Cracked.com Editor-in-Chief Jack O'Brien belly-flopped into my office by way of the skylight above my desk.
"Don't write that, Dan, I can see what you're typing, I'm standing right behind you," he said from his position suspended by wires four feet off the floor, like in that movie. "Just tell them I walked in through the door, because that's what happened. And it's Mission Impossible that you're thinking of." No it's not.
"I'm kinda busy here, Boss, I'm working on my collum."
"No you're not, you're just typing this conversation as it happens, plus you spelled 'collum' wrong. And again."
"Fine. What can I do for you, Jack Skellington?"
"Don't call me that, Dan."
"Whoa, take it easy, boss. We oughta call you Jack Yellington!"
"I didn't yell. And we don't call me 'Jack Skellington,' you're the only one who-"
"Or more like Scream-"
"Scream Yell- Uh, Yelling..."
"More like Scream Yelling...fart. Scream Yellingfart."
"Is what we should call you."
"Cool. It's tough typing and talking at the same time, isn't it Dan?" It really was.
"Perfect, well I'm just going to jump right into this, because I've got a lot of work to do and your office smells like you've been renting it out as some kind of black market practice clinic for unsupervised dog-neutering. But, like, only on hot days. It smells awful in here, Dan," Jack clarified as he casually swayed back-and-forth on his intricate series of cables and wires, like in that movie that I'm almost positive was called Sophie's Choice.
"The reason I'm here," Jack began, "is to tell you that I got you in. To South By Southwest. You're welcome."
"I mean this with all due respect, Jacts of Life-"
"Don't call me that."
"-but I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. I've never heard of South by Southwest before, but if it's a thing that you want me to attend then I'm guessing it's journalism school, or some kind of prison without windows, in which case you can forget it, and you'll never take me, and you are entrapment!"
"You don't even know what you're mad at, Dan, you want to go to South by Southwest. It's a big music, film and interactive festival in Texas. Don't you remember, three years ago you came bursting into my office begging to go? You even documented it, it was one of the first things you wrote about for the site."
I clicked the link Jack had said and briefly scanned the words, smiling at the comforting familiarity of a language that is distinctly mine, my unique sentence structure, (rhythmic and passionate, poetic in an almost sexual way), and also a picture of corndogs.
"I remember now, Jaxploitation-"
"I'm actually fine with that one."
"-I did want to go to SXSW and still do, today, for reasons that are as important to me as they are completely lost to my memory. So I can go this year?"
"Yes! I did it!"
"You and the rest of the team will be going-"
"-Cracked writers will be showing up from all over the world, and I got you guys a tent on Saturday, from 5-8pm."
"You'll be performing live-
"Hang on a second."
"-in Brush Square Park, representing the site to all of SXSW."
"Wait, I have to do a... like, a thing," I asked.
"Yes, Dan, of course you do. Why, do you not have anything planned? You beg me for tickets to this festival every single year. I just assumed you wanted to go because you had a good idea. You do at least have an idea for a live show, right?"
"I have loads of ideas. There's- I had the one about pogs, that was mine, uh, I was the one who said our site should be better, it looks like that's been taken under consideration for the future, I guess. Let's now... OOH! Freeing Tibet, I probably had a hand in that, no? Maybe one of those can be our show? What do you think?"
"... I don't know how to emphasize how stupid that is without repeating exactly what you just said to me."
"Dan, here's the bottom line: Today's Friday, and tomorrow is your performance. You and whichever of our employees you can round up by tomorrow are going to be representing Cracked.com in the real world with our first ever live performance. You have a tent for three hours and a stage, which means you had better put on a damn show at some point. I don't care what it is, just make it happen." Jack pulled one of the cords attached to his intricate wiring system and was flung vertically, through the very same skylight he entered.
"No I didn't."
Hours later, I gathered all of the Cracked team members who still answered my calls to discuss whatever-the-hell a Cracked.com live show was supposed to be.
I couldn't get a hold of Bucholz because, thanks to a strictly worded restraining order based on some frankly archaic international laws, I'm not even allowed to call Canada, and the last time I called Seanbaby my phone punched my ear in the throat somehow, so they weren't in attendance. I stared at the faces in front of me. The soft, childlike cheeks of Michael Swaim. The cool, collected, disarmingly Aryan jaw-line of Soren Bowie. The violent and almost accusatory eyebrows of Cody Johnston. The Double Dragon of facial hair that was Brockway's beard and moustache combination. They all sipped the homemade tea Brockway had brought for the meeting and they were waiting for someone to take charge of the day. Here we go.
"Alright," I said, addressing the team, "What's-his-name is having us do a thing at a place. Ideas?"
"I've got a few," said Brockway.
"Wait, hold on, that absolutely cannot be the most specific way of presenting whatever information you think you have," Michael said.
"Live performance, Swaim, in front of people. The Boss wants us to perform a live... something, tomorrow. In Austin, Texas."
"'A live something,'" Cody asked. "Like, the band, Live? Are we supposed to do a cover of a Live song? Because they were terrible."
"Maybe? I don't know, Cody, I just know that we have a chunk of time in front of an audience of people. We've got lights, there's going to be a stage, people will be looking at us, so we need to be doing something... Cracked-y, I guess. Thoughts? Anyone? What would a live Cracked show look like?"
"I sit on stage writing a list article and you all watch, jealous, inspired, impotent, etc," Soren offered.
"That's a terrible idea, but I'm gonna go ahead and put it in the 'maybe' pile anyway." I scribbled it into my notebook.
