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By Lauren Buckingham
“And that is my extra special recipe for mango-glazed chicken.” Callie looked up at the camera. “Thank you for joining me, and please be sure to check out my other tutorials, here on my channel, Chez Callie.”
She paused, still smiling and looking straight into the camera.
Callie giggled. “Thank you, Mr. Director.”
Jeff smiled, and said, “You did great. I don’t even think we’ll have to edit this one much.”
“Much,” Callie repeated, with a laugh. “Now comes the fun part, the part you won’t see online, where I have to clean up the kitchen.”
“Maybe we can do a follow-up series, and call it ‘Chez Callie Cleans’.”
“Yeah, right.” She rolled her eyes, as she gathered up her pots and pans, and put them into the sink. “I doubt anyone would want to watch that.”
“I don’t know, maybe you can start a new trend. People tune in to watch you, Callie. It’s not just for your recipes, there’s a lot of cooking tutorials on the Internet, and many of them are as interesting as watching paint dry. You make cooking look like fun, why not make cleaning look like fun?”
“Because cooking is fun for me.” Callie turned on the faucet, and squirted dishwashing soap all over her saucepan. “Cleaning is not.”
“I guess you’re right. You started doing this for fun, and you always said if it wasn’t fun anymore, you’d stop doing it.”
“And I meant that. Fortunately, I’m still enjoying it, and if I do get the TV show, I don’t think there’s any reason I wouldn’t enjoy that, too.”
Jeff shook his head, and grinned. “My wife, the TV star.”
“Well, I don’t have the show yet. And if I do get it, it’ll be on a network that hardly any people get and even fewer watch.”
“Still, it’s a TV show, all the same. Have you ever personally known anyone who’s had their own TV show?”
“No, I can’t say that I have.” She stopped, scrub brush in hand. Even now that she was in negotiations for a cooking show on a small cable network, she still didn’t like to talk about it much, or to get her hopes up only to see it fall through. When it was a done deal, she could get excited then, but not until. While her online tutorials had become successful beyond her wildest dreams, she knew enough to realize that television was a complete different entity.
“Here.” Jeff came up behind her and gently took the scrub brush out of her hand. “I’ll get those, you can just go back to bed.”
She yawned, about to object, but decided to take him up on his offer. She was exhausted, after getting up at four in the morning to make her video. While viewers would see her prepare dishes for lunch or dinner, in reality, most of the videos were filmed in the early hours of Saturday morning. That was because it was the only time she and Jeff had where they could make the video without having to worry about being interrupted by their two preteen kids, and could go back to bed. Except for her breakfast tutorials, none of the meals were consumed right away; usually she put them in the refrigerator to serve later.
Just as she had finished putting plastic wrap over today’s creation, she saw her phone light up on the far corner of the counter, strategically placed out of view of the camera. She looked at the clock on the microwave, which read 5:09 AM, and wondered who could possibly be calling at this time. Thinking it was a wrong number, she put the plate of mango-glazed chicken in the refrigerator.
Minutes later, she noticed that the phone had lit up again, and was still vibrating. Curious, she picked up the phone and read the caller ID.
She stopped. Sondra. Why would she be calling now?
“Hi, Callie, are you up? I figured you’d be finished with your video by now, I hope I didn’t wake you.”
“No,” she replied, still puzzled.
“Good, because I need to talk to you.”
Callie sighed. By the sound of Sondra’s voice, she could tell that whatever this was, it probably wasn’t anything good.
“Okay.” Callie swallowed hard. “What about?”
“The reason I’m calling you so early is because there’s something that I want you to hear about from me before you hear it anywhere else.”
“Hear what from you? What’s going on?”
“There’s a video of you that’s been posted online. It’s… How shall I say, not you at your best.”
Callie laughed. “Well, it can’t be that bad. What am I doing in this video, anyway?”
“Well, for starters, you’re incredibly drunk.”
“Me? I can’t even remember the last time I got drunk, I know it was before I had kids. How long ago was this?”
“I can tell you exactly when it was, because there’s a timestamp on it. October 7, 1988.”
