Mr. Scratch Does Late-Nite

by Bruce Patterson, July 13, 2016

“It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you think you know for sure that does.” — Mark Twain

Entering from stage left, Mr. Scratch waves to the audience, shakes hands with the host and takes his seat under the soft studio lites. Since Old Beelzebub needs no introductions, the host begins.

“So glad you could make it, sir. My compliments on your appearance: Robert Redford, circa 1969—nice touch.”

Admiring his fresh manicure, Mr. Scratch waves off the praise. “Where would I be without my dear friend Late-Nite Jimmy Lately here in Radio City in the heart of Manhattan beaming round the world live on a Saturday night? Home in bed? Haw!” He morphs into Flo the Progressive Insurance avatar lady/sea hag/traffic cop, plumber, senile grandpa, etc., etc., and then, catching himself, he’s Robert Redford again just as cool as a cucumber.

“So you’re here to promote your new movie: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Ride Again. Why the remake? Why now?”

“First off, it’s a classic American movie and an all-time American favorite. It also went global and to this day it serves as America’s goodwill ambassador to the huddled masses squatting overseas. ”

“How’s that?”

Mr. Scratch morphs in and out of a pensive Anderson Cooper. “To begin with, here we have two legendary bank robbers who’ve gone all New Age hippy in the Old West. Vast possibilities, wouldn’t you say? Also the original print has been re-mastered, deleted scenes have been restored and new scenes added. By the way, you remember those big-eyed paintings that were all the rage back then: big, dewy-eyed litters of puppies, kitties and kiddies just as cute as buttons? Well, Catherine Ross (circa: 1969) is back, too. Catherine wants everyone to know how privileged she feels to be able to reprise her favorite role.”

“But Paul Newman is dead.”

Now Jimmy Lately finds himself addressing Mr. Paul Newman, circa 1969. “Everything in the original movie,” Newman assures him, “has been digitalized into real time. With today’s Integrated Data Cloud, the genetic signature, so to speak, of any person, place or thing can be fashioned into a hologram with a remarkable degree of accuracy, reliability and durability. Fortunately for posterity, not only was my good friend Paul Newman one of the premier actors of his generation, he was also one of the hardest working. As a result, we’ve accumulated so much data on him that you could say our hologram is an even better actor than he was.” Newman’s trademark Everyman a Dreamer expression comes over his angelic smile and Johnny Lately sees what he means and slowly claps his hands three (out of a possible five) times.

“Nowadays everything is patterns of ex’s and o’s that are virtually infinite in their permutations just as our computing power is reaching toward the invincible. We’re about to have an answer for everything-- the ancient philosopher’s Satori: the spontaneous apprehension of all that is as the ultimate intellectual orgasm. So Big Money has placed huge bets on multi-tasking Artificial Intelligence. They’re also all-in on an all-season luxury resort to be built on Mars and used to unite all of the earth’s Oligarchs, their relatives, heirs, facilitators and associates no matter what their race, creed, religion, national origin, height, width or sexual orientation. The Oligarchs want an equitable division of the global pie plus the honey in the hive as a bonus for them being such swell guys. They want grandma’s homemade Bananas Creamed Pies, for instance, tossed into the face of Regulatory Adversity; ole RA and his loyal sidekick I Give Up, or I-GU to his friends. The Rollicking Ollies want chow lines featuring bottomless rainbow fruit pies plus nuclear-armed aircraft carriers that are bigger than Noah’s Ark, invisible to radar, cruise at 20 knots and have the capacity to vaporize any and all megalopoli no matter what their size or location. They want invincible and infallible robot Urban Lawmen shooting lasers; National Security Nano Spies so tiny they can bivouac in your ears for years while being sustained by nano-batteries that keep going and going. In short, the Ollies want whatever consumer applications they can patent and market that will solidify their relative positions and market shares by adding to their portfolios and, naturally, their bragging rights.”

Mr. Scratch pauses to marvel at their genius. “Not long ago one of the world’s preeminent astrophysicists predicted that if these madmen all-in on ex’s and o’s, nukes, lasers, robots, Revelations and Fossil Fuels get their way, then if their miracle machines like us enough they might decide to keep some of us around as pets. So what do you think about that, Mr. Jimmy Lately?”

Slightly miffed, Jimmy returns to the script. “Tell me, sir, regarding the sequel, is it true that you imply that between Sundance, Butch and that outlaw school teacher girl there’s been some sexual liberation going on? Some wife and husband swapping that’s happening just off screen and is powerfully suggested? If so, I don’t know if that’ll go over very well with today’s young women. It’s very difficult to advance up the corporate ladder when you’re pregnant, caring for a toddler, or both while moonlighting as a student selling shares in your future and working as a part, part-time bookkeeper. Don’t you think?”

