Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom! Episode 19 – The Wallabee Walloping.

 

Welcome to episode 19 of Messin’ with Mark! 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 Wallabee Walloping!

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I was twelve years old when I experienced a harrowing event that would come to be known in family circles as “The Wallabee Walloping.” In retrospect, however, I realize it was just another episode of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom. 

One of my favorite places to go at the time was a store in our local mall called Spencer’s Gifts.

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I loved Spencer’s for several reasons. First and most importantly, it carried whoopee cushions, handshake buzzers, itching powder and other artillery I employed in the ongoing war between myself and my older brother, Paul.

I also fell for their “x-ray specs” once – that promised the ability to see through girls’ clothing.

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Even at that age, however, I couldn’t figure out how a hole cut in cardboard painted with a spiral design could accomplish such a feat. I tried it with my sixth grade heart-throb, Janis Stephenson, but her clothes did not become the least bit transparent, or even opaque. Imagine! Duping sweet, innocent children out of a whole dollar like that.  

Spencer’s also had a wide variety of “adult” paraphernalia, harmless stuff like breast-shaped coffee mugs, which provided my introduction to sexual education, for better or worse. (Probably worse.) Over the years, sadly, Spencer’s has become increasingly pornographic, but back then it was still relatively tame. 

But my favorite thing about Spencer’s was the back room where they kept the lava lamps, spinning disco lights, and fiber optic lamps with filaments that changed colors in waves every few seconds.

I would stare at them in a trancelike state, imagining I was an astral traveler and the tips of the fiber optic filaments were tiny stars outside the window of my spaceship. The eyes (and the mind of a twelve-year old) are easily entertained. Those lamps are tacky now but back then they were state of the art, and every self-respecting bachelor had at least one in his swingin’ bachelor pad.

There were always plenty of black light posters to flip through, too. The stalking black panther with deadly, green eyes peering menacingly through jungle ferns.

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The biker on a long, low chopper rumbling through the desert at night, his girlfriend leaning back languidly against the sissy bar, her long hair flowing behind her, the vast cosmos pitching and twirling overhead. The peace signs set against mind-bending optical illusions, and on and on.

I can’t explain how or why that explosion of illuminated color made me so happy. It just did. I spent about an hour there once a week gazing at the posters and lights, listening to the perpetually blasting music.

And that’s when I heard it . . . THE BEST SONG EVER. It was called Dream Weaver by Gary Wright.

The cosmic synthesizer intro and space-traveling lyrics made the electric wonderment of Spencer’s back room even more magical. I couldn’t wait to buy the 45. (For readers under thirty, that’s not a gun – it’s a small vinyl record album with one song on each side. Primitive, I know.)

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I left Spencer’s and rushed to the nearest Licorice Pizza (a long-dead record store), bought it for a buck and rushed home to play it and learn all the words.

Nobody was home when I arrived. I sprinted into my room and played Dream Weaver about fifty times, singing my heart out until I had mastered the vocals down to the slightest nuance. In retrospect, the lyrics were probably the main reason the song resonated with me so much. The stress I was living with because of Paul’s daily harassment had me fantasizing about escaping from the real world.

I’ve just closed my eyes again
and climbed aboard the dream weaver train.
Driver, take away my worries of today
and leave tomorrow behind.

I was completely lost in the music when I heard someone yell “Hey!” I looked over and saw something flying toward me, flapping like a bird. Before I could duck, it hit me in the mouth. Pain seared into my lips and I tasted blood. I opened my eyes and saw my brother standing in the doorway, laughing smugly. He had thrown a hardbound math textbook at me and yelled simultaneously so I would look over just as it collided with my face. His timing was perfect.

Blinded by rage, I jumped up and ran toward him in full attack mode. Unfortunately, since I had no fighting skills and weighed only seventy pounds, this mode consisted of closing my eyes and flailing my arms wildly. it was a very bad idea. Before I continue, allow me to explain why.

Paul wore shoes throughout his teenage years called Wallabee’s. They were popular at the time but were only one small step above a moccasin in quality. It was impossible to run, kick a ball, or do anything that required a sudden movement without one or both of them flying off. The leather laces were merely decoration.

