It’s debate season ya’ll, so I thought I’d share some of my storied encounter with the Grumpf back in the valley. This here’s the first part.
Rooster Foozle vs the Grumpf: My debate with Ms. Nixie and the Grumpf (Part 1)
I’m not entirely sure how them politicin’ townsfolk arranged it–there’s plenty stories goin’ round—but Mr. Toodle threw in the towel, turned his messagin’ over to Ms. Nixie’s people. They got to organizin’ the townsfolk up on the northside of the Valley, where most of the cash is, to speak plain about it. We kept on with our organizin’ but there was a lotta dispirited foozle round here, thinkin’ there’s no way we’d ever manage to beat both the Grumpf and Ms. Nixie, not with her bein’ so dang popular and havin’ so much dern loot. I mean, if’n ya ignore all the blusterin’ the Grumpf does about his wealth, I’d bet ole Ms. Nixie’s got every bit as many Grumpfers as ole fire-face.
But we decided to keep on fightin’ the foozle fight on our own terms.
“You were there when the Grumpf caught fire,” Hoot would remind me, “and people know that. Some of them think you’re some kind of god.”
And so I’s kinda forced to keep truckin’ along, workin’ real hard on bein’ a new policy wonk, readin’ up on the laws, thinkin’ and listenin’ to my brain-trust. When Grumpf media set the date for our debates, I sure as hell thought I’s ready. But things didn’t exactly go the way I’d planned.
I’s nervous as hell makin’ my way up to the little stage they’d built, and I was a little upset they had made all them podiums the same dern height. I’m under five feet, and Ms. Nixie’s about a foot taller’m me when she wears them boots, and the Grumpf…well, he’s a giant. Looked to me like the podium wasn’t designed with me in mind. I had to scramble for some milk crates and stake em up so’s I’d have somethin’ to stand on.
“There have been some concerns about your health, Mr. Grumpf,” Mr. Fox said, taking his first question. “Can you please reassure our audience that your health is not a problem?”
“Of course I can, Mr. Fox,” the Grumpf said, consulting his notes, “and let me thank you for the opportunity to address this issue.”
Fly Foozle, present because of the Grumpf’s medically-diagnosed thermal spontaneity, was wipin’ the red one’s forehead with a wet sponge. The Grumpf waved a hand to shoe him away.
“Remember to stay calm,” he buzzed, dodgin’ the hand, then retreatein’ behind the incumbent, landin’ next to a large pail ‘a water.
“As many of you know,” the Grumpf said, “I have been diagnosed with a rare but non-lethal condition: auto-thermal-combustion. Basically, I catch fire when I get upset. This will in no way prevent me from being the best leader that I have ever been—really terrific. Outstanding.”
“So,” Mr. Fox said, “just so we all understand what you’re saying, Mr. Grumpf: you catch fire, but it’s not a concern?”
“That’s right, Mr. Fox,” the Grumpf said, beaming, “it’s not a concern.” He jerked his head toward the fly re-immersin’ his sponge into his pail’a ice water. “It’s just a condition I have to live with. But I’m not a cripple,” he said, his voice raisin’ as the wet sponge found his face again, “I’m not one of these deformed freaks. My condition is not a disease. It’s a gift from the gods.” He raised his hands up’ta the sky, the fly ably dodgin’ him with the ease’a any thousand-eyed foozle. “The gods gave me fire,” he said. “It’s a divine sign of my total greatness.”
“Fire Hazard Foozle!” someone hollered from the crowd, and the Grumpf seemed to stumble, beads of sweat rollin’ down his orange face.
“I’m no foozle, if that’s what you’re implying,” he said, a wet sponge crossin’ his lips just as he said the last word.
Mr. Fox interrupted the exchange, tryin’ to move the discussion along. “Speaking of foozles, let’s move on to our next issue. The question is one many of our audience have pondered over the years: what are we going to do about The Foozle Problem?”
