Tuesday, November 19, 2013

a heart that hurts is a heart that works

One of my favorite songs, perhaps my most favorite, is Universal Heartbeat by Juliana Hatfield.

I turned to it often when I was watching my first marriage decay, wondering if anyone else out there was able to feel pain the way I did. Slight of frame and absolutely beautiful in a minimalist sort of way, Juliana sang a tribute to the heart's capacity to experience pain as a savory delight. It can all be summed up in one of the lines of the song's refrain, "A heart that hurts is a heart that works." Hearing these words she wrote made me want to marry her, sight unseen.

She got it. She felt what I felt. I was married to a woman that didn't care what she was doing to our son by leaving him behind and didn't care what hoops I went through to please her. As I pursued a five year battle to save my family, my heart heaped pain upon itself with the ferocity of a teen aged cutter with a pocket full of razor blades. It's true. The quality of the human heart is not in its capacity to love but in it's capacity to feel deep emotional pain.

The journey of being a writer is much the same as the task of saving a marriage where only one person wants to remain married. Every day you feel like stepping in front of a bus at least once. The need to care for my son was the only thing that kept me from stepping off the curb. My stories deserve the same chance. My stories deserve someone who will sacrifice all for them. Sacrifice often takes the form of a pain filled heart, and my heart knows how to feel pain. It learned how long ago.

I went to grade school in River Forest, Illinois. St. Vincent Ferrer is a catholic school in that upscale Chicago suburb which sent me into the world with a certificate of some sort or another that said I was ready for High School. Aside from the massive essence of a catholic school and church that occupied an entire city block, the best thing about going to school there was just across the street.

I grew up in Elmwood Park, Illinois, which was next to River Forest. In the shadow of the blimp-hangar sized St. Vincent's church was a little restaurant named Johnie's. I say restaurant because they served food but it had no indoor tables, no waiters. It was a single enclosed counter. You walk in one end, stand at the counter, order your food, walk along the counter, pay, walk a little farther, pick up your food, and walk out the other side. My favorite meal there was the combo. Italian beef, peppers, and an Italian sausage on a roll soaked with the juice from the beef. The bread was a meal all on its own and for a kid growing up with a weight problem, this was a drug on the order of heroin.

It was on a certain day when I was there for lunch. My memory tells me I was in fourth grade, but the time line may be flawed. Suffice it to say, it was a school day. I wasn't wearing a tie so I was younger than seventh grade. Since we weren't supposed to go there at lunchtime while at school, I needed to do whatever I could to keep the restaurant between me and the Priests across the street. Unobserved, I did the routine of walking the counter and exiting with my greasy meal in a bag clutched in my hand. I exited and turned right to avoid detection.

My plan was to walk through the parking lot behind the building and reconnoiter with my friends by the picnic tables near the entrance. Along the way I would pass the service entrance of the restaurant and a few sweaty cooks smoking, the slippery pavement by the crusty grease trap, a wash of putrid air from the walk in cooler exhaust fans, and the garbage dumpsters. This particular day, there was something else I needed to walk by, a woman who was rummaging through the garbage looking for food.

She was wearing an unusual amount of clothes. It was springtime but she was dressed like it was winter. Nothing about her wasn't smeared with dirt or grime. The term 'homeless' wasn't yet popular in our culture, so I pegged her as a 'bum,' my first ever encountered. I stopped and studied her. She appeared to be about my mother's age which made me sad. I wondered if she had children and if so, did they know she was looking through a dumpster for food.

My heart broke. I wasn't supposed to be here, it was against school rules, and now I felt like I was being punished. I was the fat kid in class. I had plenty to eat all the time. I stood motionless in my husky size Sears pants with yet another high calorie meal lined up and ready to go in the hopper while this woman was scavenging for food that people like me had thrown away. I couldn't stop watching. I wanted to give my food to her but I was too selfish, too fixated on satisfying myself, and unable to make the offer since no one had ever shown me how. The normalcy of my world was placed on pause. I was alone in the appreciation of the power of the moment, shame and humility served on a platter.

I finally managed to make it back to my friends. I tried to explain how I felt to them but again I was left impotent. No one had shown me how to share my feelings. I ate my sandwich but made sure to sit in a spot where I could see the woman. Eating had become such a habit that it happened automatically, even while watching an impoverished woman struggle to feed herself. No one else watched her. No one else cared. The brisk lunch crowd came and went without anyone else noticing the woman in the garbage. Maybe that was why I watched her. In my school aged way, I was showing her respect as a person. Maybe I was just gawking. It's hard to say.

