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Lizard music, p.3
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       Lizard Music, p.3

           Daniel Pinkwater
 
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  I did the cookie and milk thing again, and settled down to watch the late news and the late movie. I turned off most of the lights and got ready to watch Bob Barney. Bob Barney really took my mind off my troubles; he did a first-rate news show again. Really, that guy has a fantastic future ahead of him. One of the things he did that I had never seen before was the man-in-the-street interview. This is how it works. Bob Barney goes out with a tape recorder and a videotape camera. He has a cameraman to work the equipment—Bob Barney just holds the microphone. There’s a question; this particular night it was “Should public employees have the right to strike?” Then Bob Barney waits around on a busy street and stops people and asks the question. The first guy was dressed in a suit, and he had horn-rimmed glasses and a little hat. Bob Barney asked him his name.

  “My name is Lawrence Lawrence,” the man said.

  Then Bob Barney asked him the question of the day, “Should public employees have the right to strike?”

  “Golly, I never really thought about it,” Lawrence Lawrence said.

  “Well, you must have some feeling on the question,” Bob Barney said. “What’s your basic reaction?”

  “Well, I’d say, whatever turns them on,” Lawrence Lawrence said.

  Then Bob Barney stopped a little fat woman with no teeth. Every time she said a swear word, they beeped it out, but you could see her lips moving. “You’re beep right! My beep son’s first wife’s cousin’s boy is a fireman. The way that poor beep has to work—it’s a beep shame. Let the beep city beep beep beep.”

  In the background, coming up the street, was someone in a rumpled raincoat. He wasn’t coming straight up the street. He was doing a little turn now and then and sort of shifting from one side of the pavement to the other, snapping his fingers and sort of dipping at the knees. As he got closer, I could see it was the Chicken Man—he was dancing! He was dancing along the sidewalk. Just as the beep lady got through with the question, the Chicken Man was almost filling the picture behind her, dipping and turning and snapping. Next he was on camera, and Bob Barney was asking him his name.

  “Lucas Cranach, Jr.,” the Chicken Man said.

  “Should public employees have the right to strike?” asked Bob Barney.

  The Chicken Man was still dipping and snapping his fingers. “Public employees must, of necessity, be divided into two general groups,” the Chicken Man said, “those whose function is vital to the health and welfare of the community, and those whose function is mainly clerical, or administrative. Functionaries, such as police, fire department personnel, sanitation workers, and public health workers, have a responsibility which extends beyond the limits of an ordinary job. Although all Americans have the right to collective bargaining, this constitutes a gray area, which has been the subject of much debate. It is to be hoped that, at least in our city, matters of budget and arbitration will be conducted in such a way that the question remains academic.”

  “Thank you very much, sir,” Bob Barney said.

  “Dig it,” said the Chicken Man. “Can I say hello to my friend Victor?”

  “I’m sorry,” Bob Barney said, “Federal Communications Commission rules prohibit using the media for personal messages.”

  “Dig it—forget about it, Victor,” the Chicken Man said, and the Chicken Man, also known as Herr Doktor Professor Horace Kupeckie, Plt.D., also known as Lucas Cranach, Jr., dipped and spun and snapped off camera.

  This last weird thing knocked me out completely. I didn’t know what to think. Except that every kid in my school has taken a battery of psychological tests—and I came out 100 percent normal and average in every one—I would have thought that maybe I was going crazy. I never heard of so many coincidences! Lizards! And the Chicken Man turning up everywhere! And saying hello to me on television! It was too much!

  The late movie snapped me out of it. I was mainly worrying about all the crazy things that had happened to me all day, but the picture caught my interest, and soon I was paying pretty close attention to it. It was almost as good as the one I had seen the night before.

  In this movie, Invasion of the Pod People, little seeds from outer space float down into everybody’s basement. Then the seeds start growing into giant pods—like watermelons, only much bigger. Nobody ever finds one. After the pods get to be full grown, they break open, and out steps an exact replica of each person who lives in the house. The replicas sneak upstairs and eat the people. Then they take their places. They are exactly like the other people—the real earth people—in every way, except the pod people have no emotions and have terrible taste. The earth people have no idea that they are being replaced.

  Then this one earth person finds out what is happening. He goes around spotting pod people. The pod people smile all the time and put catsup on everything. He tries to save himself and his girl friend. It turns out that they are the only two people in town who have not been replaced. Their replacements are waiting to eat them, but they can only do it if the earth person is asleep. Finally they get the girl friend, but the one guy escapes. He’s going to warn the rest of the world, but he doesn’t know if the rest of the world has gone pod or not. It just ends there—with the guy on the highway trying to hitch a ride, and all that passes him are trucks full of big pods. A great movie—much better than your usual science fiction, because the outer-space creatures win, or at least have a chance. And the movie leaves it up to you.

