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The yggyssey how iggy wo.., p.2
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       The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, p.2

           Daniel Pinkwater
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  And then there is a nice assortment of street loonies, like the Leprechaun Man, who's always talking about, and to, the Little People, and my friend Chief Crazy Wig, who is a real shaman, I think, and occasionally works as an Indian extra at Columbia pictures.

  When I get tired of standing around in the street I can go into the CBS building and talk to the engineers at radio station KNX and look at all the neat radio equipment, or sit in the audience and watch them do a radio show. They have a television station too, but not much goes on there in the daytime. And there's the public library, where I spend a lot of time, reading or talking with the old men and lady bums who sort of live there. Another place I like is the Hindu temple and mushroomburger stand with a nice garden behind it.

  As for personal friends my own age, there are these military school kids I spend time with, Neddie Wentworthstein and Seamus Finn. Neddie lives in the Hermione, and Seamus Finn hangs out with Neddie's family most of the time, so he as good as lives here. A couple of years ago, Neddie had us all convinced that the world was coming to an end—the world, or civilization as we know it—and only he could prevent it from happening. Crazy Wig and another Indian shaman named Melvin were in on it. The big crisis was supposed to happen on a certain night, and Neddie went off to have some kind of battle with the powers of darkness.

  And that was the last we heard about it. The next day, everything was normal as usual. Neddie said there was nothing to worry about and refused to discuss the details. In fact, the only unusual thing was that it must have rained a colossal amount during the night while everyone was sleeping, because the whole town was really, really soaking wet in the morning. I mean really soaking wet. Stuff was floating.

  So I assume Neddie is kind of crazy, or maybe he was just influenced by Crazy Wig and Melvin, who are obviously deranged. Nice guys, though, all of them. Seamus Finn is the handsome son of the handsome movie actor Aaron Finn. He's nice too. I went to his bar mitzvah.

  Seamus and Neddie go to Brown-Sparrow Military Academy, which is the complete opposite of Harmonious Reality. They have to wear uniforms, and march, and salute each other. I don't see how they can stand it. And they have a friend who is a ghost! Billy the Phantom Bellboy. He's different from the Hermione ghosts in that they all sort of hang around and haunt one place. Billy used to haunt a hotel in Arizona, but he took off with Neddie and Seamus and now he lives—well, not lives—in Los Angeles, and goes all over the place, wherever he wants. Those are my friends. Call me weird, but I think my best friend is Chase the ghost bunny rabbit.


  Cutting School

  It's about a hundred times harder to cut school at Brown-Sparrow Military Academy than it is to just walk out of Harmonious Reality. It's a military school. They have rules, and rules, and rules. It may help that the guy who stands guard at the gate, Sergeant Caleb, is Neddie Wentworthstein's shaman friend Melvin. I have seen Melvin at work, in his crisp Marine Corps uniform—apparently he is a genuine retired Marine Corps sergeant—and it's a far cry from the way he looks when he is hanging out at the Rolling Doughnut, where he dresses like a be-bop hipster.

  Anyway, on this particular day, I came out of the Harmonious Reality School like a shot at lunchtime, intending to head over to Vine Street and get a tamale. There in the street, wearing their stupid uniforms, were Neddie and Seamus Finn.

  "Going to lunch?" Seamus asked.

  "Come with us. We're going downtown to Clifton's Cafeteria."

  "Is that the gigantic place with the waterfalls, and the fake Polynesian decorations, and the neon palm trees? I've heard about it."

  "That's the place," Neddie said. "Also, there's part of the restaurant where there's an indoor rainstorm every twenty minutes, you don't have to pay for your meal if you don't want to, and there are life-size dioramas of scenes from the life of Jesus in the basement."

  "I've always wanted to go there," I said. "But how are we going to get downtown and back? We might have to wait an hour for a bus, each way, and it's too far to walk."

  "Behold!" Seamus and Neddie said. They stepped aside to left and right and revealed a fancy Packard convertible.

  "Isn't that your father's car?" I asked Seamus.

  "Yep. We borrowed it," Seamus said.

  "Wait! You guys aren't old enough to drive," I said.

  "Billy is going to drive," Neddie said.

