Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom: Episode 22: God Jumps the Shark

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Welcome to episode 22 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 and 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 of them out from all the rest for humiliation.”

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

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

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

So, to today’s episode – God Jumps the Shark

This is not the title God gave the episode. In fact, I never know what titles He gives them. But I’m calling it “God Jumps the Shark” because I think the show is getting old and he’s desperate for laughs. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “jump the shark” – it originated in Hollywood when the writers of a show called Happy Days, desperate to lift sagging ratings, had one their main characters, Fonzie, jump his motorcycle over a shark. It was so out of the blue and random, it was clearly a desperate attempt to give the show a kick in the pants. Thus the term “jumping the shark” was born. When your favorite show starts getting old and they do something ridiculous, they just jumped the shark. Of course, shark jumping is not as noticeable these days, with YouTube personalities always trying to outdo each other with increasingly outrageous antics and stunts. Jumping the shark is more the norm than the exception.

But I digress. Allow me to explain why I think my show in heaven is in trouble . . .

I had just returned from a week in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. I drove for ten hours and was completely exhausted and restoring my comfort zone with some of my favorite snacks and one of my favorite TV shows, Svengoolie. All was right with the world. It was sort of like that scene in Uncle Buck when he indulges in all his comfort foods.

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I suspect it was this state of comfort that inspired God to mess with me again. He just can’t stand to see me relax.

Anyway, before I left for the trip, I noticed a skunk had taken a liking to my front garden, especially an area covered by wood chips. When I planted my garden and lovingly distributed the wood chips over it, I had no idea that I was really just building a skunk cafeteria. Every morning I would go outside and find little holes here, there and everywhere. I researched it and found that skunks like to dig through wood chips for whatever reason and search for worms and other bugs that live in the soil. I was keeping on top of the skunk’s damage before the trip but when I got home after being away for seven days, my front yard looked like a World War II battlefield.

I vowed to discourage him by turning the hose on him every night until he chose someone else to pick on. I didn’t want to hurt him. After all, everything needs to eat. But I didn’t appreciate the fact that he chose me to harass when there are plenty of other front gardens with his beloved wood chips all over town. The stinky little bugger could at least spread the damage around a bit.

I squirted him with the hose a few times before I left but that didn’t seem to discourage him. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the occasional shower.

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So the return to my comfort zone when I returned from my vacation was disrupted by looking out the window every fifteen minutes or so, waiting for his inevitable return.

It was after midnight and I was starting to doze off when I was awoken by the sound of dogs barking very excitedly right outside my front window. I opened the door and was immediately accosted by two very panicked mutts with wet faces trying to squeeze by me and get into the house. Then the smell hit me. In a moment, I realized they had just been sprayed by the skunk and were desperate to escape – into my living room!

I closed the door, grabbed my blanket (my favorite blanket, by the way), and blocked the bottom of the door to keep the stink out. Too late. The entire house already stunk. My eyes and throat were burning as I looked out the window and saw the skunk spraying the dogs again. As you can imagine, dogs don’t enjoy that one bit. And I’m sure the snoot-full of skunk juice comes as quite a surprise because they probably think the skunk is just a very slow, black-and-white cat.

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Then a car pulled up with two teenagers in it. They called the dogs and they both ran and jumped into the car. Apparently, these two Einstein’s saw the skunk and brought their dogs out to attack it. Seeing them call their hounds and flee the scene was quite a surprise to me. I didn’t think there were any hillbilly skunk hunters in this town. 

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Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the requisite old truck so there was no truck bed for the dogs to jump into. They had a two-door Hyundai sedan so the dogs had nowhere to go but into their laps. They must have had to replace the carpet and seats in their car the next day, burn their clothes and soak themselves in tomato juice. 

Wow, I’m actually starting to feel sympathy for them. Excuse me a second.

Never mind. I just had to burp. Funny how gas can be mistaken for sympathy.

