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512 Chilling Cautionary Tales of Unchecked Exuberance

Originally published in 1768 as an addendum to the Articles of Confederation, this collection of 419 stories was described by President Henry Adams Randolph Taylor Stewart as "the most passionate of all tracts inspiring a great nation to conquer the demons of poor penmanship." Hidden within its text is a recently deciphered secret code which some believe reveals a cynical plan by the Denver Broncos football team to spin around really fast during a key playoff game until they all pass out. A newly added two-paragraph shock ending took more than six years for the author to complete, during which he ate more than 6,500 meals, always seeming to prefer the ones (it is rumored) that involved potatoes in some way. Employing over forty-five different English words, this tome packed with 308 stories will enthrall you until the very last crumbly Cheeto has been ripped from the melancholy snack bag of your imagination.










512 Chilling Cautionary Tales of Unchecked Exuberance

Soren Narnia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreword

 

 

 

 

Let me just say this much to Mr. Philip Lydell of the Tallahassee Post-Ledger: No one CARES what you think, you JERK!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8:18 a.m.

The morning mist withdrew, exposing the historic town of Gettysburg in all its valor. The embattled sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, took the podium as the small crowd that had gathered to listen to his address waited attentively.

"Four score and seven years ago," Lincoln began in a hoarse but confident voice, "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal..."

The people listened, transfixed. He went on, speaking only a couple of hundred words, but words that would undoubtedly change the course of Americaís destiny. As he continued, he became more forceful, more convincing.

"....that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth!" he finished, a slight, almost unnoticeable bit of spittle emerging from his lip as the final eternal word fell from his lips.

A man in the front row stood forward, his chest swelling with what appeared to be immense patriotism.

"Say it, donít spray it!!" he shouted.

Lincoln swore under his breath. It was going to be that kind of day.

 

 

 

It was Clarnís first day on the job in the ipswipe department.

An elderly gentleman sidled up to the counter.

"Hello!" he said cheerily.

"Hi," said Clarn.

"How's business today?" asked the old gentleman.

"Not too bad," replied Clarn.

"Good, good. I'm interested in buying a new ipswipe."

"Okay."

"I understand the new line is out," the old man said brightly. "No better time to check out the goods, eh? Eh?"

"Mmm," Clarn answered noncommittally.

"Wouldn't you know it," said the man, "my old one just broke again."

"You don't say," said Clarn.

"Ha ha," the man laughed. "Yessir, I guess it's time to retire it."

"Retire it?" said Clarn. "What is itóa human being?"

"Ah..."

"Why don't you just say what you mean?" Clarn asked bitterly. "It's a piece of crap and you want to junk it. Isn't that what you really meant, Gramps?"

"Well, I..." the old man began.

"You're a regular Bret Easton Ellis with the wordplay, man. How do you manage to keep all the witty barbs from spewing between your teeth when you chew? I'm dying here, I'm in stitches."

The old man appeared flabbergasted. "I've never been treated soó"

"Yeah, I bet you've never been on a date, either. Go on, get out of here, you simian twit. It's starting to stink in here."

The elderly gentleman stumbled off, aghast.

"Darn it!" Clarn said to himself, snapping his fingers in disappointment.

Another man approached the counter.

"Good morning," said the man. "I have a defective part in my ipswipe."

"Really?" Clarn said politely.

"Yes. I'd like to buy a new hose for it."

"Well," Clarn replied, "we all want things. Some of us want new ipswipe hoses for ourselves and our loved ones, and some of us just want to kick the living bejesus out of deadbeats who stumble up to department store counters and gripe about their petty appliance difficulties."

"What?!"

"I'm giving you ten secondsójust ten, mind youóto shag your enormous ass right through that door again. If you're not gone in ten seconds, I shove that hose right up your cavernous gob. Okay?"

"My God! I'm never coming here again!"

"Yeah, right. Here, catch some of my tears, start a rose garden, okay?"

The man stormed off in a huff.

"Darn it!" shouted Clarn under his breath.

The manager, Lemus, walked over in concern.

"What's the matter, Clarn?" he asked.

Clarn hung his head, dejected. "I don't know, sir. The customers just keep slipping through my fingers. I think I have them on the hook, and then I just blow the sale."

"Don't worry," said Lemus kindly. "It's your first day. You'll get the hang of it."

"I hope so, sir," said Clarn, worried. "This sales business is much trickier than I thought."

"Yes, you've just got to learn the subtleties of the trade. Remember the three T's. Trust, Toughness, Trying. Hereówhy don't I watch you work, and give you a pointer or two."

"Thank you, sir," Clarn said, relieved. "I'd appreciate it."

A man in a plaid shirt walked up to the counter.

"Hi," he greeted Clarn, "how are you? Does Itco make a quiet model that's not over, say, three hundred dollars?"

"ĎDoes Itco make a quiet model that's not over, say, three hundred dollars?í" Clarn mimicked, prancing about. "What do you need it quiet for, you bastard? Does the noise disturb the lightning train of your asinine thoughts? Your kind makes me want to puke!!"

The man turned to Lemus, shocked. "Did you hear what he just said?!"

"Yeah, he heard you, Einstein," said Clarn. "Or maybe he was too busy doing your wife."

"I don't believe it!" the man screamed. "I'm reporting you to the authorities!" Then he ran away.

Lemus thought for a moment.

"Hmm, Clarn," he said. "I think I may be able to help you. I think perhaps that the vicious verbal assaults and unmotivated personal attacks on the customers may be presenting a slightly negative image."

"I thought about that, sir," said Clarn, "but then I noticed I was wearing the wrong color tie. Do you supposeó"

"Excuse me," said a woman at the counter. "I'd like a refund."

"Yeah, well, no problem, toots," said Clarn, removing a large handgun from the waist of his slacks and pointing it at the womanís face. "But first you gotta catch a little something in your teeth."

The woman shrieked and disappeared.

"No, I'll tell you, Clarn," said Lemus. "I think there's just something in your delivery that's creating distrust. It's a subtle thing, but something that must be mastered."

"Will you show me what I'm doing wrong?" Clarn asked pleadingly.

"I'll certainly try," Lemus said.

A short man wandered to the counter. "Hi, there," he said. "Ió"

Lemus leapt over the counter and shoved the man backwards. The man tripped and fell, and then Lemus was on him, pummeling him with fist after furious fist, the blood leaping from the man's orifices as he hollered for dear life. Clarn watched avidly.

Finally Lemus rendered the man unconscious. "Stay down, Opey!" he shouted at the lifeless lump on the floor. Then he returned to the counter.

"That's interesting," he said to Clarn, scratching his head. "Yes yes...it truly does seem that even the slightest profane harangue or physical attack is likely to put the customer off. Well, don't worry, Clarn, salesmanship is not an exact science. The wants of the customer change. Six months from now you'll be able to saw a man clean in half and staple his eyes to his feet and still send him out the door with a new Fozzgate 410 under his arm and a smile on his face. It's all tied up with the economy, market fluctuations, etcetera. Keep trying, and have a good day."

"Thank you, sir," Clarn said, watching the manager leave. He felt better, but then caught himself.

"Trying harder is not good enough," he said to himself. "I've got to think up a new approach."

A man in a vest walked up to him. "Excuse me," he said, "can I take a look at a Vepmatic?"

"I'm terribly sorry, sir. We're closed. As a matter of fact, this chain has been sold and is going out of business, effective immediately. Not only that, but a deadly radon leak is threatening the safety of not only our lives, but the lives of our potential offspring. Please leave the store."

"Uh...youíre not serious, are yoó"

"PEDOPHILE! WE GOT A PEDOPHILE OVER HERE!" Clarn cried out. "PEDOPHILE!!"

The manís eyes darted left and right, and he fled.

"Darn it!" Clarn huffed.

A few minutes went by, and then Clarn began to wonder if perhaps Darth Vader might not have been such an imposing figure if all the characters in the movie had just kept calling him "Doug."

 

 

 

Buckingham was very calm. As he eyed the doors leading out of the library, he thought all was going well. The woman behind the counter was the perfect stooge: preoccupied, inattentive.

Buckingham made his move. He walked through the electronic theft detectors and prepared for the confrontation, as he had a thousand times before.

There was a high-pitched beeping sound. The librarian turned on Buckingham and shouted, "Not so fast!"

Buckingham, cool as a cucumber, stopped and walked over to the counter.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said. "I can guarantee you that I'm not trying to steal any books from this library. As you can see, I have no place to conceal any fine literature, periodicals, or other reference materials. You see, the theft detectors were keyed off by a metal plate in my head. I was in Vietnam for three yearsóthree arduous tours of duty in a place as close to hell as any ever imaginedóand unfortunately, I was wounded in the head when my platoon charged an unattainable hill in late January of 1968. I still remember the sting of the bullet and the faces of my comrades who werenít so lucky. So you see, there is nothing to worry about. Good day." Buckingham turned and began to walk out again.

"Then you won't mind waiting here a moment, sir," the librarian said. She disappeared and a moment later she was back with the X-Ray machine. She bent Buckingham's head over it, pressed a button, and a moment later she was provided with a picture of Buckingham's inner skullóin which rested a newly purloined copy of How to Meet Girls, catalog number C346.8.

"Aha!" cried the librarian.

Damn, thought Buckingham.

 

 

 

At about 9:15, Mr. Goisch sent for Swikowski. Swikowski arrived at Mr. Goischís office promptly.

"Swikowski!" Goisch said heartily. "Come in, come in. Have a seat."

Swikowski, slightly nervous, sat in the chair across from Goischís desk. "Ah, you wanted to see me, Mr. Goisch?"

"I did, I did," came the reply. "Can I offer you a carbonated drink?"

"No, Iím fine, thanks."

"The bubbles tickle your nose in todayís sodas, I understand," ventured Goisch. "Has that been your experience?"

"Um....it depends on the product, but pretty much. Pretty much."

"Fantastic, fantastic. So....howís everything on the main floor, Swikowski? Everything all right?"

Swikowski shifted in his chair. "Well, actually, sir, weíve been having a lot of accidents and injuries lately."

"Well, thatís understandable," said Goisch reassuringly. "Itís your first week of supervising the team."

