There was man with a ponytail at some party in some garden estate, his pinkie ring sparkling in the glow of the lanterns. “I’d like to buy a you,” he said, like she’d never heard that one before. Like she hadn’t been putting up with Pat’s sexist innuendos for years. But none of the guys were like Pat. Pat she could trust. Pat could say that he liked her melons while they were filming in Hawaii and it was ok, it was like the cousin at the family reunion that she could throw dirt on, wrestle in the mud with, and no one even blinked an eye. It was Pat who, like an older brother, stood up for her when the producers flirted with the idea of replacing her the way Barker’s Beauties were replaced every five years or so, once the skin around their eyes got little hints of wrinkles, once they started to complain about wearing five-inch heels, once they decided they wanted to have babies, once the Price was no longer Right. 

This is what she reminds herself: someone always wins. This is the reality check: the majority of those who play, lose.

After all these years she can pick out the rhythm of people’s language, predict which women will slobber all over Pat, know from just the introductions which contestants can eliminate potential letters based on the limited combinations of double consonants, and which ones are dumb as brick.

She is not dumb.

She will remind herself this many millions of times in a lifetime where so many seem to want to prove otherwise. There was that producer, during the time she had thought about going into movies. The spit gathering at the corners of his lips. His laugh—sometimes she wakes up and hears it exploding in the pitch dark like her grandpa’s rifle in the cold winter morning. “You want to be in pictures? Tell me what you do besides turn those letters.”

Back then it was harder. People thought she should do something else. Agents tried to cast her as a romantic lead in an action flick or as a host of a cooking program. They wanted her to release a line of clothing. Start a charity. Launch herself into space. Invent something and become a Nobel laureate. Anything besides the damn letters, the damn puzzles, the damn dresses and applause and wave goodbye we’ll see you next time.

Well, tough toe nails, World.

Because now the mothers name the daughters after her. And the fathers write her love letters. The grandmothers take pictures of their crocheted blankets and shawls and send them to her fan web site. Men who can’t name the Vice President of the United States know who she is; Alzheimer’s patients who forget their daughters live to watch another episode. She eats caviar off water crackers and kisses the old men’s dice for good luck.

Ok, fine, it’s not all free spins and luxurious trips and cars and confetti. Fact: at least three out of the five days in a week’s worth of shows, the dress doesn’t fit right. The wardrobe director uses pins, sometimes staples, tape, whatever it takes, to pull it all together. If the dress is too long, she wears higher heels. If it’s too short, she squats.

Her Pa Pa used to call her “princess.” He used to say, “Smile, and you’ll get them eating out of your hands, princie.” When that boyfriend that used to try to run salamanders up her skirts turned into the man that sold private pictures to Playboy, her Ma said, “Everyone wants a piece, baby.” The girls that tripped her down the bus aisle now attempt to friend her on Facebook under different names. But she knows who they all are. You can’t outgrow the place you are from, no matter how far you go.

Late at night sometimes she sneaks onto the set. It looks strange and lonely in the dark, the giveaway car looming like an abandoned piece of machinery in the desert, the stage dull without lights reflecting off the glitter. She likes to sit in the middle of it all, on the little blue cross where the winning contestant stands for his or her final puzzle moment. She closes her eyes, tucks her flip flops under her thighs, and wonders what might’ve happened if she hadn’t taken the job, if her agent had never called that day and said, “Well, something’s come up.”

If it is quiet enough, she can hear the silverfish skittering on the concrete.


Photo By:  coco+kelley