Saturday, July 31, 2004

 

Picnicking at Joe's Ocean

Ah, the weekend.

So much less meaningful when you don't have a job and make no money on the "weekend."

But still, the rest of the world jockeys many of its events around the two days that begin with S, so I at least feel a sense of activity (if not passing guilt) when the weekend/weekstart rolls around. (Let's remember, folks, that Sunday ain't the end of any week on anybody's calendar.) Today was the Microsoft company picnic--otherwise known as the Microsoft State Fair--and a listening party for my friend Andy Nazzal's second CD release.

The two events bear no resemblance to one another except that I was at both of them.

On the healthy trek out to North Bend, my wife Janell and I listened to an alarming number of songs by the Wiggles, a kids' band from the Outback that is going to go back out with a pouch full of cash, trust me, mate. So, the car ride was really all about Harrison, my two year ol, who sat in his carseat and mimicked the dance moves of the aforementioned Wiggles. It's mostly wiggling, actually. And the MS event itself? Well, it was really all about Harrison, too. As our beloved President is so fond of beginning his declarations, "make no mistake": I knew going in that this was going to be a day of bounce-houses, balloons, and pony rides.

But the pony ride tanked.

Forty-five minutes in line for a 45 second event, and Harrison wanted nothing to do with it. What is it about a small horse, its head hung low with despair at its humiliating plight, that can freak a kid out... yet the whirring blades of an electric fan are a continual source of endless curiosity? This kid will poke and prod a pissed-off spider in the corner of the bathroom until he concludes with "bye-bye spider" and does the world a service by squashing Miss Muffett's little antagonist beneath one chubby thumb. But when we get to Santa this December, try not to be in the mall if you don't want to be fitted for a hearing aid when my child is finished with his terrified shrieking.

Let the shrieking begin!

Still, the bounce-house was a roaring success, the balloons were free (which is why it's pointless for me to complain that the barbeque ribs were not so meaty--it's not like I should get my money back), and all pics were nicked.

At the listening party for the new Joe's Ocean CD release, the climate was more sophisticated. Andy and his wife Debbie served champagne before spinning the disc. With the artist present, it was an opportunity to talk shop (he wrote every song, played every instrument, sang every harmony), and generally feel like I was part of something signficant, something I can talk about when Andy hits it big. An "I knew him when..." affair.

And nary a bounce-house in sight.

The new CD Deep by Joe's Ocean
andyanddeb2@msn.com

Andy's influences are the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Who, ELO, Chicago, and a whole slew of Motown and blues musicians that I'd shame myself even trying to name two of them. No ballads--this is all straightforward rock 'n' roll, what I think of as new oldies. The novel song of the bunch: "My Poacher's Red Blues," which tells the tale of a late poacher's employee who finds a way out of a despicable business by foiling his dead boss' last request. The last tune on the CD, "Heaven's Gold," is as much social anthem as pop song, and possibly the best song on the disc.

Andy's headed for a pouch full of cash himself, trust me, man.

And tomorrow, Sunday, is wedding day (though every wedding I can recall, including both of mine, has been on a Saturday, oddly enough), so I'm expecting fewer pony rides. But I am expecting the bride Jody to come away with her own pouch full of cash.

Jeez, did I say you can't make money on the weekend?

She's getting a nice mantle clock from me. Or a copy of the new Joe's Ocean release to dance to at the reception. Or a bridal bounce-house.

Now that's something to do on the weekend.



Friday, July 30, 2004

 

Anything She Does

I was sitting in my Indiana Jones hat recently, thinking--a rare occurrence, I concede; the thinking, not the hat--about some crushes that I have had... but not the ones on real people. I was put on this mental track by remembering Chilili, the little Native American girl from the book Year of the Three-Legged Deer. This got me to flashing back to how my friend Mark was mystified that I was so heartbroken when she was accidentally killed by a white hunter, who shot her while she was protected the deer of the title.

"She's made up," he said, making that scrunch-cheeked face children make to show confused distaste. "What's your problem?"

Good question. Three decades later, still no answer.

I don't know for certain what it means that I am often enamored of fictitious people, the creations of someone else's imagination. I mean, I don't love the creators anymore than you love God because you love your spouse. No, the authors or the painters or the actors and directors transcended their art, in my opinion, and brought into being someone I wished was real.

I think it began when I was a boy. And with my first crush on a real person had no hope of reciprocation.

I was maybe eleven years old, and my uncle Keith--whom I held dear to me as one of my favorite relatives, until years later when the family feud began--was dating a young woman named Debbie. She was eighteen, I think. Blonde hair, boobs that would wow a mountain climber, and astonishing gentleness. She was sweet to me, and her smell, a flowery perfume, stayed with me long after she'd kissed her hellos to me and my sister and returned to the adult conversations.

At night, I would turn my pillow longways, lay my head three-quarters the way down it, and imagine Debbie held me in my sleep. I longed for her. I wanted her to love me in some way, any way. Maternal, romantic, anything that would swell my stupid little boy's heart.

In time, Debbie the girlfriend went away; Keith was a fickle boyfriend, to say the least about him. He was more about the conquest than the quest in a relationship, I suspect. But Debbie the pillow stayed. Only at night, and eventually, only when I felt troubled. And like her namesake, Debbie the pillow eventually slipped away.

But I have not been able to throw the pillow away. It's in storage even now. Throwing it away would feel like burying someone, though God knows I've tried to let go of it. It's not important to anyone... except me. We have history, me and Debbie P.

Many years and many crushes later, I saw a mediocre film called The Wild Life, the follow-up to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was a far superior film in almost every way... except one. The Wild Life had Lea Thompson in it. I suddenly had a crush on a real person, not Chilili or Pippi Longstocking (we won't discuss that one here) or the character Tia from Escape to Witch Mountain.

Lea Thompson had made Jaws 3-D by then. She'd soon be in Back to the Future and Spacecamp. By the time she and Dennis Quaid had called it quits, I was wavering, and by Caroline in the City (which I watched devotedly, though I knew it wasn't very good) I was past the crush. But at its height, I realized something profound: a crush on real person can be devastating compared to one on a fictitious character.

The reason: the realization that you're both in the world is a catalyst to action. The limit of contact stops being a copy of the book, a videotape of the movie. So, I wrote. Three times. I've since heard about stalkers doing this, but stalkers were generally unheard of at the time I was writing to Lea Thompson, so I didn't think anything of it. Nowadays, I'd stop after one--if she doesn't want contact with her fans, leave it be, man! Jodie Foster can attest to the scariness factor of hearing from "fans" too many times, I'm sure. But I was persistent, mostly because of a song that came out on Genesis's 1986 album Invisible Touch. The song was called "Anything She Does," and it made me feel a tight sense of loss and smallness in my gut. The lines that did it:

"I won't ever, no, I'll never get to know her
Or be the cause of anything she does."

I wrote to her to be just a few moments of her life. Just to have been a part of her time in the world.

She sent me an autographed picture, addressed to me. For the five or six seconds it took her to sign it, I was the cause of something Lea Thompson did.

And it did not satisfy. I understood that I was off her radar again, now that the moment was over. That was it; there was no more to come. Even John Hinckley would have told me I was overdoing it to write to her again after that.

Feeling that small in the world, through no fault of your own or anyone else's, is something I would rather leave to the NASA scientists who look at the Hubble telescope and think, the whole human race is just a blip in the universe. Zoom in, and if you're a blip on the blip, just how small are you?

I now stick to crushes on imaginary people. It's a blip on my blip, and that I can live with that degree of limited influence. I mean, really, what do you think my Indiana Jones hat is all about anyway?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

 

Laurie Berkner

No, I don't know her. I know of her.

Without a two-year-old son, I guarantee you I'd not even know of her--she sings songs aimed at kids slightly older than my own--but now that I have, I'm willing to plug her.

Her songs have the right level of illogic to satisfy me. She's quirky, but upbeat. So, not Jim Morrison's kind of illogic, not Weird Al's level of quirk, and not the Democratic Party's manner of upbeat. I mean she's happy.

I'm even considering going to her concert next April. I'll probably be the only adult there who stomps like a dinosaur without provocation from a child. She's been a source of much consolation the last few days, while I'm working out the grammar of my fears, as the Indigo Girls say. Or, as Laurie Berkner might say, "'Cause it's my birthday, and I feel fine." (No, it's not, but when I listen to her sing "This Hat," I do feel sorta fine.)

"This hat is my hat, it makes me feel fine... This hat is my hat, I wear it all the time"
 
So, a bit of happy advice (which I'm hardly in the frame of mind to be dispensing these days): Go to Noggin.com, click on Shows, and scroll down until you find her stuff on the right-hand side. You can download her six of her songs in either Windows Media or Quicktime format.

You'll be buzzing from her tunes by the time you're done, or I'll eat the pig on my head.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

 

A Silent Conversation

me: Are you there, God? It's me, Michael.

GOD: Yeeeeeees?

me: I wish you wouldn't answer like that.

GOD: I know.

me: Well, if you know, why do you do it?

GOD: I move in mysterious ways. So, you prayed, I'm answering. What do you want?

me: I'm depressed.

GOD: I know already.

me: Listen, I know you know everything, including how this conversation is going to go. But could you indulge me to pretend like you don't know the answer to everything so I can feel like there's a reasonable exchange between us?

GOD: I knew you were going to ask that.

me: Do you want to hear my prayer or not?

GOD: Of course I do. I wish you'd do it in church instead of while you're sitting on the toilet. I know it's more private and you have all those Scorpio issues with privacy, but still.

me: Wait. You mean those astrological things are accurate?

GOD: Is this what you want to pray to Me about? I thought you were depressed.

me: Sorry. Yes. I'm depressed.

GOD: I know.

me: Okay, never mind. Is there someone else I can talk to? Jesus, are you there?

GOD: I'm just kidding. I thought some levity might help. He's on sabbatical anyway. Just tell Me what's wrong.

me: Well... I feel like a failure.

GOD: Mmm-hmm.

me: I mean, I'm struggling with financial worries and this whole writing thing, and I feel like I'm lost. You know how hard it is for me to admit to my friends and family that I just can't seem to get published? There are total losers with books out there, and look at me. I can't get anything into print.

GOD: I understand. You can imagine My horror when Luke actually got published. That guy couldn't string two Hail Marys together, but they still included his "writing," if you want to call it that. It's in the final edition, for My sake.

me: And my ego is just tattered. I can feel that I'm longing for something, but I don't know what it is.

