Author's Note: This plotbunny seized me hard and gnawed my shin clear to the bone. I love Psyche-Out to death, but he's gotta do something once retires from the military, and with the boom of talk radio in the '90s and '00s . . . Seriously, this thing just wrote itself.
If you want someone to blame, blame Sally Jessy Raphael. I looked her up while I was writing "Order Up," and the idea kind of grew from there.
Rating: T for language.
Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.
by Totenkinder Madchen
The station manager held up five fingers, then four and three. The blond man seated behind the mike nodded and adjusted his headset, while the junior cohost-slash-intern-slash-subordinate fiddled uncomfortably with his.
"And we're back," the cohost said. The station manager's secretary edged around their chairs, bringing fresh coffee for both of them, as the show's intro theme underscored the his words. "You're listening to That's Rich, the no-holds-barred psychology and advice show for men who need to talk about their issues with their motherfuckers. I'm Lance-Corporal Tom Harley-"
"And I'm Captain Ken Rich," the blond cut in. "Welcome back. The topic today is Valentine's Day, and all the various things that can go wrong when you're trying to do it right."
"It's also the fifth anniversary of your honorable discharge, doc," Tom pointed out cheerfully. "But y'know, you haven't said a word. Hiding something?"
"Tom, remind me to talk to you about your obsessive need to provide color commentary. It's possible that your parents didn't love you." Rich steepled his fingers, ignoring Tom's snickering, and caught the station manager's eye. The other man was signaling that the switchboard was open. "And I see we're already getting some calls." He paused just a second while the switchboard operators relayed the information to his headset. "And now we're talking to John, not his real name of course, from Terre Haute. You're on the air, John."
"Sir, yes sir!"
"I take it you're an enlisted man, John?"
"Sir! Private first class, sir!"
"At ease, private. What's your question?"
"Sir! I mean . . . uh . . . I'm dating this girl, real nice. We're pretty serious. She's a civilian who works in the souvenir section of the PX, you know, selling those keychains and stuff." There was an audible pause as PFC John gulped, attempting to reconcile he need for advice with the fact that he was talking to a psychologist who was also a captain. Rich waited patiently: that happened a lot. "And I want to ask her out for a real nice Valentine's Day. The thing is . . . I'm kinda thinking something's about to go wrong. She . . . uh . . . the thing is, there's a whole bunch of Special Forces guys just came on base. I wouldn't worry about them, but they're buddies with these guys out of Benning. You know, Rangers."
"'I wanna be an Airborne Ranger, I wanna live a life of danger . . .'" Tom began to warble.
"Drop and give me twenty."
Tom scowled a little, unsure if that was a genuine order (ahh, the difficulties of being a lance-corporal doing a correspondence psych degree) or a piece of humor, but when Rich gestured, Tom obediently dropped to the floor and began counting out pushups. Behind the soundproof glass, the station manager gave them both the thumbs-up. There was definitely no other show quite like it on the air.
"Continue, private," Rich added.
John gulped audibly again. "Well, they're—you know—I mean, they're Rangers. Half of them have been overseas—Iraq, Kuwait, shit like that. I'm an 11X-Ray."
"Mortar guy," Tom added, clambering up from the floor. "For those of you out there in civvie-land."
"And they're assholes, sir. But they're macho assholes."
Rich nodded, leaning back in his chair. "And you're worried that, as a civilian, her perception of Rangers as the superheroes of the Army will possibly impact her decision to pursue a relationship with you?"
There was no response from PFC John, only a mildly stunned silence. Rich usually had that effect on people.
"Sir, yes sir," he said finally.
The psychologist/captain steepled his fingers, choosing his next words carefully. "It's sad but true, private," he said after a moment's pause, "that if she leaves you because she's been eyeing up Rangers at the PX, she's probably not the girl for you. However, I've made a case study over the years of the Rangers I've been called on to analyze, and it's likely that you have less to worry about than you think. According to my calculations, any given Ranger between the ages of twenty-five and forty-one will inflate his accomplishments by 57.2%, his bravado by 31.9%, and his number of decorations for battle-related heroics by 5,020%."
