Friday, March 30, 2007

This is a short story from my Big Fat Stupid Head collection.

Tom Wills Is A Big Fat Stupid Head
When my parents spent about four new Buicks to send me to liberal arts college, they probably didn't expect me to end up editing web-based greeting cards for a living. And yet, here I am, editing primitive jokes for lonely people. The sum total of my creative energy this week has been to edit a series of alcoholism-themed punch lines for our New Year's Eve cards. You'd be surprised how many ways there are to make light of the liver.

OK, to be honest, I've spent about an hour editing liver jokes and most of the rest of the week working on a side project. My friend Tab and I have started creating animated video mashups and posting them on Last month, we made $380 on our Death Row Beatitudes mashup, featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Jesus Christ and Pope Benedict XVI.

Cartoon Jesus goes, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for they shall have their fill."

And Snoop goes, "Rollin down the street, smokin Indo, sippin on gin and juice."

Tab's animations are awesome. She is an artistic genius in the field of blasphemy. Being the editor, I googled "Indo." Turns out it's short for Indonesian marijuana.

This is how I earn my living.

Pope Benedict goes, "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Then Snoop goes, "Laid back, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind."

It goes on like that. People send this stuff to each other on their cell phones. Next, we're planning to create a web-based Hollywood-gossip generator. It will have proper nouns like "Colin Farrell," "Sting" and "Brandy" and phrases like "split up" and "homophobic harangue" and "anti-Semitic diatribe." Visitors to our web site will be able to generate their own gossip columns, eliminating the need for half the journalists in America.

Greeting cards have come a long way since they consisted of the scatological jokes people paid good money for in drug stores. Now they are the same jokes, but they're online and they're free. Our R&D says they still have the same audience: 60 year old women. If anybody ever tells you little old ladies don't like fart humor, I've got about 800 Excel spreadsheets that beg to differ.

Despite the low pay and insane co-workers and ridiculous projects, this is a pretty sweet job. All I have to do is read greeting cards submitted by freelance writers and give them the thumbs up or thumbs down. Then I work with a team of designers to publish the e-greetings on the web. Tab – she's one of the designers - has really nailed the Pope and Snoop in our mashup. Right now, Pope Benedict is going, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God," and Snoop goes, "Gotta take a trip to the MIA and serve your ass with a motherfuckin AK."

I wonder what the demographic is like on this one. Those little old ladies never cease to amaze me.

Google says MIA is Miami. You probably know an AK is an assault rifle, but do you know what it stands for? "Automatic Kalashnikov." It's named for its inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov, an overachieving Russian gun designer who also gave the world a vodka that is 41% alcohol. Kalashnikov was shot by a German in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War but we call World War II. Sometimes when you're shot in battle, you think up creative things while you're lying in your hospital bed. There are over 100 million AK assault rifles in the world, and counting.

I love everything about Tab, not counting her habit of playing National Public Radio all day long at work and her unnatural attraction to men who wear eye makeup. I just don't get the whole Johnny Depp/Trent Reznor thing, but whatever. Somebody really should say something to her about the NPR, though. I can't bring myself to point out that knowing too much about Faluja and ozone depletion and the gross domestic product is the number one cause of irritable bowel syndrome.

In my inbox there is a batch of e-greetings from one of our new freelancers, Richard. I click open the first card and see an animation of Justin Timberlake writhing on the deck of an aircraft carrier. He's wearing military fatigues and in the background is a giant "Mission Accomplished" banner. The card cuts to the interior of a Wal-Mart, where morbidly obese and comically bucktoothed customers are placing Spaghettios and Miracle Whip in their shopping carts. Then the e-card cuts back to a dejected Justin Timberlake, his shoulders slumped. The caption says, "Apparently bringing sexy back wasn't as easy as planned."

Not bad.

I optimistically open the second e-card and I am crestfallen to see that Richard has misspelled "its" in the first panel. Richard is a talented writer but now I have to reject the whole batch because of the misspelled "its." We live in a country where 35 million people can tell you who sang out of tune on American Idol last year but nobody can spell "its."

I have a plan to eradicate such spelling mistakes from the English language. When I'm named King of America, it will be illegal to misspell "its," under penalty of not being allowed to watch American Idol. People can choose to misspell "its" or they can choose to watch American Idol, but not both. Harsh, but fair.

"I-T-S" is the possessive form of "it." It's possessive, so it doesn't require an apostrophe, just like "his" or "hers." I-T-apostrophe S is the contraction for "it is." If you can't follow those rules, that's fine, but no American Idol for you.

