“I said yes, which turned out to be the right answer.” — Pat Sajak
The smiling woman who never ages stands there clapping in front of large white boxes with mystery letters inside them, so pleasant and engaged, like an odd mix of “stoned delirium,” she cannot seem to stop clapping. Her jaw muscles are tired, so tired from smiling, her mascara dark rivers down her cheeks that she never cries but wants to. She used to flip the boxes over to expose the letters, when she was younger, but now just pushes a button to make the letter appear from within. She could have been replaced by a remote, but needed a job. So grateful, she claps. Her resume is one single line typed in 72 pt. comic sans. Can clap, nice attitude. Her handprints in front of Disney’s Hollywood studios are the cement version of many unspoken concessions.
The sort of funny looking host, his eyes slowly stretched to his temples, asks three strangers about their respective residencies, vocations, and significant others, and other attachments, to which a partial list of answers are “my beautiful wife,” “Philly cheese steak,” “programming analyst,” “my loving husband,” “Denver,” “dolphins,” “South Carolina,” “stay-at-home mom,” “senior auditor,” “our aging dog Spence,” etc. They stand at attention along a wide arc whose fulcrum is a large colorful fiscally bountiful wheel that spins clockwise as if fast forwarding time toward a grand mutual death. Each 360° rotation is capitalism reincarnated, the entropy of “free market” as the roulette of chance. Each click of the spinning wheel is a nanosecond toward hope, a lesson of losing a turn, of glitter, of bankruptcy.
The three strangers each move their mouths incorrectly, daftly buying implicit vowels, buying time with “um,” saying the wrong thing in a surrealist sub-game of exquisite corpse, each offering a line of some disjointed haiku, until one of them, finally, says the right thing and is awarded the aggregate of obtained dollar amounts once segmented into thin shards of ratio pie. The smiling woman will break two capillaries clapping. The stranger with the longest set of numbers at the end is deemed the winner; is the recipient of both signified dollar amounts (before taxes) and looks of indignation cast by the other two second- and third-place strangers, the latter who shall receive a box of long grain rice from which a sad future dinner will be rendered.
A smaller satellite wheel is now spun. The sort of funny looking host removes a card in which the grand prize is hidden. The winning stranger chooses some letters to add to the ones they are entitled to, all of which are exposed in correlation to the letters within the mystery puzzle, words and phrases devised by pale analysts with soft skin whose entire vocation is this. What may be seen now is this incomplete word, or phrase, a provocation of notions of meaning. The smiling woman who never ages, her jaw muscles so sour, knows the sound of two hands clapping, and two high heels clicking — out of the cab and into her massive empty condominium, where she must watch reruns of herself inside bulky televisions from each respective era dangerously balanced next to the bubble bath in which she lies.
The beep as a noun will beep as a verb, breaking the silence after a set of tic-tocs understood and lamented as the negation of time, for the stranger could not gather from the paltry set of letters the right thing to say. This represents a relationship, in that one is often left to guess what to say from a rhetorically vague set of clues. The sort of funny looking man, his temples beginning to rip open, will placate sadness with an “ouch,” or “ew… so close,” then open the card that reads $35,000 in bold sans serif font, at which the succumbed stranger will stare with disappointment and growing self-hatred. The announcer will now announce the hotel where the strangers had been staying at, as the hotel provided a subsidized rate per room in exchange for this exact measure. This subtle ad will be embodied in a photo of one of the rooms, its bed perfectly made and empty, an emptiness felt that night by the disappointed stranger who could not gather the correct words, in fetal position and a room-service chocolate mint melting at the roof of their mouth, before the fist a.m. flight home.