Tag Archives: Humor

Branded: The Cover-Up by Chuck Thurston

Many years ago, I ran across a graphic of an old English grave robber. He was holding a lantern and peering over the top of a tombstone. At the time, I was employed at IBM, and the company was busily working on the stated goal of putting a personal computer on every employee’s desk. PC’s weren’t a big part of the office landscape then, and the company knew that a rollout of that scope would not be without some issues: training, software, maintenance, security, connectivity, reluctance and resistance to use, etc. I saw the grave robber and his menacing grin as symbolic of all of these potential pitfalls and replaced the tombstone in the graphic with a computer of the era, and created a poster that I circulated among my department members.

grave robber

Fast-forward many years. I retired from IBM and busied myself with contract work and consulting in my old field. I started writing a column for a little North Carolina newspaper, The Transylvania Times (no kidding!), in Brevard, NC. Someone once made the mistake of saying something like, “Gee – you should put these stories in a book!” Only a fool ignores an incentive like that. I looked around for cover ideas and ran across my old grave robber graphic. Hmmm. These columns would be revealed –unearthed, as it were – to a much wider audience. I contacted Curt Thurston, my highly skilled professional graphics son, and wondered. Could you…would you? He could and did.

Scribbles Unearthed Cover

 

A star was born, but I had a lot more stories and it occurred to me that I now had a “brand” for a series of books. My fevered mind quickly formed an idea for a second collection and I sketched out an idea and sent it to Curt.

SSSD Cover

He feverishly sent me back his own rough sketch.

SSSD Graverobber with title

I could see immediately that it was superior to mine. I changed the subtitle, because I had cleverly thought of another use for that one in an as yet unwritten third collection. I gave Curt the go-ahead – and he made the final rendering.

SSSD cover front only

Now we are on what’s commonly called “a roll.” Sometime this fall, if I don’t spend too much time on other stuff, I’ll have a third book of stories to the publisher. I am hauling out the old grave robber for yet another go. Here’s my idea:

SSBR cover pencil draft

And Curt’s polished effort.

ssbr front cover

 

Look for it in an outhouse near you. Left, no doubt, by someone who’s call there was made more meaningful by a story or two, and who obligingly left it behind for subsequent visitors. It would be thoughtful of you to do the same.

 

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How I Survived “__?__NADO”

by Coco Ihle

“What IS that?” I said out loud, as a flicker of movement outside my office window caught my eye. Something was moving in the middle of my backyard. The grass hadn’t been mowed for almost a week and it had grown a lot since torrential rains had been pummeling the neighborhood for most of that time.

My desk is against the window and I stood leaning over toward the glass, to get a closer look. I could see something black, but the grass was too high to make out what it was. Since I live in a nature preserve, I’ve learned to expect all sorts of wildlife during the years I’ve lived in this area of Florida, but this was a real puzzle. It wasn’t big enough or the right color to be an armadillo or possum or any of the larger animals I’ve seen. It moved again. Maybe it was an injured bird.

My vantage point was too low and the bottom half of the window was screened, which made visibility difficult, so I decided my step ladder might help. I set it up alongside my desk, got up on the third step with one foot, straddled the desk and placed my other foot over on the window sill so I could look down on whatever it was. I still couldn’t see well enough. I got down, went into my living room and grabbed my opera glasses, went back to my office and back up the ladder.

While I was trying to focus the binoculars, the phone rang. I glanced over my desk and my caller ID said it was my son, Rob. I climbed down and answered. Before he could say anything, I started telling him what I was doing, and he started chuckling. He said he was picturing me straddled over my desk looking out the window and it was just too funny. I was glad he couldn’t see a video of me then.

Anyway, I asked him what I should do. He suggested I go out and look. Duh. But, I didn’t know what it was! Maybe it was a snake or something equally creepy. I climbed back up the ladder to look some more, all the while answering Rob’s questions. “How big is it? What does it look like? Is it still moving?” I didn’t know. By the time I got my opera glasses focused again, whatever it was, wasn’t where it had been. Eeeek!

I finally spotted it closer to the house. What the heck was it? It was slithering through the grass. My heart was really pumping at this point. My son suggested I get a large container and capture it. Easy for him to say! He lives forty minutes from me and he was safe and sound in his house. But he had planted the seed. I had to find out. I told him I’d call him back.

Gathering my courage, I went into the kitchen, found a large plastic mixing bowl with a snap-on lid and went out the patio door, all the while telling myself I could do this. I tried to get a grip on my pounding heart and heavy breathing. I certainly didn’t want to pass out now and have that thing, whatever it was, crawl on me! Cautiously, I crept along, searching, and finally spotted it around the side of the house, deep in the wet grass. It still wasn’t recognizable. By this time, my imagination had me one hair short of terrified, but despite that, I crept closer.

When I got about a yard away, I leaned forward as far as I dared, without losing my balance, and teetered above it on one foot. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was a catfish! A catfish in my yard? Seriously?! It was about a foot long. I could see its whiskers. I’m not a fisherperson, so I didn’t know if they bite or have poisonous barbs or something, so I decided to try scooping it up into the bowl and taking it to the pond at the end of the street, two houses away.

