Friday, October 9, 2009

Helmut and Cloverdale's School Picture Day.

Helmut Smelling. Cloverdale Middle School. 7th Grade 2009-2010

Research shows that students handle picture day one of three different ways. Caring Students get up early on picture day and shower, shave, fluff, pamper, trim, groom, powder, cover, mask, moose, pluck, and primp for an hour or so in front of the bathroom mirror to ensure a perfect representation of their idealized state. The Non Caring students crawl out of bed at the last minute and put on the same pair of jeans they left crumpled on the floor beside the bed the night before. Any old T-shirt found in the pile of clean clothes on the floor between the closet and the dresser will do to finish off their miss matched ensemble. The Non Caring Student generally spends ten seconds or so in a half hearted attempt to clean their teeth with a toothbrush that should of been disposed of years ago by a certified hazmat team. Their non caring attitude is their way of sticking it to the man and bucking the establishment.

Forgetful Students make up the third group of students for picture day. They go into panic mode once they get to school and realize their mistake. They end up in the restrooms, standing beside the Caring Students doing a final, desperate touch up before meeting the camera's unforgiving lens. Except they must do it with the tools nature gave them - their fingers and tap water.

Failure to do a final ‘touch up’ could result in a bad picture and we all know a bad school picture hanging on the wall going down the stairs into a family room can haunt you until your parent’s pass away and the picture is destroyed. Of course, there are cases when other family members get to the picture first, resulting in - how do I put it nicely........ getting screwed. That horrid picture will be broadcast across the universe on Facebook, shattering all the lies you told your children and their friends about how 'hot' and 'popular' you were in school.


Helmut Smelling lives two blocks from the school on Whitmore Street in Cloverdale. He never forgets the trauma of school picture day. For the past eight years Helmut's portraits came out in black and white while everyone else's were color. Every year he complained about his picture and every year his complaints were brushed off with what Helmut considered 'lame excuses'. His mother and father considered complaining but didn’t. Mrs. Smelling works the graveyard shift at the meat packing plant and is too nackered to bother after a full night of packing ‘Plucking Clucking Chicken’ for the Piggly Wiggly and Red Owl grocery store chains. Mr. Smelling is color blind, so all the pictures look fine to him.

The photographers give Helmut a series of excuses they rotate through every year. On even numbered years they tell Helmut his black and white pictures are the result of a malfunctioning camera. On odd numbered years his black and white pictures are shot deliberately to hide Helmut's freklely and blotchy complexion. They say black and white photography is the only medium capable of making someone photographically challenged, like Helmut, look reasonably human.

This year Helmut decided to take a stand. He would do whatever it took to get a good picture. He set his alarm for 6:00 A.M., ran downstairs and made his mom’s breakfast. It had to be cold cereal. She wouldn’t be home for 30 minutes. Once the table was set with bowl, glass, cereal, milk, and toast he ran back upstairs and jumped into the shower. He scrubbed extra hard to removed anything that might cause a bad picture.

He spent the next ten minutes on his hair and face. Dressing came next. Finally, his trademark, the popbottle cap. He looked at himself in the mirror and nodded. This was Helmut at his best, in the prime of life. He knew this was the day he would make a perfect picture, as long as he didn’t blow it. The clock showed he had 30 minutes before he needed to leave for school. Plenty of time to practice his poses.

Helmut pulled out the magazine clippings he kept in the bathroom vanity drawer. He secretly clipped pictures of male models from several magazines kept at the Cloverdale Public Library that catered to young females. He taped the pictures on the mirror and started mimicking their poses. There was the ‘I’m a rebel’ pose - without smile. He had that mastered from last year’s picture day. There was the ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’ look he never really mastered but wasn’t going to give up on. He was partial to the ‘I’ve been a bad boy, please forgive me’ pose. He practiced trying to get his eyes just right, you know, the bad puppy look. He felt good about it after ten minutes. Finally, there was the model running on the beach with drop dead gorgeous girls chasing him. The smile on the model's face was perfect - something Helmut knew he could replicate. His plan was solid. He would sit down on the stool, envision the hottest girls in the 7th grade chasing him, and produce a smile that would shock the camera into producing a colored portrait.

It was two minutes to blast off. The pictures came off the mirror and back into the drawer. He ran downstairs and kissed his mother goodbye. She said something confusing while crunching her corn flakes. He stopped to listen but couldn't understand a thing she said. She gave up, pointed to her full mouth and waved him off with a half hearted thumbs up.

