A Pasty-Faced Man in a Pinstripe

A PASTY-FACED MAN IN A PINSTRIPE WAS WAITING FOR BRETT WEIR AT THE PRISON GATE. A pasty-faced man in a pinstripe was waiting for Brett Weir at the prison gate. Brett Weir was too preoccupied with the Cheung Li-less gloom to notice him at first. Brett Weir was too preoccupied with the Cheung Li-less gloom to notice him at first. When the warden slotted his giant key into the gigantic lock and swung open the ginormous steel door the man in the pinstripe confidently - decisively - stepped out to meet him. He was waiting patiently at the prison gate, all that time, and his pinstripe was the latest Milan design. When the warden opened the big steel door he stepped up to face Brett Weir like a juggernaut, blocking his path. This is how it happened.

A pasty-faced man wearing a pin-stripe suit, at the prison gates!

<<Gerald Bridgeman>> he said, standing impassively. <<Your lawyer. From Bridgeman and Associates.>>

<<I didn't ask for a lawyer>> Brett Weir said. He had been ambushed at the prison gate.

<<Your wife hired me.>>

<<My wife? Oh, Cheung Li.>> He smiled diabolically, appraised the Milan suit. <<You doing her?>>

<<What?>> Bridgeman said, brow furrowing slightly.

Brett Weir laughed, the first time since threatening China to a match of thermonuclear "trick or treat". <<Oh, nothing, don't worry about it. I like you. Give me a call when you stop chasing ambulances.>>

He tried to squeeze past, but Bridgeman gripped his arm and said, with a discernible degree of offence: <<I'm 39 years old; I'm too old for chasing ambulances. I'll be frank with you, kid: I have an interest in this case. This is an area I've specialized in.>>

Now it was Brett Weir's turn to be taken aback. <<What?>> he said. <<You specialize in prank telephone calls?>>

Bridgeman shook his head, vigorously. This is, irrefutably, how it happened. <<No, not prank calls, I specialize in civil liberties. I'll be honest with you, kid: I don't particularly like what you do, but I'm willing to fight to the end to defend your right to do it.>>

Brett Weir stared at him for a long moment, mulling it over. <<Well>> he said <<if Cheung Li put you up it. Anyway, how is she?>>28

BRIDGEMAN'S OFFICE WAS THE TYPICAL legal deal: whole encyclopedias of case studies and treatises fastidiously shelved and mahogany furniture. Brett and Phillip Doof sat in padded leather chairs smoking Cuban cigars and chatting about old times. They'd made themselves at home in Brugmans' office, smoking his cigars and drinking his brandy, and talking about the past. Bridgeman was on the other side of the desk in a hands-free conversation with what could be best described a disgruntled client. Lucky it was hands-free because he needed both hands to gesticulate as he pleaded for another chance. Finally, he slammed down the phone and swore, softly. He swore softly, under his breath.

<<Was that guy bugging you?>> Brett asked.

<<We could sort him out if he's too much trouble>> Phillip Doof suggested.

<<You guys can't>> Bridgeman reprimanded <<do squat; you're on bail, remember. Sorry about the interruption. Er, we were talking strategy. I'll be honest with you, guys: the Government of the United States of America has decided to make an example out of you two. We've got to work out how we are going to respond to that.>>

<<Well, that's the thing>> Brett said. <<Why have they decided to make an example out of us? We're just a couple of goofy kids who started having fun on the phone lines.>>

<<The Government wants to make an example out of you because the media made an example out of you, the kids of America made an example out of you. You turned prank calls into a epidemic. The Government doesn't like that. And besides, you nearly started World War III.>>

<<It was just meant to be a gag>> Phillip Doof said, and Brett giggled as he remembered it.

