Category Archives: Paffooney

AeroQuest 4… Canto 107

Canto 107 – A Group of Space Goons is Called a Goon-o-plex

The situation on Rimbaud Memorial Outstation began with a single Space Goon, as they all almost always do.  Infestations, I mean.  Space Goons reproduce asexually like microscopic amoebas do, by splitting into three parts after eating something.  And then each part split off from the original grows into a new Goon.  First you have one.  It eats a cat.  Then you have three.  They eat another cat, a plate of unattended Italian meatballs, and a decorative plant.  Then you have nine.  Six of those get into the food pantry.  One finds the last living cat on the outstation. And two more eat a small gambler who lost everything playing deep-space poker and drank himself into a coma with gargleblasters.  Then you quickly reach eighty-one.  You get the alarming idea, right?

“Mon dieu!” cried Banzai. “They will consume everything edible on my entire station!  Please, friends, you must help me round them up and herd them out an airlock.”

“But isn’t that too cruel to do to a sentient creature?” asked Dana Cole, still shivering and naked at Trav’s command.

“They are not even as smart as Goofy Dalgoda,” said Ham Aero.

“That’s right!” cried Trav “Goofy” Dalgoda.  “We must space them because they are too stupid to live.”

“No, they are able to live fine in space without space suits,” I told them all, calling upon my scientific acumen and nearly omniscient memory.  “They will just float happily out there with nothing to eat, at least until they collide with a planet or asteroid, or some other place with gravity.”

“Do I recall correctly when I remember that in a feeding frenzy, a hundred Space Goons start eating people… at least those made of flesh and blood?” asked Duke Ferrari, showing something more than just mild concern.

“Naw, I think that’s just a spacer myth told because Space Goons come from unknown space and not enough is known about them,” suggested Ham.

At that same moment, a Space Nudist serving girl disappeared in a goon-o-plex of a hundred and three Goons.  Muffled cries were heard, followed by munching sounds, and then no more serving girl was to be seen.

“How do we get them off the outstation?” asked Banzai.

“I has some middlin’ experience with Space Goon cat-nip recipes, I has,” volunteered Sinbadh, offering his cooking skills.

“What did he say?” asked Banzai.

“He says he’ll cook up some Goon-bait to put in the airlock,” I translated.  “If the smell is right, they will all follow the bait out into space and reproduce out there.”

“But Oi will needs sum special Goon grub to make it with!” announced Sinbadh.

“What do you need?”  Banzai was desperate.

“Ol’ shoe-leather, some turpentine, Samothracian onions, a dash o’ me own special sauce, and all the bar soap you can muster from every fresher on the whole outstation, me buck-o!”

Swiftly the star-dog cook got to his business.  Banzai kept the ravenous Space goons, now over a thousand strong, occupied by throwing them a few non-paying customers and one or two of his ugliest serving girls.

Then Sinbadh returned from the kitchen with a pot of extremely smelly stew.  He ran past the Space Goons to an emergency airlock, grabbed hold of a support beam with one hand, opened the air lock with his foot, and while Space Goons, outstation staff, and customers alike were sucked out into space, threw the pot of smelly goo out too.  All of the Space Goons followed it out.  As Sinbadh closed the airlock again, we could see that only about fifty percent of the people in the area the Space Goons had infested were lost to the void.  None of those who were in our party failed to secure themselves against being sucked out of the station into space.  So, the ploy was at least slightly successful.

“How did you fools manage to survive this?” cried Sorcerer 15, standing near the concourse doorway with an angry look on his white, Synthezoid face.

“You again?” Trav cried, pulling out of his hidden super-pocket that held items in an interdimensional bubble, his latest acquisition, a brand-new super-illegal Skortch ray gun.

“I’m ready for you this time Dalgoda!” said Sorcerer, pulling out a mirror-shield.

Trav shot Sorcerer 15 in the feet.  As his artificial feet disintegrated, he dropped and broke the mirror-shield.

Trav then shot him in the torso and disintegrated the rest of him.

“I hate to admit it, Trav, but your obsessions prove useful at times,” Ham said.

