Sunday, August 12, 2012

No Thrills Allowed

You have to hand it to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.  While still embroiled in controversy over his attempt to limit how large a non-alcoholic drink New Yorkers are allowed to order (16 ounces, max) and to force women to breast-feed by ordering hospitals to lock up the baby formula, he's embarking on a new campaign, and it's aimed at thrillers.  Like his other campaigns, the proclaimed goal of the thriller offensive is to lengthen New Yorkers' lives, even though there are large areas of New York City in which even a relatively short life can feel very, very long.

Someone apparently handed the mayor a sheaf of thriller reviews from the New York Times, accompanied by a selection of online reviews from Amazon and B&N.  The mayor was alarmed by the number of references to "staying up all night" and "pulse-pounding action" and requested the New York Life Extension Bureau to prepare a report.  The NYLEB's verdict: (1) eight hours should be the shortest legal night's sleep in the five boroughs; and (2) every heart is genetically pre-programmed to beat just so many times and no more, so an accelerated pulse shortens life.  The report made it clear that New Yorkers need protection.  Thrillers, if they're going to be sold in New York, will need to be regulated.

Among the suggestions from the Life Extension Bureau are:

-- Inserting at random paragraphs containing nothing but conjunctions, enlivened by the occasional adverb;

-- Cutting from suspense sequences to lengthy passages in 19th-century German, preferably in blank verse;

-- Giving one or more of the lead characters a taste for the Victorian novels of George Meredith and George Eliot, and interpolating generous excerpts of Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, and Emilia in England during potentially harmful action scenes;

-- Banning from all thrillers such pulse-accelerators and sleep-postponers as guns, knives, razors, those stretchy things you can trap your index fingers in, dark basements, heights above three stories, criminals without hearts of gold, any scene in which the heroine looks into a mirror and gasps at the reflection of someone behind her, insane dentists, red blinking digital countdowns, people with disfiguring scars, references to Blind Pew, prose inspired by German Expressionism, the "S" in "S&M," sudden loud noises, the long-dead, the recently-dead, the not-quite-dead, evil mayor characters, plot devices involving thought control, and the erosion of personal freedom;

-- Replacing every third action scene with common-sense safety reminders such as Use Sunscreen, Buckle Up, Do Not Point Champagne at Eye When Popping Cork, After Using Toilet Wash Hands Long Enough to Sing Happy Birthday, Do Not Squirt Whipped Cream Into Nose, Pans on Stove May Be Hot To Touch, If You Sing In the Bathtub Don't Inhale Under Water, Keep Chain Saws Away from Children, and Do Not Drink Lemon-Scented Dish Detergent.

-- Requiring writers to expand the amount of time they spend on nonviolent and informative issues such as the growth and weaving of the fibers in characters' clothing; the global chain of garment manufacture; the history of the prescription lens; ninth-grade chemistry; the story of the Daughters of the American Revolution; proposed improvements to the Dewey Decimal System; the inexorable rise of the benevolent city-state; and the low anxiety levels, blood pressure and almost total absence of colon and lung cancer among sheep.

Thriller writers around the world, alarmed by the new regulations, formed secret websites to discuss the issue, and recently 2600 of them joined a global Skype conference intended to come up with an organized counteroffensive, beginning with a Declaration of Unity.  The meeting broke up during rewrite.

A smaller and more manageable committee of one writer was deputized to write the Bloomberg administration in protest.  Mayor Bloomberg's spokespeople reviewed the letter and released an approved version to the press. It read:

Mr. Mayor:

As a writer of thriller fiction, I am            to learn of your                  attempt to regulate our genre.  With all due respect, it is a                            ,                            , idea, one that imperils basic freedoms! 
        over the years since the founding of 
                                                                   Thomas Wolfe and Willa Cather (         or                    ).
                       will surely not prevail.

(Name withheld)

New Yorkers will live forever.

Tim -- Sundays


  1. Great! I'm sure if Bloomberg could regulate thriller watching or reading, he would do so. He loves to think of intrusive legislation, including making it harder for unemployed and poor people to get food assistance or to get housing.

    But I'm with Tom Wolfe and Willa Cather here. Freedom to read and watch all the scariest books and movies possible -- and stay up all night, with the lights blazing.

  2. I'm supposed to return to NYC in two weeks. Thank you for reminding me why I should miss my plane and remain where the "S" remains firmly fixed about the "M" [meaning, of course, Sexy Mykonos].

