Teacher of the People, an original short story

On a June afternoon, from a radio station north of Philadelphia, the announcer blared:

“And now, the Bob Sealy Show, giving you news and commentary you won‘t get anywhere else! And now, the voice of the plain ole American, Bob Sealy!

A university fight song played, and Bob Sealy sat in the studio, his big rectangular body hunched over the microphone as he proclaimed, “Huh-low, huh-low, this is Bob Sealy coming at yah, an’ let’s look at the news!”

A pile of newspaper clippings lay on Sealy’s table; he grabbed one and declared, “The so-called gay-rights crowd’s been talkin’ to the state legislature about a hate crimes bill in this state! They are so shocked, shocked I tell you, that people don’t like them, like they think everyone ought to! Lissen, girls, don’t you know when you’re not wanted? Wake up, for God’s sake! Your lifestyle’s not popular with Christian decent people! So why don’t yah go back to your closets, an’ leave us normal people a-lone!

“Y’know,” groaned Sealy, “sometimes, people think they have rights jus’ ‘cause they live here! They’re entitled to this an’ that! Someone else has somethin’, so they think they should have it, too! We can’t all have a mink coat, or a Rolls Royce, now can we? An’ if you wanna call it discrimination, fine!” and he gave the call-in number to the station.

Picking up another clipping, Sealy barked, “Now we gotta story here about a little Black kid got shot outside a store on Allegheny Avenue. Story is he got caught in the crossfire between some drug dealers. An’ so now there’s the cry again for gun control! My God, we’ve become a nation of wimps an’ babies, cryin’ whenever somethin’ goes wrong! Why don’t you go after the drug dealers that shot the kid, rather ‘n take away the rights ‘a honest Americans?”

Sealy leaned over to the mike and proclaimed, “We need to have men again! We need some good ol’ fashioned guts again! We need men, men who’ll be willin’ totake the rough stuff and dish it out, too!”

Then, he stated, “An’ let me tell you Black people, cryin’ when things don’t go your way! My dad was a fire-fighter, we lived out in Tacony, and we worked for every damn thing we had! We had some morals and values, we didn’t hang out in the street doin’ nothin’! There was no affirmative action for us, no special privileges, and as for me, the only check I got from the government was for my time in the Marines! I didn’t get it from marchin’ and demonstratin’ out on the streets, I worked for what I got! You got all these privileges, you’re takin’ over city governments, you had your guy in the White House an’ you still complain about bein’ oppressed! Well, bruh-thuhs, I’m bein’ oppressed by the taxes I pay to pay for you! So jus’ shut up and get a job, okay? First caller, Bill, y’on!”

“Yeah, Bob,” said Bill, “I like what y’ say about havin’ manliness back in style. What with these feminists, an’ the queers, it don’t seem like men are men an’ women are women anymore.”

“Yeah, that’s how it goes,” proclaimed Sealy, lighting up a Lucky Strike. “What we ought’a do’s ignore all this sensitive new-age guy stuff, an’ bring back the he-man! Back in the Corps, you had an argument with a guy, y’ take him out back, an’ you fight it out! Do we have that anymore?”

“Naw, Bob,” groaned Bill, “No one wants to get hurt anymore!”

“Well, that’s what I used to tell my players, when I coached football,” declared Sealy, “‘Get hurt!’ That’s what I told my players! An’ if y’ got hurt or injured, to me that’s a good sign you gave your hundred an’ fifty percent for the team! I tell others t’ do the same, no matter what they do!”

“It’s, like,” said Bill, “a lotta so-called workers don’t wanna get hurt, they worry about safety, they won’t accept risk! That’s what socialism has done to this country!”

“Like I said,” added Sealy, “nothin’ but fags an’ babies we’ve become! Gotta move on, Bill, gotta sell some stuff!”

“Okay, Bob, g’bye,” and Bill hung up.

The commercials came on – one with Sealy announcing Hamblin Cadillac, which gave him a new car every year for promoting the company.

