What is the use of Kartoon Kops? I mean, why do we possibly need cartoon policemen with rubber whack-bats, squirting ink guns, and face pies? Why, to control cartoon misbehavior, of course.
If I work on the roof of the house because the shingles are weather-damaged, and then I walk off the end of the roof, and I just stand there in the air because I know better than to look down, I am breaking the law of gravity. I deserve a strawberry pie to the face for that crime. (Not blueberry pie, though. I’m allergic to blueberries.)
If I run in place and my legs go faster and faster until they look like blurred leg-colored circles, and then I take off, faster than a speeding bullet, leaving only poofy clouds behind, I am breaking the law of acceleration and inertia. I deserve a blast of black ink in my face for that.
And if I put an extremely hot towel on my face, and Bugs Bunny is my barber, my face will come off in the towel and leave the space on the front of my head blank. I will be breaking the law of… of… well, keeping my face on in public. Rubber whack-bat bruises are in my future for that.
“But, Mickey!” you say to me, “The real world doesn’t work that way!”
“Well, duh! Didn’t I tell you this was about cartoons from the start?”
(This is a post from 2017, before the swimming pool had to be removed, before it caused my heart trouble, and before I had to declare Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.)
Being retired for health reasons and unable to work, I would be dead already without my writing and art endeavors to fill my time and keep me sane. I can do some work, as proven by my attempts to patch and repair the swimming pool this summer. But my limitations drive me crazy, as proven by the fact that I did about half of the work on the pool wearing only sunscreen and a hat. My kids are not married yet, and two of them are still in high school, but they are not much interested in toys any more. And I don’t yet have grandkids to spoil. So when I go the Resale Store or Goodwill to shop for old toys, I am basically buying them for myself.
The Princess of the Korean Court Barbie was lying on the bargain shelf for $3.49. I bought the ceramic wishing well behind her for $5.00. So the bargain-hunting gene I inherited from Scotch ancestors was duly satisfied. But I had to do more with things like these than merely own them. Toys are for playing. And what does a 60-year-old man do with dolls when he is playing? Besides being a bit creepy, I mean? Well, this photo is the answer. I use my toys to create pictures and artwork.
Here’s a creation using the ceramic wishing well again. It is apparently, on closer inspection, actually a candle holder. But it serves to make my Walmart Clearance Sale Disney toys happy. Here you see the pony-brushing party held by Minnie Mouse with Daisy Duck and the gay snowman from Frozen.
Here you see the metal miniatures I got in a pack from Walmart as they visit the cardboard castle. Two of the lead figures on the ground are hand painted by me in days long ago. The entire cardboard castle was printed and glued on cardboard, cut out and put together entirely by me. Mickey, Minnie, Alice, Stitch, and Kermit are the metal miniatures not painted by me.
So, my days have not been overwhelmed by boredom and frustration and problems with city pool inspectors (he doesn’t even know about doing the repair work in the nude, so he can’t give me a ticket for that.) I have been filling my time with toys and creative play. I have been mostly a good boy… err… old man.
Yes, Mickey is thinking about the Autobiography of Mark Twain and the upcoming autobiography that James Patterson is threatening to publish. (Patterson, if you don’t recognize the name, is the very prolific author who dominates the shelves in Walmart, Target, and convenience-store book racks everywhere.) Is it an important thing for an aspiring literary pretender like Mickey to write an autobiography? Of course, not! So, that is precisely why he is thinking about it.
So, what would this threatened autobiography be about? Do you really not know what an autobiography is? Or am I just being abominably impatient and not waiting for you to provide the answer in the comments?
It would be about Mickey’s awful, terrible, horrible life. It would be about loving the St.Louis Cardinals, especially the 1960s dynasty that featured the death-ray stare of pitcher Bob Gibson, whom Mickey worshipped.
