The Spy Who Wasn't

Unreal dabbles in espionage and gets motivated with Ed McMahon; plus, breaking news from the Department of Not Quite Getting It

The other day as Unreal sat down on the throne with our morning laxative -- the combo of fine Bolivian java and a back issue of the Post-Dispatch's Everyday section always does the trick -- we were taken aback by John M. McGuire's September 8 piece, "The Spy Who Loved It."

"She truly is like James Bond and Indiana Jones all rolled into one," McGuire gushed of 41-year-old Raelynn Hillhouse, author of the cold-war thriller Rift Zone. "Normally, we don't quote something a publicist said in promoting a novel," he conceded, then did precisely that. In her time, the Aurora native and Washington University grad Hillhouse was "a money launderer, jewelry smuggler, and rum runner," the regurgitated copy reads. She was held at gunpoint with AK-47s and was "[a] Cold War spy, recruited by those in the communist 'Evil Empire' of Eastern Europe and by Libya."

Too cool to be true! Having never spoken to a real spy, we could hardly wait to wash up and meet her ourself.

Raelynn Hillhouse ran rum and jewels across the East Berlin/West Berlin border. She was not a spy. Get it right.
Raelynn Hillhouse ran rum and jewels across the East Berlin/West Berlin border. She was not a spy. Get it right.
Ed McMahon: Heeeere's a way to get out of your Comfort Zone!
Ed McMahon: Heeeere's a way to get out of your Comfort Zone!

Unreal: So, you were a spy for Eastern Europe and Libya?

Raelynn Hillhouse: No. They tried to recruit me, but contrary to what the Post-Dispatch published, I wasn't a spy. There had been phone calls where I tried to clarify that, but the editor made some changes. I'd appreciate it if you'd clarify that.

Why were you running rum and jewels across the East Berlin/West Berlin border?

To make money. I was a student, I didn't have a whole lot of money, so I found some innovative ways to make a profit.

How'd you fall in with the crazy underground smuggling operation?

I wouldn't say I fell in with an operation. I was just a businesswoman. I just got to know some French soldiers in West Berlin that never had enough money to go drinking like soldiers love to do. And I realized that one thing I could get cheaply in East Berlin to bring over was Cuban rum. I had something like a five times markup. But the greatest markup I had was smuggling condoms.

Why were you held at gunpoint?

In Northern Poland I was poking around the shipyards; I was taking pictures I shouldn't have been taking. I looked through the viewfinder to see guys pointing Kalashnikovs at me.

Did they shoot you?

No.

Did they take your camera?

No. In the end I talked them out of it.

Hi-yo!

An hour and a half of prescription-grade motivation coursing through our veins and still Unreal remains mired in our Comfort Zone. Having braved the morning rush hour to attend Zig Ziglar's September 14 "Get Motivated!" seminar at the Savvis Center, we're sitting in a folding chair on the arena floor listening to canned platitudes designed to give the paying audience of 15,000 -- all of whom look to be uninspired white middle managers -- a reason to splash on the Old Spice every morning.

According to Krish Dhanam, a self-deprecating Indian immigrant "trainer" who professes to have arrived in the States with "nine bucks in my pocket," the Comfort Zone is the last place a motivated person wants to be. With seminar admission priced at $225 a pop (deep-discounted to $49 for an entire company group), Dhanam's probably sitting on more than $9 right now.

After dispensing with the formalities -- Any military servicemen and veterans present? Please stand so "this immigrant can salute you..." -- the chubby, goateed Danham, sporting a black suit and red power tie, unspools his spiel. "Ninety-seven percent of the people in the world operate in a Comfort Zone," he imparts. "Three percent operate in an Effective Zone."

Dhanam exits to a standing ovation. Only six hours to go before afternoon headliners Marshall Faulk and Rudy Giuliani take the stage. Meanwhile we get Ed McMahon.

Resembling a pale stuffed owl one clogged artery away from the hereafter, McMahon enters to the theme from The Tonight Show and lubes up the faithful with some hometown fellatio.

"For 30 years I was the spokesman for Budweiser," he proclaims. "I think of St. Louis as my second home -- and it's paying for my first home."

He then exhorts the crowd to shout, in unison, his signature "Hi-yo!"

As 14,999 hi-yos echo through the home of the Blues, a silent Unreal does what all sane individuals would do upon finding themselves in such straits: We get the puck out of there.

No Money Down

Speaking of the Post-Dispatch (see "The Spy Who Wasn't"), Unreal usually gets ours free at our local coffeehouse. Of course, our subtle snatch-and-grab method doesn't always work, which is why we were forced to schlep to the grocery store the other Sunday to actually purchase St. Louis' Only Daily.

Much to our surprise, when we queued up to pay our cashier unfolded our Post and plucked from its innards a coupon entitling us to 50 cents off.

Odd, Unreal thought --if it hadn't been for our friendly clerk, we'd have had to pony up the full $1.50. If the Post is offering a discount, why hide it? And why limit it to store sales? Seeking enlightenment, we put in a call to the paper's customer-service department, taking a random name from the Riverfront Times masthead (our usual modus operandi).

Customer service: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this is Nicole speaking.

Unreal: Hi, Nicole! My name is, um, Steve. Steve Pick.

Nicole: Good afternoon, sir. How can I help you?

You know this 50-cents-off coupon in the Sunday paper? Well, I put it in the coin slot of the news box down on the corner and it wouldn't give me 50 cents back.

What did you try to put in the coin slot?

The coupon.

You would have to go to a vendor with that.

Yeah, but the machine is so much more convenient for me. That seems like discrimination, don't you think?

No, it's a coupon.

Can you send me 50 cents in the mail so I can buy the Saturday paper? I can't get enough of those "Bernie Bits."

No, you would need to take the coupon to the vendor, sir.

What happens if I collect three coupons? Do I get a free paper?

No. You get 50 cents off per paper. I believe it's only one coupon per paper.

Can I have a discounted subscription if I only want the sports section, Parade magazine and Sylvester Brown's column?

No, it's part of the newspaper, sir. You have to buy the whole newspaper.

Does Deb Peterson have hair extensions?

[Silence]

Are you still there?

Yes, sir.

You mean she does have hair extensions?

I don't know.

Memo of the Week

From: Charles Burton

Sent: Thursday, September 16, 2004 12:20 PM

To: Amy Hilgemann (E-mail); Amy L Hilgemann; Bill Haas (E-mail); Darnetta Clinkscale; Darnetta Clinkscale (E-mail); Erika Pride (E-mail); Robert Archiblad (E-mail); Ron Jackson at Home (E-mail); Ronald Jackson; Ronald Jackson (E-mail); Veronica O'Brien (E-mail); Vicki Kaffenberger (E-mail); Vince Schoemehl (E-mail)

Subject: Unreal Article in Riverfront Times

Board members:

Below please find an article published in the most recent addition of the Riverfront Times ["Back to Basics," September 15, 2004]. The article by all appearances seems to be a joke. The office of Public Information is currently making inquiries. I will keep you informed as more information becomes available.

Charles Burton

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