Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Great Robot War of '39

I'm gonna tell you this just like I told Dale, but I'm gettin blamed tired of tryin to figure how many of them quotation marks I gotta be puttin everywhere. So you just go ahead and trust your ol' pal Pat that I ain't fancied this story up none since its previous tellin. And if I have, then it's only just because I thought it would sound better with an addition or two.

1939 looked like dawn in America. The dust across Oklahoma had settled and the oakies finally left California for their old ancestral homes. The stock market was finally recoverin from the haymaker it took to the face in '29. FDR was payin people to lean on shovels and payin novelists to write travel guides. But that happiness wasn't gonna last. Over in Germany, Hitler was clawin his way to power. In Japan, the empire was growin and settin its sights on the Pacific. And in Bend, Oregon, robots had just broke through the crust of the Earth and started shootin people with their death rays.

Now, you may think them first two problems was more serious, because you read about them in your fancy pants history books, but I tell you what, when you got an army of robots givin Oregon a whole sack of death ray up the fudge hole, you better believe you're gonna take that seriously. At least, you would if you were FDR and you was tryin to get elected for the 800th time. So he did what he could, he sent in the army. Sure, it seems like a good idea now, but what you're forgetting is that, after the Great War, all the people between twenty and thirty disappeared mysteriously one day. They returned to their previous lives on August 5th, 1940, but they were never the same again. For starters, from then on, they knew a whole lot more about science. Also, they all had eyes where their belly buttons used to be. None of them said what happened to them, and researchers have been trying unsuccessfully to figure it out since then. And that's why, to this day, they're called the "lost generation".

When all them young people disappeared, FDR had made some tough choices to fill the ranks of the army back up. At first, he'd recruited hobos, who had become the largest segment of the population during the great depression. They were surprisingly willing to do the job for about six months or so. Nearly all the hobos passed basic training but, as soon as it got cold, they wandered off with nary a warning. After that came a series of failed recruitment experiments; the baboon brigade, the disastrous zeppelin force and the embarrassing 'children's crusade' which ended far too similarly to the original children's crusade for anyone's comfort. By the time the robots had broken through the crust, the army had been reduced to a handful of beat poets, whatever baboons hadn't gone to work for the Russians and a loaf of week old bread that had, through a combination of poor baking temperatures, super strong yeast and proximity to a uranium mine, gained sentience.I tell ya, though, when you hear the words "death rays", you use whatever you got.

By the time the word got out to the army that the robots were attacking, the deadly, metal force had advanced to the Willamette Valley. General Bread Loaf made the tactical decision to trap them there, push them back against the mountains and then smash them, then stomp on them, then break them into small pieces, then wee on the pieces and then reassemble the robots without the death rays so they would have to wander around smelling like baboon wee. I don't think I mentioned this before, but General Bread Loaf was a bit of a psychopath, but he was the only one who applied for the position of general, so he really got it by default. Not to say he was a poor tactician, just that he tended to take things farther than really necessary.

He sent the baboons in first, those poor, ignorant bastards. They may have funny red bottoms, but them guys are meaner than a nicotine addicted badger who just quit smokin and got kicked in his privates. One time, I even seen a baboon pull the trunk right off an elephant when he thought the elephant was laughin at his behind. It was later discovered that the elephant had just thought of a really funny parrot joke and was about to tell it to the baboon. The baboon tried to sew the elephant's trunk back on, but as you well know, baboons can't sew a lick and so the elephant had to wander around with his trunk danglin useless from his face. He never did tell that joke, either, which is sad, because elephants usually have good jokes. But that's neither here or there. The point is, baboons may be mean little cusses, but they got no armor against death rays. They went boldly into that valley and the only thing that came out was a river of baboon goo. Well, that and an army full of angry robots. Boy, you think robots are angry when they're just firin off their death rays willy nilly, you just wait and see how angry they get when you send a whole baboon platoon after them. They stormed outta that valley, their eyes flashing red and death rays blarin. The brave beats tried to hold the line, but they were reduced to a smoking pile of bongos and berets in an hour.

