The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Another Way.

There are two ways to respond to rejection: try again or give up. Or find another way. There are some famous books that were rejected dozens of times before finally being published, countless others that we’ll never know about because their authors gave up, and then there are those who found another way, publishing on their own. Well, this story has been rejected multiple times, and while I could keep trying I think instead I’m going to take the other way.


“If you feed them they’ll just keep coming back!” the man next door yelled.
“Ignore him,” muttered Linda. Carl ignored her and the man next door and threw another handful of bagel pieces to the seagulls hovering around the deck. Then he grabbed another and started ripping it up. They were the bagels they’d bought at the Sea’N’Sand when they arrived on the island, some national brand that turned out to be too light and bready.
“I don’t want to sound prejudiced,” Ruth had said that morning when they tried one, “but the goyim just can’t make a good bagel.”
The phrase struck Linda as odd; the only other time she’d heard Ruth use it was earlier on this same trip. They’d flown to Mobile and met their daughter Annabel at the airport, and this was their first chance to meet Carl whom she’d been dating for six months. In the car they rented to drive to the island he entertained them with his original Broadway cast recordings of Wicked, Fun Home, and Ethel Merman in Gypsy.
“I don’t mean to sound prejudiced,” Ruth said when they’d stopped and Carl insisted on pumping and paying for the gas, “but are you sure he’s not gay?”
“Oh yeah,” said Annabel and gave a throaty laugh.
“Really?” Ruth pressed. “So, tell us, does he–”
“That’s enough!” shouted Linda and Ruth and Annabel giggled quietly the rest of the trip until they passed a restaurant with oyster shells piled in its parking lot. Carl said, “I’m really looking forward to some fresh oysters” and Ruth and Annabel exploded with laughter.
There were at least a dozen seagulls hovering over their deck now. Linda could see their white-rimmed eyes and the red tips of their beaks. Most had black heads but one near her had a mottled gray head. Linda wouldn’t have guessed birds could hover and yet here they were, their bodies almost motionless while their wings beat the air.
The man next door turned and went back into his house. Linda had watched him and a woman she assumed was his wife, a frail-looking figure who wore a headscarf and spent hours stretched out on the beach chair on their deck. It was late April and yet Linda watched him drape three or four blankets over her. She’d never seen him before; in fact she couldn’t remember having any neighbors before. She and Ruth had first come to the island a decade earlier for their honeymoon, and came back to the same beach house, a tan-colored three-bedroom place decorated with classical frescoes inside called “Dun Roman”, for a week every year for their anniversary. Ruth had fallen in love with the place immediately; Linda wasn’t so sure. It was always windy on the beach, and at first she didn’t like seeing the gas drilling rigs out in the bay, but now they were like old friends, and she looked forward to nightfall when their amber lights glowed.
After the bagels were gone Linda dragged the garbage can across the sand up to the road for the next morning’s pickup. It was still early evening, or late afternoon, but the sun was setting, the sky was starting to turn pink and orange. She stopped to look at it and saw the man next doorwith his garbage can. She gave him a polite smile.
“Ahoy!” he said then walked over to her. He was bald with a cottony fringe of hair around his ears and wore glasses over his pale blue eyes. “Sorry I yelled earlier. These days I’m just a little too conscious of seagull poop.” He put out his hand. “I’m Michael Jackson. Not the Michael Jackson, though.”
His handshake was gentle. Linda smiled. “You’re not the craft beer and microbrew writer then?”
His eyes widened and he grinned. “Most people don’t make that connection. So, neighbor, you’re here with family?”
“Yes, my daughter Annabel, her boyfriend Carl, and my wife Ruth.” She was used to varying shades of hostility, especially in Alabama, when she said “my wife”, especially from older people, but he only smiled.
“Good, good. First time?”
“No, we’ve come here every April for ten years now, for our anniversary.”
“Congratulations!” he beamed. “My wife and I always come here in the fall but six months from now, well, not sure where things will be.” Then abruptly he checked his watch. “Well, it was nice meeting you, but it’s my wife’s cocktail hour and I have to tend to her.” He gave a quick salute and strode back to his house.
Inside Ruth asked, “So what’s the guy next door like?”
“I don’t want to sound prejudiced,” said Linda, and went to the kitchen to make a Bloody Mary.




Beyond Understanding.

