My Vision for America

Some day, I’d like to be elected President of the United States of America. And then I’d get a bunch of great laws passed and try to improve everybody’s lives. I’d assemble the best and brightest around for my advisors and cabinet and together we’d hammer out the best solutions possible to all of the nation’s woes.

And then, one brisk January morn, thousands would gather to witness another in the steady line of peaceful transfers of power as the highest office in the land is handed from one honorable citizen to another. And there on that podium, as my successor waits to be sworn in, I’d stand in front of a microphone and address the world, declaring, “So long suckers! I’ll see you all in Hell!” Then I’d run off into the woods so the new guy couldn’t be inaugurated. They’d never find me, and I’d be President forever. Yes, my friend, that is my vision for America.

Prologue to “Fred Dracula”

After writing nonstop for podcasts and little ebooks for four years, I took about six months off during Covid to veg out and watch a zillion movies and shows. Now I’m coming out of hibernation and back at the drawing board. Here’s the prologue of my next book and first one I’ll try to get properly published, “Fred Dracula”. Enjoy!


Richmond, Virginia

Elizabeth had just finished brushing her hair and was preparing to put it up for bed when she heard something outside the window. Something raspy, like a dying possum. She stepped slowly towards the window and tried to ignore the sound of her heart pounding. She took a deep breath and threw the curtains open to reveal a man’s face. This wouldn’t be so surprising if she wasn’t on the third floor.

The man wore glasses and a black cape which flitted in the breeze as he floated in mid-air. His hair was brown and looked like he cut it himself without the aid of a mirror. He had a cowlick at the top of his head that wouldn’t stay down. He was saying something, but she couldn’t make it out. He made a motion for her to open the window. She disappeared from the man’s view for a moment, then returned with her hands demurely placed behind her. She coquettishly raised the sash with one hand and the man drew nearer.

“Ah, that’s better,” he wheezed. “And now, my dear, I believe you want to invite me in.”

He inched closer and closer to her room. Soon she would be in his thrall and he would feast. He was about a foot away when she produced her other hand from behind her back. It held a fireplace poker. Before he knew what was happening, she raised it and brought it down on his head. He tried to float away, but she grabbed his foot and kept hitting him.

“Hey, knock it off!” he cried, as he struggled to escape her grasp. “C’mon, quit it!”

Heavy footsteps raced through the hallway and a burly man burst into the room. Just as they had practiced, Elizabeth moved out of the way as her father leaped out the window and grabbed the would-be assailant by the legs. The man began to change form. He was halfway between a human and a bat, trying to fly away, but it was hard to concentrate with a grown and quite furious man shaking him with all his strength. They began to sink down.

“Get off! What’s the matter with you? Look, I’m sorry, okay? I won’t bite her! You win. Just let go!”

The man ignored him and shouted, “It’s the vampire! Vampire! Come quickly!”

Doors opened all along the street as his neighbors rushed out to attack the monster. Some had hunting knives. Some had stakes. They’d been preparing for this.

As the combatants reached the ground, the crowd circled around them. Elizabeth’s father let go of the creature and got out of the way of the vengeful mob. Some held him down. Some swiped at him with their weapons. Some lucky ones got in a good kick. All the while he yelled at them to quit and made cowardly concessions.

“Look, I’ll leave town. I won’t come back! No more vampiring! Whatever you want! Come onnnnnn!”

The preacher made his way through the crowd. A woman in the mob handed him a wooden stake.

“Fine, fine, I’ll go away, alright?” the vampire pled. “And! And! I’ll give you money, too. I’ve got some money and some land and whatever you want. Whaddya say?”

“Foul, unholy beast!” Father Bedford intoned. “You would dare attempt to bribe a man of the cloth to allow a demon from hell to continue killing us?”

“Well, sure, when you say it like that I sound like a real asshole. But hey, we’re all adults here. Let’s make a deal!”

Father Bedford plunged the stake into the vampire’s heart. The undead wretch let out a gurgling sigh, tried once more to lift himself up, and went limp. That is where the story of the Fiend of Shockoe Bottom ends, though some who were there swore until their dying days that before he collapsed they heard him utter, “Oh, this is bullshit.”

Yes, I do find meaning in late night talk shows. Why?

I’ve been away for a while. I’ve just finished my Great Craig Ferguson YouTube Binge, which immediately followed my Great David Letterman YouTube Binge, both of which ran alongside my Great Conan O’Brien YouTube Binge. It’s been a few years. Thousands of hours, thousands of episodes, dozens of jokes. (Ba-dum bum!)

There have been many late night hosts. Some have been great, some good. None have been bad, but some have been mediocre, which is much worse. A terrible performer has character. A bland one doesn’t. Awful is exponentially preferable to dull. But those are the big three for me: Dave, Conan, and Craig.

Dave was deeply formative for me. I can easily relive the night I first saw his show. It was June of 1995. My school had an end-of-the-year pool party at the rec center. I was a fat boy in thick glasses with long, greasy hair down to the middle of my back who couldn’t swim. Add in my anxiety and the endless awkwardness that is puberty and that night was abysmal. I went home depressed and exhausted, ready to climb into a hole and pull the dirt over me.

Then I turned on the television and saw this gap-toothed weirdo sending the guys from the gift shop down the street on a trip around the country for no reason. They were clearly not performers, just two dudes. This was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Some of Steve Martin’s bits on old Saturday Night Lives that I’d caught might have shared the deconstruction of what a show ought to be, but that’s it. This was exciting. It wasn’t a scripted sketch. It should be a disaster, but it wasn’t.

Well, actually, it was. Which is how it succeeded.

Mujibur and Sirajul weren’t performers. Or travel experts. Or any kind of specialist. They ran a shop in the neighborhood, so Letterman put them on the show. Why not? If it worked, great! If it didn’t work, even better. That’s how his show went.

