Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Caption for an un-illustrated hypothetical New Yorker cartoon

Two chickens. One says to the other, "Yes, but don't they ever think about where all the chicken soup comes from?"

Gay Rehab, or How to Become a Certified Heterosexual

Lessons learned from Reverend Ted Haggard and TV commercials

1. If you accidentally kiss a buddy with whom you work in an auto body shop while gobbling from one end of a Snickers bar, the other end of which is in his mouth, immediately hit him over the head with a tire iron to demonstrate your “straightness.”

2. If the same admittedly unlikely scenario were to take place again, immediately rip off your chest hair. If the “near-kiss” happens a third time, you should immediately look for a job at another auto body shop.

3. If while in the gym locker room, your bare leg happens to brush against the bare arm of another guy, immediately put your head in the locker and smash the door on it.

4. If you’re on a date at a posh eatery – say Thomas Keller’s Per Se – and the waiter brings you “chick food” (defined as anything not on the menu at Burger King), you are to immediately bolt out of your chair, renounce the “chick food,” storm out of the restaurant like a guy having an epiphany at an “Iron John” workshop about how up till now he has been emasculated by chick culture, while summoning your band of brothers who also happen to be having the same realization about the threat to their masculinity by haute cuisine and while singing an ode to manly food, march en masse to the nearest Burger King outlet and order a Texas Double Whopper with Jalapeno. If you can’t find a Burger King, you are given dispensation to find the nearest fast-burger emporium and order the closest approximation to the Texas Double Whopper with Jalapeno. If you are unsure if the food you are eating is chick food, feed it to the nearest chick. If she eats it, it’s chick food and you want no part of it.

5. If you’re an evangelical pastor and a gay escort accuses you of having sex with and buying crystal methamphetamine from him, voluntarily submit to an evaluation of the degree of your heterosexuality by a board of fellow evangelists and have them declare you to be “one hundred percent heterosexual.” If they refuse, based on solid evidence to the contrary, ask if they will grade you on a curve. If you cannot find a nearby board of evangelists, proceed to the nearest auto-body shop and ask the staff if while they were checking your alternator they also would be willing to evaluate your masculinity and declare you to be “one hundred percent heterosexual.” If they don’t hit you in the head with a tire iron, you flunked. If they tell you “Call us Tuesday for an estimate,” and the estimate turns out to be, say, sixty-five percent, get a second opinion at another auto-body shop. If you don’t live near a board of evangelists or an auto-body shop, I hear that you can get your heterosexual certification on the Internet at www.mestraight?.com

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Jolly Green Giant: Behind the Legend

On day in 1952, a 98-pound weakling named Elmer Druck decided that bullies had kicked sand in his face one too many times. He adopted the Charles Atlas bodybuilding program and started lifting weights. However, he became so obsessed with “getting huge” that he began taking mega-doses of synthetic human growth hormone he obtained from a defecting East German shot-putter, along with, well, way too much chlorophyll. (“I figured it worked with plants,” he later said.)

One morning, he awoke to discover that he had become a 50-foot green monster. What was even more traumatizing was that he wasn’t a buff, intimidating, macho creature like the Incredible Hulk, but a big, green poofter who wore what looked like a gown Bob Mackie had designed for Cher on Oscar night.

At first, he tried to pretend he was normal, but that delusion was shattered the first time he tried to buy a suit.

For several years, he knocked around, working odd jobs: furniture mover, door-to-door salesman, semi-pro wrestler. (He wrestled in Mexico under the name “Los Grandes Verde Enchilada,” and his matches against the Aztec Mummy are said to be classics.) Then one day, he happened to run into a copywriter from the Burnett agency, who told him they were looking for a giant green mascot to pitch canned vegetables and that he should drop by the office.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But life at the top was far from glamorous. The Giant soon learned the perils of fame, as he related in an interview with the author:

They took advantage of me. I had this “personal services contract” and basically signed my life away. I was famous – as a freak. Worked seven days a week, 12-14 hours a day, posing for vegetable cans, shooting those godawful commercials, being hustled all over the country for meet-and-greets with sales reps from Boise …And you know what really blows? I don’t even get royalties. Sure, I got some tail. There’s always women who want to brag that they slept with a 50-foot green guy. They even asked me to be in this porn film, “Monster Dicks and Monster Trucks.” But they totally overestimated me, size-wise. The truth is I’m that from takin’ all that juice, my ‘nads had shrunk to the size of peas. Talk about ironic. The chicks were always so disappointed. Someone set me up with the 50-Foot Woman, but, sheesh, talk about aggressive! Every time I’d take her out for a romantic dinner, she’d get up, leave the restaurant and the next thing I knew she’d be overturning this Chevy with her bare hand! … So, yeah, chicks. After a while it was just easier to pay for it.

