The Decline and Fall of Basically Everything – Volume I

By Paul Caputo and Jeffrey Carl

The Richmond State, or at least the closest I could find to it
The Richmond State, October 23 1995

A scholarly discourse on the wrongness of traffic jams on Cary Street; the question “No, Honey, REALLY, what’s the matter????”; the Richmond Marathon; fat guys in goofy hats; throwing up but still running; and Yoko Ono. Like pretty much everything else we wrote for The Richmond State, it all seemed uproariously funny at the time.

Hi.  We are Jeff and Paul.  And we will be Julie and Omar, your Cruise Directors.  Welcome aboard!

Actually, we are here to warn you, valued STATE reader, about a matter which no doubt concerns you deeply, especially if you are as weird as we are.  This is aside from the serious matters which worry us every day, such as “What’s for dinner?,”  “How could they fit that much cholesterol in it?,”  “How in the name of God are we going to pay for that without actual jobs?” and “Would we like that ‘Super-Sized’ for only 39 cents extra?”

We are worried about the declining state of basically everything.  Except “The Simpsons,” which is still fine.  And so we present our first in a series (unless they can us after this one) of in-depth examinations of all of the individual reasons that the world as we know it is more or less going to pot.

The first and most glaring example of this striking decline in everything is the recent Richmond Times-Dispatch Marathon, a couple of Sundays ago.

Now, while running is great cardiovascular exercise (French for “hating yourself”), there are several downfalls to it. The first is that running is bad for your knees. Well, not your knees. A runner’s knees. You are clearly not a runner because you are sitting down reading this column. Were you a runner, you wouldn’t have time to read this because you would be a.) running, b.) eating tofu while running, or c.) struggling to get out of your straitjacket.

Ergo, (Latin for “So, anyway,”) the second downfall of running  is that really serious runners are crazy as a football bat.  We know this because we used to be runners. As members of our respective high schools’ varsity cross-country teams., we learned that runners are people with heart, desire and the knowledge that they did not have the coordination to play actual sports.

We ran over hill and dale.  We discovered the limits of endurance.  We discovered self-discipline.  We discovered that wearing those really short running shorts made us, as guys, very uncomfortable.  We discovered conclusively that the fabled “runner’s high” was actually just a “bad trip.”

But that is neither here nor there.

What is both here and there is that the Times-Dispatch Marathon was the largest public display of general disaster in the city since the last time the Yankees burned it.  Or the last time they had the marathon.

If you were watching Channel 12’s special live marathon coverage, you missed the best part of the race. It was a moment that defined running: The Moment.The Moment itself was momentary – it seemed to last only a moment, but it was a momentous moment. Especially for those who had to wash momentos of the moment off their clothes. 

The Moment occured with the eventual winner, Mark Harrison, several miles from the finish line and a full mile ahead of the next runner. Harrison, striding with confidence and determination, took a brief moment to glance at the fans on the side of the street. Seeing the cheering faces and the waving hands, Harrison turned his head and vomited. 

And he kept running.

Then, as an encore, he threw up again.

Without breaking his stride.

Now, as former runners ourselves,  we know we what Harrison was thinking: “That damn fat guy with the goofy hat.”  Allow us to explain. 

The most distinct difference between runnners and fans at an event like the marathon is that while runners are often delirious on top of being insane to begin with (as evidenced by the fac t that they are voluntarily running 26 miles), the fans are merely sadistic. Your average running fans will stand on the side of the road, smiling, remaining stationary and drinking beer, while the runner struggles by, sweating up to (true fact!) fourteen gallons of water per second.

Then, seeing the runner, the average fan will actually yell something like, “Keep it up!” or  “You’re almost there!”

Now, being runners ourselves, we know that “almost there” translates directly into “You poor bastard.  Ha ha!”

The runner will usually grin encouraginly at the fans and mouth something like “Please kill me.”

We are certain that Harrison’s reasons for vomiting had nothing to do with the actual physical exertion involved with running. Instead, we know that there was a fan, most likely a fat one, wearning one of those hats with two beers attached to it and the two bendy-straws hanging down to suck on, who yelled something like “Hurry up!” as Harrison was running by.  His only response, since strangling the fan would require far too much energy, was to “barf”, or, as the French say, boot.

