Monday, December 29, 2008

Application for Head Coach position with the Detroit Lions

Dear Mr. Ford,

I am writing to apply for the position of Head Coach with the Detroit Lions.

My qualifications are as follows:
  • I dislike professional sports
  • The last Lions game I attended was in 1984
  • I'm not an American citizen
  • I believe football should be played with a dodecahedronal object constructed of paper mache and sheathed in hypo-allergenic carbonate
  • My only athletic experience is three years of water polo
To say that my coaching style is "outside of the box" would be a ridiculous understatement. I believe that applying my water polo experience to the conundrum of the Detroit Lions is the key to their success. I would never take the low road and criticize the person whose position I seek to occupy, but up to now the problem with Lions coaching is that they've had the Lions playing "football." Fifty years of losing proves the Lions are not suited for football. Football is a mystery wrapped in a casing of unknowingness inside an invisible bag hidden in the Grand Canyon. Football and the Detroit Lions cannot occupy the same physical space. It's a law of nature like Occam's Razor.

My approach to coaching could be described as Da Da-esque. Applying the tenets of Jungian water polo, I will turn the Lions' 2008 season into greatest negatunity since the Mesopathians in 63 A.D..

Finally, I am willing to work for the sum of $1, provided that the Detroit Lions buy all of my groceries, pay my mortgage, pay my car, telephone, Cable and other miscellaneous bills, and agree to pay my wife a stipend of $5 million per year.

Let's make the 2009 season like the month of March -- going in like a lion and coming out like a . . . lynx.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Eat, Drink and Be Merry - A Christmas Story

The scene at the buffet table could not have been more shocking or awful had it played-out before the assembled guests in multi-angled slow-motion. When Walter Q. Lemitz bit the head of the bald man, the moment of stunned horror elongated, and then came the wordless, repulsed cries that drowned out the party's Christmas music. As blood burst from the man's defenseless, baby's-bum pate, security pounced upon Lemitz.

"You were 'only doing your job?'" said Detective Charen -- bad cop -- standing hands-on-hips, chewing gum; his light brown mustache a caterpillar doing the polka above his thin upper lip. "What are you, a hitman-cannibal?"

Myopic, ectomorphic Detective Sneed -- good cop -- snickered.

"No," Lemitz grunted, head pounding with the first gong-blast of hangover.

With his disheveled hair -- coarse as Brillo, gray as a cemetery slab -- his shirt torn open revealing the frog-belly flesh of his chest and distended, herniated belly hanging over his belt, sweat-stains under his arms the size of dinner plates, a blood reddened oval around his mouth and chin, he looked like a defeated, surly clown.

Detective Charen put a foot on the empty chair, and leaned forward on his beige polyester knee. "So, what's your job?"

Lemitz's eyes were like two flies squashed against glass. He looked at Charen. Then, filling the air with mustard gas halitosis, he said, "I want my phone call."


Months before, a flyer appeared in his mailbox, which read: EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY FOR UP TO $300/NIGHT. Lemitz tossed it in the trash. Days later came a telephone call from a man introducing himself as Dale Randy. Lemitz hung up. Then came a knock on the door at the end of the week. Standing in the dim hallway was a bespectacled man no taller than a pre-adolescent boy. He had kinky red hair, and a leather folder under his arm. Lemitz slammed the door in his face.
"Five words," said Mr. Randy through the door. "'Eat, drink, and be merry.'"

Lemitz returned to watching Sandford and Son.

"I've come to offer you a job," Mr. Randy said.

"Fuck off!"

"I represent ZemhepCo Group."

"And I'm CEO of Who Gives a Shit."

"Mr. Lemitz, I'm asking for only two minutes of your time."

"Eat shit."

"I'll give you two hundred dollars to hear me out."

A moment later, Lemitz had four fifties in hand, and Dale Randy sat on the edge of the stained, lopsided sofa. The odor in the apartment was a complex interlacing of BO and garbage, an undercurrent of burnt hair, a tinge of urine, and a spark of mould -- a sensualist's equivalent to hell.

"Where'd you get my name and address?"

"Each month the Unemployment Office sends a list of unemployables," said Mr. Randy.


"People incapable of sustaining employment."

"What the hell -- ?"

"Have you ever wondered if those elements of your personality that get you fired from jobs -- "

"Fuck you, asshole! There's nothing wrong with my fucking personality?!"

" -- could actually be of value?" Mr. Randy opened his leather folder and consulted his notes. "Nine months ago, you lasted three hours as a meeter/greeter at Wal-Mart -- "

"Bunch of gimps -- I had to all but wipe customers' asses. "

"The year before you lasted a week as security guard -- "

"They had a rule against reading while on duty."

" -- after your supervisor found you drunk, asleep, and in possession of fetishistic pornography."

"Fucking nitpickers." He glared at Mr. Randy. "You came here to tell me I'm a lousy worker?"

"No, I've come to offer you a job."

Lemitz narrowed his fly-squashed gaze. "Doing what?"

"Have you ever thought about being Party Enhancer."


"How about some coffee?" said Detective Sneed, as Charen left for a smoke.

Lemitz rubbed his eyes. "Black, three sugars."

When Sneed returned with the coffee, he said, "Your story doesn't add up. Why don't you just admit you have a grudge against Bob Lelo?"

"Bob -- ?"

"The man you attacked."

Lemitz sipped his coffee; grimaced.

"Thing we can't figure is how you know him. You're not employed by Rechtham Associates, you don't reside near Mr. Lelo. We can't figure the connection." Sneed leaned forward. "If you were paid to attack him, the person who paid you is in more trouble than you are." He paused. "Help to help you."

Lemitz remained silent.

"You're only making it harder on yourself," Sneed said, irritated.

"I want my phone call."

Sneed eyed Lemitz for a moment, and then nodded. "Have it your way." He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "Here, use mine."

Lemitz shook his head. "I don't feel like having you trace or record the call."

Sneed's face flushed; he narrowed his gaze. "We're going to take you down, Lemitz."


In the post-Lehman Brothers/AIG/$700 billion bail-out corporate world, wages and benefits were being run off a cliff like Walt Disney's lemmings, layoffs were on the rise, morale plummeted and productivity flagged everywhere. Workplace violence increased. And so, human resource managers were faced with the insurmountable challenge of retaining the few employees that companies actually needed to continue operating.

Into this noxious void stepped ZemhepCo Group with its Party Enhancers business.

The standard issue strippers, musicians, magicians and comedians were available, of course, but extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures. Hence the "industrial strength" sub-arm of Party Enhancers L.L.C., known as the Beraters, which operated like a secret society: whose employees were paid in cash, received instructions on cards with no letterhead, mailed with no return address; and who called into the Home Office via old-school pay phones. Lemitz was a rising star on this roster of most requested of hires.

His job? He attended corporate functions as just another faceless, unidentified minion. He ate free meals, drank free booze, and as managers or directors got up to "say a few words," Lemitz got to work. Preliminary heckling took many forms: ostentatious yawning, elaborate coughing fits, thunderous multi-noted flatulence, clattering silverware. When VPs, presidents or CEOs took the stage, the verbal onslaught began. Behind hands that looked to be covering a sneeze or a yawn, Lemitz sniper-bellowed, "Douche-bag!" or "Cocksnot!" or "Fuck you!" Heads turned; muttered disapproval rippled through audiences, but there was also muffled laughter and whispered encouragement.

Lemitz's true gifts flourished as a Guerrilla Berater, one of the the PE shock troops who confronted hated supervisors, managers, executives in front of crowds of attendees. Depending on the night's design, the GB positioned himself behind the target at the bar or buffet table. Lemitz often began his tirade in a manner that never disappointed, saying to an executive, "So, I was fucking your wife the other day…" From there he would accuse the target of being a closeted homosexual, pederast, or that he was the genetic result of a Nazi experiment. Few diatribes lasted more than thirty seconds, but they all ended the same way: with the red-faced, breathless, stunned supervisor-manager-executive shouting, "You're fired!" and security ushering Lemitz brusquely to the exit.

And for weeks -- even months -- afterward, the office Plebes whispered and laughed and relived the moment some guy nobody recognized told-off the boss as they could only dream of doing. Morale would be successfully jerry-rigged into a workable state in which the company could continue to function.


Within the hour of Lemitz making his one phone call, a ZemhepCo lawyer was at the police station threatening to immolate anyone who stood in the way of him taking his client home. No one was willing to risk immolation. Once home, Lemitz parked himself in front of his television and Alka Seltzed his way back to normality. This hadn't been his first arrest, but the experience was more tiresome each time it occurred.


This Christmas season was very busy for Party Enhancers L.L.C., and there was no lag in Lemitz's assignments. The day after his arrest, he worked a post office brunch, where he was loudly asked to leave during his verbal assault as they executives spoke. That evening, it was a tool and die shop party where drinks and drunken punches were thrown at him after berating a hated manager. Which left Lemitz, hungover, bruised, cantankerous and flush with cash.

The assignment for December 20th, however, appeared to be a non-starter. The Personnel admin of the police department in charge of the Christmas party made a last-minute call to the Party Enhancers with an emergency request. Morale around the department had crumbled in the wake of the forced-retirement of a beloved sergeant and the pending promotion of a hated staff sergeant.

"I'm very sorry, but we are booked solid through to Valentine's Day," the Party Enhancer phone rep said. "There's nothing I can do."

"We'll pay anything!" the secretary pleaded. "There's always some undocumented cash in the Evidence Room--" she cut herself off. "Maybe I shouldn't have said that." She began to cry. "We're all so stressed! We can't even do our jobs! We need your help!"

The Party Enhance phone rep sighed. "OK, I'll see what I can do."


Dale Randy was shaking his head even before his Beraters liaison finished speaking. "Absolutely not," Randy said. "I realize the company that hired Lemitz that evening has gone under, but he was just arrested. How could he infiltrate the police department Christmas party?"

"Leave that to me," said the liaison.

"He's the most valuable Berater we've got!" Randy said, voice rising, as he pointed at the liaison. "If anything happens to him--" his voice broke "I will hold you personally responsible!"


The fit of the Santa costume was abysmal, but the PE wardrobist assured Lemitz that he looked perfect. Lemitz shrugged, and continued eating his Angry Whopper.


There was a larger-than-expected turn-out for the police department Christmas party. A large banquet hall was lavishly appointed for the officers and their spouses' meal, and a smaller, adjacent room set up for their children. Admins and interns dressed as elves looked after the children, with the promise of Santa making a visit near the end of the night.

Lemitz looked at the gathering through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door. Of all his faculties that had atrophied, malfunctioned or simply given out on him over the years, his vision had somehow remained intact. He scanned the room and saw Detectives Charen and Sneed taking drink orders at the head table filled with the white-shirt administrators. The night's dossier said that Charen and Sneed had been suspended without pay after the ZemhepCo Group attorneys woke the mayor out of bed with complaints about Lemitz's treatment upon his most recent arrest.

