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By Will Cantrell:
Certified Funny by Trevor
That damn cat is back.
I spied the black and grey stray lurking about the backyard on the first morning of the New Year. I’d seen him months before and shooed him off any number of times, but he’s back again. I bet he thinks I wouldn’t notice, the same bet I have about the latest ‘just under the radar news’ story. Maybe the ones who make the Rules of the Road thought we wouldn’t notice…
It's Better To Give
“Not bad,” I say to myself, taking inventory of this year’s Christmas spoils. It’s the “night after” and I’m standing next to the nine-foot loblolly pine felled from the woods out back. I’d had my eye on the thing since the dog days of summer and finally gave it the axe the day after Thanksgiving. After a good, proper and practiced “TIM-BERRRR”, I managed to wrestle the tree along with its sticky, cumbersome limbs through the front door to a spot inside, a few feet from the fireplace.
You’re concerned. And you have every right to be. Every right.
You feel threatened.
You figure even though bin Laden is dead and no matter how good Obama is at aiming those predator drones, there’s still plenty of stuff making you lose sleep at night: Iran, North Korea, deep space asteroids that could be headed for Earth, rising tensions in the Gulf, the Kardashians and the Republican Party just to name a few. You worry about global warming. You’re also terrified that those people over at Microsoft will go through with their threat to roll-out a new version of Windows soon.
Finding anything named after the Deity ought to be easy… very easy… a lead pipe cinch, you say to yourself. After all, its namesake is rumored to be… well… EVERYWHERE. You figure globs of the stuff to be dripping from the branches of trees, oozing from swamplands, being swept from concrete carport floors and dusted from the tops of wing-tipped shoes, like pollen during the high season. The Bohemian side of your nature – and everyone has at least a little – hints you might even find… some of ’em frolicking, like hippies, in a nearby meadow,“nekid” as jaybirds and “up to sumthin’.” It will be easy, you again say to yourself.
For the record, Don Cornelius danced down the precocious gauntlet of the famed Soul Train line exactly once, in 1973. Mary Wilson, then of the Supremes, was his partner.
You’d think that the man who invented the idea would’ve more frequently joined the festivities. But that was not Don’s way …
He was lyrical, emphatic, ‘to the point’ and above all, ‘too cool for school.’ I also noticed, at least I did at certain times, that he had a gleam in his eye that conveyed, not arrogance but the idea that ‘I know something that you don’t (…and I’m still the coolest cat in the room’).
I confess, I took Etta James for granted. I mean it seems like she’d always been around. Like the Moon. Like the Ocean. Or maybe like that monument out on Easter Island. Then comes the sad news: she’d passed away.
The news of her death wasn’t a complete shock, of course. She was ill and had been hospitalized for awhile. I guess that I just subconsciously assumed that she’d pull through. Then I remember the old adage we’ve all heard by now about what happens when one ‘assumes’. Still, I am a little brokenhearted.
Even all these weeks and days later, I can think of him only as “Red.”
It’s one of those “days after.” The market has misbehaved and the Dow is down a gazillion points.
I am at Five Points Station and not far away approaches a man who is anonymous except that he is covered from head to foot in the blood red clay-turned-to-dust of the Georgia drought. The man wears no hat and no boots, but from the look and smell of him, he’s been working hard at something.
Stuff Found Under A Tree
So, for Christmas I get one of those spiffy new E-readers. The gift box just materialized under the small Douglas fir that is this year’s Christmas tree, left there by some Secret Santa.
Several days later, no one has claimed responsibility for the gift though I have a short list suspects.
My new prize was wrapped in a small book-sized (ironic, hunh?) box, cleverly enveloped in gun-metal red gift foil and tied with a wide green felt ribbon complete—and I swear this is true– a bough of holly.
Eye of the Beholder
Almost five hundred years later, after everyone including Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and a plethora of Popes can’t quite figure it out, along comes an amateur who cracks the code. New York based, amateur artist Ron Piccirillo claims the enigmatic expression painted on the Mona Lisa’s face is envy. What’s more, he says, there’s a bonus: if you look at Mona “just right” you can see all kinds of mischief going on behind her back: animals and secret codes and such.
The air is crisp and cool, Christmas music blares throughout the entire free world and even France. These are the signals that a favorite time of the year is upon us, once again: PBS Pledge Week.
Every year, I can hardly wait to see what new scheme the PBS people will try to guilt us into coughing up unholy amounts of cash so they can sponsor even more Doo-Wop Reunions and also televise stuff like the Bowel Cleansing Yoga-Diet Dance Method over and over again.
A few years ago, during Pledge Week, PBS went about shaking us down by digging up the bodies of a bunch of old Rock ‘n’ Roll stars and forcing them onstage to give one last performance.
