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The Essay
Show #397
The Butterfly Effect
David Gunn

Early one January morning, on a high desert mesa in northern New Hampshire, Beano Bengaze reaches into the pocket of his Armani dashiki and extracts a pinch of corn pollen. He slowly walks in a spiral while intoning what sounds like the word "Studebaker." The closer he gets to the middle of the spiral, the more his net height decreases. At the center, he measures 3'3¼" from bunion to cowlick. His feet, too, have shrunk proportionately, but he foresaw this physical modification and wore elastic boots to compensate. Now he stops, faces the east, and stretches out his arms towards the dawning sun. His left hand is still several million miles from the corona, however, when it bumps into Planet Mercury, abruptly closing an intragalactic circuit. A powerful wind blows down from the outer reaches of the thermosphere, pinning Beano to the ground and wrapping his miles and miles of arms are wrapped around him like a giant Möbius-stripped eel with an overactive thyroid gland. Briefly stunned, he recovers enough to continue the ritual. He blinks his eyes--three times fast, one slow--chants "Soy el rey cera caliente de los pingüinos" (I am the hot wax king of the penguins), and releases the corn pollen into the air. Five hours later, in the sculpture garden in front of Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris, a parrot lands on the shoulder of Borakka B. Cromwell, leans into his ear, and squawks the cannon fodder theme from the 1812 Overture.

At first blush, the two events may seem about as related as cannabis and cannibals, but they most assuredly are interconnected, thanks to the "butterfly effect"--more technically, the "sensitive dependence on initial conditions." In meteorology, it is the idea that the action of even, say, a butterfly's wings creates a disturbance that, in the chaotic motion of the atmosphere, eventually becomes amplified to change large-scale climatic events. So if a grain of corn pollen is pitched into the air in New Hampshire, sooner or later it could rain parrots in Paris. It is the very essence of chaos theory.

Consider: When Beano releases corn pollen into the atmosphere, the word "pingüinos" sticks to one of the pollen grains, altering its aerodynamic properties. Unlike the other grains--which, after ascending into the sky are quickly assimilated by a bank of altocumulus on the hunt--this grain travels low to the ground, propelled due east by a wayward tendril of the solar wind. In Bangor, Maine, it is inhaled by a lobsterman suffering from Bangkok Borborygmus, causing him to sneeze. However, the extra intestinal gas serves to increase the force of the sneeze a hundred fold, and he is propelled backwards into the right lane of busy Archimedes Avenue, where a craniorhachischisiologist in a fully restored Studebaker has to swerve into a ditch to avoid him. The doctor--and, yes, his name is Lieberkühn--was racing to catch a plane bound for Minsk, but the entrenched car dashes any chance he had of making the flight. Instead, a Mesopotamian on stand-by is awarded his seat and motion discomfort bag. The fellow is a lapsed cannibal, mainly because, for the last two years, he’s been held captive by a horde of hyper-intelligent ear- and nose-beings from the Crab Nebula in a Bung Hollow, West Virginia roadhouse. And once he's again exposed to an abundance of non-cartilaginous flesh, he experiences a bit of ravening borborygmus himself. Still, his lamb brains burrito dinner entrée slakes his appetite for a while, and it isn't until the in-flight entertainment video mistakenly shows a trailer from "Dawn of the Dead," king of the necrophagia-themed films noir, that his natural tendencies emerge. As the airliner cruises past Aéroport d'Orly at 39,000 feet, he lunges for a beefy stewardess. She yelps, alerting an air marshal, who draws and fires his Taser. But the repercussions of ingesting a lamb brains burrito differ from person to person and it has given the marshal a severe attack of hiccups--which is still in progress at the moment he shoots, causing him to miss his target by six inches. Instead, he shoots a hole in the window adjacent to the Mesopotamian.

Meanwhile, the Cirrhosia Parrott Circus, having concluded a successful tour of Burkina Faso, is en route to its home base in Brussels, Belgium by bus. The Circus is perhaps best known for its all-avian orchestra, which accurately renders many classical music standards in Birdspeak®. (Beano Bengaze, by the way, has several CPCircus recordings, including a remarkably engaging performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, though he claims not to have any idea where they came from.) The bus has just discharged half a dozen fares in Paris and is about to head north when the windshield suddenly shatters into thousands of sparkling glass shards. Although the cause will never be satisfactorily determined, you can be sure it was a result of a plummeting projectile from an air marshal’s Taser smacking the glass. The bus crashes into a Studebaker. The birds panic.

Across the street, Borakka B. Cromwell is leaving Centre Georges-Pompidou, having unsuccessfully petitioned IRCAM to study harpsichord repair there. The sound of breaking glass repels him, for his fruitless interview took place above a recital hall in which an electroacoustic concert employed similar timbres, so he retreats to the confines of the sculpture garden. He pauses by the Big Smacking Lips.

While all about her is birdy chaos, the parrot Schmendrick coolly picks the lock of her cage, then with equal aplomb opens the emergency door at the back of the bus and flies away, intent on at long last returning to the Amazon rainforest of her youth. However, her years of circus life are too deeply ingrained in her, and when she spots the Big Smacking Lips, the trademark feature of her one true friend, Roto the Clown, she is inexorably drawn to them. She alights on the shoulder of a man who, except for his adobe hat, vaguely resembles Roto. And as he waves his arms, she responds in tempo, as she has done a thousand times, with the cannon fodder theme from the 1812 Overture, five hours after Beano Bengaze utters the word "pingüinos."

Today's 397th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar features a different causality known as the Butterfingers Effect, in which I accidentally drop my end of the conversation, hoping it will be picked up by Kalvos.