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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lunchoids #1

Tangerine as Anglerfish!

quite a bit cuter than the real anglerfish

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monkey Stuff

Trying to come up with a cover for the comic, "The Monkey and the Ghost Ship."

watercolor on plywood

paper cut-out shadow puppetry, with cardboard strip

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writers @ Florida Intro #3

Ok, I was really out in the wilderness on this one. I don't think I had even had a conversation with Oz, so I was basically introducing a total stranger. I solicited a few personal facts from her by email, but, as you will see, I didn't even see how "Oz" was derived from "Astrid." (pronounced "AHH-strid," not "ASS-trid.") Oz was in the fiction-writing track, not in the poetry group with me, so I didn't know her work, her voice, anything. Hence the random plate-spinning horseplay of this intro. To draw attention away from my ignorance, I made a prop cereal box where her name was the brand—something like "Astrid O'z." She must have like that part, because she wanted to keep the box after the reading.

Oz Spies

"Oz Spies, Oz Spies, Oz Spies, Oz Spies"—if you say it enough times, does it start to make sense?

I don’t get Oz Spies yet. When she gave me some stuff to say about her, she told me, “feel free to embellish or lie as much as necessary to make me sound exciting.” Oh Oz, you are exciting.

Oz’s real name is Astrid. I heard Dr. Losano won’t call her Oz, so I guess he’s left with either Astrid or Ms. Spies. The exciting thing about this is not that one name is weird, or that the other name is weird, but that she changed from one name I’ve never known to another I’ve never known, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO CONNECTION BETWEEN THE TWO. It’s like putting bread in the toaster and getting back a warm TV Guide.

As far as I know, the only thing I have in common with Oz Spies is that she was raised in Littleton, CO, and I wore a black trenchcoat in high school. She’s lived in Seattle, Portland, New Jersey, and Colorado. She’s worked as a law office secretary, a dance instructor, a choreographer, and as an extra in Ernie Bushmiller’s classic NANCY comic strips. After combing through miles of microfilm, I found some of her finest work. Here she is in the selfless role of Miss Cream, always letting the comedic glory go to that gosh-darn prickle-headed ham, Nancy.

Excited yet? You don’t know the half of it. Oz Spies’s name contains the name of one of America’s most beloved traditional desserts, the pie.

Oz Spies occuPIEs the 76th position on the periodic table and is thankfully among the roughly 100 naturally occurring elements. Typically there are more protons than neutrons in Oz Spies.

Oz Spies can ALWAYS hear the ice-cream truck coming up the road, and can identify over 900 distinct ice cream flavors blindfolded.

Oz Spies operates on an apparent solar day of 24 hours, and her equinoxes precess 360 degrees every 26,000 years. One teaspoon of Oz Spies weighs in excess of 12 billion tons.

And if that’s not enough, have you guys tried this cereal? (hold up cereal box)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mighty d12 Perfected

Although d20 still mocks my constitution and evades my craft, the soccer-ball-sized d12 is now complete. Here it dwells in adventurous environs, awaiting the toss of fate.

Complete with recessed numerals. Skull = "1"
Is it geometrically precise? No. But it weighs six pounds.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Woodcut in Progress

Because this woodcut has been a drawing for a long time, and it's technically demanding, I took some pictures at a few stages, mostly because I worried I'd screw something up. So far, I haven't really blown it, but I'm not finished yet.

Nearly finalized drawing. Rarely do I go beyond pencil on the block, but this one seemed intimidating.

Started cutting. Added bird in upper right.

Cut most of the trickiest stuff. Adding some black to give more punch and ink-roll support. Decided against weird marsupial and carved him out.

Test print of upper portion. Mostly delivering the desired effect.
Whittled down a few of the branches. Tried wavy lines through the hips to boost the translucency idea. All the lower vegetation was easy, especially the white-on-black wintercreeper leaves.

Prints nice in first few tries, on my salvaged file folders. The background fell into place with some of the simplest vertical nicks and dots. Only thing I'm not sure about is this sharp "chin-strap" line on the jaw. It made sense in the drawing stage, but not so much now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Case for Bookstores, Part 2


For some time, my Book Rack visits often coincided with those of a guy I named Mr. Controversy. He was an uber-talkative, gregarious fellow with a scruffy beard and 2-3 extra humans worth of heft, mostly around the mid-section. Pretty sturdy, though—closer to Hacksaw Jim Duggan than pre-subway Jared. He took it on himself at least twice to help Doug clean up and organize a section of books, which was nice, but it also planted him firmly in the mix for hours at a time. He specialized in un-PC, contrarian statements, such as, "Everyone in government should be lined up and shot, and I'm NOT kidding." Also in the business of sexist statements, he made comments only memorable because they made me respond with such uncharacteristic drivel as, "Well, let's just be glad my wife's not here for that one." He was the sort of guy who has a quick, semi-witty answer to everything, and he seems entertaining at first, but after five minutes, you realize he's a classic bullshitter. A jolly, helpful guy in some ways, but full of it, and full of being full of it.

Mr. Controversy was apparently pro- recent Frank Miller but anti- recent Grant Morrison. Specifically, he claimed to love Miller's All-Star Batman for it's ridiculous abusive violence, but hated Morrison for killing off the first Batman, etc. I don't think there was any real reason for his opinions, other than to disagree with me, and gleefully stir the turd. Actually, Turd Stirrer might be a better name for him. Christian Turd-Stirrer, because one day we got into a conversation that ended with him telling me, in all sincerity, that I should try talking to God.

I should have known better. He sucked me in by telling Doug, as I was checking out, that there was no way for a person to have morals—or be much better than an animal—without believing in God. This argument is sort of a pet peeve of mine, since it is one of the stupidest, cheapest views of humanity available, the same as saying that you'll only do right if you think there's some omniscient Superdad who will reward you or punish you accordingly. I think Doug was just looking at his computer and absent-mindedly saying "u-huh." So, I had to say something in defense of non-believers. I'd like to think I might defend them even if I were a believer, because I'm AMERICAN enough to know that you don't have to be a monotheist to be moral. So I pointed out that I fixed the roof of the Book Rack once, for no money, just to be helpful. Doug said, "Yeah, that's right," with just enough emphasis to suggest that he was either on my side, or re-thanking me for the repair, or sick of Mr. Controversy yapping all the time. Unfortunately, it led to that mild proselytizing we've come to expect from Christians. Not the loathsome kind from yesteryear, but still enough to goad me into fueling the argument with a few personal details. Finally, he asked me if I ever tried talking to God, which is a disarming move. I said, if I had, it had been many years—maybe as a kid. He said I should try it. I said something conciliatory, like, "Maybe." Then he went back to insulting women or something. When I left, he jokingly said, "Bye, and God Bless You."

The funniest part of these situations is Doug. He knows he needs to stay out of it, since he could lose customers by taking a side. So he gets a little nervous and stays pretty quiet. I've noticed a few times, pointing out, "Doug really loves it when these debates sprout up." He gets a nervous grin and says, "You're not supposed to talk about that stuff here. Just talk about Batman or TV shows."

This may seem like an argument against bookstores, but even when people annoy me, I think it can be a good test of will, and a good source for stories (and isn't that what a bookstore should be?). That said, I learned to ID the guy's vehicle so I wouldn't have to go in if I didn't feel like bantering on that level. One day I saw it and just drove on by.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writers @ Florida Intro #2

A fine example of pushing bullshit to its limits in lieu of actually reporting on anything. I never quite delineated Molly's role in the following creation myth. Hopefully it went without saying, that she would take the job of the Moon in this primordial cosmos.

