"THE HALF-LICKED LOLLIPOP"
Prologue to Short Story Collection
by "Roger Feldstein"
© Roger Feldstein 2013
Down in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, east of the Top Dogg nightclub, just past the Olive Garden and a block or two left of Bob's Button Emporium ("Where Picking a Button Is a Snap!") is the Museum of the Half-Licked Lollipop. Built in 1992 through private investment, the Museum continues through a combination of endowment money, fund-raising, ticket sales, and gift shop revenue.
Enter its bright-red, shiny doors into a harbinger of wonder and miracles!
Today, ten-year old Joshua Finkleberg attends the Museum, accompanied by his father Herbert Finkleberg, aka "Dad." Both have dressed up for their Saturday excursion, attired with their finest black socks pulled knee-high to accompany their khaki shorts and white, velcro Keds sneakers. Concerned his glasses may fall and break, Joshua has thoughtfully tied them around his head, using a Spiderman shoestring.
Joshua and Dad have just listened to tour guide Christopher Molinsky's discussion of the world's smallest ball of yarn.
"And that's where babies come from," Molinsky concluded. "And now, let's all turn our attention to the real reason you're all here." He gestured toward a lollipop encased behind a thick sheet of glass. "Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the world's most perfect half-licked lollipop!"
The crowd oohed! and ahhhed! Cameras flashed. "Get back! Stay behind the velvet rope! Don't get too close! Let everyone get a look!" Molinsky pushed back on a motley crew of children. He stomped his foot on a pasty-faced brat who planted his palm-print on the glass enclosure. "Vermin!" Molinksy uttered.
"That's a lollipop!" squealed a five-year old darling.
"Harmumph!" Molinsky fixed his uniform. "The origins of the half-licked lollipop date back to 1956, when it was manufactured by Ain't It Sweet Candy, in their Norristown, Pennsylvania plant. Through carefully researched records, we have determined that this particular lollipop was sold over-the-counter at a Kingston Pharmacy sometime that very year. The purchaser? Frederick Tyson, who purchased the lollipop for his son Skip as a treat for performing well at a clarinet recital. When Mr. Tyson purchased that lollipop, little did he know . . . it would become the world's most perfect half-licked lollipop!"
Molinsky paused for maximum effect. Dad exchanged a knowing glance with Joshua.
"Wait a second, mister, I ain't followin' you," crowed a dim-witted eight-year old in overalls, "Are you sayin' Mr. Tyson bought a lollipop that was already half-licked?"
Others nodded their confusion.
"No, no. When Mr. Tyson bought the lollipop, it was fully-licked. You see . . . wait, no, that's not what I meant. When Mr. Tyson bought the lollipop, it was full. It was complete. Nobody had licked it. It was an unlicked lollipop."
"Oh, why didn't you say that?" The eight-year old was satisfied. Joshua nodded his own satisfaction.
"So, anyway, Mr. Tyson brought the lollipop home to Skip. When Skip unwrapped it, he was happy because it was his favorite flavor, cherry red."
"I like root beer!"
"I like lemon!"
"I like grape!"
Dad nudged Joshua and smiled, "Cherry for me, thankyouverymuch!" Joshua knew Dad would say that. Dad always asked for extra cherries on his sundae when they went to Friendlies.
"Children, please!" Molinsky cautioned the crowd. "We've got a long tour ahead of us. If we're ever going to make it to the 'Donuts of the World' special exhibit, I'm going to need everyone to settle down. And that includes you!" Molinky angrily gestured toward Dad. "Now, where was I? Oh, yes! So, Mr. Tyson gave Skip a cherry red lollipop. And his mother told him to hold off until after dinner. You see, she didn't want Skip to ruin his appetite. So, Skip did wait. And after a chicken pot pie dinner with all the trimmings, Skip asked his mother if he could have his lollipop. And she said yes!"
Another dramatic pause. Joshua quietly farted. Dad lovingly slapped his son's shoulder.
"So, Skip began licking the lollipop. After about twelve minutes -- and we know this from checking phone records -- he received a phone call from his grandmother Louise. He got up from the sofa to take the call, and put the lollipop on a coffeetable. And, when he returned to the coffeetable, he looked down. And what did he see?"
More dramatic pause.
"The world's most perfect half-licked lollipop! Skip couldn't believe his eyes! He took out a ruler, and then a protractor, and then a sliderule . . . and it was perfect! So, he showed his parents and they couldn't believe their eyes either! They immediately wrapped it in sandwich paper and placed it into a freezer for safekeeping. The next morning, they took it to a university where a world reknowned physicist and his team of top scientists examined it. The scanned it, took x-rays, and ran study groups. But the conclusion was foregone. That night, the news reported that the world's most perfect half-licked lollipop had been discovered . . . right here in our town!"
