Halloween Interlude – The Bloody Skull of Bloodskull Ha-, uh Manor!

5KABOOM! CRASH! KABANG!

Lightning and thunder tore the sky apart as Jim Blackwell’s rocket roadster tore the road apart on its way to Bloodskull Hall! Manor! Bloodskull Manor!

“I hope I get to Bloodskull Hall Manor in time to inherit my riches!” Jim thought to himself. He was a handsome man with chiseled features and a wicked smile that made the ladies swoon and the men punch their fists into the air with outrage at their own rotten luck. Jim was currently looking to inherit riches from an uncle who had died under mysterious circumstances. The uncle’s mangled corpse had been discovered weeks earlier in the dining room of Bloodskull Hall Manor lying on the table. It had been badly damaged. The body. The uncle’s body. Not the table; it was fine. No clues as to what had killed his uncle had been found, but the housekeeper – Mz. Eliza Blazkey – had been woken by a loud argument the night before and had rushed down the stairs to find the dining room door barred and loud voices coming from within. One of the voices was certainly the uncle’s but the other voice sounded weird and bloody. Like a bloody skull.

The next morning, the uncle’s body had been found in its torn-apart state and only a bloody skull was found to offer any sort of clue as to what had happened. The uncle’s body was removed to be washed, to be hosed down, and the bloody skull was given to the housekeeper – Mz. Eliza Blazkey – who set it on the mantle where it seemed to judge the living!

“Hogwash!” thought Jim as he drove to Bloodskull Hall Manor, “I don’t believe in skulls and even if I did I don’t believe in SKULLS!” and he pushed really hard on the gas pedal with his foot. And he shifted the . . . the shifter of his car. I don’t know how to drive a stick. He sticked the stick and VROOM off down the road!

Fifteen minutes later, Jim was standing before Bloodstool Manor and wiping his brow. “Quite a drive,” he thought. “I drove the hell out of that car.”

Knocking on the door, Jim noticed that so much blood was oozing out of the house. “That’s odd,” he said out loud, “I’d better call the police on all this blood.”

Pulling out his cell phone, Jim called the police. But, he could NOT get reception!

“Blast and curse!” he screamed and threw the useless contraption into the bushes!

Entering the house, Jim was shocked to discover so much blood was all over the place! He slipped and slid, sliding and slooping his feet slithering and slurping all over the slip-slidey floor. He slalomed and slud and slanked and spun and finally landed on his bottom(!) in the kitchen where everyone was dead.

Everyone was dead and bloody and the skull did it there was no way to know who did it!

“Looking for me?!” said a creepy bloody voice from behind Jim.

Jim spun around. Around and around. He spun and spun and spun and got soooooo dizzy and threw up and fell in the blood and vomit and skull and blood.

“I threw up!” Jim said and began to cry.

The skull – drenched in blood and vomit because it had been standing behind Jim and then he had accidentally kicked it around a bit while he was spinning around on the bloody floor and then he’d vomited on it – helped him to his feet with its PHANTOM ARMS and gave him a glass of water and explained that it had killed everyone because of a curse or something.

TEN YEARS LATER

“Honey, where are the mats? The food mats for the table?” Jim cried out. He was expecting guests any minute and couldn’t find the table food mats for – in order to catch the food.

“Just where you left them! On the floor of the kitchen after we made love!” came a voice from the other room. It was the skull! They’d gotten married because they had so much in common and GET THIS they had a baby and it was born with a skull head!

THE END

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing, Just a VERY STUPID THING | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – Under the Stacks

childroomUnder every library is a hidden world of terrors and delights.

That’s not a metaphor, by the way; under every library is a literal world of terrors and delights. That’s why they were created. To contain that world. It’s horrifying.

Dierdre was six and a half and damn proud of that fact. Turning six had been a major milestone in her life; it meant she was allowed to browse the children’s books at the Lowertown Library unattended. It meant the librarian – a round, pleasant woman with sticky-outy hair – trusted that she wouldn’t get dirt on the books or pull out the pages or drop them on the ground and stamp on them. Like her little brother. Honestly, she’d known to not do this for years – well, for months. But, rules were rules. So, she’d patiently waited and on her birthday – February the third – she’d walked with her mom to the big gray building on Haver Street and exchanged her light blue card for a dark blue card. One day, she’d get the red card. But that was a far-off dream.

