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The Fred Herring Story


A Poor Trait of the Artist as a Young Man

<<<   This portrait, by the author's son, Jesse, looks just like the author.  

A long excerpt from...


The Fred Herring Story:  A Poor Trait of the Artist as a Young Man

aka A Publication in Search of a Manuscript

by Fred Herring (our Flounder), as Told to Anyone Who Would Listen

© 2001 - 2019 To Wit Publishers, Buzzoff, Virginia  

Chapter 2:  A Checkered Employment History

Like most people of questionable background, after my birth I proceeded to regress physically, emotionally, and socially.  I made medical history at the age of five as the first successful recipient in a tonsil transplant operation.  [It would be years before the artificial tonsil would be developed. My older brother was the donor, so the chance of rejection was lowered, although the tonsil did think long and hard before accepting my body as its new home.  My brother would continue to donate organs to other needy individuals, eventually participating in ground-breaking appendix and hernia transplant operations.]  By the time I entered first grade, I had learned to read license plates on my own, but I squandered that leg up on my classmates by refusing to deal with words more than three letters long and punctuation marks other than hyphens.  After struggling through grade- and secondary-school, I was admitted to the state university to satisfy a bet between the dean and the head of the physics department.  Nevertheless, I graduated summa cum lately with a degree in physics [a BS, of course].  

Eager to put my hard-won education to work, I spent a few years chasing a career as a freelance physicist, but times being what they were - the receding edge of the proverbial "dawning of the Age of Aquarius" - work of an appropriate nature was in short supply. So, my chosen vocation proved to be a dead-end proposition.  [No, the rule is never end a sentence with a preposition, so proposition is OK. What were you thinking?!]

By the end of the decade, we were definitely into the "aging of the Dawn of Aquarius," and I landed a job in a field more attuned to the times, as a ventriloquist on an all-night radio program broadcast over a small, local outlet in the Midwest.  [If I remember right, it was station KPITS, or "Pie in the Sky" radio.]  There, I inadvertently pioneered the new genre of wacko talk-radio by inviting calls from my listeners.  Just as things were beginning to heat up for me career-wise, my show was eliminated when a grease fire in the kitchen of the nearby state mental institution caused the relocation of my entire audience to a new facility outside the range of our 3.14159-kilowatt transmitter.  [I'm told that the rate of recovery jumped dramatically once they were relocated; must have been the water.]

The next few years brought a series of occupational disasters that might have discouraged a more sentient being, including the untimely end of my brief acting stint in the title role of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing [which I had counted as an artistic success when the critics said nothing about me].  The play's run was cut short by a grease fire in the kitchen of the Chinese restaurant adjoining the converted bowling alley that served as our theater. 

In a well meaning if misguided attempt to combat grease fires, I next joined a troop of Exhaust Systems Fireproofing Specialists [or ESFS (“essfiss”), aka grease scraper].  With my training in physics, I designed and applied for a patent on a revolutionary device that conditioned the interior surfaces of freshly scraped commercial kitchen grease ducts by applying lime and aluminum paint simultaneously, without letting either fall into the fried won-ton noodles or simmering duck soup. This promising career was also cut short by circumstances outside my control, to wit, when the United States government formally recognized Red China.  Shortly thereafter, the Cantonese restaurants that had employed us were replaced by ones featuring Szechuan-Hunan cuisine and a less obnoxious type of grease.  

Another contributing factor in our demise was the contemporaneous rise in the national health consciousness resulting from the tragic, unintentional mass suicide of the Church of Universal Light and Truth (CULT).  The entire congregation starved to death after fanatically following a strict dietary regimen consisting of macaroni, macaroons, Big Macs, and henways [She: “I came back from the market with a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and a henway.” He: “What's a henway?” She: “Oh, about two pounds.”] in the mistaken application by their leader, Fitz Moore, of a presentation on macrobiotic food delivered by an alleged alien visitor interviewed on an obscure local AM talk-radio station.  As an inmate in a nearby state hospital, Moore had heard the broadcast during radio therapy shortly before he was able to escape during the evacuation of inmates forced by a grease fire in the dining facility.  Coincidentally, I once "interviewed" an alien on my radio-ventriloquist show by throwing my voice through an unripe avocado seated next to me in the studio. 