Dr. Seuss cartoon, October 1941. Source:

When I was four years old I got lost at the shopping mall. I’ve written about this before but while history may not exactly repeat itself it often rhymes, and the present changes how we see the past. What happened is my mother was shopping for clothes and I was trying to make the sleeves of shirts and jackets talk and I also discovered that I could squeeze in between clothes on a circular rack and be completely surrounded by gray and navy jackets, and if I spun around and around I wouldn’t know where I came in, so when I came out I just sort of zigzagged off into the mall. What I distinctly remember, though, is that I was never scared. I understood what happened. I was concerned and definitely wanted to find my mother, and even when outside thinking she might be out there. And I thought maybe I could find her car and stand next to it, but I gave up on that when I realized I couldn’t remember where we’d parked. So I went back in and asked a woman who worked at the store if she could help me, and she let me sit behind a cash register while she called the store detective and he found my mother. As I said I was never scared. It was actually kind of exciting, and the calm way all the adults I spoke to acted and spoke to me without being condescending was reassuring. We might have just been hanging out together, and I think before my mother and I left I thanked them and added, “You must come and see us in Cape Cod this August.” And this wasn’t long after another big event in my life. We’d just moved to a new house, and that was exciting too. It wasn’t a dramatic move. My parents moved from a pretty nice house in one suburban Nashville neighborhood to another pretty nice, but much larger, house in another suburban Nashville neighborhood. I could be excited because my parents were happy to be moving, they wanted to move, and I understood that. It was an adventure. The first night in the new house I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of my new bedroom which seemed enormous without any furniture, and still seemed enormous after the bed and bookshelves were put in. The first time I went out to explore the backyard it was wild and overgrown with weeds and I put my bare foot in the middle of a thistle the size of Delaware because I was looking around and not down. Not long after we moved in my parents would clear away the weeds and one old tree, leaving behind a spindly oak that cast a strange shadow like heads swaying back and forth on my bedroom wall.
I can’t explain why but recent events made me think about moving to a new home, how easy it was. My parents were able to check out their new home before they decided to move. They weren’t worried about being welcome in the neighborhood. After all they’re white. So am I. When I got lost at the mall I was a minor but not a minority.
For a long time when I remembered that time I was lost I thought how lucky I was, but it was more than just luck, unless you count the . There were countless circumstances that gave me an advantage. The woman who worked at the mall had some strong words for my mother but that was the worst that happened.
When I see kids being taken from their families I can’t imagine what they’re going through. To even try I’d have to consider almost every aspect of my own experience and reverse it. What would it be like to have parents who had to leave difficult and uncertain circumstances in hopes of finding something better, to be taken away from those parents because of a new policy, to be locked in a cage.
It’s difficult to imagine how that would feel, but still easier than trying to understand why.


June Bugged.

