This is an illustration that goes along with my first good published novel, Catch a Falling Star. I don’t talk about that novel in this blog very much anymore since, in order to actually promote that novel, I am under contract to have to spend hundreds of dollars more to use one of their many expensive promotional packages to get this “award winning” novel promoted in the way the publisher thinks it deserves. I wanted to use a picture like this for the cover of the book. They rejected that. Instead they gave me a silhouette picture of a girl flying a kite at night. That, of course, has nothing to do with the novel inside the book. These two, by contrast, are two of the most important characters from the book, both of them aliens. Farbick is the competent space pilot who gets himself shot and captured during the failed invasion of Earth. Davalon is the marooned tadpole, Telleron child, who gets himself adopted by a childless Earth couple. I definitely like my picture better than the one I got stuck with.
This picture is called, “Long Ago It Might Have Been.” It is a picture I drew in the late eighties, after my girlfriend/Reading-teacher colleague took a job in San Antonio and left me behind. Honestly, she wanted to marry me, and I never got around to telling her that the reason our love life was so difficult was because I had been sexually assaulted as a child, and though I was attracted to her, I hadn’t truly healed enough at that point to become a husband and father. I never told her about my terrible secret. She left. She got married and had more than one blond-haired little girl that probably looked just like her. The boy in this picture looks like a young me with blond hair. He wears a baseball jacket of the St. Louis Cardinals, my favorite team. He’s the child that might’ve been, if only I had grown to adulthood a little sooner.
This picture is even harder to explain without me looking like a real fool. After all, if you are a real fool, it’s rather hard to hide that fact. In that last picture, I depicted something that related to one of the two girlfriends that I had to juggle at the same time back in the eighties. You see, I had set my heart on winning over Mary Ann whom I had worked with in the same classroom as she was the teacher’s aide assigned to the Chapter I remedial program I was teaching. She’s the girlfriend I took on visits to the Austin area on weekends. She had a sister in Austin, the one who lived in the nudist apartment complex, where she stayed during those visits. My parents lived in Taylor, Texas at the time, a nearby suburb. We dated regularly. She knew my terrible secret. She was a divorcee and I knew her terrible secrets as well. Ginger, on the other hand, was looking for a mate, and she lived in the apartment next door. She’s the one who would’ve hopped into bed with me anytime I asked. And she made no bones about wanting me to be hers. Needless to say, I could’ve written a TV sitcom about the majority of my love-life back then. It could’ve starred Jack Ritter as me. And I ended up with neither of those two young ladies. The picture, of course. is in honor of the kids in the eighties calling my classroom Gilligan’s Island because they thought I looked like the Gilligan actor, Bob Denver.
This is, of course, a portrait of Millis the rabbit in his accelerated-evolution form as a rabbit-man from my novel The Bicycle-Wheel Genius. That book, obviously, is a science-fiction comedy with a lot of unexpected plot twists. But the story behind the picture is one of a boyhood spent as a town kid in a farm-town community. Unlike the other kids in the Iowa Hawkeyes 4-H club, I couldn’t raise a calf or a pen of hogs as my 4-H club project. So, instead, I got in as a keeper of rabbits. Of my two original rabbits, a buck and a doe, I had a black one and a white one. The white one was a New Zealand White, a purebred white rabbit with red eyes, because the entire breed was albino. I called the white rabbit, the buck, Ember-eyes because his eyes glowed like fire in the night under the flashlight beam. The doe was a black rabbit I called Fuzz. Out of the first litter of babies Fuzz had, eight of the ten were white And of the two black babies, one died in the nest, and the other passed away shortly after he got big enough to determine that he was a male rabbit. I won’t go into how you determine the sex of a juvenile rabbit. So, almost all of the rabbits I raised before I discovered what a Dutch-belted rabbit was, were white with red eyes.
So, it is my thesis for today that every picture I make has some kind of story behind it. It may be totally boring, but still technically a story. So, there.
Okay, big miscalculation here. My old eyes can’t read the rabbit-talk in this cartoon. So, let me do something about it.
Nope. I can read it now. But that’s the problem. Not only is it not funny, but it’s also sorta racist. But wolves do eat rabbits. Still…
News in the RabbitTown Gazette includes the fact that my son is nearing recovery from COVID 19, and nobody in the house has caught it from him. He gets tested on Saturday so he can return to work if the test is negative.
Of course, the nation-wide news is not so great. This is 2020 after all, even in RabbitTown. The price of carrots is still within reach. But rabbit people are continuing to get sick from the pandemic which will be with us well into 2021.
