Chapter 1. Trust Me (I Know What I'm Doing)
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Sometimes, the best ideas come to people late at night. I read somewhere once that Einstein kept a notebook by the side of his bed because he would awaken at all hours with theories. At least, I think it was Einstein. I never sleep at night, so the notebook by the bed isn't necessary and in any case, I'm no Einstein, but I do have my best ideas when it's dark outside.
The television was on when I came in from work at 5 a.m.. Marvin was
asleep on the couch, the remote control dangling at the edge of his fingers but not quite falling. I sat down next to the couch and gently pulled the remote out of his grasp. He made a grunting noise and made a fist with his channel-changing hand but didn't wake up.
Marvin doesn't believe in channel surfing. He prefers to choose two channels a night, program them into the television's previous channel option and flip between them at preset intervals, usually about five minutes a channel. He calls it "Network Gumboism." The idea, I think, is to create his own variety show by blending the two channels into one in his mind. To Marvin, Network Gumboism is the only safe way to watch television, the only way to avoid reruns, even if both channels are showing completely new programming. He explained it to me once over Chinese food, ESPN2 and an infomercial selling a fruit peeler.
"Chances are, even on Season Premiere night, you won't make it more than
ten minutes without seeing something you've seen before. And I'm not just talking a commercial or an actress, Alan, I mean the whole shebang. There hasn't been an original ten minutes of television, and I mean true television innovation, since MTV debuted. If you watch long enough," and he had thirty years of viewing experience, "you realize that every sitcom is the same sitcom, every hospital drama the same hospital drama, and if you really pay attention, the way MacLuhan had intended us to, you notice that every music video, every sporting event, every goddamn infomercial, they're all that same sitcom. Well Al, I saw that sitcom when I was eight. I don't need to see it again." It was an interesting theory, but it made watching television with Marvin impossible, unless you were really desperate for a brain break or really tired.
This night his choices were one of the Big Three and the religious channel. He usually chose one of the Big Three because they were the channels least likely to hold your interest for longer than about thirty seconds. Blended in with the network channel would be a specialty channel, usually because of the quirkiness factor or sometimes out of necessity for those rare occasions when all of the Big Three are showing the same thing. The religious channel was showing a faith healer in front of a crowd of about five-hundred desperate souls, a small crowd by television standards. He was shouting out pretty generic first names then choosing the most easily diagnosable of the dozen or so people who responded to his caterwauling.
"Is there an Annie here, an Annie who needs to feel the touch of Jee-sus's hand? Annie, Annie, come down here dear. Don't worry dear, there's a wheelchair ramp. Now Annie, I can tell ya want Jesus ta help yah walk again. Brutus, Otto, help Annie to stand. Now Annie, I'm gonna gonna lay my hands upon your forehead and I want you to feel Jesus's love flow through ya!" And with that, he would shove her back into her wheelchair quite violently to a chorus of Halle-looya!'s and Annie's desperate tears, either because she felt Jesus's love or because she felt the whiplash in her neck from hitting the chair so hard. Come to think of it, they never did show her walking. Isn't that usually the catch to those types of shows?
I changed to the other channel, not wanting to range beyond the two. Marvin could be pretty irritable if you messed with his television, even if he was just asleep in front of it. The Big Three channel was showing one of those "Save the children of Ethiopia" commercials, with Liza Minelli begging for my coffee money to feed a village for a week. I watched this for about five minutes when Marvin woke up.
"Hey Al," he said, rubbing his eyes. "When did you get in?"
"Around twenty minutes ago. Were you watching something?"
"Nah. Hey, switch it back to the church network for a bit," he said, pulling the remote from my hand. The faith healer was shoving a little old black woman with a fist-sized goitre on her neck. "How goes the plastic wrap world tonight?"
"Nothing exciting tonight, man." I work the graveyard shift at a plant that boxes and ships rolls of plastic wrap, tinfoil, wax paper and other food preservation items that are sold on rolls. Not a glamourous job but it lets me stay up at night when I can do my best thinking.
"Same here." He paused for a second, as though he were going to say
something meaningful, then sat up and pulled a cigarette from the pack that lay on the coffee table. Then he changed the channel back to Liza Minelli playing soccer with some five-year-olds.
"Hey Al, you ever notice how desperate the actors who try and save the
children in these things look?"
"Yeah," I said, "and how overweight they've become." I thought for a moment about making the all-too-easy 'no wonder the kids are starving' joke but thought better of it. "Is Danny home yet?," I asked instead. Danny is younger than Marvin and I, still a college student. Danny is a rave kid, which works out nicely because he fits in with our nocturnal life and his parents pay his rent.
"No man, not yet. I think tonight's party was in Ann Arbour so he probably won't be home until later this morning." Marvin changed the channel again, gave me his half-burned cigarette and lit another before continuing to speak. "He seemed pretty excited about the party, too. I think he was bringing that new girl with him."
"Which one? The little redhead?"
"Yeah, I think so. The one that's always chewing on a lollipop." He gestured to the half-dozen lollipop sticks in the ashtray. "She seems to be here fairly often."
