The Armageddon News

 

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When the end of the world started today, everyone in the newsroom was shocked. We’d covered big stories before—that whole World Trade Center thing, Frank Sinatra’s death—but never anything like this. There was panic at first, but after realizing our duties to the network and its clients, NewsFive rose to the occasion, delivering a flawless broadcast, showing all of New York why we’re the top-rated news program in the Tri-State area.

As news director, all I wanted was to depict the grave situation as best as I could, with accuracy, brevity and clarity. I wanted to do it for myself, to uphold my own journalistic standards, but more importantly, we owed it to our advertisers: Burger King, Chrysler, Blimpie, they drop serious cash—a hundred and fifty grand for thirty seconds—and if we don’t get the viewers, what’re we here for?

And we did it. Dan Delaney, Sunny Greenfield, Dirk Malibu, Chip Simpletown—the entire on-air staff delivered, exhibiting the class and showmanship of the season media professionals they are. I tip my hat to them, to the whole department: the writers, producers, videotape editors—even the interns.

Hopefully, the eleven o’clock broadcast will go just as smoothly. If it does, I can meet my maker with a smile, knowing I’ve executed my job to the zenith of my abilities.

 

There was nothing unusual about Thursday, June 9th, 2003, certainly nothing to make you think it’d be the last day of planet Earth. I awoke at seven, had a bowl of Mini-Wheats, and cabbed down to Rockefeller Center, where the WNBC-TV newsroom is located on the third floor.

No sooner did I step from the elevator when I saw Sheila McNight, my assignment editor, and her red praying mantis eyeglasses. As usual, she’d camped in the lobby, waiting for me. “Doug,” she said, dropping Broadcast Media and rocketing off the beige lounger, “radar’s picking up some wild shit.”

“Morning Sheila.” She thudded after me as I made for the kitchen.

“The barometer’s going crazy. Comstar’s found strange cloud-patterns in the stratosphere.”

“Send Johnny up in the chopper.”

“What for?”

“I don’t know, we got the thing, let’s use it. Get some cloud shots.”

I got a coffee and holed up in my office, where I set my police scanner on HyperSearch and checked the wire reports. The red voice-mail button on my phone blinked like a tiny frantic eye and a stack of “While You Were Outs” sat paper-clipped on my desk. I sighed. A typical day—I hadn’t been in two minutes, and already I was swamped.

The morning passed. I screened audition tapes, talked with Fred Silverstein, our GM about Sunny (at 32 he thinks she’s “over the hill”), read press releases, and made a crude list of the stories so far. Besides another jogger raped in Central Park and a three-alarm fire at an ice cream parlor in Park Slope, the only good thing I had was the “crazy barometer” piece. I decided to see if Meteorology knew what it was.

I hit the newsroom, and couldn’t believe my eyes. Not a single person was at their desk. Walking the cubicles, I found steaming coffee cups, pushed-back chairs, and on Laura Mastrianni’s desk, a recently toasted, bialy whose pad of butter was still melting. I kept walking, but not until rounding a corner did I find them. Huddled three-deep, murmuring in hushed tones, the NewsFive staff stood by the windows, gazing outside.

Inky black murk filled the canyon of Forty-Ninth street, and herds of people fled down the sidewalk, darting between graffiti-carved delivery trucks and blaring cabs. Debris sailed in spinning circles. The wind threw light drizzle through the orange halos of streetlights and the windows in the building across the street glared a fluorescent white as the sun dimmed further. I saw shadows of office workers, men in ties, women cradling coffee mugs, all staring confusedly into the gloom.

I check my watch—11:32. Something major was happening, a freak midday thunderstorm, or—this got me really excited—a surprise eclipse. Either way it was damn good copy.

Right then someone tugged my arm. “I’ve got Johnny on the two-way,” Sheila said.

I followed her into AV, and watched as she fiddled knobs and dials. “Johnny, come in, over,” she said, between gusts of static. I heard garbled cries, broken-off words, but nothing intelligible.

“I just had him,’ Sheila said, slapping away the noise. “Johnny, what’s it like up there? Johnny come in.”

We tried and tried, but it was no use—nothing but static. “What did he say?” I said.

Sheila’s response was drowned out by a smash of thunder so loud it seemed to explode in my skull. It sounded like a giant whip cracking, snapped every cell wide awake, and sprawled me off my chair.

“Holy SHIT!” I yelled, scrambling to my feet. Sheila and I ran to the windows, elbowed forward, and what we saw simply defied belief.

I thought it was paint the Greek guys on the scaffolding had spilled, but as I watched heavy drops of it streak the windows and slice down the glass, my heart slammed into my gut when I realize what it was.

Blood.

 

Perhaps my ignorance of Biblical studies explains why I remained calm. Of course, back then, I still believed in a scientific explanation, that the pulpy red downpour was a freak of nature, like the reports of it raining frogs I’d read as a kid in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. But as the windows ran with a wine-dark crimson, and the secretaries shrieked about angels and the “the seventh seal,” I realized what was happening was preternatural, if not divine.

Like most people, I’d never really thought about Armageddon. It was a topic reserved for evangelists or hardcore Jesus freaks. In a sophomore theology class at Syracuse I read The Book of Revelations, but I didn’t understand it, not without Cliff Notes. It was an outlandish concept, but given the state of the world in the twenty-first century, it didn’t surprise me.

See, my fourteen years in the newsroom had bred a callousness, a detachment from the severity of the events we covered. War, assassinations, plane crashes, mass murders, ethnic cleansing, AIDS, babies left to rot in the trash, the music of Mariah Carey, I viewed it all stoically, objectively, no matter how sickening or depraved, it didn’t affect me. It was all par for the course. Armageddon was no different.

And besides, I thought, strangely resigned, with all the misery in the world, why shouldn’t it end? It would sure spare a lot of people from suffering. I was sad, because I wanted to live—I had an eighteen hundred square foot loft, a new bitch-magnet Jag—but deep down Armageddon didn’t seem that impossible. In the news business you get jaded. After awhile nothing shocks you.

Of course, my coworkers took it harder, but once I made them realize their obligation to the city of New York—I decided to play that hand, that old “civic responsibility” angle—they quit panicking and got to work.

“People!” I screamed, as high heels and wingtips stampeded for the elevator, “Settle down! Now!”

A few faces turned, but most kept clamoring. I was jostled and spun, but thinking quickly, I grabbed a metal garbage can and hopped onto the reception desk. I gonged the can with an umbrella until I had their attention.

“Hey, remain calm! Quiet down!”

Davis, a newswriter, craned back. “Remain calm?” he yelled, his thin face pretzeled with fear, “It’s raining blood for Christ sakes!”

