Messin’ with Mark, God’s Sitcom – Episode 17 – Cartoon Physics

Looking back, it is clear to me that my starring role in God’s sitcom (or YouTube prank channel) for heaven’s amusement didn’t start when I was an adult.

As a kid growing up without an iPhone or laptop, Saturday morning and after-school cartoons were the best thing happening for the under 13 set. I grew up in one of those houses where the TV was a babysitter. It was always on. As a result, I was exposed to “cartoon physics” far too early, before I had learned to properly separate fantasy and reality. I just assumed since the people who created these fantastic worlds were obviously geniuses, they would also keep the content of said cartoons factual, and would never lie to sweet, bright-eyed children. So, I believed whole-heartedly that:

  1. If you run off a cliff and don’t know you did, you will hover in the air until you look down and realize the ground is no longer beneath you. Solution – don’t look down and you can float indefinitely.

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If you paint a tunnel on the face of a cliff, the paint magically dissolves all that rock and you can drive through it like any other tunnel. But again, it’s important not to think about it too much, or you will not have the power to pass through, sort of like that train station portal in Harry Potter. Wile E. Coyote found this out the hard way over and over.

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If you are shooting a bow and arrow and forget to let go of the arrow, you will fly forward instead of the arrow.

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If you fall from a great height, you will take on the shape of an accordion and regain your original dimensions within seconds. You will also make an accordion sound, which is kind of a bonus.

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Protruding cliffs that have been there for centuries are actually very brittle and can be snapped off just by hanging on them for a few seconds. Oh, and they can fall on top of you and squash you flatter than Florida, but you’ll be okay in a minute or so.

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Dynamite can blow up right in your face and the charring about the head, face and neck will go away by itself almost immediately.

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The skull is hard enough to break through solid rock.

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You can get squashed as thin as paper and, again, you’ll be fine. You just need to wait until you pop back to your original shape. 

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You can fall from any height and survive. 

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When I was about eight, I decided to test Looney Tunes Physics. I climbed onto the roof of a friend’s garage, stood at the edge, and reminded myself that if I stepped off and just didn’t think about it, I would stay aloft, floating like a balloon. Boy, would my friends be impressed when they found out I could fly! I took a deep breath, stepped off, and . . .

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. . . hit the ground like a bag of potatoes.

As I lay there on the grass waiting for the air to return to my lungs, I immediately went to work thinking about what I did wrong. I concluded that the thought of not thinking about it must have put the kibosh on it. It was one of those Samurai mushin / no-mind” things. Not thinking about it equals thinking about it. 

But I was not easily discouraged. Having seen a documentary on the Wright brothers, and how many times they had tried to fly before they were successful, I vowed to myself that I would try again. However, avoidance of pain being a greater motivator than the desire for schoolyard fame as the first flying (okay, hovering in mid-air) boy, I never did. Just another childhood dream that swirled and died in the puff of dust my body made when it hit the ground. I never watched Wile E. Coyote fall off those cliffs the same way again, and I stopped rooting for that annoying Road Runner. Compassion is always magnified by personal experience. 

I’m sure the re-run of me stepping off that roof and going splat is a big favorite in heaven’s theater. Slapstick plays well up there, too. I seem to recall my eight year-old self saying those words I would repeat many times in the subsequent years . . . “Well-played, God. Well-played.”

 

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

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Being that it’s Sunday and all, I thought I’d tell the story about the day I met Jesus Christ.

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.

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 11 – A Toe-tal Disaster

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This is my story from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book, The Dating Game. Bizarre, but true!

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Apparently, I’m not the only one in God’s sitcom. Every now and then an unfortunate co-star is cast alongside me, as you will see in this episode of Messin’ with Mark titled . . .

A Toe-tal Disaster!

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Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn. ~Irvin S. Cobb

 

I was always a realist when it came to love. I didn’t believe in destiny or the idea of soul mates. I considered it a lot of superstitious hooey. That is, until it happened to me… a date that went so horribly wrong, the only possible explanation was that our union was cursed.

When I first saw her, I was dumbstruck. She seemed to be my dream woman in every way. Everything she said and did was just so… wow. She could have worn a potato sack and it would have looked like high fashion to me. She could have read an insurance policy and I would have savored every word that poured from her sweet lips.

After ogling her with the glazed expression of a barn animal for a few weeks, I finally got up the nerve to ask her out on a date. I was ecstatic when she said yes. I walked home ten feet off the ground.

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The first sign that something was amiss came when I called to confirm our date. She said she had severely stubbed her big toe and was thinking about canceling. It wasn’t broken, she said, but it had swollen to twice its normal size. My heart sank, thinking she had changed her mind and made up the toe injury as an excuse. However, when I said she would be sitting most of the night — in a car, restaurant, and theater — she agreed to keep our date.

Sure enough, when I came to pick her up, she was wearing open sandals and the big toe of her right foot was heavily bandaged.

