Diary Of A Missing White Woman

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Day 1

I’ve been abducted! There I was, waiting for the bus, when WHAM! Next thing I know, I’m in the trunk of a moving car, my wrists and ankles are tied with jumper cables, and I’ve got a lump on the back of my head. OWWW! My abductor didn’t take my grocery list or lucky sudoku pen, though, so I can at least make a record of my harrowing ordeal.

Day 2

Woken up this morning by my abductor opening the trunk and throwing in a warm Tab (gross) and a packet of peanuts (stale).

I’ve discovered that if I’m quiet, I can just make out the radio, so I’ll be able to listen for news of my abduction. There hasn’t been anything about me yet, though, which is just as well since I need time to work on my angle. The way I see it, I’ve got three options: (1) all-American girl; (2) girl next door; and (3) popular party girl. I’m not sure about “all-American girl” (too much pressure to be peppy), and I definitely don’t like “popular party girl” (which is just code for “slut”), so I guess that leaves “girl next door.” I think I can pull that off as long as no one finds out I was downtown to return a defective vibrator to the Love Mart. Of course, the other women in my Jane Austen book club will want to slap the piss out of me for letting anyone characterize me as a “girl” at my age, but I was getting sick of flans anyway.

Oh, and I’ve decided to call my abductor Tom. He reminds me of that Tom guy at work who tells people we hooked up in the supply closet. What an asshole.

Day 3

Tab and peanuts for breakfast again.

Spent most of the day considering casting. Which of today’s top-tier starlets should play me in the big budget screen adaptation of my harrowing ordeal? For my money, it has to be Anne Hathaway. She’s smart, she’s sexy, and she has a touch of that old school class, even if she gave away the store in that gay cowboy movie. Fingers crossed!

Still nothing on the radio about my disappearance.

Day 4

Starting to get a bad feeling about this abduction. I mean, I’m spending all my time cooped up in a trunk, and for all I know Tom is just driving in circles. What’re they gonna call a movie about that? Trunk of Terror? I’d better work on titles so I have something to run with when the time comes.

Day 5

Woke up this morning to find the trunk wide open and Tom sound asleep up against a tree. Got myself a Tab and some peanuts from the cooler and locked myself back in the trunk. At least one of us is taking this abduction seriously.

Day 6

Could I be more pissed off? I finally make the news, but then they cut away to some stupid story about a fire at a clown college. WTF? Nobody even LIKES clowns! What a rip.

Day 7

Just had a close call. Tom had let me out to help change a flat tire when a motorcycle cop came out of nowhere, took one look at me and the jumper cables, and started asking questions. Tom just stood there like an idiot, mumbling something about tinfoil underwear, while the cop reached for his radio. Fortunately, he was watching Tom so closely that he didn’t notice me sneaking up behind him with the tire iron. It took one whack to put him down and two more to keep him down. I felt a little guilty about it afterwards, but it had to be done. No way am I being rescued one lousy week into my harrowing ordeal. I mean, I’d be lucky to score a made-for-cable movie after only seven days. Goodbye Anne Hathaway, hello Anne Heche.

Day 8

More news about me on the radio. Apparently, my so-called loved ones could scrape together only $3,500 for information leading to my safe return, which oddly enough is EXACTLY how much I have in my checking account. That better be a coincidence.

Also, who do they have on to plead for my safe return? Mom? Dad? Little sis? No, it’s Tom from work, blubbering that all he wants is to feel me safe and sound in his arms again. GET OVER IT, TOM! One drunken Christmas party grope-out does not make us Tristan and Isolde.

But on the bright side, they also say that MY Tom is now suspected in the death of a motorcycle cop, so they’re ramping up the search. Yay! That alone ought to be enough to bump my story up from Entertainment Tonight to Larry King Live.

Day 9

What a day. I’d barely finished my Tab and peanuts when we ran out of gas. Tom let me out to push, but he wouldn’t untie me (not even my ankles), so it took FOREVER to reach a gas station. Still, I bet Anne Hathaway would look terrific struggling to push a car along a deserted highway, and that’s what counts.

Day 10

Not much going on today. We’re parked somewhere and I hear a muffled sound coming from nearby. What is that, digging?

I’ve thought of a title for my movie: Driven to Despair. It works the car angle while avoiding any reference to the trunk. Cha-ching!

Hey, that sound has finally stopped. I wonder if that’s good or bad. Guess I’ll know soon enough.

