Category Archives: commentary

Ginger Ale


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Long about the middle of October every year I have to partake of the miracle that is Ginger Ale during pollen season.  And believe me, in Texas, pollen season lasts until the parched grass and dry air sets in again during the droughts of middle July through September.  Sometimes in a wet year (which used to be rarer than now) the tree pollen, mold spores, mountain cedar, and ragweed fill the air year around.  Ginger in any form is a god-sent cure-all for ailments of the lungs, ears, nose, and throat.  It reduces inflammation, dilutes mucus, and helps you restore the breath of life.  I have developed a real taste for ginger products of all sorts as a result of the medicinal boost it gives me every year.  It explains my addiction to gingerbread.  Also why I often put ginger root in a pot on the stove filled with boiling water and then inhale the fumes.  I love Ginger Ale because it makes me feel good.

Simon’s Cat on YouTube is another kind of Ginger Ale for me.  Admittedly it is a mental sort of medicine, not a drink or a cookie or a steam inhaler.  But watching those simple black and white cartoon antics that are so realistically catlike makes me laugh and increases serotonin in the brain, and it provides a very real depression medicine.

Now, I know full well that I am connecting two very unlike things and calling them both Ginger Ale on the mere passing similarity of the medicinal benefits.  But life is far more metaphorical than it is literal.  And that is why I continue to maintain that poets live better lives than the rest of us even if they die young for love of beauty.  And it is better to be a cartoon cat than a literal king.

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The Secret Life of Clowns

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The clowns of Sing Sad Songs; Mr. Dickens, Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Disney, and Mr. Poe

The truth is, clowns are rarely happy people under the greasepaint and the manic grin.  An underlying feature of every funnyman is a background of hardship, suffering, and sadness.  There is a reason why Robin Williams committed suicide and Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose.  If you listen to the comedy of George Carlin in his last few years, he became a horribly bitter and cynical man.

The reason for all this wearing of clown masks and underlying sadness is really based on a very simple equation.   Living a hard life, but dealing with it with the power a sense of humor gives you, yields wisdom.  And how do you best deliver wisdom to all the people out there?  A sugar-coated candy shell is just the thing.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine to go down, to plagiarize Mary Poppins.  Say your wise words like a wise guy and say it with a smile.

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So why am I so clown-happy and therefore clown-posty today?  Well, I have used clowns in a very metaphorical way in the novel I am now finishing, Sing Sad Songs.  Clowns are definitely on my mind.  And I have a sneaking suspicion creeping up on me that maybe… just maybe… I am myself a clown.

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If I’m Being Honest…

piratical

If I’m being honest, I am a liar.  And that is not really a paradox, because I don’t always lie.  In fact, I often lie in order to reveal a deeper truth.  (I know, I know… rationalizations are simply another kind of lie.)  I lie because I used to be a school teacher.  You know that teachers have to be liars because you can’t say to a parent, “Your kid is ugly and stupid, and I have documented proof.”  You especially can’t say that if it really is provable.  Instead, you have to tell the lie that any kid can learn and do and be anything they want if only they are willing to work hard enough.  And you have to tell that lie often enough that the kid, the parent, and even you, the teacher, believe it to the point that it becomes true.

And now that I am retired and not telling the school teacher’s lie any longer, I have become a novelist, and I have now made it my business to make up fiction stories and compile lies into book form.  And though the people or characters are based loosely on real people I have known, they are really only a narrative trick to make the reader think about and possibly accept as truth the themes my writing puts forward.

(Boy!  I sure am an ugly old hairy nut-job, ain’t I? = a lie in question form.)

But if I’m being honest today, there are a few things I need to say truthfully, straight out without irony or falsehood or exaggeration.  Let me offer these truths.

  • In this political environment where partisan politics divide us to the point of attempted assassinations with bombs, I do not hate the other side of the argument.  I don’t hate Republicans and conservatives.  Some of my old friends in Iowa and some of my good friends in Texas are conservative enough to have voted for Trump.  I do not reject them as my friends because of their politics.  They are good people and worthy in too many ways to list.  And though they may be sympathetic to someone who threatens me because I have looney liberal ideas, I don’t expect any of them to send me bombs in the mail.  That kind of division is the opposite of what we need.
  • I know what statistics say about kids and learning potential.  I have worked hard during my lifetime to create educational achievement in places where it is nearly impossible.  I believe in the value of every student, and some of the worst behavioral problems and some of the most difficult learning disabilities helped me really get to know some of my all-time favorite kids.
  • I will continue to tell lies for the sake of education and art and all the things that matter to me.  Lies can be used for good as much as the truth can be used for injury and evil.  But my lies will always be soap-bubble hoo-haws, easily popped and seen through for what they really are meant to accomplish, never big black cannonball lies meant to rip people apart and destroy the fortresses they live in.
  • If I’m being honest, even though I am a liar, you can believe in me.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, education, goofy thoughts, humor, lying, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching, telling lies

Terminal Thoughts

This is not an essay about what I am thinking while sitting in an airport terminal.  This is about the end of things.  Not just my own personal end, which via heart attack or stroke may happen at any moment.  But the ends of hope and dreams, of birds and bees, and possibly life on earth.

