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  1. The story of the Santa Mouse began some thirty years back. Wife and I were, of course, poor as church mice while we Worked To Better Ourselves and finish up our Bachelors, get our certifications, and, y'know, have money and food and things. That was, of course, the Christmas that our little girl wanted the Advent Calendar, this thingy where each day before Christmas, you'd open a little door and there'd be a little treat behind it, as a buildup for Christmas. And, of course, as many of you who have been parents will know, Christmas is a heckuva time for parenting, because the kids have to have the Christmas magic, and yet the rest of the world wants PAYING for it, a thing which, at the time, I was not well equipped to do. There was a tree, there were presents, there was a dinner -- we had the basics covered -- but durned if this advent calendar thing didn't throw me for a loop, because it wasn't inexpensive, and I had no budget for it, and why they stick that stuff out there to tantalize the kids AFTER all the budgeting is done? And lacking funds, I fell back on ingenuity, and had her write a letter to the Santa Mouse. My darling little girl cocked a cynical eye at me and said, "Santa Mouse?" "Yeah, write a letter to the Santa Mouse." "And this Santa Mouse is distinct from Santa Claus? In what way? Elucidate," she said. I might mention that while my little girl was a sweet little toddle-darlin' with stars in her beautiful big brown eyes, she might have been a bit precocious. "Well, sweetie," I began in the proper dadly way, "You know Santa Claus. He's the Big Guy, with the big job of manufacturing toys, as well as brokering deals with major toy companies for specific high demand items, and operating mass delivery systems via reindeer, UPS, Amazon, and the post office, and the like. But like any big corporate deal, he has subcontractors." "Right..." said my little moppet. "And that's where the Santa Mouse comes in," I said. "Bein' a mouse, he is ill equipped to bring bicycles or Barbie's Malibu Dream House to your stoop; that's not his job. What Santa Mouse does, now, is he handles the small stuff, spaced out daily from Christmas, and then on Christmas Eve, he rides with Santa to deliver the last small item, and assist with cookie eatin' duties and suchlike." "Small stuff, spaced out daily," said my little girl, having immediately locked onto the salient facts in the narrative. "So, basically, chocolates, small toys, and suchlike?" "Yups," I said. "So Santa Mouse serves the same function as an Advent Calendar?" "Pretty much," I said. "But he's not the mass operation that Santa is. You have to contact him directly, and contract for the services." "And what criteria are in the contract?" "You have to write him a letter, care of Santa Claus, and ask. You have to give mommy and daddy a kiss before bed, and you have to be good, as per Section C of your Santa contract. And you have to leave the Santa Mouse his own cookie (or a piece of cheese) on Christmas Eve before you go to bed, to conclude the contract." "That doesn't sound particularly tough." "I leave it to you, my little darling." And so she wrote Santa Mouse and asked if he wouldn't please include our home in his daily routine, and gave me the letter to mail, because even though she was far from stupid, she WAS still a child, and certain observances had to be met. And so, the next day, I informed her that Santa Mouse had faxed me his response (it was the eighties, gimme a break,) and that daily services would depend on her ability to locate the Santa Mouse icon that he had provided me; he would be hiding it every night, somewhere in the living room, and it was HER job to FIND the thing and lay claim to the provided goodies what would accompany it. "Was this included in the contract?" she said doubtfully, examining the fax. "I assumed you were agreeing to the terms when I signed off on it as your proxy," I said. "Don't you remember our conversation about contract negotiations? If you didn't want to authorize me as your proxy, you shooda said so." And she sorrowfully agreed that one should always read the fine print before signing anything, sure. It's never too early to start on certain life lessons, you know? "So what do I need to do?" she asked. "Just leave the little Santa Mouse figurine in front of the TV," I said. "Each night. If it's there, he'll pick it up and hide it somewhere, and in the morning, you can hunt for it and see if he left you anything." And my little girl dutifully did just that, and upon searching the living room the next morning, found that the Santa Mouse figure was over on the bookshelf with a Fun Size Snickers bar, a thing she found quite acceptable... …and our rather odd December commenced. Now, at this point, the reader is no doubt wondering what the heck is going on. This is because I haven't explained it yet. Y'see, a while back, Reaper Miniatures began the manufacturer of these lovely little Santa Mouse pewter figurines, right? And as a collector, I bought and painted one, and this is what Little Darlin' was putting in front of the TV every night, and her mother and I would hide it in the living room along with whatever candy or goody I could scavenge from someone's candy dish at work, or whatever was in the bottom of her mother's purse, or whatever I could get out of a gumball machine with the coins I could find in the couch cushions. I make no apologies. Any poor person will tell you it's easier to come up with thirty bucks gradually on a daily basis than it is to do so all at once for a dumb overpriced advent calendar. Each day, she’d clamber out of bed and begin an examination of the living room until she found the little red Santa Mouse sitting atop a Fun Size M&Ms bag, or a pack of gum, or whatever. I did have a bit of a skid one day, when Santa Mouse was sitting atop a Happy Meal toy from McDonalds; I’d grabbed a quick bite there the previous day and had saved the toy for just this purpose. “It seems curious that Santa Mouse would reutilize secondhand merchandise,” my daughter mused. “The little plastic bag was still sealed,” I replied. “It was new merch, purchased from McDonalds, no doubt; even mice have to eat. McDonalds is, after all, the number one toy distributor on the planet. And when one is benefiting from a localized magical phenomenon, it is unwise to question the mojo, yes?” She had to agree with that, and the matter was dropped. As December went on, she did ask about Santa Mouse’s methods of operation. Did he use a sleigh? Perhaps he used Santa’s transport and tackle, to warm it up for Christmas? How does a mouse manage a full sized sleigh? I replied that he did not, that he instead used a gold plated roller skate, repurposed as a mouse sized sleigh, and pulled by a friendly enchanted pair of skunks, who could not only fly, but keep predators at bay while Santa Mouse did his job, as no sane predator would mess with skunks. “And how does he manage all the candy and toys on one roller skate?” “Same as Santa Claus does: magic bag.” “What are the skunks’ names?” “Barney... and, um, Clyde,” I said, thinking fast. Fortunately, she did not question this, and the conversation turned to other topics. By the time Christmas rolled around, Wife and I were pleased to note that we had spent under ten bucks on Santa Mouse, less than a third of what they wanted for the advent calendar, while providing hours of amusement and fascination for the child. And we were greatly touched when on Christmas Eve, she insisted on making a special little sandwich for Santa Mouse (Squeezy Cheez and Swiss on Ritz Cracker, with parsley sprig) to fulfill her contract with this strange and magical entity. I WAS just gonna eat the thing, but Wife insisted that I uphold the magic, and therefore I ate about half of it, and then made a great many little mouse sized bites out of the remainder with a hole punch, which I later had to clean the Squeezy Cheez out of, to my slight irritation. But it galvanized the Sproglet the next morning to see that Santa Mouse did indeed take tiny bites, as opposed to what Santa’s daddy-sized dentition took out of the Oreos. And thus a tradition was born. Years later, in college, she got around to asking me, “That first year with Santa Mouse?” “Eeeeyes?” I replied over my book. “Santa Mouse was all over the living room, hiding candy and toys?” “It would seem so.” “How many cats did we have at that time? Five?” she said, eyeing me for a reaction. “As I recall, Santa Mouse has a posse,” I replied smoothly. “Barney and Clyde, the magical skunks, specifically to keep cats at bay.” “What about Mr. Magoo?” she asked, referring to a cat we had had at the time. “Magoo was dumb enough to think he could make friends with a pit bull, and was in love with one of your socks. You think a couple of skunks would have slowed him down?” “Well,” I said, “what was the second lesson we took away from our experience with Santa Mouse?” The Kid frowned at me, and recited: “Always read the fine print?” “The SECOND lesson,” I said. She frowned again. “When one is benefiting from a localized magical phenomenon, it is unwise to question the mojo.” “She remembers,” I said with a smile. “Plainly, I have fulfilled my purpose as a parent.” And I guess I did. ****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** Funny thing about this story? It's largely hooey. Anyone who knows me can check the dates, and say, "Dude, when your little girl was a little girl, Reaper Miniatures didn't exist yet. And by the time Santa Mouseling was in production, she was in college already." And this is true. But one year at work, I gave out hand painted Santa Mouselings, and they went over quite well, until someone wanted to know the STORY behind them. And, durnit, I can't turn down a request for a story, just because there actually isn't one, particularly when I'm already three cups into the spiked eggnog. So the first version of this tale was born. And now, every year at work, the Old Hands watch me like a hawk to make sure the new hires, at Christmas time, get their little Santa Mouseling and a printout of the story; it's a tradition now. And durn, I sure wish they'd start making Santa Mouseling in Bones...
