My Sitcom Life
by Sherry Cassells
Everyone in this room can hear the scream coming from behind the closed door.
There are six of us, like Gilligan’s Island. There’s the professor, and the other old guy can be Mr. Howell who, let’s say, is now a widower, his wife dead from choking on a strawberry spider the day of the rescue and for those of you who don’t know what a strawberry spider is, it’s the green plug on top.
I’ll be Gilligan but I look more like Barney Fife. I look like Gilligan on acid.
Ginger seems tired, but Mary Ann looks exhausted. Somebody needs to tighten her pigtails.
The door opens and a white foot points in. A voice asks for Morgan Magnum and Ginger shifts a little like the contestants on To Tell The Truth used to do to fool the audience. Then Mary Ann half-stands and sits down again. It’s the professor, a tall man, who finally stands all the way, the devil, snaps into a stoop, and for a second I think I’ve been had again but this is his natural tall-guy posture and he takes five giant steps to the door which the lady then closes without thinking if I’ll describe it as softly or silently.
Soon we hear a fresh scream.
A bead from Ginger’s dress rolls to the floor and as I look at it, another one rolls to its side like a game. Skipper is watching me with that look in his eye.
Something comes over Ginger and she starts to giggle. I can feel myself wanting to join her how I used to laugh with Kathy when we were kids. Even though I didn’t get what was so funny I died laughing right along with her. That silly Eudora! And when I thought Arnold Ziffel was funny she’d collapse right next to me on the couch, cackling and shaking like she did.
We had our own private laugh track and when we were hungry or scared it was louder than usual.
Kathy had Hogan’s dimples and used to work on deepening them with her knuckles. Mine weren’t the laughing kind. They only showed when I screamed.
Next it’s Mary Ann who turns to us – wish me luck! – before she goes through the door. I always thought she would make the perfect sweetheart for Little Joe, practicing her lines in a small house beside the Cartwrights, waiting for her chance to bloom in memory swirls like when he got lost that time and nearly died.
Too sappy, Kathy would sometimes say and she’d climb off the couch, hang on tight to a corner of the blanket we shared, and reach for the dial. If there was nothing on – we only had three channels – we’d watch the salt and pepper until she thought the stupid part was over and then she’d switch back. She was always right on time which used to amaze me. Then she’d twirl back to the couch and into the blanket a little smug because she was sort of amazed she could do it, too.
When the commercials came on we’d turn down the volume and continue the story ourselves. We’d hop right into, oh let’s say The Young and The Restless, and stir things up a little. Kathy’s Nikki would crack jokes and my Victor would mostly just giggle and fart when possible.
I have a girl who comes and cleans – a fat white woman who nobody loves – which is a line I read once in a poem. The next line is, why do you walk through the field in gloves? Every afternoon from 1:00 until 2:00 she finds something to do in the TV room so she can put that old soap on. Just the other day I heard the music and I stuck my nose in and watched for a sec. Should be called The Old and The Jaded I said but she was all shy and busy, pretending she wasn’t watching.
Sometimes Rob Petrie fell over the pouf and sometimes he didn’t. Whoever was right got the big pickle or whatever we had in the fridge at the time.
I always wanted their neighbour Millie to be my mom. Our mom. She would be a cute and lovable scatterbrain who would slip pop-tarts into our perfect lunches and insist we put our pyjamas and slippers on and brush our teeth before I Love Lucy at seven-thirty.
Another fresh scream – who knew Mary Ann would be so baritone? – but then she torques it into soprano.
You must be wondering what’s going on. Do you think that perhaps we are here in this square room with the perfect number of chairs so that we can, in turn, 1) identify the bodies of our loved ones who were in an airplane accident? What kind of disaster would leave the bodies collected on cool stainless steel tables instead of in smithereens? Well. Someone may tinkered with the cabin air supply or the food for instance. Use your imagination!, or 2) claim our share of the lottery we have collectively won, me knuckling my dimples like crazy in case they work out in the pictures after all?, or 3) audition for parts in a sitcom involving a ghost?
Kathy and me grew up digesting the wild coincidences of daytime television and thus were spoiled for surprises. Nothing was too far-fetched for us.
Like the time we dated siblings and didn’t even know it until Thanksgiving when we ended up at the same table. It was all anybody could talk about but all we said was just like Marsha and Greg – remember?
And there were plenty of other things that didn’t phase us that I’m pretty sure would have gone straight to the quick of other kids. We saw some of our mother’s friends go from happy to heartless in practically no time at all and whatever happened next – which is what we saved our really hairy laugh tracks for – didn’t surprise us one bit.
