The day was April 10, 1978—a Tuesday at 11:00 AM, to be precise—and students had gathered en masse at BYU's Marriott Center to view the inaugural performance of the BYU Ballroom Dance touring team's new routine, Varanus. There'd been quite the amount of buzz surrounding it—the team had kept it very secret, and they were anxious to show it before their tour to Southeast Asia and Sumatra subsequent to the conclusion of the semester's classes.
At 10:32 PM of the day prior, a most curious shipment had departed the San Diego Zoo, bound cross-country for Washington, D.C. This cargo had departed under somewhat unusual circumstances, its contents a mystery to the public, the majority of the National Zoo, and a twelve year-old British boy named Rick Astley—really, a surprise to everyone except for the National Zoo's director of Herpetology, who awaited it eagerly. He'd received a long-distance call from his contact in San Diego the shipment was underway, if a few minutes behind schedule.
Saul Bunyan took his job as a trucker very seriously. He really did, which is why he knew he wouldn't have time or the ability to audition for a part as an extra in some film called Grease that had to shoot some emergency pick-up scenes prior to its scheduled release in June. He'd stood all day in a line outside a set in Los Angeles where a handful of scenes were being filmed. After hours of waiting he was informed by the casting director he wouldn't be selected, as he looked a "tad too lumberjack" for the lipid-filled dance drama. Frustrated, he purchased half a dozen chile verde tamales from a dingy-looking stand on the way back to his car. He'd long sworn off spicy food—it would often wreak total havoc on his bland bowels—but today he was frustrated, hungry, angry and--if the taco stand's radio report regarding a wreck blocking all lanes of Interstate 405's traffic was correct—very late. He ordered his tamales to-go with extra-spicy, extra-green chile sauce. He arrived in San Diego at 10:25 PM, almost half an hour after the shipment was meant to depart. His supervisor said little when he arrived to pick up the cargo, if only because Saul rushed in the back door of the facility and left with the shipping manifest before anyone had a chance to yell at him. He briefly glanced at the destination to confirm where he was going and headed for the interstate, radioing his company once he was finally underway so they could place a long distance call to Washington, D.C. informing their customers of the shipment's departure.
Hours passed, and Saul began to feel weary from standing all day. He pulled over at a rest stop in Clark Count, Nevada and slept raggedly for an hour and thirty seven minutes, then returned to the interstate. Not much time had passed before he was feeling drowsy again. If only I had something to munch on to keep awake, he thought hangrily, then remembered:The tamales! He dipped each in the chile sauce, the pungent spices setting his tongue, throat and ears aflame as he consumed them one at a time. He finished his last tamale as he traveled past the city of Parowan, Utah on I-15. Glancing at his dashboard controls, he confirmed his cargo was chilled to whatever specifications had been made in San Diego. Satisfied, he twiddled the radio controls in a halfhearted effort to find something on the radio besides static.
At 6:52 AM on April 10, Saul began to feel very awake as the tamales decided to rebel against his small intestine, clamoring for independencia. The semi's tires buzzed urgently on the rumble strip as he nearly missed the exit to Denver.
Saul groaned in discomfort at 7:49 AM as he drove past the farming community of Monroe, Utah on I-70. He had to find a place to pull over, and soon. Richfield and the next exit with a bathroom was coming up in about 10 minutes. He silently prayed he'd make it, for nature was calling. And when nature was calling, Saul thought it best to pick up the phone.
Monte Lafayette Bean, 79, stood at the Sinclair station filling his sturdy '71 Chevy pickup with leaded gasoline. Though it had been banned five years prior, actually transitioning the fuel out of all the nations pumps was a process that took some time. His Chevy did okay on the new formulation, but it positively purred when it got the old-school fuel. He topped off his tank, and filled an extra five-gallon canister besides. Monte was a man of opportunity, and he certainly hadn't meticulously built a drugstore empire or bagged musk oxen, Bengal tigers, ibex, leopards and mountain goats by knitting blender cozies by his avocado-glossed refrigerator, grinning blankly as the day passed him by. In fact, his perseverance in pursuing his prey and a knack for guessing where his quarry would next appear had made him one of the most acclaimed hunters in North America, if not the world. Most of his hunting trophies were now displayed in the museum in Provo that had opened just two weeks prior to great acclaim. It didn't hurt that the museum had been named after him. He'd given a great deal of input into its design, and it lacked nothing. He glanced at the green reptilian silhouette overhead on the Sinclair station roof. Well, almost nothing,he mused darkly. Not every hunt will be successful, he'd reasoned, but his failure in the Indonesian archipelago still smarted.
