Saturday, June 6, 2009

Alfred Tames the Brendabeast

Little Alfred Stoffer grew tired of waiting for his mother. She left him in the car while she went into T. Cooks Confectioners on the High Street. It was her mother's birthday. A box of chocolates would make the perfect gift. Alfred waited for what seemed an hour then decided to unleash his imagination and venture out and away from the safety of the Pontiac to search for his missing mother. He turned the search into a game. Alfred imagined he was on a safari in the deepest jungles of Africa. Out there was the illusive Brendabeast. Using its sharp teeth and enormous claws it was known to attack school buses full of African children. In his mind’s eye, Alfred saw it pounce on a poor defenseless African grandmother as she hung her washing out to dry. The savage beast killed the grandma AND soiled her laundry. Other hunters tired to kill the Breadabeast. None were successful. The citizens of Africa had no choice. A telegram pleading for help was sent to Alfred Stoffer, Cloverdale's hunter of Wild Beasts.

Luckily Alfred had his Action Ranger Pop Gun in the car. The constant popping of the caps on their way into town made his mother very angry. She confiscated the annoyance and pushed it under her seat. In no time Alfred fished it out, loaded it with fresh caps and was out the door of the tan safari Jeep. He stepped over deadly man eating Venus Fly Traps. He shot two ferocious ten foot long crocodiles swimming in the gutter - oops I meant to say Congo. “Take that!” he shouted as the pop gun blasted flames and lead into their scaly gray green skin. “Got ya,” he said proudly as he placed the Action Ranger back into its vinyl holster. A moment later his excellent hearing picked up the roar of a distant lion. A flutter of wings overhead brought out his gun by instinct. One could never be too careful. This jungle was known to have buzzards the size of a tractor pulling hay.

He heard a new sound coming toward him. He quietly backed up and crouched down beside a boulder. He peered around a Firestone white walled tire on his family’s Pontiac. It was a wild female guerrilla and her baby. He thought for a moment and decided to spare them. He liked Mrs. Larkin, and who would fix Mr. Larkin’s dinner if she were gone? Besides, there was no way he could orphan two year old Lawrence, even though he never stopped crying in church.

Alfred waited until the coast was clear and made his move. He jumped over a river full of flesh eating piraƱa, crossed the sidewalk and stood motionless with his back against the brick wall of T. Cooks Confectioners. He crouched down, shuffled his way under the window and slowly stood. He was just tall enough to see into the shop.

There she was! It was the Brendabeast. She was hovering over a small man. It looked like he was a goner for sure. He was offering her something in a box. “A gift to spare his life,” Alfred mumbled under his breath. She turned her head toward the window. Alfred crouched back down and shuffled to the shop’s door. He stood. This was his spot. He would take the Brendabeast right here. She’d never know what hit her.

He waited. His heart pounded in his chest. Adrenaline flowed through his veins. His finger twitched on the trigger of his Action Ranger. A moment later he heard the door open beside him. A little bell announced the customer’s departure. Alfred raised his gun. He saw its leg, a second later the entire beast became visible. It was now or never.

“POW POW POW!” Alfred shouted at the top of his lungs while firing every cap on the role wound in his pop gun’s chamber. Brenda Stoffer screamed and dropped the box of chocolates she had just purchased for her mother’s birthday. The variety mix of dark and milk chocolates spilled onto the sidewalk. Everyone within a one block radius of T. Cooks’ Confectioners heard the scream and stopped - wondering what had happened.

“ALFRED!” Mrs. Stoffer shouted. She looked at Alfred with the look mother’s give their children before spanking the misbehavior out of them. “Pick up the chocolates and get into the car!” she said in a calmer voice. Alfred did as he was told. He realized the seriousness of what he had done. He knew the rest of his day would be one for memory. He never saw his Action Ranger Pop Gun again. He spent the rest of his day in his room. She paroled him long enough for meals and sent him right back when he finished. Seconds were not allowed.

Before bed, Alfred found his mother sitting next to father on the sofa in the living room. They were watching something on TV. He walked over, gave her a hug and sealed the apology with a kiss on the cheek. Brenda smiled for the first time sense the incident. She patted his cheek and told him he could have one cookie and then off to bed.

