Thursday, June 21, 2018
Marla Baggs kidnapped Joan Crawford. That’s a fact, even though she wouldn’t admit to it, even if a couple of hard-nosed detectives gave her the bare-light-bulb treatment. Joan Crawford is a cat who showed up at my back door, meowing and hungry. Once inside, after being fed, she proceeded to strut from room to room until finding a proper place on the couch to curl up and fall asleep. My soft spot for all things orphaned sparked a protective kinship. However, Joan Crawford was born to wander. She begged to go outside where she could sit beneath the shade of the trees in the yard, keep an eye on passing beetles, and catch the occasional unlucky mouse. The great outdoors was her promised land.
Joan Crawford was solid grey....not a patch of any discernible markings, sort of like an approaching storm-cloud mixed with a dust bunny. Soon after becoming comfortable around the house, her true colors emerged...giving rise to her name. A bit of a troublesome truck, she developed the habit of using the couch as a scratching post, pulling out stuffing as if a valuable prize was hidden deep inside. And she quickly established a grudge against the living room drapes, taking a run at them, leaping halfway to the top, then hanging for a brief moment before clawing her way down to the floor. After one month, the drapes were a series of tattered streamers, and who knows when that would become a decorating trend, if ever.
Like it or not, Joan Crawford’s indelible signature found its way to our home. We’d given up on ever having a piece of furniture that didn’t look like it’d been hit by a hand grenade, or drapes that didn’t appear like the battle flag of a losing side. We contemplated the life-span of the average cat, fourteen years, maybe twenty. So we unsubscribed to all those decorating magazines and made it a point to drive past the Furniture Corral and the Drapery Depot without even glancing in the direction of the stores. Joan Crawford was our new decorator.
One evening, Joan Crawford failed to return home. The next day, I went out looking for her, ringing doorbells and stapling posters to utility poles. A week went by without the slightest hint of a response. Then, one afternoon, while walking by Marla’s house on the next block, there in the window was Joan Crawford, looking longingly at the outdoors, her Shangri-La. I gave a trepidatious knock on Marla’s door. Marla’s reputation for being a tough-cookie, prompted me to address the escapade with my hazard lights blinking. She works the counter at Greasy Gary’s Auto Parts and is the catcher on their softball team. And as she likes to say, “No one gets by me at home plate, and if they do, they’ll not soon forget it." They call her “The Fireplug,” unmovable in every way. She answered the door, dressed in her faded-red Greasy Gary jersey. Her number is 1.
–Marla: What’s up?
–Me: That cat in the window, I think it’s mine.
–Marla: It’s my cat. I opened the door one night, and it walked right in.
–Me: Her name is Joan Crawford. I had her spayed and everything.
–Marla: That’s no kind of name for a cat. Her name is Gasket, and she’s here to stay.
–Me: She’s my cat.
–Marla: Prove it.
–Me: She’s grey, enjoys spaghetti and watching beetles crawl across the sidewalk.
–Marla: There’s a million grey cats; this one is not yours. Go find another one.
–Me: She’s good at redesigning furniture. Her specialty is draperies.
–Me: I’ll be a nuisance.
–Marla: I’m sure you will.
And the door slammed with a whoosh of certainty. Normally, I’d hatch a plan to bust Joan Crawford out of Marla’s house, but when mulling over the entire kettle of fish, the pieces began to unfold into an almost ordained, serendipitous stew-pot. For starters, despite Marla’s surly disposition, she likes animals, and perhaps she and Joan Crawford are suited for one another, two peas in a pod, as they say. The second thing: redecorating our home with furniture that doesn’t look like the aftermath of a Three Stooges’ pillow fight is no longer a distant dream. Surely, the universe cooked-up this outcome on its own, and who am I to mess with the universe’s cooking.
These days, I stroll leisurely past Marla’s house, imagining I’ve been awarded visitation privileges by the Court of the Milky Way. I give a hearty to wave to Joan Crawford and Marla as they take their positions in the picture window. Marla watches. There’s a slow simmer in her stare and she doesn’t return my wave. While I make plans to visit the Drapery Depot.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 4:08 PM
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
In order to determine which figure endures the longest, I’ve been relegated to the position of “Decoration Monitor,” an appointment not to be taken lightly. And, like any good social anthropologist, I do not interrupt the natural order of things. My mission is to observe, take notes, and report the findings. The log of endurance is written mostly at night, when the glimmer of lights reflects the true spectacle of the perpetrator’s intentions. These are, after all, celebrated luminaries.
The Log of Endurance:
January 15th: All decorations and lighted displays have been removed from the homes on Kildare Avenue...except for Reindeer and Snowman. They remain defiant in their stand against convention.
