The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts, p.4Daniel Pinkwater
I got invited to one of the famous sleepovers thrown by Mary Margaret Finklestein. Mary Margaret Finklestein is a girl at Harmonious Reality. Her father is some kind of big wheel in the movie business, and they live in a big house in Beverly Hills. Naturally, I wanted no part of it, but my mother persuaded me to go. She said I ought to have normal friends, and do normal activities. She said I needed socialization. "You don't want to be maladjusted," she said.
I do want to be maladjusted.
So I turned up at Mary Margaret Finklestein's house. Also attending the sleepover were Meg, Madge, and Peggy. Meg and Peggy are Harmonious Realitarians, and Madge is a girl Mary Margaret knows from her bullfighting class. This bullfighting class I know about. It takes place in the backyard of a music school on Beverly Boulevard. I've seen it. You go down this little alley next to the music school, and there is this dirt yard, all fenced in. There are two of these little short fencelike things at either end of the yard—they're to duck behind to protect yourself when the bull charges you. The bull, in this case, is a set of horns mounted on a bicycle wheel, with handles like a wheelbarrow. Someone runs at you with the wheelbarrow-bicycle-bullhorns thing, and you wave the cape around and dodge the horns. No actual bulls are employed. I asked Mary Margaret if she planned to go down to Mexico sometime and do some genuine bullfighting. She said the bullfighting class was just to develop poise, grace, and confidence. She said that she would never hurt a living bull. I told her it was more likely that the bull would do the hurting.
Madge, Mary Margaret's fellow matadora, had round glasses and braces, and drooled when she talked, so she had to keep sucking spit between words.
Madge got cheese in her braces when we had our first sleepover treat—pizza pie. I had heard of pizza pie because of "That's Amore," the Dean Martin song, which was on the radio all the time, but I didn't actually know what it was. The song says that when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, you're in love, which makes no sense. I always pictured the pizza pie as being something like a cream pie. It's round, but it does not resemble any pie I ever saw—it is not a dessert, it does not contain fruit, it does not have a top crust and a bottom crust. It's more like thin, crusty bread than pie, and it has tomatoes, and cheese! It's served hot. It tastes great! It is, without any doubt, the greatest food ever invented, and I predict it is going to be insanely popular.
"It comes from Italy, and our full-time live-in chef comes from Italy, so he knows how to make it," Mary Margaret said.
We had two pizza pies. One had mushrooms in addition to the cheese and tomato sauce, and one had little slices of spicy sausage. Best thing I ever ate.
Who We Like, and Who We Don't
The next sleepover treat was swimming in the Finklesteins' heated indoor and outdoor swimming pool. This pool is part inside the house, and there's a glass wall at one end, like a huge window, that comes down to within a couple of feet of the water, and the pool connects to another, bigger, part of the pool that's outdoors. There are underwater lights, and at night the whole thing glows. We had to wait a half-hour after our pizza before we could swim, and during this time we sat around the indoor part of the pool, wearing bathing suits supplied by the Finklesteins, and talked.
"Let's talk about who we don't like at school," Mary Margaret Finklestein said.
Here we go, I thought. I was starting to feel very maladjusted—and proud of it. Mary Margaret, Meg, and Peggy counted off a bunch of kids they regarded as dopes, drips, and idiots. Madge, from the bullfighting school, did not know these kids because she didn't go to Harmonious Reality, but she agreed that they sounded like dopes, drips, and idiots. Giggle, giggle, squeal, titter. I was a guest, and had eaten Mary Margaret Finklestein's pizza pie, so I said nothing. The conversation turned to who they did like—all of these were boys. They rated which boys at our school were the cutest, and who they would choose for a boyfriend. Plenty of giggling. This was getting intolerable.
So I said something. "I have a boyfriend," I said.
Center of Attention
I knew that would get them. Well, I didn't know in advance, because I just said it, blurted it out. But telling these goofy, giggly, gossipy rich girls I had an actual boyfriend got their attention in a big way. First, none of them had reached the boyfriend stage yet, or even had talked to a boy in a nonidiotic way, and second, I was present as somebody's good deed and wasn't expected to even speak at this sleepover.
