On the way into the kitchen to get a snack, I heard noise emanating from the dining room, so I decided to take a detour through that room and see what I could see. And, oh, what I did see!
Teds swarmed all over the round wooden top of our dining room table. In and around, and in some cases dangling overhead, cables and other wires snaked hither and yon. Birnie and Biwi deftly scampered about testing connections, plugging and unplugging cords into and out of power outlets, and bending and unbending different wires. Mack stood sternly eyeing his wristwatch. Shoshonna, Sweetie, Mickey, and Letta busied themselves along one edge of the table setting up a bank of little telephones, and checking if they worked properly. So all-enveloping was the Teddy turbulence in the room, that it bubbled, burbled, and overflowed out over the table’s circumference, welling up again on the floor where scores more Teds scuttled, scurried, and skittered over and under the thick, wooden pedestal legs jutting out from the center of the table.
Smack dab in the very center of all this sturm and drang, in fact in the exact middle of the table top, sat Benjamin, with a look of serious concentration on his face as Brighton adjusted a pair of earphones on his head.
“Two minutes, everyone,” Mack announced loudly enough that all motion in the room stuttered to a halt for a fraction of a second before recommencing immediately, but at an even more furious rate.
Chuckling slightly, Biwi walked over and set a microphone down in front of Benjamin, tapped it while looking over to Birnie who stood near the edge holding earphones to one of his ears. When Birnie nodded, Biwi smiled, stood up, and gave Benjamin the thumbs up sign. Benjamin thanked him and pulled the microphone a little closer to himself.
I have the patience of a Ted, I’m afraid, so I couldn’t take the suspense any longer. I stepped into the room, watching carefully where I put my feet, and asked Benjamin, “What in the world are you guys doing here?”
Looking over at me, with a little harried frown, he said, “I can’t talk now. We’re almost live.”
“Almost live? What does that mean?”
His frown turned into a moue as he humphed and said, “We’re just about to go on the air.”
“On the air?” I repeated rather doltishly.
“You don’t have to repeat everything I say, you know,” Benjamin admonished me, picking up on my mistake immediately.
“One minute!” Mack’s stentorian growl filled the room. This time the buzzing activity barely stuttered at the interruption before it once again accelerated as Teds scurried to complete whatever task they had at paw to do.
“See?” Benjamin nearly screeched at me. “There isn’t time to talk about this right now. We can do it later. Ask Brighton if she can squeeze you in somewhere in my schedule.”
“Squeeze…? Schedule…?” There I went again. Taking a deep breath and willing myself to calm down, I insisted, “Just give me the bottom line here, Benjamin. Then I’ll let you get about your business.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake! Isn’t it obvious?” he screaked, raising his paw and sweeping it from one side to the other, to indicate all of the activity apparently in its last stages of frenzy. “My talk show is just about to go on the air!”
“You’re doing a talk radio show? When did you start doing that?”
“This is the first show today,” he answered hurriedly, fussily adjusting his earphones. “It’s part of my presidential campaign.”
“You’re starting a radio talk show because you think it will help you become president?” I queried, biting my lower lip in order to stop myself from smirking in disbelief.
“Well, if Al Franken can get elected senator after doing a talk show, I figure I can get elected president doing my own show,” he told me haughtily in his squeaky little voice.
Now I really began to have trouble keeping myself from laughing. I turned away and retreated a safe distance behind him where he wouldn’t be able to see me if I finally lost control.
Mack saved the day for me as he rumbled out, “30 seconds! Quiet, everyone!”
Such was Mack’s imposing presence that quiet actually descended upon the room, even though pockets of activity continued for a few more seconds. But when Mack began to count down from 20 seconds, all activity finally ceased.
By the time I had found myself an unobtrusive observation point, Mack was nearing the end of his countdown. “Four, three, two, one…” at which point he signaled to Brighton who had quietly made her way over to the microphone during the past few seconds.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” she greeted the listening audience. “Live from our studios at Teddy Bear College, WTBC welcomes you to our newest program, a talk radio show hosted by none other than Teddy Bear College’s very own Chairbear, Benjamin Bear. And with no further ado, here he is now!”
With this, she handed the mike to Benjamin, who took it and set it down in front him, saying, “Welcome, Teddies everywhere! You are On the Air with Benjamin Bear!”
