Elixer

7 Feb

Elixer

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I know the elixir of a fine aged wine

that transforms the ordinary into precious gold

and prolongs ecstasy beyond normal heights;

enhances all it touches,

enriches all it bolsters

and creates such magic

as delivers deliriously.

 

It seems I stumbled on this fine old cask

quite unexpectedly;

and how I see its rich deep worth

is more the evidence of taste and touch and smell

for well it casts its magic charm,

completely and disarms me now,

how long I wonder till I might be loosed

from its mad and magic spell;

or not,

and linger, vanquished, in its pure and holy hell.

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 7 February, 2016

 

 

On the precipice once again

6 Feb

 EPSON MFP image

On the precipice once again

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Years ago a pastor, friend, and mentor shared a parable during a church service on a farm in rural North Carolina.

He has passed on to better grounds long ago, but his metaphor still lingers, and is resurrected at special times in my life.

Now is such a time. While my words, which dare to remember, the heart of the message is the same.

Imagine you climb the ladder on a 10 meter diving platform. You are blindfolded. Each step and thrust brings you closer to the top of the tower. While you cannot see it, you can see it vividly in your mind’s eye. You have been there before. Many times.

You reach the top of the platform and grab the side rails. You carefully make your way out to the edge of the concrete platform, and curl your toes over the front edge.

Ten meters.

Every other time you have performed a dive you have not been blindfolded. You could look around and see the spectators, or empty bleachers, to the left and right. You could hear the soft spray of water across the water’s surface to even the surface. You could see the water below, and knew when you performed your jump, in fractions of seconds your hands would hit and divide the water’s surface, and you would pierce the pool with your body.

It was rote.

It was something to which you were accustomed.

This time, however, you are blindfolded, and see nothing. It is by the feel of your toes and feet and hands you ascend the cold stainless steel ladder.

You know the step count from hundreds of previous climbs. But this time, your mind is muddled, and you cannot remember the number of steps, and it seems your very first time.

On the edge of the platform, a soft buffeting of air pats your chest.

You listen carefully for the sound of the spray of water down below, but your heart pounds so loudly in your ears it is discernible.

You realize the pool might — in fact — be empty, and what awaits you is the hard reality of concrete as you hit it from ten meters up.

Ten meters. 32.81 feet. About the length of a three-story building.

You see nothing.

“Jump!” you hear someone shout, the word echoing throughout the empty arena.

“Jump!” you feel your heart urging, realizing the words, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

It is a fearful moment.

Yet there have been many times in life prior to this particular standing on the precipice. You have jumped many times. Sometimes the results have been good. Sometimes not.

What are the odds there is no water in the pool below as you stand on the edge of the 10-meter platform yet once again?

When I was a child, I would climb the ladder to the high diving board, and people would warn me, “You know, you can’t go back once you go up!”

Life guards with zinc-covered noses and dark sunglasses and deep summer tans.

A springboard lacks the solid feeling of a platform. There I was, lost in swim trunks too large, bouncing at the end of the oscillating diving board, my arms over my head, looking down at the water which may as well have been a mile down — like the Colorado River from the edge of the Grand Canyon.

And I would jump. Feet first. And plunge into the water, and dog-paddle my way to the surface for a much-needed gasp of air. I had done it!

Blindfolded. On the edge of the 10-meter platform. Unsure whether there would be water or concrete to break my fall. And my fall would be head first.

“Jump!” the voice taunted.

That is the essence of faith,” my pastor, friend and mentor explained. “You jump, without any guarantees.”

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 6 February, 2016

 

The Meat Locker

3 Feb

meatlocker

The Meat Locker

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Ah!

Do you hear?

Do you see?

Am I impaled by your wretched allurements?

Do I bleed in the dark?

Do I gasp to deaf ears?

Am I meat for the stripping?

Hooked and hung to drain?

To be cured and carved,

ground, devoured and digested?

Or ignored,

turning brown in the bin?

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 2016

Failure and Success

3 Feb

glass-half-full-2

Failure and Success

By L. Stewart Marsden

My dad used to tell a joke about a father who had twin sons. In all ways they were indistinguishable, except in their outlooks on life. One was a die-hard pessimist. It didn’t matter what was going on, that son always expected the worse. The other was the extreme opposite, and believed that the sun’ll come out tomorrow, regardless.

Those traits nearly drove their father mad until he struck upon an idea to cure each of his sons of their extreme postures.

On their birthday, he told them to go out to the barn and see what their birthday presents were.

In one of the barn stalls was a magnificent stallion — an animal of rare beauty and strength. Above that stall was the name of his pessimistic son. When the son discovered his gift, he immediately began to moan and complain about the inevitability of an accident or even death when he took the steed out for a ride.

