Category Archives: photo paffoonies
I have been a picture-maker since childhood, drawing skeletons in the margins of my textbooks. I used to use pencils, crayons, and colored pencils. I don’t know why I said “used to” because I still use them… just not crayons so much any more. In fact, I have tried, despite being a living antique my own self, to adapt to modern technology. Computers and digital photography have made the picture-making thing easier in many ways, though my goofy old brain still has so many fossilized pathways to navigate to get anywhere new that it takes gobs of time to get it down.
Having rampant hoarding disorder and being a collecting maniac proves useful, because I have stockpiles of junk and stuff to make pictures out of. The only thing I have to get better at is my photographic light awareness. I have spent too much money on different light bulbs and lighting equipment. But practice makes perfect Paffoonies.
It doesn’t hurt that I constantly paint and make arty-stuff to take pictures of either. Here is my effort to use puff paints to add snow to Toonerville structures.
And I need to work on my background awareness too. But being at home alone while important things are going on elsewhere has given me one thing that I don’t often have. Lots of time to work on stuff like this. Scary how the mind of an artist often works, ain’t it?
Don’t get too excited. I searched every box, trunk, bag of tricks, safe, closet, and jelly bean jar that I have in my rusty old memory. I didn’t find much. In fact, the old saying is rather applicable, “The beginning of wisdom is recognizing just how much of a fool you really are.” The little pile of bottle caps and marshmallows that represent the sum total of my wisdom is infinitely tiny compared to the vast universe of things I will never know and never understand. I am a fool. I probably have no more wisdom than you do. But I have a different point of view. It comes from years worth of turning my ideas inside out, of wearing my mental underwear on the outside of my mental pants just to get a laugh, of stringing images and stupid-headed notions together in long pointless strings like this one.
One thing I can say with certainty, nothing makes you understand “home”, the place you grew up in and think of as where you come from, better than leaving it and going somewhere else. Federal Avenue in Mason City looks nothing now like it did when I was a boy in the 1960’s going shopping downtown and spending hours in department stores waiting for the ten minutes at the end in the toy section you were promised for being good. You have to look at the places and people of your youth through the lenses of history and distance and context and knowing now what you didn’t know then.
The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. If I look back at the arc of my life, growing up in Iowa with crazy story-telling skills inherited from Grandpa Aldrich, to going to Iowa State “Cow College” and studying English, to going to University of Iowa for a remedial teaching degree because English majors can’t get jobs reading books, to teaching in distant South Texas more than a thousand miles away, to learning all the classroom cuss words in Spanish the hard way, by being called that, to moving to Dallas/Fort Worth to get fired from one teaching job and taking another that involved teaching English to non-English speakers, to retiring and spending time writing foolish reflections like this one because I am old and mostly home-bound with ill health. I have come a long way from childhood to second childhood.
Six incurable diseases and being a cancer survivor since 1983 have left their marks upon me. Literally. Little pink bleedy spots all over me are the mark of psoriasis. The fuzzy-bad photo of me spares you some of the gory details. The point is, I guess, that life is both fleeting and fragile. If you never stop and think about what it all means then you are a fool. If you don’t try to understand it in terms of sentences and paragraphs with main ideas, you are an even bigger fool. You must write down the fruit of your examinations and ruminations. But if you reach a point that you are actually satisfied that you know what it all means, that makes you the biggest fool of all.
If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;
- Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom. So take some time to write about what you know.
- Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand. Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
- Writing is worth doing. Everyone should do it. Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
- You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible. You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff. And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
- The stuff you write can outlive you. So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can. Someone may love you for it. And you can never be sure who that someone will be.
So by now you are probably wondering, where is all that wisdom he promised us in the title? Look around carefully in this essay. If you don’t see it there, then you are probably right in thinking, just as I warned you about at the outset, “Gosh darn that Mickey! He is a really big fool.”
You can probably tell that the photo Paffooney is totally staged. I am not a good enough actor to manage the look of absolute blood-curdling horror that would be on my face if I were actually driving in the Dallas Metroplex. My gray Gandalf-hair would be standing on end more, and my eyes would be more popped with horror… especially if I had really seen Suicide Sadie in her death-dealing super-WASP-rocket. Honestly, I’m risking my life to reveal it, but one of the greatest perils of life in the suburbs in Texas is running afoul of the Texas Killer Grannies. Yes, there is a secret, Illuminati-like organization of blue-haired old menaces driving big, expensive black battle-boats that try to kill as many other Texas drivers as they can… as well as pedestrians, cop cars, squirrels, poor-people’s children, and ceramic lawn gnomes as they can focus their myopic old granny glasses on.
To Texas Killer Grandmas, slaughtering the innocent on the roadways while your back seat is full of knitting baskets and tins of cat food is a Satanic ritual that gives them special and unnatural powers over life and death.