  "Billy? Billy the Phantom Bellboy? He's a ghost. He's dead."

  "But I have a license," Billy said. If I squinted, I could just about see him in the driver's seat. Ghosts hardly show up well in daylight.

  "Putting aside that you are not among the living, how could you have a license?" I asked Billy. "You don't look any older than maybe fourteen."

  "I'm fifty-nine," Billy said. "I was fifteen when I died."

  "Wait. You got a driver's license after you were dead?"

  "Do you want to stand around in the street talking, or do you want to come with us?" Billy asked. I climbed into the car.

  "Are you sure this is all right with your father?" I asked Seamus.

  "As you know, Aaron Finn is sort of my employer," Billy the Phantom Bellboy said. "I act as a technical advisor on ghostly matters, and script consultant. Use of the car is one of the fringe benefits, since there's no point paying me with money, me being a ghost and all." He put the car in gear and it lurched forward.

  "It looks like nobody's driving," I said. "What if a cop stops us?"

  "Billy will show the cop his license," Neddie said.

  "That will be interesting," I said.

  "Look, there is nothing in the California Motor Vehicle Code that says you specifically have to be alive to drive," Billy said. "And they issued me a license, so that more or less proves it."

  "I'm curious. How did that come about, anyway?"

  "It's a long story," Billy the Phantom Bellboy said. "Mysterious things happen at the Motor Vehicle Bureau." He switched on the radio. A song was playing, "Nature Boy," sung by Nat King Cole. It had been a big hit a couple of years before. It's a fairly goofy song about this kid who wanders around to no particular purpose.

  "I happen to know that this song was written about Gypsy Boots, who comes to my school periodically to tell us about nuts and fruits. And it was the theme song for a very good movie, called The Boy with Green Hair," I said.

  "And someone wrote a song called 'Serutan Yob,' which is 'Nature's Boy' spelled backwards," Seamus Finn said. "Sometimes Hawthorne plays it on his radio show."

  Hawthorne is this crazy disc jockey we all listen to. We pulled up in front of Clifton's Cafeteria, which was the most amazing place I had ever seen.


  Pacific Seas

  New Hampshire has granite. Indiana has limestone. Georgia has marble. Los Angeles has stucco. Stucco is a cement mixture spread over a wooden framework covered with tarpaper and chicken wire. You can make anything you want, any shape, and cover it with stucco. Clifton's Cafeteria, also known as Pacific Seas, is the last word in stucco gone mad.

  The front of the building is all fake rocks made of stucco, and fake tropical plants, so many that it's just a big jumble—or a big jungle. If it were a fun house at an amusement park, I would be afraid to go in. It goes up pretty high, about three stories, and there is a big waterfall coming right down the middle. It is unusual. It is impressive. It is like no other cafeteria. The Los Angeles Architectural Commission wanted to sue them for making a weird eyesore in the middle of the city when they first put it up.

  Then you go inside and realize that the outside didn't prepare you for what you see. There are more fake tropical plants, including five palm trees made out of neon tubing, all lit up. There are twelve waterfalls. The whole inside of the restaurant is at different levels, terraces going all the way up, so there are people eating just under the roof, which is pretty high up, and what you see when you look out across the restaurant looks like some big crazy painting. There are plenty of fake stucco rock ledges and overhangs, a wishing well, an
d a big fireplace. There's a lot of bamboo, and thatched roofs made of dried grass, and phony South Sea carvings and statues. There's the Flower Grotto. There's the Rain Hut, where there's a tropical rain every twenty minutes, and there's a little old lady thumping away on an electric organ.

  And there are all these ordinary-looking people sitting in little chairs at little tables, mostly wearing black and dark colors, men in business suits, women wearing hats, knees together, feet together, napkins in their laps, taking little bites, and talking and nodding, just as if they were not part of some colossal wild and wonderful weirdness.

  Downstairs, of course, is the Garden of Meditation, with life-size dummies of people in supposedly biblical clothing, and a statue of Jesus in a fake garden of Gethsemane, and live people in biblical robes to explain everything.

