Rollo’s mouth dropped straight to the ground with a “clunk” sound in appalled shock. But it was Heflin who spoke next.
Friday, February 4, 2011
FICTION: TOWN HALL TONIGHT! By David Perlmutter
The L.A. Coliseum! Site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, the Wattstax festival, and the innumerable defeats of the L.A. Rams! But it was to play a different role for a very different group of people this evening in August 2009. The television cartoon characters of America, having finally received the right to vote secretly in a largely unnoticed piece of legislation, were now starting to demand their rights. And part of what they wanted was access to a full and liberated, publicly funded health care system, in line with the desires of most of the members of the newly installed Democratic Presidential administration that most of their votes had brought in the previous fall. And so, the administration allowed them, with the kindly gestures so common in these situations, a town hall to discuss and air their grievances in the only place in the city large enough to hold all of them.
It was not, unfortunately, to go the way that anyone wanted it to, but that’s getting a bit ahead of things. Better to start at the beginning.
Senator Henry Snow, whose very recent election suggested the very advanced and heightened sense of irony extant in the state of California as well as its desire to change with the prevailing political times, was chosen by the President to preside over the affair. This occurred due to some obvious reasons and in spite of some less obvious ones. Snow, as the reigning (and only) Democrat in the Senate representing California, was the logical choice for reflecting a program that reflected the very heart of the President’s mandate, one on which the President was not about to compromise. An open display of support for the movement towards public health care among its most vociferous supporters would surely be counted as a political badge of honor. On the other hand was his open and often evident dislike of those vociferous supporters, which went back to the days when they had simply been annoying public nuisances and not the citizens they now claimed to be. Though Snow, for reasons of political expediency, tended to put a brave face on when it came to talking about the ‘toons in public, he was less supportive privately, displaying racist slurs in his speech and impatience with the very idea of their having “inalienable” rights at unforeseen moments.
These negative feelings were something that Dick Wilson, the young Congressman from California who shared the Senator’s political affiliations, had been secretly but expressly advised by the President to keep in check by co-chairing the town hall with Snow. It also helped that Wilson knew the ‘toons better than Snow did. Previously a social worker, Wilson had spent much time working in the cartoon character “ghetto” in Los Angeles near Hollywood. This had made him acutely aware of their differences in belief, character and ideals from the human beings- and each other- in a way which Snow never possibly could achieve.
Consequently, as the two of them stood backstage just before they were to hold court with the ‘toons, Wilson took Snow aside in private council.
“What?” Snow whispered angrily.
“You know what!” was Wilson’s answer. “You can’t let your personal feelings interfere here! These people aren’t just animated cartoon characters anymore- they are citizens of the United States of America, with all the rights and privileges that that implies! So don’t go telling ‘em off like they’re know-nothing idiots- they deserve better than that!”
“Rights?” snapped Snow. “Privileges? Wilson, you’ve been spending too much damn time with those “people” of yours! You can give “people” like them all the rights they want and it still won’t make ‘em any more “people” like than you or me. Sometimes it takes years or even centuries to accomplish! Look at what happened to the nig….bla….African-Americans!”
The fact that Snow had to choose his words carefully reflected how difficult it was for the older gentleman to relinquish his older and more suspect attitudes towards any form of social change. Wilson knew that, and he was prepared with a response.
“The ‘toons can hold out that long, Henry. Remember, they’re immortal! They can’t be hurt by any conventional weaponry we can use on other people, so the armed forces won’t be able to have your back!”
“Not unless they got flame-throwers,” was the bitter answer from Snow. “You know that those ‘toons can go up like a puff of bad smoke if somebody even so much as touches their little celluloidal bodies with fire! People have been doing that around this town for years! Hell, I did when I was younger!”
“And I suppose you’d want the President to know about that, would you?” Wilson threatened. “Or maybe those crazy Republicans who tried to bust up the other town halls we’ve had?”
“No!” retorted Snow. “But you got to know one thing, Dick. I’m an old man, and those ‘toons are about the most annoying and mouthy young people in existence, regardless of how “old” they really may be! I can’t stand their acting up, and I never will. If so much as one of ‘em starts trying my patience, I’ll…”
“YOU WON’T!” Wilson warned him. “Not if you want to keep the President’s favor- and your job!”
“I…guess it can be borne for a little bit,” said Snow. “Let’s just get it over with- with no slip-ups, mind you!”
“No slip-ups,” Wilson repeated, but this time as a warning to Snow. Then he made an “after you” gesture with his hands. “Be my guest,” he said with false modesty.
Snow ignored him, and the two of them stepped out into the light, where the haze of the summer sun- and the gazes of literally thousands of animated cartoon characters- was to lie upon them momentarily.
There was rapturous applause and a chorus of “yeah!” and “all right!” as the politicians emerged from the rear of the Coliseum onto the special jerry-rigged platform awaiting them at the far end of the football playing field. This lasted until the crowd discovered the President was not there with them- at which point it abruptly stopped!
Snow and Wilson approached a small table that had been set up for them on the platform facing the far end of the Coliseum. Snow grabbed the portable microphone placed in front of his seat and spoke:
“Good evening, everyone,” he said in a voice that scarcely failed to disguise a heavy forced geniality. “This town hall has been called into session to address your concerns as cartoon characters towards the expansion of the American health care system into a full public sphere. Granted, your commentary may not lead towards or influence further improvements or developments in this area, but we will at least have a sense of how to accommodate your…unique perspective on this new and exciting health care environment. I’m sure if the President were here (here came a chorus of boos from the audience) he would applaud you for being so open and direct in bringing your opinions to the epicenter of our great nation’s debate on revising its health care system.
