Brent Bozman

Hayden Childs

William Ham

Dana Knowles

Gary Mairs

Leonard Pierce

Michael Tomczyszyn

Scott Von Doviak

George Wu

The Algonquin Kids’ Table: 2003 Top Ten Lists

 

The Top 10 Articles I Wrote Last Year

Greetings, High Hat readers. Please, sit down. I understand and fully appreciate the excitement and relief you must collectively feel, now that my byline has finally made it to these pages, flattering the lessers that sublet this webspace with me even as I give them something to which they may futilely aspire. Before I “kick off” (to lapse into the vernacular) my inaugural feature, the first, I assure you, of many to come, I must apologize for my tardiness in submitting (oh, how multi-tiered a term! Wonderful! But please, don’t dwell upon it — just register your pleasure, then move on) to this webloid. A few words of explanation should suffice: in the spring of last year, when The High Hat (then gestating under its original sobriquet, Guh) was being conceived, a mutual common-law acquaintance put me in contact with the co-founders of this paperless paper, Hadden Chilblains and Gillian Spam. The poor, benighted sods had managed to rope in a solid but laughably unexceptional backfield of C-list talent and, though they coyly feigned ignorance of my 30-plus year history of genius freelancing by mock-mockingly asking me “Who (was I) again?” and “(Was I) sure (I) had the right number?”, it quickly came to light that they were in dire, nay, desperate need of my world-renowned, award-coveting insights into and gorgeously prismatic view of Western culture. After no small amount of cajoling (cagily disguised as what a less-perceptive member of the Fifth Estate might describe as “a prolonged, awkward silence”), I wearily acquiesced.

Typically, I was unconscionably overworked, what with the myriad thinkpieces and aphorism-laced gems I had promised publications as diverse as American Spectator Girl! and Volefancy, not to mention the hours that lay stretched before me devoted to the cutting and shaping of my latest opus, Moist Republic: The American Century As Seen Through the Cinematic Oeuvre of Patrick Dempsey (available June 2004 via Arbitrary House), but my predilection for mentoring the younger and less gifted scribes in my midst persists. Ah, but Dame Fortune is a cruel mistress, and my weekly appointments with her to be humiliated and wet upon began to wear a hole in my composition time. Then there was the trifling matter of compensation, an unseemly but necessary evil for one in my profession — in no small measure because Dame Fortune’s prices went up the previous August — which prevented my gilded swatches of effulgent wisdom from finding purchase in this publication while we negotiated what some have termed a “deal.” Eventually, after a prolonged and contentious conference call with the editors (my uncharacteristic ferocity fueled in large part by my customary evening libation of gin, single-malt scotch, tomato juice and Mr. Pibb, a delightful concoction of my own devising I’ve christened a “Weeping Supplicant”), financial detente was achieved.

“Okay,” Chilblains rasped, “we’ll give you … um … twice what we give everybody else.”

“No, no,” rejoined Spam, audibly repressing mirthful chortles of what must have been relief, “three times what the other writers get! Yeah, that’s it!” Then we were mysteriously disconnected. But no matter — here, finally, am I.

My first assignment for the lads was, as you may have inferred, a “Top 10” list of the finest works of art produced in the year newly deceased, a stunningly banal assignation to be sure and one upon which I racked my brain for many hours (only some of them while actually on the rack, as I’m endeavoring to be frugal) in search of a fresh angle on which this uninspired idiocy might be impaled. Finally, in the midst of a belladonna and Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder-inspired hallucination, an epiphany: what better way to accurately take account of the most transcendent moments of 2003 but to sample the works of he who understood them above all others, viz. me? So mote it be, amen. What follows, then, is a list of an unemployed-baker’s dozen articles, written by yours truly, each of which shone a blessed klieg into sundry corners of the duplex rented out by the spirit of our times, with synopses and/or excerpts appended where applicable. I’ve no doubt it will be as enlightening for you as it is for the person sitting nearest you.

(In no particular order except for 1-4, 6, & 7-10.)

