Scenes From Our Unproduced Screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

MBDDETO EC004

EXT. CITY ALLEYWAY. NIGHT.
Police tape marks the scene. Red and blue lights flash. A young, nervous-looking BEAT COP sees STRUNK and WHITE approaching.

BEAT COP
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

STRUNK
Use the active voice, rookie.

BEAT COP
Oh god, it’s horrible. I feel nauseous.

STRUNK
Unless you mean you’re sickening to contemplate, you mean “nauseated.” Now get out of  my crime scene before you puke all over it.

WHITE (inspecting the body)
It’s definitely our guy, Strunk.

STRUNK
The Crossword Killer?

WHITE
Yeah. And look, he’s getting more confident. This time, he used a pen.

INT. POLICE STATION, POLICE CHIEF’S OFFICE. DAY
The POLICE CHIEF, an older man with his pants perilously slung below a heavy beer belly, yanks open his office door.

POLICE CHIEF
Strunk! White! Get your asses in here!

STRUNK and WHITE enter, shooting sidelong glances at each other. Before they can sit, the COMMISSIONER flings a newspaper at them; WHITE clumsily catches it.

POLICE CHIEF
Look at this disaster!

WHITE (reading the headlines)
“Police Not Effective as Campus Stalked by Crossword Killer, Student Body in Terror.” Oh, Christ, what a mess.

STRUNK
Indeed.

POLICE CHIEF
You’re damn right it is! I just got off the phone with the mayor, and let me tell you, she is not happy!

STRUNK
I can see why. An evasive denial rather than a definite assertion, the passive voice — haven’t the copy writers even taken basic composition? And that gruesome phrase, “student body”! My god! “Studentry” is a much more elegant term! Or simply “students.”

POLICE CHIEF
I’m not talking about the goddamn grammar, I’m talking about this investigation! If you two don’t make an arrest soon, I’ll have your asses in a sling!

WHITE
Don’t you mean “slings,” Chief? I mean, if asses is plural–

POLICE CHIEF
Get the hell outta my office!

INT. DINER. NIGHT.
Rain trickles down the plate glass windows of the seedy diner. WHITE idly spins his lucky blue pencil on the tabletop as he talks. STRUNK listens, sipping coffee.

WHITE
It was my first month on the job, you know? I was young. I thought I could make a difference. And then we got the call…some kids had been screwing around on an overpass, smoking weed, spraying graffiti. This one kid — he couldn’t have been more than 13 — he was dangling way over the edge, trying to write “NYPD SUCKS ITS OWN DICK.” At least, that’s what his friends said he was going to write. He only made it as far as the “its.” He was reaching, trying to add an apostrophe, when he fell. The kid…his mother said he wanted to go to culinary school. Traffic was heavy that night. Lots of trucks. That damn, unnecessary apostrophe. By the time they scraped him off the highway,             there was barely enough left of him to fill a shoebox.

WHITE begins to sob quietly. STRUNK hesitates, then reaches out and takes WHITE’S hand, stopping the movement of the pencil.

STRUNK
It’s okay. It’s okay, partner. Next time you could omit needless words, but it’s okay.

EXT. ROOFTOP. NIGHT.
The CROSSWORD KILLER holds both WHITE and PRISCILLA at gunpoint at the ledge, while STRUNK holds his own gun on the KILLER, uncertain whether to shoot. WHITE, barely on his feet, presses his hand to a wound in his side.

CROSSWORD KILLER
What’s it gonna be, Strunk? If you shoot me, I’ll still be able to kill one of them! You can’t save them both!  So what’ll it be — your partner, five letters, Walter _____ of Breaking Bad?  Or your recently reconciled ex-wife, nine letters, beloved of Miles Standish? Who do you  choose? Who?

STRUNK (coldly)
It’s “whom,” motherfucker.

STRUNK fires between the KILLER’S eyes. He tumbles off the rooftop, screaming. STRUNK rushes to WHITE and PRISCILLA. She embraces him, sobbing, while STRUNK helps WHITE to his feet. WHITE grasps STRUNK’S hand forcibly.

WHITE
Thanks, partner. Standing on that ledge, staring into those crazy eyes, life never seemed so   precious.

STRUNK
Dangling participle, partner.

WHITE
I’m getting too old for this.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

collaborated on this piece. Gray's humor writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Toast, and elsewhere. She is also the author of two books of poetry, and teaches at Alfred University. Dawson is the author of two books of poetry and teaches at the University of Tampa.

10 comments:

  1. “Whom” is such a useless motherfucker I wish it would run away and die forever. Sorry for the unnecessary extra and extraneous words. And the missing comma. And the redundant sentence structure. Hey, I’m new at this.

  2. “He’s getting more confident, this time he’s used a pen.” Oh god, dying laughing. Au nothing like a little comic relief at the end of a long day. So funny!

  3. Sure, get rid of “whom,” but why stop there? Let’s jettison all the objective pronouns — you know, those useless words “me,” “him,” “her,” “us,” and “them.” Sound good to you, Bill Morris? I’m taking your position on “whom” to its logical conclusion.

  4. “He’s getting more confident, this time he’s used a pen.”
    Shouldn’t that comma be replaced by a period or semicolon, since it’s an independent clause?

  5. If someone is shot between the eyes, they don’t fall screaming. They fall dead.

    That wasn’t the passive voice in the newspaper headline.

    And aside from the awfulness of choosing those two, one well-meaning and the other a pompous blowhard offering his fetishes as truth, it was kinda funny.

    Keep writing. But not about S&W.

  6. Joe, “Campus Stalked by Crossword Killer” is passive voice. Active would be “Crossword Killer Stalks Campus.”

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