Stetson’s hat was a part of his identity. After all, he’d worn a fedora every day of his adult life. Shortly before becoming a reporter for the Missoulian, the Missoula Montana daily, Stetson had changed his name from ____ to Stetson. He felt that his new name was much cooler than ____, and he credited his success as a theater critic, in part, to how his new name looked in print: L.P. Stetson. The byline commanded respect – the brevity of staccato in the wash of a printed page’s melody. A portrait of Stetson in his hat always accompanied the byline. He’d once considered changing his name to Fedora, but felt that it was too feminine, or Italian.
The contradiction wrought about by using the last name Stetson yet brandishing a fedora, Stetson justified with a round about explanation that a majority of Americans knew that a Stetson was a type of hat, but they were likely unaware as to what type of hat it was exactly. They’d think that maybe it meant hat-maker or hatter, or that Stetson had come from a long and illustrious bloodline of hatters – which was, much like cobbling or spearfishing, Stetson thought, an honest profession. And maybe the people would make the connection that out of all the generations of hatters, Stetson was the only one, or, rather, the first one to get out of the family business, to pursue a different career, and therefore Stetson always wore a fedora to honor his family and those who came before him. This was how Stetson had justified changing his name to one type of hat, while wearing another.
The truth was that nobody but Stetson gave a damn about his name or his hat. The only people that actually paid Stetson any attention were the readers of his weekly column, in the Missoulian. But even those avid readers were unconcerned with his name or his hat; instead, they chose to focus on the too often incendiary, aggressive critiques that appeared on the front page, below the fold, each Monday.
Theater news was big news in Missoula. Well, actually, it wasn’t big news. It would have been no news, or the same amount of news as it had always been, but these days one man owned both the paper and the theater, a man named William Harrier. Harrier made theater news important by hiring an opinionated critic with a deep-seated hatred for his fellow man, and then Harrier slapped that column, with little oversight, on the front page of the Missoulian, each Monday.
Harrier had never noticed the contradiction that was Stetson’s name vs. hat situation either. But if the conundrum had somehow worked itself into Harrier’s consciousness, he, too, would not have cared.
The week that Stetson was hired, he’d received the news that the column was going to appear on the front page, below the fold, weekly. Stetson attributed this change in frequency and location of the column to Mr. Harrier’s recognition of his immense talent. This assumption was incorrect, of course, as the change was the result of the simple coincidence that Harrier had hired Stetson and purchased the Civic Theater in the same week.
Stetson, although even privy to the knowledge that Mr. Harrier had just purchased the theater, chose to believe that the 500 words allotted to the theater critic were upped in notoriety, because of Stetson’s unrelenting geyser of talent. He even toyed with the idea that Mr. Harrier had purchased the theater, because Stetson deserved it, what with his keen eye for truth in theater and all.
These associations, although completely ludicrous, assured Stetson that he’d made the right decision by changing his name, regardless of what kind of hat he wore. “I’m not even here one week,” he’d thought, “and the Mr. Harrier has already bought me a theater.”
It was true that Stetson’s career was going well as a theater critic, but as previously noted, that had nothing to do with Stetson’s name, hat, or the size of his penis (which was perfectly average, but a man in the throws of a solipsistic binge is liable to jump to any conclusion). His star was rising, because Stetson created conflict. People reacted. The reviews and critiques were controversial, because readers, performers, and other critics alike viewed Stetson as a bully – a crass, juvenile know-nothing who yelled from atop his soapbox.
Harrier, however, liked Stetson, because he was controversial. Conflict and controversy sold papers by drawing a line in the pulp and asking readers to pick on which side of the ink they were aligned. To Harrier, selling more papers meant potentially growing the number of theater patrons in Missoula, and both of these meant higher profits. Profit was a name that Harrier did care about.
Stetson entered the auditorium of the theater and handed his ticket to the usher, a man who looked exactly like Wilfred Brimley crossed with an emperor penguin – a small oddity in the Big Sky state.
“Hello again, L.P.,” the usher said.
“Hello, Ray,” Stetson said.
“Excited for the show?”
“We’ll see if they’ve still got it…” Stetson said, “after all these years and all.”
“If how I feel’s any indication,” Ray said, opening his arms and inspecting his own girth, acknowledging his failings in old age, “then I’d say those old boys are spent.”
Stetson nodded. “I’ll see you after the show,” he said.
He walked down the aisle of the auditorium, with regal carpeting underfoot and tender ambiance overhead, stopping at row 27 and then shuffled over to seat F, and he sat – 27F was in the rear of the theater.
The location of his seat relative to the stage was an important point for Stetson. So important, that he had spent the previous week’s column trashing a performance based mainly on his seat’s location in relation to the stage. The previous week’s play was an adaptation of a biography of Nelson Mandela called, “It’s Dark in this Room.” The performance was dull, he’d noted, but he’d enjoyed how the actor had made the prison cell seem both, paradoxically, spacious and suffocating. It was a good thing that the actor playing Mandela could pantomime, could emote passionately with physicality, Stetson had written, because from row 25, seat H:
“I spent the entire show wondering, questioning the director’s choice to make Mandela, a man known for his immense prowess in the oratory, a mute?! It was then that I realized that the actor was not a mute by choice but merely blessed with the vocal chords of a deceased iguana. Prison made Mandela consider suicide on a daily basis, and after witnessing a truly pathetic version of “It’s Dark in this Room”, with a lead who ought to consider switching professions to that of a common whore (a profession wherein speaking means you’re likely doing something wrong), yours truly has been seriously considering taking a trip down river with the razor of theatrical justice.”
The lead, Albert Mondiav, had committed suicide shortly thereafter. His untimely exit from the stage of life had generated a cacophony of noise and protest from readers, highlighting the malevolent nature of the critic and the integrity of the paper – a series of letters and phone calls that passed over the blind eyes and deaf ears of one William Harrier, because sales had also spiked approximately 37% that week.
Stetson sat and waited patiently, meekly, for the house lights to dim. Theater guests filed into the auditorium. Lights flashed at a count of three, a simplistic visual Morse code meaning three minutes until curtain. L.P. Stetson sat, waiting. He was waiting like everyone else for the house lights to drop, waiting for his childhood heroes to take the stage. With the influx of all the guests into the theater, the temperature in the theater had spiked causing the already plump and over-perspiring Stetson to sweat more. He pulled the coral pink kerchief from his jacket pocket, and he dabbed at his forehead. The beads of sweat had formed to his brow like the tiny bubbles that existed, briefly, at the bottom of a pot of near-boiling water, and when he wiped at them the kerchief brushed against the edge of Stetson’s scar. In the midst of all those people he was alone, and then his mind began to drift. And when his mind drifted, Stetson thought of one thing: the incident.
Always the incident, never the accident or an incident – it was the incident. During the quieter moments of the day, the least spectacular ones (opening a can of tuna fish in a mid-afternoon lull, etc.), his mind recreated snippets of the incident. A series of intrusive thoughts, really, annoying, like when you’ve been driving on the interstate and consider, for no particular reason, giving the wheel a good jerk at eighty miles per hour, wondering if you’d skip across the median like a stone or go into a death roll, or would you regain control of the vehicle after a sharp slide and then make it out unscathed?
Fitz Myron pushed Young L.P.____ – pushed him to the playground’s dirt. Fitz dragged him. He saw the underside of a car and a wheel next to his face. He felt Fitz kick him. It all happened very fast. Fitz’s foot came down again, and Young L.P. ____ was unconscious.
Stetson wiped his brow again and took a few deep breaths. His pulse had quickened.
The official report of the incident was a bit more grotesque than what even Stetson could remember. The official report was what expelled Fitz Myron from FDR Elementary, and it was filed with the school system and as a police report. F. Myron was charged as a juvenile with attempted murder.
The day of the incident, during recess, both reports read, other students observed F. Myron teasing, pushing, and slapping Young L.P. ____. Children had noted that Young L.P. ____ was a frequent and favorite target of Myron’s misguided anger and frustration. After a few minutes of antagonizing, the report added, Young L.P. ____, non-violently standing his ground as teachers and parents had repeatedly instructed him, had reached his limit. The boy began to cry, and he retaliated by pushing Myron. A third grader named Eddie Velasquez, who was the principal witness in both reports (a second generation Mexican-American with a slight lisp), said that in response Myron had pushed Young L.P. to the ground, grabbed him by the hair and dragged the boy. The boy, who had apparently curled into a fetal ball at that point, was dragged over to a navy-blue Buick sedan parked adjacent to the school and had his head kicked into the wheel of the car approximately twenty-five times. Myron’s sneaker forced the crown of Young L.P.’s forehead into the rim of the car and onto the concrete, splitting his skull at the point of impact with the steel. It was around this time that the gym/social studies teacher, Mr. Dugars, saw Myron in action, restrained the young boy by force and instructed someone to call 911. Police noted that upon their arrival they had assumed that Young L.P. was dead – his plump little body laying in a pool of blood, jammed under the wheel-well of a Buick, like a worn leather-boot laying curbside in a stagnant puddle after a heavy rain.
Young L.P. almost died en route to the hospital –his loss of blood so extreme. Fitz Myron was whisked away to the Joe DiMaggio Juvenile Detention Center, and the students at FDR Elementary never laid eyes on him again.
When Young L.P. awoke at the hospital on the day of the incident, his mother and father were standing over their bandaged and woozy son. After gathering partial wits about where he was and what had happened, Stetson reached for the wound. The wound, wrapped carefully in gauze and bandages, was covered. He let his hand rest on the bandages, tenderly, for a moment. He wanted to feel it.
