by Jim Breslin
Years after your fateful indiscretion, you now sit in a musky editing studio on the outskirts of East Hollywood. Your sole job is to add the laugh track for a series of sitcoms, none of which you find funny in the least. Ten hours a day, you sit on a ragged pleather chair, which has cracked to show the charred innards, and watch as young, feral twenty-year old actors repeat foul tepid lines while slacking in fake coffee shops and loft apartments. The live audience doesn’t chortle at the appropriate moment, their guffaws are ill-timed and forced. You view these shows without laughing, without even smiling. Sitcoms without humor. Yet you “sweeten” them, as the term is called in the business.
Your toolbox includes a series of sixteen different laugh tracks. There is raucous laugh and light chuckles. One of the tracks can only be used sparingly. Hyena woman is named as such because a high-pitched squeal can be heard exactly seven seconds into the track.
The room in which you spend ten hours a day is poorly lit and the video monitors hang above a series of dials and buttons that are your editing system. The red shag rug, which covers both the floor and walls, whiffs of cigarettes and mold. The cleaning ladies haven’t vacuumed, or even dusted, in the last fifteen years. You’ve become proficient at your purgatorial pursuit, laying in the proper laugh tracks for a half hour show (twenty-two minutes in entirety) in about two and a half to three hours. The repeated watching of these shows, re-racking each scene multiple times to determine which track to use, slowly grates at your synapses as if they are worn cartilage. An x-ray of your soul would reveal bone now scrapes on bone.
When you first arrived here, it being the only job you could find after being fired from the US Shopping Network, you thought you could at least view female actresses on the screen, freeze framing them in certain poses, examining their ears, imagining what they would be like if they were to visit you in your third floor rented room which overlooks the back alley of a Vietnamese restaurant.
But now, at 56, your sexual prowess has died out. You’ve squeezed off too many, your glasses are like Coke bottles, and you sense your testicles are permanently depleted. Your boss, a massive balding ogre who sports a small ponytail wrapped in a rubber band, stops by once a week to check on your progress. He drives a dinged up red vintage Jaguar with a license plate that reads LAFF. He hasn’t offered a review or a raise, and you haven’t asked. You’ve come to understand this is your penance, and the routine of watching and knowing when to add the laugh track and how to dip it underneath has come to be second nature. You do your task mindlessly, stopping only to smoke a cigarette or to step into the hallway to retrieve a cola out of the vending machine, which is located across from the Holistic Healing Clinic and down the hall from the Jehovah’s Witness suite, which is only used on Sundays.
The repeated watching of sitcoms weighs you down, watching the beautiful people ironically chat about their pride, their drinking, their sex lives, their gluttony. The characters only desire other beautiful people, Caribbean vacations, pay raises, flashy cars.
The hills beyond Los Angeles are now ensconced in wildfires, and when the wind is just right, the smoke drifts over the valley. I-5 has been on the news due to a series of fatal accidents, and homes in the hills have been evacuated. When you walk to your rusted out Civic at night, you smell the soot, and watch the ashes float through the sky, swirling in the Pacific trade winds. At night, when you look to the east, over the mountains, you witness an orange glow beyond the hills. But then the rain comes. A cold, cleansing rain. You have trouble driving through the raindrops, the windshield wipers don’t pivot fast enough and you catch yourself, excited to sense the rust bucket hydroplane across the lanes of the deserted highway. You could ease up now and save yourself, but it’s too late for that. Shut your eyes. Breathe in a deep whiff of that sweet, sweet rain.