Christian Short Stories

Bad News Blues
By Web Ruble

The last waft of hair fell to the floor. It made no noise, but it should have. Dan’s life would soon be cut off from its dismal past.

"Well, that's it, Georgie,” said Barber shop owner Dan Doring. “You're the last customer for today. Give me $8 and then a $1 tip.”

"Yeah, I've got the $8. But a $1 tip? C'mon. I'm into hard times. Lost my job. Baby needs new shoes."

"Shaddup and give me a dollar tip or I'll paste your hair back on."

So after some semi-comic banter, George Shireman produced a $10 bill. He handed it to dingy grey-robed Dan who gave him back a dog-eared dollar.

Dan then removed his grungy barber's jacket and said, "It's 3 o'clock. It'll soon be time for the Bad News Blues and I need time to gather my negative thoughts."

Dan, you see, was the owner of Dour Dan's Clip Joint -- Home of Flat Hair and Bad Advice. He took pride in being negative. He had a name as being the most negative man in Washington state. His reputation had spread to where he was now in demand. People would invite him to speak, because what he had to say was so downright sardonic and funny.

However, Dan was relatively serious. He believed what he said was true. He had little faith. For two years now the local radio station, KRAK, had him on an early evening show, "The Crackpot Ombudsman."

Dan didn't love the name, but went along with it. It matched his mordant humor. And he had almost a free rein on what he could discuss on his hour-long radio talk show. He wasn't Republican. He wasn't Democrat. He was just negative. What he had to say was so outrageously depressing that it attracted hundreds of curious listeners, including Christians. Several other stations, by special arrangement, would have him on, as well. So the Crackpot Ombudsman was the downright dour-most radio show in perhaps the whole state.

He'd broadcast from a special remote hookup he had in the backroom of his barber shop. He'd open every show, "Yes, folks it's terrible. This is your unfriendly Crackpot Ombudsman, sittin' here in Dour Dan's old abandoned barber chair, bringing you the Bad News Blues Before Din Din.

“Radio biggie Gabriel Heater two generations ago said, 'Ah yes, there's bad news tonight.' And, you know, losers, he was right. Because there was bad news every night. And there still is.”

A typical news prompt: "From the top banner of our Four Star Final, here's today's negative lowlights. A roadside blast near Baghdad today killed six more U.S. soldiers and 20 Iraqis. Among the dead is our own Sgt. Barry Bernstein of Tacoma. There's escalating tension between Colombia and Venezuela in South America after the shooting death earlier this week of two Venezuelan merchants in a Colombian-Ecuadorian border incident. Growing unrest continues between Tamil rebels and government troops in Sri Lanka, and there's downright chaos again in the Gaza Strip. Will it ever end, folks? No. Not in our lifetime!"

And so his broadcasts would go. The first 10 minutes was news, always negative. He would feel he was a prisoner of fate. He was his own barbed wire. He'd take callers to discuss the deadly news events. Once in a while he'd interview a personality, using verbal barbs to razor his guest and flatten any hills of hope. Hope, after all, was for the foolish. He wasn't foolish, he thought, but admitted he was depressed.

You see, Dan had a hopeless childhood. His father died soon after he was born. His mother was a trollop and a drug user who committed suicide when he was 5. He was raised in a grim orphanage. He quit school and never made it through high school. Later his wife-to-be ran off with a preacher..

Moreover, Dan's favorite sports teams seemed to be always in the cellar of whatever league they were in, or they were one step removed from oblivion. An example of the latter was when he heard from diligent followers of professional basketball that the Seattle Supersonics might forsake Seattle for Oklahoma City. And he was forever reading in the press; "Huskers Husk Huskies" and he wondered why he never read, "Washington State Cougar Game Cancelled; Visitors Can't Find Campus."

Then he'd look at the neighboring Oregon press to read stuff like, "Ducks Don't Do It; Beavers Blow It." Being a sports nut, it would stick in his craw when recent arrivals from other parts of the country would point out all of this and ridicule the Northwest. He'd buy into their jarring jazz that the Poor Ship Northwest was but a leaky raft that someone should take out over the Columbia Bar and let slip into the waves. Nobody would ever miss it. There's no joy in mud haven. Nothing good will ever happen here..

Welcome to the end of the world.