Jeff saw the Richmond marathon first-hand, sitting in his car, stuck in the traffic jam on Cary Street, which extended (true fact!) a bajillion miles long (the traffic jam, not Cary Street).  Hundreds of cranky motorists sat in their cars, watching the valiant efforts of these hearty athletes, and all (the cranky motorists) thinking, “If that traffic cop wasn’t here, I could just run over ‘em and be on my way.”

Consider this proposition: a runner weighs roughly 150 pounds and is made of soft, fleshy material.  A car weighs up to four tons and is made of metal (except for Geos, which are made of Nerf).  

Furthermore, the cars are on their way somewhere important, like Denny’s or home to watch “The Simpsons.”  

The marathon runners aren’t going anywhere, and they’re even doing that slowly.  These people have so much free time that they’re running 26 miles to go in a big circle. And, while we are certainly in favor of “free time,” that’s just ridiculous.

Think of all the things these people could have been doing with their time.  Like curing cancer.  Or feeding ducks.  Or  sending us money.

Let’s look at this whole “marathon” thing from the eyes of the runners. The reason we can do this is not because we are actual runners ourselves, but rather because we are columnists and we know everything. For instance, we know the very simple and obvious solutions to age-old questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “Why are women insane?” and “Hey, honey, what’s the matter?” and “NO, REALLY, WHAT’S THE MATTER?” Of course, if we just came right out and told you theanswers to these questions, there wouldn’t be a need for a professional columnists and we’d have to live in cardboard boxes instead of the luxurious dumpsters we live in now.

So, years ago, more than three thousand  (a number we made up in lieu of doing any actual research) potential runners were sitting on couches and in diners across the city, nation and world. Suddenly these people got glints in their eyes, which sounds as if it should hurt.  Anyway, followed by the glint, these people got ideas, and they started thinking strange thoughts. 

They thought, That’s it. I got it. I’ll RUN! I won’t run from anything. or to anywhere, I’ll just run. And I’ll run a LOT, so that I am often sweaty and always always wheezing. And I will badger OTHERS to run, until EVERYONE is running, and we are all so busy sweating and wheezing that our Alien Overlords From The Planet “Gort” will have NO PROBLEM conquering the world!  HA HA HA HA!

Or at least we think it was something like that.

This thought process ended years later at the starting/finish line on 6th and Broad streets when,  when all those trillions (or whatever) of running careers reached a climax. As each of these runners crossed the finish line, they thought, almost in unison, “Great Creeping Buddha!  What was I thinking?”

The Big Question here is: who is to blame for all this nonsense?  The runners?  No.  That would be adding insult to injury and vomit.  The fans?  No.  They had the only ones who had the sense not to actually be running.  The Times-Dispatch?  Convenient, and it’s always good to blame them for something, but probably not in this case.  The City Council?  True, another easy target – and extremely funny – but this is still probably not their fault.  That huge pitcher of Kool-Aid that used to bust through walls and sing during their commericals, back when we were kids?  No.  In fact, that’s just stupid.

Who, then?

That’s right, Yoko Ono.  Why?  Because Yoko Ono – besides the fact that in the “World’s Most Irritating Person” contest she finished second only to “Gallagher”  – broke up The Beatles, leading to a chain reaction of disasters including spiraling inflation rates, the chart-topping success of the band “A-Ha” and an overall increase in crime, disease, volcanoes and gross “yeast infection” medicine commercials during TV programs that guys mistakenly watch.  Ono’s continued existence is one of the Seven Signs of the Apocalypse (French for “going to Hell in a handbasket”).  Other signs include Candians winning the World Series and Keanu Reeves “performing” “Hamlet.”  

So this event, which fulfilled biblical prophecy (Revelation 14:9 “And the Beast shall say unto John, ditch Paul and make irritating albums with me”), began the long cascade of all-around berserkness which is responsible for the marathon and the general decline and fall of more or less everything.  

Or whatever.

The History of the City of Richmond: 1995-2001

By Paul Caputo and Jeffrey Carl

The Richmond State, or at least the closest I could find to it
The Richmond State, October 19 1995

The future history of the next 16 years in the city of Richmond Virginia, chock full of extremely short lived topical references. If you did not live in Richmond in 1995, you will find it monstrously unfunny. Then again, you’ll probaby find all of our stuff monstrously unfunny whether you lived there or not.

