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Jungle Boy

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When I was 12, my favorite novel was Rudyard Kipling’s First Jungle Book.  I loved it.  From page one to the last sentence of the story about the White Seal.  I owned a paperback copy that I still have 51 years later.  I bought it from the school book order form, Scholastic, I think.  I used my allowance money, earned at a nickel a week.  Along with the chapter books I had read previously, The Swiss Family Robinson, the White Stag, and Treasure Island, it guided my view of life.  Every grove and forest in Iowa became the jungle in the summer of 1968.  The windswept fields of corn and soy beans easily transformed into tropical seas.  I imagined pirates, natives, and buried treasures everywhere.  When I found a piece of a brass candlestick with the necessary curved part, which became the cursed Ahnk from The Jungle Book.  Midnight, Grandma Aldrich’s blue-eyed black cat, became my Bagheera.  I traveled with an invisible Baloo.  You know, it was only a year or so before that when I saw the Disney movie.  So, of course, dancing and singing was a part of being a jungle boy.

In the book, unlike the movie, Mowgli was naked in the jungle.  He didn’t wear clothes until the first time he submitted himself to the man village.  He took them off again when he escaped.  I had to try that too.  I went to the BinghamPark woods down by the Iowa River.  I found a tree where I could put my clothes, and I took everything off.  I figured roaming the woods like Mowgli would be great.  Boy, I was a stupid child.  Problem number one struck with my first naked step in the forest.  Dang!  There must not be any twigs or nettles in Mowgli’s jungle.  I tried hopping from place to place, but in minutes I was wearing at least my socks and shoes.  Hanging branches and brambles were a problem, too.  They clutched at me, striping me with welts and scrapes.  Certain parts you just don’t want pricked by a bramble bush.  It was like God suddenly planted those pointed things everywhere.  Okay, shoes and socks and shorts.  Well, then I began to get cold.  Iowa is never very warm even in the height of summer.  I had already defeated the whole naked in the forest thing when I put my shorts back on, so, what the heck!  It just didn’t work like I thought.

I still believed that the ways of the jungle were an essential part of my young life.  I read and reread what the Jungle Book says about the “Law of the Jungle”.  I tried to make sense of it as a credo to live by.  Of course, at twelve we are always among the wisest and all-knowing of God’s creatures.  We can make sense of the world in our own weird little way, and no one will ever be able to sway us from the philosophy we live by, no matter how silly it is.  I still think about my “Jungle Book Period” as an important part of my young life.  There are things about young Mowgli and Jim Hawkins and the Robinsons that formed a significant part of my character.  I would one day make use of those determined and resourceful qualities to stay alive in the classroom jungles of South Texas.  I tried to make others see it.  I shared Kipling and Stevenson with kids and hoped that I could make them learn, as I did, how to be that little boy facing and succeeding against the dangerous jungle around him.

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Little Red-Haired Girl (A Poem and Paffooney)

Little Red-Haired Girl

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

That little red-haired girl, so cute, so nice

You only looked and looked from afar

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

You could’ve held her hand

You could’ve walked her home from school

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

She never got your Valentine

At least, you forgot to sign your name

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

No hope of marriage now, nor children for old age

Happily ever after has now long gone

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

Now every love poem is a sad poem

And the world is blue and down

You never told her that you loved her…

You never told her that you loved her…

You never told her that you loved her, Charlie Brown

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Dippy Dogs Must Die! (a Talking-Animal Short Story)

Pepe n Skaggs

My name is Skaggs.  I am a cat.  It is as simple as that.  I have to tell you, life is not very fair to cats.  In my last life I was an alley cat.  I lived on rats that bred and thrived under the water tower in the alley behind the small-town post office.    I was basically happy.  You have heard the old expression, “happy as a cat”, right?  I could kill and eat any rat I wanted at any time, no matter how big of a Mickey he thought he was.  I was good at ripping out rat guts and breaking mouse spines.  I was the baddest cat in the whole damn town.

