Note: Freely admitting that this one gets a little absurd, even for me, which is why I heart it greatly. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride…
Documentary Narrator: “As they dig through the musty archives of the long-abandoned Folly Beach library, the investigative team made a surprising discovery…”
Investigator #1, fresh out of college and therefore somewhat useless but still young enough to have perfect vision: “Look what I found! Surely this photo is of some importance. The men look so determined that they must have been involved in a righteous cause of some kind.”
Investigator #2, who was not particularly fond of upstart urchins who thought they were better than everybody because they managed to survive four years of frat parties: “Meh. I’ve seen a hundred photos like that. They were probably in a barn band that never made it anywhere.”
Investigator #1, flipping said photo over: “Oh, look. There’s something written on the back.”
Investigator #3, wandering in from somewhere unimportant in a calculated move to steal the spotlight, because she was one of those people: “Really? Actual writing? Like penmanship? Nobody has done that since the invention of backlit keyboards. What does it say?”
Investigator #1: “Publicity still from the very first episode of The Dating Game in 1895.”
Investigator #2, because he’s just bitter: “The Dating Game? That show wasn’t invented until 1965. It’s obviously a fake. Throw that thing down and let’s find something more important.”
Investigator #1: “Oh, wait, there’s more written at the bottom. If you don’t believe me, look in the nearby archives for home-movie footage of this episode. Of course, it’s been filed using the Dewey Decimal System, which no one has used for decades, so you might have a bit of trouble.”
Investigator #3, who didn’t have a clue about Dewey but sure knew how to open a random filing cabinet and pilfer the contents: “Well, look at that.” She hauled out a rusted film reel. “Here’s the exact thing we didn’t even know we were looking for when we started this episode of Amazing Things You Can Discover in Decrepit Buildings That Reek of Decay and Poor Decisions.”
Investigator #2, still truculent: “How are we supposed to watch that? We don’t have a projector. We would need something to convert the film into a signal we can use. And I’m pretty sure there’s something in my contract about not having to do technical work unless I get a pay raise.”
Investigator #1, somewhere between truculence and carpe diem: “We could send it back to the lab because, well, that’s what a lab is for. And we could go have sushi while we wait!”
Investigator #3, who had no patience for people who shut down emotionally at the slightest speed bump: “I happen to have everything we need in my backpack. One second while I hook things up to this electrical outlet and this ancient TV, neither of which should still be working after all these years of neglect and non-payment of utility bills.” She fiddled with this and tinkered with that and suddenly the TV burst into life with sound and fury and possible radiation, because everything back in the day had elements that shouldn’t be exposed to humans but nobody knew any better. The three investigators leaned closer for a better view, huddled in the dripping dankness of what used to be the Psychology section of the Folly Beach Library.
Onscreen, we are presented with the original host of The Dating Game, Cherilyn Sarkisian, who would later shorten things up a bit, from a branding aspect, and thereafter be simply known as Cher. (All three of the investigators gasped, even the young one who only knew Cher because she had once ordered a gothic-scented candle from Cher’s website, unaware that Cher was a talented singer, actress and proud recipient of every plastic-surgery procedure ever invented. The other two investigators beamed happily at one another, thrilled that they had uncovered proof which supported the rumor that Cher was immortal, and they were envisioning themselves on the cover of Archaeology of the Stars.)
Cher, in a stunning outfit that Bob Mackie would later claim as one of his own designs once he was born, faced the camera and commenced with her monologue. “Welcome to the premiere episode of The Dating Game. I’m in the small town of Hartwellville, which used to go by another name until somebody got married, in a state that may or may not be a part of the Union yet, but that doesn’t really matter.”
Cher paused to receive a bouquet of gothic-scented roses from a snappily-dressed gay man in the front row of the audience, leaning down to hold a glamorous pose for a full five minutes while his partner fiddled with a primitive camera to capture the moment, because photo sessions sucked in the 1800s. (You’re using gunpowder to create a flash? Really?) Eventually, after several friendly-fire audience casualties were hauled off to parts unknown so they could begin physical therapy, Cher was able to continue with her unscripted opening remarks.
“What is important is that it’s time to meet our hot-blooded, check it and see, bachelors who have agreed to subject themselves to inane questions written by immature men who will never move out of their parents’ basements. If these shenanigans work out in any respectable way, one of our available bachelors might be going on a date with a lovely maiden from a neighboring farm, a place where they raise GMO-free livestock because everybody did before the FDA threw its legs in the air and decided it was okay for citizens to get screwed by mammoth conglomerates like Monsanto.”
