Survival Tips for the Plague Years
stories for the stage by
Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
© 2003 Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail
Well what they say. It gets worse before it gets better, so we seem to be making progress. Welcome to the bright side of the dark night of the soul.
In school we had to write a paper. “What Is Your Heart’s Desire.” I wrote, “Grow up and get a job and get laid.” I got a D, for telling the truth.
So I did that. But the job part, that gave me more Heart’s Desires: to succeed, to fulfill myself, to get a raise, to quit.
And get laid once, that’s not enough. You want to do it again. So how you do it, you gotta be sincere. I’m very sincere, I’m sincere enough to be a guru, but people never think you’re as sincere as you really are, so you gotta look a lot more sincere than you really are so you come out even. And get laid again.
So what’s it all about? Whatta you doing here? What’s your purpose in life? You need some purpose in life. Like some people make puppets.
So at a certain point I got spiritual. I no longer feel, as once I did, that the Universe is meaningless. There is a plan, divinely guided. The rocks, the trees, the turtles, the rivers, the delicious women—everything is suffused with this plan.
The plan, in the inscrutable mind of the Divine Presence, is to create this amazing planet, to set it in motion, to endow us with a sacred soul and divine essence and freedom of will, and then to sit back and see what kind of shit we pull.
I keep working on my paper. I keep getting D’s. Maybe I’ll ace the final exam.
You looking at the patch. Nothing wrong with the eye. So why the patch? Ok.
One eye, you see everything you’re gonna see. Two eyes don’t add stuff. But it adds perspective. One eye says, Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States! Oh, yeh, the President, yeh yeh. Two eyes says, what’s that, that’s a cartoon face on somebody else’s hand.
So let us not squander our binocular vision. Keep it fresh for when we really need it. Like whenever you hear “My Fellow Americans,” then flap up that patch and give’em the eye.
Survival Tip Number One, for the Plague Years.
My Mother’s Teeth
My mother. Talking about survival here. My mother was a beautiful lady. She was. But even when I was really tiny, she would have been in her mid-30’s then, she had lost most of her teeth. She had her lower front teeth, but the upper teeth were gone, except for two cuspids that anchored her upper denture, kinda like Dracula hanging on to his lunch. I crawl up in her lap, say, Mama, take out your teeth! And if she’s in the right mood, not too strung out from work, she’d yank’em out and give me a scraggly grin.
But this is about her journey to the tax office.
I was about four, she and I lived in, literally, a shack, down in the butt end of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Two rooms, the outside the house is covered with tar paper and white rags held on by lathe. No plumbing, just an outdoor pump and an outhouse. Coal stove. Rats, lotsa rats. Cold sonofabitch. She had a job but she had to pay all-day child care, and there were times she was right down to the last biscuit. So this was the lady who came under the scrutiny of the IRS.
She’s called into the tax office. She’d paid a buncha bucks for getting her false teeth, and she’d claimed a medical deduction. So the tax man wants to see a receipt.
Now the screwy thing, my mother was a bookkeeper, she’s a demon for receipts, and why she didn’t have a receipt for her teeth— but she didn’t.
We need to see a receipt for this, he says.
The dentist didn’t give me one.
Well go back and get one.
He died. He was an old guy. That’s why he was cheap.
What about your canceled check?
He only took cash.
So they went round and round, and clearly he wasn’t going to allow this deduction and she had no money to pay more tax and so they would garnish her wages and then she wouldn’t have one damn thing for her dentures to chew on.
My mother was not a violent woman, or loud, but she had the tenure of a tree stump. I would see her, over the years, in heated discussions with the store clerks, the teachers, doctors, neighbors, supervisors, people who were telling her what could or could not be done, and she would simply say the same thing over and over and over, and stand there. Till hell froze.
And so, faced with the armed might of the Federal Government of the United States of America in the shape of a ratty little tax man, she gave him what he asked. She stood up, put her fingers in her mouth, pulled out her upper denture, laid it on the desk in front of him, with her two dog teeth glittering. And she said, There’s my receipt.
She got her deduction.
Survival Tip Number Two: Just stand there.
Young Hearts Yearning
Young Hearts Yearning to Plastic Roses is a song I heard. That doesn’t sound right, but I swear that’s it. Cause I remember exactly where.
I was seven, my stepfather, he was a file clerk on an air base in South Dakota. He’d comb his hair straight back, slick it back greasy, like with castor oil.
And we’re driving up from Omaha with my mom, I’m in the back seat, and he’s smoking, course, and we stop for lunch at this greasy spoon. There’s a shelf of souvenirs, rocks, ashtrays of Mt. Rushmore, and Indian bones, and very funny jokes like a pot labeled Custer’s Last Sit, with a rubber turd.
And we sit in a booth, there’s this waitress, big round frizzy redhead with a mole on her lip, and she says, at me, “I’n’t he something!” And they all laughed, they said, “He sure is!” I didn’t know what they meant. I still don’t. Or if there’s an answer. Isn’t he something...
And that’s when this song came on the jukebox. Young Hearts Yearning to Plastic Roses. I didn’t know what that meant. Whatta they talking about? But I thought some day it all comes clear. All the stuff about life. Like things about girls. I’ll know some day. I will know.
So now I know. But I never have found the song. Never have. It has to be somewhere, where they keep old songs. It is a song.
How do you find a song?
Now we gotta do some acting here. Do a character which is not me. Well, me at another point in life, as opposed to just being human. So we gotta have a costume. This story is not true. This story is a metaphor. All opinions expressed here are entirely hideous.
