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FIRST PERSON

Viral this!

I was just joking about `Pirates of the Caribbean.' Verbinski adores pirates. Now, let me off this plank.

May 26, 2007|Berkeley Breathed | Special to The Times

LAST week I sat at a Keebler Elf-size table tucked in the back of a tiny, hot, sweaty children's bookstore somewhere in the Midwest signing a copy of my newest picture book for a suspicious teenager. Suspicious precisely because he was a teenager. Teenagers are at the rock bottom of the target demographics for children's books -- next to suicide bombers -- and I should have had the security people at Teeny Tots Tattle Tale Books throw him out then and there.

"Hey, I heard you're developing a couple of your books at Disney," the teen in the Yoda shirt said.

"Yep," I replied, thankful that he wasn't planning to lick my hand with a microbey tongue, as the fan before him had. My fans are 3 years old.

"I hear you're working with Gore Verbinski," the teen continued, leaning in close.

Gore Verbinski is the wunderkind director behind all the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, the last one of the trilogy due to be released a week hence at that point. The two previous movies grossed $509,062,405,938. Months ago, Mr. Verbinski and I had briefly discussed working together on a project.

The teen asked, "Hey, what do you think of Gore, dude?"

It's here, distracted and on the lookout for finger lickers and projectile barfing, that I said something for comic effect that I shouldn't have. I could have said, "I think Gore snorts the ashes of his dead father."

Or even "Verbinski: cross-dressing macaca!"

Instead I said the following: "He's sick of pirates."

This was meant to be ironic. Truly, he loves pirates like he loves puppies. I can promise you he loves them like Steven Spielberg loved blue-eyed space aliens in 1982. Something akin to passion.

But he never told me that he's "sick of pirates." Still, I said it, because it's hilariously absurd and I felt it would lighten the mood of the Teeny Tots Tattle Tale Bookstore, 102 degrees and thick with toddler Ebola.

The teen smiled a sort of Yoda "I've Got the Force" smirk and walked off. The room suddenly chilled and grew dark, the door swinging open with a cold wind blowing in from the misty Indiana moors just beyond the Payless Shoes.

Before SmirkingBoy had even left the store, he'd uploaded my "Gore is sick of pirates" quote to his weaselly amateur entertainment blog. Forty-five minutes later, as I was driving to my hotel, I received my first call. It was my agent from CAA, Guido "Shmooz 'em" Shablooky (not his real name). He's also -- and this is the funny, crying part -- Gore Verbinski's agent.

"Hi, Berke. Gore isn't sick of pirates," said Guido, trying to sound calm.

"Guido," I asked, "how'd you know I made that hilariously absurd joke?" Those were the last naive words I ever spoke as a World Wide Web innocent. I figured maybe Guido had been hiding at the store, but he was at his usual hot mud 'n' vodka bath in Palm Springs surfing the Net on his BlackBerry. My pirate quote was spreading exponentially throughout the world like that multiplying bug in "The Andromeda Strain."

I'd been viraled.

By the next morning, it was the source of headlines at dozens of sites, among them AOL Entertainment Online, MSNBC, CNN and probably PORN O' COPIA!.COM. They all read something like "VERBINSKI SURPRISES ON EVE OF PREMIERE: 'HE HATES PIRATES.' "

By the end of the week, the blogger's villainous plan had reached its triumphant conclusion as the quote figured prominently in the Holy Bible. Yes, Variety.

And Gore Verbinski, the biggest pirate lover in history, was facing Japanese press at the opening of the biggest pirate movie in history, all asking him why he hates pirates. He must have felt like Jacques Cousteau being asked why he hates getting wet.

I wasn't the only one hit by ambitious pimpled bloggers that week. Somebody posted somewhere that Apple Computer was delaying the launch of its heralded iPhone by several months. This went viral and within minutes ... minutes! ... Apple stock had dropped 3%. This nugget of hooey translated to a valuation loss of -- I'm not being hilariously absurd -- $4 billion.

That, by the way, was probably the budget for "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," and I figured this number probably came to mind for Disney Pirate chieftain Dick "Keel-Haulin' " Cook as he sat in his Burbank cabin reading the edition of Variety with my quote squatting naked on the front page. I pictured him doing a spit take, his fake eyeball popping out into his morning grog.

I called Gore Verbinski to apologize a few days ago. He did something completely uncharacteristic of the business that he currently sits atop: He tapped a shockingly non-pirate heart and let me off my own cutlass with a laugh. I worry for that boy.

Somewhere in the bowels of the bloggers union they are cheering. And scheming. And waiting to emerge yet again, like the aliens in Spielberg's "War of the Worlds," crawling forth to destroy everything that is good and sweet and pure. Me.

I am writing this from a darkened room at an undisclosed location, while I await my final reckoning by Capt'n Cook's bloodthirsty crew of vein-chewing cutthroats (Disney Legal Affairs) avenging that teeny tiny jest made at the Teeny Tots Tattle Tale Bookstore. I reach out to all of you with a warning: They destroyed George Allen. They nailed the Dixie Chicks. Dan Rather. Don Imus. That poor fat kid in the "Star Wars" video with the lightsaber. They're gunning for all the presidential candidates (OK!) and they will not stop there.

Do not ask for whom the blogosphere bell tolls. It tolls for all of you, dudes.

Off the record, Sam Raimi is sick, sick of spiders. Don't quote me.

Berkeley Breathed is a screenwriter, children's author and Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the "Bloom County" and "Opus" comic strips.

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