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The Essay
Show #399
Sisyphus, King of Corinth
David Gunn

"Cab! Hey cabbie!" Waldo Sisyphus, King of Corinth, stood in front of the Olympic Hotel and waved at the yellow vehicle as it sped down the boulevard. But the driver must have spotted him, because the car made a U-turn at the next intersection, careened perilously through two argumentative lanes of traffic, and screeched to a curbside halt in front of the hotel. The king pulled the back door open, doffed his crown and clambered inside. "Take me to the Tantalus Marble Quarry. You know where it is?" The driver didn't respond, but the door silently closed by itself and the cab pulled away from the curb. However, it no longer seemed to move like a car. There was no feeling of fossil-fueled forward motion. Instead, the vehicle seemed to be borne on a current of water. The sound of tires on macadam was replaced by a disquieting susurrus that also brought to mind sucking Evian bottled beverage through a straw. And the traffic around the car gradually faded away into shadowy fogdog figures. Sisyphus didn't like the look of things, and he rapped on the glass plate with his scepter. "Cabbie, what's going on here!" he demanded. "You do know where you're going, right?" But the driver paid him no heed. The king peered at him, trying to recall where he'd seen him before. The hair especially looked familiar. It writhed and wriggled, not unlike Medusa on a bad snake day. Sisyphus read the name on his license. It said Bob Charon. "Hell's bells," muttered the king.

How right he was! Charon was the boatman who ferried the living to their eternal rest in Hades, and the proprietors of that infernal region had been after Sisyphus for a long time. It seems the king had cooked up numerous fraudulent schemes to keep himself in power for well over a century, including a devastating con on Zeus. And the big god was never one to forgive and forget. Sisyphus had been to the underworld once already as an indentured guest of Hades himself. But he had convinced the lesser god that his wife, Mrs. Phus, had not given him a fitting burial, so Hades sent him back to make proper death arrangements. That was 130 years ago.

The cab floated past a buoy on which "River Styx: 1 mile" was emblazoned in fiery red letters. Sisyphus had to think fast, for he knew that the underworld and its fearsome sentry--the three-headed dog, Cerberus--lay just ahead on the opposite bank. He rummaged through the pockets in his robe. Nothing. He'd been in such a rush to get to the marble quarry that he'd left everything in his hotel room! The king executed a royal dope slap as he now saw through the ruse. But he hadn't ruled Corinth longer than any other mortal without having lots of tricks up his sleeves. Checking his sleeves, he found a packet of kibble. And with that, the king began to devise a plan.

The cab's intercom crackled to life. "Next stop, Hades! All passengers must debark." A diabolical laugh that seemed to issue from the pit of purgatory itself followed the announcement. Moments later, the cab bumped against the ferry slip and a Tartarean longshoreman secured the vehicle to the pier. At last, Charon turned around to sneer at his hoodwinked fare. But ... where's Waldo? Sisyphus was nowhere to be seen!

Charon whistled a high-pitched keen that instantly summoned the frightful Cerberus. The ferryman pointed to the back door and shrugged his shoulders. The poly-pated canine yanked it open--the door, not the shoulders--and was greeted with a handful of kibble flung by Sisyphus, who had hidden on the floor of the cab. Befuddled--and, let's face it, famished, for food is a luxury only for the living--Cerberus gobbled up the palatable pellets. But then his Olympian dog training kicked in and he leapt onto the king. Actually, he leapt onto the king's robe, for Sisyphus had slipped it off and ducked out the other door while Cerberus was kibbling. Then he slammed it shut, ran around to the other side of the car and slammed that door shut, too. And while he no longer had his royal robe, he still had plenty of sleeves. From one attached to his breeches, he pulled out a tokamak.

Now the existence of the tokamak in Greek mythology has never been authenticated, and many scholars have deemed it utterly apocryphal. Nevertheless, a doughnut- shaped plasma hot plate is what Sisyphus, King of Corinth, held in his hands, switched on, and aimed at the cab containing Charon and Cerberus on that day long ago on the banks of the River Styx. The magnetic field enveloped and recontextualized the car, turning it and its constituents into a large, flabbergasted echidna, a spiny nocturnal marsupial.

Pluto and Proserpina, god and goddess of the underworld, who had watched this not-yet-dead man upstage their two trusty minions, thereupon sounded an alarum, and Sisyphus suddenly found himself surrounded by legions of shades--deceased persons who bore an uncanny resemblance to pairs of sunglasses. But the king had one more trick up his sleeve: an escape clause. While a former lawyer reviewed the terms of the contract, Sisyphus slipped away yet again. But he was running out of options. And moments later, he also ran out of land, as he came upon a vast waterway--Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness. With myriads of decedents once more at his heels, and finally out of sleeves, the plucky Corinthian jumped into the water.

Something else happened, I'm sure of it, but, like Sisyphus, I seem to have forgotten what it was. What I do know is that this is the 399th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar and, in all likelihood, the next voice to either corroborate or correct the mythos herein will be that of Kalvos.