The secret to this essay is that the title is a pun. And yes, I know you probably don’t find it very punny. But I wanted to talk about the difficulties of portraying the difficulties of communication in a talk-a-lot-sometimes-talk-too-much world.
Yes, my current work in progress, Fools and their Toys, is about a man who can hardly talk at all because of undiagnosed autism who suddenly, miraculously finds a voice through ventriloquism, and then finds himself needing to communicate to a boy who is deaf and only speaks sign language and another boy who is profoundly distracted with ADD and bipolar disorder. He needs to communicate desperately because he knows things that have been locked up in his head for years that may help the FBI stop a cereal killer. No, that is a pun again. Shame on me. The murderer commits multiple murders of young boys, not breakfast food
I chose to write this rather insane novel about how not to communicate with real people because I, myself, as a kid was given to all kinds of communication theatrics and tricks of entertainment. I was also a shy kid after the age of ten for very sinister reasons.
It is important to realize that you absolutely have to communicate with others in life. Even if something is preventing you, like my own bout of self-loathing brought on by a sexual assault committed against me by an older boy. I got a ventriloquist’s dummy for Christmas near the time of the terrible event. It was Danny O’Day from the Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalog. I taught myself to do ventriloquism. And then I gave it up when I realized the puppet would say things I didn’t want anyone to hear.
Never the less, I continued to be fascinated life-long with ventriloquists and the little people they created.
Edgar Bergen was often in movies on TV during the Saturday afternoon matinee on Channel 3. I often saw his lips move. I was actually a better mouth-still ventriloquist than the old master.
Paul Winchell used to have a TV show in the 50’s which I saw on re-runs as a boy in the 60’s. He was also the voice of Tigger, Dick Dastardly, and Gargamel. (If you don’t recognize any of those cartoon characters, I mourn for your inadequately-filled childhood.)
And, of course, I was fascinated and enthralled by Shari Lewis and Lambchop any time they were on TV, especially Sunday nights with Ed Sullivan.
Learning about ventriloquism never solved any problems for me. But it gave me a way to talk to myself that simulated having real friends. It helped me survive the dark years of being a teenager.
Ventriloquism, humor, made-up characters, and the ability to talk with them is what I am chiefly concerned with now. My life and my current novel is taken up with talking, though not the normal talking of normal people. Talking with the voices that come from strange locked trunks inside you, the secrets you always meant to keep, but sooner or later have to be said out loud by someone. And maybe that someone is a dummy.