Source: Wikipedia

I was out on my lunch break and saw a scary looking swarm of dark bugs buzzing around a patch of grass, so of course I headed right for it. I’d seen swarms like this before, starting when I was a kid and staying at my grandparents’ house one summer day, and there was a dark cloud of buzzing bugs around the bushes of one of their neighbor’s houses. My grandmother was terrified and told me to stay away from them because there was no way we could tell what they were, so of course when she wasn’t looking I went over for a closer look. My grandmother saw lurking death in everything: grass that was too tall could hide spiders and snakes, grass that was too short could make the ground dangerously hard, being outside too long on a summer day I could get pneumonia, being inside too long I could get rickets from vitamin D deficiency, and she carefully went through every piece of watermelon out of a fear that the seeds might sprout in my stomach and grow out of my nose. And the bugs in that scary looking swarm turned out to be June bugs which I still love because they’re completely harmless and just big goofy bumblers. As a kid who studied bugs of all types I knew most beetles to be, in spite of their heavily armored backs, kind of timid. Most preferred to hide under logs and rocks or in basements; they’d retract their antennae and back away from any movement, any light. Not June bugs. You find June bugs right out in the open, happily buzzing or bumbling around with their antennae up and spread wide like radar dishes, broadcasting to the world HEY, WHAT’S UP? I’M GONNA CLIMB UP YOUR LEG AND FALL OVER AND THEN FLY INTO A BRICK WALL FOR NO REASON. They’re big and really attractive beetles, with mottled green and yellow backs and their undersides are metallic green or gold. I caught some and took them to my grandfather who showed me how you can tie a string to a June bug’s leg and it will buzz around like a tiny weird balloon or maybe yank really hard and leave you with a string with a prickly beetle leg tied to it.
The next summer I was old enough to stay at home by myself and there was a time when my friends in the neighborhood had either moved away or were away so I had a lot of time to myself. I found a swarm of June bugs and it was fun at first just watching them, catching one and examining its shiny underside before letting it go, but then I started to perform what I called experiments but which even then I knew were really sadistic tortures.
Anyone who knows me know this story has a happy ending, for me, anyway, although not for some of the June bugs. I didn’t grow up to be a serial killer or for that matter a criminal of any kind. I’m not a vegan but I probably would be if I couldn’t get meat so neatly sliced and packaged it no longer looks like any animal and while I will hurt a fly I only do it if the fly is in the house and I feel guilty about it and I occasionally cause my wife some consternation when I catch a spider so I can release it outside even though I try to explain to her that it’s a member of the Lycosa genus and therefore completely harmless. So this story is not as dark as it could be, or rather it’s not a prequel to something much grimmer, but it still makes me uncomfortable that I put June bugs in glass jars with cotton balls soaked in alcohol and then pinned them to a piece of styrofoam, and then I started to put them in plastic bags and put them in the freezer then revive them in the hot air that blew from the air conditioner in the back of the house. The stove in the kitchen had those black spiral burners and I’d turn one on, crank it up until it glowed orange, and press a June bug’s back against the metal. At worst I was risking a burned finger but for the June bug this was always fatal.
As I consider this heavily loaded words like “normal” and “healthy” come to mind. I wonder how many others have done the same sorts of things, but most who did, understandably, don’t want to talk about it. Even then I felt guilty about what I was doing, wondered why I was doing it to such inoffensive creatures that don’t bite or sting or even get served up neatly sliced and packaged. And I’d already stopped when I went out one morning and walked around feeling like my head was wrapped in invisible cotton, and aching in my arms and legs. I went back inside and went to bed and woke up with a fever of a hundred degrees, and the only thing more miserable than missing precious summer days because of illness is having a body temperature that matches what’s outside. And I was too weak to cross the room and get rid of the styrofoam board of neatly mounted June bugs.
I’m resisting the temptation to try and draw some bigger conclusions from this, or to turn the June bugs into a metaphor. Some people might say, hey, they’re just bugs, and maybe this is a common, or at least not rare, phase kids go through, but I also don’t want to offer up any excuses. What I really want when I walk through a swarm of June bugs, when they crawl up my leg and fall off or fly away and bumble into things is to be like them, oblivious to any threats, or maybe they’re really the smart ones who know there is no lurking death.

One Thing In Common.

Source: From Old Books

A man stood at a large window overlooking London’s Kew Gardens. He was stout and bald, except for a thatch of hair on top and a little around the sides. Once copper-colored his hair and neatly trimmed beard had gone salt and pepper. As he turned and walked across the room he was joined by a thin white-haired man with glasses and a moustache.

“Well,” said the second man, his voice a deep melodious bass, “did you have a holly, jolly Christmas last year, Mr. Ives?”

Mr. Ives chuckled. “I did, and my children greatly enjoyed your singing ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’.”

As they approached an elegantly carved bar at the far end of the room they were joined by a third man with a deeply lined face and a rough, grizzled beard. He wore a black Stetson.

“Mr. Ravenscroft,” Mr. Ives said to the man he’d just been speaking to, “have you by any chance met Mr. Haggard?”

“I haven’t had the pleasure,” said Mr. Ravenscroft and he and Mr. Haggard shook hands then turned to order drinks.


The loud voice from across the room made all three men turn. The woman who’d just shouted a greeting wore a bright flowered dress. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, and a paper price tag dangled from the straw hat perched atop her head.

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Haggard as the woman joined them at the bar, “allow me to introduce Mrs. Cannon.”

She took a playful swipe at him and said, “Now you know me well enough to call me Minnie.” She then addressed the bartender. “Could we get some ice cream please? Vanilla with a fudge—“

“None for me,” Mr. Ravenscroft interrupted politely. “I’m afraid I’m lactose intolerant and that will make me—“

“Another whiskey, please,” said Mr. Haggard. “Very fine stuff, not like the moonshine my granddaddy used to brew that would make your hair—“

“Imagine,” said Mr. Ives, “all of us being here at once.”

