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Monday, October 20, 2014

Over the Garden Wall - My Role as a Troll


Keene Public School's 1964 Production of "Over the Garden Wall"

It was 1964 and I was about to make my first appearance as an actor in a musical. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades were staging Keene Public School's musical production of "Over the Garden Wall", a play based loosely on Mother Goose stories and rhymes.

This picture takes me back. I can't identify everybody, but I do know a few of them.

The farmer types on the far left are Barney McClure (my cousin) and Elaine Ferguson as "Jack and Jill". Famous future Dentist, John Barroso is sitting on a ladder behind them starring as "The Sun". The first butterfly on the left is Amma Sue Johnson. Behind her to the right are the Washington brothers, Manuel and Phillip. Continuing right are Patsy Marshall and Wanda Davis (the first girl I ever had a date - it was a disaster, don't ask). The bluebird was, I think, David Carver. And last but not least in this rogues gallery is the white-beared dude dressed all in black - Tom King my own self, as Mother Goose's hit troll. My character abruptly enters stage right and threatens to abduct Jack and Jill and take them to a dark cave. I think they needed to end the play and couldn't figure out how since it didn't have much in the way of a plot. So the writer apparently decide, "I know. Let's send in a troll!"

And to make matters even more weird, I was a singing troll. I sang my threats to the children - ominously, as I had been told by Mrs. Webb, the fifth and sixth grade teacher and director of the play.

You'd never get a character like that troll in a children's play these days. Too creepy! I was like this really short pervert troll enforcer for Mother Goose. What's weirder, if you can believe it is that I can still sing the stupid song to this day.

I missed most of the play myself because I was hiding backstage in utter terror and praying to God for strength to go out there and sing in front of all those people (I was in 3rd grade and terribly shy). 
But I did it:

Naughty, naughty children
Go home and go do bed,
Or I will quickly take you
To caverns dark and dread.
Mother Goose is looking
For you every where.
So beware..............BEEEEEEEWAAAAAAAAAAARE!

See, I told you I still remembered the stupid song. I ought to. I sat in an oak tree for two days memorizing that song because I was so scared I'd forget the lines. I could do it better now, because I have a deeper voice. Sounded more like a Munchkin than a dangerous troll back in 3rd grade.

Later when I became a teacher, I remembered that moment of stage fright when doing school productions with my own students and tried to remember how traumatizing that first acting job was.

Two years later I played Pinocchio in our 6th grade play - star of the show I was being Mrs. Webb's favorite actor. It gave me a big head. Seriously, I have a head the size of a watermelon.
One of the miscellaneous children in the Pinocchio play was my childhood neighbor, Steve Wilhite, who had one big line - something about "Look there's a star!" He was supposed to point toward the back of the room as he said it. Steve argued with Mrs. Webb that we should hang a star back there because everyone would turn around and look for one.

She apparently didn't have a lot of faith in Steve's acting ability and told him dismissively, "No one's going to turn around and look for a star."

Steve's judgment was later vindicated during the actual production when he delivered his big line, pointed and EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE AUDIENCE TURNED AROUND TO LOOK FOR THE STAR (including Mrs. Webb and Mr. Pauly, the principle, who later was overheard to say, "They should have put a star back there on the wall or something.")! I don't know about Steve, but I'd have felt pretty good about my acting skills right at that moment.
Later I went on to play Merlin in a community theater production of Camelot and nearly got blown up by a special effect. I said an unfortunate word, which the microphone I was wearing picked up and delivered clearly to the audience. That word was NOT in the original Lehrner and Lowe script. The Cleburne Times Review entertainment writer who was there that night was overheard to say, "Was that in the script?"

It is the moment my wife likes to remind me of whenever I get the acting bug and start talking about doing community theater again.

Ah, well. At my age, one must be content with past glories.


© 2014 by Tom King

Saturday, October 11, 2014

There Should be a Change in How We Decide What's a Planet and What Is Not

Pluto and it's moon, Charon
The astronomical bigwigs are at it again - trying to decide whether or not Pluto's a planet. I think the wrong people are debating this. Regular folk should decide. This is too important to leave to mere astronomers and academics.

So, let me offer a definition of a planet from the viewpoint of a consumer of astronomy. To be a useful definition, let's make it more like the way the APA describes mental illnesses. It gives some options and the requirement is that the disorder (or planet in this case) meet 3 of 4 or 4 of 7 of the criteria to be that mental disorder or astronomical object. This leaves room for variation within a type. So here's my offering for a definition of a planet.

