To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/
When I was 12, my favorite novel was Rudyard Kipling’s First Jungle Book. I loved it. From page one to the last sentence of the story about the White Seal. I owned a paperback copy that I still have 51 years later. I bought it from the school book order form, Scholastic, I think. I used my allowance money, earned at a nickel a week. Along with the chapter books I had read previously, The Swiss Family Robinson, the White Stag, and Treasure Island, it guided my view of life. Every grove and forest in Iowa became the jungle in the summer of 1968. The windswept fields of corn and soy beans easily transformed into tropical seas. I imagined pirates, natives, and buried treasures everywhere. When I found a piece of a brass candlestick with the necessary curved part, which became the cursed Ahnk from The Jungle Book. Midnight, Grandma Aldrich’s blue-eyed black cat, became my Bagheera. I traveled with an invisible Baloo. You know, it was only a year or so before that when I saw the Disney movie. So, of course, dancing and singing was a part of being a jungle boy.
In the book, unlike the movie, Mowgli was naked in the jungle. He didn’t wear clothes until the first time he submitted himself to the man village. He took them off again when he escaped. I had to try that too. I went to the BinghamPark woods down by the Iowa River. I found a tree where I could put my clothes, and I took everything off. I figured roaming the woods like Mowgli would be great. Boy, I was a stupid child. Problem number one struck with my first naked step in the forest. Dang! There must not be any twigs or nettles in Mowgli’s jungle. I tried hopping from place to place, but in minutes I was wearing at least my socks and shoes. Hanging branches and brambles were a problem, too. They clutched at me, striping me with welts and scrapes. Certain parts you just don’t want pricked by a bramble bush. It was like God suddenly planted those pointed things everywhere. Okay, shoes and socks and shorts. Well, then I began to get cold. Iowa is never very warm even in the height of summer. I had already defeated the whole naked in the forest thing when I put my shorts back on, so, what the heck! It just didn’t work like I thought.
I still believed that the ways of the jungle were an essential part of my young life. I read and reread what the Jungle Book says about the “Law of the Jungle”. I tried to make sense of it as a credo to live by. Of course, at twelve we are always among the wisest and all-knowing of God’s creatures. We can make sense of the world in our own weird little way, and no one will ever be able to sway us from the philosophy we live by, no matter how silly it is. I still think about my “Jungle Book Period” as an important part of my young life. There are things about young Mowgli and Jim Hawkins and the Robinsons that formed a significant part of my character. I would one day make use of those determined and resourceful qualities to stay alive in the classroom jungles of South Texas. I tried to make others see it. I shared Kipling and Stevenson with kids and hoped that I could make them learn, as I did, how to be that little boy facing and succeeding against the dangerous jungle around him.
My real encounters with nudists didn’t wait until I was a teacher to occur. I went to the University of Iowa for a Master’s Degree in order to satisfy all the requirements for a teaching certificate.
While there, it was not only at the hippie-dippie daycare center where I changed diapers, and the very liberal parents were happy about their children’s backyard skinny-dipping in the blow-up pool while being chased around naked by adults with a hose to spray them with, but also in the efficiency apartment where I shared a kitchen and bathroom with an honest-to-god nudist.
Ned never explained to me about being a nudist, but whenever he watched my television in my half of the efficiency apartment, he came right on in without a stitch of clothing on. I was a little shocked. But I got used to the fact that any time he was in the apartment, he was naked. He explained to me about spending the summers at a nudist resort in Mexico with his family. He lived naked every single moment that he didn’t spend in public where nakedness was illegal.
He was the one who explained to me how the polite thing for a nudist to do was to carry around a towel to sit on when he visited my bedroom and used my chair to watch TV while I sat on the bed. He didn’t do much of that because he wasn’t wild about wasting time watching TV. But when we played chess, or just talked about life, the universe, and everything, he was always in his birthday suit.
I got used to the idea that there were actually people who were mentally healthy and otherwise normal who also inhabited our world feeling that I was the abnormal one being averse to being naked in the company of others.
Ned’s girlfriend, when she came over, was never naked. She did tell me she thought he was a little nutty on the subject of naturism, but she also mentioned that he was really good-looking that way because he lifted weights and had body-builder muscles. And she agreed to pose naked for me at his insistence because I had told him about having an anatomy drawing class at Iowa State. She didn’t seem to be shy about nakedness either, although that is based on only the one incident. She seemed much more at peace with Ned’s naked habits than I was. And I got the distinct impression that she loved him enough to convert to his way of life when they got married.
