My dulcimer sits in the corner of my one-room camper looking like my out-of-touch, sarcastic, abusive freshman English Comp Instructor, Mr. Feducious Flynt. A ragged, ratty, bony thing, it's absolutely hideous. I haven't played the dulcimer in ages. It's an old Appalachian instrument - part fiddle, part banjo, part violin, part trombone - it's a caveman's Moog synthesizer; an anachronism of the first water that looks like an ancient relic (and the twanging "thang" sounds even more archaic than the musical instruments played by a tree-worshipping European cult of the Middle Ages, the Mummers).
There's a two-toned plastic color to the dulcimer. Part of it's gray and the other part is sort of misty black. Appearing much like the toupee on the top of Mr. Flynt's rueful head, my dulcimer makes noises even more sorrowful than the rough, tobacco-scorched, cannabis-scarred, nasal-sopping voice of ole Feducious.
My dulcimer isn't made of cheap plastic, like my professor's pathetically haggard wig; but rather, it's built from a strong, sinewy type of refractored resin that uses the same technology as the engine linings of the Space Shuttle.
Not from artistic frustration but more because I was very bored, I once threw my dulcimer off the New River Bridge in southern West Virginia (which is about a mile in the air). The bridge is so high that clouds encircle it like a gray halo. Like Mount Everest, that strange bit of modern-day infrastructure has its own atmosphere. Anyhow, after I threw it off the bridge, my dulcimer seemed to take a half hour to crash onto the sharp rocks below. It fell like a buzzard wounded in flight, soaring down, down, down, until it landed on a big pile of ugly scraggly rocks.
I saw it hit bottom and bounce high in the air. It screamed in pain with all its strings chiming at once. The dulcimer sounded a lot like a freight train coming to a screeching halt. After it hit, it came down and bounced again - this time, it didn't hit such a high octave in the sound prism of insanity, cacophony, and calamity of the first bounce.
Still, it sounded absolutely awful.
It hit again and again, rising and falling many more times.
The Economist's diminishing marginal returns model came screaming through with a true physical presence. Finally, after eight or nine slams against the rocks, nature's silence succumbed to the crisp mountain air. My dulcimer finally came to a rest.
I then descended those rocks, to the wet, watery river below. Whitewater frothed everywhere. Immediately ahead of me, some poor sots on a rubber raft slammed against a jutting rock in the middle of the New River and plunged to the depths of Mother Nature's ongoing temper tantrum.
Upon finding the dulcimer in some weeds, with some rocks strewn about it, I realized that it wasn't even damaged. Not even scratched. I guess the NASA tags that came along with it, upon purchase, weren't lying - not even fibbing a wee bit. That damned thing turned out to be strong enough to be sent out into deep space orbit - into some radioactive furnace of an exploding and imploding radioactivity. It could withstand the 900-mile-per-hour winds on the surface of some of our Solar System's most inhospitable planets. It could take the thousands of degrees below zero of orbiting around the outer fringes of our Solar System, even a few million miles past Uranus and Pluto and into the Kuiper Belt. It could withstand the sulfuric acid baths of Saturn's inner atmosphere and still be very playable; and without sounding too braggadocios, I could probably launch it directly into the solar flares of the sun! Although it would melt in time, it would most likely hold its consistency; not for long, but for a very, very long second or two (maybe even three) before being consumed by the sun's unrelenting burning surface . . . .
I put a little note in the corner of my mind that this trip into deep space orbit would be the next jaunt for my unique musical instrument. Yes, my dulcimer has Herculean strength resembling the tough texture the wine cup used by Zeus at special events, according to Greek mythology, or the Biblical descriptions of the mystic, long-lost Arc of the Covenant, I thought to myself.
To make a short story far too long, I finally grabbed my wonderful treasure, climbed back up the rocks and drove my modified jalopy back to my decrepit camper deep inside the deciduous woods.
The next day I wrote NASA a letter and told the world's leading space exploration agency that I appreciated all the thoughtful engineering that went into the physical design of my ultra-sheer, ultra-strong dulcimer. About a month and a half passed and to my utter surprise, some guy named Thaddeus Thornton Beggartree III, PhD, MA, MA, MBA, BA, BS, wrote me a letter that said (something to the effect) that thanks to the efforts of hard-working American citizens like myself, the federal government could afford research into making plastics stronger and stronger - and these improvements came about almost daily during John F. Kennedy's "Space Nut" Presidential days of Camelot and landing on the Moon. After Big Guy #35 left our world for some high-level, cushy, bureaucratic post in God's juicy wonderful heaven, there continued to be scientific improvements - and all had their researching roots in space flight projects that were constantly continuing like a month's-long, wild, frolicking bender involving JFK's old chum, Frank Sinatra.
