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original stuff
December 2000
The lettuce wine story
Richard Harter and Janet Wanstrath

This fine narration came about as an email hack. For reasons forgotten and best not resurrected Janet Wanstrath too turns adding one paragraph at a time to the thrilling, chilling saga of Rip Van Alligator. If you get the impression that some paragraphs were added with malice aforethought you’re probably right. Why “The lettuce wine story”? If you’ve ever had lettuce wine you don’t need to ask.

Once upon a time there was a crusty old alligator named Rip Van Alligator who lived in the sewers of Liverpool….

He paced the miles and miles of dark and dripping tunnels, sending rats scurrying out of his way, as he searched for some sort of amusement to liven up his otherwise dull and predictable day.

Every where he went he saw his own tracks from his last time through. He was getting very depressed; there was nothing new in Liverpool. Then one day he saw a tunnel he’d never noticed before. It was trackless!

He perked up; here was a diversion! He decided to go down the new tunnel and check it out. There were new smells he’d never smelled before, perhaps there would be something delicious to eat here, like a small child.

Rip slithered up and down the tunnel. The smells were tantalizing but he couldn’t find anything neat to eat. There weren’t any small children there. There weren’t any goldfish swimming in the sewage.

That was strange. Usually he could find something interesting to nibble on. A few rats scurried by, but they were bumping into the walls from time to time and snickering. Rip’s curiosity was aroused. What could be down there? In a few more yards, he encountered an object in the muck.

There, half buried in the muck, was a bottle. It was open and it had a strange green liquid in it. There was a label on the bottle which read, DRINK ME.

(I didn’t know Rip could read!)

Rip nudged the bottle with his snout. Liquid sloshed inside, and it smelled good. Here was a bonanza! He carefully pushed the bottle to the side of the tunnel, which wasn’t an easy thing to do. He thought for a moment, trying to decide if he wanted to continue exploring the tunnel or to stay and have a sip of the stuff in the bottle.

All of a sudden he heard a merry, “Yo Ho Ho”. He saw a figure of myth rafting down the tunnel. It was the fabled Troll In The Bowl. When Rip was a baby alligator he had heard stories about how the Troll In The Bowl lurked in toilet bowls and dragged unwary children down into the sewers. He’d never believed the stories but here he was. The troll poled his raft over to Rip and said, “Party Time!! Drink up!!”

Rip was suspicious. Here was some fairy tale character telling him to do something. In every story he’d heard, terrible things happened to you when you did what the troll told you to do. On the other hand, here was this lovely bottle of intriguing-smelling liquid. He really was quite thirsty and a bit sick of drinking sewer water.

Rip decided to be sneaky. He nudged the bottle over to the troll. “Sounds good to me,” he said, “Have a snort.” The troll grinned with a broad grin and took the bottle.

He used his sleeve to wipe the top of the bottle before taking a swig. Actually, he took more than just a swig; he took a good long drink of what was in the bottle. He swallowed, grinned broadly and said “AAH. This stuff is GOOD!” He held out the bottle to Rip. “Try some, you’ll like it!”.

Rip thought, “What the Hell,” put his snout around the top of bottle, tilted it up and drained it down. The troll was right. It was good! It was too bad he couldn’t stand upright because he really felt like dancing.

“Thish ish really good shtuff”, he remarked to the troll, but the troll had disappeared. Rip looked all around him, but the troll was gone. “Figures”, Rip thought. “Those damn trolls always disappear just when you want to talk to them”.

Rip watched with wonder as the tunnel spun round and round and colored lights flickered up and down the tunnel like Christmas tree lights. For a moment he thought he saw a Virgin Mary Creche at the end of the tunnel. It was all very wonderful but it was tiring and Rip felt a powerful urge to sleep. He stretched out, yawned, closed his eyes, and began to snore. Visions of sugar plums danced through his head which was odd because he didn’t know what a sugar plum was.

Rip slept and he slept and he slept some more. When he woke up, he didn’t know where he was. He raised his head and found he had a terrific headache. The steady dripping of water close by sounded like drums. He groaned. “Oh, what happened to me?”, he said, and then he remembered the bottle and that damn troll. He gingerly raised his head and looked about carefully, hoping to spot the troll so he could bite him in half. Nothing was to be seen, not even a mouse.