Anyway, the skunk survived but must have emptied its entire stank tank on my front porch. Skunk juice apparently has the power to penetrate walls and windows because after it was all over, it was as if the skunk was sitting on my couch with me, eating my snacks and asking me to change the channel, perhaps to a Pepe Le Pew cartoon.

I tried opening the back door to air out the house but the smell was there, too. I shut the doors to my and my daughter’s bedrooms to hopefully cut down on the smell in their rooms and they didn’t wake up so it seemed to work, but I tried to sleep on the couch, throat and eyes burning.

As I lay there, I realized it was the denouement of another episode of Messin’ with Mark. It must have been top-drawer slapstick for God and his angels, gathered around that flat screen in the sky, watching me fighting to keep the dogs out of the house and choking on skunk odor when I was supposed to be relaxing back into my comfort zone after a long trip. I can just imagine Him thinking, “Okay, he’s all set up, thinking this is going to be a normal night. Cue the skunk!” 

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As usual, as I lay there choking, I looked up and whispered, “Well-played, God. Well-played.” I could only hope this apparent desperation for new show ideas (I mean, a skunk? Really?) is proof that this show at my expense is finally on its last leg and will be canceled soon.

But then I realized . . . it’s God’s show. Who’s going to cancel it?

He always gets the last laugh.

 

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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.

 

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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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.)

Writing Greatness (short story, humor)

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Donovan Stone wanted to be a writer more than anyone had since the first hieroglyphs were scratched onto the wall of the first pyramid. He had read just about every book written on the craft, attended every fiction writing class he could, and had even changed his name to something he thought sounded more writer-ish. His actual name was Sidney Weatherwax, which he considered singularly inglorious and not in keeping with the illustrious future he had planned for himself.

In one of his writing books, the author outlined his formula for greatness. “There are three kinds of writers,” he wrote –

1. Those who stink and don’t know they stink. This type of writer’s efforts will only be a big waste of everyone’s time, primarily his own. One lifetime is never enough to overcome pure, unadulterated stinkiness.

2. Those who stink and are determined to become less stinky. This type of writer faces an uphill climb but may someday create something passable, albeit inconsistently, and then only by dumb luck.”

3. Those who are great by divine intervention or some accident of nature and who couldn’t write poorly if they were being suspended over a pool of sharks. Only this kind of writer will ever be truly great, and even he doesn’t know how he does it. If you’re wondering if you’re this kind of writer, you’re not. You wouldn’t have to ask. Quit now.

Donovan wept uncontrollably after reading this, fearing he was a category two writer. When his wrenching sobs subsided, he steeled his resolve to achieve greatness. Still, every effort was met with severe frustration. There was just nothing in there. He loved poetry but every word he wrote, nay, every letter, was a struggle he likened to childbirth.

One of his first poems read:

Her love reminds me of flowers.
I don’t need her tomorrow, but nowers.

He saw nothing wrong with the use of the non-word “nowers” because he once read that Shakespeare created many words when ordinary language failed him.

Donovan’s poem continued:

She’s hot, like a jalapeno squirt.
I would cut off my ear, but it would hurt.

He thought the Van Gogh reference was pure genius, others not so much. In fact, when he shared it with the crowd at The Daily Grind Coffeehouse, a normally gracious group, they laughed unguardedly, assuming his poem was meant to be funny.

With sweat beading on his upper lip, he continued,
“My love is a sponge,
On our love raft, we will plunge.”

The laughter grew louder. Trembling with a mixture of embarrassment and rage, he pressed on,
“Her love is a towel
cooling my weary browel.”

That was it. The room erupted. He could have saved himself some humiliation if he had pretended he meant it to be funny, but he was cut to the quick. He threw his Gauloise cigarette on the floor, spit in a very French manner, and said, “You people wouldn’t know talent if it bit you on your fat, pimply asses!” He then kicked over a table and stormed out the back door into the alley. He kicked over trash cans all the way home, cursing about how most great artists were misunderstood and how that audience of barn animals was just too ignorant to grasp someone as brilliant and tortured as he.