There are germs in the air.
And stories too.
A writer never knows what winds will carry a seed. Or where a wind blown seed might land. Story germs, I call them and they are found most everywhere: planes and trains and bus stations and bars. Hotel rooms and yard sales and subway stations and barber chairs. I once ‘found’ a story seeded in one of those long, slow moving, interminable automobile tag lines before the days of online renewal. A piece about a grandmother and the tattoo of her new Ferrari was there, just waiting for me.
Lately, I’ve become as fidgety as a small kid riding in a car bound for a place he’s never been.
“Are we there yet?”
The destination is the End of the Recession. Until we get ‘there,’ I am tumbled about in the backseat of an old roadster careening down a bumpy and pot-holed Recession Road. I am hanging on, bouncing up and down, praying that whomever is driving will sober up — and that we’ll get there in a hurry.
I had no interest in seeing the movie, “The Help.” I’d read the book – TWICE —and as any avid reader knows ‘the movie’ is never as good as the book. Never! For one thing, one of the great problems in translating the written word to celluloid is that the film medium typically removes entirely, or drastically changes some of the elements the book’s author left to the reader’s imagination. (You say “TO-MA-TOE” and I say “TO-MAH-TOW, as it were.) Then, there are the inevitable dramatic effects added by Hollywood in order to make the screenplay more bofo at the box office.
There‘s always one thing or another going on with me.
I guess that it’s just the nature of things and as my late Uncle Copernicus would say “Kid, if it’s not one thing, it’s two or three of ‘em.”
My current problem is musical. For the past few days, there has been a song rattling around inside my head–like a couple of loose marbles. I can’t seem to turn it off, at least not for very long. Good songs and sometimes even bad ones are like squatters, the common cold and a few of my relatives: they show up and stay until they decide it’s time to leave …
“You’ve got a weird brain, Cantrell. You really do. ”
I’ve heard the above quote long enough so that I am beginning to think that my accusers may have a point. Well, at least some of the time. Nevertheless —and maybe it’s just me — but now that Hurricane Irene has come and gone, my brain is (still) left with three ongoing mysteries:
When will the National Hurricane Center learn to properly name monster storms in the Atlantic Ocean? In the three day run-up prior to Hurricane Irene (later Tropical Storm Irene) hitting the East coast, various and sundry authorities spent a lot of time urging the 65 million or so Americans in the storm’s predicted swath to “…get the hell out, Irene is coming.”
I have an Aunt Irene and I suspect …
Normally, I’d avoid sticking my nose into a scrap, especially an ongoing scrap at City Hall. However, I bear at least some responsibility for the latest mess, especially since not everyone I voted for in the last election, lost. (An unusual occurrence , one can be sure) On top of all that, I am an expert in recognizing ‘not knowing what the hell you’re doing’ looks like when I see it. Since I’ve been in the circumstance so many times myself, I am even familiar with what not knowing what the hell you’re doing smells like. The latest dust-up looked and smelled like one of those situations and I figured that the City Hall boys could use a little help.
“Look, how shinny and glossy I’ve gotten the dining room table. You can see your face in it …”
“Yeah, I see …but what’s that behind your back?”
“Oh this thing? It’s just an old rag.”
“Lemme see…. gimme that. This is no rag. Is this what you used to polish the furniture? You’ve been using my lucky T-shirt as a dust rag!? Woman, do you realize that I scored the winning touchdown …
I held my breath.
I always hold my breath when the scientists at Harvard sound the bell and tell us to gather round.
Harvard scientists are always up to something, studying one thing and then another. You can never know what they are going to come up with next. Whatever it is though, you can bet that it is going to be life changing; some fun activity that you’ve done all your life and that you better drop immediately or face the prospect of grim death. Or they’ve come up with some new super food … that you have to start eating in order to add about fifteen minutes to your life expectancy.
You have to look at yourself first.
All of the relationship experts tell us that it’s just the mature thing to do after a breakup.
In my taking of stock, as it were, I must testify that I’ve discovered Southerners to be tough ‘sons of guns’. We’ve have to be. The evidence is obvious. Every year, we endure oppressive summer heat, suffer through humidity that can make rocks sweat, and suffer through a cloud of pollen that invades the lungs and otherwise colors everything above the ground a hazy-lazy ‘yellow’. We carry on through droughts, persist through tornadoes, survive floods of near Biblical proportions and put up with the incessant, fake Presidential aspirations of Newt Gingrich.
Rhonda Williams recently hit the jackpot! A few weeks ago, the Fairburn, Georgia resident was cleaning out her purse and discovered a lottery ticket worth a hundred eighty nine thousand dollars! A month prior, Irving Przyborski came across a lotto ticket that he’d bought and misplaced a year ago. The Chicago cab driver’s find was worth nine million dollars!
