by Dave Housley
Burns wakes up with the feeling that something is
wrong. He can feel it in his...not in his gut,
somewhere deeper than that, more primal. He can feel
it in his balls. He sits straight up. How many days
now? A week, at least. His wife is sleeping
comfortably. Early dawn light suffuses the room. What
is it, he wonders, a bad dream? Deja vu? And then it
hits him again. Like 900 volts shot straight into his
testicles, it snakes into his gut and up his spine
until it fills his head like a migraine: Ryan Seacrest
is famous; Burns is not.
This was not always the case. Not when they were
both students at South Atlanta High School and then
the University of Georgia. Then, Seacrest was a geek,
a quiet misfit prone to wearing the wrong shirt,
Madonna instead of Metallica, flimsy silk instead of
more workmanlike flannel. He was a loser, an amusing
afterthought, a nonfactor. Burns was the one with the
garage band, the starting spot on the basketball team.
The good grades. The cute girlfriend who, in fact, now
slumbers away her nights and days as his wife.
Seacrest was like a character from one of those John
Hughes movies, always trying too hard, wearing those
old man hats, the plaid pants and the ruffled shirts
and the baby blue shoes. Always with the
too-thought-out wackiness, his persona copied whole
from videos and bad sitcoms.
Burns walks into the bathroom. His knees ache.
He wonders if he's coming down with something. He
leans over the toilet and hocks a ball of phlegm the
color and shape of a Hershey's kiss. And then another.
Have to stop smoking, he thinks.
Ryan Seacrest's image is too neutered and clean,
too mall-glossy for cigarettes.
Maybe the smoking isn't all that bad.
"You okay?" his wife croaks from the bedroom.
He grunts in the way that means yes I am and go
back to sleep.
Ryan Seacrest is famous.
Burns looks around the little bathroom. The tile
needs to be replaced and the toilet leaks. The grout
in the shower is the color of snot and the estimate
his wife obtained for some kind of tub lining system
is taped to the wall. Three grand for a tub liner.
Burns will live with the grout.
A wave of nausea. Maybe this is a migraine. But
every day for a week? It's possible, he assumes. He's
heard of people developing terrible medical conditions
around the age of thirty. It could be MS. He's heard
of that, too. That guy Carbonell from the office. And
Peggy Whatshername from accounting, with the cancer.
Ryan Seacrest looks fit and tan.
I would too, Burns thinks, if I had a personal
trainer, a chef. Jesus Christ, a hair stylist. Nothing
to do all day but work out and eat right.
His belly makes a gurgling noise and he feels the
sickness coming. He leans over the toilet and waits
for the release. His stomach twists, saliva bunches
and he lets it fall in a long string into the toilet.
Another wave and he kneels down, puts his hands on the
porcelain. Flashes of college, partying too hard, a
group of people behind him as he pukes, stands, then
chugs another beer. High fives all around.
Ryan Seacrest was never invited to any of the
cool college parties.
The only time Burns ever saw him was at the radio
station. WGSU. His show, the "Metal Experience," was
right before Seacrest's "Dancin' Tuesday Afternoon."
Burns would see him waiting in the little entryway, a
stack of albums at his feet, his hair teased to ape
the swoops and waves of the latest dance band,
glittery jacket reflecting the fluorescent light like
a low-rent disco ball. Like people could see you when
you were on the radio. Like anybody cared what kind of
jacket you were wearing.
His stomach settles and Burns retreats from the
toilet. He looks at his face in the mirror. Burns has
become concerned about his skin. There are lines along
his eyes, smile marks on his cheeks, settling in like
cracks in concrete.
The word most commonly associated with Ryan
Seacrest in those days was "gay."
It didn't necessarily mean homosexual, and since
the late 90s Burns has been at a loss to find an
adjective to replace the politically incorrect
descriptor in his vocabulary. Something between corny
and pitiful and trying too hard. Uncool.
Fuck it, Burns decides, Ryan Seacrest was gay.
"Why all this concern, all this effort, over Ryan
Seacrest?" It is the internal voice, his superego or
conscience, whatever, the awareness he carries around
like a backpack full of bibles. Unfortunately, it
speaks, has always spoken in the voice of Colonel
Klink from Hogan's Heroes. Burns is reflective, and he
has been using, or hearing, or channeling this voice
since he was a boy. He wishes it wasn't Klink, but he
could no more change this than the scars on his knees
or the fillings in his teeth. "Is that what you wish?"
Klink asks, "to be Ryan Seacrest?"
"Hell no," Burns says.
"Are you okay?" his wife shouts.
He makes the grunting noise again.
"Talking to yourself," she says.
He moves into the bedroom and puts on his
underwear, the suit pants and the dark socks.
Ryan Seacrest dresses like a teenager, in
t-shirts that Burns doesn't even understand, jeans
that flare out on the bottom, with white splotches on
the thighs. It's the t-shirts that really get to him.
Any t-shirt, he should at least be able to understand.
"I believe somebody is becoming ob-se-ess-ed,"
Klink says. Anybody but Klink, Burns thinks, with his
sing-songy diction, that goddam Nazi Freud accent. Its
like being a character in a Kafka story.
To be blessed with no self-awareness, now that
would be a gift. Those people breeze through life with
their perfectly coiffed hair and their easy manner and
their lame, ghost-written jokes, bantering with the
contestants and launching their own talk shows,
filling in for Larry King, for god's sake.
"Those people?" Klink says, "or that person?"
Burns puts on his shirt and loops the tie tight
around his neck. The nausea starts up again. He makes
it to the bathroom and resumes his position above the
toilet. Nothing. Just a sick twist in his gut. He is
sweating and everything feels light. He lays down on
the bath mat, enjoying the feel of the old tile on his
legs. Cold. Everything else is hot.
"Are you okay already?" his wife yells. But he
can picture her rolling over, pulling the covers over
"Interesting," Klink sings, "very interesting."
He stares at the ceiling.
Ryan Seacrest lives in California. It is four in
the morning there. Ryan Seacrest is still asleep.
Burns stares at the bathroom light, concentrating
on the white burn, allowing it to grow, occupy all of
his vision. Finally he closes his eyes and the
luminescent glob glows along his inner eye, a giant
ball throbbing inside his head.
"Ryan Seacrest is famous," Klink says.
Burns opens his eyes, looks at the light, and
allows it to happen all over again.