Wednesday, February 01, 2006

G.L.O.W. Diary 1

I was a struggling writer in the 80s. My books weren't selling and my name became mud in the publishing industry. Rather than go through a series of pen names, I looked for regular work. The country's fascination with dragons wouldn't last long, and it would be better to ride it out. I had a feeling that vampires would make a comeback, and in a big way. But in the meantime, I had to eat. My agent, wanting to ensure I'd return as a client, said he'd find me something that would fit my style.

When he finally called, I was flipping burgers, so I was happy to hear from him.

"The salary is better than your last advance, Joel, and it's television. Not only that, you'll be the head, um, writer."

"Sounds great, Ken."

"There's a few catches, and I'm not sure you'll like it."

"What is it, cartoons? There a new line of toys coming out?"

"No, nothing like that. In fact, it's not for kids at all."

"I'm not writing porn, Ken, not even that stuff on cable."

"No, no, no! It's not like that, either."

I sighed. Ken Rosenberg was a great agent, but he dealt better with publishers than he did with clients. He always beat around the bush, like when he tried to get me to write romance.

"Is it soap opera? I can do soap opera. Food is more important than pride."

"Ummm... yeah, it's a lot like soap opera. You might even enjoy it, there's a lot of beautiful ladies to oggle."

"Hmmm... okay, so what's the catch?"

"Well, first, you have to move to Las Vegas."

I looked at the paint peeling from the ceiling of my motel room. I said that was fine.

"Second, it's a high pressure job. Ratings are everything and you need to be able to make last minute changes, sometimes working from scratch."

"You know my turnaround time, Ken. I can handle it."

"Great! A limo will pick you up in LV. Your plane leaves in an hour. Sorry, kid, but they needed someone right away."

As I quickly packed my suitcase, I realized that pawning all my stuff had been to my advantage. I just hoped my jeans and t-shirt wouldn't get me fired upon arrival.

*

Arriving in Las Vegas is a different experience when you're not there to gamble. The limos waiting to pick up suckers aren't for you. It's both empowering and humiliating. I had no money to spend. But at least my new employer, for whatever reason, had sent a limo. And on that note, I was wrong.

The limo was there, of course, along with a guy holding up a sign with "WIDEMAN" on it. But when he open the door for me, there was a man and woman in the back seat. The woman motioned for me to sit in the backward facing seat across from her. She looked both old and young, like plastic surgery was taking off 10 years while chain smoking was putting on 15. On her lap was my first book. The guy looked about my age, and was looking at me like I just stole his job. They made an odd pair.

She spoke first. "Mr. Wideman, it is a thrill to meet you. My name is Jackie Stallone."

"Er, thank you, Mrs. Stallone--"

"Call me Jackie."

"Jackie. And you can call me Joel. I see you're a fan of my work."

"I have little time to read, but when I do, I like to read your stuff."

"It's refreshing to meet someone who isn't crazy about dragons."

"I'm not crazy about vampires either, but you tell a believable story despite the subject."

The man spoke up. "We're getting off the subject, Jackie."

"Oh, yes. This is David McClane, my silent business partner."

I extended a hand. "Nice to meet you, David." He looked at my hand like I had leprosy.

"You'll be replacing David." said Jackie. Was that a smirk I saw?

"Do you have any experience with wrestling, Mr. Wideman?"

"I wrestled some in high school. I was small and weak, but made up for it by being slow."

"He means professional wrestling, Joel. He thinks his replacement should be someone in the business, but none of them will work for what we're paying."

"None of them will work for you for what we're paying, Jackie."

"Yes. It's a very male-dominated industry." she said with disgust.

"Uh, I'm a little confused here. Ken said I'd be the head writer for a television show."

"He didn't mention Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling?"

I had a sinking feeling. "No."

"He didn't tell you that you'd be the head booker?"

McClane grinned while I looked confused.

"I have no choice, then. You win, David. I'm sorry, Joel, we'll get you a flight tomorrow. You can stay in the hotel in the meantime."

I wasn't about to let that smarmy bastard get one over on me. I'm a writer - bullshit is my business. This would be cake. "Hold on, I didn't say I wouldn't do it."

