INTERVIEWER: How do you mean?
MA: I was a chump. A sucker. A lot of bright kids are. We think the world revolves around us. We’re totally oblivious to reality – pardon the expression. Isn’t it ironic we have to put quotes around “reality” now, to call attention to the distinction between reality-the-television-genre and reality-the-reality? Oh, good grief, I’m doing it again.
I: Doing what?
MA: Wandering. Letting myself get distracted by the shiny little thoughts I find in the cubbyholes of my own mind. Impressing myself with how clever I am, when really I’m quite stupid. Smart kids. We think we’re so much better than everyone else that we don’t even notice what’s happening around us.
I: Like what?
MA: Oh, there were so many things that should have tipped me off. The fact that my younger brother and father didn’t look anything like me. The fact that everyone around me talked in clichés and punchlines. The – well, I guess let’s call them what they were: the extras in my life, the supporting players. I mean, who names their kid “Six”? And then there were the sounds.
I: What sounds?
MA: The laugh track. I thought I was schizophrenic for the first twenty years of my life, and for the next ten I thought I was just colossally self-absorbed. I would hear people laugh when I said something funny, or sigh when something sad happened. Even my name was a contrivance.
I: You mean your real name?
MA: Please. Blossom Russo isn’t my “real” name any more than Joey is my real brother. Christ, that “whoa” alone constitutes pure child abuse in my book. I changed my name because “Mary Arkwright” is a lot more real than “Blossom Russo”.
I: Was there anything that finally tipped you off?\
MA: Well, I mean, in hindsight, it’s all so easy to see. Once you learn that your whole troubled adolescence has been covertly filmed and selectively edited into a low-rated sitcom as an experiment by the networks to prevent having to pay writers, it all falls into place. You find a traumatized and dysfunctional but witty and clever family, stick some cameras behind the walls, hire a guy to play the father and give him a music career to explain all the buzzing noises and recording equipment and mechanical sounds – it should have been obvious all along. But I suppose in the end it was the girl.
I: You’re referring to your sister.
MA: Kennedy was NOT my fucking sister, all right?
I: I…I’m sorry.
MA: No, I’m sorry. I had no call to yell at you like that. It’s just…well, even if she WAS who she CLAIMED to be, she wouldn’t have been my sister. She would have been my dad’s second wife’s daughter, my stepsister. But in actuality, she was my fake dad’s second fake wife’s fake kid, and she had the fakest English accent I’ve ever heard in my life. My fake boyfriend, Vinnie Bonitardi, could do a better English accent than her, and the only English accent he’d ever heard was Sting’s. That’s what finally did it. That’s when I learned.
I: So you changed your name…
MA: Yeah, moved away, left Vinnie Retardi behind to his important hobbies of flipping bottle caps and writing bad poetry, went to Brown. Got a decent teaching job. Found out I like girls, or at least girls who aren’t named after numbers. I’m even in a support group for people who went through the same trauma as I did.
MA: Yeah. There’s a guy from Chicago who was convinced he was from some made-up eastern European country, another guy who had seven fake brothers and sisters, and one girl who grew up thinking she was a robot built by her father but she had to keep it a secret from her neighbors. It’s a wonder she can even get up in the morning.
MA: My best friend was the only white girl at an all-black college and no one would tell her why. And my girlfriend…
MA: I almost want to let her tell the story, but you’ve chosen to talk to me. Let’s just say…well, she thought she had it good. She was a gifted child, like me, and went to a good high school with a special program for advanced students. She thought she liked boys, and thought she had found someone she could spend her life with. Another dumb-looking kid from the streets with a secret sensitive soul, just like me and Vinnie Retardi. They never get tired of that gag.
I: What happened?
MA: It turned out her teacher was Dr. Johnny Fever.