I got a letter. It said official. Which is hard to tell because they try to make things look official, like your house is being foreclosed and they just wanted to let you know, but in fact they’ve just designed an envelope that looks desperately like the federal government.
But this was official. Notification of prizes.
It was a contest I’d entered, I’d just put a thing in a box at the shopping mall, because you could win a vacation to Hawaii. And I’d always kinda wanted to go to Hawaii, I hated the stereotype, like they hang flowers around your neck and twang ukeleles. But there was something kinda magical, maybe. I had a friend who talked about Maui, and the volcanoes, and the gods...
And the second prize was a Walkman, and I thought I could use a Walkman, blow music into my head when I’m trying not to think.
And it said you have won.
I thought oh come on, but I read it, looking for the catch, and I even read the small print, those little black microbes in attack formation.
I won. I actually won.
I called the number I was supposed to call, and actually a human being answered and said, indeed, hello, congratulations, and all you have to do is go to such and such a travel agent, and they will make the arrangements, an all expense paid week in Hawaii, anywhere you want to go. You don’t just have to go to a hotel in Waikiki, anything you want.
I could go to Maui? You could go to Maui.
So I said thanks. I’d never won a prize before.
So I go to the travel agency, and there’s a nice, kinda middle-aged blond woman sitting there, I give her my confirmation number, and congratulations, where would you like to go, and I said I would like to go to Maui.
She said very good, and gets on the keyboard, what kind of hotel, would you like a car, so on. And finally she said ok, I’ll print out your electronic tickets and reservations. So she prints it out, gives it to me, says well enjoy your stay in Omaha.
Have a nice vacation.
Funny, I thought you said enjoy your stay in Omaha.
She said, be sure to visit the Stockyards.
I looked at my ticket, it said Omaha Nebraska.
I said, excuse me, you know this is kind of an alternate reality here. You were booking me to Maui and for some reason it printed out Omaha.
And she said, Omaha is undiscovered.
I said well I’m sure it is but— She said, I get that question a lot. I hadn’t asked her a— She said, Why not give it a whirl? I said, No, see, this says Hawaii but all the tickets say Omaha. Doesn’t that strike you as kind of inconsistent? Nothing surprises me, she said.
So we go on like this for a while. She tells me lots of Nebraskans go to Hawaii, or Arizona if they’ve got emphysema. I— Maybe she’s saying that the absence of Nebraskans from Omaha kinda sucks the rest of us into the vacuum. And we kinda chat, she’s been in this job a couple of years, and she’s divorced, and her son was arrested for stealing a parking meter. And then she says, I think you’ll really like Omaha. So we’re back to that.
By this time I’d come to the conclusion that she’s serious. Maybe trying to save the company money. Maybe she’s had like a stroke and she’s trying to do her job but she only remembers how to book people to Omaha, and they get off the plane and wonder where the palm trees are.
Or that multinational that’s headquartered in Omaha, wants to get people there for experiments. Or there’s something in Hawaii they don’t want us to know about, like special camps. Because conspiracy theories are only ways of trying to create a coherent reality from disparate facts.
I lean over and I say, you know, let’s put it this way. What I really want, I want to go to Maui. I think Omaha is fine, I have no doubt that the Comfort Inn on West 72th is an unforgettable experience, but right now I just want to go to Maui, because there’s something magical, is what I’ve heard, so could you book me to Maui, or if you can’t could I talk to your supervisor?
She said, My supervisor’s on vacation. Hawaii.
So we went around and around and I started to think about screaming to kinda make my point. And she raises her finger, like to a little boy, and she says, these were the words: Omaha is the Heartland, and in this time of madness, we must return to the heart.
Omaha is really pretty nice. I went yesterday to the Henry Doorly Zoo. This afternoon I’m taking a tour out to the Air Force base and Boys Town, which is a very famous juvenile facility. There’s a great steak house, I don’t eat beef but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there’s quite a lot of crime and racial tension, so you don’t feel like you’re in some hick town.
And in some ways I’m disappointed but ... maybe this is the right thing. For me. Right now.
Because Maui is a dream, and in this time, she said, of madness, should we not rein in our dreams, and keep them unfulfilled and pure?
There is an Omaha in every American’s heart. We’ve won the contest. We have to go there.
Survival Tip Number Three for the Plague Years: Fuck the contest.
Conspiracy... You ever wonder what they do in the VIP Lounge? Are those VIPs in there just ... lounging? And if there is a conspiracy, are you better off, is it a better survival strategy to know the conspiracy, or stay dumb? Or maybe get a job with it, like catering lunches.
Well there is a conspiracy. So here, my friends, are the facts.
Yesterday’s destruction of all transport systems in New York City, with the estimated loss of 42,000 lives, was the conspiracy of Al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida is a conspiracy of CIA and the current Administration to justify the creation of a police state in America and conquer the world.
This Administration is the front for a plot linking radical environmentalists, Black Nationalists, and international Communism to undermine capitalism by letting it disgrace itself.
Communism itself was a conspiracy by proto-Nazis to induce world chaos leading to forced attendance at the operas of Richard Wagner.
Nazism—now this gets pretty offensive here, I’m just taking this from the Internet. Nazism was funded by a cabal of Jewish extremists to produce the Holocaust, thus justifying establishment of the Zionist state.
Zionism! Zionism is a plot by the Illuminati to foment world war between the monotheistic religions and pave the way for an enlightened humanistic utopia ruled by philosopher kings.
The Roman Catholic Church founded the Illuminati as the Antichrist they’re saving us from.
God, in His wisdom, created the Roman Catholic Church.