“As you will notice, there is a small table and chair here in front of our platform. That is your chair if you so desire it. I invite all of you to sit down in it and ma….”
Before the Senator could finish speaking, nearly everyone in the Coliseum, in a split second, began queuing up in a giant line behind the table and chair!
“Aw, shit!” the Senator mumbled, covering the microphone with his hand as he did. “We’re gonna be here all night now!”
“Just behave yourself!” his colleague reminded him. “No slip-ups!”
“No slip-ups from you, either!” answered Snow. And they turned to face the massing throng.
The first petitioner was a small young creature who resembled a cross between a cat and a bear with grey fur. He wore a wraparound coat made entirely of purple fabric and a hat to match, and seemed quite confused and “out of it” in behavior and manners. Representative Wilson was forced to guide him towards the table as one would a visually impaired person.
“That’s it….That’s it…..Just come a little closer and sit down in this chair….Lean in and speak into the microphone there….NO! Don’t EAT it! Lean back! BACK!....There!”
“Can we please get on with this?” snapped Senator Snow impatiently.
“On? With what?” said the youth innocently. “Are you changing clothes or something, ‘cause, if you are, I don’t think we all want to see your big hairy…”
“NO!” Wilson cut in. “We need to get started. Started, you understand?”
The young “man” nodded in agreement.
“Now, first of all,” said Snow innocently, to begin the questioning, “what is your name?”
“LAME?” shouted the boy, having evidently misheard the question. His face grew extremely wide, as did his eyes, and tears began streaming down his cheeks. “How….could…you….possibly….SAYYYY that!” he bawled. “You don’t even KNOW me, and you start to calling me….”
“No!” said Wilson diplomatically. “We didn’t mean that! All we want is your name! N-A-M-E! Name!”
“Oh!” said the boy, suddenly composed and normal in voice and manner again. “It’s Minestrone, sir.”
“And where exactly do you live, Minestrone?” said Snow, with quizzical glazed eyes directed at both him and Wilson.
“In Margarine City, sir,” came the answer.
“And where is that? I’ve never seen it on a map!”
“That’s ‘cause it’s straight inside Compton, fool!” said Minestrone, making the sign of the “Crips” street gang with his “hand”, as his youthful voice made what he was saying hilariously funny- to some people. Snow and Wilson- the former not from the L.A. area, the latter seeing Minestrone as some sort of youthful gang “poseur”- did not laugh, to their credit.
“And what do you there?” Snow continued the questioning.
“I’m a chef,” answered Minestrone.
“A chef?” said Snow as he looked at Wilson icily again. “Aren’t you too young to be a chef?”
“Well, I’m just an apprentice now,” the youth admitted. “I don’t know nothin’ else! There’s no schools or nothin’ in our ‘hood, so not nobody of us can talk gooder than you’s!”
“There’s a lot of accidents that can possibly happen in a kitchen, right, Minestrone?” said Wilson as Snow bit his lips in angry frustration, trying to guide Minestrone back to the topic du jour. “Do you need health care around your way?”
“Well, I don’t need it,” said Minestrone, “but my elf does!”
“Your what?” said Wilson.
Minestrone removed his hat and displayed to the politicians a small green creature living inside of it, which was then asleep.
“See,” he said. “My elf. See, there was this sign outside the inner-state that said that you was having this town hally thing about elf care, so I thought that I should bring him in, seeing as how there aren’t any doctors in Margarine City, ‘cept the wizard, the aleyomancer, the psychic….”
“Kid,” said Wilson.
“the astronomer, the cheese curdler, the lepidopterist, the flagellator,…”
“the humpty humpty hippo….”
“MINESTRONE!” yelled Wilson.
“What?” answered the boy, just as loud.
“This isn’t about elf care! It’s about HEALTH care. H-E-A-L-T-H! HEALTH! Doctors, nurses, that sort of thing. No magic!”
“Yeah,” added Snow unsympathetically. “Get out of here and stop wasting our time!”
“Well!” said Minestrone, insulted, as his hat was put back on his head, “You can be sure that I’ll be reporting this to the elf care regulation committee, ‘cause let me tell you, ain’t no way a grey-furred ‘toon is gonna get straight good elf care for his elf…”
“JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!” snapped Snow.
“Ssh!” reprimanded Minestrone. “You’re gonna wake up my elf!”
“LEAVE, you IDIOT!” said Snow, standing up and pointing with his finger to the exit. “LEAVE!”
“Gee, mister,” said Minestrone as he turned to leave. “You sure are a JERK!” The comment echoed with appreciative laughter down the line.
“JERK?” roared Snow. “JERK? You little SON OF A BITCH….”
Snow jumped up from the table and ran towards Minestrone, who became a blurred image of arms and feet in constant motion with a loud, immature screaming voice raised to the heavens. He rushed out of the Coliseum with blinding speed, and did not stop running- or screaming- until several hours later, and was always in earshot during the remainder of our proceedings.
Fortunately, Dick Wilson was able to restrain Snow before he murdered Minestrone, and privately swore at him for losing his temper in public like that (pretending, of course, that he had not also lost his.) Snow retorted angrily that he had less practice among the “assholes” than Wilson had, and the matter was left at that. The petitioning continued.