Rip moaned and groaned and thrashed around a bit. “Whatever was in that bottle,” he thought to himself. Finally he slithered back into the flowing stream of effluent and swam back towards his favorite hunting grounds. “Why is it so quiet?”, he wondered.

Suddenly a dim light shone far down the end of a tunnel. That was unusual, the humans rarely came down to the tunnels unless there was a big problem, and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong. Perhaps he should investigate. Quietly, so as not to startle the humans. They tended to be jumpy, he couldn’t imagine why.

Rip slithered forward very quietly. As he got near he saw that the ceiling of the tunnel was broken. There was light streaming down and there was a strange blueness in the ceiling. There were some humans sitting on the walkway at the edge of the tunnel. They had a fire going and were holding sticks over the fire. Something smelled good.

A party! Rip thought that perhaps these people wouldn’t mind company. After all, he was a pretty nice guy himself, and he’d been lonely. Perhaps these humans wouldn’t be afraid when they saw him, like so many other humans had been. Maybe they’d even share whatever it was that smelled good. He wished that he hadn’t lost the bottle of wonderful stuff, he would have brought it to the party. He slithered closer, keeping quieet so as not to startle them.

As Rip slithered closer one of the men pointed at him and shouted something. All of the other men started running around. Rip sighed happily (you really don’t want to be downwind from an alligator that is sighing happily – talk about bad breath); they were having a dance. Rip only wished that he had learned how to dance.

He decided to try now, to show them that he was hip. He thrashed and writhed and slapped his tail (which was quite long, he was a big fellow) and made grunting noises. He was having a good time! He was having such a good time, in fact, that he didn’t notice the men running down the tunnel away from him.

He didn’t keep it up very long, being an alligator and a reptile he didn’t have much in the way of aerobic capacity. When he stopped the men were all gone. Rip sniffed an alligator tear; he had so much wanted to party with the men. Instead he went over to the fire to see what smelled so good. Yummy. Roast rat. He’d never had roast rat. He decided to try some.

But first there was the problem of getting it from the fire. He didn’t want to burn his sensitive snout. So he turned around and gave the makeshift spit the rat had been roasting on a swift flick with his tail. Rip turned around and started towards his snack.

As he slithered towards the spit something hit him on the back. He shook it off his back and looked at it; it was a flat piece of something that was black and smooth on one side and rough on the other. He looked up; it isn’t easy for alligators to look up. There was stuff hanging off the edge of the hole in the ceiling that looked like the stuff that hit him. Maybe he see what that was about. First, though, he had a rat to eat.

He went and found his snack, snapping it up in one gulp. He smacked his lips and said “AAH”. Then he turned around and went to investigate what had hit him on the back. It had fallen into a puddle of water, so he nosed it to a relatively dry part of the tunnel. Hmm. Black, flat, smooth on one side, rough on the other. He hoped this didn’t mean the tunnel was falling apart. He didn’t know where he would live if that happened.

(This story is getting to be very strange.)

(you’re just now noticing this??)

This was serious. It would be nice to see what was with that mysterious blue stuff but he didn’t see any way to get up to the hole in the ceiling. It was bright and warm just under the hole. He lay there for a while and soaked in the heat. While he was soaking in the heat he worried about what was happening to the tunnel. Maybe the humans would know. And just maybe that would have some more roast rats. He slithered off after them.

The humans had run rather fast, but Rip could move fast when he wanted to. He wasn’t used to it, but it would be good exercise. He sped down the tunnel until he came to a fork in the sewers, and tried to decide which way to go. (When in doubt, turn right). He turned right and slithered a ways down the new tunnel, then stopped and listened, trying to hear the humans. He couldn’t hear anything except the occasional scurrying of rats and the dripping of water.

All of a sudden he heard a loud rumbling roar behind him that went on for a long time. He turned around and went back to see what made the big noise. He went a little ways and then stopped. The tunnel was completely blocked with rubble!

