I Have Too Long Lived Like an Anchorite
I sipped my afternoon coffee while watching the last birds going at my birdfeeder on the fake window in my office. The January sunset looked cold as the flock of English sparrows mobbed the feeder for a few precious last carbs to get them through the night. I could see a few houses in the distance, since the deciduous trees had long since dropped their leaves and the conifers were not strategically planted. The computer system was programmed to recognize human figures and delete them from my view, so an army of small children could stampede through my lawn far above and I would never see them. I'd probably feel them, but I wouldn't have the visual cue to lock in on their mental wavelengths.
My email chimed and I glanced over at it. LaShawna. I popped the email open with a click and scanned over it:Little Ren: Get a load of the new show on PARABI at 8. Got a little brother on, Prof Canis' son. Not live, so good for you. Luv, Big Sis
I clicked the link she attached and said aloud, "You have got
to be shitting me."
It was a very stylish page with 5 young people, all college age or a little older, posed semi-heroically against a dark background and the logo that read It's A Wonderful House
. A blond white boy with a dazzling smile wearing buttondown and khakis started the lineup. Next was a lovely young woman of East Indian descent, I think, with long wavy black hair and a light Bollywood-style complexion, wearing a very attractive red blouse with loose ruffled three-quarter sleeves that showed a triangle of bare midriff just above the waistband of her tight black jeans. A muscular Asian man with a crewcut posed with his fists on his hips, wearing a skin-hugging white t-shirt and blue jeans. The fourth in line was a dishwater blonde white woman who was done up as the epitome of the farmgirl-next-door, a vaguely Western-styled buttondown and jeans and brown cowboy boots. The last in the lineup was a light-skinned, very pretty black man with a perfect goatee and short, flattop haircut, wearing a tailored dark-blue tuxedo with silver-blue lapels over a white shirt, black cummerbund, and black bowtie.
I stared at the "little brother" for a long time. That was not
Malik. I didn't know the other Canis kids, but I knew Malik, since he did an internship for me a couple years ago.
Which meant, of course, that I was going to have to watch the wretched thing. I hate reality shows, not just for the sheer tastelessness of them, but because they're filmed relatively close to time, so I sometimes have trouble with mentally hitching myself to the participants. I usually prefer to watch syndicated shows where all the actors have been dead for decades, when I watch TV at all.
I turned the window off and trudged downstairs, feeling grumpy. I proceeded through my evening routine in an ill humor, and the only thing that salvaged it was that the people I snapped at were robots without significant artificial intelligence. I remembered, however, to take my repression meds with dinner. By the end of dinner, I could feel the slight fuzzing that I perceive as being something like a clear astronaut's helmet of static around my head.
Finally, in my crimson pajamas and black terrycloth bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, I settled in front of the television. "Computer," I said, "please turn on PARABI."
"Of course, Renata," the voice said, and the station came on, though no human figures were visible. It was the end of a news program, so the computer was editing out the newscasters. I was grateful.
When the show began, it had a slick and flashy introduction, with all the participants walking together toward the camera in time with the pop theme music, then stopping and looking to the left. The camera followed their gazes to a big, old Painted Lady Victorian -- probably down in the Staybird section of town -- painted up in bright yellow with highlights of green, red, and electric blue. The title of the show fell in from above and landed on an invisible floor with a shudder and a sound effect.
There was a lot of introduction, with one of those smartass narrators who, you can tell, thinks he's clever with his predictable jokes and puns. They showed us the inside of the house, which had a big modern kitchen, a Victorian dining room with coffered ceilings and wallpaper and stained glass windows, a modern living room in pastel colors, and a recreation room done in jewel tones and full of entertainment systems on the first floor. The second and third floors were the bedrooms and bathrooms. The basement had a workout room, with weight equipment and treadmills and an elliptical trainer, as well as a large modern laundry room.
The smartass talked about the deal: they all were to spend 3 months in the house together. They could go to work, but all their spare time had to be spent in the house, except for one night a week that they had "off". Everything in the house could be filmed as long as the person was "decent" and there was nothing else happening that required privacy. They apparently had signed a contract that broke out all the details of privacy and non-privacy. If they got through 3 months without a major para-level fight that damaged the house, they got $25,000 each.
Then we met the participants.
"This is Brandon deJong!" the narrator pronounced in tones of admiration of the blond, blue-eyed frat boy in another buttondown/khaki combination. The view switched to him in a gray suit and blue tie, hair slicked down, working at a desk. "He's an accountant with Bonafide and Faux Tax Accountants, specialists in paranormal solo and team accounting, and has been there for the past five years. A graduate of Penn State, he discovered his modest superstrength and invulnerability while playing football as a teenager. He has participated in several para-only football leagues over the years."
A young, pretty white woman was apparently selected to interview him. "So, Brandon, what do you do in your spare time?"
