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The Essay
Show #475
Rain Dance
David Gunn

High atop the mesa, Beano Bengaze is dancing a rain dance. Dressed in full Algonquin shaman regalia, he is an imposing sight, especially with the gilded adobe hat perched rakishly on his head, its operational tentacles dangling nearly down to the ground. Bengaze learned the basics of the dance at a one-day Meteorology and Terpsichore seminar presented by the Arthur Murray Dance Studios at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire last December. The instructor taught the basic dance steps and incantations--then he encouraged all of the attendees to personalize the ceremony, give it an individual character different from that of anyone else. For Beano, that meant adding equal parts bop, boogie and blepharospasms. The resulting mélange of gesticulations and gyrations--occasionally enacted out-of-body--at times appear silly, so he rarely performs in front of an audience. Such is the case today. With the exception of Tabouli, his young assistant charged with flinging the bulgur at the appointed moment, he is alone atop the mesa.

Beano clicks his heels together seven times, which ends the dance routine called "Spirit Dog Waters the Hydrant." Now he faces the east, the direction from which Rando the Rainmaker traditionally appears. In the distance he spots a flock of storm petrels. The birds do not augur rain necessarily, but they do make excellent hors d'oeuvres. He picks up his divining rod, but before he can hurl it, a great storm suddenly blows in from the west. The dance worked--the crops are saved! Or are they? The raindrops are cold, hard and black. The workshop speaker had said that when the rain falls black, somewhere a mighty warrior has been slain, and the gods are shedding tears of both sorrow and anger. Beano, too, senses death, but not from a warrior. Rather, he recalls that he had left his lights on and deduces that, by now, his car's battery is dead.

The rain increases in intensity. Visibility decreases coincident to the rain's output. As he dashes for shelter, he almost collides with Tabouli, who is standing nearby clutching the bulgur in one hand and a macramé mackerel in the other. He peers at her and notices a large red dot between her eyes. Either she has abruptly gone Hindu and now sports a bindi, or she is showing the first signs of measles. Upon closer examination, he notices that the rain is causing the dot to run, which he and Tabouli then do. They reach the shelter--a large, hollowed-out cow on the edge of the mesa--just as the overhead cloud bursts, spilling its contents: rainwater, ambergris, mucilage, scoria and a very confused hedgehog. Rando the Rainmaker seems to have plenty of product at his disposal this time. While Beano reviews his notes to see if he may have overdone any of the sections of the dance, Toubouli holds the macramé mackerel out in the rain. It sucks up moisture like a spongioblast and swells to five times its normal size. The fish is too unwieldy now for her to hold, so she sets it down on the ground, whereupon it sneezes, then lumbers off into the inky wetness.

Convinced that he followed his script precisely, Beano attributes his watery largesse to a prank by Weasel Slayer, the bi-nosal warrior ancestor of Otto Lummer. As the shaman sniffs the air, he detects traces of aspartame and protactinium, sure signs that the mischievous spirit god has been in the neighborhood. But Weasel Slayer can also be a big help in times of need, and Beano resolves to forgive him in case his car needs to be jump-started.

A week passes. The rain continues to fall, as hard and black as ever. The waterlogged cow has sprung leaks in a dozen places. Numerous crops pass by caught in a relentless debris flow. Beano has not found Weasel Slayer, and his car's battery is still dead. He has, however, discovered that the mesa is honeycombed with rich veins of naturally occurring aspartame and protactinium. With these and other ingredients autochthonous to the mesa--including remnants of the macramé mackerel, Tabouli's bulgur and generous dollops of mildew--Beano has concocted several fine stir fries. He has tried to keep a positive outlook on the situation, but secretly he is kicking himself for skipping the seminar's last workshop, "Nullifying Those Pesky Ill Effects."

Suddenly, he has a vision. He is looking down upon the mesa from way up high--say, from a hedgehog in a cloud's viewpoint. The hollowed-out cow has been replaced by Weasel Slayer, who points emphatically at Beano's adobe hat. The spirit god next points to the rain, then, employing a flurry of hand shadows, he describes an object red and octagonal. Perplexed, Beano rewinds the vision and watches it again. This time, Weasel Slayer performs the hand shadows slowly, and Beano instantly recognizes the universal traffic sign for "stop." And now he knows what he must do.

"Stop!" pantomimes Beano with his adobe hat's tentacles. The rain promptly complies. Well, that was easy. The shaman adds an organic matter reference to the gesture, and the debris ceases its flow. Finally, he distills the complicated gesture of jump-starting a battery down to "Go!" and his car starts right up. Would that all problems be so simply solved!

The problem of today's 475th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is likewise easily solved with the convenient appearance of a prerecorded eleven-month old interview along with its 664-month-old handler, Kalvos.