Interactive,” the salesman says. “People want everything interactive.” “Ten-four,” the cop says. He leans back, clicks the remote. Not much to do in retirement but click the remote.
“People want to get involved,” the salesman says. “This is the 90s. They don’t want to just sit there and watch.”
“Ten-four,” the cop says, changing the channel.
It’s all her fault. She lets these salesmen into the house, then she hides in the kitchen.
“Since you won’t allow me to set up a demonstration, let me tell you how it works.” No way to shut him up. CD-ROM, multimedia, RAM, megabytes, megahertz. He mentions everything but the price. The cop clicks the remote.
Jenny Jones pops up with a Generation X couple, boy sleeping with girl’s mother, girl hollering and screaming, audience cheering . . .
“See those kids?” the salesman cries. “Disgusting! With Interact you just hit a few keys and blotto! All the grease is washed out of their hair! They’ll be blow-dried and clean, and you’ll be able to eat your dinner!”
The cop clicks the remote, Jenny and her guests disappear, and the somber courtroom face of you-know-who pops up instead.
“And here’s a feature you’ll like,” the quick-witted salesman cries. “The O.J. Filter! You don’t even have to touch the control. Soon as he shows, bingo! Reruns of the NFL’s greatest hits.”
The cop clicks the remote. Why in hell does she let a salesman in the house if she isn’t even going to talk to him? Let this salesman try to sell her! Hah, hah! State-of-the-art cybertech to a woman who can’t even work the electric can opener!
“There’s more!” A good salesman never quits. “There’s the Newt Gingrich Neutralizer. Soon as he starts with his contract, zap! He’s in an orphanage!
The cop clicks the remote. Life was more fun before he retired. How he longs for the good old days. Arresting guys named Jesus. Taking beer away from teenagers and drinking it right before their eyes. You want interactive? Go to work.
“It isn’t just television,” the salesman says. “It’s all media. Radio. Rush Limbaugh. Can’t get away from Rush, can you? You can if you have the Rush Repeller! Mike Ditka? ‘Crushes the Competition?’ Not after the Ditka Detonator. Not only do you get rid of these people, you get to see them go!
The cop throws down the remote, struggles out of his easy chair (it’s terrible how a man stiffens up), and walks down to the end of the hall. The bathroom door is closed. Now that. Is he supposed to handle this salesman all by himself?
“Listen to these features.” The guy is on automatic pilot. “The Princess Di Deleter! The Roseanne Reduction! The John and Lorena Bobbitt Block, the Heidi Fleiss Flush, the Michael Jackson Mute, the Three Tenors Throttle. Why . . . ” His voice softens, “we even have a Baby Richard Regulator . . . ”
“Look,” the cop says. “I already have my remote . . . ”
“So what happens when you go channel surfing? Give me that thing and I’ll show you.”
Flick, flick, flick, the salesman charges through 71 channels. Burt Reynolds appears 21 times, George Foreman 20. “What did I tell you? You need Interact. Wait till you see what it does to the Energizer Bunny!”
The cop leans back, pretends to close his eyes. “Don’t sign anything,” a small secret voice warns him. It’s his guardian angel again. After 55 years on the missing list the goddamn angel’s returned to regulate his life.
Not that the salesman notices. “Watch the news a lot? Sure you do. How about some old woman with 56 cats and a house full of excrement? Blotto. Interact shoves the reporter’s face right into it. Home alone kids? First one to point a finger gets it bitten off. Speaking of home alone kids, let that Macaulay punk say ‘Yesssss!’ one more time and the Culkin Clobberer kicks in.”
It can’t cost too much, the cop thinks.
“You don’t want it,” the guardian angel insists.
“Interact allows you to prepare special fates for special people. The first weather person to mention wind chill, right into the deep freeze! That guy who sells the Infinity cars. Wouldn’t you like to see him run over by a ’77 Maverick? Interact can do that. Newspapers? You just get the optional scanner with the 360 gigabyte all-terrain drive, plug it in, slide your newspaper between the rollers and . . . ”
“Don’t believe this,” the angel warns.
“No more Raymond Coffey!”
Too good to be true, the cop thinks.
“Time! Newsweek! Esquire! Set the thing to Celebrity Cleanout, you’ll never have to read another profile of Cindy Crawford, not one more word about Tom Cruise in vampire drag.”
The cop remembers that fashion issue the New Yorker put out, the terrible day when he opened his favorite magazine only to be greeted with Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and those ugly Richard Avedon photographs.
“It wouldn’t have worked,” the angel whispers. “Don’t listen to this guy.” You’d think the angel was the one being asked to spend the money.
“If you really want to go all out,” the salesman continues, “we have a People magazine upgrade. Expensive, yes, but worth it.”
The cop sighs. It’s a pleasant dream. Imagine an entire year without the obnoxious celebrities, without the media icons, without the overhyped stories, with good movies in which people kiss with their mouths shut and nothing ever explodes and blood stays inside people’s bodies where it belongs. For Pete’s sake! In the last year he’s seen more of Susan Smith than he has of his own sister, learned more about the royal family than he ever knew about his entire family tree, become better acquainted with Homer Simpson than with his own two sons, put more time in at that phony Woodstock than most people did at the real one, watched all those political ads without once having an argument with his Republican brother-in-law, played Wheel of Fortune with Pat and Vanna–and still hasn’t played a game of rummy with his wife. Celozzi and Ettelson have entered his home more often than his own beloved granddaughters, monsters like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer still show up uninvited, never mind if they are dead, and every time California comes up with some new fascist proposition he has to hear about it in his own living room. You don’t live in the global village, it follows you around whether you like it or not!
“Don’t let him fool you,” the angel whispers. “Stuff like this can’t possibly exist.”
An angel, of all things, talking about stuff that can’t possibly exist. Come to think of it, aren’t angels supposed to concern themselves with sin? Why should an angel get all exercised over the way a man spends his own money?
At last she deigns to walk into the living room, innocently taking her seat at the end of the couch.
“I was just telling your husband about Interact’s Mr. Food Muzzler,” the salesman cries. “Don’t you think that’s a good idea?”
“I like Mr. Food,” she says.
The salesman opens his mouth, but before he can say whatever it is he meant to say, the angel pulls off a miracle. Angels can do that, obviously. “We have a Fred Astaire Fadeaway,” the salesman says.
The cop snickers. Pretty smart angel. A Fred Astaire Fadeaway would definitely not be welcomed in this household, at least not by the woman who runs it!
“Out,” she says in a deadly quiet voice that leaves no room for argument.
Defeated, the salesman slumps toward the doorway, then turns for one last shot.
“Jim Bakker is getting out of prison. And don’t think you’ve heard the last of Tonya Harding . . . ”
The cop clicks the remote. Too bad, he thinks as the door closes behind the salesman. He could have used Interact with the new congress coming in. He wonders why the angel took all that trouble to screw things up.
So he wonders a little more. And he begins to get it. Angels, yes. This was the year people started in with angels. Stories in the newspapers, articles in magazines, angels on talk shows, angels in the bookstores, angels on the evening news. “Are angels real? Some people say they are. Don’t miss our special report.” For a while there you just couldn’t get away from angels–unless, heh heh, you had a feather-by-feather Interact Angel Eliminator . . .
So that’s it, the cop thinks. He looks around but the angel has ducked out of sight.
“Now where you going?” she says.
The cop is struggling into his coat. “After that salesman,” he replies. “And when I catch him I’m not even going to ask how much.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Paul Moch.