The Ice Age Cometh

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

For a long time, scientists across the country have noticed that of all species, white rats are the most likely to end up behind bars; that white blood cells perform better on standardized tests than red ones; and that snow, also, has a certain blank, whitewashed quality not unlike Mel Gibson’s initial DUI arrest report. Coincidentally, they’ve also found there to be a strong statistical correlation between falling temperatures and the falling of snow, but up until now there has been no cause for alarm.

Only recently has the situation become ridiculous, with great sheets of ice grinding inexorably south, engulfing everything in their path, lowering real estate values and blocking traffic. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Events that could best be described as “unusual” have been reported year-round in every part of the country.

In Septic, Texas, temperatures approached 100 below zero, and the inhabitants of this small, rugged town found that pets and relatives froze solid if left outside for more than three minutes, and had to be thawed for hours before they could be eaten.

Vacationers at a southern California resort awoke one morning after a wild party to find that 20 feet of snow had fallen overnight. Wisely deciding to sleep it off, they rose the next day and discovered that not only had the snow not gone away, but that another 10 feet had fallen. Their stories from this point on are mostly unintelligible, but it seems that “huge woolly elephants” were seen roaming the area, sometimes being chased by “little Orientals in fur suits.” All the indications are that it was some party!

On the lighter side, a particularly large Midwestern blizzard completely buried Gary, Indiana. The city was declared a disaster area, but federal officials were embarrassed to discover that the same designation had been applied 20 years before on general principles and had never been rescinded. National Guard units immediately cordoned off the area, and would not let anyone in or out unless they could name the first 16 Presidents.

Everyone’s asking: Is this the beginning of a new ice age, or just a sudden cold snap? Professor Cyrus Cumulus, the noted meteorologist, believes that the advancing ice will blanket the world, causing massive crop failures but assuring plenty of good skiing for the next 10,000 years. Dr. Hugo P. Astrolabe, on the other hand, says we are merely experiencing “a little cool weather,” which he claims is caused by careless consumers leaving their refrigerator doors open too long.

The good doctor goes on to agree with his research partner — the world’s greatest climatologist, Al Gore — that the depletion of the ozone layer has already reversed the cooling trend and will soon melt the polar ice caps and make the oceans boil away. However, he parts ways with Mr. Gore on the notion that there will be an invasion of giant crabs that will try to conquer Earth, and will only be stopped when they can be “coaxed into large frying pans full of melted butter.”

Maybe the fifth ice age is on the way and maybe it isn’t (four, five — who’s counting?). Or maybe the Earth is melting to the core and the giant crabs are going to get us. I don’t really care, because in either case I’m not bothering to pack a lunch.

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How To Boil Water

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

As editor of the “Foods and Industrial Waste” section of the Daily Movement, I often receive inquiries on how to cook various dishes. Many of you who saw last Thursday’s recipe for Hot Water have asked that I elucidate the most difficult stage in preparing the dish, i.e., how to boil water.

First, and most important, you need some water. Several of you asked if it would be all right to leave out the water. It isn’t! You must have water, if only for appearance’s sake. Besides, it improves the flavor.

Next, you should have some sort of cooking utensil in which to prepare the water — a saucepan, bedpan or yarmulke (please note: Peter Pan is not a cooking utensil, although he may be roasted over a slow fire with very positive results). Again, a few of you asked whether the cooking container was necessary. Believe me, it is. All those years I spent in the Navy weren’t wasted, I can tell you.

You’ll also need a stove, campfire, forest fire, liquid metal fast breeder reactor, or other reliable heat source.

Now then, collect the water. Any amount will do, but discriminating chefs make a point of using neither more nor less than can be drained from the lungs of a drowned man. Of course the advantages of this method are obvious.

Carry the container of water to your heat source, bearing in mind at all times that seven-tenths of the world’s surface is water, and that the Sun is 93,000,000 miles away from Earth.

Let the water cook for about three days or three shakes of a dead lamb’s tail. Stir the water constantly to keep it from burning. Use a spoon, the branch of a tree, or your fingers.

After the water has stewed in its own juices for a while, it should start bubbling (what scientists call “boiling”). At times you may hear plaintive, piteous cries for help from inside the container. Ignore them.

At last your water is ready. Pour it into porcelain teacups, if you have them, or directly into the hands of your dinner guests. It must be imbibed quickly, or it soon cools and loses all its flavor.

