[Being the latest in a series of excerpts from my novel, Man Bites Dog, which is currently on sale at Tomely for only 99c until 23 June 2014]
I first met Gina when I was at university. I was working at a call centre three evenings a week, asking the same stupid questions to different uninterested people fifty to a hundred times a night so that I could afford to pay my rent. Gina was my shift manager. She assigned the slabs of phone numbers we had to trawl through.
We became friends when we discovered a mutual appreciation of bad American television. I was in the kitchenette making myself a coffee, whistling the theme song from The Greatest American Hero.
‘I used to watch that show when I was little,’ she said.
‘Me too. My dad even bought the theme song on single. We used to play it all the time. They don’t make shows like that any more.’
‘Thank god for that, hey?’
‘I thought my dad was the Greatest American Hero.’
‘Yeah, he had blond curly hair just like him, and he used to wear red pyjamas in bed.’
‘A dead giveaway.’
‘And when I asked him if it was true, he’d just smirk and tell me that a good superhero never reveals his secret identity.’
‘What was that actor’s name?’
‘I wonder what he’s up to these days.’
We got to talking about all those dreadful eighties shows we vaguely remembered from our childhoods, like the A-Team, Remington Steele, The Fall Guy and Who’s The Boss? Gina’s favourite was Murder, She Wrote, the one about Jessica Fletcher, the lady crime novelist who solves murder mysteries in her spare time. Gina used to sit up past her bedtime, snuggled in her mother’s lap, not really understanding what was going on, but enraptured all the same.
The premise of the show is that Jessica Fletcher has written so many murder mystery novels that she has a unique understanding of how a murderer’s mind works, and can solve crimes better than the police. Every week she somehow finds herself involved in a murder case, and through careful investigation and reliance on her crime-novelist hunches she uncovers the truth and brings the perpetrators to justice. Nobody ever thinks to ask why this eccentric crime novelist is coincidentally at the scene of a murder every single week.
Gina loved Jessica Fletcher, loved the way she second-guessed the bad guys, loved the way she made the cops look like idiots, and especially loved the smug-yet-humble demeanour that she adopted when revealing who the killer really was.
‘She’s some feisty chick. She’s got the moves, she knows what’s going on. Jessica Fletcher is my hero.’
‘She’s the murderer.’
‘Don’t ever let Mum hear you say that, Steven. Bad-mouth Jessica, and you’re history.’
Now, I’m all for lionising the stars of crappy American TV. I love to lampoon the poorly written scripts, the hack actors, the plodding moralistic values ‘hidden’ in the subtext of these shows. But Gina’s affection for Murder, She Wrote seems to go further than simple irony. It’s a little disturbing. Sometimes I wonder if there is an ironic component to her love of the show. But even when Gina’s at her most twisted, I love being around her because it’s invariably more entertaining than not being around her.
At the call centre we would email Internet gossip to each other, about the actors from various US schlock-TV shows: what David Hasselhoff was up to these days, rumours of a Hart to Hart reunion special, cinematic cameo appearances by the guy who played Howling Mad Murdock. One time, Gina even sent me pictures of the cast of The Greatest American Hero with my face pasted over all of theirs. After work we’d go out drinking, watch 24-hour science fiction movie marathons and memorise the dumbest lines to scream at each other in the pub, bitch about the zombies we worked with at the call centre and swap stories about the minefields that were our love lives.
It was inevitable that our bonding over trash culture would set us up as some kind of two-person clique at work, and also inevitable that our workmates would come to think of us as ‘those two loud weirdoes’. We expected such a reaction, and we revelled in it. What we didn’t anticipate was that our ‘misuse of company technology’ (translation: logging into the TrashTeevee message board an average of fifteen times a day) would get us fired.
The night of our last shift, Gina and I sent a company-wide spam email with a big picture of David Hasselhoff smiling his best Knight Rider smileas he perched on the bonnet of K.I.T.T., his sentient crime-fighting car. To accompany the picture we had composed a farewell message.
Your computer has been infected by the Knight Rider virus!! This virus is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!! It transforms your hard-drive into a sentient, crime-fighting robot with flashing red eyes and a patronising English accent! It transforms the user into a curly-haired 80s bohunk with a fetish for leather pants!!! The only cure is to watch seasons one through five of Baywatch sequentially, though the user runs the risk of turning into a curly-haired 90s bohunk with a fetish for red Speedos!!!! BEWARE!!!!!
Neither of us has worked in the telemarketing industry since. Gina scored herself a sweet gig tending bar at the Empress, and I fell back into the generous arms of Austudy for the remainder of my degree.
So in return for the joys of sharing Gina’s company and having her include me in her outlandish schemes, which can only be described as ‘cockamamie’, I pretend not to be disturbed by the giant poster of Jessica Fletcher that is the focal point of Gina’s lounge room. I turn a blind eye to the bookshelf filled with videotaped episodes of Murder, She Wrote that her mother actually listed tape by tape on her household insurance form. I join Gina and her mother for their M,SW marathon parties, watching back-to-back episodes until I fall asleep on the couch, with the two of them sitting up well into the morning, calling out encouragement to their on-screen heroine.
‘Attagirl, Jess! You tell that nosey Amos Tupper to keep his opinions to himself!’
‘You tell him, Mum.’
But there’s one thing I cannot tolerate. One thing about the show that drives me absolutely out of my skull.
That goddamn comma.
‘What the hell is it doing there?’ I once asked Gina.
‘I don’t see the problem,’ she countered. ‘It’s grammatically incorrect! It’s not a bloody sentence! It makes no sense!’
‘What? It’s perfectly clear. Murder, she wrote. She’s a mystery writer. She writes murder novels. See?’
‘No, I don’t see. If that was what you were trying to get across, then you’d write “she wrote murder”, or something.’
”’She wrote murder” sounds dumb.’
‘So does “Murder, she wrote”! At least you could put quote marks in there. If it said “Quote, Murder, comma, unquote, She Wrote”, then that would at least be grammatically correct. I could see that. I could understand what was going on there.’
‘Calm down, boy. It’s just a television show.’
I raised my eyebrows and motioned to the four-foot tall photograph behind us, smiling into the lounge room like a cross between Chairman Mao and Ronald McDonald.
‘Okay, okay, so it’s not just a television show,’ Gina admitted. ‘But it’s not worth getting all messed up over a comma. You’re not going to change anything now. They stopped making it years ago. It’s history now. Murder. Comma. She. Wrote.’
I sighed in exasperation and settled back into the couch. On screen, Jessica was explaining her latest hunch to a room of assembled guests.
Gina poked me in the ribs. ‘You get worked up over the smallest things, mate.’
‘It’s a matter of principle.’
She kissed me on the cheek and went into the kitchen to grab another couple of beers. I stuck my tongue out while her back was turned.
Stay tuned for further excerpts from Man Bites Dog, or buy a copy from Tomely for only 99c and read the whole thing for yourself.