We tried out pretend fathers all the time. When our mother went downtown and didn’t come back for three days at the end of the month, we always picked Sheriff Taylor. Now I think we could have done better with Charles Ingles who may have gone to town to fetch her, give her a good talking to, but we thought all the prarie kids were saps, especially Laura, although Kathy liked the mother’s voice and would try it out on me when I wasn’t feeling well. Sometimes we picked Fred McMurray or Uncle Bill or even Chad Everett who was a single, busy doctor but we had his dimples – Kathy more than me as I said – so there was that.
We never let them in the house but they loomed outside watching for bad guys. Ben Cartwright on the porch with a rifle in his lap and Jethro Bodene, bouncer, who was mighty friendly until he wasn’t.
Ginger screams like all the beads fell off at once.
We noticed plot holes and got to work on them, filling them with the goo of pretend best friends who taught us to dance, shared pizza, whispered secrets. We invented solutions for cliffhangers, sometimes yelling them out at night when they occurred between dreams. We could make stories out of nothing and everything.
For instance, if we were waiting like in option 1, for airplane disaster victims, let’s say mine is the body of my pretend stepbrother Opie, now old. Yes, it’s him, I would say but I have to look twice because it’s the first time in ages I’ve seen him without his baseball cap. Later, I discover it in the zippered bag they give me as I leave. His things, they say. Also in the bag, likely extracted from his wallet which is empty, is a letter which has faded so severely, especially along the folds, that it’s barely legible except for the signature which reads Beatrice. There is a barely decipherable sentence above this which says, in part, please stop bothering me I am not your real aunt.
Every summer me and Kathy were mathematical twins. I mean not like Buffy and Jody but July and August we were the same age.
Door number 2, Monty. Imagine winning the lottery. My failing marriage would surge into repair, Mary-Kaye snapping into June Cleaver instead of always visiting her bitchy sister out on Long Point tweaking our differences and dreaming of getting away.
Did you know that Agent 99 got 99 percent on the final exam, Max got 86, etc.? It was never disclosed what the Chief got but we gave him 100 and awarded ourselves the same. Kathy always thought her hundred bobbed a little higher than mine and I went along with it because she convinced me that age gives you a heftier claim on things even when they’re imaginary.
She took the first chance she had to get out of town. Kathy and her boyfriend, whose beard jutted out of his chin like nails, took me out to dinner that last night and she was The Price Is Right kind of excited. When she hugged me goodbye her voice closed down but I patted her back and said it’s okay although I didn’t really think she’d be gone forever.
I did not know that names could be onomatopoeic until Mr. Howell.
The funny thing about this story is that you don’t have to pick door number 1, door number 2, or door number 3.
Goo-oo-oolllleeeeee! Suprise! Suprise! Suprise!
What happened is that 1) Mary-Kaye had a heart attack and died on a plane. I got the phone call at home where I was getting pleasantly drunk and then I had to drive to the airport and sit in a square room with a pale, nervous officer and wait until a shoe pushed through the door, big and black, and I was asked to please come this way. I in no way knew they had a morgue in the airport basement but that’s exactly what it was although small. So they removed the sheet like a magic trick and there was Mary-Kaye. I wondered about her smudged lipstick but then I supposed mouth-to-mouth and I wondered whose urgent lips had touched her fading ones but then I just said, Yes. That is my wife. That is Mary-Kaye.
I went to work and back for the next few years. I never visited her in the cemetery because I’d have to pass where my mother was and Mary-Kaye would understand. She might say I could have gone the long way but she would know deep down that my mother could get to me from across, too.
And then 2) I won the lottery. I really did.
I bought a nice house with a gate and had everything delivered including magazines and newspapers from all over the place like I was some kind of finger-on-the-pulse hot-shot when really I just like crossword puzzles and in one of the magazines, lined up right next to the solutions, was a casting call which is 3).
It’s a new sit-com and the role I am going for is that of a father in unusual circumstances which I am ready for in an Agent 100 kind of way. All my guys are lined up in order starting with Sheriff Taylor and Charles Ingles and Uncle Bill, even Chad Everett who I am pretending I look like, and although I do not represent Mr. Rogers, I am dressed similar to but not exactly like him. Imagine Ben Cartwright in those sappy lace-ups!
Nobody can see this character except the two little kids inside the house but the other characters keep getting spooked which is why all the screaming.
I’m sure the way Kathy would wait for the salt and pepper sure that I will get the part. I’m sure like 99 and 86 finally got married sure. I’m sure like fucking Ironside.
When I bought my plane ticket, it very lightly crossed my mind that maybe I’d see Kathy here in LA.
So that just leaves me and the Skipper. Good luck, little buddy, he says as I go out the door and follow the white shoes.
I don’t have to scream because I am the ghost.
I do my bit just right. Not too much. I do my bit as if I know this person exactly. The casting people get excited, I can tell. Hang on, somebody says when I get up to leave even though I’m just faking it. We’re going to get the writer see what she thinks – and this part might be too far-fetched for you – but before the toes of her shoes come into the room, I know it’s Kathy. I just know.