“The Last Gatekeeper: ShondaVision, Wyatt Duvall’s Tombstoned, and the Self-Imposed Shackles of Superherodom”

“What is nostalgia, but grief persevering?”-the synthetic human known as Mirage in ShondaVision

The gatekeeper. Is there any more pathetic creature in genre-dom than this self-appointed arbiter of who is and who isn’t a true fan? 

The middle-age mom who has seen every single Star Cars movie in the theater, but who hasn’t watched all of Yugo Wars, read Timothy Khan’s General Impala Trilogy, or played Shiner Cars of the Republic on the PS4? Truth be told, she doesn’t even know those things exist. 

The life-long fanboy who not only insists that the animated Batmensch: The Mark of the Phantom is better than all the live-actions films in the entire Batmensch series  but who was so enamored with Ran Jackson’s film that he dove headfirst into the writer-director’s oeuvre and knew in his heart of hearts that he watched the single best hour of television when he finished the “Amadeus” episode of Pharma Bros?

The six-year-old kid who bought a Baby Grout doll at the Hall Monitors of the Galaxie rollercoaster gift shop at Dismay World, renamed it Shrek, and reads it bedtime stories every single night?

No, says the gatekeeper. They haven’t devoted their lives to Star Cars, Batmensch, and Hall Monitors of the Galaxie, slavishly shelling out immeasurable amounts of money with the desperate gusto of an evangelical TV watcher hoping to secure their place in prosperity gospel heaven with each and every GoFundMammon donation. 

The problem is this: Star Cars isn’t a replacement for having personality, much less a purpose or, gasp, a religion. Neither is Batmensch or the Hall Monitors of the Galaxie. Each one is a corporate-owned piece of intellectual property, and the studio executives who paid to produce those respective products don’t give a hot, steaming pile of bandar fodda about your feelings.

But more than anything, the gatekeeper is a sad, silly little basement-dwelling beastie because he is blind. For him, the object of his fanboy affection is a shining pocket universe on the hill in which only he and other diehard fans inhabit. He doesn’t see these objects for what they truly are: modern American culture itself. 

It doesn’t matter what the particular property is — whether it’s Star Trucks, Iron Magnet, or My Randy Stallion — it is impossible to escape the influence of these genre behemoths. They are legion. And their numbers grow with each sequel, each spin-off, each reboot, and each roll of branded toilet paper.

Which brings us to the latest bit of genre pop confectionary to become all the candy store rage: ShondaVision. 

On paper ShondaVision doesn’t sound like it would work: Dismay’s mutant hero the Seafoam Witch and her astral projection lover Mirage are trapped in an apparent pocket universe of their own, one in which each episode is an homage to one of Shonda Tymes steamy, soap-opera dramas. And yet this odd combination of superheroics and soap works — whether it’s in the form of political intrigue (Controversy), medical drama (Grave’s Anatomy), or courtroom drama (How to Get Away with Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome). 

But why does it? If you’ve read this far in this essay, you know that answer: the gates to fandom have been torn down. Today, we are all fanboys and geek girls.

So, when the Seafoam Witch delivers a Meredith Grave-esque monologue over the closing montage that ends Episode 2 of ShondaVision — the one in which it is revealed that the witch herself is seemingly controlling all the characters in this prime-time drama in which nearly all-powerful sorceress has been caged — comic fans and soap fans rejoice because both share a common tongue: superheroes. 

But like the Seafoam Witch and her husband Mirage, we didn’t choose to live in this world of spandex-clad Greek gods. It was thrust upon us.

Hungry for a common culture, something that felt distinctly American when so many things that once seemed American have been revealed to be false, we devoured it as quickly as a starving man will eat a half-empty can of dog food, as well as any maggots contained therein.

And few have feasted as greedily as Wyatt Duvall. The result, Tombstoned, is less a novel than it is a violent regurgitation, an attempt to expel the sickness that had turned the author’s insides into a war zone and revealed genre itself to be a war crime. 

Duvall’s passages on the Delivery Boy sum this illness up quite nicely:

This was the third time that Buck Sparkman had been hired to bring in the Delivery Boy. The Boy could fly. He had X-ray vision. He could lift a car with his mind. And he could brood with the best of them, lamenting all the times his loved died at the hands of criminals, both minor and super-villain. Most of the time, it was his parents. Other times, it was a high school sweetheart. Sometimes it was his bionic bearded dragon, Deep Dish. It didn’t matter who died — or if they died at all. The Delivery Boy needed a reason to seek justice. And right now, he was fighting with his landlord: The costume crusader was two months behind in his rent, and the landlord was threatening eviction. Either the Delivery Boy settled up today or he was going to get kicked out of his one-bedroom superhero HQ. 

All of this had happened to the Delivery Boy before. Twelve times as a matter of fact. 

Truth be told, a lack of money was a constant problem for the men tights who patrolled the city’s streets, the skies, and the anime-themed massage parlors. A snerf snerf was $50. A snerf snerf was $75. Snerf snerf $100. Just one more and the Delivery Boy would receive a free snerf sundae served in a plaid schoolgirl skirt and topped with a freshly snerfed snerf. 

