A lesson too hard, too soon

The reality begins to take hold of this Sandy Hook Elementary student after the shooting today. Michelle McIoughlin (Reuters)

The horrific reality begins to take hold of this Sandy Hook Elementary School student outside the school today after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Michelle McIoughlin (Reuters)

“The sun is out today.”

My mother always used those same words as she stepped in between the sitting or prone bodies of me and my brothers on the floor of the family room on many Saturday mornings. We were spread out in front of the TV, all set for a morning full of cartoons. But whenever I heard those words, it also meant that she was making her way to that TV and about to hit the off button.

“The sun is out today. It’s too nice outside for all of you to be in here,” she always said. “Now, go outside and find something to do. Out, out, out!”

And out we’d go, reluctantly, for another day of playing. Goofing around. Getting into trouble. Getting out of trouble. All in all, just being kids.

It wasn’t so bad. Not as good as a slew of Bugs Bunny cartoons, but not so bad. We didn’t sweat it. Heck, life is pretty simple when you’re just a 6-, 8- or  9-nine-year-old, which at some point during our collective childhoods was how old we would have been.

That’s the way life is, when you’re one of those ages. Pretty simple.

“The sun is out today.”

Those words came into my mind again a few hours ago. Over and over. The sun was out at that moment. I was sitting in my truck, in the parking lot outside of my office. Taking a break from work. I’d just turned the key, and turned up the radio. I keep it tuned to the local public broadcasting station. I was expecting to listen in on whatever heady, wordy talk show was being broadcast at that time.

Instead, I heard the station’s news reporters talking. Live coverage. That could only mean one thing – bad news. Very bad news. News so big that it had knocked off the regular programming. Or news really close, somewhere in my home state of Connecticut.

It was both.

At that moment, all the reporters could report was someone had walked into an elementary school – kindergarten through 4th-grade – and started shooting. According to an anonymous source, the reporter said he’d been told there were up to 28 dead. And at least 18 of them … were children.

The story would become clearer, in time. There were 28 dead, that was spot on. But 20, not 18, were children.

Students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Kindergarten through 4th-grade.

Including 6-, 8- and 9-year-olds.

“We were in my art teacher’s room. We heard some gunshots, like 20. Then the police came with guns and told us to close our eyes.”

Fourth-grader Vanessa Bajraliu, 9 years old.

In another report, a father told of his six-year old son’s dramatic escape from a room after the gunman burst in and opened fire. Robert Licata said his son was in class when the killer burst in and shot the teacher.

“That’s when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door,” he said. “He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”

A hero. A boy. A 6-year-old.

At my age, you’ve learned long ago that life is not simple. It’s complicated. It can be very, very good. But it can be cruel too. Harsh and unforgiving. Infuriating and frustrating. And very, very painful. Not always, but that’s the way life often is.

At my age. Maybe yours too.

State police officers lead evacuated students from the school after the shooting. Shannon Hicks (Newtown Bee)

State police officers lead students away from the school after the shooting. Shannon Hicks (Newtown Bee)

But why did it have to be that way … for these kids?

“The sun is out today.”

That’s all life was for me when I was 6-, 8- and 9-years old.

And what did the kids at the Sandy Hook Elementary School learn today?

It isn’t that way for them.

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You’ve got mail …

a burkina faso mailboxMy favorite folder in my Inbox isn’t my Inbox. It’s my Junk folder. That’s where my best email ends up.

Where else can you go to find a good woman (Russian brides! Cheap!), the means to keep her satisfied (Canadian Viagra! Cheap!), and all the free and easy money you’ll ever need to fly to Siberia and sweep her right out of the arms of the Russian mobster who has her chained to a laptop in an Internet café.

You don’t believe me, do you.  Here, in all of its absolutely uncensored, uncut, unedited, un-spellchecked splendor, is my latest ticket straight to the tippy-top of the 1 percent. Read on and weep:

MY DEAREST I NEED YOUR HELP AND ASSISTANT.

My Dearest,

It is with profound respect and humble submission, I beg to state the following few lines for your kind consideration. I hope you will spare some of your valuable minutes to read the following appeal with sympathetic mind. I must confess that it is with great hope, joy and enthusiasm to write you this mail and I believe by the faith that it must surely find you in good condition of health. My name is Vivian John Paul Oulu 24 years old female from the Republic of Kenya, the daughter of Late Mr. John Paul Oulu. My late father was a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist who was the Chief Executive Officer and Communications and Advocacy Officer of the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic Kenya (OFFLACK) [Blogger’s note: OFFLACK? Aren’t those the insurance guys with the duck? Cool.] My Father was brutally shot dead on Thursday 5Th March 2009 after a government spokesman accused their group of aiding a criminal gang. What led to the cold blood killing is still unclear but I know that my father life was the target. You can read more about my father in the BBC link below. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ africa/7927873.stm

