Keeping Up with the Mary Mags
Randy Bechtel
Keeping Up with the Mary Mags

Recently when someone asked me, “What’s new?” I would say: “My sister has founded her own church,” or “A good friend of mine is producing a television series for a major network,” or “My sister is running for mayor.” The problem arose when next asked, “Where?” or, regarding the television series, “About what?” or “What’s it called?”  The answer to all these questions was inescapably, “Weed,” which seemed to instantly dial down the other person’s reaction from impressed to a silent nod that said, “How empty your life must be.” I realize my life is empty. My one consolation has been I’m not living it in Weed.

About Weed Leslie Mars had agreed. Until last week, she had not seen her husband Eddie since January when she left Sacramento to visit her sister in Maui and he left to produce the reality series “Weed” in Weed. Weeks before Eddie’s cousins, who had founded and managed the association The Order of Old Timers, disappeared to avoid arrest for tax evasion. One rancorous cousin posted Eddie’s telephone number and Sacramento address on the association’s website advising members to contact Eddie if they wished to appear in a reality series about association members. To escape a horde of elderly lunatics seeking stardom, Leslie fled to Maui while Eddie pitched his series in L.A. and then went to Weed to begin filming. As expected, the Old Timers followed Eddie. Eddie and Leslie planned to reunite in Sacramento when Eddie was in between filming seasons and his Old Timers were, to use Leslie’s word, deposited in Weed.

To be honest, this was a cruel thing to do to Weed. Although Eddie was to blame, Leslie felt guilty and that probably helped change her mind last week when she took the train to join her husband. She remained in Weed all of eight days.

I was returning to Sacramento from a Giants’ Day game in San Francisco when my wife telephoned to say Leslie was at our house. In the car with me and able to hear our conversation on speaker phone was my friend Doug.

“How’d Leslie get back?” I asked Jane.

Jane lowered her voice to say, “Your sister drove her. She’s here too.”

“Huh? What? That makes no sense.”

“Let them explain it to you when you get here,” Jane said. With that, she was gone.

Doug said: “I thought your sister was running for mayor.”

“So did I,” I said noncommittally.

“When is the election?”

“I think a week from Tuesday.”

“Seems like she should be in Weed.”

“What my sister should do and what she does are often two different things.”

When I arrived home the three women were well into their second bottle of Chardonnay. I immediately poured myself a scotch and sat down leery of Leslie and Mary Vivian seeming so pleased to see me. Beholding the skinny old women in silk sundresses, it occurred to me the two had probably bonded quickly assuming clothes horses tend to bond.

I said: “I’m a little confused about the two of you being here together. Mary kept complaining that Eddie was the man behind the curtain of Margo’s campaign.”

“Oh, but he is!” Leslie said. “He tells Margo her part and she plays it.”

“Really? Then I’m really confused,” I said. “Why did he have Margo torpedo the RV park? I realize she scored a lot of political points doing that.  But if I’m Eddie and producing a reality show, a nudist RV park would be a ticket to far more entertainment than Little Miss Muffet becoming mayor.”

Leslie chuckled into her glass, lowered it and said: “The production company thought so too, but by then it was too late. The truth is, Eddie’s involvement with the series has become tenuous.”

Mary Vivian said crossly: “Leslie told me the whole story—unlike you!”

“Oh? And that is . . . ?” I said.

“Eddie and Game Changer always intended the series to be about the Old Timers,” Mary Vivian said. “Game Changer made Eddie the producer because he could deliver Old Timers to Weed.”

“Honestly, I thought you knew,” I said.

“No!” Mary snapped popeyed. “Why would I have anything to do with a show about screwballs?”

You wouldn’t unless the show was about you, I thought.  

Leslie said: “What no one realized then was that there are so many screwballs in Weed that Old Timers weren’t necessary to produce a show about screwballs in Weed. The RV park would have diluted the importance of Old Timers—and Eddie’s perceived usefulness—even more.  Not to mention Weed now has an abundance of Old Timers who aren’t going anywhere if Eddie is replaced as producer.”

Mary said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Game Changer planned all along to replace Eddie after the first season if not before.”

“More like after the sixth episode of twelve,” Leslie said. “They’ve already fired their second director. Eddie says that with Game Changer’s series ‘Albinos in Harlem’ canceled after six seasons, there’s talk of bringing in that show’s director and its producer.”

Jane lowered her glasses on her nose to look over their rims at Leslie—a theatrical gesture because short or long, her sight was worse with her glasses off. “So let me get this straight,” she said. “You’re saying that by making Margo mayor, Eddie hopes to have leverage to keep his job?”  

