Microwave Explosion

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Larry Fantasio 2/10/2024 11:56pm

The Queen had been at the salad bar for a long time.

"That's quite a salad she must be building," I said.

Black Herminone cackled from inside my bag. "Well maybe we best go check on her," she said.

I hiked the big purse over my shoulder and gave the waiter a nod just to let her know I wasn't planning on dining and dashing. She didn't look like she'd care either way.

"Salad bar?" I asked.

"No thank you," said the waiter.

I followed the sign down a carpeted hall, past an empty banquet room. Sticky high chairs lined the walls, booster seats, the occasional zoom broom.

"The salad bar was near the front, when we came in," I whispered to Black Hermione.

"It's the SPECIAL salad bar," she said, then started cackling again.

I turned the corner to find The Queen of the Hudson standing before mountain of flowers. And on that mountain of flowers stood a huge, fat, naked woman with golden hair and yellow skin.

"Is this some kind of hippie wedding?" I asked Hermione.

"Oh you bet it is," she said. "For one damn old hippie!"

Queen of the Hudson 10/15/2023 11:08pm

I had room for about two bites of my clam chowder.

"Don't we get a salad with this?" I asked. I was looking at Larry but my question was for Black Hermione, who, being a talking wooden ventriloquist dummy's head, was hidden inside Larry's man-purse.

"You bet you do, sweetie," came Black Herminone's muffled voice. "I told you they had specials!"

"The clam chowder is the special," I told her back. "It means a dish served only on a certain day, or has a lowered price on a certain day. The salad bar's just... always there."

"We'll it's SPECIAL, sweetie. Take my word for it. Why don't you go and try it out? It's all you can eat!"

"This clam chowder's pretty good," Larry said.

The clam chowder was NOT very good. Larry's standards were obviously low when it came to clam chowder. The salad bar looked reasonable on the way in -- I mean, aside from the pickled three bean salad, or the cottage cheee/lime jello mold -- just some cucumbers and carrot sticks and lettuce would suit me fine.... maybe some cherry tomatoes...

But now, that salad bar was gone. The salad bar before me was filled with flowers. Yellow flowers. Prairie Broomweed and Snakeweed, Chocolate Daisy, Smooth Beggartick, Engelmann's Daisy, Curlycup Gumweed. As the Witch Queen of the Hudson, I had to know my plants.

There a busboy was refilling a big bowl with Woolly Paperflower.

"Is this the special?" I asked.

The bus boy looked at me in a terrified way and ran off.

Larry Fantasio 7/14/2023 11:56pm

I'd certainly seen better salad bars.

"Panhandler's has specials," Black Hermione's wooden head said from inside my man-purse.

What they lacked in fresh microgreens was made up for by the range of more classic ingredients. Beets, garbanzos, a tuna niçoise. But what were these specials?

"WAITER!" Black Hermione screeched from her bag. The @Queen of the Hudson shuddered.

The waiter wasn't a man. And dressed in nothing more official than a Panhandler's brand apron.

Black Hermionie twitched in her bag. The Queen took the cue.

"What are your specials today?" asked the Queen.

"Same as every Friday. Clam chowder, fish and chips, fish sticks, fish fillet, fish sauce, fish gravy, fish soup."

"And can you tell me where you source your fish?" asked the Queen. "Here, in Amarillo?"

The wait person was perplexed.

"Clam chowder," Black Hermione said in a stage whisper. "In a bread bowl."

"Clam chowder, all around!" I said. "In bread bowls."

Queen of the Hudson 3/27/2023 11:44pm

"You know it's all the little yellow flowers why they call it Amarillo," I told Larry as we taxied in over the aerodrome.

"That's a common misconception," said Larry, in his increasingly annoying know-it-all voice. "It's the yellow dirt around the lake that makes the flowers yellow."

"It's clear neither of you know a thing," said Black Hermione, whose wooden head now sat up on the dashboard above the controls. "What do you think turned all that dirt yellow in the first place?"

Larry didn't seem to know the answer to that one.

