What if a life-size papier-mâché dummy hitchhikes across America?
The concept is titillating and timeless: a 37,000-word comedy drama about a life-size dummy that is found leaning against a freeway sign outside Los Angeles, his thumb cocked in a hitchhiking gesture. He has a lunch box hanging from his neck. One word is painted on it: EAST. Inside the box is an unusual green book that begins: My name is Zazz. I am traveling east to an alien festival.
Who exactly is Zazz?
Does this mysterious creation make it across America? What does he have to endure to travel east? First, he loses his thumb, then is thrown in ditches, consigned to trash heaps, torn apart again and again, only to be reassembled by the well-meaning travelers he meets on the highway.
What manner of mankind stops to pick up a roadside dummy and help it travel from Los Angeles to the East Coast? Only some of the most unusual human characters Zazz could ever meet. Such as: Wanda Woman and her companion Flash, a video game designer; the Backwards Man; Georgie Hawn, an over-the-hill stand-up comedian,and his girlfriend, exotic dancer Loli Py. There’s also Steffie, a six-year-old deaf girl—who becomes Zazz’s special friend—and her grandparents, Aage and Zula Zong.
To each person who picks up Zazz, unusual, unexplained things begin to happen.
It was as if the city had suddenly come under attack.
“What the hell?” the homeless man muttered as he sniffed at the strange, humid air, which felt as if it had thickened into liquid. It was tainted with dust, age-yellowed newspapers and moldering cardboard. He hunched deeper into the doorway, pulling his knees tight to his chest, as a chilling breeze swirled dead leaves and scraps of paper around him. A drop of rain splattered against his forehead, another drop slapped his face. With a scruffy coat sleeve he wiped away the wetness that dribbled into his eyes, and peered out of his refuge at the leaden sky.
“Hey! Ain’t suppose’ to have no rain now.”
The darkening layers of the clouds cracked open as a jagged bolt of lightning lashed down. The blinding light was followed by a thunderclap, a howl that filled the sky. There was a second awful crash that sent people scurrying along the streets of downtown Los Angeles to seek the shelter of office building alcoves and hotel lobbies.
Fierce pellets of rain hurled themselves against the facades of the city as the homeless man grasped at a flying slab of cardboard and held it against the rain like a shield. “Well, hell!” he cursed, as the wind buffeted the cardboard, smacking a loose section against his face.
In answer, the sky deepened even more to an inky black as the rain pummeled angrily at the city’s mirrored windows.
Then, as quickly as it had come, the wind softened, the rain eased to a drizzle and, like children at play after a storm, droplets danced happily in the sheen of water on the sidewalks and streets.
The homeless man scratched his head in wonder. “Now what was that all about?”
Twenty miles to the east, the ghostly outline of LA’s sky-scrapers loomed like an alien city in the mist: Gray sheets of water washed over the asphalt surface of a highway. A swish of tires and the rumble of engines arose as a line of cars and trucks headed bumper-to-bumper toward an ON ramp to a freeway. They lined up impatiently, creeping past a green-and-white sign:
Under the sign sat the figure of a man, his back against the sign post. Although he could be seen by people in passing vehicles, no one stopped, not even hesitated, even though the man’s right arm was cocked in a hitchhiking gesture. The thumb was gone, torn from its socket. Only shreds of papier-mâché gave a hint of where it had once been.
Through the haze of a light rain, the features of this strange figure began to take shape. The face was as round as a bowling ball, the flesh-toned skin aglow with a plastic sheen. Atop his head was a black toupee, slightly askew, and beneath, wide lustrous eyes with great white shells that encircled blue irises. A thin moustache framed a shiny red mouth, which was set in a half grin.
The figure was dressed in a tweed sport coat, the collar turned up, coat, shirt, tie and trousers soaked from the passing torrent of rain. Hanging from his neck, tied by a length of clothesline, was a square metal lunch box of the kind children carry to school. Painted in uneven letters on the green box was the single word:
A drizzle of rain continued to fall on the dummy’s face. There appeared to be loneliness painted into the eyes as he waited for his ride east.
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