Dave didn’t just deconstruct television; he dismantled it. The Top Ten Lists had purposefully bad jokes added in to the mix of good ones. Remote pieces featured Rupert from the Hello Deli giving platters of meat as prizes to random people on the street for getting questions wrong. Psychics came on and failed in their predictions. A chimp ran around with a Monkey-Cam on its back. Calvert DeForest, god bless him, was not a good actor, and his segments as himself or as Larry “Bud” Melman were never polished or professional. Whether he was unable to get through “The Night Before Christmas” because the props people gave him a book in German, saying his lines over Dave’s because the rhythm was interrupted, or doing a lousy job copying Jack LaLanne’s exercises, it always fell apart, and we always loved it and loved Calvert for trying. He wasn’t a good actor, but he made up for it in heart.

In the end, that’s what Dave’s show was. Everyone we saw (barring Paul and the band) was an unpolished Jack or Jane. One of the writers, someone from the crew, someone off the street, a local businessman. Or maybe a cameo from someone like Paul Newman (but more likely, Tony Randall). It was as if it were you or I doing it. We rooted for them, as we hoped they would root for us if we were on stage instead of at our desk or cash register or utility van. The other shows looked like Vegas. Dave’s looked like him: a goofball from Indiana.

I think Dave really wanted to be able to pull off the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. His NBC show never looked comfortable. I don’t think he settled into his own skin until he moved to CBS. Maybe he finally accepted that he wasn’t Johnny, that he was his own person. Maybe it was the flattery and approval of a rival network backing up a dumptruck full of money. Who knows? But I think he grew as a host every year, right up to the end (though he always says he stayed too long).

Conan came next, and while he was visibly nervous at first, he and his writers made it their mission from day one to be their own entity, trying to stay out of anyone’s shadow. They grew up on Dave and distilled his approach (which he says came from Steve Allen) into an aggressively odd show.

They thought up the worst characters imaginable, like the FedEx Pope, Preparation-H Raymond, and Andy’s crazed little sister with a crush on Conan. They had concepts that were absurd even for late night, like Conan’s desk driving around because he held a steering wheel, trying to compete with radio stations’ Rocktober with Spocktober and French President Jacques Chiractober, and a madman whose sole purpose is to interrupt Conan to finish his sentences. Then they made those recurring segments, because why would anyone put that on television? It was (and still is) brilliant.

While Dave made a joke of a segment’s poor execution, Conan made a joke of a segment’s dumb concept. It had no chance of being quality entertainment. It was doomed to be stupid, which made it spectacular.

Dave and Conan differ in many ways, but one shared quality, and the one that provided the foundation for their success, is that when something fell apart, it became comedy gold. It’s also the best part of Carson if you go back and watch — not the sketches or smooth interviews, but the failures that Carson reacts to. With Carson, we delighted in the surprise that Mr. Comedy screwed up. With Dave and Conan, we delighted that this somehow got on a network. As Dave liked to say, “This is the only thing on CBS right now.”

Dave also became America’s comedy conscience after 9/11. He started going beyond taking potshots at the politicians of the week and standing up for what’s right. He would wave it aside as the impotent rambling of an old man, but he had a large platform and used it to say something real.

Conan does this too, with his Conan Without Borders specials, where he goes to other countries and mostly listens. He makes sure he’s the butt of every joke, the clueless white guy from America. The locals show their knowledge, ability, and culture. There’s also a lot of kindness and laughter because who doesn’t love a goofy guy? But the spotlight is on the country’s people. We see that they’re not so strange, even if our politicians don’t get along with theirs. We see ourselves in them, which makes it much more difficult to feel hatred. It’s Mr. Rogers disguised as The Three Stooges.

And then there’s Craig.

Dave dropped the pretense of show biz polish. Conan set things up to fall apart. Craig abandoned any planning whatsoever.

He consistently veered away from the monologue. He tore up the blue cards before his interviews so he wouldn’t have any notes to consult. He had no sidekick until he joked about a skeleton robot army, which prompted Grant Imahara (RIP) from Mythbusters to build him a gay robot skeleton sidekick with a metallic mohawk. He didn’t even have a band. None of the trappings of a talk show. All he had was his wits. And sometimes hand puppets.

With no safety net, Craig had honest conversations. Sure, they were usually very silly, but they came by it honestly. He made fun of hosts who looked at cards and asked, “So, I hear you got a new house!” He would suddenly switch into Television Host Mode just long enough to ask about a guest’s new movie and then lean back and return to whatever they were talking about, whether it was sex toys or existentialism.

Sometimes guests were initially uncomfortable with the plan being ripped up and thrown away in front of them. But they soon came around. A genial chat with a clever wit (who likes a good double entendre) is enough to help just about anyone relax, and relaxing opens the mind to playful and/or insightful conversation, which is all anyone wants from interviews. No one tunes in to find out what day and time someone’s sitcom is on, even if that’s the stated purpose of interviews.

You can’t point to many segments with Craig, because they were barely segments. They were Craig answering emails (or more often not answering them), Craig giving advice as Aquaman for some reason, celebrity guests trying to win a Big Cash Prize, and ringing a doorbell so the pantomime horse Secretariat would come dancing through the studio. It ran on id. Fun for the sake of fun. Interviews constantly ran long and he mocked the idea of having sponsors as he threw to commercial breaks. Even on nights when it followed a format, it remained unpredictable.

Craig was also very open about the drug addiction and alcoholism in his past. He‘d say he went for a drink in 1979 and checked into rehab in 1992 and in between is fuzzy. Dave got more and more candid about his alcoholism, too. He quit drinking shortly into his run on Late Night. Those demonstrations that one can not just get by without partaking, but thrive, were an inspiration to many, myself included.

Conan has also gotten more open recently, but for him it’s about his mental health. He and Andy Richter both have talked about their struggles with anxiety and/or depression, therapy, and medication. Any time a public figure is open about mental health, it takes a little bit more of the stigma away from something that was until very recently met with deep shame. I think therapy is for everyone and we should all go every six months for a checkup, just like the doctor and dentist. And just like them, if there’s something concerning, come back for more work. It’s a good message for us all, and then there’s funny jokes on top.