1. “Gödel, Escher, Bach, Goldsboro: A Kaleidoscopic Journey Through the Concentric Circles of the Highest Inspiration,” The Phoenix Bostonian, Sept. 20, 2003

A beautifully argued, crystalline opus, written as a sort of homecoming for the weekly newsweekly whence my earliest ventures into art-about-art were deposited. Again, I must apologize for depriving you of a sampling of this, among the finest multivalent views of several centuries’ cultural/intellectual advancements written by me that entire month, but my copy of the original piece was irretrievably lost when my computer crashed (I believe that’s the vernacular term for waking up after a week-long solo bacchanal with my head stuck in the monitor), and the upstart editors of the paper had trimmed my piece somewhat, down from 37,500 words to 250, and displaced it from its intended position as the frontispiece of the “Arts” section at the last minute, moving it to the Letters page and renaming it “Local Blowhard Writes.” A certain degree of subtlety in the article was thus obscured.

2. “Absinthe in a Paper Bag: Frogmeat Jenkins Remembered,” Blues Completist, April 2003

According to a Lexis-Nexus search, this is the 300th article on an obscure bluesman I’ve written since “Face Down in a Puddle of America” in 1973 (the piece which single-handedly revived the career of Benton “Nickname-Pending” Jimsonton, you will recall). For that reason alone, it stands out among the august company of the other such articles I’ve published this last year. Is it better than “Caravan of Adhesions: The Saga of Popesnose McHenry” or “From Clarksdale to Aphasia: The Protracted Journey of Big-Boned Hettie Thrupplim”? I’ll let the reader decide. But the answer is yes.

“Ah Done Got It Stuck Again, Lord.” “That Ain’t Mah Thumb in That Satchel.” “My Baby Done Said She’d Be Back In Twenty Minutes and It’s Been Almost Twenty-Three, Jesus.” There can be few songs that more vividly evoke the pain, the bleakness, the negritudinous profitability buried deep in the muck of the Mississippi Delta. These songs constitute a tale: a tale of voices steeped in the cold mud of the riverbank, skipping flat and sharp stones with perfect pitch across the still waters of the uvula, a tale of sin and redemption, of bondage and freedom, of darkness and effulgence, of ferrante and teicher. These are coded fragments of the secret history of the future of the United Statesian soul, plucked from the Delta depths and rinsed clean by high-pressure hoses of truth. These songs are nothing less than the skeleton key to the root cellars of our collective experience, even though the door has a tendency to stick and you have to pull hard on the doorknob and lift it up slightly as you do. Frogmeat Jenkins’ achievements are even more deeply impressive considering that these songs were neither recorded nor performed nor written.

The legend only serves to illuminate the enigma. As described in the excellent book, Troweling the Blues by McChesney Duntz, Jenkins, a railway worker rendered unemployed by the state of Mississippi’s staunch refusal to purchase train tracks and desperate for money to feed his wife and seven or so children purchased a Makeshift™ guitar and set out for the already-legendary crossroads where he could sell his soul to the devil in exchange for genius proficiency at his instrument. Unfortunately, the directions were a little garbled, and Jenkins wound up at a three-way intersection where he sold his talent to a dentist by mistake. Minutes later, he was eaten by a goat, leaving only the legacy of these perfectly songless songs, which continue to resonate through the decades, the kind of accomplishment that can only be attained by failing to accomplish anything at all.

3. “A Conversation with Drex Vilbis,” Crawnanny!, Aug. 28, 2003

At a conservative estimate (courtesy of the Heritage Foundation’s Rock Interview Tallying Service), I have conducted interviews with nearly a thousand notables in the fields of music, film, television, the legitimate stage and driveway resurfacing. Of all the interlocutions in which I have ever participated, it can be said without fear of contradiction that this “phoner” (denoting an industry term for a discussion held over the telephone or any device that can be held up to the ear) with Blagobunghole guitarist Vilbis on the occasion of the release of their very second album, Dogcrotch Springs, is one.

Listening again to the new album — and you will excuse me for lapsing into the archaic there — it strikes me that there a number of very subtle layers inbuilt into the music’s superstructure.

Yeah, yeah, right.

