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What I Hope to Find in Heaven

Geometry by Russell Bittner

Ten Things You Used to Be Able to Get Away With in Grade School but You Probably Can’t Get Away With at Work by Kevin Kinsella

The Wrong Man’s Burden by J. Daniel Janzen

Winnie-the-Pooh and the Thug Life by Geoff Wolinetz

Memo to Human Resources by David Gianatasio


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October 29, 2004

What I Hope to Find in Heaven

Girl Scout cookies
The Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
Clara Peller, the lady from the “Where's the beef?” commercial
Shag carpeting (white)
A really good radio station
Miniature golf
The scent of fabric softener
24-hour Taco Bell
Disco bowling
The entire state of Vermont
At least three roller rinks
Tea parties
Paunchy, slightly balding middle-aged men in Hawaiian print shirts
Firemen’s poles
A boyfriend
Big Wheels
All of the frogs that have given their lives in the name of science.

A Note about Clara Peller

Just an inch under five feet tall, the silver-haired, shriveled, 81-year-old manicurist from Chicago became a sensational marketing icon so singular in size and scope as to be hitherto unparalleled in the industry. Clara Peller, born in 1903 to émigrés from Czarist Russia, was plucked from grandmotherly obscurity to star in a comedic thirty-second television commercial for the fast-food chain Wendy’s that bragged of the restaurant’s hegemony owing to the magnitude of its beef patties. Alongside fellow octogenarian carnivores Mildred Lane and Elizabeth Shaw, the trio played crotchety, curmudgeonly dowagers with discriminating tastes that visited competitor’s stores in search of decent hamburger. Ms. Peller’s brutally honest remark when served an embarrassingly inferior burger: “Where’s the beef?” Though she had no prior theatrical experience, a lifetime of Windy City suffering enabled Ms. Peller to infuse the role with inimitable personal intensity, thus elevating a simple interrogative to transcendent, existential koan. Also, her hearing had greatly deteriorated, and she was cued to deliver her line by a P.A.’s tugging on her skirt.

The enormously popular ad, produced by the advertising agency Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample, inspired a series of sequels and spin-offs that featured Ms. Peller’s matronly beefeater on further wacky adventures, and her provocative query became a catchphrase mimicked by wiseacres across the nation.

In the coming months, the oft-repeated question, vaguely suggestive enough to allow infinite misappropriations of “beef” as metaphor, served as a sturdy punch line to topical comedy routines, a marketable merchandizing gimmick for T-shirts and bumper stickers, and an apt slogan for Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. It also proved an infectious hook, as Ms. Peller’s voice was repetitively sampled in the novelty single “Where’s the Beef,” composed and performed by Coyote McCloud (Awesome Records, 1984).

Wendy’s sales shot up a stunning 31% during the “Beef”-saturated year following the campaign’s début, and the actress was rumored to have earned close to half a million dollars in royalties.

Though her unlikely fame would forever be eclipsed by her own words (tragicomically inaudible to her), Ms. Peller enjoyed her 15 fleeting minutes during the 80s’ midpoint. She parlayed her position as trustworthy spokesmodel into movie stardom; she lit up the screen alongside Hollywood luminaries Wendy Jo Sperber and Fred Willard in Moving Violations, a film widely regarded as the best ensemble D.M.V. comedy of the modern age. (Also, the acting début of eventual Golden Globe–winner Don Cheadle in the small role of “Juicy Burgers Worker”!)

But, like the tragic Icarus, Ms. Peller rode her waxen-wingèd fame too close to the sun; when she appeared in a 1985 TV spot for Prego spaghetti sauce, wherein she declared, “I found it!”, Wendy’s got all wicked pissed and fired her, the no-good, two-timing hussy.

Ms. Peller died in August, 1987, a week past her 84th birthday.

October 28, 2004


father: Whad’ja learn in school today?
daughter: Nothing.
father: Don’t lie to me. I know better.
daughter: You don’t. You’re too old and foggy-groggy-brained.
father: Goofy-gruffy-froggy-brained, you mean.
daughter: Don’t get parabolic with me.
father: Palaveric maverick.
daughter: Be respectful of this minor, of your charge. Of the future generation of this nation.
father: Be respectful of this elder elderberry.
daughter: Stop whining. You sound like Nixon.
father: You don’t know from Nixon. You were still a mere fixture in the firmament when Nixon roamed the planet.
daughter: In the future, we will all of us sound like Nixon. Can’t help ourselves.
father: Why can’t help ourselves?
daughter: Television. “Television’s gonna get us.” I didn’t make that up. I got it from Paul Attanasio, who wrote it for Quiz Show
father: Quiz Show was way over your head. Don’t pretend.
daughter: Quiz Show is just my cup of tea. Like television.
father: Turn it off.
daughter: It turns me on.
father: Stop it! You’re too young to talk that way.
daughter: Righteous riot of a father!
father: Riddle-maker, get your Ritalin. Put yourself on “idle.” You’re electrifying me.
daughter: Alky, get your sauce. And mollify thyself.
father: Speak as a child. Be meek and mild as a child. “Blessed are—”
daughter: Whad’ja learn at work today?
father: Nothing.
daughter: Don’t lie to me.
father: I cannot tell a lie. I’m jobless.
daughter: I’m speechless. But you’re not yet off the hook.
father: Jobless. Voteless. Opinionated. But poll-less.
daughter: Untrue.
father: ?
daughter: I, too, cannot tell a lie. We are a family of truth-tellers.
father: God be praised! The truth obtains in our elemental marrow. And swims downstream, maybe, with the family genes.
daughter: You wax today, Pop.
father: I am bipolar. And, like the penguins in summer, headed south.
daughter: While I, your sea dragon, stay behind to swim with the sharks.
father: Yes, my little sea-dragonette.
daughter: Before you pack, first be cuddly with me, Daddy.
father: That is your mother’s avocation. Let’s you and me talk geometry instead. Whad’ja learn in school today?
daughter: Trapezoids. Rhombuses. School buses and yellow submarines.
father: Stop using wide-load words. Act your age.
daughter: It’s true.
father: Define.
daughter: What means “define”?
father: ¿Qué significa definición ?
First learn English. No, first Latin. The plurality of things. One rhombus, two rhombi.
daughter: Wanna rumble with me, man? Wanna be my partner, my parallelogram?
father: Rectangle. Square.
daughter: You are my square, Daddy. You are a square daddy, Daddy.
father: Stop with the anachronisms, girl. Nobody uses a word like that today, in the year 2003. Not descriptively, not proscriptively, not even normatively. Not since Jack took Jill on the road.
daughter: Namedropper. Don’t drop my names in front of me. Besides, you’re wrong. Noam uses that word all the time.
father: What do you know from Noam?
daughter: Stop talking Brooklyn. Talk English. Talk sense.
father: Into your daughterly, funny little Valentine face.
daughter: Don’t get hasty, Daddy. You “Ground Zero” flag, you.
father: Let’s talk geography. “Ground Zero” is not the W.T.C. “Ground Zero” was/is the Empire State Building.
daughter: Fact-maker. Who cares? You’re an anarcho-anachrognostic. Get with the times. Amend your beliefs to fit in with the times.
father: Revisionist, ponytailed piglet!
Daughter. Name-caller! I’m tired of this game.
father: Me, too.
daughter: Let’s watch television instead.
father: Let’s saturate our brains with R-G-B.
daughter: Hugs first.
father: Kisses last. Love you.
daughter: Get with the times, Pop. It’s “Luv ya.”
father: My timely Alex, my daughter Valentine.
daughter: My Enronic daddy. Out of work and broke. Let’s watch TV together and learn to lie. I need to lie from time to time. I need to laugh.
father: Ditto!

October 26, 2004

Ten Things You Used to Be Able to Get Away With in Grade School but You Probably Can’t Get Away With at Work

  1. Your boss is really chewing out Jonesy, a colleague and after-work drinking partner, in a manner that you feel is quite inappropriate for the alleged transgression: falling asleep at his desk. So you creep up behind him and quietly get down on all fours, giving your buddy a delicious opportunity to push your unsuspecting supervisor over with very little effort. Laying on his own back on the floor, he can’t help but laugh alongside the two of you at the silliness of his situation. Tension is relieved and everyone returns to his cubicle and you and Jonesy have something to laugh about at the bar tonight.

  2. You’ve been cornered outside the restroom by Bev from marketing, and she’s going on about some incredibly tedious work-related minutia. You really have to go to the bathroom but she doesn’t seem to recognize your dilemma. Simply point your finger toward the space between the top of her chest and the base of her neck. When she looks down to see what you could possibly be pointing at, deftly flip your finger up and swat her against the nose. The confusion and relatively light embarrassment of falling for this time-worn prank will give you an ideal opportunity to slip quickly into the bathroom.

  3. Johnson has done it again! He stole your idea and presented it at the meeting before you could get a word in edgewise. Even while he’s reaping the praise of your supervisors, he’s staring at you with a shit-eating and “What are you going to do about it, sucker?” grin on his face. So after the meeting, you and José from IT confront him in the men’s room. While José pins him to the floor, you lift his shirt and begin quickly slapping his bare stomach as hard as you can with the palm of your hand until it’s good and pink and he’s calling “uncle.” Note: Don’t let the headiness derived from Johnson’s humiliating pink belly fool you into believing that José wouldn’t hold you down while Johnson gets his own licks in on you. It is important to note that workplace allegiances are transitory.

