Dewey has written some 40 books of fiction and nonfiction, as
well as contributed scores of stories to magazines and other
periodicals. He has also had some 30 plays staged in Europe
and the United States. Dewey was editor of the ASME-award winning
magazine Attenzione and was editorial director of the
East-West Network, overseeing a dozen in-flight magazines and
the PBS organ Dial. Don's latest book, Franchisement:
The Alan Gibb Story, is now available.
tests can be crude. Like the time I was in the back seat of
a car listening to a published poet upfront rhapsodizing about
how life was only a figment of the imagination, what we called
reality an illusion. The driver, a non-poet who had been making
occasional sounds to indicate he had been doing something like
listening, suddenly lifted both hands from the steering
wheel, sending the car moping toward a guardrail. Crying out
to God, Baal, and whoever else presided over Long Island highways,
the poet grabbed for the wheel until, after maybe a moment of
observation too long, the driver took it back behind the snicker
of snickers: "I thought reality was only an illusion,"
Nowhere near as argued as some refutations of philosophical
tracts, artistic speculations and special delivery letters from
hallucinogens brandishing similar notions. And not ventured
to the fullest, who could say if a guardrail only 'seemed' like
a guardrail and was merely a projection from another dimension?
Nevertheless, as was the case that day in the back seat, my
empathy has always been with the snicker.
could claim a supermarket shopping list of reasons for that
point of view. One is that I'm just obtuse, woefully bereft
of the far stretches of mental vibrations. Another is that,
whether secure or smug, I simply want this world to be it and
have no incentive for interpreting the corner street sign for
Main Street as a Twilight Zone passage to the Universe
Without a Name. I don't think it's incidental that I find stories
dependent on such ploys boring, and not only because they provide
writers with a
built-in deus ex machina.
have some schooled reasons, as well, for snickering. More than
one person I've encountered who shares the poet's whimsy (alert:
editorial opinion) has confessed to being an atheist or agnostic,
so is it outlandish to conclude that for many the reality-as-an-illusion
sentiment is compensation for the absence of a St. Peter at
the heavenly gates and lusty virgins behind
it, a secular other? On a more emotionally fraught level, as
popularized by the likes of Monty Python cartoons, there is
human existence as insect life awaiting a shoe to come down
on it; i.e., unable to see the forest because of the trees.
And as a corollary to that apprehension there are obstacles
from reality-as-illusion to that most basic of all human needs
-- self-importance. Surrender that, surrender everything. Forget
the distant galaxy species able to recite the United States
capitals in the alphabetical order of their last letters before
we manage to recite the alphabet itself. Reality-as-illusion
isn't about humiliating comparisons with interplanetary creatures
with enormous heads, more limbs than a giant squid, and admirable
grades in SATs, it's about us and only us and whether we truly
believe the us is us as only we could love an us. Self-importance
has only one self. This one, thank you.
belief in ourselves alone is tautological in the extreme. Mirrors
can't be trusted to show more than our appearances; after all,
they have been made in this realm. More admittedly, not even
what had been an imminent appointment with a Long Island highway
guardrail changed my poet's perspective on all things real and
might have been real. Years later, he was still churning out
verse that made the least of earthly travails. Had he had some
personal experience having nothing to do with drugs
or orgasms or symphonic crescendi that had solidified his convictions?
It didn't help that like the children at Fatima and Lourdes
who had seen the Virgin, his answer on this point always (and
only) contained some variation on "Isn't it obvious?"
The secular had indeed never seemed so religious.
all this has to do with Mars began being forged the day I dropped
into a Times Square movie house to see Capricorn One, the thriller
about how far Washington might go to have the world believe
the United States was the first to reach that distant planet.
Serendipity put me in an aisle seat behind another aisle seat
that was unoccupied -- sort of. In fact, the seat in front of
me was being governed from the adjoining spot by a black fire
hydrant of a man I soon came to know as Harry. If Harry's companion
had gone off for popcorn edgy about losing her seat while gone,
she had seriously underestimated him. No
sooner had a caricature of a Brooks Brothers ad from his tie
knot to his briefcase come along with his eyes on the space
than Harry gave him the kind of thumb wedge last used cocking
the hammer of a .38. Junior Exec knew better than to question
the traffic signal and beat it in the dark to another section.
Harry shook his head in wonder before the innocence of the human
weren't much better on the screen. The ceremonies of the blastoff
to Mars had barely ended when the three-man crew was whisked
out of the rocket ship and, miraculously unseen by the TV cameras
of half the world, flown to a hangar in a desert landscape.
