Tag Archives: humor

Un-honorably Un-mentioned

There it is, folded on the coffee table. The newspaper’s culture magazine. Their annual writing contest with all winner’s works printed inside, just a few feet away from my shaking hands.

I’ve submitted many times before, but feel this is the year I get published. I’m going to win because I took a chance. I didn’t send something I thought they were looking for. I do that every year. And lose. Instead, I sent an original, edgy, witty, and clever piece to the newspaper jurors. Adult Prose section, here I come.

newspaper photo for blog 004I open the magazine. Adult Prose First Place winner – not me. Okay. I wasn’t expecting First Place anyway. I turn the page. Second Place. Not me. You know, it would be nice, just once, if I won … anyway. I turn the page. Another writer has taken Third Place. But, wait – something new this year, the List of Finalists, names of writers whose works were considered extremely worthy but didn’t make the cut. If I’m on the list, some progress has been made.

I wiggle my index finger down the page of ten names. Mike Andberg is not among them. Who are all these people? I’ve never heard of any of them.

The Honorable Mention section. I flip the pages. Quickly. I have not been mentioned in the Honorable Mention section either.

I check the Teen section winners. I never mentioned my age in my submission to the paper. Who knows? Maybe they placed my winning entry in the Teen category by mistake. I check it. Twice. My name’s not there. Teenagers are already in the paper and they’re, what, fifteen? I’m how old?

I peruse the Kids category. Jesus. I mean, how good can these pieces be? I’m not included in this section (whether accidentally or deliberately).

I envision tomorrow’s newspaper folded on my coffee table. A giant apology. It was all a printing mix up. Excluded from the Annual Writing Contest winners was Mike Andberg’s glorious, witty, funny, unique, and cutting edge piece. It could happen, right?

I can only hope it wasn’t placed in Obituaries.

 

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So Bright as to be Blinding, Part II

MeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UPMeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UPTen fifteen, Christmas morning, and poof, Christmas was cooked.

Once the last gift had been unwrapped, the entire holiday season was a memory. No more anticipation, no more unbridled glee. With all the weeks of preparation and festivities concluded, Mom wouldn’t make me take down the tree I’d lovingly decorated now, would she? Would she?

She did.

I took a stand and left my masterwork up until April.

Sure, the tree was a little brittle-looking, but I was still in the holiday spirit. However, even I had to admit watching the Masters Golf Tournament on TV next to a still-lit Christmas tree didn’t look right. When was Mom going to explode about the matter, outraged how the pathetic three inches of tinder dry needles below the parched tree were going to make the perfect nest for this year’s Easter egg hunt? Or what if she blew up and asked Dad to remove it, getting him riled at me in the process?

Fearing that scenario, sometime between the golfers turning Amen Corner and the final putt, I began the process of stripping the tree of all its sparkling adornment. In doing so, I made three mental notes about my tree responsibilities for next year. #1. Taking thousands of icicle strands off the tree was a lot less fun than putting them on (Mom insisted we save them all). #2. Trying to recall which boxes the 179 ornaments went back into was torture. #3. Not watering the tree was just an overall bad idea.

As I pulled the dry, browning evergreen out from the corner, a showy display of brittle needles rained to the floor. Just a few feet behind them was a frazzled electric cord plugged into a sparking wall outlet. Imagining the scene of our house going up in flames and Dad yelling, “How could you be so irresponsible!?” I dragged the crackling pine outside as quickly as I could. Then Mom proceeded to complain about the Appalachian Trail of needles that wound through the house all the way to the stack of trees piled in the backyard from previous Christmases. I couldn’t win. As I stared down at what was left of the tree, all I could think was Christmas was over, really over now, and that Mom and Dad were disappointed in my tree removal ability.

Regardless, I reminded Mom about wanting a pet for my next responsibility, suggesting a bear cub, maybe a St. Bernard. She said no. A week later, however, she said yes to a Venus flytrap. What? A plant?

