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.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


"Blame it on Cain./ Don't blame it on me./ Oh, oh, it's nobody's fault,/ but we need somebody to burn."

-Elvis Costello, "Blame it on Cain"

I've decided to take my idea for a reality show that focuses on terminally ill people and incorporate it into a very dark short story in which network greed gets in the way of the protagonists good intentions. The network has decided to make the show into a competition, and whoever is the last one standing is the winner. It's pretty disgusting. So far, I've only introduced the characters and their afflictions, but here's what I have:


They’d all been gathered in the meeting room. Sitting in the chairs surrounding one long conference table were five terminally ill people chosen to be on the show.

At the far end of the table was 9-year-old Lucy Stang, the little girl with progeria, the premature aging disease. She had thin white hair that was so fair it looked like strands of light atop her undersized head. Her wrinkled face came to a point at her chin, making her head look like an upside-down teardrop.

Beside her was another youngster, 11-year-old Randall Sanders, a boy with acute myeloid leukemia. He was bald and already walked with a cane, which he’d left hanging from the back of his chair.

I’d spoken numerous times to the parents of both children, parents who had confided in me that there was no hope for their children, that the only treatment for Randall was intended only to keep the cancer from spreading, and that little Lucy, that poor wrinkled little thing, would be lucky to make it to 13, the average for kids with progeria.

Next to Randall was Dan Neuberger. He was 98 years old and he too hung a cane from the back of his chair. He had more of his white hair than Lucy, but his age had withered his body to less than both of the children beside him. Old age was his terminal disease. It was a controversial choice, one I struggled with before finally deciding that Dan’s great-granddaughter was right, old age is about as terminal as disease can be. Dan began to nod off as soon as Bill began his speech.

When I’d taken my seat at the end of the table, beside Dan, I noticed that he smelled faintly of canned ham and ammonia. Standing behind me, Bill gave his spiel. He was a harsh, unshaven man with a large belly shrink-wrapped within his starched white shirt. Dark chest hair poked from above the top button of his shirt.

“You’ll all have a camera crew placed in your homes,” he said. “We’d considered putting you all in one house, like Big Brother or The Real World, but we figured that you would get the proper care in your own home.” He chuckled and smacked my shoulder. “That would’ve been plain stupid on our part.”

Across from me, sitting behind her box of Kleenex, Cherisse Clemens, the 25-year-old brunette with cystic fibrosis, asked, “Will there be competitions? Like Survivor or America’s Next Top Model?”

Bill began to circle the table. He looked at nobody as he spoke. “We’d considered that too, but our advisors in the medical field warned us against that. All of you have ‘compromised immune systems.’ Besides, each and every one of you have wildly different situations. It wouldn’t even be fair.”

Cherisse wiped her nose and discretely tossed the tissue in the waste bucket beside her. “So you’re just going to film us at home?”

“That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Bill said.

“Just wait for us to croak.” The bald 42-year-old, Gregory Pitt beside Cherisse had spoken. He had an inoperable tumor the size of a small plum resting atop his pituitary gland. His skin was grey from the chemo, and his sweater hung from him like drapes. My guess was that the sweater had fit him perfectly before the chemo. Judging from the size of the sweater, Gregory was once Bill’s size.

There was an extra chair next to Gregory, one I’d specifically put out for Bill, though I knew he wouldn’t use it. I hated how he’d always do this, at all of our meetings, even when we’d met at our homes—he never sat. Because of his constant standing, he was an obtrusive presence with all the personality of a diaper.

“Well Jason,” he asked, “you wanna take it from here?” It was about time. These people needed a sympathetic voice. I stood.

“First, I want to thank you all for being a part of this.” I clasped my hands together and smiled with the most sincere smile I could possibly muster. “With this show, we are going to make history.”

“Neat,” Lisa said in her tiny voice. I placed my hand on her bony shoulder. When I did, I noticed her little hand resting on the table, the fingers twisted and mangled from arthritis.

Bill was still standing, making me nervous. “It’s very neat, Lisa,” I stuttered, trying to ignore Bill.

“Are the cameras allowed in the home?” Dan spoke in his aged voice. I wondered when he’d awoken.

“Yes, Dan, arrangements have already been made with Sunview Acres. They are quite excited, actually, to have a show filmed in the nursing home. Plus, we’ve made some very generous donations to Sunview. Your friends at the home will be living pretty good because of your choice to show America just what it’s like to be in your shoes.”

Cherisse wiped her nose, sighed, and asked, “So, what’s the point of this show?

“Not to die,” Bill answered.


At 8:19 PM, Blogger Stewart Sternberg said...

I am standing and applauding you right now. Maybe I am just in a sick mood, but I love this concept. It's twisted and brilliant. I wish to God I had thought of this.

I'd offer more crit, mostly about character development and pacing, but I think it works, so I'll take a step back from that.

This line was great by the way: Her wrinkled face came to a point at her chin, making her head look like an upside-down teardrop.

Also, I loved the line: old age was his terminal disease.

The problem with this idea is that now that's it out here in the blogosphere, it's only a matter of time before FOX decides to produce it.

Thanks a lot for posting this. Now I'm going to go read it again.

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

Disgustingg, indeed, but certainly memorable ;) Go for it! Here's a weird coincidence: I've been listening to "Blame it on Cain" for the last 24 hours. Got the suped up My Aim is True CD for Christmas. Woo-hoo!


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