issue nine

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(5850 words)
J.C. Frampton
La Banana Grande
de La Estancia Celeste
[Updated monthly on the full moon]
 
       The largest banana on record was kept a secret for years by the transnational growers consortium in the small Latin American country where it had been harvested. It was feared there was something repellent about a banana approximately two feet long. While there was justifiable pride at the modest independent plantation where this banana was grown - it prided itself on especially good husbandry of the crop, on organic production,  judicious use of natural fertilizers and socially conscious employee practices - the board of governors of the consortium, chiefly non-nationals from the big vertically organized global corporations, believed the large banana to be more a freak than merely a superb, if outsized, example of this internationally popular fruit. Influenced by in-house marketing departments and focus groups conducted by their New York advertising agency, they believed that seeing a two-foot-long banana or even a photograph - say held by a smiling boy typically harvesting the crop - would lead the public to expect more bananas of this sort. With time, normal-sized, under-a-foot bananas would no longer suffice to impress developed-nation consumers, already somewhat dismayed by bananas appearing in supermarkets while still green. Smaller bananas would be seen as inadequate. It was also feared that growers might be forced into a ruthless competition, vying with multiplied efforts, with enhanced agrochemicals and pesticides further despoiling the ravaged coastal soils and ecosystems, to equal or even surpass the two-foot banana. To what end? Some even believed that a two-foot banana would prove inferior in taste, firmness and nutritive quality as a result of "having it stretched out," an imperfect translation from the Latin American colloquial phrase.

The actual two-foot banana was never peeled or tested in any way. After its amazing discovery at normal (pre-ripe) harvest time, it was allowed to remain on the tree with its entire stalk until mature, thereby adding several more centimeters to its length. Knowledgeable field workers were formally sworn to secrecy and there was no publicity while the consortium board considered the next step. Following its plucking by an eminent botanist from its bunch, known as a "hand" in the industry, it was then kept frozen, still wholly unflecked. For a short time it resided in a glass-topped display case in the inner office of the plantation chief executive's office, where only industry peers were allowed to observe the marvel. Naturally, all photography was strictly forbidden. It had been extending its grandiose proportions from a stalk of reasonably sized Musa sapientum bananas of the highest quality designation, large but not extravagantly so, on the plantation of Compañía Estancia Celeste LLC.

Proudly announcing this prodigy, and thus promoting large size in banana production, would prove a Faustian bargain, consortium leaders ultimately resolved. Other quality considerations would necessarily be sacrificed in favor of sheer size, first by growers themselves and later, succumbing to public pressure, by the standards codex commission of the United Nations. Eventually a two-and-a-half-foot banana would be produced and great national pride would well up, only to be deflated in an immediate search for a three-foot banana. What consumers, after all, beyond carnival promoters, would be interested in a three-foot-long banana, larger than the most sumptuous baguette, too large for normal supermarket paper bags, not to mention the now ubiquitous plastic bags. Such an unproductive "length race" would needlessly squander the limited resources of the plantations, whether those transnationally owned and operated or the emerging locally managed plantations (normally leasing land from and thus beholden to the several big companies). As consumption plunged, profits fell, and independent plantations went bankrupt, it would prove to be the biggest disaster for the industry since the devastating arrival in the 1930s of Panama root fungus.

The recently elected Presidente, widely supported by the consortium, finally ordered a total veil of secrecy in a non-public proclamation.

Thus this wondrous banana, which extensive research had shown was truly the largest in history by a great margin, the Yao Ming of bananas, now virtually forgotten even by the once astonished field workers, was consigned for years to a locked freezer chest in the basement of the national museum, along with several more dubious treasures, including the brain of the country's greatest chess master and a human ear six inches in length. Behind the banana in the chest was an artfully wrought bronze sign originally intended for prominent display along with the banana in the museum. The sign was produced by the man who had personally plucked the banana, the country's foremost agricultural botanist, Dr. Juan B. Figueroa Leal, not incidentally a long-standing consultant to the banana's grower. It read simply: "La Banana Grande de La Estancia Celeste - Mas Largo en El Mundo." It had been bandied in the back corridors of the museum that, while it was encouraged by the natural-sciences curator, who strongly supported public display, only Dr. Figueroa's great modesty had prevented him from placing his name on the sign as the plantation's agricultural adviser. Meanwhile nationally produced bananas had been growing larger, averaging perhaps a tenth of a centimeter longer every year, even with increasing environmental sensitivity. But so far none had come even remotely close to two feet. The record was in no danger.

