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The Essay
Show #184
The Great Inoculator
David Gunn

Wilder Panguitch began adult life in the early 20th century as a black and bluesmith, retrofitting iron horses with diesel shoes and titanium jerkins. Railroad administrators soon noted his above average work ethic and offered him a middle management employmental opportunity, conditional on the successful completion of an on-the-train apprenticeship. His job was to monitor the squeak quotient of each railroad car's wheels while the train was in motion. Railway scientists made it clear that the faster the wheels turned, the more accurate the readings would be. Wilder was assigned to ride the Klegmore Limited, a sleek passenger train that connected Florida's west coast with the remote haunts of the Northwest Territories. Hanging on to a jouncing railcar truck frame at 70 mph while scribbling observations into a loose-leaf notebook wasn't so bad in the balmy Gulf of Mexico sunshine, but when the train made that last nauseating 360 degree reverse turn into the caldera that served as a geological redoubt to Tuktoyatuk on Canada's northwesternmost shores, and the wind chill dipped to -360 Celsius, Wilder occasionally questioned his job satisfaction.

On the third trek into the bone-chilling hinterlands, a new conductor came on board. His name was Starling and, except for his translucent hair, he rather resembled the bird. Even though he was rail thin to the point of being visible on only two planes, he was given a wide berth by the train crew. Wilder, however, took an instant liking to him, possibly because he noticed that the conductor carried a squeakomometer that accurately measured wheel noises by remote control. After a week of gentle imploring, Starling gave Wilder the device, admitting that he had used it years ago to survive a similar training gauntlet. The two of them became fast trainmates and Wilder began to spend his free time in the caboose, where the conductor taught him the obfuscatingly obscure half-rules of whiskers six-draw. They were immersed in attempting to demystify the Second Factor of the Pontoon Maneuver late one day when the train pulled into the Fort Pangolin railway station and picked up a fare whose travel papers identified him only as The Great Inoculator. Indeed, he carried a valese full of hypodermic syringes, needles and pipettes in all of the fashionable sizes. According to Canadian myth, he had once interned at Saint Salmon's Hospital, but his propensity for injecting experimental fluids into the morgue's cadavers and their attendants eventually got him drummed out of the medical community and later into a sordid life as spokespercussionist for Poltroon Poultry Basters.

As the train pulled out of the station, the wheels on the dining car's rear truck suddenly stopped turning, causing the car and its trenchermanly inhabitants to effect a slow motion railspin. The squeakomometer shrieked an alarm, and Wilder and Starling raced to the dining car, which was beginning to buck and buckle, tearing at the very fabric of the space-time contrainium. Neither knew what repairs to make, having been trained only in the assessment of squealy wheels. The stuck truck ululated its displeasure, and the car tilted queasily sideways, tossings its mortal contents about like so many overwrought blancmanges.

Just when it looked like the whole train would topple from the tracks into the Fornax Sea with dire consequences, the Great Inoculator appeared, uncorked a 55-gallon syringe, and jammed it into the wheel housing, squeezing fluidic material into the encrusted innards. Instantly, the rusted wheels turned into glassy, rolling rocks, the bucking and shrieking became a lilting trio from a Mahler march, and the entire car gently righted itself upon the tracks -- having undergone, if you will, a kind of trainsubstantiation -- and the iron vehicle proceeded on to its northwesternmost destination, once again blissfully ignorant of any railway discombobulations.

Alas, this 184th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is likewise blissfully ignorant of any coherent program theme or incipient flambeau flaring. Thus your obedient reader is justifiably relieved to contractually be able to hand the microphone over to Kalvos.