I remember when Scooby Doo, Where Are You? premiered on Saturday Morning Cartoons in 1969. I was thirteen and in the 7th grade. I had been six during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, seven when Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, ten when I was sexually assaulted in 1966, and still twelve when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon in the Summer of 1969. I was obsessed with monsters, horror comics, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the Pirates threatening Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island. I knew what fear was. And I was mad to find ways to combat the monsters I feared.
Don’t get me wrong. I was under no illusions that Fred, Daphne, Velma, Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Scooby Doo were the answer to all my fears as viable heroes and heroines. They were goofballs, all of them, based on the characters I vaguely remembered from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I was aware that Shaggy was just Maynard Krebs in cartoon form (the hippie character portrayed by Gilligan’s Island actor Bob Denver.)
One of the critical things about the show for me was the fact that there was a rational explanation for the monsters. They were men in masks, special effects and projector tricks, or remote-controlled mechanical things.
And the way you overcame them and saved the day was by having Shaggy and Scooby act as bait, cause the traps to get sprung at the wrong time, and then fall on the villains, trapping them under the butt of the talking dog.
Villains and horror could be overcome by laughing at them. They were more likely to be clowns than carnivores. And even if they were carnivores, the teeth were not real.
There was a universal truth in that. Danger and horror and fear were easier to handle when you could laugh in spite of those things.
And to top it all off, those meddling kids and their stupid talking dog were with me my whole life. Those cartoons got remade and spun off so many times that my kids learned to love them as much as I did. And those four meddling kids and that talking dog are still making new stories even now.
I have had a rough time since the pandemic began. I still get my pension check at the beginning of each month… for now. So, I am a lot better off than those whose jobs were taken away by the lock-down. But I did lose all potential income from substitute teaching. And the plumbing in the house is still aging badly, sprouting leaks everywhere that I have no money to fix with professional plumbers. I can barely afford Fix-it Tape which only slows a leak and does not completely end it. Notice I said “leaks”, not “leeks”. Onions I can defeat. But water is not my element to master.
Today my faithful microwave, the one that I had for four years in my last classroom, gave out. A spark and some smoke and she cooks no more.
But it is not all bad news.
My wife secretly has two more microwaves in her secret evidence-of-hoarding-disorder stash. She let me use one. She also found a leak-clamp for temporarily staunching leaky pipes at Home Depot where I haven’t dared to go in the pandemic because of my diabetes and high blood pressure. So, the weekend was slightly more un-yuckified than I expected.
And this weekend I was having a free-book promotion for A Field Guide to Fauns. I was expecting to give away too few free books again. I expected the Twitter writing community to turn up their noses because it is a story about a family of nudists living in a nudist park. But the Twitter nudists that follow me because of Recipes for Gingerbread Children were delighted. I gave away more books in the first two days of the promotion than I have given away in any other promotion.
It feels good to have someone reading my books, even if they are naked when they read it.
And I have reached a point where I am relatively certain, without being tested, that the illness I have been feeling is all just diabetes and allergies, and I have not yet fallen ill with Covid 19.
So, I can honestly say that I feel very… Meh, okay right now. Better than expected, and a lot better than dead.
It has been my intention for a while now to tell funny stories on Friday. Specifically, funny stories about being a teacher and dealing with kids, the thing I know best in life. But, with the things that have happened, the pandemic, the screwball gangster President and his Friday follies, ill health, and other things pressing on my mind, I have failed rather badly.
So, bear with me (pun intended) as I give it another try with a story about Hope and Beauty.
Going back to the last millennium, in the year 1996, I had one solitary class of sixth grade English while teaching mostly seventh graders in a school building that was being renovated while we were learning within it. Often to the sound of electric drills and hammering. (A new wing was being added as our junior high school of grades 7 and 8 was being magically transformed by a school grant, and the addition of 6th graders, to become a middle school.