So those are the three hosts that matter the most to me. None of them are perfect. Dave had affairs with employees, Craig did an Indian accent sometimes, and Conan…well, okay, Conan might be perfect. But those are the three that make me want to keep going and do better. They show that we ought to stop trying to follow the templates of success and make a new thing that we’d like to see in the world.

Life is short and there’s no report card at the end. When you die, you don’t get bonus points for having a nicer house or a higher credit score. No one is remembered for being great at following trends. What matters is trying to make things better; making people happier; kindness and compassion; plotting one’s own course. If you don’t like how something is, make something new. Why not?

Whenever I rewatch the finales of Dave and Craig’s shows, I’m overwhelmed with glee seeing my favorite thing done by the best. It’s a reminder that though most of what we see on the news or in the job listings or on the internet is drab and gray, there is a lot of life out there that’s messy and wild and silly and honest and stupid and brilliant and fun, and it’s all there because someone like you or I wondered what it would be like to make it.

There are a million comedians doing new things right now. Some will find success. Most will quit. Many will stick around while working a day job to pay the bills. Dave kicked in doors so we could see what was possible, and Conan and Craig knocked down the surrounding walls so we’d never accidentally close them again. There are many, many others without spotlights on them who did a lot of heavy lifting, but those are the three we all saw in our homes, reminding us that there’s more to life than timesheets and homework.

Right now, I’m making two funny podcasts with my friend and slowly writing two books while working a day job. I’m also on antidepressants and sober. I’m drawing again for the first time in years.

I’m looking at my work and trying to make it how I want it to be, not what I think will attract an audience. No one wants another mediocre guy trying to be liked. I’m tearing up my cards, leaning back in my chair, and laughing my butt off.

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The Darth Vader Life Day Special

Emperor Palpatine shuffles onto an empty stage.

Lights, please.

The lights dim and a single spotlight shines like a halo on the Emperor.

And there were on the same moon Wookiees abiding in the mine, keeping watch over their ore by night. And, lo, the specter of the Empire came upon them, and the glory of the Death Star shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And I said unto them, “Yes, show me your fear. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to those who obey. For unto you is brought this day on the supreme weapon of the Empire a motivator, which is Vader the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the Sith Lord wrapped in mechanical clothes, lying in a kind of dome thing.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of stormtroopers praising me and saying, “Glory to the Empire in the highest, and across the galaxy order imposed on men.”

That’s what Life Day is all about, Darth Vader. Heh, heh, hehhhhhhhhhhhh.

Dangeons & Dragrubbs

The skeletons were a problem, but their slow shuffling meant there were more pressing things to worry about. The goblins, however, were relentless. Several squat, hideous archers were circling the battle on dire wolves and taking shot after shot. At least any goblin who got close enough to swing a sword at our heroes was slowed down as they stepped over their fallen allies’ bodies.

K’thargg, the half-orc barbarian, cleaved a goblin in twain with his enormous axe, spun around, and caught another under the chin, almost taking its head off. Somewhere in his walnut-sized brain he made a mental note to come back for it as a trophy.

“You’re welcome,” the dwarf bard Bothurl called to K’thargg. His pride that his inspiration helped K’thargg’s second attack land was palpable as he fired another crossbow bolt, knocking a goblin off his dire wolf.

The elf cleric Lumiel raised her holy sword towards the hordes of skeletons and mumbled something unintelligible. Half of them crumbled into dust. While it was nice to be rid of them, their sudden absence made it much easier for the ogres to charge into the battle.

The monk Jadu, the sole human in the party, was a blur as he ran to the nearest ogre and channeled his chi into his fist. The punch landed and the ogre was stunned for several seconds, giving the gnome rogue Tibbit ample opportunity to grab its purse before slashing its Achilles’ heels with her dagger.

Filomel, the half-elf wizard, stepped boldly towards the oncoming ogres and raised her hands in the air as she shouted, “I cast Earthquake!”

“You can’t cast that,” Amy said. “It’s not on your spell sheet.” She indicated the list on Chris’ character sheet as the other four players rolled their eyes.

“Okay, then I’ll add it to my spell sheet,” Chris replied.

“No, it’s not on your sheet because Filomel hasn’t learned it. Plus it would be really out of character for her since it’s an Evocation spell and Filomel is in the Divination class.”

“What’s that?”

“The spell class, like what kind of magic it is. Evocation is nature stuff like earthquakes and storms and Divination is like reading omens or locating something far away or telepathy.”

“Okay, so can I use Telepathic Bond on them and make them THINK there’s an earthquake?”

“I don’t think so. It’s not–”

“Yeah! Natural 20! Oh no! There’s an earthquake, you guys! Winnnnk.”

Amy sighed. “I can’t believe Erica is letting you play her character. Okay, with your crit roll, you use Telepathy to apparently convince the 31 remaining goblins, 16 skeletons, and 3 ogres that there’s an earthquake. I guess that would distract them from taking their turns, so it is back to K’thargg. Ooh, a natural one. Not good. Let’s see….”

As K’thargg swung his comically over-sized ax at a dazed ogre, he slipped in some goblin blood and did a front flip, landing square on his back. The air was knocked out of him and the ax that slipped out of his grasp came down on his head. Luckily, it was the blunt side that hit him so he only got a mild concussion which nobody noticed for three days.

Bothurl ran towards the same ogre, shouting vicious mockeries about the ogre’s smallness and rude things about his mother. The ogre slowly parsed the grammar of the insults and felt his heart sink just as Bothurl leapt into the air and drove a dagger down into his chest, literally making his heart sink.

Lumiel charged at the remaining skeletons, shouted something in tongues, and drove her sword into the ground. After a wave of divine energy tore through the skeletons, nothing remained but their swords and rusted armor.

Jadu stoically took–

“Contact Other Plane!”

