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The Essay
Show #492
M. tete de la pomme de terre
David Gunn

In northwesternmost Belarus, in the village of Szmindt, there occurs each November 6th a giant potato festival. All during October, the village's womenfolk strip the surrounding fields bare of potatoes. The harvesting is not as straightforward as it sounds. Some of the potatoes have developed simple motor skills, allowing them to either run away (albeit very slowly) or stay and defend themselves, employing a rudimentary form of jujitsu. But judging from the potato vs. villager confrontations so far, the former still have a ways to evolve before mankind might feel threatened. After the potatoes have been subdued, the womenfolk carefully pack them in excelsior and take them to town. Some potatoes are too large for the women to carry. Those that can move on their own are guided to the village by the Guild of Great Szmindt Potato Shepherds. Any strays are left for the packs of forest-dwelling feral Border collies to feast on. The non-ambulatory oversize spuds are rolled to town in a kind of jaunty competition - the thirteenth potato to cross the finish line wins, though a prize has never been determined or awarded. Once in town, they are placed in the Great Szmindt Potato Pit, where they are crushed by tapirs. Perspiration from the ungulates combines with the potato mash to form a robust vodka. The vodka is decanted into a colossal tun and carted to the Great Szmindt Potato Shrine, which sits on the banks of the mysterious Pzoodnynk River. Then the youth who has been selected from the village middle school to be the Great Szmindt Potato Sacrifice is led, sometimes willingly, to the top of the shrine and lashed to the scaffold there. A hundred butane torches are ignited as the ceremonial drums beat out the hypnotic rhythm that, along with ululations from the village choraleers, will summon the Great Szmindt Potato God:
   [boom boom boom boom] Tete de la pomme de terre!
   [boom boom boom boom] Tete de la pomme de terre!
   [boom boom boom boom] Tete de la pomme de terre!

And then, usually simultaneous with the annual solar eclipse, there emerges from the Great Nevsky Forest a hobgoblin of breathtaking proportions. Measuring nearly forty feet from its tank-like tread to the top of its compound eye sacs, M. tete de la pomme de terre--Mr. Potato Head--is one of the scariest denizens of the Belarusian highlands. Oh, he's fine, even docile, when he first approaches the shrine. But once the sacrificial vodka hits his taste buds, Mr. Potato Head's mood turns as dark as the sun and it starts looking for bear. And those innocuous looking plastic eyes can spot a potential victim at ninety paces. The ears and nose, too, are super sensitive organs of detection. And you only need to examine the remains of former sacrificial youths to determine how deadly the blood red mouth and meerschaum pipe are!

It is late afternoon on the sixth of November, 2004. In the village of Szmindt, the vodka has been flowing since morning, and the citizenry are in boisterously high spirits. This year's winner of the annual tete de la pomme de terre look-alike contest is the cobbler's Dzhugashvili goat, which elicits a roar of laughter from the townspeople. The Great Szmindt Potato Sacrifice was not as agreeable as those in years past. Fleeing to one of the hiking huts that dot the mountain passes, the lad had sought asylum from its resident Sherpa. The Sherpa wisely refused him succor--he himself had once felt Mr. Potato Head's wrath--and he personally hauled him back to the village.

At the moment the mayor of Szmindt is rewarding the Sherpa with an official tete de la pomme de terre bobble head, a ruckus breaks out down in the Potato Pit. One of the tapirs, presumably giddy from the potato mash, has escaped and is running amok in the streets. The townspeople are too swacked to catch it and the tapir races through the village, eventually finding itself at the top of the Potato Shrine. In the distance it spots a giant, brown-skinned ovoid form hunkering amidst a copse of trees: M. tete de la pomme de terre! The tapir--and right about now, we must wonder if it's really just a plain, nocturnal odd-toed ungulate of the Malay Peninsula--backs up against the tun of vodka and gives the stave a vicious kick. The cask ruptures, and the vodka cascades down into the mysterious Pzoodnynk River below. M. tete de la pomme de terre, seeing his long-awaited nectar drain away from him, comes out of hiding and races to plug the hole in the cask, bellowing ferociously. The choraleers who had been assembling for the Great Szmindt Potato Ululation shriek in horror, just as the sun disappears behind the moon and the village is plunged into darkness. And then, according to Step 14 of an utterly remarkable plan, the tapir wrests a fiery butane torch from one of the choraleers and drops it into the river. The vodka, floating atop the water, catches fire, as does a bewildered M. tete de la pomme de terre. The fire is intense and, within scant minutes, Mr. Potato Head has turned into the world's largest home fry.

The tapir then pulls out--from where, I'm loath to say--a global positioning system PDA and presses the mapsend button. Moments later, two modified Huey helicopters descend rapidly from the sky. One deploys a giant paring knife, the other, six jumbo zip-lock plastic bags. Together, they skillfully harvest the erstwhile M. tete de la pomme de terre, for the helicopters' crack crew are from the Betty Crocker Kitchens, which is poised to enter the lucrative domain of the pre-processed potato product.

Amidst all of the chaotic confusion, no one notices a second oversized brown-skinned ovoid form lurking in the forest. It wipes a tear from one of its many eyes, memorizes the Betty Crocker insignia on the sides of the helicopters, and swears revenge.

After you partake of this 492nd episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, dear listeners, we hope you'll swear, too, swear to pledge support for this fine radio station and its assigns, which indirectly includes your always obedient servants, Damian and Kalvos.