The next week was spent in a bottomless purple funk. He drank excessively, didn’t bathe, and barely ate. If his phone ever rang, he wouldn’t have even answered it.

He felt comforted by the tragic lives many great artists had. Hemingway shot himself. Plath had electroshock therapy in an attempt to cure suicidal tendencies. Dostoyevsky was exiled in Siberia for his political opinions. He felt he was suffering along with them, equally unappreciated. The more he suffered, the more romantic it felt. Unfortunately, he was the only one who felt it.

His father was no help. The last time he had spoken to him, he said, “Son, it’s time to grow up. How much of your life are you planning to waste on this pipe dream? Even the best writers struggle to eke out a living, and frankly, you ain’t one of ‘em. I found a poem in a notebook you left in the back yard and it stunk. Wait here, I’ll get it.”
He walked away and returned with a tattered, coffee-stained notebook, flipped through it and found the page.
“Oh, here it is,” he said. “Explain this one to me, if you even can. He began to read, “Flaming doorknobs tumble down my blasphemous eyebrows. The tragic sand screams oblong operettas to my parched bicycle seat. I am.”

He set the notebook down and asked, “What in hell’s blue blazes is that supposed to mean, Sidney? Why can’t you write a nice, rhyming poem that tells a story like Robert Frost or that Longfellow guy used to do?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he replied, “and my name is Donovan.”

“That’s another thing. That name might work if, A, it was 1957, and, B, you were a teen idol.”

“Look, daddio,” Donovan replied, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. You know who said that? Einstein! That’s who!”

“Daddio? What is this? 1968? It’s 2014! Wake up and smell the failure, hepcat!”

After a pause, his father softened and said, “Look, son. I just want you to be happy. I hate seeing you running down a dead end like this, because there’s a big, brick wall at the end of it and you’re not gonna see it coming until it’s too late. I mean, of all things to choose to be, you had to pick a writer? Nothing has ever happened to you! I did two tours in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war, and survived cancer that damn Agent Orange gave me! If anyone should be a writer, it’s me!”

“Oh, so that’s it!” Donovan snapped. “You’re jealous because I’m a writer and you’re not!”

“Yeah, I’m real jealous I don’t have flaming door knobs tumbling down my blasphemous eyebrows. Think about it, son. All the great writers lived through some heavy stuff. Tennessee Williams had diphtheria as kid, was tormented by a sadistic father, lived most of his life as a repressed homosexual, and died penniless after a nervous breakdown. But his sister one-upped him by getting a frontal lobotomy! So, again, what have you been through? What gives you the right to call yourself a writer? I would suggest you do some living first, then grace the world with your insights. You’re putting the cart before the horse, boy!”

Donovan couldn’t take anymore. He stormed out. He was good at storming. He hadn’t spoken to his father since, which was difficult because he still lived at home. Though he cursed him, he couldn’t get his words out of his mind. What did give him the right to call himself a writer? Maybe writing was so hard for him because nothing worth writing about had ever happened to him. He was forced to conclude that his father was right. He decided to change that. He would do things, dammit, and starting right now.
He showered, found clothes that smelled the least bad, and walked to a military recruiting office in his local mall. Many great writers had brushes with death, and killed many men in battle. He would, too. That would show his dad.

He tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected because the minimum push-up requirement was forty-two and he was only able to do seven. The reviewer also mentioned a comment he had made in his application about hating America for runaway Capitalism and Imperialist foreign policies.

Dejected but still determined to have something bad happen to him, he put on a white suit and costume jewelry rings, stuffed his wallet with toilet paper until it bulged, and walked through the worst neighborhood he could find on Saturday at midnight. A group of gang-bangers pulled up in a car next to him and yelled very hurtful things. His mania was such that he had no fear for his safety, but instead thought, “This will make a great story!” One of the men got out of the car and started pushing him around, but an elderly woman ran out of a nearby house and yelled, “You get on home and leave that boy alone! He’s obviously not right in the head!”
She drove Donovan home that night, gave him a lecture he thought would never end, and handed him a Bible, saying, “You need a whole lot of Jesus, son.”

