LITTLE GENIUS 2500, (Behind the Magic 8 Ball)

Magic 8 Ball

It’s a brief interlude between rainstorms.  Neighbors are poking their heads out like prairie dogs in a prairie dog town.  Will I be greeted by a watery deluge upon egress?  Do I need to take an umbrella?  There’s more than meteorology on my mind as I leave for my morning walk.

I’ve come down with writer’s block complicated by a severe case of the “can’t help its.”  How to be myself, be original, and come up with posts worthy of the reader’s time?  Wouldn’t it be nice to be recognized by someone like, “James Lipton in the Actor’s Studio?”  “Your last post was both stupendous and magnanimous.”  “I, along with other readers were spellbound.”  “Did your inspiration come from an inner muse?”  “If you don’t mind my asking, whom, or what, is your inner muse?”

Daydreams, accolades aside, what if there was an electronic device specially designed and engineered to aid the struggling blogger?  A twenty-first century electronic version of the “Magic Eight Ball” comes to mind.  Our world is ever evolving in increasing complexity.  An ultimate authority with “one size fits all” answers to questions is appealing.  Picture the CEO of a major fortune five-hundred corporation consulting his “Magic 8 Ball” at a stockholder’s meeting.  Not funny?  Why? because you expected more–a sophisticated personal electronic device of some sort.  What I really needed, was a writer’s block “unblocker.”

That was the beginning of my Little Genius 2500, “blogger’s friend” concept.  What did I want it to do?  It would be geared to my personality–likes and dislikes.  …Generate topic suggestions avoiding duplication.  …Display different viewpoints. …Monitor clichés and overused phrases.  …Offer alternative phrasing and words.  …An optional Little Genius 2550 would be enhanced with media clips and quotes. …Voice input processing software that converted to print, with corrections… Last, but certainly not least, a soothing, reassuring, synthesized, guiding voice.

The Little Genius 2500 prototype only existed in my imagination.  There won’t be a production version.  The prototype tripped all circuit breakers–gave me a terrific headache.  It became an awkward, unwieldy, bulky contraption–expected to do too much.  If there ever was such as thing, it would only be a crutch.  I’m still behind the “Magic Eight Ball.”  Now, where is it?  It’s never around when I need it.  Will it rain tomorrow?  “Answer hazy, try again.”  Are there better times ahead? It is decidedly so.”  Why waste time?  I need an inner muse.  The search is on.

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OLD WARRIORS, FARMHOUSES, & SUICIDE TREES

rusty relics

Fred Barnes aspired to fame and fortune, settled for notoriety.  There wasn’t room in Fred’s world for a wife.  Feminine touches around the farmstead were all but gone.  Only overgrown rose bushes, a few daffodils and irises remained.  Locals were wise to his get rich quick schemes.  He was tolerated by most, hated by some.  His forty-acre spread was a testament to failed enterprise.  Chipped paint on the old farmhouse exterior revealed its history.  The deteriorating barn and outbuildings gave shelter to raccoons and owls.  Hay bales faded to silver-gray.  Formerly yellow ears of corn no longer enticed rats.  Outdated farm equipment stood like dinosaur skeletons rusting away.  Small saplings grew through steel spoked wheels.  Fred’s priorities were elsewhere.

The pot-holed gravel lane required considerable skill to navigate.  According to Fred, “His blue Cadillac knew the way home.”  A large diseased silver maple stood in the front yard.  “Fred, when are you going to cut down that old tree in the front yard?”  Asked a neighbor.  “One of these days it’ll blow over on the house.”  “I’m not worried about it,”  Fred answered.  “It still gives me a little bit of shade.”  “I don’t see how it could, there aren’t many limbs left.”  “It’s all right–woodpeckers and squirrels still like it.”  The tree was left alone to die a slow death.  It became Fred’s unofficial “suicide tree.”

The only vacant furniture store in Willow Branch, with its stuccoed concrete walls, was rechristened “Fred’s Bargain Basement.”  “Couldn’t he think up something more original?”  Mabel Richards asked at the grocery store.  “Something like, Your Grandpa’s Mustache.”  “Yes, Mabel I like that.”  “It’s quite clever.” “Fred should have asked us first.”  Answered Doris.  Chuckles subsided, turned to serious matters.  “Look at the price of lettuce?” “Produce gets so expensive in the winter.”  “These tomatoes are hard as rocks.”  “I know, that’s why we put up everything we can from our garden.”  Mabel answered.