My Venus flytrap lived inside a shiny, clear plastic box of dirt. It looked odd, but fashioned long, pretty lashes, inspiring me to name her Maybelline. I loved to watch her sit perfectly still one second, then snatch a fly inside her lightning-quick jaws the next. Assuming care of a Venus flytrap was Mom’s test to determine whether I could handle responsibility with a living organism (our Christmas tree didn’t count – fortunately), I didn’t want to blow it, and made sure Maybelline stayed on a regular eating schedule.

Soon, however, Maybelline stopped eating. Dead flies I dropped in her mouth sat there. Even bits of protein-fortified hamburger fell in with no change. Not until she turned yellow and her overflowing mouth looked like a dried-up, all-beef taco did I conclude she was actually dead.

“I don’t know what happened. She just died,” I cried to Mom.

“May this be a lesson to you to eat nutritious meals or you might shrivel and die, too.”

An image of Mom’s scary goulash came to mind, but I mustered enough strength to answer with words I absolutely had to deliver if I ever wanted another pet.

“Yes, Mom, I do know. I do. Nutritious meals are important. And the ones you serve are really really good.”

Sure enough, a few weeks later, she brought home a beautiful, royal-looking, sleek, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I immediately named Dexter.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, and the chapter titled, “Responsibility.” You can read more from that chapter and others in the Excerpts section from this website.

 

 

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Personal Shopping Cart Space and the Effect of Christmas Upon It

Quote of the day: Hail!  Hail!  The gang’s all here. — D. A. Estrom

008Some people say Christmas is the most heartwarming holiday of them all.

“Silver bells, silver bells / It’s Christmas time in the city”

As I walk through the front doors of one of Santa Fe’s upscale grocery stores, the produce department sounds like a cattle drive gone cowbell crazy. Everywhere I look, aisles are crowded. People are rushing by me as if en route to an urgent bathroom visit. Shoppers, with one ear attached to their cell phone, fuss over lettuce as if choosing their last supper, albeit an organic one.

Desperate, I park my cart in a little nook of space on the sales floor the marketing director has actually failed to fill. Unfortunately, in the time it takes me to pick my first item up for purchase, the empty cart is gone, snatched away in a flash.

I go back to the store entrance and get another cart. The only one left is a huge family size monstrosity. As I wheel this green, tank-like contraption back to produce, I get butt-ended by other people trying to turn their tanks around. Space is at an all-time premium today. Some people act as if there’s a personal two foot area surrounding their cart, a zone I’ll get shocked by if proceeding within. (I don’t exactly experience shocks, but do see snarls and flashes of customer teeth.) Wasn’t the average personal cart space in August at least three feet in width?

Cautiously navigating my way out of produce, I head to one of the store’s middle aisles. No way – it’s clear of customers! Overhead piped-in Christmas carols are replaced by “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” I kick my heels in mid-air as I skip down the lane for no other reason than I can.

But, like Dorothy in “Oz’s” Munchkinland Square, shoppers quickly descend upon me from all directions. I stop to watch my fellow New Mexican shoppers race around, as if by doing so they’ll shave time off their unalterable fifteen minute check-out experience.

Christmas lyrics return:  “Strings of street lights / Even stop lights / Blink a bright red and green / As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.” “Shoppers rush home” is a reminder, a warning I must stop and look both ways for oncoming customers whenever exiting an aisle. I’ve learned that cart traffic laws don’t exist during Christmas, despite the fact it’s the season of giving.  How sad. Christmas isn’t a very heartwarming holiday anymore. Because of it, and feeling crowded, people just get grumpy. All I really want to do now is shop, pay, and get out of here.

Approaching my car in the parking lot (with its Munchkin-sized lanes and Munchkin-sized parking spaces), my checkout line bagger suddenly rushes up and says, “Oh, sir, you left your bottled water behind. Here it is. And happy holidays, sir.”

He smiles. I smile. We even shake hands.

“Silver Bells / silver Bells / Soon it will be Christmas Day.”

Maybe Christmas hasn’t completely failed the test after all. I guess it just depends on who you bump into.

 

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So Bright as to be Blinding (was my tree decorating delight)

MeXmsTree 48bit 800 color  dust111JUST ICICLES CLOSE-UP“Being a man is about taking on responsibility,” Dad said to me one day in a  low and throaty delivery. “Some day your time will come to prove yourself.”
Thank goodness I was only nine and had a long time to go before proving myself, whatever that meant.