It would be about the troubled struggle to establish Mickey’s sexual identity because of the assault and traumatic amnesia he endured at age ten. And it would include his struggle to understand his attraction to certain girls. The awkward, pants-wetting episodes of extreme embarrassment included.
It would include the awkward, pants-shedding obsession with being naked in the forest that Mickey had at ages seven through nine. At least, the beginnings of that obsession. Including the read-aloud assignment Mickey heard the fourth graders read aloud when he was in third grade about Greek school being only for boys, and for at least half the day, only for naked boys. And then in fourth grade the next year, after having looked forward to reading that assignment for over a year, realizing the curriculum had been altered to save Miss M the embarrassment of reading that aloud again as she did the previous year.
It would include doing farm work, teaching Mickey the kind of pragmatic problem solving you have to know and apply to farm work if you are the grandson and nephew of actively-farming farmers.
And it would have to include lots of juvenile pipe dreams about cartooning, being an animator, or being a comic-book artist.
That kind of Mickey-Mouse enthusiasm for Woody-Woodpecker characters would be the “Terrible” part of the working title of this autobiography.
And there would also be a long part that is the teacher part. This would be the part that most makes this autobiography into slapstick comedy… and slap-student comedy that is swiftly followed by fire-teacher comedy… but that would be fiction, that makes it no longer strictly an autobiography.
And once the endlessly-droning teacher-time stories are done, it would move into the retirement years in which Mickey yields to the delusion that just because you have become a published author with 21 books published, one of them by a publisher that is an imprint of Penguin Books, you are not necessarily assumed to be a successful writer.
And of course, it would come to an end with Mickey retrieving his obsession with nudity that was really a life-long thing that would transform him into a nudist at an advanced age… marking, perhaps, the onset of his angry, misguided old-coot years. Ah, the horror… the horror…
Yes, in this time of elderly people making irreversible bad decisions, like Trump running for President, Mickey becoming a nudist, and Joe Biden trying to accurately remember stuff from the ’70s… the 1870s, writing a literary autobiography might be the most impossibly idiotic decision of all. But once Mickey’s old coot brain gets infected with such an idea, something truly horrible will ensue.
If you are old, forgetful, and retired like Mickey, you may have the same problem Mickey does with remembering what day it is. But he has a solution. At the end of the week, he simply has two Fritterdays. They take the “Fri” from Friday, and the “turday” out of Saturday…. But wait just a gol’ danged minute. We have to get the “turd’ out of there because nobody likes those. And we do that by changing the “u” to an “e” which means we also add a “t” to it to change the long “I” sound to a short “I” sound because “fritter” can mean wasting something, especially time, because that’s what you do when you don’t even know what-the-heck day it is. Fritterday! Fun times for the hopelessly forgetful.
And it is fun to be retired and not have anything to do… but put eye drops in each eye three times a day from three different colored-coded bottles so you don’t go blind from glaucoma… and pick up the package for the Princess at the Post Office because the doorbell is broken and nobody hears the package-delivery guy when he knocks… and go to CVS for more bottles of eye drops because they finally filled the prescription three days after the doctor phoned it in… and the Medicare paperwork needs to be filled in at the pharmacy… and you get 4 free Covid 19 test kits just because you are old… and… phooey! It is hard to make a run-on sentence like that fun. And the grammar-check program hates it in a mixture of blue and red squiggly underlines.
But you found things you didn’t even know you had lost, like paper doll clothes that had fallen off the paper dolls because the little white foldable tabs don’t stay folded and need to be given a little dab of glue. And the rubber bands you use for your ponytail because haircuts give you psoriasis sores and you don’t cut your hair anymore because of them, but they are all back in the same sack again because you found them scattered on the floor while you were cleaning in order to find the lost package-claim slip that you mislaid… apparently under the bed… the one you needed to claim the Princess’s package which contained… a white stuffed tiger toy all the way from a game company in Japan… because it matched the stuffed tigers she had as a child and she won it by playing an online game. Boy, howdy! Another sentence or two the grammar checker hates!