Cher paused once again to fiddle with her primitive headset (tin cans and string, there was nothing more advanced at the time) as an incoming message arrived from corporate headquarters, grimaced as she listened, and then she ripped the cans off her head and tossed them toward a fan in the third row who had a small orgasm upon receipt. “Apparently I won’t be able to say ‘screwed’ on national television once they invent it, and they want me to start practicing now. But since I’m not a fan of keeping my mouth shut or my navel covered, we’ll just act like we didn’t get that memo.”
“You GO, girl!” hollered an enthusiastic but anachronistic fan in the audience.
Cher smiled, although you really couldn’t tell because of all the procedures. “Honey, I’ve gone there so many times that somebody should be handing me a trophy. Oh wait, they already did. I have an Oscar, people. Anyway, let’s meet our bachelors! Sonny, roll back the curtain.”
Since Sonny Bono was not actually there, as he was off attending a youth-group conference for people who initially appear to be hip and cool, can you dig it, but eventually turn toward radical conservatism, the curtain did not immediately roll. Eventually, Mildred, a young lass of the bovine persuasion who was fed up with all these people being in her barn when it was feeding time, marched forthrightly to a dangling rope and gave it a tug with her slobbery mouth. The curtain parted, revealing our four contestants as they clutched musical instruments and did not appear especially enamored of the goings on, especially the bit concerning the wall separating them from Cher and their potential future bride.
Cher, completely unaffected by snafus in her career because there had been hundreds and she survived them all and still kept selling records, thank you very much, carried on with considerable aplomb and the reassuring morphine-drip of owning expensive couture. “As you all will eventually know, I have a thing for musicians, so there’s a lot of personal eye candy on the stage right now. Yum. Now, let’s bring out our bachelorette, Sadie Stephen-Hawking from Knotts-Berry Farm.
There was a smattering of applause (people were very untrusting in the 1800s because most of them had never ventured more than four blocks in any direction) as Sadie waltzed onto the stage, waving a jar of orange marmalade in each hand (she knew where her bread was buttered). She took a seat on a milk can and then beamed expectantly toward Cher.
Cher did not beam back, occupied as she was with sorting through her notecards concerning what the hell she was supposed to do next. She finally found the right one, flipped her hair back, and faced Sadie. “What is the first question you would like to ask your potential tryst-partners?”
Sadie’s beam faltered a bit, because she hadn’t realized that things would progress so quickly towards hints of carnality, a development which wouldn’t sit well with the other members of The Chaste Ladies of the Berry, an organization in which she served as Committee Chair of Vice-Avoidance. But after gently caressing her marmalade in a moment of prayer, she recovered rather quickly and boldly took ownership of her possibly-ribald responsibilities. “Gentlemen, I understand that you are all in a band. Describe, if you will, how your instrument represents your status as a man.”
Cher, first giving a thumbs-up to Sadie for going, girl, then turned in the direction of where she assumed the bachelors were sitting, what with that pesky wall and all. “Let’s start with Bachelor number one, on the left, and by ‘left’ I mean the man sitting closest to the place where Mildred had the gumption to tug on a rope with her teeth. I’m sure you all noticed that. It’s not all that common for a cow to be in charge of the proceedings. Unless you live in Texas. Bachelor number one?”
Number One: “Oh. Well, I play the drums. So I guess that means I’m very rhythmic and I can keep time and I know when to pound really hard.”
Whistles and catcalls erupted from the audience, partially in response to Number One’s answer, but mostly because they had been swilling over-priced cocktails for hours, a time-honored American tradition that would eventually result in extremely-absurd political figures somehow getting elected to office. Number One seemed somewhat taken aback at this reaction, and Sadie cast her eyes downward in what she hoped was a sign of demureness, but she fully planned to do a keyword search for “pound really hard” later that evening on Google, even though Google was in its infancy at that time and was known simply as “Goo”.
Cher, on the other hand, knew exactly what the right musician could accomplish, especially after “Last Call!” had been announced at the local pub, and she smiled pensively. “Good answer, Number One. Now, Number Two, can you compete with that?”
Number Two, smiling suavely as he realized that pulsing hormones might be the avenue to success: “Of course, Empress of the G-String. I play the trombone, and I play it well. Just look into my eyes, ladies. My sultry, mesmerizing eyes. And my chiseled lips, yearning to whisper sweet-nothings during intimate moments. And my streamlined ears, so much more appealing than the ears of my brothers, all of them ready to receive a distress signal from another galaxy.”
