Sal’s menu had shifted gears. Gone upmarket overnight.
Heroes, with sagging bellies of provolone and iceberg lettuce were out to pasture, cleared from the glass display case like Nam vets no one wants hanging out in front of their place any more.
Carter knew that once the media settled in, nothing was the same. He didn’t give a shit about radicchio. Didn’t give a shit about camera crews and self-important assistant producers with their heads up their asses, either. This was the third extraction in as many months. He thought folks would be over it by now. But hell no, this was shaping up to be bigger and better than ever. A fucking zoo out there. But with a bit of luck, any day now, Carter would have a real job to do—lower a thousand pound plus man from a three story building—Carter needed to eat some real food.
Sal’s had been the lunch spot for a week, ever since they got stuck in this tired neighborhood playing the waiting game: while Franky, the half ton man, shed some fat before he could be moved. Sal gave a gruff nod when he took Carter’s order— Virginia ham, tomato and mozzarella on a roll. But when Rafael rolled up to the counter, it was a whole different story. “Yo, Sal. Gettin’ fancy! Wassup with that?” asked Rafael, a Puerto Rican sporting a, gold crucifix with tiny rubies for stigmata popping out over his white uniform. A giant billboard screaming “let’s be nice!” It was enough to make Carter turn catholic. But Carter knew he’d need a melanin miracle not a change of religion to get a decent reception.
“Shit,” Sal said, “Looka’ that catering truck over there. My daughter says we gotta compete.”
“Compete? You can’t compete, man.” Rafael waved his lean muscular arms in the air, “They givin’ it away free! Besides you got kick-ass mozzarella.” He pointed to the menu “You don’t need none of this.”
“Yeah,” the Italian gave a baggy-eyed smiled and shrugged. “New Yorkers love to spend, but you gotta please ‘em first.” When Sal said New Yorkers he meant Manhattanites. This was old school Italian Brooklyn. Mom and pop stores lining the block: bakeries, kid’s clothing, hardware, the whole nine. It was anybody’s guess how much longer that was going to last. Back in the day, Sal would have had his boys go and talk to the caterer—show a little muscle. Get some respect. Maybe work something out with the teamsters on the crew. But it wasn’t like that any more. Now, it was take their money and grin. Italians were no better off than any other group getting squeezed out, with one crucial exception: They were getting paid to leave. “Besides, times’re changin’” Sal added almost getting teary, “I’m losing my best customer.”
Rafael and Carter took their cue and split with their lunch — hero with meatballs and mozzarella for Rafael and some lavish turkey concoction for Rich back at the ambulance. Ground zero. Dead in front of the building. Soon as Franky was lowered he’d be rolled into the bus, as they called the modified ambulance. The little street of three story buildings, covered in aluminum siding in shades of blue, gray or green had become a parking lot of fire trucks and the police squad with the ‘jaws of life’. All along the curb, was a line of satellite uplink vans, camera guys riding shotgun on top. Video cables lay so thick on the ground, they formed a giant rubber mat underfoot.
When Rafael and Carter found Rich he was getting offered a thousand bucks by a TV producer to back up about twenty yards. “Runway,” the guy told him. “Cameras need as much as we can get.” Rich was about to take it, when Rafael stepped in. “Yo, Rich,” Rafael pulled him aside and straightened him out. “Give them ten more seconds of air time? For G money? Fuck that. Wait and maximize this.” Carter just shook his head. Shit was getting out of hand.
“Rafael, listen,” Rich started to explain. “Everyone’s losing their minds— word is, Alfred Adipose is comin’ from Chicago! He’s coverin’ all the police overtime, startin’ tonight.” This was just the kind of thing Rich was always finding out. A red-haired Irish boy from the north Bronx he got the low down from the finest and the bravest as soon as he arrived on a scene. But he never held out on his two coworkers. “You know what that means.” Rich pointed up the block, “Check it out. The local media guys are buggin’.”