"Itís not so much that....I think it has more to do with the seemingly pointless but highly lethal swinging steel cables that are constantly swooping down from the ceiling."

"Oh, those! Yeah, we call them the widowmakers. Caught me by surprise the first few times I heard that terrifying whistling sound as they swept across the room, but highly necessary, they are."

"But sir, weíre just doing data entry down there. How can they possibly be of use?"

Goisch sighed. "Tell you what, weíll have a man look into them. How about that?"

Swikowski was visibly relieved. "Thank you, sir."

"All right. All right." Goisch looked at his employee, trying to offer a soothing smile. "Ah....ah.....íSwikowskií. Is that a, is that a purely American name?"

"No, sir," said Swikowski. "My ancestors descended from eastern Europe."

"Europe, right, right. And, ah....what part of eastern Europe would the name Swikowski come from, if you donít mind my asking?"

Swikowski seemed puzzled. "Itís mostly a Polish name, sir. We also have a little Russian on my motherís side."

"Polish-Russian, eh? Ah....so, I mean....well, what sort of percentage would that break down to?" Goisch asked with keen interest. "Are you, would you say, at least eighty percent Polish? I mean, if itís not too personal."

Swikowski frowned. "Ah....I never thought of it, but yes, that seems like a good estimate."

"Good, good. No soda, Swikowski?"

"No."

Goisch drummed his fingers on his blotter for a moment. Then he subtly removed a sheet of paper and a pencil from his top drawer.

"Ah....so, Swikowski, tell me something....have you ever, you know, just between you and me....done anything really crazy, kind of silly, regrettable?"

Swikowski breathed deeply. "Iím not sure I know what you mean."

Goisch held the pencil tightly in his right hand, perched over the sheet of paper. "Oh, you know, if you donít mind me asking, have you ever done anything....well, stupid. Anything stupid that you could have just slapped your head over?"

Swikowski thought for a moment. "Ah....well, I did once fail an exam in college because I studied some really outdated notes from my jerk roommate. Something like that?"

Goisch had started to write, but now stopped, disappointed. "Wellllll....not exactly. What I mean is....well....have you ever, say, been stranded on a deserted island somewhere and maybe brought only something completely useless with you, like a car door or a hippopotamus, or have you ever run back into a burning building because you misinterpreted what the fireman meant?"

There was a second or two of silence.

"Iím not sure where this is going, Mr. Goisch."

Goischís pencil hovered. "How about building a sliding screen door in a submarine, or jumping off a cliff because you didnít understand the very simplest element of a conversation?"

Swikowski shook his head, angry. "I donít believe this. You think because Iím Polish you think I do nothing but stupid, humiliating, jokey things all day!"

"No I donít!" cried Goisch.

"Yes you do! Youíre trying to write a Polock joke, arenít you?"

Goisch brushed aside his paper. "Never! What the hell gave you that idea?"

Swikowski got up and turned to leave. "Why is it that every place I work, the boss calls me in at some point to provide material for his asinine Polock jokes? Are you so bored and such a purveyor of stereotypes that you have nothing else to do?!"

"Swikowski, youíve got it all wrong. Itís not like that!"

"How about this: I once flew a rocketship to the moon at nighttime because in my infantile, undeveloped Polish brain I believed that the sunís surface temperature would at that time be low enough to provide a livable atmosphere! Is that good enough to write down, you xenophobe?!"

"Swikowski, please!"

"Or how about this, I was standing on a ledge yesterday with a Greek, an Indian, and a Frenchman, and we each had our own unique reasons for jumpingówould you like to hear mine? Would you like to write it down for the benefit of your pure white race co-bosses?!"

"Ió"

"You know, they told me about your endless stream of space alien, Bill Clinton, knock knock and Viagra jokes when I started working here, but I shrugged them off as merely cliched and obvious. But what sort of pathetic human being amuses himself by rendering an entire strata of human beings to a mocked mass of sub-humanity?!"

"Swikowski," Goisch said calmly. "Youíre gravely mistaken. The reason I asked you that question is because my secretary, Miss Gomm, is in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. I thought it might be nice if we all wrote down some of our foibles to give her a much-needed laugh in this trying time. Iíve been asking everyone the same question, from OíGrady to Martinez to Mendelbaum to Osdorfsky, the guy with the monobrow in accounting. So you see....I meant to cause no offense."

Silence. Swikowski looked into Goischís eyes, trying to detect any sign of insincerity. But there was simply none.

"Oh my God, Iím sorry," Swikowski said, sitting once again.. "Iím really sorry, I had no idea...."

"Itís all right," Goisch said. "I know it must have sounded like a strange request."

But Swikowski was abject, utterly repentant. "Look...anything I can do to help Miss Gomm, just let me know."

Goisch picked up his pencil again. "How about just telling me a little story of an embarrassing incident, okay?" He tried to hide his sense of hurt.

"Iíll do better than that, Mr. Goisch. Because Iíve been such a jerk, Iíll personally write such a story in a card to Miss Gomm. Iíll do it tonight."

"Well....thatís really nice of you. Ah....you know..." Goisch began to titter. "Miss Gomm is blonde, just like you."

"Yes?"

Goisch giggled. "Yeah....well, maybe you can tell me if this is true or not, but....but....I heard she once engaged in group sex and because of her blondeness was later unclear as to the protocols of expressing her gratitude foró"

Swikowski leapt to his feet and charged for the door. "All right, thatís it!" he shouted. "Youíre despicable, and by the way, Iíve personally known several country musicians who successfully screwed in a light bulb with no outside assistance whatsoever!"

The door slammed behind him. Goisch rose, shouted after him.

"OH, COME ON, MAN, TELL ME WHY YOU WERE GONNA JUMP OFF THE LEDGE!" he pleaded. "I HAVE A ROTARY LUNCHEON COMING UP AND THOSE GUYS WANNA LAUGH!"

The only answer was the incessant drone of the overhead fluorescents.

"I MEANT A STANDARD LIGHT BULB, NOT A SOFT WHITE!" Goisch yelled.

 

 

It was showtime. The cameras rolled. The classical music was piped in and the director cued the talent to speak.

"Hello, and welcome once again to Tea Time at Shefferton-Upon-Ripplebrook," said the man in the sweater vest, sitting at an oaken dining table. "I am your host for todayís tea, Grady St. Paul. With me today is a very special guest and one of my oldest friends, Lynette Van Ott, the curator of fine teas at the Paris Annex of Gentle Sigh University. Lynette, itís lovely to see you."

Lynette smiled. "Iím delighted to be here, Grady. Do you realize we havenít seen each other since Earth Day?"

"Thatís very true, Lynette. Thank you for pointing that out." He gestured at the several teacups placed before them. "Now as you know, Iím very excited today because youíve brought with you some teas which I have not stopped talking about since the Twinings Taste-Off in Nantucket. The first one I cannot wait to try is Lemon Dusk, which won the 1997 Legion of Loveliness Award for Quality Teas and hasnít been tasted in this country for seven years. Lynette?"

"Thatís right, Grady," said Lynette as they both dipped their teabags. "It was originally brewed in the Hudson Valley, but was found mostly in Quebec for many years and was sadly unavailable to us until nowóand I donít know about you, but this absolutely makes my month."

"Shall we?" Grady asked, removing his bag.

"Indeed," said Lynette, removing her own.

They both gently sipped their tea with silent anticipation. A moment passed. Then Grady spewed the tea out of his mouth in disgust. It sprayed almost the length of the table. Lynette coughed and dropped her own teacup in revulsion.

"My GOD!" Grady said, wiping his mouth and grimacing. "What was THAT?!"

Lynette couldnít speak for a moment. She looked around for a rag to brush her tongue with.

"That is the WORST taste Iíve ever had in my mouth!" Grady proclaimed. "Itís like licking a stop sign!"

"Ah....perhaps we should move on to the Paris series," Lynette said, trying to keep her composure. "Iíve brought it from over two thousand miles away."

"Letís do that," Grady agreed. He moved on to the next teacup and Lynette did likewise. "Ah, the Paris series consists of several highly acclaimed teas endorsed in the pages of This Week in Steeping. The tea weíre most interested in sampling today is called Vive La Soleil, loosely translated, meaning ĎLong live the sun.í Some say it was the favorite of no less a dignitary than Prince Mahibna of the Ivory Coast. Lynette, are you ready?"

"I am, Grady," she said hopefully, lifting her bag and placing it daintily beside her cup. "This should be super."

In unison, they sipped the contents of their fine china cups. Almost instantly, they spat the tea into the still air with alarming force, their taste buds reacting in terror against the insurgent liquid. The mist hung in the air for several seconds while Grady seized the tablecloth so as not to fall backwards in his chair. Lynette clawed at her throat.

"Good god, woman, what are you trying to do to me?!" Grady shouted. "Whereíd you get this, out of your BUTT?!"

Lynette settled herself, regaining her on-camera persona with great difficulty.

"Ah....you know, some teas just arenít suited for all palates, I suppose, um...."

"This crap isnít suited to paint my YUGO!" Grady yelled.

"Please, Gradyó"

"Look at that coloróI know CORONERS who would get the creeps over this!"

Lynette pushed on. "Yes, ah....I was going to save the finest tea I have for the end of the show, but I think you deserve a little treat now, Grady....letís play a game: Can you name a tea that was actually honored by Canadian Parliament?"

Grady stared daggers into her, nodded threateningly. "All right, Iíll play your little game, sis. Is it Earl Sunflower?"

Lynette attempted a smile. "No....."

"Geneva Apple?"

"No....this tea was featured in the motion picture Breakfast at Tiffanyís...."

Grady closed his eyes, exhaled bitterly. "Island Mist?"

"No...."

Grady slammed a fist on the table. "OH CHRIST, YOU HARPY, JUST TELL US THE BLOODY NAME!" The teacups rattled.

Lynette cowered. "Why....itís Tangerine Dreamer....itís in the cup beside your elbow. Shall we....shall we give it a whirl?"

"All right," Grady said with menace. "All right. But listen, if I send THIS one back out my talker, Iím hurling myself across this table and strangling you with your own phony accent, understand?"

