“The increasingly abundant use of emojis across cultures and age groups — and the similar meanings we assign them — suggest we’re entering an era of hybrid communication, as we treat pictures like a real language.”-NPR, All Things Considered, May 4, 2015.
In the backyard there are two trees that have grown together at the base. This has formed a hole where rainwater collects. Even though it’s not a stump I wonder if this is the kind of “spunk-water”* Mark Twain wrote about in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
You got to go all by yourself, to the middle of the woods, where you know there’s a spunk-water stump, and just as it’s midnight you back up against the stump and jam your hand in and say:
‘Barley-corn, barley-corn, injun-meal shorts, Spunk-water, spunk-water, swaller these warts,’
and then walk away quick, eleven steps, with your eyes shut, and then turn around three times and walk home without speaking to anybody. Because if you speak the charm’s busted.”
Here’s a picture of the hole.
I think it’s haunted because I can’t keep it filled. Even though it’s small there’s almost always just enough water for a small colony of mosquito larvae. I have a lot of reasons for wanting as few mosquitoes around as possible, the biggest one being their propensity for carrying heartworms.
So here I am filling the hole with dirt. Hey, nice gloves!
Here’s the hole filled with dirt.
Here’s the hole two days later.
It did rain during those two days, and I can believe that some of the dirt was flushed out by the rain. It didn’t rain that hard, but maybe it really doesn’t take much. Obviously I need something heavier: rocks.
So here’s a nice big rock I decided to put in the hole.
Now this is where it gets weird. Or annoying. Or, if you don’t trust me, hard to believe. Last summer I filled the hole with small rocks. A few days later they all disappeared and the hole was filled with water again. This is why I believe the hole is haunted. Now the big rock seems to be staying in place.
Perhaps there was some small animal–raccoons, possibly, or even squirrels–that used the hole for drinking and was able to move the small rocks, but is stymied by the big rock.
That’s a pretty complicated explanation. A simpler one, I think, is that the holey ghost knows its actions are being documented. And because it has a sense of humor it’s not going to do what I want. Last year I wanted the hole to stay filled, so it mysteriously emptied itself. This year I want it to mysteriously empty itself, so, of course…
*I look forward to the traffic that will inevitably result from searches for “spunk water” even though most of the searchers will be disappointed.
Opening your own B&B or running one but lacking that special something? Purchase the J-Tel Generic B&B Library for the complete package of books you’ll find in sleepy retreats from Ashland, Maine to Ashland, California. This set is guaranteed to keep your guests entertained when not playing board games, antiquing, or just dozing by the fireplace.
Drinkers Go Last by Sam Lockwell
Buoys of Eastern Upstate New York
Marmalade Sunshine by Jeri Lynn Kelleran
Channel Markers OF The Great Lakes
Photos Taken From Airplanes (text by Peter Graves)
The Complete S. Holmes Stories of Sir A.C. Doyle (Reader’s Digest Condensed Version)
Three complete novels by Norbert Clark (Omnibus collection-Contagion/Plague/Putrescence)
The Florida Be Crazy Collection, selected and edited by Carl Hiaasen
Murder By Medic by Jane Taunton
Brothel Girls of Gold Rush Des Moines by Dr. Sylvester Yawlson
Influenza By Intent by Jane Taunton
Vanuatu by James Clavell (1800-page Reader’s Digest Condensed Version)
Capture By Catarrh by Jane Taunton
Mostly Polite Jokes (Volume 2)
Grasses of Pauquin Island
Demonic Debutante Divorcees by Jeri Lynn Kelleran
The Mammoth Book of Pebbles
The World’s Filthiest Limericks, edited by Ogden Nash
Every superhero story has its heroes, its villains, and its innocent—or not so innocent–victims and bystanders. In Asbestos Man’s world there were very few victims. One was an unnamed individual who was absorbed by The Quilt in Fuddrucker’s, only to reappear slightly unscathed a few days later in a Morrison’s Cafeteria in a shopping mall.
The scene in question–and, in fact, this particular story’s climax–was supposed to take place in the now defunct Hickory Hollow Mall which had a Morrison’s Cafeteria near one of its entrances. I sent a copy of the script to a friend who read it to her parents while they were eating at Morrison’s Cafeteria. A few months later at a party at her house I’d give the only live reading of the final Asbestos Man script.
