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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #425
Billy Argus
David Gunn

Billy Argus was the strangest newborn the Saint Salmon's Hospital maternity ward nurses had ever birthed. Right out of the chute, he looked like a beefalo wiener drenched in aspic, so thick did the cheesy vernix lie upon him. Thus, as soon as he was shorn of his mum's placenta, the nurse practitioner laved him with Mother Bumpkins Brand RightAfterBirth Cleansing Unguent. But the sight that greeted her scientifically trained eyes so unnerved her that she straightaway cleaned him anew, this time with Everclear Brand Spot Remover. (The junior nurse, a lapsed AA member, clandestinely pocketed the beaker of 190-proof baby detergent for "medicinal research" she hoped to do later.) But there was no visible change in the infant's appearance. His skin was as spotted as a Bantu leopard's. The nurse-captain was about to suggest that perhaps the boy suffered from a form of pigmentosis when one of the spots winked at her.

All was suddenly quiet in the parturitorium. The three nurses stared mutely at the infant. The infant gawked dazedly back. The mother, deep in Post-Delivery Lassitude, quietly wriggled her ears in unison with the rhythmic wumping of the thalidomometer. And then, a second spot winked at them. Then another. And another! All over the newborn's body, spots were winking and blinking, like an extended family of blepharospasmic lesions.

While the nurse-captain squeaked in consternation and the junior nurse retired to a corner of the room to prematurely commence her medicinal research, the nurse practitioner observed the young lad's spots observing her back. For indeed they were not spots--but eyes!

In a bizarre instance of life imitating art, Billy Argus had been born with the same traits as Argus, "the All-Seeing," a Greek demigod and patron saint of Optometry whose body was covered with eyeballs. The mythological Argus had been a formidable sentry, for he slept with two eyes closed while all the rest remained on active guard duty. And he had a temper. A playful satyr once jokingly said he looked like an overripe potato. Without batting an eye, Argus showered the woodland critter with conjunctivitis microbes, an affliction thereafter common to Old World goats, and, to a lesser extent, goatees. Eons later, racked with strabismus, Argus was slain by a treacherous god named Hermes ... or maybe it was Herpes, the mythological spelling isnít clear. Anyway, that was the eponym that put the eyeballs on Billy Argus' body.

The nurses next put the infant on the birthing lectern, over the objections of Mother Argus, who worried about Sudden Infant Desk Syndrome. There they took their postnatal measurements: height, weight, girth, spittle reservoir, resistance to gravity, number of visible organs--which was harder than normal to determine, what with a hundred pint-size peepers nictating back at them. And that was the number of eyeballs, one hundred, they guesstimated that overlaid Billy's body. If nothing else, it was a guaranteed ticket to be featured in a future edition of "News of the Weird."

Life in the Argus household was already difficult. Billy's dad had been a professional disco dancer. But one day the electronically lighted floor on which he was capering short-circuited and nearly electrocuted him. He survived, but lost both of his legs. That was bad enough, but then an inexperienced prosthesiologist fitted him with a pair of pincers. His once fluid foot movements were reduced to awkward scuttling. The bizarre downturn in his life was sensationalized in a made-for TV movie insensitively titled "Crabman." Not surprisingly, his temperament turned crabby, too. So when Mother Argus brought Billy home, he took one look at his son and, unwittingly echoing the satyr's cruel teasing, called him "Spud."

In Greek mythology, Hera took the eyes of the slain Argus and set them on the feathers of her favorite bird, the peacock. In modern day Bombay, where Billy and his family lived, peacocks were plentiful, and seemed to be instantly aware of and welcoming to the boy. By the dozens they often surrounded his house, unfurling their tail coverts and performing a kind of synchronized avian wave. No matter where Billy was in the house, even if he couldn't see the birds, his eyes always blinked back. This coincident nictitation delighted Dr. Grasmere Gujranwali, Billy's pediatrician, who was sure it was some sort of rudimentary interspecific communication. But when Gujranwali tried to move in with Billy to better study his eye reflexes, his dad put his foot down (figuratively) and kicked (literally) the doctor out of the house.

Billy grew into childhood without much incident, except that at age two, an attack of strabismus over two-thirds of his body forced him to wear sixty-two monocles. As soon as he could read, he did so voraciously, oftentimes devouring three and even four books at the same time. But always his great love was winking and blinking at the peacocks. His dad grouchily disapproved, so he did it covertly. Gujranwali was quite right--a language had evolved between them, and Billy was gradually being indoctrinated by a peacock terrorist cell. Its mission? Alas, that part of the story must await a subsequent chapter, for this 425th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar is champing at the bit to get on with the rest of today's program, inclusive of succinctly successive remarks by our own Mr. Eyeball, Kalvos.