She nodded defensively. The teabags were removed. The cups were placed to their mouths. Grady dropped his cup on the floor where it shattered.

"Look at this!" he cried. "Thereís a RAZOR BLADE in this!!"

"Oh my goodness," Lynette whispered. "It must be a new derivative of a classicó"

"RAZOR BLADES IS NOT A DERIVATIVE!" Grady shouted, waving the object in her face. "RAZOR BLADES ARE RAZOR BLADES!"

Suddenly Lynette grinned strangely. "Thatís right, Mr. St. Paul," she said, standing. "Razor blades meant to put an end to your reign of tea tyranny!" She yanked off her wig in one violent motion. Grady gasped. "We, the People of the United Front of Leisure Time Beverages, declare your hosting days over! No longer will this publicly-funded PBS station be a slave to your pedestrian palate! I, Hortense Korkleton, will be taking over! Henchmen, seize him! Seize him now!"

"Iíll die before I let you tell our viewers what to drink, Nazi cow!" Grady cried. The henchmen were not quick enough; by the time their hands brushed his vest he had put two bullets into each of them. They fell within seconds. He turned his revolver on Hortense.

"Donít do it! We can rule together!" Hortense pleaded, backing away.

"Rule THIS, bag lady!" he declared, and took her out with his dead aim. Then, for reasons which would remain unclear for months, he leapt out the closest window, screaming out his love for "the fatherland" as he descended to the unforgiving pavement below.

An absurd dream or a cautionary reality? When viewers like us fail to meet our moral obligation by making good on pledges to local PBS stations, funding problems can lead to our favorite shows getting lost in the shuffle, or even the ghoulish deaths of their hosts. Please stand up, be counted, donate generously, and everything should be all right come the harsh winter.

 

 

 

From the Post Herald Times Reader-Gazette and News and Chronicle, page 8B, Lifestyles section:

This past weekend saw the opening of a major new attraction within the city limits. The Museum of Practical Art announced daytime and evening hours now through November. Admission is three dollars for adults, one dollar for children and students, twenty-five cents for the old and insane.

The Museum is quite an eye-catching series of rooms that reminds us of art's changing value in today's efficiency-minded society. Bertolt Heensma, the curator of the Museum, told this reviewer that "People's attitudes about art are becoming less tolerant of the concept of 'art for art's sake'. Today's culture hound demands utility in paintings, sculptures, and the like. I myself see no reason a great masterwork cannot also be a practical part of any room or home workshop."

Heensma's theories are put into practice with striking results. As one enters the museum, he is greeted by all sorts of works from the most renowned modern and classical artists. Right away one is greeted by Van Gogh's Sunflowers, on loan from the Japanese. One can revel in its colorful forms and peaceful, simplistic beautyóand then be delighted by the fact that the painting is here laid on a slant for use as an access ramp for the handicapped. As wheelchair-bound spectators roll up the bumpy face of Vincent's beautiful still life, one can truly appreciate the museum's modus operandi. Museumgoers may then marvel at a lesser known work by Rodin, an eight foot hollow sculpture that doubles neatly as an electronic security post. People pay their admission fee and walk under the Rodin to enter the first of seven tastefully decorated rooms. If the sculpture beeps, guests are asked to step over to a tasteful print of Munch's The Scream, and to empty their pockets on top of it. The raised, gilded frame makes a perfect tray to temporarily collect metallic valuables.

The wonders of the museum are far too many to go into fully. Suffice it to say that Heensma has demonstrated most aptly the necessary duality of great works as both art and household appliance. A temporary exhibit features three paintings by the great Kandinsky. The paintings are of course hung from the ceiling, since Kandinsky boldly painted on both sides of the canvas. And what better place than the face of a slowly revolving Kandinsky to remind onlookers of the day's specials in the museum cafeteria? The signs are pasted onto the center of the work seamlessly. The opposite side of the same Kandinsky points us to the nearest restrooms.

Yes, the paintings and sculptures at the corner of 5th and 1st Avenue are all priceless. One can stand in front of Edward Hopper's Sunlight on Brownstones for hours. Hopper used yellows and reds to paint striking city dusks. The museum, in turn, will use Hopper's great canvas through Saturday to prop open a heavy fire exit currently under renovation. And what can one say of a lovely Henry Moore bronze head that, after taking one's breath away with its understated dignity, can be opened in hinge fashion at the browline to offer up a delicious and fat-free almond cookie? A variety of teas and coffees is also available, of course, free of charge.

It will take you hours to walk through this wonderful and innovative museum, but don't worry. If you ever get too tired and need a rest, just head for the Red Room, where the depiction of Christ's Last Supper can easily fold out into a surprisingly comfortable deck chair. Feel free to sit on the apostles for as long as you'd likeóthe guards at this museum are congenial and want you to feel at home.

The museum opens at 9 a.m., and specially written lyrics sung gracefully to Handel's piped-in Water Music will tell you when the gift shop closes for the day. You'll wish you never had to leave.

 

 

 

Wendell and Doris drove toward East Whippany. It was going to be a super weekend of fun which might or might not include eating in a restaurant.

"Hey, remind me," Wendell said, "we should stop in Oatesville and shop for jeans at this great bargain store, Gabeís Warehouse."

"Do we have to stop for that?" Doris asked, daydreaming of restaurants and the food they might contain. "You can get that stuff anytime."

"You canít get jeans for seven dollars in Beebs Gulch," Wendell noted.

Doris frowned. "You can get jeans at the Games Warehouse?"

"Games Warehouse?"

"Yes, you said Games Warehouse."

Wendell clarified. "No, I said ĎGabeís Warehouseí."

"Games Warehouse?" Doris asked, puzzled.

"No, Gabeís Warehouse."

"Thatís what I said."

"No, Gabeís Warehouse." This time Wendell overpronounced the B.

"You sound like youíre saying Games Warehouse," Doris said.

Wendell shook his head, frustrated. "Iím saying Gaaaaaaaabbbbbbbbeís Warehouse!" he said. "Buh! Buh! Buh!"

"You keep saying that!" Doris said. "Games Warehouse!"

"B! B! B!" Wendell shouted. "The second letter of the alphabet is what youíre hearing!"

They drove in silence for a while. They passed some trees.

"Games Warehouse?" Doris asked, very confused. "Say it again."

Wendell slammed on the brakes and pulled over on the shoulder. He got out of the car, walked over to a road sign that read SPEED LIMIT 55. He pointed at the M over and over again. Doris stared out the window at him.

"This is NOT the letter I am saying when I speak of the topic at hand!" Wendell shouted over the noise of passing traffic. "Imagine this as a B!"

"But it sounds like an M!" Doris protested. "As in ĎGames Warehouseí!"

Wendell got back in the car and they drove on in silence. He just didnít even feel like talking to Doris anymore.

They passed a business on the side of the road. It was called THE GAMES WAREHOUSE. Wendell pulled into the parking lot.

"What are you doing?" Doris asked.

"I want to check this place out," he said.

"But this isnít the place," Doris said. "Is it?"

"NO!" Wendell yelled. "The place I want to stop is called GABEíS Warehouse!"

"Then why are we stopping here?" Doris wanted to know.

"Itís unrelated! I happened to see it, okay?!"

"Okay!" Doris said. "No need for a hissy fit!"

Doris waited in the car. Wendell came out ten minutes later with Deluxe Stratego under his arm.

"There, did that kill you?" he asked Doris crossly.

She didnít answer. They drove on.

They passed another business on the side of the road. It was called GABEíS WAREHOUSE. Wendell drove right past it. Doris held her silence for as long as she could, but then turned to a stone-faced Wendell out of a nagging curiosity.

"Why are you going paó"

"BECAUSE THATíS NOT THE RIGHT ONE!" Wendell screamed. "ITíS A DIFFERENT GABEíS WAREHOUSE! NOW FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LEAVE ME BE, WOMAN!"

He pulled over again. Wendell looked at Doris tenderly.

"Iím sorry," he said. "Iím sorry I got angry."

"Itís all right," Doris said grumpily.

They drove on. Two hours later Wendell slapped his forehead.

"I think that was Gabeís Warehouse," he said.

"Of course it was the Games Warehouse, you jerk!" Doris said furiously. "Youíve got the Deluxe Stratego receipt to prove it!"

For these two young lovers, marriage seemed a dubious idea at best.

 

 

 

"My friends," said a nattily-vested Oscar Tribblebit to the mourning congregation, "we are gathered here in this sacred house of worship to pay our final respects to a thing each of us knew and loved. The passing of the thing has left us all filled with sadness. Here I will try to do honor to the thing as it deserves to be honored.

"I first came upon knowledge of the thing through my uncle Thamish. He had owned a similar thing for many years, and insisted that my life would be deeply enriched by the thing. How right he turned out to be. For over the years, the thing proved its value time and time again, just as he said it would. And when Thamish took to his deathbed, I often took along the thing when I visited. Upon seeing the thing, he could be heard to exclaim, ĎOh, the thing! How kind of you to bring it!í You see, he had lost his own thing years before. He died at the age of seventy, a victim of fooling around too much with other things.

"The thing had a multitude of uses. One day it could be used to conduct cooling air, the next it could be utilized in the stoppage of unsightly leaks. The thing gave much and required little. What more could anyone ask of a thing? And, most remarkably, the thing worked its way into our hearts and minds. On Christmas mornings, I would often put the thing under the lighted tree, where it would stand out more attractively than any other things like it. My children, though very young, somehow gained an emotional appreciation of the thing beyond their years. Once, when in a sullen mood, I thought of the thing and was happy.

"This is not to say that the thing did not have faults. Far from it. The thing might break down occasionally, but even then it always came under full warranty. I remember times when the thing operated at half or even quarter strength, but still there was no instability or slippage from the thing. One could even use the thing in place of other things seemingly at will. The thing's value could never be questioned for too long. Would our own dear relatives remain so strong and unyielding if used to fend off attacking rodents, or pry open crates of tasty imported jam? I doubt it."

Here, Oscar had to collect himself. The congregation understood. Even Father Rethaf wiped away a renegade tear.