Annette Funicello from the cutout paper doll on the back of a 1960’s Cheerios box looks good in the cowboy getup… err… cowgirl getup you found under the corner of the bookcase. You have liked her since you were a boy. You once had a yearning to see a picture of her naked, but that never panned out. She was a Disney star and not allowed to even think bad thoughts, let alone pose for any nude photos. She was in the Mickey Mouse Club, not the Playboy Magazine Bunny Club. Darn it!
But the mind still works, and you’re still not blind, and you enjoy enraging the grammar-check program, and you cleaned your room without meaning to. You even wrote most of this messy blog post in second-person point-of-view without realizing you were doing it.
Hang-dang! A Fritterday! And there’s probably another one coming tomorrow.
This post is about writer doubt. And Stephen King. Do those two things go together? If they don’t then Mickey is an awful writer and does not know how to do what he does. It would mean Mickey is icky.
I used to think Stephen King was a totally over-rated writer. Back in the early eighties I read Carrie, King’s first novel, and got halfway throughFirestarter, and had to give up. Partly because the book was overdue at the library, and also because I found the books mechanical and somewhat joyless in the writing. I thought he suffered greatly in comparison to writers I was in love with at the time like Ray Bradbury and Thomas Mann. I began to tell others that King was somewhat icky.
But King was obviously also somewhat successful. He began to get his books made into movies and people who don’t read discovered the evil genius of a man who tells stories to scare them and laces them with a bit of real humanity, real human feeling, and love.
I saw it first in Stand by Me. That movie, starring young Wil Wheaton as the Steven King autobiographical character, really touched my heart and really made for me a deep psyche-to-psyche connection to somebody who wasn’t just a filmmaker, but somebody who was, at heart, a real human being, a real story-teller.
Now, the psyche I was connecting to may very well have been Rob Reiner, a gifted story-teller and film-maker. But it wasn’t the only King movie that reached me. The television mini-series made from It touched a lot more than just the fear centers of my brain as well. And people whose opinions I respect began telling me that the books The Dark Tower Trilogy and Misery were also amazing pieces of literature.
So I picked up a copy of Hearts in Atlantis at Half-Price Books and began reading a Stephen King novel for the first time since the 80’s. MY HOLY GOD! King is not a little bit icky. He is so NOT ICKY that it makes Mickey sicky to have ever thought King was even a little bit icky! Here is a writer who loves to write. He whirls through pages with the writer’s equivalent of ballet moves, pirouettes of prose, grand jetés of character building, and thematic arabesque penchées on every side of the stage. I love what I have discovered in a writer I thought was somewhat icky. Growth and power, passion and precision, a real love of both the words and the story. He may not know what he is doing. But I know. And I love it.
And so, while I have been editing the first novel I ever wrote, Superchicken, to make it ready for self-publishing, I have begun to ask myself the self-critical question, “Is Mickey really icky when he writes?” My first novel is full of winces and blunders and head-banging wonders that make me want to throw the whole thing out. But I can’t throw it out. It is the baby in the first bathwater that I ever drew from the tap. The answer to the questions of Micky ickiness have yet to be determined, and not by me. I guess I have to leave it up to you.
I am aware that nobody who looks at my blog ever clicks on my videos. This one, however, would be very useful if you are really going to read and engage with this essay. This self-reflection came into being as a response to watching this video. The video talks about how most people can’t stand to actually sit alone in a room with only themselves. And it has an impact. I have claimed in the past to being a devotee of the Theodore Roethke maxim, “Being, not doing, is my first love.” But how does one go about becoming truly self-aware? How does one enumerate the concept of “being”? I believe I can do it, but it requires a bit of self-examination. How do I do it?
Let me count the ways…
I find myself in both the written characters I create and the cartoon characters I draw. In Hidden Kingdom, my graphic novel, the Mouse and young Prinz Flute are both me. I can see myself both as the reluctant romantic hero and the snarky child-thing with a dangerous little bit of wisdom.