Hi. We are Jeff and Paul.  That being the case, we have supernatural powers which allow us to see the future.  We recently warmed up our crystal ball (which looks suspiciously like an old “Magic 8-Ball”) and glimpsed at the future of Richmond until the year 2000.  Was it bright and happy?  The Magic 8-Ball leaned toward yes.  Was it funny?  Our vision: Cannot answer at this time.  It is through our fool-proof sequence of complex yes or no question that we can reveal to you, valued State reader, the following:

The History of the City of Richmond: 1995-2001

October 19, 1995 — You pick up the Richmond State and are reading this column. (So far, so good.)

Several moments later, 1995 — While you’re busy reading this, somebody steals your wallet.

October 12, 1995 – The Monument Avenue statue of Arthur Ashe is torn down and replaced with a new one, because city officials say the old one is “ugly as Hell.”  Sculptor Paul DiPasquale retorts, “Well, excuuuuuuuse me.”

November 3, 1995 – New statistics reveal that Richmond’s murder rate is the highest in the country.  Police Chief Jerry Oliver says, reportedly, “Oops.”

December 1, 1995 – Mayoral elections are announced.  Mayor Leonidas Young responds, “Somebody please run and get me out of this job.”

December 19, 1995 – Oliver North announces his candidacy for the mayorship.  His slogan is “North – He Needs the Work.  Badly.”  

January 8, 1995 – The Richmond Times-Dispatch, in an effort to boost a seriously flagging readership, merges with Style Magazine.  The new newspaper is called “The Rychmond Tymes-Dysptach,” and has over 30 pages of personal ads.

January 22, 1996 – In a surprise move, television star David Hasselhoff declares his candidacy for the mayor of Richmond.  When asked why, he responds, “I’m a big musical star in Germany.”

May 6, 1996 – In the mayoral election, Leonidas Young retains his seat after everybody forgets to vote.

September 20, 1996 — Radio personality Howard Stern asks Richmond officials to “let him know when that mayor position is open.” 

January 16, 1997 – The Tymes-Dyspatch, to fight further decreases in readership, switches to an all-comics format.  The headline of the first edition reads, “Mary Worth in Wild Love Triangle, Sources Report.”

February 1, 1997 — Richmond gains national attention when the state supreme court rules that it is constitutional for teachers to confine parents to their room if their children do not perform well in school. 

April 13, 1997 – Four members of the Richmond City Council resign after being arrested for speeding.

June 8, 1997 – The Richmond Braves are kicked out of the International League after losing the baseball playoffs to Girl Scout Troop #327, a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team.  Richmonders vow to get another sports team immediately.  The Richmond Renegades release a statement through their director of public relations that says, “HEY!  What about us?”

     Richmonders simply shrug and go watch the Washington Redskins lose to the expansion Springfield Egg Shells on TV.

June 21, 1997 – The Tymes-Dyspatch, in a last-ditch effort to gain readers, begins just making up news that they think would be interesting.

July 5, 1997 – New statistics say that Richmond’s murder rate is the highest in the universe.  According to these statistics, everyone in the city will be dead by Tuesday.

July 25, 1997 — Controversy reigns on Monument Avenue as ground is broken for a statue of David Hasselhoff.  Confederate-flag-wielding protesters darken the moment, chanting and throwing rocks. One protester says, “I mean, couldn’t they get a real hero? How ‘bout the Dukes of Hazzard?”  Monument sponsors admit that Daisy Duke would make a much better-looking statue.

     Sculptor Paul DiPasquale can not be reached for comment, but releases a statement through an agent, stating, “Hey, they love him in Germany.”

September 1, 1997 — Police Chief Jerry Oliver is replaced by an aging Clint Eastwood. When new Chief Eastwood is asked by reporters about new community patrol efforts, he simply squints and says something about punks, then shoots a television reporter. This earns him a standing ovation.

September 3, 1997 — Howard Stern announces that he is running for mayor.

September 7, 1997 – Police Chief Eastwood resigns in order to star in the next “Police Academy” sequel. At a press conference supportive Mayor Leonidas Young is quoted as saying, “We have police?”

