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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #360
The Widow Ululator
David Gunn

The Tia Olante Cantina sits on the banks of the Rio Grande River in southwestern Texas a tortilla's toss from Mexico. The proprietor, a Mr. Borraka B. Cromwell, is also the establishment's waitstaff, dishwasher, piano player, custodian and, usually, sole patrón. There is simply no beaten path anywhere in the vicinity to be off of. By some estimations, the nearest permanent settlement is Lubbock, but those estimators frequently espouse an alternative version of reality that features large amphibious housing developments made of bee hair. In truth, the tiny town of Sierra Bengaze looms just eight miles north of the cantina, separated by a forbiddingly hostile desert. And yes, Sierra Bengaze is the eponymous ancestral home of the musical shaman who frequents the apocryphal interstices of the occasional essay here.

Today, Cromwell has made himself a "Jimmies 'n Gin," a cocktail favored by Texas ice cream aficionados. He is nursing it the way a panda might feed her young--with a lot of woolly fur. Cromwell is sitting at the piano and, after taking a big sip and then combing the jimmies from his large, woolly mustache, he sets the glass down on the highest half-octave of black notes and begins to play.

Wait. No he doesn't. That's in an upcoming adventure. No, just delete those last 16 words and substitute these three, like this: ... and, after taking a big sip and then combing the jimmies from his large, woolly mustache, he strolls outside. (That's better.) The sun is shining through a cumulus cloud so uniformly perforated that the earth below it resembles a field of polka dots. It is the meteorological equivalent of anti-macassars. (See upcoming adventure referred to earlier.) It is also the weather phenomenon that Cromwell has been awaiting, and he dashes back into the cantina, sets his glass down on the piano (yes, the highest half-octave of the black notes), picks up his divining rod, and sprints back outside. For those of you new to the field of dousing, a divining rod is a forked branch that indicates various subterranean objects by bending downward when held over a source. The branch is important, yes, but so is the implementer. Without his innate electromagnetic connection to Mother Earth, she will not reveal her secrets. And anecdotal lore suggests that a polka-sundotted earth increases the sensitivity a dowser can perceive a hundredfold. In the past, Cromwell had used his electromagnetic talents to ferret out the occasional underground dancehall floozy, to compensate for the lack of intelligent conversation the Tia Olante routinely offered. Today, however, his quest is not of a pleasure of the flesh nature. No, today Cromwell is on the hunt for The Widow Ululator.

Mother Bumpkins is, or was, the Widow Ululator. She moved to Sierra Bengaze after her husband died in an accident so tragic and calamitous that merely hearing about it has given otherwise intrepid people the terminal willies. Mother Bumpkins avoided the willies by pining for him--though perhaps "pining" isn't the proper word. More like howling. Wailing. Keening. Ululating. At first, the townsfolk took pity on her, but her ululations were loud and they were incessant. After one and a half fortnights of endless clamorous lament, the sheriff of Sierra Bengaze served Mother Bumpkins with a gag order--that is, he tied a gag around her mouth. For two days, the town was refreshingly peaceful, but then the wailing started up again. However, when the sheriff returned to Chez Bumpkins, he found the house unoccupied. And while Mother Bumpkins was not there, her wail certainly was.

The sound resounded through the house, out onto the street, into town, seeming to permeate every interstice within an eight-mile radius. Naturally, that affected the Tia Olante Cantina, too, and its business suffered proportionately. Those who could afford to abandoned Sierra Bengaze. Other townsfolk went slightly crazy. The sheriff, who blamed himself for causing this paranormal event, turned himself in, and then inside out. Fortunately, the wail dissipated over time. After 65 days, it was scarcely perceptible--except in the desert that surrounded Cromwell's cantina. There it floated ... not on the wind, but rather in the sand--underfoot. Underground. Hence, his desire to locate the Widow Ululator.

Cromwell grasps the branch forks with both hands, pointing the end away from himself. The widowy wail seems to enter his body through his feet, and he reflexively curls his toes. The sand suddenly sings with a low moan, and Cromwell's dowser swings coincidentally to the left. He follows the rod's direction and strides forward until its arc begins to trend downward. When the tip of the rod touches the ground, he stops. He squats down, cups his hand to his ear and listens. Either the desert scrub is suffering from some sort of gastrointestinal disorder or the Widow Ululator is directly below.

Cromwell had discussed exorcising the moaning with Zenon A. Bagbee, padre of the Church of the Sanctified Not-For-Prophets in the Chihuahuan village of Puerto Ojinaga. Bagbee had painstakingly instructed him on the precise order of consecrations and sacrifices, gestures and incantations. But Cromwell, anxious to have the sound banished from his ears, rushes ahead to the incantation part. "Abra cadaver!" he declares.

A memory tendril of Bagbee's warning, "be careful what you wish for," momentarily sends a chill down his spine as the ground beneath him wobbles, a little at first, then more vigorously. Sensing a more puissant force in the offing, Cromwell jumps back, and narrowly avoids plunging into the deep fissure that opens up in front of him. Now the moaning is very loud. He can make out that of the Widow Ululator, but he also detects the laments of countless others. As the earth buckles and breaks apart, hundreds, perhaps thousands of apparitional shadows--ululators, all--drift out of the fissure and ascend into the sky, each one filling a hole in the cumulus cloud overhead. The last to rise into the sky is surely Mother Bumpkins, or her doppelgänger. She briefly hovers over Cromwell, her diaphanous digits seeming to pantomime the etymology of the word "willies." Then she ascends to the cloud and secures the last hole, ending the polka-sundot pattern on the ground. The cloud moves off to the west, slowly at first. Then, as the powerful electrochemical engines kick in, it gathers speed, and altitude. The penultimate sound Cromwell hears is that of thousands of keening souls disappearing into space in the bowels of a large, fluffy starship. The last sound he hears is that of the under-insured Tia Olante Cantina tumbling into the abyss that the ululators have lately vacated.

On the other hand, the next sound that you, our listening audients, will hear is not that of Kalvos, who is exclusively elsewhere today, but rather of the end of this recording, after which I, the anti-Kalvos, and antsy host of this 360th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, will return.