Steven Brykman left medical school to pursue a career writing jokes as Managing Editor of National Lampoon. As a writing fellow at the University of Massachusetts, his fiction was awarded the Harvey Swados prize. His work has appeared in Playboy.com, Cracked, Nerve, and the New Yorker, where he was featured in Talk of the Town. The kind folks at Prairie Home Companion once sent him a check in exchange for some jokes. He has written for/appeared on a bunch of TV shows nobody watched or remembers. He has been thrown out of the Smithsonian Museum and the 2000 Democratic National Convention and has on more than one occasion performed standup comedy naked.
The Time I Got Thrown Out of the 2000 Democratic National Convention by Steven Brykman
First off, they had it coming, let’s be honest. Seriously. Who gives press passes to the National Lampoon? Whose decision was that? I can just see our application hitting their desk: Deloris, another pass request! Oh for the love of God, Mildred, who is it this time? Who knows? Something called National Lampoon. Sounds kind of familiar…but I can’t quite place it…National Lampoon…National Lampoon. Dotcom. They have a dotcom after their name. And then Deloris brightens up, “Oh, dotcom! Al loves dotcoms. Very green, apparently. Piles and piles of cash, he says. Any dotcoms are a go!
We couldn’t believe it ourselves when the passes arrived in the mail. It was like Willy Wonka and the golden ticket. We literally jumped around the office holding hands and doing kicks and singing (to the tune of ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’): “We’re gonna see Al Gore!!! We’re gonna see Al Gore!!!” There was only one problem. There were two passes. And there were five of us: an art director (Joe) and four editors (Mason, Cummin, Crespo and myself). My editor, our boss: Scott Rubin (ticket holder #1) snapped into action:
Brykman!! You’re the smallest guy here. Tiny, in fact. You’re..you’re like a weasel.
I mean that in that you can work your way through a crowd.
Lithe would have sufficed.
I prefer to think of myself as lithe.
Whatever. I’m gonna need you on my team. Here’s the other press pass. I mean, nobody can even see you, you’re so little. Er, lithe. Sometimes I don’t even see you and you’re standing right in front of me.
Whisper words of wisdom, I said, hugging my press pass to my breast, Let it be.
Everything was finally coming together. Of course I should be the one chosen. After all, I was the smallest. It was unbelievable. Was I dreaming? Could this really be happening? It was the exact opposite of everything I’d ever experienced in my life up until that moment, particularly when it came to gym. And yet today, all that had changed, the slate wiped clean. For today, I had been picked first not in spite of being the smallest, but because I was the smallest. The most nimble. Dare I say, the most political-ninja-like.
The guys weren’t happy. They expressed discord. Scott went diplomatic on them, tried to calm them down. Hands out, palms up.
You guys, you understand, right? It’s nothing personal. I simply have a duty to do whatever’s best for our shareholders. Whatever’s best for the Lampoon. And in this particular case, best means Brykman. For Christ’s sake, Cummin, Mason, look at you two. Your ancestors are featured in the Franklin Mint Civil War chess set. I’m not so sure which side, exactly, but anyway. Talk about old money. Your private school educations were paid for specifically with the blood of our Negro-American Slaves. You’re aristocrats, devoid of civic spirit and completely lacking in charitable acts. Either one of you would stand out like a sore thumb.
It was true. As much as I loved him (we shared an office for the entirety of my Lampoon tenure) years of Old Boy networking had left Brown with an unparalleled command of ethnic slurs and religious stereotypes; perfect for giving your comedy project that all-important ‘edge’, but not particularly useful in a Democratic forum. And Cummin, well, he probably would have just laughed and eaten snacks the entire time, for one reason or another.
Rubin continued: And as for you, Crespo, I’m sorry but you’re simply too young. You’re an unknown, a firebrand, an angry young man. I hired you because I figured you had your finger on the pulse of whatever it is the young kids are into today, but let’s face it. You’re weird. Nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about. Who the hell writes a bit about installing a pool on the moon?