On this cue, Mack, standing off to one side on the table, raised both paws high, palms up, and all of the Teds in the room, clapped and cheered as loudly as they could. By this time, Biwi had picked up his camera and was recording the whole proceedings from table-top level, while Gracie, our flying Teddy bear, was recording the view from above with a second camera. After a few seconds of clapping and cheering, Mack chopped both paws quickly down, and the clamoring welcome for Benjamin ceased instantly.
“For our first show today we have a very special guest,” Benjamin informed his audience. “On the phone with us is ex-president George Dubyah’s very own Teddy Bear, Bushy Bear! Thanks for joining us on our first show today, Bushy.”
“Glad I could join you, Benjamin,” Bushy replied, his smooth, drawl emanating from a speaker so that everyone in the room could hear him. “Congratulations on your new show. And good luck with your campaign for the presidency, too.”
Benjamin straightened up, squared his shoulders, and smiled gratifyingly at this last remark. “Thank you, Bushy,” he said. “I appreciate your support. Actually, I’m glad you brought up my campaign. As you know, one of my primary reasons for running is that I think human beans have had their chance and have only managed to muck up everything more and more. It’s time we Teds came out from behind the scenes and got this country back on track again. I realize we’ve always had a policy of assuming only advisory roles in our relations with human beans up to this point in history. But that approach can only be effective if our human beans actually listen to our advice.”
“I’ve got to agree with you there, Benjamin,” Bushy said. “My own personal experience in the White House provides ample support for your argument.”
“Exactly,” said Benjamin. “In fact, that’s one of the things I’d like to talk with you about today.”
Mack had been frantically gesturing toward the edge of the table where Letta and the other three Teds had been seated at a bank of telephones ever since the show began. At this point in the conversation, Benjamin finally looked up and saw Mack pointing to the phones. He nodded and said, “But before we get into that, Bushy, I need to remind our listeners that they can join in our conversation by calling us right now at 888-Ted-Talk; that’s 888-833-8255. Give us a call and let us know what you think about Teds making a historic change by throwing out the human politicians, cleaning up government, and putting the citizens of this once proud country back in the driver’s seat once again.
“Okay, now, Bushy,” Benjamin said, getting back to his guest, “perhaps you can share with us some of your experiences during your 8 years in the Dubyah administration. That must have been quite a frustrating time for you.”
“Talk about an understatement,” Bushy replied. “My relationship with Dub – that’s what I call him, Dub, or sometimes just GW; he says he thinks GW is sexy or something; poor fella, more likely he just has a hard time remembering his own name at times – anyway, our relationship has always been an on-again-off-again kind of thing.”
“You mean there were times our former president not only didn’t listen to your advice, he didn’t even seek it in the first place?” Benjamin asked.
“Worse than that,” Bushy corrected him. “Right from the beginning this rivalry developed between Cheney and me. He was jealous of the time Dub used to spend with me when we first got into office. He immediately began undermining my influence with Dub. He was relentless. He criticized everything I said or did. It got to the point that when Dub thought things were going smoothly, he’d avoid me entirely. Even when we did happen to run into each other and talk a little, he didn’t really want my advice, just corroboration of….”
“…his own ideas?” Benjamin interjected.
“Um, yes,” said Bushy after a short pause. He seemed about to say something more, but Benjamin continued, “So he didn’t even use you as an advisor most of the time, if at all?”
“Yeah, you could say that,” Bushy agreed. “In fact, in most of our meetings we hardly talked at all. Instead, he spent the time clutching me close to his chest and crying.”
“Crying?” Benjamin asked, amazed. “I didn’t know he could feel anything other than self-righteous anger, let alone cry. That’s amazing.”
“Very wearing, too,” Bushy sighed. “Starting with the senate debate about the missing weapons of mass destruction, Dub sought me out more and more just for some hugs and a good long cry. I tell you, his hugs got so tight after a while that I developed a major case of compression. Lucky for me, after the elections I was able to fit in some intensive sessions with Sassafras, who quickly got me back in shape again.”
“So you’re saying that things have gotten so bad that presidents not only don’t listen to their Teds’ advice, they don’t even ask for it in the first place?” Benjamin asked in a voice filled with incredulity.
“Well, I only know about how it was with Dub, but…,” Bushy began.