Things that, were you not a grad school-educated critic with almost a third of a century’s collected musings on the sum total of our experience as filtered through our creative expressionissing, might be easily glossed over or ignored in toto.

Oh, yeah. That’s fine, yeah. Brilliant.

The descending bassline on “Spacenoodge,” for example, clearly echoes the rhyming structure in Ruprecht van Heflin’s two-part Dyspepsia trilogy, and that mis-fretted note in the midsection carries with it a whiff of tragedy, redolent of the fate of the star-crossed lovers in Mannequin 2: On the Move.

’S alright, yeah, innit?

Indeed, indeed. Did you realize that “deicide” is an anagram of “I decide” and also of “I iced Ed” and “Dici Dee,” the less-talented sister of the woman who so memorably duetted with Elton John so many years ago? If you ever write a song on the subject, I think that’s something you need to bear in mind.

I like that, yeah. Works ’n all.

Ah, the exchange of ideas ’twixt artist and fellow-artist. It’s rare and dare I say refreshing to participate in such a robust exchange for once, given all the clods and poltroons with whom I’m forced to interact both on and off and on my way to the job. It’s been a rare pleasure speaking with you today.

Right, right … Sorry about that, mate. I was just having a bit of a go-round with my personal assistant about t-shirt designs. I’m ready to start the interview whenever you are.

4. “Fit to be Tied with Cordage of the Soul Using Windsor Knots of Mortal Fallability,” FlagMag #1, Summer 2003

The High Hat was the not the only nascent publishing venture to which I lent by imprimatur in 2003. Ever ready to support any exciting new experiment in periodicalia, I contributed this allegorical swatch of wit-marbled prose to the first edition of FlagMag, the first nationally -distributed magazine presented entirely in semaphore. Regrettably, it has proven nigh-impossible to transcribe; I would advise you to seek out a back issue, but the first issue had proved its last, what with the prohibitive subscription costs, hospital bills for sprained elbows suffered by the “content deliverers,” and the legal fees engendered when a reader in New Mexico was arrested for bringing the magazine into the bathroom with him. Requiescat in peace.

5. “State of the Industry: One Critic’s Perspective,” Cashboard, Aug. 16, 2003

An excerpt from an op-ed piece written for one of the finest music-business journals in the country to return my calls.

Though no few of my colleagues have expended no dearth of breath defending the “rights” of music “fans” engaged in the acts of downloading and file-sharing, I have made it abundantly clear that, on this issue, I must separate myself from the pack. (This was not quite as daunting a task as one might believe, seeing as I had already alienated myself from the majority for daring to question the innate value of such “critic’s darlings” as Das Überrated and Fresh Wardrobe for the Emperor, and also for stabbing Robert Christgau in the chest with my umbrella at his sixtieth birthday party.) The “free” procuring of copyrighted materials by anyone other than respected arts commentators who require a steady stream of said product to feed their brilliance is purely and simply an unlawful, illegal crime.

But not only do I lay the blame at the ill-shod feet of the bepimpled miscreants wantonly looting intellectual property; I also maintain that the recording industry itself is slowly strangling itself with the piano wire of its cowardly half-measures, which in itself will prove sufficient to kill itself if the industry itself does not look to strike at the soft spot just above the base of the problem itself. The lawsuits, fines and house raids inflicted upon those caught purloining the fruits of the record companies’ hard work are an encouraging start, but it’s obvious that the RIAA has not gone nearly far enough. To that end, I have been devoting the lion’s share of my free time performing citizens’ arrests, presiding over citizens’ tribunals and incarcerating individuals in citizens’ jail (the old dog cages in my attic) for the crime of getting songs “stuck” in their heads without proper remuneration. (Already, one individual has been sentenced to four years’ hard labor for whistling “More Than a Feeling” around his office.) This, too, is a decisive step in the right direction, but it will not reach fruition and bear the fruits of said fruition until those reading these words follow my example and vigilantly police birthday parties, karaoke bars, and residential shower stalls to ensure that no copyright-infringement crimes are being committed. I strongly urge all civil legislators, industry executives and busybodies nationwide to ensure this comes to pass.

