Talking to a million people is the loneliest thing.
They sit you in a chair on an island, connected to the world by a rubber earpiece and a microphone. You sit there, for a long time, for forever, staring into a black hole and pretending that you’re good, you’re fine, that you’re ready to tell a million people a story as if you’re right there with them. There – sitting next to the harried businessman eating a sandwich at the airport terminal. Sitting at the kitchen table with the old lady who has the television on in the other room, just so she has some noise in the house and doesn’t feel so lonely. There – with the bored housewife, the unemployed guy lying on the couch, too beaten down to go through the classifieds one more stinking time.

You aren’t there, or so you tell yourself. You’re just sitting in that chair, on that island, and this is the easiest thing you will ever do. But then the lights begin to beat down on you like the sun, and your head starts to swim laps as the machine prepares to lift your image and your voice into the airwaves, shooting you across the nation and into the sky, bouncing it off satellites and delivering it to the bored housewife and the distracted businessman. The machine blurs the line between real life and a fake recreation that churns your image and intelligence into the endless torrent of noise.

You will die. But the machine will always be on. What’s real? You can touch the cheap chair, sitting in the middle of an island, the bright yellow smiley face mocking you from the front of the camera. Your friend smiles from the side and give you a thumb’s up. The tarted-up forty-something makeup girl tugs at your shirt and dabs your forehead, yells at the camera guy about a crease and those damn lights that are making you really sweat.

Then, suddenly, the crackle in your ear comes alive. It says hello, passes along a pleasantry, and drops THE BOMB: You’re on in ten. Are you ready? You don’t say no, not with ten seconds. Ten ticks and who you are will no longer be a secret. Ten seconds that feels like a day spent digging a ditch in a rubber suit.

Then it’s nine seconds, and your pulse begins to race. Your hand shakes when you pick up a cup of water to whet your parched lips. Eight…you forgot everything you wanted to say, then seven comes and you no longer remember why you’re sitting in that chair, and would really like another sip of water.

Five, and your vision gets cloudy, your brain dives into the deep end, and everything you studied, all the angles, all the training and friendly advice swirls back down to the bottom of the cup, out of reach.

And then you are alone.

Alone — and in front of the world, a convict in an electronic cage. You are a clown, wearing a tie and looking like a dog on his last day at the pound. You take a deep breath as a man 3,000 miles away tells you that in five seconds, you are no longer going to be a secret and what you say will define you to a million people for at least the minute or so they spend thinking about what you have to say, just another speck of color in the torrent of noise that runs like a long and cold river. The crackle in the ear goes off. The lights get brighter, and you’re on.

Talking to a million people is the loneliest thing.

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