Scanning the room further, Lemitz locked on soon-to-be Inspector Mullen, a hatchet faced woman in her forties who was hated by all, but on track for promotion into the inspector position. The unidentified HR admin who'd booked Lemitz for this evening had explained to the PE phone rep that the balance and uniformity of hate felt toward Mullen by the entire department made her the perfect candidate for the inspector position. The white shirts loved playing the Plebes off of one another.

Lemitz drank deeply from his tumbler of Wild Turkey, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and entered the banquet hall.

The first white shirt had already gotten up to say a few words. Lemitz-dressed-as-Santa approached the head table, relishing the gasps and whispers that accompanied his appearance. There was no ignoring him, so the white shirt with the mic ad-libbed, chuckling hatefully, "Well, look who it is! Jolly ole Saint Nick!" There was a smattering of bewildered applause.

Lemitz held out his hand, and as though he wielded the power of a wizard, the befuddled white shirt handed him the microphone.

"Ho, ho, ho," Lemitz sneered too loud into the mic. "How about some white hoods to go with those white shirts?"

There came more gasps, agitated whispers and some laughs.

The white shirt who had relinquished the mic leaned forward to snatch it back. Lemitz waited a moment, and then stepped away causing the white shirt to lean forward more than he had intended to, and falling into the head table, knocking it, upsetting everyone's drinks and place settings.

"Inspector Mullen," Lemitz intoned. Her dossier mentioned she was deeply religious. "As St. Paul wrote to the Fallopians, 'Eat, drink and be merry you ass-tobacco-cunt-headed-cock-snotted-fetus-feasting-bathtub-snorkler --'" He was interrupted by a dinner plate sailing past his head.

A primal, tarzan shriek emitted from the crowd, followed by the screeching of a chair shooting out from a table. Lemitz grimaced in the spotlights focused on the head table, wondering from which angle the attack was coming.

Mullen met him head on, slapping him in the side of the head so hard he dropped the microphone. Clutching his drink, reeling from the blow, Lemitz attempted to continue his tirade, but another blow boxed his left ear. He continued reeling, head ringing, and found himself crashing through a set of double doors. He was met by the screams of children -- some startled, some excited, all shrill, piercing, disorienting, mind-destroying. It was much brighter in the kids' room than in the banquet hall. As Lemitz waited for his eyes to adjust, he received a brutal kick in the ass.

Gathering himself, Lemitz spun around, on the attack. The hatchet faced woman was in full feral sneer. He opened his mouth for another squall of profanity, but she cut him short with a punch to the throat. Of all the abuse Lemitz endured in his life, he'd never suffered a punch to the throat. The pain was exquisite, almost enlivening in how it lit every nerve-ending in his upper torso and super-novaed behind his eyes.

He dropped his drink.

A strange, inhuman gurgle issued from his crushed larynx.

There was an uproar of crying and gnashing of teeth among the children. The women dressed as elves brought their hands to their mouths, appalled, aghast. Mullen stood over Lemitz, glowering down on him.


Walter Q. Lemitz was fondly and reverently remembered as the first Berater to die in the line of duty. A video compilation of his PE career was cobbled together from cell phone cam footage, surveillance cam footage, as well as various event videographers' contributions. A plaque with Lemitz's name on it hung in the ZemhepCo Group boardroom.

Since he had no family or friends, ZemhepCo Group looked after Lemitz funeral arrangements. Following an administrative shake-up at the police department, where Staff Sergeant Mullen was put on indefinite unpaid leave, Detective Sneed appeared at Lemitz's funeral to say a few words.

To the few gathered at the mausoleum where Lemitz's ashes were interred, Detective spoke with great emotion. "Walter Q. Lemitz was filled with cocksnot. He was an artist."

Friday, December 05, 2008

Pac-Man: Connecting the Dots (a Nano-Novel) Part III

Part I | Part II

Disposable Cell Phone

Seven digits were dialed into a disposable cellular telephone. The line on the other end rang four times before someone answered.

"Hello," said Ms. Pac-Man, her voice low and filled with sleep. It was two o'clock in the morning. "Hello," she said again when there was no reply.

The sound of someone breathing was all she heard.

"If this is you, Pac-Man, you're a sad pathetic asshole!" she yelled, her voice breaking. "You had your chance and you blew it! Fuck off and leave me alone!" She slammed the phone down.

The caller clicked off the cell phone and dropped it into a nearby trash can. Then he walked off down the dark, rain dampened street.


The little shit hadn't changed in the seventeen years since he'd last seen him. Slac-Man sat on the edge of a fountain busking with his polished steel Dobro guitar, singing "Heartbreak Hotel." Pac-Man adjusted his sunglasses and approached his former best friend.

He wanted to kick the little shit's ass, but since reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he reminded himself, I am in pursuit of Quality. Ass-kicking is satisfying, but it does not bring me any closer to Quality. That could only be found when he informed his former best friend that he, Pac-Man, was taking back his life and that included his wife and child. If Slac-Man didn't like that, well, he was free to pursue Quality in whatever way his life directed. Better yet, he could go fuck himself—

—a sudden, small whoosh slashed the air by Pac-Man's left ear, tearing the sunglasses off his face. There was a metallic gong sound. He instinctively fell into a crouch and rolled to his right. When he looked at Pac-Man, Slac-Man sat there, motionless, gaping, and what looked like a bullet hole in the body of his guitar. His startled gaze slowly turned to Pac-Man. As recognition came into his face, he said, "Pac-Man?" Blood poured out of his mouth. He fell backward into the fountain.

Pac-Man dove into the fountain and brought Slac-Man behind the statue. He eyed the area for the shooter. Two more shots chewed up fragments of the fountain's ledge.

Running footsteps approached from behind. Pac-Man whirled around as a man jumped into the fountain. The man wore a driver's uniform, and a cap that read: DEUS EX MACHINA TAXI. "I'll help him," the man said. "You gotta get outta here! The shooter's after you. I'll make sure he gets help." Taking Slac-Man in his arms, the driver nodded in the direction from which he came. "My taxi cab is over there, running. Take it! Get outta here!" Pac-Man paused, but knew the man was right. The driver grabbed Pac-Man and shouted in his face, "The highest form of human endeavor is the pursuit of Quality! Now, go!" Pac-Man broke from his grip and sprinted for the taxi.

Road Warrior

The streets in this area were organized in a series of one-way thoroughfares that forced Pac-Mac to drive around the front of the park where the shots had come. He glanced up at the top of the storefronts in time to see a blue blur. A moment later, there was a thump on the roof of the taxi cab. A ghostly blue hand slap at the windshield before Pac-Man's eyes. He had not seen such a hand since—

"Inkey?" Pac-Man said.

"Turn left in point-four miles," said the GPS in a calm British voice. Pac-Man did so.

The butt of a sniper rifle cracked the windshield.

"Turn right in point-two miles," said the GPS.

As Pac-Man careened through traffic, the passenger side window suddenly imploded. Inkey bounced off the seat and threw himself at Pac-Man. Still following the GPS's directions, Pac-Man fought Inkey off until the ghost produced a K-bar knife and sunk its bladed into Pac-Man's thigh. Before Inkey could pull it out and continue stabbing, Pac-Man straight-armed him into the passenger foot well.

"Ease left in point-one miles," said the GPS.

The pain in Pac-Man's leg was seismic. When Pac-Man finally focused again on his driving, he saw that he was leaving the road and heading into the brick wall of a mansion's front gates. It was Graceland.

Inkey regrouped and made a lunge at Pac-Man just as the taxi jumped the curb and smashed through the gates of Graceland. The jolt launched Inkey through the already-damaged windshield. Pac-Man hit the accelerator pedal with his left foot, taking the taxi cab right over top of the ghost. The vehicle rocketed up the drive and collided with one of the stone lions guarding the front steps.


Stunned, his ears ringing, brain misfiring like microwave popcorn, Pac-Man stumbled out of the crashed taxi. A woman ran up the drive. Pac-Man couldn't focus on anything. The moment he put weight on his injured leg, it erupted with pain that dropped him to the ground. He blacked out.

Ms. Pac-Man stood over Pac-Man. She removed her trademark red ribbon from her hair and made a tourniquet around his injured leg. Moments later, Pac-Man opened his eyes. "What're you doing here?" he muttered. Ms. Pac-Man was about to explain that she arranged to meet Slac-Man here so she could break up with him; that the taxi cab Pac-Man had commandeered was from the same company she had called to take her to the airport—

—she felt cold steel pressed against her temple.


The taxi had not squashed Inkey, but merely rolled over him. He now stood behind Ms. Pac-Man—lamp of his life, torch of his loins; his sickness, his soul-mate—with the barrel of a Glock pistol held to her head. Pac-Man stirred on the ground. He saw the ghost was injured; one eye swollen shut, the hand holding the gun was bleeding.

"You never wanted her until you couldn't have her," Inkey said in high, wavering voice.

"Are you speaking to me?" Ms. Pac-Man said.

"To him!" Inked squeaked.

"Okay, 'cause it didn't make much sense—"

"Shuddup!" Inkey demanded.

"Who's talking?" Pac-Man said. "You're talking—"

"I said ‘Shuddup!'" piped Inkey, "and I mean shuddup, goddamn it!"

Ms. Pac-Man looked at Pac-Man. Pac-Man looked at Inkey. Inkey looked back and forth from Pac-Man to Ms. Pac-Man. No one spoke. Blood pooled on the ground beneath Inkey's shroud. If we could just keep him talking long enough, Pac-Man thought. Maybe he'll bleed-out or weaken enough so I can get that gun away from him. He caught Ms. Pac-Man's eye and tried to signal her—

"Was it you on the phone?" Ms. Pac-Man said.

"Are you speaking to me or him—?" Pac-Man says.

"Shuddup!" screeched Inkey.

Ms. Pac-Man turned her head toward the ghost, looking at him from the corner of her eye. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"I had to hear your voice!" Inkey squealed.

"And all this time I thought it was him," she said, nodding at Pac-Man.

"Shuddup! I don't wanna hear it! I don't wanna hear anything! You're gonna listen to me!"

A pause hung between them.

"Then say something, goddamn it!" Pac-Man said.

"Shuddup!" Inkey blurted, shrill. "I'm gonna take what's mine," he said. "And she's mine. You shoulda been smart, Pac-Man, and stayed in rehab. But instead, you had to be stupid, an' come down here!"

Inkey began backing away, his forearm around Ms. Pac-Man's neck, the gun still pointed at her head. "Don't try an' follow us, Pac-Man," Inkey said. "You squandered your chance. Now, it's my chance." He backed down the driveway with Ms. Pac-Man.

Watching them go, Pac-Man pulled the K-bar knife from his leg. Amid the almost-unbearable-pain came an even worse flash of agony that made his vision momentarily gray-out. He shook off the encroaching daze, and took aim on his adversary.