Most of the villains Asbestos Man dealt with didn’t commit any real crimes, but there were some people caught up in the action.
Ms. Balst-A victim of an actual crime Ms. Ilyriana Balst was the Salivian Ambassor to the U.S. kidnapped by Roderick Skwelm. Actually he showed up at the airport and asked her to come with him which she did willingly. In spite of being a high ranking official in the Obscurantist Party she found living with him preferable to her government job.
Raoul-Ms. Balst’s bodyguard. New to the job Raoul didn’t question Skwelm’s claim to being the city’s official tour guide (actually he called himself the “superintendent of peregrination”). Originally born in Andorra Raoul was moved to Salivia by his aunt who believed it to be the ancestral home of the armadillo. He’s very proud of his adopted country and always wears a button that says “Kiss Me–I’m Salivian”.
Note: Salivia is a small European country near the intersection of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Historically it has never been invaded because no country wanted it, although medieval Germans did make a game of throwing rocks over Salivia and hitting Poland. Salivia has tried to become a member of the European Union several times but the response is always “call back during regular business hours”. Its only export is chervil.
Ramon-A hairstylist. The salon where he works is overrun by Dr. Krelg’s animated wigs leaving him so confused he can’t remember that the little dogs they remind him of are called Pomeranians.
Mugger (unnamed)-He robs Asbestos Man of Havel Freezener’s bail money then has an attack of conscience and turns it in to the police station. He and Officer Zumstein are in the same therapy group.
The glaring problem with the Asbestos Man scripts should be obvious: there was only one female character given a major role, and she was a victim. The dearth of female characters was, in part, me writing for what we had. Until I wrote the third script there weren’t any women in our little group who wanted to play along. When one volunteered she accused me of being sexist. It stung because she was right.
So there’s one last character I haven’t mentioned. In the final script, Havel Strikes Back, Mayor Geldo gives his friend Lolita a Glass Box, the same as the one used by Dr. Krelg to animate wigs, purchased at a local hardware store. In the final scene she pulls out the instructions and begins plotting villainy.
The only reason I chose the name Lolita is because I happened to be reading Nabokov’s novel at the time and just liked the way it rolled off the tongue. And it had a slightly sinister sound. I had a vague idea that Lolita would be the next villain Asbestos Man faced, but since the script was never written I can’t say anything about it.
Every script was written in a single sitting and when I started I had no idea how it would end, or, for that matter, what the middle would be. It was a good way to clear my head either before or after more high-minded pursuits–I was majoring in English and that paper on Wallace Stevens took a lot out of me.
When I came home for summer break the plan was to begin production immediately. We had everything we needed except props, sets, costumes, and a camera. Jake, AKA Asbestos Man, lived in nearby Franklin, and the closest we got to actually doing anything was driving down a country road that had a Franklin sign on it and putting up our own sign that said, “Home of Asbestos Man”. I’d later learn that this confused and amused a few joggers. And for a brief, glorious time Asbestos Man lived.
The good guys in the Asbestos Man universe weren’t particularly good so it followed that the bad guys weren’t particularly bad. Another running theme I discovered rereading the stories is that, with one exception, the villains that Asbestos Man faced weren’t born villains. They were victims of circumstances. These circumstances always happened off-screen, but with one exception there was an explanation for their villainy.
Dr. Krelg-Not really a doctor but a government food inspector Aloysius Krelg slipped off a catwalk in a factory and fell into a vat of butterscotch pudding. It had previously been his favorite flavor. The experience left him deeply embittered and determined to control his destiny in destructive ways. After renting a shed atop local Peak Lookover and converting it into a laboratory he began experimenting. His experiments with bandanas and hats were failures. His only success was animating wigs. They would eventually turn on him when they realized he couldn’t pay them minimum wage.
Professor Fliddro-Formerly an eccentric teacher at a private school for pre-adolescent boys Elmore Fliddro was doing his normal weekly grocery shopping when a shelf of baby food toppled over on him. The experience left him deeply embittered and determined to control his destiny in destructive ways. It also left him obsessed with children’s toys. His nefarious schemes were limited to taking over local malls, particularly the toy stores. He was assisted by two henchmen and a giant animated quilt.
Kevin-One of Professor Fliddro’s henchmen Kevin was deeply loyal in spite of being puzzled by his boss’s schemes.