  The family that owns Clifton's is religious. They are big on the Golden Rule. There is a sign when you come in that says: PAY WHAT YOU WISH—DINE FREE IF NOT DELIGHTED. They give you a bill at the end of the meal, but you don't have to pay it. And you can order the MPM, or Multiple Purpose Meal, which is supposed to be a completely balanced and nutritional meal. It consists of bread, soup, salad, Jell-o, and coffee ... five cents, or free if you are needy. They started offering the MPM during the Depression, when many people couldn't afford enough to eat, and they still feed a lot of down-and-outers from Skid Row, which isn't far away. We all ordered the MPM, except Billy, who floated over to another table and sniffed someone's Hawaiian ham steak. Ghosts don't eat, but they enjoy sniffing. We all paid our nickels at the end.

  We were sitting around the table, sipping our coffee and enjoying our Jell-o, which they offered in every imaginable flavor and color.

  "You know," I said, "this is almost precisely the lunch we could have had at our respective school cafeterias, only we wouldn't have had to pay a nickel."

  "But this is so much better," Seamus said. "I mean, twelve waterfalls. How can you beat that? oops! It's raining again!"

  We were sitting in the Rain Hut.


  Ken Ahara

  There was a guy sitting at the next table. He was Japanese, or Japanese American, all decked out in a Joe College outfit, crew cut, tortoiseshell eyeglasses, navy blue sleeveless sweater trimmed in orange, baggy tweed jacket, loafers with white fuzzy socks. He leaned toward us and spoke in a low voice.

  "I don't mean to alarm you, but are you aware there's a ghost sitting at your table?"

  "A ghost? No fooling?" Seamus Finn said.

  "Yes," the college guy said. "And a very unusual one. It is a mobile ghost—that is to say not fixed to a particular haunting place. It is a humaniform ghost, appearing to be an adolescent boy, and it is fairly visible to the trained eye even in this comparatively bright light."

  "Remarkable," Neddie Wentworthstein said.

  "Astonishing," Seamus Finn said.

  "So you know a lot about ghosts?" I asked.

  "Excuse me for failing to introduce myself," the guy said. "I am Ken Ahara. I am a postgraduate student in the Ghostology Department at the California Institute of Technology, also known as Cal Tech. I can tell you that this is a very unusual sighting."

  "You know, Mr. Ken Ahara, it is rude to talk about someone right in front of one, as if one couldn't hear you, not to mention that you referred to me as 'it,'" Billy the Phantom Bellboy said.

  Ken Ahara looked as though he were going to faint. "Oh my goodness!" he said. "It is an interlocutory ghost! It converses!"

  "'It' again!" Billy said. "I am a who, not an it. You will notice, Mr. Ken Ahara, that I address you directly. I do not say, 'This graduate student overestimates its knowledge of the spirit world. It finds it unusual to encounter a decent ghost enjoying a sniff of lunch at a fine restaurant.'"

  "I do apologize, sir," Ken Ahara said. "It is just that I am very excited. In all my years of study, I have never seen an actual ghost of any kind. If only I had my scientific instruments here, my spectre spectrum chart, my ectoplasmometer, my infrared camera, my wireless wire recorder! And you, young people! You were aware of the ghost the whole time? And you were not afraid of it ... of him ... of him!"

  "Why should we be afraid of him?" I asked. "We've known him for years. As to being aware of him, we came with him. He drove us here."

  "He ... drove you here?"

  "Well, none of us is old enough to have a license."

  "I'm fifty-nine," Billy said.

  Ken Ahara was scribbling furiously in a notebook. "Mr. ... ah ... Mr.—"

  "Call me Billy," Billy said.

  "Mr. Billy, I don't suppose I could persuade you to come out to the lab sometime? I'd love for you to meet my professor, Dr. Malocchio, and my fellow grad students."

  "No, I'm afraid that would be impossible," Billy said. "You see, it might be a violation of my agreement with my employer."

  "Your employer? You work?"

  "I have a position in the film industry," Billy said. "I am a technical advisor to the famous actor Mr. Aaron Finn."

  "My father," Seamus said.

  "So, you see, it might be unethical for me to give you inside ghost information without Mr. Finn's permission. Besides, what's in it for me?"

  "There's a stinky cheese lab at Cal Tech," Ken Ahara said.

