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by Dave Housley
Burns wakes up with the feeling that something is wrong. He can feel it in his...not in his gut, somewhere deeper than that, more primal. He can feel it in his balls. He sits straight up. How many days now? A week, at least. His wife is sleeping comfortably. Early dawn light suffuses the room. What is it, he wonders, a bad dream? Deja vu? And then it hits him again. Like 900 volts shot straight into his testicles, it snakes into his gut and up his spine until it fills his head like a migraine: Ryan Seacrest is famous; Burns is not.

This was not always the case. Not when they were both students at South Atlanta High School and then the University of Georgia. Then, Seacrest was a geek, a quiet misfit prone to wearing the wrong shirt, Madonna instead of Metallica, flimsy silk instead of more workmanlike flannel. He was a loser, an amusing afterthought, a nonfactor. Burns was the one with the garage band, the starting spot on the basketball team. The good grades. The cute girlfriend who, in fact, now slumbers away her nights and days as his wife. Seacrest was like a character from one of those John Hughes movies, always trying too hard, wearing those old man hats, the plaid pants and the ruffled shirts and the baby blue shoes. Always with the too-thought-out wackiness, his persona copied whole from videos and bad sitcoms.

Burns walks into the bathroom. His knees ache. He wonders if he's coming down with something. He leans over the toilet and hocks a ball of phlegm the color and shape of a Hershey's kiss. And then another. Have to stop smoking, he thinks.

Ryan Seacrest's image is too neutered and clean, too mall-glossy for cigarettes.

Maybe the smoking isn't all that bad.

"You okay?" his wife croaks from the bedroom. He grunts in the way that means yes I am and go back to sleep.

Ryan Seacrest is famous.

Burns looks around the little bathroom. The tile needs to be replaced and the toilet leaks. The grout in the shower is the color of snot and the estimate his wife obtained for some kind of tub lining system is taped to the wall. Three grand for a tub liner. Burns will live with the grout.

A wave of nausea. Maybe this is a migraine. But every day for a week? It's possible, he assumes. He's heard of people developing terrible medical conditions around the age of thirty. It could be MS. He's heard of that, too. That guy Carbonell from the office. And Peggy Whatshername from accounting, with the cancer.

Ryan Seacrest looks fit and tan.

I would too, Burns thinks, if I had a personal trainer, a chef. Jesus Christ, a hair stylist. Nothing to do all day but work out and eat right.

His belly makes a gurgling noise and he feels the sickness coming. He leans over the toilet and waits for the release. His stomach twists, saliva bunches and he lets it fall in a long string into the toilet. Another wave and he kneels down, puts his hands on the porcelain. Flashes of college, partying too hard, a group of people behind him as he pukes, stands, then chugs another beer. High fives all around.

Ryan Seacrest was never invited to any of the cool college parties.

The only time Burns ever saw him was at the radio station. WGSU. His show, the "Metal Experience," was right before Seacrest's "Dancin' Tuesday Afternoon." Burns would see him waiting in the little entryway, a stack of albums at his feet, his hair teased to ape the swoops and waves of the latest dance band, glittery jacket reflecting the fluorescent light like a low-rent disco ball. Like people could see you when you were on the radio. Like anybody cared what kind of jacket you were wearing.

His stomach settles and Burns retreats from the toilet. He looks at his face in the mirror. Burns has become concerned about his skin. There are lines along his eyes, smile marks on his cheeks, settling in like cracks in concrete.

The word most commonly associated with Ryan Seacrest in those days was "gay."

It didn't necessarily mean homosexual, and since the late 90s Burns has been at a loss to find an adjective to replace the politically incorrect descriptor in his vocabulary. Something between corny and pitiful and trying too hard. Uncool.

Fuck it, Burns decides, Ryan Seacrest was gay.

Is gay.

"Why all this concern, all this effort, over Ryan Seacrest?" It is the internal voice, his superego or conscience, whatever, the awareness he carries around like a backpack full of bibles. Unfortunately, it speaks, has always spoken in the voice of Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes. Burns is reflective, and he has been using, or hearing, or channeling this voice since he was a boy. He wishes it wasn't Klink, but he could no more change this than the scars on his knees or the fillings in his teeth. "Is that what you wish?" Klink asks, "to be Ryan Seacrest?"

"Hell no," Burns says.

"Are you okay?" his wife shouts.

He makes the grunting noise again.

"Talking to yourself," she says.

He moves into the bedroom and puts on his underwear, the suit pants and the dark socks.

Ryan Seacrest dresses like a teenager, in t-shirts that Burns doesn't even understand, jeans that flare out on the bottom, with white splotches on the thighs. It's the t-shirts that really get to him. Any t-shirt, he should at least be able to understand.

"I believe somebody is becoming ob-se-ess-ed," Klink says. Anybody but Klink, Burns thinks, with his sing-songy diction, that goddam Nazi Freud accent. Its like being a character in a Kafka story.

To be blessed with no self-awareness, now that would be a gift. Those people breeze through life with their perfectly coiffed hair and their easy manner and their lame, ghost-written jokes, bantering with the contestants and launching their own talk shows, filling in for Larry King, for god's sake.

"Those people?" Klink says, "or that person?"

Burns puts on his shirt and loops the tie tight around his neck. The nausea starts up again. He makes it to the bathroom and resumes his position above the toilet. Nothing. Just a sick twist in his gut. He is sweating and everything feels light. He lays down on the bath mat, enjoying the feel of the old tile on his legs. Cold. Everything else is hot.

"Are you okay already?" his wife yells. But he can picture her rolling over, pulling the covers over her head.

"Interesting," Klink sings, "very interesting."

He stares at the ceiling.

Ryan Seacrest lives in California. It is four in the morning there. Ryan Seacrest is still asleep.

Burns stares at the bathroom light, concentrating on the white burn, allowing it to grow, occupy all of his vision. Finally he closes his eyes and the luminescent glob glows along his inner eye, a giant ball throbbing inside his head.

"Ryan Seacrest is famous," Klink says.

Burns opens his eyes, looks at the light, and allows it to happen all over again.

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