6. “Draft — Do Not Send,” Blown Tweeter, May 13-16, 2003

BT has enjoyed my enthusiastic support ever since they shifted their editorial focus to the sociopolitical, interpersonal and secular-theological underpinnings of the music business and away from publishing nothing but photos of budgerigars engaging in fellatio. But beyond their top-notch investigative reportage (exemplified by their Roxanne Pulitzer Prize-winning “Compact Discs — Can They Be Used As Mirrors?”) and justly-revered reviews section (eschewing outmoded ratings systems involving stars or letter grades in favor of a revolutionary format utilizing the numbers 1-100), BT’s think-pieces remain among the thinkiest in journalism. Over the years, I have contributed a number of these exploratory gems to the magazine’s feature section, that number being one. When asked why this piece saw the light of day in its pages where so many others saw only the less-impressive light of much later in the day, editor/publisher Braxton Hicks took a moment to ensure nobody was listening on the line then enthused, “It really challenged all existing notions of structure, follow-through and readability. That seemingly unfinished quality of your piece — almost as if, to the untrained eye, you had accidentally e-mailed us your article before you had a chance to complete it — was a stout riposte to conventionality.” Which was exactly my intent from the start. Exactly. No question about that.

(Get correct spelling of his name) stood on the balcony of his luxuriously-appointed suite at the (check expense receipts for hotel name) in (city), (state/province — did this happen in Canada? Have I been to Canada?), gazing pensively out at the teeming morass (call fact-checker, make sure morass was in fact teeming that day) one hundred thousand feet (estimate — may be slightly off) below. He sighed in resignation (get signed copy of resignation for art dept.). “Sometimes I don’t think people understand. From the outside, I’m a phenomenally successful (rock star/movie star/commercial spokesman/TV fly-fisherman), and yet I feel like the loneliest man on the planet (find out which planet).” Tears welled up in his eyes (inspired turn of phrase, that). “Do you have any idea what I mean?”

“Of course,” I said with an avuncular smile of encouragement. (Was I using avuncular smile that week? Check planner) “Remember, (find quote from most obscure, least traceable philosopher possible — someone Norwegian would be good).” Time stopped (figure of speech). The noise of the crowd frittered off into silence. Eyes glittering in abject gratitude, he took my hand and gazed at me. “God, that’s true, isn’t it? That cuts right to the quick (consult Gray’s, re: location of the quick). I’ll have to keep that in mind when I’m working on my next (concept album/avant-garde blockbuster/tragicomic ad campaign/abstruse trout run). And to think I was apprehensive about this interview. Thank you. Thank you!” The ice thus broken, we were then able to get down to more pressing concerns.

(VERY IMPT. — can’t remember — is homoerotic subtext prohibited or required in this mag.? Get latest printout on Hicks’ marital status and edit accordingly.)

(ALSO — check w/ legal dept. — if subj. can’t remember saying something, can it be legally proven that he never said it? Look into possible convergence between blackouts/repressed memories/statute of limitations.)

7. “The Brunch Nook,” Slight.com, July 14–18, 2003

Last summer, I was invited to participate in one of the more interesting quasi-conversational events on the “webnet,” a weekly feature wherein fellow critics, thinkers, and critthinkerers (trademark pending) trade e-mails on a single subject. It’s a rare thing to be able to “trade threes” in this manner, especially since my social contacts have dwindled precipitously in recent months and are likely to remain so until the locksmith shows up, so this proved quite pleasurable indeed — I’m not really certain why I received such lengthy, obsequious messages from Slight “apologizing” for the “error” they “made” or why the exchange was removed from the site after only a few hours, but c’est you, c’est me.