He was fifteen, high most of the time like everyone else in the 1970’s, with more than his share of pimples, and long hair held in place by a blue bandanna. As that description implies, he was not an athlete by any stretch. However, as I ran across the room to exact revenge, I made the sudden and unfortunate discovery that he was a sort of Wallabee marksman. Perhaps he practiced firing them at tin cans in the backyard. I don’t know. But let me tell you, his accuracy was deadly, for my attack (the aforementioned running with flailing arms strategy) was foiled mid-thrust as he very casually kicked off one of his Wallabee’s, scoring a direct hit to my prepubescent left testicle. I crumpled to the ground, contorted in agony and emitted a noise that surprised even me; a noise I was not even aware I had the ability to make; something akin to a walrus’s mating call. The room spun counter-clockwise as Paul’s raucous, unguarded laughter blended with the mystical strains of Dream Weaver, providing a surreal, Fellini-esque quality to my already desperate and pain-addled emotional state.

Fly me high through the starry skies,
maybe to an astral plane.
Cross the highways of fantasy.
Help me to forget today’s pain.

We’ve all heard stories of people accessing supernatural strength to save themselves or loved ones from sure annihilation. Such was the force that flooded through my diminutive frame that day. Bleeding profusely from both lips, my only recently descended left testicle throbbing like a lighthouse beacon, I rose up valiantly again and rushed headlong toward my brother with murder in my heart. He backed up a few steps and fired the other Wallabee. His limp and awkward style belied his deadliness.

This will sound like an exaggeration but, as God is my witness, that second Wallabee scored a direct hit to the other testicle. Down I went again. That was it. I was finished. Curtains. Kaput. My brother brushed his palms together as if to say, “My work here is done” and picked up his Wallabee’s, one of which was lying within sniffing distance of my nose. He said “Let that be a lesson to ya!” and walked away, supremely satisfied and chuckling contentedly as I lay there in the fetal position, drooling and bleeding into the shag carpet, waiting in vain for the pain to subside as Gary Wright finished his song.

Ooh dream weaver,
I believe you can get me through the night.
Ooh dream weaver,
I believe we can reach the morning light.

But my mind was no longer on such lofty subjects as music. I was already plotting my revenge as I lay studying the intricacies of the carpet weave. However, being so much smaller than him, my attempts at getting some payback had to be non-physical and very, very devious. If he thought I was going to forget this latest assault on my person, he was sorely mistaken. As this story attests, I still haven’t. One never forgets his first shot to the fella’s, let alone two in rapid succession, with a pair of busted lips on the side.

Which brings me back to the most important reason I liked Spencer’s Gift’s so much – weaponry. The itching powder I had purchased for just such an occasion came in very handy that night. Suffice to say Paul slept very uncomfortably as I giggled through swollen lips. It was so funny, I even forgot about the ice pack.

 

An Introduction to Karma

(Warning: Scary images.)

My parents loved going to the movies. It was like their church. They particularly liked horror movies. This love of voluntarily terrifying oneself was passed along to my brother and I. You see, we were taken to most of those movies . . . as children.

I suppose it would be called a “parenting fail” these days, but we loved it. Nothing was more fun than sitting on swings in the playground at the base of a forty-foot high drive-in movie theatre screen, stuffing our faces with hot dogs, popcorn and Milk Duds, and watching Dracula get a wooden stake pounded into his chest. Man, what a rush! We were too young to know or care about the effects such viewing had on our prepubescent minds. Oh, sure – we would get the Heebie-Jeebie’s back home when we had to walk through the hall at night to go to the bathroom, but that was about it, until one night.

In an amazing feat of poor judgment, my father decided my brother, at thirteen years old, was ready to see the granddaddy of all horror films, The Exorcist. I wanted to go but I was only ten. It would be three years before I was worldly enough to see possessed children vomiting into the mouths of priests.

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My brother left the house that night eager and rosy-cheeked, and returned gaunt and pale. I asked him how the movie was but he just walked by me silently. My mom asked my dad what was wrong with him. He said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. Kids are resilient.”

After a week or so, he returned to normal and started talking again. Our parents went to a party and left us alone. We decided to play hide-and-seek. He went upstairs to count and I hid behind our enormous Magnavox television set. And not just behind the TV, but behind thick curtains behind the TV. Of course, the TV was on. It was always on.