Heartwarming lost and found episodes like Rhonda’s and Irving’s are not uncommon. Someone wins one of those state-run sweepstakes somewhere every day. The jackpot is usually somewhat less than our two friends above, but I have it on good authority that the finder/winners can usually make good use of the money.
“You’re lucky to be alive.”
“What do you mean? How so?”
“You’re lucky that you never ran into a wall, fell down a flight of stairs or into an open manhole. This prescription that the optometrist sent over for you is pretty strong. Your vision looks like its gotten worse. From the looks of things, the doc thinks you’re blind … an accident waiting to happen,” the technician in the optometrist’s office says. Then she hands me a set of gargantuan black horn-rimmed spectacles that could have well been ‘Buddy Holly Originals’.
“Here, let’s try these bifocals. That’s what the doctor says you need…”
“BIFOCALS!? What the …? There must be some mistake … the wrong script. Surely, I can’t need bifocals. Some of my friends even call me ‘Hawkeye’.”
Author’s Note: In Action Comic No. 900, Superman says that he is going to renounce his U.S. citizenship. Well buddy-boy better think again …
“Thanks for coming on short notice, Superman.”
“…my pleasure, Mr. Pres …”
“Also, I want to thank you for walking through the door this time instead of bustin’ through a wall, like you normally do. The last time you almost caused an international incident when the Chinese Premier was hit with that flying plaster. He also thought that you were a little ‘over the top’. Do you have any idea how much the re-plastering costs are in an Oval Office? It ain’t cheap and I’ve already got the Republicans on my butt about government spending. The OSHA folks aren’t too happy about these grand entrances of yours either.”
How long’s it been now?
Since there’s been a good one … a really good one?
Not some ‘governor lying that he was lost on the Appalachian Trail but was really on a love rendezvous in Argentina’ type ruse. (Despite the South American connection, the story is far too local.) Certainly, not one of those tepid Medicare payment scams. Instead, I’m talking about shenanigans of prodigious proportions … a political ‘CYA’ escapade gone haywire, stuff that cuts a wide swath across the length and breadth of the land and makes us question the very sanity of the participants. One of those … a rip-snorter, a page turner, the kind of stuff that sells good old fashioned newsprint, launches new careers, and is fodder for late night comedians – for months and months.
And while I would order up no collateral damage in terms of life or limb, a good political cover-up uncovered can be breathtaking. It captures the imagination –if not immediately the crooks — and diverts the attention of our collective mind from a weak dollar, a too high unemployment rate, and the obscene price of gas.
Lost in Space
Atlantans have recently learned that our city’s bid to be the retirement home of the Space Shuttle Atlantis has been turned down. You can bet that we are more than a little shocked — and steamed — about this and can only view your rebuff as a direct snub to our southern hospitality.
Our invitation was heartfelt, sincere …and besides … we’d made plans!
We have spent the last few days pondering what could have possibly been the problem. Was it our notorious and sometimes ponderous rush hour traffic? Was it our kid’s performance on the CRCT ? Did we have a low credit score? Were you put off by the insufferable pollen which colors everything in sight around here, ‘yellow’ for two months? What NASA? What was it?! What?
One of my guilty pleasures (I have a few of them) is pickles.
Under the cover of darkness, when no one is looking — guilty pleasures are best carried out clandestinely — armed only with a cocktail fork stolen from my best friend, Booger Wadsworth’s last birthday bash, I do a shifty-eyed slink into the kitchen. No plate, no napkin. Just me … the fork … and a jar of naked gherkins. On occasion, I’ve even been naked myself, or nearly so. Oftentimes guilty pursuits are best enjoyed sans clothes. And on the sneak.
The damn thing just pounded its iron fist on the table and said “Give it up, dammit!”
Nonetheless it was a sad occasion. I’d looked forward to the monthly game of deciding whether to buy groceries or pay unconscionable prices for Cable-TV being piped into the house. Lately Cable-TV has become little more than ambient, background noise provided by what surely must be scripted reality shows, televangelists dressed in sheep’s clothing and infomercials telling me that “Individual Results May Vary”.
That I could still play a shell game with cable-TV as one of the players was my own litmus test …
Meteors mostly never hit.
Those big, bad, deadly ones — those ‘hell bent for leather, bound and determined to destroy us all’ space rocks — those mostly glance off the Earth’s atmosphere and hurtle harmlessly into the great, dark void.
They really never even get close.
So it is with news. Tragic stories … real stories hardly ever collide with us. …
This past Tuesday morning, the delicate knitting that keeps the ‘No Collision Rule’ in check unravels. I awaken to head numbing, impossible news on TV. My friend, Derek Moses is dead. Murdered! His lifeless body was found on Monday morning, shot execution style in his office.
