Dispatches from Suburbia

If I played an instrument, I would have a band called "The Simon Thomsen Sex Tape"; and other musings, rants, and disconnected ramblings.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Poor Taste and Television

Quote of the Day: "That was absolutely horrid."
-Simon Cowell

In celebration of American Idol, the wonderful phenomenon that promises evenings of spectacular entertainment (specifically, the auditions), here's a section of my short story, the one that focuses on a creator of a reality-T.V. show that revolves around five terminally ill people:

Soon, the Network got things rolling. We went from city to city, rounding up the terminally ill (“termies” or “termites” we’d begun calling them) and weeding out potential candidates for our show. After a while, we’d whittled it down to our five most compelling, the five people that would, in Bill’s words, “hopefully die in the next year or so.” We even did the American Idol thing—we aired the auditions. That wasn’t quite as entertaining as Idol. A bunch of dying individuals peering into a camera in their eerie, vacant way, asking, pleading for a chance to impress the world, to make their mark before God takes them away to a place without television, can be pretty depressing.

Somewhere in Seattle, I’d sat in a dirty motel room (the Network heads could be pretty cheap) watching our two-hour audition special through almost unbearable static when my ex-wife called. She was watching the show too.

"Haven’t heard from you for a while,” I drawled into my cell phone. I’d been drinking.

“What you’re doing is wrong,” Rita had snapped. Then she hung up. I haven’t spoken to her since.


Every week, we flew our five termies to some place in the U.S. for a group activity. One week it was Six Flags, another time it was New York City. After learning that Lisa really wanted to see Mount Rushmore, we flew them to South Dakota.

My favorite termite was Cherisse. She was very lively, especially for somebody that was dying. I stood and chatted with her by the railings at Rushmore’s base. In front of me was Dan, slumped over in his wheelchair, and in front of Cherisse was Randall in his wheelchair, peering at the huge stone faces of dead presidents. Further up the railings was Lisa, standing alone, apart from the frightened tourists, oblivious and in awe of the mountain. She appeared to be a little elderly person for the obvious reason, her visual appearance. But she also had a certain quiet restraint, making the only things childish about her the small stature and a bug-eyed, upward stare marked by a youthful sparkle of wonder. While Lisa stood staring at the carved mountain, Cherisse and I stared at Lisa. It hadn’t taken very long for everybody to get used to the cameras and to begin acting as normal human beings: They began to share emotions, stopped trying to always look so good (besides, most of them had no hair to style anyway, ha ha), and even allowed themselves to occasionally be rude.

“Lisa is so heartbreaking. I hate to say it, but she kind of freaks me out,” Cherisse confided in me, despite the small microphone affixed to the collar of her Berkeley sweatshirt. “She looks like a mini Ross Perot.”

“Cherisse,” I began to scold through a half sigh/ half stifled laugh. It was a funny comment, I thought, but not one that others would find all that hilarious. Luckily, I was in the shot, which meant it would probably be edited before the show aired, saving Cherisse’s reputation. Not that she would’ve cared. Like the others, she was dying anyway.

Gregory seemed to materialize out of nowhere, his gaunt frame engulfed in a giant coat, his small bald head making his black beanie look huge.

“Next week, we should hit up a casino somewhere, or a bar.” Gregory had become a bit of a downer.

“That would be fun, Gregory, but we can’t with Randall and Lisa.”

“Take them to a Mickey D’s or something.” I wished I could help him, that I could maybe bring him out of his eternal bleakness by taking them somewhere that he’d actually enjoy.

“Look, Gregory,” I said, matter-of-factly, “First of all, the last thing you need is some alcohol. Secondly, the Network wanted to put you all together every week so they’d have footage of some interaction—”

“Fuck the Network,” he interrupted. “They’re not dying.”

It took all my strength not to say You signed the contract, you Negative Nancy. If I were Bill, I would have said it without thinking twice. Speaking of Bill, this is when he pulled me aside, away from the cameras and the group of condemned T.V. stars.

“We’ve gotta talk,” he said. “privately.”

We made our way towards the restaurant—you know, the one on North by Northwest, where Cary Grant pretends to get shot. Anyway, Bill spoke as we walked.

“Listen, Jason, it’s been six months. Nobody’s died yet.” He fired up a cigarette.

I stopped walking. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Look, we promised people a competition.”

I didn’t promise that. Your buddies at the Network did.”

He took a drag and rolled his eyes. “Don’t give me that, your righteous B.S. We promised our audience that the last one alive would get one million donated to his or her charity, which would imply some sort of impending doom. Right now, everything’s all sunshine and roses. That’s not a good thing. Not for ratings.”


At 9:31 PM, Blogger Dorky Dad said...

SSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!! Some reality-show producer might actually see this story and get an idea ...

I liked it. The story was different, and certainly not something I expected.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger etain_lavena said...

Its always about the ratings!!;)...good job!

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

Yes, this will inspire a "suit" somewhere . . . Very nice. I esp. like "termite" and this intechange:

“Listen, Jason, it’s been six months. Nobody’s died yet.” He fired up a cigarette.

I stopped walking. “Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Look, we promised people a competition.”

Very funny in that macabre kind of way.


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