Posted by: Ariel | March 9, 2012

“Any Eddie At All”

Edward was allowed to daydream at work. Actually, that’s what he was being paid for: to let his mind drift right out his office’s unopenable window and into the 65th story clouds. He worked for a late night stereovision show called When Life Attacks. In the beginning, it was rumored, there had been some honest-to-goodness reporting. There used to be a theme to every show, and interviews with people whose lives had taken those sudden turns and unexpected twists that audiences loved to watch other people go through. Then the Network took over, and under a few decades of their careful management, it had become 99% formula pieces that more often than not involved the antics of puppets, or artificially created puppets that were inserted post-production with seamless three-channel interpolation. That’s what happens, Edward thought wryly, when you lay off all the reporters.

Edward was responsible for the other 1% of the show, a segment called “Any Eddie At All” which aired only occasionally. It was supposed to be about the wacky adventures of different people who were all named Eddie. The wackier, the better. Hence the need for Edward, perhaps the last creative mind still employed by the Network. His job was to come up with the sketches, explain them to the actors and tech guys, and hope that on the surveys, the appropriate demographics found it a “welcome diversion” instead of “bathroom break material.” Edward enjoyed the challenge of coming up with new content, sometimes three or four times a week. He felt it stretched his mind, and gave him a kind of freedom that he needed more and more the longer he stayed in the city.

“The Hammer wants you,” Lucy warned, poking her head into Edward’s office and breaking him out of his reverie.

“Oh. Thanks,” he replied with a grimace as Lucy smiled apologetically and ducked away.

They called him the Hammer, ostensibly, because he always hit the nail on the head. Privately, Edward suspected otherwise. In Edward’s version, the Hammer was a young aspiring actor who couldn’t even land a part in a two-bit soap opera, his delivery so hammed up that it pushed him beyond even the sluggish credulity of daytime stereovision. But if there was anything the Hammer was good at, it was handling public relations disasters, and somehow all his incompetence had been spun into determination. He was certainly favored among the higher-ups, who probably liked the way his nasty streak tended to trim the budget.

Like a dumb collie, the Hammer had that rare ability to keep the staff in line without thinking too much about it. “Git ‘er done,” he always used to say. When that became inappropriate for the workplace, he switched to “rubber snakes, milkshakes, whatever it takes!” This was a reference to one of his early attempts at writing sketches, a full-blown disaster saved only piteously by some rubber snakes thrown in from the wings and a milkshake thrown in from the audience. Oh yes, the Hammer’s pep talks were not to be missed. After all, it was one of his few responsibilities. Edward knocked on the overly large door and was greeted with a kind of loud indecipherable bark. He stepped inside less than eagerly.

“Oh, Edward,” the Hammer sighed, emphasizing the ‘Ed’ as if talking to a wayward child. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. You know, our mission here is to cut costs.”

The Hammer’s fat hands made a chopping motion in the air which Edward deemed wholly unnecessary. As he saw it, it was much more like a crusade to firstly, cut costs, and secondly to saturate the entirety of the universe with mediocre programming and excellent advertisements.

As the Hammer gave a fervent and eloquent speech about the monetary and labor-related issues associated with expensive props and sets, Edward’s thoughts lingered on Lisa, the new actress who had begun to star opposite the guest actors that played the Eddies. She had shimmering red-brown hair and everyone talked about her as an up-and-comer with serious potential for bigger things. She was certainly a charmer, and she’d schmoozed him good – even though he was aware of it and how self-centered her motives were. Still, he couldn’t help but take more care with his work, constructing more and more elaborate scenarios which – no doubt – was the reason he was being chewed out. Edward tuned back in for a second.

“He who controls variety, controls the universe,” the Hammer was saying in his visionary voice.

Edward stifled an eyeroll and thought about his last piece, which took place in an airship. In it, Eddie settles in for another trying commute: a quick flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He prepares for a couple hours of cramped legs and a bitter fight over the shared armrest. But instead of a tactless amorphous opponent, Stacy K sits down next to him in spacepants and a halter top. Stacy K, the biggest pop star in California and on the verge of going national. Eddie does a double take, and returns her polite smile while listening to his earbuds, humming softly to himself. When the flight attendant makes him take them out though, Stacy K leans over to him slightly.

“What was that melody?” she asks. There’s a beat as Eddie musters his courage. “It’s absolutely thrilling,” she encourages.

“Just an obscure band I like,” he answers.

“Well, you’ll have to let me listen, once we get in the air. My name’s Stac…”

“Everyone knows your name, Ms. K,” Eddie interrupts as she flashes a demure smile. “I’m Eddie.” Of course, she would be modest as well as beautiful.

“Just call me Stacycakes,” she replies coyly. “Not everyone knows that name,” she adds, taking out some sheet music and pointing to it. “Now, what do you think about this riff?”

