Illustration by Mitch HandsoneFor the past six months, a prominent independent motion-picture director
has been developing a feature film based on the true story of Erik Cheeseburger,
a fictional character. “Things,” the director kept saying, were going “fine” and
moving “right along,” until two weeks ago Saturday, when Erik was informed that
the director had failed to raise enough money to make the originally envisioned
film. He had, however, raised enough to make a documentary.
That was fine by Erik, but there were complications. A veteran entertainment attorney
determined that in order for the film to be legally called a documentary, Erik
would have to be nonfictional. Erik wasn’t necessarily fine with that. When, as
a lad, he first learned from his nonfictional parents that he was fictional, he
hadn’t been terribly surprised — the ridiculous surname Cheeseburger, which he
did not share with his mother or father, had aroused his suspicions — but he was
still confused and upset. Over the years since returning from a soul-searching
trip to Sweden, however, Erik had adjusted quite well, eventually finding meaningful
work as a showroom mascot at IKEA and two-dimensional writer in residence inside
a Pottery Barn catalog. He liked being fictional now. That was just who he was.
He liked being able to circumvent laws of physics. He liked living in his leaky
orange pup tent across from the cemetery. Got along well with the neighbors.
But his Powerbook just died, and his creditors are really counting on his paychecks
from the film, so Erik made a loud gulping sound and got in line to file for nonfictional
status at the Department of Personae (DOP) on Spring Street. He’s spent 11 days
meeting civil servants in big buildings, inking thumbs and fingers, filling out
forms, and being photographed by several cameras at once, day and night. (The
production company is paying for all of Erik’s filing fees, and is filming his
every step and breath.)
On his first day of line-standing, Erik was delighted to learn that he had the
option of declaring dual status — if at any time during the course of his nonfictionality
he has a change of heart, he can declare himself fictional again.
The veteran entertainment attorney concluded that if Erik were to hold dual status,
that would be legally sufficient to designate the film as a documentary, provided
Erik remain officially nonfictional throughout the production process and for
90 days following the film’s release on DVD. Erik signed the papers.
According to page 231 of the International Department of Personae’s Application
for Nonfictional Status Instruction Manual, “. . . perhaps the most important
part of the application is the testimonial.” Two letters of recommendation are
required; more are encouraged. So far, Erik has collected three letters of recommendation
— two from former supervisors at IKEA and Pottery Barn, neither of which I’ve
read (but I hear they’re impressive), and one from semifictional dictatorial lounge
singer Tony Clifton, which reads (with Mr. Clifton’s permission) as follows:
To Whom It May Concern:
I totally support my good friend Erik Stilton Cheeseburger’s appeal to be occasionally
nonfictional. But if he ever decides to come to Vegas, he’s not getting in.

—Tony Clifton
Las Vegas, Nevada

Erik’s asked me to write an LOR as well, and I’ve spent the better part of the
last few days working on it. Letters of recommendation have always been difficult
for me, both giving and receiving. When I was applying to graduate schools, one
of my friends who’d also been one of my undergraduate professors wrote what I
thought was an ideal though ungrammatical letter: “To Whom It May Concern: Dave
Shulman is good. He makes good student. I highly recommend him graduate school.”
I didn’t get accepted to any schools that I could afford, but it was still a damn
good letter — handwritten, incidentally, in pencil, diagonally across a sheet
of yellow legal paper.
As the relationship between the writer and the readers of a letter of
recommendation is often one of nonexistence, the letter should be formal, but
not sterile. It should sound confident in its humility, suggesting everything,
guaranteeing nothing. It should be short enough to imply intentional brevity,
but long enough to feel complete. Its tone should remain embedded in the reader’s
soul forever, but its grammar and punctuation should be forgotten instantly. Every
fact presented must be invulnerable to either confirmation or rebuttal. It should
specify as little as possible, but do so in italics.
To Whom It Concerns:
As a freelance citizen, I’ve known Erik Stilton Cheeseburger for five (5) years.
During that time, I’ve come to believe that he possesses the qualities of our
finest nonfictional characters. He is beloved by all around him, fictional and
nonfictional, living and dead, and he keeps an exceptionally tidy pup tent.
I trust, implicitly, his every decision on issues of morality and justice, and
therefore recommend, unequivocally, that he be granted full fictional/nonfictional
status, including the right to reproduce.

It still needs some work. Meanwhile, Erik’s slowly been writing his own
Personal Statement — a two-minute expository essay, to be presented orally before
a panel of five DOP officials, proclaiming the applicant’s allegiance to both
fictional and nonfictional worlds, and offering suggestions as to how his dual
residence might improve both.
In his first draft, Erik writes:
The nonfictional world has always fascinated me with its narrow
applications of logic. Inorganic farming dictates that crops be bred for weight,
at the expense of flavor, because apples are bought and sold by weight wholesale,
but at the consumer level, they’re more often purchased by count. I believe
that apples might better be graded and sold by flavor quality than by weight
and appearance. Like octane in gasoline. Furthermore, the cost of movie tickets
should not be based on the patron’s age, but on his or her height. Why should
the impoverished 38-year-old, who at 5’3” will never block another patron’s
view, pay 40 percent more than the 6’5” 12-year-old billionaire in a stovepipe
hat? A seat is a seat, and if you approve my application, I’ll do my best to
prove it.

At least I hope it’s his first draft.

LA Weekly