"There's not time, Jackie. Our first show tapes in a few hours! He can't possibly learn the business that fast, not to mention book the show."

"What is it I have to do, anyway? It's just wrestling matches. Where does the writing come in?"

"It's not just wrestling matches, Joel. Although deciding who to put in the match and how it turns out will be your job, we have to give viewers a reason to care. We can't have a half-hour of women rolling around on
each other for no reason."

"So, the matches are there to resolve conflicts between the wrestlers?"

"Yes, Mr. Wideman." He sounded disappointed.

"So, basically, I'll be writing a variety of good vs evil stories that are played out in the ring?"

"Something like that, Joel. The story is built up with non-match segments. Mostly interviews."

I think I get it now. Rosenberg said it was like a soap opera."

"Yes, people often say it's soap opera for men, Mr. Wideman. And in our case, it's men who like to watch women wrestle in skimpy clothes."

"Just until we get established, David. Women wrestlers aren't taken that seriously in this country compared to Japan, Joel, so we figured why fight it. I wanted a serious writer to balance things out. David had ideas that were too tasteless for words."

I nodded.

"David and a few others will assist you, but the ultimate decision making and responsibility is yours, Joel."

"Well, I better meet these gorgeous ladies of wrestling."

"And we'll get you a suit, Mr. Wideman. You look like you've been living in a cheap motel. And you smell like hamburger grease."

*

"This is a lot of people, McClane. I can't possibly get everyone on air in a meaningful way in a half-hour long show."

"And you shouldn't! You need to consider costs. These girls get paid for each appearance, and some of them make quite a lot. We won't make enough each show to pay more than a handfull or two."

"Why can't we pay them a salary, like you and me?"

McClane looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I was, but I'd have to take the issue up with Jackie eventually.

"Have I met everyone?"

"Yes, Mr. Wideman. Everyone with whom we have contracts. I saw you took notes, even though you tried to hide it."

"Yeah, a research habit. People tend to talk less freely when they see a notepad."

I took out my notepad. Something was missing and I couldn't spot it.

"I've met everyone who potentially gets on screen, but I think something's missing."

"What do you mean? I filled all the positions. Regardless of what Jackie thinks of my taste, I am not incompetent."

"Relax, McClane, I'm not criticizing. It's just that, well, Penny mentioned she would prefer being a road agent. But she's doing color commentary."

He didn't say anything, but the look on his face spoke volumes.

"Look, Kitty is right over there, she knows a few things. I'll get a second opinion."

"Hey, Kitty, can I bug you for a minute?"

"Of course, Joel, that's what I'm here for."

"What do you think of Penny? As a color commentator, that is."

"She was a fantastic athlete in her day, Joel. The only girl in this company that knows the inside of the ring as well as her is Dee. But on the microphone? She's third rate."

I wouldn't have to check my notes to know that Dee was "Matilda the Hun". Everyone had spoken well of her abilities.

"Thanks, Kitty. Do me a favor? Tell Penny to get everyone rounded up. I need to make a lot of changes and I don't have time to tell each person individually."

"You got it, Joel." She smiled broadly as she hurried away.

I turned to look at McClane. His face was turning red and his eyebrows were mashed together. I knew a mad on when I saw one.

"No offense, McClane, but I need to reorganize before I can start writing. What you did here, I'm sure would work for you. But as long as I'm head booker, I'll have to do things a bit different.

"Besides, I still want you as lead announcer."

He settled down after this. I ordered a soft drink, and sat down to go over my notes. With McClane's input, I was able to rearrange the whole roster in a way that made everyone happy while at the same time filling all the positions we needed to run shows.

This also showed me something I found disturbing.

"McClane, I know we only pay girls per appearance, but we have almost twice as many as we need."

"Yes, Mr. Wideman, thanks to you, our roster is - like the girls themselves - top heavy."

I let the tasteless joke pass. I had work to do. Just then, Jackie showed up.

"I hear you're shaking things up already, Joel."

"Yes, and I'm going to have to let some of the more expensive wrestlers go. We have enough already, and I don't need the egoes complicating matters."

