Qwertyman for October 3, 2022
“LADIES AND gentlemen, we have a problem.” Ma’am Ventura, no less than the Queen of Trolls herself, looked down the long table through her oversize Versace shades at her social media managers, who were nervously fixing their ties and tapping their Jinhao pens in anticipation of what she had to say. Their managers’ meetings usually didn’t start until ten p.m.—when the day’s news would have aired and they had the whole night to prepare for the next day’s barrage of posts—but today she had messaged them to come in at eight, apparently at the request of the mystery guest who sat to her left. He was, they were told, an important man, an opinion-maker like they were, only more visible.
He seemed fidgety himself, his eyes somewhat crossed and unfocused, as if he had had laser surgery in the belief that he would look better without glasses, but the operation had gone awfully wrong. Now he simply looked stunned and misplaced, and the others couldn’t be sure if he was smiling or grimacing. Ma’am Ventura had lit up one of her Dunhill Lights and the smoke was drifting past her visitor’s face but she wasn’t apologizing for it, which told her staff that she didn’t think he was that special after all, despite what she would say.
“We have a special guest with us tonight who’ll explain why. This is Mr. Rutherford or Rudy Tuklaw, and he comes from the Bureau.” Her mention of “the Bureau” drew some gasps. It was rumored to be a top-secret, off-the-books grouping of some of the President’s most rabid supporters and enforcers. Some brought money; some were paid. To Ma’am Ventura, Rudy looked like the paid kind.
“Thank you all for being here,” Tuklaw said after clearing his throat, as if they had a choice. “In fact, we have more than one problem.” He brought out some folded newspapers from his bag and tossed them on the table to be handed around. “Look at these columnists—this one, and this one. There might be more I don’t know about yet. These people are a disgrace to journalism and should be weeded out!”
One of the managers, Nico, read one of the columns and began giggling, showing it to his seatmate Bruce. “You should read this piece about nuns playing poker,” he whispered. “It’s hilarious!”
“You think that’s funny?” Tuklaw said, becoming even more cross-eyed. “That’s fiction! These are supposed to be serious Op-Ed columns, but these guys are writing fiction!”
A young woman named Ms. Morales raised her hand and Ma’am Ventura nodded to acknowledge her. “May I ask—sir—exactly what’s wrong with that?” Ms. Morales liked fiction—not the boring Hemingway or Faulkner stuff her English teacher had force-fed them with, but real, honest fiction like Fifty Shades of Gray.
“Why? Because it’s not fair! These people are making fun of the President, of democracy, of sensible reform measures like the ‘report-your-subversive-sister’ law and the ‘no-car, no-garage’ law, and they’re getting away with it! You and I—all of you here—we’re engaged in a war of words with these low-life misfits. Granted, some of our methods are, uhm, unconventional—but even among combatants, there are rules of engagement. Like should beget like! If I write a column attacking you, well, then write a column attacking me—don’t hide behind this cowardly contrivance called fiction, which is all made up and contains not one smidgen of fact!”
“But if it’s all made up and totally without factual basis, then—why should we be worried—sir?” Ms. Morales pursued.
“That’s exactly it!” Tuklaw responded, sputtering. “They make no clear assertions, no claims to truth, so we can’t pin them down for anything.”
Another manager named Bruce had been staring at the piece before him for minutes. “I don’t get it. I’ve been trying to make sense of it, but—I don’t see anything funny here. I just don’t get it.”
Nico leapt at the chance to score a point. “Well, there you go! If Bruce can’t make heads or tails of it, then so will most people. People are stupid.” Bruce’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s why we use short posts like Twitter. That’s all most people can deal with. Nobody reads these—these novels!”
“Maybe you can do the same thing!” Ms. Morales said. “Give them a dose of their own medicine. Fiction counter-fiction!”
Rudy was about to say “I can’t” but pursed his lips and said instead, “I won’t. I refuse to dignify the form.” It rankled him that the column-stories, written in a breezy style, seemed like they had been done in fifteen minutes while he labored into the night on his own diatribes against the enemy, especially when he had to be more creative with his scenarios, which his principals expected.
“So what do you want us to do, Mr. Tuklaw?” Ma’am Ventura mopped some of her ashes off the table with a wet napkin. She saw herself as the professional who produced the deliverables with cool and bankable efficiency for a specified sum, not a seething hack like her visitor who kept hoping to parlay his influence into some cushy appointment with a four-syllable title. She was receiving him out of sheer courtesy, and because she had always been curious to see what Rutherford Tuklaw was like in person. Now she knew. She blew more smoke into his face.
“I want you to destroy them—these—these jokers!”
“Isn’t that the Bureau’s department, Mr. Tuklaw? They can make people go away.”
“I don’t mean that—yet—although it’s not a bad idea, at least to scare them. I mean, we could say, if I killed these idiots, emphasize IF, then show me some leniency, something like that.”
“So destroy them in words? On Facebook? And Twitter? Maybe even longer blog posts? Go after their families, their reputations, their sexuality, their food preferences—”
“Whatever, whatever—invent what you need. I just want them to squirm like—like the worms they are!” His legs were twisted around each other beneath the table.
Ms. Morales felt chirpy. “So we can use fiction, Mr. Tuklaw? I took up six units of Fiction Writing in UP!”
Tuklaw stared grimly at his knotted fingers on the table. “Like I said. Whatever!”