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Apr. 10th, 2012 | 06:34 pm

I said no the first six times.

The seventh year, the seventh season, after an hour-long phone call with William the freelance producer, I think, well, it’s in my mom’s city, and there’s money in it, and this project we’re working on, the one that can’t get booked because nobody’s ever heard of it? It could use some exposure. And I say, “Yes.”

And, with William, I start mapping out the act.

“What the producers really like is the fire trick,” he says. “But bigger. Can you add some aerialists?”

William thinks it’s important it be big. America’s Got Lawsuits (If You Reveal The Outcome Before The Episode Airs) is focusing on group acts this year. I know one fire-dancer, two jugglers, six acrobats and a pole dance team that have done this show. I know fifty more entertainers who will never do this show, who have said no seven times.

I know we’re not going to win.

I know the contract says “Producers of America’s Got Lawsuits reserve the right to determine the winner by any means they choose.” I’ve heard about the holding rooms, about showing up at 7AM in full hair and makeup and waiting in a convention center ballroom full of chairs for twelve hours, for three days, and then being told, “Everyone else, sorry, you won’t be doing your acts in this round, you’ll be flying home tomorrow.”

William has gone through the act with me. We have storyboarded every four seconds and provided a recommended shot list to the director. Everyone in the act has been issued a plane ticket, a room at the Hyatt, and a list of instructions from Aubrey, our perky brunette Production Assistant.

“Remember guys!” chirps Aubrey, “Never look directly into the camera! It ruins the shot!”

I have met the rigger and the pyrotechnician; we have run the full act once and the fire section three times, for the stage manger, the director, and the fire marshal.

And here we are.

The glossy black stage gleams.

The new judge on the left, a shock jock brought in to expand the demographic, wears his sunglasses all the time. The lady in the middle, married to someone famous, smiles supportively. The man on the right twirls the straw in his water bottle. (“Fist bumps only!” said Aubrey, “No handshakes, no hugs!”) He will not drink from anything not handed to him wrapped in a towel, his assistant hovers out of frame with a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Up to this point, we have been guessing what role we will be cast in, how the editors will choose to show us to America. The pre-interview questions—

“Could you say that again, but touch on your street performer background?”

“Could you phrase it something like, ‘This is our big chance?’”

“Just say, ‘We’re here to win’, and make it really big, OK?”

“Can we do that again? One of you glanced at the camera.”

Our guess on the edit is Small Time Big Dreams or Scruffy But Driven.

Before we start the act, the sunglassed judge tells us he thinks street performing is sad and pathetic. We talk about theatricality, about performing for people regardless of their ability to pay, about shows for war orphans in Kosovo. I don’t know if any of that will fit our eventual edit. The lady judge smiles supportively. The straw twirler twirls, and we hold briefly for a new water bottle and a squirt of sanitizer. He’s given a new straw and unwraps it himself, the assistant taking the end of the paper wrapper without touching him.

With a burst of nothing—the sound cue is late—our act begins. The sound kicks in. The singer sings. The aerialists spin in a whirl of colored fabric. The fire-eaters await their cue. And at second number thirty-nine of the act that William has scripted with my complicity, my brain begins evaluating.

What’s that sound? Has something gone wrong?

Fast check. Aerialist Number One, still in the air, her split is beautiful. Aerialist Number Two, his split amazing. Aerialist Number Three is in a flaming aerial hoop. Is she on fire? No. Good.

What’s that sound?

And as I step into position to pass a flame from my tongue to my partner’s tongue and down the line of eight people (second number fifty-nine, midstage close shot) I realize,

That’s booing.

“Hup!” to cue the group and I set my tongue on fire, pass the flame to the right.

Have we ever been…booed before? By a sober person? With a home to go to?

Have we ever been booed by an entire audience?

No, I don’t think we have.

Not in the early years of dirt shows at two-bit medieval faires. Not at new festivals in new countries, navigating foreign social cues. Even the teenage Gypsy boys wanted attention more than to tear us down, and when I learned to say Tumen boot! I love you! in Roma, it stopped them like a switch. Not in the slums of Mumbai, stepping around eddies of trash to crack the whip. Not in Mexico, the freshly-ironed children shyly pressing single pesos and cookies into our hands.