With daily effort and prayer, Dr. Figueroa, a mild and discreet man, was able to suppress his anger at the position of the consortium and El Presidente. Yet his diary was filled with tens of thousands of words of dismay, chagrin and self-loathing at his connivance in the presidential decision and his failure to confront the issue publicly, though this surely would result in imprisonment or worse.

Dr. Figueroa lived with his mother, a former president's daughter of great panache, in a small but luxurious villa overlooking the sea. A full five years following the presidential dictum, she first learned of the tremendous banana and Dr. Figueroa's long-suppressed viewpoint when she went on a retreat to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe with the wife of the plantation chief. She soon afterward began taking her only son to task.

"This supreme achievement of the nation's botanical sciences - you are going to allow it to wither away in a hidden chamber? You must seize your staff as a leading agriculturist of Latin America, preeminent in our country, and let your voice be heard throughout the land. Your father would want it."

Dr. Figueroa saw himself as a man of science, not a man of action. But his mother was a person whose wishes he did not easily oppose. He sought and readily obtained an audience with the national leader, a suave former general whose chief sadness, it was said, was having now to wear a business suit to work.

"With your position and influence in our country, with your inherited wisdom, Señor Doctor, you must naturally recoil from the consequences of opposing your party and its humble minister," the seated Presidente said, while Dr. Figueroa remained standing near the office door. "There are matters of state involved in this decision that, regrettably, have no relevance in the world of botany. A banana is a banana, no more no less. Collectively, it is the lifeblood of this sad and unfortunate nation. In the game of politics, economics trumps science and art. It is cause for a deep sigh."

"Do not national honor and achievement have an equal role with economics?" the botanist asked with barely controlled ardor. "The magnificence of this banana must be recognized worldwide. It is a towering beacon for our land that mastery of agricultural science is rewarded by supreme achievement, that all of our difficulties and miseries may some day be alleviated, indeed eliminated, by the resourceful application of intelligence, energy and determination."

"You do not speak as a man of the world, my friend. We will leave national honor up to our soccer players."

"I fail to see, Your Eminence, how proclaiming the world's grandest piece of fruit will have anything beyond a positive economic effect."

"We must rely on the men of business to advise us in such matters." El Presidente, a bulky, endomorphic man, rose on his ornately tooled Texas-made cowboy boots. "Please give my best to your elegant and magisterial mother. She does not know, my compatriot, but I once greatly admired her, in a young man's fashion. But your father, shall we say, was more dashing."

Dr. Figueroa's father, a reformist, had received a twenty-year sentence for treason during the administration of El Presidente's uncle and died in prison.

Brooding came naturally to Dr. Figueroa, whose retreat from public appearances had lasted three years in his early thirties when the stunning Doña María Alicia Lozano, grand niece of the current Presidente, had at stringent parental behest declined his proposal of marriage. Now in his mid-forties he remained a committed bachelor, thinking, some believed, to spite all women for his painful rejection. Following this latest refusal on a matter of professional significance, he now spent half the night pacing his room, writing letters of dense logical rebuttal, staring out the window onto the moon-sparkling black sea and wiping tears of frustration from his cheeks. Then he awoke one day when the sky over the sea was so achingly vivid and crystalline, the tropical seashore so blissfully magnificent, that he was stricken as by a bolt with a pure conviction. He must put brooding aside. The man of quiet remorse, the man of poetry whose stacks of verse never passed from his room, the man of self-abjuring science must, alas, become a man of action.

That night he drove to the rear entrance of the national museum, where he knew as a director that the single guard was never posted, and let himself in with his key, carefully avoiding the security cameras. He moved quickly with a flashlight to the basement chest, opened it, and placed in the ice-filled picnic hamper he carried the largest banana in the history of the world, now nearly six years old. He knew he could never announce the banana anywhere in Latin America. The arm of El Presidente was too long. He would flee to the world's capital of publicity - New York City. And having taken his masters at Columbia, he knew Greenwich Village from Coney Island - and still considered his Yankees cap a treasure. Fortunately, it would be some time until his theft would be noticed and, probably, not until the wonder of La Banana Grande had been celebrated worldwide!

