Don’t shoot me; I’m only the messenger, folks. When I bring good news I’m met with smiles and handshakes, but lately, it seems, I’ve been bringing bad news and things have been heading in the other direction. Please know, however, I take no joy in this and don’t like it anymore than you do. I like to believe there is good news and there is bad news and I’m only the guy in the middle where the see-saw hardly moves. I’m only a reporter.
When I reported the new Daylight Savings Agenda that Iowa adopted, I was shaking hands, kissing women, and holding babies. My back was sore from all the pats I got. Moving the clocks ahead one hour on Friday afternoons at 4 pm and then moving them back an hour on Monday at 8 am (in the spring) went over well. Governor Fnerm, [Oh, ha!] responsible for this change, could have run for president he was so popular. He had 99.9% of all the blue collar votes. The only holdouts were the cage cleaners who worked weekends in the elephant house at the zoo in Cedar Rapids.
I covered Maine’s new “Make Our Roads Safe For Our Dear” campaign. When I broke the story there about an epidemic of car accidents involving deer, guess who got left holding the bag? Yep. People blamed me for the herds of deer crossing the road as if I were the Pie-eyed Piper! At first I relished the thought of appearing on television, but after all the phone calls I received afterwards, I wish I had stayed anonymous.
In areas heavily populated with deer, the Maine Department of Wildlife and Wild Motorists installed bright yellow and black signs by the side of the road warning drivers of the known deer trails that fostered the likelihood of an encounter of the worst kind.Of course drivers rarely slowed down or took heed, so there were still more than enough accidents to go around and keep the emergency rooms and auto body shops in business.
I can’t tell you how many phone calls I received from indignant residents and drivers who insisted the signs be replaced with “NO DEER CROSSING” so the deer would cross elsewhere. Can you see what I’m dealing with? People actually think deer believe everything they read.
People felt scammed by this, but then they reacted positively when they heard global warming was only a hoax similar (and possibly related) to the gas shortage in the seventies. People don’t like being fooled and manipulated by the select few that hide on their yachts near their private islands as they pull the strings and make their political puppets dance. At least when this swindle was exposed, I took the credit.
Most people were relieved to hear that global warming wasn’t happening after all, but my popularity plummeted a week later when I reported that the next ice age was knocking on the door. And this time I was pelted with nasty phone calls reminding me about the price of heating oil!
When I reported on the dangers of eating sugar, I received countless letters from elementary schools as third graders, on their first writing assignment, accused me of such insidious things as taking candy from young adults and personally sabotaging birthday parties. I didn’t like this anymore than they did. Everyone has a sweet tooth, even the “doom and gloom” people like I had been labeled.
When it was discovered caffeine caused schizophrenia in mice, I took another beating. My column in the Marietta Mirror caused such a ruckus that both the pet shop and coffee industries came down hard on me. Vendors recognized me in coffee shops and I was publicly humiliated and refused service. And after writing an article denouncing caffeine and then having the brash to order a latte at Warbucks, the same day the paper hit the street, I was deemed schizophrenic and thrown out on the sidewalk.
Although America’s life blood, people could have just ignored “Coffegate” and gone about their business. But it really began looking like a conspiracy to control our minds, our direction, and most importantly, our wallets. What was next? Would sex reduce the birth rate? What should people use to remedy this? Birth control pills?
Sunshine, a crowd pleaser from way back since man crawled out of the sea and began walking upright, was suddenly accused of causing “sun damage” – from wrinkles to premature aging and worse. The entire population of the southwest was facing imminent danger of morphing into two-legged prunes. The health benefits our sun promoted for years were replaced by dangers, and now vanity took the spotlight. Financially speaking, this did wonders for the cosmetic and dermatology industries. They’d have us living underground and buying tanning creams for artificial tans. Avoid the sun.
Fresh air, another local favorite, is saturated with pollutants that cause respiratory ailments, skin problems, headaches, and dementia in wildlife. As a result, air purifiers are now a big business too. Sadly, the wildlife cannot afford them, so the dementia in the wilds is growing by leaps and bounds. This industry took off too, but watch- soon gas masks and respirators will be on sale next to the aerosol bug repellent an aisle down from the sleeping bags and tents. I wonder if these are the same people who used to sell us cigarettes.