  2. I saw this ad in Fantasy Modeling #5 back around '80 or '81 and immediately sent off for the Dragontooth catalog, and promptly bought the dragon. I think it cost something like $20, if you factor in the shipping. I knew when the box containing him arrived, because I think the box must have weighed twenty pounds. He was about the size of my hand, five and a half inches from tabletop to wing tip, and weighed approximately fifty pounds. Solid lead. Eight parts; Two wings, torso, four legs, and the top of his head and upper jaw. Wings would NOT stay on with crazy glue, epoxy, solder, or Sovereign Glue. My players must have fought that dragon three or four times in the three years we existed as a gaming group before we all went off to college and scattered to the four winds. One of the boys named him Skippy. As in, "Dragon? Oh, man, Skippy's gonna hit the table!" There weren't a whole lot of dragons back then. Toy dragons may have existed, but we didn't have any clue where to find one. And metal dragons had begun to exist, but I lived in a little tiny Texas cow town in the middle of nowhere. For us, there was Skippy, and we loved him well. So naturally, he was among the things my parents tossed out when I left for college. I have never seen another Dragontooth dragon like him. He was seventy pounds of solid lead, and probably illegal to sell, these days, but I'd buy another one in a minute. This is my newest dragon. Arrived today. He's pretty, and I hear they have him at Wal Mart, now. He and his box of friends cost fifteen bucks. And back in 1980, I'd have flapped my arms and flown to the moon by sheer force of personality if I thought it would have got me a dragon like this. But then.... today... you can find dragons anywhere. I think Reaper makes one or two different dragons, don't they......? Who was YOUR first dragon?
  3. I died fairly quickly, that spring of '83. I was, to my shame, only the second to fall. ******************************************************* It was the sort of thing that wouldn't be tolerated these days. NOWADAYS, you see some yahoo running around on the quad with a gun, someone calls 911 and before you know it, you have the cops, the NSA, and Homeland Security on the scene. Back then, it was just another day as a dorm rat. The game was called "KILLER." And it didn't involve real guns, of course. Back then, we didn't even have paintball guns. It was played with water pistols, toy dart guns, and suchlike. And more. The rules were well suited to bored college students, fresh out of high school and drunk on their newfound freedom: hunt down your buddy and kill him. We, the third floor of Butler Hall, west wing, Men's Section, met in the TV room to sign the Compact and draw names. The Compact indicated that we, the undersigned, had read the rules and acknowledged them. Copies were provided for all contestants. 1. To play, five bucks is put in the kitty by each player. The last survivor claims the total. 2. Players will draw a name from the hat. The name is your victim. If you successfully kill your victim, he must give you HIS slip of paper, and that becomes your NEW victim. And so on. There Can Be Only One Survivor. 3. The following places are off limits: the third floor day room, your personal dorm room, and classrooms. Anywhere else, you're fair game. 4. Assassination methods must be methods that would work in the real world, but are UTTERLY HARMLESS in reality. A hit with a dart gun or water pistol to the torso is assumed to be lethal. For safety's sake, do avoid head shots with dart pistols. Other assassination methods are allowable as long as they are more or less reasonable (and harmless in reality). Water balloons, for example, may be considered "grenades," but observe Rule #5. Particularly esoteric murder weapons must be labeled in some way, for the comprehension of the victim, where necessary. 5. A gentleman assassin does not inflict collateral damage. If a bystander is splattered, hit, or otherwise "harmed or killed," the assassination shall be considered invalid, and the intended victim gets a pass. There were twelve of us, that day. And we solemnly put the money in the kitty, drew our slips of paper, and signed the articles. And the game began. ********************************************* Rocket Boy, surprisingly, was the first to fall. Wild Man nailed him with a water pistol as he left his room that Monday to go to class. Everyone expected Rocket to last a while; he was a very clever fellow, and we had discussed much about weapons, ballistics, and range the previous day. Most toy weapons of that time were pretty limited. Water pistols had an effective range of no more than maybe ten or fifteen feet; dart pistols even less, with their little springs and suction-cup darts. You had to get CLOSE to your victim. Bobo had a rubber dagger he kept on his person at all times; he swore that whoever got HIM was going down WITH him. Super Soakers? Pffft. Not invented yet. We didn't even have those battery powered squirt guns that would become so popular in the mid to late eighties, and Nerf guns weren't even a dream. We were primitive, savage murder creatures. And our time had come. ********************************************** I was the next to go, I'm ashamed to say. I was headed to a class that afternoon, when I felt the kiss of cold water on the back of my neck. I spun around to see the Creature grinning at me, holding a clear orange plastic .45. BUGGER! I was a gentleman, though, and gave him the name of my intended victim. I hadn't even got around to killing anyone yet... The Creature, however, did not enjoy his victory long. As he returned to the dorm that afternoon, and approached the side door, a pillow landed on his head. Confused, he picked up the pillow. Taped to it was a sheet of notebook paper, upon which was printed: BABY GRAND PIANO. CRASH. YOU DEAD. He looked up. Grinning at him from a fourth floor window was Wild Man. A meeting was called; the Creature bitterly complained that there was no way in hell that, realistically, one man could drag a grand piano over and throw it out a three foot by three foot window. He was overruled. The assassination had been legal, and NO one was willing to put anything past Wild Man. Wild Man was called Wild Man for a reason. He had earned the name by being the first one in the water, no matter what. Zorro had hung it on him when Wild Man had flung himself off a cliff into the river at Five Mile Dam... without bothering to find out how deep the water was, first. (It was, in fact, more than deep enough, but most of us would have checked before making a thirty foot drop). The same week, he'd done the same thing at Pepper's At The Falls, diving headfirst off the waterfall into the river below. Rocket Boy was sure he wouldn't live to graduate. If any of us could stuff a baby grand piano out a three foot window, it would certainly be Wild Man. ************************************************ Tuesday was a cruel day. Zorro took out the Dewy Eyed Wonder with his trusty Star Trek Tracer Gun, a toy that shot plastic discs and looked nothing like anything ever seen on the TV show (although it did have a picture of Mr. Spock on it); Zorro loved it because it was quiet and surprisingly accurate within thirty feet or so, assuming you were using it indoors; breezes tended to send the little frisbee discs wide. Zorro would later learn to use this to his advantage, claiming he could shoot around corners if the wind was right, but I digress. Mr. Zulu fell victim to his own weapon; he tried to supercharge a water pistol using a CO2 cartridge haphazardly affixed to the water port, and the cheap plastic toy had simply exploded. A meeting was called, and Mr. Zulu was declared to not be dead, since the rules did not allow for death by misadventure. He celebrated by going and shooting Izod in the face as he came out of the dining hall. Izod had made his mark, however, as earlier in the day, he had killed the Prepster with a concealed dart pistol; the Prepster had been eyeing a jogging pretty in a tube top, and had foolishly allowed his assassin to get way too close. Bobo was on his way to class when his backpack had begun making a metallic clattering sound; he stopped and opened the pack to find an old fashioned windup alarm clock in it... going off like mad. Taped across the face was a scrap of duct tape, bearing the magic markered words: BOMB THAT COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE TRACED TO WILD MAN, At the same meeting that exonerated Mr. Zulu, Bobo lost his appeal; he argued that the bomb COULD have gone off in CLASS, but it had not; the group agreed that that was kind of the point of using a clock as a timer, wasn't it? It had gone off in the hall, ten minutes BEFORE class, and Bobo was therefore, theoretically, a wet red mist. He argued that a bomb in the hallway could have claimed other victims; Wild Man cheerfully pointed out that no one else had BEEN in the hall ten minutes before class... and provided a polaroid picture to prove it. In the picture, Bobo was opening his backpack... alone in the hall. Wild Man had gone from being a lovable loony to being someone to watch. ******************************************************** No one died on Wednesday. This is because everyone had taken the concept of "paranoia" to a high art form. At one point, I saw the Troll enter the main hallway on the third floor where our rooms were by doing a tuck and roll out of the stairwell, ended by leaping to his feet with a water pistol in either hand. Wild Man had taken to carrying a net bag hung on his belt. In it were three brightly colored water balloons, each neatly magic markered with the word GRENADE. He said he could throw further than any water pistol or dart gun ever made, and his enemies had best beware. Mr. Zulu called a meeting; someone had put a rubber scorpion in his sock drawer bearing a little paper sign reading STING! YOUR DEAD. The committee reminded the assassin (Tom Slick) that one's own dorm room was considered off limits for assassinations, and therefore Mr. Zulu was, again, declared to be alive and still in the game. They then declared the method quite clever and otherwise legal, although a separate decree condemning Tom's spelling and grammar was also accepted by the committee. Mr. Zulu celebrated his second close shave by attempting to kill Zorro, who outran him on the quad and therefore survived. "Durnit," Mr. Zulu was later heard to say, "it woulda worked if I coulda got the CO2 cartridge thing working. Guns got no RANGE!" ********************************************************* Thursday was filled with tension. Wild Man simply barricaded himself in his room and refused to come out for classes. Zorro survived close brushes with the disappointed Mr. Zulu and Tom Slick, and commented at length later about how he couldn't sleep or focus on anything for fear someone was going to come climbing in a window with a rubber dagger in his teeth or something. The Troll was sitting at the Student Union, trying to study while glancing up every few minutes to make sure none of his dorm mates was anywhere near him. No one was ANYWHERE near him, except for four guys he didn't recognize at the next table. ...one of whom suddenly