By Daniel Flores Guadiana
Oscar Vasquez flopped down into his custom-made leather easy chair and clicked on his plasma television. These were the last two relics left from a silicon boom long passed.
"And now, presenting last years Pop Idol, Karri Clarkson!"
An exhausted twenty something walked across his screen, jaded and professional. Her distant eyes stared straight into the camera. She rambled on throwing plugs left and right like an electrician. The audience was on its feet for someone who looked no more glamorous than the girl at the studio reservation office. Oscar made a discouraging face at the screen, crinkling his brow, cocking his right eyebrow above his left. Is there anything else to put on, he thought, there has to be.
Tired from delving into the numb world of T.V. talent shows he decided to put on the evening news. Click, Ksshhh...
"Anti-war protests held in Los Angeles today have completely shut down Downtown," the anchor informed his audience. Just then a clip of a woman with gothic white make-up and painted on black tears was handed a microphone.
"We don't feel the conservative system is taking us seriously!"
"And in other related news," another anchor continued, "celebrities from film, television and music are joining together in a silent protest of our current war in Iraq. They will be donning peace buttons and guitar straps to make a, and I quote, 'silent but potent message'."
If Oscar's face was miscued before, it was completely rearranged in a disgusted pose now. His face turned a light tint of red as he threw his remote onto the floor and glanced over at a picture on his fireplace mantel. His little brother looked so proud in uniform. He shook off his anger with a quick backward thrust of his shoulders and turned the T.V. back on.
"'There will be no red carpet at the Academy Awards this year, due to an epidemic of fear going around celebrities and their entourage, oh and, um, to signify the solemnity of the current war with Iraq," The anchor let his normally objective tongue slip. He put his index finger to his ear to better hear the breaking news. "I apologize, we just have confirmation that there still will be a red carpet, but out of respect the academy has gone over it with a black Sharpie pen. Very good, now for weather..." No doubt he will be fired just like the liberal anchor before him, and no doubt the producer of that newscast is making a mental note to himself: hire soulless journalists this time. It truly is difficult to find a robot to do such a job at this time in history, but he will find one.
Oscar was clicking through all his two hundred channels in search for something meaningful, something that might put his mind at ease about his little brother. Nothing was to be found. Only a labyrinth of infomercials, fashion tips and pop idols. While some cable news stations provided continuing coverage of war activities, it was all dry and meaningless. You could drown in it. Men and women have died of fear from watching too much cable news. Most cable stations don't have the problems of the networks though; their anchors have leeway -- very dangerous leeway.
Oscar only vaguely remembered the last Gulf War. He was thirteen at the time and was too busy not combing his hair and trying on plaid over shirts to give a damn. He was in his own Nirvana and nothing could have penetrated that. He doubts that he would have cared about Operation Iraqi Freedom if his little brother Emanuel had not been lost in the desert storm. Every night since his brother enlisted he had been praying the way his abuelita taught him as a boy, and watching the television for any word of anything. Anti-war protests were like dirty bombs igniting within him, but not for his own sake, for his mama. She would cry in long heaving sobs whenever the war was mentioned but when she'd pass a peace sign she would curse and scream like a witch intent on cursing her victim.
At the time Oscar was a laid off software engineer doing odd PC repair jobs from his garage. His doorbell rang so he quickly composed himself to look as professional as possible in case it was a customer.
"Hello, can I help you?"
"Yes, is this the home of Oscar Vaskez," an old man in a black tuxedo said behind the white screen door.
"Qooez," He corrected with an annoyed tone. At that moment he was very sensitive of trivial matters like pronunciation and international policy.
"You have been chosen to attend the glamorous, stupendous, auspicious 75th Academy Awards program tomorrow at the new Kodak Theater in beautiful Hollywood!" the man announced in, obviously, his best game show voice.