As the environment becomes worse, business gets better. The strategy here is simple; marketing is no longer driven by “supply and demand” but by “cause and effect”. You scare the mouse in this corner and it runs into that corner and eats whatever is available there. Only now fear makes it pay a premium: a higher premium.
Look how contaminated tap water revolutionized the bottled water industry. I remember when the only available bottled water came from France in funny pregnant-shaped green wine bottles. Thanks to rusty colored, copper tasting water, not only spring water but filtered, purified water are bought and sold around the world and around the clock.
It costs more money to drink water today, but don’t complain; the fish have it worse. If fish had little wallets with money I’m sure better options (at higher prices) would be made available to them to. And rest assured, if they had little vocal cords they’d complain just as loudly as people do.
I nearly received death threats when I reported on the horrors of eating red meat. Many health zealots moved to the fish diet and enjoyed the newly-discovered tilapia that conveniently appeared soon after. A likely relative of the fish that yields a square fillet (served in finer fast food restaurants everywhere), the tilapia was discovered in water treatment plants near Soylent, New Jersey. This boon was short-lived, however, once mercury was discovered in fish, the health-conscious mobs migrated to naturally produced foods that were without the beneficial properties of pesticides, preservatives, or irradiation during the canning process. Luckily, mercury is generally limited only to fish species on the earth and nowhere else.
This opened the door to the organic food industry which is (allegedly) naturally grown food sold at unnatural prices that can be raised with non-organic fertilizer (which might very well defeat the whole purpose). Oddly, buying food with fewer additives and ingredients increases the cost somehow, which never made sense to me. If they pull the apple off the tree and put it on the shelf to sell, it’s more expensive than if it’s inspected, injected, detected, and corrected at the factory. Properly done, however, at least smaller farms and businesses finally have a chance to compete with big businesses in this market. Or do they?
Enter “genetically modified food”. I’m convinced this has little to do with health and a great deal to do with money. Scientists have found a way to alter the DNA in plants such as corn that produces a heartier plant, which repels insects, drought, floods, wind, snow, gravity, radiation, terrorism, the recession, asteroids, poverty, and crime. Unfortunately, it repels people too.
The term “genetically modified food” should be expanded to include “you are what you eat.” This is an interesting experiment indeed. Somehow, I don’t expect the end result of the digestion process to yield fresh smelling oxygenated flatulence to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. In fact, I’d be expecting an assaulting gale that blows against the empire to the tune of Danse Macabre.
It gets better. I mean worse. When my boss handed me the latest shocker, I almost walked out on the spot – until I quickly remembered that government studies revealed people on unemployment were depressed and therefore 80% more likely to grow goiters on their neck. Not knowing what a goiter is, I was taking no chances. I might grow two, given the chance. What was the alternative? Go home and watch television commercials for advice? I begrudgingly decided to stick with it.
Apparently the “money think tank’ that comes up with all these lucrative disasters was running out of schemes to scare the public into another corner to buy the next “breakthrough”. They were experiencing a measure of uncertainty and had to come up with something big. Something really big.
They put their doubtful heads together and decided to pull out all the stops and go for the “coup d’etat”. The only way to get their market audience into the corral and keep them there was to eliminate humor. This was pretty much all anyone had left by now so once this was gone they would be good little sheeple and obey the wolf.
So it was decided; the next villain was to be laughter that would kill you.
They’d need proof of course, but fabricated fact was easy to manufacture these days. Press the right psychological buttons and people would believe anything. Sex appeal always worked well so once people learned “serious was sexy” and funny was not, the rest would be like painting by numbers. From there they would add that laughter adversely affects your virility. Next, they’d simply add the fear factor by creating headline news; “Laughing Causes Impotence In White Mice”.