In the days before flat screens, TV’s were monstrous things with ventilation hole-riddled, pressboard panels at the back that heat belched out of like dragon’s breath. Well, it turned out to be the best hiding place I had ever chosen because my brother couldn’t find me for at least an hour. He actually looked behind the TV but didn’t find me because I was such a waif of a child (his nickname for me then was “Pale and Frail”) and I was making myself flat like an Egyptian hieroglyph behind the curtain. Exasperated, he finally decided to pull back the curtain. When he saw me, I was a sweaty wreck, badly dehydrated and on the verge of heat exhaustion. The excitement of being discovered made me laugh. It seemed perfectly innocent to me, but to him, still reeling psychologically from The Exorcist, I looked and sounded like a small, demented demon. I’m not sure what I looked like exactly, but I think this is pretty much what he saw.

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To my surprise, he screamed, but not just any scream. It was one of those primal screams only accessible when the mind is pushed to some heretofore unexplored extremity. He turned and ran, still screaming.

Now, the right thing to do would have been to go to him and reassure him that I was still his little brother – but where’s the fun in that? Every mean thing he had ever said or done to me (and there were plenty) rushed through my mind.

“An opportunity like this might never come again,” I thought. “We’ll see who the pale and frail one is!”

I chased him around the house screaming maniacally and scratching his back until he locked himself in the bathroom and begged me to leave him alone.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you revenge doesn’t feel good. It was awesome. For the rest of the week, I glared at him like one of the tots from Village of the Damned until he asked our parents to make me stop.

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I was heady with my newfound sense of power. However, I was about to be introduced to another kind of power – KARMA.

A few days later, in yet another astounding demonstration of irresponsibility, my parents decided it would be a good idea to let both of us watch The Legend of Lizzie Borden starring Elizabeth Montgomery. Though already quite the horror aficionado for a ten-year old, I found this movie particularly disturbing, for two reasons – she looked remarkably like my mother, and I was used to watching Elizabeth Montgomery play the sweet and perky Samantha in the TV show Bewitched.

I lay in bed that night wide awake, unable to stop hearing a song in the movie, sung eerily by children – “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Man, oh man. Sleep was completely out of the question. I was afraid to blink. I lay there for hours until exhaustion finally overtook me. I awoke in the middle of the night staring at the wall. I rolled over to get more comfortable and momentarily opened my eyes. When I closed my eyes again, I realized I had just seen the silhouette of a woman standing by my bed, the edges of her hair and nightgown illuminated by pale moonlight from the window.

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“Dear God,” I thought, “Lizzie Borden is in my room.”

I was too scared to open my eyes again. I hadn’t looked at her long enough to see her hands but I was certain an axe dripping with blood was in one of them, an axe she was about to give me forty-two whacks with. I turned to the wall again, hoping she might leave if she thought I was sleeping. She didn’t. I could hear her breathing. I let out one of those screams only dogs can hear and pulled my blanket over my head because, as every child knows, a blanket can withstand any attack.

“Ah, who am I kidding?” I thought, “It’s a blanket! It can’t stop an axe!” My mind raced, “I’m a goner! And still so young! How did she get out of the TV? I wonder if she got my parents yet. Oh, just whack me already and get it over with, Lizzie! Whack away! Why are you just standing there? God, if you care about me at all, make her leave!”

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I started reciting every prayer I knew – “getting right with God” as they say – when a hand touched my shoulder. I screamed. Then Lizzie screamed! I screamed again. She screamed again, too. I started to scream a third time, then thought, “Wait a minute. Why is Lizzie screaming? Axe murderesses don’t scream!”

I reached for the light on my bedside table and pulled the chain. It was my mom. Seems my dear mumsy had chosen that night, of all nights, to stand by her little boy’s bed and watch him sleep. It should have been a tender moment, but it was the longest, most horrifying minute of my life, before or since.

Once her heartrate slowed down and I realized I wasn’t going to be chopped up, we both had a good laugh about it. My dad did, too, as I slept between them in their bed that night, and the next night, and for the next two weeks.

 

Beaten Over The Head

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I’ve got a very old, rustic wood plaque with a poem called Desiderata on it, one of the best motivational poems ever written, with lots of great advice like “go placidly amid the noise and haste”, advice that applies very well to where I live (Los Angeles) and I sometimes find hard to follow.

I was cleaning out the garage today and knocked it off the wall. It hit me on the head. Hurt like the dickens. So I have now literally been “beaten over the head” with it. Do you think someone is trying to tell me something?