1. Is a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.
2. Is spherical in shape and has a shape that is stable under its own gravity.
3. Is large enough to dominate its orbit having cleared neighboring space of debris.
4. Has at least a diameter of 2,000 km.
5. Has a satellite that orbits around it.

6. Has an atmosphere.

To be a planet, it must meet four out of six of the above criteria.

Pluto would be a planet (1,2,4,5,6)
Eris might be a planet (1,2,4?,5,6?)
Makemake would be a dwarf planet (1,2,)
Quaoar would be a dwarf planet (1,2,5)
Orcus would be a dwarf planet (1,2)
Sedna would be a dwarf planet (1,2,)
Ceres would be a planetoid or asteroid (1)

I might even make a further distinction.

1 criteria = asteroid (mostly because it's not spherical)
2 criteria = planetoid
3 criteria = dwarf planet
In which case Orcus, Makemake and Sedna would be only planetoids.

Just my own humble opinion. It just seems that the requirement that a planet meet every criteria in a list is too rigid. It doesn't allow room for something odd to be a planet even though everybody thinks it ought to be one because it looks like one. That's how things get named out in the real world.

Scientists should remember that before they go around willy-nilly making a kid's model solar system obsolete.

Yeah, it makes me mad. I'm getting too old to relearn the solar system.

© 2014 by Tom King

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why They Call Them the "Golden Years"



Being in fashion? Not a problem.





















There are distinct advantages to being a sexagenarian and it's not what just flashed through your dirty mind.  I have compiled a list of some advantages to being of an elderly persuasion.


  • You have more interesting conversations about surgeries with your friends in a week than the average doctor does with his colleagues in a month and you've finally learned what a prostate is and what it means when it's gone. 
  •  No one wants to kidnap you. In a hostage situation, you'll probably be the first one released. People let you ahead of them in restaurant lines, stores give you 10% off just for being you and you can sing along with the elevator music without shame. 
  • Your kids hold family meetings down at the I-Hop about what to do about you (and you don't have to go to them). 
  • You've discovered how to use the Internet to find out what's really wrong with you so you can argue with your doctor more effectively. Besides that, all that health insurance you bought is finally beginning to pay off. 
  • Everyone's happy now when you take a nap in the middle of the afternoon and they try not to wake you up.
  • Your kids bring you presents now when they haven't come to visit in a long time because they feel guilty. You've learned to use that guilt to get better presents.
  • You can predict the weather with your joints and you're more accurate than the National Weather Service so you don't have to watch television weather reports anymore, which gives you more time to watch Matlock reruns on Netflix.
  • Sex is as rare and as much appreciated as it was when you were 13. You can even get along without it. What you can't get along without are your glasses. 
  • You are no longer expected to run – anywhere! And people don't think you're a hypochondriac anymore.
  • People don't call you lazy anymore - in fact, they keep telling you that you should slow down a bit. If someone calls after 9:00 pm, they ask if they woke you up and apologize for calling so late.
  • You and your fellow retirees control 75% of all liquid cash assets in the United States and you still remember your children and relatives who weren't nice to you.
  • You don't have to remember anything you don't want to. Nobody expects you to remember anything anyway.


© 2014 by Tom King

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I Took Up the Banjo


Okay, I admit it. I enjoy being a bit of an odd duck. I had to. It all comes from my difficult childhood as a nerdy, skinny little kid in the local public school where they sent all the thugs and toughs deemed unworthy to attend the local church schools and the heathen children whose parents didn't go to church. The rest of us who were simply too poor went there because we had to. It was a lesson in survival skills for the meek. By embracing the identity that was forced on you by your tormentors, I learned how to deflect them. If they call you a geek, be a proud geek. This confuses most bullies and spoils their fun......except when they beat you up in frustration because their words no longer make you cry.

While we meek types may, indeed, inherit the Earth someday, it sometimes feels like we may have to pay for it in blood. I was offered the chance to play in the school band at one point, but I turned down the opportunity. In order to play a band instrument other than drums (where the thugs were well-represented), you had to stick something in your mouth and when you do that, you can't really sing along.
skinny little kid in the local public school where they sent all the thugs and toughs deemed unworthy to attend the local

I took up instrumental music in 1971 when I bought a damaged Mexican guitar for $6 and fixed the bridge. It worked beautifully and made even my pitiful efforts sound good when I could actually get the thing in tune. It took me two years to develop a good enough ear to actually hear what in tune sounded like. Till then, I tuned my guitar visually by depressing the top string on the fifth fret, plucking it and adjusting the next string down till it vibrated when I picked the string above it. I learned this technique in physics class - I was that big a nerd.

