- CONNECTICUUUUGH PART 1 -
LORRAINE WHO TELLS YOU WHAT TO THINK ABOUT REALITY TELEVISION
"She also continues to cultivate the image of First Lady as down-to-earth Everywoman. She is still into "grubby things" like gardening and keeps a compost heap and a mulching machine at Kennebunkport. She loves America's Funniest Home Videos but remains baffled after sampling The Simpsons. "It was the dumbest thing I had ever seen," she says, "but it's a family thing, and I guess it's clean." True, she hasn't driven a car in 10 years and concedes she "hasn't really done housework" or " 'even seen a sandwich bag" in almost as long. But she can still whip up a scrumptious apple crisp, and like most figure-conscious American women has fessed up to "fighting the battle of the bulge every day."
● Paula Chin’s 1990 People interview with Barbara Bush
"And very important, DO NOT do your homework without wearing headphones. Repeat..." - George Carlin, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
IT TAKES TWO CYCLES, AT LEAST, OF HARRY KATZ'S SOUNDTRACK TO ACCOMPANY READING THIS STORY. PLEASE RETURN TO THIS SPACE AND REPLAY WHEN THIS SONG IS FINISHED FOR THE INTENDED EFFECT.
You know those daytime TV shows with the paternity tests and the damaged families? They’re not fake. Those casting calls before the commercials, ‘Are you now or do you know a communist transvestite prostitute looking to kick a junk habit?’ That’s truly how future episodes of these shows are rounded up. It only sounds too convenient to be true.
Between upstate New York and Connecticut those aren’t hard roles to fill. Have you ever been there? It’s miles of industrial buildings and busted boom towns from the mid-1900s. Whoever of these truck-stop loiterers mails in the video plea in the name of the eponymous show host, maybe for a free paternity test let’s say, receives the full package for them and whoever they want to surprise with a baby. These tickets get them to lovely Stamford, CT.
There these folks stay in hotels together working out whatever problem. They don’t do this as part of a regiment through the show, but rather because what else is there to talk about with an elephant like that in the room paid for by a television studio?
They are made over and moderately pampered in these hotel rooms for a couple days until they’re put behind cameras for two tapings.
After the shock of the first taping ripples through whatever remaining mysteries could last a week-long minimum-wage paid vacation with an old one night stand or estranged relative, the recreation in that second filming looks tired. This second taping is mostly to make sure nobody said ‘shit,’ ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ on-air. The editors splice the two filmings together. Each audience is fed complimentary pizza. For anyone that wasn’t a scab like Lorraine, it was in the union that they got pizza as well. Usually this pizza wasn’t filled with psychedelics.
Just out of the home viewers’ eyesight was Lorraine, making all of the moral judgements. She would conduct the ticketholders’ responses like a fine orchestra. Lorraine was the studio’s human barometer for all these shows. She went “aw!” when something was cute, for instance, to egg the crowd on. She would film in the same complex in rapid fire succession, the only person in this position for any of the network’s shows, on Thursday mornings.
Lorraine didn’t tell the crowd to ‘applaud,’ that would be too cut-and-dry. No, Lorraine was there for the times when an indignant Juggalo asked the host “is it my fault that I let myself go and check my husband’s phone all the time because I know he’s cheating on me?”
Lorraine, in this circumstance, would direct the crowd to yell “No! You go girl!”
This was because there was an unseen face behind the one-way glass in back of the crowd that issued her directions via computerized text. She never disagreed with this text like the voice of god. She was trying to become a better person in own personal life. She’d seen her standards spiral out of control before. So here was this usually benign, almost altruistic presence that usually told her how to direct these bored Connecticutians in the bleacher seats into an old fashioned Greek Chorus. If they didn’t respond it was because they were from the old folks’ home. But the Q & A with those groups was priceless.
Lorraine felt powerful as their conductor.
The same man passed Lorraine three times. She began angling him during his second lap around the block. He wore nice clothes but had soft eyes. It was significantly darker outside now than when she’d started her ‘shift.’ This guy was pretending not to be hooked. Lorraine had a diploma rolled up somewhere in the arm of her puffy jacket. It was from some liberal northeast university she didn’t like to talk about then. It ruined her cred. She needed some mystery about her, an edge, and those halcyon years taught her nothing nearly as important as that particular subway-entrance busking perch of hers yielding that nobody in a ‘hip’ part of town can stand a song like “Stairway to Heaven” or anything by the Beatles with improper lyrics.
That’s how you snag them.
