Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Jerry's Wild Moose Chase - A 1986 retrofit

(Featuring long vanished staff from Leila Hospital, back when Battle Creek still had hospitals of its own, in an alternative storyline for another long vanished hospital newsletter, serialized over four months.  Some of the references are just as obscure as they seem, but seemed pretty clever at the time...)



JERRY    Assistant director of pharmacy, closet mechanic, secretly engaged to Princess Caroline
STEVE    His brother, an aeronaut and collector of other men's dreams
MIKE     A licenced pharmacist, part-time cheesemaker and owner of the world's first toothpick
MOLLY  top dog
SID         Cousin to Nanook, born in Brooklyn when his mother began Alaska's first labor protest
RICH      Another licensed pharmacist, also a professional husband
JIM         Claims to be a licensed pharmacist, thinking it will help him meet girls; in actuality, is the defense minister for the Republic of Chad

CHAPTER ONE: Mysteries of the Universe
    It was time for the annual Christmas party and Jerry wanted to do something special for the banquet. In years past, he had delighted his co-workers with his guacamole souffle, his spinach milkshake; and, once in a moment of inspired whimsy, concocted a 17-layer raspberry-lemon torte using e day-old waffles and flavored Maalox. It was easily the hit of the season.
    This year had to be something truly unique. He was thinking about it as he cleaned the carburetor of his snowblower one lazy winter afternoon. Something different, something unique, something worthy of a Good Housekeeping cover. He glanced up in time to see a large moose canter up his driveway.
        "You know," said the moose, "the only cure for boredom is adventure."
    Jerry listened politely (working in a hospital as he did, he was used to seeing some unusual sights, so a talking moose didn't come as all that much of a shock) and started to reply when the moose trotted away, pausing only long enough to ask one of Jerry's neighbors for directions to Alaska.
    Jerry waited a moment or two, just in case some other talking animal should happen by, but none came. He then went back into the house with his almost cleaned carburetor and stuck it in his homemade autoclave (Popular Science project No. 257, June, 1962). The TV was still tuned in to Public Broadcasting and Julia Child was talking about conservation of livers when the screen went blank and the same moose appeared.
    "I hear Pay Streak is a fun place," he said.
    The screen flickered for a moment, and Julia Child reappeared with her livers.
    "This means something," thought Jerry.
    The front doorbell rang. The little boy there was selling subscriptions for his father's fraternal organization.
    "Every magazine represents a $3 donation to the local Moose lodge."
    Jerry said, "Maybe later," and closed the door as the TV switched to an apparent rerun of "Captain Kangaroo" where Mr. Green Jeans was being pelted with ping-pong balls by an overjoyed puppet with antlers. Mr. Moose turned to the camera and said, "Well, Jerry, how 'bout it?" and Jerry said right back, "How 'bout what?" and Mr. Moose said, "How 'bout this?" and Jerry was buried up to his waist in ping-pang balls.
    "What's going on here?" he yelled.
    "Adventure!" said Mr. Moose.
    "Adventure!" said Julia Child.
    "We're about to land!" said the stewardess.
    Jerry wiped the grit from his eyes and looked out the window on the frozen white of Alaska. The stewardess was still talking to him.
    "We still have some extra desserts, if you'd like another."
    "Don't tell me---chocolate mousse?" asked Jerry.
    "How did you guess?"