GOD: Is it a burning bush? I can totally do that for you, a burning bush. It's a great trick, a real ice-breaker.

me: No, I was thinking you could just tell me what it is that I want.

GOD: I can't say for sure.

me: See, now I know you're lying.

GOD: There's a difference between lying and withholding the truth. I'm withholding. You have to figure that out for yourself.

me: I'm lonely, too. I'm broke, I'm unemployed, I'm unpublished, and I'm lonely. You could fix that and make some agent or editor shine a light on me.

GOD: I tried that recently, and we ended up with Clinton's My Life. Before that, Donald Trump ended up with a TV show. I have to be more careful where I meddle.

me: What am I going to do?

GOD: Well, I already know the answer to that question, but I shouldn't really be telling you just yet. You'll do something, I assure you.

me: Maybe I'll sit around and play computer games. Asteroids and Breakout.

GOD: Wow, those games are almost older than Me. And for what it's worth, wallowing in self-pity won't help you.

me: Can you recommend something, at least?

GOD: Let Me tell you how it is with Me and recommendations. Case studies. I'm listening to prayers right now from a family whose child is dying of cancer. There is a man in Hong Kong who is considering suicide because his wife left him. I can't even listen sometimes to what comes out of central Africa, the prayers are so painful. Food, a little girl is asking Me for. I'm listening to men in prison who know they will die there. I'm listening to victims of crime, to hostages, to a hundred voices all at once as their plane goes down, to hikers lost in the mountains, to addicts who would give their lives to stop being addicted but who might give their families lives if they can't stop. And you are lonely? You can't get published? You want a few extra dollars for DVDs? Boo hoo. Cry Me a river.

me: You're not exactly a benevolent God today, are you?

GOD: Has it occurred to you yet that I might not be God at all? You might be schizophrenic, sitting on the toilet, "talking" silently to God in your head.

me: Hold on, now. Didn't you call me?

GOD: Uh, I don't remember now. Maybe.

me: Very accusatory God, aren't you?

GOD: I'm a little lonely myself, I guess.

me: Well, do you want to play Asteroids with me?

GOD: Will you let Me win?

me: Will you tell me what it is I want it is that'll make me less depressed?

GOD: Okay, then. It's green golf balls.

me: I know that joke. It doesn't go anywhere, does it?

GOD: You should have My job, you want to talk about not going anywhere.

me: No thanks. I have enough problems right now as it is.

GOD: Don't I know it.



Tuesday, July 27, 2004

 

Silences Have a Climax, When You Have Got to Speak

The mass of men lead lives in quiet desperation.
--Henry David Thoreau

At some point, the silence you use to smother despair is heavier to carry than the despair itself, so you throw it off, let that jittery twisting hopelessness come screaming out, and deal with the repercussions. In our age of technological marvels, it's easy enough to announce your despair without an actual audience. You can cast it into an electronic void, like here, and maybe purge yourself of it without having to actually answer any questions about it. Because, folks, there are always questions. Our emotions usually require as much justification as our actions.

Let me be a helluva lot less poetic about it: I'm pretty depressed.

It piles up, and when it pours, it drowns. I'm sort of freaked out about money, so I'm eyeballing my long-term retirement with a heavy heart (and knowing I'll hate myself when I turn 59 1/2). Money's like sex--you think about it all the time when you don't have it, and when you do have it, you think about pretty much everything else. Well, I'm thinking about it round the clock. Not sex. Well, yeah, sex too. Men think of sex every 11 seconds, I read recently.

And there's the thought again. Happy face. :)

Now, I'm not "sort of" freaked out about my writing career--I *am* freaked out. My agent is utterly indifferent to me. (She's asked for ANOTHER rewrite of a book that she won't sell because she doesn't register me to be as "important" as her name-brand clients; she asked me to rewrite an earlier book and then, upon receipt of it, said, "Hmmm. No, not what I thought it would be. Sorry." Two months work, down the tubes.) My prospects are slim, and, of course, when you're fretting over money, you can't stay focused on any other problem long enough to fix it. I need to solicit another agent, but like cleaning up after a hurricane, I don't know where to begin. Haven't you ever noticed that a much-needed haircut seems meaningless when you're broke? I am struggling to get words on the page. Author James Joyce, the legend goes, wrote agonizingly slowly. A friend stops in to see him one day, and Joyce is pulling what's left of his hair out.

"What's the matter, Jim?" the friend asks.

"I've been working for eight hours," Joyce says, indicating the wadded up balls of paper around him and the single sheet before him, "and I've written 15 words."

"Well, that's wonderful!" the friend exclaims. "Some days you can barely write four words. Why are you so upset about 15 words?"

With a wail of despair, Joyce says, "I don't know what order they go in."

Well, I've never been to Spain, but I've been to that pain. And lately, I've been wallowing in it.

So, money and work--the two we all bitch about, really, I suppose--and then, as long as I'm down, the real kick in the ribs: with no financial or employment prospects on the horizon, I feel more hopeless than either by itself could make me feel, and the combo makes me feel lonely. The irony? I'd rather be lonely than heap this nonsense on anyone else.

Writing is a lonely job anyway. But it's one I can do when I have faith in the light at the end of the tunnel. Spend those months alone in a room making something out of nothing, tell your story, then send it out into the world. Make a few bucks, go out and spend those bucks on stuff or on friends (I am a notorious soft-touch for lunches, gifts, loans, whatever my friends want or need), meet some people who've read and appreciate your work, then steel yourself to go do it again. I don't mind the alone time; it's good for me. It's how I work and think and find the energy to try to be somebody interesting for my friends and family, to be a resource, to be reliable, to be good.

But Christ, there are days when I think I've come and gone from my best of days.

Someone--F. Scott Fitzgerald I think--said that in the real dark night of the soul, it's always three o'clock in the morning, day after day. This was before cable, of course. And yet there still isn't anything good on at three A.M. anyway, it turns out. I ought to know: lately, I've been changing channels over and over again but always with the MUTE button on.

Three o'clock in the morning is a fine time to resist the climax of silence, I guess.


Monday, July 26, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Fourth Week, Fourth List--Ain't Been There, Ain't Done That

In 2001, I crossed three things off my "Life's To-Do" list, those dreams that we carry around with us 24/7, though we can just barely look at 1/365 without getting a little melancholy about what we haven't done. I met Harrison Ford. I went on safari in Africa. I bought a house (well, half a house anyway--my wife Janell bought the other half).

Good thing that wasn't my whole list, or I'd be dead by now.

This week, a few things of the things still waiting on the list for me to figure out how to achieve them. I could aim low and wish for a really good turkey sandwich with mayo, tomato, and lettuce. My Homer Simpson and the Monkey's Paw wish. That'd ensure I accomplished at least a few of them, right? Or I could aim ridiculously high and wish I knew who killed JFK (it was the Secret Service) or find out what comes after this life (I'll find out soon enough, thanks just the same). Instead, I've stuck pretty middle of the road, on the path not least taken...

I want...

*... to have financial stability. Not even rich, by societal standards, just "comfortably well off," as Daffy Duck said. When I was a boy, I used to think that if you could go door to door and get just $1.00 from everyone you met, you'd be a millionaire in no time. I think this is the same philosophy of those people standing with signs at the end of exit ramps, too.

*...to have a novel published. I want to write something that outlives me. I want someone to publish it so it doesn't sit in a drawer in my office. You ever read a really lousy book and thought, "This is such garbage! Why, even Michael G. Ryan could do better than this"? Well, I have. All the time. I just don't refer to myself in the third person, because that would be just weird.

*...to see my picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone. No, wait, sorry. That's on Dr. Hook's wishlist.

*...you to want me. Dammit, and that one is Cheap Trick's wish.

*...to meet Stephen King, Ming-Na, John Irving, Michelle Kwan, and Paul McCartney, not necessarily in that order. I actually know someone who knows Ming-Na, so that one, at least, is moderately achievable. Now the question is, am I on Ming-Na's list?

*...a new drug. Or Huey Lewis to have another hit, either one.

*...to walk the streets of Hong Kong, to stand on the Great Wall of China, to travel down the Amazon, to see the pyramids, to camp in the Outback, to visit Abbey Road Studios, and to see Kenya on my next safari. Man, one trip to the Serengeti, and look what happens to you. You suddenly want to see Abbey Road.

*...you, I need you, I love you. Elvis, wasn't it?

*...about a dozen other things, most of which may well stay on the list, waiting to be found somewhere over the rainbow or upon a star. 

The question that comes to me all the time when I think about my list... what do my friends wish? They have lists, I know they do. What do they carry in their hearts like heavy diamonds, stones they cannot let go of, hoping for a chance to put those stones in a ring to go 'round their finger?

I have friends who are rich. And I have friends who struggle to make the next rent payment. I have friends in between. I had a good friend die just a short time after telling me he wished he could be a professional golfer. I have friends who are getting up there in years, and I think they just wish to feel physically all right tomorrow. I have friends who work that wishlist like a grocery list, always with their eyes on the prize. I have friends who are just tired of trying. But I still imagine their lists all look more or less like mine. But I'm not positive. Our lists are at least half secret, either from fear of having our dreams diminished by someone else, or shame that the world is so much out of our reach.

John Mayer said, "All of our parents, they're getting older. I wonder if they've wished for anything better, while in their memories, tiny tragedies."

I wish I knew.

 

Sunday, July 25, 2004

 

The Travails and Travels of Boredom

In the ungodly heat of yesterday afternoon--when even the flies were buzzing, "Damn, Seattle's not supposed to get this hot!"--my wife and I did nothing. I mean nothing. The heat saps the life out of you; it introduces a lethargy to you that can only be compared to the desire to hibernate that possesses bears and snakes when winter approaches.

So, we sat around and stared blankly at the TV, or nursed cold drinks, or watched with bemusement as our two-year-old son actually ran from room to room, entertaining himself.

"No one runs when it's ninety-six degrees," I advised him.

He ignored me and ran anyway.

We tried to watch a movie. Nope. Even a moronic comedy requires a modicum of attention span. Reading? Forget it; comic books are too deep when it's so hot.

"Wanna go somewhere?" I asked Janell.

"Alaska," she answered, eyes glazed.

So, we periodically took the Northwest Passage up to our boy's nursery to sit in the only air-conditioned room in the house. Leaving it felt just like entering a greenhouse.