“Like that song said, It ain’t easy bein’ green. And 50 foot tall. And standing in a valley day and night. You know what it’s like in the middle of winter in Minnesota wearing just a toga?...

Ho, fucking ho.”


Little-Known Facts:

• The “Valley of the Jolly Green Giant” is the Minnesota River valley around Le Sueur. Right before the valley, there is an enormous wooden statue of the Green Giant poking above the trees. At least, that’s what the town would like people to believe. What the city fathers kept secret is that for many years the actual Green Giant lived in a gated lair hidden in the valley behind an Indian casino, and that he got his late-night kicks leaping out from behind the statue and scaring motorists on U.S. 169.

• The Giant once recorded a rap song, “Green as I Wanna Be!” The lyrics were:

Yo I’m green, y’all
And I’m fifty foot tall,
You call me an ogre
Cause I wear a toga
Yeah, I chill inna valley
Wit my bitch named Sally
She my ho-ho-ho
Makin’ the wack scene
Eatin’ peas and green beans
Till I’m green all over
Like I slept in clover
Go ahead and diss me
Cause I look so sickly
Like a frog done kissed me
Yo I’m green, y’all
Green as I wanna be!
Green as the Benjamins
Green as the trees
Green as the … somethin’ else that’s green!
Green, green
Not green with envy
Green as men be
From Mars you see
Green, green
Green as I wanna be!

It sold eight copies.

• The copy for a famous Green Giant ad proclaims “I Stand for Goodness” and parenthetically, in much smaller letters, “In fact, I haven’t sat down since 1925.” The truth is that all those years of standing have left the Giant crippled with sciatica and that he now hobbles around on a 50-foot cane.

• The Giant stole his catchphrase, “Ho ho ho” from Santa Claus and only after being threatened with a plagiarism lawsuit, added the words, “Green Giant.”

• His diet consists completely of canned peas.

• It has been long rumored that the Giant and Little Sprout are gay lovers, although the Giant’s official line always has been “We just happen to live in the same valley.”

Famous Quotes:

“Please – no more niblets!”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hannity and Colmes

are like George and Lenny.

Whatever became of these commercial mascots?

Frito Bandito (Runs an international drug cartel with the Hamburglar)

Ronald McDonald (Troubled clown/kid-poisoning serial killer)

Energizer Bunny (Crank addict)

Mr. Clean (Gay man with OCD)

Spuds Mackenzie (Frat boy party animal turned indicted convicted Enron executive)

Marlboro Man (NRA member and leader of Aryan Nation)

Coppertone Girl (Porn star with “anal specialty” and melanoma victim)

Charley the Tuna (Relentless social climber, now “walker” of society matrons)

Snap, Crackle & Pop – The Rice Krispies (Embittered lounge act last spotted playing a seedy nightclub in Bangkok)

Tony the Tiger (Keeping a low profile; on endangered species list)

Old Spice Sailor (Original member of Village People)

Morris the Cat (Effete and bitchy food critic for Cat Fancy)

Aunt Jemima (Made civil rights history when she refused to sit in the front of the bus)

Michelin Man (Victim of Nazi experiment; carny freak; suing German government for reparations)

CinnaMon and Bad Apple – Apple Jacks cereal (Jamaican gigolo for rich white women and petty hoodlum, respectively)

Betty Crocker (High-strung housefrau and tranquilizer addict; in and out of Betty Ford more than Jerry)

The Burger King (Ousted in a “burger coup” by a rebel group from White Castle; now living in exile in Saudi Arabia)

The Hamburgler (Drug smuggler on FBI’s Most Wanted List, still at large)

Chef Boy-ar-dee (Mob-backed celebrity chef turned government snitch)

Sonny the Cuckoo Bird (Mental patient)

Count Chocula (Diabetic vampire who must be careful not to suck the blood of hypoglycemics)

Helping Hand (Result of industrial accident; freak celebrity)

Punchy (Hawaiian Punch punch-drunk palooka; challenged Rocky Balboa to title bout despite suffering from post-concussion syndrome)

Lucky the Leprechaun (Elusive IRA gun-runner)

Quaker Oats Quaker (Peace activist snuffed by Cap‘n Crunch)

Samuel Adams (Hophead bootlegger)

Uncle Ben (Spends his days in guilt-ridden anguish over his creation of the nightmarish “Perverted Rice”)

Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” Lady (Converted vegetarian and radical member of PETA)

It's inevitable...

