Monday, January 23, 2012

With Friends Like This, Who Needs Giant Dancing Cows or Body Cavity Searches?

It happens more often than I care to admit.

People stop me on the street and say, "Wow. Do you really live the life of unbridled excess and hedonistic debauchery that you describe on your blog?"

To which, I am forced to reply, "You bet."

Because, otherwise, how could you explain this?

You cannot explain this.

Face it. You're jealous.

You see me and you think, "Wow. That guy is so lucky. He gets to go to the food court at a mall and play the djembe drum while a giant cow in a tie-dye shirt hops around."

And you are correct.

And, while it is not technically my job, it is as close to a job as I have at times. As an author/illustrator/back-up drummer, my life is a thrilling, non-stop adventure of thrilling, non-stop adventures.

Let us take, for example, last Thursday, a fairly typical day in my life:

6:10 a.m. Slap vigorously and impotently at alarm clock for several seconds.  Attempt to convince Kerri to get up and put the kids on the bus for school. Fail. Get up. Get kids on the bus.

7:20 a.m. Drink coffee while sitting on the couch, reading over the manuscript of the chapter book I'm working on. Decide that the insane, brainwashed squirrel sub-plot may be a bit esoteric for fourth grade readers. Substitute mushroom fart sub-plot. Laugh until coffee spits over my computer keyboard. Lament the fact that, at 40, even the thought of farts still makes me laugh out loud.

9:30 a.m. Answer some emails. Arrange two school visits. Update my calendar. Do some boring business stuff. Lament the fact that I am doing business stuff and not writing about farts. Laugh out loud, because I thought about farts.

10:00 a.m. Answer phone. Hope it is a telemarketer because I am dying to try to convince one that he has just called a murder crime scene and, as a result, is now a prime suspect. It is my buddy Steve. Try to convince him that he has just called a murder crime scene. Fail. Resort to telling him about the fart scene I wrote in the book. Steve pities me and laughs in a patronizing way because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. Steve tells me that he is playing some music at the food court at the mall at 1:00 and invites me to join him. Ask Kerri, and she gives me permission to go out and play. Then she gives me a list of things to pick up at the mall, "since I'll be there anyway." Curse life. Curse the mall.

11:30 a.m. Make a delicious lunch.

11:45 a.m. Eat delicious lunch, though deliciousness is dulled by the thought that I will be digesting it at the mall. Curse mall again.

12:00 Leave for mall, second only to Wal-Mart for places I never go. Continue cursing mall. Also curse Wal-Mart simply for existing.

12:15 p.m. Pass NH Women's Correctional Facility en route to mall. Rubber-neck to make sure that there are no exciting prison breaks underway. Spot sheriff's van in rear-view mirror. Stop rubber-necking.

12:15:30 p.m. Notice that sheriff's van has lights on. Pull over to let it pass.

12:15:40 p.m. Sheriff's van pulls over behind me.

12:15:42 p.m. Say a very, very bad word. Several times. Loudly. Curse mall while I'm at it. Also Wal-Mart.

12:17 p.m. Watch as two sheriffs exit their van and walk warily up to my extremely threatening 1993 Toyota Camry. Become extremely nervous as one sheriff posts himself at my passenger window, while the second approaches my window and says, "License and registration."

12:17:30 p.m. In state of extreme nervousness, hand sheriff my Visa debit card as I lean over to get registration.

12:18 p.m. Laugh in lighthearted way as sheriff returns Visa with witty comment, "I don't take Visa."

12:19 p.m. Attempt to exit vehicle when sheriff explains that I do not have a rear license plate. Am told in a firm manner to, "Remain in my vehicle." Remain in vehicle. Say a very, very bad word. Several times. Quietly.

12:19:30 p.m. Wonder who stole my license plate while sheriffs return to their van and chat about me with headquarters.

12:22 p.m. Watch as both sheriffs once again flank my vehicle. Say a very, very bad word. Several times. Silently. Prepare for extremely unpleasant body cavity search. Listen politely as sheriff explains that I should report my plate missing to my local police department. Thank sheriff for not searching my cavities.

12:45 p.m. Arrive late for show with Steve.

12:46 p.m. Walk into mall food court and experience chaos and pandemonium in toddler play area, where we will be playing. Say a very, very bad word. Several times. In my head.

12:46:30 p.m. Attempt to weasel out of show by feigning own death. Fail.

1:00 p.m. With no idea of what songs we will be playing or what I will be doing, we begin show.

1:01 p.m. 18 month old kid begins rooting through my backpack as I play song. Smiling mother watches child poke through my belongings.

1:06 p.m. Toddlers begin to dance and twirl to Steve's hypnotic grooves. They spin and jump and slam into each other as all the parents sit along the periphery, texting people who are not at the mall.

The audience gets a rare chance to be close enough to step on the performer's toes.

1:07 p.m. Same 18 month old finds my car keys. Mother smiles contentedly and tell girl, "Good job." I think that this kid may have stolen my license plates. Check my pocket. Wallet is still there.

1:16 p.m. Steve tells audience that we will now play a song that I have never even heard before. I do not even bat an eye, because Steve does this to me all the time and I am a professional.

1:18 p.m. 18 month old kid begins collecting spare change from my backpack. Mother says, "Good job!"

1:35 p.m. Gurt, the giant tie-dye clad cow appears and crowd of toddlers is absolutely terrified. I am terrified, as well, but I wear a brave face.

I know Gurt will not harm me, but still, I am fearful.

1:37 p.m. 18 month old has now taken my camera and is taking pictures. Mother says, "Remember to watch the composition, sweetie."

Toddlers are generally fairly lousy photographers. This is just awful.

1:40 p.m. Toddlers begin getting braver about giant, dancing cow in their midst. Steve reminds audience that Gurt does not need to be milked.

"Please don't milk Gurt!"

1:45 p.m. We play final song. Gurt goes away. Young audience members are sad to see Gurt leave and wander disconsolately back to their texting parents, who are completely unaware that a show has occurred.

1:46 p.m. Steve asks me if I'd like to join him for a post-show cocktail at a chain restaurant in the mall.

1:46:03 p.m. Steve and I are considering the many choices of libations available.

2:45 p.m. I begin to see poor judgement in my decision to partake of a cocktail before attempting to drive home with no license plates on my vehicle. Curse mall.

2:50 p.m. Ask mall security guard if he might have string or a zip tie so I can put my front plate on the rear of my car. Am told that they are forbidden, by their lawyers, to supply motorists with anything, lest the supplied item fail in some deadly manner, rendering them liable. Curse mall security guards.

2:50:15 p.m. Steve makes hilarious, snarky comment about security guard and his daily meeting with his lawyers.

2:55 p.m. Despite the security guard's reluctance to help, I have gathered the necessary supplies from my car and have managed to secure my license plate using a small length of speaker wire and my pen knife.

3:30 p.m. Arrive home safely.

3:32 p.m. Phone police to report stolen license plate. Give them a description of the 18 month old at the mall. Demand an immediate arrest.

4:00 p.m. Spend the rest of the afternoon drawing pictures for chapter book.

6:00 p.m. Tasty dinner. Then more drawing.

9:30 p.m. Go to bed.

6:10 a.m. Wake up. Await the day's phone call.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ginger Martinis and Sandwich-Making Monkeys

Some of my nearest and dearest friends will likely be shocked to hear this, but I just beat a monkey in a competition for a prestigious, major award.

Roosevelt Avenue Elementary School in North Attleboro, MA has named me:

"Most Interesting Primate Visitor to Our School This Year.  So Far..."

The competition was incredibly stiff.

It seems that the last enrichment program they had was a helper monkey who could, "make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and loofah your feet until they're as soft as a baby's bottom."

Obviously, this put me under tremendous pressure for my entire 3 day visit. I'd hate to hear comments like, "That author guy was okay, but the sandwiches he made weren't as good as the ones that monkey made. And look at the third-rate job he did on my feet. They aren't nearly as soft as a baby's bottom."

So you can no doubt imagine how excited I was when I heard the news. I prepared a long and rambling acceptance speech, but I couldn't find a team of trained monkeys to type it for me, so I just gave up.

"Welcome Mr. Kelley." Do you see anything about Welcome Mr. Monkey? No. Because I won. Ha ha on you, Mr. Monkey.

My host for the visit, Gretchen, was helpful beyond description, earning her an award that I have just created in her honor:

"First School Host to Buy Me a Cocktail. Ever."

I am hopeful that it will become a prestigious and eagerly sought after award in its own right, with school hosts vying for titles like "Second School Host to Buy Me a Cocktail." and "Third School Host to Buy Me a Cocktail."

I can conceive of a day when schools all over the country have entire fund-raising events dedicated to raising money to buy me exotic drinks with many colorful umbrellas and towering, architectural wonders of fruit garnishes spilling from their rims. 

As it was - and I feel very compelled to point this out - Gretchen did not actually use any school funds at all to buy me a drink. She used her own funds. 

That's probably because the PTA money at her school is earmarked exclusively for hiring a team of loofah-wielding monkeys to sit in the teachers' lounge and rub the teachers' feet while the kids are out at recess. If that fundraiser goes well, they'll be adding a team of sandwich-making monkeys, too.

This is exactly how public education works. Trust me.