Actually, the old lady’s lecture was the worst ordeal he had ever endured, much worse than being beaten and robbed would have been, so he was off to a great start.

As he lay in bed that night, it dawned on him that he was going about things all wrong. Instead of trying to make bad things happen to him, he would do bad things himself! Be pro-active! His father always said he lacked initiative and was hiding in writing as a way to avoid taking real chances in life. This would show him once and for all!

The next morning, he bought a pellet gun at Big 5 and a pair of nylon stockings at 7/11, walked to his local credit union, pulled the stocking over his head, pulled out the gun, walked in and yelled, “This is a stick up!”
None of the customers paid much attention because his voice lacked the requisite amount of bass to properly scare anyone. A teller nearby recognized his voice because he chose to rob a bank he’d had an account at for several years.

“Sidney, what are you doing?” she asked.

“It’s not me,” he said. “Uh, I mean, who’s Sidney?”

“I know your voice, Sidney,” she replied.

He was then tackled by an elderly security guard who had been awakened by the conversation. However, due to his advanced age, he began to clutch his chest. He had a heart attack and was dead in under a minute.

The trial was only a formality. Due to a recent rash of bank robberies, and because he had induced the guard’s death, the judge made an example of him. He received the maximum sentence of thirty years for robbery and involuntary manslaughter.

During his first year in prison, he was subjected to every atrocity imaginable, but his mania to amass colorful experiences to someday write about still overrode even his own retched misery. Finally, he was experiencing something extreme and dramatic, fodder for great literature. Talking to his cellmate one day to pass the time, a psychotic, sexually ambiguous brute nicknamed Crusher, he said, “I’m here voluntarily, I’ll have you know. All this stuff that’s happening to me, including what you did last night, is going to be in a book someday. Remember my name because I’m going to be famous.”
“Cedric Weatherwax?” Crusher replied.

“No! Donovan Stone, man!”

Crusher laughed and said, “Don’t you know federal law prohibits you from profiting from your crime or anything that happens to you in here? You’ll never get that book through the bars!”

After a few months of severe depression, Donovan signed up to read a poem at the prison talent show. Surely, he thought, this menagerie of nincompoops would be impressed with his talent. He walked to the stage, cleared his throat, and said, “Her love reminds me of flowers. I don’t need her tomorrow but nowers.”

The prisoners laughed and laughed, and Donovan stormed back to his cell.

Man Snaps, Says “Computer Made Me Do It”

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Another incident of “computer-induced mania” struck today, an increasingly common phenomena which affects mainly inexperienced computer users. A man identified as Lester P. Turtletaub, attempting to learn how to operate a new computer and complete a complicated formatting task in one evening, suddenly lost control of his faculties. In the words of his friends and family, he just “snapped.” 

The man, who hadn’t slept in close to 48 hours, had been making numerous unsuccessful attempts to navigate the many commands of his new “user-friendly” laptop computer. His roommate reports that he looked into his room several times throughout the night, only to see him sitting before the computer screen with a vacant gaze, muttering “demon machine.”

“He hadn’t blinked in such a long time,” his roommate states, “dust had collected on his eyeballs. I was very concerned about him.” He attempted to speak to him but received only an incomprehensible grunt in return, a sound he likened to that of “Frankenstein’s Monster.” 

His roommate had left for work when a next-door neighbor heard what she describes as “an unearthly wail” coming from the house. “It sent chills up my spine,” she said.

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Moments later, she heard the same voice in the rear yard of the property screaming, “Mock me, will you? I’ll kick the gigabytes out of you! Die, electronic Satan!” Curious, she looked over the fence and saw the man apparently attempting to “drown” the laptop computer in the swimming pool. 

“He’s normally such a nice young man so I asked him what he was doing,” the neighbor reports. His response, the neighbor tearfully recounted, was, “For once in your life, mind your own damn business, you meddling old heifer!” 

