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The Interrogation Room

When a story of extraordinary hollowness--one of our Whore Laureates drunk and in jail--saturates the entire government-sold spectrum, sanctimonious purselips condemn the media for its banality, its P.H.-imbalance. Why show blondes, say the purselips, when there is so much delicious suffering unreported? But if these huffing posters got what they wanted, TV would be veterans with southern accents demonstrating prostheses. Tired scientists would point to dead lab animals, cameras would pan slowly across superfund sites, and fat people would tell no jokes but rather sob.

When I bathe myself in blue light I don't want to see guts; I prefer emergency room doctors in tailored scrubs flirting over spreading tumors. I want to see a miniseries that opens with a long zoom from New Jersey into Manhattan: a mile-long zeppelin moors itself to the World Trade Center. Stairs lower from the gondola and a woman of a certain age emerges in harem pants, smoking, takes off her goggles and hands them to an attendant. She is here to collect an orphan just in from Shenzen, one she picked from a lithograph that appeared on her elliptical scope (which is connected by radiowaves to a groaning terawatt transmitter the size of a battleship). Container ships filled with Chinese babies prowl the seas. She is the woman who patented the platonic solids. But her empire is at risk.

No one makes my kind of television. Not long ago, not long after midnight, people from TV invaded our street with equipment trucks and set up dressing-room trailers--portable cages for gaunt parrots. As the sun rose workers stood atop the trailers, like gondoliers, and called to each other over the sound of diesel generators. Mo and I went down to the street rubbing our eyes. I'm sorry, they said, but you can't be here. Tens of thousands of dollars wasted on Untitled Police Drama Pilot, banalities repeated with an authentic mafia neighborhood as backdrop. That's why the interrogation room is a staple of crime drama: it's a bargain. One room, some green paint, and cheap lighting. There is a single table and a few hard chairs. We gave you what you asked for, say the interrogators. We brought you hair from the mane of a unicorn, and even though it is winter we found for you a single perfect strawberry. Now you. Tell us where to find the shed; tell us what we will find if we dig beneath it. Tell us how much oxygen is left.

Not long ago, not long after noon, I shuffled along President St. on my way to the 4th Ave R stop. I passed a Subaru with the windows rolled down. Inside the car a prostitute fellated a man. She was moving like a Marine doing pushups. The fellatee looked over to me, his eyes blank, and I kept walking--no plot twist, no sudden pan--to the train. How, I wondered, as I got to the Union St. stop, can I be bored when there is a criminal act coming to completion in bright sunshine eighty feet behind me? How, someone asked me later, did I know it was a prostitute? Because, I said. No one works that hard for free.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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