I’m glad there wasn’t any video of this endeavor, either! You see, I have this problem. All my life I’ve never been able to scream. When something scares me and I open my mouth, a weird guttural sound comes out. It’s nothing like a scream. It’s a low pitched, breathy “Auuuuunnh!” After a couple of those sounds sort of slipped out during a lot of writhing and slithering, I finally was able to get him in the bowl and snap on the lid. Shouting, “Eeeeuuuuww!” all the way, I ran down the street to the pond, tore open the lid and threw my arms in that direction. He flew up in the air, arced downward and splashed into the water. Then off he went, swimming as fast as he could.

Exhausted, I called Rob back and described my ordeal, which sent him into gales of laughter. He kept saying, “Stop, stop!” I could picture him grasping his side in laughter-pain. When he finally calmed down, he said he could just see me “screaming” and dancing around with arms flailing, trying to get the catfish into the bowl and then running like a maniac to get to the pond to release it.

By this time, my heartbeat was getting close to the normal range and I could almost breathe without panting. Through his chuckles, Rob said, “Just think, Mom, you saved a fish’s life! What an original fish story.”

With a weak smile, I answered in my defense, “Well, at least my story is true.”

***

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric, traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.
Join her here each 11th of the month.

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On the Side of Angels

On the Side of Angels

On the Side of Angels

By: Jay Duret

All writers know it is hard to make any money from a book. You have to get it noticed among thousands of other offerings. In that respect, a new book is something like a start-up company. But start up companies are getting funded all the time. It occurs to me that maybe writers could learn something important from the community of investors who bankroll start-ups. I ask my friend Zuni to take me to an angel investment club in Palo Alto.

Zuni is a cheerful soul. She made some money years ago rolling up floral distribution companies and has no need to go to the office. In the last several months she has fallen in love two times, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, sat for the California bar, become the Chief Operating Officer for one start-up and bankrolled another. She agrees to take me to an angel investing conference, more or less in the same vein.

We drive down from San Francisco on Route 280, fend off the Wednesday morning traffic and exit onto Sand Hill Road. As we approach Palo Alto, I feel as if we are locked into a tractor beam and being pulled into Battlestar Silicon Valley, the epicenter of venture capitalism. If there is any place to be an angel investor in 2015, it is right here.

We are late. The angels have been at it for an hour before we arrive and every seat in the 300-seat auditorium is filled. The stage is now occupied by a broad-faced character named Tony Stevens who sports a tan as rich as an Allen Edmonds shoe. We get ourselves settled and flip open our program brochures to the salient points of the 13 companies that are presenting today. Stevens has endeared himself to me already because he looks startlingly like Fred Willard, the actor who played the color commentator at the dog show in the movie Best in Show. At first, I think they are the same person for Stevens is subject to the same wild fits of digression that Willard displayed in that mockumentary.

Stevens is wearing a white shirt and a gray cardigan sweater vest. He is in ruddy health and clearly loves to be in the center of the stage. He carries a microphone and struts like he owns the space. He yells out to one of his team – his team must have 20 people on it – to tee him up some music, and instantly Rod Stewart is playing Maggie May and Stevens is dancing, poorly and enthusiastically, across the stage.

I look around the auditorium to see how the angels are taking it. I’ve never been in a room filled with angels before, and the expressions are not nearly as beatific as you would think. The angels are a varied crew. There are plenty of 30 year old Asian men in baseball hats, an assortment of characters in suits like they just got off the plane from Baltimore, a variety of women, each of whom looks as if she could easily run a Fortune 500 company, but no one in the audience seems to be in the mood for dancing. Stevens realizes this, ruefully – what’s with you people anyway? – but signals for the music to fade.

He is not embarrassed. In a nanosecond he has regrouped, bounded across the stage, and called up the CEO of an emerging enterprise with a dyspeptic name that sounds something like ZipLock. ZipLock exists to accelerate Internet speeds in the Last Mile. Everyone here knows that the Last Mile is not the route that Christ traversed to Golgotha, but the distance from a telecommunications network into the homes of individual consumers. I am all for accelerating those speeds so I pay close attention to learn what this start-up’s secret sauce might be, but I am quickly lost in the jargon of the presenter. She speaks Siliconese, a kind of Spanglish – though not a mixture of English and Spanish – but of tech talk and finance talk all jumbled together. First mover advantage with an IP fortress in close juxtaposition to convertible notes and managed liquidity events. She explains that ZipLock’s solution will be delivered through the cloud via a USB dongle. Not only is it a global game changer, but, really good news, it won’t be threatened by the next big thing.

I lean over to Zuni. “Are you interested in funding this enterprise?” Zuni rolls her eyes and makes a cutting motion across her neck.

Each pitch is limited to 10 minutes except for a few companies that are seeking seed-level investments: they are given only three. After the pitch, the audience is given 10 minutes of questions and at the end encouraged to indicate their interest on a gold sheet, which Stevens tells us is the most important piece of paper that we will see today. The gold sheet tells the organizers what our level of interest is and will kick off the due diligence process that will lead to investment in those lucky companies that attract the most favorable attention.

