Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dog Strategies III

I have a dog who is a little too smart for his own good (or mine). I've written before here and then again here about how he works out sneaky ways to get toys and bones away from his sister. Now he's trying to pull a fast one on us. One of his bad habits is eating tissues. He'll get them any way he can. He's smart enough to know he isn't allowed to do this, so like any addict, he's modified his tactics in order to get his fix. When he finds a tissue he either tries to grab two or he tears the one he does find in half. Then he keeps one tissue in his mouth hidden, and allows the other one to be visible.

On two separate occasions, we have caught him with a tissue and told him to spit it out ("leave it!" is our command for this) which he dutifully does. After I disposed of the first tissue, I noticed he had a second one he was just finishing up. He pulled the same con on Shauna today. I don't know whether to be annoyed or proud. :-)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Riding on a bus

Before I was old enough to drive, I took the bus everywhere. We lived in a little country town called Sissonville in southern West Virginia. The big town was Charleston, about 15 or so minutes away. My parents had a print shop and were usually in town. So in the summer, I was either going to be stranded or I could take the bus into Charleston.
Because I had a kind of base of operations in the guise of my parents' print shop, I felt pretty comfortable going downtown by myself. I had a summer bus pass so I could ride up and back as much as I wanted.


When I rode the bus into town, I spent a lot of time in the library. The main branch of the Kanawha County Public Library in downtown Charleston is a huge stone building. From the outside, it looks like a courthouse or museum. It’s just a magnificent old structure. I would spend hours reading books of all different types. I think there were three or four floors worth of books there. In the summer it was always cool and quiet.

Next to the library was a little nook with a tobacco shop, a tailor and a place called the Arcade News and Book store. It was a neat little place that had an entire wall full of magazines as well as a great selection of books.

Of course in those days, downtown Charleston was a thriving place with four department stores (Montgomery Ward, Sears, JC Penney and Stone & Thomas) and a lot of other shops so there were plenty of options if I got tired of books. There were a couple of record stores, one of which was called Budget Tapes & Records. They had a great music selection and a lot of drug paraphernalia, which was lost on me as a younger person. There also were at least two “real” movie theaters rather than the multiplexes they have now. These were the kind with big marquees and balconies.

It felt like a lot of freedom to walk around town unaccompanied, going wherever I wanted back then. I loved it, despite being periodically accosted by strange men trying to sell me pot.

The bus, though not as convenient as driving, was the next best thing to having a car for someone as young as I was. I continued to use it regularly up until I got my license. One of my favorite high school memories took place on a bus ride between Sissonville and Charleston.

I was in 10th grade and was part of our school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. One of the girls playing one of the main female roles was a senior named Tonja Horn. I didn’t know her very well. Most of the lead parts were filled by people in the choir, of which I was a member, so I knew those kids. She wasn't in the choir, despite having an absolutely beautiful voice. The play was a joint effort between the choir director and the drama teacher, so there was bound to be some political maneuvering involved. I seem to recall the drama teacher being annoyed with so many choir people getting the big parts, despite the fact that in our small school there was a significant cross over between the two groups. Tonja was in the drama club and was a fantastic singer, so she made the cut.

During all the rehearsals and after school time, we kind of got to know each another. I had a minor role. My character had a name, Avrum the Bookseller, but only one or two lines. Mostly I served to fill out the crowd and chorus scenes. So I had a lot of time to socialize and hang around with my fellow cast members which was how I got to know Tonja.

Before I knew what was going on, I developed a huge crush on her. Because she was a senior and I have incredibly low self esteem, I never made a move. After all, what would she want with a lowly sophomore anyway? Nevertheless, I pined from afar and enjoyed our times talking and laughing at rehearsal and occasionally before school and at lunchtime.

One day, I was on the bus headed for town and was thinking about her. I knew approximately where she lived and knew that it was on the bus route, but not the exact location. I was kind of daydreaming about her thinking how cool it would be if she rode the bus, but realizing that a girl of 18 was bound to have a driver’s license.

