As a kid, I saw every episode of the Muppet Show, most of them more than once, most of them again as a teenager, and a third time as a father with my kids. It had never occurred to me before just how important a part of my life the Muppets were. A background part, sure, but still important, and probably millions of people across the globe could say the same thing.
But I only ever saw the Harry Belafonte episode once and it might even have been the first time it aired where I lived. From that one viewing, the song stayed with me, almost intact, for thirty years. I could have sung along with most of it and not mangled the lyrics too badly. The song stayed with me until I needed it.
Harry performed “Turn the World Around” for the show’s closing number. It involved a specially crafted group of African-mask Muppets and eventually expanded to include as many Muppets as they could find people to work them. All of the major cast members, including the grouchy hecklers on the balcony, eventually sang along with the chorus as the show came to an end.
I picked the start time to include Fozzie’s talk with Harry leading into the song. I thought, hoped, the conversation might help make my point, and do it far better than any words I could ever find. As the video started, I hoped the gathered aliens would all understand the idea of Muppets and that the deeper meaning would come through into three separate alien languages.
I shouldn’t have worried. Jim Henson was a genius. So was Harry Belafonte.
The media player went dark and I folded the laptop. No one spoke for at least a minute. None of the ambassadors looked at each other or at me, staring instead at the primitive computer. The silence went on long enough to worry me. I started holding my breath and it took conscious effort to let it go again.
Gargltch let out a sigh that could have blown up half the balloons for Martin’s party and turned his pumpkin-sized head to face me. I felt pulled into contact with the too-round eyes. He spread the four baseball bat fingers of each hand wide then pressed his palms together in front of his chest and bowed to me, so low I saw the back of his wrinkled head. “Intermediary Cotta, you have brought a wisdom to this conference that we have left behind.” Rising, he walked back to his own side of the triangle, lowering his compact bulk into the chair. “Ambassadors, see we one another clearly?”
“Do we know who we are?” A shiver ran through me at Riptalektik’fa’s answer. Screw the Prime Directive, I’d made the right choice. The Asoolianne ambassador turned to me, placed his upper hands on my shoulders and bent to touch his forehead to mine. He stepped back one pace before returning to his side of the table.
“We do not.” Turning, Mahyul smiled wider than I’d seen any adult Shalash smile in the entire time since the Landing. She pressed two fingers to the centre of her forehead then used the same fingers to touch the centre of mine. “But perhaps we may come to.” She faced her counterparts across the table, still smiling, and sat. “I think we have much to discuss.”
“I can’t believe you ended a war with the Muppet Show!”
Sharon and I lay in bed in the Intermediary’s Quarters in the Shalash third of the Peace Complex. I wondered why we hadn’t stayed here more often during the talks instead of flying back and forth on the shuttle every day. Not exactly a convenient commute, but more equally inconvenient for everyone I supposed. There had been a lot of that going around.
The kids all slept in the next room, each in their own bed, at least for the moment. Martin especially had been thrilled to be up at three o’clock in the morning. Time zones, and the fact that he’d be getting up sometime around local noon, didn’t signify. And sleeping until noon might be a different kind of benchmark for him, anyway.
“It’s not over yet.” I tried stroking her hair with my right hand, but with her head on my elbow, I didn’t manage much more than fingertips. She snuggled in closer and her hair somehow trailed out of reach. I gave up and let my hand flop back onto the mattress. “There’s a long way to go before they have an agreement.”
Fingers drummed on my chest then traced a few wavy lines. “I watched the afternoon recordings with the benefit of a translator. Yesterday, they hated each other. Today they spent a solid six hours talking to each other with only a short recess for lunch and not a single insult or tantrum. It’s over.”
“It was a good day.” I yawned. “They might make a little more progress now, at least for a while.”
“Probably enough to figure out they can learn to not hate each other.”
Another yawn escaped. “Hope so. Today’s distraction worked so well we’ve decided to make the cultural media presentation part of the opening every day. Manuel deferred to Talya for tomorrow and he’ll take the next day.”
“Not so much a distraction as a wakeup call. And, if they still plan to take every fourth day off, you only have three days to come up with something to top Harry Bellafonte singing with the Muppets.”
And if they didn’t take the day of rest, I only had two. “What could? I’ll find something completely different, something just for fun.” And as soon as the powers that be figured out it wasn’t a one-time thing, we’d have a new source of pressure. “Not everything has to have a message. I can’t wait to see what they come up with, though. Talya and Manuel, I mean. This could be a really interesting learning experience for me, too.”
“Are you going to limit yourself to video played on that sad little laptop Antoine gave you?”
“It’s actually a pretty good laptop.” I tilted my neck a bit to look at Sharon, but her face was turned almost away from me. The one eye I could see didn’t look open. “What do you mean?”
“I’ve got a couple of ideas.” I could see her smile, though.
“I can’t wait.” I yawned again, big enough and long enough that my ears popped. “But I don’t think I’m awake enough right now.”
“Get some sleep, o saver of worlds. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about it tomorrow after the talks.”
Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.by