By Tyrone Long
I take another sip of water before picking up the script again. My idol, Jim Jacobson III, once wrote that he would only sip water during commercials. He said in thirteen years of broadcast journalism, he had not taken one solid drink of water while on the job. “Stopping to go to the bathroom, focusing on your bladder, and fidgeting are all byproducts of drinking water when a sip would do,” he said. He said that engaging in any activity that increased the chances of “missing the magic” was unconscionable. I listened.
Take twenty-three and I still cannot understand how I got here. I was a poor kid, so of course the recruiters came for me. They always come for the poor kids.
“Anytime you’re ready, kid,” the director says.
His voice seems almost like the voice of God through the loud speakers above me. I get paranoid when he turns off the mic and turns to talk to his assistant.
“Welcome to the season finale of Lyfe. The game show that takes reality TV to a place where “real” has a whole new meaning …”
The script for this intro is awful, so far. I have no hope for the future. These scripts have gotten worse by the episode for ten seasons. My focus wanes long enough to meet eyes with the director just as he yawns.
“… a test of will, determination, and intestined fortitude.”
“Cut,” the director screams from behind the sound-proof glass.
“Sorry,” I say.
“I thought you said you memorized the damn script. What in the hell is intestined fortitude?”
“Intestinal, I know. I got it, let’s just do it again.”
The recruiters told me that Lyfe would give me an opportunity to maximize my potential. I could put my little sister through college, pay off all of mom’s bills, and could potentially retire before I reached thirty. They told me that kids like me deserved more than life could offer; we deserved Lyfe. I listened.
“Welcome to the season finale of Lyfe. The game show that takes reality TV to a place where real has a whole new meaning. Hundreds of players from all over the world, live streams that can be accessed from anywhere, and the most compelling drama television can offer.”
I failed the first physical for the show. A congenital heart defect made it impossible for me to fulfill certain tasks the show might require. It wasn’t that bad. I had a different future in mind for myself. I wanted to be a hard-hitting reporter; even got a degree to go along with the dream. Yet here I am. Shooting a voice-over for the very show that turned me down seven years ago. I am twenty-five now. I could have been retired by now.
“… players choose their ‘figures’ out of a pool of thousands of potentials. A spin of the wheel and they’re off. Should they send their figures straight to work or hold off till college is over? Help decide their fate by participating in live online polls and anonymous texts that control the odds for tonight’s participants. That’s right, here on Lyfe, you have the power; voting increases the size of the corresponding number on Lyfe’s big wheel. All of this for a small monthly membership fee.”
My sister, Mary, passed her physicals. She is pregnant with her second kid. The first one died in a car accident at two, after her player spun a six. We haven’t been able to talk since the funeral but her husband’s player only needs a five on tonight’s episode to win the lotto. The commercial I recorded last Friday told my mother that a four would result in a premature baby and all the financial and emotional hardships that come with it. I chickened out and just let my voice tell my mother through the TV. That is how I told my mother that my sister was pregnant, too; both times. I pay for her membership. She never watches. She only votes; she only prays.
“… Lyfe, where the reality is all real, all the time.”
I don’t watch either. And I don’t pray.
There was this girl my sister used to know. She lived in the apartment next to ours in the building we grew up in. Her legs never quite worked the way they should. She was the first girl I thought I loved. I never said a single word to her. Her voice was always this muffled and distant song. The thin walls of a broken down project building in a broken down city merely added to her mystery.
Sandra. Sandra Something-Or-Other.
Sandra was found behind that old building last week. She was like me; she was one birth defect away from a chance at a better life.
The director franticly paces as they touch up my makeup. We tape my segments on the fly.
“Everything is happening.”
Everything is happening. He says this all the time. He says this like we don’t know, like it means something.
The Internet buzz controls the way he shapes our presentation. If the audience begins to turn on a figure, they are shown and referred to, with disgust. Perception is reality.
I don’t pray for my sister, I don’t watch her Lyfe, because she has it better than she would have otherwise. She could easily have been a Sandra Something-Or-Other.
Jim Jacobson III said that it is the strength and wisdom of a reporter, the foresight and the ability to maintain a distant objectivity, that allows them to reach the greatest of heights.
The monitor is showing a live broadcast of tonight’s episode. A figure in some city I have never heard of is running down the street in tears and a tattered gown. Without sound, she could be running after the recently leased car that is being towed away. Without the audio single that is undoubtedly playing in the background — easily purchased by phone — her broken heart could be an overreaction to her oldest child going to college, or something.
