Perhaps even more remarkably, he's also the guy who figured out a way to market a dead whale. "To me, Little Irvy is more than a whale," insists Malone, an indefatigable salesman who could probably sell fish sticks to Mrs. Paul. "We've been all over the country and to Canada more times than I can count. Little Irvy is more than a friend. Hell, he's my partner."

Make that a "silent" partner--a fact that Malone readily admits, even though advertising plastered across Irvy's trailer cleverly fudges the point by implying the beast is still alive. (A sign outside the truck euphemistically announces that the U.S. government authorized the "catching" of the whale--certainly a curious synonym for "slaughter.")

All the hype, semantics and cryogenic freezing aside, few who peer through the frosty double-paned glass in Little Irvy's trailer are unlikely to mistake the eternally slumbering hulk for a Sea World whale catching a little shuteye between shows.

In spite of placards identifying the location of Irvy's blowhole, mouth, glass eye and other points of anatomical interest, the creature is not even immediately recognizable as a whale. His skin severely peeling (freezer burn set in less than six months after Malone entombed him in the refrigerated case), the aquatic mammal looks less like a whale than it does a gigantic semideflated tire that's lost its tread. Gussying up the display are the frozen remains of an octopus, a squid, a 540-pound sea bass and several other dead denizens of the deep. Additional ghoul garnish is furnished by a photo montage documenting Irvy's oceanic demise, as well as by the actual harpoon that cost Irvy his life.

And just in case anyone doesn't quite grasp the point of this nautical necropolis, an explanatory sign resting against the whale's flaking corpse attests to the display's educational value. "THIS EXHIBIT IS DEDICATED TO THE PRESERVATION OF WHALES."

If there is any real lesson to be learned from Little Irvy, it's probably the one about how no one ever lost a dime underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Malone smacks his forehead with the palm of his hand. "You would not believe some of the things I have heard," he says. "One guy wanted to know if he could buy a bag of minnows so he could feed the whale--I told him Irvy wasn't hungry. I've had several people ask me if I ever take Irvy out to an aquarium to let him exercise. One of the 'garden club' ladies in Lexington called the Fish and Game out on me because she claimed I had a drugged whale on ice. And I actually heard a schoolteacher explain to a group of students that Irvy was frozen but he'd somehow come back to life when I put him back in the water. I took her aside and said, 'Ma'am, that whale is dead. Do you truly believe that putting him in water is going to bring him back to life?' And she did. Christ, is it any wonder this country's in trouble?"

Shaking his head, Malone tells of the angry customer who stormed out of the trailer, demanding to know why the word "FROZEN" didn't appear on Irvy's truck. Malone snorts derisively. "Well, for the same reason banks don't paint '21 PERCENT' on the front of their windows. Grow up! A guy gets a bad hamburger and he doesn't complain, but sell him a ticket to see a dead whale and he's got to tell the world.

"We figured it out once. If we had seven trucks and trailers filled with water, a live whale would still only last in there about three minutes. Plus, he'd eat 700 pounds of food a day--you realize how many tickets I'd need to sell to feed him?" Laughing, Malone adds, "I don't even want to think about what you'd do with all the waste a thing that size could put out. Let me tell you, it wouldn't be a pretty sight, though.

"Is anyone really dumb enough to believe that a live whale is riding around in the back of that rig?" asks Malone, a man who's cashed in on the answer to that question a thousand times over. Contrary to what millions who've strolled past Little Irvy's glass enclosure apparently believe, Malone insists that freezing a whale was no willy-nilly operation, either. "People think I went out in a dinghy boat one Saturday morning, took a hook and just harpooned that sucker," he says, shaking his head. "Or that I found a whale on the beach one day and went into business the next.

"Just think about that for a minute, will you," he commands. "Hell, if you've got any brains, you only have to think about it for a second. Now what would you do if I gave you a whale tomorrow? I'll tell you what you'd do--nothing! The thing would spoil before you could do a damn thing."

Smiling smugly, Malone cocks his head toward the frigid mass of blubber under glass that's been his bread and butter for nearly three decades. "That, my friend, is the result of planning--and lots of it. You don't pull off a class act like this overnight."

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