I never really watched Channel 23.
Even as a kid when I fit the proper viewership, I just never considered turning it on. My childhood home didn't house the most loving of families, and in the rare occasions I was allowed to watch television I could only watch what was approved, and channel 23 was not it. As an alternative, I drew comics and wrote short stories well into my adult life which is probably the reason I have the job I do now, as a journalist.
I knew there was a popular show running at the time called The Funhouse. I haven't a clue what it was about and figured it'd be off the air by now, since I was a child nearly thirty years ago. But when I found out it was still going strong, I began to grow curious. How has it been running all these years? How great does a show have to be for it to be on for such a significant amount of time?
So, I watched an episode. It was an uncomfortable experience to explain to my wife that she needed to turn off the soap opera she watched mindlessly so I can put on a show for five-year-old's, but I had to see it - I had to know what makes it so spectacular.
It just seemed like your average kid show. There was a man named Mr. Charles Chocolate who lived in a funhouse and invited kids to come and go on adventures around the house. How much content can you make on the exploration of a single house? Maybe it doesn’t appeal to me because I'm not its target demographic, but I can't make sense of it.
I got into the habit of watching The Funhouse every Thursday night at six. It started out as me wondering why kids found this amusing and ended up being me who found it amusing. My wife grew weary of asking questions and instead let me have my fun for a while, and so I did. I answered back when Charles asked the kids at home questions, I grew delighted when he invited over his friends Peppa Peppermint and Tommy Taffy to play, and I even begged the images on the TV to stay when six-thirty was approaching. All I needed was the sippy cup and pubescent voice, and you'd think I was every kid on the block in 1980.
On the 9th week of my commitment to The Funhouse, my wife had had it.
"What the hell are you doing, Elton?'' Catherine inquires rhetorically, looking down on me as I sat on the cream-colored carpet that adorned the wooden floors of our lounge.
"Shush, love, Peppa Peppermint is about to explain to us why we shouldn't hit our friends."
"I think you need help." She states, then adds in a muffled tone "or at least a better show."
As much as she was right, I didn't want to give up The Funhouse. I was gaining my years back! Why give up something so fantastic for the sake of my wife's comfort?
Even so, I didn’t watch it that tenth week. Instead I half-heartedly caught up on some work, sitting confined in the drab home office I constructed myself. I felt like a child who was told they couldn’t go out to play, and now their toys don’t feel the same way.
I just want to watch TV. Why must I be judged within my own home?
Looking down at the article I was writing about a local pastry shop, an idea struck me.
What if I were to write about The Funhouse?
It was an ingenious idea the more I thought about it. The show was shot here in Pasadena so it can be in the local paper, its long run is certainly newsworthy, and we won't have to worry for a cover article this week! It's foolproof!
The idea enthused me greatly. I decided not to tell my boss about it so that it would be a surprise, since I was so sure he'd love it. I looked up the studio Funhouse was shot in and called them up, explaining that I wanted to do a piece about the show and how it's been running for so long. Whoever I spoke with seemed ecstatic by my fascination with the show, and told me I could head over the very next day.
And so I did. I told my wife I was heading off to work, took a sick day, and drove 20 minutes to Longhead Studios in my Nissan Murano with ardor in my pockets and a yellow legal pad in hand. I waltzed into the studio with ease, and to describe it as hectic was an understatement.
There were people running around this way and that, some stagehands and some actors I recognize from the show. There was food being thrown about, people shouting, and props being tampered with. I thought cleverly to myself that they should change the name from Funhouse to Madhouse as a familiar face walked towards me. With the curly blue wig, polka-dot suit, and orange lipstick, I knew exactly who it was.
"Charles Chocolate!" I exclaimed, then immediately regain my composure. "I mean, uh, morning, Mr. Chocolate."
The wigged man smirks, clearly amused. "Our fanbase isn't typically this old."
Embarrassed, I elaborate. "My name is Elton Carter, I work for Pasadena Star-News, I'm doing a piece on The Funhouse."
Charles Chocolate's smirk grows into a full-blown smile. "Oh, media coverage. Finally. Come, I'll bring you to the producer, Liam. I'm Jensen, by the way, but call me Charles if it pleases you." I take his last words as a sarcastic comment and follow him through the mess of people.
As we walked, Char-Er, uh, Jensen took off the blue wig and ran a hand through his messy blonde hair. It was strange to think that he was a real person, with a real name, and a real sense of humour. He looked much younger in real life, probably younger than me. And attractive.
"So, how'd they convince your cute self to come to the dank place that is Longhead Studios?" He asks, practically screaming over all the noise.
Oh. Charles Chocolate said I was cute.
I chuckle. "I volunteered."
Eventually, I meet the producer and he gives me instructions on who to talk to and how to portray them, which, may I add, was super high maintenance for a show that's on a public access network. But alas, I oblige, and get through the day rather successfully. It was odd to see the behind-the-scenes of a show I have recently grown to idolize, but since society tells me that grown men shouldn't be watching The Funhouse, I don't verbalize this experience.
It was nearing midnight when I decided to head home. Filming indubitably ended hours ago, so I decided to watch them strike the set. Jensen kept talking to me throughout the day, and my oblivious self can't decide if he's flirting or insanely friendly.
