JACK ON THE BEAN: A FRACTURED FAIRY TALE

         "Hey, mom, tell me a story."
         "Okay, Hal, here goes."
         Once upon a time there was a poor little boy named Jack who lived with his old mother in an old house in the Old Country. One day they had nothing left to eat. Jack's mother told him to take their only cow to market and sell it for something to eat. Jack said, "Sure, Ma!" I'll go right away and bring us back two Big Macs from MacDonald's and Shamrock shakes -- what do you want for dessert, Ma? A hot cherry pie or a hot apple pie?"
         "Don't be ridiculous, Jack. We're not going to eat any junk food. Just get you butt out of here now and bring me the cash -- and you can't use the change for gumballs."
         Jack tied a rope to the cow and led her down the dusty road to market. She mooed petulantly, but Jack paid no attention.
         "Hey, Ma! What does 'petulantly' mean," my son interrupted.
         "Well, Hal, it means the old cow mooed like a pet, because, after all, it was Jack's pet cow he was taking to market."
         Well, he did not get too far before he met an old man going in the opposite direction who carried a bag in his hand. "Hey, old man," said Jack, "got some marbles in that bag of yours?"
         "No, lad. I got something better in this sack. You want to take a peek? What'll you give me if I let you take a peek?"
        
Knowing a dull-witted lad when he saw one, the crafty old codger said, "I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. What will you give me if I let you take a peek:?" he repeated.
         "I ain't got nothing. But I sure would like to see what you got in that bag."
        
"I'll tell you what. You look like a likely lad, so I'll let you look for free." The man reached into his bag and drew out some brightly colored beans.
         "These are magic beans, son. The only ones of their kind. The person who has these beans owns a fortune."
        
"Golly, gee!" said Jack. "I sure wish I had some beans like that. But I only have this pet cow I'm taking to market to sell for some food for me and my poor old mother."
         "Well, this is your lucky day, my boy. You need go no farther to seek your fortune. I'll tell you what. I'll save you a trip to market and take that nice-looking cow off your hands in exchange for these marvelous beans."
        
"You will?" Jack exclaimed, his eyes shiny with delight at the bargain he had made. Those valuable beans so beautiful to behold would warm the cockles of his mother's heart and buy for them the riches they had despaired of ever obtaining. No more cold gruel for them! And he could buy the Asteroids game he had always wanted. Shoot for the sky he had always thought. One had to take a chance on snake oil now and then. And no one could deny that those beans were beautiful,
         Jack grabbed the beans from the palm of the old man's hand before he could change his mind and shoved the cow's lead rope into his empty hand. "There's your new owner, Nellie." The old man did not appear upset by the bargain and turned back up the road leading the cow behind.
         Jack waved good-by and shouted after him, "Hey, Pops, I forgot to tell you something. She don't give any milk." Jack chuckled to himself and hurried back home to show his mother his bargain.
         As he rushed through the door, his mother who had been playing solitaire at the kitchen table looked up and said, "You're sure back quick, boy. What brings you home so soon? Give me the cash. How much did you get for Nellie?"
         Jack excitedly drew out the colored beans and proudly showed them to his mother, shouting, "I've made my fortune. Ma, look at these magic beans."
        
"You bean-brain!" she yelled. "You dull-witted lad. You slack-wristed nincompoop. You're just like your father!" And with that, she seized the beans and threw them out the window, then burst into a fit of uncontrollable tears.
         Jack stood sheepishly while his mother worked through her fit and then said, "How do you think I feel, Mother?" and then burst into tears himself.
         They both went to bed hungry that night, not knowing what they would do the next morning, but Jack snored contentedly after a while, thinking he would go look for the old man and the cow in the morning.
         He awoke the next morning eager to start on his journey, although a little bit weak and spindly on the legs from lack of food. He was just giving himself a big stretch and starting to do his morning jumping-jacks, when he saw the large trunk of a beanstalk through the window. He rubbed his eyes and went to examine the large leaves twining their way up the side of the house. He craned his neck up to the sky and, lo and behold, he could not see the top of the stalk; it faded into the clouds. Then and there Jack decided to climb that beanstalk. He would get to the top of the stalk if it were the last thing he ever did.
         He was just beginning to ascend when his mother peered her ugly head out of the window and yelled at him, "Stop, Jack. Get down here this minute! You'll break every bone in your body and who will pay your doctor bills?"
        
Jack hollered back at her. "Shut up, Ma. I'm going out in the world to seek my fortune."
         "Well, don't come running to me, boy, if you break your neck," she shouted back.
         Higher and higher Jack climbed until he alighted on a cloud. In the misty distance he could see the castle.
        
