You Know You’re a Writer When . . .

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1. The longer you go without writing something – anything – the more anxious you feel.

2. Something good happens to you and you can’t help writing about it.

3. Something terrible happens to you and you can’t help writing about it.

4. You send just about everything that happens to you to that part of your mind that stories come from.

5. You see your life and your friends’ lives as a movie/story, watching yourself and them from the outside, always trying to figure out how to make the happy ending happen.

6. You constantly correct your friends’ grammar in conversation, and their spelling and punctuation on Facebook.

7. Your friends say, “Oh, no! Another long story!” when you’re all shooting the breeze, knowing you have an endless trove of stories to tell, all of which are very, very, very long.

8. Friends are always asking you to help them write important emails, or just the best way to say something important to someone.

9. When you say something particularly astute or profound, your friends ask you who wrote it, assuming you’re quoting a famous author, sort of like in the movie Dead Poet’s Society when Robin Williams recited a poem line, “For only in their dreams can men be truly free. T’was always thus, and always thus shall be.” The other teacher says, “Longfellow?” Robin says, “Keating.” (His last name. It was from his poem.)

10. You no longer read for enjoyment completely, but with an eye toward story structure.

11. Everything in your life – the highest highest and lowest lows – is fodder for stories.

What else would you add to this list?

Great. I Couldn’t Sleep Last Night and Got on YouTube. Now I Believe Everything.

I’ve got to do something about this insomnia. Here’s what I learned last night on YouTube.

  1. Nicolas Cage is an immortal vampire. (There’s an old west photo of him.)

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  1. The Loch Ness Monster, chupacabra, Yeti, Mothman, and Bigfoot all exist. (Sasquatch is just looking for someone to roast a marshmallow for him. Wouldn’t you be if you’d never tried one? That’s all he wants! Come on, people!)

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  1. The Beatles never existed. (They were clones. I don’t believe this but it is an idea I can imagine actually happening. If someone is making millions for a record company and dies suddenly, what might they do to keep that money coming in? When it comes to greed, people are capable of absolutely anything.)

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  1. Shape-shifting reptilian humanoids live among us. (That explains some of my friends, and I understand Miley Cyrus now!)
  1. The earth is flat. (The main theory by proponents of this theory is that when you drive, the road looks straight. Wow.)

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  1. There are secret UFO bases in Antarctica, being revealed one by one as the polar ice caps melt. (You’d think there would be at least one photo of an alien wearing a jacket, or at least a nice cardigan sweater.)

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  1. The moon doesn’t exist. (It’s an alien hologram to hide their floating base.)

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  1. A UFO crashed in Roswell in the 1950’s and alien bodies were recovered. (Independence Day was a documentary.)

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  1. The earth is hollow. (I just knew Land of the Lost was true! Marshall, Will and Holly’s routine expedition was a warning to us all. There ARE dinosaurs living in the middle of the earth. And more importantly, now I know where all my missing socks are!)

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  1. SIRI can tell me when the world is going to end. (Haven’t you always been a bit creeped out by her voice? Now you know why.)

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  1. The Denver Airport is hell. (Well, all airports are, but especially Denver. And with art like this adorning the walls, who can blame anyone for believing this one?)

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  1. Elvis is Alive, and was standing in line at the airport behind the mom in the movie Home Alone. (From the King of Rock ‘n Roll to an extra! Or was it a secret message to his fans? Don’t you kind of hope it’s true? We all hate our heroes to die.)

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  1. The lunar walk was a hoax. (Hey, we couldn’t let the Russki’s get their first, could we?)

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  1. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are “false flag operations” – fake events created to scare the public and make it more easy for politicians to manipulate them and/or to promote legislation or an agenda. (All kidding aside, I was hoping this was true so these terrible events could not have really happened.)

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  1. The matrix is real. A few billionaires are paying scientists to break us out of the simulated reality we all live in. (Check the back of your neck right now.)

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  1. Taylor Swift is the reincarnated leader of a Satanic cult. (All that sweet music about teenage romance is just a smoke screen! Didn’t you always think, deep down, that she’s just a little too sweet to be wholesome?)

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  1. Hillary Clinton died and a body double replaced her. (Another excuse for losing the election!)

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  1. One of Obama’s bodyguards was an alien with no ears and green skin. (Upon further investigation, I found out he’s really just a strange-looking dude who can do without the alien comparisons, thank you very much.)