“You will now politely give me the illegal weapon,” said Banzai Joe. “Be careful not to accidentally put a hole in the outstation that will kill us all…”

Trav grinned.  First, he pointed the weapon at Banzai’s midsection. Then he handed it carefully to the outstation’s manager.  “Of course.  I will get it back before I leave, though.  That weapon of massive destruction belongs to me.  And you owe it to me to give it back.  After all, I heroically saved your entire station.”

“Yes, yes… But only when you leave.  I actually owe the star-dog much, much more.”

That little soiree was not the first time I had nearly lost my life to a Space Goon infestation.  And it wouldn’t be the last.  But it was easily one of the fastest and most ironically amusing.

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Filed under Paffooney, humor, novel, aliens, NOVEL WRITING, satire, science fiction

The Measure of a Man

You can’t tell from this picture, but it is evidence I have solved a scanner problem I have been working around for three whole years.

You should never try to measure anything by using a yardstick that changes it size and dimensions at random. There is no way to tell if you are growing or shrinking if the recorded six inches on Wednesday is the same thing you measured at ten inches on Tuesday, but it’s a wrench that’s been in your tool box for twenty years and you know danged well that it hasn’t changed size. You realize that there is no empirical data to be had on anything if you keep using a fourth-dimensional yardstick whose flux capacitor is out of adjustment.

Daisy, Hoodwink, and Babbles the Kelpie from my own Wizard of Oz tale, The Wizard in his Keep.

Human beans, however, tend to foolishly always measure with their fourth-dimensional yardsticks. The way Texas measures children’s educational development, with a new and harder test every single year. No matter that everyone knows the yardstick is broken.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, I have had a lot of time to evaluate myself and my life’s work. But it is important to find the proper yardstick. I don’t need a broken one. I need a solid, unchangeable one.

I worked for thirty-one years in Texas education, grades six through twelve, seven years teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers, Vietnamese speakers, Chinese speakers, Lebanese speakers, Portuguese speakers, Egyptian speakers, speakers of that language used in Eritrea that I can’t even pronounce, much less spell, and speakers of multiple languages from India. I earned a pension voted into being in the 90’s and I was grandfathered past the legislation that gutted pensions for teachers in the 2000’s. Of course, pensions for teachers are like treaties with Native Americans. They disappear over time and are never spoken about again by people whose voices can actually be heard.

So, wealth is not a yardstick I can measure with. I am in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy from medical bills already, having only been six years retired. And, since I can’t afford further medical debt, the next heart problem, cancer problem, stroke, or other fatal illness will have to be the death of me. I can’t afford a cure at today’s prices. (I have health insurance, but they pay for diddly-nada. You only have health insurance so you can pay premiums to rich people, not to cover any expenses.)

Accomplishments are not a workable yardstick either. I was never a teacher of the year (or even employed in a district that gave out such an award.) I never walked on the Moon or Mars, like I wanted to do as a kid. I never starred in a movie, or directed one, or wrote the screenplay for one, as I hoped to do as a college freshman. But such things are daydreams and pixie dust anyway. No more real than a fourth-dimensional yardstick.

When I was ten years old, though, an older boy sexually assaulted me. Not merely molested me, but tortured me, caused me physical pain, from which he derived sexual pleasure. I was fortunate that he didn’t kill me, as that kind of sexual predator is known to have done. But he lived out his life quietly and died of heart attack a few years ago. He never assaulted anybody else that I or the authorities ever found out about. So, I actually forgave him after he was dead. And what he did to me made me vow to myself that I would fight against that kind of predatory behavior for the rest of my life. I would go on to be a teacher who became a mentor to lonely and fatherless boys, not to prey upon them, but to protect them from the wicked wolves of evil appetite. I did not do the same thing for girls because I knew that certain temptations might be too much for me. I am not, after all, gay even though my first sexual experience was a same-sex nightmare. And I did like beautiful women and girls. Maybe that part of my life is a gold star in the book rather than a black mark.