The poem is below in case you haven’t read it. It’s definitely worth your time.

The only line I take exception with is “. . . listen to others, even the dull and ignorant.” I mean, it may be true that some people are dull or ignorant or both (a few come to mind, actually), but it makes Max sound a bit on the arrogant side. Other than that, this poem is pure gold.

Desiderata
by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, (c) 1952

Poem from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s The Joy of Less

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The sole purpose of many of the things I do in life is to annoy my wife (in a fun way.) It’s kind of a hobby. For instance, doing my Al Jolson imitation drives her nuts. Or singing Nights in White Satin at full volume. Or pranking her with rubber spiders on fishing wire hanging from ceiling fans. I once put a full-sized, foam rubber alien at the bathroom window and said, “I thought I heard something in the yard. Can you take a look?” When she opened the window, that alien accessed her primal scream. It was downright blood-curdling. I was proud of her, though, because she punched it right in the nose. However, because I had propped it up with a metal rake in it’s lower back, it just bent backwards and sprung forward to its original position again, which made her scream a second time. I got pummeled but it was worth it. 

She also can’t stand it when I stop at yard sales. She never knows what she’s going to find in the house on a Saturday afternoon. I once replaced the couch with a purple chaise lounge, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When she came home, I just said “what?” like nothing had changed. It didn’t go well for me. 

She calls the stuff I buy “tacky junk.” I call it “eclectic home decor.” So to annoy her further, I wrote a poem a few years ago about my love of yard sales. It was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book The Joy of Less. I hope it gives you a chuckle, and reminds you of the junk collector in your family. (There’s always one.) 

Slightly Bent Flugelhorn, Best Offer

God, please save me from garage sales.
Whenever I see one, it just never fails.
I always have to stop and look around
at all the junk laid out on the ground.

Oh, the excitement! What might I find?
What treasures await? It boggles the mind!
It’s usually worthless, but you just never know!
I might find an authentic Vinnie Van Gogh!

We’ve all heard the stories about some typical fool
who paid ten cents for some tacky, cosmetic jewel
then a week later, the same guy found out with a thrill
that it was Cleopatra’s ring and it’s worth twenty mil’!!!

Doesn’t that make you just want to puke?
I mean, don’t we deserve to have such a fluke?
It’ll happen to me, though folks say it can’t.
Someday, I’ll score an original Rembrandt!

But so far, I’ve only bought stuff I don’t need
like a mountain of books I can’t find time to read,
old clothes that are already starting to fray
and old records that are too scratched to play.

I have tons of toys (though my kids aren’t yet born.)
I’ve got a stuffed iguana and a bent flugelhorn,
a velvet painting of Elvis that nobody can stand
and a baseball mitt that doesn’t quite fit my hand.

I have a cymbal-banging monkey, an old tambourine,
a lava lamp, some hula dolls and MAD magazines,
a banged-up surfboard and a magic eight ball.
I’ve got enough stuff to start my own mall!

My den looks like the set of Sanford and Son.
I know I should stop but it’s just too much fun!
Some people like neatness but I’d be in a funk
if I wasn’t surrounded by cool, kitschy junk!

Searching through old boxes gives me such pleasure.
It makes me feel like a pirate searching for treasure!
It’s prob’ly wishful thinking but I know that someday
I’ll find something to sell for big bucks! I just may!

But half the joy of garage sales is passing the time
with old folks and children and neighbors of mine.
Just shooting the breeze like folks did in the past
is less common now that the world moves so fast.

I have no excuse. I guess I’m a hopeless case
but I run into garage sales all over the place!
My home’s filled with junk. My family’s in a huff.
I’ve got to have a sale to get rid of this stuff!!

(c) Mark Rickerby

I Love Rejection

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Okay, I don’t “love” love it, but I have come to accept and even be a little bit proud of it, in terms of my chosen career – writing. As anyone in the arts – particularly acting and writing – knows, you’re going to hear “no, thanks” a lot. Or the classic, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Or the dreaded, “Don’t quit your day job.” But a writer’s rejection is usually silent – a polite email that reads something like this.

“Thank you very much for submitting your material to us. Our agents have now had a chance to look at it and we are sorry to say we don’t feel that we can offer you representation. Because of the high volume of submissions we receive, unfortunately we are not able to give you more detailed feedback than this. However, these things are very subjective and someone else may well feel differently about your work.