“That’s about it,” Leslie said.

“So what are the chances Margo will win?” Jane said.

“Oh, she’ll win,” Mary Vivian said. “Or, I should say, she’ll finish in the top two. Unless someone gets a majority, the top two will have a runoff in November.”

“I don’t know,” Jane said. “I wouldn’t put much trust in those Weed News polls. Who knows how they select the people they poll.”

“You don’t need a poll to tell you who’s up and who’s down in a town of 3,000,” Mary Vivian said. She paused and then said:

“So what do you think?“

The ensuing silence alerted me that Mary Vivian was talking to me.  Normally women in my life talk indefinitely without me saying anything and they noticing.

I said: “I think it’s incredible that a 71-year-old retired high school principal can achieve what Eddie has. I would have thought to become a TV producer you needed to do it by 35 or you never would.”

“Exactly!” Leslie said. “At his age, Eddie should be thankful he got as far as he did. He’ll be credited as the show’s creator and be credited as producer on the first episodes. But the party is over. He’s only delusional thinking Margo can save his job. We both have good pensions. I got a good inheritance from my mother. The pandemic is over. We need to travel places, do things together. I want to see the world, not Weed. Well, at least see Florida.”

Leslie and Mary Vivian stared at me apparently thinking this compelled a response. The only response I could muster was:

“No.”

“What do you mean no?” Mary Vivian huffed.

”I’m not going to talk to Eddie for you,” I said. “He wouldn’t listen to me anyway.”

“We weren’t going to ask you to,” Mary Vivian said. “All we want you to do is post on my website something I’ve already emailed you. Leslie and I wrote it together on the way down. It’s long so we want you to proof it with us.”

Jane said: “Then I suggest you do it now before he has another scotch. I’ll call the restaurant and order takeout delivery. By the way, dear, we’re having Chinese.”

To my desktop computer I went, the two women following me and taking chairs on either side of mine. I was determined to edit and not consult. Even then, we were not done when dinner arrived and needed another hour after dinner to complete a final version.

Early in my newspaper reporting years an old editor told me: “Just because you’ve written a thought doesn’t mean you completely understand it. Editing is achieving complete understanding.” Counter intuitive about complete understanding is that it usually amounts to less words not more. The length of the text I finally posted was about half that of the original. It read:

After careful consideration, I am withdrawing my candidacy for mayor and pledging my full support to my trusted friend, Margo Butkus. I do this for two reasons.
First, my main campaign message was based on misinformation. I believed that I could accomplish more than any other candidate in making the reality TV series about our town beneficial for all Weed residents. However, I have since learned that the series “Weed” is not, and never was intended to be, about Weed and its people. Rather, our town is being used as a backdrop to feature people imported here by the show’s producer—people who will prove to be an embarrassment to us all.

All are elderly men who call themselves “Old Timers,” a title given them by an association called the Order of Old Timers, also known as the Walter Brennan Institute. Based in Iowa, this association recently went belly up when the people running it disappeared to avoid prosecution for tax fraud. Not long before they had agreed to let Eddie Mars pitch a reality series about Old Timers to Game Changer Productions in Los Angeles. Let me emphasize that Eddie Mars was unaware of the association administrators’ wrongdoings or their intention to disappear. Moreover, he never accepted a nickel from the association.

Before fleeing, the tax dodgers posted Mr. Mars’ California address and telephone number on the association’s website and invited members to contact him directly if they wished to appear in a series about Old Timers. As I have publicly stated, I first met Mr. Mars at a dinner party in Sacramento, and it was there, after I extolled the virtues of Weed, that he expressed an interest in filming here. He made no mention of Old Timers. My understanding was that his reality series would be about our people—not a bevy of boobs who would follow him here.

“Who are these Old Timers?” you ask. They are old men who have done something, or are in the process of doing something, that no one has done before. That sounds impressive until you realize that the something need not be anything anyone else would want to do. The Order of Old Timers was not an organization that attracted the likes of a Neil Armstrong, Jonas Salk or Steve Jobs.  Its rolls consisted of old men who are weird, nuts or both!

Here then are some of the people the TV series “Weed” will make our town synonymous with around the world:

  • Tucker Carlson, Sr., who holds the world record for legal name changes;
  • Mickey Bitsko, world’s leading authority on the life of Ralph Waite;
  • Digby “Moose Jaw” Belton, undefeated and undisputed champion of recorded wrestling matches between a human being and a 300+ lb. grizzly bear;
  • Dick Stump, owner of Dick’s Photos, which only sells photos of Dick;
  • Red Mooney, who is dedicated to exposing an alleged Elks Club conspiracy to rule the world;
  • Vasco Nunez, amateur artist who every six months for 52 years has produced an oil painting of his feet.