After two weeks had passed, Young L.P. returned to the fifth grade. He wore a hat – a Seattle Mariners ball cap (as Montana had no baseball team). The ball cap covered a truly awful scar. Plump, red skin that looked like a pair of large cartoon lips ran from the mid-line of his forehead, over the crown, and six inches onto the top of his head. In between the giant lips of the scar was the stitching that held together what could have been mistaken for ground chicken – pink, white, and yellow bulbs occupied space where there was once skin and hair.
The first time Young L.P. saw his scar, in the bathroom mirror on the first floor of his family’s home, his mother stood at his side. Her hand gently trembled as she unwrapped the bandages. Her touch was delicate, measured. She was reminded of a moment days after her wedding when she was opening a friend’s gift. She knew it was going to be a blender, wished it wasn’t a blender, and felt that feeling of obvious disappointment when it ended up being a blender. Young L.P. winced after a few layers of gauze had been removed – the fibrous cloth tugging at the threads and knots of exposed stitch. He stared into the mirror during the unveiling, and he tried not to blink. He had thought that maybe watching the process in its entirety would make the outcome, better, maybe.
His mother, Sheila, pulled the last piece of yellowish gauze from his face. L.P. was spellbound, but he slowly came to terms with what he saw. Sheila was worried; he was staring so hard, she thought, so she said, “honey?” When L.P. averted his gaze and met her eyes, Sheila clenched her jaw, and her eyes welled. She recognized not a loss of innocence, but an acceptance of cruelty. Maybe they’re the same thing, she’d thought. They were not the same, and that broke her.
The theater lights dimmed and then went dark. Stetson adjusted his hat one last time, grabbed both armrests and slouched into a more comfortable position within the faded red felt of his seat. A spotlight flooded the curtain, and the crowd applauded. The curtain rose, and the spotlight went black for a moment.
Bugs Bunny stood in the middle of an empty stage upon its return, shielding his eyes from the flood of the light with his left hand. With his right hand, Bugs chomped on an oversized carrot.
Stetson made a mental note that bugs looked tired. Bugs was tired. The rabbit finished his carrot and rubbed his hands together, and then he relaxed, his arms loose at his side. “Ehh, what’s up, Missoula?”
The crowd burst into applause.
“We got a hell of a show for yous guys tonight,” Bugs said. “The whole gang is here: Marvin, Foghorn, the bird and the cat. Daffy and that cowboy, Yo-se-Mite.”
Bugs scratched his head and said, “ehhh, let’s see, who else we got?”
A deep Sothern drawl boomed from backstage, “You tell that dumb fuckin’ rabbit it’s Yosemite, fer the last god dang time!”
The audience was uncertain in their collective reaction.
“Yo-se-Mite, relax,” Bugs said.
“Oooooooo, I’m gonna kill him,” the disembodied voice said again.
Bug’s turned towards stage right, “Shut up,” he said, “I’m doing the monologue.” A pair of gunshots echoed from backstage. Blam-Blam. The crowd jumped and then fell silent. Stetson shifted in his seat a bit and then leaned forward.
“Like I was saying, ehhh,” Bugs said. “We got that coyote and the rocket bird, too, and last but not least we also brought that autistic, bald, hunter fellow Elmer. So, get ready for a show,” he said, spreading open his arms in a theatrical Ta-Da, and the spotlight extinguished.
As the show was letting out, Stetson remained in his seat. He was unimpressed, well not necessarily unimpressed, he thought, confused. Stetson was struggling to grasp the differences between the performance he had just witnessed and the one that he had expected his childhood idols to perform. He was trying to bridge the chasm between the two iterations, and as he struggled with these thoughts, the theater emptied.
After fifteen minutes, Stetson stood and made his way to the main lobby. He wanted to give the Tunes a chance to settle into their post-show routine, whatever it was, before joining them in the cast’s lounge. Over the past year of interviews, Stetson had noted that a good 15 to 20 minutes should pass from the final curtain to the time he entered the actor’s lounge. This gave the actors time to pour a drink, change, smoke, or whatever. And it gave Stetson time to use the restroom, grab a drink from the bar, and digest the performance.
Stetson went to the bathroom, a standard theater quality affair – quaint, Nuevo utilitarian. At the urinal, his mind drifted, and when it drifted he thought of the incident. Standing at the porcelain depository, Stetson moved his penis in clockwise circles and figure eights thereby affecting stream trajectory around and across the red urinal cake that read, “Olé!” He thought of this one time when he couldn’t exactly remember why, but Fitz Myron had snuck up behind him in the bathroom and shoved him into the urinal. Then he imagined a boot kicking his face, and he closed his eyes as if he was capable of ridding the thought from his mind.
The school kids didn’t point or laugh at Stetson after the incident. They saw the ball cap, and they knew what it meant. They hardly acknowledged Stetson after the incident. They tried to ignore it and him.