I had anticipated that all the potential investments at this Expo would be in tech companies but I am completely wrong. Next up is a gentlemen with mutton chops – really, who wears mutton chops? Is that a thing? – who pitches an investment fund making short term real estate loans to developers in the Portland area. He has closed out an initial fund and says those investors have enjoyed a 20% return on equity. Mutton Chops has presented before at this club in the past and he enjoys a reservoir of goodwill but he doesn’t draw a smile from the angels – this is a sour group of angels or maybe all angels look sour when listening to pitches. MC is not fazed at all, actually he is slightly sour-faced too; he moves through his presentation easily, without hyperbole, letting his numbers do his talking. He exits to polite applause.

The stage is briefly taken over by a kid – I’m not kidding, he’s really a kid, he can’t be 20 years old – who startles us with the news that our pillowcases are as dirty as our toilets seats. From there it is a short step to convincing us that acne is pandemic among people who sleep on pillowcases. He and his merry band are poised to disrupt the pillowcase industry with a new material that can be infused – maybe he said suffused – with oils that repel the crap that ordinarily covers our pillowcases.

The kid is a big hit with the audience, but there is a question. He’s only looking for $1.2 million and it’s just to buy inventory. One investor points out that equity money – that’s the sort of money the angels are supplying: high risk, high return, money – is expensive money to use just to buy product; why doesn’t the kid get a bank loan? The kid says that the product is so hot they need to buy right away; they can’t wait for a bank to go through the painful tire-kicking it will require before doing a line of credit. That answer clearly resonates. These angels don’t have any love for bank lenders, with their methodical low risk, low return investments. Equity money may be expensive money, but it is smart money.

Stevens is back and he quickly shoos the kid off stage. He looks around the room – it is uncanny how much he looks like Willard – and makes another attempt to pump up the crowd. He fires up some rock and roll and he struts a bit – clearly he is convinced that he has moves – I wonder what he does in front of the mirror in his bedroom before he leaves for work. The latest pump up session proves no more successful than his last attempt but the lukewarm reception bothers him not a bit. If possible, I like him even more than I did before.

The holder of multiple patents for a bedwetting product anticipates $109 million in revenue in 2018. I pause over the projections – really? That seems a lot of bedwetters. But the materials explain that 2.2 billion folks suffer from nocturia, “the frequent need to urinate at night.” Nocturia is described as a deadly condition that is linked to “higher rates of heart disease, stroke, deadly hip fractures, brain damage and significantly higher death rates in all categories…” I confess that I have trouble with deadly hip fractures until I realize that nocturia afflicts the elderly among us in disproportionate amounts and these entrepreneurs are expecting plenty of midnight stumbles en route to the loo.

Zuni and I soak up the buoyant optimism of a few more presenters. I am amazed that there are so many ways to generate $50 or $100 million in annual revenue, but who am I to argue with the careful analysis that has been performed on the spending habits of unattended retail environments or the whizzing of those 2.2 billion nightstalkers with nocturia.

I am getting ready to leave when I sit bolt upright – there is an investment offered in the work of a writer! Amazing! This could be the keys to the kingdom. I have to stay and hear this. This could be a way to bypass the whole logjam in the publishing industry. Take it to the Angels!

The investment involves a “young writer/director” with a “buzzworthy, unique personal background” who owns a “powerful, original copyright protected screenplay”. His group seeks a million dollars from the assembled angels to produce and distribute a film from that copyright protected screenplay. Two Oscar-winning actors “have expressed interest from reading the script and have requested offers for the lead roles.” Based on “recent sales of films similar” to the anticipated film “in genre, theme, subject, budget, audience and target distributor,” the company anticipates investors will make a 64% return on their invested capital. I like that it is 64%, not 60% or 65%; precision in these matters is very important to me.

I am getting pretty excited. I have a unique personal background. I could be buzzworthy. I wonder what the script is about. Fortunately there is a synopsis available:

Nicolette is an ambitious journalist who does not love easily. Engaged to Eithan, a charming entrepreneur who struggles to launch his Silicon Valley start up, Nicolette is consumed with an investigative reporting she is conducting on a sex-trafficking ring.… But one night, she learns that Eithan made a bizarre commitment to Alexis McKenzie, a wealthy venture capitalist, in order to obtain seed funding for his tech startup. While Eithan admits his mistake and explains that his indiscretion was purely for business, Nicolette must make an urgent choice. Does she love him enough to forgive him? Or is she willing to sacrifice love in a dangerous revenge that benefits her investigation…

This is a powerful story all right. But could it really raise a million?   I decide to do some real due diligence. I  go look at Kickstarter and see what sort of film projects that they have up for crowd funding. Maybe I can find some guidance as to what the crowd wants to fund.

I go to the Kickstarter website and pick the Film and Video category. Wow, there are 35,151 projects looking for funding. I scroll through, looking for something that I can compare to Eithan’s epic. Almost immediately I come upon To The Flames, a film by Alex Webb. Alex is looking for $25,000 in funding of which he has only raised $650. That isn’t a great start but he has 27 days to go. His film is synopsized as follows:

Kyle, an aimless film student, becomes fascinated with a dark, disturbed couple while interviewing neighbors for class. Big mistake.

