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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #160
Cooties
David Gunn

News item: On the front page of the Volume 55 Number 3 issue of News Of Norway is an unretouched photograph of an alien Parolean. The caption cavalierly describes it, however, as "Cooties, the mascot of the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, DC, which sits by the entrance and greets all visitors." Besides being an horrific adult board game of cheating, conspiracy, and cannibalism, Cooties is a slang term for body lice. Could we have a more representative animal for a children's museum mascot?

That depends, of course, on the museum. The Underground Nuclear Testing Program Monument in Landini, New Mexico was designed by the Department of Defense as a tribute to subterranean atomic bomb explosion and analysis. Acres of charred landscape, much of it littered with thousands of irradiated peccaries, form an evocative counterpoint to the countless glowing pieces of shrapnel plucked from the White Sands suburbs. The Monument's children's wing features an unsupervised hands-on playroom with advanced tactical nuclear weapons especially designed for little hands to wield. In the center of the display, standing proud and contorted, is Mr. Half-Life, a grinning subatomic particle pockmarked by radiation poisoning but, as he eagerly says whenever a visitor yanks his ear, "willing to sacrifice half a life for the betterment of mankind through fusion energy."

The Museum of Science Experiments Gone Awry in Dekalb, New York soberly exposes laboratory research failures of the 20th century, including Ramona, the Randy Robot, the less said about, the better; IBM's Superabacus 300, an early analog computer that needed no electricity, but did require several thousand parallel rods strung with movable counters for each calculation involving more than four integers; and Bell Telephone's attempt to hard-wire the voice and conscience of Dr. Frank Baxter into automatic teller machines. The animatronic figure which peers out over the children's section is a likeness of the Greek god, Pan. Nicknamed Buzz, it has the head of a filing cabinet, the dubious torso of a weasel, and the barbed extremities of a chainsaw. If this, too, was a frightfully bungled science project, no one is saying.

Sitting unassumingly at 1818 Blount Street in Standish, New Hampshire, is the Memorial to Serialism, the house where Arnold Schonberg purportedly devised his 12-tone system to enable Third Reich spies to pass secret compositional information to German musicians. While the few displays are poorly lighted, hard to decipher, and lack even cursory corroboration, the memorial does boast an excellent gift shop. The most popular souvenir among visiting music students is a lunchbox imprinted with the image of Aten Atonality, the wizened old rowmeister of Nadia Boulanger's School of Musical Gymnastics. It was he, of course, who, in 1929 in Battle Creek, Michigan, taught the serial system to Arnold, Alban and Anton. That's why in the bottom right corner of each of their manuscripts, you'll see a little "K" icon, their homage to the Kellogg's Corporation, which secretly underwrote their atonal compositions for years.

And ever radio station WGDR, home of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, including but not limited to this 160th episode, has its own children's museum secreted deep within the murky recesses of Studio Z. There, visiting youngsters can test the limits of free speech in America by broadcasting questionable language and subversive ideas not tolerated on your more mundane, middle of the road stations. And, yes, we have a mascot, too. While the less broad-minded in the community acerbically refer to this spunky broadcaster with the VU-meter eyes, aluminum foil wit, and 8,000 watt garniture as le flambeau oriange, his real name, celebrated in song and cyberspace, too, is Kalvos.