By Ann Ivins
“Sweet fancy tap-dancing Jesus, Ivins!” roared Sam. “What crapped on your head?”
Ann abandoned her effort at slinking into the Scholars and Rogues newsroom; an effort, if truth be told, rendered futile at its inception by not only the astonishing configuration of her normally flat, mousy hair, but also by the conspicuously awkward floating-head stride she was attempting to maintain. She sighed, gingerly lowered herself into her chair, offloaded an enormous tote bag, and only then replied, “It’s an updo, boss.”
“A what-do?” her editor barked.
“An updo. You know, do hair, hair up, updo. We are having the Christmas…”
“Solstice,” offered Angliss.
“Sentimental crapfest,” put in Sheehan.
“… holiday party tonight. A little more festive spirit around here might be nice,” she finished, pounding determinedly at her laptop.
“Oh, right,” said Sam. “Festive equals big hair. You can take the girl out of Texas, I suppose – but what the hell is holding it up?”
“The audacity of hope?” Sheehan laughed.
A chorus of blank stares.
“Denny’s making a grand appearance tonight – doesn’t anyone read their damn e-mails?” he explained.
A chorus of raised eyebrows, with an accompaniment of knowing glances and a solo snort from the general direction of the editor’s desk. The typing increased in tempo and volume.
Preux chevalier and well-trained husband that he was, Brian said soothingly, “I think it looks very nice, Ann.” But his face wore a slightly troubled expression.
“Okay, okay,“ cut in Sam. “Let’s can the beauty parlor patter and get back to work. Not that anything is going on today – this town is as dead as a Millennial’s capacity for creative problem-solving. Angliss, what have you got?”
“Interview in about fifteen minutes with a guy from the local Greenpeace chapter,” replied the trusty environmental editor. “Word is they’ve been using non-recycled paper in one of their office printers, and the director may be cutting corners with Folger’s instead of sustainably-grown organic coffee beans…”
“Right! Don’t forget to troubleshoot the new site add-ons, call the goddamned service provider about the shutdown last night, duct-tape Sheehan’s monitor where he kicked it on Monday, and see if you can teach Ivins to use the damn fax machine. By tonight.”
“On it, Sam.”
“Sheehan, any Obama drama? Hookers, blow, graft, corruption?”
An almost subsonic growl sent a ripple of limbic fear through the room.
“Fine, fine, fine. Great. Where’s O’Brien? Off playing with his equipment? He’s supposed to be editing footage today. Sweet fancy slam-dancing Buddha, what does he think this is – a part-time job? A hobby?”
“Well, actually boss…” began Ivins, but got no further.
“And where’s Redal? Location!”
Four cellphones reported for duty.
“Text from 10:45 this morning – strip-mining surveillance somewhere in Kentucky,” said Angliss.
“Impossible,” retorted Sheehan. “I got one at 8:30 from Pakistan about her passport problem.”
“I’ve got her at Fox at 12:15 this afternoon waiting to ambush James Dobson,” added O’Brien, emerging unexpectedly from beneath a complex array of audiovisual equipment.
“Oh, wait – I still don’t have texting,” said Ivins, hastily putting away her phone.
Sam shook his aerodynamically shaven head. “Well, wherever she is, she just sent in the last two parts of her clean coal series and a photo essay on a Pakistani militant’s funeral. She writes more than the rest of you two-bit hacks put together, but how the hell does she do it?”
“Ah,” sighed O’Brien.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite varie -“
“Honeybaked!” shouted Sam, and from behind JS came two streams of water, one of them scoring a direct hit into his right ear.
“Damn it!” he yelled, shaking like a wet and furious cat. “This is not funny any more!”
“It’s not meant to be funny, it’s meant to be prophylactic,” remarked Ann mildly.
“What if I’d been wearing a headset?” demanded O’Brien. “What if you’d soaked expensive equipment?”
“Then you’d use one of your fourteen other headsets, right?” said Sheehan.
Fuming damply, the frustrated thespian retreated to his fortress of electronic solitude.
“Next time he steals all of the squirt bottles, I think we should upgrade to SuperSoakers,” mused Ivins.
Angliss chuckled with the rest, but again his face was slightly clouded, like the Denver horizon on a moderate smog day. Quickly she continued, “And my column’s finished, boss. I think this is my best extended metaphor yet!”
An odd silence descended over the newsroom; even ultra-cool music editor Booth very carefully turned down his iPod’s volume.