But I had to share my alley with a dog.  That Barky Bill was an insane killer canine that the owner of the local restaurant and bar kept chained behind his Main Street building to keep the rats away from the restaurant garbage.   I hated that dog with a hate as great as a vampire has for the sun.   (What’s that you say?  You didn’t know that cats knew about vampires?  Silly human, how little you know about the things that should truly scare you in the world.  Cats, vampires, and Barky Bill are far more complicated issues in the world than you realize.)  Anyway, needless to say, I teased that dog on a heavy chain leash for the better part of three years when one day, to my utter horror, I discovered he was loose at the same time that I was totally focused on catching and eating a beautiful gold-colored squirrel.  I was so sure that the squirrel would be the finest thing that any cat had ever eaten, that I didn’t even notice, mainly because I had that squirrel right between my paws, toying with it before devouring it, that the dog was pouncing.  Barky Bill bit clean through my neck.  It was so shocking that even as I was being transported to life number seven, my severed head watched in confusion and fright as that ugly, smelly dog ate my finely tuned rat-catching body.

So, having been a bad, bad Leroy Brown sort of cat, I was sentenced to a next life with a crazy cat lady.   Miss Velma Proddy owned at least fifty cats.  I was reborn in an underwear drawer in her back bedroom, the one she kept for the company that she never had.   My mother was the cat called Pinkie, even though she was a milk-white cat.    My father was Proddy’s favorite, a tomcat called Tom Selleck.    He would’ve killed and eaten me soon after I was born because my mother was not a very dominant fighter and alpha cats like Tom could always sense when a cat filled with pure evil is born.   But Proddy was having none of that.  She rounded up all the kittens and raised them in a blanket box in the corner of the kitchen near the stove.  I owe that woman everything, which is why I don’t understand why she had to go and buy Pepe.

Pepe is more of a malnourished rat than a dog.   Like a lot of Chihuahuas he trembles a lot, and he blinks at you with those big round eyes of his.   Proddy thinks that everything he does is so cute.  She carries him around like a prize possession or a human baby or something.  In my past life I was a white cat like my mother.  (Everyone knows that when a cowboy wears a white hat, it means he’s a good guy, but when a cat has white fur, it means that it is evil.)  In this, my seventh incarnation, owing to the fact that my father was a gray tiger cat, I was a sort of white cat with gray tiger stripes.  It meant I thought like a tiger.  Pepe looked like a rat to me.  Pepe was prey.  Pepe was meat.  I was going to eat him.

“You tell this story so scary, Señor Skaggs,” says Pepe, “you make me so afraid!”

“Shut up, stupid dog.  I’m telling this.  And you are not afraid.  Remember what happened that time I tried  to drown you in the toilet?”

“Si.  I remember well.  That time with the super-fancy drinking bowl.”

“I saw you trying to hold on to the plastic toilet seat and dip your tiny little tongue into the water that was too far below you to reach.  Only your hind legs and stupid little tail were even visible.”

“Si!  And you jumped up to smack me on my cute little behind and push me in.  I remember.”

“But I was surprised that such a little dog could react so fast and leap so far.”

“Si, Señor.  I jumped right on that handle and flushed it.”

“Just as I fell into the water.  That would’ve been the start of number eight if Proddy hadn’t come along right then.”.

“Oh, you make me laugh so hard, Señor.  And she was so mad at you for playing with the toilet!”

“And you remember the time I almost got you with that pot of boiling water and hard-boiled eggs?”

“Si, Señor.  You got up on the kitchen counter right next to the stove.  I was sitting on the floor in front of the stove sniffing up all the smell of the bacon.  You tried to push the pot off the stove.”

“I still haven’t figured out how you planned it.  The bald spots I have all around my front paws are still there from my fur catching on fire.  You must’ve been sitting in the precise spot on the floor where I couldn’t knock the pot down on you without passing my paws through the flames.”

“You owe that one to Señora Proddy too.  She had that fire extinguisher next to the stove.  That saved you from being cooked cat-burgers.  And you looked so funny when she almost drowned you in that white foamy stuff.  Oh, you make me laugh so hard Señor.”

Well, I am guessing that I made my point by now.  This little underfed rat of a dog is more evil than I am!  The harder I try to kill and eat him, the more I suffer for it.  And I still don’t know how he does it!  He makes my life miserable.  He needs to die.