They called me two-chord Tom and used to pay me to play elsewhere. When my guitar playing finally became tolerable enough that I was allowed to play with the guys at campfire at my summer camp job, I was offered an old used cheap banjo. No longer the obnoxious amateur guitarist I had once been, I jumped at the chance to revisit my halcyon days as an out-of-tune ballad singer via the banjo.

After 40 years of banging away at it, I can play well enough that folk don't run screaming from the room, although my wife (Miss Perfect Pitch) tends to keep putting it way in the back of the closet if she finds it left unattended for more than a few minutes.

Ah, well, I can always go to the woods or sit out on the porch, a spot to which generations of itinerant banjo players have been traditionally banished. That's okay. I like the porch and the woods.

More scope for the imagination.   — © 2014 by Tom King


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ghost Writing For the Not Quite Dead

It's so much fun to pound a keyboard 16 hours a day  till your fingers are nubs and your brain can no longer find a reasonable way to spell hyperbole. You should try it sometime. What keeps us going is the pittance that trickles over the transom and the hope that someday we're going to strike it big. We're the 49'ers of the 21st century.
Sometimes, you'd do better to sell yourself to an Arabian Sheikh as his personal toilet attendant. That'll do too. I've written better than 30 books in the past 18 months. All of them, I am told, are selling well on Amazon.com.

Not a one has my name on it.


But I chose this life and I'm damned well going to keep soldiering on in it till I win or they bury me - one or the other. I AM WRITER HEAR ME TYPE!

I'm sixty years old. My brain says I'm 22. My bones say I'm 112. We humans were not meant to live like this. I am thoroughly convinced that we were designed to live in lakefront bungalows, to sit on the porch every evening with a nice warm dog stretched across our feet and to play banjo till the sun goes down.

It's funny how you get to a point where you're ready to wrap it all up and get on with the living forever part. I've decided that when we get back to the new Earth, I'm going to build a big old schooner and take her out on whatever's left of the ocean. I'm gonna sail from island to island sampling the cuisine and jamming with whatever passes for a local pick-up band.

I will of course, take along the Missus and the dog - maybe even a grandkid or two - even in heaven I can't imagine my kids wanting to hang out with me for any length of time. I told my Sweet Baboo about my plans. She told me that it would have to be in heaven before she'd go out on the ocean in a boat with me at the helm. Mrs. King is not respectful of my sailing prowess.

I wonder. Will our spouses be as sharp-tongued in heaven as they are here? Maybe I was imagining the kind of spouses you get in the other heaven; the one where you have to blow yourself up first and then you get 70 of them.

Man, that sounds more like the other place to me. I have enough trouble with just the one.

© 2014 by Tom King

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Elder Leiske and the Testimony of Roma Barnes

I vividly remember the warm Sabbath Afternoon in Keene, Texas, when Roma Barnes gave her testimony. 

At the time Southwestern Union College (the college later changed it's name because the girls wouldn't buy T-shirts with the school initials on them) was captained by Elder Leroy Leiske, a lovely man. He didn't have a Ph.D. and was scorned by some of the more stuffed of shirt among the church's leading lights at the time. Despite his lack of academic credentials, the man nearly doubled attendance at the school, boosted the numbers of marriages among students, beautified the campus and put the school on solid financial ground. He remembered the names of every one of his students and there were better than 600 of them. We all felt special. He's the only college president I ever saw get a standing ovation from students for walking out on stage in a chapel service. The kids loved the man.

One of the things Leiske attended to particularly well was the spiritual health of the students. He believed in the power of unstructured religion and held semi-regular testimony meetings at the church and in the college auditorium. He always seemed to know when we needed a recharge and would hold one just in time?

It had been a beautiful service and as we were nearing the end of it. Roma Barnes made her way up to the front to wait her turn to testify. Roma was basically our little town's resident odd duck and one never quite knew what she was going to say. Elder Leiske, who had fielded Roma's contributions to the service before, tried roll things up before she could get up front.