Alfred walked into the kitchen. “I’ve done the impossible,” he said quietly to himself as he reached up to take a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie from the cooling tray. “I didn’t kill the Brendabeast, I tamed her! Let’s see the Action Ranger beat that.” He skipped back to his room and closed the door. Alfred knew tomorrow would bring many new adventures for a boy with his skills and imagination.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Maiden's Reminder: You Are OK.

I stood in front of this billboard feeling uneasy. I wasn't being sold anything. I'm programmed to read billboards, just like I'm programmed to listen to adds on radio and TV. Commercialism surrounds me in a blanket of inadequacy. It reminds me to feel unfulfilled and out of touch with the main stream because I don't drive the X car with its Y features so I can drive Z miles per hour. I sense death knocking on my door if I don't buy A juice with its B ingredients so I can live C years longer. Everything is buy now because if you don't, D disease will claim you or E's family will be cooler than yours or F will get the girls and you'll become a pariah - marginalized to the lowest caste in society.

I'm feeling paranoid. As soon as I get a paycheck there are lines of people everywhere wanting to take my money. The process is well understood by those trained in the old circus adage, "There is a sucker born every minute". The first step to taking money out of my pocket is to convince me there is something about me that must be changed. Perhaps its my clothes? Or my complexion is blemished. Would I want anyone to see me with a zit on my forehead? Of course not, so I take my hard earned money and buy your cream that will mask my imperfection so I can feel better about myself.

This kind of daily bombardment wears down one's defenses. If we aren't careful we find our money has moved from our pockets into someone elses. That leaves us searching for ways to make more money so we can buy more things so we can feel better about who we are. This world of commercialism tells me that the clothes on my back and the shoes on my feet define me as a person. Forget my personality or temperament. I am my appearance. If I don't have that look then I'm not 'with it'. Not being 'with it' can lead to depression.

Consumer depression has opened an entirely new market. Now we see adds for prescription anti depression drugs. The adds begin with a colorless shot of a 40 something laying on a bed in a semi fetal position. The next scene shows the family gathered around the bed. The strongest in the group forces open the mouth of the depressed so the drug can be swallowed. The final ten seconds of the commercial is set in a sunny field of flowers with our character dancing with birds and children. The message of the add is simplistic, The drug will make you feel better about yourself so you can go out and spend money again. The message I get is this: If your not spending money hand over fist then you must be depressed so take a pill, feel good and happy days are here again!

And so I stopped and concentrated on the message of a blank billboard . My confusion turned to joy when its real intent became apparent. I was OK just the way I was. I shouted "THANK YOU!" to the Maiden Company for their confidence in me. I closed my eyes and rested in that tranquil thought for a moment before I continued my journey.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bella's Summer Reading Circle

Bella Thornton lives at 43 Chesterfield Street in Cloverdale. She is six years old and is enjoying her summer very much. Yesterday was her first tea party for the girls in her summer reading circle. Each member arrived by carriage bringing a copy of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Tea was served using Bella's finest hand decorated Royal Dolton cups and saucers with hand painted periwinkles. The girls had an assortment of Cadbury's biscuits and cream cakes from Moss’s Wonderland Bakery to choose from for refreshment.

Bella Thornton played hostess. She asked every attending member to wear a hat. She and her mother spent the first part of the morning at the Salvation Army Thrift Store finding something for Bella. Bella was particular and understood that the right hat would set the mood for any social event.

Bella was careful to direct the tea into a discussion and not a reading. She has dyslexia. The letters and words appear jumbled on the printed page. She hides her disability well by relying on her parents. The night before Tea, her father read the book to her at bedtime. Mother reread the book to her before breakfast. She was ready for the discussion.

Mrs. Thornton is happy to see how well her daughter handles herself in a social gathering. She is even more pleased to see Bella using the plastic tea service Santa left her on Christmas morning. “Imagination is everything,” Mrs. Thornton was overheard saying while shopping for the discounted day old bakery cookies at Piggly Wiggly. “I buy the day old cookies and Bella serves them as Cadbury’s biscuits and Moss Wonderland Bakery cream cakes. Aren’t children something?”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Collin Hathaway Enjoys A Peaceful Lunch.