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Notes For My Future Novel About The Last Man On Earth

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Following an apocalyptic disaster, main character finds himself completely alone — but it’s the good kind of alone. Disaster should be sufficiently devastating to wipe out all human life on the planet yet not cause main character, who has always been kept down by others, any further hardship.

Plague seems like best way to go. It eliminates the people but leaves everything else, including main character’s CD collection, intact. Fortunately, the infection can take no hold on him. At first he assumes it’s merely some natural immunity — an incredible stroke of luck in an otherwise disappointing existence — but as the story unfolds he’ll come to realize it’s much more than that. There’s something about him that is inherently better than other people, as he’s always suspected. He deserves to survive. Not so with everyone else, whom he won’t miss one tiny bit. (Be careful not to let this lack of sorrow, this certainty that they all got what was coming to them, impinge on main character’s likeability.)

He soon abandons his apartment, which was too small anyway, and conducts a perfunctory search for other survivors. He neither expects, nor hopes, to find any. His real reason for leaving is to escape the bad memories. Two weeks ago he came home early and caught his wife and supposed best friend in bed together. Plague should be particularly unkind to these two characters, who die regretting their unthinkable betrayal of main character’s trust. But it’s too little, too late. They’re dead now.

Eventually main character’s search takes him to one of those mansion-like houses he saw once while driving through Connecticut, and which he claims as his own. (The house, not the state, though of course both are his for the taking.) This is his very first act of materialism ever. Before the end of civilization he didn’t get paid enough to be that way, despite being the only one at the office who knew what he was doing. Promotions never seemed to come his way. It was all politics. A popularity contest. But they’re corpses and he’s still here. Who’s Mr. Popularity now?

About the corpses: think of a way to negate the unpleasantness of having them spread out over the cities and towns, polluting main character’s air with their stench. If the plague originated in outer space, it could conceivably disintegrate the bodies over the span of a few hours, leaving the world fresh and clean for main character yet allowing him just enough time to strut through the corpse-filled streets feeling smugly superior. (With likeability again in mind, limit this gloating to five or six chapters.)

Although the Space Plague has its way with mankind, it should leave dogs alone. Unlike people, they’ve never been anything but warm and loving to main character, and on one of his stops to gather canned goods, he comes across and adopts a friendly black Lab. Possible names: Shadow or Smokey.

Midway through story, main character encounters a group of flesh-hungry mutants whom he must wage war with until he finally succeeds in destroying them all. Unfortunately, battling deadly mutants on a daily basis has not only desensitized him to the act of killing, but encouraged it. Therefore, in the final chapter, when main character meets another band of survivors who are just regular people striving to rebuild society, he slaughters them without hesitation.

But it’s not his fault. Not really. Living in a world ravaged by the Space Plague and murderous mutants (who devoured Smokey, by the way) is what made him like this. Not to mention, he’s always suffered more than his fair share of humiliations and difficulties, including a childhood that wasn’t the greatest. But mostly it was all those people — seemingly everyone he ever met — determined to make his life just a little bit worse than it already was, if that’s even possible.

The point is, at novel’s end main character is still the hero, the good guy, and he gets to live the remainder of his years in uninterrupted peace, completely alone. (Make sure to emphasize, in case some readers haven’t figured it out yet, that it’s the good kind of alone.)

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Who’s On First, But Why?

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A review of The Colgate Toothpaste Abbott and Costello Comedy Radio Hour

Village Voice, February 16, 1938

Last night, anyone tuning into the National Broadcasting Company’s Colgate Toothpaste Abbott and Costello Comedy Hour definitely heard something new and, according to the reaction of the studio audience, very funny. But does funny by itself satisfy the mission of comedy?

For the benefit of those who think it does: okay, let’s first ask, do Abbott and Costello even get funny right? Sure, it can’t be denied that the duo’s formula works: friendships between thin and fat men founded on insults, Schadenfreude, and physical abuse are objectively hilarious. But Laurel and Hardy have a greater difference in weight between them than Abbott and Costello. And, with Hardy’s shimmeringly ingenious recent gain of 24 pounds, the crown of laughs, many say, should actually become his and Laurel’s again. Yes, this “crown” is just a metaphor. But the fact that it’s not a real crown per se only makes it that much easier for these two comedians to “wear” it simultaneously.