The brakes hissed as the bus pulled to a stop to admit another passenger. I looked up just in time to see Tonja board. She wore the expression everyone has when they get on the bus with a bunch of strangers: Kind of a desperate searching for a place that isn’t (a) next to a weirdo and (b) not too far in the back, where most weirdos like to gather.

Funnily enough, I was sitting in the back alone, sans weirdos unless you count me, when she spotted me. I caught the flash of recognition as I waved tentatively to her. Then the biggest smile I had ever seen spread across her face. She came to the back and sat with me for the rest of the ride into town.
I wish I could remember what we talked about, but it’s lost to me now. What I do recall is that for me, the bus was the best place in the world that afternoon.

Friday, January 1, 2010

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Peanuts

Years ago, I had a great idea to write a book about the wisdom contained in the comic strip, Peanuts. At the time, there was a popular book called, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. I had read the book and thought it would be funny to do a semi-parody of his idea using the Charlie Brown universe. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there really is a lot of wisdom in Charles M. Schulz's comics. I contacted a lot of cartoonists to get their perspectives and most answered. I even heard from Charles Schulz's publishers, but he was not interested in authorizing or even contributing to a book like I was imagining.

If I had been a real writer instead of a lazy bastard, I would have kept writing and sent it to him. I think, despite his initial reservations about it, he would have understood the intended spirit of the project. Sadly, I am lazy and of course, Charles Schulz passed away in February 2000.

After that, I kind of lost interest in the project, but always kept it in the back of my mind. A few years ago, Fantagraphics Books began releasing hard-bound editions of the daily and Sunday strips. This helped me to rekindle my love for those old comics. That, coupled with the relative ease of blogging led me to resurrect the project online. I will be posting what I've written and adding to it as I'm inspired to do so.

Below is the first bit I wrote for the book.
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There have been plenty of "All I Really Need To Know" books, posters and assorted paraphernalia on the market since the publication Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It seems that every subject has been covered, from Star Trek to Hilary Clinton. This is my humble contribution.

Though some may scoff, the ideas in this book actually predate the publication of Fulghum's book. But I do want to ensure that proper credit is given. His book did inspire me and helped provide a focus for my tribute to the brilliance of Charles M. Schulz, or "Sparky" to his friends.

So, I read Fulghum's book. I even liked most of it. But unlike him, I realized that all I really need to know about how to live, what to do, and how to be was not learned in kindergarten (Heads down, now!), but in the pages of Peanuts. While Fulghum found profundity on the playground, I see sagacity in Schulz.