Helmut’s walk to school wasn’t as traumatic as it was for several of the other students. The wind was blowing in an early storm. The unlucky students who walked to school had their hours of preparation destroyed in the swirling gusts. Once everyone got to school all the girls and 40% of the boys went straight to the restrooms for an extra touch up and redo. Helmut had his popbottle cap. His hair was fine.

At 10:00 A.M. Helmut's class was called to the gym for school pictures. Many students took careful steps to the gym, walking with perfect posture to ensure a good picture. The Non Caring slithered down the hall. Several pulled their pants further down their behinds to be sure to demonstrate their hatred for this lame social requirement.

An elderly woman greeting each class just outside the gym door. She took your picture money and handed you a card telling the photographer what kind of package you purchased. Helmut noticed she smiled nicely to everyone who looked like they were prepared to produce a good school picture. She frowned at the Non Caring.

Helmut expected a smile. For two reasons.

  • He was purchasing the most expensive packet, using a large portion of his lawn mowing money from the summer.
  • He was properly prepared to produce a perfect school picture.
He repositioned his cap two people from her. He broke into his wild beach smile one person from her. Then it was his turn. He handed her the packet. She looked at him and smiled. "YES!" Helmut muttered to himself. It was really going to happen. He was destine to take a good picture. Then, the old lady's smiled transformed into a chuckle. A moment later the chuckle evolved into a laugh. A laugh she quickly covered by her white handkerchief with pink lacing.

Helmut was noticeably shaken. He wondered if his decision to go with the wild beach smile was wise? He heard his named called. He stepped forward. The aide took him by the shoulders, spun him around and sat him on the stool. She took him chin and moved it to the left while pushing the top of his head to the right.
“Will this do?” she asked the photographer.
“It’ll have to won’t it? I mean there isn’t much to work with - is there?” He replied.
“Grayscale?” she suggested.
“You read my mind. Grayscale for human reasons.” The photographer pushed a button and held up his hand. “Helmut, don’t move. On the count of three. One....... Two........

Helmut suddenly broke out of the trance he was in and started to form the wild beach smile.

“Three!” The flash captured the moment. He was just short of time.

Today Helmut's black and white picture hangs in the stairway. His mother says it’s his best yet. His father says it was a waste of money. As for Helmut, he agrees with his mother. It is the best yet. Now, he knows what to do for next year’s school picture day

Monday, October 5, 2009

Our Failed Olympic Bid

Cloverdale Weekend Television was on hand last week to broadcast the village's reaction to the International Olympic Committee's announcement on what city will host the 2016 Olympics. The Confederacy of Dunces was in the running with its bid to host the games in Capital City. This was the Confederacy's third attempt to win the bid. Our bid committee promised results this year. They were counting on the sympathy vote usually reserved for the serious underdog.

At mid day the first round of voting was announced. Capital City was the first city eliminated. Chicago was the second. The photograph above shows the residents of Cloverdale suffering shock and disappointment after hearing the news. The banners reading "Dunces for 2016" and "Dunces and Olympics - a perfect partnership" littered the ground after the gathering dispersed. Most folks went home. Others made a bee line for Cloverdale's two pubs, The Kicking Donkey and the Hairy Lemon. It was nearly lunch time. They wanted to get tables before the students from the Comprehensive School took them all.

"I get the feeling us Dunces get no respect from that Olympic Committee," said Lou Natters, long time resident and former Dunce Olympic pole vaulter in the 1936 games in Berlin. Lou took last place but brags about shaking Hitler's hand when he was mistaken as the silver medalist.

"What am I going to do with all these t-shirts?" Muke Shoubroom sadly said as he loaded his farm cart with box after box of t-shirts he had specially made for the winning bid celebration using his earnings from last year's harvest. Each shirt had the slogan 2016. The Dunce Olympics. Filbert and Fellina Owl, the official Dunce Olympic mascots, sat on the Olympic 5 ring logo waving their wings to welcome to the world. "My wife's going to kill me," he said over and over as he stacked the boxes. He was last seen downing several pints of Cloverdale Scrumpy at The Kicking Donkey.

Trup Migworm, Dunce Minister of Sport and Gambling gave the official Dunce response to the sad news.