Two days later, with a fresh Manhattan razor cut and dapper in a brand new camels-hair sportcoat, silk necktie and gleaming loafers, he was in the lobby of NBC News at Rockefeller Plaza, preparing to speak with a Nightly News assistant producer. His hamper, newly repacked with ice from a nearby deli, was beside his chair. At ABC and CBS he could not get past the receptionists, one of whom kept calling him Mr. Figaro and asking him to repeat his richly accented English. Both suggested he write a letter or send an email.

The producer, apologizing that he only had a minute before an important meeting began, listened politely to Dr. Figueroa tell of the wonder of the banana and then pointedly declined to view the marvel itself.

"You say this banana is six years old?"

"It has been hidden for nearly six years, first by the growers consortium and then by presidential fiat. But it looks as good as the day it was harvested. It is truly a prodigy of nature - not only in size but in its beautiful golden yellow color. Normally, this is darkened when frozen, by unpleasant oxidizing compounds, as Chiquita Banana ad nauseum used to warn norteamericanos. But there is not a fleck or imperfection and it is fully two feet long. This long--" and he held his hands apart.

"What does Guinness say?"

"We have been forbidden to contact Guinness, or anyone else."

"You're probably gonna be in a peck of trouble when you get home, right?"

"This is of no concern to me."

"Guts ball, Charlie. Give you credit."

"It is nothing."

"Look, Doctor, señor, this is a fascinating story but, to be honest, I think Cloyd Mooney, our late-late-night talk-show guy, would be more interested in it than Brian Williams. Lemme call somebody real quick."

In ten more minutes he was waiting in the lobby of "Late Late Night Show With Cloyd Mooney." He checked the chest and was happy to see both banana and ice were doing fine. It was the most lavish front office he had ever seen, easily surpassing that of El Presidente. The woman behind the reception desk and all of the women he had seen so far in the television world, whether photos on the walls or employees, were totally ravishing. Because television dominated U.S. culture, it helped one understand how the U.S. was so sex-obsessed. He did find the dozen or so varying photos of Cloyd Mooney, a pudgy, freckle-faced Irishman, to be shining examples of indulgencia exagerada.

He was furtively checking the knot of his new tie when suddenly Mooney himself swept into the room.

"You got the world's largest banana?" he asked briskly before even greeting Dr. Figueroa.

"Yes, sir. Certified by figures obtained from the FAO - that's the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations."

"Oh, yeah, I know those guys are up to snuff. Lemme see this baby."

Dr. Figueroa opened the bifold-topped hamper. The recessed lights overhead almost conspired to focus on the glistening white interior. The banana lay there in the ice, bright yellow, firm, taut, unblemished, bearing its full stem, only mildly curved, its sides still sharply faceted. It had the look of a youngish banana still. But its length was implausible, overwhelming. It had the proud, fierce thrust of a newly honed, jewel-studded scimitar. Could this actually be a banana and not some newly created fruit meant for a race of giants?

"Jesus H. Christ, that is a big sucker," Mooney exclaimed. "No, I don't need to hold it. I don't need any turn-on this early in the day. I mean, it's a big mother-jumping banana. You can see from here it's the real ticket - I know some assholes will suspect special effects. Look, I'm up to my ears. Still ain't got my monologue done and we tape in an hour and a half. Can you go on today? Karl Rove just cancelled on me, the Neanderthal candyass. He offered me Judge Alito, who looks as much fun as Al Gore on downers. I said, "Only if he'll wear a Speedo." I can fit you in between an orangutan from the San Diego Zoo and some top porn star who's turned into a serious actress - it says here."

"Go on today? Do I needing to do anything?"

"Naw. Just be yourself, Doc. We'll talk about the banana and how important it is for the future of mankind or some kind of shit. You understand we are going to have to yuck it up a little in the interests of entertainment."

