The cameras flashed relentlessly. People were shouting from every angle. Walter barely noticed the security guards with Channel 8 polos manhandling the media mass as he was guided into his apartment. The man to Walter’s side was smiling warmly as they entered the apartment. He raised his eyebrows a little as a first reaction to the stud before saying curteously, “Take a seat, Walter.” Walter sat on the only chair in the room and the reporter hesitated as he looked around the tiny room. “Get another chair!” he barked before turning back to Walter with a warm expression.
The camera crew were hard pressed squeezing in through the door and had little room to set up the extravagant equipment. “It’s OK, you can use my chair and I’ll stand,” Walter offered. But as he had made to stand a rushed looking girl with a headset worked her way through the crowd like a mouse through a scientist’s maze and placed a small chair next to his. She took a moment to find the perfect arrangement: exactly 135 degrees and two hand lengths distance from his seat. She concurred briefly with the camera man, lighting man and sound man before exiting through a new path in the maze.
“So how are you feeling Walter? My name is Manny Holdsworth, son of the famous Tony Holdsworth, the patron saint of channel 8.” The reporter began with a proud expression on his face. Walter stared kindly back with a blank expression. Manny accepted that perhaps he himself was not yet recognisable to everybody in the nation, but his father surely lives in the hearts and minds of the world. “You know Tony. You would have seen him countless times on your...” He gestured towards where he thought a television should be placed but found nothing but shoulder to shoulder TV folk. “Can we get some room in here please!?” he barked again, “We need a camera, sound and light. In fact just turn on the light to the apartment and get rid of Nick.
Nick, Walter presumed, spoke up, “Uhh the light bulb’s dead, or there aint no light. All I know is the switch don’ work.”
“Jesus Christ,” Manny muttered under his breath before suddenly going rigid, looking as though he had just been shot. His finger was at his ear in a flash and he dare not breathe as he took instruction. He came out of his trance like state, shouting, “30 seconds!” A wave of panic rose throughout the room and beyond it. Everyone except Walter was stricken with worry. “OK this is only going to be introductory; just some simple questions about your life. The important stuff will be happening tomorrow but right now we just want to get you out there in person. The viewing audience is tired. The TV crew is tired - Hell, I’m tired, too. So we won’t make a big deal or anything.” Manny then spoke with such a rapid whisper it was hard to take it all in. “And if anyone asks where you have been all night, do NOT, I repeat DO NOT mention the kidnapping.”
Walter was puzzled. “What if you ask?”
“Of course I will ask! I have to ask. People need to know where you have been. Just say you were picked up by the police under mistaken identity.” Manny suddenly sat rigid again before twisting his face into that broad and ever falsening smile. “Thank you, Mr Holdsworth, sir!” he said with polite diligence, “you are correct. We’re here with the Toyota Happiest Man in The Universe! Let’s just let that camera pan out a little, Nick and show the world that face which we have come to love over the last few hours.” Walter saw himself appear on the monitor and smiled awkwardly. “Say hi to everyone, Walt.” He waved accordingly.
“So how have you been feeling?”
Walter took his time, he was clearly out of his element – he felt like he had just landed in a different planet where the elements no longer existed. “I guess a little out of my element,” he replied honestly.
Manny laughed. “Well I’m sure that is understandable, you come home late and your house is full of strangers. I bet you never had this many people staying in your house at one time.”
“You’re the first,” Walter said. It would have seemed short, sarcastic or even rude had he not said it so truthfully, adding, “unless one of these guys came in before you did.”
Manny laughed again, but this time not so assuredly. He was visibly trying to give the impression that he was not visibly puzzled. “So you don’t often have company?”
It was a strange question to ask, even Walter, with his lack of social skills, knew it. “No,” he said, but sensed a need to say something else, “but...what exactly are you all doing here?”
Manny laughed for the third time, genuinely laughing for the first. “Well that’s a good question. I’m sure you have heard some whispers and rumours before arriving here, but let me just explain to you fully.” Walter had redirected the conversation back to where it needed to go in one sentence after Manny had almost created a trainwreck in two. Manny was forever grateful. “What has happened is the lovely Ms Lucy Blues has spent the last ten years of her life working to create a machine that will help change the lives of all mankind. Her goal was to create a manner in which we could uncover and share with the world the secrets to true happiness. She achieved the first half of this dream; discovering the identity of the Toyota Happiest Person in the World, discovering you, Walter Wallace.” He paused and let the words settle. Walter remained blank faced, almost glum, but his eyes were paying polite attention. “And now it is our turn, you, me and all of us in this world to learn the secrets of happiness from you. You have the opportunity to share your gift with the world.” More silence to let the words resonate. Manny’s speech was adding some much needed integrity to what had been such a cheap excuse for television up until now. “How do you feel about that, Walter?”
Walter took a deep breath in what could almost count as his first sign of emotion for the interview. He surprised himself, responding calmly, “Well I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’m sure you will, Walt. But for now we are going to take a short commercial break and we will back with more from the Toyota Happiest Person in the World! Don’t go away!”
