Previously: Surprise Island
You probably won't believe me, but I just read a Boxcar Children book called "Caboose Mystery" that includes actual chapters titled "Surprise for Cho-Cho" and "Beaver Man." The first thirty pages contained so many references to big cabooses that after a while I became numb to them--perhaps because the words issued most often from the fresh lips of child sexpot Benny, recently established object of my mixed hatred and lust. Slight variants of the following conversation occurred about a hundred times in the first few chapters:
"What a neat idea!" said Benny. "I never saw the inside of a caboose."
"Neither did I," said Mr. Alden, smiling.
"Say, isn't this exciting!" said Benny. "To be riding in a caboose at last. I've always wanted to live in a caboose."
"So have I," said Grandfather, smiling.
You get the idea. The Boxcar Children have found a caboose, and now they will not rest until they are deep inside it and riding it hard all summer long. Understandably, people want to watch. You'd think such a physically...remarkable human specimen as Benny would be used to the attention, but in this book he is super-unhappy with all the service workers looking at his "big caboose."
"Henry, did you really look at that big postman? Did you hear him ask to see this caboose?"
"Yes, Ben, I did," said Henry. He looked quickly at Benny. "I thought it was a strange thing to ask."
"That postman certainly thought there was something different about this big caboose, and sometime I'll find out. Just you wait and see."
Suddenly Benny said, "Jessie, did you notice the workmen at the last station we passed? They pointed at our big caboose and began to laugh."
Benny went up to a tall man and said, "We'd like to know what is different about our caboose. Why are the men pointing at it?"
Well, Benny, if it looks anything like your arms and hands, I think I know why.
God, what was this book even about? Something about a train, and a clown, and a talking horse, and a leather mattress with diamonds inside, and the aforementioned Beaver Man, who is a hermit who lives in the woods and watches "big beavers" put filth on their tails. Understandably, Benny wants to watch.
"I could go right back to sleep," Benny said.
"Oh, don't do that, Benny," called Violet. "You'll miss the beavers. Remember we get off at Beaver Lake at 9 o'clock."
"That's right," agreed Benny. "I do want to see the beavers. I guess I can stay awake that long."
"I should think the beavers would run away if they saw us watching them," said Benny.
"That's the secret," said Al. They won't see you. Now don't ask me why, young man. Just wait and see. One more thing. There is an old man who takes care of these wild beavers. He's a strange old fellow, but he doesn't want people to kill all the beavers. So he lives in the woods and keeps the hunters away. You may see Old Beaver, and you may not."
"Yes, I'm Old Beaver," said the man. He had thick gray hair, and his face was almost covered with a curly gray beard. He was smiling.
Grandfather said, "You are doing a fine job saving a few beavers. They are wonderful animals."
"Thank you," said Old Beaver. "They are smarter than we are in some ways."
"This young man seems to be having a good time," said Old Beaver, looking at Benny.
Now, if you're a child mystery writer who wants to stay on top of her game, how do you top big cabooses and Old Beavers covered in curly gray beards? You introduce a clown named Cho-Cho, obviously. Cho-Cho used to own a talking horse that...did math? With its hoof? I have no damn idea. Then someone hid a diamond necklace in a leather mattress, and Cho-Cho had to sell the horse, and now he's sad, which is Dramatic Irony for a clown. Cho-Cho spills his sorry story into the greedy ears of Benny--because, in addition to his many other preposterous gifts, Benny is also a "good listener" whom people routinely trust with secrets.
As Mr. Alden started to get on the train, Mr. Shaw whispered, "I'm certainly amazed. I never heard Cho-Cho talk so much in my whole life. He never says a word if he can help it."
"This time he couldn't help it," said Benny, laughing.
Gross, Benny. Now, "Caboose Mystery" is notable because it marks the occasion of Benny's first tentative toe-dips into the waters of comedy. He tells three jokes in this book, according to my count. Here are the best ones:
"Look out! Don't touch that!" said Charley. "That's poison ivy!"
"Oh, I see it is now," said Benny. "I wasn't even looking. A good thing you stopped me, because that stuff poisons me."
Grandfather called, "Don't get lost, Benny."
"I'll find my way all right. If I get lost, I can eat nuts and berries. Children always eat nuts and berries when they get lost," Benny said, laughing at his own joke.
Make of them what you will. It's so deeply tragic to think of eternally-five Benny picking up a joke anthology between Book #10 and Book #11 and reading it over and over in a closed loop of time, daydreaming about telling these terrible jokes to new classmates he will never meet, at the end of a summer that will never end.
Also tragic: somewhere between the writing of this book and the last, Gertrude Chandler Warner came into possession of a truly regrettable mid-century cookbook. Now, the food in Boxcar Children books is usually a highlight. They're forever stirring huge pots of chowder and having clambakes and baking cookies and, as I've mentioned before, pouring pints of fresh cream into their faces. The meals served up in the big caboose, however, drift further and further from established definitions of "delicious."
Jessie opened a can of chicken and heated it. Violet used potato flakes to make mashed potatoes. The girls opened a big can of cherries for dessert.
On each plate was an animal made of a big frankfurter. The legs were four smaller sausages. The heads were pickles. The tails were carrot curls.
Where are the Boxcar Children? asks their angel mother in heaven. You know, hangin' out, chomping wiener-animals in their big caboose. They also, at one point, mix canned orange juice with Coke and find the resulting "liquid" to be totally refreshing. For all of you longing to go back in time and get crotch-gripped by Don Draper, bear in mind that warm cans of chicken, hot-dog horses, and "Alden Orange-Coke Special" would probably be waiting for you there.
The end. And finally, because I cannot abide waste, allow me to present a found poem containing many priceless quotes that I couldn't use in the post itself:
"A Mystery!" Shouted Benny. "The Mysterious Caboose!"
We can see for ourselves what a caboose is like.
Well, you can watch real live beavers at work.
He began to wonder about the postman and the beavers
and the big caboose, but suddenly he fell asleep.
"You could go on alone," he said, "but I like to watch
the beavers myself." Then everyone saw a big beaver.
"Why is Cho-Cho so sad now?" asked Benny.
Still Cho-Cho did not move his lips. "I've seen
grown-up men fall down in here, going to see the talking
horse." The path was very poor. Sometimes he thought
that he was not on the path at all--and he was right.
"Oh, we'll find him!" said Grandfather. "We'll find
him if we have to cut down the whole woods."
Jessie laughed and took the lamp apart.
"Did you go to see the talking horse?" "Yes,
I did. He was fun, but now I've lost my family."