So, I did learn a lot about nudism, naturism, and nudists by living with one for two semesters of grad school. Now, I know I promised to tell the very embarrassing story of the clothing-optional apartment complex in Austin that I mentioned in Part Two. But I will get to that. Maybe in the Part-4 post if I don’t let my mind wander again like I did in this post.
Canto 7 – Room 1313, Parkland
Stan brought the flowers he bought in the gift shop with him as he entered the room. The husband, David Nguyen, sat in the cushioned chair by the bed with his head in his hands. He was obviously distraught in spite of the time that passed since the mystery illness struck down his wife. The daughter, Hannah according to the notes, sat in a folding chair watching cartoons on the hospital-room TV.
Stan turned to Maria and whispered, “You make friends with the little girl. Give her your cellphone number and tell her she can call you if she wants to talk about anything.”
Maria nodded silently and walked over to the little girl.
“Um, Mr. Nguyen? I know now is not a good time, but I brought Brittany some flowers. I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help your family out in this time of trouble?”
The man looked up. He was obviously an Asian-American, probably Vietnamese. He had been crying. His eyes were red.
“Who? Who are you? Brittany knows you?”
“I know her through her work at the charity, the one helping troubled teens. She’s a very determined activist trying to make kids’ lives better.” It wasn’t totally a lie. The information he dug up about her charitable activities was indeed impressive.
“Yeah, well, I wish she had spent more time with her own daughter and less time fundraising for future criminals and terrorists. Now poor Hannah will never know her mother as well as she deserves.”
“Oh? Did the doctor give you bad news?”
“He can’t tell me anything at all. He has no idea what caused this coma. She’s not brain-dead, but nobody can say when or even if she will ever wake up. For all they know, she will be like this until she dies.” The man was obviously filled with bitterness and anger.
“She got this way at that old antique toy store on Mockingbird Lane, didn’t she?”
“Do you know anything about what happened while she was in there?”
“Not really. She took Hannah in there just to look at the toys. Why?”
“There’s a lot of very old things in there. Some of those really old toys come from a time before anybody knew that mercury or asbestos was bad for you… even deadly.”
“You think she might’ve gotten some of that stuff from the toys in there?”
“It’s possible. Did you talk to the store owner… or whoever was there running the place? Maybe he could’ve shed some light on what she did that may have caused her condition.”
“I didn’t really talk to him. He did talk to the ambulance guy and the police while I was there. But I went here to Parkland in the ambulance with Brittany.”
Maria gave Hannah a hug and then came over to stand next to her stepdad. Stan winked at her with the eye farthest from the man in the chair.
“My daughter and I are hoping for the best. You and your family will be in our prayers. I will leave you my phone number. Anything you want to talk about or anything we can do to help, just give us a call.” Stan handed the man a piece of paper with his cellphone number scrawled on it.
“Thank you. What was your name again?”
“My name is Stanley… but you can call me Stan. Stan Menschen. My daughter here is Maria. Your daughter is more than welcome to talk to her about anything. I asked her to give Hannah her cell number.”
“Thank you. I don’t know what else to say…” He dropped his head back into his hands.
Stan walked out with Maria feeling like they did not learn much, but the groundwork was laid.
Although I was fond of being naked outdoors before that came to an end with the assault I endured at age ten, in my youth I had my doubts about nudists. It was not a thing that happened anywhere I was aware of in Iowa. All I knew about it was the jokes they made about it in TV comedies like the sole nudist park episode of the Brian Kieth Show. And my psyche and personal body image were extremely fragile due to the trauma. I was in no way willing to risk the kind of exposure to ridicule that association with nudism would have for me.
When the twins who claimed to be nudists teased me in my classroom with details about it, I was keenly aware that there were bright red lines involved in that issue that cannot be crossed. Especially since I was a school teacher in charge of vulnerable pubescent boys and girls who obviously had their own issues in terms of nudity, sexuality, and personal body image. There was danger involved in being connected to ideas like nudism right along with communism, liberalism, and any suggestion that a teacher might be behaving toward students in an inappropriate way. I was fully aware that merely being accused of something could destroy my career, whether there was any relationship to the truth behind the accusation or not.
