by Roy Hudson
Daniel had already been given his pep talk by the producer and now he sat in his chair waiting for Johnny to give the signal for the cameramen to start rolling. He drank three glasses of water during the break, but his throat felt dry nonetheless. It was all about to spill out and there was no turning back.
He was a thin boy with round black glasses and long black hair tied back in a ponytail. He wore a silk blue shirt, buttoned all the way to the top. He was sweating so badly beneath the studio lights that he could feel the shirt sticking to his back.
The host of the show, regarded as the most tasteless man on television, came out of his dressing room and walked back onto the stage. Immediately the crowd cheered and gave him a standing ovation. Johnny Sease, of Johnny Sease’s Idle Chatter, the most-watched trash talk show in America, was a tall man with broad shoulders and a Hollywood tan. His cheeks creased as he grinned, showing off those pearly whites. His jaw seemed to be chiseled from stone; his eyes from ice. He had a thick head of dark brown hair with a curl in the front just to make his appearance all the more intense.
The host walked by Daniel wearing a light brown suit and patted his shoulder, saying, “It’s showtime, kid. You ready?”
Daniel nodded, swallowing a lump in his throat.
“Are you sure? Because once those cameras start rolling, they’re not gonna stop until I say it’s time for a commercial break. Not that this is live, it just makes for a more intense show. But if this story is anywhere near as controversial as my producer tells me, that crowd is gonna rip you to shreds. If you want to back out, this is your one and only chance.”
Despite his nervousness, Daniel shook his head. “I didn’t drag Jessica all the way to California from North Carolina for nothing. She’s going to find out about it, and this way it can be finalized.”
Johnny shrugged with a smirk. “You’ve got balls, kid, I’ll give you that.” He took a deep breath, then said, “Okay, let’s get this show on the road!”
He jumped down from the stage and signaled for the cameras to roll. The show’s theme, a horrendous mixture of organ music and salsa dance beats, began to play as the camera panned across the crowd, consisting of bloodthirsty savages just waiting to crucify whomever was willing to publicly wave their dirty laundry.
Johnny spoke into the microphone, “Welcome back! Our next guest is Daniel. He’s here to end his relationship with his girlfriend. So tell us about it, Daniel: Why?”
He took a deep breath. “I don’t really know why, but Jessica’s not appealing to me any more.”
“Jessica’s your girlfriend?”
“How long have you two been together?”
Johnny whistled through his teeth. “That sounds like a serious relationship to me. And you said she’s just not appealing to you any more. I assume you found someone more appealing?”
Daniel looked a bit uncertain, then answered, “Yeah, sort of.”
“Okay, well let’s bring her out. Here’s Jessica, your girlfriend.”
Down the hallway beside the stage walked Jessica, and when the lights of the studio hit her, the audience howled and cheered, and with good reason. She was quite attractive. Wearing a tight violet dress with a slit that ran up her right leg, Jessica nervously strode out onto the stage. Smiling slightly, she brushed a lock of her curly red hair behind her ear. Her nose and cheeks had a few freckles which stood out when she was anxious, and this was one of those occasions. She walked over to where Daniel sat and, as if on reflex, he jumped up and gave her a peck on the cheek.
Once she was seated beside her boyfriend of three years, Johnny smiled at her and said, “Hello, Jessica, welcome to the show.”
She smiled back. “Thank you, Johnny.”
“Daniel tells us you two have been together for three years now?”
She nodded. “Yeah, we met our senior year of high school. He had just moved next door to me and didn’t know anyone, so I introduced him to the town and we got close.”
Daniel grinned and turned red. Johnny looked at him and said, “Well, she seems like a nice girl. Tell her why you brought her here.”
Licking his lips and taking a deep breath, Daniel said, “Well, like you said, I never really had any friends. My folks moving around pretty much made me a loner and I got used to it. Having you with me was different, and it’s gotten to be more than I can bear. I can’t see you anymore, Jessica.”
She looked as if she were about to cry. “Why? If you feel like I’m smothering you, we can work it out!”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I just can’t deal with a relationship. I’m just not a people person.”
“So, what, are you just gonna be alone all your life? I don’t want that. I love you too much!” The audience all made sounds of sympathy as tears ran down her cheeks.
Daniel took another deep breath. “No, not alone. I am in love... with Buddy.”
The audience all screamed in surprise, sensing a homosexual twist. Johnny smirked, “Your butt buddy?” The audience roared with laughter. “Who is that?”
The look on Jessica’s face was one of absolute shock. She then jumped to her feet and, though her legs were wobbly, looked over her shoulder at Daniel as she began marching offstage, shrieking, “You sick fuck, I can’t believe you! You have no idea how much I loved you and you do something like this to me? It’s wrong, Daniel, so fucking wrong!”
Johnny smiled thinly. He liked when his guests used foul language. The more he had to censor, the better. The more censorship, the more controversy. The more controversy, the more publicity. The more publicity, the more money. He followed Jessica offstage and a cameraman followed him.
