It was cold that day when the news came back to us. We were warming our feet around the electric logplace in the ramshackle, 1980's building that served as the offices of FRATRICIDE Magazine in its last year or two of operation. It was just me and the two elder statesmen of the magazine, Joe Bob Mencken and Marve "Mixed" Metaphor. All the other employees had gone home because we couldn't heat the place properly.
"When did you know?" I asked, with heavy emphasis on the "know". It was the third consecutive year of declining sales.
"I knew the moment that they admitted the existence of Deep Throat," said Joe Bob, "Oh, we could poke fun, and maybe hit a raw nerve or two. We'd never be able to publish the real thing again. There would never be anything but news from then on."
"I've never known for sure," said Marve, "till now. I look back on it all, of course, and I see where I went wrong. Obvious as the nose on a fish, now. I always said, if you can't take the heat, get out of the frying pan. But don't pay any attention to me, I've always been an idealist."
A noise in the street momentarily drew our attention away from the conversation.
"Well, I swa'n, Marve. That's the second car today. They might have to fix the street at this rate."
"Joe Bob, I saw Mark Russell in the unemployment line this morning."
"I saw Stan Freberg there last week. At his age. Speakin' of which, I understand that Tom Lehrer checked out a while back. You hear anything about that?"
"Yup, he started that old Packard of his and just never opened the garage door. Wouldn't have been legal if he had, of course. Do you know that they fined his widow for the emissions violation? Couldn't pay, of course."
"Way back there, 'round 1974," Marve continued, "I wrote a piece about a powerful Congressman, drinking himself to oblivion, and cavorting with a buxom mistress in the wee hours of the night, on the banks of the P'tomac. Called the woman Foxxy. Had some laughs in it. I posted it to the New Yorker the night before the Wilbur Mills story broke. The New Yorker editor wrote a little note on the rejection slip. Asked if I'd switched to hard news. I started to suspect it then. When did you first notice it, Redmon?"
"Back in '97," I said, the memories burning brightly within me. "It was the Kyoto Summit. They were meeting for a week, and there was a tremendous PR campaign going on. Pointy-headed, Chicken Little types running around having orgasms of sagacity. Administration big guns meeting in back rooms and feeding the media tripe. I had a piece written up, ready to go. Pretty nice bit of satire, if I do say so myself. I thought, what's the worst thing they can do? I looked at some of the proposed numbers, doubled them and started to write the piece. I was gonna say that the U.S. had agreed to a treaty in which the Europeans cut greenhouse gas emissions by 14% and the U.S. cut them by 30%, while the developing nations didn't have to do anything. Including China, which would have tickled everyone's funnybone. Also, the part about the U.S. cutting 30% would have been a sideslapper, too. Take us back to the stone age. There were still people around then who remembered the First Great Depression.
"I had it all finished and ready to go out on the wire, when the news came. What I had predicted as a parody was exactly what had been agreed to. Plus, the President was all smiles, and the Vice President, old Spotted Al, the knothead, was just doing backflips. And you know what, these imbeciles had just signed the death-warrant for western civilization, and the first thing that came out of the greenies' mouths was that it was not enough. Thirty hours of effort on that satire, and I ended up with bupkus."
"Well, it's happened to all of us," said the kindly old man. Joe Bob ponderously arose. "I reckon I'll go on home. Let me know if anything breaks, so I can burn some more paper in my fireplace."
"I didn't hear that," I tossed back at him with a smile. When he did finally retire, Joe Bob would be hard to replace.
Suddenly, the old teletype clattered to life. I had a sinking feeling. Another satire down the drain, I thought as I read the story. John-John Kennedy, at age 65, announced that he is outlawing gasoline, re-seating the entire Supreme Court with nominees of the ACLU, raising the Social Security tax rates to 70%, and will be having a sex-change operation, but sees no reason to withdraw his candidacy for a third term as President.
Scooped by reality again.
© Redmon Barbry
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