Now, slouch back in your settee, light up your meerschaum, and just listen to your guests compliment you. Bon appetit!

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The Pensacola Pentagon

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

Over the last 200 years, 14,000 bags of butterscotch, 31 United States Presidents, eight maids a’milking, four-and-twenty blackbirds and three blind mice have mysteriously disappeared into the area that has come to be called the “Pensacola Pentagon.”

Many anonymous scientists have admitted they are completely baffled by these strange occurrences. The Navy refuses to comment on the matter. The Coast Guard wants to, but doesn’t know how. No one seems to know much of anything, although President Eisenhower has sometimes been heard faintly through the fog, shouting “Get me out of here!” Yet the evidence continues to mount…or does it?

In 1868, the schooner Wormwood XIII sank in a hurricane within the Pensacola Pentagon. The craft was discovered in 1969 under 300 feet of water. Subsequent investigation showed that except for a 50-by-20-foot gash in her hull, she was sound and seaworthy. What suicidal impulse compelled the crew to abandon this fine vessel, never to be seen again?

On February 28, 1955, a Romanian passenger jet vanished in mid-flight without a trace. Lost in this disaster were three persons, including the entire Romanian Olympic knitting team. The last ever heard from the plane was this cryptic message: “Knit one, purl two; knit one, purl two…Hey, either of you fellows mind if I open the window for a little fresh ai–”

On September 10, 1974, thousands of well-wishers swarmed to see the launching of the Titanic, only to find that the ship had sunk 62 years previously.

Who or what is behind these bizarre happenings? My mom? Your mom? Or is it merely a mutant horde of radioactive, flesh-eating, certified public accountant zombies that devours all in its path? Where is the Pensacola Pentagon, anyway? What is the government hiding from us, besides our names and addresses? On what three ideals was the French Revolution founded?

Perhaps an even more vexing question is why the phenomenon has confined itself to the Pensacola Pentagon instead of, for example, swallowing up Long Beach or New Jersey. We must conclude, sadly, that there are powerful alien forces working to destroy human civilization, and that should they ever unionize, we can all take a rain check on tomorrow.

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The Mysterious Maya

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

The Maya have always been a mystery, even to themselves. This is partly on account of the lack of archeological information, and also because the Maya have all been dead so long that they hardly remember what it was like back in the good old days of Preclassic Mesoamerican Civilization. Recently, archeologists have unearthed numerous hieroglyphs, bits of microfilm and other refuse left by the Maya. In most cases these have been promptly buried again, but enough has survived to allow us, for the first time, to put together an accurate picture of the Maya and what they did after hours.

Their origin is still obscure. Some think they were simply Irish fishermen who lost their way in a storm around 500 A.D., entered a time warp and arrived in Mexico 250 years earlier. A radical school of thought speculates that the Maya did not exist at all, being only figments of their own imaginations. But this is just wishful thinking.

Whatever their origin, the Maya appeared in Mexico around 250 A.D., unpacked their valises and set about starting a civilization. Their first accomplishment was the creation of an organized religion, the Church of the Unreformed Sodomites, which was inspired by the consumption of enormous quantities of fermented llama drool, the local beverage. Snakes and pink elephants played minor roles in their mythology, the major deity being Kiwiwug, the great were-monkey, who swooped out of the jungle to suck the brains of Mayan peasants. Legend has it that Kiwiwug died of malnutrition.

The next achievement came in the field of architecture with the building of the first Mayan step pyramids. These were probably based on Egyptian models, which we now know were used to preserve fruit, mummies and edibles, and also to sharpen razor blades. Mayan pyramids were put to the same uses, with the notable exception of sharpening razor blades. Archeologists believe the Maya had no razor blades at all, which led to endless bickering between the peasants, who wanted them, and the ruling priests, who considered them “the pinnacle of bourgeois decadence.” Engravings from this period depict wild, bearded commoners confronting inexplicably clean-shaven officials. This point seems to have caused several civil wars.

It might increase our understanding of the Maya to describe the little man, the average Mayan and his occupations. We will call this average fellow “Joe,” because that was every Maya’s first name.

Joe Maya was a high school dropout who lived in a sombrero on the edge of town, along with his nagging wife (also named Joe), a small herd of sheep, and a somewhat larger herd of children. He was 5’7″, thirty-ish, with dark hair, horn-rims, and a tattoo on his left arm. He was wanted on various charges in 47 states.

