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2000 A.D.


Video Clip (1)


Laughin' Boy Appears in Your Living Room

It was on TV, of course. Everything here at the turn of the century is on TV. Celebrity murder trials, fat-free enchiladas, trailer-trash trollops, animated ducks, bobsled wrecks, Bryant Gumbel—and the bloody convulsion that was the birth of Laughin' Boy.

According to the print media, it happened in Wichita, Kansas on Saturday, May 20, 2000 A.D. at 4:17 P.M. Central Daylight Time. But
in virtual and video truth, it happened everywhere and at every time,
because everyone everywhere watched it happen on CNN, ABC, MTV, ACTIONNEWS.COM, and ten thousand other electronic outlets over and over again. And then they bought, rented, borrowed, stole, and/or downloaded it so they could watch it some more.

But no matter how many times they've seen it, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing as they saw their first replay. They remember that initial viewing with a glassy digital clarity that makes it seem as if it's happening still.

And somewhere, on somebody's monitor, it is:

Smoke from the incendiary grenades blots the blue-sky background. Shredded carnival-game and food-vending booths burn orange and black, as does the abandoned bandstand. Torsos and limbs twitch like dissected frogs alongside the green riverbank of the Little Arkansas. Here and there the jerking camera finds a face ripped or obliterated from bullets or shrapnel. The shrieks of sirens begin to mingle with the cries of the injured and dying. A dog yipes incessantly.

Among the dying is the man operating the camcorder. He is a retired dentist named Arnold Steck. TV news crews will soon record the surrounding horror from more professional angles—but this video is the one we'll all remember.

The view is upward from the spattered grass of South Riverside Park, so everything looks towering and immense. It's an amazing job, especially considering that Arnold Steck has been hit in the chest and will drown in blood before the tape runs out. The picture quality actually improves as he approaches death. The jerking stops, and the focus sharpens. It is as if Dr. Steck becomes determined, at the end, to leave a good piece of tape as his legacy. Or perhaps it's that the camcorder's autofocus programming takes over as Dr. Steck fades away.

The camera pans over the carnage, then stops and focuses on a kneeling figure who looms like a giant in the center of the frame, perhaps ten feet away. The figure is a shuddering man.

The frame shrinks around this man as the camera zooms in. And then, paradoxically, we see him not as a giant, but as a slender Caucasian. His brown hair is mussed, and it gleams wetly. His age is difficult to guess because his hands are pressed to his face.

And although we can't be sure just yet, he appears unharmed. Given all else that we've just seen, it's difficult to imagine how he could have avoided injury . . . unless he was one of the perpetrators of the crime.

But we've had a glimpse of them as they fled the scene, and they all wore camouflage fatigues and black hoods. This man is wearing blue jeans and a plain white shirt.

He is not one of the perpetrators. He came to the park to hear the blues bands, as did all the other innocent victims. We see now that his shirt is speckled with red, and so are his hands. The gleam in his hair is blood, too.

He kneels there with his hands pressed to his face, and his body shakes. Perhaps shrapnel has caught him in the eyes.

But there doesn't seem to be enough blood for that. So perhaps, instead, he is weeping at the tragedy. He may even be in hysterics. This would only make sense, because he's seen the same horrible things that we have. And he's had to see them without the twin buffers of television and time.

Then his hands fly away from his face, and he begins rocking back and forth and slapping the ground. And his face, an ordinary adult-male, Midwestern face, is unharmed. His eyes are fine. He is near the center of the field of fire, but has miraculously escaped the sprays of flame and metal that killed or maimed all the others.

His features are streaked with blood, but none of it is his. Men, women, and children have blown apart around him like water balloons, and this is the result. Even seeing the red speckles on his shirt and hands hasn't prepared us for what this foreign blood looks like on his face. It is unnatural and hideous. It would look better if any of it had come from a wound of his own.

That isn't what shocks and enrages us, though.

What shocks and enrages us are the happy bleats coming from his open mouth. What shocks and enrages us are the curves of his cheek muscles and the light flashing from his white teeth and aqua eyes.

What shocks and enrages us is the sudden sure knowledge that he is neither weeping nor in hysterics. There is no grief, horror, or insanity in what he does.

He is, purely and simply, laughing his ass off.



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