“1988?” Callie echoed. “I was eighteen then, that was my freshman year of college.” Suddenly, she froze. She had done a lot of partying that year, away from home for the first time, and taking full advantage of her newfound freedom.
“Yes, and eighteen-year-olds aren’t always known for their good decision-making. Look, I’ve been there too, I did far worse when I was that age and for all I know there is a tape of it out there as well. But, I’m not an online celebrity, so no one cares what I did when I was in college.”
Jeff looked over curiously at the conversation.
Callie held up her finger to let him know she would be back in just a minute. She briskly walked out of the kitchen, and headed for the bedroom.
“Well, why should anyone care what I did back then, either?” Callie shut the door behind her, and sat down in front of her laptop.
“They shouldn’t, I agree. But they obviously do, and as your friend and your manager, it is my responsibility to tell you about it. I warn you, read the comments section at your own risk.”
“How terrible could it be?” Callie muttered, as she began an online search for herself.
In an instant, the following result popped up on her screen:
‘Chez Callie’ raunchy college party video goes viral.
She continued to read the story below the headline.
“America’s newest Internet sensation has a video out now that she probably doesn’t want you to see. Callie Nelson, known for her ‘Chez Callie’ series of online cooking tutorials, can be seen in a home video taken at a college party in 1988. In contrast to her wholesome image, she is seen on the tape drinking heavily, using illegal drugs, and behaving in a sexually suggestive manner.”
“Are you sure that’s even me on the tape?”
“Yes, unfortunately it is, and if there’s any doubt, you identify yourself by first and last name. Callie Pulaski, as in Grandma Pulaski’s Perfect Pierogis, from the Christmas episode.”
“Mrs. Nelson could not be reached for comment, at this time,” Callie read aloud. “What do they mean? No one’s even tried.”
“Yes, they have. Why do you think I’m calling you? I’ve been telling everyone you can’t be reached for comment because I didn’t want them hitting you with this just yet. Still, you are going to have to address it eventually.”
“First, I want to see what I’m going to be addressing.” She clicked on the link to the video.
Moments later, a grainy video appeared on the screen. Grainy, but clear enough to evoke a memory that had almost been forgotten by now.
The room was dimly lit, the sounds were muffled, and in the background was the faint noise of heavy metal music, the lone hit of an ‘80s hair band whose name escaped Callie at the moment. In the lower right corner of the screen was the timestamp: 10/07/1988 10:39 PM
Just above the timestamp, she saw her own face.
She remembered how that night began. It was a Friday night, and some guys from the dorm stopped by, making the rounds on the women’s floors, trying to get as many eligible females as possible to come to a house party their friends were having. Her eighteen-year-old self wouldn’t have realized or even cared that she and the other freshman girls were more or less just a means for these guys to score points with her older friends; but a party was a party. She coaxed her roommate into coming with her, and off they went.
“Just that hair is embarrassing enough,” said Callie, referring to her dishwater blonde hair, permed, teased, and worst of all, bangs feathered inches high above her head. Her clothes weren’t much better; she wore a tight-fitting red sweater, belted at the waist with a black belt decorated with silver dollar sized rhinestones, and black stonewashed jeans. Hands with a ring on nearly every finger and neon pink fingernails gripped a beer bottle, which, for an instant, she was licking the rim of seductively.
“Hey, sexy mama,” a male voice from behind the camera said to her. “What’s your name?”
“You just said it,” Callie replied back to him, and giggled. “It’s ‘Sexy Mama’, that’s my name.”
“I can hear you’re watching it now,” Sondra said.
“Why not? Apparently everyone else has been.” Callie frowned, as she continued to watch the video.
“No, that’s not your name. Tell me your real name, and I’ll give you another beer.”
“Okay, fine, it’s Callie.”
“No, not Kelly. Callie, C-A-L-L-I-E.”
“Callie? Callie what?”
She threw back her head and laughed. “My name is Callie Renee Pulaski, and I am running for Miss America!”
“I’ll bet you’d win. My friend Todd, he thinks you’re cute. He wants to kiss you. Can he kiss you, Callie?”
