From the author: The start of a new year is the perfect time to reassess your personal situation...
FOOTNOTE PEOPLE IN WORLD HISTORY by David Perlmutter
Wendy caught me as I was trying to pry open the bottle of whiskey that I’d surreptitiously taken from the bar while everyone was partying, figuring that nobody would notice. I’d been sober most of that New Year’s Eve, like I promised her earlier, but temptation was bound to get me, I suppose.
Look. If you’re an attractive girl, it’s hard enough going through life actually being ignored. And if you’d the unfortunate experience that I had just had, alcohol serves as a panacea. Maybe not the only or the best one, but still a good one.
Anyway, there was Wendy, standing there in the doorway, with her checkerboard shirt and rakishly tilted faux-fur hat giving her the appearance of a hunter on the prowl. And I was her game.
“You told me that you’d given up the booze, Belle,” she said.
“No, I didn’t,” I corrected her. “I said I wasn’t drinking as much as I used to. I never said I was going to give it up entirely. Besides, the way things are, you need something to get through the days.”
“Amen to that. Here; let me get that for you.”
She went to the bottle, and opened it easily, as you’d expect the daughter of a northwestern lumberjack might be able to do. With glasses and ice from the mini-fridge, we started working on the bottle’s contents.
We’d only met recently, but we’d bonded in friendship quickly. We had a lot of stuff in common. We were both daughters of extremely masculine men who expected a lot of us, but couldn’t necessarily be there for us when we needed them to be. We were both in the late teens-early twenties age range, when girls become women seemingly overnight and are left to find their way through life without much of a biological road map. We’d both grown up without mothers to help us through trying times. We both had worked demanding and frustrating jobs for male bosses who didn’t always get us (doubly troubling for me, since mine was also my dad). We both had a lot of male admirers, even very young ones. We both came from small towns where weird crap was always happening, and we’d learned pretty quickly how to be self-sufficient against most types of threats because of that. We both had red hair: mine being long and orange tinted, hers being short and the color of port wine.
And, as it turned out, we were both really the creations of people from other worlds, and thus didn’t have complete control over our destinies. Which we were now trying to change by working independently, but with others, to get that control for ourselves.
I should probably explain that, even though I don’t entirely get it myself.
You see, when an animated television program is created, a whole small universe is developed along with it. The creators of the programs spend a lot of time shaping how everything looks, acts, and feels, and that includes the people who live in the universe. However, they spent much more time and emphasis developing who the lead characters are, and all the supporting characters have to take what’s left on the table after that to figure out who they are. And when a show ends, and a universe basically gets rubbed out of existence, you have a lot of people who are out of not just a job, but a whole way of life.
Bad enough trying to be a lead character living without a full existence, but what about if you’re just a supporting character?
Which was what I was told, condescendingly, when they shut down my universe and life.
The worst part about that was, up until then, I thought I was living a “normal” life in the “real” world. And then to discover otherwise! To say I was shocked, devastated and angry, among other things, would be the mildest of understatements.
That was another thing Wendy and I had bonded over. She’d been “duped” the same way. But, unlike me, she was used to dealing with fakes and frauds. Her old workplace was full of them, headed by her boss. So she could smell them a mile away, whereas I was a lot greener. The advice she’d given me about that had come in handy.
As it turned out, we were far from the only ones who had been “duped”. Television animation shows tend to have a short shelf life, and so universes are capriciously created and destroyed at whim, with nary a thought to what might become of the creatures inhabiting them after the ax falls. Because we were not “real” people, with off-stage lives, property, votes and dependents, the theory went, we could be treated as if we did not really “exist”, and be used and abused in all senses of the word.
Those of us who had been exiled from our “homes” did not take kindly to this idea. With the idea of taking back what was “rightfully ours”, we were now actively pursuing any sort of activity we could to get our point across. From social media campaigns, to class-action lawsuits against the big studios that had “created” us, to acts of “terrorism” (at least according to the government, because we’ve really gotten on their bad side). This was all under the banner of the Cartoon Republican Army, of which Wendy and I had become members as soon as we could. We were proudly, at that time, wearing our regulation armbands (which, unfortunately, look like the ones the Nazis used to wear on their uniforms, only with the group initials in place of the infamous swastika).
That was the whole reason we were where we were in the first place. An isolated hotel, up on a perilous set of stone cliffs, with only a small seaport as the nearest human contact. Was there a better place to spend what would have been an otherwise lonely as hell holiday season for the vast majority of us “toons”? The CRA leadership thought so, and they proceeded to buy up a huge number of the available rooms at the place. The management was delighted, because they don’t get nearly that many visitors most of the time, and we were putting a lot of the mean greens in their pocket doing that.
But they didn’t stay delighted. Not by a long shot.
