The Fame Monster

playlist –
Paparazzi
Poker Face

itsinyourbrain“Would you like to be famous, Steve?”

Okay, this looks bad.

“Sure you do. Everyone does to a certain extent. It’s important to be the right kind of famous though. Reality TV stars are the worst. They burn out so god damned fast. What’s that one whore’s name? The one who sextaped her way to her stardom?”

Real bad.

“The one whose last name sounds like villain from a Star Trek movie. Fuck it. Doesn’t matter. Point is that we had to replace her three times in the first season alone. We’d get a frantic call from the family and show up to just a withered husk slowly crumbling away in the corner of the room. Filming would have to shut down for a few days while we got a replacement, got her up to speed. Reality Stars get it the worst; especially if they’ve never been famous before. The ones who were famous but fell off and then came back; they’re survivors. Shit, they’re almost indispensable.

“Smoke?” He extends his pack of cigarettes out to me. His hand is manicured. Polished and perfect. Just like his suit, and hair, and just the right amount of baubley man jewelry that hangs off of his extremities. All the way down to the hue of his “perfectly acceptable to wear indoors” sunglasses.

I reach over and grab a cigarette out of the pack using nothing but my lips. When your hands are shackled to your waist, that’s shackled to a chair, that’s bolted to the floor you improvise. He lights it for me using a lighter that probably cost more than my rent and reclines back in his chair. We’re sitting in a freezing cold room that’s built to resemble a solid concrete storm cellar and decorated with the latest in Guantanamo Bay chic. I’m scared shitless and he looks like he’s on a fiver.

Like I said, this looks bad.

”Do you know what I am Steve?”

”You’re a Keeper,” I say trying to keep smoke out of my eyes.

”That’s right. Do you know what a Keeper is?”

I shake my head. He reaches out again, plucks the cigarette from my mouth, taps the ash into a paper cup half full of stale coffee and then gingerly places it back in my mouth.

”Well first of all; I’m not just a Keeper. Keeper is not just a title; it’s a title and a name. A rank. Like Bishop or Sergeant. The word that follows the Title is how the Keeper acts. Their disposition. Sort of like The Pope and some radio djs.”

He lifts his hand in the air, signaling, and then points down at the table that separates us, gesturing at an empty space in front of himself and my impromptu ash tray.

”Aren’t intimidating bad guys supposed to be dressed in all black leather and jack boots? Shouldn’t you be cutting an intimidating figure to frighten me into submission with just your presence? Like the Gestapo or the SS or something?”

A cop walks in and sets two cups of coffee down in front of us. I snatch a look at the patches on his uniform; California Highway Patrol. At least I haven’t left the state.

”You know if there’s one thing that The Nazi’s got right, and let’s be honest,” he says while blowing on his coffee, “this is the only thing they got right: it’s branding. Almost a whole century since they were in power, in a part of the world that you have never been to, and they’re still the image you conjure up when you think of ‘The Bad Guy’. I have no need to dress up as the bad guy. I prefer not to have people run at the sight of me. That’s why I dress the way I do: simple grey suit, blue shirt, simple tie. I could be anyone. I could be an entertainment lawyer, a banker, a middle manager somewhere hoping to get ahead. Put a million bad guys, dressed as bad guys, in a room with me and I’m the last one anyone would think to point out as the bad guy. I would actually be reluctant to pin that label on myself. I’m not a ‘bad guy’, Steve. Just a guy with a thing to do.”

I sit there, cigarette half smoked hanging out of my mouth, staring at the fresh cup of coffee, with my hands still chained to my chair making it impossible to enjoy either.

”Where are my manners?” He steps around the table and un-cuffs my right hand.

”What is your disposition; Keeper?”

He leans in real close to me, ”We’ll address that later. Right now, Steven, what I’d like to know, more than anything else is; how you came by that phone which has, made obvious by your current predicament, caused you more trouble than it was worth?”

”Oscar after party. I was wait-staff. Shuttling cocktails and expensive orderves to the rich and famous at a party celebrating the awards that they just gave each other for how awesome they were at being rich and famous. They trotted around drinking, binging, being prettier than you and happier about that than anything else. They didn’t give two shits about any of us.”