    1. Jeff, Mayor Mike to the contrary notwithstanding, come home. And please meet me for a coffee when you do.

  3. Tim, you can't throw enough barbs at Mayor Mike to satisfy me. His behavior as NYC's INTRUSIVE MOMMY deserves all your stings. I do take COMPLETE EXCEPTION, not to say UMBRAGE, however at your characterization of my beloved city. You say: "even though there are large areas of New York City in which even a relatively short life can feel very, very long." Are there places here where people are sometimes terrified? Sure. But large areas? Certainly not! I know that you Californians have trouble understanding the difference because you have no such places there. Your state is all golden hills and three-car garages, while New York actually has some grime here and there. But really, honey, New York is not the city you see in the cop shows on TV. Those are fiction, written by screenwriter guys (and I am being gender specific here). Most of them live in LA.

  4. Right on, Annamaria!

    The Big Apple is my city and I love it! Would not live anywhere else -- actually, I have but I've always come back and been here for decades.

    Where else can you call a coffee shop and have food delivered 24/7? Where else can you walk 50 feet and run into people from all over the world almost at your doorstep? Where else can you be amid beautiful foliage and ponds in a five-minute walk from world-famous museums? Or a short subway ride to beaches? Or have accessibility to the entire city's library collection by request?

    Not to mention the people -- meet wonderful folks all of the time, cab drivers from many countries who are so interesting.

    Anyway, it's my city and I claim it. But the administration, not so much.

    And the saddest development: Noted mystery bookstore Partners and Crime is closing. That is something to mourn.

  5. K, we need to cry into a beer together over P&C. Let's meet. I am at BTW, you inspire me. I met a woman on my doorstep who helped me research my next book--"Blood Tango," which will be out next spring. I am going to write a blog about that. Can I quote your comment above in the process?

  6. Having lived in the East Village in the 80s, 90s, and 00s, I can attest to finding people on your doorstep, Kathy.:) Usually as I returned home from my bar-restaurant on East First Street, the inimitable Chez Essaada. Ahh, memories of those Manhattan years before the "termination" of Rent Stabilization drove the creative young and their eclectic energies out of Manhattan to (ever diminishing) affordable housing across the bridges and tunnels.

    And, Annamaria and Kathy, I should join your P&C support group. The closing of Partners & Crime is an event I've not yet fully absorbed. Maggie Topkis (owner) sent me a note that my event for October 2 had to cancel. To me, P&C had become far more than simply a venue for my NYC signings, it was home for an annual reunion of nearly a hundred friends from disparate parts of my NY past. I have not yet decide how, where, or if to replace it. I shall miss you, P&C.

  7. Is there a kernel of truth to this piece? Intrusive government is one thing that Bloomberg seems to have perfected, so nothing would surprise me. I can't begin to tell you how many times reading has saved me, so this really scary if true-What am I saying ?!? Tell me it's just your great sense of humor, please.

  8. Awwww . . . New Yorkers are so sensitive. I had an apartment there for a couple of decades and spent about a third of my time there, so it's not like I've never spent time in the city. I actually like quite a bit of it, although, if I had a year left and could choose only two cities to spend it in, they'd be Bangkok and Los Angeles. (I'll refrain from responding to the slaps at LA.) New York is fine, in areas, but I'll stand by my opinion that there are substantial stretches of blight, too. And why not? L.A. has them, Bangkok has them, London has them -- all great cities have them.

    I personally find Bloomberg to be almost comically intrusive, but I see it as part of a larger problem. When mothers are no longer allowed to send their kids to school with a home-prepared lunch (as they are not in some areas of the country), I have to ask myself where is spelled out the power that allows governments to tell us what we can and can't put into our mouths. In an age of school underfunding, we have governments that have forbidden bake sales. It seems to me that we have every right in the world to shorten our lives if we want to, especially since studies actually show that smokers, for example, actually save the government money because they die too soon to collect SS, and rarely get old enough to need longterm intensive care. Of course, I think drugs should be legal, too. Let Darwinian mechanics go to work; in the long run, taxes on drugs will give politicians more money to spend and their availability might also increase the average IQ of the general population.

    No, Lil, it's all imaginary. Not to say it will remain imaginary, though.

  9. Annamaria, yes, you can quote me.

    I love New York and will be so sad at Partners and Crime closing.

    I'll send you an email when I surface from crazed deadlines.

  10. Tim: Your books are all over Barnes and Noble in Greenwich Village.

    Walked in today and saw some hardcovers in good spots with your name on them.