Because I am a shameless eavesdropper, I have often
why microphones are not made to resemble ears. After all, the point of a
microphone is not
that someone is speaking, but that someone else is listening, or will be
listening. That is
also the danger of microphones.
What we say never gets us into trouble unless it's heard. Shout it at home in your cork-lined room, and you're safe. Tell someone, and you are asking for trouble. Speak it into an open mike, and you're courting disaster. Yet who among us, upon discovering that an idea has popped into our minds, can resist whispering it into an attractive ear or a microphone?
Consider the case of Bob Balducci, who rose to fame as a ventriloquist and ended up as assistant to a dummy.
For quite a few years when I was a boy, "Bob Balducci's Breakfast Bunch" was a program everyone knew. The Breakfast Bunch was broadcast from a restaurant where an audience of little old ladies sat at tables eating breakfast. The clatter of cutlery was always in the background. Bob ended his final program with his usual routine: "Well," he said, "that brings another gathering of the Breakfast Bunch to a close, but it has been so wonderful being here with all of you lovely ladies this morning that I think we ought to do it again tomorrow . . . don't you?"
The audience chorused, "Yes, Bob," and the lively Breakfast Bunch theme came up over their applause.
Then, thinking that he was off the air, Bob turned to his second banana and alter ego, Baldy the Talking Dummy, and asked, "What were the last words of our dear departed Uncle Don?"
"Gee, Bob," said Baldy. "I haven't thought of Uncle Don in years. I used to listen to him all the time when I was a little splinter. Poor guy."
"I asked you what he said."
"He said, 'That ought to hold the little bastards for another week.' Too bad the mike was on. That was his best show."
"And his last."
"But in our case," said Bob with an audible sigh, "there's gonna be a whole new batch of desiccated old bats tomorrow."
The microphone was open.
Like Uncle Don before him, Bob went down. The program went on, though. It was still called "Bob Balducci's Breakfast Bunch," but every show began with the claim that Bob was on vacation. Someone was always filling in for him.
I knew that Bob wasn't on vacation. All I had to do to find him was tune in late at night, and there he was, still on the air-in a way. His new program was called "Baldy's Nightcap." Its star was Baldy the Talking Dummy.
Bob had only one line on Baldy's show: "Yeah." Sometimes it was, "Yeah?"
At least once in every program, Baldy would ask, "Bob?"
"Are you the guy who insulted those desiccated old bats?"
"Baldy's Nightcap" had a simple format. Baldy talked. That's all he did. He didn't play music or interview guests. He just talked. He seemed to be just letting his thoughts run on, talking to a friend-me. Often he would begin by asking, "Have you ever wondered . . ." and go on to explore some question that he had been wondering about.
Sometimes he would employ a prop. I remember his saying one night, "You're probably wondering why I've got this log beside me. Well, you know what? I think it might be one of my relatives," and he went on to reminisce-complain, actually-about growing up as a dummy in Falling Rock Zone, Minnesota.
He never offered much detail about his private, off-the-air life. He was wary, I suppose of suffering Bob's fate. He claimed to live in a cave, but he never said a word about how he spent his days. It was as if he were someone else during the day, or asleep, or in a box.
I would lie there, listening, and sometimes I would fall asleep, and wake, and sleep and wake again. It wasn't that Baldy was boring, but he spoke with an infectious weariness that seemed to have begun long before the show came on and would continue long after it was over.
He always ended the show in the same way, with a look at the news, followed by the words "Good night, boys and girls. Remember what Baldy says: stay in the cave. It's a nasty world out there." Sometimes, he would add, as if to himself, almost inaudibly, "That ought to hold the little-" and then the microphone would be switched off abruptly, leaving a wooden silence: dead air.
Other Short Stories by Eric Kraft