I fire off an e-mail to Richard explaining the "its" rule by way of letting him know his cards have been rejected. I wait to see if he is one of those people who writes back with only the word "thanks" or if he wisely chooses to let the message go unanswered. I hate it when people send an email just to say "thanks."

Tab is streaming NPR again and I just overheard a very moving essay called This I Believe. I don't have any idea what it was about – something treacly and sentimental no doubt – because I was busy silently imagining the thrill NPR programmers will experience when they read my soon-to-be-composed This I Believe essay, which will become the benchmark by which all future This I Believe essays will be judged. In fact, whole belief systems will be rendered obsolete, as millions of NPR listeners fall into line behind those ideas outlined in my essay. It is only a matter of time until Hollywood calls to buy the movie rights to my This I Believe essay, which will then become a major motion picture starring Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek, with a cameo appearance by Halle Berry as Condoleezza Rice. On Oscar night, I will gleefully accept the screenplay award, during which I'll thank my mom, NPR, my wife Halle Berry, and the Dalai Lama, who later calls to congratulate me and to seek my wisdom at an upcoming teaching in Dharamsala.

Aglow, I've decided to scotch the whole video mashup project and all greeting-card work today. I've cleared the decks to work on my This I Believe essay.

OK, here goes…

I believe…

I believe…

What do I believe?

I'll tell you right now what I believe.

I believe children are the future….

After a silent chuckle, I quickly force myself to hum Little Feat's Dixie Chicken before the Whitney Houston can get stuck in my head.

I believe…

I believe eye makeup looks ridiculous on men, even if you're playing a pirate in a blockbuster movie. But that kind of observation probably isn't going to impress the Dalai Lama. Besides, I don't believe eye makeup looks shitty on men, I know it does. I think what NPR is going for here is the distinction between knowing and believing. So I must not become distracted by what can be empirically proven, such as the fact that celibacy is a formula for disaster or that the $2 extra everything costs at Whole Foods is a small price to pay for having a bagboy who can intelligently discuss The Iliad while slapping a rubber band around your waxed-paper box of buffalo tofu.

I believe…

My problem is I was never very good at science, so I'm forced to believe in so many things. Electricity. The distance to Jupiter. Internal combustion. Microwaves. Health Insurance. No matter how patiently someone tries to explain all these things to me, I always end up slack-jawed, like a NASCAR fan at the opera, trying to make sense of the nonsensical images coursing through my brain.

On Tab's speakers, a vaguely ethnic-sounding announcer is droning on about global climate change. Now I really believe in that. I've practically dedicated my life to it. Like, I put in those light bulbs Oprah likes, and my whole job is to bring poop jokes from paper to the web, saving countless trees. Oh, and I watched the Al Gore movie. So I've done my part.

But have I really done my part or do I just believe I've done my part? This NPR stuff is tricky.

On Tab's computer, a call-in show called Wank of the Nation (or something like that) is streaming proof that NPR listeners are no less judgmental than AM radio listeners. I can't bear the morbidly wet voice of a deeply religious man who's explaining that all babies are born bad until Jesus makes them good, so I take the opportunity to go to the bathroom. In there, Randy from biz/dev greets me with a slightly-too-hearty "whassup" as I take my place beside him at the urinal. Randy has a "Born to Lose" tat on his right wrist that was rumored to be instrumental in his landing his job here. He was voted by his high school class as Most Likely To Get Arrested in Cherokee Park. I avert my eyes in urinal tradition and silently give thanks that the artist spelled "lose" correctly.

Silent peeing with eyes averted always seems too loud. Unable to look, I always wonder: is he peeing with me or peeing at me? So I make idle conversation by asking Randy his opinion on the Wank of the Nation caller's bad-baby theory.

"I think it's just the opposite," he says. "Babies are born good but this world makes some of them turn bad."

"I don't know about bad or good," I say. "But I do believe by the time babies grow up, they're all insane. I mean just look around. Um, but not right now."

"You've got a point," Randy says.

And then I think to myself, "This I believe!"

I rush back to my desk to compose my This I Believe essay about the insane babies but Tab interrupts me with the first draft of the storyboard for our new mashup featuring Julia Butterfly Hill and ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson. Naturally, it is brilliant.

"Take your time," she says. "I'm taking a long weekend. Ross and I are going hiking.
Ross is her new boyfriend. He is completely wrong for her. I haven't met him yet but I have to assume there's mascara involved.

"It's supposed to rain," I say.

"Tom Wills says partly cloudy to mostly sunny," she says. "And he has the American Meteorological Society's seal of approval."

"Yeah, well Tom Wills is a big fat stupid head!" I say. "This, I believe!"

"Well, All Things Considered, I'm going anyway," she says.



And then we laugh. And she gives me a little hug. And just like that, she's gone.

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