Collin Hathaway is enjoying his lunch on the back steps of Cloverdale's Sea Jumper Fish and Chips. Collin's lunch starts at 11:50 A.M. when he steps out of his jewelry shop and embarks on a ten minute walk to the Chippy. His timing isn’t intentional and everyone knows Collin is not excessively punctual, but the Sea Jumper knows to have his standard order ready at noon when he walks through the door. His timing rarely disappoints them.

Maurice Bastion is the owner of the Sea Jumper. His customers are loyal because of his good prices and jolly disposition. Maurice remembers his regular customers by name and takes a moment or two to inquire about their health and circumstances as he takes their money at the cash register. Collin appreciates this attention, but is courteous and respectful of other people’s time and keeps his remarks short so the line keeps moving.

Collin stops at a lime green counter stocked with salt, vinegar, ketchup and fresh lemons. He gives his chips a good coating of vinegar but is frugal with the salt. His high blood pressure is a concern. Fresh lemon juice on his halibut is a tasty must. Collin appreciates these extras.

Collin takes his lunch out the Chippy's side door and into a narrow alley walled by old Victorian bricks. Several trash cans line one wall. The dishwasher's bike is pad locked to a drain pipe on the other. Collin walks to the back of the shop and climbs the two steps leading to the shop's back door. He spreads newspaper, sits down and enjoys his lunch. This is his time. This is his place for inspiration.

Collin creates jewelry. Clouds are his specialty. From this back step, Collin watches invisible winds carry clouds of all shapes and sizes from the sea and across the blue transparent sky. He keeps a paper and pencil handy when inspiration begs for attention. By lunch's end he will have two or three drawings completed. At the right time they will be taken from their cabinet in his shop and laid out on a table. A day or two will be spent looking for the drawing that matches the personality and temperament of a client commissioning a new piece of Hathaway Cloud Jewelry.

The next time you visit Cloverdale be sure to take time to enjoy a lunch of fish and chips at the Sea Jumper. If you visit at noon please be courteous and do not disturb Collin Hathaway sitting on the back steps. Please leave him to his lunch and his clouds.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Eva Wang and the Dr. Seuss Style Cut

This is Eva Wang. She is the daughter of Dr. Walter Wang and Mrs. Rosemary Wang. Dr. Wang is the owner of Wang Chiropractic and Spinal Care Centre of Cloverdale. Rosemary Wang is a student at Cloverdale’s “A Cut Above the Rest” Beauty Academy.

Last year, Rosemary studied hair cutting and style using wigs on mannequins. Now, as a second year student, she works on live subjects. The Academy offers heavily discounted (pretty darn cheap) haircuts to anyone that will allow a second year student access to their hair. Business has been slow. The students can wait several hours before someone comes through the door. The walk-in's usually ask for a senior, not a second year student. This gives the second years little opportunity to practice on people.

When walk-in's and appointments are non existant and the three fourths off a hair cut and style coupon in the Handy Mailer Coupon Book can't bring in cutomers, the Academy will take its second year students to the senior citizen centers in Cloverdale , Dibley in the Downs and Tamworth on Tide. Free hair cuts and styling are offered to the residents. The students dislike these geriatric cuts for two primary reasons:
1. The men have barely enough hair to pull through your fingers for a cut.
2. The women want the heavily lacquered - bouffant style of the 50’s.

Any senior citizen with pride in their appearance will arrange to be elsewhere on the days “A Cut Above the Rest” shows up in their minivan. Any second year student with an ounce of pride in their work will arrange to log their required coursework cutting hours on their friends, their friends children, and their own family.

Two days ago Miss Fanora, Master Stylist, walked into the Parlor and announced that because of no volume in the studio all students were to report to the minivan for a field trip to Withering Heights Home for the Elderly and Manic Depressed. Rosemary slipped out the door, ran to the pay phone in the Academy’s parking lot and called home. Walter was elbow deep in a spinal realignment and couldn't take the call. Eva was watching TV in the living room. "Eva, answer the phone," Walter shouted from his clinic. The clinic occupied two rooms on the ground level of the Wang's two story home. Eva answered the phone.
“Eva, tell daddy to bring you to the school right now. Mommy’s going to make you beautiful again.” It wasn't the sound of her mother's voice that sent Eva into hysterics, it was what she said. Eva's hair was going to be pulled, prodded and cut into something Eva wouldn't want. What could she do, except cry?

