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The Age of Techno-Terror in a World of Shenanigans

<i> Bruce McCall is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker. </i>

A maintenance man on the Sunday-morning shift in a large New York office building notices the Muzak in the elevator has shifted, as he swabs the floor, from Barry Manilow to Karlheinz Stockhausen. He flees to the adjacent elevator, only to encounter a blast of Paul Hindemith. Then to the next--and Philip Glass. He barely escapes. Maintenance supervisors across the city go on red-alert: Normal elevator life is being threatened by a carefully orchestrated campaign of rampant dissonance.

What is going on?

Days later, an Encino housewife is unpacking her hand-fired porcelain Virginia Woolf figurine--latest in the Dolly Madison Mint’s Belles of Lettres series. It squirts from her hands like a bar of wet soap and comes within a whisker of smashing to bits on the parquet floor.

Within hours, reports filter in from a lady in Bean Station, Tenn., a grandmom in Roanoke, Va., another grandmom out Ames, Iowa, way. An unknown someone has coated their Virginia Woolf figurines with a Vaseline-like substance, too. Only luck and desperate digital dexterity have prevented a rash of literally shattering experiences.

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What is going on?

Meanwhile, even as this goes to press, authorities in Boston are frantically attempting to track down the source of the cardboard dribble cups responsible for a massive outbreak of spattered shirt fronts among take-out customers of coffee shops all over the Hub City’s downtown area. In the outskirts of St. Louis, other authorities are racing to trace the origins of the boxes of sneeze-powder-impregnated facial tissue creating a living nasal hell for thousands of suburban snifflers.

What is going on ?

“It’s an epidemic that makes ‘Kilroy Was Here’ look like kid stuff,” said Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau for Emergency Mischief Relief Matt Bodine, speaking in his Washington office. And speaking bluntly: “No real American would monkey with the very fabric of our life this way. So we’re focusing on foreigners. And we’ve developed some pretty scary scenarios for imported mischief yet to come.”

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Using advanced computer modeling and a good atlas, Bureau of Emergency Mischief Relief theorists have already composed a top-secret Probability Projection Analysis designed to anticipate just where and how further threats to American serenity may strike--and from whence. Leaked portions of the document reveal a globe-girdling series of plots, cabals and shenanigans. Some highlights:

French mischievists, probably Marseilles-based, are expected “any day now” to begin switching labels on expensive wine bottles to cheap wine bottles, and vice versa, prior to shipment to the United States. Or, in an alternative but equally frightening scenario, they will insert Libyan-made corks that crumble at the touch of an American corkscrew into wine bottles destined for the finest restaurants on the Eastern Seaboard.

Imported Irish-made doilies skillfully embroidered with the logos of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake and other heavy-metal satanists are expected to appear at almost any moment in linen shops across the nation--the handiwork of the Irish Republican Army or, as some believe, the I.R.A. Ladies’ Auxiliary, a separate cell.

A Molotov cocktail-wielding Shiite Barbie and an AK-47-toting Druze Ken doll may be on sale soon in major toy stores, spirited onto shelves by a clandestine network of radical pranksters moving goods from Bulgaria to Syria to Taiwan to Quemoy and, ultimately, to Staten Island.

Brazilian-made refrigerators, rigged so the light stays on after the door is shut, will sap America’s fragile electrical power grid, bringing us that much nearer to blackout. Imported Canadian bacon sealed in “E-Z-Open” packs are booby-trapped to snap the user’s fingernails like so many matchsticks.

How can an American defend against these assaults on everyday existence?

“Boy,” said Bodine, “that’s a toughie. Let me sleep on it. That is, if certain parties haven’t filled my pillow with little things that go squeak in night.”

So there you have it. Two poisoned Chilean grapes. The start of something--or only the beginning?

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