They all drive at least five-miles-an-hour faster than the speed at which they can actually control the vehicle. For some of the most deadly grannies like Suicide Sadie and End-It-All Emma that is between 95 and 205 miles-per-hour, though the nearly-as-deadly Grandma McGillicuddy can be almost as guaranteed fatal at only about 35 miles an hour. They cut in front of you without signalling, and traffic lights are interpreted far differently than normal in the presence of a Texas Killer Grandma. Green means go. Yellow means go faster. And red means floor it and brace for impact. Now, of course that is the granny interpretation of the light. For me, green means proceed ultra-cautiously while scanning for hurtling BMW’s, Cadillacs, or Lincoln Town Cars with old ladies at the wheel and skulls painted in white on the driver’s door. Yellow means pull over to the side of the road at a dead stop and make myself the smallest target possible. And red means park on somebody’s lawn and wait for the intersection to become clear of all vehicles for several blocks all around. Sidewalks are not safe either with a Texas Killer Grandma around. You’re safer walking if you walk down the center of the road. Of course, the more normal drivers will squish you like road-kill then, and the Texas Killer Grandma knows she was ultimately the cause of this suicidal death, so if they are close enough to see it in any sort of blurred clarity, they automatically count it as a kill.
You never see a Texas Killer Grandma charged with anything in the local media or even in court records. They are not old ladies unconnected to persons of power. Rich husbands, rich children, and sometimes even rich boyfriends see to it that they are never prosecuted. They are immune to the wheels of justice. Crazy Cat-Lady Clarice is immune to prosecution even though she doesn’t own even a nickel. We think it is because she is so supremely skilled at vehicular homicide that even the police are afraid of her. And how does she pay for gas in that 1965 Chevy Impala SS she drives with a blood-smeared hood and the driver’s side of the car painted completely white with skulls?
There comes a time in every career when the career is over and it has to end. I spent 310 years teaching in Middle School and High School and loved every minute of it. (Okay, divide the years by ten and subtract about twelve thousand minutes from the love… but I did love it.) And I was good at it. (At least, in my own confused little mind… I have photographic proof that I did help students get some quality sleep time in, but… hey, English is supposed to be boring.)
Eight years ago I was forced to make the decision to leave the job I loved. Failing health and failing finances made it increasingly hard to do the job. I was never a sit-behind-the-desk teacher. I had to do the dance… up this row, down that one… lean over the spit-wad shooter before he could adequately aim and pull the stray cafeteria straw out of his mouth… suggest the verb needs to have an “s” on it if the subject of the sentence the student just wrote for me is singular… stand in front of the boy who can’t listen to my wonderful teaching because the girl across the room is wearing a dress and I have to block his view… and he doesn’t even like that girl, but she’s wearing a dress… you can see her legs… and he’s a teenager… you know, the dance of teaching. When you walk with a cane and have a back brace on every single work day, the dance becomes harder and harder as the year wears on. I got to spend my days with Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut and Maya Angelou and Robert Frost… and even more important I got to spend my days with Pablo and Sofie and Ruben and Rita and Keith… I had so many more favorite students than I ever had those black-banes-of-a-teacher’s-existence kids that other teachers were always talking about in the faculty lounge. (I rarely hung out in the faculty lounge because they tended to talk bad about kids I really loved and enjoyed teaching… and besides, I had crap to actually do before the next class came in. Lounging was rarely an option.)
I confess that I have spent a good deal of this school year depressed and feeling sorry for myself. No kids to talk to on a daily basis except my own, and even with them, only after school or work. My wife is still teaching… so I rarely see her. (Am I married? I need to double-check.) I fill the lonely hours with writing and story-telling and recollections of days past… and I am beginning to come to terms with my loss. In retirement I can do more of the things that I always wanted to do… but never had time for. I can draw and paint and write and sing (pray hard I don’t start posting videos of me singing!) and play with my toys… I have even decided to write a novel about people playing with toys. Would I ever teach again if suddenly I was healthy and could do it again…? YOU BETTER BELIEVE I WOULD! In fact, I was able to be a substitute teacher again from the Fall of 2019 to the start of the pandemic in 2020. IF ONLY IT COULD’VE LASTED A LITTLE BIT LONGER!
I was born in the 1950’s in Mason City, Iowa… the town that produced Meredith Wilson, the creator of the Broadway Musical, The Music Man. Yes, River City in The Music Man is Mason City. So I was born into a unique Midwestern farm-town heritage where swindlers came to town and saved the day with music and an eleventh-hour change of heart. I was born into the land of Chmielewski Fun Time on the black-and-white TV, Lawrence Welk champagne accordion music, and the Beer-Barrel Polka, courtesy of loads and loads of German ancestry. I am that unique crossbreed of Scandahoovian and sqare-headed Deutschmann known by the only slightly racist term of Iowegian.