Today, Dierdre had selected, of her own accord, three books on reptiles and amphibians. They were large and flat and full of photos and not baby books, either. They were big kid books, but, and this was something she was super DUPER proud about, she could read them! Yes. And, most importantly, she could understand them. So, while momma was off looking at books in the boring part of the library – ie, the rest of the library – Dierdre was sitting on the cushioned bench by the back wall and reading about salamanders and how they ate with their sticky tongues. The bench ran the length of the back wall. There was another bench under the big picture window, but it always made Dierdre feel like people were sneaking up behind her when she sat there.

“The Hy-dro-man . . . man-tes salamander has the fastest tongue in the world,” she read out loud. Normally, you weren’t supposed to read with your mouth at the library, but they liked it when you did in the children’s section. It proved that books made you smarter and that was good for business. “It is also the longest tongue,” she continued, happy with her newfound knowledge. She couldn’t wait to get home and throw these facts at her little brother, who wouldn’t understand them but would appear suitably impressed nevertheless.

“The tip of its tongue -”

“Tongue . . .”

Dierdre paused. Someone had whispered the word “tongue” somewhere near her bench. She had definitely heard it. She looked around. The children’s section was empty. Even the round librarian with the sticky-outy hair was away from her desk in the center of the room. Dierdre suddenly felt very alone in a way she hadn’t felt since she was small and afraid of the dark. But, this wasn’t the dark! It was the library. The safest place in the world. And, she wasn’t alone. Momma was in the big person section with a bunch of other grownups. There were two heavy doors between the children’s section and the rest of the library, but if she leaned way over, she could just see through the long windows into the rest of the library.

She looked down at her book. A drawing of a  salamander with its long tongue grabbing a bug splashed across two pages. A small blue box in the corner described the action.

“Here,” she read out loud, “the salamander uses its sticky tongue -”

“Tongue,” the voice said again.

It was close. Near her ear. She whipped her head around, blonde hairs slapping her face. There was no one there, of course. That “all alone in the dark” feeling began to creep over her again. Maybe, she thought, it was time to go find momma and check out her books.

Stood up.

Something had her leg.

It was a hand – gray, bony, with rough skin and scratchy nails at the ends of long long too-long fingers – sticking out from under the bench cushion. The hand was gripping her upper thigh and the horrible fingers wrapped all the way around.

“Momma!” she called out. The hand squeezed her leg a bit harder than was necessary.

There was a noise. A commotion. Something was happening in the rest of the library. Muffled sounds, blocked by the two big doors.

“MOMMA!” she yelled, and the hand slipped back under the cushion dragging it’s sharp nails along her skin and leaving three angry red scratches.

Dierdre bolted from the children’s section, burst through the doors and stood in the safety of the general reading room. She was panting, her reptile books still clutched to her chest, looking around for the comforting shape of her momma.

But, her momma wasn’t there.

No momma’s were there.

The library, so full of life and energy and people when she’d arrived, was quiet as a tomb. Dierdre held perfectly still, her breath coming in quick, hitching gasps. Finally, she managed to calm her breathing enough to listen. There was a sound. A wet sound. It was coming from behind the Information Desk.

On size eight feet, clad in her favorite white shoes (perfect for twirling! she would say) Dierdre crept over to the Information Desk. She knew she wasn’t supposed to go around to the other side – that was for employees only – but, the wet sounds seemed urgent, like an animal in need.

The round librarian, with the sticky-outy hair, lay behind the desk. Her pretty white blouse, the one with the ruffles that Dierdre thought of as a princess blouse, was stained red and torn all over. The librarian’s hair was more sticky-outy than usual and her body had sticky-outy parts where there weren’t supposed to be sticky-outy parts. The wet sounds were coming from her mouth, which was also stained red.

The round librarian looked up with wide wide eyes and saw Dierdre.

“Ca – ca – ca . . . ” she stammered, “ca -”

Dierdre leaned down. It was scary to see the round librarian like this but also sad. Oh her white princess blouse (now stained red oh dear so so red and torn) was a name tag. It said “MISS EMMA” on it. Dierdre had never seen this tag. She had probably been told the round librarian was named Miss Emma when she first started visiting the children’s section, but htat was too long ago to remember.

“Ca – ca -” Miss Emma croaked.

“Do you need help,” Dierdre asked, “Miss Emma?” she added.

“Ca – ca – call. N – number. Desk,” Miss Emma spat out, “Call. Please. Please.”

Dierdre stood on her tiptoes and craned her neck. The top of the desk was smooth and clean save for a few long gouges drawn across the end. She saw no number.

“Miss Emma,” she said looking down, “there’s no number here!”

Miss Emma’s breathing was growing shorter. She gazed with fading eyes at Deirdre. She had known Dierdre for all six years of the little girl’s life. Had met the tiny baby when she was only three weeks old and Dierdre’s momma (that poor poor woman the things they did to her before dragging her away and off and down down down) had brought her in to meet the staff and announced “I want everyone to meet a future bookworm!” Miss Emma had watched little Dierdre grown into a whip-smart toddler, reading at three and comprehending at three and a half. The little girl was smart. She could understand. She would “get it.”

“The – the whole desk. Hidden. On. Top. Hidden. In. Wood.”

Dierdre looked at the desk, but it was too high to see the whole thing. Setting her books down – careful to avoid the expanding pool of blood around Miss Emma – she climbed up onto the Information Desk’s chair and knelt on the soft seat. She gazed at the swirling pattern in the fake wood desktop. It looked like a desktop. She was about to ask Miss Emma for more help, when the pattern resolved itself into recognizable shapes. Numbers. A phone number.

“Who is it? Do I call them? What do I say?” Dierdre was feeling overwhelmed. She wanted to cry. She wanted to pee. She wanted to leave.

Miss Emma, nearly gone now, even a six year old could see that this kind woman was not long for our world, stared at the beautiful child poised above her like and angel. Like a last hope.

“Breach,” she said.

“Beach?” Dierdre asked, confused.

“Brrrreeeach!” Miss Emma sighed out. And died.

Dierdre heard scuffling behind the stacks. Under the floor. In the ceiling. She needed to call the hidden number and say the secret word.

Breach.

She didn’t know what it meant. But, it seemed important and scary.

The man who answered the phone sounded mean when he answered. But, when he heard the little girl on the other end say “breach,” his voice softened. “Are you in the library, little girl?” he asked.

“Yes,” Dierdre replied. “Are you going to come help me?”

The man on the other end, didn’t respond.

Under every library is a hidden world of terrors and delights. That’s why they were created. To contain that world. Books contain magic and that magic usually works. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes – rarely oh so rarely but sometimes – things happen. Things get breached. And things come out. From under the stacks.

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

Halloween Interlude – Winning Smiles

red lips isolated in whiteJulie had a smile that could melt lead. Really, it was quite fetching. The way her cheeks pushed up against her eyes and her brows came together in the middle. It was something to behold. Not one of those practiced, toothy, supermodel smiles, either. Just this perfect, captivating, one-of-a-kind smile. It was gorgeous.

Samantha decided she had to have it.

Samantha was sick of her own smile: toothy, lopsided, insincere. It was the only smile in the world that seemed to be laughing at its owner. She hated it. Julie’s smile, though. That would work. That would fit. That would tell the world “Hey! Look at this smile! Dig it!” Really, that’s all she wanted; she wanted Julie’s smile.

After work, Samantha dug through her uncle’s books. Uncle Zeb had been something of a magic user back in his day. Samantha didn’t know if he’d been any good at it, but he had a lot of books. One of them had to have something about stealing parts of someone else’s body and putting them on your own. Right? I mean, that was a thing, right? It had to be.

Most of Uncle Zeb’s books were tape-bound photocopies that he’d begged off other magic users over the years. The pages were yellowed and stained, the bindings were loose and the spines were blank. Only the covers indicated what was inside, usually in Zeb’s nearly unreadable scrawl. Des Vermis Mysteriis and De Occulta Philosophia and Sefer Raziel HaMalakh all stared up at her. But, these were books that she could find online. None of them had anything practical in them. Zeb was a magic user and when he’d disappeared and she’d inherited this house and all it contained, Zeb had left a note saying that “all the books in the library” were hers but to be careful of “the more potent ones” because they “contained untold powers” and could “end” the “world” as we “know it.” Or, something like that. She’d lost the note.

