The Late Todd Morse Joins the Peace Corps

Four days before he was to fly to Philadelphia for CREST (Center for Reassessment and Training), Todd Morse died of BHT (a preservative) poisoning. It was during the consumption of his 69th Ding Dong of the day that Todd, mouth full of dark brown goo, uttered his last words: "Gibbee sob Bebsi..." This untimely ending of a promising young life (Todd was a recent computer science graduate from Berkeley) was brought on by reports from recently returned Peace Corps Volunteers that there was no junk food available in the country where Todd was being sent. Todd, who for four years had lived on a steady diet of Twix bars, Juanita's Bean & Green Chili Burritos, Granny Goose Sour Cream 'n Chive Potato Chips, and Mountain Dew dispensed from the vending machines in the basement of the computer science building, was horrified at the prospect of being deprived of his daily intake of what he called "joy food." Thus he had decided to embark on a last-minute binge, hoping that, by over-indulging, he would grow sick of those processed petroleum byproducts. His plan, unfortunately, backfired; the more he ate, the more he craved--he was already up to three dozen Van de Kamp's Butterhorns a day when he finally expired on that fateful Ding Dong.

Todd's parents, naturally, were grief-stricken--Todd had been so keen on joining the Peace Corps. Besides, what would they tell their friends? That he had ODed on junk food? That would be rather undignified. If only he had died of some respectable cause like leukemia or accidental drowning they wouldn't have to feel awkward. It was then that they hit upon the idea: why not go ahead and let Todd join the Peace Corps?

At first Mr. & Mrs. Morse were worried about Todd decomposing and setting off others' olfactory alarms, but soon they discovered a remarkable side effect of BHT (a preservative) poisoning: Todd remained fresh as a Twinkie that had been sitting on the shelf for two years. So they packed him off on the flight to Philadelphia, telling the flight attendants that he was physically handicapped.

At CREST Todd immediately became a topic of conversation with the other Trainees.

"Let me tell ya, our friend heah, Rigor Mortis, ain't gonna last a week in Africa," said a thirtyish man (B.S., Urban Studies).

"Hey, you shouldn't be so mean to someone who has such a severe handicap. I think it's very brave of him to do something like this," opined a young woman (B.A., Art History and Classics).

"What I want to know," interrupted a middle-aged woman (B.S., M.P.S., Hotel Administration), "is whether he was allowed to join despite his handicap or because of it. You know, to fill the veggie quota."

During the final interview Todd was warned that a quiet, introspective type like him sometimes had trouble dealing with the aggressive friendliness of the African people. But realizing that Todd did not, in the least bit, look worried, the interviewer simply shrugged and sent him off on his way with the other Trainees.

They arrived in a small West African country the size of South Carolina with a GNP equivalent to that of Williston, North Dakota. After seven weeks of training (during which Todd received low marks in language acquisition and high marks in cross-cultural adaptation (the children loved to wheel him around dressed up variously as Rambo, Jesus Christ, Michael Jackson, and a giant banana)), Todd was placed in a small, remote village as a health generalist--he was to teach basic hygiene and to provide a good example of healthy living.

During his two-year stint Todd became a legend among the Volunteers.

"You know, I haven't seen Todd since training. He just never comes out of his village."

"Well I heard that he's got six wives and that he's helping the paramount chief build a market or something."

"Don't be ridiculous. Can you imagine him with a woman?"

"Hey, do you remember during our swearing-in ceremony we were wondering where Todd was and all of a sudden the kids burst in with him all dressed up as that silly banana--"

"Right during the President's speech--"

"Oh God, the look on his face, ha, ha..."

"Todd is such a crack-up."

"He's great, isn't he? It's the dead-pan style that really does it."

Meanwhile, the Peace Corps administrators were very happy to have a Volunteer who never complained and never had medical problems. (Two-thirds of the people from Todd's group had ETed (Early Terminated) or had been MEDEVACed (MEDically EVACuated).) All they ever received from him were regular funding requests for various projects--schools, farms, health centers, etc. They promptly sent him the money every time because they had plenty of it and because Todd was shaping up to be a candidate for Volunteer of the Year, an honor that had never been awarded to a Volunteer from this country. (They never found it strange that the requests were written with horrible spelling errors and atrocious grammar, and that they invariably ended with the phrase "I beg you, Sir.")

Two years passed and it was time for Todd to go home. (Volunteer of the Year had been awarded to a woman in Mauritania who spent two years developing the artichoke as a cash crop.) As the APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) drove into Todd's village he noticed some weird things: all the men wore polyester leisure suits, all the women were toting vinyl handbags, and all the children wore wrap-around sunglasses. Obviously these people had money to spend. As he proceeded into the center of the village he was suddenly faced with an impossible apparition, a surreal joke that left him helplessly muttering to himself, "God, no, no, no..." It was real. It was fluorescent. It was a Seven Eleven.

As the APCD sat gaping from the Landrover, the door of the convenience store opened and out came six women wheeling along Todd, each one munching on a candy bar or donut. As they passed by the vehicle, the APCD, just coming to his senses, called out, "Hey, who are you and what the hell is going on?"

One woman turned and replied, "We are Mr. Todd's wives, and this is Joy Food Heaven."


An investigation team that was dispatched by Peace Corps/Washington discovered for the first time that Todd Morse had been dead for two years, the whole duration of his Peace Corps term. Through thorough interrogation of the villagers they found that a witch doctor had gotten in touch with the spirit of Todd Morse and had received instructions to misappropriate development funds to buy a Seven Eleven franchise and to set up a profit-sharing scheme for the whole village.

The late Todd Morse became an instant celebrity in the U.S. Junk food manufacturers, of course, clamored for his endorsement, talk shows loved to have him on as a straight man, and there was even talk of the '92 Presidential race: "Jelly beans, pork rinds--it's the next logical step in the Junk Food Presidency."

As for Mr. & Mrs. Morse, they have decided to adopt an artichoke.


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Copyright 1987, John Nagamichi Cho