Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Harvest Time Music Festival, The Clown, and The Legend of Suzie Blue

Jason was my best friend for most of my formative years. We were a lot alike - normal kids for the most part. His mother Suzie was normal too for about the first year I knew her. She met Barry, Jason's dad, while attending NIU. They married shortly thereafter and raised a great family, had a nice house in a subdivision, and two obnoxious dogs. They were the kind of family I wished I had growing up. I was Eli Cash to Barry's Royal Tenenbaum. This changed drastically one day at a Chuck-e-Cheese. I was in sixth grade and Suzie took Jason and I and some friends to go roll around in the giant ball pit. After one or more of us had been reduced to tears from being pelted by friends with small plastic balls we got ready to go. As I was zipping up my Starter jacket and slapping on my slap-bracelets Suzie pulled me aside and confided to me a long confusing story about Barry's infidelities and a boss's sexual advances toward her and threats on her life. I told her she should go see a therapist but, being a sixth-grader, she did not heed my advice. It turned out that none of those things she told me were true, and she was actually cheating on Barry with her boss. The marriage dissolved, Suzie lost her job and she descended like a demented, reverse-Phoenix into a parallel universe where she remains to this day. She moved out on her own and started a traveling petting zoo out of her beat-up astro-van. There were iguanas, ferrets, hamsters, birds, a domesticated Gila-monster, plenty of crystal-meth and several obnoxious dogs. The only thing she was missing was paying customers. Police ticketed her more than once for abandoning her dozen-plus animal entourage in a locked van in a Hardee's parking lot. After her apartment had been inundated with urine and fleas Suzie got rid of the petting zoo, and we never spoke of it again.

A year later she played a key role in getting Jason and I suspended from school. It was The Harvest Time Music Festival in rural Geneseo, IL, which is a yearly glorified ice-cream social that culminates in the local school choirs from grades K-12 singing something overtly Christian and/or patriotic. There was a clown there that year and little did anyone know it was to be his last. His only mistake was to make Suzie's eight-year-old daughter a giraffe out of balloons, which was enough to convince Suzie that she had been sexually harassed. At the music fest, among the many attractions from the Moon Bounce to the smaller Balloon Jump, was a cardboard jail and if you gave the jailor two tickets an eighth grader would arrest and imprison anyone of your liking for ten minutes. Since she knew the real police were on the humane society and clown union's payroll, she sought retribution through the only avenue available - the cardboard jail. It turned out the clown successfully resisted the jr. high volunteer's plea to 'please come with me'. Now sensing a conspiracy, Suzie enlisted Jason and I to strong-arm the clown into the jail. Now, I knew Suzie was crazy, but I was twelve and couldn't pass up the opportunity to bully a clown. Jason and I muscled the clown into the cardboard jail, broke his over-sized comb, and stole his bag of props. We then fled, but he gave chase. He caught up with us but not before we had the chance destroy his bag and any hopes he had of spreading joy to children that fateful Sunday afternoon.

On Monday we were ushered into the vice-principal's office by an under-cover fascist posing as a gym teacher. We were informed of our suspension, and that the clown would not be returning to the Harvest Time Music Festival next year. The news was bittersweet - we had successfully broken the clown's spirit on one hand - but on the other, we wouldn't have the opportunity to do it again the next year. As luck would have it the karaoke guy was also not going to be back. He was asked not to return when it was brought to the vice-principal's attention that he allowed an obscenity filled version of 'We Are The World' to be performed by a group of middle-schoolers. Although he wasn't complicit and he did turn off their mic, he had known-ties to Suzie, and they weren't about to take that chance again.

Suzie has spent the decade since in and out of jails, psych-wards, and folk-lore. She was once arrested for smashing car windows in a hotel parking lot in the nude. She was arrested shortly after her release from that incident for yelling obscenities in the middle of the night from the lawn of her arresting officer, also while nude. Tales of Suzie have become so tall it's hard to believe that they're all true. But they are. No one knows for sure where Suzie is these days, except maybe the FBI, but as legend has it every time a prescription for anti-depressants goes unfilled an animal that died of neglect at the hands of Suzie gets its wings.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Car For All Seasons

Last week I took my car to an Oldsmobile dealership in Washington, IA to have them try and stop it from dying at every stop-sign, stop-light, cross-walk, left-turn, and flip of the radio dial. They didn't fix it but the trip was not wasted. Washington is a very interesting town. It's a poor-man's Ottumwa or a rich-man's Kewannee. Or if socio-economic similes don't do it for you it is an outsider's cold-hand shake and unimpassioned conversation about the weather. While I was waiting for Mr. Perdock to run my 1986 Oldsmobile 88 through a computer to archive for posterity the fact that someone still drives a 1986 Oldsmobile 88, I took a walking tour of the city. Now, I'd been there before - once - soliciting money door-to-door for a liberal interest group, and made a surprising number of enemies. But in Iowa's dirtbelt, memory spans are as short as the local chapter of the ACLU is on cash. On my way to the old-fashioned town-square I imagined I'd be just in time for the 4-H parade and 'The-Guy-in-the-Striped-Jacket's Medicine Show'. As it was I had just missed both.