CHAPTER TWO: Alas and Alaska
    A team of huskies pulled alongside Jerry as he watched his plane take off.    The sled's driver looked familiar.
    "Mike!" said Jerry. "What are you doing here?! You're supposed to be covering for me this weekend!"
    Mike readjusted the hood of his parka. "What are you asking me for? This is your dream, isn't it?"
    "I woke up on the airplane." One of the sled dogs sneezed and excused itself. "At least I think I did."
    "OK, so you want reasons? I thought I should get out more so I took on a paper route."
    "In Alaska?"
    "Hey, I don't write this stuff. You want a ride or don't you?"
    "In that? Where ya headed?"
    "Pay Streak. I've got their monthly allotment of freeze-dried women. You didn't happen to bring any live ones with you?"
    Jerry was looking at the little uniforms on the huskies. Some of them had stenciled sayings on them like "Death to Hairballs" and "Dogbreath is good for you."
    "What?" said Jerry.
    "How 'bout recipes? They'll take recipes. Do you remember the one for that 17-layer torte?"
    Jerry tried to concentrate on the recipe but could only think of Julia Child and her livers. "Sure. No problem."
    "Great," said Mike. "Hop on. And whatever you do, don't sweat."
    Jerry found that he was sharing space with one of the huskies. He scratched it behind the ears.
    "If you're going to do that," it said, "move lower and to the left."
    Jerry continued scratching the huskie for several miles while Mike pointed out landmarks.
    "Over here we have a glacier, and over there we have a glacier, and just past that ridge there, we have a really big glacier. The guys at Pay Streak usually name them after old girlfriends."
    A brisk northerly hit the group.
    "What do you call that?" asked Jerry.
    "We call the wind Maria."
Jerry shuddered and returned to the huskie.
    "How much longer do I have to scratch your back?" he asked.
    "Just until I lick your face."
    ...and over there is the Anita Iceberg." Mike stopped the sled.
    The huskie jumped from Jerry's lap and joined the other animals in what looked like a game of canine musical collars. The odd dog out hopped onto the sled as it hit the trail again.
    "Molly tells me you give a mean back rub,"he told Jerry. "Easy on the shoulders and don't be stingy with the ears."
    "No baby oil?"
    "What? And ruin my perm?"
    Pay Streak had a population of 417, not counting the pet rocks. Most of the inhabitants were male, and at least one of the males was related to Jerry. His name was Steve, and he ran one of the most prosperous enterprises in Pay Streak; namely, the airplane that could get you out of town. Through a union agreement, Mike's dog sled could only arrive but never leave. This explained why Pay Streak also had 417 dog sleds.
    Leaving town became a priority usually after a crooked Yahtzee game (second Tuesday of the month) or when someone tried to break into the warehouse containing the freeze-dried women. Whenever either of these things happened, the other inhabitants would pursue the culprit and set upon him with their pet rocks. It was not a pretty sight.
    After working only a few months, Steve had been able to salt away enough to put down payment on Utah. "I'm going to drain that lake and fill it with Mic Lite. Make it the Great Malt Lake," he told Jerry that night.
    "Glad to see the cold hasn't affected you any," said Jerry.

CHAPTER THREE: Pass the Northern Lights, Please
    Jerry fumbled for a flashlight just as his brother called for a second time. He found a wet nose.
    The huskie slowly got to its feet. "You're one to complain," he said. "It's bad enough that you hog the blanket, but you snore off-key, too." "Sorry."
    "Don't sweat it, big fella. Now be a good boy and fetch me a breath mint or something, will ya? My mouth feels like it's been sucking on a milkbone all night."
    Steve almost had breakfast ready by the time Jerry was dressed.
    "I thought I'd surprise you and try that 17-layer torte you told me about," he said. "I had to substitute Alternagel for Maalox, though."
    Steve set out the day's itinerary while they ate. They were to meet their Eskimo guide at the supply station at noon, have lunch, take a nap until three, then fly north about ten miles for dinner at Last Chance Macs', and crash for the night.
    "I take it that's a figurative -crash,'" said Jerry.
    "Usually it is," said his brother, "but bring a book just in case."
    At the supply station, they met up with their Eskimo guide, Sid, introduced as Nanook's cousin from Anchorage. They also stocked up with a month's worth of Beer Nuts and got a credit slip for their fresh water supply. Jerry began to entertain suspicious thoughts when the man behind the water counter appeared, sprouting a fake nose and glasses, near standard garb in those days among pharmacists living in and around Battle Creek (dubbed by Better Homes and Underwear as "The Surreal City for the 50's").
    "Rich!" said Jerry. "Is that you?!"
    The young man's eyes widened in horror and he recoiled, falling over a case of instant water and cracking his fake nose.
    "No, I'm not Rich," he said, "and even if I were, I wouldn't be here because I'm supposed to be home mowing the lawn."
    "OK, OK, so you're home mowing the lawn? Who's working the pharmacy?"
    "Well, I traded with Mike."
    "But Mike's here!"
    "Then you must be dreaming," said the man who wasn't Rich but probably was.


    Jerry, Steve, and Sid took off just on schedule according to Eastern Standard Time, gashing one of the plane's pontoons on an incoming spur of the Alaskan pipeline. Liquid bubbled from the damaged pipe, staining the surrounding snow.
    "Oopsy!" said Steve. "There'll be a letter to the editor about that tomorrow."
    "Is it oil?" asked Jerry.
    "Worsen that," explained Sid. "It's that new formula Coke. Those guys had to send it somewhere."
    The trio touched down at Last Chance Macs' and Sid explained the subtleties of moose hunting over a mound of blubber burgers.
    "Well, ya got yer Moose Encounter of the First Kind. That's where you see your basic moose. The antlers, big schnozz, ya know, yer basic moose. Then ya got yer Moose Encounter of the Second Kind, where ya get yer physical evidence."
    "What kind of physical evidence?" asked Jerry.
    "Just check your shoes every now and then," said Sid. "You'll get the picture."