My career as a school teacher was a sacred trust as far as I was concerned. My first teaching job was in a poor, rural school district in deep South Texas. I vowed that not only would I never be a threat to molest or assault a child or a teenager, but I would also actively try to prevent every child entrusted to me from being victimized in that way. It was crucial to my own belief in myself as well as my belief in the goodness of mankind that my plan would work out for the best.
There were a number of young boys, fatherless, raised by grandparents or aunts, and exposed to abusive adults, that needed a male mentor enough to show up at my door. I never let them in without the windows open and a clear view for every passerby that nothing wrong or inappropriate was going on. They came to talk, to get help with homework, to play role-playing games, or sometimes to just hang out. The County Sheriff, the Baptist Preacher, and the head of the high school Science department were all aware of what I was doing because their sons all came to participate in role-playing games, computer games, and discussions. I underwent training to become qualified as a foster parent for anyone who needed that (though it was specified by me that I couldn’t be a foster parent for girls while still being single for obvious reasons. And the city had no social workers at all in residence, so I was never called upon for actual parenting experience.) I was supported in that effort by my principal during the third year I was teaching. He saw how effective I was teaching problem-child boys. He sent a couple of troubled kids my way for mentoring.
My girlfriend in the early 80s was a teacher’s aide who worked both in my classroom and in the classrooms of the two other English teachers on campus. Ysandra was a divorcee and a much more world-wise person than I was. She had been through some trauma too. In fact, she was the first person I was able to tell about the sexual assault I had endured because she had been abused too and also endured the kind of moment where the traumatic event comes back to haunt you, complete in every horrible detail. And she and I planned dates together in the Austin area because my parents were living in Taylor, Texas, an Austin suburb, and her sister lived with a husband and child in an apartment complex in downtown Austin. That apartment complex, however, was a clothing-optional apartment complex that was destined to push nudism right up in my face once again.
That, of course, will be the completely embarrassing topic of the third part of this essay.
I have always maintained that people are basically good. I believe we are born good. All capable of empathy, good morals, and, most importantly… Love. In order to be anything else in life, a hard-hearted criminal, a manipulator, a murderer, a corporate CEO, the 45th President of the US, you have to be taught to do evil.
So, if all people are basically good, and most of us believe in a loving, benevolent God, why are we on a downward spiral of climate change grinding out the eventual extinction of all life on Earth?
You have to be taught to be evil. But there is more to it than simply having a father and a grandfather who were deeply involved with the KKK. You can be taught evil things by circumstances you simply can’t control due to their complexity and unsolvable problematic nature. Being raised in poverty is a big one. Being raised in poverty and having your fears and disappointments massaged and amplified by the propaganda on FOX News is an even bigger one. Intolerance, bigotry, and, most of all, hatred are a very human reaction to personal suffering, and they become an evil thing if you don’t properly place the blame on the real causes of things and then solve those problem-perpetuating causes.
Greed and narcissism are real causes of many evils that largely go un-dealt-with. In our modern world unregulated capitalism means the worst offenders have an automatic incentive to choose increasing profits over the well-being of the general population. Paying carbon taxes and taking carbon out of manufacturing emissions don’t help profits as much as being able to simply pour the waste into the air we breathe and the water we are literally made of. The temptation is simply too great to those raised on excessive wealth and privileges. In fact, it can be too much for those who built their own fortunes without being evil too. Staying good is not always a choice that wealth allows. Few are altruistic enough to give away an entire fortune once they have it in their hands. Whether they see how it affects them or not.
I can see these things are true, but I also have no power, no magic wand to wave, to solve these miserable problems. Evil is a feature of being human. And only our collective will can solve it. We are not inherently evil, deserving of every bad thing that’s coming to us. But even the worst villains think of themselves as the heroes of their own story. So, how do we solve it all? You tell me. And then we’ll solve it together.
It is normal for the world we live in to inspire us to draw pictures of it. But architects do the opposite. They imagine a world we could live in, and then build it.
Sometimes, like in the picture above, I draw real people in imaginary places. Other times I draw imaginary people and put them in real places.
Sometimes I put imaginary people in imaginary places. (I photo-shopped this planet myself.)