Everyone was acting up. Techies in backwards baseball caps and utility belts imitated Alfred Adipose’s preacher-meets-pimp voice saying over and over again his trademark catch phrase, “Yeah...come back fat as a rat. FAT AS A RAT!” Firemen and cops laughed and slapped each other on the back as they called out Adipose’ssignature line, the one he alwaysdelivered to a scantily-clad female dancer in the Adi-Posse, “A little on the side, baby!” Show time was approaching. Alfred god damn Adipose. Richard Simmons and Russell Simmons squeezed into one package. The Fat Channel’s number one draw.
Got any idea what a fifteen-second spot on his show goes for?” asked Rafael rubbing his hands. “Rich, you’re gonna settle for how much?”
“Look, grab it while you can.” Rich took his lunch and headed back into the building to check on the patient, Franky.
Even the NYPD were hip to the pressure, and called in back up. As Carter and Rafael chowed down on their sandwiches in the front of the ambulance, a police truck pulled up to unload a pile of blue wooden horses. Rafael muttered with his mouth full of meatballs, “Damn man. Every chubby-assed teen in the tri-state area’s headed here—along with their overstuffed relatives.” He finished chewing and swallowed. “Gonna get real ugly. They gonna need sandbags not police barriers, we gonna get crushed, yo.”
“Rafael, you kiddin’ me? I thought you’d be livin’ for it,” Carter joked as he reached into his pack of Lays BBQ chips. “You like ‘em stacked.”
“No doubt, but man, this is gonna be a stampede. Homey’s a fuckin’ magnet for huge women. Like the Jesus Christ of the overweight and undersexed.” Rafael thought for a second. “‘Cept he ain’t nobody’s poor sandal wearin’ holiness. Got money up the fuckin’ yingyang. Worth his weight in gold. And then some. More than Heavy D, The Fat Boys, Eight Ball, Big Pun—God rest his soul—and E-Forty all together in gold, platinum, diamonds, and Benjamins.”
Carter shot Rafael a look, “Did you just see me crawl out from a cave?” Carter bit down on his sandwich.
Rafael wiped a few Cherrios crumbs from his lip and continued, “Got it all worked out. Coast to coast folks are just inches away from blowing up. They go to the mall and see all them fatties and figure, ‘yo, any minute now that could happen to me.’ And it could.
“Rafael, for a guy as skinny as a snake, you’re full of shit.”
“Hold up, B. My uncle Julio, he was skinny like me. Minute he settled down, and wifey started feeding his ass every night, you know, hookin’ it up how he likes it, and his shorties bringin’ him beer while he catchin’ the game.” Rafael raised his eyes. “Nigga blow up like a balloon. The American dream: All you can eat.” He laughed, then took a swig of his Dr. Pepper.
Carter thought about his own waist line, going up a size every year for the past decade. But he couldn’t see himself turning into Franky upstairs.
“Adipose got it goin’on. He honed into that fear like a dietary smart bomb,” continued Rafael as he grabbed his sandwich from the dash. “Remember the “Fat Attacks”? Now, that was the shit!”
His partner cracked up. “Every time you flipped the channel, there was homeboy: Like zap, Adipose Ad...Zap, Adipose Ad... Zap, there again. First time that happened I was like, Damn! Wassup with my TV?”
“You and the rest of the country. All across the dial at the same time. Like those ads in the subway that take up the whole train.”
Carter smiled at the memory at the slogan, “‘So Fat, there’s no getting around it! Ill.” It was funny clocking all these guys outside imitating Adipose while setting up equipment.
“Adipose is shameless. Shameless.”
“Word. Mixin’ maximum weightloss with X-rated hip-hop. You kiddin’? Made to be paid.” Carter picked a piece of lettuce from between his teeth.
“How the hell did he get that on regular TV?”
“Went to the drug companies.”
Downing more Dr. Pepper, Rafael looked at Carter with an expression that said, “Serious?”
“Remember, those hokey-assed diet channels on cable?”
Rafael nodded as he opened up the peanut M&Ms that finished every lunch.
“Kolest O Rock & Kolest O Roll, no less. Shit was tired. Nobody was goin’ for it.” Carter continued, “See, a few years ago big drug companies went retail. ‘Stead of goin’ to your doctor and sayin’ ‘Doc, I got a problem.’ And Doc says, ‘You better take this.’ Drug companies started to advertise straight to the consumer. Now you roll up to the Doc, and say “Yo, I’ve got allergies, give some Claratin.”