Yes, plastics are the future. That was the overall theme of Dr. Beggartree's letter to me. But the big boy at NASA also wrote a disclaimer that in the last 10 to 20 years, federal leaders did not seem to care about funding costly projects at America's space agency. Dr. Beggartree, a scientific pedagogue on paper, at least, went on to explain that NASA research was the sole reason why English golfer Anthony Wall and Swedish golfer Johan Scold are able to hit golf balls so far and so straight. Beggartree then admitted that Tiger Woods could probably break par if he used a soccer ball, and perhaps, if Mr. Woods was really on top of his game, even a medicine ball. But for the countless millions of run-of-the-mill hackers who play golf in Scotland, Ireland, Florida, Kentucky, West Virginia, Japan and about a zillion other places, NASA technology meant lower golf scores, which meant a happier, more vociferously thundering herd at the 19th hole.
"Happy golfers spend more time at the 19th hole, where real money is made quickly and softly by golf clubhouse managers," Beggartree's letter explained. "Hence, happy golfers lace the golf economy with a lot more green than unhappy hackers and sorrowful slicers, sandtrap sliders and pond waders, So researching dollars involving high tech resins spin 'round and 'round the domestic economy like the wheels of a slot machine! Yes, and the golf course economy is contingent on NASA's stake in creating a better Space Shuttle!"
Dr. Beggartree went on to explain that the hand-held calculator, the personal computer, along with many other electronically sophisticated gizmos and gadgets were the direct after-product of intensive NASA research projects. Here's another direct quote from Dr. Beggartree's letter that really caught my eye: "Not only do I speak for all the executives, all my colleagues' underlings, my own minions, everyone down to the humble janitor at this NASA headquarters, I also speak for the ghosts of Galileo, Darwin, Albert Einstein and Monte T. Fundt, my eighth-grade science teacher: - John F. Kennedy is the patron saint of space exploration here at NASA!"
So with a benign reverence, I folded the letter up, gently placed it back into the envelope from which it came, then dried a tear from my eye. Yes, I was going to meet this Dr. Beggartree and let him know how much this epistolary affected my life.
I took a Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C. so I could meet with Dr. Beggartree. Having little money, I caught the first Greyhound out of Charleston, W.Va. and after a long serious ride, the cumbersome oblong vehicle docked in the nation's capital city.
Let me digress for a moment though: On the bus, I had to sit by some primitive little four-foot-tall man who wore a rug around his head and recited incantations. He seemed to be conversing with a golden figurine of a two-headed goat that sat in his lap. This little man seemed harmless enough, but he smelled like a farm animal. Bored and frustrated about 411 hours into the bus trip (after stops in Detroit, Michigan; Topeka, Kansas; Charleston, South Carolina; and Bangor, Maine), we desperately tried to communicate for a short time. It was futile, however; this elfish creature couldn't even speak in broken English. Hell, he couldn't even speak in broken gibberish.
My one and only contact in Washington, Dr. Beggartree, had an office high on top of a skyscraper building. A lover of golf, he had NASA engineers build him a replication of some very famous Scottish golf course in the office's penthouse suite lobby. The golf course was scaled down to the size of a miniature replica, but it had real grass - none of that fuzzy green nylon stuff they use on cheap miniature golf courses - and Dr. Beggartree and I played several rounds of golf on the course.
We conversed about how the science of exploration, identification, and nomadic space-wondering proliferations were being nixed in order to create Weapons of Mass Destruction. These super-weapons are so fierce and so dangerous, Beggartree explained, that the absolute horror of this screaming scenario made for a bleak worldview.
There were a couple of nubile young women dressed in very tight black tank tops with white lettering: NASA's SHOOTERS GIRLS printed on them. Their flimsy little shorts were so brief that their voluptuous buttocks cheeks hung out like lean sushi. I wondered what they were doing in there, bending over, prancing around and using cuticle scissors to cut the grass on the golf course. Dr. Beggartree smiled at this pair of lovelies and explained to me that they were NASA's version of the Hooters Girls, or perhaps, even those Girls Gone Wild prototypes.
"It's just NASA's own tribute to JFK. All Americans now know about JFK and the girls. The press was a lot nicer back then and the general public was kept unaware of his philandering, but JFK was a rattlesnake," Beggartree explained.