<<Anyway, the nuisance call thing is nothing; what we've really got to worry about is this sedition charge. I have to ask you, gentlemen, I have to ask you again: do you have any links with revolutionary or paramilitary organisations?>>

<<No>> Brett replied; <<Of course not>> Phillip Doof protested. <<What kind of question is that?>>

<<I had to ask>> Bridgeman said. <<In that case, this is a bullshit charge. Now, when the case begins they are going to put you up on the stand to ask you your motives in these incidents, they're going to put you under oath. We're going to have to clarify now what these motives are, to build a defense around them...>>

As Bridgeman launched off Brett took the opportunity to remove his coat, which he slumped over the table covering the hands-free phone. He then slid his hand under the coat and reached for the receiver and spirited it into his lap. He quietly hit the redial button, waited for the gruff: <<Yeah, who is it?>> As Bridgeman continued his eloquent discourse on the legal process Brett lifted his ass, shifted the receiver closer, took a deep breath and let rip with the mother of all farts.

<<Jesus Christ>> Bridgeman fumed, fanning his face with a notepad. <<With all due respect, guys, you're looking down the barrel of a 25-year sentence here. This is serious. We've got to decide the angle of our defense.>>

Phillip asked: <<Well, did you have any ideas?>>

<<Let's make it a constitutional issue>> Bridgeman decided. <<The First Amendment.>>

<<Oh>> Brett said, returning Bridgeman his telephone <<it's for you. It's that disgruntled client you were talking to.>>29

A GREEN-EYELINED WOMAN IN A VERSACE suit turned towards the camera and said: <<United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, and the trial of America's two most notorious pranksters, Phillip Doof and Brett Weir, is about to begin. Doof and Weir stand accused of nearly 30 charges including sedition...>>

<<Ladies and gentlemen>> prosecutor Arnold Ongaro was prepping the jury <<some of you here may feel this is just a harmless case of monkey-business, a bit of horseplay by two men who should know better. Doubtless this is what the defense will try to lead you to believe. I want to present you another motive for these men's antics: violent insurrection.>>

Sometime later Bridgeman got to his feet and gestured a stack of CD-ROMs on his desk. <<Your Honor, I want to submit to the jury a number of titles including Orson Welles' radio play of The War of the Worlds, Beverly Hills Cop 1 and episodes of The Chucky Poong Show...>>

<<Objection>> Ongaro interjected.

<<Sustained>> Judge Wayne Georgievski said. This is what transpired, that first historic day, at the District Court in east New York.

<<What?>> the counselor responded, flushing flamboyantly. <<Your Honour, these exhibits represent the rich history of practical jokes in our society...>>

<<The jury is here to represent the rich history of our culture, not a pile of CD-ROMs. I won't accept them as exhibits in my court.>>

Bridgeman puffed out cheeks, pouted, and was about to mutter something obscene under his breath. He swallowed his pride and said instead with a slight bow: <<As you wish, Your Honor. >>

Then Brett was called to take the stand. Arnold Ongaro paced around him and probed: <<Why did you make a prank phone call to the Premier of China on the night of Halloween 2002, thereby precipitating an international crisis which gravely embarrassed the Government of the United States of America?>>

Brett Weir takes the stand, in the case of the Brett Weir versus the United States Government!

<<Your Honor>> Brett began <<I want to answer by alluding to a little theory I have about comedy. It's like this. You watch a sit-com or go see a stand-up comic, you sit and wait for the gags and if the gags are good, if they fit the mold of what society says is funny, you laugh; if the gags aren't funny you throw a tomato. That's not comedy, that's social pacification. That's taking something which might have been funny 50 years ago and putting it in a sterilized echo chamber where everyone knows what to expect. In my comedy routines I prefer something a little more... spontaneous. By rescuing comedy from the straitjacket of conformity, by channeling it through an unconventional medium - such as a random telephone call - it reclaims its original edge, and avoids the insipid mediocrity of the hivemind.>>

<<So you think it's justified to interrupt someone at home - in this case it was the President of China - and cause them serious personal alarm just for the sake of being funny? I can assure you, Mr Weir, the President wasn't laughing. The ambassador is not laughing now.>>

<<Ain't my fault dudes don't have a sense of humor>> Brett Weir said.

