Okay, Doc thought as Paul and Tom dragged him through the crowd, I’ve been to wild parties before… but this…. They had only been there for perhaps five minutes when he was astounded to see everything from Solid Gold Dancers to all five captains from Star Trek to a horse and a model T engaged in a heated conversation about the virtues of garages versus barns. On stage — because of course there has to be a stage! he thought giddily — Josey and the Pussycats were jamming with Ricky Ricardo’s orchestra, while the Flintstones and Joel and Andy were rave dancing in front. “Cavemen,” Tom shook his head. “Well,” he shouted over the din, “I guess we should be glad that bunch from Cop Rock isn’t here tonight! Hey! Check that out!”, he pointed at a table where a pair of drunken Cylons, one original, one reboot, were arm-wrestling for the delight of the crowd.
“What’re you boys having?” asked the bartender — Omigod, that’s —
“Hey Sam!” Tom grinned. “Beer for me and my boys.”
“Two of them tonight?” Sam grinned in return.
“Nah, only one. Even FEMA’s rewrites have their limits, not unless I want to show up on HBO. Besides, that one’s audience.”
“Really? He’s not, like, from Candid Camera or something? Damn. Well, welcome to the other side of the screen!”
“Freshen mine up, Sam,” said a slightly drunken lady sitting on the barstool next to them.
“You sure, Jane?”
“Damn straight. You try living with a kid whose IQ is eight times your own and see if you can get through it sober six nights in a row.”
Sam laughed as he pulled another beer. “I bet ol’ Elroy’s a handful, huh.”
“Trust me, you have no idea…”
Beers in hand, the three men found a relatively quiet spot, on the side of a hill overlooking the pandemonium below. Tom and Paul sat in an easy embrace under a tree while Doc, wide-eyed, watched a squirrel and a nun flying hand-in-paw over the crowd. “Is it like this every night?” he asked breathlessly.
Tom grinned. “Hell no. We’re not even supposed to do this kind of thing, to tell the truth. FEMA thinks it might lead to too much inter-production familiarity, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. But there’s a whole bunch of us and only a handful of them, and I think they know better than to mess too much with us. After all, if they really tried to shut this kind of thing down, we could always inflict a little Manimal on them,” he added with a laugh. “Y’know, I still cant get over the fact that you’re… you know… audience.”
“I’m having enough trouble myself,” Doc laughed. “I fully expect to see Rod Serling any moment now.”
“Nah,” said Tom. “He never comes to these things. In fact,” he whispered,” you can usually find him down on the beach with the Log Lady and Dale Cooper. They’re making… pie,” he winked.
“So you ever perform?” Paul asked.
“Me?” said Doc, mildly surprised by the question. “In a manner of speaking, I guess I do. But not like you guys. Ray and me sometimes do some karaoke, but that’s about as far as it goes. I”m much better watching and applauding than, you know, doing.”
“So you like to watch, huh?” Tom said with an evil grin. “Well, know what? I think it’s time you earned your keep. C’mon.” Not waiting for a response, Tom grabbed Doc’s hand and dragged him to his feet, then threaded a path to the stage. “Hey Tom. Who’s this?” asked the emcee-maybe-bouncer, an avuncular man who looked suspiciously like…
“Hey, Wapner. Say hello to audience.”
Judge Wapner’s eyebrows rose. “Really.”
“And I thought maybe he should entertain us for a change.”
“What? Me? Hey, no!” Doc cried. “I cant — “
“Hey, I’m down with that. Anything to keep from having to watch the Huxtable family dance again. Face it, they aint June Taylor material, and besides, I swear, those sweaters are gonna put someone’s eyes out. Okay, kid,” he said, hauling Doc after him. “Let’s see whatcha got. Dont worry, no one worries about ratings here.” The crowd grew mysteriously silent as Wapner grabbed the mike. “Little surprise for you guys tonight.” He pointed at Doc. “Meet someone from Audience.” There was a sudden gasp. “And he’s gonna perform for you for a change!”
Over the eruption of applause, Doc tried to grab Wapner’s sleeve. “Look, I — “
“Bud, this isnt the People’s Court. Just relax. Sing something. Anything. Not theme songs. They hate that.”
“But — ” But Wapner was gone, down the steps to join Tom and Paul, who were both grinning up at him like frat boys who’d pulled the best prank ever. Oh yeah? Doc decided, we’ll see about that… Ricky, baton in hand, was suddenly at his side. “We know just about everything, “he said in a thick Cuban accent. “After Glee, we figured we’d better start keeping up if we want to go anywhere. You start singing; we’ll catch up easy.”
Doc looked at the crowd. I grew up with so many of these people. It’s gotta be rough for them now, trying to eke out a slot against all that reality TV and procedural crime shows. They gave plenty, and now they’re just… forgotten. What would I want to hear if I were them? Then, almost immediately, he knew.
I’ve paid my dues
Time after time.
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime.
And bad mistakes ‒
I’ve made a few.
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through.
The crowd roared its approval and burst into song with him.
We are the champions, my friends,
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end.
We are the champions.
We are the champions.
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world.
The applause was relentless. He felt a slight tap on his shoulder. Ricky, grinning, whispered in his ear. “Attitude like that, you last as long as The Simpsons.”