Gretchen was also instrumental in seeing that I was comfortably situated in a hotel where I would be unlikely to run into a SWAT team. "You might want to avoid The Pineapple Inn," she suggested, "They tend to have frequent police raids."

Instead, I checked in at The Holiday Inn and realized immediately that I should have packed more carefully. It wasn't like my trip to Washington D.C. when I failed to pack any clean socks or undies, but it had potential to turn out that badly.

I was faced with 3 days and 3 nights of being unable to wash my hands.

But how do I wash my hands?

Still, even though there was no hand soap, there were also no SWAT team raids, so I suppose it all balanced out somehow.

The staff and students at the school were wonderful and fun and I really had a great time. On the first day, a couple volunteers modeled for me and then even posed for pictures. Please note that I simply ooze maturity, making bunny ears behind the kids' heads. 

Gretchen arranged a book signing one evening and it was a roaring success. 

People actually stood in line to buy my books and talk to me. I felt all famous.

Many of the kids opted, for some reason, to get their pictures taken with me. 

Obviously, I am a role model.

Now, thanks to me, these kids are making bunny ears in photos.

That's why I won that award and the monkey didn't.

Because I am a role model and he is simply a monkey with crazy ninja-like loofah skills.

Are they loofahing people's feet because of that monkey?

I didn't think so.

Over the next two days, I got to spend time in each classroom, working with the kids on writing projects.
These girls are working on a drawing of me, trapped inside a ginormous birthday cake. They'll use their picture as a writing prompt to write the greatest story in human history: The story of me, trapped in a ginormous birthday cake.
These kids are asking me if I can loofah their feet and make them a sandwich. When I refuse, they are upset.

On my final night in North Attleboro, Gretchen directed me to India, a local, and aptly named, Indian food restaurant. I would have gone simply for some spicy curry,  but when she told me that they also had a belly dancer and served ginger martinis, I found it difficult to resist getting 3 meals a day there.

Even their take-out was all fancy. It really classed up my hotel room, even if I couldn't wash my hands before I ate.

And now that I think about it, I feel that I must bequeath another award to Roosevelt Ave. School:

"Most Fun Residency I Have Done in 2012. So Far..."

"So Far" because the next school might have a belly dancing monkey that can make a ginger martini.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Another Year of Asthetic Monstrosities. Now, Featuring Nachos and Miracles!

On the plus side, there were nachos.
And Mexican dip.
And empanadas.
And beans and rice.
And Mexican mac & cheese.
And rich, aromatic gas produced by the Mexican food.

And, possibly a stunning miracle. 

On the down side, there was this.

And this.

Last Friday, several of my boldest and most self-destructive friends gathered at our house to engage in a yearly ritual of self-induced suffering. The Gift Swap of Horror. Click on that link if you are feeling a desperate urge to learn the history of this sacred event. (The link takes you to another blog post, but it also has pictures, so it's really not a good way to escape the horror.)

The Gift Swap of Horror has developed and changed only slightly over the years. It has reduced friends to tears. It has made others laugh until they lost control of their sphincters. It has cost me some dear friends; though, in retrospect, that might also have been directly related to the loss of sphincter control.

This year, we gladly welcomed new friends to The Swap. 

Ryan and Nichole.
See how happy they look?

That's because they hadn't received their gift yet.

We, the original members of this happy crew who have been swapping gifts and causing each other to suffer for more than a decade, love it when new people join our swap.

Because new people don't get it.

We warn them; oh yes we do. But still, they don't get it.
We tell them all about the swap, explaining in graphic detail gifts from past swaps that were so horrible that to describe them here would cause you permanent mental harm.
And still these people want to play.
And they come to the swap sniggering slyly and chuckling about the gift they have brought, never suspecting that when the gifts are actually exchanged, they will be reduced to sobbing, helpless shadows of their former selves.

The new people tend to bring a gift that, at worst, might be described as "sort of tacky".
And they leave with a four foot poster of Elvis shellacked onto a cross-section of pine tree.

My friends Jay and Cris come to mind as perfect examples. Jay and Cris are both smart and fun and have excellent taste in everything. They thought our swap would be fun. We warned them against it.

"Jay. Cris," we plead. "We really like you guys. Save yourselves! Don't do it! It will ruin your lives!"

We say things like that to make them extra curious. Just to make sure they play. Because we know that they will suffer greatly. And when you play The Swap, you want people to suffer.

Jay and Cris ignored us and showed up at The Swap with a small soap dispenser that, while ugly, somewhat paled in comparison to the horrifying 2 foot tall light-up ceramic witch head that they went home with. I cannot even attach a picture, because it was so ugly, it did not show up on film.

Jay and Cris told us later that Cris spent much of their ride back home to North Carolina sobbing and weeping and lamenting the fact that she had ever met us.