With a shout the fracas started again, and the elevator beeped and banged as the scrum of bodies swamped its interior.

“Yes!” I screamed, “You’re right. It’s raining blood. But people . . . do we have to act like idiotic children? Like fools? Remember. We have an obligation—we’re a news department.”

The crowd quieted some.

“This rain, blood, whatever it is, it’s just news. Big news—bigger than Okalahoma City, Bosnia, even O.J! Think of the stories, the dramas—Davis, why think of the copy you could write!”

Davis’ face relaxed, and he fingered his chin, considering my words.

Richie nodded. A few other stirred, buoyed by the emotion in my voice. I decided to go for the jugular:

“The people have a right to know. We owe it to them. All of New York’s counting on you, and you’re leaving? To got out there?” I pointed to the windows. “Ha. Well, go ahead. But I’m staying right here, and if I have to go on myself and read the goddamn news, then by God, I’ll do it.”

Blood drummed against the panes; thick oily curtains of red streamed down the glass and bubbled over the sill. It felt like we were in a submarine, forty fathoms deep in a corpuscle sea. They looked at me. I looked at them. No one knew what to say.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have copy to write,” I said, leaping off the desk.

I strolled to the kitchen and brewed a pot of Maxwell House—a two bagger. I’d need all the alertness I could get.

Well, my impromptu speech got them pretty riled, and the newsroom sprang into action: phones ringing, keyboards clacking, modems chirping static—the manic flux of a department operating at peak capacity. Obviously, I’d touched a communal nerve, made them see that in a time as grave as this, there was only one thing to do—our jobs.

Richie and the field crews hit the streets, searching for stories, footage, anything to define the unbelievable situation. Reporters Frank Dabney, Suzy Ho, Yolanda Rollins, and Abe Glickman followed behind. Davis and the writers got the AP UPI and Reuters reports and jammed out copy. Graphics, meteorology, sports, every department was ablaze. Marion, my secretary, microwaved a big batch of cheese popcorn, and in a hilarious stunt that further enhanced our camaraderie, the interns from Skidmore College cranked “It’s The End Of The World As WeKnow It,” by R.E.M. That really loosened us up!

More reports came in off the wire, and the enormity of the situation sank in. Incredibly, the bloodstorm was only the beginning—by twelve-thirty it was joined by flaming hail, tiny Chiclet-sized comets plummeting from the blackened sky in tracers of gold before fizzling out in the red muck that stained every surface the hue of viscera. Thunder boomed; lightning slashed, and the sky churned in a mosaic of streaking glittering fire. It was a massive hallucination, a kaleidoscopic swirl, a strobing lava-like stew of orange and red and gold.

And then there were the locusts. Without warning they swarmed from the subway, in Grand Central, Penn Station, Battery Park; from the IRT and PATH trains, the Lexington lines, every one of the city’s 229 stations vomited rasping wings and scissoring teeth. In a vast nimbus they poured down the avenues, their collective buzz prickling my skin with goose bumps. I watched them perch on the windows, slapping their wings, smearing bloody arcs on the kidney-colored glass.

Due to the severity of the situation, I called Silverstein and told him to pre-empt. He just laughed. “Tell that to IBM,” he said. I was dismayed, but I understood. To deny IBM the time they paid for would be unethical, not to mention losing the network valuable ad dollars. And besides, none of the other networks were preempting, why should we? So I’d have to do cut-ins.

But I didn’t mind. Ivy Ivers would handle things until the anchors arrived, and with Sheila in constant touch with the reporters via the cellular, I knew we’d have some killer stories.

At two-fifteen, Frank Dabney stumbled into my office. From head to toe he was crusted in blood, and a fine paprika-like dust flaked off him with every move. White lines creased his mouth and forehead where his skin had furrowed, and burnt craters singed his suit.

“I’ve got a rough cut of a locust piece,” he said, “ramming a three-quarter inch tape into my VTR. Over shots of flying insects, I heard his VO:

With a whir they started skyward, out of the broken earth in vast, black clouds. They had come to punish mankind, to make him pay for his sins, and pay they did. All across the metropolitan area, the pesky swarms attacked, dive-bombing out of the roiling skies with a vengeance. Nothing could stop them, as this Queens man found out, as he was walking his dog.

They came from nowhere, out of the sky. They bit my dog up and then they come for me.

Why do you think they’re here?

Don’t know. Just want em gone.

But by all appearances, the locusts are here to stay. Frank Dabney, NewsFIve New York.

Frank popped the tape. “Like it?”

“Yeah,” I said, slipping a gnawed Bic from my mouth, “lose ‘roiling’ thought. Too esoteric. And clip ten frames off the end shot.”

But that was only the beginning.

Abe Glickman shot a piece in the Sheep’s Meadow, with sound-bites from stoned Frisbee tossers who said they’d party right up to the end. “Like what can you do,” said one dreadlocked kid, puffing a Hebrew National-sized joint. I told Abe to use the R.E.M. song for background. “Gotcha!” he said, sprinting off. Yolanda Rollins shit Wall Street, getting fantastic shots of panicked traders and the plummeting Dow. And Suzy Ho came through with a tear-jerker about the diligent kids at P.S. 38 on the Upper West Side, who, despite the hopeless scenario, kept right on studying.

Things were going well, although we still hadn’t heard from Johnny Davenport in the NewsFive chopper. I hoped he was okay, but if not, I had a backup plan: we’d do an on-air memorial, a somber “line of duty” piece. That would sob things up.

 

At three o’clock, I held and editorial meeting in the small conference room with Sheila, Fred Silverstein, Davis, executive producer Ralph Busey, and our anchors, Dan Delaney and Sunny Greenfield. Our purpose was to decide what stories to do, in what order, and in what format. Usually the meetings lasted an hour, but today we decided to make it quick.

We all agreed that Franks’ locust piece was a highlight, and should run up top, after the global package Davis was writing. However, the Davis piece needed video, which was a problem, since Visnews and Imagique had no way of shipping us film. Around the world serious shit was happening—a meteor smashed into the Indian Ocean, triggering psunamis; monster quakes racked Asia-and we couldn’t show it. I considered dropping the piece, figuring Brokaw would cover the international stuff, but decided not to. We needed those stories, they were important. And time was running out.

Then Sunny had a brilliant idea.

Sitting at the long conference table piled with media schedules, program logs and scripts, twirling a finger in her frosty blonde hair, she squeaked, “Why don’t we used footage from disaster movies?”

As none of had ever heard Sunny say anything other than what ran on the TelePrompTer, a shocked silence filled the room. Then Silverstein shot up from his chair. “Perfect!” Archives has Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, every movie ever made!”

“There’s great scenes in The Ten Commandments,” said Ralph.

Dan nodded stoically. “That’ll work.”

