by Matt Slick
It was that dreaded time of year again, the anniversary of the founding of Bunkett's Thread Bobbins Inc., which meant a must-attend dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Bunkett's bedraggled manor. It was always a mediocre event.
The stout and proper Mr. Bunkett was exceedingly proud of his successful company and didn't mind showing his appreciation to the workers. That's what the annual lavishly catered party was about: appreciation, accompanied by a long boring speech about how grateful he was to have such fantastic workers for the greatest thread bobbin company on the planet.
His love and devotion for BTB Inc. approached bigamy.
His thread bobbins, he often said, "...are the best in the world and I aim to keep them that way. We must devote our very lives to the perfect production of Bunkett's Bobbins. It is a sacred duty."
Of course, the executives didn't share his bone deep devotion, but since they liked getting paid, they dutifully attended every thread bobbin convention possible and promptly submitted intricately detailed reports on the latest gossip in thread bobbin technology. It was must reading at BTB Inc.
"No use in getting behind the times," Mr. Bunkett would say with a finger raised in the air. "A good bobbin is a useful bobbin. We must not fall behind in technology."
But this story isn't only about Mr. Bunkett, in fact, it's mainly about Bernard P. Rumpford, the company's accountant (on loan from Brokke, Bangst, and Redline), a particular polka record, and a potent bottled beverage that all came together at this years annual party.
For Barney, BTB Inc. simply provided a nice break from BBR. He didn't mind nursing a set of poorly maintained books left to him by his predecessor, attending bobbin conventions, and sitting through bobbin lectures, if they all served to help him account for bobbins, and they did. He had a nice car, a nice home, and a nice bank account.
Barney has hobbies like anyone else and one of Barney's passions, besides studying bugs, was collecting records of any kind.
On the Friday before the Saturday evening event of the annual dinner, Mr. Bunkett called Barney into his office.
"Barney," said Mr. Bunkett, "I have a bit of a problem. At the party Saturday there's going to be a gentlemen there who is pretty important. He's a buyer for a huge manufacturer of machines that uses bobbins. Needless to say, if he placed an order with us it would set us up for years to come. The problem is that he is thinking of buying from a competitor."
Barney was nodding appropriately.
"But I've discovered that this gentleman, Mr. Cravett, is extremely fond of the band The Petulant Polka Pips. If, in your arsenal of records, you should manage to finger such a rarity and attend the party with it, I would be most appreciative."
"If I've got it, you can use it," responded Barney routinely.
Mr. Bunkett, feeling appreciative said, "Call me Boris and take the rest of the day off."
"Yes, Mr. Bunk... uh, Boris."
It is not everyday that one is permitted to call Mr. Bunkett by his first name let alone be dismissed early. But the severity of the upcoming occasion easily warranted it and Barney fully fathomed its importance.
Barney arrived at home and immediately began rummaging through the p's. The phone rang.
"What are you doing home?" said a caller from work. "Have you been fired?"
"Nothing of the sort. I'm here trying to find the Petulant Polka Pips. Mr. Bunkett wants them for the party Saturday night. They apparently are the favorite of an important guest who'll be there."
"Polka?" said the man disappointed. "There's going to be Polka music at the Dinner?" He sighed into the phone.
"Well, what do you expect from Bunkett," said Barney. "He'll do almost anything to sell some business."
"Yah you're right. But I sure wish I had a good excuse to miss the darn thing. Polka music is definitely not my idea of a good time."
"Me either. Incidentally, do you know any Polka steps?"
The caller chuckled a bit and the conversation went down hill from there so they ended it.
Barney returned to rummaging among the P's. Just when hope was beginning to fade, he discovered, behind Peter's Cajun Dancing Rumba Band, none other than The Petulant Polka Pip's Greatest Hits. He was jubilant. He kissed the record appropriately, dusted it off, surveyed the cover which had four men dressed in Polka garb. He shook his head disapprovingly and then placed it on the table by the door so as not to forget it.
The next twenty four hours came and went and Barney found himself, dressed to a T, walking up the steps to the Bunkett's rather large home. When he approached the door a servant opened it from the inside just as Barney reached to knock and ended up banging on air.
"Welcome, Mr. Rumpford," said the servant blandly. "May I take your..." he examined the Petulant Pips, "your musical record, sir?"
"How did you know my name?"
"It is my job, sir. May I take your record?" He closed the door behind Barney.
"No thank you. I would like to hang on to it as it is my only copy, and a rare one at that."
"Very well, sir."
