An honest and fair reader is due an account of how the following manuscript came into my possession, so that he might properly judge the frankly fantastical story to be discovered therein, the veracity of which I, myself, am now reluctantly convinced despite my initial incredulity.
Having heard through the popular press of the now-infamous Horatio G. Bloomincracker, doctor of botany and prodigious collector of curious tribal artifacts, of his sudden disappearance 15 years ago and his unexpected re-emergence from the darkest India jungles, of the curious artifacts found in his possession and his simultaneous appointment to a chair at Oxford and a cell at Bedlam, and the subsequent and possibly related reduction of much of the Midlands to a smoldering crater, it was with some not mild trepidation that I received an invitation to meet the great man.
I am of some reputation as a botanist myself, as the reader is no doubt aware. Having traveled the world in an ongoing if so far futile attempt to obtain specimens of the legendary Walking tree of Dahomey, I am more acquainted than most scholars with the various lands and peoples of this fair globe. Thus, there is a logic to Dr. Bloomincracker’s decision to unburden himself to me. Such is my fate: to share his burden, and to make known his travails, as a cautionary tale to all of humanity.
Bedlam was chosen for the fateful meeting, as Oxford was all booked up. I was shown to a large and not unpleasant anteroom with a lovely view of the lawn and the howling psychotics that peopled it, not so unlike similar facilities at Oxford. I had heard Dr. Bloomincracker’s health had been failing, which would hardly surprise any reader who knew the tale.
The great man entered the room on the arm of the Dean of Divinity, a Reverend Schoppinvax, who steered him into a chair facing mine. After the briefest of introduction, the good Reverend made his departure as if his hair were on fire.
Dr. Bloomincracker appeared before me as a glorious ruin. A man who in his youth had first made his name as a bear wrestler was now withered and hunched, although not yet 50 years of age. His once thick black hair was reduced to a motley of grey thatch and bare, splotched pate; his once imposing frame a twisted hulk; his fine broad forehead as lined as a map of Khartoum; his expressive lips and strong chin now hidden behind a wooly mustache and a goat’s beard. His attire had suffered in a similar manner: what had been once proper morning dress was now a wrinkled, grease stained mockery.
His notorious blue eyes, rumored to have had a dramatic effect on both truculent natives and the weaker sex, were now watery and reddened, and focused, it seemed, at two different distances behind, above and to the right of my face.
Without further ceremony, he reached into his waistcoat and produced a bundle of withered banana leaves, upon which were scribbled, perhaps in Sanskrit but certainly in wax pencil, something utterly inscrutable.
“Read this!” he demanded. A look of confusion must have passed over my face, but the good doctor did not seem to notice. Instead, he again stuck a hand into his waistcoat and produced a small package wrapped in a scrap of cloth.
“Would you like to see the Artifact?” He thrust the package at me without waiting for the answer. I took it gingerly in hand, and unwrapped it as the doctor fidgeted eagerly.
The cloth disgorged into my palm a small metallic oblong about the size of a robin’s egg. On each side was carved a squatting frog-god, on one side with eyes and mouth gaping, on the other with them closed. The remaining surface was curiously graven everywhere with indecipherable runes. A blood red and unshaped gem was savagely afixed to one end. I was struck with fear: it looked for all the world like a trinket one might pick up at a country fair, albeit from a country with very poorly developed aesthetics. I felt a sudden urge to toss the Artifact out the window, but feared I might harm one of the psychotic with which the lawn below was thick.
Before I could speak, the good doctor began telling me the tale that follows.
When I met him, on the winter streets of Moscow, I thought ‘pig farmer’.
Don’t get me wrong. The world needs pig farmers, because the world needs pork gyoza. Pork gyoza are the perfect expression of pot sticker art, little pillows of peace and joy. Pork gyoza are probably a key in the salvation of the world.
And bacon. Never forget bacon.
Igor – his name was Igor. Of course his name was Igor – stood in the sub zero air, a parody of the stoic Russian. Light coat, a ball cap, and a look utter indifference, as if to give an inch to the weather was so far beneath a real man as to warrant only contempt. At least, I thought it was so over the top it had to be a parody. Nope, I found out over time, that’s just Russian.
I, perhaps spiritually closer to the French and German soldiers who thought they could conquer such men and froze and died in the attempt, was freezing my ass off. I’d been in Chicago when the frigid wind would blow you down the slippery, icy streets, and in the Rockies with snow up to you eyebrows and cloudless, sunny skies that cheerily opened like a window on the eternal cold of deep space.
Igor was maybe 6’4″ and in his mid 60’s. A flannel shirt covered his considerable gut. Closer inspection revealed jeans and Nikes. Hmmm. Maybe not a pig farmer.