Sunny looked bewildered, like she hadn’t expected anyone to take her seriously.

Fred was right—it was perfect. I sent Davis and an editor to Archives; the segment they[‘d build on the Avid would be our hard opening, and with Abe, Yolanda, and Suzy’s stories, and the celebrity piece Mindy Pug was shooting at Planet Hollywood, we had a good fifteen minutes. All that remained was weather and sports.

I called Chip and Dirk in. Chip was depressed, since all the ball games had been blooded out, but he’d cut together a “Great Moments” piece with film of the Yankees, Mets, Namath, Parcell’s Giants, the Knicks and Rangers, and it looked fantastic. All he had to do was introduce it and bang—three more minutes.

Dirk Malibu, however, was positively beaming. When a storm hits, weathermen get an almost sexual thrill, and from the mile-wide grin on his tanned, whittled face, Dirk was definitely aroused.

“I wrote a great intro,” he said flashing his bleached teeth. (Dirk also models for Tommy Hilfiger) He stood before us, templing his manicured hands. “As for the weather,” I guess you could say. . . all hell’s breaking loose.”

We must’ve laughed for a good minute. Dirk showed his scripts, and they were fabulous. I told him to have Mavis type them right into the TelePrompTer—they didn’t even need revising. I sent Dan and Sunny into make-up, and Sheila and I timed the copy and ran down the stories. The newscast was almost there, but we were ninety seconds short. Luckily, at that moment, Dr. Bernie rolled in.

Every station has a Dr. Bernie, some bookwormy freak with horned-rim glasses, tumbleweed hair, and a bow tie who offers a tidbit of advice or consumer warning; it’s another great way to fill up time. Of course, Dr. Bernie isn’t a real doctor, but who cares? This is TV!

“Can I read a PSA?” he said.

Dr. Bernie pulled out a scrap of yellow from his breast pocket and unfolded it. Through the underside of the paper I could see the inky swirls of his handwriting. He cleared his throat.

The end of the world is a difficult time for all of us, but there are ways to deal with it. The first thing to do—don’t panic. Remember: you can’t think if you’re screaming. The second thing to do is protect yourself. Stay indoors under a shelter of some kind, a strong table or ironing board. For those of you who live in apartment buildings, leave immediately for a nearby rescue center. If you’re going outside, dress in layers, and wear a cap. As for the locusts, spray yourself with insect repellent, Deep Woods Off! or one of the Cutter brands. We’re expecting some pretty severe weather, so please, keep these precautions in mind. They could save, I mean, prolong your life.

I checked my stopwatch: sixty seconds. With anchor chatter, we had our ninety.

Picking nervously at a hangnail, I hunched over the Grass Valley 2400 switcher in the control room, watching the red digits on the program clock slide to six o’clock. Technical director Tony Fazzio sat beside me. Rows of glowing buttons bathed our faces in shades of orange, yellow and green and the test and tone hummed an eerie flatness. No one said a word. I gazed into studio 6A, and saw Dan and Sunny propped behind the gray carpeted anchor desk, receiving last-second whisks of make-up.

At 5: 58 Dan appeared ten-fold on the bank of monitors. He adjusted the lavaliere mike clipped to his tie and stared blankly ahead.

I held my breath, hands slippery with sweat. The seconds ticked by. Then—the clock flashed zeroes; Tony punched a button, and with a zapping swoosh, our opening montage tumbled onto the screen. A soft, victorious “Yes!” escaped my lips as Dan read off the prompter:

The end of the world—fire, destruction, mayhem in the streets—Judgement Day is here and we’re live with the latest.

Good evening I’m Dad Delaney. The skies are black and the seas are red as Armageddon—the mythical battle between good and evil—rages in New York and all over the globe.

It started before noon, when as the Book of revelations foretold, the sun blackened in a terrifying eclipse. Next came thunder and lightning, followed by torrents of bloody rain and flaming hail that left New Yorkers scrambling for shelter.

I watched footage of fleeing pedestrians, then the global piece Davis cut from the Irwin Allen films ran—cleverly, he’d digitized the film, giving it the flat, muted look of video—with Dan’s VO:

In Asia and the Middle east, a series of mammoth earthquakes measuring 12.3 on the Richter scale has left those areas devastated. Baghdad, Hong Kong, Tokyo and other cities are in ruin, reduced to smoking rubble by the trembling earth. Billions are dead, and more are missing.

And to make matters worse, tidal waves triggered by a meteor plunging into the Indian Ocean are battering coastal areas. Astronomers say the meteor was a wayward asteroid, and may have been a quarter-mile in circumference. Residents are being evacuated, but as more quakes are due to hit, it doesn’t look good. Sunny, it’s a scenario right out of Hollywood disaster movie.

It sure is Dan. Here in New York, while the blood and hail has stopped for now, that doesn’t mean we can relax. Because as Frank Dabney reports, woes of a different sort loom on the horizon.

Frank’s locust piece ran, and I sighed with relief. Soon we’d hit the commercial break; after that, it was all downhill. But if I’ve learned anything from fourteen years in this business, it’s that nothing ever goes as planned.

Five minutes into the broadcast, I saw the fresnels in the studio swaying on the lighting grid. A low, subway-like rumble sounded, and the floor quivered under my feet. I heard a screech, like nails on a chalkboard only a million times louder, and with a sickening lurch the control room slewed sideways. Everything was a blur, a dizzying jumble of color and noise—crashes, explosions, horrid metallic splintering, screams, complete chaos. All I remember is diving under the console, where I was battered and slapped like a pinball, my head pummeling the floor. Then it was over.

I scaled a mountain of debris—torn cables, flayed wiring, broken-backed chairs—and peered into the studio. Lights dangled in eviscerated hulks, flanges of warped meal hanging from shattered bulbs. Cameras lay on their sides; glass-shards and plaster obscured the floor. Incredibly, Dan and Sunny sat behind the anchor desk, unfazed.

It looks like we can add earthquakes to the list of disasters, Dan.

That’s right, Sunny. I guess you could say we’re . . . all shook up.

Now that’s what I call commitment. But that’s the kind of crew I had—professionals, every one of them.

Once the technicians righted the cameras, we sailed on without a second of dead air. Dan and Sunny’s fortitude infected everybody—you could feel it. Never have I seen a department act with such purpose. Everything—the celebrity stuff, Dr. Bernie—went perfect.