I nodded. "I passed her on my way into work down in the lobby last night. I thought Danny had broken it off with her, though."
"Man, when does Danny ever break anything off with the girls he brings
home? He just kind of lets them fade away," he made a fluttering motion with hishands, "unless they don't get the hint, which case he makes me do his dirty work. Good thing you're always working. You're spared the soap opera that is his life."
"Yeah," I said, butting out the cigarette, "but then I have to deal with yours." He snorted and smiled at me. "Feel like playing a little 'Somewhere Right Now'?"
"Sure, but let me take a piss first. You start without me." He climbed up off the couch and loped to the washroom. I sat down on the couch and took advantage of his urinary emergency by switching to the weather network for a bit.
'Somewhere Right Now' is a game that Marvin and I had come up with
a few years back when our first roommate was this sexy jazz singer named
Jeanine. The idea was to try and get as much insight into Jeanine's sex life as
possible without digging through her closet when she was out performing. It is
based on some old pop-psych theory that if you are forced to talk too long about a subject of no importance, you'll reveal things about yourself. One person-- usually Marvin-- would start by presenting something that would be happening at that moment, you know, "someone is taking a piss," or "someone is reading a book," and then the next person would have to talk at length on the subject. We never really learned anything juicy about Jeanine until she moved out to live with her drummer and lesbian lover, this big butch black woman, but by then we were hooked on the game so we kept playing it whenever we were too tired to sleep. I suppose it calms the nerves.
By the time Marvin got back, I had reset his previous channel options and had come up with my opener.
"Soon as you move off the couch I am."
I frowned and slid back onto the floor. Marvin sprawled himself out again, and I began. "Somewhere right now, someone is finishing the script to a film that will never be made."
Marvin thought for a second, turned the volume on the television down, then spoke. "And yet, the writer of the script is convinced that it is the best thing he has ever written. His last two scripts were picked up even though they were pretty generic, and the first one even did fairly well at the box office. It paid off pretty well, well enough that he could afford to buy a house for his mother and a new car for himself. He thought this new money would get him a girlfriend. He had been living in Hollywood six years by that point and hadn't gotten laid since he left suburban Winnipeg.
"After about three months of no women returning his call after the first date, he got hard at work on the second script. 'A little more cash and someone will fuck me,' he thought.
"When the second movie came out, he brought a model to the opening with
him. She had played a small part in the film and was flirting pretty heavily at the preview party. She had had a lot of punch and was all over him as they made their way into the theatre. By around the halfway mark, most of the celebrities that had shown up were gone, leaving only a handful of people in the theatre, most of them asleep. The model was really drunk by this point, fuelled further by the complimentary champagne available to VIP's at these sorts of things. She nibbled on his ear, kept saying, 'my death scene is coming up.' He kept thinking, ' I know, I wrote the fucking thing,' but never said anything, opting instead to play with her perfect little model tits. About two minutes before her death scene, the model looked around slyly, then dropped to the floor and went down on him. It had been so long since anyone had done anything with him that he came pretty quickly, just after the model was pushed down a flight of stairs on the big screen. She got up off her
knees, looked up at the screen, saw that she had missed her big scene, slapped
him in the face, shouted, 'you've got the smallest cock I've ever sucked,' and left the theatre. A month later, his second movie was on video shelves all over America.
"He is sure that this one will be different though, because this one is good. It is influenced by the best Fellini films, all dream sequences and big asses, just what Hollywood has been lacking these past years. This script will get him laid for sure, he thinks, and maybe even recognized by the Academy but he'd settle for a good screw. Just so long as that model regrets ever leaving that theatre two years ago. She'll see. He won't be a dishwasher for ever. Or at least, he doesn't think so."
I took a deep breath, as I always did after a particularly cynical Marvin
'Somewhere Right Now' story, and shook my head. Marvin was the king of
cynicism, probably because he's thirty and he watches too much late night TV.
"That was great Marv, just what I need to give me sweet dreams."
"Yeah, or wet dreams," he laughed. He lit another cigarette, the last of his pack.
I checked the clock on the television when Marvin changed the channel again then rubbed my eyes dramatically. "Well, I think it's time I hit the sack."
Marvin changed back to the Big Three channel. Liza Minelli was gone from Ethiopia, replaced by Kelsey Grammar in the Eastern Bloc. "Yeah, I suppose I should call it an evening as well-- as soon as I finish this cigarette."
"Alright man," I said, "I'll see you tomorrow before work." I stood up, climbed over Marvin on the couch and leaped toward my room. By the time I had undressed, had crawled into bed, and was on the verge of falling asleep, I could still hear the TV. The preacher on the religious channel was spouting quotes from the bible that he thought were signs the Kennedy family were minions of the devil. he was probably right. That morning, I dreamed that Danny met Liza Minelli at a rave and was moving out to help her on her mission in Ethiopia.
"No, the was no way out and no one can imagine what the evenings in prisons are like"
Camus, from L'étranger