FROM: McChesney Duntz, respected arts commentator
TO: drunkboyee37

RE: Remembrances of Things Past Due

My Dear Mr. 37,

Upon my third re-reading of the assigned text, Krammp’s Sex, Drugs, Fornication & Narcotics, it strikes me once again that we are indeed living through a moment when giants walk the earth among us. Admittedly, my skepticism prevented me initially from apprehending his brilliance. I can be forgiven such prejudice, considering my first copy of the book was given me by my third ex-wife, Alopecia, whose taste in books runs more toward the kind of monosyllabic anvil-headed illiteracies peddled in bookstores with no particular admissions policy. (All books not received through my close relationship with the major publishing houses are purchased at the Librarium on Fourteenth Street in Manhasset, where all potential patrons are required to declaim a lengthy pastiche of William Carlos Williams in the style of Ford Madox Ford before being granted entry.) As usual, I feigned a grunt of noncommittal near-approval when she presented it to me as a St. Rocco’s Day present (as with other things, such as television and physical intimacy, we had no use for standard “holidays,” opting instead to focus our attentions on May 17, the day which commemorates either the birth or the death of the patron saint of diseased cattle, tile makers and knee problems) and tossed it skillfully onto the TO SKIM BRILLIANTLY pile without a second thought.

But gradually and with the ineffability of the truly ineffable, the book’s myriad virtues made themselves manifest. Here, it transpired, was a work that panoramically takes in the entire vista of the human comedy and rewrites it to fit in a few more topless pratfalls. A man stands on the precipice overlooking the parapet jutting across the sky, its color as black as the socks slouching down humanity’s ankles. He looks down and ponders the inviolability of time, the injustice of the unfair. Then he belches, the kind of belch that carries with it a dollop of regurgitation. He figures there’s a metaphor there. Who, he wonders, will translate for us the language of the stones? And do it in a funny enough voice to make it interesting?

I eagerly await your reply.

Yours,

McChesney

FROM: drunkboyee37

TO: McChesney Duntz

RE: fuk u

lol, u r a fagot!!!1! u suk the willey dont u/ u thgnk u r so gr8 but u r jus ta pusy!!!!1! u fagot ass homoe JUGGALOZ R00L!!!1!!!

FROM:McChesney Duntz
TO: drunkboyee37
RE: Finnegan’s Wake-up Call

Dear Mr. 37,

In your own enigmatic, demi-Joycean manner, I believe you hit the head of the nail with your hammer with that response. I haven’t yet read U.R.A. Fagot’s Juggalo’s Rule, but, like you, I recognize the obvious perpendiculars to be drawn between (if my memory of the blurbs in Publisher’s Weekly is anything to go by) the history of the failed South Central American dictator and the malaise suffered by the young men toiling in the service industry as seen in Krammp’s tome. Are these indeed not similar, if not different, forms of dictatorial enslavement? Are we not all under the iron sway of some massive, mononucleolithic force that threatens to undo the drawstrings to our hearts and our hospital-issue pants, then taking us to some unseemly dive bar of the soul, where the jukebox plays only Petula Clark (by which I mean the abstract-world Petula Clark, the one for whom every song was less a song than a ceremony, a western, a Lucite cube upon which we can project our darkest home movies of that most infernal trip to the Epcot Center of the arrhythmic human heart, not the one who sang “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”)? Is there still beer in that can? All questions worth querying. But perhaps another time.

(Confidential to the gentleman who joined in the conversation mid-week: yes, I would indeed like a thicker one of those, but this is hardly the forum in which to discuss the matter.)

Yours,
McChesney

8. “My Life as a Susette,” Cashiers du Cinema, May-December 2003

Every critic, even inspired originals, needs a mentor. My passion for the great works of cinematic artistry, be it Citizen Kane, The Best Years of Our Lives, Breathless (has anyone ever touched what Gere accomplished there?) or Solarbabies, was an unshaped mound of exculpatory clay just waiting to be shaped by the proper clay-handling individual. For me, as with so many others, that person was the electric-razor-sharp, inspirational ingenue of the celluloid cotillion, Susan Granger of American Movie Classics (as well as publications too numerous for me to remember to list here) …

Many weekends, the Cremora of the crop of blurb-jockies and quote courtesans — Clay Smith, Byron Allen, David Manning, etc. — would be summoned to her palatial one-bedroom estate, San Serif. There, fortified by endless Zima and Cokes, we would be given the greatest tutorial in the blurbous arts that any of us could be bothered to have.