We all turned to Joe.
Just look at Joe’s ass, Rubin went on. Have any of you even taken a peek at Oesterle’s rear end lately? I don’t know what he’s doing to that thing, but I tell you, it’s incredible.
Joe obliged our curiosity by turning around and flexing his cheeks.
Have you been working out, Joe? Cummin asked.
I have, actually, yeah, Joe said, turning to me. I didn’t think it would affect my ability to attend once-in-a-lifetime type political events! Otherwise, I would have chucked those Richard Simmons videos right in the trash!!! Of that, you can be assured!
Oesterle was the office’s confirmed bachelor: a strapping lad of six foot two with steely green eyes and a titanium ass. He hailed from a long line of sturdy, alcoholic Irish/German peasant stock. He was probably drunk.
Rubin kept ranting: Turn around and next thing I know you’ll be making out with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright!
It’s true, Joe said, I do have a thing for the Jews. They’re kinkier, I find, on the whole.
But you, Brykman, Rubin said, You’re perfect. You’re practically invisible. Sometimes I wonder if you even exist at all. You’re coming with me.
I had a feeling my fellow editors, my friends would realize the gravity of the situation and show some compassion for one less fortunate than themselves. Someone on whom, at long last, a single ray of sunshine had shone through the clouds. Someone for whom life was a constant disappointment, always flowering the walls at the dances. A constant struggle, a Herculean challenge, just to reach something up on a high shelf or to purchase a pair of pants that don’t require alteration at the cuffs. Someone so remarkably gifted yet so horrifically disfigured as I.
Yes, the guys will come around. They’ll see that even I deserved to be happy for one day at least. For one day in an otherwise diminutive life, they would say, let the man feel tall. Let him have the ticket!
My colleagues did not let me down:
Fuck that, they said (practically in unison) and Cummin added, Brykman’s not even that funny!
Crespo said, The only thing he’s good at is coding the website. Back in your cage, web-monkey!!
Oh yeah? I said, At least I know what a fucking gerund is, you slackers.
Hey now, Mason said, I know what a gerund is!
This is bullshit! Joe added.
It’s this one, Mason continued, proving his point, Killing Brykman would be a great way to get to go to the DNC!! Wait. Maybe that’s a participle. I always get them mixed-up.
Here’s some important background on Rubin: he is an enormous man. For a vegetarian, his health was despicable. He was easily the world’s largest herbivore (the brontosaurus being extinct).
Oh, and we’d made signs. I’d forgotten the part about the signs. Though really, the signs were the point of the whole thing. We were in the midst of this big promotion for the website, see…
Now, first off, don’t forget. This was the year 2000. People didn’t have the internet like they do now. You were either 33-56K dialup or worse, you were an AOL subscriber. This is back when you might have to wait five minutes just for a picture to load! And here Rubin wants to “push the envelope” with the website and stream movies in RealVideo combined with Flash animation (which had basically just been invented).
The old National Lampoon Magazine was famous for two things: naked breasts and themed-issues (independent of the breasts). We wanted to continue both traditions online. So in honor of the election, the theme was politics and our big production was called Virtual Candidate, which at the time seemed a lot cooler than it does today. You would pick all the characteristics you wanted your candidate to have—physical and mental—and the picture of your candidate would change accordingly. It sounds like a crap bit now, but at the time it was actually pretty funny. Our mascot for the campaign was the old legless-frog. Remember the Sam Gross cartoon? This frog is on one of those little platforms with the wheels and he’s pushing himself along because he’s got no legs because, hey, somebody ate them for lunch!
I’m not sure why we decided to go with the frog except that really we had only two choices: it was either the frog or the mutt with the gun to its head. The one that appeared on the cover of the Jan ’73 issue, along with the caption: If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog. Apparently, a lot of people found it offensive, though I’ll never understand why. I mean, it’s not like anyone shot a dog! It’s not like a dog even knows what a gun is.