Eddie can’t believe his ears. Later on, bewildered, he glances out the window and is surprised to see the tops of clouds, washed out with brightness. He looks back at her with the brightness still in his eyes, hair tucked behind her ear and tiny furrows crinkling her face as she focuses on her screen. It’s beautiful here, he thinks, in this place where it has never rained. But as the ship lurches briefly, he’s reminded of the persistent annoyed tugging of forces that want him back on the ground. Eddie desperately tries to drink it all in, to capture sounds, smells, and entire moments like an astronaut with a camera on his last moonwalk, trying to preserve experiences he no longer has time to enjoy. Inevitably, the end of the flight comes, and as they touch down Stacycakes thanks him for his advice.

“Why don’t you write down your number,” she offers, holding out the napkin she got with her peanuts. And Eddie writes it down.

Part of the reason the sketch was so expensive was that Edward wrote two endings for it. He pitched it as being audience participation, arguing that letting the audience decide the ending would get them more involved in the show. Truthfully, he didn’t know himself how the story was going to end.

Ending number one starts with Eddie getting a phone call the next day. Stacycakes thinks they work really well together and wants him to fly out to her studio once a week. He gets a partial songwriting credit on her new album, just enough to get him noticed. He becomes not quite a real celebrity, but kind of a twitter equivalent. He’s not important enough to be followed in real life, but he’s followed in the blogosphere. A couple years later, he stands on the stage clutching his Grammy, behind and to the left of Stacycakes. All he hears during her thank-you speech are snippets of words: serendipity, worked perfectly, tune just came to me. And when she gestures vaguely back toward him, he smiles into the lights and falls in love.

In the other ending, Stacycakes never calls him back. He sees the napkin again, though. It’s a bit worn, a bit worse for the wear, the faded airline logo still visible next to the ten hastily scrawled numbers. It flies at him, twirling in the wind, as he lingers on the bridge on the way home. He’s taken to gazing into the water as it reflects different views of the skyline, the city settling down for the night. The napkin startles him out of his trance. But there’s only a glimpse of it, then it’s gone. Only a memory of a possibility. Like so many things.

At some point, Edward realized Lisa was becoming a common element in many of his daydreams. She didn’t always appear the same way, but he knew it was her. She’d be the waitress at the other table who you never saw the face of, or a dragonfly somehow wandered too far from its pond, or a tall modern building, all curves and glass, with gleaming facades and a red carpet leading to a shining welcoming entrance.

He became used to her constant presence in his thoughts, and he decided he liked her there. He started writing his sketches around her, subconsciously at first; he would build them for her benefit, and consider what she would like. He was staring out the window down to the river, where a small boat’s engine had stalled and an agitated figure tried to restart it. He imagines the gathering sharks circling, feinting for position with some of the hungrier crocodiles and a few opportunistic jellyfish. The agitated figure – we zoom in and it’s Eddie! – is alone now with the sun setting fast. His smartphone has no service and he throws it angrily into the water, where it bounces off a lunging crocodile’s snout and is snatched up by the arms of a camouflaged octopus and funneled into its gnashing beak. Well, Eddie thinks as he stares into the darkening water, it’s over. They’ll figure out a way to scuttle the boat before morning. He gets out a pencil, for he is a poet, and composes his final words.

Fluid is fate, but not unkind
Peace to those who cannot bind it
As we seek, so shall we find
Peace to those who search while blinded
So take me now with ready mind
And peace to those who’re left behind.

He rolls up the piece of paper and slips it into one of the empty beer bottles, which he tosses into the cabin next to the defective computer. Without further ado he jumps into the water, and is shocked to still be alive after ten seconds go by. He sees the furious melee above him as he sinks into the deep, cold depths: sharks turned on each other, snapping and bleeding through translucent blobs of jellyfish; alligators thrashing in the clutches of invisible tentacles. It’s almost funny that they don’t even notice me, he thinks as he starts to drown. Just as his eyes close and he starts to slip away, he feels cold lips on his, and air pressed into his lungs urgently. A mermaid? Surely that isn’t possible, but there she is with strands of her red hair floating in every direction…and it’s her.

“Have you seen Lisa?” Edward asked the first person he saw.

“In Lucy’s office, I think.”

Lucy was not involved with the creative part of the show; she was a mixing engineer and they rarely interacted. But she’d been there as long as he had, been promoted several times, and in the picture on her desk she was grinning next to Edward, looking wobbly and slightly flushed, at their 5-year renewal party. She was always extra patient with him if he had an unusual audio idea he wanted to try. When Edward walked into her office, she was leaning forward and chatting with Lisa, who was sitting on the edge of the file cabinet.

“Hey Luce,” Edward said with a wave, and put a hand on Lisa’s shoulder without thinking. “Lisa,” he blurted out, “I have a great idea.” He lost his train of thought when she turned around and flipped her hair out of her face.

The Hammer wasn’t exactly pleased by the mermaid script.

“No one likes to see Eddie escape the octopuses,” he berated Edward. “You know that. Remember when you wrote ‘Eddie and the mysterious sixteen-fingered tickler?’ Now that was a script. No one expected it to be two octopuses…octopi…whatever. Come on, man. Get it together. Whip us up something really fresh, really juicy. No more seafood! Rubber snakes, milkshakes!”

