Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Man Against Nature

1100 hrs. The McFab compound.
I was in the living room with Mama, reading our morning papers (The Fort Braggart Herald for her, The Daily Mercenary for me). I was absorbing "Ten Things You Never Knew You Could Stab With" when Mama looked over her paper to speak.
"You know Randy," she said, "it's been over a year since you've had any adventures and written about them in your journal."
"Yeah, that's weird."
"Anyway, honey, I forgot to tell you--you got a call yesterday on your Superman phone."
"It's the 'hot phone' Mom. Or the 'merc line'."
"Yeah, honey. Well anyway you was out playing with your watergun--"
"It's my weapon, and I was training." As a matter of fact I'd been shooting "live," with real urine in the pistol.
"Well," she went on, "it was some TV producer."
"TV producer? He wasn't from 60 Minutes was he? My case is still pending, how can they do that?" Christ, if that incident with the ostrich made it to national TV...
"No, baby, he was from that science channel, the..."
"The Ascertainment Channel? Holy shit!" The Ascertainment Channel is the biggest "edu-tainment" channel around. They're the ones behind hit shows like Catching Crabs and Pram Garage. They also produce my favorite show of all time, Man Against Nature, a reality show which featured a British adventurer surviving alone in all sorts of dangerous places.
"Did he say what they wanted? It's not the cable bill is it? I mean, you paid--"
"No, no honey," Mama said, using the voice that always calms me down. "He just said to call him. Here, I wrote the number down on this dirty sock."
I took the sock. Abe Weisentraubstein, Hollywood Producer. And a number. This was hot-- it could be the break I'd been needing for so long.
"I'm gonna take a nap and then call the guy," I said, and headed for my barracks.
"Clean your room, Randy," Mama called after me as I walked down the hall, "this trailer's like to gag a maggot."
"It's a barracks, mom. A barracks."

1500 hrs. Barracks.
I was on the phone, rested, refreshed, and nicely buzzed from my afternoon Zima.
"Ascertainment Channel, Abe Weisentraubstein's office." She sounded hot, or at least female--and to me they're the same thing.
"This is Randy McFab, sugar. I guess you've heard of me?"
"McFab! Oh, yes." This was looking good. "The guy with the ostrich." Shit.
"Nothing's been proven in court," I said through clenched teeth. "Anyway, I got a message to call Mr. Weisenthal."
"Mr. Weisentraubstein?"
"No, it's McFab. Look, can you just--"
"One moment."
He came on the line a few seconds later. "McFab! Baby! I'm so glad you called."
"Er...Hello, Mr. Wienerschnitzel. I had a message--"
"You don't need a reason to call Abe Weisentraubstein, baby! Abe works for you! Now, remind me who you are."
"Randy McFab, sir. I'm a mercenary. Perhaps you've seen my ad in Soldier of Fortune."
He thought for a moment. "The guy who...with a..." I heard a Rolodex being flipped in the background. "Yeah, McFab! Here's what it is, McFab. See, I was looking for an adventurer type, a real meshugina, and I'm talking to this guy from 60 Minutes and he says, 'Abe, baby, you gotta check out this schlamiel we're doing a story on.' You know, the ostrich thing--how'd that work out by the way?"
"It's still pending," I sighed.
"No, physically, I mean...How...Ah, who cares baby! To make a megila short, I had my people do some research and they says to me, 'Abe, baby, this guy's gold! A real-life mercenary. This guy's gelt!'"
I had no idea what he was saying, but it sounded enthusiastic.
"Randy," he said, lowering his voice, "We want you. Hell, we need you."
"I don't swing that way, buddy." I thought for a moment. "What do you look like?"
"No baby! Abe Weisentraubstein's straight as an arrow! No, what we need you for is, we want you to appear as a guest survivor on Man Against Nature."
Oh my God. I almost fainted. Then I did faint, but luckily came to within seconds.
"Randy? Baby? You there?"
"Yeah. Sorry, I...dropped the toaster."
"Look," Abe said, "We're friends and I trust you, so I'm gonna level with you. Remind who you are again?"
"McFab. Randy McFab."
"Right, the ostrich guy. Randy, baby, Man Against Nature ain't doin' so well. We're running out of locations and Ferret just ain't drawing the viewers like he did."
Reginald "Ferret" Miles was the host of MAN and one of my heroes, right up there with Dick Cheney and Bernard Getz.
"We gotta do something, uh...Remind me who you are again?"
"McFab! Baby! We gotta do something, and I'm thinking--no we're thinking--we bring in some more talent, a real hard-ass from the good old U.S.A. to keep things interesting when that Brit goes off on his 'how to make a canoe' schtick. So what do you say? Do you love me? Can we do it? Can we do this, baby?"
"Yes!" I still wasn't sure if he was coming on to me, but at this point I was up for anything.
"Yeah baby! That's what Abe likes to hear, 'yes.' We can fly you out tomorrow, you meet with the producers, you meet Ferret, and we get rolling. How's that sound, baby?"
"It sounds...Fantastic." I wasn't even thinking about the money and fame. Meeting Ferret Miles, ex-SAS soldier and Eagle Scout, was more than enough for me.
"You can pick up your ticket at the airport," Weisentraubstein went on, "and don't worry about equipment because we've got all that. Oh, and one little thing...Try to get along with Ferret. He doesn't like the idea of a co-host. He doesn't like it at all."