“I’ve done a lot of great things to address the foozle problem. More than anyone…No one has done more than me. I’ll keep doing great things, because that’s who I am.” the Grumpf smiled.
“Mr. Grumpf,” the moderator continued, “can you please be specific. What policies will you advocate? Have these policies been designed and vetted by our expert townsfolk?”
“A thousand eyes have seen the plans,” Fly Foozle whispered, rattlin’ his gossamer-thin wiry wings.
“People say they’re very good,” the Grumpf said, noddin’, Fly Foozle now hoverin’ behind him.
And then Ms. Nixie up and said: “Apparently, Fly Foozle is Mr. Grumpf’s policy advisor. One little thousand-eyed fly drawn, as flies are, to Mr. Grumpf.”
Oh snap. I thought to myself, some laughter breakin’ free out in the audience.
My eyes was bulgin’, felt like they’s gonna come plum outta my head. Folks told me later you could see my pulse in the throbbin’ of my wattle, quickenin’, burnin’ a bright, bright red. A small burst of machine-gun fire clucking broke free from me then.
Damnedest thing. Embarassin’ as hell, but not as loud as it coulda been, only generatin’ a dozen stares from them folks right up in front.
“Mr. Grumpf,” Ms. Nixie continued, “You have not had a single successful policy. Name one thing you would do to fix our alleged foozle problem.”
“I love foozle,” the Grumpf said. “I mean, I hire lots of them. And I’ll keep doing that. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. One of many. I make so many sacrifices. The best ones, too.”
Mr. Fox nodded, strokin’ his hairy face, turnin’ from right to left to watch the reactions of them other moderators.
“One of my most trusted advisors is a foozle,” the Grumpf said, gesturin’ behind him to Fly Foozle, buzzin’ around. ready with wet sponge and spritzer in hand. “But let me tell you how terrific my policies are…” he looked down at some writing on his little red hand. “…I have the best people working on these things. The absolute best. Smartest in the world, and our policies are super, just fantastic. Unbelievable how good they are.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Grumpf,” Ms. Fox said, pippin’ up, “you’re supposed to tell us what the policies are, not just that they’re great.”
Fly Foozle was hoverin’ again, throwin’ thimble-buckets of water onto the Grumpf’s ever-reddenin’ brow, steam now beginnin’ to come right off him. He mumbled somethin’ into the Grumpf’s ear as he landed those toothpick legs on the monster’s shoulder and stroked his golden mane with that wet sponge’a his.
“The Feral Cat Farmer Organization is a great success. It created jobs for foozle—and that’s what they need. They need to work. I hire lots of them,” the Grumpf said.
Ms Fox was shakin’ her head, and she tried‘ta interrupt, but the Grumpf held up his hand. “You really need to treat me fairly,” he said, his head tilted to the side to let the excess water drain off, the little that hadn’t evaporated from the heat of his orange’n’red skin.
“Lots of people say I’m not being treated fairly.” He nodded, frownin’. “It’s true. Really. Lots.”
Ms. Nixie had turned a little red herself, her cheeks flushed and her mouth turned down. I just kept staring out at the crowds, my eyes poppin’ outta my head and my lil chicken legs tremblin’, Occasion’ly, I’d hear my feet scratchin’ at them milk crates I’s standin’ on, and them kindly shufflin’ against them wooden floors up on’at lil stage in Grumpf Plaza. S’not the movement so much that I minded, it was that they’s drawin’ so many more dern stares from the throngs of townsfolk who’d come out for the exhibition. I was havin’ trouble balancin’, and it was an audible problem.
“Mr. Grumpf,” Ms. Nixie said, “you are the foozle problem.”
I put both hands over my mouth. The townsfolk might have applauded Ms. Nixie’s powerful political indictment had my chicken cluck not distracted ‘em from an issue-orineted debate. Seizin’ the opportunity, that clever Mr. Fox cleared his throat into his microphone, gatherin’ up the attention’a the crowd as it ricocheted from one noise to the next. I ain’t ashamed to admit I’s glad to get people thinkin’ bout somethin’ other than my particular acoustic oddities.
