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.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Part 1, Episode 18: Four F-The Man, The Myth, The Moron

From the telltale mooing he heard outside his office, Conrad knew trouble was approaching. Gretchen stuck her head in the door and said, “Hazel Broomhouse is here to see you, Conrad.”

That sounded harmless enough, he thought, although he wondered what a Hazel Broomhouse was and why she wanted to see him. “What is she here for?” he asked.

“Something about a bowling team?” Gretchen replied, sounding puzzled.

“Oh, okay,” Conrad said. “We’re looking at starting a varsity bowling team next season.”

Gretchen hesitated for a minute, looked out towards the hall, then back at Conrad. “You said a varsity team, right, not one we’re sponsoring at a local bowling alley? Moo!”

“Sure. We’re not going to fool with sponsoring anyone,” Conrad replied. “This is strictly varsity. Mr. Farnsworth told Four F to start doing some recruiting and send prospects in to see me.”

“Ooookay. I’ll send her in. Moo!” Gretchen said.

Moments later, a 50-ish lady who reminded Conrad of a less-attractive Shelly Winters strolled in to his office. Conrad stared at her until Hazel broke the silence. “I’m here for the bowling team,” she announced.

‘Okay,” Conrad said. “Have a seat.” He pondered how to handle what seemed to be another Four F foul up. Finally, he said to Hazel, “You realize that this is a varsity team.”

Hazel just stared back at him. After a moment, Conrad continued, “That means you would have to be a student here and enrolled in at least 12 credit hours to be eligible.”

Hazel’s face scrunched up, obviously unhappy with this news. “That Farnsworth fella didn’t say nothin’ about takin’ no classes,” she barked. “He said you folks were puttin’ together a bowling team and he thought I was good enough to be on it. I carry a 187 average in the Tuesday morning league, you know!”

“That’s a very strong average, Miss Broomhouse,” Conrad said. “I’m sure you’re good enough to make any team around here. The problem is, however, that Four F, er, I mean Fred Farnsworth neglected to mention that our team was only for students. I’m sorry you wasted a trip in here.”

“You mean you people ain’t sponsorin’ no bowling team!” Hazel barked.

“No, I’m afraid we’re not,” Conrad said. “We just get involved in activities with students.”

“You folks have money. It wouldn’t kill you to spend a few bucks and sponsor a team, you know!” Hazel said with great indignation.

“I suppose we could afford it,” Conrad said in his best conciliatory tone, “but we’ve got our hands full with the student activities. We just can’t take anything else on.”

“Yeah, I heard someone blew up your stadium a while back,” Hazel said with a sneer, “you’d probably find some way to louse this up, too.”

“You might be right,” Conrad said, wondering if she might actually be correct. “Again, I apologize for the misunderstanding.” He rose to signal the end of the meeting, and was relieved when Hazel took the hint.

“You people need to get your act together,” she said as she huffed out of Conrad’s office. “How can you run a school when you can’t even get straight what you’re doin’ with a bowling team?” Walking by Gretchen’s desk, Hazel heard the mooing. “What’s your problem, sister?” she asked Gretchen in an accusatory manner. Gretchen said, “I’m sorry,” and then began whimpering like a hurt puppy.

Conrad, still shaking his head in amazement, walked to his doorway and motioned Gretchen to come in. She took a seat in front of his desk while Conrad walked back to his chair. “Another fine mess that moron got us into,” he began.
“I assume he didn’t bother telling anyone they needed to enroll in classes to be our bowling team. Woof!” Gretchen said.

“That’s right,” Conrad confirmed. “Unfortunately, I think we can expect more visitors like lovely Hazel. If anyone calls to set up an appointment, tell them the situation. I’ll handle anyone who gets really irate.”

“What if somebody just shows up like she did? Woof!” Gretchen asked.

“I’d better see them. If I’m not around, page me,” Conrad replied.

They sat quietly for a moment, Conrad stewing about yet again having to clean up after Four F. “We’ve got to find something constructive for this clown to do!” he exclaimed.

“Well, I know he sure can talk his way into anything,” Gretchen offered. “He can talk others into doing stuff too. He’s like a used car salesman! Grrrrrr!”

Conrad leapt out of his seat and slammed his palm on the desk. “That’s it! Sales! Let him go out and schmooze all the time, that’s all he’s good at anyway.”

Gretchen momentarily whimpered after Conrad’s burst of excitement startled her, then gathered herself and asked, “What would he sell?”

