Bert went over his book notes. This would be the first interview of a series his agent scheduled for Bert for him to promote his magnum opus. This would be Bert’s big break. Or so Manny, his agent, insisted. The travel expenses came out of his advance so he needed a successful tour.
Bert couldn’t believe it played out this way. Writing this memoir had been like drawing his own blood every day for six weeks. Exposing his most devastating disappointments and the ensuing recovery took courage. Bert had to believe it. His therapist and agent affirmed it.
Survival and recovery were one thing. Putting his story out for the public to read could be sheer madness. Or, it could be the beginning of a new chapter in Bert’s life as an author.
Bert sat in his parked car and looked at the clock. He awaited the first radio interview promoting his book, ‘Altared States’. The subtitle read, ‘One man’s search for love in a world gone mad.’
The tour Manny arranged would send Bert on the road for weeks. In each city he would field probing questions from a growing list of radio and television hosts. Questions delving into the most vulnerable aspects of his life. It seemed Manny sent updates to his itinerary weekly, if not daily.
However vulnerable he felt, it was time. Bert gathered his notes and entered the building.
Riding the elevator up to the studio, Bert went over the many tips Manny offered. ‘Relax’ stood out as the most prominent. “You’ve got a voice made for radio, use it. Tell your story in your words. The audience wants to be entertainment. They want to laugh and cry. They want to care. Don’t give away the store. They’ll buy because they want to know more.”
The elevator doors opened to reveal a low key environment. Posters bearing the pictures and signatures of recording stars lined the walls. Several gold records and trophies stood inside a Plexiglas display case. The receptionist looked up at Bert and smiled.
“Hi, I’m Bert Suffert. I’m supposed to have an interview with Tom Goodall about my book…”
“Hi Bert. We’re expecting you. Tom will be right out. Have a seat. Can I get you anything?”
“No. Thanks. I’m fine.” Bert’s mind went blank. He couldn’t talk. What would he do with a microphone in his face? He turned and staggered to a chair.
“Bert!” He turned and saw a grinning man approach with his hand outstretched in greeting. “Bert, right? Tom. Make yourself comfortable. We’ll be starting in a few minutes. Do you need anything?”
Bert shook Tom’s hand. “No. I think I’m fine. Thanks.”
“By the way. I loved your book. What a hoot.” Tom grinned as if he had inside information.
Bert wondered, “What does he mean by ‘hoot’? What fresh hell is this?”
He didn’t have time to worry about it. Tom waved Bert into the studio where an assistant directed him to a chair at a counter with space for his papers. A microphone arched over the counter. The assistant offered Bert headphones.
An engineer spoke to Bert, “Hi Bert. This is Steve. Can I get you to speak into the mic for a level check?”
Bert leaned in, “Uhm, like this? Can you hear me…? Hello? Come in, Steve. Do you copy?”
“Sure, Bert. Sit comfortably. Relax. I can hear you fine. Just speak in your normal voice. No need to shout. One more time.”
Bert settled into his chair, took a breath and spoke again. Steve approved of his level. Tom entered and sat opposite Bert. He looked to his side and made a sign. Bert looked over and saw Steve behind a window in the dimly lit control booth.
Tom said, “Just ignore Steve, Bert. Talk to me like we’re having a normal conversation. The headphones help to reduce interference. Okay?”
“Exactly. We’ll be starting shortly. Do you have any questions for me before we begin?”
“Oh, uhm. You said ‘hoot’ before. What…”
Steve interrupted, “Sorry Bert. We’re about to start. Three, two, one…” He pointed to Tom and Bert heard music in the headphones.
Tom did his show intro and then gave Bert a brief introduction. He finished with, “So, Bert is with us today to tell us all about his new book, ‘Altared States’. I have to tell you Bert, I read your book last night and it is hilarious. Tell us how you came up with such a funny concept.” Tom pointed at Bert.
Bert froze. Tom filled the dead air, “Bert? Are you there?”
“Yes, thank you, Tom. Thank you for the positive response.” Tom looked at Bert eagerly. “My book, ‘Altared States’ is the true story about my search… some would say ‘failed search’ for love. I… uhm… I was getting married and my fiancé never showed up to the church.”
Tom tried to help, “That in itself doesn’t sound all that funny, Bert. Tell us why she abandoned you at the altar.”
“Not wanting to give away too much, I found out my former fiancé is my half-sister.”
Tom broke in, “Often talked about, folks. But seldom done. You almost married your sister?”
Tom milked every line for laughs. “How does something like that happen? You’re not from West Virginia are you?”
“It turns out my father was something of a philanderer. He traveled for work, led a double life and had a whole family elsewhere in the country.”
“Wow! So you met this woman and fell in love…”
“We were crazy about each other. Had so much in common…”
“I’ll say. Tell me about it.”
Tom started humming the song ‘Hanky Panky’.
“Jenny is very sweet... and traditional. Neither of us had any idea until my Dad showed up. He realized the mistake we were about to make and warned her…”
“Talk about having ‘egg on your face’. Hard to say who was more embarrassed. At least shot-guns weren’t involved.”
“No, Tom. Everyone was completely surprised. Even my Dad. He never expected… had no idea we knew each other.”
“The next family reunion should be interesting.”
“Have you stayed… in touch?”
“She left without saying good-bye. We haven’t spoken since.”
“But, Bert…” Tom changed his tone. “We’re talking to Bert Suffert, author of ‘Altared States’. Tell us what happened then.”
“I needed time to recover from this humiliating circumstance. I took a leave of absence from work and took an extended trip overseas.”
“Sounds good. A little R and R, right?”
“I needed perspective.”
“So, what happened then, Bert?”
“I went to Bolivia.”
“Well, I met this wonderful young woman and fell in love with her.”
Tom imitated Mr. Rogers. “Can you say ‘re-bound’?”
“I know. I proposed anyway. But before we could get married, she also turned out to be my… another half-sister.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, what are the odds?”
“Once again, my Dad arrived in the nick of time and stopped us from making a horrible mistake.”
“What a guy.”
“His work took him to Bolivia over twenty years ago. I think her mother called him.”
“I never could have.”
“So, do you stay in touch with…?”
“No, Dolores cut off all communication.”
Bert saw Tom glance at Steve drawing his finger across his throat. Music swelled.
Tom put on his station break voice. “This is Tom Goodall and you’re listening to Goodall Mighty. We’ve been talking with author Bert Suffert about his new book, ‘Altared States’. On sale at bookstores everywhere, and online. Stay tuned for this announcement.”
Tom smiled at Bert as they stood. “You did great! You were a little nervous out of the gate, but then fell right into the rhythm of it. Thanks for coming in.”
Bert shook his hand. “Thanks for the opportunity, Tom. I’m a little dazed by the whole process.”
“I’m sure you’re going to sell a lot of books.”
“I hope so.”
“So, how long are you in town?”
“Manny has me on a tight schedule. I’m flying to Seattle tomorrow, early.”
“Alone in the big city, eh?”
“No. As it happens, my brother-in-law lives here. So I’m visiting with…”