I know I speak for all Dunces in the Confederacy when I say how sad we are at not being selected to host the 2016 Olympics here in Capital City. It was a battle we fought for, and sadly lost. We had the ambition. We had the drive. We had the spirit. Money might have been a problem, but with creative financing and the sale of DBonds, the Finance Minister guaranteed the money would be available.

Take heart fellow Dunces. There is always 2020. And in the meantime I'm happy to announce our intention to bring the Goodwill Games back from bankruptcy and host them here in the Confederacy! And let's not forget our very own Dunce Games, held every year at Capital Stadium, where the best athletes in the nation gather in spirited competition. We will however need a better turnout. Ticket sales last year just didn't cut it.

Now everyone go home. The party's over. There's nothing to see.
And so life in the Confederacy of Dunces returns to normal. People will go back to their daily routines and soon this pothole in our road will be long forgotten.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Christine is Going to Homecoming.

Seventeen year old Christine Faucett-Myer lives with her parents and 14 year old brother Blink on Highway 1 two miles outside of Cloverdale. She woke up this morning to find her family’s dining room chairs missing. Her parents were out of town for the weekend on a business trip to Fernwood on the Moor. She was left in charge.
“What happened to the chairs Blink?” she stood in his bedroom door way demanding an answer. Blink was still in bed, pretending to be asleep from all indications. His shoes were coated in fresh mud. “Blink, there isn't much time. Mom and day are coming home this morning on the 11:10 Coastal Express.”
Blink pulled a blanket over his head. “What do you mean?” he asked. Christine could see the blanket quivering. He was clearly laughing, using his pillow to muffle the sound. That, and his muddy shoes were a dead give away of responsibility.
Christine knew it would take half the morning to coax an answer out of him and she didn’t have half a morning . There just had enough time to clean up the house to their mother’s standards. She went into the kitchen, pulled a spray bottle out from under the kitchen and filled it with ice cold water from the refrigerator.
“Blink, you know what I’ve got don’t you?” she spoke in a low, evil tone.
There was a pause. Blink pulled the blanket down and sat up. “Don’t you dare!” he shouted.
“You’ve got until the count of three to start talking or you’re going to be taking an ice cold shower.” She held the bottle in his direction. He dove under the blanket and pulled it tightly around. “TALK!” she shouted.
OK, OK....... look outside at the old oak tree.” Blink answered.
Christine put the spray bottle down on the kitchen table, opened the patio door and stepped outside. The old oak tree stood on the top of a small rise at the back of their yard. To her complete shock she found her mother’s dining room chairs hanging from the tree, each swaying gently in the morning breeze. She was speechless. A moment later, Blink stood beside her in bare feet with his blanket wrapped tightly around his shoulders.
“You did this?” she demanded.
“I only helped.” Blink answered.
“Who’s idea was it?” The questioning started.
“Danny Harts.” Blink spoke the name of the Comprehensive School’s Rugby Captain, probably the most popular 11th year student in the school.

Danny Harts. Captain of the school rugby team. He works for his father during the off season at Cloverdale Motors. He plans on attending Capital City University next year, with Christine at his side.

“What the..”
“He likes you.” Blink interrupted. “He came over late last night with a few of his friends. I let them in. Pretty cool huh?”
Christine’s heart leapt. She had a crush on Danny Harts since they shared a table together in Miss Loosey’s third grade class at Confederacy Elementary School. Of course in third grade Danny had no time for her which was pretty much the case for the last nine years. Suddenly she was in his cross hairs.
Christine needed to play a careful game. She had to play the part of someone really put out, yet not overdue it.
“You call Danny Harts and tell him to get his butt over hear and get those chairs down.”
“He’s already on his way. Look” Blink pointed down Highway 1. Danny’s blue pick up truck was racing down the road flashing its headlights. “He’s going to ask you to homecoming. I can’t believe he’d want to go with you when he can have any girl in the school. I think he’s mental.”
Blink dodged her fist and ran into the house. Christine stepped down from the deck and started walking around the house toward the front lawn. She crossed her arms and worked through several faces until she found the one which best suited the occasion. A face that showed displeasure and forgiveness. The eyes spoke for displeasure, a faint smile for forgiveness.
The pick up turned into the long driveway. She could see Danny’s smile. It brightened her day. Displeasure vanish and forgiveness filled her face. This school year could just well be the happiest in her life.

Cloverdale Weekend Television. A Night of Classics