Copyright 2002 by Marc Robinson

The Cookie Crumbles

"Elvy Whitecuff, we can use a woman like you," Elvy Whitecuff said to herself as she sat in the breakfast nook, painting a masterpiece. She was giving herself a pep talk and rehearsing, too -- a pep talk because she was going to work the next day for the first time; rehearsing because that evening she was going on stage, for the second time. Elvy aspired to be a businesswoman and a rock and roll singer, both. She was eighty years old.

Elvy had been brought up when young ladies had husbands, not careers. Her marriage had lasted until her husband's death. Alone, a condition with which she was unfamiliar, she grew bored. She started going to singles bars.

Elvy looked much younger than her age. Much younger -- mid-twenties, in fact, about the age of her grandchildren. She looked so young partly through practice (having always assumed only six expressions a day, rotating them like tires, to keep the wear even), partly from genetic makeup (her mother had had the same curiously smooth face, slippery as teflon, to which expressions wouldn't stick), and partly through pure, dumb luck (Elvy succeeded at everything she tried, even her face).

She liked the singles bars, although the music hurt her ears at first. But then one day she heard the music, and fell in love: it had such energy, like a train wreck in slow motion.

"What kind of music is that?" she asked.

"Rock and roll."

Of course. The perfect name. She listened to all the rock and roll albums she could find. She bought a guitar and began to practice, and to write her own songs.

"What's that catchy tune you're humming?" one of her bridge partners asked. Elvy sang the song. Her friends liked it. They decided to form a band -- Elvy on guitar, Mirella on bass, Joy on drums, and Walburga Deschutes on keyboards.

No one in the band understood Elvy's lyrics, and neither did anyone in the audience, but that didn't matter because they could feel them, which was more important. And the music was danceable. As soon as they began to play, and especially when Elvy sang, the entire audience was on its feet and moving. A disk jockey in the audience phoned his radio station about the exciting new performer he had discovered. The station hurried a crew to the bar and broadcast the performance live. Then everyone listening to the station rushed to the bar. The crowd was blocks deep. There was a riot when only  a few could get in. Cars were overturned, people were trampled, ambulances and police were summoned. The chaos ended when speakers were set up outside and the crowd settled down to dance.

Everyone recognized instantly that Elvy was unbelievably original. They all wanted to say they had heard her before she got famous. She was famous by morning. The radio station taped her performance and flew the tapes the same night to its sister stations all around the country. During the morning rush hour, commuters everywhere heard Elvy on their radios.

"Who is that?" they asked, and turned up the volume. There were traffic jams when they stopped their cars to listen more closely.

Elvy Whitecuff, sipping her tea and painting a masterpiece the next morning, knew nothing about this because she didn't read the newspaper or listen to radio or watch television, and no one knew where she lived. If they had, reporters and fans would have trapped her and forced her to leave the house the way she had left the Zoo the night before -- by helicopter. And helicopter taxis were expensive.

Not that Elvy cared. She was independently wealthy. Her husband, a manufacturer of dog toys, had been a very rich man. He had died just the year before. Elvy bought a candy factory and appointed herself president. Now she was going to work. She wondered what it would be like.

Her office had a picture window with a splendid view of the factory, which covered several acres in a twisting heap of pastel-colored buildings that reminded her of construction sets her children had put together when they were small.

There was a knock at the door. It was the vice president in charge of tours. He informed Elvy that the first thing on her schedule that morning was a tour of the factory.

The place was a labyrinth of tunnels and catwalks and pipes and conveyor belts and rotating wheels and doors covered with rubber flaps like the ones pets use to get in and out of the kitchen, except that here boxes emerged, not animals. All the people were busy tending machines. The factory was full of noise: belts whirred, counters clicked, windows rattled, the walls throbbed, and somewhere, a valve whistled, giving Elvy the idea for her next song.

She had a working lunch with her fellow executives after the tour. They filled her in on what she needed to know -- the product line hadn't changed in years, and sales and profits were slipping. They were in need of fresh ideas.

"Why not rock and roll candy?" she asked.

"What?" they said.

She explained. Greeting cards played music now, so why not boxes of candy?