Anyway, Igor probably would have stood there happily – well, as happily as a Russian allows himself – while I turned into a tourist popsicle, but his phone rang. Out of his coat pocket came another indication he was no ordinary pig farmer – the latest iPhone. Some Russian, way faster than I could follow after only a 6 week course, flew by, punctuated with a ‘Da’ and the slightest nod.
‘Come.’ He turned and walked.
The bar was busy, but we found a corner table. I slipped off mittens, climbed out of my parka and doffed my hat.
“Two things.” Igor surveyed me without expression. “If you touch my daughter, I will not have to kill you.” I think he might have smiled, hard to tell. “She kill you herself.”
OK, then, hands off the daughter. Check.
“And,” now he did smile, very slightly, “Nice hat. John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly. You know?”
I didn’t get a chance to answer. I don’t know what I expected a could-be-a-pig-farmer’s daughter to look like, but ‘supermodel’ would not have been near the top of any list. I don’t get speechless easy, and consider myself a fair hand with the ladies, but – wow.
If Barbie is a parody of the American ideal of feminine beauty, Igor’s daughter was almost a parody of the Slav beauty. Almost, because she, unlike Barbie, was real, and standing very close to me.
Igor’s eyebrows rose a millimeter or two and he pointed a big meaty finger at me, with that could be a smile on his face. His daughter bent down and hugged and kissed him. This broke whatever spell was on me, and I clumsily rose to my feet and stuck out my hand.
Ksenia had a very firm handshake for a supermodel. We all sat back down, and the waitress brought us drinks.
Ksenia looked at me, and her unsmiling face gave the slightest hint of a family resemblance to her father’s. “Before you ask,” she said, her English accented just like her father’s, only from her utterly charming and captivating, “I am double agent. For government.” She leaned slightly forward, her face stoney. “You will not tell anyone. Or I have to kill you.”
I froze. I can only imagine the expression on my face. A long pause followed. Then a smile that could have powered a fair size city spread across her face. Her father emitted a chuckle that could have come from a bear, and Ksenia laughed the laugh of angels.
I exhaled, and laughed the laugh of relief. Suddenly, Ksenia got serious again, and stared at me with brown eyes of unutterable depth. “Funny part, it is true.” Another pause, and she laughed again.
Upfront, I admit this silly video, The Privates, which is my current favorite among the Sci Fi shorts I watch by the dozens on Youtube, may not be to your taste in humor. Me, I’ve laughed out loud each of the half dozen times I’ve watched it so far.
Why? If you’ve ever been in a garage band (I’ve been in several over the years), you will recognize the personalities and dialogue. The drummer in particular avoids being a stereotype while ringing completely true.
The over-serious sci fi elements just make it funnier.
“Do you have any idea how many Kelvins we must be generating to do something like this?” long pause. “A lot.”
“Short term, more like for Friday, what are we dealing with, survival wise?”
“Us, or the crowd?”
Watch this, and I’ll put my comments below.
SPOILER-ISH STUFF BELOW
The clueless lead singer is something almost every band deals with. That there’s one person who actually knows how the equipment works is another. The drummer, operating on an alternate plain of existence is yet another, as is the one worry-wart. What makes it great is how they nail each role, but in an unexpected ways. Having an over-serious woman rhythm guitar player be the tech geek, a hard rocker, and be totally detached from the possibility they might accidentally kill people – brilliant. Bass players tend to be the 2nd most out-there people in bands, after drummers – so making Ben the responsible one – smart.
Max, the lead guitar player/singer just wants to rock, has little interest in and no idea what’s going on, but he’s also the guy always calling “band meeting” and poling the others. Max’s role reversal with Ben at the end is a hoot. Ben, worried about safety and ignored by everyone else, is also a familiar riff – there’s always one guy in the band who, in the opinion of the others, overthinks things and worries too much.
There’s always a Pool Party Eddie, a guy who can get you gigs, even if they’re terrible gigs. The ‘nobody came’ refrain – rite of passage for every band. It doesn’t feel good.
The final scene, where Max is finally convinced something is wrong, while Ben is jazzed out of his mind, to hell with safety – awesome. The panic moment when they don’t see Roka, the drummer, is a small but critical touch. You get it that the band members care for each other, which adds a note of feeling that keeps the film from just being slapstick. (A tiny detail I didn’t catch until like the 5th viewing: Roka and Kep are sisters.)
Roka stumbles in carrying her cymbals and a smoldering backpack, explains how she and “sound guy” had to escape the fire by crawling out the bathroom window, but then says
“That was the best show ever. that’s the most fun I’ve had since probably Kep’s birthday party.”
