About the Author
McSweeney's is a small group that sells taxidermy equipment and also produces books, a literary quarterly, and The Believer, a monthly review. Based in San Francisco, McSweeney's is also home to 826 Valencia, a nonprofit educational center for Bay Area youth.
John Hodgman has been published in the The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. He has also contributed to Public Radio International's This American Life, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Wiretap and Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Hodgman's book, The Areas of My Expertise, was published in 2005. Hodgman has recently had much exposure personifying a PC in Apple's "Get a Mac" advertising campaign.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
THE RECRUITMENT OF HARRY POTTER
by Craig Berman
RE: Harry Potter campus visit IMPORTANCE: High
It's twenty-four hours until the big visit, and I hope by now everyone understands how pivotal this weekend is for us. Harry Potter has some off-pitch issues, but he's the best seeker I've seen in eighty years. Vic Krum says Potter can do things on a broom that he can only dream of, and Krum didn't win MVP at worlds last year because the committee pulled his name out of a hat. And if that's not enough, word from management is that it's all of our asses if he signs with someone else.
The good news is that it sounds like it's between us and Puddlemere, if Potter decides to play at all. We have to do whatever it takes to ensure we have a commitment before he leaves on Sunday. Let me say that again--whatever it takes. Do things I don't want to know about if you have to, but let's be sure he signs on the dotted line.
He and the Weasley kid are flying in on Friday. We're going to have to make an offer to both--Richardson, relax, nobody's going to take your job. We'll sit Weasley on the bench or ship him to the minors when the time comes, but we have to get him to commit to have any chance at all with Potter.
Wootton and Owen, Weasley's your responsibility for the weekend. Show him the cheerleaders, the parties . . . hell, apparate him to India and show him the Taj Mahal for all I care, just make sure he thinks we're recruiting him regardless of whether Potter signs or not. If it means hiring some extra "talent" to seal the deal, whip out the credit card and do whatever it takes. But it probably won't be a tough sell. Weasley loves Quidditch and would probably go over to the Dark Lo-- to He Who Must Not Be Named for a chance at the pros.
Potter is going to be a lot tougher. Bell says Potter wants to be an Auror, so we should definitely break out the academics among the season-ticket holders. Sell that we're the closest team to the Ministry of Magic, and that we're his best option if he wants to play at all, since he'll be able to manage the classwork and practice. Hey, if he actually can, more power to him.
Tell him we will absolutely pull Snape's season tickets if that's any concern at all. Hell, go ahead and do that anyway. Guy gives me the willies.
Don't worry--by all accounts Quidditch is Potter's main obsession. Well, that and the whole feud thing, but let's not bring that up unless he broaches the subject. (None of us have the Dark Mark, right? If any of you do, be sure to wear your long-sleeve jersey.) You know he'll love the facilities--the broom deal with Nike Magic, the state-of-the-art pitch, the sellout crowds . . .
As for the entertainment . . . I'm at a loss. We know he has commitment issues and isn't looking for anything serious, but that's about it. He dated that Chang girl for a while--the one who's probably going to wind up signing with Cardiff--and Weasley's sister. And Slughorn said there might have been something going on between Potter and some weirdo--her father runs the Quibbler or something. Bottom line is, I have no clue what type of girls he'd be interested in. But, for the love of Gryffindor, don't let the entertainment for Potter and Weasley overlap--the last thing we need is Weasley seeing Potter snogging another girl, and both of them getting all bent out of shape.
I'll be in charge of the Potter visit (except for entertainment--I'm looking for volunteers for that gig). We all know the sad story--dead parents, dead godfather, dead headmaster. He's in need of a father figure, and I'm willing to risk it. Yeah, a lot of people close to Potter wind up dead, but it's worth the danger for someone who's guaranteed to catch the snitch every time out. If it gets me a championship ring, I'll take all the Unforgivable Curses with a smile on my face.
Oh, and for the love of Gryffindor, don't let slip that we had Malfoy in last week. Word has it that they don't much like each other, so keep it on the down-low.
Let's do it.
SOCIAL SECURITY DENIES
GREGOR SAMSA'S DISABILITY CLAIM
by Alex St. Andrews
Important Notice GREGOR SAMSA Is Not Eligible for SSI
We are writing about GREGOR SAMSA's claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. Based on a review of his/her medical condition, he/she does not qualify for SSI payments on this claim. This is because he/she is not disabled or blind under our rules.