I buried the experience down deep, as I did with most of the pain in my childhood. It was a useful technique in maintaining my obese profile but not at all effective in forgetting the moment. I am told that my name, Edward, has origins which trace its meaning as 'witness.' Ain't that the truth. The woman in this story is just one of innumerable instances in my life where I was in the right place at the right time to see with my own eyes activities or circumstances which evoke a pure emotional experience.

I often hate my heart and its ability to feel such pain and empathize repeatedly. I wish I was as brain dead as the other 99% of people in this world who are satisfied to just look the other way and not let their eyes decode the feelings of others. I can't. God made me this way and I am not always happy about that. If there is a trade off, I hope it's that having such a heart will make me a great writer some day. Until then, it just leaves me drained.

Another query rejection came in today. It was for a 28,000 word middle grade novel I just wrote. Over three-and-a-half years I've had over two-hundred rejections spanning four novels, a dozen picture books, and a smattering of short stories. You would think I'd be used to the rejections by now, and in doing so you would be incorrect. 

A heart that hurts is a heart that works hard.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In a Rut...

What is one to do when one considers themselves creative but has lost, temporarily I hope, the urge to create? That is where I am right now. I am firmly seated in the, "Well if it hasn't happened by now it's never gonna happen," world of creative writing.

As I look back at my query rejections, I see my earliest on record was in February of 2010. It was the result of my very first submission of a memoir covering the ten years of my life when my wife left me, came back, left me again this time with child, came back, left me again after a vasectomy, and I finally wised up and divorced her. Stunning, really, and at 300 pages is probably my worst work ever. Still, I hope I will be able to salvage it some day. I lived through a lot of pain and it would be nice to know it wasn't wasted just on me. I think many readers would love to see how I was gutted and filleted over a series of days and years. It's a lot like the process of trying to get published.

I am encouraged by a story Stephen King wrote about trying to get published and his first personalized rejection. In his teens he submitted a story to a science fiction magazine and received the rejection letter with a hand written note. Instead of encouraging words about his writing, it simply chastised him for stapling his manuscript pages. He placed that rejection on a nail in his bedroom wall, along with all the following rejections he received.

By the way, I tape the letter rejections to the cabinets in my kitchen. Emailed ones get put in a special folder.

Stephen King went on to write that after he had a couple of novels published, he came across that rejected story and resubmitted it to the same magazine. Of course, they were more than happy to publish it this time.

To exist on this planet as a published author, will that day ever come? It will require some spark of luck along with all the hard work. Will I ever be able to set aside the realization that I've worked very hard at something even though it's never amounted to much? Since that first manuscript my fingers have cranked out story after story. Picture books, horror flash fiction, novels, writing contests, on and on I write, hoping to hone my voice out of sheer exhaustion by the keyboard.

Sometimes it feels like I'm close. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to visit Paris this past summer by my very generous mother in law. It was exquisite, even with a sore back. While there, I felt as if I was in a storybook myself as I received an email from an agent asking to read all of the stories I'd written in a picture book series. How incredible! To be discovered while abroad in the city of lights! It was enough to make me want to drop my pants from the heights of the Trocodero and wiggle my manhood at the Eiffel tower. Sadly, I never heard from the agent again.The dream of Paris remained just a dream.

After that time of great anticipation and even greater let down, I hit a slump. I had plenty of ideas of what I wanted to write. It was annoying at times. The urge to write just escaped me. Then my six year old said something to me that kicked the creative juices. Soon thereafter I had written a middle grade novel. I wanted 9,000 words but after two edits ended up with 28,000 and I liked it. I queried it to sixty-six agents in one day. That same day I got one full manuscript request from one agent.

Back on the roof baby! However by the next day I was back in the valley of despair. My lack of patience after three and one half years of trying convinced me over and over that if what I wrote was any good, an offer of representation should come in almost immediately, even though that seldom happens.

Three months is the appropriate amount of time to wait before contacting an agent who requested to see more of the work. My situation is strange. As the agent who requested the full manuscript did so on September 24, 2013. Three months later is Christmas Eve. It's Paris all over again. I'll be hoping for a Christmas miracle while making sure to keep some well spiked egg nog in the fridge. Who knows? Maybe I'll get that miracle and finally be a published author.

Until then I'll keep thinking about the half finished middle grade steam punk novel I was working on earlier in the year, and editing the YA romance thriller I originally entered in the 2011 ABNA contest, or that other YA novel that is just an idea in my head right now, or the screen play that is semi-autobiographical, or the tiny picture book manuscripts I would love to read.