January 25th: A terrible storm dumped twenty-two inches of snow on the neighborhood, covering the extension cords and the bases of Reindeer and Snowman. They stand unfazed by mother nature, and the remaining five feet or so of both figures rise statuesque above the snow.
January 27th: Snowman’s top hat is beginning to tilt with the weight of accumulated snow on the brim. The antlers on Reindeer remain unaffected. Their lights continue to shine against the stark winter landscape, proclaiming their courage and dogged determination against the elements.
February 2nd: A brief warm spell melted most of the snow off Reindeer and Snowman. The bright orange extension cords, like tethers to a space station, continue to offer life-support from the homes of the accidental visionaries.
February 10th: Strong northerly winds pushed hard against both figures all night long, tilting Snowman about ten degrees to the South. He looks worried. Reindeer remains undaunted with a somewhat superior gleam in his piercing red eyes.
February 20th: Hard rain and a power outage render a blackout on both Reindeer and Snowman. For the first time since early December, the lights no longer twinkle on either figure. Both are left to dwell on their predicament in the cold darkness of winter.
February 22nd: Power is restored and the lights once again glimmer on both Reindeer and Snowman. A collective sigh of relief, like a small tremblor, is felt throughout the neighborhood.
March 2nd: Random electrical sparking is seen on the mid-section of Snowman. One half of Snowman’s lights cease to function at 2:00am. Reindeer’s lights twinkle with extra exuberance, mocking Snowman, giving credence to the “used to laugh and call him names” behavior attributed to those who pulled Santa’s sleigh.
March 10th: An unexpected ice storm leaves Reindeer and Snowman coated in a sheet of ice. Reindeer’s antlers are covered with long icicles and are tilting Reindeer to the South about twelve degrees. Snowman doesn’t respond, but we all know what he’s thinking.
March 18th: Near tornadic winds topple both icons onto their respective lawns. Snowman lies on his side, anchored from blowing away by a single guy wire. Reindeer’s antlers gouge a divot in the ground, twisting his head ever so slightly. Snowman’s top hat and scarf and Reindeer’s red bow are nowhere to be found.
March 20th: Reindeer and Snowman, like dying soldiers, lay motionless on the ground. An occasional light flickers from each statue, a reminder that, in war, no one wins, no matter how valiant the players.
March 23rd: Spring has arrived, and near dawn, the first robins of the season perch on the fallen skeletons of Reindeer and Snowman. They are like buzzards on picked-over carcasses and use the vantage points as lookouts for hapless insects and worms.
March 27th: A brief ceremony is held on the street separating the two fallen icons. I hold a book of poems written by the bleary-eyed poet, Side-Street Mary, and read “Aw, Quit Your Blubbering,” a moving piece about a somewhat likeable dead guy. Though I’m alone, I sense the neighbors are watching from their windows, too overcome with grief to emerge and share their feelings. I close the book, walk home, and begin the wait for next season’s resurrection of Reindeer and Snowman.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 12:40 AM
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Sharon Smoot is the chairperson’s name, though she prefers to be called “Joni” with an “i,” after the celebrated folksinger, Joni Mitchell. In fact, every member of "The Serious Folk" refers to themselves by the name of a famous singer of folk songs. The introductions took place with the members sitting on metal folding chairs arranged in a circle. One by one, the entire quixotic personas revealed themselves: Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, all three members of The Kingston Trio (one of whom reminded me he knows his way around the banjo), James Taylor, Woody Guthrie, and Gordon Lightfoot (who said to call him “Gord” for short).
Joni (Sharon) called the meeting to order by tapping her hand on her acoustic guitar in the manner of a judge’s gavel. Then, taking turns, each member played a song attributed to their imagined persona. Prior to Joni’s performance, she gave a long-winded spiel about how she’s worked in the folk music business for many years, and had a front-row seat at one of Joni’s shows, where, she’s certain, Joni sang three songs especially to her. So she sent a macrame plant-holder to Joni herself with a note signed, “The woman in the knitted vest in the front row at the Chicago show.”
As the performances commenced, it was clear everyone knew the chords to their chosen songs. But the vocals...oh boy. If voices were cars on a blacktop, they hastily veered onto the shoulder, and at times, left the road altogether, never quite finding their way back to the highway. During Joni’s rendition of “Woodstock,” I found myself wishing those “bomber jet planes riding shotgun in the sky” would zero in on Murray’s A-1 Driving School and put us all out of our misery. A group of hobbyhorsical impersonators if there ever was one.