And then, like Alice down the hole and through the looking glass, I drifted off to sleep and awoke in a strange place. Everything was a sepia black-and-orange. I wasn't sure if I was dreaming or truly awake--but it didn't matter. I was with old friends who were dressed just as I was: as bank robbers. From the Old West! I wore a cowboy hat and slung a six-shooter. My old friends John and Brian were there, too, all of us fresh from a heist, flush with excitement and cash. The bag of money I held--freshly stamped with the words "Wells Fargo"--was heavy with success.

"Boys," I mumbled. The room around me didn't seem real; it was like looking at the room through one-way glass.  Sounds were muffled; the air was utterly still, odorless, without temperature.

John and Brian both grunted in response. Across from us, trembling to be in the presence of such notoriety, a thin, hawk-nosed photographer was setting up his flash bar over his enormous camera. He twittered constantly, but I, for one, wasn't listening to him.

"It was 96 in Seattle," I said.

"It's 48 here," Brian said, adjusting his rifle. "1848, July, to be precise." He pronounced it "Jew-lie."

"Amazing," I said, watching the photographer tremble as he faked a smile for the Hole-in-the-Head Gang that I assumed we were. "This is so much cooler. Where are we?"

"Cooler? Does that mean 'better'?" John asked. He was watching the photographer with a suspicion that made his grip on the stock of his rifle tighten. The wood creaked. "You pickin' up slang now?"

"You're in Henderson and Brothers Photography Studio," the photographer stammered. "I'm Mr. Henderson. A pleasure to meet--"

"I meant what city?" I asked, and that was when the one-way glass shattered. I'd pressed too hard against it, and it gave way like gossamer threads.

"Tempe," John said, puzzled that I would ask. "Arizona. It was your idear to come here, 'member?"

The heat roared in then as if from bellows. It blasted me with a wall of warmth, smothering me, steaming the wrinkles right out of my bandana, my ten-gallon hat suddenly filling with five gallons of sweat. I almost groaned aloud. Arizona! Arizona in the summertime! It all became real, more real than the relatively cool couch I'd fallen asleep on back in Seattle.

"Smile, gentlemen," Henderson said, nervous as a virgin on prom night, holding his flash bar over him as he ducked his head beneath the black sheet draped over his camera.

No one did.

Who dreams of Tempe, Arizona heat to escape Seattle, Washington heat? I awoke just as the flash went off, a scowl on my face, and found myself back in the hot blanket of hot that was home. Janell dozed in the chair; my son seemed to have become mesmerized by the TV, the heat "freezing" him.

And I was bored again. I missed the dream--if not for the Arizona heat.

The specifics of all dreams are on a need-to-know basis from now on, I've decided. 

The Hole-in-the-Head Gang: John, Mike, Brian
circa 1848
Photo courtesy Henderson and Brothers Photography Archives
 

Saturday, July 24, 2004

 

Waiting to Be Embarrassed

If you write, you write things that no one should ever read but that you can't bear to throw away. You hang on to it in a box or a drawer with the tenacity of a bulldog, with the devotion that drives some people hang on to pictures of old high school friends. The way we hang on to ticket stubs from concerts or birthday cards from ten years ago, ones that don't anything more written in them than "Love, Grandma."

The thing about those photos, those ticket stubs, and those birthday cards: they don't humiliate you when your children find them one day and discover your pathetic attempts at "art." You're just mindlessly waiting to be embarrassed.

Some of the stuff I've saved from when I was younger is garbage with heart. Star Wars "sequels" that fit snugly between the first film and The Empire Strikes Back, cheesy but fairly innocuous despite the horrible grammar, questionable spelling, and the fact that I didn't know yet that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were siblings. Now, of course, those accidentally incestuous stories read a bit more like Deliverance Strikes Back.

Going back even further, I have a couple of three-page stories I wrote during my Hardy Boys/ Edgar Rice Burroughs/ Universal Monsters phase. In fact, I don't think that the concept of teenagers transported to a mythic Mars to do battle with werewolves and vampires is necessarily bad by today's standards. R.L. Stine could do worse.

I also have some stuff that I held on to with a purpose. Ideas, mostly.

"Jacob's Ladder: A town accessible only by a one-way covered bridge where you relive your favorite memories, meet all the people you thought long gone, but when you try to leave again, it all turns to ugly, demonic shit. Think Heaven meets 'Hotel California.'”

"What if, while fishing in your local lake, you caught a nasty but tiny little aquatic monstrosity that you were sure was prehistoric and worth bank. You had to figure out how to keep it hidden until you could jockey a sale (who do you call for stuff like this??), so you stuff it into your waterbed. Imagine that it keeps growing in there (can it survive the lack of oxygen? Maybe it thrives on that!), super quick, and one morning you roll over, the water bed sheets are pulled back, and there's a big ol' eyeball staring up at you through the plastic. With teeth right below that."

"What if, in desperation, a mother ties her anorexic daughter to a bed to force-feed her, then bang! Mom drops dead down the stairs from mental or physical exhaustion. Now what? (Been done--Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.)”

And then there's the stuff I crammed into a drawer for no reason other than I couldn't bear to part with it. The shameful stuff, the stuff you wish was your decent softcore porn published under a pseudonym instead of whatever garbage you actually wrote.

I found one of these rep-ruiners while doing some intense cleaning this week. I was eighteen when I wrote it; I'm almost forty now. As Billy Joel says, "It's sad and it's sweet, and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man's clothes.”

The younger man didn't really know jack, trust me.

Write what you know, they tell you when you're trying to write. Well, I was a big Stephen King fan, and I worked in a Kroger's grocery store. I grew up in a mid-sized city with a small-town feel. That was about all I knew. I knew about high school because I'd just been paroled from it. So, guess what I wrote about?

In Mt. Kennedy, Illinois, two teenage boys, Freddy Winslow and Mark Taylor, work at the local Smiley's Mart, a grocery store. Freddy's on the verge of being a dropout, Mark's an overachiever, but they're joined by their sort of visceral fear of local bully Ronny Helm. Helm has just come to work at the store, and the timing of a potentially homicidal thug joining the crew fits perfectly with Freddy's discovery of a small hidden door behind the heavy mechanical equipment in Smiley's storeroom. What's behind the door could possess Helm and use him as its tool to do very bad things to the unaware employees of Smiley's.

Yep. I wrote about a haunted grocery store.

It's the kind of writing that requires penance and absolution from Strunk and White.

The chapters inexplicably alternate point of view, first Freddy in third person, then Mark in first person, periodically deviating from this to shift to the point of view of various secondary characters. It's practically a cast of thousands--checkers and bagboys, teachers and parents, girlfriends and gang members, and, of course, ghosts. It all makes about as much sense as the third Matrix film.

It also takes until roughly page 195 (of 230) to reveal that Smiley's was built on the private property of a maniacal madman, a hermit who'd been buried on his estate at the turn of the century and who vowed to protect his property from intruders at all costs. His evil spirit emerges from behind the door that Freddy opens, possesses the local bully, and that's when the real bloodshed begins.

I think I was too chickenshit to build Smiley's on an ancient Indian burial ground. Now that would've just been silly.

I think I kept the story because it was my first brush with a readership. My sister Tammy practically stood over my shoulder while I sat at the Smith-Corona typewriter I banged it out on, reading the words as they hit the page.

"What happens next?" she asked me at least a dozen times. That means something had to happen next.

The pressure was incredible to produce plot twists that Tammy would thrill at. I killed characters left and right. Like any good horror story, as the body count rises, the means of death has to become more creative. I culminated with a suicide and the cyclic rebirth of evil (probably because I couldn't think of any other way to end it; for some reason, the bad guys win about half the time in what I write).

Tammy loved it. I had sold a story, albeit for ego strokes instead of cash.

My guess: she wouldn't love it now. The typos are aggravating, the grammar and spelling are barely passable, and the dialogue is agonizingly high school. Teenagers calling each other "lover." More curse words than you hear in a bowling alley. And lots of oddball asides where you

(CAN HEAR THE THOUGHTS)

of the monster, a trick I picked up

(STOLE)

from Stephen King. Write what you know, right?

In all, the book Smiley's is a car wreck… that I can’t seem to look away from.

So, back into the drawer it goes, along with the photos of when I had long hair and hideous glasses, and a couple of love letters my first serious girlfriend Melinda wrote to me, and pictures of me and various high school friends mooning the camera. (Why is it that if you point a camera at an under-17 male, there’s a fifty percent chance he'll try to take his pants down?)  I'll leave it for my son Harrison to throw away someday. I hope he's not under-17 when he finds it. Maybe he won’t even read it first.

Until then, I'll just keep mindlessly waiting to be embarrassed. And hope he doesn't find the softcore porn I wrote under a pseudonym. After all, it's under a pseudonym, right?

Unless, of course, he reads about it in this blog entry... that I'll hang on to with the tenacity of a bulldog.


Friday, July 23, 2004

 

Like Seven Inches from a Midday Sun

Seattle is in the middle of a heatwave--mid- to upper-90s today and tomorrow. For a city where the temperature tends to hover around 68 degrees year-round, day or night, that's not just a heatwave: it's the gates of Hell creaking open and dumping some fire and brimstone on us. Most older homes here don't have air conditioning; in our house, the only room with a window unit is my two-year-old son Harrison's room.

On a scorching day, you can learn to play with rubber blocks and stuffed animals for hours, trust me.

But I grew up in downstate Illinois, where 90-degree days in the summer are the cool ones. (Note, by the way, that it gets into sub-zero temperatures during January; what does it do to one's body to live in a zone of external temperatures that spans well over 100 degrees??) And so I know a few things about getting through a heatwave. Words of wisdom forthcoming...

*Repeat the following phrases ad nauseum: "It's not the heat... it's the humidity," "You could fry an egg on the sidewalk today," and, the big one, "Hot enough for you?" Yeah, other people love these observations and witticisms. Especially when they're on the verge of heat stroke.

*Tip a cow. This is an Illinois tradition that solves most problems, even heatwaves. If no cows are available, tip a dog (which is harder, for some weird reason; it's as if they like it). Don't bother trying to tip a waiter--you can only do it 15% of the time anyway.

*Open the freezer door and leave it open all afternoon to cool the entire kitchen with the chilling goodness of melted ice cream and unfrozen pizza.

*Take a really hot shower, then dress in your thickest winter coat. Reverse psychology. Fool the weather gods.

