My son drank apple cider during his lunch at school on Halloween last year. When I picked him up from school, his third grade teacher warned me that all the children had eaten one sweet too many. She also warned me the apple cider only quickened the transformation that children undergo after eating Halloween treats. I knew this meant trouble. There is only one method known to cure the Halloween transformation from darling to devil. The parent – or beast master – must lead the child-creature on a feeding frenzy that ultimately quenches the little devil’s desire for more treats. I knew what I had to do.
It was twilight by now and my son was a fully transformed creature. His blind addiction to sour gummy worms made his stride bumbling and awkward. To make the young beast heed my call, I stopped him before his feverish claws rapped the neighbor’s door. His stare only widened as I pulled an empty pillow case from my jacket. “Use this,” I said. The creature’s toothy smile gleamed from beneath the matted mess.
“More candy!” The little beast howled and our pace quickened to the neighbor’s door.
All the goblins, little devils, princesses, ghouls, and goons became a festering and pensive mob waiting for First Call. First Call is an instinct built into all cider-fed creatures. First Call is the collective response triggered by the very first door opened to furry beggars during Halloween twilight. Just think about dogs in the dark. When one starts, the others join in. Whenever the first handful of candy is given to a creature, the little ones hear the ceremonial signal and shriek in delight. In concert the creatures scurry about in frantic pursuit for the next trick or treat. If one were riding a broom above the village just within earshot, an otherworldly chorus filled with cackles, maniacal laughter, and curdled cries would be heard rising in the full-moon wind.
Other beast masters walked wearily behind their young gargoyles as I walked behind mine. First-out and last-in is the rule. This makes the transformation, from ghoul to girl and vampire bat to boy, complete. Being first-out gets an early start in collecting the sweets and being last-in signals the neighborhood doors no longer open to the creatures. The inhabitants behind the doors have run out of sweets or surrendered to demons unknown. This helps fill a pillow case with enough tonic to transform the young creature back into human form.
As my boy-creature and I walked back, the sounds drifted farther away while the wind picked up pace. A slight chill caused a cat to stand on all fours while arching its back, the moon silhouetting its profile. The breeze, carrying the fermented apple scent from an abandoned orchard next door, signaled the end to our nighttime outing. Leaves rustled slightly while screeches, howls, and moans grew fainter. The dogs took their cue and announced their rightful return among the creature order.
My son consumed just enough from his hoarded stash to transform back to his original state. After he fell asleep, I made sure not to stir the boy-creature from his healing sleep while taking my share. If the beast master wakes the child-creature at this critical stage, they risk the wrath of the latent creature still within the child.
Vick Mickunas is out of your league, baby. Don’t worry though; he’s your best friend and ticket to the world of celebrity, intrigue, and exclusive access. Vick’s radio program, Book Nook, is broadcasted twice weekly on the national public radio affiliate WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio. His show features an international roster of who’s who in all things literary.
How does Vick do it? Week after week, Book Nook features casual banter with the likes of Nora Roberts, Peter Ustinov, David Barry, and others. He did it by talking to truck drivers; no kidding. He got his interviewing chops hanging outside truck stop shower rooms. Wait, that sounds weird. His expertise is getting anybody to talk. “We use to stand outside the shower in a big truck stop, and the truck drivers would come out and we would be standing there with a clipboard and say we would like to talk to you about long distance usage.” Marketing research usually has a dismal “5% success rate” with interviewing subjects. Vick’s success rate was “95%.” My usual interaction with truck drivers involves certain hand signals. Vick can get them to spill their guts. He’s got my respect.
Humor aside, Vick has an interest in psyche. He wants to know how an author engages the reader. Nora Roberts, the best-selling romance novelist, was puzzled with Vick’s interest in her writing. “She couldn’t understand why a guy would be interested in this chick lit that she’s writing. I was interested in her and the fact that there’s a lot of people interested in her.” Vick is interested in the big picture. His vantage point commands a vista of many literary figures. One unexpected book caught his attention: the journals of Curt Cobain. “I thought the book was interesting, so I did an interview with the publisher. There’s people that want to know about Curt Cobain. I know people find it interesting.” Fiction is the personal favorite of Vick’s. “Fiction is a vehicle to escape, to be completely away from your problems. I love fiction.”