Either way, I really want to be a writer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Seurat knew a lot about dots...

As a child, I watched as much television as I could.

I grew up in Chicago and mornings belonged to WGN, channel 9, with Ray Raynor who hosted an almost completely non-educational program, Ray and Friends. Featuring Bugs Bunny cartoons and a Goose that danced to Disco Music, this was the ideal venue to numb your mind before going to school while checking on the weather and traffic (seriously, traffic reports from flying officer Jim Cavenaugh). The afternoons, on the other hand, belonged to WFLD, channel 32, which had a wide variety of prerecorded mindless entertainment including Spider Man cartoons and The Monkees. Neither the AM or the PM was remotely enriching, save the expansion of my vocabulary and sense of humor way beyond what the sock puppets at PBS could offer.

In our contemporary world my parents would seem near abusive for their willful neglect of my development on an intellectual level. They let me sit in front of the TV for hours each day with little or no restriction on what I watched. There was one rule, however. We needed to be no closer than six feet from the TV screen. We were told at the time that was to avoid damage to our eyes. In reality, it was likely more for the fact that  three electron guns in the back of the cathode ray tube were pouring out enough electrons to cast an image of our skeletons on the neighbor's house. Seriously, even at six feet, I feel the radiation still reached the nuclei of our brain cells and are probably to blame for why we are all so fat now. 

Before you judge my parents harshly for letting me rot on the living room floor whilst sipping on my fourth glass of Nestle Quik that hour, you must remember one thing. It was because of our decadent, Roman-style orgy of TV pleasure and sloth that commercial television took its first steps toward becoming good for us to watch. I and the rest of my generation were pioneers in the wilderness. Life was hard for us in the developing jungle TV world that provided little in the way of educational sustenance. And don't talk to me about Public Broadcasting and how it was always a source of educational fare. The first naked woman's breasts I ever saw was on the Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW, channel 11, on a Masterpiece Theater drama presentation of,  "I Claudius". No wonder Elmo was inappropriate with those young men. Stick that in your fund raising tote bag.

We sacrificed good grades and test scores to serve as a warning that TV needed to change. Programers faced the dilemma of loosing their young and highly impressionable viewers if something didn't change. They feared that some parents, probably the ones with good educations and high paying consulting jobs, would steer their children away from the Magnavox-nannies and into the fresh air of the outside world if TV didn't teach these kids something. We were the hostages that brought about change. To keep us watching, we needed to learn. The shows stayed the same. The commercial breaks changed.

Of the 30 minutes allotted to a half hour television program, only 22 minutes is programming and the remainder of the time, 26%, is advertizing. Broadcasters agreed that one of those minutes each half hour should be dedicated to programing that would teach these round faced children something that could be repeated to their parents proving they learned something from TV. This was how my much younger self first learned of Georges Seurat.

A French born draftsman and artist, Seurat is best known for his work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It took him two years to create his 10 foot wide masterpiece which depicts all social classes enjoying a peaceful afternoon by the water. It's hallmark is the painting style which incorporates dots of color instead of blended colors. Between episodes of Speed Buggy and Ricochet Rabbit, I saw the painting, the women in skirts with bustles, men in top hats and formal jackets, and one reclining figure in a tank top, ball cap, and a pipe next to a monkey. The narrator ended the minute of education with the phrase, "Seurat knew a lot about dots."

A few days ago, on a day some 35 years after the aforementioned lesson, I happened to find myself in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. I lay on the grass, reclining after sharing an impromptu picnic lunch with my family and resting in relief of the long, warm morning. While shaking off the fatigue brought about by sight-seeing, my 15 year old son looked over at me and said, "Hey dad, you look like that guy from the Seurat painting; the guy with the monkey and the pipe." I had taught my son of Seurat, the artist television had taught me about. Living close to Chicago, my son and I had seen the painting many times in the Art Institute. With eyes closed I saw it in my mind and realized he was right.

Here is what my 15 year old son saw, juxtaposed with the actual work of art.

From Mr. Seurat's 1886 work in Paris, to a television screen in 1975 in a Chicago suburb, to a 2013 afternoon in Paris, it all came together. It seems only logical that I may just be that guy, represented 127 years before my visit, somewhat out of place in society yet a center of attention. Most of all I believe I am destined to be in Paris is some way or another.

