CHATCHKI

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Copyright 1996 by the author, Larry Stark



THE CHATCHKIE THAT ATE CHICAGO

That's what Stephen Finn calls it when he tells people about it, and pokes fun at me. But it's not funny to me. I don't watch t-v any more because of it.

Stephen Finn has this little apartment with a vcr and maybe thousands of tapes of movies that he is continually adding to and copying for friends and stealing off cable. Whenever he has to go off for a few days to California or Key West or New York, I usually go over and stay at his place, partly to house-sit and pick up his mail, partly to feed his ferret Jacquelin, but mostly to catch up on all the new movies he's harvested, since I not only don't have cable or a vcr, I don't even own a television.

Stephen says I'm unAmerican, but Cultural Fascist that he is he leaves the choicest ones sitting out waiting for me. I never get much sleep when I ferret-sit at Stephen's place. Too damn much I have to see!

Never got, I mean.

Last time Stephen insisted I tape two movies for him that came on BRAVO late Saturday night -- or Sunday morning, really. First was an old science-fiction thing called KILLDOZER, followed by the musical LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

"I thought you owned LITTLE SHOP, Stephen."

"I owned Three, but they're all borrowed and I don't know by who! Or is it whom? Anyway there'll be enough tape. I'll set it up and you just press this button here when KILLDOZER starts and get them both. I've never been able to make the damn timer work."

"KILLDOZER? What's that one? Sounds like an insomnia suppressant."

"It's from DAISY-ETTA?" I looked blank. "Theodore Sturgeon's story about a D-7 bulldozer that comes to life when a meteor lands..."

"Sounds like sci-fi to me."

"Well, if they get much of the Ted Sturgeon original into it it'll be S-F for sure! And if not, in the immortal words of Doris Day, 'Kay Serah, Serah!' I'll tape over it. Oh and here, be sure to let little Bruno here watch it with you!"

He picked a little miniature bulldozer, half the size of his palm, off a shelf and put it carefully on the coffee-table in front of the tube.

"You and your chatchkies!"

He had hundreds of them too: Matchbox Miniatures and CorgiToys, and little plastic wind-up things, like a teeny little plastic toilet on wheels: you wind up a little button and it rolls drunkenly at you, its lid flapping up and down like some demented mouth! He had plastic frogs and fish that wound up and swam; whole shelves-full all over the place.

"Bruno will love it!"

So he left, and I bought myself a bottle and some food and watched Pete Sampras defeat John McEnroe, and Olivier's RICHARD III and HANK CINQUE back-to-back and what I could stand of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, and then it was time so I loaded the blank, got BRAVO on, pressed the button, and sat back to watch. I had just concluded it was really sci-fi, when it happened.

"I killed your chatchkie," I confessed, when Stephen got back. "I didn't know it was so delicate."

"What! You mean you stepped on poor Bruno?"

"No!" I pointed to the little bulldozer on the table. "I mean he's dead. Hell, I didn't even know he was alive, until he died."

Stephen picked up the little metal toy, turned it over and carefully examined the pale, blistering paint flaking off here and there, then stared up at me.

"Until now, sir, your complete lack of symptoms of senile dementia has been one of your Most endearing qualities! Now what the hell is all this about?"

I sighed and began. "Well, a little way into the movie, when this big motherin' bulldozer began charging around like the triceratops in VALLEY OF THE GWANGI, I started hearing this squeaky little noise. Thought it was Jackie, but she was on the couch beside me, staring at the table. Bruno was moving! His treads were churning, and that little blade was going up and down, just like in the film. I put Jackie on the table, and she went over and took one little sniff and just ran! You know, that cross between a gallop and a slither, but fast!

"Bruno was crawling toward the television screen, gears hissing, and I could hear a squeeky little 'nnnmmmnnnmmmnnn' coming from him." I paused, and alooked imploringly at Stephen. "He looked so determined!"

"So you killed him."

"I didn't mean it! I couldn't believe it. I never knew he was a wind-up toy, or.... Anyway I picked him up and turned him over to try to find the key or the off-button, but there wasn't any. But when I did those little treads really began to spin, and the blade went wild for a minute, and the squeak got a little louder. Then, all of a sudden, I could feel a tiny little spasm, and I heard a metallic little 'Spunnnng!" and everything stopped moving. Then just an instant later, there was another longer, quieter little 'spunnnggg,'trailing off, and in another...musically, in a whatzit, in lower case.. "

"In a minor key."

"Yeah! He was pretty warm when I picked him up, but he got all cold pretty quick. When he made that last little 'spunngggg' noise, I could feel him go limp, and he never moved again."

"You mean you felt the mainspring break."

"I mean he Went Limp! Damnit, I know what I felt!"

"Must have broken the mainspring," Stephen insisted, turning his toy over, then shaking it beside his ear.

"You see any wind-up button? Any place for a key? I couldn't."

"It's a solid metal toy," Stephen said, putting it on the table. "You're pulling my leg!"

"The damn thing Moved, and whatever I did made it stop! I killed your damned chatchkie, Stephen, and I'm sorry!"

"Okay, okay! Have it your way. What did you do after that?"

"I shut off the television."

"What! In the middle of the movie?"

"It was a bad sci-fi flick, Stephen! You won't miss it."

"But you turned it back on for... "

"No, I didn't."

"But why not!"

"I got to looking around the room at these damned chatchkies of yours. I wondered if, when Rosemary II starts yelling 'Feed Me, Seymour!" maybe that little flapping John of yours might decide it was time to grab a bite out of my ear-lobe or something." I looked him directly in the face. "I'm sorry I killed your chatchkie, Stephen, but after that I just couldn't take the risk."

I still ferret-sit at Stephen's. I watch a lot of tennis, and some football, and sometimes I turn off the sound on MTV and play the classical music programs on WBUR. The best of both worlds! But when movies come on, I turn off the television and I read.

Stephen has a huge library of books I haven't read yet.


1,192 words

I hope you like what you see.

Love,

===Anon.


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