Joe’s main occupations were drinking fermented llama drool, building sacrificial altars, and burying cryptic hieroglyphs for future generations to uncover. This work gave him a sense of purpose in life. In his spare time he took a stab at subsistence farming. When he had had one too many, he sometimes took a stab at his wife, just for laughs.

On the whole, Joe’s was a happy existence. His basic needs were taken care of, and his desires were few: wealth, position, power, and a clean loincloth every Tuesday.

One might well ask why such an advanced and thriving culture eventually collapsed. All we know is that shortly after coffee break, around 10:30 a.m., the Mayan civilization suddenly came to an end.

However, this is not the end of the story, because the Maya passed their civilization on to a warlike tribe called the Toltecs, who in turn pawned it off on the Aztecs. The Aztecs tried giving it to the invading Spaniards, but the conquistadors, being no fools, took the Aztecs’ gold instead. Let this be a lesson to us all.

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My Love Is Green

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

My latest client was a short bald guy in a pinstripe suit. He had knobby hands, smooth green skin, antennae and eyes like silver dollars. He wore an “I Like Ike” button on his left lapel — a good private detective notices things like that.

“My name is John Doe,” he began. “I am a shoe salesman from New Jersey.”

The story fit, but somehow I just couldn’t buy it. My brain shifted into high gear as I drew on my five years of experience as a private eye and ten as a busboy at the Brer Rabbit Motel. Then it hit me: He spoke English well — too well, and with a slight fourth-dimensional accent to boot. A foreigner for sure.

“I am looking for my wife,” he said.

“That’s unusual.”

“She disappeared a week ago. That is all I know.”

“Can you describe her?”

He took out a photo and casually flipped it in my direction. It stopped in mid-air and hovered about a foot in front of me. I think I jumped a little when I saw the face. Mrs. Doe was bald with green skin, antennae, and eyes like silver dollars.

“Are you sure you want me to find her?”

He snatched the photo back. “Will you take the case,” he asked evenly, “or shall I go somewhere else?”

Good question. The more I talked to this guy, the less I liked him. He was cool as a cucumber — about the right color, too. There was a gleam in his eyes that made me glad I had a .38 in the top drawer, just behind the family-size bottle of rye. That reminded me: the bottle was about half empty. That would never do.

“Sure, I’ll take it,” I replied, “for a price. Two hundred bucks a day plus bus fare.” I figured his bank account was no bigger than he was.

“Agreed. I will return tomorrow to check on your progress.” He walked out.

He was pretty interesting for a midget, and I guess my curiosity got the better of me. I pocketed by gun and followed, quietly. He left the building and walked straight towards the bad side of town. I tailed him unobtrusively, stopping every so often to look up at the sky or pretend to take a stone out of my shoe.

After a few blocks he met a woman on a street corner. She didn’t look like his wife. She didn’t look like anybody’s wife. They went around the corner to the Seven Sins, a seedy little nightclub known for its sloe gin and fast women. The place was packed with the dregs of humanity: drunks, hookers, battered wives, battered husbands, retired schoolteachers — you know the type.

I pushed through the crowd and took a seat near my client. He was sitting alone, but I didn’t wonder why for long. Some canned music started playing too loud, and suddenly his friend appeared on stage in a natural pink outfit. It was worth seeing. Luckily I had gotten used to that kind of thing years ago, but you could see it was new to the little guy. His eyes popped out as if they were flying from a slot machine, did a dance in time with the music, then popped back in again so as not to miss the finale. He was hooked. I’d seen enough.

I walked back to my place and called the precinct station, but they didn’t have anything on anyone matching Mrs. Doe’s description. I was stymied. I played a couple hands of solitaire and lost, so I drank myself to sleep.

The phone rang early the next morning. I was still trying to remember why the Munchkins had tied me down and let Sydney Greenstreet walk all over my forehead when I picked up the receiver and said, “Talk fast.”

“This is Lt. Orkin, Twelfth Precinct. I hear you were looking for someone yesterday. Green skin, antennae, eyes like silver dollars?”

“That’s right.”

“She’s in the morgue. A couple of sailors found her about an hour ago in back of a tattoo parlor. Maybe the tattoo artist got drunk and set his needle on automatic.”

“Very funny, lieutenant. How’d it happen?”