And the weasel in the really bad weasel-wig that somehow got elected Prexydon’t is still favoring wolf-people, even when they kill an unarmed rabbit. And he blames the rabbits for being mad about how the wolves seemed to get away with murder. He twists the facts to suggest that exercising your right to peaceful protest is the cause of the chaos.
According to the featured editorial in the RabbitTown Gazette, you should be able to say, “Rabbit lives matter!” without having wolves answer back, “You mean ALL lives matter!”
After all, if you can’t admit out loud that “Rabbit lives matter,” then you really mean the opposite when you are saying, “ALL lives matter.”
Rabbits, whether they are black, white, brown, or red, have unique rabbit qualities, and they all have a basic worth. And I don’t mean as food for wolves.
The paper seems to have only bad news about the economy when you look at it from a rabbit perspective. Sure, the wolves are doing great right now on Wall Street, but that doesn’t help those of us who are not invested in the stalk market. We regular rabbits, and especially poor rabbits, are struggling to keep carrots on the table.
So, it is time for all good rabbits to do whatever a rabbit can. And that’s the way it was today in Rabbit News.
Yesterday I went once more into the breech, willingly, stupidly, but also bravely. I put in a whole day of Pre-AP English classes for 8th-grade smarty-bunnies. I know those kids are supposed to be the good bunnies. And many of them were. But Pre-AP classes can also contain many little snarky bunnies who are smart enough to carry out evil plans and do truly sinister and wicked things.
Yes, snarky bunnies can eat you, and some will not even spit out the bones when they are finished.
A good share of the problem was that the weather had turned rainy and cool in the early morning hours. That cranks up the pain input on my arthritis meter and makes me feel cranky and out of sorts. That also makes it harder to control what stress does to my diabetic blood-sugar levels. Yelling at kids makes the blood-sugar levels shoot upwards, and then my stressed body chemistry will make everything crash. Bummer. Pity the snarky bunnies. I took it out on them. (I should here point out that I am one of those teachers who calls it yelling when I quietly recite a sin-list to a snarky-bunny perpetrator and run down the menu of possible consequences just to make him or her squirm before taking them back out of the hallway after forcing them to choose the behavior they will excel in rather than suffer the appropriate consequence. They often don’t realize their actual peril because I tend to smile and enjoy pronouncing sentences.)
I actually only had a handful of snarky bunnies to sharpen my teeth on. Too many good bunnies inhabit Pre-AP classes. But there were two in 3rd period, and a handful in the last 7th-period class.
I told them the story of how English teachers, especially old ones, are often afflicted with Lycanthropy. (That is… werewolf disease. I had to define it for them, as well as the word, “afflicted”. Pre-AP students, yes, but only 8th-grade little ones.) I told them that they didn’t have to worry because the full moon was last week and that I hadn’t actually eaten a misbehaving student since 1863 (at least, as far as I could remember.)
“Are you threatening to kill us?” one bright snarky bunny said.
“No, of course not. I am just warning you that I do not like afternoon misbehavior, and I am capable of growing my fangs in the late afternoon class.”
They were mostly quiet and busy little bunnies. But two of them, who were actually best friends, started arguing with each other just after the last bell. Instead of scurrying home to afternoon carrots and gruel, one pushed the other with two hands, and then that bunny lost control and hit the other on his shoulder-blade with a slap-fist. I got to keep them after class for more sin-lists, confessions, and good-behavior-vows.
So, all in all, I had a good day at Field Middle School. I enjoyed chewing on some snarky bunnies. And I thanked the teacher thoroughly for being out and giving me the chance. Oh, and I think I earned at least a couple of dollars for doing it.
I am basically a teacher at heart. It was the culmination of 18 years spent in school learning all the stuff it takes to be a teacher. And of course, when I got my first teaching job, I had to unlearn most of that and learn a whole new set of skills. Being a teacher is a juggling act, using fifteen different balls that will explode if you don’t keep them in the air all at the same time. And if you drop one, you will likely drop them all. You will become Reluctant Rabbit Fricassee, thoroughly over-cooked.
And the bad news for those who want to be a substitute teacher… that job is not easier unless you already possess all the teacher-juggling skills at the start.
Friday I performed a half-day of teaching, four classes of sixth graders supposedly learning history with their Chromebooks and current-events lessons online. So, the teaching was a matter of keeping them quiet and focused. I only got to use classroom management skills and a little bit of conflict-resolution skill. Not really the fun stuff. Not really the interactions and back-and-forth thinking-out-loud that I really enjoy about teaching.
But I love working with kids just like those. 90 percent Hispanic, with one black kid, one Vietnamese kid, and one handful of white kids. The whole school has the same demographic.
I did most of my teaching with the classroom door open. It helps when the kids know the assistant principals wandering the hallways and trying to look useful can hear what’s going on in the classroom. That worked for all but the last period class.
