This is an ongoing fiction column about celebrity culture by Patrick Lenton. This month’s short story is entitled JIM KARDASHIAN.
Before 2017 you probably wouldn’t have seen Jim, and if you had, he was lurking to the side of the screen, a flash of large shorts and panicked eyes that you’d probably have ignored. Perhaps you thought he was some kind of tradesman, hired to polish the diamonds in the chandelier of the Kardashian mansion, caught on accident by the camera as it panned by Khloe’s perfectly contoured face. But you’d have been wrong, but it wouldn’t have mattered, because there was drama happening in the foyer, and Jim’s gentle face would have disappeared from your brain forever.
It’s thought that the Jim Kardashian scoop was originally broken by some unknown entertainment writer on the weekend shift, completely by random dumb chance. We can only hope she was promoted to a minimum-wage weekday job as a reward. The story is that while she trawled through the latest news about Kim and Kanye, about Kim’s new perfume line, about Kim’s new surrogate child, about Kim’s Twitter-breaking views on trans service people in the military and also fake-eyelashes, this tired, probably hungover writer kept misspelling Kim as “Jim”. The more she did it, the more it became automatic, until finally when she was searching Getty Images for a free photo of the world’s most famous woman to use with her article, she accidentally typed in ‘Jim Kardashian’ and was rewarded with a photo of a random man. He stood awkwardly with a little girl, arm hovering over her shoulders, shying away from the flash of the camera, incongruently holding a bundle of radishes by the stems. This writer almost clicked away, not really being paid enough to linger on random stock images of vegetable-holding men, until she noticed that the little girl was familiar. She smooshed her face closer to her laptop, and mentally added a cascade of blood diamonds, a famous butt and a face of perfect makeup and she realised that she was looking at a photo of Kim Kardashian as a tiny child. And that’s when she realised that there was a Kardashian that nobody knew about – amongst the rogue’s gallery of celebrities, businesswomen, influencers and Rob, there was a dark horse, an unexplored relative who had escaped from the medias beady eyes. That’s the start of how Jim Kardashian blew up. When the New York Times ran a profile piece based off the article called ‘WHO IS JIM KARDASHIAN?’, that’s when everything changed.
Jim Kardashian was a science teacher at a small high school in a town outside of LA. He was one of those rare teachers who managed to skate along the delicate line of teenage indifference – neither hated enough by his students to make his classes and life hell, but neither attempting the risky proposition of trying to charm his troglydean wards. He managed to teach a successful course of chemistry, astronomy and physics for over twenty-five years without his students ever really feeling much about him at all. They called him ‘Mr K’ and forgot about him upon graduating. If he’d thought too much about it, he’d have counted it a victory – but he didn’t, because he’s just that kind of guy. All he wanted to do was teach the kids what a supernova was, and why the moon landing was America’s greatest achievement, and maybe the reason why the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
When he walked through the dank highschool hallways that reeked of bodyspray and teen pregnancy, he would nod his moustached face at his students and say ‘Mr Knowles, how are things?’ and ‘I trust you’re well, Ms Hapsberg,’ and he never got a name wrong. When he entered the staff room, he never failed to acknowledge if it was hump day or not.’ He lived alone in a nice house, but he didn’t live a lonely life, because he was one of those clubs and societies people. He volunteered, he organised, he was the unassuming backbone of half a dozen classic movie nights and scrabble championships and pot-luck circuits. He founded the Stargazers, an amateur telescope and astronomy club, which people called the ‘Stars on 69’ and he didn’t get the reference. He was nobody’s best friend, but the people who saw him a couple of nights per week never ever got sick of him, and isn’t that perhaps more special? He had a low delighted chuckle which he threw around indiscriminately, and a fondness for tuna. He owned a little dog named Sasha who slept in the crook of his arm when he watched game shows on the TV, her tiny mouth snoring rhythmically.
Nobody in the town of Portaluma thought it strange when every couple of months, and for most holidays, he’d go and visit his family in LA. The few times people politely asked about them, he’d chuckle and say that they worked in TV, and everyone would nod their heads, because that was LA. They assumed everyone in LA worked in TV. So, every Thanksgiving or Christmas, and for some birthdays for the older members of the family, he’d hop into his old trundling beat-up old car, pop on some smooth jazz and drive to the Kardashian family get together, where he spent a lot of time eating slices of ham, drinking root beer out the back near the pool, and giving $25 JB Hi-Fi vouchers to billionaires. There’s a good chance he would have continued doing that until he was buried in a medium-priced grave, but he was not that lucky.