I had noticed during the pizza that, while not actually ignoring me—they did smile at me pleasantly—the other girls did not address me directly, or seem to find anything wrong with the fact that I hadn't said a single word after hello. I was sure Mary Margaret Finklestein had been put up to inviting me—and my mother's hand was in this—she was probably friends with someone in the family, or maybe did psychiatry on them. I was there to help me get socialized. Thus, when I said I had a boyfriend, the effect was dynamic, because it was the first sentence I had spoken, and also because it was about something they were all interested in.
"You have a boyfriend?" Mary Margaret, Meg, Peggy, and Madge asked.
"Yep," I said.
"Who is he? What is he like?" they wanted to know. "Oh, look!" I said. "It's been a half-hour." And I dived into the pool.
I swam laps for a while. The other girls splashed around. And giggled and squealed.
When I got out of the water, Mary Margaret Finklestein asked me right away, "You don't really have a boyfriend, do you?"
"Sure do," I said.
"So, what's his name?"
"They call him ... Bruce Bunyip," I said. Now it was their turn to surprise me. They knew who he was! Anyway, Meg and Peggy did.
"Bruce Bunyip! Bruce Bunyip is your boyfriend?"
"Yep. He's my sweetie-pie," I said.
"Bruce Bunyip? Bruce Bunyip?" Meg and Peggy were all excited.
"Who is Bruce Bunyip?" Mary Margaret and Madge wanted to know.
"He's bad!" Meg and Peggy told them. "He's practically a juvenile delinquent!"
This was working out better than I could have hoped. "His father is Sholmos Bunyip. He was the head of International Mammon Studios, and the most powerful man in Hollywood. But then he turned into some kind of recluse—he just sits in his room in his house, which is a replica of a Roman villa, and never comes out."
It turned out that Meg's and Peggy's fathers were big wheels in the movie business, like Mary Margaret's, so they knew stuff like this.
"And Bruce Bunyip runs wild. He goes to Brown-Sparrow Military Academy, but they have no control over him. He does whatever he wants."
"Why does Sholmos Bunyip sit in his room like a hermit?" Madge asked. "Did he go crazy or something?"
"Remember two or three years ago, I think it was, when we had that huge rainstorm?" Meg asked.
"Oh, when everything was soaking wet, and stuff was floating around?"
"Yes, and it rained so much that people's memories were affected and nobody could remember what had happened in the last twenty-four hours."
"Oh, yes! I remember how wet it was after the rain, but I don't remember the rain," Mary Margaret said.
"Right—that happened to everybody," Peggy said. "Well, it was right after that—Sholmos Bunyip was never seen again, and that is when Bruce Bunyip went wild."
They were talking about the rainstorm that happened the night my probably insane friend Neddie Wentworthstein claimed he was going forth to do battle with the powers of darkness.
This was all pretty interesting. I wanted to know more. But the girls had reached their limit for intelligent conversation. I was going to have to question Neddie Wentworthstein—and I would be on the lookout for Bruce Bunyip, my pretend boyfriend, around the Rolling Doughnut. The rest of the sleepover consisted of playing records, also ice cream sundaes, watching an awful movie that had not been rele
Why a Duck?
The Hermione has a nice garden—sort of formal, Spanish, with red tile walks, and hunks of lawn. There are some neatly trimmed shrubs, and lots of flowers. Mr. Mangabay takes care of it. There's a good view of it from our living room windows. I observed Neddie Wentworthstein in the garden, exercising his duck.
Neddie has a duck. Also a parakeet. The duck came as a little yellow duckling at Easter time, and Neddie raised it in his sunporch bedroom. Neddie had taught the duck to follow him around, which is no trick—ducks do that naturally, follow their mothers, and Neddie was the only mother the duck had ever known. More impressive was that he had taught the duck to obey the commands "stay" and "sit" and to come when called. He got the technique out of an article about training dogs in Boys' Life and adapted it to duck training. The duck's name is Lucifer.
