DEAL OR NO DEAL (2005—present) is a game show in which contestants negotiate at a variable rate an undisclosed amount of money.
12/01/09 | Television

Deal or No Deal

by Marc Peacock Brush

He nudges me into the glass box and latches the door shut. Only the box must be acrylic or Plexiglas, something plastic. Up close, I see all of the fine scratches gouged in the walls by the fingernails of former contestants. When I angle myself against a back corner, the lights for Sam Fairchild’s mining rig bounce off the indoor dome and catch the box, bringing all of the scratches into bold relief. The rig is to my left, rising up on a sharp diagonal into the belly of the dome. There’s money all over the floor. I wiggle my feet back and forth until my sandals disappear and the money comes up over my ankles. At first, the shifting quality of light in the box, as the strobe lights for the mining rig arc across the dome and shine back at me in muted colors—orange and pink and violet, like a sunset—at first I can’t make out specifics about the money. It’s all just green confetti. Then my eyes adjust and I see George Washington staring back at me, his tiny portrait and serious smile repeated hundreds of times. I take off my glasses and wipe them clean on the hem of my T-shirt. I’m standing in a sea of one-dollar bills inside a clear plastic box and Randy, the announcer, is reading from a list of rules.

Lucy is right there, front and center with a small crowd of strangers gathering behind her. Maybe ten people—fifteen tops—all of them drawn by the peppy swing music and Randy in his tuxedo. She’s only five feet away but the lit-up plastic acts like a filter, blurring her features and adding distance. She waves at me and I wave back. Randy talks into his microphone. The box has a row of golf-ball-sized holes cut in a straight line around the entire perimeter, just above eye level. Ventilation, or the circulation necessary to keep the air current steady once Randy flips the switch. His voice is amplified and booming inside the box. When he says that the safety goggles are required, I turn around and find them hanging from a peg directly behind me. They fit easily over my glasses but the elastic band is tight enough to press my ears back. I’d like to do well for Lucy, to give her something to remember from this trip, something to take her mind off Danny for a little while. Something she could even put in her next letter overseas. Last night, she kept flipping through the channels for news stories about the war. I tried to sleep through it but those reporters, with their earnest voices and their proximity to gunfire, they kept me up long after the TV went quiet.

Randy says I’ve got thirty seconds. I can only grasp for the money. I’m not allowed to use my body to trap it against the walls. Nor can I stuff anything anywhere other than the slot, which is sized for an envelope or for discarding a bank receipt, not for wads of balled-up money. The light inside the box turns bright white and I look up to see a round of promos flash across the dome—WELCOM NCMS, SUPORT 422D SIGNAL BN, WELCOM ACL BOWLRS. Lucy draws my attention with some choppy arm swings and then directs my eyes up to the second-floor railing. She points at Cleo and my view is clear as my daughter leans over the brass banister and the guys next to her stare down her tank top. The mining rig puffs steam behind them, its pulleys and cranks spinning around and high up into the air. Lucy wants to know everything she can about Iraq. She says that the more she knows, the less she feels scared. For her, once the mystery of something goes away, the danger goes right along with it.

“Just fill out a card, folks. That simple. Become a Club Legacy member and you’ll get your very own Legacy Account and a chance for a round in the Greenback Gazebo plus lots of other great perks.” Randy says this over the soundtrack of looped swing music and a few of the women in the crowd turn away from me to nod at their husbands. Cleo is now talking to the boys around her, three or four of them in cowboy hats and denim shirts. The box is cool and dry, not very big at all. Randy turns up the volume and starts a loud countdown from ten, egging the crowd to join along. I see Lucy duck her hand inside her purse and leave it there, clutching at something, and I remember the news story about a firefight in Najaf.  How Lucy interrupted it to switch channels where a man in dusty khakis and a headset reported live from an infantry unit in Fallujah.

“That’s it!” Lucy shouted this, sitting up straight in her queen-size bed.

From my bed, I asked her, “What?”

“Fallujah. He must be near there. Remember his last letter?”

We set up a system once Danny knew he was heading into action whereby he would include unusual exclamations embedded within the text of his letters, each accompanied by several exclamation marks for emphasis, and these everyday words would rhyme somehow with his location. Danny told us that the military censors all correspondence for the benefit of the troops.  Lucy just couldn’t stand the notion of never knowing where her boy was, so she dreamed up a scheme whose only real setback seemed to be our ignorance of Iraqi geography. We could rarely match the rhyme to a city we’d heard of.  I took the top letter from the pile on the bedside table.

“I think you’ve got it,” I said and, reading now from the letter, “Says here, ‘We’ve been marching a lot in sand and the heat’s no worse than Sparks but Hallelujah!!! what I wouldn’t give for a sound night of sleep.’ ”

“Well at least we know he’s safe.”

I didn’t tell Lucy that knowing where Danny is, just knowing the name of it, doesn’t make him any safer. In fact, now that I’m in this box in front of all these strangers, my stomach starts to twist over thoughts of Danny trying to keep his cool with so many people there needing protection—himself, his unit, that damn Rambo reporter. It’s the reporter I see most clearly as Randy hits five and the voice of the crowd comes together for the rest of the count. When they say one, a great gust of air rises at my feet and I can only see money, a revolving column of green money filling the box, blocking out the light of the dome, the mining rig now hidden but still towering overhead, money circling me like a tornado.