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Lizard music, p.2
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       Lizard Music, p.2

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  I just hung around for a couple of hours, looking at magazines and getting over being sick. I thought about the stuff I had seen on television and wondered what Walter Cronkite was doing on his vacation. I wished I could remember some of the tunes the lizard band was playing. I checked the TV listings for the night before, and there wasn’t anything about them. The last listing was the monster movie, The Island of Dr. Morbo.

  Then I got the idea of going to Hogboro. Kids from McDonaldsville just about never go to the city of Hogboro, even though there is a bus every twenty minutes, and it takes less than half an hour. I myself had only been in Hogboro a few times, when Mom and Dad took us to dinner and a movie, and once there was a school trip to a museum. Another time I had gone with Mom on the bus, and we went to a couple of big department stores. When we got back, she said that the stores weren’t any better than the ones in McDonaldsville, and being in the city made her feel insecure. I thought the stores in Hogboro were a lot better than the ones in McDonaldsville. For one thing, they weren’t all on one level, and you rode up and down on these moving stairways. And they were crowded. People, all kinds, were everywhere.

  In McDonaldsville, you never get to see a crowd. Maybe you will see a whole lot of people at a basketball game, or something like that, but it isn’t a crowd. The people all know each other, or if they don’t, they should. I mean they’re all the same, and they are all there for the same reason, and they all know just what kind of a house everybody else lives in and what sort of car they have, because they have a house and a car just like it. A crowd is a whole bunch of different people, all of them doing something a little bit different—they’re all alone in the middle of a whole lot of people they don’t know. If you were to meet somebody you knew in a real crowd, it would be a big surprise.

  The bus stop was four blocks from my house. I picked up one of the forged letters to Mom and Dad to drop in the mailbox and went to wait for the bus.

  When the bus came, there was hardly anybody on it. Every morning the buses are full of men going to work in Hogboro, and every night they all ride back. The rest of the day the buses run back and forth, mostly empty, with maybe a few ladies going shopping. I sat by a window and watched as we went through the familiar streets of McDonaldsville, shopping centers, hamburger stands, houses. Then we got to streets I didn’t know. The houses got closer together, and there were fewer trees. The bus passed big factories and apartment buildings. Everything seemed to be made of brick.

  I didn’t know exactly why I was going to Hogboro. I just sort of thought of doing it, and did it. The bus was rolling down a big wide street, and I felt very good about the whole idea.

  The bus had not picked anyone up for quite a while. I figured that we were already in Hogboro, or close to it. We were stopped at a corner, when the bus driver shouted out the window, “Hey! Chicken Man!” The driver opened the door, and a very old black man got on. He didn’t pay any fare. All the people on the bus were smiling—they seemed to know who the Chicken Man was. He was wearing an old raincoat and a rumpled old hat. There was a string around his neck, and hanging from it were a toy telephone, a baby doll, little bottles of beer, a couple of bells, and a lot of other junk.

  I was wondering why he was called the Chicken Man, when he took his hat off, and there on his head, sitting calmly as though she were on a nest, was a big fat white chicken.

  “Hey, Chicken Man!” one of the passengers shouted. “Have your chicken do some tricks!” The Chicken Man did a couple of dance steps in the aisle of the bus. Then he tapped his chicken with his long bony finger, and it hopped off onto his shoulder. The chicken did all sorts of tricks. She danced on the old man’s shoulders and clucked into the toy telephone, drank beer from a little bottle, and at the end of the act, hopped onto the old man’s head and settled down so he could put his hat over her.

  At the end of the chicken act everybody clapped and cheered. Nobody offered the Chicken Man any money, and he didn’t pass his hat or anything. I guessed he didn’t do that for a living, just to entertain people.

  When the Chicken Man had finished his act I noticed we were already inside the Hogboro bus terminal.

  Chapter 3

  The bus terminal was noisy and dirty and crowded. People were carrying suitcases and bundles and babies. A bunch of soldiers were standing together, talking loud and laughing. They had shiny boots. Everybody seemed to be in a big rush, or else bored, waiting for a bus that was hours away.

  I went out into the street. Car horns were tooting and buses were rumbling, and everyone was moving fast. I stood still for a while and watched. The people were passing by like a long freight train, and I felt like a car stopped at a crossing. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t really see the street, just the people passing.

