Illustration by Mitch HandsoneThe photocopy machine (Mrs. Maples reminds me that I shouldn't call it a Xerox® machine, because it's made by Canon®, and that Xerox® is like Kleenex® and Kleenex® is like Vaseline®, and that the companies that make machines, tissues and jelly shouldn't have to deal with people like me calling their products by other companies' products' names; she's a real dick about it, especially since I never said Xerox® in the first place) never works right. At least not for very long. This time it was a J-3, which means open everything up, close it again, restart, and it'll work. So that's what I did. Popped the top, opened the front and the other door off to the side; no jam anywhere (even though I'm pretty sure the “J” in J-3 stands for “Jam”), so I closed everything back up and restarted and stood by because it said to, to wait for the motherfucker to warm up. We're all a bit afraid of Mrs. Maples. We've been to her apartment, which she keeps very warm, very moist and very stale. Something dead lives there, held hostage by unopened windows, and I for one would rather not know what it is. Mrs. Maples believes in God, she says, and that God's political order must be maintained through an implicit covenant of consent whereby the governed not only accept but defend the authority that defines, partitions and imposes rules upon them as being legitimate, despite ample empirical evidence to the contrary. Like I said, she can be a real dick. Once, I heard her tell her teenage spawn that a huge bureaucracy beholden to stockholders is superior to a huge bureaucracy beholden to citizens, because God Himself® is a corporation. We're all a bit afraid of Mrs. Maples. On Inauguration Day, I drove down from Hollywood motion-picture director Peter-Anne Cornwallow's Bel-Air estate to his 19th-floor office in Westwood, to make copies of his annual suicide note. Around this time each year, Cornwallow dictates a note detailing his lugubrious mindset, explaining that while he is definitely not committing suicide anytime in the foreseeable future, the possibility of his doing so in the unforeseeable future seems, again, likely, so he'd like to take this one moment of feigned camaraderie to say farewell to his servants, to remind them just how wonderful they've all been to tolerate his “peculiarities,” as he puts it, for so little money, and that he always was, would be and/or would have been grateful. Outside the annual note, Cornwallow was a relentless and unmitigated fuck, a kidney stone lodged in mankind's urethra. And since most of my time was spent ruining my late 20s by seeing to it that Cornwallow enjoyed his early 50s, every few days, generally while photocopying, I'd come up with a new way for Peter-Anne to take his own life; today being Inauguration Day, I thought it'd be nice if he hired a helicopter and had himself dropped onto the president. Daydreaming is, I believe, still legal. So I was alone in the xerographic-replication room, dreaming such dreams while making copies of Cornwallow's annual suicide note, which I'd spent the better part of the morning calligraphizing in Peter-Anne's screening room, when Monzel O'Brien, one of the associate producers, came in, sighed sadly and said, “Clown Chowder's playing at the Blood Club tonight.” I'd already heard about it and didn't care to see Clown Chowder, that night or ever, least of all at the Blood Club. “I'll be there,” I replied. “You going?” “Yeah, right,” said O'Brien. “What do you think?” “I think that you'll be at home, smoking pot and watching television with Mrs. O'Brien, but that you'll be quote more than happy unquote to buy me a pound of Peet's to tell you all about the show, in detail.” “Deal.” You see, Peter-Anne's elder daughter, Olivia, is the lead singer of Clown Chowder. In such songs as “Unfuck Me Runnin',” “Bad Man Mean,” “Celluloid Whore” and “Peter Pan's Salad,” Olivia belts out a lot of ham-fisted, badly art-schooled pop dirges, generally dealing with, as you might guess, nihilism, narcissism, hypocrisy and her father. Nothing malicious or even interesting, just bad. As far as any of us knows, Peter-Anne has never heard his daughter, but he encourages us to attend her performances, so that when he asks, “Did you happen to catch Olivia's band the other night?” we can say, “Yeah. They were great,” so that he'll reply, “Yes, they're quite good, aren't they?” instead of firing us. Danielle Wallstone, one of the assistant directors, poked her cup in, said, “Fresh coffee, guys,” and started to leave. “Hey, Danielle!” O'Brien called her back, weakly, feigning enthusiasm. “Clown Chowder's doing a show tonight at the Blood Club.” “How terribly depressing,” said Wallstone, lingering now in the doorway with her fresh hot nice cup of coffee steaming up her glasses. “Who's going?” “Shulman is,” said O'Brien. “It'll cost you a pound of Peet's for lecture notes.” “Major Dickason's might be nice,” said I. “Or Blend 101.” “A bargain,” said Wallstone. “You're a brave man.” “No,” I said. “I'm just the one who has to drop off this year's suicide note.” I handed her a copy. “Jesus. Has it been a year already?” “Time flies when you work for a dead guy.” “Good afternoon, everyone.” It was Mrs. Maples, Peter-Anne's executive assistant, squeezing past Wallstone with a stack of important papers. Even though Mrs. Maples isn't much older than anyone else, she insists that no one but Peter-Anne address her by her first name, which is, for the record, Iris. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Maples,” O'Brien, Wallstone and I replied in unison, then quickly got the fuck out of there. The Blood Club wasn't so bad. Clown Chowder was. At the last minute, both Wallstone and O'Brien had taken pity and decided to join me, and we smoked a bit of Mrs. O'Brien's beloved marijuana and had a few beers and passed our time pleasantly enough, counting facial piercings and boob jobs. Per Peter-Anne's instructions, I'd given Olivia a copy of the note before the show, and just like last year, Olivia read it aloud onstage, then set fire to it and launched into some of the loudest, most awfully unoriginal crap it has ever been my 5 bucks an hour to behold. “Did you happen to catch Olivia's band last night?” Peter-Anne asked me the next morning, without looking up from his newspaper. “Yeah, they were great,” I lied, my nose turning a rich, French-roast brown. “Danielle and Monzel and I all went together.” “Wonderful,” said Peter-Anne, looking up, meeting my eyes now with a wary scowl. “Yes. Iris tells me it was their best show ever. Strange that she didn't mention seeing any of you.” We're all, even Peter-Anne, a bit afraid of Mrs. Maples.