"Recently," Oscar continued, "rumors have arisen that the thing was sometimes less than discreet. But these scurrilous remarks have little basis in truth. I tell you, I knew the thing. Perhaps it is the jealousy on the part of other things that prompted these speculations. The way the thing recently held up under such intense scrutiny continues to amaze and inspire me. If only our own government were such a courageous entity, perhaps we might have turned away the hated Katootoos much sooner during those dark, troubled days, and spared thousands, if not millions, of brave young American lads from perishing on the violent fields of Implebap.

"Toward the end, I placed the thing inside its container and set it upon a sill. People close to me shuffled past the thing, paying their respects. And yes, tears were shed for the thing. I heard story after story of the thing, tales of time saved by using the thing, and dollars put into savings instead of costly thing replacement. Every word spoken of the thing was a joy to my ears.

"So feel not sad on this day, my friends," Oscar concluded. "The thing is gone, nestled gently by styrofoam packing and our everlasting memories. But we live. And as long as we live, so lives the thing. I ask you to think of the thing when things seem hopeless. I ask this of you, and to please keep the buffet line moving as quickly as possible."

And all would later agree: Oscar spoke well and truthfully, but he really should have worn some pants.

 

 

 

The cops brought Van Smem into the interrogation room and threw him down onto the hard wooden chair. They knew they had a tough customer on their hands, but they had no idea just how tough.

"Did you kill Barnes?" Detective Oapes asked him crossly, one foot propped on the table.

Van Smem smiled cockily and blew smoke rings into the stuffy air.

"How about Fendott?" Detective Eems snarled. "Who strangled him? You?"

"Warbler? Did you off Warbler too?" Oapes queried, sensing the suspect was about to break.

Van Smem yawned. "Yeah, it was me," he said with disinterest. "I did it all."

Oapes and Eems looked at each other. "You did it all?" they asked, incredulous.

"Yep," the felon replied. "Whatever you got, I did it."

The detectives huddled out in the hall, keeping an eye on a bored Van Smem through the glass window.

"Do you realize what this means?" Oapes asked.

"If he really did it allóeverythingóthis is gonna change things," Eems said excitedly. "Come on, letís break himónow."

They set upon him like wolves.

"The murder of Louis Quarp, Detroit, Michigan, 1989ódid you do it, Van Smem?" Eems demanded.

"Yeah," came the reply.

"A missing cassette deck in Jupiter, Florida, 1997ówas it you, punk?" asked Oapes.

"Sure," came the response.

Eems, sensing blood, pressed forward. "Crossing against a DONíT WALK, 11:30 a.m., Times Square, two weeks agoóyou know anything about that?"

"Um....yep. That was me," Van Smem told them remorselessly.

It went on. The Kennedy assassination. A missing G.I. Joe doll in Dover, Delaware. An unsolved mail fraud case from 1980. Failing to hold an elevator for a handicapped mailman in Bonn, Germany. Seventy-three unauthorized vasectomies. Over one hundred and eighty thousand unpaid tickets in Utah aloneóVan Smem, criminal mastermind, took it all in stride.

"Iím your guy," he told them, yawning. "Just add it all to the list."

A call was put through to the D.A. immediately. "He did everything?" he gaped. "Good Lord!" The D.A. called his wife at home. "Weíre gonna be able to leave for vacation on the 20th after all, sweets!" he said. "The books just closed on every case we have!"

Dispatches were put through to every cop car in America. "Come back in," patrolmen were told. "We know who did everything!"

Spinning newspapers across the globe trumpeted the amazing facts. MAN CONFESSES TO EVERYTHING. ALL UNSOLVED CRIMES PERPETRATED BY BRILLIANT, VERSATILE CRIMINAL. "EVIL MOUSTACHE" SAID TO BE GROWING ON FELONíS FACE.

"Whereíd you put all the stuff?!" the reporters cried, forcing their microphones into Van Smemís face as he was led to jail.

"Gee, I guess I forgot," he told them.

The trial commenced immediately. There was no time to read off all 733,440 counts against the most prolific criminal of the century. He entered an instant guilty plea anyway.

"All the murders?" the judge asked him.

"You know it," Van Smem said. The jurors gasped.

"All the thefts? Arsons? Poultry frauds?"

"Mm-hmm," was the answer.

"How about this overdue library book from two years ago?" the judge asked, holding up a copy of So Far by Kelsey Grammer.

Van Smem thought for a moment. "I thought I got that back on time," he said, frowning.

"LIAR!" cried the judge, banging his gavel. "It was YOU, wasnít it?!"

The man in shackles shrugged. "Okay, whatever."

"I see no need for a fair trial," the judge announced. "For doing everything, I sentence you to one hundred and fifty thousand life terms in federal prison, sentences to run concurrently....or is it consecutively? Wait, which one is longer? Do I mean concurrently? Yeah, concurrently." He tore the cellophane off a brand new gavel and pounded it once, sealing Van Smemís fate.

But as he was led out of the courtroom, a man in a sweater came running in, shouting and waving his arms. "Wait!" he cried. "Wait!"

Everyone gasped. Van Smem, who had fallen into a pleasant nap as he walked, woke up, mildly irritated.

"Thatís not the man who siphoned a dollarís worth of gas from my moped in 1991!" the interloper yelled, pointing. "I swear on my motherís grave, that man had blonde hair! Blonde! Van Smem is innocent! Innocent, I tell you!"

"Oh hell," the judge said, changing quickly back into his gown. He took out a scrap piece of paper and did some quick calculations, finally reducing Van Smemís sentence by eleven days.

But even then, doubts remained. Could one man really have caused the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980? Could the same hands that cruelly spray-painted a show dog in Connecticut while its owners slept have also on the same day scratched the words "LED ZEPPELIN SUCKS" on a bathroom wall in Tel Aviv? Could that same criminal have stolen three bottles of Zima off a PanAm flight to Honolulu and just eight seconds later swiped fifty-eight cents from Gertie Oswayís lemonade stand profits in a small village in Wales? Was anyone that evil?

Then they remembered he was part Greek, and they sort of forgot about the whole thing.

 

 

Thishy was having such troubles with her dog!

"All right, girl, all right, Brandy," she cooed as she crouched in front of her beloved retriever. "Now that is absolutely the last time Iím going to tell you that. Do you understand? Iím running out of patience with you, this is not that hard. Okay? Now weíre going to try it once again. Ready?" She patted the beast reassuringly.

Shelley, who had an unusually large head but was otherwise normal, came in and was delighted to see the dog. "Hi, Brandy!" she exclaimed, kneeling beside her. "Ooo, Brandy, how are you? Whoís the good dog, is that you? Mmmmmmmó"

Thishy interrupted Shelleyís stroking of Brandyís fur. "Donít be too nice to her, Shelley. Brandy isnít being very smart today, are you, Brandy?"

"Oh no!" Shelley said. "Whatís the matter?"

"Well," Thishy said with a heavy sigh, "Steve and I have been trying to teach her just a few things, and she isnít getting it. I mean, housebreaking her was pretty easy, so we thought this wouldnít be too bad either."

"What have you been trying to teach her? Does she know that thing with the ball yet?"

"Oh yes, that went well," said Thishy. "Oh, forget it, weíll just take her back and maybe get a DVD player instead. Steve says they might put out Cabin Boy!"

"Oh Thishy," Shelley protested, smiling at Brandyís darling eyes, "never give up on a dog. Weíre not going to give up on you, Brandy, donít you worry! Youíre too much of a sweetie, yes you are!" She stood up. "Why donít you show me what youíre trying to get her to learn?"

Thishy gave in. "All right." She put her face very close to Brandyís. "Brandy, listen. Look at me....you are going to die someday. Yes, you are. The life you know will cease to be at a fixed moment in time. Your lifespan is a short one in human terms. All this that you see, hear, taste and touch will be gone forever and ever. Okay, Brandy? Nod if you understand me."

Brandy looked at her in a doglike manner.

"There, you see?" Thishy said, exasperated. "Nothing. She just cannot grasp the concept of her own mortality. Itís so frustrating!"

Shelley nodded. "Oh, I know it, Thishy. Barry and I went through the same thing trying to point out the necessity of a finite existence to Mr. Blue. It just takes time and patience. What have you tried so far?"

"Well, we were reading Jamie Farrís How to Raise a Smiling Whippet, and he suggested all the usual things, you know, taking her to cemeteries, reading to her from Nietzsche....we even bought a stuffed Snoopy and ripped its head off, but Brandy couldnít care less. Oh, Shelley, I couldnít take it if I have to raise one of those dogs that walks around thinking sheís going to bury us all!"

"Well, those are all good tips, Thishy, but you need to take a more tangible approach." She produced something from her pocket. "Here, take this freshly killed groundhog and set it in front of her and give her the speech again. When an animal actually sees another dead creature, they start to ponder their last end a little more seriously."

Thishy pushed Brandyís nose into the corpseís flesh. "Look at that, Brandy!" she said angrily. "Thatís going to happen to you within fifteen years! Fifteen years on the outside! Do you want to be caught without your affairs in order? Accept your ultimate fate and live out the rest of your days accordingly!"

Brandy seemed vaguely interested in the groundhogís dead body, but nothing more.

"Oh, for heavenís sake!" Thishy cried. "First Steve botches the arson job on our summer house, and now he brings home this stupid dog!"

But with the invention of something called "ice pants", there would soon be far more pressing matters of concern to Thishy and her family.

 

 

 

From The Journal of Scientific Studies and Lucky Lotto Picks:

MAN EVOLVED FROM THE APPLE, SCIENTIST PROCLAIMS

He's been called everything from a prophet to a grinning feeb, but public scrutiny has not deterred Dr. Malcolm Skipbiscuit from voicing his belief that man evolved not from prehistoric lifeforms, but from that all-American fruit, the apple.

"There are about as many apples in the world as there are people," Dr. Skipbiscuit told a panel of anthropologists at the Big Plaza in downtown Manhattan yesterday. He presented a three hundred page photocopied report to the panel, which had to collate each page by hand and pass it down. The process, said onlookers, took hours.

"The human skull is shaped sort of like an apple," Skipbiscuit continued. "And both the skull and the apple have icky stuff inside that no one would want to eatóunless, of course, they were weird."

