Just Inside the Frame
by Harrison Kim
My name is Lana Ciaccia, and today I’m on Hans Woss Tonight. You know, the TV show. Click it. I’ll be gesticulating inside the frame, telling my truth to the wise Hans. His head’s even larger in real life. When it waggles down at you, it shakes like a piñata. You want to hit it with a stick to spread the intelligence and wisdom. Or just because you’re curious to know what’s inside. He gesticulates. He dominates. He’s watched by millions.
Today I’ll be the two-dimensional flat screen patient to his all-knowing hairy-knuckled psychologist. Let him crack my brain with insight, get me out of this dark place where I’m in love with a lady named Online Sammi.
Sammi and I write and video back and forth. I’ve created my own fake persona for her. We’re communicating through online illusions, with text and Photoshop. She signals through real-life actions too. She poltergeists across the miles, moving things around my apartment. She tips over my milk jug, clicks my stapler or moves my coffee cup. In these ways, she shows her true feelings of love.
I wish I could poltergeist her back. I’ve tried, but Sammi says nothing moves at her end. She says she isn’t moving anything at my end either, but I know she’s simply modest. On Hans Woss, our experience will be revealed to millions. Online Sammi will know my real persona. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, just to see her on live TV.
One other thing that I need to reveal: Hans Woss is my dad. It’s a secret between my mom and me. He doesn’t know it, though... yet.
Mr. Woss called my excited mom a few weeks after I applied. She told him her name and everything but didn’t let on about the one-night stand they had in 1995. That’s when he was a cowboy working out west, and she was a runaway working as a waitress. She told me: “He introduced me to hash as well as sex. He should’ve known better, I was just a kid.” Now he didn’t remember her at all, apparently.
“He’s looking forward to exploring how you merged the virtual and the actual.” She said. “Love stories with a twist excite Mr. Woss.” Mom is psychic too; she does astrological readings and runs a New Age group as well as being a dental assistant and artist’s model.
Mom is a bit frustrated that I’m not working, that I’m on the computer all day in my room, which I never clean. “You’re an online college graduate, for God’s sake,” she says, though there’s not much call for jobs in Psychic Studies. She thought Mr. Woss’s help meant moving my big butt out of the house. I guess she’s partly right. Surprisingly, Hans invited Mom, too. “I’m ecstatic we’re going to L. A.,” she said. “Maybe he just didn’t let on he knows who I am.” She laughed, and shook her colorful bangled wrist bracelets.
“How do you feel about meeting Dad again?” I asked her. “After all those years?”
“Don’t tell him that!” Mom yelled. “He’ll deny everything and kick us off the show!”
“These days, denial means you’re guilty,” I said, “but let it be our secret.” We both lifted our milkshakes and gave a toast to California.
* * *
Mr. Woss told Mom he’d call up the real Sammi, too, and offer her a place on the program. That’s the main reason I applied. I knew he’d want all participants, virtual and actual.
Mom calls Sammi “the little con artist.” I’ve given her two thousand dollars, but it’s for her tennis lessons. Mom says I’m wasting my savings. She knows nothing of social media, Kickstarter or Patreon. She uses the Internet to look up recipes.
The show’s producers whisked us both down to Los Angeles in a plane, then to the studio in a limo. They booked us at the Glamshell Hotel. In the car, I applied gobs of mascara and blush, pulled on gold hoop ear rings, smeared pink and black lipstick in the correct locations. The makeup lady for the show scraped it all off. “We want you to look real,” she said. “But not too real.” She reapplied eyeliner, tracing the edges of my lids. It tickled. I looked in her mirror and felt uplifted, my facial bones seemed higher, closer to the stars. I was ready to show everything to the real, Physical Sammi.
The show opened, and a dozen cameras pivoted in front of Mr. Woss’s giant shiny face, then they played on me. “When you make stuff up online, it becomes virtually actual,” I told him. I had his eyebrows, I’m sure, very triangular and thick, although I saw flecks of white in his.
“What parts of your online persona did you make up?” He loomed above me, a spotlight right behind his blue suit. His huge forehead sloped up like a ski hill, kind of like my nose. I remained calm and articulate while I framed his physical presence through my mindscreen and viewed him against my own inner YouTube. After all, he and I shared almost 100 per cent the same DNA. I breathed in deep.
“My husband Chad builds golf courses.” I said. “We live with two Alsatians on the side of a forested lake. Chad makes millions. He’s always away constructing or designing and, when he comes home, all he talks about is holes. I don’t like golf myself. Tennis is the game for me.”
“But you don’t have a husband or any Alsatians,” Mr. Woss said matter-of-factly. “You’re five-foot two with a carrot top.”