I learn to know more about my secret heart and what I truly think about the world I live in and react to by writing about what I think and the things that happen to me, both for good and ill. This blog is all about learning about myself, just as your blog is a mirror of who you really are. Consequently, I have no secrets left.
I live most of my life in my own imagination. It is a silly Willy Wonka world of images, songs, music, and dreams. It can all blow away in a moment when the sun comes out. It can also keep me in a light-obscuring cloud wrapped and safe, well away from the things I fear and the things that worry me. I came to realize I was repressing the memory of being sexually assaulted when I was ten through a dream when I was nineteen, re-living the event in a dream from which I awoke with a blinding flash of realization. I came to grips with the horror that mangled my childhood and young adulthood first by facing the fact that the nightmare had been real, and then by finding ways to overcome it. I became a teacher of young people in large part as a way to protect them and prevent such a thing from ever happening again to someone else.
I often worry that I don’t see real people as being real people. I tend to think of them from the first meeting onward as potential book characters, walking collections of details and quirks, conflicts and motivations. But I recognize too that that way of seeing with the author’s eye is not incorrect. People really are those things. There are rules and generalizations that everyone falls under at some point. It is not so much that I see real people as book characters as it is that I realize that book characters are as real as any other purportedly “real” people.
I am myself both the subject of my cartooning and fictionarooning, and the cartoon character of myself as well.
Mickey is not a real person. He is a cartoonist persona, a mask, a fake identity, and the lie I tell myself about who I actually am.
In this essay, I have attempted to explain to you who I think I am spending time with when I am alone in a room with myself. He is not such a terrible person to spend time with, this Mickey. Or else he really is truly awful, and I am lying about me and who I think I am when I am alone with me and have no other options. But probably not. I have been getting to know me for about 562 years, only exaggerating by 500, and I am not finished yet.
Children don’t always hear and understand perfectly what grown-up people tell them. So it was with me and the term “human bean.” My parents were repeatedly saying that I was a “human being” like all other “human beings.” But I, of course. insisted on hearing that I was a “human bean.”
It made perfect sense to me. Mom was always saying to me at every meal, “Michael, eat your beans. Before you can leave the table you must clean your plate. So, eat ALL of your beans.”
Great Grandma always told me, “You are what you eat.”
And I believed her. That meant that more than fifty percent of me was made entirely of beans.
But Great Grandma told me that beans were protein and you needed protein to build muscles. And you also needed protein for your brain to think with.
So, I was a human bean.
And as a budding artist, I noticed things. I had visual proof.
.People like me who were bean-heads tended to be smarter people than those whose heads were flat-on top or flat in the back. It made sense. A bean-shaped head had more room in the back for brains. And that meant that bean-headed Mr. Greenjeans was actually smarter than round-headed Captain Kangaroo. And some bean-headed people were really good at basketball. John Havlicek and Wilt Chamberlin were better basketball players than the New York Knicks had, probably because they were smarter. with their bean brains.
And as a child with a bean-shaped body, I had proof that I wasn’t just “full of beans” as Great Grandma said, I was MADE of beans. That meant the fat parts of my bean-body were actually pure muscle.
One day I was out in a pasture at Uncle Larry’s farm flying my box kite, the one I made myself with only a little help from my dad.
As I was flying it high enough to be seen from far away, two girls I knew from school and lived nearby came up to me to admire my kite as it flew.
Coraline Bigsby was a couple months older than me and a grade ahead of me in school. Alicia Stewart was a couple months younger than me and in my second-grade class.
“Wow,” said Alicia. “I have never seen a kite like that fly so high. How did you get it up there?”
I was probably blushing as I answered, since I secretly had a crush on her, the prettiest girl in our school. “I know the magic secrets to get it to fly like that.”
