A State Of Af-Fairs: Major Awards

Well, I suppose I can call myself an award-winning writer now!

About a month ago, I decided to enter a couple of photographs in some Arkansas State Fair competitions. Almost by accident, I discovered that they also have a short story category. After spending time and money having the photographs printed and matted, I decided to print off one of my short stories to add to my pile of entries.

The entries almost didn’t make it to Little Rock.

I was exhausted. Completely and totally exhausted. My brother’s wedding had taken place the weekend before, I felt like I was working 25 hours a day to catch back up with everything, and the last thing I wanted to do was drive to Little Rock on a Saturday that I could have used for rest.

Let’s face it…it was a level of exhaustion that can best be portrayed through interpretive sleep.

However, I figured I’d regret not trying, so I promised myself a reward in the form of a stop at the Bulldog Cafe in Bald Knob in order to justify the trip. (Good stuff, folks. Worth the drive.)

The photos received their own special place in the passenger’s side of the car, away from any potentially disfiguring objects. I angled the air vents towards them using a combination of mathematical calculations ranging from the Pythagorean theorem to Avogadro’s number…or something like that.

I almost left the short story in the living room as I walked out the door. I had placed it in an unmarked manila file folder. I ran back in the house and grabbed the folder, cramming it under the sun visor in the car.

The photos didn’t place.

The short story won a blue ribbon and BEST IN SHOW honors!

I never thought I'd win anything with the word "livestock" in the title. Never say never.
Best in Show! Short Story Category! I never thought I’d win a ribbon with the word “livestock” in the title.

I wanted to wait until I had collected my ribbons–and my Bulldog Cafe meal–before I posted the story online. I haven’t cashed in my prize money yet either, but that thirteen dollars will sure come in handy for…something.

And…here’s the story.

 

Dangerous and Armed

The copier jammed for the third time in five minutes. Office equipment is my kryptonite. I could have done the sensible thing…call the front office and put in a work request.

Stubborn won this one-sided argument.

I reached over from my desk chair to remove Tray 1. Tray 1 is infamous. Tray 1 has the ability to jam the copier even while it’s empty. If strategically placed, Tray 1 could jam traffic.

The space vacated by Tray 1 was only three inches wide, but my arms are thin. I knew I could reach in as far as my shoulder to clear the jam. I started to roll up my right sleeve, stood up from my chair, and got down on my knees to take a closer look inside the belly of the beast. Tray 1 was banished to the floor, where I just know it started thinking about double-knotting my shoelaces.

I could see the piece of paper…crumpled into a contemptuous wad, its edges knotted into fan-like folds, reminding me that I have no influence over office equipment whatsoever.

Teacher face won’t work here.

I’d been suffering from a nasty head cold all week and the last thing I wanted was to pick a fight with the copier. However, I didn’t start the fight. I only asked the machine to do its job. I wouldn’t tolerate insubordination from anyone or anything in my classroom.

I looked back at the piece of paper. Its brow was wrinkled in a permanent state of defiance.

The copier was just as indignant.

“Yeah, look at me,” the copier thought. “What are YOU gonna do about this? You’re the one who asked for fifty copies of a letter at 9:15 in the morning. And you were whistling.”

No, sir, copier. Not today. This teacher is going to teach you a lesson.

As the piece of paper continued to taunt me from deep within the copier, I reached for it.

All the way to my shoulder.

For the longest second in existence, my thin little arm was stuck.

For the longest second in existence, an elaborate scenario began to play out in my head.

I’m on the floor, on my knees, and too far away from the phone to reach around with my free arm to call the office for help. The next class doesn’t come in for another thirty minutes. I could hang out here for thirty minutes, except…

…the outside doors locked behind me. Curiosity probably won’t get the best of this group, either. The weather’s too nice. They’ll stand outside. I could yell at the top of my lungs, but my office is in the back of the building. They’ll be talking. They’ll never hear me. My car is in front of the building, but they’ll just decide it’s Friday instead of Thursday. They don’t have band on Friday.