You try to warn them.
“This stuff has a lot to answer for …
…like fast women, hot cars, liquor and Satan,” you say. “Don’t make the same mistake as me … the same mistake a lot of us made. It puts the whole society on a slippery slope down the road to ruin. Find another way, kid … or you’ll end up like me.”
But kids often don’t listen. (I didn’t.) And the opposition is more organized … has more money …
I call your attention to a recent dustup in the schools. Along with proposed closings, reduced budgets and what’s really in the mystery meat served in the cafeteria, an ongoing issue is “should we still teach cursive handwriting?”
Confidentially, this situation with my hair is not good.
My hair constantly tries to defy and spite me. It’s lazy, uncooperative and has what is commonly referred to as ‘an attitude.’ Lately its been impossible…lies down and rests when it should be doing something else, standing up when it ought to be laying down…you get the idea. It plays these insufferable pranks too…like sprouting from places that it never has grown from before and hiding in completely unexpected venues — like my ears. Finding hair suddenly growing out of my nostrils is frightening.
You think I’m kidding about all of this? I assure you that I’m not.
“Gawd, am I glad to be home.”
“You look stressed. Was the drive back that bad?”
“I’m not really tired. It just looks that way. Booger drove like a madman. Something smells good in here. We havin’ pork chops?”
I thought that you said that Booger drives like an old lady. By the way, the people at the golf course called. They’ve found your lost six-iron. ”
“Yippeee. Oh! Man! Wow! That’s the club that I hit the hole-in-one with. Man, am I glad to find it. Anyway, Booger does drive like a little old woman… most of the time. But he was anxious to get home. His grandson, Brian is coming for a visit.”
It’s funny how we come to learn certain things. Sometimes revelation steals into your brain in the wee hours, while you’re deep in REM sleep. ‘The solution’ just slams into your brain, causing you to pitch straight up and shout”By golly I’ve got it!” (or some such). With self assurance, you slink back under the covers… wondering why you hadn’t dit all out long before now, but confident… knowing that you’ll still remember”the answer” in the morning.
At other times, epiphany comes during the daylight hours, when you are thinking about or doing something else entirely. Knowledge just surreptitiously seeps into your brain like some kind of osmosis. You don’t know how you learned what you now know and you sure as hell ‘can’t show your work’, but all of a sudden know: ”x equals 2y,” “the butler did it”… or that… well… you’re fat!
The announcement comes a few days ago.
The Queen of Soul is ailing. Aretha Franklin has pancreatic cancer. Damn!
The mind quickly rifles through frame images of Michael Landon and Patrick Swayze, as well as a few other ‘real’ people…flesh and blood folks that I’ve known….fellas with whom I’ve watched a ball game or shared a beer. Once anyway… before the dreaded diagnosis. No, pancreatic cancer is not a guillotine, but the odds are impossibly long. Mostly they are out of sight. A replay of the announcement runs through my head. It is no hoax, no cruel prank. Lyrics from a signature Aretha Franklin song now ring out in my head. “Hey Mister, don’t play that song for me… I don’t want to hear it.”
I’ve hunkered down for the holidays.
Just put my arms over my head and taken cover.
It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s and I am just doing my best to keep my head down in order to get out alive and in one piece.
There’s just no stopping it. Just as I get through paying for the last Christmas, another Christmas rolls around. The whole thing is relentless…like an asteroid on a collision path with the Earth.
Temporary Employment Agency Guy: You’re going to work as a ‘pundit’. You know, one of those talking head guys that sit around a table with other pundits and pretend to know everything about what’s going on in the world of politics and in Washington D.C. Then after they tell everybody how smart they are they tell all of the TV viewers what they should be thinking. You’ve seen ‘em a million times, Cantrell. This will be the perfect job for you. It’s a temp-to-perm position but if you do well, ya never know what could happen. The pay is good…$17.00 per hour plus your deal will be just like the guys who are already on. A couple of those TV pundit guys make more money selling T- shirts and baseball caps over the web than they ever make from their network salaries.
Halloween is bust’in out all over!
Lately, one has to watch their step. This whole place has turned into a quicksand of orange and black. Ghosts, goblins, jack-o-lanterns and people in masks and costumes have taken over… everywhere it seems.
As you know diary, I am an aging Baby Boomer, who embraces his God-given and Constitutional right not to ever grow up, my inner child is always lurking in close proximity. As such, I love Halloween. I relish both the occasion and the opportunity of ‘dressing up’…and if one doesn’t dwell too long on the inherent psychological implications of wanting to look like or even be someone else, the idea of ‘dressing up’ is quite fun.