Piss Poor

The Piss Poor Potato Eaters, by Vincent Van Gough, 1885. Or maybe it’s just called The Potato Eaters.

Wouldn’t you know it, a crank has submitted a unicorn beam, for a guest post. Her full name is Cranky Pants, although I will lazily refer to her as CP. CP honestly admits she didn’t write this. Yep, she stole a unicorn. But that’s okay, unicorns respect honest thieves.

CP wants us to know how folks lived back in medieval times. Especially the folks who were piss poor. Like all of my ancestors.

If you’re the empty-pocketed type who often doesn’t have two nickels to rub together, I think you’re going to enjoy this piss poor submission from CP.


Did you know…..??


They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “piss poor.”

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot; they “didn’t have a pot to piss in” & were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands & complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. Since they were starting to smell, however, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it . . . hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof, resulting in the idiom, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed, therefore, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, leading folks to coin the phrase “dirt poor.”

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way, subsequently creating a “thresh hold.”

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while, and thus the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up, creating the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be saved by the bell, or was considered a dead ringer.

Bread of Life

Today we start a new decade. 10 is a nice, round number that’s easy to work with. So, with my limited math skills, I like to divide my life into decades. Sometimes I like to look back, decennium to decennium, and see how my life has changed.

And the change is always dramatic. My life circumstances 10 years ago are much different than now. And with each 10-year increment, remembering backward, I find more great differences.

The philosophies I live by are also very different. They’ve constantly and imperceptibly metamorphosed, day-after-day, to adjust to my gradually changing life. From yesterday to today, there’s not much difference. But from 10 years ago, there’s been a sea change. That doesn’t invalidate the way I guided my life a decade ago. It only means that I’ve had to change my ways, ever-so-slightly, day-to-day, to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of life.

Thus, I’ve concluded that there is no one guiding philosophy for life that can survive the test of time. We must change, and keep changing, to adjust, correct, and compensate for the viscous foundation we stand upon. As our lives change, so must our perceptions and philosophies.

It seems to me that the philosophies you and I live by today have never been used before. They may resemble philosophies of the past, but there are subtle differences. Life as we once knew it is not the life we know today, nor will it ever be again. And so we’ve had to make adjustments.

And as we progress through this new decade, we’ll have to keep adjusting.

But I wonder what drives the adjustment process. How does this miracle occur that enables us to adapt to each new, changing day? Is it inspiration from a higher source? Is it cues we receive from others? Or is it reflection, from the meditation of our own minds?

Whatever it is, be it deified, social, or innate, or perhaps all three, I believe it’s absolutely essential that we never lose touch with it. Especially if it seems to be working. For this is the source of our philosophy.

This, I believe, is our bread of life.

Happy New Year. And may the bread of life you consume this year, and this decade, be abundant and delicious.

Holding Trump’s Balls

Last year on December 17th, I predicted that Trump would be impeached and gone by the end of 2019. How stupid of me.

Senate Majority Turtle, Mitch McConnell.

Trying to predict politics is like trying to augur the outcome of a grasshopper race. But at least I was partly right, because Trump was impeached exactly one year and one day after my post. However I didn’t predict that our Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, would promise a quick acquittal for our Gaslighter-in-Chief.

The grasshopper jumped backward.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

And now the grasshopper has jumped another odd direction. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate, until she’s sure Trump will receive a fair trial.

Pundits and politicians from both parties have puzzled over this move. Some worry that Americans will lose interest in impeachment, the longer the trial is delayed. Some claim she has no leverage. And some taunt her by saying she’s too scared to send the articles over.