A short time later, his SUV was heard screeching out of the driveway. Numerous reports to 911 emergency lines were then received from various retail outlets and restaurants about a man tearing around like a maniac, knocking shoppers flying in every direction, and taking cuts in line, all the while yelling, “Out of my way! It’s my birthday, dammit!” (This unfortunate string of events also apparently took place on the man’s birthday.) 

It was later discovered that Mr. Turtletaub had purchased several dozen strips of plywood at a local Home Depot, twelve family-size buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, three loaves of white bread, two tubs of Jif peanut butter, three 12-packs of Coca-Cola, and a case of David’s sunflower seeds, intending to fashion a bunker out of his residence and binge on his favorite foods. 

Failing to heed his previous warning, the neighbor casually approached the deranged man as he was boarding up a window. Before she could ask him why he was doing this, he wrapped her up in duct tape, taped her onto a piece of plywood, secured it to the hitch of his Ford Pinto, and sped up and down the street at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour, all the while yelling out the window, “See what happens when you don’t mind your own (expletive) business? What was that? I can’t hear you!” The woman declined medical attention, saying, “It was actually kind of fun.” When she enthusiastically asked him to “do it again”, Mr. Turtletaub was enraged even further. 

Though being pursued by angry neighbors, he was then able to barricade himself in his residence. After a standoff that lasted almost three days, the man finally emerged from the house of his own volition. Apparently, the mania which had enveloped him suddenly wore off and he came out of the building in a disheveled state, squinting in the bright sunlight, his face greasy with chicken fat and peanut butter. He was nearly shot by a rookie police officer who mistook the drumstick he was holding for a gun. 

The main reason the standoff lasted so long was that the police were not sure if Turtletaub was armed. It was finally determined that he wasn’t, mainly because throughout the ordeal he did nothing but throw old sandwich curbs and chicken bones from open windows at SWAT officers who got too close to the house. At one point, he did employ a slingshot to fire at an officer what was later determined to be a Hot Tamale candy. The Tamale struck the officer in the neck, causing a slight welt. 

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Suspect’s weapon of choice.

As paramedics took the man away amid a media frenzy, he was heard muttering, “It’s my birthday. Why was the computer so mean to me? It made me do that bad stuff. You should arrest it!”

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He was transported to the nearby Shady Pines Rest Home for psychiatric evaluation. Staff members at Shady Pines report that he is recovering. Once his fitness to stand trial is established, he will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon (said Hot Tamale candy) he fired at the police officer. The neighbor who was taken on what she now calls “the plywood ride” refused to press charges and asked us to thank Mr. Turtletaub for giving her “the most fun she’s had in ages.” 

Captain Roger E. Kaputnick, who spoke with the neighbor at the hospital, reports, “Mr. Turtletaub will be charged with assault with or without the neighbor’s consent, but I do so very reluctantly. After speaking with her for only a minute or two, I felt like doing the same thing myself. She asked me a lot of very personal questions. That is one nosey, old heifer.”

By Irving P. Schmendrick, Staff Reporter.

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 21 – The Fungal Bungle

Welcome to episode 21 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 – Fungal Bungle!

I was in Brugge, Belgium, in the first month of what would turn out to be a six-month backpacking trip through Europe and the Greek Islands. I got so carried away sightseeing with new friends that I forgot to call my parents. I was staying at a youth hostel but their phone was out of order. This was back in the day before cell phones. (Yeah, I’m getting up there. Don’t give me a hard time about it.) I was feeling very guilty because I had promised my mother I would call her at a certain time every week to let her know I was still alive. An employee of the hostel said, “I have to go home and get something. You’re welcome to use my phone.” I thought this was very generous of him and I gladly accepted, telling him I would reverse the charges.

We had a pleasant conversation on the way there. He pointed me toward the phone and sat in the living room. As I chatted with my parents, I was somewhat repulsed by the sight of my generous host picking bits of flesh from between his toes due to an advanced case of athlete’s foot or some other fungal infection. I retched slightly, turned away so I wouldn’t have to witness this unsavory spectacle any longer, and was able to put the horror of it out of my mind and finish the phone call.

