Thursday, January 29, 2009

Game Show

You're at a game show, in the studio audience, and it's going very well. You've been surprised to find comfort in the pink and blue neon "Applause" and "Laughter" signs they light up during the show. They tell you to clap. You clap. They say laugh, you chuckle. Here is a light, that means you react. Thank you. Now you know you are entertained.

Your boyfriend bought you the tickets, he sits next to you and claps loudly, and you wonder if he shaves his knuckles. There is a dark, unlit sign in the corner that reads "muted noise of consternation," but they never light that one up. You wish they would, just to see. You don't know what that would sound like off-hand, but you are confident that if they lit that sign, you would know just what noise to make.

The game show is some sort of card game slash quiz show, but inexplicably it has a Mayan theme. Maybe it's Aztec. Maybe this America, and we're to stupid to really be sure if it's a Mayan or Aztec theme. You probably should think about the grand irony of these epic cultures being commemorated in tawdry flat set-piece painted in day glow colors, but instead you straighten the wrinkle in your burberry skirt and you decide that you would be more entertained if the show had a giant velcro wall.

Like in Japanese shows, they have towering walls of solid velcro that some hapless contestant has to fling themselves onto, to be stuck, like flypaper, and they let them wriggle a little on camera before peeling them off. You don't see why that would really be inappropriate. And in fact, you become so wrapped in this thought that you miss the final bonus round only to realize suddenly that it's all over. Everyone is clapping, the pink light is on. You feel so guilty, these people are working so hard to inform your reactions, and you ignore them for your daydreams.

You try and applaud extra hard to make up for lost time, but suddenly the host stops you. Stops everyone. The pink light is off. He tells you that they have something very special today, and he asks, "Is there a Derrick in the audience?" Of course there's a Derrick, there's a million Derricks, so you don't assume anything, you wait patiently to be entertained, in fact you're pretty sure some other guy in the back stood up eagerly, but the host walks calmly toward your boyfriend's seat. Oh, shit. That Derrick.

This is awkward. It's hard to focus on the applause signs or what you're supposed to do next, now that the big giraffe camera booms swing around to stare at you. "Derrick, is there something you wanted to tell us?" The host grins a tanned, wrinkly grin as Derrick takes the mic in his sweaty palms. Derrick stammers a little, but quickly mentions you. You smile, a snap reaction, there's no 'Smile" light, but it's what you do, you're pretty sure. He mentions you, quietly, almost muttering, he clearly doesn't have a speech prepared here, but he goes on, how beautiful and wonderful you are, and how the four months you've been together have been the best of his life. And by now, you've instinctively begun leaning away from the microphone as if it's radiating some sort of uncomfortable heat.

As you feel the crab-trap close in around you, your attention starts to fracture a little. Part of you is furious he would do this, you haven't even discussed kids, or whether or not he's seriously committed to multi-level-marketing, but part of you really is just hoping somewhere in the back will appear a purple, neon "NO" or "YES" sign. He pulls the ring out, he doesn't even have a box, he just holds it there gingerly in his fingers, and as he gets down on one knee he manages to quietly drop the big question. His assertiveness, in all fairness, is probably being dampened by your expression, which by now resemble that of cat who has just made a wrong turn into a bathhouse.

"Tabatha... will you uh, marry? me?"

Derrick holds out the embarrassed ring out to you in his fingers, and as you clearly have no intention of taking it, he reaches to maybe just place it on your unmoving fingers. Nudges it timidly against your hand. Because if he could just manage to somehow get the band of metal around you, it'd obviously be the same thing as if you said yes. Or even better, it wouldn't matter what you said, sorry, you'd be getting married anyway. There is a RING on your RING finger. That is what that means.

A half second drips by as the two of you both sweat out a year of your life under the gawking eyes of the cameramen, the audience, the people in the booth with their finger on the "APPLAUSE" button, that damned host with his fucking three-piece suit. Great date, Derrick, thanks. The host isn't grinning anymore, he looks as embarrassed as anyone, but he's not doing a damn thing about it, either. Something snaps inside you, and you lean down into the side of Derrick's face. As if just because everyone else can't hear it, they won't know what you're saying. Maybe if you had your wits about you, you could really make this good television. Throw everything back in his face, scream, yell, burst into tears and push him away, bury your head in your hands. Something. But you just want to leave.

"Derrick, can we discuss this later? Please?"

The cameramen on their booms swing around to follow as you walk briskly out of the studio. As you step down off of the audience bleachers, a collective groan of ambiguous sympathy rises from the audience. You don't look back, you just push for the door, but you're pretty pissed that you missed your one chance with the "muted noise of consternation" light.

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