The Decision on GREGOR SAMSA's Case
You listed the following impairment(s) on your SSI application: I AM A GIGANTIC COCKROACH DEPRESSION BACK PAIN
You said the above impairment(s) affected you in the following way(s): I CANNOT STAND OR WALK UPRIGHT OR SPEAK ANY HUMAN LANGUAGE.
ALEX ST. ANDREWS
I CANNOT HANDLE OR MANIPULATE OBJECTS WITH MY MANY LEGS OR ANTENNAE.
WHEN I AM ON MY BACK I HAVE DIFFICULTY RIGHTING MYSELF.
MY FAMILY HAS IMPRISONED ME IN MY ROOM AND IS FEEDING ME SCRAPS.
The following report(s) were used to decide this claim:
You did not show up for your Consultative Exam. We scheduled an appointment with an examining physician at our expense. You were asked if you required a taxi or other arranged transportation to the exam.
We received no medical records related to your alleged condition(s) of I AM A GIGANTIC COCKROACH, DEPRESSION, BACK PAIN.
Doctors and other trained staff looked at this case and made this decision. They work for the state but used our rules. The following € ndings were made:
You are not engaged in any substantial gainful activity.
Your impairment causes more than minimal limitations.
Although your impairment(s) result in some problems for you, which are more than minimal, they do not equal any of the impairments listed in Table 2 of Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Chapter 20, Part 404 of Federal Regulations ("the Listings").
You are not able to perform your previous employment. You
listed the following job(s) in your work history report: TRAVELING SALESMAN
We have determined that your impairment prevents you from continuing in your previous employment, because you cannot handle or finger your sample cases, you cannot speak any human language, and your customers will be frightened by your monstrous clicking mandibles.
You are able to perform other work which exists in substantial numbers in the national economy. A vocational expert was consulted, and determined that your Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC) allows you to perform the following jobs:
STAPLING MACHINE OPERATOR NUCLEAR WASTE MANAGEMENT ENTERTAINER (foreign cinema, circus) TAX PREPARER
If You Disagree with the Decision
If you disagree with this decision, you have the right to appeal. We will review your case and consider any new facts you have. You have to ask for an appeal in writing. We will ask you to sign a form SS-561U2, called "Request for Reconsideration." If you cannot sign your name, you may mark the line with an X, but you must provide two witnesses willing to sign to your identity. If you cannot mark the line with an X, we will provide you with a special identity stamp. If you cannot handle or finger the identity stamp, we will ask you to come into our office and frantically paw at a ream of carbon triplicate paper, but you must provide two witnesses willing to sign to your identity.
If you do call or visit an office, please have this letter with you. It will help us answer your questions. You must have your Social Security card and a current picture ID to enter the building.
FROM THE FOUND NOTEBOOKS
OF THE MEMBERS OF
HOMER'S WRITING GROUP
by Sean Carman
Re: "The Odyssey"
H: Another solid story from the group's most prolific member! And we'd barely finished workshopping the Iliad! A lot going on here that I like. Nice arc to the story, and I'm heartened you let the plot play a larger role in this one--sustains the dramatic tension, and provides some fascinating twists! Really liked the setting details, e.g., "dawn with her rose-red fingers" and Odysseus's "black-beaked ships." Excellent word economy, as usual.
Overall, good job. My thoughts:
I understand what you are doing with the suitors overstaying their welcome in their pursuit of Odysseus's wife, Penelope--making the reader want Odysseus to make it home so his wife won't marry another, etc. I think you're on the right track, because for this story to work the reader definitely has to want Odysseus to make it home. But is Penelope really going to forsake Odysseus for the offerings of any of these pretenders? The idea seems to undercut her unceasing devotion to him, which you develop quite well. Also, seems a little contrived for the bond between Penelope and battle-hardened Odysseus, direct descendant of Zeus, to be threatened by a rabble of guests overstaying their welcome at a dinner party. With these choices, why wouldn't Penelope simply remain single? Tried to think of a more compelling reason for Odysseus to make it home, but couldn't come up with much . . . maybe a local conflict threatens Penelope and Odysseus's son, Telemachus, like the battle for Troy but on a smaller scale? (Just make sure you don't mimic the "Trojan horse" incident. As good as that was, it's the kind of thing you can only use once. Bringing it back would seem tired.) Maybe a gang of rogue swineherds kidnaps Penelope and demands Telemachus's sacrifice as ransom? Just some ideas to get you started.