said, "I leap to my feet and seize the Troll!" The second said, "I grab his gun arm! He can't reach his weapons!" The third said, "I grab his legs! We drag him out of the chair!" The fourth said, "And I grab his torso! Over to the window! CRASH! Down he goes, ten floors to the pavement!" ...a meeting was called. Troll complained bitterly about how he'd never had a chance, and that no one had informed him that hirelings could be used for assassination. Wild Man, grinning like an orgasmic shark, simply said that there were no rules against hiring henchmen, and that the murder had been carried out safely and harmlessly to bystanders. The committee reluctantly ruled in Wild Man's favor. Wild Man took his henchmen -- all Theatre majors -- out for beers in payment. Mr. Zulu later bitterly regretted not thinking to sneak down to Valentino's Pizza and shooting Wild Man in the face. ************************************************* And Friday. Mr. Zulu and Tom Slick met and made a pact, I later heard. They'd reached the breaking point. They agreed that they would not murder each other until at least an hour after Wild Man had been dealt with; he was NOT going to claim the kitty, durnit! And they went to seek him out. On the whiteboard next to his door, the message: TED I AM IN THE GIRLS DAY ROOM FOR DAYS OF OUR LIVES Could it be? They conferred with one another. It was well known that Wild Man loved his soaps. Was he really dumb enough to watch TV over on the girls' side? That was NOT a protected area! Maybe he'd misunderstood and thought ALL the day rooms were safe zones... It bore checking out. They sneaked over to the third floor girls' side TV room. They glanced in the doorway. Wild Man sat alone, in the front couch, watching TV. The only thing that could be heard were the soft dialogue of a commercial, and the two or three fans running to cool the place. No one else was in the room. Golden opportunity. Mr. Zulu and Tom Slick entered the room, silently, guns in hand... and began to move towards the couch... And Wild Man abruptly spun in his seat and hurled a water balloon. And Mr. Zulu and Tom Slick dropped fast. They'd been expecting this. The balloon would sail over their heads and harmlessly into the hallway. ...if Wild Man had thrown it at them. He hadn't. He'd thrown it at the rotary fan next to the doorway. Which had had its safety cage removed, and been turned towards the doorway. BLAT! The balloon hit the blades, and its contents sprayed the entire area around the doorway. Exit Mr. Zulu and Tom Slick, dripping and fuming. Later discussion revealed the facts: Wild Man had turned the brightness down and wasn't watching the show; he was watching the reflections off the big glass screen. It'd been a trap all along. Zulu and Slick didn't even call a meeting to appeal. ******************************************************* ...which brings us to Saturday. Wild Man was well ahead in the races. It was down to he and Zorro at this point. But Zorro was smart. Zorro was clever. And Zorro wouldn't go down without a fight. Wild Man had a half dozen plans in his mind to deal with Zorro. ...but Wild Man had a problem. His roommate. His roommate wasn't playing the game, and Wild Man had avoided the bathroom all week, thinking it to be just too good a place for an ambush. Wild Man hadn't bathed since last Sunday, and his roommate was threatening violent action. It was time to bathe, and then some. Wild Man planned it carefully. He took soap, towel, and shampoo to the main bathroom ... at 4:30 that Saturday morning. Who'd be up and mobile at 4:30 on a Saturday morning? But Wild Man took no chances. He had his net bag of balloon grenades, and a squirt gun for good measure. Plus, it was a bathroom. If his assassin happened to get some spray off the shower, who was to say Wild Man hadn't shot him? This could work out to his advantage... And Wild Man undressed with one hand... a grenade in the other. Just in case. And Wild Man stepped into the bathing area, and into one of the shower stalls, still holding a grenade in his left hand, and his pistol clamped in his teeth. Backwards. He reached behind him and turned on the water. URRRRRGH! COLD! ALL over his shivering back! Still, though, he faced OUTWARDS, not INTO the shower stall. If he fell, his wounds would be in FRONT! But as the water warmed... he began to relax. It was 4:40 in the morning, for potato's sake. Who'd try anything at this hour? And even if anyone did, he was ready for them! The water was hot, now, spraying across his back. Keeping his eyes open, he let it wash across the back of his head, wetting his hair. Ahhhhhhhhh. After a moment's thought, he put the pistol down, but kept the water balloon firmly in his left hand. He reached up to wash his face... and stopped. His hand was bright green. Green rivulets ran up his arm, and green water dripped off his elbow. What the &%$#@??? He spun around. The water gushing from the shower head was rich emerald green. And so was most of Wild Man, at this point. He snatched up his gun and ran out into the main bathroom area, where the stalls, sinks and mirrors were. And written in lipstick across the mirrors were the words: SULFURIC ACID SHOWER. The words hadn't been there when he'd come in. ...and this is where I came in; I was comfortably asleep in my room when I heard the scream. I staggered out into the hallway, along with a few other worthies not so hung over that they couldn't respond, to see Wild Man erupt from the bathroom, stark naked, stained a bright and runny green from crown to foot, dripping more green in his wake, clutching a water pistol in one hand and a water balloon in the other, and screaming and cursing with such vehemence, volume, and richness to turn the AIR green in his wake. I would later find out that Zorro had assumed that Wild Man would use the shower stall furthest from the door; it provided the best view of anyone coming in. Zorro had then waited until quite late at night, when he was pretty sure no one was going to be washing up... brought a hefty container of powdered tempera paint, wetted it into a putty, and had unscrewed the big industrial shower head in that stall and had coated the inside of the shower head with the green putty. It wasn't blocking the water flow, but when the water turned warm, it dissolved the putty, turning it into green paint... and.... I remember those big clunky old shower heads. There was room in there for a pound or more of powdered tempera paint. He never did tell us how he knew Wild Man would be using the shower bright and early that Saturday morning; it remains a mystery for the ages...
  4. NICHOLAS, DUKE OF NOMADS SYMBOLISM: Craftiness, ambition, facial tattoos When reversed, do NOT give money to panhandlers today. When upright, today is a good day to look for treasure in the usual locations, particularly Hot Topic and your favorite hobby shop, but NOT used bookstores; to a Nomad, a book is something you use to level a table with one short leg. QUOTE: "I have something in which you may be interested..." PIFFLE, FOOL OF DRAGONLORDS SYMBOLISM: Humor, fun, sheltered idiocy When reversed, do NOT get into arguments online, and stay away from the comments sections. When upright, it's a good day to do something fun, but as always, avoid teh stoopidz unless you have a higher level of protection than most of us, who are bogged down with consequences. QUOTE: "I say, I say, I say!"
  5. I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I’ve finally figured out what my Super Power is. Now guys like Superman, they get the combo platter. Not me. I knew I wouldn’t get anything like that. Hell, I’m amazed I got anything at all, and Murphy’s Law firmly dictates that I wouldn’t get anything USEFUL. At least not without a little thought. For years now, I have not much cared for the chore of grocery shopping. Grocery shopping is a pain in the tuckus. For some reason, in grocery stores, people don’t seem to notice my existence. People blaze in front of me like they’re in a desperate hurry to get to the bakery section before they run out of rolls... and then stop cold once they’re blocking my path. If I am attempting to buy, say, a can of beans, I will arrive at the beans only to find one or two people strategically blocking all the beans while they indulge in the Trance of Meditative Consumption, serenely contemplating the nature of beans and their place in the universe. And then they’ll give me a dirty look when I invade their personal space to reach over their fraggin’ shoulders to get a honkin’ can of beans. But today, though, it hit me. What if my particular super power is to interfere with the brain function of those around me? It doesn’t work on everyone, sure. My coworkers and my students don’t seem to get any dumber; it’d be kind of a bad thing for a teacher to have. Berni doesn’t seem to notice it, and she’s rather sharp, and gets no dumber in my presence. But it definitely affects some people, some more than others. It seems to hit the elderly and the very young particularly hard. And for some reason, it works like CRAZY when I’m at the supermarket. So today, I actually experimented, mapped it out. I discovered that it’s a FIELD, it surrounds me, and it extends about ten feet around me. What’s worse, the outer EDGE of it extends another five feet or so, and it SPEEDS UP brain function. Walk into that perimeter, you may or may not notice me, but suddenly, slow and sedentary Grandpa is going to RUSH LIKE HELL without even realizing it... and if his path takes him into the Dead Zone, he’ll suddenly stop right in front of me with an expression on his face that says, “Where did I leave my keys...?” And from MY perspective... or anyone else’s... Grandpa was making his leisurely way through the meat section, suddenly put on a burst of speed for no apparent reason, and stopped cold RIGHT in front of me, blocking my path, most likely with a confused look on his face... It’s not always that pronounced. Sometimes, they won’t stop, but they’ll slow down. Or suddenly decide to take five minutes to pick a brand of cereal. And other times they’ll stop cold with little OUT TO LUNCH signs in both eyes, right in my path, where just before, they were productively rolling along, picking products off the shelves. I think it also might account for the habit the bag boys have of loading all the canned goods on top of the bread and/or the eggs. This has been happening to me for years. I don’t even GO to Wal-Mart any more; the effect there is so pronounced, it can take me hours to find and pay for three items and work my way out the door. Weekends at King Soopers, it varies... but I’ve found that going to buy groceries on the weekdays, when there’s no one but retired people and young moms there? Be ready to stop the basket QUICK, because someone’s four year old WILL bolt in front of the basket and stop cold like he just forgot his name, and allow for some extra time at the dairy case, because Granny will suddenly go into a trance while she looks at the milk like she’s wondering which color would go with the kitchen drapes the best. And now I know. Now, all that’s left is to figure out how to best harness this power for good. Or failing that, how to use it to make a bunch of money...