Unfortunately for the spiritual atmosphere that day, Roma refused to be denied. It became obvious that she had a burning desire to speak and looked so pathetic that anyone who didn't know Roma would have thought Elder Leiske was being mean not to let her speak. Finally, he motioned her forward and Roma took the mike. Native Keeneites took a deep breath.

I remember Leiske whispering to her about time and keeping it short. Finally, he shrugged helplessly and stepped aside. Roma wasn't entirely of this world at the time and she took the microphone with this very solemn look on her face. She wore a beige dress that hung like a sack on her down to her knees. She must have been in her late 40s or 50s by this time and she didn't believe in beauticians nor beauty products. This is not to criticize her appearance but to set the stage for her testimony. Simply put, Roma was a strange old bird. Roma's stern gaze swept over the congregation.

"I have had a terrible problem for many many years," she began. "I've struggled with it and prayed about it and finally the Lord has revealed to me what was causing my terrible problem." She paused dramatically. You could have heard a pin drop.

"Spices!" she announced shaking her head sadly. "They made me too sexy!"
Leiske went pale. A vast collective snort went up from the congregation and several crass individuals actually laughed out loud. I remember Ted Ramirez, our student body president and his buddy, Tee Chincheretta, sitting over to one side, doubled over in pain, their whole bodies shaking. Roma turned and left the podium, her warning to the saints well and truly delivered.

Elder Leiske's closing prayer was heroic!

© 2014 by Tom King

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams Was A Hero

Robin in The Fisher King

The death of brilliant comedian, Robin Williams has shocked and saddened the nation this week. Everyone's asking how could a man, so rich, so talented and so well-loved end his own life like that. He seemingly had everything to live for.

The Internet's predictable leap to judgment by the usual set of self-proclaimed experts has got us all sorts of clever answers.

  • He wasn't a Christian so he's gone straight to hell - don't be sorry for him.
  • He just didn't read the right books.
  • See, we told you wealth doesn't bring happiness.
  • He was a liberal douchebag
  • He chose to kill himself because he was a coward.
There are lots more, but this stuff sickens me and I don't want to repeat any more of it.

Suicide may indeed be a person's choice. I think of Saul who did not wish to die at the hands of the Philistines and others who took suicide as a way out of what they saw as an insoluble problem.

But the idea that suicide is always a clear personal choice is not true at all. There is evidence a-plenty that Robin Williams suffered from bipolar disorder or something closely akin to it. Bipolar is a cruel disease in which an underlying severe neurological condition causes maladaptive psychological responses. What that means is that at times your perception of the world becomes utterly distorted and things make perfect sense to you that make no sense at all to anyone else.

I have two family members who have made multiple suicide attempts over the past few years. They failed, not for lack of trying but  because family members were watching, praying and intervening when they lost contact with reality. In one case, I am certain angels intervened. Neither wanted to die, not really. It's just their perception was so distorted that it seemed the least selfish thing they could do. Later, when they weren't in the middle of a psychotic break, they could see that what they believed with all their hearts at the time was not true.

Many artists suffer from mental disorders. Many of them incorporate their illness into their art. Earnest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, Mel Gibson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Nash, Brooke Shields, Carrie Fischer, Emma Thompson, Herschel Walker, Michael Phelps, Howard Hughes, Paula Deen, Elton John, Craig Ferguson, Margot Kidder, Sinead O'Conner and Kurt Cobain are just a few of the famous people who battled with neurologically-based mental disorders and often lost their lives to it.

Much of Robin Williams comedy was the result of his successful sublimation of his wild swings from mania to depression and back to mania. He worked it all into his comedy routines. It's little wonder he did so well playing lunatics as in The Fisher King and One Hour Photo. He'd been there, done that and bought the T-shirt franchise.  His portrayal of men on the brink of madness were heart-breakingly real for a reason. He'd been there. He was probably there at the time he played them.

I lost a good friend ten years ago to the ravages of bipolar.
He was a brilliant preacher and Godly man and incredibly creative. Toward the end of his life his brain betrayed him. He began having blackouts, panic attacks and psychotic breaks and at the last and he became so isolated that no one was there when the madness overwhelmed him and he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew out his brains.

The truth is that Robin Williams death may have been inevitable - a consequence of his bipolar.
What may be the real miracle is that he managed to hold off his own death for so long in the face of the unrelenting effort by his own brain to kill itself and stop the pain.