“Oh, you make me laugh so hard, Señor!”

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Mickey, the Teacher of the Jungle

Mickey, the Teacher of the Jungle

It’s true… 24 years of my life was spent in the Jungles of Junior High fighting for my life against predatory seventh graders, monkey people, lizard people, and general craziness. If my pictures are loony, and my stories are insane, it is because I have endured where no sane man should ever venture. The pink raptor, by the way… one of my best students.

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January 3, 2023 · 4:16 am

Wrestling with Themes

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I recently was advised by a fellow blogger to offer a few writing tips on my blog as a way to painlessly market my writing.  Okay, I’m a writing teacher, so I can do that.  But in my own writing I have hit a snag.  Yes, there are things much, much bigger than my humble skill as a writer.

My current novel project, the Bicycle-Wheel Genius has grown into a science-fiction monster.  It is not only about a scientist who has secret government connections, but about time travel and people changing into rabbits… or rabbits into people… or boys into girls… dogs and cats living together…   No, that is Ghostbusters. 

But it has reached a point where the most important theme is incredibly clear and difficult to deal with.  The theme I find myself weaving into this story is;  “All men are basically good.”   Gongah!  Wotta theme to try to write!  Do I believe it?  Of course I do.  Can I put the story together in such a way that  I illustrate it to the reader’s satisfaction?  Of course I can’t.  So what do I do?  This story has some of the best villains and evil people in it that I have ever written.  I can’t kill them off to solve the story’s plot problems (Well, I can, but I don’t want to).  I have to show how evil can be redeemed.

My cast of characters include the scientist himself, calmly dealing with time travelers, invading aliens, government assassins, and a group of young boys known as the Norwall Pirates.  There is a time traveler who appeared in a book within a book in my novel Catch a Falling Star.  There is also an alien space navigator who has been shot by a local Iowa Deputy Marshall and stranded on Earth.  Another character is an artificial man, an automaton who has been crafted as a government assassin made from alien technology.  Okay, I know you don’t believe I can make serious science fiction out of such crazy-quilt characters, especially with a primary theme like the one I’ve claimed.  So, I have to confess that it is not serious in any way, shape, or form.  It is a silly fantasy comedy.

So, how do I generate a theme as big and bold and important as the goodness of all men?  Well, here’s a secret recipe;

  1. Take one genius who has lost all the people he loves and has to start over with new friends and, eventually, new family.
  2. Add a brother-in-law with mental health issues and financial dependency.
  3. Add a group of young boys hungry for adventure and new experiences and a little bit short on common sense.
  4. Add a paranoid evil government that has secrets it will kill to protect (the factual part of the story).
  5. Mix well.
  6. Add vinegar.
  7. Boil at 350 degrees for a year.

Of course, if you thought I was giving you real writing advice, then SURPRISE!  It turns out I have been making it all up as I go along.  That’s how you do it.  You write and write, knit it all together tenuously, and then edit the heck out of it, hoping to make sense of the whole thing.

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Wisdom of the Mickey

 

 

MickeyOne must end the year on a note that is either upbeat or regretful.  A heartfelt, “Meh,” just won’t cut it.

So here are a few particles of wisdom from the dustbowl of Mickey’s imagination.

The world is getting brighter… also hotter.  If we continue to chill on the topic of global warming, soon we will be fricasseed.

Ima mickey

You should definitely pay attention to your teachers.  They are mostly old and cranky and undervalued, and it makes them sad when they realize that no one really listens to them.

I learned this from the poet Dylan Thomas, “Rage! Rage! Against the dying of the light!”  He cursed death, and then he promptly went out and drank so much liquor, he died at a very young age.  Thank God I have lived to be old.

You are also pretty much stuck with the face that you are born with, so you better get used to it, and it has many varied uses… especially in the comic sense.

And I would also like to re-iterate the wisdom of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery;

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It is a bit of a disappointment to an artist to realize that what is essential is actually invisible to the eye… but I know it is true.  Truth resides in words.

The only wisdom I truly possess is the knowledge that I am a fool.

