A brown-haired woman timidly walked into my office, taking small, light steps, like she was a snooping around on Christmas Eve and didn't want to wake Daddy. She wore comfortable-looking, loose-fitting clothes with a number of pockets, clothing that rejects fashion for the sake of function; the outfit of a runaway. Her face was a different story altogether. If her face was a door, her eyes would be the sign out front that said the brain was out of town for the weekend.
"Are you the journalist I spoke to on the phone? The one from the internet?" Her voice was small and meek. It reminded me of a young child, or, like, a cartoon mouse.
"Yes," I said, "you must be Evi." I extended my hand, which she eyed suspiciously, like a suspicious cartoon mouse. "I promise not to bite, or encase you in some kind of giant, elaborate cartoon mousetrap, if that's what you're worried about."
"I wish I could believe you," she said, "but we've just had such bad luck with journalists and the media in the past. Please keep in mind that this will be our only interview, an exclusive. I reached out to you because yours is one of the few sites left that can actually give us objective, unfiltered representation." I must have missed the part where Cracked's general cluelessness regarding real-world issues started masquerading as journalistic objectivity, but sure, I'll take it. "I want to trust you, but we've been burned before. Will you help us tell our story?"
"Oh, right," she said, as she signaled for a large figure to join her in my office. "There's two of us, and we're both in terrible danger." The figure reluctantly shuffled up behind her with weighted feet, looming in my doorway and breathing heavily. It was covered in fur and smelled like a wet garbage truck dipped in an ass fire.
"I'd be happy to tell your story and expose the truth to the best of my ability, ma'am," I said, "but I'm afraid you can't park your partially-shaved gorilla in my office. I'm sorry, but it's a deal-breaker for me, it's one of my very few rules."
"'Partially shaved gorilla?' What... Oh, I see, that's not a gorilla, that's my husband; celebrated stage and screen actor Randy Quaid."
This photo was seriously in no way doctored.
"No, you must mean 'Dennis Quaid.' Either that or you mean 'not celebrated' and 'never appeared on stage.' And you mean to put 'actor' in little sarcasm quotes." She really butchered that sentence.
"My wife knows what she said," the Gorilla howled. "I am Randy Quaid. I know that I've seen better days, and the fact that I keep drooling all over myself and slapping my chest is admittedly not helping my case--"
"There are fruit flies stuck in your beard."
"-but I'd ask you to please try and look past that and concentrate on our story. We need your help."
Taking the Gorilla's word for it, for the time being, I inspected the mental file I had on the Quaids to see what specific kind of dirt it was they were hoping to scrape off on my doormat. I recalled a story a while back, something about the Quaids having an outstanding warrant for squatting in their own house that lived somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.16 million.
"Listen-- Evi, Magilla-- I do want to represent you accurately, but understand that I'm not here to bury any stories, and I will be on guard. Sometimes celebrities genuinely want an honest representation in the media, and sometimes they're just looking for a sucker to paint them a fluff piece. You want that? Get a PR man. My business doesn't cater to aiding and abetting fugitives. I can tell your story, but if you came here expecting me to ignore your warrants, you've got-"
"Oh, this isn't about the warrant," Evi said.
"Huh. Well then is it about the time you walked out on a $10,000 hotel bill?"
"No, God no," Randy hurled, "we're not worried about that at all."
"You... sort of should be..."
"This is about..." Evi paused dramatically. Randy fashioned a long, slender tool out of a number of my pens that we would presumably use later to extract pesky ants from an anthill. Also, I'll give it to him, dramatically. "Murder. Someone is trying to kill us."
"Murder," I said, with more than a little bit of disbelief in my voice, "Right. I'm already nursing a hamstring injury, so you'll forgive me for not being too excited about the two of you pulling my leg."
"I told you this wouldn't work," Evi said to Randy. "No one believes us. This is Canada all over again."
"Even without knowing what you're talking about, I'm offended by the comparison. What happened in Canada?"
"When we found out that people were trying to kill us, we escaped to Canada, hoping to find asylum, because our own government didn't believe us, but Canada doesn't buy it either. No one does. That's why we need you, you have to believe: people are trying to kill my husband."
"Well, in fairness to murderers, Vegas Vacation was pretty-"
"We don't know why they want to kill me," Randy half-said and half-intimated-via-a-series-of-rhythmic-pounding from his spot on the floor, "we just know that they do."
"Excuse my entirely justifiable and in no way out of the ordinary skepticism," I said, "but who would do this?"
"You'd better be ready," Evi said, "because this is a big one: there is a cabal of killers who are targeting Hollywood celebrities. They've already killed eight of our friends and we suspect that we're next. And yes, we actually believe this."
"These 'star-whackers,' as we're calling them," Randy grunted, "are dangerous. We believe they had a hand in the mysterious deaths of our friends David Carradine and Heath Ledger and other Hollywood stars."
"Carradine, Heath, then you, sure, I can see the pattern, that sounds pretty reasonable."
"You scoff but it's true. I'm next," Randy expressed through a fairly sophisticated arrangement of fart noises.
"Which you assumed because...?"
"Why, because of my husband's status as an entertainment icon," Evi said, as if the answer was as clear as the nose on her face, or the hand shoved in her husband's mouth.
"Because of your brother-in-law's status as an icon," I corrected. "Dennis, is the actor."
"No, no, it's Randy they're after."
"Right, no, I got that, but, like, a different one, right? There's a hotshot baseball-playing Randy Quaid that I don't know about, or something, and that's who we're discussing right now, right?"
