Chapter thirty-eight. [As we are still adhering, in principle, to the “Fifty Easy Pieces” framework] The Triplets of 42nd Street.
“Well as my sistuh intimated,” applied Butter,”we were more than a little in debt to Doctor Billy the K. And as Doctor Billy the K was being hassled by bill collectors from everbody and their separated Siamese twins, from the shoemaker to the baker and the candyman and the insurance agent [the daily word requirement during NaNoWriMo encourages a variety of word padding strategies, one of the most potent of these being The List] , he was desperate for cash.”
“Yeah, and what better assets–” at which Cheese shook her money maker, a miniature aluminum crank-turned press that, not unlike an elongated penny machine, turned nickels into the state quarter of the great state of Wyoming,”than owers?” She batted her eye lasciviously at the black patches of the interstate that rumbled by in the evening sky.
“And we had medical bills to pay! I can’t tell you how hard it is for separated Siamese triplet dames to get medical insurance! Forget dental!” Crackers indicated by speaking those words in the language they all spoke and understood in common to varying degrees of comprehension.
“Mhyea, mmuh meemus is mmhed mhup!” muttered Butter. [As I have not been listening to the speech of muffled Ventriloquist dummies on a regular basis this month, it took me a moment to figure out what Butter is saying here: “Yeah, my teefus is messed up!”]
“So the three of us – we was Billy the K’s featured hoo-ers!” salted Crackers.
“But how come I never seen yer other sistuhs before ta-night?” Morty asked by raising his voice questionignly, indicating the desire for an answer to his stated inquiry.
“They always woiked the Lower East Side when you and I went to the movies.” clarified Cracker.
“Oh,” was the mildly comprehending reply of Morty.
“Anyhow, we were the vent triplets, and we were famous from here to Bangkok!” bragged Cheese.
“There wasn’t nuthin’ we couldn’t do with a bottle a’ linseed oil,” boasted Butter. [The linseed oil bit was suggested by V.]
“From the back alley to the Plaza Hotel to Buckingham Nicks Palace, we plied our trade wherever it needed to be plied!” reminisced Crackers.
“You could tell our satisfied customers by the glowing reviews they gave to us. ‘I’m satisfied!’ said one custumuh in particular, as his satisfaction was guaranteed and met by our services of linseed oil and post-linseed polishing.”
“Boy I knew my way with a chamois!” boasted Butter.” Why I remember one time this mark left wid a big shiny smile on his mug.”
“Umm, so how did youse all get outta the business? And why are you all on this bus?” wondered Morty out loud, and many others on the bus silently.
“Funny that you’d ask! That’s an innarestin’ story behind it,” observed Butter, accurately.”It all started when Cheese and me were makin’ the rounds of the bodegas in Alphabet City – you know they need their Cheese and Butter in that part of the town. And then one day …”
Chapter thirty-nine. Cheese and Butter in Alphabet Bodega City. Premiere: that part of town.
“Cheese and Buttah. Getcher Cheese and Buttah fah sale!” sashayed the sisters on the corner of Avenue A and 4th Street. [my brother’s old neighborhood] “Get it while it’s fresh, boys!”
“Linseed oil! Linseed oil rubs! Getcher rejuvenating linseed oil rubs right here!” It was a familiar voice.
“Crackers, whaddre you doin’ on this beat? I tawt you were runnin’ ’round uptown wid da high class types.”
“I got dis mark whose a habder, a habber, a han – a tailor, and he’s richer than Rockyfeller! Why I bet we could roll him fer somethin’ in the excess of many dollars of money.”
“Since when were you such a shyster? I thought you were the good twin, Crackers?” emoted a concerned Morty.
“Just wait a minnit, will ya?” Crackers carefully laid out her plan. “Ya see it’s like this …” she leaned in to whisper and huddle inaudibly with her sisters, who mumbled incomprehensibly to each other in make believe conspiratiorial tones. “We’ll do what?” protested Butter, for no apparent reason, being that complete sentences nor barely even a dipthong was pronounced. “Why do I always get the short stick?” lamented Cheese, ditto.
Chapter forty. A Tunbridge born every minute. Premiere: New York, 1986
One fine sunday morning all dressed in finery and such, the triplets rounded the corner of 25th street to the Antiques Garage Flea Market in Chelsea, a known hangout for one haberdasher named Archibald Tunbridge. And like clockwork, he was there, his Filipino houseboy Pedro in tow, at 8:00 am sharp Sunday morning, fresh from morning mass. Crackers, Cheese, and Butter awaited their turns inside.
“Good morning Estelle [this happens to be the name of an antiques dealer at whose picture booth I have thrown many ducats],” Tunbridge greeted one of his regular dealers. “What do you have for me today?”
“Well Gee Archie,” Estelle smelled a mark when she smelled one [there’s evidence in my basement], as she was smelling one at the present time of this scene, shortly after 8:00 am of a Sunday afternoon in Chelsea. (Her booth was near the entrance.) “Have I got a piece for you!” Aware of Tunbridge’s expertise in the ventriliquilar arts, the savvy dealer spied a most unusual specimen that practically gave her a wooden lapdance in the form of a doll that she found in her pick-up truck that morning.
