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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #420
Benny The Bee
David Gunn

It all began when Benny Roscoe, cooped up in his house with time on his hands, turned on the television. The Comedy Channel was broadcasting a marathon of Saturday Night Lives from the early years, the mid-1970s, when Belushi, Radner, Chase, Murray and Ackroid were redefining live televised humor. He sat spellbound as the cast, dressed as corpulent killer bees, backed up John Belushi as he and Ackroid introduced the characters of Jake and Elwood Blues. Oh, Belushi did a respectable job of singing the blues, but the costumes were simply too distracting to pay much attention to the music. And that's when Benny got his bright idea.

First, to put that idea into perspective, Benny's idea of bright was a 25-watt lightbulb covered with a brown cotton sock and buried in a bucket of peat moss. The closest he ever got to MENSA was when he misspelled--frequently-- Tennessee's Mississippi River metropolis. So it's likely others might rate his idea a bit lower on the Magnitude Scale. Still, for all of Benny's dubious intellect, he was rather good at his chosen profession of bank robber. And the Saturday Night Live sketch suggested to him the perfect disguise with which to ply his trade. According to Benny's line of reasoning, the bank tellers would be so distracted, and possibly amused, by the bright yellow and black costume that they'd temporarily overlook the fact that they were being held up.

A compulsion for congruity led to the burgs in which Benny planned his heists. Conceived, so he was told, in the back seat of a 1956 Coupe deVille in a bougainvillea grove on the outskirts of Amityville, New York while a radio commentator read passages from "Democracy in America" by Alexis de Tocqueville, Benny had a thing about "villes." He scanned an atlas and picked his first potential income source: Titusville, Pennsylvania, home of the first American oil well.

The town did its best to promote that historical footnote. The Oil & Vinegar Salad Bar's house special was the top half of a head of iceberg lettuce drowned in a petroleum-flavored compote and topped with savory hydrocarbon flakes. The Realto Movie Cinema showed only oil-themed movies, from D.W. Griffith's 1913 classic "Oil and Water" to the World War 2 documentary, "Oil Fires, Their Prevention and Extinguishment," to The Three Stooge's "Oil's Well that Ends Well" to the cryptic 1981 Nigerian film "Oil Doom" to the positively baffling "Onna goroshi abura no jigoku," or "The Oil-Hell Murder"--twenty-nine films in all. Several buildings on Main Street sported oil derrick facades. This included the Titusville Savings and Loan, where Benny "The Bee" Roscoe began to make his own footnote in the American Criminal Behavior System.

Felonologists agree that Benny's original scheme couldn't have worked. Modern security forces are too sophisticated to be duped by sheer audacity. But the night before the robbery, he watched a program on The Insect Channel about the irrational fear that Africanized bees, or killer bees, instilled in most people. And an hour later, he was slipping out of the Titusville Apiarial Research Facility with a dozen one-pound bags of buzzing fear--the insurance he needed to pull off the job. The next morning, the Titusville S&L security cameras recorded a person, male, of indeterminate age, weight, height, and national origin and wearing a yellow and black bee costume, as he entered the bank lobby and released a swarm of killer bees. The panicked employees fled into the vault while the perpetrator filled his costume with cash from the tills. In each of the banks that followed--Zanesville (Ohio), Louisville (Kentucky), Knoxville (Tennessee), Asheville (North Carolina), Jacksonville (Florida)--the modus operandi was the same. A docent at the Herman Melville Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts also reported being confronted by a man in a bee costume, but the individual appeared confused and left without incident.

As happens so often in the criminal business, Benny's luck ran out when he tried to do one job too many. He'd considered retiring and living off of the considerable lucre he'd amassed when he chanced to drive into Vaudeville, Vermont. He'd never heard of the town, and it didn't even appear on his road atlas. Little more than a wide spot in the road, it sported a general store, a gas station, a church, a feedlot, a tiny theater ... and a bank. Ten years later, after hundreds of Looters Anonymous meetings, he'd be able to walk past a money store like this without needing to rob it. But not this day. Benny parked his car on a quiet side street, donned his costume, picked up the penultimate bag of bees--the end of his escapades really was in sight--and walked quickly into the bank.

In hindsight, he might have suspected that life in a town named Vaudeville wouldn't accede to established norms. How true! The lobby was crowded with a panoply of performers: jugglers, acrobats, stand-up comedians, a song and dance team, mimes, clowns and farceurs. Benny didn't look all that out of place there! Still, he had a job to do, so he shook the bag of bees, just to make them good and angry, and released them. They flew up into the rafters and began looking for targets of their perturbation. There appeared to be plenty of them. However, amongst the talent assembled in the bank lobby was a skilled bee wrangler. He deduced the potential calamity of the killer bees at once and promptly fired up his smoker to try to disorient them. It worked. The addled bees homed in on what looked to them like a giant yellow and black hive.

We can report that today Benny "The Bee" Roscoe is a completely rehabilitated former felon. Now when he needs money, he simply asks for it--politely, no threats, no intimidation, no bees. Which is how we'd like to shake down you, our listening audients, on today's 420th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. Yes, it's fundraising time again, and, utilizing whatever means possible, we need to raise seven thousand dollars, hopefully all during this two-hour broadcast. So, without threats or intimidation or the merest hint of killer bee intervention, we politely ask you to heed the following words of Kalvos.