While drying his hands, Stetson studied his reflection. He inspected his green and gold striped tie (cinched at the neck in a tight single-Windsor). After running his index finger and thumb down the length of his tie, Stetson adjusted his hat and came to the conclusion that he looked good. This was debatable as everything about his outfit was terrible – colors, patterns, and textures all clashing. He wore a light purple, almost lavender collared shirt. Around his neck and down his shirt hung the green and gold striped tie. The top of his tie touched a big silver belt buckle that said, “CRITIC,” in bold, silver lettering. The belt attached to the buckle was an odd, faded maroon, which held up a pair of light grey-blue jeans. The jeans, to short for even Stetson, exposed his sockless ankles and brilliant brown loafers.
He made his way through the lobby of the theater to the bar at the end of the east wing. As he walked, the musings of a critique began to coerce his mind into the isolated restraints of imaginative ideation. What did I just witness? He thought, approaching the bar, ordering a Manhattan, and then looking at his watch. He noted that he had ten minutes to kill, and he tried piecing together the unique act. Stetson stood in the corner of the bar between a plantar and a janitor’s closet.
After Bugs’ introduction and the spotlight returned, an upright piano was rolled out from stage right, stopping just as it passed fully into view. Then Daffy Duck, wearing in a black tuxedo, hands clasped behind his back, entered and bowed. He was wearing a monocle. He paced back and forth a few times, muttering something to himself, and then he took his seat at the piano.
Daffy raised his arms, like a small child would raise his or her arms to be picked up by mother or father, and then he yelled, ‘Just give me a reason!’ and his hands dropped to the keys. “Bwanggggg,” went the piano. ‘Just give me a sign!’” Bwanggggg… ‘A jui-cer and some limes!’ Then he played Bom-bom–bim-bim-bom—bam-bum—-be-bum. Daffy stood from the piano, bowed, and said, “Normally when I hit that last no…” but before he could finish his sentence the piano exploded.
Daffy’s limbs shot into the first few rows as if Gallagher had just sledgehammered a duck l’orange. Stetson had felt the heat from the pyro-techniques. Then there were sirens, and Sylvester and Tweety drove on stage in a vintage hearse painted like an ambulance. Dressed as EMTs, they stepped out of the car and approached the scorched spot where the piano had been – the blast point.
“Theems to me, there’th been an act of terrorithm, Tweet,” Sylverster said.
The little yellow bird and the cat began a tap routine. They sang out in unison, “I thought I thaw Al-quieda, ear-lier today, dey wired up a pia-no bomb, and blew the duck a-way.” They were a couple of natural hoofers, Stetson thought; Sammy Davis Junior came to mind, playful and energetic.
Halfway through their song and dance number they stopped and Tweety said, “Puddy, we should go to da funeral.”
The stage lights went down, and thunder cracked over the speakers, and the orchestra began playing ‘swing-low sweet chariot.’
When the lights came up, the set had been transformed to a cemetery, rain fell, and the Looney Tunes, dressed in black, stood solemnly around a casket. Those gathered split down the middle, and a giant chicken dressed as a priest stepped forward.
“I say, I say, we are gathered here today…
Foghorn paused, choking back some tears.
“We are gathered here today to pay our respects to one of our fallen brothers, fallen, but not forgotten…
Foghorn slammed his fist into the palm of his left hand. The other Tunes stood with their heads bowed in silence, their fingers interlocked behind their backs.
“The duck was a fine gentleman, do ya hear me, Lord? A fine gentleman, indeed.” He looked up at the rafters of the stage.
The Tunes nodded in agreement.
Bugs Bunny was dressed as a widow, and he began to wail. “Why?” he cried. “Whyyyyy?” Then he’d fainted into the arms of Marvin the Martian.
Foghorn continued his eulogy.
“He wasn’t a Southern Gentleman, Lord, nor a Baptist or a Lutheran… Come to think of it, he might have been a Jew or an Atheist, Lord, and if that’s the case, Lord, I would ask of you, Lord, don’t hold the latter against him, now ya’hea!’”
The rain continued to pour onto the suited shoulders of those present. Stetson had noted the quality of the set design and special effects. A truly gorgeous graveyard, engulfed with trees and a woodland backdrop, soaked in rain that fell from the rafters above the stage and made it’s way into some type of gutter system, just short of the orchestra’s pit.
“Does the duck’s religious affiliation matter? No, dammit, it doesn’t now. What matters is that he was killed in an act of terrorism, terror, I say, ‘ism. “Ism,” Lord. So Lord, I ask you to beseech and condemn those responsible for this act of terror, lord, this act of terror and our collective hatred for all of types of ‘isms. Punish them!”
The procession shouted its response, “Punish them.”
Foghorn held his arms out, his body shook.
“We ask for retribution, Lord. For justice!”
“For justice,” the procession yelled.
“We ask for the blood of our enemies to flow like the mighty river of the Ganges, or the Mississippi, Lord, I say I say, flow like one of those two rivers, Lord. Whichever river’s bigger, Lord, I do not know at the moment, but that’s besides the point…”
“Besides the point,” the procession yelled.
“Bring these poisonous perpetrators of incredulous injustice for, ahhh, for, until, we have justice, Lord, what choices will we have but to seek our own brand of justice. I say, I say, our own brand of justice.”