Now what was he going to do? He didn’t come down these particular tunnels very often. He wasn’t sure what lay ahead of him, other than the humans he was trying to find. Maybe they knew what had happened. He turned and kept going. They had to be here somewhere, unless maybe they climbed one of the ladders leading to the street.

Now that the tunnel was blocked the water was draining away and the water level was going down. He hurried to see where it was going to. All of a sudden he saw a light at the end of the tunnel. He slithered along until he came to the end of the tunnel. There was blue stuff above and and blue stuff down below. The tunnel water was falling down into the blue stuff down below.

He now noticed a rush of air, fresher than what had been in the tunnel. He inched a little closer to the edge and peered up. There was blue stuff up above, with white patches, and to the side he could see a bright yellow ball that hurt his eyes when he looked at it. He inched even closer to the edge to look down, and there was more blue stuff, with white stuff where the falling water hit it. It didn’t look at all like the stuff above him. Rip thought about this for a while. He swung his head and looked back at the tunnel. It was dark, and it was blocked, which meant that there wouldn’t be any more rats to eat, so he was going to have to do something, but he didn’t know what.

As Rip sat there dithering a big rat with a jacket with EAT ME embroidered on the back went swimming by. Rip snapped at it but it got away and went sailing over the edge. Rip edged up to the edge of the edge and peeked over the peak of the edge. He saw the rat swimming away in the blue stuff. He felt an uncontrollable urge to eat that rat so he slithered after it. He didn’t realize that he was over the edge until, suddenly, he was falling in mid air.

(Rip isn’t the only one over the edge.)

(this is getting to you, huh?)

Rip fell for what seemed to be a long time and suddenly he hit… water! Lots and lots of water, more than he’d ever known in the tunnels, even after it rained above. He paddled about a little, hugely enjoying himself. What was more, this water was fresh, not like the dank water in the tunnels. It smelled good to him. He paddled some more, completely forgetting about the rat in the EAT ME jacket. Then Rip decided to see what was under the water.

He worked his way down to the bottom through lots of green wavy stuff. He tried eating some of it but it didn’t taste very good – it needed garlic or something. The bottom was covered with all sorts of stuff that was a lot bigger than the human stuff that went through the sewers. There were some round rings laying on the bottom; the holes in the middle were just big enough for him to fit his head through. He stuck his snount into one of them and pushed it around his head.

He wriggled himself and it went further down his neck. Then it wouldn’t go any further. Oh, well. he wriggled a little, backing up, and the ring stuck! It wouldn’t come off! He panicked and thrashed, and it finally came off. Whew! He nudged the other rings warily and decided he didn’t want to risk it, so he came back up to the surface and floated in the water with his eyes just over the surface, looking around him. Perhaps what was up here was less risky than what was below.

Everything was confusing. There weren’t any tunnel walls here. The water here was too deep. There was stuff off in the distance that wasn’t blue. Maybe that’s where the humans were. He drifted towards the dark stuff. All of a sudden something came buzzing through the water towards him. Without thinking about it, he snapped at it. He bit into some wood and spit it out. Whatever it was spit out some humans and sank down to the bottom. Oh goody, he had some humans to play with.

The humans splashed around and yelled, and Rip happily swam towards them. They yelled louder and started thrashing and moving like he did, only they threw their long arms in front of them to move. He was a lot faster then them and quickly caught up. He smiled his best smile, which made them yell louder and thrash around more. He nudged the foot of one and then moved to another. They were all moving towards some brown and green stuff that rose up and over the water, and when they all got there, the humans scrambled out, still yelling, and started running. He touched the brown stuff and it was squishy and he sank into it a little bit. He sniffed at it, it smelled a little like the tunnels. He forgot about the humans, he wanted to explore this a little bit more. He started swimming along the brown stuff, investigating. Here was more wood, that apparently led to a tall brown thing with green stuff high up in the air. He climbed over the wood and continued along the brown stuff, which he was really enjoying walking on, it was so wonderfully squishy. Here was green stuff on the brown, and this stuff was slippery, he’d better careful. He swam along the brown edge of the water a little more and came to a place where the brown stuff wasn’t so high, in fact, it was almost level with the water. He could see more tall wood things with green stuff up high, and lots more stuff on the floor under them, in various shades of brown and green. This was really interesting!

