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This is the second chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
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Liz Stratton Closes the Store:
Maren Bradley Anderson
Maureen Bach squealed and jumped and down like a cheerleader, which, in fact, she had been in high school. Liz had to grin at her friend’s enthusiasm. Maureen may have started out as a lowly intern at Liz’s show, but her “spunk” gave her a rocket-ride to Liz’s inner circle. There was no one who else who could entertain quite like Maureen and her tales of growing up young, ginger-haired and pert in the Valley. Plus, she was always ready with a dirty limerick to liven the day. One of her classics was:
There once was a girl from the Valley
Who went to a political rally.
She blew the committee
That ran the whole city,
And now she’s called Mayor O’Malley.
Right now she was saying “omigodomigodomigod” while bouncing bra-less in her tiny tee shirt. Zeke could barely contain himself, though Liz did admire his efforts.
When Maureen was done expressing her excitement, Liz said, “So, I take it you’re willing to take the position?”
“Oh, YES, of course! Oh, you’ll be so proud of me, Liz. Spare Me! will be in very capable hands.” Maureen was nodding seriously as she returned to her seat. Liz loved that Maureen could turn herself on and off like that. It made her very hard to pin down sometimes, but Liz was jealous of the ability to switch roles so effortlessly.
Liz continued with the briefing. “You’ve handled the show very well when I’ve been on vacation, so I know you’ll do well,” she said. “But that was with Zeke at the helm. I’m a little worried about leaving you with a new producer, though.”
“Oh, where’s Zeke going?” Maureen asked.
“I’m going with Liz as her, what do you call it?” Zeke said.
“You’re my handler,” Liz answered.
“M-row!” said Maureen with a saucy grin on her face. “I bet it didn’t take long for you to convince him to ‘handle’ you!”
Liz laughed and missed the micro-second that Zeke looked undone by Maureen’s remark. “No, he was eager for the job, all right. But I love Zeke. I couldn’t do any of this without him,” Liz smiled at Zeke like he was a trusted retriever, and that’s exactly how he felt. None of this had missed Maureen.
But she changed the subject.
“So, how can I help with the campaign?”
Liz sat backstage and re-read the same sentence of her acceptance speech over and over. Why was she nervous? Hadn’t she been in front of a live studio audience taping a national show every day for ten years? Why did a room full of supporters and some press give her butterflies all of a sudden?
She couldn’t talk herself down because she knew that her talk show was just a forum for the conceited and was watched by people who didn’t work during the day and had no better use for their time. This was real. She might be a “name,” as Cal put it, but she wasn’t a politician. Liz began to pant and her contact lenses felt like they were burning. She yelped as she pulled them out, so Cal ran in.
“What the hell, Liz?” she cried when she saw Liz leaning over the make-up table with tears streaming down her face. “Oh, honey! What’s the matter?”
“My contacts went toxic in my eyes,” Liz sniffled, hoping to cover her panic. “I need to find my glasses. I can’t wear those anymore today.”
Liz pulled out her glasses and slipped them on. She sighed in relief when she realized that they masked her fear just a little, too. Cal looked at Liz in the mirror for a moment.
“Actually, Liz, that’s good,” she said. “They give you that ‘sexy librarian’ look. That’ll go over well with the men and the lesbians in the press room.” She gave Liz a sly wink. “We will need to work the whole ‘she’s single, everyone’ angle, don’t you think?”
Liz couldn’t help but grin. “A woman for all the people, huh? I’m not sure that’s going to fly in Omaha, Cal.”
“Oh, fuck Omaha,” said Cal. “Like we’d win Omaha, anyway. Now bring your sexy self along. We have a room to rile up.”
Liz took one last look at herself in the mirror. She did look like a sexy librarian, so she pouted and put her fingers in front of her lips in a silent “shush!” Madame President needs quiet, she thought, and minced out of the dressing room.
“...and that is why I, Elizabeth Ann Stratton am running for the office of the President of the United States of America!” Liz finished her speech with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, and the crowd began its applause. At the last moment she added, “because I mean, really, Spare Me!”
The crowd leapt to its feet and howled a high, throaty, decidedly female howl as Liz stepped back and waved a moment before Cal came on stage and hugged her. Cal took the podium and shouted over the melee, “How about a hand for the future Madame President?” The room erupted again and chanted, “Spare Me! Spare Me!” as they waved and left the stage.