"Look, I know how this must sound," Randy woofed," but you have to just trust us, there's a giant conspiracy. The whole thing is like one, awful nightmare. Are you ready for some hard truth? The warrants they have out for us are bogus. We're not criminals. We're not 'on the run.' We didn't steal from any hotel, and we're not crazy. We're honest, hardworking people, and this mysterious cabal is trying to destroy our names before they ultimately kill us. I know it sounds implausible. I know that. But, for a second, ask yourself What if it's true?"
"Look, Koko, I want to believe, I do, but at the same time, I also really don't want to believe you, because it would mean I'm an idiot. Do you see why I'd want to avoid that?"
"It's hopeless," Evi said, "he's not taking us seriously."
"Can you blame me? The whole thing is just so fantastical, it's like the plot of a really shitty movie. A movie like Home on the Range, or Pluto Nash, something irredeemably terrible on all fronts. Martians Go Home, or certain parts of Independence Day, or the direct-to-TV Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure. Just throwing out movies, here."
"Mr. O'Brien," Randy orangutaned,"you work in the media." While I wouldn't call Cracked 'the media,' nor would I call would I do 'work,' I do love it when people think I do things, so I decided to hear him out.
"As someone in the media, you should know how powerful it is. Let's say you had a plan to make a lot of money, and part of that plan involved either the death or the extortion of a celebrity. You can't just jump right into extortion, so what's your first move?"
Blank stare on my end.
"In trials," Evi began, "lawyers often dig up skeletons to discredit a witness's testimony. If the jury finds out that a witness has a history of lying or mental illness, they'll be less inclined to trust the witness. And of course the witness can't speak up and prove their reliability; once the jury has cause to distrust him, the witness is defenseless. So again, if you're in the media and you want to render a celebrity defenseless, what's your first move?"
"Use my position and audience and plant a fake story that makes the celebrity look nuts."
"But," I continued, the picture getting clearer every second, "not over-the-top nuts, at least not right away. I'd start out small. Something that was not too crazy, but just crazy enough to plant a seed in the minds of society. A seed that says 'Hey, this celebrity might be a little off."
"Something like, for example, 'Randy and Evi Quaid broke into their own house,' right," Evi asked.
"Yeah, something like. Just something that gets my audience to have slight suspicions about the celebrity."
"So the seed is planted," Randy said, gingerly removing clumps of feces that had hardened in his lower back pelt. "What's your next move?"
"I wait a while, give some time for the story to just about slip out of the public consciousness. Then I leak another story, this one a little bit crazier."
"Right, because once the seed is planted, your readers will be more inclined to accept slightly more outlandish claims."
"Definitely," I said. "I believe this is called 'Howard Hughes-ing."
"You lost me," Evi said. In what I interpreted as agreement, Randy belched and I swear to God a live hummingbird shot out of his mouth.
"Howard Hughes did a lot, but today he's mostly remembered for being crazy. People know that he grew his hair and fingernails long, that he couldn't stop repeating himself, that he got obsessed over tiny details, that he refused to leave his room, etc. So ingrained in the public consciousness is the idea that Howard Hughes was a total lunatic that you can say absolutely anything about him and people will believe it. If I said to you one day, 'Hey, did you hear? For the last two years of his life, Howard Hughes refused to poop. True story, he thought he was losing part of his essence with every bowel movement, so he just stored it up for two years. Ripped him apart on the inside, he started to sweat poop juice. It's part of what ultimately did him in.' Would you believe that?"
"It's crazy," Evi said, "but not that much crazier than every other story I heard about Howard Hughes. I guess I would believe it. Are you saying the mysterious cabal that is out to get us is Howard Hughes-ing us?"
"It certainly looks that way. They plant the first odd story, and then they raise the stakes and drop a bigger, nuttier story."
I made one of these up, but honestly does it matter?
"So you see where this is going," Evi said. "If someone with enough money and power wanted to convince the world that two decent human beings were insane, you know they could do it with just a little bit of Howard Hughes-ing. With the speed at which information travels, it only takes one or two fabricated stories to convince the whole world that we're crazy. Hell, most people only read headlines. A few 'Randy Quaid Did Some Weird Shit' headlines might be all you need."
"But wait," I said, my skepticism renewed. "Why would anyone even need to discredit you?"
"To render us defenseless," Quaid said in mid-barrel throw. "They know that, if the world thinks we're crazy, no one will come to our aid if, say, a mysterious cabal threatens to murder us. First they convinced America we were unstable, then they threatened us, and now our own country won't help us."
"The only way it'll stop," Evi said tearfully, "is if we pay them an absurd amount of money. Or... or they'll kill us and collect all of Randy's royalties from the Actor's Equity Association. Either way, they get their money and our reputation gets destroyed."
"Damn," I said, genuinely impressed. "It's the perfect plan. It's like crippling a guy right before a boxing match. But then also the guy has to give you all his money. Alright, I believe you. You guys convinced me of your innocence."
Watching their reactions, it was like seeing an invisible weight lifting off their shoulders. Evi closed her eyes and smiled for the first time in what could have been years. Randy high-fived one of those assholes from Congo.
"So you'll... you'll help us? You'll clear our names? You'll spread the word? You'll save us?"
"Oh," I said, putting the finishing touches on a photoshop project. "Oh, no. Is that where you thought this conversation was headed? Wow, no way. I've got an entirely different plan, actually."
"That'll be all your money, please. Evi, Mighty Joe: pleasure doing business with you."
Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.
How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.
It's easy to work the system and win these awards even if you don't deserve them.