*Watch a movie where people are freezing to death--one of those "lost in the Himalayas" films (it's a whole genre unto itself, you know)--and comment repeatedly, "I bet those boys wish they were here right now!" This will make you appreciate the sun's blinding, seering, scalding, merciless warmth more.

*Suggest to people you find physically attractive that this is the perfect day for them to get naked. Tell them that local leaders have temporarily suspended the anti-nudity ordinance. Remember, this might be it: if you don't see them naked now, you probably never will. I mean, really, do you think they're waiting to see you naked?

*Tell everyone, "Heat doesn't bother me that much; it's the cold I can't take." See how many doofuses agree with you. (Hmm. Is that "doofi"?)

*And remember to restrict the times in which you do physical activity. If you're a muscle-headed jock who simply must break your jogging record of the six-minute mile, or you're so vain that you want to make love badly to your partner every time he or she takes too deep of a breath (and at least you know you do it badly, right?), or if you're a meathead who needs to carry a large pile of cinderblocks from the front yard to the back yard to block up that '67 Camaro you're going to "fix up" someday, remember to do it at high noon. Do us all a favor, and take advantage of the heat to evaporate your share of the water in our collective gene pool.

'Cause it's not the heat... it's the stupidity.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

 

Hometown Hero

Not.

I spent the first 30 years of my life in a town called Decatur, Illinois. I use "town" despite Decatur's population of 80,000+ because Decatur does not feel metropolitan, let alone urban. The probability of seeing a man dressed in overalls and a green John Deere hat shopping at the local Kroger store, while his dog on a leash waits tied up to the bike rack outside, is pretty high. It's not exactly Home of the Rednecks, but it's certainly sits on the same acre.

Still, it's home. It's where, if I go there, they have to take me in. I have groaned when my hometown made the national news because it's home to the Firestone plant that produced the faulty tires. Or because Jesse Jackson went there to defend some "boys" who had rampaged at a high-school football game, injuring an old lady, then beat feet from defending them (on the mere grounds of race, if the truth be told) when home video of the incident showed what animals those "boys" really were.

And yet I've defended it every time. Hey, still it has the Transfer House. (I hope.) I'm aware it has a single new bookstore for its entire population. The library's been renovated, though. And as the Western author Bret Harte said, "Nobody soldiers a rifle in defense of a boarding house."

So, last week, up pops the name "Decatur, Illinois" again, this time on a reality TV show.

Let me come clean here: I have a real love/hate relationship with reality shows. I'd never watch a repeat of one, but good God, I don't want to miss the first-run episodes. Who's getting voted out? Who's getting a rose? What's wrong with me??

CBS fired up two reality shows in the last couple of weeks: the next installment of The Amazing Race... and Big Brother 5.

The premise of the latter is not quite as Orwellian as the title would have you believe. Chuck a bunch of dorks and nimrods into a house together, don't let 'em leave, control their food with a carrot and a stick, and let them kick one of their own out each week until only one remains. Stick cameras in every room to get a title for your game, and voila! Big Brother 5.

I watched last season for the good-looking Asian chick named Jun. I vowed I'd stop watching if she was voted out, and she was never voted out. She won. Lainbress, the God of Reality TV Shows, obviously wanted me to see the entire run of BB4.

So, now I'm watching BB5, and the jockeying for alliances turned ugly almost immediately. Four guys banded together--Jase, Scott, Drew, and Michael--and decided they could run the house. They're simian in their arrogance. From their constant lack of shirts, you'd think they were on COPS. They're buff, with hair straight out of the 1980s (in fact, when Jase and Scott slap bandanas around their heads, they look like they could have been in the band Loverboy) and gleeful malice towards the other players that reminds me of the home video that sent Jesse Jackson packing out of Decatur.

Jase is the nominal leader; when he smiles, you remember the guys who tripped the handicapped kids in high school.

Scott is the squinty muscleman, sneering and belligerent, the kind of guy who responds to anything intellectual you might say with "Jeez, Brainiac, you must be gay, you're such a Poindexter." His knuckles drag when he walks.

Drew is the second-string frat boy, the one who knows he's good-looking and knows he should let the other guys be dicks in order to elevate his own "decency" factor. Granted, next to Jase and Scott, Donald Rumsfeld seems like pleasant enough fellow.

Michael is the outcast, the scrawny nerdish cowboy, the domesticated pet (and fourth-vote powerbase) that the other three need to feel better about themselves. He's the one they'll betray the first time he tries to have an opinion or disagrees with the Triumvarate's decisions.

Toss into this mix a classic dumb blonde, Holly--a "model" from Los Angeles who just barely has two brain cells to rub together to keep her head from lolling off her body--and you've got the makings of infuriating television.

Holly is sweet on Jase, the leader. Is it romantic? Is she actually trying to be a player? Is it animalistic hedonistic sexual desire (and can Holly even pronounce "hedonistic")? Who knows? All I know for sure is that when Holly bats those big ol' eyelashes at Jase, you can actually hear his erection grow. The other three boys in the alliance are straight out the high-school lunchroom over this--they seem to think "wedding bells are breaking up that ol' gang of mine." Holly is the Yoko Ono to their little band of idiots,  and while Jase swoons, the others snarl.

I despise the "four horsemen," as they call themselves. I want to root for someone on these shows, not against. But in this case, I'll make an exception.

On a recent installment, another player, Adria, casually asked Jase the name of his hometown. The one in Illinois.

"Decatur," he said.

I had to TiVo back to be sure it was what he'd said.

Decatur.

So, I got on CBS.com and looked up his Big Brother profile.

He's a moronic redneck narcissist.

His answer to "what three adjectives best describe you?" was "crazy, crazy, crazy." His answer to "What type of news from the outside world will you miss the most?" was "um, well, gee, me on TV!" And what does our little homegrown tomato think are the strengths he brings to the game? "Too many to list. Just kidding!"

And he's a volunteer firefighter. Let's give that its proper emphasis: "VOLUNTEER" firefighter.

That's the polite way of saying, "unemployed."

So, our hometown hero on national television is a human train wreck... but doesn't know it. Sigh. Third time's the charm, I suppose. And thus, do you get to observe as I follow the trail blazed by Jesse Jackson as I beat feet from my hometown devotion. 

I meant I was from Decatur, Georgia.

Because no rednecks ever came out of Georgia.




Wednesday, July 21, 2004

 

Like Sands through the Hourglass...

My wife watches Days of Our Lives.
 
On fast-forward.
 
I sat in the family room last night as she roared through scene after scene using the TiVo remote, pausing periodically to check in on characters or plotlines she's "following." I gather there’s a pretty major story in which a bunch of characters who were presumed murdered have "appeared" on an island that contains an exact replica of their hometown, Salem. Back in the "real" Salem (for want of a better term), Deidre Hall's character Marlena has apparently been a rampaging serial killer, murdering all those folks who find themselves on the island, imprisoned by (get this) a force field.
 
I get the fast-forward thing now.
 
I suppose any ongoing saga might count as a pseudo-soap opera if there's enough weirdness involved. I was a huge Twin Peaks fan. I never missed 24, all three seasons. Hell, even a good Dungeons & Dragons campaign--and I've run a few in my time--is just a soap opera with swords.
 
But Days of Our Lives just seems so lowbrow, so cheap and calculated tawdry. I mean, really, who cares where Jennifer is? (She's with some dude named Jack—who's wearing an Indiana Jones outfit, I might add disapprovingly—both of them teetering on the brink of unconsciousness long overdue.) Now, granted, she's pregnant. That makes it a little more engaging. A little. She was trying to reach the island to find Patrick, who the other prisoners are super-ultra suspicious of. I'm not sure why yet.
 
Seems that Patrick and Hope ended up on the island because a missile hit their plane and they crashed.
 
That’s right, a missile.
 
And Marlena, Deidre Hall's character? She's on the island too! Presumably, then, she's dead! She even remembers being in her casket. But no one seems to know who’s holding them prisoner or why, though Patrick clearly knows something, the rat bastard. Is this crazy or what?
 
Janell's got this show programmed into the TiVo for the rest of the week. Five hours of this nonsense every single week.... forever. How long will they make us wait to find out who the hell's behind this massive, seemingly supernatural plot? Are these characters dead or not??
 
Man, if only they had swords. 
 
                                  
Who watches this silliness anyway?
 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

 

In Defiance of Fear

Ever go to the theater to see a comedy, or settle in on a cool summer's evening with a light-hearted DVD, and promise yourself you won't laugh?
 
"Chris Rock will NOT amuse me," you tell yourself. "He might make jokes that are hysterical, but I'm not laughing. I refuse. That's not why I'm watching a comedy, to get the giggles."
 
Of course you don't do this. You would think that was a collossal waste of your time.
 
And yet...
 
My mom: "Dale and I watched that movie you recommended. Ringu."
 
Me: "Yeah, yeah! The Japanese movie. Wasn't that climax something else?"
 
My mom: "Oh my God, yes! When that little girl came out of the TV set, it half-scared the bejesus out of me! And that eye! Good Lord."
(maybe she didn't say "bejesus" but trust me, the word is in her vocabulary)
 
Me: "Yeah, I thought it was way creepy. I watched it alone at, like, midnight, and when I turned the TV off, it gave me the willies just to be near the set."
(yes, I said "willies")
 
My mom: "Oh, I didn't do anything like that. We watched it in the middle of the day, broad daylight. I'm not doing that to myself."
 
Me: ..........
(That's the sound of bamboozled silence.  Really, yes, "bamboozled" silence sounds different than even mystified silence)
 
Now, I've known a lot of people who've said the same thing--they do their damnest to minimize the potential of being afraid when deliberately seeking out a frightening activity. It's not like raising the safety bar as your rollercoaster heads down the killer first drop; I'm not advocating watching Jaws on a sinking life raft off the Great Barrier Reef.  (Though that's a Fear Factor moment waiting to happen, I suspect.)
 
But isn't the goal of a scary movie to get scared in a non-threatening, protected environment?
 
Well, I suggested this to my mom, who both accepted it and dismissed it at the same time (it's a skill she acquired telling me "we'll see" when I wanted something as a child. You know what "we'll see" means to a ten-year-old boy? It means "........."). She could see my point, but the light ain't going out at her house if Nightmare on Elm Street comes on TBS tonight.
 
"You should see Audition," I suggested. "it's another Japanese horror film."
 
