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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #294
Bob and Alice
David Gunn

While the German passenger airship Hindenburg was refuting its flame-retardant advertising copy above the Lakehurst, New Jersey, Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937, American composer Henry Kimball Hadley was 77 miles away at the New York Public Library hard at work on a sequel to his hit opera of 1918, "Cleopatra's Night." Whereas everything till now had gone swimmingly in "Cleopatra's Nightie" -- the melodies were perky yet pointillistic, the drama dark but droll, the copyist's carpal tunnel syndrome still tolerable -- Hadley was now faced with a punctuation peculiarity that his librettist, Alice Pollock, had stuck in one of the arias. She had insisted that "Somewhere in the Distance, a Dog Barked" be filled with caesuras, or pauses, so it would sound conversational. Hadley, however, wanted the aria to be a coloratura vehicle for an up-and-coming soprano from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, known only as Wingate. In the end, as usual, the composer acquiesced to the librettist, and now Hadley was struggling mightily to make the concept work -- too mightily, as it turned out, because at that moment he anthropomorphized the caesura problem and sank into a comma from which he never recovered ... except for a brief moment four months later when he woke up and promptly died.

Alice Pollock was understandably saddened, and not a little guilt-ridden. So, three years later when she became pregnant by ornithologist Bob "Bobolink" Blackmoor, she petitioned to name their child after the late composer. But Bobolink had an agenda, too. Before settling into the comparatively staid profession of birdology, Blackmoor had raised racing botflies in Belize. In Belmopan, the country's capital, in the early '40s, botfly races were second in gaming popularity only to piranha nosing, a sport introduced by the local cosmetic surgery trade, who profited handsomely from it. By the time he was 30, Blackmoor had amassed a small fortune (i.e., it consisted of tiny coins that all fit inside of a breadbox, and a small one at that). He was living high on the hog until the day he discovered abscessed boillike swellings, or warbles, all over the hog's back, a result of his botflies' parasitic larvas' place in the food chain -- a half inch beneath the aforementioned hog's back. While still repulsed, he renounced his gambling pursuits and devoted himself to studying things that warbled, since he still felt remorse for having contributed to the infection of dozens of Belizian swine and the consequent Mad Hog Disease Epidemic of 1944. The only school that offered a degree program in "things that warbled" was the University of Hummock-on-Smythe's ornithology institute in southwesternmost Lincolnshire. Blackmoor matriculated there, studied diligently, and later met Alice, a young libretticist from the Caucasus Mountains of eastern Armenia, who he ultimately got to know both socially and in the biblical sense.

In the end, as usual, the ornithologist's wishes prevailed and, on August 16, 1945, there was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, not far from the Eli Lily Antacid Proving Ground, Warbler Hadley Blackmoor, future Professor Emesis of Calamitology at the very same U of H-on-S. Warbler had a congenital abscess on his dorsal fin and occasionally made those little off-in-the-distance dog bark sounds, but otherwise he was a perfectly normal infant. He also was born with a schnozzle like a storefront awning, but an eager young cosmetic surgeon appeared seemingly from nowhere and offered to prune the youngster's nostrilry at no charge. Bob and Alice readily agreed, and only had to arrange transit to the clinic: the Charles S. Kinkajoul Nosalectorium in Saskatoon.

As I lie there on the tunnel floor, this information progresses through my consciousness like a chainsaw through a lime Jello mold spore. Even if I wanted to move -- which I do; my nose has begun to itch like crazy -- I couldn't. But that has more to do with my depleted energy than any interest in a story told in the third person pluperfect. Through sheer willpower, I am able to force my left hand to reach up and scratch my nose, but the ensuing twanging sound reminds me of an old LP, Balalaikas on Broadway, and I again slump down along the Enervation Highway.

Warbler was only four years old when the operation took place, too young to remember the appalling cutting, copying and pasting that passed for surgery, but old enough to retain hypnotic suggestions imprinted on his mind by sentient noses who once vacationed along the Sarstoon River in southern Belize. Huddled together in the rear of the clinic, those noses -- a noddy of 'em -- implanted one mesmerizing word into Warbler’s subconscious: calamity. Twenty-four years later, the word woke up.

Waking up is what I frankly hope one of the constituents of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is about to do because, otherwise, this 294th episode may be in for a long afternoon of Floozie Music, a genre not often heard during this two-hour time slot, and a genre that, yes!, will once again be eschewed at all cost by Kalvos.