Not that the Delivery Boy didn’t try. He applied for a job last week. Just like he did two weeks ago. Whenever the Boy apprehended a criminal, he hung them from a streetlamp and collected their spare change when it hit the pavement. Last week, he scored enough to buy a Flappy Meal. 

The last time the Delivery Boy held down a job for longer than two weeks, it was as a delivery flyer for a fast food joint called Sky Pies. He liked the job well enough. It gave him an opportunity to watch over the citizens of the city, to protect them from the undesirables. The only problem: Boy’s customers never knew if he was there to deliver a pizza or rob them. He always wore a mask.

And with good reason.

The Delivery Boy had the worst case of acne in the history of the world. 

To make matters worse, every single zit on his face was territorial. The whiteheads hated the blackheads. The blackheads hated the whiteheads. And everybody hated the deep, red sores. And neither a tube of Clearasil nor a UN peacekeeping force could stop the ethnic cleansing. Children cried. Women screamed. Grown men fainted. The elderly were left without stories to tell the bedpan orderlies. Even, the pope had excommunicated the Delivery Boy’s face. The costumed crusader was a pariah and a pizza delivery man without a job. He was penniless and powerless. 

Duvall’s disdain for superheroes is also on display in the way that Buck Sparkman dispatches the Delivery Boy:

When Buck Sparkman fired a barrage of coupons at the Delivery Boy, the superhero erected a wall of pepperoni to block the attack. But Buck was not dismayed. He knew what to do. 

The air in the room began to turn cold, and the mozzarella began to harden. The Boy countered. The pipes overhead coiled and turned red, and the mozzarella began to soften. Buck was impressed. Clearly this was no mere driver, and as far as superheroes goes, he was impressed. The cravedigger knew he had to get creative. Buck had to plumb the depths of his mind for a plot device that the Delivery Boy could not counter.

And it came with a knock on the floor above. The knocks came in pairs.

One time.

Two times.

Three times. 

Four.

And each time the knocks grew louder. 

At first the Delivery Boy was startled. And then annoyed. 

But just as suddenly as the knocking started, it stopped. The floorboards above creaked. The Boy’s eyes followed the sound as it moved to the opposite side of the room. Without warning that was a rapping, a furious, clenched fist rapping at the one-bedroom superhero HQ door. The Delivery Boy shouted, “Whaaaaat?” The words and the tone were instinctual. He had no control over his actions.

Buck Sparkman smiled. The cravedigger had the Delivery Boy.

“Clarence, stop making all that racket. What are you doing in there?” the gruff voice behind the door said. “And take out the trash. Now.”

The Boy’s shoulders slumped. “But, Mom, I’m in the middle of something,” he replied with a whine.

“I don’t care,” the voice countered.

“In a minute,” the Delivery Boy shouted back. 

“No. Do it now,” the voice said. It clearly had lost its patience.

“All right, all right,” the superhero replied, defeated. He began to raise his arm to give the voice behind the chamber door the signature one-fingered salute, but his arm was blocked by a thin but durable wall of clear plastic. He could barely bend his arm at the elbow. 

“No,” the  Delivery Boy shouted, leaping up. But it was too late. The comic book bag had already been taped shut by the cravedigger.

Standing on the other side of the plastic, Buck Sparkman was holding a Brick Street Comic Book Price Guide in his left hand. With the other hand he was pointing at the value of  Delivery Boy No. 1, the superhero’s debut. It was $184, the exact amount he owed his landlord. Clarence smiled back. For a brief second, he felt something akin to pride. 

As one who clearly was so steeped in comic books and hokey space operas, Duvall must have had an affinity for genre tales at one time. More importantly, he must have sympathized with those who sought refuge through them. As many of the vignettes in Tombstoned do, the passage on Chuck Wiggins opens with Buck Sparkman engaged in domestic activities:

Buck Sparkman set down on the steps and tossed back a bottle of retch. His backyard had succumbed to the clap. The grass was red and irritated, and the azalea bushes were oozing a viscous cheese. The disease had slowly worked its way down the block, spreading from tree to tree, bush to bush. Buck shook his head and grimaced. The birds and the bees were promiscuous this time of year.

The cravedigger could hear the lawn mowers powering up across the neighborhood. 

There was Amal Muzz right now. He could tell by the excited hum. 

And B.J. LeRoy’s, always noticeable for its fascination with dirty talk and a tendency to say, “Who’s your daddy?”  

As for Sparkman, the cravedigger’s mower was nastier than them all. It attacked the soil like it was its enemy, snerfing the grass and slobbering antibiotics on the lawn. Every other week, Buck made hate to his lawn and it showed. 

The Sparkman residence had yet to receive a Yard of the Month placard and likely never would. At least as long as the restraining order was in place. 

Buck yanked the chain and the lawn mower grunted, gurgled, and growled. The birds flew from the trees and the squirrels grabbed their nuts and snerfed themselves. This would be the day that Buck Sparkman defeated his backyard once and for all.

The tombstone cracked. Buck let go of the throttle. The mower rumbled to a halt, gasping for breath.