“It’s not your turn, Chris. It’s Jacob’s turn,” Amy said.

“Can I use a spell that makes me skip ahead?”

“There isn’t one and no.” Amy took a breath and gathered her thoughts.

Jadu stoically took in what monsters remained on the battlefield. As he scanned the area, he turned to find the only ogre still on its feet roaring in his face. Fortunately, he had trained his mind to resist such distractions and simply pummeled the ogre’s chest with a flurry of punches until it fell down dead.

The last living ogre writhed on the ground, immobilized and confused. Tibbit slashed its throat and dashed off to loot some nearby bodies before the others got a chance.

“Okay, Chris. It’s your turn.”

“I cast Contact Other Plane.”

“You’re out of slots for that level.”

“What? Aw, man. I knew I shouldn’t have used Animate Objects to make the chicken bones dance around.”

“Hey, Bothurl uses a free action to shout out cutting words to Filomel. Roll some dice, ya dingus!”

“Fine. Okay, let’s try this.”

Filomel’s fingers drew an arcane symbol in the air. The sky darkened and a faint buzzing grew louder until it drowned out all other sound. A cloud of flying insects blocked out the sun as it swarmed over the battlefield.

“Okay, and?”

“And what?”

“What happens? What do the bugs do?”

“I dunno. I mean, they’re really gross and creepy, right? Yuck!”

“So…they’re gross. And that’s your turn.”

“Okay. Good job, idiot. K’thargg goes full frenzy and mops up the rest of the goblins. With a… 19, plus 5, plus 2. And that’s stacked with my–”

“Yyyyup. You got it. Everything’s dead. Anyone want to do anything before we move on?”

All of the players except for Chris cried out in unison: “Loot the bodieeees!”

20-sided dice rained down on the table and Amy tallied their rolls, mentally dividing them into various ranges of Difficulty Class each attained. “Okay, Jacob, Jadu found a rusty dagger — great for giving someone tetanus — and 30 GP. Darius, K’thargg finds 60 GP, an emerald, and a small cursed idol. Carl, Bothurl found 110 GP. Hannah, Lumiel didn’t find anything. Ashleigh, Tibbit found 345 GP, a ring with a curious symbol on it, and a scroll. Chris, Filomel finds a very strange charm on a necklace.”

“Okay, put it all in a pile and I’ll cast Detect Magic on it.”

“Well, before you have a chance to do that, you hear the rumble of deep, steady thuds. It’s getting closer.”

“14 plus 3! Do I see anything?”

“You don’t see the source of the noise, but you do notice some branches parting as if something were passing through them.”

“It’s invisible! Anyone have any Sight spells or feats?”


“Nothing here.”

“Mine isn’t prepared.”

Amy raised her eyebrows at Chris. “Does Filomel have anything?”

“Uhhhhhh, nnnnno. Nada.”

“Are you sure? Check everywhere.”

“I’m checking spells…items…background…I’m not seeing anything.”

Amy punctuated every word. “Check. Erica’s. Notes. On. The right. Anything about eyes or sight?”

“I, ah…hmm….”

“See Invisibility! You have See Invisibility!”

Chris was still looking through Erica’s notes. “I do? Oh, cool!”

“Okay. So there’s a big invisible thing approaching quickly and only you can see it. What do you do?”

“Punch it!”

Amy rubbed her eyes. “Chris. I know you’re still new and Erica was very nice to let you play her wizard tonight. But I need you to try and get in the character a little. It’s role playing, not just punching.”

“Okay. Role playing. Okay. So I see the invisible thing coming and I, um, hmm. Oh! I got it! I point at him and shout, ‘Brother?'”


Filomel’s jaw dropped as she took another step towards the creature that she and she alone could see.

“Brother, it’s been so long. Can it really be you? We were separated at birth! I’ve spent so many years searching…searching for you! Oh, brother! This is the happiest day of my life!”

“The monster isn’t your–”

“No, I haven’t spoken to Father. He went off to fight in the Great Battles across the sea and never returned!”

Amy tried to interrupt. “Okay, the giant invisible monster is about 30 feet in front of the party now and you see a giant fireball appear around where you think its mouth would be.”

“Brother! There’s no need for this! It is I, Falafel–”


“Falamal, and I wish you no harm!”

“And it’s breathing fire on you.”

“Yes! Yes, let us embrace as the long-lost twins that we are! No. No, I don’t know any of these people. Ha! Yes! They do seem like a bunch of dummies!”

“This isn’t how you–”

“Sure, I’d love to see your place! Let’s go. Bye, jerks! I’m gonna go party down with my invisible twin brother. He says y’all suck. Later, goobers!”

Chris moved Filomel’s miniature die-cast figurine off the board and started doodling a picture of Filomel hanging out with her giant, invisible, fire-breathing twin.

The other players looked at each other for a moment, then Carl rolled his die.

“That’s a 17 plus 3 plus 1, 21. I get my crossbow and shoot Filomel in the head. Hannah, you’ll resurrect her next week?”

“You got it.”


“Okay, so Filomel falls down dead and the invisible beast lumbers away. Does anybody need a meal or a potion or anything?”

The Mystery of the Stolen Grand Canyon

It was the most infamous crime of the early Mesozoic era: the mystery of the stolen Grand Canyon! Early one morning, tourists lined up along the canyon rim to marvel at nature’s splendor, only to find it had all been filled in with dirt. What happened to the empty space that used to be there? The Arizona state police were scratching their heads. After a few rounds with medicated anti-lice shampoo, they got back to work investigating the theft, but to no avail.

That’s where I come in. I’m Detective Lennie Ourman, Grand Canyon Village Police, Special Wonders of Nature Unit, and I had a theory. I believed the canyon was stolen by…thieves. But I had no proof! So I went to vacation police camp. After 43 years of hard work, long hours, and bribing my superiors, my superiors began to take notice.

“Congratulations, Ourman,” the chief said. “You’re being promoted from Detective to Grizzled Detective.”

