The Fruit Fly
Saturday, April 22, 2000
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(GK: Garrison Keillor, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith, TR: Tim Russell, VS: Vern Sutton)


(BIG PUCCINI THEME)

TR: The Lonesome Radio Theater presents a play for radio by Muriel L. Brubaker..... "The Fruit Fly". (THEME TURNS TO TINNY CAROUSEL MUSIC) (STREET AMBIENCE, TRAFFIC, PASSERSBY)

GK: Broadway. Times Square. You're too young to remember but I remember when it was the crossroads of small-time chisellers and grifters, con men, hustlers ---

TR (RICO): Three cards on the table (THREE CARDS SLAP DOWN) ---- three cards face down --- you tell me which one is the Queen of Spades ---- the middle one, sir? (FLIP CARD OVER) And so it is. A winner, folks! Five dollars to the winner! Who's next? (FADE) Who's next? Step right up----

GK: You walked up Broadway and every other shop was selling cheap souvenirs and trinkets --- (FOOTSTEPS CONTINUING)

TK (OFF): Hey mister ---- how about a wristwatch ---- genuine Rolex for only fifty bucks ---- plus my ten percent discount---- what do you say----

SS: Hey mister ---- listen ---- listen to me ---me and my friend just found this big bag of money ---- lookit this ---- fulla twenties ---- must be a thousand bucks in there ---- but we need somebody to take it to the bank in the morning ---- so here's the deal ----

GK: Beat it, kid. That con is older than Manhattan. --- (FOOTSTEPS CONTINUING) It was up on Forty-seventh and Eighth Avenue I met the guy who became my business partner, Eddie Escrow. Fast Eddie.

VS (OFF): The show is continuous, the show never stops ---- (CONTINUES UNDER GK) ---- Miss Fifi's Palace of Pleasure, 2nd floor, walk up and save ---- hurra hurra hurra yowsa yowsa yowsa --- step right up, gentlemen, you won't want to miss a single shining moment ----

GK: He wore a yellow plaid suit and a bolero tie and a shirt that had been white a long time ago and he had a thin black moustache that he colored with shoe polish and a shiny toupee that looked like road kill and he was a man I wouldn't have bought a newspaper from if he was giving it away for free.

VS: Upstairs....on our stage....fifty --- count em ---- fifty beautiful females without a stitch of clothing ----

GK: Fifty female what----

VS: Poodles ---- FIFTY GORGEOUS FEMALES --- Up those stairs---- the show is continuous, the show never stops ---- admission is 75 cents ---- six bits ---- three quarters of a dollar.

GK: Long time no see, Eddie.

VS: Do I know you?

GK: Cincinnati. We did the gospel revival.

VS: Carson Wyler!

GK: You took the collection and I never saw you again.

VS: I've been lookin' all over for you.

GK: Sure. Right. (BRIDGE) (CAFE AMBIENCE, AND MISC TABLEWARE) We dropped into a greasy spoon to gas about old times and first thing you know he tries to put the con on me.

VS: Lucky you should happen along when you did, Carson. I'm in the process of producing a Broadway show.

GK: Sure. Right.

VS: It's sort of a spin-off of "Cats". It's called "Kitties". A musical aimed at the little ones. No intermission. Forty-five minutes. Six shows a day. Times 500 seats. Three thousand tickets. Times fifty bucks a seat. That's a hundred fifty thousand clams a day. No high-priced stars, just dancers in cat costumes. Product sales are gonna be fantastic. It's a gold mine.

GK: People are not gonna pay fifty bucks for a 45-minute show.

VS: Grandparents, Carson. You cannot set the price too high for grandparents. Besides --- you charge less than fifty bucks, people think a show is no good. It's how people recognize quality. You really need to study marketing----

GK: What's your point, Eddie?

VS: And forty-five minutes is a perfect length. The kids have a short attention span and after forty-five minutes the grandparents have to pee.

GK: So I suppose you're raising money for it, huh?