0800 hrs. California. Pebble Beach Golf Links.
We stood around the first tee, waiting for Ferret to arrive. My new associates--a couple of young producers and the three-man crew-- made small talk while I paced around in circles, counting the seconds until my first meeting with the Ferret. I had taken my fan-club picture of him off my barracks wall and now held it in a sweaty hand along with a Sharpie, ready for his autograph. I was wondering if he'd sign it "to my friend Randy" when a golf cart pulled up behind us.
And there he was. He looked just like he does on TV, only thinner and if anything more handsome. Soon he would flash that Ferret smile, and...
"The fuck's this?" he said, pointing his chin towards me.
"I--I'm Mandy McRab, sir, Mr. Ferret." I moved towards him, hand extended.
"Don't fucking touch me, you sodding twat." He raised a bottle of gin to his lips, drained the last of it and tossed it over his shoulder. Wow. He considered me a fellow soldier, and was talking to me like all men of action talk to their comrades-in-arms.
"Who's got a fag?" Ferret asked the crew. "I smoked my last in that fucking cancer ward you made me visit. 'Make a Wish' my arse. Fucking idlers, if they was my kids I'd make a wish for 'em to sod the fuck off."
"Here ya go, Ferret." One of the producers handed him a cigarette. "I guess you know, Ferret...This is Randy McFab, the mercenary. Your"
"Well fuck-a-doodle do! A bleedin' merc! What, you couldn't get Dog the fucking Bounty Hunter?"
"We, uh...tried. Yeah. Anyway--"
I stepped between them. "I'm your biggest fan, Mr. Ferret. I've got all the DVDs, I've got your book about how Jesus helped you swim the Channel, I've got the shirt--"
"You're wearing the shirt, you fucking git. Christ, who designed that bone piece of shite?" He looked around the crew for an explanation.
"You did, Ferret," someone said quietly.
"Anyway Mr. Ferret," I went on, "I'm a mercenary, so you don't have to worry about me keeping up. Danger is my profession and death is my director of human resources. Cold steel is my secretary, and--"
"For fuck's sake," Ferret said, "let's get a round in." He went back to the golf cart and removed a set of clubs and a can of beer. I tucked my picture and Sharpie away, saving it for later.

1030 hrs. The eighth tee.
"Watch this drive." I swung with all my strength and watched the ball sail off a cliff and into the abyss.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Ferret groaned. "He's shot 130 and we've not made the turn."
"These damned rental clubs," I said.
"Like the five wood you putted with? Here," he said, tossing his club to one of the producers, "I'm done. Let's just get on with it."
The crew pulled camera and audio gear from the cart and began setting up equipment.
"Randy, " one of the producers said, "take that shirt off. We've got a commando sweater for you. Ferret, let's get you in make-up."
"So this is our first interview?" I asked, imagining my friends watching it on TV after first imagining I had friends.
"What do you mean?" The producer, a hard-bodied blonde named Shia, asked. "This is it, Randy. You need to get ready."
"But...I mean, after this...Where are we actually going to you know, survive?"
"Right here. Jesus, didn't Abe tell you? Come on, off with that stupid shirt."
I started changing into the sweater but I was still confused. "I mean we're not going to survive on a golf course, are we?"
"Randy," Shia said, "we always film on golf courses. Ferret's quite the duffer."
"Yeah, when I can get a fucking decent round in," Ferret muttered while his make-up was applied.
"But..." I was still missing something. "You were in the Kalahari desert."
"TPC Scottsdale, outside Pheonix."
"Shot an 84 there, " Ferret piped in.
"Okay, then, but...the jungle episode, that was--"
"Majestic Links. Private course in the Caymans."
"Alright, well what about the arctic? Explain that."
"That was the bloody fucking arctic," Ferret said. "I had Abe's head for that one."
My God. I couldn't wrap my head around it. My hero...a fake? I guess it explained the cart paths in the Australian Outback, but still...
"Just play along, Randy," Shia said. "We're gonna get some background of Ferret rolling around in a sand trap. The real filming starts tonight."

