Friday, April 27, 2012

Short Story - Prove It!

The following post is my first contribution to the #52stories writing challenge where I have committed to writing one short story per week for an entire year. This post will be longer than my typical posts because this is not flash fiction, it is a full short story. I hope, in the next year to explore all different genres and storytelling styles. For now, I present to you my first short story: "Prove It!" Please let me know in the comments what you think of it! 
My days rolled out pretty much the same: wake up with some coffee, put the TV on for some background noise and begin the search. At first the search was for a job in what I was trained to do, then it was just any job, then, ultimately, I was on a quest for opportunities of any kind. Unemployment is hell. You start to question what you can offer the world, what your place is, even who you are. I imagine I don’t have to tell you, chances are you know someone who is unemployed these days, right? The real problem for me, however, began with that background TV.
I’m not into those Hollywood gossip shows, talk shows, soap operas or the court room shows that turn out to be ten times worse than anything any of those other shows can dish; I keep tuned on the game shows. My logic is at least I’m learning something. I’d search the infinite options of televised entertainment before me and I’d always have the TV tuned to Jeopardy!, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Cash Cab, and any other trivia-type show I could find.
My friends started to get wind of this and started called me “Professor U” - the “U” is for “unemployed” - they’re real gems. Anyway, they realized an easy way to get me out to socialize without worrying too much about cost would be to gather at Murray’s Tavern for Thursday's Trivia night. We’d have a blast, I’d get out, and, as the weeks went on our team was winning the night - which meant Murray would pick up our tab - more and more.
One Thursday, after a couple weeks in a row of winning, when I went up to Murray to take my picture for the wall of “Murray’s Brain Pains,” Murray planted the seed for my inevitable doom as he wrapped his burly arm around my shoulders, “You know, Professor, you really need to find a real game show to steal money from; you might actually be able to come back and pay for some grub, then!” He laughed his boisterous, nicotine-damaged laugh, snapped the ancient Polaroid camera, and captured the half-smiling face of a young man who felt he might have finally stumbled upon an opportunity.

From that night on, I split my search time each day between job hunting and game show opportunities. It was difficult since I lived on the East Coast and most of the big shows were filmed in California, but I started entering online sweepstakes to win trips to “sunny California” figuring, if I ever won, I'd call the studios directly upon hearing the news. This was all starting weeks before my unemployment checks were going to be cut off, so my desperation was hitting a fever pitch. It was time for me to start selling my stuff.

I hit up eBay,, and even Amazon while I still had some money to pay for the shipping of items. An ex-girlfriend of mine had set me up with an Etsy store the year before for my t-shirt designs, so I started spreading the word about that again. It may not be the equivalent of what the US Department of Labor was forking over to help me in my time of need, but maybe PayPal could provide some source of steady income, however paltry it would be. Leaving it in PayPal, I could let it add up until the time came where I would need it.
I felt like my life was slowly shifting from the tangible world of reality into the slippery streams of cyberspace. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet and all of its convenience, but things were beginning to feel less real. More people knew me as “ProfessorU,” which was my username for almost all sites I encountered, than by my real name. I wondered how many people bothered to look at the tiny pic of me on various sites to see what I truly looked like and how many just made up their own “ProfessorU” picture. I just kept dreaming more and more of making it on to some big time game show so everyone could finally see the real me on TV, or via the Internet, and say, “That’s the ProfessorU guy I’m always talking to. That’s who he really is!”
It’s really funny to me now that I thought I was losing my identity back then. I had friends I saw every Thursday night after their job. I had an apartment where I paid rent and utilities. I had everything I needed to say, “Here I am world! This is who I am!” I could have even made a video, uploaded it to YouTube saying that exact thing. Dammit: I had a driver’s license.

After a week or so of selling old comic books, movies, video games and consoles online, I had found myself visiting the PayPal site quite frequently to check my balance. It was really all about the money until an ad banner caught my eye, “Are You Ready for the Game Show Made IN and FOR the 21st Century? Click HERE for PROVE IT!” I swore it was a typo. Didn’t they mean “Click here to prove it!”? Embarrassed for them, and unable to ignore a game show opportunity, I clicked the banner.
As we ready ourselves to embark upon the second decade of the 21st Century, one has to ask themselves: When will we start playing the games our technology now allows?  With the advent of the Internet, every man has become a researcher, self-educator and trivia buff in his own right. With social media, every man has the ability to quarter off his own fifteen minutes of fame and legions of followers in all areas of expertise.

