Festival Of Fools

    The metal was hot on the blinds as Stompus closed them to block out the everlasting sun. Scorching his fingers was far from the best way to begin the day and he was giving vent to this understatement.
    "It's hotter than hell!  Not just as hot, much hotter!”, he 
exclaimed.  He was yelling and doing what he'd always done so well, stomping his feet to add emphasis to his words; thus his nickname.  He was fuming and stomping, and fuming, and stomping, and stomping some more; working it up good.

    "I've told them over and over and over again," he exclaimed to the empty room.  "All the arrangements must be made at least six weeks in advance.  Here it is -- five weeks to go and loose ends are bouncing around like chicken feathers in the wind.  Why is it my lot to be continually surrounded by laziness and 

stupidity?"

    The more he moved, the more he stomped.  The more he stomped, the madder he got.  He was excellent at this routine.

    Movement in the periphery caused his head to jerk, and interrupted his fit, so he had more mad to pile on his original mad.  

    The shadow gracing the doorway appeared to be frozen there and definitely mute.  He shouted to it, "Hesitancy is heinous!  Lack of commitment!  There's no hesitancy in a good entrance! It's cowardice!  Any fool can make a proper entrance!  Are you a coward, or a fool, or some cockeyed blend?" he thundered. "Of course, if you're a fool that's understandable given the time of year."

    "Uh . . .", said the shadow.

    "Good grief!  It's even worse if you can't master your own tongue!  Speak up!  Of course, the heat coulda gotcha but you'd still be a wimp, just a heat-crazed one.  No good, no good at all!”

    "Uh . . ."

    "GET OUT!  GET OUT!  GET OUT!  You’ve not come in, so GET OOOUUUTTT!!!”

    The door creaked.  A thin corona trespassed, more fully defining the image in the doorway.

    A soft voice intoned, "Well . . . "

    “Gad!”, Stompus thought to himself, “On top of everything else, a woman.”

    "Uh . . . may I speak to you?"

    "You're speaking aren't you?"

    "Uh . . ."

    "I take it back!  You're not speaking.  You're dribbling.  You're a poor wretch who can't get up the courage to speak!  So, you dribble.  Pathetic!"

    Softly, "I can speak if you'd just stop hollering."

    "Hollering!  Hollering!  Why . . . Why, this isn't hollering.  If you want hollering, I'll show you the difference

between hollering, this display, and my higher talents.  Why, I. . ."

    "Sorry . . ."

    "Who the hell are you?  Can't you have the common decency to go away?  Must I push you through the door?"

    "I came to ask you about the festival, the parade, and how one could . . ."

    "You came to ask!  Then ask!  Otherwise, do, pleeeeeezzze, let the door strike your butt on your way out."    

    "Now see here . . ."

    "See?  Hear?  I assure you, neither applies to this needless circumstance!"

    "I've come a long way."

    "Well, then, you'd better get started.  The road of return won't be any shorter than the road of arrival.  Go, go, GO!!!"

    "Zak sent me."

    "Well, well, that's supposed to excite me?  Good 'ol Zak.  Everyone knows he's many logs short of a cabin.  I wouldn't think much of Zak, if I were you; and, I'm not and very glad of it.  He hasn't been able to rub two thoughts together for a long time.”

    “I wish to inquire about participating in the proceedings;  the festival, the parade, and all."

    "What did Zak tell you?"

    "He said I had to be on the list."

    "The list, huh?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, why the hell didn't you say so in the first place?  Are you on the list?"

    “No.  I. . . .”

    “Must I be eternally enveloped by nitwits?  You have to be sponsored to be on the list."

    "I have a sponsor."

    "Well, now, you have a sponsor.  Sure you do!  Well, dammit, woman, does this person dwell in secrecy? Or, can you bring forth the collection of syllables that form the name?"

    "Zak."

    "Oh, God!"

    "Zak said you'd tell me how I may participate in the parade and the festival."

    "Oh, he did?  To hell with Zak!  He knows that's not my job.  I may be the King of Fools, but I'm nobody's fool!  He's ducking his responsibilities.  Some great surprise that is!” 