Esperanza and Bonita were the leaders of that sixth grade class. Fourteen kids, 7 girls and 7 boys. Esperanza and Bonita were the leaders because they were the two biggest 6th graders in the whole school. Not biggest by weight, the fattest boy in 6th grade was also in that class. The most mature. Bonita was hoping to go out for boys’ football in seventh grade, because she had been told that girls had won the right in court to play football if they wished. And she loved to tackle boys. The midgets in that 6th grade class were all terrified of her. One of the midgets spent his 6th-grade days pining in the back row to sit next to her but was too afraid to ever tell her that.
Esperanza and Bonita were best friends, and they were also the two best students in my class. They sat side by side in the front row. They would answer every single question in class if I let them. Of course, I didn’t let them. I got as much of a laugh out of other students’ wrong answers as they did. They were merciless about every goof Sammy Sanchez made, but Sammy had a good sense of humor about it, and I swear, he made some mistakes on purpose just because he loved to hear Esperanza laughing. She was probably the prettiest girl in 6th grade and had an equally pretty laugh. (That is not, of course, Sammy’s real name. I protect students’ real names in my writing. But the double S’s in his name were paired with the word “Stupid” in real life.) I was fond of both girls. And most of the time they were fond of me too.
“You’re my favorite teacher,” Esperanza once told me. “It’s because we can really talk about stuff in your class. Not just book stuff. But real-life stuff.”
Most of the “stuff” she meant was in journal writing that they did at the beginning of class. That is where I learned that she was a virgin. And it was where I advised her that it was entirely up to her when she gave it up and to whom. I told her no boy had the right to pressure her into doing anything she didn’t want to do. I gave similar advice to the boy in question privately after school, and he was actually a bit relieved to get the advice. I know that I was overstepping boundaries to give such advice. But they both believed that nobody else would ever be told about it. I was the only one who read that journal entry, and they knew that. And I have never told it until now, a fact about which you still don’t know the real names to go with it.
That class wanted badly to have a “class party” after Spring Break when the year was winding down. I only agreed if they would turn it into a learning experience. So, Esperanza and Bonita took charge. They planned and executed the lesson; “How to make and appreciate different kinds of Mexican Food”. The two of them taught it. Bonita was in charge of discipline. Esperanza taught us about all the ingredients in her aunt’s prize-winning sopapillas. Sammy gave us a memorable and even remotely possible run-down on how Doritos were probably made. And Max, the white kid, shared his Grandma’s recipe for German chocolate cake. You can’t get better Mexican food than that. And a certain mournful midget got to sit next to Bonita while they ate cake.
Both girls were in my class for two more years after that. I had the honor of being their teacher in both the seventh and the eighth grade.
As an eighth grader, Bonita broke my heart with a story she wrote about forgiving her stepfather for beating her in the third grade. It was a beautiful story. But I was torn. Teachers, by law, have to report child abuse. But Bonita pointed out that the man no longer lived with her, and besides, the assignment was to write a fiction story. (I never told anybody but my wife about my being sexually assaulted at the age of ten at that point in my life, but it was the reason I could clearly see what was true and what was fiction.) That story made more than just me cry.
And in the end, Bonita never got a chance to play boys’ football in middle school… or high school either. The boys eventually got bigger, and she didn’t. But that was a good thing too. Bonita at linebacker… the boys would never have survived it.
I will end by letting you in on a secret. In Spanish, Esperanza means “Hope,” and Bonita means “Little Pretty One,” or even “Beauty.”
To be a wizard is to be wise. Look at the word origin if you don’t believe me.
wizard (n.) early 15c., “philosopher, sage,” from Middle English wys “wise” (see wise (adj.)) + -ard . Compare Lithuanian žynystė “magic,” žynys “sorcerer,” žynė “witch,” all from žinoti “to know.” (Wisely plagiarized from http://www.etymonline.com/word/wizard)
Mickey is a wizard. He writes down foolish things like that because he knows that the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that you are no more than a fool. You can laugh, but it’s true. Some wise guy that I am paraphrasing here said so. So, that makes it true
Don’t believe me? Want to debate me?
Have you taken the step yet of recognizing your own foolishness?
How can you be wise if you never take the first step down the path to wisdom?