“Thank you, sir! Now gimme a black coffee and stay out of my way.”

“You’re way out of line, Ourman! You’re a loose cannon. Some day you’re gonna get someone killed!”

“Fine. Then I’ll take a cappuccino. Extra foam.”

The station barista backed up a cement mixer and began pouring the foam into my mug. “Say when!” she said.

I like more foam than most people, I guess. It took me eleven years to dig my way out. Not only had the crinminyal’s trail gone cold, but my wife had remarried and I owed $600,000 in overdue library book fees. Things were getting desperate. I decided to try a dangerously unorthodox method to find the crimninalles. I would go to the scene of the crime! I started at the drab flatlands where the Grand Canyon once sat and begin sweeping the area. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so I fanned out across northern Arizona and eventually came to Phoenix.

I checked anywhere someone might hide a giant hole. The University of Phoenix Stadium hadn’t gotten any deeper. The Agua Fria River didn’t have any new waterfalls. None of the surrounding mountains had become volcanoes. The crimininiminals hadn’t come this way.

From Phoenix, I circled back through Arizona and north to Las Vegas. For weeks, I resisted the temptations of sin and focused solely on my investigation. Then, weakness took hold. I could no longer fight the siren song of base pleasure. Dear reader, I’m ashamed to say it, but I abandoned my duties as an officer of the law. For the next eight months I slept all day and spent all night going to magic shows! Oh, the cheap thrills! The dramatic dance music! The awful puns! I had reached a new low.

I knew I’d hit rock bottom one morning as I awoke in a stranger’s hotel room surrounded by interlocking rings and levitating rope, my palms reeking of lighter fluid. I checked myself into a rehab center for magic addicts and began the hard work of learning to live an unprestidigitated life. I came out of it feeling healthier than I had in years, but wary that the lure of magic was something I would always struggle with.

Las Vegas wasn’t showing any results, so I took my investigation in the opposite direction, back through Arizona and into El Paso.

20 seconds later, I turned around and went back to Vegas. Wheeeeeeee!

Fourteen magic-addled months later, I pulled into a Los Angeles motel with no recollection of whose car I was driving or how I got it. All I knew was there were sequins on the floor and a wand in the glovebox.

I checked into the motel and immediately got to work. I talked to local police, food truck drivers, delivery people, bartenders, and geologists. No one had heard of any new large empty spaces in town, but they all pitched their screenplays to me. That gave me an idea.

I rushed to a studio and sold the movie rights to my investigation. We had a lot of great meetings and got Idris Elba attached as the lead, but it stalled out in development over the producer’s fears that there wasn’t enough action to make money in China.

As I signed my NDAs and left my contact info around the studio, the seventh screenwriter to take a pass at the script approached me. She was a sharp, warm woman of color who was getting ready to be a showrunner on a network drama and insisted on an inclusion rider. Hey, that’s awesome! Good for her.

“Hey, Ourman. Too bad about the movie. Most projects never make it to production, though, so don’t let it get you down. Incidentally, you know what’d be a good twist, is if the police, city council, and National Park Service were taking the canyon’s empty space as bribes from a rival canyon organization who filled it in to crush the competition. That’s the direction I would go. Anyway, see you around. Take care!”

I rushed to the airport and bought a first-class ticket on the next kayak back to Arizona. Six years of paddling later, I got back to Grand Canyon Village. I paid a visit to my old partner, Hannah Meyers.

“Hannah! How’s tricks?”

“Why, Lennie! I can’t believe it’s you. You’ve been gone so long, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“I know, I know. I’ve been busy on this Grand Canyon case.”

“Still? Oh, Lennie. The canyon’s history. You’ve got accept it. The whole town has moved on. Whoever filled it in is long gone.”

“I know, but it’s just not right. And I might have it worked out. It’s loose, but it’s a theory. I think a rival canyon’s owners filled it in and paid off some locals with pieces of the hole to keep them quiet.”

“That’s ridiculous. No one would ever believe that. You’re crazy. You’ve been working this case too long. You’re obsessed. You need a break.”

“You really think so?”

“I really do. Hey, why don’t we grab a drink later and catch up? It’ll take your mind off this wacky theory of yours.”

“Maybe you’re right. I’ll, uh…I’ll call you tonight. See ya.”

She closed the door and I started walking the shambling, sagging walk of a defeated man. I was back to square one. I must not have been watching my step because my foot slipped into a gopher hole and I twisted my ankle. As I sat down and rubbed it, I noticed more gopher holes in Hannah’s yard. Hundreds of them.

I leaned over and picked one up. I immediately recognized the striations. These holes all came from the Grand Canyon! It was awfully clever to cut them down to gopher size. But who better than a cop to know how to hide evidence? She’d almost gotten away with it.

I stuck the hole in my pocket and got in the kayak. I rowed straight to the police station and went into the chief’s office.

“Chief! I’ve got a lead on the Grand Canyon theft! I think it’s– Say, has your office always had a 300-foot chasm in it?”

The chief stammered. I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or the fact that he was now 83 years old. “Oh, um, you, ah, probably never noticed it before. We repainted 26 years ago and it really complements the chasm that’s always been here.”

I peered out the window with my handheld digital peer. “And those sinkholes next to City Hall. Those didn’t used to be there. And that gorge near the ranger station! I recognize that empty space! That up-and-coming Hollywood player was right! Whoever stole the Grand Canyon gave pieces of it to all of you so you’d keep quiet!”

“Ha ha! Oh, Ourman, that’s absurd,” the chief said. “What would I ever do with…I mean, how do you think we…You know, it’s…All right! Put your hands up!”

He stood up and pointed his gun it at me. He was remarkably quick for an 83-year-old. I didn’t even notice him taking the flintlock musket off the wall, loading the muzzle with powder and a lead ball, and stuffing it all down with a ramrod before aiming it at me. “I think we’ve had just about enough of your investigation, Ourman.”