Damn! It just now occurred to me we should’ve gone with Mona Gorilla. Dammit!
Anyway, the point is Joe had designed these signs and printed them out on poster board. They had the frog on them, like I said, and around the frog were the words: VIRTUAL CANDIDATE 2000 — NATIONALLAMPOON.COM. There was no political message whatsoever. We weren’t saying anything nasty about the Democratic party. It was completely unpartisan.
The day of the big event, I wore one of those special hats. A fedora. And I stuck my press pass in the brim just like I’d seen on television. Rubin didn’t seem to notice.
He drove us downtown and parked his Altima in a discount lot about a mile from the Staples Center, where it was more affordable. On the long walk to the DNC, we passed through at least a dozen security gates. It was one chain-linked perimeter after another. We were hungry rats in a maze. At each checkpoint our ID’s were examined and our packages were searched, and yet no one stripped us of our posters. No one even asked to see them. What did they think we were going to do with them?
Near the entrance to the arena, I saw my chance.
Rubin, tape!! I said.
What do you want tape for?
No one’s around. I’m going to hang up my sign! Quick!
But Rubin had other ideas.
Don’t be an idiot, he said. Come on! Follow me.
So now we’re in the lobby. And it’s crowded as all hell. I mean you could barely move in there. Thankfully, Rubin is clearing a path. He’s moving, moving, heading for The Floor, the big doors with the heavy tasseled curtains around them. Not to be crude or anything, but it was like a giant wet vagina with all the fringe and velvet they had hanging up in there.
A security guard asks to see our passes, then says,
Oh, no no no. These aren’t floor passes. You need floor passes to get on the floor.
Well, where do our passes get us? I asked.
The guard pointed up towards the ceiling, the highest balcony. A full twelve miles from the stage.
You can take the elevator up. Or you can take the stairs, either way.
Our hearts sank. I put on my best disappointed-Jew face.
So, there’s no way to get closer? I asked.
Oh, sure there is, he said, you can trade those in…
Mistake Number three. Hadn’t he just looked at our press passes? The press passes that very obviously read “National Lampoon”? Dots were not being connected.
We can? Rubin asked, incredulous.
Oh sure. You just need to go up to your floor first and find the window. It’ll look like a little window with a guy in it. He’ll let you trade in your tickets.
Why can’t we just give you the tickets to trade in right now? I asked.
I can’t, he said, I don’t have those tickets.
The elevator was taking forever so we hoofed it. It was eight long flights of stairs. At the top, I thought Rubin was going to suffer a heart attack, as did he. But somehow, the 100% Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil allowed the blood clot to continue its journey through Rubin’s vascular system just long enough for him to catch his breath.
We found the little window with the guy in it and, sure enough, we traded in our tickets for bonafide floor passes:
Remember, Mr. Lampoon, the window dude said, I want to see you back up here in five minutes. That’s five minutes, and no more.
We double-staired it back down to the floor and waved our floor-passes at security. As we penetrated the external labia, the sky opened-up before us. The room is incredibly well lit, like for a night game. It’s like being in Oz: up front the wizard’s castle, an enormous stage larger than my apartment building, with a sweeping rounded art deco veneer at least thirty feet high. And all around them—all of us—seated in folded chairs or standing, packed to the rafters, were the munchkins, the Lollipop Guild.
The podium is massive, it’s like Nazi Germany with this podium. I can just make out a tiny dark person up there, still miles away, giving a speech. A half-inch tall at most. It was still early in the festivities so it wasn’t anybody all that important. Might have been the Reverend Jesse Jackson maybe now that I’m thinking about it. Not to sound racist or whatever.
All of a sudden, something snapped in Rubin’s brain. He began casing the joint like he was some kind of comedy terrorist, then looked back at me, all wild-eyed and disheveled.
Stay close, he said, We’re moving. Here we go.
Moving? How can we move? I said. It’s completely packed. It’s like Main St. in Queens.
