Tim “Bing’ Bingham loved his fans. Their adulation sustained him; their adoration fed him; their admiration made him feel good. When he was around his fans—appreciative talk show audiences, bleacher bums outside the Golden Globes and the Emmys; hell—even people in malls who recognized him going into Forever 21 to pick up a gift card for his latest girlfriend—it was all good.
The problems started when there weren’t fans around to stoke the engine of his ego. That’s how he’d ended up at the Food is Love Mission on Christmas, serving mashed potatoes from a chafing dish to poor people.
Not that poor people couldn’t be fans, of course.
So Bing served up the potatoes with a big smile and a hearty “How ya doing buddy?” which was the catch phrase he’d coined during the 12-year run of his sitcom The Bingham Show.
He’d never won an Emmy for the show—thank you Kelsey Grammer—but America loved him and his character, “Bing Kephart,” a lovable dad with a smart-ass wife and three adorable kids.
A lot of people dismissed the show as mindless fluff but The Bingham Show had outlasted Everybody Loves Raymond and their last year, at his insistence, the show’s writers had begun adding a little edge to their stories.
Bing was particularly proud of the episode in which his oldest son broke the news that he was transgender. The revelation turned out to be part of an elaborate practical joke he and the wife were playing on Bing Kephart, but Bing was proud that the episode provided an opportunity for open dialogue on the topic of he-shes.
Not that he’d gotten any props from GLAAD over the show. In fact, they’d blasted his “transphobia” and labeled him “criminally clueless.”
He’d gotten a chuckle out of that. Half the porn he downloaded was chicks with dicks.
“Here ya go,” Bing said to a middle-aged guy wearing what looked like a custom-made suit. “How ya doing buddy?” he added as he dropped a ladle full of potatoes on his plate.
“I’m good Bing,” the guy said. “Thanks.”
Now that’s just pathetic, Bing thought. He could understand how middle class losers ended up in food lines. Most of them had been living beyond their means, buying houses when they should be living in apartments, having more than one kid, splashing out for private school, driving expensive cars instead of taking the bus or the subway.
But a guy who could afford a custom-made suit? He must have run into some colossal bad luck to end up here, lining up for a free Christmas meal dressed like he was still a productive member of society and not just another leech.
Some people just don’t know how to handle money, he thought smugly, glad that his money was in the capable hands of half a dozen managers.
“Here you go pal,” Bing said as another person stopped in front of him, plate held out like Oliver Twist asking for “more gruel please.”
Bing had played Fagin off-Broadway and the performance had been well-received. Too bad the production had closed after only two performances. But what did Milwaukee know about theater?
There was a lull in the line and Bing put his ladle down and cracked his back. The girl standing next to him, the one doling out gravy, grimaced at the sound and turned away from him slightly.
Probably a carpet-muncher, Bing decided.
Too bad. She had one of those heart-shaped asses Bing loved. He couldn’t remember what her name was but knew she was the star of some show on Fox. It wasn’t like being on a real network—The Bingham Show had run 12 seasons on CBS—but she was young, she had to start somewhere.
Bing had started out playing “troubled youth” on television. He’d been on so many of the same casting calls as Kristoffer Tabori and Kurt Russell that it began to feel like they were all in the same fraternity. Once, he went out to dinner with Tabori and his mother. God, Viveca Lindfors had been a looker. He’d done a TV movie with her back in the early 80s and even then, she’d been sexy as hell.
Bing’s career had started taking off in the late 80s. He’d been nominated for an Oscar® for his first movie, playing the title role in a bio-pic about an obscure English author with daddy issues.
He’d followed it up with a space opera everyone hoped would rival Star Wars but didn’t. (He did get a lot of pussy at the conventions though, fan girls who wanted to sleep with the rascally Capt. Harker Bowe.)
He still had his name above the title when his agent started pitching television to him. The move made sense and the money was good, so Bing said “yes” and had never looked back.
His first series had been a drama, a cop show where he was the eternally rebellious but always right detective who solved cases with the help of a colorful crew of “street people.” The show had been cancelled after half a season, the kid playing the street musician who was also a genius hacker ended up a sidekick in a Johnny Depp movie, and Bing had moved on to co-create his signature show, re-inventing himself as a lovably gruff comic in much the same way that Edward Asner had in the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
America had loved him.
And they would still have been loving him if the network hadn’t cancelled his show because they felt it skewed “too old.”
It had been three years since Bing had had a steady gig and he was getting bored.
Money wasn’t a problem. He’d written a book, a self-deprecating comic bio that had been ghosted by a hungry young writer who’d signed a draconian non-disclosure agreement.
He was in great demand as a speaker, and could pull down a hundred grand easy just for showing up at some benefit or event in the Midwest. (They loved him in Duluth—and he had a long-standing gig there every New Year’s Eve.)
Money wasn’t the problem—The Bingham Show would be in syndication until the end of the century—but self-esteem was.
Without the constant feedback of the weekly ratings, Bing felt diminished. And he medicated those feelings of inadequacy with copious amounts of sour mash whiskey.
A Thanksgiving binge had led to an unfortunate incident in the changing room at a Forever 21 store in Sherman Oaks on Black Friday.
The police had been called.
The incident had leaked.
Thanksgiving weekend had been slow, news-wise.
What was really only a misunderstanding had been splashed across CNN and TMZ like the death of a dictator.
He’d been arrested and hauled into court.
The Judge had been disgusted but no one had actually been hurt—it wasn’t like he’d gotten behind the wheel of his Porsche and plowed into a retirement home or something—so he got a zillion hours of community service.
And so here I am, Bing thought sourly.
Merry fucking Christmas.
“How ya doing buddy?” he asked the next guy who came through the line.
“How do you think I’m doing?” the guy asked belligerently. “Am I supposed to feel better about being unemployed because a has-been actor with a drinking problem is serving up my mashed potatoes?”
The girl standing next to Bing couldn’t quite hide a smirk.
Bing plopped the potatoes on the guy’s plate, imagining the white mound was actually a heaping, steaming pile of dog shit.
“God bless you,” Bing said piously, conscious of everyone listening.
“Fuck off,” said the guy, who had never liked The Bingham Show even when he had a television and an apartment to put it in.