I. ON THE FIRST DAY OF MY VACATION
On Sunday, the first day of my summer vacation, I arose at dawn, drank a rousing cup of coffee, washed my car and wrote a novel called Fishland. It’s about Lime Barty, Jesus and the Antelope Valley. After e-mailing the manuscript to my agent, I prepared eggs Benedict and banana bread from scratch, gathered fresh fruit from a back yard I‘d never before noticed I had, ate the breakfast and read the papers — The New York Times, La Opinion, Los Angeles Times, Der Spiegel, Svenska Dagbladet — cover to cover, with the exception of the book-review sections, which are too depressing. At 9:15, my agent called to tell me that my manuscript had been accepted as-is by a major publisher, that a Public Radio International tour was in the works and that a $60,000 advance had been direct-deposited into my checking account.
I dug the book-review sections out of the recycling bin and checked. The New York Times called Fishland “an inspiring work of profound clarity, ingeniously rendered by a provocative master of syntactic tedium.” “Una obra inspiradora de claridad profunda, ingeniosamente hecha por un provocante maestro de tedio sintaxis,” raved La Opinion. Nothing in the Los Angeles Times or Svenska Dagbladet, but Der Spiegel had also paid someone to like it: “[Shulman’s book] ist eine inspirierende Arbeit von fundamentaler Klarheit, kunstvoll angelegt von einem Meister des langweiligen Satzbaus.”
At 10:30, I wrote a second book, nonfiction. A self-help guide for budding writers: Making Fishland. Turned it in at 11:50. Ten minutes later I checked my bank-account balance. The $60,000 advance was there, as was an additional $60,000 for the second book and a mysterious $14,000 from I have no idea where. Royalties? I used half the money to make a digital feature film, Fishland (based on the novel, with Janeane Garofalo as Lime Barty, Harry Dean Stanton as Jesus and Christopher Walken as the Antelope Valley), which I finished at 2:20 and forwarded to the distributor at 2:55. The rest of the afternoon I spent registering 62 patents on a molecular-bonding process that allows existing laser printers to use defunct coffee grounds as toner; sponsoring sweeping legislation that would criminalize SUVs and car alarms, decriminalize nonlethal recreational drugs and require trial lawyers to take the same oaths as witnesses; and lobbying, successfully, for the new maximum-income policy that, beginning in October, will limit corporate executives‘ total annual income to 500 times that of their companies’ lowest-paid workers. Then I took a bath and a shower, cured cancer, ran to Catalina and back, pushed a stranded busload of kindergarteners and puppies out of the path of a convoy of nine amphetamine-crazed Mack-truck drivers, made the best cup of coffee in the whole wide world, restored life to some dead friends and put on my tuxedo.
At 7:55, Fishland opened in Westwood. It was terrible. Everyone hated it. When the house lights came up at 10:15, I was beaten, repeatedly, within a foot of my life. Barely conscious, I was dumped onto the sidewalk in front of a nearby liquor store, where a gaggle of drunken physics students took turns kicking and urinating on me until dawn.
II. I spent the next seven weeks getting laid
I spent the next seven weeks getting laid, mostly in Stockholm.
III. I ARRIVED home to find my cat
I arrived home on a Tuesday afternoon, at 2 p.m., to find my cat, Jackson, sprawled on the couch, watching an Ernie Kovacs documentary and sharing a shrimp cocktail with my friend Carlos. Both waved weakly, eyes glued to the Nairobi Trio, indicating they‘d say hello properly when the program broke to a commercial.
Three new voice-mail messages awaited my attention.
The first message was from someone identifying himself as a “generic attorney.” The gist was that my novel’s publisher was suing me for $16 million after finding out that I‘d created Fishland using a piece of software called Plagiario. This was true — I’d written and compiled the Plagiario program a few days before my vacation, and on that first morning I‘d configured it to batch-scan, as I recall, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, The X-Rated Bible, On the Road and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Robert Lloyd‘s 1982 interview with the Meat Puppets (http:home.earthlink.net~rslloydpuppets.html), and then to extract every third sentence from each source file, replace every sixth adjective with an antonym, randomize a popular paragraph structure and finally spew forth a two-million-word RTF text file. Still, $16 million seemed pretty steep. I’d only made $60,000. And it‘s not as if I didn’t do some of the work.
Message two: my agent, quitting.
Message three was a conference call from my (ex-)agent and the generic attorney: The film‘s distributor was suing my production company, Jew-Run Media, for $42 million after finding out how I’d “written” the book and then believing a vicious rumor that I‘d created the film in a similar way — by downloading some old clips of Garofalo, Stanton and Walken and some still photographs of Palmdale, Lancaster and Quartz Hill and messing with them in Final Cut Pro. All of which was true, true; but still. Forty-two million is an awful lot of dollars, isn’t it?
So at 2:15, I saved the answering-machine messages as AIFF files and brought them into an ancient copy of ProTools (which still runs on Carlos‘ otherwise useless old 840AV), where I cut and pasted and looped and sweetened and synchronized and quantized and mixed them with excerpts from Daylite Astronomer, an opera that I’d half-started with Bradford Ellis back in ‘88, and e-mailed the result to my new agent at 4:30. At 4:45, I logged on to Billboard Online. Yup: Fishland Astronomer, premiering at No. 5 and rising fast. Forty-two million? I’ll cut you a check on Monday.
÷ ÷ ÷
“Plagiarism is one of the most serious offenses in the academic world,” states the copyrighted copy at Plagiarism.org. “It has occurred as long as there have been teachers and students, but the recent growth of the Internet has made the problem much worse. Recent studies indicate that approximately 30 percent of all students may be plagiarizing on every written assignment they complete.”
Similar copy — some might say suspiciously similar copy — can be found all over the Internet. The April 10 edition of Golden Gate University‘s Campus Currents Online (www.campuscurrents.com), for example, reports, “Recent studies in the U.S. indicate that approximately 30 percent of all students may be plagiarizing on college writing assignments.” [My italics.] Or Coastal Carolina University’s financial-aid info page (www.coastal.edufinancialaidhowto.html): “Approximately 30 percent of all students who apply for federal assistance are selected by the U.S. Department of Education for a process called verification.” [Italics added.]
And it doesn‘t stop there: “Recent studies,” the National Sea Grant College Program (www.sgnis.orgpublicatmanagers.htm) states, “indicate that zebra mussels may mobilize toxic materials from the sediments into the food chain . . .” And: “Every year,” proclaims the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Social Anthropology‘s home page (www.san.ed.ac.ukbscbscintro.htm), “some students are found copying passages from books or other students’ work without proper citation. This constitutes plagiarism, and is considered one of the most serious offences in the academic world.” [Itals by me.]
In light of these conspicuous coincidences, how dare Plagiarism.org question the judgment of this overwhelming majority of decent citizens who wish only to uphold the traditions of America‘s forefathers by generating undeserved wealth from the labors of the uncredited and unrewarded? If Americans are denied our right to cheat — to emulate the pre-eminent virtue of virtually every politician, business executive and popular entertainer we see — how, then, are we supposed to make a fuggin living?