The guy had wide, indignant eyes; soft but fierce. And he said “Here, let me sing it!” by his third circle around the block. It was clear he didn’t have anything going on that evening. The sky above was drizzling lightly. Neon lit their light spring coats. Lorraine had lost track of how long she’d been sleeping outdoors. There was a Hilton in Manhattan she’d been hitting sometimes. Then again this street sleeping had been somewhat legitimized lately by the whole ‘Occupy’ movement as a strike against unfair housing prices. Lorraine had almost bought into this as a way to explain her inability to take a job very seriously. It legitimized her to some people, but nowhere near as many as thought she was connected with the cause just by looking at her play and shouted it at her. “Occupy!”
The nicely dressed guy turned out to be a pretty good singer, he sat down next to Lorraine and made a sign that said “We need weed.” This brought over sympathetic Jamaican women who came with stories of the island but no joints. It was still cool. Despite being a large man child, Lorraine was enjoying this snotty collegiate fellow enough to let him give her a place to stay through the storm that evening after she blew all her money on malt liquor. That was a rule of busking though if you found a solid place to stay; a way of giving back to the busking gods.
Lorraine’s moral compass, a fertile, easily swayed thing as it was in this transitional period of her life, clashed entirely from the show’s computerized text one day. It just felt horrible to read from whoever wrote it inside that one-way glass covered booth. No matter how she reread the sentence, it wasn’t conscionable for Lorraine to direct her flock according to this sentiment. This confused her because the text had been her own guidance for so long in this moral parade of depravity.
The day’s topic had been obese child bullies and their enabling underaged parents. One of the children, the main offender and star of the show was a sweaty porker they had to bring in on an electric scooter. He seemed to both eat and cut his hair with the same greasy bowl. Prematurely a mustache was growing on his face. He wore diabetic socks inside a pair of Ugg boots with rubber superheroes pinned to them. He was a child after all.
His extravagances in clothing were partially attributed to the show springing him from a juvenile correction facility temporarily and having a month’s ‘rehabilitation’ budget to blow on him in so short a time. You have never seen a preteen eat so much lobster and apple cider.
“So, your honor” began the porker when he finally sat down on stage.
“Son, I’m not a judge” cut in the host. He swung his mic like usual, his schtick.
“Sorry,” laughed the boy, “force of habit.”
The audience roared with laughter. There was a red shining sign above Lorraine’s head which directed them with the shining “APPLAUSE” and a PA system laugh track indiscernible from crowd laughter which got the room going before they could realize the instigator was fake. The host spun his mic again.
“All I wanna say is that when they locked me up, I shat out three of the fingers of the last kid in the public school system who called me fat.”
“So you ate a part of him?” asked the host, turning to the audience and baiting them, “boy, you’re dumb as a wooden post with a juvenile heart condition!”
The audience was roaring again. Lorraine felt unusually sick. One of the crowd members picked up a chair and hurled it at the boy’s mother. Lorraine had to duck, horrified in a way that nobody seemed to be around her. Nobody seemed panicked. Everyone’s eyes were all glassy due, unbeknownst to Lorraine, to the hallucinogens put into the free pizza which everyone else got in on but her. The union forbade a scab like her from eating it. The cameramen had all eaten the tainted pizza, every stagehand, every assistant director, everyone but the plucky scab with the messianic moral compass. The room was abuzz. Uncomfortably rational Lorraine was unable to contain her tears when that teenage mother flew off the stage and into the lighting rig, possibly dying on impact. The mother twitched, but as Lorraine recalled from science classes, so did corpses or those who were paralyzed. Maybe part of the rig was all jammed in her. Why was no one freaking out?
“POW!” screamed the host, punching the air.
The nicely dressed guy was related to one of those girls in a bunch of John Hughes movies, Molly Ringwald or something. It would have been unimportant but for how innocent his wide-eyed, mustached face looked, a hook to hang any further innocences on; coupling that with the John Hughes childishness and Chase could have committed murder and gotten away with it.
Very quickly Lorraine trusted him more than most rubes she met in the street and actually came to respect him. It wasn’t real respect, but she had found herself getting turned on and decided that she respected him enough to let her heart soften.
They sat around his retrofitted industrial Brooklyn apartment, the only ones there in the seemingly endless loft, hiding decidedly around the corner from the kitchen window just far enough away so the neon outside didn’t affect them. Lorraine thought it was fun to play “pretend vampires.” Chase just said he was tired of those blaring colors. The surfaces were all metal and grey inside the kitchen. There was rotting food on some of the shelves that belonged to roommates that Chase couldn’t recall anymore. Back then the blinding neon light from all the bodegas was all Chase could to complain about in this apartment. Lorraine laughed at how whiny he seemed complaining that he couldn’t pee out his window in such a crowded neighborhood when he was drunk or that the colors were making him sick. This was back before New York was all on fire and under invasion. Small potatoes.