The camera spun away for a moment, but Callie could hear herself laugh again, and exclaim, “Sure!” By the time the camera returned to her, she was kissing a curly-haired young man. She watched for several excruciating minutes as she and Todd continued to kiss, starting out with light, somewhat awkward drunken kisses, then graduating to passionate, open-mouthed kissing.
At that point the camera shifted to a group of college men playing beer pong, and then stopped. She hoped against hope that the rest of the video had been lost or taken down, but unfortunately there was more.
The timestamp had now changed to 10/08/1988, 12:15 AM. What had taken place in the hour and a half in between she couldn’t exactly remember, but at this point in the evening, she was sitting on a couch in another room of the house.
“There’s my friend Stacy,” Callie said, referring to the tall girl with close-cropped bleached blond hair sitting next to her on the couch. She remembered this was the first night she and Stacy had hung out, after her roommate left. That part she did recall, telling her roommate that she wanted to stay longer, that she knew Stacy from math class, and she could walk home with her. Now, all these years later, she wished she’d gone home with her roommate instead.
“The one who just handed you a joint?” Asked Sondra.
“Yes, that would be her.”
“A friend with weed is a friend indeed.” Sondra laughed, then said, “Sorry.”
“It wasn’t oregano in that bag,” Callie muttered. “She didn’t usually do stuff like that. And neither did I.”
“I know that, you know that, but…”
“But all the millions of people who see this won’t.” Callie made a face, and looked back at her computer screen. At this point in the video, she, Stacy, and another girl seated next to them on the couch were also smoking pot, and appeared completely oblivious.
“Three fine ladies, right here,” the voice behind the camera said. “Ohh, yes… You’re all so gorgeous. I’ll bet you’re even more gorgeous under those clothes. Can I have a look?”
“Screw you,” Stacy shot back.
The camera zoomed in on Callie.
“Come on now, you know you want to show me what’s under there,” he said to her.
“Oh, no,” Callie groaned aloud, as she watched her younger self loosen her belt, and pull up her sweater, to reveal a robin’s egg blue brassiere.
“Whoo!” The man behind the camera hooted, as he zoomed in on Callie’s chest.
“Take it all off!” another male voice rang out in the background.
Callie breathed a sigh of relief, after seeing that she ignored him, and continued to puff on her joint. Her relief was short-lived, though, when the screen went dark, and popped up again, this time with the timestamp of 2:08 AM.
This time, all that could be seen was her tousled mop of hair, and red sweater sleeve underneath a young man, a redhead with a buzz cut.
“He’s ugly,” she said, disgusted.
She was kissing him, far more aggressively than she had the other guy, and worse yet, they were groping each other in a way befitting of at least a rated-R movie.
“I can’t watch anymore of this,” she said, as she prepared to turn off her computer.
“If it makes you feel any better, it’s almost over.”
“Not much better,” Callie remarked. On the screen, she and Buzzcut was still going at it like there was no tomorrow. After about a minute or so of that, the screen faded to a grayish snow, and the video came to a stop.
“I’m so sorry someone did this to you. They had no right to…”
“Who’s going to stop them? It’s the Internet, they can do whatever they want to do.”
“Do you have any idea who that guy was, the one who took the video?”
“No. I didn’t even know his name, and I never saw him again.”
“If I could track him down, we could sue him, or at least threaten to if he leaves this up.”
“What good would it do now? The video’s been out there. Even if they took it down now, everyone’s seen it already.”
“Not everyone. I’ll see what I can do about having it removed, and in the meantime, I’ll do the talking,” Sondra assured her, then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No, I just want to be alone right now.
After a long pause, Sondra said, “I understand. But, if you need anything, just give me a call.”
“Okay,” Callie whispered.
After disconnecting the call, she threw her phone to the floor in fury, and slammed her laptop shut. Her heart was racing, and she he felt herself begin to shake. Anxious thoughts and questions ran through her mind, as she recalled the images from the video.
What will people think of me? What’s going to happen to my TV deal? What are my parents going to say? How is this going to make Jeff feel? What do we tell our kids?