I held my hands up and tried to reason with him. “It’s all over, chief. Why don’t you put the gun down? It’s probably all rusty anyway. If you shoot, it could backfire on you.”

“I’m not falling for that old trick!”

“All right, well, how about this old trick?”

I grabbed the hole out of my pocket and threw it as I ducked behind the desk. He fired, but the hole swallowed up the shot and most of the musket. I pulled out my sidearm and aimed it at the chief.

“I hate to do this, sir, but you’ve got the right to remain silent.”

“I know, I know.”

The chief, the town council, half the town’s police officers, and dozens of park rangers were all sentenced to 40 years for theft and mutilation of a national park. The holes were taken into federal custody and a team of specialists was brought in from the US Geological Survey to reassemble the Grand Canyon. A few pieces had been melted down and sold on the black market, but work has begun to remove the remaining pieces of dirt hovering in the air.

As for me, I’m now the Commissioner. We rooted out the corruption and established an amnesty program where anyone can return stolen pieces of the Grand Canyon, no questions asked. Things have quieted down and I spend most of my time walking around downtown, saying hi to the local business folks and petting nice dogs. I admit, I do enjoy a coin trick now and then, but I avoid the hard stuff. No birds or people getting sawn in half.

I was practicing forcing the three of diamonds one day, when Sergeant Nguyen came into my office.

“Sir! Something’s up at the Meteor Crater!”

“That’s Winslow’s jurisdiction.”

“They’re asking for your assistance, sir. The crater…it’s missing!”

Welp, here we go again!

Another Press Conference from Senator Bigfoot (R-Ore.)

Good evening. As you may be aware, I have been the subject of some false, illegitimate, and divisive rumors lately. I wish to put an end to these rumors here and now. First of all, I at no time sold any of my children to anyone for any reason. The failing news media has doctored a lot of photos — cherished family photos — to add a third child. I have never seen this child and I resent the implication that he is somehow related to me and that I sold him to a Congolese guerrilla army as a child soldier. Look, it’s a horrific tragedy that these groups are doing this, but I’ve seen the photos and just because there’s a kid there with shaggy fur-like hair all over their body and a loping, simian stride and an American accent and a blazer from Saint Matthew of the Solvency it doesn’t mean he’s mine, and it’s offensive that such gossip persists.

There have also been rumors — unFOUND rumors — of some illicit video of myself and certain foreign nationals involving lemon meringue, a ball python, a team of Chinese acrobats, a series of flags, and an electric chair. I can now state unequivically that I at no time took part in any such activity, that even if I did, I didn’t know it was being filmed, and that until a copy surfaced I didn’t realize they even had a tennis trophy.

Finally, the fake left-wing media and the lying 63% of the country and the unstable, shrieking intelligence community have invented a (hah) bizarre conspiracy theory that I made a deal with Isis in which they returned all copies of this supposed tape in exchange for weaponized uranium. Not only is such a charge outrageous and frankly unpatriotic to make, it is also an insult to my business acumen to think I would accept such a deal. After some impressive negotiations I was able to get them to throw in $11.58 into the alleged deal that doesn’t exist and never happened. Look, uranium goes missing all the time. It’s a notoriously slippery element. Why do you think we make bombs out of it? I mean, come on. Ask a scientist.

Excuse me? Yes, I understand. I’m just going to go with these gentlemen of my own volition (ow, that hurts!) and have a friendly chat about nothing serious. [struggling] Sports or microbrewing or something. [being dragged away] God bless America!

The History of the Ancient World According to God, Science, and Dan Grubb

13.8 billion years ago (at the time this goes to print), the universe exploded into existence in an event called the Big Bang.*

*If it has been significantly longer than that, let me say to our robot overlords,
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As the matter spread out, slowed down, and cooled, it formed galaxies, stars, and, eventually, planets. 4.5 billion years ago, a small rocky planet formed near a small yellow star. After it cooled and solidified, life sprang forth. Single-celled organisms evolved into complex life. Extinction level events came and went, wiping out most life on earth each time, but each time enough survived for life to continue to evolve. Insects, fish, lizards, mammals, and eventually, the human race. Four million years after the first cavemen, on October 23, 4004 BCE, God created the world, which was quite a surprise to the people in the nearby Ubaid village of Nod. This is the story of one of them.

Chet was walking through the grasslands one beautiful autumn day, checking on his flock as usual. No one else brought their flocks to that area, so it was terrific grazing land. He just had to be careful to keep them away from the nothing.

The nothing wasn’t like anything else Chet or the other Nodians had ever seen. It had always been there. Or, had always not been there. Verbs got difficult when it came to the nothing. It wasn’t like the sky at night or the space between things. The sky had stars and clouds and if wind blew you could feel it move between things, so something was there. But the nothing was just…nothing.

As Chet and his flock got closer to the nothing, he saw that something was different. Where there was normally nothing, now there was…well, still nothing. But a different kind of nothing. A nothing with wind and distance and perspective. You could see it. Chet’s brain hurt thinking about it, so he tried something more concrete. He threw some dirt.

Throwing stuff into the nothing was a pastime for as long as his people could remember. Anyone brave enough to come near the nothing would pick up a rock or some grass or whatever they had and didn’t mind losing and throw it into the void. Whatever they threw in would disappear, as if it never existed. Eventually, there weren’t any more rocks near the nothing, but there was still dirt.

When Chet threw the dirt into the nothing, he gasped as he watched it fall down, down, down into the immense hole in the Earth. He threw some more and watched with awe as it defied all known logic by continuing to exist. He started to move his hand towards the nothing, but thought better of it and took off his shoe instead. He slowly edged his shoe near it. When the toe of the shoe went over the edge of the ground and didn’t disappear, Chet knew he had discovered something exciting. He couldn’t wait to tell everyone back in town.

The next day, Chet left the flock at home with his wife and he the village elders left early and headed straight for the nothing. “We’re almost there,” he called. “Hurry!”