Skipbiscuit has submitted articles relating to his theory to magazines such as Omni, New Science, and Popular Mechanics. His only previous published article was a story that appeared in Boy's Life entitled "Me Against Mountain Dangers."

Anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould has called Skipbiscuit "the stupidest man alive."

 

 

 

In Studio 8D, they were just about ready to resume rolling. The lights on the cameras turned red and it was showtime.

"Welcome back to Eye on Various Germane Issues," said the host, Phillip McMoist. "Iím your host, Phillip McMoist. Before the break, we were just about to discuss OPECís surprising announcement last Thursday that the concerned nations had voted to slow oil production by ten percent over the coming months, and perhaps even reduce its slickness by a third. David, where is this all headed, do you think?"

David Threadbare, astute columnist for the Weekly World Worrier, sank back in his chair confidently. "Well, Phillip, weíve all been taught from pre-school that oil is a naturally slick substance, but weíre living now in an internet-dominated, consumer-driven society, and itís time both the Republicans and the Democrats got together, put aside their infighting, sat down and began to debate seriously whether oil even really needs to be dark in color anymore."

"An astute opinion and one shared by many on Capitol Hill," said Phillip. "Arthur?"

Arthur Doorstip, an eight-year veteran of the show, puffed on his pipe. "I would take a slightly different tack, actually," he said. "I think the problem with OPEC for most people lies in the acronym itself. It was a rush job from the very beginning and itís not an acronym that inspires any sort of confidence at the U.N. They should take Vladimir Putinís suggestion and start working in more letters; a W or even a K stuck in there somewhere may cause interest rates to go up a little bit, but certainly not as much as the parliament of the Ivory Coast would have you believe."

"Excellent point," Phillip remarked. "Excellent."

"We might be getting off topic a little here," chimed in Danielle Klober. "The factors involved in OPECís decision are myriad and have far more to do with the economic realities imposed on all the member countries since 1996. When OPEC sees that the problems caused by a production slowdown just further alienate everyone concerned, theyíll realize itís in their self-interest to get back on schedule and have no more of these one-upmanship games that may someday threaten their very existence." She leaned back and looked from panelist to panelist.

They said nothing for a moment. Phillip, David and Arthur exchanged awkward glances.

Phillip finally cleared his throat, smiled at Danielle. "Well, thatís....very good, dear," he said. "Very nice. You did just fine."

Danielle frowned. She was about to say something else when Phillip continued into the camera.

"On to the presidentís troubles," he began, "which couldnít have come at a worse time, what with the primaries coming up. Liberals are up in arms over what they perceive to be a progressively shakier stance on gun control. Arthur?"

Arthur harrumphed. "Iíve seen this coming for months, Phillip. The National Rifle Associationís overly simplistic acronym is leading to too much confusion in votersí minds with the Northeast Rickshaw Alliance."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, youíre being absurdly dogmatic again," David said emphatically.

"Well," Arthur said, "if itís dogmatic to say that guns donít kill people, people kill relativesó"

"You know darn well thatís not the case, Arthur; itís people who steal other peopleís guns for the purposes of killing the gun people tható"

"Gentlemen," Danielle cut in calmly, "Gentlemen, you seem to be oblivious to the most obvious signs of a president whose belief in his poll numbers is causing him to waffle on his own beliefs. How many times can the media avoid saying it: This sort of meaningless consensus building can only end when special interests donít rule the political fundraising arena."

There was a silence. David and Phillip examined the floor, trying not to meet anyoneís gaze. In the control room, someone coughed.

Arthur leaned over and patted Danielle on the knee. "Now, dearie," he said, "you donít have to speak every time. Youíll over-exert yourself."

Phillip nodded in agreement. "Itís all right to just sit quietly. Donít feel the need to try to impress us."

Danielle stared at them, almost speechless. "What?"

Phillip, always aware of the time constraints, moved on. "Ah....in other news, thereís a new flower show at the big arboretum close to where my brother lives....ah...." He looked from panelist to panelist. "Um.....Danielle? Do you have any thoughts on that subject?" They all looked at her expectantly, full of encouraging smiles.

"No....no, I donít," Danielle said, frowning. "I thought the next topic was the Senateís possible intervention in the steelworkerís strike."

"Well, we donít always have to talk about important things," said Phillip. "We can talk about what youíd like...."

Danielle looked offstage. "What is this, a joke? Are you joking? Is that it?"

"What do you mean, sweetie?" David said, concerned. "Is something making you feel bad?"

Phillip set down his notes. "Can we get some warm milk for you?....Would you like to lay down?"

Danielle stood, tearing off her microphone. "All right, thatís it! Thatís it! Itís going to stop right now!"

"What is?" asked Arthur, cleaning his pipe.

"You know what Iím talking about," she announced. "THE ONE-JOKE COMEDY STORY. Itís a dinosaur whose extinction time is long overdue! ĎWoman on a political discussion panel is treated like an idiot despite her advanced degrees in journalism and governmental policy.í Ha ha, well, weíre three hundred words into this thing and itís got nowhere to go, admit it!"

Phillip pondered this. "But Danielle, honey, it doesnít have to go anywhere. We can just sit here and engage in three or four more pointless variations on the same theme. We still get paid the same and we can be in bed by eleven."

"No, no, no!" she protested. "I wonít be part of it. Readers deserve better! This isnít Garfield!"

She was gone in a moment. The panelists and technicians stood by, humiliated.

David squirmed in his chair. "Um....what do we do now?"

"I donít think this has qualified as a full story yet," Arthur whispered.

"Weíre three grown men," Phillip said. "Surely we can come up with a concept of some sort."

But it wasnít as easy as it sounded, not by a long shot. One minute and eight seconds went by with no words spoken.

"Oh, I know!" David said. "How about if Iím THE GUY WHO STILL CANíT QUITE BELIEVE THAT RUTH GORDON IS DEAD. See, sheís been dead for years, but it just hasnít sunk in to me yet. Itís illogical, and I canít figure out why I donít have any friends!"

They thought about it.

"Thatís not bad...." Phillip said. "Not bad...."

The air conditioning in the studio kicked on and off.

"Iíve got something," Arthur said hesitantly. "How about Iím THE GUY WHO BEGINS TO SUSPECT THAT AIRLINES DONíT CARE IF YOU WALK OFF WITH THE IN-FLIGHT MAGAZINE. See, because....you know, thereís no real surprise there. But I keep obsessing about it, so....Iím pretty much friendless."

This was mused upon. David asked Phillip if a quick word count could be done. The total was close to an acceptable minimum, very close.

"A game show for cows?" Arthur volunteered.

This was rejected outright.

David snapped his fingers, turned to Phillip. "What if youíre THE GUY WHO STOPPED THE HOLOCAUST BEFORE IT GOT REALLY BAD?"

And this was the sentence brought the word count up to par, just as they had always dreamed!

 

 

 

Martinscott was sitting in his office, reading a paperback copy of The Amityville Horror when there came a knock at the door.

A man stuck his head in. "Hi, is this Strawberry Fields Real Estate?"

"No, sorry," Martinscott told him. "You want 33B. This is 33F. Second door down on the right."

"Thanks," said the man, and started to leave.

"Speculating in the land game, eh?" Martinscott asked idly, turning a page.

"Maybe."

"Shame, that. You look like a man who deserves better."

"How do you mean?" asked the man.

Martinscott heaved himself out of his chair, seeming bored. "Forget what youíve heard about real estate; itís a scam," he said. "What are you buying, in essence? Dirt and leaves and the occasional pit of quicksand. Ever seen what quicksand can do to a small child? You want to hit it big, try the stock market. Stopstein Martinscott, Valid Investments." He held out his card.

"Says here you manufacture cookie dough," the man said, squinting at the tiny print.

"Screw-up at the printers. You knowóyou have an unusually clean face. Letís work together on this thing."

"What thing?"

"Financial success. Listen, you take that card, think it over. And keep this in mind: If your investments with us donít provide a thirty percent return in your first year, you get your money back PLUS a thousand dollars."

"Thatís impossible!" said the other.

"Itís not impossible. Weíve been making investors happy for eleven years. Ask them upstairs."

"This is the top floor."

"Just think it over. Iíll be waiting."

"Um.....okay," the man said, unconvinced. He walked down the hallway.

"See you in a half hour," Martinscott said under his breath, with extreme confidence.

 

Twenty-seven minutes passed and Martinscott sat with his chance customer at an oaken table.

"So, Mr. Roonglad!" Martinscott said. "Are you ready to make the financial world your drooling bitch-slave?"

"I suppose so," said Roonglad.

"Super. Just some paperwork to take care of. Now I fed some data into the computer last night and it spat out a mutual fund package that seems mildly amusing, just for starters. Why donít you take a look?" He handed Roonglad a sheet of paper.

Roonglad read. "Beta Tape Industries....The Smith and Sterling Abacus Supply Company....Sarcophagus Discounters....Arbyís. Jesus, these are all terrible! Whatís this Arkon International, that sounds okay."

"Thatís actually a miniature golf course staffed by albinos. Maybe the mutual fund isnít the thing for you. Tell you what, hereís a sampling of stocks I drew up personally that are a little riskier, but could be much more lucrative."

Roonglad read aloud, more interested. "Spendex Oscometry....Finchsimmons and Locke....Candlebook Publishing....Uler and Olmstead? Iíve never heard of any of these."

"But more than five hundred Valid Investments investors have. These stocks here, Mr. Roonglad, have provided a thirty-nine percent return in just over six months."

"Oh, come on, you canít be serious!"

"Iím serious, Pete. You put ten thousand dollars into these things, we spin the wheel of fate, and I bet youíll soon be so buried in success you wonít be able to tell your butt from a duffel bag. And of course, if it doesnít work, you know our guarantee."

"Can I get that in writing?"

"Certainly. Just sign here....and here....and tomorrow we start making money."

Roonglad sighed, then smiled, seeing no reason now for pessimism. "Okay, letís do it!"

 

Roonglad returned in forty minutes. Martinscott was reading a paperback copy of The Grogginsville Terror and sitting behind his desk.

"Pete!" he said in greeting. "Have you lost weight?"

"Hi," Roonglad said, scratching his head. "I just came in because I think I was sent this check from your office by mistake. It came by courier."

