Sunday, November 16, 2014

Today I was humming to myself, doing some mindless chore, when I realized that the song I was humming was "Undun" by the Guess Who. Before I could stop myself, to my utter incredulity and horror I began to sing the lyrics of the song to myself. I didn't much like the song in 1969, and I quickly found that I don't much care for it now either, but for some reason I remembered the lyrics, at least to the first couple verses and the chorus. Gaah! Why did I remember those lyrics, when I can barely remember the names of people I run into regularly? The scene in my brain must have been something like this:

It is lunchtime in the Hulles Brain, and a bunch of twenty-something brain cells are sitting at a table in the Neural Cafeteria with their meal trays.

Ralph: Pretty slow day here. How's yours going, Ed?

Ed: Oh, the usual. Once in the morning, once after He... (glances at Trixie, who glares at him) ...went to the bathroom. Nothing very exciting. Hey, have you seen George and Gracie around lately? George owes me money.

[Uncomfortable silence at the table]

Ralph: Well, good luck with that. George and Gracie were killed last weekend when He had a "couple of scotches". Like four is a "couple". Anyway, it took out most of Accounting. Doris here was lucky to escape with her life, though she was injured some.

Ed: Wow, I'm really sorry to hear that. I'm glad you made it through though, Doris.

Doris, brightly: Five!

[Another uncomfortable silence.]

Trixie: Hey, who's the old dude in the lunch line? I don't recall seeing him before. Is he new to this shift?

Ralph: Nah, he works over in the Arts. I think he just brings his lunch and eats at his desk most days. I'm not sure why he's in here today.

Trixie: How old do you think he is, anyway? He looks like he's about 80 years old. I didn't know we brain cells lived that long.

Ed, grumbling sotto voce: Most don't, thanks to His "couple of scotches".

Alice: Well, I shouldn't say since I'm not supposed to talk about department files, but he's 57. He just has a lot of miles on him, is all. (Lowers her voice.) He is one of the few survivors left from the Great Mescaline Brain Cell Massacre of 1971, but you didn't hear that from me.

All: Gasp!

Alice: Shush, he's coming this way.

[Burt shuffles over to their table.]

Burt, glumly: Hi. Mind if I join you? I'm Burt.

Ralph: Go ahead, sit down. That's Ed there, he works in Maintenance, he remembers how belt buckles work.

Ed: Howdy!

Ralph: This is Trixie, who works in Science. Her job is to remember the chemical formula for ethanol.

Trixie: Hi, Burt. C2H5OH, if you were wondering. Everyone always asks, then immediately talks about something else. But hey, it's a job.

Ralph: And this is Doris; she works in Accounting. She remem--

Doris, chirpily: Five!

Ralph: --bers what two plus three is.

Doris, happily: Five!

Ralph: Thank you, Doris. Alice here works in Personnel, and remembers the name of that creepy guy who comes into the bar and likes to touch He Who Must Not Be Named while he's talking to him.

Burt: Lord Voldemort drinks in a bar?

Alice: No, idiot, He whose brain we're in. We can't say His name during breaks because it sparks a memory and then we need to do our jobs. Jesus, didn't you read the Employee Handbook?

Burt, glumly: Whatever...

Ralph: My name's Ralph. I work in Reproduction and Making Out. My job is to remember what an episiotomy is.

Burt: What's an episiotomy?

[Ralph leans over and whispers to Burt. The girls look away uncomfortably, except Doris, who is busy smiling at her Jello.]

Burt: Jesus! Are you serious? They really do that? But how is that in your department?

Ralph: Well, He Who Etc. likes to trot me out when He's hitting on an OB/GYN nurse or a Nurse/Midwife. It happens more than you might expect. He thinks it might impress them.

Burt: Does it work?

: Ask Ed.

Ed: Har! I haven't been urgently needed by Ralph's department in, well, let's just say it's been a long time. Which is fine, I like it quiet. The pay's the same.

Ralph: So what do you do, Burt?

Burt, uncomfortably: I work in the Music Department.

Ralph: Really? Great! So what's your job then?

Burt: (mumbles)

Ralph: Pardon me? I didn't catch that.

Burt, looking down at his tray: I said, I remember what the second line is of the lyrics to "Undun" by the Guess Who.

Ralph: Sorry, I don't know the answer.

Ed: Me neither.

Alice: I give up too.

Doris, blissfully: Five!

Burt, tiredly: The Guess Who is the name of the band. They were a Canadian pop band of the sixties.

Ralph: Ah, got it. Um, so, do you get a lot of work then, Burt? Is it still a popular song?

Burt: Look, the song sucks. You heard it every fifteen minutes on the radio back in 1969, but He Who Whatever hasn't had to recall the lyrics for it in 45 years, thank God. Which suits me just fine. I hate this job. Sometimes I wish I was a cuticle cell.

[Burt's cell phone then goes off, loudly. The ring tone is, of course, "Undun" by the Guess Who.]

[The entire cafeteria stops talking and everyone looks at Burt, who stands up in alarm.]

Burt: Holy shit! It's the Central Cortex! He's started singing the song to Himself! What do I do? How do I work this thing? Oh my God, I'm so fired!

Ralph: Get hold of yourself, man! Take a deep breath, and when the phone rings you just answer it and say the line that you remember.

Burt: But what if I screw it up? It's been 45 years!

Alice: Come on, Burt, you can do it.

Trixie: Go Burt!

Ed, grumbling sotto voce: Jesus, it's not like an urgent request for belt buckling...

Doris, cheerfully: Five!

[The phone rings. The entire Neural Cafeteria watches Burt with bated breath.]

Burt, flipping open his cell phone: She didn't know what she was headed for...

[He flips his phone closed and pumps his fist.]

Burt: Yes! I nailed it! I did it!

[The cafeteria breaks into spontaneous applause. Burt grins sheepishly and sits down.]

Doris, burbling: Five!

[The ruckus dies down, and Burt smiles.]

Burt: Well, that wasn't so bad. Maybe this job isn't so horrible after all. And you know what? My line isn't so terrible either. It's a little unclear who 'she' is, but who cares, right? Besides, [leans over the table and whispers and points to an older woman sitting by herself at a small table by the window], "Undun" is actually the B-side of "Laughing", an even worse song by the Guess Who. That woman over there has to remember the part of the chorus to that song that goes Laughing, ha ha ha ha ha ha. So it could be worse. A lot worse.

Trixie: I know, right?

Ed: Jeez, really?

Alice: What's a B-side?

Doris, gleefully: Five!

- Hulles