"Okay, Joel. Just wait until tomorrow to announce it. We don't know how some of them will react."

Oops! Good thing we didn't have the meeting already. I grabbed my notes and headed for the locker room where the gang was waiting. It occured to me that Penny would be rounding up the girls only.

"McClane, could you find the guys for me? Have them meet in the girls' locker room."

He looked at Jackie a moment before walking off, presumably to do what I asked. This job was not going to be easy.

"You know, Joel, you have the authority to fire him."

"I'd just have to find another announcer and he's much cheaper than Monty."

Monty was, of course, Montgomery Van. He got paid more per appearance than McClane got per month. Although very charismatic, I got more bang for the buck with McClane. Besides, McClane had a vested interest in the company making money.

*

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I have good news. Listening to your statements regarding your positions, and cross-checking with those who know you better than I do, I have put together a reorganized roster that I am confident will please everyone - including our audience."

I pointed to the whiteboard I had a concierge dig up for me in exchange for tickets to the show.

"This board will keep track of everyone's position on the roster. You will notice that next to each name, there is a 'G' or a 'B'. This indicates who is good and who is bad."

There was some laughter in the back.

"That's face or heel, mark!"

I recognized the voice - "Amy the Farmer's Daughter". I had her pegged as something of a joker, so I let the laughter go on another minute.

"Thank you, Amy. And my name's not Mark, it's Joel."

I grinned and even louder laughter broke out. I'd have them eating out of my hand in no time. Except McClane, of course. Speaking of him, I didn't see him anywhere.

"Now, there is some bad news."

Jackie's eyes got as big as saucers, but she didn't have to worry. I wasn't going to drop that particular nugget yet.

"Since I haven't had the chance to see you ladies in action yet, I don't have anything for any of you. So I'm just going to book as cost effective a show as I can. However, I understand the original booking involved a lot of mud and jello, so we can go back to that if you prefer."

I paused a moment to let that sink in. Evidently it had, for the room was silent.

"Right. I hope those of you left out of tonight's show understand that it is not a reflection of your importance to us."

I gave them a moment and continued.

"We're going to have two matches, five minutes long each, and do something silly - but tastefull - to fill out the half-hour. Anyone who has an idea, no matter how crazy it is raise their hand."

Tina Ferrari raised her hand. As I listened to her idea, I realized that this girl was going places. Other girls gave their input. While they wouldn't be featured tonight, their names would get on the air.

*

433 people showed up for the taping, which wasn't bad considering it was our first show. The only problem was that the hotel charged us based on how many seats they had, not just the ones we filled. Not that we could have changed venues on such short notice, of course.

The first segment was "Sally the Farmer's Daughter" shooting T-Shirts into the crowd for five minutes. The crowd was restless at first but Sally is the epitome of the promotion's name, and this lifted their spirits.[A]

Next was Americana vs Attache. They went about two and a half minutes, with Americana winning by what McClane called a "Figure Four Leglock". After the match, Penny told me that Jackie's commentary boosted the match and that Americana was getting better in the ring. I could tell that the crowd wasn't as thrilled with the match as they were with Sally, but she's a tough act to follow.[D]

Then came Tina and her very own "Ask Tina" segment. She read letters from frustrated housewives about the stupid men in their lives - written by the girls backstage - and gave horrible advice. I thought it was great, but the crowd was dead. Then it hit me. The hotel was hosting a conference for a bunch of Japanese businessmen. Fifteen minutes of this and they were getting ready to leave.[E]

Damn McClane! He knew about this, I'm sure.

"That's why he made himself scarce!" I said out loud to myself, drawing a few odd looks.

Finally, the main event: Calfornia Doll vs Vine. After two and a half minutes, the Doll put Vine in a Small Package. Penny said that Jackie's commentary boosted this match too.[C]

Overall, the show was a success, despite the mistakes.[C-]

*

After the show, Jackie came to me in tears. That I was not expecting.

"Joel, we're in big trouble!"

"I know the show could have been better, but this place is too big and a waste of money."

"That's not it, Joel. There's a rumor that we supplied certain bookies with match results before the show. Now the hotel wants a cut of the action!"