  6. “Well, there’s no such thing as cowboys,” the child said. “They’re imaginary, they’re in movies and TV and stuff. They’re not real. Like Santa Claus and dinosaurs.” The conversation between the sixth graders had been about Halloween costumes, and whether or not Li’l Shannon could reasonably go as a cowboy. Not a cowgirl; a cowboy. Jeans, boots, and so on. She seemed to feel that cowboys were cool, whereas cowgirls were lame, and where does one find pink jeans and pink Stetson, anyway? And Josh blew it all out of the water with “I don’t believe in cowboys. They aren’t real.” And it was at this point where I had to ask, “Josh, what makes you think cowboys aren’t real? I grew up in deep south Texas. I knew lots of cowboys. Who do you think raises the cattle that go to make your hamburgers?” “Well,” said Josh, a little taken aback, “There USED to be cowboys, sure. But now all that is automated, and stuff.” I had a bizarre vision, out of nowhere, of robot cowboys riding motorcyles, herding cattle, and squealing ‘yee haw’ in electronic voices. “So... you’re honestly telling me to my face that you believe that cowboys are extinct?” He looked troubled. Contradicting one’s teachers isn’t normally standard procedure for sixth graders, but he felt like he needed to stand up for his belief system. “Well, I said there USED to be cowboys,” he said. “I mean, someone had to fight the Indians*, and fight at the Alamo**, like Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, and all that. But now, there’s just people who dress UP like cowboys. They don’t carry six shooters, they don’t ride horses, and they don’t have anything to do with cows. Nowadays, it’s all about being in movies about old timey days, back in cowboy times. There aren’t any cowboys NOW. It’s like dinosaurs, you know? We know there USED to be tyrannosaurs, but now they’re only in MOVIES. Y’know? Like private detectives.” I may have stood there with my mouth open. Admittedly, I can’t say I knew any private detectives in high school, but... “Um... Josh,” I began, as gently as I could. “Cowboys exist. So do private investigators. Look up PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR in the Yellow Pages, and--” “Yellow what?” he said, confused. Errrgh. Okay, I stepped into that one. Sigh. “Josh, you live in Colorado. Colorado has mountains at one end, and plains on the other. Those plains are full of farms and ranches. The ranches are infested with cattle. You’ve seen them, every road trip you ever took. Who do you think looks after those cattle? And you can hire a private investigator any time.” “Well, that’s just silly,” said Josh, indignant. “Why would you HIRE a detective when you can just call the cops for FREE? Private detectives aren’t REAL, they’re just in TV shows and movies. Like cowboys. Or dragons. It’s all PRETEND. You dress UP as one, you can’t really BE one. And cattle are domesticated, these days. You just CALL them, right?” I had yet another unbidden vision of a rancher blowing a whistle, and the cattle queuing up neatly to jump into a meat grinder. He was so durn sure of himself. Howthehell do you explain the truth to a child who’s quite sure you’re wrong? I know that insurance companies employ hordes of private investigators to check insurance fraud, even if they don’t look like Tom Selleck or Humphrey Bogart, I know you can hire a PI to see if your spouse is cheating on you and get photos for the divorce lawyer, and I went to HIGH SCHOOL with cowboys, fa potato’s sake, but how do you explain all this to a SIXTH GRADER-- He smiled at me. “Look,” he said. “I appreciate you want to help preserve my sense of childish wonder. My parents felt the same way about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But it’s okay. I’m grown up***, now. And you have to let go of your childish dreams sometime.” And that was how I witnessed the Twilight Of The Cowboys, right there in the sixth grade... *Actually, cowboys did not often fight Indians. Usually only on long trail drives, and even then, they’d rather negotiate than try to fight anyone while trying to keep a herd of skittish cattle from stampeding. **I do not know how many cowboys fought at the Battle of the Alamo. I do know that neither Sam Houston nor Davy Crockett were cowboys. Sam Houston, in fact, grew up among the Cherokee Indians, and was not at the actual battle... and Crockett was a woodsman and bear hunter who later held a seat in Congress. And while cowboys and Congressmen do have some things in common, they are far from the same thing. ***Don’t talk to ME about grown up, ya little broccoli, with half your education still in front of you, and just WAIT till puberty gets involved... ****Did I mention that this child plays Dungeons and Dragons? But still doesn't believe in cowboys?
  7. So I hear they're making another Star Trek television series. Apparently, they think this one is so good, people will pay to watch it, like HBO and Game Of Thrones. I have my doubts, but I haven't seen it, so what do I know? Star Trek has had several spinoff series of varying quality. I didn't expect to like Next Generation, but they lucked out with a combination of a cast that could do ANY durn thing (Patrick Stewart's one of the few actors I know of who can literally carry a one man show) and enough good scripts in the first two years to carry them past the bad ones (planet of the black people, anyone? How about the toga people who wanted to kill Wesley for stepping on flowers?) By the third season, though, the show really shone, and even its detractors had to admit it was some good television. So they decided to make ANOTHER one, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And, again, after an uneven first season, it did some mighty good episodes. ...and then they tried yet again with Star Trek Voyager... which... was less good. More uneven. I don't know what it is about TV executives thinking that people want to see people on a spaceship all lost somewhere in the universe. I don't WANT to be lost. I liked Star Trek because they KNEW where they were, and could go home ANY TIME THEY WANTED. But, no, the TV execs think I want to identify with people stuck a zillion miles from home. But I digress. ...and then they tried again with Star Trek: Enterprise. Which... well, they tried. And now they're trying again with another prequel series. And I just don't know. This "prequel series" thing presumes I want to know what led up to Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock and everyone. And I was thinking about this when I saw that one episode of the original series where Captain Kirk gets shanghaiied by the glowy brains to be a gladiator. Remember that one? The glowy space brains that have tremendous cosmic power and can't think of anything to do with it except set up sporting matches and bet on the outcome? And Captain Kirk convinces them that setting everyone free and setting up a civilization would be more interesting than betting on sports? First saw that episode when I was, I think, ten. It was good enough when I was ten. Now, I just wonder what the hell Captain Kirk was thinking, handing a civilization over to a race of glowy space brains that couldn't think of anything better to do with amazing cosmic powers than bet on how American Gladiators is going to turn out today. What kind of civilization are THESE people going to set up? And then I thought about it: what if a Federation spaceship happens to come back some hundred years later? What kind of civilization DID they set up? And that's when it hit me: they wanna do a new Star Trek series? Everyone I talked to agreed that Enterprise stank, all the way up until they remembered all the OLD Star Trek stuff... the Gorn, the Tholians, the Mirror Universe... all that old stuff left over from when Shatner and Nimoy were on board. What happened to all the Thralls on the planet of the gambling-addicted space brains? What happened to the planet of the Space Gangsters? What happened to the planet of the Space Nazis? What happened to the planet of the Space Romans? What happened to the planet of the Space Children who were actually 200 years old? What happened to the planet of the Space Indians? What happened to the planet of the Space Hippies With The Big Pompadours who worshipped the Computer Snake Monster Cave Thing? What happened to all the space women that Captain Kirk had, um, diplomatic relations with? It occurred to me that Captain Kirk alone left enough weird floating around in space that a whole new Star Trek series could spend the first couple seasons just finding out what happened afterwards. Did any of these planets join the Federation afterwards? Is there a whole planet of people who look like six year old Clint Howard? More importantly, are there a zillion space babies out there who resemble William Shatner? And lastly, is this new series going to be more interesting than finding out what the Space Hippies with the Big Pompadours did?
  8. The last time I felt like God was back around 1984, ‘85, or so. I was working for the news department in the campus radio station. On my first day, they showed me the Zombie Wire, the AP ticker where periodically, a bell would ring and the teletype would begin spitting out copy. My job was to rewrite the copy into short lucid bursts suitable for the news reader to read live on the air. One bell meant a standard news feed. Two bells, something important; a Presidential speech, a bank robbery, something. If TWELVE bells were heard, at an odd time, it was something of TRANSCENDENTAL importance, World War III, or something. Whole time I worked there? Never more than two bells. But that semester, they’d installed a new toy: the AP Newsfeed. It ran off this “Internet” thing, a continuous signal, through the phone lines via a dedicated modem at a lightning fast 56k, into a green CRT monitor at the news desk. Since I was usually the only person in the office, I got to monkeying with it one afternoon in an idle moment. And it utterly shocked me to my core. I quickly learned how to sweep various AP outlets in various locations, various countries, EVERY major city on the planet, and I realized I could access NEWS, in REAL TIME... everywhere. This was a jolt. CNN existed by then, but it was a rather new thing, and simply rebroadcast the news every half hour, with any fresh happenings plugged in. Most people still got daily newspapers, or just watched the Six O’Clock News on their local stations. But I could access the soccer scores in Nice, France, examine police blotters in Barcelona, Glasgow, and Zurich, and get neighborhood reports from Nairobi, with nothing less than fifteen minutes old, if I wished it. Anything on THIS side of the iron curtain? I could know it in seconds. All as fast as it took me to read that little eye murdering green CRT screen. No one... ANYWHERE... was as well informed as I was. Except the other newsmen, sifting the AP feed for copy for their next broadcast. The entire PLANET was under MY SCRUTINY, for as long as I cared to WATCH it! No graphics, no video, just text. But I still felt like God. Today, I have color, high resolution, video, audio, and the iron curtain ain’t there any more. And nowadays, I feel more ill informed than ever...