I nodded in agreement, not know what else to do.
"And it's a good thing the press was so nice back then," Beggartree continued. "But if the Great Depression generation or the WW-II generation would've really known about JFK and the girls (Beggartree winked at me then, trying to show some cavalier sort of charisma), not only would he have been impeached, he most likely would've been tarred, feathered and chased out of the country!"
"I like the Shooters Girls," I told him ."They're a nice tribute to a great President."
One of the little lovelies handed me my favorite drink, a double-malt scotch straight-up, with three ice cubes in the tumbler - to keep things cool. After one sip, I knew it was the finest of high-powered booze.
"Well, it's sort of a tribute, the Shooters Girls are, that is," Beggartree said. "Most of the pencil-headed geeks around here haven't had much experience with scenarios surrounding the Playboy Mansion or even dating the sex-craved hoes who attended, and possibly even graduated from: Harvard, Colgate, Columbia, Princeton, Penn, Brown, Yale, Holy Cross, Princeton or Dartmouth. Most of the fresh young minds around here are Ivy League grads, or at worst, second-tier Ivy. But due to their ardent, assiduous, adroit studies, they're socially dwarfed individuals. We keep the Shooters girls around to help them cope with the youth they lost while their noses were entrenched in books, on computer screens, and ratcheting their fingers around calculator pads."
I looked at Dr. Beggartree with a quizzical glare and then prodded, "It's evident each of these young women that I am talking about - and I'm only talking about the Shooters Girls here - makes a seven-figure salary - I did some research on the bus on the way here and found this discrepancy unnerving! How could an employee of NASA who is merely a waitress or a cocktail bunny earn more than NASA's top astrophysicists and even its administrators?!"
With fire in my eyes, I continued, "How could the government keep them up here?! Why not dispense with them, Ted?!"
Ted Beggartree merely shook his head in shame; and then he missed a three-inch putt on the 5th hole.
I continued on with my harangue: "Ted, the money saved could fund more NASA projects, like sending a spaceship to a galaxy nearby; or perhaps NASA can even shoot a very large bomb into Saturn or Uranus! If we did this, Ted, if we laid-off all NASA's Shooters Girls, we could see if we have enough cash to build a WMD powerful enough to blow up one of those mega-planets. We might have enough money to totally obliterate all the gas giants! Maybe NASA could come up with a super-duper bomb that could even blow up the sun!"
Thaddeus Thornton Beggartree III seemed to ignore this remark as if I was an ignoramus, or worse, a neophyte concerning the wheels of science and technology. Beggartree, an extreme example of a 'control freak,' looked like he was doing God's work - controlling all of NASA's important matters by puttering around in his golf course penthouse. He quipped in a very arrogant way, "We keep our Shooters Girls at the top of this skyscraper for one thing and one thing only. Even though they're very expensive and for all practical technological purposes, they're totally worthless, they're a morale boost in the days of the diminishing marginal returns of space exploration."
"How did the Shooters Girls get their name?" I asked.
"We call them Shooters Girls because rockets and space vehicles sort of 'shoot' through the cosmos at terribly high speeds. And it's also a very clever name because it rhymes with 'Hooters Girls.' For your information, Hooters is a restaurant chain developed by a U.S. business team comprised of greedy misogynists who've made a king's fortune by serving fourth-rate, horrid bar food to its customers. They operate from the tacky interiors of suburban barns with about the same accommodations and furnishings of rural chicken coops. Hooters' only draw is its scantily-clad, large-breasted, young beauties," Beggartree asserted.
I nodded my head in agreement, showing this pompous ass that I was following his logical stream of explanation. Then, I took three quick gulps of the Scotch and held out my empty tumbler to the Shooters Girl. She smiled and refilled it.
"But being that most scientific men are leg men, at least 81.117% of us are, anyhow; we sort of have deference for attributes of the female body other than what that 'almost-famous' restaurant chain, Hooters, is known for - large breasted knockouts."
I nodded my head as I tripled-bogeyed the sixth hole.
He continued, "So our likes are a bit different. We only employ Shooters Girls who have beautiful long legs. Of course, if they have large breasts, it's not necessarily a disqualifying factor to employment, but it's not a requirement, by any stretch of the imagination," Beggartree said with a pompous, intellectually-snobbish chuckle.
"Like long legs all the way up to that wonderful ball bearing pair of couplings," I said, winking at one of the stunning hostesses as she poured me more of NASA's exquisite Scotch. She also gave me a few soda crackers with caviar draped on top. "I understand," I continued, munching on a cracker and taking a generous sip of that wonderful ochre elixir.
