A Reality TV editor abandons his job after a quake and then finds real satisfaction. 1,899 words. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Dick considered openly weeping onto the editing console. But that, he thought, might short circuit the machine and actually make his workday longer.
The clock on the opposite wall was entering hour nine of what was shaping up to be a sixteen hour day at HRB Post in a dingy room above an even dingier strip mall in one of the dingiest pockets of Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood. Unsmiling men and women of dubious and indistinguishable national origin milled around outside, entirely oblivious to the life of Dick Nadal, age 31, with only that amount in his checking account. His hair was thinning but he was not, and he considered taking a second lunch at the Zankou Chicken on Sunset.
Nobody there would stop him from having a good cry.
Dick worked as Department Editor at HRB Post, a job title that sounded exclusive but was simply a sixteen letter cover-up to mask the horrors of painstakingly editing together Reality TV footage of young idiots into a cohesive show. Today’s editing session was for the third season of The Snatch, a terribly monikered name for a visually harrowing series.
His day was peppered with questions such as whether Cindy, the 23-year-old blonde bartender from Dallas, should be shown spouting quasi-racist rhetoric before or after it was made apparent to the viewer that she was under the influence of several dozen Jello shots. There was a note from the director that the set didn’t even have Jello so now the entire legal team was refusing to sign off. Dick decided to edit in a split second of B-reel footage of an empty Jello box and punch in a musical sting for added comedic effect. He was, by several accounts, a fantastic editor. And yet, sadly, he should really have been working on something a whole lot better. He picked his nose as scene 32-A rolled out.
He had to quickly jump-cut from Cindy’s racist banter to a commercial bumper so he marked an edit point just before she went into an ill-advised monologue on Libertarianism, Crossfit, and her fleetingly researched and woefully misinformed opinion about the Gaza Strip.
The world could live without her views on such matters, Dick thought, and, when he pressed a button on his keyboard, she disappeared.
There would be little else for him to look forward to on this grim Wednesday in the ass-end of Hollywood other than potentially masturbating once everyone else had gone home. Just then, Dick’s sole friend Joel poked his head into the dark editing bay.
“You should try this new energy drink," said Joel, "It’s called McGuffin. It says on the package that ‘McGuffin Energy helps move you along.’ A crate of it was dropped off outside Zankou and nobody signed for it. So, in theory, it was 100% legally abandoned. I’ve been walking around selling it to Sevos ever since."
"What’s a Sevo?" asked Dick.
"A 7-Eleven," explained Joel, "You need to get out more, Dick. The world is passing you by in here."
"How’s McGuffin taste?"
"Not too shabby," said Joel. "But you wanna hear something really weird? I think it’s been granting people’s wishes. I know that sounds like the plot of a really bad short story or the hairbrained idea of a screenwriter praying for a rep to swoop down from ICM or UTA and help him get a TV staff job or produce the collection of scripts he’s amassing on his desktop in a folder marked ‘Hollywood Gold.’ But I think these energy drinks are actually haunted."
"Sounds totally implausible," replied Dick.
"Yeah," said Joel agreeably. "But it does say on the can that these energy drinks were made in Chernobyl. Go figure."
Dick looked at the editing console and then back at Joel. "Were they high when they conceived this product?” asked Dick, looking at the can.
"Either too much or not enough," remarked Joel. He took a sip. "It’s quite tasty once you get used to it. So what would you wish for?"
"I would wish to edit my world," Dick said woefully,
Just then, a massive earthquake hit the one block of East Hollywood where Dick and Joel worked, flattening the decrepit HRB Post building. Scientists later attempted to determine just how an 8.0 temblor managed to localize itself from the Jons Grocery on Santa Monica Boulevard over to the Zankou Chicken on Sunset. But the quake received no publicity since it happened during a day when Margot Robbie did something of mild importance. The majority of the damage hit only Dick’s office, a fact that Dick himself would have found ironic if he hadn’t erroneously learned the meaning of “ironic” as merely “unfortunate” per the lyrics of an Alanis Morissette song from some twenty years earlier.
Dick heard the far off cry of fire and ambulance sirens, but he knew nobody ever came to East Hollywood unless they wanted sincerely good Mexican food. So Dick pulled himself out of the rubble. The building was still standing but Joel wasn’t. He was knocked out but obviously alive. Dick picked swung him over his shoulder and carried him outside.
Fifteen very yappy chihuahuas from the neighborhood formed a renegade canine street gang in the few minutes since the earthquake and were terrorizing passerbys. Dick watched as seven of the chihuahuas jumped an old lady carrying groceries back from Jons. She screamed but the dogs made off with several packs of pita bread from her bag.
Joel awakened. "I think I’m OK," he said, coughing.