In fiction, I am re-casting my real past as something fictional, so the places I draw with words in descriptions need to be as real as my amber-colored memory can manage.
When I use photos, though, I have to deal with the fact that over time, places change. The church does not look exactly like it did in the 1980s when this drawing is set.
Drawing things I once saw, and by “drawing” I mean “making pictures,” is how I recreate myself to give my own life meaning.
I told you about being the kind of child that liked to run around naked in places where nobody else would see. And I only got caught a couple of times.
And I also told you about how I was cured of that behavior by being sexually assaulted by a cruel sadist. If you weren’t listening in your head when you read that part, then don’t worry about backing up. You don’t have to revisit that terrible thing to appreciate how this story goes.
But just because I had been traumatized and scarred by life, it didn’t mean God would let me simply hide from the problem. I was born to be a nudist, and God’s special sense of humor laden with karma and irony wasn’t about to let me hide from that.
The first thing I had to deal with as a young man hiding from nakedness and nudity was having a job at a daycare center for children of students and staff at the University of Iowa as a work-study job while I was working on my Master’s degree. It was a janatorial job, but it also involved childcare of kids who were all no older than four, and most of them still in pampers and pull-ups. And the female work-study employee was slightly squeamish about changing diapers. So, even though I was entirely reluctant to touch the kids for phobic reasons, I learned to effectively change diapers and messed training pants. I discovered that way that two of girls, Dylan and Sierra, were actually long-haired boys. And I also learned that when we broke out the swimming pool for summer afternoons, the hippy-dippy parents prefered skinny-dipping to having to bring and keep up with swimsuits. So, I found myself supervising half a dozen to eight little nudists in the back yard of the daycare house. I learned to my great relief that I didn’t have any sort of sexual attraction at all for naked kids. It was something I had worried about because of my studies about how victims of molestation often became molesters. And naked kids you have clean even if they do poop in the potty are entirely too icky to even get a flash of that kind of evil notion. I was terrified of naked people, even myself, but I became comfortable around naked little monkeyshines. Male or female, no difference.
………………………Once I became a teacher, especially an inexperienced gringo teacher in a school of mostly Spanish-speaking middle school students, I had to learn to deal with young ladies who have an aggressive, hormone-fueled sense of humor. Especially a pair of twin girls, cheerleader types, who discovered the one topic that made me blush and double-clutch while talking.
They routinely told me stories about them going to the nude beach on South Padre Island over on the coast of Texas. They made their group of girlfriends laugh hilariously. So, suspecting they were lying just to embarrass me, I asked for more details and kept them talking, hoping to catch them in a lie. They told me about going to the beach and getting naked, using a towel to sit naked on the sand, and loving to feel the water on their naked skin. One of them, when I thought I had caught them in a lie, offered to get naked in the classroom to prove they liked being nudists. That had to be a hard no! And they started telling me about the nudist park near San Antonio, a place called Riverside in the 1980s, the time when they were actually in my English class. I later looked that place up in an SA phone book, and discovered it was real.
At one point during their Eighth-Grade year, they even invited me to go with their family to the nudist park for the weekend. I immediately turned them down. They made fun of me for being afraid of nudists, which, ironically, I was. And to this day, I don’t know for sure whether they were real nudists or just having fun at my expense with an elaborate lie. I never dared to ask their parents about it, though that would’ve been karma for them no matter what the truth was.
Now, so far in this post, I have only told you the early part of how I learned about nudism, and there is obviously more to go. So, there will be a part two, at least here in the blog if not in the book.
There are magical flowers in Mrs. Pennywhistle’s garden.
And what do I mean by that?
She grows snapdragons, pansies, and nasturtiums like any good granny-gardener would.
But amongst the children of our little town, the rumor is that she’s actually a witch.
A good witch.
Not a bad witch.
Her spells only fascinate, never glammer, never take over your little-boy or little-girl mind.
This is the magical blossom she got from old Dr. Mirabilis. He’s a wizard from Peru that she found in the nursing home in Belle City. He gave it to her as a gift when his arthritic hands could no longer keep it alive on the hospital window sill. She cares for it like it was her own baby.
It’s magical power is as an aid to contemplation. It’s gentle purplish-pink color is calming when you stare at it. Its odor is mesmerizing. She uses it to talk to the doctor now that he is gone, and she can no longer visit him to talk about her flower garden.