I watch the 5-minute trailer for the film – its a long 5 minutes but punctuated by frequent bursts of hilarity – and if I had to choose between this one and Eithan’s story, To The Flames would get the nod, for sure. Not only is the amount of funding so reasonable, but for a pledge as modest as $10,000 I can get myself credited as “Executive Producer” in the opening titles. I will also get a copy of the DVD, visit the set for a day and attend the premiere in New York as well as the wrap party.

As I look through the Kickstarter archives, the film I can most closely equate to Eithan’s venture is:

Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, A Film

by Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle

Ecosexuals Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens fight mountain top removal coal mining and make environmental activism sexy, fun, & diverse.

GCM was fully funded; indeed it raised 134% of what was sought. But I am not sure that it is a good predictor of success for Eithan’s tale. First of Goodby Gauley Mountain only sought to raise $10,000. More importantly, ecosexualism is clearly hipper and more cutting edge than the run-of-the-mill sex-trafficking that Nicolette is investigating. And, by the way, Annie Sprinkle is a much better name than Eithan, in my humble opinion, and it has the additional benefit of being spelled correctly.

I can’t wait to see how Zuni will react to Eithan’s epic. If she is willing to fund this, maybe I can sell her the rights to my book – forget agents, forget the publishing industry; I’ll have Angels on my side! I watch Zuni fill out her Gold Sheet and when it comes time to describe her level of investment interest in Eithan’s movie, sadly she checks the box marked “low”. She whispers to me that the key to angel investing is that you have to be willing to say no.

– Jay Duret

*          *          *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His first novel, Nine Digits, was published by Second Wind Publishing.  Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. 

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Celery and Mousetraps by Velya Jancz-Urban

Tcelery on a white backgroundhe only food my husband won’t eat is celery. I think it’s because his mother, in the 1960s, made a dish called American Chop Suey. I think she made it many, many times. With six kids in the family, she had to be resourceful in the kitchen. American Chop Suey had absolutely no resemblance to Chinese food – it was more like a kissing cousin to goulash. I remember it appearing on the hot lunch menu at our elementary school, and in other parts of the country it may have been called Slumgullion or Johnny Marzetti. But in New England, it was American Chop Suey. From what I can piece together, on the rare occasions my husband will discuss it, his mother went heavy on the celery in order to stretch the hamburger meat in the recipe. Today, if I have a chicken salad sandwich for lunch, my husband’s celery radar is so fine-tuned that when he comes home from work and gives me a kiss he accuses, “So, you were eating celery again!” in the same incriminating tone a district attorney might use in a high-profile murder trial. If I buy deli potato salad, I’ll find a neat little pile of celery cubes on the side of his plate when we’re done with dinner. Since he’s a cooperative eater in all other regards, we never have celery, ‘the devil’s vegetable,’ in the house.

Currently, my husband’s on a special assignment for work and has been “commuting” to Georgia from Connecticut for the past six months.  Like a sneaky teenager who dips into the vodka when her parents aren’t home, I went a little wild at Stop & Shop and bought celery. Celery with a ton of feathery leaves! I open the fridge to that uniquely-celery aroma (good luck trying to describe it!) and ignore my husband’s ranting in my head, “It’s ninety percent water and tastes like WOOD! It tastes just like it smells! In kindergarten, I had to hear all that ‘ants on a log’ peanut butter raisin bullshit!”

And so I come to the entire point of this essay which is not about the evils of celery. It’s about the fact that you never really know what goes on in other people’s houses. The other night, as we were preparing dinner, I said enthusiastically to my twenty-two year old daughter, “Hey, since Daddy’s not here, how ‘bout if we live it up a little and put celery in the salad!” She looked at me with revulsion, as if I had suggested chopping up our puppy and adding him to the salad!

“Celery in SALAD?  Are you crazy?  Nobody puts celery in salad. You have to eat celery hot,” she insisted.

“Well, when I was little we always put celery in salad,” I argued.

“Yeah, but your family’s weird. Nobody in the entire world puts celery in salad,” she persisted.

“Let’s just see about that,” I countered.  “We’ll put it to a vote. Let’s post the question on Facebook and see what people say.”

The response was overwhelming and comments started popping up within minutes. They varied:

I can go either way. A lot of times I think it’s too overpowering.

No!!! Not in my household! I hate celery!!!! Toxic!

Yes! We always have!!

NO ONE likes celery. It’s only in the grocery store for decoration.

Yup, but I peel the strings off.

I like the passive-aggressive crunch!

Lima beans, okra, and celery should be banned from the planet!

Clearly, our scientific survey proved that there are a couple of people out there who do indeed put celery in salad.

“You know,” I admitted to my daughter. “I just assumed everyone put celery in salad because we always did when I was growing up. This reminds me of the mousetrap story.”

“Oh no, not the mousetrap story again,” my daughter groaned.

