Friday, June 12, 2009

Digital Projection

Today is the day TV stations across the United States switch their signals from analog to digital.It's pretty much a nonevent as events go: most people I know have cable and there's been a slow stream of PSA's about this thing since at least the middle of last year. It was originally going to be February, now gets settled in to June 12th, destined to be a footnote against what I can only hope are positive election results in Iran and the less important (but no less potentially incendiary to Things I Own) results of the Red Wings game.

What makes this date special for me is that it was a deadline of sorts, now passed. Back in 2008 I was still struggling along, lost, making no headway, uninspired, unfinished, unhappy. Then came the beaming, beneficient visage of Miss Lisa Edelstein.

This is nothing new. I watch House every week, after all. But this time, this time Lisa was telling me that in February of 2009, my cozy old analog TV signal would be replaced with a slick new digital one, and I had to update or I'd be left out in the cold, Entertainment wise. Well. Not MY signal. Somebody's.

This Gave Me an Idea and got me writing again, and I made a personal deadline for February...25, I think, to be done. And when that didn't happen it didn't quite matter because they pushed the digital switchover date to June 12. And now it's June 12, and I'm still not finished. I'm closer, however, and I have something relatively coherent that passes from point A to point Z without skipping too many letters.

Here, instead of nothing, is the scene I wrote:

She left Ann Arbor before five and arrived after having to double-back several times along dirt roads, at the transmission tower at eleven. She parked the car just off the road and tested her camera in the dark. Goddamn cameras. So many settings and preferences and balancing options to do what her eyes did naturally. How to play this? Hover just out of sight and get photos or confront them out right? The police would eventually cotton on to this whole thing. She wasn't exactly their target demographic. Only the violently old and the impeccably paranoid would have refused to or simply not be bothered to switch their antennas to digital receivers, as offered free of charge by the Government. But somebody somewhere was going to do what she did and stumble on to this transmission and Get An Idea. And that's what she'd tell them. Somebody is going to tell your story. Either it's the unfeeling smiling news anchor of the all-digital eleven-o'clock news or it's me. Grinning, confidant, she made for the tower.

The gate was rusted and permanently cast open. In the dim starlight the place looked like some lost relic of an ancient civilization. Vines consumed the side of the squat brick building. The tower itself was unlit, its lonely spire a dimly visible silhouette against the stars. The sounds of a gas generator could be heard just beyond the flat bulk of the building. Decades ago this had been a network affiliate, a piggyback for signals from New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. She wondered about the generator and its dull percolating roar. Zoë tried the door. Locked. So they weren't so hopelessly naive. Time for some good old-fashioned Lois Lane action. Zoë allowed herself a few moments reflection on just what a bad idea this was before she launched in to it. These jokers were not going to be happy when they were barged in on. This was clearly their little secret and if she thought they'd just go along with her and tell her their story, she'd have to be out of her mind. Conspiracy nuts, alien nuts, crazies. They were gonna hang her, strap her to train tracks, throw her in the basement and ransom her. She let all the possibilities metastasize in her mind before deciding on which window to try and force open. The night air was damp and cold. She walked the circumference of the building. The generator was surrounded by a fence capped with rusted, aging barbed wire. So it was the windows then. There was a precise, measured delineation of this thing's stupidity. The people inside were murderers, rapists, psychopaths. Not interested in press.

The perfect woman. It's what Mal called her. She wasn't an idiot, she knew what he thought. All bright and smart and sweet. Like candy or something. That's how everybody saw her, all the time. Ooh, poor you, she mused for not the first time. The windows were just out of reach and almost obscenely narrow. It was, in fact, exquisitely awful to be adored by everybody constantly. Not a bed of nails, mind you, certainly. It made her job easier. Men and women, everybody seemed to respond to her. She was absolutely, positively going to break a nail doing this, which bothered her more than she cared to admit. She backed up, loosened up, brushed her finger against her nose in a subconscious gesture which had meaning only because she'd seen it in TV, and bolted for the wall.

Her first attempt was not a success.

Zoë was going to be a dancer. That was her mother's dream for her. She checked her nails, instinctively. Safe. "Maybe somebody heard inside and they've got pitchforks or something. Or worse, they'll kill you with a fucking Theremin." This was getting undignified. All this sneaking around. The front of her jacket was grimy now and her hair was coming undone. She shrugged. Knock? "Why not?" She ran more grisly situations through her brain. Imagine the worst. Give it length and breadth and height and a name and set it loose on your mind so when the kooks inside turn out to be very pleasant kooks, you can be Pleasantly Surprised. Zoë's mother was probably the only person in Christendom who didn't believe Zoë personally ate sunshine and farted rainbows.

"So," she reasoned, approaching the door, "As long as mum isn't in there, how bad can it be?" She knocked on the door.

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