  Then I was moving too. All of a sudden I was in the stream of people, going fast. I felt as though I were being partly carried. It wasn’t like regular walking. It was almost like swimming in a race. I was going pretty fast, and getting hot and sweaty. Store windows and movie canopies with thousands of little light bulbs flashed past. Sometimes it was a blur, and sometimes things stood out clearly, as I sped past with the crowd—Chop Suey, Pants Pressed, 3 Big Features, Discounts. The signs were red and green and blue, made of light bulbs and neon tubing.

  After a while the crowd started to thin out and slow down. There weren’t as many lighted signs, and the buildings were darker and older looking.

  I kept walking. There were little private houses between the office buildings, with little gardens in front, mostly weeds. The stores were smaller than the ones near the bus terminal. They didn’t have electric signs. A lot of them were empty. The whole neighborhood was sort of run down. Paint was peeling off the front doors, and there were a lot of cracks in the sidewalk. Grass grew out of the cracks. There weren’t many people walking, and there weren’t many cars. People were leaning out of windows, watching the street with their elbows on pillows. Every window was open—not an airconditioner in sight. The whole place smelled of old bricks.

  I had never seen anything like it before. McDonaldsville is all new houses, or neat streets of old houses with fresh paint, and shopping centers with big parking lots. Nobody keeps his window open in the summertime.

  I stopped in front of an empty store. There were big glass windows on both sides of the door, which was padlocked. It was dark and dusty inside. I could see right through the store and out the back windows, which opened onto a sort of yard with leafy weeds and trees of paradise swaying in the breeze. It looked like two television screens showing a color picture of a green jungle. I looked at the two bright squares of green in the dark store for a long time—then I noticed something else.

  Taped to the window, on the inside, was an old record album cover. It had been in color once, but the sun had faded it until it was all different shades of brownish yellow. It was so faded, you really had to stare at it to make it out. There was a picture of five lizards, and over them was printed, The Modern Lizard Quintet Plays Mozart. It was very faded. It took a long time to figure out what it said, and what the picture showed.

  The lizard band had made a record! I decided to look for it. As I said, I’m not all that interested in the records the other kids listen to, but I thought I’d like to have a record of the lizards. I could play it on Leslie’s portable stereo. I was sure there would be a record store near the bus terminal. I turned around and started walking back. It was starting to drizzle. The drops made dark spots on the sidewalk, and the brick smell was getting stronger.

  I was walking fast. I wanted to get to the record store before the rain got heavy. I didn’t make it. There was a flash and a crash, and I ducked into a doorway just before it hit. It was as though a big bucket had been turned over. What a rain! It made a noise like rattling marbles in a can. I thought the rain was making a clucking noise like a chicken, too, until I looked around and saw that I was sharing the doorway with the Chicken Man.

  Chapter 4

  “Claudia
doesn’t like this rain very much,” the Chicken Man said.

  “Is Claudia the name of your chicken?” I asked.

  “It isn’t the name of my lizard,” the Chicken man laughed, a high weird laugh. It scared me. I was scared the minute I saw him. I’m not used to black people. There are only five black kids in our school, and you never get a chance to talk to them, because there is always a crowd of kids around them showing how they’re not prejudiced. I had made up my mind to get a chance to talk to this one kid, Melvyn. He’s the smallest black kid, and he wears glasses. I figured I’d start with him and see how it went. The Chicken Man was not only black, but old and scary, and he had that weird laugh, and his skin fitted him like an old raincoat.

  “Did you say lizard?” I asked.

  “No, did you?” Then the Chicken Man laughed again. I wished he wouldn’t do that.

  “I saw you on the bus today.” I wished it would stop raining hard so I could get out of there.

  “Claudia sure doesn’t like this rain,” the Chicken Man said. “It makes her bones hurt—arthritis, I suppose—she’s a very old chicken.” Claudia was making angry, muffled, clucking noises under the old man’s hat.

  “Is that what you do?”

  “What?”

  “Just go around with the chicken—”

  “Claudia.”

  “—with Claudia, and do tricks and stuff?”

