It's 9 p.m. Friday night. I am stoned. I am bloated. And my soul has a hole where an article used to be.
Normally, I wouldn't be working on my column right now. But there was a snag. See, my deadline is Friday at noon. I submitted it, as usual, at 4 p.m. and headed on out to happy-hour heaven to celebrate. I was excited about this article. It was funny and filthy and provocative. I couldn't wait for my editor to e-mail me about what a brilliant columnist I am.
So I boozed until about 11 p.m. Then, drunk on ego and Rumplemintz, I stuffed my gullet on a chili relleno plate and stumbled home to pass out with the television on.
Before climbing under the covers, I checked e-mail to see how the article was received. To my shock and dismay, the e-mail from CityBeat editor Dave Rolland was one of displeasure. He said, and the entire editorial staff agreed, that the column was a no-go; that while they understood the satirical nature of the writing, the crude language had gone too far-offensive even-and that it discredited the point of the story.
The whole staff?! My God.
Sad realization then. Harsh reality. Difficult questions: Am I an offensive person? I must be. After all, these editors are not timid little bunny rabbits afraid to make some noise in this town. This crew has allowed me to write text that would make Larry Flynt leap out of his wheelchair in protest. Yet still, this one is unprintable.
Worse still was the horrific realization that I would not be climbing under the covers and passing out with the television on. Instead I must work on the damn thing all over again-with a hole in my soul where an article used to be.
The column in question is called “The Homosexual Agenda” and takes aim at these somewhat confused homophobes who believe the ongoing battle for gay rights is really just a front for a more diabolical hidden political motive-like, say, to take over the military and conquer the world.
That's ridiculous, of course, but I imagined a universe where such an agenda existed, and it was in the form of an intra-office memo, titled “The Homosexual Agenda,” and was written by a highly militant gay man who uses epithets like “queer” and “pansy”-and other even more seemingly offensive words that the straight community is forbidden to use.
This seemed funny to me, because it wasn't actually Ed Decker saying those words, but rather a character he created; and this character is gay, and his memo is for gays, and many gays sometimes talk like that amongst each other. And dagnabbit, sometimes I think those words are funny too!-if the context is right-so am I a bigot for laughing?
Don't bother answering. The question misses the point. The point is, as suggested by Rolland and staff, that in this business, appearance is just as real as reality; that for many people, those epithets will leap off the page before any sentences are ever read; and they might think me a bigot despite that it was always, always, always a column against bigotry. More importantly, my editor said, the column's extreme, off-color language might harm the paper's credibility.
Anyway, since it's after midnight already, and I'm drunk and bloated, there is no way I can start a new article from scratch. My only recourse is to repair the offensive one. But I just can't shake the lessons of Randy Newman: “Ed,” he said, “you must never explain the joke.”
Case Study: In his song, “Sail Away,” Newman wrote from the perspective of a slave ship Captain. The Captain was trying to convince the soon-to-be enslaved natives to board his ship and sail to America because life will be better for them in America. Now that's comedy:
“Ain't no lions or tigers-ain't no mamba snake / Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake / You'll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree / You're all gonna be an American so sail away with me.”
Many blacks were outraged. The words monkey, watermelon and buckwheat leaped out at them like a fiery cross on their front yard. They never understood how he showed-rather than told-what an evil pompous lying asshole is the slave merchant.
Those of us who listened to the words? Man, how we laughed.
It's called satire. Would “Sail Away” have been so brilliant had Newman added the stanza, “The opinions in this song do not necessarily reflect those of the composer”?
Explaining the joke murders the joke.
So, I will not rewrite. No matter how late or drunk or bloated I am, I write a new column. And it will be a fine column. It will be gutsy. It will be real. And yes, it will be choppy and raw. For this deadline has rigor mortis. There is no time for edits; no cheat-peeks in Roget's. There can be no research or fact-checking. No time for any of that now. All I can do is spit on the page and hope it dries well.