  I was pretty tired after all I had been through during the day, and I actually had to hold my eyes open for the last part of the movie. I was determined to wait up for the lizards to come on. They did, but I must have fallen asleep almost at once, because when I woke up—on the couch again—I hardly remembered anything about the lizard show. I barely remembered that they had been on; it seemed like a dream. In fact, everything that had happened the day before seemed sort of like a dream. I felt woozy and tired out, the way you feel when you’ve had a whole bunch of bad dreams. I almost had decided that it was a dream, when I saw the Chicken Man’s card on the kitchen table, with the corners curling up.

  Chapter 6

  It was real—at least most of it. I didn’t feel too well. I thought about the bumpy glue on the model airplane wing. My whole life was getting bumpy like that, and I was feeling dissatisfied. I like things neat. This situation wasn’t neat at all. I decided that I was going to do something about it. Up till now, things had just been happening—not even happening to me—just happening in front of me. I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to make some things happen.

  First I made some frozen orange juice and toasted a frozen blueberry muffin. While the muffin was in the toaster, I got a pencil and paper. I ate my muffin and wrote:

  1. Lizards on television, playing music.

  2. Lizard album cover in store window.

  3. Lizard in Chicken Man’s hand.

  4. Lizard on Roger Mudd’s shoulder.

  5. Animal program about lizards.

  6. The Chicken Man saying hello on television.

  I studied my list. Except for the animal program about lizards, which was only weird because of the other things, all the items on my list were not normal things to happen in my life. They had all happened in two days. They all had to do with lizards, and/or the Chicken Man.

  Now, what was I going to do about it? What would Walter Cronkite or Mr. Hatch, the Science teacher do about it? I thought that, probably, they would double check all the information. I started double checking. I got the TV section and checked the listings for the whole week. Nothing that sounded like the lizard band was listed anywhere. There was nothing at all listed at the time period when I had seen the lizard band. The animal program was listed, and it was about lizards. That was okay. Then I called Information in Hogboro and got the number of the TV station, WLIZ—it’s funny that I never noticed those call letters before. I wondered if I should add them to my list. I decided not to, because it had those letters before this whole business got started. I dialed the TV station. A lady answ
ered.

  “I’d like to ask some questions about the programs on your station last night,” I said.

  “Please hold on,” the lady said.

  Then a man’s voice said, “May I help you?”

  “Did you have a program with lizards late last night?”

  “‘Animals of the World’ featured lizards—it was broadcast at seven-thirty.”

  “Was there another program, a music program, with lizards late at night—after the late movie?”

  “Our last program was the late movie, Invasion of the Pod People. After that there were some public service messages, a moment of inspiration, and we went off the air.”

  “Off the air?”

  “Yes, turned off the lights, locked the doors, went home—off the air.”

  “One other question. Does Roger Mudd ever have a lizard on his shoulder when he does the news?”

  Click—buzz, the man had hung up on me. I can’t say I blamed him. He probably thought I was a nut. Anyway, I had found out that the TV station wasn’t broadcasting the lizard band—but I had seen them. There were several possibilities. One, I was crazy, or I had imagined the lizards. But, as I said, I don’t go in for imagining things, and it hadn’t been six months since I took all those psychological tests. Besides, I didn’t feel crazy. Two, the lizards were getting into the TV station after it closed, turning everything on, and putting out their own program. That sounded a little farfetched, but lizards who can play clarinets and saxophones might be capable of anything. Three, the lizard program was coming from someplace other than the TV station, and our TV set was picking up their show. I couldn’t think of any more possibilities. I went over the three again. One, was I crazy? I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I looked as sane as anybody in the world; I was sure I wasn’t crazy. That left possibilities two and three. Either the lizards were broadcasting from the TV station, or they were broadcasting from some other TV station. I would have to get more information before I decided.

  Next was the Chicken Man. Was he connected to all the lizard stuff, or was that just a coincidence? I looked at his card. “By Appointment—City Bus Terminal—Hgbro,” it said. I didn’t know how to make an appointment with him. Maybe I could just run into him at the bus terminal and make an appointment then. I’d have to go into Hogboro again. That would also give me a chance to double check the album cover in the store window. I felt good about all the progress I was making. I got ready to go to Hogboro.

  I didn’t forget to mail another phony letter to Mom and Dad. I was glad that Leslie wasn’t around, what with the lizard and Chicken Man mystery going on. She would probably have gotten hysterical. She doesn’t like lizards and snakes and things like that. Probably, she would have started screaming for her mommy, and calling the police, and generally making it impossible to get to the bottom of things. I had an investigation on my hands, and I certainly didn’t need my crazy sister to make it harder. You can be sure that Walter Cronkite doesn’t have to put up with things like that.

  On the bus, I thought about what I would do in the city. I was going to look for the Chicken Man, examine the record album cover, and in general keep a sharp eye out for lizards of all kinds. I had my magnifying glass and my notebook. I was going to get the facts. I felt like Walter Cronkite working on a big news story. I got out my notebook and made a couple of notes. “Lizard,” I wrote, and “Chicken.”

  I was the first one off the bus when it stopped in the terminal. I had a lot to do, and it was already ten in the morning. I looked around for the Chicken Man. I didn’t see him. I set off for the empty store with the lizard album cover.

