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Idiot Box 5: Diagnosis: Suicide

It's another crazy night working the city's suicide hotline. They say it's always crazy this time of the year--the start of the new TV season. There's so much crap being put out there that it's only a matter of time that somebody goes a little crazy.

But I count my blessings. It's not like I work the morning lines. Those poor bastards--believe me, you don't want to be talking someone down from a bad Jerry Springer episode. And the soap fanatics, they'll try to blow their brains out if their favorite character is wearing the wrong ensemble, for chrissake. No, I like the night shift; you get the pathetic drunks, the lonely shut-ins, and the occasional Mad About You fan, but it's nothing I can't handle.

Tonight, however, we're all on edge. Dellaventura premieres tonight, and we've heard the early word: Bad. TV critics from Podunkville to Metropolis have blasted the show. Hell, even the chimp from TV Guide held a press conference. I knew I was in for a long night. This was the kind of show that got people killed.

"Be on your game tonight, people!" Larry, my supervisor barks. "This show stinks of death."

I get all my tools together: A bible, a book of quotes, and a TV Guide. The way I work is simple. I tell people to "sleep on it" and wait until tomorrow, or at the least turn the goddamned channel. Some of the crazier ones want you to tell them that you love them before they choose life. I suspect some people call just for that. But I don't judge. All I do is hope they get a good night's rest and feel better in the morning. That's what they pay me for.

So there I am, sitting in my cubicle drinking coffee while Larry chain smokes, eyeing the TV when Dellaventura comes on. "Christ," Larry mutters. It's on, I think, and warily eye the phone lines.

"How long?" I ask Larry.

"You'd be surprised" he says. "Remember Chicken Soup?"

"Jackie Mason's old show."

"Thirty seconds and some guy calls saying he wants to hang himself."

"Thirty seconds? That's the opening credits, maybe!"

"I know... "

"So what happened?"

"He hung himself."


"Y'know when I gave my report to the department shrinks, they ruled it a clean suicide. But I'll always think of it as murder."

"Oh come on, the show wasn't that bad!" I say.

Larry stares at me with a crazed glint in his eye.

Just then the phone rings. I almost jump through the roof. Marlene, the other night counselor, takes the call. After she talks the person down, she informs us that it wasn't a Dellaventura call--rather, the person was despondent over Laura San Giacomo's fall to TV.

"She's doing TV now? That's sad," Larry says. "What's the name of the show she's on?"

"It's on NBC--it's called Just Shoot Me," Marlene says.

"What?" Larry asks his eyes bulging.

"Just Shoot Me," Marlene repeats.

Larry fills with rage, then says, "It's like they're laughing at me!" And then he storms off. I can't help but laugh. But my laughter is cut short by the ringing of my phone. When I pick up, I hear a man sobbing uncontrollably.

"Suicide Hotline," I say reassuringly.

"Yeah," the man says between sobs, "I wanna kill myself."

"My name is Sam." I say, using my code name.

"My name is Danny," he says. "I'm gonna blow my fuckin' brains out."

"Nice to meet you, Danny," I say. "What's wrong?"

"My job, Sammy. My fucking goddamned job."

"It's been my experience, Danny, that no job is worth killing yourself over."

"You don't understand--I was a goddamned king! And now I'm reduced to this...."

My eyes for some reason, briefly flit up to the TV playing

Dellaventura. This man's voice sounds familiar. Too familiar.

"Danny, can I ask what you do for a living?"

Suddenly the sobs stop. Danny is quiet for what seems an eternity.

"Danny, are you still there?"


"Can I ask what you do for a living?"

"I'm an actor."

I nearly drop the phone.

"Danny Aiello?" I say.

And then sobs began again.

"Oooooh, oh Christ, I'm gonna do it. Oh, I'm gonna it."

"No, Mr. Aiello. No..."

"You know what hurts the most, Sam?"


"They tricked me. Les Moonves says to me, 'Danny, make this show the Pasta Carbonara of CBS.' He said that to me. I wouldn't do TV otherwise if he hadn't'a said that. He came to me for a Provolone performance and I gave him Velveeta."

"No, Danny, no..."

"Velveeta, Sammy. I gave him Velveeta!"

I hear a gun cock in the background.

"Mr. Aiello," I say, "please put the gun down. Choose life."

"I made my share of mistakes. You can't be no working actor and not make mistakes. But I always delivered the balls-out goods. All the big movie directors wanted to work with me. Even that spade, what's his name?"

"Spike Lee?"

"Yeah, yeah, he begged me to do his film. And look at me now, I'm doing a second-rate TV show. You tell me to choose life, you gimme one goddamned reason."

"Well, Mr. Aiello, to be honest, I was actually watching your show before you called. And I loved it."


"Yes. I was actually upset that I wasn't going to get to see it through."

"You're just saying that."

"Oh no, I was actually thinking of ignoring your call to keep watching it."

"Are you telling me, that you would have ignored my call and let me blow my brains out because you were watching TV?"

"Nossir. Because I was watching Dellaventura."

"I'll be damned. You really liked the show?"

"I loved it."

Danny chuckles and says, "Y'know, I was talkin' crazy before."

"Well, you were a little upset."

"Yeah, just a little. I feel better now."

"Good. So Mr. Aiello what are you going to do?"

"I thought I'd go to sleep."

"I think that's a good idea."

"Uh, Sam?"


"This was confidential, right?"

"Of course, Mr. Aiello."

"Because I have friends, Sam... powerful friends."

"Mr. Aiello, this conversation was confidential."

Then he hangs up, and he leaves me feeling curious. So I turn up the volume on the TV and watch the remainder of Dellaventura."

It can't be that bad, I think.

It was. I should have let the bastard die.


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