Pause. The audience was captivated.
"There were parades and speeches. The governor came down and shook hands with the mayor! And they held a festival, and who did they honor at that festival? Skip . . . and his lollipop. And that's why every year, on April 9, the town of Cherry Hill holds the Half-Licked Lollipop Parade! So, now we all know the story of Skip and the half-licked lollipop. Any questions?"
Dad raised his hand, "Are you sure there aren't any other perfectly half-licked lollipops out there? I mean, c'mon, it is a big world!"
"No, this is the only one. Any other questions?"
A pimply twelve-year old girl raised her hand. "Whatever happened to Skip?"
"Well, Skip died shortly thereafter during a magic act. Anyone else?"
Joshua saw a glass-enclosed piece of paper down the hall, surrounded by velvet rope. "Yeah, um, Mr. Molinsky? What's that down there?"
Molinksy looked down the hall. "Oh, that. That's the Magna Carta. It's on display here. That's pretty important too! Now, onward everyone, we're off to see the donut exhibit!"
* * *
A half-hour later, Joshua and Dad were in the Museum's cafeteria. They had just purchased turkey legs and orange soda, when Dad stopped in his tracks.
"Look! Over there! At that table . . that's the Scenario and Chlammy Jane . . you know, from that television program your mother and I are always watching . . . you know, the . . . the. . . that program 'Jersey Shore!'"
"'Jersey' who?" Joshua looked over. He'd never seen the show before, but he could sense these two were famous. They looked famous. They smelled famous, even from ten feet away. They smelled of booze, cologne, and colonics.
Dad walked right up the Scenario and Chlammy Jane's table, holding up his tray with the turkey legs.
"You both give me great pleasure."
The Scenario and Chlammy Jane looked up, examined Dad, and looked at each other. The Scenario returned to his cheesy fries and Chlammy Jane returned to her deep-fried pizza. Chlammy Jane continued a story, "So, anyways, I punched that bitch in the face and I'm like, helloooo? You talk that way to me? You talk that way to me? I'll fuck you up. You don't talk to me like that. Bitch!"
Dad looked at Joshua, looked at the Scenario and Chlammy Jane, then back to his son, and then back to the Scenario and Chlammy Jane.
"My son. I'll give you my son. I call him Joshua. But you can call him something crazy. Like 'Mr. Cool Guy' or what have you."
The Scenario thoughtfully chewed on his cheesy fries and looked Joshua over. "We do need new casting. What can he do?"
"What can he do? Why, he can do lots of things!" Dad looked at his kid's dumbfounded expression. "He plays a little clarinet. Well, not so good, but good enough, you know. And he's ok in math. Not so good with the fractions. But he knows his way around a parallelogram! And then there's the garage . . . he knows how to put things away in there like it's nobody's business! So . . . uh, can you guys use this boy, or what?"
Chlammy Jane said, "Well, we've got a garage."
"Take him, he's yours!"
"Look, let me talk to him." Dad put down his lunch tray, and pulled Joshua aside. "Look, Joshy boy, it's time you and me had a talk. You know how every weekend we go to the Dollar General and go shopping? Can I let you in on a little secret that you can't tell your mother? I hate the Dollar General! And can I let you in on another little secret? Remember how last week we took your mother to the Olive Garden on her birthday? You know why we took her to the Olive Garden, and not to some other place? It's because I couldn't think of another restaurant beside the Olive Garden. At least not during the three minutes I thought about it during the commercial breaks to the 'Facts of Life' marathon."
"But we like the Olive Garden. We always go there as a family! You said it was your favorite restaurant."
"And remember that birthday gift we gave your mother? That $25 gift certificate for the Cheesecake Factory? Do you know why we got her that gift certificate? It's because I couldn't think of anything else to get her . . . during the three minutes I thought about it during the commercial breaks to the 'World's Funniest Accidents' marathon."
"Mom loved that gift certificate. She even said so!"
"Kid, I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated as all get-out. Each season I watch that 'Real Housewives' show, and I keep thinking there's gonna be a payoff. And guess what? There's no payoff. And they keep changing the cast, and I have to learn new names. And sometimes I wonder to myself, is it worth it? Is it? Is it really worth it? I had a dream once, but I forgot what it was. I . . . I . . . once, when I was much younger, your mother and I went to an Eagles concert. A few seats down from us, a couple shared a marijuana cigarette. I wanted to ask them if I could examine it closer, to study it, but I . . . I. . . and another time, when I was in college, I bought this book called 'On the Road' and I put it on my bookshelf for everyone to see, but I never opened it. Not once. I just read and re-read the back cover, over and over and over."
Dad grabbed Joshua's shoulders and shook them like a heroin addict in withdrawal, "Joshua . . .what is the bud of the bud of the bud?"
