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The Essay
Show #331
David Gunn

Beano Bengaze sat in aisle seat #12 in the gleaming titanium Bismuth Brothers tour bus watching intently as the vehicle approached Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. He still clutched the drop down table tightly because the bus had just navigated six harrowing miles of the Strait of Magellan on the strength of a steam-powered propeller and eight Kevlar-reinforced waterwings. No matter the bus was a wonder of motoring technology, the waterway's vicious tidal rips nearly capsized it twice, and Beano had to call in favors from Weasel Slayer, his incorporeal warrior crony, to keep it upright. Now, with landfall mere minutes away and his anxiety at last abating, he reviewed the circumstances that brought him to southernmost South America.

It began with an offhand remark by Donald Rumsfeld. At a recent White House game of ping prawn -- that's table tennis using cocktail shrimp instead of plastic balls -- the former US Defense Secretary harrumphed that "terrorists do not function in a vacuum; they don't live in Antarctica. They work, train and plan in countries." From all too much experience, Beano knew that Rumsfeld's view was most likely dead wrong -- which is why the shaman soon thereafter recontextualzed his job description so he would be Defense Secretary in name only.

Immediately, he mobilized a task force to investigate Antarctic skullduggery; within 24 hours, he had received enough intelligence to hop an Aeroflot to Punta Arenas, Chile. Disguised as an existentialist, Beano had no trouble blending in with the expat crowd in the Bismuth Café -- no relation to the tour bus company. Likewise, he had no difficulty identifying the operative who freelanced for the Office of Homeland Security. "Heather," as the nametag covertly identified her, said she had observed abnormal, terrorist-like activities on the Antarctic Hook, a peninsula that lay 500 miles to the south. In spite of the intensive grill-cheesing he gave her, she refused to provide details until OHS ponied up better health benefits for part-time employees.

Beano was momentarily awakened from his reverie by the woman in window seat #13 next to him rooting around in her purse. She withdrew a spatula, a small Bunsen burner and a pair of vise grips. As she utilized these tools to apply a layer of orange ocher makeup to her neck and jowls, he gradually became aroused. He studied her. With her closely cropped facial lawn and trifurcated nose, she was not attractive in a pulchritudinous sense, yet he nevertheless found himself drawn to her like a refrigerator magnet to a steel wool factory. He felt himself being sucked into her very essence -- and that's when his shaman security training kicked in. The word "sucked" triggered a memory of a humiliating encounter with a succubus. It was 1958; he was young and impressionable and in New York City for the first time; the woman was so sultry as to be hot to the touch. And the fact that gravity seemed to have no effect on her smock was especially alluring. He was ready to pursue her to the ends of the earth when Weasel Slayer showed up to expose her for the demon that she truly was. Beano glanced away from window seat #13, cleared his mind, then looked back. The "woman" -- now a shrouded ghoul with glowing embers where her eyes used to be -- was reaching out to him with skeletal arms, draining his anima. He barely had enough resolve to deploy his nose torpedo ... but he did, and the lethal response surely saved his life.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: now he was stuck in the bureaucratic morass of trying to exchange health benefits for information vital to national security. He had a good mind to just fire his nose torpedo again and do the research himself. How hard could it be? A quick -- though indeed perilous -- 500 mile bus ride across the Drake Passage to Antarctica, a couple of days' surveillance among the penguin rookeries, a day of clandestine R&R at the Antarctic Suntan Foundation. Within a week, he should have a clear idea of what, if any, "abnormal, terrorist-like activities" there were where Rumsfeld said there weren't.

"Heather" was talking again. Perhaps because she sensed Beano's annoyance to her demands and that his nose was loaded, she had turned suddenly quite chatty. Beginning with a review of the best restaurants in Punta Arenas, she gradually worked up to the subject for which Beano had accumulated so many frequent bus miles to hear. She lowered her voice, glanced uneasily around the room, drew a deep breath and leaned close to him. A week ago, while exploring the Antarctic Hook, she had seen a large cluster of noses there exhibiting ambulatory and cognitive properties. No, she wasn’t drunk. She had proof. She pulled from her jacket pocket a small photo album, opened it, and pushed it in front of Beano. There were pictures of noses moving in formation, noses levitating, noses in obvious combat and noses -- and this was the one that sent a chill through him -- feeding.

A second, icier chill followed when he realized that he'd seen some of these images before. It had been so long ago that he'd disremembered it, much as he hoped our listening audients had forgotten. It was part of a wholly enigmatic story full of insupportable premises and plot decay that began in December 1999 with a visit to a Saskatoonian cabin. And now, 91 episodes later -- that's number 331 of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, for those of you keeping track -- it threatens to reprise its convolutions and bring down the Office of Homeland Security in the process, a process abetted by the forthwith application of musical tidbits by Kalvos.