Drawing out inner thoughts of writers, or anybody, drives Vick. The results are legendary. He recalls when Dave Barry “had this little laptop computer back when no one had laptops. He had some kind of an anagram program where he could get your name and the software would jumble your name up and form all kinds of other words.” Vick paraphrases Barry: “all the anagrams for your name (Mickunas) have the word ‘suck’ in them.”
Another famous author Vick wants to interview for Book Nook is William T. Vollman, winner of the prestigious National Book Award. “It’s all about building relationships. His publicist promised me the interview, and then it fell through and kept getting rescheduled.” The publicist “went to a different publisher, so I’m back to square one.”
Maybe Vick Mickunas is on square one, but his vantage point is the main event. Your radio is the ticket to get inside and listen.
Published in the Hillsboro, Ohio newspaper, the Times Gazette, on 9/4/2011
It is easy to forget about certain things when the economic environment demands so much of our time. Food costs have risen while rent and mortgages still need to be paid. Energy costs continue to rise. Surviving, let alone thriving, becomes a daily challenge. It is not only a human problem, but an animal problem too. Any animal shelter will tell you the current economy has increased their workload.
Living in a rural area, I have seen many animals abandoned along the country road I live on. Most of the time it is a cat, sometimes it is a dog. My mother recalls the story about Crash, a stray kitten that jumped into her lap one morning. “He just came up to me while I was sitting on the front porch one morning, jumped into my lap, and started purring.” Crash was given his unlikely name because that is exactly what happened while his new owner was driving with Crash to his new home. They were fine, thankfully. Today, six years since, Crash is a lovely and spoiled cat that lives in a peaceful neighborhood cul-de-sac. The only disruption Crash is involved with now involves the local rodent population.
While my parents were on vacation recently, I was given the opportunity to take care of the flowers my mother grows around her front porch, the same porch that Crash appeared. Only this time my parent’s dog was involved. His name is Sammy. He is a noble mutt with Great Dane and Boxer blood. He is large. He eats like a hungry teenager. He drinks in gallons of water. But he is only a year old and still acts like he is a small puppy. Just imagine a slobbery, gooey, slimy-mouthed teddy bear that wants nothing in the world but to play, run, and be held. Sammy was helping me this morning while I was watering my mother’s flowers. No, Sammy’s name has nothing to do with wrecking a car. But I will never forget what happened near the porch.
Unraveling the garden hose, I took the end with the spray nozzle and proceeded to water the hanging baskets, ferns, and small plants on my mother’s porch. After this task I began walking to the other plants along the side of the house. Meanwhile, Sammy was venting his pent-up energy by running like a greyhound chasing an electric rabbit, only faster with slobbery goo flying in a jet-like vapor trail. As I left the fabled porch towards the other plants, I heard Sammy’s dog tags clinking rapidly as he approached me from behind.
The last thing I remember was experiencing a calm, nearly zen-like state in mid-air. During my weightlessness, I saw my two feet superimposed on a clear, beautiful, and cloudless sky so deeply blue that I momentarily thought “Wow, that sky is really blue and I feel great.” Then ugh. I landed pretty hard. Sammy knocked me down like an eighty pound bowling ball with perfect aim. I never thought I would experience a weightless Zen mind because of a dog.
Crash the Cat lives in peace after causing his initial disruption. Sammy the Dog has helped me become more forgiving and accepting of unlikely events. The economy is causing disruption not only in our lives, but in our animal friends lives’ as well. It is not just cats and dogs either. At a local no-kill shelter, “A Journey Home: Animal Refuge,” Wanda Ritt cares for cats, dogs, livestock, a miniature donkey, a pot belly pig, and other creatures with devotion. Her organization is a non-profit, no-frills outfit that helps displaced animals during this economic crisis. She has also cared for llamas, alpacas, and horses. She has even offered help in locating a five foot, six inch long iguana.