And God’s mother told Him—he was about two years old when he did this—told Him He was a Bad Boy and made Him go stand in a black hole. God didn’t create the universe, they just gave it to Him for His birthday.
But it was all the fault of the Mother Goddess, who did not read the package label for age-appropriate toys.
Nevertheless, within the universal conspiracy, life goes on. With its orgasms, its labor pains, full moons, traffic accidents, drunk drivers, little murders, practical jokes, genocides, and its blind beauty and its rivers and its tides.
Let us conspire.
So the story is, this little Mideastern town, people going on day by day, working, paying taxes, fight over who takes out the garbage, making love, having babies, eat dinner.
But then all around there’s suffering and dying and pain and rape and lying and mucking up the sweet smells of the sacred earth. And people thought, we need some help here. What we need ... we need a leader. No, more like a teacher, a priest—high priest, no, he’s an asshole, but we need a prophet, a savior, we need ... the Messiah!
So, according to the official biography of Jesus H. Christ, as authorized by the franchise, it goes like this.
Back East, there’s a number of experts, on the talk shows and book tours, and they’re talking about this magical child, born under a magical star...
And the Administration, they watching television to know what’s going on, they hear about the Messiah. The Messiah? Well fuck that. We better do a little preemptive dentistry on that.
So the Special Forces, they string out a perimeter of 20 kilometers around this little village where they pinpoint the clandestine development program. Orders are neutralize all male progeny under the age of two. And there’s lotta grousing around the barracks, the soldiers, cause, first, we’re not those Roman sonsabitches, we’re Jews, this is killing our own people. And this is quick-strike, you go in, do it, get out, how you got time to check every screaming little kid for a prick? And then... Lottta these soldiers are daddies, and what if that kid looks like yours?
But they were pros. They were patriotic.
Now the story that is told— No. Right now, we gotta talk about the slaughter. Cause we celebrate the birth, but we forget the slaughter. You know, three hundred people die in a plane crash, and one survives, and he says What a miracle! God did one just for me!
So they celebrate the Christmas season without including the blood. Cause think about a couple hundred dead babies, you don’t feel much like shopping. But so what happens, holding onto the gift and forgetting what it came wrapped in, is that on this one magical day we celebrate the divine gift, and on each and every one of the three hundred and sixty-four other days—we memorialize the slaughter.
Well the old proverb, you cannot make an omelet without killing chickens. So one solder, name Jim, he and his buddies take the left side the road, first house, family just standing in the living room, not even hiding. He grabs the baby, mother holds on. So he sticks the point on the baby and just ... pokes. Goes right in, like butter, pulls out, big glug of blood, and mama yells and he splits her head one chop. He needs to feel something solid. Jim goes outside, there’s a pile of little kids, ten or twelve in a pile, they’re dead but a soldier is whacking on the pile, just hacking away, crazy, then runs across the road and starts in hacking his sword on a fig tree till the blade snaps and he keels over and vomits. Jim thinks what a nut, and he turns around, his two best buddies, they got a little girl, eight or nine, buck naked, and they’re trying, you know, to do, you know, put it in, but they can’t manage. And Jim thinking why they doing that, they’re nice guys, they’re just upset, and her mother is trying to crawl over and stop it, but her arm is kinda dragging by a tendon, finally his buddies give up on trying to have a relationship with the little girl and stand up and stomp her head in. And the mother howled a great howl, and his buddies started howling. Jim thought they were making fun of her, that wasn’t very nice, but they couldn’t stop. They howled, they howled, and the dogs picked up the howling, and then the hills. ((Those hills are still howling today.))
And that’s all Jim remembered. They all got drunk that night. Round over the whole perimeter, maybe hundred fifty, two hundred little suspected Messiahs, besides the collateral damage.
So the way they tell it: One little boy, engendered by the Lord God of Hosts to redeem us out of our sins, got away, skipped town, then came back and grew up to be ... the Savior. Who, even if you are not of the Christian faith, was generally agreed to be a very nice person.
But now suppose— Now I don’t want to offend anybody’s proclivities, but just suppose...
Suppose the little baby Messiah, him or her, we don’t know about that, was in the village that day, about the fourth house down, and the soldier grabbed it and flung it into the air, and the Son or Daughter of God was skewered on a sword, like a puppy dog. And the one that got away, he was just a kid. Just a kid.
Now just give it the benefit of the doubt. We’re just speculating. It’s just a story, like a speech by the President, it doesn’t have to be true. It’s poetry.
Suppose, about the age of twelve, the little boy that escaped—his mommy and daddy told him the story. It was a miracle, showed God’s love and they thanked God for bringing’em safe. And he asked, “What about the other babies?” They said “Shut up with that!”
And the story, they took him to the big city, and looking at the big tall buildings and all the sights, then suddenly “Where’s the kid?” And they find him in the Temple, with the priests and the rabbis, asking all these questions. Why? Why why why why why? Why!!!? And they’re talking about sin and obedience and the scriptures and the opinions of Rabbi Horscht and Rabbi Borscht, and he says, “Why?” They said “Who is this kid?” And his mom grabbed him, “Don’t you ever do that again!”
He knew then that the Messiah was dead. And he alone escaped alive to know it. He felt so guilty. So he knew if there was ever going to be a Messiah, he’d have to do it. Fake it till you make it.
Over the years, he did better than fake it. He studied up. Applied himself. Lost weight. Got a pair of sandals good for walking.
