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10

Fleeced

The world headquarters of Biggest Apple Productions was based in the apartment of Stanley Stock, president, founder, and sole employee of the organization. The apartment was actually a drafty old gas station on the Lower West Side of Manhattan, but it did have a nice view of the Hudson River. Stanley had converted it into a home and office with two kitchen chairs set up in the corner for use when he interviewed studio guests for his weekly show on free-access television. Right above the set was a rack of spongy-looking tires left over from the good old days. A faint scent of gasoline still hung in the air, and there were those who said it affected Stanley s power of reason.

The station had actually belonged to Stanley s father, and over the years, Stanley had worked there on and off. Because he hadnt inherited any of his fathers mechanical ability, Stanley had spent most of his fifty-eight years working in various out-side sales jobs. Hed sold everything from Fuller brushes to magazine subscriptions over the phone. An affable fellow, he didnt mind being hung up on hundreds of times a day. Hed just dial the next number and go into his spiel until he heard the click in his ear. His coworkers always liked Stanley and usually ended up telling him their problems. Stanley always took their side, agreeing with everything they said.

Right, hed say emphatically as they stood around the water cooler or coffee machine. Youre so right! Every conversation usually included a Thats terrible.

After his fathers funeral a year ago, Stanley decided that he had had enough. Hed quit his latest job, which he must have had for at least a month, and ceremoniously closed the garage doors of his inheritance to the broken down cars of the world, and moved in. He considered it to be a pretty hip move, the first hip move hed made in his life. Other people in downtown New York lived in trendy lofts that had formerly been warehouses. Whats wrong with a gas station?

The question that hung in the petrol-smelling air was, Now what? What do I do with the rest of my life? Stanley asked himself over and over. He had enough money to get by, but he still felt he hadnt made his mark on the world. He was certainly right about that.

Stanley discovered something that up till now had been totally unfamiliar to him. Ambition. It awakened in his soul when he finally discovered his true calling.

At night hed lay his portly body on the slipcovered couch and aim his remote control at the television that hed rigged to the lift that formerly raised sickly cars into the air. But no matter what was on, hed always find himself switching back to the shows on Free-Speech television. It was a cable station that by law had to be made available to anyone who wanted access. As a result, many programs made their way onto the air that were astonishingly bad, with their poor production values, lame content, and wacky hosts. So bad they made you stop and look, like the scene of an accident.

Stanley found them entertaining.

I can do better than that, he finally cried. I must go on the air!

Armed with a video camera, he had hit the streets of New York. People took to him, just as his coworkers had. Everyone he interviewed told him their hard luck stories. I should have been a shrink, he often thought. Before long he had a segment called Gripe du jour that became very popular. There was no end to the number of people willing to stand in front of the camera and vent.

The idiot at the deli handed me my coffee in a soggy brown bag and to make matters worse, the lid wasnt on properly. The bag broke and the coffee went all over my coat, someone screamed to him the other day. I hate that!

Finally, even Stanley had had enough. He thought of starting a show on healing but soon realized there were too many of those already. Then, walking home last week with a camera full of taped gripes, including those of a bunch of tourists in Times Square who did nothing but complain about the subways, Stanley was truly dispirited. He reached his front door, unlocked it, and gratefully walked inside.

He sauntered past the candy machines and put his camera bag down on the all-purpose table. Shuffling through his mail, he dropped the junk letters onto the table one at a time. The last envelope in his hand looked somewhat interesting. He had ripped it open and read the letter from Maldwin Feckles, heralding the beginning of his butler school. Hmmmm, Stanley had thought as he read. Maybe I can turn this into something interesting.

And he had. Just last night, he had filmed the student butlers at work at the Princess of Loves party for quality singles. He was sorry that the party had ended so soon, after all hell had broken loose across the hall. Hed have to incorporate what happened into his story. Somehow.

Now, as Stanley sat drinking his second cup of morning coffee, he reflected on the fact that if he was going to cover the Settlers Clubs big party tomorrow night, if he was going to include it in his piece, then he should really go up and take some footage of Gramercy Park to use in his introduction. Ill head up there and interview the man on the street, he thought. Maybe the butlers will be around and I can have them stroll around the park.

He took the tape from last night out of his video camera and reloaded. In a half-hour, Stanley was headed uptown.


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