Molly Kugel

Before the tide of time swelled, before the sun and moon were boiled from the sea, there was only water and darkness. There came to be a stick floating upon the water, and the stick grew into a great tree that lashed out with roots reaching to the bottom of the sea, pulling up mud to make places to stand. In every place to stand, there sprouted a tiny Burt Reynolds, and soon there were countless miniature Burt Reynoldses standing around in the dark crying like a bunch of babies. The big tree mentioned earlier got sick of the crying Burts and tried to find something to feed them. But since there was only mud and water, the Burts starved, cried, and died in massive numbers, creating a rich soil capable of sustaining crops, which still could not grow because of the total darkness.

Luckily, about this time, the roots of the tree poked into a buried egg that broke open to release a ball of fire that rose up and burned the shit out of the One Tree as it became the Sun. All the remaining Burts laughed, because they were jerks, but they were good with their hands. They made a dugout canoe from the scorched tree trunk. Soon they were all going around in this big canoe, from island to island, harvesting the crops that now flourished in the fertile sun and Burt-dirt. Lucky for them, the dominant crop was a primitive form of organic corndog, exactly what they liked to eat. But the sun was always up, so all the Burts got bad sunburns and cried again like wussies.

Finally, an ethereal, New-Age-type voice came from above, saying, “Shut up, you guys” and “Why don’t you kill yourselves?” But they didn’t listen. Some grew bigger than others. Bigger ones ate littler ones until there was one solid 12-mile-tall sunburned crying Burt Reynolds eating handfuls of minuscule corndogs. The New-Age-type voice took earthly form and turned out to be Molly Kugel with a gun. Molly shot Big Burt and made his body into the mountains, and his blood became rivers. She said in her New-Age voice, leave some of those corndogs for me.” She also said, “I wish I would have given Chad Woody some bio information before he wrote this hogwash.” She used the word hogwash because she once lived with the Amish.

I also understand she can “do your colors,” whatever the hell that is, so any of my students here for extra credit, if you can get Molly to do your colors, write them down and you don’t have to write the half-page review.

Folks, it’s Molly!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Writers @ Florida Reading Series Intros

"Psychedelic Sluggo," one possible interpretation of Benjamin's ethos.
Twelve years ago, midway through grad school in Gainesville, FL, I inherited the mantle of MC for the reading series where we grad students read our work to an audience of mostly ourselves and our students, coerced by extra credit into being there. The torch was passed to me by the great William Bowers, whose previous year's introductions had been sublimely mindbending. He seemed insistent that I must be his successor, if for no other reason than my willingness to laugh at unjustifiable references to ninjas, and a critical exploration of the word "shitass." He also sensed that if I did not take the job, audiences might be doomed to endure blandly serious intros dripping with quid pro quo displays of quasi-respect.

Since many of my poems from those days are steadily self-demoting into juvenilia, these intros may be the best slab of my Florida legacy. If nothing else, I got away with a lot of squirrely hokum. People seemed to actually look forward to it.

*Lost Bonus Material*
In the tradition of William Bowers—as well as Carrot Top, who also attended UF—many intros were accompanied by props, maps, graphs, puppet shows, etc. This particular intro was accompanied by a visual display, which was an undershirt I stripped down to, showing a map of the south with some sort of comedic distortion, drawn on with Sharpie. I can't remember the details, but it illustrated the South as bloated until it took up most of the country... something to do with me not knowing the difference between Asheville, NC and Nashville, TN.

Reading #1: Benjamin Pryor

Several weeks ago, I told one of my roommates, “I find myself wishing for some kind of serious asshole among the new MFAs—some shitass who’ll just come in and piss everybody off and start fights in workshop.” He told me I should take the position myself, not to expect anybody else to do what I wanted done. I knew that wouldn’t work, knowing myself to be more of a cowardly, lurking sort of evil than a slam-dunk, spit-in-the-face, out-loud dickhead sort of evil, which is what we sorely lacked in the program.

When the new MFA kids showed up, I was disappointed. Though there were a few more-than-functional mouths among them, none were the goon I’d hoped for. For one swell moment, Benjamin Pryor showed promise. I saw him roll a cigarette, saw in him the same already-sick-of-this-place sentiments I’d developed this time last year, caught a James Dean vibe or two, and noted his all-around strapping good health and “air of the scrapper.” Problem was, he wasn’t an asshole, a prick, or even a son-of-a-bitch. When I heard he had a hearty thirst for spirits, I rubbed my hands together and hoped for a mean drunk, but legend says the man who drinks with Pryor drinks with a sincere mountain man with a penchant for invitations for adventure—”LET’S GO!” he says—to rivers, miniature golf courses, slaughterhouses and ass-kickings.

Mr Pryor was born in Chicago, but is now more Duke Boy than Elliot Ness or El Train. This is the western North Carolina mountains talking—Maggie Valley, Haywood County, where his Cherokee bits originate, all polished off at UNC Greensboro with a 1995 BA in English.

Other Benjamin highlights:
    • worked as a dishwasher, a blacksmith’s apprentice, a banquet server
    • has a 4-year-old son named Ibai, which means “river” in Basque
    (hanging out with Basques: another reason to expect trouble from this guy)
    • played with such experimental bands as Heated Pony, Plank Franklin, Jerry’s Finger, and STUB

Finally, I believe he accidentally told me his philosophy for writing and more when he said (to my query concerning this introduction’s content), “Use whatever works for you. If you want to make up mutated or exalted things, that’s fine. No gondiddy. Adiboo mongobby. A beedesign. Peace.”

Please welcome Benjamin Pryor…

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Dream

Thanks for the Pancakes

I was pursued deep into a labyrinthine university structure. Down in a basement, among failed boilers, I found an unbreakable plexiglass pyramid containing coins and small toys from my grandmother's house. A gang of shambling, soulless assailants surrounded me. Smashing past them with the pyramid, I lost them deeper in the labyrinth but knew I couldn't go back, where they were in control. Complete darkness, then a glimmer of sun. Up a long, slanted stone shaft I crawled, to a rusted grate. My head and hands poked through into a bright porch floor where a small girl brought me pancakes to share with her pet rabbit. I knew this was the end of the line--going back was too dark and too dangerous. I would climb no higher on the ladder of contentment.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Case for Bookstores, Part 1

Christmas Cookies for Doug

Is Doug streaming Dr. Who or researching genealogy? You decide. may have a bigger selection, but your local bookstore can deliver a more fully immersive literary acquirement experience. Especially The Book Rack, because its precarious stacks of books could very well entomb the customer, given the proper nudge.

The following shall be a mini-history of The Book Rack from my viewpoint, IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGY, as well as an argument for the awesomeness of the non-corporate bookstore experience. But first you must grok the spirit of Doug, the owner and sole operator of this store. Yes, years ago, his mom helped out occasionally, but you can tell by the state of the store that a woman's hand no longer enters the equation. In fact, the last time an outsider had any influence on The Book Rack was when a fire marshal ordered Doug to move some books and clear some aisles, or he'd be shut down the following week. Compliance happened, but The Book Rack is a high-entropy vortex to say the least, and the books always rise again.

Now, let us take a trip in a book-powered Wayback Machine.

Last weekend, while gearing up for a Book Rack run, I laughed out loud at a new idea. Naturally, my wife wanted to know why I laughed, because that's how we get each other's attention. I said, "It would be sweet if I could create a secret Facebook campaign, powered mainly by pictures of Doug looking cold and downtrodden in his messy store, where the outcome would be that Doug gets inundated with Christmas cookies." My wife has been there just enough to know what would make the idea even better: "If you could get a picture of him wearing his old yarn shawl, that would be best." It was the perfect image: in the winter, Doug settles in at his computer and often hunkers under a brown, knitted shawl for warmth. Yes, people might respond to that with Christmas cookies! I took my iPhone with me. Unfortunately, the shawl was not in play, but almost as good, the gray sweater with moth-holes, as seen above. Also, the random bags, the window unit insulated with big bag, the trash-bag as shield for roof leaks, and the general lack of glory.

