And now - introducing:
THE CANNON CREW!!
[A handsome Sable ferret, dressed in the red serge tunic and Stetson hat of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, walks onto the web page. He smiles and waves.] Hi there all you Netheads! My name is Murphy, and I'm one of the members of Paul's extra-special Cannon Crew!
[Another ferret - A Dark-Eyed White wearing a black yarmulke with red trim - walks on. With him is a Cinnamon jill ferret carrying an Albino ferret kit.] Hello, my name is Sammy, and I'm another member of the Cannon Crew! And this is my beloved wife Clarissa and our son Levi. [Sammy and Clarissa wave. Little Levi wiggles and squeals with glee.]
Hey! [Another Sable ferret enters. His hind legs are strapped into an odd device with wheels.] Don't forget me! I'm a member of the Cannon Crew, too! Max the Wonder Weasel at your service! [Does a sort of bow.]
Murphy: We've been helping to celebrate birthdays and other major events in a lot of newsgroups, mailing lists, message boards and other internet-type forums lately. Paul has been real pleased about the positive response to our silly hijinks that he's been getting. Thank you kindly for the good words, folks, we're glad that you enjoy it!
Sammy: Paul figured that you folks were wondering what all this strange stuff with ferrets shooting off cannons was about, and he decided to create a web page that explained it all. That's what we're here for.
Clarissa: Of course, we could tell you that, like Topsy, it "just growed", but we owe you more than that!
Max: Quite true. Besides, not everyone would recognize the literary reference. Murphy, you came along first, so you ought to start.
Murphy: Fair enough. On another page Paul talks about how he came to write his stories set at the Rainbow Bridge, the place that animals go after they die to wait for their humans.
Max: That Rainbow Bridge stuff still gets to me sometimes. [Max begins to sniffle. Sammy pulls out a handkerchief and hands it to him. Max wipes his eyes and blows his nose - loudly - into the hankie before handing it back.] Thanks, Sammy.
Murphy: With the second Rainbow Bridge story, "Saying Goodbye", Paul introduced two characters that he liked working with. Those two happened to be Yours Truly [Murphy gives a dazzling smile.] and Sammy. He liked working with us so much that he made us into recurring characters.
Sammy: [holding handkerchief out at arm's length and making a face]: Er… Yeah, that's right, Murphy. We returned in other Rainbow Bridge stories. One of my personal favorites is the Christmas story entitled "Lighting the Tree". For one thing, Paul established that I'm Jewish in that one. Since then, he's determined that I'm an ordained rabbi with a synagogue somewhere on South Seneca in Wichita, Ks. It surely exists there, as long as you don't go looking for it.
Clarissa: My dear husband won't mention it, but he's a highly-respected member of the Jewish ferret community here in Wichta. [She give Sammy a peck on the cheek.]
Sammy (blushing): Um... Thank you, Love. Anway... At some point, Paul came across the TV show Due South, about a Canadian mountie fighting crime in Chicago. Paul thought the show was great, and, being a Usenet geek, he started looking for a Due South-oriented newsgroup. He found alt.tv.due-south - and things went into completely unexpected directions.
Murphy: Lots of TV shows seem to inspire fan fiction on the internet and Due South is no exception. Paul got the writing bug again - and the result was his first piece of Due South fanfic, "Mountie at the Threshold". Believe it or not, it's a crossover with our own series of Rainbow Bridge stories. Paul used Sammy and me and we got to meet Constable Benton Fraser! In that story and its sequel "Mountie Crosses the Threshold", Sammy got his yarmulke and I got my uniform. I think I look great in it, don't you?
Max: Don't preen, Murphy, it's silly. In a later story entitled "A Due South Christmas Carol", he introduced me as a resident in a fictitious ferret rescue shelter in Chicago.
Murphy: You can see that there's a reason why there aren't any pictures of us here - we don't really exist. We're just fictional characters.
Max: Actually, I'm sort of an exception. I'm based on a real-life ferret, named Big Bear, that lived in the Friends of Fuzzies rescue shelter in Bend, Oregon. Big Bear was a happy-go-lucky fuzzy with hind-end paralysis. He loved zooming around in his very own special wheelchair device. Big Bear's story inspired Paul so much that he created me in his honor.