I was excited to see they had a Goodwill store. But first I walked through the park at the center of the city. It was pretty. There were vacant benches, and cigarettes butts, and an eerie absence of birds. There was also a giant vacant concrete base guarded by rails at the heart of the park just waiting for someone in Washington, IA to do something important enough to memorialize. So far, not so good.

The Goodwill store was buzzing with misfits, balding women, and an occasional elderly bachelor. The selection was awful, but I thought I might find a gem in the book section, something along the line of Chris Schenkel's How To Watch Football On Television. To my dismay there was only one book-shelf and it was being restocked by a middle-aged leisure wife and a younger girl. I indiscretely browsed the neighboring record selection hoping to send a signal, but to no avail. I did pick up on a disturbing conversation though. It turned out the young girl was mentally challenged and the middle-aged woman was trying to instruct how to put books on a shelf. Unfortunately the young girl couldn't quite grasp it.

"Okay, put this book on the empty shelf"
"Okay?"
"That shelf has books on it, see? You can't put books there because they wont fit. Now, which shelf is empty?"
"This One?"
"Good, so put the book on the empty shelf."
"Okay?"
"Alright, that's the shelf you already tried to put the book on. It's not empty. That one is - the one you just pointed at when I asked you which shelf is empty. Now, put the book on the empty shelf. Okay?"
"Okay?"
"No, come on. That's the same shelf you've been trying to put the book on. You know it's not empty. What are you re..."

I found this a good cue to leave. I found an Alf trash-can and a book about Lucille Ball - both for Mary- at an antique store, and had lo-mein at the lone chinese restaurant - Happy China Garden, or somthing to that effect. I could feel the locals start to finger me out at this point and headed back to the dealership.

As I've already mentioned my car did not get fixed. That's alright however because I don't think much ever does down in Washington, IA. As the mayor once said on the campaign trail, "Vote for me or I'll tell the sherriff where all those ephedrin pills have been disappearing to." And they all did.

All I Ever Wanted

The best vacation I've ever 'had' was a trip to Hannibal and then Columbia MO last year. It was Mary and I's first trip anywhere. She was three months pregnant with what I still assume to be my daughter. Columbia was a forgone destination because my dear friend Glenn lives there, but Hannibal was on a whim. Mary had been to Hannibal as a child and wanted to return, and I imagined it as something of a southern Wisconsin Dells - with separate Go-Kart tracks for blacks and whites. I knew it was the home-town of Mark Twain but I had no idea a city of more than 10,000 could subsist over a hundred years solely on allusions to the past. But it has. Barely. There is to this day a heart of a city dedicated to and erected by the early childhood of Samuel Clemens. Now I wont say that Tom Sawyer's white picket fence isn't still there, and that I didn't have a picture taken of me pretending to paint it, but I will say that a venture of a block outside the old-town district revealed houses on cinder blocks and what-I-think were goats grazing on lawns. Maybe that says more about the municipal and state governments of Hannibal and Missouri respectively than the character of a town forgotten by the advent of the rail-car, but upon leaving I felt less that I was departing an historic American berg than I was high-tailing it out of Tegucigalpa. It was great though to try to feel what Mark Twain felt. I could still hear the explosion of the gambling boat that killed his brother. And while it was distracting by being such a tourist trap(off-season nonetheless), and while it wasn't really a gambling boat that killed his brother, Hannibal never seemed more than the wrong side of Lake Tahoe to Mark Twain's Carson City.

Come In My Kitchen

"Learn To Hate Your Favorite Song Night" is a tradition at the Dairy Queen that I am employed at that will hopefully begin this Saturday. This egg of brilliance was hatched out of collaboration between East Side Guy's synthesizer wizard Ian McKinney and I. The idea is this- play your favorite song, on repeat, for an entire five hour shift at the Dairy Queen. I say it will hopefully begin Saturday because Ian ran the idea by John The Owner last night and wasn't sure of the answer he got. Ian said that either John thought he was joking and was o.k. with it, or that he threatened to fire us both. So I am going to verify tonight that we have the go ahead for the feel good event of the weekend.

The first candidate for favorite song is Reel to Real's "I Like To Move It". The subtle brilliance of the unforgettable refrain "I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it... move it!" inspired a whole generation, not necessarily to strive toward a world free of poverty and hunger, but to at least do their small part by moving 'it', whatever 'it' was to them. I wasn't sold on the song myself until Ian described the emotion behind singer Erick Morillo's delivery as the persistence of a hungry infant.

We looked up the album "I Like To Move It" on amazon.com and were puzzled as to why the cheapest copy available was $70.oo. The answer was clear when we scrolled down to the first customer comment which read, "Two words describe this album: AWESOME".