The second to the last period was the practically perfect class. No hassles. Only one lethal stink-eye used by me to quell a couple of the boys who apparently say hello by punching each other hard on the shoulder. The Vietnamese girl was a perfect little darling, the kind a teacher wants to keep and take along to the next job. But that would be kidnapping, and she was too smiley and sweet for that. And I never actively plan a kidnapping during a school day, only murders. And those, like the ones I planned in the next class, are only carried out in fiction.
The last class of the day is the nightmare class that puts the exclamation point on every day for poor Miss W, 6th Grade History teacher. Thirty-two kids, more than half of them boys, and at least five that I knew right away were hyperactive, hyper-kinetic, and rocket-fueled by the fact that it was the last period of the day on a Friday afternoon. They thought it was fun to throw things across the room at each other. So, I tried to collect them all in one table by the left classroom wall (it is always easier to watch one problem spot than four corners of the classroom at once). But multiple kids, even the few who were quiet, had forgotten their Chromebook chargers and the ones who did have theirs needed recharging at the end of the day too. So, practically everyone was plugged into the wall. And all the other boys in the room were willing to toss stuff back at the five musketeers whenever I wasn’t looking in their direction. Those are the real fun times. Notice the italics for purposes of conveying sarcasm. My first teaching day in over five years ended with a class that did not really accomplish anything but cleaning up the chaos before the last bell. We spent a good ten minutes at the end putting up and cleaning up and sucking up (especially the ones who wrote their names on my list of perpetrators. Only one of those tried to put someone else’s name. Thankfully, hyper-active boys will snitch on each other without prompting and I could triple-check the names of perpetrators before leaving a “please-execute-these-kids” note for Miss W.)
So, my first day back doing typical-Mickey stuff was a success. I enjoyed it. I didn’t kill anyone, so I didn’t have to worry about where the assistant principals bury the bodies every day. And I discovered a bunch of cute little learning-bunnies that I wouldn’t mind teaching again. (Especially that last class, so I might have a chance to get even a little bit.)
I am now actually pursuing a return to the classroom. Even worse news… I am seriously looking at returning to the campuses where they pursue calming of the hormones in the monkey years, grades 6 through 8.
Yes, I have foolishly applied to become a substitute teacher for Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District. So, in this essay, I intend to successfully talk myself into a final adventure in bunny wrangling.
It is fairly obvious, if you look at today’s Paffooney, that Reluctant Rabbit is me. I am the wackadoo with the big pencil, whether I am in full carrot-eating mode or not. Absolutely necessary now is earning extra money, since life is only going to get more expensive now that I am permanently on a fixed income. And Uber driving is only going to get me killed now that the fees have gone down and the expenses have gone up. Too much driving in heat and Dallas traffic is wearing away my limited health points indicated by the red bar that floats above my head. And yes, I know that only happens in video games, but driving is like a video game, except you only have one life to lose in collisions.
And teaching is what I know best. I know I do not get the chance to get to know the kids like I did as a regular classroom bunny wrangler. But I still get to work with kids. And I don’t have to do lesson plans or grade papers. I do not have to work on days when I am too ill to cope. And I can make better pocket change each month than I can driving for less than slave wages.
So, I found the one person from the Garland district that knew me as a teacher and is still not dead, fired, or retired to give me a letter of reference, the one required to be a sub. The application is in. And there is a way-better-than-even chance that they will hire me. I have a lifetime teaching certificate. And schools around here are so desperate for subs that they kidnap drunks in back alleys to have enough of them to cover all the classes.
Now I must prepare myself for spitball and booger flinging, bizarre insults about my supposed rabbit ancestry, and ugly-face standoffs between hate-filled little bunnies. The monkey years. And Reluctant Rabbit has been away from them for too long.
I often get criticized for talking to people who are basically invisible, probably imaginary, and definitely not real people, no matter what else they may be.
The unfinished cover picture is from the novel The Bicycle-Wheel Genius which I just finished the final rewrite and edit for. All of the characters in that book are fictional. Even though some of them strongly resemble the real people who inspired me to create them, they are fictional people doing fictional and sometimes impossible things. And yet, they are all people who I have lived with as walking, talking, fictional people for many years. Most of those people have been talking to me since the 1970’s. I know some of them far better than any of the real people who are a part of my life.
These, of course, are only a few of my imaginary friends. Some I spend time with a lot. Some I haven’t seen or heard from in quite a while. And I do know they are not real people. Mandy is a cartoon panda bear, and Anneliese is a living gingerbread cookie. I do understand I made these people up in my stupid little head.
