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The yggyssey how iggy wo.., p.3
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       The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, p.3

           Daniel Pinkwater
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  Kitty Nebelstreif brings in plaster casts of classical sculptures and has us try to draw them. Or she takes us outside and has us try to draw trees and vegetation. It's hard, and it's frustrating, and stress-making, and it's optional like everything else at the school, so only a few kids do it.

  Kitty Nebelstreif is the aunt of Dr. Nathan Pedwee, the founder of the school, which is why they even have her there. She used to work in the art department of one of the movie studios. When she isn't teaching us art, she is one of the old ladies waiting to die on the roof of the Hermione Hotel.

  Sometimes I visit her in her tiny room and she serves me cups of ginger tea, which she makes on a tiny hot plate.


  Gone Ghost

  Kitty Nebelstreif has lived in the Hermione for years and years and knows everything that goes on. I was visiting her—it was a nice day, and we were having our tea and some of these crescent-shaped almond cookies, the ones with powdered sugar, at one of the wrought-iron tables on the roof—when she said, "La Brea Woman seems to have disappeared."

  Of course, Kitty Nebelstreif knew all about the hotel ghosts.

  "You mean you haven't seen her lately?" I asked.

  "Nobody has. She doesn't seem to be anywhere."

  "That's odd," I said. I realized that I hadn't seen the ghost of the only human found in the La Brea Tar Pits for a while myself. "She's usually all over the hotel."

  "Just so," Kitty Nebelstreif said. "Something funny is going on."

  "Do ghosts take off and go elsewhere?" I asked.

  "Except for that Billy the Phantom Bellboy who visits your friends Neddie and Seamus, I've never heard of one who does," Kitty Nebelstreif said.

  "Maybe she's just keeping to herself," I said. "Though that wouldn't be like her. She's very friendly."

  "It's a mystery," Kitty Nebelstreif said.



  As I've said, I am not an expert on what ghosts do and do not do. What I know about them is what I have picked up from being around them. Chase, my ghost bunny friend, said more or less the same thing when I asked her.

  "Asking me about the habits of ghosts in general is like expecting someone from Argentina to know the principal crops and exports of Paraguay just because they happen to come from the same continent," she said. "Which are principally cotton, tobacco, and to a lesser extent coffee and sugar cane. Paraguay also exports cottonseed, soybean, peanut, coconut palm, castor bean and sunflower oils. And, now that you mention it, I haven't seen La Brea Woman around for the past few days."

  "So what do you think happened?" I asked.

  "No idea," Chase said. "But, you know, there are a lot more ghosts here than you have ever seen, or know about. Dozens and dozens of ghosts. It's like a whole town of ghosts. You just see the ones who don't mind being seen. La Brea Woman might have just taken up with ghosts in some other part of the hotel, or maybe she went off visiting, or moved."

  "Do ghosts do that?" I asked.

  "Again, no idea," Chase said. "Did you know they are cleaning up the restaurant?"

  There used to be a restaurant in the hotel, but it was shut down and locked up years ago. Of course, I have let myself in with my master key, and sometimes fix myself a hot chocolate in the kitchen, and do my homework at one of the tables.

  "They're reopening it?" I asked.

  "Not exactly," Chase said. "What I heard was that Gypsy Boots is going to use the place to give some kind of health food cooking class."

  If you want to know what's going on, ask a ghost. They hear everything. It turned out my own mother was behind the restaurant cleanup and the cooking class. She, along with some other mothers of students at the Harmonious Reality School, had arranged for Gypsy Boots to give a series of lectures and cooking demonstrations, and at the end they were going to cook and serve a health food banquet in the restaurant, and charge a big fee to attend. The profits would be donated to the Harmonious Reality School Parents Association to pay for things like ... health food cooking classes. It all sounded completely stupid, especially since, as far as I understood it, Gypsy Boots thought you should eat practically everything raw and uncooked.