One of these days, Hannity is just going to eat Colmes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Secret Life of Ronald McDonald (and other beloved commercial mascots)

You know that cute Aflac duck? A Loman-esque sad-sack life insurance peddler.

Mr. Clean? Not only is he gay but he’s got OCD. (That cleaning fixation? Hello!)

The Energizer Bunny? … I have two words: “Meth addict.” As he put it in his recent autobiography, Bang the Drum As Fast as I Can:

“The company never knew that I was cranked up. I told him it was Starbucks. After a while, I crashed and burned. Energizer let me go. I hit the skids. At one point, I was working as a bike messenger. I even did some gigs as the Easter Bunny, but they thought I was ‘too intense’ for the kids.”

And don’t even ask about Ronald McDonald, saddest of all clowns and slow-mo serial killer peddling trans fats to his child victims.

Cap’n Crunch. The Frito Bandito. Spuds Mackenzie. Mr. Peanut. These are universally recognized icons. Utimate branding symbols. Innocent reminders of childhood and objects of nostalgic affection for generations of Americans. These commercial mascots have moved product like nobody’s business and served as the benign face of multinational corporations.

But where did they come from? And, more to the point, what do they do when we’re not watching?

The official story is that these adorable characters sprung fully-formed from the heads of Madison Avenue hucksters – marketing’s brainchildren. We’re supposed to believe that the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Jolly Green Giant are simply images on animation cells or CGI files, fictional imps that do their giggling and ho-ho-ho-ing and then disappear in the electronic ether.

However, here's the real story: These allegedly two-dimensional cartoon characters are autonomous creatures with secret lives that belie the feel-good corporate P.R. Lives that have seen more of their share of heartbreak, tragedy and scandal.

I have unearthed secret corporate dossiers that reveal the sordid, ironic machinations of these beloved product symbols, the shocking truth that the multinationals – often with the help of law enforcement – have buried.

You would be shocked to discover the grim reality behind the cheery fa├žade of the characters you've grown to know, love and, often, eat. Facts such as:

• Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, who spent the best years of his life testifying that he was “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” has been in a padded cell in the avian wing of Creedmore Psychiatric Institution for the past nine years, diagnosed with an incurable case of chocarexia nervosa.

• The Michelin Man (a.k.a. Bibendum) was the victim of a Nazi experiment in which Dr. Josef Mengele tried to cross a Frenchman with a rubber tire. After the war, the beleaguered Bibendum worked as a carny freak, billing himself as “the rubber man” and asking for volunteers from the audience to “Go ahead and kick me.”

• The Cosa Nostra launched Chef Boy-ar-dee and once forced him to market Bonnan-Os, canned pasta in the shapes of Mafioso chieftains. However, he made them with such uncanny accuracy that the FBI was able to hunt down several of the Dons based on their macaroni likenesses. To escape the wrath of the Mob capos, Chef Boy-ar-dee entered the Federal Witness Protection Program and is currently living in an undisclosed location out West and working as a sous chef for Olive Garden.

• There is no greater symbol of the ravages of industrial capitalism than the Hamburger Helper’s “Helping Hand,” which was detached from the body of a worker in a meat processing factory mishap. The Hand is cryogenically frozen and partially thawed before each commercial appearance. The amputee has sued General Mills, the maker of Hamburger Helper, over ownership of the Helping Hand, while the Hand has become a grotesque celebrity who among other macabre stunts, threw out the first ball on opening day for the Kansas City Royals.