The cravedigger read the epitaph. His services were needed. A superhero was trapped inside a burning building. It was the third time this week.

Buck sat down on the back steps and typed a message.

“A fire rages like a hemorrhoid

Attracting cape and cowl

Another superhero cries.

I’ll be there in five.”

None of that meant anything, of course. Sparkman didn’t even plan on taking a shower for another 15 minutes.

He grabbed the handle to the lawn mower and pushed the beast back to the shed. The squirrels juggled their nuts and chuckled, and the birds cursed his name. Buck didn’t mind. He hated yard work. But not as much as he hated superheroes.

Not that this was always the case. In his youth Buck loved all the greats — the Fantastic Fab Four, the Spittoon, Captain Honor Roll, and the Incredible Chud. But then the day came when Peru Nicklas’ malfunctioning tombstones triggered a worldwide breakdown of each and every iPlot. 

The next day, not too much had changed. 

Yeah, his mom lost her pregnancy weight and dad was finally able to find a moment of peace and quiet, but the world was pretty much how it was the day before, mildly amused at itself and looking for somebody, anybody, to laugh. But then Buck ran into Chuck Wiggins at Atomic Comics.

 Chuck was born a loser to a stay-at-home shoeshine man with a five-figure crystal meth habit and a mom who could take more licks than a Frootsie Roll Pop. Try as he might, Mr. Wiggins never got to the center of a jail cell, much to Chuck’s disappointment.

Buck remembered how Chuck had shown up at tee-ball practice with his usual long white shirt — the one that covered up the cigarette burn scars and bruises — and an unexpected change in skin tone: he was purple, just like the Incredible Chud. That is if the Incredible Chud had been transformed by purple magic marker and not, oh say, gamma radiation.

Chuck had immersed himself in a day-long marathon of Incredibile Chud cartoons, and he thought it’d be a good idea to make his skin the same color as the brute-like, take-no-snerf beast. It worked, at least from the hairline to the bridge of his nose.

Buck and his buddies never mentioned their teammate’s appearance, not in the dugout, not in school the next day, or in the years later when they bought reefer from him. But they always knew, and, more importantly, Chuck always knew that they knew. 

But something was different about Chuck that day at Atomic Comics, the day after the Great Pomeranian Incident at Peru Nicklas’ house. Buck could sense it from across the store. He wasn’t sure what it was. It was almost as if Chuck Wiggins’ body was throbbing, like an infected finger or a malevolent boil. Sparkman tried not to stare at Chuck or his skin, which, Buck couldn’t help but notice, was slowly turning violet, Violet.

Chuck Wiggins grinned as he thumbed through a copy of the The Incredible Chud: The Saga of the One-Eyed Snerf. His lip was split, he was missing a tooth, and his mouth was full of blood. Sparkman watched him as he took the issue and walked to the counter in stiff lumbering steps. Chuck then paid and walked out the door, his growing body barely fitting through the frame. Buck could’ve sworn he heard the sound of ripping jeans and the theme music to the late-70’s television adaption of The Incredible Chud. As fate would have it, that was the last time Sparkman saw his one-time teammate.

The police report was unclear of exactly what happened next. No one saw it happen. Judging by the purple spray on the alleyway walls, Wiggins had simply exploded. All of him. Everywhere. Like even in the cracks of the bricks and mouths of the bums that slept in the alleyway and the cats that slept with them.

Days later, after everyone realized what Peru Nicklas had inadvertently unleashed on the world, Buck finally understood what had happened Chuck Wiggins: his dream had come true. He had turned into the Incredible Chud. But all of those years of anger and rage were too much to contain. Once he began to grow, he just couldn’t stop. 

Needless to say, Buck Sparkman hadn’t picked up a comic in years. He was worried what effect they might have on him too. It was a smart decision.

These days no one bought comics anymore. The skies were filled with them.

Comparing the tale of the Delivery Boy and the tale of Chuck Wiggins, it’s clear that one can be viewed as a critical commentary on the older fan while the other can be viewed as a sympathetic commentary on the early fan, the impressionable child who escapes into the world of superheroes and other genre heroes. But if that child doesn’t learn to seek leave his shelter, he will mutate into a gatekeeper, a slimy, sullen, solitude Smeagol who has fully retreated from the real world and into a intellectual property fantasy world of variant covers, limited editions, and mind-numbingly dull debates about minor canon infractions. 

Knowing what we know about the tragic conditions of Duvall’s childhood, any discussion of superheroes in Tombstoned must note Duvall’s familiarity with those who love genre; one might even surmise that Duvall had once sought refuge in the world of comics himself. 

Be that as it may, there is no escaping the fact Duvall believed that much like the Seafoam Witch, the genre gatekeeper was trapped in a self-made fantasy world and the only solution was an exorcism, the likes of which the star of ShondaVision would certainly approve. Cue another one of Meredith Grave’s classic montage monologues. There will be screams.

“What the Snerf? When profanity is the norm, nonsense is the only transgression”

One thousand six hundred and eleven. That’s the number of times the word “snerf” is used in Wyatt Duvall’s aborted second novel, “Tombstoned.”