And the lights went down.
Stetson gulped at his Manhattan, which, he noted, was quite stiff. A pair of pleasant-looking brunettes in their mid-late thirties walked past. The lady nearest Stetson ogled him. Stetson smiled and raised his drink, feeling rather good about being ogled, and then he heard her whisper a bit too loudly to her friend something about a, “ridiculous outfit, “ and “that doughy man.” As the ladies continued making their exit, they laughed.
Stetson drank and told himself that maybe she was talking about some other doughy man in a ridiculous outfit. He looked over the room, searching for some other sad-sod who may have been at the end of the lady’s barbed remark. There was none.
Taking note of the time and realizing that he still had a few minutes before heading over to the dressing room, Stetson replayed more of the performance.
When the lights hit the stage again, the set had transformed into a mock courtroom. Marvin the Martian presided over the courtroom, as judge. Below him, stage left sat the defendant, the roadrunner.
“Time for your closing arguments, gentlemen,” Marvin said. “Prosecution first, please.”
Wiley E. Coyote, wearing a nice grey suit with a thin black tie, stood and approached the jury. The jury consisted of Bugs Bunny, who was sprawled across the empty wooden seats of the jury box like a pile of clothes strewn around the hamper in the room of a sixteen-year-old stoner.
The Coyote stood in front of Bugs and began miming his closing argument. He pointed at the roadrunner, then flapped his arms and shook his head back and forth, violently. Then he faked a heart attack, and after lying still for a moment he popped back up to his feet. Wiley ran around the stage in three large circles, stopped, again in front of Bugs Bunny’s jury, folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head. Then the Coyote returned to his seat.
Bugs looked out at the crowd and said, “Ehhh, I’ll buy it.”
“And now for the defense,” Judge Martian said.
Elmer Fudd, wearing his usual hunting garb, approached the jury. “Waydeez and gentumen of da jury. On da behalf of justice I pweed wit you to find the defendant innocent. He’s no more guilty than I am of eating this tange-a-ween.” Mr. Fudd then pulled a tangerine from his pocket, peeled and ate it. “I west my case, y’onor.”
The honorable Judge Martian slammed his gavel and asked for the jury’s decision.
Bugs hopped onto the railing of the jury box and began to pace. Scratching his head while he walked – his soft, fluffy feet silent against the oak railing of the jury box.
Stetson noted the crowd’s discomfort – they were quiet, and he noticed the shifting of shoulders and movement of heads and arms, the crowd seemed uncertain. The Tunes had been unpredictable up to this point, and so they were dangerous. When the audience has trouble following logically, they are at the mercy of the performance. Their emotions existed to be manipulated. The trick, Stetson had thought, was that they must not bewilder the audience, mustn’t confuse or confound. If they went too far, they’d lose their edge and slide into the idiotic waters of absurdity. Real and unpredictable, that was how you got them.
A shotgun fell from the rafters above the stage, and Bugs snagged it from its free fall with deadly precision. He swung around towards the witness box and fired. The bird shot ripped through the Roadrunner’s face in a flurry, and the bird’s small purple head sprayed pieces of brain and skull against the back of the witness stand – her long, thin neck swaying coup-counter-coup and then crashing down onto the front of the oaken stand. As the bird’s mangled head came to rest, a chunk of skull and rubbery grey-matter dislodged and fell to the floor of the courtroom.
Bugs yelled, “Guilty!” and then Wiley E. Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn, the honorable judge Marvin the Martian, and the rest in attendance leapt from their seats and yelled and whooped and hollered and applauded.
Stetson looked at his watch, again, and he began walking towards the cast lounge, located down the hall from the main entrance of the theater, through a side door that opened on a hallway that ran adjacent to the stage and, finally, ended at a room about thirty feet from the stage. The lounge was connected to the backstage area of the theater by a small corridor.
Standing steadfast at the entrance to the hallway was Ray, the usher.
“Hey there, L.P.,” Ray said.
“Well, what’d ya think?”
“I’m still trying to make sense of it,” L.P. said. “You?”
“A bit heavy handed, I thought,” Fred said. “I woulda liked to have seen a few more of their traditional bits.”
“Yeah.” Stetson raised his glass and gave Fred a nod, and then he made his way down the hallway.
After the courtroom verdict, there was a long scene in which Sylvester and Foghorn, dressed as high-ranking military officers, silver-starred generals, argued the pros and cons of pursuing terrorism with military force, specifically, whether or not you could ever kill enough people to kill an idea, completely. The argument rose in a crescendo. The two generals ended up in a wrestling match, which finally finished when Foghorn mounted Sylvester and strangled him. The last lines of the scene were Foghorn’s, in a grim delivery and with assured malevolence, “That’s how you kill an idea.”
The final scene of the night portrayed Yosemite Sam as the-embodiment-of-evil-type slave owner. The rest of the surviving cast were shackled, wrists and ankles, to the floor. Resting on their hands and knees, they faced the audience.
