Tag Archives: Writing

Ghosts Of Legends Past ©

  Last Thursday, I found myself sitting in my office putting the finishing touches on this month’s column. Every “I” had been dotted, every “t” had been crossed. A problem made this column difficult to write. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to write about, it’s that, with Halloween around the corner, I couldn’t stop thinking about  the peculiar  conversation I had with Barkley Michaels, WZBZ’s  Mega-Radio’s disc jockey.
     I had been away from my desk for almost two weeks. I had been in La Mancha at the Cineplex for a week helping finalize the plans for the upcoming Fall Film Festival.  Immediately after that I grabbed Emmaline and we headed off to Tahiti to attend the Marlon Brando Film Festival. I went every year, especially after Letongaloosa County Community Junior College, where I teach, acquired a research grant to study the topography of the island where Brando once lived.
          I also began writing the weekly movie review for the Letongaloosa Register-Journal-Challenger-Sun Chronicle after Dexter Dolby, winner of the Fall Film Festival, went out to Hollywood. The Marlon Brando Film Festival in Tahiti was always a reader favorite.
          I know what you’re thinking–how many reviews can a person read (or write) about an iconic movie legend, especially since the body of work hasn’t changed in decades?
          But you would be surprised. Marlon Brando films are just an element of the festivities.  There is food, there is fun, and there is just an overall celebration of life in Tahiti.  And that brings me back to a vexing problem and to a conversation I had with Barkley.
          “I don’t understand how my listeners can be so fascinated about the fact that the station is haunted.  It’s the same year after year. The former station owner Reginald Wicker watches over the station. I get tired of hearing the same old stories, along with the corny “running refrigerator” jokes that listeners like to tell, Barkley said.
          The legend is that since Reginald dropped dead in the control booth, there have been strange manifestations.  Control room lights grow brighter then dimmer, then go out altogether.  Announcers’ throats suddenly tighten up and they sounded like Minnie Mouse for a few seconds. Then their voices would go back to normal. It was pretty non-scary haunting.  It was not threatening or scary, but something new had occurred, and while still not frightening, was definitely peculiar.
          While reading promotions for the Fall Film Festival, trick-or-treating schedules, and other Halloween activities occurring around town, Barkley said, everything seemed normal. Then he read the announcement about my upcoming piece showcasing my time at the Marlon Brando Film Festival. Then the haunting activity picks up.
          “It’s weird–every time I play the sound bite that Isabella sent over from the newspaper office, the lights in the studio flash on the back wall like you’d see at a movie premiere”, Barkley looked perplexed.
          Isabella Frost, the Letongaloosa Register-Journal-Challenger-Sun Chronicle’s managing editor had the college interns put together sound bites that used lines from well-known Brando films to showcase my review. She thought it would be a good way to get people in Letongaloosa excited about the upcoming fall film festival.
          “Hmm, well, Reginald was a huge Brando film buff. I guess he still is…,” I said.
          If you think about it, Halloween is more than snack-sized candy bars, haunted radio stations and toilet paper tossed into the trees in front yards. It’s about the legacy and memories that those before us have left behind—whether it is an iconic movie legend or a ghostly station manager watching over things.
“It’s not so bad, you know. And neither are the corny appliance jokes,” I said.
          You may roll your eyes, but you could also embrace what’s happening and realize that the people of Letongaloosa remember the past.”
          With those thoughts in mind and Barkley’s problem solved, I went home to finish my column. Barkley headed home, too.  He put on his favorite Tahitian shirt, popped a large bowl of popcorn, and turned on a Marlon Brando movie.  Then he sat back on his couch, and smiled.
          Maybe Barkley couldn’t tell the stories of his old pal, Reginald Wicker, but I can wish everybody a Happy Halloween!
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Everything Old Is New Again©

                 Putting an actual pen to an actual piece of paper is becoming a thing of the past.—at least that’s how it seems most days. I started writing quips and short stories back in 1945, back in the days that surely pre-date any social media account, smart phone app, tablet or laptop. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still like to scribble and jot ideas down when the mood strikes or when the deadline for my column is just around the corner.