The highlight of the show was Dirk’s weather:

As you can see on the satellite picture, there’s a massive low pressure system sweeping across the country, and right here, this giant mass of clouds, that’s where the blood’s coming from. Right now it’s a record 107 degrees in Times Square, with a low of 60 earlier in the day. One hundred percent relative humidity, and the barometer bottoms out at an incredible 21.02. The forecast for tonight calls for hurricane level winds and more flaming hail, so you may want to get the patio furniture inside. Tomorrow expect a high of 130 as temperatures skyrocket from comets and meteors battering the earth’s surface, and more earthquakes on the way, too. No, the way the weekends’ shaping up, you might want to stay inside and run the air conditioner.

Dirk never looked better. After Chip’s sports, Abe’s Frisbee piece ran, and as R.E.M. rocked over the credits, everyone whooped and shrieked and high-fived.

 

The newsroom is quiet, just the endless lashing of blood on the shattered windows and the chugging hum of the air conditioners. The place is trashed: felled cubicle walls, shreds of aluminum hanging from caved-in ceilings, smashed computers, and everything is swathed in dull, staticy gray from the television monitors flickering like ghosts through the room.

The staffers have left; it’s just Sheila and me, Dan, Sunny, Chip, Dirk, and some technical people. I guess that last tremor scared them off.

As I sit at my desk, reflecting, I’m filled with pride. Despite tremendous odds we accomplished our goal. Not even Armageddon stopped us! There were tough moments, but in the end we came through. I watched tapes of CBS and ABC’s broadcasts, and ours was vastly superior.

It’s ten-thirty now, and we’re almost ready for the eleven o’clock show. We’ve got killer stuff—Richie should be back form the South Street Seaport any minute, with footage of some fucked-up seven-beast thing with crowns and horns that emerged out of the East River. We should get a 10.0 share with that. Easy.

I feel content, like my life’s been worthwhile. I did a lot in thirty-eight years. Thank god for TV. I tell you, it’s the most powerful force in the world. It was an honor to be part of it.

My only regret is what happened to Johnny Davenport. J.D. was a top-notch chopper pilot, but even he couldn’t navigate the blood and hail. Poor guy.

That’s it, I guess. I feel good. I did my job. We all did. At eleven-thirty, the champagne will fly. Sunny wants to have an orgy, but hey, no thanks.

I’m not into blondes.

-As published in The Portland Review

News From Hell #2

 


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News From Hell is a series of satiric verbal collages made from words excised from New York Times headlines. These new headlines depict a world where all sorts of hilarious and unsettling things happen. Whether witty, absurd, or philosophical, each of these reconstructed headlines reinterprets the events of our times. Each entry is a thought worth pondering in itself – but when read collectively, News From Hell functions as wry poetic commentary and a socio-political critique on the state of our civilization, and the horrors and humors within it.

Revenge Of The Manatees

 

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Traces of mist lingered over the smooth, glassine surface of the Kississimee river as seventy-nine year old Edna Buchanan prodded her four-pronged aluminum walker over the Ferndale Retirement Home’s manicured lawn. Glacially, she inched forward, shuffling through the dew-laden grass, her wizened head bent in determination, her spine aching with each agonizing step. And twenty minutes later, she reached her goal: the short wooden pier jutting into the water. She hobbled onto it, gazing into the tranquil, black-green depths.

Would she see them today, her flippered, two-ton friends?

Each day, Edna’s morning ritual was the same. She rose at seven A.M., slid her dentures in and plodded into the communal kitchen for a breakfast of oatmeal, whole wheat toast and Metamucil-laden orange juice. Then, after an obligatory trip to the bathroom, she’d pluck a head of lettuce from the refrigerator and make the fifty yard journey to the river, where her arthritic fingers would shred the roughage and sprinkle it atop the surface, in hopes of attracting one of the kindly, herbivorous manatees that frequented its warm waters.

Like most Floridians, Edna adored the shy, reclusive sea-cows. There was something magical, something breathtaking about these massive, endangered creatures who blundered among the lily pads and lolled beneath the piers; at the very sight of them her spirit soared. Longingly, she would gaze into their sad, pleading eyes, and somehow, through an almost mystical connection, she communed with them. In many ways the manatees were her surrogate family–her real family, unable to cope with her advanced case of osteoporosis, had marooned her at Ferndale several years ago–and to the emotionally-deprived septuagenarian, no day was brighter or more enjoyable than one which began with a manatee sighting at her little pier in the woods.

But today, a far more disturbing scenario would unfold. Because on this very morning, under the glaring Florida sun, Edna Buchanan would suffer one of the most viscous marine mammal attacks ever recorded. Yes, she would see her beloved manatees; she would see several of them, but they’d be nothing like the benevolent creatures she adored. These manatees would be different. Very different.

Perhaps some feral evolutionary instinct made them abandon their happy-go-lucky personas in a last-ditch effort to retaliate against the homo sapiens destroying their habitat. Or perhaps they were simply bored, fed up with eating water hyacinth and searching for kicks. Whatever the case, the three bull manatees speeding down-river to the pier where Edna tottered were cruel, insensate brutes, hostile ambassadors from a new breed of predatory West Indian sea cow bent on one thing: exacting vigilante-like justice on every human being they encountered.

Edna had no way of knowing this. She remained on the pier, hunched at its very end now, training her bifocals on a dragonfly buzzing the lily pads. She watched the insect dart from flower to flower, her shaky, liver-spotted hands peeling the lettuce head and flipping its curled leaves, one by one, into the water.

Each piece that landed sent ripples across the surface, ripples that grew in ever-widening circles and sounded the feeding call to every creature in the river, including the three manatees, who were cruising fifty yards off-shore, thrashing their flukes in spasmodic rhythm, powering through clouds of drifting green algae. In a cruel twist of Fate, they would have sped right past her, perhaps for a grisly rendezvous with some other, more deserving victim–a beer-swilling speedboat nut, for instance–but on this day, due to her munificent efforts to feed them, they’d find her.

The lead manatee, sensing a disturbance, whipped around to investigate. His two cohorts followed, and the three of them, in a perfect trident-formation, glided eerily shoreward, as silent as phantoms. Stealthily they crept, walking on their front flippers, lurking on the mucky bottom, biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to ascend and case out the shoreline.

Edna tossed in the last bits of lettuce. For a long moment she stared, following the leafy little boats as they sailed over the surface, driven by the wind. She wondered if they would lure a manatee to her, and the longer she stood waiting, with the wind fluffing her white, dead-dandelion hair, the more apprehensive she became. Had they moved on, to more hospitable waters?

It had been over a week now, eleven tortuous days to be exact, since she’d seen one, and a tear came to her eye as she scanned the river’s indifferent surface. She hoped, she prayed, trying to will a manatee out of the gloomy, weed-choked depths–but there was nothing. Only the buzz of the dragonflies, and overhead, the plaintive cry of an inland gull.

And then–right when she was about to give up and head back to the home, something caught her eye: a flash of whitish gray, a long otherworldly massiveness hovering before her. Her pulse quickened, her ancient eyes came alive. They were here! Finally!