Finally, after knocking over stack upon stack of useless paper, Samantha hit what she believed to be the jackpot. At the bottom of a pile of manuscripts that had been printed on an old dot matrix printer, was a small chapbook bound in faded leather. On the cover was stamped the words Mae’r Llyfr A fydd Dinistrio eich Corff Ac Popeth Chi Caru. But, Samantha didn’t speak weirdo, so she opened it up.

The book was only a few pages long and contained diagrams of the human body complete with lots of arrows and pictures. Near the end, was a crude drawing of a man speaking words at another man while making a complex series of gestures. The words “cythraul o’r arallfyd / grant fy nghais druenus / newid y wraig hon yn ___ gyda fy hun” came from his mouth and it looked like the other man’s eyes were floating through the air toward the speaker.

“Got it!” Amanda said to no one.

The next day at work, she crouched behind the wall of her cube, waiting for Julie to settle in at her desk. Her hands were slick with excitement. This was it. She was going to get what she wanted!

Julie entered and sat down.

Samantha, still hiding on the floor behind the cubicle wall, pulled out the piece of paper on which she had written the words of the spell. She assumed the blank line indicated the place where she should speak the part of Julie’s body that she wanted.

Making the approximate gestures from the drawing, she read, “Cythraul o’r arallfyd,” and looked around.

“Grant fy nghais druenus,” she continued.

“Newid y wraig hon yn . . . smile . . . gyda fy hu!” she finished.

Samantha waited. She felt her mouth. Nothing seemed to be happening.

“Newid y wraig hon yn smile gyda fy hu!”she repeated.

Again, nothing.

She peeked over the wall. Julie was clacking away at her keyboard.

“Dammit,” she whispered. “Dammit.”

Well, why feel surprised? she thought. Nothing ever worked for her anyway. Why should this be any different? She put her hand on her chair and that’s when someone took it.

Samantha suppressed a squeal and looked up.

An abortion was sitting in her desk chair. Not a literal abortion, but certainly something that was frighteningly unwanted in this or any world. It was a mistake made by a mad god, and it held her hand and looked at her with no face through no eyes and spoke with an organ that should not ever have been allowed to make sound.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” it asked, “I mean, usually I just do my thing and go, but you seem like a nice lady so I thought I’d give you a chance to rethink this. Are you sure you want to go through with it?”

Samantha’s head wanted to vomit out its eyes and her tongue was begging her teeth to bite it off so it could escape, but she managed to say, “Yes. Please. Do it.”

“Well, alright,” the wrongness on the chair said with its voice that proved evil would forever triumph over good, “Your choice.” And it vanished.

Samantha was so shaken by the experience, she didn’t notice the Julie had stopped typing.

Later, on her long walk home – Samantha usually took the bus but it would probably be a while before public transit was back up and running – she thought about Uncle Zeb and how he’d never been a successful man and had died raving in a hospital. He’d always liked her, and she him, but now that she really thought about it . . . maybe he wasn’t a magic user. Maybe, he was a bad magic user.

When she opened the door of Uncle Zeb’s house, she was instantly buried under a bloody avalanche of human lips. That afternoon, everyone’s mouths had disappeared. Everyone’s. In the world. People had been going about their days and suddenly WOOP! all the mouths had been ripped away and deposited . . . here, it looked like.

Samantha lay under that pile of smiles for three days before she was discovered and arrested. Later, in jail, she would try to reverse the spell by rearranging the words or swapping out body parts or fudging the magic gestures but that only resulted in her reducing everyone to shaking piles of meat and her growing weird webs between her toes. The world stank of rotting flesh and the streets ran with blood and excrement. Buildings crumbled. She wandered the wastes, alone and half mad.

The thing from her office stopped by after she’d been at it for a while and just glared at her.

“Could you fix this?” she’d asked.

The thing gave her some sort of look and shook its body. Then it rose into the air and flew away.

Samantha looked down; in her hands was a scrap of paper with a short sentence written on it.

She read the words. She felt a tingle. She dropped the paper.

Running to the blown out remains of a store, Samantha looked in the shattered glass of a mirror. On her face, was Julie’s beautiful smile.

“I did it!” she said.

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

Halloween Interlude – Potty Mouth

TeethpileEllen noticed the teeth in the toilet before she’d really gotten a chance to wake up.

There they were: 1, 2, 3, 4 teeth floating in the dingy water. Molars from the look of it. Strange. She thought it was strange. Still, stuff came up from down below – in life and out of it – so why not teeth? Why not the unexpected? That’s what life handed you, right? The unexpected? So she’d learned and so she was still learning.

