GREEN  1.1       Be My Guest

        Stan is so exhausted. It has been a most unpleasant day. He has written thirty-five hundred words on spec for Flatliner, reviewing the new CDs by Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. Left to his own devices, he would never have subjected his ears to such unmitigated crap, but a paycheck is a paycheck. The bad thing about a gig such as this was that it entailed writing far too many words for Stan to get by on vitriol alone; he actually had to attempt to listen to the music before setting out to review it. Not only listen to it, but actually try to fit the music into some sort of a meaningful artistic context.
      Let’s be perfectly honest about this situation. What critic on God’s green earth could ever honestly admit to remembering a single solitary cut from one of Jagger's solo disks? What sort of blindly obsessed fan could even recall anything that the Stones had done in the last twenty-odd years?
      McCartney, on the other hand, you remembered all too well. His songs stuck to your gut like a rib dinner.

      Yes, it has been a hard job and a long and disagreeable day, and it seemed to Stan like he had been getting more and more jobs of this nature lately. The logic was as obvious to him as it was odious: Want to write about the latest artifact from some decrepit old rock star who can’t seem to summon up the dignity to leave the stage? Here’s an angle; why don’t you hire some decrepit old rock critic that has been around just about as long as the aging troubadour in question? Stan Keaton would seem to be the perfect man to fit that bill. Hell, Stan had been around since back in the days when Rolling Stone was published on newsprint.

      Larry King is off kilter tonight, way off the chart of the official Journalism Reasonable Standards Guide. It’s not just the fact that his questions are nebulous, his laugh unusually hollow, and his expression fraught with disinterest. There's an additional tone in the mix, a ghost voice in the background. Stan stares at Larry’s trademark suspenders, following their path from the dips in Larry’s shrunken shoulder blades, coasting handsomely on down to the trailing headlines at the bottom of the screen. The suspenders are Chinese red with a black piped outline, emblazoned with simple yet elegant Aztec symbols, which are embroidered with golden thread inside of a gold-framed column. Larry's tie plays nicely off the suspenders, with a similar pattern in contrasting colors. His shirt, however, is simply hopeless - it's one of those white collared pastel bodied numbers that the less hip talk show hosts were wearing back in the days when Mike Douglas first donned a Nehru jacket.

      Stan is bleary eyed and nodding. His sight line descends from Larry’s face to the grain of the carpet and there it remains for several moments, resting. Stan lets his eyes go out of focus as Larry breaks for commercials. Ford, Red Lobster, Greta Van Susteren, an anti-smoking PA, Allegra.

      There has been a noticeable shift of volume from the speakers. Stan jerks awake, and for a moment, he feels almost frantic, his eyes darting from one darkened corner of the room to the next, his ears straining for any sound beyond the television's drone. Why the panic, Stan? An odd dream? He hears Susan laughing upstairs and slowly begins to regain his composure.
      Somewhat unsure of his footing, Stan struggles from his recliner and takes the few short steps necessary to reach the refrigerator with its ready supply of cold Coors Light. He sees nothing inside worth eating.
      Returning from the kitchen, Stan is aware that the voices on Larry King Live have changed. Elizabeth Dole is no longer talking to Larry, and Larry seems all the happier for it. On the screen, there's a tough-lipped cutie that must be either a B-list actress or possibly a Canadian lounge singer. Stan can’t place the woman at first and this really bothers him, as he takes great pride in his imagined ability to always recognize a face. He stands rapt by his chair with his beer unopened until Larry calls the woman Barbara.
      Barbara, Barbara, Barbara who? Oh yeah, uh-huh, it’s Barbara Olson, the conservative blond pundit, that’s who it is, and now that Stan knows this he can settle back down and begin to relax again.
      Larry seems to be much more relaxed as well, his laugh coming more frequently although none the more appropriately. For some reason, he is rambling on about Raquel Welch - a grand lady, a great lady. A lady with whom he may or may not have had some kind of a personal relationship at a crossroads moment in his past. It's hard to tell precisely what he’s trying to imply, and Larry likes it like that.
      The subject of the moment is supposed to be Gary Condit, the murderin’ congressman - it has been the premiere topic for a few weeks now - but Larry has lapsed into one of his all too frequent brain farts.
      Every so often, Stan is absolutely certain that he is being given a furtive glance by The King. This causes him to shudder involuntarily. Stan understands that this is a ridiculous conceit, that Larry is not really peeking at him from across the airwaves. It sure seems as if he is, though. A curious sensation. How many other watchers around the world are feeling this way right now?
      Stan had printed off an article earlier this morning, something he had stumbled across on the Internet. The piece, if it were to be trusted, detailed a suppressed Justice Department report that implied that Larry King inspired fear in many otherwise reasonable citizens - male and female, young and old. There were numerous case studies, dating back as far as February 1993. They documented case studies, gleaned by agency hackers from the online files of the few remaining Jungian therapists still in practice. These cases described citizens who had dreamed that Larry had suddenly materialized in their life at a particularly stressful time or place. Some claimed to have been given new clarity of mind and vision. Others claimed to have been stricken by misfortune soon after the vision.