The number one outcome/side-effect of bipolar disorder is suicide. Those who love a person with bipolar need only miss the signs just once to lose their loved one. I know. I care for someone with bipolar. Most days are good, but once in a while it all goes to hell in a hand-basket and if I wasn't here, I could lose the person most dear to me in all the world.

Robin may have lost the fight in the end, but given the severity of the disease that eventually claimed him, his long and courageous fight against it deserves to be lauded for what it was - heroic. Like the defenders of the Alamo, Robin Williams held out as long as he could. You don't berate a soldier who died at his post.

So, Robin, go with God my friend. He sees the sparrow fall and notes its resting place. I suspect one day Robin will stand before the throne of Grace, look up into the face of God and say, "There you are." And God will say, "I have found you my child, come home with me."

© 2014 by Tom King

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Food Nazis, Shopping Snobs and Fashionistas, Oh My!

Okay, they got me going again. This morning there were a bunch of posts about stupid Walmart shoppers, how badly they dress and how the proletariat is being exploited by the evil folks in Bentonville. Close on the heels of the Walmart prudery came a shot at McDonald's for offering Tofu Nuggets and that set off the whole pink slime nonsense even though the so called "nasty" pink slime in McDonald's burgers, hasn't been part of McDonald's cuisine for years. I wonder at the wheezings of disgust at McDonald's one-time use of a textured vegetable protein based additive. Have these guys never seen the inside of a slaughterhouse? Now that's nasty! Mashing up soybeans is a whole lot less nauseating I promise you.

I don't go to McDonald's very often. It is a rare deal when I do. My arteries aren't as young as they once were. I do, however, drop by sometimes after an exhausting shopping trip to Walmart because, God bless 'em, they have a location inside my Walmart. McDonald's is handy to have close by when I need it - when I'm hungry and only have a dollar left for instance. Walmart is also handy to have available when I can't afford the mom and pop grocer's exhorbitant prices or need more than just groceries. Walmart is one trip for everything and saves gas and store-hopping and I can get my meds for $4.

I suppose the reason I get peeved about the anti-McDonald's, anti-Walmart nonsense I see in places like Facebook is that it looks to me like bullying. Believe me, I know what bullying look like. I see it as little more than a lot of upper middle-class, liberal, snobby, rich people wannabes who badly need to look down on somebody, anybody in order to feel superior to the rest of us mere mortals. The truth is that most of them could care less what us members of the proletariat eat. They just want to be able to think they are better than somebody and their lives are so pathetic they are reduced to the same kind of bony finger pointing that made them give up religion. Some little old lady at church probably told them their skirt was too short or their hair too long when they were kids. Ironically, they grew up to be just like them - sneering, finger-pointing critical food-Nazis, shopping snobs and fashionistas. They post pictures on Facebook of Walmart shoppers in ugly outfits and giggle at them. They blow up any urban legend that suits their "I'm superior to you" meme so long as it's critical of the lifestyle of the lower middle class and poor. Anything to deride the tastes and habits of regular folks just trying to get by on a budget that can't absorb the cost of a Gucci handbag.

I grew up on beans and rice and baking powder biscuits. A baloney sandwich and a handful of chips was haute cuisine in our house. It really hacks me off when people describe perfectly edible food as "nasty". You want nasty, go to an upscale french restaurant. Eat some raw oysters, uncooked fish or snails and then tell me the McDonald's dollar hamburger is "nasty". One man's sushi is another man's fish bait. The whole thing is nothing more than the same kind of nose-in-the-air bullying I had to put us with in elementary and high school from the jocks and the cheerleaders and the rich kids and I hate it every much now as I did then. You want to see some "nasty" food, I can show you stuff you wouldn't believe, next to which McDonald's gets 3 Michelin stars!

Get over yourselves people. There is plenty to talk about on Facebook given the hell into which this world is rapidly descending. Instead, you guys use your energy finding ways to set yourself above the folk you see as little more than simple, ignorant hicks. Marx called the "the proletariat" and it wasn't any nicer when he said it than what you're doing now. Bullying wasn't attractive in high school, dudes and dudettes, no matter what you told yourselves. And it isn't attractive now! 

Remember the Golden Rule - treat others the way you want to be treated. You can't afford to anger the proletariat, because when the zombie apocalypse comes (and it will come), McDonald's dollar menu may look pretty good to you and the zombies behind the counter may just refuse to serve you.

To paraphrase the queen of snobs, Marie Antoinette, they may just say, "Let 'em eat snails!"

I'm just sayin'

© by Tom King