Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oh, Do Tell!

I was once a night owl.

My work day ran from three until around eleven p.m., and thus I would come home and just be awake until four or five in the morning, then set my alarm for two in the afternoon to be up for work.

I fell into a lot of awful television habits during those late night hours. As you may know, the networks aren't exactly fighting to put compelling programming in the coveted midnight-to-sunrise block.

To my credit, I managed to almost completely avoid half-hour infomercials. To my debit, I spent several deplorable months watching The View every night when it inscrutably broadcast at 2:30 in the morning.  There was a small part of me that tried to justify this as research on women and the issues important to them.  I admit this was flimsy.

There was another random obsession that roughly coincided with my bizarre nightly appointment with the ladies of The View, and that was what I can only assume were syndicated reruns of The Montel Williams Show.  I imagine I could confabulate an excuse about wanting to research the black, or perhaps just bland, experience through a prism only this man could provide.  More likely, it was a nightly binary choice between Montel Williams and a thirty-minute ad for an abdominal crunch machine you can collapse and roll under your bed after use.

So, Montel, then.

There is nothing memorable about The Montel Williams Show.  With exactly one exception, I cannot recap the contents of a single episode of the hours and hours I wasted sitting in front of it.  It was Syndicated Talk Show Template X, in which we plug in Blando Calrissian and have him nod somberly as he moderates conversations about how this baby ain't yours, oh yes it is girl, oh no it ain't, or the monument to water-cooler talk that is You Won't Believe The Horrible Things, That Being Sex, That My Daughter Is Up To!

However, I did say "with exactly one exception" just now.  And that exception is the one moment from The Montel Williams Show that has stuck with me for now nearly a decade, as I've wondered off and on whether I was being subjected to an elaborate, incredibly straight-faced prank, or if Montel Williams' parents were diabolical geniuses of baby-naming.

I doubt I would think back on this moment so often were it not for Montel Williams' current job shilling for some payday loan company; at seemingly every commercial break on Comedy Central lately, he pops up and barks gruffly at the viewer, "BOUNCED ANY CHECKS LATELY?"

Hey, fuck off, man.  I'm just trying to watch The Daily Show, I don't need you making insinuations about my personal finances.

Between this and the previous commercial for the same company, in which Montel introduces himself upfront as if he's either hoping none of his friends or family will recognize him or simply wishes his name had fewer syllables in it ("I'm Mntl Wmms..."), the man has been inescapable for me these past few months.

And so my mind wanders back to the bizarre night I was introduced to Dootel Williams.

See, on this one episode of The Montel Williams Show, Montel was discussing twins and the bonds they share, both biologically and emotionally and even beyond what science can explain.  You can imagine how in-depth and probing such an examination was in the hands of genome expert Montel Williams.

And Montel declared that he had some experience on the subject, before introducing his twin brother, Dootel.  At this point a second bald black man with a slender build and a neatly trimmed goatee entered stage and sat down with the first, and the two proceeded to have a discussion that, I swear to you, I could not verify as genuine nor debunk as trickery.  Was this some sort of split-screen tomfoolery involving two Montels?  Was this a gag being played so straight-faced that they never let on, elevating this particular episode of The Montel Williams Show to some sort of Andy Kaufman level performance art?  Or did Ms. Williams birth two boys and seriously decide to name them Montel and Dootel?  What if she'd had triplets, or stuck with the naming convention for any future children?  It would quickly sound like a family of futuristic Gillette shavers lived together, or at least an awesome X-Men villain or two.  Wouldn't you have to surreptitiously slip fertility drugs into the family food supply, just to preserve the chance of walking into an Office Depot some day and getting printer cartridge assistance from Duodecatel Williams?

For once in my life, The Montel Williams Show had my undivided attention.  I watched until the last frame for a reveal of some kind, and then sat in bewilderment as some other program began and I realized that the truth would remain elusive.  There was no "JUST KIDDING, EVERYBODY! DRIVE SAFELY AND DON'T BOUNCE ANY CHECKS ON YOUR WAY HOME! GOOD NIGHT!"  There was no obvious special-effects breach where Montel's and Dootel's conversation didn't quite match up right.  There was no moment where the two men were touching, or overlapping in the depth of frame afforded by the camera.

I went to bed that night/morning distinctly thinking that Montel Williams had done this for no other reason than that he realized he could, and the implications therein were chilling.  I wouldn't have been the slightest bit surprised in the days that followed to hear that a man fitting Montel Williams' description had just gone on a crime spree, with Montel Williams publicly stating that it wasn't him and that he had recent footage to prove that there was a second viable culprit. No one on Earth had more reason to be fearful of death in those first few weeks than someone who'd ever wronged Montel Williams.  His agent likely slept with a gun under his pillow, if he slept at all.

Now, once Montel Williams and his blunt overdraft avoidance tips began shouting at me anew this year, I realized I could take to Google and solve the Dootel Williams mystery once and for all, in mere moments.  And yet I found I didn't want to.  I wasn't sure I wanted to live in a world where there was literally no chance of my passing Montel Williams on the street, then doing so again five seconds later and thinking there was a glitch in The Matrix.  Part of me delighted at the thought of Montel and Dootel pulling Parent Trap shenanigans together, or standing facing each other and each pretending to look in a mirror while they mimed combing hair neither of them has.  Are you telling me you want to go on living in a world where this exchange...

Montel: "This baby ain't yours!"
Dootel: "Oh, yes it is, girl!"
Montel: "Oh no, it ain't!"

...can never happen!?

Show me someone who says this wouldn't be awesome, and I'll show you a goddamned liar.
Sadly, I succumbed to curiosity this week and finally looked it up.  Perhaps predictably, there is no Dootel Williams.  Montel does have a brother, named Herman, of whom no public photos exist to distinguish him from Montel.  None of my guesses for how to spell Dootel return anything; it seems to think I either want to look up hotels or find out whether dead men do, in fact, tell tales. And Google returns exactly one seemingly worthwhile result for "montel williams twin brother," though it's a dead link that once read "Does Montel Williams Have A Twin?" with text beneath it which begins, "Yes! He is an identical twin, and his brother has appeared on the program," which is less corroborative and more indicative that I wasn't the only one fooled that day.

Beyond the potential that Dootel murdered Montel and assumed his identity, then scrubbed any traces of his original life from the public record (pleaseletitbetruepleaseletitbetrue), it appears that the existence of Dootel Williams was a hoax that I just desperately wanted to believe for all of these years.  It was a deflating feeling on par with the discovery that the most famous photo ever taken of The Loch Ness Monster was a fake.  I almost want to willfully ignore that I know it, and just go on living in the fantasy.
The original, uncropped photo appears to show Montel Williams on a SeaDoo, but further investigation revealed it simply to be Sally Jesse Raphael.

You know where nothing remotely this interesting ever happened, ever, ever, ever?  That's right: on The View.
Moreover, audience members yelling "break out your twins!" during tapings of The View rarely got the desired reaction.

~24 April 2012

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