Fragments From 'Weekly World News! The Musical'

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman examines the demise of a beloved media institution.

[Offices of the Weekly World News, 1992. DICK KULPA, an editor, calls a staff meeting.]

DICK KULPA

Welcome, Weekly World people

Let's get started without delay

I guess that you are wondering

Why I called you here today

For years we have all valiantly

Reported on the world around us

Done our best to chronicle

The aspects of it that confound us

We've featured Hitler, mermaids, Satan,

The chimp who got a Ph.D.,

A woman born to kangaroos,

The alien child of Hillary,

Bigfoot, Nessie, Bundy photos,

The world's largest tabby cat

Freeze-dried babies, chaos clouds.

But we've never had a half-man and half-bat.

MRS. OGILVE, DICK KULPA'S ASSISTANT

It's always been at the top of our list

But we had lost hope that such creatures exist.

DICK KULPA

I'm thrilled to say

I have a tip

Which of you wants

To take a trip

To West Virginia?

Your flight's in an hour

You have time for a snack

And maybe a shower

[Staffers beg off the story one by one.]

EMILY

I'm pretty busy

With reporting and writing

This morning I got

A new Elvis sighting

JACK

You know I would

But I can't go until tomorrow

Today I have to close a piece

On the Nazi Caves of Kilimanjaro

[One reporter, MARY, speaks up. She is short and perky and gung-ho.]

MARY

I haven't met

The story yet

That can overtop me

I'll take that jet

And you can bet

That nothing there will stop me

[A cave. West Virginia. BAT BOY is watching "Blossom" on TV when MARY appears. She explains the idea to him.]

BAT BOY

Well, Mary

I'm wary

How can I be sure

That your motives are pure?

MARY

Won't it fill you with delight

To see your name in black and white?

BAT BOY

I'm not much for fame and glory

Why should I go along with this story?

MARY

The world has only admiration

For our well-researched publication

Other papers, Bat Boy, can put you on the cover

Other papers, Bat Boy, can make you a big star

But only my paper, the Weekly World News

Can promise to show you just as you are

[BAT BOY tentatively agrees to the profile. MARY has forgotten her tape recorder. The two of them fly back to the Weekly World News compound—MARY in the plane, BAT BOY next to it—and MARY retrieves her tape recorder.]

MARY

Okay, now tell me your tragic tale

Have you ever been thrown in jail

For a felony or misdemeanor?

Do you have a normal-size weiner

Or are bats possessed of tiny wangs?

Are those teeth or poisonous fangs?

Could you drain the blood from a sleeping house cat?

Do you think of yourself as more boy or more bat?

BAT BOY

Mary, Mary

I hate to let you down

I'm sadly ordinary

Perhaps I don't deserve renown

I wake every morning to a classic rock station

I walk to the bathroom using echolocation

Then off to work, then dinner, then after

I sleep hanging upside-down from a rafter

[BAT BOY grimaces. He touches a wing to his temple.]

BAT BOY

I have a headache that keeps getting worse.

Conversing in this rhyming verse

Gives me a sense of déjà vu

Or is it deja entendu?

The feeling that my life

Has been a musical before

Is very strong within me

I can feel it in my core

[BAT BOY returns to the hotel to sleep off his headache.]

MARY

Good grief

What a relief

That guy was so tedious

Now I'll

Show my style

It's fun to be devious

[MARY finishes the piece, padding it out with outlandish manufactured claims about BAT BOY. He becomes a celebrity. Angrily, he confronts MARY about her reporting.]

BAT BOY

You wrote with great detail

But you made stuff up wholesale

To the people who purchase your paper every week

I am now perceived as some kind of winged freak.

MARY

"I'm Bat Boy — I'm Normal"

Isn't much of a headline

Plus you left me hanging

And I was on deadline

There was no whining

From the freeze-dried babies

What is your problem?

Do you have rabies?

BAT BOY

Bats fly

Into frustrated rages

When the facts are distorted on newsprint pages

When what's reported is figment and lie

Bats fly

Bats bite

Their tongues for a long time

When they are the victims of a terribly wrong crime

Perpetrated by those who blindly write

Bats bite

Bats hang

There, their lives in the balance

When promising journalists squander their talents

Just to get in with the popular gang

Bats hang

Bats glide

Over offenses intended to wound

But a bat can't stand by when a bat is impugned

When he's flipped on his back and stripped of his pride

Bats glide

[BAT BOY, furious, decides to avenge himself against MARY and the Weekly World News. He buys dot-com stocks, sells at just the right moment, puts the money into New York real estate, earns a tremendous profit, and then is turned on to an investment opportunity in Mexican telecommunications. When the smoke clears fifteen years later, he is the 117th richest person in the world, though he's left off the Forbes list because he's not really a person. He badmouths the Weekly World News any chance he gets, and then contacts DICK KULPA and explains what he intends to do with the newspaper.]

BAT BOY

I'll WW buy it

And WW then

I'll WW shutter

The WWN

[DICK KULPA puts the word out that the Weekly World News is in trouble. All of the paper's other subjects come to its aid, doing odd jobs and raising funds by any means necessary.]

DICK KULPA



Satan got a license to do some massage

Bigfoot was working in a bus garage

Nostradamus learned the shell game

Nessie wrote children's books under a pen name.

Elvis applied for a hotdog cart

Everyone is doing his part

Did you hear that? It warms my heart.

Everyone is doing his part.

[The friends of the Weekly World News meet to count up their money.]

HILLARY CLINTON'S ALIEN BABY

The pledge drive is over

Now we can thwart

The dastardly plan Bat Boy hatched to abort

Regular printing

Of this publication

We will be rewarded for our dedication

[BIGFOOT collects all the contributions in his oversize loafers. He counts the money. It's a dollar short. He looks at the calendar. It's a day late. JIM MORRISON begins to cry.]

NOSTRADAMUS

Don't cry, Lizard King

Let's have a wingding



BIGFOOT

I thought the money in my shoes

Would save the Weekly World News

Instead I'll use it to buy booze

[The Weekly World News has a gigantic party to celebrate its final issue. MARY makes out with the ghost of Joan of Arc. DICK KULPA plays darts with the world's fattest teenager, who weighs more than a thousand pounds. Ed Anger drinks along, angrily. The entire party is entertained by John Lennon's parrot, who once recorded an entire album after its master's death. The party is so raucous that it can be heard by BAT BOY, who is thousands of miles away but has acute hearing, as he is part bat. He comes to the window and looks in, forlornly.]



Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.

Previously: Fragments from 'Salman! The Musical'