LOST WORKS: RUSSELL BAKER: THE XI P.M. REPORT

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The following short satire was authored by Russell Baker and appeared his Book of American Humor (© 1993, New York: W.W. Norton & Co.)

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roman-soldier-clip-art“Good evening. I am Gaius Fulvius. My colleague is Marcus Fluvius and this is the XI p.m. Fulvius-Fluvius Report brought to you on WSPQR Channel XVI, where the big story tonight is still that strange star hovering over the troubled Middle East. What do you make of that star, Marcus?”

 “It sounds like the kind of star you see after one of those five-day orgies down at Capri, Gaius.”

 “Funny you should mention that, Marcus, because we also have a special film report tonight on how inflation is cutting into the orgy budget of the typical Roman family. And from faraway, fog-shrouded Britain, a new idea in how to dress for an orgy at practically no cost at all. Our cameramen have found some Englishmen up there—they call themselves Druids—who run around in the woods with nothing on but blue paint.”

 “When in Rome, do as the Druids do, eh, Gaius?”

 “All these stories and others when the Fulvius-Fluvius Report continues, right after these messages.

 Commercial interlude. The excellence of Cicero Chariot Springs illustrated. Also the superiority of Caracalla Bath Soap and Vestal Talcum Powder for relieving the itch of toga irritation. A paid plea for the election of Quintus Cunctator as quaestor of Rome. A public-service commercial urging Romans not to drop litter in the Forum, and a demonstration of a new wax that lasts twice as long on the atrium floor.

“And now, our top story tonight, that mysterious star over the oil-rich Middle East. A party of three Wise Men has been on the road for several days now, traveling eastward in the direction of the star, and they have attracted a large number of media representatives.”

 “Fascinating, Gaius. I saw one report that over 1,500 news people are already accredited to the Wise Men, and more applications for credentials pouring in by the hour.

 “Exactly right, Marcus, and tonight that huge crowd of newsmen rioted in a small town south of Jericho when the local innkeeper was unable to put most of them up in the tiny six-room inn where the Wise Men had stopped for the night. There are rumors that King Herod, who doesn’t like mysterious stars much anyhow, may crack down on the Wise Men for creating a public nui­sance.”

 “Haven’t we spent a lot of time on this story, Gaius, old pal? I want to see these blue Druids.”

 “One last item, Marcus. It was learned today that the Wise Men are carrying three gifts with them, and one of the gifts is frankincense.”

 “What are the other two?”

 “We don’t have time to go into detail, Marcus, but we’ll be right back for a report on Emperor Augustus’s reading of the chicken entrails right after these messages.”

 Commercial interlude promoting Mark Antony Sword Steel Razor Blades, Praetorian Guard Belt Buckles, snow rims for chariot wheels, sacrificial altars marked down 30 percent and reconditioned Greek slaves.

“Well, we seem to have lost that film we promised you of the Emperor’s annual reading of the chicken entrails, Marcus. Do you have a report on what omens he found in them?”

 “I do indeed, Gaius. He found a deformity in the gizzard that means there will definitely be an upswing in the economy during the second quarter of next year.

 “How does that check with what your gizzard tells you, Marcus?”

 “My gizzard isn’t speaking to me these days, Gaius, but my corns sure are, and they tell me it’s going to rain all over the Seven Hills any minute now. To find out if those corns are right, we’ll hear from WSPQR’s meteorologist, Cincinnatus Emptor, right after these messages.”

 roman-coin-clip-artCommercial interlude. Longer-burning torches, banquet lounges, vacations to all three parts of Gaul, Egyptian obelisks for the lawn, artificial laurel wreaths, U-Sail-It Trireme Rentals and condominiums in Sicily.

“And now, Cincinnatus, what about that rain?”

 “As we look at the weather map, Gaius, we have this funny frontal pattern over the eastern Mediterranean—”

 “It sure looks bad for Egypt, Cincinnatus.”

 “Yes, Marcus, this front is full of hail, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Egypt doesn’t get a pretty good onset of locusts and boils, too. But more about that after these messages.”

 Commercial interlude is interrupted by Goths and Huns who have seized Rome and WSPQR. Rome falls with loud bang.

“We should have had an item on these people, Marcus.”

 “We did, old buddy, but the film was no good. Good night for the Fulvius-Fluvius Report.”

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