Susan (she liked me to call her that, as it was her first name) would look around the group and give tough but fair appraisals of their work. “Walt Puttman (FOX-TV, Des Moines), your take on Marci X — ‘Check it out, by any means necessary’ — is good, but it’s lacking something. More exclamation points, maybe? And your closing sentence needs work — you should always wrap up with something like ‘On the Shawn Edwards Barometer of Filmic Excellence, this gets a slick, sassy 7!’ Most readers won’t know what you really think of a picture unless numbers and alliteration are involved.”

Occasionally, a familiar face would pop in, gather up pearlescent strings of Grangerian wisdom, and disappear into the night. Larry King frequently sought her counsel in between lauding the inventor of mint-flavored dental floss and declaiming that, in his book, there’s no finer primary color than blue. “I’m struggling, Susan,” he confessed. “Should I call Bringing Down the House ‘the funniest movie ever’ or merely ‘one of the funniest movies ever?’”

“‘One of the funniest,’ without question. Yes, it’s the best now, but what happens when that remake of With Six You Get Eggroll comes out? You can damage your credibility as a recognizable, journalistic-seeming basic cable personality, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?” Susan brayed sweetly and affectionately coldcocked him.

She challenged our every preconception, providing an invaluable education in how to not just see a film but look at it. “You have to get at the essence of a movie — the starpower, the trailer, the “Access Hollywood” feature about it, whatever. You need to be able to distill the entire moviegoing experience into a single sentence, a strong adjective, or a synonym for ‘Wow’ followed by a series of exclamation points.” Then, she’d go around the room like the drill sergeant she was back in the Army Corps of Cineastes, challenging the assembled to come up with a blurb on the spur of the moment. “Tony Toscano, KJZZ-TV!”

“‘Sandler’s performance is chum for the Oscar shark!’”

“Mose Persico, CFCF-TQS, Canada!”

“‘Gretchen Mol will burrow into your heart and stay there!’”

“Earl Dittman, Wireless Magazine!”

“‘You will believe a cat can square dance!’”

“Good, good,” she’d say, giving each of us a praiseful pat on the back and a superficial wound with a Dreamworks letter opener. Nothing made us feel more accomplished.

Inevitably, some of us couldn’t bear up under the strain of her immense standards. Roger Prindle of the Spokane Bugle-Clarinet once blurbed The English Patient with “It’s Die Hard on a zamboni!” and had to be destroyed. Such are the sad vagaries of this business. And for the rest of us, the day inevitably came when we graduated from Susan’s school of hard knocks on the base of the spine, moved beyond or even rejected her example, and set out on our own. My day came when I dared give How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days three-and-a-half stars instead of the four she felt it so richly deserved. I was called to San Serif, to be met by a Susan Granger I’d never seen before. Her eyes were welling up with tears. (God, that’s quite a phrase.) “I was waiting for the day this happened,” she whispered.

“Yes, Susan, as was I. But, please, let me tell you, your example has meant much more to me than the example of those who meant somewhat less.” I could barely choke out the rest, so moved was I and so constricted was my trachea by her iron grip. “On the Duntz Barometer of Surface-Level Critical Guidance, I’d give you a tip-top 10!!!”

She nodded, unfathomably touched by the sentiment and the exclamation points. Then she bit me. But she did it as only a true artist would. On the leg.

9. “Memories of an American Trauma Remembered,” The National Recollectionator, November 2003

The fortieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, one of our forty-three greatest presidents, was such a momentous occasion for us all that justice could only be done by my writing twice about it. First, the personal reminiscence, a tale that, in many ways, is the story of us all, though I will slap anyone who repeats it with a class-action lawsuit.

I remember it as clearly as if it were four decades ago this month. I was sitting, as I was wont to do, in my classroom, staring abstractedly at my teacher, Miss Lorgnette, whose Boticellian beauty (from certain angles, she looked exactly like the great Renaissance painter) had begun to arouse the nascent colossus in my short pants and caused me to choke on my paste. (How sad it was, months later, when I changed my major to Hegelian Philosophy and Bass Technique and was forced to drop her course.) But Nov. 22, 1963 was destined to be no ordinary day. It was the day my own personal path was diverted along the detour that led down the unfamiliar dirt roads connecting to the offramp of my, and by extension America’s, future.