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  1. The Illuminati are space lizards who control the world and everything in it. (So that’s why I’m not a millionaire yet. I’m not a lizard! I knew something was holding me back. You know, other than my own laziness.)

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  1. Hitler is still alive. (Well, that’s depressing. He hasn’t aged a day and the arrogant prick is not even trying to disguise himself!)

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  1. The Large Hadron Collider, which scientists would have us believe was created to further our knowledge of atomic particles, is actually a multi-dimensional portal intended to awaken Osiris, the Egyptian god of death. (Like we don’t have enough problems already!)

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  1. Dinosaurs helped build the pyramids. (It’s good to be the pharaoh! This also explains why they needed so many slaves. T-Rex’s get hungry, especially after all that heavy lifting.)

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  1. The ancient Egyptians also tooled around in helicopters and other flying machines. (Like having pet dinosaurs wasn’t enough. They had it made but not in the shade, because there was none, unless they stood next to their dinosaurs.)

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  1. Mermaids exist. (But they are fugly and got a serious upgrade with Ariel.)
  1. Shadow forces in our government are coating us all with chemicals via jet “chem-trails” to dull our critical thinking and ability to question authority so they can establish a New World Order. (It couldn’t possibly be that most people are too lazy and hedonistic to spend time learning about and getting involved in politics. Seriously, this one bothers me, because I don’t remember so many trails of smoke in the sky when I was a kid. What is going on here?)

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  1. And last but not least, flying saucers are real. (And thank goodness. As the Monty Python gang pointed out, “Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space because there’s bugger all (none) down here on earth.”)

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Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom – Episode 5, “Mummy on the Plane.”

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Welcome to episode 5 of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .

When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”

“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.

Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”

I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”

Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”

God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.

Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark. 

Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.

So, to today’s episode – Mummy on the Plane.

If this isn’t proof positive that I’m the subject of a YouTube prank channel owned and operated by God Himself, I don’t know what is.

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I was returning from Hawaii, seated at a nice window seat. I had arrived early so I was the first one on the plane. The plane filled to capacity for half an hour or so but the seat next to me remained empty. “What luck!” I thought. “I’m going to have two seats to myself!” But God had other plans. You see, I didn’t know it, but I was again smack dab in the middle of another one of His pranks.

With no seats left, I saw a man coming down the aisle who can only be described as “the mummy.” He wore Bermuda shorts and a tank top but his arms, legs, neck and face were covered with gauze. Old gauze. Gauze with yellow liquid seeping through it.

“God in heaven, no,” I thought. “Me in heaven, yes,” said God, laughing.

Jesus said, “Dad, you really should stop. This is going too far.” Jesus tries to stick up for me, but ultimately he must capitulate to that prankster Dad of his. God might actually stop pranking me if Jesus didn’t always end up laughing, too. He needs to commit. But I digress.

So the mummy sat down next to me. I tried to squeeze myself against the outer wall of the plane to avoid contact with him but it was a smaller plane so the seats were even narrower than usual. 

“Okay, what’s going on?” I asked. 

“With what,” the mummy asked.

“With YOU,” I replied. “Is it contagious?” There was no time for manners. We had a three hour flight ahead of us and the plane was about to take off.

“I don’t know, dude,” he said, meekly. “I caught something in Fiji and nobody’s sure what it is.”

“Right, that’s it,” I said. “Let me out.”

The mummy stood up. I got up, wished him luck, walked to the stewardess station, and told them I refused to sit next to a walking, talking mummy. After some argument about FAA regulations, they agreed to let me sit on one of their fold-out chairs that was apparently made for four-year olds. Suffice to say it was not a luxurious trip. Of course, my squirming discomfiture was only more fodder for the video. Angels need to laugh, too, maybe even more than mortals.

Hopefully, being God’s little cartoon character will get me an instant pass when I get up there. There should be some reward for all this abuse. Again, this is another story that can be filed under “Funny now – not so funny at the time.”

Nicely played, God. Nicely played.

How Many Islamic Terrorist Attacks Will It Take?

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I usually try to stay in the light but, like all of us, I’ve been haunted this week by the thought of the suicide bombing in Manchester. Think about the depth of evil required on the part of the bomber to go to a concert and see people sitting down around him, mostly young girls like the victim shown here; to see their happy, shining faces and youthful energy and still follow through with his warped mission; to still consider it honorable to blow them all to pieces. Think about it. To see this girl sitting near him and still push that button. That’s the evil we’re up against.
 
