I waited offstage and rocked up and down on the balls of my feet. Adrenaline thrummed through my veins like an intoxicating drug. Flunkies yammering into headsets scurried around me, keeping their distance after I went all diva on their ass and ordered no one to look me in the eye. Not that I cared if they looked me in the eye, but I needed space to get the magic going.
I wiggled the toes of my left foot. The telltale tingle zoomed up my leg and throughout the rest of my body. I closed my eyes and felt like purring. Yeah, the magic was there, all right, ready and waiting for my command.
A butterfly of nerves threatened to break through my high. I stomped them down fast with another wiggle. No time for that. Understandable, though. Practicing the magic on the dog and masseuses and doctors and hair stylists and grocery clerks was one thing; influencing a television audience and millions of TV viewers something else entirely. Good news though: even if it didn’t work, I still got my face and book in front of a huge audience.
The On Air lights flashed on all over the studio. The audience dutifully applauded. Flunkies worked themselves into a frenzy. One materialized beside me with a professional smile and poked my elbow. Like I needed a physical cue. I had the magic.
“Welcome back to the Four Nights a Week Show!” Tom Stupert bellowed with a plastic grin. His voice boomed in my earpiece. “My guest tonight is the author of Bill Clinton: Succubus Hunter, his debut novel that has everyone talking since it was released last month. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the show… Derek Trist!”
I brushed off the flunky’s guidance and strode onto the stage like I owned the place – confident smile, straight shoulders, chest out and gut sucked in. As I basked in the audience applause and fought the urge to wince under the glaring lights, I took a moment to appreciate Stupert’s generous introduction. Folks may be talking up my novel, but they sure as hell weren’t buying it – at least not in sufficient quantities to allow me to retire and spend the rest of days lounging in an opulent Scottsdale mansion.
Tom and I shook hands. His grip was loose and soft, a weenie handshake. Guess you couldn’t expect anything more from a New York TV personality. Out in Arizona, born and raised like me know the value of a good strong manly handshake.
We got settled in at the desk. I leaned forward. “Do you mind if I say something before we get started here?”
Tom shrugged and threw up his hands. “I’ve already lost control of this interview. Why not – what do you got?”
“When I received your generous invitation to appear on your show, I was shocked and thrilled. Then I got to thinking.” I paused for effect. Stupert raised his eyebrows. “Was I the first fiction writer you’ve had as a guest?”
Stupert pursed his lips. The audience tittered. “Now that you mention it…”
“A quick Google search showed that was indeed the case. I remember sitting at my keyboard and asking myself, how should I handle this? I could journey down the humble road, or, you know, revel in the historical breakthrough.”
“Feed the ego, huh?” Stupert said with a knowing grin. “Boost the self-esteem a bit?”
I nodded. “Of all the great writers around, many of them having sold far more books than I likely ever will, they didn’t make it on The Four Nights A Week Show with Tom Stupert.” I looked out at the audience. “That’s really cool, right?”
The people laughed and slapped their hands together like good little circus-trained seals.
“Stephen King didn’t make it. Not Dean Koontz. No Charlene Harris, Kim Harrison, Dan Simmons, Rowling, Straub, frigging F. Paul Wilson.” My voice rose as the audience continued to roar and Stupert egged me on with fist pumps. “Except for me, Derek Trist, no-name hack.” I glared into the camera and raised my fists in triumph. “Suck on that, bitches!”
“Yeah,” Stupert crowed over the audience’s thunderous approval. “Suck on that!”
I waited until the audience had settled down before wrapping it up in a neat bow. “But, instead, I decided to go humble and appreciate this unique opportunity with uncommon grace.”
“Clearly.” Stupert said. The audience giggled. “Let’s talk about the book. I’ll admit, I don’t read much fiction, which is why we’ve never had a fiction writer on my show.”
“You prefer to inflict pain upon yourself by reading about politics.”
Stupert nodded proudly. “Right. I saw your book in my local bookstore, and it spoke to me. It said, Buy me, read me, you’ll love me. I did and I did.”
For the next few minutes, he asked me questions about the book, I regurgitated all the right marketing blurbs, and then he asked me the most important question of all. I knew he would, and if he hadn’t, I would have brought it up myself.
“Folks often ask me, and other comedians pretending to be talk show hosts, how we dream up all the monologues and sketches. I’m sure you get the same thing, so I have to ask: how do you come up with this stuff?”
