“It’s all well and good to be artistic and out there and all the rest of it but at the end of the day, people want to read about things they already know about”
I was just finishing my latest Yodeller column when there was a burst of internet behind me and a man-bun appeared.
Unfortunately, there was more connected to the man-bun, which became apparent as the drifts of data and temporal chaff evaporated across my office. Like over-developed biceps straining against a too-tight Under Armor shirt. A smile that needed a grease trap. Dyed and shaped stubble. And in front of all this horror, a floating iPad.
“Dude,” Man-Bun said. “I’m from the future, and we like, have some problems.”
“Well, you’re fucked,” I said.
“Dude. C’mon. Positive energy here.” He pointed at himself and then me. “You and me? Same team. Team Yodeller.”
I rolled my eyes, then stopped. “Wait! There’s a Yodeller in the future?”
Man-Bun made a face. “Maybe. If we can change the past. Like, with this column.” He sat down on my carpet, beside my Gumby doll. He tried to sit lotus style, and almost did. “Okay. Real talk.”
The coffee mug was in my hand before I could stop myself.
Later, after the bandages and scalds were treated, he tried talking again.
“Okay. Umm. In the future? The movie industry uses time travel to retroactively change films to satisfy focus groups if the films tank.”
“How does the time travel work?”
“The energy released from pirated films that have been retroactively altered open pathways on the internet for brief periods of time, so we ride those.”
“So I came back to help save the Yodeller in kinda the same way? Capisce?”
I reached for the coffee mug, but all that remained were the bits of it still embedded in his scalp.
Man-Bun reached for the floating iPad. The apple symbol smiled at me.
“So, we focus-tested the column you just wrote, and let me say, we love what you’re doing. It’s out there. Wacky. But it’s not bringing in the audience we need to satisfy advertisers and, you know, long term feasibility goals.”
He looked warily at me, then ran a finger down his screen. “This opening line. Kinda problematic.”
I opened the document on my computer.
Man-Bun read out loud. “Ennui chokes the streets of London like the tentacles of some Lovecraftian hellspawn.” He raised cultivated eyebrows. “The group had a few issues with that one.”
“Our focus group. Specially selected from across a wide and ethnically diverse, un-gender-specific collection of people who identify as someone who can buy a new BMW each year.”
“They had a few pointers.”
“Please, enlighten me.”
Man-Bun cleared his throat. “Eleven people weren’t sure what ‘ennui’ was and they felt threatened by it.”
“It’s a word for boredom.”
“They thought it was a French perfume.”
“You know, it might be. A perfume for depressed people in France seems legit. Almost overdue.”
“They thought you were being snotty by mentioning a perfume they hadn’t heard of. Showing class privilege.”
“And what’s this ‘Lovecraft’ line?”
“He’s an author. H.P. Lovecraft. I like him. “
“I can assure you that was one of the last things on Lovecraft’s mind.”
Man-Bun made the sort of smile that required inoculations after viewing. “But perception is reality. So far, close to ninety percent of our group stated that they thought this was about outdoor sex in the streets with expensive perfume. It made them feel uncomfortable. Out of their safety zone. They didn’t want to read any more of your column.”
“They should move to London. They’d feel right at home.”
Man-Bun leaned to one side and farted. “Lentils,” he said.
“They have those in the future? That’s it. I’m killing myself now.”
He waved his hand behind him, then ran his finger back down his IPad screen. The apple logo was showing me a picture of Bill Gates holding a kitten while playing bridge on a spaceship.
“But the thing is, The Yodeller needs readers. We need to build a solid advertising base. It’s all well and good to be” – he waggled his hands in the air – “artistic and out there and all the rest of it but at the end of the day, people want to read about things they already know about.”
I sighed. “If they read H.P. Lovecraft, then they’d know him and see the influence he’s had on modern culture, and learn to summon a Great Old One and . . .”
Man-Bun held up a hand. “Look. Dude. Brother. It’s great that you are into this, but hey – no one cares.”
I nodded. “Can’t argue that.”
“So the rest of the column goes on and on. Something about the gravitational black hole of a mall food court. Wow. Just about offended everyone with that one. You mention Godzilla, which eighty-six percent felt was deliberately upsetting fundamentalist Christians.”
“Because of the ‘God’ in Godzilla?”
“Because he’s a dinosaur and dinosaurs are a trick the Devil plays to make us think evolution is real.”
“You end with something in Latin . . .”
“’Sindarin’. Old Elvish, actually.”
He ran a hand across his idiotic hairstyle. “Seventy-two percent thought you were casting a spell and required counselling.” Man-Bun looked back at me. “And that’s not to mention this whole thing was like a thousand words.”
“That’s wrong, too?”
“Waaay too long. Who has time for such a long piece? Our focus group has kids to pick up from soccer. They want to read a column, not endure it. They’re busy people.”
“Well, they’re something.”
There was a whirr of paper from the iPad. “We made some suggestions for your next column.” He handed it to me. “In fact, in the future, you already wrote it.”
“Oh, goodie.” I read the column.
“Kids sure grow up fast. Aren’t dog videos funny? Yoga pants are the new Mom-sexy – or so my wife tells me! Crazy, right?”
“There’s no way I wrote this,” I said.
Man-Bun pulled a revolver from his hair.
“Well, not you, specifically,” he smiled.
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