  9. I teach special education. And sometimes, I use Dungeons and Dragons. Why not? It's a great multifaceted tool and addresses a variety of core standards and diagnostic purposes. 1. You HAVE to read and write in order to play. In particular, if you HAVE a thing, but it is NOT WRITTEN DOWN? You don't have it. I don't care if Odin himself showed up and handed you a zillion gold pieces and the Spear of Destiny, if it isn't written on your sheet? Didn't happen. And if I can't read your handwriting? Didn't happen. Be happy I don't make you put it down in complete sentences. There, see? Now you have a plus-three spear that comes back to your hand! Oh, and the wizard handed you a scroll! Here, here's the play aid. What? I dunno what it says, YOU'RE the one holding the scrap of paper I gave you! Better read it CAREFULLY, it might be important... 2. Mental math. You want to know if your roll of 12 plus your +3 for strength can hit AC 16? Figure it out yourself. Afraid you'll get it wrong? Don't worry, I'll let you know... Hell, at some point, I mean to snakehip the James Bond Roleplaying Game to a more kid-friendly version; it uses a multiplication table to resolve skill checks, and it runs on percentile dice! 3. Rewards. Did everyone get their day's work done? Did everyone earn all their points? How many of us had behavior incidents this week? What? We're all lookin' good? Well, who wants to play a game...? It helps that it's a game that requires teamwork, and it's a game EVERYONE CAN THEORETICALLY WIN, which means that one kid who always tantrums if he loses doesn't necessarily have something to go off about. 4. Diagnostics. Roleplaying is nothing new to psychiatric work, but D&D is uniquely suited to creating immersive imaginary scenarios and seeing what a child will do in reaction. Example: "I slay the Orc! Does he have any treasure?" isn't uncommon. "I talk to the Orc, and tell him if he stands aside, we won't bother him!" is actually pretty healthy. "I slay the Orc! And then I keep stabbing him! And I laugh! And I stick an arrow up his nose!" may be indicative of some anger management issues. "I slay the Orc! And then I look for more orcs to kill! I don't care about treasure! Is there any more killing?" may be indicative of feelings of powerlessness or resentment towards someone. "I slay the Orc! And then I yank his pants down and saw off his..." may be indicative of issues I'll need to mention to the social workers. 5. Interpersonal/social relationships. Y'know what? It's a helluva lot safer and easier to manage when two kids' characters get into a ruckus than when the two actual children start pummeling each other. Furthermore, I find that immersive roleplaying is a HELLACIOUS teambuilding exercise, and tends to reflexively teach problem solving and managing interpersonal issues. Sure, you get "If you don't give me your potion of healing, my next character will kill YOUR character!", but compared to some of the scrambles one encounters in elementary school, this is a walk in the park. 6. Narrative Structure. There are children who just want to go find a monster that it's okay to maltreat. That's fine. Every generation has had its version of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, whatever. But these kids are learning about genre, setting, characters, STOCK characters, protagonists, antagonists, and everything they'll need to know when it's TAUGHT to them... without even realizing it. So, yeah, D&D is a useful thing, the kids eat it up, and it gives us all something to look forward to at the end of the week. And I told you that story so I could tell you this one. ************************************************************************************************************************************************************************ The Knight, the Warrior, the Ninja, the Cavalier, and the Wizard* have been wandering in the woods for three days. They have gotten good and lost by their own efforts and lack of forethought, and they are now beginning to regret the decisions that led them there. They defeated their enemies in the Red Caverns, but chose to force their way out a new exit rather than backtrack to the way they knew, and are now not even sure which side of the mountains they are on, or how to get back to the Red Caverns. The Cavalier is fairly sure that the town is east, but none of them have any idea how to determine which way IS east. The Ranger would be a handy addition to the party right now -- as a sixth grader, he's the eldest, and knows how to track and find his way -- but since he blew off his math homework all week, he's busy catching up instead of enjoying Friday Fun. The group went hunting three days ago, and brought down a wild boar**, but since none of them have any idea how to preserve meat, the rations they didn't cook have gone a bit high. They have enough bacon and ham to feed the party for ONE more night... and after that, they will begin to find themselves a bit hungry. The party are all Minecraft veterans. They know quite well what happens when your character starts getting... hungry. And so they're on the lookout for food. The lack of the Ranger is keenly felt. Precisely what constitutes wild food? The group has been checking the trees of the forest; none seem to be fruit bearing trees. No apples or pears. Vegetable trees seem short as well; not a single potato tree, carrot bush, or Twizzler flower can be found. The Cavalier seems certain that some varieties of tree can be eaten, but so far, all they've found are the regular wooden kind. Still, hope runs high, although a low level argument is simmering about whether strawberries are plants or animals. Abruptly, the DM begins rolling dice. The Knight warns everyone to stop cold; he is aware that this means SOMETHING, although the DM has refused to explain what. Low numbers on the D6 seem to indicate animals or monsters, and the DM has rolled a one. Then he rolled a D20, twice. "You are not surprised," the DM said. "Meat!" giggles the Knight. "I get an arrow ready. Is it a deer? Or a turkey?" "I hide in shadows," says the Ninja, rolling a stealth check. Successful. "Is there such a thing as a wild cow?" asks the Cavalier. "Cows could mean we're near a town," says the Warrior. "Or is it a buffalo?" "If I throw burning oil on it, will the meat cook itself?" asks the Wizard. "Ew! That would make it taste horrible," said the Ninja. "Just use Burning Hands spell." "You are not surprised," continues the DM, "but neither is HE." He puts a miniature on the table. It is a hideous, warty green humanoid, easily three times the size of any of the players. It is a cruel, monstrous looking horror, all claws and fangs and warts, and it fairly sweats malevolence. The group, uncharacteristically, falls DEAD silent. What IS that thing? They've encountered ogres before, but they weren't this big... or this green. *beat of horrified silence* And then, the Ninja speaks in a small, solemn, eight year old voice: "We are NOT eating THAT." And the game had to stop for a minute because the DM fell out of the chair laughing. *Three Fighters, a Rogue, and a Magic-user, highest level is fourth. Mentzner BECMI system. **It was only after finding out what they were eating that three of the group realized that "boar" is in fact "pig, aka pork." One of the group seemed to think that most breakfast foods came from pigs, and was disappointed that the boar did not also provide toast. The conversion of "dead pig" into "edible foods" was not covered in detail, although the entire group seemed to understand that smacking it with a sword did not simply result in a pork chop floating in midair, like in Minecraft. Education continues.
  10. A feghoot is a subcategory of “joke” and “pun,” and is sort of a fusion of both. In the case of a standard “joke,” you tell a short story that leads up to a “punchline,” a twist that renders the preceding story funny. A “pun,” on the other hand, is a humorous play on words. A short joke, for example would be “I went to bed last night, and dreamed I was eating marshmallows. Then I woke up, and my pillow was gone.” A pun, on the other hand, would be, “I’m sick of bad chemistry jokes. Let’s barium.” A feghoot is both, with the added element that the recipient may or may not know that he is being TOLD a joke; feghoots tend to be considerably longer than ordinary jokes. The laughs come from (a) attempting to spot the clues and put the pieces together before you get to the punchline, or (b) being completely unaware of the joke until the punchline arrives, and it’s a blatant pun. A feghoot is NOT a shaggy dog story, because shaggy dog stories do not end with puns. A feghoot ALWAYS ends with a pun based on the information provided in the story. If it ends with a pun, it’s a feghoot. Length is arbitrary, but it tends to be longer than most jokes. TV comedy writer Mark Evanier, for example, told a story on his blog recently that qualifies, in which he mentions that a friend of his was the second lead in a stage production of “Sunset Boulevard,” and sent him a pair of complimentary tickets. Evanier decided to call up a woman he knew and ask if she wanted to go. The lady says, “The big production downtown, starring GLENN CLOSE?” Evanier said that this was so, and the woman broke all records getting to his place, and they went and saw the play and had a great time. A week later, another friend was visiting, and she sees the playbill on his coffee table. And in a frosty tone, she says “You went and saw Glenn Close without me?” in a voice that could shave the electrons off an atom. Evanier sheepishly admitted it, and the woman says, “You will get more tickets and take me to see Glenn Close.” Evanier tries to explain that he only had the two complimentary tickets, but the sharp woman is not having any, and thus Evanier has to call his friend and see if more tickets can be had, but he will gladly pay for these, yadda yadda, and tickets are found, and a date is made. And on the evening in question, our happy couple steps out to the theatre... but upon arrival, there seems to be a problem. People are angry. There are loud voices among the gowns and tuxes. The box office person is looking hunted. It seems that Glenn Close, for whatever reason, will not be appearing tonight; the role will be handled by her understudy, and the crowd is NOT happy about this. One man is shouting that he traveled halfway across the country to see Glenn Close, and now she’s not performing? Another is angry that he paid premium prices for the tickets, and now the main reason for doing so is gone. The theatre manager comes out and attempts to calm down the crowd, but they aren’t having any. He explains that he cannot FORCE Ms. Close to perform, but the crowd seems to think that he should. He offers to validate parking, free of charge, but that doesn’t accomplish much. And finally, in desperation, he whips out a pocket humidor and offers one particularly loud gentleman an expensive cigar. “I don’t WANT a &%#$& CIGAR!” shouts the angry man. “I want GLENN CLOSE!” And Evanier, standing nearby, shows the wit -- and wisdom -- that made him a TV comedy writer, and quips, “Cigar, but no Close.” *rimshot* If Evanier had ended the story here, it would be a classic example of a feghoot. As it is, the crowd didn’t think he was very funny, and he reports that had he and his date not done a fast fade, he might well have been the first person ever lynched over a bad pun... My personal supply of feghoots is limited. Anyone know any?