And I am a story-teller. I have now published sixteen novels, and I have two more cooking in the old black kettle of imagination along with a book of essays drawn from this goofy little blog. Whether that is a yardstick by which to measure or not, is entirely up to readers. Some have told me that my stories are well-written and the characters are realistic and engaging. Some have told me that putting mentions of pornography and sexual assault into my novels is too much, and that my depictions of nudists I have known and loved is inappropriate, but that too is a matter of opinion. I don’t believe I have done any of that gratuitously. And I firmly believe young adult readers want and need stories about unwanted pregnancies, being victimized, and suicidal depression. I know that when I faced those things in my real life, I benefited from the things I had read about those very things. It’s not like I was promoting anything bad.

But measuring yourself is hard. Especially if all rulers and yardsticks are of the growing-and-shrinking-randomly variety.

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Filed under autobiography, forgiveness, healing, insight, mental health, monsters, Paffooney, pen and ink

Another Single Artwork

Here again I will attempt to foolishly explain what a picture means and why I created it. I say “foolishly” because I know, as an artist, that once a picture is finished, it is really no longer mine to interpret. It becomes the exclusive province of the viewer to define what you see in your own terms. Your experience of the picture is your own private matter, entirely between you and your eyeballs and your own happy little brain.

That being said, here is the insight into my own internal bad weather in the brain that led to the making of this picture.

I created this picture in colored pencil back in 1981 when I was finishing my grad school degree, and waiting for my comprehensive exam in the spring led to a lot of sitting around with nothing to do nor money to do anything with. I was living in an efficiency apartment in Iowa City, a twenty-minute walk from most of my classes in the University of Iowa Campus, nestled nicely among the downtown features of one of the most progressive cities available in farm-centric Republican-conservative Iowa. It was no Berkley, California. But it was not Hayseed Hicksville either.

So, I was thinking about how my mind had been freed from the prison of Iowegian conservatism by learning in the school where Kurt Vonnegut had once been part of the acclaimed Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. I had taken some courses that really opened my eyes. A philosophy course taught by a professor who had been excommunicated by the Catholic Church. A deep study of English linguistics with a fairly radioactive dose of the breakthroughs of understanding made by Noam Chomsky. I was moved to “think about thinking,” and so, I drew a picture I would call “The Wings of Imagination.”

As a pencil drawing, I had originally set the eagle-winged Pegasus in the middle of a Medieval village (having recently discovered the original blooming of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons that was sweeping the university.) But when I looked at the drawing of the winged horse compared to the surrounding drawing, I knew the beautiful imaginary creature had to show the ability to soar high even though its feet were on the ground. So, I erased everything but the Pegasus and turned the background into the mountain heights you now see in the finished version.

I cannot claim the picture is without flaws, however. You may have noticed that the horse part has overly massive hind legs compared to excessively spindly front legs. The mountainous region I set it in was inspired by watching Bob Ross paint mountains on PBS. I had some pictures from National Geographic as reference for the mountain tops, but the lower valley came entirely from memories of vacation-time Colorado and Montana. The clunky parts were caused by an imperfect memory and a lack of landscape skill.

So, that is why I did what I did. And I am proud of it.

But it is entirely up to you to make of it what you will. That is how the artist/viewer relationship works.

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Being Ignored

I have never been an attention-seeker. In the Elysian Fields of modern society, I have never really been the honeybee. I have always been the flower. I had a reputation in high school for being the quiet nerd who ends up surprising you immensely in speech class, at the science fair, or at the art show. I was the one they all turned to when everybody in the conversation had already had their chance to strut and pontificate and say dumb things, and they were finally ready to get the solution to the problem being discussed, or the best suggestion on where to begin to find it.

When I became the teacher of the class instead of the student, I had to make major changes. I had to go from being patient, quiet, and shy to being the fearless presenter, forceful, sharp as an imparter of knowledge, and able to be easily understood, even by the kids whom you couldn’t legally call stupid, but were less than smart, and not in a pleasant Forrest Gump sort of way.