Several steps forward in the process, some animal characters had aired some pointed grievances indicating the length and breadth of their discrimination in both Hollywood and everyday life. Then, a young, blond-haired human boy in a sailor’s jerkin and cap approached the table and sat down.
“At last,” said Snow as an aside to Wilson. “A human being!” Then he said to the youth, who was staring intently at them with a gaze of overplayed innocence, “Young man, what is your name?”
“Pancake, good sir,” was the overtly enunciated, dramatic response.
“And where do you live?”
“Stormy Length Harbor, sir.”
“And where is…”
“Just off the Coast near Santa Barbara, brudda,” said Pancake, as he made a distinctive “hang loose” symbol with his hand.
“Again with the jokes!” Snow muttered privately to Wilson as he covered his microphone. “Don’t they ever stop?” Then he turned back to Pancake and asked him: “You going to school, son?”
“No,” was the answer. “I tried it once, and the teacher turned out to be a mean old octopus who wanted to eat me!”
“Well, are you working, then?”
“What does that mean?”
Snow stared at him in astonishment. Was he really that ignorant? But Wilson took over to avoid unnecessary tension.
“Do you have a job?” Wilson said to Pancake. “You know, is somebody giving you work to do and paying you money for it?”
“No, “said Pancake.
“Well, what are you doing with your life and your time, then?”
“I’m an ADVENTURER!” the youth shouted, with the drama and passion of someone openly declaring their national origins, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
“An adventurer?” said Snow, unbelievingly and disapprovingly. “What nonsense!” Wilson ignored him and continued speaking to Pancake.
“An adventurer, huh?” he said. “Like the Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Scaramouche, those sorts of people?”
“Who are those guys?”
“Never mind. But answer me this. Adventurers need to find and explore new territory in order to keep having new adventures, right?”
“That is correct, sir!”
“So how is it possible for you to call yourself an adventurer when most of the known world has been mapped and explored already? How can you possibly justify saying you’re involved with such an outmoded profession?”
“It’s not outa….outi….outo…useless!” Pancake said, defensively. “There are still places in the world that haven’t been seen by us! Your map making people just haven’t been there yet!”
“Point taken,” said Wilson. “But,” he then added, to get back to the point of the whole affair, “adventurers do get hurt, don’t they? And they need health care to keep them adventuring, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes!” said Pancake. “It’s a good thing Beppo knows medici-ny stuff, otherwise I woulda…”
“Who is Beppo?” interjected Snow.
“She’s the whale that looks after me. We been together my whole life!”
“A whale?” said Snow disbelievingly.
“Sure,” answered Pancake, as if having a whale to look after you was a fairly common, if not every day, occurrence. “Doesn’t everybody?”
“And she looks after you?” said Wilson.
“If you mean that she yells at me if I do or think something bad, then yeah! Only she says it more like this: ‘Pancake, I done told yo’ plenty times not to be swingin’ on my uvula!’” The manner in which he imitated her suggested quite clearly that the whale spoke with an African-American accent.
“I…think we’ve heard enough from you,” said Snow unsympathetically. “You can go now!”
“You sure you don’t want to hear any more?” asked Pancake. “Some of it is pretty funny!” And he laughed, in a voice that sounded like a seagull and a car alarm being ground up together in a garbage disposal, which only increased Snow’s impatient, angry attitude towards him.
“GET OUT OF HERE, you lousy BRAT!” he stormed. Pancake obeyed promptly. Wilson glared at Snow, and Snow glared back.
Several more petitioners came and went before a big-eyed, red-haired girl in a yellow shirt, blue jeans rolled up at the legs, and green sandals came into view. As she did, she lugged a small portable slide projector, which she proceeded to set up on the table.
“How long is this going to take, Miss…?” asked Wilson.
“Dorking,” she answered promptly. “Really Dorking. Not long, sirs, so long as this darn thing behaves itself!” She slapped the projector hard on the side, as it appeared to be jammed. “I am trying to do a good job of it, since it’s in the best interests of my country and all!” Here she stood up and saluted them.
“If you’re trying to score some extra time for yourself with that elaborate technological gadgetry, Miss Dorking…” Snow said sternly “…I can assure you it won’t work!”
“I wasn’t going to ask for any extra time, you dried up old…”
“Let’s get back to the topic!” Wilson said promptly. “Miss Dorking, I presume there is a reason for this?”
“Yes,” the girl answered. “I need it to do the A/V presentation I had prepared!”
Snow growled loudly and bit into his knuckle. Another time wasting ‘toon! But Wilson, ever the diplomat, ignored him. “Go ahead,” he told her. “But don’t be long!”
“Thank you!” she said breathlessly, with enlarged, grateful blue ‘toon eyes.
She proceeded- and did not stop speaking for another forty-five minutes. The presentation was well written and informative, and likely would have made a strong impact if presented in the boardroom setting for which it was clearly intended. However, this is not the kind of thing which wins one affection in the more tightly controlled environment of a public forum on health care, even though Really was much more on topic than those who preceded her. Snow became impatient, and even Wilson’s patience was tried, while a vicious lynch mob began forming among some members of the lineup through similar impatience.
“And so,” the girl droned as the forty-sixth minute commenced, “these studies convincingly prove that there exists a level of vulnerability exhibited by cartoon characters like me to the high, degenerative capabilities of Jersey Bounce/Weehawkenitis. This necessitates the immediate expansion of the American health care system to include publicly funded tiers, which will be able to assist those in far greater need of these services than what currently exists for these people. Furthermore…”
“ENOUGH ALREADY!” bellowed Snow. “You’re finished, done, kaput! Get your little hippie body and your hippie politics OUT OF HERE!”