Do the celebrities who say we need to “stop fighting and love each other” really think a single jihadist will be swayed in the slightest by their feel-good philosophies? The fact that they live in gated compounds with heavy security and take bodyguards with them everywhere they go only contributes to how completely out of touch and not worth listening to they are. I’ll listen to Navy Seals, Rangers, and other soldiers who have actually confronted this evil face-to-face. They know that Islamic terrorists want us all dead simply because we are not exactly like them, and because their interpretation of Islam demands that they either convert or exterminate everyone who is not a Muslim. Their goal is world domination by the sword, and the only thing that will stop them from their stated goal of killing all of us and “burying America in a sea of fire” is killing them first. After all this time, and more than 25,000 Islamic terror attacks around the world since 9/11, why is that still so hard for people to understand? How many more Islamic terror attacks will it take before we grow up and do what needs to be done?
In order to win someone over with love, they need to have love somewhere in their heart to begin with. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an ounce of love in people who decapitate prisoners, burn them alive, film videos of children hunting bound prisoners in abandoned buildings, throw gays off buildings, and bury women up to their necks then throw stones at their heads; people who decapitate their daughters for the “dishonor” of being raped, then walk around their village holding their daughter’s severed head and declaring, “Look, my family’s honor is restored!” Thinking we can change the hearts of people so deeply ignorant is like trying to cure a serial killer by showing him reruns of Sesame Street.
 
The good news is we (America and the Allied Forces) have defeated evil before – most notably the Japanese fascists and Hitler’s Nazi’s – and we will do it again. It is true we’re fighting an ideology and men without honor who wear no uniforms (in fact, they often dress as women), attack the most defenseless, and hide in schools and hospitals after carrying out cowardly attacks, depending on the decency of America not to bomb them there, but we will eradicate this cancer. We will. We’re aware now of how to fight men without absolutely no honor. We’re adjusting.
 
Rest in peace, little Saffie, and everyone who lost your lives so unnecessarily in Manchester. I’m sorry your politicians were more interested in open borders and feeling good about themselves than your safety, but you will be avenged.
I love the quote below, but I find it either delusional or dishonest that Gandhi attributed the fall of tyrants to “the ways of truth and love” – when those tyrants fell because they were defeated in war. Someone wrote, “Men who have lost the stomach for war will be overrun by those who haven’t.” Let’s pray it’s not too late for us, and that we still have the inner fortitude our grandfathers had to destroy evil men in the name of our own truth, and those we love. Cultivating a beautiful garden requires pulling weeds and poisoning pests that would destroy it.

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Messin’ with Mark – Episode 4 – “God’s Corny Joke”

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Welcome to episode 4 of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .

When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”

“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.

Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”

I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”

Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”

God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.

Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark. 

Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.

So, to today’s episode – God’s Corny Joke.

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I was eating lunch at my home away from home – El Pollo Loco – and decided to have a corn on the cob. It was particularly juicy and the restaurant was crowded so when I went to take the first bite, I was concerned it would squirt at someone. There were people less than two feet away from me on either side. 

I should point out that I’m a big believer in the law of mental magnetism – that is, whatever we think about most expands. We actually make things happen that otherwise wouldn’t just by thinking of them. So I put the thought of my corn squirting at someone out of my mind, but apparently it was too late, or the thought of not thinking about it amounted to thinking about it, because the very first bite I took sent out a jet of corn juice directly sideways to my left. I froze mid-bite, afraid to even look that direction. Then I felt eyes on me, staring. I slowly looked over and saw a very unhappy woman with corn juice all over the right side of her face, nose, even in her hair. 

“Really?” she asked.

“I am SO sorry,” I said, mortified, my eyes wide as saucepans.

I handed her a napkin. As she dried off, she smiled and said, “Oh, it’s alright, honey. It was an accident.” 

I was fortunate because this lady was what comedian Chris Rock calls the happiest kind of person on earth – “a fat, black woman.” (Hey, those were Chris’s words, not mine. Should I say “heavy-set woman of color” to be PC? I use the other term only for brevity and to accurately quote Chris.) Anyway, I don’t know why it is but I’ve found that to be true, too. Chris thought it was because they were so acceptant of themselves that their acceptance and love for others was stronger. Makes sense to me. People can’t be any kinder to others than they are to themselves. So, what could have been a bad situation became a pleasant one. We even laughed about it and had a nice conversation afterward. I’m not sure which one of us God was testing. 