In the other stall was a ceiling-high pile of horse manure. The optimist son immediately grabbed a pitch fork and began slinging the manure away.

“All this shit— there’s got to be a horse in here somewhere!”

My dad also always told me, be happy and content in whatever you do. If you are an engineer, be the best damn engineer there is! If you collect garbage, be the best damn garbage collector there is.

The Problems with Dreams

In Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical, South Pacific, the character Bloody Mary sings the song Happy Talk, when the young lieutenant and her daughter meet and fall in love. In the lyrics is the line, You got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?

Few discover or even follow their dream. Even if they do discover what they truly care to do, failure dissuades them. They end up, sadly, doing something else. Making things do in life. And at the end of their lives, look back and wonder, what if?

Our McDonald’s culture has conditioned us for instant gratification. We want it now. Tap in the pin number, get the cash. I’m guilty of that. And guilty of being dissuaded from my dreams, as well. Nothing good comes of that, I can assure you.

Statistics, schmastistics

Did you know the great Babe Ruth had 714 home runs in his career, but also 1330 strike outs at bat?

Did you know one of the all-time greats in basketball, Michael Jordan, didn’t make every basket nor win every game? He says, I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. Read more at (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michaeljor127660.html#4mGe1lDwSmqIJHuO.99) He even failed when he tried to play professional baseball, and in his last come-back in the NBA.

Thomas Alva Edison said of his own work, I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

It’s redundant, but not trite. Ask any of the team members of either the Denver Broncos or the Carolina Panthers about success and failure and I’ll bet you nearly to a man, each will concur they have learned as much or more from their attempts that have failed, than their successes.

Whatever passion or vocation you have set your mind to, failure will be part of the ratio. A good salesman who receives a rejection replies, “That’s one less ‘no’ I have to face before I get a ‘yes.’ A writer, trying to find a literary agent or publisher says, ‘that’s one less rejection before my work is accepted.’

Pie in the sky? Pollyannish? Unrealistic?

I guess that depends on how big a horse is in your pile of shit.

 

Copyright © Lawrence S. Marsden, 3 February, 2016

Match dot com and the Tortoise

21 Jan

Match dot com and the Tortoise

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I subscribed to Match dot com today,

and immediately rued the decision.

Is it like admitting defeat?

Is it like becoming a teacher and not a doer?

Is it like casting a line in the deep sea waters off North Carolina

and hoping beyond hope that somehow, some wandering tuna will bite the bait

and jerk and firmly set the hook?

 

Who is hooking whom?

Perhaps I’m the tuna, and all I want is some comfort food,

and someone to stroke the nape of my neck

and say, “There, there. It will all be okay?”

 

The biters didn’t fit my “partner” profile.

They were too young, too far away, too eager and ambitious.

They were too scary.

 

Just a three-month subscription.

The price of a couple of pizzas home-delivered.

 

But not at all like home-delivery.

Something more ominous, more creepy.

 

And I was worried I was the creepy one.

 

The tortoise carries its own protection against attack.

It can withdraw its feet and tail and head at a moment’s notice.

It can survive for more than 150 years.

What’s so wrong with that?

 

And I subscribed to Match.com today.

 

Copyright © Lawrence S. Marsden, 21 January, 2016

Worthy Adversary

13 Jan

Worthy Adversary

Are you one of those who enjoys disagreeing?

If so, when you disagree, why do you do it? Because you believe or feel yourself to be right? Because you want to change the mind of the person regarding a  tenet or statement with which you disagree? Because you want to change the minds of others within listening or reading distance and create a coalition of like-minded supporters? Because you want to divide and conquer?

Or do you disagree for the principle of the thing?

Disagreement is woven into the fabric of the United States. To some extent, you might call it freedom of speech.

It seems to me we have lost the art of disagreement. By that, I mean we have come to the point that disagreement now means the proverbial drawing of a line in the sand. It has come the “I dare you” threatening stance physically and intellectually. It has degraded into the “get your dukes up” mentality.

Disagreement v. debate

We’ve lost the art of debate. Debate is controlled disagreement [my definition]. Did you ever take a class on debating? Have you ever participated in an organized debate?

Two sides square off over a controversial issue. Each side researches the issue and puts together supportive facts. Then, in turn, two presenters deliver their argument. Much like in a court of law, where the Prosecution and the Defense argue the merits of a case before a jury. Once initial arguments have been introduced, each side has the opportunity for rebuttal.

It’s a controlled fight, albeit with words and not fists. There is a decorum about it — rules of order. The disagreeing sides don’t call the other side bad, or stupid, or degrade or debase them. Each side regards each other as adversaries — not to-the-death enemies. At one time, debaters have referred to the opposition as “worthy adversary.”