And he wrote some beautiful songs that went into people’s hearts, and you couldn’t help but dance to it, even if you’re a big fat slob but you’re cavorting and prancing, it feels so good. Although, he didn’t hold onto his copyrights, so his label kinda simplified the lyrics, changed the arrangements, so you hear his stuff mostly in elevators or selling somebody a bill of goods.
Then he’s hung up to dry. Took’em thirty-three years but they caught him. And they tacked him up like a poster on a bulletin board, they riveted him onto a $24.95 bronze memorial crucifix hanging on the wall, with his own mother howling. He wanted somebody to stomp his head in, cause it hurt so bad.
And he’s up there, look out over the city, and the hills and the howling in the hills ((I thirst!)), and he knew he’d failed. All those babies that died, and the real Messiah that died with a sword up its little ass, and ((Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!)) —he had blown it. He saw the villages, the town, and cities, whole races of humankind upon whom the soldiers would charge down to wipe those babies off the face of the earth—in his name. ((My God my God why hast Thou forsaken me?)) In his name.
And he heard a voice: What you talking about?
Now this might have been the voice of the Lord God of Hosts. Yahweh. Jehovah. Our Heavenly Father. But it sounded like a woman. You know some guys have high voices, and you call on the phone, “Hi, Mrs. Wolinski, could I talk to Sam?” “This is Sam.” So it coulda been the Father. But it sounded—sounded female.
She said Whatsa matter, boy? You think you so special? You think they wasted the real Messiah and now they got the I’ll-try-my-best-to-be-the-Messiah Messiah? You think the Divine Breath of the Universe that spews out fish eggs and dandelion seeds and Big Macs and SUVs and mosquitoes by the quadrazillions, has only got the human eggs and spermatozoa for one Messiah? We got tons of plutonium and uranium and trillium and billium and congolium and vitriolium to blow the lid off the whole fucking planet, but we don’t got the makings for more than one Messiah? Oh my no.
She say, You hear that howling, over the hills? That’s your mama crying down there, but up here, from the vantage point that you have achieved in life, with a scenic view, you hear the hills of the Promised Land. That is the howls of labor. That is the women birthing messiahs, numberless.
And he hears it. The mothers of the sons and the daughters. Howling out what it takes to give birth ... to a god. He’s hanging there hearing the birth of gods. The head crowns from the cervix, and she waits, she waits, and then she starts to push, and a god sees light. And the god on the cross, he laughed, cause it took him so long to get it.
And for these women, who will not say that they birth the Savior? Who will deny them this claim? Who will not see that these women give birth, by the millions, to Saviors every day? That we send forth commandos daily to neutralize these Saviors? These tiny suckling Saviors who despite our best efforts are still being born.
And some escape, and live, and sing. And the labor lives in their mothers, and the coming of light.
One more story. Then we’ll take a breath.
Survival Tip: Remember to breathe. Make it your top priority.
One more story.
Once upon a time, there was—or there wasn’t—or there was—a great Wizard.
He lived ((the way they do)) in a dark stone castle, perched on high cliffs over the ocean.
He was greatly feared, having done much good in the world.
One day, a little kid ((this is a different little kid)) climbed up the path to the Wizard’s castle. Been walking all night, tired, cold, it was before sunrise, just a little kid. One of those at-risk kids.
Kid’s name was— What’s your name? (audience: “Casey.”) Casey. What’s yours? (“Rachel”) Rachel. What’s yours? (“Sam”) One of those.
Tapped on the great stone door...
Door opened. The Wizard stood scowling a mighty scowl.
What dost thou desire?
((That’s the way they talk, not in California but he was from back East.))
So the little kid said, “Uh ... well ... I ... I ... just kinda wanted ... to ... if maybe ... cause I was .. but not if .. could maybe ... learn some ... uh ... well ... like, magic?”
The Wizard grunted a grunt.
Thou wouldst be my apprentice?
“WellyesIguessImeanbutjustifnottoomuchIwasifyou... (improvised panic) ... I mean ... yeh.”
Why wouldst thou learn the magical craft?
“Well, I ... I saw it in a book.”
Now the Wizard is pissed. Every kid’s read those damn books. Every other day there’s one banging on his door thinking they’re gonna get in the movies. They don’t realize that it’s fiction. So he says...
For one day shalt thou do the chores assigned.
If thou art worthy, I will teach thee.
If not, it will befall thee what befell the others.
So the Wizard brought the kid into the castle, and the kid’s thinking, “What befell the others? They burned up, or turned into little smelly things that make sucking sounds,” pretty scary. What they did in fact was go home and do their homework and grow up and get jobs and watch television and buy insurance and die.
The Wizard explained the chores ... (improvised, rapid phrases) ... chop the vegetables ... feed the cat ... dust the cobwebs ... laundry ... sweep the floors, carry the water ... don’t get smart with the broom if you saw the Disney movie ... etc. etc. etc.)
And the Wizard went to the door, and then he turned.
On the hearth lies a wand.
((Looks over there, looks like a little short mop handle.))
A wand whose weight is greater than the earth.
A wand which beat the galaxy of stars out of chaos like eggwhites.
It is the Wand of Time.
Do not touch the wand.
And the Wizard vanished.
So the kid looks around, starts in on the chores, and off to chop the vegetables (fast improvisation here), and looks at the wand, and feeds the cat, waters the cat, dust the cobwebs, look at the wand, do the laundry and the socks and the towels, look at the wand, sweep the floors and carry the water, and don’t get smart with the broom, and look at the wand, and this and that and check the worklist, and look at the wand ... and look at the wand ... and look at the Wand of Time...
And the child goes to the hearth and— big surprise—picks up the wand.
But ... it’s light. It’s light, like a little short mop handle. “I could wave this around, and ... do magic, like.”