The two were drinking no name, high gravity malt liquor from the same glass 40 oz bottle with two coffee cups copped from the same bodega. It was a few bottles into the evening. Outside the storm was unexpectedly raging. It pounded against the brick exterior of the rear wall. Lorraine was certain this place used to be some sort of factory. Most of Brooklyn had been a factory at one point, right?
They were talking about bad sci-fi. There was good science fiction in the world in both of their opinions, but it was much less fun to talk about. This was a perk of picking someone up with pop culture, the botched lyrics angle. At that shitty thrift store table made from who knows what piece of cancerous nostalgia material, under that yellow light, greyed as it was with bug corpses, Lorraine wasn’t thinking about where she was going to sleep with no guitar case and cats and dogs coming down outside. She was trippin’ on how this guy could look better with each shabby defense he made for calling Robocop 2 ‘cinema.’ It was almost unironic. He was entirely unaware of himself. It was so innocent.
From behind the one-way mirror on the set came a familiar computerized lettering.
Lorraine took one look at it and shook her head. No.
“Come on” the text then flashed. Then it read that horrible cue again. She would not say that. This was the first time she had ever disagreed with her prompter. She didn’t want to either, it was just so vile that in her mind she couldn’t even make a visual of the words’ meanings; it was like gibberish, a non-sequitur, something incomprehensible to the moral sensibilities for which Lorraine believed she’d perfected through this job.
Then she felt the gun barrel in her back. “Just read the damn cue, sister” said the assistant director. He stood close enough to her that nobody else could see his gun or smell his shitty grape cigars. “You see this crowd, baby? You think they won’t be cheering if you hit the ground full of lead? They will love that shit! This is a high ratings episode we got going here. That kid is going to save the network! He is the worst of the worst and everyone in this room is on their worst behavior. Do you understand how many jobs are riding on you right now, Lorraine?”
“But what about our mission to only show the horrors of the world in order to prevent the frequency of their occurrence?”
“You believed that hunk of crap?”
“It’s a mission statement you wrote!”
“I just told you that when you got here because I needed you to read the manual.”
“You didn’t trust me to read the manual? You know how seriously I take this job!”
“ Well . . . I also really wanted to sleep with you . . .”
“But the mission statement . . . ”
“ . . . because you don’t really wear nice clothes so I kind of assume the worst about your self esteem. Plus you take this job super seriously so I assume there’s a gap in your personal life and . . .”
“Um . . . you still have a gun in my back. What’s up with that?”
“Well, if you don’t read that sign I’ll have to . . .”
“What, kill me?”
“No. . . . I was going to fire you. Ha! Kill you? Really? Kill you?!?!? What a crazy idea!”
“But your gun . . .”
“This? I was holding this gun before I got here. I always hold it. It’s my constitutional right. I have a lot of lawyers to justify this behavior.”
“Oh . . . Wait, so you’re firing me over this?”
“Layoffs, honey. Who watches reality television anymore with Manhattan on fire the way it is? Have you caught today’s attacks?”
“Come on, you know there’s no tact in talking about the destruction like that, the President said there was nothing we can . . .”
“We have the feeds in the other goddamn room, Lorraine, don’t be a prude! Have you been watching the attacks today or not?”
“No, honestly, I’ve been so caught up with . . .”
“Sweetheart, this whole show goes down unless you read that sign and we get these Nielson points. It all comes down to this one sentence, all of our paychecks for the next year come down to this one sentence. We’re up for cancellation.”
Lorraine had her jacket extended out a second body’s length in front of her. The guitar was tucked in a pregnant looking body shape to hide it from the rain. The wooden neck stuck out in front of her face, propping the hood of that puffy jacket from her head up like a ship sail on the mad dash from scaffolding to subway. The Washburn was old and bought for twenty bucks in a parking lot. This storm or any for the rest of its life could be the device’s death.
“I’m sorry. I have a girlfriend and she will be back in a few hours. You have to go.”
“Where the fuck am I supposed to go, Chase?”
Secretly Lorraine knew right then where she was headed if this asshole threw her out but it was a trek and she’d have to jump a turnstile with a guitar in her hoodie. That’s exactly how it ended though. And it certainly wasn’t anything close to psychic premonition which gave Lorraine this forethought. There was nothing spiritual about it. Lorraine was starting to get jaded like the carnies she’d always meet at Connecticut bus stations. They would all swap stories about their friends who got caught in Tilt-a-Whirl rides or whatever and then get all quiet over cigarettes and brown bag beers. It was a competition for ‘hard-ness’ which just made everyone sad. Lorraine often felt like she saw the worst of it because she was a lady.