Shyness is only ever overcome by determination and practice. The standard advice given is to picture your audience naked so that you are not intimidated by them. But if your audience is seventh graders, you have to be extra careful about that. They are metaphorically naked all the time, ready at a moment’s notice to explode out of any metaphorical clothing they have learned to wear to cover the things that they wish to keep to themselves about themselves. And while you want them to open up and talk to you, you don’t want the emotional nakedness of having them sobbing in front of the entire class, or throwing things at you in the throes of a mega-tantrum over their love-life and the resulting soap operas of betrayal and revenge. And you definitely don’t want any literal nakedness in your classroom. (Please put your sweat pants back on, Keesha. Those shorts are not within the limits of the dress code.) Calling attention to yourself and what you have to say, because you are being paid to do so, is a critical, yet tricky thing to do. You want them looking at you, and actually thinking about what you are saying (preferably without imagining you naked, which they will do at any sort of unintentional slip or accidental prompting.) The ones who ignore you are a problem that has to be remedied individually and can eat up the majority of your teaching time.

I trained myself to be fairly good at commanding the attention of the room.

But now that I am retired, things have changed. I can still command attention in the room, which I proved to myself by being a successful substitute teacher last year. But I no longer have a captive audience that I can speak to five days a week in a classroom. Now my audience is whoever happens to see this blog and is intrigued enough by the title and pictures to read my words.

Now that I am retired and only speaking to the world at large through writing, I am ignored more than ever before. Being ignored is, perhaps, the only thing I do anymore. It is the new definition of Mickey. Mickey means, “He who must be ignored. Not partially, but wholly… and with malice.”

I put my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter where I know for a fact that there are people who know me and would read them and like them if they knew that they were there. But the malevolent algorithms on those social media sites guarantee that none of my dozens of cousins, old school friends, and former students will see them. Only the single ladies from Kazakhstan and members of the Butchers Union of Cleveland see my posts. Why is this? I do not know. Facebook and Twitter ignore me when I ask.

My books, though liked by everybody who has actually read and responded to them, are lost in a vast ocean of self-published books, most of which are not very good and give a black eye to self-published authors in general. I recently got another call from I-Universe/Penguin Books publishers about Catch a Falling Star, the one book I still have with them. They are concerned that my book, which is on their Editor’s Choice list, is not performing as well as their marketing people think it should. But to promote it, I would have to pay four hundred dollars towards the marketing campaign, even though they are already subsidizing it by fifty percent. They tell me they believe in my book. But apparently not enough to pay for 100% of the promotion.

I have decided to invest in a review service that will cost me about twenty dollars a month. But my confidence is not high. The last time I paid somebody to review a book, they reviewed a book with the same title as mine from a different author. That service still owes me money.

But the only reason it is a problem that I am being thoroughly ignored these days is that an author needs to be read to fulfill his purpose in life. Maybe pictures of pretty girls in this post will help. But, even if they don’t, well, I had their attention once upon a time. And since my purpose as a teacher is already fulfilled, perhaps that will be enough for one lifetime.

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Filed under artwork, autobiography, education, humor, Paffooney, publishing, teaching

Rewards and Punishments

For all of my striving for success as a writer, working at teaching and substitute teaching for money, and trying like hell to be loved by others in my life, none of those things are the real rewards I seek.

In fact, rewards and punishments have never really motivated me.

I am moved to do things because they are simply, in my humble opinion, the right thing to do.

I have on a number of occasions done things in spite of the consequences because I deemed it to be the action required of me by the universe.

Yesterday I finally got the government stimulus check promised back in April. I am happy to get the money. But it comes after the the bills I had to scrape and save for and pay late on borrowed time. And it won’t be long before something unexpected comes up and takes it all away from me again.

It is nice to have an unexpected event be positive for a change. But life goes on. And this one good thing is not the end of all matters.

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Filed under autobiography, Paffooney

AeroQuest 4… Canto 106

Canto 106 – Rocket-Powered Robbery

Arkin Cloudstalker had no doubt at all who was going to captain his flagship in his role as Grand Admiral.  Black Fly was a beautiful woman, a sensational pilot, and, the longer they spent time together, the more they got to know each other’s beautiful souls.  There was definitely some sense of a little naked baby Cupid thing fluttering around somewhere nocking arrows with Arkin’s name on them.