“Can’t say. Third degree burns all over the body. Got any ideas?”

“Must’ve been playing with matches,” I replied, and hung up.

I sobered up fast and took a taxi back to the nightclub. It was easy to find the girl — I just followed the scent of cheap perfume and expensive lingerie.

“What’s your name, baby?”

“Candy. What’s yours?”

I flashed my badge. “Maurice Hohenzollern, private detective.”

“What’s this all about?” she sniveled.

I pushed her against the wall. “It’s about knives, stiffs, cold marble and cold blood. It’s about a quick trip to the next world. It’s about murder, honey.”

“You mean…”

“Yes. Your boyfriend finally found his wife, without my help. Tough luck for her — she’s cooling her green heels in the morgue right now. You’d better talk.” She fell into my arms like a rag doll, sobbing.

“He came here about a week ago. He seemed so nice, so polite. Of course he fell in love with me right away. And then…he started talking about home, about all those long hot years living by a canal in the middle of a desert, with only his wife for company. It must have been horrible.”

“A desert?” I asked. “Where?”

“Don’t you understand?” she cried. “On Mars.” She broke down.

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” I said, giving her a brotherly hug. I made a mental note to look her up next time I was in the area. So that was it: Martians. Everything began to fall into place. It explained the accent and the “I Like Ike” button, to start with.

Suddenly I felt a pressure in the small of my back. I turned around and found myself staring down the nozzle of a mean little ray gun held by a knobby green hand.

“So now you know,” he hissed. “But before I fry your brain I may as well tell you the rest. My name is not John Doe, it is Xanthu. Yes, I come from Mars. It is a dying planet. You would believe me if you had met my wife. I lived with her for 3,000 years, raising sand worms for export. When I finally built a ship to escape to Earth, she made me take her too. After we landed, I managed to lose her, but then I decided I must kill her instead. I hired you to give myself an alibi. When I finally caught her it took hours for her to die, even with my gun at its highest setting. Eventually her brain melted. Now I will kill you as well, and then I can live with Candy in peace forever.”

“But she’s going to join the Marines,” I said. It was sheer inspiration. He nearly dropped his gun. I took the opportunity to give him an elbow in the throat, a trick I learned in the Pioneer Girls that has never failed me yet. He crumpled to the ground like last week’s flowers.

It was hard to explain things to the police. I ended up telling them he was a shoe salesman from New Jersey, since nothing else seemed possible. When I got home, I opened my top drawer and took out the bottle of rye. Now it looked about half full.

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A Tale of the Frozen North

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

Chapter 1

Dawn had broken cold and gray, exceedingly cold and gray, colder and grayer than you could shake a stick at. After all this was the Yukon, the Frozen North, the Land of the Midnight Sun and 2-for-1 snowcone offers, and it had every right to be that way. Yes, the Yukon — where temperatures plunged a hundred degrees in the blink of an eye; the Yukon — where passing clouds froze solid and fell from the heavens; the Yukon — where entire forests petrified overnight only to shatter like glass with the first touch of the rising sun.

Chapter 2

Afternoon had broken cold and gray. Cold cold cold. Brrrr. Up and down the valley as far as the eye could see, a thick blanket of snow lay like vanilla ice cream, smooth and creamy. Through this vast white dessert moved two figures.

Not just any man could survive in this harsh wasteland. A special breed flourished here: Men of the North, tall, beefy and proud. For this was the Yukon, where a man’s worth was measured by the number of leotards he wore under his furs, where a man might not still be a complete man anymore if he dallied outside too long. Such a man was Pierre, a trapper of mostly French-Canadian origin with just a little Eskimo and Japanese and a touch of the sun. Alongside him trotted his faithful canine companion Frisky, a huge shaggy beast of uncertain ancestry whose love for his master and for fresh blood were a legend throughout the North.

The sun hung low in the sky. It was a sign too cryptic for any pampered city-dweller to decipher; but for one whose animal instincts were awake to the primeval rhythms of nature it could mean only one thing: night was approaching. If night fell with Pierre outside he would freeze up like a statue and become the laughing stock of the whole Yukon. People would flock from miles around to gawk and point and pose for souvenir photos. It was harsh, yes — but it was the way of the Men of the North.

