As Cyclone Victor ravages East Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, a young woman lies panting and sweating heavily with the pains of labour. The wind howls through the trees that surround her rusty corrugated-iron shack on the outskirts of Houston and rain pounds incessantly against the old and cracked window beside her bed. Only a few metres from where she lies, small creatures run, hop and slither away from the floodwaters that race across the dirt yard, carving grooves in the loosely-packed dust. Lightning tears the sky and the tortured trees are illuminated briefly, waving their arms against the storm in impotent rage. The young woman gives an exhausted scream and her baby is finally free. She wraps it in a Charlie’s Angels travel blanket and slumps back on the bed, the child clutched to her chest. As her mother sleeps, Valerie savours her first view of the world, her eyes widening with each flash of lightning the storm serves up for her enjoyment. The very picture of innocent joy and wonderment, she isn’t startled at all when a corner of the broken pane above her is forced loose by the wind and flies over her onto the floor. She watches the wind pour through the opening and happily fill the room with its cargo of detritus. One gust brings a pile of shredded paper swirling into Valerie’s world, dancing down from the window to land and settle on her stomach. She stares down at the strange collection of torn photographs, advertisements and headlines, thrown together in a way their creators had never imagined, and feels her destiny click into place. Years pass and Valerie grows into a fine young lady. Apart from an incident involving a whimpering bully with a ragged ‘V’ slashed into the front of his favourite football jacket running for his life, she is pleasant and polite. She is well-liked and enjoys the respect of all who know her. Beneath the charming exterior she has a dark side, however – on stormy nights she becomes quiet and withdrawn, retreating to the attic of the dilapidated old mansion she shares with her parents, deep in the primal forests of East Texas. By the light of candles and flashes of lightning she sits, bent over an old desk she stole from an abandoned school, working feverishly. She deftly slices images from magazines, newspapers and obscure religious tracts, her hand moving the hobby knife it holds with such certainty that the knife seems to be an extension of her flesh. Swiftly and with a great sense of purpose, she amputates images from their native contexts and grafts them onto new hosts, dragging forth fantastic and sometimes nightmarish visions from the depths of her psyche. Pausing only to brush hair from her eyes and sharpen her blade, she labours through the night, building sometimes dozens of weird and wonderful collages, laying down her knife only when the sun’s rays break through the clouds to announce their victory over the storm. Denouncing greed and stupidity and cruelly attacking crass commercialism wherever it rears its ugly head, Valerie soon gains a reputation among a diverse range of counter-cultural communities spanning the length and breadth of America. From Zen-influenced bikers in Santa Cruz to punk rock nuns in Wyoming and the infamous “Hippie Militia” of rural Michigan, Valerie’s work is displayed defiantly wherever honest values are upheld and people share her concern that the American Dream just tastes a little too saccharine these days. Her wicked sense of humour is lost on most drones and their picket-fence families, but Valerie’s message is received loud and clear in the little pockets of sanity that dot the American landscape like beacons marking the beginnings of a smart new world. In these outposts her name is spoken with reverence and she is regarded as a hero. And a hero she is, forging a path through the bullshit of modern life like the floodwaters outside the room where she was born all those years ago, and helping to build a brighter future for us all. God bless her! The above article was written in 1998, several months before the now-infamous Valentine’s Day Collage Prank which seemed to threaten the very foundations of modern day capitalism and saw Valerie make the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, forcing her into hiding at the height of her popularity. As you will no doubt remember, on Valentine’s Day 1999, the largest prank in American history took place. In a breathtakingly well co-ordinated effort, millions of defaced dollar bills were dropped from aeroplanes all over the country, in over a hundred cities. The skilfully-forged bills bore an image of human buttocks where the face of George Washington would normally be, with a speech bubble reading “I’m only money, stop kissing my ass!” pasted beside it. The message was clear, and for a while the nation came perilously close to finally getting Valerie’s message en masse. President Gates was of course outraged, and ordered that “this filthy subversive be drawn and quartered for her crimes against decency and the American Way”. Hundreds of men in black suits were mobilised as the hunt for Valerie began. Simultaneously with the dollar-bill prank, a gang of hippies operating under Valerie’s instructions stormed the studios of Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club”, kidnapping 34 staff and moving them a secret location. As Valerie told Ricki Lake on live television from her secret hideout, her objective had been “to show Pat’s cards by taking away 34 of his staff and exposing the true face of The 666 Club”, which she claimed solicited outrageous sums from gullible believers and was “built on a base of greed that would make even President Gates gasp”. The President solemnly promised to do everything possible to “rescue those poor people and help out my good buddy Pat”. The hostages were eventually released, but although the FBI searched exhaustively for months and are no doubt searching still, Valerie was never captured. Robertson’s empire fell, as did Gates’ – it seems they were a lot more closely related than anyone guessed. Some say Valerie secreted herself in a cave under the Rockies, others that she lives in a camouflaged dome on the dark side of the moon, having traded a collage or two for a used Russian spacecraft which she flew herself. The truth of this may never be known, but what is known is that she’s still building the collages that made her a legend, transmitting them to us via a man known only as “Elvis H Christ”, himself the stuff legends are made of. We can only hope that Valerie’s true location is never revealed. She must remain safe if hope is to stay alive in this increasingly selfish and uncaring world. We raise our glasses to you, Valerie – you truly are the Greatest American Hero!