  4. Sometimes all it takes is a well-timed noogie to get out of a potentially sticky workplace situation. For instance, Wanda from accounting has confronted you at your cubicle on some highly questionable items included on your expense report. She’s absolutely right to question them, after all, you know full well that you shouldn’t be charging spa and clothing purchases to the company while away on business. So what can you do to avoid having to pay for them yourself? Ask Wanda to identify the disputed items. When she leans over to point them out to you, quickly wrap one arm around her shoulders to immobilize her, bring your free hand up to her head, and drag the knuckle of your middle finger back and forth as fast as possible through her hair and against her skull. After about fifteen seconds of this, she’s going to cry, “All right, all right already…,” and hightail it back to her own cubicle. Chances are that she’ll never raise the issue again, or at least not for the rest of the day.

  5. Often, workplace rivalries arise out of nowhere. For some reason, things just aren’t clicking between you and Anderson. The resulting tension needs to be released occasionally or else a full-fledged intra-office war might break out. So next time you find yourself waiting with Anderson for the coffeemaker to finish brewing a fresh pot try this: Wait until the moment when the coffee is just about finished, and as he reaches for the pot handle, slap him lightly in the chest and bark “OPEN CHEST!” Then, before he has a chance to recover, quickly follow through with another light slap on his forehead, complimenting it with a shrill “FOREHEAD!” In the ensuing confusion, top off your coffee and go back to your cubicle, basking in the pleasure of having won this battle, if not the war. Watch your back!

  6. Tensions are running high as everyone struggles with some serious number-crunching as they prepare for the quarterly board meeting. Your boss has just received a royal browbeating from the C.F.O. over some outstanding purchase orders. He decides to take his frustrations out on you. While he’s going on about how useless you are to the firm and how he could find any kid just out of college to replace your lazy ass, try reaching out and giving his nipple a good hard twist. The move will be so unexpected, not to mention painful, that you should have no problem making a break for it. It is not recommended that you apply this move (alternately known as the “titty twisty” or “purple nurple”) against a female coworker, unless you have breasts of your own, man-boobs notwithstanding.

  7. If you aren’t comfortable with applying any of these more physical strategies to resolve issues in your workplace, how about trying something a bit more psychological? For example: Carly, V.P. of East Coast Sales, has been rambling incessantly about the need for you and your fellow regional sales associates to get out there and “hustle” more. She’s already made this obvious point at least a dozen times and the meeting has long since run over into your lunch break. Interrupt her occasionally with a well-timed nonsense word or sound like “zup!” “pffft!,” or “shoop!” Alternately, you can try repeating everything she says, but in a higher-pitched, or even cartoonish voice. Carly will soon get the drift and the meeting should wrap up nicely.

  8. You’re sure Lekesha from payroll has been helping herself to items you’ve packed for your lunch. Everyday you find something new missing from the refrigerator, like an apple or a Snickers bar you were saving for a late afternoon pick-me-up. She should know better, after all, she packs her own considerable lunch each day. Teach her a lesson by replacing items in her lunch sack with common desktop accessories, like a stapler or tape dispenser. She’ll have no idea what hit her, but she should learn her lesson. If not, begin squishing up her sandwiches and bruising any fruit she brings in.

  9. So Johnson hasn’t learned his lesson. Despite the pink belly he’s received after stealing your ideas, he’s been going behind your back and telling your boss that you’ve been printing job descriptions from the Internet on the department printer. As a result, you get a serious dressing down in front of your colleagues. Next time you see him bending down over the water bubbler or perhaps trying to remove a jam from the same printer, run toward him at a fairly moderate speed. When you’re about six to eight feet away, leap into the air, twisting your body so that your rear end is hurtling toward his exposed flank. There is nothing like a well-executed butt check to put someone on notice.

  10. Finally, you’ve had it up to here with Anderson. He really hasn’t done anything particularly wrong lately but the tension between the two of you has been mounting ever since he’s been back from vacation. You find him in the break room, flirting with the girls from marketing, regaling them with stories from his recent trip to the Bahamas. He’s tan and relaxed, his teeth are blinding white in contrast to his darkened skin, and the girls seem obviously impressed with how exposure to the Caribbean sun has accentuated his hair’s natural highlights. It’s time you bring him down a peg. As you pass by the group, swiftly grab hold of his double-pleated trousers and give them a quick tug downward. Once passed his skinny hips, the pants should fall easily below his knees, revealing a pair of novelty boxer shorts that he could only have received as a gift from a girlfriend or wife. The spell broken, the girls from marketing will suck their teeth and return to their cubicles, leaving Anderson red-faced and scrambling to pull his pants back up.

October 25, 2004

The Wrong Man’s Burden

with apologies to Rudyard Kipling.
(On second thought, shouldn’t he be the one to apologize?)

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
And ne’er apologize;
Just change the war’s objective
And amplify your lies.
There were no kites or music,
Nor W.M.D.s,
But honesty is weakness
And candor, a disease.

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
In stubbornness remain—
Deny the looming failure,
Ignore the growing pain;
We’re knee-deep in a quagmire
With those we claimed to free
Who now prefer the old way
To strife and anarchy.

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
And stay above the law—
No treaty or convention
Can stop America.
The moral approbation
Of others near and far
Denounce as soft on terror
And cowardice in war.

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
Protect the crude ye must;
Partition out the oilfields
To those ye know and trust.
Though Arabs might suspect it
And mind it terribly—
What’s good for Halliburton
Is good for you and me.

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
And spill blood as ye please;
Condemn the poor enlisted,
Far from their families,
To dodge the daily bombings
Your policies invite—
From so-called freed Iraqis
Who still put a fight.

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
Bear up under the curse
Of recognizing danger
And having made it worse.
Don’t let a guilty conscience,
Or pesky truths or facts,
Persuade ye of the error
Of misplaced counter-attacks.

Take up the Wrong Man’s burden—
And take it all the way;
Too late for doubt or questions—
The world changed on that day.
Suffer no dissenters,
Do what it takes to win—
Now that the torture chambers
Belong to you, not him.

October 24, 2004

Winnie-the-Pooh and the Thug Life

“Do you have my money, Piglet?”

“I’m sorry, Pooh. I can get it by next week. I promise. Just give me a few days.”

“You said that last week, Piglet.”

“I know, Pooh. I mean it this time.”

“Oh, bother. I feel a rumbly.”

“No, Pooh. Please?”


“I feel a rumbly, gangland-style. Eeyo’, unstuff his ass.”

October 21, 2004

Memo to Human Resources

to: Human Resources
from: David Gianatasio

Regarding the recent complaint lodged by “C” (and we all know it’s Caroline from accounting), I feel compelled to offer this point-by-point response.

  1. I’m quite sure I recall receiving a management memo about “No Pants Wednesdays.”
  2. By “a hot piece of tail,” I was referring to the oxtail soup at Haversham’s. It’s divine.
  3. Everyone else in the department applauded my a cappella version of the Purple Rain soundtrack.
  4. If I don’t bookmark those pornographic survivalist sites, how the hell am I supposed to find my way back there again?
  5. Company policy clearly bars pets from the workplace. As Killer and Rex are trained for combat and serve as a supplementary source of income, I do not believe the “pet” designation applies.
  6. My remarks concerning “sexy leather nuns” were taken entirely out of context. I was relating childhood anecdotes, having been raised by a Catholic order founded by retired strippers and ex-priests with a fondness for garter belts and Sterno.
  7. I did NOT “proposition” anyone in the women’s washroom during the Christmas party. I merely solicited opinions on certain recent body piercings—and besides, I offered to pay.
  8. The Beatles were, are, and always will be better than the Rolling Stones. I’m just sorry the debate spilled over into the parking garage and that innocent bystanders ended up in the hospital.
  9. Last Thursday’s “Italian Splatter Film Festival” in the East Wing Conference Room was an unqualified success. Ed from IT has always been a little “off,” and his subsequent rampage could not have been anticipated beforehand.
  10. Since I began drafting this response, I’ve learned that “C” is in fact Carl from marketing. He’s just a stinking midget and therefore unworthy of my further time and attention. (Excuse me, I meant “little person.” They like to be called that now.)

October 20, 2004

Your Future in the Stars: Introducing the Department of Homeland Astrology

You are one crazy diamond, Aries, and it’s not because the transit of Mars through your solar twelfth house has lasted over seven weeks. It’s because you think that fueling your Korean sedan with vegetable oil and living in a solarium will help keep our nation safe. Sounds fantastic, but don’t feel spurned if coworkers and loved ones don’t share your desire for a future of ruin.

You’re in an ethereal mood, philosophizing and dreaming the morning away. This is all well and good, Taurus, but a word from the wise: ride this pink cloud while you can. By week’s end, Venus enters your sign, and you may find yourself making the ultimate sacrifice.

Planets clustering around your eighth and twelfth houses continue to bring you emotional turmoil and a sense of insecurity! But things will brighten for you, as your ruling planet will soon enter your sixth house. Good time to dial up an old crush, ask your boss for that much-deserved promotion, or correct your sexual orientation lest you want to be placed on a Ship of Fools and dispatched into the ocean.

Your anger and confusion are featured this week, Cancer. Don’t compound matters by pointing fingers at people. If you’ve recently lost your job because it was offshored to Pakistan, blame Neptune, which is stubbornly holding an angular position in your solar chart.

Things are just peachy for you these days, Leo. This is either because there is a beneficent planet in your seventh house, or because, as founder of Nascar’s riotously successful fan club, Boogity Boogity Boogity, you are raking in fucking tons of lucre, and things like planetary positions don’t mean much to you anyway. Git ’er done, cowboy.