But I think it’s an act of genius. Hanging onto the articles could make the grasshopper jump in any of these four directions:

  1. It could allow Mitch and Nancy to move legislation and pass laws. Mitch has said that he won’t put his large backlog of bills before the Senate unless he knows the president will sign them. Well Mitch, now you have some leverage. Either the president promises to sign some bills, or you make a deal with Nancy. It’s ironic. The most partisan impeachment in history has potential for the most bipartisan legislation in history.
  2. It might lead Republican senators who are up for re-election next year, to vote for conviction. Right now they’re caught in a bind. If they vote to convict, they’ll lose their primaries, even when it would help them in the general election. But if the trial is held after they’ve already won their primaries, they’ll only have the general election to worry about.
  3. It allows time to force more evidence before the trial occurs. The fight for subpoenaed documents and witnesses might be resolved by the Supreme Court before the Senate trial occurs. This might pile more damning evidence upon the current mountain of evidence against Trump.
  4. But most importantly, I think, holding this Sword of Damocles over Trump’s head could motivate him to be a good little boy. He’s pissed off Republicans before, but never while at their mercy during an impeachment trial. Now he might think twice before going off half-cocked and doing things that jeopardize our national security or our economic stability.

So keep dangling that sword, Nancy. Or how about this metaphor? The two articles of impeachment you’re hanging onto are like Trump’s balls. Don’t let go. Make the son-of-a-bitch sweat until perhaps this summer. How about a Senate trial during the Republican National Convention, for instance?

His balls are in your court Nancy. Put the squeeze on hard before you give them a whack toward the Senate’s court.

In a way, perhaps I was right about Trump being gone by the end of 2019. For while he will still occupy the White House into 2020, maybe he won’t be the same Trump we’ve known. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll turn into someone unrecognizable:

A mild-mannered man with no balls.

When The Mail Stopped

I parked at my house to take a little nap, before starting my rounds. By the time I woke up I could barely drive the streets without slipping and sliding, and had to return to the post office with most of the mail undelivered.

This photo was taken on the morning of December 17, 2008, after my little town in the Mojave Desert had received about two inches of snow. Ten more inches fell that day.

No one at the post office had ever bothered to check our snow chains to see if they would fit the tires. And they didn’t fit. Mail delivery was canceled for two days, until we could finally get the correct chains.

When we returned to work, we had a high mountain of mail and parcels to climb, and put in many hours of overtime to catch up.

Heavy snows like this are very rare for our area, but some weather reports are predicting the possibility of up to 11 inches falling overnight.

We’ll see.

Meantime, have a Merry Christmas. And if it isn’t white, just look at this photo and enjoy vicariously. And be glad you don’t have to use your shovel.

Point Last Seen

About a week ago my wife’s diet club, TOPS, held a Christmas luncheon at a local restaurant. Unfortunately, spouses of club members were welcome. I hate parties, but I knew this meant a lot to my wife, so out of my hole I crawled.

About 30 of us sat gabbing, around a long, narrow table. A finger of restlessness clawed my gut, as there was something at home I had been deeply engrossed in, that I wanted so much to return to.

I found myself warding off the usual assortment of flibbertigibbets, Nosy Parkers, and loud drunks. I did my best to suppress my inner misanthrope, while surveying this party for a kindred spirit who might share my wonkish taste for cerebral communication.

I spotted a candidate. This spirit sat opposite me, and about three chairs to the left. At first I wasn’t sure if the candidate was male or female, until I heard her feminine voice. She was middle-aged, had a heavy, husky build, with a large, square face that surrounded tiny spectacles.

She spoke with those around her sporadically, thoughtfully, and briefly, yet with the gravitas of an anvil. Just my type of conversationalist. I said something in her direction, to grab her attention, and it came across as awkward as the oblique acreage that separated us. I looked like a fool and gave up, contenting myself with the pursuit of staring downward and studying my napkin.

A party game ensued, called Who Am I? We were given clues about various club members’ lives, and asked to guess which member it was. One of the clues stood out like a unicorn.

“I was a Search and Rescue volunteer at Joshua Tree National Park. And then I moved to the Kalahari desert to research subsistence tracking,” the party leader proclaimed, as she read the clue from the paper. Everyone was stumped. “Hannah,” the leader finally revealed (pronouncing it “Hon-noh”).

Wow! I thought. Now there’s someone I’d like to have a conversation with. “Who’s that Kalahari desert person?” I asked my wife, sitting next to me.