Jim was horrified by the media attention that followed the NYT piece, appalled by the paparazzi and reporters who flocked outside the gates of his school, who peeked into the windows of his house and sent Sasha into affronted paroxysms of barking. His students, once so content to snooze through his gentle lessons, now hooted and hollered when he walked in, and followed him around the school endlessly snapchatting him, frenzied for Jim K content for their Instagram and other youth-based social media.
‘Now see here,’ he muttered, spilling a beaker full of magnesium strips all over the floor, shaken by the wall of iPhones he was faced with at every turn.
He refused all interview requests, even when the opportunity for exclusives started coming with serious cash moneys. Eventually he was forced to take leave from school and hole up in his home, becoming a frenzied eye that would occasionally peep out from his blinds at the ever-expanding ring of reporters and TV network vans around his house, like a siege.
It’s easy to be cynical about the motives behind the events that led to Jim K being rescued by a literal motorcade of Hummers, when several Kardashian bodyguards pulled up in gleaming black cars in Portaluma, kicked down the door of Jim’s house, threw a blanket over his head and ensconced him safely behind tinted glasses windows. A lot of people assume that the inner Kardashian council (everyone in the family who was independently worth a billion dollars, which basically meant everyone other than Rob) decided that Jim was an embarrassment to their good name, and that they were in damage control. The NYT had put forward the theory that Jim wasn’t just a forgotten, minor branch of the star-filled family, but had actually been trampled by the rest of the Kardashians on their relentless climb to the top, exiled and silenced and forced to live in drudgery. An embarrassment to them. However, as proposed in an interesting counter- article in Slate, for all their faults, the Kardashian clan was motivated by family, and they looked out for their family. Perhaps they understood only too well how razor-sharp the underside of fame could be, and truly wanted to help their hapless uncle.
‘Aww geez,’ he yelled, as they pulled him out of the house. ‘I’m only wearing a bathrobe.’
Perhaps if they’d hidden Jim away, like a snitch on witness protection, the world would have forgotten about him, but for whatever reason, one morning a bashful man in a slightly faded Hawaiian shirt stumbled on to the stage of Ellen, and asked the world to leave him alone. You can see the logic – Ellen was never going to be mean to him, and the mischievous fun poking she sent towards him and his famous family only made him more relatable. Jim would be able to stumble through a bashful couple of sentences, do a little dance at the end, and this weird portion of his life could be folded away. Except that Jim, surprisingly, dorkily, charmed both Ellen and the world.
‘Well, Ms DeGeneres,’ he said ponderously, trying to answer her question about how he’d dealt with his sudden fame, hands folded against his corduroy pants, ‘It’s like my grandfather used to say, life is sometimes like a blind cat in a room full of sleepy dogs – you never know which one is gonna be your friend.’
Ellen blinked, swivelling her famously lanky torso to the camera, and expression of delight on her face.
‘That’s quite a saying,’ she chuckled. ‘Did your grandfather teach you how to have such a relentlessly upbeat attitude?
‘Oh no, Ellen,’ chuckled Jim, spilling some water on his plaid shirt. ‘He was a miser who died screaming in agony as a cider-press collapsed on his spine, hated by his many ex-wives, feared by his surviving children. But I guess, as he used to say, “God’s a lie and I’ll never die”, which shows us that we shouldn’t really take any notice of sayings…’
After Ellen, Jim K became more than simply a useful figurehead to dump on the Kardashians – his mixture of confusing homegrown wisdom and unconventional every-man charisma made him beloved of both fans of the famous family and their detractors. He seemed to be able to do no wrong, and with the sharkish instincts for promo and spin that had gotten them to where they were today, the Kardashian’s capitalised on the dark-horse of their family. Soon he was doing the rounds, all the late-night talk shows, all the breakfast TV, a household name in under a month. He let Jimmy Fallon pat his round belly, and sang an Elton John and Kiki Dee duet with Conan. Jim K became a benevolent meme on the internet, representing the rare unicorn of something truly delightful and unproblematic, a balm for these troubled times. He was beloved, and even the rumours of his feud with Jennifer Lawrence, after a disastrous dinner party at Kris Jenner’s place turned drunk and sour, did little to reduce the benevolent goodwill coming towards him. The world was sick of Jennifer Lawrence, and were ready to replace her with Jim, if he let them.
One night, as Jim lay his soft skull against the pillow, whale sounds blaring from his phone, he was startled by the sound of the door to his room opening.
‘Jim? It is I, Kris Jenner, come with me.’
It was indeed Kris Jenner, and she was holding a binder of files and striding through the plush carpet on tall white heels that matched her tightly coutured power-suit.
‘Oh golly,’ muttered Jim, gathering the sheets around him. He tended to Winny the Pooh when sleeping, and wore a big nightshirt but no pants.