Then, “Breaking News” would assert that laughing convulsions impale the brain against the skull causing shell shock, memory loss, lower back pain, a rapacious appetite for pasta and donuts and produce a diminished sex drive. A week later scientists would find irrefutable proof that giggling is linked to body odor and secondhand laughter exhausts the salivary glands while promoting tinnitus, tooth decay, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Once it was determined the common house fly was the carrier of this insipid virus, American know-how and capitalistic entrepreneurism would come to the rescue with a special laboratory-tested cut glass fly swatter. Limited to ten per household, if people called within the next ten minutes they’d receive not one for the amazingly low promotion price of $19.95, but two. And, at no additional charge, the first five hundred callers would receive imported Super-Tacky-Iraqi-Flypaper in the Sahara-Sized-Camel-Proof Container.
Then, as nature takes its course, as it always does, the money would begin to trickle in. Slowly at first, but once the flock got moving a stampede was inevitable. Remember the mad dash to the gas pumps in `73?
Massaging the results and tweaking the findings was the easy part. Hiring actors to relay this vital information was child’s play. But getting white mice and lab rats to actually laugh and then kick the bucket wouldn’t be so easy.
At first it was believed videos of cats slipping on polished floors might get mice chuckling, but “in the field” this didn’t even evoke a smile. Rodents are a tough crowd to please and the most recent shipment from Philadelphia was the worst. The I Love Lucy reruns fell on blind eyes, but then the Three Stooges episodes, particularly “A Plumbing We Will Go”, did manage to produce an errant giggle among the rodents, but little more.
Nothing caused the uproarious results marketing execs were looking for until one day when someone who had recently undergone a root canal suggested they employ laughing gas. During the procedure to remove the nerve in the tooth, a shot of Novocain worked fine but when the patient was presented with the bill, something stronger was definitely needed and only laughing gas did the trick.
The “Eureka moment” came shortly after the Nitrous was administered and the results were more than promising. As the sweet smell of success made the rounds in the lab, so did the sweet smell of laughing gas. Spirits ran high, and I do mean high, as triumph was all but in the basket. Soon this ingenious disaster would make the headlines and cause the engineered buying frenzy they so desperately hoped for.
This was when I was called in to witness, first hand, the balding, impotent mice laughing like fools. The Nitrous was hidden from sight of course and I had to wear a mask over my mouth and nose like everyone else as a precaution against the “virus”. Like the other members of the press invited, I believed the mask would shield me from this mutant virus, but all the “scientists” and “doctors” were wearing the mask for the same reason Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang wore theirs. They didn’t want to be recognized. And besides, the mask hid their smiles and muffled their giggles as they played their parts for the media.
Once the environment inside the glass cage was saturated with a 40% mixture of Nitrous Oxide, both rats and mice alike began acting funny. First, they held one little paw over their little mousy mouths as if stifling a giggle. Then their bright black little eyes squinted closed. The tears began streaming down their furry little snouts and then all hell broke loose.
As soon as one mouse “lost it”, the others immediately followed. Soon, one and all were stamping their furry little feet and just roaring like New York rats under the stage at the opening premier of the musical Cats. The hooting and hollering among the pestilence didn’t subside until the laughing gas was eliminated entirely. They never even needed the Cheech and Chong movies either. Even when the scientists inflicted commercials of life insurance salesmen or litigious lawyers, it still didn’t matter. Enough gas and the entire little rodent gang laughed themselves silly and peed in their little cages. It worked so well, as total mayhem destroyed any semblance of a normalcy, it was decided right on the spot that this was no laughing matter,.
The senior staff would soon be convening to decide the most feasible way to release the laughing gas to the public without them suspecting. Important decisions had to be made. The idea was to make it appear as if this lowly “virus” was born in the depths and dregs of the world, and spread to the upper levels.
The Proctologist Convention was coming up soon and this would be ideal. Just as they proudly unfurled the Proctologist Flag displaying the latex covered fist with the ill-famed index finger pointing to the sky (hopefully the sky), the gas would be silently released through the ventilation system and the frivolous laughter would erupt and grow from the most serious faces on the planet with the most serious jobs in the world. Eyebrows would be raised indeed.The next logical assault would be unleashed in the prisons. Perfect. There’s nothing funny about two back-to-back life sentences without chance of parole—especially if you’re sharing the cell with a three hundred ten pound, six-foot-four convicted rapist with impure thoughts. Once laughing was echoing throughout the cell block, authorities would have to be called in to investigate.
