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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #543
Beware the Ookpik Bird
David Gunn

Twas brillig and the hoser band
Did gyre and gimble and amuse
All mimsy tunes from Newfie land
And tipít their tumtums to the muse

Beware the Ookpik bird, my son
His eyes so big, and head so cold
Beware the vorpal bladed nun
His consort from the wold

There was once an Eskimo handicraft toy called an ookpik, which is Inuit for "souvenir with beak." It was a four-dimensional reproduction of a snowy owl that was anatomically correct, right down to its dodecahedral talons and adobe hairpiece. The first ookpik dates from 1964, a Saturday, and was the product of a young musical shaman named Beano Bengaze. Bengaze had been under house arrest at the Fort Hoser Eskimo Cooperative at Tuktoyaktuk for his part in a critically vilified production of "West Side Story." He had cast the characters in the most literal way, substituting real carnivorous fish for the Sharks and a pair of two-thirds scale X-15 rocket-powered aircraft for the Jets. It was an enormously expensive undertaking, and the production company declared bankruptcy mere minutes after the curtain fell on the premiere performance. Members of a collection agency straightaway collected Bengaze and locked him in a storeroom on the Cooperative's top floor as "collateral." But the shaman well knew about "collateral damage," due to a string of accidents that accompanied his early sorcerous activities, so he further realized that he needed to escape. The storeroom was awash in rope ladders, pneumatic drills, even a small helicopter. But Beano preferred to absquatulate on his own terms, so he gathered up the random scraps of sealskin, a prosthetic owl beak, an animatronic apparatus, and a needle and haystack. Then he set to work to construct a proper escape vehicle. Within an hour, he had it: a quasi adorable bird of prey that measured nearly four meters from its talons to its hairpiece. Beano rolled it to the window, hopped into its pouch, and popped the clutch. The bird's wings unfurled grandly as it stepped off the sill. Unfortunately, Beano had attached the wings backwards, so the Bernoulli effect was nullified. The good news is that his extensive use of sealskin resulted in a lighter-than-air craft. So he floated to freedom -- and, in time, to a lucrative entrepreneurial career in ookpik sales and service. Because when youngsters saw the great totem hovering in the sky over Tuktoyaktuk, they naturally wanted one, too.

Beano was happy to oblige, and, grubstaked by the collection agency, he was soon producing miniature versions of his lighter-than-air birdcraft at the rate of four dozen a day. Orders continued to pour in, so Beano was forced to take on an apprentice.

And that was the beginning of the trouble.

The apprentice was a wax-lipped nun named Sister Beadle of the Religious Order of Vorpal Blades, and she was more than a bit odd, even to a guy who co-opted The Supernatural for a living. Little was known of the ROVB, save that its members were said to transcend the traditional boundary between incorporeality and the material world. On her employmental application the nun wrote "brillig" under references, "mimsy" for positions previously held, and "far out in the wold" for mailing address. But she bore an uncanny resemblance to a 1950 Hudson Wingback, and Beano liked her for that. So he hired her.

Initially, the nun's work was swift and confident. She assembled ookpiks at the astonishing rate of fourteen per hour, more than double Beano's best pace. Plus she skillfully concealed the stitching in the fourth dimension, so the outer surface of the bird was seamless. Beano felt comfortable with leaving her unsupervised so he could focus on "West Side Story" revisions.

But then Sister Beadle's Vorpal Blade Syndrome kicked in and she began to alter the dolls. First she glazed the hairpieces with protactinium, which lowered the temperature of the ookpik's head by 250 degrees. Then she placed a gyre into the beak, a gimble in each talon and a tumtum in its belly while mumbling a vorpal incantation. And suddenly the character of the ookpik changed forever: the erstwhile warm and fuzzy "souvenir with beak" had developed an appetite for human blood.

Not surprisingly, sales plummeted. Not even a triple order from the Religious Order of Vorpal Blades could keep Ookpik-Me-Up, Ltd. out of the blood-red. The company folded, and only the purchase of Beano's original animatronic ookpik by an anonymous collector for a large sum allowed him to pay off his creditors and stay out of the hoosegow. Still, he was asked to vacate Tuktoyaktuk, and he was last seen heading in the opposite direction of Sister Beadle, who was fading in and out of focus en route to her end of the wold.

Today, the ookpik has new life. No longer solely the realm of the "souvenir with beak," it now enjoys limited appeal amongst a group of music aficionados. Or one, anyway. But one who, coincidentally, is in the house of Kalvos and Damian this very day. I mean, you couldn't write a happenstance like that! Well, you could, but only if you had the key that unlocked the door that allowed you to come, chaperone or no, in the house.