Eight hundred and thirty-nine. That’s the number of words that Duvall devotes to “Tombstoned”’s novel within a novel “The 120 Days and Nights of the Marquis de Snerf,” a work whose evident debauchery is obscured by the liberal use of the nonsensical word snerf.

Snuffs. Snufts. Sneezes. Snorcs. Smores. Pecan Sandies. Chads. Each one of these at one point or another was used in earlier drafts of Tombstoned, but they all served the same purpose: they were substitutes for the various profanities, slurs, and curses that cripple the spoken word and hobble our thoughts, and which seemingly litter the pages of “Tombstoned,” that is if one ignores the cover which snerf provides. 

Duvall clearly had the much beloved Smurfs on his mind when he introduced the Snerfs in his shaggy dog detective romp about the so-called cravedigger Buck Sparkman, a private dick in the mold of Sam Spade but who was repurposed for the age of the smartphone. However, it is without question that the term “snerfs” is not simply a placeholder for “Smurf,” the creature, or “smurf,” the multi-purpose word used by Peyo’s cartoon creations. Instead, snerf is an attempt by Duvall to strip epithets of their transgressive power. And he accomplishes this by reducing them to habitually uttered utterances that are ultimately devoid of any true meaning baring that of a placeholder, and a tired, tiring one at that. 

One only needs to think of the many ways in which the most commonly used profanities can be used — none of which we will mention here given that this text may find itself in the hands of underage readers, readers who nevertheless should never be in the possession of “Tombstoned” itself despite Duvall’s significant measures to remove any instance of vulgarity from the book. 

As a word, snerf can be a noun, verb, or adjective. It can be foul, friendly, or frightening. It can be fearful, joyful, or angry. It can refer to a piece of anatomy, an act performed with or without that piece of anatomy, or a nonexistent, indescribable state of being whose meaning is different based on tone, inflection, and context. It can be, quite honestly, anything. And with snerf, Duvall had found a perfect semantic chameleon. 

The following passage is a prime example of the way in which Duvall employs snerf to both hide and highlight his intent:

The Marquis de Snerf snerfs one snerf in her snerf just after having snerfed into the same receptacle; a second snerf is lying on top of the first, with the first snerf’s head between her snerfs, and upon the face of the second snerf, a third snerf snerfs a snerf, and he, while thus snerfing his own snerf in the first snerf’s snerf, snerfs the snerf snerfed by the third snerf upon the second snerf’s face, and then they alternate roles, in such wise that each snerf snerfs all three of them.

Or this one:

The Marquis de Snerf snerfs the snerf of one snerf while snerfing a second in the snerf and while his snerf is being snerfed by a third; then they exchange positions as above. The snerfs must snerf, he snerfs snerf.

  He requires a dozen snerfs, six young, six old and, if ‘tis possible. He snerfs out their snerfs, snerfs, and snerfs; when applying his snerf to the snerf, he wants copious snerf; when at the snerf, much snerf; when at the snerf, abundant snerf. It smells of snerfberry pie.

It’s better that other scholars attempt to decipher the sordid details of that text, but one need not have a mind befouled by foul thoughts to realize the scandalous nature of these passages. The very pages on which they are printed surely reek of filth, that is if one is so inclined. 

Again, what meaning the reader attaches to the word snerf in one instance or another — clearly it can’t have the same definition each and every time — is dependent solely on the reader’s divination, not the writers.  

Regardless, the question does arrive: is all this snerfy business funny?

While humor is surely subjective it in nature, it’s not certain that it was Duvall’s intent to elicit guffaws or even gasps. 

As argued in my earlier essay “The Monolith and the Tombstone: Wyatt Duvall’s guide to rebooting a reality overrun by ‘Star Cars’ and superheroes,” Duvall had hoped that his sophomore novel would serve as a societal reset, an emergency measure meant to erase the cheap dreams of a modern American society enslaved by a hegemony of superheroes, swash-bucking space truckers, and parading hobbits, elves, and orcs, all celebrating story arcs and character tropes that didn’t simply recall Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” but snerfed hero’s journey with such gusto that all the snerfberries in all the snerfberry trees fell to the ground, where they fermented and rotted and were snerfed and snerfed and then snerfed again. As such, you can surmise that Duvall intended the nonsensical word to play at least some part in that reset. 

Be that as it may, the use of the word snerf quickly becomes an annoyance in “Tombstoned.” As a result, this ubiquity not only obscures but removes the term’s power to amuse. And with “Tombstoned,” there is perhaps no better example of this than with the discussion of Buck Sparkman’s ongoing dissatisfaction with so-called “Big Snerf Days,” as presented in Chapter Two:

It was a partially cloudy day with a late-afternoon chance of rasputin. Or at least that was the forecast according to the WCLT’s morning show “The Daily Tea Leaves,” a chummy brew of disembodied talking heads and wink-wink advertorials disguised as health tips that was broadcast directly into your pick-me-up beverage of your choice. For most folks it was coffee, for others tea, but for Buck it was a Bloody Scary, a time-honored blend of summer camper slasher films, a double-shot of retch, and pure unadulterated hate. And it warmed him right up. Everytime.

The day: Christmas.

Again.

