The Four-Legged Horror Movie

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I had always loved dogs. That is, until I met Peanut, a chihuahua owned by an old girlfriend, Rhonda. His name was the least of his problems. He had bulging, leaking eyes that made him look like he was being perpetually squeezed. He had a bronchial disorder that made even calm breathing sound like he had been chain smoking all his life. He had a mysterious skin condition that covered most of his body, caused almost all of his hair to fall out, and left a sticky substance on the hand of anyone who dared to pet him. Last but certainly not least, he had a protracted rectum. In short, he was repulsive whether he was coming or going. A four-legged horror movie. The cumulative effect of all these conditions caused the trembling common to chihuahua’s to afflict him tenfold, and gave him the appearance of a rodent suffering from hypothermia. 

Rhonda spent a fortune in veterinary bills on Peanut but nothing improved. I just couldn’t see the upside. All the money she had thrown away trying to restore Peanut to awful seemed like a terrible waste to me. I joked with her that the only expenses I would have had if Peanut were mine was a tennis ball and the gasoline required to drive to the Grand Canyon for a game of fetch. 

Rhonda had four other dogs of various breeds. For the sake of avoiding lurid and possibly vomit-inducing imagery, let’s just say Peanut was the “janitor” of the group. Maybe “hazardous material clean-up” is a better description. Whatever your imagination is doing right now, triple it. That’s right. Theirs was what is known in science circles as a symbiotic relationship. The other four dogs received assistance with personal hygiene in their hard-to-reach nether regions, and Peanut received a constant supply of tasty snacks. They were all very happy with this arrangement. The only ones who were not happy with it were any humans (such as myself) who were unfortunate enough to witness the ungodly spectacle. Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about Peanut trying to lick my face immediately after one of his many daily haz-mat disposal procedures because, as if to make the monstrosity complete, he had the personality of a shaken-up bag of rattlesnakes. One would think he would have tried to compensate for his appearance (and odor) with a sparkling personality, but no. People who say dogs can’t hate, or that dog spelled backwards is G-O-D, never met Peanut. He was evil incarnate. The stuff of nightmares. The kind of thing that suddenly pokes its head out of a hole in the wall of a labyrinth in the bowels of hell just when you think hell couldn’t get any worse.

Peanut took an immediate dislike to me. I didn’t take it personally because he hated everyone, including Rhonda. It was a mystery to me why she was so devoted to the little pustule. While watching TV or having dinner with her, I would feel his bulging, lopsided eyes watching me, filled with unspeakable evil, probably fantasizing about tearing me limb from limb and devouring my entrails. I would attempt to stare him down, thinking he might suddenly become aware of our vast size disparity, but his glare would only intensify, as if he was saying, “Come at me, bro!” I always ended up looking away. It was terrifying. I once searched the skin under his fur while he was asleep to see if I could find the 666 that Demian’s father found on his scalp in The Omen.

I decided to try to be more mature one day and at least attempt to make friends with Peanut. I slowly sat down next to him, spoke to him in loving tones, gave him a biscuit, waited for him to finish eating, then, smiling broadly, extended my hand to pet him. 

I still have the scar.

Therefore, I was panic-stricken when Rhonda said Peanut would be staying at our apartment for a month. Apparently, he had some other ailment she didn’t want the other four dogs to catch. I suggested a kennel, a doggy B&B, or better yet, a dungeon where he could be fitted with four small manacles for the sake of the public safety (myself being “the public”) but she wouldn’t think of it for her darling Peanut. To make matters worse, I was working at home at the time and she worked elsewhere, so I would be alone with the Evil Seed every day.

The day he arrived, she handed me a list of medicines, special foods, instructions, and his walking schedule. Walking schedule? Now I had to hang out with him? It didn’t help that the apartment we shared was in an affluent neighborhood known for dog lovers. At any time of the day, posh-looking people walked posh-looking dogs, all of them with their noses in the air. Then there was me, walking the canine equivalent of Freddy Kreuger. Our neighbors’ usually warm smiles would gradually contort into grimaces as they saw us coming and beheld the full horror of Peanut up close. Then they would retch violently, depress the button on their spring-loaded leashes, reel in their precious Fifi’s and Lulu’s, quicken their pace, and give us a wide berth as they would one who walks with the plague. 