Before I left, Liam the producer asked me to come back tomorrow. I agreed, no questions asked.
I drove home in silence, eager about making this trip the next day.
When I get home, I'm surprised to find Catherine waiting up for me.
"Where were you?'' She inquires, raising an eyebrow. "And before you lie, I know you weren't at work, because I called."
I decide to be honest. "I was at the set of Funhouse. I'm writing an article about it."
She sighs. "Most wives worry about their husbands having affairs; I worry about my husband's obsession of a bogus show made for freaking five-year-olds."
"Ha-ha." I deadpan. "Ready to hit the hay?''
"No. You need to get over this stupid Funhouse phase. It isn't healthy, staring into nothing but delusion every week. I know your childhood was rough and all, but c'mon, Elton-"
"Just shut up!" I yell. "I don't want to talk about this now. Ridicule me in the morning if you really can't hold it in." And with that, I go to bed.
I spent the next week of my life visiting the set of Funhouse every morning, despite Catherine's protests. They eventually all knew me by name, and I had my routine set and down. I had grown to enjoy the moments I spent there, living in a child's paradise. And though it seemed perfectly sublime, it was the Friday of that week when I realised things weren't right.
My curiosity and intrusiveness got the best of me, and I entered the makeup room unannounced. I walked in on one of the makeup artists yelling at one of the little boys on the show. She stopped as I walked in.
"Who are you?'' The unpleasant woman inquired.
"I, uh, I'm his manager." I lie on a whim. The little boy thankfully doesn't deny it.
"Okay, you handle him then." Makeup artist storms out. Great employee.
"Are you okay?'' I ask the boy once we're alone, staring at his tear-streaked face. He nods unsure.
I smile at him to make him feel better, but it's instantly wiped off my face when I look down at the bruises on his arms.
"Did she hurt you?'' I question, concerned.
"I wanna go home," He whines. "I haven’t been in so long."
"Where's your-" I'm interrupted by the door being opened.
"Elton Carter." Jensen announces. "Come with me."
I wipe a tear from his face. "I'll be back in a second."
I follow Jensen out the door, and he lightly pins me to a wall in the hallway. "How's it going?''
"I'm concerned." I speak truthfully. "I think someone has hurt that little boy."
Jensen chuckles curtly. "Don't poke around in problems that don't pertain to you."
I try to unpin myself from this wall, but his grip on my shoulders tightens. "Let me go," I plead. "What are you keeping from me?''
"Nothing!" Jensen denies, but not letting go. "We're a wholesome network. The brat probably fell around set or something."
"Why did he say he hasn't been home in so long?''
"Elton, I'm not doing anything. I'm merely the talent." He says, and with that, he walks off.
I meet back with the little boy in the makeup room, who is now no longer crying.
"Do they hurt you here?'' I ask him.
"Liam says I'm not allowed to say anything." The boy sniffles.
"I'm gonna go talk to Liam, you stay here."
"Please don't get me in trouble." The boy begs. "They think this is what we want, but it isn't anymore."
I leave the makeup room and walk in a beat to the set of the show, where Liam is giving direction to some of the other staff. Production doesn't begin for another half hour, so it was the perfect time to inquire.
"Can I talk to you?'' I ask him abruptly, sneaking up from behind and tapping his hunched shoulder.
"Elton! Of course you can!" He tells the girl he was speaking to that he will be right back and we walk back into the hall.
"I'm not going to beat around the bush. What's going on with the kids on the show?''
"You certainly are a journalist." Liam speaks irrelevantly. "Asking all these questions, jumping to all these conclusions."
"Tell me," I demand.
"There's nothing to tell. It's a funhouse."
"Keeping kids against their will is not a funhouse! Forcing them to do things they don’t want to do isn't what's good for them. You think they want all this, but they don’t. No matter how many times you say it, you can't make fun out of something tragic."
"Oh, hadn't you wish you had said that thirty years ago?'' Liam smiles tauntingly. "After all, you have done this before. Maybe not like this. But you've done it."
"What the-" I'm cut off by my own ringtone blaring from my pocket.
"I'll see you on set, Carter." Liam signs off.
I grab my phone out of my pocket, and it's my boss, Harris. At a time like this I would easily ignore him, but if I dodge his call once more this week and he may put out a missing person's report.
"Elton! Finally you pick up, are you feeling any better?'' He asks in regards to my week of fake illness.
"Yeah, look it's a long story but I've been writing lately about the long run that the show The Funhouse has and I think the kids on the show are being abused." I blurt.
"Yeah!" I exclaim. "This one little boy has bruises running up and down his arms and he says he hasn’t seen home in a while and when I ask I receive cryptic responses and-"
"Elton," my boss breathes. "The Funhouse has been off air for thirty years after the host Jensen Adams confessed to the murder of a five-year-old boy. The entirety of channel 23 is really nothing but static and dead air. What is all this nonsense you're spouting?''
"What?" I ask in disbelief. "That's impossible. I'm at the studio it’s shot at right now. I can literally put the producer on the phone."
"Longhead Studios? That's been abandoned since the show shut down. Are you okay?"
I look around red and beige halls I stood in. "Yeah, I just really want to go home."