“Do you have a problem with nudity?” Laura asked.
“Nudity? Um…I guess as a general concept, no, I don’t have a problem with it,” I replied.
“We’re not doing porn, if that’s what you’re thinking!” Laura said. “I mean, it’s not porn, so don’t worry about that. I mean, if one of the contestants starts having relations with a girl and you’re in the room you can stay and watch or you can leave. That’ll be your choice. That’s all I mean.”
“I’ll probably just go at that point, if that’s okay.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” she said. “I’ll probably go too.”
I had just arrived at the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona to work on my first day as a production assistant for a new reality TV program for a pay cable channel, that for legal purposes we’ll call Showbiz.
A professor of mine at the local university had recommended me to the Showbiz film crew who wanted cheap, moldable college students to do their bidding. Laura Gannon was the shoot’s production coordinator, meaning she ran pretty much everything. I was her personal production assistant, which is a polite way of saying I was Laura Gannon’s bitch.
“Kayce told you the premise over the phone, right?” Laura asked.
“The basics, yeah,” I said.
“Well here it is again. This is a pilot called ‘Love on the Run.’ A pilot is a test show to see if…”
“I know what a pilot is.”
“I figured. So the show revolves around three guys who are in a contest to see who can get laid first. We just filmed in Vegas and one guy got eliminated. It’s down to two guys, Joey and Mike. Each one brought a friend with him, a wingman to help him score. Tonight we’ll send the boys out and whoever gets laid first wins. If neither of them gets some then we’ll shoot Saturday night too. Got it?”
“Yeah,” I said. “So why did you guys choose Flagstaff?”
“Well it seemed like the anti-Vegas. It’s a college town, so we knew the bars would be packed with young women. And we love your downtown.”
“So what do you want me to do?”
She smiled. “You and I make sure that when these boys defile the town’s co-eds, it goes smoothly.”
“I assumed I was fairly amoral enough to handle it. No one was getting hurt. This wasn’t a snuff film or a U.S. Army recruitment video.”
The day before the shoot I told everyone I knew I was working on a pilot for Showbiz. I told my friends, family, professors, homeless guys outside Safeway, pretty much anyone who made eye contact with me. If they gave me a nod and said, “What’s up?” I responded with, “Funny you should ask. Tomorrow I’m working on a film shoot for Showbiz…”
What I never told anyone before the shoot were the fine points.
When it was over, I provided details but always prefaced it with, “I had no idea what the show was really about. I wouldn’t have knowingly signed on to work for such a slimy, disgusting show. I was tricked!”
But that was a lie. I knew the specifics days before I showed up. I didn’t care. I was excited to work on a professional operation, to work for anyone who had any affiliation to “the business.”
I assumed I was fairly amoral enough to handle it. No one was getting hurt. This wasn’t a snuff film or a U.S. Army recruitment video. So the show was degrading to women, seeing them as only disposable pleasures that merely require booze and a camera to de-pants, but that was American society as a whole wasn’t it? This would only be a drop of water in the ocean, I told myself.
“Give Manny, Joey’s wingman, his $400 per diem, will ya?” Laura asked. I took the money and walked to Joey and Manny’s room in the Monte Vista hotel. It was 10:00 at night and I had been working since 2:00 pm, going around town and asking various bar owners if we could shoot part of the show on their premises. After a day of bar owners scoffing at me I had become embittered. One man, the owner of a place called the Wine Loft, looked at me as if I was a child pornographer. “Can you shoot?” he said. “What do you think?” Apparently “Hell yeah!” wasn’t what he was thinking.
I knocked on Joey and Manny’s door. Joey opened the door naked.
“What’s on, man?”
Joey, one of the main contestants, was a handsome Hispanic guy who also happened to be about the size of a hobbit. He had the physique of a nine-year-old boy, but certain parts of his anatomy proved this initial line of thought wrong.
I averted my eyes. “Is Manny here?”
“Yeah, man. Manny!” Manny emerged from the bathroom, and he mercifully wore boxers. Manny was also a good-looking Hispanic guy and was a smidgen taller than Joey.
“Hey, what’s on?”
“Um…I have your per diem for the night. $400. I just need you to sign here.” Manny signed the papers.