“Farnsworth athletics! He can go out to businesses large and small, visit groups, encourage them to buy sponsorships or blocks of tickets,” Conrad said, pumping his fist with excitement.

“Do we really need much of that?” Gretchen asked.

“Not right now, no,” he answered. “If we aspire to go big time at some point though, which Mr. Farnsworth has clearly stated is his vision for Ferret sports, then we’ll need more cash inflow. I know his pockets are deep, but I’m sure there’s a limit to how much he’ll put into sports. We’ll need to supplement that with sponsors and support from the business community, and I think Four F might actually be able to go out and get it.”

“You know, Conrad, you just might be right!” Gretchen said, beginning to share her boss’ excitement.

“And as an extra added bonus,” Conrad added, “it will keep him off campus and out of our hair most of the time. What’s not to love?”

“That last part is really appealing,” Gretchen concurred.

“Okay then, call Kate and see when I can get in to the Old Man and pitch it. I want to do it ASAP before Four F causes more trouble for us.”

Almost as if he were a puppy that had been summoned for dinner, Four F stuck his head in the door. “Hey guys, how are ya!” he bellowed.

“We’re doing okay, Fred,” Conrad replied wearily.

“Have any of my bowling recruits come in yet?” he asked.

“I just met one of them,” Conrad said. “I’m afraid she didn’t work out.”

“Why not?” Four F said with astonishment. “They were all terrific bowlers.”

“I’m sure they were,” Conrad said, “but the lady I just talked to didn’t seem to grasp the part about having to be a student here.”

“Well geez, anyone would know that,” Four F said in a condescending tone.

“Apparently not,” Conrad countered. “I’ve got a hunch we’re going to run into that same problem with the rest of your so-called recruits.”

“Go figure,” Four F said, not acknowledging any contribution to this problem. “Good help is so hard to find these days.”

“Tell me about it!” Conrad exclaimed. “What brings you in today?” Conrad asked, trying to move him along.

“Oh yeah, I was looking for my briefcase,” Four F replied.

Conrad quickly flashed back to the previous Saturday. Two weeks of relative peace and quiet had passed since the disaster at Civil War day, and he had joined Troy Flemstone for his return to the broadcast booth for the Ferret’s football game vs. Aspiring Novelists College. The debris from the cannon blast had been cleaned up, and a large tarp was covering the hole in the right corner of the press box, protecting the equipment and announcers from the elements.

As expected, Farnsworth was being taken out to the woodshed by the Writers, losing 30-3 late in the third quarter, when Conrad felt a tap on his shoulder during a stoppage in play. He turned around and was surprised to see “Sarge” Bennett, a Gulf War hero who was now the head of security at Farnsworth University.

“Conrad, we’ve got a situation here,” Sarge said.

“Can it wait?” Conrad said, “We’re getting ready to go back on the air.”

“No!” Sarge barked. “You need to come with me right now.”

Troy looked up with concern, and Conrad told him, “Just keep the play-by-play going until there’s a reason not to. I’ll hopefully be back soon.” Troy nodded, and Conrad walked down the press box stairs with Sarge.

After reaching the exit to the press box, Sarge led Conrad around the corner and pointed at a briefcase propped up against the structure. It was a deep, dark brown, and the covering looked like real leather. “That object has been sitting there unattended since after halftime. We’re concerned it might contain explosives,” Sarge told Conrad.

“Explosives!” Conrad shouted, understandably sensitive regarding that notion. “Geez, did someone declare war against us?”

“I don’t know about that, Conrad,” Sarge said, “but we’re at the point where we need to treat this as a suspicious package.”

“Okay, what should we do?” Conrad asked while he wondered why the briefcase looked vaguely familiar.

“I’ve already called in the bomb squad,” Sarge said, “and I think we should evacuate the area as a precaution.”

“I understand,” Conrad said, wanting to insure there were no additions to the list of casualties at Ferret sporting events this season. “I’ll get on it.”

Conrad then hustled out to the Farnsworth sideline and, during a stoppage in play, attracted the attention of the referee.

“We’ve got a bomb threat,” Conrad said quickly, “and we need to clear the stadium. Quickly, let’s get the head coaches together.”

The referee, fighting the urge to freak out, motioned for both coaches to join him and Conrad at midfield. When they arrived, Conrad spoke. “Look, we’ve got a bomb threat here at the stadium. The bomb squad is on its way. We need to clear the field.”

“What about finishing the game?” the Writers’ coach asked.

“I think we all know how it’s going to turn out,” Conrad said. “Let’s just call it here and make sure everyone’s safe. Just get your teams into the locker room and have them stay there until we give you the all clear.”