“That was a good party.”
“It was the best party.”
Max sums it up:
“OK, who wants to keep going and see about burning this house down on Friday?”
Maybe you had to have been in bands, I don’t know. Cracks me up.
This morning, as I was sipping my coffee, my beloved walks in deep in a phone conversation with elder daughter. Daughter was looking for a recipe. This is a common occurance – all the kids cook up storms, and, no longer living at home, lack access to mom’s full-sized bookcase of well-thumbed cookbooks. Mom is the defacto culinary librarian. I sometimes get calls or texts instructing me to go to such and such a cookbook, look up this or that, take a picture of the recipe and text it to an offspring. (1)
As the conversation went on, my beloved spoke the following fateful sentence into her phone: “I’m not sure I can find that recipe again.”
Instantly, unbidden, the hamsters-on-speed wheels of my mind drive the following deathless lyrics past the barrier of my teeth:
I don’t think that I can take it
It took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again!
and…. I then had to google MacArthur Park and force my 14 year old, who made the tactical mistake of wandering by just then, listen to it with me. He is very tolerant of his old man’s goofiness. Think I’ll keep him.
Even he was eventually amused. That is one goofy song. Or maybe 3 to 4 goofy songs in a shotgun open marriage. Or something.
Seriously. Or should I say, Seriously? First verse, often overlooked in our eagerness to roll around in the sweet green icing flowing down:
Spring was never waiting for us, girl It ran one step ahead As we followed in the dance Between the parted pages and were pressed In love’s hot, fevered iron Like a striped pair of pants
(striped sung ‘stripe-ed’ of course. Because, uh, Shakespeare or something.)
And it doesn’t get any better.
My running commentary explained how the whole pop-tune-with-epic-orchestra thing got huge in the mid-60’s, when I was still single-digits years old, and that MacArthur Park was merely its most egregious metastasis. I then spun Classical Gas, as perhaps the peak of that fad. I mean, there were a few pretty good tunes marrying a pop sensibility with that sensibility’s take on classical music. The Moody Blues had a few good examples, found, lest we forget, on albums of mostly unlistenable crap. The ratio of good Moody Blues tunes to boring/painful Moody Blues tunes is maybe 1:10. Maybe.
Anyway, since I just listened to MacArthur Park, Youtube offers up a ‘mix’ or collection of tunes that, like the ‘Because you watched Midsomer Murders…’ Netflix feature, suggests more tunes/videos based on – ? Some mindless machine algorithm, evidently. I suppose, deep in the bowels of some Youtube server farm somewhere, programs written by nihilists and whippersnappers run, correlating tunes with my browsing and purchasing patterns, as well as things overheard over my iPhone and seen through the windows by the ubiquitous Google Map vans (you really think Street View is *all* they’re interested in? Hmmm?).
And perhaps other songs I’ve listened to? Little evidence of that. Here’s what the Mind of Google thinks I might want to listen to next:
From the Beginning, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Within a couple year of M.P. Otherwise – acoustic guitar, bongos and a classic synth solo versus wildly overwrought harpsichord & orchestra mish-mash? The ways of the Algorithm Almighty are indeed inscrutable, because, heck yea, I’ll listen to that.
Cherish, the Association. OK, this is funny. Jimmy Webb wrote M.P. for the Association, who were pretty huge at that time (1967), who had asked for a big orchestral piece because, as mentioned above, that was all the rage at that juncture in history. They rejected it as too freakin’ weird.
Well, Webb then played it for Albus Dumbledore, who was looking for songs for what amounts to a vanity record, and who was evidently enraptured by that whole cake out in the rain image. Seriously, Richard Harris, fresh off starring in the 1967 movie Camelot, met Webb, who was already a successful and well known song writer back then, at a party and mentioned he wanted songs for an album he was making. He flew Webb out to London where he was then working to go over material. Somehow, some way, when he heard MacArthur Park, he said – that’s it!
I’m guessing Harris was famous enough at the time that people were willing to listen to the record he put out, and – the rest is history!
Meanwhile, the Association never had another hit, and were soon reduced to trivia answer status. Cherish is the most boring of their 4 hits songs. Windy and Along Comes Mary are better. But for old time’s sake, I gave it a listen.
Another mysteriously correct suggestion by the deep revolving Algorithm.
Other items in the list were either obvious – Moody Blues, ‘natch, and the 5th Dimension – or utterly baffling, such as Brubeck’s Take 5 and Petula Clark’s Downtown. But – was the Infernal Algorithm correct? Were these songs I wanted to listen to?
Should I be scared? Or at least draw the blinds?
My last communication with our late son Andrew, the day before he died, was texting him the recipe for calabasitas.