Mrs. Cannon said, “Indeed! It makes me feel like a young—“

She did a pirouette on one foot and added, “It’s not every day a body gets to attend the elevation of a former viscount to the next level of English peerage just below a marquis.”

All those assembled nodded thoughtfully.


It’s Party Time!

No child’s party is complete without a theme and Partytown Central Depotville—your celebration destination location station for any occasion or situation—has over 1000 party themes available for rent or purchase no matter your festival jubilee merrymaking carnival gala needs!

-from the PCD website







Selections From Partytown Central Depotville’s List Of Children’s Party Themes

Environmentally Sustainable Entertainment Options

Public Domain Fairy Tale Characters

Mortgage Refinancing Negotiation

Earn A Junior Business Degree

Let’s Clean The House!

My Dad Versus Your Dad (Betting optional)

Cowboys and Federal Regulators

Choose Your Own Stock Trading Internship

Birthday Parties In My Day (Parent/Grandparent/Great Grandparent/Victorian Era)

Learn About Waivers

Astounding Sea Monkey Cosplay

Creative Accounting

15th Century Flemish Painting

Victim Blaming

Fun With Reupholstering

Build A Gnome Workshop

Night At The Recycling Center

Chicken Nuggets: From Egg To Box To Landfill

The Party’s Over. [Part 2 Of 2.]

Read Part 1 here.

When we got to Dale’s house my parents let me out while they went to park the car. As I was trying to cross the driveway unnoticed a tall blonde girl spotted me and said, “What is HE doing here?” There were only a few kids outside and they ignored her and me. I went into the house to try and find a secluded perch.
Dale was somewhere in the party, moving around with an entourage. I didn’t try to talk to him, just tried to stay out of everyone’s way. There was no place to sit, no place I could disappear to. It seemed like the only kids from school who weren’t at Dale’s house were ones I’d want to talk to. I hadn’t eaten because of nerves and the belief that there’d be food at the party, and there was food in the kitchen, but the entire football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and golf teams were between me and it. That was a grand total of just nine guys—small school–but the kitchen was crowded and they were hungry and there was still no way I could grab a sandwich without losing a hand. Eventually they moved on to the den to graze on cheerleaders. I sat down next to a basket of tortilla chips and a fondue pot of cheese dip. A guy with a mullet and a wispy moustache sat down and slapped me on the back. “You like nachos?” he yelled, then pointed at me. “Hey, dude’s all right! Dude likes nachos!” And I thought, hey, if this is all it takes to fit in I could have done it years ago.
I couldn’t eat nachos forever–well, I could, but the athletic department was working its way back–so I drifted off to a spot on the stairs where I stayed until Dale’s stepmother, who was nice and always seemed to zero in on me with some idea for getting me “involved”, asked if I’d go upstairs and choose some music. In Dale’s room there was a setup with a turntable and speakers that leaned out the window toward the patio below. I played some of Rush’s 2112, “Burning Down The House”, then switched to “Mr. Roboto”, really digging being a DJ. During the long version of “The Safety Dance” I dug through Dale’s milk crate full of vinyl and found an old recording of “The Hokey Pokey”. I thought that would be fun in an ironic way and danced happily by myself until a guy with a mullet and a wispy moustache, not Nacho Man but a different one, told me to get out.
For a long time I sat at a picnic table in the backyard sipping Kool-Aid. While the evening darkened and the multi-colored party lights strung around the patio grew brighter I watched couples who’d been blocked from the bedrooms disappear behind the toolshed at the back of the yard.
A pretty girl who ignored me at school sat down and said hi to me.
“Have you seen Stevie Wonder’s new car?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“Neither has he.”
She laughed and put out her hand then slapped the table between us.
“You’re a smart guy. Maybe you can help me. I took my mom’s boyfriend’s car out the other night, you know? Anyway I dented the the right front fender and my mom’s boyfriend is gonna kick my ass when he finds out. What should I do?”
I didn’t even know where to begin since “Why were you driving your mother’s boyfriend’s car when you haven’t even even got a learner’s permit?” seemed like a bad way to start. Besides, I thought, we all make mistakes, we all do things we wish we could take back. It wasn’t advice, but that didn’t matter. Horns were honking in the driveway and parents were coming out to point and snap their fingers. The party was ending.
That summer there was a growing schism in the church with my parents on one side, Dale’s father on the other, and most of their mutual friends uninterested in taking sides.  The big gatherings where our parents got together and that had been, for most of our lives, the times when Dale and I would get together, stopped happening. And even when our parents did get together we were both getting too old to tag along.
Most Sundays Dale brought some new friends he’d made in his new neighborhood, or occasionally Keith, to church with him. I was never invited to join these groups. Neither of us played soccer anymore, he’d dropped out of the Scouts, and I’d lost interest in the church youth group. When we passed we rarely said more than “Hey” to each other. In the fall, even though we went to the same high school, it was a much bigger school, and we rarely saw each other, and moved in different circles, although his circles were so much bigger. I was still so awkward, an outsider, alone most of the time, although I’d gotten good at blending in, wearing jeans and an Oxford cloth shirt. Sometimes Dale would walk by me in the hall and not even see me. One night a month into our freshman year my parents went to Dale’s house and I went along. Dale was alone in his room and for several awkward minutes I was alone with him. Then for some reason I started to spill about my latest obsession, interstellar travel, and how much I wanted to get off this planet. I rambled about wormholes and warping space, and I thought I sounded like the biggest dork in the universe, but I couldn’t shut up which made it even worse. Dale didn’t say anything until I finished and flopped into the beanbag chair.
“If you find a way,” he said, “take me with you.” It was a simple, quiet request, and I thought, what problems does Dale have that he wants to escape? And I thought, how could we possibly have this in common? Neither of us said anything after that. It wasn’t awkward, just the airless silence of two people who have nothing to say.
Dale and I would never be alone again after that. My parents left the church and a lot of their friends. Dale and I, I thought, who had so little in common, were only friends because circumstances forced us together. When those dissolved so did the friendship, but after years of feeling I was being pushed away there was that moment when Dale admitted he didn’t want to let go. At school I found friends, friends who were more like me, friends I chose. And yet I realized that you never really replace friends you’ve lost; new ones will never quite fill the void the old ones left.