His thoughts were interrupted as as a semi-truck pulled hurriedly into the station's rest area. As soon as it came to a stop, the driver practically sprinted for the restroom, not even stopping to turn off the truck. Monte chuckled in understanding and walked over to the truck to turn off the key in the ignition—the driver looked like he'd be in the bathroom for a while. Monte casually opened the door and turned the key, accidentally dislodging an overfilled clipboard in the process. It clattered to the cold asphalt, papers scattering in the chill spring breeze. Monte cursed quietly under his breath as he gathered them up. Reordering the pages as best he could, he happened to glance at the manifest and saw—
It couldn't be. Glancing excitedly around the abandoned lot, the elderly Monte came to a decision.
An hour and half later the borrowed semi truck sped past the charming town of Thistle. In a mere five years, the historic town would be abruptly destroyed by a flood caused by a massive landslide that would dam the nearby Spanish Fork River. For now, though, an old dirt road outside the town was the ideal place to leave the pickup that Monte had been haphazardly towing behind the semi with a trailer he'd borrowed from a family friend in Salina, just past Richfield.
A collect call to his recently-opened museum hadn't connected. All the same, Monte figured his cargo could stay the morning in a locked room currently containing a dozen stuffed gemsbok antelope until he figured out where to keep it more permanently. He'd just have to explain when he got there. It was admittedly a lot to take in, but certainly not the strangest thing he'd donated to the museum. That dubious honor belonged to the water deer, which possessed movable tusks. It was just as well he'd pegged the diminutive abomination with a hunting rifle when it wandered in front of his scope eight years ago in the Korean marshlands. It was nice to have the thing out of his house. He was reasonably sure it had watched him while he slept.
(lookin' a little long in the tooth amirite folks)
Monte shuddered a little as he remembered where he was. The cab of the truck was getting to be a mite toasty, and Monte couldn't quite shake the memories of the deer as he swerved distractedly down the precarious turns of Spanish Fork Canyon. Fumbling to turn off the cab's heat, Monte didn't notice when he accidentally reversed the trailer's climate control, nor did he notice the temperature gauge slowly begin to rise.
Saul emerged from the dilapidated restroom a changed man. Two and a half hours in a dingy, roadside john battling the Ghosts of Tamales Past would do that to a fellow. He thought he'd lost consciousness at one point when his vision went dark; but learned grimly it had just been the final failing of the fluorescent light inside his windowless tiled prison. There would be no respite from reality, he knew then, no escape from the fire that sought to consume him from the inside-out. In his brief moments of lucidity he'd examined the rest of his life with a clarity he'd never before experienced. His trucking gig and attempts at background fame he realized were but a veneer of palatability to his bitter existence. But what to do about his rig? He'd see it through to his destination. It wasn't as if he could just abandon—
Wait. The truck. Where was it? He twitched nervously as he did a slow circle, then began to panic as he stumbled around the vacant lot, looking for any place where a eighteen-wheeler might casually lurk. He banged on the darkened doors of the gas station shop, but to no avail. There was no one inside. No truck. No witnesses. No way he'd get out of this without losing his job. He'd have to start all over, he'd have to leave it all...
As the morning sun broke through a dense, gray bank of clouds, Saul understood.
Hours later, the erstwhile trucker relished the warmth of the springtime rays on his checkered flannel shirt as he calmly strode out of town and the sodden rags of his former life. He’d call himself Paul, maybe, make his way up to Michigan, or Wisconsin. He’d heard the timber industry was always hiring. Stopping and facing the flow of traffic, he stuck out his thumb to hitch a ride east. The road was deserted at the moment, and Paul’s thoughts wandered back to his erstwhile cargo. What had it been, exactly? In the distance, a blue Ford fifteen-passenger van crested over a rise. He had a good feeling about this one. A real good feeling. Just then, a gust of wind rustled a thin sheet of paper caught on the barbed-wire fence along the road, catching his attention. Paul curiously retrieved it and looked at it in wonder. A sheet from the shipping manifest…? How had it—
His confusion was forgotten as he read what lurked in the stolen cargo. He sniggered, then began to guffaw uncontrollably. As the big, blue van coasted to a stop near him, Paul Bunyan threw his head back to the deep April skies and laughed.