‘Sleeping, Jim? We must do business.’
‘But it’s eight thirty pm…’ protested Jim, but he subsided at the lack of expression on his powerful relative’s face.
‘Just let me pants?’ he pleaded, and Kris pivoted sharply and waited outside the door.
There was an entire conference room that Jim had never seen, and all the scions of the family sat in attendance, even ones who refused to talk to each other, even ex wives and ex husbands and disgraced former lovers. A cutting edge digital whiteboard was currently exhibiting a graph which simply said ‘all the world’s emeralds’, and which displayed an impressively full line. Kris put Jim down the end of the table, next to Rob, who was eating macaroni and cheese and sorting through a bunch of Beyblades.
‘Let’s put a pin in this and move to the next issue,’ snapped Kris, cutting off Kanye in mid sentence, who threw his hands into the air, but sat down regardless.
‘What are we doing here, son?’ Jim whispered to Rob, who had just spilled a large amount of green cordial onto his polo shirt.
‘Oh, dang – is this your first Kardashian Konference, Uncle Jim? Oh man. Here’s the rules – you’re not allowed to speak, and you’re not allowed to touch the fancy fake eggs in the corner.’
Jim nodded gratefully, but focused on the tip of the conference table when Kris snapped her bony fingers at him.
‘Jim, welcome to the family.’
‘Well, technically I’ve been in the family longer than you, I mean I am older and my father was the first born and…’
‘Welcome to the family, Jim’ drawled Kim Kardashian, looking up from her phone. Everyone applauded, and Jim blushed.
‘Shucks folks, thanks, that means a lot…’
‘I’m going to stop you there, because we have a lot to get through. Jim – we want to look after you, and in this family, that means helping you fulfil your potential and dreams.’ Kris attempted a smile, and asked ‘What are your dreams, Jim?’
‘Uh, I guess, to live a good life and be surrounded by my friends and my wonderful family,’ he said confidently.
There was a pause, and the table began to laugh, and then cackle. Rob dribbled everywhere he was guffawing so much.
‘No,’ stated Kris, after Kloe had finally reapplied everyone’s sharp eye wings that had run due to everyone weeping wit laughter.
‘No, we’re going to get you to launch a line of shoes actually. We’re going to help you… reach for the stars.’
Jim nodded cautiously, while Rob slapped him on the back encouragingly.
‘And that’s just in the next month – you’re going to be extremely rich and famous, Jim.’
After finding his old Volvo, covered by a cashmere blanket in the garage, Jim K grabbed Sasha, stole out of the mansion in the early hours of the morning and drove back to Portaluma, staying 10 ks about the speed limit the entire time. He was meant to be doing something called a live-stream unboxing of the new iPhone at the Apple headquarters, but he didn’t want to do it. He wanted to teach science and take Sasha for a walk without bodyguards surrounding her while she pooped. He wanted Owen Wilson to stop calling him and asking for ‘hangs’. He needed Jennifer Lawrence to cease and desist from sending him voodoo dolls in roughly his own image, full of knives and burnt with acid. At night when he set up his telescope to watch a rare comet fly by the earth, he couldn’t see anything, unable to pierce the layer of thick LA smoke and the bright lights of Hollywood to even see the night sky. These days, the only stars he saw was Channing Tatum, who seemed to be living on the couch downstairs. So that night, he knocked on the door of his neighbour’s house, his famous meatloaf steaming in his hands, excited to re-join the pot-luck evening that he’d been attending weekly for almost fifteen years. Barbara answered the door, utterly a strangled squeak.
‘Oh, Jim!’ she said, hand on her heart.
‘Well, hi Barbara,’ Jim chuckled, coming in for an awkward hug.
‘I’m wearing a cardigan’ Barbara said, wide eyed.
‘Oh, it’s nice,’ answered Jim.
‘No it’s not’ she said, still smiling widely. ‘Hugo! Jim is here.’
Hugo’s voice came back from the kitchen, where he was probably burning tater tots.
‘JIM, you know, Jim. Jim. Jim!’
‘Oh… Jim?’ asked Hugo loudly.
‘Yes, Jim! Isn’t that… wonderful.’
Jim quickly discovered that it was not, as Barbara kept saying, wonderful. It took him a while to work out what was happening – everyone’s eyes were wide, and focused on him. He was used to sitting in the corner and having a quiet chat about telescope specs with a nice older man named Bill, but Bill kept awkwardly pretending to need more dip for his dorito. There was plenty of dip already. The conversation didn’t flow, but rather came in quick bursts, as if people would suddenly think of something to fill in the silence, and blurt it out all at once.
‘There are new flowers at the community hall!’ shouted Cynthia suddenly, and then covering up her mouth in embarrassment.
