Discount Scooby-Doo: Chapter One



Lightning flashed in the distance, and rain lashed at the windows. The wind howled, and so did Discount Scooby-Doo. “Awooo! Awoooo!!!” he cried into the hideous night.

Lightning always bothered Discount Scooby. It reminded him of his birth. Discount Scooby was born in a storm not unlike this one, at a plastic factory near an experimental nuclear reactor. When lightning struck the reactor, it exploded. In the rubble of the once mighty factory, something stirred. A plastic figurine of Scooby-Doo had come to life, animated by the power of nucleons.

Something was wrong, though. This Scooby was mutated, hideous … “not of this sphere”, as the secret, post-accident investigation board would later report. The repressive military government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Lesser Nuclesia knew that Discount Scooby must be kept from the world. Yet they knew his very being held the promise of untold riches. And so they housed him in exile on an isolated atoll in the South Pacific.

Lightning flashed again, silhouetting a distant, Panamax-class freighter ship on the horizon. Then, seconds later, another bolt from the heavens, this one striking directly midship on the S.S. Babylon’s Desire, igniting a terrifying conflagration.

Discount Scooby-Doo ceased his howling as he watched the ship burn. The Babylon’s Desire had suffered a hull breach, and the vessel soon began to list as she took on water. Emergency flares arced across the sky as Scooby, with his eagle-like, radiation-enhanced vision, watched the crew abandon the far-off ship.

Help arrived near daybreak. Orange-and-white coastal defense choppers hovered above the burning hulk. Discount Scooby was transfixed.

And then, one by one, the precariously stacked shipping containers broke loose and fell into the sea. But the real break belonged to Discount Scooby. One of the containers was drifting right toward him, and it was labeled “jet skis”.


Subscription postcards: Dirt and oil, bus of intrigue, babies of the nothing

Postcard collage of woman, 1972 Monte Carlo, and arid mountainside. Text reads: "Dirt and oil: The revolutionary way to mix and match."

Message on postcard:
Andrew — Last weekend I took part in the annual Worst Day of the Year Ride. It’s a bike ride that takes place during the part of February that is statistically the worst part of winter. This year we lucked out and there wasn’t any rain. In fact, we double-lucked out. The pre- and post-ride staging area had donut holes.

Donut hole nirvana.

Donut hole nirvana at the Worst Day of the Year Ride.

Postcard collage: Greyhound bus in front of leaf-strewn clearing in the woods, with the text "Designed to intrigue."

Message on postcard:
Jeff — The foul weather is still plaguing Portland, but lately we’ve been getting a really nice day every couple of weeks. These are the days when cool old cars emerge from hibernation. All winter long these quasi-reliable beasts of old are hidden under garage roofs or rotting tarps … but when the sun comes out, so too does (for example) a blue 1978 Dodge van whose owner will talk to you at length about important van-related matters while you stand in the street taking photographs, blocking traffic.

A blue 1978 Dodge van.

Riding in style.

Postcard collage: Baby animals and an upside-down bat. Text says "Babies of the NOTHING".

Reverse side of postcard: "If anybody wants to have an itch, I'm ready to be a scratcher."

Message on postcard:
Steve — I found this in a newspaper sitting on a table at a coffee shop.


Art by mail: Barney Frank, King of the Pacific Salmon

Postcard collage of Barney Frank (king of the Pacific salmon) and the coastline

Message on postcard:
01. Hi Iona! You requested a postcard “the weirder the better”, so you get Congressman Barney Frank, King of Pacific Salmon. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Frank while camped near the beach on a windy and moonless night.

02. Around three in the morning I was awakened by an otherworldly noise that seemed to rise and fall with the waves. A sound like the cacophony of ten thousand voices warbling and gulping in unison. Through the trees I could see an eerie light glowing where I knew the beach to be. Of course I went to investigate.

03. The noise got louder and louder. As I approached the beach I worried that I’d made an unwise choice. In the wan light I could see beads of sweat on my forearms in spite of the chill wind. Soon I reached a bluff overlooking the shoreline, where I saw countless thousands of Pacific Salmon gathered ’round what must have been millions of glowing fish eggs. On the periphery of the gathering was an old boombox sucking down D-cell batteries and blasting Foghat.

04. That noise — the fish were trying to sing along to Foghat. And in the center of the gathering was Barney Frank, perched atop a wave-lapped throne before the majestic, glowing eggs. Lit from below by the bioluminescent gametes, Frank raised a bejeweled scepter and began to chant: “Slow ride… Take it easy…”

05. It was then that my footing gave way. One moment I was nodding along to the chant, the next I was tumbling down the sandy bluff. When I came to rest on the beach all I could hear was the wind and the surf and the boombox. The chanting had stopped, and all eyes were upon me, broadcasting  a mix of piscatorial terror and anger.

06. But then a voice thundered out of the night: “Leave the surface-man be!” It was Barney Frank! I recognized his voice from C-SPAN, but something was different. I later learned that Barney Frank’s gill protectors, which he wears in public life but had removed for the ceremony, have a slight but noticeable effect on his vocal chords. “This intruder means no harm,” Frank continued, “and so we will teach him the secrets of our fishy ways.” The King of the Pacific Salmon waved his scepter, and a black mechanical whale breached the surface of the ocean. “Come, surface-man, and follow me Jonah-like to the deep.” And so I did, but secrets are secrets and I have to leave it there.

If Americans found no clear answers, they at least asked the right questions.

Detail from reverse side: Related text that I glued in.