I told this story to a friend of mine. He told me he gave blood once and thought he was okay to leave but fainted while walking through the hospital waiting room. He woke up in the lap of – you guessed it – a fat, black woman. She was stroking his hair, looking down at him with real love and saying, “You’re alright, baby.” He felt like a kid again, safe as an infant in his mother’s arms. 

So even though I don’t appreciate being God’s little cartoon character, I’m thankful that He selected a fat, black woman to be on the receiving end of the corn blast. He has a mischievous sense of humor, but He really is merciful. 

Paradise Almost Lost

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Do you ever feel like our parents and/or grandparents got the best of America? Open any American magazine before 1965 and you’ll see people who dressed impeccably, had haircuts that actually improved their appearance, and generally looked terrific. Now people wear shorts and sandals to the opera.

Imagine what it feels like to walk through any neighborhood at night without worry. To know you can take your children to a movie and not be dive-bombed by inappropriate content or veiled political messages. To be able to trust other people. To feel comfortable in your body just as it is without feeling compelled to go to the gym every day. Men were “wimps” and women were fat by today’s standards (that was the ideal, actually) and everyone was happier.

Imagine what it feels like to make enough money at a normal job to pay for a house and car. To drive a car that’s more like a UFO. To listen to music that didn’t need mature audience warning labels. To live in a world where being a thug is shameful, not something to be proud of. A world where modesty was still a virtue. (Jayne Mansfield showed her boobs in a movie in a desperate attempt to revive her career and she was shunned. It ended her career forever.)

I suppose we needed to loosen up a bit, and the music and movies were so clean largely because of censorship, but it seems we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It depends on who you ask, but even with the things that needed to improve in America like race relations (and did), I’d happily go back just so I could go two full days without hearing about a carjacking or gang shooting.

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I’m probably more nostalgic than most, especially about California, because I lived part of the 60’s, the tail end of a period of grace. The guy on the left in the photo above (Bill Cunningham) was my dad’s best friend. My parents, brother and I visited him and his wife and three kids or they us every other weekend for most of my childhood. He influenced me to stay in shape and honor my health. He was a bodybuilder in a sea of other Irish immigrant males who smoked, drank and had horrible diets. He always had a joke at the ready and helped me take life less seriously. He greeted me enthusiastically and made me feel special, even though I was just a kid. He also made me interested in Frankie and Annette movies. 

Watching those old movies today, they seem like pure fantasy, but for the late 50’s and early 60’s in California, they were the reality most surfers knew. California was still a mostly undeveloped paradise, and if a surfer saw another surfer pass him on Pacific Coast Highway, they probably knew each other. I was a very observant child (probably why I became a writer) and absorbed that culture – the happy energy of the beach, the parties with Sinatra, Sammy and Dean playing in the background, my parents and their friends laughing with strange, brightly-colored cocktails in their hands, cars like Hot Wheels in a caravan to Palm Springs swimming pools, kind adults who seemed happier than I perceive adults to be today, and flower children determined to change the world with peace and love. I know nothing gold can stay, but I never expected it all to be washed away so completely either. 

So what do we do? The best answer, as the old saying goes, is to “become the change you want to see in the world.” There’s no going back, but we can bring it back with our attitude and become the kind of person others say “they don’t make ’em like him anymore” about. I feel like I do that most of the time, but I sure wish I didn’t have to share air with the monsters this society seems to be churning out. Those noble men in WWI and WWII didn’t die to create a better America just so I/we could hand it over to trash. So I’ll continue to be wholesome, but I’ve got a black belt to go with it and am working on a second one (Krav Maga) so if a monster makes its way into my wholesome world, trying to hurt me or some other wholesome person, God help him. I’m old school that way, too. I will get involved. I love peace, and innocent life, and I will kill to protect them both. We can no longer afford to keep our heads in the sand. Paradise must be protected.