Just then a Carp-shaped automobile pulled to a stop outside the gates of Graceland. Two men with Charlie Chaplin mustachios, dressed in silver body suits, got out and approached Inkey. The ghost must have lost enough blood to leave him utterly disoriented, because the two men took hold of him and disarmed him with little trouble. The three of them disappeared into the Carp-car, which promptly drove away.

Post Climax Plateau

Slac-Man survived his gunshot wound to reinvent himself as an entrepreneur, marketing his own brand of steel guitar called the SlacStrum. A sound-hole was fired into each with a hunting rifle by various guest celebrities: Jimmy Page, Buddy Guy, Yngwie Malmasteen.

Following a regimen of cortisone shots, a hip replacement and hairplug implantation, Frogger retired from retirement and left the Institute. His frugal early life and shrewd investments enabled him to not only live comfortably, even lavishly, but provided him the means to finally fight for his lover's freedom.

Renowned psychic medium, Zyng Furmelstaff, was hired to channel the spirit of the late defense attorney, Johnny Cochran. From beyond the grave, Cochran worked through Furmelstaff to exonerate Q*Bert. After seven months of investigation, Q*Bert's petition for a new trial was granted. At the trial, ample evidence of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct were presented—during which, Cochran-through-Furmelstaff, famously exclaimed in closing arguments, "If he ain't done shit, you must acquit!" The jury deliberated for four days before freeing Q*Bert from The Pen. The prosecutor and judge from the original trial were subsequently disbarred with prejudice and sentenced to prison.

And so, with Slac-Man leading an all-star swing band, Frogger and Q*Bert standing up as best man and maid of honor, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man officially wedded on a Saturday in May on the grounds of Powerscourt Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland. The Reverend M.C. Hammer presided over the ceremony.

Post Script

Conrad Glibb was killed in a bizarre on-camera mishap while demonstrating the Day-us Ex-Machina hideaway bed. Footage of the accident found its way online and within hours of Glibb's demise, his death-on-video had gone viral throughout the entire World Wide Internets.

Pac-Man: Connecting the Dots (a Nano-Novel) Part II

Part I

Ms. Pac-Man II

She rose from the bed and crossed the darkened room. Slac-Man lay slumped across the bed, making loud, slobbering sounds in his sleep. Ms. Pac-Man went to the crib in the corner and looked at Baby Pac-Man with a mixture of pride, love and pain. The entire nine months she carried her baby, she dreaded giving birth to a Gac-Man—half ghost, half pac-sapien, shunned by both communities.

Baby Pac-Man dreamed in the sleep of the innocent. If Ms. Pac-Man had her way—and no one was going to keep her from having her way—Baby Pac-Man would never set foot in a maze, and neither would a dot nor an energizer ever pass his lips.

The telephone rang, shattering the stillness. Ms. Pac-Man got it on the third ring.

"Hello?" she said. There was only breathing on the other end. "Hello?"

Click. Dial tone. The hang-up calls had been coming for months. She knew they were coming from Pac-Man.

Behind her, Slac-Man snored like a loose plunger working a narrow drain. Ms. Pac-Man bristled.

Rehab V

After years of self-abuse, Pac-Man was no longer the robust morning sun he'd once been. Running the maze had kept him thin, but the ravages of the dots and energizers had left him grizzled, lined and wheezing.

The worst of the day's withdrawal symptoms were behind him, so he rose from his bed and ventured into the corridor. He was unsure how long he'd slept, but he felt rested and somewhat refreshed. The ward was dark and quiet. Pac-Man couldn't count the years he'd spent in this institution since his involuntary committal, but he was certain of one thing: he had to get out.

He crept down to the common room where an orderly watched Sports Round-Up on TV. Pac-Man delivered a karate chop to the side of the man's neck, rendering him unconscious. He rifled the orderly's pockets and extracted a giant ring filled with keys—

"Hey!" a voice shouted. "What're you doing?" Two orderlies came running.

Instinct kicked in and Pac-Man was on the move. The orderlies rushed into the common room, trying to grab the little, yellow patient, but Pac-Man still had a few moves left in him. He feinted right and dodged left, threw head-fakes, doubled-back between the coffee table and television stand, and cut a hard right that sent the orderlies crashing into one another.

He scooted around the chair in which the unconscious orderly sat and was out the door and down hall. The key ring in his hand was the first prize he'd scooped in years.

Sweat streamed down his face, and his heart pounded heavily in his chest, but Pac-Man hadn't felt so alive since his first day in the maze.

On the Road

It was still there—Pac-Man couldn't believe it. Back in the bad old days, he'd left a duffel bag in a bus station locker containing a wad of money and a disguise. One of the last things he remembered was stiffing his connection. There was no guessing how much money Pac-Man owed him, but he was in deep enough trouble to have a getaway plan. Hence the locker.

Pac-Man ducked into a rest room and put on the Hawaiian shirt and straw hat he found in the duffel. He pocketed the money. When he approached a ticket window in the station, he realized he was about to make his first decision since seeking sobriety—escaping the institute had been an unplanned whim. It was now time to get his shit together.

Going by the name "Cortes," Pac-Man worked as a farm-hand in Montana. In California, he worked in a car wash. He dealt cards for three months in Reno. Worked in the oil fields of Texas. He dove for sponges and coral in Florida. He caddied semi-pro golf on Hilton Head, South Carolina. Every month or so he sent a postcard to Frogger. Nights when he fought against drinking himself to sleep, Pac-Man sorely regretted not saying a proper goodbye to his friend. Visions of Hu's mortified corpse haunted his dreams.

Wherever he went, Pac-Man kept a journal and a tattered copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in his back pocket. In some of his tougher jobs, he was razzed for being a reader. Mostly, though, he kept to himself. Somewhere in this great country was the woman he had once loved—and who had loved him—a child who had never seen his face.

He intended to find them.


It was a muggy, overcast evening in Atlanta. Pac-Man stood at his post as doorman in front a five-star hotel when a modded-out car shaped like a giant carp pulled to the curb. Passersby stopped and pointed and laughed. Pac-Man was the only one not smiling. He knew this Carp-car. It was the last thing in the world he wanted to see.

A slender, pale man with a Charlie Chaplin mustachio—dressed in a silver bodysuit—stepped out of the car. "You knew we'd find you," he said to Pac-Man. "Run, and we'll find you again—and we may not approach you in such civil manner next time."

Pac-Man got into the car. If he lived, he knew that he was through with this hotel, and probably with Atlanta, altogether. The silver-suited man got into the passenger seat up front. The car pulled into traffic.

In the plush, purple expanse of the Carp-car's backseat sat infomercial guru Conrad Glibb who had pioneered the belt-buckle-cheese-grater, the beer-cooler-trampoline and the patented Glibb "Comedian's Companion" Rubber fish—hence the outlandish automobile. Glibb was also Pac-Man's Connection. He looked at his former client and smiled. "You've lost weight," he said. "And you've aged fifty years."

"Dots and vodka aren't known for sustaining one's youthful glow," Pac-Man said.

Glibb laughed. "But they haven't robbed you of witty ripostes! Bon mot!"

Pac-Man sighed. "Look, I fucked up. I left owing you, and I know it doesn't work that way."

"Didn't Oscar Wilde say once, ‘There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has a right to blame us'?" Glibb waved the comment away. "Since you've cut to the dénouement, how do you plan to settle your debt?"

Pac-Man said nothing. Glibb filled the silence: "Maybe I can help, then. I have clients who have certain tastes . . . appetites, let's say. They would pay almost anything to spend, say, some quality time with a ghost." He leered at Pac-Man. "Bring me a ghost and I'll call us even."

"But I—" Pac-Man began, but Glibb cut him off.

"I can't imagine you have fond feelings for someone like Inkey, to name one. If I remember correctly, he cuckolded you." Seeing Pac-Man's shocked, drained expression, Glibb laughed, surprised. "They always say the cuckold is the last to know! I guess not all clichés are . . . clichés." His smile disappeared. "Bring me a ghost. I don't care which one. It could be the ghost of Harry Houdini for all I care. Bring me a ghost or maybe I'll take up your debt with your long lost love."

Ms. Pac-Man & Love's Travel Stop

She had waitressed for eight years at Love's Travel Stop, just off of Highway 240. Slac-Man was still trying to get his music career together. "This is where Elvis lived and died," he said whenever Ms. Pac-Man asked if he was looking for work. "Memphis is where I've gotta make my break." His last paying gig was three months ago in a women's hair salon. Payment was two free stylings and a manicure. Ms. Pac-Man got in for one, but Slac-Man slipped in for the others, saying his pompadour was his signature and that his hands were his true instruments.

There was a lull after the breakfast rush. As Ms. Pac-Man wiped tables, Sid, the assistant manager, called to her. "Telephone call!" he said brusquely. "Make it quick, I'm not running a call center!"

Ms. Pac-Man went around the counter to the telephone that sat beside the old, nicotine-stained cash register. "Hello?" There was only breathing on the other end. "Hello?" she said again.

Click. Dial tone. She stood there, looking at the receiver.

"What's with you?" Sid sneered. "You look like you never seen a phone before." He paused, watching her. Then he clapped his hands. "Come on! The tables ain't gonna wipe 'emselves!"

Frogger III

Seated with his back to the muted television in the common room, Frogger spent the dinner hour smoking butts he found in the ashtray—his ration of cigarettes had been taken away for three days because he'd been caught whispering through the bars of The Pen one night. He read the latest postcard from Pac-Man, smiling, even though the thought of travel conjured memories of roads, and the last thing in this life Frogger wanted to think about was automobile traffic.

A telephone call came to the institute the other day from a producer for VH1's Where Are They Now? They were putting together a video game special and tracking down 80s icons. Among other things, the producer wanted to delve into Pac-Man's controversial 1999 statement that "Video games with guns aren't video games—they're paramilitary training." The producer said he'd let Frogger know if they found Pac-Man.

As the late afternoon sunshine streamed into the common room, Frogger couldn't remember a time when he'd felt more alone. Pac-Man was gone. Hu was dead (although he had never known the Berzerk humanoid personally, he still experienced a pang losing a brother-in-arms). And his tenuous link to Q*Bert had been severed. Frogger wondered if it wasn't time to begin saving up and hiding his meds, and making that final crossing to the place where there was no traffic.

Mix Tape

Pac-Man walked through a warm, suburban spring evening with his Sony Walkman listening to an old mixed tape he'd made for Ms. Pac-Man sometime in the late 1980s. She'd left it behind when she walked out of his life. The Pretenders played "Back On the Chain Gang." The song sketched in his mind the days he spent with Ms. Pac-Man, playing his guitar for her, seeing her after a night in the maze, going to dot raves and making love with her behind the stadium.

He looked at the homes in this neighborhood, which seemed to exist in another world, different and separate from the one Pac-Man knew, in which tyrants and madmen rode around in Carp-shaped cars demanding the hideously impossible from him.