At first, I was embarrassed by this treatment. I even apologized once as someone fled in horror. But after a week or so, to my amazement, I started to feel – yes, I’ll say it – compassion for Peanut, and contempt for the snobs who shunned him. When they would look at Peanut with repulsion, I would say, “What’s wrong? Never saw a protracted rectum before?” I actually began to enjoy annoying them and disrupting their perfect world and delicate sensibilities.

After that, my feelings toward Peanut began to change. Even I didn’t see it coming. The pivotal moment occurred one day when I was at my desk working and Peanut was sleeping by the fireplace. He was having a harder time breathing than usual. I stopped working, knelt by him, put my hand on his chest and thought maybe he was so mean because he was in pain all the time, or because he was overcompensating for his tiny stature. Plenty of humans behave similarly. How must life be for a dog that weighs only a few pounds? I’m ashamed now that I didn’t feel anything for Peanut before this epiphany. I can only blame it on my youth. 

That day, I resolved to help Peanut overcome his health challenges. I became very studious about his health regimen and spent more time with him. To my amazement, we actually began to have fun together. There was a personality under all that attitude, after all. (His and mine.) Of course, it also helped that he was alone, with no other dogs to perform his haz-mat services on. That would have been a deal-breaker for me. Despite ourselves, old Peanut and I became pretty good buddies. 

This all took place many years ago. Peanut is long gone by now and either guarding the gates of hell single-pawedly, or in command of larger dogs that do. 

Clare Booth Luce wrote, “I don’t have a warm personal enemy left. They’ve all died off. I miss them terribly because they helped define me.” That little monster did help define me, so much so that I’m writing a story about him twenty years later. He helped me find something inside myself I needed to find, something imperative in this world – the ability to love the unlovable. He also taught me that the more love you give, the more you receive, and that sometimes one must try a little harder to love someone, and to access theirs. Maybe there’s something to that God spelled backward thing, after all.

What is it with dogs and mailmen?

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I was working in the garden recently and had left the front gate open for a minute when the mailman came walking up out of my sight. My overly friendly German shepherd mix Charlie charged out to say hello, barking his head off, and I heard what I thought was a little girl screaming.

I went out looking for the child but there was only our fifty-ish year old mailman standing there, a very macho-looking fellow with a goatee and Indiana Jones style sun hat. Charlie had accessed his primal scream.

In a forced and overly deep voice (to compensate for the girlish squeal he had just emitted, which probably shocked even him), he said, “You need to control that dog.” I apologized but he just grunted and walked away angry, embarrassed that my dog had unveiled his inner Wendy.

 

Who Can You Trust? Humor poem (sort of)

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Who can you count on?
Who can you trust?
From the day you are born
till you return to dust?

Coca-Cola doesn’t care if your teeth fall out.
Phillip Morris doesn’t care if you cough up a lung.
OPEC doesn’t care if the earth is a wasteland.
Skoal doesn’t care if you spit out your tongue.

Casinos don’t care if you blow your life savings.
Wendy’s doesn’t care if you have a heart attack.
Developers don’t care about nature or wildlife.
Big Auto doesn’t care if we all cough and hack.

So who’s watching out for you and your family?
Who’ll care for you and for them if you won’t?
Here’s a clue that might help you figure it out –
If they’re making any money from you, they don’t.

You might say your parents would die for you
They certainly love you so I’m sure that is true
but they can’t watch you every waking moment
and they sure as heck can’t live your life for you.

You might say your friends are the best in the world
and I’m sure that they’re all very warm and sincere
but if you could see ten or twenty years down the road,
you might be surprised to see who’s gone and who’s here.

You might say your dog loves you without condition
and he’d faithfully walk beside you through hell
but if Mussolini or Hitler stopped by for a visit,
chances are he’d love both those bums just as well.

“Well,” you say, “Surely God watches out for me.
You’re not going to slam HIM, too, for Pete’s sake?!”
But drive your car toward the highest cliff you can find
and see if He helps you step on the brake.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that God loves us
and He’ll welcome us home when life is through
but for someone who’s bent on self-destruction,
there’s not a whole lot that even He can do.

Okay, so who’s really watching out for you?
Here are a few more not-too-subtle hints.
It’s not the police. They’re just too damn busy.
And it’s not politicans or world governments.