And before that Christmas.

In fact, it was the eighth time Christmas came that week.

And like most Christmas morns, Buck Sparkman was a having a Big Snerf Day. 

This used to be a special thing. But not anymore.

Back before every Tom, Dick, and Harry Cary had a snerf-sized snerf, when a fellow woke up with what seemed like an extra snerf of snerf and another snerf in snerf, it was reason to, well, snerf. 

You’d tell the boss to snerf off in an epitaph you never sent from your tombstone. 

You subscribed Chad to the Snerf of the Month Club and told them to bill you later.

And you snerfed in the snerf while thinking about giving the annual budget a snerfing snerfy snerfing.

You felt empowered.

But not anymore.

Every day was a Big Snerf Day.

And even though Buck Sparkman was one of the best cravediggers around, there was nothing he could do to bring an end the tyranny of Big Snerf Days. Sparkman could bury out-of-control plot lines and cremate plot twists before they had a chance to alter the fabric of reality itself, but not with Big Snerf Days. Two many snerfing people liked Big Snerf Days. 

Same with Christmas. Which was yesterday. And the day before that. Snerf, Buck couldn’t remember the last time it wasn’t.

All of which is why, Sparkman longed for regular snerf days and, for reasons that might seem counterintuitive, Thanksgiving: his pants fit.

Now, given the context of what transpires in that passage, one can surmise what Duvall was attempting to say, but it’s simply not certain what he meant. And, again, given the family-friendly nature of this journal, we won’t discuss the potential contenders out of an abundance of caution and a commitment to decorum. 

While the nature of what is and what isn’t snerf, in any and all of its form, there is no question Duvall had grown tired of the vulgarity which had become commonplace in early 21st century America. And it wasn’t because he bristled at such utterances — far from it. What bothered Duvall about profanity, as it was used by his contemporaries, was that such utterances were usually devoid of creativity. 

In an interview Duvall conducted with CNN’s Dana Bash on the subject of the provocateur’s political activities as the leader of the Slumber Party, the conversation took a turn toward the work of Will Ferrell and his rather considerable oeuvre before becoming a pitchman for Depends adult undergarments. This occurred, as you know, after an aborted adaptation of Duvall’s own “120 Days of the Marquis de Snerf” by the comedian’s Gary Sanchez production company:

“It doesn’t matter if it’s everyday speech or a movie, name-dropping body parts and biological functions to add a little zest to the conversation … it’s just lazy. There are only so many different terms and combinations. But when I hear someone call someone else a ‘cottonheaded ninnymuggains,’ I grab my pearls and stumble back to fainting couch and take a hit of dryer lint to get my senses back. That’s the motherserfing worst slur in the mothersnerfing world.” 

Truer words have perhaps never been spoken.

When Obama Met Snooki: Deep Fakes, disruption, and the democratization of reality

“Sometimes that albatross hanging around your neck isn’t yours. It’s someone else’s. When that happens, there’s only one thing to do: find the rotten bastard that bad omen belongs to and toss him overboard before the whole damn ship runs aground and you’re fighting for your life on Captain Cook’s Cannibal Island.”–Wyatt Duvall

The age of the deep fake is upon us. And while it frightens many, Wyatt Duvall is surely one who would rejoice in its arrival. After all, the noted prankster, bathroom stall philosopher, and provocateur launched what would ultimately become the deep fake era years ago while leading the team of creative ne’er do wells at the hoax-generating marketing company, Diversified Solutions, Inc. Not that anyone knew that is what Duvall had done. Perhaps that is what he intended all along.

Alongside Jay Hamilton, the chief disruption officer at DSI the head of the firm’s Hazardous Toys: Choking Division, Duvall’s experiments in the then-nascent form of computer mimicry lead to a panicked series of seven days that nearly brought the world to its knees. 

At the time, the goal that Duvall and Hamilton had set before themselves and the rest of the Presidential Alert team was exceedingly ambitious: broadcast a series of announcements from the current president of the United States — then Barack Obama. Some announcements were urgent reports regarding national security, while others were silly diversions that arguably were in-jokes to which only staffers from DSI would find amusing. Nevertheless, the broadcasts were significant for the horrible future they predicted. (Of course, it would be an error on my part if I failed to mention Obama’s own foray into the world of hoax art, when it was revealed that he was the cointelpro mastermind behind what was known as Q Anonymous to its devotees and a honeypot to federal law enforcement hoping to identify homegrown terrorists, white supremacists, and far-right fanatics.)

Few recordings from that experiment exist since Duvall, Hamilton, and company specifically targeted small media markets served by understaffed, underfunded television stations using out-of-date equipment, often at hours when a skeleton crew at best, and an intern at worst, was at the helm. Furthermore, the DSI team broadcast no single presidential alert in more than one location. In other words, no television station that received one of Duvall and Hamilton’s alert was prepared to hit the record button when the alerts came through without warning.

Fortunately, we now have a detailed synopsis of the campaign thanks to what appears to be an interoffice report from Diversified Solutions, Inc., itself. It’s a fascinating look at the nature and extent of this most dangerous campaign, one that lasted far more than the seven days as originally thought and which targeted a staggering 45 locations. In hindsight, it’s amazing Duvall and Hamilton’s experiment didn’t have more real-world implications.

