Itâ€™s true. I was a Toys R Us kid. Like, on TV.
Only, I wasnâ€™t actually on TV. No. No. I was spared that humiliation. I never would have made it through high school. It was, in industry speak, a Voice Over. The spot I booked: â€œToys R Us Rap.â€ And rap I did, along with three other freaks who probably also used the money, like I did, to pay for college, or maybe to buy their first home, or bail themselves out of jail. It was good money. Great money. And, best of all, it was easy work that was basically performed in secret. No one ever saw your face, other than the director, engineer, and other Voice Over-ists, and there was no way the MIT professor with an unusually high voice, or the tortured artist with a paint slathered KMFDM shirt, or the pregnant teenager was going to rat me out. We shared an unspoken covenant. We all had our useless, vain images to protect. I was the third guitar player in a fourth-rate punk band at the time, with a Mohawk. How my punk-rocker, 40oz drinking, â€œBurn Down the Fucking Schoolâ€ chanting, graffiti writing, and permanent-marker-tattoo-wearing friends would have vilified me if they knew I was working for the Man. The betrayal!
So, for the first time in fifteen years, I was back in the Voice Over booth today. No Mohawk this time, just some overdue, past-due, and collection notices to pay off like anyone else whoâ€™s been holding out for the end to justify the means.
An old friend got me an in at a big agency in the city.
â€œYou can make like sixty, even eighty grand a year from a few national spots,â€ she explained while we waited in the reception area with a handful of people, all reading their one-sheet copy, talking to themselves in hushed, affected voices.
In comes the only guy in the building wearing a suit. Itâ€™s one of the Manâ€™s minions. The Agent.
â€œDid your son have a good Hanukah?â€ my friend asked.
â€œI think so,â€ he said.
My friend recently converted to Judaism when she got married. â€œI love being Jewish!â€ she told my wife and I over dinner last week. â€œSo much better than Greek Orthodox.â€
My friend introduced me to the suited man and he handed me a sheet of paper with bolded lines of text.
â€œHave a look and weâ€™ll have you come on in and read,â€ he said.
The spot was for Del Taco.
I went in to use the bathroom at the one on Highland a few years ago and havenâ€™t been back since. I only saw it for a second, but Iâ€™m pretty sure every brand of human excrement was duly represented on and around the toilet. I had to pay a quarter to open the door. I peed in the sink.
My friend was reading for some other fast-food chain. The short description at the top read: â€œSexy womanâ€™s voice reading over images of delicious cheese melting on camera.â€
â€œThese are pretty much the ones they always give me,â€ she said. â€œI guess Iâ€™m typecast.â€
â€œCould be worse,â€ I said, though not sure if I really meant it. â€œAt least you donâ€™t have to be on camera in a bikini, covered in some weird, fake cheese or something. Itâ€™s just your voice.â€
â€œRight. But if it was on camera, Iâ€™d probably make a ton more money.â€
I looked over my lines for the Del Taco spot and tried to block the horrific images out of my head. Could it all have come from one person? That bathroom was like something out of a Roger Corman movie. Vomit, feces. Iâ€™m not sure, but I think there was blood, too. Iâ€™d hit the trifecta of human debris and it only cost me twenty-five cents.
â€œAlex Dezen?â€ A woman called, slightly fumbling my last name. (Itâ€™s pronounced DEEZEN.) She looked nice, kind, not at all like someone who would stick me in a bathroom with the remnants of a dysentery outbreak.
â€œHello,â€ I said, awkwardly, opting for the whole word instead of a simple hi or hey like normal people do who donâ€™t have incredibly vile images playing in their heads.
She led me back to a recording booth where a young, Asian girl stood waiting before a music stand and microphone, earphones fastened to her head, quietly mouthing her part as the â€œFeed the Beast Emergency Hotline Operator.â€ Iâ€™m the young male, 20-30, who, after spending all his money Christmas shopping, is looking for something â€œMachoâ€ to eat, whatever that means. Sheâ€™s the woman with a sexy voiceâ€”also 20-30â€”who has come to my rescue with the delicious and valuable selections from the Macho Value Menu. Sheâ€™s also blind. Not the character. The Voice Over-ist = blind. Her copy is written out in Braille on the music stand in front of her.
â€œYou wanna run it once?â€ she asks.
â€œSure. Yeah. Letâ€™s do it,â€ I say, overshooting the act casual marker by a mile or so, like I always do in the presence of someone with a disability. I once held the door to a Starbucks open in the middle of winter for someone in a wheelchair who was still waiting on the other side of the street for the light to change. It was a one way, and the light was about to change.
I donâ€™t think my latte was decaffeinated that day.
The girl starts reading. I watch her fingers glide over the Braille cells, her voice sensual and rich as she speaks her lines. I realize sheâ€™s done this before. Itâ€™s her typecast role and sheâ€™s very good at it. A little too good. Am I getting aroused? No. No way.
â€œSooooooo,â€ the woman in the control room says over the talkback, staring at me through the soundproof glass, â€œwhenever youâ€™re ready.â€
I had completely forgotten to read my part. The blind girl starts giggling, but this is no youâ€™re cute little chuckle that I expect when I look at her, itâ€™s more of a derisive, youâ€™re an amateur snicker than anything else.
Iâ€™m no amateur! I was a Toys R Us kid!
My friend was waiting for me in the reception area when I finished. I got through the spot on the third or fourth time. Macho Value Menu really had my tongue in a knot. You try saying it with bloody afterbirth images stuck in your head and a blind, Asian girl who sounds like Charlize Theron whispering in your ear.
â€œIt went well,â€ I told her.
â€œGood. Great,â€ she said. â€œLetâ€™s get some lunch.â€
â€œYou know? Iâ€™m not real hungry.â€
WORLD - AN EDGE IN MY VOICE
Copyright © 2010 Alex Dezen
When It's Best To Be Heard And Not Seen (At All)
My life in Radio: Iâ€™m the young male, 20-30, who, after spending all his money Christmas shopping, is looking for something â€œMachoâ€ to eat, whatever that means.
Copyright © 2010 Alex Dezen
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