Cher, fondly reminiscing about looking for love in all the wrong places, responded instinctively: “Well, let’s not be so dismissive of radar ears. Sometimes a girl needs something she can hold onto when she’s supervising the festivities. Okay, Number Three, let’s hear from you.”
Number Three, fully aware of how the wind was blowing: “I’m holding a coronet, the smallest instrument on this stage. This is a round I cannot win. I’ll just wait for the next question, assuming that Sadie can keep her hoop skirt on until we get to that point. But even if we don’t make it that far, I’d still like some of Sadie’s jam, if I may be so bold. Marmalade has a special place in my heart.”
Sadie appeared to swoon a bit at this pronouncement, because she didn’t get off the farm all that often, possibly altering the outcome of her final choice, but Cher was having none of it, knowing full well that the really good bad boys would never profess an affinity for pectin-based products. “Whatever. Number Four?”
Number Four: “Are you kidding? I don’t have a chance at this point. I’m like contestant number 13 on American Idol. I’m not going to make it to the big stage, even if Paula Abdul thinks I’m special. She and her meds think everybody is special. All I can hope for now is that Ellen DeGeneres will feel sorry for me and devote an entire episode to giving me a vacation home in Maui.”
Cher, momentarily distracted: “Ellen has that kind of power? Hmm. I better start responding to her friend requests.”
Sadie: “I’ve made a decision!”
Cher, further distracted: “Honey, it’s just the first round of the questions. You don’t get to decide anything until we’ve aired all of the commercials from our sponsors. That’s just how it works.”
Sadie: “I don’t care. As future singers will declare in the constant remakes of the same song, there’s only one everlasting love, and mine is-”
The TV went blank.
The eyes of the investigators continued to stare at the screen even though nothing was happening, a catatonic condition which actually occurs every night in households across the land, but it was more poignant and slightly creepy as this Pavlovian tableau was taking place in a forlorn and mildewed library. Then their six eyes moved in a pleasingly-synchronized manner to the pile of AV-Club machinery on a nearby table, mainly because said pile was now emitting an angry buzzing and there were slightly-alarming sparks shooting in all directions.
Investigator #2, feeling superior: “I knew we shouldn’t have messed with this. Now I have to call my union rep and report contamination on the worksite.”
Investigator #1, feeling hungry: “Well, I guess the sushi buffet is off the table for now. But what are we going to do about what’s still on the table, especially the burning things? Should we call 9-1-1?”
Investigator #3, feeling done with people in general: “Oh, please. Number Two, pull any plug you can find, although something tells me you haven’t done any plugging in a long time, not with that attitude. Number One, use this holistic and organic fire retardant I also had in my backpack. It puts out the flames without hurting them. And I’m going to try to save the film reel because it’s a piece of our cultural history. And medical history, if you add in the fact that Cher will look exactly the same in 120 years.”
Just as Number Three uttered those last words, one of the more rebellious links in the illicit mix of components suddenly began chomping at the delicate strand of film, creating a geyser of little celluloid squares that filled the air and then began raining down like chunky brown confetti. Instinctively, Number Three grabbed a nearby box, dumped out the contents (just some of those self-published books that nobody ever reads) and began scurrying around the room, catching little images of a time that once was.
Number One, haphazardly spraying the holistic concoction that smelled like hemp and Joan Baez: “What are you doing? That film is destroyed.”
Number Three shook her head. “Nothing is ever destroyed as long as people have memories. And I know just the person who specializes in remembering the past.”
Whilst Numbers One and Two clumsily but eventually contained the fire, Number Three gathered every square of celluloid she could find, closed the box, pulled some packing tape out of her backpack so she could make the box secure, retrieved a mailing label from said backpack (she had a stock of them in seven different languages, because you never know), slapped the label on the box, and finally plucked a calligraphy pen out of her purse. (The backpack could only hold so much, and that kitchen sink was taking up a lot of room.)
Number Three leaned down and began to write on the label: “Attention: Bonnywood Manor…”
Editor’s Note: The image for this story was kindly proffered to me by a fellow blogger, graciously selected from the writer’s personal inventory, and I humbly thank this person for the opportunity to see what I could do. (For the curious, said blogger’s name rhymes with “Frisky Barbell”. There are also several clues sprinkled in the narrative, lovingly done so for those readers of an especially studious nature.) This piece was originally published in “Bonnywood Manor” on 04/22/16, exactly two years ago. I felt compelled to honor the anniversary. No changes made, despite now noticing multiple wretched grammatical atrocities, other than adding a brief intro and tinkering with this outro. Sometimes you just have to let things be…
Categories: Past Imperfect