Not wanting to consider on this fine morning all the writing and reading and blog post drafts, not to mention job hunting, that I have not much positive to report on, and yet, today entering my fifth (5th) day in a row of not feeling like crap, we instead offer this brief interlude for your possible amusement.
My best, highest use these day is evidently providing conversation and amusement to my 80-year old mother in law, who has been living with us for the past year or so. She has weathered a number of health issues and is really doing quite well, she’s just having to deal with no more driving and not being able to live on her own. So I, spending most of these past 4 months at home, have had more time to spend with here. I’m not really kidding about this being my best, highest use. Sometimes, it’s what falls unbidden into your lap that is what needs to be done.
My base mode of human interaction is to avoid it, but where that’s not possible or desirable, I default to joshing kidder mode. I can only hope other people take this well. They do tend to smile a lot, while backing slowly toward the door…
So: whenever we take grandma out (she’s grandma to the kids, mom to Mrs. Yardsale, and Helen to me. This can get confusing), we have to round up 1.) her sunglasses; 2) her reading glasses; and 3) her rosary. Can’t leave home without them.They usually reside on the table next to the recliner she often occupies in the living room, where she has spent many hours viewing British murder mysteries on Netflix. We do something, usually daily Mass, just about every day, and then there’s doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, so she’s out and about quite a bit, which suits her fine.
Once Helen was feeling better and we fell into this routine, we also fell into the practice of assigning someone to wrangle the three items mentioned above every time we head out the door with her. A while ago, I both assumed this duty and decided that grandma’s stuff needed a name less cumbersome and more evocative than “grandma’s sunglasses, reading glasses and rosary.” Thus, the Holy Accoutrements. As we head out the door, one would hear “I’ve got the Holy Accoutrements!” or “Anybody seen the Holy Accoutrements?” This amuses me and Helen.
Holy Accoutrements cannot be entrusted to just *anyone*. So, after some consideration, I granted myself the title of Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements. This also seemed to amuse Helen. It certainly amuses me. I’m in the process of deciding on the exact title for official designate who is to handle the Holy Accoutrements if I for whatever reason are indisposed to the duty. Sub Grand Seneschal is the uncomfortable front-runner. There’s got to be something a little more delicious. I want to be able to say things like: “David, discharge your duties as Sub Grand Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements!” Few are the households whose general tenor would not be improved with such florid verbal ornaments!
(Update: 14 year old son just suggested Seneschal Inferior of the Holy Accoutrements. Raising that boy right, I tells ya!)
The other running joke has to do with a Brit murder mystery series that evidently has been in production since the Clinton Administration: Midsomer Murders. 19 seasons are on Netflix, and another 2-3 have been produced. Each visually beautiful 90 minute episode involves at least one, and usually several murders. Why anyone would continue to live in the blood-soaked
insanity that is Midsomer is a question the show does not address. Sure, attractive, well dressed people talk in charming accents amidst the gorgeous English countryside – but they seem unable to stop KILLING EACH OTHER. This leads to routine exchanges such as “Good morning Helen. Anybody still alive in Midsomer?” We’ve made it to the end of the available episodes, and so are now exploring other shows featuring attractive English people with charming accents galavanting around beautiful setting while they engage in KILLING EACH OTHER. It’s like its own genre, a need the BBC has gone all in to fulfill. There are variations, such as a gritter drama set in Wales where slightly less attractive people with somewhat more colorful accents spend time in less charming labs and libraries doing research into why the people in the area KEEP KILLING EACH OTHER. There’s even one where an attractive, well-dressed British detective with a charming accent is sent to the Caribbean, a different but no less visually stunning setting just dripping with yet more attractive people with yet more charming accents KILLING EACH OTHER. The twist seems to be that the detective, the nominal lead, get bumped off himself, I think twice now in like 3 seasons? I’m fuzzy on the details, since I never actually watch the shows.
I spent some time reviewing the shows Netflix suggests (“Because you watched Midsomer Murders…”), trying to pick out ones grandma would like. The cable/Nintendo/Netflix/TV interface is barely within my competence, and not something she’s going to figure out, so I am her research arm. She likes her gruesome murders largely off camera. and well-dressed characters who spend more time in manor houses and on fox hunts than in labs and libraries. I thought I’d found a winner, one with Kenneth Branagh as the attractive, well-dressed detective with a charming accent, who in the little sample I saw was driving through gorgeous English farm country and meeting with a craggy old farmer about a young woman who was wandering about his fields. Sir Kenneth plays it as an English Phillip Marlowe, world-weary and little bleary eyed. He tries to talk to the young woman out in the field, who then douses herself with gasoline and sets herself on fire…