Monte L. Bean Dead Things for Life Science Museum, 11:06 AM.
Monte pulled his pilfered prize into the north parking lot and strode hurriedly towards the museum bearing both his name and 293 cotton-eyed songbird specimens—294, he reminded himself—if the red-necked swamp finch he’d affably nicknamed “Joe” could somehow be extricated from the vacuum cleaner where it’d taken up residence in a freak custodial afterparty fight accident. Rest in pieces, cotton-eyed Joe, he thought glumly. He pushed his way into the staff entrance in search of his curatorial manager, not noticing the sound of something large and nervous anxiously scratching at the narrow metal walls of the tractor trailer.
At 11:07 AM, recently awoken, easily distractible, and chronically late 18 year-old student Sandra Archibald rushed from Deseret Towers towards the Marriott Center. Dodging dramatically around a parked semi, she stumbled and fell as the splitting sole of her stained Chuck Taylors caught the edge of the curb. She sat for a moment, wincing as she examined her skinned palms. Just then, she heard a faint metallic skritch nearby. She paused for a moment. Skritch skritch. There it was again.
Sandra was not good at many things, but she remembered she had once been the third-grade champion of Hot and Cold. Her old instincts kicked in as she followed the curious sound to the doors of the semi’s trailer. She rested her hand on the door’s handle, hesitating. It was warm, almost hot. “Hello?” she called out nervously, “Is—is someone in there? Do you need help?” No response. Sandra wavered for a moment, then made a decision. Using all ninety-six pounds of her weight to wrench the doors ajar, she squinted as she tried to make out the inside of the gloomy container. As her eyes adjusted to the contrast, she froze for just a split-second before remembering something she’d learned by virtue of always being late:
Sandra Archibald was very good at running.
(Monte L. Bean, circa 1970s)
11:12 AM. Monte chattered excitedly to his assistant as he towed Melissa—the museum's curator—toward the trailer.
“Just wait,” he gushed, “wait until you see this.”
“See what, exactly?” asked the curator, a little irritated.
“You’ll love it,” Monte promised, then frowned as he spotted the trailer door swinging in the morning breeze
“No. No no no no no no no,” he flustered, rushing to the doors. The inside of the trailer was a mess. Scratches scored the walls, crates and what little remained of the equipment designed to keep his pilfered cargo safe—and sedated.
Catching up, Melissa assessed the situation in an instant and looked pointedly at the dumbfounded man. “Monte. What, exactly, was in this trailer?” Monte stared in shock, and didn't reply.
Just then, a flock of ravens could be heard screeching furiously near the west side of the Marriott Center parking lot. Acting on a hunch, Melissa dashed to the northwest corner of the Marriott as quickly as she could manage. Out of the corner of her eye—to the south—she saw movement. Disappearing down the edge of the western access ramp of the Marriott Center was what could only be a long, reptilian tail.
Down in the Marriott Center, the ballroom dance team had presented a couple of old dance number from their repertoire—a lively Viennese waltz, then—though they wouldn’t admit it, a number featuring the most soporifically boring of all ballroom dance forms—the foxtrot.
The Contemporary Dance team then took the floor, having been invited to perform a guest piece during the event. They elected to share their gift for movement for the world via an interpretive dance to last year’s runaway hit, Hotel California.