He was interrupted by Benjamin announcing, “Ah, here’s our first caller. Hi, who are we speaking with?”
“Hi,” said a tiny little voice, “this is Penny from Carterville, Illinois. Thanks for taking my call.”
“Sure,” said Benjamin. “Do you have something you’d like to ask Bushy about, Penny?”
“Um, yes. Uh, Mr. Bushy, I was wondering, now that he’s not the President any more, what Mr. Bush is doing with his time these days,” Penny asked.
“In other words,” Benjamin interjected, “is Dubyah doing anything more productive than he did when he was in office? Is that what you’re asking, Penny?”
“Uh, well, not really,” she responded hesitantly. “I just wanted to know how he spends his time now.”
“Right,” said Benjamin. “So, Bushy, what about it? Is he doing anything more productive with his time now that he’s out of office?”
“Errm, well,” Bushy waffled slightly, “uh, I really couldn’t tell you much about what he does with his time these days. We’ve kind of taken a little vacation from seeing each other at the moment. He spends most of his time in Dallas while I’m down here in Crawford. When we do interact it’s at a distance. Mostly I’ve been spending my time editing his book, correcting his spelling and grammar and doing my best to correct his memory of events as well.”
“So, you mostly correspond through email?” Benjamin asked.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Bushy corrected him. “Dub doesn’t do email. He doesn’t do computers at all, in fact. Heck, he can barely type with one finger. No, we mostly correspond via Secret Service couriers who carry the manuscripts of his book back-and-forth between us. We don’t even write letters to each other all that much. Just as well, his writing is hell to decipher. Mostly, he just tells the couriers what to tell me, and I do the same with my comments. Not the most efficient way of doing things, but then,...”
“Yeah,” interrupted Benjamin, “we are talking about dealing with Dubyah here.”
“Uhm, yeah,” Bushy murmured.
“Well, thanks for your call, Penny!” Benjamin boomed. “Next we have Rory on the phone, is that right, Rory?”
“Yeah, this is Rory from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.”
“Welcome, Rory, do you have something you’d like to ask our guest today?”
“Yeah,” said Rory. “I’d like to know who is ex-vice president Cheney’s Teddy Bear.”
“Good question, Rory!” Benjamin congratulated the caller. “I’d like to know the answer to that one, too. What do you say, Bushy? Who was the intrepid Ted who advised Cheney?”
“Oh, uh, well,” Bushy hemmed and hawed. “Uh, the truth of the matter is, he never had a Teddy,” Bushy answered.
“No one would take the job?” Benjamin asked jocularly.
“No, well, it was hard to find anybody willing to take it on,” Bushy admitted. “But we eventually did find someone with the right stuff who was willing to take the job. Trouble was, Cheney nixed the project.”
“What, he was afraid of the childhood memories a sweet little Teddy Bear might call up from his past?” Benjamin queried, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Actually, no, that wasn’t the problem,” Bushy said.
“Are you sure of that?” Benjamin wanted to know. “Human beans are, after all, a very unstable lot, especially political human beans.”
“Yeah, very sure,” Bushy affirmed. “He was afraid Bammo – that was our operative’s code name – Cheney was afraid Bammo might be bugged.”
“H…,” Benjamin began, but was interrupted by his caller, Rory, “Is that what he told this Bammo?”
“No, not directly,” Bushy responded. “But the first thing he did was have the FBI guy who brought Bammo in to him cover Bammo’s eyes and ears with his hands. Then told him to get the bear outta his sight, that you never knew what might be bugged these days.”
“Talk about paranoid,” Benjamin sneered. “I tell you, these human bean politicians. It’s just like I’ve been sayi….”
But once again Rory interrupted him to ask Bushy, “But if this FBI guy was covering Bammo’s eyes and ears with his hands, how do you know what Cheney said?”
“Oh, everything he said came in loud and clear from the mike we had sewn into the knot of Bammo’s neck ribbon,” Bushy told him.
“Okay, thanks for the thought-provoking call, Rory,” Benjamin breezily terminated the call.
At this point, Mack waved at Benjamin to get his attention, pointed at his Mickey Mouse wristwatch, and held up 4 claws – four more minutes.
Benjamin nodded at Mack and said, “Well, we just have time for one more call, folks. Hello, and who is this?”