“Ms. G. is here. There’s her car. Wait…isn’t today Friday?”

“I thought it was Thursday.”

“No, it’s Friday. We’re supposed to be in the gym.”

“Are you sure? It was Wednesday yesterday.”

“She would have opened the door by now.”

“Yeah. Okay, it’s Friday.”

This thing does have wheels, though. I can just unplug it, roll over to the phone, and call the office for help…

…but I’ve just remembered this nasty head cold has resulted in the complete and total loss of my voice.

Now that I think about it…why did I even come to work today?

Stop it. That doesn’t help anything right now.

Wheels. Go with that.

Unplug and roll out into the band room…to the security camera. Wave like crazy. Someone will definitely see that on the security camera…

…the security camera that’s down for repairs right now.

This really is the longest second in existence.

I guess the sidewalk’s the limit.

I pulled my arm out of the copier, without the piece of paper.

I looked at my shoes. Tray 1 hadn’t had enough time to make its move.

I decided it was time to take complete control of the situation.

I sat down at my computer to email my letter.

A Perspective: Don’t Look Down (Unless It’s For The Sake Of Tourism and Photography)

My old pal Webster defines acrophobia as “an abnormal dread of being at a great height.” Of course, “great height” is quite subjective, seeing as how I sometimes find that being a mere three feet off the ground is outside of my comfort zone.

However, as a child, I tried to force myself into situations that would help me overcome that fear. I pretended to enjoy roller coasters as long as I could…and as long as someone was sitting next to me that would help hold me in the seat. I was proud of myself for riding the Judge Roy Scream at Six Flags Over Texas when I was eight and even more proud of myself for tackling Splash Mountain in high school (even if the words I shouted at my friends on the way down the final drop suggested otherwise), but as I grew older, my mind began to formulate more possibilities of what could happen at those heights. Therefore, I all but stopped riding roller coasters in my early twenties and merely tolerated glass elevators.

Elevators are another story altogether. I was stuck in one briefly when I was ten years old and developed some semi-annual recurring nightmares about being in one that was tipping over or falling, so I’m also not too crazy about that mode of transportation. Granted, my ankles and knees prefer the elevator, but my brain seems to like the stairs.

I think “The Price is Right” has long been providing the perfect representation of how I feel on an elevator.

Four years ago, I was in Chicago when a friend suggested we go to the top of the Sears/Willis/Whatever-It’s-Called-Now-Tower for a stunning view of the city. I’ll admit, I wanted to do it to start marking more items off of my Ferris Bueller Bucket List.

The Cameron pose.
I’d already taken care of the Cameron pose.

The thought of the elevator ride made me a little nervous. Well, the elevator ride turned out to be sixty seconds with no outside views, so it really ended up being a non-issue. I could handle one minute, although the feeling of my ears popping was a bit unnerving.

Once we made it to the observation area, I was very impressed with the views. However, another attraction was available that no one told me about, and once I saw it, I couldn’t believe it was there.

The Skydeck.

Yes, this is a perfectly natural way to observe your surroundings. What reasons could I possibly have to be absolutely, completely, 100% terrified? Oh, right...it's PLEXIGLASS.
What reasons could I possibly have to be absolutely, completely, 100% terrified? Oh, right. Chicago’s about a thousand feet below me…and I’m standing on PLEXIGLASS.

A professional photographer pulled us aside and asked us to take a step back for a picture. I looked at her and said, “You take a step back!” In the end, I managed to muster up enough courage to step out twice. The first time was for the terrifying look you see above, and the second one was to plaster on a smile for my friend so that we could have documentation of our little adventure. (Yes, a copy of that photo exists, but the one you see here more fully captures the sheer terror of my experience.)

This weekend, I decided it was time to tackle both of those fears again in the name of tourism and photography. Bass Pro Shops recently opened its beautiful new facility at the Pyramid in Memphis, and I really did want to take some photos. Ten dollars pays for your trip up the elevator to the top, and while it’s not a tremendous height, the elevator does offer a view…spectacular to some, slightly terrifying to me.

