My husband was determined to get us on The Amazing Race. That's the show where couples frantically race around the world, doing cockamamie things to win a million dollars. And I seriously thought about it, even with our two little kids, or perhaps because of our two little kids. On the surface searching for clues in the mud flats of the Ukraine, bribing smelly cab drivers, and eating a pound of putrid yak meat seems more glamorous than the monotony of home life. So, yes, truly considered, if only for a moment. Then, reality came smashing down, "Michael, you can’t swim." And this revelation opened the floodgates. You have to fly to the various exotic destinations. Michael has a fear of flying. Challenges include jumping off buildings and mountains suspended only by a cord. He also has fear of heights. Fear of ledges. Fear of bungee. And if anything is near or involves a body of water, well, there's always... Fear of tides. Fear of currents. Fear of boats. Fear of seaplanes. Fear of sharks. Fear of... You get my drift. Fear of rafts. We’d lose.
Subsequently, his need to get us on The Amazing Race has been substituted by getting us on any reality TV. About a year ago, Michael got an email saying some show was looking for houses that are haunted. He quickly emailed his info.
Michael has always seen ghosts. In college, for instance, he was visited in his dorm room by David, a closeted coed who couldn’t handle life's pressures and committed suicide. David, with piercing blue eyes and a spot-on Carmen Miranda impersonation, has appeared to Michael at various times since then. However in our house, he sees a man in a trench coat walking our halls. Living near Hollywood, I can't help but wonder if in a previous life this succubus was a stand in for Humphrey Bogart.
All this was put into Michael’s email and in no time we were chosen to be on Lifetime’s Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead. (Ironic that Lifetime would produce a show about the dead.)
Being on a reality show is a rite of passage in LA. I have friends who have gotten rooms redecorated in home make over shows. I have another friend who was My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance. It was only a matter of time before we took part in this wacky phenomenon.
I admit I have experienced two peculiar-leaning-towards-paranormal occurrences in our home. But realize, I’m skeptical about their significance. The first was when I saw/felt someone/thing over my shoulder. I turned. But nothing. Now, we've all had those glimmers out of the corner of the eye. You figure it’s the light playing tricks, or you’re fatigued, or you’re plastered. But this was different. It's like when you know the answer to a question you have no right knowing. Same sort of thing. I have an unflinching certainty that someone/thing was there. And just as quickly, it was gone.
And the other occurrence was when Michael and I were sharing an adult moment. (And those of you who are parents know how imperative and sadly infrequent these can be.) When we reached a certain pitch in the evening’s activities...yes, I am referring to that...our computer screen inopportunely flashed on. Our naked bodies exposed in eerie blue light. Once again, someone/thing there. Observing? Applauding?
Here’s how I see things. I’m not necessarily a believer of ghosts, aliens, organized religion. But I’m not a disbeliever either. And I’m okay with my indecision in these matters. But how about others? Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead is more than a reality show. It’s entertainment, it’s episodic, it's ratings. I had a strong foreboding.
They plan to exploit me. It's what reality shows do. There’s always that one person who provides conflict for the episode’s arc. The prima donna. The disbeliever. The Sanjaya. I'm going to be edited down to look like an asshole.
In perhaps an over-blown panic I turned to Michael, "I am not doing the show!" And afterwards, I took on a cynical tone towards the whole endeavor. Even as they set up lights, camera, sound in my house, I both physically and mentally crossed my arms and glowered from the corner. My goal, to maintain an air of disdain. I actually pitied the pimply PA who came over with a clipboard and asked me to sign something.
"Why?" I demanded. "I am not a part of this. "
"Just in case the camera pans your way and you get caught on camera," he stammered.
And in my best Katharine Hepburn, "I better not be caught on camera. Get me the director." The PA scuttled away, tail between his legs.
That’s right. Be afraid. I refuse to be anybody’s shill.
The director came over all smiles. Said he would abide by my wishes. But if I ever want to change my mind...
Right after I swallow a jug of 409 All-Purpose Cleaner.
Finally, Lisa Williams makes her entrance. That's the format. She's the last to arrive, and she claims to know nothing about the case.
Know nothing, my Aunt Freddie and Fanny. I bet she’s been given a dossier on both our families.
She walked around "getting the feel." And she sensed NOTHING.
Because you're a fake.
She was about to leave, when she asked if we have a basement. That's where ghosts hang out, evidently. So, everyone went tramping down to our basement, camera operator and all.
Could have warned us. The one place we didn’t clean.
And that’s when Lisa saw David hanging from the ceiling. He's showing me how he committed suicide, she said. She coaxed David upstairs, away from the dusty Christmas ornaments and rat turds, and had a sit down with him at our dining room table. That’s when Trench Coat appeared to her.
You've got to be kidding.
She found out Trench Coat was a pianist not a stand in. He used to live in our house and it was one of the happiest times of his life. Then another spirit showed himself to Lisa. She said he smelled of bourbon and cigarettes.
If she says it's Henry Fonda...
Michael, jumps in, "That’s my Uncle Bob."
No, baby, don't drink the Kool-Aid.
Lisa then saw three angels go zipping by.
Which ones? Jill? Kelly? Sabrina?
Lisa conferred with the ghosts some more. Turned out, David was activating the computer. He likes electronics. Trench Coat hoped we would allow him to stay in our house. And Uncle Bob told Michael to call Cousin Doris and ask about her bum knee.
Okay. That's freaky. How did Lisa know about Cousin Doris's knee?
At some point, Michael happened to mention Sebastian's name and Lisa sort of cocked her head to the side and froze. She then stopped the shoot and sent everyone from the room except for the two of us. She became very serious and said she had something to tell us about our son.
Let me guess. He's the reincarnation of Barbara Stanwyck.
She told us the reason she was here had nothing to do with our ghost and angel infestation, but had everything to do with Sebastian. He is a special boy, she said. She described how finicky he is. How he smells his food before eating. How he's light sensitive and sound sensitive. How he makes up incredible stories, parts of which are spoken in his own language. All true.
There can't be any dossier that complete.
Lisa went on to say she herself is a mother, and at her suggestion neither of our children would be part of the shoot. She didn't want us to feel they were being exploited. I was so intent on cultivating cynicism, I didn’t even think about the well being of my kids.
She then told us Sebastian will flourish in ways we cannot imagine. We should not try to staunch his abilities. We are the guardians of his specialness.
Might not sound like much written down, but just then I felt like the Grinch when his heart begins to grow. Perhaps there is room for the other in my belief structure. I'm not rushing out to buy a Ouija board, but Lisa Williams, mommy, psychic, conduit to the dead, is truly a genuine person, and that does matter.
No cynicism. Italics nonetheless.
I still chose not to participate in the episode. We allowed Trench Coat to stay. And David promised to stop messing with the computer, and when I say messing with the computer, I mean watching us have sex.
Afterthought. Lisa Williams: Life Among the Dead never aired our segment. But Michael finally got his wish. Our little family will be on TV. A commercial, but TV all the same. There’s a group, Get to Know Me First, which is fighting the Proposition 8 ruling by introducing the California public to gay couples and gay families. Feel free to view our print ad gettoknowmefirst.org. We’re shooting in our house in January. I wonder if Trench Coat will be roaming the halls that day, or if David will screw with their equipment. Reality TV, you can't make this crap up.