The shouted response took the room by complete surprise, for a number of disparate reasons. “It’s me, Benjamin!” reverberated around the room, inspiring a sudden, painfully loud twang and whine of feedback from all of the speakers – WheeeEEEeiiiIIiinnneee!!! – causing Benjamin to grab hold of his earphones, pull them briskly from his head, throw them to one side, and quickly clamp both paws over his ears, while at the same time screeching out his own eardrum-piercing, “Yaaiiiiiiii!” Nearly everyone else in the room followed his example in this, myself included, covering our ears in a vain attempt to escape the pain of the waves of reverb scouring the room. Although, I did catch a glimpse of both Biwi and Gracie continuing to record the chaos going on around and under them. I figured they must be wearing earplugs or something. Meanwhile, everyone’s fur, and what little hair I have left on my head, stood at full attention from the static electricity that filled the air.
We were lucky there were no delicate, long-stemmed glasses in the room at the moment, or they would have no doubt all been shattered by now. As it was, I worried about the glassware next door in the kitchen.
As the room’s vibrating air finally started settling down to normal levels, fur and hair began lying flat once more, and Teds who were still nearly deaf started yelling questions at each other. Unfortunately, at the same time the caller decided to ask, as loudly as possible, of course, “Are you there, Benjamin!?! Can you hear me!?!!!” The reverberation this time – WheeeEEeing! – was not quite as loud and piercing at it was the first time. Or maybe it just seemed that way, since most of us were still in the early stages of regaining our hearing anyway. But our fur and hair didn’t come to full attention this time, settling for a half-hearted salute instead.
The diminished level of noise could probably be attributed to the heroic efforts of Birnie, Sherman, Shoshanna, and Mickey, who, once the initial shock of the first wave of noise had died down slightly, had quickly jumped into action, running around the table top frantically turning down the volume on all of the speakers. Mack, Letta, and Kippy soon followed suit, climbing down to the floor to begin turning down the speakers there.
Brighton and Chuffy were now over in the center of the table top, helping a stunned Benjamin sit up and soothing his badly rumpled ears. When it seemed he was able to make out what the others were saying to him, he croaked into his mike, “Bushy, are you there, bear? I’m sorry but we had some…technical difficulties, and we….”
“He isn’t there,” Birnie informed him. “We lost the connection. We lost all of the connections. In fact, we’re temporarily off the air, as well. That blast really did a number on our equipment.”
“Oh, no,” Benjamin moaned. “My first show, too. What a mess. What happened? Was it sabotage?” He perked up at the thought and began to exclaim, “I bet it was. I bet it was the FBI who sabotaged us. Yeah, I bet it was. Them and the CIA. And probably the Secret Service, too.” Cameras still rolling, Biwi and Gracie both zoomed in for close-ups of Benjamin, who was speaking faster and faster now. “Yes, that’s it! They’re all out to get me! They can’t take it that I’ve got the stuffing to stand up and tell the world how human beans have screwed everything up! They are! They’re all out to get me, I tell you!”
Biwi had pulled his earplugs out by now, and he snorted at Benjamin’s ranting, while Birnie told him, “Just calm down, bear. Take a deep breath and get a hold of yourself. Nobody’s out to get you.”
“No, they are! They’re running scared! They know I’ve got the goods on ‘em, and they’re afraid I’ll get swept into office where I’ll clear up all this sordid mess!” Benjamin was on a roll now.
Brighton did her best to soothe his troubled soul, hugging him, rubbing his shoulders, murmuring comfortingly, “There, there, Sweetheart, everything’s going to be all right. Just calm down now. Everything’s fine.”
Her reassurance seemed to be taking effect, as Benjamin noticeably softened his stance and slumped over a bit into her embrace. Still, he continued to mumble, “We’ve got them on the run now, Sweetest. We’ve got….”
At that point, the last caller’s voice boomed out into the room again, insistently demanding attention, “Benjamin! You there, Benjamin? This is me calling you! I’m on a telephone!”
Benjamin once again stiffened up, and shot Birnie an accusatory look, complaining, “I thought we lost all of the callers! What’s she doing still on the line?” He craned his neck looked frantically about the room.
“We did lose the ca…,” Birnie began, looking around and searching the room himself.
Once again the caller interrupted, “Hi, Benjamin! I see you! Can you see me!”