This story doesn’t have a clear ending. If I could go back, if I could do it over, would I give it one? Would I do something differently, would I do everything differently? Maybe this is the ending it needs, to fray in different directions that will trace out their own paths, like people leaving a party.


The Party’s Over. [Part 1 of 2]

“You’re coming to my party, Chris.”

It wasn’t a request. For Dale it was simply a statement of fact, made while we were sitting in his bedroom. Actually he was half lying on his bed and I was sunk into the beanbag chair next to the stereo. He was throwing a party to mark the end of our eighth grade year, the end of junior high, the end of our time at MacMurray school, and he’d decided I was coming. I wasn’t so sure. The one thing I was sure of that Dale and I had been growing apart for years even though Dale had been one of my oldest friends. Our parents went to the same church, our mothers were close friends, and our birthdays were only a few months apart, so of course we bonded. We grew up together. At Dale’s tenth birthday party, the same one where I broke my front tooth but that’s another story, I tried nachos for the first time, although back then our idea of “nachos” was a corn chip with a slice of pasteurized processed cheese and a little bit of onion. Dale and I went to summer camp together. When we weren’t at camp we spent a lot of days walking to the video game arcade. That was when Dale lived near enough that we could walk to each others’ houses, which only lasted a couple of years. His family moved at least three times, but when he lived farther away we still saw each other at least three times a week. Our parents got together most Friday or Saturday nights. There was also church and its youth group, and we joined the Scouts together. We played on the same soccer team for three years. He was team captain and lead goal scorer and I was, well, there. Even though Dale loved horror films and I hated them—they’ve since grown on me—so we watched horror films. And Dale convinced me to sneak out late at night, which wasn’t hard because I wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep after watching The Beast Within, and we ran around the neighborhood filling mailboxes with shaving cream. And I’ve never forgotten the day we were home alone and decided to kill time making prank calls, asking people if their refrigerators were running. Then Dale dialed a random number and asked to speak to Jim. “This is Jim,” the guy on the other end of the line replied. Dale started laughing and looked at me and mouthed Oh shit. “Hang up!” I hissed. Dale said, “Hey Jim, it’s Dale, how’s it going?”