And then Rubin began, utilizing his massive bulk in ways I could only dream of, literally toppling aside Diplomats and Representatives of all shapes and colors. I held on as tightly as I could, all the while apologizing to those around us. Anyone who’d found himself suddenly and inexplicably accosted by this shlumpy vegan giant of American Comedy.
Hey, watch it! (that was the secretary of the interior, whose toes I accidentally stepped-on in my haste.)
Sorry, I said, We’re after a story.
Eventually, we managed to nudge and connive our way up to the front, thanks primarily to the fact that politicians generally are not themselves the pushiest of people, at least not once they’re in office.
I had been so busy focusing my energy on not injuring anybody, and on repairing whatever damage Rubin was doing to our reputation as a media outlet, it had been a while since I took stock of our position.
And then Rubin stopped. We had reached our destination. I emerged from my position behind his ass and took a look around. Lo and behold, there we were. Right up front. Not twenty feet away was the stage, the dais, the bima. And standing atop it, speaking into the microphone was none other than that world-class philatelist, President William Jefferson Clinton.
Holy shit, I said. Look at us. We made it.
I looked at my watch.
Our five minutes are up…
Rubin turned and stared at me.
Take a look around you, Brykman. We’re in the thick of it. This is the shit! My God, he said, I think I’m having a flashback.
I didn’t know you were in Nam, I said.
I wasn’t. I’m talking about the old Lampoon. Doug Kenny. Henry Beard. All the shit they gave Nixon way back. Actually joining him on the campaign trail.
Are you sure you’re not thinking of Hunter S. Thompson?
What was it the great John Belushi once said? When the going gets tough…
You’re right. We should get going, I said.
He slapped me hard across the face.
Brykman! he shouted, Nothing is over until we decide it is! Now pull yourself together. Take a deep breath. You’re freaking out.
That’s the problem. I can’t take a deep breath. There’s too many people in here. It’s giving me asthma.
I pulled out my Albuterol and sucked it deep into my lungs, exhaling slowly through pursed lips to achieve maximum alveolar distribution. And as the Ventolin cloud dissolved before my eyes and the oxygen rushed through my body, my head cleared and I could think again. Rubin was right. This was indeed the shit. The jungle. I looked around. All about us stood these strange little people in green uniforms. Girls with pig-tails, as many as twenty of them, some even shorter than myself.
Military personnel? I wondered.
Then I noticed the sashes, festooned with rainbow badges, and I began to wonder if Rubin slipped some psilocybin in my Diet Coke.
What the fuck, Rubin? I said, Are these girl scouts? Are we really surrounded by girl scouts right now? Isn’t it way past their bedtime?
Never mind them, Rubin said. Stay focused. Get out your sign. See that light there? I’ve been watching it very closely. There. It just went on. See it? That’s a camera. Every time that red light goes on it means that camera is live. Watch it. There’s one there. One over there, see? One more over there. Now. Listen to me very closely. Here’s what I want you to do. Every time you see a red light go on, you hold up your sign. Don’t wave it around too much, just hold it way up, as high as you can. Red light, sign. No red light, no sign. Got it? Okay, now…wait for it. Wait for it….Go! Red light! Go! Go!
This went on for maybe five minutes. The light would go on and we would hold up our signs, the light would go off and we’d hide them. I don’t know if we ever made it on the air, but I mean, we were like fifteen feet from the camera. It was right there! Red light: sign. Red light: sign.
And then something weird happened. All of a sudden, one of the girl scouts, who’d been by the way ignoring us the whole time, I mean, I didn’t think they even realized we were there at all..until all of a sudden one of them turns around and stares me in the face.
Given the self-aggrandizing nature of my delusions, my initial assumption was that she was starstruck, having seen my face on our website. Or maybe she couldn’t quite place it, but she was sure she’d seen it on a screen somewhere. Was I a movie star, perhaps?