Barney continued a few steps and then turned back to steal a look at the doorman who stood there motionless for a moment and then sprang to life, grabbed the knob, and pulled the door open. A surprised couple slowly entered.
"Barney," said a voice from across the crowded room. It was Mr. Bunkett. "Over here."
Barney threaded, bobbed, and wove his way around, through, and under a noisy host of drinkers, laughers, and conversationalists. The party was under way and seemed to be going rather well.
"Did you bring the Pips?" asked Boris Bunkett.
"Very good. Very good. Hope Cravett likes them. Why don't you go over to the stereo and set the record in place. Later at the right time I'll turn it on."
Barney commented on Mr. Bunkett's thoughtfulness and retreated into the crowd again bobbing and threading until he found the stereo. He extracted the record and placed the precious plastic plate upon the player. Everything was ready. Now he could enjoy the food and festivity.
I need to add that the conversation on the phone the previous day had started Barney thinking. He was concerned for the pending deal. It seemed to him that Polka music would have a deadening affect on the party populace. If the party went bad, then so might the deal.
This triggered a memory. His uncle Trevor Potsworth had informed him of the loosening up qualities of one particular libation known as Barrel's Bomb, an import from a small South American country. When administered in minute quantities it made one feel somewhat agreeable. It seemed the perfect solution to the pending problem of signing a buyer. A drop in his glass and the contract was as good as signed.
This appealed to Barney's sensibilities so much that he contacted his uncle, who located a bottle of Barrel's Bomb. Barney had it with him. His mission, then, was to ensure a large order of bobbins, impress the boss later when he disclosed the maneuver, and secure a steady income for years to come at BBR as a result of the praise he would undoubtedly receive from Mr. Bunkett. At least, that was the plan.
He kept the bottle in his coat jacket, which, shortly thereafter, he removed and set upon a coat rack, to be retrieved after he was introduced to Mr. Cravett.
The party was proceeding quite well. There were the usual gossips, complaints, jokes, and anecdotes. Mike tried to get Gale's phone number and failed for the seventeenth time. Susan had pictures of her three chocolate covered grandchildren.
With all this commotion, Barney never noticed the man who accidentally mistook Barney's coat for his own, discovered the bottle of Barrel's Bomb, and emptied the entire contents into the punch bowl. The bottle was not returned. If Barney would have discovered this mishap he would have left the party immediately, gone home, and played dumb the following Monday. But that was not the case and Barney couldn't quite understand why several people began to act rather strange.
The oddities began with a certain young woman who had the uncontrollable urge to play the piano. This would have been fine if she knew how, but it became quickly evident to all that she did not. The place drew quiet while sour notes rang through the air. The second to succumb was an elderly lady who developed a sudden fondness for the porcelain cat displayed on the fireplace mantle. She began speaking to it and petting it, and with "Nice kitty, kitty," attempted to coax the object into her arms.
An elderly man with a cane attempted to pierce another as if in a sword fight. A Mrs. Bellows fancied herself an opera singer and joined the individual accosting the piano. Surprisingly, people began to enjoy the duo and some even tapped their feet to the cacophony.
Barrel's Bomb was sloshing through the veins of everyone at the party. People began to encourage one another, daring each other to drink out of shoes, do hand stands and bird calls, to trade jackets, purses, and belts, and even dance in a long line while holding the waist of the person in front of them. It was an indecent scene to say the least. Within a half hour the punch had been well sampled and everyone was feeling...well, rather free. Except Barney. He didn't like punch.
He had been to parties before and nothing of this sort of sordid behavior had ever happened, except in college. And it was just this line of reasoning that led him to suspect that perhaps someone had stumbled upon his coat and found the little bottle and emptied it into the punch trough. But the suspicion didn't really sink in until his friend Bob started talking to an oak coffee table and occasionally broke out in laughter as if hearing a good joke. (It reminded Barney of a fraternity initiation that involved hundreds of gallons of beer.) Barney found his coat and searched for the bottle. Nothing. He put two and two together. Everyone was bombed; Barrel Bombed, that is.
It was terrible. How could such a small dose cause all this behavior, he thought. I hope no one thinks I did the spiking.
That hope would have been an adequate consolation for Barney except that he noticed Mr. Bunkett talking to a man who was pointing at Barney and holding a small bottle, an empty bottle. Barney focused on the container and recognized the label. "Oh know," he mumbled to himself. "It's empty."
Mr. Bunkett got lost in the crowd and the man headed straight for Barney. "Great brew you got here, Barney," said the man slurring his words. "I told Mr. B. that I found it in your coat pocket and emptied it into the punch bowl." He laughed loudly as he swayed and slapped Barney hard on the back and then walked off.
