The last time I saw myself as someone strangers ought to pay attention to was the last time I filmed a video audition to join the cast of The Real World, which was the third time I’d filmed a video audition to join the cast of The Real World, and maybe it goes without saying but I’ll go ahead and say it, I was never invited to join the cast of The Real World. But the process is one of discovery. On audition tape #1 I kept it real, hoping to gently toast the producers’ hearts with authenticity (failure), so on tape #2 I tried to make them horny with my best impression of Dylan McKay, but it turns out effortless brooding isn’t as effortless as Luke Perry made it seem, so on tape #3 I took off my shirt and made my pecs dance to “Mambo No. 5” while I chugged a Mickey’s.
Did you ever want to be on The Real World? I ask Liz, who shakes her head no without looking up at me. We’re at a two top off the side of the bar, and it’s been nearly two decades since I last auditioned for The Real World and two months since I did the thing a good boyfriend would never do and two weeks since I got caught, and I get that she’s mad, but I need to know it won’t be like this forever. Liz finishes her beer and goes to the bar to order another drink without asking if I’d like one too, and when she gets back I say, How long are you going to punish me? And she says, As long as it takes, and I say, I’ve changed, and she says, People never change. And maybe that’s fair, but it’s definitely not true. Exhibit #1: I no longer wish to be on the cast of The Real World. And when my high school buddy Cliff texted me last week that he’d just seen Ben Affleck in a bar, I genuinely felt bad for Ben. Like I don’t know Ben personally, but he strikes me as the type of guy who probably hates the spotlight, which sucks a big one because it follows him everywhere. And if it weren’t for the gatekeepers at MTV I’d know what it’s like to be a product, to be consumed, and maybe I’d have true empathy for Ben. But it doesn’t matter because I’m not like that anymore. And I told Cliff how shitty it must be to walk into a bar and have a bunch of strangers recognize you. And I recount this to Liz—first Cliff’s text, then my response. Liz says, You’ve lost it, and starts telling me off. Really digging in. But I’ll endure it. And when she’s done I’ll connect it all back to those times I auditioned for The Real World, back when I wanted to be seen, and I’ll tell her that I no longer think I’m interesting, and I scan the bar and there’s only a few people but they’re all watching Liz yell, but I don’t even care because Liz is all I want, and I no longer seek such attention, and I’m about to tell her we’re going to be OK if we can learn to forgive, and maybe when she calms down I’ll point out that on The Real World you have to sign a consent form to forfeit your privacy and they don’t just go breaking into your phone by putting it up to your face while you’re sleeping so they can snoop through your text messages, and truly, all I want is Liz, and I think we can make it, and can’t she see that I am nothing if not proof that people can change, and she’s done yelling now, and I’m about to spell it all out, but she’s already halfway out the door before I have the chance to make it all make sense.