Sammy: Big Bear is dancing at the Bridge now. [sniffles] His story is the kind that tugs at the heartstrings. Paul and a lot of other humans, especially Bear's shelter Mommy Kristine, miss him a lot. [Sammy brings his handkerchief up to his nose, stops, looks at Max and at the soggy hankie, and decides that blowing his nose can wait.] Sadly, the Friends of Fuzzies shelter seems to have closed - volunteer organizations do that sometimes - and their website is gone. We can only hope that Big Bear's story is still out there somewhere on the Internet.
Clarissa: Somewhere along the line, Paul became interested in fleshing out his characters' back story, so he started writing another series of stories about their adventures. In "Sammy's Story", I was introduced - and so was my beautiful little son. [She leans down and gives Little Levi a kiss, and he squeals and squirms in protest. Little boys are like that about mushy stuff.]
Sammy: And in a story Kiddushin, Clarissa and I got married. [He gives Clarissa a gentle hug and a kiss. Levi makes a face.]
Murphy: Okay, now that we've introduced ourselves, you're probably asking what all this is about a cannon? Well, we have to go back to alt.tv.due-south for that one.
Max [chuckles]: It turns out that the folks at a.t.d, were not only budding authors, but they were full-blown loonies, too. Every now and then when things got slow in the group the regulars would create Chaos and Mayhem. Several Duesers set up cannons, fortified bunkers, catapults, and all sorts of weapons of mass destruction that don't really destroy anything because they don't really exist. Paul looked at all this Chaos and Mayhem and made a very un-Paul-like decision - he wanted to get in on it!
Murphy: So he concocted a virtual cannon of his own - a Napoleon type, like they used at the Battle of Gettysburg - and brought Sammy and me out of his fiction to serve as a crew - and the rest is Psychology!
Sammy: I think the proper phrase is "The rest is History", Murph.
Murphy: Hey, we're a bunch of non-existent talking animals. Paul puts a lot of creative energy in writing about us, and he's not getting paid for it. If there's not something psychological about that, I'll eat my Stetson!
Sammy: Good point - anyway, the Duesers also used their engines of Chaos and Mayhem to celebrate birthdays, and Paul started doing that, too. Soon Max joined the crew and we acquired a mechanic, a ferret named Skippy, to help keep the Cannon in good working order. Skippy's a good name for a mechanic, isn't it?
Clarrissa: Paul thought so, at least. Soon, Skippy was joined by an indeterminate number of assistant mechanics, all ferrets named Skippy. Paul thinks that there's something funny about that. Kind of like all the Australians named Bruce in Monty Python's Flying Circus or all the Zathras Brothers in Babylon 5. So, when we talk about Skippy, we may not talking about Skippy - we could be talking about Skippy instead. Or about Skippy, for that matter. It's easy to get them mixed up.
Murphy: One of the mechanics - Skippy - is rarely around. Most of the time he's off somewhere else doing something unusual and interesting. He participated in the Winter Olympics in Utah a few years back - won some medals, too - and has done the lead in off-Broadway musicals like Chess and Phantom of the Opera. I think he's also a juggler and a qualified brain surgeon. Very busy ferret, that Skippy!
Max: There are other things involved with the Cannon Crew that people don't see very often. One is the Civil War Ferret Fife and Drum Corps - Hey, it's a bunch of ferrets dressed as Union soldiers and playing musical instruments; what else is there to explain? The other thing is the mechas that we use occasionally. A Dueser named Misha Sumra - Hi, Misha! Thanks again! - created some giant robots, like in Japanese Anime, for us ferrets to use in the Chaos and Mayhem. [Smiles] Mine has a special automatic system for me to get in and out!
Sammy: You can tell the mechas apart easily - Murphy's has a Canadian Maple Leaf on the chest, mine has a Star of David, and Max's has the only "handicapped" sticker around with an Attitude. [Max grins even wider.]
Murphy: As you can see, Paul has put a lot into this birthday-salute schtick, and he just couldn't keep it all in one place. Somewhere along the way, he started taking the Cannon Crew into other groups. We've appeared in a lot of ferret-related forums and discussion groups, of course, and for awhile we were regulars in a newsgroup devoted to "Weird Al" Yankovic. We've appeared in a message board devoted to the actress/singer Crystal Bernard - a personal favorite of Paul's. The response has been great! People love us!! [Smiles that Murphy smile of his.]