Jimmy tries to speak, but Newman shushes him. “In 1969, we had safe and reliable birth control pills—you too young to remember? So it was only natural that young women would take them for a test drive; only natural that some schoolgirls would find ways to get ahold of them in the name of freedom, fun and adventure. How long the girls been waiting? A quarter of a million years?” He morphs in and out of a scandalized Jerry Farewell sputtering, Sarah Palin hissing, spitting and squealing and Billy Graham Jr. wagging his finger between nine and three O’clocks.”

“You say you have re-imaged BC & SK’s ending.” Jimmy pretends not to notice that Newman is back to being Robert Redford again, this time in his thoughtful college professor mode. “Care to comment?”

“Come on, Jimmy. You know I can’t reveal that. But I will say this: we’ve made Bolivia seem a whole lot more inviting than it was in the original. Hell, I’ll even tell you this: as a special treat to all of the males in the audience old enough to have had some serious pubescent hots for the post-pubescent outlaw school teacher Ms. Ross, we have her getting naked this time around—no more of that Big Studio teasing stuff—false advertising, if you ask me!” Newman catches himself. “Of course, it is a very discreet kind of nudity. It’s quite tastefully done in dusky light and fluttering clouds of moths and is without any touching, or self-touching, or implied touching, or untoward close-ups of Ms. Ross’ expressions of blissful ecstasy. Also, it’s worth mentioning, Ms. Ross is only a hologram.”

“Can I safely assume that her body double’s face and head is properly obscured 100% behind her Mobile Personal Security Shield throughout the entire nasty scene?’

“A MPSS wasn’t necessary. The body double is also a hologram and so exempt from the statute.”

Newman vanishes and then instantly reappears, at first as Struthers Martin riding the ass of his donkey and whistling in the brisk Andean Mountain breeze, then back to Robert Redford chewing on an oat straw and grinning like he gives a hot-damn about any ya’ll.

Finally slightly unnerved, Jimmy boldly presses on. “So, what else has changed?”

“I think this interview has gone into overtime, wouldn’t you say? You want to cut to ten or a dozen commercials so we can talk about it during your break? Aw, what the Hell. Of course we cut out that preposterous climatic death scene. Shit like that gets added to the script when you get your funding from Mr. Who Knows planted four doors deep somewhere on the 125th Floor of a skyscraper without an address or a 13th Floor. The damned producers always want more gunfire even when you’re shooting a comedy or a teen romance. More flying, flailing, falling down, shot-up, stacked-up bodies! ‘Body count! Give me more body count!’—fuck that, said Newman and me. It doesn’t take half the Bolivian Army to take down two pacifist outlaws firing six-guns and trying not to hurt anybody. And Butch and Sundance damn sure didn’t need to charge into immortality by getting themselves shot up into hamburger and piccalilli, catsup, mustard and Velveeta.”

“Now you’re just teasing me.” Jimmy Lately, who doesn’t get seasick, starts feeling seasick.

“Forgive me. . . immortality gets boring, you know? Even working all the time doesn’t help. But there are some things about how you Consumers are conducting yourselves lately I’d like to address. Listen carefully: I don’t need any more of your help harvesting souls, OK? Already there’s no more room in Hell for any more bodies—got it? No vacant Penthouses, flophouses, tents, telephone booths or broom closets—you understand? With the 7 Deadly Sins as righteous 24/7 prime-time entertainment, my gatekeepers are already beating back the hordes with fiery pitchforks. The earth is my home, too, don’t you get it? Just because I own Hell doesn’t mean I’ve got to live down there and I sure as Hell don’t. You people are trashing my home and my business and I’m tired of it, you got me?

“Let me say just two more things. First, if you believe that increasing your automobile’s horsepower enhances your social status and sex appeal, get a life before your ass belongs to me. Secondly, we believe that all that is needed for evil to conquer is for good men to do nothing. But that’s a bald-faced lie I invented way back some 89 centuries ago and it caught fire and I thought if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But now I see I was wrong. The real truth is that at some point ignoring evil becomes evil. You know it and you’ve always known it because, no matter how much you hate to admit it, you were born with a conscience. You’ve got a conscience and you’d best start listening to it if you know what’s good for you.

“There, I’ve got that off my chest. Thanks for listening and, remember now, BC & SK-RA is now playing nationwide on big screens everywhere. I’ll be seeing you, pard-ners.”

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