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Location, location, location

The Lizard of Fun rustles through the pages of this week’s paper, flipping quickly from the back to here, Page 12.

"So that’s where you went!" it says, a note of relief in its voice. "I thought maybe you decided to skip town with the rent check. Or got swallowed by a casino. Or just moved and didn’t tell me where. Which you kind of did. What’s with the new address?"

"Well," I begin, "there’s supposed to be some sort of big real estate boom going on these days, right? I thought we’d better get a spot right in the middle of things. Closer to What’s Happening, you know?"

The Lizard checks out the new space and nods approvingly. "S’allright. Kinda gray – could use a new paint job. Who took over the old spot? They better not have wallpapered over my ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ mural!"

I explain that the MT’s back page is now going to be filled by two columnists who will alternate with each other to cover the metro area’s social scene. The Lizard raises its eyebrows.

"Gossip? Whoo-hoo! How do I get myself mentioned? I’ve been practicing my bar-top clog-dancing – is that good enough?"

"Nope. We’re on the inside of the paper, now," I tell the Lizard. "That means we gotta get serious. Legitimate. Sober."

"What was that last one?" says the Lizard, sounding incredulous. "Am I going to have to kick your boring old butt into a forced-march macarena? Just because we’ve moved next door to the news section doesn’t mean you get to do your Peter Jennings impersonation."

"But there are important things happening in the world," I protest. "It’s our duty to let people know about big stuff, like global warming, and the spread of AIDS, and the conspiracy theory to suppress the real story behind the real story behind the –"

"Take a deep breath and repeat after me," says the Lizard in a voice that implies do-as-I-say-idealist-chick- or-I’ll-tell-everyone-you-don’t-recycle. "Fun is essential. Fun is essential. Fun is essential."

"But what about the big stories?" I protest.

The Lizard sighs, shrugs, and puts a CD into its boom box. In a moment, the Dead Kennedys blast through the room like, well, like dead Kennedys.

"Not that you need to go there," says the Lizard. "But that’s at least a start."

I’m a little puzzled. "What makes the death of John Jr. fun?"

"Well, it’s not like he was Princess Diana," says the Lizard. "But if you want to get all serious on me, you could explain why we had the radio on all week, besides the fact that all there was on TV were shots of the damn boat. Did we need another report about the search-and-rescue becoming a search-and-recovery? Did you think maybe they’d be found alive?"

It’s true, there’s a sort of morbid curiosity that keeps us listening and watching when celebrities get into trouble. Either we’re all closet reaper-freaks, and more obsessed with the eventual demise of our favorite stars than we’d ever admit anywhere but on the stage of "Oprah," or else we’re all culturally conditioned to tune in to the news in times of crisis, no matter what.

"Yeah, I can just picture the apocalypse, live on CNN," says the Lizard. "The correspondent up on the mountain will be saying, ‘Well, we’re waiting here for the Four Horsemen, but there’s not much to report yet. Some witnesses say they’ve heard hoofbeats, but we can’t confirm that. But stick with us, and we’ll interrupt your regular newscast with any new developments. Back to you, Peter.’"

Or maybe we really do care about what happens to the rich and famous in society.

"Absobloominglutely," says the Lizard. "Obviously, that’s why we’re gonna have a gossip column in the paper. Except maybe the rich and famous part. Whatever. It’s also why I’m going online now, to check out the celebrity death pool. A new game starts every time a celeb dies, and I want to get in my bets."

But curiously enough, JFK Jr. wasn’t one of the celebrities mentioned on the lugubrious and infamous Web site. Plenty of other actors and politicians are, though – from Calista Flockhart to Jack Kevorkian to Ted Kennedy. The one thing they all have in common is that someone in cyber-land has determined that, hey, you never know, this person could be the next victim of some stunning demise. And when some ill-fated celeb on the list bites the big one, the person who named them gets the dubious reward of being the one who gave the reaper directions. It’s like gossip about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet.

"See?" says the Lizard. "Add some gambling, and even tragedy can be fun! Say, I wonder if we can get this at the new casino?"

"Come on," I say. "What does it take to convince you? How about People magazine having called John Jr. one of the sexiest men alive – isn’t that a major loss?"

"That means they’ll be looking for a new sexy guy – think if your gossip people don’t write about me, I could at least get in on that?"

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