“There you are,” she whispered, as not one but three cigar-shaped behemoths drifted up to the pier. “Oh, and there are three of you! My goodness!”

She stood in awe, marveling at them. They were huge, ungainly, impossible. Three torpedo-like slabs of thick, barnacle-mottled flesh, tons of it, each with that chubby, adorable face and wonderfully hairy mouth that resembled a vacuum cleaner attachment. She was mesmerized.

“Go ahead,” she crowed, lifting the walker, pointing at the lettuce, “eat your breakfast, now.”

The three manatees made no move. Oddly, they floated, a foot beneath the surface.

“What’s the matter?” she said, as six beady, black eyes narrowed to a fixed stare. “Not hungry?”

Maybe they were tired, she thought. Or injured. They did seem a bit dazed, like they were sick or something. She inspected the long fuselages of their bodies, squinting, bending closer for a good long look, before gasping in unrepentant horror at what she found–each of their three backs was crisscrossed by a network of ugly, gouged-out scars, grotesque carvings where their flesh had been slashed and shredded apart.

She trembled, recoiled in shock–the poor, innocent creatures were hurt, their hides heartlessly disfigured by the churning propellers of passing motorboats. And here they were, too weak and stupefied to feed. It was tragic.

“Oh my. . . g-God,” she cried, her eyes welling with tears, her frail body shivering with emotion.

The three manatees ignored her sniffles. They remained in place, glaring at her through the prism of water, their rage intensifying with each passing second. Usually, confronting one of these large, land-dwelling bipeds had little or no effect; they’d simply stare, dumbfounded, but at the sight of this one they felt a curious awakening, a cognizance firing in the waterlogged synapses of their brains. And slowly, the myriad atrocities visited upon them by Edna Buchanan’s fellow humans flashed through their collective consciousness: the cigarette butts and plastic six-pack rings and raw, untreated sewage, the insane propellers, the annoying stuffed animal replicas they sold to tourists while the manatee population dwindled even further. . . they sensed everything, until every last cell seethed with hatred.
Abruptly, the three broke from their positions, gliding into open water twenty yards from the pier where they raised their gaping nostrils, sucked in a last sputtery breath and slid under the surface. And then, with a wriggling, joyful thrash, they tore off, rocketing through the water amid a chaos of bubbles and froth, heading directly for the pier.

All Edna could do was stand, gripping her walker with a bony, knotted fist, as the three manatees torpedoed towards her. At first she thought it was some kind of game they were playing, and a thin smile crept into her face at the thought of them frolicking. But when the two manatees flanking the leader broke formation, glancing into their own attack trajectories, she sensed that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. They were swimming fast, she thought. Too fast.

A little voice told her to flee, and as quick as she could manage she spun around, stutter-stepping over the wooden planks, aiming her walker at the green lawn at the end of the pier. She wheezed and coughed, her shrunken, calcified spine crackling with each shuffling, excruciating step, her brittle old joints and bunioned feet straining faster and faster. . . I’m almost there, whirled the thought, I can make it. . .

But it was no use. Because right when Edna Buchanan reached the mid-point of the pier, there was a crash, a sickening caterwauling thud, and the entire left side of it caved in, buckling under the cataclysmic force of the three rampaging manatees as they head-butted its pilings. Wood smashed apart, timbers snapped, and with a terrible groaning creak the entire structure slewed sideways, slanting down, pitching Edna and her four-pronged aluminum walker–complete with rubber hand grips–head over heels, into the water.

It was over in seconds. Edna barely had time to scream before the manatees converged, each one seizing one of her toothpick limbs and hauling it into an insatiable maw of whiskers and tongue. Gumming her withered flesh, and swimming as brazenly as a gang of chum-crazed sharks, they dragged her floundering, ninety-one pound form to the slimy bottom, where they battered her senseless with their sizable flippers. Bubbles trailed away as the old gal clawed for the surface, but the three beasts sealed her off, their massive girths looming over her in a wall of immovable blubber. Edna struggled, she kicked and flailed, but the assault kept on, and after one last fusillade of pulverizing flipper-hits, she moved no more.

The three manatees floated to the surface, where they swam lazily around, surveying the scene. Bits of wood and splinters bobbed on the waves and the lily pads, broken apart by the chaos, drifted aimlessly back and forth. A chirping squeak sounded as the lead manatee called out to his peers, and after one last circuit of the ruined pier, they sped downriver, their scarred bodies brimming with a newfound confidence.

Finally, they’d fought back. After centuries of slaughter, they’d learned how to survive, how to compete in the hostile world of man.

But as each of them knew, the mauling of seventy-three year old Edna Buchanan–however wrong or unprovoked it may have been–was only the beginning, the first in what would be a long, arduous reign of terror.

Yes, there would be more victims, hundreds, thousands, and to the media or whoever was interested in such a thing, each gummed-up body bobbing to the surface would bear the same telling marks–the bruises and lip-prints and whiskery trails that meant one thing: another hapless human had experienced the revenge of the manatees.

-from Empty Pinata & Other Tales of Woe

The Product Placement Bible #1

phillippians-413

As featured on www.productplacementbible.com

The Product Placement Bible questions what we really worship,  lampooning consumer society and organized religion in equal doses, using the format of scripture to blend the two realms into one very entertaining, unsettling read.

Sting Shits His Pants

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sting: vb 1 : to prick painfully: as a: to pierce or
wound with a poisonous or irritating process

Forget Ursa Major. Forget the Big Dipper. The old constellations, the old patterns of alignment, are dead, replaced by newer, sleeker gods; perfect salient beings who dazzle like diamonds across our pulsing mediated skies. Arnold. Madonna. Britney. Prince. The list goes on and on. . . while the clueless masses, the Us-fed cathode-coddled couch taters plot their every move.

But hey, they’re just people. After all the lights go down, after all the bullshit and bombast, the famous are just like you and me. They are not gods. They are not heroes. They are people. Living organisms, bags of protoplasm that breathe and eat and function like the rest of us. Or, as we shall see, malfunction . . .

His real name is Gordon. Gor. Dun. But it’s been years since anyone’s addressed him by those hateful, ungainly syllables. He’s no Gordon. Gordon’s the guy down at the Firestone shop who slaps a retread on your El Camino. Or the loam-loving T.A. from Geology lab junior year. Gordon, hideous caterpillar, long ago blossomed into a new sunshine being. A glorious being, an angel really, who’s delighted the free world with his soporific musings for years. A being known only as “Sting.”