Breakfast was toast. Clothing was dull. Face washing was uneventful. The cat was nowhere to be seen. And still there were those teeth.

They went down with the rest of it and she went to work.

All day, the thought of those four teeth – whose they were, where they came from, why only four – flitted in and out of her head. They gnawed at her (ha ha) and when she missed lunch, she thought it was alright. She had no desire to put much in her mouth and chew. Her own teeth felt gritty. She’d neglected to brush. That’s fine. One day wasn’t going to kill her.

Ellen considered mentioning the teeth to her coworker Marie, but stopped short as she approached Marie’s cube. It wasn’t so much the nastiness of the ownerless teeth as the nastiness of calling attention to her toilet. Marie was the closest thing she had to a friend, but she didn’t want Marie thinking about her toilet.

On the bus ride home, Ellen thought about the teeth. So singular and alone. Four little teeth with no gums to hold them. She played around with that thought for a while and made up a little song around it. She chuckled to herself until she was convinced people were staring at her. They weren’t. No one stared at her.

When she got home that evening, the cat greeted her at the door with maiows and rubs. Good. Part of her had been afraid the cat was gone. She didn’t know why she thought that. The cat never tried to run out the front door. The cat was happy to be in a safe and warm place. It had something to do with the four teeth in the toilet. But, how? Exactly. How.

She’d been home for an hour before a dull ache in her gut told her she had to go to the bathroom. That’s when she realized she’d been avoiding it. Not consciously, obviously, but she usually went first thing and this was unusual.

The bathroom had a slightly menacing air. She flipped on the light and stood in the fluorescent hum for a second staring at her face in the mirror. Her eyes sat on soft little bags, comfortable enough that they seemed to have permanently attached the bags to her face. Well, let them have their comfort. Her nose was slightly red from the sniffles that lasted from some time in fall to some time in summer. Her hair had come out of its bun – the only hairstyle she was confident with – and little wisps tickled her cheeks. She looked sad. And tired. She looked sad and tired enough to say it out loud.

“I look sad and tired,” she said to the room.

She opened the toilet lid and looked in.

The toilet was filled with teeth. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. They had displaced the water and were just filling the bowl. An ivory pile. For the first time, she noticed they all had intact roots. As if they’d been pulled from a mouth. A few were tinged with red, but there was no blood.

The cat wandered in and maiowed at her. She picked it up and held it so it could see the teeth. It did not respond. Instead, it leaped down and padded to the kitchen, waiting to be fed.

Ellen knelt at the bowl. The teeth were still. She reached out with her right hand and brushed the top of the pile. A few of the top teeth were moved aside, but overall the teeth were tightly packed together. They were molars and canines and . . . she didn’t know what the other ones were called. Cupids? Cuspids? Something.

Did they go all the way down? Was there a reservoir of teeth running under her building? Did other tenants have teeth in their toilets? She could knock on a door and find out, she supposed. But, Ellen didn’t know her neighbors that well. If there was a problem with the building, she’d hear about it.

Later, after she’d visited the ladies’ room at the shop around the corner – and purchased a frozen pizza that she didn’t want or need – Ellen sat in her living room, watching a movie on her laptop and cozying her cat. She heard a sound in the bathroom. A light tic, tic, tic.

That’s the teeth, she thought. That’s the teeth. They’re starting to spill over the edge of the bowl. She got up, crossed to the bathroom and saw a few teeth lying on the floor. In the bowl, the tooth pile had risen. She shut the lid. She went to bed.

The next morning, the few teeth that had fallen were gone. Had she cleaned them up? She couldn’t remember.

Ellen opened the toilet lid and looked at the new thing waiting for her.

The teeth had organized during the night. No longer a jumbled pile, they now lined the inside of the bowl in rows and rows. Like seed art with teeth. The water was back. It was oily. Without knowing why, she kicked the bowl. Lightly. Just a tap.

The oily water rippled a bit more than she thought was appropriate.

She gave the bowl a stronger kick.

The oily water chugged and undulated. The teeth . . . shifted. With a quiet click, clack, click. One circular row moved 1, 2, 3 teeth over.

Ellen stared at the teeth. She pulled a length of paper off the roll, crumpled it in to a loose ball and dropped it in the toilet.