“My dick can’t get hard. Gimme Viagra!”
“No doubt. So Adipose says to the pharmaceutical giants, ‘Your pointmen’re puttin’ people to sleep. Back me and watch this!’ And somebody with the dollars believed him. Proceeded to blow everyone clean of the dial. In six months, the Fat Channel had single-handedly lifted the stock price of it’s parent company, the CFIT corporation into the triple digits. Adipose made billions of dollars forcing folks to shed a few pounds. The key to it all, are these “Two Ton Testimonials”—where some monstrously obese person gets signed up for a cure as they’re dragged out of their home—Live, kicking and screaming like a criminal on Cops. That captures the country’s attention.”
Carter finished his sandwich, chips and soda, grabbed a handful of M&Ms from Rafael and went to relieve Rich upstairs. He headed past the building’s front door, and through the maze of portable braces, like giant steel car jacks, holding up the building’s guts. That’s how the whole thing started. The second story tenants freaked as their drooping ceiling started to crack, figuring Franky, their landlord, was set to crush them any second. Short on cash, they couldn’t move to another apartment and had been stuck, forever trying to get action from the city buildings department. “You get nowhere telling HCR that your landlord’s too fat,” one aggrieved tenant explained to an NY1 reporter. “If he ain’t about to kill your ass, forget it. Besides, it’s a private residence. When an inspector showed, he feared so badly for his life, he condemned the joint in a heartbeat and refused to go upstairs.”
The place should have been evacuated in less than twenty four hours. But getting Franky out was no rush job. First the structure had to be secured to allow an emergency team and their equipment onto the premises. Estimated at a whopping twelve hundred pounds the additional load of a team strong enough to move him would surely bring the whole lot tumbling down. Franky was in no shape to go down stairs. He was going out the front. The front wall of the third floor. A classic “rip and remove.”
From the beginning Franky put up a struggle. As the building was fortified with high tensile steel, Franky’s lawyer sought an injunction to reverse the building’s condemned status, arguing the structure wasn’t the problem. The problem, claimed the attorney, was his client.
Like a lot of big guys, Franky was sensitive about his weight. “I fired his ass,” he explained one day as Rich was cleaning out his bed pan, a complicated procedure involving rubber sheets, hoses and an electric pump as Franky was unable to raise his butt. “Cousin Arturo was my mother’s attorney. Handled me inheriting the house. But, fuck him. I ain’t a problem. I’m a person of size.”
“That’s when the shit hit the fan,” Rich later related to his coworkers. “Franky got his sister to log onto the Internet and get legal help. Sixty seconds, the Web ambulance chasers sniffed this one out, big time. Zoom! Franky’s dilemma was on the auction block. No one was happier than Franky.” Rich snickered, “Five years he doesn’t go outside, now the world’s beating a path to his door. Or at least his screen. With a settlement to get his eyes greedier than his stomach.”
Carter topped the stairs, ready for the sight and smell of Franky and the room he hadn’t left in five years. He reflected on how everyone was set to milk this situation for all they could. Greed didn’t phase Carter. A twelve-year veteran of the city’s health services, he’d seen the money making apparatus sink its tentacles into every organ of the infirmed and the body politic. If there was anything left to privatize he couldn’t think of it. So in a way, he chuckled to himself, he was rooting for the little guy, Franky. But going public sure was one hell of a way to cover medical bills. That, thought Carter, was what we called progress. Of course, it did nothing to make his job easier.
Discussing vital signs with patients was always sticky, for Carter. Obese people strain many body systems. Franky was hooked up to gear monitoring his kidneys, liver, lungs and heart to name a few. Machines whirred, hummed and beeped, revealing their mysteries to Carter for him to translate. With Franky, Carter had to compete against the din of the legal and financial enterprise sprouting up around him—the milking machine.