Do you think you can show us who YOU are?


For $10 million
Join the conversation:
LIKE our FB page
Follow #ProveIT on Twitter
Subscribe to r/ProveIT on Reddit

I couldn’t resist. I had garnered a decent Twitter following and trivia had been my thing, so I delved further. The website had nothing more than a sign-up page for more information. I blindly dove in; what could I lose, right? When I reached Twitter, Facebook and Reddit I learned that the announcement was only hours old, and the details were sparse. 

There were hundreds of webcrawlers discussing one major topic: What is Prove It? After a couple of hours the forums, chats and trends all started blowing up with various theories - Skype-A-Friend, Wander Through Wikis, and Choose Your Device were just three of the most popular ways people imagined  there would be a game show with a 21st Century twist. The thinking was you would have to prove your answers to various trivia questions with the use of 21st Century tech. The more I read about it, the more I loved it.

By Thursday night, I was obsessed. I went out to Murray’s asking everyone what their theories on Prove It! were. “Oh man, is that the thing you’ve been putting up all over your Facebook page? Sorry, Man, I didn’t get to look at that yet. You know, I’m still blocked at work and I don’t even want to see a computer when I get home.” Nods of consent from all around the table as the conversation shifted to the horrors of working life. The disconnect I had felt when I first got my pink slip suddenly came vividly back to life; I fiddled with my prepaid phone until the game began and filled the new role my closest friends had given me, Professor Unemployed.

We won that night, but I didn’t feel like celebrating until I got home. In my Inbox was an e-mail from the producers of Prove It! Saying I was approved to be among the first round of contestants in their New York filming of the show. The e-mail directed me to a website where I was taken through the final application process: submitting my PayPal information for direct deposit winnings, agreeing to their “Terms and Conditions” and electronically signing their “Privacy Statement” where, among other things, I agreed to be filmed and have my likeness used in future promotion of Prove It! for as long as the game remained viable. 

I did my duty like the Digital Native I am, born and raised in and among “OK” and “Agree” buttons flashing on my computer screen after thousands of minuscule words meant to be read and digested carefully: I scrolled and clicked. I skimmed. I read leading sentences. I skipped the major legalese. I didn’t call my legal aide friend to see if she could elucidate any of what I was clicking away. I didn’t print a copy to read before turning back to my computer to click. I just clicked. 

I was excited. This was my opportunity after all, right? This is exactly what I had been waiting for. I was going to be on a game show. I was going to win 10 million dollars. 

I called my best friend the next morning. I should have known what kind of response I was going to get. 

“What show?” a half distracted query.
Prove It! The one I told you guys about last night. It’s new.”
“Oh… right… the Facebook thing…”
The “Facebook thing” terminology was stinging more than I liked. My greatest excitement was amounting to nothing more than an annoying status update to my closest friends. I suspected the tapping keys in the background had little to do with finding out more about my latest venture and more to do with my friend’s work in front of him.

“Yeah, man… the ‘Facebook thing.’ Look, you sound busy. I just wanted to let you know I was going up to win ten million dollars. I guess I’ll see you at Murray’s or something,” I hung up without a goodbye. 

It was a game show. I had been selected among the thousands of others who had entered to be a contestant. I needed the money and I needed something to do. The freedom and flexibility of unemployment got old real fast. The prize money was nothing to sneeze at either, but, in the end, I just wanted to feel like all my time searching for something actually panned out.

“What a dump,” Benny, the other contestant, said.

“Is it?” The studio was sparse. It had the feel of an empty warehouse with a slipshod makeover. That should have been my first sign something was amiss, but I had never been to a television studio before. 

“Dude, this is a worse set up than my high school’s stage at our local access station back in the nineties. I hope these yokels can actually pay up on the winnings.”

“Oh yeah, that would be the worst,” famous last words.

We left all of our belongings in a locker behind the stage before filming. Benny put up a fight, but I didn’t see the harm. They said the tech would damage our phones and wipe out our credit cards.
At each of our separate podiums was a laptop and a microphone. The game began typically enough, with  Benny and I battling it out to see who could buzz in first with the correct answer to Gary Sneler’s trivia questions. This went on for about twenty minutes and I was really destroying Benny. So far there had been no 21st Century twist to the game, no use of our laptops or tech of any sort. I was happy I was winning, but I was still guarded.

Then Gary grabbed his ear as though he just received a message from the producers. I imagined it was a cue for a commercial break or smarmy small talk with the contestants. I was ready with the story of my name “Professor U” and how Murray of Murray’s Tavern inspired me to become a game show contestant. Instead, Gary smiled and said, “OK contestants, it’s time for our 21st century check in. Using podium laptops, log into your PayPal accounts to ensure your winnings are feeding right in.”

Logging into PayPal was an exercise in muscle memory for me and my hands. That’s why I was shocked when the red words came up saying something had gone wrong. I typed my information slower a second time, taking special care to double check before clicking the yellow button. 

That username does not exist. 

 I was struck dumb. I was snapped from my daze when I heard Benny curse under his breath. I looked over and saw in him the distress I felt.

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” came Gary Sneler’s oily voice paired with a toothy grin.

“Yeah, Gary, there’s a problem,” Benny sounded like he was seconds away from ripping Gary’s smile off his face. “Why don’t you explain what’s going on?” 

“Gentlemen, you have been hacked. You’re identities have been stolen. Your wallets, cell phones and all personal effects were released before coming on this stage and have been destroyed. You know who you are, now it’s time to PROVE IT!” and with those last two words the lights spun, the music blared, the podiums were rolled back, office chairs rolled in and portable office stations including a laptop, a printer and a phone. If this was the intro to the game show, I can only imagine what my face looked like, because Benny’s can best be described as murderous.

“Is this the game?” Benny asked. To be honest, I was stunned silent. 

“It is what each of you signed up for, yes,” Gary slimed again, “In fact, there is a copy of the disclosure agreement you electronically signed under the laptops on your desk.”

Benny, still standing, grabbed the contract, and said, “Aw, this is bull.” I just sat down and turned the laptop on. I knew they had me. And really… did it matter? Legal or not, these guys hacked my life and I needed its pathetic-ness back. It was all I had.

I started looking up all of the phone numbers of the credit cards I owned and picked up the phone. 

In a haze behind thoughts of who I should call, what my plan of attack should be and how I would ensure I wouldn’t lose what little savings I had, I heard Gary’s voice boom toward Benny, “Contestant B, it looks like A is getting a head start!” To which he responded, “Fuck you, Gary. I’m calling a lawyer.”

“Go ahead. We have plenty of copies of the disclosure agreement.”  

I dialed the phone, surprised by the numbers my fingers selected as they danced on the dial.
“Alduino, how can I help you?” a bored voice answered.

"Hey, Eric."
“Nick is that you?”
“Yeah, Eric, can’t tell you how glad I am that you said my name.”
“Nick, what’s wrong, are you OK?”
“Not really. Remember that ‘Facebook thing’?”
“Your game show, Prove It! Sure. Hey isn’t that today?” I was surprised to hear the excitement in my best friend's voice.
“Yeah well, I’m not sure I’m gonna win. You think I can stay at your place for a bit?”
“Nick, you know you’re always an honorary Alduino! I gave you the key for a damn reason.”
“Yeah, but I think I need you and the gang to help me get my whole life back... I kind of screwed up big time.”

"Nick. whatever you need. We've been wanting to help."

"Thanks, Eric."
“Shut up. I expect to see you when I get home.”
“Yeah alright, I’ll see you later, you maniac,” I hung up before I let my emotions get the better of me.
I closed the laptop in front of me and, smiling, stood up to leave.
“Contestant A, you look pretty pleased with yourself,” the spotlights turned on me, blinding me, “You’ve been pretty quick witted with our trivia, are you just as masterful with rebuilding your life?” His voice was booming and excited. I think he was really hoping I had done it. I smiled right at him when he continued, “Contestant A, are you ready to PROVE who you are?”
“Sorry, Gary, no need. I’m going someplace where I don’t have to,” I disconnected the mic on my shirt and stepped around the makeshift office and walked right out of the television studio.


  1. Fun story! I totally wished that there was more of the gameshow though! What a creative idea. So ultimately the hero "finds himself" through his friends? Is that what you were going for? It's Erica "sketcy" was my old sketching blog.

  2. That is what I was going for, in fact we don't even learn his name until his friend speaks it!

    When I told you I had a story sort of waiting for me to work on, it was just the snippet of the games show. I was torn as to whether or not I wanted to dive into the show, or the character. THIS time I picked the character, but PROVE IT is still bugging me, so, someday I am sure I will write more about the show!