  Ghost Detective

  I saw that guy, Ken Ahara, again. He was in the garden of the Hermione Hotel, creeping around in the bushes. He had a sort of box with a shoulder strap attached, and a rubber tube coming from it with a rubber bulb in the middle. It looked a little like the thing in the doctor's office they use to check your blood pressure. He was sticking the end of the rubber hose here and there, and squeezing the rubber bulb.

  I walked up to him. He was halfway under a bush. "What are you doing?" I asked him.

  "Collecting specimens," he said. Then he looked up.

  "Oh! You're the little girl I met at Clifton's Cafeteria, with Mr. Billy."

  I just love it when people call me "little girl." "And you're the guy who studies ghosts but never saw one before that day," I said.

  "Well, I hope to see many more," Ken Ahara said, standing up and dusting off the knees of his Joe College khaki trousers. "Mr. Billy says this is the ghostiest place he has ever seen."

  So, Billy has thrown in with the ghost experts at Cal Tech, I thought. I should have known he would not be able to resist the stinky cheese lab.

  "Have you ever seen a ghost here, young lady?" Ken Ahara asked.

  I like being called "young lady" almost as well as being called "little girl." "Asking this young woman about ghosts is like asking someone from Argentina about the principal products and exports of Paraguay," I said.

  "You mean like cotton, tobacco, coffee, sugar cane, and cottonseed, soybean, peanut, coconut palm, castor bean, and sunflower oils?" Ken Ahara asked.

  "What is that gimmick you're using?" I asked him.

  "It's a sniffer," Ken Ahara said. "Same as the gas company uses. See, there's a gauge on top, and it's calibrated to register any ectoplasmic traces it picks up."

  "Picking any up?" I asked.

  "Not so far," Ken Ahara said. "I might do better in the interior of the building, but Mr. Glanvill, the manager, said I may not sniff inside."

  "So what do you think of a ghost who suddenly stops showing up in her regular haunting spots?" I asked.

  "It's really rare for that to happen," Ken Ahara said. "Most ghosts keep to a fairly regular schedule and stay in one haunting territory, very often one specific spot."

  "Is there anything that would make a ghost go away altogether?"

  "Well, if it was exorcised, or someone called in a professional de-ghoster. In time past, there was a fair amount of that. People didn't want ghosts around."

  "They didn't? Why not?"

  "Well, to this day," Ken Ahara said, "people are frequently uneasy with ghosts. I think it may be because they feel ghosts can walk in on them in the bathroom whenever they want."


  "But they don't take into account that there are always mirrors in bathrooms. Ghosts dislike mirrors."

  "That's true," I lied. "They find it unnerving not to be able to see their reflections—makes them feel sort of ... dead. And if you're a ghost, you can never know if you have spinach stuck in your teeth unless someone tells you. By the way, my name is Yggdrasil Birnbaum. I'll let you get on with your sniffing."

  I left Ken Ahara crawling around under the bushes. Of course, he was all wrong about the mirrors. Rudolph Valentino spends hours looking into one and combing his hair.


  Atomic Bomb

  There is a regular hotel-type desk or counter in the lobby, but there is never anyone standing behind it. People who live in the hotel just go behind the counter to get their mail out of the little cubbyholes, or to get to the office of Mr. Glanvill, the manager.

  The person who does most of the actual work around the hotel is Mr. Mangabay. There are a couple of old ladies who come in and run vacuum cleaners up and down the halls, but he does everything else. He takes care of
the gardens, fixes the plumbing and wiring, runs errands, collects packages, picks up and delivers laundry, and does tailoring and last-minute repairs in his little room across from the elevator. The door to his room is always partially open, and you can hear his radio playing, always tuned to a hillbilly music station.

  "When They Drop the Atomic Bomb," by Jackie Doll and His Pickled Peppers is a typical song popular on this radio station—it's all about how General MacArthur should drop the bomb on the Communists in Korea.