• Sure, we know that the Quaker Oats Quaker was a lifelong pacifist. But did you know he was also a political agitator? During World War II, he was jailed as a conscientious objector (and for wearing his goofy Amish-like outfit to his draft board induction). In the 1960s, his protests against the Vietnam War led J. Edgar Hoover to tap his phone, and he was finally killed during the invasion of Grenada by Cap’n Crunch. His remains were mixed with dehydrated berries and reintroduced as Dead Man’s Crunch, a short-lived breakfast cereal featuring the Grim Reaper on the box.

• Samuel Adams wasn’t the only Founding Father who made his own hootch. Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton all owned their own breweries, and recent scholarship reveals that the Founders wrote the Constitution during a keg party. (This may explain why Negroes were reduced to the status of three-fifths of a man, as well as the Electoral College.)

(Tomorrow, the true story behind the Jolly Green Giant.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Spoiler: Part 14: Haslop

Name: Peter J. Haslop. Position: President, Global H.R., ConRon International. Age: 42. Height: 6’2”. Weight: 185. Color eyes: Blue. Color hair: Dark brown. Born: Stockholm, Sweden, 1964. Married to Martha Jorgensen, 36, American of Swedish descent. Hobbies: Tennis, skiing.

Ya. I could do a Swedish accent. And my blue eyes and light skin allowed me to pass for a Scandinavian.

It certainly wouldn’t be hard to convince my new colleagues that I was at least as authentic as the Swedish bikini team. It was possible – though not likely – that one or two had seen a Bergman movie. Possibly a couple of the older guys might have in their mind moldy images of Sweden as a land of promiscuous, nude-bathing goddesses.

But even the Harvard and Wharton types would be lucky if they could find Sweden on a map. Their generation – American Meathead – were obsessed with making money. Swedish. Turkish. Vulcan. All the same to them.

Lutefisk for everyone!

I looked over the rest of my “dossier.” Peter’s educational and professional background, a bunch of newspaper clippings of articles either about Haslop or in which he was quoted.

I started to worry when I saw the photos of him – he had a high forehead, a small mouth and teeth like a large rodent. I didn’t resemble him in the slightest. When I brought this up to Paula, she waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. He’s been in Indonesia since ninety-eight. Nobody reads the company newsletters, and no one here has seen him in years. Trust me, it’s not a problem.”

I started researching Haslop, or my version of him, anyway. I called the Swedish Embassy and Consulate repeatedly, asking to speak to as many people as possible and tape recording their replies so that I could study their English accents.

I Googled generic background information from Swedish tourist sites. Stuff like this:

At first, you may find Swedes a bit difficult to get to know. They may seem distant and reserved. But they can also make loyal friends once you get to know them.

And:

Swedes generally like hobbies and activities and pursuing them together with others is probably the easiest way to meet and get to know new people. If invited to someone's home it is customary to take off your shoes, especially in winter. This custom is upheld more strictly in smaller towns and rural areas. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, it may be a good idea to ask. It is also customary to be on time when invited to a dinner party. Eight o'clock means eight o'clock.

Reserved. Hobbies (tennis, skiing), remove shoes in winter, be punctual.

C-SPAN helped, too. Meetings of the U.N. and the IMF. I started to pattern my Haslop after the tweedy bureaucrats who were the “stars” of those programs.

I bought that Brioni suit (Paula put it on the ConRon tab) and had my hair lightened by a colorist at a local salon called the Hair Corps – their sign read: “the Few, the Brave, the Fabulous!” – I decided to test him in a comedy club. The hook? He would be bland, stiff and completely unfunny. I called up Lenny but he was still pissed at me for “blowing” the bar mitzvah gig and refused to book me anywhere. So I trudged down to Rivington Street, to an open mic at a new club called the House of Blue Laughs.

I’d read that the audience was hip and supportive, and that the club favored acts that were too cool to care about the audience reaction.

Once I got there I told the M.C. to introduce me as “Peter Haslop, president of global human resources for ConRon, Inc.”

The acts that went on before me:

• A young nerd who told jokes while he showed a series of video clips of his colleagues at a dot.com search engine company that he’d recorded with a “cubicle-cam.” The audience broke up at the grainy, funhouse images, and at the running gag: “It’s on the server!”

• A young, redheaded woman related the daily humiliations she experienced as a temp. They included an incident when her boss demanded she pay back five dollars for dry cleaning trousers on which she had accidentally spilled some ketchup – in an email with the subject line “Ketchup Pants.”