Ralph-Like Kevin Ralph was puzzled by Professor Fliddro’s schemes, but went along anyway, as long as they stopped for regular coffee breaks. When, as a warm-up for a larger heist, they rob a local Fuddrucker’s Ralph also orders a cheeseburger to go.
The Quilt-A Sesame Street quilt standing nearly seven feet tall. The Quilt had the power to absorb people and carry them long distances, although under duress it would release them. The Quilt’s exact origins are unknown.
Note: A guy in the dorm room next to me had a Sesame Street quilt. I never did ask why, but it seemed like kind of a funny thing to bring to college.
Roderick Skwelm-Formerly a normal English teacher Skwelm used correct but unusual words almost constantly. For instance after a shower he wouldn’t “dry off”. He would “pursue aridity”. His fiancée left him both because she couldn’t understand him and because his apartment was filthy. The experience left him deeply embittered and determined to control his destiny in destructive ways. His mother left him the secret to animate tapioca pudding. He would use this to create a large slimy mass set loose to confuse the city.
Slimy Mass-Animated tapioca pudding. The Slimy Mass meandered through the city spouting non sequiturs it had learned from Roderick Skwelm’s trademarked English language learning tapes. “Please send the valet up to my room,” it would say, or, “I have been working out and my liver is feeling much better.” Taken to the Asbestos Parlor it briefly served as Asbestos Man’s receptionist until it dissolved.
Havel Freezener-Potentially Asbestos Man’s only real nemesis, the Joker to his Batman so to speak, Freezener’s exact origins are unclear, but he is at the heart of a crime syndicate that sneaks banned books into schools and sells experimental acne medications. The police have had great difficulty in capturing him, but, when Asbestos Man first encounters Freezener he’s locked in jail on an illegal parking charge. He is assisted by his henchman Boris.
Boris-Boris and Freezener met on a school trip to Europe and bonded over their hatred of all things related to Belgium, including Belgians. Boris takes advantage of Asbestos Man’s ignorance and goodwill and attempts to use him as a messenger to deliver Freezener’s bail money. The plot is thwarted when Captain Brunge and Officer Zumstein learn some weirdo is trying to deliver Freezener’s bail money.
Those were the bad guys, but there was also a whole set of characters off to the side who were neither good nor bad but simply caught in the crossfire. They were a strange collection of individuals. Stay tuned.
I wrote a lot of weird stuff in college. I know that’s not much of a confession because most other people can say the same thing. A real confession would be that I understood modern philosophy without being high, but that’s another story. A few weeks ago pulling down some old memories from the attic I came across a folder of scripts. In the summer between graduating high school and starting college the friends I hung out with all had their own nicknames. They were “handles” from the computer bulletin board systems where we virtually hung out. This was pre-internet, and almost everyone on the BBSes was local because it was a local call. This meant we could get together in the real world almost as easily as the virtual one, and most Thursday nights we’d gather at a Fuddrucker’s for burgers and random chaos.
One guy called himself Asbestos Man. Someone got the idea that I should write a story about a superhero named Asbestos Man. Then it became a script. Then the idea was that with the script in hand we could make an Asbestos Man movie. Then I went off to my freshman year at college, but the idea stuck with me, and the friends I stayed in touch with through letters reminded me about it too. So I sat down and wrote a pilot that would introduce Asbestos Man, hero of the city, friend to the downtrodden, and part-time assistant to a couple of bumbling cops.
The initial reaction was positive enough that I wrote three more scripts. Each one was only seven pages, but I’m still surprised by the number of characters I introduced. The only problem was range—but I’ll come back to that.
The four stories were:
Dr. Krelg’s Evil Plot-A massive number of wigs have been stolen. The police can’t be bothered, so they call Asbestos Man.
The Disappearance of Captain Brunge-Two guys with a giant walking quilt are wreaking havoc, but where is police captain Brunge? Asbestos Man is on the case.
A Scandal In Salivia-A foreign ambassador has been abducted and the police can’t be bothered. It’s up to Asbestos Man to rescue her.
Havel Strikes Back-The city’s biggest crime boss is finally behind bars. How will his top assistant get his bail money to him? By calling Asbestos Man of course!
And then there were the characters.
