Perspective

(Warning: Content may be unsettling.)

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I was an insurance adjuster once, a truly unremarkable job that required a lot of driving. To make matters worse, I worked in Los Angeles, which is world famous for heavy traffic and road rage.

I was on my way to a job in the older part of downtown L.A., a burglary at a business with a very generic name, something like “Acme Industrial.” As soon as I got on the freeway, just like clockwork, some guy started tailgating me, yelling, his face all twisted up. I looked down and saw I was doing the speed limit, so I didn’t speed up and I didn’t move over. I wasn’t in his hurry. He drove past me and, as expected, flipped me the bird. I flipped him one back. We exchanged F.U.’s and he was on his way, tailgating someone else up ahead. 

I reached the job and parked, still a little frazzled from the freeway. I entered through the back door. I stopped in the doorway, my eyes adjusting to the darkness. Three grim-faced men in white smocks looked at me. One was rolling out a corpse on a stainless steel gurney. The second was transferring another body from a gurney to a platform which slid into an oven, the interior glowing a searing an angry orange like a portal to hell. The third was sifting ashes in what looked like a cookie pan near the side door of the furnace, chopping it up into a fine powder. 

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Half a dozen corpses were lined up at the rear of the room, the last line they would ever wait in. It finally dawned on me that I was in a crematorium. I felt an impulse to turn and go back outside when one of the men spoke. 

 “Can I help you?” 
 “Uh, yeah. I’m here about . . . the burglary.” 
 “Oh, you need to talk to George. I’ll get him for you.” 

He left me alone with the corpses and the other two men, who solemnly returned to their work. An old woman with wispy, gray hair lay naked several feet away. Her pale blue eyes were dry and vacant like dusty glass ornaments. Somebody’s mother, I thought. Somebody’s wife. I turned away and asked the other two men, “Do you guys ever get used to this?”
“Yeah,” one of them said, “After a while, it’s just another job.”  

The man came back and said “George will be right out” then rolled the wispy-haired woman to the oven door. I had seen enough. I went outside and stood in the sunlight.

George came out and we talked business. When we were done, I asked him about his job, if it ever bothered him. He told me the same thing – “You get used to it.” I asked him how. I had to know. I had a feeling I might need to. He said, “It’s not really a matter of how. It’s like being a cop or a soldier. You either turn your mind off or you go nuts.” 

A few minutes later, I was back on the 110 heading back to the office. I turned on the radio. I needed to hear some music. I found a bombastic classical piece, the kind you’d want to hear while skiing downhill fast with icy wind in your face. It washed my soul like morphine washes pain from the body. 

I called work, said I wasn’t feeling well (which wasn’t completely untrue), and drove to the beach. It had never been more beautiful.

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On the way home, I looked in my rear view mirror and, just like clockwork, some guy was tailgating me, yelling, his face all twisted up. I moved over and let him drive on past. 

 

Art credit – Crowded Beach by Jan Matson

Talky Tina (for fellow Dollophobia sufferers)

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When I was a kid, I was constantly terrified.
My imagination was a bad neighborhood.
I read scary comics like “Tales From The Crypt”
and watched horror films more than I should.

The first Sunday morning of every month,
I could be found at the local drug store
looking for the latest issue of “Monster”
and other mags filled with blood, guts and gore.

On Saturday night, my buddies and I
would stay up late and watch B-horror flicks
presented by Vampirella or Seymour
and get our horrification fix.

One would think I was a pretty tough little guy
from all these “inappropriate” movies and rags
but I was actually the world’s youngest insomniac.
I had suitcases under my eyes, not just bags.

But the thing that scared me the most, by far,
didn’t haunt houses or howl, creep or crawl.
Frankenstein and Dracula were big sissies
compared to typical, everyday DOLLS.

During sleepovers at my best friend’s house
all the dolls in his little sister’s room
made me not just run back home to mommy,
I’d run straight back up into the womb.

I couldn’t stand their cold, lifeless grins;
their painted-on, glassy-eyed stares.
They attempted to murder me night after night
in tortured, tormented nightmares.

Then Rod Serling had to throw in his two cents
and make my night-time fear level climb
when he introduced me to a one “Talky Tina” –
the freakin’ scariest doll of all time!