A long-shot spin of a one, six months ago, made her husband, a man that she had actually grown to truly love over the three seasons they spent as man and wife, start an affair. Last week, a heavily favored seven led to tonight’s confrontation during the ceremony to renew their vows. Now her mascara is running, and a broken heel lies in the middle of the road fifteen paces behind her quivering body. A perfectly timed crane shot swoops over her as she lies limp in the middle of the street she was forced to move to. Based on everything I know about Lyfe, the music will fade out leaving only the sound of her sobbing.
“Why?” she mouths.
And then a commercial advertises a new dating site or a medication for STDs, depending on the narration and music I cannot hear.
The sound of a click and slight feedback prepares me for the imminent voice of god.
“Okay, kid. It looks like we are going with script B during this last segment. And remember, everything is happening.”
I did not read the script. How could I? After a decade of formulaic twists and forced product placements, how could I care enough about any of this? I am nothing like the person I wanted to be; my life is nothing like the life I wanted to live. I have not read a script in months. Jim Jacobson III would be so disappointed. But then again, Jim Jacobson III died in a den of inequity while reporting on the seedy underbelly of this broken-down city. The cause of death was never fully determined. Rumor has it that an overdose was the best bet, but extreme physical exertion at what is graciously referred to as an advanced age was a close second.
It doesn’t help that my sister is a figure. What kind of sociopath could memorize the script for a family member’s impending miscarriage, or whatever?
“And action,” the voice of god rings out.
“Well folks, there you have it. A marriage in tatters, a woman in defeat but hopefully not defeated, and a world waiting to see just what Lyfe has in store for her. Now let’s turn our attention to the Hendersons, as Mary and her husband Josh make their way to what is sure to be an exciting climax to one of the longest running Lyves we have ever seen.”
The teleprompter is cued up for my next few lines. It says that Josh does not win the lottery. But my niece isn’t premature either. Josh just loses his job. They just lose their home. I have seen worse; I have read worse.
I sleep walk through the majority of the next few minutes of my life. I talk about Mary like I never slept under her crib to make sure she was not alone if she woke up in the middle of the night and started to cry. I refer to her as a figure and not as the baby sister whose bottle I used to steal because I loved warm milk; or the frustrating preteen who kidnapped and forced marriage upon my action figures. It barely even registers as I wrap up, in my deepest and most ominous voice, her final moments in Lyfe.
“When we come back, we will reveal the result of Josh’s player’s final spin.”
Josh’s player’s spin. Josh’s player. Some multi-multi-millionaire. A trust fund Someone-Or-Other. These people with no fear of starvation, disease, aging poorly, or untimely death. Wagering pointless fortunes on a game just to vicariously live the types of lives money spared them from actually living.
Josh’s player is probably not even watching; they’re certainly not praying.
Where enough money exists, prayer becomes obsolete.
I am bitter, or whatever.
“Welcome back. As you just saw, the Hendersons are on the brink of losing it all. But, as Lyfe has taught us, there is some hope left for this veteran family. They are but one spin away from being just the third family to happily retire from Lyfe. A twelve lands them firmly in the lap of luxury due to the untimely death of Josh’s long-lost uncle, a former player in the game of Lyfe. But look out, another unlucky spin and …”
I freeze. In the distance, I hear my sister and Sandra Something-Or-Other singing a song I always hated by a random teen heartthrob.
My eyes wander to the left. They pass the director’s ever-reddening face behind sound-proof glass. Resting on the monitor above the camera guy, the live feed shows the spin my words will lead into.
I watch. I pray.
“Read the script or get off my stage,” the director’s voice echoes throughout the stage.
Everything is happening.
I pray for a power outage. I pray for a natural disaster, anarchy, revolution, or the unlikely intervention of a superior alien race. I pray for anything but a one.
The director orders a close up as I continue. Everyone is to continue rolling. Time is of the essence.
My shaking hands raise a glass of water to my lips. I take a solid drink.
Pacing my words to the silent clicking of the needle on the Lyfe’s wheel, I say, “But look out, another unlucky spin and Josh will wind up a widower.”
I should have read the script. A cursory glance over to another monitor showing the live polls proves that the plight of a single father, having lost his wife in childbirth, is a popular one.
Tyrone Long lives in Ohio with his wife and two children. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University and now works in college admissions. His work has been published in Poetry for the Mind’s Joy, The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress, as well as multiple collegiate publications.