These pretty posies are planted all around the edges of the garden.
Especially around the carrots and cabbage.
Do not stick your little noses between the pink and white petals.
They have an awful smell.
But their magic is keeping the rabbits out.
Especially from the cabbages and carrots.
And the pansies are the clowns and punchinellos of the flower bed.
See their angry eyes under bushy-black eyebrows? And their too-serious little broomlike moustaches?
How can you do anything but laugh?
And the White Rose…
That’s the avatar of Mrs. Pennywhistle herself.
When she can no longer keep that one growing, it means the gardener has gone.
And the garden will soon be gone for good as well.
And then where will the children go?
For magic flowers?
From the time I could first remember, I was always surrounded by stories. I had significantly gifted story-tellers in my life. My Grandpa Aldrich (Mom’s Dad) could spin a yarn about Dolly O’Rourke and her husband, Shorty the Dwarf, that would leave everybody in stitches. (Metaphorical, not Literal)
And my Grandma Beyer (Dad’s Mom) taught me about family history. She told me the story of how my Great Uncle, her brother, died in a Navy training accident during World War II. He was in gun turret aboard a destroyer when something went wrong, killing three in the explosion.
Words have power. They can connect you to people who died before you were ever born. They have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry.
Are you reading my words now? After you have read them, they will be “read.” Take away the “a” and they will change color. They will be “red.” Did you see that trick coming? Especially since I telegraphed it with the colored picture that, if you are a normal reader, you read the “red” right before I connected it to “reading.”
Comedy, the writing of things that can be (can bee, can dee, candee, candy) funny, is a magical sort of word wrangling that is neither fattening nor a threat to diabetes if you consume it. How many word tricks are in the previous sentence? I count 8. But that wholly depends on which “previous sentence” I meant. I didn’t say, “the sentence previous to this one.” There were thirteen sentences previous to that one (including the one in the picture) and “previous” simply means “coming before.” Of course, if it doesn’t simply mean that, remember, lying is also a word trick.
Here’s a magic word I created myself. It was a made-up word. But do a Google picture search on that word and see if you can avoid artwork by Mickey. And you should always pay attention to the small print.
So, now you see how it is. Words have magic. Real magic. If you know how to use them. And it is not always a matter of morphological prestidigitation like this post is full of. It can be the ordinary magic of a good sentence, or a well-crafted paragraph. But it is a wizardry because it takes practice, and reading, and more practice, and arcane theories spoken in the backs of old book shops, and more practice. But anyone can do it. At least… anyone literate. Because the magic doesn’t exist without a reader. So, thank you for being gullible enough for me to enchant you today.
Yes, among my most disturbing artistical habits is my obsession with handcrafting paper dolls out of images that were not meant to be paper dolls. And if you look carefully you can see at least three that look like they were taken from one of those cardboard books of antique paper dolls that you used to be able to buy from Dover Press. But, in truth, I took those three (Actually four, but one got knocked on the floor and stepped on in the night) from a digital ad online, blew them up, modified the images with colored pencil and scissors, and then used both the scanner and my printer to turn them into paper dolls put together with scissors, cardboard, and glue.
There are also three in the back row, Annette with mouse ears, the boy on the bicycle, and the fairy-faun thing, which I made with my own original drawings. There’s also cowgirl Annette made from scans from a vintage Cheerios box and a little anthropomorphic puppy-boy thing that was made from a scrapbook piece that my mother cut out of one of my beginning reader books from the 1950s.
These three that were in front in the previous picture were images stolen from a fellow artist on Instagram whose name forgetful me lost in the creation of the paper dolls. I swear I meant to give her proper credit, and I will add her to the comments here when I can find her again on Instagram or Twitter. In the meantime, I contend I am not violating her copyright because I make no money from my blog, and the art project they are a part of will never be sold. When I die, my wife will either give them away or destroy them. She doesn’t tend to value my artwork. The paper dolls especially. The nudist ones especially specially.
I admit that the paper doll thing is only a part of my greater doll-collecting mania. They have taken over the upstairs of the house. And that is a large part of why my wife hates them, although she enjoyed about a decade’s worth of collecting Barbie dolls before our daughter was old enough to dismember and eat so many of them.
But I also have plans to make more. Truly evil plans.