September 15, 1997 — Leonidas Young says “I’m sick of this job.  The City Council can bite me,” and announces that he will host a four-hour comedy morning talk show on WRVA. Howard Stern is reportedly “really pissed.”

December 9, 1997 – A statue of Bo and Luke Duke is erected on Monument Avenue.  The plaque reads: “Just two good ol’ boys; Never meanin’ no harm; Beats all you never saw; Been in trouble with the law since the day they were born.”

January 13, 1998 — Controversy rocks Richmond’s City Council as more than half of its members are forced to resign after they are busted for selling Girl Scout Cookies without a license.

February 6, 1998 – New police chief Barney Fife resigns after it is revealed that he is actually a fictional character.

February 7, 1998 — New statistics reveal that everyone in Richmond has been murdered at least once, and that others have been brutally slain more than six times.  Police Chief Madonna says, “I’m outta here.”

February 8, 1998 – The City Council selects as its new police chief: RoboCop.  One council member says, “OK, so he isn’t real, but we think he’ll scare people.”

February 19, 1998 — Oliver Stone’s latest movie, “Natural-Born Losers,” which depicts the escapades of Richmond’s now-famous city council, is released.

March 3, 1998 – Marion Barry is elected to the City Council after it is discovered that he is only candidate who has already served his jail time.

March 28, 1998 — The popular dance club Paragon wins a landmark legal battle with the City of Richmond, after it sued the city for “being really lame.” The city pleads “no contest.”  Afterwards, the victorious law firm, Joynes, Bieber and Cochran, which represented Paragon in the case, holds a press conference n which they announce that “we totally rule.” 

April 3, 1998 – The new Richmond baseball team, the “Richmond Tomohawk-Wielding-Maniacs,” is selected because, in the team owner’s words, “That way we can still use that stupid-looking indian-thing stuck to the stadium.”

April 4, 1998 – The Tomohawk-Wielding-Maniacs lose to Girl Scout Troop #327.  All six fans in attendance are reportedly “really pissed.”

May 4, 1998 – In a seemingly unrelated incident, David Hasselhoff has a sandwich for lunch, thousands of miles away.  Coincidence?  We think not.

October 30, 1998 — Richmond State reporter Jason Roop dresses up in all black on the night before Halloween, Mischief Night, and covers both of the Comycs-Dyspatch’s main buildings with toilet paper.  Reportedly, nobody cares.  The Dyspatch runs an editorial the next day condemning toilet paper as being the fault of welfare.

November 4, 1998 — The Richmond State shocks the newspaper world by buying out The Rychmond Comycs-Dyspatch.

     Says new editor in chief, Jason Roop, “Hey, why not? They’ve got some cool buildings, once you get the toilet paper off them.”

May 11, 1999 — Mayoral candidates Howard Stern, Oliver North, Colin Powell and Ringo Starr each receive zero votes.  The winner is write-in candidate General Robert E. Lee, despite the fact that he has been dead for more than a hundred years.

June 30, 1999 – General Lee posthumously resigns as mayor.  City officials say they will seek a new mayor from the entertainment industry because “they are involved in fewer scandals than the other candidates.”

August 9, 1999 – The entire City Council is arrested for being City Council members, which is now a felony offense.

September 2, 1999 – The Richmond State-Dyspatch reports that the Virginia Supreme Court has declared that parents can be shot if their children receive a “C” on tests.

November 23, 1999 – Geneticists successfully mate a VCU student and a University of Richmond student.  Doctors report that the child is born wearing a Brooks Brothers shirt, but has its nose pierced.

January 1, 2000 – The Mayor Formerly Known as Prince declares that Richmond is once again seceding from the Union, citing “irreconcilable differences.”  State troopers are given orders to shoot anyone with New Jersey license plates on sight.  A second Confederate government is formed; new Attorney Generals Joynes, Bieber and Wapner call the move “entirely constitutional, except for the illegal bits.”  In the midst of the controversy, plans for a new Monument Avenue statue of Howard Stern go unnoticed.

     As responsible journalists, we feel that no city should know too much about its own future. It is for this reason that we stop this future history at the dawn of the new century. After that moment, it is up to the city of Richmond to determine its own future.