Tom was about to say something, but Rich held up a hand and looked to the station manager. The manager began to count down again: five, four, three . . . and the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.
"That's not to say that Rangers don't have their significant accomplishments," Rich continued smoothly, using his best Reassuring Doctor voice. "However, if your girlfriend tries to start an argument about it, I recommend you point her to our website. Www dot militaryheadshrinker dot com slash ranger analysis contains my full report, including anonymous case studies and an analysis of the five basic Ranger types most inclined to attempt girlfriend-stealing. Good luck, private!"
"And the phones are ringing off the hook, doc," Tom said cheerfully, checking the laptop set up by his microphone. "Two-thirds of them are coming from a single Georgia area code, too. The truth hurts, huh?"
"It's the business of a doctor to make his analysis without discrimination. Remember, listeners, www dot militaryheadshrinker dot net also contains an in-depth analysis of the average neuroses found in talkative lance-corporals."
"Doc, we gotta talk about your weird sadistic tendencies."
"I already have," Rich deadpanned. "They're filed on the website under 'effects of prolongued exposure to the military mindset re: analytic personalities.' Check the subsection under 'revenge fantasies.' Who's our next caller?"
Tom put a hand to his headset. "Well, our loyal subordinates are saying that all the guys calling from Benning are probably gonna say the same thing . . . I say we pick a different state first. Whaddaya think, doc, Virginia or California?"
"California." Rich leaned back in his chair again and picked up a stress ball, squeezing it idly. It wasn't quite imagined what he'd done when the team disbanded years ago, but hell, there were a lot of worse ways to spend his time. He was up for his third Daytime Emmy this year, too. "Let's see who's irritated in the Golden State today."
"Right on." Tom adjusted his headphones again. "Okay, doc, we're on . . . say hi to Thomas from San Francisco."
"Hello, Thomas," the doctor said smoothly. "What's on your mind?"
"Actually, I prefer Tommy."
There was a long moment of silence. Then, clearing his throat and giving the stress ball an extra-hard squeeze, Rich leaned forward and said "Really."
"Really. You know, captain, I think I actually served with you? Me and a couple of other guys. I'm over at a friend's house right now, actually, having a what-about-those-old-days barbecue, and wouldn't you know it, one of the guys says 'Hey. Why don't we turn on the radio and see what the ol' headshrinker's talking about."
Tom was saying something, probably making fun of the caller's choice of nicknames, but Rich wasn't paying attention. He was too busy having a flashback. Several flashbacks, in fact, to scary mute people in masks, loud angry armored tanks masquerading as men from Alabama, and several interesting therapy sessions where things like 'brainwashing,' 'evil genius,' and 'what the fuck, shrink, I don't know why I have to serve with him, how many of our guys did he kill?' were used liberally. He made a mental note to draft a new article for the website about PTSD.
The caller's voice cut through his thoughts. "No," it was saying, smoothly and just a touch gleefully, to Tom. "All I'm saying is, there may be some academic bias here. Our old sergeant major was a Ranger, and he was a piece of work. Actually, I think he's over there by the cooler. Want me to put hi-"
"NO," Rich interrupted firmly. "I remember you, 'Tommy.' I think I still have five filing cabinets dedicated to the fifteen different psychological profiles I had to make over the years." The station manager and Tom were both snickering, figuring it was a joke. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, doctor," Tommy responded cheerfully, "we just have some issues with your portrayal of Rangers, that's all. We're hurt, in fact. All that stuff about exaggeration of bravado. Hey, Red, don't even think about-"
There was a moment's scuffle, a burst of static, and then a new voice came on the line. "Speaking on behalf of my husband," a dry female voice cut in, "we resent those implications. In fact, he wants me to remind you about—what was it, honey? Oh, yes. Borovia in '92, Trucal Abysmia in '94, and that little incident in the Ukraine when you wanted a tribal leader to understand why he was using a gun as as surrogate penis."
