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Friday, March 2, 2012

Read Across America 2012

Another room full of 4th graders will soon test-listen to these fresh tales of dopey wonder, hot off the noggin.

The Legend of Golden Brown

Everyone knows all the bears in Yellowstone Park sleep through the winter, but there was this one bear who stayed up looking for food all winter because she didn’t get enough to eat. She wandered around looking for delicious things, but she was lucky to find even gross things. Two acorns are barely enough to feed a squirrel, but that’s all she found one day. She found a little dead grub-worm and put it between two pieces of bark, thinking “Oh what a sandwich I’ve made!” She bit into it and realized that the grub-worm was really just some old chewing gum someone spat out, but she ate it anyway. Thanks to her keen senses, a tickle of mint flavor left in the gum walloped her in the palate like an arctic blast.

In a campsite near Old Faithful, some slobs left a bunch of trash. The bear became very excited because she could smell ketchup and pop tarts. But when she licked all that garbage, there were only a few crumbs, and even those crumbs were tiny and stale. Everywhere she went, little birds and squirrels were already there, eating crumbs and seeds until there was no food in sight. It was very cold, so all the people were gone, probably snug inside their warm cave-boxes, just eating and eating and eating.

The bear found an empty coffee cup next to a dumpster. She licked one frozen drop out of it, then lifted one end of the dumpster and looked under. She saw a pack of croutons! She saw a frozen Tootsie Roll! She saw two pennies and a corndog stick! She scraped all those things into her cup and walked over to Old Faithful, which shot hot water high into the air. She put her cup out to catch hot water, about to turn her ingredients into a warm, comforting soup—but NO! The powerful jet of water grabbed her cup and blasted it high into the air. Her dream of hot soup was over, and she was hungrier and sadder than ever. She beat her belly with her paws and said, “Why? Why?”

Just when she thought she would give up, the bear spotted an orange pebble, enticing in its smooth, candy-like appearance. Could it be? Yes, it was a Reese’s Piece! It melted on her tongue, so delicious, but gone in an instant. She walked to the empty parking lot to search for more. Across the pavement, wind blew a thin layer of snow. All was barren, but for a few scattered gray lumps. She pawed them, but they were only dirty snow and ice—bumper-chunks fallen from the metal butts of cars. Maybe if she could drizzle them with some sort of syrup and eat them off an upside-down traffic cone...

Off in the distance she saw a rectangle on the frozen asphalt. Maybe it was a lost lunchbox, or better yet, a dead Happy Meal. Dead Happy Meals always smelled like human children, who leave behind a lot of food for some reason. The hungry bear could not understand leaving behind food. She was so hungry, she thought she might just punch out her own teeth and swallow them. She might even eat at Arby’s.

Tears wiggled in the hungry bear’s eyes so she could hardly see straight. She stumbled up to the dark rectangle, imagining it would be a box of graham crackers or a dead Happy Meal full of steaming fries and a fresh deer’s head. She planned on eating it all, including the toy prize, which would be a very fast but small remote-controlled Ferrari with gummy bears riding in it, except the gummy bears were actually a gummy alligator and a gummy Johnny Cash. Clearly she was going crazy at this point.

On top of the box, there were two knobs. She thought they might be Rolos or chocolate covered mints. “Dessert first,” she thought. Her long wet tongue licked them both—and stuck there! Her tongue was going crazy and her brain was buzzing, but she couldn’t get her tongue off the terrible chocolates of power, which were not chocolates at all, but cold metal knobs frozen to her tongue. Yes, the bear was licking a car battery. It was very heavy for a box the size of a dead Happy Meal. She lifted it in her paws and staggered away crying even harder. The battery made her so miserable, she forgot how hungry she was. In fact, she briefly lost all her higher brain functions, and waddled forward senselessly like a giant crying beast-baby.

Well, she wasn’t far from a ranger’s station, which had a nice warm light coming from the windows. She would normally avoid the rangers, because they tended to shoot her with darts and spray her with stuff that felt like bees stinging her eyes, but she wasn’t thinking straight. She walked right up to their door, broke the wooden steps of their porch, and banged on the door while moaning like Chewbacca when his spaceship won’t work. The rangers looked out their window. One of them said, “Get the tranks, Bobby! We got a live one!”

The bear woke up in a zoo, and never ate another dead Happy Meal. Instead, she grew fat and lazy eating good, nutritious zoo food, such as dead animals and whole grains. Her fur was now a rich golden hue, probably from the prolonged electrocution. She became known as Golden Brown, or Goldie for short, but only the park rangers named Bobby, Teresa, and Burt knew the whole story.