"Is it really scary?" she asked, both hesitant and eager.
 
I said, "Oh yeah."
 
"Dale didn't think Ringu was scary," she said.
 
"This one has needles in it."
 
"Oh that's good! Dale's really afraid of needles." Sinister laughter followed, the kind that comes from plotting horrible things against someone you truly love. "So, we'll see how he does this time. We should watch it at night to really get him."
 
I said, "........."
 
It was the right thing to say. At least she's looking to scare the bejesus out of somebody.
 

Monday, July 19, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Third Week, Third List (sort of)--The Beatles

I know this is a narrow list, as there were only three guys in the Beatles, but it was a much overlooked band, mostly forgotten by mainstream fans and now only popular amongst fringe factions of "relevant" music buffs. I thought it only fitting that I try to help raise the general public's awareness of this obscure little garage band by adding my own insights into its members and their music...
 
*John Paul. After a short stint as Pope (yep, you can quit, regardless of what the Vatican says), JP founded the band in 1959, not long after God created rock and roll by changing Elvis's skin color to white but leaving his voice black. (The same trick did not work on Michael Jackson thirty-five years later, I should note.)
 
As self-appointed ruler of the group, he wrote 95% of the songs himself, many of them to be sung in two-part harmony with himself. "I Want You to Want Me to Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves Me (Not You)," "I Feel Average," "Yesterday Around 3:15," "Help Come Together to Get Back," "Let It Alone," and "The Long and Meandering Driveway" were just a few of the Top 1000 hits he wrote during the band's illustrious tenure.
 
When the band broke up in 1970, John Paul--who had suffered from schizophrenia for years--was able to successfully lead a double life. In one life, he married an Asian woman named Oh-No Janello (founder of Jan-ello Puddings--"There's always room for Jan-ello...because I say so"), and in the other he founded a new band briefly called The Eagles. This name was already taken, so he tried The Byrds (taken), the Partridges (taken), the Yardbirds (taken), and even Red Robin (taken by a restaurant chain). He finally settled for the general avian term Wings, and scored many hits (including "Umbra and Alabaster," his odd anthem to racial harmony with Stevie "Man, do I need the money" Wonder).
 
*George. Not to be confused with his eldest boy, George W. Beatle, George was commonly known as "the socially withdrawn Beatle." His contributions to the band included "Here Comes My Son" (dedicated to the generous lawmakers of Florida), "While My Constituency Gently Weeps," and "(Read My Lips) No New Tax, Man." George became very spiritual during his time with the Beatles, seeking higher understanding of the world through prayer in school, the workplace, and the Supreme Court. As a soloist, he was accused of plagiarism over his song "My Sweet Ford" (dedicated to the former President), but he overcame those accusations by loudly proclaiming his innocence and then blaming the CIA for not telling him there was already a song with the same tune by the Shirelles called "Jerry's Fine."
 
*Ringo. Yes, he had a dog, and this was his name-o. His only vocal contribution to the band, "Yellow Aquamarine," was an homage to his color blindness. In some circles, he has been called "the least one," a title he shares with John Oates, Art Garfunkel, and that guy who George Michael dumped the minute Wham got big.
 
I had originally thought I might make a list this week of Presidents I Have Met (two), Vegetables I Won't Eat (all of them), the Rolling Stones (I couldn't remember all of them), or Fugitives from America's Most Wanted Whom I Have Worked With (one; and Chris W., if you're reading this, turn yourself in, man. It was just a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup! It's not worth living your life in hiding just for two great tastes that taste great together).
 
Hopefully, this was a better list than any of those. But I suspect not.
 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

 

Same Fit, Different Dray

In college, I was mugged.
 
I was forcibly reminded of that incident from the fall of 1989 this morning when history repeated itself just outside my own back door. Back on the quad at the University of Illinois, in broad daylight, there had only been one of them. Today, there were three, though only one was the aggressor. The other two were the first's lookout and "muscle," respectively.
 
Let me say right up front: I'm not a prejudiced man. I have friends who are black, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic. And I'm very much aware that we live in economically difficult times, that each of us is sometimes just scrimping to get by.
 
And yet I find myself wanting less and less to live with them as my neighbors.  They bring down the value of the entire street, in my opinion. I mean, isn't segregation (I know, a dirty word) something we could all agree upon as a wise course of action when it comes to us and the squirrels?
 
Back in 1989, I was minding my own business, studying for a philosophy exam in the bright sunshine on the U of I's quad, tossing Planter's Peanuts to a squirrel that happened to be nearby in the shade of a tree. Plato, Socrates, and peanuts. The squirrel was a college squirrel, all right--he jammed so many peanuts into his puffed cheeks, he looked like Bluto from Animal House. "See if you can guess what I am now," he seemed to say. Squeakity-squeak squeak.
 
When I rose to go, I rolled the remainder of my bag of peanuts down into a tight little ball and put it in my shirt pocket.
 
And that's when, like the peanuts, I was assaulted.
 
The squirrel, sensing my intent to leave the scene, launched himself at me. (I assume it was a "he," though perhaps aggression is genderless in the world of nut-gathers, I don't know.) He dug his claws into my thigh, tearing my jeans, and before I could find my mace, he had jerked the bag of peanuts from my pocket... and was gone.
 
I was livid, as you can imagine. I pitched quite the fit to anyone who would listen that afternoon, and I got some action.
 
But I could not pick him out of the line-up the next day, so he got away with it.
 
Since then, I've had a difficult time making eye contact with squirrels when we happen upon one another. I prefer to cross the street than meet them approaching me, even on a sunny day in a quiet suburban neighborhood. And to be honest, I would rather my child not make friends with any of them, no matter how upstanding in the community they might be. Intellectually, I know it isn't right to hold an entire group responsible for the actions of one of their number, but such an incident can leave you traumatized, suspicious, and frankly, biased in favor of your own kind.
 
And this morning, it all came back.
 
My wife had hung a bird feeder from a tree branch in our back yard. Does it have a sign that says "BIRDS ONLY"? No, of course not. We're not so crass. The fact that it hangs in a place where their kind doesn't belong should be sign enough, I would think.
 
And yet, a trio of these rodents--a "dray," they call themselves, as if a collective noun can somehow give their gang validity--worked out how to steal the sunflower seeds in the feeder. One stood guard in the trees; one chittered and chattered on the edge of the deck as I approached, making threatening gestures with his nose. And the third, the one I think of as the leader, pilfered the feeder by hanging upside down from the tree branch and lowering himself onto the feeder's stations.
 
They think they're getting away with it. But not this time. Not like the U of I incident. This time, the line-up won't be an issue because this time, I have his bug-eyed little face of innocence on film.
 

Cyril, a.k.a. "Rocket J.," doing his dirty deed
 
I know; I'm overreacting. I screamed and hollered, threw a fit akin to the one back in 1989, and all three of them looked at me as if I was the one a bit squirrely. The leader, Cyril, offered me a wad of chew as I was taking his picture. Even flashed his dray sign at me (three twitches of his tail and a sudden freezing as if just back from the taxidermist). I appreciate his efforts at peace, but I struggle nonetheless. Oh Lord, I struggle.
 
Prairie dogs and woodchucks, I have no problem with. And I have tried to get past my distaste for those that "squirrel away" the goods of others. Yet despite it all, I battle silently against my own shameful speciesist attitude.  So, this afternoon, maybe I will sit on the deck and ask them to join me for a snack, some peanuts left over from a Mariners game last summer, and maybe I'll ask myself: Can't we all just get along?
 
Yes, Cyril, my brother squirrel, we can. If we can all just stop being "nuts" for a few minutes.
 
Or stop stealing those self-same nuts from the middle-class folks who've worked hard their whole lives to collect them, unlike you shameless, lazy, little bushy-tailed thieves. I bet your mothers buried their acorns in compost heaps, didn't they? DIDN'T THEY?!?
 
Sigh. Maybe I'm not ready to get along just yet. 
 

Saturday, July 17, 2004

 

The Woman and the General

Once upon a time in a kingdom that was past its "magical" prime, there lived a woman and a general who had both fallen from grace in the eyes of their fellow villagers, both for the same reason.
 
The woman was known to the villagers as someone they both hated and adored, for she was a successful merchant who was haughty and arrogant about her status amongst them. Yet she sold them goods they wanted and needed, so they tolerated her seemingly superior attitude.
 
The general was known to the villagers as someone they both hated and distrusted, for he was a decorated officer, a friend at the court of the king, and he commanded a small army of soldiers who protected the property of the villagers. Yet he did, indeed, protect their caravans and fields as they needed, so they tolerated his aggressiveness.
 
Wildflowers were the greatest asset the village had, for their wildflowers were known all the way across the kingdom, and the villagers took great pride in their unique crop. All around the village, for miles and miles, wildflowers grew in fields carefully divided by fences to show what belonged to whom. Some belonged to individual villagers; some belonged to the king's court; and some belonged to God alone, high in the mountains where most villagers were unwilling to venture to do the work of harvesting them.
 
One day, a courier of the king happened to be passing through the mountains when he came upon the woman harvesting wildflowers from a field that he believed the king had already claimed for the people. She had taken an entire basketful.
 
"You have stolen from the villagers!" the courier proclaimed, and the woman was taken to the castle to await her fate.
 
The villagers were quite gleeful about this. The woman seemed too successful to them, and this explained her success: she was stealing from them. They cried out to the king for her to be cast into the dungeons to teach her a lesson.
 
The king was inclined to agree, though he had heard whispers that perhaps the fields the woman had harvested were, in fact, those no one had yet claimed, when more bad news came to his court. Suspicious now that someone might be harvesting their wildflowers unbeknownst to them, the villagers had taken inventory of all the surrounding fields.
 
And those guarded by the general and his small army of soldiers had been stripped bare. They had taken a thousand baskets full.
 
Even more than before, the villagers were outraged. "Cast the general into the dungeons!" some cried out. "Execute him!" others cried out, for now they themselves had been robbed of their precious wildflowers.
 
The king found himself in a precarious position. The general was a close personal friend--and when the general mysteriously disappeared into the mountains, leaving behind his small army but none of the missing wildflowers, the king knew exactly what had happened.
 
"Find the general and punish him!" the villagers cried out.
 
So, the king tried to satisfy them without jeopardizing his relationship with his friend, the general. He had many in the general's small army arrested and tossed into the dungeon. They insisted, even on their way to the darkness below the castle, that they were only doing as the general had instructed them.
 