What the fuck do you think you’re doing?! She asked.
Is that any way for a Girl Scout to talk? I said.
Fuck you, asshole! She said. You guys are fucking up our shot! We came all the way out here from North Dakota to your shithole state and you keep fucking up our shot!
Actually, I said. I’m from Massachusetts.
Rubin was oblivious. The red light went on.
Brykman! he yelled, Sign! Sign!
Reflexively, I held up my sign. The girl tapped her comrades on the shoulder and they immediately took action, molesting me, pulling at my clothes, trying to get at my sign.
Give us the sign! They shrieked. Give us the Goddamn sign!!
Hey! I said, This is my best sweater. You’re stretching it all out!
You’re ruining the shot!!!
VP candidate Joe Lieberman took the stage. Rubin stopped worrying about his sign.
Hey, look, Brykman, Rubin said, Look close. You’ll never see this again for as long as you live. That guy’s one of ours. I know I told everyone I wanted you here because of the whole short thing. But that had nothing to do with it. This. This is why I wanted you here. This is the moment I wanted us to share together. Brykman? Where are you, Brykman?
Rubin!! I said, Get real. The gig is up!
Does Joe look a little peaked to you? Rubin continued, I hope he’s eating enough. The campaign trail can be so hard on a person…
The scouts are onto us, I said, They want our signs!!
These little twats can go fuck themselves!! Rubin said, They’re not even old enough to vote, for Chrissakes.
The girls got violent, grabbing my arms and digging their fingernails into my flesh.
OW! I cried, These girls mean business. They’re not just selling cookies here!
I shoved the sign under my sweater and undaunted they yanked my sweater off. A scuffle ensued. Rubin came to my defense, swatting at the Green Shirts with his own rolled-up sign until they grabbed hold of it and tore it to bits.
And all this time I thought they didn’t let dykes in the girl scouts, Rubin said. Well, good for you!
Fuck you, dickhole! they said, Security’s on the way.
We didn’t even do anything! I said.
This is unconstitutional!!! Rubin yelled, Freedom of speech includes signage! First amendment! Number one, baby.
Actually, Scott, I said, I’m not sure this counts as a…
Medic!!!! Rubin shouted. Medic!!!
A man in a dark suit appeared from nowhere. He was speaking into his hand. There was something electronic poking out from behind his ear. He clearly meant business. He didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t have to.
Let’s go, he said. You’re coming with me.
He didn’t look like someone we wanted to mess with.
Did we do something wrong, sir? Rubin asked.
Come with me, he said, We need to talk.
I hope you girls get a nice big merit badge for this! I said over my shoulder on our way off The Floor.
It turned out we didn’t need to talk. Dude just needed us the hell out of there so Al Gore and the Democratic party could show the world just how much they love the Girl Scouts.
You think the signs made it on TV? I asked.
We’ll never know, I guess. Good job, Brykman. Way to hang in there.
Thanks, man. I’m not going to lie, though. I was scared. Those girls were scary.
Girl Scouts often are, Rubin assured me, Girl Scouts often are.
There’s no telling what they were capable of!
We made our way through the crowded lobby to a Starbucks booth, and gathered our thoughts over decaf cappuccinos. We decided the best course of action was to purchase some schwag, some buttons and whatnot.
Buy the time we got back from our shopping spree the show was over—Al and Tipper had made-out long ago—so we headed back onto The Floor, now littered with signs of every variety—some hand-lettered for that extra grass-rootsy flavor, with an intentional typo here and there (to compete, I’m guessing, with Bush’s Anti-Intelligence policy).
Rubin and I hastily snatched up the political detritus for potential use in a Lampoon bit, and as we did, we heard a deep convulsive laugh behind us. We turned and this giant of a man emerged from the shadows, puffing at a Cuban: cowboy hat, bolo tie, a sharpness to his clothes I wouldn’t begin to know how to pull off.
Can we smoke in here? I asked.
He dismissed the question with a quick shrug. Like he gave a shit.