There was a moment of glum silence. “Whatever it takes,” Edward finally responded.

After a career built upon the non-obvious, it was hard for Edward to come to terms with what he had to do next. If he waited too long, Lisa would be off to Hollywood and out of reach. He had to get her attention while she still needed him. And so Edward started writing a sketch. A sketch based not on his daydreams, but his real dreams: his conscious thoughts, and goals, and wishes. It starred Eddie, an experienced screenwriter, and Lisa, the starlet on the rise. Their productive and successful professional collaboration flowed effortlessly into affection, and in the script, after their greatest triumph on the set earned them each a nice bonus, he asked her out to dinner and a show. She said yes.

Edward worked all night, harder than he ever had before, until everything was perfect. As he walked out of the building, feeling what could only be called happy-go-lucky, he passed the Hammer’s office and winced. He’d be eaten alive for coming up with something so genuine, so sincere. He might even be fired. The wacky-factor was completely nonexistent. But, Edward thought, it was worth the risk. Besides, without him, there wouldn’t be any more Eddies.

The script was pitched the next day, but Edward couldn’t bring himself to watch the live taping. He was just too embarrassed, so he delegated a few of his duties and watched it from home when it aired later that evening. He put some popcorn in the microwave and settled down in his worn easy chair. The scene started brilliantly, and there was even some cheering when Lisa agreed to the date. But in the taxi ride to the restaurant, Eddie’s lines started coming out a bit awkward, and the actor looked confused. The words he was supposed to say were too true for television. Maybe with actual feeling behind them, they could be charming, but lacking that they just came off as amateurish. Lisa wasn’t faring any better, but she was poised, and she wasn’t about to go down with that ship.

She leaned over to Eddie and said in the most seductive and mocking voice she could, “Oh Eddie darling, you don’t actually have feelings for little ol’ me, do you?”

And just like that, the laughs started back up again. As the tech crew caught on, they gleefully played along, turning Eddie’s dialogue into single-spotlight soliloquies with tinny violin music. Lisa ad-libbed as the date took a very different turn from what Edward had designed.

“Oh my gawd, Eddie, it’s just a show, and I’m really busy right now. Besides, it’s so off-Broadway I think it’s like, in the Atlantic Ocean.”

“But Lisaaaa, I saved a seat for you!” Eddie whined back.

Edward watched, hand frozen in the bag of popcorn, as Lisa turned every authentic feeling he had into a joke. Rubber snakes, milkshakes. It was their most popular sketch of all time.

The next day’s sketch was submitted nonchalantly, with little fanfare, to a distracted room full of people still congratulating each other on their brilliant interpretation of yesterday’s script. Lisa walked in late, gliding over to Lucy and murmuring excitedly about what a great time she had last night after the show. Lucy smiled a little, glancing briefly at Edward with an unreadable look. Edward turned back toward the projector screen stiffly and continued the presentation. The sketch featured an aircar with an artificial intelligence that keeps taking the driver to places he doesn’t want to go. The AI’s lines are unintentionally hilarious as it misunderstands everything the driver wants.

“We have arrived at Elderly Yoga,” the AI announces proudly. Eddie shakes his head and pushes a button. “Beep. I’m sorry, please re-enter destination. Did you mean solitary yurt construction, sales, and/or delivery?”

Eddie is slow to exasperation though, earnest and patient to a saintly degree. “Please, please, just get me some elderberry yogurt.” Beep. “No, I don’t want any gift ideas for elder caribou. I’ve never wanted that.

There is a striking shot of Eddie a bit later, as the car flies precariously through a torrential downpour in a foreign country, with his face pressed up against the glass, watching the rain. You get the feeling that for him, what started out as a simple fancy for yogurt has turned into a life-or-death struggle.

The climax of the story is when Eddie is almost at the yogurt shop. He is disheveled at this point, but attractively so. His hair is tousled and a few manly beads of sweat adorn his brow. He is telling the car to go forward, forward, but it goes just a bit too far. He yells “backward!” at the top of his lungs, but the weary AI hears the order to go “Ed-ward” instead. An unexpected command, it takes a few seconds to process – frustrating beep-filled seconds for Eddie. Then the car starts moving again, but not backward or forward. It’s hard to tell which way it’s going. It just starts flying away, slowly at first, but then faster and faster, as Eddie pounds on the windows from the inside and tries to unlock the doors with a series of ever-quieter wails. The car slides off the digitally displayed map, slips silently sideways into the blank spaces between words, and the AI doesn’t look back as the last traces of the past disappear into the rear view mirror.

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Responses

  1. “Fluid is fate, but not unkind
    Peace to those who cannot bind it
    As we seek, so shall we find
    Peace to those who search while blinded
    So take me now with ready mind
    And peace to those who’re left behind.”

    sick, really sick.

    Like


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