Thank you again for letting us take a look at your material, and we wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher.”

Isn’t that the nicest no you ever heard? The literary world is a polite one.

Of course, I don’t like receiving rejection letters. I’d much rather receive nothing but yes’s and have agents and publishers fighting with each other to represent my work, but I don’t really mind no’s.

So why am I so proud of rejection?

Because 98% of humanity doesn’t even try. Many have artistic inclinations and leanings – singing in the shower, drawing, playing an instrument a little, jotting down a line or two now and then – but they don’t pursue that side of themselves. There are good reasons – working hard to provide a good environment for children, for instance – and there are bad reasons – self-doubt, fear of failure, shyness, etc.

Someone once wrote, “We recognize in every work of genius our own discarded thoughts.” Plenty of people have ideas and think, “Wow! That would make a great book/poem/movie/song/painting/invention.” They’re full of fire and passion for a little while. They tell all their friends about it. A few go out and buy a “how to” book so they can learn everything about it before they actually start working. (Which is a big mistake – as Dan Millman wrote, “You don’t need to know everything about the ocean to swim in it.”)

Even fewer actually put pen to paper, or paint to canvas. But the vast majority do none of those things. They get the ego stroke from their friends and family telling them how brilliant their idea is, and that’s good enough. Or worse, some significant other tells them they’ll never make it – to be realistic – to get a good, steady job – that making it in the arts is like winning the lottery – and they let that person’s lack of belief prevent them from trying. But that nagging feeling remains – the question from that other voice – the one that knows greatness lies within – the one that asks, “Why aren’t you at least trying?”

The English writer Sydney Smith (1771-1845) wrote, “A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves obscure men whose timidity prevented them from making a first effort.”

So that’s why I have made rejection my friend. The same goes for confusion. They are both necessary doorways to a better place. To continue moving toward that glorious dream – whatever it is – artists must embrace confusion (the portal to higher knowledge) and rejection (the proof that they’re trying hard.) The alternative is being crushed by every rejection and giving up. That’s not an option.

An even higher step is to ask people who rejected a work what they didn’t like about it, learn from that, and work hard not to repeat that mistake. There are very few spectacles in this world sadder than someone who just doesn’t have the talent to make it as an artist, yet constantly struggling to convince themselves that they do, blind to how much they don’t know, and unwilling to put in the hours of time and effort required to educate themselves properly. Of course, everyone wants to have great accomplishments without working, but that’s not how it works. Someone once wrote, “Success is often hard to recognize because it’s wearing dirty overalls.” The only place where success comes before work is the dictionary.

Clint Eastwood was told by an agent, “You’ll never make it. You’re too tall, you squint too much, and your voice is too soft.”

Harrison Ford was told by a director, “You’ll never make it. I’ve been around and I know star quality, and you don’t have it.”

J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected dozens of times. She was even advised by one agent to take a writing course!

When he submitted the now legendary book Moby Dick to an agent, Herman Melville was asked, “Does it have to be a whale?” (It did.)

Rudyard Kipling was told in a rejection letter, “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

So, you see, rejection isn’t even rejection most of the time – it’s just someone who doesn’t have the ability to recognize talent and should probably be doing something else for a living. Or it’s just that their agency has too many books like that already and doesn’t need another one. Or your submission landed in that agent’s email box when they were annoyed or preoccupied about something else. It’s not always about your work, and all you need to catapult you to that next level is one yes.

Sorry to get all Tony Robbins on you, but I received a rejection letter today and needed to remind myself why it doesn’t matter. I’ll still keep on doing what God put me here to do. I’ll still write even if nobody ever reads it. I’ll still devote my short life to something that inspires me and makes my heart beat faster and stronger. I’ll still do what I love. So that when I’m 95 and sitting by the fire, whether or not I reach the loftiest heights of my chosen path, I won’t have the regret of thinking I didn’t try hard enough, which is far worse and harder to live (and die) with than rejection.

Here’s a collection of rejection letters famous authors have received for now classic books. (And a few parodies.) Enjoy!

https://www.wiltgren.com/2016/10/31/12-rejection-letters-of-massively-popular-authors/

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All these books were rejected by agents/publishers who now hate themselves.