• A group who performed a sketch about a bickering husband and wife that included only set-ups followed by the words, “generic punchline.”

These performers had come to the same conclusion I had – that mass-produced nightclub comedy – let’s call it industrial comedy, if you will – was dead. But what they put in its place was not only not funny and pretentious as all get-out.

Of course, the scruffy, goateed audience loved them.

Finally, the M.C. called my name. I introduced myself as a corporate bureaucrat who had been told that he’d been invited to address a think tank forum on the globalized workforce. I got a few laughs, and I could tell they were with me. I read from a “policy statement” that I presented at a meeting of the World Trade Organization. It said that the workforce of the entire nation of Latvia would be turned into American slaves. More laughs. I pretended not to understand why an important global think-tank was being held in a Lower East Side dive. They loved it.

I decided to ask for questions from the audience.

Young Woman: Why are you pretending that this is like, some sort of think tank when it’s obviously a comedy club? (Was she serious? Or was she putting on my put-on?)

Me: Well, that is what my government told me. Also, I am from Sweden and am not familiar with your American customs. Perhaps think-tanks are more informal here. Perhaps you can serve Bud Lite.

Drunk Young Woman Pretending to Be Sober: Franz Ferdinand Rules!

Me: Yes, you are correct. He ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (I had learned this watching the History Channel.)

Drunk Young Woman Pretending to Be Sober: Huh? Anyway, they rock. (Her friends, who think she is making them look un-cool, pull her down.)

Art Student-Looking Guy (tall, gangly, goateed, paisley vest): O.K., you’re from Sweden, right?

Me: Ya.

Art Student-Looking Guy: Well, what’s the gross national product of Sweden?

Me: The gross national product? That would be meatballs.

Big laugh.

Me: Have you ever seen them? I mean, that is ... how you say? Gross.

Loud applause. Unfortunately, my time was up. But I’d proved that I could pass as a Swedish bureaucrat. And I got laughs.

I was ready to cast Haslop to the suits at ConRon.

The Spoiler: Part 13 -- Paula the debriefer

Paula Scardino was appointed to be my “debriefer,” the person in charge of getting me up to speed on ConRon, Dave Whiteman, and everything else necessary to prepare for the gig.

“Welcome aboard,” she said, her stiff arm thrusting out of a gray suit with faint white pinstripes. I never learned her exact position, but it was clear from her no-nonsense attitude and the deferential response she got from everybody at ConRon that she was someone you didn’t mess with. Someone who reported directly to Magnum.

She was in her late 30s, and acted mannish like most women who had climbed the corporate ladder. Her voice was deep, with a trace of an Italian-American accent – not East Coast, maybe Frisco. She also reminded me – and this was awkward – of a slightly older Miranda Piles, a porn star who made a big splash in the video, “Merkle’s Boner,” that I had once asked Katlyn to watch with me with the hope it would spice up our sex life.

“Judging from the questionnaire we asked you to fill out, you don’t know much about the company.”

“No, but you know a lot about me.”

“We need to be thorough. We are a Fortune 500 company and an industry leader in derivatives and hedge funds. We have certain … formulations – ”

“Insider trading?”

“Not according to legal. Besides, the Feds would be down here faster than the EMS.”

“Right.”

“Now, we’re here to get you up to speed on our company and the corporate world. After all, we can’t have a VP of global personnel who doesn’t act the part.”

“I hear you. I work hard and play hard.”

“Let’s start with the look. You’re going to have to wear a suit. Not too French-faggy. Preferably charcoal. With pinstripes. Understated. And Oxfords. Except on Casual Friday.”

“What is that – a religious holiday?”

She wrinkled her nose and her thin vermillion lips drooped into a smile-frown.

“Then you can wear a dress shirt and Dockers with loafers. But always socks.”
I noticed that her hair, which was fine and sandy, was pulled back in a bun so severe it could’ve been devised by the Taliban.

“To start, here’s some literature and a CD-ROM about ConRon and what we expect from our employees. There’s also a lot of useful info about proper behavior – you can skip the sexual harassment stuff, our lawyers made us put it in. The rest you should study. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be proactive, not reactive. Just make sure you run it by me first.”

She handed me a three-inch-thick binder, titled, “ConRon: Energy Solutions for Energy Problems,” and a CD, as well as an employee handbook. I flipped through it, pretending to be fascinated. One chapter heading that caught my eye was “The Super Bowl Party: Do’s and Don’ts.”

