Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ventriloquism Jimmy and "Madam" the Talking Bean Can

"What are you so sore about?  I thought it went very well..."

"It most certainly did not go well.  It never goes well.  Honestly, Madam - I'm at my wit's end."  Jimmy was at his wit's end.  "We've been over this and over this - why can't you, just once, try a new bit?"

"But I love that bit," Madam protested.  "The audience loves that bit.  It always lands.  Tonight, I dare say, it killed."

Jimmy's exasperation assumed the shape of a grunt, and made itself heard.  "Ugh.  Of course it lands - it's a good joke - but that's not the point. I think it's time to give up my silly dream of a performer's life."

Ventriloquism Jimmy was born in 1898 as James Bergen Flowers.  In 1911, his parents emigrated to Boston from the English town of Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, where they had been failing to make a living as operators of a sweets shoppe near the pier.  America was kinder to them - for a while.  Edgar Flowers made hard candies and taffy and his wife Shari "Peanut" Flowers made cookies and fudge, and they lived well - until their deaths in 1928.  Word of their demise reached James  - by telegram from his parents' landlord - at Julliard, where he was studying drama.

Return to Boston immediately.  Your mother and father have died. Father bled to death when the taffy-pulling machine ripped his arms off.  Mother trampled and run over by horse-and-trolly on her way to telegraph office.  I couldn't stand the thought of their only child far away, oblivious to his parents' death.  That's why I sent this message.  You owe me two dollars for the telegram.  Also, thirty-five fifty for your parents' back rent.

James never returned to Boston.  He left school and hit the road, finding his way through a series of misadventures and failures into the life of the Depression-era hobo.  He worked when there was work to be had, and walked and did what all the other hoboes did to survive.  By the end of his sophomore year (He and his brethren used "freshman, sophomore, and junior" to denote the first three years of a hobo's life; after that, they were simply called hoboes), James had become Jimmy, learned to throw his voice, and met Madam.

In her first life, Madam had been a 110-ounce can of Libby's red beans.  Now, with her still-partially-attached lid, a charcoal face, and Jimmy's help, she was a self-described star of stage and the wireless.  Her specialty: telling jokes.  Her impediment: petrifying stage fright.  The proverbial cat, it seemed, always had her tongue.

"Please, Madam?" Jimmy the Ventriloquist begged.  "We'll never get anyone to pay us to perform, if you can't tell a few more jokes.  A couple of dozen jokes and you got a show.  One joke is nothing - a few words between friends."

"I can't," she insisted.  "I won't!"

"You can do 'why did the hobo cross the road...'"


"How about 'what do hoboes get for Christmas?" he suggested.

"Everyone knows that one - not funny.  No."

"The hobo handshake joke?"

"Oh be serious."

"Well, there's always the 'two hoboes and a rabbi' stuff.  Those are good."

"I'm not here to offend anyone," Madam sniffed.

"You can replace 'rabbi' with 'priest' or 'teacher' or 'Senator' or any number of things.  It doesn't have to be offensive," Jimmy said.  "What about the 'hobo's lint currency international arbitrage' joke?"

"Who's going to get that?" Madam sneered.  "Former-banker hoboes?"

Ventriloquist Jimmy sighed the sigh of the defeated.  "Fine.  We're on.  Do your one joke, I can say something about canned laughter and we can get booed and have rocks hurled at us and get on with our pathetic lives - even though as a tin can, you have no life."

Thirty.  Seconds.  Later...

"I saw a hobo walking track-side yesterday, wearing one shoe," Madam told the small, semi-attentive group of tramps.  "I said, 'Hey, brother - did you lose a shoe?'  He said--"

All the hoboes replied, in unison, "No - I found one!"

Jimmy sighed again, and shook his head sadly.

Prompted as per usual by my friends at Studio 30 Plus - this time it was Kirsten Piccini and her post STAND ALONE. Go. Read. Support.  And enjoy!


  1. I, as always, absolutely love it! Your hobo stories are great ... even the one shoe joke. :)

    1. Thanks Katy! I almost went without any complete jokes, but I love that old bit so much, I couldn't resist!

  2. Oh Joe, you're such fun... I love how you repeat parts like

    "Honestly, Madam - I'm at my wit's end." Jimmy was at his wit's end.

    This is like experimental theater... I love this kind of stuff! Not sure if you do it intentionally or not - but having the obvious spelled out to me via the narration gives me an image of a drunk narrator who thinks because he is wearing a shirt, vest and tie that he is eloquent (on account of the formal voice) - this could be your thing!

    I never realized until NaNo that the narrator needs a character in mind - but you probably knew this already - and by giving the narrator a personality really makes the stories come to life. I think this is what I'm finding I love about your stories - the style you give your narrator in your hobo pieces... Very cool Joe!

    1. Wow - you are way too kind, so thank you very much! I have to admit that, to a large degree, my narrator's voice is simply my own. I hope that's a good thing - a reflection of my storytelling instincts, perhaps. It definitely feels right for these hobo stories, what with their strange mixture reality and fantasy, and all.

      That "drunk narrator" thing, though... I thought I WAS being eloquent; I've got my best shirt/vest/tie combo on and everything! :)

    2. I'm telling you dude... write drunk - edit sober. Push it! Really push it, it will blend so well with the hobo stories! Me, when I'm drunk - I am absosmackingly sure that I am straight as an arrow and eloquent in my speeches. Play with it! :)