“Could you let us try?” Coraline asked. She was blonder and plumper than Alicia, but still generally a nice girl.
I handed Coraline the kite string. Almost instantly the wind died down and the kite floated gently down to the pasture grass.
The two girls both were instantly sorry that they had been the cause of my kite coming down. But no matter which one held the kite and which one held the string, they couldn’t get it up in the air again.
“Okay, Mike, what’s the magic secret to getting it to fly?” said Coraline, frustrated.
I, of course, with my great bean-brain, decided it was the perfect time to tell an evil lie. “This kite will only go up if you reduce wind resistance by taking off all your clothes.”
“My parents would kill me, if I did that,” said Coraline. “It is a bad thing to do.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Alicia, “But I’m way too shy to take my clothes off in front of a boy.”
“You didn’t do that to get it up the first time, Mike. You’re lying to us.” Coraline was getting mad.
“Yes, I did. You two weren’t here then. I put my clothes back on before you got here.”
“There isn’t any reason to do it that way anyway. What’s the advantage of being naked?” Coraline growled.
“Your clothes block the wind that’s needed to make the box kite fly. That’s what’s different about box kites.”
“Why don’t you show us, Michael. That will prove you are telling the truth,” said Alicia.
My eight-year-old bean brain began to panic. I was putting my own foot into the evil trap I tried to set. Okay, maybe not precisely my foot. I had to let them uncover my lie, or I had to uncover everything else.
Coraline was glaring at me. Alicia was smiling.
Well, you made your own horrible situation come to pass, Mickey. What are you going to do?
When I first took them all off and put back on my shoes, Coraline covered her eyes and Alicia blushed, but smiled as she watched everything I did. I was worried what they would say when I couldn’t get the kite back up in the breeze. But it almost immediately caught the wind and went up even higher than before. They were both happy to hold the string for a short time. But when I asked them if they would use my magic method to get it back up, they both declined. They were perfectly happy to stand next to me while I flew the kite in my bean-body birthday suit. They giggled a lot and looked at me more than they looked at the kite. But they were both happy with how that day went.
The voices in my head never stop mumbling. For the past year I have been having trouble with passing out while trying to write or draw or watch TV. And yet, scenes play out vividly in the theater of my mind while I am briefly unconscious. I’ve been to the doctor about it. But there is no cure for the yammerings of an unquiet thought-mill. The word-weavers keep weaving new sentences. The cloth-cutters keep snipping out patterns and themes. And the prose-sewers keep making essays and shirts and jeans. How did my mental-breakdown voices get stuck inside a garment mill?
The mutterings this morning have been about writing success. Do I dare think any of that has my name associated with it?
Well, my blog views have been up this week. And this morning my prayers have been answered for my book Sing Sad Songs. A reviewer defended my book as a legitimate 5-star novel, and refuted the charges that my book is somehow child-pornography. I have been needing some validation that my book, the product of my darkest secrets and the affirmation of my victory over personal pain, is worthy of being seen as a good book.
And, of course, I have been thinking a lot about the talking-dog story, the one about Horatio who smokes an imaginary meerschaum pipe and talks only to Bobby Niland, and solves murders committed on chickens by the evil Dr. Rattiarty, a really evil real rat.
I have been discussing it endlessly with my dog on our walks in the park for her to take care of her pooping in public. We argue endlessly about how to make the tale believable.
She says, “The thing you don’t seem to understand is that, in real life, dogs can’t talk.”
And I say, “Then how is it that we are even arguing at the moment?”
And she answers, “It’s all because you insist on listening continually to the voices in your head.”
And there is a considerable discussion going on in the faculty lounge of my mental monkey house about the fact that for so many years I had numerous opportunities to be a practicing nudist, and I ran away from it as something I should not do… Until I grew old and weak and gave in to the desire to become a naked man amongst socially nude naturists and now I am unable to physically do it in any way but in my imagination.
“You simply lack the resolve, Michael, to take the bull by the horns and tackle it,” said the Dean of Brain Studies.