The suffering of newbies is an integral part of the game, however, as it toughens them and makes them hungry for revenge.  Jay and Cris, for example showed up the next year driving a pick up truck with the entire bed shrouded in a tarp.

Everyone watching their arrival wept with fear. Then they got out of the truck carrying a tiny gift bag. And we laughed. "They didn't learn," we whispered amongst ourselves.

Kerri and I drew their names that year and Jay handed us the tiny gift bag.

"Ha, ha," I chuckled, reaching into the bag. "We all thought that your gift was taking up the whole back of the pick up. Boy, were we scared for a minute."

"I'll bet," Jay said, smiling brightly as I removed a photograph of 6 hideous purple, teal, and black velour dining room chairs from the bag. "The chairs are in the back of the truck. You want some help getting them in the house?"

And thus, they were avenged.

And this year, Ryan and Nichole stepped into the fray and, much to our bitter disappointment, proved themselves worthy of playing.

Julie, one of the old timers, suggested that newbies, on their first swap, be made to receive a gift without giving one. The executive council of elders held a high level secret meeting on the subject and decided that it was cruel and unusual and we really liked the idea.

Eventually, it was decided that newbie gifts were a sought after commodity and we would only be hurting ourselves by not letting them contribute.

The night was a festive combination of events. It was a The Gift Swap. It was also my wife Kerri's birthday. Plus, everybody brought Mexican food so guests could go home with a horrible gift and horrible gas. It added a festive olfactory element to The Swap.

Once everyone had eaten and we had sung "Happy Birthday" to Kerri a half dozen times, because she hates being sung to, it was time for the gifts.

First, some before pictures.

Ben and Ann. Happy (but nervous).

Tim and Katie. Happy (but equally nervous).

Scott and Julie (Julie offering a silent prayer for mercy from The Swap gods).

Caleb, Rayla, Alex, and Tori. (Couldn't care less about the pain the adults are inflicting on one another).
Kerri and me (putting up a false show of carefree bravado–inside, we are weeping).

The gifts, guarded by Caleb, lest, thought their collective powers of evil, they should try to escape.

And then The Swap began.

Ryan and Nichole, being newbies, were allowed to go first. They were delighted with their gift, brought by Tim and Katie.

Seeing one small corner of her gift, Nichole searches futilely for a barf bucket.

Another show of false bravado.
Behold its awe-inspiring beauty.

Nichole and Ryan were deeply awed by the transcendent beauty of their gift, a gilded, three dimensional scene of the last supper, backed with a mirror so you can always see your own look of horror when gazing upon it. In fact, their real gift didn't come until a day or so after The Swap.
Ryan and Nichole are serious mountain climbing enthusiasts (nuts). They had attempted to bag their last 4,000 footer twice before The Swap, failing both times.

After The Swap, they successfully summited Owl's Head.


I think not.

They just couldn't wait to return home and continue staring at their gift.

Scott is speechless with joy. Julie, however, has much to say about their new little friend. None of it printable here.

Next up, Julie and Scott unwrapped their gift, brought by Ben and Ann. The sad-eyed embroidered bird will most certainly warm their hearts on the coldest January days.

Just before Katie burst into tears, fearing for her safety.

Tim and Katie were next. Their gift, thoughtfully supplied by Julie and Scott, was charming and creepy in equal measure.
Katie uses her gift to hide her tears of anguish.

A bargain at 50 cents.

His expression seems to say, "At night, I will come to life and kill you."

These delightful, hand made faces, framed under plastic wrap to keep them fresh, will likely come to life at night and steal Tim and Katie's souls.

Or their wallets.

Or both.

Ben and Ann were next, with our gift. They were giddy with anticipation.

Until they saw the turquoise ceramic kangaroo who will be sharing their home with them until next year.

Ann is considering using it as a decorative toilet paper holder next to the toilet.
Ben is considering using it as a toilet.

Kerri and I were next. We were delighted to have drawn Ryan and Nichole's names. Because they were the newbies. Until we unwrapped their gift.

Kerri briefly loses control of her face upon witnessing the horror of The Pink Rooster.
On the couch, Victoria is obviously delighted with our new house guest.
The giant, metal pink rooster will no doubt soon be like a member of the family. A member that we hate and never want to see again.

Despite the obvious love the kangaroo showed for the rooster, Ben and Ann refused to take the rooster, choosing instead to sunder these two loving hearts.

And then the night was over. With Mexican food percolating in our guts, we said goodbye to one another. Everyone went home to find a suitable place to display his new gift and to seek relief from the Mexican fiesta.

Ben likely found relief in the kangaroo.

Ryan and Nichole have proved themselves worthy of The Swap. And that means that next year, we need fresh meat.

Anybody want to play?