          What it does mean is that writers of my generation communicated in a different way than today’s 21st-century wordsmiths typing and uploading their stories at lightning speed. Now that I’ve been living as a “writer” for nearly 75 years, I can look back over my stories and notes I’ve jotted down since I was nine years old, and see how putting a pen to paper has shaped my life as a writer,

          Looking back, I’m shocked that I’ve been writing this long. I hadn’t really given it much thought until I was chatting with my friend and childhood pal, Eloise Simplekins.

Eloise had always been considered plain—beginning with her name and continuing with her squat chunky figure, her thick unruly hair, her flat face, her squinty eyes, and her pug nose.  But she is, and always has been very smart. Eloise always had a unique perspective and a kind word.

          We met for lunch at the Main Street Diner in downtown Letongaloosa last Tuesday. Eloise wanted to tell me about her latest idea to expand her current business as La Mancha’s premier pre-cleaning lady and to reminisce about “the good ol’ days.”

          “When I started my company, people in town thought I was just plum crazy, but I didn’t listen and I’m glad I didn’t…just like you”, Eloise grinned.

          I smiled. I knew the story she was about to regale me with.

          “I’ll never forget the look on Miss Bunker’s face when she read that note she caught you passing to Dean Larson. I still can’t believe that you convinced her that what you wrote was an idea for a story.”

          “Ha, yeah. ‘Screw You’ I told her it was a title for a story about a boy who gets a toolbox for Christmas.”

          Eloise laughed, “Miss Bunker said she wanted to read the story and threatened to call your mother if you didn’t finish it before we left school that afternoon.”

          Smiling, I thought back to that day. Putting a pen to that piece of paper changed my life. It was the catalyst for my life as a writer—for my becoming a foreign correspondent, world traveler, newspaper reporter, and now, a humor writer.

           I don’t consider myself to have had a particularly exciting or extraordinary writing life, but Eloise likes to remind me of that story I wrote for Miss Bunker.

          A few years ago, Eloise started a company that services fastidious homemakers.  Her idea was to send pre-cleaning ladies to homes where the homemakers can’t stand to let their regular cleaning ladies see the mess.

          “Your gumption ‘way back when’ stayed with me. It gave me the courage to start my company. It took me a while, but I finally got to where I want to be…thanks to you, old friend.”

            Over the years, Eloise and I have managed to keep up. We both have websites, blogs, a presence on social media.

          So, I was truly surprised when Eloise told me her new idea: hand-written notes. She wanted to jot down “Thank you” messages  to her clients for their business and support.

          In a time when messaging and texting has become our primary form of communication, the idea showed 21st-century genius. Even I couldn’t remember the last time I had written or received a personal note—a grocery list from my wife, Emmaline, doesn’t count, does it?

          It had been a good day. I left the diner that afternoon feeling good about my life as a writer and headed home to work on this month’s column. A few days later, I received a note from Eloise. It was hand-written and one of the best messages I have ever gotten from my old friend:

          “Everything old is new again.”

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Dr. Larry Day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co 

