By Alex Schattner
[Dear readers: Alex Schattner is founder and writer of Modern American Folktales, a worthy and brilliant project in which he undertakes to continue the fairy tale tradition for our times. I want to talk about why I find this project so important (and sort of ground-breaking), but for now, he has graciously provided Spinning Straw into Gold with an original modern American folktale. The prompts given were "reality television" and "Los Angeles." Enjoy! -- Christie]
Nina Faces Reality
THERE once were three daughters born to the V.P. of a major television network, living in Hollywood, CA. The eldest daughter was Lena. She was not the most beautiful, but she was the most vain. Her three favorite things were mirrors, glitter, and attention. The middle sister was Mena. She was similarly vain and similarly unattractive. Her three favorite things were gossip, pleather, and . . . attention.
Then there was the youngest daughter, Nina, who was smart, loving, and uninterested in unwarranted attention. Posessing these qualities endowed Nina with a freedom and beauty that was beyond her sisters' understanding. This, in turn, made her sisters unbearable.
Attention! Attention! Attention! Lena and Mena had to have the spotlight . . . ALWAYS! With this thought in mind (the only one they ever had), they went to their father and demanded that a reality show be made of their lives. To Nina, this sounded like an awful idea, and she tried to warn her sisters against it.
"We'll be made to look ridiculous," she said, but they didn't listen. Therefore, Nina was forced to take steps of her own. When asked, she refused to sign a waiver that would allow them to show her face on screen. This meant Nina would appear as merely a blur, and nothing else. Her sisters were thrilled with this idea.
"It's as if we planned it," Lena said, and the following Monday, a van pulled up outside the house. Out stepped Walter, an old cameraman who had been in the industry forever, and Leo, a fresh-faced, newly-promoted Camera Assistant. To Leo, this job held the potential of bringing him closer to his ultimate dream job as a documentarian. Little did he know that he and Walter would spend the next several weeks filming the shallow escapades of Lena and Mena. Leo and Walter filmed excessive shopping sprees, dates with basketball players, random acts of arguing, and talking about friends behind their backs. Leo's only solace were the brief moments in which Nina made an appearance. Even though he was instructed not to focus on her, he felt that her story was the one he wanted to tell. He couldn't help but pity the guy in the editing room whose job it was to blur out Nina's lovely face.
Indeed, this concern was warranted, for the editing crew would spend way longer editing Nina's appearances than on any other thing. When the show was aired, Lena and Mena became household names, but no one could stop talking about "the blurry-faced sister." Paparazzi began staking out the sisters' house. Pictures of Lena and Mena were profitable, but a picture of Nina earned top dollar. Rumors were running rampant. People said everything from, "Her beauty distorts camera lenses" to "one look in her eyes will turn you to stone."
Nina didn't mind what anyone said about her, but she didn't want to get too roped into her sisters antics. So, late one night, while the paparazzi followed her sisters on their "glorious" night on the town, Nina sneaked out of the house with a duffle bag and the keys to her father's car. Little did she suspect that Leo would return early.
"You have two options," Leo told her, standing in front of the car. "I could alert your father to your leaving, or . . . you can take me with you." Nina had little choice but to let him in the passenger side door.
"Where are we going?" Leo asked.
"I think we deserve to have a 'glorious' time, too." Nina said, "And I know just the place."
Over the course of their journey, through dinner, and singing along to the radio, Leo kept the camera running. By mid-morning, Leo was overjoyed to find that they had arrived at Yosemite National park. He watched how Nina's face lit up as they took an easy hike to Bridalveil Fall. As they watched the cascading water, and basked in the mist, Leo couldn't help but lean in and give Nina a kiss. It lasted less than a second, but they both knew there would be more. That night, laying out under the stars, Leo and Nina shared their dreams with one another.
Meanwhile, back at Nina's home, her father alerted the police, and the press, to his daughter's disappearance. The police said they required a photograph of Nina, so Nina's father gave them one. An hour later, everyone in the world knew what Nina looked like, and they were going to search everywhere for her.
Nina and Leo learned of this anonymity issue in a very odd way. The next morning, after being awoken by a bear, Nina and Leo were sent running and screaming to the nearest campsite. Apparently, the other outdoorsmen didn't take too kindly to being woken up, because they threw out some oddly personal insults.
"I thought you were the quiet one," one woman yelled.
After that, Nina and Leo had little reason not to return to Nina's house. Before they left, however, Leo gave Nina the tape of their time together.
"Now they can't take our privacy away from us," he said, "and we can deal with anything that comes our way." When Nina and Leo arrived back at the house, they refused to talk about their trip, either with reporters or family members. Her sisters pretended to go along with this, but secretly they waited until Nina was asleep so they could snoop around. Eventually, they found the tape, but had no way of watching it.
"It doesn't matter, " Lena said, "Nina never does anything interesting. We'll just sell the tape, and let everyone see how boring she is. Then no one will think of her again." So, they sold the tape to the highest bidder, and were feeling pretty good about themselves. That was until the next afternoon when the number one entertainment news program bumped a story of "Lena's Night Out" for a report on "The Caring Sister." The show took the footage of Leo and Nina and showed clips of the most loving and tender moments. Lena and Mena couldn't understand it.
"But there's no glitter," Lena said.
"And where' are all the flashy clothes? How could anyone like this?" Mena said. During all this time, they had forgotten that Walter was filming them, and would continue to film them as they stormed into Nina's room, and demanded to learn the meaning of her popularity. Nina and Leo, having not seen the coverage, had no idea what the sisters were talking about, but Leo was ready with an answer all the same.
"Once you've had the best, who needs the rest," he said, and he kissed Nina for the hundredth time that day.
Story and illustration copyright Alex Schattner. All rights reserved.