These and more Old Timers have flocked to our community. And rest assured, people of Weed, more are on the way.

My second reason for withdrawing from the mayoral race is my burgeoning responsibilities as founder and head of the Church of Mary Magdalene. As our mission to do good deeds becomes ever more extensive, the need to fund it becomes more urgent and daunting. Accordingly, I will soon open a fashion boutique to supplement Margo’s hair styling and Joan Damone’s manicuring as sources of church income. Here will be an oasis of casual to formal fashions by trendsetting designers, all reasonably priced, that will inspire and empower Siskiyou County women.

Everyone is invited to a grand opening of the boutique 4 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 666 South Weed Blvd. Free wine and cheese will be served at what will be a celebration of fashion taking off in Siskiyou County and, God willing, of dear Margo’s electoral victory.

Jane said to me: “I know you say you had nothing to do with what was said, but only with  the way it was said. Okay, so tell me: What’s your opinion about the what?”

We were together in the family room after Leslie had gone home via Uber and Mary Vivian had gone upstairs to bed for an early start back to Weed in the morning.

I said: “The mention of Digby ‘Moose Jaw’ Belton did interest me. How does a man wrestle a grizzly bear? I hope they devote an episode to Digby although I suppose there’s no film footage of him wrestling.  Film cameras had to be scarce in the Yukon 50 years ago if the most popular spectator sport involved, more often as not, men being mauled by bears. That Digby is still recognized as the reigning champion—or recognized as the human reigning champion because the overall champion had to be a bear—suggests to me that the sport is illegal now. But even a still photo of Digby wrestling would be interesting.”

“That’s it? That’s the best you think of?” Jane said snootily.

“I could be wrong.  Wrestling grizzly bears could still be going on,” I said. “Who really knows what goes on in the Yukon? Unless you’re someone in the Yukon. There might not even be a law against the sport. Even politicians have enough common sense to never think a man might voluntarily wrestle a grizzly bear.”

“Oh my God!” Jane groaned. “Are you through?”

“Well, you asked.”

“I asked because I was expecting something about the effect this website posting will have on Eddie! He is, after all, your friend. If you ask me, he’s being stabbed in the back by Leslie. Maybe he will be fired. But she shouldn’t help instigate it. At least see if he makes it through shooting the first season. If so, then ask him to quit. “

“You sound surprised” I scoffed. “Who’s the one who keeps saying: ‘Leslie always gets what Leslie wants!’?”

Not having listened, Jane said so loudly I started: “And another thing! I think Leslie is jealous of Margo. I think both those women are.”

“I can see my sister being jealous of Margo because she was beating her in an election,” I said. Then drawing on a joke as old as my grandfather, I said: “But Eddie chasing Margo? What would he do if he caught her?”

Jane looked at me as if I were as naïve as my grandson. “Eddie having feelings for another woman is worse than having casual sex,” she said.

“Whose side are you on—Eddie’s or Leslie’s?” I said.

“Neither. It’s none of my business.”

“So why are we talking about it?”

“Because it’s your business. Leslie is a friend but not a close one—not like you and Eddie. And Mary Vivian is, after all, your sister, Suddenly you’re in the middle of it with this website posting. I thought you better have some grasp of the situation.”

“I do of the obvious. If you want me to confirm that, fine. Both Eddie and Leslie are being manipulated by my sister. She wants Eddie gone because he replaced her with Margo as his leading lady. She knows her star can only dim further if Margo defeats her in the election, so to save face she decides to withdraw. Enter Leslie who tells her all about the Old Timers and their connection to Eddie. Mary Vivian plays to Leslie’s discontent and engineers it so Mary Vivian’s withdrawal from the election becomes a way of ridding herself of Eddie. What’s more, Margo’s election will keep Margo in the spotlight no matter who the new producer is. But now Margo’s Svengali will be my sister not Eddie, as it was before a greenlit Eddie returned to Weed while Mary Vivian was meditating in SoCal. And Margo now becomes Mary Vivian’s passport into the spotlight. Mary Vivian said it herself. What she cares about is being a reality TV star. Give her time and she’ll be the leading lady and Margo her co-star.”

“So you do have a grasp of the situation,” Jane said.

“Not entirely. This fashion boutique business puzzles me. How much TV time can be devoted to my sister selling clothes?”

Jane snickered and said: “Dear, operating a fashion boutique was the occupation of Kris and the girls in the first seasons of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians.’”




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