Both coaches nodded and proceeded to take their teams off the field. Conrad then grabbed a bullhorn from one of the cheerleaders and addressed the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. We have a bomb threat here at the stadium. Please exit the stands at either end of the field quickly but calmly. The game will not be resumed. Thank you and we are sorry for the inconvenience.”

Conrad then rushed to the press box and ran up the stairs. Troy had been describing the departure of the team and fans, but had not wanted to make a specific announcement until talking with Conrad. Huffing and puffing after his dash up the stairs, Conrad told Troy, “Just announce there is a bomb threat, everyone is being safely evacuated, the game is final, and then sign off and get the hell out of here!”

Troy dutifully broadcast exactly what Conrad had told him to and signed off. Conrad waited to help his still gimpy friend down the stairs. “Whath the ruth?” Troy athked, er asked.

“Because there’s a suspicious package down by the bottom of the stairs,” Conrad replied.

“Hey, I’m going to want hatherdouth duty pay,” Troy said only half jokingly.

“I hear you, pal,” Conrad said. “Just keep moving down the stairs and let’s get clear of this.”

Ultimately, everyone cleared the field safely while the package rested against the press box intact. As a final resolution, the bomb squad blew it up in a controlled explosion and found that it was merely a briefcase full of papers. While waiting for word from Sarge Bennett, Conrad and Troy wondered what would blow up at their next home game.

“What does your briefcase look like?” Conrad asked Four F.

“It’s dark brown with a leather exterior,” Four F said. “It’s sweet, but I’m more concerned about someone finding it and going through the contents.”

“What was in it?” Conrad asked.

“Some magazines,” Four F replied.

“Magazines?” Conrad asked.

“Yeah, ones that I wouldn’t want anyone else to find, if you know what I mean,” Four F said with a wink.

Great, Conrad thought, we stopped a football game and evacuated the fans to blow up a briefcase of porn. Just when it looked like things at Farnsworth couldn’t get any stranger, they did.

“You have to go now,” Conrad told Four F.

“Okay, but let me know if you see it,” Four F said. “Remember, no peeking.”
“I’ll give him such a peek,” Conrad said through clenched teeth within earshot of Gretchen.”

“Woof! Woof!” she said.

“I couldn’t’ agree more,” Conrad said.

That afternoon, Conrad did one of his periodic sweeps of the athletic facilities. The red-hot Ferrets’ field hockey team, winners of eight games in a row, was facing conference foe Southwestern Eastern Shore University and, by the time Conrad arrived, had a comfortable 3-0 lead in the third quarter. He noticed that Coach Cage was wearing only a polo shirt, shorts, and shoes with no socks. This seemed to be an odd outfit for a crisp October afternoon where the temperature was struggling to stay above 50 degrees and a steady breeze was blowing across the field. While noticing Cage was obviously cold yet refusing to don a jacket, this did not register with Conrad as being particularly strange given what he had seen at Farnsworth in less than two months on the job.

Conrad stayed long enough to see the Ferrets stretch their lead to 5-0, made his evening stop at Galaxy Burger, then headed home. Freddie was on the phone when he entered, and when Conrad’s wave hello was not acknowledged he sat down and started channel surfing on the television. Freddie completed his phone call shortly thereafter and sat on the couch, looking out into space.

“What’s wrong, buddy?” Conrad asked.

“It’s Father Ferret,” Freddie said, still off in the distance.

“Something wrong, I assume?” Conrad followed up.

“Yeah,” Freddie replied, “he got hit by a Petco truck.”

Unfortunately, the first thing that flashed into Conrad’s mind was the classic scene in the old Mary Tyler Moore show when Chuckles the Clown met his demise when, dressed as a giant peanut, an elephant had tried to eat him.

Seeing how upset Freddie was, Conrad doubted he would see the ironic humor here, so he bit down on his tongue so hard he felt tears trickle down his cheeks. Finally, he managed to say, “That’s terrible, Freddie,” without laughing.

“Yeah, they don’t know if he’s going to make it,” Freddie said dejectedly.

“Anything I can do for you?” Conrad said, now over his potential giggle fit.

“Can we just hang out tonight?” Freddie said.

“Sure, man,” Conrad replied. “How about watching the Monday Night Countdown show to get ready for the Cowboys-Eagles game?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Freddie said.

They sat together as the game stretched past midnight, and Conrad was amazed at how much comfort a person could find in just having a friend to sit with and not having to face a problem alone.


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