The Lizard of Fun rustles through the pages of this weeks paper, flipping quickly from the back to here, Page 12.
"So thats 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 didnt tell me where. Which you kind of did. Whats with the new address?"
"Well," I begin, "theres supposed to be some sort of big real estate boom going on these days, right? I thought wed better get a spot right in the middle of things. Closer to Whats Happening, you know?"
The Lizard checks out the new space and nods approvingly. "Sallright. 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 MTs back page is now going to be filled by two columnists who will alternate with each other to cover the metro areas social scene. The Lizard raises its eyebrows.
"Gossip? Whoo-hoo! How do I get myself mentioned? Ive been practicing my bar-top clog-dancing is that good enough?"
"Nope. Were 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 weve moved next door to the news section doesnt mean you get to do your Peter Jennings impersonation."
"But there are important things happening in the world," I protest. "Its 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-Ill-tell-everyone-you-dont-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 thats at least a start."
Im a little puzzled. "What makes the death of John Jr. fun?"
"Well, its 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 theyd be found alive?"
Its true, theres a sort of morbid curiosity that keeps us listening and watching when celebrities get into trouble. Either were all closet reaper-freaks, and more obsessed with the eventual demise of our favorite stars than wed ever admit anywhere but on the stage of "Oprah," or else were 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, were waiting here for the Four Horsemen, but theres not much to report yet. Some witnesses say theyve heard hoofbeats, but we cant confirm that. But stick with us, and well 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, thats why were gonna have a gossip column in the paper. Except maybe the rich and famous part. Whatever. Its also why Im 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. wasnt 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. Its like gossip about stuff that hasnt 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 isnt that a major loss?"
"That means theyll be looking for a new sexy guy think if your gossip people dont write about me, I could at least get in on that?"