"Why are you even making separate notes if you're currently typing all of this up for your collum," Michael asked.
"I've got an idea," Brockway bellowed in interruption. "It's sort of a performance art piece, kind of bold, conceptually speaking. It's called 'I Take a Horse of Mescaline and Make Austin Bleed.'"
"Hold on one second," I said, "do you mean 'enough mescaline to kill a horse?'"
"Nope! The way it works is I sculpt a full, sturdy, adult horse out of mescaline and then I take it all in front of the audience and then the veins of all things living become clearer to me, their softness, their thinness, their thread-like fragility, and with my newfound vision I seek out these veins and expose them through penetration and you guys I already did all the mescaline."
"So Brockway's out."
"There's also a small pony of mescaline in all of your teas and plus I thought of some sketches you might liiiiike," he called over his shoulder while sprinting straight through a solid wall without losing an ounce of momentum.
"Man," Michael said, "he went right through that wall. I guess there's the hard way, the easy way, and the Brockway!" We all shared a hearty laugh, though it turns out that was the last time any of us would ever see him.
"You're pinning an Angel's wing behind its back and making it say 'Uncle' somewhere, aren't you, you magnificent bastard?"
"But he did have a point," Michael, always the reasonable one, said. "We should do some sketches. They'd be like our videos, but live, and in front of people."
"Good, okay, well I like that. Sketches. Comedy sketches," I clarified.
"Well, yes, Dan, they would obviously be comedy sketches, I figured that was implied" Michael, always the pain-in-the-ass one, said. "What else?"
"Stand-up is also comedy," Cody added. "Maybe some of that?"
"Yeah, yeah this is good," I said, as the floor wobbled and the windows turned inside out. That was odd. "Hey, guys, we should go ahead and formulate the rest of the show now, as quickly as possible, before this mescaline starts kicking in in a big way. We can't come up with a show if our minds are altered, we won't know how to separate good ideas from bad ideas. Go!"
"Balls," Cody shouted.
"That is a good idea. Next?"
"Robots. And a little bit of this," Soren offered while flexing into the shape of a bird of some kind.
"Fuck robots," Michael retorted.
"Both good, they're both going in."
"Rap music," someone shouted, (possibly me).
"These are great, keep 'em coming," I said to the writhing mass of colors and shapes. I was relieved that the mescaline wasn't having any kind of impact yet.
"Heaven, Hell, all of it, baby!"
The voices, the suggestions, the ideas- they were all blending together in one giant pile of razor-focused, totally sober comedy brilliance. I'd completely lost track of who was saying what or if I was just pulling some of the suggestions from my own nightmares.
The blood that Brockway promised was here. It was here. It was in all of us, yearning for freedom, screaming for it. Tonight was the night for mayhem.
"Did somebody already say 'balls?'"
The Oh, Shit, You Guys. You Guys?
I woke up strapped into the seat of an airplane, several hours later.
I looked around the cabin to see Soren, Cody, and Michael similarly strapped in. We quickly exchanged a few, brief I-Don't-Know-What-Happened-Last-Night-But-I'll-Swear-to-Your/Our-Innocence-in-Court winks and nods, a series of gestures understood only by the types of people who've bonded over a night of totally freaking out, man. Our silent conspiracy complete, I turned my attention to Jack, who was seated next to me.
"Finally, you're awake just in time for me to fire you," he said brightly without taking his eyes off his Skymall Magazine.
That was a gamble, because it was entirely possible that Jack had plenty of reasons to fire me, unless he was also on mescaline last night, which he almost never is.
"You were supposed to write a live show," Jack explained, "and you didn't. Not a single note. So you're fired. Since I already bought you a nonrefundable ticket to Austin, I decided to fire you in the air and then just leave you somewhere. It's a plan I feel really good about."
"But we totally came up with a live show, Jack. We did, I even took notes." I fished around my pockets for the notepad I'd used the night before, only to find it was actually taped to my face. Good thinking, Past Daniel. Before I got a chance to read it over, Jack snatched it out of my hands.
"They're just rough notes, at this stage," I blurted out quickly. "Guidelines, really, a blueprint and... possibly some pictures and colors, I can't... it might even be a literal blueprint. Last night got pretty... pretty crazy."
Jack spent several minutes absorbing all that was scrawled on the page.
"This," he finally said, "is actually... really impressive. And you guarantee that all of the elements you've described on this page will be involved in your live show? You can deliver on all of these promises?"
It would've been really smart for me to check the page first.
"Good," he said, handing me back the page. "As long as your live show can incorporate all of the themes and ideas you've listed on this paper, you can keep your job. Now I've got to go tell the pilot we'll no longer be dropping you over the ocean. Excuse me." After he exited, the rest of the team gathered around to look at the drug-fueled notes we'd taken the night before.
"Shit," someone or possibly all of us simultaneously said.
"This isn't too bad. We'll just have to make sure our show involves all of... all of this.
"Does that say 'arrrrt' or 'farrrt?'"
"...We should probably just include both."
So there you have it folks, I guess. Come out and meet Cracked.com in person(s) on Saturday, March 12th at the West Tent of Brush Square Park in Austin, Texas. We'll be there from 5pm-8pm hanging out, giving away stuff, drinking free beer with you and, apparently, doing some kind of live show that incorporates the frantic scribblings of a room full of yammering idiots. I promise, every single item on that piece of madness will make it into the show somehow, or my name isn't "Daniel O'Brien," (and also I'd be fired).
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