Episode 1: Videonautic
In what seemed to be a very tidy apartment party, a young woman with pinkish-purple hair made herself useful at the make-shift kitchen bar. The kitchen was separated from the living room only by a long counter, now crammed with empty glasses and trash. The woman’s pixie form sprang from client to client lightly, and she served each drink with lingering eye contact. She was still college-aged, and clearly out of place among the young professionals around her. Although she was no beauty, she was in sophisticated possession of an impish charm, and showed relentless optimism in overcoming any indifference thrown her way.
The area before the bar was over-crowded, as people continued to stand nearby chatting after receiving their drinks. A rhythm to their conversations could be heard, with words like “options,” “investor,” “cloud,” and “biohacking” providing the beat. A man with a pre-maturely receding hair-line rushed up to the bar with a disoriented woman wearing a black pant suit in tow.
“Kelsey!” he shouted over the shoulders of her current clients, “Can I leave Deanna with you for just… a long time? I really have to catch Felix before he leaves. Deanna is a videographer. She just got back from Japan. And she can explain the rest.” Kelsey passed a drink to a waiting guest and looked up. For two seconds, she only looked, without saying anything. Deanna was more handsome than pretty, rather like a celebrity athlete whose income had detached from her sport. Her uneven teeth and the small groove in the tip of her nose suggested that she came from a family that placed little value on cosmetic appearance. Indeed, Deanna wore no make-up, and her hair had been put up in the most perfunctory of fashions. She was out of place, too.
“This is Kelsey,” the man said. “Sex pet and YouTuber. But not at the same time. Am I right? No wait, text me some links if I’m not right. I godda go.” He summarily withdrew, leaving the two women looking at each other awkwardly.
“Wow. That probably wasn’t the best introduction you’ve gotten,” Deanna said.
“I think it was a recommendation,” said Kelsey. “Probably not the best you’ve gotten.” Kelsey abandoned her apron and moved around to the other side of the kitchen counter. She was so woefully thin, her hip bones were plainly suggested through her thin black minidress. She shook Deanna’s hand. “Hi. What were you videoing in Japan?”
Deanna, a full fifteen centimeters taller than Kelsey, ended up backing into the man behind her in order to get good eye contact. She replied, “You know those girls who dress like dolls and stand around train stations and malls, waiting for people to take their pictures?”
“There is a shopping district in Tokyo named Harajuku which is the epicenter of that scene. I made friends with some of the girls. They agreed to let me follow them around for two weeks with my camera to find out what their lives are like when they’re not in Harajuku.”
“And what secret lives do they have?” Kelsey asked. “Don’t tell me. They are cry-baby porn stars.”
Deanna laughed. “Actually, they’re pretty boring.”
“So how did you end up videoing boring girls?”
“NPR sent me to interview the hikikomori and I sorda got side-tracked.”
“You know those guys who live at home and stay in their rooms for months or years at a time?”
“Well, it happens in Japan. And one of them showed me around and I got to see some of the weird Japanese underworld, and I didn’t come home on time. So what do you do? Arlin said, YouTuber?”
Kelsey said, “That’s like calling yourself a prostitute because you have sex. You have to get paid to be a prostitute.”
Deanna laughed. “So what do people pay you for?”
“Like with horny tax accountants and priests?”
Kelsey replied, “Nowadays, it’s mostly teenage girls from fancy families.”
“Really? What do you talk about?”
“How to make people think you’re eating more than you are. Disgusting things that other people eat. Popular girls who have no self-control. Bad mommies. But it’s still an underwear-only job.”
“Why?” Deanna asked.
“They want to know I’m the real deal.”
“So… you give anorexia life-style advice?”
“They do the talking, mostly,” Kelsey said. “It’s more like a forum. And I never said anything about anorexia.”
“But you sure do look like you could use a sandwich,” countered Deanna, with a hint of concern in her voice.
“Well, it’s not the kind of uniform I can kick off at the end of a shift.”
“So how is that different from actually being anorexic?”
“Anorexia does not ruin your appetite,” Kelsey said. “Methylphenethylamine does. Withdrawal from anorexia means you’re eating. Withdrawal from methylphenethylamine means you’re not. I have a problem, but it’s not anorexia.”
Deanna seemed unsure of how to respond. “Er… are you getting help?”
“No, I can make a living from it.”
“I meant, with your drug problem.”
“You’re asking if someone has helped me not make a living?”
Deanna laughed. She was jostled from behind by a small group exiting a bedroom. Ushering Kelsey to one of the corners of the living room, she probed further: “Okay, so how does that work? Web-chat pays you per session or minute or something?”
“Girls subscribe to a video chat room. I’m sorda the MC. I’m a content provider. I give it value. I also do merch.”
“Coffee mugs with slogans like, ‘Eat it or defeat it.’ My best-seller is a T-shirt with an astronaut standing in front of a vending machine on the moon. The caption is, ‘One small snack for man, one giant heap for my behind.’”
“You’re like, so funny,” Deanna said, smiling. She gestured faintly to the well-dressed and well-educated people speaking animatedly around them. “I was dreading coming back to the US and having to talk to people about their stock options and TV series.”
Kelsey smiled sympathetically. “You’re also undreadful.”
Deanna had been stooping to speak to Kelsey, and as if remembering something, she suddenly straightened her posture. “Do you think I could get a coffee or something to eat here? It’s like noon for my body clock, and I don’t know when Arlin is going to take me back to his place. Plus, I haven’t eaten since somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.”
“We could just freshen up,” Kelsey chirped.
“Freshen up? How?”
“Freshen up.” Kelsey cleared her throat. “Perk up. In the bathroom. Fatigue, hunger, body clock, just freshen that mess right up!”
“I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“I know you want to make a good impression on me, in case you decide to make a documentary about me after all.”
Deanna laughed nervously. “How did you… well, yeah.” She squirmed through a combination of discomfort and delight. “Actually, I’m on my way home. I really just landed in Boston like two hours ago and I’m just waiting for the buses to start running again.”
“Where to?” “Northampton.”
“That’s not far.”
“Your call. I need to get back to the bar.”
The bathroom was illuminated by a dozen tealights, each in an art nouveau holder, either attached to the wall or hanging from the ceiling. The laughter and the chatter of the party had melted into a pleasant din beyond the closed door. Kelsey turned off the faucet and dried her hands. As she rummaged through her handbag, she muttered, “Okay, now, let’s see… let’s see…” She grinned bashfully at Deanna. “Sorry. If you’re gonna carry a first responder kit, you at least need to keep it where you can get at it!” She finally produced a tiny glass vanilla oil vial, now filled with white powder. “Okay, so I’m going to pour exactly the right amount in the palm of my hand. You sniff twice, hard, like this:” She sniffed twice.
“Okay.” Deanna put her nose in Kelsey’s palm and sniffed twice.
“And pinch your nostrils so you don’t lose any,” which Deanna did. Kelsey held out her palm. “And now you lick.” When Deanna showed signs of hesitation, Kelsey said, “I just washed. S’all good.”
Deanna licked the fine dust in Kelsey’s palm. “Eww, that’s horrible!”
“But highly nutritious. You’ll know in a few minutes, because your hunger will simply zoom away into the stratosphere.”
Deanna asked, “What about that is not supposed to sound like anorexia?”
Kelsey took a quick refresher hit and said, “Another thing about speed is that it makes you extremely horny. Forgot to mention that, sorry.”
“Are you? You know,” Deanna whispered, “like that now?”
“Do you mean, before, or after you licked me?”
Deanna laughed. “You always have a funny answer! You’re so funny!”