Thank you television for giving me a cyclic moment in my life and bringing two loose ends, and a father and son, together. You have been and always shall be my friend. Now I would like to watch some Speed Racer and have a glass of Nestle Quik, please. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

90 minutes later...

My wife is a grade school librarian who is a little annoyed with me right now.

It started when she asked for my help with a writing project for her students based on author Candice Flemming's method for teaching children how to write stories. As it turns out, Ms Flemming was a writer in residence at my wife's school some time ago and now my wife uses that method for her students.

Here is a picture of my wife in our shared home office, holding up the notes for the story which she asked me to collaborate on.
I won't share Ms. Flemming's method here, as it really is Ms. Flemming's property and its pretty brilliant.

I will share why my wife is annoyed with me. The project requires stories for the children to illustrate, based on their outline, characters, and situations. She and I started writing stories at the same time on different outlines. She is not that happy with hers, and is envious of mine. It's her competitive nature. The fact that she is envious of mine lets me know it's good.

So, here, after 90 minutes of work, is the resulting story, based on the outline and characters provided to me by my wife's first grade students.

King Penguin Finds a Mate
a story by Edward Varga, created with the combined imagination of first grade students at Lake Bluff elementary School.

Everyone knows that penguins mate for life.

That means for each girl penguin there is only one boy penguin that she loves. And for each boy penguin there is only one girl penguin that he loves. One boy penguin plus one girl penguin equals one happy pair of penguins, for life. It is a rule that can not be broken, the “Penguin Fact of Life” rule.

Every penguin knew that one day they would find their one true mate for life. What they did not know is when they would find their one true mate for life. King Penguin asked himself the question of, when. You see, King penguin was old and he had never found a mate. With his feathers starting to turn gray, he became anxious.

He heard about a new way that penguins were meeting each other, hatch.com, the dating website for flightless arctic birds.He uploaded his profile information and a picture of himself when his feathers were not quite so gray. Almost instantly, he had an email offer to meet an older, distinguished girl penguin who liked long walks on the ice and eating fish. She didn't sound that exciting, but he decided it was too late in his life to be choosy.
They agreed to meet at a new sushi restaurant that was about to open. Penguins love sushi. After all, it’s made with raw fish. At 6pm, King Penguin arrived at the restaurant with freshly preened feathers and a small flower for his date. Unfortunately, King Penguin looked exactly like the sushi chef hired by the restaurant manager, who was late for work.

When King Penguin walked through the door, the manager penguin grabbed him by the collar and yelled, “Where have you been? Get in the kitchen and start cooking!” He threw poor old King Penguin into the kitchen and locked the door behind him. The manager squaked, “You stay in there until you make all the orders for my customers, then I will let you out! Now get to work!”

King Penguin tried to push the door open, but the lock was strong and the doors wouldn’t move. He decided if there was any chance for him to go on his date, he would need to finish all the orders of sushi and fast. He set to work.

First he threw fish heads and tails into balls of sticky rice. Next he wrapped sardines from a can in seaweed and placed them on crackers. Finally he used a pencil sharpener to grind avocados and carrots into a paste he served in old oyster shells. When he filled enough plates of food for all the customers, he banged on the kitchen door for the manager to come.

“Quickly!” the manager yelled at his waiters. “Get the food and serve it to my customers!” After the plates were served, the manager looked at King Penguin and said, “The customers better like your sushi, or else!” King Penguin tried to explain that he wasn’t a chef and he was just there looking for his date, but there was no time.

Almost instantly the customers started complaining. “Yech!” “Terrible!” “What in the ocean is this?” echoed from the restaurant dining room. “They hate it!” yelled the manager. “I warned you, now out you go!” The manager grabbed poor old King Penguin by the neck and threw him out of the restaurant and onto the ice. He was thrown so hard that he slipped and skidded until finally he landed in a hole that led to the ocean below.

Sploosh! He hit the water and sank quickly. Sure that now there was no chance he would ever find a mate, he swam slowly away to be by himself. As he swam farther he thought he could hear something in the distance.

It sounded like another penguin, a girl penguin. It also sounded like she was in trouble. “Help, help!” she cried. King Penguin swam quickly to where the calls of help came from. Through a trail of bubbles he spotted a girl penguin being chased by a shark!

With strength of a penguin half his age, King Penguin swam along side the girl penguin and motioned for her to swim with him. He turned and she followed. The shark also turned, lured by a meal twice as large as it was before. Side by side the two penguins swam with the shark following close behind and closing the gap.