“Sir,” Ms. Dorking countered with iron-willed determination, “I am not done yet!”
“Yes, you are!” snapped Snow.
“No, I’m not!” was the answer.
“Yes, you ARE!”
“No, I’m NOT!”
“YES, YOU ARE!”
“NO, I’M NOT!”
This sophisticated banter continued on for a few more minutes until members of the growing lynch mob emerged and began chasing Ms. Dorking away with torches in their hands. Fearful of losing her life in the most threatening and dramatic way possible for a ‘toon, the girl screamed and began running, and was soon far out of sight.
Once order was restored, the petitioning process continued again. A small, blue, blob-like creature wearing a straw boater hat and carrying a cane was up next. Snow saw what he was up to and immediately disliked it intensely. That was why he silenced the creature just as he began to open his mouth.
“STOP!” roared the Senator. “No goddamned song and dance routines! What you ‘toons see in that hoary old vaudeville relic is beyond me, but you will not be doing it at any town hall that I am chairing! Get the hell OUT OF HERE!”
“Asshole!” muttered the blob as he slank away. His sentiments about Snow in particular, by this time, could have been those of anyone in the lineup.
Next on the docket was a small wallaby wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and brown Oxfords. He gazed at the politicians in such an elusive and intimidated way that they could sense that something might be wrong with him.
“Uh…hello…” he said nervously, with a very prominent Australian accent.
“Hello yourself, Mr. Kangaroo!” said Snow, misinterpreting his species entirely.
“You wanker!” the wallaby snapped angrily. “I’m a bloody wallaby! Can’t none of you lot tell the difference?”
“I apologize on behalf of my colleague, Mr….” said Wilson.
“Rollo. You see, Mr. Snow is very old, and he’s never been to Australia, so he doesn’t know…”
“Oh, put a cork in it!” said Snow. “I know what we’re dealing with here!”
“What?” said Wilson.
“An illegal ALIEN!” Snow intoned with judge-like solemnity. “Bad enough we have problems with those Mexicans sneaking up in here, but now we got Australians doing the same? Cripes!”
“Now just a bloody minute!” retorted Rollo. “I’ve been living here in the U.S. ever since I got called up to do my TV show in the 1990s. Don’t that count for nothin’?”
“Yeah!” said another voice. “Don’t that count for nothin’?”
This voice belonged to a giant animated steer with a yellow cowlick and hide and wearing an oversized pair of red overalls. Eating from an oversized potato chip bag, and not even bothering to stop eating while he spoke, he went past Rollo and glared at the politicians.
“Look, you Washington morons…” said the steer, whose name was Heflin, “Rollo and I have been out on the street since the network fired us, and we’ve had to do some pretty embarrassing stuff to keep in the money! Like, there was one time when we…”
“HEFLIN!” Rollo hissed viciously at him. “Don’t tell them that!”
“Well, what am I supposed to tell them, Mr. Keep The Secrets?”
“I’m supposed to be telling them about me swine flu right now…” said Rollo. “…Then you come out and talk about yer Bovi…Bova…Bivy…Mad Cow Disease!”
“Not so LOUD!” Now Heflin was hissing viciously.
“I’ve seen enough!” said Snow. “I’m calling Washington! We’ve gotta deport this wallaby before he gives all the kids in the country SWINE FLU!”
Rollo’s mouth dropped straight to the ground with a “clunk” sound in appalled shock. But it was Heflin who spoke next.
Rollo’s mouth dropped straight to the ground with a “clunk” sound in appalled shock. But it was Heflin who spoke next.
“The hell you are!” he said, snorting in anger. “Not unless I go with him!”
“Darn right you are!” said Snow. “Mad Cow Disease is even more contagious than swine flu. Grab ‘em!” he said to some nearby soldiers.
And so, Rollo and Heflin were deported to Australia, where, after some frustrating and humiliating experiences with the U.S. embassy, they were sent back to receive costly, painful and embarrassing treatments for their ailments.
Once the malodorous wallaby and steer were gone, an enormously corpulent brown-haired man clad in a trench coat and dark sunglasses rudely pushed his way to the front of the line.
“Okay!” he said, in a loud, nasal, lower-class New England accent. “Where’s my money?”
“Your what?” demanded an incensed Snow.
\ “My money, jackass!” responded the man. “You’re s’posed to be the ones givin’ it out to ‘toons who need some health care! Well, I’m a ‘toon who needs mo….health care badly, so I want my money NOW or I’ll break in yer freakin’ faces! Come on! Give it to me!”
“You don’t need our money, Mr. Gutman,” Wilson said bluntly, for he recognized the face, body and voice of the man clearly in spite of the disguise. “Why don’t you go ask your creator? He apparently has a lot of it!”
“DAMN IT!” the man swore as he ripped off the sunglasses. It was quite clear now that this was Paul Gutman, the star of the popular prime time animated series Familiar Person, and he now made even less of an attempt to disguise himself than with the flimsy methods he had just used. “What the hell gave me away? The glasses? Cheap bastard who sold ‘em to me said they made ya undetectable!”
“Be that as it may, Mr. Gutman, “said Snow, “you, like so many others at this festival of time wasting, have completely missed the point of what it was intended to do! What we are trying to do here is….”