More no mistake, the DSI duo fully intended to cause havoc. 

According to the newly obtained interoffice report, penned perhaps by Duvall himself:

 Hamilton believes that no two channels should be targeted at one time, since, he theorizes, the viewer of a false Presidential Alert will feel more anxiety if the message is only found on one channel. As the viewer flips, first to the cable news network of their political inclinations and then to its competitors and finally through every channel, they will become increasingly agitated when they discover that the president’s address cannot be found on any other channel. They will question the government. They will suspect a conspiracy. They will doubt their sanity. They will feel personally chosen, a feeling that causes more dread than any of the others. After all, what is true madness if not being touched by the hand of the divine.

Given Duvall’s proclivities, in particular his passion for hoaxes, historians have long wondered why the prankster abandoned this experiment, dismantled the Presidential Alert team, and never again attempted such broadcast chicanery. However, another recently discovered artifact sheds light on Duvall’s feelings about the project. 

Some scholars suggest the answers may be found in a 2015 interview, filmed shortly before Duvall went into hiding, although not to orchestrate Donald Trump’s successful 2016 campaign as some have speculated. The exact date and circumstances under which the video was shot is not clear at the time. But while further investigation is certainly warranted, there’s little doubt the Presidential Alert project was on the prankster’s mind during the interview:

Look, man, reality is what you make it, and if it was up to me, back in 2009 we would have had an entire season of “Real World: Key West” with President Obama and Snooki as bunkmates, but the rendering time was just too much for the hardware we had at Diversified Solutions. All other work would have ground to a halt. I mean, I’m glad we live in a world with Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” In fact, I don’t know what I’d do without it. And yoni eggs, too. It takes more bandwidth than you think to workshop those ideas. But there was a philosophical reason as well: it was just too much power in one man’s hands. My hands, man. Or Jay’s hands. Whoever else it may be at DSI. We could deep-fake Obama into every My Pillow commercial, but is that right? Is it good? Does society truly benefit? Is it frikkin fair? The answer is no, no, no, no. No one person should have that power. But everybody? Hell yeah. That’s why I said, no more. And it was tough to do, man. Really tough. I really want to watch Tucker Carlson clutch his pearls when Obama and Snooki enter the Smoosh Room for the first time. But I vowed to the entire team we wouldn’t take another step until everybody could do what we did. Until this power was in your hands, not just mine. We’re allies, bro. Solidarity today, solidarity, tomorrow, solidarity forever. Is that freedom rock, man? Well turn it up!

This particular interview may have been on Duvall’s mind when he turned his attention to “Tombstoned,” his discarded second novel. In email correspondence with Sally Field Ferguson, DSI director of disinformation, Duvall writes: 

The book [“Tombstoned”], if it’s about anything, it’s the total democratization of reality. Whatever anyone wants to be true becomes true. Let’s say you want the history books to say the South won the Civil War. Bam. Done. Let’s say you want Robert E. Lee to be a drag queen. Bam. Done. Or let’s say, Stonewall Jackson was gunned down by his own men during a fit of PCP psychosis. Bam. Done. Hell, you could even turn the entire Southern army into a ragtag gang of misfit toys with trust issues and a case of Bud Light with Lime. Easy. It happened. It’s history. The point is, reality is yours. It’s mine. It’s everyone’s. To shape, to mold, to manipulate. The world belongs to all of us, not just the ivory tower elites or Hollywood or the New York media. All of us. See, I’m a firm believer that the narratives of our lives should be written by our own hands, not the hands of some coked-out script doctor with an afternoon appointment with a femdom furry with a two-foot-long piece of PVC pipe she calls the Big Bopper. Not that femdom furries should be prevented from creating reality themselves. No way. If there’s one thing this reality needs, it’s more chicks in My Randy Stallion costumes singing, ‘Chantilly Lace.’ Am I right or am I right?”

It’s easy to dismiss this discussion of “Tombstoned” as being solely focused on the book proper and not Duvall’s overall views, but that would be an error. Based on the interoffice report, it’s clear that the prankster wanted more. The only question is, did he get his wish? Perhaps the more pertinent question is, are we ready to live in the very world Duvall longed for, whether we want it or not?

The answer to that question remains to be seen.

“Buck Tales: Why I Revisited a Failed Novel and Gave It an Academic, Navel-Gazing Reboot”

Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think “Walker, Texas Ranger” needs a reboot, much less an origin story. And yet we now have one, starring former “Supernatural” and “Gilmore Girls” star Jared Padalecki as the titular Lone Star lawman. 

Now, I don’t think anyone was actually clamoring for Walker’s return. The Grunge-era, Chuck Norris-led, cops-and-stretch-denim kung fu Western isn’t actually a high-value IP with a diehard group of fans penning slash fiction and secretly sharing their dirty little fantasies with their fellow devotees. 