“Let’s move on to our next question,” Mr. Fox said. “This one is for every candidate: How will you manage to reconcile our competing political parties if you are elected? We’ll start again with the…I mean Mr. Grumpf.”
The Grumpf smiled, his white teeth as bright as his golden hair against his red’n’orange face. “I’ve always been known to reach across Grumpf Plaza, extend a piece of seabass to even my opponents,” he said. “I can tell you I let those miscreants throw meat when they protested my very progressive cat mutilation policies. People like those policies. They’re good policies.”
“And what would you say is your biggest strength?” Mr. Fox continued.
“All of them,” the Grumpf said. “Next question.”
“I think we should let the other speakers have a chance to reply, Mr. Fox,” Ms. Fox interjected, takin’ control of what she felt had become a biased debate. “Ms. Nixie, can you please answer Mr. Fox’s question: What are your biggest strengths?”
“I’ve long worked for the good of the townsfolk, and I advocated for the foozle cause as Secretary of Foozle Affairs,” she said, noddin’ and smilin’, lookin’ from one side to the other and then back again.
Now, that fit I was havin’ ain’t ever happened before, at least not when I was awake. My momma told me I did I fair amount’a sleep-clucking when I’s still a spring chicken, as they say, dreamin’a dust bathin’ or foraging for grubs. But it’d never once happened while I’s conscious, and never in public. And I’s thinkin’ on this rather unfortunate turn of events when I let out the biggest cluck I think anyone’d ever heard. S’not like I meant to let her go like that, all shrill and rocket-ship loud. There’s just nothin’ I could do.
I pressed my hands up tighter against my mouth real quick, expectin’ some all out firestorm’a hateful hollerin’, but the dang thing is, nobody laughed or nothin’. It just got all quiet, like everyone had spotted some dern eighteen point buck and was tryin’ not to scare him off. The Grumpf was shakin’ his head, folded arms restin’ on his barreled chest.
“That’s no way for a leader to sound,” he said, waving his arm, which are about as big as I am, in my direction. And then I heard them little bocks rumblin’ down in my belly and workin’ their way up into my throat. Like a legion a lil rooster warriors was raisin’ up arms against the oppressor or somethin’.
I pressed my lips tighter together, clenched my jaw, squeezin’ my face with both hands. I mean, ole red face was right, the sound weren’t none too regal, but it just trucked along underneath my clamped hands, there inside my throat, then in my mouth, first like startin’ a lawn-mower, kindly chuggin’ along… bawk-bawk-bawk-bawk-bawk…then gettin’ louder, like an engine reavin’ on up, and then, my hands not able to hold back my sonic revelations, the clucks soundin’ out like a monster truck at a demolition derby, ready to pop into gear and let loose on a mountain’a junked metal. And hell, it mighta been even louder’n that when it finally burst out over the crowds in Grumpf Plaza.
All sevety-eight pounds’a me shook when that first cluck came on out, and the second one shook me clean off them milk crates I was standin’ on, so’s to be able to be seen up there behind the podium on that new wooden stage.
Ms. Nixie kindly tucked her chin down, ignorin’ the spectacle, or at least that’s what I’s thinkin’ at the time. On the other hand, she mighta been just plain stupefied.
“Just disgusting,” the Grumpf said after I finished another machine-gun round of clucks. “Is this what things have come to?” he said. “We’re thinking of electing chickens?”
I don’t bring it up much, cuz I ain’t really proud’a it, but dog-gone it, I’m a veteran, like so many other foozle. We delivered them Ogre Guard their supplies in that dang onion war, had us uniforms and everythin’. I ain’t sayin’ we did a lot, and that war was a short’n, but we did our part. I didn’t take kindly to havin’ my character impugned or my loyalty to the valley questioned. Sadly for me, though, I had entered one’a my states. I couldn’t do much’a nothin’ ceptin shake there on them wooden floorboards, leavin’ lil chicken scratch as my feet tried to find some manner’a purchase.