Imagine that!

At the end of the day, the participants shake hands, complement each other, and move on to the next debate.

Now we live in a day when debate seems a thing of the past. Our legislative bodies, at state and federal levels, have taken on tactics that should embarrass us as a nation. Who can shout the loudest? Who can insult and give snide retorts and comments? I think it would actually kill some politicians to refer to the opposition as “worthy adversary.” Perhaps because worthiness has taken a beating along the way. Perhaps because that politician is beholding to a particular point of view come hell or high water, and fears losing his/her seat in office.

Debate? Worthy adversary?

I’m not surprised little is accomplished in Washington. No one knows how to intelligently argue, debate, listen, or — dare I say it? Compromise.

And that attitude has filtered now down to you and me. Just look at Facebook posts. Look at the memes. I’d like that to change. I’d like more civil debate and less name calling. I’d like issues dissected intelligently. I’d like arguments to be thought out well, and not backed by irrational emotionalism.

Dammit!

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 13 January, 2016

Protected: Napoleon, Brutus, and me … con’t

11 Jan

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Napoleon, Brutus, and me

10 Jan

Napoleon, Brutus, and me

 

It will come as no surprise to me if you find my tale a little on the tall side. As a storyteller, I am prone to exaggerate for effect. Maybe that’s affect. I get the two confused.

This story begins at the end of a long descending staircase of failures on my part. Never mind the particulars. It’s sufficient to say I had come to the end of my rope quite legitimately, if not literally.

I had no money. In fact, I owed money to everybody I knew, and some I didn’t.

I had swung twice at marriage without a hit. I did manage some offspring, which added fatherhood to my list of failures.

In addition to no money and no wife and no children, I had no friends. Plus my parents and siblings disowned me. I gave the term “black sheep” a bad name.

Pretty much all I put my hand to ended in — well, you know what. Many would say I was the personification of bad luck.

It was early one Wednesday — or perhaps a Tuesday — no matter. It was a week day. Or perhaps the weekend. I can’t remember. Another failing.  Anyway, I awoke, and three days from eviction came to the conclusion I should do something. I called the local Goodwill and told them I had furniture, clothing and more to donate, and would they come pick it all up? The next day they did.

I saved a small duffel bag into which I packed two pairs of underwear; two pairs of regular athletic socks; one pair of size 38/30 jeans; one black T-shirt with white lettering that read “Irony — the opposite of Wrinkly,” from Café Press online; two sweatshirts; and some toiletries, although I didn’t I would use them. Something to stay connected to civilization, I suppose.

Once the guys from Goodwill left I checked out with my apartment manager, who asked my forwarding address.

“Don’t know where I’ll be. Why?”

“Refund on your deposit.”

“You keep it.”

“I can’t.”

“Send it to my sister,” whose name and address were on my original application.

Besides my wallet with three crumpled dollar bills and my driver’s license, I had a quarter. I got into my car and flipped the coin. I had decided that heads would be right, and tails would be left, and that every intersection I came to I would flip the coin and go in whatever direction came up. If I ended up going in circles, I gave myself permission to override the toss, which was one of the few good decisions of my life.

At the end of a day-and-a-half, after starting in Hickory, North Carolina, I ran out of gas on Bob Hollow Road, north of Wentz, Kentucky. I pulled off the road and wrote on a Burger King bag the following:

“Don’t need my car anymore. You are welcome to it. The title is in the glove compartment.”

I signed the title so anyone could legally take the car, left the keys in the ignition, grabbed my duffel bag and started walking north.

That’s when I met Napoleon.

◊◊◊

Napoleon was a mix. And small. Tiny, really. He was a bit scruffy and a little too wiry around the eyebrows and his muzzle. I had decided to take a rest along the road when Napoleon trotted up to me from somewhere I hadn’t seen. As he closed in he lowered his chin almost to the ground, slowed and widened the spread of his back legs, as though he was going to squat and make a pee like a female.

I knew the posture, having owned one or two dogs in my time. It was a combination of things. Napoleon wanted me to know I was the Alpha. He also wanted me to know he was fiercely hungry, and could I help him out?

I stretched my hand out to him, which he sniffed and then licked. Then he plopped down next to me at the side of the road as if we had been long-time companions. Perhaps we had.

An old beat-up Ford pulled up in the road and stopped, and a geezer leaned toward the passenger window and rolled it down.

“Need a lift?”

“Not sure.”

“Well, where you headed?”

“Again, not sure.”

“Hungry?”

“Sure.”

“Get in.” And he opened the door from the inside swung it wide. Napoleon hopped up into the cab as if second-nature, and I climbed in and shut the door.”