King Penguin was smart. He knew he could never beat the shark under water so he was leading him back to the hole in the ice. When he spotted the opening, he led the girl penguin quickly upwards toward the surface. The shark followed.

At the same time, both penguins breached the water and slid quickly away on the ice surface. Unable to stop, the shark followed the penguins out of the water and onto the ice surface. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, the three continued sliding, heading for the new sushi restaurant which was now empty except for the angry manager.

When he saw the three speeding in his direction he yelled, “Stop!” They did not stop. They could not stop. Through the doorway the penguins sailed, pushing the manager with them.  

Breaking through the doorway came the shark, whose body and fins tore apart the front wall of the restaurant. Chairs, tables, and ocean themed decorations flew about as the massive shark’s body came to rest in the dining room of the new sushi restaurant.

King Penguin reached out and felt the flipper of the girl penguin. They stood up and brushed off the bits of restaurant they were buried under. They heard a voice. It was the manager yelling, “Bravo! Bravo! Look at the size of this shark you brought me! We’ll have enough sushi for a year!”

King Penguin smiled and looked at the girl penguin whose flipper he still held in his. She looked back at him and smiling said, “Thank you for rescuing me. How can I ever repay you?” King Penguin thought for a moment and said, “Well, my date for the evening didn't work out. Perhaps you and I could go for a cool drink?”

She said yes, and the next night they went out for ice cream, then the movies, then ice skating, then to watch the northern lights, and before they knew what happened, King penguin had found a mate.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Samson never knew his mother.

For nearly two years he grew inside of her, as is customary for African elephants. Shortly before he was to be born, however, his mother was culled by hunters.

As they stripped skin from her immobile but still breathing carcase, one of them noticed the baby kick within the muscles of her abdomen. He was reacting to the pain she was feeling. Pain of never seeing her child. Pain of having muscle cut from her body in its final moments on earth. Quickly the hunters sliced at her belly to free the unborn baby. Today's prize would be great. The product of the dead mother to sell, the token of a live baby to trade.

It took three of the hunters all the strength they could muster to drag the infant from the cavity of it's much larger mother. Two of the others kept watch as elephants with offspring are usually well protected by the heard. This one must have been left behind by the others, possibly abandoned at the sound of approaching danger. Either way, the same force used to drop his mother to the ground was now put to work lifting the baby to his feet. When she saw him stand on his own for the first time, his mother closed her eyes for the last.

Black smoke belched from the tailpipe of the military surplus Mack Bulldog as the hunters hoisted the slabs of elephant meat wrapped in oil cloth onto the truck's flatbed. The tiny elephant, now tethered by rope tied around his neck, stood trembling. One of the men used a tin plate to collect breast milk from his mother's body and tried to feed it to him. Not yet knowing how to drink, the milk trickled down the baby elephant's chin and fell to the ground. The smell of the milk baking in the afternoon sun attracted a surplus of flies who joined the ones already drawn by the smell of the afterbirth caked onto the the baby's skin.

Using two tree trunks as a makeshift stretcher, the elephant was lifted into the truck bed. For stability during the bumpy ride he was tied from each shoulder to the stake-body rails along each side of the truck. One of the hunters remarked, while carefully placing the blood stained ivory tusks into the truck cab, how the tiny baby looked like the Biblical Samson tied to the temple columns, too weak to free himself, yet inside possessing an unrealized holy strength.

Three hours later, as the sun set, Samson heard his first children's laughter. They had gathered to see him, confined in a horse stable, being tended to by a groom who used a hollow piece of bamboo to direct goat milk into his mouth. He looked at their teeth, brilliant white against dark skin, and wondered when he would learn to laugh as they did. Two days later, with a greater ability to walk, Samson was lead into a train car with straw on the floor. There he would rest, hungry and alone in darkness for a day as the train wound its way to the coast.

From there he was placed in a steel cage without bedding. A crane lifted the container high into the air, then set it down inside of a steamship cargo hold. There he would stay for a week, being fed only palm leaves and yellow water. The air around him was damp and cold. It grew stale during the trip. He developed an infection in his lungs. The lack of time with his mother's nutrition left him woefully incapable of fighting off disease. By the end of the journey he suffered from dysentery as well. The ship's crew stopped bringing water and food to his cage because of the waste that spilled onto the floor around him.

