I sat in the Washington office of Dr. Holler B. Snowbody, the Third Junior Deputy Deputy Undersecretary in the Department of Homeland Frisking, Risk Assessment Division, Penguins. I was on assignment for Big Beak (the magazine of birds with big beaks) to get the poop on the 1.5 million extra penguins just discovered in Antarctica, waddling along without so much as a by-your-leave.*
Dr. Snowbody was on the phone with Dr. Hans Hoofing (say HANDZ OOF-ing), America’s chief penguinist in Antarctica (no, no, no, not HONZ. And not HONCE, Say HANDZ.) (I can’t heeeear you.) I couldn’t help overhearing one half of their conversation — coincidentally, the half I was overhearing.**
“Who the hell is in charge of penguins down there, Hoofing?” asked Dr. Snowbody. “I can’t believe that somebody just la de da stumbled over one-and-a-half million extra penguins that no one ever knew about. What? The penguins knew? Here’s a career tip, Hoofing. If you’re going to be funny, you have to be funny. It’s a very unfunny rule.
“Look, we’re supposed to be on top of penguins. Congress gives us millions to keep an accurate beak count. What if we woke up some day and a billion undocumented penguins came paddling ashore in Florida, expecting pastry puffs and daiquiris. Haven’t you ever seen Planet of the Apes: The Rise of The Apeshit?
“Who do we have down there? Neely? I thought he died last winter. Last summer? Right, they found him frozen to a stool at a Tiki Bar. Too much ice in his margarita, I heard. Did we…What? We just left him there? Nobody had a blowtorch? Does his wife know? And she’s not raising holy hell? How much? In one lump sum? Who the hell approved that? Why wasn’t I informed? I mean when I was in my shoot-the-poop-gimme-the-scoop mode?”
As Dr. Snowbody rattled his desk with a bloviation-device suitable to his rank as a junior deputy deputy, a sheet of paper floated to the floor. It was a partial transcript of an interview between Hands Hoofing and Jens Volvo (Say JENZ) and his brother Vilbo (Look, it’s JENZ, not YENZ). The Volvos, a pair of Swedes from Norway, were on holiday in Antarctica when they accidentally discovered the penguins.
Hoofer: How did you know there were 1.5 million penguins?
Volvo: I take a pencil and paper and I look at the first penguin and I say “One penguin,” and I write down “one penguin.” Then Vilbo takes a piece of chalk and marks the penguin’s beak so I don’t count it twice. Then I look at the next penguin and I say “One more penguin,” and I write down “one more penguin.” Then I have to tell Vilbo to stop eating the chalk…
Hoofer: So clever. And yet, so simple. But how important is it to say the words “One penguin” and “One more penguin” out loud while you’re counting?
Volvo: If I can’t hear myself thinking, how am I supposed to know what to write down?
Hoofer: That reminds me. Sometimes I’ll start counting the number of belt buckles in my top dresser drawer beneath the socks that I wear at weddings and funerals. I’ll sometimes lose count and have to start all over again. Does that ever happen to you?
Hoofer: So how did you discover these penguins?
Volvo: Vilbo and I and our cousin Lars were driving around Antarctica one afternoon to see the sights. Coincidentally, we were driving a Volvo.
Hoofer: You know, that might actually be ironical.
Volvo: They are very white, these sights we were seeing, and hard to see. Plus, the cost of parking was outrageous. We did see some stuff that was off-white, maybe even beige. Suddenly Lars shouts from the backseat ‘Stop the car. Back up.’ Well, we backed up and Lars says ‘Have you ever seen so many penguins?’ Well, in fact, we hadn’t. Lars says “If there aren’t at least three billion there, my name isn’t Stan, Stan the Science Man.’ Which, as you now know, it isn’t. He’s still just Lars “Lars, the Swede from Mars.”
Hoofer: Um, how do you know that we haven’t already counted those penguins?
Volvo: Have you?
Hoofer: Uh, no.
Volvo: That’s how we know. Ha! Just busting your icicles. We actually ran their names through a database of penguins already counted. Came back clean.
Hoofer: So clever, so simple.
**I have not ruled out ironical
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2018, all rights reserved.