Walter rushed into the living room to see what had happened. “What is it pumpkin?” he asked.
“Mom want’s you to take me to her school again,” Eva managed to say between sobs. Walter understood. He comforted his daughter, quickly snapped a few of Max Whezers bones and sent him on his way.

Rosemary was exempted from the field trip because of an appointment. Eva and Walter arrived. Rosemary promised a stunning creation Eva would be proud of. She promised the Dr. Seuss look. Eva agreed because Dr. Seuss was her favorite author.

One hour later the cut and style was over. Rosemary’s instructor inspected her work and gave her an A on originality and a B on implementation. Eva was shocked and wondered what everyone would say at school. Walter listened closely to what Rosemary said about her creation and mirrored the same reaction to her. He learned to do that years ago. It kept peace in the family. Besides hair was not his cup of tea.

Friends, may I present Eva Wang and her new hair style, Little Seuss, compliments of her mother and “A Cut Above the Rest Beauty Academy”.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Have You Seen This Awesome Cat? Please Call ?

Janice Hackford is eleven years old and lives on Evergreen Lane in Cloverdale. She loves to read, draw and talk on the telephone to her friends. She has two brothers, one sister and a cat name Tiger.

On Thursday last Janice felt the need to play with Tiger. She’d had a bad day at school dealing with end of the year testing and an obnoxious boy named Joey Nickles. Joey made fun of Tina, her slightly overweight friend, while they stood outside the cafeteria waiting in line for lunch. Joey overhead Tina say she was starving. Her comment caused him to burst out laughing. “How can you be hungry?” Joey asked in a voice loud enough to get the class’s attention. “You could go months without eating and still weigh more than any of us.” Tina started to cry. The teacher sent Joey to the back of the line. He spent his lunch in the Head Master’s time out room. Janice spent her lunch helping Tina rebuild her self esteem out near the monkey bars.

Just before the bell rang Janice went from clique to clique urging the rest of the girls in the class to ignore Joey and his friends. The girls agreed. Even though they enjoyed talking to the cute boys, their female herding instinct compelled them to help one of their injured own. By day’s end, Joey understood his mistake and apologized to Tina. Once Tina gave the all clear a somewhat normal relationship between the girls and boys resumed in the fifth grade.

Janice got home from school and searched the house for Tiger. The cat couldn’t be found. She searched the yard and found nothing. She canvassed the neighborhood by bike, stopping and questioning the neighbors. Tiger was gone without a trace. Janice went to bed praying Tiger would be waiting for her in the morning. Friday morning arrived and the house was cat less. Tina went to school in a foul mood, snapping at everyone.

After school Tina and Janice made several posters using their color printer. They walked the neighborhood hanging the posters on telephone poles and phone booths. When finished they went home and waited by the telephone. One hour passed. No calls. Tina stayed for dinner. Mother was happy because there wouldn’t be leftovers. The girls waited all night for a call. AT 8:30 P.M. Tina’s mother called. Tina went home.

Several days have passed. There are no Tiger sightings. Janice won’t give up. Tiger is an awesome cat. Someone will find and return her.
It is only a matter of time.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Mormons of Cloverdale. Devotion with Character

The Cloverdale Seventh Day Adventist / LDS Mormon Church

Everything is done somewhat differently here in the Confederacy of Dunces. I guess you might say that life is never dull. Take going to church for example. I enjoy going to church in the Cloverdale LDS (Mormon) Branch during my ‘regain my sanity’ weekends away from The Other World. I think 'Mormonism Lite' is the best way to describe this unique form of worship. Church is held in the Seventh Day Adventist chapel. The Adventists go to church on Saturday, making their building available for Mormons to rent on Sundays for a reasonable rent.

Church officially starts at 10:00 A.M., although many members come early to socialize. It’s like a religious, tale gate pre-worship party, held outdoors on the church green in the summers and indoors in the church’s hall in the winters (except on Fast Sundays). Its a pot luck event. Members bring whatever they want and share. Normally you’d expect tea and coffee at a church function like this. That is if Mormonism was a normal religion. Instead you’ll find hot chocolate and a variety of juices and milk. Sister Lang’s treats are the ones you Christianly fight over. Sister Lang works at Moss’ Wonderland Bakery. Mr. Moss lets her take the day old pastries and cakes home with her when she leaves late Saturday afternoons at store's closing. The Branch's two deacons wait in the parking lot to ‘help’ her out of her car. She rewards them handsomely for their self serving kindness with decadent Double Fudge Twice Frosted Double Decker Brownies. The boy's mothers bring spare shirts just in case the slobbering becomes unmanageable.

The hour long, pre-meeting mixer, allows you to socialize with people that care about you and - I’m afraid to admit - your business. That is to be expected in a small village. In exchange, you get to hear everyone else’s business. The members are careful and cautious when it comes to people's private business. There is a line and they rarely cross it.

Nina Mitchell is a Seventh Day Adventist and the LDS Branch Organist. She
volunteered to play for the Mormons on Sundays after discovering no one in the branch could play.

At 10:00 A.M. Sacrament Meeting begins. There are usually twenty to thirty in attendance. The Branch President and his councilors refuse to sit on the stand for several reasons. First, they are older gentlemen and have a tendency to drift off during the talks. Secondly, they want to sit with their families. “Why do I want to sit up there and let everyone stare at me?” the Branch President says. “Besides, I like to look at the faces of the people speaking, not the back of their heads.” The presiding member rises from the congregation and walks to the pulpit to make announcements. The Branch President also refuses to be served the Sacrament first. He won't give his reasons because he feels it may offend the District President who seems to enjoy sitting on the stand when he visits from Capital City and does expect to be served the Sacrament first.

The Branch’s two deacons serve the Sacrament. One boy is your traditional Utah variety deacon. He wears the white shirt and the poorly tied tie that hangs down well below his belt. Many fear if it were a bit lower he’d trip over it sending the bread or water all over the floor. I feel it is inevitable - a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Payton Pills, A Deacon with Style wearing his Ordination Tie
(the shirt is buttoned nearly to the top up during Sacrament. Whew!)

The other deacon is my favorite. His name is Payton Pills. He and his mother joined the church six months ago. Payton is a good boy through and through. He is as honest as a day is long and never swears. He is the man of the house and takes his role seriously. He protects his mother and does his best to help her as she raises the family alone. Payton is a character. I don’t know how else to describe him. He refuses to conform in areas he feels are personal choice - clothes for instance. Before he was ordained a deacon by the Branch President, Payton made it clear he wouldn’t wear a white shirt or tie. “Does God really care what I wear?” he asked. The Branch President realized Payton’s stubbornness could be his religious downfall or a blessing for a struggling Branch. He was popular at school and stood up for his new religious beliefs. The Branch President worried that if he fought this battle with Payton, the Branch could lose him.

The night before his ordination the Branch President and his wife invited the Pills to their home for supper. During dessert a deal was struck. Payton agreed to wear a tie. That was it. The Branch President left the rest to God.

Today Payton wears a tie and buttons up his black shirt when he passes the sacrament. As soon as he's done he unbuttons the first two buttons "so he can breath". I admire his attitude. He is the kind of boy any organization would both love and hate. That makes him a character. I really enjoy watching the faces of the District leaders when they visit from Capital City. Their look of shock and horror when they see Payton passing the Sacrament is priceless. Yes, there have been sharp exchanges of opinion held after church in the President’s office but the Branch President always wins the day. He insists that Payton be left alone. He reminds the District President that Payton is a good boy and everyone knows you have to pick your battles carefully when it comes to teenagers.

The Branch President calls members to leadership positions. That isn’t unusual. It happens every Sunday worldwide. What makes this Branch President different is his method of filling other positions in the Branch. His style is more a matching service between needs and talents. A portable bulletin board is set up in the hallway. On one half are the Branch announcements. The other lists open ‘callings’ with a note asking interested members to make an appointment to meet with the Branch President. If there are no eligible volunteers then members are brought in and ‘asked’ if they would be kind enough to volunteer. The key word in this branch is volunteer. “Its all about free agency,” the Branch President says. “Sometimes I need to apply a bit of pressure but most of the time someone will step up and fill a need There is no guilt and no shame. I’m not calling you I’m asking you to volunteer your time and talents in the service of your fellow man and God.”

A visit to the Cloverdale Branch is a delight. The members are happy. They sing hymns with enthusiasm. They work in their callings with dedication and what’s most important, they truly love each other no matter their individual circumstances. “Every soul is precious,” is the theme preached from this pulpit.

My hat is off to you my Cloverdale brothers and sisters.