by Jim Foreman
WRITING HUMOR FOR THE SPECIAL MARKETS
Writing technical humor for the special interest market is almost the same as writing on assignment where the editor gives you exact instructions concerning what he would like to see in an article. At times, they will even go so far as to tell you how many words they would like to see. Most of the special interest magazines won't consider anything concerning their field which is not written in a language specifically for their field and audience. It is usually counterproductive for a writer who is not well versed in the particular field to attempt to write inside humor for most of these special interest magazines. It would be very difficult to write an acceptable article based on research in the library because most special interests have their own language which can't be found in an encyclopedia. The editors are so familiar with the subject that they can instantly spot someone who is trying to fake their way through a story. This is especially true when it comes to the various sports. It is far better for one to try to sell strictly general interest humor to their magazines unless he is actively involved in the subject.
For the writer who happens to be very familiar with some particular sport or area of knowledge, it's usually fairly easy to put the proper spin or slant on a general interest story to make it acceptable or suitable for a special interest market. The story can involve a situation which has nothing to do with that particular special interest but one which actively involves people in that field. Remember that it is always possible to involve just about anyone in some situation where it might be impossible to involve a situation in some particular activity. By this statement, I mean that it is possible to involve a golfer in an auto accident but it is difficult to isolate auto accidents which would involve only golfers.
A number of years ago, I wrote a story especially for a magazine which dealt with trailer boats. It was a good story with a situation which I felt had more potential than just that one single publication. In the first story, I had the Wonder Woman and the gorilla running down the street. After I became involved in bicycling, I decided to see if I could use the same basic idea in an article for one of the bicycling magazines. By reducing the emphasis on boats and involving the characters in a bicycling activity, the story took on an entirely new light.
ESCAPE FROM CHICKENDANCE
By: Jim Foreman
"I have to drive up to Middle City tomorrow to pick up my sailboat and bring it home for the winter. Care to go along with me?" I asked Ed Moyer as I peered over the glass partition which separated his desk from mine.
"That's a great idea," he replied. "But I read in the club newsletter that they are having mountain bike races up there this weekend. Let's take our bicycles along, drive up tonight and get a good night's rest. Tomorrow morning, we can kick some butt, load your boat on the trailer, and still have time to get home before dark. Of course, if we do that, we'll have to take Judy along. As much as she loves cycling, she would never stand still for us leaving her at home."
Judy Moyer is the kind of person who can add life to any occasion and for my part, she was always a welcomed addition to any trip. Not only was she a fun person to be around, she also had a face and body which would stop traffic and start fights.
"The only reason that I asked you to come along was the hope that you'd bring Judy," I answered with a laugh. "You know that your wife is always welcome. Can you be ready to leave right after work so we can get there before dark?"
"Well, there is one little problem with leaving that early," Ed replied. "The place where Judy works is having a masquerade party and we already have our costumes for that. Since it is a work thing, she feels duty-bound to show up there for at least an hour. Why don't you get yourself a costume of some sort, go to the party with us and then we can leave directly from there."
Masquerade parties have always left me cold, but I suppose that I could stand one for an hour, especially since no one there knows me from Adam. "What costumes will you and Judy be wearing?" I asked.
"We had originally thought about going as a vampire and a witch, but figured that since it is getting close to Halloween, everyone else would dress that way. I'm going to be a big, hairy gorilla and Judy will be in a Wonder Woman costume," he answered.
"Sounds like type-casting to me," I said. "I'll get something to wear and be by your house by six to load the bicycles."
"You should have called and reserved a costume if you wanted one for tonight," the man at the costume shop told me. "With all the parties this time of year, all that I have left are some Santa Claus outfits and one chicken suit."
"I really have to have some sort of costume for a party, don't you have anything else?" I asked him.
"Well, I got plain rubber masks. I got Frankenstein, Casper the Ghost, Howard the Duck, Marilyn Monroe and Richard Nixon."
The first three masks that he mentioned called for a special suit of some sort to go along with them and I wasn't about to go in drag as Marilyn Monroe, so I settled for the Richard Nixon. I knew that I had a dark blue polyester leisure suit in the back of my closet which ought to go just fine with that mask. Dressed up in that rig, I must admit that I looked more like a Mafia hit man or an aluminum siding salesman than an impeached president.
It is hard to crank much enthusiasm into any company party but this one was even duller than most. Ed's gorilla suit was hot and scratchy on the inside, my mask smelled like an old tire and Judy's Wonder Woman costume left little to wonder about. Ed and I also discovered that it is impossible to drink anything while wearing either a Richard Nixon or a gorilla mask.