“What would happen if we were attacked by the Meadow, or the Goat-Farmers over in Boone County? Would this freak just freeze in his tracks?” the Grumpf asked, both him and that ornery fly laughin’ like they’s at some carnival show or the dang Exhibition. But it occurred to me there, floppin’ all defenseless, that he might have a point, what with me bein’ immobilized.
“You need a manly leader,” the Grumpf said, flexin’ his muscles for the crowd.
“I resent that,” Ms. Nixie replied, glarin’ at him but almost smilin’, and the crowd seemed to agree with her on that point, judgin’ by the cheers.
“Think about it!” the Grumpf shouted. “No chickens can run the valley, not like I can. I’m terrific.” He kissed his flexed biceps then, through his suit jacket ya understand, one after the other. “We’d be doomed if we went to war again with this loser leading us,” he said, gesturin’ at me where I lay, shakin’ where I’d fallen from the dang violence’a my cluck. Then I saw him shakin’ himself, stickin’ his tongue outta his mouth, I guess apin’ me—er, I mean mimicin’ me. Then that som’bitch took a big ole red handkerchief outta his front lapel pocket and held it up to his chin, jerkin’ it around a little while he’s pretendin’ to have some kinda seizure.
I ain’t gonna lie. It kinda hurt my feelings.
After he moved that lil cloth from his head to his chin and his chin to his head a few times, shakin’ it around and pretendin’ to be the cluckold I turned out ta be (if’n you’ll humor the pun, I’d be grateful; I gotta take pleasure in the lil things, ya understand) and the crowds had laughed with him a fair amount, he straightened up, shoved that hanky in his pocket again and dusted himself off.
“Rooster here could save us all a lot of trouble if he would just go and die of led poisoning,” he said, smilin’ and lookin’ around, then pretendin’ to shoot himself in the head with his finger.
“I have the most terrific jokes,” he said.
Well, lyin’ there on that stage, splinters startin’ to stick into me from writhin’ on them wood floorboards, not’a one’a them sanded fer nothin’, I’ll confess I didn’t find it in the least bit amusin’, and neither did Ms. Nixie.
“Mr. Grumpf,” she said. “That behavior is not fit for a leader of the townsfolk of the valley.”
He made an obscene gesture then, I’s told. My view was kindly occluded on accounta my horizontal positionin’.
“It’s not my fault he’s such a little cock,” the Grumpf said, steam comin’ outta his nose as I watched him walk over to me. “Just look at this,” he yelled, jerking one of his claws in my direction and tryin’ to get the crowd riled up. He’s countin’ on havin’ a ratings boost, what ‘specially with all that advertisin’ he’d been doin, a right full smear fest’a both me and Ms. Nixie. Wasn’t pretty. None of it.
I heard a little bit of smackin’ as the Grumpf moved to the front of that lil stage, raisin’ his hands to the sky and bellowin’ about bein’ great and all, and every minute his face getting’ brighter and redder, more and more steam comin’ off of him, and dang it if that lil fly foozle wasn’t havin’ a helluva time getting’ his lil pails of water and spray can across the stage in time to keep ole red face cool. Now I’m pretty sure my comb was just kindly floppin’ up on top of my head, and I reckon my wattle was makin’ another kinda scratchin’ sound, rubbin’ across them splintery floorboards as I lay there on the ground, shakin’ like red bacon and just plum stupefied.
“Look at him,” the Grumpf yelled at the crowd, “He’s Little. Very little. Not strong at all.” The Grump flexed his muscles. “He can’t wrestle,” he said, spittin’ in my direction with that crowd eggin’ him on, “I’ve battled ten of him at once. I just hit him hard. Real hard. Then they go down.”
