Jun 14, 2021, 05:57AM

Showdown With A Wacko

Danny Cater has a confrontational interview with an influential pundit.

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Roderick “Rod” Hugedork was one of the leading primetime talk show hosts and media pundits around, renowned for his willingness to “call out” anyone who dipped a toe in waters anywhere outside the perpetually 80˚F mainstream (with scathing attacks like, “Folks, can you believe these wackos?”) and a muscular intellect that saw him use phrases like “for all intensive purposes” and “the sheer idiotity of it all”—phrases that those who adhered with stodgy rigidity to the ideas that words should have commonly agreed-upon meanings and expressions ought to be used with some aim toward their proper composition in order to convey meaning coherently, might object were not “actual phrases.” Fortunately a great number among Rod’s audience were either those who argued for the validity of “words” like “irregardless,” or those who themselves used them.

Hugedork had been a media pioneer of sorts, one of the few who saw the impending obsolescence of cable news and “legacy media” early enough to really make a killing in the frontier of podcast/video stream simulcasting. Whether the fact that said “writing on the wall” was written in the pages of no less a “legacy media” relic/”paper of record” than the Anytown Gazetteer (“Wisdom Withers Behind the Veil of Ignorance,” went its pompous and, frankly, somewhat nonsensical official slogan—“Ignorance” having supplanted “Darkness” in the more logical but no less bumptious original when that one was found to be out of step with the paper’s new-found commitment to “inclusion... diversity”) was ironic or not was difficult to say, as this was another term no one any longer understood. At any rate, the Gazetteer piece had mentioned that podcasters and “streamers” were making big bucks without having to hear it from a team of producers, or wear pants on air, two things Rod could get behind. And so when his contract with ARN came up, he struck out on his own.

Hugedork’s new show, bearing the impossibly stupid name “Rodding the Lightning with Rod Hugedork,” was a sensation—not unlike hitting one’s thumb with a hammer, in that way—a real runaway success among the sort of audience eager to part with money in order to have all of their biases confirmed tepidly and safely by a man who filled time with scintillating segments like taking a “political compass test” on air (he boasted, when his responses to impossibly neat questions with little to no real world applicability like, “Do you think immigrants deserve to be alive?” yielded the result that he was smack-dab in the center, that he had lived up to the description “bold, enlightened centrist” which had so often been applied to him) and a recurring favorite called “Don’t Spare ‘em the Rod” where he showed photos of recent newsmakers and held court on whether or not they “look[ed] like a wacko” or not. His Supporteo was humming to the tune of six figures a month and he had thousands of paid subscribers. If ever there were a man for his times, it was Hugedork.

Perhaps, then, it was inevitable that he should meet up with another man who embodied the era in different sense: Danny Cater, the writer (who had written little but a perpetually “in-progress” script in the “Hot College Comedy” subgenre called Modern Love) and influencer (whose “chirps,” “shares,” “snaps,” “gleets” and “pee-pops” on the various social media on which virtually all of his life was spent got little to no engagement in spite of his having thousands of “followers,” “friends,” “besties,” “goo-gahs” and “dinky-doos” on each) who had been in the news after his involvement in an automobile accident with local hero and mass murderer The Man with the Gold Car that had killed multiple pedestrians. Subsequently, the hospital in which Cater had been recovering was engulfed in flames after a bomb blast, believed to have been perpetrated by a group of “The Man’s” followers (in something more like the religious sense than the social media one, as “TMWTGC” had no official media presence) in response to reports that Cater planned to sue the beloved, ageless Man with the Gold Car. This had all raised Danny’s profile considerably.

It wasn’t, however, until Cater had a series of “viral takes” make the news that Rod’s “people” called Danny’s “people” (his mother). You see, despite the aforementioned lack of Cater’s “audience engagement,” his mother had contacted a man with a “Russian-style” Troll Farm to boost her best good sweet boy’s “numbers.” She'd previously bought the writer a fleet of bots, which accounted for his inflated follower counts, but they hadn’t behaved as planned, instead flooding Danny’s email with dubious sounding offers for loans, penis pills, and loaned penis pills. But as several of his “chirps,” “winks,” “bleep-bloops,” “glorps” and “quaxons”—such as “O lawdy y’all please give me the confidence of a mediocre white man” and “Anyone else wish Time Man would snap us past this point in the hell timeline?”—had gone viral almost immediately after the “Troll Farm” transaction, Danny and Mrs. Cater naturally believed there to be a causal relationship at play. In fact, though, there was a more sinister explanation, about which it’s not my job to educate you. Y’all ain’t ready to talk about that.

When Rod Hugedork had a guest on his show, he preferred to have the individual in studio. As Danny had been voluntarily confined to a snazzy automatic wheelchair following his accident and the explosion (he hated walking on account of what he called a “trick ankle,” blaming this phantom ailment for his tendency to go sprawling headlong into store displays and the like, though in reality it was simply the result of constantly staring down at his phone as he stomped around heedlessly, oblivious to all but the siren call of the screen) and Mrs. Cater was all too happy to chauffeur the thirtysomething lad around wherever he pleased (seldom anywhere but a chocolate shop with which he was obsessed, on account of its unlimited free samples), relieving the pressure he’d felt previously to drive anywhere that required a left turn, he was now “all-in” on the idea of meeting Hugedork in the flesh.

