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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #514
The Cryptozoological Solution
David Gunn

On April 9, 1900, when German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was well into his end of life dementia, he published a book--a manual, really--that was completely misconstrued. Nietzsche had long championed the concept of a superman, or übermensch, who would celebrate life on Earth rather than await a heavenly reward. But in "Wie man einen Übermensch: eine kryptozoologische Antwort"--or "How to Make a Superman: a Cryptozoological Solution"--he mixed ideas from Mary Shelley's eighty-two year old handbook on creating the Frankenstein creature with recent discoveries of imaginary animals. The book was considered a collection of lunatic ravings by even Nietzsche's closest friends, and the publisher quickly remanded every last copy. So as not to further sully the reputation of a man whose early life genius was indisputable, the books were summarily destroyed. And, soon thereafter, forgotten. However, a single tattered copy escaped obliteration. After a series of highly dubious adventures involving linoleum, it found its way to the bookcase in a tiny cottage on the shore of an unnamed lake, or loch, in northwestern Scotland. There it remained unnoticed for many years.

In 1930, a young crimefighter with the US Justice Department named Eliot Ness was battling Chicago's most notorious hoodlums and gangsters. It was the height of prohibition in America: the 18th Amendment to the Constitution forbade the manufacture, sale and bottle redemption of alcoholic beverages. Bootlegging, speakeasies and rum-running, however, flourished. The undisputed leader of the bottle redemption crime syndicate was Al Capone, who oversaw nearly every mom-and-pop store in the city. One day, when Ness was visiting one of these groceries--"Da Momma un da Poppa," on West Kalahari--he bought a bottle of Yoo-hoo. But when he tried to redeem it, the proprietor, looking mortally nervous, refused. And that's when Ness personally vowed to bring Capone down.

It was tedious work, requiring a lot of chocolate soda binge drinking. No matter Ness and his agents had many other high profile victories in their sundering of organized crime, Capone remained vexingly elusive. At last, however, Scarface Al slipped up, done in by a common banana peel. Straightaway he was arrested and put behind bars. This was, of course, a mistake, because bars were what his mobsters were paid to provide protection for. Bottle redemption waned for a while, but bootlegging and rum-running continued unabated. Eventually, the administrative error was discovered and Capone was removed from the bars and thrown into jail. Immediately, Mafiosi all over the world took blood oaths to eliminate Ness and his treasury agents, who were called "Untouchables" because they dressed like the eponymous caste members of the Hindu hierarchy. Many of his cronies were killed, but Ness managed to survive dozens of assassination attempts.

The constant high anxiety finally got to him, though, and, after five years of almost constant vigil and inventive disguises, Ness retired from the force and moved back to his native Scotland. He'd planned to live with his Highland family. However, by a cruel twist of fate, his parents, uncles and angst had, not a fortnight earlier, sold their home and moved to Chicago to be near him. But Eliot was done with America and he refused to go back. Instead, he rented an old, dilapidated one-bedroom bungalow on the shore of an unnamed loch in the northwest part of the country.

For a while, Eliot enjoyed the quiet life of a retired policeman. He fished. He chipped. He developed a fondness for brogues, both to wear and to mutter. He dressed to kilt. He read the many and diverse volumes with which the cottage's bookcase were stocked. But eventually, his erstwhile fame caught up with him. The local newspaper reprinted a picture of a young American treasury agent coolly swigging a bottle of Yoo-hoo in front of a snarling and manacled Al Capone, with the headline "Clever Ness Leads to Gangsta Rap." Below the picture was a map of Scotland with an arrow pointing to an unnamed loch in the northwest part of the country and the caption, "He's Here!" Suddenly, Eliot was a celebrity again. Crime wave aficionados hounded him for autoradiographs. The local pub began to promote "bootleg-burgers." Even the little lake next to his cottage was renamed Loch Ness.

The hullabaloo that surrounded him began to rival that which he'd left behind in Chicago, and he spent more and more time cloistered in his cottage. No longer wishing to socialize with the locals, he stopped his daily outing to the neighborhood pub for supper; instead, he sent out for pizza. Disinclined now to even leave his house, Ness spent a lot of time reading. Eventually, he stumbled upon the tatty copy of Nietzsche's wacky manual.

Soon thereafter, he began to ask for some unusual items in addition to his daily pizza: a fluoroscope, eighty feet of coiled copper tubing, a wooden telephone booth, a kilo of polonium, a vial of deoxyribonucleic acid, a perpetual motion machine, a pair of autoclaves. Then, the unmistakable sounds of construction emanated from his house: hammering, sawing, planing, wrenching, drilling, screwdrivering, tweezering, and the inevitable cursing. One day it was a pandemonium of noise; the next, all was eerily quiet. Towards evening, the pizza delivery man, as usual, knocked on the door. This time, Ness didn't answer. Loath to write off the four shillings nine pence for the meal, the delivery man summoned the constable.

The peace officer never got to the house. He was instead intercepted by a mob of terrified villagers who claimed to have seen a giant sea serpent surface in the loch. They bade him fetch his rifle, then they dragged him back to the loch's shoreline. It was nearly dusk and a hazy mist had settled over the water. Still, he had no trouble spotting the 40' long creature. The snakelike head, paddlelike flippers and long tail suggested something in the plesiosaur family. The villagers implored him to shoot, shoot! But he couldn't. First, he doubted his puny 22 caliber bullets would even faze the animal. And second, the creature had been on the endangered species list for, like, 65 million years. If he harmed it, paleoenvironmentalists would have his hide! Then the creature turned, swam leisurely towards the middle of the loch, submerged and vanished.

For two months, the sea creature was observed frequently in the loch. It never disturbed the villagers, and they gradually grew less fearful of it. But the real turning point came when a band of pirates showed up on the loch. In one terrifying day, they plundered and pillaged several lochside communities. As the brigands were making their escape, the plesiosaur surfaced in front of their boat. After sizing up the situation, it dispensed a swift, Mesozoic type of justice.

Over the course of the next decade, the sea creature--dubbed Nessie, by the now supportive villagers--fought seafaring crime as it patrolled the loch. The local constable now found he had plenty of time on his hands, and he eventually returned to Eliot Ness's cottage to see about the long past due four shillings nine pence. The door was locked but rickety, and he had no trouble forcing it open. Inside, there was, of course, no sign of Ness. However, lurking in the middle of the kitchen was the weirdest apparatus the constable had ever seen. He could identify a wooden telephone booth wrapped with dozens of feet of copper tubing, but everything else was a mystery. A tiny plaque on the front of the device read "The Nietzsche Transmogrifier," whatever that meant. The constable spotted a book on the floor next to the device. It was so tattered that, as he picked it up, several pages crumbled in his hands. Emblazoned on the cover were the words "How to Make an Übermensch" atop a rough sketch of a plesiosaur.

It was beyond the constable's ken to link the two Nesses, so that job falls to Kalvos & Damian, and when better to do so than on today's 514th episode of the eponymous New Music Bazaar? That's a rhetorical question, one Damian is loath to answer, but maybe Kalvos isn't.