Bad to the Bone

This is what it's come to: I have driven for nearly an hour in order to interview a big plastic skeleton. What's more, I'm doing it at a place I swore I'd never, ever visit: the Arizona Renaissance Festival, a faux medieval village (one of the largest of its kind in the country) populated by costumed sword-swallowers, rope walkers, jugglers, fire eaters and laypeople who either believe ancient times -- before television, before deodorant -- were more fun or who maybe don't know that the Safeway deli counter sells turkey legs, too.

The Ren Fest is home to fortunetelling Gypsy soothsayers; jousting knights; and the Mud Fairy, a grown woman who sits in a pit of sludge that she sculpts into various shapes. But the real draw, I am told, is Ded Bob -- a polyethylene skeleton with a sour disposition whose popularity among Festival goers is so vast that he has his own Web site and his own line of merchandise. Ded Bob is essentially a naughty ventriloquist act performed by someone who's billed only as Sluj the Dummy but who, with a little digging, I discovered is also known as Arron "Mugsy" Aarsvold, because Ren Fest types always have hypothetical middle names. They also have deep reverence for Ded Bob, who will undoubtedly pack crowds into his own mini-amphitheater every day through the end of March way out in Apache Junction, where the Festival resides on its own chunk of desert. On the stage of that amphitheater, we -- a couple of Bobs, one dead, one wishing he were -- traded compliments and sex tips to an empty arena.

New Times: So, Ded Bob --

Ded Bob: You're late. You said you'd be here at 3:30.

NT: I'm four minutes late. It took me an hour to get way the hell out here from civilization.

Ded Bob: It's definitely a hike. But isn't Apache Junction beautiful? Except for when the meth labs explode. Still, it's the only town I know of where I can walk around and find people's teeth lying on the ground.

NT: So you're dead.

Ded Bob: Yep. I am. But never too dead to make a buck. Look at Elvis! And before we go any further, look deep into my eye sockets. There. Now you've been Bob-mo-tized. You're a Bob Zombie.

NT: No. I'm not.

Ded Bob: You are. I want to make sure this interview goes my way.

NT: What's a Bob Zombie?

Ded Bob: Thirty-six double-D, no silicone.

NT: I don't get it. But, okay. I understand you were beaten to death.

Ded Bob: It's true, I was beaten to death. But is masturbation really a crime? And when I was alive, I really got around. These days, though, I'm only shooting dust.

NT: You know, you look familiar. Didn't you used to hang around in that anatomy class I had at ASU about 20 years ago?

Ded Bob: Well, I do remember taking a class on your anatomy. It was a real short course. If you know what I'm saying.

NT: Who is this Sluj fellow you're always talking about? You walk around with his hand up your ass all day.

Ded Bob: It's a job. It's like anyone else's job, really. Not unlike yours, I'm guessing. Sluj is an idiot. He's a dummy. Part of my witless protection program. Ignore him, and you'll be safe.

NT: You talk about sex a lot in your act -- but if you're always toting around a puppeteer, how do you get laid?

Ded Bob: Same way you do, I'm guessing: I rely on interns with low self-esteem.

NT: Why do I want to go see a skeleton yelling at people?

Ded Bob: It's a lot cheaper than therapy. A better question is why do all the ladies want to sleep with me? I'll tell you why.

NT: I was afraid you might.

Ded Bob: It's because -- are you ready?

NT: No, really. You don't have to answer the question.

Ded Bob: It's because I'm sexy to the bone.

NT: Hey, that's funny. Now, why do you take tips at the end of the show? I mean, you're dead -- what do you need money for?

Ded Bob: Ex-wives and bone-tox. Funny, huh? I've got a million of 'em.

NT: Isn't it true that you promise, in exchange for a $5 donation, that your fans will get laid?

Ded Bob: I do make that promise, and I stand by it. If you don't get laid, I will personally come over and put you to bed. I'll make you a cup of chamomile tea. You haven't lived until you've been put to bed by a dead guy. We'll work it out.

NT: I understand you do a mean impersonation of our fine president.

Ded Bob: I do. I take off my head and shove it up my ass. Would you like to see it?

NT: That's okay. Have you lost fans because of your Bush impersonation?

Ded Bob: Yes, but only about 51 percent of them. You know, I ran for president. The Pirate party. We were co-opted by the Republicans. Anyway, it didn't work out -- too many closets in my skeleton.

NT: Maybe voters discovered you were spending time at the Renaissance Festival. What's this whole Renaissance Festival thing about, anyway? I mean, why do people do this?

Ded Bob: What's it about? It's about men in tight pants, walking around calling each other fairies. Sounds like your kind of party, Robrt.

NT: Ho ho! But isn't it really just a bunch of losers who think life was better hundreds of years ago?

Ded Bob: A hundred years ago? Did you say a hundred years ago? I think it's time you went back to History 101, pal.

NT: Listen, you smelly crapbag, I said --

Ded Bob: Don't go getting all journalist on me. Now, hundreds of years ago, it was a sweeter, simpler, more romantic time. You prick. Why don't you go suck a latte?

NT: It seems to me it's a bunch of grown people wearing leggings, juggling and . . .

Ded Bob: Who writes these questions? We've got a ton of big, fun events at the Renaissance Festival. I like to make an ass of myself at the beer-drinking festival. I'm a sloppy drunk, though. Just give me a beer, a mop, and a wench to go.

NT: Right. Because you're all set up to pleasure a fair maiden.

Ded Bob: What do you think the mop is for, genius? Jeez. You really missed your calling. Maybe you should consider getting a job writing instruction manuals for blenders. I hear Cuisinart is hiring.

NT: Well, I have hit a new low. I'm sitting here talking to a plastic skeleton.

Ded Bob: Hey, call your agent. I'm sitting here talking to a barely put-together, cholesterol-bloated fleshbag. I've been off work for an hour. You're on my time, buddy.

NT: I certainly don't want to keep you, Bob. But look at those guys over there, wearing shoes with bells on them and chewing on turkey legs. Just tell me this: Why?

Ded Bob: Tweedledee and Tweedledum over there? What's really sad is you'll catch them at Denny's later today, still dressed like that, still speaking in accents. I don't know why they do this. I don't care. Are you done with me yet?

NT: Yes. Just tell me how to get the hell out of here. This place is enormous.

Ded Bob: Take a helicopter. I don't know. Just hurry up and go. And do me one last favor, will you?

NT: Anything.

Ded Bob: When you get home, run a spell check on your friggin' name. You're making Bobs everywhere look stupid. You wanna shorten your name? Try Bob.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela