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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #377
Überpuppets
David Gunn

"And I'd like to again thank our hosts, the Poughkeepsie Peanut Pancake Barbecue, for laying out such a wonderful spread this evening--let's give them a big hand--and most of all you for being such a great audience! Don't you agree, Beanie?"

"A C D E G H I J K L N O Q R S T U X Y Zeeeeeeee!"

"Oh, be quiet! Good night, ladies and gentlemen. Good night and goats bite!"

Borraka B. Cromwell grabbed Beanie Bengaze by the throat, nearly throttling him, and stuffed him roughly into his Beanie Bag. Then he stalked off the stage to a smattering of unenthusiastic applause. No need to take a second bow--both applause and audience quickly dispersed. Miffed, he marched to his dressing room--the restaurant's walk-in cooler--and roughly threw Beanie down on a chair.

"Y'know, sport, you surely haven't been holding up your half of the routine of late."

"Name's not Shirley," came the voice from inside the bag.

"That joke's old! You know what old is?"

"This act. Have you ever considered a career with the AARP?"

"That's it. I've had it. We were good together once, you an' me, Beanie. But that was a long time ago. And I know when it’s time to cut bait."

"Why doncha cut me a check for the last six months of unpaid work instead, ya cheapskate?"

Cromwell fumed. He could never win an argument with his dummy. So he finally did what he always threatened to do. He crammed Beanie into the Beanie Box and taped it shut. Then he plucked a newspaper out of the waste bin and turned to the classifieds. His eyes alighted on an advert for LL Bean, and he tore it out. He taped it to the top of the box, wrote "C.O.D." and "Return to Sender" and "Refused" on it, and set the package atop the restaurant's outgoing stack of mail. Then he gathered up his street clothes, ducked out the side door, and hitched a ride to Indianapolis ... but, that's another story.

Nowadays, the US Postal Authorities would never pick up such a suspicious-looking box, especially one that occasionally groaned and wiggled, but this story is not set in nowadays. It is 1980, when Poughkeepsie, New York was one of many warm-up towns for Catskill resort acts, and neither rain nor sleet nor dark of night nor an absence of postage kept mailmen and women from their appointed rounds. So the package was picked up by a dutiful letter carrier and shipped to Beantown, Maine--which is where our story takes a little detour.

When the package arrived at Maine's main mail nexus in Augusta, it was shunted into a transit cache to await its next delivery stage. But it never got to Beantown. Review of a surveillance camera videotape shows a hazy figure slipping from the shadows, slapping a new address label atop the original, then vanishing, as if absorbed by the shadows themselves. Two days later, the package arrived in Zacatecas, a village in the northernmost sector of the state noted for its continuous ranking at the top of America's Most Middle Of Nowhere Communities. However, it also was home to something not mentioned in any guidebook.

When dummies are discarded by disgruntled ventriloquists, their body parts are usually harvested for ancillary uses. Arms and legs are incorporated into fashionable furniture; heads become fishing bobs; torsos stuffed with toys and candy turn into whimsical piñatas. But a lucky few escape this demeaning recontextualization. Thanks to a series of coincidences, each more improbable than the last, they make their way to a subterranean city beneath Zacatecas where they are welcomed into a secret race of überpuppets.

Beanie's box sat in the Zacatecas Post Office’s will-call bin for scarcely an hour before it fell onto the floor, skittered over to the room's hot air grate, and slipped through. Down, down, down Beanie in his box tumbled, and then it hit bottom with a whumph! The lid on the box popped open but, because of the cushioning excelsior, Beanie was undamaged. He clambered out of his box and stared flabbergasted at the scene that greeted his eyes. He was in a small city that appeared to be situated in a large, underground cavern. The walls were certainly rock, but glowed with an eerie incandescence. Far above him, he could make out a rocky ceiling, but a dull yellow light emanated from it, too. All around him were buildings and plazas, roads and cars, trees and shrubbery--all the trappings of civilization ... except that it was populated by hundreds of puppets and dummies like him! They engaged in activities that were quite human, too. They laughed, they wheedled, they spooned, they ate, they drank, they sang, they danced. Oh, how they danced!--to music that was unfamiliar, and yet it evoked long-suppressed memories in him.

A giant puppet with a grotesque papier-mâché face loped surreally up to him. "Welcome and greetings," it said, waving a banner that read "Resurrection Circus."

"A C D E U X Y Zeeeeeeee," replied Beanie out of habit.

The puppet chortled woodenly. "Fine, fine, but we’d like a more solipsistic response."

"Crimony, I just got here. Gimme a chance to get my ball bearings, woodja? And say, who's the band director here?"

The puppet sniggered. "There is no band director because there is no band. The music that you apparently hear arises out of your anima. Not many here hear the music. You are lucky."

"Speak for yourself, Bucko. I liked my head better when it was quiet inside. Why, you could hear a pin drop in there. Oftentimes, it did, too."

But now a new sound intruded, a low, rumbly, grinding sound. Beanie wasn't the only one to hear it because everyone looked upwards in sudden trepidation.

"The tundra is tumbling!" said the big puppet with nary a trace of chuckle. "In the upper world that's the same as the sky is falling. Run for it!"

A huge chunk of licheny ceiling fell to the ground, just missing three marionettes. Startled, they ran pell-mell in different directions, but their strings entangled and they fell into a collective heap. A second chunk summarily coldcocked them. Beanie raced back to the only safe haven he'd ever known, his Beanie Box, climbed in, and pulled the lid tightly closed. All around him, the ground shook from the impact of falling rubble. Once his box took a direct hit and he felt the lid bend, but it didn't break. "Why isn't life ever easy?" he mused.

Why, indeed? It's a question Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar poses each week, and this, the 377th consecutive episode, is no exception. Why isn't life easy? Why can't everybody simply live happily in his or her own Beanie Box safe from the tribulations of a hostile world?

Well, for one reason, there's Kalvos.