He looked at the dusk-wounded sky and muttered, "The world is too much with us."

Read Part III

Pac-Man: Connecting the Dots (a Nano-Novel) Part I

Rehab I

Pac-Man was in rehab to kick the dots. He lay on his cot, restless and writhing, sweat pouring from his round, jaundiced body. "I'd sell my soul for an energizer," he gasped. The bare walls of his tiny room were indifferent to his pain.

Had the dots been his only sin, Pac-Man might have been all right. But they were a gateway drug to Oxycontin, methamphetamine and then into the craziness of ultra-espresso, Red Bull and Viagra and witch hazel.

When the chills and pain subsided, he sat up and took his guitar on his knee—he'd been allowed the instrument since he came off of suicide watch a week ago. He strummed chords distractedly until he fell into a melody. Then he sang in a low, uncertain voice:
Life is a maze
Shrouded in a haze.
You haunt all my days
with your smile and grace.

The lines of dots,
The flophouse cots,
Squandering my only shot
With you . . .

I'll find you
I'll find you if I can
I'll bribe any judge
And fight any man
I'll find you —
He couldn't utter the next words: Ms. Pac-Man.

Ms. Pac-Man: Memphis . . . Midnight

She missed him, sure, but she refused to live a country-song cliché. She followed him through more mazes than she could remember, the back of his yellow head like the sun perpetually setting, retreating, taking away its warmth. And for a time the dots were like stars to her, the energizers supernovas; rounding the endless maze corners―with the ghosts' cold embrace in close pursuit―filled her with a phantasmagorical head rush.

Then, one evening, while moving through the tunnel from one side of the screen to the other, Inkey, the timid ghost, approached her. There was poetry in his eyes; the soft caress of his ghostly, gauzy shroud. Maybe she was dizzy from the energizers or from gulping too much bonus fruit―Ms. Pac-Man succumbed without protest to Inkey's sexual overtures.

She never divulged her dalliance to Pac-Man, but feared he knew on a subliminal level. Soon after, she learned she was pregnant, knowing in her heart it was Inkey's child. Pac-Man continued his endless pursuit of dots, spending less time at home. Carrying a child, Ms. Pac-Man went off the dots, suffering her withdrawals alone. During the throes of detox, she pondered Mario's love for Pauline in Donkey Kong: they were the Romeo and Juliet of the arcade: love-bound, yes; damned to an existence of unrequited passion, absolutely. She envied them nonetheless.

One night, when Pac-Man came home battered from another dust-up with the ghosts (Inkey pursued him with a rival's determination), out of his mind on dots―eyes glowing like energizers―Ms. Pac-Man packed a bag and left him.

Here she was now, in Memphis, shacked up with Pac-Man's best friend, Slac-Man, who never had the ambition to enter the maze. He held her as they spooned on their narrow bed. Ms. Pac-Man looked across the darkened room, beyond the baby's crib, and tried to imagine the stars in the sky beyond the window.

Rehab II

There was a tap at the door. Pac-Man halted his song. Frogger hobbled into the room on slow, arthritic legs. The hand holding his cigarette quivered like a tuning fork.

"Hey man," Frogger said. "I was on my walk and heard the guitar. Don't stop, keep playing." Frogger shuffled through the corridors from the convalescent wing each evening, moving like an old football player. He took the barest amount of medication to control the pain. He learned years ago that drugs brought back the dreams in terrible Technicolor: always the traffic; the unending procession of frogicidal drivers.

As Pac-Man played, the stillness of the ward was shattered by an anguished scream from a few doors down. Frogger froze, dropping his cigarette. "What the—?"

Pac-Man set his guitar aside. A wave of fatigue made him light-headed. "That sounds like Hu."


"The humanoid from Berzerk."

Frogger's eyes widened. "He's here? I heard he didn't make it out."

"He did," Pac-Man said, rising slowly. "Barely."

Berzerk was the first video game known to have been involved in the death of a player. In January 1981, 19-year-old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack soon after posting a score of 16,660 on Berzerk. In October of the following year, Peter Burkowski made the Berzerk top-ten list twice in fifteen minutes, just a few seconds before also dying of a heart attack at the age of 18. — Wikipedia
The bouncing face of Evil Otto swept into each dream with the force of a sorcerer's spell; the robots droning "Intruder alert! Intruder alert!"

Hu was a gaunt, lanky man—bald, pale-eyed—with hunched shoulders. He walked the halls of the institute like a ghost, passing the orderlies clad in their white shirts and trousers with black bow ties and black belts. They eyed him suspiciously, contemptuously. This often brought a wan smirk to Hu's face because the orderlies looked like surly ice cream vendors who had never made it into the field.

Once in a while, however, Hu was sure he heard one of them mutter, "The humanoid must not escape."

They were trying to rattle him. So often, they succeeded.

Rehab III

Pac-Man was the first into Hu's room; ravaged as his body was from dot-abuse, Pac-Man retained some of his old moves. The long, emaciated form beneath the thin institutional sheet lay rigid upon the sagging cot. It was clear that Hu had breathed his last. The man's gaunt face—its pale flesh hideously translucent—was pulled back in a rictus of horror.

Pac-Man staggered back until he collided with the wall, his eyes wide, giant mouth gaping. Frogger extended a shaky hand. As two ice cream parlor orderlies rushed into the room, Pac-Man breathed, "What the hell am I doing here? This isn't a hospital, it's a morgue, a mortuary, a tomb, a mausoleum, a graveyard. This is hell!"

"Hey man, it's not that bad," Frogger said. "At least they feed us regular."


Ice cream vendor orderlies with hands like construction workers grabbed Pac-Man and Frogger and forced them out of Hu's room. Shaky as Frogger was, Pac-Man was in worse shape, descending into a stony, silent depression. Frogger put him to bed. Pac-Man rolled over and faced the wall.

As Frogger limped into the corridor, the shock of Hu's demise and Pac-Man's blanked-out lethargy flattened and filed themselves away: Frogger had his own problems. Like how to break his gay lover out of maximum security solitary confinement.

That's what brought him to Pac-Man's room—to see if he still had his old connection, who slipped fruit into the maze, nourishing Pac-Man every time he went on a dot binge. Whispered word had it that Pac-Man's connection could get anything to anyone—for a price. Frogger figured if this unseen go-to-guy could get produce into a video game, he surely could help spring Frogger's soul mate escape The Pen.

Frogger II

Hobbling out of the rehab ward, Frogger took a detour away from the convalescent wing. For all of the hard breaks and bad luck he and his lover had suffered through the years, one thing had fallen in their favor: both were housed in the same institution.

It was going on 11 p.m., the time when the guards' shift changed in The Pen—the basement-level fortress of prison cells housing some of the nation's most dangerous criminals. Frogger's bones and joints alternately creaked and screamed as he slowly descended an emergency stairwell—the elevator would have been easier, of course, but it opened directly across from the guarded reception window of The Pen, allowing no one to go down there unnoticed.

Frogger's lover had been framed with the murder of eleven people a decade ago, brought about because of his political writings. Frogger dreamed of going back in time and returning with Pac-Man in his prime, and setting that ravenous yellow mouth loose on this maze, to devour the guards and barred doors like so many dots. But time-travel did not exist in the real world.

Frogger limped through a door that gave onto a maintenance corridor. There was no access into the cell block, but this vantage point allowed him to see farther into The Pen than he could from the reception window. His lover was housed around the corner in a padded cell that was brightly lit every hour of the day. In the night-time hush of the shift change, Frogger approached the bars and stage-whispered the first part of his lover's name. If his lover was awake to hear him, he'd whisper the second half of his own name:

"Q," whispered Frogger.

Several seconds passed, and then faintly, almost inaudibly:


Rehab IV

He woke with a start, chilled and disoriented, cavernously hungry, a strange twitch working around his eyes. It was the middle of the night. In the pit of his being, there was a cold sad, depression knelling through him. It took only a moment to identify its source: Hu was gone. Although they'd never been close, there was a quiet, mutual respect between Pac-Man and Hu. Both had spent their professional lives pursued by homicidal entities, and both had survived to suffer the ravages of life outside of the maze.

Hu had no one.

To think Hu had once been an innocent heating and cooling technician sent to Robotronics Test Laboratories to fix its air conditioning unit. He had no idea the robots had gone berserk and purposely disabled the climate control so that a humanoid would be sent in. Hu soon found himself surrounded by murderous robots. He managed to arm himself and sought only to get the hell out of the facility. But the place was in total lockdown. The lead programmer, Otto, had gone utterly insane and had set the robots loose. When Otto saw the humanoid holding his own against the androids, he sent a holographic image of his own head bouncing through the corridors to terrify and unman Hu. Otto didn't succeed. Hu battled the robots to the very edge of his endurance, and beyond it, and finally freed himself.

"Only to die," Pac-Man moaned, rolling onto his side, gripping his head with his hands. "Only to die . . . in this pit."

Read Part II

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Passport Photo

"Please sit on the stool, look directly into the camera, do not smile— no, no don't tilt your head—"

"I'm not."

"No, definite tilt to the right."

"That's just how my head goes, I guess."

"Well, tilt a little to the right— your left. OK, that it's."


Photographer examines the photo on the screen in the back of his digital camera. "You've got a bit of a smirk on your face—"

"I didn't! I mean, I wasn't smiling."

"Mmm, definitely a hint of a smirk— and your right eye looks like it's open more than the left. I'm not kidding you, passport bureaucrats are sticklers. All right, one more time."


Photographer examines the photo. "Well, no smirk, but you look like you're suppressing a smirk and that's worse than smirking. And you're really going to have to do something about that right eye."

"But that's just how my face goes."

"I understand, I really do, but I've taken a thousand passport pictures and I'm telling you, they're looking for a reason to reject it. Buggy eyes—no offense—and smirks are right at the top of their list. Ready?"


"Ah, the head-tilting isn't working. You look like you're stretching your neck. Even if that got by the passport people—and it probably wouldn't—a Customs officer would give you grief, for sure. Long neck makes you look guilty."

"Guilty of what?"

"Of doing something wrong, I don't know. You wanna look guilty in your passport picture? I sure wouldn't!"


"Of course not. You look like a good, honest guy to me. It's the camera that needs convincing. So, compact your neck a bit . . . ah, ah, don't tilt to the right . . . even out the eyes . . . all right, all right— Dammit!"


"The smirk is back."

"I don't feel like I'm smirking. How can I be smirking and not feel it?"

"Sir, I'm just telling you what I see through the camera lens."

"OK . . . how's this?"

"Uh, not bad . . . I think we may have something . . ."


Photographer examines the photo. "I'd say this would just about do, you know, except . . ."

"Except what?"

"Well, I wouldn't want you to take this the wrong way—"

"The smirk? I wasn't smirking! I know I wasn't—"

"No, no, it's not the smirk."

"And my eyes were dead even—"

"No, the eyes are good . . . It's, I'm sorry, the shape of your head."