The evening had started out reasonably enough, with a discussion of how our joint identities and goals bonded us, and an attempt to figure out where we wanted to go from there. That didn’t last. Sure enough, as I kind of thought they would, those who were more interested in partying than politics had high-jacked the whole affair. They got the booze out, some of which had been brought there, and some of it the hotel’s personal stash. Now here it was NYE, and a fair number of us had been sloppy drunk for a long time before then. You could tell by all the inebriated bodies tossed around the floors. Though some of them weren’t inebriated enough to make grabs at my tits and ass. Even when I swore and kicked and threw punches at them, they wouldn’t let up. I was lucky to get back to the room with my whiskey and virginity still intact.
It might have been all right if we had stuck to what we brought and not drunk up the hotel’s resources. Including all of the concierge’s beloved Sam Adams. This would undoubtedly be the first and only time we’d been staying at this place, if he had his way.
When I finished my first glass of whiskey, I went to the window, and longingly gazed out of it, over the long high cliffs, pass the seaport, and onto the long and unforgiving expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Then I turned to Wendy and, quoting Peggy Lee, said:
“Is that all there is?”
“All there is to what?” Wendy asked.
“You know. Life. Specifically, our lives. Or, at least, the ones we used to have.”
“You know what I mean. Supporting characters in other people’s lives. Not being able to be fully grown, fully dimensional, independent people. What kind of life is that to live?”
“We were only “supporting” characters because the narratives of the shows chose to define us as “supporting characters,” Wendy reminded me. “In our own minds, on our own terms, in our own lives, especially in the parts that the camera didn’t see, we were leads.”
“You mean, like when we went to the bathroom….”
“Besides that. When we were working and stuff.”
“Neither of us had jobs that were really exciting.”
“Which was probably why we were supporting characters, and not leads.”
“But why create us at all? I always had the sneaking suspicion that the producers of my show created me just to be eye candy, and nothing else. I mean, just as I was coming up the staircases in the lobby to get to the elevator, there were a few drunk guys getting fresh. Like #MeToo in embryo.”
“Our guys, or locals?”
“Who do you think? You know how scared most of the hotel staff is of us.”
“Why? Is it that B.S. about us being capricious gods and goddesses willing and able to kill if and when we want to? I don’t trust the media to get anything right about us, just like they can’t get it right about anything or anybody else anymore. Besides, the only things those kind of guys need, regardless of race, is to have their balls kicked up into their pelvises. That’s what I did when they tried it with me when I followed you up here.”
Suddenly, we heard knocking on the door, and slurred voices. I knew it was the fellows who had tried stuff with me earlier. How had they found out where I was?
I flushed and tried to escape to the room, but Wendy motioned me back to the bed I was sitting on.
“Never mind about them,” she said. “I’ll deal with them.”
And, bravely, she undid the chain lock on the hotel door and stepped outside. There was a flurry of swearing, and the sounds of tautly thrown punches and kicks, and then fast footsteps in retreat. Then Wendy returned, her clothes unruffled and her hair hardly out of place.
“You dealt with them,” I said, admirably.
“Yeah,” she answered. “A lot of the dumber boys don’t think a girl would ever have the courage to attack them. So, when they do, it’s kind of unknown territory, and they’re the ones who suddenly can’t deal with it. Not like us.”
“I’ll remember that,” I responded. “But what do we do now?”
“As in what? Work?”
“We’re more fortunate than most of that crew downstairs, because we have actual real-world job experience that we can translate into jobs here in the “real” world. There’s always going to be a restaurant in need of a waitress, given the turnover rate, so you shouldn’t have trouble. As for me, the amount of time I spent being bored behind a counter before is probably going to lead to me being bored behind another one sooner or later, if my C.V. is taken seriously.”
“But what if, you know, we end up having a new boss who….tries to take advantage….”
“They wouldn’t dare.” Wendy was adamant on this point. “Not in this day and age. I just showed you the folly of that, didn’t I? And besides: social media sucks in a lot of ways, but it can be a brilliant way of taking down an unjust attacker if it’s used the right way. And, besides, if other human men are as….well…beguiled…..by us as the men working here are, they’re doubly as likely to want to make trouble. All that B.S. about all us ‘toon girls being man-eating, ball-breaking vampires was good for scaring them off of us, at least.”
Then we heard what sounded like a gunshot, which startled me.
“What was that?” I said. “You don’t think that was one of us….with a gun….?”
“That was a flare,” said Wendy. “Not a bullet. Trust me- I know the difference.” She looked at her watch. “It’s 11:59 now. Somebody probably just decided to launch the New Year early. I think I need another shot. What about you?”
I nodded. And we proceeded to do that, as everyone else counted down from 10 to 1 as best they could, and welcomed the New Year in as the two of us did.
With a strong sense of faith who we were, but with a still strong and lingering sense of fear of the unknown world and life ahead of us.
This story originally appeared in Medium. com (2019).
An encyclopedia of television animation programs produced in the United States between 1948 and the present. Includes detailed listings of programming content, production credits and background related to the production and development of the series.
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