Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Morning Serial

This could be a very short-lived experiment, but in the coming months, I hope to finish a story I started years ago by forcing myself to come up with weekly installments and publishing them here, It's a comic caper set in the very near future about two guys trying to thwart the United States conversion to the metric system by stealing an important relic. My working title is The Grand Caper. Enjoy

 Since 1901, a single, precious platinum-iridium cylinder, stored in Sèvres, France, has served reliably as the kilogram standard. First defined by the International Committee of Weights and Measures as, “The unit of mass equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram (IPK)," this small lump of metal became the only standard of measure based on a man-made object, rather than a natural constant.  Meaning that if it were to ever become damaged, or stolen, it would be irreplaceable. Even the Nazi's realized the importance of protecting the standard by taking steps to secure it during their occupation of Paris during World War II. In 1969, further security measures were taken by declaring the Pavillon de Breteuil, the site where the kilogram is housed, as international territory - in effect, making it a non-target during war.  In recent years, concerned scientists have called for the replacement of the kilogram standard with a natural constant, citing its high susceptibility to damage or decay, but as of yet, their calls have gone unheard, and the kilogram standard, or Le Grand K as it is known, remains the last SI unit still defined by an artifact.

            Since its inception, the United States and her citizens staunchly opposed any talk of a national conversion to the metric system, becoming the only industrialized country in the world that did not officially use the system. That is until 2016, when newly elected President, Al Gore, with the full-approval of Congress, signed into law the full-scale adoption of the metric system.  Unlike the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, which attempted "to coordinate and plan the increasing use of the metric system in the United States," but lacked any clearly defined mandates or time-tables, the new Act stated that "The metric system will become the only system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce, with those failing to do so facing fines and penalties as defined in Section Three."

 Public opposition to the Act varied from the rational (concerns about whether the cost for replacing highway signs would lead to loss of funding in other areas), to the inane, such as whether or not football fields would be changed from yards to meters.  The question of funding the conversion was answered with unusual candor by the politicians, who admitted that the initial cost would be significant, but that long-term benefits, such as the expansion of exportation and the simplification and standardization of products, would more than offset the one-time expenditure.  The passing of the Act was marked with the expected grumbles and protests, but in the end the public seemed to accept the transition with typical passivity.  Except for two men, who decided to do something about it by stealing Le Grand K. This is their story....