“So, this Apatosaurus-thing is a battleship and it will be the command center of this new dinosaur-shaped star fleet?”

“Yes, it is a high-tech Ancient construction created by the artifact known as the “Hammer of God” in the hands of a telepathic operator who is from Don’t Go Here and knows more about dinosaur shapes than space-fleet starships,” said smug little ADaB the Peri (short for Another Danged Boy #152).

“They should’ve consulted us on the engineering before they built them.  We could’ve done a much better job by turning them into gigantic space kittens or something fuzzy like that,” said the female Peri, PiP (short for Pretty in Patches).

“Please don’t start arguing again,” said Arkin, heading off what he knew had to be coming.  He picked up the diminutive PiP and swung her around to a position walking between Arkin and Black Fly, away from ADaB.

The crew they were walking through on the way to the bridge all seemed to be from the Bedrock culture of Don’t Go Here where everything was designed based on antique Flintstones cartoons from thousands of years ago.  The men were wearing Fredsuits, orange pull-overs decorated with upside-down black triangles.  The women all wore blue Bettypelts.

It was ridiculous to say the least, but when spaceships and space troops magically appear from nowhere due to Ancient relics, you couldn’t look gift-dinosaurs in the mouth.

The lift shaft took them up the neck of the Apatosaurus construct to the bridge of the ship.

On the bridge itself, blaring warning horns and intruder-alert flashers were going off, though the crew seemed even calmer than they had on the way to the bridge.

“What’s going on?” shouted Arkin, racing to the viewport.

“We have an intruder closing in on us in a tailed space-suit with a rocket pack on her back,” said a seemingly unconcerned Lieutenant in a Fredsuit.

“What are we doing about it?” demanded ADaB.  In a uniform clearly marked as a Commander, the little Peri out-ranked everyone on the bridge but Admiral Cloudstalker and Captain Black Fly.

“Why, nothing, sir.  That Galtorrian woman out there is our new leader.  That’s the Lizard Lady.”

“But she’s a spy for the Imperium!” said Arkin.

“Not anymore.  She’s the newly anointed Archbishop of the White Spider Cult.”

“Oh, crap!” said PiP, “just what we need.  A religious zealot.”

“A holy crusader in the name of the White Spider,” said the junior officer, displaying his White Spider amulet.

“I know Ged Aero,” said Arkin.  “He wouldn’t want to have anything to do with this kind of religious idiocy.”

“Perhaps not.  But the Archbishop comes to us as the mother of the White Spider’s first-hatched son.  She is coming to fulfill the prophecy of Zhan!”

“I thought it was the prophecy of Xian,” remarked another trooper.

“No, the prophecy of Shan!” insisted another.

Arkin said nothing, hoping these idiots would start a fight.

“Don’t you fools read your own prophecy?  Those three are all exactly the same!”  ADaB probably realized at about that very moment that he should never have said that out loud.

“Somebody who’s loyal to the New Star League needs to shoot that spy down!” ordered Admiral Cloudstalker. 

The whole bridge crew turned and looked at him.

“We are all loyal to both,” said the Lieutenant angrily.

“What will we do with the Admiral?” someone asked.

“Put him in the airlock?” asked somebody else.

“Don’t you dare even think about that!” said the Lizard Lady, entering through the airlock corridor.  She had her helmet off.  She had the largest, shiniest White Spider amulet around her neck that Arkin had ever seen.

“Wherever you’re going with this ship, you cannot take us with you!” shouted Captain Black Fly.

“That is certainly true,” said the Lizard Lady.  “These four prisoners are all mentioned in the prophecy.  They must all be in the Battle of Outpost.  Put two of them in each of two escape pods and shoot them slowly towards Aerobase Frieda.”

“You will not get away with this,” said Arkin.

ADaB pulled at his elbow.  “Actually, Admiral, I have read all five versions of the prophecy.  I think it says she does.”

