Page 13 Cartoons

Fabulous Prizes

September 30, 2010

The very first television game show, Spelling Bee, was broadcast in 1938. Did you know that? I didn’t. The very first word written for the entertainment of others was too long before my time.
Darkness. I stand in darkness. Why am I standing? What am I leaning into? I am laying my arms gently upon some sort of podium. Oh good lord, who is that next to me? He smiles, I think he smiles, he has one of those gleaming grins too full of teeth. Tan asshole. He sees me see him smile and he leans over to me as if we were buddies in this darkness together.
He leans real close and his whisper brings a chill to my spine from this unwanted intimacy with the tan asshole, “You ready for this, buddy? I’ve been studying up all week, you know watching the show, practicing my chit chat with Chip. I really need this, I can’t see any other way of making it to the big time. Good luck to you, buddy!” He readjusts his posture and puts back on his smile. Where the fuck did he get the instruction manual for whatever is happening here?
Then I hear a, “Five, four, three, two…” This is when the lights turn on, everything begins a-buzzing, and I discover that I am in some sort of television studio with cameras and lights and even a live studio audience. Then I see that smarmy asshole who haunts the dreams of society’s failures. I don’t know who he is, but I can tell. He’s wearing a blue button up shirt sans tie under a black jacket with all the rest of the trimmings of the executive suite holder. I recognize him, yeah that’s right he was the smart-mouthed sidekick on a sitcom from the ‘90s. What was his name again? He enters with his model and mock-dances to the exciting theme. She plays along, but I can tell she’s annoyed with his antics. The audience claps, they are excited. What the fuck is going on here?
He speaks. “Hello, and welcome to Writer’s Roulette, the game where writers become authors! I’m your host Chip Maltherson and we have two brand new contestants looking for their chance to write the next New York Times bestseller. Give a big hello to Rich Cameron, a self-proclaimed undiscovered superstar. He’s a guy everyone likes that doesn’t like people. Give him a hand! All right, our second contestant is Jack Tandrone, a grad student who never leaves his room so he can write taut psychological thrillers. Let him hear it!” Is the audience cheering for me? It sounds like me, but that’s not my name. Are we using pennames? I like my penname better; I might adopt it. Wait a minute, what the fuck am I doing here? All I remember is sitting in my room staring at a blank screen, I was trying to write some sort of metafiction which didn’t fall into the trap of being boring and self-indulgent and really going nowhere. I wanted bells and whistles and people doing things, not just me thinking about what a genius I am.
Speaking of geniuses, Chip has something to say, “Alright, everyone should be well-acquainted with the rules. We have a roulette wheel here with the five elements of storytelling we all learned in high school: character, setting, conflict, plot, and theme. Our two writers will answer trivia questions and my lovely assistant Tania will spin the roulette wheel. Whoever can get all five elements first will move on to the next round where he can win the elements for, say it with me, five bestselling novels!” The audience sings along with him in those last three words and starts going crazy. Chip is clapping real excited-like with his tan asshole teeth showing.
“Before we get started, let’s meet our contestants. Now Rich, you say everybody likes you, but you don’t like people. What do you mean by that?” God, I hate Rich.
He’s still smiling and it looks like he’s got an answer prepared, “Well, Chip, first of all, thanks so much for having me on the show. I’m having so much fun already! In regards to your question, you know people really like my writing. They like the pacing, the action, the twists. Thing is, I keep hearing that all my protagonists are just me, with a six pack and a six shooter. I don’t really care enough about other people to write about them or use them for characters, so what I’m looking for from this game is some real juicy characters to throw into the humdingers I’ve got up here.” He points at his head as if it’s a bank account for which he’s trying to remember the PIN. Damn it, Chip is smarming up to me.
“Great to meet you, Rich. Now Jack, according to your application, you once wrote an entire story about a donut.” The audience laughs. “Tell me about that.” I should say: Well Chip, it wasn’t all about a donut. It was a psychological piece where an obese man battles between his desire for the donut and his desire for desirability. I thought it was a nice, taut piece with great characterization and a surprising ending, but Ink on Page Magazine didn’t seem to think so. I guess what I’m playing for today are better plots.
Instead I say, “Uh, I shouldn’t be here. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Uh, I loved you in Imploring with Scissors. You were a great smart-aleck.”