Franky’s sister, Isabella, had rigged his bed attaching computer screens to the ceiling. She’d also solved his keyboard difficulties. Franky’s chubby hands resided at the end of arms so swollen they couldn’t make it across his chest, even if he had the muscle to lift them. Isabella cleverly strapped little half keyboards to the sides of his belly, so with a bit of difficulty, due to the pudginess of his digits, he could tap out messages and instructions. A headset kept him on the phone, dealing day in and day out with unseen attorneys, accountants, and spin meisters. Isabella’s daughter even designed a web site devoted to her increasingly famous uncle. Now Franky was busy communicating with a burgeoning global fan club. With all the gadgets, wires and medical tubing leading in and out of his body he looked like an inflatable Gulliver, about to get dragged by Lilliputians down Broadway in the Macy’s parade.
If this tangle of wires wasn’t enough for Carter and the paramedics to mess with, their hands were tied when it came to medical supplies. Thanks to his attorneys, the “soft shoe” firm of Bilkem&Bolt.com, Franky signed a slew of licensing deals: The saline drip— sponsored by Solutation a division of MediVac; his catheter—courtesy of Upjohn. Everything else, from bed sheets to nail clippers, was covered in a rash of logos— a health care grand prix. Carter’s pit crew were mandated to use only approved brands.
“Franky, you’ve gotta take it easy,” Carter said eyeing the rapid heart rate on the oscilloscope tucked in the corner on a rig of instruments. The patient wasn’t hearing it, he was on the phone and staring at the ceiling, absorbed in the graph showing the net worth of his E*Trade portfolio— heavily weighted in biotech and medical stocks, flashing the symbols of his sponsors. To Franky, this screen was where everything came together. The center of his universe. Franky was a star. And he’d taken to acting like one.
“Get the fuck outta here!” Franky screamed at someone over the phone headset. If Carter hadn’t known better it looked like the psychotic episode of Baby Huey. “I’m makin’ this fuckin’ neighborhood. One week an’ your lousy little brickface fiasco goes up 25 percent.” Franky wobbled his head around to see what Carter was doing, and continued talking “I was on Fox 5. Know what I did? Right after, I went online and refinanced my mortgage...Uh huh... Didn’t give a rat’s ass that its condemned and I’m missing a wall....Duckets.com.... Right. One that Donald Duck’s, rich uncle, whasisname, is spokesman for.... Yeah... Ha Ha! You’re funny as ever Joey. You’re gonna make me shit my shorts...Yeah.... All those faggot Wall Street yuppies wanna live just forty minutes commute to Wall Street! Fuck ‘em. Move to Manhasset with your cousin....Listen Joey, I got some, um, ambulance guy here doin’ stuff. Gotta go.”
Franky gave Carter a cursory look. But Carter was just an excuse to get back to his day trading. With his credit line from Duckets.com he was at it full throttle.
The phone rang again. “What?” Franky yelled into his headset. “Alfred Adipose? The Fat Channel want in?” The was a short pause while he caught some breath. “I knew he’d show. Tell him he’s gotta fuckin’ pay to fuckin’ play. Like everybody else.”
While Carter replaced the diuretic IV drip, Franky listened intently to phone for a long time before asking the caller sheepishly, “Why am I always the fuckin’ last to know?” Then all Franky said was, “uh huh” or “mmmm” every few seconds. In five days Carter had never seen him so silent.
Franky screamed suddenly into the mike, “Whaddaya mean buy me out! How can Adipose buy me out?”
Carter figured it was one of his lawyers, but was more concerned about the noises from the heart monitor beeping wildly. Franky got real quiet after that. It was the phone that did it. Removing Franky was going to be tricky. So excitable he’d need a sedative. But that could slow his heart too much.
“Hey, ambulance guy!”
Carter looked Franky in the eye. “It’s Carter.” He told him that at least once a day.
“Carter, any idea when?” Franky had a worried look on his face. Typical of shut ins, they get agoraphobic after a while. And Carter felt sympathetic. Here’s this guy who hasn’t been outside in years and he’s about to be busted, half-naked through a wall before a crowd of people, cameras and millions of viewers. A great way to overcome shyness.