"Entertainment. I am not so sure--"

"Sweetheart, all TV is entertainment. No entertainment, no viewers. Do you think anybody in this building gives a goddam what's going on in Kashmir, Bogotá or even Baghdad? We're going to let the whole friggin' world know about that wonderful piece of Latin American majesty. We can't be all reverential or anything. But, I guarantee you, Dr. Fig, I am solidly impressed with this piece of elongated yellow fruit. And don't worry, I ain't gonna stick it between my legs or anything. We're late-late, man, but not nasty."

"I would be hoping--"

"So everything is set. Breanna here will hook you up with the people in makeup. There's coffee and anything you wanna drink in the green room. I know you guys like those drinks with the paper umbrellas but we're out of them. Stay away from that goddam orang, those bastards pinch like New Orleanians loot. I could show you from the last time, if the chick wasn't watching. You will be having your banana recognized, indeed, yes, lionized, before forty million households and sixty million viewers minimum. Tomorrow, the most famous fruit since Liberace. Breanna, take care of Dr. Fig. He'll be going on in the number two slot."

As he headed out the door behind the counter, he called back. "We can put some makeup on the hummer if you'd like. Hey, Doc, cheer up, this is fun!"

Dr. Figueroa was well pleased with his appearance after an application of professional cosmetic skills. His longish hair, tamed earlier in the day by the $50 razor cut, passed muster - "You have a magnificent head of hair, Dr. Figueroa," the hairdresser had declared - but, according to the makeup artist, the shine on his nose and forehead required powdering and his full but sallow lips called for a judicious application of a "male lipstick." He then initially balked but then decided, influenced by the earlier compliment, to accept a Mascara product for his eyelashes. In the green room, he had to move to a chair not opposite to a head-to-toe mirror to prevent further appraising glances. Unfortunately, it turned out that the fading beauty in a severely tailored suit sitting in the next chair was the ex-porn star.

After standing and introducing herself as Leilani Lusting, she effused so fervently that even the uniformed woman with the leashed but rather obstreperous orangutan paid attention. "'Dr. Juan Figueroa Leal,' what an impressive name. Gawd, I am crazy about Latins, I'll be honest. The world's biggest - what?"

"Banana," he whispered.

"Oh, my… Doctor, please!" She winked. "You're making my temperature rise. And what that usually means…"

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Lusting--"

"Seriously, Doctor, on another subject. I have a kink right here along my spinal column. A work-related problem. Would you please do me a favor and press a nerve - no, I have to take my jacket off. Let's go into the restroom for a minute where we can have some privacy. It's absolutely killing me."

"We were instructed--"

"Look, it's forty-five minutes yet until taping. What a fussbudget. Bring your banana along if you want."

Dr. Figueroa was disturbed to have the woman take his hand as they walked to the restroom door, alongside a lifesize full-length portrait of Cloyd Mooney dressed in a Donald Duck costume.

Leilani walked into the restroom behind Dr. Figueroa, turned and locked the door.

"Miss Lusting--!"

"Doctor," she said soothingly in what he assumed was a professional voice. "Now just relax."

"Please show me the nerve to press and I will be returning to my seat."

"It's right here on my left breast," she said, removing her jacket and revealing a diaphanous white blouse covering black lace lingerie.

"Señora," he exclaimed, momentarily forgetting in what country he was.

"The wise guys always said these were plastic. Doctor, tell me what you think."

"I am not a medical doctor."

"No. No. I mean as a man of worldly experience." She was removing her blouse.

"Señora, I leave if you do not stop."

"Christ, if you knew what I once got from some software bigshot in Vegas for just doing what I'm letting you do for free. You call yourself a Latin? I thought we could kill time by playing around a little. Go peel your banana."

"I go."

She grabbed the hamper. "Lemme see the goddam banana first. I want to be able to tell my boy friends about it."

"I do not think--"

She had already opened the lids. Lying on its side partially submerged in iced water, the banana appeared in all of its grandeur, despite its austere habitat.

"Oh, my God, Dr. Figueroa! It's incredible. Like, it's, you know, uncanny. Like something from another planet. So beautiful there in the ice, like it's, well, glowing with its own power. I've never seen anything… You say this is real? Look, no shit, you've got five thousand bucks if I can use this in my next video - I'm going to do it in disguise - don't tell Cloyd - although the whole world knows what my butt looks like. I promise we'll treat it with respect and all."

