The Sad Tale of Ton Ton McCoot - 1/23/2013

I'm an educated man, and for that I am grateful. Mine was not an elite education, mind you. No Ivy League for me. I went to school at universities with cool mascots that people like to wear on their t-shirts. Still, I have an education. I get along.

Nevertheless, I wish that someone had warned me what would become of my education by the time I reached middle age. A twenty-five year old's education is a slick thing indeed. He recalls facts and remembers exactly where he got them. With a fresh education, the information in one's head is still more or less in order. But by the time one hits forty, things have gotten dicey in the knowledge department. Your recall gets softer, the details hazier, and the “facts” that your brain dredges up come without a clear pedigree. You know stuff, sure, but do you know where you got those facts? After all, you haven't spent those forty years just reading books, have you? No, you've put your time in with television, the Internet, and the general chatter of pop culture, and all that stuff requires shelf space as well, don't you know? By middle age, your memory is positively stuffed with junk that's true, but completely useless in every way and absurd enough that it might as well have come out of a comic book.

For instance, did you know that back in the 80s, a drilling crew working in a lake in Louisiana managed to punch a hole into a salt mine running underneath it, thereby draining the whole shebang into what even a skeptical viewer would surely have assumed was a quickly expanding hole to Hell? It ate up barges, then spit them up days later. Real people once stood and watched whole trees disappear into a chasm in the Earth that at one point spewed a 400 foot geyser. That's true stuff! That's a fact in my head. Now it's in yours as well, and if you are over thirty five or so, you can bet that your brain had to throw out some bit of knowledge you hadn't used in a while. What's the atomic weight of beryllium? Don't know? Well, maybe you did at the beginning of this paragraph.

Lake Peigneur AKA "The Devil's Enema"

Recently, my memory decided to play a prank on my brain. I was running errands one afternoon, and while listening to the radio, heard a news story that mentioned something about Haiti. I was only half-listening and half-thinking as I drove, but as the idea of Haiti percolated in my mind, I started flipping mental channels through what little I know about the country. The capital's Port au Prince: check. I'm no hillbilly—I know Port au Prince. There was the 2010 earthquake. I remember that? Who doesn't? Oh, yeah, and they had a slave revolution there that I will definitely read about one day when I have time to read things about things. After that, my knowledge on the topic of Haiti runs out quickly.

But as my brain sifted through its last few bits of trivia, it turned up a name. The name emerged seemingly out of nowhere, attached to no historical references that I could recall. Nevertheless, it emerged out of my memory fully formed, with an air of authority that led me to believe that this was genuine knowledge learned through proper channels at some point in my education. I say it was “a name,” but the words involved had no sensible reason to exist together as one unit. It was just a block of silly syllables, sounds bereft of any meaning, and yet there they were, claiming to be something real.

And that name was “Ton Ton McCoot.”

Ton Ton McCoot! How unlikely is that? Not only was this a sound that was actually lingering in my memory somehow, but my brain, that scamp, was claiming it was a real thing. This was a sound that wanted to be true!

Now normally in cases where my memory coughs up something that my brain can't identify, I just hit Google and find out what's what. But I was at the wheel of a car with more errands to run, so all I had to draw from was my own memory. How does one put something like that aside? The words played in my head, dredging pure weirdness out of my brain as it tried to make some kind of associations with what it knew to be real. Wasn't a “Ton Ton” something from Star Wars? Could it be that this was a bit of movie trivia that had gotten misfiled over the years? Maybe it had nothing to do with Haiti but was, in fact, the name of some sidekick for Jar Jar Binks that had ended up being cut from “Phantom Menace” when Lucas said, “OK, now 'Jar Jar Binks' sounds pretty cool, but 'Ton Ton McCoot?' Come on!”

But my brain refused to give up on Ton Ton McCoot, and as I ran my errands, it got to work looking for associations that might give the thing some meaning. What could such an array of syllables mean? Well, “McCoot” was just crazy, but somehow it brought the word “macaw” to mind. Are there wild parrots in Haiti? Sure, it's tropical, so probably there are parrots there, and obviously “Ton Ton” could be a fine name for a parrot. So there was something to go on.

