Friday, April 19, 2019

Seeing Satan in the smoke & the story of Daryl, the forgotten 13th Apostle


The tragic incineration of Notre Dame Cathedral had the faithful around the world peering through the smoke to see the faces of hope and redemption.

Not me.

I studied the smoke to see if I spy the face of  — brace yourself —

Satan!

It’s a habit I picked up through years of reading the Weekly World News. 

You can have “The Onion,” “Mad,” and other hipper sources of satire. To me, the funniest periodical ever printed was ‘the WWN. 

Sample headlines: “Scientists Reveal Saturn is a Giant UFO!” “Man’s 174-mph Sneeze Blows Wife’s Hair Off!” and “Sadam and Osama Adopt Shaved Baby Ape!”
They never skimped on the exclamation points. Never!!!

The News was the paper that provided some of the most comprehensive coverage of the life and death of Elvis Presley — in 2006. He was 71.

I started reading the WWN in college, never dreaming my “career” would lead to friendships with swashbuckling staffers. The Weekly World News was until it closed in 2007 a sister publication of National Enquirer. Their offices were separated by a simple partition.

So when I finished doing my wacky Enquirer stories during my visits, I’d stroll around the partition to revel in the preposterous. It was a storyteller’s paradise.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. When global tragedy struck, they were like other more sober news organizations in that they were ready to detail what happened and assign blame.

Unlike those prissy brethren they held nothing back when it found blame. And their quoted experts usually laid the blame at the hooved feet of …

Satan!!!

Yes, any calamity inevitably led to a front page picture of smoking ruins with a sinister headline: “Face of Satan Seen in Smoke …”

Of course, being fair and balanced before there was a fair and balanced, they devoted ample coverage to Team God.

That’s how I learned about the existence of Daryl the 13th Apostle. I recently found a copy of the story in box of old keepers. Headline: “Christ’s Forgotten 13th Apostle Was an Idiot!”

The story says a maverick researcher learned that the Apostle named Daryl was an “obnoxious jerk” and a constant embarrassment to the Savior. Church fathers believed dopey Daryl detracted from the solemnity of the Bible and edited him out of the Gospels.

British historian Dr. Chad Norton-Chestwell is quoted as saying, “Daryl was rather like a drunken party guest who clowns around thinking he’s funny when he’s really just annoying.”

He said Daryl showed up drunk at the Sermon on the Mount and actually heckled Jesus, shouting things like “Borr-ing!”

He demolished the dignity of the occasion of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem by mooning the crowd and telling Jesus, “How’s that for turning the other cheek?” Jesus had to stop His followers from beating Daryl senseless.

The story about how Jesus turned water into wine when the wedding party ran out? Take a wild guess why they ran out.

He couldn’t even keep his yap shut during Jesus’s miracles. When He brought back Lazarus from the dead Daryl pinched his nose and declared, “The man still stinketh.”

No realm was too sacred for Daryl to satirize. One time a chair Matthew was sitting in collapsed and Daryl said, “My Lord, you may be the Son of God, but you’re one lousy carpenter.”

“At the Last Supper, he started a food fight. The other 12 apostles constantly urged Christ to give Daryl the heave-ho, but Jesus being who He was, he could only forgive the idiot.”

Yet, at the crucifixion, it was Daryl alone whom He called to be at His side, Norton-Chestwell said, adding, “Daryl stayed at the foot of the cross, making light of the situation with pratfalls and one-liners, to keep the Lord’s spirits up.”

Now, I suspect some — just some — of the WWN’s stories were made up (“Baby Born with Wooden Leg!”). 

But I hope the story of Daryl the Forgotten Apostle is factual.

I like the idea of a Savior with whom you could sit and enjoy Leslie Nielsen in “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” movies. 

Because some probably did see the face of Satan in the smoke above Notre Dame.

But if you look closely enough, you just might see the Face of God every time you see someone you love smiling back at you.


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Monday, April 15, 2019

A reckoning for the inventor of styrofoam


Carl Georg Munters, the father of styrofoam, died on this day in 1989. News reports made no mention if his coffin was packed with form-fitting styrofoam to insulate his body on its journey to Hell.

The late Swede’s non-recyclable invention is the source of much environmental angst.

So is plastic, of course. But plastic — at least for now — gives responsible consumers the option to recycle. So all should be hunky-dory, right?

Apparently not.

That must mean responsible consumers are becoming like all the endangered species being killed off by all the irresponsible ones. There aren’t enough of us left to make much of a difference.

It puts me, a determined optimist, in an awkward position.

The pessimist says the oceans are choked with plastic. I say soon we’ll all be able to drive to Europe! Truly, Jesus walked on water and became the Savior. What will it mean when we’re all able to walk on water?

The pessimist says we’re on trajectory to cover the entire planet in styrofoam up to 20-feet deep. I say when that happens plane crash fatalities will drop to zero!

Did you know styrofoam is 98 percent air? That’s fascinating.

