By Michael Kupperman
This book started with a telegram, which arrived in a Fedex envelope: “Come at once” it commanded, and I followed the return address to a craggy, forbidden isle whose location I am forbidden to divulge. As I plodded through the mist, a figure rose up before me. He was instantly recognizable in his all-white suit, complete with white hair and mustache, that face so familiar from a thousand book covers. He seemed not to have aged at all...
“Here, Mister Kupperman,” he said, thrusting a manuscript into my hands. “Publish this, and let the world read of my adventures.” “But Mister Twain,” I protested, “surely you can get an adequate publishing deal. You are, after all, still quite a respected figure in the world of letters and sentences.” “You understand nothing!” twinkled the scribe roguishly. “If you publish it under your name, then people will be free to not believe a word of it! And that’s what I want!” He chuckled. “You should decorate it with your silly drawings, to further undermine the credibility. Perhaps a few comical strips as well.” And with that he vanished and was gone, as if he had never been. I stumbled forward, and looking behind a bush I discovered him crouching down. “Dammit, I was trying to be mysterious,” he grouched. “G’wan, beat it! Get outa here! Gave you the manuscript, what more do you want!” he continued to complain as he stumbled off, holding his back, which apparently he had injured by hiding.
I returned down the slope, only to find the boat gone, and was forced to swim back to shore through the icy water, holding the precious manuscript over my head to keep it dry. I present it to you now, decorated with my silly drawings , and a few comical strips.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: WE ARE NOT ALONE
In 1947 I took a vacation in New Mexico. Almost immediately a UFO appeared overhead and beamed me out of my car. I was pissed, but not for long. The aliens had also kidnapped Sophia Loren, and wanted me to have sex with her while they watched and compiled their alien data. "How about it, Sophia?" I said. She gave me such a murderous look, I realized that I'd totally blown it with her. "Nothing doing, aliens," I shouted, trying to act defiant. They finally gave up after plying us for hours with their alien liqueurs and oysters. When I saw Sophia again, years later, she pretended we had never met before, but I could tell she hadn't forgiven me.
Another time Al Einstein and I were driving around in rural Pennsylvania when a large silver flying saucer appeared floating next to us. An alien stuck his head out of the hatch. “Pull over! We want to examine your rectums!” “Nothing doing!” I shouted, and put pressure on the gas pedal. The saucer sped up, trying to get in front of us and force us off the road. Only my skillful driving kept us moving forward, as the sides of our car scraped against alien metal. I went on two wheels around a perilous mountain curve, then used a collapsed shack as a ramp to jump over a rushing creek, yet still the saucer stayed with us. It shot laser beams at our tires and squirted grease on the road ahead of us, yet we kept moving. Finally the sun came up and the aliens, disgusted, veered off into space. “Thank goodness,” said Al. “If they had gained access to the information contained in our anuses the consequences could have been serious.”
I encountered aliens several other times that year; obviously an article about Earth had just appeared in the alien equivalent of the New York Times travel section. My least favorite was a bunch of brains in jars that brought me to an alien world to fight in their gladiator zoo. But there were some positive encounters, too; I met an extraordinary fellow named "Bleepio, the Space Robot." He didn't say much, but responded to nearly everything with a series of beeps and boops and whirs and clicks that somehow let you know exactly what he was thinking. Eventually he returned to his home planet, but I will always treasure the memory of his humorously wise-sounding noises.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: A RETURN TO ADVENTURE
It was a pleasant enough existence, but I became restless again and thirsted for adventure. So when a telegram came from my old friend Albert Einstein, asking me to come out to Princeton immediately, I raced out there, hoping there was adventure waiting and ready.
Albert was in the newly opened Nuclear Studies laboratory that the University had just constructed. Everywhere you looked there was fissionable material and sparking electric coils. Al himself seemed agitated. His hair was sticking out at odd angles, more than normal, and his eyes seemed to pop out of his face, about the same as they always did. He greeted me effusively: "Thank God you've come!"