Since I was a mere stupid boy, and before I grew up to be a mildly stupid man, I always yearned to have wisdom.  And wisdom comes through experience and pain.  Now, years later, I realize what true wisdom is… I’d have been better off without all that pain.

Millis

People are a lot like rabbits, except that they are not.

They can never eat too many carrots… unless they do.  And then their skin can turn orange.

There is no beast as noble as a rabbit… except for practically every other beast.

Turtles are not as noble as rabbits.  When you challenge them to a race, they cheat.

HK1

People really ought to be naked more.  It’s true.  If you can strip yourself down to only what is fundamentally nothing but you yourself… you begin to know who you really are.  And it is not shame to let other people see.  Oh, wait a minute!  You thought I was talking about being literally naked?  Oh, no!  Metaphorically naked only!

One should be so opaque and obtuse that other people can see acutely right through you.  It is the only thing that makes nonsense into sense.

And we need to sing and dance a little more than we do.  A good song is healthy for the soul, no matter how badly you sing it.  And even if you are old and arthritic like me, dancing a good jiggity-jig keeps the bones loose and the heart thumping.

Everyone needs to dance with their children.  And talk to them.  You can learn more from them than they can from you.  They have more recently come here from the hand of God.  And they know things that you have forgotten… and will need to remember before you return to Him.

 

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I hope my anti-wisdom has not seriously screwed everybody up.

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Who Am I?

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“Who am I?” the Walrus said,

“I have to know before I’m dead.

And if the Cosmos will not say,

I’ll ask again another day.”

“You are a simple Disney clone,”

Said Cosmos when we were alone.

“You draw and color with your brain,

And tell some stories despite the strain.”

class Miss Mcover

“You taught a while in the Monkey House,

And learned that students like to grouse,

But in the end will love your class

And will give you medals made of brass.”

Alandiel

“And your poems are filled with Angel words,

Both quite profound and yet absurd,

Because your mind soars far away

On winds of wild romantic play.”

“I guess that I can live with that,”

Said Walrus as he grew quite fat.

“And Mickey is the name I write

To sign my pictures in the light.

And that is all I have to say

To write myself in the crazy way.”

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Things You Probably Ought to Know about Mickey

As Mickey’s go, the one who is writing this is a moderately interesting example of the breed.  Still, there are things you probably ought to be made aware of.  A sort of precautionary thing…

First of all, this particular Mickey is an Iowegian.  That means he comes from Iowa, the State where the tall corn grows.  It is a prime reason why his jokes are corny and his ears have been popped (oh, and he does actually have two, unlike the picture Paffooney where only one is showing).  His fur is not actually purple.  If anything now, it is mostly silver-gray.  But the Paffooney is a magical portrait, and purple is the color of magic.  He has a goofy, and sometimes fatal grin.  You may not be able to prove that he has ever actually grinned someone to death, but it is likely he could always dig somebody up.

Another irrefutable fact about this Mickey, unlike many many Mickeys, is that he used to actually be a public school teacher.  He taught the little buggers for thirty-one years, plus two years as a substitute teacher.  He did twenty-four of those years in middle school… twenty-three of those in one school in South Texas.  His mostly Hispanic students managed to teach him every bad word in Spanglish… err, Texican… err, Tex-Mex… or is it Taco Bell?  Anyway, they taught him every bad word except for the word for cooties… you know, piojos.  He learned that word from an old girl friend.

A despicable thing about him… (you know despicable, right?  It’s that word that Sylvester the cat always uses) is that he actually likes kids.  That’s just not normal for someone who teaches them.  Teachers are supposed to hate kids, aren’t they?  But he never did.  It is true that he yelled at them sometimes, but he never did that because he hated them.  He did that only for fun.  And he actually apologized to kids sometimes when they got into behavioral trouble, because he said it was the teacher’s fault if kids are bad, and, besides, the kids are so surprised by that, that they forget all about the behavior and can be flammoozled into acting good.