It was not enough for the villagers.
 
"Our wildflowers were stolen!" they cried. "A thousand baskets full! Who made the decision to steal our wildflowers?"
 
And that was when the king found his answer to this difficult question: he reminded the villagers of the woman.
 
"This woman holds you in contempt," he told the villagers. "She thinks she is superior to you, and she has gone behind your backs to do the very thing you are so enraged by. She has stolen wildflowers that did not belong to her. She should be punished for what she has done to you, to make an example of her."
 
And so angry were the villagers, that they agreed. Some wondered about who the wildflowers she took actually belonged to, and others wondered what harm there was in a mere basketful of wildflowers compared to the thousand baskets taken by the general's army, but in the end, they agreed that she should be punished for her actions.
 
Thus was the woman taken to the dungeons, much to the pleasure of the the villagers, who felt the king was doing what he should do to protect them.
 
And the general? When he finally returned from wherever he had been, without any of the wildflowers he was accused of taking, he told the king he had been gone when his army had stolen the wildflowers. He knew nothing of it, and he was indignant that the villagers would consider a man of his military stature to be a common thief like the woman.
 
He was so self-righteous that the villagers were intimidated, and they realized that to question the king's friend too closely was, in a way, questioning the king himself. And so, they fell silent, their attention turned to the woman again, eagerly awaiting her release from the dungeons so that they might punish her again and again for stealing their wildflowers.
 
The general continued to blame his army for any stolen wildflowers, and he indicated the king's unwavering support as evidence of his innocence. He answered whispers that he had failed in his duty to protect the wildflowers by again citing his underlings' actions, and he insisted that he was absent when all the thefts occurred.  He went to work for the king overseeing more wildflowers in a different village, and the villagers were left with only questions... and the story told to them by the king and the general.
 
And in time, they accepted this. And when the woman was finally released from the dungeon, they drove her from their village, never to see her again.
 
The moral of this story: the greater the lie, the greater the chance that it will be believed.
 
***
Martha Stewart is headed to jail for the $50,000 or so she made from selling stock based on insider information. Kenneth Lay of Enron remains at large, millions of dollars of other people's investments lost on his watch, possibly "lost" to his own private foreign bank accounts.
 
And any story that can take the words of Adolf Hitler as its moral should give you pause.
 

Friday, July 16, 2004

 

Character Study #1: Debra the Spaminator

I was originally going to post a fable I've written--an actual piece of fiction on The Fictioneer!--but character before plot, right? Besides, the biggest advantage of having your own little private forum is that you can write directly to your audience. All 10 of 'em.
 
So, Debra--my alter-ego in the world of childhood songs conspiracies (7/11 entry)--figured out the hidden message in my "spam" letter entry (7/7).  Ten bucks, Debra! And not Monopoly money, either: real-life, good ol' American dollars. (Readers who happen to work for the IRS, please note.) The Spaminator has done her job well.
 
The solution:  the "From" line (Carrie Garp) and the "Subject" line (This Is My Xth/st Story!) combine to form the code for finding the message. (Carrie was Stephen King's first story, The Word According to Garp was John Irving's fourth.) By choosing the first and fourth words of each line, you get the hidden message that tells you to write to me to win. But where to write? Well, the postscript for the puzzle says the "rest of the address" is ______1964@yahoo.com. So, where's the first part of the address? Hidden in the spam, certain letters are doubled up. If you extract them, sequentially they spell "mikeryan." So, mikeryan1964@yahoo.com is where to write to say you've cracked the puzzle.
 
Yeah, it ain't the Da Vinci code, I know. On the other hand, you didn't have to buy a hardback book to get it either, did you?
 
Debra also braved the waters of technology recently to actually post comments on a couple of my entries, my Ogden Nash homage (7/15) and the Christmas in July entry (7/13). The echo you hear in her Ogden Nash commentary is the "post" button clicking twice, I think.
 
So, as a very brief character study via famous quotes, I give you Debra...
 
*"Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune." --Kin Hubbard.
Debra writes music (real music, not that classical garbage) and plays great guitar.
 
*"Writing is easy. All the do is stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." --Gene Fowler
She recently wrote a full-length screenplay, a good one, despite having never undertaken such a project before in her life. Given how many times it nearly ended that same life, I'll be excited to see if she tries it again any time soon.
 
*"A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after." --Gloria Steinem
Debra is the kind of woman I have had the great fortune to have in my wife, my mother and sister, and many of my friends: the kind who doesn't take shit from men. Or women. Or most domestic animals, actually. In fact, she just doesn't take shit from anybody.
 
*"If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me." --Alice Roosevelt Longworth
The Lord loves a gossip, and so do I. Hell, half the point of this blog is to gossip about myself.  And Debra and I can talk for hours about anybody, even people whom we don't actually know, haven't actually met, and frankly don't really care about. Now that's gossiping. 
   
*"Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." --George Santayana
I have my Harrison Ford thing, Debra has her Lauren Jackson thing. And her Courtney Love thing. And her Legolas the elf thing. And her beloved Shirley Manson thing. Hmmm. Is "fanaticism" too weak a word here?
 
*"If I were a grave-digger or even a hangman, there are some people I could work for with a great deal of enjoyment." --Douglas Jerrold
Debra and I became trench warfare friends, working for the same company where chaos ruled. Nothing forms a common bond faster than dreading your workday, and it has sustained us long after we've both left that battleground for earth less scorched.
 
*"It's one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." --Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here's hoping Debra at least tolerates my stupidity in writing about her at great length. If there's no entry tomorrow, it might be safe to assume that she hunted me down and strangled me with a guitar string.
 
If it comes to that, I may pull a Bilbo and try to stall her with more puzzles. Did I mention that she likes jokes, too? Another of her bad hobbits. 
 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

 

Ogden Nash Wannabe

If you don't know who Ogden Nash is
He rhymes with words like "stinking batches."
But what makes him great,you'll be relieved to find
is he's not the Nash from A Beautiful Mind.

***

Anyone want to share my crab dish?
I'll give you half, I'm not that shellfish.

***

Its resemblance to a dinosaur
Must make the ugly rhino sore.

***

It's not Noah's great-grandson's faulting
that people use "Nimrod" to be insulting
And "dork" doesn't mean "nerd" or "geek," by the way
It means another word that starts with "d" and ends with "k"

***

Every day I try to be clever
And expand my online ego endeavor
But it's not teaching a new trick to this old dog
It's actually as easy as falling off a blog

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

 

Blogservation #2: Get a Life?

Yesterday was Harrison Ford's birthday. He turned 62, and he's still the only man on the face of the earth I'd try swinging to gay for. (Oddly enough, I would do so with my wife Janell's blessing. Go figure. I think she thinks I can go ahead and laminate this idea now 'cause if Ford could pick any gay partner he wanted....)

We took our son--Harrison (what a coincidence of names!)--to the doctor for some immunizations yesterday as well. One look at Dr. Chang, and Harrison IDed her as the pediatric Dr. Mengele he knew she'd prove to be. The screaming was constant, heartfelt, and so high pitched that the plate-glass windows in the room quivered... which was kind of cool and made me blushingly proud of our little Ella Fitzgerald.

On the way home, I saw a sizable leaf of lettuce blowing down the sidewalk while I sat at a parking light. Yet there was no wind. As I watched it stop, a small brown mouse twitched out from underneath it, checked for traffic, then ducked back under it again like a man carrying a canoe and headed across the street with his lunch.

But now the question about all three of these notes: to paraphrase Elaine Benice, "Are they blog-worthy?"

I've discovered an inherent danger in blogging: it skewers your perceptions of reality. Bad enough that I look at the world for story ideas, characters, and plots for novels. I mean, there's a bar there at least by which to judge such things. But blogging... well, hell, a vegetarian mouse on his way home from the drive-thru suddenly becomes a tale to tell. I'm sure one day my friends will be afraid to say anything to me for fear of being quoted, or misquoted, here.

Now, I actually met Harrison Ford once, even had my picture taken with him, at the Museum of Flight a couple of years ago. He later signed an article I'd written for Star Wars Insider about him. 

Michael meets God

Tomorrow, I'm seeing my own doctor, Dr. Liu, and have the unfortunate task of telling her that, with my health insurance running out soon, I need to move up my prostate exam from November to as soon as possible. The rubber gloves will come out on the spot, I have no doubt. She's not bashful.

And a mouse bit me on the Fourth of July once when I was a boy, a tale that nicely dovetails with the story of the snake that bit me, the dog that bit me, and the shoplifter that bit fellow bagboy Darnell Wilson when I worked at Kroger's.

See, now those are blogworthy.

I guess I need to publish a novel just so I can get some more stories to tell. "I sat at this books-signing in Chicago for six hours, and only one person showed up to buy a book. Thank God for my mother, eh?"

Yeah, that'll be a good story. I think I'd rather read it on someone else's blog, though.



Tuesday, July 13, 2004

 

Christmas in July

In addition to something like 25 catalogs a month, I also receive the Hallmark "Christmas Ornament Preview" notice twice a year.

See, I foolishly signed up for their membership card one afternoon when it would save me a whopping $3.00 on whatever I was buying. That's the way those cards work at QFC, Suncoast, the photo developer, Quizno's. Punch cards, discount cards, membership cards, stamp cards, they're all the same. They're an enticement to save a few dollars at a higher expense. They're to sell you things you don't really need.

And believe me, that $3.00 came with a price. Mailings.

Well, last week, I received the Hallmark notice advertising the Christmas ornaments coming out this weekend. My weekend was already pretty busy, I figured there would be crowds of frenzied ornament collectors, and I'm not really into ornaments of Santa sunbathing or of icicles with penguins mounting them in lewd manners. (Hallmark thinks they're clever, but I'm onto them.)

But unfortunately, Hallmark also has a Disney license. Need I say more?

So yesterday, off I went to the local friendly Abu Hallmark Prison in search of the wind-up "It's a Small World" ornament I saw in the ad. That was it; that was all I was buying. "I might be cheap," a famous actress once said, "but my toys aren't."

The lady working there--Betty, her tag said, and she rather looked like a Betty--was happy to help me since there the store was a lifeless wasteland on a Monday afternoon. I also suspect that a thick-bearded middle-aged man prancing happily up and down in front of the Disney ornaments gave her pause.