We live in the country. We have mice – but I never liked the idea of killing them. I always catch them in Havahart traps, take them for a drive, and let them go. But, if I were a mouse, I’d rather die instantly in one of  those old-fashioned wooden mousetraps with the metal bar that comes down fast and breaks the mouse’s neck, than eat creepy d-Con poison and die from internal bleeding, or have my feet stuck to a glue trap and starve to death. One day, several years ago, the mousetrap topic somehow came up in the faculty room during lunch. When I mentioned how disgusting, yet sad, it was as a little kid to have to take the dead mouse out of the trap, the people at the lunch table looked at me in horror.

“Are you serious?” the fourth-grade teacher had asked in disbelief. “You took the mouse out of the trap?”

“Well, yeah. How else do you get it out?”

I got a quick tutorial from my colleagues. I had no idea you were supposed to throw the traps away after you used them, with the dead mouse still imprisoned under the metal bar! I guess having Depression-era parents had something to do with it. My father always re-baited the mousetraps with peanut butter, so I assumed everyone else did.

Celery in salad, and mousetraps…it’s kinda like finding out the lyrics to a song you always sang wrong.

How about you?  Is there anything you thought was ‘normal’ as a child, only to discover that’s not how the rest of the world does it?

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Sounds of Music by Heidi Thurston

upright piano

It all started with a ukulele and a used piano, bought at a bargain price from friends moving to California who did not want the expense of moving their old family upright from the east coast across country. They threw in a used ukulele as a thank you for helping them pack and we gave the instruments to our two young, and rather musically inclined, sons so they could fill their time on rainy days. We figured the boys would pretend to have a small rock group and be happy playing in the company of each other. That’s what we thought. Ha!

 

garage band

 

A couple of years later, during their freshman and sophomore years, we found ourselves on Sunday afternoons setting out for the home of friends with a casserole dinner and a bottle of wine packed and stashed in the back seat of our car – and wondering if long ago we had “done the right thing” with the purchase of piano and ukulele.

It wasn’t that we did not want to visit our friends, although we did feel funny about asking them if we could come over for dinner “if we bring our own meal?” Nor did we not appreciate the sort of music played by our sons and their growing group; yes, by then they had added friends to their own small duet and they now rehearsed in our basement family room on most Sunday afternoons.

It was, instead, the inability to carry out conversations other than by sign language, watching television and only seeing lips moving, talking on the phone and explaining to whoever was on the other end (we never could tell who the callers were) that no one was in pain, or having a party. We wondered; what in the world we had been thinking when we acquired the piano and ukulele?

But most of all, it was the inability to sit still, while the whole house shook with the sounds of rock and roll, that made us pack up our dinner, swallow our pride, call on various friends, and head for other homes with our picnic basket packed with a hot dish and a cold drink.

One nice thing did come about as a result of our visits. We got to know a lot of nice people who, when they casually had said, ”Stop in sometime,” had had absolutely no idea that we actually would – and so soon – and with dinner.

Some of these people, of course, never spoke to us again. They were the ones whose children we invited over to hear our boys play, and who with money saved for college went out and bought electric instruments and turned on the music in their own homes.

All in all though, it turned out to be an interesting season. The boys moved up to electric keyboards and guitars and progressed to the stage where they were actually hired to play for school and community dances and small social events.

A few years later they all graduated and headed for college. The group disbanded, and at that time I could only say “thank goodness!” I did, however, begin to miss the boys and the band – you do grow accustomed to the strangest events.

But the real upside of the end of band era included two things: 1. Every nail in our house that had previously worked itself loose from all the shaking of the floors and walls, was now settling back, and 2. We no longer had to rummage around for recipes for new and interesting meals for friends to whom we previously had brought unexpected Sunday dinners.

 

Heidi Thurston is a former newspaper journalist, and the author of the adult romance “The Duchess, The Knight and the Leprechaun,” available on Amazon and from Second Wind Publishing.

 

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Imagined Conversations: A Status Report Six Months In

Jay Duret

Jay Duret

At the New Year I decided to try my hand at cartooning. I had been drawing figures – mostly faces – for a few months and wanted to see if I could add text in a pleasing way. I committed to posting a cartoon a day, an undertaking which sounds painfully unambitious but then, well, I knew what I had to work with. And so I began with a New Year’s post on January 1.

Over subsequent weeks I kept the promised cadence, dutifully posting each drawing to my blog in a section called Imagined Conversations”. I also started an Instagram series under the name @joefaces. After a month at it, I wrote a brief report on the effort for this blog and posted it here.

In the months since I have continued to post. I have found a weird satisfaction in the daily ritual: once you become a daily poster and settle in the groove, your day does not feel complete without going through your workflow. It’s like writing in that way. You can’t produce a book on the strength of a mood, at least I can’t; you need to settle into a steady rhythm of daily tapping at the keys. I think of it as running laps.

My cartoons have touched a number of topics as I listened and took notes on the conversations that endlessly rattle around inside my head. Some dealt with writing:

Arnie

Poetry Month

(I doubt that anyone reading this blog will have trouble filling in the blanks,  but on the off chance that someone skipped out on poetry class in 11th grade I will note the answer below.)

