The Story I Told Last Night
I was working as a writer at Hallmark and I had just been moved from humor cards to serious, mainstream cards. This was a promotion. But I had only been in my new position for two months when my mentor---Ed, a sweet old guy, looked like Santa Claus---pulled me aside and said, with an embarrassed look, "Dave, you're using too many literary allusions in your casual speech, and people are complaining."
I defy you to have a sane response to that assertion. I mean, I've had a lot of employers, and they were all convinced something was wrong with me, but that sentence was the craziest thing I've ever been accused of. Neither half of that sentence made any sense! But I did the only thing I could do. I nodded and said, "Okay, well...I'll try to do better."
But the thing was, I went searching back in my mind----literary allusions, literary allusions---and I could literally remember only one. A week ago! G. K. Chesterton! And it took five seconds! One a week? Is that too much? Is that so much that people actually get together and complain? It seemed clear to me that "literary allusions" was code for something else that they either didn't want to tell me, or that they themselves weren't quite sure about. Maybe I was just giving off bad vibes.
Anyway, I started watching myself, and maybe two weeks later I was hanging out with some of my old humor writer friends, and one of them spoke up and said, "Hey, you know, I've been thinking. We do a lot of monkey cards here. But they all have pictures of chimpanzees. Chimpanzees aren't monkeys, are they?"
And I said, "Actually, chimpanzees are apes, along with gorillas, orangutans and gibbons. They have no tails and they're not exclusively arboreal. And you know what's weird? In the Planet of the Apes they don't have any gibbons, and they never explain it! But my real favorites are primitive monkeys they call prosimians---the lemur, the tarsier, the bush baby, the kinkajou. Really cool, weird animals. If they had a movie called Planet of the Prosimians, I would totally watch that movie!"
A brief silence descended, and one of my friends said, "Hey, Dave, speaking of animals, would you like to see the rat's ass that I give?"
And I thought, Oh. It's stuff like that, isn't it? That's my vice. I inform people against their will.
I tried to stop it, but I found it impossible. I was looking in a rhyming dictionary, saw the word "stockyard," and I thought, "Hey! If you remove the Y you get Stockard, like the actress Stockard Channing! And I know she was in Grease, but was she in Grease 2?" And suddenly I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't work, I couldn't do my job unless I first went to the reference shelf and looked up Grease 2! It took me a while to realize that this was my brain's way of saving itself from starvation in a job that was boring it to death. There's a lot of creativity in greeting cards, no question, but after four years you find yourself thinking, "If I have to write Happy Birthday one more fucking time..." So I assumed the problem was just the job.
But then about a month later I was at a party, no Hallmark folks, and someone brought up that they'd just seen A Bug's Life. You remember at this time A Bug's Life and Antz came out at the same time, two animated movies about ants. As it happened, I'd just written a very silly story about giant ants taking over the world, and what I said was, "You know what's interesting? All the ants you ever see are female! The only male ants are underground drones who live just long enough to impregnate the queen and make more female ants. And it's such a shame that in the movies they just made all the ants male with just the two token females, because wouldn't it be great to have a subversive film about a martriarchal society where the women do the work, fight the wars, make the money, and the men are just easily cast-aside sex objects? It could have been so cool."
And someone in the radius of my oration said, "Dude. We're not in college anymore."
So it wasn't just Hallmark. I saw that now. And I stayed at Hallmark for another year. But the whole time I kept thinking, "I wonder if somewhere there isn't some, I don't know...smarter city."
Thank you very much.
Labels: Dave Update