Also, obviously, there’s the new Shuffles and Stu Show on NPR, a station that is of course now suddenly all the rage just as it’s becoming a mere shadow of what it was when I discovered it years ago. But at least S&S are fresh, shimmeringly so. And, in their short career, they’ve already proven they can tickle uncontrolled guffaws out of the saddest farmer’s belly with their brand of restrained slapstick. In one brilliant routine, “The Net Gross,” the duo try their hands as accountants. After a few hours of uneventful tallying and reckoning, and just as the audience sounds as though it’s ready to jump out of its collective seat and hightail it back to whence it collectively came, Shuffles makes an error in calculating the asset appreciation somewhere deep in the records — so hilariously deep. In perfect timing with a sour, elastic “boing!” sound-effect, Shuffles begins to silently torture himself mentally for his failure. The laughter was as explosive as can be hoped for from a studio audience somewhat preoccupied with finding any kind of work and whether they and their children will be eating ever again.

But, while Abbott and Costello may not necessarily be the funniest comedy act today, they at least usually offer us something unique…something more…something, to quote me from what I just said, “more.” For example, this is from an episode last year: “Lou, if you had $20 in one pocket, and $5 in another pocket, what would you have?” Lou answers, “Someone else’s pants on.” Most jokesters would have just ended it there with that predictable punchline (I knew from a mile away that Lou wasn’t going to say, “$25”).

But Abbott adds this to the mix: “Lou, sometimes you can be so stupid.”

This last line morphs a pretty thin gag into something shimmering (with Costello obviously representing America as it is now and Abbott representing Abbot and Costello commenting on America [Costello] of which Abbott is a part [yet is commenting on]) and yields a giddy core-sample hinting at what lays within: a layered post-Swiftian satire on the unbridled, shimmeringly ugly capitalism that brought our country to the Depression it’s mired in now and tops it off nicely with a good dose of agitprop on how some form of socialism is the only way out the mess.

But Abbott and Costello’s show last night simply did not achieve whatever it is I just intended to describe.

It started out well enough with the two interacting as a baseball team manager and his assistant. Risky, sure. But a kind of risky I’m frankly braced for even if some audiences aren’t. But I soon felt like some bedraggled laboratory rat in an experiment which, to follow the metaphor, quickly became what is to a laboratory rat as confusing radio-listening is to a human:

“Well then, who’s on first?” Costello asked. (Good question. I mean, we all want to know “who’s on first.”)

“Yes,” Abbott replies. (This doesn’t seem to answer the question or even acknowledge it.)

“I mean the fellow’s name.” (A glimmeringly reasonable clarification.)

“Who!” (It’s apparent at this point that the routine may be running adrift.)

“The guy on first!”

“Who!”

Etc. etc.

This goes on for another several, consecutive minutes. Now, of course, I completely get that this is an experiment — failed though it is — in repetition and rhythm. But there’s no there there.

And, sure, the studio audience howled with laughter, but it was a laughter that seemed to say, “I don’t get that this is an experiment in repetition and rhythm. I’m confused and don’t find this very funny.” But, even if I’m wrong, even if the hysterics were genuine, let’s face it, how many of the typical audience member understands — truly grasps — the definition of humor and what it’s supposed to really accomplish?

The only highlight of last night’s program was actually nothing AbbCost offered, but rather the soon-to-be legend Marybeth Devreaux’s rendition of “I’ve Got a Man Who’s Infallible” with her pop vocal confection floating over hooks that were nothing if not sinewy — although possibly shimmering too.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid this routine marks the beginning of the end of this once charming and often times important comic force. But comedy is too precious a resource — especially in these hardscrabble times — to be wasted like this.

Perhaps Lou needs to keep those stranger’s pants now. And hold on to that $25. And whatever else is in those pockets. If it’s of value.

The Colgate Toothpaste Abbott and Costello Comedy Radio Hour is on at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesdays on NBC Radio and is also sponsored by Cadillac, Maker of Fine Automobiles You Can in No Way Afford.

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A Tale

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Last night the American short story, in critical condition, was taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room; there, the American short story was left gasping on a gurney for who knows how long, when Stephen King rushed in.

“This is the American short story you have here,” Stephen King said, to the lady at the Admissions desk. “Are you going to just leave it here, to die?”

“Excuse me, sir, but who are you?” asked the lady at the Admissions desk.

