Illustration by Mitch Handsone
The bigger the house, the better the life. That’s what Carmine Poe’s mother had told him, and Carmine had nodded and said, “Okay.” So Poe grew up and made a lot of money, lived in big houses, and did little else.
He used some of his money to buy friends — important friends in city government, who twiddled a few zoning laws so that Poe could buy six small contiguous properties in a friendly neighborhood, tear down the six small clean houses there and build one monstrous fortress in their place.
Now Carmine Poe’s was the biggest, ugliest, most menacing house for miles. Twenty-six thousand square feet, three stories high, with an underground 14-car garage. The walls loomed right up to the edge of the property, bringing permanent shade to the neighbors’ hitherto sunny kitchens and sitting rooms. Life was better.
But not better enough. Ever since he first took the time to notice, Carmine Poe had never had much luck with the ladies. So after he’d made a lot of money, some of his moneyfriends encouraged him to invest in prostitutes — women who would feign procreation with him for a fee of three public meals and one piece of jewelry per week.
This was a nice distraction, but Poe wanted more, or better, or different. So late one night, Poe revved up his two-bedroom sport utility vehicle and headed on out to Ned’s Raunch-O-Rama Sextique, just south of town. There, after a good long browse, Poe found a vibrating inflatable doll named Three-Hole Sally for $89.95 plus tax.
For the next three weeks, Carmine and Sally had a wonderful time — hunting dolphins at Malibu Beach, mingling with Governor Schwarzenegger and Ann Coulter at fund-raisers, buying historic landmarks and razing them into parking lots. And four and a half months after their wedding, Sally gave birth to a healthy, semi-inflatable boy, whom she and Carmine named Joe.
Joe Poe was a bright young fellow who cried little and shat less. Not much bother at all. While his head and body were as solid (and liquid) as his father’s, he’d inherited his mother’s arms and legs — they needed to be re-inflated every morning. Sally Poe was busy — she spent her days propped up on the bed watching television, or on the couch watching television, or on a chaise longue beside the swimming pool watching television. The more television Sally watched, the more interested she became in watching television, and the less interested she became in little Joe.
So the Poes hired a live-in nanny named Margaret Farnsworth. Carmine Poe had been told that nannies shouldn’t be named Margaret, so he took to calling her Maria.
“The Pillsburys call their nanny Maria,” Carmine explained to Sally over pancakes. “And the Schechners call their nanny Maria, too. I’ll be damned if I’m going to call ours Margaret.”
Sally nodded and stared off into space. She wasn’t one to make trouble over nothing.
Every morning at 7 o’clock, Maria Farnsworth inflated young Joe Poe’s limbs with a special gold-plated hand pump, then wheeled him around the neighborhood and to the park in his sport utility pram.
Carmine Poe left for work shortly thereafter. Often he’d drive right past Maria and little Joe, but never beeped or waved. He was busy. He’d had his SUV’s foyer decorated to match his billiard room at home. He listened to talk radio, watched Fox News on TiVo and talked on the phone with his wealthy friends, as they did the same in their SUVs across town.
Sometimes, on the way to work, Poe would see suspicious-looking pedestrians walking much too close to the street and tethered to what appeared to be large pink-and-blue balloons, so he’d shoot them with his Glock .45 and watch the “balloons” rise safely into the sky. Poe felt bad about killing people, but in the last State of the Union address, the president had said that new intelligence indicated that terrorist cells might be using small, unmanned aircraft to attack civilian SUVs in major American cities, so Poe felt it would be most patriotic not to take any chances. Besides, in the same speech, the president had also said that eliminating pedestrians who stood too close to curbs was good for the economy.
Every day at the park, the uninflatable kids would laugh at little Joe Poe’s useless, air-swollen limbs. So Maria got an idea: She lifted Joe out of his pram one morning and placed him on the ground beside the play area. After fastening one end of a 10-foot tether around Joe’s waist and the other to her wrist, she deflated Joe’s limbs and re-inflated them with helium — enough that Joe rose high above the other youngsters.
Joe squealed with delight as Maria ran around the playground as fast as she could, careful to avoid the trees. All the uninflatable children and nannies pointed and gasped. It was the most wonderful thing they’d ever seen. They wished that they, too, could be inflatable.
Just a few blocks from work, Carmine Poe realized he’d forgotten an important file, and made a U-turn in the middle of traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.
Poe drove quickly, at one point hitting 85 mph along Wilshire. Speeding tickets mean nothing when you’ve got dough like Poe. As he got closer to home, he slowed down, decided to take the scenic route through the park.
As he approached the playground, he saw a small group of people standing a bit too close to the curb. One of them was tethered to what appeared to be a large pink-and-blue balloon, floating 10 feet in the sky.