NEXT: Meet the nutbags!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Coming Soon: Wonder Girl in Monster Land

A grad-school classmate had me do some illustrations for her book. To top it off, a frame for an old-time "List of Illustrations."

Featuring "skull thistles," which do not appear in the book.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Penny Racer

How many pennies does it take to cover a passenger car? Only the depressed-looking Hispanic dude in this awesome ride knows for sure.

Also, nickels for trim, gringo!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Products You Never Knew Existed

You may find a thing that reminds you that, No, you haven't seen everything yet, not by a long shot.

It's just odd when such a peculiarity has clawed its way up to being a full-fledged commodity, complete with its own bar-code.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy the Ozarks

I got an email saying there would be an Occupy Wall Street gathering in Springfield, in front of the office of Senator Roy Blunt on East Sunshine St. It was late in the day on Thursday, so I decided to go. I made two signs, one nicer and one harsher, summing up my current biggest concern that others should worry about, too: big money co-opting democracy. I also stopped at the store, bought a ready-made "For Sale" sign, and wrote "AMERICA" in the slot under FOR SALE, an idea I stole from the internet.

Remember "Mr Yuk," poison's greatest spokesman?

I arrived 30 minutes after the 4:00 start time. Though fairly small and uneventful, the gathering was quite visible from the road. About 40-50 people stood waving signs along the curb along the busy street. A wide range of signs and folks, but unfortunately, many or most of the signs were impossible to read from a distance. The worst was a whole sheet of posterboard plastered front and back with magazine pages, all from a FORTUNE magazine article about jobs leaving America. While I’m sure the information was relevant, I couldn’t even really read it, and I was standing 10 feet away. Some others said, basically, “Don’t Cut Medicare,” “Preventive care equals healthy families,” and “Jobs, Health Care, Education.”

Not one of Springfield's premier singles markets, though you may notice one pair of overly tight jeans.

A couple of reporters showed up and did some minor interviews, both for radio and TV. A woman walked up and down the other side of the street gently swishing a big American flag. No response came from Senator Blunt's office as far as I know, but his neighbor, a lady lawyer, came out and complained that we were standing in front of her place, and she didn't want people to think she was being protested. Kinda dumb, but we scooched down 20 feet to appease her. The best part was that it angered this old classic Vietnam-era hippie man who kept saying he wasn’t going to move, fuck her, we needed to get more militant, but the calm young Euro-style hipster who seemed to be in charge kept cooling him down and arguing against using the word "militant," with which I nodded agreement. I didn’t really talk much. The stocky, hispanic-looking guy to my right was getting cold. Most of the people were underdressed for the chill: it was a decent day, until you stood still.

There were many flip-offs and mad faces from the traffic even though the signs were no more extreme than "We are the 99%" and "No War in Iran". I never even used my "Plutocracy is for Assholes" one, because of the overall positivity/non-militancy of the gathering. But there were easily three times as many good responses, if honking can be reliably counted as supportive. I talked a little to the guy to my left, with “We are the 99%” on an orange sheet of paper on a clipboard. We got a few laughs out of the number of women who flipped us off. “There’s a lot of hate out there,” he said. But we agreed that the response was mostly good, especially for Springfield, which is relatively conservative and repressed. He said he was from Chicago, where there was more protesting, and that sometimes if he was supposed to write his race down on paper, he wrote “Chicagoan.” He wasn’t as funny as he wanted to be, but I guess I liked him.

After I’d been there for an hour, everybody started getting cold and going home. I went back to work. I didn’t expect any real payoff to come from this. Springfield is home to nothing, in the world of big finance or big government, but at least Roy Blunt should know that we’re here, even here. I’m sure he could give two shits about any of it. He’s a long-time Washington fixture, bought and sold long ago. Now he’s like an anti-Obi-Wan: if we strike him down by voting, he’ll just come back more powerful than before, as one of the Sith lobbyists he takes payola from now. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Halloween 2

IMG #1666 from my iPhone: Potato Devil roasting a potato victim

The neighbor dogs popped some kind of ball.

Sophie, a little camera shy, will paw through your arm skin with her carborundum paws.

Upon closer inspection, it seemed to be a skull decoration for Halloween.

Good job, Sophie!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Report

On the shopping trip where we bought candy, nothing Halloween-related measured up in grisly intent the way these cat treats did:

Is this a feline fantasy, as filtered through the consumer's surrogate desires?

Oh, the carnage.

Our neighborhood has lackluster Halloween gumption, but there are always a handful of trick-or-treaters willing to give it a go. This year I decided to force more vigorous interaction by making a game show effort. I deployed a couple of decorations, along with my 12-sided lawn die, and a chart of corresponding prizes.

The die-rolling turned out to be a good move. After the initial confusion, most kids got into it, and were impressed with my homemade die. I should have told them I made it with a chainsaw—not only true, but it would have added some Halloween terror-craft. Parents liked the oddball spectacle it provided, except for those parents waiting in their car, who found it a waste of time and gasoline.

A Hispanic dad character got especially excited about the game, commanding about nine kids (doubt they were all his own) to line up to roll, and then he did it at the end, which was good—he earned it.

A kid dressed like Darth Vader dropped the die on my door threshold, almost on his foot, possibly because of complications from his mask. Only one semi-clever teen tried to walk off with the die, perhaps absent-mindedly, although it's hard not to realize you have a basketball-sized wooden dodecahedron in your hands.

I had a bunch of little LED keychains left behind in an office I had to clean out, so this was a good chance to get rid of them. They are actually a dream treat item, as they also contain a small compass and a whistle. I would have been blown away to get such a thing as a kid, though I might have scraped off the Allstate logo and replaced it with a sticker or drawing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Devil's Roll-Call

Puckishly purloined for your pleasure from the internet's rich inventories: A verbal fiend folio, for the run up to Halloween:

What a happiness this must have been seventy or eighty years ago and upwards, to those chosen few who had the good luck to be born on the eve of this festival of all festivals; when the whole earth was so overrun with ghosts, boggles, bloody-bones, spirits, demons, ignis fatui, brownies, bugbears, black dogs, specters, shellycoats, scarecrows, witches, wizards, barguests, Robin-Goodfellows, hags, night-bats, scrags, breaknecks, fantasms, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, boggy-boes, dobbies, hob-thrusts, fetches, kelpies, warlocks, mock-beggars, mum-pokers, Jemmy-burties, urchins, satyrs, pans, fauns, sirens, tritons, centaurs, calcars, nymphs, imps, incubuses, spoorns, men-in-the-oak, hell-wains, fire-drakes, kit-a-can-sticks, Tom-tumblers, melch-dicks, larrs, kitty-witches, hobby-lanthorns, Dick-a-Tuesdays, Elf-fires, Gyl-burnt-tales, knockers, elves, rawheads, Meg-with-the-wads, old-shocks, ouphs, pad-foots, pixies, pictrees, giants, dwarfs, Tom-pokers, tutgots, snapdragons, sprets, spunks, conjurers, thurses, spurns, tantarrabobs, swaithes, tints, tod-lowries, Jack-in-the-Wads, mormos, changelings, redcaps, yeth-hounds, colt-pixies, Tom-thumbs, black-bugs, boggarts, scar-bugs, shag-foals, hodge-pochers, hob-thrushes, bugs, bull-beggars, bygorns, bolls, caddies, bomen, brags, wraiths, waffs, flay-boggarts, fiends, gallytrots, imps, gytrashes, patches, hob-and-lanthorns, gringes, boguests, bonelesses, Peg-powlers, pucks, fays, kidnappers, gallybeggars, hudskins, nickers, madcaps, trolls, robinets, friars' lanthorns, silkies, cauld-lads, death-hearses, goblins, hob-headlesses, bugaboos, kows, or cowes, nickies, nacks [necks], waiths, miffies, buckies, ghouls, sylphs, guests, swarths, freiths, freits, gy-carlins [Gyre-carling], pigmies, chittifaces, nixies, Jinny-burnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits, hobgoblins, brown-men, cowies, dunnies, wirrikows, alholdes, mannikins, follets, korreds, lubberkins, cluricauns, kobolds, leprechauns, kors, mares, korreds, puckles korigans, sylvans, succubuses, blackmen, shadows, banshees, lian-hanshees, clabbernappers, Gabriel-hounds, mawkins, doubles, corpse lights or candles, scrats, mahounds, trows, gnomes, sprites, fates, fiends, sibyls, nicknevins, whitewomen, fairies, thrummy-caps, cutties, and nisses, and apparitions of every shape, make, form, fashion, kind and description, that there was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost.

Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion-house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its specter, or its knocker. The churches, churchyards, and crossroads were all haunted. Every green lane had its boulder-stone on which an apparition kept watch at night. Every common had its circle of fairies belonging to it. And there was scarcely a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Isolator

Okay, I'm going to need this. There's finally something on my Christmas list.

Thanks to Edward Bolman for unearthing this desirable technology.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Dice are cool. I used to have a bunch of dice for Dungeons and Dragons, including a 50-sided die about the size of a golf ball. I would have assumed that D&D got me into dice, but now I'm thinking maybe dice were the reason I was interested in role playing games. Because of limited access to friends, I mostly just sat around rolling dice to generate characters and such, after reading all the entries in the Fiend Folio and the Monster Manual. I wish I knew where my old dice were. I had at least two sets.

Lately I've been making unusual dice. It started with big, ogre-sized dice. I chainsawed a d12 from a pine log. It doesn't roll perfectly true, but it's pretty nice. I played "21" against some teenagers with it. "7" came up a lot more than it should have.

d12 before the numerals

Then I bent a slightly jumbo d6 from a single length of wire. It rolls well--random within trials of maybe ten rolls. I tried to make a wire d8 but it's no damn good.

I figured this existed already, but a google search revealed only a design for a 3D printer. But the materials extruded by the 3D printer were not strong enough for such a design, so mine is the only one in use, as far as the internet is concerned. However, it also revealed new varieties of intricate dice that I can't really compete with, possible only with either new fabrication technology or arcane crafting techniques.

"Lawn dice" are available from multiple online retailers. Still, they are a nice size, and d6 (cube) is so easy to make, I started making a set of "farkle dice." Still trying to decide what my "farkle" icon will be.

Commemorative Pregnancy Figure

Watch out, Franklin Mint--I'm entering the figurine market.
Conversation by text:

ME: "Is this what pregnancy felt like?"

MY SISTER: "Absolutely and I'm not kidding."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Shoes for Fools

Long story short: these made me fall down.
Manifesting an unhealthy envy of cartoon physics.

I guess it was all just a dumb ol' dream.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Logical Progression of Movie Post-Apocalypses

In case you've been wondering how we'll get from here to total Shitsville...

The Day After

If you're lucky, Ronald Reagan will clean this mess up.

Escape from New York

Nefarious but retaining a touch of whimsy

Soylent Green

Tediously hilarious as long as it's not happening to you.

Mad Max Trilogy

Misery punctuated by rockin' gear, snuff rape, and pet loyalty. Still something to fight for. 

The Road

Goddamn. Just goddamn.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Class of 1991 Willard High 20-year Reunion

Part 3—Picnic and School Tour

Arriving at the picnic building mid-heatwave, we saw that it was across the parking lot from Willard’s swimming pool. We thought people might need to arrive with their kids blindfolded to avoid rebellion, but I guess the savvy parents know they can just say, “Oops, we didn’t bring our swimming suits!” Lugging in our drinks and fruit salad, we found quite a kitchen, complete with a giant commercial ice machine—just what we needed for all that warm pop. Willard’s ultramodern infrastructure triumphs again.

The day before, I’d bought a fruit-salad bowl imprinted around the inside with a panoramic photo of vibrant fruit salad. Maybe it would have been funny to just put it out empty and let everybody think that my depth perception was totally shot, but I went ahead and decided to fill it with fruit salad having both volume and mass (this joke’s for Mary Ellen Butler). Actually, I intended to make it just like the salad pictured on the bowl, but as Brad, Heather, and I walked around Dillons, we disagreed about which fruits we remembered in the photo. Finally we made it missing only blackberries, and maybe a different color of grape. Luckily, chopping up fruit into a bowl is right at my level of cooking ability, so I was able to make it without even adding any pieces of my fingers, except maybe on the molecular level (Dick Summers, this joke’s for you).

Tony arrived with a pan of baked beans and got immediately disgusted when he sat them next to a lot of other beans, saying, “Okay, this is why we took so long getting here, waiting on these beans.” Then he looked around as if to find whoever the hell made his beans so redundant. I think I ate from only one of the bean-pans, so I can’t really say if Tony’s bean time paid off, but let’s just assume that those were some champion beans, T-Bird.

I was keeping an eye out for any new faces, especially Stacy Kuhn (for her wrath) or Mr. Rhoden, who Scott Gayer said might attend. If Mr. Rhoden showed, there was going to be a big revelation—we would finally tell him, after 20 years, who was responsible for what had to be the greatest, harshest, most ball-busting prank he or any other Willard teacher survived.

The main point about the picnic is that not very many people came, but since the ones who did mostly brought their kids, the crowd beefed up and the room seemed energetically populated. In fact, I’m a poor receptor of kids in the casual sense. They have to do something weird or outstanding for me to commit brain cells to recalling them. Here is all I remember:

--The Carlyn Jarvis family provided what seemed the majority of the event’s children. This was especially nice, because then our caffeinated drinks were safe, and we didn’t run out of Mountain Dew. Also, we need to bring back those heartwarming commercials where Mormons do a kindness, and then it says, “This message brought to you by The Church of Latter-Day Saints—the Mormons!” and film one where they keep having kids, until the town is up to its armpits in helpful, sensibly disposed children. But nowadays the commercials could end with, “But not the Warren Jeffs sort of Latter-Day Saints. Remember, lots of kids, but just one wife—and no kidnapping!” Since Oldsmobile went out of business, maybe we could modify their old slogan: “We’re not your grandfather’s Mormons.” I haven’t even seen that Book of Mormon play yet. Carlyn, when it comes to town, I will buy you a ticket, to make up for all my jokes. But I can’t afford tickets for your entire family.

--Brad and my wife both seemed thoroughly impressed by Mike West’s son’s cuteness.

--Marcus Wolfe’s tiny tot kept dropping little morsels as a result of finger-to-lip dexterity errors. Maybe Marcus gives her snack cereals specially designed to predispose one’s physiology to future woodwind playing. I should have asked, but when I pointed out her fumbles, Marcus said that at home their dog takes care of it, which somehow led to talk of sweaters for dogs. Only in America! Later, my wife seemed haunted by Marcus’s supernatural level of eye contact. I didn’t really notice, because of my super lack of eye contact. Now that I’ve given it some thought, I think Marcus’s hypno-gaze may result from a visual addiction to callipygian women.*

--Shawn Freeman kept carrying around his daughter while wearing the Red Rogue shirt I awarded him for mentioning Red Rogue the night before. Good recipient. We also learned that Shawn becomes unreasonable when he is hungry, like a hunger Hulk. My wife took this as a sort of justification for her own “Hungrietta” persona. But trust me, there is no justification.

--My wife had a kid-crush on Rick Winburn’s daughter Emma. One of those things where Emma was getting suspicious, looking around as if to say, “Why is this lady trying so hard to be my friend?” She was really cute, and not tantrum-y or intolerable, and she’s the only kid whose name I recall (hopefully correctly) so I guess our unofficial Willard Offspring Award goes to Emma Winburn. Don’t get a big head, Emma.