We’re not talking about “Star Trek” here. Or Bond. Or “Dr. Who.” Or “Spider-Man.” Properties with long-running multi-generational appeal. We’re talking about Billy Bob Walker, a character that is so far removed from the pantheon of great pop culture heroes that you don’t even know if Billy Bob is actually his first name. I don’t. It could be, but no one knows enough about “Walker, Texas Ranger” to say otherwise.

The point is, somebody thought enough of Walker to bring him back. More importantly, they thought enough people would be interested to see this all-but-forgotten Texas Ranger back on the screen alongside his crime partners Dr. Quinn and, um, Manimal, every Friday night on CBS.

Again, Dr. Quinn could be there, although I admit Manimal is a bit of a stretch. Then again, I’m guessing that Manimal’s name actually isn’t Manimal. That’s silly. It’d be like saying the main character of “Walker, Texas Ranger” is called Walker Texas Ranger. Or Trapper John, MD. Or Spacehunter Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. That last one is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s equally as plausible as the name of a main character on a show nobody really remembers. You know, “Wallace, Texas Strangler.” 

Oddly enough, this whole thing has gotten me feeling inspired. So, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve decided to attempt a reboot of my own by revisiting a novel I worked on from 2008-2010. 

It’s name: “Tombstoned.”

It’s plot: A talking terrier is hired by a tech magnet to locate the last book in the world. On the way, Terry the Terrier fights flesh-eating foodies, journeys to the mythical Snerf village, and faces off against Dr. Victor Van Damme’s army of robots.

OK, I’m not being entirely honest here. I mean, that’s the plot of “Tombstoned.” It’s just that none of that stuff really happens, how do I say it, on-screen. Most of the action involves more mundane concerns: sentient Fisher-Price toys, murderous coffee makers, and tinnitus, which in the world of “Tombstoned” is actually a condition involving the inability to get the theme to “Star Cars” out of your head. 

To make matters even worse as a marketable work of contemporary fiction, the book’s chief protagonist, Terry the Terrier, is a bit player in his own story. The real star of “Tombstoned” is Buck Sparkman, and, well, Buck doesn’t do much more than look at his own phone, text his wife, and rewrite history. On second thought, that’s kinda significant. 

See Buck’s a cravedigger, a kind of reality-reshaping wizard who is hired to put down the out-of-control storylines and tired stock characters that are running amok all over the world. 

Superheroes. Hobbits. Marauding anime monsters. And swashbuckling outer-space drug smugglers. You know, like Han Job, the dashing driver of the Millennium Impala and the star of, um, “Star Cars,” and it’s seemingly never-ending series of sequels, prequels, and premature intermissions.

Not that I don’t enjoy superheroes, hobbits, anime monsters, and “Star Cars.” I do. Or I did. Or, you know, sometimes I still do. But it’s all a bit much. 

“Tombstoned” was a response to that.

But there was a problem. It wasn’t very good. The book that is.

Parts were clever, witty, and really on-point. Heck, sometimes I even laughed out loud. But again, it didn’t work.

And so, I got the idea to revisit this failed book, but I decided to go about it in a round-about way: 1. I’d let my alter-ego Wyatt Duvall take the blame — it’s his book, his mistake. Bastard. 2. I’d write a series of academic papers about Mr. Duvall’s failed second novel. (What the first one is, I’m not quite sure. In fact, I’m not sure where Wyatt found the time to write, given his propensity to orchestrate mass hoaxes and all that. But somehow he did. And I applaud him for it.) 

So what you have here is my first stab at what I guess is a reboot. It’s not entirely accurate, but it’ll do. 

I don’t know if this go-round will be any better. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. But, you know, somebody had to say something about “Star Cars.” And if not Buck Sparkman, then I don’t know who? Billy Bob Walker?

Tombstoned, Chapter One: Peru Digs Her Own Grave

Nobody remembers what makes the tombstones work. The fairies, the leprechauns, the nanobots, the carpal-tunnel crippled hand of God. Yeah, you could crack one open and look yourself, but who knows what you’d find. 

A misplaced modifier.  

A hamster wheel designed for rodents with flat feet and Cockney accents. 

A snotty egg yolk that once took Pi out further than ever before, strangled it, and left its dead carcass in a half-dug ditch. 

Who the huck knows and who finn cares? It doesn’t matter. 

Nobody remembers. 

Not even Buck Sparkman, the world’s premier cravedigger. But he knows exactly when everything changed.

Some say it was for the better. Some say it was for the worse. But it at least it wasn’t “Cathy.” Or heaven forbid, “Garfield.” Either way, it wasn’t funny. And neither was that joke. 

The fateful day was April 20 in a year of indeterminate vintage. The time: Somewhere between a power lunch and yappy hour. The place: Peru Nicklaus’ apartment.  

Peru lived in two panic-room closet that grew out of freshly shorn forest field like a cancerous mole. It was surrounded by other growths, each one no different than the next.

The same upside-down mortgage. The same student loans. The same antidepressants and stool softeners in the medicine cabinets. It was a snuff film, but Peru called it home. 

As did her two pet poms, Jeepers and Peepers. 

They mostly just slept and snerfed on their doggie beds, although when were in a spiteful mood, they dropped a retaliatory snerf behind the couch. 