“Super Bowl Party?”

“That’s a big bonding event for the company,” Paula said. I later discovered that ConRon turned one of its on-site gyms into a sports bar for the occasion, with a dozen gigantic flat-screen TVs, “concession” stands staffed by a high-end catering service whose waiters wore the kind of white concessionaire jackets you see on the hot-dog vendors at Yankee Stadium – and who served Beluga and high-end champagne as well as hot dogs and Bud Lite (which flowed out of the penis of an ice sculptured reproduction of Michelangelo’s “David”). There were also video games and other diversions. All employees were expected to attend, and no spouses, lovers or the like were allowed.

Some of the “do’s” included:

• No matter which team you root for, wear the ConRon logo and paraphernalia at all times.
• Make ample use of the giant foam fingers and “bad-call bricks” – chunks of foam that “fans” of either team could disgustedly toss at one of the video screens to protest a referee’s decision. (Just to be safe, the screens were hung high enough to be beyond the reach of any Styrofoam missiles.)
• Cheer hysterically and give your nearest colleagues a high-five when the ConRon TV ads – “ConRon Energy. Only the sun does it better” – came on.
• Take part in the pre-game “tailgate party” held in one of the commissaries, where the company installed several SUVs and barbecue pits, in which brontosaurus-sized racks of ribs were grilled.
• Create new energy strategies based on the ones the two head coaches devised for the game. (Huh???)
The “don’ts” included some items that struck me as bizarre at the time but which I later realized were added to address “situations” that had occurred at previous Super Bowl parties:
• Don’t throw anything – or anybody – into the barbecue pits!
• Don’t attempt to stuff a colleague into a six-foot sub.
• Don’t tackle any of your colleagues, especially from behind.
• It’s O.K. to engage in illegal Internet football betting, but don’t use your department’s discretionary cash fund.
• Don’t horde Buffalo wings or any other foodstuff in your windbreaker.

“Wow, you guys ... really know how to party."

"Work hard, play harder, work hardest -- that's our motto."

"Ah, I'll keep that in mind. And I’ll take this home and study it. What’s next?”

“You’ll be needing a new identity and a resume to match. It’s in this folder. Any questions, feel free to call me.”

“This is all very impressive. But … well, isn’t this a lot of trouble to go to for a gag?”

“You mean, isn’t this taking me away from more important duties, draining company resources? No. First, if it comes from Magnum, I clear my desk. Besides, all the employees here are psyched to be with the company. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. Makes my job easier. Nice meeting you, Mr. Haslop. We’ll be in touch.”

She stood up and stiff-armed me a handshake.

Mr. Haslop?

The Spoiler: Part 12 -- A Spoiler is Born

Because there was a lot (five grand) riding on this gig, and because I believe that you can’t ever do enough preparation for anything in life, I thought I would try to book myself a test “spoil” or two. I placed an ad in the trades with the hope it would result in a couple of relatively low-pressure opportunities – my out-of-town tryouts for my new act. It read:

Need somebody to “spoil” your next party? Hire
“the Spoiler.” I’ll be your drunken brother-in-law,
the boyfriend that makes your husband jealous, and the
guy who when the priest asks if anyone objects
to your marriage, blurts, “I do.” Make your party an event to remember.

For responses, I got a wedding party and some eight-year-old’s birthday. For the wedding, they asked me to suddenly appear halfway through the proceedings, right after the wedding dance and before the “Bride Cuts the Cake” number, pretending to be the bride-to-be’s secret lover. Then they told me I would have to jump out of the cake and do a striptease. What they didn’t tell me was that it was an ice-cream cake. Nearly froze my ass off. Still, I made a big impression by developing a porn-star character I called (as it turned out, appropriately) Rocky Road. For authenticity, I even bought a penile prosthesis from a creepy surgical supplies store on Canal Street.

I tried not to dwell on the indignity of the thing, but worked more on what Marguerite called “inhabiting your character.” Also on the timing. They couldn’t give me a run-through, so I just worked out that I would make my entrance when they gave my cue. Which was something like, “Tracy, we know you’ve been a bad girl. So before we eat the cake – which, by the way, has no-fat and no carbs – let’s bring on your secret lover, Rocky Road!”