The last and most wicked thing you need to know about Mickey is that he cartoons up a storm sometimes.  He loves to draw everything that is wacky and weird.  He has more goofball colored pencil tricks than a Charles Shultz and a Dr. Seuss rolled together in a sticky lump with a George Herriman stuck on top in place of a cherry.  He steals ideas and techniques from other artists and steals jokes from comedians, undertakers, and random juvenile delinquents.  He also puts together lists of wacky oddball details that don’t quite fit together and weaves it into purple paisley prose (somewhere in this whole messy blog thing he has also defined purple paisley prose and how to make it… in case you were curious.)

So there you have it.  The Truth about Mickey.  The sordid, simpering, solitary facts about Mickey.  The straight poop.  (wait a minnit!  How did poop get there?  Not again!  I thought I had cured that!)

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Maxfield Parrish Pictures

Much of what I draw is inspired by Maxfield Parrish, the commercial artist who created stunningly beautiful work for advertisers in the 1920’s and 30’s, and went on to paint murals and masterworks until the 1960’s.  He is noted for his luminous colors, especially Parrish Blue, and can’t be categorized under any existing movement or style of art.  No one is like Maxfield Parrish.  And I don’t try to be either, but I do acknowledge the debt I owe to him.  You should be able to see it in these posts, some of mine, and some of his.

Mine; (In the Land of Maxfield Parrish)

MaxP

His; (Daybreak)

Daybreak_by_Parrish_(1922)

Mine; (Wings of Imagination)

Wings of Imagination

His; (Egypt)

Egypt

Believe me, I know who wins this contest.  I am not ashamed to come in second.  I will never be as great as he was.  But I try, and that is worth something.  It makes me happy, at any rate.

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Comic Book Heroes – A is for Aquaman

Today’s Paffooney is a tribute to a childhood hero, Aquaman.   I drew the picture from a comic book inspiration source coming from DC Comics in the 1960’s.  Aquaman is a B-level superhero with not nearly so many fans as the big three, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.   He was, however, my second favorite after Spiderman.  He was more important to me than the Avengers.  And this was strange, because I only had the chance to read the sacred comic books in the old barbershop in uptown Rowan.  I only remember about two different issues that I was able to read during the long wait for a haircut.  (Haircuts on Saturday took forever, because all the bald and crew-cut farmers would take forever getting their hair cut.  And they hardly had any hair!   I think the barber cut each hair individually.)

Aquaman and Aqualad would journey together in an incredible undersea world of sea monsters, giant fish, scuba divers, villains like Black Manta, and Mera, a real hot underwater babe.  Topo the octopus could play comic relief by playing musical instruments or getting drunk on old lost kegs of pirate rum.  I became a part of the adventure.  I’m not sure whether I imagined myself more as Aquaman himself, or Aqualad.  Aqualand was dressed all in red and blue, my favorite colors.  I liked his blue swim-trunks.  I myself could never wear swim trunks without a fatal case of embarrassment over my knobby knees and hairy legs.    I admired Aqualad’s smooth and muscled boy-legs, though not without some shame and embarrassment.  Some suggest that the relationship between Aquaman and Aqualad was a homo-erotic thing just like Batman and Robin.   But, hey… NO IT WASN’T!  It was a hero and sidekick that mirrored the complex relationship between a father and son.  My father and I could never talk at any deeper level than Aquaman talked to Aqualad.   Yet my father had super-powers for solving my problems and helping me do things and make things.  Yes, I think I loved Aquaman because he reminded me of my own father in his quiet competence.

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And I had a Captain Action Aquaman costume, a Christmas present and wonderful treasure.  I played with it so much that only the broken trident, mask, and swim fins remain.  The rest was all broken and unraveled and disintegrated from being played with.  The Aquaman in my Captain Action collection has replacement parts in it to make it more complete.  Yes, I spent time and money putting that toy back together so that I might play with it yet again.

So why is the super-powered King of the Sea so important to me?  After all, his super powers are to breath underwater and telepathically talk to fish.  I think, reading back over this stupid little essay, that the most important theme is the father-son thing.    I never owned a single Aquaman comic book as a kid, but I watched him on Saturday morning TV.  He was one of the Superfriends.  And my father had been in the Navy on Aircraft Carriers.  Yes, Aquaman is my favorite because Aquaman is secretly my father.

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