Bigfoot’s Dog

Bigfoot was very old, but still strong, and also a little bit stupid. He was always running around in the woods and mountains, staying hidden from humans, so naturally he got lonely. He decided to get a dog. He wanted a big dog that could keep his feet warm at night, and not be accidentally crushed by Bigfoot in the dark. It should also be unafraid of coyotes, wolves, and badgers. He’d had a dog once before, in the 1950s, and it got clobbered by a raccoon, which was just sad. It also died when it could not make it across the Missouri River, which was even sadder. Bigfoot felt bad for weeks, because he should have carried the dog across, but he was trying to toughen it up.

No, Bigfoot needed a serious, hefty, formidable dog. He refused to waste his time on a small, puny dog. He also needed a dog with a good, thick coat of hair for warmth, so Dobermans and Greyhounds were out. He thought maybe he just needed a wolf, but then he remembered, wolves are jerks.

To make a long story short, Bigfoot spied on some dog kennels and animal shelters, and eventually he got himself a dog. It was large, hairy, and somewhat stupid, just like Bigfoot. They were having a pretty good time running around, eating nuts, balancing on logs, and digging through sleeping people’s backpacks for candy bars and beef jerky at campsites in national parks. Once they even stole a canoe from an old man and left him stranded on a little island, but Bigfoot left him some beef jerky to live on. Then they hot-rodded that canoe all around Lake Superior. Because of Bigfoot’s ridiculous upper body strength, they could go nearly 40 mph in a canoe, which eventually led to a crash that left the canoe sticking out from the side of a cabin like a hatchet stuck in a log. By coincidence, the cabin belonged to the old man they left stuck on the island. So, when he finally made it home, he said over one hundred swear words.

So by and by, Bigfoot and his dog were living the good life, reaping nature’s bounty and maxxing out on fresh air. As if to demonstrate their carefree feelings, they lollygagged one day in a sunbeam. Bigfoot had his feet up on a stump. He picked his teeth with a little twig and fell asleep to the sound of his dog panting. When he woke up, the sun was going down. He looked around and thought something was missing. “Didn’t I have a dog here just a minute ago?”

Well, the dog had a lot of energy and liked to chase rabbits or weasels or whatever, so Bigfoot wasn’t worried yet. He listened carefully. He heard no barking, only birds singing and bugs buzzing. Five minutes passed, and then an hour. The sunset was over, and it was pretty dark. That’s when Bigfoot realized, he never named his dog, so he could not call it. Maybe the dog had waited every day to be named, and finally got mad and ran away! Bigfoot was very worried now. His eyes watered and his feet felt cold. “I don’t deserve a dog,” he thought. But he searched anyway.

It was almost dawn when Bigfoot’s outdoorsy stamina paid off. He found his dog, deep in a hidden mess of undergrowth. But something was different. The dog was in a large nest, laying on a bunch of eggs! “Oh, my dog is going to be a mother,” thought Bigfoot. He smacked his forehead. He could not believe he had forgotten that dogs like to lay their eggs in a private place. “I am so dumb,” thought Bigfoot. “I didn’t even know my dog was a girl, much less pregnant.”

Now Bigfoot was quite an eater of eggs. In fact, eggs were his favorite food. He really wanted to eat one, but the dog growled when he reached toward the nest. This reminded Bigfoot that eating his best friend’s eggs would be grossly uncivilized—even more so than his usual uncivilized lifestyle. So he made a resolution to eat none of the eggs, and be a good midwife to the dog until the puppies hatched. He saw feathers scattered all around the dog and said, “Oh, you are a good mama, dog! You even lined your nest with soft, warm feathers.”

For a few weeks, Bigfoot was running to and fro, fetching food and water so the dog would not have to leave her eggs. He caught her fresh salmon, and found some hunks of meatloaf from a trash can by a road. He stole a pillowcase from a clothesline, stuffed it with soft moss, and tucked it under the dog’s head gently. Everything was just right, but Bigfoot was a bundle of nerves. When would the puppies hatch?

Well, the magical day came. The eggs wiggled, cracked and peeped. The dog got up to help the babies out, licking them as Bigfoot cried with joy. He could hardly see, so he wiped his tears away. At first he was very sad, because the puppies seemed so ugly and weird. They had big wobbly heads, only two large feet (Bigfoot did like that), and weak little flipper arms instead of front legs. Something was very wrong with these puppies, but Bigfoot didn’t have the heart to give such bad news to the dog. Instead, he just patted her, saying, “Good dog!”

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