“Dale who?”

“Aw, come on, you know, it’s me. How’ve you been?”

Jim paused and then carefully said, “Well, all right, I guess, how about you?”

And the conversation went on for about fifteen minutes with Dale reminiscing about how they went fishing and their trip to Chattanooga and Jim trying to remember whether he’d ever been to Chattanooga.

During the summer between fifth and sixth grade Dale’s mother had to go into the hospital. Cancer, which she’d been dealing with for years, had come back and was much worse. Dale came and stayed with us. At first I was excited about this; to me it was like an extended sleepover. I didn’t think about what Dale was going through, and it frustrated me that he wanted to spend hours on the phone with Keith, another friend of his who lived next door to him. Keith was an athlete and a football fan, like Dale. It didn’t occur to me that, given the emotional stress of his mother’s illness, Dale would rather be at home.

When she got worse he did go home. When she died he and I didn’t talk about it, not until his next birthday when I was one of a half dozen guys he invited for a sleepover. We had pizza and watched movies and played games, then, late, things got quiet and one of the other kids asked Dale if he missed his mother. He talked quietly about how hard it had been, how the last time he talked to her she was unconscious, that the last thing he’d said was “I love you.”

I didn’t say anything but just listened, deeply aware that Dale, a few months younger than me, was years older.

As we went into sixth, seventh, and eighth grade we saw less of each other. Dale dropped out of the Scouts and his father moved the family to another part of town. There was also a growing schism in the church and his father was on one side while my parents were on the other. There were still occasional get-togethers but it had all changed. Dale and I went to the same school but we were in separate classes and moved in different circles. Most days he wore the usual cool kids’ uniform of a pale blue or white Oxford shirt and jeans. Most days I wore plaid shirts and corduroy slacks, the usual uniform of a kid who wants his ass kicked. When Dale and I were together we had less to talk about. Mostly he tried to convince me I should get my hair feathered and listen to Journey, and I was more interested in reruns of Star Trek.

When he invited me to his farewell to junior high party—not that it had a name or a theme because it was too cool to be anything but a party—I assumed it was out of pity, or maybe just habit for him. None of my other friends from school were invited but a lot of kids I didn’t like were. So I came up with a brilliant plan for getting out of it: I wouldn’t tell my parents about the party, which might have worked if Dale’s stepmother hadn’t asked my parents to help chaperone, and my parents of course thought, hey, what fourteen year-old shy geek wouldn’t want to go to a party full of jocks and cool kids with his parents?


The Kids Will Be All Right.

When I say Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of the best films of the ‘80’s and even deserves a place among the best films of all time I’m not kidding. Sure, it got blasted by critics when it first came out, but so did Led Zeppelin’s debut album which is now considered a classic, and, sure, it’s got its weak spots, but so does Led Zeppelin’s debut album and for that matter so do a lot of great works of art. It may not be Citizen Kane but it would be ridiculous if it were because Citizen Kane had already been made almost half a century earlier. And Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has lasted, meeting one of the main criteria for a film to be considered classic. Mark Twain also described a classic as “a book which people praise but don’t read,” and the film is so dependent on sight gags and actors’ performances that if it were made into a book that book would be terrible and no one should read it.

Granted this is just my opinion and while most opinions should be taken with at least a grain of salt it’s up to you to decide just how big that grain should be, and I’ll sprinkle in some additional thoughts. At least three times a day I ask myself, what makes you think that? And the first time I saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I said, wow, I know we’re going to see a lot more of Alex Winters, and maybe that other guy too. Keep in mind, though, that this was before Keanu Reeves was famous and was even before I was asked to play Keanu Reeves in a school talent show, back when I had more hair and less waist, but that’s another story. What I’m saying is that with opinions you should always season to taste, and a voice is telling me I’ve already hammered this point so hard it’s embedded in the wood and I should move on.

