Understanding Media 1
Rachel held the handle of her blue overnight bag tightly in her hand. Staring out through the inland window of the Greyhound bus going north, she watched herself move closer to Mendocino. Her reflection looked back at her as she moved north, a young, thin stranger with sunken eyes and wisps of mousy brown hair. She knew that anything that was about to happen was all right, because she was now on the other side of the television monitor.
Megan, pretty in her schoolteacher blue dress. Her hair was short and brown, didn’t know that Rachel was coming, or who she was, and, of course, she also didn’t know that she herself was merely a video image, a projected sequence of zeros and ones. When Rachel entered through the back door of the classroom, she only looked up from her desk and smiled. The classroom was too long and too thin, narrowing even thinner towards the back of the room. The light shadowed the tan desk-seats harshly, giving them a crystal sharpness that was clearer that it should have been. Most of the desks were occupied by children, maybe ten or twelve years old, who sat like borrowings from an English boarding school. They fidgeted inattentively in their seats while Megan taught them arithmetic.
Rachel took a seat at a desk near the door and waited for class to end. Across from her, out huge windows, the Mendocino countryside had taken on a green shine in the afternoon light. It looked cold out there now, colder than when she’d come in. Megan answered the children’s questions and class was dismissed.
She led Rachel out of the school past the redwood dormitory for girl students, to a slope of richly green pine trees. A wooden staircase had been built into the hill towards one side of the pine grove. Rachel followed Megan up the staircase to a house that was hidden from the school behind the trees. The last step was onto a small porch. Past the porch, the house reached back out in the direction of the staircase. It was held above the hill on stilts.
At the door, a girl with ribboned pigtails was kicking nervously with one foot at the heel of the other. She handed a note to Megan who read it smiling, and kissed the girl on the forehead.
“It is my birthday,” she explained, almost to the trees. She opened the door and followed Rachel into her home; the little girl’s footsteps rolled away down the stairs. They stood in a modern living room. The wall facing them and its opposite were both lined with books. Out over the stilts, the third wall was a window giving a view across the top of the pine trees to the other side of the valley and a hazy range of mountains beyond. The fourth wall was grey brick with a fireplace in its center. To one side of the fireplace was a door-sized opening shut with a bead curtain. Through the beads, a hall led to the bedroom. Off the left of the hall was a bathroom and off to the right, a kitchen. The kitchen was furnished with a brown metal electric stove on which a bright enameled blue coffee pot sat on a white heat pad. There was a refrigerator of the same metallic brown as the stove. A sliding glass door opened onto a balcony.
Rachel spent the time, her time, with Megan, and never forgot that since she had crossed the line, anything was all right. Sometimes, as she became closer to Megan, she thought of telling her—Megan we’re just the television; watch it fade in and out—as they lay on the hearth in front of the fireplace watching the darkness out the window with the fire light creeping from behind them along the books.
It is late afternoon; Rachel is down near the school telling a few of the children stories about Canadian timber wolves. The weather is warm and the early evening air is filled with gnats. She blinks her eyelid once as a gnat gets in; it feels cool and squirming against her eyeball. Her eye tears when she lets the bug out.
Turning, she goes to the staircase and begins to walk up, the footsteps giggling slowly along the wood. Anything is all right. At the top of the stairs, the door is open. She walks in. Megan is lying into some pillows on the far side of the room, a half empty cup of coffee, blue enamel, on the floor at her feet. She is reading. Rachel crosses the room. She has a long thick knife which she takes over her head and brings down repeatedly into Megan, stabbing just about the left breast. The blood splatters out over the pages of the book, into Megan’s coffee. Megan screams, not understanding that nothing can hurt. From somewhere else in the room, a more metallic scream follows closely after hers. Rachel turns to look for the source of the second scream. Her eyes stop on an iPad screen on a shelf above the fireplace on the other side of the bead curtain.
On the iPad, she can see Megan’s bloody face, and this Megan too, the iPad Megan, is screaming. The volume has been adjusted a little too softly and can barely be heard above her screams.
CLOSE SHOT of Rachel as she realizes that she is still on the real side and begins to scream too.
PAN the room as Rachel’s growing screams blend with Megan’s fading ones.
CAMERA STOPS on Rachel facing TV set.
CLOSE SHOT: Rachel’s tear-streaked face as she yells and cries towards the television.
Understanding Media 2
The girl switched the radio to an all news station. “I like to listen to the news a lot,” she said, turning the volume down. Her voice was sharp and nasal. The boy lit a cigarette. “If everyone listened to the news all the time, they might realize what’s going on around them, get more involved. People are so apathetic. Besides, the best stories are on the news.”
“It’s an art form,” observed the boy. “Reality.”
“If artists got into reality, “ Sam turned into the conversation from the window, “it would become a lot more interesting.”
“How do you mean?” the girl sounded patronizing.
“It’s happening a little,” Sam answered. “When someone, anyone is on the scene, with a camera, their phone, whatever, they force or control the events. That makes them artists, creators, only they haven’t realized it yet.”
“Like that sniper they showed live last week shooting people from the Howard Johnson’s?” the boy turned through his cigarette smoke to ask her, and to smile.
“Right, and suddenly, not realizing that he’s always on some kind of camera, he realizes he’s performing and blows a couple of extra brains out.”
“You think the cameras are responsible for that?” the girl asked.
“In a clumsy sort of way,” Sam answered.
“That’s going pretty far,” the girl said flatly. “What do you think, Harry?”
“You don’t think he would have killed those people if he hadn’t had the coverage?” the boy, Harry, asked. The girl glared at him.
‘It wouldn’t have been the same,” Sam explained. “All he understood was stardom. They were laying it on him. It’s all anyone understands, really, but he only had the one part down.”
“It was his show then,” said the boy, “but he didn’t realize it. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Right, a God trip. Gods can create or destroy. He wasn’t on to the create end but he was God.” She paused, annoyed at herself. “Anyway we’re talking about the example. All I was saying is that the media, and we are all the media, has the power to make events, which puts them (us) in the place of real artists, but not being real artists, they’re (we’re) still bumbling around like a bunch of idiots.”
“That’s a deep insight,” said the boy.
The girl looked at him with real annoyance. “I suppose an artist controls his visions then,” she asked Sam angrily.
“The controls are up for grabs,” Sam answered. “It’s just a thing of degree. We’re all artists; practice just shows us when to let go.”
She faded back out the window. The news played soft while the couple talked about their drug experiences. The girl had forgiven the boy for his interest in Sam. Sam paid little attention to their conversation, telling herself instead the story of a woman who thought that she was on television and had killed her friend by mistake.
Les Bohem has written a lot of movies and TV shows including Twenty Bucks, Daylight, Dante’s Peak, The Alamo and the mini-series, Taken which he wrote and executive produced with Steven Spielberg, and for which he won an Emmy award. He’s had songs recorded by Emmylou Harris, Randy Travis, Freddy Fender, Steve Gillette, Johnette Napolitano (of Concrete Blonde), and Alvin (of the Chipmunks.) His short novel, Flight 505, was published last year by UpperRubberBoot . His new album, “Moved to Duarte,” was just released on Jack Rabbit Day Records to much critical acclaim and no sales whatsoever.