"What? That's ridiculous!"

"I understand, I don't say this lightly, but the passport people and border personnel will seize on any little abnormality—"

"You're saying my head is abnormally shaped?"

"No, I wouldn't say that."

"You just did! You said there's something odd about the shape of my head."

"Listen, I'm working for you and I don't wanna see you have problems using one of my pictures."

"If the only issue with that photo is the shape of my head, I'll take it and be on my way."

"Certainly, absolutely. I apologize if I hurt your feelings. It's just that the camera freezes a moment in time. Looking at you in person, there doesn't appear to be anything abnormal about the shape of your head. You look just like a regular guy—"

"Fine, fine, can I pay you and go?"

"Yes, right over here. Cash, charge or debit."


"Of course. Swipe with the strip facing me— no, no, the other way. Facing me. Facing— the stripe needs to be facing me, the numbers facing you— No problem, please allow me."

"Fine. Whatever."

"These things take forever dialing in. You'd think with the technology today—"

"Have you always been a professional photographer?"

"Well, it's interesting that you should ask. I've several interesting jobs over the years."

"Really? Like what? Insult comedian?"

"Ha ha, I can see why you'd say that, and again, I apologize for any offense taken. Actually, I used to be in the medical field."

"Really? Doing what?"

"I performed lethal injections at the prison farm in Angola, Louisiana, but my customers complained that I wasn't sensitive enough. Then I worked in the passport office—so believe me, I know of what I speak. But that didn't work out."

"Why not?"

"Ah, you know, some idiot supervisor thought I was rejecting too many applications because of flaws in the photos."

"Right. So, have you found your niche in photography?"

"Well, I've got plans—always planning, looking to the future, you know."

"So, what's next?"

"I'm thinking about security consulting. Big field, security. Endless possibilities. Hey, suspicion is the new electrical engineering."

Friday, November 28, 2008

What's Been Going On In Des Moines Lately, Probably By Gary Britson

Now that summer is over and everyone is back from the Green Day tour, I thought I'd go over some of the stuff that's been happening in Des Moines lately, if you're still interested.

Legal Update: I am pleased to announce that the City Council has finally outlawed Dixieland bands from the County Fair if two or more members of said band are retired accountants. There were just too many of them and they were getting in the way.

My dog Oates: She wasn't really lost. She was just over at the union hall, digging up Jimmy Hoffa again. I didn't mean to worry everyone when I sounded the alarm last spring, but she's just about the only one around here who'll give me the time of day any more since I went on probation.

My brother Earl: Now that he's back from his tour of duty overseas, we're doing just what his doctors told us to do: Keep him supplied with plenty of cold Old Milwaukee and don't make any sudden noises. Let him sit by the TV and sop up the suds and take it easy. Since this is pretty much the way he'd lived before he enlisted, things around here haven't changed all that much. Earl is considering various options, such as furthering his education. Right now he's got it narrowed down to the DeVry Institute and Harvard Divinity School. Depends on which one will give him adequate funding. Personally, I'd go for the technical training, as there isn't much call around here for theologians, now that everyone has cable and can watch Believers Voice of Victory whenever they want.

Besides, we've got old Elmer Rudge down to the Seventh Day Adventists, and like my Dad always said, one Duns Scotus expert in a town is enough. I always liked medieval scholastics, but they do tend to go on a bit.

Thomas Pynchon: He really got everyone's dander up at the County Fair last summer, setting up that autograph booth right next to the ball park and giving free autographed first editions of Gravity's Rainbow just to spite me for not letting him on the softball team, on account of I didn't want him hanging around my sister any more. I just don't think he's a good influence on her. When word got out that he'd be doing a nightly book signing, all those skinny girls from the junior college descended on the town and folks wanting to go to the softball tournament couldn't find a place to park. I'd rather have a shortstop who can't discuss postmodernism than some stuck-up little geek who won't even accept an invitation to appear on Oprah. It's not my fault he can't hit a change-up.

The Nobel Peace Prize: Once again the community has banded together to formally nominate our own Sheriff Roy Albrecht for the Nobel Peace Prize. This year we got it submitted in the right kind of envelope and to the right address. The ladies of the church got together and did the calligraphy and also provided the ribbons. Anyone who can keep the peace five years running at the Zoo Bar deserves some recognition. I know Roy's not as famous as some of those laureates, but I don't see how you can give a Peace Prize to someone who's never even run for sheriff.

Annals of Justice: You probably saw in the paper how our own Ames Nickeslworth got his plumbing lethally ventilated by a blast from the shotgun of his neighbor, Walt Croolly. Walt was convicted of murder one two years ago, as you know, but over the summer the homos on the Iowa Supreme Court said he didn't do it after all and gave him a new trial. Of course, all the real men were out of town for the summer following the Green Day tour and who was left to man the jury? Bunch of socialists and Seventh Day Adventists and kids working at Wal-Mart. I mean, get real. Anyway, Walt got a new trial and they convicted him of manslaughter, a real slap on the wrist. He'll be out of prison in a year or two. Word has it that down to the prison, his dance card has been pretty full the last couple of years.

My Little League Team: We changed our name from the Wildcats to the Badass Mutant Disciples, but we still lost to St. Mary's 21-3. It was closer than it sounds. We'd have made the playoffs if we'd won a game, I'm convinced.

Health issues: Have you noticed that since AIDS came and went, nobody ever talks about getting the clap any more? They used to talk about it all the time, especially Nestor, but I think he was just bragging.

Probation: It's not as bad as you might think. My probation officer is a pleasant lady, but I have to call her Ms. Sanderson and she won't go to the movies with me. She says she'll have me revoked if I ask her again. Women. Go figure.

The arts: The high school production of The Phantom of the Opera hit a snag, on account of they couldn't get the rights. They decided to do it anyway. Shirley and her sister had the album and their Aunt Melanie over in Omaha saw it and remembered a lot of the talk, so they just put their heads together and figured out some stuff to say between songs, but after a couple weeks of rehearsals they got a call from a guy who claimed that the guys who wrote the show would sue our eyeballs out if we sold tickets, on account of the rights hadn't been purchased and are not, in fact, even available. So we wrote him a nice letter saying we'll do Carousel instead, but then we'll go ahead and do The Phantom of the Opera anyway. I personally don't think a bunch of fruits in New York give a rat's wazoo if we do The Phantom of the Opera anyway. They just wanted to get a nice letter. There's nothing much in this world that can't be fixed with a nice letter. It always worked with my Aunt Sally and it will work here, I am sure. Actually, I like Carousel better anyway. My favorite is still Anyone Can Whistle, though, but I have never been able to drum up any interest in it around here, on account of what happened at the gym the last time Steve Sondheim came to town. The less said about that the better, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, pre-production plans for my long-awaited staging of Dialogues of the Carmelites are almost complete. Mindy's doing the sets and Ed is looking for a guillotine. He thinks there's one in his Uncle Lyle's barn. I wouldn't be surprised. Old Lyle has always gotten a funny look in his eye around Bastille Day.

Law: Sheriff Leo was arresting guys for speeding and driving drunk and then they were going downtown and getting the charges dropped on account of the deputy kept forgetting to show up for the trial or the evidence was tainted with suppressions or some such. So Leo hit upon what appears to be a good idea. He arrests a guy and then instead of taking them to Court he just brings them over here and lets Harold give them a good talking to. After five minutes of his admixture of The Synoptic Gospels, Thomas Pynchon (again, that guy just won't go away) and his speech about Hillary, the poor guys always end up paying about what they'd pay in court, only we get to keep the money for beer. I'm thinking about going to law school, but Mom says I have to finish high school first. Between coaching little league, shooting the breeze with my probation officer and keeping Thomas Pynchon away from my sister, I don't have time to go to high school. Life is one thing after another.

Amelia Earhart: She died last month, in case you're interested. She'd lived out to Smiling Cedars Care Facility. She worked there, you know, for about 50 years as a nurse's aide and part-time water-skiing instructor, and then when she took sick she became a patient. She came to town because she had heard that Des Moines was a nice quiet place to write one's memoirs, but what with nursing and water-skiing and what-not, I don't think she ever got around to it. Judge Crater came to the funeral, but hardly anyone else. Don't tell him I told you.

The Maynard Boy: He got back from Iraq in August. Seems fine, except he appears to think he's George C. Scott in the first reel of Patton. Spends most of his time at the Legion Hall, talking about the Battle of El Alamein. He'll be fine after we have a church supper for him next Saturday and he has a double helping of Alice's Chicken Tetrazzini with sauerkraut and beer. Anyone's ever been a little out of touch with reality, that always brings them around. Everybody's welcome, but this may be one of those events that is not suited for family viewing.

The Rossman Boy: He came home from Iraq last Friday. Services will be Tuesday at eleven, with a church supper in the basement after. Edith's making pie.

Monday, November 24, 2008

CEOs May Ditch Jets & Carpool to D.C.

CEOs May Ditch Jets & Carpool to D.C.

The private jets were out. The Detroit auto executives decided to car pool to Washington, D.C., for their next round of beggin-- negotiations. Alan Mulally insisted they drive in a Ford. Rick Wagoner demanded they travel in GM vehicle. Robert Nardelli played peacemaker and suggested they travel in a Nissan. "So nobody can accuse us of using the occasion for free advertising," he explained. The truth was, he couldn't think of a Chrysler product that could make the journey.

After 50 hours of negotiations involving a phalanx of 32 corporate attorneys, it was decided that Rick Wagoner would take the first shift driving. Another two days of negotiations, with 29 lawyers, was needed to determine their route to Washington, D.C. At the end of which, Alan Mulally smilingly said to his CEO brethren, "This is the kind of 'get-er-done' spirit we need to show Congress!" But he had spoken too soon -- it took another three days of intense negotiations to settle on who would ride shotgun first. Mulally won that fight, though Nardelli vowed to take the case to court when they returned.

And so, on November 30th, the "three blind mice" as the blogosphere referred to them, struck out on the road in a Nissan Altima headed for the nation's capital.

About two hours out of Detroit, Robert Nardelli -- sulking in the backseat, arms folded, complaining that he was cold -- sighed for twentieth time and said, "My stomach hurts in a way that means I need to eat some food."

Wagoner and Mulally exchanged looks. "You mean you're hungry?" Mulally said in a mocking tone.

"This is when my P.A. gives me a muffin and a can of red energy drink," Nardelli said.

His statement was met by silence.

"I said, 'This is when my P.A. --'" Nardelli began again, but was cut off by Wagoner: "Well, your P.A.'s not here. What do you want us to do?"

"Gimme my muffin and energy drink!"

"The lawyers hit a stalemate on what snacks we'd bring and who would pay for them," Mulally said. "We don't have anything." What Mulally didn't say was that his P.A. had hidden a cooler containing a lobster meal, a thermos of cognac and a $1,000 cigar in a rest stop MENS room along the way.