All of a sudden a rat came from underneath the wood things and started yapping at him. Rip was a little puzzled. It wasn’t really a rat – it was bigger than the biggest rat Rip had ever seen, it jumped around instead of slinking, and it made a lot of noise. Rip wasn’t sure what to do. If it was a rat, Rip should eat it; that’s what Rip did with rats. Maybe rats were different here. After thinking about it for a while Rip decided it must be a singing rat. Rip had never seen a singing rat so maybe this was what singing rats looked like. It’s singing wasn’t very good, though. Maybe it was a singing rat with a cold. Rip tried to sing along with the singing rat.

All that came out of Rip’s throat was a hissing sound, which made the singing rat yap louder and jump around more. Maybe it wants to play, thought Rip. He started towards the singing rat, smiling, which made the singing rat stop singing and run away into the wood things. Oh, well, thought Rip. Maybe he wants me to follow him and join his friends. He started walking into the wood things. Dry brown things crunched underfoot, and were crinkly on the undersides of his feet. He didn’t like it too much. He stopped after a while and looked around him. He just saw more wood things and more dry brown things. He thought he liked the water better, and turned around and started back.

He got back to the squishy brown stuff which he decided to call mud. He slid into the water, crawled back onto the mud, and slid back into the water. All of this running around was making him tired; it was definitely time to take a nap. He didn’t want to sleep outside in the open though. That bright yellow thing (Rip decided to call it the sun; Rip was good at making up names) was uncomfortably warm. Rip meandered along, looking for a shady place where he could take a snooze.

He found a good place, covered by the wood things that reached down into the water from the tall brown wood things with green stuff on top, that he decided to call “roots”, the water under the roots was shallow enough for him to remain mostly submerged while he napped with his eyes and nostrils out of the water. It occurred to him that there might be things out here he’d never thought of before and might be dangerous. This way he could remain hidden while napping, and at the same time be able to easily stay on the alert for any untoward happenings. He settled down happily and closed his eyes. Presently he began to snore.

This was odd because most alligators don’t snore. Rip, however, had permanently swollen adenoids from all of his years in the sewers so Rip snored. It was pretty bad – Rip’s snoring sounded like a cross between a buzz saw in mating season and a jack hammer with a lisp. Rip didn’t know this because he was asleep at the time. However a loud noise woke him up. What was that, he wondered. He yawned a bit and looked around. This is interesting, he thought. The water here goes in a straight line just like a sewer tunnel. He decided to follow the water in a straight line which he decided to call a canal and see where it went to.

He dove under the water to see what was down there as he went along. More horrible round things with holes, which he gave a wide berth to; old things with strings on them that he’d heard some humans call “shoes”; pieces of straight wood and some pieces of metal, of the kind that the tunnels were made of; even a large white box with doors hanging off it, he didn’t know what that might be; there were a few black square things with glass fronts and cords coming out the back. He found all this interesting, but he was getting hungry again and was hoping to find something to eat soon. Something flicked in the water and he went after it; this little thing could swim like him, but he was faster than it was and snapped it up. He saw some more flicking things and ate them, too. That was better! He decided to surface and see if the wood things and mud were down this way, too.

Things looked interesting here. There was some mud that sloped down into the water and a lot of short green stuff. There was a little hollow underneath the mud where he could lie concealed if he wanted too. Rip slithered up onto the mud. Very interesting. There was a small human running abound and playing with one of those yappy rats. The human tossed a stick towards Rip and the yappy rat chased it right towards Rip. This was his chance. Rip slithered forward, grabbed the yappy rat in his jaws, and slid back into the water. Once he had drowned the rat he gulped it down. Yummy. Yappy rats were even better than real rats.

He surfaced and looked around, hoping for more yappy rats. To his surprise, the small human was standing on the muddy edge of the water and making a horrible noise. When the small human saw Rip, he started running away, still making the horrible noise. Rip slid back into the water to shut out the noise. He wasn’t used to much noise, having lived his whole life up to now in the quiet of the dark tunnels. He decided to swim along some more and maybe somewhere down the canal there would be more yappy rats and perhaps no small humans. He swam along, checking out what was on the bottom, ever hoping for something edible. My, but there were certainly a lot of those round things with holes in them! He made a point of swimming around them, worried that one of them might rise up and trap him again. He surfaced after a short while and looked around.