It’s not the Great Pumpkin or the Easter Bunny.
It’s not Woodsy the Owl or Smokey the Bear.
It’s not the Tooth Fairy or good ol’ Saint Nick.
(I hate to break it to you but Santa ain’t there.)

Well, I’ve narrowed it down pretty well
and given a lot of darn good clues.
If this was a game show or a board game,
there’s no way on earth you could lose.

But a game it is definitely not, my friend.
In fact, it should be chiseled in stone.
The only one you can count on 24/7
is you, just you, yourself, alone.

  • Mark Rickerby

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Talky Tina (humor poem for Twilight Zone fans)

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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!

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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 full
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.

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Alien Classroom

 

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Scene: A classroom on a faraway planet almost exactly like earth.

Teacher:

Good morning, class. Today, we are going to talk about the beings who inhabit the planet called Earth, which we have been observing for some time now. The question we will seek to answer today is, have they evolved spiritually over the past several hundred thousand years when they were mysteriously given the ability to think, or are they still primitive, territorial savages? Let’s see, shall we?

(Teacher walks to chalkboard, picks up chalk, and begins to draw.)

Let’s say they have a piece of land, which they would refer to as a continent. It is very large and contains everything necessary to sustain life. What do you think they do with it? Do they all join hands, sing its praises and happily share it, as we do? Anyone? Anyone?

No, for some reason, they break it up into territories they call countries. Countries, it seems, come in all shapes and sizes, depending largely on who has conquered whom. That is, who has taken by force most of the land from the others. It has been demonstrated over the centuries that land is a very difficult thing for the leaders of these countries to have enough of. Although they have everything they could possibly desire and there is plenty of room for their people on the land they already have, they seem unable to resist the urge of going out and taking some more land. Of course, this requires killing everyone already living there.

Okay, so they are all split up into countries. Do you think they stop there? Anyone? Anyone?

(Child raises hand.)

Yes, Schnork?

Schnork:  

Uh . . . no?

Teacher:

That’s right.  They then continue to divide up the countries into smaller territories called states, then the states into counties and the counties into, let me see, oh yes, cities.  Within these cities, there are many smaller areas called neighborhoods in which the various kinds of human beings, or races as they put it, congregate, hoping to isolate themselves from the other kinds of people.  These neighborhoods are comprised of rows called blocks.

I’m sorry. I know this is getting confusing.

The main criteria they use in determining who is their kind is skin color. This attitude is so pervasive that there are actually organizations known as hate groups dedicated to hating other groups.

(Several gasps are heard around the room.)

I know, I know, it sounds unbelievable but research has shown that they seem to feel much happier when they are around people who look and act like themselves. Sometimes, they even violently attack others who don’t look like them. Also, when people of a different color come into their neighborhoods for some reason, they are often viewed suspiciously by the residents of that neighborhood. Frequently, the local residents even hit the visitor on the head or kill them with little projectiles called bullets. They then usually take all of this person’s property and leave them in the street to die. It is most disturbing to observe.

It has been theorized that the robbing and killing occurs because the robber does not want to work. After all, what other reason could there be? Except total lack of morality and spirituality, of course.

The main reason, however, is that human beings just have not learned the true meaning of the word sharing yet. They have made a few noble efforts to impose sharing on people through various political systems but, unfortunately, they used violence to enforce the sharing.

We are still not sure what the beings who attack beings unlike themselves are trying to accomplish. One possibility is that they attack each other because they can’t or won’t change and become like one another.

Something we find particularly ironic is human beings’ tendency to refer to themselves collectively as humanity. Obviously, their actions toward each other often don’t do justice to the word.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes – once they have chosen their neighborhoods, they buy a box called a house to live in. They also buy a portable box called a car which has wheels on it in case they have to venture out into the world of strangers. These cars emit very unpleasant fumes which make the air heavy and hard to breathe yet, for some reason, they continue to use them. Our top scientists are still trying to figure out that one.

By the way, all of these smaller, personal boxes are covered with locks so that they feel protected from one another.

The thing human beings like to do most is engage in sexual intercourse. The reason for this, we assume, is that the accumulated pressure of living within the confines of so many self-imposed boundaries creates an overwhelming urge to strip all of them away – yes, clothing is another one – and enjoy being what I’m afraid they truly are – naked, primitive beasts driven by the most basic of impulses.