Airship control gave us a designation for a mooring tower and Larry brought us in and we kissed the tower without a hitch.

"You know they've got the cheapest helium here. They pipe it right in from Bush Dome so there's practically no middle man. Time to get topped off and fill the reserve tanks," Larry said.

"You can set that up with the airmaster on our way out. We've got a dinner date," Black Hermione said.

"Can we get something a little lighter for dinner?" I asked. "I'm still full from that burger in Wichita."

"You bet, dearie," Black Hermione said. "You wouldn't believe the salad bar at this place I know. Larry, get us a cab."

Larry Fantasio 12/21/2022 11:58pm

Wichita. The Airship Capital of the World.

We found a diner with adequate mooring at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers.

"It's like the reed-covered lodge, by the little-water place!" said the Queen, delighted.

"It's a quonset hut," I replied.

But the food was good. Odd flat hamburgers with fried edges. Excellent pickles. We sat outside at a picnic table.

"Mmmph mmmph mm mmph mmph mmmph" went the suitcase.

I opened it up a crack.

"Take me around the back. Like you're going to the restroom," said Black Hermione. Well, not actually Black Hermione, but the ventriloquist dummy head that held the downloaded consciousness of Black Hermione. "And finish that Coke! Bring the bottle!"

I tucked the dummy head under my arm and finished my soda.


Around the back of the hut, it was like a small dump. And old tractor, a pile of wooden crates. Busted refrigerator with the door sprung open.

"Köppen CLA!" called Black Hermione. "You tired of this garbage dump yet? I can't believe you're still spending your days here, with everything that's going on."

Slowly, a dust devil took shape in the dirt. It grew to about the size of you or me. Just spinning. Spinning rather... languorously. For a dust devil.

"Awww... Hermione...." it whistled. "You've... changed..."

"Well I'm still kickin!" the head said. I wasn't sure if this was a joke because she had no legs. "But this place is killing you! There ain't hardly no winds left in Wichita!"

"But... it'sssss.... my place...."

"'Where the rivers meet, I will create'... yada yada. But seriously, you're getting decrepit, moping around in all this human junk. You need to take a little road trip with us. See the sights! I promise we'll bring you back and you'll have a whole new outlook."

The dust devil pondered for a moment.

"Hold that bottle out," Hermione whispered to me.

Then she turned and shouted "Köppen CLU!" and the dust devil up and zoomed into my bottle, like a miniature tornado.

"Now plug it!" Hermione hooted. "Stuff your hankie in there!"

And that's what we picked up in Wichita.

Queen of the Hudson 9/28/2022 11:20pm

It was great to be up in the air again.

Larry was a real cool cat getting the Microwave Explosion out of airfield control. He didn't seem to care a wink about the debris and rips and tears and residual diaper smell on our clothes, and the clerk at the desk didn't bat an eye. We went right to the ship and did our pre-flight checks and were on the go in no time.

"Where to next, chief?"

"They're hot on our tail, but we've got to make it to the House of Woo," he said.

"Mmmmmph mmmmph mmmmph," went the suitcase.

"It's fine to let her out now," he said. I opened up the suitcase.

Black Hermione's wooden dummy head turned on her cradle of silks and rolled her eyes.

"You've got to take the old Power Puff Derby route," she said.

"The old Power Puff Derby route?" I asked.

"Omaha, Wichita, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco," Larry said. "It's a bit obvious though, isn't it?"

"We've got friends we can hit up on the way," said Black Hermione. "I can open up doors you people wouldn't believe."

Larry Fantasio 7/16/2022 7:23pm

Yeah well the air wasn't *that* fresh.

"Just wait till we get out of the facility," said the Queen.

We came up out of the tunnel and into a vast warehouse. Two bangs on the back door, then a pause and one more.

"We're good," said the Queen, and the back doors opened.

One workman, apparently human, in a gray jumpsuit. The embroidered name tag said Chuck.

"Back, and to the left. Exit door says Alarm will Sound but ignore it."

"Thanks Chuckles" said the Queen.