<<No further questions>> Ongaro said, smiling.30

BRETT PUNCHED THE COOK BUTTON on his microwave oven and settled into another evening in front of the TV (alone). He was reviewing video-taped news reports of the case and also selected snippets from the tabloids: tonight, most of them dealt with the deepening plight of the defense. It was into the fourth week of the hearing and the jury was expected to hand down its verdict any day. Brugmans had persevered with his free speech argument but it didn't seem to be breaking through. The judge hated them, the prosecutor seemed to have succeeded in depicting Phil and himself as "virtual terrorists"... Brett liked the label, but he didn't want to go down as a martyr to the cause. And in any case, none of it meant a whit without Cheung Li by his side. With her untimely disappearance, he was already in prison. Reaching for another video from the pundit pile, Brett Weir settled into another couched evening in front of the TV (alone).

<<HUMOR IS A UNIQUE FACULTY of the human species, and a universal form of communication. The ability to laugh at ourselves, to make fun of our betters, is a truly glorious thing>> Bridgeman was saying in his closing remarks. <<Ladies and gentlemen, before you adjourn to decide your verdict please take some time to consider the precedents your decision will set. This is a case which will have deep and far-reaching implications on American life. Because if you say that humor must be consensual and punish certain actions which deviate from that standard, before too long anything which deviates from that standard will be punished, and one day you might wake up to find to can't make a joke about the government or the state of the economy without running the risk of going to jail. And that's not freedom, that's not freedom.>>31

Phillip and Brett adjourned to an Italian eatery several blocks from the courthouse; there were the usual media types huddled outside, looking in through the windows. The jury was expected to take about two weeks to make their decision, but the pair were already resigning themselves to a long stay indoors. <<Hopeless>> Phillip said, flinging a forkful of pasta across the restaurant (CBS caught some footage of that). <<It's altogether unfavorable>> Brett replied.

<<You know what: even if we got out of this stinking sedition charge, I'd still give up prank phone calls>> Doof said. <<What's the fucking point: everyone's got too many hang-ups these days to enjoy good in-your-face mischief and mayhem. They act like words are dangerous weapons which must be controlled.>>

<<Yeah, I hear you wingman>> Brett said. <<I hear you.>> He opened a copy of the Constitution Bridgeman had given him in the early days of the defense, was about to joke about the futility of the First Amendment when he noticed something comic in the Second. <<Maybe it's not too late to change our defense angle>> he said. <<How about this one: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.>>

<<Words are weapons>> Phillip said, nodding.

THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OF THE UNITED States has blasted yesterday's sensational acquittal of telephone pranksters Phillip Doof and Brett Weir of sedition charges, claiming the New York State Supreme Court's decision will trigger a constitutional crisis and threaten the security of the nation.

Doof and Weir were cleared of all charges late yesterday afternoon after defense lawyer Gerald Brugmans convinced the jury their prank telephone calls were the justifiable actions of a private militia.

Bridgeman successfully argued that words could be deployed like weapons and therefore the right to make prank phone calls was sanctioned by the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Doof and Weir's conversation with the Chinese President was a militia-initiated attack taken in response to his efforts to control intellectual property worldwide, a process which was being facilitated by the American Government, Bridgeman claimed.

<<We used to say that "sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me<< Bridgeman told reporters outside the court. <<Those days are long gone. Words are just as now just as powerful as bullets, and potentially lethal too.

<<Since words are being rounded up all over the world and sold to the highest bidder, what more appropriate way is for the citizen to fight back, than by repurposing words, and shooting them into the face of the oppressor?"

The acquittal came only three days after Bridgeman called for a re-trial of the controversial Doof and Weir case.

In the earlier trial Bridgeman had argued Doof and Weir's imprisonment would breach the Consitution's free speech guarantees.

The defence decided to change its approach after learning the jury was going to vote in favor of the prosecution.

Last night Attorney General Marlene Wainwright described the court's decision as "insane".

<<From now on every crackpot or delinquent will be able to harrass public officials or hack their computers or paintbomb their homes and say it's justifiable to do so because of this court's interpretation of the Second Amendment>> Ms Wainwright said.

<<We're going to fight this in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.>>32

FIRST CONTACT (c)opyright Rob Sullivan 1988-2024. Contact the author for all your criticisms and feedbacks.

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