A few weeks ago in Portland, Ore. a woman in pink plastic hair curlers asked if Little Irvy did any tricks. "Yeah, he does one trick and he does it real well," Jerry said. "He plays dead." Hardly had she left before a sedate, well-dressed older gentleman inquired: "Do they take him out and let him exercise in an aquarium every now and then?" Such sorts have periodically sicced societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals on Malone. Others have asked Charlotte in the ticket booth if peanuts could be obtained so that they might feed Little Irvy. Still others, extreme self-humbugs, have simply cursed her graphically for exhibiting a dead whale.
Charlotte is a pretty, 25-year-old redhead who met Jerry when she was working in a Visalia bank. This was a good place to meet, since Jerry's roller-coaster business career has made him at home in loan departments. Bright and friendly, she has learned to shrug off the vitriol. "It used to bother me," Charlotte says, "but then I've seen people get mad at free shows, so at last I just decided it wasn't us—it was them—and I forgot about it."
Jerry says: "People want to know, why don't you put DEAD WHALE in big letters on the side of your truck, and I tell you I don't put DEAD WHALE in big letters on the side of my truck for the same reason that banks don't put 12� INTEREST in big letters on their front windows."
Anyway, Jerry views Little Irvy as more of an adjunct to institutional education, and the 4�-minute recorded lecture that a visitor hears while inspecting Little Irvy details various habits, dimensions and peccadilloes of whales. Such as, "He is not dangerous, but capable of swallowing a man over 200 pounds." Jerry is disappointed to hear that the Smithsonian has no real whale on display and he toys with the idea of offering them Little Irvy when his traveling days are through.
Already Malone is looking ahead to an especially sophisticated whale show that would ply a more cosmopolitan circuit than Little Irvy's tour of shopping centers and fairs. "Now, when I get my second whale," Jerry says, his blue eyes dancing, "I'm going to get me a professor to travel with it and make it real educational. We'll play schools and colleges. I was thinking maybe I'll get a much bigger whale than Little Irvy and cut it in two and carry it in a set of doubles—that's a cab pulling two trailers linked together. I'll have to work it all out but then I'd have it so you could look right inside the whale, and when you got out of there, hey, you'd know whales."
To help patrons become more familiar with whales now, Malone not only has the recording going, but little signs describing various points of interest are pasted all over Little Irvy, making him look rather as though he has been stamped for mailing by a haphazard post office employee. HERE IS WHERE LITTLE IRVY EXHALED HOT AIR WHICH CONDENSED AND TURNED TO STEAM, says one. And: IF YOU WERE TO WET LITTLE IRVY'S SKIN, IT WOULD BECOME SOFT LIKE VELVET. The latter is important, because in the dry cold of the trailer Little Irvy's skin has begun to peel with a freezer burn, making him rather unsightly. "Believe me, madam," Jerry told a suspicious matron, "if I was gonna make me a fake whale, you don't think I'd make him as ugly as this, do you?"
However, despite all the signs and other visual aids—including color pictures of Little Irvy being harpooned and the actual murder weapon itself—many whale watchers leave unimproved. In the South they depart still calling him "Little Ivory," and now, in Portland, following the most careful recorded explanation about how whales are mammals, a large woman in tight-fitting pastel slacks points and tells her barefooted son: "There, you see, that's the biggest fish in the world."
A helpful bystander, moving the six feet down from Little Irvy's 42 teeth to his glass eye, politely corrects the mother. "No, ma'am, he's not a fish, he's a mammal." The woman, turning away from an inspection of Little Irvy's fatal harpoon wound, only glares back, at last addressing herself again only to the boy. "Fish are in the sea," she tells him, and the youngster, a bit shaken by the giant squid perched on Little Irvy's back, nods gratefully at this assurance of the verities of life.
Outside now, Jerry beckons to Charlotte to abandon the ticket booth. "Come on," he says, "we got to pull a Hank Snow." Hank Snow sang a big hit once called I'm Moving On. It takes an hour or so to strike the set, to pull the sides over Little Irvy's glass window and to be on the way to the next stop, this time Winnipeg. Jerry is already in the cab, warming up Old Blue for the long trip. Charlotte starts to move out. "Well," he says, looking back fondly, "there's 8,000 more people walking around without 35� in their pockets."
The desire to see whales never seems to lag. In the 19th century the fact that they were the prime source of oil and that Melville had glamorized them with Moby Dick—who, like Little Irvy, was a sperm whale—may have accounted for the fascination. But then, and always, it is just that they are so big. For every year since 1908 the most popular exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York has been the replica of a blue whale, the largest creature on land or sea that God ever put the breath of life into. The newest model is 94 feet long, made of poly-urethane foam and fiber glass and it cost nearly $300,000.