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One if by Land II©

Eleven years ago the Kaw Valley Senior Monthly published my humor column titled “One if by Land.” That story centered on Ribby Von Simeon. Ribby is the son of internationally renowned movie star Sippa Margarita and Balderdash Von Simeon, the news and entertainment magnate.
Ruthless Von Simeon, Ribby’s grandfather, was a Western mining tycoon. Between them they acquired a heap of money.
Miss Margarita’s media profile says that she was born in Valencia. Her public relations packets contain photos of her in and around Valencia, Spain. Reality insists that Josipa Margarita Ruiz was born and raised in Valencia, Kansas. The couple had one son, Ruthless Ignacio Balderdash San Bernardino Cortez Ruiz Von Simeon, known all his life a as Ribby.
Ribby Von Simeon was raised by his Latino grandparents in Kansas. It was all his mother could do to handle her fast-paced movie career. Ribby’s one enduring childhood memory of his mother was of a voyage they took. He flew to Europe and together he and Sippa sailed back on an ocean liner.
The voyage was bittersweet for Ribby. He had his mother all to himself. But he was seasick from the moment he stepped on board until the ship docked. He spent the whole voyage in bed being tenderly cared for—this is to her credit—by his mother. She brought him hard rolls and broth. She read to him, and told him tales of adventure and derring-do. For the rest of his life Ribby loved ocean liners but hated the ocean.
Ribby didn’t come into his inheritance until he was in his forties. By that time he was living simply but comfortably as an adjunct professor at Letongaloosa Community Junior College. The news that he had inherited a pile of money came at the same time news reports said that the luxury liner Santa Maria de la Valencia on which he and his mother had sailed the Atlantic had been decommissioned and would be sold for scrap.
The thought of that dearly remembered vessel ending up as scrap iron infuriated Ribby. That fury transformed him from a diffident and taciturn academic into a man as rapacious as his grandpa Ruthless Von Simeon and as vociferous and belligerent as his father Balderdash Von Simeon.
Ribby used all his available resources to attack the astonished lawyers, financial conservators, bureaucrats, politicians and shipping company executives. When it was over, Ribby owned the ship and had permission to do anything he wanted with it. He had the ship carefully dismantled and transported piece by piece to Kansas. Then Ribby had the ship reconstructed, refurbished and moored at the top of a hill on a large tract of land he owned outside of Letongaloosa.
After the re-commissioning of the Santa Maria, Ribby dropped back into academic anonymity until 10 years later when another crisis arose.
Newly elected county officials were young, and eager to raise tax revenue. They changed zoning regulations. Ribby’s property became part of an urban renewal project. The officials knew little about Ribby except that despite being a lowly professor at LCJC, he owned the land and the ship. They ordered him to dismantle and remove the vessel at his own expense.
That order transformed mild mannered Sippy Von Simeon into an amalgam of his forebears Ruthless and Balderdash. Within hours highly placed officials were threatening to strip the county of federal funding; bankers had cancelled favorable interest rates. Bureaucrats, politicians, and diplomats denounced the county officials and demanded that they cancel the project or leave Ribby’s land out of it. The county capitulated.
When the chairman of the county commission, a young commodities trader, went to see Ribby, all traces of Ruthless and Balderdash Von Simeon were gone. The county commissioner encountered a diffident, taciturn adjunct professor in a rundown university cubicle typing e-mails on an outdated computer.
Suddenly the brash young county commissioner doubted the need for treating Ribby with kid gloves. Fortunately for him, his eye fell on an autographed photo of Ribby standing with three former U.S. presidents. He caught his breath.
“Professor Von Simeon,” said commissioner, “the county will support you anyway it can.”
“Thank you,” said Ribby, diffidently.

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Climbing Higher In La Mancha ©

There are few moments in life where the time span between the current and younger versions of yourself collide. Étienne Haute-Montange had such a moment three weeks ago and despite his aversion to leaving Provence, the newly retired French cyclist was excited for his next adventure. But, he never thought it would bring him all the way back to Letongaloosa.
In the early 1980’s, Étienne was working on his grandfather’s lilac farm when news came that he had been accepted into a business program in the United States at La Mancha University. He didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay at home and compete and after only a month in La Mancha, he rushed back to do what he loved—cycling high into the mountains.
Étienne had had a two-decade long career as a competitive cyclist.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago. After completing his final time trial, Étienne packed up and set out to retrace all of his favorite bike routes, He wanted to think. He needed to figure out where the next stage of his life would lead.
Two days later he rode onto his favorite old roman bridge, Pont Julien. He wanted to take in its height and its spectacular views. As he gazed, his cell phone buzzed. The message was from his bug-loving best friend, Zimmy Tarbox. The call solved Etienne’s “what’s next” problem, and put him on a plane bound for Letongaloosa Community Junior College.
The LCJC was offering a summer cycling course for La Mancha and Letongaloosa residents. The course needed an instructor, and Zimmy knew Étienne would be perfect for the job.
Étienne arrived in the small Midwestern college town and got together with Zimmy. Then he went to meet with the chair of the Department of et. al, et al, Dr. Ima Farseer to get her help with the academic paperwork.
Then he headed over to the entomology department to see Zimmy.
“Be careful. The legs of a Cuban rainbow beetle can be rather delicate, or so I’ve read in a paper a good friend of mine wrote.”
Zimmy looked up from the cage of rainbow beetles and smiled.
“Is that so? Well, you know, the Cuban rainbow beetle is tougher than most people would think. This particular species lives high in the mountains and the best way to see one is to climb high into the mountains. You should know all about climbing.”
Étienne grinned, “Yes, I know a quite a bit.”
Then they headed over to The Enchantment—a bar on the outskirts of town. The kind every college town needs to keep its accreditation. They ordered root beers. Étienne filled Zimmy in on the details of his final professional time trial. Then they talked about life in Provence.
Etienne mentioned how he would miss competing in races like the Tour de Fleur, but he was delighted to come back to Letongaloosa to teach others to climb the mountains as he had done in Provence,
Zimmy laughed,” Slow down, old friend. Most of the residents taking part in the summer cycling program are looking to go bike-packing on the surrounding trails or enjoy a leisurely ride around town.”
Then Zimmy remembered the Fourth of July celebration sponsored by La Mancha U, LCJC and some of the other businesses around La Mancha and Letongaloosa. Of course, there would be fireworks, games, and a big cycling race to be held at the Letongaloosa Lake Loop Trail,
“There’s a cycling race on July 4th if you’re interested. It’s no Tour de Fleur, but it is fun and the climb might even challenge you. Plus, Bastille Day is just around the corner. I think you’ll enjoy the festivities,”
Étienne was delighted. He sipped his root beer and thought about this new stage of his life. Coming back to the small Midwestern town was the right decision. He had good friends. Étienne was able to continue doing what he loved.He was on the right path,
Zimmy and he finished their root beer, paid the bill and headed for the door. It was going to be a great summer. Étienne was ready to climb higher and have the time of his life!

