Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Hometown – Jerry Springer

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of  12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

My Hometown – Jerry Springer

My family has a long history of pranks that we like to pull on each other, some are slight and some are epic. Probably the greatest and most epic was the time my late brother convinced us al that  TV chef and writer Anthony Bourdain came to Hartselle. He had a solid back story and a minor corroboration from my nephews who later broke down under intense interrogation from their uncle and admitted that is was a grand hoax. My grandest prank was the day I bought the black Jerry Springer Show golf shirt.

In the early days of the internet in the 1990’s, I was enthralled by the possibilities of the inter-connectivity of all the computers in the world and was monitoring this technological marvel from its beginnings in the old BBS packet system, the first reliable email delivery system, prior to the world wide web. Later, websites became available and telephone modems got faster than 300 baud. Internet commerce was still in its infancy and only the hard core nerds even knew about it. One could order goods from all over the world while commerce in Hartselle was limited to shopping at Maison-Morgan or in catalogs.

At this time, I was a big fan of the Jerry Springer Show. I had enjoyed off mainstream television for years, beginning with the Morton Downey Show that came on late night on a new network called Fox. Jerry’s guest were over-the-top, and too strange to be believed, but with just enough credence to be real. Little people, transvestites, and other abnormalities in the human existence were all paraded in front of the nation every week. It was like watching a train wreck, you knew it was going to be horrible, but for some reason, you just couldn’t look away. The Jerry Springer Show is a shell of its former self and I have not seen it in years, but it is still on and running most U.S. TV markets with impressive ratings in its time slots.

The gist of the program, every week, is a guest with some salacious twist in their lives  comes onto the show and confess it in front of a TV audience. Jerry Springer is the host and keeps the interactions between the guests lively with his quips and humor. Jerry was a former Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio and a former TV anchor in that market. Jerry’s notoriety came from an incident while in office as Mayor. He went across the river into Kentucky and solicited a prostitute, then paid her with a personal check for her services, which is how he got caught. He actually won the election for Mayor for another term after that incident, so the voters must have liked him.

The Show had on of the first websites on the internet, and you could order hats, t-shirts, and black golf shirts with the show’s logo on the front and in big white letters across the back “SECURITY”, just like the large security guards wore on the show. I had to have one and ordered it. A few days later, my shirt arrived and I promptly wore it. People who knew me around Hartselle knew I was always a little off, so they asked me how I got it and commented that I shouldn’t watch such trash. The shirt was cool and upset all the right people, so I wore it often.

The fun began when we went to I-65 and Highway 67 in Priceville to a new truck stop with a pretty nice restaurant in it. In this arena, few knew me, so every time I went there with the shirt on, I’d get solicited by a line of people wanting to know if I was “with the Show” as everyone must have watched it, too. Of course, I’d say yeah, and then get the greatest stories of the seedy under side of Morgan County that I could ever imagine. Not knowing of any Springer –Show-Security-Team – Guest confidentiality, I played along and told them to call the 1-800 number and talk to a producer to get their story on the Show. I learned about the gory details of unholy unions, addictions and relationships whose descriptions should never be discussed, but yet all laid out for me while I had the Security shirt on. I soon realized that I had stumbled onto pure comedy gold with my shirt purchase, so I made sure I wore it whenever I went out of town. My shirt opened a door to another wold that would have been closed to me and I could not wait to see what else would happen.

Lines would form around me wherever I went, because everyone thought that the only way to get the official-looking shirt was to actually be associated with the Show. I had my bona fide credentials on my back and commanded respect and attention with the crowds of people who would do anything, say anything, and reveal anything to get on TV. The situations got more unbelievable as the Show gained popularity and moved to a post-news time slot in the Tennessee Valley. Later, as on the Show, women (old and young) would  now frequently flash their chest to me to get on TV and that’s precisely when my wife demanded the shirt and abruptly ended my Jerry Springer Show Security experience.  She gave the shirt to one of the guys who worked for me and I understand that he used it to pick up girls in Huntsville with laser precision.

We had caught lightning in a bottle and became drunk with power. The shirt has lost its power as everyone knows that you can order anything from anywhere on the computer, but for a few short weeks in Morgan County, Alabama, I learned the lucrative power of the television, a Force that be used for good, or the dark side.