Rhymes with 'Jesus' 

Oh, what's a journalist to do on doomsday?

It's 0800 on a splendorous morning of scud thuds and sandstorms, George W. Bush is resting his tongue after twisting "Saddam sells sanctions by the seashore," and the world is glued to the grainy-but-gratifying fireworks of Operation Suck My Dick. NBC's Ann Curry is slumming it on an aircraft carrier, warning that "loose lips sink ships," while Matt Lauer reaches for his gas mask any time a disco siren whines over his balding head. We're at war, baby. And I'm feeling tough.

To the front lines, then, as I fulfill my duty as a gatekeeper, an HQ of propaganda, a beacon of truth. Just doin' my job, ma'am. Just doin' my job.

Too bad this is my job. Assembled around the perimeter of Downtown Disney are a thousand or so blissfully unaware morning-TV watchers, hoping for their chance at becoming "Live with Regis and Kelly's" "American co-host" -- a sort of talentless, "American Idol" knock-off that involves neither Simon Cowell's sweaty pits nor Paula Abdul's bad outfits. At stake? A one-day stint next to The Rege and a one-year contract with a television agency. Oh, and a little shame.

I watch Regis and Kelly with a morbid fascination, actually (and usually while writing this drivel). Regis' cue-carded and constant complaints of ailments, and Kelly's cheerleading cattiness make for some sinister viewing. It's the ultimate reality television: Watch Regis die. Heh, heh, heh.

Helming the whole tragedy is one Michael Gelman, a questionably straight bottle-blonde who is regularly outed by Chris Kattan's imitations on "Saturday Night Live." Gelman's supposed to be here today, and even talk to me, but he's not. Lots of other bottle blondes are, though.

Like Barbara, from West Palm Beach. She's nearing 50, as indicated by the number of pastels employed in her outfit to distract me from noticing her age. But the pastels have nothing on the props: a 3-foot-tall martini (plastic) and a giant Band-Aid. I lean in, naturally. I'm fascinated.

"This is Regis' girly-girl drink," she drinks. "It's a girly-girl drink for big-man Regis."


"And this is because, you know, he's always injured, this is the Band-Aid," she wrinkles into a Valium haze. "But we know how big his injuries are. So this one (a little one) is really for him."

How big his what is? Get away from me.

Continuing down the line, the stumbling, sweating, seething. Before me stands a demographic of tragic hopefuls. Remarkably, every 10th contestant is a man. Not a man that sleeps with women, mind you. But a man nonetheless. It's the women who dominate, however, and one is eyeing me up.

"You're a mini-Gelman," she signs her death notice. "I thought you were Gelman."

"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" I quietly judge her.

"No, just whatever happens happens," she breezes. "They said it's gonna be very fast. If they think you have some kind of potential, then you go back for the second round."

"But you could be here all day!"

"Oh, yeah," she snorts like Chrissie. "But it's better than sitting behind a desk at work all day."

Is it? "What do you think it is that they're looking for, dear?"

"Probably somebody with a lot of pizzazz and energy, and people who will probably relate well to Regis. And they think some people who might not know him well, who might not watch the show, might not relate that well."

All of a sudden I come to the realization that -- when drunk -- "Regis" sort of rhymes with "Jesus." This whole thing is some sort of pilgrimage of the milquetoast menagerie. I'm losing my mind

"Do you want to be Kelly Ripa?" I want to be Kelly Ripa.

"No, she's doing just fine," she bows at my pressure. "She's having more and more babies, so we can have more and more chances!"


I approach a lemming who seems to have already fallen off the cliff, judging by the size of her smile. Her name is Lakendra, spelled "phonetically."

"How did you do it?" I gush.

"You just have to have a lot of energy, and go up there and show 'em your personality. It's not like you can really prepare anything beforehand, because you don't know what they're gonna ask, or what they're really looking for. And I just went up there, and I was myself."

And here it comes ...

"Cause I'm a whole lotta woman! I have, like, too much personality!" she sticks her finger down my throat. "I just went up there, big smiles, excitement, energy, and that's what they want. That's what they're looking for. That's what Kelly Ripa has, ya'know. I try to be like Kelly Ripa. She's great! I love her!"

Turns out L-a-k-e-n-d-r-a is studying for this in college.

"I want to do entertainment news," her head explodes. "Like if I could work for Channel E or MTV, that would be awwwesommmmme."

Totally. I'm going back to my couch, a drink and the war.

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