And out I jumped, gasping for breath and wrenching myself through the frozen chocolate muck like a Willy Wonka avalanche victim. While the entire wedding party – bride, groom, family, friends, cater-waiters and the band – stood there slack-jawed, I humped and bumped to a hip-hop tune called, “Love is a Booty-ful Thang,” all while ironically commenting on how idiotic the whole thing was. Except I don’t think they got that part.
The dance ended when the best man grabbed me by my prosthetic penis, which flopped out of my boxer-briefs (another unfortunate choice) and landed in the no-carb potato-salad. Two bouncers from the restaurant, a place called The Savoir Fare, in Orange, N.J., escorted me out, past about one hundred and eighty people pairs of averted eyes. One woman shouted that I should be ashamed of myself, and my dancing was so bad I should have had to tip her. (I later paid the videographer who had caught the entire proceedings to delete my scene. He said he would.)

Later I found out that the person who hired me, a barrel-faced man named Stu, was an ex-boyfriend of the bride who still carried a torch for her.

Though I wasn’t allowed to retrieve my clothes and had to blow most of the two hundred bucks from the gig on paying off the videographer and a car service to take me back to Manhattan, I considered the night a victory. I’d gained invaluable experience as a “spoiler,” plus I realized that the Rocky Road character could be fleshed out and added to my repertoire.

The kiddie birthday party? The woman who hired me, a soccer mom-type with harsh features who wanted to get back at the parents of the birthday boy in a dispute over access to a posh pre-school, wanted me to play “someone really scary.” After several days of brainstorming got me nowhere, I settled on Giant Baby George, an infant who was the victim of a human growth hormone experiment. I figured that with only minor adjustments I could turn Rocky Road’s boxer-briefs into an extra-large diaper.

How did it go? Well, outside of being totally shunned, making every single kid cry, causing a shouting-and-furniture-breaking melee, threatened lawsuits, and again having to make an impromptu exit (only this time I grabbed my raincoat on the way out), it wasn’t a bad night. And I learned something important: There are a lot of mean, sadistic people out there who are too chickenshit to act on their feelings. And a guy who is willing to act on those feelings for them could clean up.

The Spoiler: Part 11 -- Magnum

Stephens was a tall, trim man with graying temples who wore tailored English suits and alligator cowboy boots.

He took a second to scan his laptop and Blackberry while I checked out his corner office that overlooked the Hudson. From the vantage point on the ninetieth floor, I looked down at the Statue of Liberty. It looked weather-beaten, like an aging hooker. Very possibly a tranny.

As I would discover, Stephens didn’t spend much time here, or anywhere outside of Houston, which could’ve been why his office was furnished only with a desk, a couple of mahogany chairs and a massage table.

“You do massage on the side?” I asked.

“Stiff necks. Y’ever have ‘em?”

“Yeah. Terrible.”

“You got a masseuse? I can recommend mine.”

“I’m sure I can’t afford her.”

“Well, maybe we can write it into our agreement.”

“Sounds good. What kind of agreement are we talking about?”

“I need someone who’s quick on his feet.”

“You’re looking for a messenger?”

“That’s what I mean. You can zing ‘em off the top of your head-like. Just what I’m looking for. You see, one thing I’ve learned all these years navigating through the corporate jungle is that the workforce can’t get too complacent. Every once in a while, you’ve gotta shake the tree, so to speak. You know, suddenly you just fire a half-dozen of your top execs.”

“Uh-huh.”

“If you lay off a couple, even ten thousand middle managers, hell, nobody bats an eyelash. But you surgically axe a few key players, maybe even the COO – well, everybody starts lookin’ over their shoulder and puttin’ their noses to the grindstone. And they pay closer attention to what the guy one rung up or down from them is up to.”

“I see.”

“It’s a management tip I learned from Stalin.”

“He was just paranoid, wasn’t he?”

“Whatever you want to call it. It worked.”

“I guess so.”

“Listen – didja ever see this old Vincent Price movie, ‘The Tingler’?”

“No. I never went to business school.”

“It’s about this … I don’t know I guess you’d call it … a slimy creature that is kind of born inside of people’s spinal cords who are kinda nervous Nellies. And the more scared they get, it sort of feeds the creature, the Tingler, until the thing grows inside them to be about the size of a raccoon. And then, when they get super-terrified, you know, screaming hysterically, the thing starts to pulsate and pops out of their – ”

“Like ‘Alien.’”