So if you’re ever in the middle of the ocean and find yourself beginning to drown, just reach out for a nearby chunk of styrofoam and begin to eat it. 

Of course, I’m being facetious. Thanks to so much plastic it’ll soon be impossible to drown in the ocean. 

I was prepared to have my intellect tickled when I Googled “styrofoam facts” and up on top popped “Styrofoam fun facts.” 

I expected to read little bullet-point delights like: “Did you know if you soak discarded styrofoam chunks in water long enough they’ll turn into tiny dolphins?”

That to me would be a fun fact.


Here are Google's idea of actual “fun facts.”

  • Styrofoam is made from styrene and styrene is made from petroleum products, which are non-renewable and pollute the environment.
  • Styrene is a cancer-causing health hazard.
  • Chemicals from Styrofoam plates and cups can leach into food, especially if you microwave the Styrofoam.

If those are fun facts then the Old Testament descriptions of things like plague, pestilence and human sacrifice are the “feel good” parts of the Bible.

And remember: styrofoam is 98 percent air.

Imagine how horrific it’ll be if styrofoam is ever made out of … styrofoam!

The abundance of styrofoam is one of the reasons I’m convinced if Planet Earth were our first apartment we could kiss that security deposit goodbye — and anymore when it comes to kissing anything involving the planet I’d recommend one of those aristocratic air kisses that don’t come within a foot of the face. 

Set aside that styrofoam can kill us — kill us! — the really big problem is its ubiquity. It’s everywhere and it takes 500 years to decompose. 

That means the styrofoam cup you threw away after this morning’s coffee will remain in the environment through the year 2519 or about when Larry King concludes it may be time to start thinking about retirement.

One source estimates we make and waste 12 million tons of styrofoam each year.

Can you imagine the size of 12 million tons of something that weighs so little? It would be like the size of a Saturn. 

Not Saturn the vehicle.

I’m talking Saturn the planet.  

Maybe I was unduly harsh on Carl Munters. He was after all a brilliant man with more than 1,000 patents to his name. He’s best known for a refrigerator design that so revolutionized cooling efficiency that Albert Einstein declared it “astonishing.”


Try and fathom doing anything that would make Einstein say, “Wow! Never thought of that.”

We need a new Munters — not to be confused with  a new “Munsters” (I adore Herman Munster) — who’ll fix all that’s been wrought by styrofoam.

Maybe we could tweak the composition so styrofoam is even lighter, lighter than even air. That way you could drink your coffee, let go of the cup and it could slowly rise into outer space.

Remember: Be sure to let go of the cup!

Or in tribute to the inventor, we could fill every coffin with styrofoam packing peanuts. That would rid the surface planet of styrofoam while simultaneously acting as a stabilizing agent in the event of earthquakes.

But, clearly, we must do something.

Because I don’t really think Munters is going to Hell.

My fear is Hell is coming to us.


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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

"Us" movie & the perils of genius


Val and I walked entertained, but bewildered from the movie theater. We’d just seen the highly regarded new Jordan Peele horror flick, “Us.”

The movie is a huge critical and commercial success with 94 percent of Rotten Tomato critics declaring it a solid winner.

Val said she was eager to get on her computer to read informed explanations about what the hell happened in the movie we just watched.

I was eager to get back to the bar and warn fans of coherent movies with logical conclusions to avoid “Us.”

Now is the time when considerate writers stop to warn: “Spoiler alert!” We do this so we don’t ruin what happens in the movie for those who want to see it without taint. They don’t want us to say what happened.

Spoiler alert! I have no idea.

It was artfully done and I was entertained, but I’m becoming increasingly irritated by what I consider lazy storytelling like I saw in “Us.” 

A truly great movie ought to have an ending that puts a bow on a compelling story.

For example, I knew at the end of “The Big Lebowski” and “Smokey and The Bandit” that bowling would remain an essential part of The Dude’s life and that The Bandit’s next mechanized mayhem would involve a trip to Boston for some tasty clam chowder. 

Spoiler alert! I often lapse into dim-witted facetiousness.

But my point persists. I didn’t need scholarly explanation and both films were highly satisfying. 

A better example is another well-regarded thriller by another director regarded as a cinematic genius. 

I could go into murky plot details but it would waste your time. And, really, I need just four words to to secure your attention.

“I see dead people.”


That’s it. That’s the whole plot. Most of you know I’m talking about “The Sixth Sense,” the 1999 best picture nominee by M. Night Shyamalan.

It’s a near-perfect thriller that succeeds in ways Peele’s “Us” does not.

First and foremost, it has a terrific plot that makes perfect contextual sense. It’s complex without being incomprehensible. It makes more sense after subsequent viewings. I suspect “Us” won’t hold up at all. When “Sixth Sense” is over, you feel more intelligent, not less.

In fact, the only question I had after watching M. Night Shyamalan’s “Sixth Sense” was did the M. in M. Night Shyamalan stand for Mid.