      Stan himself is certainly not afraid of Larry King. That would be moronic, and yet the intellectual part of Stan’s brain is feeling awfully small and isolated tonight. Stan really does seem to hear a repeated whisper, mixed in with the static, every time the camera pans away from Larry.

        “Be my guest. Be MY guest.”

      These words, of course, are heard only in Stan’s imagination. That cannot be emphasized strongly enough. He is very tired and he is high. Such a long, long day. There may or may not be a sound that he is hearing, but if there is, it exists only as a random frequency mixed within the static. Or if that’s not the case, the sound is at too low of a volume to make sense of it anyway.
      Maybe there has always been a subliminal message, and he is noticing it tonight for the first time. ['Watch Greta. Watch Greta']. As he ponders this possibility, it occurs to Stan that Larry has been on screen for what seems to be an unusually long stretch tonight. He further realizes that he has been watching the show for what seems like ages without having the slightest bit of interest in the content of the conversations. Did CNN let Larry continue for an extra hour tonight? Sometimes they would do that. What a waste.
      Larry suddenly stares directly into the camera, eyes narrowed, and Stan swears that Larry mouths the words 'Be My Guest' straight to him.
      Okay, this is weird, this is not funny, well maybe it is somewhat funny, but Stan is not in the mood to put up with the nonsense any longer. It is definitely his bedtime. Stan sits up in his chair to drain the last of his beer before rising, when the phone rings on the end table by his side.


      A mechanical voice. “Please hold. Three, two, one.”

      “Woodbridge, Virginia, you’re on the air with the fabulous Barbara Olson”. Aww Jeez, it's Larry.

      “Uh, hello Barbara. I understand that you make a guest appearance on the upcoming Prince album. What was he like to work with?”

      Stan doesn’t know where the hell that question came from, and he definitely does not want to wait and hear Barbara's response. The phone is returned to the hook and the television snapped off in a matter of seconds.
      Stan stays motionless in the comfort of his beloved recliner and listens to the sounds of the outside world. Occasional traffic. A ball-peen hammer.
Stan’s skin is tingling.

      In the morning, Stan awakes slowly and recalls that he had unspooled a strange dream during the night. Something with Larry King in it. It reminds him of some article he recently read, something about Larry…

      Susan had left the house sometime during the night and covered Stan up with a fuzzy blue afghan. He is still wedged in his chair and CNN is on without the sound, but the sun is streaming through the window, and the smell of coffee drifts in from the kitchen. The details of the dream are a mist receding away from him. Something about Larry…

      Everything has a sharp clear edge this morning. Stan feels hungry and ambitious. He finds himself in a surprisingly good mood for so early in the day.

      In the kitchen, the radio is softly playing bluegrass.
I was floating up to heaven when the old alarm clock rang
      I was bathing in the sunbeams while a choir of angels sang...

      The future is dead ahead.