And so I found myself yet again in a dank and lonely police-station basement being interrogated by two cops. These were Atlanta cops, but they could have been from any city. One was good, and one was bad, because cops are always either one or the other, and are always driven by desires so dark that they cannot easily be translated into screenplays or television scripts. The only difference, the only standard cop deviation, in Atlanta, was that both cops were named Melissa.
The bad cop, Melissa Springer, smacked me across the kisser, hard, with a can of Cherry Coke, which was attached to a rubber hose.
“All right, punk,” she said. “Spill it. Why are you dressed like Colonel Sanders?”
“I’m not Colonel Sanders,” I moaned.
The good cop, a long blond named Melissa Bigner, appeared to be of Danish descent. She held an adorable stuffed lamby-poo to my right cheek, which was now blooming with pustulent welts.
“Come on, Nealie,” she said. “Tell wittle Cotton lamb why you’re dressed like Tom Wolfe.”
“I’m not….” I gasped.
“Shove it, writer-boy!” said bad cop Springer, as she cracked the death Coke across my cranium. “When I’m through with you, you won’t even be Tom Robbins!”
She reached into a black bag labeled “kitchen utensils.”
Not the cheese grater!
How, you may wonder, did I find myself in Atlanta, a prisoner without a name, in a cell without a number?
Earlier, I had arrived at Chapter 11 in Emory Commons, a charming little neighborhood bookstore decorated lushly but eccentrically, full of comfortable couches and helpful employees who greeted me with the warmth and enthusiasm a writer of my stature comes to expect. As always when I read south of the Mason-Dixon line, I had donned a white linen suit and a shock-white curly wig, taking care to dye my mustache and sideburns to match the false, yet very real, hair.
A delightful crowd of approximately 350 turned out to hear me read from my latest book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. Another 100 or so sat in the parking lot, where the reading was being broadcast on closed-circuit television. It is not my habit to talk to fans before my readings, but a tall, shorthaired woman managed to find me among the stacks. She handed me a card. It read:
JK Van Buskirk
“Is that your real name?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I had to change it. I have a stalker, kind of.”
“Well,” I said kindly, “I don’t think I need any services today.”
“You’ll be sorry,” she said, and she stormed away, clutching a copy of The Anarchists’ Cookbook.
Another stinkin’ anarchist, I thought.
An hour later, as my crowd wept with laughter and convulsed with grief, my reading came to a close. The lectern began to shake, and shimmy, and rumble, followed by a flash, a noise, some screams, some smoke. Reality splintered, and I succumbed to the siren hum of unconsciousness.
I awoke three minutes and twelve seconds later to a scene of considerable chaos. Several people, who had been near the podium, were clutching various body parts and moaning. The air was full of the detritus of exploded paperback. I moved to stand, but couldn’t. Looking down, I saw that a copy of Memoirs of a Geisha had lodged in my right hamstring.
“God, it hurts,” I said. “And what a terrible book!”
“I am a doctor of Peruvian descent,” said a man in the panicked crowded. He was wearing a nametag that read, “Gerardo, of Peruvian descent,” so I believed him. Using forceps, he extracted the foul memoirs from my leg. Then he moved on. Some poor woman named Robin, who worked for Turner South, was moaning incoherently about something called “Toonami.” She had been brained by a copy of Infinite Jest.
The cops arrived, Springer and Bigner, the two Melissas. Bad cop. Good cop. They looked at the wig and the makeup and slapped on the cuffs.
“What gives?” said I.
“You’re under arrest, on suspicion of the Chapter 11 bombing, in Atlanta,” said Bad Melissa.
“Do you still live with you mother?” asked Good Melissa.
“Guilty,” she said. “We’ve got our bomber.”
My basement beating went on for hours. The Melissas, good and bad, didn’t stop to eat, or drink, or anything. But I was strong from my years as a POW in El Salvador, and I didn’t bend. Also, I refused to take off my costume.
On the morning of the third day of my captivity, a short, red-haired woman appeared at the door. She carried within her tiny frame the moral force of 1,000 missionaries. I knew her well; thank goodness she had come.
“Unhand that gentleman!” she said.
“Who the hell are you?” asked Bad Melissa.
“Mah name is Esther Levine,” she said. “And ah am a professional literary escort! That man is a prominent American writer who is dressed as Mark Twain as a promotional gimmick! He is also a good friend of my daughter Shira. Why, he couldn’t make a bomb if he was being paid to do so on deadline!”
“But then who is the Atlanta bomber?” asked Cotton the lamb, through Good Melissa.
“Ah have your bomber right here,” said Esther Levine. She produced a familiar figure from behind her.
“JK Van Buskirk!” I shouted.
“That’s right,” said the anarchist, “and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for…”
The Melissas clamped a gag across the alleged bomber’s mouth, and hit her with the additional charge of confessing with a hoary pop culture cliché. Esther, my heroine, untied me and began applying a matzoh salve to my withered wrists.
“You Yankee men,” she sighed. “Whatevah will I do with you?”
But was it my Northernness that was the real problem? No. America, North and South, oppresses its writers, tries to keep them silent, any way it can, through violence, and censorship, and police intimidation. We must break this hammerlock, my fellow lovers of literature, because how long before I, and all of you, face the final firing squad of Philistinism?
Indeed, how long?