“Terrible.”
Brad spoke like he was on the verge of falling into a coma, in a droning monotone that sucked the charisma out of the air for thirty blocks.
“Just sting the music at the end” I said, rubbing the skin on my forehead, “and stop complaining.”
“It’s a crappy song” he said, because he always had to mention that thing you told him not to mention one more time. The same way he always had to have the last word. The same way he always said “I told you so” when he did not tell me so.

“I told you it would suck” he mumbled, pressing a few buttons and spinning a shiny black wheel, making the images on the screens stop and start. He was a TV production freelancer like I was, which was a fancy way of saying we didn’t get health benefits and would be looking for another job in a few months.  I had bounced from pseudo-news magazine shows to cable comedy before landing here, in hipster music television.  I had written promos, cataloged video and tried my hand at field producing, but Brad had only ever been an editor. He saw the world around him as video stamped with time codes, quantifiable linear sections of movement devoid of imagination or spontaneity or mood lighting.

The “Superfreak,” opening titles danced in colorful graffiti-style font across the screen while the pulsing theme song itched my eardrums and thumped nauseatingly in my stomach.  Television was a frenetic, substance-adled industry of blurred boundaries and salacious behavior, and I loved every inappropriate minute of it.  My last jobs had been at the kinds of places where your boss would call you names that would make your mother weep in the heat of a racing deadline, then buy your drinks all night at the bar later.  Respect among colleagues was largely based on a universal vulnerability to blackmail, as all secrets were eventually revealed at Happy Hour.

At this gig I was the Post Producer for a weekly, shiny, half-hour show with a loose plot line and a production schedule that could only be realized if Brad and I threw together the entire thing at breakneck speed in a claustrophobic room for eighteen hours a day or more, relentlessly. There were no after work drinks because there was no after work.  We didn’t stop for lunch, because that would mean our eyeballs would leave the monitors for a second, and they did not ever leave the monitors. For a second. Brad received a phone call that his father was dying and spent the entirety of the conversation adding credits to a near-completed episode.
“Uh, Ok I guess if the priest is there I’ll let you go” he said to his distraught mother as his fingers typed the names of the camera operators and story producers, “call me after Last Rites.”

“We have to cut seven seconds out of the first segment” I read from my battered notebook.  I looked at his hunched profile, rounded shoulders seeming to join with the grapefruit-sized Buddha belly beneath it. I imagined the rest of his life spent in the same position with changing backgrounds, slouching on a bus, a prison bunk, the toilet, his father’s funeral.
“Other song is better” he muttered,  “I’ll show it to Jake, he’ll say the same thing.”

Jake was Brad’s buddy, a fellow editor and suburban lawn-mowing enthusiast.  They double-dated with their wives, shopped at Sears for both hammocks and clothing and hotly debated the quality of various sitcoms from the 90’s.  He happened to be working in the building and was going to stop by, like a cross-over episode.

“Nice song” teased Jake’s sarcastic voice from the doorway.  I looked over and realized with a start that I knew this guy, almost in the biblical sense. We had worked together a few years earlier and one night during a typically epic drinking session he ambushed me outside the bathrooms with a little touchy-feely action, trying to get me to leave with him. I knew he was married and used that as a playful way to shut it down, but probably I had some chicken fingers I wanted to get back to at the bar.  I tried to reconcile the memory with a story Brad told me about how he and Jake had bought matching sweaters, along with two more for “the wives” as he called them. The plan was to get a picture to use as a Christmas card to send to friends with, I imagine, a low tolerance for hilarity.

$_32I looked for recognition in his eyes as he crossed the room towards me. There was none. Another incriminating moment locked in the vaults of Happy Hour.

“I told you Jake would hate the song” Brad said, as smug as a Christmas sweater.

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