Phyllis interrupts in her sing-song official hostess register, struggling to integrate the conversation so as to put on a good face before the imminent arrival of company.
“Did you all watch the Olympics?”
Phyllis loves the Olympics, especially since they have now removed almost any trace of sports in favor of the type of “human interest stories” out of which she has made a career:
First Announcer: [In the studio.] OK, let’s go to the women’s downhill event, taped earlier today and brought to you live.
[Cut to a multicolored blur zooming past the finish line at 80 miles an hour.]
First Announcer: You know, the winner of today’s women’s downhill ski race was a plucky young American named White Bread who overcame AIDS, SIDS, Ebola, a cold sore, Mad Cow disease, prostate cancer, bad air, acephaly, demonic possession, dysthymia, dyslexia, anorexia, bulimia, fear of heights, fear of open spaces, fear of inclines, fear of snow, fear of cold, fear of fear, and fear to compete successfully at the highest level. Let’s go to Laser-Cleaned Smile at the finish line, where the celebration continues.
Laser-Cleaned Smile: That’s right, Talking Haircut. It’s truly a remarkable story. What a role model for all those youngsters watching! She really stepped up, responded to the challenge, took her game to a whole new level, and just did it. And I just want to add that Ms. Bread dedicated her winning run to her 96-year-old grandmother who was present at the race. She’s been in a coma for 43 years, and White says this one’s for her!
[Cut to a blonde, smiling, waving, Lycra-clad, ad-covered skier with her arm around a blank-faced old woman in a wheelchair wearing an Olympic hat, Olympic sweater, Olympic jacket, and Olympic warm-up pants. Even her mobile IV unit has a five-circle insignia on the saline bag. Her head is resting on her right shoulder, an icicle of drool hanging out of the corner of her mouth. She’s giving a thumbs-up with the aid of a Nagano ’98 pencil, to which her thumb has been taped. With Olympic tape.]
Talking Haircut: Just marvelous! [Talking Haircut pauses and puts his hand up to his ear.] Hold on, Laser-Cleaned Smile—this just in…. White’s golden retriever back on the Bread family farm in
White Bread: [Gasping in joy, turns to her grandmother.] Did you hear that, Granny? Puppies!
[Cut to a sepia-toned shot of the puppies suckling at their mother’s teats in a splash of sunshine just inside a red barn. Above the doorway is a huge American flag. Just outside the doorway stand Mr. and Mrs. White Bread—he in overalls with a pitchfork, his face weathered, tears trickling down the creases, dripping on his flannel shirt; she in a flower-print house dress and a white apron, clasping her hands together, the Kansas wind lightly ruffling her blonde bangs.]
Mom: [Sobbing.] We love you, White! We’re so proud!
White Bread: [Sobbing.] Mommy, Daddy, I love you both so much!
Dad: [Sobbing.] You’re Daddy’s little angel, princess! Bring on back the gold, my sweet, precious baby! [He manages to compose himself.] Hey, we’re going to have a big parade down
White Bread: That’s just super-duper! I owe it all to the family values I learned in my hometown, where no one needs to lock his door.
Mom: [Bursting with pride.] Oh, tell her about you, Cletus!
Cletus: [Embarrassed, looking down at his boots.] Aw, shucks, Melva, I can’t.
White Bread: What, Mommy?
Melva: [Beaming.] Precious, your Daddy’s going to be leading the parade. He’ll be in uniform!
White Bread: [Enraptured, hand on her chest.] Oh, Daddy!
Melva: [Her arms sliding across Cletus’ shoulders.] Cletus, you’ll look so handsome with your private stripes for everyone to see! [She kisses Cletus on the cheek and giggles.]
Cletus: [Also beaming.] Heck, sugar, I’m even gonna dig up that Viet Cong skull to put on my bayonet!
Melva: [Flushed with excitement, in a near-swoon.] Oh, Cletus!
White Bread: See you real soon! I love you bunches and bunches!
Cletus: See you soon, honey-sugar-precious-darling-baby-princess-angel!
[They wave as the puppies romp and suckle.]
Laser-Cleaned Smile: [Wiping away tears.] So, White, what do you want to say to
White Bread: [Once again, sobbing hysterically.] I just want to say… I’m dedicating this gold medal to my Mommy and Daddy, my hometown, my fourteen puppies…and…most of all to my Granny, who has been the greatest influence in my life. She taught me never to quit. I love you, Granny! [The crowd behind her bursts into tears as White Bread hugs her Grandmother, who is still blankly motioning thumbs-up.] And I just want to thank my coach, my pastor, and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who showed me the light and gave me the strength to compete—and who took time out of his busy schedule to reduce my wind resistance just enough so that I could complete the course one ten-thousandth of a second sooner than the next closest skier, whose name I have already forgotten. And I just want to say: God Bless the
Laser-Cleaned Smile: That’s just great! Congratulations again, White Bread. [Turning to the camera, face full of gravity.] An emotionally moving moment from Japan, where a plucky young American has just dropped another bomb, but this time a bomb of gutsy determination, the lingering aftereffects of which just might contaminate a generation of young Americans. This is Laser-Cleaned Smile reporting from the slopes of
“No, I haven’t seen any of that,”
“You don’t like the Olympics?” Phyllis asks incredulously. Her tone suggests a moral failing equal to pedophilia.
“I like sports; I don’t like watching a hundred hours of soggy, jingoistic filler for advertisements.”
Phyllis glowers for a split-second, then turns away in confusion.
Unpublished work © 1998 Douglas P. Tarnopol