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I Wanted A Pony,
and All I Got Was This Lousy Web Link

“Holding a Boom in Stilettos...
and Other Things I Haven’t Tried”

It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without all the fame and glory of being the only offspring of the famous writer Dan Simmons. Every morning, the routine is the same—get up at 5 a.m., primp in front of the vanity for hours with age-defying beauty products, don my $200 hot pink sweatpants with the word Juicy across the rear and do a few J.Lo dance moves in the mirror to make sure that all of the letters stay in place.

I adjust my foam John Deere baseball cap (it’s vintage, mind you) so that just a few tendrils of unwashed, product-heavy hair tumble out, perch a ginormous pair of Jackie O. sunglasses on my frail, bird-like face, pop the collar of my polo shirt up, and do a quick check to make sure that the “LV”s painted on my nails are pointing in the right direction to match the ones on my Louis Vuitton clutch.

I pause just before opening the front door, bracing myself for the onslaught of cameras and paparazzi. Ten steps down the sidewalk, fifteen to the Jag, half a mile to Starbucks (where my nonfat half-caf soy caramel macchiato cup is already collecting a sheen of dew around its circumference), and the day will open up like a giant lotus flower of opportunities—opportunities to stop, drop and shop. Lindsey Lohan, Mary Kate, Paris Hilton… I understand these women (I just eat more than them). Together, we bob on life rafts in the sea of public oppression.

Pink life rafts.

With Wi-Fi.

It’s a demanding life when you’re the only child of an eccentric writer, but someone’s got to do it. And when the literary limelight throws a kink in my life with elements of irony, hubris and tragedy, I brave them as any great protagonist would— by letting a single, bi-syllabic word escape from my lipstick-slathered mouth… “daddyyyyyyy!”

What? I saw it on MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen.” It could happen to me.

Let’s be honest. My day starts with a $3 bottle of Herbal Essences, jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and The Today Show playing on my 12” TV in the background. For the past two years, I’ve tried the patch, the gum and the spray, and I’m still entrenched in the abusive relationship that is my 15-minute Today Show fix.

My feelings for The Today Show are similar to the feelings anyone has when viewing art from the Dada period, a JPEG of the Virgin Mary grilled cheese, or the silhouetted solo portion of Prince’s halftime show with his, er, special guitar-- as soon as the image hits your retina, you must quickly choose an emotional camp and never abandon it, not even for a bathroom break. Love it or hate it, there is no going back. And I love hating The Today Show. I love the way my temples clench each time Al, Matt and Meredith throw their heads back as they grasp each other, shrieking with laughter at their improvised flirtatious dialogues. I love standing in my kitchen and staring with a vacant expression, hovering my spoon inches from my open mouth, not even wanting to chew for fear of missing the entire news coverage for the day (usually spanning from 8:00-8:01 a.m. on the dot). I love that everything from presidential interviews to segments about people who paint their hamsters’ toenails are drenched in an unendingly, agonizingly awkward nuance. “Coming up next, this semi-famous person!” the anchor’s voice will brag as the screen fills with the face of a sweating actor or “expert”, who must improvise an unsuspecting expression until the producer cuts to commercial seven or eight minutes later.

But most of all, I love and live for the moments when the cast and crew are tossed to the cruel seas of unscripted live television, when the strangled barks of producers can be made out in the background, the anchors’ eyes widen with fear above their permasmiles as their segment goes into uncharted waters, and—if I’m lucky enough—the chaos and cacophony will reach such an emergency state that I will see a glimpse of the all-American hero: the production assistant.

Production assistants are much like Spiderman, you see. Largely invisible, rarely ever heard, they live in tiny apartments without renters insurance and work like indentured slaves, silently holding our cities together like strategically-placed duct tape. When Anne Curry hits the Irish coffee a little too early on Halloween and begins to make snow angels on the couch in a Cher costume, it is the arm of the production assistant that enters stage right, jams a wireless microphone up through the button hole of her pleather jacket, gives her two swift slaps to the face and retreats like a lone gazelle into the moonless Serengeti night. When Al Roker scrambles atop a poorly balanced box on the rooftop of a skyscraper, stands on one foot and does the weather report full of more giggles than an entire Girl Scout troupe, it is the production assistant who crawls in on her belly, dressed in camouflage from head to toe. She is the Media Soldier who must stealthily hold up a pen and a release form, releasing the network from all liability when Al tumbles to his squishy end in Central Park’s tennis courts, just inside the doubles line if the wind is right.

Production assistants get up at dawn to schlep heavy equipment up eight flights of stairs, electrocute themselves on 1,000-watt lights, and order lunch entrées en masse for thirty vegan and carnivorous executives who boast a variety of wheat and dairy allergies. They powder the noses of prison inmates, hold boom microphones over their heads for hours until Diane Sawyer finally gets her 3-legged stool out and milks a single tear out of Britney Spears’ tear ducts, and bounce screaming babies in the hallway in an attempt to get them Gerber-cute by the end of the commercial. At the end of the day, they walk, skip and scooter back to their humble abodes, where a few Netflix will be waiting in their mailbox and a hot pocket will be waiting in their freezer.

They endure all of this—the live Will Ferrell skating segments when Meredith will send herself into a concussion, the angry reptiles that demand SAG cards before doing one more take with Samuel L. Jackson, the marijuana-smoking camera operators who pinch girls’ waists and hire interns based on cup size. They do these bizarre and frequently demeaning things because they dream that someday, they too will be able to pay their rent and send their children to college with money they earned in the film business. The Bicycle Thief, North by Northwest, 8 ½ , The Great Escape, Mr. Bean Goes to Church . . . these masterpieces were all formed by the same hands that once dumped Splenda into lattes and pushed limp reptiles out of overhead bins in Snakes on a Plane. (Don’t follow the logic on that one, just come with me on this). After a movie, I refuse to leave the theater until the PA credits have rolled across the screen—these people are my people, and I have felt their pain. I have schlepped camera bags, shot across the room after jamming my thumb into a 1K key light, held the boom over my head until my weak biceps shook so hard that my audio editor would later ask if we’d experienced a major earthquake.

I did these things because, like my superhero brethren, I have a dream—in my case, a dream of documentary filmmaking. And I also have a dream of having someone to dump Splenda in my latté with no expectations of a paycheck. My documentary travels have been a bizarre—let’s qualify that-- freakishly bizarre journey, and there is so much to tell.

But for now, it’s time for me to kick off my high heels, lace-up my low tops, and trade my blue sweater for another blue sweater-- those stories will have to wait for another day.

And as my first real friend Mr. Rogers would say (it’s true—when you’re an only child, you actually talk to Mr. Rogers on the television screen)... “I really liked being with you. You make my day such a special day by just you being yourself. I'll be back next time, neighbor!”*.

Until next time,

Jane Kathryn


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