Suddenly, from close behind him, "Hey Barney, ole buddy!" Barney jumped slightly. It was Mr. Bunkett. I want to introduce you to Mr. Cravett."
Next to Mr. B stood a well dressed, well manicured picture of a polished man who wore a flawless suit and perfect teeth. He was not smiling. Barney could quickly see that this man was a bit annoyed by his surroundings.
"Well, where are the p..pips?" Said Mr. Bunkett as he swayed and downed a glass full of punch. "Best puuunch I e..ever had. Great recipe. A little of your Bomb stu(uuuughg)ff and all's well." Barney winced at his brutal breath. Mr. Bunkett laughed loudly. "Ha! Why Mr. Cravett, you don't have any punch."
"No. I just arrived." The sentence had a dry, short delivery.
"Well," said Mr. Bunkett as he snagged a passing waiter with a tray full of filled punch glasses, "we'll just have to fix that." He handed the drink to Mr. Cravett who took and offered an insincere, "Thank you."
Mr. Bunkett then simply turned and walked off.
It was quite obvious that the potential buyer was quite put off by the general mayhem. He stared at Barney who attempted to salvage the situation by witty conversation. It didn't work. Barney asked about his family, his work, his car, and his suit, the whole time eyeing the glass in Mr. Cravett's hand. His goal was to somehow confiscate it and prevent any further ill effects. But there just wasn't any smooth way to apprehend it. Then in a sudden dreaded moment, Mr. Cravett lifted the glass to his lips and emptied it. Barney's eyes bulged. It had been a large full glass.
"Where is those p.p.'s?" said Mr. Bunkett from behind Barney. It startled Barney again which made Mr. Bunkett laugh with a roar. "Guilty of something, Wally?" Then, "p.p.'s, ha ha ha, that's funny. Whe(uughh)re are they?"
"They are on the record player ready when you are," said Barney with caution.
"GREAT!" Mr. Bunkett leaned into his turn as he faced the record player. "I'll turn, the dang nab thi...ng on."
Barney watched as Mr. Bunkett waddled through the inebriated horde and reached the player. One hand clutched the drink and the other fumbled with knobs and switches for a several minutes. Finally, he looked up at a painting of a large coarse looking woman and said, "Here's to you, Bertha." He then downed the rest of the drink and headed back to the punch bowl.
Seconds later an eighty decibel accordion startled the life out of about twenty people. Drinks and ordeurves flew. The belting rapid Polka beat was followed by horns and a disharmonious blast of percussion instruments. It was the worst noise Barney had ever heard. Not only was its volume unbearable, but the recording was awful. Suddenly Barney realized he had never thought to test the record. If he had, he would have discovered the numerous scratches and divots in the plastic that added to the mess. But that wasn't all, there was a slight warp to the record so the music had a tendency to speed up and slow down a bit. In all, it sounded no better than a pig fight. Barney prepared for the worst. It came in an unexpected form.
Edna Bunkett, over by the punch bowl, reacted with the most severe shock. After she recovered from the initial sonic boom and recognized that is was intended to be music, she began to shuffle her feet and wave her arms. She was a large woman so she grabbed a small defenseless man and drug him to a not so clear area and began to twirl and tiptoe to the rhythm, using him to sweep the floor of occupants. The small drunk man complied, staggered and swayed to the raucous, and bumped people everywhere as he imitated Edna's choreography.
Mr. Bunkett saw his wife and forcefully yelled, "Yippeeeeeee!" and joined her by pushing the little man out of the way and into a small group of people who all went toppling like bowling pins. "It's just like being a(acla)t a Polka marathon. Let's do it!"
It was sheer madness. An insane wave of Polka madness swept the room and within minutes everyone was doing polka steps which included falling, weaving, bobbing, staggering, stumbling, burping, spilling, and yelling. Barney was astounded. He remembered Mr. Cravett...who was gone.
That did it. The deal was definitely blown. Undoubtedly Mr. Cravett had left the party. Or had he?
He surveyed the bedlam with a sober eye. Those who weren't attempting to Polka were busy with their own oddities. Mrs. Chancy was dangling from a chandelier. Clyde was under a table hugging a pillow. Mike, Frank, and Hank were talking to a painting of a woman and an anonymous man was putting coats on his head over by the coat rack. Everyone else was bopping to the polka rhythm, shouting and yelping in an alcohol induced dance euphoria. Jackets were flying. Hats were tossed. Men were dancing with men and women with women. It was a disgusting display.
