Eighty-five year old Betsy lies on the bed where she will soon expire. She’s lived a full and fascinating life to say the least. Family and friends surround her. More gather throughout the house. Outside, hundreds. They are there not only to honor a unique human, but to hear what she will say before she takes her last breath. Why? Why not?
The day Betsy was born and joined the rows of newborns who were fast asleep in the hospital nursery, she was wide awake, on her side, facing away from the others, gurgling nonstop. The nurses had never seen anything like it. In fact one swore she saw baby Betsy waving her hands as if to make a point. As we will soon learn, our girl was breaking the sixth wall.*
*The universally-despised mid-page footnote. Breaking the third wall occurs when an onscreen or onstage character directly or indirectly acknowledges that they are in a movie, tv show or play. Breaking the fourth wall is when a character speaks directly to the audience. i.e. “Annie Hall”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Fleabag”. The fifth wall is similar, but it occurs when the actors reference their lives outside of the performance.
Breaking the Sixth Wall?
Well, there was no sixth wall. That is, until Betsy began turning away from what was happening in front of her in real life and addressing it with an entertaining comment to no one in particular. An imaginary audience.
As a child, joining in with her family around the dinner table was quite a challenge. Everyone but little Betsy relentlessly talked over each other to make their positions clear. It produced a desperate cacophony of sounds. Betsy calmly swiveled toward the unoccupied living room and said “Tuesday night was chicken night, but the chickens sat in chairs”.
In school when the behaviorally-challenged boy sitting behind her dropped a frog down the back of her shirt, Betsy turned toward an open window with “If stupidity was pee, he’d be a urinal”.
Years later, across the table from her date, Betsy addressing no one at all posited, “First dates are almost always like a vaginal exam using a porcupine.” On the other side of that, during pleasurable sex, she glanced into a floor-to-ceiling mirror and came up with “I’m stuck on him like a Band-Aid on a hairy leg.”
It was her wedding ceremony that put Betsy in the fast lane. When asked by the clergy if she took her fiancée to be her lawful wedded husband, Betsy had nowhere to look but up at the ceiling. “’I do’ should really be ‘I guess’ because fifty-percent end in divorce.” The crowd laughed, acknowledging the truth. Many asked her permission to re-tell that quote to others.
At the podium, while accepting an architectural excellence award Betsy turned her back on the audience of her peers and blurted to no one in particular, “Isn’t it odd my job is to design buildings that won’t collapse before I do.” It received a standing ovation of collegial recognition and translated into late night talk show guest appearances.
One evening Betsy went to the theater and noticed that some members of the audience were breaking the sixth wall during the play. It amazed her that the balance of the theater-goers were paying more attention to the off-the-cuff riffers than to what was happening onstage. Same thing in offices, classrooms, supermarkets, even the chambers of Congress. The population was suddenly divided between sixth wall smashers and listeners. Betsy and her idiosyncrasy wound up on the cover of Time Magazine. A movement was underway.
Betsy continued breaking the sixth wall deep into her senior citizenship and nursing home stay, but unfortunately, it was labeled dementia. The rest of the general population was allowed to drive the practice to insane and unhealthy heights. With so many acolytes repeating these pronouncements, spontaneity became cliché within minutes of it leaving its creator’s mouth.
This brings us back to Betsy’s final gathering, at which a small boy, Jackie Dorsey actually counted the people who were patiently waiting for Betsy’s final words. Three hundred and forty six. Little Jack was both impressed with and intrigued by the how and why committed listeners would immediately spread the proclamations of others. He carried this curiosity into adulthood, which began about the same time the technology boom was starting to sweep through the human populace. Well, we all know where this is going.
George Beckerman makes word sausage that he hopes is tasty. He works on his Commodore 64 pc while listening to 8 track tapes and checking his flip phone for messages. He has been recently published in The Punch Magazine, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Johnny America and Down In The Dirt Magazine, Little Old Lady Comedy. His work will appear in Evening Street Press and Review in Fall 2022.