"I need something to eat!" Nardelli shouted. Hearing the frayed note in his voice, Wagoner thought it best to appease Nardelli. He figured any person who would kibash employees' health care at Home Depot so that he could walk away with a $210 million severance package, might try to take a bite out of the side of his head.

Wagoner found an exit that led to a strip of fast food restaurants and gas stations. "So, where do you want to go? McDonald's? Taco Bell?"

Mulally said, "He wants a muffin, so we should go to Dunkin' Donuts."

They pulled into a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot. Nardelli didn't move.

"You going to get a muffin, or what?" Mulally said.

"What?" Nardelli said. "Don't they bring them out to us?"

"No," Wagoner said, impatient. "I've seen this on television -- you go in there and tell them what you want."

"Go in?" Nardelli said, uneasy. "The place is filled with Plebeians. They'll see who I am and tackle me, and rob me . . . and perform strange sexual rituals with my penis."

"Neither of us is going in there for you," Wagoner said. "My gawd, man, what're you gonna do when you have to use a rest room?"

Nardelli looked nervously at Wagoner in the rearview mirror. He then reached into a pocket and pulled out a large ziploc baggie. "My P.A. gave me this to go in."

"Are you going to get a muffin, or what?" Mulally said, testy.

"Forget it," Nardelli said, caressing the ziploc baggie. "The place is full of Plebes."

* * *

Soon, it was Mulally's turn to drive, as per the 139-page legal agreement drawn up by the corporate lawyers. His P.A. had briefed him on what "rest stops" were and at which one the cooler with the lobster meal was hidden. If it wasn't for the fact that his P.A. feared for his life every moment he was in his boss's presence, Mulally would have thought his P.A. had been joking about these so-called "rest stops". Could there really be a designated area along an interstate highway equipped with toilets and maps and something called "picnic tables"? Mulally had one of his kids do an Internet search on it and now carried with him a print-out of the Wikipedia page on "Rest Areas." He hoped these were the same thing.

When he pulled into the rest stop, Wagoner and Nardelli looked at Mulally as though he was an astronaut proposing to leave the capsule without putting on a space suit.

"You're going out there?" Nardelli asked, horrified. "What if you catch the AIDS? You'll bring it back here and kill us all!"

"Have you thought this through?" Wagoner said, trying to mask his own dismay. Mulally assured him he had and got out of the car. When he looked back, he saw Nardelli opening the large ziploc baggie -- readying it for use -- and saw Wagoner cringing against the passenger side door, aghast.

As Mulally approached the rest stop MENS room, he made a silent vow to have his P.A. disfigured and then fired. The rest stop was a primitive, box-like structure, and it appeared to have absolutely no security. Mulally would immolate his P.A. for sending him into a place that had no security.

Inside the MENS room, he found the stall with the OUT OF ORDER sign on the door. He went into that stall and found the cooler fastened to the back of the door. He set the lid on the toilet seat and sat down, and then feasted upon lobster and mussells and king crab, sipping cognac from something called a "thermos." When his meal was done, he sat back and lit the $1,000 cigar. What would the gents at the Club think if they could see him now? Just like the pioneers on the wagon trains that discovered America, he thought blowing smoke dollar signs into the air.

* * *

It was only when Nardelli took his turn driving that all three executives learned he could not drive. He weaved all over the highway, alternately flooring the accelerator and jumping onto the brake. A chorus of car horns surrouned them.

"Why are you cranking the steering wheel when all you have to do is go straight?" Mulally shrieked from the back seat.

"I think one of us should take the wheel," Wagoner said.

"No!" Nardelli screamed. "I didn't wrack up thirty-thousand dollars in legal fees over the driving schedule to have you take my turn away from me!"

"But you can't drive!" Wagoner said as Nardelli swung wide around a transport truck, nearly side-swiping a minivan.

"Gawddamned minivans," Nardelli growled.

"If you kill us," Mulally shouted, bracing himself with a hand on one of the back doors and the other on the ceiling, "your ex-wives will get everything!"

It was only then that Nardelli allowed Wagoner to help him steer to the side of the highway to change drivers.

* * *

As night fell, they were hardly halfway through the state of Pennsylvania. By this time, all three executives' stomachs hurt in a way that meant they needed to eat some food. After hours of arguing and rounds of arm-wrestling on the hood of the car at the shoulder of the highway, it was decided Rick Wagoner would incur the cost of calling his P.A. on his cell phone.

"I want some food to eat," Wagoner barked into his phone. His P.A. back in Michigan used a computer to locate Wagoner's position using the GPS chip in his cell phone. When he determined his boss's whereabouts, Wagoner's P.A. ordered a pizza, paying for it with his own credit card.

Half an hour later, headlights appeared behind the Nissan Altima at the side of the highway.

"It's the Plebeians!" Nardelli croaked. "They've tracked us! They're gonna pull us out of this car, strip us naked and mutilate our penises!"

"If they do, it'll be all your fault!" Mulally shouted, unhinged. "Jeezus, man! That Home Depot golden parachute was so gross, it actually embarrassed the rest of us!"

"You're just jealous!" Nardelli shot back. "You're all jealous of me! Everybody is! Everyone wishes they were me and they hate me for it!"

"No, they hate you because you're you," Wagoner said, watching a person get out of the car behind them. The person carried a wide, flat box.

There was a knock on the rear, driver's side window. The three executives gasped with horror. Wagoner's cell phone rang. He pulled the phone out of his pocket with a shaking hand. It was his P.A. telling him his food had arrived.

"What do I do?" Wagoner moaned into the phone.

"Just open the car door and accept the food," the P.A. said.

"Open the door? Are you insane?"

"Then roll down the window. He won't hurt you. It's probably just a teenager."

Deciding in that moment to have his P.A. mangled, regardless if the person outside the car was just a teenager or a crazed murderer, Wagoner said, "OK."

He opened the window and the delivery guy passed a pizza box through. The smell of warm food filled the car immediately, supplanting the rank baseness that permeated Nardelli's well-used ziploc baggie. Wagoner opened the box and shoved pizza into his mouth.

"Hey, pass some up here," Mulally said.

"Fuck you!" Wagoner said around a mouthful of pizza. "This is my food!"

"That's my food!" Nardelli said, who assumed that anything anyone possessed in his presence was, in fact, his. "Gimme my food!"

Mulally and Nardelli pulled at the box. Wagoner leaned back and flailed with his feet. Mulally dove into the backseat and Nardelli followed him. They flattened the pizza as they punched and scratched Wagoner. Soon, the pizza carton was ripped open and all three executives clawed the pizza, shoving handfuls into their mouths, and fighting each other with their free hands.

In the midst of the melee, Nardelli's ziploc bag burst open.

* * *

At Pittsburgh National Airport, three private jets belonging to Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, landed. An army of personal assistants disembarked and hurried into waiting cars, which immediately took off to locate the Nissan Altima containing their chief executive officers.

The corporate leaders were found in a dreadful state: bruised, reeking of human waste, covered with scratches and pizza toppings. Each entourage wrapped their respective executive in a blanket and whisked him off to the nearest Four Seasons Hotel. Each had his own floor reserved so that there was no chance they would run into one another.

The executives were attended by their personal physicians, psychoanalysts, hypnotists and mistresses. After being propped up with duladid, morticians' make-up and cortezone shots, the three blind mice were ready to face Congress. Three lookalikes had been arranged to drive a Nissan Altima into Washington, D.C., feigning completion of the carpool trip. The executives were flown into Dulles International Airport in their respective corporate jets. This time, when questioned by reporters, each flight crew was instructed to say that the plane was, in fact, owned by John Travolta.

* * *

The hearings before Congress opened with Robert Nardelli addressing the legislators, "We come before you a united force ready to harness our synergies and shift the paradigm. We are the corporate leaders who will use this money most wisely."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A visit with The Ice Cream Man

Yesterday, Joel had a two hour meeting about our show En Route with a guy I like to call The Ice Cream Man. I call him that because this guy is like the Good Humor man of scripts. I imagine his office as a cart -- a cart made by Alfa Romeo -- which he wheels through Beverly Hills neighborhoods. Rather than children running and calling after him, waving dollars, screaming for ice cream, it's TV and film executives running on pilates legs, all George-Hamilton-tanned like leather easy chairs at Gardner White Furniture, speed dialing on glinting, titanium cell phones, vying for the best product The Ice Cream Man has percolating within the sleek fuselage of his cart.

Why would the primped and pampered go running after The Ice Cream Man? Because his product is unlike anyone else's.

First, The Ice Cream Man has a connoisseur's eye for the scripts he takes on. And to paraphrase Orson Welles as he once intoned in Gothic television commercials: "The Ice Cream Man will sell no script before its time."

Second, The Ice Cream Man is a skilled editor. He knows what it takes to bring a script in line with industry standard; knows how to craft the work to suit the production audience it's geared toward. Which directors appreciate camera angles and stage directions? Which ones are looking for stripped down shooting scripts? The Ice Cream Man Knows.

Third, The Ice Cream Man knows which neighborhoods to take his script cart. He has connections. He's not chased by dogs. He's never harassed by bargain-shopping cheapskates. He knows the scriptose intolerant streets and avoids them.

Joel sat with him for two hours, who was educated in Michigan. They talked about the Detroit Lions whose woeful losing season served as a handy point of connection for them. Then it was down to business. Our script packet was handed over, and it's now in the reading phase. We should hear back in a week or so, maybe a little longer, whether it will find its way into the sleek fuselage of the Ice Cream Man's Cart.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nobody's Walking in L.A. . . .

. . . they're at home in their beachfront chalets reading the En Route script packets. At least, six producers from various productions are this evening.

In fact, the script packets are printed on paper of such high quality and durable workmanship, they could even be used to smother flames should anyone's home, unfortunately -- knock wood, gawd forbid -- be on fire. The script packets could also be used as an effective fire blanket for anyone who happens to be eight-and-a-half by eleven inches in size. It's California -- you never know.

So now, the waiting game. And what a game it is. No game board. No game pieces. No rule book. No play money. No limits on the number of players. But it's a game that can be played in the living room, by the fire with the television on MUTE. It's a game that I know well. In fact, I practice playing it every time I go to the doctor's office. Except, now it's for real. It's "game on", except there is no waiting-game-court, field, pitch, lane, green, diamond or grid-iron. It's more like a psychological game in which the normal attributes of a game are absent, such as fun, entertainment value, socializing, problem-solving. But there are "winners" and "losers." That's where the game part comes into the "waiting game." Joel and I are now waiting to see if we are winners or losers. Winners -- someone shows interest in our idea/script. Losers -- well, that's harder to determine because we could actually still think the waiting game is being played by the readers of our scripts long after those readers have converted the script packets into doorway hammocks for their schnauzer-doodles.