Some Christian made us pray, and then we went at the food. I prefer not to pray, but I try not to be a dick about it, especially if the prayerful people are also good cooks, which they usually are. Someone should study this. Maybe there could be a link between religious behavior and weight gain, because I know I have eaten some devastating desserts and casseroles in churchy settings. Some religions offset this with occasional fasting.

At some point, Scott G. told us that Mr. Rhoden could not come, so there would be no big reveal. It would have been extra fun, because we know Rhoden wants to know. He’s needled Tony to tell him for years, and somehow Tony has kept the secret. However, Eric Poland, by pure dumb luck, got burned by blowback from the same prank, so we decided to tell him.

To appreciate the tale, you need to know some history—pun intended, because history films on VHS were where this prank played out. It happened something like this: Brad and I had Rhoden’s geography class together, first period of sophomore year I believe. Brad was in his classic Sex Pistols punk phase, which seemed to rub Rhoden wrong. He liked to make sneering fun of Brad’s hair and clothes, etc. I flew under the radar as usual, which was a great power when I wanted to be a vengeful creep. Since we both made “A”s and did not make public sport of Rhoden’s physique, Brad felt wronged. We both simmered for a while. Eventually, I realized I was sitting every day within feet of Big R’s videotape library—a couple of flat boxes full of VHS tapes on historical subjects. I always wore a trenchcoat anyway, so one day I pocketed two of the tapes. Now all we needed was hardcore porn and two VCRs.

I really can’t remember whose master plan it was—possibly a group effort—but it was diabolical and ahead of the curve. It required a miniature A-Team effort, just short of welding armor plates on a van. My parents were going to a horse show for the weekend, so I rented an extra VCR for five bucks at Mike’s Video Bug. Delozier finagled a porno, which he said came from Matt Schwenn. This alone was something, because that was ancient times, long before porn spilled by the gigabyte from every device.

We set up shop. I don’t think Rhoden even had the tabs broken off his tapes, but even if he did, we just put scotch tape on the holes. One thing I remember clearly is planning the timing of the porn bits. We knew Big R had a way of pointing the monitor at us and paying no attention to the movie, so we figured we’d go at least 20 minutes in to the tape for maximum complacency. Then, just a flash or two to wake people up. Then, full-on filth.

We replaced the tapes knowing it might be months before the tapes were played, if at all. We might not even be there to witness our revenge. Weeks or months did pass, and finally it happened. Word came down the hallway one day, with big-eyed expressions of mean glee. Someone said they had “never seen a fat man move so fast” trying to turn the TV off. Someone else said he broke a desk scrambling to reach the controls. Some of you may have been in the room when the prank blew up. I’m betting you saw full penetration.

We knew Rhoden would either have to watch every tape or throw them all out, and we knew he’d sweat bullets for a while. Luckily he didn’t get fired or anything. The biggest surprise came when we heard Eric Poland got interrogated about it. Apparently Eric had been legitimately borrowing volumes from the Rhoden library, so he was ostensibly the only one besides Rhoden to handle the tapes. Who knew?

Chris, Brad, and I were all back together for the picnic. After I brought it up for the second time, Chris just turned to Eric at the lunch table and busted the topic wide. “Hey Juice, do you remember if you ever got in trouble for that porno on Mr. Rhoden’s history tapes?” Eric smiled, barely remembering. He said he didn’t get in trouble, but sort of recalled being asked about it. Twenty years on, the whole thing seems smaller, but still good for a laugh.

In sort of a weird moment, Stephanie Long was suddenly standing up on a table telling everyone what to do. This seemed both surreal and entirely natural. Natural because she was teacherly material ever since the days when she was Mrs. Hampton’s top gun/Trump apprentice; surreal because it was like one of those dreams where you’re back in school, but the building is different and you can’t get your shit together. Stephanie was shouting out some facts about the tour we could take of the new high school. We could go in two groups, at two different times. Pretty much everyone wanted to go. We put our hands up for the first tour, and Stephanie made it so. Also, even though she looked about the same as she did in high school, she did not fall from the top of the formation and break her arm.

So we toured the new school. If you haven’t seen it, just hang on to your hat. It’s 24 million dollars worth of whole different world. It’s full of computers and polished surfaces and natural light. It’s climate controlled, ergonomic and surveilled by 84 interior video cameras. There are flags from the home nations of each foreign exchange student it has hosted. It’s got a damn coffee shop. The place was so spectacular, I didn’t even notice Stacy Kuhn had arrived. No worries—she proved non-violent, and even amiable. It was, as Brad said, as if Willard’s only viable industry is education, because no other part of the town has grown, really, but then there is this massive school.

Stuart Pratt, just an upstart teacher in our time, is now a principal-type. He guided us around with encyclopedic knowledge of the facility. Room after collegiate room, along with news that some of the old timers like Mr Summers and Mr Davis are still around or just retiring. One thing that looked about the same was the wood shop. The rest was kick-in-the-pants epic. He said the shop kids recently built a house—you can see it from the road. They didn’t do the electrical or all of the mechanical, but they BUILT A HOUSE. When I took shop, I made a key fob and one of those toy cars that shoots forward when you put a CO2 cartridge in it.

Down a long, long Willard Sports Hall of Fame, we scanned for familiar faces. Chris Delozier’s long jump record was long gone, but Mike West, Larry Hillhouse and company still held a relay record, and my sister’s dead friend Mitzy Abney still had a photo in the gallery. We marveled at a cavernous band room lined with showcase after showcase of awards—mostly those big ones with triumphant gold angels on the top.

We entered an auditorium/movie theater something like MSU's Carrington Auditorium, except new and more deluxe. Pratt was talking about how there was land for expansion on the ends of the wings, and award-winning plays were being performed here. I was thinking about this creepy band storage room behind the old cafeteria where we used to monitor the decomposition of a tuna-sandwich-half someone stuck to the wall. I think we even named it. Caught up in the architectural marvel of it all, I said something like, “it’s tough to be a teen these days.” But then that wise old rebel Bobby Tate pointed out the totalitarianism inherent in a place such as this. He told a story about a kid (one of his? can’t remember) who was handed an uninvited baggie of pot in the hallway here, and threw it away immediately. A camera recorded him holding it, so he was kicked out of school. Following this line of thinking very far does disappoint, in a free-will sense. If we played Dungeons and Dragons again, the old school would have been “chaotic neutral,” while the new building appears to be “lawful good.” There was never much fun in playing a lawful good character. Obviously and conversely, such law and order eases the parental worry cortex, especially if it does eliminate meth transactions and glue huffing in the locker room. The benefits are clearer than the losses, but I think I’m seeing the bend in the road where adolescent aggression turned away from hallway shoves and into the camera-blind territory of social media taunting.

I’m also trying to figure out how I could have gotten away with any good pranks in this fortress of  plenitude, and I’m coming up with a near-total collapse of my best high-school memories. There are certain advantages in deprivation.

That was it. We drove out of there with a Jim Catron-customized monster truck on our tail. He coulda crushed my Yaris like a bug, but thankfully Jim chooses life, and kittens.

*Yes, Marcus Wolfe, I looked it up. I definitely approve. Have some serious catching up to do with this word.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nuts are GO!

Probably the best thing that's ever been drawn in history, and I drew it. Shut down the art schools, losers.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Pets of My Youth, by Lifespan

Jumping bean
Hermit crab
Angus steer
Great Dane
Cats in general
Pet Rock (undetermined)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grandma Hanging in There

My wife's grandma, like the kitten in the famous library poster, is still hanging in there. Don't ask her how she is, because it won't be pretty. 2010 was the year of saying, "This old gray mare ain't what she used to be." So far 2011 has been more about sitting in pain next to the pain pills she should have taken four hours earlier.

