I was driving behind a car with New Mexican plates when I saw the flashing lights behind me. The driver from New Mexico was going ten miles under the speed limit--as they are legally required to do in their home state--and, as a result, so was I. I pulled over, and the cop pulled in right behind me. He got out of his cruiser and walked over to where I sat.
"Is there a problem, officer?" I asked, and the world went so black David Chase could have ended The Sopranos with it.
I stumbled into consciousness who knows how much time later. I gingerly put a hand on the side of my neck where I had been tazered. Looking around, I recognized where I was, even though I had never been here before. It was The Star Chamber. A dark, almost barren room where humor column writers were brought to be judged for their truthful fabrications. Art Buchwald once told me about it on New Year's day back in 2007. Before the month was out he was dead. You do the math.
A few years later, I asked Dave Barry's mentor, Gene Weingarten, about it.
"Let's just say," he said, being purposely vague, "that the Illuminati can only wish they were The Star Chamber. That, and for some nice take-out."
The following week, his column was no longer published in the El Paso Times. They dropped him like he was Jennifer Anniston after telling her boyfriend du jour "I love you."
I was bound to a wooden chair in the middle of the room. A lone light bulb hanging above my head. Swaying slightly from side to side. Throwing shadows here and there. To and fro. Back and forth. Simon and Garfunkle.
The harsh light illuminated a rectangle-shaped table at the far side of the room. It may have been oak. Or maybe not. It was eight feet wide and three feet deep. There were five chairs on the side of the table furthest from me. In the chairs were five men. I recognized them. Especially the one in the middle.
"Is there a problem, officer?"
"So... you recognize me." It was a statement, not a question.
"I recognize all of you," I said, simply.
At that, they took off their disguises. Thick, black eyeglass frames with a fake, bulbous nose, and a bushy mustache underneath it.
Robert Moore, editor of the El Paso Times, was sitting on the far right of the table, my left. Next to him was editorial page editor, Charles Edgren. On Edgren's lap sat his dog, Mikey. His small size didn't fool me. I knew that dog had a black belt in karate. The faux police officer sat in the middle. Next to him was editorial page writer, Joe Muench. A man reputed to be a mafia hit man and Navy SEAL. And, finally, Ramon Renteria. I feared him most of all. Mainly, because I know he judges me for not speaking Spanish.
"You are Jim Duchene, is that right?" Charles Edgren asked me.
"That would depend on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
"Don't be so flippant, Mr. Duchene," Robert Moore cut in. "Treat this as if your life depends on it. Because it does."
"Is it true," Renteria interrupted, "you wanted to steal my You-Might-Be-An-El-Paso-Hispanic idea for your blog?"
"It's a humor blog, and, yes, I wanted to use your idea, but I didn't , because you never gave me permission. Even though in silencio, consentum est."
"Is it true that you're so fast you can run around the block and kick your own ass?" That was from Robert Moore. Enquiring minds wanted to know.
"I write a humor blog. I wouldn't take anything I write in it too seriously."
Joe Muench leaned forward. "Is it true you once had a staring contest with the sun, and the sun blinked?"
"No, that's obviously a fabrication. And I didn't invent blood, either."
"Ah ha, I knew it!"
Charles Edgren gently put Mikey on the floor. The happy little dog scurried away enthusiastically.
"He's late for his piano lesson," Mr. Edgren joked. At least I think he was joking. With him it's hard to tell, and I've been wrong before. "Now, Jim," he smiled his cat-caught-the-canary smile. He oozed freindliness. "You really don't expect us to believe you can impregnate a woman simply by winking at her, do you? That flies in the face of everything we know to be true. Einstein theorized that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Can you explain to us how you're able to flip your bedroom light switch and be in bed before the light goes out?"
"I'm tellin you, it's not true. None of it." I was beginning to panic. "I write a humor blog. None of what I write is true. I'm not a black, Jewish, gay man from Compton who's been married five times and whose life was saved in Viet Nam by President Obama in the 60's."
"What kind of beer do you drink?" Renteria suddenly changed the subject.
"What?" I said. The question had caught me off-guard, and my brain took a few seconds to shift from first gear into reverse.
"Did I stutter, flaco? What kind of cerveza do you drink?"
"I don't drink."
Renteria stood up suddenly, and spat on the floor in disgust. "Get it over with, Pittle," he told the man in the middle.
Pittle! So it was Pittle all along. He had never forgiven me for making up a humorous quote in a humor column I wrote and attributing it to him. That, and not sharing my Chico's Tacos with him in high school. He was hungry. But so was I.
He pushed his chair back, got up, and walked over to me. A cruel, pitiless look on his face. In his right hand was a syringe. A large syringe. A very large syringe. In fact, it was the largest syringe I had ever seen before in my life. And the liquid it contained was a diseased, yellowish color.
"Who's laughing now, funny man?" he hissed, and placed the sharp point of the needle against my neck.
Just then, the door burst open, wood splinters flew everywhere. A team of SWAT officers swarmed in, guns raised. I was saved. Pittle stood there. Syringe in hand. Frozen.
"Is there a problem, officers?" he asked.
Fifty Shades of Funny