Things have been kind of tough lately, haven’t they, Virgo? It’s difficult to pinpoint why, but here are some possible culprits: you’ve got Saturn in the sixth house stirring your fears; you’ve got a retrograde Mars in the ninth house making it difficult to stand behind your decisions; and you’ve got three men in dark blue suits and sunglasses in your house, sledging through your bedroom walls on very reliable intelligence.

You’re a hardboiled skeptic, Libra, so you don’t believe in controlling, fateful powers that govern you from a realm above the teeming American ground-swarm. You make your path by walking—you’re the captain of your ship—and this makes you an excellent candidate for the United States Army. Join today, as selfless acts always lead to good fortune.

Fun-loving and impulsive, you predictably spent your tax credit on Bob Dylan bootlegs and a vintage mustache comb, Scorpio. Now, as Saturn comes a-knock-knock-knockin’ on your sign, you find yourself in dire financial straits. No need to fret, as the path to making tomorrow better than yesterday is through creativity and imagination!

With Uranus at the top of your astrological chart, and your second and twelfth houses so unusually active, this is the perfect time for you and your spouse to consider expanding your family by raising a beautiful tiger-striped Maine coon cat, as we still have work to do in making America safe. Celebrity Sadges: Bo Derek, Vincent Gallo, and Halliburton.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, Capricorn. Just because you can’t be on the front lines protecting our freedoms doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. Go to Bed, Bath & Beyond and purchase half your weight in fluted curtain rods, lace panels, oak finials, and wrought-iron drapery holdbacks. After installing the curtain panels on your windows, obsessively pull the curtains back and look out the window for terrorists. By doing this habitually, you will become even more powerful.

The transit of Pluto through your sign indicates that it’s a good time to write your sponsored nine-year-old from Children International to let her know how happy you are to receive her standing invitation to Ecuador, as well as her cashier’s check and prayers.

Pisces, if you imagined your body as an acoustic guitar, plucked, strummed, tweaked and tuned by celestial guitar gods, sometimes shattered into pieces against a stage floor to theatrical effect, securing the godly status of your celestial performers, then the unebbing misery you’ve come to know might instead become sweet, sad music. Tonight, you are adored, but first, we have some very lucky numbers for you: Megaball, 43.

October 19, 2004

12 Easy Steps to a Better You

Workaday blues got you down? Sick of your job, spouse, and/or children? Convinced that life is just a long, desperate descent toward oblivion, punctuated by pain, loss, and disappointment? Well, you’re in luck—because we’ve got a dozen simple suggestions that can turn your life around in a hurry, and get you back on the fast track to health, wealth, and kickassness everlasting:

  1. Although 80s retro is all the rage, we suggest you lose the parachute pants. You’re generally not supposed to wear pants in the shower anyway.

  2. Never spank your daughter on a crowded street; it makes people uncomfortable. Instead, spank her on stage in a crowded nightclub, preferably accompanied by a pit band playing “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” And instead of your daughter, use a stripper. And instead of yourself, use another stripper.

  3. While chewing one’s cud is considered appropriate for cows, it’s not going to win you any points at your arraignment.

  4. In case you haven’t noticed, the language you’re using is offensive. In the future, please refrain from speaking Spanish.

  5. Fight fire with fire. However, if fire isn’t available, try fighting fire with water or a fire extinguisher.

  6. Don’t eat with your mouth open. Food is properly ingested only through the tear ducts.

  7. If you’re having trouble remembering your phone number, you can construct a handy mnemonic device such as this one: If your number is 299-1360, just think of the population of Armenia, which happens to be 2,991,360. If this isn’t your number, find another country with a seven-digit population, and ask the phone company to change your number accordingly. Alternately, write your phone number down on a piece of paper and carry it in your wallet.

  8. Hygiene is important—be sure to bathe, groom, and thoroughly disinfect your slaves on a daily basis.

  9. We realize you were just making the most of the “bully pulpit” afforded you by your position as assistant produce manager at Wegman’s, but some of the more elaborate points of your speech about the Jewish menace may have been lost on that sewing circle.

  10. Although “fantasy football league” and “fantasy chat-room sex” both contain the word “fantasy,” it’s best not to confuse the subject matters of the two, especially when talking to your dad.

  11. Connie Selleca is never going to call you back, so you can quit checking your freaking messages every five minutes.

  12. When you get the urge to eavesdrop, distract yourself by thinking of really interesting ways to die.

October 18, 2004

Things You Can Accomplish before Conan Takes Over “The Tonight Show” in 2009

Project #1:
Create Life the Old-Fashioned Way

step one: By Hook or by Crook, Find a Girlfriend

C’mon—you’re not so bad, though maybe you should consider losing a few pounds, getting a new haircut, capping that discolored tooth everybody stares at without you realizing it. And, oh yeah, do you own any jeans? Once you’re gussied up, it’s pretty simple to post an online profile, take polka lessons, or begin visiting the local women’s prison.
[Conservative estimate of time required: 10 months.]

step two: Demonstrate Your Lack of Fear

You’ve got a woman, so get busy with the sweet talkin’. Get tickets to things, spend Sundays taking long walks rather than watching football or cataloguing your collection of X-Men first editions. Suggest that on the next nice weekend you rent a car and visit her mother in New Jersey. Really. No commitment-phobe, you.
[Fifteen months, including the interminable trip to Jersey.]

step three: Get Engaged

You’re on a roll, so this step is simple. Buy the ring, pop the question during a nice dinner, maybe while on a bed-and-breakfast-y weekend, then ante up for some kind of Yo-Yo Ma–level cultural event. Once engaged, wait the requisite year or so and make sure your bachelor party is organized by someone named “Spike” or “Cheese.”
[Fourteen months.]

step four: The Wedding Itself

Don’t argue, and say “yes” to everything. Done.
[One day.]

step five: Procreate

Take the whole marriage-thing out for a test run first, sure, but then get down to business. Live through 40 weeks of anticipation, including that last painful month when your wife can’t wait to squeeze the thing out but all your friends who are already parents keep saying stuff like “What’s the rush?” and then shaking their heads. Then — boom — she’s born.
[Twenty months.]

total time: Four years. 11 months and one day; Conan takes over the show the day your kid first spits up on your mother-in-law’s reupholstered couch.

Project #2:
Become a Vicious, Litigating Lawyer

step one: Debate This Dubious Future with All Your Friends

You may be embarrassed at first to bring it up, but (trust us) most of your friends are already contemplating it. Drink with abandon while you all stay up late rationalizing the decision. Convince yourselves that being a lawyer and writing your novel (or becoming an actor, or going into social work) are differences of degree and not kind. Ah, your first deception—you’re halfway there.
[One easy month.]

step two: Prepare for and Take The LSATs

Convince your dad to pay for one of those LSAT prep courses. He will be thrilled, and you don’t really have to go. Your cavalier attitude toward Stanley Kaplan appeases the part of you that knows this law-school thing is a terrible idea. The night before the test itself, go the movies. Do not have sex (no problem, unless you’ve proceeded with Project #1) and rationalize your evening’s abstinence as part of your strategy for acing the test, though you will sleep the uneasy sleep of the self-deceived. Get used to it.
[Four months, and that’s generous.]

step three: Apply for and Get into Law School

This is not a rollicking good time, but you’ve got to do something with the fancy laptop you were going to write the novel on. Some essays on your political aspirations would do—saving the environment and all that. Yeah, it’s good to be able to do something with the sad remnants of your idealism. While you wait for the fat envelope, repeatedly tell your friends that Clarence Darrow is your distant cousin.
[Six anxious months.]

step four: Actually Attend Law School

You want details? Civil procedure, constitutional law, torts, property, contracts, tax law. . . That’s enough, ain’t it? During larger classes, don’t raise your hand too much like that asshole who compares every situation to his fourteen months in the Coast Guard. Remember to wear long pants to your graduation in May—the black robe-thing goes down just below the knees. Voilà!—you’re a lawyer. Surprised it was that easy? Just look at the other schnooks who did it before you.
[Two years, nine months.]

step five: Study for and Take the Bar Exam

See, above, on taking the LSATs. Continue to have no sex. This will ensure that you become a genuine barrister, an attorney-of-record in a society that hates you. And, yes, now you will have your revenge for all the subtle ways society wronged you when you were in elementary school.
[Three months.]

total time: Three years, 11 months; Conan takes over “Tonight” on the very day you buy your first vacation house based on your unconscionable salary. However, you work such long hours that you never visit the house and often watch Conan while eating dinner in your studio apartment. Alone.