The executives were enthusiastic. They didn't even need to change the product line, only the packaging. While they retooled to produce the new boxes, they invested in an enormous ad campaign. They used billboards, newspaper and magazine ads, radio and TV spots. All the ads said the same thing:

         Listen... Hear it?
         Rock and roll candy is coming soon.

Everyone at the factory worked around the clock. The workers were happy because they were getting paid triple time. The executives were happy because they had a sure thing. Elvy and the band were happy because they could reach a larger audience. They converted Elvy's office into a recording studio and cranked out the tunes.

The first boxes were out in less than a week. Within two weeks they were in full production, but the demand was insatiable. The only way to supply the public was to license other manufacturers. Soon they had every candy company in the country under franchise, even Hershey's. The cost of their stock shot up, and they split ten-for-one, twice.

Elvy's tunes were a lot of the reason for the candy's success. Overnight she was bigger than Elvis or the Beatles had been, bigger than the original hype for Bruce Springsteen. She could do anything: blues, hip-hop, heavy metal, new wave, soul, reggae, r & b, country, punk, all in her unmistakable voice. She quit the presidency of the company to concentrate on writing and recording songs. Her picture was in the papers. Rolling Stone interviewed her every week. Male groupies chased her, until they found out her age.

The band continued to play at the Zoo, which expanded to take up an entire block. Still there wasn't enough space. They decided to go on tour, and acquired a manager and roadies and an opening act.

Everywhere they went, they were greeted by screaming hordes. The upturned faces and open mouths and waving hands and arms reminded Elvy of some giant, many-mouthed, tentacled and ciliated sea animal, one of those colonies of organisms that is more like an individual than a group.

It wasn't long before she learned how to communicate with these organisms by varying the beat of her songs, and the order in which she played them, and their speed, and even by making spontaneous changes in the lyrics. She carried on conversations with the audience -- it was a living thing, with a mind, and it answered her with moans and screams and sighs. She had a feeling of tremendous power, as if she was having sex with thousands of people at once.

After the tour the band had new work. A research engineer at the candy factory had devised a method of recording songs inside the actual pieces of candy, like edible Walkmans. Each piece contained one song. Only the person eating the candy could hear the song. It played at the speed it was eaten, ending with the last swallow: participatory music, with the consumer controlling the tempo.

All the factories had to be changed because the candy required fundamentally new processes. The manufacturers bought hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new equipment. They hired more workers. They put rock and roll bands to work recording new songs. The population gained weight and had to buy new clothes. The economy boomed. The dollar shot to astronomical heights against other currencies.

Everyone bought candy. Psychiatrists were upset because everyone was happy. The record industry was upset because the candy had taken away their market. Foreign countries were upset because their money was worthless, and because their people were buying the stuff, a new form of cultural imperialism. Iran and North Korea were upset because they didn't know whether to condemn the craze as decadent, or encourage it in order to weaken their enemies.

The introduction of diet candy caused other problems. Without the prospect of obesity looming over them, people spent all their time eating and listening to the music. Entire industries failed because their employees were in a trance; there was something hypnotic about hearing what you ate; it was addictive. Absenteeism was rampant. The country had never been happier, but it was sliding into a depression. America had become a land of lotus eaters.

Congress passed a law forbidding the sale and consumption of rock and roll candy. Martial law was imposed. Through the diligent efforts of the hygiene police the practice was stamped out. Anyone found with the candy was immediately deprogrammed and put to work sixteen hours a day as a member of the hygiene police. Often, in their fanaticism, these converts to mental health worked so hard they refused sleep, and sank into hallucinations and psychosis. New mental hospitals had to be built to accomodate them.

But the efforts were effective. The eating of rock and roll candy died out. It was just another fad.

As for Elvy, she was placed under house arrest. She was quite content to stay home and paint masterpieces. All the work and commotion had worn her out and she was feeling her age.

She died not long after. Her paintings were discovered by an art dealer, who bought them in a single batch. They sold at enormous prices because experts thought they heralded a new direction. Fortunately, Elvy was dead and couldn't produce any more. She might have diluted their value, or made them obsolete with changes of style.

But it didn't matter. Elvy hadn't prepared the canvases properly, or taken trouble to let the oils dry properly. Within ten years the paint had fallen off, leaving the canvases blank.