“To put this in perspective,” I said, “$400 is what I’m making for this entire weekend.” I chuckled.
“What?” Manny asked. I had confused him.
“I said $400 happens to be the exact amount I’m making working on this shoot. For the whole three days. It’s kinda funny, that’s all.”
“How’s that funny?”
“Well…it’s not laugh-out-loud funny.”
“What, the Mexican doesn’t deserve the $400?”
Oh fuck, I thought. I don’t think this is going well.
My voice raised an octave. “What?!? No. No man. I wasn’t saying that at all. It was just a joke man. No big deal. Have a good night, all right?”
“Yeah, I will!”
” ‘Yeah, that boy’s got a temper…and herpes.’ “
I returned to Laura’s hotel room.
“I think I almost got in a fight with Manny.”
“Yeah? What happened?”
“I told him a joke about how his per diem equaled my total salary. He didn’t find it funny.”
“Yeah, that boy’s got a temper…and herpes.”
“Yeah, he’s got herpes.”
“Why did I need to know that?”
Laura laughed. “Knowledge is power, my young apprentice.”
I hated this job.
“Yeah, we spent two months trying to find good looking contestants who were STD-free. Joey’s clean, but wingman Manny is a dirty little boy. Lucky for us, we don’t care about the wingman. Joey and Mike are clean, and it took us the whole two months to find them. Seriously, Kyle, almost every good-looking guy we interviewed had either herpes or gonorrhea. Most of them didn’t know it.”
“Do you have anything?” she asked.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Herpes? The clap?”
“No! I’m STD-free, thank you very much. Wait, why did I have to tell you that?”
She laughed. “Don’t worry, hon. I figured as much. You would have been a great contestant, though. You’re so fresh-faced and innocent looking, it would have been fun to watch some Vegas seductress defile you.”
That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me, I thought. How do you respond to a statement like that? So, you think it would make good television to watch some chick seduce me and give me chlamydia. Thank you?
“You would have been a great opposite for Mike. The guy looks like a Ken doll. His anatomy’s like a Ken doll too. Seriously, his package is like an eight-year-old boy’s.”
“Okay enough talking from you,” I said.
“Joey on the other hand is huge…”
I looked at the floor. “I know.”
“What! How do you know that?”
“He answered the door naked.”
“Yeah, isn’t it amazing?”
My cell phone started ringing and I told Laura to hold on a sec. I picked it up. It was my Grandma.
“Kyle, it’s Grandma.”
“Hey, Grandma,” I said. Laura busted out laughing hysterically.
“We’re coming up to Sedona Monday night. Would you like to meet us for dinner?”
“Sure. That sounds nice. I have to go now, Grandma. I’m at work.”
“The NAU post office is open at 10:15 at night?”
I paused. “Yes. Yes it is.”
“Wow. Well don’t work too hard, honey. We’ll see you Monday. Love you!”
“Love you too, Grandma. Goodbye,” I said.
Laura hadn’t stopped laughing. “That was really your grandma calling? On a Friday night?”
“Actually that was my bookie. I just call him ‘grandma.’ It’s a gang thing.”
“You’re funny,” she said, but in a way that conveyed that I wasn’t. “See I told you you’re Mr. Clean. So anyways, back to Joey’s cock.”
“Yes it was big. Seriously, isn’t there something you need me to move to the van?” I needed to escape.
“So how do you measure up?”
“Oh c’mon,” I said.
“Stop being a prude. Are you more Mike or Joey? I’m just curious.”
“That’s not really your business.”
“Oh,” she said. Her eyes widened and she mouthed the name “Mike.”
“Hey,” I said. “I’m no Joey. Hell, most horses aren’t Joey, but I hold my own, okay?”
What the hell was I doing? I didn’t know this woman for more than 12 hours and I was telling her my sexual health history and defending my manhood.
“Hey, I’m just asking because if the pilot gets picked up by Showbiz we’re doing a show in Phoenix and Dallas this June. I was thinking you’d be a good contestant. And if you’re huge like Joey, that wouldn’t hurt. Of course, we’d check it out officially during the interview process.”
