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Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Knuckleheaded Tales Coming in 2013

For the emotionally underdeveloped humanoid in your life.

Here's one now. Because I might be invited back to "Read Across America" at a Willard Elementary school, and that's basically the apex of my social life.

The Curse of Dewey Groder

Dewey Groder was a mean kid, with one big eyebrow and yellow, horsey teeth. He looked like he may have had a bit of goblin blood, or a Norwegian troll for a grandmother. His family lived in a house, and Dewey lived in the garage, because his parents were frightened of being very close to him. He had already punched everyone in his family hard in the stomach, including his mother, twice—once when she was pregnant! But even a mean kid has to love some things. He loved popsicles, root beer, dirt clods, pills (the kind that turn into foam animals when dropped in water), video games, and ninja stuff.

    One day Dewey was over in the neighbor’s yard, hitting their dog with their cat. They just went limp; they were used to it. The dog actually liked it, at least much better than the cat did.
    Then Dewey spotted a grasshopper on his favorite corduroy pants. He wasn’t wearing the pants—they were hanging out on the clothesline to dry in the breeze. He was in his underwear, which had two holes burned in them right where Superman’s eyes used to be. Yes, Dewey is the one responsible for the holes. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with Superman’s heat-ray vision.
    “Aha!” he said to the grasshopper, keeping a grip on the cat’s tail. “Now I will feed you to this cat!” Dewey grabbed the twitching insect. “Then I will grind everyone’s bones for my bread!” He was pointing all around, to the whole neighborhood. His troll heritage was coming out stronger than ever.
    The grasshopper was actually a witch, out sunning herself on a warm day. The problem with turning into a creature for recreational purposes is that you can become very relaxed, and begin to actually TURN INTO the creature. In this case, the witch had been corduroy-lounging for hours in the soothing warmth of the sun, after drinking sweet beads of dew off clover leaves all morning. It’s enough to make anyone go soft and stupefied, like when you eat too many Cheetos and forget how to stand up.
    “Wait!” cried the grasshopper. “Please don’t let the cat eat me! Their teeth are so pointy and their tongues are like sandpaper!” Was Dewey surprised at a talking grasshopper? Maybe a little, but he wouldn’t be coaxed out of his fun. In fact, finding a grasshopper with a shrieking little intelligent voice made this even better for him.
    “Shut up, victim!” he said. “I don’t negotiate with the terrorized. Although, you do give me an idea….” Dewey, with the cat dangling from the tail, was momentarily drooling backwards.
    The witch was beginning to come to her senses, but still had a ways to go before she could muster anything but threats.
    “This will be tricky,” he said, “I only have two hands.” Maybe if he sat on the cat, he could pull the grasshopper’s legs off. The witch could see the look on Dewey’s face, and it was bad news.
    “Let me go, and I will grant you one wish!” She was no genie, so this was a lie—she had no power to grant wishes.  
    “If you could really grant wishes, you should be giving more than one. How about one for each leg you don’t want me to pull off?” He went ahead and pulled one of the grasshopper’s legs off. “That should leave me one-two-three-four-FIVE wishes, right?”
    “OW! You horrible beast!” The witch was now quite alert, and changing her strategy. “Don’t you DARE pluck my legs, or I will curse you to the rue-point, and BEYOND!”
    “What’s the “rue-point” again?”
    “The point where you really regret it! I will curse you, mean creature!” Now, the witch was quite handy with curses, so this was no empty threat, unlike the thing with the wishes.
    “I think curses are funny, so go ahead,” said Dewey. “Bad words from a tiny bug? So-o-o-o-o-o-o SCARY!” And he ripped off another bug leg!
    “GAHH! You punk!” Now the witch was getting warmed up and ready to go. She remembered her name was Znshindapi, and then she recalled one of her favorite spells. She clicked two of her remaining feet together and said, “Butterfingers!” She was not one of the top-rated witches in North America (she wouldn’t have even made the big leagues in Europe or Asia), but she had more than enough juju to scuttle a screwball like Dewey Groder, no matter how much stinky troll blood he had in his circulatory system. She slipped from his fingers, which had become greasier than a doorknob at a potato-chip factory.
    “Butterfingers? How weak! I’ve heard worse curses on Sesame Street.”
    But Znshindapi squeezed through a chain-link fence as she swelled to the size of a hot dog bun and her regular human face came back, saying, “We shall see, young creep-o. ‘Butterfingers’ is actually one of my more loathsome incantations, and you deserve it, picking on little animals this way! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some body parts to regrow… I’ll have to spend a lot of time as a newt or something.” She flapped off as a football-sized grasshopper with a doll-sized woman’s head. Then her hair got tangled in her wings, so she crashed into a garage, said non-magical curses, and ended up stealing some kid’s bicycle to get away—no easy trick without arms, but she was still a witch.
    The cat ran for cover as it slipped from Dewey’s grasp. He was beginning to see the problem with having hands that ooze butter. He wiped his hands on the grass, but they instantly beaded up with slick, yellow butter.
    “I’ll kill you, butter-bug-lady!” Dewey screamed.
    “No, you won’t!” the witch yelled back from a long way off.
In the days that followed, Dewey learned just how miserable it can be having actual butterfingers. He spilled his root beer and dropped his popsicles in the dirt. His clothes were greasy, and he saturated his bedsheets with melted butter. If he picked his nose, he sneezed a spray of grease. He had to hold down the button on the drinking fountain with his elbow. He got pimples wherever he touched his face. All his comic books and magazines were translucent and stuck together.
    Worst of all, his favorite video games were impossible to play—the controller shot right out of his fingers every few moves, and after a while, all the dripping butter ruined the device completely. He would never set another high score on Dr. Shotgun 3, or Powermad Munchkinauts, or Devil’s Dogcatcher 2, or Harsh Ninja. And forget about ever being a ninja in real life—he couldn’t even manage a zipper, much less deadly combat skills.
    But every problem has a bright side. Dewey soon found that the neighbor’s cat and dog were very excited to lick his fingers, and they became his most dedicated buddies. He could get them to perform tricks and funny sounds, in exchange for a few finger licks.
    At school, Dewey was less popular than ever, and his grades went from lousy to embarrassing, because now he could barely hold a pencil. But he learned to entertain himself in new ways. He could go down the slide faster than ever by sitting on his hands, then watch all the other kids butter their butts. He could throw dirt-clods that became greasy shirt destroyers—but his aim was terrible, for obvious reasons.
    He also enjoyed making and eating buttered toast. If his mother opened the bag of bread for him, he could insert the bread in the toaster, push the lever down with a wooden spoon, then handle the toast and eat it. He found it rather delicious. He said, “Here is something I like,” chomping the toast. Even the crust was buttery, thanks to his disgusting digits. His mother moved the toaster out into the garage so he could toast without limit.
    “Dewey, you have a phone call,” said his mom. She held up the phone to his face so he wouldn’t have to grab it and drop it.
    “Weird, no one ever calls me,” he said. “They’re all too scared. Buncha wussies.”
    “I think you’re enjoying that toast too much, LARDfingers,” said the witch through the phone. “No, wait—VASELINEfingers—now with vinegar!” Then she hung up. Dewey’s toast popped out of the toaster. For the first time in his life, he began to cry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Roses and Mike