“Michael, I want you to put up the family Christmas tree and decorate it, then take it down at the end of the season,” Mom said to me one day. What? The moment’s here already? And I’m still only nine? And who, me? Given responsibility with tree icicles? Candy canes? AC powered bubble lights? Electricity? I’ll blow up the tree.

After Dad fulfilled his meek part of this year’s tree task – dumping a freshly cut Scotch pine on the basement floor and getting it to stand inside its cheap aluminum base – I initiated my big task.

I smothered the tree in a blinding sheen of bright silver icicles. Then, I covered the pine’s branches with twice their weight in bright ornaments and lights. To top everything off, I placed the heavy star contraption on the uppermost branch, bending it over like a week-old carrot. But it was fun standing on a tall ladder trying to get the wimpy limb to stand straight. When else had I been allowed to use a tall ladder?

I stood back, assessed my completed tree design, slapped my hands together and smirked. Responsibility wasn’t so bad after all – more like pure merriment! Decorating was art, and I loved it. Perhaps the best part was being allowed to create my tree masterpiece without being overseen, especially by Dad. It was all endless joy.

 

Ten fifteen, Christmas morning and poof, Christmas was cooked.

Once the last gift had been unwrapped, the entire holiday season was a memory. No more anticipation, no more unbridled glee. With all the weeks of preparation and festivities concluded, surely Mom wouldn’t make me take the tree down now, would she? Would she?

To be continued December 28th with my next installment of “Stories From Maybe Boomer.”

 

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Planet “Customer” and the Black Friday Universe

guy in Cat texting alone 002Sale sign SKINNYTo all salespeople working today, here are my Top Ten Black Friday Customers to Avoid (assembled from many years serving terms in men’s clothing, grocery, garden and thrift store work).

  1. The “Do you work here?’’ greeters.
    To whom I dream of answering back with, “No, I’m only wearing this bright purple shirt with my name tag on it because I’m auditioning for the next Barney.”
  2. People who walk around with squinty eyes and nose, often with mouths slightly ajar.
    These are often the analyzer types, ones who’ll scrutinize the quality of a product and ask me six hundred questions a six-year-old could answer. They have the sense of humor of a six-year-old and always come in when you’re in a hurry.
  3. The “measurer.”
    This is the person who comes armed with a tape measure and measures every item in the store to see if it will fit in their home. Despite the tape measure, and all my muscle, the piece of furniture they just bought will not fit in their car.
  4. Gum chewers.
    Probably just more unattractive than dangerous, their odd unsociable habit is off-putting. If in public, I’d merely run away, but today I have to listen to what  these people think is a sense of humor and their annoying bubble-popping.
  5. Women with fancy, jewel-studded glasses.
    They’re usually vain and ask me to do something extra to make themselves feel pampered and served. Even ones with costume jewelry-studded glasses expect the same sales service since they think I’m too dumb to recognize costume jewelry. This goes for men who wear knock-off brands to look more Italian and bold.
  6. The “ponderer.”
    This person, man or woman, stares at a sales item so long, it melts under the heated scrutiny. But I usually like “the ponderer” types. They need no help. Sometimes, however, they will ask to scrutinize all sales restrictions, layaway plan and refund policy and ruin everything. Beware.
  7. The old English Lady.
    With slow speech, well thought-out words, and clean, conservative wardrobe, this woman intimidates me.  Any helpful suggestions I make will get slammed back over the net as inaccurate and smacking of Yankee bias.
  8. The “Across the room yellers.”
    These people begin every sales experience with, “Excuse me, excuse me?,” as in, “I want attention now because I’m the most important person on Earth.” Humor must be used in dealing with them. I often turn slowly around with evil eye and give them a big, “Ye-e-e-e-e-e-s-s-s-s-s-s-s?” They never think it’s funny, though.
  9. The constant “Bargainer” to get a lower price.
    “The price on the tag is smeared and confusing.” “There’s no price at all, but last week it was two dollars.” “It’s dirty and was on the floor.” “But I just heard you give the customer before me a discount.” These are the same people who eventually pay with a hundred dollar bill or American Express card.
  10. People with spittle on their lips.
    The average sales transaction between salesman and customer is two feet, eight inches. That’s way too close for comfort with these people.

