THE PERFECT HOST

by J. Z. Sharpe

J. Z. Sharpe 2000

 

"He's perfect!" shouted Frank, the guy from the network, his unbuttoned
jacket flapping like bird's wings as he jumped up from his seat.

Marilyn, the one who called herself a producer, didn't look so sure.
"He's fine here in your office, Frank. But put him in front of a
camera, he'll come across like a twelve-year-old kid. Not the image we
want to present to females eighteen to thirty-four."

"Aw, jeez, Marilyn, look at him!" Frank dashed over and pinched Cupid's
chin with his long fingers. They smelled like onions. "You want
non-threatening, right? The viewers want a sensitive host, someone who
looks like he understands them. We had the fatherly type with Donahue,
the motherly type with Oprah and Sally, the crazy big sister in Ricki
Lake. Look at the chubby cheeks, Marilyn, the big blue eyes. So what
if he's not six feet tall? We can get around that with some creative
camera work. Talk show fans --" Frank stepped back and gestured
grandly, like a circus ringleader. "I bring you the sensitive little
brother."

Cupid groaned silently. The last thing he wanted to be was someone's
little brother. But he had to do something. The rent was due, the
phone company threatened to yank out his phone, the utility company
wanted to turn off the gas, and now that he didn't have that cushy job
in the romance business anymore -- what was left? He wasn't qualified
for much. He couldn't type, computers scared the hell out of him, and
his legs were too short to reach the gas pedal in a car, so driving a
taxi was out of the question, too. The little ad in the paper had been
suitably vague, it just asked, "Like people? Like to talk? Want to be
on TV?" Cupid certainly did like people, all kinds of people, and he'd
always been able to hold his own on any conversational turf. And didn't
everyone want to be on TV, get that fifteen minutes of fame?

Frank escorted Cupid down to wardrobe, where a team of tailors stood
ready to make him some suits with class. "Make him look like
Letterman," Frank commanded.

Then a crew of hairdressers descended upon Cupid's head, where they
sculpted his blonde ringlets into a curly cap that framed his plump
cheeks nicely. Even Cupid had to admit that he'd never had such a nice
haircut before. "Good work," he said as they handed him a mirror so he
could check out the back.

"Don't forget us when you're ready to do a makeover show," said the
hairdressers' team leader. "We do them for Jenny Jones all the time."

At last, they were leading Cupid through the hallways to the studio.
"It's just a test," Frank said. "Nothing to get nervous over." But it
looked pretty real to Cupid; every seat in the studio audience was
filled. The lights felt like mid-summer at the Jersey shore, and Cupid
began to detect a little sweat starting to soak through his nice new
shirt. National television? he thought to himself. Me? I was always
sort of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.

"Thirty seconds!" shouted someone. Bouncy theme music began to play
from some unseen place. A man wearing a massive pair of headphones
stood next to the camera, his pointed finger poised in the air like a
starter gun. Then he lowered the finger and pointed at Cupid, who (much
to his own amazement), opened his mouth and began to speak.

*****
The featured guest was a slender young woman from Detroit named
Lakisha. She wore a tight sweater and miniscule leather skirt; a gold
hoop had been pierced through her lower lip, and she fidgeted around it
with her tongue as she talked. "It's my boyfriend, see, he's like, been
seein' someone else. Only he says he ain't seein' nobody."

Cupid glanced down at the index card of notes they'd shoved into his
hand during the commercial break. "So you're here today to confront
him?"

"Damn straight!"

"But Lakisha, how do you know? Do you have any evidence?"

"Yeah! This!" She reached into the skirt's back pocket, which looked
hardly big enough to hold a credit card, and yanked out a pair of red
lace panties. The audience gasped. "I found these under the bed!"

Cupid gulped. Marilyn the producer was so worried about keeping things
clean. He watched the cameramen jostle for position, trying to get a
good shot of the offending garment. "Well, shall we meet your
boyfriend?" Cupid asked. He looked quickly to the index card for help
-- what was the boyfriend's name, anyway? "Monroe? Monroe, come out
here!"

