Part two of a five-part story. Click here to read part 1.
So now I’m a thirteen-year-old boy with a year of cable stuffed into all my brain pockets. I’m not sure it’s helping. I’m too sensitive. After surviving the first fifteen minutes of The Exorcist on a channel I’m not supposed to watch, I couldn’t sleep for days. I saw an episode of Gunsmoke that made me lock myself in my room and cry.
I like the simple and hopeful story lines the best. Like Hillbilly’s. He was just a good ol’ boy sitting in the front row at a few WWF events until, spotted in the crowd, he was given the chance to get in the ring. Rowdy Roddy Piper (a bad guy) tried to lure him into his own training camp, but it was ultimately Hulk Hogan (a good guy) who befriended the bearded giant from Mud Lick and trained him to wrestle real human beings (as opposed to pigs and dogs). The Hulk gave Hillbilly his first pair of real wrestling boots. They are friends. I believe.
I’m in a tractor beam of television. The MTV videos quickly get more racy, the WWF plotlines more outrageous. I soak it all up, let it sink down deep.
So when friends of my parents suggest that we kids get involved in modeling and acting, maybe even television commercials, I feel, despite my shyness, a funny little tug. My brother, sister, and I have “that look,” the friends say, that “all-American look” sought by catalogues and commercials, and we could make one hundred dollars for an hour-long photo shoot.
One hundred dollars for an hour of standing in front of a camera is absurd. Having painted houses with our dad, we know exactly what an hour of work feels like and what it pays. We’ve spent enough of them with rollers and brushes and blocks of sandpaper to do the math, and realize that this new equation is remarkable.
I surrender to the tug, the curiosity. It just happens. Before I know it I’m out in front of a camera, a paid catalogue shoot: my hair swooping off my forehead and secured with gel, on my third outfit, told to look left by the photographer and then right, then to lean my elbow on the shoulder of the kid next to me, who happens to be my brother, whose stiff hair is shooting like stalagmites off his head. Both of us smile as the camera flashes, wondering what the other is thinking, wondering if we’ll really get paid for something so silly.
The check comes! Weeks later. The rumors were true. I buy a remote-controlled car, a fast one from a specialty store, and my brother starts saving for a motorcycle.
We work and get checks and sometimes help Mom and Dad when they can’t cover their mortgage. They ask and we say yes. Then I start vying for the speaking roles and the national roles, handing out résumés on which Dad has written things like Midwestern accent, horseback riding, expert at video games.
Needed: Caucasian male, blond hair, blue eyes, athletic, articulate.
And here we are, all of us blond-haired, blue-eyed boys, lined up against a wall, circling each other in some waiting room with our moms and dads reading newspapers and gossiping about upcoming roles, which kid got which part. I’m in a room with a hundred other mes, all looking at the same script and mumbling the same lines as we pace around, patting at our hair and pulling at our clothes. Mom calls me over and grips me with her knees as she sticks her thumb in her mouth and scrubs milkshake residue off my cheek with her saliva. I look over to see three other kids in the same vice of their mothers’ thighs.
I get the part. And then another. Mom says that it’s because the anointing of God is on me, that it is His will, that He’s using me to reach the world.
I do a commercial for a theme park, ride the roller coaster seventeen times while a camera attached to its nose records me waving my arms and screaming. I do after-school specials for local news stations, playing a boy whose parents are too busy to notice him. I pout into the camera until all is well.
Then I go to an audition, the biggest one yet, where a diverse group of three hundred kids is crammed into a giant lobby at Nashville’s Fox station. There is no set kid criteria for this one, no exacting specifications. They’ll know who they want when they see the right kid.
I decide to wear my normal clothes, which are skateboard clothes. Skateboarding is the only thing that really matters. It’s who I really am, I decide. The real me: a radical Christian skateboarder. Anointed by God.
They call my name and escort me to a back studio. It is dark and three adults are sitting facing a single chair. A spotlight pummels the seat.
“Hi,” they say.
“Have a seat. Tell us about yourself, Josh.”
“Sure, just tell us a few things about yourself.”
“Well, I can tell you that skateboarding is my life. It’s what I do every chance I get. And also I’m a Christian, and I’d like to be a professional skateboarder so I could use the opportunity to share Jesus with people.”
Their eyebrows do funny things and they scribble on their notepads.
“Well, we want you to read these lines, and if you could, put a lot of energy into it. Pretend you’re telling someone about skateboarding and God.”
I read the lines. I put a lot into it.
“Good, good. Now take this cookie and eat it and pretend it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted.”
I take the cookie and nibble reluctantly at its edge, as if it might be poisoned, and then I kind of explode, pretend I’m chewing on crumbs of cocaine (Miami Vice!), and then I jam the whole thing in my mouth and get all orgasmic (Days of Our Lives!). They love it.
“Great!” they say. “Now take this cookie and pretend it’s the worst thing you’ve ever tasted.”
I look at the cookie curiously, apprehensively, and then do this exaggerated “oh well” and stuff the whole thing in my mouth at once. I give it a chew, and then another, and then spit it onto the ground while I grab at my throat and start dancing around the chair. In my head I’m pretending the cookie is made of hot sauce.
The three adults really love that and start clapping and nudging each other. A week later I’m called in for another go-round. And then another. Within a month I learn that I have the part, that I will be the Nashville host for the Fox Kids Club, that my face will be all over the television and I will sign autographs and host live events. I think of all the skateboards I’ll be able to buy and scribble my name on their contracts. With a little ink, I step irrevocably to the other side of the television screen.
Tomorrow: “Pot, High School, and Chuck Norris.” Josh MacIvor-Andersen lives in an old house in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his wife, a cat named Baby Kitty, and a second-trimester child named, for now, Baby Human, forthcoming in May.