Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Search for Meaning In an Existential Context

Hunter S. Thompson book signing (of sorts)

Okay, in 1993 this college professor loads his students in two buses and they go on a literary tour of America. They read Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and visited Whitman's grave in Camden, New Jersey. They read John Steinbeck and toured his museum in Salinas, Kansas. Then they made it to Colorado while reading Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.

The professor decided to contact Thompson to see if he would meet with his students. Thompson agreed, and arrived at a bar in Woody Creek, where he drank and played pool with the students. Then Thompson took some of the students to his home, Owl Farm. There, he made the students line up, each clutching a copy of Fear and Loathing. Instead of autographing their books, Thompson pulled out a gun and shot a hole in each one.

Is that cool or what? I would love to have a Thompson book personally shot by the author. Alas, he is gone. Thompson's remains were loaded into fireworks canisters and exploded over Owl Farm. He is now probably working on Fear and Loathing In Heaven.


From Billboard Magazine: The rapper sometimes known as C-Murder will be tried a second time on a second-degree murder charge.

Here's my thinking. If you're going to be a rapper/murderer, you should probably pick a better name than C-Murder. It's a dead giveaway (pun intended). Makes things easier for the police, too.

Cop #1: Looks like we've got a rapper murder here. You think it was a DJ PuppyKisses?
Cop #2: Nah. What about MC FloralScent?
Cop #1: No way. Hey, what about that other guy, C-Murder?
Cop #2: That's our man. I'll get the warrant. You get the Taser.


There's an author, Will Leitch, who wrote a pretty good YA book, Catch, about his hometown, Mattoon, Illinois. I enjoyed it, though I don't often read slice of life books. (I like stuff to blow up, you know?) Thing is, it was weird reading about Mattoon, since I grew up there too. Leitch put in all the streets I know, the local landmarks, even a couple of people I remember. There was something odd about reading a story about a place I know so well.

On the other hand, I can't think of anything interesting to say about Mattoon. U.S. Grant took command of his first troops there. Many sociology textbooks mention the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, who likely didn't exist but managed to cause mass hysteria during World War II anyway. And, um, dang. Not much else to talk about.

On the other, other hand, if you get on I-57 and drive 15 miles north, you run into Arcola, with a population around 2,700. It's a weird place. The locals call it "Amazing Arcola."

First, Arcola was, until fairly recently, home to the French Embassy, the only four-star French restaurant and bowling alley in the world. When I say four-star, I'm not kidding. Gourmands from everywhere came to eat at the French Embassy. Fantastic food, but très cher, as them French folk would say. Still, after eating a gourmet meal, what better way to burn a few calories by strolling across the hall and bowling a few lines?

Arcola also claims to be the "Broom Corn Capital of the World." This would appear to be a Good Thing, except I don't know what broom corn is for. Apparently they make brooms with it, but wouldn't any sort of corn do the job? Besides, I always thought brooms were made of straw. It looks like straw.

In addition to the broom corn thing, Arcola also has an Amish Interpretive Center. There are a lot of Amish near Arcola. You can tell because there's horse doody on the streets and sometimes on the sidewalk, so watch where you step!

I've talked to Amish people plenty of times and I don't need an interpreter. "Get thee off my land, spawn of satan," they tell me. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've heard that!

Hey, we're not done yet! Arcola is also the home of Johnny Gruelle. He's the guy who invented Raggedy Ann and Andy. Matter of fact, Raggedy Andy was installed in the Toy Hall of Fame last month. I don't know why he didn't go in with Raggedy Ann a few years ago. It's the same doll! Okay, they wore different clothes but that's about it. It's not like they are anatomically correct or anything.

I wonder if they had a pet dog, Raggedy Spot, or Raggedy Creepy Stepdad, or Raggedy Weird Uncle Lou. Nah. Too edgy. Anyway, there's a Raggedy Ann museum in Arcola, probably full of Raggedy stuff.

There can't possibly be any more going on in Arcola, you say. Hah! Arcola is home to the Lawn Rangers, the world's only precision lawn mower drill team, as far as they know. It's a bunch guys wearing cowboy hats and carrying brooms while pushing decrepit and oddly painted lawn mowers, and yet they've marched in the Holiday Bowl parade, the Fiesta Bowl parade, the Indianapolis 500 parade, and the NFL Hall of Fame Game parade. Author/columnist Dave Barry was so enthralled with the Lawn Rangers that he came up to march with them, and he's written several columns about them.

You think we're done, don't you? Arcola has only 2700 people. How could there be more? And yet, there is.

How about the world's only Hippie Memorial? Right in the middle of Arcola it sits. It was created by the Bob Moomaw, who was "Arcola's town crank" according to Roadside America. Bob walked a different path than most, and he created a monument sixty-two feet long to remember hippies and others who cherish freedom. Now Bob is gone but the Hippie Memorial remains.

Maybe Bob was a crank. After all, he decorated a building he owned with such messages as: "America you're turning into a nation of minimum-wage hamburger flippers. Rebel. Think for yourself. It works!" Crank or not, Bob was all about freedom, and that's a message too important to forget.

Remember, when you plan your next vacation, think Amazing Arcola!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Assorted fruits and nuts

Well, I haven't been around for a while. Sometimes life gets in the way of writing, even if it's just scribbling stuff in a blog. Here's some bits and pieces of thoughts rattling around in my head.