And what defines a wizard, is that a wizard writes. He must write his wisdom down. Otherwise there are no fruits of his wisdom. I tend to write mostly strawberry wisdom. That kind of fruit is tart and sweet in season, but sours easily and spoils in hot weather and dry kitchens. Blueberry fruits are probably better. They become tarter and sweeter with dryness, kinda like good humor and subtle jokes. But enough of the fruit-metaphor nonsense. The best fruit of wisdom is the Bradbury fruit. I confess to having eaten often of Bradbury Pie. Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man leap to mind, but there are far more Bradbury Pies than that.
So, if Mickey is a wizard, and wise wizards write wisdom, then where do we get Beyer-berry Pie?
The strawberry-flavored pies are found in the My Books page of this blog, though the author’s page on Amazon is a more up-to-date list.
Recently the fool of a wizard, Mickey, planned to set up a free-promotion weekend for A Field Guide to Fauns.
The foolishness begins tomorrow.
Of course, I probably can’t give away a single copy. Potential readers will see that there are naked people in this book about nudists and automatically think that Mickey is too weird and crazy to be a good writer. But good writers like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut can be bizarre in their writing too. (I wonder what Vonnegut-berry Pie would taste like? I must read Cat’s Cradle again, for the third time.) Probably at least blueberry-flavored, if not gooseberry.
But even failed wizards can write wizardly writing if they write with wit and, possibly, with real wisdom,
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, there you have it. The full measure of the wacky wizard’s wisdom written down by the wise-fool-wizard Mickey.
It is a Biblical question. After Cain killed Abel, God came asking for Abel’s whereabouts. And Cain stupidly answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Stupid Cain! Did he not know that God already knew the answer?
And stupid God. Why did he ask a question to which he already knew the answer? And why did he ask stupid Cain whom he must’ve already known was stupid?
But the answer to the question in this bit of Biblical moral mythology is supposed to be, “Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.”
So, why am I, a confirmed Christian Existentialist (an atheist who believes in God), trying to tell you something from a Biblical story?
Well, the matter is simple. As I will very likely die soon from Coronavirus (which I am not yet infected with, but, you know, the kindness of fate…), I am trying like heck to impart what little wisdom I have gathered in my life so that I may leave something behind me that has worth.
This current pandemic is itself a demonstration of the truth behind the claim that I am my brother’s keeper.
I wear a mask everywhere I go now because a mask protects not only me but it also protects others from me. After all, I have no access to testing. I may have the virus and just not know it. Then my exhalations would contain droplets of water that have viruses swimming in it. The mask, combined with six feet of distance, keeps my exhalations from reaching the lungs of uninfected others, and potentially slaying them as Cain did to Abel.
It is because of Texan prejudices against mask-wearing and social distancing that I know I will probably be infected before this pandemic is over. And my diabetes, blood pressure problems, and previous difficulty with bronchitis and COPD insure that I am not part of the 80 percent of people who will survive the virus. I will get pneumonia and die.
When I suggest, however, that we should each take on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, I do not mean that we should become a zoo-keeper, and keep them all safely in cages (the Senator Cruz method of keeping Mexican immigrants safe). You cannot presume to control the thoughts and behaviors of others. You must only adopt the way of love and brotherhood. You put the interests and needs of others before your own. You lead by example, not by decree.
Before you start complaining in the comments about how stupid I am in this essay because I blaspheme against God, and at the same time don’t see people for how they really are, remember that I used to be a school teacher. You don’t do that job because you want to be rich and powerful. You do that job for love of others… specifically, other people’s children. And it is true that everybody has their bad points. Everybody is thoughtless, or wicked, or deeply troubled at times. But everyone also has qualities about them that make them beautiful, or kind, or noble, or selfless, or… well, the list of good things I have seen and nurtured in other people’s children is far longer and more profound than the bad things. No matter who they are, no matter what color or culture or religion they are, my brothers and sisters and their children have worth.
So, here I am, declaring that I am, most definitely, my brother’s keeper. (And unlike Cain, I did not kill him. He and his wife live along the Texas coast, near Houston. And they are not in a cage.)