Dr. Figueroa slammed the lids shut and snatched the hamper.

"I go."

Qué loca, he thought with a sigh, endeavoring to resume his scholarly decorum in the green room. Since the dawn of agriculture, yellow bananas were all mutants, seedless, sexless, grown from replication of the parent plant.

The zoo attendant had a broad smirk she was trying to hide as he regained his seat, after pausing to check whether his hair had been mussed. It was several minutes before Leilani returned, pointedly moving to the chair farthest from the doctor.

Dr. Figueroa pretended to read a back copy of Entertainment Today, which, not accidentally, had a cover story about Cloyd Mooney and how his brand of guest-taunting slapstick was making him the darling of the late-late-night U.S. He had even resorted to bringing a pregnant sow onstage to sit strapped in a chair next to a rabbi who had just written a book about responsible sex.

On the huge monitor screen, Mooney's interview with the zoo keeper went on and on. She was a favorite of his and Dr. Figueroa noticed she had unbuttoned the top two buttons of her uniform shirt before going onstage. The young orangutan, which was a rare variety born and raised at the zoo, was being a little fractious, she said, because she had not had an opportunity to give him his evening meal yet. Cloyd stood and offered to unzip his trousers if she would undo another button but with endearing modesty she declined, continuing with her report on the visitor-stimulating sex life of orangs in their new zoo enclosure. Dr. Figueroa decided they had planned that bit of business in advance.

Finally an agitated young man wearing colossal earphones stuck his head in a door and beckoned him with an index finger, as one might a scullery maid. Still discouraged from his contretemps with Miss Lusting, he rose and lifted his hamper and followed. His wireless microphone installed and now standing behind a door marked "DO NOT ENTER UNTIL TOLD, ON PENALTY OF LIVE BURIAL, OR WORSE," he heard Mooney, following six or seven commercials, tell his audience of sixty million, "Long as you live you'll remember our next guest, Dr. Juan Bautista Figueroa Leal - now there's a mouthful - representing Banana Republic. His incredible thing, yes, is certified as the longest in the world. Better send the kids to bed right now because we intend to show it live."

Suddenly the door popped open and the young man said, "Okay, Dr. F., you're on. Walk fast right up to Cloyd. And look happy." Feeling a slight push on his back, he clasped his hamper and strode onstage, bearing the honor and dignity of his nation, his heritage and his name, as well as the grandest achievement of its centuries-old agriculture.

"Here he is, folks, the man who has set all of Latin America aflame with his amazing gift of nature. Certified not only by Leilani Lusting, who will come on later, but also, believe it or not, by the United Nations. No, you women, don't hide your eyes. This is in the name of science that we present this phenomenon."

The band was playing hootchy-kootchy music. The zoo woman and her fidgeting ape remained in one of the chairs on the set in front of Mooney's desk.

"Dr. Juan Bodini Fig - aw, hell, I forget the rest. Have a seat. The chair is well padded, just in case." The studio audience was in an unbroken roar of laughter. "Can you tell us, Doctor, when you first became aware of this special endowment of nature?"

"I am the agricultural consultant to the Compañía Estancia Celeste LLC in the township of--"

"Oh, forget about the job, Doc, and tell us about your, you know, thing."

"A boy who works as a harvester happened to see it protruding from a hand of--"

"Now, what's this, 'protruding from a hand'?"

"That's what we call, I think I translate correctly - a hand on the stalk."

Mooney winked to the audience. "Stalk, I like that word." The roar accelerated. "But, cutting to the chase, it was measured and proved to be the largest ever recorded in world history - whether Jewish or not. I can say that, folks, because, well, I'm Irish and we don't give a rat's ass about anything. But you won't catch me calling the doc a spic or anything. My P is very C."

"I wish to tell you about my country," said Dr. Figueroa, now more miserable than anytime since the rejection of his marriage proposal.

"I know, it's one of those banana places where stock swindlers love to go to get a really good taco."

"Our Presidente--"

"That's the top banana, right?" Mooney mimed peeling a banana and eating it. He pretended to throw the peel on the floor. "I'll bet you people go around slipping on peels all the time when you're between revolutions."