  The crowds of people in the street didn’t bother me as much as they had the day before. I wasn’t so much carried along by the moving crowd, as moving through it. I found I could shift around slow-moving people and never break my pace. I had more time to look around, and I wasn’t as nervous. I had a chance to look at the people. They all looked straight ahead. It seemed to me that a person walking toward me was going to crash right into me. Then, at the last minute, we’d just miss each other. It was like a game. All the men had suits and hats on, and the women clicked along on little high-heeled shoes. Everybody had this real serious expression, like they were very important and busy. They all had a tendency to walk in a straight line, and in my rubber-soled sneakers, I could weave in and out and around and pass everybody. It was fun. I felt like a little sports car moving through a lot of trucks.

  When I got into the older neighborhood where there weren’t so many pedestrians, I slowed down. It was pretty much the same as the day before, except the sun was shining, and I saw something I had never seen before—a horse and wagon! It was this real old wagon with tires off an old truck or something—wooden spokes—and it was piled up with broken chairs and old bedsprings and bundles of old clothes. There was an old guy driving it, and the horse looked old too. He was gray and sort of scuffed-looking and he had a hat! The horse had a hat, with holes cut out for his ears! I didn’t know that anybody used a horse and wagon anymore.

  When I got to the empty store the album cover was gone! There were some marks on the inside of the window where the Scotch tape had been, but no album cover! The door still had the padlock on it. The trees and weeds were still waving outside the back windows. The same dead flies were still lying on the windowsill, but the album cover was gone.

  I heard a rumbling sound behind me and turned to see a giant green lizard—about nine feet long! His mouth was open, and he had rows of little sharp-looking teeth, and a red tongue. “This is it,” I thought. “Either I’m going to die or go nuts.” The lizard was moving down the street a little above eye level. He was roaring—making a noise like a bus. Above his head was printing, and underneath him. He was printed too! Explore the Wonders of the Natural World, it said above the printed lizard. Visit the Hogboro Zoo, it said underneath him. Take the Special Zoo Bus, it said under that. It was an advertising poster. I only thought the lizard was real for maybe a quarter of a second. I was already telling myself that I knew it all along. But my mouth was very dry. The bus with the lizard poster moved away.

  Chapter 7

  I got out my notebook:

  7. Realistic Lizard Poster. (Take special zoo bus.)

  My mouth felt really dry. I decided it wasn’t just the surprise of seeing the giant lizard on the bus. It was also the surprise of seeing that someone had removed the album cover. Someone was trying to hide clues. I wondered if it could be the Chicken Man. He had seen me looking at the album cover. Maybe there were a whole lot of people who didn’t want me to find out about the lizards. Maybe the guy at the TV station was lying to me over the telephone. I decided that I’d better get a grape soda.

  There was a little store on the corner. It sold magazines and cigars and candy, and it had a soda fountain. I went in. It was dark and it smelled sort of sweet and damp. They had all kinds of weird candy in jars. In each jar there was a piece of torn-off cardboard and penciled on it was 1¢ or 2¢. There were cards with combs and key chains and corncob pipes and dice and work gloves and little American flags, and all sorts of other stuff hanging behind the counter with the 1¢ and 2¢ candy. A little farther down was this counter made out of black and white stone—marble, I guess. It had stools, and most of them, and most of the counter, had stacks of newspapers piled up. I sat down on the one stool without a stack of newspapers on it. There was a little fat guy moving around behind the counter. He was about as wide as he was tall.

  “Don’t just sit—say!” he said.

  “I beg your pardon?” I said.

  “Say! Say! What do you want? How may I serve you, Your Highness?” The little fat guy made a low bow, and disappeared under the chrome faucets behind the soda fountain. He didn’t come up again. I sat there waiting for him to straighten up. “Thay! Thay!” he groaned. I could hear him sort of grunting and moaning from somewhere underneath the counter. “Thaaay!”

  “I’d like a grape soda, please,” I said.
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  The little fat guy popped up like a cork, “Yes sir. At your service! One grape soda for His Majesty! Coming up!” The little fat guy ran to the end of the counter and shouted into a door that was there at the back of the store, almost hidden by stacks of cartons. “A grape soda for the young tsarevich!” he shouted through the door. Then he ran to the front of the store and shouted out into the street, “A grape soda for a prince of royal blood!” Then he reached under the counter and came up with a thing like a little tiny accordion. “Taa ta ta too!” he shouted and squeezed the little accordion thing, which sounded sour. Then the little fat guy dropped the little accordion and ran to the back of the store where there was a soda cooler. He fished out a bottle of grape soda, draped a little towel over his arm, and ran back to where I was sitting. He showed me the label. Professor Pedwie’s Natural Grape Beverage, it said.

  “Nineteen seventy-five, an excellent year,” the little fat guy said. “Does the young gentleman approve?”

  “Sure,” I said.

  “Sure! Sure!” The little fat guy danced around. “He approves! Order the Cadillac limousine and the estate in France! He approves!” He opened the bottle and handed it to me. “Does the Prince want a straw?”

 
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