When it came to my audition, I removed my accordion from its case, plugged in the special effects machine and stood in the middle of the chair circle. Years of childhood lessons from the bow-tied Mr. Totten prepared me for this moment. Joni asked which folk singer I was representing, and I assured her he’s very recognizable and well-liked. I switched the bubble machine on max and began a lively rendition of “Getting to Know You.” Iridescent bubbles filled the room, some landing gracefully on members of "The Serious Folk" who began restrained efforts at swatting them like flies at a picnic. Towards the middle of the song, Joni began yelling and flailing her arms at the bubbles, whooshing them ever higher into the room.
–Joni: Outside accoutrements are not allowed! Turn off that bubble-thing, and who are you supposed to be, anyway?”
–Me: Lawrence Welk. Call me Larry for short. (I winked at Gord).
–Joni: Lawrence Welk is not a folksinger! (Surely, the real Joni’s eyes didn’t bug out when irked) You’re not the same as us!
–Me: Is there a separate drinking fountain for accordionists?
–Joni: We have parameters. And I’ve sold T-shirts at the Newport Folk Festival!
–Me: How about another selection, perhaps the catchy “Lady of Spain?”
–Joni: We’ve heard enough! (A shriek that put neighborhood squirrels on high alert).
–Me: There’s a little dance number at the end.
–Joni: This is a club for serious folk music. Play by the rules or you’re out.
–Me: Love it or leave it. Where have I heard that before. (The Kingston Trio appeared agitated).
Finding courage in numbers, “The Serious Folk” began rising from their chairs, chanting, “No Lawrence Welk! No Lawrence Welk!” With their wrath piercing through the ever-growing cloud of bubbles, it had the makings of an old fashioned lynch mob. Quick as a flash, I placed the accordion in the case and made a bee-line for the door, dodging venomous threats like, “Get a banjo,” and the one that really hurt, “Keep away from the snacks.” Just before finding my way outside, Donovan threw an Earth Shoe at me. It grazed the accordion case, and I turned to see the entire group in a bubble-filled frenzy, wind-milling the air. Joan Baez hollered, “Turn off that goddamn bubble machine. It’s going to poison the herbal tea.”
The door slammed behind me, a welcomed bulkhead from the firestorm. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never confront the fury of a feverish mob, especially a serious one made jittery by an accordion and a swarm of bubbles. I chalked up the bubble machine to collateral damage and made a vow to, never again, linger in Wang’s exotic mustard aisle.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 7:28 PM
Monday, November 2, 2015
But when someone (Sandra Prickett) sneaks into my yard and picks a couple bucketfuls of plums....that’s overstepping the plum-hospitality boundary. So, I began leaving notes on a clipboard attached to the tree. Included was a pen affixed to the tree with a small string...like they do in banks.
The notes commenced on a daily basis:
–Me: Dear Sandra Prickett, There are 73 plums missing from my tree.
–Sandra: Are you accusing me?
–Me: Your cigarette butts, lipstick-covered Camel Menthols, litter the crime scene. There’s now an ashtray next to the tree for your convenience.
–Sandra: Who counts their plums, anyway?
–Sandra: I just needed some plums to make a pie.
–Me: 73 is enough to make ten pies.
–Sandra: Do you want them back? I’m not especially fond of purple plums anyway. I prefer the red ones.
–Me: No, your cooties are all over them.
–Sandra: Are the plums organic?
–Me: They are radioactive.
–Sandra: Not funny, and what's with the mousetraps hanging from the branches?
–Me: They’re merely decorative reminders to the occasional kleptomaniac.
–Sandra: Pretty goddamn stingy, aren’t you! Some things are meant to be shared!
–Me: Good Point. My porch light burned out so I walked over to your house and took your bulb. I’m not especially fond of those swirly CFLs. I prefer the warm glow of tungsten.
–Sandra: Your nuts!
–Me: Now you’re getting it. But they’re plums, not nuts.
The notes have ceased, but the ashtray in the plummery is bent over, cattywampus-like. Two additional plums have gone missing, but I’m giving Sandra the benefit of the doubt and chalking it up to a larcenous squirrel. Just the same, her continual lurking around Mrs. Spiegel gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 5:56 PM
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
This year, a family of robins has already taken up residence in a melon-sized rust-hole located just under the passenger side window. Lem didn’t notice the nest until he took a short drive to the Jiffy-Stop. The mother bird followed him, squawking and throwing a general bird-fit throughout the entire trip. So now, the van sits parked, the mother robin has settled down, and Lem needs a ride to....everywhere.
In an effort to support anything bird related, the Kildare Bird Club has undertaken the burden of offering Lem a ride to a hodgepodge of destinations during nesting season. Lem is assigned a different driver every week. A colorful chart, titled “Thank Goodness for Us,” divides the task among all five club members.