Well, after that, it was really downhill for the US. The robot spread themselves all over the country, cutting a path of death and destruction in their wake. The defeat at Willamette Valley was a crushing blow to General Bread Loaf. He later wandered into the ocean in a butter tub. I hear legends he landed on a pacific island where, according to some, he's worshipped as a god or, according to others, he was eaten with coconut marmalade.

It looked bad. The president went into hiding in a secret bunker, the vice president decided it was time the vice president finally had his own secret bunker and began construction on it. Farmers didn't harvest their crops for fear of running into a robot death ray in the field. The robots themselves had the run of the roost. But then came the hobos.

They had been secretly organizing themselves by word of mouth, hobo code chalked up in towns and jungles. They'd been striking at the robots secretly, testing their strengths and weaknesses. What they discovered astounded the nation.

As you well know, hobos have long been masters of the harmonica. But what you didn't know is that the harmonica was invented by gnomes to control their robot creations in case something were to go wrong or in case they needed someone to carry them home after drinkin a little too much geyser booze. The harmonica design was then stolen by a golem who was, at the time, a mortal enemy of the gnomes, but later became friends after it was discovered the golem was an avid bridge player but didn't have anyone to play with and that drunk gnomes are easy to beat at bridge. The design travelled far and wide without anyone knowing its significance.

As it so happens, the hobo harmonica prodigy Scoop Shovel Scotty was working on a new song while riding a freight car coast to coast. He played the following sequence:
3 4 4 -3 3 4 4 -3
3 3 4 4 -4 -4 5 6
when, lo and behold, a robot just outside the train collapsed, twitching and writhing. When it got back up, it began harvesting the fields and placing the crops in the farmer's barn. Over the course of the next month, Scotty shared this revelation with the other hobos around the country. They coordinated a strike and disabled all the robots at once.

The hobos had saved the day with their song. There were parades and feasts held in their honor. The life of the hobo and proficiency on the harmonica became much desired. So much so that entire neighborhoods were built out of freight cars on circular tracks so that people could like the life of the hobo and still know where their house was. When the national month of celebration was over, the hobos were offered anything they would like as a reward.

They convened the Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa to discuss it. Some pressed for their own country while others said they should ask for legal immunity. In to the middle of the argument strode Charles Noe. He wove them a tale of his underground land in the shadow of the Big Rock Candy Mountain and convinced them that they wanted to live there. By the end of the convention, nearly all the hobos were ready to go, but they railway was never finished. So Scoop Shovel Scotty returned to the President and told him, "We have debated and decided, but we want two things."

"You were only offered one," replied the President.

"Yes, sir," Scotty twisted his hat in his hands, "that is true, but one is such a small thing."

"State your request," Roosevelt was skeptical.

Scotty bowed, "Thank you sir. First, we request you build a mile of rail track from the depot in Bend Oregon to the hole the robots broke through. Second, we ask that you let us hobos disappear from the land and from history, so we can live our lives in peace."

Roosevelt thought for a long time. The tension was so thick you'd have to cut it with a saw, if you were so inclined. Finally, Roosevelt looked Scotty in the eye and uttered one word, "Granted."

With that, all mention of the power of the harmonica, the hobo army and the Great Robot War of '39 was stricken from the records. Over time, the memory of that dark month faded and, with the return of the Lost Generation in '40 and the start of the War shortly after that, people didn't have the time to reminisce. Most of the hobos took the westbound train to Charles Noe's land and they've lived in peace under the Earth ever since. Pa returned home to find and raise me for a time, but the old wanderlust got deep into his bones and he took that westbound train when I was in my 20s. As for me, I stayed around in Iowa until I ran into the Squimonk, opened a business and found myself in McClawenstein's living room.

And, as amazing as this story may be, it was nothin compared to what Dale was about to tell me.

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