“Stephen King,” Stephen King said. “Perhaps you’ve heard of me. Besides writing sixty books, I’ve written nearly four hundred short stories –- “

“Sir, it’ll have to wait its turn.”

“Listen to me!” Stephen King exclaimed, in a commanding stentorian voice now, full of authority and urgency. “We need to get the American short story into the OR! Now!”

The American short story was wheeled into the operating room. Stephen King performed the operation himself, with the assistance of Joyce Carol Oates.

Post-op, the American short story was moved to a windowless double room. The American short story lay intubated and unconscious, sharing the room with Norm or Norma, a man or woman whose appendix had burst.

“So,” said Joyce Carol Oates, tentatively, “all that — that came out –- in the operation –- “

“Code,” Stephen King said.

Joyce Carol Oates had a horrified look on her face. “But how did it get there?”

“It’s in all of us, now. But it was bad. Very bad.”

“So — will it –- is it going to –- “

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, sitting on either side of the American short story’s bed, watched as Norm or Norma, on the other side of the room, received a continuous stream of visitors –- adults, teenagers, children, doing all the usual stuff, talking on or playing on or listening to their cell phones, iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, texting, IM’ing, checking and sending email, going online to check football scores, the weather, their Facebook page, their stocks, their blogs, their avatars.

The hospital walls shook, suddenly, as a huge plane went by. Someone said it was the private jet of Kaching, an entrepreneur who had founded a Google-like Internet search company in China.

At this point a man who looked a little bit like the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –- wearing a dark suit, with bushy dark hair and corresponding facial hair –- entered, and leaned over the American short story. “Nevermore,” he whispered, which means, in poetic language, “Never again.” It’s not exactly clear what the man, Edgar Allan Poe, meant by that, or whether he was there as a well-wisher or a mourner, and then just like that he vanished.

“Where has he been, where has he gone?” Joyce Carol Oates mused.

“What did you say?” asked Stephen King.

Before Joyce Carol Oates could answer, a man who looked like a healthy butcher appeared, and announced, “They named a candy bar after me!”

Joyce Carol Oates’ eyes widened, as did Stephen King’s. “O!” they cried out in unison –- for it was none other than O. Henry! –- the man for whom the O. Henry Prize, an annual prize given for exceptional short stories, was named.

“I like this!” O. Henry exclaimed, munching on an Oh Henry! candy bar. “Although it set me back one dollar and fifty cents! That’s nothing short of robbery; left me with just thirty-seven cents.”

That story may be apocryphal,” Joyce Carol Oates said, respectfully, “I mean, as to whether the Oh Henry! candy bar was actually named after you, O. –- “

The crowd around Norm or Norma was growing restive and generally giving Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and O. Henry dirty looks, apparently thinking that the three writers were making too much noise.

Now Carson McCullers showed up, along with Truman Capote. The tall, shy, awkward, heavy-boned Carson McCullers found a seat, and Truman found a seat on Carson McCullers’ lap.

“It’s on its last legs?” asked Carson McCullers, so quietly one could barely hear her.

“Did you say, ‘Its fast legs’?” asked Stephen King.

“Last –- last legs,” said Carson McCullers, a bit louder this time.

“Who could have imagined it would ever come to this?” said Truman Capote, the word “this” sounding like “thith.” Truman took out, and started reading, As I Lay Dying.

Stephen King was suddenly conscious of the fact that his knees were sore. As he massaged his knees, he thought that it must be from all the scrunching down he’d been doing, over the past few weeks as well as the past thirty years or so, in order to check out the bottom shelves of magazine racks, necessary if one was to find magazines with short stories, other than The New Yorker and a few others, more prominently displayed.

A procession of visitors appeared, now –- ghostly and wraithlike and clearly down-at-heels –- from the likes of The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, Boston Review, and Zoetrope: All Story.

These visitors –- with a clack! and a clack! and a clack! clack! clack! –- dropped their nonworking cell phones onto the floor –- phones so old they just didn’t work anymore? Out of battery? Bills not paid? –- and climbed into bed with the American short story.

But why were they doing this? To resuscitate the American short story? Or to lie down and die with it? What in the world was going on? And what were Stephen King and Joyce Carole Oates doing now? Paying their last respects? Praying? Sitting shiva? And was Stephen King actually picking up a cell phone off the floor now to see if it still worked? Why would he be doing that? What kind of sense did any of this make?

And what did Norm or Norma have to do with any of this?

“I’m not dead yet.”