A little bit of the smarm drips from his head; I don’t think he wants his better years discussed. “Well thank you very much, Jack. We’re glad to have you on the show today. Now let’s play Writer’s Roulette! All right contestants, listen closely to your first question: In their 1967 song, The Beatles sang ‘All you need is’ what?”
Rich hits that buzzer like it’s a car horn after he was cut off, “Love!”
“That … is … correct!” Rich goes crazy clapping and yelling and jumping up and down. What just happened, what kind of question was that?
Rich leans over and whispers to me, “You’re going down, asshole.” He then smiles and pats me on the shoulder. All good, still friends in TV land.
Chip yells, “Tania, spin the wheel!” Tania spins the roulette wheel with gracious disinterest. The ball skids across the words and comes to a stop.
Tania drones, “It’s character.” She should be doing bigger things, not this basic cable trumpery. This might be a stepping stone, but her voice says that this is as far as it goes. Rich is, of course, excited about his results.
Chip pulls out a card, “Rich, the protagonist of your story is a hardened Vietnam War veteran who is missing an ear and still holds discordant feelings against people of Asian descent. Your antagonist is a Korean grocery store owner in New York City.” This is going to be a long game.
It’s a different view from the audience side of the stage. Rich is up there, chit-chatting it up with Chip, perhaps talking about how he’s about to play for, say it with me, five bestselling novels! I don’t want to be up there anyway; this game is completely juvenile. How can a writer win, say it with me, five bestselling novels anyway?
How convenient, Chip Maltherson is about to explain it. “Welcome back everyone to Writer’s Roulette! Congratulations to today’s winner, Rich Cameron! Now Rich, you’re a fan of the game, so I’m sure you know what comes next. As we all know, writers tend to be self-absorbed basement dwellers. Yet, they heap upon themselves the title of transcribers of the human experience, right Rich? This is where Writer’s Roulette comes in. We give you what you need to know to write a great novel. Want to write a scuba-diving mystery set in Fiji, but you’ve never left the United States? Let Writer’s Roulette help you! So Rich, we’ve got these three roulette wheels before you. There’s no more trivia, no more buzzers, just the spin of the wheel. The first wheel, you must bet on red or black. If you’re right, you win the elements to write one novel. Next, you have to bet on even or odd. If you’re right, you win three novels. Last, you have to bet on a number. If you’re right you win, say it with me, five bestselling novels! If the wheel doesn’t go your way at any point, though, you go home with nothing. Are you ready to play, Rich?”
Rich looks like he’s been ready to play since he picked up a pen at age six. “You bet I am Chip!”
“Then let’s play Writer’s Roulette!”
We all know how the story goes here. Rich chooses black, odd, and red 12. He never walks away and indeed wins the elements for five bestselling novels. Everybody claps and Chip is oh-so-impressed. I win the home-version of the game as well as a flight back home. As the credits roll, I’m supposed to go on stage and congratulate Rich and have some chit-chat with Chip just to show what a great sport I am. The producer begs me and tells me I will be sued for breach of contract if I don’t do it.
“Hey Rich, congratulations. I can’t wait to see your name on the bestsellers list.”
He squeezes my hand as if that were as well part of the competition, “Thanks Jack buddy. I’m sure you’ll get there someday. Just gotta get out of the house sometime. Here, give me your address and I’ll send you an autographed first edition of one of my books.”
“Gee, thanks. Well, maybe I’ll see you on a book tour or something. Who knows; maybe we’ll have the same publisher someday.” He’s not listening anymore, just soaking up the crowd. I turn around and mumble something like the word asshole, but nobody can hear me.
Chip approaches cautiously, “Tough break, kid. Better luck next time. It was great having you on the show. We’ll call you if we have another opportunity for you. I really wish both you and Rich could have won, but that’s just not the way it works. I love my job, I mean I make dreams come true for a living. But I hate this part. Well, have a good life.” The audience cheers one more time for Rich. I guess I can take comfort in knowing that only the old and the bored watch this channel. What do I care whether they know of Rich’s success or my failure? Wave to the camera, wave to the camera, be the gracious loser. I’ll get my chance, I don’t need Chip Maltherson’s tieless ensemble, Tania’s spin of the wheel, or Rich’s sweatless advice. The worst thing I could learn from this experience is to learn something from it, so I’m firmly against that.
The confetti has stopped, the fluorescent lights come back on, the audience files its way out, and I’m still standing here. I forgot to put a watch on today and that might have been the fatal mistake of the day. I just wish I could check the time while I’m standing here. I’ve got to go somewhere because they’re filming a game show based on blackjack on this set in a half hour. Game shows, maybe I’ll write about one of those.


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