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The Essay
Show #504
The Theory of Finite Height
David Gunn

The end of the world as we know it began with a news bulletin from the southeast quadrant of the United States: "A health official in Atlanta, Georgia-Pacific today reported an outbreak of smallnesspox in Beezwah. All one hundred and twenty-one residents of the village, located in the northwesternmost sector of the state, were said to be infected. Since the illness is reputed to be highly contagious, the US Army Corps of Engineers has quarantined Beezwah by building a dam around it. Hydroelectric energy generated from the dam will eventually help to defray the cost of this news broadcast."

Smallnesspox is an acute viral disease that lessens a person's height by deducting altitudions from his or her cerebral vortex. Altitudions, of course, are those subatomic particles without which a person has no height. When elevationologist Carlo Bramblework first propounded his Theory of Finite Height--that is, "The total amount of height in the universe is determinate; what one entity gains, another loses, and verse visa."--even his colleagues at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire sniggered. At the time--which was half past two on a Saturday afternoon--it did seem ludicrous. But then Bramblework unveiled his Acrotron®, a Rube Goldberg-like device comprised of levers, a pulley and a bank of alti-tubes that seemed to accurately quantify the total height both in and of the universe. No matter how many measurements he--Goldwork, not Brambleberg--took, the answer was always the same: 804.53 gorillian altitudions.

Now, that's a lot of altitudions. According to the numerologist's bible, "The Big Book of Big Integers," the number of zeros in a gorillian is "more than you can shake an ape at." So for years, as humanity continued to grow elevationally, most seemed unconcerned that, somewhere else, someone or something was shrinking proportionally.

Nowhere was the increase in height more evident than in Equatorial Guineapig, a remote-controlled, rainforest-shrouded kingdom of the African lowlands. The place was home to the Mazwurp Pygmies who, averaging only 38 inches from the crown of their heads to the tip of their tails, were renowned for being the shortest humans on Earth. But one day--by chance, also a Saturday--they emerged en masse from the backcountry looking not unlike the front line of the Houston Rockets. In fact, the Mazwurp fielded a team that advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament before being disqualified for testing positive for gingko.

And directly thereafter, Beezwah, "the village of the dammed," experienced the first counteraction.

It was only the tip of the iceberg lettuce. Dozens of cases of smallnesspox soon were reported all over the world, from Toledo to Tuktoyaktuk, Cologne to Colonoscopia, Beersheba to Bosco. The potential pandemic was especially worrisome because there was no known cure for the ailment. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilliputian created a vaccine that successfully heightened tensions, but was otherwise ineffective in raising the stature of the vaccinee. A mutated strain of the virus precipitated an outbreak of shortnesses of breath in Talladega, but the Army Corps of Engineers charged in and swiftly dammed that city, too.

Things were looking indeed bleak for the future of the world. And then, radios across the world interrupted general programming to simultaneously issue an official statement:
   "This has been a test of the Emergency Brobdingnagian System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with federal, state and local authoritarians have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an elevational emergency. This has been only a test."

Well! That was a relief! Immediately, the walls came down surrounding Beezwah and Talladega and a half dozen other purportedly infected communities. To most observers, the "infectees" looked perfectly normal in the Height Department. Humanity breathed a collective sigh of relief and went back to the business of amassing altitudions.

But Carlo Bramblework was not persuaded. He was convinced that his theory, though replete with contraindications, was sound--at least the way Puget is sound. So he repaired to his laboratory to effect minor repairs to his Acrotron®. He swapped a pair of Disraeli gears for the pulley, moved Lever B's fulcrum two bullf-inches to the left, and made a small deposit to the bank of alti-tubes. Then he factored in his own ever-fluctuating height--his elevation varied as much as a meso-furlong from one week to the next--and pressed the "calculate" button. The result: 804.53 gorillian altitudions.

The phrase "conspiracy theory" began to intrude into Bramblework's otherwise tolerant intellect. Was some nefarious force trying to suppress the truth about the perils of Finite Height? His question was abruptly answered when a burly hit man broke down the door to his laboratory and barged in. Bramblework knew he was a hit man because he showed signs of having been smacked numerous times. Without waiting for introductions, the man opened a valise and withdrew a large can of Crisco shortening. He pried off the lid, dug in his hand, and pulled out a glutinous white mound of the ghastly substance. Then he advanced upon Bramblework.

The elevationologist knew all too well that if he got that gummy stuff on him, he'd begin to shorten, irrevocably. The man--and, for ease of reference, let's call him Cisco--lunged at Bramblework. The latter dodged, but still a dollop of shortening dropped onto his plus fours, turning them into plus threes. Bramblework picked up the discarded pulley and flung it at Cisco. The hit man easily skipped out of the way and he leered at his quarry. However, his momentum carried him right into the path of the Acrotron®, which had begun to process new information. Believing Cisco to be part of that data stream, it processed him. The result: 804.54 gorillian altitudions, plus a mess on the floor that took Bramblework the better part of a day to clean up.

Shortly thereafter, Bramblework went into hiding and took his Theory of Finite Height with him. So, do altitudions continue to amass one place and ebb somewhere else?

It's a question whose answer is not readily available on this 504th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. What answers we do have--and they are many and varied--will be summarily questioned by Kalvos.