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Sign of the Times

It was just a goofy radio-station promotion. Mostly as a joke, two drive-time jocks asked listeners to send in a hand-drawn picture of a subject of their choice. Exactly 9,938 people sent in drawings. All depicting the same thing. Except one.

Dale Jenkins (Caucasian male, mid-twenties, 6' tall, 185 lbs., lives alone, no criminal record) was the exception. He drew a cartoon of two guys throwing water on the President. Dale was no artist; about fifth-grade level, in concept and execution. Childish figures, misshapen and flat. A dotted line showed the trajectory of the water, under a lopsided word-balloon that read "We're going to get the President wet. Heh heh!"

Less than ten minutes into Dale's in-studio interview, the station's phone lines jammed. Most callers railed about disrespect, decaying morality, and by some strange leap of logic, not supporting the troops. They accused Dale of being a terrorist sympathizer, if not an actual terrorist. A few callers quoted the First Amendment, defending Dale's artistic expression, even if they disagreed with it. The jocks giddily insulted both sides, stirring the frenzy until the station's phone system collapsed under the strain.

The AP wire snatched up the local front-page newspaper article and the story exploded onto the national media. Dale's fifteenth phone call requesting an appearance was interrupted by the doorbell. The Secret Service. After a tense interview (Dale repeated twenty-two times that he meant no harm), the two grim agents reluctantly acknowledged that Dale was probably harmless. They left with a stern warning against future threats. Shaken, Dale mentioned the visit during the next phone call. The ACLU got involved.

As legions of bloggers and pundits expressed myriad outraged opinions, Dale fielded a bidding war for the movie rights to his story. Just as he secured appearances on the three late-night talk shows, a top-grossing female movie star walked in on her pro-athlete husband and the nanny (a na´ve seventeen-year-old from Guatemala) in flagrante delicto. The media's forces promptly redeployed, and the offers stopped. Unlike his manager and publicist, Dale's agent actually called to say he would no longer represent him.

"You promised this wouldn't happen," Dale sulked.

"Yeah," said his agent. "I lied."

Dale's story never became a movie. For a brief time, life returned to normal.

The rest of the drawings were forgotten, too. The other 9,937 listeners drew the minions of a monstrous, fire-eyed demon spewing forth from sulphurous subterranean fissures to slaughter the people of every nation. If any attention had been paid to this staggering statistical anomaly, humanity might have been better prepared for what happened next.

Last Revised: April 15, 2007 © 2003-2007 Evan M. Nichols