  11. This one time, many years ago, I got sick. Not HUGELY sick, but snuffly, runny nose, not feeling great, drink lots of liquids, skip work, stay home, and stay in bed sick. A cold. Minor flu. The sniffles. Whaddever you call it. Not sick enough to seek out a doctor, but sick enough that a day or two in pajamas and lots of OJ and chicken soup seemed called for. I lived alone at the time, with two cats, Faust and Chaos, in a small apartment. The bedroom was also the living room, and the main trash can was a large box at the foot of my bed. This made it convenient; sit up, blow nose, toss tissue in box, lay back down. Lather, rinse repeat. Until the moment when I blew my nose... and Faust leaped up onto one of the footposts. And looked at me expectantly. And when I tried to toss the tissue into the trash box, he promptly slapped it back at me. Took me three tries to outsmart the cat and get it into the box. Tissue after that, he slapped it AWAY from me, onto the floor. “You! Shall! Not! Pass!†I should have been irritated. I was not. If you’ve ever stayed home sick from work, particularly before cable on demand and streaming movies, you might remember how dull daytime TV was, and this was actually a welcome diversion. Fake the cat out, feint left and throw right, feint high and throw low, and whoops, the cat overbalanced and fell in the trash box. A moment later, he struggled out and promptly took his position on the footpost again. Got to the point where every time I blew my nose, the cat came running. By that evening, Chaos had joined Faust, and getting the tissue into the box on the first throw was a serious challenge. Little white rosettes decorated the floor around the bed everywhere. I developed a strategy where, if I could get a cat to fall in the box, I would then toss the tissue on THAT side, so the remaining cat couldn’t get to it to slap it out of the air, and the cat in the box was too busy to react. The next day, I tried that. Chaos stumbled, and fell into the box... where I found she had figured it out; the tissue went into the box, then got slapped into the air, where Faust promptly swatted it into the living room. They’d learned to cooperate. The only way to get it into the box after that was to shoot for the exact middle of the footboard, where neither cat could reach if he or she was sitting on a post. After a few shots like that, Faust began suddenly leaping off the post onto the footboard, just to slap those middle shots down. After a few more, Chaos began doing it too. And after about the tenth center shot, BOTH cats leaped, collided in the middle, and fell into the trash box. And I laughed until it hurt, while both cats clambered out of the box and took their positions on the bedposts like irritated furry gargoyles, waiting for the next pitch. This went on for a Friday and a weekend, and by Monday, I felt well enough to return to work, to the cats’ dismay. But for the rest of the time I lived in that apartment, blowing my nose was always a call for the cats to come running and leap onto the footposts... I miss those cats. I think it may have been the only time in my life when I remember fondly a time when I was sick, thanks to them.
  12. “So what’s a Corn Stalker?†said Little Ricky. “It’s just something I made up,†I said. Oh, wait, no I didn’t. That would have been dull. I don’t DO dull. These kids have a whole lifetime of classes and teachers just as dull as church, and often moreso, and I can’t bring myself to contribute to such delinquency. I got standards, y’know. So I made some more &%$# up. “Weeeeelllll,†I said, because it’s more interesting than “Uhhh...†“....well, you’ve heard of scarecrows, right?†“Yeah,†said Li’l Daryl. “That’s that guy who fights Batman sometimes.†“Not exactly,†I said. “Y’see, in the old days, farmers used to make these dummies, right? They’d take old clothes and stuffum with cornshucks and mount them up on poles in the cornfield, with a pumpkin for a head and a widebrimmed hat on it.†Little Carol was confused. “Why would they do that?†“To scare the crows away,†I said. “To keep the crows from eating up all the fresh corn. Crows won’t fly down and eat the corn if they think there’s a man wandering around in the cornfield.†(I felt bad about this. Farmers have known for centuries that crows and ravens are smart enough to see through scarecrows, and here I was willingly disseminating misinformation. I consoled myself by considering the likelihood that any of my students would ever become corn farmers was actually fairly minimal, and then set forth shoveling it higher and deeper...) “What’s this got to do with Corn Stalkers?†said Little Ricky. “Weeeeeellll,†I said, “Usually nothing. I mean, a scarecrow with a jack o’lantern for a head can look kind of spooky, sure. But it’s just a dummy. But... sometimes... it’s not.†This was what the kids had been waiting for. Side murmurs ceased, and the body language of the classroom grew focused. Heh. Gottum! And I continued. “Y’see,†I said, “sometimes it happens... a little ... differently. Sometimes, it’s because of the ghost of an angry spirit who died nearby. Some people think it’s... the Devil. And some people think it may be because the ground in certain places is just.... evil. But sometimes, you find a scarecrow what’s more than just clothes and cornhusks with a pumpkin on top.†Li’l Daryl’s eyes were bright with interest, and he was leaning so far over the front of his desk, he looked like he was about to take a bite out of the girl in front of him. “Different HOW?†he said. “More HOW?†Did I mention Daryl was the kid who brought up the subject of war atrocities during a social studies lesson? But I digress. “Like I said,†I said, “scarecrows are man made. They’re old clothes and cornhusks. But ... sometimes... they grow there.†The class was dead silent. “Sometimes... what LOOKS like a stalk of corn... will grow in the middle of a cornfield... but it’s not green. It’s an ashy brown, the color of a dead thing, dry and crisp, but growing nonetheless. And in time... if it’s not discovered.... it’ll sprout ARMS, long spindly arms, with four clawed fingers on each hand. And at its top, it’ll sprout a growth like ... like a pumpkin... but it’ll be the wrong shade of orange... or the wrong shape... or it’ll have warts or something. SOMETHING will be wrong it it. You can tell. But’cha gotta be lookin’ for it. And if the farmer doesn’t notice in time...†I let the sentence trail off, and left it hanging, and made a mental bet with myself. I lost; it was Ricky who said, “What happens if the farmer doesn’t notice?†in a voice laden with doubt. “Weeeeeelll,†I said, “if the farmer doesn’t catch it in time... well... the final stage is when the bottom of the stalk splits into legs.... and the pumpkin up top develops a sort of arrangement of wrinkles... that finally SPLIT OPEN into eyes... and a mouth... glowing faintly in the night... and finally, it yanks its feet loose from the soil... and then... it’s a Corn Stalker, once and for all, and on the HUNT!†There was a moment’s silence. “On the hunt for what?†said Li’l Michonne, whose tone of voice indicated that she wasn’t sure if this story was any fun any more. “Weeeeeelllll,†I said. “I don’t much like to say. But when you see a Corn Stalker... wearing clothes? Like a scarecrow? All too often... that’s the sign that the Corn Stalker has done found the farmer who owns the field... and... well... let’s say that farmer won’t be seen again anytime soon... or have much use for his clothes... and the Corn Stalker likes having a disguise, so it can travel afield, perhaps even walk up the road to town without anyone noticing he’s not just a hitchhiker, and...†The class stared at me, eyes as big as eggs. And a coworker of mine stood in the door. She looked at me, got my attention, then spun her right index finger in a circle, then in a triangle, point down, and then fluttered all her fingers like she was scattering confetti, concluding with a raised eyebrow. In the Silent Speech Of Educators, this translates as “Are you out of your fraggin’ mind? You want us to get about a hundred angry phonecalls from parents who wanna know why their kids are suddenly afraid to go trick or treating tonight?†Hm. Well. She had a point. “Fortunately,†I said, “for those with the wit to notice, there’s ways to spot a Corn Stalker... and ways to deal with him, once you know he’s there.†“How do you spot him?†blurted Daryl, in a tone of voice that hinted that he was thinking of going out to look for one. “Well, tell me, Daryl,†I replied sagely. “You see the glowy eyes of a Jack o’Lantern, what color are they?†“Kind of a yellowy orange,†he said. “And you’re quite right,†I replied. “The color of candle light reflecting off the inside of an orange pumpkin. But a Corn Stalker? You see the glow of HIS eyes, he’ll freeze and hold still, hoping you’ll get close enough to GRAB....†My coworker looked at me critically from the doorway. This was not what she’d had in mind. “...but a Corn Stalker’s eyes... and the inside of his mouth? They glow green,†I said, “a lambent, sickly green, like no plant or living thing ever was, like a greeeen glowstick from an unhealthy store located in a graaaaaveyaaaard... and if you see THAT color comin’ from a jackalannern, well... you’ll know SOMETHING is up... and you’ll know better than to get too CLOSE!†There was dead silence for almost fifteen seconds. I could see the whites around the eyes of every kid in the classroom. For that matter, my coworker in the doorway was a little buggy eyed, herself. “How do you kill one?†asked Li’l Carl, with a touch of determination in his voice. “Well, there’s fire,†I said. “That works pretty well. But a Stalker won’t burn quick, and he’s evil enough to wanna take you, your friends, and much of the nearby landscape with him. Not safe to play with fire. Particularly as dry as it’s been lately.†It was the children’s turn to nod sagely. This was a lesson they’d heard before. Carl piped up. “How else?†he said. “Paraquat,†I said. The children stared at me blankly. “Parawhat?†said a voice in the crowd. “Paraquat’s good,†I repeated. “Paraquat, Diquat, Endothall, even Agent Orange, but I hear that causes cancer. Any good commercial defoliant will do. Fifty fifty mix with water in a Super Soaker, let the pumpkinheaded booger have it full blast. He’ll melt like a candle in a burnin’ jackalannern, just like the Witch in The Wizard Of Oz.†My coworker made a noise somewhere between a surprised chuckle and the sound one might make if one has suddenly and unexpectedly swallowed a largish bug. Daryl and Carl took out paper and began taking notes. “Any good farmer knows this,†I added. “And they take precautions. It’s why you don’t see a whole lot of Corn Stalkers, not these days. The farmers tend to gittum before they’re full grown, and spray ‘em with defoliant. But it’s important for the farmer to take his TIME, and do it RIGHT....†There was another moment of silence, and for a moment, I was terribly afraid that no one would feed me a line. Fortunately, Ricky piped up, “What if he doesn’t?†I grinned. “Well... because when you have a rushin’ farmer... the WEED... kills ... YOU!†(1. Yes, I know, I am going to hell, if not for corrupting the minds of the young, then for the rancid punchline.) (2. My coworker's kind of mad at me now. Her reaction to said punchline caused her to strain something in her abdomen...)