"So tell me, Ted, when did the Shooters Girls come into the picture?"
"Late in Bill Clinton's second term. It was a top-down sort of command," Beggartree answered.
I laughed. I did not know if this comment was meant as a double entendre' or if it was just the rambling talk of a numerically-oriented idiot with more degrees than a Fahrenheit thermometer. Then, Dr. Beggartree's mood changed drastically. Things went from carefree to somber. And although the Shooters Girls hostesses served as excellent ice-breaking mechanisms, at least, in regard to my social presence during this very scientific visit, Dr. Beggartree soon began talking of more serious matters.
"There's a missile in the making -- and let me inform you, it is a very nasty Weapon of Mass Destruction," he said, in a gloomy tone.
[Let me digress for an instant. What Dr. Beggartree did next really nauseated me. He actually leered at the shapely, globe-like appendages of the one of the Shooters Girls! It's necessary for me now to make a detailed, in-line annotated analysis of the situation I am describing: The particular Shooters Girl that Beggartree libidinously stared at reminded me of an extremely high-tech version of Daisy Duke, Barbi Benton, Farah Fawcett Majors, Cher, Stevie Nicks, Gzha Gzah Gabor and Bridgette Bardot all rolled into one. The only glaring difference was that she was a beautiful African-American amazon. She was rehashed, regurgitated and re-cloned like only true testosterone-driven, macho-glutted mania could contrive. In sum, I was disgusted. Sure, I was very turned on, too; I mean I was then, as I am now, a heterosexual and all; but I remember one radio broadcast coming through my jalopy's speakers like a voice crying in the middle of the wilderness. The voice I heard then was from Rush Limbaugh's baritone vocal cords. And I remember Mr. Limbaugh saying in not so many big, bouncing, bombastic words that President Bill Clinton had total disregard for any and all Judeo-Christian ethical considerations as evidence through the sex scandal that almost ruined the United States of America. For once, I agreed with the obese, cigar-smoking, dope-fiend of a blabbering pundit. Rush Limbaugh knows what he's talking about!!! If the Ruskies would've attacked us at the low point of Clinton's sexual scandal, we'd all be wearing knee-length raccoon-dog coats and standing in breadlines right now!!!]
"This Weapon of Mass Destruction looks, smells, and even bites like a mosquito," Dr. Beggartree explained. "I know it all sounds like one of those terribly written books by some wanna-be speculative-fiction writer, but it's true." Dr. Beggartree said, holding up to a light overhead an insect. It looked like a male mosquito.
He smiled and continued, "It could easily be lost in a swarm of mosquitoes at a busy commercial street corner in say, downtown Wichita, Kansas; at a sultry barbecue on a Saturday evening in Birmingham, Alabama; or it can come subtly on little wings outside a diner in Jersey City, New Jersey; or in the stagnant air surrounding a riverboat gaming casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi." My mouth dropped open as Beggartree described the mosquito model Weapon of Mass Destruction.
Then, one of the Shooters Girls accidentally cut off her scanty little shorts with the cuticle scissors she was using. She must have mistaken her bottom briefs' light green color for budding grass around the miniature golf course.
[The Shooters Girls, when not pouring drinks and entertaining, were official groundskeepers of this miniature golf course. They bent over and cut grass with their cute little ivory-handled cuticle scissors.]
"But don't get that mosquito wrong," Dr. Beggartree explained. "It isn't actually an insect. It's a missile capable of blowing up everything north of the equator. And it has such an intense combustibility and destructive capability that the Northern Hemisphere would end up looking like a sad triangle or rectangle of abused, corrupted, and exploded rock structures."
"That's really scary!" I screamed, flabbergasted. "How would anyone know?! That Weapon of Mass Destruction would fool anyone! Hell, even other bugs would be deceived!"
"Molten lava would pour from the very pores of this hideous rock formation so the only real use - industrially and commercially -- which this land mass could offer - would be for an industrious, entrepreneurial, opportunistic group of inner-city youths to collect this fiery stuff in cans or jars and sell the blasted junk at county fairs in Mexico, at the very southern tip of Antarctica at garage sales and flea markets, or at a Kangaroo kickoff dinner in some extreme outback area of Australia."
"How does this whole mosquito thing end up blowing up?! Where are the controls to this hideous WMD?!" I asked him, screaming in despairing exasperation.
