“Neighbours” was a traditional Australian custom that involved older people filming younger people having pretend arguments until the younger people felt confident enough to become pop-singers.
A curious by-product of this odd process was a long-lasting soap that was packaged and shipped to England. Today, even though we have national karaoke-shows in which to breed our local pop-stars, the quaint Australian ritual of Neighbours still persists, and can still be very lucrative for those involved in its making.
It was not so long ago that I had a chance to write for Neighbours. I’d never begrudged the show nor those who watched it, but I’d never personally cared for it myself. The most I’d watched of it was when I was lazing around waiting for Simpsons reruns. However, I do take great pride in both my writings and in my ability to lie for money, so after I landed a chance to be on the Neighbours writing team, I did my goddamned research. I watched the show, I sat in on the writer’s room meetings, I read the upcoming scripts, and then I rolled up my sleeves and researched the show’s entire back-history on the internet. It was the latter that helped me the most in writing a Neighbours script of my own, because it helped me find a new angle on it. It showed me how this long-running soap opera had continuously oscillated between kitchen-sink squabbles and grandiose battles; one year’s finale would end with the villain blowing up a plane, the next year would climax with the same criminal mastermind pushing someone off a porch. Characters would live, die, live again, and amnesia was utilised more than once. In short, it was reminiscent of the meandering clusterfuck that is comic book continuity, particularly that of my beloved X-Men. I slammed out an original Neighbours script with ease once I pretended that I was writing mutant drama without the mutants (so, y’know, without all those trivial messages about equality or those boring superpowered fisticuffs that everyone hates so much).
In short, though I started off with a willing indifference towards this show that I’d never watched, I ultimately ended up with an encyclopaedic knowledge of this show that I still don’t watch…
… Because I never got the damn job. Christ, I hope that revelation hasn’t shocked you to your core. I was trying to avoid doing that to you, that’s why I gave you the heads-up in the title there.
Anyway, my rejection had nothing to do with my research, nor my script. I fucked it all up with a toxic mix of social awkwardness and sleep deprivation, and it could have happened in any profession. Seriously. F’rinstance…
4. I STOLE FROM CHARITY
I should add that while all this aforesaid research and writing was unpaid, it never bugged me, because for as long I was observing the writer’s room, I was invited to eat lunch in their canteen for free. And eat I did. I did more than eat, I FEASTED, because I knew that my unpaid hard-work was not guaranteed to pay off fiscally. Perhaps you might call that petty, maybe even self-defeatist… but I call it straight-up evolutionist. Maybe we’re both right. Maybe it’s just you who’s right. Either way, I was getting paid for my work experience in carbohydrates, and I felt fine about it. Arrogant, even. After lunch one day, one of the regular writers asked me how I was getting along as we made our way back to the writer’s room. I answered quite honestly that it was the food that was keeping me going. Meanwhile, we were walking and talking in such an Aaron Sorkin-ish way that I couldn’t help but think “this is pretty Aaron Sorkin-ish”, and as we left the eatery, I grabbed a Mars Bar on the way out. I ripped it open. “Dessert while we write!” I said with a cheery wink. I’m not normally the winking type, but the Sorkin-walk had granted me a new confidence. Not that I can remember any Sorkin characters winking at each other while they walked and talked. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, I don’t know, I don’t even watch Sorkin-shows. But this was my Sorkin-walk, and I was damn-well gonna wink while I ate me some Mars Bar.
She halted walking. I did too, because I was trying to fit in. “Did you just take that Mars Bar?” she asked. “Yes, from the chocolate bit just there” I replied, pointing at the cafeteria that was still in sight. I guess we hadn’t Sorkin’d very far.
“Those things are there to raise money for charity. You have to pay for those.”
“Oh” I said. I patted my pockets and shrugged. “I don’t have any change on me.” She kept looking at me. Should I stick with the “no change and a shrug” I asked myself internally, or should I expatiate and tell her I that I’ve also got no change but also no notes and no credit; which is clearly worse? Should I ask to borrow money from her? Or is there a way I could donate my sweet rich carbs to charity? I could just put the Mars Bar back, only I’ve opened it with sweaty hands, and also eaten half of it to help me think—
She walked on without me. She didn’t sit next to me in the writer’s room that day, or ever again. Indeed, no one would, not after…
3. I FELL ASLEEP AT THE HEAD-WRITER
Note that I didn’t just fall asleep in front of the head writer, but at her. Facing her, while she was talking to me, I dozed off, my head falling directly towards her, as if I was attacking her with my sleep.
After I’d handed in my script and finished my week of work experience, the people bankrolling the show decided that a baby was fouling up their bathwater, so they promptly fired their Head Writer (who had been assessing me) and brought in a new Head Writer, who quickly declared that the old Head Writer’s way of doing things was redundant. This meant that all the hoops I’d been jumping through were now the wrong hoops – my first week there had been a waste of time, and all I had to show for it were some new love-handles. So naturally, when I had a new chance to come back and appease the new boss (who didn’t like me from the outset), I turned that into one last opportunity to make the ol’ Grundy cafe a Roman Empire banquet (I was going to bring along some change to reimburse the chocolate box, but then I just, y’know, didn’t).
After lunch, I felt a bit sluggish. An erratic body-clock, a big meal, an a boring meeting were all leading towards one thing, and I couldn’t stop it. I thought of jolting my head around, but I obviously didn’t want to bring attention to myself, so I attempted to jolt my head around with small, subtle motions, which became less of a jolt and more of a relaxing rocking. I pinched my leg. It did nothing. I punched my leg. Nothing. I thought of dead puppies, but remembered that was to prevent erections. I was managing to keep one eye open, but consciousness was slipping. I accepted that a power-nap was inevitable; I consoled myself with the fact that a power-nap during a meeting is ultra powerful, and I hoped and prayed that no one would see it.
I awoke to the hateful glare of the Head Writer – how long had I been out for?! Had she seen me sleeping, or was the contempt in her eyes from the regular-contempt she was already carrying for me?
2. A PRODUCER THOUGHT I WAS BREAKING INTO HIS CAR
I was dismissed for the day. As I walked through the car-park, I ran best-case scenarios in my head; maybe she hadn’t realised I was sleeping… could my one open eye had given the impression that I’d merely botched a sneeze, or suffered a minor socially-acceptable stroke? I wasn’t sure, but I was determined to find out. I stepped over towards the tinted windows of a nearby BMW, and attempted to recreate my sleepy-face. I closed one eye, hazily leered through the other, and slowly lowered my head towards the window. I didn’t think it looked like a sleepy-face, but I had never seen myself sleep. I was still running variables with my reflection when an anxious looking Producer snapped me out of it. “You right, mate?” he barked, as he walked towards his BMW. “Yeah, just looking” I uttered meekly as I shuffled away. So I learnt that besides “botched sneeze” and “minor stroke”, sleepy-face can also look an awful lot like “smacked-out junkie”.
I wasn’t feeling confident about the day’s events. If anything was gonna land me this job now, it was my fantastic script…
1. OK, SO MAYBE MY SCRIPT JUST WASN’T THEIR SCENE (PUN INTENDED)
YOU’RE GODDAMNED RIGHT THAT PUN WAS INTENDED. So were all the puns I put in my script. And all the innuendo. And in afterthought, I probably should have scripted the expensive lightning bolt stuff to happen off-camera. I wasn’t thinking logistically.
Life is learning.
© Fabian Lapham