Interview With a Self-imposed Exile
by Gracie de LaRue
Out of character, Carhartt shows up to his interview nattily dressed in a Pepto Bismol-colored suit with Squirrel Nutkin cufflinks. The glistening polymer imitation seersucker juxtaposes so violently with Carhartt's striped orange fur that the slightest movement threatens to create its own weather system. The bolo necktie is cinched with an elaborately engraved 3-inch-diameter steel medallion emblazoned with the words SINGER SEWING MACHINE COMPANY. Clamped over the ears is a sparkling white ten-gallon hat.
GDL: So, Ben Carhartt. Is that your real name?
BC: Yes! Well, no. It depends, I suppose. You understand. These modern times! He sighs and retrieves a slender brown cigarette from a steel box marked SPARE GEARS. Actually it's BUFFALO Ben Carhartt. The Third.
GDL: The Third?
BC: That is correct.
GDL: You mean there actually have been three of you.
BC: More or less. Quite a few more, actually. In fact, dating all the way back to the Mesozoic Era! He expansively sweeps a paw in the direction of the wall clock.
GDL: Did I hear you correctly, the Mesozoic Era?
BC: Oh indeed. Carhartt folds his paws on the table and beams.
GDL: But I was under the impression there were only scallops running around back then.
BC: A common misconception among today's youth. I've noticed that there seems to be no sense of evolution nowadays. Why, look at how far we've come! In the beginning we Carhartts essentially were a moribund feral colony of tone-deaf hunter gatherers, straggling across the tundra, eating sphagnum moss. Now we have mathematics, the arts, taxidermy....
GDL: Tone deaf?
BC: No ears!
GDL: Okay so how about describing for us how you came to be attending seventh grade in a tiny one-room schoolhouse in Bassettville, Pennsylvania.
BC: Not to mention we're excellent growers of small fruits and assorted nuts. Though I suppose everyone is well aware of that.
GDL: Would you say it was an attempt to get back to your roots, were you impressed with the nontraditional curriculum, or did you just wander off without your collar and get lost.
BC: Of course initially, we had awkward, spiny fins.
GDL: Spiny....Getting back to the question.
BC: Yes, and also large, bony plates running down our backs.
BC: The latter protected us from falling eggs.
BC: We have very delicate skin, you know.
GDL: Or maybe they kicked you out for for peeing all over the place. I hear that happens.
BC: I recall the day I finally traded in those dreadful fins. Pedaling home on my bicycle, I said to myself, I said: 'Well, that's that, Bongo, old Boy! No more fins!'
GDL: Right. So, assuming you showed up here on account of you got lost....
BC: Of course if you speak to a certain subset of Carhartts, they will claim uphill and down that the size of our brains is the only thing that has not changed dramatically over millennia. A point of pride, you know. Personally, I've never looked back.
GDL: There are conflicting stories about your dealings during the 1940s with Bingo the Rat. Some sources say you were his good luck charm. Was that the case?
BC: Heavens, that was such hectic chapter of my life! What with being the hairdresser for all those early westerns and all! I'm afraid my memory isn't very clear on that point.
GDL: Is it true you brought hot dogs to Bingo the Rat at the casinos? That he had you breathe on his dice before every throw during Boggle games?
BC: Well, but that's very common, having a small orange cat blow on one's Boggle dice.
BC: To be precise, the technique involves a combination of breathing on the dice and dusting them with one's whiskers.
GDL: So you did breathe on the Boggle dice. Plus dust them with your whiskers.
BC: I guess maybe. Once or twice.
GDL: Allow me to read from the biography:
"Because of numerous noms de guerre assumed during the 1940s, Carhartt's Rat Mob connections have remained shrouded in a Patchouli-scented mystery. Yet one thing is certain: the unmistakable Orange Head was witnessed more than 200 times glowing incandescently near the Boggle tables like a light bulb equipped with ears. Bingo the Rat was never known to lose a Boggle game on those occasions."
BC: Let me see that book. My goodness! When was this published?
BC: Look! Here's a picture of my pet horse, Refrigerator Pickles!
GDL: I was wondering if you could elaborate on your job of taking care of pet goldfish belonging to various high ranking members of the Rat Mob.
BC: Good ole Refrigerator Pickles. He was a nice horse.
