Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story

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It’s been almost 30 years since I left for Long Island, after retreating from the small uhf studio in Ashland, KY and the life I once knew. Leaving only with a 

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Added by Ischmael Dugong

small suitcase and the clothes on my back, I ran and didn’t look back from a childhood paradise that slowly evolved into a traumatizing nightmare. It was then and there, that I was a young adult, down on my luck and barely making enough to pay the monthly rent for the apartment a friend and I shared. I was barely making minimum wage at my first job, where I would flip burgers for nine hours a day in the heat. The small eatery was beside a long stretch of highway, which my superstitious boss used to call "Ghost Road," a place where the ghostly hitchhikers would hail rides from unknown passers-by. I switched my apron in for a fluorescent vest, to start pulling shopping carts into the local grocery store and mopping floors for twelve hours a day, for five days of the week, again—barely making minimum wage. I quit after only four weeks of working to look for a better, higher-paying job, after receiving a notice that I was going to be evicted.

It was while reading the morning paper, three days later that I found an answer. Perhaps this would be theanswer to my problem. The small article in the want ads called for pairs of helping hands to build set pieces for kids' shows at the small, nearby uhf studio that was about thirty minutes away. I was excited, and ran for my red sedan, hoping to get there before somebody else could. Something told me this would be my day, and I was hoping it would. After driving for what felt like forty minutes, I pulled into the nearly abandoned parking lot and looked for an unlocked door, or at the very least, somebody to unlock said door. At last, I found a door that would open and was hit by a blast of cool air from the air conditioners being nearly on full blast.

I was about to approach the front desk to ask for more information about the job offering, but was stopped by an older gentlemen in khaki pants and a blue polo, with neatly combed back brown hair and green eyes. When he asked if I was here for the job position and I said yes, he smiled from ear to ear. He gripped my hand like a python and shook it. He seemed overly excited; perhaps he forgot to take some medication that morning, or was on a caffeine high. I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both, I couldn’t tell you honestly.

“The name's Bob Fields.” He said, still shaking my hand “Or just Boss. I’m so happy that somebody saw the article. Times have been really tough because of the recent tax cuts and stage hands walking off. Please, follow me.”

When he finally let go, my hand was red and numb. I followed him through the halls to the set, trying to shake it off. Mr. Fields was a strange person, but could you blame him? He loved his work and seemed to love the people there like a second family. Arriving onto the set, there were about a dozen people in different parts of the large room, which made me think that they shot different shows in one room at the same time. He showed me around the room and explained the different shows they were working on. It didn’t take an expert to take one look at the set pieces and realize how cheap and awful they were—making it loud and clear how seriously low budget they were. I knew times were tough, but not this tough. The first show that he introduced me to was called “Jumbo’s Circus”, an educational kids' show that showed kids how to count, tell time, identify colors, shapes and other things. It was a very basic show, for the Pre-K demographic. After meeting the director and cast, I declined. It was nothing against them, but it was my extreme coulrophobia which had haunted me since I was a child.

Fields then showed me another show. This one tried to be educational, in the sense it tried to teach kids moral lessons in each episode. Unlike "Jumbo’s Circus" where it was mostly live-action, with people making up most of the cast, this one had a cast consisting of only puppets of different shapes, sizes, textures and colors. The show was called “Sunshine City”, which followed a group of puppet kids, who would deal with real world problems that most kids had never heard of or experienced. Common morals were those such as “stealing is wrong”, “treat others the way you’d want to be treated” and “respect authority”. But some of the episode themes were rather serious, especially for a kids show. One of the episodes was about one character, Lucas, who was bullied by another puppet, Peter—because his felt skin was an abnormal color, and the only one of all the puppets on the show. One of the puppeteers, who I spoke to shortly before I moved, told me about the darkest episode the show did. It was shown only once, because of the content, which resulted in the immediate cancellation of the show. In it, the sad, orange puppet, Ron, was more upset than usual. He did his usual "Woe is me" speech, then left, not returning until the last two minutes of the episode. In that short time, Ron can be seen sitting on a rock by the train tracks, staring at the cardboard sunset horizon. Sounds of a train could be heard, getting louder and louder with each second. Ron sighs and stands up. As the train speeds forward, Ron jumps out in front of it and the scene cuts to black. The last shot is a fade in, showing Ron’s dismembered puppet arm lying beside the tracks. Cotton is coming out of the limb, and the train chugs onward into the sunset. The final scene and the credits roll in silence.

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