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The first sign of the curse came about halfway into dinner. It was one of those restaurants with singing waiters. One broke into song so I lifted my chair to turn around, not noticing that my date had extended her leg under my chair to rest her toe. As I set down the heavy, wooden chair, one of the legs and all of my weight came down squarely on her injured big toe. She let out a yell that was louder than the singer’s amplified voice.

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The other diners thought she was launching into a duet with the waiter. I apologized profusely, but she was in so much pain, she couldn’t respond. Eventually, she recovered and forgave me. After all, I couldn’t see her unnaturally outstretched leg under my chair. But I still felt like a putz.

After dinner, we drove to the theater. At least we would be safe there, I thought. No such luck. As the theater filled up, a large woman shimmying along our aisle to her seat stepped on the same toe with her heel. My date screamed for the second time that night. This was becoming downright mysterious. I was starting to think someone had a voodoo doll of her and was repeatedly stabbing the big toe with a pin.

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I didn’t think her toe could swell any more than it already had. I was wrong. When the lights came up in the theater and I got a good look at it, I almost screamed, too. It looked like something out of a cartoon. I suggested taking her to the emergency room. She refused, saying she hated hospitals. However, my growing concern must have struck some chord in her heart because she asked if we could go to my place. I had mentioned that there was a swimming pool at my apartment complex, and she thought submerging her toe in the water might make it feel better. I was glad she wanted to spend more time together despite the bumpy start we were having.

It was a warm, summer night and the front yard grass was still wet from sprinklers. She took off her sandals and walked across the cool grass.

“Ahh, that feels nice,” she said, finally feeling some relief from the pain. I was as relieved as she was until she kicked a sprinkler — yes, with the same big toe — and screamed in agony yet again.

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“Ah, come on!” I yelled to whatever force was calling down such misery on her unfortunate toe.

I picked her up and carried her to the pool. She sat on the edge, put both feet in the cool water and said, “I don’t usually drink, but I think a little alcohol might numb the pain a little.”

I told her I would bring her something.
“Make it a double,” she said.
We sat at the pool’s edge and gradually fell into lively conversation. She even forgot about her toe. Eventually, we moved to lounge chairs. After a few hours, I realized that I hadn’t let my dog Sparky out of the apartment all evening. I excused myself and went to get him. She saw me walking him to the grass and said, “Oh, he’s so cute! Bring him over here!”

Then the curse struck again. To my horror, Sparky, who had never bitten anyone before, walked directly over to her and chomped down on her bandaged toe.

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Maybe he smelled blood through the gauze and thought it was a sausage wrapped in butcher’s paper. She let out a blood-curdling scream for the fourth time that night, the kind of scream one might hear in a 1950s B-grade horror film.

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The only break she got was that my dog was a small Terrier mix and not a Pit Bull.

Startled by her scream, Sparky took off and I ran after him, worried he might run into the street. By the time I caught him and returned, she was livid.

“Why didn’t you warn me your dog was so vicious?” she yelled.

I told her Sparky had never bitten anyone before but she did not find it comforting to know she was the first.

“Please just take me home,” she said. “I’ve had enough toe injuries for one night.” I couldn’t understand why she was insinuating that her now obvious toe curse was my fault. I mean, the chair leg, the clumsy movie patron and the sprinkler I could understand, but my little Sparky latching onto that particular toe, and with such cyborg-like commitment, was proof enough for me that she and I were in some sort of Twilight Zone episode. I half-expected Rod Serling to show up and start narrating it.

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With a heavy heart, I drove her and her toe home. She stuck her foot out of the window to elevate it. I begged her to bring it back inside to prevent some other freak accident, like a vulture swooping down on it. After everything I had witnessed that night, anything was possible.

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I left several messages for her in the following weeks but she didn’t return my calls. A month or so later, for a laugh, I sent her a pair of steel-toed boots to protect her cursed toe. She called to thank me and we made plans to go out again.

On our next date, she wore the boots for a laugh. It was a wonderful evening, a fresh start. When I took her home, she got out of the car – and slammed her thumb in the door.

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P.S. We’re still together, and she still stubs her toe all the time. She’s just a klutz.

Messin’ with Mark, God’s Sitcom. Episode 9 – Mean, Thieving, Sneaky Seagulls

 

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Welcome to episode 9 of God’s sitcom, Messin’ with Mark, wherein He pranks me for His amusement and that of His heavenly host of angels. They say one year on earth is about a thousand years in heaven, so I suppose they need to pass the time somehow. I just hope I don’t get detained at the gate when it’s my time to go to heaven. There should be some payoff for this harassment. 

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Seagulls were once great birds of the sea. They are still celebrated by most as majestic and graceful. Well, I say it’s time we take them off that pedestal. We all know they have no respect for anyone.

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They don’t even respect authority figures.

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Their indiscriminate pooping is so legendary, games have been made about it.

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And hats.

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Even candy!

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And we all know that, like pigeons, they have a poop color adjustment knob somewhere on their anatomy to adjust to the color of the object they’re pooping on.

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I may sound a little resentful. Allow me to explain.