Last weekend, she let us take her picture with the Billing Fair booklet, open to the page where her ad is printed. She lets them use the same ad every year, in the same font: "Let's make this a good fair! —Rose Mary Johansen" I think the ad has repeated enough times now that it can be read as a miffed complaint about the past fairs, as in, "Let's make THIS a good fair (finally)!"

"I'm missing the Cardinals because of this tomfoolery."

On a trip to Grandma's bathroom, I think I may have discovered the source of some of her woes. It looks like Avon sent her the wrong product.

Vandalizing an old lady's stuff, to test her acuity.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why Does She Love Him?

Answer the question to my satisfaction, and win a prize!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Class of 1991 Willard High 20-year Reunion

Part 2

Beth Moore Siegfried has been a champion of not only showing up at the reunions, but driving in from Colorado and then being vocally emphatic about how great it is to be here to see everyone. Upon seeing her, one may have a hard time distinguishing Beth’s road delirium from certain aspects of her personality, which has always contained a dash of Pollyanna heroically staring down a motorized army out of The Road Warrior. Ten years ago, as if to prove that it is possible to be high on hardship, she busted out the 15-hour drive immediately after her dog died. This time, she brought her husband, plus renewed zeal about her job as an EMT. Even more refreshing and remarkable, Beth seemed to be cussing freely and casually.

Maybe it says something weird about me, that I considered Beth’s swearing to be a good sign, almost a positive indicator of mental health. I mean, some people just swear meaninglessly, and some others avoid it scrupulously; this doesn’t always carry great meaning. While I was an early adopter of profanity, Beth kept a tidy vocabulary all through school—one that surely made her grandmother proud just as it contributed to her anachronistic, Little-House flair. Whatever changed, I like to see it as an indicator of modernity, even if only to “do as the Romans do.” One thing I know now that I did not know then (although it was always on display): the way one speaks is the greatest factor in how one is judged.

An openness to cussing facilitated a major topic of conversation with Beth, in which I was forced to set her straight about how mean I was to her, at least in grades 4-6. Whether through resiliency or blindness, she claimed to think I was always nice to her. She was just being ridiculously generous, as per her personality. As per mine, I had to be brutally honest, saying, “No I wasn’t, Beth, I was pretty much an asshole.” To illustrate, I retold a story I’d already told once that day, to get at the characters of both Beth and Chris Delozier.

“Don’t you remember the reading contest in 6th Grade, Beth? We had Mrs. Blaze, and every time you finished a book report, you got another footprint on the wall. You had footprints halfway around the room, after diligently turning in a report every week. No one else was even close. Then about a week before the end of the contest, Chris and I hatched a plan: “WE GOTTA BEAT BETH.” We each had some Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and we checked some out of the library. We just read one adventure out of each book, which probably took ten minutes each, and then wrote half-ass reports on them. We turned them all in at the very end, with just enough to win, so you came in third.” Just as in 6th grade, Beth took it in stride. We probably rubbed her face in it and teased her about it; she probably included us in her prayers that night.

I mean, it’s not like we burned her house down or dumped pig’s blood on her, but it was bad enough that Beth comes to mind during the Kevin Bacon part of Flatliners (warning: this movie is not as good as you remember it). The only other stuff I remember doing to Beth is writing “minus 0, you bedwetter” on one of her papers, and participating in some vague, peabrained consensus of disapproval—of which I’m sure there were many, but Beth’s raw deal was more raw than most.

Luckily, by the time high school rolled around, my burgeoning conscience—perhaps acne-activated— forced me to realign with underdogs everywhere. Beth was shuffled into a category of near-benevolent neutrality with a touch of guilt, but I still doubt I was ever noticeably nice to her. She was playing the long game, though. Having finally arrived at an (arguably) adult point of view, I now say if I were the teacher, I’d strive to crush the scheme of young Woody and Delozier. The shitasses!

Most people seemed to be enjoying the bios—if not their own, then other people’s. Travis Miller was sitting by Barry Henderson. Not only was it nostalgic to see such a classic pairing of school buddies, but they were tickled to the max (bonus ‘90s lingo) over the bio for Jeff Davidson. He’d always reminded me of Barney Rubble, and I’m pretty sure that cat was out of the bag before graduation, but I don’t think he really appreciated my jest. Travis did, though. I think that’s the sort of thing you might as well just roll with. Just be the best reincarnation of Barney Rubble you can be. Similar to how I will soon have to come to grips with baldness, and either join Hair Club for Men or just shave my damn head so I can really own it.

I spoke to Julie Douglas’s boyfriend about some common employers, and that was my best claim to meeting someone new. Other than that, I mainly failed to mix at the mixer. I think it was a common problem, as ancient boundaries still divided some from others. Later I would feel socially puny for having zero knowledge about Travis Shearmeyer, the most rock-n-roll guy in the room. At least I learned to ID him when he stood for his award.

The awards ballots came in and my wife helped me tally them. She is good at such rapid tasks, so it went pretty quick. The only bump came when two gals turned in their ballots halfway through the tally, giving Heather a momentary meltdown where she cried out, “What? No, fuck it, it’s too late!” This made me laugh, but some heads turned. I went ahead and counted them, but they made no difference in the winners, which were:

Least changed--Shawn Freeman, Scott Gayer
Most changed--Matt Farmer
Least disappointing--Eric “Juice” Poland
Most rock-n-roll--Travis Shearmeyer
Feel-good champion--Tony Gray
Most surprising absence—Chris Hampton

There were quizzical looks over categories such as “least disappointing,” if only because it implied that there might also be a “most disappointing.” Brad Jones voted a straight “Juice” ticket. Tony announced the winners, and reveled in his new title. At the last moment I added the write-in category “Couples Tanning,” and awarded it to Tony and Stacy Gray. This joke amused Stacy at the table, but she was already sick of it by the time I announced it over the mic—valuable lesson about the half-life of jokes. Some other people laughed. Unfortunately, I soon found out that the Gayers were probably more deserving of the award. Sorry, Gayers. Your rich, Ricardo Montalban tans will have to be their own reward.

At some point I realized there weren’t many pictures being taken. Fortunately, a personably tipsy Amy Robinson was given a camera and a mandate to snap photos, assuring a supply of images for later Facebooking. Thanks, Amy!

As the evening rolled on, drunkenness made for not only red faces, but Red Rogue appreciation. Adam Wade came over from the bar area and gave us a second wind, conversationally. He gave Brad and me a big compliment, something like, “Out of everybody here, I’m most curious to know what YOU TWO have been up to!” Brad immediately lanced the boil of our pride by joking, “We’re lovers!” Adam had built up a head of nostalgic steam about our comics, so I was either “least disappointing” when I reported that I still draw comics, or “most disappointing” when I had to admit that most of our creative efforts wallow in relative obscurity. Still, for 20 minutes or so, we were rising American geniuses to Adam. Ah, the power of liquor.

Over at the bar area, I saw Chris Hill, Bobby Tate, and Mark Herman. I talked to Chris for a while. I’d heard he’d been to prison, but I didn’t really know. I didn’t bring it up, and he didn’t either. We had a rather disjointed conversation about tigers hunting and killing people. He was kind of wired and intense, but did nothing worthy of incarceration. Brad talked to Bobby about skateboarding, because that’s what happens when you used to skateboard. Apparently, there are many sizes of boards to discuss. I also know that the wheels are called “trucks.”