Gator, the girl iguana, was last seen in New Vienna, Ohio about a week ago. Iguanas prefer to live in trees and eat plants to survive. Her owner, Brenda Jett, wants everyone to know she is friendly. Brenda has raised her from the time she was only six inches long. Most iguanas die within a year because their owners do not know how to properly care for an iguana. Brenda’s pet iguana is eleven times her initial size and over three years old. If you know Gator’s whereabouts, please give a call to Brenda. If you return Gator to an animal shelter, give them Brenda’s phone number so she can reclaim Gator and give her the care she needs. Her number is listed below.
Economic times may be tough for humans, but our animal friends can help us forget about finances and busy work schedules. If you have doubts about caring for your pet, there is help available to give your pet a home. If you are ready to take responsibility for a pet, whether it is a cat, dog, or iguana, call your local animal shelter. A pet’s disruption can lead to unexpected calm. Just be careful if you see a cute animal near my mother’s porch.
“A Journey Home: Animal Refuge,” is a non-profit that accepts donations to help care for rescued animals. To help, call Wanda Ritt at 937-393-4727. Gator, the girl iguana, can be returned to Brenda Jett. Ms. Jett’s phone number is 937-218-3619. If you do find Gator, give her some fresh green beans after you call Ms. Jett.
Published in the Hillsboro, Ohio newspaper, the Times Gazette, on 8/23/2011
To the Editor:
Reading Mr. Thompson’s article in The Times-Gazette, Aug. 16, 2011 edition leaves one with the impression that he has personal issues with liberal voters. I would like to communicate to Mr. Thompson that his concerns are misplaced. What Mr. Thompson, and other so-called Tea Party members, should consider are the possible effects their political ideas might inflict on a nation reeling from financial crises and war.
Mr. Thompson writes glibly that "liberals are hopefully discovering that being loud does not necessarily make you right." Rachel Weiner, a journalist writing for the Huffingtonpost.com website, chronicled the events of Nov. 14, 2009 at a town hall meeting hosted by Illinois Representative Dan Lipinski. During the town hall meeting, Tea Party activists hurled vicious and abusive verbal attacks towards Dan and Midge Hough as they spoke about their daughter-in-law’s and granddaughter’s unnecessary deaths. Unavailable and inadequate health care contributed significantly, and perhaps ultimately led to, their tragic deaths. The verbally abusive Tea Party activists which yelled their cruel remarks were "being loud" about their opposition to health care reform. Do you, Mr. Thompson, condone the behavior shown during the Nov. 14, 2009 town hall meeting? Is "being loud" something that only Tea Party activists are entitled to?
In my opinion, the Tea Party suffers from a lethal and serious affliction: Archie Bunker Syndrome, or ABS. The Tea Party, much like an evil version of Archie Bunker, adheres to a type of "billboard theology" as described by Glynn Cardy, pastor of St. Matthew-In-The-City, an Anglican church located in Auckland, New Zealand. A simplistic and literal interpretation is applied to all matters constitutional by the Tea Party. The Tea Party platform abuses the United States Constitution in the same manner that "billboard theology" attempts biblical teaching with bad form: both are rambling and boorish. This drives me back to the original Tea Party archetype, Archie Bunker.
Liberal or conservative, I believe everyone on the planet has had enough bad preaching finally to borrow Edith Bunker’s response and shout back a collective "STIFLE!" to the next would-be Tea Party disciple suffering from ABS. American voters do not need "black and white" thinking, liberal voter bashing, or "billboard theology." The town hall meeting in Illinois which forced an intolerable indignity upon a grieving family should serve as a reminder that misguided thinking will make things worse. Reactionary policy makes good political theatre and grabs headlines, but it is a serious and dangerous matter when the country is situated next to a socioeconomic cliff. Concerning the recent budget debates in Congress, the Tea Party precipice faced by the American people on August 2, 2011 was no laughing matter. Dan and Midge Hough, after losing their daughter-in-law and granddaughter, caught a glimpse of that precipice during their participation in the Nov. 14, 2009 town hall meeting interrupted by terror-inducing Tea Party activists. The question that must be asked is this: Would you face that precipice with a Tea Party member behind you?
If you pay close attention to the history of the vocal Tea Party minority and observe the impudent policy the group is willing to impose on the majority, your reasonable mind will "get it."
