The Story of the Kloonge

(1974)

from Roger M. Wilcox's biography



This is a moral tale my dad told to me when I was a kid, probably in 1973 or 1974 or thereabouts. He implied that he'd learned this story elsewhere, but I haven't found any instances of it, or a similar tale, anywhere online.

And I'm not sure about how "kloonge" is supposed to be spelled, either.




One day in a shipyard, a man approached the side of a vast cargo ship that was docked there, and caught the attention of one of its deck hands. "Excuse me, sir," the man said, "But I would like to build a kloonge. Would you be willing to let me build a kloonge aboard your ship?"

Now, the deck hand had never heard of a kloonge. But he didn't want the man to think he was stupid, so he said, "I'll have to ask the ship's captain," and went to the ship's bridge.

"A man would like to build a kloonge aboard this ship," the deck hand said to the captain. "Will you allow him to?"

Now, the captain had never heard of a kloonge. But he didn't want the deck hand to think he was stupid, so he said, "I'll have to ask the president of the shipping company," and went to the ship's radiotelephone room.

After getting the president of the company on the phone, the captain said, "A man would like to build a kloonge aboard my ship. Shall I allow it?"

Now, the president of the shipping company had never heard of a kloonge. But he didn't want the captain to think he was stupid, so he replied, "I'll have to ask the director of the state's shipping board," and hung up so that he could call the shipping board.

When he got the state shipping director on the phone, the company president asked, "A man would like to build a kloonge aboard one of my ships. Can I allow it?"

Now, the state shipping director had never heard of a kloonge. But he didn't want the company president to think he was stupid, so he said, "I'll have to ask the governor."

The governor was a very busy man, but the shipping board was important to the state's economy, so he could not ignore a call from its director. The state shipping director said to the governor, "A man would like to build a kloonge aboard a ship in this state. Is that allowed?"

Now, the governor had never heard of a kloonge. But he didn't want his shipping board's director to think he was stupid, so he said, "I'll have to ask the President of the United States."

The President was even busier than the state's governor, but the governor nevertheless managed to get hold of him. The governor said, "A man in my state would like to build a kloonge aboard a ship here. Is that permitted?"

Now, the President had never heard of a kloonge. But he didn't want the state governor to think he was stupid, so he said, "A kloonge is of national importance! Not only may he build a kloonge, I shall personally oversee its completion. See to it that he has everything he needs!"

Delighted, and relieved that he didn't have to make any real decisions regarding something he'd never heard of, the governor called the director of his state's shipping board and said, "Let him build the kloonge, and see to it that he has everything he needs! I'll personally oversee its completion."

The shipping board director called the president of the shipping company, and said, "Let him build the kloonge, and see to it that he has everything he needs! I'll personally oversee its completion."

The president of the shipping company called the ship's captain, and said, "Let him build the kloonge, and see to it that he has everything he needs! I'll personally oversee its completion."

The captain found the deck hand who'd made the original request, and told him, "Let the man build his kloonge on board, and see to it that he has everything he needs! I'll personally oversee its completion."

The deck hand went back to the side of the ship, and found the man still waiting patiently there for his answer. The deck hand said, "You have permission to build a kloonge on board this ship. In fact, I've been instructed to make sure you have everything you need. I want to be there to see it when it's complete!"

The man was delighted. He scouted inside the ship until he found an open area over forty feet high, just below the top deck. He took advantage of the deck hand's offer of assistance, and soon had a gigantic truck backing into the space filled with unidentifyable parts. More truckloads of parts followed. The cost of these parts, no one could guess at — but no one worried, because no less a personage than the President of the United States himself was footing the bill.

The man worked tirelessly for days at a time, putting together a contraption whose purpose no one could guess at. The ship, still under commission, took on a load of regular cargo and sailed out of port, dropping it off across the ocean weeks later &mash; and then took a second load of cargo back to its port. Then it transported another load of cargo overseas. And another. All the while, he stayed on board, cobbling together his vast machine below decks.

Finally, after many months, the man announced that the kloonge was ready.

A grand procession came on board to witness the unveiling. The deck hand with his buddies, the captain of the ship with his senior officers, the president of the shipping company with his personal staff, the director of the state shipping board with his chief bureaucrats, the governor with his staff, and finally the President of the United States with his secret service bodyguards. News crews brought cameras, and parabolic microphones, and even their own lights on board the ship, all so that they could be the first to catch a glimpse of the kloonge first hand.

On the construction deck inside the ship, one entire side of the vast chamber was blocked off by a black curtain. The man who'd built the kloonge stood smugly on its left side, holding the curtain's cord. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I present . . . the kloonge!"

With a yank of the cord, the curtain reeled aside, revealing his creation. An enormous machine, nearly as tall and wide as the chamber itself, beeped and blinked and chugged away. Every visible square yard of its surface was crammed with lights, and switches, and knobs, and buttons, and dials, and levers, and electric meters, and digital displays. The occasional spinning . . . something punctuated these arrays upon arrays of controls. The gathered throng stared agape at this huge, horribly complicated marvel of engineering.

Then, the man took out a metal-cutting rotary saw, and cut a hole in the side of the ship slightly larger than the vast machine itself. The cut-away piece of steel fell outward, revealing the open sky; the crowd couldn't see it fall, but they heard it splash down in the sea many decks below. The man beckoned the deck hand and his buddies over to the machine, and said, "All right, now, push!"

The men didn't understand, but they did as they were told, and they all pushed outward on the enormous machine as one. The gigantic mass of metal and lights slid backwards across the deck, toward the hole the man had just cut in the hull, until it stuck out through the hole and fell overboard. It plummeted downward, and finally struck the sea with a cacophonous splash, which went:

KLOOOOOOOOONGE!



For many years, my dad used "kloonge" to refer to any large, expensive machine that did nothing. Such as an IBM mainframe.

After I wrote down this tale in 2016, my dad told me a little more about its history. Here's what he told me, in his own words:

I orginally heard the story while in the Air Force. It belongs to the class of "Shaggy Dog" stories, which share pointless punch lines.

Once I got into engineering, I began to hear about "klooge", which I interpreted as the same thing [long oo]. However, when I finally saw it in print, it was usually spelled "kludge" [short u, see Wikipedia], in referring to any machine that was considered overly complicated and minimally useful

The original I remeber was about a Navy aircraft carrier on a long mission, and a (appropriately low-ranking seaman) in the shops, with the story going up to the captain and back. Thus a lot of ship and aircraft parts in the construction.




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