Asbestos Man-A superhero who’s not particularly super and whose origins are unknown Asbestos Man is introduced relaxing in The Asbestos Parlor (a solid white room with a white desk, white phone, white chair, etc.) waiting for the police to call. And they do whenever they have a problem that’s not important enough for them to waste their time on it. When called into action he sets off on The Asbestos Bike.
Asbestos Man wears a solid gray body suit and red goggles.
Note: Aside from a brief reference to his suit being fireproof there’s no explanation as to why he’s Asbestos Man. He could just as easily have been Naugahyde Man.
Captain Brunge-An aging police captain Brunge would retire if the SNAFU that’s holding up his benefits could ever get worked out. He’s been moved to an obscure corner in an obscure office of the police force that deals with low-budget threats. Frustrated at being stuck he has been known to contemplate becoming a supervillain.
Everything about Captain Brunge is bushy: his hair, his eyebrows, his moustache. If he ever took his shirt off we’d see his chest looks like a thick-coated poodle. All this is set off by his horn rimmed glasses.
Officer Zumstein-A perpetual rookie cop Zumstein has been assigned to assist Captain Brunge. Innocent in the extreme Zumstein has never made a single arrest because he can’t believe anyone is guilty of anything. He does, however, write excellent reports, albeit ones that are usually about something completely unrelated to the crime.
Tall, skinny, and dark-haired Zumstein is always ready to protect and serve with a smile.
Mayor Geldo-The most honest mayor in the city’s history Geldo cleaned corruption from City Hall, cracked down on lobbying, and opened up all city business to public scrutiny. Under his watch anything that remotely seemed unethical was frowned upon, and accounting errors of as little as a penny resulted in an immediate and thorough audit. He lost his re-election bid in a landslide and now lives in an abandoned warehouse.
Thin and balding Mayor Geldo always walks around with a hangdog look. The occasional generosity of strangers and his hopelessness with technology are the only things preventing him from becoming a supervillain.
I had specific friends in mind for each of these roles. Writing to their strengths was part of the fun. The supervillains Asbestos Man would battle were even more fun to write for because they’d all be played by the same guy.
Have you ever seen a car that just looks like it’s driven by someone you’d really like to know? For me it’s usually the collection of bumper stickers that’s so large they extend well above and beyond the bumper that makes me say, “Hey, I’m into all of those things too!” And I’m tempted to follow that car even if it veers off in the opposite direction of where I’m going.
Once when I was driving home but not in any real hurry a group of antique cars pulled up around me at a red light. Then they turned left while I was going straight ahead. I still regret not following them. I’m not really a car guy, but I think old automobiles are really cool. Once in a museum I saw a limousine that I think was from around the 1920’s. An old woman came up to me and said, “This is the car I dreamt of as a little girl.” I said, “This is the car I dream of now.” In retrospect she may have thought I was making fun of her; really I was making a connection.
Yes, I know they were gas-guzzling deathtraps and even if one could be retro-fitted with a hybrid engine and seat belts and airbags the insurance alone would drive me to bankruptcy and it would be unsellable. It’s like the statue of Hatshepsut kneeling at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It would be completely impractical to own but a guy can dream, can’t he?
And sometimes I dream of following a cool car, but then I dream of how it will turn out. Instead of going to a pizza place or bookstore they’ll be headed home, and I’ll end up parked in front of it. If I can overcome the intense shyness that sometimes overwhelms me I’ll probably sputter out something like, “Hi, nice car. Yeah, I was just driving around. Thought I’d park here. That’s a nice house. Oh, it’s yours? Hey, you’re a Doctor Who fan too, eh? Cool. It looks like you’re trying to get your mail and go inside. Mind if I come with you? Well, this is awkward.”
What I really want to do is send them a message that says, “I really dig your flivver, and it seems to me like we might be simpatico. At a convenient time would you like to meet at a coffee place and have a couple of pantoccinos, or maybe somewhere else for something a little stronger made with my old friend Hopson Malt?”
Yes I know it would come across as pushy and possibly even disturbing, but maybe, just maybe, that would work. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
So it was 1995, and the place where I worked had just started using e-mail. We had a program called Pegasus, which I’m tickled to see, is still going. It was supposed to be a work tool, but its real purpose quickly became clear: to share jokes. A short time later I discovered I could create email groups and have the names hidden so the recipients wouldn’t see each other’s addresses. So I created a group.