I decided to go down and talk to him.
In the Garden
"Look! Lucifer can drop on command. Lucifer, down!" The duck flopped onto his belly.
"I'm going to teach him to attack," Neddie Wentworthstein said. "He can be a protection duck."
"I wanted to ask you, what happened that night?"
"To what night do you refer?" Neddie asked.
"You remember—the night you went off by yourself to do battle with the powers of darkness, something like that."
"Oh, yes, that night," Neddie said. "It was wet, I remember. The next day the whole town was drenched. Stuff was floating."
"Everybody remembers that," I said. "But what happened to you, and what did you do?"
"It's funny," Neddie said. "I can't for the life of me recall."
"You don't know what happened?"
"Well, I did know. I wrote it all down in a notebook, but I don't know where it is. I put it somewhere safe and then forgot where I put it. Maybe it will turn up sometime."
"Afraid so. I do feel like something important happened, but it just slipped my mind. Melvin, the guard at my school, says this sort of thing is normal, speaking in his capacity as an actual shaman."
"Sometimes your choice of friends troubles me," I said. "Speaking of which, what do you know about a kid at your school by the name of Bruce Bunyip?"
"Bruce Bunyip! He's a barbarian, or maybe a savage. He's a monster. It took us about a year to get him to stop slugging people at random! And his father was the most feared and hated man in Hollywood before he suddenly went nutso and became some kind of hermit. Why do you want to know about him?"
"I ran into him at an odd hour at the Rolling Doughnut."
"He keeps odd hours. He just ups and leaves the school whenever he feels like it."
"I do that," I said.
"Yes, but you go to a goofy progressive school where you're expected to do as you please. We go to a military academy. We have about a hundred rules for every one at a school like yours. In Bruce's case it is a holdover from when everybody was scared of his father. Lately he has turned into a hipster. He goes down to the Hollywood Ranch Market at two in the morning in hope of running into Marlon Brando, the big actor. Marlon likes to get fruit in the middle of the night. Sometimes he and Bruce sit on the fender of a parked car and play bongo drums."
"Do you happen to know if he has a girlfriend?"
"Who? Marlon Brando?"
"Are you kidding? He doesn't have any friends, period. Lucifer! Come out of there!" Lucifer had gotten under a bush. Neddie stuck his arm out to the side, then folded it smartly to his chest. "I'm teaching him hand signals," he said. The duck ignored him.
"You knew that La Brea Woman seems to be missing," I said.
"I did," Neddie said. "And Valentino hasn't been seen lately, and some other ghosts, too."
"I wonder what's going on."
"Do you think they died?" Neddie asked.
"Can ghosts die?"
"It's an interesting question. Where would they go?"
"Maybe we should talk to that guy Billy the Phantom Bellboy is spending so much time with," I said. "The one who works at the ghostology lab at Cal Tech."
"Oh, I checked into that," Neddie said. "There is no Ghostology Department at Cal Tech."
"I think it's time we talked to Melvin," Neddie said.
"Your shaman? We can talk to him, but he's just going to tell us not to get excited, and nature will take care of everything—I think we should talk to Seamus's father."
"Aaron Finn? He's a movie actor."
"He's a man of action."
"Let's talk to Melvin first."
Schmoozing with a Shaman
We found Sergeant Melvin Caleb having a hot fudge sundae with nuts at the Zen Pickle Barrel on Wilcox Avenue. The Zen Pickle Barrel started out as something similar to the mushroomburger place, but the proprietor, a guy named Takuan Soho, added ice cream specialties to the menu, and they got to be more popular than Japanese pickles as served in Buddhist monasteries. They still have the pickles, and things like a butterscotch-pickle sundae, but I have never seen anyone order one.
"Hello, Iggy, hello, Cadet Wentworthstein," Melvin said. "Allow me to treat you to an ice cream or pickle specialty."
I ordered a single scoop of strawberry ice cream, and Neddie chose a double chocolate sundae with chocolate ice cream, marshmallow, and nuts. Neddie is from Chicago and basically has no taste or manners.