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Dr. Larry Day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co 

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Small Adjustments ©

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“Kaybe and the Six Million Dollar Project©”

The phone rang at our home one evening recently. On the line was my friend Four-Finger Fanny, an alien from outer space. Fanny works as a waitress at The Enchantment. I listened then said “I’ll be right there.”
I asked a young waitress to tell Fanny I was there, and then went to my booth in the back.
The Enchantment is a dingy roadhouse on the outskirts of Letongaloosa. Every college town needs a joint like the Enchantment to maintain its academic accreditation. I go there quite often to relax with a soft drink.
That night, however, I was there on urgent business. Another being from outer space, my friend KB2.11, (I call him Kaybe for short) had contacted me. He needed $6-million for a charity project that leaders at our end of the Milky Way galaxy were sponsoring.
“What’s up?” asked Fanny.
“Can you get in touch with Kaybe? I’m helping him raise money for a galaxy charity project and I need to know how and where to send the funds.”
As you may remember, my friend Kaybe looks like a giant tuna fish can. Erector Set arms sprout from the curved sides of his body. Three spindly legs drop from the flat underside of his stainless steel torso. He has ball bearing wheels for feet, and three sensor-eyes wave at you from the ends of floppy antennae on the top his lid.
Kaybe is from the Milky Way, but his home planet is several parsecs closer than the Earth to the center of the galaxy. And his people have solved the problem of traveling faster than the speed of light.
Kaybe speaks telepathically. His words form letters in your mind. Four-Finger Fanny is also from outer space, but she just looks like a
middle aged woman who has spent too much time on her feet.
Kaybe and Four-Finger Fanny communicate telepathically, but Four Finger
Kaybe’s $6-million project.

Fanny also speaks human. That’s good, because I’d rather not converse telepathically.
Some wealthy friends—people who have appeared in previous columns, Blair Timert, Eloise Simplekins, and Sir Jeremiah Teancrumpets,–had agreed to donate two million dollars each to the galaxy charity project.
Blair Timert, was adopted by wealthy Basque parents who lived in Letongaloosa. Their Basque name was unpronounceable for most people so they retained Blair’s birth name. Blair learned to speak Basque. In one adventure, Blair bested some Basque hoodlums who tried to kidnap him.
Eloise Simplekins was a cleaning lady for wealthy women of the wealthy La Mancha neighborhood. She realized that wealthy women in town hired pre-cleaning ladies to clean-up their husbands’ messy bathrooms before the regular cleaning ladies arrived. Eloise figured that other upper class women in the U.S. also hired pre-cleaning ladies. She founded a pre-cleaning business and sold franchises nationwide. She made a fortune.
Sir Jeremiah Teancrumpets was a British billionaire. He used to become angry at even the slightest irritation. His neighbor, a physician, taught Sir Jeremiah to laugh when he became angry, instead of becoming apoplectic. The laugh-it-off formula probably saved Sir Jeremiah from death by heart attack. But hearing Sir Jeremiah’s laugh causes some people fear and consternation.
Sir Jeremiah is a tightwad, but he hates paying income taxes. So he takes inflated income tax write-offs for donations he makes to charitable causes.
“How do we transfer these funds to Kaybe?” I asked Fanny.
“Well,” she said, “you just…” Then with a look of consternation, she added, “Wait. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
A week later the phone rang.
“I’ve got an answer, but you’ll have to come to the Enchantment.”
“I’m on my way,” I said.
When I got to my booth, Four-Finger Fanny handed me a soft drink and said, “What I’m going to tell you is top secret. You have to guard this information with your life.”
She then gave me the name of a bank, a routing number, and the name and the number of the account. The electronic transfer went through flawlessly.
Sometime later I got a message saying that the donation had been received and that everyone involved was most grateful.
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Dr. Larry Day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co 