“We’ve got your weight down. But your still above the upper limit of the safety on the hoist.”
“How soon now?” Franky bit on his lower lip.
“You gotta lose a little more. Bigger safety margin. Only three stories, but you ain’t gonna bounce.”
“But I could be ready?”
Franky anxiously relayed this to the caller.
Out on the street a gray Winnebago pulled up opposite Franky’s house, backing into a space cleared by the NYPD. From the door on the curb side stepped the “mine sweepers”, Adipose’s name for his dark-suited legal team headed by the formidable J. Valerie Clarkson, Esq. Ms. Clarkson surveyed the street: camera crews, cops, firemen, thousands of sightseers and rubberneckers— a live and unpaid audience. Something troubled her: The first contractual boobytrap, it was hard to miss. Pointing a manicured finger at the scaffold outside Franky’s window, she declared loudly, “That’s got to go!”
“I’ll get right on it,” one her assistants answered and ran off.
It was one thing for Franky to tell EMS workers what supplies to use. But Adipose, the Fat Channel and the CFIT Corporation cut their own deals and answered to nobody. Certainly not Zoflig International Inc., whose logo-ized banner fluttered down the length of the scaffold.
Carter heard a loud noise outside, steel on steel, like pipes banging together. He put down the urine sample he was collecting and rushed as best he could around the bed and equipment to the tarpaulin at the front of the room. He pulled back the makeshift wall and looked out. Workmen in hard hats were scrambling all over the scaffold, climbing up toward him. “Shit!” Carter said out loud. “They can’t be gettin’ the rig ready?” He gazed over the huge expanse of flesh between himself and the head of his patient. Carter yelled to a worker at room level outside. “Yo! What’s goin’ on?”
Franky lifted his head, but couldn’t see over his stomach to the broken wall.
“This Zoflig banner has to come down,” the workman was untying it. “Fat Channel boys don’t want to see it. Locking up ad space. Changin’ everything to blue tarps.”
“Why?” Carter asked staring out from the rugged edge of the room.
The answer came from behind him. “All logos get dropped in digitally, by us in Chicago,” answered a richly toned woman’s voice. “You know, similar to the way they do the weather with those maps, only smooth.” Carter turned and saw a tall auburn-haired woman in a navy suit standing at the door. Behind her on the landing was an assorted group of well dressed young men and women carrying briefcases.
“Like at sports stadiums,” Franky spoke up, without yet seeing who was talking. “All those ads on the walls ain’t really there. Computers fill ‘em in depending on where the TV audience is.”
“Ah, I see you’re up on technology,” she looked around the room taking in Franky’s hardware. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Albertelli.” She offered her hand, “J. Valerie Clarkson from CFIT.”
Franky looked a little bewildered as his sausage fingers made unconvincing contact with hers. “Franky,” he muttered.
“I represent Mr. Adipose. I’m sure you know of CFIT, our networks.”
“I wasn’t born yesterday. Look Miss, I wanna to talk to Adipose. Got it?”
“Don’t worry about that. He’s very interested in you. In fact he’ll be here in two hours. Provided—that is— we straighten a few details first. We’d like to do this as an exclusive.”
“You wanna buy me out?”
Carter had never seen anything like it. One part hostage negotiation, one part who Wants to be a Millionaire, with ER and CourtTV waiting in the wings. It amazed Carter to see such a fat man get steamrollered.
n an hour, Clarkson’s team had rescripted Franky’s operation, laying to waste the work of his advisors as they dueled on blazing cell phones, PalmPilots and mobile fax machines. New deals were struck, Franky’s website swallowed, sponsorship arrangements overturned and Adipose’s exclusivity assured.
If he made it on primetime tonight, Franky could bank a couple of million in cash plus options on the CFIT stock that was sure to jump after the exposure.
Not to be steamrollered himself, Carter spoke up, “Excuse me. The patient isn’t ready to be removed. He’s still too heavy for our safety margin.”
Ms. Clarkson stared at him. “Mr. Carter,” she read from his ID badge. “Let’s be clear on this. Alfred Adipose will be here in under thirty minutes. Tomorrow he has a full day in Washington meeting the Surgeon General, and the CFIT corporate earnings come out mid-afternoon.”