But it seems to me that the people in the world around us are really no less imaginary, ephemeral, and unreal. Look at the current Presidentumb of the Disunited States. He is an evil cartoon James Bond villain if there ever was one.
Animated cast of OUR CARTOON PRESIDENT. Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME
People in the real world create an imaginary person in their own stupid little heads, and pretend real hard that that imaginary person is really them in real life. And of course, nobody sees anybody else in the same way that they see themselves. Everybody thinks they are a somebody who is different from anybody else who thinks they are a somebody too, and really they are telling themselves, and each other, lies about who somebody really is, and it is all very confusing, and if you can follow this sentence, you must be a far better reader than I am a writer, because none of it really makes sense to me. I think everybody is imaginary in some sense of the word.
So, if you happen to see me talking to a big white rabbit-man who used to be a pet white rabbit, but got changed into a rabbit-man through futuristic genetic science and metal carrots, don’t panic and call the police. I am just talking to another fictional character from a book I just finished writing. And why are you looking inside my head, anyway? There’s an awful lot of personal stuff going on in there. Of course, you only see that because I wrote about it in this essay. So it is not an invasion of privacy. It is just me writing down stuff I probably should keep in my own stupid little head. My bad.
Every now and again we have to stop what we are doing for a moment and examine ourselves. If we are writers, we tend to do it every fifteen minutes or so. You have to expose the soul to the light of day for a moment and take a look with eyes wide open, prepared to see the worst… but also open to seeing beauty where you may not have seen it before.
So what do I see when I look in the mirror? More darkening age spots, more patches of psoriasis with increasingly red and irritated potential infections. Drooping eyes that have lost their sparkle and now darken with blue melancholy. I see a man falling down. Falling slowly, but falling never-the-less. It happens to everybody with age. I can no longer do the job I loved for 31 years. I am no longer the goofy Reluctant Rabbit with the big pencil in the front of the classroom, telling stories and making learning happen.
Once I was a big deal to little people. Once I created magical experiences involving books and great authors, poems and great poets… and I taught little people how to write and master big words. I mattered like a big frog in a small pond, able to make the biggest splash in that particular pond. I was the froggiest. But I haven’t drawn myself as a frog yet.
Of course, I was never as big as that other Michael. He made a really big splash in a really big pond. He was a really big frog.
He and I have a lot in common. Not far off in age. We got married about the same time. Both had three kids, two boys and a girl. Both were associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses at one point. Both of us never really grew up. He had Peter Pan Syndrome, and I stayed in school my whole working life.
And everybody has a dark side, in counterpoint to their better angels. I’m not entirely sure what my dark side entails. Being a grouch? A diabetic? A closet nudist? But I have one. I trot it out to make fun of it constantly.
But as I was feeling sorry for myself, being forced by the city to remove the pool, becoming a bankrupt poor guy thanks to Bank of America, and generally in such ill health that I feel like I am wearing a lead suit all the time, I stumbled across one of those life-affirming moments. A former student asked me on Facebook to post a picture of myself so he could see how I was doing. I posted this picture.
Yep, the man in the mirror is definitely me. I got loads of complements and howdys from former students, former colleagues, a former grade school classmate, and my Aunt Wilma. I heard from people I care about and they reaffirmed that they still care about me, even though some of them I haven’t seen in more years than I am willing to admit. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror to see what needs to be changed. Sometimes you just need to see the precious few things that were always good and haven’t changed. It is a process worth the effort.
Today’s Paffooney paffoon cartoon is a puzzler. I have this Rabbit People cartoon scene in my head with no punch line, no dialogue, and basically no idea. It just popped into my head doodle fashion, and then flowed down through my pencil and pen onto paper.
What is boy bunny Benjamin asking or saying to young buck about town Bernhopper Bunny? And what is Bernhopper’s answer?
Maybe like this;
But that’s bathroom humor. We all know the Easter Bunny lays chocolate eggs for Easter, so bunny bathroom humor gets you wondering about about chocolate chip cookies from the Easter Bunny. And that’s just gross.
Maybe it should be more like this;
Now that’s downright bad citizenship advice. Surely we can do better. And does the story have to be about the fireplug?
Okay, gotta squelch the sexual innuendo. When it comes to rabbits, that kind of humor leads to lots more rabbits. I’m not really sure how this comes out. Maybe the story should involve fat Barry Bunny who secretly prefers bananas to carrots. Or maybe it is about beautiful Bingolette Bunny who plays the bongos and writes monumentally horrible love songs in her spare time. I just can’t figure out rabbit humor! It is so frustrating! Maybe you have suggestions in the comments. (Is that a challenge to your creativity? Just a test to see if you really read this junk? Or am I just too lazy to write my own cartoons? I’ll never tell.)