Tuesday, July 31, 2012
BOB BARKER'S WORLD
Hot damn. Can life get any better than this?
Mr. Price is Right is calling for me. Mr. Truth or Consequences wants a moment of my time. Fuck the Dos Equis guy — I am the most interesting man in the world because Bob Fucking Barker is calling from the West Coast and he wants to talk to me right now.
I was expecting his call. His ties to Springfield, Mo., are as deep as Moses and the Burning Bush. Barker went to high school here. He's dumped a huge chunk of change into the local humane society because, you know, he wants to make sure the reproductive organs of every dog in the pound are excised so there aren't any unwanted pups populating the Queen City's alleys.
Knowing he can't see me, I adjust my tie. "Hello, Mr. Barker."
"Hello." Fuck. He sounds just like he does when he tells someone to play Plinko. "Are we ready for our interview?"
That we are, I assure him. There are rumors of sketchy dealings at the humane society, and Barker has threatened to pull funding. I asked for an interview and he agreed, on one condition — he will only talk live, on a noon radio newscast with no time delay.
One of the local TV stations is already here, ready to record the interview (their people are apparently smart enough to refuse Barker's demand of going live, but they're willing to grab my exclusive and run with it).
"Mr. Barker," I squeak out, "I want to remind you — "
"Yes, yes," he says impatiently. "Nothing slanderous, nothing libelous. I know. I've been in broadcasting for many years, young man. Longer than you've been alive, I'm sure." He's right about that. I was a kid in Los Angeles when Barker was hosting "Truth or Consequences," and he seemed impossibly old even then on the black-and-white TV.
As far as I knew, Bob Barker could have banged the woman who gave birth to the creator of television. Far be it for me to tell him how to do his job — but I was news director of this NPR affiliate, and I didn't want to go down in local history as the guy who let Bob Barker run amok during a live interview. So I gently reminded him that we had no time delay, he couldn't make unfounded accusations without evidence, and we would be on the air in five minutes.
"Fine," he said, before saying someone light about being the host of an upcoming beauty pageant, and maybe I'd like an autographed photo from the winner. Not just yes, but fuck yes, I wanted to answer, but you don't drop an F-bomb on Bob Barker. That would be like cussing around God. So I just put him on hold and got ready to hit the top of the hour.
Barker's complaints seemed to have some weight. The management of the humane society was suspect, at best, and plenty of people were complaining that the place was a shithole. Put yourself in Barker's shoes: when your name is dropped to raise money, everything better be as pure as Mother Mary's pre-Jesus womb (had Bob been around in the time of Christ you just know he would have been hitting on Mary, and given that he's a smooth bastard, Mary would have succumbed to his charms, Joseph or no Joseph, and Bob Baker would have been Jesus's dad, which to me sounds like one of the coolest things imaginable).
"One minute," Smitty said from the control room. He would ride the board for this little adventure; all I had to do was ask Bob questions and give him enough room.
Suddenly my nerves jangled.
Keep calm, carry on, as Churchill would say.
Breathe deep the gathering gloom, as the Moody Blues would say.
Cue the newsman. Intro Bob Barker, live from California. And the wheels start to wobble. Barker is clearly in a piss-and-vinegar mood, ready to tear him some humane society ass. We're only a few minutes in when he lets fly.
"And I hear there are drug deals going on at the humane society. I have it on good authority — "
Meekly, I interrupted The Man. "Mr. Barker, we agreed that there wouldn't be any slanderous statements made on this newscast — "
"Well," he said, "you won't have anything on your newscast if you don't let me talk!"
For Chrissakes, why did he have to go there?
"OK, Mr. Barker," I said, "if that's the way you want it." And I hung up the phone.
Through the glass I could see Smitty mouth the words "OH MY GOD" as he went to a 60-second public-service announcement. He got on the studio intercom.
"Did you just fucking hang up on Bob Barker?"
"Umm, yeah, I guess I did." Jesus. What the fuck did I just do?
"Gwen from the humane society is on the phone. Want to take her after this spot?" God bless Smitty —a good man to have in a tight corner.
We came out of break, I interviewed Gwen for a couple minutes, we finished the newscast. Ready for a smoke and perhaps a bottle, I made it as far as my desk when the phone rang.
"Is this Ron?" asked the immediately recognizable voice.
"Yes, Mr. Barker."
"I just want to get this straight — you hung up on me?"
"Yes, Mr. Barker. We agreed that — "
"You hung up on … me?" It was like God asking why Adam and Eve were hiding in the Garden of Eden.
"Yes, Mr. Barker."
"I just wanted to get that straight," Bob Barker said. "Thank you." He rang off. I wondered how long it would be before lightning came down from the clouds and struck me dead.
Postscript: Flash forward 25 years. A local university is changing the name of a street to Bob Barker Boulevard, in honor of its famous alum. I get the chance to interview Barker with another producer. Handshakes all around. Pictures are taken. At no point do I mention my name. It's likely Bob has forgotten the incident. But I saw the way he jacked up Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore. I wasn't taking any chances. This is Bob Barker's world. We only live in it.