By 5th Dentist
Another show, in the ether. Todd Starnes never gave much thought to who was listening to be completely honest. People called in and he played off their anxieties and frustration, but he never felt as though they actually existed. Was anybody listening? Did anybody care?
Walking away from the studio, Todd’s heard his producer calling after him. “Todd, you know we need a topic for tomorrow, right?” Another voice in the haze of people surrounding him, Todd said to the voice cheerfully, “Yeah Chuck. I know you keep us ahead of the deadlines.” Chuck replied, “Come on now Todd. Who’s gonna tell you when It’s too late?” Todd turned and half-waved over his shoulder as he left.
Walking and thinking about a nice Prime Rib, Todd recalled how he told his audience daily that he was a man who enjoyed Chik Fil A. They seemed to eat it up. This chicken sandwich was some kind of repudiation of liberals, and his fans couldn’t get enough of it. But Todd certainly had more than enough of those bland sandwiches as he had to choke them down during various promos from time to time. Todd sometimes considered just dropping the facade and asking the ether, “Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great?” But he never would. Of course. Throwing away his character would not just free him, but also would effect many employees of Fox News who depended on his and other silly radio shows for their living.
Years ago, Todd had an existential crisis before he was equipped to dismiss it and continue floating. He spoke with Sean Hannity over drinks at the Christmas party in 2011, wondering what the point was. What the purpose could be. He said to Sean, “You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.” And this was when Todd learned not so much to resolve the absurdity, but to roll with it. To check out, keep talking, and cash the checks. Sean stared at Todd, talked in what seemed a foreign language of vagueness, and ordered Todd drinks until he forgot what was bothering him. Todd learned to float and forgot. The last thing he remembered vaguely before passing out was Sean asking him, “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?”
But now Todd was the jaded pro. Considering the places he might get dinner, he realized he was walking away from the exit. Down the hall toward the Fox and Friends dressing rooms. It was no mystery. Todd was going to find Janice Dean; waiting for him this evening as every evening.
They had developed a purely sexual relationship over the years. Todd always got slightly aroused thinking about the beginning. It all began when Janice had her first week on Fox and Friends and felt as though she had done horribly. Todd didn’t really give her a pep talk so much as let her believe she needed him to survive being herself. As she cried and he drank in her tears, Todd said, “Who’s gonna pick you up when you fall?” And her insecurities led her to depend on him. Todd often tried to convince himself that he wasn’t a sleazebag for starting things with her like that, but everybody at Fox News was bearing their own crosses. A rationalization? Sure. Fuck it. Whatever. Somewhere in life, Todd developed a kink for a crying woman. Janice helped him. And she kept waiting for him, so maybe he helped her too.
“What do you want for dinner, baby?” asked Todd. Knowing already he was having a bloody Prime Rib wherever she ‘decided’ to go; with his assistance. Todd had his dinner; and his martinis; and consoled Janice in her apartment until he couldn’t resist making love to her again. Same as ever but still amazing with enough Stoli fogging his thoughts.
And Wednesday was the same drill as Tuesday. Todd rolled in at 8:05 and told the producer they were doing the show on illegals or some shit. He would check CNN on his cell and come up with things to riff on. It wasn’t disdain or disgust for his audience anymore. He was past that phase. They might be paying little attention and riffing on rage just like he was. It was a dance. He wanted to ask some of these people, “Who’s gonna hang it up when you call?”, but again, he had to remain folksy Todd. Shuckin’ and jivin’. Grits and collared greens. Biscuits and Fuck my life.
And back to Janice after the show was over. Dinner and a lost count of martinis. Janice was talking about work and her image. Feeling as though she had settled into an empowering place. Last week, some audience member online criticized her legs, and Fox ran a feature about how she was proud of the way she looked. Todd said, “I know Janice. It seems like you are finally feeling as good as you deserve to. Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?” And Janice said cheerfully, “I know Todd. You are. Maybe after all these years dreaming of loving myself, all I ever had to do was decide to.”
Todd hated himself. He knew what was coming. He knew Janice was happy and his black, fucking manipulative heart couldn’t allow it to continue. “I told you that you have plenty of years before you’re too old for TV. I got you no matter what, babe. You can join me on radio when TV is over. Who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream? Not me, baby. I’m the only one.”
“You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong!”, Todd though to himself. He finished the night at his apartment with Janice riding him, tears streaming onto his chest. It was bliss; and hell. Todd awoke slightly as Janice dressed and left to head back to her place. Todd asked Janice before passing out; “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?” But, the door closed behind her without an answer; as he hoped.
And Thursday. Falsely chipper as ever, Todd said words at the microphone. He had dreamed of riding a bullet ripping through his brain and out the top of his head. He was used to the mornings after particularly manipulative sessions with Janice. Todd wondered how low he was capable of going. Would he have the guts to destroy himself before he destroyed her for his twisted pleasure? “Liberals…Bibles…Kaepernick…Linus posters….and thank you caller…You all are the greatest audience. Bye producer. Yes. Tomorrow.” …I’m off to feed on a woman’s soul again.
…and Todd walked away from the exit. Down the hall toward the Fox and Friends dressing rooms. It was no mystery. Todd was going to find Janice Dean; innocently waiting for him to manipulate her. But she wasn’t in the dressing room. There was only a note pinned to the wall with “Stop by my place Todd” written on the front. And on the inside:
“Who’s gonna hold you down when you shake?
Who’s gonna come around when you break?
You can’t go on thinking nothing’s wrong.”
Todd didn’t know what was going on. This was not the routine. He hoped that Janice wasn’t so depressed that she went home early and needed him there. He also caught himself aroused by the idea. Turned on and full of self-loathing, Todd got a cab and got to Janice’s apartment as fast as he could. He got out of the cab and there she was at the lobby doorway. Todd strode up to her and made a gesture for her to rest her face in his sympathetic hand. But she shook her head. And chuckled. She chuckled? “Baby. What’s wrong?”, asked Todd, confused.
Janice turned stone cold. And cut into him with her tearless, cheerful eyes. “Todd. This has run its course. You were good for a while, but I can’t feel your pain anymore. You drink so much, I can’t even see it in your face. You need to find another dove to devour if you’re going to be this fucking lazy about it.”
And Todd had already turned and half-waved over his shoulder as he left.
Janice called from behind him, anticipating no answer, “Who’s gonna drive you home tonight?”