Month: June 2014

How Silly Was My Putty

sillyputty1As a kid, I inhaled comic books and had amassed the kind of collection that if owned today could easily cover my 401k losses from 2007.

I also loved reading the newspaper comics page, especially the Sunday edition and its colorful, over-sized drawings.

Thanks to an ingenious product known as Silly Putty, I could spend an entire afternoon with the Sunday comics. I would take the putty, slap it on a favorite comic strip, press hard, and pull away, capturing an image of the strip.

And that’s when the fun really started, because by stretching the putty I could distort the image. By the time I was done with stout and bearded Bluto, he was as thin as an Abba-Zaba bar at a taffy-pulling contest.

My favorite indoor pastime, however, was a word game a friend and I played, long before “Words with Friends” became popular. We would comb through a dictionary for a long word, find one and write it at the top of a sheet of paper.

Next, writing furiously and separately for thirty minutes or more, we would compose as many words as we could think of, using only the letters at the top of the page.

“Antidisestablishmentarianism,” clocking in at a long 28 letters, was our favorite starter word. We were told it was the longest word in the English language and had no reason to doubt it.

One day my partner-in-words brought in a medical dictionary and that single change lifted our game to an entirely new level. That’s when we discovered the word:

Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

Those early years were influential but, oddly enough, I didn’t grow up to become a sales rep for Big Pharma.

From working as a journalist in the United States Navy to teaching English composition at a small university, from magazine cartooning and screenwriting to crafting user manuals and marketing materials in the high tech industry, I remained loyal to my roots.

I was a “word and picture” kind of guy from the get-go. Still am.

What pre-Internet word or picture activities did you pursue?

Cartoon #2

Another old gag cartoon of mine. I drew this one with a cheap marker pen. I used to also draw cartoons with a Macintosh computer, using a program called SuperPaint. I’ll share examples of those cartoons soon.

 

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It’s the Screens that Got Small

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And that’s only because our big TV screen is a mere 42 inches, which is small by today’s home entertainment standards.

But nobody seems to mind.

We call it Guilty Pleasures Movie Night (also affectionately known as Check Your Brain at the Door Night). Once a month friends—anywhere from 10 to 30 of them—gather at our house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to visit and watch a movie together.

QT_oldmoviescreenPeople arrive at 6 pm, which gives us time to mingle, as well as nosh and drink and drain the bladder. By 7 pm, I start the movie. If the movie is one we’ve all seen before, such as “My Cousin Vinny,” we’ll have a brief multiple-choice quiz before we start. Otherwise, I might preface the film with a couple of minutes of trivia about the movie, lifted from the online vaults at IMDB.

My film selection requirements are simple. A chosen film must be at least five-years-old, neither a major award-winner nor too artsy, more of an upper than a downer, and mostly a film designed to entertain a diverse group of people. I must have already watched it at least once, and it’s a movie I want to not only watch again but also share with others.

The film that drew our second biggest attendance was “The Big Chill.” Twenty-five showed up that night and many of those sang along with the songs. I was not allowed to sing.

The biggest surprise hit was “Saint Ralph,” an indie movie from Canada that still ranks as one of my all-time favorite films. Everyone loved it.

Mostly, however, I show comedies and “comedy” in our house embraces many forms, from the wry (Cold Comfort Farm) to the witty (A New Leaf); the silly (Undercover Blues) to the dark (The Ref); the classic (Harold and Maude) to the contemporary (Kinky Boots)—and just about all points and films in-between. Our audience record so far is 32 for a showing of A New Leaf. Most had never seen the movie before and all enjoyed it; the movie has a witty script by Elaine May and wonderful acting by May, as well as by Walter Matthau. It’s hilarious.QT_bibliotecacartoon2

Do you hold a similar movie night at your house? If so, what movies have you shown? What is the one under-the-radar movie you love to encourage others to see? Mine is “Saint Ralph.”

Feel free to contact me if you want a complete list of my Guilty Pleasures movies, at least the ones we’ve shown so far.

 

Riding in Cars with Pets

In the latest installment in our long-running (at least two days) “A Reader Asks” series, I was asked what it was like traveling for six days across country ― and into another country ― with pets.

Making a road trip with pets is much like making the same trip with kids, except pets never complain about your choice of music or pinch each other when you’re not looking.

Furthermore, you can’t leave your kids behind in the car with a window cracked while you go inside to get something to eat.

In my case, we were making a six-day drive with a dog who had a bladder the size of a caper, a Standard poodle named Cassie, and a part-Siamese cat named Sadie (she who believed a cat’s reach should never exceed its sharp claws).

Cassie, our female Standard poodle.

I was convinced Cassie, our female Standard poodle, had a bladder the size of a caper.

We were traveling from Portland, Oregon, to San Miguel de Allende, in the middle of Mexico. By the end of the trip, we were all tired of the road and of each other.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In an amazing feat of both endurance and stubbornness, Cassie stood the entire way, in the backseat just behind the driver.

Not only that, she had to have the window rolled down, at least halfway, so she could stick her head out. We suspect Cassie was prone to motion sickness and required deep breaths of whatever was passing for fresh air at the time. By the end of a typical 10-hour day of standing in the car, our black poodle had usually turned green.

Sadie was a different story. Once she was inside the car, you barely knew she was there.

The catch was getting her in the car, a cross between a Herculean task and a Three Stooges routine.

The morning after our first day on the road, Sadie hid under the bed, hanging tough on a carpet that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since Y2K.

When my efforts to grab her failed, we tried Plan B and began sweet-talking her with soft chants of “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.”

And when that inevitably failed, it was back to Plan A, only this time I used a long piece of wood, sweeping it under the bed like a broom, which worked.