  "Well, that would be of interest," Billy said. "I'll talk it over with Mr. Finn."


  The Ghostiest Place in Town

  When you grow up around ghosts, right from the time you are a tiny baby, you're used to them. I know some people are scared of them, but they're just ghosts—it's not a big deal. It's not like I am all fascinated with them, and neither do I make a point of ignoring them. They're just part of the atmosphere, like the birds in the trees.

  That said, the Hermione is well known to have more ghosts than any other hotel in Hollywood. Most of them have one or two, usually some movie star or other—but the Hermione is practically overrun with them. So it's natural that I would know a certain amount about ghosts and how to get along with them. It's not that I am some kind of spook-o-phile. I try to treat everyone the same, living or dead. I can see why, if you were a ghost, you'd pick the Hermione as a place to live—if you lived. It has all kinds of features of interest. One of the features of interest in our apartment is the stairway to nowhere. Picture an ordinary closet, a hall closet. You open the door, and there it is—a closet. There is a bar going across, and coats on hangers, just like any closet. There is a string hanging down, and you pull the string and a light comes on. Nothing out of the ordinary. But, if you push between the coats, there is a stairway, carpeted, going up, up to the ceiling ... where it stops.

  Obviously, the place was once a duplex, or double-decker apartment, and then the management made it into two apartments and just sealed off the stairs. I find it sort of neat. My parents know there is a stairway there, but they never think about it—they just think of the closet as a closet. So I made it into a sort of extra room for me, a private room. The stairs are nice to sit on. It's a good place to read. And no one ever comes looking for me when I'm there.

  Sometimes Chase, my ghostly bunny friend, joins me, and sometimes I entertain on the secret stairs. I can sneak friends in through the coats, and it's cozy sitting on the carpeted steps, maybe passing a bag of cheese crunchies and a bottle of ginger ale up and down. That's what we were doing the day after our visit to Clifton's Cafeteria. Neddie and Seamus were with me.

  "So, what was that guy, Ken Ahara, going on about?" Seamus asked.

  "Apparently they study ghosts at Cal Tech," Neddie said.

  "They ought to come here," I said. "We have ghosts the way some places have mice."


  The Penthouse

  The Hermione Hotel has a very nice roof. It is all done in terra cotta tile, and there is a little parapet wall all around, so you won't fall to your death. I like to go up there. There's an excellent view in all directions, and usually a nice breeze.

  In the middle of the ro
of there is a stucco structure, consisting of a half-dozen rooms on either side, with doors opening onto a corridor that is open on both ends. It looks sort of like a hotel hallway, or maybe a motel. The rooms are small, about eight foot square, with tiny bathrooms. These were rooms for servants in the old days. People used to travel with their personal maids, or valets, and when they stayed at the Hermione, this was where those servants would sleep. They are the cheapest rooms in the hotel, obviously—and most of them are vacant, except for a few where extremely old ladies live. And also Kitty Nebelstreif.

  Kitty Nebelstreif is one of the good things about the Harmonious Reality School. She is the visiting art teacher. Once a week, she comes to give art classes. Of course, art is a big part of the curriculum at Harmonious Reality, and all the teachers, in all the classes, have us kids doing all kinds of painting and drawing and making sculptures out of clay, and papier-mâché, and nailing pieces of wood together—also gluing pasta and seashells and pebbles to hunks of cardboard, and making mobiles out of coat hangers and lengths of yarn, and hanging cutouts, and spools and Ping-Pong balls from them, and everything slathered with poster paint, and sparkles. But Kitty Nebelstreif tells us about things like perspective, and color theory, and vanishing points, and light and shadow, and line and mass and shading, and reads to us from Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari. In other words, she is an actual real art teacher.

  The rest of the art instruction at Harmonious Reality is more stress-free, free-expression, do-whatever-you-want stuff, and whatever you make, whatever goopy, bloppy, drippy, sparkly thing, the teachers will all say ooh and aah and tell you what a wonderful thing you did. I'm not saying it isn't fun whacking away with great big brushes dripping with thick paint and then sprinkling sparkles all over whatever it is—but the results get boring after a while, and there is no way to tell if you're making progress.

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