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Filed under aliens, humor, novel, novel writing, Paffooney, science fiction

The Secret Identity of Super-Mickey

Cartoon villains take note; Super-Mickey’s secret identity is Filbert Hazelnut. I make that revelation without worry. After all, Mickey is not really me. So, if the Messmaster, Badnose the Clown, or Daniel Quilp are going to try to apply the Mickian version of Kryptonite, not laughing at the jokes, in order to slay Super-Mickey, Filbert is immune to that. I am too for that matter. If you are a school teacher who uses humor in the classroom, you soon learn that only the smartest kids actually understand the jokes, and half of them are just too cool to laugh when the teacher wants them to. (Although they will tell you years later that they still use concrete details in their writing because you said that if you routinely whack the reader in the head with verifiable concrete examples, they will be totally stunned enough to believe you know what you are writing about. That was, you must understand, a concrete detail I just whacked you with to help you remember what it is, not to make you laugh… even though it was a joke… but you are permitted to laugh if you want to.)

The basic point of this essay is Mickey is not really me. I never went by that name as a kid.

I was always called Michael, sometimes Mike (though they were usually talking about the Other Mike when anybody said Mike in school back then… circa 1963 to 1969). In high school I was given the nickname Superchicken after the Saturday Morning cartoon on the George of the Jungle Show. In college I was given the rhyming nickname Spike by my college freshman roommate because he ludicrously thought I was the opposite of a Spike, like calling a huge football player Tiny Tim, or a midget Big Bad John.

When I started teaching school, they called me Gilligan because I was thin and they wanted to pretend I was a hopeless stumbling fool (Which I was at times my first two years, just as all beginner teachers are.) My classroom became known as Gilligan’s Island on the day in third period when I made the comment, “Gilligan is lucky enough to be the only really eligible bachelor on the same island with Ginger the movie star and cute little Mary Ann. I would find out later that same day that three eighth grade girls in that very class had huge crushes on me and were fighting over which one was Mary Ann and which one was Ginger and, unsurprisingly, which one was the other girl.

And, of course, Rudolfo Hernandez tried to get everybody to call me Batman because I bought a used Ford Torino with fins on the back. But to promote the nickname, Rudy came to class wearing a Halloween Batman mask and afterwords had to learn to live with being called Battyman himself. (I wish i could take credit for calling him that first, but I am sure I did not. I distinctly remember it coming from a girl in his class that made fun of him for every stupid thing he did because she apparently adored him. I just reinforced it about a thousand times.)

Mickey is a name that I have only ever been called by me myself. It was a name I signed some of my cartoons with (using The Little Fool, Le Petit Fou, Leah Cim Reyeb, and Dr. Seebreez on the rest.) It also became the name I use to refer to myself on this blog when I talk about myself in the third person like a crazy person.

I have given myself other pseudo-pen-names in my writing. Googol Marou, as the only first-person narrator of the AeroQuest series, speaks with my voice as the primary storyteller in the tale. In Norwall, the fictionalized version of Rowan, Iowa in most of my other books, Branch McMillan, the writer-character, is actually me. (Like Charles Dickens switched his initials to write the semi-autobiographical David Copperfield, I created that one by switching the M and the B.

Of course, the many me-characters in my fiction books are also basically me. Superchicken is me. Milt Morgan is a combination of me and the Other Mike. Brent Clarke is the football-player me combined with two other football teammates. Certain parts of Todd Niland’s story are really about things that happened to me, and things I was afraid of at his age.

In some ways Tim Kellogg and Dorin Dobbs are me too, though both of those characters are actually based on my eldest son. It is possible, I suppose, that you could consider my actual son to be a me-character too, as people do live on through their own children.

But, while Mickey might be me more than I care to admit, Super-Mickey’s secret identity is definitely Filbert Hazelnut.

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Filed under autobiography, cartoons, humor, novel writing, Paffooney

Front Covers

I write novels, and so, I need covers that hopefully spark interest in potential readers. After all, what is the purpose of writing a novel and putting it in the closet where no one will ever read it.

But where do you get a good cover? Not from publishers. The only cover I ever got that was publisher-made was highly misleading about the contents of my book. And it was stock art that they had o hand and simply wanted to charge me a lot of money for.