VS: Exactly. And a thousand bucks gets you a 50% interest. What do you say? (BRIDGE)

GK: As it so happened, I was flush from a creative writing school I'd been running --- the Queens Ecole D'Literateur, Q.E.D. ---- out of a post office box in Queens --- so I gave him the thousand bucks and ---- it turned out to be the best investment I ever made in my life. "Kiddies" opened that fall to scathing reviews (TR: Trashy, shallow....SS: An insult to the intelligence of an idiot....TR: Forty-five minutes of insipid tripe that feels like four hours) but the show sold out day after day, week after week, and every week Fast Eddie came over to my room at the Stratford Arms with a shoebox full of cash. (KNOCKS) Come in. (DOOR OPEN, CLOSE. FOOTSTEPS)

VS: Another boffo week, sweetheart. A hundred and ten percent of capacity. Product sales are through the roof. Stuffed kitties, T- shirts, cast albums....

GK: I didn't know it was a musical.

VS: It's not. These are albums of songs written by members of the cast.

GK: Oh boy.

VS: People can't get enough of it. And there's a film deal in the works. If that goes through, buddy boy, I'll be coming over with a wheelbarrow! Whooo!

GK: Hey don't. (PIGEONS) You get the pigeons riled up. (FOOTSTEPS) (PIGEONS) They sit here and go to the bathroom on the ledge all day and spiders track it all over the room all night. G'wan---- git! (PIGEON FLURRY, WINGS)

VS: Why don't you move over to the Carlyle? You can afford it, buddy boy.

GK: Nawwww.

VS: Penthouse suite. Room service. Thin rye bread, spread with boiled egg and sour cream and caviar. Oysters flown in from Puget Sound. The big meaty ones. Champagne. Oh my.

GK: How do you know about that?

VS: I live there.

GK: Well, you know what they say, Eddie. Easy come, easy go. Don't spend your money on anything you can't bear to lose. (BRIDGE) And it wasn't long before I lost everything. I walked up Eighth Avenue past the pinball arcades and the porno houses and I thought to myself, "You know what this neighborhood needs is a really good bookstore." So I took a two-year lease on a space and fixed it up with bare brick walls and couches to sit on and read and of course a coffee bar (ESPRESSO) and it got great reviews (SS: Carson's Books Ltd. is a bookstore that simply is everything one wishes a bookstore to be.) and I sat down behind the counter and read James Joyce's Ulysses ----

TR (IRISH): And he asked her, he said, Do you want to, and she said, Want to what, and he said, You know what, and she said, Oh that, and he said, Well do you, and she said, I don't care, and so they did that, and he said, Yes o yes o yes yes yes O yes my yes, and she said, Is it over so soon?

GK: And by the time I was done with the book and Finnegan's Wake, I'd lost almost three million dollars.

TK: I'm here from the bank, Mr. Wyler. Sorry to have to do this.

GK: You're taking the store---

TK: I am. And also your cufflinks and your shoes. (BRIDGE)

GK: A similar thing had happened to Fast Eddie. He'd gone into the Port Authority Bus Terminal and decided that what it needed was a really first-rate French restaurant, so he opened J'Accuse. It was forty-thousand square feet, with bare brick walls and gray rugs and linen on the tables and the appetizers started at $10 and the entrees at $22 and the waiters insulted you from the moment you walked in.

TR: (FRENCH SARCASTIC, CHUCKLING)

TK: (FRENCH FOR "Unfortunately the table by the toilets is taken. Too bad.")

TR: (FRENCH FOR "Give them the worst table we have and bring them swill to eat. Spill on them. Humiliate them. Spit in the soup.")

TK: (FRENCH FOR "Spit in the soup? I do that all the time anyway.")

TR (FRENCH FOR "And be sure to suck on each olive in the dish before you bring it to them. And put the rolls under your arm.")

TK: (FRENCH FOR "Of course. Certainly.")