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On his last hunt, Eric bagged two illegal immigrants and a lion.  He would’ve bagged the girl too, but his dad the President reminded him that Judy Garland is a white girl and he doesn’t have a current hunting license for that.

Now, I just eliminated 75% of Trumpkins with that last joke, mainly because they didn’t understand, but also because they feel insulted by it.  Whenever I say anything about how the current government policies have impacted my health, wealth, and happiness they tell me I am a snowflake and they insult me further because I hurt their feelings.  25% will keep reading to find ammunition to use in hate memes on Facebook and rage tweets on Twitter.  After that last Facebook kerfluffle, I am tempted to disengage from social media.  They are not buying my books because of it.   They are only getting madder and madder at me and hating me more and more for being a goddam liberal.  Though, when asked, they still assure me they would never unfriend me.

Relationships with people I have always known and cared about are one of the things threatened with imminent demise.    The domination of politics and government by the Republican Party is the reason why.I

I myself don’t have to worry too much about the demise of prosperity.  I am already bankrupt and planning for a future life living in a cardboard box.  But as Trumpian economics continue to work on world markets, everyone else will soon be joining me in suburban-yard farming and eating insects for protein.  Tariffs and trade wars are already destabilizing the world’s economy.  Stocks are beginning to fall.  Of course, the consequences won’t fall on us like a ton of bricks until after enough Republicans win re-election in 2018 to protect Cinnamon Hitler from the crimes he committed to become President.

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Of course, the biggest coming demise that I wish to lament in this post will basically take care of all other things.  The demise of all life on earth will pretty much take care of anyone’s need to lament about anything.  As the world becomes hotter and hotter, and the oceans turn to acid and rise to swallow Miami, and the planet becomes more of a twin to Venus, the Koch Brothers and others who profit from polluting will be laughing about it.  They will either be safely dead of old age or ensconced in gilded survival bunkers.  They may even have another planet to live on already.

Okay, as I hyperbolize and carry on about doom and gloom, I need to remind you that I am a pessimist.  I always plan for the worst so that I can only be pleasantly surprised.  And it really can’t get worse than what I am planning for here.  But that is not to say there is no hope.  All of these problems have solutions.  But I don’t anticipate they will be solved under present conditions.

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Filed under angry rant, battling depression, commentary, grumpiness, humor, pessimism, photo paffoonies

Ghostly Reflections

HauntingI do not believe in ghosts.

So, I am probably the last stupid goomer who should be writing this post.  But I do have a lot to say on the subject that will more than fill a 500-word essay.

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At my age and level of poor health, I think about ghosts a lot because I may soon be one.  In fact, my 2014 novel, Snow Babies has ghosts in it.  And some of the characters in it freeze to death and become snow ghosts.  But it doesn’t work like that in real-world science.  My ghosts are all basically metaphorical and really are more about people and people’s perception of life, love, and each other.

Ghosts really only live in the mind.  They are merely memories, un-expectedly recalled people, pains, and moments of pandemonium.

I have recently been watching the new Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.  It creeps me out because it latches on to the idea that ghosts haunt us through the revisitation in our minds of old trauma, old mistakes, old regrets… We are never truly safe from ghosts, no matter how far under the covers we go in our beds, deep in the dark and haunted night. Ghosts are always right there with us because they only live inside us.

I am haunted by ghosts of my own.  Besides the ghost dog that mysteriously wanders about our house at night and is seen only out of the corners of our eyes, there is the ghost of the sexual assault I endured at the age of ten by a fifteen-year-old neighbor.  That ghost haunts me still, though my attacker has died.  I still can’t name him.  Not because I fear he can rise up out of the grave to hurt me again, but because of what revealing what he did and how it would injure his innocent family members who are still alive and still known to my family.  That is a ghost who will never go away.  And he infects my fiction to the point that he is the secret villain of the novel I am now working on.

But my ghost stories are not horror stories.

I write humorous stories that use ghosts as metaphors, to represent ideas, not to scare the reader.  In a true horror story, there has to be that lurking feeling of foreboding, that sense that, no matter what you do, or what the main character you identify with does, things probably won’t turn out all right.   Steven King is a master of that.  H.P. Lovecraft is even better.