All day Pierre had been trudging along the river bank, through snow so deep it was over his galoshes. But now in his haste he ventured onto the frozen surface itself, past the regularly-posted signs that read: CAUTION: YUKON RIVER — NO SWIMMING, NO PICKNICKING. There was less snow out on that wind-swept ice, which made it faster going for him. But Pierre did not trust the river. Rivers, he mused, were like women: beautiful, hard, treacherous. Sometimes with a woman you suddenly discovered that she wore false teeth or had a contagious disease. Rivers were the same: there were places where you could break through and be instantly transformed into an ice sculpture. At least then nobody would find your body and laugh at you. There is nothing a Man of the North hates like being laughed at.

Shortly before nightfall Pierre stepped onto just such a weak spot in the ice — as yet unmarked by warning tape — and fell through past his knees. Frisky immediately clamped his jaws around Pierre’s head like a monkey wrench and pulled him out of the hole, but it was too late. His frozen toes snapped off like so many ice cubes from a tray. Both legs would go too unless he could thaw them out right away. Painfully he staggered to the river bank and gathered a few sticks of driftwood for a fire. Removing his fuzzy pink mittens, he searched his pockets for a match but could only find a butane lighter. Kneeling down by the kindling, he flicked the striker of the lighter. It sputtered briefly, then exploded, blowing off his right arm up to the elbow. “Sacre bleu!” (Aw heck!) he exclaimed, cursing his ill fortune. He would never play the accordian again.

Chapter 3

Night had fallen cold and gray. In fact it was always like that in the Yukon: sometimes a bit colder, sometimes a little more on the gray side, but always both cold and gray. It was no wonder that package holidays to Mexico were so popular.

Francois stood looking out his cabin door, deep in thought, having a last smoke before retiring. Of course he thought about the Yukon, for he too was a Man of the North. But he also mused on his past: Fifi, Gertrude — yes, and Antoine. The seedy night-life of Montreal, a promising career in the ballet…

Then Francois spied two shadowy figures moving toward him out in the snow. As they approached he saw that both were big and ugly and covered with fur. He realized with a sigh of relief that the one walking upright must be good old Pierre, the other one his dog Frisky. Francois could not help but notice that Pierre was hobbling badly and that he was missing the better part of his right arm. He was too polite to mention it, though.

The three of them met wordlessly, went inside and sat near the roaring fire. Pierre took off his galoshes and thrust both feet into the flames.

“Ala mode, Pierre?” (How are things, Pierre ?) asked Francois after about an hour.

“Coup d’etat,” (Oh, not so bad) Pierre replied tersely. “Coma se llama ustad?” (Nippy, isn’t it?)

“Ja, ich bin schwul,” (Yes, quite nippy) agreed Francois.

Several more hours passed in silence. Pierre’s legs burned away in the fire, leaving two charred stumps.

Suddenly Frisky leapt up and sank his fangs deep in Francois’ throat — for he was a Dog of the North, and had his occasional odd moments. They rolled around on the floor, biting and rending, for several minutes until Francois was able to snatch a red-hot poker from the fireplace and beat the dog senseless. Pierre found all this quite amusing and laughed uproariously. He barely noticed the other man coming at him, poker in hand. Francois struck Pierre repeatedly about the head. Pierre seized a heavy stool and returned blow for blow. The tiny cabin shook.

Chapter 4

Dawn had broken cold and gray, as usual. The two men awoke simultaneously, glanced around at the mangled interior of the cabin, and at each other. Then they both broke out laughing at last night’s antics. Francois started slicing up Frisky’s cold corpse for breakfast while Pierre began whittling a pair of wooden legs. For this was the Yukon, and they were Men of the North.

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If I Only Had A Brain

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

Yeah, I’m a brain surgeon. Go ahead, laugh — laugh, you human jackal!
Everyone else does. Sure, I dive through people’s think tanks. Why not? It’s a living. So maybe it’s not the world’s most respectable occupation. Maybe I never get invited to the best parties. Who cares? I’m not missing much, if the ones I go to are any guide.

Just the other day I was at a party, sucking a bottle of single-malt whisky and minding my own business, when some goon asked me what I did. I could’ve said anything — garbage man, malpractice lawyer, male prostitute — any lie would’ve been OK. But oh no, that would’ve been too easy. A stray streak of honesty was lurking in my alcoholic haze, like a mugger in a dark alley.

