542. Trivial Passages

Image result for trivia bar contests picturesWe finally did it! Our Wednesday night trivia team persevered through the twists and turns of  trivial competition and wound up winning the final question about airport abbreviations to finish with 45 points, just one thin point ahead of our closest competitors, the hated Flying Squirrels. They are a bunch of teachers, I think, with broad coverage of many subjects. They usually win, but not last night. No way, baby. We, the Snarky Sharkies, prevailed. For one glorious moment we are masters of useless information. The thrill was ephemeral, though, as if we had won the bubble blowing tournament for Bazooka Bubble Gum with a 14 inch pink bubble of hot exhalations. Yes, and then it was over. Pop!Image result for nerds celebrating gif

“We’re not going to Disney World. We’re not going to Hollywood either.  We’re just going home!!! ”

Not sure why it’s briefly exciting to win a competition about things that have little meaning or application in real life.  Well, no, the brief satisfaction is like killing flies in your kitchen in July. The annoying buzz and blur ends. Silence reigns again. Nonetheless, I find it fascinating how we arrive at answers via associations with emotions or parallel memories.Image result for neural pathway gifs

For instance, one question went something like this:  a shiny fish; also a process of extracting (metal) from its ore by a process involving heating and melting. Well, I did my mental scan, which lead me to the old white Frigidaire refrigerator in my parents’ narrow kitchen that I wallpapered in vinyl blue and white floral paper with one ugly blue wall behind that helpless fridge, forced to accept the desperate decor of that kitchen. Inside the meat drawer in a plastic wrapped Styrofoam tray I could see little shiny fish my father used to eat on rye bread with horseradish. What were they called?  Not sardines, though he also ate those. They came in a flat square can with a key that unrolled the top. Not anchovies, or fish bacon as I recall them; he ate those on pizza. Ummm. What were they called? From the ether that separates time and space, it came to me: Smelts. That’s it.Image result for smelts pictures

I used to feed them to my black cat Stanley. He was a stray with a white chest badge and white body hair where men have hair. I persuaded him to follow me home from the playground one day. He was a muscular brute who a few years later was hit by a car on The Parkway during the winter. I remember the season because the ground was hard and I could not get all of Stanley buried behind the rose of Sharon bushes at the back of our yard. Suffice it to say that Stanley waved one frozen paw at our kitchen window till spring. Eventually nature lowered his salute into worm food. Image result for partially buried cat pictures

Trippy stuff. The mind is a powerful engine with limitless powers, so it seems. Question 10 of Round 1 had to do with television: her career was launched in the 1990’s though the show she starred in, My So Called Life, lasted only one season. I could instantly envision my oldest daughter watching this t. v. girl struggle with growing up in the 1990’s. Our television screen was maybe 19 inches and sat upon an end table at the intersection of two identical pink and blue brocaded couches we special ordered from North Carolina and have since gotten rid of. Erin would lie on her stomach and stare from 32 inches away at Angela Chase, a 15 year old girl in Pittsburgh. It was compelling drama. Across the void of 25 years her name came to me, Claire Danes. How?  I have no real idea except I loved my daughter and she loved Claire Danes a long time ago. I whispered my answer to my new son-in-law Zach. He was stuck on two female leads from movies made in the 1990’s, certain that the answer was one or the other. “Okay”, I said, “but neither of those is right”. 

“It’s either Jennifer Love Hewitt or that other girl…Melissa Joan Hart. But which one?”

“Neither.”Image result for claire danes pictures

I was overridden but not swayed. When Claire Danes came up as the official answer, I was just feeling the warm pulse of my daughter’s memory flow across my heart.Image result for awkward 15 year old girl pictures

What else? you ask. On 13 May 1897, this Italian inventor sent the world’s first ever wireless communication over open sea across the English Channel. Well, the only Italian inventor I could imagine who fit the time frame and the task was Marconi, but I first thought “macaroni”, which is also Italian. As the names came rolling in, I was amazed at their futility– Da Vinci, Tesla (not even Italian), Gucci, Alexander Graham Bell (also not Italian) and Samuel Morse (a.n.I.). I began to hope that the curse of stupidity had landed on another table. ‘Drink strong beer’ was the message I tried to send out telepathically, sort of like Marconi without any wires or cables.Related image

I don’t know if anyone else in the bar picked up my signals, but I cannot be sure that they didn’t. After all, I was elected president, I mean, we won the electoral college of triviality. And Crooked Squirrely lost. So I must have a high I.Q. and be, like really smart. Right? In fact, over the half time interim, I walked outside to save a cat from a storm drain. No one witnessed my bravery, but that’s okay. Fake news outlets would only pillory my heroism. Which leads right in to the “dilly dilly” question that everyone got right. What White House employee just had his secret clearance downgraded? The correct answer as you know was/is Jared Kushner. Talk about awkward. Image result for jared kushner photos

But I have a thought: what if all the recent expatriates from the White House got together and formed a trivia team?  Hope, Jared, Mike, Moochi, Spicey, Flynn, Omarosa, Bannon, Price, Priebus, oh crap! There’s a limit of eight per team. Maybe they could sub out every other week. What else do they have to do but testify?


393. Blues, Stay Away from me

Doug Sahm on the Victrola, well, Pandora on my laptop, but I like the old timey sound of the former technology. Long, long ago I recall hearing Doug sing “Is Anyone Goin to San Antone?” on an FM station, back in the day when FM meant more cool and less commercial. I liked his sound then when I was 16 or so. It fit with Dylan and the Dead. I bought his album Doug Sahm and Band, and lo and behold there’s Dylan and David Bromberg, and many other performers I admired all jamming together. They all knew Doug. I liked that they liked one another. It was a fraternity without Greek letters, hazing or keg parties… just good tunes.

But the point of this post is not fraternal good will nor the Blues; it is instead as old as the first book of the Bible…envy. Joel the intrepid lawyer of Coffee Nation is in Europe this week and next on a musical riverboat cruise. Not the Blues, mind you, unless you count The Blue Danube. No, he is cruising along the Czech waterways from Prague through thousands of sleepy waterfront towns whose names I am afraid to pronounce, following a very urbane schedule of classical music and gourmet food and drink along the way. He’s expecting Smetana, Dvorak and Mahler, champagne, prawns and caviar, but wait…

“Viking cruises?” I inquired.

“No, actually it’s another line that is smaller and caters to the boutique crowd, such as myself, who require the finer things in life. The ratio of guides to passengers is 4 to 1.”

“That’s amazing, Joel. So if your boat has 50 passengers, then you must have 200 staff, is that right?”

“Oh heaven’s no! I mean 1 to 4. Good Lord, we’d sink with your numbers.”

“Now I understand Viking uses drones and border collies to direct their passengers around Europe. It’s a big cost saver.”

“Well, I think you are exaggerating as usual. In any event I’ll be missing from Coffee Nation for the next two weeks. (Long silent pause.) What? No good byes? Not a single hug?”

“You are dead to me, Consiglieri. Go. Do what you must.”

Joel slinked away from the coffee shop like Judas on his way to the High Priest. (Well, that last sentence was for an overly dramatic effect and not in any way to be taken as truth.) He actually walked out like a man in suede Hush Puppies going on a wonderful vacation of a lifetime.

What he did not know was that I had managed to hack his email account with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines, PEECL, to switch him over to a competitor shuttler of schmucks, Angry Huns Adventures, AHA. It’s run by former members of Monte Python’s Flying Circus who create a lifelike atmosphere of pirate slave ships for the bored traveler who has seen it all. Milquetoast Masochists Magazine gave it five stars. Once the guests register they are taken into custody on false charges and shackled to an oar below the deck of an old R0man warship. It’s so real that often satisfied passengers rave that it is almost too real when their hands begin to blister and they must eat rancid food and contend with real river rats. Oh it’s great pistachio flavored panache for the discerning palette.

I can picture it now as a long black car meets Joel at the Vaclav Havel Airport.Image result for russian mafia driver pictures

“You are Joel, yes?”

“Why, yes, I am. And I am very eager to begin my all inclusive musical river tour of the Danube. It’s so exciting for a sousaphile such as myself. Do you play an instrument, Boris?”

“Shut up and get in car, Meester Viseguy.”

“But, but, there must be some mistake. I, I, uh, no need to be so hasty and rude, Big Fella. Hey, I paid a lot of money for this suit. Give me back my Panama hat!”

Once inside the shuttle limo, he is blindfolded and handcuffed. His human rights and all hope checked with his bags in the trunk for the next two weeks. Behind a double layer of duct tape he buzzes harmlessly to himself, “I am a United States citizen, a veteran and a lawyer. I know my rights.” But it’s only so much buzzing in the back seat of the newish Moskvich as Boris weaves into downtown traffic and finds the Lugubrious Lady Star just about to cast off from the ancient quay.

Bound hand and foot, taped lip to earlobe, Joel had to hop like Lowly Worm onto the Death Ship, Lugubrious Lady Star, flying the black and gold flag of the Angry Huns Adventures. He was forced under the deck into the dim and desperate galley of 47 other would be passengers; given the number 34; and henceforth ceased to be Joel.

All the other 47 wild eyed passengers were likewise duct taped and shackled to an oar. Clearly he needed to get to the U.S. embassy and file a complaint. He had to call his VISA platinum card representative and stop all payments. He had to find his way back to America and Coffee Nation. “Crack” snapped a moist leather whip expertly wielded by a large woman named Varushka in a forest green KGB outfit, short skirt and tall black boots.  Blood red lipstick outlined her snarling words.

“Comrades, you vill row or you vill taste the vip.”

Joel struggled to raise his hand.

“Number 34, you have question? Untape his disgusting capitalist mouth, Viktor.”

“Ouch. You don’t need to be so rough. Madam, I believe there has been some sort of mistake. I booked a musical tour of the Danube with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines and I think I’ve been somehow mistakenly placed on your loading list. Now, I’m sure it’s just a paperwork oversight… and what is a ‘vip’?”

“Silence, maggot. Ve make no mistakes. You vere mistake not ve. Viktor, tape again.”

The hopelessness was heavy  in the humid air below deck as 48 shackled prisoners began to row in unison. Viktor beat time on a conga drum.

Varushka called out the speeds, “Cruising speed, Viktor.” As Viktor pounded out the rhythm, Varushka cracked her whip above the shackled prisoners’ heads. “You vill keep the beat or else be the beat. Capichenakov?” she threatened.  As the old wooden ship creaked and shuddered against the river’s current, a strange music blared on the deck above. Joel thought he was hallucinating at first, then he realized he’d heard this song before. It was AC/DC singing “Highway to Hell”.

“Oh dear God, kill me now”, he buzzed into the back of the duct tape. “This must be the cruise ship on the River Styx. I should have stayed at Coffee Nation.”

–to be continued.



202. Somewhere, somehow, someday or something like that

I enjoy a good challenge. So every once in a while I give myself a creative writing challenge. Of course, I reserve the right to cheat and edit later. I think that’s why I enjoyed teaching drama to seventh graders.  It was always a ridiculous challenge to pull off a twenty minute mini-play in a 24 x 30 foot classroom with 28 desks that was still being used everyday for teaching English. The drama kids were randomly grouped in units of 25 or so from all ability levels. And we had six school weeks to learn basics, pick a play, audition, build sets, gather props, rehearse and perform four shows. Now every once in a while my students wanted to write their own short plays, usually a micro version of a movie or well known story. I know what you are thinking: IMPOSSIBLE!!

And so it was that one of my most memorable groups rolled in at the end of a long school year with their plans. “We want to put on Monte Python’s Holy Grail.”

“Okay, make me a believer. How on earth are you going to pull this off?” Notice I took no ownership of their play. However, as I learned later, I did not need to own it. They’d been thinking about it all year long and were stoked. After some squirrelly discussion and voting, we selected three scenes connected by a narrator. (Always be suspicious of any movie or play that needs a narrator to hold it together, folks.)

The first scene was the famous Black Knight butchering deal. I was curious how the kids would work it out, but the Black Knight (Paul) was dressed in black hockey gear with a little sword and shield from the Renaissance Faire. As the goodly knights approached and he challenged them, they hacked off a piece of his anatomy while chasing him behind the set. When he reappeared, he would have one less appendage. It was just clever enough to work as stupid humor. On his last cycle he came out on a skate board that a stage hand pulled along. All of his limbs were neatly tucked in his hockey uniform. The impish knight continued to challenge his superior swordsmen as they rode on toward more fitting conquests.

As we moved into scene two, liberally adapted from the stupidest movie ever made, the clip-clopping horseless knights got lost and didn’t know what to do. One turned to the other and said, “What should we do, Sir Dim Wit?”  ” I don’t know, Sir Flat You Lance. Let’s call God”, which he promptly did on his cell phone. In two seconds God’s answering machine picked up. This was actually Corey on a ladder with his head up above the ceiling tiles. “Hello, you have reached Gawd. I am not here right now, so leave me a message and I’ll get right back atcha.” Not very Godlike but very Coreylike. Their little buddies were laughing hysterically at these boys living out a low budget fantasy on stick ponies in gaudy robes with wooden shields and aluminum foil swords.

One of the problems with the production was what roles were the 10 or 12 girls to play since all the other roles were male. They solved  that problem by reinventing the castle siege scene as occurring at the curiously titled, Castle of the Babes. The set had 10 or 12 windows cut into it for each girl to speak through. The horseless knights did verbally parry with the Babes ensconced in the castle wall. The drama built up, well, very dramatically. The girls refused to cooperate with these craven knights’ demands. I don’t remember what they were demanding, not that it made any sense anyway.  They probably asked for pizzas and dates. As the scene reached its climax, the horseless knights attacked but were repelled by unlit marshmallows pelting them all over. One of the knights cried out, “I’ve been hit!” Then he ate the marshmallow projectile and announced. “You know, that’s not bad.” Then he and the other knights began eating the marshmallows as the lights dimmed. You gotta love that… rolling with and then eating the punches.

The final scene was a confabulation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets Monte Python’s Holy Grail meets Austin Powers, BABY. The knights were gathered inside the inner sanctum of the holy castle along with the Bishop of Cranberry, who was dressed in a red robe and a ridiculously tall party cone hat. He spoke all Boris Karloffy style to the knights about no one being worthy of the grail. In the center of our stage was a table with various cups on it. Each knight said something ironic and then drank his not so lucky cup. Each one died a sudden and disturbing death. They looked like hockey players in a figure skating death spiral. Amidst the unsettling carnage the Bishop took off his cone hat, revealing the true grail from which he sipped. “Oh dear,” he muttered to himself, “I must have forgotten to put this one out.” At that cue the Babes came around and began an instant dance party with the only man alive, the rockin’ Bishop and his bubbly cranberry juice. The 20 minute mini-play that was antithetical to all things holy and of good breeding was finally over. The audience exploded in joy.

I still laugh out loud at how much fun we had doing such bad work. Our disclaimer at the end was this, “No animals were hurt during the production of this play; only humans were.” And  that was one of my favorite moments in public education.