At the eighty-seven second mark (exactly on time, exactly as William and I scripted, wide shot then cut to judges), I am already disconnected, awaiting the verdict I already know. I smile and thank the judges for their feedback. Maybe if we aren’t funny or angry, they will leave us on the cutting room floor. Even when the shock jock judge turns to the crowd, exhorting them first to cheer him and then boo us again, louder, I think only,

Those jeering young men ages 18-25 are certainly his demographic.

Even if I could win a verbal fencing match the edit would make me a Loser. A Bad Loser or a Bitter Loser or an Arrogant Loser Who Had It Coming.

The first exit interview, immediately offstage with a rapper-turned-TV-host, is called the “kiss-n-cry” by most producers. We neither kiss nor cry. I grin directly into the camera and say, “Hey, we’re already professional entertainers and this was just another gig!” and high-five the host.

Edit that like a Loser, motherfuckers.

We bail on the second exit interview, telling Aubrey we’re sorry, but we’re finished. And Aubrey, who is a local, listens shocked when we tell her about the booing and escorts us past five security checkpoints and out of the building. I hope that this lack of footage will help us be no-one, not even a two-second clip in a montage. That the mother called to the stage to be reprimanded for her six-year-old twins’ salacious choreography or the water-skiing squirrel or the girl whose father cuts her hair while blindfolded will be far more fascinating. There is nothing compelling about polite, upbeat professionals.

Later, my mother reclaims her cellphone from the audience security point and tells me that the audience was coached, their cue to boo was the crewman with the white sign in front of stage right. We learn that the audience was seeded with plants, paid to be there, knowing who wins, the locals who lined up for tickets instructed, “If someone next to you jumps up or makes an X, you do it, too!” Knowing that the contest and the voting and the judging is rigged, I don’t know why it surprises me so much that the audience is rigged, too.

America sure does have talent, but that’s not what this show is about. Talent’s not in the 90-second bites boiled into montage clips, not going with the breakdancers “Goin’ to Vegas!”, not listening to the singer stopped at two bad opening notes (this is round three—we were recruited, but that singer waited in line and has twice been told “You’re good enough!”). Talent is back in the driveway where the breakers popped and locked on flattened cardboard boxes. Talent is lip-syncing in its bedroom. Talent is hanging with the adult beginner aerialists back in the gym in Memphis, working out on borrowed equipment, their bodies aging out on borrowed time. Talent is singing with its friends in the car with the stereo up and the windows down.

And that’s the shield that keeps me gracious on mic while the 18-to-25-year-olds jump up and down, howling for our third X. Back at the hotel, showering out hairspray and removing the last of the glitter from my eyes, I wonder just how dumb this mistake will turn out to be, how many Americans this summer will see me and see a Loser. But as I hang up costumes and plan the route to the next gig, and the next gig, and the one after that, I thank the universe that I am up there taking scorn, instead of watching and dishing it out. Even standing up to boos and jeers and the caustic acid of three judges in the twilight of their celebrity—their downward trajectory still a place higher than I will likely ever reach—even that is better than waiting for opportunity to knock, for lightning to strike. Waiting for a life to begin. Waiting for a dream—any dream—to arrive.



If whipchick had taped a popular American reality show last week, she would probably be contractually obligated not to reveal the results. If she wrote about it, she'd change all the names.
 

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Comments {119}

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basric

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from: basric
date: Apr. 10th, 2012 11:39 pm (UTC)
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Since the producer of said imaginary show is a well know British asshole, I am not surprised the audience is seeded. Makes you think you should have said no an eighth time. Still planted boos or not it would hurt my feelings. At least my "My audience" cannot critique me with phony or real boos.

Well done as always. I watched that "show" once and wondered why people with talent were booed offstage or "X" out while ridiculous acts got bravos.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) As the narrator was experiencing the booing, it really did feel like it wasn't part of reality for her - like, if she had genuinely done a poor presentation, she's had enough bad shows to know it, to know she deserves the low tips or the disappointed client or whatever! Mostly there was a feeling for her of "aww, crap...I thought I knew better and I STILL got suckered!" But I suspect she found it very educational.

I love the idea that your audience can't really criticize you...but I bet you are a lot harder on yourself than they would be.

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Ellakite

(no subject)

from: ellakite
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 12:02 am (UTC)
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Wow, this is amazingly true-to-life fiction.

First and foremost -- I'm glad the protagonist of this piece of fiction was able to come away with a positive mindset from this experience.

As she says: She's already living the dream. Why should she care what a group no-talent "celebrities" and an audience full of easily lead sheep think?