They picked up speed and dashed the last little stretch. When they got there, Chet was even more stunned than he was the day before.

“Water!” Chet exclaimed. “How did all this water get here? It was the nothing for all time. Then yesterday it was air. And now it’s a lake!”

The assembled elders puzzled over this new development. Chet demonstrated the lake’s existence by throwing some grass into it. The grass floated and one of the elders fainted. One of the braver old men knelt down, scooped some water in his hand, and took a sip. He spat it out. “It’s salty! This is seawater.”

They looked at each other, lost for words. “Maybe thousands of people made a bucket chain from the sea to here and filled it up overnight,” one elder said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” another said. “Obviously a giant came by here and wept all night and this salty lake is made of his tears.”

“You don’t suppose one of the gods did this, do you?” asked Chet.

The elders whirled around to face him. The oldest — er, eldest — drew up close and pointed a finger at Chet. “Who are you to make up stories of the gods? Leave religion to the elders, young Chetediah.”

Chet shrank back, ashamed. “Sorry, sir. We’re all just trying to figure this out.”

“Look,” said yet another elder, “it’s getting late. It must be eleven in the morning. Let’s head back and discuss this over an early bird dinner. There must be some rational explanation, whether it’s a crying giant or a god’s prank.”

Chet and the elders returned to the area formerly known as the nothing every day. On the third day most of the lake had been replaced by land. On the fourth day the land was covered with plants. On the fifth day they ran up, excited to see what was new, and immediately turned around and ran away at the sight of lions and gorillas and polar bears and wombats and penguins and aardvarks and elephants and roadrunners and bison and three-toed sloths and goliath birdeater tarantulas and dodo birds and platypuses and giant pandas and star nosed moles and angora rabbits and naked neck chickens and mata mata turtles and long-wattled umbrellabirds and orchid mantises and Venezuelan poodle moths and Chinese water deer and pink fairy armadillos and superb birds of Paradise and Cantor’s giant soft shelled turtles and pleasing fungus beetles and raspberry crazy ants and satanic leaf-tailed geckoes.

After they were a safe distance away, the men sat down to catch their breath. Chet asked the assembled wise old elders, “Was that a satanic leaf-tailed gecko back there?”

“Yes,” one said.

“Who’s that?” Chet asked.

The elders stroked their beards and scratched their heads and rubbed their bellies and shaved their armpits and blew their noses and put their best feet forward. (This was a customary Nodic display of mental prowess. If one could perform all of these at once, then one was considered a real big brain like guy.)

After several hours of thinking, several of elders were asleep. Seven had wandered off for lunch, two died of eld age, and one left to star in a commercial for hormone pills.

After several more hours of thinking mixed with sleeping, breathing, farting, and inventing writing, the Nodanian brain trust awoke and decided to take another look at the bizarre new land. After all, it was a new day and maybe this time the new addition was steel cages and tranquilizer guns.

They returned to the strange, nonsensical land and were greeted by a couple of nudists. After they stopped giggling, it was about time for dinner. The nudists introduced themselves as Adam and Eve and invited the Nodese men over for a free-range, organic, certified unpesticided fig pie supper with a side of anything you want except knowledgefruit. The Nodarians were understandably nervous, what with the hordes of wild animals running around and all, but Adam and Eve said they were perfectly harmless. Just a bunch of cuddly sweethearts, except when they were eating each other.

They all went to Adam and Eve’s house, aka clearing under a tree, and feasted on fig pie. After the revolting lip-smacking was over, Chet gestured to the general area and asked the nudists, “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?”

Adam and Eve laughed. “Oh, that,” Adam said. “Yes, God works quickly, doesn’t He?”

“Which god is that?” Chet asked.

“God. You know, God. The one and only.”

The Nodmen glanced around and tried to stifle their chuckles.

“Just one, huh?” an elder said. “And his name is God? Not very creative, are you?”

At this point, Eve chimed in. “There is only one. He talks to us and gave us the entire world, called Eden. He said we can do anything we like and we’ll live forever and everything will be nice as long as we don’t eat the knowledgefruit.”

“Knowledgefruit?” Chet asked. “What’s that?”

“The ones from that tree over there,” Eve said. She turned her head to point to the tree and the dirty old men took the opportunity to leer quite rudely. Typical.

Chet, being a nice boy, followed her finger to a tree in the near distance surrounded by yellow caution tape that read, “DO NOT CROSS – SIN”. “Oh, those aren’t knowledgefruit. Those are apples.”

One of the elders shook his head. “No, no. Those are pomegranates.”

“No, they’re definitely apples.”



“Never an apple. You can tell because it doesn’t get skinny at the bottom. That’s a pomegranate if I ever saw one.”

“I tell you, it’s an apple. Many varieties of apple are more circular like that.”

At this point Adam stood up and held his arms out between the two Nodders. “Hey, hey. The new miracle Fruit of Knowledge is an apple AND a pomegranate!”

It was a grapefruit.

Adam encouraged everyone to settle down and calm their tempers. Chet said, “By the way, yesterday we noticed some satanic leaf-tailed geckoes around here. Any idea who this Satan fellow might be?”

Adam and Eve glanced at each other and laughed knowingly. “Oh, him,” Eve said. “He’s a talking snake that comes by sometimes and tells us to eat the knowledgefruit.”

“Wait a minute,” Chet said. “Is this an actual talking snake or more of an artistic depiction, a personification of a vague human trait? We have lots of those. Some of our gods have six arms or lion heads or blue skin or all kinds of wacky characteristics.”

“Oh, no,” Eve laughed. “Those sound ridiculous. No, he’s just a talking snake. He says that if we eat the knowledgefruit, we’ll get really smart and understand all the important things about life and the world. But then God says we can’t eat it because that would be breaking a rule and would get us evicted.”

“What does this ‘God’ look like?”

“He’s an old man with a big white beard in a robe,” Adam said, “but sometimes he’s just a voice in a cloud.”