So, I figured, I do not have comic-book-art habits for no reason. Since that first go, and the other scam publisher that took advantage of me, I have done my own cover art.

So, today, let me show you my own criminally amateur cover designs for Art Day.

Here’s the one from last night;

And these next few are the more recent stuff.

So far those are unpublished covers for works in progress.

This one, about nudists and mythological teenage boys, is already published.
This is the stock cover from I-Universe Publishing. It is not worth what I paid for it. There is no girl flying a kite anywhere in the story.

This last one is not the final version I published. I got rid of the garish yellow for a grayish wood-grain. But my poor internet connection on a hot Texas summer day will not yield any more than I have already shown you.

Ah, well… At least it is already more than last Saturday.

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The Real Magic in that Old Home Town

Rowan, Iowa… Not the place I was born, but the place where I got to be a stupid kid, and have the lessons of the good and god-fearing life hammered into my head hard enough to make a dent and make it stay with me for more than half a century. I got to go to grade school there. I learned to read there, especially in Miss Mennenga’s third and fourth grade class. Especially in that old copy of Treasure Island with the N.C, Wyeth illustrations in it, the one Grandma Aldrich kept in the upstairs closet in their farm house. I got to see my first naked girl there. I learned a lot of things about sex from my friends there, and none of them were true. I played 4-H softball there, and made a game-saving catch in center field… in the same game where my cousin Bob hit the game-winning home run. But those were things kids did everywhere. It didn’t make me special. There was no real magic in it.

Being a farm-kid’s kid taught me the importance of doing your chores, every day and on time. If you didn’t do them, animals could get sick, animals could die, crops could be spoiled, the chickens could get angry and petulant and peck your hands when you tried to get the eggs. Cows could get grumpy and kick the milk bucket. Cats could vow revenge if you didn’t direct a spray or two at their little faces as they lined up to watch you milk the cows. And you never knew for sure what a vengeful cat might do to you later, as cats were evil. They might jump on the keyboard during your piano recital. They might knock the turkey stuffing bowl off the top of the dryer when Mom and Grandma and several aunts were cooking Thanksgiving Dinner. And I know old black Midnight did that on purpose because he got to snatch some off the floor before it could be reached by angry aunts with brooms and dustpans. And all of it was your fault if it all led back to not doing your chores, and not doing them exactly right.

But, even though we learned responsibility and work ethic from our chores, that was not the real home-town magic either. I wasn’t technically a real farm kid. Sure, I picked up the eggs in the chicken house at Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s farm more than once. And I did, in fact, help with milking machines and even milking cows by hand and squirting cats in the faces at Uncle Donny’s farm. I walked beans, going up and down the rows to pull and chop weeds out of the bean fields at Uncle Larry’s farm. I drove a tractor at Great Uncle Alvin’s farm. But I didn’t have to do any of those things every single day. My mother and my father both grew up on farms. But we lived in town. So, my work ethic was probably worth only a quarter of what the work ethic of any of my friends in school was truly worth. I was a bum kid by comparison. Gary G. and Kevin K, both real farm kids and older than me, explained this to me one day behind the gymnasium with specific examples and fists.

Being a farm kid helped to forge my character. But that was really all about working hard, and nothing really to do with magic.

I truly believe the real magic to be found in Rowan, Iowa, my home town, was the fact that it was boring. It was a sleepy little town, that never had any real event… well, except maybe for a couple of monster blizzards in the 60’s and 70’s, and the Bicentennial parade and tractor pull on Main Street in 1976, and a couple of costume contests in the 1960’s held in the Fire Station where I had really worked hard on the costumes, a scarecrow one year, and an ogre the next, where I almost won a prize. But nothing that changed history or made Rowan the center of everything.

And therein lies the magic. I had to look at everything closely to find the things and strategies that would take me to the great things and places where I wanted to end up. I learned to wish upon a star from Disney movies. I learned about beauty of body and soul from the girls that I grew up with, most of them related. And I invented fantastical stories with the vivid imagination I discovered lurking in my own stupid head. I embarrassed Alicia Stewart by telling everyone that I could prove she was a Martian princess, kidnapped and brought to Earth by space pirates that only I knew how to defeat. And I learned to say funny things and make people laugh… but in ways that didn’t get me sent to the principal’s office in school. Yes, it was the magic of my own imagination. And boring Iowa farm towns made more people with magic in them than just me. John Wayne was one. Johnny Carson was one also. And have you heard of Elijah Wood? Or the painter Grant Wood? Or the actress Cloris Leachman?