“No, you got it all wrong. Alien popped out the belly. Tingler come out through the spinal cord. Anyway, it starts going around killing people, even though it’s just a blob. It’ll kind of throw itself outta yer and squeeze the life out of yer. That kind of thing. And the only way to stop the Tingler is to keep your cool, not let the Tingler freak you out. To fight the fear. But you know what? Very few people can do that. Their spinal cords are like fear warehouses. Fear, you see” – and here he tilted his head forward and locked me in his industrial-blue eyes – “fear is the greatest motivator. That’s management rule numero uno.”

“I see. What exactly do you have mind for me?”

“Things have been gettin’ a little stale around here…”

“Time for the Tingler?”

“Unh-unh. Already axed too many chiefs. We’re tingled to the bone. I reckoned another motivator. That’s where you come in. You’re an actor, right? A comedian?”

“That’s what my card says.”

Stephens picked up my business card, which I’d put on his desk.

“‘Actor-comic-human being.’ Well, I don’t need the human being part. But the actor part, that I could use.”

Stephens proceeded to outline a scenario in which I would attend a ConRon board meeting, pretending to be a fictional vice president of worldwide personnel who had been touring the Far East recruiting the best of brightest of Bangalore and Ho Chi Minh City for outsourcing of certain key divisions. I would be brought in to a top-secret board meeting in the role of a “spoiler,” specifically to mind-fuck the regional vice president of personnel, a guy by the name of Dave Whiteman. What he called a “psy-ops.” I would pretend to fire him right after his big presentation on global redundancies and “put his whole sense of reality through a ten-speed blender.”

“We want to see what he’s made of. See I’ve been thinking of making him vice president personnel of the Americas. But that job, you gotta go up against some nut-busters: Teamster bosses, campesino activists, Subcommandante Marcos. Anyway, we want to test Whiteman’s mettle.”

There were other reasons for the job, Magnum confided in me. He wouldn’t tell me what they were. I think maybe he wanted to test my mettle, too. “You want to see if you can trust me, right?”

“Nope. We already know we can’t.” And then he pushed across the desk at me a manila folder that included my credit history, IRS returns for the past 10 years, bank records going back to 1998, my bankruptcy agreement with TwelveStepCapitolManagement, the agency that I’d used to consolidate my far-flung empire of debt, my New York Public Library card along with my complete history of all checkouts, research items requested (mostly books about comedy, such as Milton Berle’s autobiography, from the performing arts branch), and fines (“You checked out Al Franken’s book for six months? You could read that on the redeye”), a printout of every website I’d ever visited (“EskimoBabes.com? You got me there”), my college and high school transcripts, SAT scores, and my grade school report cards.

For the second time in weeks, my life was an open book to strangers. I could easily become a victim of identity theft, and probably the only reason I hadn’t was that the bad guys had concluded that my identity wasn’t worth stealing.

“How did you get all that – I mean, the report cards?”

“You remember Sister Virginia Mayo? From sixth grade? Sacred Heart School?”

“I can’t believe she’s still alive.”

“It’s all that sexual frustration. They can live off that forever.”

“What I don’t understand is why you went to so much trouble to dig up all my dirt? For a guy you’re renting for the afternoon?”

“Can’t ever be too sure you ain’t some undercover spy, from one of our rivals. Or one of them Yes Men.”

“Yes men?”

“You know, those lefty pranksters, they go around pretending they’re members of the WTO. Like that’s going to score poon? Anyway, you check out O.K. And we’ll overlook that TV show thing. We know you were set up.”

“Yes, I was. And at least I don’t have a criminal record.”

“I know. But we’ll use you anyway,” he said with a strange laugh that made me wonder how much he was joking.

“Uh, what if people in your company remember my face from the, uh, show? I mean, I was all over the Internet.”

“For what – a week? These kids, their minds, they’re like – you ever stick a stick in an anthill, they go running off every which way? Life moves too fast now. Faster than memory. Now go see Paula. Paula Scardino in H.R. She’ll brief you on your assignment and give you the lay of the land.”

We shook hands and I started out of his office, but not before asking one, gnawing question.

“How did you get that nun to give up my report cards?”

“Oh, we had something on her, too.”