“Oh, that was Hannah,” and she pointed at the husky lady with gravitas, whom I’d so awkwardly and unsuccessfully attempted to ensnare in dialogue just a few minutes earlier.

Hannah heard us and looked over at me. My opening! And our conversation began.

She was a challenge. She revealed herself in short sentences. But each sentence was an enticing breadcrumb that led my wife and I, and those around her, on and on, deeper into her personal history.

Hannah had come to our desert to get away from people. Yes! A fellow misanthrope! Tell us more, Hannah!

Her children had been abducted. Twice. What? Was Hannah actually a crazy nut? I mean, whose children get abducted twice? Ah, but it was her estranged ex-husband who had done the abducting. And it was our eccentric local judge who had given this ex-husband unsupervised visitation rights, after the first abduction. Yes, now we understood.

But Hannah exhibited no bitterness toward the judge. Or toward her ex-husband, whom she made a point to say something positive about after I made a sarcastic comment about him. Here was a deep spirit indeed. One who could find the beauty in any soul, no matter how obscured by the dark shadows of their heart.

Hannah mentioned graduate school, which led me down the tangent of her education. I love educated people when they’re as down-to-earth as her. She had a Masters Degree in Anthropology and a PhD in History.

Poor Hannah. It seemed to me that she had invested in an expensive education that was highly unlikely to pay for itself in monetary remuneration. Yet what an adventuresome life. “You’ve really lived!” my wife noted.

“You could write a book,” I added.

“I have written a book. Several books,” Hannah answered.

Another breadcrumb. More inquiries. And more enticing information.

This was no everyday Hannah. This was Hanna Nyala, author of the books, Point Last Seen, and Leave No Trace.

Point Last Seen: A Woman Tracker’s Story had first been published in 1997, and is an autobiographical account of Hannah’s experiences as a tracker for the National Park Service’s Search and Rescue operations. And not only was she a tracker in this memoir, but she was also tracked. By her ex-husband.

Point Last Seen was highly successful for Hannah, and in 1998 became an eponymous, CBS-TV movie, starring Linda Hamilton.

Leave No Trace was also a big success for Hannah, and made into the 2013 action-thriller movie, Heatstroke, starring Stephen Dorff and Svetlana Metkina.

She has also authored the book, Cry Last Heard, a sequel to Leave No Trace.

The diet club members seemed stunned. They suddenly realized that for months, they’d had a celebrity in their midst. The quiet, modestly unassuming, Hannah.

My favorite book genre is the public domain classic, and it takes a lot to get me to stray from that genre. But this was a true story about someone hiking through my backyard. Joshua Tree National Park. And Hannah fascinated me.

So after the party I got on Amazon and forked over $15.21 for Point Last Seen. When it arrived a few days later, it was hard to put down, and I consumed it within 24 hours. Or perhaps I should say, it consumed me.

For me, Point Last Seen was suspenseful, intriguing, outrageous, and funny.

I followed along on pins and needles as she tracked people lost in the desert, including a nine-year-old girl. I felt intrigued as I learned how to track. Or at least, learned how to learn how to track.

I raged at a legal system that sided with her abusive husband and put her and her children in mortal danger. And I laughed at her sense of humor, which had of way of seeping through at unexpected moments throughout the book.

Hannah shares her personal philosophies throughout this memoir, intertwining them with the art of tracking, the terror of being tracked, and poetic descriptions of the Mojave Desert. She left me with the sense that tracking is not just about finding a lost person. It’s also about finding yourself.

Point Last Seen was an inspiring read for me, and so of course I stole many quotes from her book. Here’s a few I’ll share with you, for your own inspiration:

Sitting and thinking and watching. That’s an important part of tracking. Patient attention to tiny, seemingly inconsequential details and differences. Measuring changes, memorizing patterns, asking intuitive questions and looking for their answers, ignoring sand in your eyes or rain on your head but imprinting on your mind the qualities of rain and sand located anywhere else.

As a tracker, I was not only surviving, but following the footprints of other human beings, well on the way to becoming human again myself. Going to the desert to escape people, I quickly began searching for them again in the most literal way imaginable: following their tracks.