He takes his seat and sips his coffee.

“That cult director, the one with the foot fetish that he’s none too sly about incorporating into all of his flicks; he fucked some poor publicist’s assistant on a fur coat that easily cost as much as an average sized house. He was still pulling on his pants when he chucked that coat, still damp with their sweat and love gunk, at my buddy Rick. Rick said he saw him, that director, writing a check to the other celeb that owned the coat and explaining the circumstances under which it came to be corrupted. They laughed about it. He’d just used his celebrity status to fuck some poor chick on one of the other rich and elite’s pieces of property and wrote the whole thing off with a check and laugh. Like, ‘fuck whatever she has to say, but here’s something to cover the damage to your coat.’ Because that’s the important thing.

”At some point I see him playing with the phone, showin’ it off. It looks pretty slick, not like anything I’d seen but these guys probably all got one in their gift bags. If there’s one thing that the rich and famous and overly compensated need; it’s gift baskets that perpetuate that mindset. So anyway he’s playing with it and sets it down, and that’s the last I thought of it until we were cleaning up from the party.”

”He left it behind didn’t he?”

”Yup. And I figured after what I’d seen,” I toss my cigarette on the ground, “I figure the least I could do is take a few pictures of my dick and send it to his friends. Just to let him know that rich and famous don’t make him unfuckwithable.”

”And when did you learn about us?” He asks, sliding the pack of cigarettes and lighter across the table.

”When I took it to that pawnshop in Studio City. I couldn’t get it to work for shit for so I thought I’d get a couple of hundred bucks for it. I thought that the guy at the shop would give me a little bit more cash if he knew it came out of an Oscar grab bag.” I grab the cigarettes off of the table and light one for myself. The lighter moves like a precision instrument carved out of science fiction. “So we’re fiddlefucking with it. Can’t get the home screen to unlock. Well we must have done the exact wrong thing the exact right way because the screen starts flashing “Keeper En Route” or something like that.”

“You’d be amazed, Steven, at how feeble some celebrities are with technology. That’s how their naked pictures end up as fodder for the tabloids. They don’t do it on purpose. Most of them just have no fucking clue how these supercomputers that they’re carrying in their pockets work. That’s why we designed these specialized phones. Not only do we own the tech and we can exploit it, but if they’re too shitfaced, or just straight forget how the damn thing works; it alerts us and we show up to straighten the situation out.”

“So while your guy was on his way I went to the bathroom. I hear something going on in the store but it’s a pawn shop near all the studios in Hollywood, so what could be the big deal?”

”We’ve got several Keepers that operate out of that area. That’s how we got there so fast. First rule of real estate: location, location, location.”

“When I come out of the bathroom there’s one of you, a Keeper I guess…”

”Keeper Book,” he interrupts.

”Right, whatever, he killed the pawn shop guy. Just murdered his stupid fat face all over the front of his store while I was taking a piss. So…”

“You ran.”

”Out the back door as fast as I could.” I take a sip of my coffee. Better than most coffee I’ve ever had. Like chocolate, leather, and spices. How does this guy get this kind of coffee in this place? I drain most of the rest of the cup, take final drag of my cigarette, and toss the half burnt thing into the remnants of the coffee. I must have made a face because I look over at him and his head is cocked to one side, eyebrows raised, looking for approval. “It’s good. Damn good actually. I’d like another one.”

“Sure.” He makes the motion again and a fresh piping hot cup is brought in.

”You know, if I actually live through this, you gotta tell me where you get this stuff.”

”What did you do when you got away from Keeper Book?”

”Ran. Hid. Spent about a day scared out of my mind not knowing what the fuck to do.”

”Nineteen hours.”

”Huh?”

”You were in the wild for nineteen hours. That’s the third longest evasion that we’ve had on the west coast in a good long time. On the East Coast it’s harder. There are more big cities in closer proximity. Greater ubiquity of large-scale public transportation hubs. The whole Eastern seaboard is a fucking mess. Last time we had an evasion go on too long on that end of the country we decided that the easiest way to find the guy, or gal as the case may have been, was to get them out in the open. So we blacked out most of the North East and parts of Canada just to force ‘em up on the streets. Get ‘em out in the open. Here in L.A. though, if you don’t have a car then you’re not going to get very far very fast.”

