RANGE: Classes, lectures, seminars, discussion groups, conventions, pulpits, meetings, rallies, briefings, press conferences, speeches, sales presentations, readings, awards ceremonies, banquets, show-and-tell . . . anywhere, anytime anyone has the opportunity to blow into a microphone and ask, at deafening volume, “Is this on?”
HABITS: The Jack O’Lectern is tinier than an on-off switch, and wicked as a feed-back scream. He first enchants his victims into believing falsely that they have something to say, as he dangles from a mike, smiling, beckoning. They approach him. Behind their glazed eyes are the visions he conjures: applause, fame, fans, enemies refuted, causes justified, stardom, groupies, the Nobel Prize. . . . And as his victims gaze out, humble yet proud, coldly intelligent yet compassionate, into the waiting faces of their audience, he quickly scrambles their notes, inserts their slides upside down, scrawls obscenities on the blackboard and hides the eraser, and then makes them suddenly and profoundly aware that they have to go to the bathroom. Jack’s tactics are various. During a Presidential debate, he has been known to pull the plug on the sound system, or whisper into a speaker’s ear that Iberia is a state in the midwest. At a college commencement exercise, he might have the valedictorian address Doctor Pinkham, the Rector, as “Doctor Pinker, the Rectum.” When you stand to share your views with the P.T.A., he simply does down your fly.
HISTORY: This saboteur of elocution is related, as you might have guessed, to another pumpkin-headed English hobgoblin, Jack O’Lantern, but our Jack specializes in Gab Hob-blin’. He is not a “solitary fairy,” but a gregarious sort, who prefers to team up with fellow sprites in his pranks. He employs Typographical Terrors to insert humiliating bloopers into the Teleprompter, and Energenii to wreak havoc with the public address system. Stylus Devils frequently assist him in scrambling the audio-aids, while Freudian Sylphs entice embarrassing double entendres from the speaker’s lips.
SPOTTER’S TIPS: Wherever there is an easel holding simple charts and graphs, or rows of folding chairs, or plates of untouched chicken a la king being cleared as a gavel bangs—the Jack O’Lectern is waiting, and grinning, in the wings.