Tracking isn’t instinctive or natural. It only begins when you start seeing the ground under your feet instead of just staring blindly at it; when you acknowledge the pain, accept the uncertainty of hope, feel the fear of being saviorless, yet insist not simply on surviving but also on paying attention to the small details of life once again.

Tracking also means learning to walk alongside, caring enough to reach out to other people—a crucial part of surviving when someone wants to make sure you don’t.

“Why didn’t you just leave him?” is one of the first questions our society has for battered women. What we don’t yet want to face is that there are many excellent reasons for staying with an abusive man—and not one completely positive reason for leaving. When you leave, things almost always get much worse, and sometimes they stay that way for a very long time.

No one else can teach you to track, no matter how much money you pay them or how much time you spend with them. Until you put in enough dirt time yourself, you cannot follow footprints on the ground.

Too frequently we notice vague signs, hesitate, and miss the lesson entirely. How many lessons can we miss before we’ve jeopardized the whole search?

Perhaps it’s time to admit that if trackers didn’t pay attention to hindsight, they’d be as lost as guppies on a tree branch . . . Looking backward and sideways while keeping your eyes focused forward is a crucial part of knowing not just where you are—but also where the one you seek may be.

Part of the process of getting lost is losing sight of your reference points without noticing they have disappeared. Then when your memory tries to connect itself to something familiar, it’s gone.

In the final decision to leave, you get out blindly, dumbly, knowing that when (not if) he catches up with you, he’s going to kill you and your children. So why even leave? Because somewhere deep inside, something shattered that last time he choked you—from a place long forgotten, you finally decided that if you had to die, you at least would not do so cowering in a corner of his house.

It’s always the little things, the tiny decisions or nondecisions, that contribute most to losing one’s way.

There’s no rationale behind losing your way, but trackers have to at least try to understand the process before attempting to find someone. Tracking one’s life is much the same. Sometimes you have to figure out why you did a thing in order to know what it was that you actually did. Retracing steps requires getting alarmingly close to what is most unknown to us: who we were at a specific point in time.

The U.S. legal system does not work for people who have no money. And according to the judge in our own case anyway, while it was legal for a man to beat his wife and children, it was illegal for a woman to desert her husband. I had deserted Kevin—and now to fight for the return of my children would require more money than I could ever hope to find.

I’ve always thought that those who manage to do anything for anyone else—regardless of where they happen to be at the moment of “the find”–are heroic. And as for the notion of “outstanding in the field”? To me that means exactly what it says: “out standing in the field”.

By learning to really see and listen to one another, by daring to smile and laugh and, yes, cry together, we can overcome what would destroy us. By joining hands, hearts, and efforts, we make human places where a whisper of hope is indeed equivalent to a done deal.

You can find Point Last Seen on Amazon, by following this link.

And you can learn more about Hannah Nyala at her website: PointLastSeen.com

Not Randy’s Day, Part 2 of 2

This is the conclusion to Not Randy’s Day, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Click on this link to read Part 1.

Not Randy’s Day (Conclusion)


And that’s when his nerves broke down, suddenly caving in under a growing weight of insanity. Like a flash of lightning, Randy saw a mad image fork through his mind, that pointed to what he must do next. He suddenly pushed himself away from the unyielding doors of his church and angrily rushed toward his green Porsche. He pushed the gas pedal like he was squashing a rotten plum, and fishtailed through the watery streets, disappearing into the driving rain.

His enraged mind set mental crosshairs on a gargantuan target. And when he saw it with his eyes he skidded to a violent stop in the middle of the street. It stared down at him, its windows hundreds of horrified eyes, wondering what this madman planned to do.

It was the office building where he worked. A monolithic gray skyscraper, scraping the even grayer sky.

Randy rushed the building, bursting through the front doors. The guard recognized him and waved him through without a challenge. But if the guard would have taken seriously the fiery look on Randy’s wild face, he might have prevented a tragedy.