Project #3:
Form the Next Zeitgeist-Shaping Rock Band

step one: Gather Obscure Influences

This is going to mostly require time rifling through used record bins (or “vinyl,” as you will learn to call it). Avoid anything you have heard of; beyond this caveat, it really doesn’t matter who it is. Whoever you choose, herald their EP’s as “way better than the full-lengths.” Consider basing your new band strictly on the incidental music to a 60s sitcom such as “Lost in Space,” in which case you will name the band “Doctor Smith.”
[Fourteen months because you’ll probably waste half that time “listening” to jam bands that no one should emulate.]

step two: Locate the Proper “Scene”

Your band will never inspire a story in Newsweek or a knowing review in NME if it does not spring from a long-neglected local scene that critics can (a) baselessly generalize about and (b) wax nostalgic for after your commercial success “fucks it up.” Again, the old standbys are out (Austin, L.A., Seattle, Detroit), so you’ll have to move around quite a bit. Try Trenton, Sioux City, Utica, or Anchorage.
[Two years, because once you’ve been to Anchorage in November it’s really hard to leave.]

step three: Recruit Bandmates

You can’t play an instrument yet? Exactly. Recruit bandmates who kick ass. They join you because your clarity of vision (“ ‘Lost in Space’ was the left turn rock ’n’ roll wasn’t yet smart enough to take.”) and knowledge of the local scene (i.e., which clubs provide the band free beer) are impeccable. Insist that people audition while wearing culottes. Hint: At least one band member must be super-hot. (See step six.)
[Three months, ten weeks of which are spent finding a drummer with BOTH a set AND a car.]

step four: Choose a Band Name

If you don’t go with “Doctor Smith,” you’re making a mistake. But if you insist on being original, consider combining two unrelated nouns into a single arresting term: “Beverage Scissors,” “Cuticle Hubcap,” or “Temptation Crevice.” Another possibility: “Moist.” Oooh, that’s a good one.
[One long night.]

step five (part i): Book Gigs

Invariably tell the clubs you are kind of like the White Stripes. Since the White Stripes have only two members, one of whom is a chick, the club will think it can rip you off more easily and will book you immediately.
[One month.]

step five (part ii): Learn to Play Guitar

As we’ve said before, look at the other schnooks who do it.
[One month, concurrent with booking gigs.]

step six: Have the Bass Player Seduce Someone at Rolling Stone

Remember our advice on auditions?
[One month, only because it couldn’t hurt to create a critical buzz coming from more than one writer.]

total time: Three years, 7 months, and one long night. By the time Conan first hits the 11:30 time slot you will be booked on his show. On your “comeback tour.”

Project #4:
Open a Wildly Profitable, High-End Smoked-Meat Exporting Concern

step one: Become a Canadian

This process is far easier and quicker than becoming, say, Jewish, and is really a prerequisite for any professional-grade meat-smoking activities. Contact your local consulate for details, but between clearing Tom Ridge, getting out from under your parking tickets, and submitting your change of address form you should be in and out in less time than it takes to convict a pop star of pederasty.
[Eighteen months. In case of quarantine or difficulty expunging Canadian police record as “Molson Golden Bandit” from misguided college prank, add 60 days.]

step two (part i): Learn to Trap, Fish, and Hunt Small, Medium-sized, and Improbably Large Game
For what you’re going to charge, you’ll have to know the quality of your stock, and if you want it done right, do it yourself. Get yourself some flannels, snowshoes, and ordnance. Befriend an Eskimo, sparing neither firewater nor wampum. Spend several seasons engaged in vaguely kung fu-like rituals with your Eskimo, including “Smelling the Snow,” “Hearing the Bark of the Tree,” and “Beseeching the Great Spirit Not to Take Your Last Three Toes.” Learn to clean everything you catch, then never ever do it again.
[One very cold year]

step two (part ii): Assemble Global Network of Cronies

Purchase a satellite-enabled laptop, solar powered generator, and some serious bandwidth. Nights, get your frozen ass online and chat up some food wholesalers, crooked customs officials, and F.D.A. insiders while Nanook slumbers beside you. (Recommended—Earthlink; AOL filters this shit.) Use a Nordic screen name and misplace pronouns to boost your authenticity.
[One year, concurrent with learning to trap, fish, and hunt game.]

step three: Marry Rich Widow of Condiment Magnate

Our research has turned up only one of these at present, and she’s currently involved with a tall, dour statesman with an iffy war record. Of course, he’s not getting any younger. In the meantime, peruse N.Y., L.A., Paris, and London phonebooks for women with the surnames Vlasic, Guldens, Hellmann, and French. Buy some tattersall and spread around some bonhomie; this is no time to look cheap. Think of the cross-marketing possibilities! Get out there!
[Eighteen months, depending on present levels of bonhomie.]

step four: Build Smoking and Packing Plant Somewhere on the Remote Island of Mauritania

Wifey’s money will come in mighty handy here, and the cash you hemorrhage packing refrigerated moose meat across the equator will be doubly covered by the tax advantages of incorporating offshore. Fuel costs be damned: This is smoked meat we are talking about. Maintain global network of cronies through frequent mailings of smoked meat “teasers” as holiday gifts.
[One year, if you yell at the contractors every day. Besides, as we’ve said repeatedly—How hard can it be? Just look at the schnooks who do it.]

total time: Five years, give or take. By the time Conan assumes the helm of “The Tonight Show,” you should be seeing the first wave of tax-sheltered profits rush toward you like salmon heading upstream. You will first see his slightly sagging jowls chuckle from your silk-sheeted African maple four-poster bed, framed by the expensively manicured toes of your sugar momma while Sabu, your servile yet astonishingly hirsute Mauritanian butler, brings you another bowl of Double Stuf Oreos. It’s good being you.

October 07, 2004

Closing Statements from the Castaways’ Presidential Debate

The Skipper

My fellow castaways. I ask you to remember that day, so long ago, when five passengers set sail from a tropic port, aboard this tiny ship, for a three-hour tour. The weather got rough, our tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of this fearless crew, the Minnow would’ve been lost. The Minnow would’ve been lost. The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle, with no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury. My fellow castaways, we are here for a long, long time. We’ll have to make the best of things. It’s an uphill climb. But my first mate and I will do our very best to make others comfortable in this tropic island nest.

I have a plan to succeed and to win. That’s my plan. It’s a hard job, being leader of an island full of castaways. It’s hard work. I know how to lead an island full of castaways. I know how to lead—I’m a skipper! That’s what skippers do: they lead. And I will lead this island to victory. I will lead us to the state of being rescued. But to do that, we’ve got to send a message, to our rescuers. My opponent says that we set sea aboard the wrong boat, at the wrong time, in the wrong direction. At this tenuous moment, how can we afford to send mixed messages to the world?

Just last week, the Professor said he supported my plan to assemble coconuts to spell “Help” along the shoreline so that planes flying overhead might see it. Then he was against it. He supported my decision to grant a coconut-tax cut for the millionaire and his wife, then he was against it.

I’ve worked closely with Gilligan as my first mate. He is a mighty sailing man, and I am brave and sure. Our alliance is strong. And I’m optimistic. See, I think you can be realistic and optimistic at the same time. I’m optimistic we’ll achieve our objective—I know we won’t achieve if we send mixed signals.

By being steadfast and resolute and strong, by keeping our word, we can achieve rescue. I have faith in God, and faith in you, the people of this great island. I appreciate your listening tonight, and I ask for your vote. And may God continue to bless our great isle.

The Professor

Ladies and gentlemen. My fellow castaways. I’ve said from the beginning that both the Skipper and I love this isle very much, but we have a different set of convictions. He continually accuses me of being a “flip-flopper,” of sending mixed messages—well, yes. I’ve changed my opinion on certain subjects in light of new evidence. That’s the scientific method. A lifetime of professorship has taught me to examine the facts, and determine an opinion based upon said facts. It’s of no use to be determined in your convictions if your convictions are wrong.

My opponent’s administration is skilled at spinning that fateful trip into a triumph for their party. But who is it that has failed you? The weather reports remained unread in the Skipper’s cabin, and we paid dearly for his miscalculations. The Minnow was lost. We’ve been on this island for far too long. Our Skipper got us into this mess, and he has been thus far unable to get us off. The Skipper has effectively alienated us from the world. We are lost at sea, and we must rely on any nation’s Coast Guard for help. Time and again, we’ve been visited by downed Air Force pilots, by Larry Storch and Hans “Wrongway” Conried, even by the Harlem Globetrotters. And our Skipper has let them all leave, further isolating us from our would-be rescuers.

Until we get through this, we must keep this island safe. Over 95 percent of the driftwood that washes ashore remains uninspected. Our coastlines are unsecure from the native cannibals and witch doctors from neighboring isles in this archipelago. In all this time, we still have yet to explore the other half of our own island.

I have a plan for rescue. I believe we must reach out and accept offers from any nation that will help us. I believe we can construct a raft from palm-tree trunks and twine and sail toward freedom. Also, I believe we can lessen our dependence on Saudi oil. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a message to you: Help is on the way.

Thank you, and for God’s sake, please stop letting this goofy idiot make decisions for you.

October 06, 2004

At Last, Respect: Rodney Dangerfield, 1921-2004

An Obituary for a Comic,
Compiled Entirely from Trivia Gleaned from
the Internet Movie Database’s Biographical Page for the Actor

Jacob Cohen was born in Babylon, New York, in 1921.

At some point, he adopted the stage name Rodney Dangerfield. His trademark bit was self-deprecating one-liners.

His first big break was on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a program he returned to 15 times. He made 70 appearances on “The Tonight Show.”

Through his HBO shows from Dangerfield's, he introduced Jim Carrey, Roseanne, Louie Anderson, Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Rita Rudner, Sam Kinison, Robert Townsend, Bob Saget, and Jeff Foxworthy to TV.

Wanting to remain near his children, he opened the now-legendary Manhattan comedy club that bears his name.

In 1949, he married Joyce Indig. They have two children, Brian and Melanie. They were divorced in 1961. Decades later, he would open Dangerfield’s, a comedy club in New York City, in order to be closer to his children.

Thanks to the HBO comedy series broadcast from Dangerfield’s, Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sam Kinison got their big breaks on television. Unfortunately, so did Rita Rudner, Jeff Foxworthy, Roseanne, Tim Allen, Louie Anderson, and Bob Saget.

His album, No Respect, won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1980. His single, “Rappin’ Rodney,” reached the No. 89 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1983.