Originally published in ‘The Hillsboro Gazette’ on August 16, 2012
There is a painting by Gustave Doré, titled The Enigma, which hangs in the Musée d’ Orsay in Paris, France. I have not been to Paris to see this painting, but I have viewed it in texts and online at the museum’s website. The painting itself was produced by Doré in 1871, about 141 years ago. The painting’s subject matter is elusive. In the painting, two figures share a prominent focal point. These two figures are interesting, but only because they are strange yet familiar at the same time. The human faces on the two figures are familiar. The bodies attached to the faces are strange. The painting’s subject matter is elusive because the meaning is unclear. I did not understand what the painter is communicating.
Today, on August 11, 2012, I can say with conviction that I understand the artist’s message. When I initially viewed the image, I noticed the war ravaged human remains surrounding the two human-animal hybrids. The lion-like figure is being adored by the servant, a winged creature. The distant backdrop features billowing smoke rising from scorched villages and battlefields. It is a scene depicting total devastation. The limited hues darken the mood. The two chimera figures embrace in an unholy alliance. The two mythical creatures are complicit in the destruction. Human faces mask the destructive intent that lies within each distorted animal form. The winged servant adores the dreams and ideals embodied in the lion’s dignified body and human face. This is the most important communication from the artist. Our demise lies in destructive forces masked with a beautiful visage. This is the painting’s theme, but the artist adds a unique twist to this theme.
The clue to this unique twist is Doré’s monochromatic palette. The viewer is forced to look at the forms within the painting. When the viewer looks at the two phantastical figures, the first perception is bewilderment, confusion even. Now, if you project that reaction back to the phantasms, a clearer picture starts to emerge. The two phantastical creatures believe and act upon a confused morality: this morality leads to death. On August 11, 2012, I read a letter to the editor published in The Times Gazette which contains this very same confused morality.
That letter – that anger- exhibits the same confused morality that a potentially violent person would harbor. It has become fashionable within a growing faction to escalate rhetoric with foreboding language. When I am reading in a newspaper that somebody endorses “horsewhipping,” a red flag goes up in my mind. Wade Michael Page, the mass murderer at the Wisconsin Sikh temple, spoke openly about his intentions. Wade Michael Page and morally confused individuals look like humans. Wade Michael Page and morally confused individuals combine to form the chimera of chaos. Their visages are human; their confused morality is inhuman. This deadly combination forms the current American enigma.
Please do not equate this article with a stance proposing limitations on free speech. On the contrary, I support free speech by supporting the ACLU. Without free speech, dangerous individuals are harder to identify.
“I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you.” Christine O’Donnell nearly purrs the lines in her new political advertisement. Her demeanor is seductive as she pronounces the words with an alluring smile. It is impossible to ignore, her charm that is. Any good witch will tell you, charm is the secret ingredient of a good spell. O’Donnell is not a witch though; she was a fake witch. As a red blooded male I could only wish real witches looked like that.
Once upon a time, my college roommate dated a real live witch that possessed a type of animal charm. Her favorite line was “I am a witch. I am everything you’ve heard. I love you.” He fell for it like a starved dog in a butcher shop. I had the dorm room to myself for a month.
Eventually, her spell wore off. I told my roommate I could not understand why. She seemed intelligent, well spoken, and always fashionably dressed. Her conversation provided insight to the inner workings of another world where everything was perfect; church and state married to form a more perfect union of trickle down wealth and market priced health insurance. My friend agreed; her charming witticisms combined well with a flair for the fashionable. “What happened then,” I asked.
“Well,” he started, “everything was fine until she started acting funny and pushing things on me. Stuff like I should drink this tea and that tea and only go to this kind of party and everything. Then she started to warn me with these creepy ultimatums.”
“Like what?” I said.
“For starters, if I didn’t drink this certain tea at this certain tea party, I would get lesions and she would cast a spell on me. It started to freak me out. I mean, the ee-ee in the oo-oo was great, but she was an ideological freak. She said if I didn’t drink the tea, she would get even.
“You’re ok?” I asked. My curiosity was piqued. “Did anything happen?
“Nah, at least I don’t think so. I do need to go to the clinic though. I’ve got these warts.”