Martinscott examined it, donning his reading glasses. "Hmm, letís see....nope, nope, thatís one of ours all right. See, look, thereís Garfield eating lasagna, isnít that the cutest? Did we get your address wrong or something?"

"Thatís a check for fifteen hundred dollars!"

"Oops....youíre right. Youíre absolutely right. Of course it should be fifteen thousand."

"What?!"

"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, there was just a big merger between two of the companies in your portfolio, Ken-dott and Amalgamated Alabaster. They came up with a fantastic new logo and the stock split immediately, everyoneís a winner. We decided to pass the bonus on to our customersóyou know, with it being Russian Easter and all."

Roonglad was flabbergasted. "How can you afford to DO this?"

"We have simple needs, a low overhead. A man comes in, his face nice and clean, we help him out. Sooner or later he helps us out."

"What does that mean?"

"Donít worry about it. Let me cut you a new check so you can be on your way. And you should be getting your first quarterly dividend check next month. Itíll have Ziggy on it!"

"Thanks!" Roonglad said, truly amazed.

 

He was back within the hour. Martinscott was sipping a lemonade and reading a paperback copy of The Brindletown Shrieking.

"Petey-boy! Have you put on some weight?"

Roonglad was in no mood for chit-chat. "I could strangle you, Martinscott!" he shouted. "Or maybe Iíll have the cops do it for me!"

"What on earth is the matter?"

Roonglad threw a stack of paper on Martinscottís desk. "You people are trying to kill me! Look at this! Just look at it! Fifty-five hate telegrams sent to my home! My house bombarded with rocks! My children mocked in the street!"

Martinscott looked at him sympathetically. "Are they retards?" he asked.

"Retards my ass!" Roonglad cried, and read from a list he had printed out from the internet. "Finchsimmons and Locke: Raising capital for dedicated Holocaust deniers since 1942! Candlebook Publishing: Distributors of quality child pornography in three continents, forty-eight countries, and the Vatican! Uler and Olmstead: Specialists in illegal defoliant research and progressive land mine technology! And Ken-dott: providers of guns, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers for use in tactical assaults against rent-delinquent third world orphanages! I want my money back!"

Martinscott grinned uncertainly. "Ah. Hmm. Letís just say I didnít expect you to find out this quickly...."

"What kind of sick business are you running here?!"

"One that turned over sixteen million dollars in profit alone last year, Pete," said Martinscott proudly. "The stocks on that list are some of the most lively in the market."

"I donít care! Just give me back my original stake plus the thousand dollars, or Iím going right to the SEC."

"Look, Pete, you just need to calm down a little and get a fruit smoothie. Who are we to say whatís a moral investment in todayís world?"

"Moral investment?! You had me buy into a company that sells something called Cancer: The Board Game!"

"Ah yes, Leisure Land Limited. Thatís a sweet plum."

"Thatís it, Iím blowing the lid off this operation right now!"

Martinscott shook his head. "Iím afraid thatís not the best of ideas."

"Oh yeah, why?" Roonglad asked challengingly. "You gonna have suited goons come after me or something?"

Martinscott removed a page from his file cabinet and donned his glasses again. "ĎThe undersigned does hereby state that upon receiving any profits from Valid Investments, he or she enters into a binding agreement to turn his essence over to the dark forces of the universe upon his or her death. See subheading 8D for special arrangements with albinos.í" He set the page down. "Sorry, Pete, most people donít sign unless I sneak it on them."

Roonglad got a glassy look in his eyes. "Whatówhat does that mean?"

"I work for the dark forces of the universe, Pete," said Martinscott mildly. "You may know us better as Darking.net. You signed a contract."

"Tear it up!" Roonglad cried, terrified. "Iím not responsible!"

"Youíre the one who walked into 33F, not me, Pete. I tell ya, youíd be surprised how many people make that mistake."

"What are you going to do with my essence?!"

Martinscott came around his desk in a friendly fashion. "These are issues beyond your mortal concern, Pete. Just donít tick these people off, they can take your essence away anytime they feel like if you get too uppityóman, I thought the people I used to work for at MTV were mean, what did I know? The important thing is youíre going to be a rich man till the day you die."

Roongladís face was the color of an old gym sock. "My essence youíre going to get?"

Martinscott threw a chummy arm around him. "Years, weíre talking years before this happens, Pete! Now listen, I think youíre having a bit of a breakdown. Go home and relax, buy yourself a CD tower or something."

"Iím doomed!"

"Doomed shmoomed. What is this word Ďdoomedí all of a sudden? Do some shopping, come back and see me on ThursdayóI got a hot stock tip for your portfolio. Ethically itís a wee bit shaky....but it looks very, very promising."

Roonglad, approaching the door on wobbly legs, closed his eyes. "What is it?" he asked.

Martinscott grinned. "Hewlett Packard," he said. "Have a good day."

 

 

 

You just can't be too careful these days. Otto sat next to his dumb friend Tab at around noon and Tab started right in on him. Little did Otto know that Tabís pestering would expose a dark side of Tab which Otto never thought existed.

"Hey," Tab said, "is that the mail?"

"Yeah," Otto said.

"What's that on top?" Tab asked.

So Otto told him. "Itís the Swimsuits Monthly Annual Swimsuit Issue."

"What are you doing with that?" Tab asked. "That's sexist."

"I can't help it," Otto said. "It's part of a gift subscription."

"It's sexist that you're even holding it," Tab said.

Otto looked at him. "What did you bring up sexism for?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Is it because," Otto posed, "you're guilty because you're secretly sexist?"

"I'm not the sexist," Tab countered lamely. "You're the sexist."

"I find your denials sexist," Otto told him.

"Denying that you're a sexist doesn't mean you're a sexist," Tab said.

"Well," Otto told him, "if you're so confident that you're not sexist, don't bother with denials."

"All right," Tab said. "I won't bother with denials."

"Then you admit you're sexist," Otto said. Just plain logic.

Tab acted all defensive. "You're sad," he said. "You don't even know what sexist means."

"But you do," Otto observed. "You practically invented the word. Look who was the first one to notice that I had the swimsuit issue in my hands."

"So?"

"So what are your eyes doing on the magazine?" Otto asked shrewdly, trapping him in a contradiction. "You're sexist."

"Where my eyes wander has nothing to do with being sexist," said Tab.

"No, but you said 'What's that?' like you were very interested in the magazine," Otto noted. "Interest in a sexist publication denotes sexism."

"Where do you see interest on my part?" Tab said, trying to act the innocent. "I see something, I comment on it!"

"And that comment is, 'I feel women are inferior because I am sexist.'"

"Your problem is that you see sexism behind every rock," Tab accused.

"I do not see sexism behind every rock," Otto informed him calmly. "I see sexism in the outdated attitudes of you sexists."

"I never said women were inferior," Tab claimed.

"Of course you did, sexist," Otto said. "Do you think women can do anything men can?"

"Yes."

"Except think and speak."

"Now why are you saying that? You're just being obnoxious."

Oh, sure. "Do you think women should run for president?" Otto asked him.

"Of course," Tab answered.

"Do you think women should be in the army?"

"Why not?"

"How about women engaging in front line combat?"

"I suppose so," said Tab.

"You female-hating sexist!" Otto exploded. "Sending women off to die in your filthy macho wars! Sexist blood merchant!"

Tab shrunk in his chair. "That was a loaded argument," he claimed.

"Loaded with concern for the plight of today's woman, you mean!" Otto said boldly. Can you believe Otto had once lent Tab his copy of Cheap Trick: Live at Budokan?

"All right," Tab said. "Give me the magazine."

Otto did. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"What does it look like I'm doing?"

"You're throwing it into the garbage?"

"Yeah."

Unbelievable. "So you're throwing women into the garbage!" Otto shouted. "You incredible sexist!"

"It's a magazine," Tab said lamely, "it's not women!"

"Women contributed to the creation of that magazine and you're simply spitting on their efforts! S-E-X-I-S-T, sexist!" Otto cried.

"I'm disposing of an offensive thing!"

"So that's how you refer to women. As 'things'. You sexist creep."

"All right," Tab said, trying to rise to the occasion, as if he hadn't already hung himself. "How is it that I can work part-time for a feminist social group and yet still be a sexist?"

"Because the only reason you work part-time for a feminist social group is so you can hit on more women!" Otto informed him. "My God, I've never known a bigger sexist in my life!"

"Okay," Tab said. "Let me ask you something. Why do you comb your hair in the morning?"

"That's the most sexist question I've ever heard," Otto said (and Otto was sure you'd agree). "If I were a woman you wouldn't have asked it."

"The only reason you comb your hair," Tab theorized erroneously, "is to look good for the opposite sex. If that's not sexist, I don't know what sexism is."

"I comb my hair because you're supposed to comb your hair!" Otto said.

"Oh, fine, go along with whatever men do, Doctor Sexist," Ottoís so-called friend said to him. "Burned any crosses lately? Invent any good double standards?"

"Sexists don't burn crosses, sexist," Otto said, straightening him out. "They enslave women in much more subtle ways."

"Ah, I see you're very familiar with what sexists do and don't do. Could that be because you're a sexist?" Tab got up, started to leave. "I'm going to get a Fresca," he said, obviously a dodge to get out of losing the argument.

"Why are you going into the kitchen?" Otto asked him. "Don't you feel that's the woman's place, you sexist pornographer scum? The symbolism inherent in your act screams the word 'sexist' from every mountaintop!"

"Why don't you go scream 'I'm a lunatic' from every mountaintop?" the little weasel called from the other room.

"I would," Otto exclaimed with fervor, "but all the mountaintops are owned by sexists!!"

"Oh, go somewhere!" Tab concluded disappointingly.

"Yeah, the women of the world could go somewhere if it weren't for pencil-necked sexists such as yourself!" Otto bellowed bravely. "Come back here!" he demanded.

But Tab had left. It just goes to show you, you can't trust anyone these days. Watch out. Suspect everyone. If Tab could turn out to be a sexist, it could happen to a neighbor, a business associate, a loved one, a prized barber. It's like a plague. It really is, don't you think?

