Timeline, Shmimeline

City Blink, the paper you just might have missed

2:18:03 p.m.: Much too late to be lying in bed. Punch the pillow. Worry about my, ugh, image. Do people like me? Do they respect me? Do they think it's silly that I use initials in my byline?

2:20 p.m.: Drink mango-banana-nectarine smoothie in the kitchen. Feeling raw, vulnerable. Deadline stress? Pheromone depletion? Hangover? 2:27 p.m.: Pick up the Sentinel from the front lawn. The front page has yellowed. Wonder why newspaper smells so goddamn awful after it's baked in the sun most of the day.

2:30 p.m.: My wife comes in from Publix with bags full of frozen dinners. Frozen chicken tetrazzini. Frozen beef stroganoff. Frozen creamed chipped beef. She long ago gave up any pretense of being Martha Stewart. "Up already?" she quips. The usual hard-eyed needle-sharp shtick.

Mark Poutenis

2:31 p.m.: Tell her I'm not feeling so good, letting out a soft groan. With a look of exaggerated concern, she touches my forehead, then pulls her hand away as if she has scorched her fingers. "My, God, you're burning up," she says.

2:32 p.m.: I move away, my feelings hurt. She circles me like a judo fighter. Ah, your mama's rubber underwear, I say, walking backward. "Your papa's leather corset." Your grandma's tricycle.

2:33 p.m.: Great stuff for the column, I think, taking notes. Our patented feuding husband-and-wife act. She, Don Rickles in a dress, Me, the put-upon straight-man schlemiel.

2:34 p.m.: The wife runs off to put softener in the washing machine. I sit down and leaf through the paper. Read what Tom Cruise has to say about space exploration: "Seriously, I would go in a second. I'd be the first actor in space, and I'd love to do it."

2:47:20 p.m.: Space, I think. Weightlessness, quiet, away from the day-to-day stresses. There's an idea, I shout to my wife. Tom Cruise wants to act in space! "You go right along with him, dear," she says. "Columnist in outer space. Perfect."

2:49:01 p.m.: Wonder if a couple of Advil might help.

2:49 p.m.: Shower, shave, size myself up critically in full-length mirror. Aargh. That waistline!

3:07 p.m.: Step stealthily out the door and head toward the car. Awful luck, as usual. Can't escape Ms. Rickles. She's out there fiddling with the garage door opener. "When you get home, you mind mowing a couple of clouds?" she says. "And sweep up, would you? The debris has been out there since the Apollo program."

3:18 p.m.: In the car, practice removing my small Gucci eyeglasses like the tough lawyer chick from Law & Order.

3:19 p.m.: "I wouldn't do that if I were you," I say. "But I'm not saying you shouldn't. But I really wouldn't."

3:20 p.m.: Sounding like Mr. Big Boss. My idol, my man, master of the corporate bon mot, Earl M. The art of saying nothing with just a hint of menace. There's something about Big Earl. Man with attitude. OK, fuzzy attitude, but, yeah, attitude. In the movie, we get -- who? Jason Alexander? -- to play him. No. Not oily enough. Garry Shandling? No, I've got it. Dabney Coleman.

3:34 p.m.: Damn, that parking garage security guard is coming over. Gotta get him out of the column, with his dark gratuitous confessions, his edgy attitude. What did I get myself into there? Now he wants me to share my own secrets, the little perv.

3:35 p.m.: "I masturbate to Tom Cruise pictures," he says.

3:35:30 p.m.: Say what?

3:35:45 p.m.: "You know, like Rain Man." Next he'll be flashing me.

3:39 p.m.: At my desk at last. People looking at me, like, where the hell have you been? I resist impulse to duck under the desk. I was sick, OK?

3:42 p.m.: My nervous shy-as-a-gravedigger boss hovers. Peeking at me from behind a column.

3:43 p.m.: Ready to scream. You mad at me, Shakey Jakey? "I got this idea," he says, with a pained smile. (Tony Shalhoub -- that's who plays him. Shifty antsy Tony Shalhoub.)

3:43 p.m.: Shakey Jakey sits on the edge of the desk, chewing at a cuticle. "Madlibs. Whaddaya think?"

3:43:43 p.m.: Madlibs?

3:44 p.m.: "Yeah, Madlibs. You come up with the skeleton of a story. Then you have people fill in the adjectives, verbs, and proper nouns. Like the kids game."

3:44:31 p.m.: You want me to play with kids?

3:45 p.m.: "No, for the column. The new gimmick. Girly pictures, curse words, and... Madlibs. Get it?"

3:45:21 p.m.: What's wrong with the old gimmick? But Jakey heads for the men's room.

3:47 p.m.: Stupid idea.

3:48 p.m.: But wait a cotton-pickin' minute. It just might work. Yeah, I can do this. [Proper noun] can [verb] in [adjective] [noun]. Think of the possibilities. Suddenly, feeling a little better. I could get everybody involved. Nouns by me, adjectives by Jakey, proper nouns by... Fester.

3:53 p.m.: Brenda Fester, our proofreader-cum-film critic, walks past my cubicle and scowls. Fester, I cry out, gimme a proper noun.

3:53:21 p.m.: "Fuckface," she snaps. Then, looking into my wide, insecure, ready-to-crumple face, she changes her mind. "City Blink."

3:54 p.m.: Fester thinks I'm a homophobe. That I laugh at the wrong times. Goes back a few weeks. We were huddled around the water fountain, the guys. Lots of yuks. The subject: softcore lesbian stuff like Bound and Mulholland Drive. What guy doesn't get turned on by two women scarfin' each other like popsicles? Fester (Demi Moore maybe?) didn't like it. Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon. Room for them in my movie, aaanytime. "Fuckfaces," she says, color draining from her face.

3:56 p.m.: All right, it was bad taste. Me, fuckface.

4:07 p.m.: Michael Barber saunters through like he owns the place. He does, doesn't he? Hey, Mike, gimme a verb.

4:07:13 p.m.: "Fuck?" Well, we used that one 37 times last issue. Remember, you guys wanted us to use it more often? Let's make the youth crowd more comfortable, you said.

4:07:34 p.m.: "Well, fuck it then. Float." He's sooo Danny DeVito.

4:21 p.m.: Then it's the art director's turn, W. Luke Ashley (Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber, natch). Gimme a noun, Lukey. He writes something on a piece of paper and hands it to me. "Outer spayce." Spayce? "Yeah, spayce. Like up where there's vacuums." Oh, outer space. That's an adjective and a noun. "It's a cont-cept," Ashley says. "Er, contracept..."

4:54 p.m.: What the hell. This is not bad for starters. In fact, it's freakin' serendipitous. "City Blink floats in outer space." This could have gone any which way: City Blink kicks ass. Ha ha ha. Instead, we have a profound truth. I mean, when you really think about it, where the fuck are we? Ms. Rickles will be impressed.

11:01 p.m.: My wife has gone to bed. Not even a good-night, just a harsh laugh.

11:03 p.m.: The movie, the movie. I can't get the movie out of my mind. This little weekly paper. City Blink. Blink and you'll miss it. Danny DeVito fighting to get the circulation up because Dabney Coleman needs to see results. Tony Shalhoub, the enforcer, looks nervously around the newsroom. Who's going to be our savior? Here he comes right now, arm in arm with Jennifer and Naomi. The Madlib columnist. Sharp features, dark hair that falls to one side, a slim athletic build. Yeah, you're right. It's me, Tom Cruise.

11:20 p.m.: Just keep that fuckin' security guard away from me.

11:28 p.m.: Sleep, glorious sleep.

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