Part of the waiting game is telling people about it -- like I am right now. Earlier, my wife told my mother that we are now playing the waiting game with the script packets, and my mother reacted as she usually does regarding my creative work: sounds as though I've missed parole -- again. "Oh? That's nice." Joel's family is the same. On the surface this may not appear encouraging, but you have look beneath the shiny veneer of "Oh? That's nice" to see that it's actually a cannon blast of support. You see, if you want to truly encourage something, you should discourage it. In Ireland, for instance, a hundred years ago, speaking Gaelic aloud was not only outlawed, teachers were paid by the British not to teach Gaelic. The result? Gaelic flourishes through Ireland today. There's even an all-Gaelic TV channel. How about religion? Tell a group of people they cannot worship and you'll see that order give birth to an unstoppable tide of underground services and prayer sessions. If educators today were truly interested in promoting reading, they would ban books. Tell kids they can't have them and kids would sneak out at night to congregate in alleys and parks to trade books among themselves.

So, it's clear that our families are behind us 100 percent and want nothing more than to see us continue working on En Route, and do whatever it takes to sell the script. It's so obvious, I'm embarrassed telling you right out like that.

Now for the part of the waiting game where I go and get more green tea . . .

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The New John McCain -- Doesn't Miss a Beat After Losing Election

After losing the federal election, John McCain wasted not a moment re-inventing himself into an entrepreneur that will surely rival George Foreman.

With the economy in desperate trouble, John McCain sought to lead by example and started his own business: The John McCain Signature Candy Apple Maker. Teaming up with life-like sex doll maker, Erot-o-Co., life-like John McCain candy apple stands have been cranked out in the hundreds since the Republican nominee was defeated by Barak Obama.

"My friends," John McCain said to this interviewer after the night's disappointments were brought to a close at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, "the way of the future is candy apples!"

The former Navy pilot and P.O.W. says that The John McCain Signature Candy Apple Maker will hit retail outlets in time for Christmas.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Election Day Blog: The All-the-time Campaign

Following the 2008 U.S. presidential election, both political parties blanketed the country with candidates for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 presidential races. There were hundreds of millions of dollars to be raised, opponents to be denounced, thousands of hours of empty television to fill and mortal fears and national security threats to be created and propagated.

Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, immediately took to the campaign trail in December 2008, touring the northern states in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. Promoting a platform of smaller government, high cheekbones and equal access to guns and cosmetics for all, Sarah Palin traveled the country as "Railin' Palin." Although she didn't ultimately win the presidency four years later, she did land a lucrative contract as spokesmodel for a nation-wide chain of women's plus-size clothing stores.

On December 31st, 2008, in the Smithsonian Institute, standing before the infamous Unabomber shack -- mistakenly believing it was the log cabin in which Abraham Lincoln was born -- Hillary Clinton, dressed as Baby New Year, announced her candidacy for president in 2012. "Although I have the highest regard and utmost respect for President Obama," Clinton said, "the sad fact is he has not done for this country what he promised to do. We cannot live with four more years of broken promises."

When Senator Clinton was reminded that President-elect Obama was still twenty days away from being inaugurated into office, she labeled the reporter sexist and banned him from all Clinton campaign vehicles.

"So much for eloquence!" shouted Don Summershyne in his stump speech. "So much for the audacity of hope!" Summershyne was at the start of the 2010 Senate race -- which he launched in February 2009 -- when he claimed a goldfinch landed on the window sill of his home in rural Iowa and spoke to him the word of Gawd. "This Whamma-Bamma-Thank-You-Mamma Obama fella has not delivered on any of the grandiose promises of the past two years!"

When it was pointed out that President Obama had not yet been in office one hundred days, Summershyne barred that reporter from the Senate campaign bus, which was, at that time, being converted into a presidential campaign bus. Another reporter, riding on the candidate's temporary bridge-between-Senate-and-presidential-races-bus, asked about Summershyne's experience: "You hadn't yet been elected to the Senate, but now you've shifted gears and are running for President. With no political experience, how do you feel you can make this leap?" To which the reporter was branded an elitist and whose TV station was barred from all future Summershyne events.

The 2024 bid for the White House heated up in 2013, when Democratic nominee, Kelowna Eukele, named Israel Burcitis as his running mate. The campaign grew even more exciting in 2015, when Burcitis declared himself an independent and campaigned against Eukele. Such political backstabbing and maneuvering hadn't been seen since 2011 when Reverend Heino Rike, the eleven year old Missouri evangelical running for the 2032 presidential election, replaced his mother with his dog as his running mate.

In 2014, Clint Fayette, independent candidate for the 2020, 2024 and 2028 presidential races, formally changed his first name to "President." Soon afterward, every person entering politics -- whether it was for dogcatcher, alderman, justice of the peace, sheriff or drain commissioner -- changed their first names to "President."

Among the numerous notable political stories of 2014, was the spectacle of the 2024 Democratic nominee debating the 2028 Republican nominee at an event organized for the 2016 nominees. Although a rigorous and spirited dialogue ensued, three days had passed before anyone realized the wrong candidates had debated. President Shawn Nepal, 2016 Democratic nominee had been off conducting a townhall meeting in a high school gymnasium in Fontainbleu, Montana, and President Conrad Guilfoyle, the 2016 Republican nominee spent that evening presiding over a gymnasium meeting in the townhall of Brittlebrook, North Carolina. Both candidates declared their events "a roaring success."

The 2016 presidential election was overshadowed by breaking news that Lout and LeRoy Palin-Johnston -- siamese twins born to Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston -- had thrown their hats (or, rather, single large hat, as they were joined at the cranium) into the ring for the presidential race of 2036. The seven year old candidates could not, however, decide who would head the ticket. The headmaster of their Alaskan montessori gun club suggested a duel might be the only honorable way to solve the dispute.

"Madam, is it not a fact -- a lamentable, bald-faced fact -- that if elected you intend to allow an open border to exist between Colorado and Kansas?" bellowed Judge President Monty Dwyer, Republican vice presidential candidate for the 2028 election. He directed his question at his opponent, President Kitty-Porn Fnu, Independent presidential candidate for the 2028 presidency.

"Colorada and Kansas are both part of the United States," President Kitty-Porn said. "Of course they should have open borders."

"Not after President Conrad Guilfoyle takes office in three years and expels Colorado from the republic!"

"But that's years away!" President Kitty-Porn protested. "And hasn't even happened yet."

To which Judge President Monty Dwyer turned slowly to the debate audience and said, "So much for you being 'The Candidate of the Future'."

By 2017, most major networks had their own spin-off presidential campaign channels. Fox News' Campaign Infinity channel featured shock jock, George W. Bush, who painted his ideas about candidates' strategies on clear Plexiglas using a brush and his own brand of BBQ sauce. The cornerstone of the Campaign Infinity channel was Shem Mountainson, former Idaho alderman, and the man whom many believed should have been chosen as John McCain's running mate in the archaic presidential campaign of 2008. The show was called Shem's Shithouse in which Mountainson separated "the wheat from the shit" for his viewers, telling them for whom to vote and whom to hate. CNN's campaign offshoot became a popular twenty-four-hour a day cycle of campaign infomercials. MSNBC reimagined itself as Playday with the Politicians, offering shows with candidates competing in American Gladiator-styled contests of strength and agility.

By the 2020s, much of the U.S. economy was predicated on elections. Citizens either worked for one campaign or another, or in the exponentially expanding industry of campaign marketing. Professional athletes and film stars tried moving into the political arena. They were shunned, for the most part, as rich, privileged people whose egos had outgrown their original venues. Voters preferred rich, privileged people who came from the guts of the campaign industry. Activists poured money into campaigns and campaigns funded activists. Citizens made their tax-deductible donations to the campaigns and worked on the pay-rolls that were funded by those donations. The print industry couldn't keep up with the demands for lawn signs. Ordinary citizens earned top dollar renting out their salt-of-the-earth domiciles to politicians seeking to film commercials around the Great American Kitchen Table.

Elections became like Christmas, the Oscars and the Super Bowl rolled in to one -- hours after the great event, operatives from both parties began planning the next one. By 2024, the U.S. presidential elections had its own stock exchange: the U.S.E.S.E.. Within five years, it was out-performing the Dow Jones Industrial Index.

By the 2032 U.S. presidential election took the same turn as the Olympics -- it was deigned to occur every two years rather than every four years.

People from the quaint old days of the early Twenty First Century may have been confused by the ever-tightening spiral of presidential campaigns. American citizens of 2036 embraced the political maelstrom: peoples' lawns were filled with signs trumpeting the names of dozens of candidates; Jerry Springer-like debates occurred in which the candidates often came to blows on the carpeted stage, tearing each other's clothing off as the audience roared; the foreign wars launched by each president made for great TV -- so much less demanding than quiz and dancing dog shows. The country and the economy and campaigns spun on and on. If a journalist from the quaint early Twenty First Century actually investigated this overheated dynamo of all-the-time-campaigns, they would have discovered that many of the candidates in whose names hundreds of millions of dollars were raised, for campaigns intended to stretch a dozen years into the future, didn't, actually, exist.

An industrious journalist from another time would have found that the country was like an unlubricated engine that had long ago fused into a single block of jagged, unintelligible metal and plastic. The illusion of its continued function was kept alive by the single level of government that never had any checks or balances. That level of government was Henry Kissinger. By the 2050 presidential election, the hundred and twenty-seven year-old Kissinger was proprietor of all the bank accounts of all the presidential candidates -- none of whom existed. After dozens of organ transplant operations and extensive steroid therapy, Henry Kissinger lived quite well in his palatial condominium within Cheyenne Mountain.

As Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried", but there was no denying it made damned good business sense.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Country First: John McCain is deliberately throwing the election

Late, very late into the night after the second presidential debate, John McCain sat in the lounge area of his hotel suite with his face in his hands. Cindy was asleep in the bedroom. Wherever Sarah Palin was that night—in the muddle following the town hall debacle with Barak Obama, John couldn't recall the city where she was campaigning—was no doubt sleeping the untroubled sleep of the righteous. For his part, John felt sick to his stomach.

There was a tap the door, and then the door from the hallway opened. John didn't look up; he knew who it was: Blade, billionaire philanthropist, P.O.W. in the Hanoi Hilton from 1966 to 1973, and currently working on the John McCain presidential campaign as . . . as one of the many middle-aged guys milling about who looked important, but whose actual role was never really defined to anyone.

"Need a drink?" Blade asked. John leaned back in his chair. He looked exhausted and on the edge of tears. "Yeah," John said, forcing a smile. "Strychnine with a twist, please."

Blade sat down and slapped John's knee. "Country first."

John nodded grimly. "Country first."

* * *

There is really no question that John McCain is throwing the presidential election. If nothing else, the Republican party is realistic about its chances of winning a presidential election following the disastrous and immensely unpopular administration of George W. Bush. In short, whoever runs on the Republican ticket following Bush would effectively be thrown into a furnace of voter discontent, anger and outrage. Few people within the Republican party are as hated by the party as John McCain. Who better to throw into that furnace?

Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee were put out there to make the nominee campaign look credible, but with John McCain in the mix, there was really no question who was going to take the figurative bullet for the party—McNasty himself. So, John McCain's failing and nearly bankrupt campaign was put back onto its feet, and John pointed toward the finish line. After spending a king's ransom on his own run, Mitt Romney was told to withdraw. Giuliani and Thompson fizzled like cut-rate fireworks. And Mike Huckabee traveled the country like a conservative Richard Simmons speaking about his weight loss, and how he would similarly strip the country of its fat and flesh.

Which left only one—John McCain, a man so rightfully bitter over the political mugging he took in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential campaign that he didn't vote for George W. Bush. He was so disillusioned with the Republican party that he thought about becoming a Democrat. That is, until he was approached by his old military and P.O.W. friend, Blade.

"You should be talking to Al Gore," John McCain said, distracted and demoralized, the day of George W. Bush's first inauguration.

"I have," Blade said. "We've got all the documentation on how the Republicans used a company called Choicepoint to purge tens of thousands of eligible voters from the Florida rolls, thus highjacking the vote."


"He passed."

John McCain chuckled derisively. "Of course." He shook his head. "Every time I think about crossing the aisle for good, the Dems pull one more spineless puss-out that makes me wanna spit."

"Well, if you have the patience, we've got a plan," Blade said.

"You know I have the patience."

"Good. We're looking at 2004 . . ."

* * *

The plan to challenge George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election was nixed by 9/11. John McCain was no stranger to disappointment and to interminable waiting.

* * *

The night of Tuesday, August 10, 2004, John McCain stayed up long after Cindy had gone to bed. He wept in the sitting room of their hotel suite. There was a tap at the door, and then the door from the hallway opened. Blade entered.

"You motherfucking cocksucker," John McCain hissed at his friend.

Blade sat down. "I know."

John McCain wiped his eyes and glared at him. "I've voted with this child president, just as you asked. I've publicly agreed with him on policy that makes me wanna puke. But to hug him?" McCain's voice rose, but he caught himself and clenched his jaw. "But to hug that spoiled fratboy douche-bag? You had to have me do that, too?"

"Yes. I'm sorry." Blade paused, pained. "If 2008 has any shot of working, we've got to lay the groundwork now."

"I know," John McCain said. "But I want to vomit when I think of how the image of me hugging that soulless, monstrous miscreant is going to proliferate. I'm going to be hammered with that until I'm dead."

"Yes," Blade said. "But your country needs you, John. If 2008 is going to work, we need this."

"I understand," John McCain sighed, resigned.

"Country first," Blade said.

"Country first," John McCain echoed.

* * *

In early March 2008, Blade made one of his late-night visits to John McCain. "John, you're going to like this about as much as you enjoyed The Hug."

John McCain seemed to smile and wince at the same time. "Hit me."

"We're hiring Karl Rove to work on your campaign."

John McCain barked laughter. "Of course we are." He shook his head. "Will anybody buy it? I mean, come on. Everybody's going to see through that. I want that cocksucker's head on a pike, not on my pay-roll."

"I know, John, but if this is going to work, we need Rove on board."

"Well, if we're going into the heart of darkness, we may as well go all the way. Why don't we hire that fucking schmuck Steve Schmidt while we're at it."

Blade offered a cockeyed smile. "That was my next bit of news—we already did."

John McCain laughed. "Nathan Hale might've lamented having only one life to give for his country, but I'm giving every layer of skin on the way to giving my life." He paused. "I'll go down in history as one of our country's biggest fools—and we've produced some beauts."

"It's what the country needs, John."

"I know. Country first."

Blade nodded. "Yes, country first."

* * *

Going into the Republican convention, John McCain summoned Blade to his suite one night after Cindy was asleep. "Give me this," John McCain said. "I've given you The Hug, I've hired Rove and his band of gutless mercenaries. I've mangled nearly every position I've ever held. Give me this."

"Well, we do have that hurricane working in our favor."

"I don't care what the cover story is. I will not share a stage with Bush and Cheney. It's not going to happen. We've got some wonderful conniving minds on the payroll, put them to work on this."

Blade did and managed to divert Dick Cheney from the Republican convention altogether, and to limit George W. Bush's presence to a televised speech.

Later, backstage, as John McCain listened to Fred Thompson's gushing speech, Blade brushed by his friend. John said, "You know how Kevin Costner was cast as the dead guy in The Big Chill, but was ultimately cut out of the movie?"

"Yes," Blade said.

"They should've cast Fred Thompson as the corpse. This guy makes Styrofoam look interesting in comparison."

Blade looked at Thompson at the podium. "Yeah. Fred's got his strengths. Nobody's figured out what they are, but I'm sure he's got his strengths."

"He's an organ-donor-buffet, and you know it," John McCain said. He and Blade laughed.

* * *

The night following his address at the Republican National Convention—accepting his party's nomination as its candidate for president—John McCain stayed up late watching the news. At one point, a commentator spoke about the backdrop used during McCain's speech. Amid the lights and audience sounds, John McCain had paid no attention to the large video image cast against the screen behind him. The TV commentator pointed out that the image was of Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, California and wondered if this was possibly a gaffe on the part of John McCain's staff—that they showed the image mistakenly believing it was Walter Reed Medical Center.

John McCain laughed and raised his glass of diet Fresca to the TV. "Cheers, Blade."

A figure stepped out of the shadows by the rest room. "Did I hear my name?"

John McCain whipped around in his chair, spilling his drink. Blade stepped into the lamp light. McCain relaxed. "Jesus, man, you scared the shit out of me."

"Sorry, but I wanted to be a fly on the wall when you heard about our flourish with the backdrop."

"You've got a flair for the absurd—I'll give you that."

"Glad you feel that way," Blade said as he sat down. "Because I've got another request."

John McCain grimaced. "Not another Hug."

"Yes, I'm sorry."

"What . . . ?" John McCain said, eyes shut, pained.

"Your running mate."

"Right, well Lieberman oughta piss off Rove and Co. pretty thoroughly."

"Oh, he would, but we have a better candidate in mind."


"Sarah Palin."

"Who the fuck is that?"

"She's governor of Alaska and by all accounts, she's George W. Bush in a skirt."

John McCain brought a hand up to his face. "You've gotta be kidding me."

"I'm afraid not."

"Will I have to hug her?"

Blade laughed. "No, it'll be strictly hands off. When you see her, though, you may regret that rule."

"She's hot?"

"She looks good, sure, but what a basket of vipers hiding within that MILF ‘hockey mom' exterior!"

"Does she have experience?"

"None whatsoever."


"A handful of scandals brewing, and a teenaged daughter who's five months pregnant."

"So, the true tanking of my candidacy now begins."

"It's been happening for a while, but yeah, we definitely step it up with Sarah Palin." Blade slapped John McCain's knee. "Hey, you'll love this one graphic we've got ready for circulation on the Internet."


"We have a caption under one of her pictures that reads: ‘Finally, a beauty queen who doesn't want world peace.'"

John McCain laughed in spite of himself. "I like it."

* * *

Although John McCain had never in his life entered a campaign or competition to lose, he rationalized the annihilation of his candidacy on election day as a win for America. The presidency of George W. Bush had been so catastrophic, so far-reaching in its malignancy, so damaging to the country, it was nearly impossible to pinpoint any one policy or gross misstep that eclipsed the rest: Allowing the 9/11 attacks to occur, allowing Osama Bin Laden to escape in Tora Bora in the autumn of 2001, the anthrax attacks, the Iraq war, outing CIA agent Valerie Plame in retaliation for an op-ed her husband, Joe Wilson, wrote about "yellow cake uranium" from Niger, domestic spying, the Mission Accomplished debacle aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln—seeing W. in that flight suit was almost enough to make John McCain join the Anarchist Party of America—Abu Ghraib, hurricane Katrina and "You're doin' a heckuva job, Brownie!" The execrable list went on and on until the reasoned mind simply turned away from the unchecked, unmitigated outrage.

These were the things John McCain kept in mind the next day when he introduced Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

The final nails in the coffin of John McCain's candidacy came in the flood of op-eds, both in print and on television, proclaiming him to be a man who looked like he'd sold his soul; that he was running the most discreditable, unprincipled presidential campaign in American history. Even Karl Rove—soulless imp of soulless imps—said that some of John McCain's advertising didn't pass the truth test.

"I couldn't look at him," John McCain said, exhausted, the night following the first debate with Barak Obama. "I just couldn't look at him. I can't stand this!"

"I know," Blade said. "It's like one of our old missions—if you succeeded, nobody would ever hear about it. If it went badly, you got all the blame and hung-out to dry."

"But the polls," John McCain said. "How am I even in the running? The American people aren't stupid. What are they thinking? I thought Sarah Palin would have voters running away from me in droves—and here she's energizing the base! It doesn't make sense."

"You know the party," Blade said. "The leaders dictate, the followers follow. And by God, the followers will follow them right off of a cliff, if need be, all the while believing themselves to be the truest blue of patriots."

"That's not what this country fought in World War Two for," John McCain said, shaking his head. Then he chuckled. "I wonder if Limbaugh and his band of latrine-lickers are choking on my candidacy as much as I am?"

Blade laughed. "I'll bet he is, though that $400 million contract he signed may be some kind of consolation."

"Well, if I'm going to be hated, I may as well be hated by assholes." John McCain sipped his diet Fresca. "I guess we've got the age-old cover of ‘Who would ever believe this, anyhow?' don't we?"

Blade smiled: "John, you know, conspiracies don't happen in this country."

"Yeah, tell that the Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers."

"At least, your being crabby with the press is helpful to the cause."

"That's the only part that's not an act. I don't want to talk to anyone—don't want to see anyone. Jesus, to sit there taking questions from reporters about why my campaign's changed, and I've gotta say I don't know what they're talking about . . ." He trailed off.

"It'll soon be over."

"Yeah, but I keep worrying, ‘What if I win'?"

"Then you govern like you ought to govern. Prosecute Bush and Cheney. Jail the CEOs behind the financial crisis. Get this country the fuck out of Iraq."

"But if I win, that means Palin will be Number Two. You know as well as I do, that swaggering, ambitious cunt will bump me off before I'm finished my first bottle of Geritol as president."

"We've thought of that."


"Of course. We've always had to plan for the contingency of you winning. Don't you worry, a few of those investigations in Alaska will bear fruit and Palin will have to resign as vice president not long after your first hundred days."

"But that gives her a hundred days to garrote me."

"Don't worry, John, you've got people looking out for you. And you'll be happy to know something else," Blade said.

"What's that?"

"We're announcing that we're pulling out of Michigan—all but conceding it to Obama."

"I like it." John McCain paused. "I won't cut and run in Iraq, but I'll abandon Michigan. If that doesn't pull me out of the running, I don't know what will."

"You betcha!" Blade said like a cast member of the movie Fargo. He and John McCain shared a belly laugh.