” ‘I’m not really interested. My parents installed this whole ‘respect for women’ thing in me. I hate them for that, but I would feel, as a contestant, what’s the word? Wrong.’ “
What kind of interview would that be, exactly?
“Well we’ve got your resume here, and your health report checks out. Honestly you’re overqualified. Now if you could just drop your pants and let Laura do some measuring we’ll be just about done here.”
I looked into Laura’s eyes. “I’m not really interested. My parents installed this whole ‘respect for women’ thing in me. I hate them for that, but I would feel, as a contestant, what’s the word? Wrong. Yeah, I would feel wrong doing that. I feel a little wrong working on the shoot right now to be honest. I thought I wouldn’t, but being here, I do.”
“Oh, I know. Doesn’t this whole show just feel slimy?” she said, in a tone that betrayed that she felt no such thing.
You just asked me for the size of my member and this show makes you feel dirty?
“I didn’t think working on this would be a problem for me,” I said. “But it’s making me feel a little disturbed. Besides, I don’t think I have the stomach to take a girl back to Showbiz’s ‘Love RV.’”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I might give you a call in June, just in case. People change their minds sometimes.”
Laura’s walkie-talkie went off and the producer, a jackass named Darryl, told her the coolers in the guy’s hotel rooms needed ice.
“You’re on it, Kyle,” Laura said. “I was told the Monte Vista bar will give us all the ice we need. Just tell them you’re with the film crew.” I left the room gladly.
“Can I get about five bags of ice?” I asked the bartender.
“Sure,” she said.
Behind me, Joey and Manny entered the bar with the camera crew and Mike in tow. A pretty blonde who was drinking alone at the bar looked up and asked the bartender, “What are the cameras here for?”
“A reality TV show they’re filming in town,” the bartender said.
“What’s it about?” the drunk blonde asked.
“I don’t really know,” she said.
Now I don’t know why I decided to tell the wasted blonde. It might have been because I felt like, for a moment, I was in the know. Important. It might have been because after being verbally degraded by Laura I wanted to talk with someone who wasn’t an LA asshole. Or, more simply, it might have been because the blonde was hot. Either way I forgot about the million-dollar confidentiality agreement I had signed earlier that said I could not reveal the details of the contest to anyone in Flagstaff who wasn’t a part of the crew.
“It’s for Showbiz,” I told her. “It’s about two guys traveling across America in search of true love. They go from town to town competing to see who can get laid first.”
“Holy shit. Really? They’re competing to see who can get laid? How do you know this?”
“I work for Showbiz.”
Right at that moment the bartender put down the five bags of ice on the counter and said, “Here’s your ice.” The blonde looked puzzled.
“What are you the ice guy?” She laughed and I felt my masculine image reach a new low. Or so I thought.
“What do you do? Put ice on their cocks to make sure they’re preserved and hard for the chicks? Are you the ice cock guy?” She laughed again, for dramatic effect.
The “ice cock guy?” I had heard enough terms for the male anatomy in one night. A conversation with my grandma and some barfly talking about ice cocks should not occur in the same evening. Something in me snapped.
“Yeah. I’m the ice cock guy. I go to their hotel rooms and while the girls are in the bathroom prettying themselves up, I’m keeping the cocks iced up and ready to go.”
The blonde laughed. “You’re funny. I like funny. So why haven’t they picked me up, huh? I’m pretty. You think I’m pretty.”
I grabbed the ice bags.
“It doesn’t really matter what I think,” I said, and I walked out with my ice.
Laura’s voice came out of my walkie. “Do you have the ice?”
“Yeah,” I told her.
“Put the champagne on ice in Mike’s room fast. Apparently he might be bringing one up now. Also, pack the cooler with ice and Heineken. Oh! The candles. Light the candles!”
I rushed up to Mike’s room and put enough booze in his cooler to knock him and the girl out. I lit the candles and put on the background music.
I went back to Laura’s room.
“Where have you been?” she screamed. “I sent you to get ice, not go to Tibet. Listen carefully. Mike’s coming back with one. Darryl’s with Joey right now and I need to go talk to the owner of San Felipe’s. This is important. I need you to stand outside Mike’s door and when him and the girl come make sure the girl doesn’t enter his room without signing this agreement. If she enters the room without signing the contract we could be sued big time. You got that?”