"I wish to tell you--"

"Okay, okay, let's let the audience in on our little secret. You've been a great sport, Dr. Bodini. Folks, the good doctor here is a renowned fruit, I mean a renowned fruit authority and has grown in his own back yard down there in the CIA's playground, yes, and let's hear it, The World's Largest Banana!"

Dr. Figueroa finally managed a smile. "La Banana Grande de La Estancia Celeste," he said proudly.

"Well, show it to us, Doc."

Dr. Figueroa opened the double lids. With the hot stage lights so close above, the hamper seemed to emit a golden radiance. A sense of warmth and joy filled Dr. Figueroa's heart, as he was now poised to present to the world a phenomenon of nature unsurpassed in all history, truly a gift from Heaven to raise up the people of his sorrowful land, to give them pride in their native capacities unfettered by foreign overlords.

The band was playing Pomp and Circumstance. The stage lights went down and a blazing spotlight enveloped the hamper as he reached down.

Still dripping from its icy bath, the brilliantly glowing banana held in the doctor's hand was a fabulous object, seeming more a column of lemony marble than a still extant fruit of a common tropical tree. The studio audience, as would presumably millions of viewers later that evening, emitted a gasp, accompanied by a furious drumroll from the band box.

"Try putting that sweetheart in your kid's lunchpail, Mom," Mooney quipped. "Or putting it anywhere else for that matter." The audience was again roaring. "You fellows fertilize those banana trees with Viagra? Take a seat, Doc, and lemme have a look at that sucker." The set lights came back on and Mooney took the banana from the doctor's hand, brandishing it aloft like a sword, the band playing the martial theme from "Captain From Castile." Then the band leader came up to Mooney with his baton and they engaged in a minute or two of mock fencing, with shouts of "En garde" and other horseplay and from the nearby orangutan a few excited grimaces and shrieks. Dr. Figueroa winced once when the baton struck the banana.

Returning to his desk with the banana, Mooney said, "Can you tell me the exact type of fertilizers that were used with this particular crop?"

"Manure, just manure."

"Watch your language, Doc. We've got a nun and two defrocked priests watch this show. All in the same bed. Then how about the organic pesticide and fungicide measures. I mean the full technical description and manufacturers so our listeners can get the stuff to put on their banana trees. I understand you have that material with you, Doctor."

"Uno momento… "

"No beaner talk please!"

Doctor Figueroa took from his jacket a leather-bound notebook and began looking anxiously through its pages. Mooney winked at the audience and put the banana on his desk, then gave a high-sign to the zoo woman. She unhooked the leash and let the ape down behind the doctor's chair, giving it an easy route to the desk. The audience roar was greater than ever.

"Also any special type of topsoil or mulch we should use, Doc," Mooney said, while Dr. Figueroa continued nervously to ruffle through his pages.

"I am not certain for sure this particular plantation as because it has a foreman from Ecuador and he…"

"I understand, Doc. But you gotta find it for us. This is important."

Mooney came and sat next to the doctor to distract him further while the ape grabbed the banana and began brandishing it just as the show host had earlier. The "Captain From Castile" music came up as if on cue and the spotlight returned to the unfortunate banana. The zoo keeper was laughing heartily but also watching the animal closely. The orang seemed to realize it was food, perhaps from smell, but having been raised in a zoo nursery on zoo food was unschooled on peeling. First he scratched at the banana, leaving gashes down the long, smooth skin. Then he tried biting into the skin but wasn't pleased with the results. People in the audience were falling over one another in mirth while Mooney kept looking through the notebook with the doctor, even slyly giving the bull's-horns sign behind his head. Suddenly the host looked up and shouted, "Ai, Caramba!" as the ape was preparing to break La Banana Grande in half over the back of Mooney's desk chair. Dr. Figueroa shouted "Jesus, María y José!" and rushed at the animal, struck it a hard blow on the head and began pulling its hairy red fingers off the scarred and striated banana. The ape took a bite at the doctor and only managed to rip the lapel of his sport jacket. Mooney strode up authoritatively and tried to intervene and Dr. Figueroa socked him square on his nose, sending him onto his knees, clutching his desk.