‘Oh yes,’ confirmed Hugo, brows furrowing with concentration. ‘I believe that they are hydrangeas and… daffodils,’ he said to Jim.
‘Jim doesn’t want to hear about flowers!’ censured Barbara, flapping her hands at her husband.
‘Sorry, I was just talking, Barbara!’ sulked Hugo, crossing his arms and slumping back in his armchair.
‘No, I actually do want to hear about flowers’ Jim said softly.
‘So… what does Kim smell like?’ asked Barbara, her voice quivering. Jim sighed.
Jim and Sasha spent a miserable week in Portaluma, trying to reintegrate themselves back into the sedentary flow of small-town social life. He understood about his Halfling cleric being written out of the DnD game, and he respected the fact that his amateur choir had replaced him with another baritone, but his homecoming was not exactly as he’d expected.
‘I’m sorry Jim, you’re a fine teacher and normally I’d be happy to offer you a job again but – well – certain members of the school board feel like you’d be endorsing certain… values that don’t mesh with our community.’
‘Values? I’m a good Christian man as this town knows, I’m the treasurer at St Bartholemews, I’m…’
‘I understand, Jim, and I sympathise’ interrupted Principal Seymour, pulling out a newspaper. ‘But when there’s headlines like this, you can see why the parents are… concerned.’
The front page of The Washington Post showed a photo of Jim examining a large eggplant at a market stall, taken years ago. The heading read: ‘Jim Kardashian Destroyed My Butt Hole Forever: Former Congressman Speaks Out”.
Jim was flabbergasted by this, but he was only truly hurt when he trekked up the hill to the observatory for the monthly meeting of the Portaluma Stargazers, only to find the place dark and abandoned. No telescopes, no hushed exhortations to come look at a particularly thrilling comet, no star maps and moon photos, no bubbling fondue. Jim sat on the damp grass and looked at the dark sky and slowly, as with everything he did, made a decision. By the morning, he’d left Portaluma, and never again returned.
At the next Kardashian Konference, Jim tried to stride into the room confidently, but managed to drop the bowl of plums that he’d brought for the family. Rob went chasing after them, but the rest of the room mostly ignored him.
‘Sit down, Kanye, I have something to say’ Jim announced, awkwardly holding the empty plum bowl. Kanye swore and took his seat, muttering under his breath.
‘Folks, I’ve decided what I want to do.’
‘Arms manufacturing?’ asked Kim.
‘Some kind of sweater-vest emporium?’ asked Kloe.
‘Waste our precious time?’ answered Kris, archly, tapping her strong nails against the marble table.
‘No’ said Jim, taking a deep breath. ‘I’m ready to be a star.’
Two years later, the highest grossing TV show in the world was called ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians: In Space!” and it was beamed down to earth from Elon Musk’s colony on Mars. The world was fascinated by the daily lives of the astronauts, as they worked through setting up a settlement on the harsh red planet, as they celebrated growing tomatoes on a world with no oxygen, as they consigned themselves to die lightyears away from their home world. But the settlement also spent a lot of time cooped up in a vacuum-proof space station, thirty scientists and engineers and technicians walking the line between high interstellar stress and immense boredom. It could have been awful, a pressure-cooker ready to erupt and send people into a murderous Martian rampage, but it wasn’t, because of Jim Kardashian.
‘Hello earthlings!’ Jim started every episode, the camera following his smiling moustached face as he bounced off the walls into the rec room of the space station. ‘It’s a beautiful night on Mars, and we’ve got a special treat – I’ve organised a talent show, and I’ve seen some of the rehearsals and folks… they’ve got a lot of heart.’
The Martian colonists were treated to the full range of recreational activities that Jim K could think of, with clubs and teams and interest groups, karaoke, dancing, calligraphy and the interpretation of rare religious texts. It was all the comfort and routine and bonhomie as Portaluma, but also he was a TV host, who spoke every day to millions of people. And, he had to admit, that he loved it.
‘Friends, I already know who the winner of the talent concert is, so spoilers – it’s everyone, because as my aunt used to say, the only true talent worth a damn is trying your best.’
Jim K paused, and looked into the camera.
‘Well, I modified that a little – the full quote is ‘The only true talent worth a damn is trying your best at escaping from the alligators that live at the bottom of the yard, but you get me.’ He chuckled joyfully, and then caught sight of some party hats, bouncing over to them like a joyful balloon. At the end of every episode, he’d sit at the viewing deck, which looked over the earth surrounded in a twinkling mess of stars and deep blue space, and Jim K would smile and wink and say,
‘Reach for the stars, kids.’
Patrick Lenton is an author and writer. He is the staff writer for Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.