Then, over in a far corner he noticed Mr. Cravett. He had removed his suit jacket and cornered a young woman. With one arm on a wall and the other clasping some punch he was trying to make conversation. Then to Barney's utter surprise Mr. Cravett started to hop up and down, flapped his arms, and then began kicking the ground with his left foot. It was incredible. Barney closed his eyes.
He could barely contain his shame at being a contributor to such horrendous behavior. He figured that once people regained their senses the next day and remembered the foolish things they had done, someone's head would have to roll. It would certainly be his. That, and the defunct deal, depressed him deeply. He stared at the rug. I'm out of a job," he said to himself. When Bor...Mr. Bunkett recovers he will axe me on sight."
Barney dragged himself to the garment rack, retrieved his coat from the head of a man, and headed for home. Two men tried to dance with him on the way out, but he eluded them and aimed for the door. The doorman opened it politely. "Pretty crazy party isn't it," said Barney in a monotone.
"If you say so sir."
Barney just shook his head and left, drove home, and went to bed...depressed.
The next morning Barney woke with a heavy sadness. All day he rehearsed his next encounter with Mr. Bunkett. "You're fired!" said Barney aloud in imitation. "Get your things together and get out!" Barney sank in a chair and sipped a glass of milk. "He's probably going to sue me. He'll probably try to have my accounting degree revoked."
Such were the conversations Barney had with himself all day Sunday, which passed with amazing speed.
Monday morning Barney walked in the front door of Bunkett Thread Bobbins Inc., prepared for termination. "Hello, Martha," he mumbled to the receptionist. She only winced slightly and nodded, then slowly, softly she began typing at the computer terminal.
Barney thought to himself, "They all know! Even the receptionist hates me. This is just great!" It took only seconds to wander to his office where, he discovered to his surprise, Mr. Bunkett was waiting patiently in a big lounge chair. Great, said Barney to himself.
"Uh, good morning," offered Barney ritualistically. Then he seated himself across from Mr. Bunkett and waited for the axe to fall.
Mr. Bunkett fidgeted a bit, rubbed his chin, and massaged his forehead. He said softly, "Uum. That was quite a party we had Saturday night." He shifted his position in the chair again and started rubbing his temple. "It, uh, I mean..." He sighed. "I am sorry but..." He rubbed some more.
Barney prepared himself for the sack.
"I don't know how it happened but your record got broken. I'll be glad to pay for it."
Barney was confused. "That's alright."
"After you left, the part really got crazy."
Barney, completely unsure of the situation asked slowly, "How did the record get broken?"
Mr. Bunkett shifted and coughed then covered his eyes with his hand. "I wazz... blrma.. on.. mjf.krjohg."
"I'm sorry. I didn't get that."
More shifting and coughing. "I was dancing on..theke...fhlkfj."
Barney stared at his boss.
Mr. Bunkett blurted out, "I danced on the record player." He winced then said softly, "Broke the dang record to a million pieces, not to mention my stereo. Somehow dancing on the record player seemed very sensible at the time. Anyway, I just came in here to apologize." He rubbed his forehead some more.
Barney wasn't sure what to do. He still suspected an axe with his name on it. But, because he didn't know what else to say he asked, "Why are you rubbing your forehead."
Mr. Bunkett shifted again. "I have one horrendous headache. Yesterday it was unbearable. At least today I can sit up.
"Mrs. Bunkett is still bedridden, not only with a severe headache, but also with multiple bruises and pulled muscles suffered in sustained polka dancing. Seems she can't quite dance the way she used to."
"May I ask a question? If it's out of line, you can just tell me so."
"How did the deal with Mr. Cravett go?"
"He signed a contract. Said it was the best party he'd ever been to. He said it reminded him of back home on the farm. I don't see how. Anyway, he signed later that night."
Mr. Bunkett looked at the ceiling and reminisced. "Yep. Sure was fun...and your record helped a lot. That's why I'm in here. To tell you that I appreciated what you did for us and that you'll be getting a raise in your next paycheck."
Barney was, needless to say, astounded. "Why, thank you, thank you very much."
Mr. Bunkett rose from his chair slowly and headed for the door choosing his steps carefully.
"By the way, next month a supplier is coming out for contract negotiations. There's going to be a small dinner at my place. What do you say you show up and bring some of that hooch? It does a good job." Then he was gone.
Barney stared at the empty doorway for several minutes reevaluating the party, his future, and the conversation. The phone rang. It was someone asking Barney about the punch and a little bottle. But Barney pleaded ignorance, "Little bottle? What little bottle?"
Copyright, Matthew J. Slick 1996.