"Always a pleasure, Daffy," said Chuckles. "See you around."

We slipped out the back, through the alarmless exit, and into an alley. The sign on the service door across the alley said Omaha Clone Housing Authority.

"Best part is," said the Queen, "we don't even need to call a cab. Airfield is due east. Hardly a mile."

Something still smelled funny.

"You can take the nose off now," said the Queen.

Queen of the Hudson 4/17/2022 10:30pm

"Whatever you do, don't take off the nose."

"But it's REALLY uncomfortable," said Larry. "It's like it's trying to squirm into my nostrils!"

We hit a pothole and bounced around with the big diaper sacks. The truck was dark, but we could see streetlights through the windshield.

"Mmmsmmphr mmm hmmmphr!" went the dummy in the suitcase.

"And leave that shut," I said. "She's just agreeing with me. If you let yourself smell it, you'll go completely insane."

"I can still smell it. Even through the nose. It's like... cotton candy?"

"The human brain isn't equipped to process clown baby shit. Just don't think about it."

"Then isn't it dangerous for them to be transporting it into the city? Stockpiling dangerous chemical weapons?"

"There's a regulatory process. It's got to be disposed of within 72 hours, and only licensed Clown Diaper Disposal agents are allowed to handle it. It's not something they can do in Clown City. All their waste is transported up to the surface. Most of it -- cream pie tins, empty seltzer bottles, old giant shoes -- can go into regular landfill. But licensed CDD agents handle the rough stuff, and so they get a little leeway. Not even other clowns want to search their trucks. And not even clowns are crazy enough to militarize it."

The truck began to slow down.

"Coming to a checkpoint," I said. "Just sit tight. Breathe through your mouth."

The truck slowed down, then sped up again.

"See? They just waved us through. Next, we'll be coming up from under Florence Boulevard. Just keep your nose on and we'll be back in fresh air in no time."

Larry Fantasio 2/9/2022 10:11pm

For a clown bar, it wasn’t very cheery. 

First of all, it was dark. A few bare lightbulbs hung from the ceiling, but the dozen or so clowns hung to the shadows. At least it seemed like a dozen or so. You can never tell with clowns. 

“Just act natural,” said the Queen. “Let’s belly up to the bar.”

“What am I supposed to order?” I asked, under the brim of my hat. 

“Seven Layer Pousse-Café,” she told the bartender. “Same for him.”

Nobody seemed to take notice of us at the bar. It could have been a place to get into a fight, but it didn’t seem like a clown biker bar. These clowns were far more furtive. 

“What exactly are we looking for here?” I asked. 

“These clowns live on the edge. They don’t spend all their time in Clown Town. Sometimes they paint their faces and spend time above. They work undercover, as double agents, or newscasters. They get day jobs, as school janitors, birthday party performers, bankers. Some just like it better above. Some even end up marrying and having children, keeping their clown identities secret.”

“Well if it isn’t Queen Daffy," said a ridiculous voice behind us.

"Chuckles!" said the Queen, turning to face the giant, overall-clad clown. "Just the clown I was looking for. I'm looking for a ride out of Clown Town. And no questions asked."

Queen of the Hudson 12/17/2021 11:56pm

Clown City. The rough part.

And yes that's a joke -- Clown City is all rough.

The passageway from the clown car cargo hold led to inside a warehouse in a gloomy part of town, but it was a part of town I was familiar with. I knew clowns from this part of Clown Town. Binkis, Bimbos, and Buffos. Patches, Peaches, and Popos. The kinds of clowns I used to do business with. The kind of clown that will cut you as soon as you take your eye off the knife.

"This way. I know a guy."

Larry followed like a good soldier, trench coat collar pulled up tight to his fedora. Rain poured down in the streetlight darkness, black and white. Mighty bleak landscape for clowns. Dark and dirty.

"Keep your face behind your brim. And if you get asked a question, don't say a word. You're my mute brother from Poughkeepsie, got it?"

"Well it's not too far from the truth."

I couldn't see his face.

I led us down a familiar alley and slid open a rusty door.

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