Then again, I lived most of my life worried about what "the neighbors" might say... so from my point-of-view, that is *MUCH* easier said than done.

A potent, uplifting piece. Thanks so much for sharing it.

PS: Thanks again for allowing/trusting me a sneak peek at your work (again).

PPS: Thanks so much for the valuable beta/con crit on my work. *GREATLY* appreciated.

Edited at 2012-04-11 12:03 am (UTC)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 12:26 am (UTC)
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Thanks and you're welcome on all counts!!

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java_fiend

(no subject)

from: java_fiend
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
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Well, if this *had* been a real life episode, I would say that the people involved with making that stupid show are idiots and buffoons and not worthy of the time or talents of somebody like you and your fellow performers. Furthermore, if this fictitious audience is actually seeded with plants, it makes this fictitious show all the more deplorable. But I am very glad that our heroine in this piece acted with such class and dignity and came away with a better understanding of herself among other things. Much applause and no X's for that. :-)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 01:58 am (UTC)
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Thanks on all counts :) The narrator learned a lot and met some cool people on the rigging staff, and her fingers are crossed for a minimal or non-existent edit! And yeah, it's mean, but the fictitious producers are darn good at making train wreck TV. Just take it with a grain of salt :)

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lawchicky

(no subject)

from: lawchicky
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 01:32 am (UTC)
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Hehehe- I liked this a lot. I know a lot of reality television is actually shot like this, and I still keep watching it!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
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It's a total guilty pleasure for me, too! ANTM for the win!

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Tom Ramcigam

(no subject)

from: magicmarmot
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 08:36 am (UTC)
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How do I find words to represent the finials that I feel from this?

Flagrant bashing. Textural gnashing. Not-as-much-feeling-of-passion as I'd like from someone who had put that much work into the show, but the expectation of weariness and resignation to the frustration leaves me filled with love.

And I'm not even your lawyer.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:14 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) It was weird to go in with the feeling of, hey, maybe this will actually be a positive, and then (for the narrator) discover that no, it really was as bad as it could possibly be! And yeah, more weariness and resignation than anything else - it was more of a "well, what'd you expect?" type thing.

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Myrna

(no subject)

from: myrna_bird
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 06:06 pm (UTC)
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True as life perspective for a would be audition. Absolutely love the 'tude for the exit interview!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:14 am (UTC)
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Thank you, and thanks for reading!

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similiesslip

(no subject)

from: similiesslip
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
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They call it reality TV but, like the news, it it, of course, slanted and edited according to the ideas of others.

I really like how you wrote this.

I also like how you knew, whether you made it or not, you ARE already professionals!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:14 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) And really, for the narrator, that's it - it really was just another gig, and the only difference was that the client's expectations were more than usually unclear :)

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A Karmic Sandbox

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from: karmasoup
date: Apr. 11th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
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I've actually seen AGT live in Mpls. At least there, anyway, no one is prompted to boo. The audience is told, be very active in your responses. If you like something, go crazy. If you don't like it, go crazier. They showed us how to do the x, and, in 25 acts over 4 hours, we did use it 3 imtes... those acts totally had it coming, though, and they knew it... I think they were just looking for attention... not ever sure how they got on that stage in the first place. What I totally did not expect, though, was that the most entertaining part of the entire experience was the judges. We never even saw the host... that role is apparently pretty much off stage only, but, the judges very often had us in stitches. One of them I'm not going to miss, though, I can't say at all that I'm impressed with the chosen replacement. Meh... it's not like this is really quality entertainment, though. I get told all the time I should do it, but, the one thing about those shows that drives me nuts is all the crying how "This is my dream, this means everything in the world to me!" Sure. You and every other yay-who here. Do you not realize how idiotic you sound? That would be my issue. You couldn't pay me to say that. My life wouldn't rest on that moment. And, of course, I wouldn't make it to the small screen, probably for that reason, either. Then there's the whole other part of, what would I think of what I got if that's the way I came by it? *shudder* Groups such as plucky young fireact aerial shows are always what I watch for, but, they never go all the way... everyone knows only singers win. In any case, true or not... you tell it the way you see it, like it is, as you always do, and I get it, and I love it.