Manny held his smile with ease for the remaining 4 seconds of live TV and then the red light went out. “You saved my ass, Walt.” He said with a relieving smile. Walter returned the gesture. Manny’s finger shot back up to his ear but unlike the earlier instance through which he gradually hunched and cowered as he listened to the other end, he now stood stared alertly at a middle distance. He nodded and uh-huh-ed a few times before barking, “Nick! We need to rewire the mics on Walter, he isn’t coming through clearly enough.” Nick, the sound guy, sighed as only one can sigh after uncontested condescension and squeezed through the crowded space to fix Walter’s audio. “And how did my father think it went?” Manny was asking into his own mic, his confidence giving way to a slight tween twang. His face dropped for half a moment before he straightened up and repositioned his suit jacket.
“Does your dad work for Channel 8 as well?” Walter asked in his new found conversational tone.
“Does my da-” Manny couldn’t finish his sentence, simply staring incredulously at Walter. “Have you been living in a cave?” he asked accusingly before looking around the tiny stud apartment and easing his tone a little. “I am Manny Holdsworth. Holdsworth. My father is Tony Holdsworth.” He finished reverently but couldn’t help regressing to incredulence, “You have never heard of him?”
Walter thought a moment until a memory of his stint in the pen came back, “Oh, so that’s why they call him Papa Holdsworth.”
“Well, he is your dad and...”
“Papa Holdsworth?” Manny was dumbfounded, but he spent a moment in thought, “you know, that’s not half bad. Thank you, Walter. Nick. Update?”
The rushed girl moused back through the experiment hall, poking her head out between two of her namesakes, “They want just one more segment, then we’re going to pack up. 30 seconds”
Manny nodded, “Makes sense. Give em a taste then keep em wanting more.” He repositioned himself, loosening and realigning every muscle and joint in his body before finally settling with barely a second to spare. “And we are back ladies and gentlemen. We are going to have another small chat with the delightful Walter Wallace before passing you back to Papa Holdsworth for some final thoughts to take us into tomorrow and the new chapter of human kind.” He paused amiably. “Now Walter, I guess the first really obvious question is: Did you ever expect your name to show up after they pulled the Bud Light Lever?” he smiled encouragingly.
Walter again took his time, “Is that the machine you are talking about?”
“Yes the machine that Ms Blues developed, with its wonderful capacity to measure happiness and determine the happiest of them all, did you ever imagine that you would be the one it chose?”
“Well, I never knew to imagine it.” Walter replied with deadpan honesty, “Maybe if hypothetically I knew the machine existed before I knew the result I would...” he trailed off shaking his head. The concept was so foreign to him. He could not grasp the necessity to measure and compare.
Manny bore an expression that was being replicated worldwide. It belonged to a thought process that demanded silence and solitude and maybe even a pen and paper. It didn’t make great television. “You really never had any idea about this whole...parade, did you?” He had not meant to use such a condescending word but it popped so well off the wake of his half thought. Walter was shaking his head with the innocent honesty of a child. “You know- well you’re going to- I really think you are going to shake up convention, Walt, but that’s what this is all going to be about, isn’t it? I mean...” Manny had an eager smile on his face that he couldn’t disguise; like a physics student sitting in on a lecture from Einstein, “We are just going to have to wait and see. In just a few simple words you have given me - and I am sure the whole world - plenty to ponder over, and I only hope I get to have a few more words with you in the not too distant future. Thank you, Walter Wallace.” Many was smiling warmly and Walter reciprocated, though feeling slightly puzzled.
Manny had pivoted a few degrees to be facing the camera directly and spoke his conclusion with relative ease, “So that is your first taste, folks. I hope it has been as enlightening to you back at home as it has to me. Now we are going to be heading back to Papa Holdsworth at Channel 8 studios, until next time I’m Manny Holdsworth and this is Walter Wallace.” Walter waved at the camera again until the red light went off. “Alright we are done here people. Clear em out Nick.”
The rushed girl began barking orders, giving Walter the impression of anything but a mouse. The other Nicks packed their gear up and slowly waddled out of the room with boom mics and camera lenses bumping awkwardly into their legs. Manny hung around to give a final good night to Walter, “There’s something about you, Walt. Something about you that tells me Lucy got it right.”
“Ms Blues, the lady who started this whole thing, the lady who found you.”
“Where is she?”
“Oh I’m sure you’ll meet her. It would make great television and they know it.” Walter nodded though he wasn’t sure he understood. “Anyway I have so many half questions that I want to ask you but I can’t really put them to words, it’s like- You never watch TV? Never?”
“This is going to be so interesting, I- OK I’ll let you get some rest.” Manny shook his hand and exited with the same awe struck look on his face. Walter didn’t quite understand how he had lit up the man’s life so much having barely said a word, but decided not to worry too much – it wasn’t like it was a bad thing. He prepared for bed and looked forward to a comfortable sleep after his eventful day, however, the media mob outside seemed to have set up a vigil and traces of light and humming generator sounds kept entering his through the walls, and occasionally he felt he could sense or hear footsteps around his window. He couldn’t sleep well and was looking forward to when they would all leave, but it wasn’t until 6am the next morning when he awoke from a troubled daze and began making breakfast that he noticed that the mob seemed to have increased, realising that perhaps he wouldn’t enjoy a good night’s sleep for a long time.
Notes to the text