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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #363
The Titanium Gherkin
David Gunn

Every May for the last century and a quarter, thousands of people from all over the world have descended upon a small but electric cantina in one of the more backwater sectors of Lourdes, Iowa. The normally sleepy town--effluvia from its barbiturate manufacturing plant tend to blanket the community for weeks on end--frequently awakens to a population swollen to six digits. Even to the eye without a personal trainer, these visitants share one distinct characteristic: each wears a cucumber hat. Green, cylindrical, and smelling faintly of titanium, the hats squeak like a plush vegetable toy with sinusitis when squeezed. And squeezed they are often by these six swollen digited visitors, because it is part of the ritual of pilgrimage they’re making. The focus of the journey inhabits a solution of brine, vinegar and theobromine. Like the hats, it is green and cylindrical and smells faintly of sinusitis. It is, as a flashing nine-foot high neon sign atop the cantina proudly proclaims, le Cornichon Titanique--The Titanium Gherkin.

The Titanium Gherkin began life as an ordinary fruit of West Indian lineage on a farm on the south side of Lourdes in 1870. Like its forebears, it was destined for the pickling pot, until a freak accident changed both the course of history and the Little Turkey River, which flowed nearby. The gherkin, only an hour removed from the field in which it had been harvested, lay in a wicker basket on the front porch of Beliza and Beano Bumpkins' farm. Suddenly, from out of a cloudless sky, a bolt of heat lightning struck the basket with what could only be described as pinpoint accuracy. Nothing surrounding the basket (save the aforementioned river, which will be discussed later) was harmed or even touched, however the contents were incinerated--except for one gherkin. Its glossy, green vegetable rind had turned to titanium and a low, bewildered hum issued from its stem, but otherwise it seemed unfazed by the colossal electrical discharge it had brooked. But then Bernadette Soubrette, the Bumpkins’ saucy French maid, approached the basket, and the gherkin, in a tone that evoked long-forgotten fogdog bacchanalia, spoke to her. "Mm mmm mmmaculum commmalart," it said. As if she were merely conversing with the local ambergris salesman, she calmly said "Could you repeat that?" And the gherkin complied. "Mmy my I am mam the am im immac mac the immaculam acu aculate am immaculate cep concep too conceptual am mmart art ... I am the immaculate conceptual art."

Bernadette knew that 12 years earlier, in another Lourdes halfway around the earth, a similar phenomenon had transformed a small, dull teenager into a religious cottage industry. The fact that they shared the same name convinced her that she was destined for something far greater than maiding. She needed more information.

"What's conceptual art?" she asked the gherkin. But the prickly vine, fagged out from its vocabularial exertion, had fainted. Bernadette then did something that would be repeated thousands of times by gherkin devotees--she squeezed it. It squeaked, molted its titanium shell, and said, "I am the immaculate conceptual art." Beliza and Beano, peering from out of the shelter of the oubliette, were beginning to show interest in the green squeaker, so Bernadette plucked the gherkin from its charred brethren, pocketed it, and absquatulated.

For six months, she played the Iowa state fair circuit, trying to be a conceptual artist--that is, she would talk at length about her art as process, but never really produce anything. Attention to her propositional concepts invariably flagged, and she was forced to whip out and squeeze the gherkin to keep the audiences entertained. Sometimes, she allowed members of the crowd to squeeze it, and they invariably left radiating expressions of rapture, while their hands radiated titanium tricarbide. At last, she had to admit that Iowa at least was not ready for art-as-concept, and probably wouldn't be for a hundred years, a prediction of remarkable accuracy.

Bernadette moved into a cantina a couple of miles from the Bumpkins' farm, intending to settle back into a life of simple sauciness. However, word of the conversant gherkin spread, and visitors began showing up on her doorstep. Initially, she let them squeeze it for free, but demand was so great that she decided to capitalize on her unique supply. A penny a squeeze soon evolved into two for a nickel, then four squeezes for a quarter. The money poured in. To better display her increasingly valuable vegetable, Bernadette built a small, cylindrical tub out of titanium molt--a precursor to PVC tubing--filled it with a preservative solution of brine, vinegar and theobromine, and placed the gherkin therein.

The crowds flocked in even greater numbers. But as Bernadette's fortune waxed, so the gherkin's luster waned. The incessant fondling depleted its titanium and reduced its squeak to a hoarse rasp. Fearful of losing her meal ticket, she hired consulting magnate J.D. Rockefeller to oversee operations. He immediately curtailed the gherkin's public appearances but supplemented them with gherkin-themed products. He peddled bobble-head gherkins, snow globe gherkins, gherkins-on-velvet, titanium gherkin lunchboxes filled with gherkin potpies, Mr. Gherkinhead (a concept pilfered years later by Mr. Potato Head), edible undergarments made from dried gherkin rinds, and, of course, the ubiquitous green cucumber squeak hats. Later came Il Cetriolino di Titanio, an amusement park full of gherkin-themed rides, and El Pepinillo, a restaurant whose single-entree menu eventually led to the fast food concept of today.

The strategy worked. The gherkin recovered its gloss and timbre, Bernadette grew old and rich, J.D. found oil, Lourdes, Iowa became a destination for thousands of cucumophiles, and today's 363rd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar had a theme around which to fashion an essay, albeit a skeptical one, as may soon be confirmed by Kalvos.