Hotel California, it is widely understood, has one of the longest and indeed, most pointless trailing guitar solos in all rock history. The contemporary team had promised their ballroom colleagues they’d omit this unwieldy portion from this performance, but after a solid minute and thirteen seconds after the final lyrics had faded awya the ballroom team determined Contemporary had reneged on their promise. One hurried hand gesture to the control booth, and the piece was quickly faded out, leaving the contemporary team to gyrate and flail in awkward silence. Collecting themselves, they remained composed as they exited the floor, but no sooner had they exited than they hissed their displeasure to the onlooking ballroom team. “Look,” smirked Gerald Robertson, the ballroom captain, “you just reminded us that we can invite you any time we want, but you guys never leave. Also, uh... what’s with the hissing?” Indeed, one of the girls was actually hissing in discontent. The contemporary team did not respond except to back away slowly into the darkness, the airy vocalizations gradually fading with them as they retreated elsewhere into the Marriott basement.
That went better than expected, thought the ballroom captain. He rumba-stepped perfectly back to the ballroom team waiting anxiously by the entrance to the floor. He nodded, and the team rushed efficiently to their beginning positions at each entrance. It was time to unleash Varanus upon the world.
Varanus began with a majestic paso doble, then abruptly morphed into a lively jive. The crowd oooohed in appreciation. Each spin, twist and step had been carefully planned and choreographed. Dancers furrowed their brows in focus; there wasn’t a thing alive that could break their concentration now. Well, almost nothing.
Backstage, the Contemporary Dance Team of 1978 complained at the sorry treatment they’d faced at the hands of imperious Ballroom. “It just wasn’t right, what they’ve done to us,” griped a senior girl, “We still had three minutes of rad guitar solo to go.” She hissed again in frustration. “Look, Clara,” said lanky Wilma Davies, “You’re right. It’s frustrating. “But is all this hissing necessary?” The room quieted for a moment. “We just gotta be lettin’ all the negative vibes outta' our airflow,” responded Clara tersely, giving a long, drawn out hissssss for emphasis.
Another hissssss, now, from the back of the room. Wilma shook her head in consternation as Clara nodded appreciatively. “Yeah, like that, just get that frustration outta your system!” The hissing continued unabated from a box-cluttered corner of the room. Clara clapped and yelled in jubliation “Yeah! Preach! Hisssss it out!” She craned her head to see which enlightened dancer really got her.
Clara, miraculously, abandoned hissing for the moment in favor of a good ol’ fashioned scream.
Varanus had proceeded from the jive into a cha-cha, and had now fluidly moved into the quickstep when the disturbance occurred. A very panicked contemporary dance team rushed on the floor among the whirling performers, pursued closely by—it seemed incredible—seven fully-grown Komodo dragons.
Dehydrated and flustered by their long journey, the lizards had descended into the Marriott in search of a warm, quiet place. In an unfortunate twist of events, Carla’s hissing had perfectly mimicked a territorial threat display. Cornered and afraid, the dragons had rushed to confront Carla and, soon, the rest of her panicked team, chasing them onto the dance floor as their erratic ( and newly improvised!) dash triggered the reptiles’ long-dormant predatory reflex.
Dragons drifted among dancers in sluggish pursuit of their prey, whilst amid the chaos the ballroom danced on in oblivious defiance of what appeared to be a vengeful, disruptive—if oddly costumed—Contemporary sabotage of months of work. Occasionally borrowing evasive moves from the quickstep, dancers whirled deftly around both modern dancer and ancient lizard to the beat of The Bee Gees’ tremendously popular 1977 hit "Stayin’ Alive."
The crowd roared in approval at this inventive and surprising collaboration mixing dance genres, modern rock and… live puppetry?
Bemused and enraptured by the combination of lights, movement and sound, the lizards one-by-one lapsed into languorous listlessness. For a few perfect moments, Contemporary dancers victoriously leapt above and around disco-dazzled dragons as Ballroom moved alongside and among Contemporary in Varanus’s final sequence.
And then, breathlessly, it was over. The audience surged to their feet immediately as they roared and shouted for more. As the stage lights slowly came up, Ballroom recognized with sudden horror the reality of their reptilian co-collaborators. Taking advantage of the dragons’ temporary torpor and recalling their penchant for panicked pursuit, the Contemporary dancers quickly grabbed the ballroom team’s hands and urged them to quietly and calmly leave the floor with them. As they did so, the teams gave one final bow, together. The Marriott Center had never before seen a performance such as Varanus, indeed, there would never be such a performance again.