After the death of my beloved father my wicked step mother along with my uncles team together and sold everything that my late father had and share the money within themselves, I lost my mother long time ago, and since then, my father loved me so dearly at my tender age may he rest in peace and may the great God give him a safe entry in Paradise Amen. Before the death of my father, he told me that he made a fixed deposit of the sum of Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand United State Dollars ($8.500.000.00) in one of the Banks here in Burkina Faso, with my name as his next of kin, which I confirmed his statement positively from the bank. But on my arrival to the Bank to withdraw the fund, the Bank foreign Operation Department Director whom I meet in person told me that my father instruction to their bank is that the fund would only be release to me when I am married or present a trustee/partner who will help me and invest the fund overseas after the transfer, and the bank ask me to go and look for a foreign partner.

Therefore my dear, I am soliciting your help for transferring of my inheritance fund into your bank account and investment assistance in your Country as my legal appointed trustee as the bank mentioned and it will be my intention to compensate you with 40% of the total fund for your services and help then the balance shall be my capital in your establishment which you are going to establish there in your country or position as my trustee and manger. I have suffered lots of set back as a result of my parents death. I left Kenya, because of incessant family funds. Presently, I am currently residing in Christ De King Refugee camp here in Ouagadougou Capital city of Burkina Faso.

Yes, Virginia ... there is a Burkina Faso.

Yes, Virginia … there is a Burkina Faso.

Hence, I want to settle in your country to further my education and spend the rest of my life. Please consider my request as my life is being hugely affected. Thanking you a lot in anticipation of your quick response. I will give you details in my next mail after receiving your acceptance mail to help me.

Yours Sincerely Vivian John Paul.

Say it ain’t so, Joe

a bazooka joe opening picWell, not exactly Joe.

You see, it seems “from now on” is such a relative term. And for you, “from now on” means until the end of the year.

After that – I hate to be the one to burst your bubble – you’ll be gone. Not completely, according to your maker, Bazooka Candy Brands, a division of the Topps Company. But that’s when you’ll be retired. Oh, you and some of your gang will show up now and then. Not in the Bazooka Comics insert that’s been the inner wrapper of the pink chewing chunk since 1953, but on new inserts in the “re-imagined” Bazooka Bubble Gum packages. Call them cameo appearances.

A moment of silence, please, for Bazooka Joe, et. al. Gum-popping encouraged, of course.

A moment of silence please for Bazooka Joe, et. al. Gum-popping encouraged, of course.

The brand’s getting an overhaul – out with the old logo, packaging – and you.

And the comics? They go with you. They’re being replaced, according to the company, with “brainteasers.” Like “List 10 comic book heroes named after animals.” Wow. And activities, like instructions on how to fold the wrapper into an airplane. Shazam. And there will be codes, when entered at the website, BazookaJoe.com, which will unlock things like videos and video games.

Sure does blow to be a fading bubble gum star, Joe.

But I remember when. The good old days. You remember? Sure you do. Back when I was just a kid playing Little League Baseball and you were only a penny. Back when my mom would drop me off at the field for a game. She’d hand me a dime. Just one thin dime.

But it was all I needed.

I’d hold that dime in one hand, my folded glove in the other, and go straight to the concession stand behind the home plate backstop fence. Best seat in the house, for the moms running the stand, I’ll bet. And besides third base, best place at the field for me. That’s because lined up side-by-side, from one end of the big front window to the other, were giant, clear jars chocked-full of candy. All for just a penny apiece.

Now do you remember? I knew it’d come back to you. I’d buy three of you, two root beer barrels and five two-foot-long strands of red shoestring licorice. Not the black ones – stained your teeth. Turned off the chicks in the stands. I’d load up my uniform pockets, adjust my cap, tap-clean the cleats on the backstop fence, slip on the glove. Done. Complete. I was locked-and-loaded for whatever came my way for the rest of the day and the game. Whether it came on the ground, through the air … at my head.

Come to think of it, I ask you – where can you buy a meal like that for a kid these days for 10 cents? Damn straight – nowhere.

And I’m not talking just about nutrition for the young, immature body. There was more. Packed inside and wrapped around every piece of Bazooka bubble gum was the real prize – Bazooka Joe, his gang and his comic. Printed on that little piece of slippery paper in full, rich color. Every one was food for the young, immature mind.

Dig through your kid’s next bowl of organic, free-range granola and see if you find something like this:

a bazooka joe declarationGo ahead. I dare you.