“Brain surgeon,” I said quietly, so only that one idiot would hear. But he broke out in a belly laugh that drew everyone’s attention. Naturally he had to bray to them about it, and they all hooted as if it were the funniest thing since World War II. I just sat there, wearing a good-humored expression and wishing it weren’t so far to the .45 in my glove compartment.

As always, some sadist stepped out of the crowd, pointed to his head and said, “Hey, old man, I don’t want to put you to any trouble, but I’ve got this terrible headache just here …” Of course I knew what was coming. I suppose at that point I should’ve throttled him, or jumped through the
window, or faked a heart attack. But I never do. The fatalist in me makes me wait until it’s too late. The next thing I know, a table is cleared off, my
patient is lying there, and a crowd has gathered to gawk. It’s no good
trying to refuse: “Aw c’mon, don’t be a spoilsport!” they jeer.

Let me tell you, it’s no holiday in Waikiki to perform brain surgery, even in a modern and fully equipped hospital with the best professional help available. But it’s a whole new ballgame to do it in someone’s dim,
smoke-filled living room, with drunken forklift drivers and secretaries as
your assistants, and standard household items the only surgical instruments at hand.

How, for instance, do you remove a chunk of skull in those conditions? Unless your host happens to have a precision tungsten high-speed circular saw lying around, you have to improvise. You might need to use a rusty hacksaw, or a hammer and chisel (to crack the cranium open like a walnut), or to just pick up an ax and chop away like a lumberjack. It’s a tricky business, however you do it.

Once inside, though, it’s clearer sailing: you simply remove the unwanted gray matter with an ice-cream scoop and fill the empty space with champagne corks or old newspapers. OK, sometimes I’ll get carried away and take out a little bit too much, maybe even from spite. I’ve never noticed that it makes a big difference. Anyway, no one’s thought to complain yet.

Afterward you probably have to reattach the missing piece of skull, unless you can somehow distract everyone’s attention and just cover the hole with a baseball cap. But if I’m really set on doing a good job, I try to avoid superglue, which doesn’t hold that well on bone. I find that a couple of finishing nails usually work a treat, or else good old duct tape.

Sounds peachy, right? Not so hard? Wrong. Because everyone, it seems, always wants to join in the fun. Rarely will I perform fewer than a dozen such impromptu operations in a single alcohol-fueled evening. Why, some people enjoy it so much they even stand in line twice (if they can still stand). No matter how tired and drunk I am they keep coming at me, tittering and taunting and insisting that I do just one more.

I guess I’ve said enough. Though I try to see the bright side of my occupation, I can’t help looking back bitterly on all those wasted years at
medical school. How could I have been such a fool? Well, maybe the sordid story of my life can serve as an example for others to avoid. As for me, my bed was made long ago — now I have to lie in it. While wearing a facemask pumping general anesthetic, if possible.

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The Execution Of Private Spot

By:
grampsoldster@hotmail.com

Few cases in the history of military punishment have aroused as much controversy as the execution of Private Spot, the only dog ever shot for treason in time of war. The debate still rages half a century later, and the only point of agreement is that in this case man’s best friend was his own worst enemy.

Spot was the only puppy of poor Dalmatian immigrants. His father, a sailor, ran off with a French poodle while Spot was still on the nipple. His mother abandoned him soon after, leaving on a one-way ticket to Hollywood to try to break into the glamorous world of pet food commercials. Alone and with nary a bone to his name, Spot joined the US Army Canine Corps when he was barely old enough to walk without a leash.

The Army became more than just another doghouse — it was his whole life. It not only fed and groomed the callow cur; it also de-wormed him, removed his ticks and gave him a flea collar to call his own. The Army was there to pet and to scold him, to occasionally rub his tummy, to give him a sense of purpose. Whenever Spot piddled, the Army stepped right in, and it was tough Army discipline that finally housebroke him. Under its firm care he grew to a tremendous size, sitting four feet tall and weighing 250 pounds in his stockinged feet.

Spot tried to be a good dog. He learned to sit, beg, roll over and play dead in record time. In advanced training he soon mastered the fine arts of pointing, fetching and — in due course — killing. But his traumatic puppyhood had left him with a sharp temper. Woe betide the comrade who playfully pulled his tail or called him “Spotty”: Spot was inclined to disembowel those who teased him. Though he always gave the corpses neat, regulation burials, it was still bad for morale. He was reprimanded time and again, to no avail: the more they called him a very bad dog the more he believed it, until Spot would actually wag his tail at the approach of his Master Sergeant bearing the rolled-up copy of Stars and Stripes.