Very interesting. There was a long, narrow thing about as long as he was in the middle of the water with a bunch of humans on top of it holding sticks in the water. Rip had never seen anything like that. He wondered if it might be a female alligator; he had never seen a female alligator. Just in case it was he decided to let out a mating roar and give it a friendly nuzzle.

He was very disconcerted when the humans made loud noises that hurt his ears and began flailing about with the sticks, some of them trying to hit him! The others were hitting the water with their sticks and making the long thing move. The noises kept up, and Rip decided it wasn’t a female alligator after all, he was very disappointed because he was really looking forward to having a girlfriend, he’d seen the boy and girl rats in the sewers and they looked like they were having fun. Meanwhile, the humans in the long thing were farther away, they weren’t as loud as they’d been, and they kept looking back at Rip, who watched them rather sadly. What did he have to do, he wondered, to get some humans to socialize with him? He thought he was a pretty nice fellow. He looked around some more, hoping for some company, or better yet, dinner.

Rip thought about it. Clearly he needed to go to a party. It looked as though humans didn’t have parties in the water. Maybe humans weren’t too bright, Rip thought. They did seem rather silly. Rip swam along, snapping up little swimming things as he went along. Just then another wooden thing with a noisy thing at the back went roaring by. It was very loud and Rip wished that he had hands to put over his ears if he had had ears. There was a troll on top of the wooden thing waving a banner that said PARTY TIME. Rip decided to follow the troll in the boat. (Rip didn’t really call it a boat; he was undecided between Fflaphghnigl and Plcurchgl. Rip didn’t always get names right but we’re going to cover for him.)

So, Rip went after the boat, swimming pretty fast (he was getting good at this, there wasn’t enough water in the sewers to practice much, and this was fun!) This troll wasn’t the same one who’d shared the bottle of whatever it was in the sewers. Rip wanted to have a little talk with that one. But maybe this new troll knew where the first one was. Rip also hoped there’d be food at this party, he was getting pretty hungry. Rip followed the boat for what seemed like a long, long time and then the boat disappeared around a bend.

Rip swam around the bend. He stopped short. There was a big banner strung from a bridge that read LIVERPOOL BEATLES FESTIVAL. There were humans everywhere in brightly colored clothes. There was a strange intoxicating aroma in the air. This was one big party.

He paused, unsure of what to do next. So far, every time he approached humans, they made loud noises and ran away from him. But these humans were moving strangely,and there was already loud noise, vaguely pleasant to his ears. Perhaps these people weren’t nervous like the others he’d encountered. He crawled out of the water and paused again on the brown stuff that had green fringe-y stuff on it, he decided it was called grass (he actually called it “grhumph” but we’re here to interpret for him). He said it out loud. “Grhumph”. He started moving closer to the humans, thinking that perhaps if he moved slowly and gracefully they wouldn’t run away.

All of a sudden one of the small humans pointed at him, shrieked, and started running towards him. One of the larger humans wearing a sheet (actually a dress, but Rip wasn’t up to fine distinctions) ran after the small human. The small human got to Rip first and jumped on his back. Rip didn’t quite know what to do. After some thought he decided to deliver the small human to the big human so he started towards it. The little human made giggling noises. Other small humans ran over to Rip and jumped on his back. In a trice he was covered with small humans.

The big human in the sheet made loud noises and flapped its hands but the small humans on Rip’s back didn’t get off. He decided to give them a ride in the water, maybe they’d like that, and also their weight was hard on his arms and legs. He moved towards the water slowly, careful not to accidentally throw them off.

As he moved towards the water many of the humans started moving towards him. Maybe they all wanted to get on his back. That wouldn’t be good; they would be too heavy and Rip wasn’t sure he could carry them. He slid into the water and paddled about. The little humans on top of him were making a lot of noise. All of a sudden one of them fell off. Rip saw it floundering and was shocked to realize that the little human couldn’t swim. Rip hadn’t known that there were animals that couldn’t swim. Rip swam over to it, put his snout under it, and lifted it up into the the air and brought it over to the grhumph. One of the big humans snatched it up.