But maybe, well, if you did magic indoors it’d make a big mess, and spill stuff, and scare the cat, and then the Wizard would come back and...
So the child went out the front door, out by the rocks, down over the ocean, and...
Waved the wand.
And the sun came up.
It came up real slow, but higher and higher.
A wave of the wand, and the fog began to rise.
A wave of the wand, and the tide came in on the sand below.
So slow, you could hardly see it move, seemed like hours, but this is the Wand of Time, and all up and down the coast, the surf...
A wave of the wand, and through the fog there’s a rainbow, double rainbow, amazing, colors you’d never seen...
And a wave of the wand, and fish and whales and dolphins leap and dance in the water, “look at’em, all the...”
What a colossal power in the Wand of Time.
Little kid sat watching, watching, watching, till the sun is high in the sky. Uh-oh, the Wizard said he’d come back when the sun was up, I better put the wand back or I’ll get in trouble, so back in, pull the door shut, turn around and...
What hast thou done?
“Well, I hast done ... hath did all the chores, cat, cobwebs, laundry, chop the carrots, floors, water, uh, and stuff, and...”
“—and I sort of ... waved the wand...”
The Wizard scowled. Dark yellow clouds before the tornado.
“...But I ... waved it, and ... the sun came up ... it was so ... and I waved it, and the fog went up, and I waved it and the ocean came in on the beach, I never saw how big and ... all down the beach as far as ... and I waved it and the rainbow, double rainbow, all the colors, I never saw colors like ... and I waved it and there’s whales and fish and dolphins, they’re jumping, and I never knew it was so big and beautiful, I’ve never seen, so beautiful and please don’t turn me into a little smelly thing!”
The Wizard took the mighty wand.
The child felt very small.
This is no wand.
It is a mop handle.
Without it, the sun would have risen.
The fog would lift.
The whales and fish and dolphins would play, the rainbows appear, and the tide come in forever.
Thou didst not make this magic.
Yet without thy waving, thou wouldst not have seen it.
We’ll be back.
It’s an old story. There’s a forest. Way far distant, back in the unexplored territory. There’s a village of animals. All kinds of animals, most of’em migrated there. Escaped from the zoo, or nearly wiped out by shopping malls, starving, looking for something to eat.
It’s not Shangri La. It’s a hard living, they get into fights, lot of barking and yowling and honking, but they manage. New animals come, and there’s always some hassle about that, but the forest is big, and they all got their place. This land is their last best hope.
Now, Coati—a coati mundi, it’s called a coon cat, but it doesn’t look like a coon or a cat, more like a ferret, little graceful ratty thing. His grandparents escaped from being pets, but he’s the only coati in the forest, and he falls in love with a frowzy little lady screech owl. Course she’s up in the branches, doesn’t even notice him, maybe that’s good cause if she did she’d either laugh at him or eat him.
But he’d hang around by the trunk of the tree and try to look up under her feathers. Didn’t know how to reach her. Didn’t have much experience with the ladies, except once with an armadillo. That didn’t work out.
He thought, well, if I could be a big shot, kind of a mover and shaker, that’s what the ladies like. So one day, he’s out on the edge of the forest, and across the plain, he sees two animals. Can’t tell what, but they’re big suckers. Come closer, it’s a bear and an elephant. Now there’s other bears and elephants in the forest, from a scroungy little circus, but this was a big, huge hairy bear and the fattest elephant he’d ever seen.
And they see him, they come at him, cause they’re ravenous, and Coati’s about to slip down a hole and escape, but then ... a great thought descends upon him, and the vision of the screech owl’s tail feathers, and he stands his ground.
Bear grabs him, Coati says, “Let’s think.” Bear stops—whuzzat? Coati says, “Hungry? Cool. What you need, you need a political strategist.”
That hangs’em up. He asks’em their names. Big huge grizzly, mad red eyes, and this wide mean grin, fulla teeth, growls, “Funny Bear.” Why do they call you Funny Bear? “I’m funny.”
Big fat elephant: Who are you? “I’m Worse Elephant.” Why do they call you worse? “Cause I’m worse.”
Coati sees they’re big and strong and mean and mad. The perfect clients. Tells’em about the village of the animals. All kinds of food there, but if they just try to loot the place, why, the animals would swarm all over’em and kill’em. So they need Coati. Cause Coati thinks, yeh, I won’t be the big shot, but I’ll be part of the inner circle, that’s what the ladies like, maybe I could not only fuck the screech owl, I could fuck the ostrich.
So Funny Bear and Worse Elephant, they’re pretty hungry, and they’re smart enough to know they’re stupid. So it’s a deal. Coati runs back to the village. Terrible news, terrible news. What, what, what? And he screams, The humans are coming! And everybody freaks, cause the humans are most savage, vicious, evil, ungodly, inhuman scum on the face of the planet. They’ll kill the animals, cut the forest, pave it over, lay a 300 acre parking lot and not even the worms can breathe. Even the lion is shaking so hard his hair falls out.
And Coati says, I got a plan. ((He notices the lady screech owl hops down to a lower branch.)) He tells how he met these big, strong, fierce animals, that are stronger than all of’em put together, and they’re the only chance we got against the humans, to preserve our way of life. And they need a lot of food, but it’s either them or the bipeds.
So the animals, they’re scared shitless, ok ok, and Coati says, now Funny Bear, he looks mean but he’s got this big smile, and you can’t fake a smile, and Worse Elephant, he looks mean too, but he’s really fat, and that means he’s jolly, so we all gotta make sacrifices, but we will prevail.