The lights faded again. No sooner had the dancers exited the darkened floor than two silhouettes—one tall and stooped, perhaps a man in his eighties, the other suggesting a shorter woman in her forties—rushed on to the Marriott floor with a large, covered cart, efficiently hefting and removing the motionless lizards in moments. Moving quietly through the subterranean warren of passageways, they arrived inside the freight elevator without incident. As soon as the chamber was closed and in motion, Monte pulled the cart’s cover off and inspected the discreet tranquilizer darts in each lizard’s neck. Monte whistled softly in awe. “K.O.! Moded! … to top it all off, you didn’t hit even a single dancer!” Melissa excused Monte's use of slang from the future and patted the stock of the tranquilizer rifle slung across her back appreciatively. “I’ve learned a couple tricks recently, but as I’ve told you, Uncle, it all goes back to that summer I spent with you in Alaska, hunting wolverines.” Monte laughed and embraced her niece. “Aw, shucks, Melissa. You’re twice the hunter I’ll ever be.”
“Yeah, and I don’t have to shoot or steal every known animal in the world to prove it,” Melissa muttered under her breath. “What?” asked Monte. “What?” retorted Melissa innocently. “I said, these are some cool animals and it’ll be a shame to lose them.” “Indeed,” mused Monte, “Indeed.”
The freight elevator opened, and the duo laughed as they pushed the cart out the Marriott Center doors towards a semi-truck waiting by the Bean Museum.
11 APR 1978
BYU POLICE MEMORANDUM
REGARDING MARRIOTT CENTER EVENT SECURITY:
In light of recent events, the east entrance ramp to the Marriott Center will have a vehicle and officer parked before and for the duration of any event with substantial public or student presence. Several police officers will also be posted at additional entrances to the Center. This administrative rule has been enacted to prevent the unlawful incursion of any individuals, groups, or giant Indonesian carnivorous lizards, thereby better ensuring the safety and security of all Marriott Center patrons, performers, and attendees. For more information, please contact your department chief.
Concerning the incident itself, thanks are in order to the officers who interviewed witnesses and provided first aid evaluations. As the bite of either a wild or captive Komodo dragon carries an incredible risk of infection, it is remarkable and quite fortunate not a single performer was injured. Due to a security camera malfunction,investigations into the cause of the incident have few credible leads.
-BYU Chief of Police
April 17, 1978
The Daily Universe
Reader Response: Varanus
We're flattered and appreciative of the many requests we've received this week for an encore performances of Varanus. Due to some sudden cast changes and circumstances beyond our control, we are yet unable to perform Varanus as you saw it at last week's devotional. Don't worry, though, we've got something big in the works. A big shout-out to our fans, and thanks to the the generous gift from the Monte L. Bean and his Pay n' Save Corporation supporting our joint tour to Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Wilma Davies and Gerald Robertson, Contemporary and Ballroom Captains
April 14, 1978
An anonymous tip to the Post early this morning led to the successful recovery of a cargo containing seven adult Komodo dragons—as well a number of unexpected eggs—reported to be missing in the late hours of Tuesday, April 10. The truck containing the tropical lizards was recovered at a rest stop on Virginia's Highway 522 between the town of Armel and the Dinosaur Land gift shop. "I'm extremely relieved to have recovered this very special cargo," said Rand Maugelsen, director of Herpetology at the Smithsonian National Zoo. "Each of the animals appeared to be perfectly happy and healthy, including the mother who had laid a surprise clutch of 17 eggs—just a few below the 20-egg average. We may not know exactly where these beautiful creatures went over the last couple of days, nor do we know if any eggs are missing, but frankly I'm just thrilled to have our dragons back." The whereabouts of the shipment's original driver are not known. Among the items found with the lizards was a record playing a vinyl single of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" on repeat. Its purpose has yet to be determined.
"This isn't even my final form." -Monte Lafayette Bean
Well, there you have it. Why the automobiles on the western inclined plane of your favorite cubelike stadium? Safety and security. The police department told me as much when I called them; but because I love you I made sure to bring you the whole story. Repose now, Gartha, in thy Marriott, knowing thou art forevermore safe and secure.
P.S. Would you like to know the actual interesting story of the charismatic and generous Monte L. Bean? I'd suggest this brief essay about his life.