"Same here," sighed Dick, "Thanks for asking."
Nothing happened for a while other than people not smiling. But this occurred every day, so nothing was different from before. Joel and Dick wandered Santa Monica Boulevard but found there was little to do. Other than, of course, saving people trapped under concrete.
Dick was thinking about food. "Let’s get a taco," he suggested. There was little in the way between Dick’s stomach and his mind and, with their office building in shambles, it felt like their best option. Dick and Joel walked all the way to Cactus Tacos on Vine. They sat and stewed since the tacos were taking longer than usual to be made.
"What the fuck is happening with the agency?" said a man behind them.
Dick rolled his eyes. It was the last thing he wanted to hear — another argument between a short man in a tucked-in polo shirt carefully distressed and retailing at $189.95 and a co-worker. The whole fucking city was full of tenpercenters and they seemed, in Dick’s mind anyway, to serve a populace that only existed to devalue what Dick did in the less glamorous arena of showbiz that he inhabited, Reality TV.
The polo-shirted guy rambled on and on. Dick rubbed his face with the sausage-shaped fingers of his right hand in dismay. "I wish people like him weren’t here. There’d be more parking in L.A., that’s for sure."
Dick heard what sounded like a clown’s horn. In an instant the man was gone and the traffic on the street next to them diminished noticeably.
"Your order is ready," said the taco lady. And they ate tacos for a while.
As there was no office to go back to yet, and wouldn’t be for weeks, the twosome set off again for a walk. They strolled north up Vine to Hollywood Boulevard and a few blocks west towards Highland. It was crowded and an assault to at least four of their five senses.
"I remember when this was nice," said Dick, his booming voice never rising beyond the tonality of a whale’s call.
"Hollywood Boulevard has never been nice," disputed Joel. “Remember Pretty Woman? This part has always been shitty."
"Yeah," said Dick, "but at least it was an affordable shitty. The rich keep getting richer and all that. I don’t like living all the way out in Glendale."
"Chet Baker lived in Glendale," said Joel, thinking of his favorite jazz musician. "And that cat could really blow."
"Everyone here blows now," said Dick, wriggling out of the meaning of Joel’s sentence and tailoring it to his own truth, "I’m OK with people moving here to pursue their dreams and everything. That’s an integral part of the whole city. But I really wish all the people who just want to be famous would put their energy towards something good."
Again, the sound of a clown’s horn filled the sky. And seven-eighths of the visible population at Hollywood and Highland disappeared. Some 2,000 miles away in Missouri, the towns suddenly doubled with school teachers. It seems the people who wanted an audience found one in the faces and minds of kids who really needed someone to admire.
"Holy shit on a saltine cracker," said Joel, looking at the near empty streets around them. "I think you’re magic, bro." Joel’s vocabulary had stopped maturing sometime around Bill Clinton’s second term.
A Porsche skidded to a halt in front of them. Nobody was driving it after the owner magically relocated to a place where he was better suited. It had previously belonged to a power agent who was now using his sharp negotiating skills to better the water supply in Flint, Michigan.
"Hey, cool car," said Joel. "Guess it’s ours now."
A beautiful woman approached them. Dick turned to her and asked, "What do you need, young lady?"
"I need a ride to an audition," said the actress. “It’s to land the lead role in an original story by a new untested writer. Someone actually wrote a part for a woman that doesn’t suck." She showed them the breakdown on her L.A. Casting account. It was from a script Dick had written.
Joel was not used to having a beautiful woman approach him, and the weight of the moment caused him confusion. He spewed lewd remarks.
"I wish you’d accept the moment as it comes, not what you want the moment to be." Dick chastised his pal. And, magically, Joel turned into a dog. "That makes a lot of sense," Dick said to nobody in particular.
Dick, the woman, and Joel the dog climbed into the Porsche.
"What’s your name?" asked Dick.
"Candice," said Candice.
"I like that name. I don’t meet a lot of Candice’s."
"Well, I’ve met a lot of Dicks in this town," she responded. "Although today has been weird. Did you hear the clown horn sound from behind the clouds today? People keep disappearing."
"Yeah," said Dick, "I like it. Look at the nearly empty roads.”
Candice asked Dick to wait for her while she went to audition, and he spent twenty happy minutes on his cell looking at pictures of now affordable apartments in desirable sections of Hollywood. Not long after, Candice emerged beaming. "I got the part!" Joel woofed with delight.
The actress kissed Dick on the cheek and they drove west, towards the ocean. The sun was setting, and the sky was awash in a glorious orange and pink and blue hue. "I wish this moment would last forever," Dick said.
And it did, because he wished for it.
Television Fiction Package for Emmy Season