Some of my cartoons are part of a mental project of building a set of emoticons that have more to them than the stupid little circles and smiley faces and thumbs up that come in every text message. Wouldn’t it be better if those little nuggets of cuteness were replaced by drawings like this:

Party

or this:

 

Watch

Some of my cartoons are just what came rattling along my train of thought that day:

Ginger

Lean In

When I began the project I told myself that I would stop when it wasn’t satisfying any more. I think that was a good approach and I am sticking with it. But I confess to some surprise that after producing nearly 200 cartoons I am still interested in the project. If I had predicted at the beginning, I would have said that Imagined Conversations would have begun to limp in February and fall on the ground in March. Yet at the mid-year I am still working away. We’ll see how much longer I’ll last. In the meantime – thanks for the support. And if you aren’t receiving the daily postings, follow my blog or Instagram.

– Jay

* * *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco-based writer. Second Wind recently published Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits. See the trailer here. And for all puzzlers: These famous lines begin T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland: “April is the Cruelest Month”. No surprise that April is National Poetry month.

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Have We Completely Run Out Of Ideas?

I was watching television the other night and saw something so incredibly bad that it drove me to wonder how it came to be before me in the first place.  How was this horrific concept presented and who listened to this half-thought out lunacy and thought, “Hmm.  Its better than anything I’ve heard recently.  Let’s pump a few million into it.”  What were they listening to, I wonder?

I remember Bewitched. A fun sitcom about a mixed marriage between a witch and a mortal. I liked how Darren used his position as an ad exec to explain the weird goings on in the Stevens household. He and his boss would pop in and find a unicorn in his living room and Darren would, after a few exaggerated facial expressions, smile and introduce his boss to the new image for a car they’re representing.

“How about the Unicorn, Larry? Legendary gas mileage. Pretty great, eh?”

It wasn’t. Now every time I see a commercial or concept so inexplicably bad that I’m driven to wonder how such an atrocity ever made it to public airing, I call it a Darren Stevens. Something truly bizarre must have happened to allow this to seem like a good idea. Witchcraft, maybe. That would almost explain such concepts as casting Pierce Brosnan in a musical.

Movies, you see, have often crossed the line. I was appalled by last years’ release depicting Abraham Lincoln as a super hero vampire killer. I’ve written some pretty good stories but still had to fight my way through the thousands of other good stories to try to get a publisher’s attention. This is because there are good writers with new thoughts to be expressed in abundance. So what enormous bet must someone have lost to allow this laughable excuse for a storyline to find its way to the screen? Is this any way to pay homage to one of the greatest figures in American History? Is this a direction we in the creative or entertainment world want to take?

My fear is that this may spark a trend of salvaging truly bad scripts or manuscripts by recasting the lead as a pre-accepted historical figure. The public already likes them so the hack story has a foot in the viewing or reading audience’s door despite the total lack of credibility, creativity or talent.

But perhaps I’m being overly cynical. Perhaps this is why so many creative works never see the light of day.  We may simply be trying too hard.  This substitute for talent and hard work may in fact be a new and viable form of creativity. Perhaps exploiting the memory of historical heroes for a cheap buck is a good thing. Think of the endless possibilities.

Young George Washington tells his father, “I cannot tell a lie, Father. I chopped down your cherry tree… when my space ship crash landed on your planet.”  Washington – ET Patriot!

“I have a dream… of driving all the demons out of the White House!”                                                                                                                                                                Martin Luther King – Presidential Exorcist

“Old Soldiers never die… Until I chop their zombie heads off with my magic sabre”                                                                                                                                       General Douglas MacArthur versus the Army of the Undead!

 The possibilities are endless. And America doesn’t hold the patent on greed, bad taste and sensationalism. Britain has every right to jump onto the bandwagon.

This is England’s finest hour…  I know because I went back in time to diffuse Hitler’s bomb and change the course of history!”                                                Churchill- Time Minister.

Hey. That’s good. I’m calling Paramount right now!

You can find more about Donovan Galway at the Second Wind Publishing website http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!donovan-galway/c1ap8 and the usual places. Amazon, Google, or by liking Donovan on Facebook.

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All those *&% emails!

Like most of you, I get too many emails.

Well, truth be told, it’s not that I get too many, it’s that I get I too many that are useless to me. It’s almost as though there is someone out there in cyberspace targeting me with the most ludicrous and ill-fitting information.

I have received emails asking if I want to “work from home” or if I have an erectile dysfunction problem. There are countless emails from every store and website imaginable telling me of their most recent sale and, of course, the emails telling me about the latest sugar-free, gluten-free or fat free recipe.

Oprah keeps emailing me about her latest book suggestion, despite the fact that I have told her countless times we have different tastes. (She still insists I read her picks – she is Oprah, after all.)