  Mr. Mangabay is an anti-Communist, and an atom bomb fan. There are a lot of those around. Neddie Wentworthstein has a Hallicrafters shortwave radio in his room, which is actually a glassed-in sunporch, and sometimes we listen to hams. Hams are amateur radio operators. They talk to each other about their radio sets, and what other hams in other places they have talked with. It's interesting for about ten minutes.

  A lot of the ones Neddie's radio picks up live out in the California and Nevada desert areas and talk a lot about driving out to where they can watch the atom bomb tests. They take their kids, and a picnic basket at night, and watch the sky light up. They say it's real pretty, and say how General MacArthur should drop one on the North Korean commies.

  Most adults act like the whole thing, the war and the atom bomb, are normal. At school we have all practiced diving under desks and tables and curling up into a ball with our arms over our heads when a teacher hollers, "Duck and cover!" That's supposed to protect us in case of a bomb flattening Los Angeles.

  And, at Neddie's school, which is a military school, all the high school boys can't wait to get into the army and go fight the commies in Korea.

  One time, an airplane flew over the city and tossed out thousands and thousands of little pieces of paper. We were running around the schoolyard, trying to snatch them. As one fluttered down above me, and as I reached up to get it I could see that it said "This could have been a bomb," and there was an outline of a bomb printed in red. I'm not sure what the point of that was, except to help me and every kid I know decide that we would probably be blown to cinders before very long, which is too depressing to think about—so we don't, mostly.


  The Wolf Makes the Blueberry Strong

  "It may never happen," Neddie Wentworthstein said.

  "What do you mean? My father says the people in charge of everything, the politicians and the military, have a stone age mentality. They're going to keep making those bombs, and testing them, and finally blow the whole world up so there's nothing left but cockroaches and raccoons."

  "Well, maybe that will be okay—if you look at it from the standpoint of a cockroach or a raccoon." Neddie gets this way from hanging out with those shamans, Melvin and Crazy Wig. They are optimistic to a very annoying degree. If you make a solid point in an argument with them, or with Neddie—for instance, if you explain that people tend to be idiots and will sooner or later do something really, really stupid—they will come back with folk wisdom, like "The wolf makes the blueberry strong."

  "Isn't that supposed to be 'The wolf makes the caribou strong'?"

  "Well, wolves like blueberries a lot too."

  So I changed the subject. "What do you hear from your ghost friend, Billy?" I asked Neddie.

  "He's been going over to Cal Tech and hanging out in that guy's ghost lab. They're all excited, and treat him really well, 'cause he's the only actual ghost they've ever seen."

  "Ken Ahara, the grad student, was here, sniffing around," I told Neddie.

  "Probably Billy tipped him off that there are a lot of ghosts in the old hotel," Neddie said. "Did you know that La Brea Woman hasn't been seen for a while?"

  "I did! Where do you suppose she is?"

  "No idea," Neddie said.



  My father has a cream-colored Cadillac convertible with seat covers made of hand-tooled saddle leather, and a set of steer horns mounted on the front. Sometimes he and I drive around aimlessly, listening to cowboy music on the radio. We usually wind up at the mushroomburger place, run by Hindu swamis. I could tell my father was thoughtful by the way he munched his mushroom cheeseburger with hot peppers and curry sauce.

  "I've been thinking about my brother, Herman," he said.

  "Prairie Dog Birnbaum, who disappeared so long ago?" I asked.

  "The very same," my father said, dabbing at his mustache with a napkin. "No one seems to know what happened to him. He just up and vanished one day. I often wonder if he is alive somewhere, or merely dead."

  "If he were alive, wouldn't he have gotten in touch with you sometime in the last fifty years?"

  "Well, Herman was never much for writing," my father said. "It would not be unlike him to keep to himself unless he had something particular to say. I've asked all the old-timers, the cowboys and Indians, if they ever heard anything about him, but no one seems to know. I would like to find out what became of him."

  "Can't you hire detectives? Don't they do that, find people?"