CHAPTER FOUR: Behind Every Gray Man is a Woman
    A few days later, Jerry, Steve, and Sid were huddled around a pot of brewing Maxwell House while the wind howled the third movement from Beethoven's Fifth.
    "Why are we drinking all this coffee?" asked Jerry.
    "We've gotta stay awake until just before daybreak," said Steve.
    "And when's that?"
    "Two months," said Sid.
    The howling dropped an octave and changed to the key of C-sharp. The dogs joined in. The wolves followed suit. The moon folded with a pair of Jacks.  The dish ran away with the spoon. Jerry turned to his brother.
    "Did any of that make sense to you?"
    "No, but then, I'm only on my third cup."
    "Stop it! Stop it!" screamed Sid. "All this chatterin'! All these woids! Can't youse guys communicate wit'out cloggin' my ears, my brains, my very BEIN' with yer unrelentin' yammerin'?"
    "Sid," said Steve. "I think you're overacting."
    "Can't youse guys just stare at the fire and drink yer coffee like the rest of us?!"
    Jerry and Steve looked around. "The rest of us, Sid? We're the only ones here."
    "Oh, fine. Ignore my friends. Just because they have tusks."
    "Sid..." said Jerry.
    "You think it's some bed of cherries bein' a walrus?"
    "Sid..." said Steve.
    "You try balancin' a ball on that honker of yours sometime, you think you're so smart."
    "I don't need to stay here and put up wit' this." Sid stormed out into the arctic wilderness.
    Jerry and Steve looked at Sid's shrinking figure, then at each other, muttered "overstimulated," and dumped their coffee.


    Back in Pay Streak, great things were afoot. The new formula Coke spill had set up a thermal inversion causing the hamlet's first recorded rainfall in thirty years. The rainfall then exposed a hole in the roof of the town's main warehouse, the warehouse that stored the spare Yahtzee score pads, the extra pet rocks, the freeze dried women...

    Jerry and Steve were still back at camp, fighting over a belt.
    "Look," said Steve, "you don't need it up here."
    "But it's leather," said Jerry. "If we run out of food, we can boil it up for supper." Jerry reflected on that prospect for a moment. "On second thought, I'd rather eat my foot. Here."
    Steve emptied the coffee can and ran the belt through it.
    "Now watch this," he said.
    Steve spit on his fingers and stroked the strap. The can squeezed out a dull moan. Jerry was unimpressed.
    "That's supposed to be a moose call? For that I risked having my britches drop at any moment?"
    "Let me tighten things up a bit," said Steve.
    He tried again. This time the can squeaked out, "And now here's Mr. Know-It-All." At least, that's what Jerry thought he heard, earmuffs being what they are and all. But sure enough, a few seconds later a moose appeared.
    "Hey, Rock, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat," it said.
    "Again???" said Jerry and Steve.
    "Nothing up my sleeve--PRESTO!" The usual polar bear appeared.
"I think it's time we headed back," said Steve.
"I think you're right," said Jerry.
"Normally, I take a size seven and a half," said Bullwinkle.
"We know, we know."

*    *    *
    Steve and Jerry returned to a ghost town. They wandered the deserted streets of Pay Streak until they came upon the shredded remains of the main warehouse. A gaunt spectre of a man seemed to be the only person around.
    "Middleton!" yelled Jerry. "You too? Isn't there anyone in the pharmacy?"
    "Naw," said Jim. "Cost containment. The hospital was taken over by Christian Scientists, and now they just give everyone that comes in a Bible. And they steal those from hotels. Everyone is selling Star Wars posters now."
    "Well..." Jim shifted his weight from foot to foot. "I was made a Vice President."
    "Yeah, I sorta lost the negative response questionnaires to the employee's satisfaction survey, so now I'm in charge of the animation department at the hospital. The administration hopes to increase patient enrollment from Tunis."
    Steve looked around. "Have any idea what happened here?"
    "I got in just as the dust was settling," said Jim. "Seems that there was a rainstorm that reconstituted the women in the warehouse all at once, and they didn't waste any time in making the guys put away their Yahtzee pads. It looks like all the pet rocks were turned into that big rock garden just over there by the clearing, too."
    "But where did everyone go?" asked Jerry.
    "The gals all made the men take them back to civilization and enroll in college to become CPAs."
    "So why are you here?" asked Steve.
    "I kinda messed up on my tax report and checked that I was married and had seventeen dependents."
    "Seventeen dependents?"
    "So my pen slipped. Anyway, I figured I could try to make up the slack by popping by here, but Rich took off with all the extras before I could arrive. He said something about needing help mowing the lawn."
    "Why didn't you try that secretary of yours--what's her name--Kudra?"
    "Oh, that's another story. She really got into that stack of Cosmos from the girl's locker room and now she's starting up a commune for repressed women with a Rambo fixation."

    Just a few words later, Jerry was back in his kitchen, still trying to come up with a recipe for the Christmas party. The best he could do was a freeze-dried lemon mousse that rehydrated itself when you sweated over a hot stove.
    "Too salty," was his verdict.


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