             Dave was joyfully belting out a Beatles tune as he cruised down the nearly empty highway en route (ahem, on the way) to his next meeting. But around mile marker 215, which had yet to be converted, he quickly rolled the window back up, for while revolution was in the air, so was the smell of recently rendered lamb.  Nothing could overpower the rank defilements of the Ralston-Purina plant that stretched it stench for miles along I-70.  He had been driving this same stretch for years, but there was just no getting used to the throat burning eye tearing stomach churning toe numbing breath stopping hair curling stream of stench that emanated from the open air pools of decomposing animal by-products deemed too disgusting to be dog-food.
 It was a smell so bad you might often find yourself wishing skin cancer would ravish your face and remove the very nose that admitted such rancid odors…or at least that’s what Dave did, often making this wish as he made his way to and from work each day.  His only consolation was the thought that at least he wasn't one of the poor bastards who had to work in that slop.  Who could work for such a low wages under those conditions, he wondered.   Moles?  Blind, senseless (he hoped for their sake sense-less) human-sized moles, digging and burrowing their way through life with no direction or purpose.  It is these thoughts that truly attest to the wicked power of the smell, a power so strong it could transform a perfectly nice guy like Dave into someone capable of finding relief in the utter debasement of his fellow human beings. 
            In fact, Dave had recently become a champion to many a fellow man.   As founder, and leader, of the Nationally Organized Group Rebelling Against Metric System (NO GRAMS), he had been beyond busy the past few months.  Ever since it was announced that Gore was considering a full-scale conversion to the metric system, Dave had been working non-stop to see that it didn't.  The organization seemingly sprang up out of nowhere. One day Dave was working alone, calling congressmen, writing letters, speaking out to anyone who would listen, and the next, he was directing tons of others to do the same.  He wasn't looking to start a movement, but people sought him out.  An appearance on a local cable talk show led to the hiring of a secretary just to answer the phones.  A protest outside of the Colorado Capital Building put him on the front page of The Plain Dealer, which led to a page nine photo in The New York Times, which is how he met Ray.
            Ray was crazy, but only "3/5ths crazy," as he liked to say when introducing himself, which was exactly what he said to Dave the day he arrived in Denver after flying in from New York less than twenty-four hours after seeing Dave's picture in the paper.
            "Hi, I'm Ray," he said, holding out his hand.  "I'm crazy, but only three-fifths crazy!"
            Dave just stared at the skinny man standing on his doorstep, a man so full of manic energy he shook and quivered like a bag of microwave popcorn well into its third minute.  Ray was looking back at him with an eager, tempting smile.  His left eye winked with the rapidity of a Tourettic tic, his chin twitching slightly, propelling the rest of his head to bob in a quick nodding manner, as if agreeing yesyesyesyesyesyes.  Ray raised and lowered his eyes back and forth between Dave and his still proffered hand, his smile seeming to say "I know you want to shake my hand, so what are you waiting for?"  Twitch, twitch, wink, wink, nod, nod. Yesyesyesyes!  So Dave shook it, half expecting lightning bolts or sulfuric flames to mark their meeting.
            In the days that followed, Ray proved that not only was he not the devil in disguise, but was in fact, the perfect partner for Dave's growing operation.  Ray had ideas.  If Ray's ideas were grains of rice, he could feed Japan for a year with every waking hour.  If a light bulb truly did appear above his head with every thought, he could replace all the bulbs in Vegas and still have enough left over to decorate every Christmas tree in the country.  The man had ideas, but no one to listen.  Dave learned to listen, and soon, thanks to the combination of Ray's mind and Dave's mouth, many others began listening as well. 
            They set up shop in downtown Denver, a block away from the U.S. Mint, in a small basement office donated by a concerned businessman who wanted to remain nameless.  It was through him that they received most of their initial funding, allowing them to build a strong local base, but it was one of Ray's offhand remarks that led to their national exposure.
            "You know," said Ray, through a mouthful of hot dog, "if they have their way, this'll no longer be known as 'The Mile-High City' and instead it’ll be the '1.6093 Kilometer-High City!'  That's quite a mouthful!"
            "And so's that bite you just took!" said Dave, turning his attention back to the orange he was peeling.  He stopped midway through and looked over at Ray.  
"So, by that rationale, that there foot-long hot-dog would soon become a what...a half-meter hot-dog?"
            ".3048 meter dog, to be precise" replied Ray, regarding the remains of the dog with a thoughtful nod.  Dave knew that look, could almost see the wheels turning in Ray’s head, and waited expectantly for the result.
"You know,” said Ray, “I bet there are a lot of examples like this.” He holds up the hotdog “We should put together a list of all the stupid ways in which the metric system will mess up our way of life.  We've been concentrating so hard on all the big these terms that most common folk don't really care about or pay much attention to.  But… if we published some sort of...I don't, that deals with the simple foot-long hot-dogs...stuff that people are not only familiar with, but might actually care enough about to give a damn.”
            From this conversation came Putting Our .3048's In Our Mouths:  How Metric Conversion Will Affect Daily Life This small book, found alongside "Garfield" comics and "The Far Side" in the comedy section, has sold over 1/2 a million copies.  Originally self-published by Dave and Ray, it quickly became an underground success, and by the time St. Marten's Press came knocking, and begging, for the rights, the two men were happy to sign it over, figuring all those who wanted one probably already had one.  They turned out to be wrong, but the exposure they received was more than money could by.  The public was instantly impressed and intrigued by the little book and its chapters on how the metric system would alter lyrics to popular songs and sayings.
The following is an excerpt from the chapter on Song Lyrics.


Metric Effect on Popular Song Lyrics

“Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford                                                                                                                         
            “You load 16258.8 kilograms and what do you get? 
Another day older and deeper in debt.”

“500 Miles” by The Proclaimers
            “And I would walk 804.65 kilometers
            And I would walk 804.65 more
            Just to be the man who walked
            1609.35 kilometers and fell down at your door”

“I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar
            “Go ahead and wrote me up for $125
            Post my picture wanted dead or alive
Take my license and all that jive
I…can’t drive…88.5115!”

“40 oz. to Freedom” by Sublime
A 1182.93 milliliters to freedom is the only chance I have
To feel good even though I feel bad”

            The book really caught the public's attention, leading to countless talk-show appearances and interviews...they even landed on Letterman, who invited them to read the nights Top Ten List, Ten More Reasons to Hate the Metric System, which ended with
#3.  No more 1/4 pounders at McDonalds!
 #2.  The gap in Dave’s teeth just got wider! 
And the Number One reason to hate the metric system....
#1. It's French!

            After the Letterman show, Ray brought Dave, his partner, not the talk-show host, to see his old neighborhood in Greenpoint.

To be continued...


  1. you have some seriously original fun stuff here. Keep going! :)

  2. Thanks Gae - we'll see what happens. Figure since it's Thanksgiving, might as well load up my plate!

  3. Fun, Mike! Thanks for sharing. Have fun finishing. christy