We also took pictures in the big curved mirror.

I used to make slight fun of an old lady who walked her big dog and seemed to address all comers—the world at large—by way of her dog’s implied persona. She would speak to people only by speaking to him: “Say HI, Murphy. Tell him he’s doing a good job, but he should salt the sidewalks with something that’s friendly to doggie paws!”

Now I sometimes do the same thing with a baby: “Say bye-bye! Okay, baby, here we go.”

We gathered at a nursing home in Marionville for the death of my wife’s grandmother. It happened very quickly, while everyone was in transit. All we could do was see her too late, with a washcloth rolled under her chin, failing to keep her mouth from falling open. Once more, Baby Penelope saw her great-grandma, Rose Mary, for whom she is middle-named: Rose, then touched her face which no longer looked quite like anyone, certainly not like someone alive only minutes earlier. Then, a family talking, and not much to hold a baby in check. We would take a walk. “Let’s go look at the birds.”

The place smelled worse, in room-by-room pockets, than ever before. I sometimes tell myself that the biting chemical agents they use to mask the urine and dying are actually worse than the urine and the dying, but I could be wrong. I was not there before someone deployed the chemicals. Most rooms silent but for TV. Passed one dark room where a seated, dementia-haunted lady accused no one: “I do not love you!” As guaranteed by the laws of womanhood, every nurse and wheelchairbound old gal in the hall took a shine to the baby I toted, commenting delightedly, sometimes reaching out toward her the same way the baby reaches for food or toys.