The three astronauts were mystified, and this was even before
O.J. Simpson became more associated with murder and robbery,
James Brolin more famous for being the father of Josh and husband
of a pop singer, and Sam Waterston devoted to two lifetimes
of "Law and Order." The man with the explanations
was Hal Holbrook, a NASA bureaucrat who reported that defective
somethings in the something of the rocket capsule would have
doomed the astronauts before they got beyond Cincinnati so it
was decided to abort things -- sort of -- to avoid negative
publicity. In compensation, the hangar had been fitted out as
a Martian TV set from which they would send reports of their
mission (wink, wink). A computer facsimile would do
the rest. Such a colossal ruse was in the interests of national
security, they had to understand.
astronauts might have, but Harry didn't. "Bullsheet,"
he growled, drawing out every letter to sound like an eastern
wrestling with English. "Who believes that bullsheet?"
didn't get the chance to elaborate on his critique because just
then a scrawny woman in a beret and raincoat and makeup like
cement on her face plopped down on the empty aisle seat. Instead
of a bin of popcorn, she had two twenty-dollar bills in her
hand that she practically slapped into Harry's chest. He evidently
knew her since he barely looked at her as he grabbed the bills
with one hand and reached into an inside jacket pocket with
the other. What he found might have been grass or might have
been oregano, but the beret lady seemed sure enough of her connection
that she took the packet without a hesitation, stood up, and
returned the aisle seat to its unoccupied status. Harry had
to stomp his foot at the absurdity of what was going on. "You
tellin' me they're makin' a plane hangar Mars?" he asked
nobody in particular, and especially a couple two rows down
annoyed by the commentary. "I may turn my place into fuckin'
astronauts were skeptical, too. At first they played along with
Holbrook's plan, sending love messages to their wives and children
and assuring the world their mission was proceeding perfectly.
But then their consciences started acting up. Harry wasn't surprised.
"Oh, oh, no way this don't end up like sheet," he
warned them and everybody else sitting in the orchestra. "Get
the hell outta there!"
it was too late. More crossed wires in the computer facsimile
popped up, and this time they fried the astronauts to death
-- sort of.
told the assholes, didn't I?" Harry's question was to the
next occupant of the aisle seat, a bruiser who might have left
his furniture van double-parked outside the movie house. He
was certainly in no mood for conversation about Capricorn One.
"I even had to pay the admission to get in here,"
he complained in his version of a whisper. "So I don't
need another stickup with you."
did Harry ever fuck you over?"
always a first time. What you got?"
and kisses, baby," Harry said, reaching into his jeans
pocket and coming out with a packet twice the size of what he
given the beret lady. "I like three figures. What do you
bruiser sighed; he had been here before. "You're really
pushing it, man."
was nothing indecisive about Holbrook's look when he was told
about the newest snafu. With a complicit congressman, his logic
was impeccable. "We can't have them showing up if they
died all over the world. I'll take care of it."
and the others had figured as much, so they agreed to separate
into three directions to increase chances of getting out of
the desert and telling the world what had been going on. And
they weren't alone. A journalist (Elliot Gould) had begun sniffing
around after a friend working on the Mars project had tipped
him off that something was amiss. The bad news was that the
friend was soon scrubbed from the planet. The worse news was
that the reporter was knocked around by the police and Federal
goons sent by Holbrook and then fired from his paper. "That
motherfucker better find a new line of work," Harry advised
Gould didn't, following up scant clues that led him to Brolin's
wife (Brenda Vaccaro) and the suspicion she might have
received a coded message during the TV transmissions that there
was something wrong. This made her develop a new detachment
toward Holbrook, who told her that a state funeral would be
held for Brolin and the other (not-so-dead) astronauts. The
kid in the NYU windbreaker resented the competition from the
screen for Harry's attention. "C'mon, man," he pleaded.
"I can't sit here all day."
nodded to himself to see that Simpson was the first one tracked
down by Holbrook's military killers. "Never a white
one to go first. They put a Chinaman in there and you have some
suspense. But no Chinaman."
somebody anxious to get out of his seat and start the rest of
his day, the windbreaker had a lot of reservations about the
packet Harry handed him. If he could have seen any better in
the darkness, he might have examined each shred of grass
individually. "Doesn't look right," he temporized.
forget it. Adios, muchacho."