Lately it seemed like nothing in Lorraine’s life was happening for the first time or for the second anymore. She didn’t want to think this eternal youth lifestyle would prematurely make her old. Every day she could feel it more though. She wanted to shout at every single heckler, everyone who demanded she wear more revealing attire when performing in the streets, every ‘hoo mama!’ hooter or ‘yeah baby!’ yeller. She wanted to say that this unenviable, constant life of uncertainty was why all her clothes were too large. Every item of clothing she had at some point would need to be a full-sized acoustic guitar case, she would tell each of those casual bed sleepers right off.
“I’m sorry, I don’t care where you have to go,” Chase had said, “I usually fuck these things up and I have a good thing going with Lizzy lately. Shit, I shouldn’t have said her name. Should I?”
“I don’t know Chase,” Lorraine had asked, “do you think I’m a serial killer all of the sudden or something? Why did you bring me here and give me false hope of a place to stay on the one fucking night you grow scruples!”
“I don’t know . . . I thought we were . . . just hanging out . . . Maybe it wouldn’t get this heated . . . ”
“Shit wasn’t heated until you felt uncomfortable. I’m just looking for a place to stay, homie . . .”
She took some easily grabbable change off his table on the way out. Lorraine needed it to get on the subway, but it still didn’t cover a full ticket and so she mentally plotted that turnstile jump with the guitar. Unable to see her feet with the guitar belly inside her jacket, she took a few near spills on the tractionless platform stairs. Then someone held the emergency doors open for her at the gate; a free ride.
Lorraine wasn’t picky, she hopped the first train going uptown to a Hilton she had noticed where the front was easy to sneak past and she could barricade herself in one of the ice machine rooms. In a hotel big as that Hilton there was always an extra ice machine room on each floor. Nobody used these. They were behind tucked corners, blind spots in the hotels.
Her canvas shoes were sloshing her socks around on the shaky train which had so many leaks that no seat was dry. Lorrain dropped her guitar and it made a disconcerting crack, wet against the train’s moving puddle floor. She would just tape it up, she was playing it with her old college ID anyway because it projected the sound better than any pick. The sound was kind of shitty. But then every music store in the boroughs was closing down and metal coins were worse for her limited arsenal of strings.
For Lorraine, in her desperation, music was always more about being noticed than the quality of its performance. That college ID sounded like loud-ass garbage, but the loud part was the importance. She laughed as the train shook around a corner in a dark tunnel. It shook some sense into her about what she really needed in her quality of life. Lorraine knew at that moment something as fickle as another person’s relationship insecurity and the weather shouldn’t control her sleeping indoors.
Lorraine knew right then that she should never scorn anyone for sleeping in comfort again out of what she now perceived to be jealousy. The train lights flickered. She was one of three people in the car and nobody looked up from their digital devices at her gaze. She could immediately tell which of them slept on mattresses and a familiar jealousy ran through her as though price tags sprouted off their every item. That was twisted, Lorraine told herself as the train rattled her seat.
Lorraine needed to straighten this perspective out. Maybe her communications degree could do something for her. She tried not to laugh. She had stuck four years out at that school after all to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. Lorraine suddenly wondered about all the other parallel timelines out there where her life got weirder in some other interesting way from a differing path. She missed her subway stop.
Lorraine gulped. It was a lot of pressure at the TV station.
Ever since popping back on the grid for this salaried job, Lorraine’s crippling debt caught up and forced her massive dependence on the network’s paycheck. This subservience fit in with her attempts to re-legitimize her world outlook. The network had always, until now, given her what she considered financial security. It was coupled with massive credit debt which fluctuated on a monthly basis, but the network ran plenty of commercials on these problems so Lorraine considered them normal. Her job, in turn, gave Lorraine a Christ complex from herding the network’s audience members daily; telling them what to think, how to feel. This wasn’t, of course, a professional psychological evaluation. Lorraine’s evaluation had come rather from her own moral compass, her one professional skill and guiding force which had remained uncompromised until that very moment on set at gunpoint.
People would starve if she didn’t get the crowd chanting this horrible slogan. Could she justify that to herself? She sighed to the Assistant Director. “Ok, you can put the gun down, I’ll say it.”
“No way,” said the A.D. “What do you think I am, some sort of commie? Fuck off and read, sister! The gun stays. It’s my right.”
Lorraine looked out at her people for the last time with an unburdened heart. She’d guided them on the most gray of topics before. Now she had to lead them to sin. She read the digitized network message aloud: “Pee on the mom! Pee on the mom!”
Suddenly the crowd was chanting. It took no convincing at all. Lorraine was too stunned to look away. She wished dearly that she could. The porker got out of his chair (followed by those brainwashed cameramen) and unzipped his fly. He took out his prepubescent junk and let flow a rip on his unconscious mother. The pee was all dark from malnutrition.
Everyone in the crew had jobs to return to the next week.
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