“There’s a café about a few miles down the road. Best hamburgers in the county.”

“Sounds good.”

Napoleon sat erect on the seat looking straight forward.

“Nice dog.”

“I guess.”

“Had him long?”

“Not really. A little bit.”

“What’s his name?”

“Napoleon.” The name popped into my head, and Napoleon opened his mouth and let his tongue hang out. He seemed to smile at my answer, then licked my hand.

“Like the French guy.”

“I guess.”

Our chauffer was in his fifties or so, and wore bib overalls with a dirty T-shirt underneath. His big boots were caked with mud, and were very worn.

“You smoke?” He reached into his bib pocket and pulled out a deflated package of Camels, offering the smokes to me.

“No, thanks. I got too many things on my list to add cigarettes at this point.”

“List?”

“My list of failures.”

“Oh. And smoking would be a failure, then?”

“For me it would. But you go ahead. I don’t begrudge you at all. I mean, you’re the one giving me a ride.”

“Right.” He pushed in the dashboard lighter and shook out a cigarette, grabbing it with his lips. “You passing through, then? I mean, not a whole lot of people come to Daisy.”

He seemed to be fishing — asking a lot of questions for someone who ought to know privacy is sacred to most people. Napoleon, as though he heard my thoughts, looked at me with the darnedest mug.

“I’m headed west,” I answered finally. He lit his cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke from his nose out the open driver’s side window.

“To see family?”

“Right. They’re expecting me in a couple of days.”

Napoleon looked at me again.

“He’s not to be trusted.”

“What was that?” I asked.

“Didn’t say nothin’,” the chauffer answered. Napoleon stared straight into my eyes. “Where did you say this family of yours lives?” He pulled deeply on his cigarette, an ash beginning to form at its tip.

“I didn’t.”

“So, where is it, then?”

“West.”

He pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. Then turned and smiled at me. He was muscular, and had toned arms and shoulders. Powerfully built.

“So they live somewhere west, which you won’t tell me. And here you are out in the middle of the sticks with your dog, hitchhiking.”

“Yep. That’s about the size of it.” I felt my heart begin to pound, and a tightness constrict across my chest. A bead of sweat formed at my hairline and trickled down my cheek.

“Know what I think?”

“Can’t imagine.”

“I think you don’t have family west of here. When I first asked, you said you weren’t sure where you were headed.”

I didn’t answer. He smiled and put his hand on my leg.

“I think you are homeless  — a drifter. Am I right?” He squeezed my leg gently.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble . . .”

“Neither do I, brother. I just thought we might be able to help each other out. Come to an understanding. I know you got needs. Gotta need money and food and shelter. Am I right? Plus, it’s getting late and it’s not safe to be out alone. Perhaps I can help you out if you can see fit to help me out.” He squeezed my leg again.

At that point Napoleon began to growl deeply, and backed close to me, his muzzle not far from the man’s hand. He removed it cautiously.

“Guard dog, huh?”

“His bite is worse than his bark,” I said, narrowing my eyes at the man. “It’s why I call him Napoleon.”

Napoleon continued to growl.

“Tell you what, friend — me and Napoleon are used to the road, and while I appreciate your offer, I’ll pass on it.” I opened the door and the dog and I got out quickly.

The man smiled and tilted his head. “Suit yourself. The money’s good.”

“There are more things than money,” I said. He reached over and closed the door, then sped off ahead, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.

I shook my head and sat down. Napoleon sat next to me. I patted him on the head and scratched behind his ears.

“Thanks. I owe you. I do believe we just avoided something bad.”

“Don’t mention it,” Napoleon said, his face stretched into a grin, saliva dripping from one corner of his mouth. “He wasn’t going to do anything with me around.”

I let the comment pass. Obviously I was hearing voices.

◊◊◊

My grandmother was schizophrenic. She lived with us in the back bedroom of our home when I was growing up. She used to read Uncle Wiggily stories to me from a big picture book. As she got older, she got vague. I remember once she pulled me aside and told me the Communists were after her. It was only a few months later when she died. She had gone to the hospital with what my parents called “complications,” but I was never allowed to go visit. She died late one night, and Mom and Dad had her cremated within a day. They flew up to Luverne, Minnesota with her ashes to put her to rest in the family plot.

Later I learned she heard voices, and that she was paranoid. That was where the comments about the Communists came — from her illness.

When I first heard Napoleon talk I immediately figured I was schizophrenic like my grandmother. Truth is, I think Napoleon had second thoughts about speaking to me, figuring it freaked me out, which it sure as hell did.

