U Chicago Essay 4
Modern improvisational comedy had its start with The Compass Players, a group of University of Chicago students, who later formed the Second City comedy troupe. Here is a chance to play along. Improvise a story, essay, or script that meets all of the following requirements:
* It must include the line “And yes I said yes I will Yes” (Ulysses, by James Joyce).
* Its characters may not have superpowers.
* Your work has to mention the University of Chicago, but please, no accounts of a high school student applying to the University—this is fiction, not autobiography.
* Your work must include at least four of the following elements:
* a paper airplane
* a transformation
* a shoe
* the invisible hand
* two doors
* a fanciful explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem
* a ventriloquist or ventriloquism
* the Periodic Table of the Elements
* the concept of jeong
* number two pencils
Looking at the block of wood, he envisioned the shining eyes, the gently smiling mouth, the upright torso, and white and blue shoes dangling from knobby kneed legs. Most importantly, however, he envisioned the speech of the thing, the clear voice that would soon emit from painted wooden lips. The ventriloquist wiped his perspiring forehead, gripped his chiseling knife, and began to create.
It was a dark and chilly basement in which the ventriloquist labored day and night. The cold Chicago air occasionally whistled through the locked door above the steps to stir the leering silhouettes dangling from the ceiling on invisible strings. Their marionette arms and legs would collide with wooden echoes, creating the effect of human wind chimes. Dozens of shoes, half carved human heads, and hands hoping to one day be hung from a body littered the dusty stone floor, but the ventriloquist did not care. He sought a voice from this block of wood, for silent marionettes offered no companionship, and thus he carved late into the night, the light from his unfailing lamp masking the change in daylight and his anticipation blocking the human need for rest.
As the ventriloquist carved, for what may have been a day, a week, a month, (time did not exist within that damp basement) it was as if a heavy fog descended upon him. The knife indeed moved of its own accord, the thing creating itself as it wished. The man and his creation were alone in the fog, and, had the world around him been snatched away as he carved, the ventriloquist would never have noticed. Nor did he.
For it was while the rustic block of wood transformed into the small exaggerated features of a miniature man, that the human world around that dismal basement did, in fact, disappear. As the ventriloquist began to work on the probing green eyes, discarded newspapers folded themselves into paper airplanes to fly through the streets unobstructed. As the orange, red, yellow, and green leaves dotting the landscape like a pointillist painting became the only life inhabiting the wind-swept Chicago city, the ventriloquist began to color the red lips soon to open. As the stiff wooden joints became limber with copper filaments, the two ancient-looking doors of Rockefeller Chapel fused into one with disuse. And as the University of Chicago campus lay depleted of life and human depth, the ventriloquist gazed at the small body sitting still quiet on the working cloth and felt an understanding and compassion from it that he had never felt in all his years. He looked at his companion. His companion looked back up at him and spoke:
Let us feel the cool city steps with our feet and the gentle wind on our skin and smell the slow decaying leaves, the autumn musk filling our noses and eyes. Yes. Let us stand alone in the flaxen grass with our hearts open and our ears attune to the rustling leaves. Yes, let us stand by the still waters of the pond, just you and I, alone. Yes, may we fill the air with our presence, bring life to the cloud covered sky. Yes! Up, out the basement door you and I must run! Yes, I live and I breath! And yes I said yes I will Yes!
The small painted doll sat quiet and still on the white cloth, his blue and white leather shoes swaying gently on dowel legs from the fulcrum of his knees, no more human than the hypnotic movement of a pendulum.
“Let us go then,” said the ventriloquist, delicately lifting his companion from the cloth.
Up the basement steps they ran. The ventriloquist paused for a moment, watching the natural light spill in through the cracks in the door, ready to greet the outside world, ready to have it admire his companion. The passage from dark to light, quiet to the bustling city streets, would surely bring new life to his companion. He smiled and looked down on his grinning companion.
With one swift motion he burst through the door. The light spilled in and the ventriloquist covered his eyes as they adjusted to the brightness. The contrast between light and dark was overwhelming, and it took him several seconds before he realized nothing had changed. The sound was the same. The overwhelming silence had not been expelled. There was the sound of the autumn wind whipping through the city and leaves rustling, yet that deep silence prevailed.
The city was deserted. The ventriloquist stepped through the streets, holding his companion, heading towards the university campus, all too aware of the emptiness surrounding him. His companion, however, was not concerned and spoke:
I am here. I am all you need, you and I alone. Let us run through the cool city streets! Let us take in the bright clouds of the autumn sky, you and I! Let us fill the fresh cinnamon air with our presence and feel the clean wind on our skin!
But somehow the world was not so cool, and bright, and fresh, and clean when it was alone. The ventriloquist had a companion to enjoy his world with, but yet without the hum of human voices, his world had turned dull.
His companion grinned up at him. The ventriloquist looked back and shutterd.