“AMERICAN ICON BETTY WHITE HAS DISAPPEARED following a bizarre incident in the downtown streets of Los Angeles last week. Authorities report that she was last seen taking part in a high-speed chase involving the Charmin Bears. That’s right, you heard that correctly, ladies and gentlemen. White was in pursuit of the actual Charmin Bears – like in the commercials – whom she believed were behind the toilet paper shortage that marked the beginning of the pandemic . . . “

Idris Elba was back in the police station, his third time in as many days. He was getting a bit tired of it all, to be honest. The least they could do was to put him in a different interrogation room. The sergeant grilling him wasn’t even trying anymore. He had left the door open and Idris was listening to the newscaster from the television in the hall. All the news was about Betty, as it had been since the incident.

Images of her from the 1950s until now flashed on the screen. He watched them, hardly bothering to look at the officer questioning him. He coughed, still not feeling entirely well. “I already told you, man. It’s exactly as I said. We were making our way through the post-apocalyptic wasteland – “

“Sir, we call that L.A.”

“Okay, L.A. Whatever. Look, it’s simple: we thought the toilet paper was the key to curing the virus, and the bears seemed to have taken all of it. So we set out in search of the bears in order to retrieve the toilet paper and save the world.”

Right. The bears that no one else has seen. The same bears that conveniently disappeared when Ms. White vanished.”

Idris rolled his eyes. “The same. Yeah, I know how it sounds, but I’ve got no reason to jerk you off. You saw the wreckage. Two vehicles, smashed to bits, fire everywhere. Hell, man, you’ve got a bloody bear paw in the evidence room right now – “

“We don’t know exactly what type of appendage it is yet  – “

” . . . White is a pioneer of early television, with a career spanning eight decades. She was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1922, an only child who never had any children of her own. When she was very young, her family moved to California, where she attended Beverly Hills High School. That’s where she said she was bitten by the acting bug. A woman of many talents, she wrote a play for her graduating class and was cast in the main role. She did volunteer work during World War II, and then went into radio for a while . . . “

” – just like we don’t know how you came to be there, at the location where she was last seen. Then there was that thing you said about Roger Rabbit . . . “

“Yeah, I don’t think he had anything to do with this.”

“Well, he doesn’t have anything to do with reality either.”

“Neither do the Charmin Bears,” Idris said, “But there they were too.”

Right.”

“Right.”

” . . . had a few television shows in the 1950s. She was criticized for having a black performer on her variety hour. Ever the trailblazer, she responded by featuring him even more in the following episodes. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘But he stays. Live with it.’ Her decision ultimately resulted in the show being cancelled. White had her own production company, a rarity for a woman at the time . . . “

Idris said, “You know I find it very interesting that as soon as the bears vanished, the toilet paper started appearing in stores again. It’s almost like I’m telling the truth here.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a cold,” the cop said, “Maybe it’s the virus. It turns your brain to mush, you know. They say you go right around the bend.”

Idris put his hands on the desk in front of him. “Listen, mate. I’ve been straight with you, as hard as all of this is to believe. I’ve told you everything I know. Betty White was a goddamn superhero, okay? I was fortunate to know her for the short time that I did. The world was fortunate to have her as long as we did.” 

The officer nodded, solemnly. Then he asked, “Just tell me one thing: is Betty White still alive?”

Idris did not respond. He pushed himself away from the table, flipped his flat cap back on his head. “I’ve got nothing else for you, man,” he said, “So, unless you’ve got something for me, there’s an old friend I need to take care of.”

The cop raised his hands, shook his head.

Nonetheless, he didn’t take his eyes off Idris as he left the office, following him down the hall that led outside. Watching as he crossed the parking lot toward the waiting Bentley. Idris turned to look back at him, grinned. He slipped on a pair of dark shades that matched the tinted windows of the car.

The vehicle swooped close to the building, throwing gravel. The officer could almost see the middle finger through the tinted glass.

Inside the Bentley, Idris turned to glance at the old friend.

“You thirsty? Don’t worry, we’re heading home now.”

He clicked the radio to life.

” . . . she appeared on numerous game shows, marrying the host of Password, Allen Ludden, in 1963. Through the following decades, she became even more well-known through television shows, with iconic roles like the nymphomaniac Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and sweet-but-dim Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls, and later with appearances on Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Community, and a recurring role on the daytime soap, The Bold and the Beautiful . . . “

Idris nodded. “One hell of a lady,” he said.