“Well, of course he can’t do that!” exclaimed the Professor of Inappropriate Thoughts. “Mickey has no Moo-Wrestling muscles to manage the kind of bull fighting you suggest. The kind where he wrestles with bull-puckie.”
“Mike is a man who can make up his own mind,” said the Associate Professor of Metaphor Mixing. “He just has to stop listening to us.”
“Can you all just SHUT UP!!!” said the Teaching Assistant of Pragmatic Prattle. “We are just a Monkey-House faculty incapable of making any sense.”
So, I am taking the Teaching Assistant’s advice now, and I am closing this essay immediately.
Let me begin by reminding you that the only head I have to explore as an example of what I am talking about in this essay is my own stupid head.
So, this is not an insult post. This is self-deprecating humor. And therefore, the contents of your own stupid head are completely safe.
Now, there is considerable evidence in the books already that Mickey is not, and has not been, particularly stupid for a large portion of his time on earth. He got college scholarships based on his ACT and SAT scores to get his undergraduate degree for free (in the 1970’s when it was significantly cheaper than now). And he has been both a teacher in a gifted program and the middle-school coordinator of that same gifted program. So, Mickey has effectively fooled everybody into thinking he is not stupid. But consider for a moment where the laughs come from when watching Stephen Urkel on TV, or the four nerds from Big Bang Theory. Smart people do stupid things and are very awkward at times, proving that, no matter how smart they are, smart people are capable of being quite stupid.
What, then, is the stupid thinking in Mickey’s stupid head?
Well, there are a number of things. Mickey is, as you may know if you read any of his nudity blogs, obsessed with nakedness. He was assaulted as a child in a way that caused him to be afraid of nudity and slow-developing in sexuality. As he grew older, he had to compensate for this lack of natural development. So, he has reached an age where his brain stupidly rejects guard-rails when talking about nudity and sex. He has convinced himself that he wants to be a nudist, and writes about nudity constantly, as evidenced by this very paragraph. When Mark Twain was in his seventies, he did leave the house without remembering to wear clothes more than once. The neighbors did not compliment him for doing that. That and worse is probably in Mickey’s near future.
And sex, as a subject sloshing around in a brain awash with hormones and other nightmare chemical imbalances, leads to a rash of stupid decisions. Of course, Mickey is old and has had chronic prostatitis long enough to eliminate the possibility of making a stupid decision about infidelity since those body parts don’t actually work anymore, but it leads to buying numerous things sold by marketers using sex as a way to sell things. Cabinets full of hair gel and cologne and Herbalife products that can never be used up is the result. And the wife is frustrated with the foods Mickey is constantly addicted to. “Why so much chips and salsa, Mickey?” Chips and salsa? Hubba hubba!
And Mickey’s old brain, full of a vast quantity of useless trivia-type knowledge, random wisdom floating around in a disconnected fashion, and prejudices formed by a bizarre obsession with things like nudism, Disney movies, comic books, model trains, and doll-collecting, becomes strangely creative. He begins to believe weird things.
For example, he thinks rabbits, if they were suddenly transformed into people, would make better people than people ever do. They are mostly quiet most of the time. They eat an all-vegetable, healthy diet. And they don’t vote Republican.
He obsessively also thinks about how his mind is working and how thinking about thinking is likely to improve thinking. He even realizes that the map of his head, provided above, doesn’t accurately reflect the many branching corridors and dead-end hallways of his actually-complicated-yet-stupid mind. He thinks that thinking too much about thinking makes you stupid.
And finally, Mickey is left with a sense of wonder about how it is entirely possible that everybody is stupid at least part of the time. And he wonders what possible things that you, dear reader, are thinking about that you consider at least somewhat stupid? You are welcome to tell him in the comments. But remember, this post is about stupid thoughts in Mickey’s head. You are perfectly free not to worry about your own stupidity.