”I don’t…” I stammer, reaching for my new cup of coffee and a third cigarette.

”No you don’t. We had everything that we needed to track you down. Fingerprints from the phone made you easy to identify. We locked The Director from the phone itself, he’s been talked to about his mishandling of technology. From your fingerprints plus the celeb we were able to determine where you got the phone. We didn’t know how, exactly, you got it but we knew you, knew him, knew where you worked. From there we locked down your social network: friends, family, co-workers. Data mining your social media imprint told us where you were likely to hide out. Did you know, and I’m telling you this as a matter of illustrating to you just how far out of your fucking league you are, that in 97% percent of all high speed chases the perpetrator – that being the guy who actually ran from the cops – will inevitably find their way back to their own neighborhood?”

”No.”

“In panic situations people don’t think logically. They go on autopilot. In the high speed chase analogy; they literally go on autopilot. They look for areas of town that they are so familiar with that they don’t have to think strategically. And that’s the biggest goddamned mistake, because the areas that you know the best are usually the ones that you are in every day. And that’s usually where you live, where you work and where you shop. We knew within an hour all of the possible locations where you’d show up. You just didn’t do it as fast as we expected.”

He reaches for the pack of cigarettes and lights one himself, placing the pack and the lighter back down in front of me.

”I still don’t understand why you had to kill the fat guy at the pawn shop,” I say through a haze of cigarette smoke,”or what a Keeper is, or how in the HELL, in the State of California, you’re the guy that makes it okay for us to smoke inside. The rest of it is probably all very interesting but if you could just swing by the shit hole I drink at after work and make it so I don’t have to leave the pool table to go out to smoke; that would be killer.”

”Steven. Actually I never asked, do you prefer Steve or Steven?”

“Steve.”

”Excellent. Steven I want you to focus on everything I am about to tell you. In order to do so I am going to unchain you. You will be free to move about the room as you see fit. There’s no window to distract you with a view and to take away any ideas that might be percolating in that brain of yours about being an action movie hero; know that the video monitor that is connected to the camera in the corner of the room is being monitored by another Keeper. Regardless of the outcome of our discussion when I leave this room everything that camera has seen since you came in here will be deleted. This means that I could burn you alive, light my next cigarette off of your smoldering corpse and walk out of here without consequence. I would sleep quite well at the end of the day with that. Do you understand?”

”Yes. Don’t fuck with The Keeper.”

”Correct, now please raise your arm.”

Still having not taken off his sunglasses or loosened his tie he gets up from the table and crosses to my chair. He unlocks all of the shackles and I stand up for what seems like the first time in my life.

”Steve the fat man in the shop had to die because he found out something that people are not supposed to know. This all going to get to be very expository and I apologize for that, but at the end I’m going to ask you a question and you need to know this information to answer that question.”

He sits down in his chair and puts his feet up, taking a long drag on his cigarette. He’s enjoying this. He peers over the tops of his glasses, “You might want to sit down for this part.”

I don’t.

“Okay. Here goes. Planet Earth is alive. Not in the ‘Gaia the spirit of Mother Nature’ way that the hippies think but an actual living, thinking, consuming being. It’s actually, cosmically speaking, still a baby. Everything that lives on Earth – a name it’s not really fond of by the way – is a functionary system. I belong to a group that is conscripted to protect, serve and feed this galactic infant. For Earth to grow it has to, like everything else, eat. And what it eats are two key things that human beings have in abundance: Love and Hate.”

I sit.

“I thought so. You see there is a measurable energy output from people when they experience these emotions. On both a psychic and physiological level. This output is absorbed by The Planet and turned into nutrients.”

I stare at my coffee.

