Friday, November 21, 2008

A Simpler Time

by Ben Small

I was watching the last episode of the first season of I Love Lucy the other night: Ricky Asks For a Raise. Seems Lucy and Hitchcock are usually better than much of the nightly television fare these days. Anyway, the plot was interesting. Ricky wanted a raise, but was afraid to beg Mr. Littlefield (Gale Gordon), owner of the Tropicana Club, for one. Littlefield’s a blustery, excitable chap who just might go off the deep end, and Ricky, when not croaking Ba-ba-loo, can be a bit shy. Ricky mumbled something like, “You wouldn’t be able to give me a raise, would you?” Littlefield delivered the expected negative response.

So, flustered by Ricky’s timidity and knowing that her household budget, like always, was overdrawn, Lucy took over negotiations. She told Littlefield that Ricky had other offers, anywhere from four to twelve, depending upon which lie (Lucy’s or Ricky’s) Mr. Littlefield believed.

Littlefield fooled them, as we the audience expected. Littlefield told Ricky he wouldn’t hold him back; the Tropicana would let Ricky go, free him to accept one of the higher paying offers.

Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball): "Don’t you want to change your mind?"
Alvin Littlefield (Gale Gordon): "No, N-O."
Ricky :Ricardo (Desi Arnaz): {to Mr. Littlefield] "Well then I quit! K-W-I-T!"

But Ricky didn’t have any other job offers.

Lucy had done it again: She’d gotten Ricky fired. Xavier Valdez is replacing Ricky.

Insert rapid-fire Spanish fury here.]

What’s Lucy to do?

Sabotage the new act, of course. We’re talking Lucy here.

So Lucy, Fred and Ethel make reservations under fake names, lots of reservations ― including one for a party of thirty.

The Tropicana is expecting a big night, a great crowd for the new guy. In walk Fred, Ethel and Lucy, in various disguises, including one where Fred’s in drag. Each fake party enters, learns Ricky Ricardo’s no longer playing the Tropicana, and storms out, expressing fealty to Ricky and promising never to return to the Tropicana until Ricky Ricardo is back.

Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance): "I can’t make one more phone call. My finger is all worn down to a nub."
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball: "You don’t have to; they’re all sold out."
Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance: "Good."
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball): "Harry and Bess Truman got the last two tables."
Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) [dressed as Tropicana customer]: "Ricky Ricardo ain’t here no more? Well, I’m getting out of this crummy dump."

The Tropicana is empty.

Littlefield panics. He orders Ricky re-hired at twice the salary.

Funny stuff. And so like Lucy.

But what would happen if Lucy tried this today?

The New York show media would learn in a heartbeat that Ricky was gone. They’d be curious about the new job. The lie would be exposed, probably before Ricky and Lucy left the Littlefield apartment. Ricky would be trashed as a liar, and a stupid one at that. That it had been Lucy who’d made the claim would be forgotten. Ricky would be painted in the Arts & Entertainment sections of the New York print media as a turncoat, a cheap hustler who can’t be trusted. Page 6 of the Post would do an exposé, flash a picture of Ricky looking confused and guilty and maybe one of Lucy in a strutting pose. The innuendo would suggest greed, arrogance, and stupidity.

Littlefield, having cash flow problems in this economy like everyone else, might go out of business. He can’t afford an empty house, not when he’s spent a fortune on food and booze and entertainment, not in New York. He may have to put the club into bankruptcy.

Littlefield, or his attorney, will grow suspicious and investigate further. They’ll realize that all the canceling patrons sorta looked alike, about the same height and build, similar vocal tones. Maybe a freckle or mole identical on two supposedly different people. And Ricky’s not working. He and Lucy lost a gambit; they lied.

Littlefield would realize he’d been duped.

Littlefield would call Ricky’s replacement, Xavier Valdez, tell Valdez what he suspected. Both of them would call the prosecutor’s office and file felony fraud and malicious trespass charges, one for each fake reservation or costumed appearance. Their lawyers would file civil suits, putting Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel in the position of facing depositions on the civil side that could adversely affect their criminal cases. They’d be forced to plead the Fifth, and refuse to answer the questions.

Someone, either plaintiffs or defendants, would seek to have the civil case suspended until the criminal case concluded.

But which criminal case? See, Littlefield’s got friends in power. He knows his local Congressman. The Congressman asks the U.S. Attorney’s Office to look into the matter. Maybe Lucy or Ricky used a computer, phone or the mails to set up these fraudulent and malicious acts. The first two would be Wire Fraud, a separate count every time the phone or computer was used as part of the conspiracy. The latter would be Mail Fraud, again a separate count for each use of the post office.

Both of these charges are felonies, too.

And Lucy’s co-conspirators did use these facilitators. They used phones and computers to co-ordinate among themselves and to make the fake reservations. And maybe Lucy used the mails to send Littlefield fake job offers, or the new contract was sent by mail.

The prosecutors, city and federal, would be operating independently, but would be sharing information. They’d try to separate each co-conspirator, offer incentives to turn against the others.

And Fred, most likely, would turn.

What? You doubt Fred turning? Fred’s a curmudgeon. When has he ever been happy about one of Lucy’s schemes?

So Fred, Lucy, Ethel and Ricky are being pressured by prosecutors, federal and state. One lie to the Feds, and there’s another felony ― remember Martha Stewart.

Each felony means up to a three year term in jail and a substantial fine. Ricky’s career is over. Three of our Fab Four ― excepting turncoat Fred ― will do hard time, how much and where depends on judges in two courts.

Nancy Grace will have fun for years. She may get her own network. Anderson Cooper will compare the Ricardos to the Lohans. Dr. Phil will consult with Lucy and then blab her confidences all over the air waves. Britney will rejoice: There’s somebody dumber than she is.

Ba-ba-loo will be popular at Attica. Ricky will be a hot date.

But that’s not the worst of it. The defendants are all broke, too, so deep in debt they’ll see nothing but an abyss. Consider Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel will each have separate counsel, maybe more than one set depending on how the city and federal criminal and civil cases shake out. Defense fees will total in the millions of dollars. Then there are the fines. Again, substantial. Tacked on will be the costs of prosecution. Ricky, Ethel and Lucy are up against authorities with limitless resources. These prosecutions aren’t cheap, especially when so much of the department’s budget can be transferred to the defendants.

A conviction on one of the criminal cases makes the civil cases, both federal and state, slam dunks. And because the fraud was intentional, punitive damages will be awarded.

The Ricardo Fab Four will be famous, yes, but there’s no insurance to cover their financial exposure. Broke, angry and bawling like Jim Bakker, Ricky, Lucy and Ethel will disappear, probably for eight to ten years. Fred will probably turn to pimping. You can see him on the steps of a rundown building, arguing with taxi driver Robert De Niro over a teenage Jodie Foster.

Ten years later, Ricky, Lucy and Ethel, all divorced and living on the streets, will write tell-all books. Lucy will claim Ricky beat her, that Fred came onto her, that Fred liked to wear women’s underwear. She’ll say Little Ricky was fathered by Claude Akins, because Ricky suffered from ED and Lucy was lonely. She’ll say Ethel smelled and was a lousy housekeeper, that it was all Ethel’s idea to sabotage the Tropicana. Ethel had anger issues and often struck out at others and then blamed Lucy.

Ricky will write that Lucy was a meth addict, that she was always stirring her coffee because she thought insects were crawling up the side of her cup. He’ll say he’d contacted a divorce attorney and had been ready to serve Lucy, but that she’d gotten wind of his plans. She’d struck first, and got him fired. But she didn’t stop there; she’d sabotaged the club, wearing outrageous and transparent disguises, foolishly thinking only Ricky would be blamed. Lucy was dumb, he’ll say, as stupid as a red rock in Yellowstone.

Ethel’s book will declare that the Lucy-Ricky marriage was a sham, that she and Ricky were carrying on for years. Fred hadn’t turned down the apartment building’s heat. Ethel had done it; she wanted Ricky underneath her electric blanket. She’ll say Lucy discovered the affair, and instead of taking action to break it up, used it to blackmail Ethel into participating in her schemes.

Little Ricky’s book will blame his lifestyle and Gay Pride activist activities on spending so much time alone or with Mother McGillacuddy, who was a demeaning man-hater. Mrs. McGillacuddy put L’il Ricky in dresses, and forced him to sit on the toilet. So L’il Ricky turned to dolls and makeup and lace.

Fred won’t write a book. He’s too busy recruiting twelve year olds at the bus station, and his computer is filled with porn—induced viruses. All Fred sees is the Microsoft Blue Screen of Death and soiled bills from his drug and sex trade.

All things considered, I’ll take the simpler times. Bring back Lucy and the gang.

Man, I love Lucy.


Morgan Mandel said...

Yes, Lucy is a great escape from today's world!

Morgan Mandel

Marilyn said...

Too often today the news media creates the news--even the major networks are guilty of spreading half-truths.

Helen Ginger said...

Good Lord! What a tale. I feel so sorry for everyone in Lucy's TV family. I feel for the viewers who clearly are co-conspirators in this sad turn of events. But most of all, I'm sad for ba-ba-loo, a nonsensical word with too many vowels, yet devoid of any E's, I's or U's, and sounding like a British word for a sheep's bathroom.

So sad. Thank you for bringing this twisted tale to our attention.

Dana Fredsti said...

Good god. After reading the modern version, all I can see is:

"Waaaaaaaaahhh!!!! Ricky!!!!!"

Jean Henry Mead said...

Written like a true lawyer, Ben. It was good to have Lucy back.

Earl Staggs said...

Brilliant, Ben. Hilarious, yet a sad commentary how things have changed.

Mark said...

Hey, this isn't such a sad state of affairs. Who wrote those books? Not Ricky. He struggled with English. Not Lucy, she's too busy running her production company. No, folks, those books were written by professional ghost writers whose names aren't on the books, but are on the checks. They were edited by professional editors and published by large publishing houses. The revenue the publishers earned from those blockbuster tell-alls allowed the publishers to maintain their mid-list and take some chances on some unknown mystery writers. I, for one, want more sordid tales from pop icons.