The final boundary or box that these creatures hide in is a very elusive thing they call an image which, curiously, is almost always contrary to the way in which their fellow beings actually perceive them.

These findings have been obtained during our visits to the earth over the centuries. Sadly, despite their technological advances, their spiritual and social development is still in a deplorable state. We have attempted to interact with the earthlings on several occasions, such as when we helped the Egyptians with their pyramids, gave Mr. Einstein a personal tour of our planet, and met with that nice Mr. Spielberg.

We have also worked closely with government officials about a program to begin desensitizing the human race to the possibility of our eventual appearance. Many of these officials fear that if the human race learns of our existence, their egocentric, archaic religious notion that they are the only intelligent life form in the universe would be destroyed. The overturning of this delusion, they fear, would lead to anarchy in the streets and the total collapse of their societies. So the leaders who are aware of our presence go to great lengths to keep our existence a secret for the sake of perpetuating the status quo on their planet. This makes little sense to us considering how desperate the need is for a change of the current status quo on earth.

In the years before we made contact with the humans, a few of our fellow beings crashed in a place the earthlings call Roswell. We never heard from them again but can only imagine the terrible fate they must have met. Judging by how they treat the creatures who share the planet with them, creatures they refer to as lower animals, it is too horrible to imagine. Rather than respecting and celebrating the diversity of life on earth, they eat these other animals and wear them for clothing. Sometimes, they even kill them just for fun, or what they refer to as “sport”. Some kinds of animals are spared this fate. However, this is limited to animals they consider to be cute and can be trained not to leave droppings on their carpets.

It is also peculiar to us that they use the term lower animal when referring to non-human creatures since, in all of our studies, we have only seen these lower animals kill each other for survival, never for fun or profit, as human beings routinely do. So many mysteries . . .

One of the most common questions we have heard the earthlings ask is why we always fly over unpopulated areas and not their big cities. Of course, the answer is obvious. With all of their weapons pointing toward the heavens and their inherent propensity to use them, it would be foolish indeed for us to do so. Therefore, in the interest of continuing our studies, we must remain in the quieter, more peaceful areas.

I should add that not all human beings are bad. There are even a few good ones in the big cities where most of the bad things occur. Many human beings even become crusaders, desperately trying to save the human race from destroying itself.  Unfortunately, these people usually lead tormented lives, burdened as they are by such a monumental task.

The purpose of this lecture was not to scare you but to heighten your appreciation of our beautiful world by observing a less fortunate one. Please don’t worry. Human beings have not yet attained the technology necessary to reach our planet.

Class dismissed.

On the Courage it Takes to Get Married – Try Not to Cry

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This is one of the best pieces of writing on the institution of marriage – on the level of commitment and sheer courage required – that I’ve ever encountered. It also happens to be the speech my best man gave at my wedding eleven years ago. I don’t think he would mind me mentioning his name. He’s an actor named Colin Cunningham. You might know him from Falling Skies, Stargate SG1, or about a hundred other movies and shows. He’s also a writer, as you will see.

His parents and mine knew each other in Ireland, and since the Irish tell their kids to call all their friends “aunt” and “uncle”, we grew up thinking we were related somehow. The adventures we had, as kids and adults, could fill a library.

One of the things we share is a sometimes inappropriate sense of humor, and even his wedding speech was not spared it. But it still works, perhaps because of the contrast it provides against the story’s depth. You can skim over his obligatory praise of me if you want. I won’t mind. It gets more interesting as it goes along.

Enjoy! And if you’re married, be proud that you are among the most courageous.

“The great romantic, Leo Bascallia once wrote, ‘What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give will be lost for all eternity.’ I believe just after that he shot himself in the face. But I digress.

Friends, honored guests . . . and people sitting at the weird, kind of ‘not really any of the above’ table . . . 

I’ll try not to lament on how I met Mark Rickerby, our anecdotal childhood, nor the honor it is for me to be here tonight. This is not a tribute. Mark’s not dead. He’s just getting married.

Neither am I here to offer advice on matrimony. I am a bachelor, have never been married and hold my toilet seat up they way our Marines held up the flag at Iwo Jima.