Sealy sucked on the flask of Four Roses from his briefcase, and took another puff of his Lucky Strike.  Sealy always told of his time in the Marine Corps, where he served as a clerk in a hospital, and of his time as head coach of the Hollybrook University football team, where he ordered his players, “We’re takin’ on Temple, girls! Knock the black right off their asses, and send ‘em back to their ghettos, or I’ll make you all wear tutus on the field! An’ get hurt while y’ do that!”

Deborah Nullman, the president of the university, called Sealy over to her office about this. “Sealy,” began Nullman, “that kind of talk is racist, and reflects badly on the university. And telling these young men to get hurt, like that kid Gavin, his ribs were fractured at the last game, and you kept telling his to go back out there.”

“Hey,” snapped Sealy, “I’m motivatin’ these kids to win!”

“Win?” queried Nullman, “Hollybrook under your coaching’s never won a game, and the NCAA lists you at the bottom of university coaches. And calling the team members ‘girls,’ what’s the sense in that?”

I run the football team, not you,” declared Sealy, “and I’ll talk to them faggots on it any god-damn way I want!”

“That, Sealy, is what I can’t stand about you! You always insult and belittle people, as if you want to feel superior.”

“So what’re y’ gonna do?” sneered Sealy, “have me fired?”

Nullman leaned back at her desk and said, “Yes.”

After the firing, the radio station hired Sealy to do sports commentary, and everyone loved how he raved about how players were paid too much for their performance, about their sex habits while playing in other cities, and about their low intelligence. The owner of the station asked what he could do for Sealy for boosting the station’s ratings, and Sealy said, “Two hours a day on the air, to do what I want.”

He got it.

As he finished his cigarette, Sealy thought about what a sweet gig this was; the station paid him big money just to say whatever the hell he wanted; people, mostly men, called him and listened to his every word; and a network of radio stations across the country wanted to take his show nationwide.  Not a bad deal, he thought.

Gene Roeder, the engineer, said through the intercom, “Uh, Bob, be careful with the cigarettes and the equipment -”

Sealy flicked the switch on his mike to the left and snapped, “Shaddap, faggot!”, and flicked it back. The engineered stared at Sealy, and Sealy chuckled.

The commercials ended, and Sealy snapped, “Oh-kay, folks, that was one American speakin’ his mind! An’ speakin’ of speakin’ your mind, you remember a couple days ago, I said the local Hispanic Community Council’s run by drug dealers? You remember that? Did you hear the screams and cries come out of them, callin’ me racist? They call me bigoted? They say I’m spreadin’ hate? Well, amigos, I made a charge, now you have to prove it’s not true! It’s my right as an American to make these charges! Now I dare you to say I’m lyin’! And if you don’t answer my challenge, then you just proved me right!”

Sealy pointed to Roeder, and the sound of a crowd cheering, as if in a football game, came on. “How ‘bout the rest’a yah?” he proclaimed, “Come on an’ speak your minds! Go ‘head, Jim!”

“Yeah, Bob, this is Jim, I’m one of your biggest listeners, an’ this is my first time callin’. I liked what you had to say ‘bout gun control, I own a gun, a revolver an’ a shotgun, but I don’t go huntin’. I’m scared, Bob!”

“Scared of what?” asked Sealy as he leaned back, the chair creaking.

“Well, couple things. One, I’m worried about crime, bein’ robbed, that’s why I got the revolver.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m scared of gun control laws, that the government’ll take our guns away.”

“First off,” declared Sealy, straightening up, “You got every right in the world t’ own an’ carry a gun. Says so in the Constitution, Second Amendment. You got every right to protect yourself! The guy tryin’ to rob you, or rape your wife, don’t give a damn ‘bout your feelings, so don’t you worry ‘bout him!

“Second,” continued Sealy, “Politicians’re a gutless bunch! You stand up to ‘em, an’ they back down! So that’s my message to you all today! I want all you to call your friendly neighborhood Congress-man and say, ‘Leave my guns a-lone,’ an’ call me and tell me you did!”

(They did.)

