date: July, 1993
I am ever so often invited to speak at Ridicule symposiums and workshops and town meetings, the idea being that, given the many years I've spent helming this mighty Craft (and with it in mind that knowledge metes its greatest rewards when it is shared), I might convey some of the life-lessons, the obscure findings and the lore I've devised over the years (ever mindful to leaven that wisdom with witticisms along the way), thusly to better prepare our next generation of Ridiculers for an increasingly mean and cynical world.
Type: 12-page tabloid parody spectacular
Object of Ridicule: The Stranger, free
weekly Seattle tabloid
That's all a whopping load of crud of course but because I deem it unurbane to simply ignore an invitation I always fax along carefully explained instructions as to the preparation, display and maintenance of Ridicule, as well as one prefatory chuckle plus answers for the inevitable "Question & Answer" portion, along with the questions.
And it was of a lazy workday afternoon not long ago that I was down in the Fax Bunker tidying up and dusting and reproofreading all those faxes 'n such abovementioned when I noticed something interesting. Turns out that far and away the most commonly asked "question" in these Ridicule affairs over the years has been the one that goes something like this: young man approaches the microphone hesitantly, smoothes the wrinkles in his shirt and (less successfully smoothing the cracks and creases in his maturing voice) says, "Mr. Clark? I have a popular website with no content. As a young writer, how might I go about stealing some of yours?"
And at this point I always sort of catch myself. Hmm, I think. I don't quite get that.
"Steal" my ... Ridicule? Okay, reader: think about it. Stealing a man's Ridicule would be like stealing his ... his gumption. His joie de vivre. The concept is a bit abstract and causes one to pause in one's thinking ... and while we are paused together I will tell a small story.
In the old days before my publishing empire I used to produce my Ridicule by hand here in my sprawling estate atop Queen Anne Hill, the promontory which looms over the overbuilt wetlands we all call Seattle. I was halfway through a project which at the time represented a new type of Ridicule for me -- tabloid parody spectacular -- and even though I was not yet precisely clear as to whom it was I would be impugning, I was excited about the progress thus far and was sure they would be impugned very well.
So I march into my suite of home offices one morning full of ideas and love-of-life and high regard for the susceptibilities of man when ... oh?
Right there. In the middle of my layout table. Some of my Ridicule was missing.
I do not misplace things, and no, my Ridicule does not simply slip off the table like some drunken ballerina and become lodged behind the file cabinet. I settled into the divan and applied a compress of cold logic to the enigma. Could an assistant be to blame? To test this theory I hired an assistant for that, ready to fire him in the event, but after a tiresome week I fired the poor man and went ably on with my life, filing the matter away as some sort of enigma and thus a total waste of my time.
One week later: laboring well into the night. Long and wee hours filled with hard work, monkeyshines, disrespectful writing, and -- because my sweetest ideas come from dreams -- in-depth consultation with old Morpheus himself. I was pretending to ignore him, as a ploy, and was otherwise busy with eye movements and that, when into my privacy came intruding a feathery sussurance on the air, a rustling, as of the bedclothing of restless night, quiet as a kitten's whisper, in other words the kind of noise that was so completely inappropriate for my suite of home offices that it woke me with a start.
From the corner, hesitant lamplight; from the East, cold offering of Phosphorus. And by this I saw there gently illumed the figure of an imp, black-clad, in cap and spectacles, making delicately toward the door, through the door ... there! A glint in the darkness! Clutched in the imp's right hand: some of my Ridicule!
And then he was gone.
With haste I threw on cape and woolens against the cold, and, into my waistcoat, a truncheon against, well, come-what-may: I knew this chase would lead me into the dark heart of the city.
Down and down the imp trundled, I his shadow, past the respectable homes to their gritty undergirding. The city ... I felt a chill of remembering. I am a product of these streets, after all. The alleys and viaducts and tramways, I know them all like the back of my hand ... the least useful or attractive part of my body.
We skirted the fringes of Seattle's endless greenbelts, alive with the nighttime sounds -- brzzt, fl'fl'fl, snik-snik snik-snik -- of the homeless and their kind ... and the parks, the many parks, the play parks, dog parks, urban oases and sculpture gardens, all steaming stinking dead-zones, no-man's-lands, strewn with slumbering drunks like so many Bouncing Betties ... and then the barren storefronts busy with Seattle's charmless whores ... and the junkies, their faces yellow, that ghastly yellow pallor cast by the overhead bulbs filled with angry mercury vapor ... and that stench, the stench of hand-crafted microbrews peed willy-nilly. Oh city! People are always surprised when I tell them I'm a product of these streets.
The imp stopped before an all-night confectioner's, paused, stepped in. Minutes later he emerged, sans Ridicule, his arms cradling a bounty of sugarsweets, frosted plums, licorice drops and dollops, raw treacle, mint lollies and candyfloss, bottles of cola water, a great chocolatine wedge.
The imp had pilfered my handiwork to feed his unsavory appetites!
A fortnight later I was waiting for him there in the dirty shadows. As he walked past I rapped him hard on the shoulder with the business end of my cane and said, "Looks to me you've got something there that doesn't belong to you." He spun sharply with a squeak.
I gave him a sturdy once-over. Short little imp. Besooted tartanwear. His body was like a hard bolus of fat to which four stunted sausages had been appended. Scholastic hornrims, greasy lenses thick as butter cookies. Foolish sports-fan's cap turned contrarily on his over-round head.
He swiveled slightly, like to hide his ill-gotten goods; but my Ridicule is too considerable to be hidden in the wrinkled little hand of an imp, and he straightened 'round. "Oh ... you mean this? Sorry, sir. Didn't mean no harm. Honest."
"Of course not," I replied, cool despite everything. "That Ridicule in your hand didn't 'mean no harm,' either. Yet would have caused so much." Here a sad note. "Would have."
He mustered a weak smile and tentatively extended the Ridicule toward me. "Here, sir. Take it back. Please?"
But his tone told that he knew perfectly well. "Can't do that, imp," I said. "Not after you've handled it. It's of no use to me now." It had in fact become a hateful thing to me, disgusting.
His thin lips trembled; his eyes began to sink into folds of fat, from which was wrung a tiny tear-drop. "B-but sir," he said. "Please. I was hungry."
And suddenly I was at a loss for words; I stared down at the little bundle of remorse, who soon blubbered without restraint. I myself have never been hungry, but of course I know about it from my reading ... and I have also read and heard it said that a thing can be a crime, yet still be a moral thing.
I reached into my pocket. Part of being a role model to young people -- and mentor, conveyer of life-lessons -- means showing them that you care. And I did in fact care. Very much.
I handcuffed him and deposited him with the folks at Walla Walla Federal Penitentiary. Walla Walla Fed has been providing incarcerative and punitive services to local businesspeople and community leaders for years now. I've worked with them before and I trust them. The imp would receive the food he prized so.
I mentioned to them about the three charges of possession of stolen goods with intent to sell, and also that I'd noticed that when he smiled weakly he was trying to steal my joie de vivre. He was sentenced to three years but he ended up doing five because I arranged to have Internet Porn smuggled to him so he would get added time for bad behavior.
I'd like to think my efforts had some salutary effect on him but no, he grew quite fat on prison food and ended up becoming the man we now call Paul Allen. Ah, well. At least I know I'm the one who made him fat.
So, to answer your question, teens: steal my Ridicule and you end up like the man Allen.
Oh, and that parody spectacular? I went ahead and cleaned and repaired the damage, adding fresh, funny -- and newly insightful! -- Ridicule, and a few weeks later the Whimper was born, changing publishing history ... and mine, too. Thank you, Walla Walla Federal Penitentiary.