As soon as I stepped on the elevator, someone who had apparently ridden it about twenty times that day stepped on with a bag of greasy food. I’m one of those people who gets queasy when I get nervous about something, and the aroma of fried anything wasn’t really helping. Thankfully, the ride was relatively short, and the doors opened to the restaurant atop the Pyramid.

I really did love the views from the windows, but my real test was actually stepping outside to the observation deck for my photos. After all, I had to take few selfies to prove that I did it, and a few landscapes to feed my photography addiction.

Once again, I found myself in a situation that falls under the “Nobody Told Me About This” category.

Pyramid Feet
That first step is a doozy.

I’m not sure if the people who plan these things think that we don’t realize that the ground is down there, but they sure seem to be obsessed with giving us every opportunity to look down and see just how far off the ground we are standing.

Two older ladies were out on the deck and we immediately struck up a conversation about acrophobia.

“Oh,” one of them said, “I’ve also been up the Sears Tower, and I was stretched out all over that Skydeck thing. My friend here hates this stuff!”

Her friend had found a nice corner by the door.

“I’m not coming out there!” she yelled.

Her friend laughed like crazy.

“I made her come up here.”

“Well, I’m not too crazy about this myself,” I said. “But I really want to take some pictures. Here goes.”

“LOOK!” she yelled to her friend as I took a deep breath and stepped closer to the railing. The wind was gustier than I’d hoped it would be. “SHE DID IT! SHE’S OUT THERE!”

I immediately started snapping pictures.

The "New" Bridge view towards Arkansas.
The “new bridge” view back towards Arkansas.
Sometimes, the view looking up is just as impressive as the view looking down.
Sometimes, the view looking up is just as impressive as the view looking down.
Yep, I actually went out there.
Yep, I actually went out there.

Fifteen minutes later, I’d had enough, and I found myself back on the elevator for the trip back. So had my new friends. One of the ladies stepped on the elevator and walked over to the corner nearest the doors.

“There. I’m in my corner!” she exclaimed.

I was a little irritated that she had claimed it already, and her friend turned her attention to me.

“You need to look! It’s not like we’re gonna fall or anything!”

Bad choice of words.

But, I did force myself to look, and it wasn’t unpleasant…just not really my cup of tea. The decor is very nice. I just preferred looking at it from the ground.

I doubt I’ll be dancing a jig on top of a high-rise anytime soon, but I’m okay with taking a few trips to new heights once in a while.

Once in a great while.

A Brief Observation: “Awards” Shows

I did not watch the VMAs last night…or whatever “awards” show it was that graced the television sets of America. I heard plenty about it, though.

And that’s EXACTLY why I don’t watch “awards” shows.

These shows have NOTHING to do with music anymore. The “M” in MTV is like the “S” in Harry S. Truman. It’s there, but it doesn’t stand for anything. 

The first headlines I saw online this morning all had to do with the “controversy” created by Miley Cyrus and an interesting wardrobe that we honestly knew was within the realm of possibility for her. I also brushed up on my political news in hearing about Kanye West’s apparent declaration for the presidency in 2020.

I haven’t really seen any kind of “awards” show in years that hasn’t been “upstaged” by its own participants.

(If you think I’m using quotation marks quite a bit right now, it’s because I am.)

Here’s a news flash (kids, take notes): Miley Cyrus is NOT creating “controversy.” She’s seeking media attention.

(Whoops. I guess I just gave her some media attention, albeit on a very minor scale. I’ll try not to do that anymore.)

Kanye West is NOT going to be sitting in the Oval Office anytime soon. He’s trying to sell his product.

Their products are NOT music.

Their names are the products.

Marketing is the last remaining art form available for mass public consumption. Think about that the next time you decide not to tip a truly talented performer singing in a club to earn enough money for a meal or two.

Caveat emptor.