Guess what it was called.
It wasn’t long before I tried writing some stuff of my own. The first thing I remember writing that got a tremendous response was about the instructions on the packets of salt you get at fast food restaurants. The thrill of feedback was intoxicating, and addictive.
Twenty years have gone by in a flash. I’ve read somewhere that the average blog only lasts three years. If you never come here again drop by on April 1, 2025. I intend to destroy the average.
In the meantime…there will be the book. I have no idea when, but it will be a collection of humorous pieces and short stories, because there’s nothing publishers love more as you can tell by the fact that such books always end up in the three-for-a-dollar remainder pile.
I do at least have a title, which is a good start.
Never pick apart a golf ball or it will explode and other lies our parents told us.
The true story of a boy and his aardvark.
Don’t pick up this book—you don’t know where it’s been.
Chuffed, Naff, Barmy, Wanker, Git, Bollocks, And Other Words I’d Use Constantly If I Were British.
Contains Material Not Included In Previous Editions.
A shoe, a canoe, and a didgeridoo.
Or It Will Be If I Ever Get Around To Writing It
A post-Freudian analysis of Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood as examined through a Barthesian dialectical lens.
A helpful guide to just read the damn book already.
I don’t know if it really started on April 1, 1995—I don’t remember the exact date, frankly—but it’s close enough. And I always wanted to have a birthday in the spring. My real birthday is December 20, . And I have to give full credit to my mother who always made sure my birthday was celebrated as its own event in spite of its proximity to Christmas. There were advantages to having a birthday at that time of year—including being a Sagittarius. I remember the first time I read the description of a Sagittarius. Three things stood out:
-Loves the outdoors
-Loves to dress up in costumes
Check, check, and mate. I’ve spent the rest of my life avoiding reading anything about astrology because I suspect the description of a Leo is completely different but would fit me just as well.
April 1st is also the birthday of Lon Chaney. Apparently loving to dress up in costumes is an Aries thing as well.
Thanks to Scott MacLean who created the original website, and Jeff Goebel of Frogstar, both of whom put an incredible amount of work into rebuilding this site as a blog I could call home. They created a fantastic design which I immediately tore to pieces. This was not an editorial comment. It’s just that I’ve lived with dogs long enough to know that the only way to make the yard yours is to pee on every tree.And now…let loose the tarantulas of foolishness! Here are videos I’ve made on my real birthday for the past three years.
And now back to the usual foolishness.
In central Europe March comes in like a wolf and goes out like a weasel.
In South Africa March comes in like a leopard and goes out like an ostrich.
In Siberia March comes in like a bear and goes out like a bear. Not much happens there until June.
In Central America March comes in like a chameleon and goes out like a capybara.
In Sri Lanka March comes in like a sloth and goes out like an Indian skipper frog.
In Australia March comes in like a jumbuck and goes out like a dingo.
In Morocco March comes in like Humphrey Bogart and goes out like Ingrid Bergman.
It’s become an annual tradition. Someone sees me blowing dandelion seeds and says, “Don’t do that.” I ask, “Why do you hate them so much?” And I know that simply raises the question: why do I love them so much? For one thing they’re not actual lions, which are large and scary, and which, if I ever go on a safari in Africa, I hope I’ll only see from a distance. I’d love to go on a safari even though I’m terrified of lions and other large animals, in part because it would be an amazing experience, but mainly because I’d hope to see aardvarks, but that’s another story.
Dandelions are, to me, beautiful intricate flowers that have an amazing ability to come up almost anywhere. I know this technically makes them weeds, but I see them on grassy corners and in vacant lots—places where no one’s growing anything anyway, so there’s no harm in them being there. I also believe the only definition of a “weed” is a plant that grows somewhere you don’t want it. That’s how I know that if I ever followed up on my impulse to plant a pot of dandelions they would all die.
The most common answer I get when I ask what’s wrong with dandelions is that they break up the nice even green of a yard. And my response to that is always, Do you live on a golf course?
To my friends who’ve heard this joke a thousand times already: I’ll come up with a new one when you give me another reason why you dislike dandelions.
I love the flowers, but I also love the seed heads. There’s something deeply satisfying about blowing away dandelion seeds. It seems like a violent act, but it’s spreading life. It’s what the dandelion wants. Go on. You know you want to.