 

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April the Fool and the Psychic©

Back in April, 2015 I wrote a humor column titled “April the Fool.”
The column dealt with April Van Planton and his onery mother Lavida. Lavida and her husband had had six children and didn’t want any more. She went to the doctor for a pain in her stomach. When she was told she was pregnant, Lavida called the physician a “stupid old sawbones,” and smacked him in the head with her purse.
After the doctor’s diagnosis, Lavida made an appointment for a second opinion. This time she called the studio of Swami Samantha, a young psychic who just opened a practice in Letongaloosa.
“You’re not pregnant,” said the psychic.
“Then why do I have this pain?”
` “Do you drink orange juice?”
“Sure, every day for breakfast .”
“Switch to cranberry juice, and the pain will go away.”
Lavida switched to cranberry juice, and she did feel a lot better.
But nine months later she delivered a nine-pound baby boy.
The birth made Lavida so angry that she named the baby April. She chose that sissy name because she wanted April to be teased. She hoped he’d develop a mean streak, when he grew up. She wanted him to get into fistfights with his tormentors.
But April didn’t grow up to have a mean streak He grew up to be bright, kind and friendly. Everybody in town doted on him.
That drove Lavida nuts.
“You’re a fool, April,” she’d say.
“Yes, ma’am,” he’d say.
That drove Lavida even more nuts.
“You’re a stupid, no good, worthless bum,” she’d yell.
“I’m sorry, Momma,” he’d say. “I’ll try to be better.”
April studied hard. He got top grades even though Lavida insisted that he work long hours after school and on weekends.
When that failed to break April’s spirit, his mother gave up trying to ruin his life. Lavida died not long after that, a bitter and disillusioned woman.
In high school April aced the ACT and SAT exams. Top universities offered him four-year full-ride scholarships. April attended Harvard and graduated with a degree in business. He became CEO of a large company by the age of 30. After a successful career April retired and became an acclaimed motivational speaker.
One day Ted Palmer, president of the Letongaloosa Chamber of Commerce, saw April’s picture on the cover of a top flight business magazine. Ted had been one grade behind April in high school. On a whim Ted called the firm that booked April’s appearances and asked how much it would cost to have April speak at the chamber’s annual banquet.
“Mr. Van Planton’s fee for one speech is $50,000, unless you are a charitable organization,” said the person on the phone, “in which case it’s free. But he’s booked for charitable speeches through October, 2020”
Ted Palmer thanked her and hung up. The phone rang a few minutes later. It was April himself.
“Ted, I’d love to speak at your banquet for free,” he said.
Interest was so high that the Chamber of Commerce invited the public to attend April’s speech, and booked the largest auditorium in Letongaloosa for the event. April told Ted he wanted to approach to the microphone without introduction.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’m April, the Fool.”
He got a standing ovation before he could even begin his speech—and, of course, another standing ovation after he’d finished.
April stayed in town after the speech. He wanted to meet the psychic who had had such an impact on his life. April had his executive assistant call in the appointment. The assistant requested a “back door, back room” psychic reading for an out-of-town visitor named Thomas Forman. The psychic’s reputation was wide spread, and she frequently did readings for out of town clients.
Wearing a hat and a raincoat with the collar turned up, April rapped on the back door of the psychic’s studio.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Forman, I’m Swami Samantha,” said the psychic.
“And I’m April the Fool.”
There was a long silence.
Then April said, “If you are free, I’d like to take you to dinner to thank you for all you did for me.”
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Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co

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