Tonight’s Episode: The Unusual Suspects

Don Gerund, P.I.

It was a filthy, stinkin’ raining afternoon, and my eyes were crossed from looking at twenty lines of five-point Futura Condensed that made about as much sense as a Jehovah’s Witness vampire. Legal copy was a bitch of a mistress, and the suits at corporate were prostrate before her litigious stilettos.

But I don’t subscript to nobody. I watch the p’s and q’s, as well as the other 24 letters in the alphabet, in order to keep the mouthpieces from lapsing into a comma. It’s my job. I’m a Proofreading Investigator. A textual shamus. A language snooper. An idiom peeper. A lexeme gumshoe. A word dick.

Maybe I needed to rethink my clever plan of listening to my audio thesaurus while I sleep.

It was then the dish busted into my cubicle.

The Dish

“Are you…Don Gerund, Proofreading Investigator?”

I eyed her like I was wearing a pair of sandpaper contacts. “No, I’m an unabridged dictionary with eyebrows.” I eyed the paper in her hands. “What’s with the dead trees?”

“I got a job for you,” she said flatly, and she threw a folder down onto my desk like a sack of wet socks. “Take it or leave it.”

I looked at the folder with the same disgust I normally held for my ex-wife’s over-salted Salisbury steak. “Why me? Why not any of the other usage goons in town?”

She looked around, as if she were about to tell a racist joke. She leaned in and whispered, “I hear you’re a man who knows when to use a discretionary hyphen.”

“Maybe I am, but I’ll be the one to tell you that.” I pulled a staple out of the palm of my hand, and stanched the blood flow with correction tape. I suspiciously eyed the folder, like little Arnold givin’ the third degree to Willis and his flapping gums. “What’s in it for me?”

“Don,” she breathlessly blurted, “you gotta help me! The client is breathin’ down my neck for some changes they made to the ad copy. This stuff is a nightmare: random capitalization, comma splices, interrupters within interrupters, slashed constructions–it’s enough to make you [sic].” She turned her head away in shame. “If they don’t get the corrections by five today, they’re gonna dangle my participles from a flagpole!”

I threw my glasses down on the desk, spilling rotgut whiskey out of them onto my mousepad. “Listen, sister, and listen good: if there’s one thing you need to know about Don Gerund, it’s that Don Gerund don’t stick his Strunk & White out for no one!”

And that’s when the water works hit. She turned those big baby blues on me, and the tears flooded her face like a toddler flushing a teddy bear down the commode. She was playing me like an un-tuned ukulele, fingering my board and making me fret.

Strung out, I picked up the job jacket, and looked at the printouts. Basic retail copy–most mugs would develop a facial tic if they saw this written train wreck. But, I’ve seen it all: up style on the down low, syntactical fit like a cheap suit, dependent clauses clinging to nonrestrictive enablers. I’ve seen redundant phrases that would choke a gagging horse. But for this wren, I decided to take the bullet point.

I put on my glasses, spilling hooch down my shirt. “Okay, Toots, listen up: take the marketing brief down to your coordinator’s cube, and tell that Project Coordinating goon, Gutman, that I can’t touch this thing without a digital job ticket or a style guide.” I closed the folder and handed it back to her with a wink. “That oughta buy you some time.”

She gave me a look, one that said she was so grateful, she’d do anything for me. Or, maybe she had gas from her lunch at that Mexican joint across the street. I never could read that dame.

As she walked away with the grace of a cat with wet feet, she looked over her shoulder and squawked back at me. “Hey, Gerund,” she said, “you’re a good man. I don’t care what the rest of ’em say.”

As she heeled it out of my cubical, I hoped she had the luck to not get nailed by a trigger-happy typesetter who’d pump her full of leading.

As for me, Don Gerund, Proofreading Investigator, I can’t afford to miscount the trumps.

If I don’t catch the typos, then the errorists win.

All photos and Photoshop illustrations courtesy of Allyson Brooks and the ever-delightful photographic talents of Don Rosenzweig.

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