Stetson noted that at this point people began walking out of the theater.
Yosemite Sam whipped one of the Tunes every time someone got up and left, as if right on cue.
“Oh, you can’t take it?” he said.
“Too much for ya? I see.”
“When will ya learn?”
“Hurts don’t it?”
“You think I’m getting any pleasure outta tasting this par-tic-u-lar shit sandwich?”
The tunes were writhing in agony. Their faces twisted and snarled from the pain of the lashes.
“If you aint gonna learn,” Yosemite said. Crack. Crack. Crack. “Then I’m gonna have to keep teaching.”
No applause. Just mumbles and the muted shuffles of disappointed feet.
After Stetson knocked on the door to the cast’s lounge, Foghorn’s voice boomed out, “I say, whomever may be at the door, please, you are more than welcome to, ahh, come in, come in.”
Stetson did just that. He walked into a room that was filled with his childhood idols. As he shut the door behind him, he tugged down on his hat – a quick adjustment.
The room was familiar. After all, he’d been there interviewing various actors week after week for the better part of a year.
There were four couches in the center, black, leather, that sat back-to-back, two-by-two. Three of the four walls were adorned with large mirrors, like those found in barbershops or backstage at a strip club. Beneath the mirrors, countertops – white, enamel, uneventful. Tucked into the corner, to the right of the entrance sat an immaculately cared-for bar. Clean and fully stocked.
William Harrier believed that after the show, the actors should be able to unwind a bit in the spirits of the adult playground. The bar was, plainly, the nicest and well-kept thing in the room.
“Now, ahh, what’s your name?” Foghorn said, swirling a drink in his hand.
“Uhh, hi there, Mr. Leghorn. It’s a real…”
“I asked for your name, boy. Your name!” Foghorn said, turning to Sylvester who was sprawled out on the leather couch nearest the door. “The boy don’t know how to answer a simple question,” Foghorn said, thumbing towards Stetson.
Sylvester waived him off. He was holding an icepack against his forehead.
“L.P. Stetson, Mr….”
“Your full name, Boy, gimme your full name,” Foghorn said. “I have no need nor desire for abbreviated introductions.”
“Umm, Latimer Parnassus Stetson, Mr. Leghorn.”
“Okay, well nice to meet ya, Latimer Parnassus Stetson. My name is Foghorn Dillenger Rockafeller Boone Leghorn, but you can call me Foghorn.”
“You can call me Stetson.”
“Okay, Stetson,” Foghorn said. “What can I do for ya?”
“I’m the theater…”
“He’s the theater critic you dumb fuckin’ chicken,” Bugs said. His interruption garnered a shot of disgust from Foghorn. Bugs lowered his head onto the enamel countertop and sniffed at a line of white powder through a twenty-dollar bill.
Foghorn whipped around.
“Now wait just a minute there, bunny,” Foghorn said, his enormous frame towering over the seated rabbit. “How about you keep from jawing and sit there like the disgraceful, I say, disgraceful fucking junkie that you are.”
Bugs slapped the countertop and bounced onto his feet, standing on the vanity’s chair. He swiveled his hips and swung the chair around, standing, now, at an equal height to Foghorn.
Stetson took a seat next to the bar in the corner of the room and casually added a bit of whiskey to the melted remnants of his Manhattan. Stetson noted that the tension that he’d felt during the performance had failed to dissipate after the show.
“Oh, I see how it is,” Foghorn said.
“Ya, do ya?” Bugs said.
“You think ‘cause you can look me in the eye now that you’re tough?”
“Tough,” Bugs said.
“Either that or that damn powder got your furry memory a bit shook from the last time I beat you, huh?” Foghorn said. “Beat him bad, too, ain’t that right, boy?”
Bugs grabbed Foghorn behind the ears and planted a comical kiss on the rooster’s beak. After the kiss, the bunny pulled away and slapped Foghorn.
“Damnit,” Foghorn yelled. “You silly faggot.” He wound up and threw a series of punches at Bugs, but Bugs dodged them with ease, slickly, like Archie Moore in his prime.
Tweety and Marvin the Martian poked their heads up from the couch that backed up to where Sylvester lay. In the reflection of the far wall’s mirror, Stetson saw that the pair were reading magazines and sharing a glass of white wine. They were a bit removed from the escalating situation.
“Would you two knock it off,” Tweety said. “Can’t we have just one night where you two don’t get under each other’s skin?”
Bugs bounced off his chair and onto the counter and walked over to Daffy Duck, two seats along along the mirrored wall.
“Well,” Foghorn said, “I’m tryna act civil, ya know, gentlemanly like.” He pointed at Bugs, “but that damn…”
“There’th nothing thivil about calling him a faggot,” Sylvester said.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Foghorn said. “Look at this, I say, look at this turncoat son-of-a-bitch! Siding with the drugged-up hippie.”
Daffy, who looked far more exhausted than the rest of the Tunes, lifted his head off the counter. Stetson had assumed that Daffy had been napping.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical for a lush like yourself, Foggy, to call names and point fingers?” Daffy said.