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Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 18 – The Rocket Pop

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Welcome to episode 18 of Messin’ with Mark! 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 Rocket Pop.

It was a typical, blistering hot day in Los Angeles. I was employed as an insurance claims adjuster. And yes, it sucked. I was early for my appointment, sitting in my car on a street with no shade. It was such a bad neighborhood, even the trees had moved away. To make things even more enjoyable, the air-conditioning in my car had gone out. The sweat was lashing off me like someone had installed tiny faucets in every one of my pores. Then I saw him coming – the ice cream man.

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No celestial vision had ever been more dramatic. I crawled out of my car and flagged him down. 

I’ve always been a sucker for ice cream trucks. Who doesn’t have wonderful memories about them?

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I love the ice cream truck so much, I seriously considered becoming an ice cream man so I could be the purveyor of that perfect combination, joy and sugar. Writing is a lonely profession, but handing treats to tots isn’t lonely at all. The ice cream man is the hero of every street in America.

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I hadn’t bought anything from an ice cream truck for years so I was excited and nostalgic when I lined up with a bunch of kids and started to order my childhood usual – a Rocket Pop. 

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Some call it a Bomb Pop but I prefer Rocket Pop. Rockets are shot up into space for exploration. Bombs are dropped on people. The choice is obvious.

The only problem with the Rocket Pop is I enjoy the red (cherry) part and have to suffer through the white and blue parts when it’s gone. That’s when I saw it – the Bomb Pop JUNIOR! All cherry. No white and blue at all, just red cherry-flavored goodness. Yay!

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So I bought one, returned to the sauna (my car) and ate the living heck out of that Bomb Pop, Jr. I was like a bulldog gnawing on a bone. I finished it and was basking in the warm afterglow when I happened to glance at myself in the rear-view mirror. In a moment of pure horror, I was reminded that no part of the Rocket Pop, Bomb Pop, or any other pop is natural. No, it is saturated with RED DYE NUMBER 5. And so were my lips. 

This was turning into a real trip down Memory Lane! Another item came to mind from my childhood that was both novelty and candy – wax lips. 

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Yep, that’s what they looked like, and my appointment was just arriving, pulling into her driveway. She saw me and waved as she pulled in so it was too late to duck behind the dashboard. I grabbed a warm bottle of water, got out of the car, and splashed my face repeatedly but nothing worked. Nothing could make a dent in the red dye #5. In fact, the frantic rubbing only made the redness worse. I might as well have put on a fright wig and completed the clown outfit. 

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There was nothing left to do but face the music. I walked to the lady and extended my hand, hoping she had poor vision. She didn’t, and she wasn’t one for subtlety.

“What happened to your lips?” she asked, looking slightly frightened.

“I ate a Bomb Pop Junior,” I replied.

“Why did you call me Junior?” she asked.

“No, the thing I ate is called a Bomb Pop Junior,” I explained.

“Oh, well, whatever you ate, it sure painted you up,” she said, laughing unguardedly. 

I then had to conduct an inspection and take a recorded statement looking like Bozo the Clown, a statement that was interrupted repeatedly by her laughter. She would apologize every time, then do it again. By this point, I just didn’t care anymore. 

I said goodbye, got back into the sauna, and drove back to the office, being stared at by people who must have thought I was a drag queen with terrible make-up skills. 

Of course, this episode ended the way they all do – with me looking up at the sky, hearing faint laughter from somewhere above the clouds, and saying, “Well played, God. Well played.”

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A Plethora of Piñata’s

An interesting bit of synchronicity happened today.

The family and I were on the freeway and I was joking about that scene from Three Amigos when El Diablo picks on his friend for not knowing what the word “plethora” means after he tells him he has a plethora of piñata’s for his birthday party. A minute later, what rolls by – a plethora of piñata’s!

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Even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles all my life, a city with a large Hispanic population, I can never recall seeing a truckload of piñata’s like this before.

Is this mere coincidence, the law of attraction, or God’s sense of humor?

Here’s the scene from Three Amigos. Cracks me up every time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mTUmczVdik

This photo is titled The Last Ride – the final voyage for these unlucky (is there any other kind?) piñatas before getting the hell (okay, candy) beat out of them by a bunch of stick-wielding kids while bystanders laugh and cheer. Look at the fear in the eyes of the two on the left.