For a while when I was a kid, I thought I was Arthur Fonzarelli. If you don’t know who the Fonz is, look him up. I’ll give you a hint: he was the cool guy from the show Happy Days.
The reason I thought I was the King of Cool is very simple. You see, the Fonz could snap and have girls clamoring over him. He could fix a window by stomping one good time on the floor. His mere presence intimidated even the baddest of the bad. He could hit a jukebox with the side of his fist and instantly there was music.
Yes, I know the Fonz is a character from a television show, but when I was a kid, I didn’t know any better. I thought he was the real deal. With that in mind, let me tell you a little story.
Picture this, if you can: A dark-haired, mop-topped kid in blue jeans and worn out sneakers, and a T-shirt that was a little too tight. With him is a bigger guy, blondish-brown hair, freckles, the same mop-top look.
They emerge from a path through the woods on a hot summer day. A building sits off in the distance, one tree between them, splitting the difference between where they were and where they wanted to be. That place was the bowling alley where they could bowl for fifty cents a game, and they had four dollars between them. Just beyond the bowling alley was a cinema (it’s long gone now, but it was a place where many movies were seen between the brothers including the original Star Wars trilogy, Tron, Superman, Star Trek’s 1 and 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark and a few others). It is that cinema that the brothers go to first. No, they were not going to watch the afternoon showing of whichever movie was playing at the time. They were going for something a little more refreshing. They were going for the soda machine just outside the theater doors.
It’s a Coke machine with its red frame and white curvy stripe running down the side. There were no cans in this machine. Oh no. The cool refreshments were packaged in bottles (returnable, at that, for ten cents a bottle down at Brown’s Grocery on State Street). There were not many flavors, but they didn’t care. All they wanted is a Coke anyway. Though the soda was expensive—a whole 35 cents—they were willing to forgo a game of bowling for the carbonated drink.
Before they put the first quarter in the slot, the young, dark-haired mop-topped boy rubbed his fingers together and did something he had seen on television, Happy Days to be specific. The side of his fist hit the big Coke button. There was a click, then the sound of a bottle tumbling down and appearing at the dispenser. The boy looked at his hand in surprise and awe, then back at the Coke waiting to be plucked up. A smile formed on his face, then his hands went out to his sides, both thumbs up.
“Heeeeeyyyyy!” he said in his best Fonz impersonation.
Thus, the little dark-haired mop-topped boy, thought he was Arthur Fonzarelli for a while in his young life.
It gets worse.
Again, picture this: The dark-haired mop-topped little boy grew up to be a grown man with that same dark hair, but the mop top is gone. He likes his facial hair—or, rather, he dislikes shaving—and he laughs a lot. He has a stare that can intimidate people when he is angry, but that stare doesn’t appear as much as it used to. He is in an office building that has 17 floors, minus one when you consider there is no thirteenth floor.
He is smiling, and there is music in his head. It’s by Fun, a group everyone who knows him would have never thought he would like.
He rounds a corner, walks down an aisle of bookshelves and passes a small wall to the left. There is a door there and he opens it, takes six steps inside (not five and not seven) and he stops. In his mind he hears the applause from the audience out there. The girls scream in the audience out there. In his mind he has just made the entrance on a sit-com, an entrance the Fonz would have made.
The two women in the office, one on either side of him, sitting at their desks, look at him as if he has lost his mind. There is a good chance he has.
Still, it gets worse.
From time to time he turns to the invisible screen, the invisible audience, and he begins to speak to them out there. He looks like Zack Morris from Saved By the Bell fame, minus the blond hair, great smile, good looks and lots of money. When he does that he refers to the folks out there as the audience in A.J.T.V. Yeah, he has a name for it.
So do those in the psychiatric profession. They call it The Truman Show Disorder.
No, I don’t think I have some made up disorder or anything like that, but I do have a soundtrack in my head. A laugh track, as well. And an applause track.
The soundtrack varies from day to day, and with my mood. There’s a good chance if I am listening to Disturbed or older Metallica or Seven Mary Three or Motorhead, then I am in a bad mood. Eighties music equals good mood. Seventies and before usually means I’m feeling nostalgic. Alice and Chains (or any song with Lane Staley doing lead vocals) I’m reflecting. I could continue for a while with this, but you get the picture.
I’m sure everyone has at least one soundtrack playing in their head—it could very well be the latest favorite song—but how many will actually admit it? Me? I have thousands of songs playing at any given time.
The laugh track, appropriately enough, sounds like it came right out of Happy Days, as does the applause track. Funny enough, every once in a while I will laugh at something that no one else understands and that laugh track plays right along with me.
I have long conversations with myself as I’m walking down the hall or street or even just sitting at my desk. Every once in a while, I realize the conversation is out loud and I’m getting odd looks from people as they walk by.
”Shut-up,” I tell myself, then an argument ensues. So far none of the arguments have gotten violent.
Folks who have been diagnosed with Truman Show Disorder believe their lives to be one big scripted event. They believe they are characters from a television show and all the folks around them are as well. Their friends and families are main and secondary characters. The strangers they never talk to are extras (kind of like the Red Shirts in the old Star Trek series). The person they see in the same spot every day or week or whatever, is a prop to remind them of something important, or to keep them from forgetting something from their past. At night, when they go to bed, the credits roll (and there is a good chance their name on their show isn’t the name they really go by). In the morning when they wake, the opening theme song plays. I think my theme song is Hong Kong Phooey. Or maybe it’s Underdog. I’d be okay with Batman.
The Truman Show Disorder. Yeah, I don’t have that. I don’t believe my life is scripted—it’s all decisions; each one leads to a different path, a different episode, if you will. I don’t believe the credits roll at night, or that there is an audience clapping and cheering or booing or ahhing, though that would be cool. I don’t believe there is a theme song, though that would be cool, too.
I do think life is kind of like a television show. Sometimes it’s a drama, sometimes it’s a comedy, sometimes it’s reality television, sometimes it’s Disney, sometimes it’s erotic, sometimes it’s horror. I do think that we are all characters in our own shows, shows that we write as we live our lives. Characters come, characters go, sometimes because our lives go in different directions, other times because one of those characters passes on. I also think we all have a soundtrack in our heads, music that plays as we go through our days.
I will say this, if life is scripted, whoever writes for my son’s character is brilliant. He is quick-witted and hilarious. Personally, I believe we are all the writers of our own scripts, of the television shows that are our lives. Sometimes we get canned laughter. Other times, well, other times the season finale leaves you speechless.
Until the next episode, my friends…