The humans were still making noise, but not as loud, and they kept a good distance from him. They flapped their hands and the other children got off Rip’s back. He was a little sad, but perhaps it was for the best, if they all couldn’t swim. The humans and the children were still standing at a distance, and he started moving towards them, to show he was friendly-he remembered to show his teeth in a smile. The humans kept backing away, but one of them didn’t move back, and stood right in front of Rip.

The human held one hand up and made a speech. Rip didn’t understand what he was talking about – it was something about Egypt and the Gods of denial – but Rip thought the human was being friendly so he opened up his mouth in a big smile. The human scooted backwards in a hurry. Then one of the little humans came forward and draped a ring of flowers over Rip’s snout. Unfortunately Rip was allergic to flowers and he sneezed.

The little human fell over backwards, Rip’s sneezes were big. He was embarrassed, and one of the big humans came and scooped up the little human and backed away, there was chattering. Rip wasn’t sure what he ought to do next, it seemed everything he did made these humans nervous. He decided to entertain them, and went back to the water and slapped his tail on the water, something he’d discovered made a nice sound; then he showed off his new skill and rolled around in the water really fast. He looked up to see what the reaction to this little show was.

Some of the humans with things in their hands came forward and gathered around the edge of the water. One of them had a metal tube that he put in his mouth. Another had a box with strings on it that he picked at. The humans were making strange noises but it had a nice beat. Rip started slapping his tail in time to the beat. The people started clapping and making people mouth noises.

Finally, he was making friends! So this must be what they liked to do, make noises. It was all so different from the utter quiet and dark of the tunnels. He decided he really liked it outdoors. He kept making noise with the humans and slapping his tail once in a while, and they seemed to like it, they laughed and clapped.

After a while a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat appeared. Rip didn’t know it was a rabbit – Rip thought it was some kind of hybrid between humans and rats – but we know it was a rabbit. The rabbit twitched its nose and said “Oh dear, Oh dear, this is so noisy.”

Rip did whatever alligators do instead of blushing. Nobody knows what that is and it is just as well. Before he could do anything the Troll in the Bowl floated by on one of those nasty round things. He said, “Don’t listen to him Rip. You’ve got the crowd rocking. Keep it up.”

Rip didn’t know what to do. Should he listen to the rabbit or should he listen to the troll. He was so perplexed that he rolled up into a ball and scratched his snout with his tail. While he was pondering a bright colored human with rings on his fingers and bells on his toes stepped forward. He said, “Hey mate, you’re fair dinkum. Why don’t you join our group?”

Before Rip could reply, he was suddenly immersed in cold water. Shaking himself, he looked around-it was dark, and eerily quiet. He moved a bit to the right and encountered something hard. Then he moved to the left and bumped into something hard, too. It dawned on him that he was back in the tunnel, and he had a headache. He wondered why, then he saw the green bottle with the DRINK ME label nearby, and he remembered. “Oh, my head. I’ll never drink anything out of a bottle again”, he thought. He decided to move along and see what was up in the tunnels. He crawled and crawled and finally came to a junction that wasn’t familiar to him. He could see a little light in the distance, and decided to go see what it was. He was suddenly hungry, and maybe there were some humans that perhaps would have something good to eat with them. He crawled down this tunnel further and further and the light was getting bigger and brighter, hurting his eyes and giving him a worse headache. Finally he came to the end of the tunnel and realized that it was really the end of a tunnel; there was lots of light and lots of water, more than he’d ever seen before. “This is just like that dream I had”, he thought, as he cautiously sniffed his new surroundings. “Could it…? No, it couldn’t…”, he thought. And then from around the side of the tunnel opening, he saw a little boat, not much bigger than his snout, and in it was a tiny troll, holding a sign that said FOLLOW ME.

We’ll leave it up to you to decide what Rip did next…

This page was last updated December 6, 2000.
Copyright &copy 2000 by Richard Harter and Janet Wanstrath

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original stuff
December 2000