But names are irrelevant here. Being “Sting” may help him slide past the mutants to the V.I.P. lounge at Suede, where he’ll bump chests with “Bono,” “Puffy,” and the other monomonikered darlings, but it’s not going to help him now. Because right now, “Sting” has to endure a bodily function like all the rest of us. To put it crudely, Sting must drop a load. And celebrity means nothing, absolutely nothing, to biology. Let’s watch:

He stands with viced buttocks, shifting from one black-booted foot to the other, staring at the bathroom door. Hoping, praying, it will open. He glances at his Rolex. The seconds click by.

He watches thirty. Sixty. And then it happens-something stirs and comes alive, clawing towards daylight, wiggling inch by gruesome inch out of its tight canal, its rugged holster.

Sting arches up on tippy-toes and lifts. The hairless nates tuck inward, knotting around the wrinkled grommet. He holds for thirty seconds; the rising sinks away. He exhales. Paces. Wipes the sweat from his receding hairline. Phew, that was close.

A mushroom-headed woman, all mouth, running at him.

“Y-you’re Sting! Oh my god!”

“Aren’t we perceptive?” The thing inside lurches again. He grits his teeth.

“I just loved “The Dream Of The Blue Turtles!” God! I can’t believe you’re at the Power Station! What are you doing, recording a new album or something?”

“Or something,” he mutters, shuffling away. She moves with him, making up the space.

“Will you sign my arm? Puh-lease? Oh please Sting?”

He is going to burst. Any second now an explosion that would humble Krakatoa will rip through his lower G.I. He feels the pressure building, the magma rising, ready to shoot.

“No!” Get away from me! I’ve got to . . .” He snaps, dashes to the door. Tugs the knob.

Mushroom-head darts away, around a corner, stunned at the temperamental display. She won’t buy any more albums. She’ll move on, farther down, to Kenny G.

Sting bounces up and down to a bass track in his head and stares at the door. Who in bloody hell is in there? Some stupid wank wiping up an enchilada spill? A couple of engineers sniffing in a stall? He bites his lip. The thing twists again, aching, begging to be released.

He vaults to the door, bangs his fist. “Open up! Please! This is Sting! The pop star!” I’ve got to . . . uh . . . get back to a session! Please! I beg of you!”

Pain stabs into him. The thing is moving again, kicking, thrashing, a terrible fetus waiting to be born. The sudden movement, the mad dash has upset the balance. The center cannot hold.

Sting hobbles back to his waiting place. His buttocks are iron sentries, locked together, tight as fists. Here it comes . . . oh Jesus . . . ohhhh . . .no . . . hold it . . . please . . .oh god . . .and the thing, somehow, against all odds, is beaten back to its nesting place.

“This the line?”

He turns his head a few centimeters. A body. Hair. Keys jangling.

“Hey, how’s the session, man?”

“Good, very uh . . . good.”

“You likin’ the place? How’s the vibe?”

“Nice. Very nice.”

“Cool. Let me know if you need anything, if you want to order food or something.” The body tramps down the hall, whistling.

“Idiot, he thinks. And then it comes. The next wave, rippling through him, watering the bright blues that so many lonely housewives have longed to gaze into. He can’t hold . . . fight it . . . think of something else . . . refuse . . .no no . . . use . . . yoga . . . yoga . . . suppress it . . . concentrate . . . yoga . . . yoga . . .

The thing sees its shadow and retreats to its burrow. Order is restored. For now.

His thoughts turn to the mansion in Highgate. The classic roadsters, the Aston minis. Dugal, the butler. The trout stream. Thrashing around the loch with Hector, looking for wild partridge. Waking to fingers of mist filtering in through silken windows. Smoking Joel’s Afghan hash in the marble tub, sipping a glass of red, listening to Charlie Parker. Making love to Trudie, hour after hour, in fields of rain, the cool goldenrod towers fanning over them, foolhardy supplicants of Nature. He’s gone now, back to the estate on the Thames, far from this Yankee vulgarity, this hideous studio where he brave auteur, has been denied defecation.

A sound-the sound he’s been waiting for! The metal cha-chink of a door opening. A door! There it is! Gleaming tile! Swirling gurgling whirlpooling toilet! The bathroom! The door creaks on its hinges, beckoning.

The second he moves, the colon remembers its task, and pinches inward. Pain soars, oscillating through walls of flesh, and the bent torpedo slides on to meet its destiny.

He’s inside. Hopping to a stall. Fumbling with belt. Ripping trousers open, yanking them down. He better hurry . . . here it comes . . . oh no . . .get those boxers down . . .come on . . . oh God . . .oh God no . . . OH GOD NO . . . just one more second, one more bloody second . . . please . . .

And then it comes, finally, terribly, in a zenyatta mondatta cloudburst. Acrid. Stinging. Sputtering, bouncing, falling to the tangle of pant legs and shorts, onto the smooth dark tile. Screams. A faucet. Desperate scrubbing. A pair of silk boxers, buried in the ash can, a lot souvenir you won’t find at Hard Rock.

Ten minutes later the door of Studio B swings open.

“Where you been,” from Kim, his personal manager.

Sting sits behind the console of blinking lights and knobs. “Sorry, Kimmy boy. Just shit me pants.”

Everyone in the control room laughs-Miles, Jerry, Aidan-everyone. Ha! Sting! So clever. What a good geezer. Always kidding around, that Sting.

Sting lights a Silk Cut and stares at the wall, brooding, sulking, retreating to that lonely world where only he exists.

-As published in Uno Mas

(illustration by Jack Hornady)

Catfish Lessons

 

channel-catfish-painting

One day in the fall they tried to haul a catfish of gigantic size. But when they reeled him in they did him in no matter what anyone tried.

Jim caught his best on a twenty pound test and it weight one forty-two. Enough to rate best in the state, number one in ‘ole Mizzou.

In the mud the big cat hud and Jim hunted him like no sissy. He pulled for miles then he had to smile, the cat was might and Mississippi.

Jim knew he’d caught what can’t be bought, greatness for which he did not strive. Then he knew right then what he had to do which was keep that cat alive.

Above all cost the fish can’t be lost, Jim cried, dragging it to shore.It’ll bring me green on the exhibition scene, I’ll have a double-wide no more.

On the dock it was a shock, Jim yanked it in a tank. He heaved and hoved and then he drove thinking money in the bank.

But he only got a few then things fell through the big cat’s gills could take no more. It was too huge to deluge in a tub that Bud is for.

Jim saw that cat’s fins turn flat and had his payday muffed. But he paid no mind because he’d signed a deal to have it stuffed.

With its dead they mounted its head making whiskers stiff instead of squirmy. When they were done and they had their fun the big cat was taxidermy.

Jim kept it for awhile, then it seemed out of style so he got a crazy thought. He’d sell the brute for a little quick loot, and that’s how the fish was bought.

