The story of a man seeking redemption, a mascot who never removes his ferret suit, and a host of characters who learn that the place in the world they have been seeking is with each other.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Part 1, Episode 17: "Talk Soup"

Conrad arrived at Old Man Farnsworth’s office a few minutes before nine the next morning to a warm greeting by the ice maiden herself, Kate.

“How are you feeling, Conrad?” she asked.

“I’ve got a mother of a headache, but other that that I’m fine. Anyway, you’ve got to play hurt if you going to be successful, you know.”

He received a warm smile followed by a reassuring, “I’m glad you’re okay. They’re ready for you.”

Conrad was surprised, knowing that Four F’s attention to detail, or lack of same, meant that he was seldom on time for any scheduled event when he bothered to show up at all. Could he actually witness Four F getting dressed down by the old man? He could only hope.

“Connie, please have a seat,” Mr. Farnsworth warmly greeted him. Four F was sitting across the desk from his grandfather, the look on his face indicating he had already had a piece of his ass chewed off by the Old Man.

“Obviously, we need to talk over the unfortunate events of Saturday,” Mr. Farnsworth began. “Connie, first of all I’m glad you weren’t more seriously injured. I understand you saw Troy yesterday. How is he?”

“They’re operating on his collarbone today,” Conrad answered. “He’ll be in rough shape for awhile, but he’ll be fine eventually. I don’t think we should even try to do a football broadcast next Saturday.”

“I agree, Connie,” the old man said. “I doubt it will be much fun for our loyal listeners, either. Anyway, Frederick and I have spent some time chatting about what went wrong on Saturday. What’s you’re take on it?”

Conrad sat for a moment, carefully considering how to proceed. “I actually thought the pre-game activities went pretty well. I think the full-blown reenactment, particular the horses, was too much to squeeze in at halftime. Fred, you shouldn’t have had to tell the guys with the cannon not to load it with live ammunition…”

Four F jumped in, “See, I told you, Grandpa!”

Conrad continued, “…but when you organize an event with as many moving parts as the Civil War deal on Saturday, something will invariably go wrong that you had no reason to anticipate. That’s why either you’ve got to be there, or designate someone reliable to cover it. There’s always something that needs an impromptu decision or that requires intervention. You just can’t have an activity like that run itself, no matter how much preparation went into it before hand.”

Four F slumped in his seat. Conrad thought he saw Four F’s lower lip sticking out, but he figured he must have just been imagining that.

“Thank you for your input, Connie,” Mr. Farnsworth interjected. “I owe you an apology. I know you were hesitant to go along with this idea, and I overruled you. As a result, you and Troy were hurt, and I’m thankful there weren’t more casualties.”

The Old Man paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and continued. “Frederick, you are on leave without pay until Connie and I can determine a suitable role for you. I want to fine a spot for you here, but I’m not going to rush into something this time. Connie, you can look at this more objectively than I can. I need your help figuring this out.”

“You’ve got it sir,” Conrad said eagerly.

“That will be all Frederick. I’ll be in touch,” Mr. Farnsworth said, dismissing his grandson.

Four F schlepped out of the room, staring at the floor the entire way.

The Old Man then turned his attention toward Conrad. “Now, my boy, you said there were a couple of items you needed to discuss with me.”

“Yes sir,” Conrad replied. “First off, will the school pay Troy’s bills if he consents to begin therapy to get rid of his lisp?”

“Speech therapy?” Mr. Farnsworth asked.

“No, more like psychological therapy. You know, with a shrink,” Conrad said.

“Are you saying Troy is disturbed?” the Old Man said with a trace of indignation in his voice.

“No sir, not at all,” Conrad said, trying his best not to be defensive. “I talked with him for a while yesterday, and from what he said, the recurrence of his lisp was due to a psychological trauma. If he can work with someone to resolve that issue, it should clear up his lisp.”

“Did you mention this idea to him?” Mr. Farnsworth asked.

“Yes, and he was quite receptive,” Conrad said. “He just said he couldn’t pay for it.”

“Well, I certainly can, and I will,” the Old Man said decisively. “I’d love to see him back to what he was. Tell him to send the bills to me. Stay on top of that and make it happen, will you Connie?”

“It’ll be my pleasure, sir,” Conrad responded.

“What else did you have for me?” the Old Man asked, obviously trying to pick up the pace of the meeting.

