This story was originally published in Quiet Lightning.
My internship at the Reality Game Show was almost over. I would soon return to school and although I had learned almost nothing about filmmaking, I now felt fairly certain that I did not want to make a film, at least not here, in Los Angeles. My summer had been kind of a waste but there were some positives. I met a beautiful girl. I swam in the ocean regularly. I found three Bill Evans records at a Goodwill in Santa Monica. I watched people do amazing and sometimes horrible things for money, or for the opportunity to simply be on TV. Just so we’re clear, I’m using the word ‘amazing’ as a neutral term, neither positive or negative; simply crazy.
One of my jobs as an intern was to help set up shots before filming with the contestants. On these long days, I would stand in place as the cameramen, lighting guys, and sound dude swirled around me. I stood by a lake. I stood by a cop car. I stood in a walk-in freezer, shivering in shorts and a t-shirt. I stood in the abandoned subway tunnels underneath downtown and thought about all the human effort and resources that went into this dumb show.
On the days when I would assist in mapping out a scene, I would often stand near the host. He was a short and tough-seeming comedian. Confident to the point of overcompensating. A “B” list celebrity and purposely abrasive. I didn’t think he was funny but I could admit that there was something compelling about him. When we were not filming he talked in quick, authoritative bursts, as if dispelling hard-fought wisdom. He spoke often when we were together, but rarely addressed me directly.
"Aliens exist," he once proclaimed.
"Learn how to kill a man with your bare hands," he urged a production assistant who had just delivered to him an orange Gatorade.
"I recommend renting a limo filled with strippers and hi-quality ganja."
This last bit of advice came on the final day of my internship. I had told the host that I was planning a desert road trip before returning to school. We were standing on the dusty road of a completely fabricated Old Western town, a giant life-size prop that had been utilized by many film crews over the years.
“Drive to Vegas,” the host continued, “and don’t sleep while you’re there. And remember: limo, strippers, ganja.”
I smiled. “You know I barely get paid for being here, right?”
The host nodded and said one word; “Funny.” He began to rock back and forth on his Nike shoes - the kind with springs in the heel - and checked his phone. I felt like I was learning something.
Later that day, I watched as one of the contestants stood in my place and was interviewed by the host. This contestant was a friendly and physically fit young man. His latest challenge would involve driving a car off a steep ramp and crashing it through a flaming barricade at the end of the Old Western town. The contestant excitedly commented on this stunt, how he was up for the task, born to do it, and thoroughly stoked for the opportunity. He was an actor, or wanted to be, and I thought he had a real desire to please. Just the other day, during the previous challenge, he ate a popsicle made of human bile. He forced the frozen treat down his throat and managed to hi-five the laughing host, before running to dry-heave in a corner of the set. The cameramen had pursued the contestant, zooming in to capture his bulging blue eyes and his stretched mouth. I was over by the catering truck, watching the scene unfold, and I wondered if this was part of the young man’s career plan, if this was how he hoped to succeed. I wanted to know if he had ever had an internship.
Oh, lord, what is my destiny?
Have you ever asked yourself this ridiculous kind of question, while driving in the American desert? It was 110 degrees outside. My air conditioner was broken and so I licked the sweat where it sat above my lips. A black limousine passed me in the fast lane. There was a dime bag of weed in my glove compartment. Somewhere in the dry wastes of Nevada, a golf course appeared. I could admit that this was a huge and interesting world, but I was beginning to think that it was intensely unaware of me.