On December 26th, 1993, he married Joan Child, a Mormon 30 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days his junior.

In 1995, he launched Rodney.com, the first official Web site for an entertainer. Thanks to his pioneering spirit, now even Carrot Top is online.

The première of his 1997 film, Meet Wally Sparks, was held in the small town of Daingerfield, Texas, where a street was then named after him. Later that year, he for the first time spoke openly of his lifelong depression, although his previous cries for help were pretty thinly veiled in his comedy material.

On November 22nd, 2001, his 80th birthday, he suffered a mild heart attack. On April 8th, 2003, Mr. Dangerfield underwent brain surgery to improve his body’s blood flow in preparation for an upcoming heart-valve replacement surgery. After regaining consciousness from the surgery, his first request was to watch “The Jerry Springer Show.” This is probably a popular request following brain surgery.

On August 24th, his blood then flowing properly, he had his heart-valve replacement. In May of that year, between his brain and heart surgeries, his autobiography, It Ain’t Easy Being Me was published.

It is not easy to be someone undergoing heart and brain surgeries.

His trademark white button-down shirt and red necktie hang in permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Recently Recovered Love Letters of Vincent van Gogh

May 24, 1888

Dear Rachel,

Look, I’m not trying to get you back. I understand you don’t want to see me anymore. Fine. I just want to apologize for last night. I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have. And I’m sorry. I really am. But remember, you said a lot of stuff too. Like calling my painting “crude and amateurish”? That doesn’t just go away. But whatever. I don’t want to argue with you anymore. I'm done arguing. What I do want—and this is why I’m writing—is my ear back. I know I told you to keep it, I know I said I would rather be deaf than live without your voice, but we both know I was pretty loaded on the green stuff. So, I need the ear back. Now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it (well, obviously not on it…) I’ve decided that hearing is kind of important. Obviously you know this—always bitching about how I never listened to you. Yeah, right! I was definitely listening when you told me Starry Night was more like a Sorry Blight! Or maybe you don’t remember that?

Look, I’m not trying to be accusatory here. Honestly, I’m so over it all. But I do need to get that ear off you. So maybe I can drop by this afternoon to pick it up? And that’ll also give us a chance to wrap things up? (And can you please do the same with the ear? A little worried about infection. O.K.?)

June 5, 1888

Dear Rachel,

So I stopped by your house and no one was there, or probably you were there and just not answering. What’s the deal? You know I need that ear. You could’ve at least left it on the porch or something. Or should I just stand around seeping blood? I mean, you are aware how much that sucks, seeping blood from the head? Or I guess you aren’t, since you would never have cut your ear off for me. But whatever, the point is—I need that back. To hear with. So look, if you’re so scared of Big Bad Vince that you can’t see me in person, how ’bout you just pop it in the mail, O.K.? I mean, this is a serious inconvenience, but whatever. I am determined to be big about this. O.K., so mail the ear. Thanks.

June 22, 1888


Really concerned. Your last letter—“No ear, go away”: I get the go away part, but what’s this no ear? You mean you’ve thrown it in the trash? Or you can’t find it? Or you refuse to look for it? Or are you saying that I have no ear, which, believe me, I’m very well aware of. I take it you’re too busy messing around with other guys to form a complete sentence? Or look for my auditory canal? Trust me, it’s there somewhere. Probably under your panties—you know, the ones that got soaking wet when we were making out but then you’re like, “No Vince, not now. In fact, not ever.” (Is it any surprise I cut my ear off? ) But look, I’m not going to get into it. I’m over it. Really. I just want to hear again—although I don’t know why, considering all I hear from you is, “No Vince, please—your face is too gnarled.” Who says stuff like that? My face is too gnarled? O.K., no seriously, I’m over it. I’m O.K. Except that I’m missing part of my visage. Please, for the love of Christ, return the friggin’ skin chunk. Like, now.

I’m serious.
July 19, 1888

My Left Ear
Please contact owner Vince van Gogh for possible reward.

What kind of reward? How about this: I won’t call all of your friends and tell them you’re a friggin’ hooker. Or your mom. I bet you didn’t know I have your mom’s number? Ooh, I bet I got your ear now, huh? No. Actually, YOU have MINE. For the love of sweet Jesus, GIVE IT BACK.
August 3, 1888


How utterly typical. You finally respond to one of my letters and it’s just to mock the ear I drew. Yeah, real funny. First of all, you know how I hate your referring to my paintings as cartoons. And second of all, the yellow is intentional. For the thousandth time, the yellow is intentional. It’s a reflection of my innermost being. Someday I’ll find a woman who understands that—hell, someday I might even find an art dealer who understands that. But in the meantime, you know what? I’ve hired an agent—she's real smart (and a lot sexier than you, too)—and she says this ear thing might just be the hook I need. She’s already drafted a press release. So keep the thing, baby. Just make sure you turn it over to the curators of the Vince museum when they come calling. That is if they can hold their noses long enough to walk down the piss-stinking alley your knocked-up, drug-addicted hooker’s ass is passed out in.


This bitch has spoken.
July 1, 1890

Dear Rachel,

I know it is too late for this, but I am sorry.

After all these years you have probably succeeded in forgetting me, but I just wanted to give you the satisfaction—if only because I gave you so little else—of knowing you were right about me and my “art” (that curious euphemism for the foolish self-indulgence of youth). I’m happy to report that the passage of time has made a wiser and better man of me—I have not touched the bottle in some years and I am now really into Wellness, as my yoga teacher calls it. Don’t laugh—It keeps me peaceful. I also work out a lot. I don’t think you would even recognize me if you passed me on the street—I keep my beard neatly trimmed and I’m even getting a six-pack! (And I don’t mean of absinthe! Sorry, little joke there.) All in all, life is good. I am working full-time as a P.T. (that’s personal trainer), which doesn’t give me any time to paint, but I think that’s good—these days I’m all about the human canvas: abs, pecs, gludes. Of course I was not telling the truth when I said I had hired an agent—clearly a crazy idea.

I hope you are keeping things equally Real. If you ever need a discount on a gym membership (or anything else), I enclose my card along with some coupons.

Vincent van Gogh
Personal Trainer

P.S. No sweat about the ear. The gym is so loud anyway! XO.

October 04, 2004

My Predictions for Major League Baseball’s Post Season

Sammy Sosa will refuse to play a single game in the National League Championship Series after fellow Cub Greg Maddux accidentally deletes all the episodes of “Wife Swap” from the team’s TiVo.

Unfulfilled after breaking George Sisler’s single-season hit record and disappointed over his own team’s dismal performance this year, Ichiro Suzuki will join the Oakland Athletics as a volunteer batboy. In the first inning of Game 1 of the A.L.D.S., Ichiro will set a brand new record, becoming the first Japanese volunteer batboy to take a dump in shallow left field during a post-season game.

St. Louis Cardinals’ announcer Mike Shannon will be fired midway through Game 4 of the N.L.C.S. after referring to all-star slugger Albert Pujols as “my little jelly bean” seventy-three straight times.

Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins will end in an explosive bench-clearing brawl after some geese fly out onto the field and talk major smack about both teams’ mommas.

After a devastating wave of food poisoning sweeps through the Los Angeles clubhouse rendering every Dodger pitcher completely immobile, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax will be unexpectedly forced out of retirement. The 68-year-old lefty will not fair well through the first three innings, giving up 9 runs on 11 hits, however, everything will turn around for Sandy and his new teammates when an ingenious plan involving heat-activated itching powder and one Dustin “Screech” Diamond saves the day, and the series.

Celebrity Red Sox fan Ben Affleck will make headlines when he murders Pedro Martinez in cold blood.

Minnesota Twins’ ace Johan Santana will make baseball and rock ’n’ roll history when he invites legendary Mexican-born American guitarist Carlos Santana onto the field during the seventh-inning stretch for a seventh-inning SMOOCH! The impromptu make-out session will give Johan the gas he needs to blaze through the next nine Yankee batters and rack up a remarkably smooth complete game shutout.

One day before Game 1 of the World Series, A-Rod will quit baseball outright when his cover of Gloria Estefan’s “1-2-3” hits number 63 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In the climatic fifth inning of Game 5 of the N.L.D.S., the tension will reach new heights when Atlanta starting pitcher Russ Ortiz hurls two consecutive fastballs past St. Louis second baseman Tony Womack’s chin. Understandably furious, Womack will immediately whip out his American Express and threaten to charge the mound. “Ohhh, To-ny!” the sold-out Turner Field crowd will groan in unison, chuckling heartily and high-fiving well into the seventh inning.

The Chicago Cubs will stage the greatest comeback in the history of baseball when they beat the New York Yankees four times straight after being down three games to nothing. During the post-game World Series celebration, every member of the Cubs will credit hard work and determination, save Nomar Garciaparra who will give repeated props to Donald Sutherland.

Post-Script: Please forgive the horribly inaccurate team selections contained within this hilariously fictitious baseball piece, as this was penned well before the Cubs and the A's melted down. I've always been a lousy post season prophet. Unfortunately for Pedro Martinez, I'm 3 and 0 in predicting post-season homicides. -D.P.