2100 hrs. Just off the fourteenth fairway.
We were in the rough, sitting beside the campfire one of the cameramen had put together.
"Act fucking natural, you fucking wanker," Ferret encouraged me. "We can't have you fucking this up."
"And we're rolling," Shia said. The camera lights came on.
"I'm here," Ferret whispered, "in the wilds of Argentina. This place used to be called Terra Gazpacho, which in Portuguese means 'the valley of skeletons. Dead skeletons.' For the first time, I'm not alone in the wilderness. I'm joined by this fucking--"
"We'll cut it, Shia, alright. Don't get your knickers all knotted. I'm joined," he continued, "by American mercenary Randy McFab, a man who, according to his ad in Soldier of Fortune, is a survival expert and hard-as-nails fighter in his own right. Randy?"
I stared at the camera. "I...You were in the SAS. That's so cool, Ferret!"
"Fucking hell! Cut!" Ferret gave me a look that made me think something was annoying him.
"Cut," Shia called. "Randy," she said, "try to say something like you're glad to be sharing this journey. And that it's dangerous. That kind of thing. Can you do that?"
"Oh yeah, definitely." I got into character.
A cool breeze began to blow in off the Pacific, and a tree-frog chirped in the background. The crew shifted their feet from side to side. Shia kept nodding her head at me for some reason, and Ferret took a deep breath and gave me that look again.
"What, do I talk now?"

2350 hrs. A sand trap.
"This is the part where Ferret eats a lizard," Shia said. "You need to ooh and ah a bit, then you'll get to eat something disgusting and talk about how you have to do whatever's necessary to survive. Got it?"
"Sure!" Finally we were getting to the good part, the real survival stuff that separates men like Ferret and me from the ordinary sissy.
"Lizard!" Shia called. One of the crew handed Ferret the little green-and-blue reptile. "Make it wiggle so it looks alive, F-man." Looks alive?
"I thought you always ate 'em live, Ferret," I said. "Lizards anyway. I know you cook monkey."
"You are so fucking daft!" Ferret said. "It's not a bleeding lizard, you idiot. You think I'd eat a fucking lizard? Christ, I'm rich!"
"Then...What is it?" It certainly looked real.
"It's a delicate pastry with layered marzipan. Wolfgang makes all our 'wild game.' The bones are pure sugar. Crunches a right treat."
"And action."
"I never like doing this," Ferret said, holding the "lizard" up for the camera. "Killing one of God's creatures. But out here it's eat or die, so this little bugger..." He bit the head off. "Is dinner."
"Indeed," I said, "In the wild there is no McDonald's. If you don't kill, you die." With that I picked up the gopher they'd laid out for me and bit into its mid-section, letting the fake intestines hang out of my mouth as I chewed gustily. "Ah, the spleen," I said, and held it for the camera. "That's the best part."
"Cut! " Shia looked sick. "Randy, we didn't have a gopher. We have a fake water snake for you."
Oh, God. That explained the smell. I wretched, coughing up fur and slime all over Ferret's sweater.
"You bastard!" Ferret snarled, "That's fucking it!" He drew back a fist.

Two weeks later. 2100 hrs. The McFab compound.
Mama was transfixed. "Mmm-mmm," she said, "he sure does look good naked." She moved closer to the TV to get a better look at Ferret Miles as he dove into a pond at Sawgrass, ostensibly to catch a salt-water crocodile for breakfast.
"The guy's a phoney," I said. "I can't believe you'd watch him after he didn't even pay me."
"Well, honey, they don't have to pay you if they don't put you on TV. You know, like when you was supposed to be on Wheel of Fortune."
"Yeah, well, I still say that guy that won was a terrorist, and if I had it to do over I'd cavity-search him just like last time."
Ferret rose out of the pond, water dripping down his chiseled torso, a four-foot "baby croc" in his arms. "The bollocks," Ferret said, taking a bite from between the hind legs. "That's the most tender part." Some sort of goo ran out of his mouth as he spoke. I knew what it wasn't.
In a way I envied the phoney bastard. In a merc's life there is no pretend, no play-acting, only danger and pain and the cold comfort of a urine-filled water pistol.
"I'm going to the barracks, Mom," I said. "Wake me up if I get a hot call on the merc line."