  “I saw you on the bus too,” the Chicken Man said. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

  “Well, I wasn’t exactly looking for anything.”

  “Yes, but did you find it?”

  “Find what?”

  “Maybe you’re looking for something, and don’t know what it is,” the Chicken Man said. “Maybe you don’t even know that you’re looking. You sure looked to me like you were looking for something.”

  “When? Just now?”

  “Just now, just before, on the bus—all the time. You look like you’re on the track of something or other.”

  “Well, just now I was thinking about looking for a record. I was just going to look for a record store when the rain started.” Claudia was making a sort of moaning noise.

  “I sure wish this rain would stop. Claudia is getting uncomfortable.” The Chicken Man was stroking his hat, trying to calm down his chicken. “What’s your name?”

  “Victor.”

  “Look here, Victor.” The Chicken man held out his hand. It was like the branch of a tree; the fingers were dry and wrinkled and bony. I looked into his palm. It was like a really old baseball glove.

  “What am I supposed to be looking for?”

  “Just look—see what you’re looking for.” I looked into the Chicken Man’s empty palm. Claudia was clucking to herself, the rain was thumping—all of a sudden there was a little green lizard thrashing around in the Chicken Man’s palm. That did it! I was four blocks away when I drew my next breath. I ran through the rain all the way to the bus terminal. A McDonaldsville bus was just pulling out, and I jumped on at the last second. I fell into a seat. I was soaking wet. I was shaking too. That lizard had surprised me. It didn’t scare me—I’m not afraid of snakes and spiders and things like that. It wasn’t even seeing it appear like that. I knew the Chicken Man could do tricks. The thing I kept wondering about all through the bus ride home was how the Chicken Man knew about the lizards. Did he really know, or was it just a coincidence? My shirt was sticking to the bus seat, and my back was sticking to my shirt. There was a fairly large puddle forming under my seat. I was still dripping when the bus stopped near my house. I stepped off into a puddle about four feet deep and sloshed home.

  I decided I’d better come in through the kitchen door so I wouldn’t soak the carpet. Just as I came around to the back of the house, there was a clap of thunder, and another cloudburst—just to make sure I was really wet. I just stood in the kitchen, dripping. I decided I’d undress in the kitchen, wring out my clothes over the sink, and then throw them down into the basement where the dryer is. First I took all the stuff out of my pockets and piled it on the kitchen table. I got my clothes off, threw them down the basement stairs, and went to get a towel and some dry clothes. Once I was dry, I looked at the clock—news time soon. I put a TV fried-chicken dinner in the oven. I started putting the stuff from the kitchen table back into my pockets. Everything was there—house keys, wallet, knife, police whistle, comb in handmade leather case (from camp the summer before), some ballpoint pens, a little notebook, a magnifying glass, a pipe (I don’t smoke it. It’s a cracked one of my father’s, just like Walter Cronkite’s pipe).

  There was also a card. I didn’t remember seeing it before. It was printed in blue letters on pink paper, and it was soggy. I picked it up.

  HERR DOKTOR PROFESSOR HORACE

  KUPECKIE, Plt.D.

  (The Chicken Man)

  Representing Claudia, the dancing Chicken,

  Dreams Explained, Lost Articles located,

  Psychiatry, Telepathy, Saws Sharpened.

  By Appointment—City Bus Terminal—Hgbro.

  Chapter 5

  The Chicken Man must have slipped the card into my pocket. He was a pretty good magician, there wasn’t any doubt about that. Back in my house, the whole thing didn’t seem so scary. The Chicken Man didn’t seem mean, just weird and spooky. I got the TV warmed up. There was a game show where the contestants jump into a deep pit with greased sides. They have to wear a special suit with no pockets. At the bottom of the pit there’s a million dollars in small bills. They have half a minute to stuff as much money as they can into their mouth, and scramble up the greased sides of the pit. The audience screams a lot. Nobody ever winds up with much more than a hundred dollars.