“Really, Ivins?” asked a suddenly and suspiciously mild Sam. “Let’s hear it.”
“Well, the letter is from a fifteen-year-old girl who can’t get along with her sixteen-year-old stepbrother… you know, a newly-blended family, adolescent issues, very emotional stuff! So I compared a happy family to a working car engine, and I told her that fitting together two completely different sets of parts was never easy, especially with all the heat and friction generated by unfamiliar pieces rubbing together…”
Another chorus of glances. “And?” prompted Sheehan.
“And that with the explosive power of love tempered by the lubrication of good communication, she and her stepbrother could soon be banging away together like a piston and cylinder custom-tooled for each other.”
“Well?” asked Ivins anxiously. “Does it make sense? Did I get the car parts right?”
A general release of held breath.
“It’s great, Ivins. Really great. A winner for sure. Post it,” said Sam, and he eased his wallet back into his pocket. Another week, another five dollars in the kitty. The day Ann either a) realized what she was saying or b) admitted she was doing it on purpose would be a big payoff for some lucky Scrogue. Meanwhile, her advice column continued to grow in popularity. Sam suspected there were similar pools in offices throughout the city.
“Hey, Angliss,” growled Sheehan from his vantage point near the door. “There’s a sweaty, nervous guy with three coffee cans coming down the hall – must be your eco-narc.”
“Concerned citizen,” corrected the patient Brian, and he rose to usher in his guest…
Suddenly, a smell of alfalfa and ozone permeated the crowded office. Heads snapped in the environmental editor’s direction. Enveloped in an orb of green flickering light, ponytail rising to electric attention and streaming behind like the tail of a comet, he rushed out the door, nearly bowling over the small worried man approaching his desk.
“What the… what…” stammered the would-be whistleblower.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be right back,” Ivins volunteered. “It’s just his ESP kicking in; somebody probably dropped a styrofoam cup outside.”
“Did you see the angle of his tail? At least perpendicular. Looked more like a bottled water delivery nearby,” muttered Sheehan.
“ES what?” asked the little man, now thoroughly lost and sweating more profusely than before.
“ESP – you know, Environmentally Sensitive Perception,” explained Ann helpfully. “Pollution, waste, deforestation… if it’s too close or too strong, he goes all ecowarrior and runs off to fix it. You can tell how serious it is by how high his ponytail rises.”
“Remember the last air quality alert day?” asked Sam. “Sweet fancy limbo-dancing Shiva, his head looked like a blond exclamation point.”
“Yep. The angle of erection seems to be directly proportional to his level of arousal,” Ann rejoined.
The Greenpeace turncoat turned and ran.
When Angliss arrived back at the office a few minutes later, spent but happy, his whistleblower was no longer waiting for him – but an IM from Sam was.
Any word on Russ showing up tonight?
Said he’d try.
Always says that.
He’s not exactly local.
“What’s that?” asked Booth from the corner, startling everyone. “What’s that sound?”
“What sound? I don’t hear anything,” asked Sheehan.
“High-pitched… intermittent… sounds like…”
“You know,” interjected O’Brien, popping rabbit-like from his den, “According to the most current acoustic studies, Mike should be able to hear higher frequencies much better than…”
“What, Jim? What do you hear?” demanded Ann, her glasses slipping down her nose in excitement.
“It’s… giggling. Women… many women… giggling. Getting closer…”
“DENNY!” shouted Sam, Mike and Brian as one.
“You can always hear him coming by his effect on every woman in the vicinity!” continued Sam. “Giggling is practically his theme music.”
The laughter grew louder, punctuated by the murmur of a deep voice. Ann grabbed her totebag and bolted for the bathroom. Angliss, a sudden understanding lighting his face, raced after her, banged on the flimsy door, remembered that the lock didn’t work… and flung it open. Ann stood frozen in front of the mirror, a can of AquaNet in her hand, her eyes wide.
“Aha!” shouted Brian. “I knew something felt strange today! Hand it over!”
“No! You don’t understand! This is from the family stash – this is pre-regulation fully-loaded CFC-blasting hair-molding magic! This is an heirloom!” she cried.
“Follow your conscience!” thundered Brian, ponytail blazing.
“MY HAIR WILL FALL! Don’t you get it? Denny’s coming!” the hapless eco-sinner begged. “Denny’s…”
“DENNY!” roared the newsroom outside.
“He’s here!” shrieked Ann, flung the can away, and stepped on her hastily discarded glasses as she ran out the door.
Categories: scholars and rogues