“See me? She can see me!?!” Benjamin cried out, nearly fainting at Brighton’s feet.
“Over here!” the caller yelled joyfully. “I’m over here on Biwi’s cell phone! See me?”
Everyone’s eyes turned as one to the sight of a little panda bear, jumping up and down at a far edge of the table, holding a little cell phone to her ear with one paw and waving wildly with the other.
“Oh, my gawd,” Benjamin moaned, seeming to deflate into a heap at Brighton’s feet. “It’s Itsy! What the he…, what do you think you’re doing, for heaven’s sake, Itsy?”
“I’m calling you on the radio! What do you think?” she answered reasonably.
All Benjamin could do was stare and mutter, over and over again, “Call me on the radio. Call me on the radio. Itsy was calling me….”
“I wanted to axe you some questions,” Itsy yelled out across the table. “That’s what you do on your show, right? I wanted to know why doesn’t tomorrow never come? And where does yesterday go? And if there’s….”
"That's what happened," observed Biwi. "Itsy was too close to the mike here when she called. That's why we got that tremendous feedback!"
By this time Benjamin had his head buried in his paws and was silently whimpering and muttering unmentionable things under his breath while Brighton did her utmost to reassure him and calm him down.
Luckily for us all, and most especially for what little sanity Benjamin had remaining, the dulcet sounds of Thea’s voice reached us from the kitchen. “Lunch time!” she called. “Come and get it!” Music to our ears. In a flash the room cleared except for the sad little tableau of Brighton and Benjamin cuddled close in the center of the table and Itsy standing at the table’s edge, now turned facing me, arms upraised, and insistently urging me, “Uh! Uh! I need a ride, Daddola! Mommola has lunch time for us, and I can’t get down from here by myself! Gimme a ride! Please! I said ‘please,’ so you have to do it. It’s a rule!”
“Oh, well,” I said, reaching down to pick the little scamp up, “if it’s a rule, I guess I have to do it then.”
“Yetz!” Itsy exclaimed triumphantly.
I carried her into the kitchen where we joined the rest of the Teds who were scattered all over the floor contentedly devouring tuna fish sandwiches and swigging cupsful of hot cocoa. The call of lunch time was so strong and enticing that soon even Brighton and Benjamin were able to join us as well.
Benjamin barely touched his sandwich, however. All he seemed able to do for the moment was to sit and stare dejectedly into space. In an attempt to draw him out of himself a little, I took the opportunity to ask him something I had been wondering about. “I notice you have a rather unique interviewing style,” I told him.
“What?” he said, looking over my way.
“Your interviewing style,” I repeated gently. “I thought it distinctive and unusual.”
“Oh, thanks,” was all he could manage.
“I was wondering,” I persevered, “where you learned to interview like that.”
“Oh, I studied the best of ‘em lots before I started the show,” he told me, sitting up a little straighter.
“Really?” I continued, hoping to take his mind a little more off his worries. “I only ask because I noticed that a good deal of your style seems to depend on interrupting the people you’re interviewing to finish their thoughts for them, or asking them leading questions.”
“Yeah, well,” he replied, and actually managed a little smile, “like I told you: I’ve really studied the techniques of the best of ‘em. That’s exactly how you’re s’posed to do it.” Ah, he was beginning to go into lecture mode now. “After all, you can’t let the interview jump around all over the place, can you? It’s your job to control it, to keep it on track. So, you kind of guide it along, keep them from getting off message and start spouting off their own ideas that’re totally unrelated to the message you’re trying to get across to your listening audience. I mean, that’s why you’re interviewing them in the first place: so they can make important points for you.”
“Uhm, hum,” I almost choked on my sandwich. After chewing more carefully and then swallowing, I managed to say, “Gee, I thought an interview was meant to get at the point of view of the person being interviewed.”
“Oh, that’s old hat,” he assured me. “These days you only have people on so they can make important points for you. To let people know that other important people agree with the way you think. That way the listeners get to know that they’re pretty stupid if they don’t agree with your ideas, too!”
His earlier despair seemed to have evaporated. He now sat up straight, all puffed up and full of himself.
“Yes, well, you certainly seem to have mastered that approach to interviewing, if you can really call it that,” I told him. “But now I’m wondering who your mentors were. Who were these famous interviewers whose styles you’ve mastered and made your own?”