Dad looked down at his own feet, dejected and defeated, and Joshua knew it was his job to cheer him up. "You've got me, Dad. I'm gonna make you proud. You'll see. I'm gonna be a famous scientist like we talked about. Either that, or a famous professional wrestler like Hulk Hogan or the Undertaker."
"Kid, it's time we had an honest talk. You ain't too bright. You're never going to be a scientist."
"But . . . but I got a B in science class on my last report card."
"And that's only because your mother built that damn volcano for you. Otherwise, your big science experiment was going go to be about growing mold on toast. And another thing. All this talk about being a big shot pro wrestler? Well, it ain't gonna happen. You're fat. Now, I'm not blaming you. It's largely your mother's fault for putting Twinkies and Ding Dongs in your lunchbag. And then feeding you Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts and Cocoa Crisp for breakfast and what-have-you. No, you're not going to be a pro wrestler. A pro wrestling manager, maybe. But you haven't got the voice."
"I'm gonna hit puberty someday, and my voice is gonna change. My gym teacher Mrs. Burke said so."
"Every day, I drive my car to an office. And I sit in my chair, and spend half the day drinking bitter coffee and surfing the Internet for a distraction. And then you know what I do? I drive to a gas station and pump gas, and I hand the gas station attendant a plastic credit card. And each month, I pay my bills because that's what honest people do. And then I do it again the next month. And the next month. And the next month. And each November, I vote for some crummy, two-bit politicians who don't understand me but say they do. And why do I vote for them? Because there's nobody else to vote for. Do you get what this is leading to, kid?"
"No. I don't . . ."
"I think you do, I think you do see where this is all going. Let's be honest, kid. The American economy ain't growing. Good jobs are hard to come by. It's a post-modern world, and nobody needs practical skills anymore. Heck, my job is being sent overseas to India, and I'm gonna be unemployed in two weeks. There's no future. The ozone layer is being depleted to hell, the oceans are rising, temperatures are rising, and there's nothing that can be done about it. In twenty years, half of New Jersey's gonna be underwater. Our whack-job politicians won't do anything about because they're brainless whores who cater only to the lowest common denominators and the almighty dollar. We've got terrorists threatening us, and there's nukes everywhere. We're replete in existential malaise. Do you understand that, Joshua? We're replete in existential malaise! There's just no future."
"Of course there's a future, Dad! There's us kids! Kids rule! Kids rule, grown-ups drool!"
"That hasn't been proven, Joshua, at least not scientifically. And you kids . . . ecch, don't get me started! You're all destined to be obese monsters with no attention span, all promised your five minutes of fame and a meaningless education. Don't you get it? You're doomed! Doomed to a life of existential impoverishment. Doomed to a life of superficial living, devoid of values and meaningful spiritual living. Do you see where I'm going with this? Do you?"
"I think you can see where all this is going. I've thought this over, and I think it's best if you move on. Get away from this middle-management, two bit world. Think outside the cubicle. Take a walk outside the cereal box. Turn the corner from the big box department store mentality. Throw the television out the window. Look up at the stars. Breath the fresh air, and not the recycled air of mass consumer thinking. Dream beautiful, Ray Bradbury dreams and experience the experience, and not watch this planet from a sofa. Kid, I'm giving you over to reality television. I'm giving you to the Scenario and Chlammy Jane. You're going to be their slave."
"Well, maybe not their slave. More of an indentured servant. Trust me, it's the only way. Maybe this way, you'll have a chance. A fighting chance. You can do it. You can break the cycle."
"But what about mom?"
"And that's another thing. Your mother's not really your mother. It's time you knew that. But let's save that for another day."
Dad turned back to the Scenario and Chlammy Jane. "Scenario and Chlammy Jane, I present to you my son."
Joshua had one last protest in him. "I . . . was gonna have a Bar Mitzvah."
"You'll become a man on the 'Jersey Shore,' for all the world to see. My son, a star on the television!"
Scenario pointed a cheesy fry at Joshua, "Yo, you gonna get some STDs, yo."
Chlammy Jane nodded, "I'm gonna get you a dog collar. And a headband. I'm gonna call you 'Freakshow.'"
Dad smiled. "All my life, I wanted this for my boy."
Dad turned to Joshua, "Joshua . . . I mean, Freakshow, I want you to have a good life. I'll read about you on the World Wide Web. Live life. Be strong."
"But Dad, I . . ."
But it was too late. Dad was leaving the cafeteria. Just before he walked past the cash register, he turned around one last time. Joshua was crying while Chlammy Jane fastened a chain to his neck.
As Dad walked out the exit for the Museum of the Half-Licked Lollipop, he noticed a sign.. "Half price admission on Wednesday evenings." Dad knew would he need to return, with his twelve-year old daughter. He exited toward the parking lot.