"Hot dog!" Jack exclaimed aloud. "Just like the castle in all the fairy tale books. Now if I'm not mistaken, there should be a grisly old one-eyed giant in that castle. All I have to do is slip unseen into his counting house and snatch his golden guineas away. To think I had to search the world over for someone more dull-witted than me!"
         Jack continued on to the imposing brass door knockers. He raised the handle, but before he could rap three times an old hag answered the door and croaked, "Come right in, Jack, we've been expecting you for two hundred years now. The oven is nice and hot and Jules the Giant should be in from his morning stomp shortly."
         The toothless old dame (everyone is mostly old in a fairy story) ushered him in and then said, "I'll see you later, bub; I have to get the bats out of my belfry. Quasimodo is coming for dinner tomorrow night."
         "Who is Quasimodo, Mom?"
         "He's a hunchback, Hal."
         "What's a hunchback, Mom?"
        
"Someone with a hump on his back. Well, we better get on with the story."
         Jack found his way to the giant's counting house without any trouble. Before long he heard the thud-thud of his hob-nailed boots and a resounding voice booming, "Fee-fie, fo-fum -- I smell the blood of a . . . young whippersnapper!"
         Jack knew he could be referring to no one but himself, and he scurried into the corn popper Jules had on the sideboard.
         Jules sat down in his Lazy Boy rocker by the hearth and bellowed, "Woman, bring my kazoo." In came the old hag bearing his kazoo. She set it on the table and the giant ordered. "Play, kazoo, play!" The kazoo played merrily until the giant snored away in tune with the kazoo.
      
   Jack sat in the corn popper bursting to get out. He had always wanted a kazoo and now he knew more than ever he had to get out and snatch that kazoo away from the sleeping giant before he woke up. Who wanted hens that lay golden eggs or bags of golden guineas when he could own a priceless kazoo, and with his talents, modest though they be, he would make it in Nashville -- Jack's Genuine Jug Band with Kazoo, too. He could see his name in lights now, and him standing next to Dolly Parton's gorgeous knockers -- who needed Jules?
        
While he was thus fantasizing, the old hag came in and plugged in the popper and the next thing he felt were corn kernels raining down on his unsuspecting pate. He heard the beldame croak, "Got to get fresh buttered popcorn for that big dolt before he wakes up and yells for his snack. I think I have taken all the guff I'm going to from that brute. I'm filing for divorce!"
        
It sounded like an empty threat until Jack felt something warm hit his derriere and more jolting and jostling of his small frame as puffy balls of white, growing more and more powerful, pummeled him back and forth. Soon he felt himself carried aloft on a billow of popcorn and then catapulted out of the vent of the popcorn maker. He swished through the air saying his Act of Contrition as fast as he could remember and bellowing for a priest, when before he knew it, he landed by the kazoo on the table. Coming to his senses, he grabbed the instrument, tucked it under his arm, for it was the giant-size one -- good thing it could play itself or he would be hard put to find a mouth to fit it.
        
Just at that moment, as fairy stories would have it, the giant woke up, growling, "Fee, fie, fo-fum -- I smell the blood of a young whippersnapper -- and here he is!"
        
Jack ran as fast as he could without his Nike jogging shoes, which, alas, he had forgotten to put on that morning before starting to climb the beanstalk. The giant was fast behind him, pursuing him across the castle drawbridge, leaping over every cloud until Jack reached the beanstalk and shimmied down it. He felt it sway above him with the giant's weight. "Hed have to be weighed at a feed mill," Jack thought as he descended hurriedly. If his mother was not waiting with an axe at the bottom like she should be, he would break her neck. Then, it would be hush, hush, sweet mama for her. He knew that he could always count on mama in a pinch before, even is she was hell to live with sometimes.
         As he neared the ground, he could see Mama with hatchet in hand. As he sprang to the ground, he said, "Here, Mom, hold this magic kazoo and give me the hatchet quick!"
        
"I wish I could, son, but even if you're stupid, you're my son."
        
"No, ninny, not me," and he wrenched the hatchet from her hand as the big form of the giant could be seen slowly but surely coming down the beanstalk. Jack gave it one, two, three hardy swings and the beanstalk came tumbling down and with it Jules the Giant. The crash of Jules' body left a big crater in their back yard, which they later filled with water to open a swimming pool for the entire vicinity.
        
As for the body of the giant, it was stuffed and Jack opened a museum where he displayed the giant alongside other memorabilia from his magnificent climb. Without a cow to shelter anymore, Jack renovated the barn into a Country Music Hall where Saturday night barn dances were held, his Jug Band and Magic Kazoo playing on into the early hours of the morning.
        
Needless to say, all these enterprises made Jack quite a rich man, and he and his mother lived happily ever after along the interstate.