The eyes of the audience were all on the television screen in the corner, showing what was happening backstage. Johnny put a comforting arm around the crying girl’s shoulders and asked, “Did you have any idea the relationship may have been going cold?”
Her eyes closed, she shook her head.
“Well why don’t we go out there and find out exactly why he did what he did, okay?”
She nodded, then took a deep breath as she walked back onto the stage. As soon as she was before them again, the audience cheered her on. She sat down and tried to moisten her mouth. She looked at Daniel, eyes red and puffy, and asked, “How could you just up and decide to get rid of me after three years? I thought you loved me.”
Daniel stared at the floor. “It was my first relationship with a girl. I didn’t know what love was. I finally came to realize that spending my life with you is not something that would please me.”
“Oh, and having a dog lick your balls would?”
The audience went wild with surprise again. Johnny paused and said, “I thought he was cheating on you, not playing fetch.” More laughter from the audience.
Both she and Daniel gave him a cold look.
“I’m sorry. But seriously, you know this Buddy?”
She scoffed, “I should! I gave him to him for Christmas last year. Buddy is a puppy!”
The audience all yelled and booed at Daniel, who ground his teeth. Johnny shook his head with a smirk, saying, “Gives new meaning to that old song, ‘knick-knack, paddy-whack, give a dog a bone.” The audience was practically rolling in the aisles. “What breed?”
The audience still laughing, Jessica covered her face and said, “He’s a Collie.”
Johnny cringed. “That gives you some sick images of Timmy and Lassie.” Once again, the crowd cracked up.
Still grinding his teeth, Daniel said, “Look, Buddy gives me all the company and stimulation I need. I’d always gone without people in my life, and I’m going to go on that way.”
“It’s fucking gross,” she screamed at him.
Johnny nodded, “She’s right; that is sick.”
Daniel frowned. “You shouldn’t judge me! Day after day you profit from people like me coming here and confessing all their secrets! What about you, Johnny? Let’s hear from you.”
Sease held up a hand. “Whoa, there’s a difference between judging a person for telling secrets and what’s going on here. You willfully came forth, and you’ve got to admit, sex with animals is wrong. I do have skeletons in my closet, but I haven’t volunteered to disclose them, and I’ve done nothing as sick as letting my dog blow me.” The audience cheered him loudly.
Daniel turned red again. “You may not, but you probably don’t love your dog as I do Buddy.”
“Obviously not!” He then turned to Jessica and asked, “What are you going to do now?”
She shook her head. “I’m getting away from him. He’s sick.”
The audience cheered her again as Johnny looked into the camera and said, “Okay, we’ll be right back!”
Once the lights slightly dimmed, Daniel stood up and marched towards Johnny. “What the hell was all that shit?”
His brow creased, Johnny asked, “What shit?”
“I’m trying to be honest with her and you’re cracking jokes! I couldn’t communicate with her because you must think you’re Lenny fuckin’ Bruce and have these people laughing at me.”
Johnny pointed to Jessica, who still sat there crying. One of the co-producers walked over and helped her up and offstage. “You see what you did to her? I don’t know if your story with the dog is true or not. Frankly, I don’t care. People will watch and judge you regardless, but you broke that girl’s heart, and deserve whatever jeering you get from me and the crowd. I gave you a chance to back out ten minutes ago, and you wanted to continue. You can’t blame me for not warning you.”
“You never warned me about your comedy routine, Johnny! You warned me that the crowd might rip me to shreds, you never said that you would! I have genuine feelings, and you mock them.”
Johnny Sease rolled his eyes. “It’s my show, kid. It may be your story, but I’ve got to keep the spotlight somehow. If it costs you your dignity, too fuckin’ bad.” He stopped to think. “Then again, a guy who fucks his dog and talks about it on national TV shouldn’t have any dignity. It’s a bum rap, but you put it on, and now you’ve got to wear it forever. Have fun with Buddy.” He smirked and walked back to his dressing room.
The next day, as Johnny was leaving the studio wearing an expensive navy blue suit and dark designer sunglasses, a voice came from behind him. “Hey. Mr. Comedy.”
Johnny Sease turned to see Daniel, now wearing a simple red tee shirt and black jeans. His hair hung down over his shoulders now instead of being neatly pulled back into the ponytail. In his hand he held a pistol.
Johnny’s eyes widened and he held up his hands, but he couldn’t think of a single word to say. The only thing he could think of was how disappointed his fans were going to be that the only trash they’d get to see on Idle Chatter in the future would be reruns, or perhaps with a new host who wouldn’t be anywhere near as suave as he was.
Daniel aimed. “You want proof of my dignity? It’s right here.”
Two blocks away, a teenage boy was watching today’s episode of Idle Chatter. If the volume of the television hadn’t been so loud, he might have been able to faintly hear the gunshot.
His father, a balding, overweight man in his underwear, walked into the room and looked at the television. Depicted onscreen was a transvestite struggling through a pair of security guards at his lover, who was cheating on him with a woman.
The father shook his head and, not knowing that less than a mile from where he stood a pair of designer shades were breaking against the pavement, asked, “How can you watch this shit? You know it isn’t real.”