture.” Jimmy was beginning to regret his involvement in this affair, as he was losing pay from his part time job, and the walking to Piney Fork every night for these half-baked meetings was taking quite a toll on his already fragile health. Just that evening he had been run off the side of Route 800 by a speeding green station wagon, causing him to slip into the gutter and break his eyeglasses.
Donna slumped in her chair. “At this rate we’re gonna have less listeners than Bargain Bill and Lotto Lounge combined.” She looked around the almost empty restaurant, filled more with the wait staff than customers, and out into the icy parking lot where a green station wagon had just switched off its headlights. “And no one showed up to be in our….thingy. This county stinks. What I wouldn't give to be back in Cleveland right now-”
She was interrupted by another gust of cold air from the front door and the appearance of a bundled middle aged woman, holding the mittened hands of two little girls, one with long curly red hair a, the other dressed in come sort of peasant dress with a large kerchief on her tiny head, almost covering her dark eyes. The woman stomped the light snow from her boots and spoke first.
“Are we too late to audition for the telethon? I mean, not me, I'm Iris , but these two little girls. This is my daughter, Zelda Riggolio and-”
The red haired in broke in, breaking away from her mother and headed straight to the salad bar.”- and this is my friend...Doinka...look, they put skettis into the salad bar thing! And mouserooms, ewww!”
The other rushed beside Zelda, pushed the kerchief from her watering eyes, and squinted suspiciously at the long array of sliced vegetables, dressings, and pasta. “Vhat esss thes?” she questioned in a thick European accent. “Zee beets are not for zee bar of zee salad!” She then turned to the table of adults and curtsied politely. “Hallo. I am Linka from Bulgaria and I like zee juice of zee beets!”
Jimmy's jaw dropped. Linka from Bulgaria? What was this, some kind of cruel joke, being played upon him by his fellow writing students at the Piney Fork Community College? He had written about a little girl by the same name in his stories last summer! And she wasn't font of beet juice, but frozen beets on a stick!
The girl who sweeps up hair put down the paper napkin she was neatly tearing into a neat snowflake, and commented, matter of factly. “It is logical to assume that Bargain Bill has more listeners than we originally tabulated.”
TO BE CONTINUED