“Oh, you shouldn’t really need to ask that,” he admonished me. “Just think about. Who are the two most famous interviewers in America right now?”
I started to think about it, but before I could get very far, Benjamin interrupted my thoughts and told me the answer, “Larry King and Oprah!
“Think about,“ he insisted. “That’s exactly how both of them operate. Ask a leading question, listen and if they don’t get to the point soon enough, interrupt and finish whatever they’re saying for them. And if their answer starts to go off course and not go where you want ‘em to go, you interrupt and say it for them! It’s all very simple, really. And quite effective.”
Now I was starting to get a headache. Unfortunately, as I thought about it, I began to see Benjamin’s point. But that only made me more depressed.
Just then, Biwi chuckled and let out a howl of excited laughter. His sandwich long since devoured, he had taken up his Honeypot 5000 netbook computer and was now laughing appreciatively at what he was viewing on the web.
“What’s so funny?” Benjamin demanded. He seemed irked that his lecture was being interrupted by Biwi’s laughter.
“This,” said Biwi, pointing at the screen of the netbook. “You’ve gone viral!”
“I’ve what?” squeaked Benjamin, who began looking frightfully down at his body. “How could I catch anything? I haven’t been out of the house all day!”
Biwi laughed even louder. “No, you haven’t caught anything,” he reassured Benjamin. “I’m talking about your video on YouTube.”
“My what? On what?” asked Benjamin, more confused than ever.
“Your video,” Biwi said, sliding the netbook over in front of Benjamin where he could see it himself. “Gracie and I put together a quick edit of the video of your show today and put it up on YouTube just now. And it’s going viral. You’ve already got more than a 100,000 hits on it, and it hasn’t been up more than 10 minutes!”
“Oh!” was all Benjamin could manage at the moment. “Is that good?”
“Good?” asked Biwi in return. “It’s better than good; it’s….”
At this point, the opening bars of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic sounded on Brighton’s cell phone. She took it out and spoke into it a moment before turning to Benjamin and saying, “It’s ABC Nightly News. Diane Sawyer wants to interview you tomorrow night.”
Even Benjamin looked shook up at that revelation. He recovered quickly, however, and said, “Tell them of course, I’ll be more than happy to talk with Diane.”
“Kewl,” purred Biwi, taking back his netbook. “I’ll give it right back to you. I’ve got to tweet this first, though.” As he settled the netbook back in front of him, he looked at the screen and did a double take. Laughing loudly once again, he turned to Benjamin and told him, “Well, you’re definitely going viral. It seems Rush Limbaugh is denouncing you angrily on the radio right this minute.”
“Oh, good!” thrilled Benjamin. “Can we get a copy of that, so I can listen to it later?”
“Sure,” said Biwi, typing away on the netbook’s keyboard.
Brighton’s phone trilled again, and after answering it, she looked a little doubtful but then said, “Wait. I’ll ask him.” Turning to Benjamin she said, “It’s Kitty Kelly’s administrative assistant. She wants to do an unauthorized biography of you.”
“Well, I guess she doesn’t need my approval for that,” Benjamin joked.
In the next few minutes, the first trickle of phone calls and emails turned into a flood. Matt Lauer wanted Benjamin for the Today Show. Bill O’Reilly wanted to debate him on Fox News. They wanted him to do a special appearance on Entertainment Tonight. The word was that the National Enquirer was trying to dig up something slimy from Benjamin’s past. And, would you believe it? – they wanted him to appear on the next season of Dancing with the Stars!
Reeling from the media frenzy attacking us in our very own kitchen, I stood up and made my way to the deck, where I hoped I could get a little peace and quiet. Thea followed me out. Smirking, she bent down and kissed me on the forehead. “At least there’s one show we know he won’t be appearing on,” she reassured me.
“I bite,” I said. “What show is that?”
“Bridezillas,” she grinned.
“Ah,” I sighed, laying my head back on my lounge chair and looking up at the tree tops. “Thank our lucky stars for that.”
“Oh, I do,” she said. Then, looking in through the screen door at the full embrace of our Teds on the kitchen floor, she added, “And I thank our lucky stars for them, too.”
“Point taken,” I said, sighing dramatically. “Point taken.”