He began to seek bigger game and, like so many dogs, he found what he sought. When war broke out in Korea, his was one of the first units sent overseas. There he seemed to be in his element: He was always first to advance and last to retreat, and whenever there was a dangerous job to be done it was Spot who raised a bedraggled paw to volunteer. He won a Silver Star for gallantry and — his greatest pride — a liver-flavored doggie treat for obedience. General MacArthur himself once walked him around the block, even sharing the same tree. And yet, behind the cheerful façade of gore and slaughter, all was not well. Unbeknownst to his fellows, Spot was becoming dangerously unstable.

Perhaps it started when his best friend was captured and eaten by the North Koreans, or else the time half his platoon was run over while chasing a tank. Or was it the day his tail was shot off by an enemy sniper? It was only a light wound but he took a lot of kidding about it, at least until he buried his fangs in the neck of the chief kidder. The Army fixed him up with a prosthetic tail, but Spot never really felt like a whole dog again.

Then there were the enemy propaganda tactics. Every day leaflets were dropped on the tired, hungry hounds, claiming that just over the communist side of the lines were all the treats a dog could dream of, and promising unlimited use of exotic chew toys for those who surrendered. Every night Madame Poochee, the Peking Pekinese, tormented them with her fiendishly personalized broadcasts. “Hello, dog soldiers,” she would whisper sexily. “This message is for all of you across No Beast’s Land, but especially for Duke, Rover, Spot and the other brave boys of Company B. It’s so, so sad that you must lie out there in the cold, cold mud, when you could be warm and cozy with Madame Poochee. Why waste your lives for all the fat, lazy ones at home? Does your sweetheart even think of you? Whose bone is she chewing tonight?”

“The bitch! The bitch!” Spot would mutter. In time he might well have cracked under the strain, but events soon took a dramatic turn for Private Spot. During a surprise enemy attack he was cut off from his unit, and was last seen atop a pile of North Korean soldiers, madly tearing off the exposed limbs of the foes who swarmed about him like ants. Presumed dead, the courageous canine was awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor; and his story would end there were it not for one last trick that fate had to teach.

One day a great bald beast wandered into the American lines. It limped along on three legs and a prayer, had a mad gleam in its good eye, and carried a half-splintered wooden stick in its bloody maw. Close examination revealed it to be a dog, and the dog tags told the rest: It was Private Spot. Diseased and delirious, Spot was unable to respond to the joyful yaps of his comrades for some time. When he did it was to denounce them as “enemies of the pooch proletariat” or other snippets of communist dogma. He was soon found to be carrying pictures of Chairman Mao and an autographed copy of the Little Red Book, not to mention fleas.

Every cur has his breaking point, and Spot had reached his in a prison cell in Manchuria. Captured by the North Koreans then handed over to their Chinese masters, he was tortured daily, and twice on Sundays. Though their methods were known to be barbarous, the full extent of the Communists’ depravity was not grasped until his comrades realized that Spot’s woof was two octaves higher than before. When he finally cracked he was made to sign statements condemning capitalism, the New York Yankees, mom, apple pie and flea collars. As if this were not enough, he was then subjected to a final indignity: the Chinese threw a stick and told him to fetch and return it to his own countrymen and face their ridicule and the inevitable punishment that awaited him at home.

At the court-martial, the defense doggedly tried to prove Spot innocent by reason of insanity. They showed that he had been so systematically brainwashed that he would only eat fish and rice, calling everything else “the decadent bourgeois fodder of the capitalist running-dog lackeys.” They also pointed to the recurring nightmare in which he sang a duet with Margaret Truman as evidence that he was no longer a sane animal. All through the hearings Spot refused to defend himself and instead simply drooled quietly or, now and then, snapped at some phantom in the air. Nobody was surprised when a verdict of “guilty” was returned.

As dawn broke the next morning, Spot was carried out to the firing squad, being too weak to walk. But whereas another dog might have begged or whimpered, Spot maintained his proud bearing to the bitter end. Refusing the chaplain’s blessing and a final doggie treat, he managed to sit rigidly at attention as the firing squad took aim. His prosthetic tail wagged almost imperceptibly. Just as the volley was fired, he gave one last salute with his good right paw. Then, for the last time, Spot rolled over.

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