Randy found the elevator and pushed the button for the top floor. His former workplace was on a middle floor, but that’s not where Randy desired to go. Randy wanted to rise to the top. To go above. To go high, where there is no going any higher. But where there is always a way down.

To the top of the skyscraper the elevator pushed him. To the top, where wet steel met rainy sky. And that’s where he got out. A swimming pool swirled like a miniature sea in a hurricane. Executives used this pool on sunny days, to lounge away their lunch hour. But no executives could be found up there on a day like this. Just an insane figure hurrying beneath a weeping black cloud.

Randy quickly strode to a railing at the edge of the building and leaned over. There were people far below, scurrying through the rain on a narrow-banded cement sidewalk. They looked like ants to him, but he mused that soon they would be giants. And his car, his tiny green Porsche. That must be it, so distant and so small, parked in the middle of the street.

It looked to him like someone down there in a uniform—perhaps a meter maid—was giving it a parking ticket.

A parking ticket?! That heartless bitch! This stone-hearted city!! After all he was going through, couldn’t someone have some sympathy for him?! Couldn’t someone give him just one damned break?! Christ! His parents were dead, his girlfriend gone, his job was lost, and the only response from this unfeeling world was yet another kick in the ribs?! A goddamned parking ticket?!!

It was the last insult! He would show this thoughtless world—this cold, unresponsive Earth—just how awful it really was. He would give it a sight of poetic justice. And he would do it with his green Porsche.

He was completely carried off by his insane plan. The real Randy was gone and had no idea what was happening. But the insane Randy was right there calling the shots—and he knew exactly what to shoot next.

He cackled to himself while he positioned his body, so that the Porsche was directly in front of him. Then he climbed up onto the rail and stood straight up, balls of feet on the railing, toes of patent leather shoes dangling over the void.

Suddenly he heard a shout behind him. He turned his head and saw a security guard. The man was half-running toward Randy through the rain, telling him not to do it. Telling him that it wasn’t worth it.

Wasn’t worth it, Randy mused in his madness. And so much did the security guard know! Ha!! For this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to teach the world a powerful lesson. A lesson that the meter maid would bear to all. This was definitely worth it.

He turned his head back and gazed down with gunsight eyes. He focused with determination on the roof of his green Porsche. He bent his knees, sucked in his breath, then leapt with all his mad strength—forward through the air.

While his body missiled forward through space, rain pelted him from above. But after his body arced downward, and gravity sucked it toward the Earth faster and faster, he became one with the raindrops.

He kept his eyes fixed upon the green Porsche directly below. That was his target. He would show that meter maid a thing or two this day. And he would show the rest of the world, too. He would teach this world to treat people better. To be more understanding. To realize that some people have serious problems going on in their lives and need to be sympathized with, not persecuted.

He was a blurry bomb from above, descending downward in the rain, only just now being caught in the eye-corners of a few pedestrians.

Randy was halfway to his target, then three-quarters, then barely a hundred feet. And then . . . whiteout.

He suddenly entered a thick white fog. And he continued to fall, tumbling blindly, and groping around for his bearings. He could not see what he was falling into, and that enraged him, because he felt his aim had been upset.

Then the white fog grew gray, and the grayness grew dimmer and dimmer, until it was completely black. Randy felt a punch of pain in his midsection and he doubled over.

And then he wasn’t falling anymore. He was lying on his back, holding his stomach, and writhing around on the floor. He opened his eyes and saw his girlfriend kneeling over him. She was crying. “Oh Randy, oh Randy, I’m so sorry Randy.”

Randy stared up at her and tried to speak her name, but he had no breath. His girlfriend cradled his head in her arms and kissed him liberally, all over his face. Her tears bathed his cheeks, and he tasted their salt on his lips.

The half-naked man walked into his view and pulled a teeshirt over his chest. He snarled, “Well, if you feel that way about him, you can have him, bitch!” And he strode away. Randy heard a door slam a moment later.

“Randy I’m so sorry,” she sniffled. “I’ll never do this to you again, I promise.”

Randy was finally able to suck in a deep breath, and had enough air in his lungs to speak. He whispered, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Randy!” she said. Then she embraced his open mouth with hers, and kissed him long and passionately.