There wasn’t a basement anywhere to be found–only an attic.  The newest member of the Willow Branch Merchant’s Association turned out to be the most opinionated and obstinate.  Fred’s diploma from the Carthage School of Auctioneering & Livestock Judging was prominently displayed along with his business license.  An antique ornate brass National cash register was still used daily.  Personal mementos were hidden away in Fred’s office.  An upside down aircraft engine piston served as an ashtray and paperweight.  Fred’s high school football team picture stood propped up on the desk.  His two favorite books, “Robinson Crusoe” and “Oliver Twist,” were within easy reach.  Sometimes, Fred stayed all night at the store.  He had a hot plate and coffee pot–all the comforts of home.

radio

The store was a clearinghouse of new and used furniture, antiques, and military surplus–a virtual cornucopia of hodge-podge.  Boxes of newly acquired merchandise were stacked in the back of the store.  Gene, his part-time employee, did cleaning and stocking.  Looking for an art-deco tube type table radio?  It was there along with cream separators and old horse collars.  An old buggy hung from the ceiling.  Regular posted hours weren’t promised–only suggested.  Fred kept his own schedule.  When the mood struck, he  disappeared for hours.

Genuine antiques were strategically placed with ordinary furniture.  Out-of-towners wouldn’t know the difference.     What made something a valuable antique?  The main criterion was, that it had to be old.  Moth holes and rust added value.  Value existed in the minds of buyers.  Fred had to convince the customer.  Every deal was a big deal.  The latest was always the biggest.  Everything Fred did was a big production.

If Fred feigned hurt feelings, it was an act–using emotion for personal gain.  It was an ongoing process of dehumanization.  …Pretending to be someone’s best buddy…Faking insult while low-balling someone…Whatever it took to close the deal…Congratulating customers on the value and wisdom of their purchases…Cementing the deal with trinkets…This process Fred called, “greasing the wheels of commerce.”  Was he being personable or practicing the art of the deal?  At the top of his game, it was hard to tell.  Audiences were harder and harder to find.  He loved the challenge.  In Fred’s own words, “Any port in a storm.”

“Why can’t people see what’s wrong with our schools?”  “It’s so obvious.”  Fred pontificated from his favorite bar stool.  “What’s that, Fred?”  Asked Stan, bartender and confidant.  “We need to “de-dummify” the educational system.”  “We’re raising a generation of dummies.”  It’s no wonder those Russians got ahead of us and launched the Sputnik.”  “They’re filling kid’s heads up with junk instead of the basics.”  “Kids waste time watching television, reading comic books, listening to rock-and-roll music.”  “I’m with ya’ there, Fred,”  Stan agreed.  “I lay down the law with mine–no television till homework’s done.”

“And the way they dance.”  “They don’t stand close to each other.”  “…Jumping, twisting, and twitching…”  Fred continued.  “Besides that, the Sputnik doesn’t look like anything, but a basketball wrapped in tinfoil–antenna stuck out all over it.”  “I wouldn’t put it past those sneaky Russkies to do something like that.”  “Reading, writing, and arithmetic is all they need to teach.”  “Kids can’t read, can’t make change.”  “They shoulda’ never replaced the old “McGuffey” readers.”

“What about science?”  Came a question from out of the blue.  “What about it?”  Fred retorted.  “…Can’t forget about it…”  “If it weren’t for science, there’d be no polio or smallpox vaccines.”  “Hell, maybe neither one of us would even be here.”  “We woulda’ died from some childhood disease.”  “Well, I suppose,” Fred agreed, reluctantly.  “I don’t believe we’ve met, I’m Fred Barnes.”  “Marty Wingler,” replied the stranger, extending a firm handshake.

tavern

“Marty, no offense to you, I don’t trust hospitals or doctors.”  “Don’t like those open in the back hospital gowns?”  “…Getting poked and prodded…?  Asked Marty.  “No, it’s more than that”  “Doctors and hospitals charge too much money for their services.”  “If you go there, you won’t get out until they find something wrong with you.”  “They’ll run test after test.”  “If you weren’t sick before, when you see the bill with five dollar aspirins, fifty dollar enemas, and all that other stuff added up, then you’re really sick.”