    "As I understand it, there are nine categories of which one who is properly sponsored must be proficient in at least two."

    "Well, unlike any exhibit so far, you may have a tiny glimmer of understanding sparking in that loaf of bread you call your brain."

    "I . . ."

    "Okay, maybe I was a little too complimentary.  Maybe it's not your brain, just your eye."

    "What?"

    "Good god, woman!  There's JESTER, ENTERTAINER, SATIRIST, DUNCE, PARODIST, ACTOR, CONNIVER, REPARTIST, and OUTLANDER. Which do you claim?"

    "Actor, repartist, conniver."

    "Actor, huh?  Connivers are everywhere.  We don't have an abundance of actors; and, only one REAL Repartist to whom, if you're not too dim to realize it, you are speaking."

    "Yes."

    "Are your credentials engrossing?"

    "I think so."

    "I hope you're not deluded that your thinking makes it so."

    "Ah . . ."

    "Some say, unlike D. H. of course, that an actor is the world's number one fool."

    "Who's D. H.?"

    "Oh, no!  We're not going to go in circles here!"

    Sighing, she thrust forth a handful of papers.

    "You got vids?"

    "Excuse me?"

    "No."

    "What?"

    "Did you bring videos?"

    With a clatter and outstretched arm, “Here.”  And away she went.

    Jabbing buttons on his phone, listening, then drumming his fingers on the desk, Stompus barked, "About time you decided to pick up the phone!"

    "Uh, huh."

    "Dammit, Zak!  The Six has passed since it’s obvious we are down to five weeks before everything commences, and you know the rule is six, yet you send me another one."

    "Yeah."

    "Hell, man, who is this Hazel Dunston?"

    "Dunno."

    "Must you be monosyllabic?"

    "What?"

    "Twisted lizard lips, you idiot, you sent her!"

    "She just walked in off the street."

    "Well, you're a font of knowledge!"

    Stompus slammed the receiver down, started to pace, stopped himself, sat down, and dropped his feet on the middle of the desk.

    Squeeeeeeeeeeeek, squeeeeeeeeeeek.

    Stompus glanced at the door.  On closer inspection he discerned a familiar shadow.  It was she. 

    "Well, you just gonna stand there like a toadstool?"

    She approached him slowly, asking, "Have you decided?"

    "Yep, it appears all's in order.  Fill out this entry form and be gone."

    Upon her exit, Stompus sat down to dwell on her.  His thoughts ranged from the fact that she was not half-bad to look at, and, for a woman, she did have a certain amount of courage.  Most women, backed out the door much faster than they'd entered.


                                                   ************************************


    The day of the parade dawned muggy and stayed that way –  like airspace over the world's biggest swamp.  The sun showed no mercy.

    "Great!  A day of hot tempers, running makeup, complaints, dripping hair, and the ever-present excuse for everything:  “But it's so hot”, he mimicked in falsetto.  It'll be enough to drive me totally buggy and in record time!"

    "Yep," said Zak.

    "And, on top of all that, I have to put up with you!"

    The parade seemed longer and longer each year and Stompus tired of it sooner and sooner.  This time, with an even higher temperature than usual, it seemed interminable.  The costumes had gotten better, however.  They dazzled the eye with a high level of creativity.

    “Very few gimcracks and geegaws in this year’s bunch,” he thought.  Hazel Dunston’s get-up was especially elegant.  

    “Damn”, he murmured, “can’t let that woman into my head.”

    Finally, the committee of judges of which Stompus was a part, as the King Of Fools, were set to award the costume prizes.  He and the other judges took their time in examining each with many awards given and received with much excitement.

    Quite a number of activities ranged over the week of the festival with the Creative Presentations being the biggest draw.  They were offered in the order decreed by Kings of long ago:  Jester, Entertainer, Satirist, Dunce, Parodist, Actor, Conniver, Repartist, and Outlander.  The winners of each category were lauded with many awards and prizes.  Stompus and his committee of determiners would view the arena of talent with great enjoyment.