We got back on the road and I was enjoying the scenery so much I forgot about the fungus among-us. He stopped at a market. I went in with him and bought a bag of peanuts and a Coke. We got back into the car and were about halfway back to the hostel when I realized I hadn’t offered him any of my peanuts. How rude of me! He gladly accepted and took a few handfuls as we talked about life in Belgium, my travel plans, my life back in California, etc., when two things suddenly dawned on me –

  1. He didn’t wash his hands after picking at his foot scabs and fresh pustules.
  2. He was using the same hand to eat MY peanuts!

The problem was I had already ingested several handfuls of peanuts before I made this realization. 

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Uh-huh. I had swallowed and was now digesting the foot fungus of a complete stranger. I mean, if you’re going to snack on foot bacteria, you at least would prefer that it belong to a close friend or family member. 

I managed to keep it together and stay very stoic so he wouldn’t catch on that I was worried about his disease-riddled hand, but inside I felt like the sleeping guy in those prank videos that is woken up by all his friends pretending they’re about to crash. 

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As is usually the case, I didn’t realize I was smack-dab-o-rooney in the middle of another episode of Messin’ with Mark until this moment. I looked up and thought to God, “You’re at it again, aren’t ya?” I could almost hear the laughter from above the clouds. 

I remembered hearing that the acid in Coca-Cola could dissolve rust so I guzzled, gargled and rinsed with it, hoping it would do a similar number on the fungus I had just snacked upon. Then I stuck my head out of the window and spit out the peanut fragments that were in my mouth from the last handful. The ones that were in my stomach – well, I figured I would just have to wait to find out if I would be seeing them again. I was repulsed but not quite badly enough to vomit outright. 

When I had shaken off the nausea, I handed him the bag and said he could finish them. He eagerly polished them off, his foot flakes and oils blending with the peanut salt. I sat silently, struggling to keep my stomach right-side-up as the car filled with an aroma that now smelled like a foot covered with peanut sauce. 

I spent the rest of the trip with my head partially out the window like a labrador to escape the retched odor, thinking what I always do at the end of another episode of Messin’ with Mark . . .

“Well played, God. Well played.” 

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If Twitter Had Existed in Lincoln’s Time

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Does anyone else think it’s unpresidential for candidates to engage in Twitter battles? What if Twitter had been around when America began? Hmmmm . . .

LINCOLN: Douglas is a cad and a masher. Furthermore, I declare that he is a mountebank! #Douglasforprez

DOUGLAS: Ooh, got me there, Linky. You, kind sir, are a jug-eared buffoon of the highest order! #Lincolnforprez

LINCOLN: I refuse to stoop to the level of my opponent. However, I will say I had the misfortune of sitting next to Douglas once and he smelled strongly of cheese. It was most unpleasant, even vomit-inducing. I threw up directly into my own mouth.

DOUGLAS: I will have you know that I also recall that day, good sir. I will not say what you smelled of. I will only point out a glorious new invention called toilet paper. Please, for the sake of all things holy, make use of it.

LINCOLN: #Douglasforprez, the only thing I will be wiping my posterior with is you at general election time.

DOUGLAS: @Lincolnforprez, those are fighting words, you punk-ass stretch job! Meet me in the public square for a duel at high noon.

LINCOLN: I am not familiar with this term “punk-ass.” However, Douglas, you clearly watch too many plays. I accept your challenge to meet at noon, but I prefer fisticuffs, Marquess of Queensbury rules, you filibustering, flabby, flatulent flake!

DOUGLAS: Fine, good sir. I’m going to give you some free rhinoplasty and take a few inches off of that prominent proboscus of yours. Now your nose will not arrive five minutes before you do for a change.

LINCOLN: You are revealing your class level, Stephen. One should never criticize physical characteristics someone is helpless to do anything about. You, however, can do something about your cheesy smell, and your bad comb-over. Ha ha! Comb-over! I just invented a new insult, too!

DOUGLAS: Eat me.