The man handed over a ticket, did a little bow and went back to his car like a butler in an old cartoon . Oscar did not enter any contest, and he certainly had never seen the eccentric little old man before. He looked hard at the ticket, still standing in his doorway, for about twenty minutes. His first reaction was to burn the ticket and never think of it again. Then he thought of selling it and making a tidy profit. He shook that idea out and headed to the garage to finish the day's orders. He had fixed five computers by night fall and was exhausted from all the serious thought he had done today. That was really the first time in his life, the time after 9/11, that he began to think seriously. He lied in bed that night thinking yet again of what he should do about the tickets. He looked out his window and saw the moon, blood red. The smog dyed it that color.
The next morning Oscar woke up, showered, ate breakfast and strapped explosives to his chest. Having carefully considered his options he decided it was best to go to the show. He went to his front window and turned his little sign around so that it now said, "Closed for the Day, please come back again tomorrow." He then sat at his desk for three hours and scribbled notes on white napkins he had stacked there.
At noon he drove from his home in the suburb of Irvine, California to L.A. After dealing with ever present traffic he arrived at the Kodak at 1 p.m. He tried as much as he could to act cool, calm and composed despite his excess baggage. He walked down the black carpet. Some new entertainment reporters mistook him for a celebrity and began asking him questions but he walked on. He might have been caught had the stars not begun to arrive just as he was making his way down the carpet. All the attention was on the celebs and security's main objective was to serve and protect them. They had no attention to give to some with a VIP ticket.
Oscar walked over vomit that sloshed around in front of the main door. Anti-war protesters were vomiting to show how sick and tired they were of the whole situation, while pro-war activists vomited from being sick of the protesters. He stepped over the mess and glided inside. He sat in his imitation velvet seat along side all the other nobodies and waited patiently for the show to begin. He sat nervous but un showing for about an hour and a half. He wanted to blend in, so he looked straight forward with distant cold eyes. Then all the stars filed in and took their seats waiting for the witty commentary of the host to start the show.
Just as the first few jokes were said Oscar stood up and began walking himself up to the stage. He knew that the cameras would not show him being apprehended and taken outside, so, just as three large men were ready to escort him he revealed the bright red explosives he was hiding behind his jacket. The crowd looked stunned and horrified, the host dropped behind his podium and the camera was centered on Oscar.
He was able to effortlessly walk on to the stage and up to the microphone. The black marble stage floor was shiny and reflective, beautiful to look at it, but it was dirt and plain concrete beneath it's glamorous surface. He stood proud but afraid in front of a backdrop of an oversized, golden infertility god.
Millions of televisions were displaying Oscar's trip up to the stage for their owners to see, like magic mirrors spying on the ceremony. The viewers gazed into their enchanted glass screens with the up most curiosity. Who was this person? A new daytime TV star; from a soap, maybe. But then, in unison, every viewer realized what was happening. The expressions on the faces of their favorite screen actors tipped them off, or at least that they had expressions. Now, at the edge of their seats they all moved the popcorn bowl aside and gazed at their screens waiting for what many remote spectators took to be some terrorist with an anti-Hollywood agenda.
"My name," he said trembling, "Is Oscar Vasquez, and I am an American. I could care less whether or not you want a war over a war, or if you want peace in knowing we are reforming what seems to me to be a frightening, unjust and radical nation. I am not a Democrat, I am not a Republican. I am not liberal, I am not conservative. I am an American. I am a brother. My hermanito Emanuel is out there, risking, risking his life. Whether or not you care about what he is risking his life over I care about him. I could care less about the best producer of the year, or who designed so and so's dress. I am not a fanatic," he laughed at his last sentence, realizing the irony. He then broke down in painful sobs, slouching over while ripping off the explosives strapped to himself. He threw the fake dynamite frantically and then lay down on the stage, waiting passively for someone to grab him and take him away; to whisk him off the stage because his speech ran too long. How could he profess such profanity with in the Holy Wood? While he was lying there he remembered the blood red moon beaming outside his window the night before. It was proud and beaming; his little brother looked so proud in uniform. He imagined Emanuel saw the same blood drenched moon that night, red from the smoke billowing over Baghdad.