    Perhaps the most enthralling presentation was the jousting of the satirists.  Such precise verbiage, such stings, such wit!  The clowning of the dunces was somewhat predictable, but overall refreshing.  The actors outdid themselves in skit after skit with Ms. Dunston definitely shining among the brightest.  There was something familiar about her even though he knew he’d not met her before.

    Zak presented his traditionally over-zealous portrayal of D. H.  Stompus thought Zak did so just to irritate him.  "He certainly had never exhibited the class and aptitude of D. H. who had the great abilities to be minimalist or maximalist, whichever each role required.

    The Connivers prevailed with a sterling collection of enticing tricks.  Hazel Dunston received first place in this category with Zak coming in a close second.  "He ought to stick to conniving and give up acting," Stompus grumbled.  

    In the clash of the Repartists, all who went up against the King soon fell to the wayside.  Stompus had great pride in once more claiming the First Prize.
    The last night of the Festival was celebrated at the Masquerade Ball.  Masks were worn throughout the evening and were not allowed to be removed until midnight.  If you guessed who someone was, you kept it to yourself.  Stompus had no trouble picking out Zak, due to his unique, wobbly walk.  He was aggravated that Zak had the nerve to appear at the ball as D. H.  

    "What egomaniacal gall!" Stompus griped softly.  

    He looked around for a costume and mask that would most likely suit Ms. Dunston.  Not knowing whether she had come as a man or a woman hampered his efforts; and, it was possible that she was not in attendance at all.  Every year some guests were not able to stay long enough to be a part of the ball. 

    There were more women present than ever before.  Of course, some were women and some were "women".

    Stompus had graced the dance floor with a number of women, and probably some "women", wishing to divine one to be Ms. Dunston.  He found it embarrassing to think that he'd most likely danced with men. The “women” were good at hiding their gender.  Such was taken very lightly by all.

    Nearing midnight, the mood was of anticipation of the high point of the evening – the unmasking.  The clock struck the appointed hour as Stompus moved to the podium to speak, voicing thanks to all for coming and inviting everyone to attend the festival the following year.

    The mass unveiling was not done in a haphazard fashion; rather, the men fell into one line and the combination of women, and "women" into another.  The lines would alternate, one person at a time, with the men's line going first.  Each would step up, most with a flourish of some sort or a brief slight of hand, 

revealing his or her identity in turn.  A hush would fall over the crowd as each one’s turn came.  It was all very exciting. 

    All disclosures brought 'oohs', 'ahhs', laughter, and a collection of exclamations of surprise.  Every man, woman, and "woman" would doff their masks in their own way -- all drawing the procedure out dramatically.  It was great fun!  

    As always, when there was only one man and one woman or “woman” left to show himself, or herself, the room became stone quiet.  It was well known that the last two masqueraders would take extra time to tease, to bring about as much excitement as possible.

    When the last one masked -- the lone man, woman, or "woman" -- took a preliminary bow the silence was deafening; the hush of the crowd dramatic.

    The last masked one of this season was a female figure who began to perform by drawing an extremely long scarf from the costume's neck.  Next, she did a little jig and wriggled out of her skirt, revealing pants. Then she exhibited ballet movements as well as a short tap dance while removing her mask.  

    Gasps and applause greeted her as she was recognized.  It was Hazel Dunston.

    As the crowd started to move a little, Hazel spoke.

    "Just a moment, if you please, I wish to share something with all of you.”

    The guests quieted once more.

    She spoke in rhyme: 

    "I have many tricks, 

            though you have yet to see.

                 I can provide quite a mix

                              of gleeful variety.

    Maybe I'll change shape or

         fly high and then higher,

            but no matter how many feats,

               I've proven I'M AN

                     EXCELLENT CONNIVER.


    The last of these words were spoken in a deep voice as she ripped off the hair and mask of Hazel Dunston.  The crowd was stunned!  Stompus felt faint.

    Standing before them, was D. H. --- Dustin Hoffman.