Yep. We were such stuff as dreams were made on in small towns in Iowa. And that is real magic.

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The Case for the Clown

The criminal was led into the courtroom in chains and forced to sit in a box made of metal bars so his influence would not reach out and harm anyone by drawing their sympathy in.

“Mr. Prosecutor,” said the learned judge, “what terrible crime has the perpetrator been charged with?”

“The alleged perpetrator!” objected the defense attorney, a mousy old man who looked like a cross between Santa Clause and Robert E.Lee because of his white beard, stern face, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Shut up please, Mr. Badweather. You will have your turn to speak.” The judge banged his gavel smartly to emphasize the shut-up-ness of his overruling.

“Your honor,” said the prosecutor, “Mister Pennysnatcher Goodlaughs stands accused of being a clown.”

“The people of the State of Texas, home of the free, land of the brave, and place where cowboys can hang their hat on the antlers of a moose they shot in Canada, will prove that Mr. Goodlaughs did willfully, and with malice of forethought, commit acts of supposed humor in order to make people laugh. And we will further prove that in a time of very serious things, he intentionally made light of very serious matters and the very serious men who try to turn those serious things to their exclusive… err, sorry, I mean… everyone’s benefit.”

“Your honor,” said the defense attorney, looking like a cross between Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders, “I would like to request a new venue for this trial. My client will not get a fair trial here.”

“Sir, your stupid request is rejected on the grounds that Mr. Goodlaughs cannot get a fair trial anywhere. We are all conservatives, and are therefore incapable of having a sense of humor. Continue, Mr. Prosecutor.”

“We will show numerous instances of Mr. Goodlaughs putting paint on his face to hide his true features or assume the identity of a character not his own. He has repeatedly used false noses, large shoes, and floppy hats to exaggerate his flaws and scare young children. He repeatedly wears polka-dotted clothing to simulate terrible taste and ridiculous lack of fashion-sense. He employs pratfalls and slapstick humor in his performances, things that, if any school-age child would imitate the behavior, might lead to serious injury or even death. And he has even dared to make fun of our glorious leaders, implying that they make mistakes and may even have hurt people. That they act without thinking about anything but their own pocketbooks. In other words, this clown has knowingly made jokes in order to get people to not take things seriously.”

“Your honor, I object to this jury. I object to the fact that it is made up of fifty percent rednecks and fifty percent kangaroos! My client demands a new, more impartial jury!” cried the defense attorney, looking like a cross between Captain Kangaroo and Ronald Reagan.

“Has anybody noticed?” asked the judge, “that this attorney looks like he could influence this jury unfairly? He looks like two people who could lead the two halves of this jury to the wrong conclusion. Bailiff! Take the defense attorney out back and execute him by firing squad.”

After the entire courtroom heard the gunshots go off, the judge then turned to the prisoner.

“It seems, Mr. Goodlaughs, that the defense’s opening statement is now entirely up to you. Do you have anything to say in your own defense?

“I do, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, kangaroos and Reagan Republicans of the jury, I submit to you that I have never actually been a circus clown, or wore face paint. Not that I wouldn’t if the opportunity presented itself. I merely claim the right to laugh at anything I think is funny… or can be made funny. Whether I am being what you call a clown, a humorist, a cartoonist, a comedian, a fool, a village idiot, or a witty fellow, I believe I have the right to make light of anything. Life is always better when you can laugh. Especially if you can laugh at yourself.”

“I’ve heard enough,” said the judge. “What say you, jury?”

“Guilty!”

“Yes. And I preemptively waive the prisoner’s right to appeal. Sir, you are guilty, and you shall be executed immediately.”

Everyone in the courtroom breathed a long-awaited sigh of relief.

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