I keep getting the Dr. Oz message regarding the latest weight loss pill. And, like most of you, each time I see that man’s name attached to any product, I can’t help but click on the link to find out more. My hope springs eternal that he has actually discovered and is now promoting the pill that will make me a size 6. Although I consider myself a reasonably intelligent and sane person, I can’t help but hold out hope that the key to being thin and healthy isn’t reducing your caloric intake and increasing the amount of exercise. Surely there is a pill, drink, or vitamin out there that will do the trick and we just haven’t discovered it yet.

I bought a house last year so now I am on every realtor’s contact list. I get updates on what has sold in my neighborhood and in those nearby. Now, this just doesn’t make any sense to me. I just bought my house. I’m not about to purchase another one anytime soon. Surely a realtor would know this.

To add insult to injury, I got an email about buying a house that was written in Spanish. I do not now, nor have I ever, spoken Spanish. Not a lick of it.

Way to know your audience Casa-whatever-your-name-is.

In addition to those, I now received DIY emails from every TV show on HGTV, as well as emails from local salvage stores, Lowe’s, Home Depot and even those lumber warehouses.

I’m overrun. Really, I can’t keep up.

Well, I can. It’s just that I can no longer access it from my office so I’m forced to check emails when I get home each night. And let’s face it….who has time for THAT?

So here’s what I have decided to do. I’m going to unsubscribe from all the emails that I never look at. The ones that while I’d love to peruse thoroughly, their graphics just aren’t enough to grab me given that I am a victim of late-onset ADHD thanks to this immediate gratification society I find myself in.

I’m going to unsubscribe from all the stores I will never shop at and all the name brand clothing emails that are out of my reach.

My dear Kate Spade, I’m sorry. But even your clearance items are out of my reach so despite my high school-like crush on your pocketbooks and shoes, it looks like we will never be together.
So here I sit. About to click on the unsubscribe link of all those emails. There’s close to one hundred just from today. But I have to do it. Just the thought of seeing my inbox after a week of not checking email is enough to make me click on the link to unsubscribe from Neiman Marcus.

I click.

Another browser opens and I am brought to a page that asks me to tell them why I no longer want emails from them.

Did I get too many emails from them?
Do I get too many emails in general?
Were the emails not to my liking?
What can they do differently to get me to subscribe to their emails again?

Good lord! Do they really expect me to answer this? Of course they do. It’s right there in black ad white on my screen.

And then I see it.

The comment section.

Really? They’re asking for a reason why I no longer want to receive their emails? I actually have to provide them with an explanation? It’s an email people! Not a relationship.

I suddenly feel as though I’m trying to break up with someone. It’s the electronic version of “it’s not you, it’s me” and I find myself wondering about the person who has the job of tallying the breakup emails.

Surely, by the end of each day, said individual is exhausted simply from the amount of rejections he’s received. Though they’re not for him, per se, I would think that simply reading them and tallying them would be enough to throw anyone over the edge.

I feel bad for this faceless individual but I have to do it. I must break up with Neiman.

I click on the top bubble and watch as it fills in. I’ve selected “I receive too many emails in general.”

There.

It’s not you. It’s me!

Donna Small is the author of two novels – Just Between Friends and A Ripple in the Water. Her next novel, Through Rose Colored Glasses will be released this summer. Her books can be purchased here: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!donna-small/c1ewn

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Snowballs

2014_10_08_11_29_54

       Snowballs

By Jay Duret
When my brother and I were boys we used to stand up on the hill by Mark Riley’s house and wait for cars to come by so we could bombard them with snowballs. The spot we stood was perfect because we could see the cars from a long way off. We were much higher than the road and the drivers wouldn’t notice us until a beautifully arched snowball would loft down with a satisfying thump on the hood or better on the windshield or best, though rarely, through the open driver’s window. We lined up our snowballs in front of us so that we could get off several rounds per car like those Zen archers you read about that can launch a dozen arrows before the first one reaches ground. In our minds we were Zen archers, our snowballs following one after another as if the first drew the others in its slipstream.

Our spot was perfect in another way too. You could run from there into the deep and complicated woods behind the Riley’s house and then dart off onto half a dozen paths that were made for small boys to dart off onto. We knew where to meet up at and where to circle around to come out of the woods, sauntering as if we were out for a stroll and not involved in any snowball throwing that might be going on the neighborhood.

Cars would often stop when we whacked them and we would peal off for the woods shouting and sometimes an irate old fart would get out and try to run up the slick hill in leather shoes and fall on a knee in the snow before giving up and cursing all the way back to his Ford. Sometimes when that happened we would slip back out from the woods where we had been watching and launch another volley at the retreating figure and the sitting duck car throbbing at curbside.

There was really only one problem with our set up. While we could see the cars coming from a distance, we were too high off the road to see who was in the car and so with every volley launched there was the delicious risk that it wouldn’t be some forty year old fart, but a carload of jocks from the high school who would slither to a stop and then four doors would fly open in unison and a car-full of whooping high school guys would tear up the hill after us and we’d run for woods shouting, “Oh Shit! Oh Shit!” as we stumbled over each other on the suddenly treacherous ground. And then the pack would be right behind us and those stomping swearing whooping sounds seemed as close as if we were wearing them on our backs.