And at that moment Randy emerged from the other end of the white fog. His fantasy ended instantly as his body slammed into a rain puddle, one foot away from his green Porsche parked so illegally in the middle of the street.


The comment my creative writing teacher wrote at the top of this story, read in full, “Most certainly was not Randy’s day. Too many tragedies. Not sure if you were trying to be funny, but if you were, the humor didn’t come across. B-”

Not Randy’s Day, Part 1 of 2

We’ve now, finally, at long last, arrived at Story #16, entitled Not Randy’s Day. This is the final vignette from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Hooray! Fuck, I bet you thought this would never end. Today’s installment is Part 1 of 2.


I signed up for a creative writing class during my sophomore year of college. But I don’t think it helped me be creative. After all, how do you teach creativity? And how do you judge creativity? Seems impossible to me. Therefore, how can someone truly teach “creative” writing?

Creative writing classes subject students to the biases of their teachers. And sometimes even the teachers don’t know what they like. Or in the case of my teacher, they won’t admit it. I don’t remember my professor’s name, but I do remember she had a fungiform shape. So I’ll call her Mrs. Mushroom.

One day, Mrs. Mushroom assigned us to write a story on the theme of a very intense, personal, and emotional, experience. I had a lot of fun with that assignment. I liked to make a lark out of Mushroom’s assignments. I’d turn and twist them around into utter nonsense.

Because to me, that’s what creativity was all about. It was about jumping out of the box and taking matters into forbidden areas. It was about kibbling convention, stomping stereotype, and discomfiting the reader with uncomfortable dalliances into roguish rulebreaking.

She graded my paper and superscribed some comments at the top. But before she handed it back to me, she decided to read it aloud to my fellow students. I don’t know why, unless it was to instruct the class on what not to do, with her assignments.

As she got into the thick of my story, she started to giggle. She suppressed it. But a few paragraphs later her giggling returned, and with greater intensity. She tried to suppress it again. But it kept coming back like percolating coffee.

Suddenly that coffee pot boiled over and she melted down into hysterical laughter. She lost complete control of herself for about a full minute, howling so long and hard she became almost cataplectic. And that must have caused her to suck some saliva down her windpipe.

A fit of coughing and choking ensued. She struggled for her breath, while gasping and hacking. Her face turned red as the marks she made on our papers. She struggled to her feet, staggered between our desks, then rushed out the door, coughing and choking the entire way.

She returned about 20 minutes later, looking haggard but breathing normally. She composed herself at her desk and resumed reading my story, slowly, with a strained, straight face. And somehow she was able to finish while maintaining her normally somber demeanor.

Then she handed the paper back to me, with the comment she had superscribed at the top, before her near-fatal decision to read the story to the class. The comment read, “Not sure if you were trying to be funny, but if you were, the humor didn’t come across. B-.”

Yep, that’s what it said.

And this illustrates why it is impossible to judge creativity. Sometimes we think we don’t like something, when we actually do. And sometimes we very much want something to not be funny, because it blasphemes every fiber of the principles we hold dear. And yet for some damned reason, we can’t stop ourselves from laughing.

Creativity follows no rules, knows no bounds, and cannot be captured in a jar, bucket, or classroom. It just is what it is, and it’s constantly changing all the time. To appreciate creativity, you must recognize the value in change, unknowns, and surprises. And if Mrs. Mushroom had been that way, she would have never written that comment on my paper.

I can be intense. I can be personal. And I can be emotional. But when I am these things, I like to have fun with them. I hope you’ll have some fun too, as you read the story that nearly killed my creative writing teacher. This is a tale about a young man named Randy, and an intense, personal, emotional day that was not at all tailored to his liking.

Not Randy’s Day (Beginning)


Plip. Plip. Plip. He woke up. Ice water battered his forehead as it dripped from the top freezer section of the refrigerator. He propped himself up on his hands where he lay on the floor, and two sticks of dynamite suddenly exploded behind his nose. He groped around for something to wipe his nose with, but had to finally settle for a shirt sleeve. He was shivering, and he was sick. He had a bad cold. And there was the sound of falling water outside. It was raining.