 

 

 

It was bright and sunny on highway 61. Dreiser looked in his rearview mirror and saw flashing red and blue lights. Like any good citizen, he pulled over and smiled, waiting for the officer to right whatever wrong may have been committed.

"Sir," the officer said when he stepped beside Dreiser's window. "Do you realize that you were just going one hundred and fourteen miles per hour?"

"Officer," Dreiser said politely, "what is speed?"

The officer looked uncertain.

Dreiser spent the next half hour going over colorful charts and graphs with the officer on the side of the road, delineating certain ideas and visual data with the help of an easel and pointer. The concepts were subtle, but in time, the officer began to nod and eventually saw that yes, the notions of speed and inertia were indeed far too complex to evaluate with such flippancy. He thanked Dreiser and went away.

Dreiser smiled kindly and drove on. This time he reached speeds of just under one hundred and forty miles per hour.

Fifteen minutes later, three state troopers converged upon the car, chasing Dreiser with aplomb. Dreiser ran over a few elderly pedestrians, noting how smooth the engine was running since he switched to Quaker State.

"PULL OVER, SIR!" one of the troopers shouted into a megaphone. "IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK THIS TIME!"

Dreiser pulled over as ordered, whistling contentedly. The troopers dragged him from the car and pinned him on the ground.

"Officers," Dreiser stated calmly, lips pressed against the moist pavement. "Who are we to judge between the rights and wrongs of man?"

The troopers considered this silently.

Dreiser passed out the textbooks and the four of them discussed the matter. In due time, Dreiser was able to show the troopers that the writings of Descartes, Schopenhauer, and Bertrand Russell showed conclusively that objective reality held little room for distinctions such as "good" and "bad" behavior. The troopers, relieved, thanked Dreiser and drove off. Dreiser complimented them on their subtle grasp of complex philosophical notions and continued his enjoyable drive.

A half hour passed. Then, helicopters overhead. The Federal Marshal ordered in fifty cars to stop Dreiser cold. When Dreiser turned a corner and found himself staring at a SWAT team, he got out of the car, held his hands high, and offered a disarming grin. It was no use, though; he was hauled off to jail and locked behind stout bars.

"My dear overseer," he said to the guard with the keys. "Is my confinement truly a matter for you, a mortal citizen, to govern?"

Ten minutes of intelligent discussion later, Dreiser was walking down Main Street, whistling a cheery tune. The governor then ordered him shot on sight. An anti-tank missile was aimed in Dreiser's direction and launched promptly.

"I say, oncoming missile," Dreiser remarked casually. "Is your path not dictated by any number of variable factors, which, when taken together in sum, greatly shed doubt on the accuracy of your strike?"

The missile, unequipped for such foolproof logic, veered off its course and blew up a well-known resort hotel, killing hundreds. At the trial, Dreiser was sentenced to death by both lethal injection and hanging, if necessary.

"Can one truly kill the soul?" Dreiser pontificated at the end.

His captors could not suitably respond. Dreiser was pardoned and given the key to the city.

Stay in school, kids. There's nothing like a sharp mind to carve out a bright future!

 

 

 

Dennis knocked on the door of his friend Elbisís small efficiency apartment for the purposes of borrowing some steel. He was surprised to see Elbis standing in the center of the room, trying to manufacture a workable noose.

"Hey, Elbis, whatcha doing?" Dennis asked.

"Hey, Dennis," said Elbis, obviously very depressed. "Um....I was thinking about ending it all. Do you have a gun or something, I donít know how to tie a sheepshank."

"Ending it all? Jesus! Whatís the matter?"

Elbis sighed. "Oh, everything. I got fired from Blockbuster because I wouldnít stop recommending documentaries to people....Donna broke off our engagement because my hair smells like fried chicken....and Seven-Eleven kicked me out of their Refill Club again."

"They did not!"

"They did! Theyíre afraid of me! Afraid of my ideas!"

Dennis shook his head. "Man, thatís rough."

"Well, anyway," Elbis said. "I just canít seem to get my life to go where I want it, you know?" He wiped away a tear.

"Mm. Yeah, I see what youíre saying." Dennis scratched his chin in thought, but his mind was a blank. "Well, I have no easy answers, Elbis. I guess you just gotta lay it on the line, you know?"

Elbis thought about it. "Lay it on the line....yeah....yeah, I think I see what youíre saying. Hey, thanks, Dennis!"

Elbis stuck out his hand and Dennis shook it. "Yeah, whatever," he said. "Look, take a nap, Iíll be back in a couple hours, weíll go to FaceBurger, okay?"

"Okay!"

Dennis left. He came back forty minutes later to see if he might be able to borrow replacement fangs for his staple remover.

He was shocked to find a wild party going on in Elbisís apartment. It was mobbed with people. Champagne flowed, dance music was pumped through giant speakers. Dennis gawked, baffled.

Elbis emerged from the crowd, dressed in a snazzy black Armani suit, a blonde babe on each arm, and a Cuban cigar stuck in his mouth. His face lit up when he saw Dennis.

"Dennis! This is the man I want to see! Come on in here, pal!"

Elbis hugged him tightly. "Elbis," Dennis shouted over the music, "what the hell is all this? What happened?"

"What happened, are you kidding? You changed my life, thatís what happened! I love you, you big mug!"

"I changed your life? How do you mean? Two hours ago you were gonna kill yourself!"

Elbis threw his head back and laughed. "Well, I came up with a simple business plan, found some investors, launched an internet start-up, and when the initial public offering gave way to an unexpected stock split, I cashed in bigtime! Here, have a thousand dollar bill. Itís all because of you, babe, and your invaluable advice."

"Advice?"

"Thatís right. Youíre the one who told me to lay it on the line."

"Lay it on the line?"

Elbis nodded. "You got it!"

Dennis stared at Elbis disbelievingly. "But...but....but that doesnít mean anything!" he said. "What the hell does that mean? Itís a vapid cliche! Lay it on the line, what the hell can you do with that?"

Elbis frowned, suddenly uncertain.

Dennis shook his head in frustration. "Christ, some moron off the street spouts some kind of irrelevant saying and you take it to be some sort of life-changing credo? What did you think I meant?!"

The music stopped. The partyers were silent now, listening closely. Elbis seemed dazed.

"I mean, my God," Dennis went on loudly, "if Iíd said to you, ĎPull yourself up by your bootstrapsí, would I come in and find Bill Gates signing Microsoft over to you? How could you possibly in a million years listen to five idiotic syllables, which have no more significance than some yellow smiley face telling you to have a nice day, and parlay that into a fortune? What kind of freak are you? Lay it on the line? Thatís IT?!"

Dennis stopped there, spent. The blonde babes beside Elbis slinked away, embarrassed.

"Jeez, Dennis, I donít know," Elbis said quietly. "I guess I went a bit overboard..."

"Damn right you went overboard!"

Elbis turned away, ashamed. "Iím sorry."

"Look, itís just weird, thatís all," Dennis said, more calmly. "Good luck, Elbis, Iím happy for you. Just donít count your chickens, I guess."

"I wonít. See you, Dennis."

"See ya." Dennis left.

But twenty minutes later he decided he had indeed behaved atrociously and went back to apologize again. He walked in to find Elbis lying on his stained carpet, dressed in tattered rags, reeking of alcohol. He also seemed to have lost some of his hair. Everyone else was gone.

"Elbis, what the hell happened to you?!" Dennis cried.

Elbis struggled to his feet. "Oh....hey, Dennis. Yeah, um.....do you have any Speed Stick on you, by any chance? I think I stepped in somethingís intestines."

Dennis looked around, blinking his eyes rapidly. "Where did the fortune go? A half hour ago you were wealthy beyond your wildest dreamsóthe women, the champagneó"

Elbis shrugged. "Well, you seemed kind of down on the whole thing. I mean, remember what you said: ĎDonít count your chickens.í"

Dennis stared at him. "IóitóíDonít count your chickens?í"

"Yeah, I took it to heart, man...started making more conservative moves, and the market trampled me. I couldnít survive with that kind of mindset."

"Youóthere was no mindset, Elbis! There was only some nattering pinhead reciting some schoolyard tripe recycled from the inane prattle of old ladies! ĎDonít count your chickensí doesnít mean you sacrifice an entire internet empire! It doesnít mean ANYTHING! Itís a cliche! Donít you know what cliches are? Theyíre not intended give you license to base your entire decision-making process on a bunch of myopic phrases that rednecks sew into samplers you see hanging on the walls of barber shops in east Kentucky! My God, man! If youíll buy into that, what could I possibly say that you wonít buy into like some drooling adolescent listening to Ricky Martin telling them to ĎRock the Voteí?! GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!!" He took Elbis by the shoulders and began to shake him violently. Another one of Elbisís teeth fell out.

"Okay, okay, Dennis," Elbis said sadly. He slapped his forehead. "Youíre right. Youíre right. I just wasnít thinking, I guess."

"Thatís right! You werenít!"

"But Dennis....what do I do now? All my money is gone, Iím lonely again, and I had to sell most of my organs to some Filipino guys. Itís all lost...."

Dennis put his hands on his hips and concentrated for a bit, but was at a loss. "Iíd like to help you, but itís tough, Elbis, Iím not going to lie to you. Itís gonna be a hard road back. I guess you just gotta take it to the next level."

There was a glimmer in Elbisís eyes. "Take it to the next level," he echoed wonderingly.

"Yeah. Now look, Iíll be back in an hour, Children of the Corn is coming on HBO, and you can never tell if theyíre ever gonna show it again, okay?"

"Okay. Iím gonna take it to the next level, Dennis!"

"Great. Later."

Dennis exited. He returned five minutes later to see if he could borrow a few of the numerical keys from Elbisís phone.

When he entered, Elbis was dressed in a big bulky carrot costume, sitting in a wheelchair, and strumming a cello. A Dalmatian sat beside him, crouching in front of the Stanley Cup. The Dalmatian was wearing a flowered bonnet.

"Hey, man," Elbis said in greeting.

"Um...." Dennis said haltingly. "I, ah, I just wanted to ask if youíre gay."

"Me? Nah. Gotta be the ladies for me, man, now and forever."

"Okay, cool," Dennis said. "See ya."

