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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #380
Jailhouse Tongue
David Gunn

Shundar Fez, the Ministry of Historical Revisions' Special Agent, awakes to the sound of panpipes played as if the piper doesn't know if his audience comes from a daycare center or an abattoir. His memory is as fuzzy as the velvet pad on which he is sprawled, but he does have a vague recollection of a man pulling a rabbit out of a hat. No, not quite--he had pulled a prayer wheel out of an aquarium, of course! Mixed among his fleetly fleeing dreamscapes is a disturbing memory of the man--his guru!--blinking wildly for help just before disappearing ... into the floor? Fez tries to stand up, but stumbles. Something is wrapped around his leg. He reaches down to free himself and his hand brushes against something wet and fleshy. He recoils in disgust, as does the whatever-it-was, because when he summons enough nerve to glance down, there is nothing there. His leg is unfettered. He scans the room, but sees nothing. Listens. Again nothing--save for the squawk of the discordant panpipes and the wheezing rug beneath him. Fez stands up and stretches. Borraka. That was his name. Borraka Tenzing. The man had promised to show him the path to enlightenment. Why, he'd even paid him handsomely for the privilege! There is no sign of the man, so Fez dons his adobe hat and makes to leave. But his foot is asleep from an extended period of sitting awkwardly, so he stamps it to get the blood circulating again. There’s that wheezing sound again. If he were still an existentialist, he’s say that the mat was flinching from each blow. Fez edges uneasily to the door. He opens it and is suddenly face to face with a yak, which blocks his path. In fact, the yak lumbers forward, forcing Fez back into the room. The great, shaggy beast slams the door shut and glares at Fez.

"Tenzing wants you to know the parable of the ant and the grasshopper," the yak says in a voice that seems as reasonable as a slab of venison in a vegan milk shake. "Do you know it?" Fez shakes his head, and is alarmed to hear an intercranial rattle accompany the motion.

The yak says "Ant works hard in the heat all summer long, building his house and laying in supplies for the winter. Grasshopper thinks he’s a fool and laughs and dances and fritters the summer away. Come winter, Ant is warm and well fed. Grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he begs for charity from Ant. Ever generous, Ant invites him into his house, whereupon Grasshopper eats him." The yak frowns at Fez. "Do you understand the moral? Do you ... uhhh!"

As Fez observes the revoltingly long tongue pull the chatty yak towards the velvet rug's maw, he is disinclined to continue on this path to enlightenment. Sealing the memories of this house in a metaphysical baggie, he hurries to the door, opens it, and steps outside.

He is in the midst of a bustling market in Qamdo, a city in eastern Tibet. Throngs of shoppers crowd the vendors' stalls, haggling over the price of everything from porta-yurts to goat dung creemees. A Tuvan tenor busks for Tibetan pesos, his throat-yodeling complementing the raucous skirl of the panpipes. Parents sit their children on the lap of an animatronic Dalai Lama, who, for a small fee, blesses them and gives them a bowl of warm slurry. The crowd parts, allowing a shepherd to guide his flock of yaks through the street. As each animal passes, it glances at Fez, causing him to subvocalize either the word "ant" or "grasshopper." The shepherd looks vaguely familiar--those sideburns, that slicked-back hair, the velvety sheen of his leisure suit--and when he stares at him, Fez is compelled to hum the opening riff from "Jailhouse Rock."

Aimless now, Fez wanders through the bazaar. So many puzzling thoughts are peppering his consciousness that he can’t bring clarity to any one of them. Instead, he concentrates on the screech of the panpipes, to which he is drawing closer. He rounds a corner and there, on a small dais, sits the piper. It is a young woman, whose beauty, notwithstanding her chador habiliment, causes him to conjure an image of cantaloupes (not diced) in heavy syrup. She finishes her tune with a trill so high that the cantaloupes burst, drenching his mind with sweet, orange pulp. Fez is enchanted, and when she stands up, he begins to undress her with his eyes, stopping only when his eyelashes get caught in the zipper of her plus fours. She gestures for Fez to approach her, and he does so eagerly. She extends her hand, which Fez grasps. To his horror, it feels wet and fleshy, like a tongue. Suddenly growing longer, it coils around his arm, his shoulder, and his torso. Then it squeezes him, hard. Fez gasps and struggles to escape, but the appendage is too powerful. Now wrapped around his legs, it yanks him off his feet, knocking the wind out of him. With his still unencumbered left hand, Fez pulls the pin in his adobe hat and tosses it at the panpipes. Then he faints.

An enigmatic dream of an ant eating a grasshopper escorts Shundar Fez to consciousness. But more disturbing is the tableau that greets his eyes. The exploding adobe hat has reduced the panpipes player to entrails, and not very comely ones at that. Gnawing on the inordinately long arm is a yak, who turns to face Fez as he sits up. "Remember Buddha's first noble truth in our quest for nirvana?," it asks in that disquieting venison-in-a- vegan-milk-shake voice. "'Life is suffering.' Well, you’d better get used to it!," it snaps, stomping down hard on an unidentifiable body part. Somewhere in the distance, a velvet mat wheezes.

This 380th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is apt to fall somewhere between "life" and "suffering," and here to interpret its place in the musically wheezy cosmos is Kalvos.