  13. I've been playing roleplaying games since 1977, and I have seen some things. RPG games are a great way to get to know people, sometimes better than you wanted to. It gives an insight into their thinking, as well. As most of you who know me, in person or by text on a screen, could figure out, I play RPGs for the STORY. I'm a person who enjoys immersion in a narrative, playing a character, building a world and a gripping moment... and poking my head out a little later and oh, my, it's been nine hours, who's chipping in for pizza? Lot of people like that. Others play for different reasons. We all laugh about the "munchkin," the person who plays as if RPGs were a thing to "win," not caring about style or story, but motivated by sheer power and numbers. I've known a few who were obsessed by gold or XP; one in particular had to be restrained from killing couriers, NPCs, watchmen, bartenders and townspeople, regarding them as little walking packs of XP as opposed to figures in a narrative, much less real people. When a player asks the GM, "Are other players worth XP?" you know that there will soon be a problem. I don't mean trolls. I've known people whose sole motivation in a game was to annoy the other players, and these people tend to weed themselves out sooner or later, either by getting bored or by actual social rift with the other people around the table. This isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people who I've known who got immersed in the story... in a completely cockeyed way, somewhere between the story and the rules of the game. They were PLAYING the game, certainly, and doing so CORRECTLY, and were WILLING to work with the other players... in a non-troll way... but somehow found the line between story and acceptable, and managed to promptly trip over it. I have examples. True Story #1: 1990, or thereabouts, D&D, situation aftermath: the city has been partially destroyed, but the dragon is dead; what's left of the city watch is cutting it into chunks in order to remove it from the Artificer's Quarter. Some enterprising types are bottling dragon blood as hard and fast as they can, for sale to wizards and alchemists, and the watchmen are warning there'll likely be a hella tax on that, as the city is going to need the money to rebuild. Hundreds are homeless and about as many dead. Fires are still burning out of control in some parts of town. But the dragon is dead, and the survivors will rebuild. At the one remaining bar in town, the Lord Mayor, soot smudged and singed, gratefully gives the PCs a chest of gold for their heroism and powerful assistance; it was they who actually brought the monster down. PALADIN: We should give the money back. They're gonna need it worse than we do. CLERIC: I second the motion. ROGUE: Shaddap, you're not here, you said you were out tending to the wounded. CLERIC: I still get a vote in party affairs. BARBARIAN: So maybe we take a cut for expenses, and give the rest back. ROGUE: I could be okay with that. Dragon GOT to have a lair SOMEWHERE. FIGHTER: We could do that and then make up the difference with the people. PALADIN: How now? DM: Come again? CLERIC: Wha? BARBARIAN: What do you mean? ROGUE: Hah? FIGHTER: We take a cut for expenses, give the rest back, and make up the difference from the people. BARBARIAN: I'm still not getting you. DM: What do you mean, make up the difference from the people? FIGHTER: We GOT a reward from the CITY. NOW we get the reward from the PEOPLE. WIZARD: (abruptly looks up from his bookkeeping) CLERIC: (horrified expression) ROGUE: Dude, protection rackets generally work better if you shake down the townspeople BEFORE the dragon poop hits the fan. PALADIN: Dude, I totally do NOT understand how you expect to do this. FIGHTER: We GOT a reward from the CITY. NOW we get the reward from the PEOPLE. I don't know how to make it clearer than THAT. CLERIC: The city IS the people! FIGHTER: Naw, naw, naw, the CITY is the ruling party, the lord mayor, and the guilds and %#$@. The PEOPLE are all these folks runnin' AROUND now who LIVE in the city. BARBARIAN: I still don't understand how you expect to collect. WIZARD: Or what penalties he expects to levy for nonpayment. ROGUE: (laughs) He'll take off his helmet and use the horns like handles! He'll take up a collection! (mimes holding a helmet upside down by its horns) "Pardon me, sir, but we saved your city. Pony up! (mimes shaking the helmet, makes jingling noises) Awright, ma'am, saved the city, pay up! Jingle jingle! Saved your city! Killed the dragon! Pay up! Jingle jingle! Come on kids, saved the city, let's dig in them pockets! You with the cookie, break me off a chunk! Jingle jingle!" DM: (facepalm) CLERIC: (stares at the rogue, utterly appalled. Turns to look at the fighter, and somehow looks even more appalled) PALADIN: (exactly as cleric, about a half beat behind) FIGHTER: (outraged expression) You sayin' we ought to have done all this for FREE? I am OUT of HEALING POTIONS! DM: (deep sigh) Harry, if you look out the window, you see the sky is still dark with the smoke from the fires-- FIGHTER: WE didn't start those fires! DM: --that you didn't start, but the dragon did. Many of them are still burning, and them what aren't are still smoldering. While you sit here drinking ale that the barman gave you free out of gratitude, you hear the distant wailing of grieving mothers, the cries of lost children, the screams of the wounded and dying-- CLERIC: Oh, %@#$, how many heals do I still have? PALADIN: I run outside, I still have a couple lay on hands left. DM: ...the wounded and dying, still far too many to treat or to save. You hear the roars and cries of bucket brigades, shouting at each other about where to carry water, what to do, where to go. There is a crash as a building is pulled down to keep it from catching fire and spreading the flames across the street. Someone blows a horn blast. A church bell is tolling like mad; you don't know why. More screams. More cries of the anguished. Now, Harry, tell me precisely how you're going to get these people, most of whom have lost something, if not EVERYTHING... to pony up? ROGUE: Jingle jingle! FIGHTER: (crestfallen look)...........well, it was just an idea. %@#$. (pause) Say, Robby, when do you want to go look for that dragon lair? ****************************************** ...and this was what I mean. Harry wasn't a BAD guy, but he was NOT clear on the concept, and since he dropped the idea out of shame afterwards, we never DID find out what he had in mind as far as "collecting a reward from the people." ****************************************** True story #2: 2007 or so, D&D. The Sultan of Mahalladoon has a problem: a local wizard has gone bughouse crazy and has taken over a local building downtown. It is a large, tall, local building, located smack in the middle of one of the better parts of town, and overlooking the Great Sook, the main market and economic center of the city ... into which said wizard occasionally lobs fireballs, now, when the mood takes him, reasons unknown. Thus, business is not good, and the Sultan is unhappy. The city guard tried storming the place; the survivors limped back without having even cleared the courtyard. The assassins' guild took a try, and the sole survivor reports that the front door now opens directly onto a fifth floor balcony, whereas climbing IN a third floor window now takes you directly OUT a FIRST floor window, and all FIRST floor windows now take you to the same trapdoor atop the main minaret. Furthermore, if you walk in the front door, find yourself on the fifth floor balcony, and then try to walk back out that same door, it takes you to a windowless room somewhere indoors that's full of ravenous piranhakeets. INTERIOR doors seem to work logically... but anything on the outside of the building is now ensorcelled, and could spit you out ANYWHERE. The Guild has regretfully dropped the contract and refunded the Sultan's money. Said wizard is still cheerfully doing Zod knows what in there, and occasionally tossing fireballs into the Sook when it gets too noisy. And now, said Sultan has contacted the party. Can you foreigners of wisdom and power and magical might possibly help? Payment would be most generous.... if you are successful... FIGHTER: So what's the building look like? CLERIC: Plans are right here. Looks like it's about ten stories, with one of those big onion shaped domes on top. Hefty circumference, stone walls with stucco facing, six different balconies, and a sort of courtyard surrounding the whole thing. RANGER: And every exterior window and door leads anywhere BUT where it APPEARS to lead.... but each destination appears to be consistent; it'll take you to the same place every time. But if you go BACK through it, it might take you somewhere ELSE... but still CONSISTENT. That means we can map it, by trial and error. WIZARD: Except that some of the destinations are more or less instant deathtraps. We know of two, but surely there's more. And we DO