“Exqusite detail!” murmured Tunbridge approvingly as he examined Crackers from head to toe. “What is this – the fabled spring-loaded double take!” She took his huge paws and wound Crackers head counter-clockwise to cock her shutter and then touched a hidden button behind the base of her neck to release the impeccably timed head shake. “Why, if I didn’t know better I’d say she wwas batting her eyes at me.”
“Like the narrator said, she’s an unusual specimen!”
“Boy I’ll say!” said Tunbridge. “What do you want for her?” Crackers contineud to bat her eyes at the bald man. “I’ll pay anything!” Crackers started to purr. “ANYthing.”
Half his considerable weekly pay-check before taxes later, Tunbridge continued apace through the market, a wodden crate marked “Crackers” carried behind him by his Filipino houseboy, Pedro.
“Hey, Senor Tunbridge,” Pedro tugged at his boss’s tweed tails. “I theenk some lady is wheespering your name.”
“Why, I don’t hear anything Pedro. Oh, I forgot, in your native land the lack of sound in the country fine-tunes your ears to hear a far greater range of sound waves than the most aurally accomplished sugar-talkin’ Yankee.”
“Si,” said Pedro in a language that was not his native tongue but which set him in good stead with his upper-class betters. “Eees deefeecult for you, easy for me.”
Pedro recalled watching Senor Wences on a little black and white tube television back in the homeland. Since he was a youg barefoot boy, who typically of a young filipino boy in those times was thrown into the river at birth to learn to swim, a tradition that led to entire schools of toddlers swimming the shores and dragging fishing nets to catch bluefin tuna and Betty Croacker and Acoustic Eel, he watched Senor Wences on tv and hoped that someday, he, Pedro, would grow up to paint his hand with lipstick and tour the great cruise-ships of the oceans wide and entertain people from all walks of life and have steak every day and spinach with lots of butter. Little did he know that, although the one dream was dashed when he lost his legs in a pinochle accident, another of his wishes was about to come true in a manner he had never dreamed of.
“Psst … Aaachie!” It was Cheese.
“Who … where? Well what do we have here?” Tunbridge stopped at a booth manned by one Leonard of Queens. [another antiques dealer with whom I’ve been known to do business]
“Hello dere Mistuh Tumbridge – yo’re my favorite customer! Say, ain’t this doll here a beaut? I just found her this morning – I moved the potato and there she was! Ain’t dat nuts?”
“She is indeed, and is the very sororal image of the specimen I have in this crate here,” he tapped at the crate carried by Pedro.
“Si,” confirmed Pedro.
Crackers winked at her sister from between the wooden slats.
“She even has the very same spring-wound double take mechanism – a fabulous specimen.” He twisted the mechanics as he did before and released them to the same satisfying shake. Cheese batted her eyes at Tunbridge.
“Ees almos like shes plirting with you boss! What a crazy doll! You will hab more pun with two of them, no boss?” observed Pedro.
“Yes, Pedro, yes indeed will I hae more ‘pun’ with two of them. I’ll taker her, Lenny.”
“Whaddevuh you say, Professuh.” Lenny gingerly wrapped Cheese in cheese cloth, meaning in this case the clothes she wore.
“Hey Senor Tunbreedge, I might be going crazy but I theenk you got another customer calling your name.”
“Psst! Yoo-hoo! Mister Tunbridge! Hellooo!” whispered Butter from a vintage spinach crate. An expresion of childhood longing passed briefly over Pedro’s swarthy pace.
“I’m co-ming!” Tunbridge sang and positively loped toward his suitress in a box. Butter batted her eyes before he even touched her spring-loaded double-take button. “Why, these dolls look like they could be triplets!”
“Siameeese treeplets, boss!” Pedro accurately observed.
“Siamese ventriloquist dummy triplets? Don’t be absurd!”
“Absurd? Me?” Pedro mumbled from behind a fake nose and glasses with bushy eyebrows pattered after the late actor Milo O’Shea.
Her vendor, whose name was George, and was a horrible horrible person [he is], told the strange story of how Butter walked into his business. “I wuz just settin’ up here this morning when dis doll heah just showed up outta da blue like! I had an empty spinach crate here with the colorful label ya see there, and next ting I knew there was this crazy doll sprawled out in the box like Brooke Shields at a Princeton frat party!”
“Yes, very good, I’ll take her!!” Tunbridge, suddenly in no mood for stories, even nice stories about three bears and porridge or about grandma and a wolf who ate her up or about a princess who lost a shoe somewheres, hurriedly reached for the remaining wad of cash in his almost bottomless pockets. “Pedro, now I have in my posession three of the most exquisite creatures in the history of ventriloquism. Do you know what this means, Pedro?”
“Well, boss, my Eengleesh she ees not so good!” claimed Pedro, who in fact went to night school and took English and got a B. “But I theenk she meeans you can like live your dream to be Goldilocks and the three bears!”
“Quiet, Pedro …” urged Tunbridge, “I don’t want anybody else to steal my idea …”