“It’s funny that you mentioned The Nazi’s earlier Steven. They were a huge breakthrough for us.  Before them, for centuries, we could see huge spikes in output during times of war, or cultural movements that uplifted the ‘Human Condition’,” he makes finger quotes around Human Condition making it seem trite,” but Hitler was the game changer for one reason: News Reels. He was a Bad Guy, capital B capital G, that the whole world hated. Not the whole world, but you get the point. He was a never ending gravy pipe that fed Earth for years. He’s when I knew that the key to our survival, Earth and The Keepers, was to create worldwide cultural icons that could embody love and hate on a global scale. And what better Avatars of our adoration and vitriol than the figures we come to identify with being larger than life on our big and little screens?

“Movies, TV, Music, Professional Sports hell, even stand up comedians; all of them become funnels for all of our joy, and spite. Think about how much hostility is thrown at a professional quarterback if he botches a key play during a key game. Fifty thousand in attendance and millions watching around the country. Heaping on wave after wave of hate. Celebrities embody all of your hopes and dreams and failings. When they succeed, you feel like you too have succeeded. But when they fizzle – you feel like they personally let you down. And I’ll be honest you humans are relentless.

“We imported the first ones from other planets; normally ones with a life expectancy that was so short that they’d give anything for just a few more years. We promised them fame, fortune, pampering, long lives filled with every luxury. The flipside of that coin was that there was a good possibility that they would be destroyed by it. We funnel it, the energy from you, through them. Normally there is a balance between the love/hate thing, you see, but sometimes it swings too far to the hate side of the pendulum and, well, it consumes them. Hollows them out and leaves nothing but a husk. All used up. That’s usually reserved for the ones that society feels don’t deserve to be famous, the ones that everyone looks at and thinks, ‘why that dick whistler and not me?’.”

“Reality TV stars,” I mutter numbly.

“Exactly. Right now I’d say of the roughly ten thousand people on this planet that would be considered famous, 90-95% are not from around here, but the lure was greater than the risk.” My cigarette burns my hand and I let the nub of the filter drop to the floor. “Some of them have actual talent. Some we just manufacture because they were willing to gamble with their own lives in order to preserve all of ours. Some I personally look forward to finding their crispy fried corpses and then replacing them with another worthless opportunist who will also repeat the pattern.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why all of it? If Earth was being fed by The Renaissance and The Crusades and all of that shit; why all of the work to create an entire fake class structure to feed the planet? Why do it at all? It sounds like things were going just fine before Hitler?”

“Hillarious choice of words.”

“Why speed it all up? Why burn through living creatures whose sole purpose is to be a wastelock for excess human emotion?”

“Because the universe moves too slowly. Because evolution on a cosmic and planetary scale moves at a snails fucking pace. Before the global celebrity class it would have taken ten billion years from the dawn of man before the inevitable great exodus. This is the first planet that The Keepers have ever directly intervened in the development of. Honestly the Fame/TV thing is a brilliant creation of humans. We just used it to our advantage.”

“So you just use celebrities like food? That’s horrible. Ironically satisfying but still fucking reprehensible.”

“Any more reprehensible than a predator eating its prey? Than a Veterinarian euthanizing a sickly pet? And it’s not like they’re not generously compensated for it.”

We stare at each other across the table. He smokes his cigarette and I sip my coffee.

“So what happens now?”

“Keeper Book, being one who adheres to the line and letter of the law, wants you dead. Right here. Right now.”

“And what do they call you?”

“I am Keeper Stone. I have been here since the beginning. I am molded by my environment but remain largely unchanged and I think I can use you. Do you have any aspirations Steven?”

“I’m a writer.”

“You’re a waiter in Los Angeles; of course you’re a writer. I think you want all of the things that you hate. I think you hate them because you want to be one of them so badly that it burns inside of you. I want to make you a world renowned screenwriter, and then an Oscar winning film maker. You’ll live a life where the word ‘no’ is a misnomer. Travel, mansions, playmates, artistic fulfillment. Everything you secretly want. You will be adored and reviled. You will be studied and dissected by people just like what you are now. You will become part of the food chain and you will love every second of it. But make no mistake; for all the benefits that come with it, I still intend to feed you – mind, body and soul – to this planet. I intend to use you up completely and have absolutely no qualms about it.”

“So what’s the question?”

He pulls the phone out of his pocket and slides it across the table. There’s a lifetime of weight between us.

“Would you like to be famous Steve?”

Travis
i’m your biggest fan

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