At some point, Delozier, mid-conversation, asked me about the kind of pen he used to love writing with. “FLAIR,” I said, “which I think you only liked because you loved the wrestler Ric Flair,” and he laughed his wacky infectious laugh. Doz used to eat and breathe pro wrestling. Whatever else we talked about, it was enough to give my wife a new zest for Delozier tales. Her favorite is how he would say “WHAAAAT?” loudly and harshly from his room if his dad or sister called to him for any reason, as if they were violating his only demand. Later, Brad and I told some powerful Doz stories, and we looked him up in a tenth grade yearbook where he was wearing sunglasses, looking like a Miami Vice or CHiPs drug-runner when some of us still looked like children. He always had advanced comedic abilities, as well as the power to crush you both physically and psychically. Brad used to take beatings when Doz and Jason Craig teamed up in neighborhood play. I’d been on the shit-end of that stick a few times myself—once literally, when, in the middle of what I thought was a water-balloon fight, I turned my head into Jason smashing a huge handful of fresh cow shit into my face, filling all the space between my glasses and my eyes. Knowing that Chris was staying with Tony and Stacy, we wondered later if he was pushing Stacy’s buttons over at their house. I imagined him wearing a bathrobe and sunglasses while raiding their fridge.

We sat by Dr. Shawn Freeman, discussing the pantheon of coaches: legends of Grasdorf, Berry, and Gould. Brad retold the tale of Rueben Berry crushing our spirits when he took one of our comics away from some dolt who was reading it in the weight room, then threw it in the trash and said it was garbage. Grasdorf was huge, like a giant in a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, and his paleolithic tactics made kids quiver. Most vividly, Shawn did some lively and outstanding imitations of Mr. Gould—grading Jimmy Poindexter’s tests dramatically in front of everyone, drawing crazy maps on the board, flipping off Coach Davis through the air vent in his classroom door. I believe if Willard were expanded to fill America, Shawn could easily take his one-man Gould show on the road, as Hal Holbrook did with Mark Twain.

Quite a few people were disappearing as the time approached when we had to clear out. Brad pointed out that Mike West had a bad-ass comprehensive Memories Book, and lo, it was so. It was almost a Memories Encyclopedia. Mike could take that thing on a Martha Stewart show and be like, “Martha, get your weakling Memories Book out of my face. This is what a real Memories Book looks like!” Such a tome proves without a doubt that Mike is the once and future Class President. He can’t escape his destiny, as long as that book exists. It turned out that he had Brad & Chad items that we haven’t seen in years. I wonder if he has my lost birth certificate in there.

As if Mike’s archive wasn’t enough, Jennifer Elbert had a milk crate full of yearbooks. She appeared to have a complete K-12 Willarko set, which I had never seen in one place before. If I remember right, Heather and I started pawing through them without permission, to behold their wonders. I had fun breaking it to Jennifer that, despite her “real” bio arriving in time for the booklet, she still made a cameo appearance in the entry I wrote for Jason Kelly, where he played Frankenberry and she played Booberry in a stage play. She made a priceless “what is wrong with you?” face, while also playing along enough to be a good sport. From that point on, if I had to indicate Jennifer in conversation with my wife, we just used her Monsters Cereal moniker. Jennifer is, I still believe, the right choice to play Booberry. She was my first-grade crush, and first grade was probably when I really wanted that cereal. Scandalous! As for Jason Kelly being Frankenberry, well, the man’s a genius in any role.

As if to mastermind an awkward moment while pretending not to, Melanie Gugel put me on the spot by asking, with a nod to my wife, “Chad, maybe I shouldn’t ask in front of your wife, but did you have a crush on Melissa Fielder?” This did catch me off guard, but more because Melanie spoke to me than for any potential marital friction. Little did she know that Heather and I scout crushes for each other, both celebrity and non (celebrities are easier, since you can clip-n-save their pictures). This arose from the Melissa Fielder bio: “Dang, she was cute.” I think I said something slick like, “Um, yeah, I guess.” The bio, in turn, arose from a basic physical truth, but also from the fact that I knew nothing else about the girl, ever. She was not in my karass, so her cuteness was all I could think of. I also vaguely remember overhearing her, maybe senior year, saying in a gossip circle, “Chad Woody—didn’t he used to be smart?” Maybe I’d just completed a very stupid act. It’s also very possible that I’ve been in a “Flowers for Algernon” IQ decline for about 22 years now.

Mostly, though, Melanie’s question somehow illuminates the instinctive intractability that dwells in the sub-rational space between we two ex-Pioneers. Whatever it is, it is deep and it is murky and it is everlasting, like one of those peat bogs where they find mummified ancients. But it also has a distant, faintly numinous soundtrack by some version of The Alan Parsons Project.

Finally the cash bar was shuttered and the party was over, at least for the sensible people. Somewhere else, the drinkers were rallying to some new frontier. We drove back to my house and looked at some yearbook pictures, trying to figure out how much we’d forgotten. All I know is, nothing beats that shot of Mike Schultz gleefully preparing a raw chicken in home ec.

Next—the Picnic! Who will show up? Whose kids will be the spazziest? Why is Tony so upset by abundant beans? Find out in Episode 3: The Third Part.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's Me, Playing the Saxophone

On the wall of Hoover Music in downtown Springfield, there is a spectacularly ham-handed, doofussy, forever unfinished mural that should make you laugh. Any time I'm there with my wife, she laughs and says, "There's Chad Woody playing a saxophone."

Before music lessons/ After music lessons
I mean, it's the right size and approximate build. Otherwise, it doesn't look like me, and yet for some reason it demands to be equated with me. Maybe I looked like that when my drawing skills were that weak. Oh well. Maybe he looks the way I feel. (Idiotic.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Class of 1991 Willard High 20-year Reunion


Every ten years, I get roped into auxiliary duty on the Class Reunion crew. This never fails to puzzle, since my Tiger Pride is a muscle that has never been used, but then, it’s hard to say No to Tony Gray. Tony operates as some sort of central cog in the Willard social machine. He knows everybody, and lives to rile it up. While Mike West is the Class President and only student council member still on duty, Tony is sort of an honorary chieftain. If Willard were a desert province in the Congo, Tony would be the local warlord. Therefore, if you want to stage a reunion, you need access to Tony’s Facebook account.

Once we decided on a time and a place, recruiting came next. Twenty years out of high school, you have to decide if your curiosity about your classmates is greater than your apathy, your residual resentment, or your habitual inertia. The rise of Facebook made it easy to reach more people than ten years earlier, but we were having a tough time getting attendance up to the desired level. Scott Gayer became the catering lieutenant, and 75 people was what we needed to fill the bill and break even. We set up a Facebook Group and a Paypal account. The price was 20 bucks per person, which was a good deal considering that 20 bucks had been the price a decade earlier, and we were doing more this time. Still, this seemed a sticking point for some people. Being a table full of guys, we gave ourselves free rein to be dicks about stuff at the meetings. I said something like, “If somebody can’t afford $20 at this point, they have bigger worries than this reunion, like survival, so forget it.” As usual, Tony had the best quote when it came to people who kept asking how much it would be if they just came to the daytime picnic rather than the evening mixer: “That depends--if you’re just trying to get out of the 20 bucks, then it’s 20 bucks.” After assorted profanity, we finally decided that bringing food to the picnic would be admission enough.

We didn’t really know what we were doing in the party-throwing department, so Tony sent Stephanie Long a cussing text to come over and help us. This was nice because, as he pointed out, Stephanie likes to keep things G-rated. She had decorated the previous reunion, as well as making up some activities. But we were out of luck; she was busy to the max and would be lucky even to attend. Thus began a tradition of us beating our heads on the table each meeting, wondering why we could push none of this off on a female classmate. Eventually we did get some essential help from Tamara Botsford and Julie Douglas, but this did not diminish the moaning and groaning over our AWOL student council gals.

