Because every pixel on the television is a screaming molecule of financial doubt, because Orlando is a dive bar loaded with fat cats on city-funded foreclosure diets, because I can't drink my firefly self out of this wet hangover bag, because I'm driving on a spare, because I've been caked in snot for three weeks, because my organs are having grumbling conversations with each other and not including me, because my husband can't come home this weekend because his airplane has a dead battery, because things can't really get any worse …
"A popular ABC network show is filming at the Peacock today from 5-7," rattles the texting iPhone from my bedbound crotch. "Chance to be on national TV!"
"What? What show? I'm dying!" my thumbs rigor-mortis a text back while I die.
Dave from the Peacock Room phones me back with his actual voice to betray the secret of all secrets without leaving an electronic trail. "It's Wife Swap," he deals the crushing blow.
Things can always get worse.
It's not that I'm completely averse to the bedsore voyeurism of reality television and its many canned-ham charms. Over the past 10 years of scriptless fishbowling, I've been more than guilty of projecting my runway in Rachel Zoe's projects somewhere up in The Hills, gaily glaring down upon Real Worlds and Real Housewives in varying strains of Extreme Makeovers. In my reality world there is a calming sense of reason usually provided by IKEA lofts, Botox and some cute outfits, and no fear of actual reality creeping in.
Wife Swap, however, is a heterosexual culture-clash commentary with kids involved and no cute outfits. I need cute outfits. Or, Ty Pennington, I need to cry and vicariously drip-feed from your drunken-haired philanthropy. Move! That! Brush!
"I just found out the worst thing ever," I buzz into Tony's ear.
"You're dead," he yawns.
"Yes, and we're going to be on Wife Swap!"
By 4:45, Tony and I are flanked by fellow wife-swapper Taylor and trying to front-porch-drink ourselves into the sort of stupor required for network standards. By 4:47 I realize that I've drunk myself sober and angry, which should be just about right for turning me into a bipolar redneck mother ordering rich kids to scrape the gum out from under my 40-pound breasts.
"Let's go," I grab my bra and a gym whistle.
Not until we get to the Peacock Room does it occur to me that we're attending a familial redistribution in a bar. Ideas start racing through my head as to which unique and stereotyped dysfunction ABC sees fit to exploit on this particular episode of the world dying. Is Wife Swap veering into Intervention territory — or my life — and sweeping a bunch of prep-school rug rats into the Lucite-heeled stripper world of a cokehead mom with abandonment issues? Am I in heaven?
"No, it's a punk-rock mother trying to get the family to be her band," comes the clarification from Peacock owner Dave.
I cannot breathe.
Some gay producer-type with L.A. hair scatters the room with legal releases that nobody reads (but that probably will hold each and every one of us accountable for Miley Cyrus' future legal bills) and the white-bread crowd of decidedly un-punk means works its mingle into an "I'm going to be discovered!" lather. Tony and Taylor light upon a 9-year-old who's apparently here with his stage aunt and, because pedophilia is not enough of a big gay stigma, start chatting him up.
"What instrument do you play, little boy?" Taylor asks, not at all sinisterly.
"The ukulele," he brats back. The aunt recoils. Charming.
In order to prepare for our big network moment, the producers have provided — wait for it — spray-on glitter and colored hairspray, because that's what punks wear. Some sort of three-way CFC combustion follows, with Tony ending up in a red faux-hawk and a black ass-crack, Taylor with his face painted black, and me as a giant Bowie glitter ball. Collectively, we are a 1985 explosion at a Paramus mini-mall, or an old drunk gay man.
"Here, take these," a frazzled producer rolls her eyes while handing us sunglasses … again, because punks wear sunglasses. Tersely, we're told to extinguish our cigarettes and abandon our drinks to complete our countercultural transformation into the flyover-state version of rock & roll irreverence, and the lights go down.
"Breakin' the law! Breakin' the law!" rattles in our ears, camera-ready chorus only.
The rest is a mess of retakes that will air in either February or March, but suffice it to say that there is slam-dancing from people who don't slam-dance, and there is a demanding and diminutive "mother" in a blue-bobbed wig, a family of two younger, uglier Jonas Brothers and a long-haired dad who is "playing drums for the first time! Give him a big hand!"
All the hand talk and the manicured aggression apparently rubbed off on Taylor and Tony's rub-off faces, as when they drunkenly share a bathroom, Taylor challenges Tony to one of those "I'm drunk, punch me in the face!" matches peculiar to straight men at their whiskey nadir or a CBGB's toilet. Punches are thrown, stumbles are taken, and the sense that we've taken this punk thing a little too far forces us out the door.
And now, because of punk rock and ABC, this hangover, this personal apocalypse and this sense that even reality isn't real will never go away.
It really can't get any worse.
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