Talk Show Star by Pat Dutt

pink abstract painting

Friday nights Tyler and Minnie would dress up and share a bottle of good red wine as they slow danced to music like, Can’t Live, if Livin’ is Without You! Then Tyler would glue a modest moustache beneath his nose, and don a wig of straight brown hair that hung like a curtain to his shoulders. Next was the white cowboy hat — Minnie’s idea – alone with the thick black hornrims. They would laugh and laugh because he looked absurd, and also, so unlike himself.

Then Minnie would go to her civic meeting, where people discussed how to make the country great, and Tyler would hang out at a brewery, maybe a cidery, and do what he called research. At 11 they’d meet back home and compare notes and nourish their erotic selves. Recently though, Minnie hadn’t been as enthusiastic or as erotic. Maybe it was the meetings. At first she felt like a dewy-eyed teenager, chanting along with the rest of them, but she came to realize that anything that kept Tyler in the news was good for business. How many talk show hosts pulled in a cool six million a year? It was a game—like Monopoly, Yahtzee, or Replacement Theory. And like any game, you had to keep feeding it. The rules of the game were different from real life for sure, but there were similarities. 

They were the adulated and emulated power couple of the moment. Who didn’t want to be them

“Shake it out, Baby.” How Tyler loved his wife! At first she hadn’t been keen on the meetings, but then she’d come to understand Tyler’s position, and earning potential. Real conversation, front and center, produced leaders, decisive leaders that people desperately needed, not the wishy-washy goopy Whatever you think, Dear. How could a country survive without black-and-white guidelines, especially when half of the population was on welfare, and the other half referred to itself as he/she, him/her, they/them, us/them. Huh?

“New dress?” Tyler said, reaching out, feeling the red silk between his fingers. The dress showed just the right amount of cleavage and it clung to her curves and flared out at her hips, which were slender and seductive. 

“Like it?” Minnie held up her arms like a model and twirled around once.  

“It’s hot, Baby.” He winked at her, and she winked back.

“I won’t be missed in a crowd, honey. But you, Tyler. With that moustache. Oh my God!”

He-he-he. They giggled together like teenagers. They’d been teenagers when they met, and married, right after college. They designed the marriage roadmap, and never attended even one single antifa-enlightened couples counseling because they knew who they were. Their convictions were solid. Minnie was his rock, and Tyler, well he was the Talk Show Star: that big bright star in the dark scary sky! Three nights-a-week. Right after his show, Minnie would critique his expressions, voice, posture and timing. Like a modern-day Roman Gladiator, Tyler engaged and enraged. Who did not love blood and circuses? Some considered his cable program controversial, but Tyler, alone, verbalized the country’s most repressed and often explosive desires.

They kissed goodbye and Minnie left. Then he cued up I Just Want to Be Your Everything, which would play the second one of them walked in the door later that night. 

Tonight’s venue was The Cidery. He didn’t like cider but there were lots of picnic tables outside and ample opportunity to meet the common people from the other side. Festive white lights on the overhead slats twinkled, and drew the lumbering leftists: they were like bears, drawn to the light after holing up inside their caves during a cold dark winter. He bought the obligatory cider, then pulled a small notebook out of his jacket pocket and started sketching. The ice-breaker. People would sashay by and ask if he was an artist. 

Kids were running around wild, followed by mothers in their long skirts and untamed hair, hedonists along with their partners, who smoked pot and thought a world without poetry was an empty world. People tried that in the 60s and it didn’t work: they ended up becoming unscrupulous and viscous lawyers or stockbrokers. He knew because he had them on his payroll.

 A banjo started playing – plink-plink-plink –and he knew he was deep in liberal land. 

A scruffy couple asked if they could share his table. They were in their 40s, and dressed in blue jeans and plaid shirts, retro-style.

“Sure,” Tyler said. “Why not!”

The three of them talked about the weather, then the awesome beauty of the corn fields that surrounded The Cidery.

“Do you ever listen to that guy on TV? What’s his name? Tyler Carpenter?” Tyler said.

“Man,” the guy said. “He’s about as rough as they come. That Tyler has no self-awareness.”

“But he makes some good points,” Tyler said. 

“Like what?” the woman said. “He’s a total misogynist. He called women dogs. And primitive. If I were his wife, I’d leave him flat out. No questions asked.”

“Like any good propagandist,” the man said, “he sprinkles truth in the toxic brew.”

“For sure, politics is corrupt, but the election stolen?” the woman said, incredulous. “There’s never been one piece of evidence. Not a single irregular ballot except from the other side. He amplifies lies.”

“You know it’s all hatred, man,” the guy said, shaking his head. “Violence.”

“That’s because the man himself is full of violence,” the woman said. “I’m sure it started in his past. I would guess he had a traumatic childhood.”

The couple looked at each other and pursed their lips.

“He needs to be confronted with his past,” the woman said. 

“Otherwise he lives in fear. Which begets suspicion of just about everything,” the man said. 

