Robert Hitt Neill
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February 2012 TerryTurtle

 

Robert Hitt Neill                                                                      February 2012

“DON’T TELL THIS STORY TILL I DIE!”

          Any storyteller has witnessed or heard true stories that he has to vow, “I won’t write this until after you’re dead!”  Here’s one whose main character passed away last year, so now I can tell it.  A good friend whom we’ll call Terry was a professional television anchorman, though like all of us he had some faults in his personal life.  But on the set, he was just that: a professional.  Here’s one example.

          Terry talked me into a weekly “Outdoors with Uncle Bob” segment that we sometimes did live, sometimes filmed on a location somewhere.  On the day before we’d scheduled a live production on the six o’clock evening news, I discovered a dinner-plate-sized snapping turtle in our Swimming Hole, which gets a weekly treatment of chlorine during the summer.  We were in the midst of a drought, and the turtle had bailed off into the cool water with no previous experience of what chlorine does to a turtle eye.  He was swimming in circles blindly, white foam crusting around his eyes, when I rescued him.

          A large irritated snapping turtle is not easy to rescue, but I avoided major bites and carried my victim to the bathtub of our guesthouse, where I showered him with cold water until his eyes cleared up.  It was obvious that Percy, as I named him, was not a fan of cold water either, but I decided to take advantage of this encounter to introduce Percy to my television audience the next afternoon.

          We arrived at the studio with a large ice chest full of turtle, and I introduced the news team to Percy, my guest for Outdoors.  Then the newscast began, with Terry the anchor, accompanied by a young lady anchor who was brand-new to Delta TV, whom we’ll call Donna.  She had come here from Los Angeles.

          At the proper time, Terry ended a segment, “We’ll be back for Outdoors with Uncle Bob and his guest, right after a two-minute commercial break.”

          Five, four, three, two, one, off the air, the producer signaled with his fingers.

          I jumped into action, spreading a towel (Percy was not yet housebroken) on the raised three-person anchor desk next to Terry.  As I turned back to lift Percy from the ice chest, the producer, a fun-loving man we’ll call Frank, shoved what proved to be a small green rubber snake into my hand, saying, “Give this to Terry.”  I set Percy on the towel, sat in the vacant chair, and dropped the snake onto Terry’s hands as he conversed with the rookie anchor, Donna.  He looked around.

          Having been struck three times by poisonous snakes myownself, I had no idea that Terry had also been snakebit, but had a phobia against snakes.  Frank may have known, but no one was prepared for our Pro Anchor’s reaction!

          “Blinkin’ Snake!!” he screamed in terror, shoving his rolling chair away from the desk and the rubber snake.  The news desk was atop a raised platform, so the chair was probably 18 inches up behind the desk.  Terry’s panicked shove caused his chair to fly off the back of the platform, and he threw his arms out to try to grab something to break his fall.  His left arm slammed Donna right across her chest, also propelling her chair backward off the platform.  Her legs flailed wildly, kicking off its brackets a foot-square floodlight, which landed face-down on the rug behind the anchor platform, setting it on fire.

          Frank was a producer, trained to be everywhere at once, and he managed to break Donna’s fall as I did the same for Terry as he hit the floor, still screaming in terror, “Blinkin’ Snake!!”  (or words to that effect).  Frank then kicked the flood light to the side onto concrete, and stomped out the flaming rug, while swinging Donna’s chair back onto the platform again, as I did the same with Terry’s.

          “It’s a Blinkin’ RUBBER Snake!” Frank bellowed into Terry’s face.

          The cameraman signaled for silence, counting down the end of the two-minute (120 seconds) commercial break: five, four, three, two, one, ON the air!

          The Pro Anchorman was calmly beaming as the camera returned to action, “And what Outdoor Surprise might you have for us today, Uncle Bob?”

          On TV, one can pack a lot of action into 120 seconds!