Upon docking at its destination, the steamship cargo hold doors were opened, casting sunshine and fresh air onto the face of the nearly dead Samson. Again his cage was lifted into the air, then set down on the worn wood of the docks. Noise was all around him, workers yelled while pulling on ropes. He lifted his tiny trunk to smell the salty warm air. Inhaling the fresh air deeply, he began to cough and gag, spewing phlegm from his infirm lungs. He coughed until the spasms caused him to vomit what little still remained inside of him. As he struggled to catch his breath, he felt a hand on his face. It felt cold against his fevered brow. Weakly he opened his eye. He saw a man who looked back at him with great concern, reaching through the bars of the small cage just to touch and comfort tiny Samson.

Samson closed his eye and lost consciousness.

When he awoke, sounds of birds filled the air. Beneath him was soft straw. He lifted his trunk and smelled something familiar. He opened his eyes and there before him stood another elephant. When he stirred and tried to stand, the other one, much larger than Samson, came over and placed her trunk on his shoulder, forcing him to stay down. Then she stroked his ear, soothing him back to rest. A cool breeze came through an opening in a wood paneled wall behind him, and he drifted off to sleep.

The next day, instead of forcing him to stay down, Samson was encouraged to stand by the other elephant. Once he did, she turned her side to him. Using her trunk, she nudged him closer, guiding his mouth to her teat. There she held him until he began to suckle. His aching belly filled with the sweet liquid. It made him sleepy. Then, as before, the larger elephant's truck guided him back to his spot in the straw. He lay down and fell fast asleep. The larger elephant remained watching at his side.

Over time, Samson grew under the cautious eye of his ersatz mother. She taught him how and when he should do everything. It seemed divine providence had put them together, the orphan child, the mother in mourning. Together through death, they found a reason to live. The Spimantrio family gave them a reason to perform.

Louis Spimantrio was a cobbler in Dolo, Italy, a small town near Venice. He was not happy as a shoe maker. He had little choice as it was his father's profession, as well as his father's father. Louis lamented how some men are born to be king, but he was born to make shoes. On Christmas eve, 1858, Louis closed his tool bag at the end of the work day in time to make the half mile walk to his parents house for dinner. On the way he stopped in a dram shop where he met a beautiful woman named Ieza, and her associates who were performers with a traveling circus.

They had stopped for one toast before starting their performance tour for the new year. Louis did not make it to his parents house that night. At 7:30, when he was a half hour late, his father looked out the window of his house to look for his son on the street below. He had no idea the train whistle he heard in the distance was the last he would ever know of him. Louis and Ieza fell madly in love. They consummated their feelings on the train that night as it headed north toward Austria. Joseph, the man who would found the Spimantrio Family Circus, was conceived on that first night. His son, Alphonso, would be the one who purchased Samson by telegram for the circus some sixty years later.

The Spimantrio Family Circus was a charmingly ethnic and bohemian extravaganza. There was no need for a freak show tent as the freaks seemed to be woven throughout the performances. Each member was a unique specimen, a show unto themselves. With the turning of the century, they relocated, leaving the old peeling paint of Europe behind. The gleaming and gilded streets of America was their new home. Fernandia Port, Florida, their new headquarters.

By 1931, Samson had joined the circus performances. He, along with the ten other African elephants made up the so called Pachyderm Parade, an elegant feather boa festooned march with the elephants stepping in time, bringing thunderous vibrations to the ground below their feet equal to that of an army of 10,000 men. At times the vibrations were so violent, spectators would be thrown from their benches to embarrassed laughter from the crowd.

During one such performance, it was a small child shaken loose from her seat. She tumbled headlong toward the dirt and sawdust of the performance area. Her mother's screams inaudible, made mute by the raucous band nearby. With each pound of elephant foot, she came closer to the path of the animals. Rolling slowly, a few people in the bleachers now saw the child, calculated her path in their minds, and started screaming when they realized in moments she would likely be trampled.

Samson saw it too. Calmly as he marched, ignoring the scrambling masses next to him, he released his truck from the tail of the elephant in front of him and kept moving in step with the others. When the moment was right, he swung his trunk down, gently wrapping it around the small child. Effortlessly he lifted her to safety and placed her on his shoulders, near his right ear where she quickly took hold. A smile careened across her face while the crowd cheered and the elephants continued to march.

Samson stopped moving only when the act was complete and each of the elephants stood in a circle facing outward toward the crowd. He tilted his head slightly to make sure the little girl had an easy time balancing. When the ringmaster approached, flanked by an elephant trainer and the young girl's mother, Samson reached around with his trunk. Eyes and faces gasped, hands stretched outward in fear. Then, just as before, he gently cupped the child and picked her up, placing her slowly into the mother's arms before him.