LINCOLN: Eat me? Eat me, he says. Perhaps he really is made of cheese. I am rolling on the floor laughing my rear end off over here. #ROFLMREO

DOUGLAS: Hey Stretch, I am experimenting with a new musical form. It’s talking to music, rather than singing. Check me out – – My name is Abe Lincoln! I have trouble thinkin’! I never use toilet paper so I’m always stinkin’!

LINCOLN: Talking to music? That will never prosper.

DOUGLAS: Again, I say eat me.

LINCOLN: This is getting boring. I’m going to bounce, Cheese man. See you at noon. Tape down your wig in preparation for the shellacking I’m going to give that cue ball you persist in referring to as your head.

DOUGLAS: Bastard! I’m going to biff you about the face and neck and beat the chiggers out of your unkempt beard, even if I have to stand on an apple crate to reach you, giraffe boy!

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom! Episode 20 – The Sting

Welcome to episode 20 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 Sting.

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As you will see, dear reader, that title has a double-meaning. It was a sting operation by God and I also got my butt stung off by bees. Allow me to explain . . .

I got a wild hair one weekend and decided to go rock climbing. I didn’t want to drive far so I went to Griffith Park, which is a few miles from my house. I wouldn’t admit it then, but in retrospect I must admit I was a classic weekend warrior. Minimal rock climbing experience, no proper gear, not really in top shape for such activity, and no research ahead of time on the area where I’d be hiking. If I had known the mountain was called BEE ROCK (!), I probably would have chosen another one. 

Here it is. Looks inviting enough, doesn’t it?

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See that crevice at the bottom right? That’s where I started. I got to the top and was almost doing the splits with a seventy foot drop beneath me when it finally dawned on me that I had written a check my body couldn’t cash. It was also at that moment that I realized I was smack-dab in the middle of another episode of Messin’ with Mark, God’s sitcom!

As if I weren’t in enough trouble, bees started to sting me. Dozens of them. And I couldn’t run or hide. All I could do was stay there clinging to vertical rock faces on either side, hoping the bees would get bored.

They didn’t. They invited friends.

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I realized I needed to get down or move over. There was only one crag within distance – jumping distance. I knew if I stayed there, the collective bee venom would paralyze me and I would fall to my untimely demise. 

I can just imagine the control booth up in heaven at about this time, with Jesus looking at his Dad sideways, wondering if he was going to let up. Seeing He had no intention of cutting me any slack whatsoever, He had to say something.

JESUS: Okay, Dad, you’ve gone too far this time. He’s gonna die.

GOD: So what? I’m God. I’ll just make another one.

JESUS: But this is a comedy. He’s the original actor. Sequels and look-alike’s never capture the original magic. Didn’t we learn anything from Home Alone 3 and 4?

GOD: Maybe you’re right. I’ll put a crag next to him, but far enough away so he has to make a death-defying jump from a splits position to reach it. Should be exciting!

JESUS: Okay, but please just make sure he makes it. Seeing him go splat would definitely be bad for ratings. I mean, humiliating him mercilessly over and over is great entertainment, but killing him outright is just mean. Nobody will tell you you’re a terrible director because you’re God and all, but they’ll be thinking it.

GOD: As if that helps. I know what they’re thinking, too.

JESUS: Dad, don’t get all Old Testament on me.

GOD: Okay, okay! I got the message.

So I jumped, caught it, and managed to crawl far enough up the mountain that the bees finally realized I wasn’t trying to steal their honey or whatever the hell it is bees get all uppity about. 

Bees seem so cute from a distance, flying from flower to flower. The springtime innocence of it warms the very soul. Not so much when there’s 93,000 of them all intent on stinging every square millimeter of your personage. And they look a lot bigger when they’re actually on you, too.

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I spent the next few days looking like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, which I’m sure also fetched big laughs up in heaven.

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As I lay there on the couch, slapping on the calamine lotion, I looked through the window to the big, blue sky and repeated those words I have said so many times before, usually in various states of emotional and/or physical trauma . . .

“Well-played, God. Well-played.”

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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.