Though we appreciate Lem’s bird-loving spirit, it’s been necessary to limit the amount of rides to the strictly necessary. No more going back to the store because of a not-completely-thought-out comb purchase or the wrong kind of beer-nuts. And no more exchanging shampoos just because of a disappointing scent. The lemon-scented shampoo works just the same as the agave, and that’s science, and if anything, the Kildare Bird Club is all about science. Also, no more driving over to Chad’s Taco Shack to see if the beguiling Lalou is working the drive-up window. Just the necessary, like food and medical appointments. And dropping in at the medical center to browse their selection of magazines does not count as an appointment.
I was the first driver on the Thank Goodness chart this year, and with the guidelines in place, the task appeared less tedious than the whimsical journeys of years gone by. A once-a-week trip to the store and maybe a small errand was all I expected. Until Lem called one night at about ten o’clock.
–Lem: Yeah, I’m going to need a ride to Club Olé.
–Me: It’s kind of late, isn’t it?
–Lem: I meet my girlfriend every Wednesday at eleven o’clock.
–Me: Can’t she come to your house?
–Lem: No, she’s working. At the club.
–Me: Can’t she drop by after work?
–Lem: Well, no. She doesn’t know where I live.
–Me: She’s your girlfriend, and she doesn’t know where you live?
–Lem: Our relationship is kind of a secret. They’re very strict at Club Olé. They don’t allow their employees to date the customers.
–Me: That sounds like a violation of something.
–Lem: She’s a performer, and you know how show biz works.
–Lem: She depends on me to be there every Wednesday. So how ‘bout it?
–Me: What’s your girlfriend’s name?
–Me: Cindy’s a nice name, down-to-earth.
–Lem: No, Sinful, as in forbidden stuff.
–Me: What’s her full name?
–Lem: Miss Sinful, but I call her by her nickname, Sin.
–Me: Miss Sinful, that’s what it says on her driver’s license?
–Lem: That’s her stage name. You’ve got a lot to learn about show biz.
–Me: What’s her real name?
–Lem: She can’t tell that to anyone. It’s show biz rules, man.
–Me: So, she’s your girlfriend and you don’t know her name.
–Lem: Let me clue you in on a secret: no one in show biz uses their real name.
–Me: Do you give her money?
–Lem: Of course I do. I support the arts, like those PBS dudes, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
–Me: Do you write her a check?
–Lem: No man, dollar bills...a whole bunch of ‘em.
–Me: So she’s a dancer.
–Lem: She prefers to be called a visual artist. She uses the human form as a canvas.
–Me: Perhaps she’s using your wallet as a canvas.
–Lem: Look, bird boy, if you don’t want to go, I might have to take The Roost.
–Me: OK, but I’m just dropping you off. No more waiting in the parking lot like last year when you spent three hours dancing the hokey pokey at Susan Gup's wedding.
–Lem: Maybe you and that bird posse should think about getting hip to the arts...you know, become an enthusiast like me.
Patience is often the hallmark of a successful birder.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 10:18 PM
Thursday, January 22, 2015
This time, though, he's onto something. His latest project, "Find the Black Guy," is a contemporary offering along the lines of the ever-popular children's book, "Where's Waldo." Allan's inspiration is driven by the lack of nominations for Black actors in several Oscar award categories. In sympathy with the plight of actors of color, Allan has already hired a Black guy for the key role. Granted, it's a non-speaking part, and he only appears on screen for three seconds, but it's the focus of the film. Allan has his fingers crossed that an award lingers in the young actor's future.
The rest of the cast is a bunch of White people, and as Allan likes to say, he keeps his already-strained-budget in the thrifty arena by not hiring the likes of Meryl Streep and the rest of her over-priced ilk. A whole host of regular, unemployed, White people have already signed on for the project. And, as usual, Allan pays his cast in gift cards that cannot be redeemed for alcohol. He prefers a sober cast and makes a definitive proclamation at the beginning of every project not to call him "Al."
The story is more like a puzzle-quest for the viewer. The object is to find the Black Guy in the movie. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but I will say, having read the script, he appears somewhere towards the end and, be forewarned, it's a fleeting glimpse. Some film buffs will find it necessary to see it twice to verify the sighting. Sort of like when Alfred Hitchcock used to appear for a passing moment in his films.
The setting is Highland Park, Illinois, an insular and leafy White suburb of Chicago where people claim to reside in order to send their children to the best schools. Allan says this is a self-entitled code for "no Black folks allowed." But he says it makes it easy to shoot street scenes without Black people accidentally creeping into the shot and ruining the premise of the movie.