Sorry to end this on such a sour note, but I just read another story about a carjacking. A daily occurrence in Los Angeles, but this time a six-year old boy was in the back of the car, and the car was found with him inside, shot to death. I probably shouldn’t write when my heart is so heavy. A line from one of my favorite movies, Tombstone, comes to mind. The bad guys attacked a house full of women and ambushed Virgil. Morgan says to Wyatt, “They’re bugs, Wyatt. There ain’t no living with bugs.” Nothing has changed except firepower and tolerance.

Messin’ with Mark – A Divine Comedy – Episode 3, “The Dog Poop Lob That Did Its Job.”

Welcome to episode 3 of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom!

This is my third attempt to convince the mortal world that I am and have always been the star of a sitcom created, written and produced by God Himself for His personal amusement and that of the angels that inhabit His heavenly area up there.

Jesus didn’t approve of His Pop’s antics at first, but He got with the program when He saw how funny it was to have ludicrous and even impossible things happen to me, and my pained reactions, which apparently They both think are pretty funny. 

I’m reaching pretty far back for this episode, but I think you’ll agree when you’re done reading that some divine intervention had to have taken place. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .

When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”

“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.

Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”

I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”

Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”

God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.

Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark. 

Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.

So, to today’s episode – The Dog Poop Lob That Did It’s Job.

My brother, Paul, was three years older than me. Not a lot of time between adults, but two different worlds to kids. He was bigger, taller, stronger and smarter. We got along well except for the usual sibling rivalries and disagreements. But one day when I was about nine years old, I upset him pretty bad. I can’t remember what I did but it was bad enough for him to chase me right out of the house and down the street. I sought refuge at the house of my best friend, Dana Eckman, who was home at the time and let me in just as Paul was about to pounce on me. I locked the door as he tried the knob. He banged on the door before walking away and yelling, “You’ve got to come home sometime, you little jerk!” 

I probably should have let him calm down but I couldn’t resist waiting for him to get a safe distance away, then walking out onto the front porch to annoy him some more. I suppose I figured I was already going to get a beating so I might as well enjoy myself while I could. I danced and said something very original like, “Can’t get me!” or the classic “neener neener.” He came running back. I continued dancing just long enough to make sure I could get back inside and lock the door a few seconds ahead of him. I then went to the front window and laughed some more at his red, anguished face. Dana just watched, horrified. He didn’t understand the complex cat and mouse game that is brotherhood. Paul swore he would kill me as he walked back across the street. I went back out onto the porch and continued my dance. He ran back. I ran back inside, and the cycle repeated several times. I started getting bored so I upped the ante and walked to the sidewalk. I was pretty sure I could get to the house before he could make it across the street. My brother eyed me, calculating, trying to figure out if he could beat me to the door. He must have decided he couldn’t because, as I was dancing and singing my “can’t get me” song, he scanned the ground for something he could throw at me. Fortune smiled on him as his eyes spotted a dog poop. But that wasn’t the only bit of luck he would have that day. Oh, no. Far, far from it.

Without thinking, and probably not very hopeful he would even hit me, he threw said poop in my general direction. My singing and dancing was so unguarded and carefree that I failed to see him pick up the poop and throw it. I didn’t know he had thrown anything until . . . IT LANDED IN MY MOUTH.

Yep. Right in the old pie hole. One hundred points and the big plushy on the midway. God must have had a little mercy on me, though, because it was one of those bleached white dog poops that had sat out in the elements so long, all the color and, more importantly, flavor had run out of it. It exploded in my mouth and left me feeling like I just chewed up a piece of chalk. Of course, the shock made me gasp and inhale a bunch of it. I coughed as my brother, amazed at his luck, gleefully cried out, “That’s dog poop! A direct hit!” 

Oh, how the tables can turn. I was now retching and he was the one laughing and dancing, celebrating his throwing arm and the poop dust I was coughing up. Sometimes karma takes a while, sometimes it shows up right away.

It’s hard to describe the maelstrom of emotions that went through my mind at that moment except that they were all bad – repulsion, anger, humiliation, horror. I ran to the hose in front of Dana’s house but it had one of those recessed knobs that requires a special wrench to turn on. My brother’s laughter rang in my ears as I continued to cough up white, poop dust and search desperately for water. I finally ran into Dana’s house and stuck my entire open mouth under the faucet upside-down and ran it full blast until my head, neck and upper torso were drenched.

I finally washed away all the poop, but have never been able to wash away the memory. Having dog poop thrown into one’s laughing mouth tends to stick in the memory bank, filed under “Funny now, not so funny at the time.”