The Jerry Lewis M.D.A. Labor Day Telethon has always conjured a mixed bag of emotions for me. As a child, it heralded the the last day of Summer Vacation…and not in a Mardi Gras blowout way, but rather a depressing, low-rent and local way. While I’m no longer in school, there’s still something about news personalities from the local C.B.S. affiliate in formal wear on a Monday afternoon that makes me want to drink another beer, and another, and another until I pass out, and their awkward banter becomes the surreal plot of a dream during an oily, fitful, alcoholic nap.
As I watched the phone bank volunteers in the background squirm like actors who didn’t know what to do with their hands, I fantasized calling in to make a pledge, and having the following conversation:
“Thank you for calling M.D.A., my name is Steve, how much would you like to pledge today.”
“Hello Steve, my name is Dylan. The amount of my pledge depends very much on you.”
“I’m watching television right now, Steve, which one are you?”
“I’m wearing a red shirt, um, I have glasses…”
“Wave your hand, Steve.”
“Are you the bald guy?”
“Well, I guess you could say I’m slightly follicley-challenged…” We both chuckle.
“Let me get to the point, Steve. I would like to pledge $1 Million.”
“Oh my GOD, sir! That’s great…!”
“Wait a minute, Steve, there’s a catch. I would like to pledge $1 million IF you strangle the gentleman next to you.”
“If you strangle the person next to you, I don’t care how, I will pledge $1 million.”
“If that’s his name.”
“I don’t know…”
“$1 million dollars, Steve! You’ll be a hero! You’ll be the talk of the phone bank volunteer circuit! Besides, it’s for the kids, Steve.”
Then I watch as Steve, tears in his eyes, puts down the receiver. Next to him, Carl is arrhythmically bouncing to the 90’s Hip-hop song they’re pumping through the studio speakers and waving a Green Bay Packers pennant. Steve clamps his hands around Carl’s throat. Carl tries to stand, but Steve wrestles him to the floor. Partially obscured by the table of phones, I can only see Steve’s head and shoulder blades hunched over. Every once in a while, he’s thrown upwards by the last throes of Carl’s struggle, but, soon enough, it calms, and, breathless, he returns to the phone.
“I’m sorry, I think I have the wrong number,” I say and quickly hang up the phone.
On television, I watch Steve’s eyes widen as he throws back his head a screams from the very bowels of madness. That’s when the local anchor woman asks him to get up and dance with her.