I've been thinking a lot these days about the concept of succession. First the Disney stockholders got up in arms that Michael Eisner wasn't grooming anyone to take over for him one day; then Dan Rather was accused of the same oversight. That made me wonder if it wasn't time to search out someone to write Dog Playing Poker if I ever have to stop for some reason like if I die or get wooed away by the Lockhart Penny Saver.
After an intensive, three-and-a-half minute headhunt, I hit on the perfect candidate: Leigh de Armas, the Orlando Weekly staff writer who works a mere three cubicles over from me. Leigh is young, energetic and almost supernaturally gullible when it comes to making career decisions, so I'm sure she would be a fine addition to this page. That's why I'm taking this week's column to teach her how a typical, undies-wetting installment of Dog Playing Poker is brainstormed, honed and delivered. Leigh, say hello to the nice people.
Hello, nice people. I must admit, I'm a little nervous. I'm not used to having a print audience larger than the eight members of my family. That being said, I'd like to thank my loyal readers for all the support they've given me in the six months I've been working here. Can you believe it, Mom? I'm Steve Schneider's apprentice! THE Steve Schneider! You remember, the guy who invented the adverb! Wait, should I have ended that last statement with a question mark? Steve, I'm getting dizzy. Help!
Solid sentiments, Leigh, and an ideal introduction to the first point I wanted to make: This gig doesn't pay by the word. So don't feel you have to rewrite Vanity Fair next time, m'kay? (I was also going to pass a comment about editorial self-aggrandizement, but I'm too busy whipping up next year's Christmas list.)
Let's talk about subject matter. Dog works best when it's based on some real-world event that looks good and ridiculous when referenced in big, bold letters across the top of the page. I particularly enjoy plucking satirical fodder from the pages of the Orlando Sentinel. It gives us the chance to appear hip and deconstructive, while obscuring the fact that our own newsgathering is close to nil.
Hey, how about you go fuck yourself??!!
Excellent! I guess I can skip that lesson in "attitude" I had planned. Instead, we'll talk about making good choices. Two of the richest topics in Dog-dom have always been child molestation and untimely death. Let's say your morning paper brings stories about another Disney cast member feeling up a 9-year-old and a busload of Promise Keepers crashing into a nudie bar. Which one do you pick as your target this week?
I'll take humiliating the Promise Keepers for 100, Steve. This is fun. OK, now what?
Now you go back two spaces and miss a turn. While the Promise Keepers are always good for a cheap laugh, they're old enough to be held responsible for their actions and attitudes. And that just doesn't satisfy the sadistic mean streak common to readers of this column. Seizing on the Disney story gives you free rein to not only spit in the face of Central Florida's largest employer, but to mercilessly mock the 9-year-old in question at the moment of his or her deepest vulnerability. Remember, Leigh: When in doubt, always exploit the helplessness of innocents.
Naturally, you have to take the story past where you found it; you can't simply reiterate the sordid details of the case, even though Disney often seems capable of cranking out a pretty good Dog on its own. Somehow, you have to make the story even more ludicrous than what our friends at the magic factory have already supplied. If you're stumped for a workable angle, do what any self-respecting creative-writing teacher would propose and draw from your own life. You recently got engaged, didn't you?
Yes, I was recently engaged. But what does that have to do with Mickey groping a 9-year-old? You're losing me, Steve.
On the outside, you're right; the two have nothing to do with each other. On the inside, the parallels are as endless as your foul imagination can sustain. When your position as Orlando's most bile-choked comedic voice makes a ruin of your personal relationships and believe you me, it will you'll cherish the ongoing chance to take surreptitious revenge in print. Fill in the juicy "backstory" that Mickey and the tot once had a torrid affair, revealing that the latter's lawsuit is really based on alienation of affection, not emotional distress. The readers will love it, and only your now-estranged sweetie will know that "The philandering rat dropped its prey like yesterday's Edam" translates into "I can make your life a living hell for as long as you dwell within the I-4 corridor, you lying sonofabitch, you!"
In this respect, you enjoy one advantage I don't: You're a woman, and readers respond better to the invective of a lady scorned than its masculine counterpart. But if taking advantage of your femininity offends you, you can do a 180-degree turn and play up your Hispanic background instead.
See how smoothly I worked in that ethnic slur? It's another perk of the job. Insult all the societal subgroups you like, and people will just think that you're dishing out neo-liberal irony, when you're really every bit as bigoted as a radio station's morning-zoo crew.
Let me see if I'm getting this. In order to have a successful column, I need to slur ethnic subgroups, exploit my heritage for popularity, shatter the innocence of a molested 9-year-old and publicly humiliate all those who've wronged me?
Right on the money. But don't forget the crucial role that plagiarism plays, too. For instance, have you noticed that this entire column is eerily similar to a "Shouts & Murmurs" piece that was published a few months ago in The New Yorker and a "Savage Love" that ran last week in this very newspaper? Well, your readers won't! They're too weakened from shotgunning malt liquor to get more than four pages into our publication from either end, much less crack open a periodical that requires genuine reading skills.
That brings up the final issue of style. Once you've established that your audience knows nothing of Christopher Buckley or Dan Savage, you can safely indulge the unlikely combination of profligate vocabulary and middle-school profanity that'll make your column truly sizzle. Shakespeare's Polonius said that brevity is the soul of wit, but the historical record shows that Polonius didn't have to fill a two-thirds-page editorial hole every week. You should feel free to let sentences go on for entire paragraphs, secure in the knowledge that nothing's funnier than a gag that reads like an excerpt from an FAMU commencement speech except maybe a commencement speech that incorporates the term "analingus" suddenly and without warning.
Oh, and Leigh? There's one more thing.
Yes? What is it?
Set aside the first five minutes of every day to search Google News for the words "Pearlman, Lou." Trust me, you'll be saving yourself about six months' worth of work.