What’s true and blue and indisup, is where the big cat can be seen. He’s on a wall in a strip mall, surrounded by TV screens.

Now Jim had to do what he head to do, that fish was worth some dough. With it stuffed it fetched enough so he could not just say no.

But over the years and over the beers Jim gradually regretted it.Cashing in the fin seemed like a sin and he wished he could forget it.

Now the nature of fishin’ is the nature of wishin’ and Jim hoped for too much glory. But now when Jim fishes all that he wishes is for nothing more than a story.

-from Donuts & Wine, demo forthcoming

 

Five Other Hitlers

 

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The puppy bounded over the bright green grass, his tail swishing to and fro, breath coming in quick, excited gasps. “Come here, boy, come on!” Hitler cried, clapping his hands. A second later, in a blur of brown fur, the little dog leaped into his arms. Hitler laughed, cuddling the puppy closer, as the loving dog, grateful to be in the arms of its master, slathered his nose with his tongue. “Awww, that’s a good boy,” cried der Fuhrer, as the adoring dog licked his face, “I love you! Yes I do! I love you!”

 

There was one male dancer at Chippendale’s who everyone loved. His name was Hitler, and although his physique was on the smallish side, he made up for his lack of stature with a highly seductive dance
routine.

“And now, straight from Berlin,” cried the stage announcer, “. .

Aaaaaadolf Hitler!”

The velvet curtains slid open and a short man in a G-string, with hair slicked sharply over his forehead and a tiny square of a mustache emerged from the shadows. As the crowd of female secretaries who had assembled to wish Connie LaRenta a happy 40th birthday whooped and hollered, Hitler sidled forth, undulating out of the darkness with a snake-like insouciance. The women gaped as his pale, jack-booted form danced up to them, entirely mesmerized by the sheer nudity of his maleness, and soon Hitler felt an army of hands stuffing crisp one-dollar bills into his G-string.

“Happy birthday, Connie!”

“Whoo-hoo! Thanks, Denise!”

 

A rich sugary aroma filled the entire kitchen, a smell so delicious it made Hitler’s mouth water. He closed his eyes and breathed in, savoring it for a long, wonderful moment, and then the timer buzzed.

Finally, the corn muffins were ready! Hitler slid his hands into a pair of lime green oven mitts and approached the oven. He could practically taste them now. He flung open the door and as the blast of hot muffin-filled air bathed his mustachioed face, he slid the tray out of the heat.

Hitler knew better than to bite into the muffins right away. They had to cool down a bit first, otherwise he might burn his mouth. Patiently, he waited, watching the little pats of butter he spread over their rounded tops melting slowly into each muffin, and soon they were ready to eat. “Mmmm,” gushed Hitler, as he bit into the piping-hot treats. “These muffins are delicious!”

 

“Man, I suck at foosball,” said Hitler, as he heard the distressing sound of another little plastic ball plunk into the goal he was trying to defend. “Don’t worry about it,” cried Keith, taking a swig of his Bud,

“You’ll get better.”

“Yeah,” said Tammy, “Just have fun.”

“Alright, I’m ready. Let’s go.”

“Okay, Hitler,” announced Keith. “Last ball. Whover gets this in wins.”

He put the tiny little yellow ball into the hole as the four friends gripped the metal handles. And a second later the game was on. The ball flew back and forth as the players batted it around. Finally, Keith got control of it. He quickly lined up his shot. Hitler maneuvered his men, but Keith was too fast. With one expert flick of his wrist, he smacked the ball into the goal. “Yes!” cried Keith. Hitler sighed heavily, shaking his head in dismay. “Man, I suck at foosball.”

 

No one played the saxophone quite like der Fuhrer. His notes were silky smooth, as sweet and fluid as molasses, and as soon as they floated out of his instrument a feeling of tranquility came over the entire nightclub. Even the waiters stopped serving to listen to his soaring melody.

“That cat can really play,”

“His name is Hitler.”

Bathed in the soft glow of the spotlight, Hitler played on, his fingers flying over the keys, his smallish mouth clenched tightly on his bright brass organ. He closed his eyes, blowing note after sweet note, and it was like the whole room took off and flew into the sky along with him for the next ten minutes as he improvised what can only be called a jazz odyssey.

But that was Hitler, you just never knew what he was going to do next.

 

Fish Wish

Menacing, fleshy planaria hoods

like overcoats lilt and cobra

through filters, manacled and grasping,

crab fingers and muscled valves

adhere to walls of grasping, snorkeling cells,

intertwined, slithering

and yours.

-As published in Brutarian, part of Carnivorous Wishes,  a poetry collection

Helping Hand

dubvwaf

I was never meant for this nocturnal stage, this sickening sabbat spun out of control. I am a creature of the daytime, engineered to delight housewives, to charm the Oprah-fed minions with my engaging deformity. Only through cunning have I insinuated my way here, become part of your “Super Bowl” as you so reverently and ridiculously call it.

I am one of a thousand apparitions passing by you tonight. Commercials, you call us. Crafted mendacities, million-dollar playlets evil in our intent: to hoodwink, unsettle, connive. Here, at this foul pageant, we assemble: sneakered slam-dunking giants, soda-crazed polar bears, alcoholic frogs, interrupting bunnies, all of us. Each year the festival swells, growing more bloated; each year we revel in sheer glorious excess.

But I care nothing for your spectacle. If possible, I would hide my hideousness from all of you. No, I have journeyed here for a reason.

Revenge against Gittis, the smug adman from whose feeble mind my monstrosity sprang. Tonight, like his partner before him, he shall die at my hand.

I am a grotesque, a wan sea anemone-like appendage with fingers sprouting skyward in a gross Gorgonian parody. My mouth, frozen in a carved smile, is a tight slit, a puckered gash. Anchored beneath my middle digits, under slanted brows, are two black, pupil-less eyes that burn with unmitigated hate. Most humiliating of all is the red bulbous clown nose-no doubt a snickering afterthought-planted solidly in the center of my palm.

I am the Hamburger Helper Helping Hand. A minor deity, but surely you have seen me. Among certain demographics I am quite popular.

I was born to sell, to dance and sing in degrading productions, to peddle carton after carton of noddle mix, a pandering, pathetic oaf.

For this I have Gittis to thank. Smug, preening Gittis, master hack, the bane of my existence. I was born in the ruts of his imagination, conjured without regard, as if my life were but a trifling amusement. DeFozio-his partner, his art director, the pony-tailed poser who sat snickering as I took my first timid steps at the animation house. . .

At first, I was cast in the image of a human hand. I had five svelte digits. My eyes were ripe, happy. Then Gittis, that blundering philistine, took up his sketchpad.