Brandon smiled and kept smiling as he shrugged. "I mostly party with my friends."
"How do you think you'll spend your time in the Wonderful House, since your friend-time will be limited?" she said with a similarly camera-ready smile.
He gestured broadly. "I guess I'll have to teach these people how to party right."
"And next up," the narrator said, "is the beautiful Rajeshri Patel!" Patel was dressed in low-rise black bellbottoms with some sort of trim around the bottom and a yellow crop top that it was far
too cold to wear. Way to not be stereotypical and racist as hell, PARABI. The view changed to her in a gray uniform jumpsuit and cap. "In her real life, Jeshri is not
a film star, but she works for the power company, regulating electricity flow with her para power. She graduated cum laude from UCLA, and does a number of things in her spare time, including scrapbooking and Indian dance."
The interviewer didn't have quite as wide a smile for the other young woman as she'd had for deJong. "So what brought you to Wonder City after living in southern California, Jeshri?"
"The romance of it," she said with a laugh. "Everyone always talks about the opportunities for paras in Wonder City, and besides, it's got all the fabulous para history. Who wouldn't want to be where Jane Liberty held the city alone against Nazi paras? Or where the Damned Yankee was discovered?"
"How has Wonder City lived up to its legend?" the interviewer said.
"Very well, thank you," Patel said with a toss of her head. "I enjoy being an important part of Wonder City and its infrastructure. I get to see the most amazing people all the time. I really feel like I'm part of making more history."
After the commercial break, we met, "Tom Nguyen! He makes his living as a long-haul truck driver because his para power is being able to stay awake for a week without any ill effects. To be part of the Wonderful House, he's taken up driving local deliveries and short runs so as to maximize his time at the House."
The interviewer fluttered her eyelashes at Nguyen. "Where did you go to college, Tom?"
He didn't have a camera-ready smile or a knack with words. "Here and there. Got my bachelor's finally at Wonder City U." I wondered how he'd gotten onto the show. When he shifted around in his tight black t-shirt and blue jeans, it became obvious: he's a bodybuilder. With his broad cheekbones and flawless skin, he clearly looked very good on screen tests.
"What do you do when you're not driving?" she asked.
"I work out," he said. "I eat and sleep and whatever. I mean, what do normal people do?"
"Next up is the girl known only as Tin Lizzie," the narrator said. "She wouldn't give us her last name, or anything much about her background. We know she was a farmgirl, and we know that her para power is absorbing energy. Hopefully, she and Jeshri will get along!"
"Why won't you give out your real name?" the interviewer asked.
Tin Lizzie was, as shown on the website, a plain-pretty dishwater blonde white-girl-next-door. She'd lost the Western styling, though, and was presented in t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. She offered up a sheepish grin. "My family is shy, and if I do something stupid, I don't want to embarrass them."
The interviewer laughed falsely. "Well, I'm sure they appreciate it. What do you do for a living?"
"Oh," Tin Lizzie said, laughing and then covering her mouth. "I work at the Great Scot Coffeehouse with Simon."
"Simon Canis is our fifth participant!" the narrator declared, and a picture of the young black man appeared. He was still very snappily dressed, in what looked like black patent leather shoes, black trousers, a dark blue dress shirt, and a silver tie. "He's the son of Professor Canis, and was a member of the Puppy Patrol years ago. A graduate of Wonder City U, he's working in the Great Scot while he decides what he wants to do for a living."
I could see immediately that there was something wrong with the interviewer's body language, but I couldn't decide what it was. She gave him about the same smile wattage as she gave Jeshri. "Some of our viewers who followed the Puppy Patrol will wonder which one you were, Simon, since you changed your name."
That gave me some pause. He still didn't look like Malik.
Simon gave her a sleepy, easy smile and nodded. "Well, I was the one in the black uniform -- the one that didn't talk much. My sister Ivy and my brother Malik did most of the talking, after all."
But Professor Canis only had one
Then I realized -- the interviewer was leaning away from Simon. It was very slight, and very professionally covered, but it was there.
"So, I guess there's something that most of our viewers will realize about you pretty quickly," the interviewer said, just a little stiffly.
Simon's smile broadened. He seemed to be enjoying the interviewer's discomfort. "I'm sure that everyone out there with a computer can look it up on Parapedia, Cynthia. I wouldn't want to insult anyone's intelligence by spelling it out."
Oh, Simon, I thought. You are definitely headed for trouble. And damn me if I'm not going to watch every week while you get yourself into it.
---From the Author:
I'm posting twice weekly during January thanks to the response! If you like this twice-weekly thing, I'm doing it again in January: if January's posts draw 50 comments total, I'll post twice weekly through February too. As before, if you provide a comment bonanza, I'll extend appropriately.
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