know that the trapdoor on the minaret, if used as an ENTRANCE, leads into the reception hall on the first floor. You have to go in through the top, then you start at the bottom, and presumably work our way up; whenever he tosses a fireball, he's seen doing it from the tenth floor balcony overlooking the sook. FAIRY: ... so we DO know how to get IN, but then we have to fight our way up ten floors of Bog knows what. (dirty word). He'll probably know we're coming, too. RANGER: Yeah... that seems likely. And he'll have all kinds of time to get ready for us. No way to get the drop on him, short of figuring out exactly where he is, and teleporting in or something. This seems likely to get some of us killed. FIGHTER: Why don't we just level the building? (Everyone looks at the fighter) FIGHTER: He CAN'T be expecting THAT. And he'll be dead, we collect the reward. Worst comes to worst, we'll have to sift through the rubble for the body. DM: Um... you haven't thought this through, have you? FIGHTER: It'll just fall in the courtyard. Make a mess, sure, but problem solved, right? DM: Um... no. The courtyard surrounds the building to a maximum width of twenty feet from the building itself on any given side. The rest of the building would fall smack into some of the most densely built and populated areas in town. Look at the map. CLERIC: Dude, you're proposing collapsing a ten story building in a densely populated area? FIGHTER: Well, we could evacuate the populace before we do it. RANGER: Hm. Well, he sure thinks big. CLERIC: Do you know anything about building demolition? Because if you're going to try to topple that building STRAIGHT DOWN, I bet anything he's (the DM) going to want to see your math. And check it. There's no WAY any of our characters know how to do that. FIGHTER: So we just evacuate everything north, and then collapse it that way. RANGER: Dude, I tried to do that with a tree once, in real life, with a chainsaw. It did not cooperate. FIGHTER: So we just evacuate everything within a 150-yard circle of the place, and then let it fall wherever. DM: I suspect the owners of the properties within that circle might object, if they know what you've got planned. FIGHTER: Well, we don't have to TELL them. Just say it's for their own safety, which is perfectly true. RANGER: And you don't think the Sultan might have a problem with us accidentally devastating the Street Of Cunning Jewelers, by chance? FIGHTER: Well, he wants to be rid of the crazy wizard. This would certainly do it. FAIRY: At a cost of millions in real estate, business, and perhaps a few lives. And leaving a lot of people homeless. That seems kind of worse than a loony man pitching a fireball into the sook twice a week, somehow. Tell me again how you're Lawful Good? FIGHTER: (exasperated) Well, the guy is EVIL! We are the GOOD GUYS! That MAKES this okay, right? ************************************************** The Fighter (who was not the same player as in the previous story) finally admitted that perhaps his plan was flawed, after some ... well, actually, a lot... of discussion. There was some argument about whether crimes against property were actually EVIL evil, if performed for a good cause, and he didn't like the idea that rendering hundreds homeless and financially ruined just to get rid of an evil wizard was in itself EVIL, at least until the Fairy pointed out that unless the Fighter personally searched every house in the blast zone to make sure there were no puppies, kitties, or goldfish left behind by people who thought they'd be back home by nightfall, then he could not in all righteousness drop a building there and still hold the moral high ground. Anyone else got any stories about players who were Unclear On The Concept?
  14. "Um," said Dib. "I... uh... I knock on the door and say 'Can I come in?' " I kept my face impassive. Inwardly, I facepalmed so hard. ************************************* Some friends from out of state had a problem: they were moving back to the Denver area, but needed a place to stay while they got life organized and built up a nest egg and got the kids back in school. So bein' friends of the family, we put them up in the basement; it includes a bedroom, full bath, and the downstairs living area, albeit with a vintage orange velvet couch circa 1973 and my Call Of Cthulhu movie poster in the fancy frame with the bas-relief tentacles. Hey, if they could stand it, it was fine with us. They were still sorta moving in when Dib approached me with the second edition Player's Handbook from the downstairs bookshelf and asked, "Do you know how to play Dungeons and Dragons? You do? Could you... teach me?" I am not a young man, and I have done this many times before. Personally, I think Hasbro owes me a royalty of some sort, considering how many customers I have generated for them. On the other hand, RPGs are not everyone's cup of tea, and I can think of several times that a young padawan has just kind of shrugged and moved on to other entertainments, usually involving electronics or oddly shaped balls. The young Dweller in the Basement, aka Dib, was not one of these kids. Dib fell hard. Within ten days, he had acquired a Starter Set, fifth edition, and had provided me with the included adventure, Lost Mine Of Phandelver, which was technically his property, but he'd sworn not to read until I'd finished. Within twelve days, I'd given him a few Bones from my old Vampire Box that I was never going to get around to painting, and within twenty days, he'd discovered the local FLGS that carried the magical Bones of Power at very reasonable prices, and Fifth Edition hardbacks at prices that could make a thirteen year old whimper just a bit. As I write this, early of a Sunday morn, his mother and sister still sleep, but he's watching Laszlo's Hot Lead DVDs on the downstairs entertainment center. Kid has it bad. Makes me feel like I'm corrupting a minor, really. And then I think I'm not corrupting him ENOUGH if he won't stay the hell out of MY paints. But I digress. ************************************** "Fools!" said the sibilant voice from the shadows. Dib looked around the cave. He still couldn't see anything. The voice sounded like it was coming from everywhere at once. He couldn't pin down from where. The big crack in the floor? The stalagmites? The two big pillars? He couldn't pin it down... "Heeheehee*snerk*hahahahahaha!" hissed the sibilant voice. "Do they come to offer me meat? Hee! Meeeaaaaat... their own? Or someone else's? Heeheeha!" "Who are you?" said Dib defiantly. "What are you? What do you want?" If Dib could keep it talking... but he was no closer to figuring out where the voice was coming from... The NPC bard glanced around wildly, on the edge of panic. "Dude," he said, "I can hear our voices... they echo, here, in this cave... but his voice casts no echo!" Dib's crossbow was ready... but he had no target. He rolled yet another Wisdom check, wildly trying to figure out where his enemy was... and a 4 stared back at him. Dammit! (I leaned forward over the table. Time to crank it up. I bugged my eyes, flared my nostrils, raised my clawed hands to milk the giant cow... took a deep breath... and...) The voice in the darkness cackled wildly. "MEAAAAT! BRING ME MEAT OR BE MY MEAT, I CARE NOT!" Dib's heart chilled. Sure enough, the thing's voice cast no echo. How was this possible? And where the hell was that voice coming from? "BURGERS UP!" called Berni from the kitchen. "Hamburgers or cheeseburgers, what will it be?" Dib jerked so hard he almost fell out of his chair. I stroked my beard thoughtfully, which also served to cover the awful grin. I'd really been jerking his chain much too hard; his first character, only now fourth level. Maybe I should ease up. "Are there onions?" "Sliced and ready," trilled Berni. She knows me well. We got up from the table, went into the kitchen, and began hamburger construction. Berni had very thoughtfully laid out the pickles, sliced onions, condiments, everything. "Best den mom ever," I said, and kissed Berni on the back of the neck. She grinned. Dib.quickly assembled a burger and suddenly bit into it. He was still a bit rattled, but the presence of warm food in a conventional kitcheny reality, absent sibilant voices and lack of echoes seemed to have settled him a bit. "These are really good, Berni. Thanks for playing den mom." "Den mom?" said Berni, sounding affronted. "There's more than one DM in this house, you know!" And Berni's eyebrows knit, and eyes widened. "I am... DUNGEON MOM!" Dib's eyes bugged. And I had to fight to keep the mouthful of burger I had....
  15. Because it has been requested, I am going to try something new. The link below leads to a story that happened to me last year. It is linked due to containing one dirty word. Let me know if the link works, and if I should continue this project/thread/exercise in narcissism... https://www.facebook.com/notes/tom-o-bedlam/bass-ter/953286354693870
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