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theafaye

(no subject)

from: theafaye
date: Apr. 15th, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
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That's why you wouldn't get on the show. I auditioned for the second season of the X Factor many, many years ago and it became clear very quickly how rigged it is, so it wouldn't matter how amazing you were, you wouldn't get through if you didn't have a 'story' they could work with. The woman who went in before me had a film crew film her before she went in and then filmed her coming out clutching her piece of paper - how did they know to be there? It was all about who would play to the camera and give them their little sound bite. If I ever were to go again, I'd take all my children with me, but it's highly unlikely I'd bother.

It was most satisfying seeing someone I knew make it to the first round, though, and although his audition didn't make it on screen, he was VERY bitter about being rejected (he had a highly inflated opinion of his ability and it was sooo good seeing him cut down to size!).

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Jemima Pauler

(no subject)

from: jem0000000
date: Apr. 12th, 2012 01:42 am (UTC)
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I love the ending line. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) And thank you for reading!

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jacq22

(no subject)

from: jacq22
date: Apr. 13th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
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So fascinating, and this totally confirms what my husband has always said.

"It's all rigged", its all scripted, no reality show is allowed without a script.... etc, etc,... yep although I am a bit more hopeful than he is, this made interesting reading, and I loved it.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
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And I have to say, I 100% admire the ability of the editors and the producers to take so many disparate elements and create a story that is compelling to viewers - they are incredible at that job! America's Next Top Model is another one where the editing tells a terrific story - even if it's not very flattering to the people on the show :)

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jacq22

(no subject)

from: jacq22
date: Apr. 13th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
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Just for the record? you are a class act whatever you do!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
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Thanks! And I have to say, the narrator was actually surprised that she didn't feel crappier about the situation than she did, but a lot of that comes down to it really, truly, being just another gig :)

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Apr. 13th, 2012 06:57 am (UTC)
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Can't tell if this one is fiction or real, but I'd hope it's fiction!

Have we ever been…booed before? By a sober person? With a home to go to?
Hahahaha! This says so much about hecklers.

even that is better than waiting for opportunity to knock, for lightning to strike. Waiting for a life to begin. Waiting for a dream—any dream—to arrive.
There is much to be said for working your success and focusing on doing it well and always striving for better, rather than thinking that it's all some waystation to something unimaginably "bigger" and "better." Enjoy what you have. You're already living it, after all!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
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It had better be fiction, because I could be sued if it was real and I wasn't careful about language and who was identified :)

Thanks for reading and I'm glad you got the point so clearly! You sum it up so well - it's not about "hitting it big", it's about showing up to do your work, every day :)

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Pika the Brazen Ninja

(no subject)

from: porn_this_way
date: Apr. 14th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
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I totally love that this entry is tagged "horror", but a big ol' case of EPIC FAIL to everything else!

Edit that like a Loser, motherfuckers.

And a big ol' high five for this. IMNSHO, the best way to handle manipulative god-complex assmonkeys is to figure out what they want, and give them the exact opposite with a cheerful, innocent smile. Even if they've tricked you into playing the game on their terms, you can fucking win on your own.

General "you", of course.

Well played, in every sense of the word, and I'm sorry your non-existent character's friend's neighbor's cousin's dog's girlfriend's owner's sister had to put up with this shit, in any plane of existence.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
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Glad you caught the tag :) And thanks!

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i_17bingo

(no subject)

from: i_17bingo
date: Apr. 16th, 2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
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“Fist bumps only!” said Aubrey, “No handshakes, no hugs!”

This is a stabbing offense.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 26th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
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Big time!

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(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand

super read

from: anonymous
date: Apr. 26th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Hey Whipchick, if that is your real name. Great story.
The story left me wondering if the narrators fellow performers in the piece where able to rise above it in the way of the narrator? Or was mothering them yet another job that needed to be done afterwards in the hotel?
I honestly could never imagine being booed. That must be awful on some level.
IceLee

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whipchick

Re: super read

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 26th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
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Most of the performers were OK - the newest one was hit the hardest, and her part was specifically criticized by the nastiest judge, so that's probably why; and most of the other performers drank a lot that night, I imagine in the backstory. I'm thinking also that the setting helped - at least they were in a nice hotel with sunshine and a pool.

For the narrator, being booed was more surreal than awful, because it wasn't connected to the act. That is, the act may well have been mediocre, or not to the audience's taste, but it certainly wasn't bad or offensive. For example, if I personally am street performing/busking, and a group of teenage guys walk through and shout, "You suck!" I'd be more likely to respond with a heckler-squashing line than feel personally insulted, because it's them, not me, and this situation for the narrator felt like that.

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