And here is the question most critical to my survival…
Canto 89 – Back to Darker Skies (the Blood Red Thread)
Ham finally had the Leaping Shadowcat reloaded and ready to return to space. It was a pleasant thing to take part in celebrations for a new government, but the reality was that soon the rot warriors and death commandos of the Galtorr Imperium would be descending. Admiral Tang would hear about Ferrari’s victory and wish to turn it into an ultimate defeat.
The Imperium could bring far more warships and troops to bear than a single planet like Farwind could possibly hope to possess. The only real hope was to activate alliances with other planets.
There was always Coventry. The high-population world was Ferrari’s home planet, and likely to be even more easily swayed to Ferrari’s cause than Farwind had been.
Ham’s crew was reassembled. Duke Ferrari would return as astrogator and navigator because he knew the routes to Coventry better than the rest.
The two Lupins, Sinbadh and Sahleck Kim, would continue to serve as stewards. Sinbadh would be the cook and sometimes the copilot. Sahleck was the cabin boy and did the cleaning.
I was back aboard as the ship’s engineer and chief mechanic. I could also lay claim to the job of Science Officer, though nobody really took a Star-Trekky job like that seriously in the modern universe. Space travel had never truly been imagined right by the movies and TV.
Besides, I was one of the few that really took Astrophysics and Xenobiology seriously. Most spacers would much rather kill it than study it, regardless of what it was. The Kritiian Bugbright was left in charge of the revolutionary government, and we took off on a new mission.
The Leaping Shadowcat rose smoothly through the bright blue skies of Farwind. It was basically a water world, only a few small islands showing on the surface of the ocean-covered blue planet. I watched the planet become smaller below us as I looked out through the viewport on the bridge.
I knew that Coventry would be far different. It was a planet with practically no oceans. Ninety per cent of the water there was underground, or contained in sealed water systems. When you looked at a smoggy brown high-population world like that, all you really could see was a vast, seamless cityscape. I didn’t relish the idea of going there.
“Are we gonna have to make another commando raid against impossible odds when we get to your homeworld Duke?” Ham asked pleasantly.
“I hope not,” Ferrari answered. “You probably noticed that I am no good at such things at all.”
“How do you plan to reconquer it?”
“I don’t really know. Maybe we can luck into something as we get there. Like we did on Farwind.”
“I think…” I said, offering vast wisdom on the matter, “I think we should seriously list those who are on our side in the area.”
“Well,” said Ferrari, “I know we can’t count on Galtorrian or Fusion troopers to aid us this time. Coventry has three different Imperial Training Academies on the planet, all of them fiercely loyal to Slythinus. The local pirate or corsair forces are the Monopoly Brigade, and we’ve learned from Tron Blastarr that their leader is dead set against us.”
“Well, that’s two definite no’s,” I commented wryly.
“How about the White Duke?” offered Ham.
“He’s powerful throughout the sector with gamblers, smugglers, and thieves, but do we really want them on our side?”
“Are there many Unhumans in the system?” asked Sinbadh innocently.
“Mostly as part of the downtrodden under classes. The Imperium treats sentient aliens almost as badly as the Classical Worlds do.”
I had to shake my head on that one too. Genetic freaks were also abused in the area as far as I knew.
“Are there any allies for us there?” asked Ham, concerned.
“Not really,” said Duke Ferrari. “The people loved me when I ruled there, but I championed them and alienated all those who had power. It was the beginning of my downfall.”
“I thought the Imperium was not a republic or a democracy,” offered Sahleck. He was a bright-faced boy for a Lupin. I had always thought Lupins were thoughtless brutes before.
“That’s true,” said Duke Ferrari, “but even a cruel tyranny like the Galtorr Imperium has to have the consent of the governed to rule.”
“Maybe,” said Ham, “that is precisely what we need. The people are behind you, Han, not the current rulers. We just have to let them know what the Imperials tried to do with you.”
“Well, I be hornswoggled!” said Sinbadh. “Ye have found a solution Ham-boy!”
The simpering Lupin lackwit had suddenly reversed my opinion of Lupins once again. The Shadowcat, now fully prepared, but not fully confident, embarked through jump space for the next fateful destination, the planet Coventry. If only we had failed to tell Captain Dalgoda and the First Half Century where we were going!