Randy’s right hand bumped against a beer bottle. He looked around and saw bottles scattered all over the kitchen floor. That’s when he remembered. Last night was an awful night. Oh, such an awful night. He blinked back tears as it replayed in his mind.

His girlfriend—the lady he meant to marry—he could see her so vividly. He saw that frightened look on her face when he barged through the door. No one had answered the door when he knocked, but he’d heard some busy activity and hushed, anxious voices. He thought she might be in trouble, so he flung the door open and rushed in like a combat soldier expecting a firefight. And that’s when he saw those two scared, wide-open eyes. And that’s when he saw the man she was with.

A big man, half-naked, hairy chest, with a taunting sneer on his face.

His guts melted with the impact of the fist. It was like swallowing a hot gulp of water, and it took all his breath away. He fell and blacked out, lying there on his back. It took him a few minutes to gain enough strength to barely open his eyes. And then his fiancee dropped her engagement ring onto his chest. “It’s over,” she said tersely, as she quickly turned her back and walked away.

When he got back home he found the beer in his fridge. And he didn’t care. He drank one bottle, then found another. And then another. And he drank and he drank. And when he ran out, he changed from beer to a cocktail. And for the second time that night, he passed out.

Now Randy wished for another drink, but only found empty beer bottles on the floor, scattered around like little bowling pins. And the vodka was finished. And besides, all the ice in the freezer had melted.

The refrigerator was warm and empty, both doors open—its compressor humming persistently away.

He picked himself up and staggered into a chair at the kitchen table. His nose exploded again. Damned cold! He wiped his face with the tablecloth. There was a balloon floating around inside his head, slowly inflating. It pushed out against the inside of his skull, and pressed harder and harder.

He held his head in his fingers and rubbed his temples. A hangover with a cold, he thought. What a great combination to go with a broken heart. And a tear erupted from his eye and tumbled down his face at the thought.

It was pouring outside. There was a low rumble of thunder, like God was muttering angrily over the stupidity of humans. A distant flash, then another low rumble. Rain tap-danced on the roof above, and tickled at the windows. Water gurgled off rain gutters and splattered into puddles on the ground below. And a hard cold wind shook his house with hammerblow gusts.

Early dawn—or it should be. His clock showed 6:13, but the storm clouds made it dark as the heart of jealousy outside. Randy massaged his skull some more and pondered over how life would be now, without his fiancee. He could only think of black loneliness.

An unfair loneliness too—for after all, he had been such a good friend to her and had not done anything to deserve this desertion. Why did she treat him so ungratefully? How could one person do this to another? And what had made him fall in love with such an unfaithful girl anyway?

He pondered over love, hard-won and lost, as so many have pondered before. And in the midst of his thoughts there came a vigorous rap on the front door. Could it be? Could she have returned, with sorrow for her betrayal? Two palms on the kitchen table, Randy pushed himself out of the chair. He sneezed and staggered sideways. Then he found the door and opened it.

“Telegram for a Randall Dreenk,” the man spoke with a shiver in his voice. Rainwater dripped over the brow of the courier’s plastic yellow hat. Randy signed for the telegram then fought back a gust of chilly wind as he closed the door.

Telegram. He had never received a telegram before in his entire life. He opened it and read the contents. It said, “We regret to inform you that your parents, Egan and Elsa Dreenk, died in an airplane accident here last night.” It had been sent by some sheriff from a place called Mountain County.

Randy held the paper in his hands for a full minute, staring at the words with disbelief. No no, this must be a joke, he thought desperately. You get a phone call—a police chaplain comes to your door—something like that. You don’t ever get this kind of news this way. Do you? Oh no, oh God! he thought. Then he backed into a wall—slid to the floor, slumping forward with hands in his face.

He thought of his parents and the last time he’d seen them. They were waving goodbye inside the cockpit of their Cessna. He had always felt unsure about that plane. He’d always had a premonition that one day they might not complete a flight with it. And now . . . and now it seemed that his premonition had come true.

