At 10 a.m. on February 15, precocious teenagers and under-employed young adults from across Connecticut began to convene en masse in front of New Haven’s BAR restaurant. Most of the women seemed to have applied Sephora’s entire make-up and perfume inventory prior to the pilgrimage. Some fumbled in handbags for tissues, while others smoked pink and turquoise packs of Camel ultralights. The fur protruding from their coats was on par with the décor of a Ukrainian hunting lodge. The smattering of men compensated for their low numbers with a variety of testosterone-dripping accessories: Energy drinks emblazoned with “No Fear” decals, abundant and unpredictably located facial piercings, pants covered in NBA team logos.
Arriving at the queue at half past noon, I felt a distinct lack of camaraderie emanating from the assembled masses. Though I had bleached and gelled my widow’s peak and thrown on a tracksuit, I was anxious. Fear and loathing hung like Axe body spray in the chill winter air. But this unease was understandable. We were all competing for the same thing. We all wanted to be cast in MTV’s The Real World, Season 21.
Every kid blessed with television access during the past ten years harbors some form of Jungian collective consciousness based on a clip montage from this show. We may go years without a relapse, but those images—scenes of hot-tub fondlings, of Ruthie collapsing naked in the shower during the second Hawaii episode —linger in the corners of our brains like kidney stones waiting to dislodge. When I first heard about the New Haven casting call, it had been years since I watched The Real World. But, right on schedule, some unchecked, histrionic af- finity for broadcasting myself into millions of American homes began to blossom in my gut. Fame was calling. I had to call back.
After waiting about an hour in the cold, listening to a GMC Suburban pulsate Hot9 while parked running on the curb, I was called inside. The space teemed with chatty people in hats. Sitting at a wooden table with a pack of girls, I was handed an application, a pen, and a beer cozy advertising Larry the Cable Guy’s new film, Witless Protection. Across from me, several ladies who appeared to have only recently hit puberty strategized about how to best fill out the form.
“What’s my best quality?” asked one. “You’re honest,” replied her friend. “What’s my worst quality?” continued the first. “You’re kind of a bitch.”
Finally, my table was summoned to the back of the restaurant for a group interview. “Tell us your most embarrassing moment,” demanded the casting director. Someone, apparently, had fallen off of a guardrail while trying to have sex with a homeless person. Another had peed in her pants before a stadium full of Lenny Kravitz fans. After another 15 minutes of heinous personal anecdotes, we were told to sum up our personalities with one word before leaving.
“I’m a freak!” declared the first girl. “I’m promiscuous!” yelled the second. Faced with the prospect of condensing my twenty years of life into one or two syllables, I choked. All around me, mascaraswathed eyes stared like bats in a damp cave. The casting director clicked her nails against the table.