I buried my face in my palms. What kind of moron would bet on professional wrestling? Then again, We were in Vegas. Its stock in trade is stupid people.

"Okay, Jackie, I'll go talk to the hotel manager. I'll explain that this has been a misunderstanding."

She looked worried.

"It will be fine. But just in case, get everyone moved out of the hotel. Get them on the road, in fact. Our next venue will be in California, so an early start is a good idea anyway."

She nodded.

"Except McClane. I want him to stick around."

"But why? That lying snake can only cause trouble!"

"Two reasons: I'm sure he's the source of the rumor, and if he doesn't play along with me, he's getting fed to the wolves."

*

"Mr. Jones, I'm sure that we can work things out."

Mr. Jones was the hotel manager and we were in his office. The mood had relaxed quite a bit once he recognized me. He wasn't a fan, but his daughter was, and autographing her copy of my second book had broken the ice.

"I hope so, Mr. Wideman. Giving away match results in this town, especially to only certain people, is not taken lightly."

"Yes, I'm sure it isn't, and I assure you that this has been a misunderstanding."

McClane entered, looking frightened. Anyone would when being escorted by the two gorillas Jones used as security. When he saw me, his expression turned to anger.

"You bastard!"

A part of me really enjoyed that reaction.

"It was all his idea!" he said to Mr. Jones.

"Don't be so humble, David. We both deserve the credit."

That caught him off-guard. I turned to Mr. Jones.

"As I'm sure you know, professional wrestling is an industry that revolves around, well, bullshit."

Mr. Jones nodded.

"In fact, if you would read the bio in that book, you'll see that my stock in trade as a writer was bullshit."

My second book was about zombies on a spaceship. In the bio, I had written that one of my hobbies was raising the dead.

"We have to maintain the illusion to the fans that matches are decided by athletic ability. Giving out results ahead of time would wash away the bullshit.

"And even assuming we did that, hoping nobody would hear about it, that puts us in a very awkward position - we need to be able to make last minute changes. We booked that entire show less than an hour before the cameras started rolling. In fact, had we known that we'd be appearing before a mostly Japanese audience, we'd have done a different show altogether."

Actually, we booked the actual matches in less than two minutes. We spent most of the time putting together Tina's segment.

"I see. So, what was your associate here doing?" He pointed at McClane, who had gone white as a sheet.

"That's where I must apologize for bullshitting you. You see, we were putting together a story about corruption and matches getting fixed. In order to make it as believable as possible, I'm afraid we had to keep you in the dark."

Mr. Jones sat back in his chair. He seemed to be mulling it over. Finally, he spoke.

"Mr. Wideman, I have a low tolerance for bullshit. I want you and your friends out of this town. In fact, I want you out of this state. Do we have an understanding?"

This was one of those questions with only one correct answer.

"Yes, Mr. Jones."

"Security will escort you to your car. Where are you going from there?"

"California."

"Good. My boys will follow you to the state line, to make sure you don't get lost."

"That's very kind of you. Come, David. We've overstayed our welcome."

*

Once we got in our limo, McClane rattled like loose change. He went on and on about me setting him up and how I must have been a Hell of a writer to get us out with such an imaginative lie.

"I wasn't lying, McClane. The best fiction always contains a healthy portion of the truth."

"What do you mean?"

"I think a corruption scandal makes a great story, don't you?"

He blinked.

"You should, you're going to be the star."

That left him speechless, which suited me fine. I needed some sleep.

*

These days they say "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." I wish I could say that all my troubles stayed in Vegas, but they didn't. After a tearful reunion - McClane is such a crybaby - Jackie got a call from our network. They were unhappy about the ratings. To make matters worse, some of the girls were bickering backstage. Penny told me that the girls needed someone to look up to - a locker room leader. This meant I'd have to hire someone.

And looking at who was available, it wasn't going to be easy. But with Penny's help, I was able to select a number of candidates. I called Rosenberg. That bastard owed me a favor. Through him, I sent out feelers. I was prepared to blame him for whatever half-truths he had come up with.

In the meantime, I had a story to write.

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