  The oven timer went off just as the news program started. I got my fried chicken and watched the news. I wasn’t really able to pay attention. I kept thinking about Herr Doktor Professor Horace Kupeckie, Plt.D., and the trick he had done with the lizard. It was sort of bothering me. I guessed a good magician could make something appear like that—but a lizard! How did he know I was thinking about lizards? The doorway where I met the Chicken Man was not far from the empty store window where I was looking at the lizard album cover. Maybe he saw me looking at that, and guessed that I’d be thinking about a lizard. I had seen a magician at a school show who would tell you to pick a card and then think about it, and then he would show you the card. It was kind of odd that Doktor Professor Kupeckie had a lizard in his pocket. On the other hand, he kept a chicken under his hat. Maybe he had a whole lot of animals stashed in his raincoat. I felt a little embarrassed about running away like that. Probably I had hurt Professor Kupeckie’s feelings. He may have just been trying to be friendly and show me a trick.

  Roger Mudd was telling how the President likes to eat cottage cheese with catsup on it for lunch—the telephone rang. It was Mom calling to see how things were going. I told her that everything was fine. She wanted to talk to Leslie, but I told her she went bowling with Gloria Schwartz. Then she wanted to know if I had eaten my supper. I told her I was eating it right now. Then she wanted to know what I was having, and I told her. Then Dad got on and asked me all the same questions. Then Mom got on again, and she asked me all the same questions again. Then Dad got on and gave me a bunch of advice, mostly the same stuff they had told me before they left. Then Mom got on, and she said everything that Dad had said. I was trying to stretch the telephone cord so I could see Roger Mudd. It was hard to see the screen, but I thought I saw a little lizard head peeking over Roger’s shoulder—just for a second. Mom and Dad finally hung up, and I ran back to the TV, but there wasn’t any lizard. I wasn’t sure if I had seen it or not. I decided I was for sure going to wait up for the lizard band.

  I had a look at the TV listings. There was nothing about the lizards. The late movie was Invasion of the Pod People. It sounded good. I wondered why Roger Mudd would have a lizard on his shoulder. Some people keep lizards as pets, but Roger Mudd wouldn’t bring his lizard on television. I m
ean, maybe he would, but Walter would never do such a thing, and he wouldn’t let Roger do it either. I probably imagined it (not that I go in for imagining things—I’m not that sort of kid). Still, I was pretty shook up earlier when Professor Kupeckie did that trick, and I was sort of starting to get lizards on the brain.

  Right after the news there was one of these animal programs. There have been a lot of animal programs lately. They are all about alike. They show some kind of wild animal and tell about how in a few years they will all be killed off, and it’s a shame and all the fault of human beings. Most of the programs are sponsored by companies that make dog food and stuff like that. I heard Walter Cronkite say that they use whale meat in dog food. I always wonder if the sponsors of the animal programs use whale meat in their dog food. I like the animal programs pretty well; it seems that everybody likes animals, now that they’ve killed most of them. This time the program was about lizards. I might have known. It was getting to be national lizard week, or something. All of a sudden, I was running into lizards every five minutes. “I’ll bet a lizard could get elected president,” I thought.

  The program was very interesting. There are a lot of different kinds of lizards—all sizes and colors. They didn’t seem to have much in the way of personality, but some of them were very pretty. Sometimes I wish we had a color set. The program showed lizards eating bugs, and frogs, and other lizards. It showed them running around, and fighting, and shedding their skins. It didn’t show any of them playing the saxophone.

  After the animal program there was a police program, with lots of head-bashing, and shooting, and crashing cars, and men hitting women, and dope addicts going crazy, and all that stuff. Those shows are always the same. I worked on my model airplane and sort of half-watched it. Even the commercials were dull. Some big company, maybe an insurance company or an oil company—they didn’t even say what they made—they just talked about what a great country America is and showed all these pictures of dumb-looking families smiling at the camera. The other channels all had police shows too, so I was stuck. For part of the time I dozed off on the floor, with my chin resting on the newspaper I had spread out under my model. As a result of falling asleep, part of the wing got glued on crooked. I was holding it while the glue dried, when I dozed off. I had a lot of trouble getting it straightened out, and it still didn’t look too neat by the time the late news came on. I hate sloppy work on model airplanes—it sort of ruins them. I’m usually very careful not to have any splops of glue, or lumpy paint, or anything like that. It really frustrated me that my DC-10 had glue bumps on the wing. I hoped the paint would cover them.

 
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