In the journalism racket, there's an age-old phenomenon known as a "tip." Someone out there in readerland calls or e-mails, "tipping" us off to an allegedly hot story. "Hey, What's So Funny," one of these "tips" might begin. "My brother Karl can swallow sixteen used AAA batteries in under a minute, and he only shits blood for two days afterwards. You ought to come on out here to Brighton and write about it." This is what is known as a "bad tip." But as a journalist, it's my job, nay, my sacred duty, to track down each and every one of these tips -- or is it to just put the tip in? I forget. The point is, I waste a lot of my precious time pursuing whatever hot lead a couple of meth fiends in the suburbs decide to send in. That's how journalism works. Ask Woodward and Bernstein: Those guys played just the tip all the time.
But when I received a "tip" titled "Astounding Triumph of the Human Spirit" last Friday, I knew it was a "good tip." Because behind it was a real story -- even if, in the sober light of day, the protagonists asked to be identified by pseudonyms. Some people drunk text-message, some people drunk press-release:
"Friends of White Shadow and Chevy B have always empathized with the pain and boredom that comes with the undemanding summer schedule that teachers are forced to deal with," the e-mail began. "So they took action. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, Shadow and Chevy have been given a task that, if successful, will revolutionize how teachers view the lackadaisical nature of summer break: drink and watch TiVo all day. Their friends have predetermined what shows will be viewed and what drinks will be imbibed. Further, Shadow and Chevy will be in charge of updating their friends and family of the day's events at the top of each hour, because at that time, a new program will be examined and a new drink poured." The goal of this bold endeavor? To inspire all educational professionals "to make the most of the time they are required to take off from work."
"Astounding Triumph of the Human Spirit"
Now, this is the type of continuing education that What's So Funny can get behind.
It was a glorious, sunny, summer afternoon when I arrived at the scene of the noble social experiment. In nearby Wash Park, women with strollers were jogging and friends were throwing Frisbees. And in the dark, curtained basement of Shadow's lair, he, Chevy and another elementary-school colleague, Jimerson Rockefeller, were absolutely shit-faced. I'm talking Elizabeth Taylor shit-faced. I settled into their sunken, booze-filled den and curiously eyed the numerous bottles: Cazadores, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi Vanilla Rum, Smirnoff Vanilla Twist, Captain Morgan, Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, an orgy of chasers and mixers. Where were these teachers when I was in school? But there was no time to ponder such questions, as the trio was engrossed in an episode of Judge Joe Brown, awaiting the verdict of a man who had crashed a borrowed car while trying to squeeze an oversized slushy into an undersized cup holder. Vintage Americana. The crew was on rum and Cokes at the time, and in high spirits after a hard-earned noon-to-1 p.m. water break.
"We're really just trying to be role models for our peers and colleagues," Shadow explained. "During the summer, they are all lost, and by doing this, we're just trying to show that you can be productive with your summers and not waste them."
He produced printed-up snippets of said productivity, e-mailed hourly to friends and well-wishers:
8:20 a.m., Chevy: The heat the tequila is emanating through my body makes me feel like I'm having a heart attack.
10:22 a.m., Shadow: I need to tell yousomethingI'm drunk.
10:52 a.m., Shadow: We had a twenty minute argument about how the dude from The West Wing (Dule Hill) looks like "Bud" from The Cosby Showverdict: he does (see attached). This was followed by 45 minutes of serious discussion on race, gender, Bill Cosby, WEB DuBois and Booker T. Washington.
3:12 p.m., Shadow: Tom Collins time. Jim says, "Has anyone else tried this?" He tries it and vomits in his mouth. We erupt in laughter.
Across the city, the trio's friends awaited their hourly updates with bated breath. "Keep it up," one buddy e-mailed from a cubicle, as co-workers huddled nearby. "You've got a fan base." Back in the basement, there was a sense that what they were doing really mattered, that somehow, someway, drinking all day and watching horrible, horrible television was proving some kind of point, making some kind of statement. But then the hour turned and it was time for a new drink, Red Bull and vodka, and the only epiphany forthcoming was that there was no vodka left.
Tequila and whiskey sufficed.
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I sat with the crew through Joe Brown, A Baby Story and on into a half-hour of country-music videos, cruelly selected and pre-programmed by Shadow's roommates. Later, toward the end of my own statement-making workday, I called Shadow to check up on the triumvirate and hear all that they had learned.
"I'm not going to lie -- we're pretty fucked up," he reported, while someone hooted monkey noises in the background. "We just watched The Lone Ranger, and we were so drunk that we couldn't even recognize all the racist undertones because we were too busy hitting each other."
Huh. But what about the experiment? What about the strategy of drinking a different cocktail every hour for nine hours, crappy television beaming into your skulls, to somehow show the triumph of the human spirit -- if not the spirits' triumph over the human?
"Sorry, dude, I've got nothing for you," Shadow slurred. "I'm completely unintelligible right now."