An Observation: 80s Sitcom Living Arrangements

I’d love to live in an 80s sitcom.

I should have graduated high school in the 80s. I would have looked totally radical.
I graduated high school in the 90s. I wish I’d graduated high school in the 80s. I would have looked totally radical like this (although I’m glad I didn’t contribute to the systematic destruction of the ozone layer via hairspray).

I’d have a sidekick with an annoying nickname who gets me into innocent mischief but actually proves to be a genuinely good person at heart.

I’d spawn a few catch phrases that would ultimately land my face on thousands of profitable t-shirts.

I’d go to a high school with one hallway and six lockers.

I’d have problems that could be solved in under thirty minutes each week, leading to a happy ending many times in the span of a year.

I’d skillfully navigate my way through the “Very Special Episode,” learning a valuable lesson in the end, forgetting it ever happened by the next episode, and find myself in another “Very Special Episode” when the ratings start to slump.

I’d sit in my living room on a couch that faces nothing.

I’d end up with a little brother or sister who magically aged six years in three months.

I’d play baseball with the neighbors on an AstroTurf lawn the size of a closet.

I’d be the valedictorian, the prom queen, lead singer of a rock band, choose between Harvard and Yale, deal with a bully for one episode, stand up to the bully and become their best friend by the next, save a friend from making a morally objectionable decision, make a morally objectionable decision, get caught, get grounded for the remainder of an episode, and hide a pet from my parents with comical results.

I’d use the kitchen staircase.

I’d triumph over the most humiliating experience in the sitcom universe…getting glasses.

I’d make a cameo in another sitcom, say my catch phrase, smile, soak in the studio audience applause, and go home.

Yes, I’d love to live in an 80s sitcom.

A True Story: My Mom, Elvis Presley, and a Stoplight

If you live anywhere within a few hundred miles of Memphis, Tennessee, August 16, 1977 is a date you practically learn about in school. It’s the day that, depending on your perspective, Elvis Presley either died…or the grand hoax of his death was hatched.

I am the only person in my immediate family who has never called the Bluff City home at one time or another. My mom lived there in the mid-70s while she was working in a hospital lab. My dad lived there close to the same time and claims he could practically see into Graceland’s back yard. My brother lived in Southaven around ten years ago, which doesn’t really count for this story, so I have no idea why I threw in that little tidbit. (Moving on…)

Mom really has the most interesting story out of her experience with living in Memphis. She was in the right place at the right time for about two seconds of spectacular family lore that I can always count on as a great conversation-starter in a room full of Elvis fans.

Here’s how it goes.

She told me this happened about a year before Elvis died, which is a good thing, because if she had claimed it happened after he died, we’d probably all be spending a lot of money on her therapy. She was sitting at a stoplight on her way to work (I think…it could have been on her way home from work, or it could have been on the way to the grocery store…we’ll just say “work” for now). A motorcycle pulled up beside her at the stoplight, and she turned her head to offer a passing glance at the driver. As soon as she looked back at the stoplight, she realized who was on the motorcycle and snapped her head back around to look again.

Elvis.

THE Elvis.

He looked back at her, smiled, and the light changed.

That was it.

I didn’t even see Graceland until I was 33 years old and she had the chance to see the man himself in a chance meeting at a stoplight.

While the story may seem anti-climactic…c’mon, folks! My mom sat at a stoplight next to ELVIS PRESLEY! While he was STILL ALIVE! And he SMILED AT HER!

Mom’s not an Elvis super-fan or anything like that, so as scores of Elvis fans make their way to and from Memphis on this August 16, she won’t be waiting at the gates of Graceland to light candles or leave flowers.

But, you have to admit that she has a pretty cool Elvis story.

A Silly Short: A Dog Tale

Undated File Photo: Bosco
Undated File Photo: Bosco

“I never knew my dad. He left before I was born. My mom did the best she could as a single mother trying to raise six of us. She didn’t speak English. She understood some of it, but she couldn’t respond. We lived outside on a dirt floor. One by one, my brothers and sisters were sent away. For some reason, I got to stay.