“Sir, I think we have come across a sport that Farnsworth University can compete in at the Division I level next year,” Conrad announced.

Mr. Farnsworth’s face lit up. “Really? Tell me about it.”

“Well, sir, it’s women’s bowling,” Conrad said.

The Old Man slumped in his seat. “Oh,” he responded.

“I know it’s not a glamour sport,” Conrad said, trying to close the sale, “but it is a legitimate Division I sport. We’re working on the application process right now.”

“I didn’t realize bowling was a varsity sport,” Mr. Farnsworth said with disdain.

“To be honest, I didn’t either. My intern, John Smith, dug it up. The champion last year was Nebraska, so there are some big time schools involved,” Conrad said, neglecting to mention that the Cornhuskers were the ONLY big time school he saw competing in women’s bowling.

The name dropping had the desire effect. “The Big Red, eh?” the Old Man said, obviously warming to the idea. “Okay Conrad, go forward with the process and I’ll sign off on it. Actually, we could have Frederick start to look for players to recruit.”

Conrad considered this for a moment, thinking that this would be a harmless project for Four F to take on, and it would buy him some time to think of a more long-term solution for the Old Man’s idiot grandson.

“That works for me, sir,” Conrad replied.

“Do you have a coach lined up?” Mr. Farnsworth asked.

“I’ve had some bowling experience, so I just thought I would take on the interim title and see how it goes,” Conrad said.

“That’s entirely up to you, Connie,” the Old Man replied. “Just don’t take on too much. You’re already got some key positions to fill as it is.”

Conrad thought to his need for a sports information director, the upcoming change in football coaches, and his desperate need for a real assistant athletic director. “I’ll be careful, sir.”

“Splendid. Don’t lose track of that other task you need to perform,” Mr. Farnsworth said in closing.

Conrad, remembering the directive to neutralize the problem at Edgar Allen Poe University, nodded his head and exited the office.

Shortly after lunchtime, Conrad was minding his own business in his office when he heard Gretchen barking. Knowing this meant trouble, he sat back in his chair and braced himself for the bad news.

Gretchen knocked and entered the office, “Conrad, I just got a call from Mr. Farnsworth’s secretary Kate. She said you need to find someone to cover the “Ferret Forum” radio show while Troy is laid up.”

Conrad stared at Gretchen in disbelief, then slumped in his chair and muttered, “Oh crap.” He was annoyed with himself for not realizing that a fill-in host would be needed, probably for at least a week. He also should have known it would be his responsibility to come up with the replacement. Conrad then decided to do what he normally did in this kind of situation; he nominated himself.

“Call Kate back and tell her I’ve got it covered,” Conrad told Gretchen.

“Are you going to do it yourself?” she asked.

“Unless you’d rather step in,” Conrad replied with a smirk.

“Have a good time,” Gretchen told him as she headed back to her desk.

A few minutes letter, it occurred to Conrad to call the station and see who Troy had booked as today’s guest. He found out that no one had been booked for the entire week. Apparently Troy wasn’t one for much advance planning, usually setting up guests no more than a day ahead of time.

Faced with the prospect of essentially talking to himself for an hour on the radio, he tried to think of who he could grab on such short notice. Instinctively, he picked up his phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Hello, Freddie Ferret here.” Freddie cheerfully answered his cell phone.

“Hey Freddie, this is Conrad. I need you to do me a big favor,” Conrad said.

“Just name it pal. I’m at your service.”

“I’m stuck hosting the Ferret Forum radio show today, and I don’t have a guest lined up. Can you drop in for the hour? The show starts at 5:00.”

The phone line was quite for a moment. “Freddie, are you there?” Conrad asked.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here.” Freddie said hesitantly. “I’m sorry, Conrad, I can’t do it.”

“Oh, have you got a late class?” Conrad asked.

“I just can’t do it! I’m sorry! I’ll talk to you later.” Freddie hung up.

“Great,” Conrad thought. “What got under his fur?”

Conrad arrived at the WFUR studio, only a couple of miles away from the campus, at about 4:30 to give himself some time to get acclimated to the studio. He had been a guest during the first week of “Ferret Forum,” only days after the Old Man’s infamous appearance, so he had an inkling of how things would work.

After showing Conrad what buttons to push and, even more importantly, what ones not to push, the show’s producer, Bob Browne, asked Conrad, “So, who’s you’re guest today?”

