The Tower Project
After kidnapping our damsel, we of the 25th Order of Royal Gnomes went in search of a tower, but the search did not go well. Norwood, our accountant, had crunched several odd-looking numbers and discovered, to everyone’s dismay, that buying an entire tower was not within our budget. We could, he claimed, buy “office space,” but nothing was available on a floor lower than the ninth. This would not do, for surely there were no princes capable of rescuing our damsel from such a lofty height. So Norwood proposed an alternative: we build our own tower in the park. We all agreed it was a good idea, except Lionel, who insisted that he had proposed the same thing weeks ago. Jumping up and down, he demanded all the credit and every bit of the praise. Norwood was fine with that; he just wanted money.
* * *
Simon had been in charge of kidnapping the damsel. Choosing from all the members of the 25th Order—including those who wore inferior hats—he put together two elite task forces, to whom he referred to as The Brains and The Brawns. To each group he gave tasks that suited their respective skills. The Brains were to list the qualities our damsel should ideally possess and devise a kidnapping plan. The Brawns, following the list, were to find a damsel, and then, executing the plan, kidnap her.
At first, everything went well. In only a few days The Brains had compiled a list of qualities, numbered below in their order of importance:
- The ability to cry distressfully in a pitch loud enough to be heard in lands far away (and preferably in several different languages)
- A large bosom
- Good people skills
- Likes to tickle bellies
- Experience in troubleshooting
- Not overly opposed to being poked with sticks
But then the trouble began. The Brawns scoured the city for several weeks— searching under rocks, peering into Internet cafés, and interviewing scantily-clad women at street corners—but were unable to find an appropriate damsel. They began to feel overworked and under-appreciated; then they began to question the list of qualities. “Likes to tickle bellies,” they argued, should have been at the top of the list, as this was what they themselves valued the most. And what good was “Experience in troubleshooting,” they wondered, since it was the prince’s job to do the rescuing? Furthermore, they denounced Simon’s method of task force designing, complaining that the standardized test he had administered was biased because it gave an unfair advantage to the more intelligent gnomes.
The Brawns went on strike. It might have ended quickly—The Brains were willing to reconsider their ordering of qualities, and Simon had composed a new test— but The Brawns were having too much fun constructing picket signs and creating witty sayings to paint on them (“Hell nope, we won’t scope!”; “Search this!”) that they were unwilling to negotiate.
A committee was formed to mediate the dispute. After several days of heated deliberation, the committee decided that whatever Simon said must be followed. Unable to discover a loophole, The Brawns set down their picket signs and resumed their search.
* * *
Our damsel’s name was Goldilocks. The Brawns had found her one morning passed out in an abandoned warehouse. At first, they were skeptical. Although she possessed most of the desired qualities, Goldilocks smelled of liquor and refuse and was constantly scratching her crotch. But after the initial interview they became quite taken with her. Somehow she had managed to retain a vibrant perspective on life in spite of having endured a succession of hanky-wet hardships. Most recently she had lived with a family of three bears—a Mama Bear, a Papa Bear, and a Baby Bear. Although Goldilocks got along well with Baby Bear, she found his parents’ constant bickering intolerable. Apparently, Mama Bear was bipolar, which had led Papa Bear to believe she had taken a lover in the south. Goldilocks also grew sick of eating porridge every day. Why didn’t they fish like other bears? Finally, after a dispute about sleeping arrangements, Goldilocks climbed out the bedroom window and ran away. Ever since she had been living on the streets, turning tricks to make ends meet. Her stories of perseverance touched The Brawns in exciting places. Quickly they implemented the kidnapping plan, luring Goldilocks into the park with vials of crack.
* * *
Because so many gnomes were involved in constructing the tower, we were divided into shifts. To pass the time, the off-duty gnomes began making fun of Goldilocks’ blue bonnet. In the 25th Order of Royal Gnomes, as in the previous twenty-four, one’s headwear distinguished one’s rank, and those who wore bonnets—especially blue bonnets—were denounced as the scourge of the earth. Some nasty things were uttered to Goldilocks, things like “bonnet aficionado,” or “little blue bonnet wearer,” or worst of all, “headwear skank.” But none of the epithets seemed to bother Goldilocks, as she was unable to comprehend the hierarchy. For some reason, she thought how much money someone made should weigh far more heavily. Irritated by this suggestion, the off-duty gnomes decided to revive our most-hallowed pastime, and so they began poking Goldilocks repeatedly with sticks.
* * *
An accident occurred in the second week. Harry had come to work doped up on flower pollen and fell into the well of the tower. No one noticed until lunch when someone asked, “Why hasn’t Harry stolen my turkey sandwich on rye?” Searching our lunchboxes, we discovered that none of us were missing food. “Harry!” we shouted. “Harry, where are you?” Harry groaned. “I’m down here.” It was then that we realized we had forgotten to build a doorway for our tower, or, for that matter, stairs.
* * *
Officer (of the Law): All right, what’s going on here?
Adam (the PR gnome for The Tower Project): Morning, officer. Care for a muffin?
Officer: Is that a bribe?
Adam: No, it’s a blueberry.
Officer: Say, are you gnomes building a castle?
Adam: Oh no, officer. Never. We’re building a tower.
Officer: A tower? What for?