We hit the universal relief-zone in the building, a broad entryway with large padded chairs, brochures, and birds: several flighty finches and two meek doves in a big cage with a glass front. One assumes that the birds are there for the residents to enjoy, but I’ve never seen a single elderly person paying them any attention. By default, they are there to entertain visitors, who can say, “At least they have these pretty birds.” Possibly, the seniors there avoid the birds out of pity, as they have a way of shivering in terror, then zipping to the far end of their six-foot chamber with heart-attack desperation if onlookers move.

Eventually depleting the bird diversion, we wandered back, explored the vacant cafeteria, considered pumping soft-serve ice cream out of a dispenser, thought better of it, then braved the hall again. Felt lucky not to encounter the nurse who looks to be 30 but with a raspy 70-year-old hillfolk-voice who will greet Penelope, then touch her skin-to-skin with no germ precautions.

Turning a corner, we rediscovered Mike’s bulletin board: a collection of cartoon art from the markers of small children, except it is all signed by Mike. We have enjoyed his art a few times before. Today we would meet Mike.

We leaned into a big room with Andy Griffith on a large TV. This was actually the same room where we had recently celebrated Rose Mary’s 90th birthday, but it was now cleared of all furniture and dotted with Valentine’s decorations. I considered the baby-mollifying potential in getting closer to the TV. In the middle of the room stood a guy watching Andy Griffith, loosely. He immediately sensed our presence and headed our way.

He was grinning and saying something, and the word “baby” was the only word I caught. He looked to be older than me, but his face bore the unusual combo of mature age over the rather childlike features of a classic Down Syndrome dude. I believe he also had some unfortunate toothlessness, giving his grin a sort of disturbing quality, like Blaster unmasked after Mad Max defeated him in the Thunderdome. With a little shame, I admit that I momentarily worried he might scare the baby; to my relief, she took him in stride and bounced him back some smiley teef.

“Yeah, baby…” I said, and some other generics like, “This is a nice room,” and “You’re havin’ fun.” The guy unloaded a solid 10-20 syllable sentence that went right by me. Then he said something that was definitely a question. After some awkward, smiling pauses where I didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t decipher a lick of what he said, he took a step closer, looked me square in the face and said with some concern, “You need to shave.”

I smiled and said, “Yeah, it’s definitely time for me to shave.” He must have said the “primer” or coughed up the Rosetta pebble, because then I began to grok him better—at least, well enough to translate when he said, “Did you look at my art? That’s my art by the door.” Oh, this was Mike! I kind of wanted to go discuss some of the pieces with him, especially the totally bizarre Spider-Man with no torso. But I didn’t know how to approach that, so I kept using Penelope as a social buffer. I lifted her up to some spiral-y Valentine hearts-on-helixes, letting her reach for them, and blowing on them for delightful rotation. She dug ‘em. Mike and I both reviewed her enjoyment with pleased monosyllabics. I had to keep her from actually grabbing the decorations, though, because she likes nothing better than to abuse and devour anything in the paper family. Luckily, I am still more spatially clever than she; I was able to keep her from destroying anything, while still providing her the buzzy feeling of near-grab-and-shred. She got a little revenge by getting ahold of my glasses once, which gives her brief but total power.

Mike said “cute baby” in various verbal casseroles. I switched Penelope to floor routine—in this case, planting her feet on top of mine and holding her hands while baby-stepping. Human exo-suit. This took us across the room, nearer to an open door of an office. Inside, a lady working at a desk heard Mike telling her to look, it was a baby!

“Is that Penelope Rose?” asked the lady. “I know ALL about her from her great-grandma! Oh, she was so excited about that little girl.” The lady kept on task and did not emerge from her office, but she clearly had a handle on the local denizens and lore. She was probably responsible for requisitioning the top-drawer lettering above the bulletin board that made Mike look like a big wheel: “ART WORK BY MIKE WALTON.”

Soon came a text from my wife, wondering where we were. “There’s your mom calling,” I said. “Say bye-bye!” I puppeteered baby’s hand for a round of bye-bye action, and we hit the mean streets.

If someday I must be mercied into a home, please let it have menu literacy.