     Also, our Magic 8-Ball has too many bubbles in it to read correctly, and to go any further would mean to compromise the sanctity of our predictions. Jeff has even suggested that we make stuff up just to fill space.

     Lord knows we wouldn’t want to do that.

The Pocket Guide to Post-College Survival

By Paul Caputo and Jeffrey Carl

The Richmond State, or at least the closest I could find to it
The Richmond State, October 1 1995

The Richmond State was a plucky upstart alternative newspaper (not that kind of “alternative”) that challenged the editorial might of the stodgy Richmond Times-Dispatch beginning in 1994. It folded in 1997 and left so little of a legacy that there is a grand total of one search result for it in all of the Googles, which is a link to the Library of Congress where you can find which libraries have copies on microfiche. At the time, Paul Caputo and I thought this was our ticket to comedy stardom. We were exceptionally stupid.

Hi.  We are Jeff and Paul, and we recently graduated from a local college that we won’t name, but rhymes with “Poon-a-nursery glove Bitch-fund.”  And, being thrust into a cold, hard world with only a $60,000 slip of paper (“diploma”) as protection, we thought we’d write something to save all of you future graduates out there from making all the same mistakes we did, so that you can go on to make new ones.  Thus was born our “Pocket Guide to Post-College Survival in Richmond.”

First thing’s first.  Don’t actually put it in your pocket.  Folded-up newsprint is disgusting. Especially this stuff they use here at the State. What is this? Grape juice?

(Tip #1: Don’t taste it. It’s not grape juice.)

The second thing is that just because you, when you graduate, will likely not have a plan (“clue”) or job (“job”), is no cause to be upset.  It is cause for full-fledged panic.  Your immediate reaction should be to drink so much that your only memories of your senior year of college are savage hangovers and some class that was maybe “Introduction to Management Systems” or “Systems of Introductory Management” or “Inter-System Management of Suction” or “13th Century Algerian Literature.”  Or something.

At any rate, when you recover from your illness (“hangover”) and are kicked out (“graduate”), your plan is simple: 1) Panic again. 2) Drink more. 3) Hang the tassle from your graduation cap over the rear-view mirror.

After a couple of days, when all of this has grown a little tiresome or life-threatening, you face two options.  The first is to keep drinking, go back to your old fraternity parties, drink even more, beg money from your parents for astounding amounts of cheap Scotch, and finally end up as one of those people who lie outside of 7-11s, arguing with “those damn squirrels.”  Do not do this.  Your other option is to come to terms with your job situation (“none”) and attempt to find one.

You will not be successful immediately, unless you are seeking a career in the growing fields of asking “would you like that Super-Sized?” or drug dealing. There will be days when you feel as if you may never find a job. This is probably a result of the stack of “thank you but ha ha ha ha” letters from companies that have lots of jobs but none for you, which you have under your bed, along with the four-month-old Taco Bell-flavored Doritos you forgot you had left there as a snack for the mice. Finding a job that fits all of your personal requirements (“pays money”) will take a little time, and you need to know how to survive (“not die”) in the meantime.

Incidentally, there are certain vitally important hints for this interim period that have been learned and passed down through generations of ex-grads.  We have, due to excess drinking, forgotten them.  But, as best as we can reconstruct them, they include:

• Ramen noodles are your friend.  At four for a dollar, they are perfect for your budget.  And they contain a whopping zero percent of all your daily nutrient requirements.  Except “sodium,” of which they contain about a billion percent of your needs for the next decade.  But they are easy to make (“have microwave instructions”) and are tasty hangover remedies.

• Low-cost housing is your friend.  Just because a neighborhood is “unfashionable” or “constantly life-threatening” is no reason not to move in, if the price is right.  “The price is right” in this case indicates that it is the cheapest damn thing you can find.  You and your roommates – and you will have roommates – simply need to develop simple security precautions.  These can range from being safety-smart (“sleeping with a shotgun under the pillow”) to simple friendliness (“taping a sign that says ‘please do not kill us’ on your door.”)

• Free pizza.  Pizza Hut has a “If Your Order Isn’t Right, It’s Free” policy.  Order pizzas without anchovies.  Needless to say, you can always insist that you wanted anchovies on that.  And, if some bizarre slip-up occurs and they did put anchovies on it, say you wanted kelp or hummus or something.