Every night after that, I’d perform a routine
to make sure I was completely alone.
I’d check in the closet and under the bed
with fear that made me quake to the bone.

As I lay in my bed, hiding under the sheets,
a sweaty, petrified, nervous wreck,
I’d hear Tina say, “I’m going to kill you”
and feel her little hands grabbing my neck.

Of course, that was a long, long time ago.
Now I’m all grown up, brave and strong.
Talky Tina never comes to call anymore
and my slumber is peaceful and long.

But sometimes even now, when the moon is right
and the wind makes shadows dance on the wall,
I imagine I see a small figure run by.
I imagine I hear Tina call.

I pull in my dangling hands and feet,
yank the covers up over my head
and I’m that goofy kid all over again
lying scared and alone in my bed.

 

Merely a Strand (poem)

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The Museum of Natural History tour
Was full of mystery and wonder that day
As the elementary school’s field trip
Was slowly ushered to each display.

The tour guide spoke about the beasts,
Stuffed and mounted behind the glass
And described the way they had lived
For the fascinated, wide-eyed class.

“This is an elephant,” the guide explained,
“It once roamed the African plains.
They went extinct because of poachers
Despite many conservation campaigns.”

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The class then moved to the next window
Where a lion stood, regal and strong.
The guide said, “It’s hard to believe
But even he didn’t last very long.”

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The class was awed but sadly silent.
Next, they saw a rhino on display.
“I don’t know how or why,” she said,
“But this giant was also taken away.”

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The same was true of the giraffe,
The gorilla, the hyena, the bear,
The moose, the elk, the buffalo,
No animals were left anywhere.

The museum was more like a graveyard,
Its wonder was so mired in sorrow.
So many species poached to extinction
By men with no thought for tomorrow.

They finally came to the last display,
Figures of a woman, a child and a man.
The guide said, “This is what ruled here
Before our time on this planet began.”

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“We sent scouts to find a new home for us
Because we devastated our planet, too.
They found this world, barely inhabitable,
With just enough resources to start anew.”

“We’re not really sure what happened here.
We know there was pestilence, famine and war.
But it’s a mystery why not one survived
When they once ruled from shore to shore.”

“There was an artist in their 15th century,
A man named Leonardo Da Vinci, who said,
‘All will be hunted down. All destroyed.’
What filled his heart with such dread?”

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“We also discovered a poem, or prophecy,
By a man named Seattle, an Indian chief.
It seemed he saw his conquerer’s future
When he wrote it through tears of grief.”

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“He asked, ‘What is man without the beasts?
And said all living things are connected
But there were too many who didn’t believe
So Seattle’s wise words were rejected.”

“He warned of ‘a great loneliness of spirit
From seeing nature not as friend but as rival.
And a world without other life forms marked
‘The end of living and beginning of survival.’ “

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“He warned man did not weave the web of life.
In all its complexity, he was merely a strand.
By destroying the web, they destroyed themselves
Which is why not one was left upon this land.”

“We certainly would have met the same fate
Had we not discovered this new place to live.
So let us learn from our past, and from theirs,
And always take much less than we give.”

~ Mark Rickerby

“Nothing will be left. Nothing on the land. Nothing in the air. Nothing in the sea. All will be hunted down. All destroyed.” – Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 13 – The Day I Met Jesus

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Welcome to episode 13 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 – The Day I Met Jesus

Okay, it wasn’t really Jesus, it was Ted Neeley, an actor who played Jesus in the 1973 movie, Jesus Christ, Superstar, and yet another day when God decided to mess with me a bit for his sitcom, created for heaven’s amusement, and put a look-alike of his son in my path just to watch me squirm.

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I didn’t see Jesus Christ Superstar until I was eighteen and it had a very profound effect on me. Until then, most actors played Jesus pretty straight but this guy was ultra-cool. He looked like a surfer. And he sang! Not only that, he sounded a lot like Steve Perry of Journey, my favorite band at the time. 

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I was walking around downtown Westwood one Saturday night (the “place to be” in L.A. back then) and ducked into one of the shops. I was looking down when I almost ran into someone coming out. The first thing I saw was a pair of leather sandals with the hem of a princely, earth-tone robe hanging above them. I looked up and was stunned to see Ted Neeley smiling benignly at me, dressed in the same get-up he wore in Jesus Christ Superstar. The only thing missing was the thorny crown.

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It was probably the biggest “deer in the headlights” moment of my life. I had only seen the movie a few days earlier so it was a heck of a coincidence, and as far as I was concerned, this guy was Him. The One. The Great I Am. It didn’t help that he had one of those looks that sees right through you. “Pierces the soul” as they say. I started thinking about every cuss word I had said recently, that unpaid parking ticket, the pack of chewing gum I stole from Thrifty Mart when I was seven, etc. 

I said, “Duhbudda bibidee” or something like that. Apparently aware that I was star-struck, dumbstruck, and just plain struck, he said “hello” in a very soft, Christ-like manner. I was a little disappointed he didn’t say, “Hello, my child” but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

Anyway, this was many years after the movie came out so he was obviously still “workin’ it” by dressing up as Jesus and walking around Westwood on Saturday nights, bringing his own brand of redemption to lonely women who felt guilty about one thing or another.

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But maybe I’m being too cynical. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was doing a stage performance in town that night. After all, he’s still doing it, Him bless him, all these years later. That man has saved a lot of souls.

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I finally found my voice and said, “Ted Frickin’ Neeley! Dude! (I was also a surfer back then.) I just saw Jesus Christ Superstar! You were awesome!” He thanked me graciously, said “have a blessed night” and walked placidly away into the balmy California twilight, bestowing blessings on all he passed. 

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It was a little like meeting a corner Santa Claus. We all know it’s not really good ol’ St. Nick, but we suspend our disbelief so we can feel a bit of the magic we’d feel if it actually were. 

I’ve always believed in hedging my bets, so as Ted passed me in that doorway, I made sure to touch the hem of his garment. You know . . . just in case.

Little Things (poem)

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A man who hungers for the adulation of millions
and puts little importance on the love of just one
often finds nothing mattered more than that love
When the days and the battles of his life are done.

Little things like romance were a petty distraction.
Love taken for granted, vanity none could endure.
And at the end, in a lonely room full of trophies,
He finally learns how big the little things were.

How We Survive (poem on film)

A friend just made me aware of this homemade film (or maybe a short film project for school) made somewhere in England, based on my poem How We Survive.
Of everything I’ve written, that poem gets around the most, which I’m glad about because grief, as we all know, is a terrible burden.
These young ladies actually created some very touching moments. I especially like the ending.

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 12 – Harassed in Hawaii, Part 1 – Frog Juice

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Welcome to episode 12 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 –

(Warning: Not for the squeamish, or anyone who’s fond of frogs.)

A familiar sight to anyone visiting the Hawaiian islands, one that doesn’t make it onto postcards, are the squashed frogs that litter the highways. This seems to be the perfect habitat for them. The only thing messing it up are tourists in rented and always red Jeep Wranglers obliviously splattering them as they gaze upon the beautiful scenery. Some are freshly squashed and some are dried-out, pickle-colored roof shingles. It’s quite sad considering frogs already got jipped in the looks department, and are forced to live out their lives in cold water, sustained only by a steady diet of bugs. 

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I went to Hawaii (the island of Kauai, to be specific) for the first time with my parents when I was freshly eighteen. My brother didn’t want to go so I brought a friend. We pleaded with my father to let us rent our own Jeep but he wisely said no. They wanted to rest on our first night there but we were busting to see the island so we set out on foot. A light, warm rain was falling as we walked up the main road to see what we could find. We had seen a McDonald’s on the way to the hotel so that was our first destination to get fueled-up for whatever came next. 

We came to a long, street level bridge that passed over a stream carrying water from the shield mountains into the ocean. We had seen a few frogs along the way but for some reason, this bridge was teeming with them. They were actually overlapping, hopping over each other to get to wherever it is frogs go. There was no other way around because of fences on either side of the river, so we stood there studying the bridge for several minutes, trying to figure out where we were going to step to get through the sea of writhing, jumping green.