Sometimes we would get away and then the sheer joy of life would surge through us as we reunited in the little clearing in the woods and talked about how close the escape had been and how we had bewildered them once we reached the woods and slipped down trails made for crafty boys and not for meaty high school guys with their big shoulders and black high top sneakers.

Other times they would get us and that would usually turn out the same: you’d feel their bellowing breathing on your neck just before an iron hand would grab the hood of your winter jacket and your feet would fly out from under you and then a massive presence would be all over you. They would fling you into the snow and a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt would be on the back of your head, no way you could prevent it, and that hand would push your face down into the snow and twist it so that your face would be rubbed over the ground.

They would go at for a while and it was even hard to shout for mercy or to get any beneficial effect from crying cause the snow would be in your snotty nose and mouth and slipping in that surprising way down your front collar onto your bare boy’s chest below. Sometimes they would kick you or give you a few random punches, but that was usually it. The point of it was that pitiful sight we made as we sat up and turned to see who had done it to us: our faces red and packed with pockets of snow, our knit hats knocked cock-eyed on our heads so that tufts of winter hair shot up in all the wrong directions, those stupid long scarves we wore trailing off in the snow like the tails of broken kites.

Years later, when my brother and I were in our twenties and done with college, we would go out to my folks and drive past that hill where we used to throw our snowballs. The hill didn’t look so big as it used to look and the Riley’s woods were nothing more than a threadbare clump of apple trees. But we’d grown up and had our minds on the complicated lives were starting to live and we didn’t even notice.

Except one day. It was a freezing Christmas afternoon and we were dressed for dinner with the folks. It had snowed the day before. The roads had been cleared but the lawns throughout my parents’ neighborhood were covered with white. We were late for dinner. We knew that mother would be unhappy cause she had been up early cooking and we had proved that we weren’t any more considerate now than we had been when we were boys. We were anxious to get there.

We were coming down Hunter’s Lane. My brother was driving. And all at once there were two thwaps on the front windshield. A snowball attack, no possible doubt. Direct hits. On us! On us!

My brother skidded to a stop. Up on the hill we could see the boys scattering in the frozen afternoon light. I looked at my brother. It was freezing outside. We had to get to our folks’ house. I had on a pair of black loafers and a tie and sport coat. He looked at me. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t want to get out of that car. We looked at each other for a long time. And then he sighed.

“We’ve got to do it,” he said.

I said, “we’ve got no choice.”

And we flung open the doors of the car in unison and tore ass up the hill whooping in the direction that the snowballs came from.

***

Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His novel, Nine Digits, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be available later this year. See http://www.ninedigits.com. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com.

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“Take Them – They’re Yours!” by Heidi Thurston

It’s that wonderful time again, and everyone in the area has been busy preparing for this marvelous event, which happens – with regularity – once a year.

Times have changed since my children were school age, but the signs are still the same each year: All the store windows are decorated with winter apparel although it may be 90 degrees outside. Yellow stripes in the center of many roads are getting a fresh layer of yellow paint – the better to be seen – and car loads of paper, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes are being bought. All mothers – and sometimes fathers – are walking around in a daze with a wild expression in their eyes.

THE KIDS ARE GOING BACK TO SCHOOL AGAIN!

By the time this past June had rolled around, I’d had it with lunch money that 1) could not be found; 2) was taken by mistake by the kid who was already bringing his or her lunch from home, or 3) was spent the day before on pencils or notebooks (can’t have too many of those). I was also tired of making sure school clothes were clean, gym stuff washed, books returned on the right day, and projects gotten to school in one piece. I was simply tired of coordinating three kids, one bathroom, breakfast – and myself – in the hour before the school bus arrived.

So, when the doors to the school closed at the beginning of summer, I was usually ready for the extra hour of sleep, the quiet time with my coffee before I went to work, and not having to worry about who got what, and when, to school.

But after about two weeks of this, the implication of school vacation hit – and hard. Suddenly there were no clean clothes around, bath towels were still draped all over the house when I returned from work, the milk was often sitting on the kitchen table, the refrigerator generally empty. I could usually hang meat in the house, because no one was there to let the kids know that keeping a house at 65 degrees was not really necessary just because doors to the outside were regularly left open.

Since it was summer, and the children all slept late, there never seemed to be a good reason for getting them to bed before I did. None of the usual arguments – “You’ll flunk your test tomorrow if you don’t get enough sleep;” “The teacher will make you wear toothpicks to help keep your eyes open;” or “You’ll miss the bus and will have to walk to school,” – had any utility in the summer, so quiet late evenings were also gone.

But – by the end of August I knew that a lovely time was coming around again. When I came home from work, I knew the house would look like I had left it, I could sip my coffee in the morning, the refrigerator was usually still full, and my milk bill would return to normal since I no longer had to replace what had turned sour.

In my heart I knew, of course, that it would only be a short while before I would return to the lunch money, school projects, and book problems. But for a few weeks, I joined other mothers who with the wild look removed from their eyes – and with barely concealed pleasure – said goodbye as their children stepped onto the school bus.

We waved to our offspring as they left, and silently whispered to their teachers:

“Take them – they’re yours!”back to school

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