The Amazing Discovery

Mike was woken up by the alarm going off. The time was 3 am. The whole world seemed to be asleep, it was so quiet. He took a quick shower. The splashing water sounded so deafening to him that he was sure he'd wake up the neighbors. He put on his large glasses, his brightly colored sweater and the goofy pants, and headed out to the studio. It was four in the morning when he arrived.

'Right on time,' said Al, the producer. 'But the crew's still finishing up. Take a seat somewhere.'
Mike slumped down in a chair. Al booked the soundstage at this crazy hour because nobody else did. It was the best offer for the lowest price. '4 am is when the most people are asleep,' Al would say, and Mike would grin his sheepish grin. There would also be no second takes. The entire infomercial had to be shot in one go, because the sitcom people would be coming in to set up the New York loft at five. Mike would be teaming up with Jeff, who was an ok guy. They would be talking to the camera and to a non-existing audience (shots of a real audience, filmed for three hours back in 1989, would be inserted in the editing room as they were in every other infomercial).
When he came to this job, he'd already been past the stage of trying to be a star somehow. Casting agencies had said that he wasn't good, no, not even as a comic type. 'You just look bad,' a particularly nasty woman had plainly told him. 'You look like where you're from. Hicksville.' He'd hoped for a second-rate career in theater, then for a third-rate, hell, hundredth-rate. Not that he liked the theater particularly, or had ever been to one.
Anyway, here he was, in make-up, preparing to promote the wonders of speed peeling and shiatsu massage. And aerobics equipment. Lots and lots of aerobics equipment. He thought that by now, half the country couldn't possibly fit another all-purpose workout machine conveniently under the bed, because all the previous ones were already there, collecting dust. But no; it seemed that the thirst for AbSlammers was greater than ever.
Just as he was about to enter the stage, Al came up to him. 'Listen, Mike, I gotta go, my wife's ill. I timed the camera to start rolling in ten. You'll see the light come on.' (Al was too cheap to hire a cameraman.) 'You and Jeff behave, ok? I'll see you tomorrow.'
Mike felt his skin tingle. This was it. The moment. It was finally there.

Blaring trumpets woke him up. He'd always wanted to find whoever had composed that music and slowly strangle the guy. But now, the brass sounded like bugles heralding a new era for him. The Age of Mike.
'Welcome everybody!' Jeff shouted, and beamed stupidly in the silence that followed (this was where the audience shouting 'Welcome, Jeff!' would be inserted). 'Today, I'm going to introduce you to a friend of mine called Mike. Hello Mike, and welcome to the show.'
'Thank you, it's really great to be here,' Mike heard himself say.
'So I understand you have something to show us today. Now listen, I'm going to see it is, and at the end, I'll tell you if what you've shown us is an Amazing Discovery.'
'Well, I don't want to boast, Jeff, but I think you really will be amazed.'
'Then show us what you've got.'
Mike swallowed hard and produced his faded, well-thumbed copy of The Catcher in the Rye.
There was a silence which lasted only a second, but a second is an eternity in an infomercial. Jeff stared at him and at the book.
'…A book?'
'Yes, Jeff, very observant of you!'
Jeff laughed in a reflex.
'This is indeed a book, but not just any. This is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and it truly is amazing.'
Jeff was too baffled to respond.
'Do you know that this book has sold millions upon millions of copies worldwide? It is one of the classics of modern literature, and a harrowing insight into the human condition.'
'Is that so', Jeff stammered.
'Think about it. Haven’t you ever felt that life was passing you by? That there was something you couldn't put your finger on that has been slowly drifting away from you since you were a teenager? Haven't you ever sat alone at home at 3 in the morning watching infomercials, and wondered what the hell it's all about?'
'Yes', Jeff said quietly.
'Well, then this is the book for you! It tells the story of one Holden Caulfield, expelled from yet another school, and follows him on a journey through New York City. He's in search of something, but he doesn't know himself what it is. Everywhere he goes, he meets phoneys. Everyone around him is putting on an act, making themselves appear more important, more impressive than they really are. Just like us!'
There was a silence again. 'Wow', said Jeff.
'I knew you'd agree', chuckled Mike. 'And the best thing is—if you buy the book now, you get not one, not two, but three volumes of short stories by the same author! That's right, four books for the amazing price of just nineteen ninety-nine. And you know something else?'
'What?' Jeff asked, terrified.
'These are the complete works of Salinger! He stopped publishing in 1963 and has been living as a recluse ever since. So not only do you get four amazing works of literature, you get all there is, there's simply nothing more I can offer you.'
'But… but what about the fruit juicer?' Jeff pleaded.
'Fuck the fruit juicer! This is your life we're talking about here. Do you really wanna lose fifteen minutes of it by listening to me talking about a piece of crap appliance that you'll use five times and then throw away?'
Jeff had never heard Mike utter expletives before, much less in the studio. He was gasping for air.
'You're speechless, I can see that. But I can tell you this. I'm through with this shit. From now on, I'm going to sell books. If I can’t do it on television, I'll open a bookshop somewhere. There must be people who don't hang in front of the TV all day and occasionally enter my store. So I'm off. I'm sorry to spoil it for you, but there it is. Goodbye.' And with that, he simply walked off the stage.
Jeff, sweating heavily, turned his nervous, jittery eyes toward the camera.
'Well,' he said, panting, 'I think we can all agree that this was truly an Amazing Discovery.'

Posted by cronopio at 11:47 PM, January 06, 2003