Then I figured maybe I was wrong about the guy in the truck as well. Maybe he was like a Samaritan, and was going to set me up a bit. Maybe all of my misgivings, which had definitely been knocked askew by thinking Napoleon said the man wasn’t to be trusted merely denied me of some great opportunity.

I spent the last of my money at a country package store. I bought a can of Spam and one of those Jiffy Pop aluminum popcorn pans. I also bought a can of Sterno.

Napoleon and I shared the Spam, and I used the can as a makeshift stove, putting the Sterno in it and lighting the blue jelly fuel. Soon the corn popped, puffing the aluminum cover into a silver dome. Most of it was burnt. The dog and I shared that, too.

“Well, I guess you can take off now, Napoleon. I’ve spent all my money, and we’ve eaten all there is. Nothing left but for me to curl up and die.”

Again, Napoleon looked at me, his eyes aglow from the blue Sterno flame.

“That’s a crock.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I’m calling you on this.”

“Ah, my schizophrenia is kicking in again!”

“No. Your dog is talking sense to you.”

“Wait! Several things wrong with this scenario. First, you’re not my dog. And second, dogs don’t talk! And why the hell am I talking to you?”

“And pigs don’t fly and the moon is made of green cheese and on and on and on. As far as your first premise, whether a human adopts a dog or a dog adopts a human, the result is the same — they own each other. Ergo, you are mine, and I am yours.

“And as to the second premise, guess what?”

“You — you’re talking to me!?”

“Ding! Ding! Ding! Give that man a cookie!”

◊◊◊

I’m fond of saying “Think outside the box.” And, I’d like to think I’m fairly open to what I might not understand or even believe in. After all, my world is a microcosm of me, myself and I. Stretching that small universe would not be a bad thing, right?

“Please, give me a moment to digest everything.”

“My observation of the world of humans is anything that challenges the norm is a threat.”

“Well, you’re a dog, and you are entitled to your opinion. What am I doing!?”

“You are trying to adjust to a challenge of the world as you know it. In your world, I can’t talk. And if I am talking, it’s not really me, but either a figment of your imagination, or some psychotic breakdown.”

“I have been under a lot of stress lately.”

“I’m neither a figment nor a breakdown. I’m a dog.”

“How is it you speak English?”

“Well, considering I was born in this country, what language should I speak?”

“Good point.”

Napoleon tilted his head to the side and was quiet, as if in deep thought.

“What?”

“We have more important issues than whether or not I can speak.”

“Such as?”

“Such as we need money. We need supplies and food and a game plan.”

“Other than rob a convenience store, I’m not sure what we can do about money. We could shoplift for the supplies and food, I suppose.”

“You are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. God didn’t give you a brain for nothing!”

“You believe in God?”

“Well, it is dog spelled backwards. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And, yes, all dogs do go to Heaven.”

“Pardon me if I still seem a skeptic. Talking animals are best left to fairy tales and cartoons.”

“Can we move pass this? Okay, pretend you’re dreaming. I just said we need money, supplies and food. And, no, we are not going to get those things illegally. Last place I want to end up is the dog shelter. You prison’s not a safe place for a cute little dog.”

“Spare me the thought.”

“I do have an idea, if you’d like to hear it. A way to get some money fast. And legally.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Okay, we find a shopping mall, or some downtown shopping area. You take me on your lap, and you pretend to be a ventriloquist. You ask me questions and I answer.”

“That’s your idea?”

“We find a hat or a tin can to collect spare change. We do a show.”

“In the middle of Kentucky.”

“Maybe not here. Maybe we hitch a ride to a bigger town.”

◊◊◊

We hitchhiked, Napoleon and I. From the backwoods of Perry County to Lexington. It took six rides. Thankfully none of the other drivers were like our first experience.

Once there we headed to the Fayette Mall, the largest around. The weather was reasonably nice, and since I couldn’t take Napoleon inside the mall, we set up near one of the entrances. Napoleon hopped onto my lap, and I started to ask him questions in a loud voice as people passed. We had worked on the questions before we performed.

“So, Napoleon?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a small dog.”

“I am.”

“How’s your life, being so small?”

“Ruff! Really ruff!”

“Napoleon?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you a good dancer?”

“Not at all.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have two left feet!”

“Napoleon?”

“Yeah?”

“What kind of dog does Dracula have?”

“A bloodhound!”

It’s true that the jokes were groaners. But Napoleon took everything over the top. He tilted his head. He paused (no pun intended). He varied the tenor of his voice. People on the sidewalk began to slow down and stop and listen. Soon we had a small audience that laughed and groaned along with us. Then people began to drop coins into a cup I had placed in front of us. Then dollar bills.

We were on a roll when a security guard strolled up and watched from the edge of our audience. He grinned and laughed a few times, then finally stepped forward when the crowd thinned out at one point.

