illustrated by roy dismas
part twenty-nine of fifty-two
to begin at the beginning, click here
Mr. Y’s entire life was a piece of
underground performance art
and so it was no great leap really when
he became an actor.
One time he played Banquo in Macbeth
(known in the theatre world as the bad luck play,
a play even the title of which
must not ever be spoken,
lest calamity ensue)
and on the last night of the run
after finishing his last scene
he yanked off his false beard and his wig,
wiped the spirit gum and make-up from his face,
changed into his street clothes,
and sat down in his dressing room chair
with a can of beer,
waiting for the play to end
so he could go out to the bar
with the rest of the cast.
Imagine his surprise
when the stage manager
came in and yelled:
“Mr. Y! What are you doing?
You’re on again in two minutes!”
Mr. Y had forgotten he had
one more scene to do.
Desperately he put down his beer,
Stripped off some of his street clothes,
threw on some of his costume,
slapped some spirit gum onto his face along with
some tufts of fake beard, clapped on his wig,
poured some fake blood over his head,
then ran out onto the stage,
and played the scene.
The audience was appalled and moved
by the horrible frightening spectre
of Banquo’s ghost.
Then Mr. Y went backstage,
pulled off the ragged tufts of beard
and the wig, wiped off the spirit gum and fake blood,
changed his clothes,
and finished his
can of beer.
Everyone waited, and when Daphne had calmed down a bit, Dick -- wanting to change the subject, but also genuinely curious -- said, “Frank, I wonder if I might I ask a question?”
Frank waved an indulgent hand.
“The spacemen in the flying saucer -- the little spacemen -- why did they look like -- like --”
“Like spacemen?” said Frank.
“Thank you. Whereas you fellows look like, well -- you know. Plus all these other people here -- they look like --”
“People?” suggested Frank, not unsuavely.
“Exactly,” said Dick. “I mean I presume they’re all, uh, Swampoodlers also.”
“That is correct,” said Frank. “We are all Swampoodlers here.”
Daphne, her beautiful eyes bulging, held her fist steadfastly over her mouth.
“So what gives?” asked Dick.
“Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “I have been in this business a very long time, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s ‘Give the people what they want’. It’s like my very good friend Joe E. Lewis says: ‘They want shit, give ‘em shit.’ You earthlings don’t want us to look like you. You want bug-eyed monsters, we give you bug-eyed monsters. Now when we’re here in, uh, Fishtown --” He paused, glancing at Daphne, but she maintained her composure. “When we are in this alternate dimension we are able to assume any shape we damn well please, just as in dreams. And when we pass through the wall into your reality we retain that particular corporeal reality so to speak.”
“That’s far fuckin’ out,” said Harvey.
“Indeed it is, my young friend,” said Frank.
“So what the hell do you really look like?” asked Harvey.
“I don’t think you wanta know that, Sonny-Jim,” said Dean, with a languid smile.
“I will take your word for that, sir,” said Harvey.
Helen Bedd had finished stripping and gone off, and a singer was onstage now, it was Johnnie Ray, or someone very much like Johnnie Ray, circa 1956.
“So,” said Daphne, showing she was back in charge of herself and able to hold an intelligent conversation like a well-brought-up person, “just to be sure I’m following all this -- you are not really Frank, and these guys are not really the Rat Pack.”
“Mrs. Ridpath, we are better than that. We are the quintessence of the Rat Pack.”
“Okay. I’m confused,” said Daphne.
“Perhaps another cocktail?” suggested Frank.
Frank waved to two waiters who stood respectfully nearby in their worn little red jackets, and they quickly came over. The one guy was played by Wally Cox, the other one was Arnold Stang.
“Another round, boys, same for everybody, and tell the bartender to put some booze in them this time. And get Harvey a real drink. What about a whiskey, Harve? Four Roses? Schenley’s?”
“I’ll take a Jack Daniel’s,” said Harvey. “On the rocks, please. And another beer.”
“Beer and a Jack,” said Frank. “Make it a double Jack. Doubles for everybody.”
Wally and Arnold dashed away in between the crowded tables.
“I think you guys are really weird,” said Daphne.
“Look who’s talking,” said Joey. “A human dame.”
“Zip it, Joey,” said Frank.
“Well, I’m only sayin’,” said Joey.
“Zip,” said Frank.