“Stay. There’s a word I heard a lot as a pup. I hated that word. I couldn’t do anything I wanted. One day, when I was a little older, someone left a door open and I ran away. I’d see my picture on fences and telephone poles from time to time, but I wasn’t going back there. I kept running. I think I liked chasing the red cars the best.

“I do okay. No leashes for this guy. I can get food anytime I want if I look at people just right. I stay in a barn most nights. The cows seem to be cool with it. Maybe I’ll settle down someday, but I’m in the prime of my life. You don’t stay four years old forever. I have time. I like to wander. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I knew where my family was, but I’m good. I’m a good boy. A good boy.”

A Brief Story: Logic and Mascots

During your formative years, you probably spent a lot of time trying to figure out your place in the universe. More specifically, the high school universe. With that in mind, my brief “career” as a cheerleader shouldn’t be too surprising. We all have to try different activities before we find something that fits, and it only took me a year to decide that cheerleading was not something I enjoyed. My fear of heights alone created enough problems.

Had I not had the experience, I probably would have wondered if I’d missed out on something. Of course, that’s not the case for everything. There are plenty of things I’ll never experience and never wonder about, like male-pattern baldness. However, at the time, in the high school universe, I had to find it out through trial and error.

As with anything, a number of tasks that must be completed as part of membership in organizations do not make themselves known until you are well into your involvement. Some are universal to the activity, like raising money for camp. Others are specific to your region, state, or school.

At our school, each week before the football games one cheerleader was responsible for making spirited name tags for the football players. Something about the way we did it bugged me, and it didn’t really occur to me to speak up until it was my turn to sit down and painstakingly create the little tags.

Every week, the tags were custom-made to tell the world exactly what we were going to do to our upcoming opponent.

And every week, the tags were wrong.

How, you say?

Well, for reasons that are still unknown to me to this day, the tags–without fail–always said something to this effect:

“Wrangle the Mustangs!”

“Sink the Pirates!”

“Kick the Mules!”

To make matters worse, the tags were in the shape of something that represented the opposing mascot: an anchor or a horseshoe, for example.

Our mascot was a vicious feline completely capable of inflicting its own brand of damage. The way I saw it, we were essentially switching sides. Every week.

I was on the floor tracing tiny tomahawks during practice one afternoon when I stopped and asked the big question.

“Why are we saying we’re going to do the things to them that their mascots are supposed to be doing to us?”

Silence.

“Umm…what?”

“Well, shouldn’t we be saying that we’ll claw them or mangle them or something? I mean, last week we said we’d sink the pirates. Isn’t it their job to sink us? We have to use our abilities, don’t you think? Cats don’t really like water anyway.”

Silence.

“You think too much.”

An Observation: World Emoji Day

Today, July 17, is World Emoji Day. (They have a day for everything.)

As far as I’m concerned, emojis represent another subtle step in the decline of language. Granted, had the ancient Egyptians not taken what was then a big leap forward and used their own form of emojis back in the day, written language as we know it might not have evolved to a more sophisticated state.

However, emojis–little characters on a screen–seem to possess enormous power among younger generations. More so than written language itself.

I’m sure you can find entire articles about how poorly-placed emojis ruined (fragile) relationships. Relationships rooted deeply in love, trust, understanding, and texts. Relationships in which the two parties had never actually spoken to each other…

True love.

My true love is, apparently, written language. I love to paint a picture with words, and I’m in awe of those who can do it beautifully. Words are powerful, and sometimes I fear that they are slipping away with each new generation.

That’s not to say I never use emojis.

They can add a nice touch to a text, since texts sometimes can be misconstrued. (See also: sarcasm.) I still contend that if it’s something terribly important, you should use the actual phone or meet in person. However, a quick message or request or simple “hello” can be accented nicely by the emoji of your choice.

World Emoji Day. Definitely a smiley-faced sign of the times.