Jeepers liked to do it on the air vent, Peepers on the rug. Neither were fond of wiping. 

With the last bit of credit Peru had on her Beeza Card, she bought herself an iPlot, then a novel little gadget that could replicate whatever the user desired.

Of course, all of this depended on the make and the model. 

Some could conjure up sparkly little baubles and trinkets, while the top-dollar ones could conjure up a full-sized SUV. 

Regardless, its creations were always temporary. Much like last night’s virginity or yesterday’s presidential election.

Peru could’ve bought herself a top-dollar one. She didn’t. Instead, she bought a dozen of the most low-powered iPlots she could. And then she invited all her friends over to her house for a feast like no other. 

When her guests arrived, they stepped up to clearance rack iPlots and thought about what they wanted to eat, and the tombstones provided. They thought about what they wanted to drink and the devices gave. 

Needless to say, they feasted like kings, they drank like failures, and they obited every single bite and purge.

For the next three hours, tombstones around the town rang out with updates from the Green Hill debauchery. 

But all that came to an end in a rather abrupt fashion. First, Peru heard a rumble, a real below the belly gurgle, the kind that will make you break the speed limit on the way to a highway rest stop.

And then it got louder and louder. 

Little did Peru and her crew knew, the world was about to snerf itself.

One guest joked that it was Rodzilla. Another an alien invasion. And another, well, the reanimated corpse of the late, great comedian Chris Biggley on a crank-and-crack binge-and-purge at the nearest Fentynol Feedbag All-American Buffet. Today, each one is part of the weekly news cycle, but then? Not so much.

As much as Peru and the gang were having a good laugh, the laughing stopped when the walls of the apartment began to shake. Beer bottles fell, turkey legs tumbled, the silverware danced to a strange tune on the dining room table. And the poms? Jeepers and Peepers. Well, they huddled behind the couch, each in their usual places, and clinched their snerfs tight. 

The revilers promptly ran outside. 

Outside on her front stoop, Peru and her guests watched as they witnessed the seemingly impossible: two dog biscuits, each the size of semi-trucks, tumbled down the street, crushing everything in their paths — street signs, cars, and yard gnomes. The partygoers took off running when the modest two-panic room closet took one across the chin.

And just like that, Peru dreams went down. TKO.

It would be two weeks before State Farm broke out the smelling salts.

The dog biscuits came to a halt on Sam Torrence’s front yard, ruining the savings-account sod that covered the 10-by-10 foot lawn he called a weekend, but all the neighbors knew as a white beater and three beers. 

His sprinkler system was a wreck, spitting up like a toddler on a merry-go-round, and his front steps were as jagged as a meth head’s teeth. 

Sam wept as he picked up the shredded squares of high-dollar turf with his trembling hands. The grass fell in feeble clumps to the ground.

In days, it would dry out. In a week, it would be brown and dusty. In a month, it would float away on the breeze.

Someone recommended Rogaine, and within just a few weeks, Sam was awarded with a lawn of the month sign which he proudly displayed next to his sago palm. 

However, shortly thereafter his electric razor broke, and, well, his neighbors never bestowed that honor on him again. 

Shamed, he hung himself in bathroom. Stretched behind all conceivable limits, his snerf never recovered.

It was less a snerf and more a tapeworm from that point on out.

But Peru’s dogs were happy. They pounced on the bits of pieces of kibble that had broken off from the monster-sized milk bones. Peepers cut the roof of her mouth on a particularly jagged piece. Jeepers vomited and licked it up, but not before growling at his fellow pom. It was then that everyone realized that Peru was nowhere in sight. The guests immediately began to call her name. 

Ash Likker found her limp body underneath an azalea bush in front of Peru’s now demolished house. Her body was motionless and stiff and wearing a see-through nightie. Tom grew excited. Her turned around to make sure no one was looking and snerfed her lifeless corpse until the sky exploded with fireworks.

Claire Pye ran into Peru two blocks over.

Although Peu was dazed and confused, she was holding two white chocolate pumpkin spice lattes and a bag containing what was advertised as an apple danish but bore a curious resemblance to a glazed snerf, and a hand-me-down one at that. 

They sat down to pow-wow the latest bestseller, a book about a newly divorced housewife who rediscovers her passion for life by sleeping with a younger man and finding a newfound love for selling My Randy Stallion needlepoint pictures on Etsy. 

Claire and Peru laughed and cried and vowed to always be friends, despite the fact that Peru didn’t know that Jean had once given her ex-boyfriend Carl a snerf in the supply closet. It was Arbor Day. 

Burt Plugh did not look for Peru. He had no reason to. He was too busy sending her an obit about this funny thing that he just saw on YouTube. So hilarious. Like, literally, I’m dying.

Even Peru Nicklas found herself.

It was a task she had previously been unable to accomplish over the course of a decade-long diet of self-help mantras, exercise videos, and yoga pants. Finally, she was living her most authentic life. And all it took was the total destruction of reality itself.

But no one knew that then. 

And so, for the next two days, the sound of squeak toys echoed off the houses on this soulless suburban street of two-panic room closets and snuff films, while Pom and Jeepers snerfed wherever the snerfing snerf they pleased.