Nothing happened.

She shut the lid.

A churning sound. Quick rattling clicks, like cards in the spokes of a bicycle. More churning.

The opened the lid.

The paper was gone.

Ellen tried the experiment with more paper. Then an entire roll. Then a magazine. Then her leftover pizza. Then a frozen game hen she’d been saving for a special night.

After a while, she closed the lid and sat down on it. She thought. She saw a future stretching out in front of her. A future of feedings. Her cat was old and not long for this world. Did teeth get old?

She called in sick and stayed in with the teeth. Eventually, she went to the grocery store and bought more then usual. When she came home, the bowl was different. Between the teeth, gums had grown. In the bottom of the bowl, the porcelain gave way to a fleshy throat. Ridges of muscle. A stump that looked like the beginning of a tongue.

That night, she fed the teeth a ham, a box of crackers – complete with box – a bunch of carrots and a cake.

“This is for your birthday,” she said, tipping the cake in.

That night, she dreamed of teeth. She was in a tight tooth-lined coffin. It was hot and cozy. The teeth began to shift and grind against her skin. It was not unpleasurable. She woke up in a daze. The early morning light revealed a long growth reaching from the bowl and hovering over her bed. It was pink and raw. Fleshy. It stood over her as a snake hangs above its prey. She reached up. The thing pulled back. She stood up. The thing retreated to the bathroom.

Ellen noticed the refrigerator door standing open. It had been mostly emptied. She looked around for the cat. She found it hiding in its covered litter box.

“You’re smarter than you look,” she said to the cat.

The pink, fleshy thing had pulled back into the toilet. It wasn’t a tongue after all. But, it might as well be a tongue. She stared down into the bowl.

“This is what I am,” Ellen said to the teeth, to the tongue. “This is what I am. This is what I am.”

The teeth shifted slightly. Did they understand? Could they hear? The tongue twitched.

“This is what I am,” she said. And all through the night and into the next day and into the next night she repeated those words. And the teeth listened. And the tongue listened. And the days. Grew. Shorter.

“This is what I am.”

This is what I am.

This is what I am.

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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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The Amazing Story of This Five Dollar Bill

Image

This is it. This is the five dollar bill.

The other day, I was getting in my car and this five dollar bill was frozen in the ice by the passenger-side door, so I chipped it out with my boot and now I have five more dollars.

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Thoughts On A Dying Man

Fred_Phelps_10-29-2002Fred Phelps is dying and I don’t really feel anything about it. For years, this man – a man who terrorized his family, violently abused his children and formed a small but very vocal organization based on hate and demonization – has captured the world’s attention by publicly flaunting his brand of hatred at funerals, concerts and other gatherings for the purpose of media attention.

His church – comprised primarily of family members, many of whom are lawyers or have studied law – sustains itself by suing anyone who attempts to silence them. It’s a scam, a plea for attention based on a whacked out theology and – lo and behold – an insanely successful strategy. They’ve been around for so long now, and are so ubiquitous at the funerals of service members, celebrities and children, that they’ve become a part of the American backdrop. They’re horrible people – but, very well educated people – who’ll do what they do and they are actually free to do it.

And, Phelp’s death won’t end it. There’s too much momentum behind it and his followers are too inured to his way of thinking. You can’t argue with them – they know how to not listen. You can only ignore them, and they make that very difficult. Phelps is a horribly flawed man, a warped individual, a destructive force. But, I take no joy in his impending death. It will help no one. Protest his funeral if you will, it’ll just help create Buzzfeed articles.

I do have one hope, though.

For reasons unknown to the general public, Phelps was excommunicated from his own church in August. That had to be incredibly difficult for him. He may have had to hold on to the notion of receiving peace, finally, in paradise. I hope that as Fred Phelps dies – as he slips away into that vast nothingness, that blank, that void – I hope he realizes that nothing awaits him.

That there is no other side.

That there is no reward for his work and no punishment for those he hated.

I hope he realizes, in that brief final second, that everything he has done in the service of his god and his values has been for nothing.

I hope he realizes that he has only made the world a harder place to live.

I hope he attains that brief moment of clarity and that the last thing he feels before he feels nothing at all forever, is sadness and disappointment in himself and grief for the pain he caused so many people on this small and tightly packed planet.

I take no pleasure in his death and I hope he doesn’t either.

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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

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