GDL: Was the gold fish gig an internship or something?
BC: Beg your pardon? Oh, well! Simply everyone has pet goldfish. Why should high ranking members of the Rat Mob be any different? They have feelings too.
GDL: It says here you took care of 126 different pet goldfish plus a family of Black Mollies from 1938 through 1949. Also a stinkpot turtle.
BC: That's not quite accurate. Some of those were guppies. Frankie, Muggsy, Billy Bob, Jimmy the Snake, Lucille, those were all guppies. Plus eleven or so just went by the name Fins. What was that stinkpot turtle's name.... The goldfish, those were Skippy, No-Nose, Bones, Fang, Artie the Card Shark, The Terminator, Leftie the Bait....
GDL: Leftie the Bait?
BC: Lost a fin in a shootout.
GDL: Good heavens.
BC: Lefty was the lookout during late-night pet store robberies. He'd be stationed out on the sidewalk in his little bowl, and if the cops showed up he'd signal by swimming around and around and around real fast. Generally speaking, it was a high-risk job.
GDL: Yes, I suppose it was.
BC: Sadly, that fish bowl was not bullet proof.
BC: One night back when they were smuggling suet cakes to a finch ring in the Galapagos, they robbed this big pet food warehouse in L.A. All these crickets that were supposed to be boa constrictor food got loose. Crickets were jumping and squeaking all over the place -- I'm talking thousands of crickets -- and lefty was outside in his bowl swimming around and around and around real fast and nobody noticed until it was too late. Gaagh! I can't go on.
GDL: Okay, moving right along to the next subject....
BC: When you're a goldfish, life is short and cheap.
(Long, uncomfortable silence.)
GDL: Say! Since you were a professional fish caretaker all those years, maybe you can tell me what's wrong with this one Tilapia pup I got. It's not socializing with the other Tilapia pups. Plus it sort of paddles around at a 30-degree angle.
BC (dabbing his eyes with a Patchouli-scented silk handkerchief): I suppose you will be wanting to know the names of the Black Mollies; that always comes up. I never learned them. They all had complicated African names, which they kept changing inexplicably and trading back and forth. I'd just get used to calling one of them Fela Kuti Katsi Tuku, and the next day it would be Ukutista Kitukalef, or some such thing, and of course I'd get it wrong. Then they would all fall into giggling fits.
GDL: So maybe you could tell my why this particular Tilapia pup lists like the Titanic.
BC: Tilapia, is that a type of virus?
GDL: Never mind. (Pages through notes.) There are reports that you made moss gardens for many of Bingo the Rat's gang. How did this come about? Also, is it true that you included soothing, tinkling little fountains in these gardens? That you subsequently had to remove these fountains because they made Rat Mob members have to urinate all the time?
BC: Tricky Woo.
GDL: Excuse me?
BC: Tricky Woo. That was the stinkpot turtle.
GDL: Right, okay. So, how about if you just tell us about your Native Land.
BC: My Native Land! Ah, there's a subject. The tin birds, woods teeming with taxidermized animals, all-harmonica bands playing on the Lord's Day....
GDL: Yeah, we know about the taxidermized animals you rehabilitated and set free. What everybody wants to know is, where exactly is your Native Land.
BC: Rubber smews in every home....
GDL: Work with me here, Mr. Carhartt: Where is the place.
BC: Oh, gee. I hate to disappoint everyone. But I really could not do that question justice without the use of a globe. My goodness, look at the time!
GDL: I happen to have the latest National Geographic Society globe right here. It even has Graceland on it. Here you go.
BC: Oh then! That's different! Shouldn't be a problem! Um...well...it's...um.... Gee. I thought it was right here...no wait, it's...no, it's.... I'm afraid there seems to be something the matter with this globe.
GDL: Yup, so I guess this is as good a time as any to conclude our interview with Buffalo Ben Carhartt III, from Who the Hell Knows Where. Thanks a lot. This is Gracie De La Rue, signing off.
BC: I just want to conclude by saying this has been grand! Absolutely grand! Also, hello Mother! Hello, Cousin Ricky! Hi Buzzy! Bootles, don't forget --
GDL: Interview's over, Mr. Carhartt. Move along.
BC: Wait! Aren't you going to ask me what makes my fur so fluffy?