“So I’m the villain here?” Foghorn said. “We have transcended rhyme and, rhyme and reason here,” shaking his head, “You cannot possibly compare a dirty drug like cocaine to a cocktail, one of life’s simplest pleasures. Sam, Sam, help me out heah!”
Yosemite had been tossing playing cards into a hat on the floor. He and Fudd took turns. They sat to Stetson’s right, two chairs down, and until now had been minding their own business.
“I’d say ol’ Foggy has a point,” Yosemite said. “Not all vices are creee-ated equal.”
Stetson sipped his drink. He couldn’t believe what he was witnessing, what was unfolding. He thought about his potential opener for the paper… “The only people that may hate the Looney Tunes more than the crowd in attendance for Saturday night’s performance, a particularly dark and nonsensical show, may be the Tunes themselves…”
“Thank you, Sam,” Foghorn said. “A voice of reason in…”
“Would you shut the fuck up already,” Daffy said, the duck, apparently, at his limit. “I’m tired of that gaping hole you call a mouth.”
Bugs stood, and he grabbed a pair of scissors from the make-up kit that lay open on the countertop. Stetson noted that Bugs looked wild, on a cusp of some-sort.
“Oh no,” Foghorn said, holding his hands up, feigning fear. “The bunny wants to get real.” He started laughing. “You gonna find out how real, real gets,” Foghorn said, putting his fists up.
Wiley E. Coyote jumped up from the couch and, stepping into Bugs’ path, tentatively restrained the rabbit.
“Wiley, don’t’ get involved,” Roadrunner pleaded. Her concern seemed marital, was marital, Stetson thought.
Wiley shot her a look, and she stopped honking. The Coyote held onto Bugs’ wrists, pleading a bit with the rabbit to halt his aggression.
Foghorn laughed. Stetson drank, nervously.
“If yah can’t, ahhh, manage the Co-yote’s muscles, bunny, you must be, I say, what hope can you possibly have against these?” He bobbed up and down, and threw a couple of quick punches. The giant rooster was shadowboxing.
“I shouldn’t even acknowledge your scummy presence, you low-life, you insignificant two-bit, I say, two-bit junkie,” Foghorn said. “You ain’t nothing but common trash. Your mother thumped her way through all the dick and jizz west of the Mississippi before you popped out….”
Bugs lowered his head and began butting it into the Coyote’s chest, his advances juiced by an imaginary needle of adrenaline.
“And then,” Foghorn continued, “And then she discarded you, bunny, because, and trust me, I say, trust me on this one,” bringing his hand to his chest in sworn testimony, “Because you are of no value, intrinsically, bunny. A thing to be discarded, over and over, again and again. Trash.”
Bugs twisted his hands and then snapped them free from the clutches of the Coyote. He shoved Wiley E. into the side of the nearest couch, took three quick steps towards Foghorn, slipped to the inside of the rooster’s haymaker, and stabbed Foghorn in the thigh with the pair of scissors.
“Owwwwwweeeeeee!” Foghorn yelled. He grabbed the bunny’s neck and began peppering his face with a series of short, stiff blows. A gash appeared. Blood began flowing out of the gash. Bugs’ head snapped back, and his grey fur turned crimson.
Daffy stood, yelling, “That’s enuff!” He joined in the melee, climbing onto Foghorn’s back and bopping him over the head (bop-bop-bop). The bops did no damage, but they served to distract Foghorn enough that he released his grip on the rabbit’s neck.
The others sat and watched, Stetson assumed that their mild interest in the altercation could be due to frequency – the broken record of familial altercation (thanksgiving dinner twice a week, every week, for fifty years).
Bugs and Daffy wrestled Foghorn to the ground. Punches flew, arms and legs flailed, and the fight began resembling a dust devil of limbs. Tumbleweed peppered with protruding extremities. The ball moved closer to Stetson, and as it approached he scooted his seat away from the action. Stetson was backed up against the bar now. The fight moved closer yet again, and so Stetson stood and squeezed his body against the bar stocked with bottle after bottle of Gin, Whiskey, Vodka, etc., etc.
An errant limb shot out of the cartoon ball and struck Stetson in the face. He wobbled and turned his head in hopes that he’d be able to disappear into the bar.
A rabbit’s foot struck him. A solid shot this time, and he fell back into the bar. Bottles broke. Bottles crashed. Stetson’s legs went limp. His hat fell from his head.
Sylvester, Elmer, Marvin, Yosemite, Tweety, Roadrunner, and Wiley E. Coyote gasped, as the contents of the bar seemed to explode into the corner of the lounge.
Stetson’s eyes burned from the liquor that ran down his face, surprise and shock jolted his spine.
Foghorn lay on the ground two feet from Stetson, his mouth wide open in awe.
“I’d ask you if you were okay, there, boy,” Foghorn said, “But it appears that you, that during the altercation there, that your head magically grew a vagina. Spontaneous Labi-uption!”