"I didn't say . . . "
good. People here want to enjoy the movie."
woman on the other side of the aisle peered over for a closer
look at so much chutzpah. She had a point, of course. I also
wondered how much Harry had laid out to keep cops and ushers
and other uniforms away. The only thing missing was a
plaque on the aisle seat in front of me for memorializing the
location for the transactions.
windbreaker gave up his resistance more readily than Waterston,
who sought escape by climbing a cliffside that might have come
from Dover only to find more military killers waiting for him
at the top. For Holbrook that left only one plausible direction
for finding Brolin, so he unleashed his men there. And none
too soon because Gould had found the hangar for Mars II and
was starting to figure out that one and one added up to three.
next customer needed only a baton with his sweeping white hair,
white silk shirt, and mourning coat. An affected British accent
had apparently ceased amusing Harry a few deals back. "I'm
busy, Count. No bullsheet."
joints. Ten dollars. Right here."
look like the Five-and-Dime to you?"
was a trial for the Count to repeat himself, but he somehow
managed it. The effort was wasted in any case because Harry
had stopped jumping back and forth to the screen with Gould's
inspiration. On a bet that the missing astronauts had to be
lost somewhere out in the desert, he found a crop-dusting pilot
to scout with him. Harry gasped to see that the pilot was Telly
Savalas. "Holy shit, baby! It's
right. Two joints."
Harry was higher than he would have been smoking everything
in his pockets. "That's Kojak, baby! Say goodnight to the
Count didn't go that far, but he didn't object, either, indulging
Harry's diversion in the apparent hope it would be of help to
his negotiating. Eyes frozen on the screen, Harry might have
been a two-year-old exposed to his first cartoon. When Savalas
and Gould spotted Brolin inside an abandoned gas station and
threatened by two helicopters of military killers, they taxied
down a roadway until the astronaut jumped into the plane with
them. The helicopters pursued, prompting a lengthy ballet with
the crop duster, machine guns up against pesticide. Finally,
Kojak suckered the helicopters toward a mountainside, emptied
what pesticide was left in the tank, and pulled up just as the
helicopters lost direction in the clouds and slammed their way
was beside himself. If the lights had been up, he could have
stood to cull applause from the house for a climax he had seen
coming from the first appearance of Savalas. What followed elsewhere
was anticlimactic. Gould and Brolin made it to the funeral just
as Holbrook was looking reverential about burying the astronauts.
Vaccaro had to give back her widow's weeds. The Count went off
with a single joint, Harry making it clear that even that much
was sheer charity for the crumpled bill he received in return.
Last seen, Harry was smoothing out the bill to even it with
the others he had collected during the movie and in preparation
for the next show.
denying it: I had a feeling of deep disappointment in walking
out of the theater to the illusion of honking cars and an ambulance
by Donald Dewey:
Myth, and the Gods of Summer Pt. I
Playing It Safe
Not to Live By
to the Rescue
Playing It Safe
Them Entertain Us
a Kindergarten Life
of Humour in the Cinema
THE ALAN GIBB STORY by DON DEWEY
becoming the world's most respected life, death, and everything
in between coach, Alan Gibb shared that common frustration over
the failure of astrology, numerology, and similar religions
to direct all aspects of human behavior. They might have all
been sacred systems for establishing a personal identity, but
there was a rusty screw at their core. Even when the revolutionary
tenets of Franchisement occurred to him, he knew they might
remain stillborn without the attacks, arrests, and tragedies
customarily accompanying an original vision. Happily for Gibb
and the tens of thousands of his fellow believers, he was assaulted
in physical, mental, and dietary ways and hauled in as a fraud,
thug, and stalker even as he pressed forward on his crusade
to share Franchisement with the hordes crying for it as a national
pastime superior to baseball. More happily, the tragedies struck
others, not him, enabling him to enjoy the millions Franchisement
brought through the Internet, the telephone, and pay-on-demand
cable. As he noted repeatedly, the delivery vehicle was unimportant
as long as a customer thought he wanted what he was getting.
"If you listen to people, the world is divided between
the Yankees and the Red Sox," he liked to chuckle fondly.
"Tell that to those with a crush on the Minnesota Twins.
A vision that isn't comprehensive sees only its own nose."
OTHERS ARE SAYING:
there are many similar books too numerous to count, but this
book is sui generis." --- Benjamin Acocella, S.J., President
of the Council for Mental Observances.
book changed my life when it most needed changing." ---
Sidney Willinger, Leisure Sciences Department, University of
love is a 13-letter word." --- Jennifer Pryor, Harvard
School of Theoretical Business.
demonstrates how life is more than steak knives and storm windows."
--- Joel Sternheim, Informercials Institute.
Trade Paperback - 6 x 9 x .7
FICTION / Humorous / General
FICTION / Satire
FICTION / Sports
& Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the
Library and Archives Canada.