I was at the beach one day with the wife. We were relaxing on our towels and opening our picnic basket, preparing for a lovely day. The kiddo’s were building a sand castle nearby. Everything was perfect. One of our girls decided to walk to the water’s edge so we both jumped up to hold her hand. We weren’t gone thirty seconds before seagulls by the dozen swooped down on our lunch and devoured everything. The drinks had holes poked in them and were leaking out onto the sand, the bananas were mush, the potato chips were all over the beach. And as we ran toward them screaming and frantically waving our arms, they swallowed chicken bones sideways just to get as much into their beaks as fast as they could. 

Undignified, and not befitting their reputation as glorious, graceful seabirds.

But that’s not all. Oh, no. Later in the day, my wife went to look at her iPhone to see what time it was and a bird pooped right on the screen. 

Think that’s it? Not by a long shot. I started laughing (I mean, what else could I do?) and as I leaned back with my mouth open – yep, right in the pie hole. I used an entire thermos full of water to wash it out. Kind of like this guy –

And yet we persist in thinking of them as beautiful and serene.

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We continue to be concerned about their well-being no matter how many times they poop on us and our stuff.

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But look at them. Look closely. What do you see? Love of humanity? No. Meanness and sneakiness! That’s what I see! 

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If reincarnation is real, I’m going to settle this score, and I know how I want to come back.

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Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 7 – The Shot Heard ‘Round the Playground, or How My Fear of Pilgrims Began

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The sitcom in heaven starring Yours Truly didn’t begin when I was an adult. No, those pranksters up there (God and Jesus) have been pulling this stuff on me since I was a kid. Here’s one of the earliest episodes. 

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I was in third grade and starting to get pretty good on the monkey bars. My friends and I liked to play a game all kids play called “Chicken” wherein one kid starts on one side and one on the other, then swing hand-over-hand toward each other and try to pull each other down with their legs. 

There is an inherent danger in this game that is obvious to any grown man, but as a boy, I was oblivious to such danger. Oh, I had heard about getting kicked in the fellas but I didn’t understand (until this day) how or why it hurt more than getting kicked anywhere else. 

Opponents for this game weren’t usually chosen, they were just whoever happened to get on the bars at the same time. My random (or maybe not) opponent that day was a little girl who dressed like and had the severe, no-nonsense face of a sadistic orphanage headmistress. She was terrifying in her black dress with black shoes, complete with square, silver pilgrim buckle. Her hair was pulled back so tight, she could hardly blink.

I almost backed out but changed my mind because my friends were watching and I would never live it down. Before I knew it, we were swinging toward each other. I smiled and made some sort of joke but her stern expression just became sterner. It was clear she was intent on destroying me. 

As we got close enough to leg wrestle, I opened my legs to wrap them around her, as custom dictates. She, however, seized the opportunity to send a kick right up the middle an NFL field goal kicker would envy. I can still remember with extreme clarity her skinny legs and the heavy shoes dangling limply until the last moment when one of those bird twigs suddenly came toward me with an athleticism and accuracy nobody could have predicted. The pilgrim buckle connected squarely with my prepubescent berries, and all at once I understood what all the fuss was about. I understood why there was no “hitting below the belt” in the boxing matches I watched with my dad. I didn’t have long to understand, though, because less than one second after she buried her pilgrim shoe where God split me, I was face-down in the sand wondering what just happened.

The bell rang ending recess and all the kids started running to class. Lizzie Borden’s granddaughter laughed and joined them. After the initial gasp of horror, my friends felt too sorry for me to even say anything or offer assistance. It was one of those “it’s best to leave him alone” moments. And alone I was, for fifteen minutes after the other kids returned to class. I heard my teacher come outside and yell my name. I rolled over, spit out some sand, and started to yell, then thought twice. I was hidden by the short wooden wall of the sand in the play area. I could stay there forever, or at least until the first snow of winter covered me up. 

After another thirty minutes or so, I got up, hobbled to the drinking fountain, washed the remaining sand out of my mouth and nostrils, and snuck back into class. To this day, I have a morbid fear of pilgrims, or more correctly, pilgrim shoes. Fortunately, you don’t see pilgrims or quakers around much anymore. However, I still hyperventilate and break into a cold sweat at my daughter’s annual elementary school Thanksgiving show.

 

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

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God was looking down at the earth one day, cracking up, and Jesus overheard. He looked over His Dad’s shoulder and asked, “Whatcha lookin’ at, Pops?” 

“Just pranking that guy Mark again,” God replied.

Jesus tried to talk Him into laying off since He made me and therefore should probably be nicer to me, but God played some old clips of ridiculous situations He put me in, and Jesus thought they were so funny, They decided to make a series out of it, or maybe a YouTube prank channel. Not sure which.

Here’s another prank They pulled on me one day. I’m sure it gave Them and the angels big laughs up there.

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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. 

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

This is the third installment in my attempt to convince the mortal world that I am and have always been the star of a sitcom in heaven called Messin’ with Mark, a show 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. 

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.”