Something in the air — the combination of romantic longing and something unpleasant coming from the remedial smelting lab down the hall — had seized me. I was moved in a new, unfamiliar way by the movements of her crinoline muumuu, and, driven by a compulsion that I can only describe as “the state of being compelled,” I flung open my Red Chief notepad, took up my burnt sienna quill, and composed my first poem:

Oh Miss Lorgnette
You are like Venus
(only with arms
and a lower
overall surface temperature)
Oh
The things I could do to
You
With this protractor
(Note to future
anthologists:
The rights
to this poem
are held by me
in
perpetuity
Do not
reprint
with-
-out
proper
compensation)

In that moment, the course of my life had been decided. This day, I knew, would be remembered to generations yet unborn as the day McChesney Duntz became a writer.

So lost was I in my reverie that I scarcely noticed the weeping figure of the Dean in front of us, not swept up in the birth of an avocation as I suspected he was, but bearing news which upstaged me somewhat. “I have terrible news,” he said. “The President has been assassinated.”

Most were horrified by the news, but I, with my newborn perception, recognized it for what it was: not the end of an era but the beginning of another, perhaps both. We would be deeply scarred, no question; but I knew, just as I’m sitting in front of my computer wearing only a tube top today, that soon, perhaps only months from that moment, our scars would be salved by the arrival of a cultural firestorm from overseas, borne by knowing innocents who, quite inadvertently, were destined to change the landscape in ways that will continue to resonate for ages to come.

The next year Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas arrived in America and my prophecy was borne out.

10. “Camelot, Deflated: The Truth about JFK (Warning: No Drug Content),” Wasted Times, July or December or something 2003

And now we come to the denouement — a rare foray into investigative journalism and one that will surely change the tone and the raspiness of our national discourse forever more. As expected, most of the major national newsmagazines — Time, Newsweek, Redbook — refused the piece out of hand, hiding their understandable but still cowardly apprehension behind terms like “ridiculous” and “incomprehensible.” If not for the brave gentlemen at Wasted Times, who recognized its importance and its compliance with redeeming social content statutes, this piece may have been forever consigned to the dustpan of history. That it hasn’t yet touched off an unprecedented public outcry may only have something to do with the fact that the periodical’s demographic is almost strictly enthusiasts of cheap, over-the-counter inhalants. I am pleased to present a long excerpt from this article to a wider, less uncontrollably salivating audience. (Note: both careful readers of WT may notice a few passages herein that did not appear in the published piece. Chalk it up to the needs of the marketplace — the original was trimmed somewhat when an important photo spread of a half-open can of Carbona was slotted in at the last minute.)

My contact took a protracted drag from his Montcrief 100 and exhaled a nimbus of smoke symbolic of the smokescreen thrown up our so-called figures of authority for the past four decades. He coughed, which I believe represented the collective bronchial spasm suffered by the body politic from the aforementioned suppression, but I’ll have to check. “You understand,” he whispered, “that I’m risking life and limb by telling you all this. If my identity were to be leaked out, I’d be as good as dead. You know that, right?”

“Of course, of course,” I bellowed so as to be heard over the noise (obfuscation of the truth) in the smoky, out-of-the-way bar (the national psyche) we were in. “Your identity’s safe with me. The world will never hear the name of Andrew Philpott, um, ah, not your real name.”

“Good.” He leaned in. “The assassination of JFK was neither a coup nor a conspiracy nor a means to prolong the Vietnam War. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a coverup. A big one.”

“Go on,” I urged him journalistically.

“There was no shooter on the grassy knoll. No sniper on the overpass. Lee Harvey Oswald was indeed the sole gunman in the President’s murder.”

“So the Warren Commission was right. Or the Hues Convention. My memory isn’t what it used to be — which was the one that did ‘Rock the Boat’?”