"Thank him later," I replied. "What's the hubbub?" But as I spoke I could see diaphanous shapes rising from behind equipment amid dry ice steam, and the problem was obvious: the lab was haunted! "You have experience in these matters, help me please," begged Al. The situation was serious. If those spooks had gotten their hands on certain implements in that lab they could've blown up half of New Jersey, and not the half that needs it. C’mon, I’m kidding.
"Was this lab built over a graveyard?" I asked Al, who shrugged. I observed the ghosts- there were two of them- as they crept and swayed closer, their unearthly moans chilling my ear. They didn’t llok Native American, which was a relief (they are very hard to get rid of). But then I noticed something: a tag on one of the ghosts that said MADE IN CHINA. I snatched at it and pulled, and found I was holding a sheet! Revealed underneath, still swaying and moaning because he didn't realize the sheet had been pulled, was none other than singer/actor/comedian Dean Martin. I knew then that the other sheet must conceal his partner Jerry Lewis. They were sheepish now that they had been discovered, in what turned out to be a promotional stunt for their latest film. "We're sorry," pleaded Jerry. "You could've blown up the entire world!" raged Al, exaggerating a little. "Save the clowning for the movies, Boys," I advised them. "Don't do it in any more nuclear labs, it isn't safe." They slunk off, suitably chastised, and returned to Hollywood.
"Well Al, since I'm here and the crisis is over, shall we have an adventure?" I asked. He agreed, although he was still a little POed at Martin and Lewis. "Okay, but what shall we do?" "Let's travel through time," I suggested. "Do you have any cudgels?"
As I discovered back in the 19th Century, the human head is the ultimate time machine, when struck in exactly the right way. A blow to the skull, administered properly, will send the skull's owner spiraling backwards through the centuries; they will return automatically when the bashing has worn off. Al recruited the lab chimp, Professor McSmelly, to give us the necessary bonk on the heads with a pair of mallets, which he would wield simultaneously, being ambidextrous as most chimps are. We gathered together some necessary items (I brought a flashlight in case we ended up in the Dark Ages), and as we did it discussed where we might like to go. "I would like to visit Copernicus," said Al. "Well, I want to meet Cleopatra," I said. Of course, this discussion was pointless, as we had little-to-no control over where we went; the best we could hope for was that the chimp would strike both of our heads precisely at the same millisecond, and therefore send us both to the same time zone.
We sat with our backs turned to the lab table on which Professor McSmelly squatted, holding his hammers. "Ready?" Al asked. "Okay! One… two… three!" and the mallets came down. There was a flash of intense pain in my noggin, and then I was falling, falling… falling… and I blacked out.
Consciousness returned slowly, and I opened my woozy eyes. "Ugh!" I heard from close by, and looked over to see Al, tangled in a mulberry bush. Well, the landing might have been a bit rough, but that chimp had done his work like a true professional, and we had landed together. I pulled him out of the bush, and we dusted ourselves off and tried to figure out where we were.
We heard voices nearby, and crawled closer that we might scope out the situation before we revealed ourselves. What we saw amazed us: we were apparently in the seventeenth century, because a young man in French musketeer-style getup was shouting up at a fancy balcony. Close to us, an older but similarly dressed man with an enormous nose was crouching behind a bush, his attention on the other man. As a woman appeared at the balcony, both men stiffened with tension. "Say hello to her!" hissed the man behind the bush. "Hello!" shouted the other man. We realized then that we were watching Cyrano De Bergerac coach his friend as he wooed a lady, a scene which has been immortalized in countless plays and movies. What an opportunity!
"Tell her she's got a swell butt!" slurred Cyrano, and we realized he was drunk. "This is terrible!" I hissed to Al. "This is supposed to be an immortal love scene, and he's crocked! He's messing it up!" And it wasn't going well. "Tell her you like her legs and her nose, and most of the bits in between, you like ‘em lots," offered Cyrano. "We've got to do something," muttered Al.
