Story went, I’d been asked to moderate, to get the skinny on the Sad vs. Weirdo semi-final round of the 2015 Broken Pencil Deathmatch.
So I did. I lurked. I loitered. I kept my eyes peeled and the Deathmatch page on refresh. And so far it was quiet. Real quiet. Quiet like that couple driving in a car, right before the argument–the one that’s been brewing all day like a bad pot of diner coffee–begins.
Quiet like there’s probably more to this than meets the eye, like the kid who works at the deli, the one with the new limp who used to drive for what’s-his-name with the big house and the girlfriend half his age. And I’m talking the deli on 5th, pastrami-on-rye to die for. You get your pastrami-on-rye from anywhere else, you’re crazy, I tell you, nuts. Looney Tunes. Certifiable. But I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah, the Deathmatch was real quiet. Yeah, sure, the votes were coming in like gangbusters, but the writers seemed relaxed. Maybe too relaxed. Only they knew for sure.
Roxanna Bennett, with her poem, “The Museum of Dead Presidents,” she said was first dreamed up on the subway. Tweets, she called ’em. I asked the kid next door what that meant and he gave me this look like I was a dinosaur, washed up, old news. “Daddio,” he said, “you wouldn’t understand if I told ya.” What I did know was the lines were punches to the gut, raw observation and emotion poured out on the page. Skewers through the shrunken heart of what we called culture. And I liked it. I liked it a lot.
And then there was Nikola Jajic, with his story, “The Boogeyman,” a walk on the wild side. Whiskey and cigarettes. The nighttime is tickle time. Streetlamp glow and the promise of violence. As celebrities ran amok, drinking Singapore Slings and ushering in unholy man births. A freaky nightmare you could feel on your fingertips when you woke up and the kind of story gold you had to bite just to make sure it wasn’t a dream.
Who would advance to the finals? Sad? Weirdo? The question lingered. Only time would tell. The contest was close like a barber’s shave, less than 100 votes separating them. See, Broken Pencil gave the power to the Internet, to the people. And talk about quiet. I couldn’t tell if they were peaceniks or packing heat and just waiting for the scribes to turn their backs.
Well, two could play that game.
So I waited and watched, watched and waited. As I did, I sniffed the air. And you know what? It smelled like the calm before the storm.