“And he made all this?” asked one of the elders who hadn’t had any lines for a while.

“That’s right,” said Eve. “He made it all with a sort of invisible touch**. And, incidentally, please capitalize ‘He’ when you say it.”

**Genesis, album XIII, track i.

“Wait,” said Chet. “So He turned this area from the nothing into a bountiful land with all the food you could ever eat and lots of animals that don’t hurt you, and then intentionally added something to tease you with? That’s strange.”

“He just wants us to demonstrate our obedience,” Adam said.

“We do that all the time,” said one of the elders. “We sacrifice sheep and burn spices and have festivals. It’s all very obedient. The only things our gods outright ban are things like killing each other, stealing, things like that. Stuff we’d rather not have people doing anyway. It seems strange for Him to give you something just so you won’t use it.”

“Yes, He works in mysterious ways, but He’s wonderful and we adore Him,” Eve said.

“Sounds like my kids,” said an elder. This received polite, obligatory laughter.

“Well, thank you for a lovely dinner,” said Chet. “We’d better head back to Nod. Hey, before we go. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life or anything, but if I were you, I’d go ahead and eat some knowledgefruit. I love a good apple.”


“And besides, what harm could come from a little wisdom? I mean, if a snake can learn to talk, that’s pretty impressive. Who knows what you could learn? We’ll have to invite you over next time. But, um, you might want to make some clothes. We’re open-minded and all, but you know how folks are. Oh. Hm. I guess you don’t. Come on, guys.”

It took some effort to get a couple of them to leave what they saw as a catered peep show, but Chet and the elders eventually headed back for home. They discussed their new neighbors’ strange customs on the way and decided not to mention their nudism to their wives.

The next day, Chet returned to Eden to see if it now had centaurs or giants or advanced robotics. He was surprised to find nothing had changed. He asked Adam and Eve if anything was new.

“Nope. God decided to take the day off,” Adam said.

“Now that’s my kind of diety,” said Chet. “Well, if nothing unimaginably reality-bending has happened, I’ll leave you two alone. Do guys want to come over for dinner tonight?”

“We can’t. It’s sabbath,” said Eve.

“What’s that?”

“It’s the holy day. Every seventh day we rest and think about how great God is,” said Adam.

“Wow,” said Chet. “Do you guys have any literature I could peruse? This is sounding better and better. Just the money I’d save on groceries and dry cleaning would be worth it.”

“We’ll work on it,” said Eve.

“Great!” said Chet. “Well, come on by whenever you want. We haven’t invented doors yet, so they’re open. Let us know if anything else materializes out of thin air.”

A few uneventful days went by. Chet went back to herding his sheep and was just getting used to things not being completely insane when he heard someone wailing in the distance. He turned and saw Adam and Eve running towards him, covered in leaves.

“Hey, guys! What’s up?” he asked.

Adam gasped his words between sobs. “It’s God. He kicked…us out! We ate…the fruit…of knowledge. Oh! We’re so wicked!”

Eve had been inhaling through her nose and exhaling through her mouth to calm herself. This was originally recorded in Chapter 3 of Genesis to show that women are better at controlling their emotions than men, but some immature and thin-skinned men in the mid-13th Century BCE edited it out. Such fragile male egos, right, ladies?

She told Chet that they ate some knowledgefruit, which was too bitter to be either an apple or a pomegranate. (Told ya. Grapefruit.) They suddenly became ashamed of their nudity and felt pain when they stepped on sticks or were scratched by thorns or sat in the same position for too long or sometimes when they peed? Is that something they should get checked out?

“Oh, wow,” Chet said. “I didn’t expect any of that. But maybe it’s not all bad. Are you any wiser?”

“Sure,” Eve said. “The square of the hypotenuse of a right triange is equal to the sums of the squares of the other two sides. But when will that ever come in handy? We’re too busy worrying about our future and our identity and if any of our meager achievements ever matter in the long run. I mean, what’s the point? Why are we here? Just to inflate God’s ego? He made a glorifed automaton and programmed it with obedience. Bravo!”

“Woah, woah, woah,” said Chet. “You just blew through like three semesters of Intro to Philosophy. Let’s get you inside somewhere and I’ll get you some real clothes. What are these, fig leaves?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “Figs taste good, so we figured they’d make good clothes.”

“Okay,” Chet said. “Wiser, but not smarter. Got it. Come on, let’s get some coffee. That’s good for pondering life’s mysteries.”

Adam and Eve stayed in Nod for a few months, but never really fit in. They tried raising sheep, but because they didn’t tend to them every seventh day, most of them wandered off or got eaten. They tried farming, but digging holes and plowing fields was too strenuous for them. They tried opening a little cafe, but Nod just wasn’t ready for a haute gastro experience with 65 ways of serving figs.

They decided to move away and start a commune. Eve was pregnant, so they’d eventually have a kid or seven to help out. Chet and some of the elders came by to see them off.

“I’m sorry for suggesting you eat the knowledgefruit,” Chet said. “I guess it was a pretty bad idea. But you guys are decent folks, so I’m sure it won’t be considered a permanent stain on your record or anything. It certainly won’t doom your descendents and all of humanity to millennia of misery.”

“What a strange thing to say,” said Eve. “But we appreciate the sentiment.”

One of the elders stepped forward. “We’re sorry to see you go, but we understand. If you ever want to come back, you’re more than welcome.”

“Thanks, Cain,” said Adam. “If the baby’s a boy, we’ll name him after you.”

“That’s sweet,” said Cain. “If he ever needs a place to crash, he’ll always have a home in Nod.”

So Adam and Eve wandered off into the wilderness like the idiots they were, and Nod and the other Ubaid cities continued developing civilization. It wasn’t always easy. There was the great flood, a series of increasingly bizarre plagues, and, of course, the terrorist bombings of the Gomorrah Casino and the Sodom Club. But overall things improved.

Then the internet was invented and within sixty years everyone killed themselves and the Earth returned to nature.

Just as God intended.