“SHUT UP, DAMN IT!” Gutman shouted. “J….J….J…Just SHUT UP, all right???!!! I know yer hidin’ the money on ya somewhere! I just gotta look for it a bit! It’s gotta be on ya somewhere- don’t be hidin’ it, now!”
Before anyone could stop him, Paul Gutman got up on the table, stood Snow up, opened Snow’s jacket and rifled through his jacket and pants with his hands. Snow and Wilson protested in outrage, but Gutman simply told them to “shut up” while he went about his “work”. Pushing Snow aside, Gutman next went toward Wilson, at which point the same soldiers who had just deported Rollo and Heflin returned to do the exact same thing to Gutman. Protesting and swearing viciously, Gutman was dragged out, his massive girth creating flammable skid marks on the grass surface as he was led away.
The indignity of being treated to an abrupt LAPD-style going over by Paul Gutman was enough for Snow and Wilson to firmly declare the festivities to be at a conclusive end. The unspoken belief in their minds was to confirm Snow’s initial prejudices against cartoon characters- that they were ignorant of their status as “citizens” and therefore not capable of fulfilling the tasks related to this status. But, while many in the group gave up and turned to go, one did not. She, in fact, signaled to the politicians that they needed to hear her with a high extension of robotic arm and hand.
“Please!” she said loudly, her body lost among the swell of the crowd around her. “It’s urgent that I speak with you!”
“All right- come on!” said Wilson. “But don’t hold us up! After we’re done with you, we’re finished!”
The creature- a robot in the form of a female teenager- vaulted, flying, over the crowd, and landed at the table in front of Snow and Wilson as they returned to talk to her. Tall and very comely, she was clad in a blue breastplate, skirt and boots that hung delicately over a gleaming white exoskeleton, while her eyes were a deep and soulful black. Immediately, she gazed with expectation directly into their faces, which took the politicians aback for a moment.
“So, what can we do for you, Miss…” said Wilson.
“Brakeman,” she said. “Justine Brakeman. Also known- and feared- as Global Evil Confronter Unit JK-47!”
“I know about you,” said Wilson. “You do good work.”
She blushed. “Thanks.”
“Never mind the shenanigans,” said Snow. “Besides, I don’t know what a robot needs health care for. You just need to go down to Jiffy Lube if you need a tune-up…”
“Oh, you’re hilarious!” the robot muttered sarcastically. “I’m talking to him- not you!” To Wilson, she said: “I’m in need of some big help from the government for my friends! Usually, I can handle these sorts of things by myself, but not right now!”
“What do you mean, you need help?” Wilson asked.
“Just that. My hometown, Trembling Town, used to be the center of an animated TV show, and, since I was its resident superhero, I ended up being its star. Funny how things work out that way, huh? Anyway, since Odeon- that’s the network it was on-pulled the plug on us, we’ve been in a bit of a dire strait. I’ve managed to get those folks out of a lot of scrapes- earthquakes, flash floods, those sorts of things- but I can’t do a darn thing about the Jersey Bounce epidemic that broke out there just now. I have friends there, sir- friends, and they’re sick. Even in Washington, they must understand that idea. So, I need to find the medicine they need to get well, or…”, and she collapsed into pitiful tears.
“Now, you musn’t be upset!” Wilson consoled her. “I’m sure we can help you!”
“You can?” she said with an electric beam.
“Perhaps,” said Wilson. “We’ll need to know where exactly Trembling Town is, first!”
“Oh, that’s easy!” said the robot. “It’s out in Vermont. You just need to go straight up from Bos….”
Snow cut her off with an insensitive laugh.
“Hoo, boy!” he said. “Have you got the wrong guys! In case you didn’t notice, honey, Wilson and I represent California, not Vermont! You’re clear on the other side of the country! And you actually expect us to help some poor saps in Vermont? You are a laugh riot, kid! You ever think about show business?”
Justine started bawling again, at least until Wilson violently slapped Snow in the face.
“You miserable SON OF A BITCH!” Wilson snapped. “Senator or not, you’re an ill-fitting excuse for a man! We’re all supposed to be Americans here, and we’re not supposed to be partial towards favoring some particular part of the country over the others! I was going to recommend you to the President to head up the ‘toon health care agenda, but, after today, I think I’m far more deserving of the job than you! I plan to personally go and help Ms. Brakeman when we adjourn here, and to tell the President how lax in compassion you are for the people you’re supposed to be REPRESENTING!”
“You’re a miserable traitor…” shouted Snow.
“Darn right he is!” said a new voice. “And so are you, Snow! So are all of you miserable Dems!”
From the shadows came the owner of the voice, a tall, black haired man in a conservative powder blue suit and red tie. Appropriate, considering that he was a conservative Republican in political orientation, through he made his living as a semi-obscure agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. This made him an oddity among the primarily Democratic- or more sideways left- ‘toon population of which he was part. His name was Stun Smut, and he was the central character of the slightly popular prime time animated series America Mad. He clearly had been assigned to infiltrate the gathering, and he appeared ready, as well, to take drastic action to achieve his objectives. This was because he not only possessed a gun in his hands, but, tucked in his armpit, two large flares- weapons in the eyes of ‘toons, and dangerous ones at that, since they could be lit and thrown at them to produce the life-taking fire! Some of those still remaining in the crowd caught a view of them, took the hint and ran panicking, with big eyes and fast moving limbs, out of the Coliseum.