The monitors showed a quick glimpse of Monroe being led from the
soundproof booth backstage. He loped through the beaded curtain and
took his place in the chair next to Lakisha, who held her hand out, palm
up, as though she didn't even want to be bothered with the sight of
him. The audience booed with great vigor. Cupid wasn't quite sure what
it would take to quiet them down, but he noticed some of the production
people waving their hands and shaking their heads, so he did that, too.
The audience began to mellow out, at least enough so Cupid could hear
himself speak.

"Monroe! Welcome to the show. What's your side of the story?" Cupid
asked.

"Hey, man, it's like this, know what I mean? I ain't doin' no messin'
around, know what I mean? She be makin' all this up, man, she be makin'
all this up."

Lakisha sat up in her seat, her mouth open so wide that Cupid could see
fillings in her back teeth. "Monroe!!" she squealed. "Why, you're so
full of --" Cupid grimaced and hoped the production crew had blipped
out the rest. Monroe slumped in his seat.

"I didn't do nothin'," he muttered.

"Then what's this?" Lakisha waved the panties over her head like a
lasso.

"They's yours, babe."

"They ain't mine!" Lakisha pulled out the size tag from an inside
seam. "Am I a size XXL? Extra extra large? Huh?" She stood up and
pirouetted -- definitely a small, maybe even extra small. The audience
loved it.

Monroe sank even further, until he was practically sitting on his
shoulderblades. "I ain't talkin' about this," he said. "I didn't even
want to come here today."

"I know who these really belong to!" Lakisha shot a glance at Cupid,
who now had no choice but to introduce his next guest, the inevitable
other woman. He took a quick peek at his index card -- it was a common
name spelled in an uncommon way. What was wrong with the old
traditional names, anyway?

"Dyanne, come on out!" The audience rolled into a new round of jeers.
Cupid blinked his eyes in disbelief; could the size XXL red panties
really belong to her? If so, it would be a tight fit. Dyanne strolled
to the only remaining chair on stage, on Monroe's left, and perched
daintily on the edge. Cupid winced and hoped the chair would hold her,
at least until the next commercial.

"You been seein' my man!" Lakisha screamed. "I'm gonna get you!" She
sprang up and ran behind poor Monroe, who buried his face in his hands.
Dyanne looked the other way as Lakisha pointed at her with an
artificially long nail tip, painted a sinful red. The security guards
hovered, waiting for the first blow.

"Let's go to a break," Cupid said. The camera lights went off just as
Lakisha grabbed Dyanne's well-moussed topknot. Soon the stage swarmed
with bodies, overturned chairs, and utter chaos. The audience cheered,
which only made the women fight more fiercely. Cupid felt the hint of a
headache between his eyebrows. "I'm going down to my dressing room," he
muttered to Frank.

"Well, you better get us out of this, or Marilyn will hang us both from
the fifty-first floor!" Frank cast a nervous eye at one of the security
guards, who had just been elbowed by Lakisha.

Down in the solitude of the converted broom closet with the construction
paper star taped to the door, Cupid sat down to think. He had ten
minutes, which he hoped would be enough time for them to disentangle
Lakisha and Dyanne, tend to any injuries, and straighten up the stage.
He leaned forward and rested his head on the dressing room table.

Now what would I do if I still had my old job? he thought.

Then he grabbed his briefcase and spread it open on the table. He knew
exactly what to do -- he'd been doing it for centuries. There wasn't
much time.

*****
Fortunately the bow and its arrows were new, light and sleek,
custom-made for Cupid in titanium alloy. If he closed his suit jacket
over it at just the right angle, no one would know what he had tucked
under his arm. All he had to do was to stand in the right place, get a
good angle, and...

He slipped off to one side of the stage. Things appeared calmer now;
everyone had taken their seats, and the make-up people attacked the
guests with powders and combs, trying to restore some semblance of
dignity. Lakisha had her eyes closed as a woman in a pink lab coat
dusted her forehead with a huge sable brush. Monroe sat a little
straighter now, his fingers clutching the arms of the chair. Dyanne
surveyed the situation with her hands folded primly in her lap, a
massive mountain of a princess. Cupid stepped behind part of the set;
if he could get a little closer, and turn just so, he could shoot one
arrow -- ping! -- then be back in the audience with his mike on before
the end of the break, ready for questions. It was his only chance.