Cal grinned. “I think that went well,” she said. “I mean, I was a little worried when they began chanting your name, but I think you really got them when they began chanting your name, you know?” She nudged Liz in the ribs.
Liz was high on endorphins, so she giggled like a seven-year-old, but her inner critic was already in high gear.
“You don’t think the speech was a little stilted or...trite?” Liz asked quietly.
Cal looked at her as if making a decision. “Well,” she began. “We can work on your delivery. You’re best when you’re improvising, you know. Like throwing in “Spare Me!” Brilliant. We’re going to have to work that in every time you talk.”
“Won’t that get repetitive or boring?”
“That’s politics, honey,” Zeke said stepping up from behind them. “Let’s get to the green room for some champagne,” he suggested. He took a deep breath and put his fingertips on the small of Liz’s back. He exhaled when she didn’t pull away.
Liz noticed Zeke could open a bottle of bubbly better than anyone. Barely a burp so the bubbles stayed in the wine. He poured three glasses and then raised his in a toast. “To our girl!” They clinked and drank, and then Zeke said what he always said: “In celebration of a successful show, please come to dinner with me tonight!”
To which Liz responded the same way she always did: she laughed lightly and said, “Some other time, I promise!” and sipped some more champagne. This had been their ritual for the past ten years.
Zeke watched as the two women chattered in agonizing ignorance of their affect on him. He held the wine under his nose and peeked at them over his dark-rimmed glasses. After ten years, he was used to the way he felt about Liz and the way she felt about him. He hadn’t meant to be categorized as brotherly, just the opposite, in fact. When he heard her radio show all those years ago and then seen her headshot, he had recognized her potential, but mostly he had wanted to get into her pants.
The “Assistant Producer” line had worked for him before. Zeke was handsome, but he was not tall, and he was not remarkable-looking, and recently he’d begun shaving his head to hide unfortunately early balding. In LA, you had to be remarkable-looking and have great contacts to make girls pay attention to you. Or, you had to be somebody who could help a career.
At least Zeke was an actual assistant producer when he met Liz. He’d found that he liked the work, and the line was useful for picking up girls in bars. But, it hadn’t worked on Liz. Maybe it was because she wasn’t in or from LA, but she hadn’t reacted in the way the bimbos on the strip did. She didn’t scoot her chair closer to his or start making eyes at him over her drink. She just began talking about her ideas for a television show. Her excellent ideas for a show. Zeke was smitten with her, and the casting couch remained unused.
Zeke snapped out of his head when he heard his name.
“Zeke. When is the first debate?” Cal was asking.
“Debate? Well, we won’t be actually debating the other candidates until after their conventions in August,” he said. “Until then, we’ll be just setting up press conferences, buying ads, and campaigning. You know, spreading the message.”
“Fine,” said Liz, stretching her long, long, ever so long legs out so they almost touched Zeke’s polished shoes. “What’s our ‘message’?” she asked.
Cal pulled a legal pad out of her case. “Besides our usual ‘break the glass ceiling,’ and ‘keep your legislation out of our uteri’ platforms, WAP is calling for the end of the war in Mesopotamiastan. ‘War is a stupid man’s game,’” she read from the pad. “Present company excepted.” Zeke waved a hand. “We need to brainstorm some ideas on how to end that fucking mess.”
Liz sighed angrily. “I’ve been talking about that stupid war on the show for six years now,” she said. “And I get angrier every time I do. The amount of money spent! The continuous tours of duty for the soldiers! Do you know, I interviewed a girl last year who had only seen her husband for a month before he was shipped back to Mesopotamiastan for another two year stint!” Liz’s blue eyes flashed. Zeke thought “angry Liz” was the sexiest beast there was.
Cal was nodding. “WAP has statistics on how many families have lost primary breadwinners to the war, how many have lost sons or husbands.”
“Do you have numbers on how much these missing men are straining the economy?”
Cal flipped through a stack of printouts on her lap as she took a sip of champagne. Smiling she said, “Yup,” and held up a sheet with a downward-sloping graph. “Right here.”
Liz leaned further back in the soft chair and sipped her bubbly, too. “Does it seem to you, Cal, that the war has robbed us of all the men?”
Cal glanced at Zeke and said, “Sometimes. Zeke, how did you escape the army?”