October 01, 2004


My Almost Interminable Conversation with Famed Literary Minimalist, Nicholson Baker

August 2004
Sheraton Suites on the Hudson
Weehawken, N.J.

nick: Testing, testing . . .

will: What’s with the tape?

nick: Don’t you think it lends an air of subtle post-modern “observed-ness” to this conversation that will bring gravity to even the small-fry stuff we may discuss?

will: I don’t know about that, but it will make it easier for one of us to write it all down if that seems commercially feasible.

nick: That would be apropos if this were a real conversation rather than an ironic miniaturist construction by one of today’s most acclaimed writers.

will: That comment would be true if you wrote this, Nick, but I did. I’m not really acclaimed.

nick: Yet.

will: You’re very kind.

nick: But that’s not why I asked you to meet me here.

will: Man, I’m dying to find out why you called. I’ve never had one of my favorite writers summon me, utterly out of the blue, with an urgent request for a meeting at a hotel suite in Weehawken.

nick: It’s not quite that unusual. One time Pynchon rang me and insisted we shop together for exotic-flavored Doritos in the mini-malls of Westchester County. He gets tired of Cool Ranch when he’s constructing a monologue that balances ironic anachronism with references to both Parsifal and “Who’s the Boss?”

will: Pynchon eats Doritos?

nick: It’s not like Updike called me. Now that would be exciting. But he was probably too busy with another poem for The New Yorker. Pynchon—he goes a decade between books and, you know, he gets the munchies.

will: Anyway . . . . You wanted to discuss the finer points of milk cartons or the engineering of the nail clipper?

nick: Sorry, Will, but I’m past that kind of stuff. By the way, you look good.

will: Lost a few pounds on an all-hot-dog diet last April. But you’ve never met me before, so . . . .

nick: No, I meant the shaved head. Two bald guys alone in a hotel room with a tape recorder. Now that sounds like a Nick Baker novel!

will: So—tell me what’s up.

nick: O.K., I’ll just say it. Ehhhh . . .

will: Go ahead.

nick: I’m going to assassinate my literary reputation.

will: What do you mean?

nick: Ruin the esteem in which I’m held by both critics and smarty-pants readers like you.

will: You’re kidding, right? You’ve tried it before—the phone sex book, the book about the guy who can stop time and uses it to undress women without their consent. Not to mention the long and self-righteous book about libraries. No matter what you do, we just love you that much more for your oddball perversity.

nick: No, no—I’m really going to do it this time.

will: C’mon. You’ve tried already. It’s impossible. Despite its peculiar modesty, your literary career is indestructible.

nick: Watch me.

will: O.K., tell me how. What? You’re going to write a thousand-page novel about tennis and addiction featuring hundreds of hard-to-follow footnotes?

nick: Ha ha. You’re such a fan of mine—you know that’s not my style.

will: So . . . ?

nick: Simple. I’m just going to write a book so bad, so transparently NOT interesting or well conceived or precisely described that critics and readers alike will start to wonder whether all my other books weren’t the same thing. Like, pseudo-profundity in the guise of careful observation.

will: A fine plan, but I say you’re bluffing. I’m going to need details.

nick: Done: I’m going to write a book in which I straightforwardly propose the assassination of George W. Bush. Lay out the case point by point—just blatantly encourage the killing of the president with a minimum of metaphoric play.

will: Dude—you can NOT do that. You can’t. That would be suicide.

nick: Exactly! I mean, c’mon—admit it. That would be genius.

will: You’re going to combine the transparent non-interesting-ness with the forceful and non-ironic advocacy of presidential assassination?

nick: I wanted you to be the first to know. I’ve heard stories—the time you ordered my three earliest “novels” and read them in quick succession as a way of avoiding spending too much time with your in-laws over the holidays. That’s dedication, Will. I thought I owed you this much.

will: This is a cry for help. Clearly you want to be stopped.

nick: No, no. You misunderstand. I thought you’d be proud of me. With my career in tatters, there’s really a much better chance that we can become friends. We can spend our afternoons perusing card catalogs together.

will: Well . . . that would be cool.

nick: Hey, maybe my next book—after the Bush-assassination one—can be about you. Or . . . about us.

will: But that’s my idea!

nick: What better way for a formerly famous literary figure to climb out of obscurity than through theft?

will: In which case I’ve got to stop you. It’s in my self-interest.

nick: You make one move toward my pen and I’ll pull an expensive German automatic pistol from these trousers and end this conversation, man.

will: You will not. You’re Nicholson Baker. You don’t have a Luger. Your wife would never allow it.

nick: Well, then go ahead and confiscate my pen. It doesn’t matter. I write on a classic front-stroke Underwood anyway. And the knowledge that you’re trying to stop me will simply speed my efforts.

will: How is your wife, by the way?

nick: She’s having a splendid summer actually. You should see her garden.

will: You mention her often in your books and interviews, but rarely—or never?—by name, so she’s a bit of a shadow figure.

nick: Oh, she’s not a shadow.

will: She’s not one of those “security moms” who’s going to be voting for Bush, is she? Nick?

nick: I don’t want to talk about it.

will: Now we’re getting somewhere. You’re advocating political assassination—and thereby literary self-assassination—because of a petty marital squabble. That is quite Nicholson Baker.

nick: Hey, let’s order room service.

will: I’ve touched a nerve, haven’t I?

nick: You want a nice steak? Peppercorn steak?

will: You’re serious, aren’t you?

nick: Sure I am. It's dee-licious.

will: I mean about destroying your own literary reputation. Do you have the Underwood here in Weehawken, Nick? And paper?

nick: Sure. They’re in the closet, there.

will: You’re bluffing. Shit, Nick. Holy shit—this is a vintage Underwood.

nick: Ha! And now it’s got your fingerprints all over it.

will: Let’s get out of here. We’ll bury it.

nick: No time for that steak? Or maybe some Doritos?

will: You’re a maniac, Nick. Let’s go.

nick: The irregularities of the manuscript’s type will lead the Secret Service to this typewriter, then the fingerprints will lead them to you! Who’s destroying my literary reputation now, Mr. Layman?

will: Take off the gloves, Nick. Put away that Mauser!

nick: Over and out, Mr. Layman. Over . . . and out.

Reviews for Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint that I Started to Write before Realizing I Was Thinking of Something Else

Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint is a tour-de-force roller coaster of a book, worthy of a place on anyone’s bookshelf. The hotly anticipated sequel to The Old Testament, the book compiles several accounts of the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as told by the Apostles. A real page-turner, the book had me on the edge of my seat at many points. Specifically, the tension built by the infamous “inn débâcle” was on par with anything by Agatha Christie. But the book is not without its laughs. John the Baptist and Judas are like a cross between Rosencrantz & Guildenstern and Laurel & Hardy with a dash of . . .

Anyone searching for a wildly original new book to curl up with will not be let down by Checkpoint, the latest from author Nicholson Baker. The novel follows the hilarious trials and tribulations of the four women who run Sugarbaker & Associates Interior Design. The inimitable Dixie Carter stars as Julia Sugarbaker the leader of the quartet of Southern belles who, despite their constant ribald and witty wisecracking, have a deep and caring bond with one another. However, one of the book’s brightest spots is Meshach Taylor’s performance as Anthony Bouvier, the effeminate male fifth wheel of the bunch. If you’re anything like me, after a few pages you’ll find yourself in love with the name Meshach, attempting to work it into conversation whether appropriate or not, and using it as a meditation mantra.

If you find yourself tiring of Jean Smart’s Charlene, fear not. Later in the book she is replaced by a new character played by “Saturday Night Live” alumna Jan Hooks. One can’t help but wonder how much better the book might have been if she were named Meshach. In fact, perhaps if all of the characters . . .

If Nicholson Baker is not awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I hereby pledge to cut off the ring-toes of both my feet in protest. The story aside, this book is a revolutionary tome that has raised the bar and changed writing forever. Never before have I encountered a literary work that toasts so well. From bread to bagels to Eggos to English muffins to Pop-Tarts, Checkpoint is a delight. If I had one problem with the book, it’s one that can’t be blamed on the author so much as on this reviewer. The book will not—I repeat, will not—accommodate hoagie rolls and attempting to toast a hoagie roll may cause the book to jam up and burn the roll. For subs, hoagies and grinders, I highly recommend either a toaster oven, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, or . . .

Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam Synopsize Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint

bugs: Nyaah, what’s up, doc?

sam: I’m a-gonna kill that varmint president.

bugs: No you’re not.

sam: Yer doggone right I am. And no flea-bitten rabbit’s a-gonna stop me.

bugs: Oh yeah?

sam: Yeah. That no good mangy varmint’s gotta go.

bugs: You ain’t gonna do it. Flat characters can never kill anyone for real.

sam: Well, this time one of ’em’s a-gonna. Outta mah way, rabbit!

bugs: You can’t do it.

sam: Can too.

bugs: Can not.

sam: Can too.

bugs: Can not.

sam: Can too.

bugs: Can too.

sam: Can not.

bugs: Can too.

sam: Can not— Hey, just a doggone minute! We done got each other’s lines!

bugs: I still say you can’t do it.

sam: You just a-watch me, you moth-eaten critter. Tarnation! You took mah six-shooters!

bugs: Ain’t I a stinker? Come on, doc. We need to go back to Albuquerque.

Checkmate, Checkpoint!