“Stun Smut!” Justine Brakeman declared violently upon seeing him, stepping between him and the politicians as she bristled for a potential fight. “I knew you’d be here some way or another to stop this from happening! You think that just because you’re a cartoon and a Republican that….”
“A man can be both, can’t he?” Smut silenced her with violent rhetoric. “I would have been here sooner, but, since I am not blessed with the attributes some of us have been given,” implying her ability to fly, “I had to rent a car at LAX and find my way through this miserable extended highway masquerading as a city! God damn that stupid cloverleaf! Not at all like the Beltway whatsoever!”
“No,” interjected Snow, “but at least the cloverleaf isn’t paved with misguided Republican interests!”
“Nor was it financed or given continued propped up support by a certain family and their business interests!” added Wilson tartly.
“SHUT UP!” Smut fumed, knowing full well what the politicians were referring to. “Both of you just SHUT THE HELL UP before I blast off your damn Dem heads! You’re pretty lucky that I haven’t done it to your man in the White House yet!”
“How can you say that?” Justine Brakeman said as she grabbed Smut’s gunless hand and held it tightly with her formidable robot strength. “He’s only been in office for eight months, and he’s already been a better President than your man was in eight years!”
“YOU CRAZY ROBOT BITCH!” Smut shouted. “I’ll teach you to mock my core political beliefs!”
And so, he aimed the gun at her chest and fired. But, in his anger, he had forgotten that, as a robot superhero, she was impervious to bullets. So he merely gasped in shock after his bullets simply bounced off of her. The gasp became louder when she zipped over to him quickly and pinned both of his hands in hers with her strength.
“It’s over, Smut!” she snarled. “For you and your party! You and your goose stepping, cretinous friends kept us in the dark for eight years, after you rigged an election to get your man into office and then faked that terrorist attack a year later to get everyone to forget the obvious fact that he was such a credential-less boob who got lucky only based on the fact that he came from such a “good” family. And don’t deny it-you and your kind have said enough about it already! I know about the whole thing! Every single superhero in the ‘toon world- the Steampunk Girls, Danny Fadeout, El Lobo, The Espionage Dogs, The Children Down The Street, me- we all knew what was going on, buddy, and we would’ve stopped those fools with the back of our hands and saved a whole lot of good people from having to die on September 11th- and all the days afterward- if we’d just been told that it was happening! But NO!!!! We’re just entertainers to you and your GOP buddies- our feelings and desires don’t count for crap with your bunch! So you didn’t tell us- and EVERYONE DIED! You and your fellows have caused the deaths of too many innocent people, and the world would be a lot better without you in it! So I’m taking you down right now to prevent you from creating even more misery in this world. What have you possibly got to say about that?”
“Only one thing,” he said.
“And what’s that?”
He stomped violently on her foot, forcing her to release him. Retrieving another gun from the pocket of his jacket, he fired a warning shot to the retreating politicians, forcing them to remain where they were. Then he held out a bottle of a strange brown liquid which he waved threateningly at Justine.
“Rustoleum!” she exclaimed. “You wouldn’t!”
“I would!” he answered. “Sure, I may be a goose stepper and all that, but I got a couple of things over on you, Princess. My show is still on the air! Hell, it even got nominated for an Emmy this year! I’m gonna be here for a long time yet, while you and your “superhero” pals will just be fading memories to anyone who even remotely remembers you! And then there’s the rustoleum, which….”
He was interrupted by the ringtone of his cell phone, which spewed out, in raucous, mechanical tones, John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars And Stripes Forever”.
“Hold that thought!” he said to the robot. “This might be important!”
It was- for him, at least. It was Francisco, his wife, with some apparently earth shattering news. While Smut spoke to her, Justine, unnoticed by him, extended her robot arm to pull the jar of rustoleum out of his grasp- being careful enough not to let any of it fall down on her, for obvious reasons- and threw it off into the sky where it would do no more harm to her or anyone else.
He turned off the phone and turned his attention back to Justine.
“Now, as I was saying, I have this….WHAT THE FUCKING HELL? IT’S GONE!”
“That’s right, Smut!” said Justine. “I got rid of it while you were chatting it up with your girl. That stuff is hazardous to my health!”
“You think you’re pretty CUTE, don’t you, Robot?” Smut sneered. “Well, try charming your way out of this one! Adios, amigo!”
Smut took the flares out from off the ground, where they had dropped in his previous struggle with the robot, lit each of them with his cigarette lighter, and, before Justine or anyone else could stop him, threw them from either side of his vantage points, one towards the ‘toons still queued up in the back, who began screaming in horror, and the other onto the desk where Senator Snow and Representative Wilson were still seated as hostages. Quickly, the desk caught fire, which threatened the lives of the men, while the other flare began threatening the lives of the ‘toons near it, with the potential still existing for threat to occur to the others. As Smut made good on his getaway, Justine Brakeman was left to deal with a tense and desperate choice that had to be made quickly.
Fortunately for Justine, it was not a choice her robot brain was burdened with for too long. For, in one of those segment-of-a-nanosecond interventions that are so commonplace in the world of television animation, three sparkling particles of light entered the Coliseum, and, without a word of warning, sped towards the lit flare in front of the panicked crowd of ‘toons. Justine breathed a sigh of relief, for it was her colleagues in the fight against evil, the Steampunk Girls, who would have made it earlier except for the fact that the L.A. smog had gotten caught up in their cute lungs for a brief moment. The Girls- red-haired Flotsam, blonde Baubles, and black-haired Betterfist- surrounded the area around the villainous flare with the quick efficiency for which they were known, an exacting attention to detail that surpassed most of their animation- and live-action- colleagues. Justine knew things were well in hand.