Liz looked up to see if Zeke had taken offence that she had forgotten that he was in the room, again. He hadn’t. “I have flat feet,” he said. “You should see my footprint. It’s like an outline of a shoe.” Liz smiled at him, and that was enough for him, for now.
Liz Stratton was not a rock star, but now that she was on a bus tour, she felt a little more empathy for them. Granted, her tour only needed two busses, and required no semi-trucks full of guitars and such, but after only two hours on a luxury coach, Liz felt a bit stir-crazy.
Her bus was even a deluxe special model with a private bedroom for her in the back. The driver made sure to show her the door that closed for “privacy.” He was immensely proud of his coach. Liz could hardly turn around in the “bedroom,” and the bunk was a cramped fit for her six-foot frame, but she made a big deal out of it for him. She knew better than to upset a bus driver.
Once she was settled, the support staff mounted the steps and occupied most of the seats of the bus, including the two “booths” with little tables; the driver also showed these off to Liz on her tour. Soon, all the staff were busy tapping away on either their laptops or smart phones, completely absorbed in their electronics. Liz wasn’t expecting the staff to be so...technologically savvy.
“Gosh, they’re quiet,” she whispered to Zeke.
He looked up from his yellow notepad. “Hmph,” he snorted. “If I ever get a Twitter account, make sure I’m shot the next morning.”
“Is that what they’re doing?” Liz asked. “I mean, I have email, and the show has a Facebook page that I sometimes post on, but, I mean....” She trailed off sadly. “Am I actually so old that I can’t understand the new generation’s mode of communication?”
“Oh, my poor girl,” Zeke smiled at her. “You are worse than that. You are so old that once you get a Twitter account (and that’s part of our plan), you will make it passé.”
“You really know how to hurt a girl,” Liz said.
Liz’s contact lenses were officially out of commission. Even if the smog died down and she were able to wear them again, her “handlers” had decided that glasses would become her Presidential “signature.” Now she had three dozen pairs and one person in charge of picking which she was to wear when.
“Where does WAP get the money to do this, again?” Liz asked Cal as the “eyewear technician” considered the options for today’s open-air rally.
“We’ve got an endowment that the Ivies envy,” Cal whispered. “One of the Rockefeller widows left everything to us instead of her simpering children.”
Liz nodded and peeked at her notes again. She felt like she was getting the typical rally and press conference routine down. She hadn’t really focused on how much repeating politicians running for office do, but she had said mostly the same thing every day. It was Saturday, the beginning of a new week in a way, and she was studying her new script.
“Where are we today, Zeke?” Liz asked, glancing out the bus window. The parking lots all looked the same.
Zeke knew, but he glanced at the calendar, anyway. “We’re just North of San Diego.”
Instead of being pleased with the news, Zeke saw Liz frowning. “Frowning Liz” was another sexy beast he loved. “But where, Zeke?”
He glanced at the calendar again and saw what was irking her. “Oh, we’re near Camp Pendleton.”
“Shit,” Liz hissed between her teeth.
“What is it?” asked Cal.
“Liz, focus on the script. We’ve outlined a few things...” Cal began.
“This is bullshit, Cal, and we know it. I don’t want to go out there and look at those faces without a PLAN.” Liz paced up the aisle of the bus. “Can we postpone this rally?”
“No. You’ll just have to do the best you can, Liz. Remember, we’re the only ones who are indignant and angry about the war. It’s enough for now just to say it has to stop.”
“Maybe for you,” said Liz, flopping back in her seat. “I want to be able to tell them that we know how to end it.”
“Well,” said Zeke. “When you have an idea, let us know.”
Liz walked onto the stage inside an old gym complete with basketball hoops suspended from the ceiling. The crowd that had gathered to see her hardly filled one corner of the room, but they seemed enthusiastic. The local media had set up across from the stage so three cameras and bored reporters faced her. The cameras didn't bother her nearly as much as the faces of the young, mostly female faces that stared up at her. Alarmingly, there were several “Support Our Troops!” tee shirts polka-dotting the audience.
"We entered this war for the wrong reasons!" Liz declared, and waited for the high-pitched whoops to die down before saying, "We continue for the wrong reasons!" The crowd cheered again and seemed perfectly happy to respond to her cheerily, regardless of the hot, stagnant air in the gym and sticky, stale mat smell. Liz felt like a parrot, mouthing words that had no meaning and blinking blankly at the faces before her. She felt sick.
