[Originally published January 27, 2000.]
(Busy music and a kaleidoscope of colorful graphics, which ultimately part to reveal an ecstatic audience consisting largely of middle-aged women, with some middle-aged men and college students thrown in. The talk show’s host stands in the crowd, holding a fuzzy-headed, slightly oversized microphone.)
Hello, and welcome back to our show. Our topic today is: “People Who Enjoy Being Verbally Abused By Talk-Show Audiences.” Now, before we went to the break, we were talking to Steve.
(CUT TO: STEVE. He is around 35, about 40 pounds overweight, and wearing an unflattering sweater.)
Now, Steve: Since you were a teenager, you’ve fantasized about being told off by a sassy woman holding a microphone. Is that right?
Yes. That’s right. It’s ruined many of my relationships: I can’t relate to women unless they have a microphone in their hand and are making disparaging comments about me, preferably in front of a large crowd. Some women tried to accommodate me for a while — we’d attend open-mike nights, high-school football games, companies’ annual meetings — any place where there was an audience and a mike, but after a while, none of them would be able to take it anymore.
Well, we have someone here who wants to comment on that.
Yeah, I just wanted to say that you’re sick. (Audience cheers.) What kind of a man does that to a woman? You need to get yourself some help.
(STEVE looks pleased. Then ashamed. Then pleased.)
We have someone else here who’d like to make a comment. Yes, sir?
Yeah, I think that this is pretty much a one-joke story.
So, you know, perhaps it could end now.
Seems fair enough to me.
(STEVE, HOST, SASSY LADY begin filing toward the exits of the studio, along with the rest of the audience.)
You know, we don’t all have to get up and leave. The illusion that any of us actually exist—which was pretty shaky to begin with—has by now been fairly well destroyed. The story can now just end abruptly at any moment.
True enough. It could just end, cutting either one of us off in mid sent—
Hm. That’s odd. I thought it was going to end just then.
Yeah. Me too.
(They stand together, uncomfortably, awaiting the end of the story. A few minutes pass. Then centuries pass. Then a few more minutes. They turn into marvelous fire-breathing dragons, then into baby chicks. They turn one another inside out. They invent time travel, and prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, only to discover that World War I was inevitable, and that nothing in the present day has changed. They introduce the unicorn to the rainforest. A few more centuries pass. They share a hard-boiled egg. Centuries, centuries. Millennia. The story, at long last, ends. No, wait, they also dive for undersea treasure!)