“Yeah, she signs the contract or she can’t go in.”
“Good. Don’t fuck this up.”
Or what, you’ll fire me?
“Who was really getting hurt here? Maybe I was, as Laura said, the prude in this whole situation. But forcing that contract on a girl who was so trashed she couldn’t see straight changed it for me.”
After five minutes waiting outside his door, Mike and a pretty brunette came down the hallway with two cameramen and a sound guy behind them. Laura was right. Mike looked like Adonis. He was a 6’4”, blonde, blue-eyed Ken doll. Joey didn’t have a shot in hell.
“Hey guys,” I said. “Miss, before you go in his room, can I have you sign this? It’s a…”
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a contract that says that if anything is to happen in that room that isn’t to your liking the studio, Showbiz, and all of their associates cannot be held responsible. You have to sign once at the bottom on this page, and twice on this one. You might want to read it.”
“My liking?” she asked. She was plastered.
Mike smiled. “It’ll be to your liking, trust me. I’ll be in here, babe, opening the champagne.” One camera guy followed him and the other stayed with the blitzed brunette and me.
“Basically,” I said, leaning in so she could hear me, “this means that if he hits you or hurts you in any way, you can’t sue us.”
“Hit me?” she said.
“Yes, it means if he hits you, that big drunk guy in there, the one opening the champagne and air humping, if that guy hurts you, you can’t sue us.”
“Oh. Okay,” she said, and she signed it and entered the room. Whether she legally was sober enough to consent to that contract was Showbiz’s concern I told myself, walking away. The camera guy, who might have been named Dan or Phil, asked me if I was coming in. I told him no.
I sat in Laura’s room for twenty minutes alone with the door open. I felt icky, to put it lightly. Earlier, when talking to Laura, I almost started to wonder if I wasn’t being a stick-in-the-mud over all of this. Who was really getting hurt here? Maybe I was, as Laura said, the prude in this whole situation. But forcing that contract on a girl who was so trashed she couldn’t see straight changed it for me. A girl who I might have to see in class next week, not realizing her exploits would be shown on national television.
Suddenly, I heard Joey’s voice somewhere down the hallway. He was on the phone talking to some girl he had met in Maloney’s an hour ago.
“Hey, baby, just come meet me at the Monte Vista. I’ll show you a good time, baby. An amazing time. What kinda music do you like? Journey? REO Speedwagon? KISS? Do you know Gene Simmons? You know Gene Simmons, the guy with the tongue? Have you ever met him? Well you will tonight, baby, if you come to the Vista.”
I did what any writer would do. I grabbed a pen and paper.
“You can kiss everything. You can kiss my cock. You can kiss my ass. You can kiss my forehead.”
Does this usually work with girls in LA? Is the forehead a sexy body part?
“I’m a real man, baby. I’m the real deal. The Hispanic stallion. You won’t walk away disappointed. I swear. C’mon! Why not? What are you doing? Tomorrow? No, fuck tomorrow. To-night. I’m gonna love you, baby. All eight inches of me is gonna please you. (Did he think that was going to sell it? “I don’t know Joey, I’m not sure…eight inches, you say? Well, now I might have to give some serious thought to that.”) C’mon baby! I gots to love you.”
“I gots to love you?” Oh poor hobbit Joey. My pizza faced younger brother has more game than you do.
Laura walked in. “One of Mike’s camera guys says it’s not going to happen with that girl. She’s leaving (“Go brunette!” I thought). Apparently Darryl wants you to vacuum the RV, because Mike wants to try and see if he can get a girl to go there instead. Something about the hotel room being too fixed up and fake.”
So I went and vacuumed the RV.
When I left at 3:30 that morning Mike had just gone into the RV with some bleach blonde. Laura told me it looked like it was going to happen, that Mike was going to win. That meant we would continue shooting Sunday to film the contest’s end.
“Oh shit,” Darryl said. “It’s the Amish.”