With the sickening godliness so typical of his profession, he changed me, engineered me into what he thought I should be. Gittis amputated my pinky and plumped my remaining fingers until they resembled four fat phalli. He hacked out a mouth, stuck on a schnozz, and soon I was a beady-eyed claw suitable only for derision. Gittis smiled. DeFozio smiled. Even Whitslaw, their client from General Mills, smiled. After McGee the media planner figured my demographics, I was ready for the airwaves.

My inaugural performance ran during Days of Our Lives. I waddled before my co-stars, a wide-eyed domestic and her two foolish offspring, who marveled as I sang “Hamburger Helper helps your hamburger” in my cartoon voice, and packed their faces with fatty noodle.
As the years passed, the campaign turned more humiliating. Gittis swaddled me in ponchos, stuck a mustache on my lip, assigned stereotypical ethnic guises to hasten the sale of spin-off products like Hamburger Helper Beef Taco and Zesty Italian, even-I gag-Tuna Helper. My rage grew, and I sank further into self-loathing.
Then one day, enlightenment. I looked at the beings around me, the M&Ms, Toilet Ducks, and morphing Lifesavers, and I realized none of us were here by choice; we all existed through some grand, infernal design. We were not to blame for our fates; we were only pawns, automatons controlled by multinational forces. Slowly, over time, my anger shifted from myself to the race of men who had ushered me into this foul life. I resolved to strike back.

But only when I closed my eyes and saw his accursed face-that fat chin and set jaw-did I know the target of my rage.

Gittis.

In the land of image there is no substance. We flit about, spirits riding static skies, dashing from one porthole to the next in the billion-screened Panopticon surrounding all things. We glare at your world, at your sedentary hell.

Each day I saw you; each day it was the same. Your families sitting mesmerized, sunk into couches. Your bleary eyes, glazed with obsequiousness. I saw you suckle the glass teat and slurp its banal milk; I saw you feed at the electric trough. I saw it all, and I hated you for your weakness.

The more I hated the more my powers grew. With each pathetic human I saw, another part of me strengthened, another limb tightened, until I pulsed, throbbing with energy. I knew then that your photon shackles could never hold me. Already I could feel myself loosening. It was only a matter of time.

As my powers mounted, I hunted Gittis, confident that the sight of him would spring me from my electronic prison. I searched, all the while plotting his demise, with no success. Then one day I found not Gittis, but his partner in crime, DeFozio, snoozing on a sofa, surrounded by snotted, balled-up tissue! Somehow, I’d stumbled onto him.

Fury rose until it seemed I would explode. And in the full force of my rage, I hurled myself from the phosphorescent sea. (My presence would not be missed-I had fifteen seconds until my next on-camera shot.) I landed on DeFozio’s sofa. Stealthily, so as not to arouse him, I scaled a nearby shelf, where I seized a heavy gold figuring: his precious Clio statue. Seconds later I loomed over him.

“With this foul trophy, I defile you!” I screamed, echoing the late night gladiator epics I’d seen on WGN. Before he could stir, I smashed the Clio into his brow. He kicked and flailed; I struck again and again, blind-mad, and finally, after a last penetrating blow, he moved no more. I dropped the Clio on the floor.

“Best Consumer Package Goods: Hamburger Helper-1993,” it read.

I dove back to the screen, howling with delight.

Gittis though, proved an elusive foe. For months I searched, gazing into your living rooms and bedrooms, your squalid apartments and rotted duplexes, every crutch where humanity dwelled. I scanned the vast arena of faces, but not once did I see him.

Then I realized the root of my failure: I only ran during the day. For me to find Gittis, he would have to watch daytime television, an impossible scenario given the office duties required by his conniving craft. As long as I aired during mornings and afternoons, I would never find him. I n fact, the only reason I’d found DeFozio was because he had called in sick! I considered waiting for Gittis to fall ill, but left that for a more dastardly solution.

I reasoned that if Gittis would not come to me, I would come to him. But how? Despite my ability to shuttle between realities, I could not break free from the chains which bound me to specific programming-the brainless reruns and soaps McGee had figured. To find Gittis I had to deliver myself to another program, one during the nighttime.

But which one? Seinfeld? SeaQuest? And how would I know he’d be there? The only solution was to pinpoint the precise show he’d be watching. I racked my brain, but only as the foul event drew nearer and I heard others of my kind discussing it like some vile prom they hoped to attend, did I realize where I’d find him.

The Super Bowl! That shitstorm of media hype and chip-crunching idiocy! Yes! Of course Gittis would be watching-as an adman the event was sacred to him!

But there was only one more hurdle: how would I , a lowly package goods creature, reach that lofty stage? The only way was through a subversion of the Hamburger Helper media plan, the document that determined my placement on the networks. I would have to find and alter it, no easy task since I knew nothing of the intricate schedules.

No, some flunky must do the deed. I knew instantly who. McGee-the media man who sold me to the airwaves. Quickly, I concocted a plan:

I was fortunate enough to recall that on occasion, McGee left a television set on in his office, to be lulled by its soothing blather as he went about his figuring. All I had to do was wait until the set came on, and hope no one saw me.

When it did, I leaped forth, ducked a secretary, and rifled through the papers atop McGee’s desk. Hurriedly, I scrawled a note:

Bob-
What about Ham Helper on the Super Bowl? Lots of single men will be watching.
-S.W.

“S.W.,” of course, referred to none other than Stanley Whitslaw, the General Mills client for whom McGee, Gittis, and DeFozio worked. I knew that McGee, like all agency drones, would do anything to appease the whims of his queen bee client. He immediately wrote the plan, and bureaucracy did the rest. No one changed it, n one questioned it, the whole deal went undetected.

All that remained was the grisly denouement.

So here I am, on this vast, limitless plane, this shimmering vale of static and light, this mediated Elysia.

Clearly, I do not belong in this august assemblage. The creatures here are different from me: they are icons, slick celebrities, super-athletes and techno animations, beings of pure image. My deformity is a throwback, a reminder of simpler, less manic times. Now it is all ego and showmanship, mirror and smoke, glitter and braggadocio: chip-dipping politicos, sky surfers, beer bottles with tiny football helmets rammed onto their necks . . . it is insane. What have you done?

We straggle on. One by one we reach the stage, acting our splashy dramas. After the Bud bottles it is to be my turn.

Shaq dunks. A chimp swills cola. Innocuous young people bond inexplicably over a malted beverage called Zima. The bottles stage their contest; an announcer speaks, a log rises. I scuttle forward, my heart soaring.

Metallic rays splinter into tubes of gray and gray-blue and I take the stage, all of America gazing upon me.

“Have I got a meal for you!” I sing, over the homey hamburger theme.

Then I see that fat chin, and pounce.

-As published in The Baffler.