I folded my hands and posed with a thoughtful frown. “You know, Tom, it’s hard to say. Imagination plays a role. Reading, observing the world around me. Ideas can come at any time, often with little warning. When one hits, you do your best to think it through and hopefully come up with something writeable and sellable. That being said, I do have a bit of a secret weapon.” I lowered my voice to a theatrical whisper. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Of course,” he responded with his own whisper and leaning in close. His breath smelled like Tic Tac. “Just between you and me… and my staff, and the folks in the audience, and everyone watching at home and on my web site.”
“What helps get my creative juices flowing is this little trick I can do with the toes on my left foot.”
“Do you want to see it?”
“Um, well, I’m not sure.” Stupert looked to the audience. “What do you say?”
The folks whistled and hollered.
“There’s your answer. Let’s do this!”
I whipped off my shoe and sock and plopped my bare foot on Stupert’s spotless glass desktop. He rolled back with a look of disgust, fake or real I couldn’t tell, but the audience ate it up.
“Don’t worry, Tom. The Tinactin’s cleaned up most of the fungus.” The audience guffawed.
My foot gleamed in the bright lights, standing tall and erect. The nails were neatly trimmed, the hair on the toe knuckles closely shaved. Flecks of black sock spotted the ebony skin.
“Here’s what I do. First, I bend the first knuckle of my second toe while keeping all the other toes still.” The second toe dutifully responded. Stupert winced with amused bewilderment.
“Then, I flex out the little toe, without moving any of the other toes.” My little toe wiggled down and to the left. Stupert put his hands over his mouth. His eyes bulged. The audience gasped with stunned bemusement. Even the flunkies with headsets backstage stopped their scurrying to stare.
“Once I’m warmed up, I bend each toe in turn, ending with the little toe’s flourish.” One by one in succession, each toe bowed at the top knuckle until the little toe bounced out. “I can do this all day.”
Over and over, my toes performed the wiggle wiggle, producing the magic, filling me up with energy and adrenaline until it couldn’t be contained. I could feel it spreading outside of me, filling the studio, attaching itself to every person and soaking into their bodies. They didn’t have a clue, of course. They were too busy laughing themselves hysterical. Stupert’s face was beet red, tears streamed from his eyes, and he was about to fall out of his chair.
I briefly thought back to when I discovered the magic. A year ago today. I was sitting at my PC, staring at a blank screen and blinking cursor, nervously wiggling my toes, when my dog lifted his leg to mark the bookcase. “Dammit, Baxter, why don’t you piss on yourself rather than the furniture?”
Immediately my Rottweiler rolled onto his back and squirted all over his belly.
I soon discovered that it worked on people too. My feet had to be bare and the toes had to be wiggling in the same pattern I was using now. Then, whatever I told them they did. My hot masseuse gave me an erotic massage. My babe doctor gave me a BJ during my annual physical.
I haven’t paid for groceries or haircuts in a year – as long as I wear open-toed sandals.
“When I’m doing this trick, the ideas flow like Niagara and I write like a badass. Speaking of ideas, here’s a great one – everyone watching should go buy Bill Clinton: Succubus Hunter and tell all your friends how great it is!”
A flunky was frantically waving her arms. Stupert was too busy convulsing to see it. “Commercial break?” The flunky averted her gaze and nodded.
“I’ll take us there.” The job done, I removed my foot and sat up straight. “We’ll be right back with the Four Nights A Week Show with Tom Stupert!”
After the show, I sat at a desk in the studio’s main hallway, signing books for the folks as my publicist’s assistant sold all copies. The imaginary ringing of an old-fashioned cash register reverberated through my head and filled me with a warm tingly feeling. A quick check of my web site stats on my cell showed a 900 percent increase in traffic.
All hail the wiggle wiggle.
As I signed and performed a reasonable impersonation of someone who cared what the folks were telling me, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the millions under the magic’s spell would suffer the not-so-rare side effect. Five weeks after performing the scintillating erotic massage, my hot massage therapist grabbed a hose at a car wash and jammed it down a stranger’s throat, nearly drowning him. Three weeks after my physical, my babe doctor cut off her husband’s ear while he slept and fried it up for breakfast with eggs and bacon. They couldn’t explain why they did it. They just felt the overwhelming impulse and acted on it.
Those were just the cases I knew about from the newspaper. No telling what violent acts a grocery checkout clerk or hair stylist had committed that didn’t make the news. I know the side effect didn’t happen to everyone, but I never bothered figuring out percentages or probabilities or anything so mathematically difficult and time-consuming.
To be honest, I didn’t much care. When and if the worldwide homicidal atrocities began, I’d be safely ensconced in my walled Scottsdale compound, rolling in seven-figure royalty checks and getting my wiggle wiggle on with the Phoenix Suns dance team.
Damn, life was good.