Lightning flickered close, and thunder immediately followed the flash. It crackled. It roared. And Randy Dreenk’s parents were dead.

Randy remained on the floor, unable to gather strength against the force of the blows that had most recently struck him. He remained on the floor and thought of his parents and cried and cried and cried. And there he stayed in a pool of misery for several hours, until the phone rang.

It rang again, and Randy decided that this could be a good sign. Perhaps some sort of mistake had been made and someone was calling him now to correct the problem. Perhaps his parents weren’t dead after all. That person on the phone was trying to reach him to let him know. Randy stood up, squelching a sneeze, and found the phone.

“Randy, what the hell are you doing?!!” his boss’s screaming voice invaded his ear. “I told you not to be late anymore. Well, you’re damn near an hour late now and you’re still sittin’ on your ass at home! No more excuses Randy! You’re fired!!!”

The phone hung up before Randy had a chance to speak.

“You’re fired!!!” the words echoed in his ears over and over.

The bastard! Randy thought. Here he was, at the lowest point in his life, and his boss wouldn’t even give him a chance to talk! To tell him what had happened. To speak of his troubles. To allow him to let his emotional misery out and reach out for some consolation. Instead he was fired!

Fired. Just like that. With such quick and efficient dispatch. This job meant so much to him. It meant his career. It meant his life. He had worked and studied so hard just to get where he was at now. And now he had just been fired. His career was all over with the click of a phone.

Randy was shot with rage. He wanted to shout. To scream at someone. But there was no one in the house but him. He began to shake. His lips trembled. His hands opened and closed. His legs loosened, and he fell weakly to his knees.

Nervous breakdowns happen to the friendless. They happen to those who have no one to turn to for reassurance. And at this moment Randy was truly without a friend. His girlfriend had deserted him. His parents were dead. And he had been cut off from his fellow workers at his job place. There was no one in the world left to listen to Randy and reassure him that one day all would be well—that things would surely get better.

But then he remembered his church. Yes, yes, he could go to church. This was a Wednesday, but there was always a priest at church, every day of the week. He could go to church and find a priest to tell his woes to. He could hug a pew and feel the warm heart of God healing his spirit. He could find hope and deliverance from this personal tribulation, within the strengthening walls of church.

Randy felt in his pocket for the keys to his green Porsche. They rattled like metal bones between his fingers. He found the Porsche parked helter-skelter partway up his driveway where he had left it the night before. The driver’s side window was halfway down and rain was pouring inside. But Randy didn’t care. This was nothing compared to everything else that was happening to him.

He settled into the squishy seat and rolled up a barrier to the driving rain.

Randy wandered through the flooded streets of the city, in search of his church. The windshield was fogging against the rain, matching his current state of mind.

He parked his green Porsche beneath a gray-black foaming sky. Through the thick rain he ran, up to the large wooden doors that gated his sanctuary. He was home. Home at God’s place. Now he could find a friend. Now he could share his troubles with a priest. Now he could receive some consolation and sympathy and healing for all the wounds that had been inflicted upon him.

He grabbed a large, gnarled wood and brass doorknob and twisted. But it didn’t twist. Something was wrong. He twisted harder, but still no give. He tried the knob on the other door next to it. It too held fast. That’s when it sank in. The doors were locked. Randy had been locked out of his own church. He pulled on the knobs, but the doors didn’t budge. He pushed—still no luck.

He pounded on the doors in hopes that a priest would open up from the inside. But no one came to allow entrance. He stayed in the rain, pounding and crying. He slumped against the door, and tears on his face joined the rainwater on the wood. He was hysterical. He could not believe that God would forsake him like this. He felt so alone, and so helpless, and so abandoned.


It was at this point that my creative writing teacher, Mrs. Mushroom, lost all control and melted down into a laughing, coughing, helpless mess. She rushed out of the room, giving us about a 20-minute break. So I’m going to give you a break, too. We’ll read the conclusion to this tale, tomorrow.

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