Spoiler alert! It does not. The M. stands for Manoj, which to me is too bad ‘cause I think MidNight Shyamalan sounds way cooler.

I suspect Peel’s next movie will be even more incomprehensible than “Us.”

Blame the perils of normal men or women being declared geniuses when they’re actually just about above average. Tell someone that he or she is a genius and colleagues and critics become apprehensive about challenging the genius’ views. 

Agreeing with the genius associates you with genius; disagreeing with the genius puts you opposite of genius.

That makes you an idiot.

Pretty soon, the careless genius is unable to even act with crucial self-doubt. That, I suspect, is why “Us” is so flawed. Here come the “Us” spoilers:

Because no one said, “Jordan, babe, why didn’t the girl just run away? Yeah, the spider kid adds creepiness to the film, but it’s just a senseless distraction. And the whole Hands Across America thread is utterly preposterous.

“Now, I’m no genius, but a nice tidy ending would be having these tethered whatevers climb into a black Trans Am and race up I-95 North on a quest for clam chowder.”

I suspect Peele is in for a scalding backlash and his career will follow the same rocky trajectory as Shyamalan’s has. It took him 15 years and a string of stinkers to resume his success.

You may wonder if I fear being on the wrong side of so much critical acclaim, that I fear my projections will lead many to dismiss me as a rube, a buffoon, a cultural boob ignorant of Hollywood's future as well as its past.

Spoiler alert!

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.



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Friday, April 5, 2019

Optimist gets world's worst rejection letter


In my evergreen attempts to gauge my occupational results (pathetic) versus my potential (monumental), I think I’ve settled on what kind of following I have. It is thus:

I have a cult following.

That sounds presumptuous until you consider the kind of cult writing like mine inspires.

My cult is polite, proper, has good posture and excels at things like living room “Jeopardy.”

This is opposed to the kind of cults that indulge in drugs, random sex and stand on street corners and harass strangers as to why they should sell their possessions and follow me in ways that have nothing to do with my lame Twitter account (seeking followers @8days2Amish!).

But I’m always tickled when someone tells me how much they enjoy my blog or my books — and some of them are sober folk, too!

One of my favorite’s is my buddy Greg who’s told me, “You’re the reason I’m glad I have insomnia.” It’s true. He says when he can’t sleep, he goes back and reads in reverse order nearly all my 2,000 blog posts from the past 10 years.

He says he laughs out loud, which inevitably awakens his wife, who I must assume either hates my guts or at least wishes my blogs were full of things like golf or pottery tips or other LOL-free topics.

But he’s not alone. I’m always hearing the kind of feedback that buoys me into believing one day all this deliberate typing will pay off.

I keep thinking I’m on the verge of some breakthrough where literary agents and publishers see me through new eyes. A prestigious agent who was once indifferent to my book proposals replied to my latest idea to say just that.

I now make him sick.

The book proposal is “The Art of Living Suddenly: How to Deal with a Parkinson’s Diagnosis (& other things that suck).” It’s about how anytime we hear of anyone dying suddenly we need to commit to living suddenly.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Thank you so much for writing. Your book hits me too close to the bone: both of my parents had Parkinsonism-induced Alzheimer’s disease, and I watched them die from it. I’ll likely get it, too. More specifically, Robin Williams was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia, a particularly nasty variety of Alzheimer’s that I’ve also seen up close and personal. I’m afraid it’s a pass from me. I do not think you should pursue a project that has the potential to upset readers the way this upsets me.

Frank

I swear I went back and read it twice to be certain I didn’t miss the part where reading my proposal made his penis detach.

Really, I think a guy like Frank would benefit from reading a book about sudden living. He seems haunted by a future that may or may not ever come to pass. Who knows? They may find a cure for what killed his parents or he may enjoy a symptom-free life.

Or he may get hit by a bus today on his way to the Friday bowling meet.

I mean, you always have to look at the bright side.

I without fail do. I mean, I was floored by the scalding desolation of what I consider to be among the worst rejection letters ever sent — and, by God, I’m something of an expert.

But I got up and am back up and at ‘em today, forever convinced I’m right and anyone who rejects me is wrong, wrong, wrong.

In that way, I’ve always considered myself the Lucas Jackson of rejection-riddled writers. Luke is the Paul Newman character in the peerless “Cool Hand Luke.”

“Dragline” (George Kennedy) beats Luke so thoroughly he becomes exasperated at Luke’s stubborn insistence on rising to rejoin a battle he cannot possibly win.

“Stay down, man,” Dragline pleads. “You’re beat.”

“You’re gonna have to kill me …”

In the end — spoiler alert! — they do just that.

I’ve for years tried to divine some profound lesson from Luke’s struggles and all I can figure is it’s "don’t buck the system or the system will kill you."

So I’ve perhaps learned the lesson.

I’ve just never applied it.

And I never will.





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