Westport 54

fiction

BY J.C. DUFFY

MY BALLOONOSCOPY

M Y NAME IS UNDERDOG . You may remember I had a Saturday morning cartoon show back in the ’60s. I was big. I was physically small, especially on the TV sets of the time, but I was big in Show Biz terms. Now I’m physically large, but I’m basically a Show Biz has-been. Back then, there were Underdog comic books, Underdog lunch boxes, Underdog watches, you name it. Eventually, however, the show got canceled. I was devastated. My girlfriend, Sweet Polly Pure- bred, dumped me and started dating George of the Jungle. I began hitting the bottle pretty hard, and I wallowed in self-pity for over a year. My agent, Sid Tinsel, finally called me one day with a job offer. I asked him what it was. “As a result of all your queries,” I said, “is it perchance another series?” (I always speak in rhyme. It’s part of my Underdog schtick.) “Well, no,” he said. “Will there be an opening day, the kind you find with a Broadway play?” “No, it’s not a play.” “Tell me it’s not controversial: a tampon ad or a beer commercial.” “Not exactly.” “Please enlighten me, but do not frighten me!” “They want you to be a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” I was aghast. “A balloon? A balloon? Do you take me for some buffoon?” “Take it easy, Underdog.” “How would I achieve this feat? Underdog is quite petite!” “You’ll have to bulk up,” he said. “You’ve got plenty of time.” “This requires thought aplenty. Let me call you back in twenty.” Even before I hung up the phone, I knew I had no choice. My back was against the wall and I had to take whatever work I could get. I called Sid and told him to write up the contract.

Over the next several months I ate like a pig. Not literally. I called Porky Pig for some tips, but he told me he ate slop. I didn’t want to eat slop. So I ate a lot of pastries, pizzas, andTexas Tommys. I literally, well, ballooned up. I was humon- gous. You have to remember, this was years before De Niro gained a bunch of weight for his role in Raging Bull . But like Bobby, there’s nothing I won’t do for my art. Finally it was late November, and a meeting was scheduled with the Macy’s people. It was two days before Thanksgiving. At the meeting, Sid introduced me to two Macy’s executives and one doctor. What was a doctor doing there, I wondered. I found out when he handed me a prescription. I asked him what it was for. “It’s a combination of sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and potassium chloride,” he said. “If I am prying please accept my apology, but what is all that in layman’s terminology?” “It’s an extremely powerful laxative.” “Why in the name of all that is holy would you give me this? Explain to me slowly.” The doctor explained. “You’ll need to complete- ly cleanse your system tomorrow before I perform your balloonoscopy on Thanksgiving morning, Mr. Underdog. The balloonoscopy itself involves blowing you up with helium, of course.” “‘Of course’? ‘Of course’? Helium pumped in a dog by force?” Sid chimed in. “The helium is what makes you float, Underdog. How did you think you were going to float?” I hadn’t thought about that, I must admit. How else WOULD I float? Jeez, what had I gotten myself into? I put the prescription intomy cape’s inside pock- et and signed the contract. I had no other options. I stopped at the drugstore on my way home and got the stuff. It was a huge, plastic, four-li- ter container with white powder at the bottom, along with four flavor packets to choose from. The next day I read the instructions and started the process. I added water to the powder and shook it until the powder dissolved. I gulped

down my first eight-ounce glass. It was vile. I tried adding a flavor packet. I chose cherry. Bad choice. It tasted worse. I drank another glass ev- ery ten minutes until the container was empty. I barely got each glass down without throwing up. Then the real fun began. Let’s just say I stayed within close sprinting distance of the bathroom for the rest of the day, and we’ll leave it at that. Finally it was over, and I went to sleep, exhausted. My alarm clock went off at dawn and I kept my appointment with the gastro-balloonologist at the hospital. The nurse told me my blood pres- sure was a little high, but said it was probably just due to balloonoscopy anxiety. She had that right. The anesthesiologist introduced himself and the nurse inserted an IV into my vein. I began counting backwards from a hundred. The next thing I knew I was waking up and my balloonos- copy was over. I hadn’t felt a thing. It’s like every Macy’s balloon will tell you: it’s the prep day before a balloonoscopy that’s the ordeal. The balloonoscopy itself is a breeze. Literally. I was strapped to the table to prevent me from floating to the ceiling.They wheeledme to the start of the parade route and attached tethers to me. A lot of my old friends were in the parade, and it was good to talk with them about happier times. The parade started, and they put me in front of Popeye the Sailor Man, and right behind Linus the Lionhearted. Linus was having a slight problem with flatulence, but that’s quite common after a balloonoscopy. I’ve been in the parade ever since, and I have to admit I now look forward to it. (Except for prep day.) It pays the rent, and it’s good to see my friends every year and to see the smiles on the faces of the kids lining the parade route. And this year I’m hoping to get Betty Boop’s phone number. J.C. Duffy is a cartoonist and writer whose cartoons appear regularly in The New Yorker and other magazines. His books include collec- tions of his syndicated newspaper comic strip, “The Fusco Brothers.” *

Reprinted from narrativemagazine.com

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