While most of the men at the party were enjoying the wonders of Wonder Woman, Ed was trying to find a way to scratch what itched in a suit which zipped up the back. It didn't take very long before we were looking for way to leave the party gracefully. Dame Fortune must have been smiling on us because during a moment of distraction when Eleanor Roosevelt started giving FDR a hard time for trying to put the move on Wonder Woman, we managed to work our way to a side door and slip away.
When we pulled onto the Interstate, it was still light enough for other drivers to notice that car with three bicycles on top was being driven by Richard Nixon with Wonder Woman and a gorilla as passengers. We were having far more fun with the other drivers than we had at the party until red lights began to flash in our rear window. A state patrol officer, who proved to have absolutely no sense of humor, asked me to blow up a balloon. Since there is no law against driving while looking silly, he let us go after a stern lecture and a warning not to cause any more trouble.
Our source of amusement changed from watching other drivers do double takes when they saw us to laughing at Ed as he attempted to pull off the gorilla suit in the back seat. A few miles further toward Middle City and red lights flashed again. This time it was because someone had called the state police to report that a man in the back seat of a car with three bicycles on top was mooning people. I passed another drunk test but being stopped twice within thirty miles tends to take the edge off a party, so we drove on to Middle City in silence.
We had an early breakfast before going to the marina where my boat was moored. By the time that we had stowed the gear, dropped the mast and had the boat ready to load aboard the trailer, it was almost time for the races to begin. We arrived just in time to pick up our freebie T-Shirts and get on the starting line without the benefit of stretching or warming up.
We went off with the first jam but within a couple miles we were as fried as the bacon and eggs that we had for breakfast. In fact, we were having them again but they didn't taste nearly as good as the first time. The only butts being kicked that day were ours. We finished but this was not one of our shining days in the saddle. Judy, on the other hand, cleaned up pretty good and went to collect her booty which consisted of a case of power bars, two high dollar tires and a pair of Rock Shox.
It seems that this was the day on which everyone who owned a sailboat had decided to take it out of the water for the winter and when we arrived back at the marina, the line waiting for the hoist was half a mile long. The sun was just about to drop behind the horizon when my boat was finally lowered onto the trailer and it was totally dark by the time that we secured the boat, checked the tail lights and pulled out onto the road home. It had been a long day and was destined to be a lot longer as we towed the unwieldy trailer through the darkness at forty miles an hour.
"I see a shortcut which will save about thirty miles and keep us from having to go through a couple big towns," said Judy, who was looking at the map with a flashlight in the back seat.
"That'll save at least an hour," I replied. "Where is it?"
"Take State Road 86 at the next exit for about twenty miles and then Farm Road 1146 back to the Interstate. There is just one little town called Chickendance to go through that way," she said.
"Who ever heard of a town with a stupid name like Chickendance" asked Ed.
"I don't know, but it is right here on the map," replied Judy.
We had been rolling along State Road 86 for about fifteen miles when the headlights suddenly dimmed and the red eye "GEN" winked on.
"Damn, we just lost the alternator," I said as I switch from headlights to park in order to conserve electrical power. "I can see the center stripe with the park lights well enough to drive. Perhaps we can get to a town before the battery dies."
"I see the lights ahead, must be that place called Chickendance," said Judy.
Half a mile down the road, the instrument panel opened its other red eye "ENG" and I pulled to the side of the road. I could hear the coolant boiling in the radiator but at least I knew better than to remove the radiator cap. With the aid of the flashlight, we spotted the problem; the belt which drove both the water pump and alternator had parted company with us.
By allowing the engine to cool for half an hour, we could make about a mile before it would overheat and we would have to stop again. It was well past ten when we finally passed a sign which informed us that we were entering the town of Chickendance with a population of 965. The block-long main street was illuminated by a single sodium vapor light on a pole in front of the Chickendance Hardware. Other buildings along either side of the main street were the Chickendance Realty, Chickendance Insurance, Chickendance Drugs. Chickendance Pool Hall and Chickendance Feed Store. There was even a Chickendance State Bank on the corner. The only place which didn't bear the name of Chickendance was directly across the street from the hardware store. It was a cafe with the unimaginative name of EATS.
"Looks like everything is closed," said Judy as we reached the end of the block. "Wonder if there is a place to stay in this burg."
"There's a Texaco station," said Ed. "At least we can get a fan belt put on in the morning."
"That is if it's open on Sunday," I replied.
"I think that I see a motel," shouted Judy, pointing to a flickering neon sign down a dark side street.
The neon sign in front of the tiny, five unit motel had once read REGAL MOTEL, but with several of the glass tubes having been broken, it now only read RE MOTE. The door of the office was locked but after ringing the bell several times and beating on the door, a gnome of a little man came stumbling from a back room, trying to put on his glasses and zip his trousers at the same time. Even though it was only a few minutes past ten, he must have been in bed for hours. I doubt that very many people came to Chickendance in the middle of the night.
"Whut you want?" he shouted through the locked door.
"Two rooms, if you have them," I answered.
"So we can spend the night," I answered.
"Whut you want to spend the night here fur?"
"Well, we didn't want to spend the night here, but our car is broken, so we have to," I answered in exasperation.
The little man finally unlocked the door and let us into the tiny office. "Two rooms?" he asked, looking us over carefully. "Who's going to be in which room?"
"I'll be one room and they will be in the other," I replied.
"You two married?" asked the little man as he cast a doubtful look his glasses. "I don't allow no foolishness in my place."
"Newlyweds," said Judy, flashing a smile and her rings at him.
Evidently satisfied, he handed me the key to room number one and Ed the key to room two. Probably the first time that either room had been rented in months.
We removed the bicycles from the rack on top of the car and rolled them into our rooms. Since there was no place to park the trailer in front of the motel, I pulled around the corner onto main street and disconnected it next to the light pole in front of the hardware store. With the trailer parked under a street light and the safety chains locked around the pole, it should be safe for the night.
The following morning, while the man at the Texaco station was replacing the fan belt, we went around to the EATS cafe for breakfast. We were the only people in the place and while our bacon and eggs sizzled on the grill; the man behind the counter, who was wearing a bowling shirt with Ralph stitched above the pocket, gave us a thumbnail history of the town.
"Old man Ephram Chickendance owns everything for miles around here and when the state built highways across his land, he decided to open a hardware store and a garage where the two roads crossed. He had about a dozen kids, all boys. Named every one of them something which ended in "ram". There is Hiram, Bertram, Arfram, Nefram, Doram, Orphram and a whole bunch more that I can't remember. I suppose that he finally ran out of "ram" names because he named his last one Clarence. Soon as each one got old enough to get married, he'd open up another business and put him in charge of it. About twenty years ago, he opened the bank, incorporated the town and appointed himself mayor, tax collector and city judge. I suppose that me and Mom and old man Barnes, who owns the motel, are the only people in town who ain't related to him in one way or another."
As he set our plates on the table, I looked across the street. Parked in front of my trailer was one of those old slab- sided Lincolns made back in the late 1950s. It had been painted black at one time but now the front half was painted white and the rest of it was covered with peace signs and all sorts of spray- painted designs. There were chrome sirens mounted on each front fender, a pair of red gumball lights on the roof and a big yellow star on the door.
"What on earth is that rig parked across the street?" I asked.
Ralph stooped so he could see beneath the curtains on the window and replied, "That's Clarence Chickendance's goofy kid, Crazy Walter. We all figure that he's that way from cousins marrying cousins. He's about three bricks short of a full load, but they let him play like he is the city marshal and hand out parking tickets. He's waiting for who ever owns that trailer with the boat on it to come along so he can give them a ticket for parking on main street."
"What's wrong with that?" I asked. "After all, this is Sunday and there isn't another vehicle on the street except that Lincoln."
"Hiram Chickendance, who runs the hardware store, got mad because truckers kept parking in front of his place to come over here and eat, so he got his daddy to pass a law against parking trailers on main street. It's going to cost someone forty bucks."
"Where did Walter get that car?" I asked. "It looks like something that a bunch of hippies would drive around."
"That's exactly what it is. A whole nest of them hippie people came driving into town one day, doing all sorts of crazy things like handing out flowers, playing guitars and not wearing any shoes. Old man Ephram arrested the whole bunch but since they didn't have any money and he didn't have a jail to throw them into, he just fined them that car and told them to get out of town. Then he gave it to Crazy Walter to drive. Walter fixed it up with all that junk to make it look like a real police car and tried to paint it white. That is far as he got when Hiram found out that he was sneaking spray cans of white paint out of the hardware store and put a stop to it."
"Is Walter dangerous?" I asked.
"Only when he is behind the wheel of that car, and that's most all of the time. He even sleeps in it. Won't step out of that car except to eat or use the bathroom. Ephram lets him carry a gun but he won't give him any bullets."
Since I wasn't in the mood to let Ephram's goofy grandson give me a forty dollar ticket, we began to hatch a plan to get Crazy Walter to move his hippie Lincoln from in front of the trailer long enough for me to hook it up and escape. One plan after another was discussed and then rejected while we ate breakfast. Finally, we came up with the perfect scam. I paid the Texaco man for replacing the fan belt and returned to the hotel room to set out plan in motion.
The first element of the plan was to get Crazy Walter to move the Lincoln. To do this, it was decided that Judy would dress in her Wonder Woman costume and Ed would don his gorilla suit. Then they would get on their bicycles, ride around the block and come racing past Crazy Walter. We figured that it was a sure bet that he wouldn't get out to chase them on foot but would go after them in the car. By the time that he could get that whale turned around, they could whip around the corner and hide in the motel room. While he was looking for them, I would hook up the trailer and get out of town. Once that things had cooled down, I would return for Ed, Judy and our bicycles. It was a foolproof scheme.
Everything was in readiness. I was in my car, Richard Nixon mask on, motor running and poised for action. Ed and Judy were in costume and ready to ride. While getting into their costumes, Ed decided to add a bit of drama to the plan by having it appear that he was chasing Judy. I was parked where I could see Wonder Woman and the gorilla when they came around the bank at the end of the block. I had the key to the padlock securing the trailer to the light pole in my hand and was ready to dig out the instant that Crazy Walter moved from in front of the trailer.
Wonder Woman came into sight first, pedaling like crazy. Ed, who couldn't get the big, rubber gorilla feet into the toeclips and was having to ride with the pedals upside down, had fallen far behind as he came wobbling after her. The other problem which we hadn't considered was that Crazy Walter might be absorbed in reading a comic book and wouldn't noticed them coming. This turned out to be a blessing of sorts because Judy had to make a couple circles in the street to wait for Ed to catch up. When Judy noticed that Crazy Walter still hadn't seen them, she saved the day by letting out a blood curdling scream just as she passed the window of the Lincoln. Ed was already doing a lot of huffing, puffing and grunting in the gorilla suit, so he didn't have to add any particular sound effects to make him appear real.
Crazy Walter bolted upright in the seat, the motor on the Lincoln bellowed to life, the gumballs rotated and the chrome sirens began to yowl. Walter cut his wheels to the left to turn around to go in pursuit of the scantily clad woman who was being chased by a gorilla. Tires spun, screeched and smoked as the front end of the behemoth began to come about like the Queen Mary leaving the dock.
At the same instant that all of this was taking place, Ralph's mother just happened to be crossing the street, bringing a couple home-made pies to be served at the cafe. She stood transfixed in the middle of the street, with a chocolate creme in one hand and a lemon meringue in the other. As the Lincoln completed its turn and headed directly toward Mom, she launched the pies into the air and dove for the safety of the sidewalk. The pies reached the apogee of their flight and began their plunge back to earth just in time to splat themselves onto the windshield of the charging Lincoln. Unable to see through the pie-covered windshield, Crazy Walter found himself on an instrument flight plan as he careened down the street. He veered to the right, bounded over the curb, wiped out a fireplug and crashed through the front of the pool hall, finally coming to a stop with his bumper resting against the snooker table.
Judy and Ed rounded the corner and darted into their room at the motel. I accelerated past the carnage which Crazy Walter had wrought and quickly backed the car in front of the trailer. Seconds later, I had the padlock removed, dropped hitch onto the ball, spun the knob to secure it and was headed out of town. A couple miles down the road, I found a barn behind which I could hide the trailer.
I took off the Richard Nixon mask and drove slowly back into town to pick up Judy and Ed. When I arrived, it seemed everyone in Chickendance was getting soaked by the geyser shooting from the busted fireplug as they gathered in front of the pool hall to see what was going on. We loaded our bicycles on the car and drove quietly out of Chickendance. As we reached the end of main street, we could still hear the sirens screaming inside the pool hall. Crazy Walter was in the middle of the crowd, waving his arms and telling how he had crashed his police car while trying to save Wonder Woman who was being chased by a gorilla on a bicycle and how Richard Nixon had stolen the trailer that he had been guarding.
As you can see, the whole basis of the story involves being stranded overnight in a small town and then having to formulate an escape from an overzealous marshal and has nothing at all to do with bicycling. However, since it actively involves bicyclists in the situation and uses bicycles as an integral part of the escape, it easily slides over into a special interest story about that sport. I also used some inside bicycling terminology to further tie bicycles with the story. It wouldn't be adequate to simply introduce bicycles at the beginning of the story and then let them drop from sight. It is necessary to keep them involved throughout situation, as well as the escape, in order to make this a story about bicyclists.