An attractive co-worker calls you witty and asks if you ever enter the New Yorker’s Caption Contest. “Maybe once or twice,” you lie. Drunk on approval, you boldly suggest a weekly “you show me yours, I show you mine” caption arrangement. Instead of going to HR, attractive co-worker agrees. You immediately send a screen-cap of your entry: Don’t say we met on Anglr, the mermaid tells the fisherman. It’s silly of course. You know you’re not going to win, but it’s not about that.
You send weekly screen-caps to attractive coworker with the subject line, “This one for sure!” Before long, you believe your own hype. And why not? Your captions are always better than the ones the New Yorker chooses. Pass the baloney? Lame!
You spend your lunch breaks researching Caption Contest strategies online. The data confirms it: your entries are perfect. But are they too perfect? This is a contest for regular people, not professional comedy writers, which you very well could be based on these dynamite captions. Should you make them less funny? No, you reassure yourself. It’s only a matter of time.
But her emails?! HAHAHAHAHAHA. That’s soooooo original, Preston Shaw from Bridgeport, Connecticut. You’re a regular Andy Borowitz. No! Mark Twain reincarnated. Do they give out Pulitzers for captions? “I laughed,” admits now-less-attractive co-worker.
You submit sham captions of repurposed memes and Airplane quotes just to “mess with them.”
You post the Caption Contest’s finalists on Facebook, and include your own submission (“Check please!”) as the first comment. Your mom likes your comment and replies, “Yours was better!” and you cry for a few minutes before calling her and telling her how much she means to you. You think about what you’ll say one day at her funeral, and how the words will mean nothing unless they come from a New Yorker-published caption author. You’re doing this for her, you tell yourself.
What is the mind? you wonder. When two people look at a cartoon of the Three Little Pigs in a gastro-pub, does each see the same thing? Is I smell bacon objectively funnier than Who let the hogs out? Or is there no objective truth – a Schrodinger’s Caption scenario, where captions all are equally funny or unfunny until observed in pages of the New Yorker? Are there alternate realities where each caption submission wins?
You scribble “caption multi-verse?” on a Post-it, before crossing it out.
Smug co-worker’s entry, It’s better than CrossFit, places as a finalist, and the bile tastes like copper in your throat. He posts it on Facebook with the heading, “First try!” because he’s the prince of lies.
You Google “Bob Mankoff home address” and “UPS live animal delivery policy.” You learn that the Caption Contest has a new editor and your fantasy that the New Yorker was secretly grooming you for the role evaporates, along with your last shred of decency.
You create a second New Yorker account for submitting multiple captions in clear violation of the Caption Contest’s rules, because you’re a monster.
You go cold turkey. You haven’t submitted a caption in weeks. The headaches stop. You start to dream again. Admittedly-attractive co-worker expresses anger that his finalist caption didn’t win. “It was the best one,” you tell him, and you mean it. You see the suffering in his eyes and touch his shoulder, as Christ would have.
“It’s not your fault,” you repeat until the catharsis overwhelms you both.
You leaf through a copy of the New Yorker that someone left on the subway. A thin smile spreads across your face as you make your way to the you-know-what section. You exhale deeply before you turn the last page. And there it is. A cartoon of the Statute of Liberty wearing a burka, begging for a caption. You fling the magazine away and run off the train, even though it’s not your stop. Over the phone, your sponsor, Barry, tells you to stay strong and go to a meeting.
Later that night, you sit at your computer, staring at the New Yorker site. Your masterpiece lies neatly in the caption box. You don’t even remember typing it. The cursor hovers over SUBMIT.
You read the words aloud one last time: I guess Mike Pence is in town. Perfect.
You submit. You’ll always submit.