“Take the Supreme Court hearings,” the woman said. “These old white men are so afraid, they absolutely cannot accept the fact that a woman, and a black woman, is smarter than they are. They have to drag her through the mud. Remember Anita Hill, I say! That past is not so long ago.”

The couple raised their plastic glasses of hard cider and toasted to Anita Hill.  

“That’s a little harsh,” Tyler said. “Tyler’s a voice of reason. Take his position on guns.”

The man shook his head. “Do you know how many guns we have in this country?”

“Guns protect our liberty,” Tyler said. “Our freedom. Freedom is what makes our country great.” 

“I beg to disagree with you, sir,” the woman said. “Guns are what make walking into the grocery store on a spring Saturday afternoon dangerous. Guns are what make going to school for 10 year-olds a life-and-death decision. Guns are what make a Fourth of July Celebration a slaughter.”

“Guns don’t kill,” Tyler said. “It’s the crazy people behind them who kill.” 

“Ever had anyone you loved been killed by a gunman?” The guy suddenly stopped smiling. Then the couple left. Tyler wrote down Anita Hill, childhood, fear, suspicion, past life, guns and black women in his notebook. The spin would come later.

Another couple sat down. The guy had a multi-colored rag around his head like a bandage from a war, and his woman had no shoes and raspy hair that somehow looked glued in parts and possibly unwashed for the last decade. When he felt they had a good rapport going, he brought up Tyler Carpenter, how the man did not hesitate to say what was on his mind. That he was one of the rare, honest, talk show hosts. He lived in the present moment. 

“Honest that we are all bigots?” the man said. He looked into Tyler’s face, and it scared Tyler, just a little, that the man might have seen through his disguise.

“No way,” the man with the head rag continued. “The guy’s poison.”

“He represents an important perspective,” Tyler said. “The press, which is predominately liberal, does not present this perspective, and allowing all perspectives: isn’t that what makes a great democracy? The freedom to express your opinions?”

“Violence and hatred are perspectives I want no part of. And certainly not for my kids.”

“He’s pure evil,” the woman added. “Right now in the country, there’s way too much violence. Way too many lies.”

“I will say that Tyler Carpenter has a lot of power,” Tyler said, leaning back and smiling. He didn’t especially like the hard cider – he thought it tasted like vinegar, and it was making him a little loopy. “Power to shape a country’s opinions.”

“Just like Hitler,” the man said.

Then the couple got up – they didn’t even say goodbye — and started dancing.

There were more musicians on the stage: a guitarist, a female vocalist, and someone beating on a drum with his/her them/their bare hands. He wished Minnie was with him: they would show them what real dancing was. He wrote down Hitler and pure evil in his notebook. Bare feet. Bare hands beating on drums.

The last couple to join him that night were two women dressed in dark business suits. They each had long, jet-black hair, parted down the middle with significant widow’s peaks. He thought they were sisters, or maybe members of an occult group. There were so many weirdos here that he realized they could be anything: even aliens dropped down for a night of reveling, curious about these humans, with their penchant for self-delusion. The two somber women admitted they watched Tyler because they were interested in why he was the way he was. 

“That’s his secret,” Tyler said. “Part of his mystery. Plus, he has a lot of really good ideas. For instance, he’s spot on about the president.”

“How so?” one of the women said mournfully. They seemed out of place in the hard cider hippie haven. 

“You know what presidents do to get good ratings?” he said animatedly. “They create a crisis. First it was Covid. When that ran out of steam, he provoked Russia into starting a war.”

“Are you out of your mind?” the other woman said. 

“All of his lies,” the first woman said. “I guarantee you: they will come back to haunt him. His future does not look so good.” 

The music suddenly stopped, and the two women looked eerily into the middle distance, then directly at him, sending him a menacing energy that caused his brain to twinge.   

“He will believe in a lie that will destroy his personal life, because he no longer has the capacity to distinguish fact from fiction.” 

“In other words,” the other woman said, “his luck will run out.”

The two women waited. He felt something creep up the back of his spine, but Tyler, always deft and cunning, said in an amused tone: “Really!” He even smiled, showing a hint of those white teeth that were imminently familiar to over four million viewers. 

“We’re mediums,” one of them said. She gave him a steely look that he felt in his gut. “We read the future.” Then she and her companion rose, and quickly disappeared, and he wanted to set them straight but they were already gone. Completely gone.    

 What the hell! There were more kooks here than in all cuckoo clocks of Black Forest.  He wrote down mediums, occult, future, and then he left.   