Adam: Not for imprisoning a damsel in distress, I can assure you.
Officer: You need a permit to build here. Let me see your permit.
Adam: You know, once upon a time in this great nation a person didn’t need a permit to build. All you had to do was slaughter a few hundred Indians and the land was yours to do with it what you liked.
Officer: What’s that noise?
Adam: Sounds like gunfire.
Officer: Sounds more like someone being poked repeatedly with sticks.
* * *
When we finished the tower we asked our damsel what she thought of it. Goldilocks was pleased with the overall craftsmanship, but felt the tower just wasn’t tall enough for human beings. By leaning out the window, she demonstrated how an average-sized man with a fair vertical leap might easily snatch her hair and pull her headfirst smack onto the ground. We had to admit this wasn’t the sort of heroic rescue we had in mind, and so we dismantled the roof and continued to build.
* * *
Q: Are you sure Goldilocks is, well, how shall we put this? Are you sure Goldilocks is the right damsel for the job?
Simon: Why, whatever do you mean?
Q: Some of us were thinking, that is, some of us thought that, well, Goldilocks isn’t...she’s not as, well, she’s not as womanly as some of us might have hoped.
Simon: You are aware a list of qualities was drawn up, and that Goldilocks possesses most of those qualities.
Q: Of course, of course, I’m sure that’s true. But there are other qualities she possesses that are, well, for lack of a better word, creepy.
Simon: That’s preposterous.
Q: Perhaps. But I was, we were rather, wondering if you might explain why she shaves her face instead of her legs.
Simon: She’s European.
Q: Ah, I see. And is that also why she stands when she pees?
Simon (laughing): You know women these days, they have to prove they can do everything as well as a man can.
Q: M’hmm. What about her Adam’s apple?
Simon: Adam said she could have it.
Q: Well, I think we're satisfied. After all, she is quite a looker.
Simon (winking): And just right in bed.
* * *
Just as we were preparing to cut the ribbon on our newly-elongated tower, we were informed by an anonymous source that Goldilocks was in fact a man in drag. Needless to say, we were all very disappointed, for we had never met anyone who could tickle the way he could. Nevertheless, we were consoled by the prospect of punishing Simon, as it had been under his leadership that Goldilocks had been chosen. Someone suggested we tar and feather him. Unfortunately, the only feathers we were able to find were pigeon feathers, and as everyone knows, only chicken feathers may be used in a tar-and-feathering, lest one wishes to be sued by the Union of American Poultry (UAP). In addition, Norwood, our accountant, pointed out that our tar supply was low as a result of dismantling the first roof on our tower, and because our entire budget had already been allocated, there was no way to purchase more. Norwood had reserved some cash for just such an emergency, but Goldilocks had spent it all on ointment. Someone then suggested we buy a guillotine, but again, Norwood objected. He explained that a guillotine was no more feasible than tar. “You don’t have the money,” he insisted. “You don’t have the money.” By then we were all getting pretty sick of Norwood’s practical reminders of our financial situation, and so out of our own pockets we collected enough cash to buy a rope to hang him with. As for Simon, we made fun of his hat.
* * *
In the meantime, our search for a new damsel began. We didn’t have to search very long, nor did we search very far, for she wandered up to us. Apparently she had been on her way to her grandmother’s when she received some bad directions about a shortcut and got lost. After spending the night in a large shoe with three pigs whose home had been destroyed in a windstorm—it was the second home they had lost in this way, and their insurance company was none to happy about it—she happened upon our tower and asked us if she could climb to the top so that she might find the way to her grandmother’s house. The second she was inside we locked the door.
* * *
Little Red Riding Hood, as our new damsel called herself, was not the belly-tickler Goldilocks had been, but she did possess what had become the new number one quality on our list: a vagina. And the red hood she donned at all times reminded us that she was of the superior rank.
* * *
Officer: I need to see a permit, or I’ll have to shut you down.
Adam: I understand that, officer, but our copy of the permit is locked up in our safe back at our home office in Kuala Lumpur. I’m more than willing to fax it to you, but, as I’m sure you know, it’s night there.
Officer: Then it is my duty to—
Adam: I will have you know that we have gnomes on Capitol Hill lobbying with congressmen to ensure our right to practice damsel-kidnapping-and-rescue as part of our religion, and when a law is finally passed, you can be sure that we will be suing you and all of your—
Officer: Did you say kidnapping?
Adam: Another muffin?
* * *
We waited weeks for a prince to rescue our damsel, but no prince ever came; it appears ours is not an age of chivalry. Instead, we settled for a group of students from the local community college who busted into our tower one evening, got sopping drunk, and had an orgy, the video of which they posted on the Internet. They were all gone by midnight.
* * *
In the end the police came and arrested us. Though all charges were eventually dropped, a lawsuit was filed by Harry because of the injuries he had sustained when he fell into the tower. This final setback bankrupted the 25th Order of Royal Gnomes. Our tower confiscated, our damsel set free, we voted to dissolve. None of us lived happily ever after.
Wolfgang P. Wright, though not a gnome himself, would like to build his own tower one day and perhaps live there with a princess who has joined him of her own free will. Until then, he will continue to maintain a residence in the tower-free state of North Dakota, where there are plenty of open spaces in which to wear hats and practice one's sword work.