“This may be so from one perspective” I said. “But the real world sucks.”
Mr. Woss smiled. “You’re part of the world.”
“If you don’t become screwed up by reality, you’re insane,” I told him. I smiled, a rebel child talking back to Dad. A couple of audience members tittered. I think they had a gal over there holding a sign that said “Laugh.”
Mr. Woss made a face. “It’s not the world that screws you up; it’s your own thinking.” He looked grim as hell, those big eyebrows pointing at four deep lines in the middle of his forehead. “Tell me about Online Sammi.”
I explained that I found Sammi on the friendship site “Gal.” She friended me right away after I told her I used to play professional tennis. She sent me a photo of a tall, wavy platinum blonde girl hitting a forehand smash with her extremely long slim arms. I sent her one of a shorter, auburn-haired individual taking two Alsatians for a walk round a golf course. “Or are they taking you for a walk?” Online Sammi quipped.
“They’re very big animals,” I’d replied. “One’s Charlie, the other’s Charlotte. We’re training them for the police.”
When you create a life and put it online it becomes framed. It has a home. I’m not sure why Mr. Woss implied I’m delusional about the Alsatians and Chad. It’s not a delusion if you build the concepts and details like art, on a screen.
The Internet is a two-dimensional truth. Every manufactured presentation exists after you post it. Just like his show. It’s all edited and tweaked before it airs. If you watch the show, Mr. Woss physically walks around and talks to me, but the screen time has been severely edited. That’s like my conception of the world. Everything’s on an electronic palette. I can reframe the images and conversations to manufacture a more desired and popular presence. My time on the Hans Woss show proved this. I came off the program with five thousand likes on my own personal website.
* * *
Mr. Woss called in Physical Sammi. This was the part I’d been waiting for. Romantic music swelled. A short, stout lady stepped very slowly from behind the curtains. We stared at each other. She appeared about five years older, thirty pounds heavier than I had imagined. Her puffy, chipmunk-like cheeks looked all rouged up; the makeup artist seemed to have had a different concept for her.
Mr. Woss formed his hands into a triangle and sat between us. I said, “Thanks for moving my coffee cup, Sammi, and making the curtains of my room open and close by themselves. You did those things, Sammi, because you wanted me to know how close we were connecting.”
She smiled, shook her head. “I didn’t move anything.”
“How do you feel, Lana,” asked Mr. Woss, “now that you’ve met the Physical Sammi?”
I smiled. I couldn’t think for a moment. I imaged my screen around his face. Then he appeared two-dimensional. From this flat perception, I talked without fear. “I feel normal,” I said. “I feel these spotlights right in my eyes.”
“Two people met online,” Hans told the crowd, “and created different stories about themselves. They believed each other’s stories. Unfortunately, Lana became quite psychotic.”
The crowd murmured. I noticed one lady swivelling her head back and forth like a horse rubbing a fence. I wanted to shout, “What’s wrong with you?!” But I said, “Mr. Woss no longer belongs to the Washington Psychological Association due to his lack of ethics.”
Then Mr. Woss shook his head, too. “You’re off topic.” He moved in close to my face and whispered. “It’s not about me. It’s about you.”
He called my mother in. She stepped onstage, dressed in a tie-dye mumu that went all the way to her skinny knees. Her neck looked thin and lined, but she held her head high. She smiled at Mr. Woss. “Hello, darling.” Hans eyed her for a moment. Then he motioned her to a seat next to me.
“The girl needs help,” Mom told Mr. Woss. “All she does is sit in her room with the computer and talk to people online. She has so much potential. She’s very creative. If it were video games, I’d think she were a boy.” The crowd tittered. The camera panned their faces, all with wide-open, grinning, bleached-white American teeth. Physical Sammi’s twisted-looking choppers appeared bleached, too. “I always told Lana to get out of the house,” my mom concluded. “Now it looks like she’s succeeded.”
“That’s a great first step,” chuckled Mr. Woss. “Right from her room to mine.”
“Lana looks nothing like she presented,” Physical Sammi commented from her position across the stage. “I never imagined that she’d be short and chubby and have a big face with chin folds. You’re not svelte at all.”
“I bathe in lavender,” I said. “Sammi, you said you liked lavender perfume.” Sammi sniffed the air.
“That so-called friend bilked my daughter out of two thousand dollars,” my mom called out.
I jumped up and shouted at Mom, “She needed it for tennis!” My voice came out all high-pitched. “She’s got so much talent!” Some swivel-shouldered security guy came out of the wings and stood behind us, twitching.
Copyright © 2020 by Harrison Kim