"You know, if you buy two Disney ornaments, you can choose from our limited-edition 'Mickey and Minnie in the Kitchen' ornaments or our limited-edition Mickey Mouse candy jar for only $4.95 each," she explained. I was hovering over Mickey as a snowman and a Fantasia Mickey whose hat lights up.

"Well, hell yes," I said (which I then felt bad about saying; Hallmark stores seem sort of like little churches of cards). "I'll get two then! So, what sold out over the weekend?"

"None of the Disney ones, I'm afraid." She was both apologetic and suspiciously gleeful about this. "But the little stove that lights up with Christmas cookies inside did," she said, showing me the empty slot, "and a few of our mini-ornaments did, too."

I snorted. "Who buys those things anyway? They're microscopic. You put them on your tree, they just disappear."

"We sell quite a few of them," Betty said, as if that answered my question. "Many people don't have room for large trees, so they have tiny tabletop ones. People in apartments, for instance."

"If my Christmas tree was only a foot tall," I said, "I'd decorate it with my brains." I made the gun gesture with my thumb and forefinger and pointed it at my head.

Betty was not amused. Belatedly, I wondered if she lived in an apartment, and if she'd therefore claimed first dibs on the mini-ornaments the morning the shipment of them arrived at her store.

I followed her in mildly embarrassed silence to the registers. She even carried my ornaments for me--I went with the Fantasia Mickey.

As I was checking out, I tried to return some levity to my relationship with Betty by telling her about my first experience buying ornaments at Hallmark. I thought she'd think it was cute, charming.

I told her how, when my first wife and I moved in together during college, Melody and I were dirt poor. We were making gifts for each other that year to save on expenses. But you know how Christmastime is; it's hard to resist spending even what you don't have. And what we didn't have the most of were ornaments, so Melody and I trekked off to the Hallmark store to build our tree. We had about $25.00 to shop with, as I recall. Our first Christmas tree together--we were nauseatingly romantic about it.

Until we got to our friendly Hallmark store.

The ornaments started at $6.95. They went up from there. Some cost more than our entire decorative budget. At least one, a little train that went around the tree while resting on the branches, would've paid our rent for the month of December.

So, we bought one ornament. One. It was Santa and Mrs. Claus caroling together, dated 1989. It cost $10.95, almost half of the money we'd alloted for all of our ornaments, so you can imagine that our tree was pretty sparse that first year. If we'd had a mini-tree, I suppose that single ornament would've looked mighty fine on it. As it was, it was pathetically surrounded by popcorn strings and other "creative" ornaments that Melody and I had made ourselves.

"But what did we know?" I said to Betty yesterday in the Hallmark store as she bagged up my limited-edition Mickey and Minnie candy jar. "We were young, and we'd never shopped for ornaments before. I mean, really, who in their right mind would shop for their entire ornament collection at Hallmark? It's wildly overpriced stuff, don't you think?"

Betty maintained the forced Hallmark smile while handing me my bag o' ornaments. No, she didn't think.

I jingled out the store's door, thinking that when the rest of the ornaments are released in October, I'd probably better shop at a different Hallmark store. This one might not be so friendly to me next time.
 

The emotional aftermath of the Hallmark experience


Monday, July 12, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Second Week, Second List--Movies

You know how you read a great work of literature--something by Charles Dickens, maybe, or perhaps you're struggling through Oprah's summer read, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina--and when you get to the end (IF you get to the end), your reaction is:

HUH?

Invariably, I'm pissed off if I read a book and don't get it in the end. That's a lot of commitment for no pay-off, though I read Catcher in the Rye in about two hours and still felt robbed of 120 minutes that I'll never get back.

But you'd think a movie wouldn't have quite same effect on you. After all, it's a visual medium--how boring or confusing could it be, really? I mean, who would spend millions of dollars to make a film about watching paint dry?

Well, Columbia Pictures did when they let David Lean make Lawrence of Arabia. And let me tell, you that paint didn't dry very fast--216 minutes of tedium periodically broken up by boredom, interrupted only by an occasional bout of dullness. Then they had the nerve to release a director's cut, adding in another 12 minutes of lethargy. An insomniac's dream film--it'll put you right to sleep.

So, with no bias whatsoever, here are 5 films that you might have been told are worth seeing but that I'm telling you aren't. After all, I'm reading Tolstoy; I think I know a little something about having a "classic" oversold to you...

*Lawrence of Arabia. Yeah,I already dissed this above, but I want to note one more atrocity: it beat out To Kill a Mockingbird for the Best Picture Oscar in 1962. Even having Obi-Wan Kenobi in it just can't raise Lawrence of Arabia in my esteem...

*Best in Show. This Christopher Guest "mockumentary" comedy about a bunch of oddballs entering their pets in a prestigious dog show strikes me as the symphony/ballet/opera of films--you're supposed to like it, so if you've been exposed to it, you'll say you liked it... even if you didn't. Well, maybe I'm too lowbrow for this kind of sophisticated humor. Oh, wait a sec. Maybe it's just not funny! Yeah, that might be the problem.

*The Black Cauldron. Man, it's hard for me to slam a Disney animated film, but I've read about five-year-old kids committing suicide while being parked in front of this one, so I gotta be frank. Hideously routine (orphans and sidekicks and dark blue-and-black villains, though, strangely, no songs), animation flatter than Kansas (yet the one thing that Leonard Maltin praises the damned thing for), and about as much fun as watching a stranger's home movies. The 226th Land Before Time movie is better.

*The English Patient. Another Best Picture winner. The title alone seems like a warning to me--"English" denotes "slow," and "patient" sounds too much like pleading from the director for me to endure said slowness. Ask my friend Beverly about this movie, and there's a 50% chance she'll throw up on you, and another 50% chance she'll just punch you in the face. She's not a fan, if you weren't sure. And to quote Opus the Penguin from 1983:

"[The English Patient] has brought the word 'bad' to new levels of badness. Bad acting. Bad effects. Bad everything. This bad film just oozed rottenness from every bad scene... Simply bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness.

...

Well, maybe not that bad, but Lord, it wasn't good."


*Anything by Robert Altman, but let's pick on Gosford Park. More like Godforbid Park. I saw this in the theaters because it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and though I went in wide awake, it hit me like six or seven Tylenol PMs. Two-and-a-half hours of an upstairs/downstairs murder mystery that just makes you wish the killer would knife some of the other characters.

In the elevator on the way back to the parking lot when it was over, my friend Warren said, "Jeez, all that just to find out the butler did it?" The other passengers in the car, some of whom undoubtedly planned to see this snotty upscale British gar-bahg, glared at him for tipping the end. I say he did them a favor.

And now I've done it for you. "The butler did it." You can skip it now.

So, let's summarize what we've learned, shall we?

--Obi-Wan Kenobi can't save a movie he's in (even a Star Wars movie, truth be told)

--You don't have to like a movie just 'cause "they" say you should; besides, "they" were probably told by "someone else" to like it anyway.

--There are a LOT of Land Before Time movies.

--Beverly is quite expressive about her dislike for certain movies. Much better than Roger Ebert, who, as far as I know, has only thrown up in eleven films during his entire career.

--The butler did it.

And now you've spent ten minutes reading about what not to watch. Do you wish you had that ten minutes back?

Sunday, July 11, 2004

 

Conspiracy amongst the Children?

Not long ago, I mentioned that I had only recently discovered that the Alphabet Song and "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" were the same tune. The same tune.

It was a shocking revelation for me, a blatant conspiracy that everyone can see yet no one dare comment upon. "Treason doth never prosper," an English poet wrote. "What's the reason? If it prospers, none dare call it treason." We have been lulled in a sense of complacency, people, convinced by shadow leaders to turn a blind eye to what we know is wrong. We know it. We sing these songs to our children thinking of the great lessons we are bringing to them, the foundation for an education in literture or classical music, and yet Mozart's tune has been compromised again and again... and again.

Now, there are those out there who will call me paranoid. Am I? Am I suspicious of a system that deceives its citizens? Or can I support my ridiculous claims?

So, I'll pause here while you hum the two tunes to yourself. Go ahead. "A, B, C, D, E, F, G... How I wonder what you are..."

Last night, the phone rings, shattering the peaceful Saturday night my wife and I are enjoying. Something about the ring should have warned me; no one ever calls at that hour. But the caller-ID told me it was a friend, and friends don't bring trouble to your door deliberately, do they?

"Mike?" I knew the voice on the other end--my friend Debra. But strangely out of breath.

"Yeah, hi, Debra. What's up?" I asked, feigning casualness. Yet my heart was hammering in my throat. Something was wrong.

"I was getting ready to go out, and this, this, this song just popped into my head," Debra stammered; she seemed distracted, as if she knew what she had stumbled upon. "You know that thing you wrote about the Alphabet Song and 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'?"

"Yes. Go on."

She was silent a moment, then, "'Baa Baa Black Sheep,' Mike. 'Baa Baa Black Sheep'... it's the same."

Dear God, she was right. But even as my mind shrank to a pinpoint, Debra had learned more about the conspiracy than even I had imagined.

"And listen, something else," she said, almost whispering. She knew we might be overheard--the strange clickings I've been hearing on my phone line ever since the Patriot Act was enacted have made me more than a little nervous. "You need to sing 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' and 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain.'"

She hung up before I could ask her how in the name of God she had uncovered this, not having any children herself.

My parents circa 1972, freed from police custody after publicly revealing the alarming similiarities between Disney's Steamboat Willie and Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill. (Photo courtesy The Suckerpunches of Youth Society) 

So, there it is, people. I'm putting it out there for all of you to think about. The conspiracy has threads that branch out to more than just the one song. It's vast. It's far-reaching. I only hope I can tell all of you before they find me and shut me up permanently. I'm concerned about the censors, and what they'll do to me when the blog goes live.

So, now I'm turning my focus on what else they've fed us, before it's too late, before they can stop us from stopping them. I'm looking at all of it, all the little stories, all the little tunes, all the little lies we've been encouraged to tell our children. Next, I'm comparing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" to


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Saturday, July 10, 2004

 

"Strange Days, Indeed"

And as John Lennon also said, "Most peculiar, Mama." Last night was one strange night...

*I saw on the news last night that Seattle police had busted a meth lab in somebody's suburban house. Middle of the day, decent little neighborhood, and when they brought out the guy who they say was running the lab, his hair was everywhere... and he was shirtless. It's like you can't wear a shirt too close to your illegal drug-making operations, like it's part of being in the "meth club" to be arrested shirtless. You wouldn't want to look out-of-place next to the other junkies if you're ever featured on Cops. If I am ever arrested, I hope I'm pantless but wearing a really nice button-down blue Oxford shirt. Something classy to show up my fellow detainees in the King County Jail.