Sylvester started to snicker.
Stetson, still a bit dazed from the blow, didn’t understand the reference until he felt his face, at the behest of Foghorn’s pointing, and he felt his scar. Slightly drunk, dazed, Stetson reached for his hat that lay on the ground a few feet away.
“Now waaaiiiiiit jus’ a second there,” Yosemite said, grabbing the hat from the floor and tossing it across the room to Sylvester. “Maybe we should call a doctor in to examine your parasitic face-intestine.”
Stetson felt small.
“What in Sam hell is that thing anyways?” Yosemite said, leaning in for a closer look.
Bugs stood up and walked over to his post at the mirror, pulled a duffel bag from underneath the counter, and he started rummaging through a collection of costumes.
“Please,” Stetson said, “Can I have…” he swallowed and his mouth and throat felt parched, his mouth tasted of bile, “…my hat,” he finished. As he moved his hands over his scar, trying to cover it, Yosemite grabbed his arm and pulled it away.
“Don’t stop the show jus’ yet,” Yosemite said, “We gonna git a doctor in here to answ-ah a few questions!”
“What?” Stetson said.
“I wanna know if I can fuck it?” Yosemite said.
“I want to know if after I fuck it, will it ecsptchth me to call it in the morning?” Daffy said, his hand on his chin, staring in wonderment.
Foghorn and Daffy stood – their wrestling match now officially over.
“I, I just would like…” Stetson said. He looked at the Tunes towering over him – deviant smiles waxed and waned on their faces, their eyes trained on the weakling before them.
“Is it considered a homosexual act, I say, now, if you fuck a man’s face-vagina? Does that make you queer?” Foghorn said.
“Only if you enjoy it,” Marvin the Martian said, stepping into the semi-circle hovering around Stetson.
Bugs walked into the group wearing a doctor’s coat, a stethoscope hung around his neck.
“Now, ehhh, what seems to be the problem, doc?” Bugs said, plugging the stethoscope’s buds into his ears, and then pressing the drum onto Stetson’s scar.
“Never mind,” Bugs said. “I see it now.”
Stetson’s eyes began to well.
“Yep. Your face-pussy is healthy,” Bugs said.
“Can I fuck it, Doc?” Yosemite said.
Bugs nodded. The Tunes were all laughing now.
“It looks like the rebel leader from Total Recall,” Sylvester said.
“Quaaaaaaaaaid,” Foghorn said, howling out the classic line from the sometimes coveted and often forgotten Schwarzenegger classic. He brought his arms tight to his sides, his fingers creeping out like the tentacles of an alien who was also an accomplished dancer of interpretive jazz.
“Quaaaaaiiiiiid,” Foghorn yelled, again.
Yosemite dropped his pants and approached Stetson.
“No” Stetson muttered. “Please… stop.”
“Quaiiiiiid,” the Tunes all yelled, their laughter a collective howl.
“Hold still now,” Yosemite said, and the tiny, old Southerner, naked from the waist down, hopped onto Stetson’s head, his penis resting comfortably in the middle of Stetson’s scar.
The Tunes fell to the ground, rolling with laughter.
Stetson began weeping, yet he remained quite still, almost disregarding the small, naked man thrusting atop his head. Stetson sobbed. Yosemite continued humping the plump scar, pointing at the other Tunes and flexing his biceps while laughing.
Stetson began to shake a bit, and then he was bawling.
The laughter started to subside.
The Tunes stopped laughing altogether now, and then they regarded each other. Stetson rested in shambles, his hands over his eyes; drool seeped from his open mouth – he existed, at that moment, in another place and time.
The room fell quiet, only Stetson’s sobs were heard.
Finally, Bugs broke the silence. “Hey, ehhh,” Bugs said, tapping Stetson’s knee. “We didn’t mean nothing by it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sylvester said. “Just horthing around.”
“Buck up, boy,” Foghorn said.
Yosemite finished buckling his pants and apologized. “I just got caught up in the moment is all,” he said. “Didn’t mean nothing by it.” Sylvester handed Yosemite the hat, and he placed it on Stetson’s head. The grown man stopped crying.
The Tunes continued to apologize effusively until Stetson had left, and then they turned their attention back to one another – the ribbing, the jokes, the insults.
Stetson exited the theater and stepped into the cool, dark summer evening. He passed through the parking lot, crossed main-street, walked two more blocks and turned left. Stepping carefully as his feet passed over cracks in the sidewalk, he made his way home under the soft glow of weak, flickering streetlamps of a bygone era.
Two days later, William Harrier’s newspaper ran Stetson’s article on the front page of the Missoulian, above the fold. The article started, “When I attended the fifth grade, at FDR Elementary, I was terrorized daily by a boy named Frankie Myron…” The article never mentioned the theater, the performance, or the Looney Tunes. People paid attention to Stetson after that, and, much to his surprise, their intrigue had absolutely nothing to do with the hat that he’d always worn.