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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #535
Project Mr. Potato Head
David Gunn

"Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One ..."

An appreciably pregnant pause followed the utterance of the last number as eleven people in the control room awaited the conclusion to the countdown. Bob's expression was of sheer bewilderment as he suddenly couldn't remember what came after the one. He'd successfully recited the list of descending numbers scores of times, hundreds of times. But for once, he couldn't pull the trigger on the ensuing number. Pull it?--he couldn't even find the trigger!

Anyway, wasn't the countdown recitation just a formality? Wasn't he merely verifying the readout on the computer terminal? Well, then why hadn't something happened? And what was supposed to happen, anyway? For some reason, he couldn't recall. He peered at his console, searching for an indication of what should have occurred. But there was only a glowing green number 1 winking at him like a slow-motion blepharospasm. He pushed the Reset button, and the number 10 reappeared on the screen. A little digital tendril snaked out from the top of the 1, morphed into an arrow, and pointed to the Start key on the computer keyboard.

Bob pressed it, simultaneously calling out "ten!" Then, as before, he followed the descending order of blinking numbers. "Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One ... One!... One!"

Again he couldn't think of what came next, and the readout wasn't helping. It just blinked 1, 1, 1. He pounded the console in frustration as the others in the room looked on in mild confusion, their collective breaths bated. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.

A half mile from the Hummock-on-Smythe Tuber Command Center, hidden from view by a copse of rubber trees, a giant dog glowed phosphorescently in the early morning haze. He sniffed the air, then barked again, and this time a man clambered partway down from a perch in one of the trees to shush him. "Elastikag, be quiet!" said Colonel Zero. The color of the dog's phosphorescence briefly turned a deep red, and the Colonel knew better than to provoke the creature any further. "There's a good boy," he said soothingly, withdrawing a slab of haggis from his satchel. Before Zero could toss the boiled meat mixture down to the animal, Elastikag reared up and snatched it out of his hand. In an instant, the haggis had disappeared down the überdog's great maw. But at least his glow had faded to a more sedate blue-black. Zero scrambled back up to the top of the tree and trained his night-vision binocular on the Command Center. A plume of greasy, white vapor rose from the cafeterium smokestack, but otherwise there was no sign of activity.

There was no motion on his Ronco Tubergraph, either, and that's when he finally relaxed. The plan had succeeded! With the aid of a simple anti-memory bark and a toaster, they--Colonel Zero and Elastikag--had deleted the numerical symbol that bore his name from the minds of everyone affiliated with Project Mr. Potato Head, including the computer that ran it! For the time being, at least, the world was safe from tuber purgatory.

To Colonel Zero, Project Mr. Potato Head was as dimwitted an endeavor as he'd ever been affiliated with. The objective was to produce a strain of potatoes that sported ommatophores instead of the eyes that budded on normal tubers. An ommatophore was a moveable stalk that ended in an eye, like those on many snails. As the project's media consultant, it was Colonel Zero's task to get the potato-buying public to embrace the altered spud. But Zero couldn't see past a side of hash browns festooned with little wriggling tentacles at the corner café. As far as he was concerned, they may as well have asked him to sell water slides to those caribou on the east side of town. He argued against the venture, but nothing could dissuade Project Director Jerome from his vision, a vision clearly tunneled by a diet rich in Jello Shooters.

In frustration, the colonel quit the project, but not before pilfering the sole potato on which the ommatophores had been successfully grafted. It took Jerome and his colleagues weeks to breed another stalk-eyed tuber, and by this time, Ruby Primavera, another project member, had likewise concluded that the idea was harebrained. However, she stayed in Jerome's employ, the better to pass information on to Zero.

The connection had worked well. By now, the colonel had hooked up with the ARPP, the Activists for Responsible Potato Products, a group of pomme de terrorists who valued above all else the unadorned potato. Every time Jerome and his cronies were ready to stick those little stalks onto an unwitting spud, Zero and ARPP were there to somehow disrupt the experiment. It was they who had brazenly performed the tuber ligation, rendering a successfully altered potato sterile; they who had cleverly replaced a dozen ommatophores with a like number of semaphores before anyone was the wiser; and, most recently, they who had spirited Zero back into the Tuber Command Center where he hacked the project's computer, swapping the zero in the countdown buffer for a toaster. And Bob's inability to articulate the zero at the end of the countdown? That was Elastikag's doing, a feat that Colonel Zero neither understood nor approved, for as much as he enjoyed the company of dogs, he didn't feel they should be meddling in the minds of humans.

A sharp "ping" emanated from the Tubergraph at the same time that Bob abruptly recalled his checking account balance. "Zero," he said with a mixture of dismay and relief. Immediately, the hypnotic pall that the überdog had spread throughout the command center lifted. At the same time, a wire coil in the toaster overheated, a circuit reconnected, and the computer readout flashed its long delayed countdown-ending cipher. As Ruby looked on in horror and Jerome in glee, heat sinks in the ommatophorium chamber glowed white hot and dozens of vermiculate eyestalks writhed unseemly from Project Mr. Potato Head Research Tuber No. 666P.

Is this the beginning of the end for Ruby, Colonel Zero, the ARPP and the rest of us who fancy normally budded spuds? The jury is still out, having congregated in Studio Z for today's 535th and antepenultimate episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar and its special zero-defect guest, whose zero hour performance approaches, as, from ground zero, does Kalvos.