Are you guys really National Lampoon? he asked.
I’d forgotten about my hat with the press pass in the brim. The guy looked like security. I assumed we were in trouble.
We’re going, officer, I said, tearing a delegate’s ID sheet off the back of a folding chair.
You want signs?
These? I said, No, no. Just doing a little cleaning up.
My signs fell to the floor in a clumsy heap.
I can get you signs.
I love the Lampoon. Whatever happened to you guys?
It was a question we heard a lot.
We’re still around, I said, You’re looking right at us.
We’re in Westwood now, Rubin said, We’re doing a website.
I unravelled what was left of my Lampoon sign.
The frog! the man said, then paused a moment, his hand on his chin. Tell you what. I’m going to have my guys make you a manhole cover. Would that be okay? Just give me a couple of weeks. We’re a little behind right now.
Rubin shakily held out his card.
I’m Scott Rubin, editor-in-
Scott Rudin? I know you! Your name’s on every movie my wife and I…
Rubin. Not Rudin.
Common mistake. This here’s Brykman, one of our editors.
Nice to meet you fellas, he said. The name’s F— M—. I’m with Shell Oil Company.
Really? I said, How’s that going, the whole gas thing?
It’s a living, he said, shrugging and lifting his hands in resignation. On the way up, a spotlight caught one of the cruel, massive rocks on his fingers and shot a spectral Pink Floyd laser beam into my eye. I flinched and squinted at the force of his accessories.
Nice event, huh? Rubin said.
I wouldn’t know, he said. I haven’t been watching. I have work to do. World economies to keep in balance, you know. By the bye, which after-party are you going to? The Paramount or the Embassy?
Um, I said.
The Paramount, Rubin said definitively.
Shame, he said, I hear Tutu’s at the Embassy.
Now, I wouldn’t even be mentioning the Paramount after-party, were it not for the fact that a) it really happened and b) we successfully snuck into it and c) what wound up happening at the party ties the whole story up in a nice neat package with a little bow and a ribbon and everything. So here goes.
We parked on a side street near Paramount Studios and got out of the car and just started walking across the front yard, up to the big gate, which for some reason was open.
Keep walking, Rubin said, Just keep walking. Don’t look around. Don’t stop for anything.
I did as I was told, and moments later we found ourselves at Al Gore’s Paramount after-party, which basically consumed the entirety of the Paramount lot. Imagine the largest bar-mitzvah you’ve ever been to and then multiply that by about a hundred. There was literally every variety of food and drink you could imagine (yes, even knishes!). The Beaver Brown Band was playing and everyone was optimistic for the future and it was just a heartwarming spectacle all round.
And then I saw them.
Holy shit, Rubin, I said, It’s them. It’s those girls. It’s the Girl Scouts.
But Rubin was gone. Off getting his schwag signed, presumably.
So this was it. There was to be a face-off. A showdown. Just me against the Scouts.
I rolled-up my sleeves, ponied up to the troop, and showed them the marks they’d engraved in my arm.
What do you think of my souvenir? I said.
It’s you! They said, The loser with the sign! What are you doing here?
Duh, I said, I was invited.
I was about to pull out my press pass when I heard the familiar tinkling of escaping carbonation. There was something green and sparkling in her hand. Could it be? Yes! A Heineken! They were all drinking them (the less stalwart had Bartles & Jaymes).
Question is, I said, What are you girls doing with those? I’m afraid I’m going to have to see some I.D.
Um, they said, flustered, We didn’t bring any…
I see, I said, And what would your troop leader say? Why, she’d have your sashes!
Whatever. It’s not like we stole them. The guy just gave them to us.
And what might the rest of the world think of Al Gore, corrupting minors, intoxicating our nation’s Girl Scouts with wine coolers and cheap German lager!
Go fuck yourself, they said, Gore’s not even at this party. He’s at the Embassy. Besides, how the hell would anyone ever find out?