He looked at me as if he was looking into the face of at a crazy man. "As I said before, all this sounds like one of those horribly written science-fiction books by some mid-list, hack, science-fiction writer. Believe it or not, my friend, the President of the United States has the button stuffed into the right corner breast pocket of that hideous gray and black sports jacket he sometimes wears to press conferences, campaign fund-raising dinners, and out with the First Lady on dates inside the White House walls. Every now and again he takes it out and looks at it, with all the affection of a doting grandfather looking over a brand-spanking new grandbaby."
"And that button is somehow tied to the nuclear-holocaust mosquito robot?"
"Yes. This button has a high-pitched radio-frequency signal that misses everything -- even cell phones, MRI and cat scanning devices in hospitals, and Sirius radio transmissions - and this signal goes directly to the beak of that insect, dressed up incognito in a very miniscule, humble form. Then the robot explodes, causing genocide and so much damage that even the great glaciers can't compare to its continental-scaled decimating capabilities. Even ten thousand hurricanes with the intensity of Katrina couldn't match the destruction that would ultimately ensue. The materials used to make this bomb were brought to us by some of our extraterrestrial aliens discovered and captured within Area 51. These aliens, from some outlaw planet in a galaxy two million light years away, brought a vial of this horrid gas that makes pure uranium or plutonium seem as harmless as baby food. The element used to make up the gas cannot be found on Earth or even in the Milky Way Galaxy. By the way, we keep these illegal extraterrestrial aliens in a glass cage in the middle of the desert in a little cubbyhole. It's 16 miles underneath the earth's surface. And we poke at them with long sharp sticks to keep them mean-spirited and on their toes," Dr. Beggartree said.
When I returned to my home in a holler' about halfway between the sister towns of Hoggshead, Kentucky and Intercourse, West Virginia, I started making new plans for the rest of my life. I decided I wasn't going to become a professional dulcimer player. Life would probably be too short for such highly ambitious goals. Looking at the desolate surroundings of my own little corner of Appalachia, I took a small piece of paper from my denim-jeans pocket with the name of one of the Shooters Girls who scribbled her telephone number on it. I immediately dialed that number into the memory system of my humble abode.
I then vowed to blow up my own precious dulcimer with some kind of re-manufactured nuclear warhead. Now that I had returned to my camper on top of a hill in the backwoods of my old Kentucky home, it was direct action, not hoping and daydreaming, that was urgently needed.
Jeez, I was delirious . . . . I swear I saw some fire-breathing sheep down at the bottom of the holler. When I tried to sleep, attempting to get some much needed rest, I counted fire-breathing sheep to get into my own pathetic Rapid Eye Movement phase.
Maybe the fire-breathing sheep were just a harbinger of the visions I saw on my trip to Washington. Earlier that day, I swear I saw a mosquito that looked a lot like that robot. And hey, I'm talking about that mosquito robot WMD that Beggartree showed me! Then I looked at another mosquito. Then another. And another. Hells bells, these bugs could all be WMDs! Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference between that scurvy little bug Beggartree exhibited in his NASA penthouse with all the mosquitos that constantly swarmed around me! I looked at each and every bug in the whole cloud of buzzing gray. There was no visible difference between the WMD Beggartree showed me and each and every little stinging critter flying around the holler!
AFTERWARDS: NEARLY ONE YEAR LATER:
I've been bitten a lot by mosquitoes lately. I never swipe at them. Any mosquito could be the one and only WMD that Dr. Beggartree showed me at NASA's penthouse executive golf course. And in the Appalachian hollers, there's a glut of mosquitoes in the good ole' summertime.
Yes, I just watch the little beasts suck the blood out of me and I scream and wail as their little bodies fill up with my own red-liquid life source. Do you think I actually have the guts to kill them with a quick swat of my open hand? Do you think I'm going to be accused of the most blatant horrific crime of humanity ever committed?!
The only thing that makes me feel a little bit better is something that came about last Friday. See, I called the number of the Shooters Girl that I've stored in my telephone's memory.
After almost a year, I finally got around to calling her. It took a half bottle of moonshine and some good greenhouse-grown Kentucky cannabis to get up the courage, but I did it, by God.
Anyhow, her sweet voice indicated that she was really happy to hear from me. She said if I took the Greyhound bus to Washington next week, she'd probably go out with me that night, as long as we didn't go to Hooters. But she admitted it was all "a big, big maybe." There was a good chance she wasn't going to see me at all, she explained.
But she also said lunch in the penthouse with Dr. Beggartree and a round of golf was guaranteed.
"No jacket required," she said, then hung up.