That fly was startin’ to slow down. The trips for more water from his lil back-of-the-stage oasis—a couple huge drums—were just plain tuckerin’ him out. A fly foozle of that size can’t but carry so much water at a time. If he up and tried to carry too much he just wouldn’t be able to get off the dern ground. He’s dedicated, I got to give him that. But hell’s fire, his arms might just pop right off his lil exoskeleton if’n he tried to do more.
“How could we have a leader who looks like his head and chin are vomiting meat? I mean really. It’s disgusting, totally disgusting.” The Grumpf was crossin’ his arms, noddin’, and I caught sight of somethin’ I’d not seen before while he was up there carryin’ on. I swear for a minute, and it mighta been from the angle I was at there on the ground, or on accounta my seizurin’, or maybe somethin’ else all together, but I thought I saw little magic fireflies start to buzz around the Grumpf’s collar, right there where his suit-jacket met up with his chubby neck. They’d dance here and there, lightin’ up then movin’ on. At first there’s just a couple, or at least that’s all I could see.
“He’s exhibition fodder,” the Grumpf said. “Should I throw him at something?”
Well the crowd went bonkers, and just then I saw Ms. Nixie motion, real subtle-like, with her hand over toward some of her people. With the Grumpf at the front of his stage and that little fly foozle always in transit for more water for his spritzer, I could barely catch a glimpse of two townsfolk leanin’ into the one drum of water that was left, tryin’ to tilt it over.
“Mr. Grumpf,” Ms. Nixie said as she walked to the front of the stage to stand next to the Grumpf. “You like to talk about foozles,” she said, “But I’d like to point out you’re not a usual color. I’ll be blunt, Mr. Grumpf: Aren’t you red and orange?”
The crowd went quiet. It was pretty dang direct, and I’ll admit I had to respect Ms. Nixie in that moment—a real highlight of the whole debate, I’d say, right up there with the end of our political exhibition, which I’m fixin’ to get to.
“People tell me I have a nice color,” the Grumpf said, smilin’ and noddin’ at the crowd. “They like it. Most people find my hue very attractive.”
After some whisperin’ amongst themselves, the moderators reckoned I was down for the count—which I was, what with the stupefication—they determined to direct there questions to the front of the stage, ignorin’ both me and them fellas, three of em by then, pushin’ on that water.
“Mr. Grumpf,” Mr. Fox said, “can you tell us what makes you the best candidate?”
The Grumpf was surprised by the question, like he’d forgotten somebody else was actually runnin’ the show.
“Well,” he said, gesturin’ toward me, “this chicken-man is a cripple. What would happen if we got attacked by the Meadowers? What if they came after our pickled onions? What’s turkey-boy going to do? Flop at them until they surrender?”
As the crowd cheered, I’ll confess to thinkin’ again that, whatever our disagreements, the Grumpf did have somethin’ of a point. It’s difficult to lead folks when your writhin’ on the ground, stupefied. Maybe I wasn’t the right sort for leadin’ and politicin’.
“And what about Ms. Nixie,” Mr Fox asked, “What would make you a better leader than Ms. Nixie?”
“That’s easy,” he said. “She’s a woman. Enough said.”
I tried to shake my head in disgust, but it would only shake the one way it’d been going for dang near the whole debate. I saw them fireflies again on the nape of the Grumpf’s neck, getting’ brighter, sparklier, startin’ to jet right off of that collar, like embers flyin’ toward the heavens.
Ms. Nixie and Ms. Fox both tried to jump in at that point, but the Grumpf just held up his arms and started screamin’.
“I have not been treated fairly here,” he said, and he started stompin’ around the front of the stage, huffin’ and puffin’. I’d thought he’d calmed down some, but I guess with him a firestorm’s just always under the surface.
Then them boys managed to knock that water over, and that’s when things went bat-shit crazy.