“So I’m zipping already,” said Joey.
“So, like,” said Harvey, “you’re just pretending to be Frank and the Rat Pack?”
“Well -- I wouldn’t say pretending,” said Frank.
“That’s pathetic,” said Harvey.
“What, you don’t think we’re cool?” said Joey. “What would you like us to be, Herman’s Hermits?”
“Joey --” said Frank.
“Awright,” said Joey, “I’m zippin’, I’m zippin’, I’m zipped.”
“Okay, uh, moving on,” said Dick, “if I may --”
“Please do, sir,” said Frank.
“Okay,” said Dick. He paused, for just a moment. “I’m wondering, just what are you doing exactly, you know, visiting the earth and, um, flying around in flying saucers, assuming human shape? You’re obviously far more advanced than us, so why the hell are you fooling around on our little planet? Is it scientific research, or -- are you trying to take over -- or -- I mean, what’s in it for you guys?”
Dick was quite serious, but the Rat Pack all seemed rather amused, and Joey and Dean even had to stifle laughter. Frank raised a finger to keep the boys in line, then addressed Dick.
“One word, Mr. Ridpath: entertainment.”
“Entertainment,” said Dick.
“Yes,” said Frank. “It’s you humans. We can’t get enough of you. You and your favorite pastimes: sex, war, and insanity.”
To this Dick said nothing.
Daphne stubbed out her cigarette, pressing her tongue against the inside of her cheek.
Harvey studied his empty beer bottle.
“Okay,” said Frank, addressing Dick in particular, “perhaps you are offended by my candor and I can understand this. But you will I hope grant me this: you humans are a hoot, a laugh a minute, and never a dull moment. Always somethin’ happenin’. Now our race --”
“The Swampoodlers,” said Daphne, not laughing at all now.
“Yeah,” said Frank. “Well, we are a very ancient race, and dare I say a very wise race --”
“We’re the wiseguys,” said Joey.
“We are,” said Frank, “we are -- oh, good, the drinks --”
Wally Cox and Arnold Stang arrived with the new round of drinks and started laying them down.
Frank picked up his double Four Roses Manhattan and held it up so that the stage lights shone through it.
“Ah, post time,” he said, and he took an appreciative sip. “So, where was I? Lost my fuckin’ train of thought --”
“You’re a very ancient and wise race,” said Dick.
“Correct. Ancient, wise -- wise and ancient -- and, well, let’s just say we’ve evolved a little bit past all this, you know -- war, insanity --”
“And sex?” asked Daphne.
“Yes,” said Frank.
“Oh, brother,” said Daphne, and without waiting for Arnold Stang to lay down her own double Manhattan, she reached up, took it off his tray, and took a good long gulp.
ricky stared at barnabas. " thanks, but i don't know where i'm going."
"i have an umbrella."
The room had gotten smokier, more crowded, more drunken. Tony Anthony had been replaced by a stripper (“Helen Bedd”, a blond Russ Meyer type), backed up by a jazz combo, four seen-it-all-done-it-all pros in smokestained old tuxedos.
The waiters had cleared away the dinner plates and brought on a fresh round of cocktails.
“Okay,” said Frank, “I’m sure our new friends are wondering, just what the hell is the deal here? Am I right?”
He turned to Dick.
“Well,” said Dick, “I was rather wondering just where the hell we are.”
“An enormous space station,” said Frank, “slowly circling through space between your very lovely green and thriving planet and your almost equally lovely albeit barren and lifeless moon. But, I might add, quite invisible to the human eye, and in fact, immaterial according to your own quaint concept of what is and what is not material.”
“Oh,” said Dick. “Immaterial.”
He didn’t look entirely convinced.
“Ya, see, Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “we are in a whatcha might call a different state of reality, a, uh --”
“Another dimension?” said Harvey. He was the only one drinking beer, a Falstaff.
“Right!” said Frank. “Another dimension. It’s kinda like your whatchamacallit dream-state, a universe that co-exists with your universe but cannot be seen from your universe -- although, oddly enough, one can in fact see your dimension from this dimension.”
“So we’re kinda like ghosts up in here,” said Harvey.
“Uh --” Frank hesitated.
“Or angels,” said Daphne.
“Well, yyyeah --” said Frank, seeming to concede some faint but dubious value to the above suppositions.