So Funny Bear and Worse Elephant come to the village. And it is damn tough, because there was enough food to go around, but they got huge appetites. Funny Bear he just runs around day and night, grabbing stuff to eat, grab it right outa somebody’s hands, grinning like a sonofabitch, and the animals, they are pissed but Coati says, He needs that to keep up his strength. Remember the humans! And look at that grin, you just gotta love that grin. Everybody hears “humans” and starts shivering, ok, ok, and they get skinnier every day.
And Worse Elephant is worse. He’s thirsty. There’s a spring all the animals drink out of, plenty of water. But Worse Elephant comes in the morning, starts drinking, by noon it’s dry. And the animals, they are pissed but Coati says, He needs that! Remember the humans! And look how jolly he is, you just gotta love’im. And everybody hears “humans,” and they get thirstier every day.
Well this is wearing pretty thin. Coati’s running around talking about the humans, but nobody’s seen any humans, they just see these bastards chowing down. And the lady screech owl looking down at Coati but the way you might look at a hot dog, where you’re not really thinking how sexy it looks.
Coati sees the writing on the wall.
One day Funny Bear’s looking pretty bad. What’sa matter? Turns out, for six weeks, Funny Bear has not—. Well you know the old saying, does a bear shit in the woods? The answer is, only if he has time. And he’s running round, eating everything, he’s too busy, if it’s there to eat he’s gotta eat it, it’s like all the plutonium, we’re gonna do something with it sometime but the storage facilities are full, and the time has come for that bear to say, “I can’t shit.”
Now Coati’s smart, sometimes he’s too smart, but he says, ok, points to a weed. Whuzzat? It’s a shitweed. But you gotta be careful. Take just a little nibble, leave enough for everybody, cause that’s what we use here, and if you eat it all, then we don’t have any. You gotta share.
That’s all he needs to hear. Share! That concept is unanimalistic! He pulls up the weed, crams the whole mother into his mouth. More! And Coati says, there’s a whole shitweed patch over there, but we really need all that, and Funny Bear chomps through the weed patch, right down to the roots.
Takes about three quarters of an hour. Little bit of rumbling down there. And then—
Now I don’t know how to be delicate about this, cause for some people, shitting is not part of their self-image. But I’m not really in control of this, now, cause that weed is working, and that bear has gotta shit.
And he shits. I mean he’s eaten so fast he hasn’t even had time to digest. He shits out roast beef and potatoes and yams and pumpkin pies, artichoke hearts, smoked salmon, what the hell’s happening, and piles and heaps and masses and loads and it’s starting to creep up on him, up to his ankles, then his knees, he can’t stop, that weed is working, it’s up to his thighs, and he’s freakin’ out, I’m gonna get buried, he starts to climb a tree, he’s not a tree bear, but that pile is tail-gating him, watermelons and pop tarts and tofu, some bunch of rubber tires he just couldn’t resist, and hay bales and three whole roast pigs, vinyl upholstery, and it’s following him up the tree, and he grabs onto a vine and swings out over the clearing, swinging from tree to tree, this huge extruding grizzly bear pursued by the crest of dung. And is seen no more.
Along come Worse Elephant. Says, what’s all this shit? Coati say, Funny Bear had a accident. But it’s an opportunity for you. Says, now he’s outa the way, you can be President. He knew Elephant had aspirations. “How I do that?”
Coati tells him, Look, you’re drinking up the water, everybody’s dying of thirst, and you’re pissing it all away. But dig: it’s a natural resource. You gotta hold onto your piss. Then any animal that needs liquid refreshment, they gotta come to you. That’s privatization.
Yeh, makes sense to the Elephant. They’ll have to fall down and worship me. To get their little Dixie cup.
So he drinks up the spring, and all the animals, tongues hanging out. And he tries to hold onto it, but that’s not so easy, you know how it is. So Coati says, here, tie a rope around it. Coati takes this rope about an inch and a half diameter, ties a cinch knot. Mh. Ok. Next morning, Elephant drinks up the spring, animals crying, Elephant says you know I gotta— Coati pulls the cinch knot. Mh. Ok. Next day, Elephant drinks up the spring, and the animals dying, Elephant says this is really— Coati pulls the cinch knot. Mh. And Coati says, the commodity’s rising on the futures market.
Next day, Elephant drinks up the spring. And he’s sweating, his seams are starting to strain, he’s glassy-eyed, rocking hard, I’m gonna be President, President. Yeh, you’re gonna be President, just hold out a little more, and Coati pulls the cinch knot. Mh.
And long about midafternoon, the Elephant, he’s going Eeeeeeeeeh... Eeeeeee... And finally Coati says, Ok, it’s time! Says, All you animals want a drink of elephant piss, come bow down to the President! And he looses the knot. And with the mad blast of a puissant fire hose, Elephant is launched.
Now he’s kinda asymmetrical, you know, so he doesn’t go straight up like a rocket. More like a whirligig. Takes off strong, bangs off the oak tree, flips over, bounces along the ridge, up into the air, down to the rock face, up over the gully then far, far away.
And the animals crawl up to the pool that is slowly filling, and drink from the water of the spring.
For Coati, things worked out ok. Nobody was much happy about the mountain of shit, or the funky smell from the Elephant’s rocket fuel. But they were glad stuff was back to normal. They didn’t even ask where all those humans went. Mammals got short memories.
So Coati, he was a hero. Screech owl, she did notice him, and after while, they got it on. They say opposites attract. Eventually, she flew off with a buzzard, and Coati— Well, that’s another story.