Rich opened his mouth to respond, but not before the line was stolen back by the first, dreaded, caller again. Tom was eyeing him with a grin, and the station manager seemed completely surprised by the normally-talkative star host being tongue-tied. Rich couldn't quite formulate a response.
"Worst sister-in-law ever," Tommy continued. There was a crash of furniture in the background. "Nice try, Red. Work on your foot speed next time. Anyway, doctor, we—your old-time Ranger buddies—are severely hurt by what you've said."
The doctor finally managed to find his voice. "Tommy," he said carefully, squeezing the stress ball harder than ever, "as much at it pains me to say it, you and the rest of the old-time Ranger buddies weren't exactly 'average.' If I recall Trucal Abysmia correctly, I was initially brought in because your idea of interrogating a prisoner involved a copy of The Life of Vlad Drakul and some very candid comments regarding 'learning from history.'"
"It worked in the end, didn't it?"
"It worked because Sn—because Red's husband spent the whole interrogation sharpening a stake with a spike-knuckled trench knife. The prisoner later brought suit for post-traumatic stress disorder due to psychological torture."
Tom was signaling, the station manager was knocking on the soundproof glass and making expansive hand gestures, but Rich ignored them. It was 1990 all over again.
"If I recall," Tommy said thoughtfully, "that lawsuit was shot down. Something about the plaintiff currently being on trial for crimes against humanity, wasn't it?"
"The point, however," Rich said through gritted teeth, "stands. The survey results were based on averages, mainly including survey respondents who have never been on Interpol's Most Wanted. I was talking about average Rangers."
An indignant bellow made Rich twitch in his seat, and a new voice came on the line. "Now wait just a gawddamn minute! You callin' Rangers average, you gawddamn shrink? Ah recall followin' yer lazy ass all over the gawddamn PT course, just to make sure you didn't faint an' drown in the gawddamn mud pit-"
"-Wayne! Put the phone down, for cripe's sake, everyone from coast to coast can hear you!"
"Then maybe they'll listen for once!"
"Listen to Courtney, sergeant major. You're turning red again."
"Did Ah ask for yer opinion? An' I saw ya signin' that, spook, Ah'm still a gawddamn higher rank than you-"
As Tom hit the button, cutting off the racket in mid-obscenity, Rich collapsed back into his chair and put his hands over his face. The station manager was goggling, the interns were wide-eyed, and Tom himself couldn't seem to decide whether or not he was laughing or pitying Rich. The stress ball had exploded, spilling foam rubber pellets all over the desk.
"Dude," Tom said finally. "Doc, dude. We should've saved that for sweeps week."
The station manager opened the door and stuck his head through, looking mildly shellshocked. "The switchboard just crashed. We've got people from all fifty states calling in to swear that they know that bunch of nutjobs, three hundred more Rangers ready to disagree with your original diagnosis, and the network execs want to bring in 'Tommy' and his friends for a counterargument segment every week."
"I wouldn't recommend that." Rich's voice was muffled by the hands still over his face. "Tommy has a ninja clan to run, and you'd half to bleep half his anecdotes for national security reasons. Max?"
"Yeah, captain?" the station manager said cautiously.
"Never join the military."
" . . . whatever you say, captain."
Dr. Kenneth D. Rich, once known as Psyche-Out, did in fact wind up winning that third Daytime Emmy award. With the introduction of the 'Sensei Says' guest segment, aimed at practical advice for martial artists and members of the various competitive fighting circuits, his ratings remained healthy for years to come. His assistant, Lance-corporal Tom, eventually got his doctorate in psychology and became a successful thinker in his own right, with a long-running stint as an expert on military psychology with several news networks.
And Dr. Rich, his lesson learned and his ulcers increasingly prominent, never used the word "average" with "Ranger" again.