When Episode 4 of “Gar-SIN-ville” aired on USBN, the entire town sunk into a puddle of melancholy.
The citizens had hoped to be recognized, heard, appreciated and valued, but instead were diminished by carefully edited interviews into creatures of weakness, frailty and in some cases, iniquity.
For instance, it was aired that the Swanson church, while pursuing “the perfect soul mate,” had members who slid into illicit affairs, deep confusion and even domestic violence.
Sammy Collins and his little congregation were characterized as bigots who were actively attempting to prevent the settling of Mexicans into the community.
Perhaps saddest of all was that the Bachman family was brought to tears on camera, discussing the suicide of their son, as Mr. Bachman was captured pleading, “I wish I did believe in God–so I could hate him.”
The community had chosen to be candid and forthcoming, hoping their stories would be welcomed with understanding. But the clever editing of the USBN staff made the town appear to be the most hypocritical community since Salem, Massachusetts burned imaginary witches.
In response, the Holiday Inn Express canceled the contract on Swanson’s church, refusing to let them meet there. The few folks who were coming to Sammy Collins’ house for church were too embarrassed to be seen parking in the driveway. And the Bachmans were bombarded with criticism and evangelistic rhetoric, warning them of a devil’s hell.
To complicate matters, Meningsbee received another visit from USBN. This time they sent their chief counsel, Hector Geminez, to the church office with a threat–veiled as an opportunity.
“We have noticed in all of our dealings in the town that your church could certainly use a kitchen and a pantry, which could be mobilized into a food service for those who are less fortunate in the community,” Hector shared, posing concern.
“We’ve thought of it,” said Meningsbee.
“Well, thoughts don’t feed many people, now, do they?”
Meningsbee paused and then challenged. “What is it you want, sir?”
“Please call me Hector.”
Geminez continued. “I have been authorized by USBN to inform you that we have a donation of $25,000 for your church to put together such a kitchen and pantry to aid the community.”
“And why would you do that?” asked Meningsbee.
Hector sat for a long moment, eyeing the reverend. “Listen, pastor. We are both men of the world, even though yours is a bit cloistered. So let me not mislead you. The Garsonville series is doing so well in the ratings that we’re thinking about changing it into a weekly series. Since we have so much footage, we could easily cover a season.”
Meningsbee must have appeared startled, because Hector inserted, “Now, I know this is…ah…displeasing to you, so it was our hope that if you and your church could find a purpose by helping others through this kitchen arrangement, you might be willing to give your backing to such an endeavor.”
“Why do you need my backing?” asked Meningsbee. “The people in this town don’t necessarily like me that well. Why do you think my support will carry any weight?”
Hector suddenly stood to his feet, accentuating the drama. “Oh, but you’re wrong, good Reverend. They may not like you but they respect you.They believe you have insight. We’ve had several people unwilling to cooperate just simply because you placed a fear in their hearts that our intentions are not pure.”
“Well, they aren’t pure,” said Meningsbee.
Hector squinted his eyes. “They are pure in the sense that they represent the truth of the information that’s been provided to us. The public has a right to know what goes on in communities like Garsonville.”
“No, they don’t,” said Meningsbee. “None of us have the damn right to stick our noses in anybody else’s business. And by the way, you can quote me on that, Hector.”
“Well, they told me you might not be cooperative,” Hector said, easing himself back down in the chair. “So I wanted to let you know that we have data about some of your personal dealings–or shall we say, problems?–that might be intriguing to the people of the town.”
Meningsbee smiled. So it was USBN that had stolen his computer, to copy his browser.
He paused, wanting to make sure that his reaction came from a quiet place in his soul instead of the fury of his rage. He waited so long that Hector decided to continue.
“Now, we’re not threatening you. And we really don’t want to use what we have. God knows we all have a private life, right, Richard? What we want to do is make this arrangement to everybody’s mutual benefit. You get a food pantry to help the poor and we get a season of highly rated television programs that enlighten the American public.”
“So you feel you’re enlightening the American public,” barked Meningsbee.
“Well, it does say in the Good Book that the truth will make you free,” cited Hector.
“My dear friend, you have no idea what that verse means. Truth is a beautiful thing when it is revealed by the person with the secret. But truth is a nasty monster when it’s disclosed by strangers, leaving the exposed person condemned.”
Hector stood again and walked to the door, turning as he put his hand on the knob. “Listen, I didn’t come here to have a theological discussion. I’m an attorney. I deal with legal ramifications. We don’t need your blessing to do anything. We don’t need your permission to expose you. We were just providing a courtesy–to you, your congregation and the community–which might create a general welfare for all parties involved.”
He concluded, “I know you’ve heard the phrase seventy-two hours. In case you don’t know, that means three days. If I don’t hear from you in three days, I think you can assume that your predilections will be included in the format of Episode 5. You can have a kitchen–or be dealt a heaping helping of humiliation. It’s up to you. Nice meeting you, by the way.”
Hector Geminez turned the knob, opened the door, walked through and disappeared.
Meningsbee felt like chasing him down and giving him a good piece of his mind, but thought better of it.
He realized that he would probably need all of his brain to figure out what to do next.