“And the only way you can get into this, uh, dimension,” said Dick, “is in one of those, those --”
“Flying saucers,” said Frank, “right.”
He clicked open his gold cigarette case, took out a cigarette, tapped its end on the table.
“So,” said Dick, “you -- people -- are from -- this, this other dimension?”
“Oh, no,” said Frank, lighting his cigarette with his thin gold lighter, “we’re from a planet much like yours, ‘cept it’s like a billion trillion whatever light-years away.”
“I knew it!” said Daphne. “What’s the name of your planet?”
“Well --” said Frank, “you won’t laugh, right? Humans always laugh.”
“I won’t laugh,” said Daphne.
“You promise,” said Frank.
“Scout’s honor,” said Daphne, raising her right hand in the Girl Scout salute.
“Swampoodle,” said Frank.
“Swampoodle?” said Daphne.
“Swampoodle,” Frank said again.
Daphne laughed, but put her hand over her mouth.
“See?” said Frank, addressing the rest of the Pack, “they always laugh.”
Dean, Sammy, Joey, Peter, and Richard Conte all murmured in assent, or nodded, or both.
“Sorry,” said Daphne, and then immediately put her knuckle against her lovely lips again.
“So --” said Dick, to the rescue as usual, “uh, if you’re from -- Swampoodle?” Daphne tried but could not suppress another peal of laughter. “Um, why -- “ Dick hesitated, trying to think it out, “why this, this other dimension?”
“Well, ya see,” said Frank, “back on Swamp--” Again Daphne couldn’t hold it in, and now she held both hands over her mouth. Frank sighed and went on: “back on our ‘home planet’ -- about a million years ago, we invented a device which enables us to travel the vast reaches of interstellar space in quite reasonable amounts of time. Now this device, which we call the Reality Woofer --”
“The what?” asked Daphne.
“The Reality Woofer.”
“Oh, my God, Frank, I’m sorry,” she said, speaking through her fingers, her shoulders hunched.
Dick and Harvey just managed to control the urge to laugh, while all the Rat Pack remained stonily impassive, most notably Frank:
“Perhaps I should continue some other time,” he said.
“Oh, no, Frank,” said Daphne, “please. Do go on. I promise I’ll behave.”
“Okay,” said Frank, taking a sip of his Four Roses Manhattan, “so -- we invented this, uh, this ‘device’, which, when installed into one of our flying saucers, enables us to travel through the uh -- the --” Daphne still chuckled from behind her hand, but Frank sighed and went on -- “the, uh, whaddyacallit, the --”
“Vast reaches of space?” suggested Dick.
“Right,” said Frank, “the vast reaches of whatever, by enabling us to enter into this different, uh, dimension in which we can travel these, uh, these --”
“Vast reaches,” said Dick.
“Right,” said Frank. “At the speed of thought. On accounta the normal rules of physics don’t apply here.”
“Like in dreams,” offered Daphne, getting a grip.
“Kinda --” said Frank, as in, Well, no, not really.
“And how quick exactly is the speed of thought?” asked Dick.
“Oh, it’s very quick,” said Frank. “All you gotta do is get out on the road so to speak, build up a little speed, engage the, uh --”
“The Woofer!” cried Daphne. “The Reality Woofer!”
“Right,” said Frank, frowning but going on. “Then you burst through the wall between dimensions and, like, boom -- you’re on your way. One of our top of the line Reality Woofer ships can make it from here to Swamp -- to our world in like two hours, two hours and change. And we’re talking about sixty-nine trillion billion miles, light-years, whatever.”
“Far,” said Joey.
“Right,” said Frank. “Far.”
“So,” said Dick, “it’s like: you use this Woofer thing to go from your world into this other dimension to get to here, and then I guess when you want to go to the earth you have to use the Woofer thing again to get out of this, uh --”
“Twilight zone,” said Harvey.
“Well, we don’t call this dimension the Twilight Zone, Harvey,” said Frank. “It’s called Fishtown.” He turned to Daphne. “You can laugh now, Mrs. Ridpath.”
“I’m not laughing,” she said.
She took a cigarette from the platinum case which had been supplied to her. Sammy reached all the way across the table to give her a light with his lighter which was identical to Frank’s.
“Thank you,” she said.
She exhaled a great cloud of smoke and then burst into uncontrollable laughter.