Melvin is the guy who stands at the gate at Neddie's school, the Brown-Sparrow Military Academy. He is also the person in charge of military discipline—everybody looking neat and wearing the uniform correctly, marching, saluting, and all that. Neddie told me that Melvin is practically the only person there with actual military experience, although all the teachers dress up in officer's uniforms—most of them are former movie actors. When Melvin is on duty at the school, he wears his incredibly crisp and sharp Marine Corps uniform—when seen around town, he favors shirts in loud colors, wild sweaters, goofy hats, and sunglasses. Melvin is also a shaman, probably Navajo, but it's hard to pin him down on the details.
"I was talking to Neddie about that night a couple of years ago," I began.
"To what night do you refer?" Sergeant Caleb asked me.
"You know—there was some kind of crisis with evil spirits or something. Neddie was supposed to confront some dark power, and the whole future of civilization was at stake."
"Oh, I wasn't there," Melvin said. "I had to go to a bowling tournament with my friend Crazy Wig." Crazy Wig is another shaman. He talks to himself.
"But you know what happened," I said.
"Not in any detail," Melvin said. "Neddie wrote up notes and was going to give them to me to read. What happened to those notes, Neddie?"
"I lost them," Neddie said.
"Well, I'm sure they'll turn up one day," Melvin said. "And I'm sure you did a good job, seeing that we're all here, eating ice cream, and everything is fine."
"Everything may not be fine," I said. "That's why we wanted to talk with you. It seems a couple of ghosts have disappeared—La Brea Woman and Rudolph Valentino. And we wondered if that was normal."
"Oh, you know about that?" Melvin asked.
"You knew about it too?"
"Well, not about La Brea Woman and Valentino—but a number of well-known ghosts have gone missing. There's Harry Houdini, Fritz, the projectionist from the Vogue Theater, two soldiers from the days of Spanish California, and Rin Tin Tin."
"Gee. And this is not a normal thing?"
"Doesn't seem so very normal to me," Melvin said.
"Does it mean something?" I asked.
"It probably means something," Melvin said.
"Should we be worried?"
"Oh, no," Melvin said. "Definitely do not be worried."
"That's a relief," Neddie said.<
"Wait," I said. "Melvin, what if you knew for sure that an atomic bomb was going to be dropped on Los Angeles tomorrow? Would you say we should worry then?"
"Oh, no. Definitely do not be worried."
"So, let me put it another way," I said. "When ghosts disappear, is that a bad thing?"
"It might not be good," Melvin said.
You have to know how to talk to Melvin. "Can you say why it might not be good? Can you say what it means when ghosts disappear?"
"Well, it would depend on why they are disappearing," Melvin said. "If they are voluntarily going away—that might mean something bad. Sort of like animals clearing out when there is going to be a volcanic eruption or an earthquake—something like that. On the other hand, if something is taking them away, against their will—that might be bad too."
"So we should worry."
"On the other hand, it might be something good—one of the first things a shaman learns is that one doesn't have all the answers."
"Shamanism is an imprecise science, isn't it?"
"Except for it being a science, you have that right." Just then I thought how awful it would be if my ghostly bunny friend, Chase, were to disappear, and how I would miss her. I wondered if she had told me all she knew. But where could the ghosts be going?
"Where could the ghosts be going?" Neddie asked.
"No idea," Melvin said. "But if you're curious, this is the perfect week to try to find out."
"The perfect week?"
"Sure. You know what Saturday is, don't you?"
The Day After Halloween
"The day after Halloween?" Neddie asked.
"Yes, but something else besides," Melvin said.
"What something else is it?" we asked Melvin the shaman.
"Before I tell you—I mentioned Harry Houdini earlier. You know all about him, do you?"
"He was a magician on the stage?" I said. "And an escape artist—the kind who can get out of ropes and handcuffs and things?" Neddie said.
The Yggyssey: How Iggy Wondered What Happened to All the Ghosts by Daniel Pinkwater / Fantasy / Humor / Young Adult / Actions & Adventure have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes