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Mr. Kalan and His Inheritance – A Flop House Spook-em-Up! Part 1?

Donegal_Castle._County_Donegal,_Ireland-LCCN2002717385“Guys, I’m inheriting a castle!”

Elliott Kalan’s reedy voice bounced off the walls leading up to Dan’s apartment. Usually, Elliott waited until he was actually in the apartment, arms laden with boxes of fried chicken, before he started squealing excitedly about one thing or the other.

“Did he say something about a castle?” Stuart asked Dan.

“I don’t know,” Dan sighed. They’d been waiting for the tardy Mr. Kalan for twenty minutes. Dan had a podcast to record; time was ticking and, well, this was serious business. Yes, Elliott had a new baby at home. Yes, Elliott was the head writer for a major cable comedy program. Yes, their bad movie podcast was most likely about as far down on Elliott’s priority list as anything else not directly related to family or income. Yes to all that. But, come on. Bad movie podcast!

Elliott threw open the door, sending Dan’s cat scurrying into the kitchen.

“Sorry I’m late,” Elliott cried, “But, hold on to your butts! You will not believe what I just found out!”

“You’re inheriting a castle?” Stuart said from his position on the sofa.

“Y – wait, how did you know?” Elliott asked.

“You were bellowing it as you ran up the stairs,” Stuart replied.

“Right! That. Yes.,” Elliott said, “Sorry, it’s just been a bit of a whirlwind.”

“Are we going to be able to start soon?” Dan asked fiddling with the microphones, “And where’s the chicken?”

“Forget the chicken!” Elliott said, “Forget the chicken, forget the mics and forget the podcast! This is bigger than any of that! Guys! I’m -”

“Inheriting a castle, yes, we know,” Dan said.

“It’s more than that,” Elliott said, “I’m inheriting a castle and we’re all going!”

Stuart leaned forward, his beer momentarily forgotten. “Explain, dude.”

“Okay, I know I’ve mentioned this to you guys before,” Elliott began, “But the Kalans have a deep deep cultural history in Ireland.”

“Wait, what?!” Stuart said.

“Yeah, there’s a huge Jewish presence out on the moors. Watch out we don’t bite you, or you’ll turn into a Were-Jew.”

“Is that, like, a man who only turns Jewish once a month?” Stuart asked.

“No, it’s just a guy who’s half Jewish. Like, his dad was Jewish and he never went to Hebrew school. Werrrrre-Jeeewwwww! Watch out! Don’t get bitten or you’ll be suuuuuch a disappointment to your mottttthhhherrr!” Elliott waggled his fingers in Dan’s face.

“I have a feeling we’re all disappointments to our mothers,” Dan said.

“Well, don’t bring the room down, Dan,” Elliott said, “I’m trying to explain my Irish heritage and my wonderful new castle.”

“Why do you get an Irish castle?” Dan said, “I’m the McCoy! Shouldn’t I get an Irish castle?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Dan,” Elliott said, “Why don’t you hop in a time machine and ask your ancestors to work harder? ‘Hey, Seamus McCoy!'” Elliott mimed knocking on a door, “‘Open up! It’s me, your great great great great grandson, Dan! Uh, I’m here to shame you for not being nobility! What? You want to burn me as a witch?’ Sorry, Dan, you’ve been burned as a witch.”

“Look,” Dan said, trying to get things back on track, “Did you or did you not actually -”

“Yes, Dan, it’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you. Castle O’Kalan has stood for hundreds of years, being passed from O’Kalan to O’Kalan by complicated lineage. I got a call this morning from a solicitor who informed me that my fifth uncle three-times removed -”

“That’s not really a thing,” Dan interrupted.

“My fifth uncle, three-times removed,” Elliott continued, “just passed away -”

“What was his name?” Dan asked.

“Uh, Dudley O’Kalan,” Elliott said.

Stuart choked on his beer.

“Dudley O’Kalan died in a mysterious accident. Apparently, through the twistings and turnings of our complicated, um, Torah-based Irish inheritance system, his castle falls to me. But, in order to claim my inheritance, I have to spend a night in Castle O’Kalan. However, I’m allowed to bring two retainers to spend the night with me and I choose you guys!”

“So, wait,” Stuart said, “does that make you a Lord? Are you Lord Elliott?”

“Yes, I’m a Dark Lord of the Sith. Darth Heritor. Because, by Sith naming convention I have to take a word that begins with “In” and remove the prefix. Beware my psychotic inheriting abilities.”

“Elliott,” Dan said, “We can’t just pack up and head out to Ireland. We have lives, jobs, families.”

“It’s one night, Dan. We’ll fly in, get to the castle – we’ll be so jetlagged, we’ll probably just fall asleep, wake up and the castle will be mine! I’ll have a castle and it’ll all be thanks to you two!”

“Can’t you ask your brother to go with you?”

“David? No, he’s not allowed to set foot on Irish soil.”

“What?!”

“Stop bringing up painful family secrets, Dan!”

“But, I – ”

“So,” Stuart interjected, “When do we leave?”

“I got us three tickets to Ireland, leaving tonight!”

“Tonight?!” Dan said, “I can’t just leave tonight! I have stuff I need to -”

“Tonight!” Elliott repeated.

“That’s cool,” Stuart said, “Can I finish my beer?”

*****

At seven the next morning, Dan, Stuart and Elliott – jet-lagged, achy and in the case of one of them maybe a bit hung-over – were packed in a cab and heading across Ireland for Castle O’Kalan. Their driver – an old man named Bill – was chattier than they were hoping, but pleasant enough. He had many tales about the moors surrounding Castle O’Kalan, which the men listened to as well as they could.

“And, that, lads, is why they say to never wear a shawl after sundown by Castle O’Kalan!” Bill let loose an uproarious laugh.

“That’s great,” Elliott responded. His extreme fatigue was beginning to wear on his sanity a bit. He wished he could sleep, but excitement combined with anticipation was making that impossible. Also, being hemmed in by his two compatriots on either side. Stuart was snoring lightly and Dan just stared out the window with a semi-shellshocked look on his face.

“So,” Bill said, “What bring ye lads out to Castle O’Kalan? Doin’ a wee bit o’ sightseein’?”

“Actually,” Elliott said, “My name is Elliott Kalan. I’m a descendant of Dublin O’Kalan, the original builder of the castle. I found out yesterday that I’m inheriting it.”

Bill didn’t slam on the breaks, but he did take his foot off the gas pedal and let the car slow to a halt.

“You’re inheriting Castle O’Kalan?” he asked. Elliott noticed that all the color had drained from Bill’s face.

“Uh, yep,” Elliott said.

“I – I’m sorry boys,” Bill said, “But, I’m going to have to ask you to leave my vehicle.”

Dan, who had been lost in his own thoughts, suddenly looked around.

“Hey, did we stop?” he asked.

“Yes, Dan,” Elliott said, “About five minutes ago.”

“Why are you getting out of the car?” Dan asked.

“Because Bill here has asked us to,” Elliott replied.

Dan looked at Bill. The old man’s eyes were watery and his hands were trembling as he opened the trunk and took the three suitcases out, setting them gently on the ground.

“Wait, you can’t ask us to leave your cab,” Dan said, “That has to be illegal or something! We’re in the middle of nowhere!”

“Geez, Dan,” Elliott said, “It’s modern Ireland. Way to insult this man’s entire history. Your country is a vast wasteland! We’re all in danger of being eaten by a grue!”

“Elliott,” Dan snapped, “We are at least ten miles from the castle. At least! We’re tired. Hungry. Stuart is barely able to hold himself up! How are we going to make it all the way to Castle O’Kalan? How?!”

Ten minute later, the cab was speeding away behind them and Dan, Stuart and Elliott were dragging their bags up the dirt road to Castle O’Kalan.

“I wish you dudes had woken me up sooner,” Stuart said, “I’d have tossed that cabbie around a bit. Maybe hijacked his wheels. We’d be sitting pretty all the way to the castle.”

“You’re drunk, Stuart,” Dan said.

“I’m not drunk,” Stuart shot back, “I’m hungover and angry!”

“No, no,” Elliott said, “Dan was calling you Drunk Stuart. You’re Drunk Stuart, he’s Mopey Dan and I’m Computer Kalan. We’re the new members of the Burger King Kid’s Club. Except, I should really be in a wheelchair. I’m Wheels Kalan. The gang just calls me ‘Wheels!’ I’m a computer whiz!”

“Why are you in a wheelchair?” Stuart asked.

“Per Nineties cartoon convention, every group of characters numbering more than five, has to have at least one kid in a wheelchair,” Elliott answered.

“Then, wait, was there always a drunk?” Dan asked, “I don’t remember many drunk kids on television in the nineties.”

“Well, of course you couldn’t see their illness, Dan. Geez. Alcoholism can be a silent addiction. Not all alcoholics are hilarious Andy Griffith Show caricatures. Have a little compassion!”

“But, I’m -“

“Any other groups you’d like to rag on? We’ve got quite a walk ahead of us. MAybe you’d like to dip into orphans.”

“Gross, dude,” said Stuart.

“Forget it,” Dan said.

“I’m just curious,” Stuart continued, “As to what you said to our cabbie that made him take off like that.”

“Nothing!” Elliott said, “I just mentioned that I’m inheriting Castle O’Kalan, he stopped the car, told us to get out and drove off! That’s all! I didn’t insult his mother or anything!”

“Maybe you should have,” Stuart said, “Maybe he’d be into that.”

The three men walked in silence for the next few miles.

“You know,” Dan said, “I would have thought we’d have seen some other cars or something by now. This isn’t exactly a deserted spot and Castle O’Kalan is listed as a semi-popular tourist attraction.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Dan,” Elliott said, “I’m a powerful man but I don’t have control over the world’s cars just yet.”

“I’m just saying,” Dan started.

“Maybe they’re all at work,” Stuart said. “It’s a Friday and people usually work on Fridays. That’s a worldwide phenomenon, right? Work on Friday? It’s not some isolated American thing?”

“Yeah, these kooky Irish with their four-day work-weeks and easily frightened cabbies,” Elliott said, “Those are probably the two biggest Irish stereotypes: short work-weeks and easily spooked. That’s why the Notre Dame mascot is a leprechaun hiding behind a bush watching TV while outside the window you see kids going to school.”

“That’s a fairly convoluted shorthand for ‘four-day work week’,” Dan said.

“Well, in the fast-paced world of mascot design, you’ve got to hit your audience with your message and move on,” Elliott said, “If your sports team mascot doesn’t convey a) your contempt for a specific culture and b) how many days a week that culture works, it ain’t doing its job!”

Three hours later, Castle O’Kalan came into view.

“Thank god,” Dan said.

“Wow,” Elliott added.

“So,” Stuart threw in, “no one’s made a ‘Castle Freak’ joke, yet, because we’re not talking for the benefit of an audience, but if I may: ‘If that were my castle, I’d freak.'”

Indeed. The pictures the guys had found of Castle O’Kalan had in no way prepared them for the sheer immensity and presence of the ancient edifice. The structure stood at the end of the road, in the middle of a foggy landscape, surrounded by modern fencing. A small parking lot stood off to one side, but it was clear of any vehicles. The castle itself was large, grey, ugly and intimidating. Ivy clung to its sides. The windows, few though they were, betrayed no sign of life. Castle O’Kalan stood as a silent sentry. But, against what?

“Were we supposed to meet anyone here?” Dan asked.

“The solicitor told me a caretaker lived on the grounds,” Elliott said, “But, I don’t see any lights on inside. Maybe, he has a separate house or something.”

“Welp,” said Stuart, heading for the door, “Only one way to find out.”

“Find out what?” Dan asked.

“Whether or not this place is filled with g-g-g-ghosts!” Stuart answered. He rapped on the heavy wooden door.

There was a pause. Stuart had lifted his arm to pound again on the door, when the sound of a latch being thrown broke the silence. A loud metallic clanking noise filled the gloom and suddenly the door began to creak open, seemingly of its own accord. It scraped against the ground and the men could see that it was being pulled open by a series of chains and weights. Obviously, someone was inside operating a crank of some sort.

“Someone must be inside, operating a crank of some sort,” Dan said.

“Obviously,” Elliott replied.

The door stopped moving and stood open. Simultaneously, the guys leaned forward, trying to see through into the darkness.

“Hel-” Dan began, when a figure stuck his head around the door.

“Gah!” the guys cried out. Elliott pinwheeled his arms, lost his balance and sat down hard in the dirt. It wasn’t the sudden appearance of the man that had thrown him, but the fact that – except for the gray hair, mustache and stooped shoulders – he looked just like Elliott!

“Welcome,” the man said, “to Castle O’Kalan.”

Somewhere in the distance, a dog howled.

“Things just got spooky,” Stuart pointed out.

*****

“My name,” said the old Elliott-looking man as he poured the three guys cups of hot tea, “Is Dilbert O’Kalan.”

“That’s not a real name,” Dan said.

The old man looked up at Dan, “Sure it is, lad. My father before me was Smedley O’Kalan. His father was Scoop O’Kalan. Going back hundreds of years, the O’Kalans have had a presence on this island. ‘Twasn’t until the 1880s when Hawley O’Kalan set sail to Ellis Island to found the first – and, sadly, last – O’Kalan’s Haberdashery and Locksmithery, that we had a presence outside Ireland. Hawley’s people soon dropped the ‘O’ prefix. Wanted their name to sound a little less ‘ethnic’ they said. Hm. Well, in any case, he took with him to the States a branch of the inheritance line to this castle. See, it’s not a direct inheritance.”

Dilbert pulled a large, rolled-up piece of parchment out of a case by his feet. Carefully, he unrolled it on the thick wooden table around which the men were seated. On the parchment, lines intersected one another. Strange symbols and marking indicating who-knows-what seemed scattered across the surface as if at random.

“What the heck is this?” Stuart asked.

“This is the lineage calculator we use to determine inheritance in the O’Kalan family. It goes back to antiquity. Takes three scholars a year to calculate a single inheritance. That’s why we O’Kalans have learned to forgo the complicated process and make sure we don’t possess anything when we die. ‘Live Hard, Die Poor, Skip The Complicated Inheritance Process’ is what it says on our Coat of Arms. In Latin or somesuch. In any case, this is the map of your lineage, young Elliott. See? There you are in the whole morass.”

Elliott, who had been strangely quiet since Dilbert had answered the door, followed the old man’s finger to a triangular symbol on the parchment. In the middle of the triangle, a circle was drawn with lines radiating outward from its center.

“What does that symbol mean?” Elliott asked.

“Oh,” said Dilbert, suddenly looking apprehensive, “just, um, inheritor or something. Nothing. It’s a symbol. So. According to the rules of inheritance, you and your retainers have to spend one night in Castle O’Kalan in order for the castle to come into your possession. If you leave the castle for any length of time and for any reason, you forfeit . . . your claim.”

“Why did you pause just then?” Stuart asked.

“Pause just when?” Dilbert asked back.

“Before you said ‘your claim.’ It sounded like you were gong to maybe say something else and then you stopped yourself and said ‘your claim.’ Were you maybe going to, I dunno, threaten Elliott? Maybe say ‘your life’ or something instead?”

“No,” Dilbert said innocently, “Just, um, picking my words carefully is all.”

With one grand gesture, he swept the parchment up, rolled it back into a tube and secreted it away in his case.

“The castle has rudimentary toileting facilities, is lit only by candles and there is no cell reception or wi-fi. You are, for all intents and purposes, isolated. The larder is stocked for a day or two of eating. I will be leaving now and returning in the morning. If you leave the castle . . . I’ll know.”

“How will you-” Dan began.

“I’ll know!” Dilbert interrupted, “Rooms are upstairs. Three beds have been set up for you. Supplies for your quarters will be found in footlockers a the ends of each of your beds. This includes candles, matches, extra sheets, towels, etcetera. Any questions?”

The guys looked at each other.

“Uh, none,” Elliott finally said.

“Wonderful,” Dilbert said, “then enjoy your stay in Castle O’Kalan! And, I’ll see you on the morrow.”

And, with that, Dilbert left the castle and they were alone.

“That guy,” Stuart said, “Is the worst guy.”

“I know,” Dan added, “At first I thought he would be all helpful and charming, but then he ended up being condescending and kind of creepy.”

“Well,” said Elliott, “let’s get settled in. I’m so tired, I can barely think straight. I don’t even have a quippy comment for Dan.”

“I’d noticed,” Stuart said, “Are you feeling okay?”

Elliott thought for a second, “I was going to say ‘yes’ but that’d be a lie. I feel weird in here, guys. I’m kinda sorry I dragged you into this.”

Dan looked his friend in the eyes, “Elliott, it’s just a creepy old castle. We’re going to be fine. Nothing will hurt us and if anything tries, we’ll help each other out.”

Elliott looked back at Dan, “What are you talking about? Of course nothing’s going to hurt us! I’m not five, Dan. I know the Goosebumps books aren’t real! I meant I’m sorry I pulled you away from your lives, not dragged you into a haunted charnel house! Geez!”

Elliott walked into the hallway, “Let’s go find our rooms! Dan, I’ll try to make sure yours doesn’t have a secret passageway behind the bookcase with skeletons hiding inside! OooooOOOooooH!”

Dan just sighed and followed.

*****

DAN’S STORY

 “I’ll see you guys in the morning!” Dan called out of his doorway. His room proved to be less creepy than he’d anticipated. It was round, with a stone floor and walls. One small window looked out over the fog-shrouded landscape. A beautiful crimson rug ran most of the length of the room and decorative pennants hung from the stone walls. His bed was a large fourposter with an overstuffed mattress. An ancient brown chest rested at the foot of the bed.

Opening the chest, Dan felt a chill across the back of his neck.

“Great,” he said out loud, “A draft. That’s just what I need.”

The chest contained the candles and matches as promised. Also extra sheets and pillowcases. A small flashlight. And, curiously, a leather-bound journal and pencil. The journal was blank.

“Guess if I get in the mood to write, I’m taken care of.”

It was early evening, but the activity of the day had left Dan completely wiped out. He lit three candles, changed out of his travel clothes and threw on his pajamas. Normally, he’d stick with boxers and a t-shirt, but the draft he’d felt earlier made him realize how chilly it was growing. Strangely, it hadn’t been cold at all when they’d entered the castle, but now a strong chill was creeping up his spine. Even standing on the rug, Dan could feel the cold in his feet. He put on a pair of socks, grabbed his laptop and settled into bed.

Despite the lack of wi-fi, Dan had plenty of movies stored on his hard drive and he’s decided to pop one on as he fell asleep. Secretly, this was how Dan preferred to watch a film: on a small screen, through earbuds, all by himself. The guys were great and he loved his wife, but Dan knew the best audience was an audience of one. He called it the “Danience.” Sometimes, when a movie was over, he’d say, “What did the Danience think about that?” And then, depending on what he had thought, he’d respond, “I give it two Dans up!” or “I give it two Dans down!” Then, he’d laugh. It always cracked him up.

Tonight, the movie of choice was an old favorite “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” He’d seen it a million times and Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of the crazed conquistador never failed to delight him as he drifted off to sleep. Unfortunately, his video player didn’t seem to be cooperating. He pressed ‘play’ over and over again, but no picture resolved itself on the screen.

“Come on!” Dan said, “Come on you stupid machine!” He clicked play again and again, but to no avail.

“Dang it!” he said, “Dang it all!”

Disgusted, he closed his laptop and turned to set it aside. That’s when he noticed the shape of the body in his sheets.

Dan’s blood went cold. There was someone under the sheets in the bed next to him. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman but he certainly hadn’t noticed anyone in the bed when he’d gotten in and no one had entered the room since he’d closed the door. And yet, by the flicker of the candlelight, there it was. A human form.

“I have to get out of the bed,” Dan thought to himself. He shifted his weight to one side and the body under the sheets . . . crawled. Just a bit. But, it crawled, pulling itself towards him with now visible hands and fingers. Dan’s heart began pounding. And the air in the room grew insanely cold. He breathed out and saw the frost form in the air in front of him.

Dan’s only thought now was to get to the door. Exit the room. Find the guys. The edge of his bed seemed miles away as he moved his leg to throw himself off.

The shape under the sheets scuttled toward him.

Dan froze.

The shape froze.

“Help,” he said, but his words were barely a chocked whisper.

“Hhhhhhllllp,” a voice came from under the sheets.

“Go . . . go away,” Dan said to the thing.

“Guuuhhhhhh whhhhhaaaaay,” the thing repeated at him.

Remembering the laptop in his hands, Dan raised the computer above his head and quickly brought it down onto the shape.

Not quickly enough.

A strong wind blew through the room, extinguishing the candles and causing the sheets to rise like a wave at the beach. Underneath, the body was visible, embedded in the other side. A desiccated corpse formed from the folds and weave of the bedding. It was a tangible nightmare; its face rotting and peeling away, it’s eye sockets dark holes and its teeth. It’s teeth gaped open in a silent scream or in a desperate hunger. Flapping as if propelled by an unfelt wind, the sheet corpse flew at Dan, wrapping his body in a constricting squeeze. Dan tried to cry out, but he felt the air crushed from his lungs. The sheet covered his face, and even in the darkness Dan could see the other face looking at him. It’s mouth so hungry. It’s eyes so empty. The cloth around him felt like arms, but too many arms. As his consciousness faded, he continued to kick and struggle against the thing in his bed.

Five minutes later, the sheets floated to the ground. The candles relit. And Dan was nowhere to be found.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘N’ word through the ages: The madness of HP Lovecraft

Just . . . I love this piece.

Media Diversified

By Phenderson Djeli Clark

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Tåh’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

–H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of Niggers (1912)

H.P. LovecraftH.P. Lovecraft

I had come to believe that by now the racism of H.P. Lovecraft, the celebrated author of horror and fantasy, was a settled matter–like declaring Wrath of Khan the best film in the Star Trek franchise. Arguing against such a thing should be absurd. I certainly thought so after the matter was thrust into the spotlight in December 2011, when author Nnedi Okorafor won the esteemedWorld Fantasy Award–whose statuette…

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How to Tell a Friend Who has Experienced a Death in the Family that You Are Sorry for Their Loss – A Step By Step Guide

1. Write “I am sorry for your loss.”

2. Check your spelling

3. Did you accidentally write “I am sorry for your lose?”

4. Did you accidentally write “I am sorry for you loss?”

5. Did you accidentally write “I am sorry for you lose?”

6. Are you sure?

7. Check again.

8. It’s only six words.

9. Once all six words are spelled correctly, you may hit SEND. If they are not, correct the misspelling.

Keep a copy of this guide in your trouser pocket or handbag or fanny pack for handy reference.

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Mitzi’s Rose

Dead_rose_with_fresh_sproutWe have a bouquet of flowers in a vase that is rapidly approaching “done” status, with some flowers reaching “done” sooner than others. The other day, Mitzi received the gift of a rose that had gone a little brown and crispy, but still had the shape and overall appearance of a beautiful long-stemmed rose. She was very happy with it.

After work on Tuesday, I asked Mitzi to take a walk with me to the library. It’s a little shy of a mile, but it’s a walk she has made many times before; no sweat for an energetic three-year-old. Mitzi wanted to bring her new rose and I couldn’t think of any reason not to. If she got tired of carrying it, I could just put it in my library bag. Easy job.

As we walked, Mitzi waved her rose around, running along walls, touching it to other flowers, watching it bob with the wind. We came to a large puddle and as she crossed it, she dipped her rose in the water, probably to see what, if anything, would happen to the petals.

As it happened, they got wet.

“Daddy,” she called to me, “could you dry my petals off?”

“Sorry, little girl,” I said, “It’s wet. You’re going to have to wait for them to dry off by themselves.”

Mitzi seemed a little perturbed by this and experimented with squeezing the rose a bit, wiping it, shking it out. As she shook it, one petal disconnected and drifted to the ground.

“A petal fell off,” she said.

“Yep,” I said. “That’s what happens inf you shake an old rose.”

I walked on a bit up the block and, after a few seconds, I heard her little footfalls running up behind me. She took my hand.

“Daddy!” she said, a tinge of excitement in her voice, “I squashed my rose!”

I looked back and indeed the sidewalk was littered with the remains of the rose. The long stem lay amidst the scattered petals.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I didn’t want it anymore,” she replied.

“Well, alright then,” I said, “I guess it was your rose.”

We walked on to the library, read a few books and headed back towards the house.

A block or so from the library, Mitzi said, “I wonder if we’re going to see my rose!”

“We may,” I said, “I don’t remember which block it was on, but we’ll probably pass it.”

We walked on.

“Do you think we’ll see my rose?” Mitzi asked again, her voice betraying a slight hint of anxiety.

“We’ll find out when we get there,” I said.

We walked some more.

“I don’t think my rose is there anymore,” Mitzi said, “I think a bird took it.”

“Well,” I said, “It was in a lot of pieces. And, again, I don’t remember exactly which block it was on. If it’s still there, we’ll see it.”

“I don’t think it’s there,” she said. And, I couldn’t tell if she thought that was a good thing or a bad thing.

After walking a bit more, I glanced up ahead and announced, “Mitz! Look! I think I see your rose!”

Mitzi followed my gaze across the street. Up ahead, the sidewalk was covered with bright red petals.

“My rose!” she cried out. And, taking my hand, she and I hurried across the road.

When she got to the scene of destruction, she stooped down and picked something up.

“Here’s the stem!” she cried, waving it about.

“There’s the stem!” I agreed.

“Here’s the petals!” she said, gesturing at the petals.

“There they are!” I said, “Okay, we’d better get home; it’s getting late.”

I walked on a bit and turned to glance back. Mitzi hadn’t moved. She was standing, holding the stem and looking about at the petals. She had a look on her face I’d never seen before. She looked confused and hesitant. But, there was something else under it all. A new feeling. I could tell she was having trouble with it.

“Daddy?” she said.

“Yes, little girl?”

“I wish you could put the petals back on the stem.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I can’t. Once the petals come off the stem, they can’t go back on.”

“Oh,” she said. “Daddy?”

“Yes, little girl?”

“I wish you could glue the petals back on. I wish you could do that.”

“I see. Well, I can’t. Petals don’t work that way.”

“Oh,” she said. “Daddy?”

“Yes, little girl?”

“I wish I didn’t squash the rose,” she said. And she dropped the stem. And she walked to me. And her face collapsed. And she sobbed. Hard. Big, sad, scared, confused sobs. I scooped her up and she draped herself on my shoulder as tears flowed onto my shirt.

“I wish I didn’t squash the rose!” she repeated. And I realized what the strange new feeling was that she was struggling with.

“Mitzi?” I said, “I think what you’re feeling is regret. It’s called regret. Do you wish you hadn’t squashed your rose?”

“Yes,” she sobbed.

“Do you feel bad about squashing the rose?”

“Yes!” she sobbed.

“What do you wish you could do?”

“I wish I could not squash the rose!” she said.

“Do you feel bad that you hurt the rose?”

“Yes!” she cried.

“Oh, little girl. You’re feeling ‘regret’ and it’s a big important feeling that you’ve never experienced before. Regret means that you did something and you wish you hadn’t done it but it’s too late. And now you have to live with what you’ve done. It’s a big big feeling and I’m so happy I could be here with you because it’s hard for little kids to feel regret. But, it also means that you’re a good person who cares about what they’ve done.”

“I wish I didn’t squash the rose!” she said.

“I know,” I said, “But, you did. And you regret doing it.”

I carried her the rest of the way home, her tears soaking my shoulder.

Mitzi cried all through dinner, barely touching the food on her plate. She kept saying she wished she hadn’t done what she’d done.

“What would you do if you had another rose?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t squash it!” she said.

“Would you take care of it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “Do you think Momma will let me have another rose?”

“Well, that’s up to Momma,” I said.

Eventually, the tears tapered off and Mitzi got to bed. But, she kept reminding me that she wished she hadn’t squashed the rose.

As it turned out, the next day there was a new “done” rose available and Mitzi received it with a reminder about what had happened the day before.

Now, Mitzi has a new rose. But, here’s the thing, she still says, “I wish I didn’t squash that rose.” And, she takes care of the new one. She is very gentle with it. She knows now what can happen to a rose and how that makes her feel. She still regrets her actions and she has modified her behavior because of that regret. And, she is a little bit older and little bit wiser for that.

Mitzi has been a bit of a terror recently. A lot of that has to do with these big new feelings that she has no words and no context for. They’re just “big” and confusing. But, she’s learning.

A rose is a beautiful but delicate thing. It can be damaged quite accidentally even by someone who cares for it very much. We’ve all done this. We all do stupid, selfish things that hurt other people. People we love very much. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have regrets. But, having regrets is meaningless if we don’t learn from them. If we don’t accept responsibility for what we did, and vow to never do it again. And that vow is meaningless if we don’t demonstrate that we can do something different this time.

Mitzi can’t undo what she did – that rose is squashed and a rose, once squashed, is always a rose that has been squashed – but she can treat her next rose with gentleness, never forgetting what she did, not dwelling on her mistakes, but learning from them.

I’m very proud of my little girl.

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Some Scattered Thoughts After Playing Sweeney Todd in “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Sweeney-Todd-web“Where did you find the self-loathing and the hatred you brought up there?” “Well, I dug down deep, dredged it up, poured it out on the stage and stuffed what was left deep deep down inside until I needed it again.” “Ha ha ha ha!” “Yeah . . . “

I have literally dreamed of playing Sweeney Todd for over twenty years. By “literally” I mean I have had dreams about being Sweeney Todd on stage in front of people. These were never bad dreams or “actor’s nightmares.” I never felt incompetent or unprepared in those dreams because, if I knew anything, I knew Sweeney Todd.

My first exposure to “Sweeney Todd” the show was a hardback copy of the libretto we had in our high school theater library. I was obsessed with musicals and was already familiar with Sondheim through “Into the Woods” and “Company” so I took the script home and read it all the way through. I was astounded at the complexity of the tale. But, I was also confused about the main character. I couldn’t get a grasp on what he was like, what type of a person he was. His lines were so reactionary and al over the place. So, I got the soundtrack. Len Cariou’s portrayal of Todd was a revelation. On page, he read – to my high school mind – as a monster. Cariou brought grounded warmth to the character. Sweeney Todd stopped being a nightmare creature and started seeming like what I eventually came to see him as – a damaged man. A terribly sad, damaged man.

I couldn’t get a grasp on Sweeney Todd until I admitted that what makes him a living character are qualities I have in myself. It’s hard to look in the mirror every day and not like the person looking back at you. It makes for long mornings and seriously impedes your ability to do your hair. I have the ability, the capacity, to hurt people close to me. So does Sweeney! We’re halfway there!

Sweeney is traditionally portrayed by an older actor who is physically imposing. Someone who commands a room simply by entering it. I am not that actor. I had to command the room by sucking all the energy into me. I had to pull inward with so much force that everyone just got pulled along. It made me very tense. Very tense.

There are two basic approaches to playing a character who has spent 15 years in a hellish prison environment – they either come out toughened or come out beaten. Sweeney was beaten. Prison destroyed him. It sapped him of his personality, his self-esteem and his ability to command his life. Sweeney reacts to the world as if he is about to be hit. So, I played every scene in the first act like I was on the verge of getting punished.

I had three different physicalities for Sweeney. When he first appears, he carries himself like a whipped animal – surrounded by threats, ready to lash out, trying to make himself as small as possible. This is a natural reaction to his imprisonment. His second physicality is The Full Man. After he gets his razors back, Sweeney is able to carry himself with confidence. It’s a facade, but he uses it to function in public. Finally, there is The Cunning Animal. Sweeney adopts this pose when he smells danger to himself or his plans. In the second Pirelli scene, Sweeney vacillated between The Full Man and The Cunning Animal on almost every other line.

A lesser physicality was his attack pose: he used it when he charged Mrs. Lovette in their first scene together and it’s how he carried himself in front of the audience during the ballads. Arms back, chest forward. It’s a prison yard stance, when Sweeney was pushed to his limits.

“I didn’t even recognize you up there!” These are the greatest words an actor can hear. Or, the greatest words I can hear as a character actor.

Sweeney Todd is the story of people who are unable to see what is right in front of them.

Sweeney Todd’s central character is not Sweeney. It is Johanna. The three main characters each sing a song titled “Johanna.” The Judge wants Johanna incestuously and contrives to marry her in order to keep her. Anthony wants Johanna in order to “save” her and plots to steal her in order to have her. Sweeney wants Johanna as a perfect memory and plots to destroy everyone in her life in order to possess this perfect memory. None of these men have Johanna’s best interests in mind. The Judge imprisons her to keep her away from others. Anthony brings her to the most dangerous place in London so blind is he to the danger of Sweeney Todd. Sweeney does not even recognize her when she is in his shop and nearly kills her with his own hand. Johanna only escapes on her own recognizance. Her future at the end of the show is uncertain – certainly the police will want to discuss the murder of a certain Dr. Fogg.

I was terrified of losing my voice. I’ve never not lost my voice in the run of a musical. I’ve also never sung such difficult music in a show or had such a large role. The day I got cast I ordered the full score. The next day I contacted McPhail and signed up for weekly voice lessons. I told my teacher, “I need to learn how to sing a role like Sweeney Todd without losing my voice. I need to learn stamina.” He then proceeded to strip down my voice and build it back from the ground up. I sing completely differently now. It feels better and I don’t hurt my voice!

I had to be completely relaxed with my music before I could begin building a character. Because Sweeney is so tense, I had to be able to hold myself in a locked position without locking my throat. The only way to do this was to have zero worries about my singing. Again, I’ve never done this before.

Oh, and I was so tense that – despite not going to the gym for a month – I actually built muscle mass playing the role. Just through tension.

I had to make myself not listen to “The Beggar Woman’s Lullaby” each night or I’d start crying before my entrance.

I fell off the stage TWICE! In the run of the show. Both times it was my fault; both times I got hurt. My right leg still hurts where I scraped it up. BUT, it was secretly exhilarating!

Sweeney was the first role my twelve-year-old daughter has seen me play in a full-length show. I was proud to have her see it.

I was so freaked out by the role that I don’t think I spoke to any of my fellow cast members for the first month of rehearsal.

I think the length of the run was just right. Maybe in ten years I’ll have something new to bring to the role, but at this age, I’ve done about all I can with it.

I loved seeing the audience for the first time in Epiphany. No one expected me to swing down the stairs and address them directly. Watching them pull back and tense up was a joy each and every night.

I think I did a good job. I rarely say that about anything I do. But I think I did.

Categories: Just a stupid thing, Sweeney Todd, Theater, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Retooling

This image represents “retooling.” It’s a tool. A . . . hammer or something.

FYI – Now that the Witching Hour is come and gone, I’ll be retooling this blog. Coming up with new ideas. Maybe going back to the Zen Groans format? Maybe not?

One thing I am doing is going back to some of my short pieces and reworking them. Making them better. Stronger. Faster? I won’t be reposting them to this site just yet; I don’t know what I’ll be doing with them, exactly. What I do know is that the month of October was a blast and really got my creative spirit soaring again.

So, Halloween Interludes are done (until next year?) and the future is  . . . cloudy.

I’ll let all few of you know as soon as I know and then . . . we’ll all know together?

 

 

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The Hungry Man

Image

A Zen master was walking a dusty road, contemplating inner peace, when he happened upon a man clearly in the grip of death due to starvation.

“My friend,” the master said, “Tell me of your plight.”

“I am so hungry,” the man said from the ground where he lay, “I . . . want . . . food.”

The Zen master knelt down in the dirt, picked up a long stick and carefully scratched out the words “I. Want. Food.”

“First,” said the Zen master, “Remove the word ‘I’ for ‘I’ is ego and ego is not necessary. Then, remove ‘want’ for ‘want’ is desire and desire leads to dissatisfaction. Now, what are you left with?”

The starving man looked at the ground.

“F-food?” he managed to stammer out.

“Yes!” said the Zen master, “You are left with all the food you need. I’m glad I could help.”

And the Zen master walked away.

“But,” said the dying man, “I can’t eat that food.”

“I’M GLAD I COULD HELP!” the Zen master screamed over his shoulder. Then he reached into his bag and pulled out an incredibly long submarine sandwich which he ate in a series on comically large bites before licking his fingers noisily and burping.

Later, the Zen master realized that what he had done had been kind of a dick move and he returned to the dying man, but all he found was gray bones on the ground.

“I guess he found something to eat after all,” thought the Zen master, “What with all these bones.”

Then he pulled out another sandwich and sat down and ate it. So many sandwiches! Where does he find them?!

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Zen for Life?

A Zen master was nervously awaiting news as to the state of his Zen license. He had recently ticked off the Zen Council (which is a thing) by selling shoddy Zen wares – faulty rugs, clunky chimes, Zen booklets filled with swears – and the future of his zen-hood was in peril.

“What shall I do if I lose my Zen license?” he wondered, “I have no marketable skills, despite what my mother says.  I fear I shall die broken and destitute on a shoddy rug.”

Suddenly, a light appeared in the sky. In the middle of the light was what looked like a lady one minute and a golden dog the next.

“Zen master,” a sweet, barkly voice said from out of the light, “fear not. While you fret and hem and haw and ham, I have taken steps to ensure that your license to Zen remains viable for the next three to six years.”

“What the hell?” thought the Zen master, “What the hell?”

“I expect no thanks,” continued the glowing woman-dog thing in the sky, “just a small contribution to my – my fund.  My charitable fund. It’s a fund.”

The Zen master was so spooked and weirded out by whatever the hell, that he dropped a few dollars in the can that the dog thing was holding out on some sort of tentacle paw appendage.

“Later!” the thing called out. And vanished.

The Zen master was stunned and shaken, but pleased that his Zen license was no longer in danger.

He was soon stunned and saddened when he found out that he had, in fact lost his license as well as his boat which the Zen Council took because YES they can do that (they hold all the cards!).

“But,” said the Zen master, “but, there was this dog -”

“You weren’t taken in by the dog-head-woman-light-thing, were you?” they asked.

“M – maybe.”

“Lulz!” they shouted (which is Zen for “LOL!”), “taken in by that thing! We hope you learned your lesson and enjoy all your NOTHING!” And, they Zenned* away.

The Zen master never saw the dog-floaty-woman thing again. He did, however, start a rather successful lemon-ice stand and drank a lot.

*Zen (v) – to noisily depart with hooting and subtle flatulence sounds

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#Zen Adventure! The Master and the Wine

http://static.bitstrips.com/r01.swf?comic_id=PN0RS

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Zen in the Stars

While gazing at the night sky, a Zen master began contemplating the possibility of Zen on other planets. Would creatures that developed far from Earth contain within themselves the possibility of enlightenment? Or, would their minds function in such a way as to make enlightenment impossible?

The master decided to find out and built a great ladder that stretched all the way to the heavens with its top resting on Jupiter’s ring.

On his day of ascension, many students and masters from far and wide gathered at the base of the ladder to see him off. On his back, he wore a simple pack with some rice balls, an extra robe and a flint for lighting fires. He climbed one rung and then the other, working his way, hand over hand, into the sky. Every few rungs, he would look back down at the crowd as if to reassure them that all was going well. After many hours of climbing, he disappeared into a cloud bank.

Months passed. The ladder remained standing in the master’s garden. Every so often, a student would sit at its base to meditate and, secretly, hope they would be the first to greet the master on his return.

But, his return seemed unlikely.

Years went by. The ladder became weathered. Its rungs began to rot in the elements. Its rails began to splinter in the heat. One day, a student came by the garden and the bottom few meters had crumbled away. Now, the ladder seemed to hang from the sky, a forlorn reminder of the master’s seemingly hopeless venture.

Decades passed. Many of the people in the village forgot about the master and his folly. The ladder had, by this time, worn away so much that it was impossible to make out above the clouds.

And then, one day, as a group of laborers sat enjoying their drinks at the local inn, the door swung open and the master entered. Looking as young as the day he left, he signaled the innkeeper to bring him a cup of wine and a bowl of rice.

Most of the people in the inn went about their business, not realizing who he was, but one wizened old man in the back stood up and worked his way over to the master’s table.

“Master?” he said in a thin papery voice, “Is that you? I was your student many years ago. I helped you build the ladder. I watched you ascend into the heavens. I waited at the base for you to return. I championed your cause throughout the village. I wept at the thought of your death. I despaired at the years I spent on your dream. I succumbed to the bottle. And now, you are back. You look as if you never left. You have your youth and vitality. Your eyes are clear. Your back is strong. Please tell me you have brought new enlightenment from the stars. Please tell me that the years have not been a waste.”

The master leaned down to the old student. His eyes twinkled. He whispered into his ear, “There in a Neptunian Battle Squadron heading towards Earth. They have been scoping out this miserable mud-ball for centuries. The Emperor Nar’ag’Itl finally succumbed to sendrasit poisoning and his son, the right venerable Emperor Nar’ag’iml, is using his death as a flimsy excuse to wreak havoc across this galactic quadrant. Everything you thought you knew about life is a lie. Reality is warped and this planet and all of its inhabitants are about to be pulled into a nightmare of such mind-bending proportions that your greatest hope is to succumb to insanity before the full reality of the horror that is life settles into your tiny simian cranium.”

The master then paid and left. 

Four days later, the nightmare began … 

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