Fred’s mistrust of the Russians was well founded.  He was seriously wounded in the Korean conflict.  Not many people knew about his purple heart.  His war experiences were kept locked away.  Nobody cared about old warriors and forgotten wars.  The Korean War never ended, there’d only been a truce.  Experienced Russian WWII pilots flew MIG 15 fighter jets for the Chinese.  We’d fought the Russians and Chinese during that war along with the North Koreans.  General Douglas MacArthur was the only person with enough guts to stand up to the Communist Chinese.  President Truman relieved him of his duties.  Fred felt betrayed by his own country.  Now, we were fighting the same communists in the Vietnam mess.  It brought back unpleasant memories.  

farmhouse 2

PARADE

cheshire cat

Uptight citizens
Emotions
Starched, repressed
Backs upright
Broomstick straight
Displayed, exemplary
Politeness
Might, made
Rightness
With standard
Held high

Victorious
Vainglorious
Crusade of
Culture clashes
Plied, the
Proscribed path

Marched in lockstep
With frozen
Cheshire cat smiles
Silently, in mock
Stoicism, onward
To obfuscation
All traces
Of humanness
Willed away

Rookery Rock

dancing pelicanHip-hopped
On the dock
To inner
Avian, beat-box
One danced
Hard to ignore
The other
Looked away
Incredibly bored

Old schooled
Hokey-pokey’d
One foot in
One foot out
One wing down
Then the other
Texas two-stepped
Funky chickened
Boogalooed
Found the groove
Busted new moves

Don’t flip your wig
This could be big!
What to do
On the dock?
Flippery, floppery
Rookery, rockery
Hickory, dickory, dock
Rookery rock
Around the clock!

DP: Far From Normal

This is a frightening thing for me–admitting my abnormalities.  Frightening, because there’s a lot of psychoanalytical ground to plow.  Right now, I’m cursing at my keyboard.  The keyboard’s in no way responsible for my lack of typing skills.  If anyone thinks I’m giving away all my secrets–they’re crazier than I am.  Limiting peculiarities to approximately six, I can handle.

I’m uncomfortable around people who reveal too much about themselves.  I’ve had to overcome shyness over the years.  My fantasy life has always been more interesting than my real one.  It’s a kind of “Walter Mittyish” thing.  I’m turned off by loud, obnoxious people.  As I child, I was an instigator–nowhere to be found when the spit hit the fan.  I used “plausible deniability,” long before the term was popularized.  Still waters ran deep.  As an adult, I could be seen as quiet, hard to get to know, some would say I’m anti-social.  For those willing to get acquainted, I’m worth the effort.

I have an aversion to taking pictures of people–prefer animals and landscapes.  It’s the same with my drawings:  I can draw a cartoon with insect characters to the finest detail, but not human characters.  I like my two pet dogs better than I like most people.  Sometimes I exhibit obsessive-compulsive behavior.  I recheck lights and doors.  I’m never completely satisfied with blog entries–rewrite, correct, over-and-over.  I write and eat left-handed, but do everything else right-handed.  I’m ambidextrous.  I eat salad after a meal, not before–in lieu of dessert.  Even as a skinny kid, I could never get a hula hoop to work.

A favorite pastime is watching “B” science fiction movies from the fifties–like “Plan 9 From Outer Space.”  The cheesier the special effects, the better.  My very favorite cartoon series of all time is “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”  I liked it because it was written on different levels.  It also had some of the best political and social satire ever written.  I also enjoyed watching “Pinkie and the Brain” with my grandchildren.

I’m a lifetime student of human behavior–an endless source of story material.  I look for oddities and absurdities–anything and everything is fair game.  Maybe my abnormalities won’t be abnormal enough?  No matter, I’ve lived with them for sixty-four years.  We’ve become friends.

TOUCHING THE SKY

Climbing a tree

A young explorer
Climbed a tree
To get a better view
Mom and Dad
Weren’t watching
There wasn’t
Much to do

Sought answers
To questions
There was so
Much to know
Where did birds
Go to sleep?
Why, were grownups
So slow?

He climbed
Still higher
To find more
Reasons why
Did the sun
Still shine
On cloudy days?
Could you
Really touch
The sky?