And if you ask an Iowegian if he loves Iowa, he will answer, “You bet!”
And if you ask a northern Iowegian the same thing, he will say “You betcha!”
Iowans talk funny, don’t you know…
There are still corner stores and farm supply stores, though they have gone to brand names now, like Casey’s, BP, and Tractor Supply Co. You can still find HyVee and Safeway grocery stores. There are still a precious few family farms that haven’t been swallowed whole by big corporations and agri-businesses. If you go to the county fairs, you will still find kids showing the cattle or pigs that they raised for 4-H projects, and if you go into the barns after the auction, they are still producing tearful kids hugging and kissing that calf that won a red ribbon and now has to be sold… and they will never see poor Barney or Moo-berry again…
It is the land of the lonely gravel road… the back-street cattle pen… the Saturday night tornado (nearly every Saturday in Spring)… The VFW and the Lion’s Club Fish Fry at Lake Cornelia….And it is a place where most everything reeks of the past and old ghosts and times long gone, soon to never be remembered because there’s no longer anybody around who is old enough to tell the stories that grandparents and aunts and uncles used to tell. I not only miss it desperately, but I feel deeply saddened by the loss. Would I like to go home again?
Everything in the Dallas-Fort-Worth area is shut down today by ice and the threat of ice. Texans don’t like to drive on ice. You can’t drive friendly… and fast… on ice. And Texans don’t like to be cold. 100 straight days of 100-plus heat is okay for Texans. Three days of freezing weather is the end of the world.
A year ago the world was frozen like this in DFW. The electric grid failed and people froze to death. Emperor Greg Abbott blamed the windmills because they froze and stopped turning. But in Iowa they go through the same thing every year and the windmills are properly winterized. Only the really stupid people and the spectacularly unlucky people freeze to death in Iowa. Mostly when they are stuck on the highway. Some froze to death in their bedrooms in Texas. But in Texas the real problem was the natural gas lines freezing and breaking down. Those can be properly winterized too. But Emperor Abbott doesn’t know that… or doesn’t want to know that. He still hasn’t winterized anything… or forced corporations to spend money to do so.
My wife’s religion actually makes her hope that Armageddon will come soon. They think the end of the world is the only way to get to paradise. Now that Russia is invading the Ukraine, Armageddon may be about to happen. All that Gog and Magog crap has been going on throughout the twentieth century. So far we’ve managed to avoid it actually happening, by war, by nuclear war, by nuclear winter. We have been feeling that the world is in danger of ending since long before I was born in the middle of the 20th century. The Bible says the 1st Century Christians would still be alive when the Day of Judgement would come.
They were wrong about that. Maybe they are still wrong now.
If the world is not going to end in fire and ice in the next week or two, we have to realize that things need to change. We can’t be frozen in place. In politics it is basically a matter of choosing to be progressive and not be stuck in the ice of being conservative. We need to change, not stay the same. We need to determine that world maps change by diplomacy and compromise, not by combat and killing civilians. And we need to convince Russia of that. We also need to change the way we treat the environment and the economy. We need to invest in technology and changes to the consumption of practically every product. Production needs to occur without polluting. We need to spend more, a lot more, on clean energy like solar power, wind power, thermal energy from the under-earth, and we need to stop spending so much of our capital on tax breaks for billionaires and corporations. And we need to convince millionaires, billionaires, and corporate executives of that.
We could even change schools to give Louisa her wish and create naturist classrooms in school, letting kids learn in natural environments, and having the school uniform be nakedness. And we would have to convince parents and teachers of that… Of course, that last one is a joke, and even Louisa might not really want that. Especially since it is really, really cold today.
But if you were serious about changing education to provide nude classrooms or even nude schools, you would have to change it slowly. You would start small. Kindergarten and first grade would go first, and only with kids who would actually choose to be nude in school (probably a lot more of them than parents think would choose that.) Then you would move them up a grade every year until you reached high school. Of course, you would have to be flexible. Some students would not thrive and have to be moved to textile classrooms. And nude classrooms would have to be expandable as textile students begin to see the changes in their nude friends and want to be transferred into the experiment.
Of course, I know that joke idea is still just a joke and always will be. But the point is, the Diplomacy/War question and the Save the Planet/Profits over People question would have to be answered the same way. The younger ones make the actual changes and the gas-and-oil, pro-war dinosaurs would be responsible for going extinct themselves or taking everybody else with them.
So, I am basically confined to my bedroom today with considerable arthritis pain and trapped in the middle of a frozen world. And as I have nothing better to do than solve all the world’s problems today, even Louisa’s… I am still faced with the fact that solving these problems involves changing people’s minds. Especially conservative minds who will likely have a gun and want to kill me if I try to change their minds. So, there it is, a simply-stated theme… and now I need to look at bullet-proof vests on Amazon.