*During a commercial break, I saw a commercial for K-Y jelly. Really. K-Y jelly. At first, it wasn't clear to me what the ad was about--good-looking man and good-looking woman talking about... something. Loving each other. Making each other happy. (You know where this was ultimately going.) They mentioned "K-Y" early on, in the first few seconds, and my thought was, What an unfortunate name! People are going to think they associated with the sex lubricant. Well, duh. But they were selling more than the monkey grease; they were hawking the "Liquid Warming Personal Lubricant." Check out this quote from their website:

"Discover a whole new world of intimacy with K-Y Brand Warming Liquid, the first and only of its kind. The smooth and long-lasting formula creates a warming sensation on contact with your body's natural moisture."

I don't even want to think about my body's "natural moisture," let alone anyone else's, and I certainly don't want to imagine the "warming sensation" that comes from me rubbing myself down with the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices to create K-YFC.

I wrote down the toll-free number to order, though, just in case.

*At 3:00 this morning, I woke up hungry. So, off I go to the kitchen for the good ol' reliable standby middle-of-the-night snack: a bowl of Honey Smacks. I'm three-quarters asleep as I pace the kitchen and dining room, eating with my eyes mostly closed, when I catch movement in my peripheral vision. Someone out on my deck in the middle of the night, someone trying very hard not to be seen, creeping slowly between the patio table and some of Harrison's toys. Watching me as I passed in front of the sliding glass doors... that weren't locked.

The reality of a burglary, a home invasion, or something worse are absolutely terrifying. Imagining how you'd react if someone tried to break into your house is very different than the visceral moment when you're confronted with an intruder. You can die. Your family can be killed. I took two steps back, reached around and found the kitchen phone, waiting for him to come at me. I assumed he could see me; I hoped that if he saw me with the phone in my hand, he'd run. If he was ruthless, though, he could get into the house before I could call for help, and I could only start screaming for Janell to get Harrison and get out while I tried to hold him back long enough for them to escape.

But he would run, I was sure. The whole point of sneaking into someone's house whle they're sleeping is to not have a confrontation, right? So, I keyed the "talk" button, and the little green light came on. I knew he could see it, because I could easily see it, too... reflected in the patio doors, where my "burglar" was holding a phone with a little green light just like mine. Belatedly, I noticed he had a bowl of cereal as well. I'm guessing it was Honey Smacks.

Fortunately for him, he left before I needed to call the police or go out there and kick his ass. I bet he won't come around no more, either. Unless he's sleeping with my wife, in which case, he'd better get a better job than "burglar." She only goes for the would-be writer-types, I happen to know.

You don't think that could be his job too, do you?


Friday, July 09, 2004

 

Eavesdropping

Not that I do this any more often than anyone else who thinks gossip, even about total strangers, is oddly satisfying because it shows that there are those out in the world who have worse judgment than I do.

Overheard in the restaurant Bahama Breeze while waiting for a table at lunch today. Two guys, mid-20s, business attire, discussing a third (and notably absent) acquaintance.

Guy #1: "Ted proves and disproves Darwin--that whole 'evolved from apes' thing makes sense, but Jeez, what happened to 'survival of the fittest'?"

Guy #2: "I know. He wants to wear those Crest whitening strips, but he's gotta stick up his ass to get 'em on his teeth."

Who takes such cheap shots at someone not even there to defend himself? Talking about him behind his back. Hell, Ted might even be a nice guy, for all I know, but his two business associates have done nothing to cast him in a good light to anyone who gets the story secondhand, have they?

These guys are clearly idiots.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

 

Autoarchaeology

The older I get, the more I find myself looking for little trinkets from when I was a boy. It turns out that some of them are harder to find than I thought they'd be. I just had to enjoy obscure crap, didn't I?

Most of them have memories tied to them, and I'm all about tying your memories together to make one endless thread, one line through from your cradle to your grave. I'd rather recollect the cradle end of things, of course, though I suspect I'm a bit closer to the grave side of things just the same. Look back, never forward!

I've begun to replace the Hardy Boys books I had (at age eighteen, I sold my entire collection to a Decatur elementary school, thinking I was done with childish things. Here's an education for you: you're never done with childish things, especially not if you're secretly still a child). The books remind me of Mark Parnaby and me pretending to be Frank and Joe Hardy, with secret hand signals. Worth noting that we used the signal for "run away" a helluva lot more than the one for "attack."

I have my Winnie-the-Pooh spoonsitter--it was a cereal prize, and I loved cereal prizes. My mom bought a Tupperware cereal container for the sole purpose of pouring out the cereal so I wouldn't paw through it in search of the prizes. Pooh has hooked hands and a groove in his ass--you can hang him from the side of your bowl or slide him up the length of your spoon's handle to join in at breakfast. I'm still looking for an orange Christopher Robin; I happen to know my mother is inexplicably hoarding one. I guess I'll get it when she dies, which is a weird way to go about obtaining a little junkie bit of plastic.

I tracked down the Aurora guillotine model (that even chops off the little French guy's head), which gave my mom fits and starts when I played with the one my Uncle Keith had when I was about six years old. Alas, poor Pierre is back under my control. Excusez-moi, Monsieur Pierre, mais...CHOP! Le ha ha!

My mom gave me a very rare copy of Shirley Jackson's Witchcraft in Salem Village, which I remember fondly because my elementary school did a play based on it. (The aforementioned Mark Parnaby and I were burdened with the roles of the constables who escort the witches to the gallows; we were deemed too obnoxious to having speaking roles, a decision we vindicated by attempting to kick the bucket out from under Rosie Roucher as she stood with her head in a "noose" when the lights went out for dramatic effect. Hey, I'm not proud, but I'm honest.)

I've found a copy of Year of the Three-Legged Deer (my first crush on a make-believe girl was on Chilili, the Indian girl who rescues the deer--she gets killed, which oddly broke my heart at age eight), the Disney record album Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (which my dad played out the windows at Halloween and freaked out all the neighborhood kids--we ended up with a lot of leftover Halloween candy when the chickenshits wouldn't trick-or-treat at our house), and the entire Hoppity Hooper cartoon series on bootleg VHS (which no one seems to have heard of, including the people who run the cartoon sericel places in Seattle).    

                    
     Collected memorabilia from a life pathetically commanded by pop culture

But I'm still looking for a few things. The hard oddball stuff. Not Wacky Packages or the Raggedy Ann and Andy alarm clock my sister had. Weird leftover bits. I have no explanation for why they're important to me--they just are. I think it's like when you ask your friend why he/she is dating the freakish axe murderer-wannabe, and your friend just shrugs and says, "I don't know. He/she/it just makes me feel special..."

*I had a Bonnie and Clyde album that had a song on the first side, first track--it opened with Tommy guns and sirens, then went into a ragtime tune that began "Bonnie and Clyde/were pretty good-looking people/but I can tell you, people, they were the devil's children...." The cover showed Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie with long blonde hair and a cigar in her mouth, Clyde in the backgroun with a smirk on his face and a pistol in the air. Side two started out with "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," the chase music from the film. Never have seen this, despite years of watching eBay. (And doesn't everything make it to eBay eventually??)

*Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo-Berry plastic standable figures. They were no better than the stuff you get out of vending machines now, but these cereal prizes were my favorites. (Can you tell I ate a LOT of cereal?) My cereal purchases are still governed by what the prize is, but the cheap-ass Kellog's and Post and Quaker aren't putting good stuff in their boxes anymore. When bobbleheads made it to cereal, though, I bought tons of the stuff again.

*I had a Push-Me Pull-You stuffed doll that I adored. I can only remember one thing it said: "Will you stop pushing me? Not until you stop pulling me." It was more-or-less a two-headed white llama from the original Doctor Dolittle movie with Rex Harrison. Another toy lost in time. I remember the last time I saw it, molded over from years beneath the porch. Ugh. It's like remembering a car accident.

*My sister and I watched "Donny and Marie" faithfully (my crush on Marie helped me stay focused), and they did a cover version of an old song that I believe was called "Deep Purple."

"When the deep purple falls
Over sleepy garden walls
And the stars begin to twinkle
in the sky
In the mist of a memory
You will wander on back to me
Breathing my name with a sigh..."

Still looking for that track... and not with any pride.

*I had a plastic Batmobile (from the old Adam West Batman show) that was essentially a bathtub toy. It was light blue and came with floatable Batman and Robin to sit in their seats (they were shaped more like limbless rubber ducks than superheroes). Now, I've seen HUNDREDS of Batmobiles since then, but never this one. My memory of it has it in pretty bad shape, too, so who knows--maybe I'm remembering it wrong. That'd be truly sad, if I was pursuing childhood memories that don't actually exist. I'd be like a replicant in Blade Runner.

*Partridge Family episodes. They've released, like, four videos of episodes on a cheap label, and as far as I know, that's it. Hell, I'd even take the ones with next-door neighbor Ricky singing "Say Hey Willy."

*Remember the old Saturday morning Bugs Bunny show? Well, they created filler that went between the classic cartoons, and one of those fillers was Bugs singing "Gee Whiz Wilkers Golly Gee." I think he said he was "Frankie impersonating Ricky impersonating Elvis." Yosemite Sam comes in and breaks all the strings on his guitar. I'd love to have that little clip. As a side note, I think it both blows and sucks that the Saturday morning cartoon fest is lost on today's kids, since they can get cartoons 24/7 now. Our local stations even run frickin' news for two hours on Saturday morning where Bugs Bunny used to be. I think I'd have been emotionally stunted if I'd come downstairs in my pajamas on Saturday at the crack of dawn, filled a bowl with Quisp, parked my skinny little butt atop newspapers in front of the TV (so as not to spill cereal on the floor), all to discover local news about wildfires and tax levies.

*The last thing: my lost youth. When I didn't need to know anything or do anything or pay for anything or be held responsible for anything. When I knew I'd see my friends on Monday, not "someday, when we have time." When the expectations of me were low but my ambitions were high, not the other way around. All the little trappings that go with that time don't bring the time back, I'm aware, but it makes life feel cohesive to me, like my life actually belongs to just one person with a continuous red thread from there to here. I guess this is what I'm really looking for, isn't it?



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