Flash bulbs began to pop as the ringmaster spoke with the trainer. He stepped in front of the side of the trainer where he wore a distinctly heavy .45 caliber Webley British revolver, hiding it from the cameras. What was a hushed conversation about how glad they were to have resolved the situation without having to shoot one or more of the elephants, became instructions for the trainer to step aside and disappear from sight.

The ringmaster's red tail coat with black velvet lapel and oiled beaver skin top hat appeared in stark, glorious contrast to the mottled gray skin of Samson under the bright arc lights of the circus big top.Reporters lined up to take their turn photographing the smiling child, her tearful mother, the boisterous ringmaster, and the hero Samson. Overnight, with the help of radio, newspapers, and word of mouth, he became the most famous pachyderm in captivity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Christian Parody Song?

Pop music can be such a pain in the ass. Case in point, this past summer's hear-it-till-you-wanna-shoot-yourself-in-the-face hit, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. Thanks Canada! Another one of your performers sneaked across the border! Tell ya what, next time, ask first. Michael J. Fox, that worked out great. We love him. Justin Bieber? Sorry, that was the deal breaker.

Now it's Carly's turn to be a Canadian ex-patriot making a splash in the states. Woo hoo! She's adorable! And that song, oh so catchy! You've had your one hit, time to head north. But before you go, I want to thank you for a dose of inspiration.

I'm Catholic. Lent just started. It's a time of the year for us which is as close to being Jewish as we will ever be. We fast, complain, you know, Old Testament kind of stuff. Most importantly, we think about incorporating our spirituality into our daily lives. I'm a dad. Being with the kids is part of my life. I'm also a writer. Lets put that all together and see what pops out.

Why of course, a Christian Parody Song about Mary Magdalene using Call Me Maybe as its base.

Here now are my lyrics for, "From Magdalene, I'm Mary."

I was a sinner big time
met lots of dudes for a dime
didn't like it one bit
was no way I could quit

felt so far from sublime
drank lots of fruit from the vine
I hung with the wrong crowd
my guilt was yelling so loud

a little bread you're sharing
with your desciples, oh so carin'
so unlike the pharisees
why would you talk to me, oh?

Hey I just met you,
and I'm no lady,
man I'm a sinner,
so save me maybe

I make my living
off dudes unsavory
I'd like a chance now
Jesus please save me.

Your followers scoffed
told you to call it off
said that I wasn't worth
a stepped on worm in the dirt

but you're the chosen one
were not looking for my fun
could it be that you care
I could see it in your stare

'cause your eyes were caring
with your desciples, oh so carin'
wave on the sea of galilee
why would you talk to me, oh?

Hey I just met you,
and I'm no lady,
man I'm a sinner,
so save me maybe

I make my living
off dudes unsavory
I'd like a chance now
Jesus please save me.

Before you came into my life
I had no love only strife
stealing men from their wives
so many men from their wives

Before you came into my life
I sinned from morning to the night
sinning just to earn some dough
but all of that you know

Hey I just met you,
and I'm no lady,
man I'm a sinner,
so save me maybe

I make my living
off dudes unsavory
I'd like a chance now
Jesus please save me.

So if you happen to know of a Christian Band looking to do a parody song, hook us up. I can't wait to get writing credits for a published parody song.

See you at Easter!

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Can't Date Apple

This is really hard, Apple. I don't know how else to say it so I'm just going to put it out there. It will never work between us. And yes, I'm sure it's you and not me.

On the day after my birthday last week, there was a crisis in my house. My son's Apple Macbook Pro would not boot. The seizure-causing light on the front of the case flashed and I could feel vibrations on the case surface, but nothing was on the display. Even the bottom of it got hot enough to keep burgers warm but the old girl seemed to be in a coma.

When I say old girl, it kind of is an old girl. This laptop belonged to my wife. She had it since 2007. It was her work provided computer and when it was time to get a new one, she had the chance to buy it cheap. I convinced her it was a good deal, even if we just re-sold it. After all, it's an Apple Laptop (said with the voice of Zeus). We purchased it at what I still consider was a bargain, less than half the price of what they were going for on Ebay. In the end, we sold it to my son at another greatly decreased price.

I am a PC from back in the day when a 20mb (not gb) hard drive was the size of a loaf of bread and the C\:> was the only icon you had. You need something done to a Windows based PC, I'm there. Purchasing an Apple computer was new territory for me. Like being the one who suggests we get a dog means you are the one who cleans up after it, likewise I would be the one maintaining the Macbook.