What are you looking for? What are you looking for? What are you looking for? What are you looking for? What you are looking for... I am revealing it to you for the price of admission... You are looking for the Grail.
The what? Well, not real sure. Some say the Grail is a cup, a goblet, or kinda like a plate or a bowl. And for Christians this is the cup or plate that Jesus used at the Last Supper, or caught his blood dripping down from the cross. For the Celts it was a vessel for healing waters; for the Moslems it was carved from stone that fell from the heavens— everybody has their own idea, but what they all agree on it will bring to us the deepest joy and rapture, but nobody knows where it is.
So you all heard of the King Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round. This was their big thing. The knights of the Table Round sat around the Table Round, and they’re drinking and ho-ho’ing, and every now and again somebody gets up off his butt and says, “Time to search for the Holy Grail.” Goes off, month or two he comes back dented, they say “Well did you find it?” He says, “No man, it’s a pisser.” Says, “I had a line on it, but it didn’t work out.”
And there’s Galahad. Galahad is the most noble and holy and clean-living of all the knights of the Table Round. He don’t just sit around the table. He’s out there, really shagging ass for the Holy Grail. He goes riding out and killing the black knight and killing the blue knight, killing the dragon, he’s on a roll, and the bards and minstrels singing his glories and praise. And he swore to high heaven, “I’m gonna find/that/Grail!”
But he never found it. Now there’s stories that he finds it and he’s bathed in the white light and the beautiful smells of creation—but you know the minstrels gotta tell it the way people wanta hear. They gotta make a living.
Actually, Galahad got older, got married, didn’t like to travel so much. He’d built a beautiful castle, out in the suburbs, he’d sit around with his beautiful wife, his kids, his friends— they didn’t have television then, they just flipped on a minstrel. And the minstrels singing his glorious deeds, like he paid’em to.
Galahad got older, got a belly, drank a little more than he should. But his lady loved him. She saw the strong young knight, eyes pure as amber, and the vision. Well, the Grail, he thought about the Grail, but that was kinda on the back burner. He had business to attend to. Had to think about his family, and his knights, and his clergy, and his peasants.
Peasants. The goddamn peasants. Every day there was something. Try to cheat on their taxes, poach deer, beat their wives, starve their children. Live like pigs. They weren’t human—human beings wouldn’t live that way. But it’s God’s will, way it’s always been, that’s the way of it.
One day—which day, must have been a Tuesday, things happen on Tuesdays—One day they brought in a peasant. Here— What’s your name?— (Raymond) Name Raymond. They’d caught Raymond poaching rabbits. He was beat up pretty bad. And Sir Galahad, he was Christian, he had a sense of justice and righteousness and the will of the Almighty God, and he said, Well Raymond... You know the law. Galahad says, You know the punishment. You steal with these hands, you lose’em. Cut off his hands.
Let me speak, says Raymond. Your Lordship, he says.
Keep it short.
He looks Galahad in the face. How am I, says Raymond, How am I to live without hands? How do I pay my taxes? How do I feed my children? They’re starving already. The rabbits were gifts from God.
Sir Galahad turned his back to this speech of the Devil.
You hear me! Raymond yelled. May God bring you what you bring to me. Let you go begging on bended knee. Let you see your dearest creature die. Let you drink your own tears.
Nuffa that. They dragged him off. And here’s what they did. Here’s what the soldiers did to Raymond. His own damn fault.
Took him out to the common.
All the peasants around in a circle, and his wife, scrawny woman with a crook nose, and his children.
They stripped him naked. They flogged him. They chopped off his hands, bound up the stumps to stop the blood. That was for the stealing.
And for the disrespect—
They made slits down his sides and his limbs, his jaw, very neat, like to skin a rabbit, and they pulled off his skin and his face. And the sounds that he made, even the soldiers never forgot the sounds he made.
They left him all day in the sun. Till dusk, and then they poured oil on him, and burned him. And they burned his cabin and put the scrawny wife and kids on the road, outa there.
They reported to Galahad what they had done. He was satisfied. It’s hard, but that’s what you have to do, that was the way of it. His wife looked upset, so he called for his fool.
His fool was named Sammy. Little hunchback, with a wispy beard and a high-pitched girly voice and a limp. The knights loved Sammy. They’d kick him, throw food at him, make him eat from the dog dish, laugh at his hunchback and his limp and his sweet little girly face, they’d say, Talk to us, Sammy, and Sammy’d say crazy stuff, and they’d laugh because he was so dumb. It was ok to laugh cause they knew he didn’t feel things, the way real people do.
Say something, Sammy!
What are you sad about, Sammy?
He looked in the face of Galahad’s wife.
Cause you sad.
The wife excused herself and retired to bed. This is boring, Galahad said, and got very drunk.
Galahad dreamed that night, and the next and the next and the next. Flames, look into flames, and out of the flames walks a scrawny woman with a crook nose, holds out a cup. He takes the cup, looks into it...
Finally he told the dream to his wife, she said talk to the Priest. The Priest sent to the Bishop, the Bishop sent to the Cardinal, and the Cardinal sent back the word: it is the Grail.
You have sinned in seeking the Grail, swearing to find the Grail, then quitting your quest for the Grail.
Oh he didn’t want to hear that. He’s in no shape to— He’s got too much to— But he knew. He must make one final quest for the Holy Grail.
Let’s do it right this time. Three hundred soldiers, pack trains, supplies—more taxes and the peasants are bitching about their kids are starving, but what’s he supposed to do about that? He’s made a sacred vow.
