The Culture Bunker
by William Ham
illustration by Dave Coscia
When not masterminding wacky, all-in-good-fun pranks for a variety of magazines (cf. “We Fed-Ex Smack to Kelley Deal’s House!”, Guffaw, March ’95), I like to spend my copious down time carefully nurturing my self-image as a globe-trotting, passport-forging investigative reporter, using a variety of sharp expository tools to slice out the slippery underbelly of the body politic. Trouble is, aside from a still-unfinished treatise on double-cross dressers (transvestites who like to confuse others and themselves by wearing the garb of their given gender) for Canada’s leading gay/lesbian magazine Oot, the opportunities are scarce and fleeting. Imagine, therefore, my surprise when the Bunkerphone rang one partly cloudy day last week and I was nasally summoned to a shadowy stall in the back room of the Chaise Lounge, the noted two-star eatery and secret meeting place for fugitives from justice and their clandestine Boswells. An award-winning undercover piece was in the offing, and all for the low, low price of two packs of Blaklung cigarettes and a bottle of Lavoris. Woodward, Bernstein, Guccione, Povich – watch out.
Once I arrived at the Lounge, I was handed a directive from the maitre d’ to seat myself in the non-bugged section and wait, with a postscript advising me “If anyone offers you breadsticks, kill them.” I did as told, whiling away the minutes by singing “Venus in Furs” to myself in pig Latin, which always calms me in times of intense journalistic distress. Eventually, someone spoke. “Hey, Oulay Bedray, knock off the racket or I’ll bisect your epiglottis with a shoehorn.” I looked around but saw no one. “No, you zit-faced poltroon, down here.”
“Gee whizzikers, a talking table. Either you’re a master of disguise or somebody slipped something into my virgin Long Island Iced Tea.”
“I’m under the table, schmuck. Security reasons. Get down here, but act casual. And bring your appetizer – I’ve been down here for weeks and the service really bites below eye level.”
I slipped under the table (I knew those six years at limbo college would come in handy some day) and was greeted by the scowling countenance of a grizzled, 50ish man with the haunted, sleepless look of someone who’d seen one too many Pauly Shore movies and had lived to tell about it. “Shit, it’s about time somebody showed up. I’ve been putting out feelers to all the major magazines for months – The New Republic, U.S. News, Motorbooty – but until now, nobody’s taken the bait. I’m gonna fire that fucking agent one of these days.”
“Hey, c’mon,” his agent, who was seated underneath an adjacent table, whined, “I got you a booking on Carnie for the 17th. I’m earning my 10 percent. Give me a chance.”
“I’m gonna give you 10 percent of my arm up your sphincter if you don’t make like a mollusk and clam up,” my subject responded. “I’m talking here.” He turned back to me. “I’ve called you here because I have a sneaking suspicion that my days are numbered. Never mind my name – just call me Strep Throat. I’m privy to certain information that could threaten the lives of everyone in this country. Lives may be lost, cities levelled, ER could get knocked off the air. You understand? The only thing I can do is pass on this information before it dies with me. That’s why I sent for you.”
“Wow…oh, jeez, my tape recorder wasn’t on. Do you think you could repeat all that for me?” He gave me a look that could cut glass, and did, effectively ruining my drink. I shrugged it off and let him continue.
“Right. Up until two months ago, I was employed in Amaretto, Texas, as Second Minister of Malapropism for Dextrose Ayahuasca. You might not know his name now, but believe me, you will. Ayahuasca’s been CEO and Executive Vice-Deity for the Branch Marginians since its foundation three years ago.”
I nearly choked on my fried kelp ball in chum sauce. I had heard of the Marginians. For those of you without a lifetime subscription to Paranoid Conspiracy Theorist Weekly, they are one of the most vocal and vociferous of the new breed of paraliterary organizations – radical groups given to acts of verbal terrorism and other crimes against the state of the art. This was the biggest scoop since my controversial exposé of restaurant employees who refuse to wash their hands before returning to work. This was big.
“Hey, who the hell you talking to, worm boy? You gonna let me tell my story or are you gonna keep wasting space with your mock-journalistic asides?” I mumbled an apology. “Okay. See, Dex started out like most of the rest of us – degrees in English lit and penmanship at Yale, a plum gig writing movie reviews in haiku form for the Kenosha Bugle-Clarinet, the whole twenty-seven feet. Then it all went wrong. Nobody knows what – the divorce, the drinking, all those hours he spent sniffing that Xerox paper – but he snapped. He quit his job and got radicalized. Memorized every word of Das Lowercase, a book that claims that the rules of syntax that we follow are the result of a conspiracy of Zionist proofreaders employed by the government.” Strep Throat lit the filter end of a cigarette and shrugged. “Doctor’s orders. Anyway, I don’t think you realize how disgruntled people are with the literacy breakdown in this country. There are people rotting in jail just because of a few run-on sentences, and I’m sure you remember that home video some motorist took of those L.A. cops beating the crap outta that black guy ’cause he mispronounced the word ‘nuclear.’ So it should come as no surprise that Dex was able to garner a following so quickly.”
I was stunned, but the previous paragraph was running long, so I knew I had to speak. “If I’m not mistaken, the Marginians were the ones responsible for that string of capital letter bombings in the Midwest, am I right?”
Strep Throat pounded his fist up on the table, knocking over the centerpiece bas-relief of J. Edgar Hoover in a French maid’s uniform (#5 in a series). “Who told you that? Conjecture! Hearsay! The worst kind of… well, yes. You see, Dex read in a crossword puzzle somewhere that in the year 1998, the Apocalypse would occur, and the beast would make himself present on earth in the form of a defective typewriter ribbon. A battle for supremacy between good grammar and evil grammar will ensue, and only the chosen will be able to avoid the great flood of Liquid Paper that will envelop the Earth. That has little to do with the bombings, however. He was just bored one weekend and it was something to do.”
“I’m astonished,” I said in astonishment. “Is that about the time you all went into hiding?”
“Yeah, we’ve been holed up in the 350 room, 2 1/2 bath Compound Sentence Compound on the outskirts of Amaretto. Dex has been stockpiling assault weapons and yellow highlighting pens, reading to us from the King James Bible and Roget’s Thesaurus, preparing us for the Day of the Final Draft, as he calls it. The day is coming, I tell you. But I had to get out.”
“Why? Has Dex lost his mind? Has he sworn vengeance on you? Is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Pronouns investigating you?”
“Ah, no. The benefits package just sucks.” He glanced at his watch. “Look, I’m late for my Amnesiatic Narcoleptics encounter group. I gotta go.”
“Wait. What about all that talk about your days being numbered?”
“Come off it, Scumbelina. Do you think anyone would have read this far if I said I was hiding under the table because I hate to tip?” He bid me farewell with a bite on the nose and was gone.
I departed the Lounge with a deep sense of sadness. What is it with this society? What drives people to such depths of grammatical psychosis? Perhaps we truly are doomed. Still, I can’t argue with success. So here’s the deal: I have attached a 20-meganoun word bomb to Lollipop‘s word processors. If you don’t publish this piece, I will set it off. Metaphors will be mixed beyond repair, infinitives split asunder, participles left dangling over the streets of Boston. The newspring will run with the adverbs of the non-believers. The choice is yours. Have a nice day.