Right off the bat, there was a problem. My son started High School and with enrollment came the requirement to have the ability to access three separate websites for grades, assignments, and on-line work. Even my DELL desktop PC I bought in 2002, still running it's original version of Microsoft XP Home, could get to all three websites. The Macbook Pro could not. It needed an operating system upgrade.

Why? Simple. It would not run the required browser versions without a newer OS. WTF? Any Windows  PC made in the last ten years could do it. Why can't the mighty fruit of Steve Jobs loins? It made no sense to me. Still, I told myself exactly what the Apple website online adviser would have. The Macbook is an elegant and refined machine. Just like a performance automobile, maintenance is necessary but the results would be worth it.

A new OS meant more memory required than what was already installed. Time to chip-it-up! No problem. A tiny screwdriver and new memory chip and we were off and running. Then I was off to Ebay to purchase an operating system upgrade. Why Ebay and not Apple? Well, Apple no longer sold the upgrade. They only were able to sell a full version of their newest feline inspired OS (anyone whose ever owned a cat and had to clean a little box might wonder why they would name their OS versions after the most temperamental animals in the world). No problem for my PC with old operating system. A few days later it arrived. Installation went fine and the Macbook was ready to go to high school.

Anyone here speak Apple? Luckily my wife is well versed in the Davinci Code of key-stroke combinations needed to navigate the applications of the Mac OS. She's a Mac, after all. "Apple-Key This," and "Apple-Key That," echoed through the house. It didn't seem too intuitive. I have a right mouse button that displays a menu of options available. No need to remember nuclear launch codes here. Just one hand, and one finger, no game of five finger Twister on the keyboard for me.

Websites accessed. Mission accomplished. Aside from the heat caused by what must be a tiny pannini-maker inside the case, all was going well. Then after 8 months, right after my birthday, my son stood before me, disapointed, dead laptop cradled in his arms. I had no idea where to start. It's not like I'm an "Apple Genius" or something. My wife consulted her work IT person. Possibilities; it overheated and protectively shut down, or, the logic board failed. That last one didn't sound good. Letting it cool off didn't work. Oh shit, must be the logic board.

Off to the Apple Store! A "Genius" will know what's up. After all, they have to pass a "test" or "something" to be a "Genius," right? "Diagnosis," failed logic board. The "Genius" (the quotes are intentional so you don't think that's a title I would give them) says Apple can't fix it but we might find a third party source that could do it for $500. "Sorry dude."

My wife hit me in the Apple Store after I said, in a way too loud voice, "This is why I don't like Apple products!" I get the strategy. Estimate the repair to be too much to stomach and the sheep will just belly up for a new one. Little known fact, that's what did in the Donner Party. They got stuck with a busted-ass Conestoga wagon and decided not to fix it because a new one didn't cost that much more. Look what that got them.

I felt bad, my son felt bad, my wife hit me, we went to dinner, we went home.

Undaunted as PC folks are, I went online with my scabby old PC which I now called Quasimoto as a way to mock the lifeless Macbook next to it. Research began into getting it repaired. Apparently the "logic board failure" is a common diagnosis in the Apple kingdom and based on the message boards, it is not always correct. I found a ton of procedures to correct the situation. Various home remedies to correct what was wrong with my son's Macbook. The most extreme measure was placing chunks of Sterno in a foil cup on top of the logic board's various chips, then lighting the fuel on fire. The hope was the heat from the Sterno would re-solder the connections. Why in the world wouldn't the excessive heat from the laptop have taken care of that already, I wondered. Not wanting that to be my first fix, I tried the simplest one listed, re-configuring the memory chips.

I pulled out one memory chip, the one I had installed eight months before. The Macbook booted without a problem. Perhaps the OS didn't need that extra memory after all? Next, after a clean shutdown, I put the chip back in, and re-started. The Macbook booted without a problem. There was nothing wrong in the first place except for a slightly jarred memory chip seat?

That little rat who claimed to be a "Genius," was wrong! He never suggested anything as simple as memory chip reconfiguration! He just wanted to discourage me from fixing what was, in all honesty, a working computer so I would buy a new one!

And so, Apple, this is why we can't date. It's cultural. Your friends are sycophantic liars, you always need me to buy new things for you, you're pretty and every one wants to be your friend, but they don't know you like I do. I'll tolerate you because you're dating my son for now, but it's over between us. 

I do have one thing to ask. Even though it didn't work out between us, is it still okay if I hang out with your little sister, iPod?