The second morning gave Sadie new hope, since the night before we had upgraded to two beds. She scurried back and forth, from bed to bed, until I tipped one of the mattresses on end. She hit the mattress, scaled it like a rock climber on amphetamines and reached the top, just as I grabbed her.

Sadie, aka Devil Cat.

Sadie, aka Devil Cat, making her grand entrance.

The third morning, we checked everywhere, from under the bed to behind the armoire, as well as all points in between. I turned on the closet light to find Sadie crouching inside a trough of transparent plastic that served as a tacky storage unit above the closet rod.

Cat nabbed, case closed.

Three weeks after we arrived in Mexico, Sadie disappeared. We searched every corner of our house, inside and out. We walked up and down the street, calling her name as if a cat would ever deign to respond.

We found her, of course. Sadie had burrowed her way inside our bed’s mattress batting. Even with six days of cat retrieval experience, it took me twenty minutes to extract her.

But now, with the mystery solved, we knew Sadie’s hiding spot and the next time she crawled in there, we let her stay.

 

Cartoon #1

I used to write and draw gag cartoons in my spare time. A gag is a funny idea; a gag cartoon is a funny idea that’s been illustrated. Gag cartoons are known as (weep, weep-gnash, gnash) filler. Nonetheless, I loved writing and drawing them. I plan to occasionally drag out one of my old cartoons from my vault, dust it off, and drop it into a blog. Mostly because I don’t have time today to write anything longer and partly because I’m lazy. So it goes.

Here’s the cartoon…

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A Reader Asks

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A reader of Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak asked what I missed most about not living in the United States. My answer was easy.

Some cultures record their history by cataclysmic events: the year of the big fire or flood, the day the great earthquake or tornado struck.

My history is recorded by my stomach.

In conversations with my wife and friends, it’s not unusual for me to interject a comment along the lines of, “Oh, I remember now, that was the time we were in San Francisco and I took my first bite of monkfish in lobster sauce.”

With such habits, it should come as no surprise that what I miss most about no longer living in the USA is Dungeness crab. I currently reside in the middle of Mexico, six thousand feet up in the mountains and three thousand miles from the nearest Oregon crab pot.

These days, when December rolls around, generally considered the official start of the Dungeness crab season, I am depressed. For me, there’s nothing quite as simple or as bountiful as a meal of fresh, sweet, and meaty Oregon Dungeness crab, a loaf of sourdough French bread, and a green salad, all complemented by an inexpensive bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s. Now that is a meal.

QT_Crab1Unfortunately, for me, those days and meals are gone. I’m not complaining, mind you, just describing.

It goes without saying, of course—which is why I’m going to say it—I also miss the friends we left back in Portland, even though we find no shortage of new friends here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a convivial tourist town known for its fiestas.

I miss certain urban conveniences. Portland, for example, believes so thoroughly in public transportation that they let you ride for free in certain areas—or did when we lived there, not sure now.

In Powell’s City of Books, Portland has, perhaps, the best used bookstore in all of America, along with oft-frequented libraries.

I like and miss the fact that Portland is almost equidistant, slightly over an hour each way by car, from either the ocean or the mountains.

I miss the clean air that floats through the Pacific Northwest because it is, at times, so fresh it could serve as a role model for retail air fresheners.

I certainly miss the variety of lush parks full of gorgeous trees and vibrant shrubs, as well as the breathtaking sweep of the Cascades, with at least two volcanoes in easy view.

However, I do not miss the damp weather or gloomy skies or traffic or pace or the relatively high cost of living of Portland.

I’ve replaced all of those things with what I consider to be a kinder-gentler-more affordable way. My new life in old Mexico is full of dry-blue skies (mostly) and a sun at my back (during the day). I walk everywhere and everywhere I walk I see brightly-colored houses, like Mark Rothko field color paintings, that make me smile.

Oregon, it’s been said, is like Ireland: All green and no gold. But if you ask me, there’s plenty of gold in Oregon, and it’s usually panned in crabbing nets during winter.

If you moved to a foreign country, what would you miss?

Me, Myself and I Don’t Know

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In my last post, I was talking about writing my first play. So this post is still all about me (sorry; I’m almost done).

I continued writing plays, short plays befitting my height and attention span. As a part-time writer trying to squeeze in my words before going to work in the morning, late at night, or over the weekend in hourly chunks, I felt as if I never had enough time to tackle anything more substantial.

I’m a Boomer. My gratification meter was stuck on Instant.

In the winter of 2001, I applied for and won a Walden Fellowship, which was awarded to three Oregon writers or artists each year. I accepted the fellowship, took an unpaid leave of absence from work, and spent six weeks during the spring of 2002 in a small cabin in the Southern Oregon woods on an organic farm.

The experience was liberating. For the first time in my life, my job, the entire point of my day, if you will, was to write whatever I wanted to write, eat when hungry, look for Bigfoot, and walk the dog. How cool was that?

After a few years of writing stage plays, I started writing screenplays. My first film script landed me a literary manager in L.A. and was a hot product for about 15 seconds. Maverick Films, at the time co-owned by Madonna, loved the script and took it into studios, all of which passed.

My second script was optioned by a production company but no movie was made. At least their check cleared the bank.

I have since had two more full-length scripts optioned, as well as two short scripts, one of which was made into a dreadful movie.

Then Arlene and I moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I wrote a book about our experiences as inept expats, a humorous memoir titled Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak, published by Fuze Publishing. It was voted the #2 book in San Miguel. I’ll talk more about my humorous memoir in future blogs.  Better still, don’t wait for me — go ahead and click the Buy My Book tab for details.

In my blog entries, in short (and I am), I plan to dangle the occasional modifier, split an infinitive or two, mix a batch of metaphors, and chat.

Vaya con nachos!