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But as for me, I firmly believe in the power of laughter, and that love can settle all old ghosts back in their graves.  I have forgiven the man who sexually tortured me and nearly destroyed me as a child.  And I have vowed never to reveal his name to protect those he loved as well as those I love.  If he hurt anyone else, they have remained silent for a lifetime too.  And I have never been afraid of the ghost dog in our house.  He has made me jump in the night more than once, but I don’t fear him.  If he were real, he would be the ghost of a beloved pet and a former protector of the house.  And besides, he is probably all in my stupid old head thanks to nearly blind eyes when I do not have my glasses on.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

 

 

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Predictions Using Mickey Math

Dr Phool

Mickeys are by their nature pessimists.  When mostly bad things happen to you in your life, you learn not to expect good things, only be pleasantly surprised by them.  And bad things happen only when you are prepared for them if you are expecting only bad things to happen.  In fact, the bad outcome will probably seem good in comparison to the terrible thing you were planning on happening to you.

For example, my car is in the shop being fixed for accident damage that prevented me from earning extra money through Uber for a month and a half.  I was told on Thursday that the car doors were fixed and it was in the paint shop.  It was possible I was going to get it back Friday afternoon.  I was not upset or surprised that I never got the call Friday.  In fact, I fully expected somebody had dropped the car off a lift or painted it neon puce or something and that it will take another two weeks to fix the new damage.  So if it turns out to be ready tomorrow, which I sincerely don’t expect due to Mickey Math, I will still be pleasantly surprised.  I might even go into happy shock.  After all, I clearly remember one time watching a tow truck operator load my malfunctioning car onto a flatbed tow truck, only to see it roll off the front of the truck to further damage it because he had not properly secured it.  That yielded happy shock because the body shop owner who also owned the tow truck ended up repairing my car for free.

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What is the science behind Mickey Math, you say?  Oh, you didn’t say anything?  Well, I will tell you anyway.  In a world where 2 + 2 = 4, if Mickey desperately needs the answer to always be at least 4, you can be certain by experimental proof and past experience that it will surely come out as 2 + 2 = 3.  Life and physics always disappoint Mickey one way or another.  So the science tells Mickey to always be prepared for the worst.

That being said, here are some predictions for the near future figured out via Mickey Math.

  • Since Trump’s tax cut last year retro-actively re-figured withholding deductions on my pension and I owed $1300 in tax penalties for 2017, I will surely pay twice as much in additional penalties this year in spite of the letter from last December telling me readjustments were being made for 2018.
  • Trump is in all kinds of legal peril and the scandals of his presidency will probably lead to the Republican loss of control in Congress.  Therefore the Republican Party will have a governmental coupe (in case Russia fails to swing the elections to them) which seizes absolute power for them and makes Trump President for life.
  • If hurricanes don’t wipe Texas as clean as a marble tabletop, then we will experience our first day of 200-degree temperatures in early January.
  • The baseball Cardinals will not make the playoffs, and the football Cardinals will return to having endless losing seasons.
  • Termites will eat our entire house, and mosquitoes will drink every last drop of my blood.

Now, it is quite possible that things will fall short of most of these dire predictions, but that is how Mickey Math secures happiness from a miserable life.

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Telling Teacher Stories

My Art

Here’s a secret that is only a secret if you are one of the well-over-six-billion people that don’t know I exist; I loved being a public school teacher.  I taught for 31 years.  24 years of that was in middle school.  I taught more than 1000 different seventh graders.  And I loved it.

Please don’t reveal this secret to any mental health professionals.  I like my freedom.  And I am really not dangerous even after teaching that many seventh graders.  I promise.

But it has left me with a compulsion.  I confess it is the reason I write humorous young adult novels and why I continue to write this blog.  I have to tell teacher stories or I will surely explode.

I have to tell you not only about the normal kids I taught, but the super-brainy mega-nerds I taught, the relatively stupid kids I taught, the honor students, the autistic kids, the kids who loved to sleep in class, the classroom clowns that tried to keep them awake, the kids who loved my class, the kids who hated my class, the times I was a really stupid teacher, the times I achieved some real milestones for some wonderful kids, the kids I still love to this day, the kids I tried really hard to love, but…. (well, some kids not even a mother could love), the drug dealers I had to protect my class from, the kids who talked to me about suicide and abuse and horrible things that still make me cry, the kids I lost along the way, and, well, the list goes on and on but this is an epic run-on sentence and the English teacher inside me is screaming at the moment.

You get the idea.  Like most writers… real writers, not hacks and wannabees, I write because I have to.  I don’t have a choice.  No matter what it costs me.  And what do I have to talk about in writing except being a school teacher and the almost infinite lessons that experience taught me?

I loved being the rabbit holding the big pencil in the front of the classroom.  And that metaphor means, as crazy as it sounds, I loved being a teacher.

 

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