After this, the Parent Teacher Association meetings throughout the land would find themselves laughing like fourth graders when a teacher accidentally breaks wind while bending over to water the plants.
Luckily, just as this timely discovery was about to be aired live on television, God said “enough” and stepped in. Shaking his Almighty Head and mumbling under his breath, He decided things had gone way too far and it was time for the real Upper Management to step in. Greed had to be knocked down a few rungs.
Across the entire country TV programs were interrupted to bring people “this special message” which turned out to be a little too special. Things were going as planned and record breaking numbers were glued to their flat screen televisions. Traffic in Times Square came to a halt as busy New Yorkers gazed up toward giant television screens to watch rats racing around mindlessly through mazes looking for cheese.
Penrod, the mildly incompetent and overpaid guy in the next room, whose one little job was to open the valve allowing the release of the laughing gas and then shut it off ten minutes later, was clearly up to no good. Next to him was a huge cylindrical tank that must have weighed a ton. Every minute or so Penrod would yank the two-inch diameter rubber hose off the metal nipple that led to the mouse tank, insert it in his mouth, inhale, let his cheeks inflate, then exhale and inhale again.
Laughing like a madman, Penrod felt his lips vibrate violently against the rubber hose as the compressed gas escaped. Not only did this tickle him in a way he had never been tickled before, but it produced a belching, trumpeting Bronx cheer, musical in nature, which he felt he had possibly invented and could claim as his own.
After shaping his mouth and lips, he found he could actually control the notes, making them high or low. He found this so unbearably funny he could not help himself and belted out a laugh for all to hear. Eyes tearing, it became increasing difficult to get the hose back onto the fitting so he gave up. When he tried to turn the spigot and close the valve altogether, he couldn’t remember which way to turn it.
Meanwhile, the live telecast in the next room wasn’t going as planned. The leading scientist, Dr. Sphincter, was looking directly into the camera while explaining to the press that the hysterical laughing convulsions the rodents were experiencing could not be halted by conventional means. To demonstrate, he flipped a switch and the high definition monitor came to life revealing a complete and generous set of clear plastic containers and lids that could fit into each other for easy storage or contain leftovers in the refrigerator. The entire rat and mouse population fell silent. Without the laughing gas and confronted by their age old nemesis-the plastic container, things suddenly got very serious and very quiet in Mouseville.
Except for the strange jazz-like sounds and insane laughter in the next room, you could hear a pad of butter fall on the rug. Everyone’s eyes fell on Dr. Sphincter, who seemed to be in deep thought as his immense intellect connected the dots; The mice had stopped laughing. That means the supply of nitrous oxide has been cut off. The idiot at the tank in the other room is laughing hard enough to get a hemmorhoid. Dr. Sphincter began blinking his eyes rapidly as if waking from a long sleep. Reality was falling on his head like a large rock.
Gradually, heads turned towards the sounds coming from the room next door. Was it a saxophone? A clarinet? A tuba? The song was familiar but not quite clear enough to tell what it was. One minute it sounded like someone letting air out of a balloon and the next minute it sounded like the mating call of the African elephant. The tune, even more familiar now, would stop intermittently and be replaced with hysterical laughter.
“The Mickey Mouse Song!” someone blurted out. Sure enough. A few people even began singing the well known mantra “M-i-c-k-e-y-M-o-u-s-e…. Mickey Mouse!”
Now, a few members of the press went to investigate and soon the crowd was buzzing. The TV cameras and the reporters moved into the next room where Penrod had changed the tune to Beethoven’s immortal Fifth. He was improving. His notes were sharp or flat at times but his timing was impeccable.
Cameras flashed, we had a great time collaborating on the “story of the year” and we felt we finally had some worthy news for a change. Dr. Sphincter had bailed and was nowhere to be found, but “Penrod, the One-Man Band” was in the pocket as jazz musicians say.
I got to go on live television and explain what had happened to the millions of viewers across the country, but I could not keep from smiling as I relayed the details exactly as they unfolded. And just as I was signing off, Penrod began belching out the unmistakable tune of God Bless America and everyone in the room just joined in and began singing. I was having so much fun I gave no thought to whether this would help or destroy my career as a journalist. Feedback, anyone?