 

 

 

Grovek sat with pen in hand, staring out the window. Poetry in the twenty-first century had become stale and trite, he thought. Now the winner of countless prizes and acclaim for his timeless free verse was seeking to break new ground. Squeezing his eyes shut, he lapsed into a trancelike state of concentration. Finally, something came to him, and he began to write:

There once was a young man from York

Who was mauled by a pink and white stork.

He recovered in time

But found it sublime

When, sadly, he was later stabbed in the eye with a fork.

Good, but not great. Still, the concept of the sad limerick appealed to him on a very real intellectual level. Ten minutes later, he completed his second attempt:

There was a fine boy named Ray

Who loved to do nothing but play.

One afternoon his parents called him in

To break some terrible news and wipe out his grin

For, sadly, his grandparents had just passed away.

Grovek now knew he was onto something. The words began to pour from his soul. He foresaw more awards, more book sales, but even more importantly, he saw a new direction for the modern poem.

In Eton there lived a young dancer

Who came down with a rare form of cancer.

He was heard to blame

Jesus Christ by name,

Yet, sadly, his prayers would go unanswered.

I once lived in a town called Bellows,

Where I shared many laughs with my fellows.

Until fires swept through

Leaving us all so very blue.

To this day, we remember that rampant destruction and can only see it as just another example of man's woeful state.

Grovek put down his sizzling pen and looked out the window again.

I kick butt! thought the great poet.

 

 

 

Detective Wombley stood and stared at the spectacle before him. The wind ruffled his thinning hair and the sun shone harshly on his weathered face.

"Iíll tell you, Jenkins," he said to the green rookie standing beside him. "Iíve seen some things in my thirty-one years on the force....but never anything like this."

Jenkins nodded, speechless. Before them stood the object that had transfixed them, its triangular red and white steel face bearing a solitary word: YIELD.

 

 

 

What is funny?

For the past seven hours or so, you've been reading a humorous collection of short skit humor, one designed to provide laughter amidst incisive social commentary. But exactly why has this book been so riotously side-splitting thus far? Why have you forsaken going to work and caring for your family in favor of turning page after page? Why do we laugh at it? Let's stop for a moment and examine the causes and effects of laughter to discover...what is funny.

For our purposes today, we'll be discussing the seven basic devices of written and visual comedy. They are:

1. The Insult

2. The Straight Man

3. Absurdity

4. Physical Trauma

5. Funny Names

6. The Dunce Effect

7. Satire

COMIC DEVICE NUMBER ONE: The Insult

"Hey, Character A," said Character B cheerily, entering the room, "telephone Character C. I feel like going to picture shows tonight."

"I feel like shoving Character C up your butt tonight!" countered Character A.

Here we see how one character deftly responds to a simple request with a rib-tickling insult. Character B is left defenseless and bitter, while Character A has the last laugh. Since the late forties the insult has prolonged the career of many a talentless, no-name stand-up comic who has nothing interesting to say.

In this next bit of prose, Character B plays the STRAIGHT MAN to Character A's wisecracking veteran cop. Read on:

"Officer B," said Officer A testily. "You are out of uniform. If we are to be partners, I insist that you don formal police attire."

"Hey, A," Sergeant B responded, his mouth full of Cheetos, "there's one thing I've learned on the streets: the only times a man should dress formal is at his senior prom and at his funeral. Now here...have a brew."

"I certainly will not," A admonished him. "We are on duty."

"Duty patootie," B said, belching. "Hoo boyólook at the gams on that babe!"

Here the juxtaposition of personalities lends a light touch that would fit perfectly into any summer movie release starring any combination of former Saturday Night Live cast members. Actual story and character are negligible: it is the winsome combination of the rational and the cynical that brings in the dollars on opening weekend, a full two days before the devastating reviews come crashing down like the wrath of Allah.

"Absurdity" is defined as the making the real seem fantastical. We all know that a man cannot turn into an english muffin, for example, but when it happens on the page or the screen, we roar with unrestrained delight. See if you can guess how absurdity is used in the following exchange:

"Character A," B said, brows furrowed. "You seem upset. What's wrong?"

"Oh," wept Character A, "my head fell off again on the way over here. I donít know where it is."

"But A," said B, "itís still right there on your shoulders!"

A looked at B blankly. "Nuh-uh," he said.

Finished laughing yet? Probably not. This is because A's deadpan statement is so ridiculous that we know the event depicted here simply could never happenówe call it "absurd." Unfortunately, many people find the entire idea putting a book on the internet "absurd," and this kind of scattershot criticism, along with all these meddlesome lawsuits, just serves to disrupt the flow of our perfectly innocentóand most definitely non-racistófun.

"Gosh, Character B!" exclaimed Character A as he trimmed a hedge. "I sure do enjoy working in the yard on a cool autumn's day!"

"As do I, A!" Character B called back.

"Character B, watch out for that rake!"

"Aaaahhhh!!" cried B, stepping on the rake, watching helplessly as it flung itself upwards, its savagely sharp prongs burying themselves deep into his neck.

Ha, ha, ha! That's right, it's our old friend "physical trauma." Beginning humorists should remember that there is nothing like a swollen hand or bleeding gums to entertain and edify. Pain is what made the Road Runner cartoons such classics, and it can work for just about anyone. The image of a red-faced dupe in need of immediate medical care can only bring tears of bliss to the reader or vieweróas do the topics of bank foreclosure and suicide pacts that donít work out.

Have you ever heard a funny name on television, or maybe seen one in print? Then you know how darned funny an unfortunate christening can beóespecially if someone is horribly oblivious to their "Stupid Name."

"Good evening, I'm Anchorman A and this is the evening news. Malcolm L. Van Nutstein and T. Talbot McNosenasal were today arraigned on charges of extortion and bribery, while trial lawyer Winnifred Chipkrinkle denied all accounts of their wrongdoings. In sports, newest Yankee manager Enos Fingus announced his retirement..."

Is it morally right to mock someone merely for being born with an unfortunate name? Should we as an audience instead feel sympathy for someone because their parents were too hopped up on bennies and reds to realize what they were cursing their child with? Why, thatís like asking if the mailman likes to memorize things!

"Hey, Character A," beamed Character B, "my tape of the Worldís Craziest Rhinoplasty Foulups finally came in the mail! Want to watch it with me?"

"Sure!" Character A said. "Pop it in the video cassette machine!"

B tried to do just that, but after a minute of grunting and groaning, he knew something was amiss.

"A, something must be wrong with the tape!" cried B. "It's not fitting into the VCR! Dammit, I think it's broken!"

"Character B," said A abashedly, "that's not the VCR slot. That's a toothbrush."

"Oh," said B.

Can you believe the idiocy represented in this exchange? Of course not! You're not supposed to. The dunce effect works on the principle that no one could be this stupid...unless, of course, their brain cells were slowly being contaminated and destroyed by lethal radon gas.

Finally we come to satire, by far the funniest form of comedy. Where something like a funny name or a crude insult caters to our baser instincts, satire brings out the intelligent wit in each one of us, as well as providing an endless tide of belly laughs. Just read this selection from Moliere's 17th century masterpiece, "The Misanthrope":

I don't say that. But I told this person,

Surely you're under no necessity to compose;

Why you should wish to publish, heaven knows.

There's no excuse for printing tedious rot

Unless one writes for bread, as you do not.

Resist temptation, then, I beg of you;

Conceal your pastime from the public view,

And don't give up, on any provocation,

Your present high and courtly reputation,

To purchase at a greedy printer's shop

The name of silly author and scribbling fop.

It is quite clear by this gutbusting passage that our English teachers were correct when they condemned low humor and praised the early satirists. So there you have it: humor at its highest form. And be assured the day will come when America once again recognizes the greatness of pure dry satire, and on that day not only will there be a light dusting of snow in hell, but we'll also peacefully surrender our homeland to the Italians.

QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW:

1) Why are bananas funnier than corn? Explain.

2) Name three recent human tragedies involving loss of life and explain how they could be turned into situation comedies.

3) Write 2500 words on who you think should play Flanders if they do a Simpsons movie.

 

 

 

Detective Wombley and the green rookie Jenkins stood in the barnyard, looking on. Chickens clucked, cows mooed.

"I remember it all, Jenkins," Wombley said reflectively. "Sure, Ringles the Rooster and Dimpy the Dog seemed happy playing together....but exactly six months after the day they met, forensic analysis of the twisted guardrail would tell a very different story." He stared into the distance, remembering.

Privately, Jenkins sometimes thought that Wombley was a freaking headcase.

 

 

 

Phaltz had to get his rental car back to the airport in Toronto by two oíclock. No, forget thatóPhaltz absolutely had to get his rental car back to the airport in Toronto by two oíclock.

And he was gonna make it too, by God.

He was headed north, doing sixty-five on route 107 when the clock on the dash clicked over to 1:15. The Datsun in front of him was idling along at fifty.

"Move it, you idiot!" Phaltz screamed at him, looking for a place to pass. "Some people have places to be!"

Toronto, to be exact. Phaltz absolutely, without a doubt had to get his rental car back to the airport there by two oíclock.

At 1:20 he saw the billboard heíd been hoping for. It said:

WELCOME TO KENTUCKY!

He roared past the state line, looking anxiously at the clock. He blew through a yellow light doing forty-five in a thirty-five mile an hour zone.

Traffic snarled five minutes later. Phaltz laid on his horn.

Oh, heíd get there. Phaltz always got what he really needed.

And today, he absolutely no-kidding-around had to get his rental car back to Toronto by two oíclock.

 

 

 

 

Reader's Digest

Features Department

1000 West 1st Street

Dayton, Illinois

Reggie Plubell

144 Oigal Drive

Table, Massachusetts 10334

Dear Mr. Plubell:

Thank you for you recent submission to our Life in These United States feature. Your anecdote was read and appreciated by our staff. However, we regret to inform you that due to space limitations, we cannot print your submission at this time. Please feel free to submit again at your leisure.

For future reference, please note that humorous stories detailing the ritualistic extermination of a people whose religious views you do not wholly agree with rarely make suitable reading for our family-oriented audience. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Joseph Velv

Features Editor




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