My wife’s excitement for my class reunion was growing with each day, as it drew close enough for her to plan things like what we would wear, what food to take, and which hat might best protect my baldness. Also, my friend Brad Jones was coming from Chicago and staying at our house, so we made sleepover jokes, decorating the door to the guest room with a Star Wars poster and a sign that said “Brad’s Room.” She also kept telling me how much fun it would be for Brad and I to sleep together, slumber-party style. It also might have been another in a long line of her “you are secretly gay with your friends” jokes, which need their own brand-name at this point, and say more about her deviance than mine.

We’d also entered a new phase of history, where Heather (my wife) was now decidedly pro-reunion. She’d had her 20th reunion a year before, shifting her out of a longstanding stance of “I’m so over those people from high school. They all stayed in Billings and just bumble around in their chump galoshes. (my paraphrase)” I remember this because she used to emphasize it hard enough that I felt self-conscious talking to Tony or Brad or anybody from Willard. I told her of my basically positive experience at my 10th reunion, but she still kind of dumped attitude on it—UNTIL, she found herself roped into an effort to reunite her Billings class. Theirs was only a group of maybe 40 people, so you’d think that would be an easy group to gang. Nope, they had the same problems we’ve always had—no one can agree on where to have it, how much to spend, etc. In the end, she had fun. Then I found the tables had turned, and she was gushing reunion love while I was like, “yeah, I guess I gotta go.” 

Just three days before the date, I realized that Jana Long, a classmate I sometimes see at work, was not on the Facebook list. Jana is very old-school—maybe not quite a Jamestown Pilgrim or even Amish, but easily Eisenhower-Administration old-school. It is not shocking that Facebook might not reach her, because she quite literally sews her own clothes. I point this out mainly for the eye-opening, character-building light it sheds on her character, though I’m aware that sewing one’s own clothes is macroeconomically uncool unless you’re selling it on Etsy. Anyway, Jana will have the last laugh when China finally stops sending us cheap textiles by the cubic acre. Though I never really knew her, I felt this momentary protective, instinctive agape, like “oh no, we can’t leave her out!” I took a note about it over to the sewing-shop lady who knows Jana. She said that Jana did know about it, and planned on going with Carlyn Jarvis. BUT, she said Jana was scared that she wouldn’t know how to talk to anyone, and might cry if Carlyn left her alone while talking to other people. I found this a bit of a shock. Then, as if to illustrate to us all the old-school world Jana lives in, the lady, Lucinda, who once taught at our grade school, said, “You know, Jana is so bashful.” I almost went back in time when I heard the word “bashful.”

I tried giving Lucinda some of my “reunion theory” to pass along to Jana, built on my memories of the one ten years earlier: That those who attend will tend to be level and amiable so there's little to fear; that the real outliers—the very successful and the truly defeated—probably won’t be there because they aren’t so compatible with such a relatively mundane event; most importantly,  the passing decades have a way of making us more different in looks and experiences but essentially the same in context—we all get squeezed through most of the same Play-Doh Fun Factory templates over time: school, work, taxes, kids, bills, yardwork, etc. I told her in less fanciful terms, but she agreed and said she had really encouraged Jana to go.

If nothing else, someone needed to warn Jana about Lady Gaga.

I was set to pick up Brad from the bus station on the eve of the reunion, but after various delays, it was well after midnight. Some guy had collapsed on his bus and had to be picked up by paramedics near Rolla. Luckily, there had been a nurse on the bus; unfortunately, she’d used her heroic nurse cred as leverage to use the bus bathroom as her personal smoker’s lounge. It would all be worth it when my wife became the second person to tell him he could have flown into Branson cheaper than riding the bus. As a bonus, we saw a man in a stupor splayed out on a bench on west Kearney. Whatever sort of intoxicant he’d taken on, his end result was something near the exact opposite of “the quickening” from The Highlander.

Finally, we arrived at the mixer. Right from the start, Mike West and Scott Gayer began building up the “bio scare,” in which they seemed worried about the blowback that was sure to come when certain people read the bios I wrote for them. Worried for me, that is. I had worries about a couple of those. I was thinking Melissa Richter might be displeased to learn of her numerous sex changes, but for some reason Mike and Scott seemed to think Stacy Kuhn was the one I should fear. I was like, “What did I write again?” All I could remember was an over-the-top jibe about her abandoning her student council office’s LIFE-LONG duties, but they were so worked up that I started to worry. Also, my image of Stacy Kuhn as a sweetheart-type was now in doubt.

I had some Senior Video DVDs to deliver. Only two, to Michelle Cathey Maggard and Amy Robinson Balog. I handed them off and failed in my usual way to strike up any conversation, but I didn’t get slapped or anything. So far, so good.

Right off the bat I was failing to introduce my wife to anyone, because I can only hold one thing in my brain at a time. Brad even warned me that Heather wanted to be introduced and I wasn’t doing it, but still I forgot every time. It’s what you call social retardation, or interpersonal Down’s—not to be confused with any medically recognized thing. Well, it was just my own shortcoming. Heather is actually my only credential that matters.

Brad had a different problem. He couldn’t recognize many people. He knew Tony and Chris Delozier; after that, it got tougher. He picked it up after a while, but even after I told him some, he’d do double takes: “That’s LeAnn Helton,” I’d say. “Really?” he’d say, concentrating. I was thinking Brad drank too much booze after he quit being straightedge in college.

I also told Brad to keep an eye on Jana Long to make sure she was having fun. I know we saw her talking like a champ to Jennifer Elbert and someone else. She was upright, mobile, and smiling. If she claims she had no fun, then she’s being a false and tricksy Hobbit. We saw you having fun, Jana. Don’t deny it.

Now imagine there’s an asterisk between every paragraph here, and every asterisk refers to the same footnote: Eric “Juice” Poland is bigger than life. The all-new, all-daring Juice has his own gravitational pull. We just can’t get over his majestic enormity. Plus, as if Texas were some scaled-up other dimension, he’s accompanied by a perfect fit of a wife, on the exact same scale.   They are careful not to crush mortals, fortunately. Maybe this is the secret behind Eric’s desire for Texas to secede—we’re just too tiny to be taken seriously as countrymen.

Tony was getting his wisecracks in order, and his wife Stacy already seemed somewhat over it. She had a flask full of something to help dull the pain of fending off so many Willard grads. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if she is pleased or not by Tony being a loose cannon. They also brought Chris Delozier. Maybe those two have been revved up all day. I know they played golf already, and had a pool party where Tony got thrown—phone included—into the pool by Bobby Tate.

Aaron Goddard appeared up with his wife Linda, which is awesome because it is hard to get them both in the same public appearance. Linda said she was my biggest fan, which may be true because they have more of my original drawings than anyone else, besides me. Unless each time they buy one, they throw the old one away to make room for a freshy. I was supposed to draw Linda’s family crest on a napkin, but I failed. Aaron was one of a few people with a sibling my sister’s age, a group that just had their 25th reunion. My sister said that one of her classmates had a sex change and was at the reunion with another classmate as a mate. I keep forgetting which sex was the “before” and which the “after.” Aaron didn’t know, either.

While eating dinner, I got Matt Farmer to retell a classic story from Springfield PD adventures. I always forget the zestiest details, but in a nutshell: A domestic disturbance call takes them to the home of septuagenarian Ruby, whose 30-something boyfriend, Dakota, yelled and threw a plate of peanut-butter-and-jelly “sammiches” at her. The plate broke the big picture window in the front wall; ruckus achieved, but not alleviated. Parts of “sammiches” were still stuck to the curtains. They had to take him downtown. Something else happened later where Dakota got mad because Ruby kept smoking even though she was on oxygen, so he slapped her, maybe because she was on fire. One more ride in the cruiser. Request the whole tale from Officer Farmer if you run into him.

After the story, he and his wife Autumn—whose name I just looked up because for some reason I was remembering her as a “Zelda,” which seemed unlikely—said TV’s “Cops” was in Springfield right then. They said it would be good because they were riding with some officer who was nuttier and bigger than life. Stay tuned!