Those days of beer and skunk cabbage seemed to fade over the years as he became less and less a follower of sports. But the negativism was still there and he began wailing about failing and other what's-the-use things.

It was a Tuesday when he said, "Be sure to tune back into this clip joint tomorrow at 6 when the ombudsman does a 45-minute interview with Primrose Smith, the Pollyanna of the press, whose cheerful columns on just about everything has brought The Daily Searchlight this year's prestige-less Psalm-writer award from the Interfaith Committee of Evangelicals.

"She is not bright. She is not smooth talking. She is not good looking. But she has a huge following, chatters like a lark, and is eager to set us doomsayers straight. Don't miss tomorrow's nuclear confrontation between the positive and the negative. Who knows? You could become a neutron!"

Primrose Smith had had an even worse life. She and her sister, too, had been orphans. She also never finished school. And her twin sister had required years of intensive bedside care before she finally died of cancer. Not only that but when she was 32, Primrose's husband left her and two small children for a 19-year-old co-worker.

Nevertheless, Primrose clutched her faith and it carried her past grim's Hades to where she was regarded an overboard optimist. She'd wait to see what the Lord had in store. She was an optimist of the first water.

Down at Baby Cakes Cafe, gentile betters were wagering that Primrose Smith would give Dan Doring a moral spanking. However, up the street at the much more populated "Whistle Punk Tavern" swilled denizens were betting 3-1 that Dan would verbally assault Smith so violently that it would be almost a rape.

The places of business would hold the bets. But who would determine who won? That was never settled and it did give some folks pause.

You can believe, nevertheless, that many in the Tacoma area were tuned in to KRAK Wednesday evening..

The kickoff for the confrontation was set for 6 p.m. The interview and broadcast, however, would be conducted in Radio Station KRAK studios. More room. And who in the world would ever want to go alone with the creep Danny to the backroom of his sleazy barbershop?

That Wednesday became Danny's "Waterloo," or his "Victory," depending on one’s point of view.

Danny thought he was prepared. He wasn't. She had arrived minutes earlier and already was sitting behind a curved piece of furniture the crew called "the desk." It was armed with a microphone on either side. Dan walked in and it happened like an avalanche. Gazzah! He was buried alive in beauty!

Not good looking? Oh my. She sat with exposed shapely legs. A becoming white lace shawl draped over a body-fitting red dress, and a beaming gorgeous face was framed by lovely blonde curls. And her eyes! What eyes! Gray, big and intense. He couldn't get past 'em. They held him transfixed. Oh my! Was he in heaven?

But the true Danny-killer was the sheer warmth of her personality. Love and class seemed to just ooze. He expected an avenging angel. This unexpected development rendered him almost speechless.

When the interview started, he had to untie his tangled tongue. He stammered as he gave the traditional program opening. The words came out jibberish at first. They got slightly better as he strained, summoned courage, and put his whole being into speaking. All of this produced modest mush. She did not wax supersonically glib. Rather she was simple and to the point. She was kind and polite and no matter how pointed the question, she never seemed to rattle and always had an answer. He, on the other hand, was a mess.

Before 2-3 minutes had gone by, Dour Dan’s hair was disheveled and he was perspiring. He was swamped in pulchritude and class. He sometimes couldn't even remember what he asked her. Hang the interview. It didn't matter. He just had to have this gorgeous creature, this cheerful angel, this gift from God in his life. He was about a foot off his chair, floating in rapture.

Danny knew he never would be the same. His life obviously was going to change.

"Let it be," he muttered. He had been hanging out in the basement of life too long. At last his spirit would soar out of that cellar. Moreover, being thus re-born would have a positive effect on his broadcasting.

- - - - -

"Coming from a 21 point second-half deficit, the Washington Huskies made a valiant comeback today in Ann Arbor as they dropped a close one to the Michigan Wolverines, 83-80. Coach Danny White said that it was Washington's best game since the Oregon-Oregon State series last December. "If we can play like this for the last few games of the season," White said, "it’s conceivable that our young team could even do well in the Pac-10 Tournament."

"Yes, folks, this is the once Dour Dan of that wonderful old barber chair saying that things are looking up -- not only in Seattle -- but all over the world. Ah yes, there's GOOD news tonight. A new peace venture is now underway in the Near East as the Palestinians and the Israelis returned to the negotiating table today . . ."

(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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