GK: But New Yorkers can be insulted for free. They don't feel they need to pay for it. And J'Accuse closed. And a few weeks later....(KNOCKS) Come in. (DOOR OPEN, CLOSE) (FOOTSTEPS) Hi, Eddie.

VS: Carson.

GK: You look good.

VS: Thanks. --- So do you.

GK: Thanks. --- Actually you don't. I just said it.

VS: Thanks for the attempt. ---- Actually you look pretty terrible, too.

GK: I know.

VS: How do you feel?

GK: Terrible.

VS: Good. Me too.

GK: We blew it, Eddie.

VS: We had it in our pockets. Had the world by a string.

GK: We had it. We'd crossed the finish line. We were winners.

VS: Had the money in the pocket. We coulda been on Easy Street the resta our lives. And what did we do?

GK: We threw it down a rat hole.

VS: We tried to go high class.

GK: We had delusions of quality.

VS: We shoulda known better.

GK: We did know better. We managed to forget.

VS: I open a French restaurant and who comes in? A few people from Iowa and Nebraska.

GK: I opened a fine bookstore. Sold the classics. Got a few women in sensible shoes, librarians, birdwatchers, and that was it.

VS: We knew better. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

GK: Who said that?

VS: I did. Nudity and animals --- that's what sells. A book of pictures of naked women walking their dogs. That's the ticket.

GK: So how are we going to earn it back, Eddie?

VS: I don't know. I'll think of something. (BRIDGE)

GK: It took him a few months but he did. (RING, PICKUP) Yeah? --- Hi Eddie. --- Meet you where? ---- Dirty Louie's? Sure. (BRIDGE) I met him at Dirty Louie's Chowder Shop in the Bowery. He was wearing his yellow plaid suit again and he had a lunch bucket on the table in front of him. ---- (AMBIENCE) Hey, Eddie.

VS: Hey, Carson. Siddown.

GK: What's in the lunch bucket?

VS: We're back in show business, Carson. You and me.

GK: What kind of business, Eddie?

VS: Opera.

GK: Opera? Count me out.

VS: You and I are the Barnum and Bailey of the animal opera world.

GK: Which opera world is that?

VS: The Petropolitan Opera.

GK: What's that?

VS: You ever go to the opera, Carson?

GK: Sometimes.

VS: You ever notice how whenever an animal comes on stage --- the horse in Barber of Seville, the cat in Hansel and Gretel, the elephant in Aida, the dogs in The Marriage of Figaro ---- the audience suddenly comes to life?

GK: Oh yeah?

VS: The Petropolitan Opera takes the logical next step.

GK: What's that?

VS: We eliminate the singers and we keep the animals.

GK: So what's in the box?

VS: A singing kitty.

GK: Oh boy.

VS: Her name is Lily Paws (OPENS BOX). Come on, Lily. (SO MEOW) Come on. Sing for the nice man. --- (SUZANNE VOCALISE IN STYLE OF CAT) Recognize that? It's "O meow babbino caro".

GK: People are going to pay to come and see this?

VS: Dogs and cats with spears and shields? You bet. Forty-five minute operas, no intermission. Six shows a day. No high-paid stars, just animals. (SO CHICKEN CLUCKS) This is Marilyn Leghorn.

GK: We're going to get into the singing chicken business? Are you crazy?

VS: You're going to love this. Listen. Sing for him, Marilyn.

(SUZANNE CHICKEN VOCALISM)

VS: I've got a couple dozen more just like her in a henhouse in the Poconos. We can put on Die Walkure, Siegfried ---- the whole Ring cycle. And I've got something even more amazing. Look. You've heard of Madame Butterfly, this is Madame Fruitfly.

GK: A fruitfly?

VS: It's voice is so tiny, it requires tremendous amplification, but if I put this microphone very close to it (MIKE RUMBLE), listen---- (SUZANNE VOCALISE)

GK: How did you get it to do that?

VS: I made eye contact.

GK: You just looked at her and she's trained to sing?

VS: You just look her in the eye. (SUZANNE SAME VOCALISE)

GK: Hard to believe.