“We got this one, Justine!” Flotsam said with the terseness that marked her as the group’s leader. “You go help your political pals!”
“Right!” said the robot. She knew better than to question the Girls- they just seemed to know everything that was going on, even better than she did, so second-guessing them was an impossibility. Justine simply did as she was instructed.
By now, Snow and Wilson had finally noted the enormity of the danger they were in, and were shouting loudly for assistance as the wooden platform slowly began to give way. Only the corrugated metal of the desk and chairs was preventing them from being burned, but it would only take minutes for the men themselves to be burned to a crisp once the platform fell down. This was when Justine acted. Putting on a burst of speed, she leapt up into the air, grabbed Snow and Wilson in each of her arms, and flew up and over the high walls of the Coliseum just as the platform gave way and the flames began spreading onto the grass of the playing field- not to mention the other desk and chair.
“There we are!” Justine said as she dropped Snow and Wilson onto the ground. “You should be okay now!”
Snow began to resemble the color of his namesake. “You…you saved us!” he said with a stunned expression on his face.
“Well, what did you expect?” said Justine. “I couldn’t let you die out there! I’m not programmed for that!”
“But I thought that…” Snow began, still stunned.
“Don’t you see, Henry?” Wilson said in a state the obvious tone. “There are many different types of cartoons- they’re not all the same. Some are good, some are bad, some are sane, some are crazy and so on. What you and everyone else who doesn’t understand them doesn’t realize is that there is a much greater diversity to the ‘toon population than you’re willing to admit. You would rather deny them their individual virtues by classifying them based on negative and biased opinions of the entire group! That never solves anything! Remember what you said about the African-Americans? They always had virtues to them, but racists spread malicious lies about them for so long that otherwise good people ended up holding racist views about them simply because they didn’t understand the truth! The same thing has happened with the cartoons, and we’ve got to make sure it stops here and now! We’re just fortunate to be in a position now where we can help them instead of just sitting on the sidelines, and we’ve got to take that opportunity!”
“Jeez, Dick!” answered Snow. “You are so right about that. I shouldn’t have cussed you out about the whole thing with the ‘toons before. I really don’t know a whole lot about cartoons- it’s been so long since I had any real interaction with them. Washington and business and all that- it really gets to you, you know? You lose track of the people who really matter, the people who put you in your supposedly cushy job in the first place. No wonder so many people hate us politicians! But I got caught up in the game, and I became a fool. An ignorant, doddering old FOOL! You’re right about me, Dick- I don’t deserve this position- or any position!”
“It’s not too late, Henry!” Wilson responded. “You can change! Be a more progressive person! Go back to Washington and….”
“…suck on a lemon, you old fart!”
That came from Stun Smut, who had not, it seems, made as quick a getaway as might have been assumed. And now he came out of the shadows, pointing his gun directly at the two politicians.
Meanwhile, the Steampunk Girls had surrounded the flaming flare and were trying to figure out how to destroy it. This was made increasingly impossible by the rubbernecking cartoon characters around them, who made it hard for them to concentrate. Finally, Betterfist, the most aggressive and short-tempered of the trio, shot up in the air and bellowed an unquestionable command to the remaining ‘toons.
“Get the heck outta here!” she snapped. “This is a tense situation, and you’re just making it WORSE! Whatever was happening here is done now, so just beat it and GIVE US SOME SPACE!”
She picked up an inordinately large chunk of the playing field and threw it at the ‘toons. They got the message and immediately departed to head for parts unknown.
“Betterfist,” said Flotsam disapprovingly, “you shouldn’t have done that!”
“What else was I supposed to do, Miss Manners?” answered Betterfist.
“There are more respectable and orderly methods of crowd control that…”
“Would you just stop that!”
“That whole high-and-mighty bit! It doesn’t get you anywhere!”
“I don’t recall you winning any good conduct ribbons with that tomboy act…”
They were interrupted by a piercing scream that could only have come from their partner in sisterhood, Baubles, who had remained behind while they flew off to argue in the corner. Sure enough, Baubles was standing right next to the flame being emitted by the flare, and slowly but surely, little particles of the flame were attaching themselves to her bare arms, blue dress, black shoes and blonde hair and beginning to do their business. If Flotsam and Betterfist didn’t interfere soon, she would undoubtedly burn to a crisp! But interfere they did.
“Baubles!” Flotsam shouted. “Get away from the flame before you kill yourself!”
Baubles understood and backed off. Then Betterfist grabbed the flare by its unlit end and tossed it far away from the Coliseum, while Flotsam rolled Baubles’ body on the ground repeatedly until the small specters of flames on her body were permanently and completely put out.
“You idiot!” snapped Betterfist. “What were trying to do, getting so close to the flame like that? You coulda died!”
“I’m sorry!” Baubles cried out in her little silver bell tinkle of a voice. “I thought maybe if I stomped it out, the fire would go away. But it didn’t work! The flames got everywhere, and I couldn’t stop it!” Then tears were added to the mix. “Please don’t hate me for being dumb! I know it was dumb, but you two do stuff like that and you call it being heroic. I wanted to be heroic, too, for once!”
“So that’s it!” Flotsam mused. “You were jealous of us, is that what it was? So you tried to take the advantage of the opportunity of being by yourself to try to do the job by yourself, correct?”
