The Culture Bunker – Goes To New York Part III: The Inciting Contusion – Fiction

The Culture Bunker

Goes To New York Part III: The Inciting Contusion

by William Ham
illustration by Rob Zammarchi

The Story So Far: See, this guy… no, well, he did this thing, right? Then something happened, he did something, then something else happened, and, like… okay, I wasn’t, you know, paying attention and stuff. But there was a lot of blood, and that was cool.

So this was it. I was finally coming to understand why el Jefflon had sent me to the dark, flabby underbelly of the city that never sleeps and bathes only occasionally. Gui Fox, the despotic head of the x/s channel, had to be stopped before he brought the nation’s collective intelligence down to a level of a soup tureen, thereby making literacy a lost cause and putting this magazine out of business. Or maybe he thought I needed the fresh air. Same diff.

My grizzled guide kept me occupied in our arduous trek through the corporate underbrush with a steady stream of nervous patter. “Fox, man, you don’t take a meeting with Fox, man. He takes a meeting with you. He’s a poet-warrior-CEO in the classic sense. Like, yeah, you know, he’s doing his own thing in his own time slot, man. But you gotta take me with you. I’ve got an idea I want to pitch to him, man, about two tax attorneys who keep coming into contact with the supernatural, man. I call it Paranormal Paralegals, man.”

I could tell we were getting nearer Fox’s fortress by the growing sound of jungle drum machines in the distance. That and the heads strewn around the corridor. “Oh, the heads, man,” my guide said. “Former employees, man. Stapler thieves, man, or people whose shows got bad Arbitrons, man. Fox calls it ‘severance pay,’ man. He’s quite a man, man.”

I was beginning to tire of his incessant babble and wished he’d go away and get an endorsement deal with Nike or something, but we arrived at the darkest, bleakest and best-furnished part of the compound. Gui Fox’s headquarters. Duh.

It was everything I had dreamed, everything I feared. It looked like my first apartment as if designed by an effeminate Ubangi with a stunted sense of aesthetics. (I said a silent thank-you to the Rhode Apple School of Design Metaphors for the insight.) A palpable air of savagery permeated the room – Savagery, the new fragrance for madmen and women by Calvin Klein, to be precise. And there, in the corner of the room, a large, shadowy figure sat, surrounded by his followers, concubines, and personal trainer, all of whom were listening with rapt attention as he stentoriously read from a boarskin-bound copy of last week’s TV Guide.

“Tuesday,” he intoned, “8:30 PM. Channels 3, 8, and 16. PHOEBE AND THE SCHMUCK – Comedy.” He paused with the dramatic grace of our finest thespians – Shatner, for example. “Phoebe (Linda Blair) discovers another woman’s glass eye in Chaim’s flak jacket, while Siobhan (Pearl Baily) is visited by another wacky premonition of global destruction (Jackie Mason).”

“What a genius, man,” my guide mistily muttered. “He’s spared you for a reason, man. He likes you because you haven’t been cancelled yet, man. He’s got plans for you, I think. I mean, what are they gonna say when he’s gone, man? That he was a good man? That he was a wise man? That he was a tall man? Who’s gonna set ’em straight, man? Am I? Look at me, man – WRONG! No. You. You’re his one-man Nielsen family, man. And you’re gonna up his Q-rating, man.” Fox threw his Guide at my guide, knocking him even more senseless.

“Christ, he annoys me,” Fox said. Then he paused again. Finally, he spoke, his voice thick with the weariness of the damned and the agony of existence. “Would you like a cruller?”

“No, sir.”

“What have they told you of me?”

“That you had gone mad, sir, and that your programming was… unsound.”

“Is my programming unsound?”

“I don’t see any programming at all, sir.”

“Not even Shop or Die, the afternoon gameshow where heavily-armed housewives vie for supermarket finds in a demilitarized shopping environment?”

“No, not even that.”

He sat utterly still for a moment, looking at me as if wondering just what breed of human could possibly object to cash, prizes, and snipers in the produce aisle. Then he looked down, slowly running a chamois over his scalp.

“Are you an assassin?”

“I’m a journalist, sir.”

He looked up and shot me a piercing glare.

“You’re neither. You’re a paper boy, with your father waiting in the station wagon, aiming for the storm gutter.”

“What does that mean?”

“Who knows? I just made it up. I’m trying to appear menacing and enigmatic here. Cut me some slack.”

It was clear that I was staring into the face of madness. I had never thought that the embodiment of my death would be wearing a rayon kimono from JC Penney, but then I couldn’t account for Jim Carrey’s popularity either, so what did I know? I sat listening to him for what seemed like minutes. I was free to go, but we both knew I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t bring enough money for dinner and I was hoping the caterer would be by later.

“I know the horror,” Fox said. “I was talent coordinator for The Chevy Chase Show, so you could say I’m intimate with it. And I came to realize that once you become friends with the horror, invite it to your house for drinks, maybe go sailing with it on weekends, then you have nothing to fear. Oh, wait a second, I have something for you.” He dropped a head in my lap.

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“What, you don’t know him? Damn. I though it’d be a good effect. Never mind, just put it over there with the rest of them. Now where was I… oh yeah, the horror. The horror’s what sent me here, what’s given me license to create new strains of televirus. But I’m afraid my son will never understand why I’ve done what I’ve done. If I were to die – hint hint – I would want somebody to tell the truth about what I’ve made here. Maybe write a three-part article about it in a music and entertainment magazine that’s free in Boston and $2.00 everyplace else. Because I abhor the stench of lies. That and the garlic. Yuck.”

Dimly, I was coming to understand what I had to do. And I had to do it quickly, because I was running out of space. He turned his back on me, and I could hear the sounds of his followers preparing for their ritual slaughter of a large corned beef sandwich on rye, chanting and dancing while the Muzak version of “Spoonman” pulsed narcoleptically. I slathered my face with Liquid Paper for that sacrificial touch. The Muzak grew in intensity. (Actually, somebody just turned it up.) I grabbed a letter-opener from Fox’s desk. The sandwich was unwrapped. The song hit a dull crescendo, and the knife came down on the sandwich as the letter-opener came down on Fox again and again… Really, it looked better than it reads. You’ll have to wait until I sell the movie rights to believe that, but trust me. Fox lay dying on the office floor, his command terminated (FCC rules state that dead men cannot hold executive positions of cable networks without written permission). My mission was complete.

I went into the hall, where Fox’s disciples stood silently, covered in tribal markings and pickle relish. They knew intuitively that their master was dead (though my screams of “I killed Fox! I killed Fox!” might have helped tip them off). They stared at me for a long moment, then dropped to their knees as one and bowed to me. One of them presented me with a packet of mustard (their highest honor), and let me leave the building without incident, although a few of them asked me for a reference. I passed them silently by, filled with a sense of triumph and a slight case of dyspepsia. I left my business card at the desk (“Writer – Raconteur – Assassin For Hire”), climbed into my waiting cab (with the meter still running – damn), and sped off into the night.

And that was that. The cabbie told me that the overnights on Chat Kennel had been the third-biggest ever, making it one of the highest-rated shows in history to feature Stuttering John having his kidneys torn out by apes. But this information made me no happier. All I could think about as we tore through the Manhattan streets were the final words uttered by Gui Fox, words that will haunt me for the rest of my days:

“The horror. The horror. You know, I bet there’s a mini-series in this.”