“That’s amazing! You are a really talented ventriloquist! Unfortunately, you can’t do your act here, and you’re going to have to move along.”

Timing is everything, right? Here Napoleon and me got things rolling a bit, and we weren’t bothering anybody, and some money was starting to fill the cup, and this jerk has to go and spoil everything.

Napoleon looked at the would-be cop.

“So, you couldn’t make it as a regular cop, eh?”

“Napoleon! You shouldn’t say something like that! It doesn’t help.”

“Well he’s the one not helping! So, Mister Security Guard — you have nothing better to do than chase off a couple of honest guys trying to earn a living?”

“Look, it’s not up to me. I don’t make the rules here.”

“Right. What a cop out! No pun intended.”

Napoleon jumped off my lap and stepped up to the guard and sat at his feet.

“Betcha if I were a talking cat you wouldn’t have a problem with our working the sidewalk.”

“What?”

He sniffed at the guard’s pant leg.

“As I thought. You’re a cat owner.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“The smell of cat is all over your pants. Probably one of those ugly long-haired, pug-nosed, stuck-up pussies.”

“Hey!”

“See, that’s discrimination. That’s profiling. That’s the same-old same-old we dogs have had to endure forever.”

“Wait! Am I having this conversation with a dog?” And the guard side-stepped Napoleon and walked over to where I sat enjoying the scene.

“Amazing as your talent is, mister, you gotta go. We can do this peacefully, or the hard way. It’s your choice.”

Ain’t technology grand? Unawares to us, while the security guard, Napoleon and I were having our confrontation, some mall customers were taking videos of everything on their cell phones, and uploading to Facebook and Twitter. Rather than risk a night in jail, I picked up the can of money and motioned to Napoleon we should go.

“What are you in the mood to eat?” I asked my friend.

“How about a hot dog?” he grinned at me.

By the time we crossed the parking lot and found a fast food place where we could sit outside and eat, those digital videos of us had been shared and re-shared to the point half of Lexington had viewed them. One of those was a local reporter for Fox 56 television, who was in the area when she saw the tweeted video.

Kimberly Dawn drove by in a Fox 56-decorated van and saw us, screamed to her driver to stop, and hopped out.

“Are you the guys in this video?” she asked, shoving her iPhone close to my face while the confrontation with the mall security guard played. I watched, turned to her at its finish, and smiled broadly.

“Yep. That’s us.”

“Well guys, this must be your lucky day!”

 

◊◊◊

 

Napoleon and I ended up on the Fox 56 six o’clock and 11 o’clock news that night. The interview was a mixture of our “story” — travelling through with nowhere to stay — and Napoleon answering questions posed by Kimberly Dawn.

“So, Napoleon, tell our viewers what breed of dog you are?”

“Mix. Part terrier, part Pomeranian. I just say I’m a Sooner.”

“Sooner? As an Oklahoma U fan?”

“Naw. Sooner one than the other.”

“How did you meet your owner?”

“I’m not a slave. He doesn’t own me. We are a cooperative with equally important yet differing responsibilities.”

“And what are your responsibilities in this cooperative?”

“I’m the brains of the outfit.”

I was in the background of the shot, nodding and smiling and moving my jaw a bit as though projecting my voice to Napoleon.

At the end of the interview, Dawn and her cameraman/driver gave us a lift to a homeless shelter, and she apparently knew the director, who okayed it for us to stay for a couple of days. It was to his interest, as the shelter became a small part of the story.

That news spot didn’t just air on Fox 56. Oh no. It was picked up by the national Fox News people, which was picked up and re-aired by ABC, NBC and CBS national news departments. When Dawn said “This must be your lucky day,” she wasn’t kidding! For the next week replays of that little news encounter filtered through nearly every local TV station across America. Everyone likes a feel-good-story, don’t you know?

Five people saw it who responded in very different, unexpected ways. Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, and three others.

One was a muscular man, who had toned arms and shoulders. Powerfully built. He sat quietly nursing a Budweiser, seated at the counter of a country bar on Bob Hollow Road, a bit north of Wentz, Kentucky. He reached into his bib pocket and pulled out a deflated package of Camels, grabbing one of the smokes with his lips, and lighting it with his Zippo. A large flat screen TV was hung at the back of the bar, and the news item about Napoleon and me was on.

“I’ll be damned!” he muttered. He threw back the remaining beer and placed a five on the counter, then left the bar and climbed into his beat-up truck and sped away, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.

A man and his wife were in the living room of their farmhouse, eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans from plates on TV dinner trays, watching Fox 56 evening news.