He glanced around; no one seemed to care where he was right now. The
producers and the cameramen huddled by the beaded curtain; the make-up
people packed up their equipment, their mission complete. Cupid shifted
his weight to his right foot, parted the jacket just a little, and with
a swift flick of the wrist, let the tiny arrow fly. He worried that the
arrow's point might have put a hole in his nice new suit, but he saw no
damage, not even a loose button. It struck Monroe in the back of his
neck and bounced to the floor, just the way it was supposed to. Monroe
brought a hand up to the place where it hit, a baffled look on his face.

"Everyone okay?" Cupid asked, as he bounded over to his guests with a
big host-of-the-show smile.

"Um, yeah, sure, man... everything's fine..." Monroe muttered, still
rubbing the back of his neck.

"Great! Frank, are we ready?"

And so the show resumed. A calm settled over the audience; they'd come
to see a fight and they weren't disappointed. Cupid roamed the mellowed
crowd in search of questions and comments.

"Wait, man, I'd like to say something," Monroe said suddenly.

Cupid raised his eyebrows. "Sure, Monroe, go ahead."

Monroe turned toward Lakisha with wide puppy eyes. "Lakisha?" he said,
each syllable in her name drawn out to almost be a word on its own. "I
-- I just wanna say, I'm sorry, babe."

"What?" Lakisha looked like someone had just splashed cold champagne in
her face. "What you say?"

"I said that I'm sorry, Lakisha. I -- I don't know what got into me, I
was stupid. Please forgive me, babe. I love you."

>From the look of complete disbelief on Lakisha's face, Cupid was sorry
that he didn't have an arrow for her, too. Maybe his plan wouldn't work
out after all. One arrow wouldn't be enough. But just as Cupid started
to see the want-ads march before his eyes again, Lakisha leaned over and
planted a big lipstick-soaked kiss on Monroe's cheek. "Aw, babe, I know
you didn't mean it. I love you too."

The audience cooed as the reunited lovebirds reached across the chairs
and embraced. Dyanne, however, stood up and marched backstage with her
hands on her ample hips, an evil scowl spread across her face. "What
about me?" Cupid heard her say tearfully as she passed the production
crew.

And then, like the sweet sound of a school bell at the end of a tough
exam, the bouncy theme music began again and the show was, at last,
over. Cupid almost fainted with relief. He'd survived his first show.

"We've got a winner!" crowed Frank as he rushed up the aisle to Cupid,
his hands outstretched.

Marilyn followed right behind, a big bucktoothed grin on her face. "I
need you up in my office, right now. We've got contracts to sign."

Cupid checked to be sure that the bow was still in its hiding place,
tucked under his jacket. He'd drop it off in his dressing room on the
way out. "You pull that kind of miracle all the time and we'll be
bigger than Sally and Geraldo combined!" Frank said as they stumbled
down the aisle behind the departing audience. "Keep up the good work."

In the hallway, just outside the green room, Cupid almost collided with
Dyanne, the spurned other woman, who dabbed at her eyes with a crumpled
tissue. He stopped; he had to deal with this. It was only fair.

Frank bounced impatiently on the balls of his feet, but Cupid waved him
off. "Go on, I'll catch up with you." Then he climbed up on a nearby
chair, to compensate for their difference in height, and smiled kindly
at Dyanne.

"I really liked him," she sniffed.

"Yeah, I know," Cupid said as he handed her a fresh tissue. "Hey, what
are you doing next week?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Well, I'm on my way upstairs to discuss ideas for new programs with my
producers. We want to do a matchmaking show with some our guests, you
know -- 'I've Just Got to Meet That Guest!' You were great today. I
just know we're going to get letters."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really." Cupid reached up and wiped a tear off her cheek. "You
make sure my producers have your phone number, okay? We'd love to have
you back."

"Gee, thanks, Mr. Cupid..." Dyanne said, with a brave little smile.

Cupid jumped down off the chair and winked at her. Then he took off for
the stairway; the producers would be up in Marilyn's office, and he
didn't want them to get impatient. It looked like he would do okay in
this job after all.

No, wait, scratch that.

He was going to be perfect -- better than Oprah, Sally, Ricki, Maury,
Phil and all the rest combined.

 
J. Z. Sharpe 2000

 

The Sharpe Tongue can be found at:
http://www.users.fast.net/~joanzs

 
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