Thing 2

have two sons, otherwise known as Thing 1 and Thing 2. I found the caricature of myself and Thing 2 whilst cleaning out a closet. Lord knows how old it is. I'm pretty sure neither of us actually look like that. No one yells and faints when we go out in public. Not often, anyway.

The closet also produced a small mountain of board games, a half ton of sports equipment, a complete collection of Hogan's Heroes action figures, several RC vehicles, an ancient VHS camcorder, a huge reel of 2-inch quadruplex videotape that probably holds an old Mike Douglas Show, dozens of fast food toys still sealed in their bags, and a production cel from a 1942 Bugs Bunny cartoon, amongst millions of other items. I don't know how I got it all shoved back in there but I did. You never know when you'll need video of Mike Douglas or a Hello Kitty mini-hairbrush set.

S. King sells books

During one of the Red Sox playoff games a reporter found Stephen King sitting in a seat close to the field. The reporter pointed at a book King held on his lap, and King allowed as to how he reads a couple of pages between innings. Then the reporter asked one of the dumbest questions I've ever heard: "So, are you reading one of your own books?"

"Are you freakin' moron?" King yelled. He smashed the reporter in the face with the book and poured a cup of beer over the reporter's unconscious body. Then he tore off his shirt and launched into a jerky victory dance while the crowd roared in approval and showered the reporter with batteries, ice cubes, and a dead octopus thrown by a confused Philadelphia Flyers fan.

Okay, that didn't happen. Instead, King forced a grin at the stupid question and said it wouldn't be any fun to read one of his own books because he already knew how they ended. He then revealed that the book was The Ghost by Robert Harris.
I immediately rushed to Amazon and found that the book ranked 3,987. Not for long, I told myself. An hour later, The Ghost had moved up 1,500 spots and stayed there for quite some time. Not bad for a brief mention during a baseball game.

Thing 1

Thing 1 is a high school senior and seems to have inherited some of my odder genes, which he demonstrates from time to time. Last week we walked past Jimmy John's, a rapidly growing sandwich chain that started here. The food is okay, nothing I'd go out of my way to eat, but my sons can't get enough of the place. Anyway, we had this conversation:

Me: There's your idol, Jimmy John.

Thing 1: Yes...I must kill Jimmy John and drain his essence. Then I will become Jimmy John.
Me: Uh, sweetie, are you feeling okay?
Thing 1: Bwahahahahaaaa!

Me: Well, okay then.

I blame those Lord of the Rings movies. The kid is obsessed with them. Or maybe it's video games. He was playing one the other day and someone kept yelling "The leg has been taken!" followed by a burst of gunfire. That's what it sounded like.

When I was his age, all I had was a Pong, and I had to walk uphill through a snowstorm in order to play it. When I tell my sons this story, they shudder in horror, and I when I go on to tell them we only had six TV channels, they turn white and start foaming at the mouth. "Who could live such a hellish existence?" they wail. If I'm in a particularly evil mood, I remind them that there were no personal computers and no iTunes either. "No! No! Stop the madness!" they scream, running in circles with their hands over their ears.

Today Thing 1 took my advice and went out to play in the fresh air. Two hours later he was in the emergency room with a broken arm. He may have to get surgery to repair the break--we won't know until Monday. In retrospect, I should probably have kept my mouth shut about the fresh air deal.


I received an invitation to join the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. It's got my name on it and everything. Trouble is, I'm pretty sure I was never a major league baseball player. Maybe the MLBPAA heard that I have a pink bat, one of the bats used by some players on Mother's Day in support of breast cancer research. My pink bat is leaning in a corner of my office, ready to use in case a horde of thugs break into the house. You never know.

Email of the day:

Dear Dr. Missy,

I'm writing an exciting middle-grade novel that takes place at Disneyland. (My husband read a few pages and said, "Honey, this is a thrillfest!") Well, I just finished an exciting scene that takes place in the It's a Small World ride. My main characters, a girl named Becky and a boy from some awful foreign country (my husband says I need a foreign kid to lock in good overseas sales) are being chased through It's a Small World by a group of exciting evil people and such--my heart beat a million times a minute just from writing it!

Well, imagine my surprise the next morning when a large group of Disney attorneys and several sheriff's deputies arrived with a cease-and-desist order. They said I can't mention It's a Small World in my exciting novel! Is that horrible or what?! (My husband said it stinks. Actually, he said something I can't repeat but you get the idea.)

What am I to do? How did the Disney people know what I had written?

Linda (not my real name)

Dear Linda,

I wouldn't fight Disney. Not unless you can unleash a strong artillery barrage to soften up the Disney forces and then send in a squadron of well-trained rangers to make the initial thrust into the enemy's right flank, making sure you keep an additional squadron in reserve in case the Disney troops prove to be resilient. You will also want to arrange for close air support, and if you have the resources, secure a battalion of paratroopers who will jump behind the Disney front lines and attack from the rear in a pincer movement with mortars and automatic weapons.

Hmm. Maybe I've been reading too many WWII books lately. You know, you don't have to use the It's a Small World ride in your story. How about:

It's a World of Vaguely Indefinable Yet Irritating Smells

It's a Slightly Smaller Than Normal World
It's an Eternally Long and Boring Ride World
It's a World with Disgusting Things Floating In the Water that Might Give Us Dysentary World

As far as how Disney knew about your story, I take it you haven't seen Tron yet. You know, the movie with the tiny people running around in computers? Get a copy now and study it thoroughly!

Dr. Missy