The critics who hated Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure were also, in my opinion, a bunch of old ugly dudes who missed that Bill and Ted aren’t as stupid as they seem–and maybe even smarter than they realize, like when Bill lets it slip he has “a slight Oedipal complex”, and while it’s lasted, I think it’s greatest impact was for people of a certain age at a certain time, which is ironic for a movie about time travel, but then films about the future have a lousy track record of actually predicting the future with the possible exception of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And what made it great was not that the way it spoke to a rising generation but its message to the older generation: trust the kids and they will turn out all right. With the right guidance, in fact, they can be extraordinary, and can even make a better world where miniature golf scores are way down and bowling scores are way up. In retrospect it seems almost too perfect that Bill and Ted’s mentor from the future, Rufus, is played by George Carlin who, two decades earlier, embraced the youth culture that was being rejected even by some of his own generation.

Source: Gfycat

While that other well-known ’80’s time travel film, Back To The Future, also contained the warning that the future and even the present aren’t fixed, it looked to the past. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure looked to the future, keeping it largely unknowable, but placing the greatest burden not on the past but the present. Bill & Ted also fully embraced something Back To The Future only touched on: when you’ve got a time machine you’ve literally got all the time in the world, as the disappearance of Ted’s father’s keys in the first reel has a most excellent payoff in the final one.

Source: Bill & Ted

As much as I loved the first film I had low expectations a few years later when I went to the theater to see Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. It felt like the first film was so complete in itself that, in spite of the success, there couldn’t be a sequel. In the theater, though, I did get a brief reminder of what the first film meant to me. There was a group of kids in the front row and somehow before the movie started I got to talking with them found out it was the tenth birthday of one of them. I gave him a pair of sunglasses with glow in the dark frames. “Thanks!” he said. “That was really excellent of you,” his mother told me. I just said, “Party on, dudes,” and took a seat in the back row where the Bogus Journey, in spite of the Ingmar Bergman references and great use of the Vasquez Rocks, was most heinous and non-triumphant.

And now there’s a third film in the works, and I wonder what this future holds. I don’t ask why because it’s Hollywood, Jake, and sequels and franchises have been part of the game at least as far back as the 1930’s with setups like The Aldrich Family which spanned a total of eleven films.

What I’m wondering now is, have they gotten better? Have we? And by “we” I mean those of us who are like Bill and Ted: guys who’ve already started out pretty high up on the ladder and get an extra boost. The future, so far anyway, hasn’t turned out to be so excellent for many people. Those of us who saw ourselves in Bill and Ted had a chance to make the world better and we largely failed. And one of the biggest flaws of the first two is that women, whose historic roles have largely been sidelined or even ignored, get the same treatment from Bill and Ted–even the historic babes. Sure, Joan Of Arc takes over a Jazzercize class, but even the woman who manages their band turns out to be Rufus in disguise. Bill and Ted have been to the past and future and to Heaven and Hell and even defeated Death, and now is their chance to see history as much more complicated than the contributions of as many dudes, mostly white dudes, as can be stuffed into a phone booth. George Carlin is sadly gone but that means we are now Rufus, and we have a responsibility to extend the help we offer far beyond the Circle K parking lot. And some of us old ugly dudes need to be reminded that while we can still party on the first and most important thing we can do in both the present and future is to be excellent to each other.

The Beach Rules.

In order to enjoy the beach safely and responsibly please observe the following rules:

  1. Pets are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  2. Children are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  3. This is a public beach. Please dress appropriately. Yes, we’re talking to you. Really, those shoes with that shirt? Did you get dressed in the dark this morning or what?
  4. If caught in an undertow swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current and can swim back safely.
  5. If caught in an overtow dive as deep as you can and swim parallel to the beach, if you remember where it is. This is a great chance to see how long you can hold your breath!
  6. If your car is towed call 251-555-3219.
  7. Don’t build a fire unless you’ve been in a horrific plane crash or fallen off a cruise and found yourself stranded alone on the beach. If that’s the case as soon as you start making a fire someone’s bound to show up and tell you you’re doing it wrong. Get a lift home from them.
  8. Feed the seagulls at your own risk. Every year dozens of tourists are carried away by flocks of seagulls.
  9. Do not linger under the palm trees. It makes the coconuts skittish.
  10. Solicitation is prohibited. So is selling anything. If someone approaches you and tries to interest you in a timeshare or beach property tell them you’re Canadian.
  11. There are lifeguards on duty but they can only run in slow motion. If you’re drowning try and prolong it as long as you can.
  12. If you find a lamp on the beach and rub it and a genie doesn’t come out take it home and try plugging it in.
  13. Do not get high on the beach. You might fall off.
  14. Do not taunt the seahorses. They may look cute, especially the babies, but the adults are very protective and, at up to six feet long and three-hundred pounds, can inflict a nasty bite.
  15. Do not drink the water.