I decided to make my move. Crawling stealthily over to Cyrano, I got behind him and put him to sleep by pinching his nose with my hand over his mouth. He started snoring and I took his place. I'm not the most romantic of writers but still I knew I could do better than him. "My sweet love, your lithesome form sends me trembling with delight," I whispered, and the other guy never noticed the substitution, but repeated it all, and she liked it too, I could tell. "More like that!" he hissed at me, and I did my best to oblige. "My sweet love, how I long to sing of thee in a flower of rainbows, and let our love decorate the stars in a multitude of honeyed embraces," etc.
I succeeded in my mission, and the lucky guy scrambled up the vines to get his reward. I watched the lights go out and turned to Al. "It's good to be able to help, but what now?" he asked. "Let's travel further backwards in time," I suggested, producing two mallets. "We'll do each other," but just then there was a sound of fearsome moans, and we saw a couple of people burst into view who were walking and definitely dead. Zombies!
"Cyrano and zombies, eh?" remarked Al. "Interesting." "Think as a scientist, Al," I begged. "What makes zombies? What could have caused this?" He furrowed his brow in thought. "An asteroid, or an alien beam… Since this is the past, maybe a wizard did this."
We watched, helpless, as the zombies shuffled closer. "Looks like we're finally both going to get eaten…" I said as calmly as I could. "Any famous last words?" "You're the writer- help me out with a pithy epitaph!" muttered Al piteously. And then we heard a voice shout out: "CUT!"
"Al, we're in a movie!" I pointed out. Now that we realized that, we were able to notice the lights, boom mikes, reflective screens, camera crane, and other movie paraphernalia we had somehow not noticed. The director was peering at a script. "Wait- was any of that the way it was supposed to be? I didn't know Twain and Einstein were in this film!"
It turned out that Professor McSmelly had not hit us hard enough to send us backwards through time, only enough to render us unconscious. Panicking, he had transported us in Al's station wagon to the nearby Filmatic Studios lot, where he had dumped us behind some scenery. We were examined by the studio doctor who insisted on x-raying our heads and advised us to lay off the time travel for a while.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: DOUBLE THE COUPLE
In 1965 my current wife, the actress Whoopee Wagner, threw me out, suggesting that I not return. At the same time my old pal Albert Einstein's wife also threw him out, likewise dictating that he should not come back. Our old friends Oscar Mendelsohn and Felix Unkler had already been living together, because their wives similiarly had declared “begone;” they had become known as the Odd Couple, due to their contrasting habits of neatness and sloppiness. We decided to move in with them and became known as the Awkward Quartet. Oscar and I both enjoyed smelly cigars and all-night poker games; Felix and Albert preferred reading and atomic experimentation. Felix and I enjoyed cultural stimulation, while Oscar and Albert liked wrestling and corned-beef sandwiches. Special guests like Paul Williams were always dropping in, and at times it was almost like a TV show. I'll never forget the night that I got stuck in the building's elevator with the Harlem Globetrotters during a blackout.
One of our acquaintances was Murray the cop, an amiable shmo who was always loafing off and shirking his duty. The idea of having such an easy career appealed to me; I liked the idea of wearing a uniform and doing nothing. With Murray's help, I passed the police exam and became a street cop in Hell's Kitchen. But what I witnessed turned my stomach. I saw the corruption that let murderers go free while cops turned the other way, their pockets fattened by money earned from the blood of the innocents that they hadn't protected against the scum that were paying them off to walk free. I grew bitter and brooding. I decided to leave the police force and work outside the system as a private eye.
My first client was a man whose shoes hurt him. I saw how ill-fitting shoes made men bitter and unhappy, and how corrupt the big shoe companies had become. I decided to start a shoe company, to make honest shoes for good men and women, and immediately went home to find Oscar loafing around our apartment, eating soup… out of a shoe. "How was your first day as a cop?" he gurgled. I just stared at him. "Want some soup? It's a little feety," he conceded.
This experience made me realize, again, that our society is very complex, and there are no easy, quick-fix solutions. Or are there?