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The Single Shot

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It wasn’t an injection or a gun shot, although there was a surplus of those. It was a camera set up across the street from a small yellow house with white trim. I saw it with everyone else while I was in my friend’s living room. It was May 17, 1974, and it was the first time that technology had allowed video cameras to broadcast from a remote location, but Arlene wasn’t interested. 

I was friends with Jack and Arlene and I had some business to discuss with Jack, so I drove over around six o’clock, but Jack wasn’t home. Arlene opened the door and… and I’m afraid I have to intervene with this story. You have to have known Arlene for this to have an impact, but Arlene had those huge Carol Channing eyes that literally got big and sparkled when she was happy. It was a delight to see, and I regret deeply that I can no longer see it. Arlene opened the door and smiled as her eyes got big and she glowed and said, “Gilbert! Darlin’! Come in!” I will always remember Arlene’s “Darlin’s!”

Jack wasn’t home, but he would be soon, so I followed her into the kitchen, where she was making pot brownies. We chatted and caught up while she mixed some ingredients in, and began stirring the mixture around the bowl. We chatted and Arlene started pouring the mixture into the baking pan, which was when she got a worried look about her and stopped pouring. All of Arlene’s emotions were pretty easy to read, and I asked if anything was wrong. I mean, she looked like she’d forgotten something, but it might be more. She said, in a cautious tone, “I think I made a mistake.” And she had. She’d made all the pot-laced brownies while she was hungry. Arlene had been noshing on the mixture all the time we’d been talking, and three things were happening at once.

On one hand, as she was spooning the mixture into the pan, she began to realize that the amount of brownie mix that should be in the pan but was missing, was considerable. Which was also when she realized where that missing brownie mix was located, which, unfortunately for those of us who wish Arlene well, the worst was not over as right about then she began to feel the first waves of… waves; rolling waves… She knew she was in trouble, so she sent me into the living room to watch TV. I heard her putting a pan in the oven and then, nothing.  

Whatever, okay, Arlene was no stranger to excesses of all manner, and someday I may tell you more about Jack and Arlene, but for the nonce, she was on her own unless she called to me, and I turned on the TV and settled into the couch. There was a new story on the channel, so I switched to another, and it was the same shot. Now, my memory is hazy here, but I remember black & white, and I also remember only one camera, and one shot, set on a tripod I assumed, and it didn’t move. What was going on? Within seconds it was most of the Los Angeles police force surrounded a small suburban house wherein the reporter reported that inside was the SLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, who were the most famous terrorists in U.S. history. You know the story: In June, 1973, heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her dorm room in Berkeley, California. She was missing until she showed up in a photo during a bank robbery and she issued a statement that she had joined her captors in their noble fight and would henceforth be known as Tanya. Famous stuff, and everyone at the time knew all about it. It was huge news. And now the police were saying that this house was their hideout. Wow! What the…!

So I called out to Arlene, “Hey, Arlene, you gotta see this!” but got no response. I waited a minute and said, “Are you okay? and Arlene came out unsteadily, and headed for the couch, so I moved to a seat. I tried to explain to her what was going on, pointing, telling her what that house had and why there was no action, but even though she was looking at me, she, uhh… didn’t seem interested. She said she was going to lie down and take a nap. I said okay and watched the screen. Same shot, some talk, of course, but that was muted and hushed. I watched for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes and Arlene began to stir. She sat up and looked at the screen, but her glance had a dazed look to it and She asked what was going on. I started to explain and she lay back down and lazily said she was going to take a nap. Fifteen or twenty minutes later she stirred again and looked at the screen, but the shot was the same except that it was darker. Not night yet, but starting to go there. Other than that, it was the same shot. It couldn’t have made any sense at all to Arlene; she was stoned out of her mind, and even something as rock steady as the television screen was making sense. Time made no sense. The image never stays the same on TV, never. Something was wrong and it had to be with her. Gilbert seemed okay, everything in the house looked like it was supposed to…

We later calculated that Arlene had eaten the equivalent of between six and eight brownies, and Arlene was proud of (and notorious for) the strength of her brownies. But that was too much for anyone—anyone!—and now nothing was making sense, she only wanted to sleep for the next twenty-four hours, and while she couldn’t figure out what was wrong, she could figure out that the necessary blocks of sleep-time were just not happening. She was in trouble and the anchor she trusted, the one reliable factor was the TV, and… and it made no sense!

She did manage to fall asleep, but twenty minutes later she was up again, looking out the window to gauge how much time had passed, but it was still full daylight and that scene on the TV hadn’t changed. It wasn’t like any TV show she’d ever seen- those had changed scenery and characters, and this had the same shot and no one on camera. Arlene knew she was in trouble, and she groaned, closed her eyes and laid back down. 

Twenty minutes later she was up again, and of course the only two things she could see form the couch were the picture window and the TV. It was only slightly darker now than it had been when she last looked, but the scene on the TV was the same. No one was talking on it, just that same shot of the suburban house. Arlene laid back down again, but there had to be some panic this time. She was in trouble and nothing made any sense. 

She slept and woke for the next hour until Jack came home and I explained what was going on with Arlene. He understood, he shook his head with a “That crazy Arlene” look, and he walked her into their bedroom. When he came out I asked Jack if Arlene knew what was going on and of course she hadn’t a clue. He said he’d explain it all to her the next day, or whenever she came down, as this was too funny to forget.

It was too funny to forget, as this proves.