Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The Long Drive Home

It started with the stupid damn infographic on The Onion. As I was winding up yesterday at work, I finally got around to reading "The Onion." The infographic this week is on Harry Potter, containing a series of modestly humorous cracks on "Order of the Phoenix." (Let's face it: "The Onion" has been churning the same ten jokes for two years now.) And then I saw the last line:

"Hagrid dies on page 684... sorry, kids!"

Of course, I haven't had the time to read "Order of the Phoenix" yet, though I had heard the persistent rumor that one of the characters dies in this one. And there it was -- ruined for me merely days before I got the chance to read the book over the holiday weekend. (Shannon has already read it, and is already eager for me to read it so that we can discuss various and sundry plot points.)

My first reaction was that it couldn't be true. No one would actually do something as annoying as revealing a key plot point of a recent book, would they? And then I remembered the most shocking thing I had ever seen on television -- not naked bodies on "NYPD Blue," not the flood of profanity on that "South Park" that took advantage of "sh*t" becoming acceptable, but the scene on "The Kids In The Hall" when Kevin was doing his pathetic "evil wizard" routine. Sir Simon Milligan is introducing his "manservant Hecubus" (an especially fey Dave Foley in black eyeliner) and is trying to illustrate how EVIL Hecubus is. Will Hecubus pick a card so Simon can do a card trick? No! He's evil! Evil! And then comes the final illustration: the wizard picks up a newspaper and looks at the movie listings. "Have you seen the movie 'Presumed Innocent?'" Hecubus responds [13-YEAR OLD SPOILER AHEAD!] "Yes I have, master-- and his wife killed her." The live audience let out a collective gasp -- the movie was in current release at the time, and this was... it was... "Evil!" shouts Kevin. "Evil!" Of course, "Presumed Innocent" was a New York Times Bestseller, so the cat should have already been out of the bag, but the joke was as audacious as it was funny -- it was the perfect illustration of why this mid-level "servant of Satan" was every bit the tepid evildoer he was made out to be.

And in a flash I realized that "The Onion" could very well have thought it would be "funny" to reveal the biggest secret in the book world right now, especially since it would really tweak the science fiction fans that were the butt of most of the other jokes.

I was ready to be furious, but not quite certain enough to allow myself to become furious, so all during my commute home I wrestled with my thoughts. I composed a hateful e-mail to The Onion bashing their repetitive, overlong, unoriginal jokes. I decided that I couldn't send an e-mail because that would be exactly the overwrought response they were hoping to get. I decided that I would send a casual e-mail to explain why I was hip to the joke but that it still wasn't funny. Then I decided that it would be even more pathetic to send an e-mail like that. Then I decided that my own uncertainty was enough -- the fact that I wasn't sure that it was a giveaway would allow me to maintain my distance and enjoy the book. And then I started feeling sorry for myself. The problem wasn't "The Onion," it was my damn job. I didn't have time to read the book already because I work too much.

It was a long drive home.

When I walked in, nearly the first thing I said to Shannon was "I know someone dies in 'Order of the Phoenix' -- is it Hagrid?"

Shannon looked at me curiously, assessing me and wondering why I would ask. "Do you really want to know?"

My mind raced for a second: this was my last chance to let "reasonable doubt" allow me to enjoy the book. If she confirmed the news, then I would absolutely not be able to enjoy "Order of the Phoenix" as much. But if she didn't confirm the news, I wouldn't be able to write "The Onion" the nasty letter they deserved. That certainly wasn't a good reason, was it? Why risk diminishing the enjoyment of the book just so that I could give in to my anger? Was I truly so afraid of being had that I would give up part of the pleasure of reading this book so that I could have the chance to strike back? I absolutely shouldn't know, I concluded.

"Yes, I want to know," said my mouth.

"No -- Hagrid doesn't die" she said.

A wave of relief washed over me. All was well -- and my dumb decision to ask about the truth came to naught.

And then I considered the careful way in which she was addressing the situation -- arising almost certainly from her desire to not give away anything important -- and it occurred to me that she might be doing me a kindness. After all, if she said it wasn't Hagrid, that would restore to me the "reasonable doubt" I would need to enjoy the book. But once again, why should I care? Reasonable doubt had been restored to me, and I would be able to enjoy the book. I certainly wouldn't make the same mistake twice, out of a misplaced fear of being tricked.

About two minutes later, I grabbed our copy of the book and read page 684. It's a scene involving a living, breathing Hagrid.

 9:33 AM

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