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The Essay
Show #305
David Gunn

Under normal viewing conditions utilizing full spectrum lights, no one would mistake Rube Goldberg for Warbler Hadley Blackmoor. The former was tall, refined and dapper; the latter was a fictional calamitologist of medium stature with a predilection for Baltimore land kelp. But the New York corner of 56th and Seventh Avenue on a Saturday afternoon in October 1948 did not come under the purview of a normal viewing condition. That was one day after Goldberg was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Contraptionology, and 16 minutes before Blackmoor would appear on the cusp of a time hiccup intent on wreaking some catastrophological havoc. Contraptionology, or the study of convoluted mechanical contrivances, was much in the news in October 1948: Vittorio de Sica had just directed "The Bicycle Thief," a movie about a sentient, two-wheeled contraption with handlebars that assumed power in Hungary under Matyas Rakosi, another cognizant mechanical contrivance posing as a humanoid with a mustache; the transistor -- the be-all and some would say end-all of contraptions -- was invented at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey ten years to the day (indeed, to the hour) after a coelacanth, a marine apparatus not seen for 65 million years, was caught off the coast of Africa in a bizarre fish-nabbing device that had contraptionologists the world over drooling; and Dutch track star Fanny Blankers-Koen had won four gold medals in the Olympic Games, thanks to a since-banned jet-propellant gadget fastened to her left sneaker, which also caused her left leg to lengthen by four inches, radically altering her subsequent racing stance. But these were minor distractions compared to a forthcoming contraptionological event Blackmoor knew he could turn into his calamité de résistance. In 16 minutes, concurrent with the arrival of Goldberg in his late-model Hudson Wingback, irritated Transjordanian Arab Legion youths would initiate a bloody armed skirmish in the recently ordained state of Israel over a mechanism known as the UN partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish territories. Blackmoor had concocted a scheme to worsen the conflict eightfold -- and remember, it was for clinical research purposes only; the calamitizer harbored no ill will of his own. Nevertheless, he now hovered in a pumpkiny haze a dozen feet above the Seventh Avenue parking lot of the New York Sun, the newspaper for which Goldberg drew his contraptionologisms. He intended to swap identities with the gizmologist long enough to have published his own contentiously acrimonious cartoon, one that would show both parties in an unforgivingly abhorrent context.

But plans, especially those involving Warbler Hadley Blackmore, Professor Emesis at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe, have a tendency to go awry, and this one was no exception. Simultaneous with the arrival of Goldberg's Hudson and the involuntary 12-foot plunge onto parking lot macadam by a surprised Blackmoor was the sudden emergence of a group of hunter-gatherer musicians from the stage door of Carnegie Hall, a block away. They had just performed Harry Partch's "I'm very happy to be telling you about this," a 1945 piece for soprano, glider pilot, kithara and Indian drum. Partch was easily the best-known musical gadgeteer of his day and was a rising star in the musical contraption industry -- four factories in northern Arizona alone had retooled their production facilities to facilitate the manufacture of his instrumental oddities. The musicians had also just performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on several beakers of celebratory post-concert schnapps so, taken together with the aforementioned non-normal viewing conditions, it is not surprising that they mistook Blackmoor for their idol, Harry P. In inebriated joy, they lifted the dazed calamaticist to their shoulders and carried him to the House of Trowels in Greenwich Village, where better lighting at last revealed to them their mistake. His wits gathered, Blackmoor raced back to the calamitous nexus, but Goldberg had long since disappeared into the newspaper building and tensions over the Arab-Jewish scuffle six time zones away had likewise vanished.

Coincidentally, vanished into that very same Arab-Jewish time zone is what Kalvos has done on this 305th contraptionology-themed episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. Oh well.