The Cyclops is wonderful! You have such an imagination! A little confused as to why they have to spend so long in the cave, though. Maybe they could feed Cyclops the wine a little earlier, to make him fall asleep sooner? That would quicken Odysseus's escape, cut the scene short, and pick up the pace. Then you could interpose a plot complication on their return to the ship, for a more satisfying denouement.
Having Circe turn Odysseus's men into swine is a great imaginative device. Really sets up a great conflict, esp. given the crew's aching hunger and lack of other food. Still, I wonder if you could do more before Odysseus unmasks Circe's deception? What if, for example, before Odysseus's return one of the crew catches a fleeting glimpse of a fellow warrior in the eyes of one of the swine? That could provide a tender moment, with the crew member unknowingly seeing through Circe's spell, yet one also filled with self-doubt, because the idea of a man transforming into a pig is so naturally ludicrous. See what I mean? Might also raise larger "nature of man" issues not fully explored here, though you're definitely on track.
I love Scylla and Charybdis! Reminded me of all those times there's
no easy way out of some difficult situation! Talk about symbolism! And the scene really shows Odysseus's leadership, bravely deciding to sacrifice some of his crew to save the group, etc. Still, why does Scylla snatch up and devour six men, instead of some other number? Yes, you say Scylla has six heads, but you don't explain why the monster has that particular number of heads. Seems like it could easily be four, or ten. Why not twenty? Also, you haven't told us how many men are on the ship. This is a problem throughout, actually--and keeps us from gauging the seriousness of the repeated incidents in which some number of crew meet their doom. With a crew of twelve, the loss of six men would be pretty serious. (How many men does it really take to sail the ship anyway--that's another fact I think the reader needs to know.) But let's say the men on the ship number sixty. Then the loss of six doesn't seem so bad--only 10 percent. See my point? So, if you're going to stick with six heads for Scylla, I think I'd put twenty or so men on the ship at that point. Either way, I think you have to specify, and, anyway, doing so would drive the tension that much deeper.
Oh, also, had no idea what the whole visit to the Kingdom of the Dead was getting at. Interesting, but seems unrelated to the larger story. I'd cut it. Remember--this is a story about one man's attempt to get home. Stay focused on that.
In the final chapters, I like Odysseus's return in the guise of an anonymous vagrant--again, excellent symbolic choice--but the device wears a little thin. Doesn't it seem odd no one suspects anything? It also seems an unnecessarily complicated device for symbolizing the difficulty of becoming reacquainted with a long-lost love. Why not just give us the scene of Odysseus and Penelope reunited? We could see them fumbling with introductions, exchanging embarrassed confessions and revelations, etc. Isn't that the center of the story? Also, I don't buy that Telemachus can't string Odysseus's bow. Let's not forget he's the great- great-grandson of a god. He should be able to string a bow. Maybe he could string it, but not quite as well? Maybe the bow has lost its fabled rigidity, allowing Telemachus to string it for the first time in his life, thereby providing a nice "coming of age" touch? Also, doesn't each suitor's failure even to come close to stringing Odysseus's bow pretty much give away Odysseus's slaughter of them in the end? If you want that to be a surprise, you're going to have to disguise it more cleverly.
On the whole, though, an excellent first draft. Look forward to reading your revisions!
WINNIE-THE-POOH IS MY COWORKER
by John Moe
Maureen brought the new guy around who's going to be working in our group. After the Jason fiasco, we really could use someone with a little bit of a brain who can keep up on things. This guy's named Winnie and, I don't know, I just have a bad feeling.
I've been training Winnie for three days now and I'm ready to kill him. I showed him how the spreadsheets are updated on the network, and he just stared at me with this blank expression. I tried to demonstrate the copy machine, but he somehow got his head stuck in one of the slots. I heard his muffled cry of "Oh, bother!" as five of us worked on getting him out.