That’s what they understand!” declared Sealy. “Maybe it had nothing to do with crime an’ violence after all! Maybe it’s an excuse to leave people helpless an’ dependent on the government, like with welfare an’ communism! That’s what liberals’re doing! They may not say it, but that’s what it’s leadin’ to! Your gun is your defense, an’ if the people’re defenseless, then socialism can take over! That’s how this country became free, y’know? People took their guns an’ rose up against the King of England, an’ won their freedom! If the guns in those days were registered, the British would’a taken ‘em! Okay, Jim?”

“Oh-kay, Bob!” and he hung up.

Sealy added, “Y’know one thing, I been called a demagogue, like it’s somethin’ bad! But I looked the word up in the dictionary, and yeah, smart-guys, I know how to read! ‘Demagogue,’ is a Greek word, an’ it means ‘teacher of the people.’ That’s my job, boys and girls, I’m teaching you what goes on in the world! I’m educating you, and it don’t cost you a dime! This is the stuff they don’t tell you in college! Next caller, Ted, you’re on!”

“Hello, Bob?” said Ted.

“Yeah!”

“I gotta problem.”

“Well, I’m the answer!”

“I called a couple days ago about problems with this guy at work?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“You said him an’ me ought’a go out an’ fight it out, like men do?” asked Ted.

“Yeah, I remember,” proclaimed Sealy, “That’s how you settled things in the Corps, that’s how men used to settle problems! Go outside an’ fight it out!”

“Bob?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s what I did.”

“Yeah?”

“I did jus’ what y’ said, Bob, I had an argument with a guy, an’ after work we went out to the parkin’ lot an’ fought it out. The plant manager found us fightin’, and we’re both in trouble, we’re gonna get suspended, maybe lose our jobs!”

“So what do you want me to do about it?” grunted Sealy.

“Bob,” Ted started to squeal, “I listen to you every day, you’re my idol!”

“I know I’m your idol, boy,” sneered Sealy.

“But, Bob, I need y’ help!” Ted pleaded.

“Take the lumps, boy,” snapped Sealy, “Y’ say you’re a man, take the lumps like a man! You were man enough t’ fight, you’re man enough t’ take punishment for it!”

“Y’ bastard!” howled Ted, “y’ sonuva motherfuckin’ bitch!”  (These came out as bleeps over the radio.)

Sealy pointed at the engineer, and Ted was cut off. Sealy declared, “Can’t anybody talk anymore without jumpin’ into the gutter? All the time, cursin’ an’ swearin’!”   The next day, Tom Erikson, program manager for the station, called Sealy to the office.

“Bob,” Erikson warned, “the show’s gettin’ too hot. That guy, Ted, I got a call from his lawyer, he’s suing us for giving him bad advice, like fightin’. The Hispanic Council’s takin’ out an ad in tomorrow’s paper against you. An’ a lot of sponsors are talking about pulling out of the show. Neither Roeder or anyone else wants to work with you.”

Sealy inhaled and grunted, “So what should I do, clam up?”

“Naw, just tone it down,” Erikson said, “An’ remember, a lot of people listen to you an’ take what y ’say seriously. They do whatever you tell them to do. If you told them to kill themselves, they’d do it! That’s the effect you have on people. Remember that, and be careful.”

Sealy left Erikson’s office, and he thought of this as he drove home; he also thought about his father, his drill instructor in Parris Island, and his high school football coach yelling at him:

“Put your back into it, boy!”

“Can’t you see that, boy?”

“C’mon, boy, wake up!”

Boy – boy – boy…

The memories pounded in Sealy’s head as he drove home. He hammered the dashboard with his fist, inhaled, and muttered, “I’m a man! Goddammit I’m a man!” His head hurt and his stomach tightened.

The next day, just before airtime, Sealy puffed another Lucky Strike and sipped his Four Roses – what Eriksson said; his effect on listeners; people doing what he said; the network deal –

Then, the intro, and the fight song, and Sealy was on the air! He began:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been informed that I have an effect on you, the listening public. They say that you would do anything I told you to do, an’ I’d lead you astray.

“Well, now,” continued Sealy, “I want all of you to call or write the station, and let them know how much you love Bob Sealy! Let ‘em know how much he means t’ you! How he tell you the truth no one else tells you! They’re tryin’ t shut me up here! Tell ‘em you need me t’ tell you the real story! Tell them!”

They did.