What to do when he’s too damn dreamy: Thirteen can’t-lose tips for writers of young adult novels for girls

Writing a young adult novel for girls? If you haven’t yet heard and learned from this story, odds are you’ll be telling it yourself: “I submitted my first draft. The editor sent her notes. The good boy was too bland, and the bad boy was too dreamy.” It’s a common problem — one that even veteran writers at the top of their game struggle to surmount. Take heart, though. Herewith follow thirteen of the best tips for de-dreamifying and up-hunkifying.

  1. Throw in a couple paragraphs describing how the “bad boy” habitually dresses in old T-shirts with permanent mustard stains.
  2. Have the bad boy deliver a monologue describing how OJ was framed. Give him a mangy old cat named “The Juice”. It should spray everywhere.
  3. Give the good one a metaphorical pet python. He (the boy, not the snake) notices and comments on the protagonist’s new shoes.
  4. Give the bad boy character a chewing tobacco habit and terrible dental hygiene. Have him hunt varmint on weekend. Never pluralize the word varmint when he says it aloud. Give the good boy character excellent teeth and a Macbook Pro. His weekends are spent doing hair-raising skateboard stunts on a ten-story-tall vert ramp in order to raise knee-guard and helmet awareness on behalf of an exciting consortium of public safety NGOs.
  5. A popular trick is to give the bad boy character a busted-ass Nokia smartphone from 2005 that he uses to incessantly retweet racist polemics from the John Birch Society.
  6. Nobody likes a hypocrite. Make the bad boy character a topfreedom advocate who is vocally and insufferably opposed to breastfeeding in public. He is a frequent poster on a mens-rights Internet forum that has collectively chosen to defame a brave young Saudi Arabian feminist who has overcome poverty, self-doubt, and institutional sexism in order to win a pan-Arab spelling bee. The good boy character marshals the forces of 4chan to expose the bad boy’s identity and crowdfund the girl’s college education in England, where she is finally able to earn a driver’s license and motor about in classic European cars.
  7. Establish ongoing conflict by placing the good boy and the bad boy in an endless Wikipedia edit war. The bad boy is reverting all constructive contributions to the article on feminist epistemology. In a second-act cafeteria showdown, the good boy zings the bad boy: “You’re as intent on preserving a stub-class article as you are your own stub-class intellect.” The lunchroom clatter is abruptly silenced, and they exchange smokey glares. Somewhere in the room a fork drops.
  8. Make the good boy charmingly naive. Have him be a gigantic Harlem Globetrotters fan who hasn’t yet realized that the games are rigged. When the strong female protagonist finally convinces him that the outcome is always fixed, he suffers a crisis of faith. This leads to his coaching an inner city children’s basketball team that ultimately ekes out a thrilling victory over the LA Lakers in an amazing exhibition game played to benefit an upstart charity that gives designer shoes to the needy.
  9. A good plot device is to task your bad boy with thanking World War II veterans on behalf of his class at a D-Day anniversary ceremony. After using his speech as an opportunity to advocate for the privatization of social security, he is caught on an open microphone making disparaging remarks about senior citizens. He later writes a term paper that is extremely critical of the French Resistance.

    Optional: The good boy receives a governor’s award for his standout oral presentation on how continental philosophy — and in particular French existentialism — was shaped by Europe’s experience of and opposition to totalitarianism.
  10. Have the bad boy try to win the protagonist’s affection by gifting her with a large collection of Dave Matthews bootlegs burned onto store-brand CD-Rs. As a result of improper care, no disc will play without skipping. The good boy gives her a refurbished iPhone preloaded with high-bitrate, legally purchased recordings of her favorite band, an up-and-coming three-piece rap-funk group that releases new tracks only after all samples have been cleared by lawyers.
  11. Just like real life, boring internships can pay big dividends. A common approach is to make the good boy a production assistant for the local TV news crew. His hard work is rewarded with a traffic report fly-along in the newscopter. When the gruff but affable pilot is disabled by a heart attack, the good boy takes the controls and lands the chopper on a nearby emergency room helipad. While recovering in the intensive care ward, the pilot opens up to the boy about his time in Vietnam.
  12. Contrast the good and the bad boy characters by giving them a common interest in dancing. The bad boy can suffer from the delusion that he is a really good breakdancer. He always carries a dirty piece of cardboard with him in case he needs to bust a move. The good boy is an excellent slow dancer with a well-known reputation for not pressing into you too hard.
  13.  Whenever the bad boy character walks into a room, have the wireless router immediately stop working for no apparent reason, annoying everyone. The good guy’s catchphrase can be, “Here, let me power cycle that for you.”

Special thanks to my friend Jen, whose experience editing a young adult novel for girls inspired these suggestions. I haven’t yet checked with her, but I think she used all of them.

Made-up Facts about David Brooks

I Love David Brooks' trenchant insightsDavid Brooks is fascinated by everything. This fascination is the source of his enormous intellect. He is never not fascinated. The power of his fascination allows him to connect seemingly disparate ideas, concepts, cultural artifacts, and “memes” into a superthesis of amazingly fantastic (root word: fascinating) power. “Memes” is a word that David Brooks created. It means “mental things.” His book The Social Animal was originally inspired by a truckload of pea gravel and an ESPN commercial. He saw the connection and went from there. It featured an entire chapter on underground southern hip-hop with a focus on Atlanta. There was a corollary chapter on the comparative merits of box and bubble rides. He took it for granted that donks make the best hi-risers. I think he is right but wish he had explained why. It is a good book; everyone should probably read it sometime.