Even as the shooting is set to begin, Allan is working on a follow-up script, a low-budget western, tentatively titled, "Find the Indian." This one proves to be even more puzzling for the audience. It is up to them to determine what kind of Indian they are looking for: an Indian from the continent of India or a Native American Indian. Allan believes this will be an action-filled nail-biter, and, frankly, challenging, depending on the perspective of the audience.
I've already invested in "Find the Black Guy" by purchasing six family-sized bags of chips and a case of beverages for the cast; soft drinks, as per Allan's request. This assures me of a highly sought-after prize, a front row seat in the over-stuffed cushy chair in Allan's screening den. Allan says there's still room for more investors, but keep in mind, the cushy chair has been reserved.
Posted by Dale Wickum at 3:48 PM
Friday, October 17, 2014
Wade Thorton ambushed me in the salsa section of Ernies Fine Liquors. You know the type, the spokesperson for All Things Wade. We hadn't seen each other since the time his trophy-wife referred to me as "an off-balanced misfit, lacking any kind of entrepreneurial focus," an intended insult which, really, was kind of accurate, but it was a line in the sand that allowed me to tip-toe away from our relationship. He greeted me with a handshake reminiscent of a political candidate and held onto my hand for a little bit too long, physically pulling me alongside his fervid soapbox. What follows are the highlights without the dramatic undertones, colorful details, and feigned confidence-taking. One thing about potentates: while they're pontificating, there's plenty of time to spend alone with one's thoughts, especially if the listener, like me, has the attention span of a distracted field mouse.
--Wade: I'm the CEO of a company that does 700 million dollars a year in business. My expertise is consulting with financial issues. The shareholders have indicated their confidence in me is unwavering, and...
--My wandering mind: ((I wonder if you could help me sort out last month's cable bill.))
--Wade: I have my own private plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, the finest single-prop airplane money can buy, the Cadillac of the sky. I fly it all over the Midwest to business meetings. Just yesterday I was at 7,000 feet and....
--My wandering mind: ((The thing is, they say I'm getting the premium package, but for the life of me, I can't find the Beverly Hillbillies channel.))
--Wade: I climbed K2 last year. You can have Everest. For my money, K2 is the better climb. I go glacier-hopping and have sampled the ice chips of every major glacier in the world. What's next you're wondering, well...
--My wandering mind: ((I'm beginning to think unicyclists are the show-offs of the bicycle world. I mean, you never see them carrying a sack of groceries...or carrying anything, for that matter.))
--Wade: The wife and I have been to all seven continents. I've discovered that vacations are the true measure of a person. The vacation makes the man. Nothing, and I mean nothing, stands in the way of my vacation. I've got pictures...
--My wandering mind: ((I'm making a list of real snappy handles....in case CB radios make a comeback.))
--Wade: Not since her shoe-modeling days at L.L Bean, has my wife had to work. She's ranked eleventh in polo, her beloved pastime. She travels with at least seven pieces of luggage.
--My wandering mind: ((The shoe size of Cinderella with the carbon footprint of Sasquatch.))
--Wade: The wife's hobby is looking at Castles, so we go to Scotland, England, and France every year in search of a new castle experience. Our favorites are in Scotland, though the cuisine can't compare to...
--My wandering mind: ((Oh Auntie Em, I'm here at Ernies! I'm trapped in Wade's virtual castle, and I can't get away, Auntie Em!))
There was lots more, and with each accomplishment I ooh’d and ahh’d as if watching a trapeze act. When Wade's blustering subsided, he obligingly asked what I'd been up to. I stammered for a moment, partly because I'd been imagining Wade being carried off by flying monkeys, and partly because I doubted he'd be interested in my casual, but year-long quest to find a copy of Connie Stevens' 1960 hit, "Sixteen Reasons."
There was nothing I could say that measured up to Wade's narrative, but as the Wicked Witch of the West once said while wringing her boney hands together, "Why, my little party's just beginning." I got real close to him and kind of whispered, "Don't let this go any further. I'm in the Witness Protection Program." He looked genuinely stunned. "Wife, son, the whole family. Changed our names and everything. We are now the Sweedlers. I'm Fjord, like the inlet. The 'J' is silent. Fjord Sweedler is my new name. Do me a big favor and forget you even saw me."
Wade leaned into to me and lowered his voice, "What was it, some sort of mob thing?"
"Can't talk about it Wade. It's big....big as K2, maybe bigger. Lives are at risk. I gotta go."
"Sure, nice seeing you, Da.."
I discreetly reminded him, "Fjord...with a silent 'J'."
Posted by Dale Wickum at 7:21 PM