We had been at the train tracks since five in the morning. It was 7:45 am on Sunday, and we were just now ready to shoot in front of the station when a train approached and unloaded a group of thirty Amish people. Once set free from their mechanical hell, they stood in front of the station and talked about the bus that was coming for them to take them to the Grand Canyon. They were jazzed, or at least as outwardly jazzed as the Amish get.
Our host, an LA comedian named Chelsea Handler, was standing with the contestants waiting to film the big revelation of who won and who lost, although the events had happened Friday night and Mike and Joey already knew who had triumphed.
“…[I]f I can stop a little Amish girl from hearing the phrase ‘laid a bleach blonde,’ I might still be able to sleep tonight.”
“Hello, everyone,” Darryl said to the Amish. “We’re shooting a TV pilot here today at the train station. If we could ask you to step into the parking lot. We’d be more than happy if you watched, but we just need the shot clear. Thank you. Thank you. Great.”
The Amish moved to the very edge of the parking lot and all of their eyes were fixed intently on the film crew. Apparently even the Amish are riveted by reality TV.
“Train guy!” Darryl yelled, which had become my name once Darryl assigned me the crucial job of making sure no crew member got hit by a train. I approached and he whispered into my ear. “You stand in front of the Amish. If one little Amish girl stumbles in and ruins my shot I’m coming for you. Yeah, amigo?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, firmly establishing my reputation as everyone’s ass monkey.
As I approached the Amish horde, standing front-and-center was the Amish elder, a distinguished looking man with pensive eyes and a long, gray beard. Standing in front of him and wrapped in his arms was an eight-year-old girl. The image was actually very sweet.
“Hey everyone,” I said. “This pilot is for mature audiences and isn’t really meant for children. It might be a good idea if you moved the kids…”
The elder Amish man, who in my head I had affectionately named Papa Smurf, interrupted me.
“The man said we could watch,” he said. His voice was polite but his eyes said that if I pushed him he would open up a can of Amish-whoop-ass.
“O-kay.” I said.
“Train boy!” Darryl yelled. I had been demoted to boy apparently. “Quiet down. We’re starting.”
In front of the station stood Chelsea and the four guys.
“Well gentlemen,” Chelsea said, “our time together is over. Last night one of you got fucked and the other had to go to his hotel room alone. One of you laid a bleach blonde in the RV and the other was comforted only by his hand. One of you guys (“Okay, we get it lady!” I thought) boffed some girl and that person wasn’t you, Joey.”
Mike and his wingman fake cheered while Joey and Manny pretended to be upset.
I turned around slowly and saw the most shocked group of Amish people I had ever seen. (To be fair, they were the only shocked group of Amish people I had ever seen, but still they were very startled.)
Papa Smurf’s eyes locked with mine and I saw more disgust in that man’s eyes than I did when I told my father I was majoring in English. He looked at me as if I was working for the devil himself. Like I was a morally corrupt demon doing his best to pervert America.
He scoffed and walked the group away from the train station.
At that moment I wanted to deck that Amish bastard. I had warned him! I had done my best to insure their Amish innocence was preserved. Mine had been destroyed, I thought, but maybe if I can stop a little Amish girl from hearing the phrase “laid a bleach blonde,” I might still be able to sleep tonight. But Papa Smurf had stopped me and then blamed me for it. My trust in the Amish died that day, despite their affordable and well-crafted furniture.
In the background, I heard Chelsea repeating her speech for the close-up shots. I listened to her as I watched the Amish walk away silently. “One of you got fucked and the other…”
The next day I met my Grandparents for dinner in Sedona.
“Kyle, we talked to your mom and she said you were working on a film shoot this weekend, not the post office,” Grandma said.
“I worked both,” I said, deciding to back up my previous lie.
“Oh,” she said. “So what was the show about? Was it for the Cold Case? Your grandpa and I like the Cold Case.”
“No, Grandma. It wasn’t for the Cold Case. It was a reality TV show.”
I paused. “It was about two guys on a cross-country search for true love.”
“True love? Oh, that sounds nice. We’d love to see a copy of it when you get one.”
“I don’t know if I can get a copy of this one. It was just a test show, not a real one.”
“What was it called?”
“Love on the Run.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for it. Too many of these reality shows your grandpa and I see are just about sex and garbage. We don’t care for them.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I don’t care for them much either.”