  "Pinkerton men? I've had the Unblinking Eye Private Investigation Agency on the case for months," my father said. "They haven't come up with a thing. I've exhausted every resource but one."

  "And what is that one?"

  "The supernatural," my father said. "Your mother tells me that you have some connections in the spirit world."

  "Well, only a couple, really, to talk with," I said. "But I am acquainted with some ghosts."

  "Of course, your mother believes it's a delusion, brought on by stress, and as a psychiatrist, she'd know, I suppose—but still, perhaps you wouldn't mind making some inquiries."

  "Consider it done," I told my father.


  Doughnuts at Dawn

  I woke up all of a sudden at the crack of dawn. Completely awake. And restless. I felt like getting out of the apartment. I dressed in a hurry.

  My mother was already up, doing her morning yoga.

  "I'm going out, Mom," I told her.

  "Remember to breathe deeply, dear," she said, breathing deeply herself while in the "confused cobra" posture. A minute later, I was out in the street. It was neat in the street at that hour. The sun wasn't quite up, and there was a soft, foggy feeling. No cars were running, there were hardly any lights in windows, and the streetlights were still on. I breathed deeply.

  Then I realized I didn't know what I wanted to do now that I was up and outside. It was hours until school. I decided I ought to have breakfast. I walked over to Vine Street and headed for the Rolling Doughnut. It was open twenty-four hours, the sign said—but I'd only ever been there at more normal times, never so early or very late. A fresh cruller and a coffee with cream would be just right in the slightly chilly morning air.

  When I got there, the place was open all right. I could smell the doughnuts cooking way down the block. I went up to the little window, got my cruller and coffee, and carried them to one of the wooden picnic tables. The place was practically deserted—only one other customer, a boy about my age with a low hairline. He was hunched over a black coffee at one of the tables. Ugliest kid I had ever seen—he had pale, greasy-looking skin, coarse black hair in a flattop cut, pudgy hands, a teensy nose, and a fat face. He was wearing a black turtleneck and sunglasses.

  "Mind if I join you?" I asked the ugly kid.

  "What difference does it make?" he said. He seemed depressed and proud of it.

  I sat down across from him. "Sun's coming up," I said, which was kind of stating the obvious, but it was something neutral to say, just to see if he wanted to make conversation.

  "Happens," he said. "Dawn on a doomed world," which was cooler than what I had said.

  "You dig sounds?" the kid said.

  I wasn't sure what that meant, but I took a chance.

  "Um, sure. I dig sounds."

  "Dig this," the kid said. He started drumming on the table with his stubby fingers. He drummed fast. There was no rhythm to it, just a lot of thumping on the table. It went on for a whi
le. He was obviously caught up in it. Now and then I thought he was going to stop, but he kept on going, fast and slow, whacking different parts of the table. Finally, he came to the end.

  "Know what that was?" he asked me.


  "That was Symphony Number Five by Ludwig Van Beethoven," he said. "That cat knew what was happening."

  "That's the first time I ever heard anybody drum a symphony," I said.

  "Yeah, well, I'm the only one who does it," he said.

  "It was good," I said.

  "It doesn't matter," the kid said. "Dig. We're just raccoons on the city dump of civilization."

  "I'm getting another cruller," I said.

  "Get me one too," the kid said. "You got bread?"



  "Oh, like dough! Yes, sure." I went to the window and got two crullers.

  "My name is Yggdrasil Birnbaum," I said when I got back.

  "Crazy," the kid said.

  "What's your name?"

  "They call me Bruce Bunyip." Bruce Bunyip stuffed the cruller into his face, getting crumbs all over his black sweater. Then he started drumming again. "You dig Diz?" he asked me.

  "Diz? Dizzy Gillespie?"

  "Yeah. You dig Diz?"

  "I dig Diz."

  "Cool. You dig Bird? Charlie Parker?"

  "I dig him."

  "Crazy. You wanna be my girlfriend?"

  "I'll think it over," I told Bruce Bunyip.

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