Greetings from yours truly! I am a freelance writer, editor, and entertainer. I was a newspaper guy when the bottom fell out of the industry. Now I press my nose against the glass of venues that might tolerate quirky humor and prose.
A Chat with CANCEL CULTURE
ME: I don’t understand you.
CANCEL CULTURE: What’s to understand? If somebody makes you feel bad about something you believe, you just invoke my name and hang it around the person who made you feel bad.
ME: So, it’s like name-calling?
CC: Yes, but way better. You not only make the other person feel bad, too, but you lump in everybody else who makes you feel bad.
ME: What? When people say “cancel culture,” they’re alleging a giant plot to silence someone’s entire culture?
CC: Hmm. That’s one way of looking at me.
ME: But “culture” is a word with sweeping vibe. You’re describing the beliefs, customs, arts and other traits of an entire society or group! So, just because I dislike, say, modern art, doesn’t mean I don’t like the entire pop arts culture and all its dress, music…
CC: OK, if that doesn’t float your boat, think of me as a “culture of cancellation.” So, if you don’t like someone or something, your default is to cancel it and tell a bunch of other people to cancel it. Pretty horrible, right?
ME: So, we’re back to the conspiracy thing?
CC: Bingo! It’s a conspiracy to deprive someone of their free speech! And that’s a sin against the Constitution.
ME: But the Constitution only prohibits the government from violating your free-speech rights.
CC: Don’t nitpick!
ME: And what about my free speech? If someone says I’m “cancelling culture,” doesn’t my free speech count?
CC: No, because the person who invokes my name first gets the free-speech rights.
CC: Do you feel bad now? My work is done.
Where is ‘out there’?
Once, when I made my friends aware
That I was dumped and lonely beyond repair,
They had one piece of advice to share:
“Get out there!”
I asked, "Where is 'out there'?"
Is this a place where the air is rare?
A site where there is no despair?
Is it safe “out there”?
Or is it anyplace other than my chair?
I think my friends believe “out there”
Is a directive to risk, to dare
To love “out there.”
Fear in the Night
Darkness makes each step a hunch
As the leaves underfoot crunch
And I brace for a veiled punch
From one dark ghoul or a bunch
Does evil live on this street?
Should I, dare I, retreat?
Daytime would not have been too much
Oh, why didn’t I walk at lunch?
Suddenly my throat I must clutch
When I feel a cold touch
From a monster with green feet
Who utters, “Trick or treat!”
THE TRACHODON BLUES
Everyone knew Jerry Travis was an odd duck. After all, how many 32-year-old handymen went around town in a dinosaur costume? Jerry wore the body suit to all his house calls. He would fix leaky toilets, build outdoor decks, clean out roof gutters—no job was too small or too dirty.
The costume was not part of a promo or the product of a lost bet. Yes, Jerry loved to study dinosaurs, but that's not why he wore the outfit or put up with titters and belly laughs when people saw him riding his bicycle to his next job.
Jerry wore the outfit because, in his soul, he was a dinosaur. A certain prehistoric creature: Trachodon, a duck-billed creature with webbed feet. A plant-eater who roamed North America more than 70 million years ago. A dinosaur whose Trachodon genus name is dated and is not used by paleontologists anymore. Simply tossed aside and forgotten.
Yes, the handyman was a living, breathing Trachodon. There were physical similarities. Jerry had a large, sloping nose; as a child he endured taunts of "ski nose" and "Donald Duck." At least now the big beak atop his costume dwarfed his nose. Also, Trachodon means "rough tooth," and Jerry sported a chipped front tooth from a car crash.
And like a Trachodon, Jerry was a vegetarian. A couple of ALT (avocado-lettuce-tomato) sandwiches were on the lunch menu today. They were in a brown bag stowed next to some tools in his bicycle saddlebags.
But this morning, as he pedaled to Mrs. Bernice's house to fix a dripping faucet, Jerry's mind was on one thing: a DNA genealogy test showing that the father he knew briefly was not his father. Jerry got the results two days ago, and he could not stop thinking about all the lies his mother told him about his "wonderful dad" who "had to leave the family to find work" when Jerry was a toddler. Mom passed away five years ago after an overdose...and after her only son began learning about her promiscuous, drug-laced past.
Jerry's doubts scarred his psyche. Was his last name really Travis? Was his moniker dated, something to be tossed aside like Trachodon? It had been more than four years since Jerry doubted himself as deeply. That was when he received a second DUI after his wife of two months cleaned out his bank account and left him forever.
To this day Jerry does not know precisely what saved him from the verge of extinction then. He prayed. He got sober. And when the court took away Jerry's motor vehicle license in the drunken-driving case, Uncle Dan bought him a bicycle to ride to his handyman jobs.
Jerry is simply glad that his mother's brother took an early interest in him and his love of dinosaurs. Dan would mail his shy nephew occasional gifts, from toys to archaeology kits. However, the bicycle was completely unexpected. So was Uncle Dan's death from a heart attack two weeks later, and another package that arrived in the mail the next day. Jerry was dumbfounded when he opened the box. What was Uncle Dan thinking when he sent a kids' dinosaur costume, albeit adult-size, to a 28-year-old man? Grief and indignation overwhelmed Jerry, and he shoved the gift box to a corner of his bedroom. For three weeks it sat there.