The Atomic Age.

Source: Wikipedia

The 1980’s were a totally tubular decade, the era of Rubik’s cubes and Max Headroom, bandannas and leg warmers, of Cabbage Patch Kids and Garbage Pail Kids and conspicuous consumption, and of course some great and some not so great music, which is why the ‘80’s gave us the mixtape. If you love the ‘80’s then you didn’t grow up in the ‘80’s, but if you did grow up in the ‘80’s see if you can match these songs with their descriptions and deeper meanings below.

  1. 99 Luftballoons-Nena
  2. Take On Me-A-Ha
  3. Melt With You-Modern English
  4. Safety Dance-Men Without Hats
  5. Dude Looks Like A Lady-Aerosmith
  6. Eat It-Weird Al Yankovic
  7. Girls Just Want To Have Fun-Cyndi Lauper
  8. Billie Jean-Michael Jackson
  9. Like A Virgin-Madonna
  10. Karma Chameleon-Culture Club
  11. Every Breath You Take-The Police
  12. The Reflex-Duran Duran
  13. Our House-Madness
  14. Purple Rain-Prince
  15. Hip To Be Square-Huey Lewis & The News
  1. On its surface a denial of paternity this dance tune by the then rising King of Pop was also a response to growing interest in western goods in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe even as the Warsaw Pact nations remained suspicious of capitalism.
  2. Even the most well-stocked bomb shelter, this song reminded us, would require careful rationing and maintenance of a filtered ventilation system to ensure long-term survival in the event of a nuclear war.
  3. A comeback hit for a band that had been on “permanent vacation” this song used gender-bending lyrics as a metaphor for the increasing nuclear arms stockpile that was intended to be a show of force as part of the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that was intended to keep the nuclear superpowers in check even as international tensions escalated.
  4. This popular love song that’s become ubiquitous in cheesy commercials was inspired by the melting of mannequins used in nuclear bomb tests.
  5. The effects of widespread nuclear blasts on the climate and the ensuing “nuclear winter” became a widespread topic of discussion in the 1980’s and the subject of this song which became one of its performer’s signature pieces. It would be followed a few years later by “Alphabet Street”, about the codes entrusted to a “designated survivor” in the event of a nuclear attack during the president’s State of the Union address.
  6. Missile-launch surveillance is a full-time job as reflected in this song about the military personnel entrusted with keeping watch over the “lucky clover” of radar tracking and other early warning systems.
  7. A popular club hit the “dance” referred to in this song is international agreements toward nuclear disarmament and the negotiated withdrawal by the superpowers from certain parts of the world.
  8. Best known for its amazing music video that combined animation and live action as a young girl enters a comic book world the song and video both were a subtle yet poignant commentary on nations in remote parts of the world engaging in armed conflicts as proxies for the United States and Soviet Union.
  9. A popular parody of a Michael Jackson hit this song was also about the importance of storing canned goods and other non-perishable food items in bomb shelters in preparation for nuclear war.
  10. This British ska toe-tapper was all about the ongoing maintenance of a bomb shelter and the responsibility thrust onto the younger generation of ensuring survival in the event of nuclear war.
  11. This song’s performer shocked MTV audiences with her provocative wedding-dress performance but even more shocking was the song’s addressing of the nuclear superpowers’ massive arsenals and the fact that some of the weapons had not been updated in decades.
  12. A nuclear holocaust would likely require survivors to stay in cramped fallout shelters for months, even years. One of the biggest challenges would be staying healthy, as emphasized in this catchy hit from 1986 which featured then-San Francisco 49ers Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott singing backup vocals.
  13. Best known for their flamboyant lead singer this band’s catchy dance tune with its line about “red, gold, and green” was both a plea for universal harmony and a reference to Africa’s strategic importance in providing uranium for nuclear arsenals.
  14. This catchy German pop that went big in the English-speaking world hit is delightfully upbeat in contrast to its dark Dr. Strangelove-type story of nuclear war set off by a handful of children’s toys.
  15. Written and performed by a singer whose vocal range was as extreme as her punk hairdo and makeup this anthem to girls having fun was a cultural response to the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

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