“I’ll be damned!” he muttered when the piece on us aired. “That’s where that damned dog got to!” He stood up and took his tray to the kitchen, then swung the back door open angrily and hopped into his truck and sped away, kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.

A lean, prim-looking woman sat in a large easy chair, reading the newspaper, the TV blaring in the background. The news item caught her attention, as she was a dog-person at heart. Then she noticed the man in the background of the shot of the talking dog, nodding and smiling and moving his jaw a bit, projecting his voice to Napoleon.

“I’ll be damned!” she muttered, then grabbed her cellphone and dialed a number. The ringing was interrupted by a man’s voice.

“Cuthbert? This is Sally. I just found out where that deadbeat of an ex of mine has gone to. I want you to have him arrested.”

◊◊◊

It’s truly nice to be wanted. And in my case, or I should say, our case, Napoleon and I were definitely wanted by two huge television personalities. We were at the right place at the right time. Kismet, some would say. Pure luck, according to others. Whichever, the fact remained that Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres wanted us on their shows.

I like Jimmy Fallon. Not that I ever watched him before. I quit watching The Tonight Show when Johnny retired. It wasn’t the same anymore. I mean, when Ed McMahon belted out “Heeeere’s Johnny!” the world seemed ordered and right. But without them? Plus, it got harder and harder to stay up to watch the show. Jay didn’t do it for me.

Jimmy’s a real nice kid. Still wet behind the ears, but genuine as can be, near as I can tell. He had Napoleon and me flown up first-class to New York. Even though it was a short flight, Napoleon kept everyone in stitches with his dog’s perspective. Of course I was the one that got the credit, though.

“You are amaaaaa—zing!” the other passengers complimented me.

I told Napoleon in private our secret was bound to get out.

“You’re nuts! Who in their right mind would believe that a dog can talk? Don’t worry so much!”

We were picked up at the airport by an NBC limousine and whisked away to a midtown hotel near 30 Rockefeller Square, where the show is taped.

Two hours before the taping Napoleon and I were driven to the towering building, and made our way to Studio 6B, where we were ushered to the Green Room. Our guide directed us to the hair and make-up room where I was powdered and rouged a bit. Napoleon refused the make-up.

“There’s something more than weird about a dog that wears lipstick and eye shadow,” he yipped at the make-up artist. But he was into the hair bit, getting a quick style-and-snip wet cut and blow-dry.

“So, what’s your favorite dog breed, Honey,” he asked during the process. “I’m a great lap-man. Wanna meet after the show so I can prove it?”

“I’ll bet you are!” she laughed. “Thanks, but I’m more of a cat-person.”

When I walked out onto the stage with Napoleon tucked onto one arm, the brightness of the lights almost overpowered us. I sat in the chair directly beside Jimmy’s big desk, and he reached over and patted me on the arm.

“So, you and Napoleon were wandering the streets of Lexington, Kentucky, and started a street show for money, I understand.”

“Yeah.” I was so nervous I could only muster short one or two word answers. Then Napoleon took over, which was why we were there anyway. I let him have his day, and mocked moving my mouth a bit. Mostly nodded and grinned while he did all the talking.

“What’s it like to be a dog, Napoleon?” Fallon asked finally.

“Rough.”

Laughter.

“Actually, a dog’s life, depending on if you have a kind owner, is the best. Humans are great pets and wonderful to have around.”

Laughter.

“You don’t really get to experience family, though. I never knew my dad. My brothers and sisters are scattered all over the place, and my mom was a real bitch.”

Laughter.

“So I have a question for you, Napoleon. Why is it that dogs go around smelling other dogs’ butts? I keep thinking what if humans did that?”

Laughter.

“Actually it’s a great question, Jimmy. You probably know my sense of smell is probably ten thousand times better than yours.”

“I heard that. If that’s true, why would you have to stick your nose up in there? I mean, crap is crap, right? You should be able to smell it a mile away.”

Laughter.

“The fact is there are glands around a dog’s butt that can tell me a lot about that dog.”

“Really? Like what?”

“If they are ill, for example. What their gender is. I can tell if that dog is somehow related to me, or to another dog I know. Whether or not they are going to be a friend or a foe.”

“Well, if you smell my butt, we’re friends for life as far as I’m concerned.”

Laughter.

“You know that dogs have been known to detect cancer in their humans. And are used these days to alert humans about impending stroke or heart attack.”

“So, tell me about alpha dogs and pecking orders.”

“I’m an alpha dog. We’re on your show because of me, not him.” I was glad to get at least an acknowledgment.

“So size does not matter, then?”

“Most alpha dogs I know are as small as me. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. You’ve heard that, of course.”

“Sure.”

“And it’s brains, not brawn.”

“Where do you guys go from here?”

I spoke.