But the grief would not go away, and one day that and a customer's fixit complaint drove Jerry to pull the costume from the box. It was indeed a Trachodon. From the moment he tried on the body suit, Jerry experienced warmth and a never-before-felt sense of belonging, bordering on confidence.
And the costume became part of Jerry Travis. He knew it would help him through another rough patch.
"Let them laugh," Jerry said of his detractors. "At least I know I'm wearing a costume."
Dinner Dates with the Academics
Arithmetic is like no other Academic I dated.
Sure, “Aritha” Academic shares her sisters’ dark hair, cuteness, and legs that do not end. But she has a delightful wit and a je ne sais quoi quality that adds up to something that Philosophia and PollySci could not hope to have.
I know. I took Philo to dinner, and she was self-absorbed. I tried dinner with Polly, but she lectured me.
Aritha’s mother, English, and her dad, Art, reminded Aritha that her sisters had a terrible time with me. But Aritha told them, “Third time’s a charm.”
And it is.
Movies Worth Rewatching
How to choose from among so many good and great movies? I know: Films in my Top Ten will answer the question, “Would I watch this movie again and again?”
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
As uplifting as it gets. Easily my best Christmas movie, but great to watch anytime. Thanks, Frank Capra, George Bailey and Clarence the angel.
2. Psycho (1960)
Loaded with suspense. Alfred Hitchcock and Norman Bates will make you think twice about your next shower.
3. My Cousin Vinny (1992)
A comedy classic, especially the court scenes. Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei’s New Yawk accents are priceless. “Is it possible that two yutes…?”
4. Scent of a Woman (1992)
Hoo-ah! Al Pacino’s Oscar-winning portrayal of cantankerous Lt. Col. Frank Slade is amazing, and the prep school “court” ending is worth the watch. “I’ll show you out of order!”
5. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Bruce Willis is a shrink who tries to help a kid who sees ghosts. Chilling scenes and a good story, but you will want to watch again to see how you missed…
6. Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Defiant British POWs in a Japanese prison camp. For me, the best WWII movie. You will be whistling the theme song, the “Colonel Bogey March.”
7. Rocky (1976)
Yo, this is the best of Sylvester Stallone’s franchise, although the sixth film, “Rocky Balboa,” is a close second. Great fight scenes with Carl Weathers.
8. The Time Machine (1960)
This sci-fi freak admires the film version of H.G. Wells’ future with Eloi and Morlocks. The 2002 remake has better special effects, but I prefer time-traveler Rod Taylor and the older version.
9. Hidden Figures (2016)
Sometimes a movie comes along that informs and entertains. The U.S. is in a space race in the early Sixties, and the brains behind NASA’s program are three African-American number-crunchers. Blast off!
10. Field of Dreams (1989)
So many movies could have filled this spot, but I will always watch this tale about a guy who builds a baseball field in a cornfield. Old ballplayers, a journey to follow a dream, and great lines make this my best baseball movie. “Is this heaven?”
"Smooth" means "great" or "just fine" in my lexicon. "Smooth" is my answer to "How are you doing?" Once, however, when I responded, "Smooth! How are you?," a female coworker looked puzzled and replied, "Lumpy?" I changed the subject.
Another word on my mind is "vegetables." However, I often talk fast and mumble my way through that word. So it comes out "vejabulls" or some other pronunciation, any of which would call for a breathalyzer.
The Uninvited Guest
Someone crashed our dinner party.
My wife and I and the couple we invited stared at the stranger as we all sat in the living room, sipping coffee or tea. Something about him looked familiar. He looked as if he had been to my house before. Maybe that’s why no one questioned him when he walked in the front door in his nondescript clothes and unremarkable appearance. He just sat down, smiled, was polite, and hardly said a word.
Or at least that was my perception of the stranger. My guests however, reacted differently.
Neighbor Phil took a big sniff and smiled when the stranger walked in. Phil claimed the character was as loud as his over-the-top Hawaiian shirt and plaid pants. Later, Phil said he and the stranger were trading quips all evening. I didn’t see or hear any of that.
However, Phil’s wife, Marlene, thought the stranger was repulsive. She put her hand over her nose and recoiled when the man walked into the room. Later she told us that the man smelled like he hadn’t taken a bath in a while, and his dirty purple shirt had grease stains. And rude! Marlene said that when she reached to stab a goat-cheese appetizer with a toothpick, the stranger knocked her hand out of the way and grabbed three pieces with his fingers. And there was dirt under his fingernails.
My wife smiled at the man, because she thought he was my friend. Later, though, she told me something was unsettling about him. Who comes to a casual dinner party in a three-piece suit, she reasoned, unless they are going to steal something?
I do not understand what my guests saw in the stranger. My wife keeps telling me it’s because I have no sense of smell.
“Time of the Season” by the Zombies
I am in a small room in the basement of McDonel Hall on a Saturday morning. I am the only one around, spinning records as a disc jockey at one of Michigan State University’s dormitory radio stations. My dorm, Abbott, did not have its own station, so I would walk to McDonel.
Whenever I hear “Time of the Seasons” by the Zombies, I am whisked back to 1968 and my sophomore year at MSU and my time as a deejay. Such a tumultuous year -- Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinated, the 1968 police riot in Chicago, the Vietnam war, civil rights protests and on and on.
Perhaps I remember that Saturday morning in the empty basement of a dorm hall because of its peace. Peace amid all the tumult. Spinning a record about love.
“Tell it to me slowly, tell you what I really want to know
“It’s the time of the season for loving.”