Or examine the box of your kid’s sugar-free, gluten-free, chocolate-free, lint-free, taste-free something-chip cookies, inside and out, and tell me you’ve found something even remotely resembling this:

a bazooka joe old cartoonI can’t hear you …

And when you held a Bazooka Joe comic in your hands, you were not just getting some of the finest examples of the corniest pre-adolescent humor known to childhood, but words of wisdom too. Bazooka fortunes, such as: “Unless you are cautious you could be heading for an accident.”

Soon, these Bazooka Joe words to the unwise will be gone. But they’ll eerily come back to you someday – as you watch your care-free-and-unworldly child walk straight into a wall. And never know what hit him.

You think of Bazooka Joe then and say to yourself:  If only … he could have known better.

Notice too that each comic also came with special offers, unavailable anywhere else. You see a lot of 22-carat – not 14-, not 24- – gold rings with your initial on them offered for just 125 Bazooka comics and NO MONEY (Not valid where contrary to state laws. Offer expires June 30, 1955)???

Didn’t think so. Type that item into the search on ebay or Amazon – see what you get. I’ll bet you a big, fat “Huh?”

After December 31, you’ll never find anything like it, anywhere. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No-sucha-lucka. And what’s that mean for all of the “healthy”, all-natural, no-preservatives-added children in the world?

They’re going to suffer because of it.

The artist, the bulldog

a bulldog asleepIf there’s one thing people learn after a few years of having pets, it’s that you don’t own them, they own you. But if the pet happens to be an English bulldog, there’s something else. They don’t do anything unless they want to, and all they really want to do is … nothing. Most loveable but also the most stubborn and laziest beings on Earth. After people.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to read the story of Piper, the painting bulldog. Astounded by it, actually.

Piper strikes a very classic bulldog pose for her owner, Jessica Stone. This usually can be interpreted as "Smile? You must be joking." Copyright © Jessica Stone

Piper strikes a very classic bulldog pose for her owner. painter Jessica Stone. This usually can be interpreted as “Say cheese? You must be joking. I eat cheese,” but Piper’s different. Copyright © Jessica Stone

Piper is the proud owner of artist Jessica Stone. The one-bright-eyed rescued bullie was with Stone at her Austin, Texas, studio one day and evidently felt the urge to send a mental message to her owner – gimme a paint brush already, I feel an inspiration coming on. Jessica got the message, got a brush, dipped it in paint, held a piece of paper and added Piper.

Stone says Piper took brush in mouth and started a-wiggling and a-waving it on the paper. Good Lord, the girl was painting. And it was, well, as it turned out … there’s really no other way to put it … it was a painting.

The artist at work. Copyright © Jessica Stone

The artist at work. Copyright © Jessica Stone

“Her pieces are just so carefree and whimsical, and they amaze me.” Stone told a reporter in a story about Piper’s artistic ability.

She ain’t fooling. And she’s not the only amazed Piper-painter person down in the heart of Texas. The pooch has a following.

I think this one should be called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pup. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

This one might be called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Pup. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

One painting hasn’t been enough for Piper. Turns out she is very inspired. More than that, successful too. We’re not talking about a starving artist here. She’s sold more than 120 of them, along with shirts with prints of her work and her used brushes (signed by her teeth, no doubt) for the benefit of the San Antonio Bulldog Rescue, the organization that brought Piper and Jessica together.

This pooch isn't a Piper, she's a Pawcasso. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

This pooch isn’t a Piper, she’s a Pawcasso. Copyright © 2012 Piper Stone Artwork

What a nice story. What a wonderful and very talented white bulldog.

Whoa, hold on. We have a white bulldog. We have a brown one too, but what if the white ones are special? What if they come along only once in great while, like the mythical White Buffalo?

You know, I always had a feeling Wilbur was more than your average English bulldog. But now I realize I wasn’t getting his messages. Wasn’t paying attention to the signs. I’m sure he’s been sending them. I went through some of the 3,965 pictures we’ve taken of him and his brothers and sisters, this time really examining, really looking at each one. The picture, once blurred, slowly began to come into focus.

Notice that an artist must be a quiet, yet keen, observer of life. And I thought he was just sitting in the sun. What a fool am I.

Notice that an artist must be a quiet, yet keen, observer of life. And I thought he was just sitting in the sun. What a fool am I.

But what artistic venue is Wilbur’s forte? He’s never shown an interest in paint, never asked for the camera when we’ve taken pictures of him … what the heck is this artist-in-my-residence trying to tell me?

I went back to flipping through the photographs. Nothing, nothing, more nothing. And then I found it. It was right there in front of me.

a bulldog painter performance artNotice the artistry. Pay heed to the passion, the canine creativity. I didn’t see it at first, but can’t miss it now. How had I been so blind?

Wilbur – choreographer. Wilbur – performance artist. Transformer of the physical sleeping dogs into a fantastical image … of the very Circle of Life!

Wilbur – the next Twyla Tharp.