Wait –- who said that? The American short story? Yes! It was the American short story, ripping out the intubation and glowering at everyone, in and out of bed. “Look at me!” thundered the American short story. “Do I look dead to you?”

Everyone present had tears in their eyes. Even Norm or Norma, from across the room, seemed moved.

But what they were all thinking was what they would have answered, if they’d dared: “Yes;” or, “Just about.”

The American short story fell back down on the bed now, from the exertion. “Repent,” it said, softly. Everyone in and out of bed leaned close, now, to hear. “Get a gadgectomy…And then…laugh if you dare…read…And, not just online…Read short stories…Especially the ones with flavorful little bits…of the heart and soul of the writer…and of America….”

Sing hallelujah! Not quite dead! The American short story!

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Cinematic Emergency Procedures

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If you are a main character in a motion picture, please read and memorize these safety instructions. They could save your life. Not to mention your gross box office.

It is a widely-known fact that most emergencies occur in the well-located, trendily decorated and perpetually tidy home that you can somehow afford no matter what job you have, even if you are a policeman, waitress, struggling actor or unemployed. Research has shown that by far the most common type of emergency for people in your socioeconomic group is someone, or, of course, something, trying to kill you. Should you find yourself in this situation, proceed as follows:

1) Panic. Do not call 911. In fact, do not use the telephone at all. It will not work, even if you have just hung up after a conversation in which you conscientiously repeated everything the other person said.

2) Go to your car. It will not start right away, trust me, but, trust me, it will start. Drive to the nearest large public building. Traffic will be sparse. You will hit all the lights and find a perfect parking spot right in front of the entrance, two or three vehicle lengths long so you don’t have to parallel park.

IMPORTANT: On the way to your destination DO NOT under any circumstances look at any photographs of loved ones. In particular DO NOT show any photographs of your children or spouse (if applicable) to anyone else. This is a guaranteed death sentence. In addition, if the car radio is on and tuned to a station playing any of the following numbers:

Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd,

J.S. Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites,

The “Funeral March” by Chopin (if you are over 65 years of age),

Any popular song previously established by you and your spouse or fiance(e) as “your song,”

turn it off immediately. You might as well cut your own throat.

3) Upon entering the building, sprint to the nearest elevator. Get in. Push the button for the top floor and continue pushing it repeatedly as rapidly as you can. This will not make the doors close sooner, but it will ensure that your pursuer will reach the elevator at the precise moment it closes and you are lifted out of harm’s reach. For the moment.

4) Get out on the top floor and locate the door to the stairs that go up the tower. It’s there someplace — every public building has a multi-story tower accessible only via a metal stairway whose openwork design allows four or five levels to be visible from a single camera placement. Climb the stairs as fast and as noisily as you can. Your pursuer will be one level below you, possibly discharging a firearm, but don’t worry: actuarial statistics indicate that he-she-it has a 73% chance of slipping and falling to his-her-its death. And is a lousy shot.

5) If your pursuer somehow survives the climb to the top, find the door to the roof. It will not open right away, trust me, but, trust me, it will open. Proceed directly to the edge, kneel, grasp the rain gutter firmly and fling yourself out over the void so that you are dangling precariously more than 20 stories above the street (WARNING: you must have a clean criminal record for this maneuver to work).

You are now safe. Your pursuer will soon be standing over you, trying to force you to fall. Keep a rictus of sheer terror frozen on your face at all times. Look down at frequent intervals. Now that you have parked your car, the street will be jammed with honking vehicles. Within ninety seconds someone will arrive and save your life. This person will fit one of three profiles:

a) someone you thought was your enemy but, lo and behold, isn’t,

b) someone with frankly implausible supernatural powers,

c) someone you previously found ickily unattractive but whose subtly improved hairstyle, lack of glasses, uncharacteristically stylish clothing and/or suddenly revealed physique change all that in an instant.

After your rescue, no filing of complaints with the police, debriefing by intelligence officers or medical examination is needed. You may return immediately to your well-appointed home or be just in time for the wedding, life-changing date, pivotal business meeting or championship-deciding sporting event that you had originally planned to participate in when this whole mess started.

SPECIAL NOTICE FOR WOMEN CHARACTERS IN MOTION PICTURES:

As a preventive measure, you are strongly advised to have breast reduction surgery at your earliest convenience. This will reduce your chances of encountering life-threatening situations of all kinds by 94%.

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