The tone in Flotsam’s voice, as it always did, implied that she knew what people were saying or doing before they did, and it was therefore not wise to cross her. Her sisters knew this above all. Therefore Baubles simply nodded sadly when Flotsam uttered this.
“There’s no need for that!” Flotsam continued, though in a much more sympathetic way. “You should know by now that we’re partners in this game, and there isn’t any need for us to hide our feelings from each other like that. We’ve got to keep ourselves available to each other if we’re going to work effectively as a team. Isn’t that right, Betterfist?”
The third member of the party had at that moment absented herself from the ongoing discussion to examine the exterior of the Coliseum. Upon hearing the last sentence of dialogue, however, she quickly re-entered it.
“Huh? Oh, yeah…Whatever you say, Flotsam!”
“Didn’t you hear a word I said?”
Before that question could be answered, another piercing scream cut through the night. The Girls knew who the scream came from, and they quickly uttered her name:
They flew with blinding speed in the direction of where the scream had emanated from, past the wall over which Justine had supposedly delivered Snow and Wilson to safety. There they saw Justine lying down on the ground, helpless and unconscious. Stun Smut was also there, with a large wrench in his pocket with a head-shaped dent in it that matched the large welt that was now on Justine’s skull. He had his gun out now and was pointing it directly at Snow and Wilson, who were cowering at his gunpoint in the alley like victims of a mugger. Which was, in a sense, what was going on.
“Now that we’ve gotten rid of that nosy robot…” Smut was saying, “…I can finish what I came here for!”
“You’re insane if you think you can get away with this, Smut!” Wilson answered him. “The people of California will notice if….”
“Like I care about this damn state!” answered Smut. “My tax dollars go to the maintenance of my semi-affluent lifestyle in the Commonwealth of Virginia! So don’t cry to me about how your voters will miss you when you’re gone! They’ll just get a couple of other boys to replace you! That’s how it works around here, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t you have any honor in you at all, Smut?” said Snow. “Killing two duly elected representatives of your country in cold blood in a rat-infested alley…”
“Look,” said Smut, “I’m just doing what they told me to do! I came in for work at the CIA yesterday and they told me that they wanted you two dead before the health care town hall came off and the ‘toons came out and voted out all the Republicans! It’s not like I had a friggin’ choice in the matter here- if I didn’t do it, they would’ve killed me instead!”
“So there is honor among thieves!” said Wilson.
“All right- that really TEARS IT!” Smut snapped, pulling yet another gun out of his pants pocket and pointing the two guns at both men with two hands. “When I get finished putting holes in you guys…”
It was at this point that the Steampunk Girls intervened. While Flotsam and Baubles woke up Justine and got her to her feet, Betterfist raised her leg in the air and brought it swiftly upon the base of Stun Smut’s skull, causing him to whirl around in pain and look at her in anger. In the process, he dropped his weaponry, which fell to the ground and sent bullets flying off innocently into the air, since the safety catch was off both guns.
“Well, I guess I was wrong about you, Smut,” Betterfist growled aggressively at him. “That kick in the head didn’t do anything to you. That means you’re not the ZOMBIE I thought you were!”
“You little…” Smut growled at her. “I know about you Steampunk Girls, and I don’t like you at all! You little brats are darned lucky we at the CIA can’t prosecute you for war crimes!”
“Ah, save your breath!” was Betterfist’s response.
She took off with him in pursuit. This was a mistake on Smut’s part. Abruptly, he was confronted by the three Steampunk Girls and Justine, and, realizing he had no chance made a futile effort at escaping. This was halted when Snow and Wilson, each holding one of his guns, covered him like policemen.
“Looks like the joke’s on you now, Smut!” said Snow.
“Right!” said Wilson. “Got a match on you, Henry?”
“Sure do!” said Snow. “Need me to light it for you?”
“No, I got it!” Wilson said, striking it on the flat side of Smut’s gun. Then he threw it at Smut.
“NO!!!” The CIA man bellowed. But it was too late. Slowly the flames began enveloping his body, tearing away the flesh on top of his body and revealing a flimsy, sticky celluloidal base beneath, which collapsed underneath the extreme heat of the flame. Within seconds, what had once been Stun Smut was simply a pile of charred film stock.
The Steampunk Girls and Justine arrived at this point, and they became visibly ill for a moment at the sight of that which had once been their enemy. But, being professional superheroes, they quickly recovered their poise.
“Gee, fellas!” said Justine observantly. “Looks like we owe you one!”
“We owe you one, too!” said Snow. “But I think we all know what can be done to even it!”
“We certainly do!” added Wilson.
And so it was that Justine Brakeman, the Steampunk Girls, Senator Henry Snow and Representative Dick Wilson journeyed to Trembling Town, Vermont to counter the dangerous outbreak of Jersey Bounce, the often fatal disease characterized primarily by the leaping and bounding of high distances up and down on the ground while swearing profusely in a New Jersey accent. Thanks to their heroic efforts to obtain and distribute the necessary medicine, the plague was swiftly eradicated.
Soon afterwards, Snow and Wilson personally supervised the adoption of measures providing full and decisive public health care funding for all American citizens, including and especially mentioning that of cartoon characters. Despite the opposition of the Republicans, the bill passed both the House and the Senate in record time and, in equally quick time, was signed into law by the President in a very public ceremony. In response, the Republican Senators and Congressman personally supervised the burning of every hospital and health care facility in their district, an act they explicitly dedicated to the memory of their colleague Stun Smut.