“They were right only as far as it went,” he replied, underscoring the dramatic thrust of this revelation by punching me in the groin. “They didn’t want the public to know what really happened — that the fatal wound was not caused by a bullet. It was caused by a sudden and extreme release of pressure in the President’s skull.” He paused. “You’re gonna need to start to ask something here so I can interrupt you.”

“You mean … ?”

“Yes. John F. Kennedy died because his freakishly oversized head exploded.”

“Good Lord! And you have proof?”

“Reams of it. Excuse me, I do wish you’d stop giggling every time I say ‘ream.’ Photostats of confidential records from Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis dating back to the twenties, proving that the Kennedy family suffered from a rare genetic malady that makes their heads gradually puff up in size, in some cases as much as three inches a year. Sealed documents showing that Rosemary Kennedy’s botched lobotomy was actually an experimental attempt to get her head to slowly deflate. Affidavits from six different eyewitnesses — all of whom have since died under mysterious circumstances, except for the five who are still living — testifying that the balloons at Caroline Kennedy’s third birthday party were inflated via a valve in her father’s neck. Incontrovertible evidence that JFK’s chronic lower back pain was caused by the strain of having to lug a gigantic gasball around on his shoulders. Unretouched photographs that strongly suggest that the stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis led to the Chief Executive’s needing to be carried from room to room by an elaborate network of wires hung from the White House ceiling that were borrowed from the 1961 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and that they were not returned, leading to the infamous incident a year later where a free-floating two-story tall Deputy Dawg smothered (and possibly molested) a group of visiting Asian schoolchildren, forever damaging U.S.-Korean relations from that point on.” He leaned back in his chair (the seat of knowledge or the upholstered furniture of veracity — I’m still working that out). “You have no idea how far this stretches. Or how far it could stretch, if you pulled on his hair hard enough.”

“I’m flabbergasted,” I said, flabbergasted. “So the so-called ‘magic bullet’ merely pierced his neck, causing his head to explode like an overfed tick in a hairpin factory?”

“Um … sure.”

“And this is a trait common to the Kennedys?”

“Most of the men, yes.”

“So that would explain Robert Kennedy’s death as well?”

“No. RFK, like his older brother, came to realize that the safest and most enjoyable way to relieve the tension of the expanding gases in his skull was to release them through constant, marathon bouts of intercourse. Unlike his brother, though, he was more or less monogamous, which, being a good Catholic, meant that he bore many offspring. Unfortunately for his wife, it also meant that repeated ingestion of the gas causes the skin to turn a very unappetizing shade of sepia.

“And as for the rest of the Kennedy men — well, ask yourself this: why would one person in a sunken car survive while the other one dies if not for cranial buoyancy? And John-John — do the words ‘cabin pressure’ mean anything to you? Do you get what I’m saying here? This whole thing is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma attached to the back of a big fat head.”

“So what can we do?”

“What can we do? I’ll tell you what we can do.”

“That’s good, as that’s precisely what I requested just now.”

“We can all go to our legislators and demand that no one be allowed to hold public office if his cabesa is in danger of acting like a piñata. Require all public servants to submit to frequent puncture tests and be jabbed in the neck with tiny needles four to six times a year. If it doesn’t help, it’ll at least give the public a good chuckle. And above all, enact mandatory term limits for senators or at least elect a Massachusetts Republican to take Teddy’s place. One more term and I can’t be held responsible for what happens. Have you seen him lately? If we don’t act now, the next session of Congress will make that scene in Scanners look like a scene from a different movie where somebody’s head doesn’t blow up. I only pray that we’re not too late.”

I was speechless, so much so that I couldn’t even bid my new acquaintance farewell when two of his friends arrived, forced pills down his throat, and helped him into a sleeveless jacket. This was not only a revelation that could conceivably rock the country back on its heels, but a potential 25-dollar “controversy bonus” from my editor. And that wasn’t all — I had learned other, equally world-shaking secrets from my contact that night, but those will have to wait until Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, or indeed anyone else, was ready to hear them. I’ll say only this — Lincoln’s beard? That wasn’t facial hair.