“We’re off to California tomorrow to be on the Ellen show.”

“That’s great! You’ll love her!”

And so it was over almost as soon as it started.

The next day we flew to California, again First-Class. I discovered that Napoleon, talking aside, is unlike any other dog I’ve known before. Most are content to lay down and nap the day away. Not him. He’s’ always got his nose into something — well, that’s normal for a dog now that I think of it — and is jabbering with someone about some thing. Me? I leaned my leather seat back and tried to sleep. That really impressed everyone!

“How do you do that?” one fellow passenger demanded, jabbing me in the arm.

“Do what?”

“Ventriloquize while you’re asleep? Obviously you’re awake, right?”

“Trade secret.”

“Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say your dog actually does talk, and you’re the dummy!”

“You got me.” And I turned away to resume sleeping. And the other passengers kept talking to Napoleon, asking him all sorts of things.

“Who’s your favorite rock group?”

Three Dog Night.

“Your favorite song?”

Pressley’s Hound Dog.

And he, in turn, would ask them questions.

What do you get when you combine a peeping Tom with a junk-yard dog?

“I don’t know . . . what?”

An I-like-to-watch-dog.

Groan.

That went on through our first connection in the gate seating area, and again on board. It was becoming more than tiresome. Oh, sure — everyone else liked the performance. It dawned on me how this same frustration had shown its ugly face in my two marriages. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say. But not nearly as quickly as it does when you have a talking dog.

◊◊◊

Copyright © Lawrence S. Marsden, 22 January, 2016

 

 

 

The “new” Star Wars

10 Jan

The “New” Star Wars

 

I remember the television commercials for Star Wars back in 1977.

“This is hokey,” I surmised, especially when one of the featured characters appeared to be a big blanket. I had to be coerced to see the movie.

Boy was I ever wrong!

From the very beginning titles floating away in space I was transported to the days of my youth, when we all went to the Center Theater on Saturday mornings.

Cartoons on the big screen featured Warner Brothers best. Then the serials. Buck Rogers. The Cisco Kid and more. And finally the feature movie. A buck to get in and maybe three for popcorn in those red and white striped boxes, plus a huge Coca-Cola.

Everything about that first Star Wars movie struck at the familiar while offering a totally unknown, believable world! Unknown actors and robots and space ships. Echoes of “The Wizard of Oz,” and of the not-so-distant Third Reich.

Good versus Evil.

Huge panoramic camera pans of deserts, with the skeletal remains of gigantic beasts. The saloon, with its gamut of riff-raff and hoodlums.

A quest and a reluctant hero. A damsel in distress. The gunslinger in black. High-noon tension.

I admit I’ve not seen all of the various Star Wars sequels. I got a bit Star-Wars overloaded. Nothing impacted like this movie. While at the early CGI stages of cinematography and editing, that film slammed us with so many new images and sounds we spun away bedazzled.

Lucas and company had opened Pandora’s Box as far as movies go. And everything got infected.

My daughter and one of her friends and I went to see the latest Star Wars release. The Force Awakens. It is a couple of weeks since the blockbuster opened, still the mid-sized theater is relatively full.

We watch the film, occasionally whispering. “I think I know whose daughter she is,” my daughter nudges me regarding the heroine of the movie. Yeah, so do I.

On the way home Lily asked me how I liked the film.

And I thought, it’s just not the same.

Nowadays every sci-fi film incorporates the same techniques as that template-creating work. Lots of CGI, phenomenal make-up, weird aliens and beasts, action and battle scenes. Nowadays kids have been weaned on that fair.

Nothing very new in that.

Storylines that pit good and evil, weak versus strong, David versus Goliath. They’re a dime a dozen. Like zombie movies. Or Elm Street sequels. Been there. Done that.

In my mind, the original Star Wars movie was complete enough in itself to stand alone. In the jargon of medicine, NMTBD — nothing more to be done. But, we like to milk a good thing until it’s dry as a bone.

I’m not saying this film is dry as a bone. There’s a little marrow to it. But to see Harrison Ford recreate an aging Han Solo, or Carrie Fisher’s reprise of Princess Leia (Grandmother, what big hair you have!) was a bit sad.

This is like the extended versions of The Wizard of Oz. There is no place like the original. Nada. Nil. Ningún. Sequels, prequels, quels-ad-nauseam will never capture, replace, repeat, reproduce, equal the incredible impact of that film classic.

In that sense, the “new” Star Wars is not new at all. It owes everything to what spring-boarded from the first film. What it will never duplicate is the tremendous impact on both film and society. It is an older, less sparkly and more jaded version of its origin. A mutated genetic copy.

 

Copyright © Lawrence S. Marsden, 10 January, 2015

 

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