The school buses arrived in droves of loaves, freshly painted in red, blue and yellow dots like huge loaves of Wonder Bread, honoring the newly merged Newport-Mesa-Interstate Bakeries Corp. Unified School District. It could certainly be worse: Stanton's partner corporation is Ty-D-Bol, and they're painting the buses brown.
Many of the kids debarked in company-supplied Halloween costumes -- Roman Meal legionnaires, Dolly Madison, Twinkies, Ho Hos. This being Newport, several kids' parents still splurged on store-bought costumes. I counted 20 tykes wearing President Jenna Bush masks, an equal number as perpetually uncaught bogeyman Osama bin Laden, maybe three dozen kids as desert-clad Freedom Troopers (as 16-year-old draftees are called), and a good 60 as Mandee Putee, the latest preteen star.
I understand unassimilated kids in the Venezuelan neighborhoods of Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills still trick-or-treat door-to-door. Everywhere else, even the die-hards gave it up after the Snickers Flu of 2009, when secondary-market candies made with contaminated human liposuction fat found their way onto American supermarket shelves, resulting in 12 million deaths. President Jeb Bush called it "such sweet sorrow," while blaming the pandemic on Fidelophilic insurgents chafing over Cuba becoming the 53rd state.
Our bit of the world, Newport Center, is practically a city-state now. When Hurricane Celebrex tore into Huntington Beach, veered into South Coast Plaza, leveled the Block, and then headed south to clobber the Shoporium at the Agran Agribusiness Park and Nature Greenbelt, Fashion Island suddenly looked like Camelot. Of course, it's where the jobs are.
Here at the Scripts Institute, we like to think ours are the best. The Halloween kids sure seemed to think so. Though citizens aren't scripted until they're 16, you can tell parents coached their kids on what to say to us, to act clever and alert, eager to work for less than the next kid. Even 7-year-olds carry iPortfolios in their booty bags. Last year two brothers arrived dressed as an old-fashioned script book and clapboard. They're all so hopeful. You don't want to be the one to tell them, "Look, little clapboard, Malaysian kids are giving up kidneys just to get an in with us. That's really raised the bar on perkiness around here."
At the Scripts Institute, we write the scripts that are the talk of the nation, literally. Slightly more than 247 million scripts are downloaded into the earbugs of all Americans 16 and older each morning, and away they go. In the as-yet-unscripted countries, there's still some confusion about that. No, we don't write out what every person says and does each minute of the day. It's more of an outline, the arc of their day, what their motivation is, with set lines just where it matters: at work, groveling before management, family disagreements, sex within matrimony, prayer. We don't tell them when to poop -- it's more of a subliminal suggestion -- and they're on their own for the grunting.
It's amazing how smoothly everything works when everybody's on the same page.
"Why shouldn't that Mercedes have the right of way? Those are important people, doing important things."
"Of course, boss, I'll work that extra shift. I love the way the world smells at 3 a.m."
"I'm sure I'll find work tomorrow if I spruce up a bit. I'd better sell a cornea and buy a new suit."
"Let's have plankton every night!"
"When you mess with Jenna B., you're messin' with me."
We've scripted that last line out to a lot of our troops in Uruguay and the Philippines, though it's recycled from the Venezuelan Liberation of 2009, when it was "mess with Jeb B." The line plays better now: our boys in uniform seem really protective of the new president, perhaps because we've kept that furtive furburger photo of her on the Internet all these years. It's become like a religious icon in the barracks, something the boys kiss before they head into battle. We script that too.
We like to say our product is the longest, widest-running show on earth. As the jingle in the iPod-disposables we give the Halloween kids says, "24/7 since 2007."
But the scripted life really was born in 2005. What a year! Of course, Jenna's dad had a bug in his ear in the 2004 debates, though his fuzztone brain gave his lines a stumbling sense of immediacy. That election year was rich in "town hall meetings" with attendees prescreened for fealty. Columnists were bought, government-manufactured "news segments" were fed to the media and the Republican brethren recited the same talking points so reliably they sounded like geese.
Come 2005, they hardly took a step that wasn't choreographed, right until they waltzed into that perfect October. Early that month, Bush went to a post-Katrina Habitat for Humanity house-raising, insisted he wasn't there for a photo op, then hammered a few nails for a photo op and left. This made the news -- not the fact that he'd done nothing to further the grandiose relief plans he'd announced to make up for his absent-dad act when Katrina hit.
That same month, here in California, Governor Schwarzenegger talked social libertarianism, while off-camera he mobilized Christian conservatives to get out the anti-abortion vote for the November ballot. A prominent Schwarzenegger contributor was also apparently floating a clever script of his own: according to the FBI, "Hollywood producer" Joseph Medawar used face time with Republicans -- from President Bush and Homeland Security officials to such local luminaries as Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Chris Cox and Sheriff Mike Carona -- to tout a fraudulent TV series about the Department of Homeland Security so he could bilk investors for more than $5 million. Everybody wants to be in show biz.
But what launched the Scripts Institute was Iraq. There'd been a brief flap in the news when it emerged that an "informal" videoconference between the president and troops in Iraq had been heavily scripted. Heck, they even had an Iraqi soldier reciting, "Thank you for everything. Thank very much for everything. I like you!" so fervently that people thought Bush might name him to the Supreme Court.
It had already been revealed that similarly pro-U.S. quotes from everyday Iraqis had been fabricated in Pentagon news releases. That fiction-packed October, it was also learned an "intercepted al-Qaeda communique" that lent credence to the Bush storyline was a forgery, source unknown, as were two domestic terror alerts that underscored a Bush speech about his own remarkable vigilance. Karl Rove was churning out more copy than David E. Kelley.
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Bush's handlers had covered all the bases, not just feeding him lines, but also our troops, our allies, the public, even our enemies. Inside that hermetic world, everything was hunky-dory and on-course. Stick your head outside, and Iraq was amok with explosions, corruption, blackouts, privation and nine flavors of death squad, so who'd want to go outside?
It began occurring to some of the best and brightest that if everyone were on-script, life would be smoother for all concerned. If your company's product review or annual report didn't tally with expectations, why not do as the White House did and get loyal aides to rewrite it? There'd certainly be less workplace strife if labor were reading off management's page. In households, dysfunctional families were already clamoring to have Dr. Phil and others come in and tell them what to say to each other, so why not get some full-time assistance there?
Partnering with government and business, the Scripts Institute came to the rescue. In a couple of years, people didn't even think about doing without a bug in their ears, especially since the Freedom Enhancement Act of 2007 made it mandatory. President Cheney said, "That way He'll always be with us," meaning the late President George W. Bush, felled that year by an assassin's pretzel. That, too, was scripted, making brother Jeb's election a sympathy shoo-in, though the new Diebold iVote machines -- dispensing free music and game downloads for the right vote -- guaranteed that anyway. Cheney returned to his secure location, where he remains VP, sustained by a steady diet of Malaysian kidneys.
And here we stand today, the new Camelot. The gig has privileges; it's one of the few domestic jobs that don't involve organ harvesting. And we've got a great view. Right out my window I can see where Balboa Island was before Hurricane Zoloft washed it away. The same two guys in dinghies are out there every day, arguing over whose now-submerged frozen banana stand had been the first. And on the street below, the next line of school buses is pulling up.