Spring morning, day after Easter. It’s time. His wife was all weepy. She knew it might be months, years, a lifetime. She watched him put on his armor, remembered her handsome young knight, eyes pure as amber, filled with sunlight. And this flabby middle-aged guy who bulged out the sides of his breastplate and waddled down to the horses— Did she love him? Yes. She did.
He said ok, bye. Neither one touched. That was the way of it. They hoisted him up on his horse, and she went inside and sat by the fire with Sammy.
She talked to Sammy when she needed to. Course she confessed to the priest the stuff you confess to priests, but she spoke her heart to Sammy. Sammy never said nothing, except sometimes Hello, Springtime.
He called her Springtime. Course that wasn’t her name, she had a whole long string of names, but she came to think of her name, her true name, as Springtime.
And she cried out to Sammy her grief, and her fear that her beautiful knight had lost his soul, it was withered in him, and she only saw it flicker alive when he looked in her eyes. Without her, his soul would shrivel up like some kinda naked, skinned worm in the sun.
Sammy leaned close to her ear, told her what to do.
The troops rode out through the castle gate, Sir Galahad in the lead. They’re a mile down the road, word comes up from the rear that Sammy the Fool is running after’em. Take me along! he squeaks, and the soldiers laughing. Galahad felt happy. They had one hell of a trip ahead, and laughter was good for morale. He halted the column, Sammy caught up, and Galahad lifted him up, set him behind, and Sammy clung to the noble, paunchy knight. The quest began.
It was like all the quests. They’d march three days, come through a village, challenge the local warlord, cut off his balls and loot the place. They’d kill the livestock, feast, and at night they’d all get drunk and call for the fool, make him prance around and pretend to be a girl, and they’d all laugh and laugh and then raise a mighty snoring. That was the hero’s journey.
Course they’d torture the captives to tell’em about the Grail, but it was never there.
There were times when Galahad was in no mood for revelry, and word went around that the old man was moody, and they got drunk in silence. He’d stare into the fire, like waiting for something, then he’d turn round, look at his fool. Sammy the Fool, and it almost seemed he saw love in Sammy’s eyes, or something like love, like his own wife’s face in this ludicrous freak of nature, and something flickered in him, flickered alive.
Then he looked away, and Sammy crouched lower, and wept.
They stopped counting the months. One night a sentry screamed out in the dark, roused the camp. What did you see? The angel of death. Shitface got twenty lashes for being drunk.
Next day, men started to die. They got faint, then a fever, convulsions, then zip. The plague. They were in a village, they fell on the village, wiped out every one of the motherfuckers, and that night, at the fires, they screamed out their laughter, and pissed on the fool, pissed in the little fag’s face, and Galahad stared at the fire.
Three days, the soldiers were dead. And the horses. Galahad stared at the fire, and beside him, his fool.
Next morning, they took what food they could, strapped it onto the back of the fool, and started to walk. Gotta find that Holy Grail. Galahad’s armor was rusted. Sword shattered. Came to a castle or a hovel, the fool begged food and would ask, You know about the Grail? But people saw they were beggars, it was just a scam.
At night, the fool made a fire, and Galahad stared in the fire at the angel of death.
It came to a time when Galahad turned to the fool, struck the fool in the face, screamed Talk to me! Tell me the truth! Do I find the Grail? And the fool said only ... looking in Galahad’s eyes, the way his wife had looked, and he felt a flicker ... said only ... Springtime. And Galahad beat the dumb stupid shit.
One day, the fool died. This was the way of it. They’d been on the road all day. Late afternoon. Heard the sound of hooves. Sight of horsemen. Rushing on. They came into view. Knights of the Table Round. Sir Lancelot, Sir Kay, Sir Bedivere, Sir Boris de Ganis, Sir Gawain, Sir Percival. Men they knew. Men who were brothers. Riding down upon them.
The fool stood in the roadway. Crying help, help for your brother! And the hooves came down.
((And the Knights of the Table Round gallop into the black. The black, meaning the black centuries, the millennia we studied in grade school, the night of the the nightmares rising, the slaughters our children give flesh to, in the schoolyards and the killing fields, and the angel of death is full.))
Galahad carried his broken fool.
To the bank of a river, and there he lay down this wisp of a body. The fool, Sammy the fool, stared into Galahad’s eyes, the flickering soul...
And Galahad pulled the hood of the cloak away. The fool’s thin beard was gone. And the hair, the long flaxen hair of his wife flowed down. And the sound that Galahad made, the buzzards themselves could never forget the sound that he made.
And now, you see, came the miracle. That we cannot believe in, because we wanta see the movie about those knights on their steeds. And cause we gotta have some revenge on this bastard, and we cannot believe in redemption because that would mean coming out of here—I mean you just bought a ticket to a show!—coming out with faith in the human heart.
But the time was now, and this was the way of it.
Galahad’s armor melts away, like candle wax. He feels his skin pulled off him, like a rabbit’s skin, and his face. The sun rises up like fire, the sky in flames, and he knows he’s lying there naked in the sun, and that must be him that’s screaming those very impressive screams.
And out of the sun, he sees a woman step. It’s a peasant woman. She’s coming out of her hut.
No food in the house, good sir, but here’s a cup. I’m in mind of my own man, he that gave me my children long ago, lying there screaming, and no one to give him water.
She holds out a cup. He takes it. A plain tin cup. Empty.
But it’s empty! The cup is empty!
Galahad looks up. Her face is a blur, and then he sees her face, and the crooked nose, and he stares in the eyes of—
His tears come then. They flow like flaxen hair. The battered cup brims with his tears. He drinks, and he fills.
He has found the Grail.