—a deleted scene—
page 41

jay: Excuse me for a second, I’ve got to take a dump.

ben: Sure.

jay: No, I’m kidding.

ben: I see.

jay: No, kidding again. I really got to go, man.

ben: O.K.

jay: I mean, like what I was saying, man. We’ve got to blow the top right off of this. Like Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf! Taking it to the limit. Actually defecating on other men!

ben: Jesus, Jay. Oh, man.

jay: You’ve been a real pal, pal. I need to do this.

ben: I don’t know.

jay: Bush and Cheney and all those dicklickers have been shitting on you for four years. Can’t you see it? Exerting their malefic crap over all of us. Enron, Iraq—It’s all shit.

ben: Right.

jay: So how long are you going to put up with their crapulent lies?

ben: I don’t think you mean crapulent.

jay: Why?

ben: It means being hungover.

jay: Really? It sounds, like, “extra crappy.”

ben: You’re right. It does.

jay: Why don’t you lie down right over there?

ben: By the television?

jay: Right.

ben: Can I at least turn it off? Man. These decorating shows make me crazy. Julie likes them, she’ll want to watch one, you know, and it’s “Xtreme Faux Finishing” one night and “Crazy Neighbor Wields a Belt Sander” the next. I mean, I know what you’re saying. This country is wonked, absolutely zippy. All of our shit, man, the shit of society.

jay: Please don’t turn it off. At least wait until they show the “after.”

ben: You fff—I’m not happy, Jay. I don’t like this one bit.

jay: Absolutely! I feel you, my man. Only they can sometimes do magic with lighting, or some shag rugs. Really warm up the space. You wouldn’t think—and then, zammo. ZIIIP

ben: Fella, leave your pants on. Please. Let’s think this through.

jay: Yeah, yeah, okay, well I’m sick of thinking things through! I mean it! Lie down, man!

ben: Here’s a suggestion.

jay: What.

ben: Goldfish. You get yourself some goldfish. Nice hobby, very soothing.

jay: Hang on. Hi, laundry? Yeah, we’re going to need a pretty serious laundry pick-up in about five, okay? Great. Great. Sounds great. Yep. Great. Thanks. You’ve been a good friend. I need this. We’re gonna blow the top right off.

ben: Right off what?

jay: Right off of … er … the upper regions. Of up by where a top would go. You know, like, the bottom? Well, not that, but the other side.

ben: You’re shitting me, right?

jay: Not yet, my man. Try to hold still.

ben: Can we at least turn the recorder off? FFFF …rattle rattle.

jay: No.

both: Ooooh.

ben: That house looks so much fucking better now.

jay: It really does.

How to Conduct a Sincere Discussion Group on Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint with a Disruptive Norwegian Forest Cat on the Premises

  1. In the spirit of the novel being discussed, arrange to meet in a hotel room in Washington D.C. Search the Internet for flight and hotel rates while playfully reciting Baker’s muscular dialogue and pretending to shoot your friends with your Paper Mate. When it becomes apparent that this is financially impossible, mostly because you’ve just inherited a Norwegian Forest cat from Veruschka von Lehndorff, one that’s decisively hooked on biodynamic meats and Tahitian Noni juice, and you know that in order to preserve this very tenuous thread to celebrity, you must keep the damn thing alive—decide to stay local and hold the discussion in Brooklyn. Assure yourself this is the right decision anyway, because there are actual snipers in Brooklyn, perched on your roof even, and the bodegas are always well stocked with “loosey” magic bullets and Brazilian Mojo Hammers of Justice.

  2. Now that you’ve buzzed everyone into your apartment, begin the discussion. Start with the jacket cover: a target whose bull’s-eye is punctured with a pushpin. What does this mean? After batting the question around, suggest that George W. Bush is like a dirigible unmoored from the bounds of reason and compassion, fueled with hot air. Liken this balloon to the “airborne toxic event” in DeLillo’s White Noise, a less salient political thriller that, for the purposes of this conversation, you should simply frame as a precursor to Baker’s Checkpoint. Conclude that all it will take to bring this balloon down, in the end, is the pinprick of an unclouded mind. After a long silence that seems to fill the room with hope, detect a suspicious whistling sound in your bedroom. Excuse yourself to investigate, then find your Norwegian Forest cat with its claws stuck in your rapidly deflating air-mattress. Curse under your breath, grab the feline behavior modification spray, and fill the room up with a pheromone fog so thick that your eyes begin to water. Close the door halfway behind you, then remind yourself that you’ll need to pick up a gallon of Romanian box wine if you want to get any sleep tonight.

  3. Flustered and angry, try to guide the discussion group to more whimsical territory. Didn’t everyone privately, if just for a moment, want the characters to be named Ben and Jerry instead of Ben and Jay, especially after seeing the jacket photo of Nicholson Baker? Wouldn’t the story have been better if it were about two men hunkered in a D.C. hotel room, one of whom was plotting to gorge the President with spoiled ice creams resurrected from their notorious Flavor Graveyard? Economic Crunch, Fudge Behaving Badly UK, KaBerry KaBoom! and Nutcracker Sweet? This wouldn’t have been funny? What? While everyone chuckles and idle chatter breaks across the circle, notice your Norwegian Forest cat snake across the living room, dip her head in her water bowl, and inhale. Watch her snort and sneeze violently on your pleated slacks, recover, then race around the room in pursuit of invisible prey. Yell at your cat, “Bring it down a notch, chief!” then turn back to the discussion group, all of whom are looking at you, confused, because you not only just yelled at a Norwegian Forest cat, but also called it chief.

  4. Take control of the discussion. Demand to know: what’s up with room service? What role did this seemingly superfluous entity play in the book? Why was it even there? Cite previous plays, books, and films that might have been enhanced with this odd device. Estragon and Vladimir interrupting their heartrending dialogue to count out crumpled fives in Waiting for Godot. Plato authoritatively silencing Socrates with a raised hand while ordering plain loucoums and masticha—his way—for the both of them. Colonel Ripper pausing his rant against communism to whine about the forgotten spirited mustards, while Mandrake obligingly coos: Damnation! Implore the discussion group: couldn’t they hear Mandrake saying this? Kubrick didn’t drop the ball? Become sad when your Norwegian Forest cat is the only one to register an answer by vomiting almond-butter and Starburst on its wrought iron jasmine canopy bed. Repeatedly scold the cat until it trots under the Ikea EKTORP loveseat you scavenged from the dipsy dumpster last year.

  5. As the group begins to cite reasons why they need to get going, fill up with a sense of abandonment bordering on betrayal. While they put on their jackets, ask them to at least, before they leave, turn to page 72 and find the words ROBE ALERT, ROBE ALERT, ROBE ALERT nearly halfway down the page. Once they have, confess that this is something you used to yell to your brother when he was heading into the living room to ask your father for a raise in his allowance, your brother not realizing that your father had just downed a fifth of Wild Turkey and decided to “air himself out” while he alphabetized coupons for pork tenderloin and disposable razors. Tell the group that your brother never listened to you, that he never trusted you, that he made decisions for himself in the face of all warnings, that he ultimately split your family in two. While you are making this point, watch your Norwegian Forest cat knead the rug underneath your feet, then leap into your lap, purring. Watch the group awkwardly file out, assuring you they had a good time, and that you should do one of the groups again. As the last person closes the door, notice your cat spread out and asleep on your lap. Pick the cat up off your lap, and calmly evict her from your home.

Gina Gershon and the Persion Subway Plot, or, There Are No Wheat Thins in Tehran

The following transcript of a hotel-room conversation by two Iranian diplomats has been translated from the Farsi by some Persian kid who works the coffee stand outside the N.Y. headquarters of the F.B.I.

mo: Well, what the fuck do we do now?

aziz: I don’t know, I told you we shouldn’t have gone down there!

mo: I know, but come on I was tired of filming the same bullshit, day in day out. Who gives a fuck about Lady Liberty, or the U.N.? From what I gather, the people of this city would probably want us to blow the fuck out of both of them.

aziz: What the hell are you talking about, Mohamed?

mo: I’m serious; you think they want our foreign-diplomat asses wasting all that good real estate, and taking all of their parking spots? I’m sure Trump would be A-O.K. with us taking that entire fucking building down, making way for some pretty choice condos. Not to mention the fact that most of these people despise the fucking French, and would love to shove that bitch statue up Chirac’s frog ass.

aziz: Watch what the fuck your saying! I don’t know if that Ashcroft cat cares if we’re diplomats or not.

mo: What, you think they’re taping us?

aziz: I don’t know, they did find us filming most of their tourist spots, and we are brown.

mo: Even if they are taping us, how many of these fools can actually speak Arabic? But if it makes you feel any better, we can switch it up to Farsi.

aziz: Agreed. How long you think there gonna hold us?

mo: I’m not quite sure. I mean, all we were really doing was “making home movies, for the folks back home, of all these weird creatures who lock up their spirits, drill holes in themselves, and live for the secrets.”

aziz: You and that Radiohead—come on, this is serious. These people are at war with us. What if they send us to Cuba?

mo: They’re not sending us to Cuba, we’re diplomats.

aziz: Yeah, from one of the Axis of Evil though.

mo: Relax; the U.S. is not at war with Iran. Not yet anyway.

aziz: So, how long are they gonna keep us? I feel like these walls are closing in on us.

mo: What the fuck are you talking about? They have us in a hotel suite—relax and have a drink from the minibar.

aziz: Might as well, I guess. They got any Jack?

mo: Try the Jameson, it’s smoother.

aziz: Thanks. Ah, that’s the stuff. You know it does kind of suck we have to go back so soon. There was still a lot of shit I wanted to do. Never been to Fenway, or the Grand Canyon. Come to think of it they probably won’t ever let us back in again.

mo: Well, we are trying to destroy their civilization.

aziz: So we are going to Cuba then, fuck!

mo: We are not going to Cuba, that’s for enemy combatants and traitors I think.

aziz: What if they’re still pissed about that hostage stuff back in ’79?

mo: Calm the fuck down, we have immunity!