Finding myself again in the ranks of the unemployed, I eagerly sought work in almost any new, untried field, particularly after finding the glue on the back of food stamps to be distasteful.  Through a former co-worker [no, not the unripe avocado] who had gone north, I learned of a lucrative job in the far western end of the Aleutian Islands emptying honey buckets at a secret government listening post. My letter of interest was all it took to secure the position--no one else had applied--and soon I was winging my way north [Boy, were my arms tired!] at my own expense. Upon arriving in Anchorage, whence I was to be flown to the island in the cargo hold of a C-130 at government expense [The government spares no expense, eh?], I learned that the recent, sudden collapse of the Soviet Union had caused Congress to reconsider the need for the base and to cut its funding. 

Again unemployed and out of money but still in Alaska, I found work on the supertanker, Exxon Valdez, leaving for the south with a load of North Slope oil.  [And a slippery slope it turned out to be!]  Fortunately for me, during the subsequent investigation into the massive oil spill into Prince William Sound, it never came to light that at the time of the accident I had been on the bridge demonstrating my ventriloquism to the captain by throwing my voice through a Wilson volleyball.  [Much to the delight of the first mate, Hank Thompson or Tom Hankson or something like that, who was also an aspiring actor. I've lost track of him, but I hope he had better luck in the theater than I did.]  After the clean-up operation was well underway, I hitched a ride with some environmentalists returning from Valdez to the contiguous 48 states by convincing them that I, too, was an environmentalist.  [Well, being a mental case already, you don't think I stretched the truth too much just by adding the prefix "environ," do you?]  Once back outside, as Alaskans refer to the rest of the world, I bummed from occupation to occupation but somehow managed to avoid selling Omega Classic vacuum cleaners.  [After all, I had to maintain some self-respect.] 

Things took a sudden turn for the better when I inherited a small fortune in matured Series-E savings bonds from the estate of the deceased head of my state university's physics department.  [He had been killed several years earlier, apparently in a dust explosion while working on a contract for the U.S. Patent Office.  They had asked him to examine the feasibility of a patent application on a revolutionary device for simultaneously applying lime and aluminum paint through the same nozzle. It had taken the executor of the will several years to find me.  It seems that my mail had languished unforwarded in an oil-covered general delivery box in a just-reopened post office at a former government outpost in the Aleutians.]  By then, a flourishing talk-radio market was emerging in the former Soviet Union, so my former co-worker and I created a partnership to establish a broadcast station on the site of the abandoned outpost in the Aleutians, this time with enough transmitting power to cover the Alaska-Kamchatka-eastern Siberia area. Unfortunately, the Siberian talk-radio market collapsed with the spread of the Internet into the eastern hemisphere, just about the time that my inheritance had been completely invested in the venture and just as we were beginning to realize a profit.  The World Wide Web turned out to be the preferred source for wacko information.  

With my few remaining dollars, I established, the profits of which I invested in Series-I, inflation-indexed savings bonds.  The collapse of the dot-com industry shortly thereafter and the reduction of inflation rates to their lowest point in recent years led me to the ill-fated, desperate attempt to recoup some of my losses that landed me in this federal institution.  [I was caught trying to smuggle bootleg copies of the CD-ROM version of Pong into the country.  I wasn't convicted of smuggling but rather of felony littering.  It seems no one wanted the stuff.  By the way, I've finally found a place where I can put my early experience with license plates to good use!]  I could go on and on, but the guards are here to change my water.  Say, guys, want to hear my impersonation of the warden? 

[Editor's note:  Fred was eventually released and went on to earn a six-figure income, of which, unfortunately, the last two were decimals.]

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