VS: Pretty amazing, isn't it.

GK: How do you get a fruitfly to sing?

VS: Patience. Training. Same as with any singer. It takes about ten days to train one and their life expectancy is about forty days. So it's a short career.

GK: Let me hear it again.

VS: Okay. (SUZANNE VOCALISE)

GK: Would she sing if I looked at her?

VS: Try it.

GK: Sing, Madame Fruitfly. (SUZANNE VOCAL) How much you want for her?

VS: Sell her to you for a hundred bucks.

GK: It's a deal. (BRIDGE)

GK: Over the next week, I got to know her pretty well. Singing took a lot out of her. She'd sing a few bars and then lie on her back, twitching her wings. But her voice was beautiful and every day it seemed to me she got better. ---- Hey, Madame Fruitfly? You care for a few drops of wine? It's made from fruit. Maybe you'll like it. Here. Hey, you like it. You going to sing?----- (SUZANNE SECOND VOCALISE) I took her around with me in my shirt pocket. She slept a lot. But around sunset she always sang. --- She was hatched on the first day of spring. March 21st. A month old. With maybe only a week to live. You wouldn't believe how attached to a fruitfly you can become until you know one personally. She was an inspiration. (SUZANNE THIRD VOCALISE, WEAKLY)

VS: From "La Boheme". "Mi chiamano Mimi" ---

GK: I'm worried about her, Eddie. Do you think I should take her to a vet?

VS: What's wrong?

GK: She doesn't eat. She doesn't fly anymore. All she does is sleep and sing. She seems to be saving up her strength to sing a few more notes.

VS: I don't think there's anything you can do. I'll give you a new one.

GK: I don't want a new one. (BRIDGE) I called the vet and he came over to the room.

TR: Hi. How's it going? I'm Dr. LaFarge.

GK: I'm fine, except for this problem I have. This is probably going to seem very strange to you, Doctor.

TR: Hey, no problem. I've seen everything, believe me. --- Hey. There's a fly on your table. (BIG WHACK)

GK: She's dead. You killed her.

TR: The fly? I hope so.

GK: No. Wait. She moved her leg. She's looking up at me. Honey -- -(SUZANNE FIRST VOCALISE, DYING) She's gone. My fly.

TR: You're weird, mister.

GK: She was beautiful. She believed in her art. She lived for it. And in the end it killed her.

TR: I think maybe you need a dog or something. (BRIDGE)

GK: I held a memorial service in Central Park, on the Great Lawn. Marilyn Leghorn sang (SUZANNE CHICKEN) and also Placido Flamingo (VERN BIRD VOCAL) and Bryn Turtle (GK BARITONE VOCAL).....

SS (NYER, ASIDE): Is that turtle singing? or what?

TR (NYER): What turtle?

SS (NYER): By the flamingo.

TR (NYER): Are you on some sort of drugs, Susan?

SS (NYER): I'm looking at that turtle over there and he's singing. Look at him. Just look.

TR (NYER): I'm a New Yorker, Susan, I don't turn and look.

SS (NYER): Too late. He's stopped now.

TR (NYER): Good. (SUZANNE FLY VOCAL STARTS) What's that, for pete's sake?

SS (NYER): What's what?

TR (NYER): That singing.

SS (NYER): Somebody's got their radio on.

TR (NYER): It ain't from a radio.

SS (NYER): Where's it coming from then?

TR (NYER): I got no idea.

SS (NYER): There's a fly on you.

TR (NYER): Where?

SS (NYER): Right by your ear. (SUZANNE VOCAL ENDS)

TR (NYER): What fly?

SS (NYER): Never mind. It's gone.

(VIOLIN PUCCINI UP AND OUT)

TR: The Lonesome Radio Theater has presented "The Fruit Fly" by Muriel M. Brubaker, starring Suzanne Ohlmann in the title role.

(MUSIC OUT)

(c) 2000 by Garrison Keillor

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

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