” . . . in addition to roles in motion pictures and a notable appearance on Saturday Night Live – at the age of 88, the oldest person ever to host the show – she was a lifelong supporter of various animal charities, donating her time and money to numerous organizations . . . “

Betty’s voice echoed through the car: “Being remembered for Rose and Sue Ann would be wonderful, but I also want to be remembered as a lady who helped the animals . . . “

“And at least one Fittonia,” Idris added.

He nodded at the old friend beside him. It was the friend who had been with Betty for longer than anyone, the potted plant named Rose. She was strapped in the passenger seat beside Idris, seat belt on for safety.

*******

The sun shone upon Rose from an open window somewhere in southern California. Her leaves of green, veined with red, waved gently in the breeze. The way she moved almost made it look like she was waving hello. From the room behind her came the sounds of a radio turned low. The smooth notes of an old jazz tune trailed off, replaced by the even smoother voice of the afternoon disc jockey.

“From 1960, that was the unforgettable Wayne Shorter with his take on ‘Getting to Know You’ . . . which, coincidentally, was sung by the equally unforgettable Betty White on her daytime variety show in 1954. It’s been nearly two weeks since she went missing from the streets of Los Angeles, following a mysterious car chase which authorities have yet to sort out . . .”

It started to rain on Rose. From above, Idris smiled, then eased up with the watering can. “Hey there, love,” he said, “You’re looking lush, as always.”

” . . . today would have been her hundredth birthday, putting hers among the longest careers that Hollywood has ever known. Though she vanished, leaving no trace of her whereabouts, she is presumed to be dead. Still, there is a celebration tonight in her honor, with celebrities and regular people alike already filling up the Hollywood Bowl amphitheatre . . .”    

“Big night tonight, baby. I hope you’re ready. The whole world – hell, maybe the whole galaxy – will be cheering for our girl.”

Rose didn’t reply, but seemed to beam, nonetheless.

” . . . everyone from Ryan Reynolds to Keith Richards will be in attendance. The venue is expected to surpass its maximum capacity of twenty thousand by night’s end. Coming in the midst of a pandemic that continues to rage across the globe, White’s death is an overwhelming tragedy exceeded only by the celebration of her life . . . ”  

From the radio, Betty’s voice filled the room. ” . . . my mother always used to say, ‘The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.’

“Unless you’re a banana,” Idris repeated, and laughed.

That’s what she said, pal.”

He turned to the radio, puzzled.

It was good to see you made it through the virus okay. You really are Black Superman.

He looked at Rose, then back at the radio. His eyes darted from one end of the room to the other. Well, shit. Maybe the virus really did turn his brain to mush two years ago. Maybe he really had gone crackers.

He took a few steps closer.

Leaning in, as if he would be able to find her inside the speakers. As if this wasn’t all completely crazy. Closer, closer.

His face almost pressed against the radio.

Closer . . .

“IDRIS!!!”

He leapt. “Holy shit, Betty!! What the hell???”

The radio laughed at him.

“Omigod, I’m crazy,” he said, “I’ve lost it. I’ve gone around the bend.”

“No, you’re not crazy. I mean, unless you were already crazy before now. That’s not my fault, though.” That was definitely the voice of Betty White. “I started out in radio, you know. Way back when God was still a boy.

“I thought you were dead. I mean . . . are you dead? What the hell’s happening?”

Betty coughed out a bunch of static. “Sorry, I’m still learning how to do this.”

“Do . . . this? Do . . . what exactly?”

Her voice, disembodied, replied, “It’s kind of metaphysical, but kind of like taking a really good shit. You have to focus at the beginning, but then everything just . . . flows.”

“Aww, jeezus.”

It was a perfectly sunny day, such an unlikely day to lose his mind. She said, “Do you remember that scene in Star Wars where the old wizard who’s supposed to be dead suddenly shows up so he can be a back-seat driver, telling the kid how to fly through the Death Star trenches?

“Yeah. Everybody knows that scene,” he said.

Well, I’m the wizard, you’re the kid, and the Hollywood Bowl is our Death Star. You need to pick out a nice suit, and then I’ve gotta introduce you to some bears.”

. . . TO BE CONTINUED?


It’s Betty White’s 100th birthday. Everyone should choose a local Rescue or animal sanctuary in your area and donate at least $5 in her name. It’s a great way to honor her memory and bring some much-needed compassion to our fellow creatures.

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