Dr. Figueroa managed to get one hand off the banana but as Mooney struggled to his feet facing away from the melee the ape with its other hand jabbed the banana right on target. This immediately sent him down again, while two NBC still photographers flashed bulbs nearby and the audience's hilarity was nearing riotous proportions. The band was adding to the tumult with the William Tell Overture.

"I can handle him," the keeper said to Dr. Figueroa. She held out what looked like a huge cube of sugar and the orang dropped the banana and swallowed the cube. "It has a tranquilizer in it," she said. The ape, however, suddenly sprang onto Dr. F.'s chest, screaming violently. It was clinging to his torso with its legs and with its hands pulling out clumps of his hair, all the while making terror-inducing cries and baring its long yellow teeth. Dr. Figueroa was fighting back manfully, now gripping the animal by both ears while the keeper pulled from behind. The animal's shrieks were ear-splitting.

"Lord, it's turning into 'The Jerry Springer Show,'" the host intoned while sitting spread-legged on the floor, as flashbulbs continued popping and the band began playing The Star Spangled Banner. Mooney quickly rose to a stiff attention, his hand over his heart, and the show cut to a commercial break.

A bruised and scratched, wholly disheveled Dr. Figueroa, along with his hamper, in a matter of a few minutes was being forcefully assisted to the building's service entrance by a cordon of grips and security officers. As he shouted epithets in the backstreet slang of his nation, they pushed him out the door. The thick steel door was emphatically locked and barred. He began banging on the door, cinema-fashion, but quickly gave up and sank to the ground in exhaustion. Nearby a crew was unloading exotic statuary from a cargo truck and two showgirl types were smoking cigarettes and reciting lines to each other. A shabby old man in mismatched athletic shoes was standing on a crate and analyzing the contents of a dumpster as twilight descended over midtown Manhattan. Dr. Figueroa looked through a window beside the door and on an overhead monitor watched by a guard saw the continuing taping of the "Late Late Night Show with Cloyd Mooney." Mooney was showily having his hair recombed by a hairdresser and his suit dusted off by a valet in operatic long stockings and britches. Then the host turned to the camera with a big smile and introduced his next guest, Leilani Lusting. Being a pro, her blouse was even more dramatically unbuttoned, revealing a black lace bra. Mooney was giving her gaga eyes and panting. Dr. Figueroa turned away in disgust.

The personal indignities, the mistreatment, the insult meant nothing to him. He was of no account, an ex-agribusiness consultant from a small, impoverished country. It was his failed goal that wrenched his heart. He opened the hamper and was partially relieved to see that the banana had been returned, also bruised, scratched and disrespected, but its peel remarkably still intact, every inch as majestic as ever. Then he noticed with shock that the ice had all melted from the bright lights. The banana was already turning brown over much of its grand surface. He knew it would not be successful to refreeze it. Thank God, he thought, that he had photographed it completely beside a yard ruler and left the disk with his mother. Its truth would be preserved.

He was surprised that he was not brooding over his misadventure. This must be the result of being a man of action. He actually felt a slight tinge of pride. He had tried with his fullest effort and fallen short, as had other great and enduring heroes of the Hispanic culture. La Banana Grande de La Estancia Celeste was of a level too elevated, too magnificent, too ethereal for the appreciation of The Capital of Publicity. Failing to comprehend this, infused with love for his native land, he had far over-reached. This is what it felt like to hit the earth from too great a height. He realized he would never return to his country. He did not wish to do so. He could certainly obtain work as a gardener. His scientific ideals, his inherited pride in seeking the truth, could never be damaged. He touched the banana gently. Its thawing was well advanced. He had eaten nothing all day. He took the banana from the hamper. The old man at the dumpster, evidently empty-handed from his search, shuffled up and asked for some change to buy food.

Dr. Figueroa looked up and smiled. "Would you like to help me eat a banana?"

"Ain't got nothin' against bananas."

Dr. Figueroa snapped the stem and began peeling it.

"My, Lord," said the old man, coming closer. "That's the biggest God-awful banana I ever laid eyes on."

Dr. Figueroa nodded and handed him a foot-long half. He could tell from the rich sweet aroma and firm creamy flesh that it was going to be delicious.




*

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This work is copyrighted by the author, J.C. Frampton. All rights reserved.