Thank goodness Black Friday happens only once a year.

So far.

Good luck, salespeople.

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Paper or Plastic, Dude?

Quote of the day: Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths. — Moliere

005I was at the grocery check out when the cashier asked me, “Paper or plastic, dude?” Not really paying attention, I thought he was asking if I wanted to pay with bills or a credit card.

“What?” I asked.

“Paper or plastic bag?”

“Oh – well, I dunno. It’s just hard. I mean, plastic bags, they hang around the environment for a hundred years. And paper bags? They cut big trees down to make them. I dunno – you decide.”

“Like … what?”

Flustered, it was obvious he’d never weighed the ecological consequence of choosing paper or plastic.

“Uh, you know, I can just carry my groceries to the car. I can carry them.  I didn’t need a bag in the first place.”

“No problem, man. And I think we sell cloth bags on aisle six … yeah, I think six.”

“Great. Great. I’ll get one next time. It’s good to see you care about the environment here.”

Then, while walking out of the store, groceries dropping everywhere from carrying too full a load, I wondered if migrant workers picked cotton to make those reusable cloth bags on aisle six.

Oh, for heaven’s sake, dude.

I don’t want to be like my cashier friend, but sometimes I don’t want to be me either.

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Art Education, Cubed

Quote of the day:  A little learning is a dangerous thing. — Pope

Fins Color duplicate 48bit 1200 dust remv007

“Fins” Pastel on paper.

I was raised in the Maryland suburbs right outside Washington DC and was privy to see some of the world’s greatest works of art exhibited in galleries at the Corcoran, Hirshhorn, National Gallery, and Phillips Collection (my favorite). The fact that all these galleries had their own Picassos didn’t necessarily impress me. I wasn’t that fond of Picasso, especially his Cubist works that looked like someone slashed the canvas a couple hundred times over. In fact, it not only took me forty years to appreciate art in general, but one of Picasso’s own piers, Georges Braque, to help me understand Picasso.

Braque would do little collages of still life set ups, but split the wine bottles and bowls and apples into sections, then distribute them around the canvas, freeing himself – and the viewer – from experiencing art in the usual way. Although Braque and Picasso are synonymous with the invention of Cubism, I’ve been less partial, or perhaps comfortable, with Picasso, who often split women’s faces and breasts up and placed them in the darndest places by the time the painting was finished. But I credit both artists for inspiring me to look deeper at the possibilities for art, including my own.

The image above, “Fins,” is my pastel drawing of the strange and angular rock formations I saw traveling in Utah’s Arches National Park. This range of rocks not only roused my interest, but lent itself well to a Cubist-style breakdown. The completed composition reveals the way I wanted to see the rocks, ones that resembled fish fins in my mind, or so I thought.

I worked in this style for a number of years but stopped when I felt I was relying too much on a kind of visual formula. I’d seen many Cubist paintings, especially after teaching about the Cubism movement as a high school art teacher, and questioned if my art pieces weren’t becoming patterned around Cubism so much I was losing my own statement in the process.

One day twenty years ago, when I inferred to my impressionable students that an artist should be free to express himself, a few fifteen-year-olds came right back at me with, “We agree, Mr. Andberg. Art should be about freedom, total freedom, man,” which left me far too many “totally free” pieces of dung slung on poster board to grade. (Read the introduction to Chapter Eight, “Education,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer, for more on my stint  in teaching.)

A few years later when I lectured on the Surrealists’ method of staying up many nights in a row without sleep to get altered views of subject matter for their paintings, one of my students tried it at home. After just one night, and looking like hell come morning, his parents called me to complain how I’d put bad ideas into their son’s head.

Teaching art is hard. H-a-r-d. There are so many fine lines. Those lines are easy to cross over, for working artists as well as students.

But a student being over-educated about art? Is such a thing possible?

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