• Join the planetary family.  If you find that you need an automobile and you don’t have one, think Saturn.  They have a wonderful “30-days, no questions asked” return policy on their automobiles.  Simply pretend you have a wonderful credit history (“lie”) and purchase one.  Twenty-nine days later, return it, claiming you hated the headrests or that the stereo wouldn’t stop playing Queen.  Get another Saturn.  Repeat.  Rinse.

Special Note: Do not do this indefinitely.  You may have heard of the Saturn “Family.”  This is not to be underestimated: sooner or later, they will get wise.  And you don’t want Vito and Luigi Saturn from the “family” paying youse a visit.

• Be a cool cat.  If you are living in an affordable (“cheap”) apartment, it may not have air-conditioning.  Richmond summers can be a little warm (“a sweltering hell-box”), and air-conditioned living is a real must.  If you don’t have friends with air-conditioning to mooch off of, there are several other free sources of coolness to investigate.  Try the local library: those are always air-conditioned.  And, since nobody reads anymore, you can camp out there for days at a time, undisturbed.  If you are somehow surprised by a rogue librarian who notices your tent and campfire in the reference section, do not panic.  Simply explain that you are trying to finish Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” and that you’re up to page seven.  They will understand.

• Learn and experience the merits of afternoon television. One of the most detrimental things an unemployed post-grad can do is feel listless and worthless. Afternoon television gives us something to look forward to. And hey, can we help it if the world doesn’t recognize the positive qualities we would bring to any organization that would pay us to join their professional team (“anywhere that would pay us?”) No. Without “Quantum Leap” or “Knight Rider” reruns, or everything on ”Comedy Central” there to offer moral support at three in the afternoon, when the rest of the world is out working and getting pay checks every week, life would seem, well, worthless.  And, dammit, in that darkest hour, Montel is there for you.

Get a pet. You need someone to talk to, don’t you?  And, compared to your roomates, they will seem neat.

Go back to campus. Watch people go to class, studying for tests, handing in papers. Laugh heartily and yell things like, “Chaucer sucks!” and all those things you could never say during college.  Hey, we might be unmployed. But at least we’re not still learning anything.

• Or whatever.

You may have spent some or all of your college years working as an intern (“slave.”)  This process involves you telling some company that you would like to work there – and this is the part companies love – without them paying you any money.

“Hold on,” you say.  “What would make me want to do that, unless I had gone completely raving berserk?  Or just really rock-stupid?”

But wait!  Surprisingly enough, there are many benefits to the concept of internship (“indentured servitude”).  First is that an internship gives you valuable experience.  Experience is important because it can be redeemed at the end of the show for valuable prizes and luggage.  Second, many companies end up hiring their interns.  Unfortunately, these people never go very far on the corporate ladder because their superiors realize that these people were what the French call “dumb as a bag of hammers” (or, literally translated, “duh”). That is, they had few enough functioning synapses that they worked for no money at all, so they’d probably bankrupt the company in a week if they were ever in charge.  Third, you can steal pens, stationery and toilet paper, in addition to making long-distance phone calls from your internship.

Or try working for a temp agency (“hating your life.”)  Jeff had a friend who – no kidding – had a temp assingment shoveling coal into a furnace.  If necessary, remind yourself frequently “I may be shoveling coal, but I’m extremely qualified to do it.”

If this does not work, and you don’t mind slumming a little, try looking into the growing fields of selling crack or transvestite prostitution.  Or bother people for change outside of stores on Franklin Street.  At least that way you won’t have your alma mater bugging you for donations.  And if you finally decide that you have absolutely no scruples whatsoever, and are willing to walk on the seedy side of life, try getting a part-time job in TV news or with the Richmond Times-Dispatch (“Times-Disgrace.”)  That’s what we did.

To sum up, everything will eventually be okay.  Someday you will have a real job and spend your afternoons relieving stress by beating young interns with electric cattle prods.  You will work your way up the corporate ladder (“the highway to hell”) and find the well-paying job of your choice (“have too many mortgages to enjoy it.”)  It’s a simple fact of biology – everybody who currently has a well-paying job is probably going to die before you do.  So there willbe openings.  The secret is just to hang in there, stay tough, keep your options open, and keep eating Ramen noodles.