Carter was feeling himself now, “Franky’s over eleven hundred, ya hear me! Ten percent beyond...”
“I’ll be settin’ a record,” chimed Franky. “And gettin’ the bonus clause.”
“Not on our equipment,” responded Carter firmly.
“Hey ambulance guy, don’t worry.” Franky rolled his head, “I’ll cut ya in.”
“Franky,” Carter angrily rebuffed, “if this goes wrong, you wont be cuttin’ nothin’.”
One of the junior members of the legal team whispered something in Ms. Clarkson’s ear. She nodded, then asked, “Mr.Carter, who’s your ambulance with?”
He thought, “bitch, fuck you.”
“St. Vidas? Am I Right?” Ms. Clarkson adopted an aggressive tone.
“So?” Carter was nonchalant.
“And St. Vidas is managed by Intact Health Services?”
Carter didn’t answer.
“Do you know anything about the relationship CFIT has with Intact?”
“I don’t care, unless it directly relates to the patient.”
“Well, you’re about to learn something.” Ms. Clarkson’s assistant handed her a cell phone.
As she keyed in numbers, a roar went up outside. The cheers of thousands of people gushed into the three-sided room, like the sound of waves crashing below a cave. A chant sprang up. “A-DI-POSE! A-DI-POSE!” Suddenly, the little room felt like a crowded backstage at a stadium show.
The block had been filling up all afternoon. People arrived with coolers, folding chairs, and video cams. Food vendors staked out the corners. Police let the squad of vans with blackened windows escort a tourbus and limo to the center of the street. Everyone knew who was inside. It was all the cops could do to hold the crowd back.
In no time, a roadcrew assembled a mobile deejay booth on top of the center van, which was flanked by two stacked with speakers. First came a blast of scratching. Then a looped sample, “Oh, Oh Yeah...Who do you think you are....”
The deejay piled on some heavy beats. From the bus a stream of long-legged women, a rainbow of hues poured out. They gyrated, shook and shimmied into formation outside the limo door, while the deejay spun, “Oh oh yeah...” At last he rolled the needle over “Mr. Bigstuff!” On cue, Adipose emerged in an oversized white suit trimmed with red and blue stars and stripes, like a baggy Evel Kenevel, mike in hand, a daredevil with someone else’s body.
Rafael and Rich had been conducting routine tests of the oxygen equipment when all hell broke loose. They clamored to the front of the ambulance to catch the show. With the noise of the crowd, the blasting music and Adipose spitting rhymes, Rich didn’t know how long the radio had been calling them.
“You gotta go loud. Copy,” yelled Rich into the radio.
"We’re pullin’ out. Return back to base. Copy.”
“You crazy?” Screamed Rich, as Rafael huddled next to him trying to hear.
In the side mirror, Rafael saw the flashing lights of another Ambulance, struggling to reach them through the crowd.
The door opened, and Carter jumped in. “That bitch flipped the script on me.” He slammed the door shut. “Can’t fuckin’ believe it. They’re makin’ a Euclid team take Franky out. Muthafuckers!”
As Adipose strutted to the front door of the building, Carter hit the siren and backed out, letting the Euclid ambulance take their space. He drove clean away and didn’t look back while Rafael and Rich sat dumbstruck.
Carter was sitting at home, opening a Heinecken catching the news, “Disaster struck in Brooklyn today,” an anchor intoned, “when a rescue attempt went horribly awry.” The screen filled with a series of frightening images. Footage from the FatCam—Franky’s very own point of view— showing the cable of the hoist snap. Then a shot from a different angle of the crowd going silent as a figure the size of a grand piano fell three stories, crushing a patriotically clad TV star beneath him.
As an ambulance medic, Carter thought he’d seen it all. But as the TV cut to a close up, he flipped the channel. “All eyes on Wall Street will be on CFIT stock tomorrow,” said the financial analyst at the next stop on the dial. “Following the tragic loss of its star...” Carter hit the remote.
©2000 First published in Tellspin Magazine