I’ve seen Legends of the Hidden Temple a thousand times, and I know this is where everyone fails, this room, the self-esteem crusher, the ego death chamber, the Shrine of the Silver Monkey. But not me. I will not fail. My parents and teachers have always said I’m special, that I’m a winner, and they’re right of course. In the hotel restaurant today, I drank three cokes all by myself with my pizza — I’m so full of caffeine right now I could smash through these Styrofoam walls like a fucking freight train, motherfucker. I hope a temple guard jumps out, so I can toss him off the balcony into the Pit of Despair like a bitch.
But seriously, I hope I don’t see a temple guard because I heard if you don’t have half a pendant of life to give them, they drag you into a pitch black room and rub oils all over your body followed by a blinding white flash. Then the lights flick on and you’re on that gaudy acid trip of a set for the Zeebo the Clown episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. You cry and cry and cry, but they won’t unlock the doors until you sign a nondisclosure agreement.
The bottom part of the monkey I find on a shelf in the corner. The middle part I find on a lower shelf across from it. Where’s the top part? Where is it? Is it even in here? Did the production manager forget to place the head of the silver monkey in the shrine room? Jesus Christ! Finally, I find it on a much higher shelf — I’m 5’2’’, and these assholes put the monkey’s head that far up? Whatever. With all the pieces cradled in my arms, all that’s left is to assemble them on the front pedestal in the full two minutes I have left on the clock. I’ve seen countless contestants fail this simple task, yelled at the TV with frustration at the fact that if I were there, I could slap it together in no time. I will complete this puzzle with the calm deliberation of a tightrope walker over an active volcano. I will deconstruct the task into many smaller tasks, each of which I accomplish with the swift thoughtful precision of a semi truck driver parallel parking on a busy street in downtown LA. I will step outside my body and conduct this operation without stress like a determined mother fishing for her keys with a metal hanger through the car window while her baby slowly succumbs to heat stroke in the backseat. I will not panic. I will not start crying.
“It looks like he’s got the bottom turned around!” yells Kirk Fogg.
What does he mean I have it turned around? The front’s facing me and the back’s facing — oh, it has to face the camera. Shit, I’ve already screwed up! I’m blowing it! No, calm down. Don’t lose your cool now. You’re a Purple Parrot, and that means something, goddammit. I can see my partner from up here, the nerdy kid who kept talking about how he wished he could’ve gotten on Nick Arcade instead. He’s shaking his head in disgust, hand over his eyes.
“Oh no, he’s dropped the monkey’s head over the edge!” yells Kirk.
Shit, I didn’t even notice! It’s because I tried to hold everything in my tiny eleven-year-old arms, my cursed toothpick arms, my damned baby kitten arms. What am I going to do now? Precious seconds of the most important two minutes of my life tick away. I place the middle section on, but I can’t discern which part’s the front and which is the back. Then a producer tosses the head back up to me—a blessing from the temple gods—and as I reach to grab it, I knock the middle section onto the floor. Everything’s spinning out of control. The world sways, and a mouthful of partially digested pizza rushes up into my mouth.
I place the middle part on and then jam the head rod through the whole misshapen mess. Nothing happens. I twist the middle part around and around, twist the head around and around, and then begin stabbing the head rod through the torso with murderous fury, damaging a treasured Nickelodeon prop. Still nothing happens. Sweat pours into my eyes — or maybe they’re tears — and I’m blinded. The silver monkey becomes a vague gray blur rotating furiously in the bright stage lights. Time stops. I drift out of my body like a smoky white tentacle. I soar out of the studio, out of the building, and out of Universal Studios. I see my friends sitting in front of their television sets, laughing at my inept performance. I see my family standing in the dimly lit kitchen after I’ve gone to bed, whispering about what an embarrassment I am, the shame I’ve brought on the family. I see millions of people in the future, watching my pathetic temple run on something called YouTube, laughing at me. The defining moment of my life. My greatest failure.
I drift up further and further until I’m in a higher plane of existence where multicolored snake monsters swoop through golden fog and vaguely human-shaped ghosts float silently past. There’s a low thrumming noise like a trillion locusts. Then a huge old man face emerges out of the gloom in front of me, eyes blazing, cloud beard blowing. He opens a mouth like the sun, and I’m a speck of dust compared to one of his wispy eyelashes. His voice is a hot shower spraying my spirit body. I hear it in every particle of my being. He says, “Ya blew it.”