“I wasn’t able to get one,” Conrad replied.

“Oh man, that’s not good,” Browne said.

“Well, I was hoping I could open up the phone lines and just interact with the fans,” Conrad said.

“Good luck with that,” Browne said. “After the lesbians and sex addicts figured out this was a sports show, we haven’t gotten very many calls.”

“Wonderful,” Conrad said dejectedly. “This could be a long hour.”

Conrad survived the broadcast, although the final two segments of the program were reduced to a recital of each Ferret team’s schedule and results and some of the key statistics. Conrad then paid a brief visit to Troy in the hospital, who was still out of it after his successful surgery. Following his ritualistic stop at Galaxy Burger, he returned to his campus suite still in a foul mood. He felt Freddie had hung him out to dry and was determined to find out why.

When he entered the suite, Conrad found Freddie aimlessly channel surfing on the television, something he seldom did. Freddie greeted him with a sheepish “hey.”

“Hey yourself,” Conrad responded. Deciding to eschew the small talk, he got right into it. “So what was the deal today? Why couldn’t you tell me what was going on? Did you hear any of that miserable show? I was reading freakin’ box scores and press releases! I didn’t think anything could get worse than the football broadcasts, but I proved myself wrong today.”

“Conrad, I’m really sorry,” Freddie said, staring at his paws, feet, whatever they are. “I just couldn’t do it.”

“Why did you pick today to get shy all of a sudden?” Conrad asked, still fuming.

“It wasn’t about being shy,” Freddie insisted defensively. “I just don’t do interviews, okay! I don’t like people asking me questions.”

All of the anger was sucked out of Conrad, who realized what a bad position he had put his friend in.

“You’re afraid that people will ask about your time before you donned the fur, aren’t you?”

Freddie continued to stare at his paws, feet, whatever, then looked directly at Conrad. “I’m terrified of it,” Freddie said very softly. “I’ve left all that behind. I’m Freddie Ferret now, and that’s all that matters. I even legally changed my name, did you know that?”

No, Conrad did not know that. Talk about getting into your work!

Freddie struggled to continue. “I enjoy being around people at functions and parties, that kind of thing. Nobody tries to interrogate me there. I’m just Freddie Ferret, loveable mascot and ferret about town. That’s great.”

Freddie stopped and took a couple of moments to gather himself. “Any good interviewer, and even some crappy ones, make the effort to ‘get beneath the fur,” he said. “I don’t want that, Conrad. I just want to be Freddie Ferret! Is that a freakin’ crime?”

Conrad walked over and put his hand on Freddie’s shoulder. “Absolutely not. That’s your right, and I apologize for not thinking of it.”

“You don’t have anything to apologize for, Conrad. It’s my issue, not yours. I’m the one hiding in a ferret suit, not you.”

Without thinking, Conrad asked, “What are you hiding from?”

Freddie considered that for a moment, then said, “I didn’t like who I was before I came here. No one else really did either. Once I put on this suit, I felt free to find out who I really was. It turns out I’m a hell of a guy. You know, fun at parties, bah mitzvahs, popular with the ladies. I was never any of that before, and I don’t ever want to look back. I just want everyone to know Freddie Ferret, not that other loser.”

“Man, this is deep,” Conrad thought. “Now that I know how strongly you feel about that, I’d better tell you something,” he said.

Freddie, with a look of terror in his eyes, sat silent. “The Star-Bulletin beat reporter, Jimmy Harris, is trying to go Bob Woodward on you,” Conrad said.

Freddie, with the hurt obvious in his voice, asked, “Why would he do that?”

“Simple,” Conrad said, “to make a name for himself, to come up with the story no one else could. I’ve tried to steer him away from it, but he seems hell-bent on ‘outing’ you.”

Freddie held his furry face in his hands and muttered, “great.”

“I don’t think he’s got anything yet, and he promised me he’d give me a heads up before he ran a story. Nonetheless, if you need to contact anyone and warn them, you’d better get to it.”

Freddie gathered himself and said, “Thanks for the warning, Conrad, I really appreciate it.”

“No problem,” Conrad said. “For the record, I don’t give a crap about any of that stuff. I know who you are now, and I’m proud to have you for a friend. The school is lucky to have you as its representative.”

Freddie stood up and gave Conrad a big bear, er, ferret hug.


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