aziz: I mean how long did we have those guys for anyway?

mo: I don’t know, we were like four years old.

aziz: Right, and like we still don’t blame these fuckers for the Crusades, and—are there any chips in there?

mo: Yeah, Wheat Thins or Pringles?

aziz: Pringles. I’m just saying we have pretty long memories.

mo: What and we shouldn’t?

aziz: I’m just saying.

mo: What are you saying?

aziz: I’m just . . . well, it’s been pretty good over here.

mo: I knew it! You don’t wanna go back do you?

aziz: Of course I do! It’s just I don’t know. What are we going back to? I’m certainly not up for overthrowing the Mullahs. Look how the last Revolution went down.

mo: Maybe they should send us to Gitmo, it might just toughen you up a little.

aziz: What are you saying, you wanna go back to Iran and overthrow our own government? If I’m gonna be doing any killing it’s certainly not gonna be my own people, that’s for sure. I love when that prick O’Reilly says stupid shit like “When are these people gonna learn America can’t fight all their battles for them, they have to rise up, blah, blah , blah.” As if he were Patrick fucking Henry, or Benedict Arnold.

mo: I’m pretty sure Arnold was a traitor.

aziz: I’m just saying. It’s as if he’s unaware that his governments have been propping up our autocrats for the last fifty years or so. Like it’s so easy for us to rise up against the fuckhead rulers, while G.I. Joe is protecting them, and more importantly our oil. Allah put all that oil under our people for a reason; it should be all of ours.

mo: Here we go again with the socialism.

aziz: I’m not talking communists; I’m just saying why the fuck are most of our people hungry and illiterate?

mo: I always like to blame it on the Jews.

aziz: Me too. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stomach the Jews.

mo: I kinda like that Gina Gershon though.

aziz: I thought she was Greek.

If Checkpoint Were Based on Conversations I’ve Had with My Grandparents

grandfather: You don’t like ham.

me: That’s not true. I like ham.

grandfather: Well, what am I going to do with all this ham I bought if you don’t like ham? Why are you so picky anyway? I bet you wouldn’t even kill Hitler if you had the chance.

me: Are there rolls? Like kaiser or something?

grandfather: This is because your mother never made you sit at the table for dinner. You know how much money I’ve lost on your meals that you didn’t eat because you were so goddamn picky and only wanted McDonald’s when we were on the turnpike and they only had Roy Rogers. Let’s say you had a chance to kill Hitler at a Roy Rogers and you were whining like a baby because you didn’t believe in murder on an empty stomach. You’d be whining that you cannot sacrifice another human’s life in retribution for killing millions. What if that was Hitler before he started the Final Solution? What if you could have saved millions and millions of lives? Goddamnit, what’s wrong with your damn sandwich.

me: Spicy mustard? Don’t you have yellow?

grandfather: On a ham sandwich? You might as well piss on it.

me: So you don’t have any? Or you just don’t want me to have any based on the fact that you think it is immoral for someone to eat something that seems putrid to you. What you are doing is, in fact, arguing that all tastes are absolute and that any differences in taste are actually violations of some sort of culinary morality.

grandfather: Why are you making that face?

me: This is chicken.

grandfather: Jesus Christ, who doesn’t like chicken?

me: I like chicken.

grandmother: Jane isn’t very welcoming.

me: Jane has cancer.

grandmother: I go over there to see her and she never says anything. I ask her, for example, what she thought of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and she just sort of mumbled.

me: Jane has cancer.

grandmother: She knows that I don’t drive, so she knows that I have to get your pain-in-the-ass grandfather away from the televised reports of the assassination of Sparky Anderson by those bastards in Cleveland. And then when I’m there, all she can do is mumble “Single bullet my ass, single bullet my ass.”

me: Jane has CANCER!!

grandmother: We all have problems.

grandmother: If I were president of the United States, they would shoot me.

me: Who would shoot you?

grandmother: Somebody would see how miserable I was, how broken down, blind and miserable I was, and they would shoot me.

me: I’m not sure I understand your logic.

grandmother: All I’m saying is that if they saw a poor, decrepit old woman in such misery, they would assassinate her to be kind.

me: It doesn’t sound kind, to have a bullet hit your friend in the shoulder and turn around, IN MIDAIR MIND YOU, and shatter your skull.

grandmother: Don’t get me started on that. I assume if they were going to put an old woman, who raised a family and has fallen apart and now just wants to meet Jesus and rest, out of her misery, they would probably have a second gunman on small patch of grass sometimes known as a knoll.

me: I’m not sure that would be feasible. Let’s look at the tape again.

grandmother: What tape? What are you talking about? Don’t ever get old.

grandfather: They killed that one guy that one time.

me: Do you mean Martin Luther King?

grandfather: No, the other one.

me: Jesus Christ.

grandfather: No. The other one. With the number or something.

me: Malcolm X.

grandfather: Yeah, that one. He said “Kill whitey.”

me: That’s not what he said.

grandfather: Well, he said something like it. Got them all riled up.

me: Them? Them meaning who? I really don’t want to have this conversation again. Or ever for that matter. Did you see the Eagles game?

grandfather: No. I saw that Passion. Whew boy. I’m not even going to talk about what the-you-know-whos did to Jesus.

me: Please don’t. Please don’t talk about it.

grandfather: Let me just say this. They killed him.

me: Jesus Christ.

grandfather: Damn straight.

grandmother: Why don’t you ever wear the leather jacket we bought you?

me: Because I’m no longer in the 8th grade. I would look funny going to grad school wearing the jacket you bought me in the 8th grade.

grandmother: You looked like John-John in it.

me: I looked like John-Boy in it.

grandmother: Do you remember when you were four and your cousin Steve died because those guys he owed money to broke his legs and he got a staph infection?

me: No.

grandmother: Well, we were standing outside of the funeral home waiting for your pain-in-the-ass uncle to get the car and the hearse drove by. I tried to get you to salute like John-John did, but you had no idea what I was doing and when I tried to put your hand up by your forehead you poked yourself in the eye.

me: I do remember that. I thought you were trying to beat me up.

grandmother: You’re no John-John.

Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint

October's book.

Some Failed Parodies of Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint

William Shakespeare's Chequepoint

Clement's Inn
August, 1479

jay: By and by, I say that King Edward IV art the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth.
benvolio: Yeah, but whattaya gonna do?
jay: It makes us, or it mars us; think on that, and fix most firm thy resolution.
benvolio: Doth thou mean to murd'r the King?
jay: By shameful murder of a guiltless king and lofty proud encroaching tyranny—
benvolio: By Ichabod! Stand back, thou manifest conspirator,
Thou that contrivedst to murder our dead lord!
jay: His sin's not accidental, but a trade.
benvolio: Thou wilt be as valiant as the wrathful dove, or most magnanimous mouse.
jay: Um. By and by?
benvolio: Thou art as rheumatic as two dry toasts.


jay: Testing, testing... O.K., we're running again.
ben: Did you have to bring the tape recorder to the restaurant?
jay: I didn't want to lose any of the conversation.
ben: Why are we here again?
jay: Because I knocked over the cup of soaking magic bullets and accientally killed the room-service guy.
ben: Right, right, I mean why are we here, T.G.I.Friay's?
jay: Because I love the Jack Daniels Grill.
ben: Anyway, you were saying about killing the presi—
waitress: Hello! Welcome to Friday's! I'm Brianna, I'll be your server. May I tell you about our specials today?

How to Pitch an Adaptation of Checkpoint to Jerry Bruckheimer

O.K., we're in a hotel room in West Hollywood, a real cheap, dingy rathole place, roaches and chipped paint and condoms in the stairwells, real seedy, but it was once glorious, where the rich and famous used to stay in the 30s, right?, so we're in this room, and we've got our guy sitting on the bed, looking out the window, he's quiet, dark, mysterious, right?, brooding, a man with a past, maybe a Russell Crowe type, and his friend comes to see him, his friend Ben, who he hasn't seen in years, they've fallen out of touch but they were once close, and the friend, he's, you know, a wacky, fast-talkin' black guy like Martin Lawrence or Chris Tucker or Chappelle maybe if we can get him, right so the pal comes to visit him in this seedy hotel room, with the hookers in the hallways and the roaches and what-have-you, and the two of them, they're talking, in the hotel room, and and oh, did I say that the whole movie takes place in this hotel room?, because it does, it's like Tape, that Linklater flick, meets The Manchurian Candidate—no, it's In the Line of Fire meets My Dinner with Andre, or maybe, yes, maybe it's Die Hard meets Open Water, set in a hotel room—anyway, these two, they're in the room and they're talking and Russell Crowe tells the friend, Ben, the fast-talkin' black guy, he tells him he's got a plan to kill the president with these crazy sci-fi weapons he got from some connection he had to some government R&D lab somewhere, and they're crazy weapons, like a special time-traveling thermonuclear bomb that goes back in time to blow up the president when he's being born, and also a laser-guided poisonous robotic bear catapult, this huge contraption that launches a robot grizzly bear that's guided by laser to land within 10 yards of the president and then when it bites him, it injects poisonous venom though its titanium fangs, right?, and then room service comes in—they ordered food before, they were talking about food first before killing the president, and also they're probably doing blow with some hookers, and so room service comes in only it's really the F.B.I. posing as room service and there's a Mexican standoff because it's a C.I.A. chick posing as a hooker and the whole thing is like the end of True Romance meets the end of Resevoir Dogs meets the end of Pulp Fiction, and then there's an explosion—this is all before the opening credits roll, you gotta start with a bang...