Seated across the table from the pundit—who wore a sport coat/turtleneck combo that he hoped, along with his cool-guy goatee, distracted from his weak chin, and had even put on pants since he had an “in-house” guest—Danny thought, here’s a guy who’s got it together. “This is great,” the writer remarked amazedly.

Rod grinned. Formerly he’d been mocked for his “nubby little dolphin teeth,” but a few years back he’d had them all ripped out and replaced with an immaculate, pearly white set of implants that he flashed as eagerly as if he were a great white shark. “Thanks Danny,” he said, reaching across to shake hands. His smile dissipated and he explained the way the show would work.

Mrs. Cater, lugging her oxygen tank behind her, rushed over to smooth down a cowlick on her baby’s head with a spit-wetted palm. Smiling proudly, she let out an exhalation of satisfaction, then dragged herself off camera and the show began.

After his usual greeting to the audience, Rod introduced Danny as a “writer, critic, social commentator and influencer,” then quipped, “You’re a busy man,”—a statement so absurd on its face that it verged on a miracle that it escaped his glossy lips without being crushed into powder under the weight of its own preposterousness.

“I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies,” Danny agreed with his usual off-putting smile.

Rod’s stomach turned at the thought of the damp, cold little fingers that had repulsed him so completely upon the pair’s introductory handshake moments earlier violating any number of pies. Now the prospect of eating a slice of warm apple or cherry pie was about as appealing as a swift kick in the pants. He forced a sickly-looking smile. “Yes...” he said, unable to manage anything further.

Nonetheless, Rod was a professional, well-acquainted with the practice of greasing the skids for objectionable people who needed to be made to look impressive—or, in this case, simply appear human—and he managed to pull Danny through the pair’s stiff attempt at “casual, friendly banter” of the sort that these interviews needed at their start. But then it was time to lower the boom. He couldn’t, and wouldn’t, “Spare ‘em the Rod,” after all.

“Danny, are you a wacko?” Hugedork asked suddenly, but with a smile that disarmed Cater completely, not that the writer was possessed of a particularly fearsome arsenal of rhetorical weaponry to begin with.

“I… don’t… think so,” Cater answered uncertainly.

“Well, I gotta tell you, Danny,” Rod said with his trademark combination of empathy and venom, waving what was meant to represent a sheet of meaningful biographical information about his guest but was in point of fact just a randomly formatted page of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy log” typed repeatedly. “Some of this stuff looks a little cuckoo”—here he added an impression of a cuckoo clock’s “cuckoo” sound—“to me.”

Mrs. Cater quivered with barely restrained rage and perhaps a shortage of oxygen just off camera. Danny “hmm”ed for a moment. “I don’t think I know what you mean about that, mister,” he said in his strange, nasal, vaguely Southern drawl.

“Well, you’re friends with that woman who pretended to be black, right? What’s her name? Jen Score?” Rod challenged, wishing in that moment that he’d not bothered with the slacks, because watching this waxy-faced little creep squirm was giving him major wood that he felt deserved better than being restrained by a thin layer of gabardine. “What say you?” he added.

“Hmm… well, I thought she was BIPOC. I guess she fooled lots of people though. Maybe it was good that she did that. I think she helped people see their privilege differently and engaged with that differently and such… y’all,” Danny replied, some of his training courtesy of Captain Hi-Score and what he thought was BIPOC streamer Samanda James (in fact it was the aforementioned and very much not BIPOC or even some other, less relevant form of POC, Jen Score) coming back to him now.

Mrs. Cater fist-pumped and let out a “Go, Danny!” that drew a look of reproach from Hugedork’s production assistant; the assistant needn’t have worried, though, for Rod responded to Danny: “She kidnapped and impersonated a woman from another race! Surely that’s worse than whatever The Man with the Gold Car stands accused of doing by you and your buddies. I’m not saying he’s any angel, but come on now, Danny. Get real!”

Danny’s fledgling confidence was smothered in its crib. Rod launched into one of his signature “Rodologues” about how Anytown needed some new heroes… had some problems—he would be, he said, “the first to acknowledge that”—but that the solution wasn’t to “tear everything down like some kind of nutty wacko. Balance and letting the process work. Centeredness. That’s the key.” He was in rare, powerful form. Everyone agreed. Then he asked, “How about it, Dan?”

Cater was silent for a time. “Abolish ‘Gold Car Man,’” he said with an air of pure satisfaction, able to envision the trending “#AbolishGoldCarMan” in his febrile mind.

Then there was a great roar, a horrible thud and the ear-shattering, head-splitting sound of the studio wall smashing, exploding inward, the room’s fill lights bursting in unison, sharp bits of brick and drywall and glass shards flying all about, filling the air along with frantic screams as the coarse debris sliced skin and scratched eyes, and the table was crushed, along with the set’s slightly elevated floor and the chair Rod Hugedork had just barely managed to abandon, under the weight of the majestic, iconic Gold Car. Its magnificent engine purred and occasionally growled as Hugedork, Danny, Mrs. Cater and the others shrieked, covered in blood and rubble, tried to make sense of what had happened and get clear. Then the Gold Car roared and began performing ferocious burnouts, scattering the wreckage of the “Rodding the Lightning” set everywhere as what was left of the studio rattled and began to crumble.


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