Her speech done, Liz shook hands and kissed babies. This was the last stop today, so she could afford to linger a little. As she hugged a particularly chubby infant for a picture, someone tugged on her sleeve. She turned to face the oldest woman in the room. "Yes?" Liz asked. "What can I do for you?"
"You can tell me how you propose to stop this stupid war," the crone rasped at her. Her faded sweater had a yellow ribbon pinned to the lapel. "I've been voting for a half century, and I'm ready to stop because not one politician has done what he's said he was going to do. Most've just stopped saying what they’re going to do, so I've taken to asking. What are you going to do to get us out of this war?"
Liz stared at the old woman for a moment, stunned and angry that she didn't have a ready answer. Finally, she sighed and put her arm around the elderly lady. "Honestly, I'm still working on a plan," she said, suddenly feeling very tired. "I will tell you that I would give up anything to get us out of this war."
"So would I," said the old lady.
"Me, too," said another woman.
A number of other women also agreed.
"That's great," said Liz. “Now, we need to figure out what we could sacrifice to make the war end."
The ladies surrounding her laughed.
Liz said, "If any of you come up with a plan, please send it to us. We're ready to listen to ideas."
Zeke nudged her and handed her a pen and paper with a wink.
“Actually,” she said, “how about we just start with brainstorming session now?”
“Beer!” Came the first suggestion, followed by snickers.
Liz wrote it down carefully. “Beee-eer. Next?”
“I think we’re missing the spirit of the exercise, here,” Liz said, but wrote the items down, anyway.
“NOW we’re getting somewhere!” Liz laughed.
“Let’s not get crazy,” Liz joked.
On the sidelines, Cal congratulated Zeke. “Great idea, man. Those ladies are eating up the brainstorming thing! Where’d that come from?”
Zeke shrugged. “It’s the way we write the show, Cal. Someone writes down every crazy idea that pops into our heads because one of them’s gotta be a winner.”
“You always get winners?”
“Not every time, but it only takes a couple of winners to make the difference.”
“I’m glad you came along, Zeke,” Cal said, bumping him affectionately.
They smiled as they watched Liz work the crowd.
Maureen Bach wasn’t Liz Stratton, but she was entertaining in a different way. Cute and bouncy and normally bra-less, Maureen filled up the small screen like an off-duty stripper in a smoky bar. Liz watched Maureen’s first segment in awe and disbelief. It was titled, “I Don’t Get Any Since The Army Took My Lover Away.” Maureen had eight women come on stage and tell her in great, graphic detail how they hadn’t seen an actual penis in months and were resorting to a number of “Plan B’s.”
“Zeke,” Liz called. “Zeke, what is this?”
Zeke peered over Liz’s shoulder at the little flat-screen mounted on the wall of the bus. “That’s Maureen doing your show,” he said.
“But, Zeke. She’s said, ‘cock’ and ‘dildo’ at least three times already!”
“Really?” Zeke sat down. “I’m surprised Andre let her to do that. He’s a bit of a prude.”
The watched as Maureen interviewed another woman who was describing in thinly veiled detail how to make a “pleasure device” from frozen vegetation.
“I don’t believe this!” Liz cried. “This is on during the daytime, Zeke!”
“Calm down, Liz,” Zeke said soothingly. “I think this might be very helpful.” He started scribbling on a nearby yellow pad. “I mean, if you mention an interview with a woman who was resorting to her vegetable bin for lack of a lover, I think you might get some attention...”
“But what would I lose?” Liz wailed. She watched as Maureen turned to the camera and said, “We’ll be right back,” somehow bouncing her pert breasts at the camera without moving a muscle.
Zeke put a hand on her shoulder, and caught a peek down her blouse. “Honey, I think this will be good for us. That’s why I approved the segment. You know we’re using the show as a platform, right? We need it to stir up the issues we want to talk about.”
“I know,” said Liz. “I just see my journalistic ideals flying out the window.”
“This isn’t journalism, it’s politics,” said Cal from her seat. “We’re not aiming for the highest common denominator. You know that.”
The memory of Maureen’s nipples made Liz turn off the television. “Just make her wear a bra, okay? I’m depressed enough about not being 25 anymore. I don’t need her rubbing it in.”
This is the second chapter of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
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Click here for Chapter One.
About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute.
Connect with me online!
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#marenster
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/
Writing Blog – http://closingthestore.blogspot.com
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marenster