All at once, the worst-case scenarios came flooding in. Her children being teased at school, Jeff being embarrassed, her parents disappointed. She could see the family-themed cable network that was considering her show suddenly deciding not to go ahead with the project, and eventually Chez Callie would be the butt of jokes and no longer taken seriously.
Tears streamed down her cheeks. All of a sudden, she got up and kicked the desk. Not satisfied, she kicked the chair over, knocking it into the wall. Then, she flung herself onto the bed.
“No, no, no, no, NO!” She began punching her satin-encased pillow. In despair, she threw herself onto the pillows and began to sob uncontrollably.
“Come on, Callie, please get up,” Jeff said to her.
Callie pulled the covers over her head.” It’s four in the morning. I’m trying to sleep.”
“It’s four in the morning and your sandwiches are waiting.”
She made a face. “What sandwiches?”
“Your modern twist on the club sandwich, you know, made with Capicola ham, turkey bacon, free range chicken. You’ve only been planning it for the past month.”
“Yeah, well, I’m just not up to it right now.”
Jeff sighed, and said, “You know, the best thing you can do is to just get up and keep doing the show.”
She peeked at him from under the covers. “Really? After what’s been going on this past week, you honestly think that?”
“Yes, I do.” He stared at her. “Do you want this stupid three-decades-old video to be the last image people have of you? Because if you don’t keep doing ‘Chez Callie’, that’s how it’s going to be.”
She sighed. “If I’d never done ‘Chez Callie’ in the first place, that other video would never have seen the light of day.
“Oh, come on, you can’t say you regret doing them. You enjoyed it so much. Didn’t you?”
She nodded. “I did. I enjoyed all of it, until the same media that made me a star turns around and tries to destroy me. I guess now I know that’s how it is, with easy fame.”
“It’s not going to destroy you unless you let it.”
Callie snorted. “Yeah, right. Do you think the HomeTime Network is going to want anything to do with me now? They didn’t even like it that I made a Margarita in my taco night video.”
“So, maybe you can get a show somewhere else, on a network that will let you make cocktails whenever you want.”
“And maybe people will tune in just to see if I’ll get drunk and pull up my shirt on the air.”
Jeff shook his head. “I really think you’re being too hard on yourself.”
“Yeah?” She glared at him. “Then why can’t you bring yourself to watch the video?”
“I told you, I don’t need to. It was a long time ago, that’s not who you are now, it’s not even who you were then. You just went out one night, things got out of control, and there happened to be a camera around, that’s all.”
“That’s all, huh? Or is it that you just don’t want to see it? You know what’s on there, but you can’t stand the thought of actually having to watch it.”
“Why would I need to? It’s something that never should have been out there in the first place. If I watch it, I would almost feel like I’m dignifying such a thing.”
Callie looked away. “So you’re not ashamed of me?”
“Would you feel better if I were?”
She was silent. Tears formed in her eyes. “I can’t even go to the grocery store without someone pointing at me and snickering. My parents are getting phone calls from people they don’t even know. They say they’re not upset at me, but I’ve disrupted their lives, without ever meaning to. And now it’ll be ten times harder for me to tell Maisy and Jake not to drink before they’re of age, or not to smoke pot, and for me to tell Maisy not to go out and act like a slut.”
Jeff shrugged. “She’s going to be eleven this year, we were talking about getting her a cell phone. Maybe this can serve as a good lesson.”
“I managed to get myself in trouble online before the Internet even existed.” Callie sniffled, and brushed away another tear.
“Look, I know how hard this has been on you…”
“It’s been hard on you, too,” she said. “And that’s what just kills me. I’m the one who got stupid on a Friday night back in the ‘80s, I’m the one start making those little cooking videos, without a clue as to what would happen. I’m the one, don’t you see? But all of us have to live with it now.”
“And live with it we will. I’ll be fine, Callie, and so will you.”
“I’ll be fine,” she repeated slowly. It felt good to say those words, as if merely saying them could make it so. Then, after a long silence, she kicked off the covers, and pulled herself out of bed.
“Are you all right, Callie?”
She forced herself to smile, as she made her way to her closet. She turned around and said to Jeff, “Get the camera ready. We’ve got some sandwiches to make.”