Pick up any Peanuts book, here's some of what you'll learn:
  • Happiness is a Warm Puppy
  • Psychiatric help should only cost five cents
  • Never waste a good worry
  • You can't talk to someone who keeps saying "Au contraire"
  • There's no sense being sought after if you can't be found
  • Winning isn't everything, but losing isn't anything
  • Studying the wrong chapter is like cutting your fingernails too short
  • Never trade a hit for a clobber
  • A good way to forget a love affair is to eat a lot of goop
  • Anyone who gives their dad a Father's Day card is a rare gem
  • Eyes deceive and legs fail, but it's the stomach that gets you in trouble
  • You not only can't explain love, you can't even talk about it
  • It's easy to get carried away on true or false tests
  • It really doesn't take much to make a dad happy
  • Until it is demonstrated, one forgets the really great difference that exists between the merely competent amateur and the very expert professional
  • A little rain never hurt anybody
  • Keep the ball low. Don't leave crayons in the sun. Use dental floss every day. Give four weeks notice when ordering a change of address. Don't spill the shoe polish. Always knock before entering. Don't let the ants get in the sugar. Never volunteer to be the program chairman. Always get your first serve in. Feed your dog whenever it's hungry
  • The secret of life is to have three things to look forward to and nothing to dread
  • There's a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker
  • You can accomplish a lot once you get the sympathy of the press
  • Bitter sarcasm always spoils an appetite
  • If you expect nothing, you get nothing
  • Life is full of rude awakenings
  • A thumb tastes best at room temperature
  • Hoping and praying should never be confused with studying
  • Receiving a chain letter is like discovering you have gum on the bottom of your shoe
  • One of the great joys in life is scarfing junk food
  • Everyone in the stands is an expert
  • Never try to discuss marriage with a musician
  • If you're smart, you can pass a true or false test without being smart
  • It doesn't matter where you go, you've never left
  • After a walk on a brisk fall day it's fun to come home and have a cup of hot chocolate and sit in front of a warm TV
  • A lot of great letters never get mailed
  • It's amazing how stupid you can be when you're in love
  • You never get a wrong number when you need one
  • Love is not knowing what you're talking about
  • In all of mankind's history there has never been more damage done than by people who "thought they were doing the right thing"
  • In the book of life the answers are not in the back
  • The trouble with tennis is you can't play it alone
  • A good businessman can't afford to be sarcastic
  • Never set your stomach for a jelly-bread sandwich until you're sure there's some jelly
  • Taking a true or false test is like having the wind at your back
  • If they ever took "cute" out of the English language, we'd all perish
  • Cats are the crab grass in the lawn of life
  • It's hard to imagine a holiday without a little greed attached to it
  • Daytime is so you can see where you're going, nighttime is so you can lie in bed and worry
  • It doesn't take much these days to attract a crowd
  • You don't miss an aerobics class, you escape it
  • Anything that falls on the floor legally belongs to the dog
  • Those who can't do, teach
  • When something bad is going to happen to you there shouldn't have to be a night before
  • The sidewalk always wins, the knees always lose
  • To dance is to live
  • In all this world there is nothing more inspiring than the sight of someone who has just been taken off the hook
  • Security, like liberty, has to be won and rewon many times
  • Whenever you try to hit somebody, there is a tendency for them to try and hit you back
  • The world belongs to whoever has the biggest teeth
  • If you're not sure, just don't say anything
  • So much in this world depends on who gets born first
  • Happiness should be shared
  • Security doesn't just come to a person, sometimes it has to be pursued
  • The sports page is the cruelest page in the paper
  • It's not wise to lie in bed at night asking questions that you can't answer
  • It's time to quit school when they even criticize your lunch
  • Losing a ball game is like dropping an ice cream cone on the sidewalk. It lays there and you know you've dropped it and there's nothing you can do, it's too late
  • How sharper than a serpent's tooth is a sister's “nyaah!”
  • A smile makes a lousy umbrella
  • On a beautiful day it's best to stay in bed so you don't get up and spoil it
  • A hot dog just doesn't taste right without a ball game in front of it
  • Dogs are born to sleep in the sun
  • Never jump into a pile of leaves holding a wet sucker
  • Heroes ride, goats walk
  • Life is full of rude awakenings
  • If you watch every word you say, you'll never get much said
  • There's nothing like a little physical pain to take your mind off of your emotional problems
  • Happiness is a side dish of french fries
  • It's impossible to eat dog food when your stomach is set for Shrimp Louie
  • In teacher-pupil struggles it's always the principal who loses
  • If you're going to hope to get elected, don't mention the Great Pumpkin
  • To lie awake at night and think about life's problems is terrible, but to lie awake and think about pizza is intolerable
  • Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter like unrequited love
  • School time doesn't roll around, it leaps right out at you
  • Sound theology has a way of easing the mind
  • It takes all kinds to make a world, but some kinds we could do without
  • A kiss on the nose does much toward turning aside anger
  • A person is never quite so stupid as when being smart
  • Good hot chocolate tastes even better with a ski lodge around it
  • Everyone should have a dog to greet them when they come home
  • When you play your heart out you get a stomach ache
  • When you walk from the bench to the plate it's about 30 feet, but when you walk from the plate to the bench it's four miles
  • Never take advice you can understand, it can't possibly be any good
  • Just wait til next year!
Believe it or not it's just the tip of the iceberg.

What follows are my observations on Peanuts, the familiar characters we've all grown up with, and how I think they relate to life in general. I'm not a psychologist or sociologist. I've never studied human behavior. In fact, my “averageness” borders on the appalling. Yet, my mediocity is exactly what makes me qualified to write this book. I'm simply a ordinary, unexceptional guy.

Just like good ol’ Charlie Brown.