Then again, doesn't “McCoot” bring to mind some crazy old toothless prospector? You can almost imagine him in black and white, popping through the swinging doors of some saloon and crowing, “GOOOOLD! I done found gold!”

Prospector. Parrot.

How about a prospecting parrot?

Yes, at this point, it is safe to assume that my brain was done searching my memory, and it just wanted to play. As I went about my errands, the picture came slowly came together. Ton Ton McCoot, the cantankerous pickaxe-toting parrot. I stopped at the local Kroger's, and a quick stroll through the cereal aisle managed to line Ton Ton McCoot up with Toucan Sam and Tony the Tiger. Why not? A prospecting parrot has as much to do with cereal as a blueberry ghost or a trickster leprechaun. “RARK! GOLDEN SUGAR NUGGETS! Part of a nutritious breakfast!” squawked a wild-eyed imaginary parrot to no one but me. Did the pretty young cashier notice me smiling like a goon in at nothing in particular? Could be. Did she assume I was another creepy middle-aged perv sleazing up the joint? Could be. But by then, my brain had found a toy, and it just wanted to play. Whatever “Ton Ton McCoot” had actually been, it was quickly becoming something else.

More errands. Waiting in line at the Post Office, I doodled a quick sketch on the back of a receipt—just something to pass the time, mind you, a little amusement for myself. Crazy eyes. Pickaxe in one hand, bowl of cereal in the other. Should a middle-aged man be getting such a charge out of nonsense like this? Probably not, but who was watching? Who would know?

Finally, on the ride home, as a few imaginary commercials played in my head, Ton Ton blurted out his catchphrase, and that was it. I scratched it down while I waited in line at the drive-through ATM. By the time I had made it home, Ton Ton McCoot had become a full blown character in my mind—a beloved cartoon parrot who brought joy to children everywhere.

For the record, he looked something like this:

It was only after I'd unpacked the groceries and got a few other household chores done that I sat down at my computer and did a search for Ton Ton McCoot. And what did I find?

Well, what did you find?

Ton Ton Macoute, it would seem, was a paramilitary force employed by the Haitian dictator Francois ”Papa Doc” Duvalier. They were a murder squad. They killed thousands. Wikipedia tells us: “Haitians named this force after the Haitian Creole mythological Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) bogeyman who kidnaps and punishes unruly children by snaring them in a gunnysack (macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast.”

“Part of a complete breakfast!” Ton Ton squawked in my head. For the record, he now looked like this:

Now, I'm not sure if one would call the meeting of my cartoon parrot with the newly refurbished memory “cognitive dissonance,” but something profound happened in my head, to be sure. As I read the article, it felt as if my brain managed to somehow pry itself loose from whatever holds it in my skull (some kind of caulk, I'm guessing), slide itself out through my ear hole, climb down my torso and kick me as hard as it could with its hiking boot-clad foot right in the nuts.

So Tonton Macoute was a real and terrible thing. No, they weren't a damned bit funny, and the idea of making a joke out of them is pretty appalling. And yet that's just what my brain did. At some point in the past, I learned this history. One hopes that one's brain is serious enough that even it if can't retain enough knowledge to do fancy algebraic equations, it will at least keep all the data regarding dictators and their death squads orderly enough that it can't be turned into cartoons.

I now know that this is not the case. Thanks, brain! Good to know I can count on you to keep a serious tone about a serious subject.

Not depressed yet? Click here, Jack... you will be!

With that, I hereby welcome you to my website. We'll be having cartoons, yes, and a blog, yes, with updates thrice weekly whether I feel like it or not. When I was a younger man, I might have come up with some fancy reasons for putting this thing up, but at this stage in the game, I fear I'm too tired to make up fancy reasons for things. I have a head full of cartoon parrots and flooded salt mines, murder squads and breakfast cereals. I'm not sure if there's anything of value among all this junk, but when did that ever stop anyone from putting all their crap out in their driveway and selling it to their neighbors for a couple bucks?

Welcome to my psychic garage sale. It's called “Seven Billion Little Reasons,” and everything is priced to move.


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