It was only ten, so Tyler stopped in Teddy’s Sport’s Bar for a whisky. There was one open seat at the bar, and that’s where he sat. The whiskey was good, so he had another and he watched the TV that beamed from a high corner of the bar like an electronic god. Headlines ran across the screen’s bottom: White supremacists imprison black man. School shooting, 21 dead in Texas. More subpoenas issued for January 6th. Well, you can’t have everything, he thought. Racial voting laws overturned in Florida. What was this country coming to? Jilted husband kills wife having illicit affair. He looked into the bar’s mirror and it discombobulated him, the stranger who stared back. He wasn’t a superstitious man. Then he saw his eyes, and beneath the disguise, the irresistibly handsome talk show star. Hey, it was all words! Just words. He didn’t chain people to chairs and glue open their eyelids and demand that they watch his show. Did he? His show was for adults. Adults made their own decisions. No one could ever tell you what to believe in, unless you were a liberal. Everyone was free to pontificate. You could do that in America. Not in other countries. Other countries would imprison you or disappear you. He preserved the right of free speech, and people appreciated it, and that’s why they watched his show.

Freedom of speech and freedom to protect yourself and your loved ones: that was what made America great.

Then there it was on the large-screened TV: a re-run of his show. God, he was so handsome. So articulate.

“Hey,” someone shouted, “Tyler Carpenter. Wolf News.”


A few more cheers went up.  Most everyone in the bar was smiling. Tyler was with his people, and he had an urge to out himself, but his lead body guard would have said that was a no-no. One looney-tune miscreant with a weapon who was off his meds, and everything could be over for Tyler. 

The bar went suddenly silent, as if bearing homage to the great prophet.

“I never noticed this before,” someone said, “but his face looks like a squashed pumpkin.”

“It’s the effect of those three-dimensional eyebrows. I would say it looks like he got his penis slammed by a car door.”


“You think he practices his monologues?”

“Damn sure. Everything is for effect.”

“Come on guys! Let’s hear what he has to say.”

“Same old shit, just re-packaged. That guy never changes. Never will. He’s stuck for life.”

“Yeah, but he talks a pretty good tale. Does it three nights a week. Give him credit for that.”

“He’s a disinformation bubble.”

“You pay me six million, and I’ll get on the damn TV and I’ll lie until my nose is long enough to reach the moon.”

Soft chuckles rose from the bar.  

“See, he incites the crowd to the point of violence, then he takes a back seat and does the double-speak while his zealots go to jail.”

“Violence and hatred sell. It’s human nature!”

“We’d all be dead if that was human nature.”

Everyone was silent. 

“Well, I wonder what it’s like living with him. What’s his wife’s name?”



“Right, Minnie.”

“She has everything she wants, that woman,” a woman at the bar said. 

Tyler asked for another whiskey. Of course she had everything. How many wives got a new Mercedes every year? When the kids left for college, she gutted the house and turned everything white: white walls, white furniture, white dinnerware. White bookshelves. Forget the books. At first he thought it was monotonous, but then he got used to the clean lines and openness.      

“Two peas in a pod. She’s just like him.”

“She’s a bigger liar.”

“What makes you think so?”

“She lies with her body.”

Lies with her body. Huh. Recently during the Friday night erotica, Minnie seemed a little reserved. Not quite with him. A minor glitch, Tyler thought, dismissing the feeling.  

“Where do you think she is right now?”

“Bonking the head honcho at work of course!” 

“You think so?”

“Have you ever been to one of those rallies? You think she goes to sing the praises of the chief narcissist? Give the woman some credit.”

“She’s at a swinger’s club,” the woman at the bar said. “The woman is damn good looking. And you can tell by the way she walks that she knows it.”

“Okay guys, can we turn off the asshole? Before I do something I’ll regret?” 

“I vote we watch Don’t Look Up.”

“What’s that?”

“So the scientists discover the comet to end all life, and the government, whose main concern is making a buck, puts on their own spin that completely discredits and disregards the scientists. The earth blows up.”

Tyler stumbled as he got off the barstool, and the man who had shouted to turn off the asshole grabbed his arm, and asked if he was okay.

“You sure? You don’t look okay. You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Geez, you’re all white. Go to a doctor, man. See if a doctor can help you. You need a taxi home?”

The second Tyler was inside his castle, he tore off the wig and moustache and repeatedly stomped on his hornrims. He sat down in the lounger beside the super-sized TV. Strange, because Minnie always got home before him. It was 11. I Just Wanna’ Be Your Everything played. Then the house was silent. Then it was 11:30. Friday night. Their erotica date night. Friday nights they talked about all the funny things that had happened to the two of them during the week, and then together, they brainstormed on talking points for the next week’s episodes of the Talk Show Star. They tweaked his delivery. Tyler tried to relax, but there were too many thoughts running around in his head, so he turned on the radio. Cher was singing: Bang Bang, loud and clear.  

 Tyler had another whiskey. Then he unlocked the drawer in the table beside their marital bed, and pulled out his Glock, and he left the house without even properly closing the door, completely forgetting his disguise.

Pat Dutt‘s short stories and flash fictions have been published in The Louisville Review, Deep OverstockAmerica Writers Review and other literary magazines. She is the author of the non-fiction book The Good Moms, Their Children, and Friendship. Central New York is her home and also where she taught high school science and worked as a landscape estimator. She volunteers for Loaves and Fishes and a mental health organization, and writes a blog along with her son, Ben, called

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