Here’s a visual to give you the idea –

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We actually considered turning back, but with McDonald’s french fries and adventure calling, decided to press on. Slowly, we stepped around or shuffled through the frogs to avoid hurting them. Kind of like the game Frogger in reverse.

We were about halfway across the bridge when it happened. God yelled “Cue the trucks!” from his control booth. A caravan of Hawaiian construction workers in ten-wheel work trucks came speeding along, clearly not as concerned about the well-being of our amphibious friends as we were. Not concerned at all, actually. Mind you, there were no signs like this to warn speeding drivers.

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I suppose they had no choice – whether they drove quickly or slowly, or asked nicely, the frogs wouldn’t have cleared the bridge. So they just blasted right through them. The first thing we heard was rapid-fire popping noises like distant cannon fire. We looked back and realized the noise was exploding frogs. A green and red wave shot from the outer edges of their tires. And the wave was coming our way.

A word of explanation . . . when frogs are run over by a two to four-thousand pound vehicle, they don’t just flatten out neatly because, as their plump bodies indicate, they are very juicy. Unfortunately for my friend and I, who had nowhere to run, they explode, sending frog juice and frog innards in every direction. We made this discovery the hard way as we started feeling eyeballs and internal organs hitting us on the left sides of our legs like gooey shrapnel. All we could do was squat down at the side of the bridge, turn our backs, cover our faces, and wait for the splattering onslaught to end. 

Some frogs are small and cute, like this –

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These frogs were neither small nor cute. They were this kind – 

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The kind with plenty of innards to rudely splash on tourists.

After the trucks passed, the passengers laughed, which clued us in that they were immensely enjoying splattering us with frog parts. You see, tourists are a blessing and a curse to Hawaiians or anyone else who lives in a “paradise.” They long to return to the time when the land was all theirs, and though they love our money, they secretly hate us. Some of them anyway. These truck drivers were obviously the tourist-hating kind, and didn’t try to hide it. We got peppered with frog eyes, frog feet, frog guts, frog lips, you name it. It was like we rolled around in relish.

It finally ended and their unguarded laughter trailed off in the distance. We stood up and looked at the swath of pressed frogs, some still blinking and twitching, in their wake. Then we looked at our backs. We had both been given frog jackets. It was in our hair in the back, too. Being surf bums, we both had long hair then, long hair now full of tongues and eyeballs.

There was no point in even taking turns picking the stuff off for each other like lower primates because there was just too much. We had frog suits. We were now indistinguishable from the frogs and they accepted us as one of their own, kind of like when people cover themselves in blood and dead meat so zombie’s won’t notice them. 

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We continued our walk across the bridge, praying there would be no more caravans, and finally made it to the other side. The sun came out and began to bake the minced frog parts until it became a kind of turtle shell on our backs. We grimly walked into McDonald’s, Swamp Thing and Swamp Thing 2, trying to keep only the front halves of ourselves visible to the patrons so as not to put anyone off their food. Unfortunately for them, we had to show the entire room our backs to get to the bathroom because walking backward would have been too conspicuous. Most of them saw our frog layer and retched audibly as we passed. (“Cancel the relish, please!”) We went into the bathroom and threw away our shirts. Since it was Hawaii, nobody cared that we were half-naked in a restaurant. (The only break that day.)

As we sat down on the few remaining frog eyeballs stuck to our butts to eat our McDonald’s fries, I was somewhat indignant that no Hawaiian postcard I had ever seen featured a single frog. 

 

 

See? Nothing but hula girls, surfing and colorful flowers. I was also chagrined by the fact that being adorned by frog parts would hamper my ability to win the heart of said hula girl should I happen upon one.

I’ll tell you, nothing says “you’re not in Kansas anymore” quite like getting buried alive in frog innards. What puts this in the purview of God’s sitcom with me as the unwitting star (and my friend the co-star, and without even an audition) is the fact that there were no cars on the road except when we crossed that bridge, the point of no return where there was no escaping the frog explosions.

So, once again, well played, God. Well played. And as usual, not a single residual, unless you count the frog odor that wouldn’t wash off. Have you ever sniffed a dead frog? I don’t recommend it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Hawaiian Adventure wherein I am almost devoured alive by giant crabs for God’s and heaven’s amusement.