Max: Paul now has a long list of birthdays, and it keeps getting longer. Hardly a week goes by now that we're not somewhere on the 'Net celebrating somebody's birthday by shooting off the Cannon. Sometimes Paul finds it all a bit overwhelming - but he hasn't run out of ideas yet!
Sammy: And the Cannon Crew marks other occasions besides birthdays. They'll salute weddings and anniversaries, they'll honor those that cross the Rainbow Bridge, we've marked one ferret's bris - really; ask us about it some time - and we'll congratulated someone for just about any important event in their life. Just recently, Reverend Susie the Floozie, one of the prominent members of the Chruch of the SubGeniusTM, of which Paul is an ordained minister, announced that she'd just landed a slackful job, and the Skippys conga-ratted her in their own insteresting way. The Flooooze got a kick out of it, and she told Paul that he - what was it she said again, Dear?
Clarissa: Hang on. I wrote it down. (shifts Levi to one arm and digs in a pocket) Ah, here it is. [Pulls out piece of paper and reads] She said, "You're just like a deranged Busby Berkeley without the alky vehicular homicide rap!"
Sammy: Now that's a compliment! Paul says he'll treasure it always.
Murphy: Well, that's us in a nutshell! We're glad that you could join us and we hope you understand the cannon salute thing a little better now. Before you go, if you want to send Paul an e-mail, just -
Sammy: Psst! Murphy! Aren't we forgetting something?
Murphy: Huh? Forgetting what?
Clarissa: Shouldn't the nice people get a demonstration?
Murphy: Oh, man, of course! How could we talk about the Cannon and not show it off? Hey, Skippy! Bring on the Cannon!
[A group of ferrets dressed in cloth baseball caps and mechanic's coveralls - all of them labeled "Skippy" - push a vintage Civil War cannon forward. Stenciled on the barrel is a list of newsgroups, message boards and other electronic forums - some of which, sadly, no longer exist - that the Cannon Crew has appeared in. They position the cannon just so, and the Head Mechanic, Skippy, comes forward and glares at Murphy.]
Skippy: I'm not too happy about this, you know. We use this piece of artillery in so many places now that me and my boys have a full-time job keeping her in halfway decent working order. And now you wanna add us to a permanent web page? We'll go along with it, but I must warn you that the Cannon is wearing out, and it's gonna get worse. Sure, she works fine now, but one of these days you'll light the fuse and she'll just fall to pieces, and then what?!
Murphy: Thanks for your concerns, Skippy, and it's something we'll keep in mind. For now, we'll rely on you and your guys' expertise to keep her in shape. [From behind his paw to the readers] Don't let him worry you, folks. Mechanics are sensitive like that.
Clarissa: Hey, Murphy? Skippy mentioned lighting a fuse. Sometimes we fire the Cannon that way, but sometimes we pull a lanyard instead. Which is right?
Murphy: It depends on the situation, I guess. Whichever is necessary to make it funny.
Sammy: Okay, comedy is like that. The Cannon's in position; shall we give her a go?
Murphy: We shall! At my mark, then -
Max: Uncle Tom's Cabin!
Max: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe! That's where the "Topsy just growed" thing comes from! Remember you mentioned that?
Sammy: Actually, that's a misquote. In the original novel, Topsy says "Nobody, as I knows on. I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me," in answer to the question "Do you know who made you?" The word "just" didn't appear, though Stowe may have put it in later editions. More likely it just showed up in adaptations. It's one of those things like "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca.
Murphy: Ah. Right. Thank you kindly, guys. Now where were we? Oh, yes! Ready… aim… FIRE!!
[The Cannon fires a charge into the air. At the proper altitude, the charge explodes and showers the webpage with confetti, streamers, balloons and M&Ms - Plain, Peanut, Almond, Ferretone, Alfalfa, Green Chili, Twinkie Weiner, Lemon Bar, Green Pepper, Purple Pemmican and all the other popular flavors. Two banners float down beneath parachutes: YOUR BIRTHDAY WISHES HERE!! And THIS SPACE FOR RENT - MAKE INQUIRIES AT THE ADDRESS BELOW! Murphy, Sammy and a long line of Skippys stand together, put their paws on each other's shoulders, and do a ferret chorus-line dance that would have made Bob Fosse proud. Clarissa spins around with Levi, and Max contributes a lively tune from one of his collection of unusual musical instruments, this time a Ukranian bandura.]
Murphy: And that's the inside scoop on the Cannon Crew! Thank you kindly for stopping by, folks!