Instead, my role here today as best man (if I be worthy of such a title) is to represent one of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. But also to perhaps ‘introduce’ him to those on Claudia’s side of the aisle that may not know him as well as I.

Mark Rickerby is a friend.
A protector.
A romantic.

Not the ‘bubble bath and chocolate’ kind of romantic, but one of an insatiable quest to find beauty in all things.

A writer.  
A poet.  
A Hemingway rowing through an ocean of tripe.

Mark has always been one who searches out the triumphs of ‘day to day’ to pay tribute to much forgotten. Mark has always thought a little harder, looked a little deeper, and felt a little more.

A man who has battled for such trophies as integrity, bravery, character, respect and honor, words no longer as common in today’s vocabulary, for they are trophies that do not come with a scratch and win, Happy Meal or Diet Coke. They are things to be earned, not granted simply because you exist.

And so, all I can do is tell a few stories that may enlighten you as to who Claudia’s family will be spending Thanksgiving dinner with.

As younger men, Mark and I spent much time traveling about the Greek Isles, and when others were showing how progressive and enlightened they were by going topless, getting tattoos and having their genitals pierced, Mark was sneaking into the Parthenon just as the sun was setting over Athens.

Then, after all the tourists had been ushered back to their hotels and cruise ships, by the light of an Aegean Moon, he would come out of the shadows and take his own personal tour. He’d stand where Aristotle stood, where Socrates once spoke. One more Man pondering the what’s and why’s of life. One more ghost.

For as a younger man, Mark had the wisdom to know that his rights of passage would encompass more than a beer bong. That, and if he wanted to pierce his wiener, well, he could do that right here in West Hollywood.

One morning on the Greek island of Paros, as the college graduates were icing their nipples, Mark pulled me away from the action to visit a local graveyard. As was Mark’s style, his purpose for travel was always far greater than putting notches on a pension’s bedpost.

The small cemetery was old but tidy, nothing incredibly unusual, only this one did have something neither of us had ever seen before. There were small, glass boxes – ‘aquariums’ if you will – at the head of each grave. Some were very old, others current to the times. But what they all had in common was the fact that they all contained personal contents of the deceased. Things such as a pocket watch, photos, medals, etc.

I know it may sound a bit morbid, but bear with me. It was incredible, for these glass boxes were essentially ‘windows’ into their lives, and reminded one of things far greater than any cold headstone ever could.

Well, Mark and I had never seen anything like it. You literally got to know the person that lay before you – their family, friends. It was exceptional.

Having many questions about the place, we looked over to see a lone caretaker tending to a corner at the far end. He was an old guy. Quiet. Just sweeping about the place.

And so, keen for information, we approached the man.  

Respectfully, we began our barrage of questions as to ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what’, etc.  But the old guy spoke NO English and instead just looked at us like we’d just asked him to scrub a lizard or something. He then gestured for us to follow him.

With that, we came to a small headstone and yet another glass box. In it were a couple of old black and white photos. One of a young woman and the other of a young couple.

Mark and I had no idea what it was, or why the man had brought us there. It was then the old man pointed to the ring on his finger, and then pointed back to the glass box.  

He was the man in the photo. And the woman buried there was his wife.  

To this day, I have never seen a sweeter, more profound introduction. This man took a part-time job at a cemetery so that he could be close to the woman he loved.

And it was then I realized . . . marriage is not for the timid. Not for those who seek safety. It is for the most adventurous. The most brave. It takes great strength. Determination. Faith. It is a subscription to things far greater than you are alone. It takes guts.

It takes a romantic.

My trips to Greece basically ended with a container of bad potato salad. But Mark continued on throughout the Mediterranean, throughout Europe…. and finally, to San Juan Capistrano where he met Claudia. And she turned out to be a friend of such beauty that it inspired, perhaps, his greatest adventure of all.

That said, I would like to raise my glass and propose a toast. On behalf of myself, my family, and all who have come together to make this day special.

To Mark and Claudia Rickerby. May God bless you, as we have been blessed through you. My love to you both.”

A New Friend for My Lonely Doggy

My dog was lonely and in need of a haircut, so I made a new pal for him out of his trimmings. Problem solved!

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(Just kidding. Don’t worry. I have two dogs and they have lots of fun together. Actually, they were both very excited about this new friend but soon lost interest because he just lays around all the time.)