Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Powers, Both Super and Not

The following was a sign in front of chain store:  “Now Hiring Managemen”.  Now, I know full well the Kansas wind simply removed the final “T” from the last word but it made me laugh.  All I could think of was it was a whole new cadre of superheroes.   First there was The Justice League of America, The X-Men and The Avengers now the world is being protected by The Managemen.  

Their leader is Manager Man.  His powers include making at least one third of his staff unhappy no matter what decision he makes, the ability to be uncannily out when the most important things happen, and he can throw words like paradigm, proactive and brainstorm with such deadly vagueness his enemies are so confused he can, not so much stop, nefarious deeds as make the people looking to perpetrate them so crushed under protocols and bureaucracy they simply lose the will to perpetrate. 

Another member of this group of patriotic warriors is Middle Manager.  This may be the hardest working member of the team but he seems to be always behind.  The newest crime wave is thrown his way but just before it is taken care of the upper management team swoops in, finishes the task with only a tiny bit of genuine effort and takes credit for the whole thing while poor Middle Manager is given a whole new set of criminals to deal with. 

There is also Micro Manager.  This hero is able to infiltrate the criminal netherworld and get his hands into their different endeavors.  His chief power is to nitpick and annoy to the point everyone involved with the evil plot just becomes so annoyed they simply walk away. 

Finally we have Office Manager.  She is incredibly talented and gets the most accomplished in the least amount of time.  She multi-tasks with an efficiency truly terrifying to the lazy and incompetent evil doers of the world.  Her greatest nemesis is Glass Ceiling.  

I really think I am on to something.  Does anyone have Joss Whedon’s phone number?

The biggest money maker movies these days are all the gigantic scale superhero movies.  I admit I am one of the mindless movie-goers willing to plunk down my eight bucks to see good looking people in ludicrous costumes save the world from the less good looking people in less ludicrous costumes and their labyrinthine plots to take over the world. Some of these labyrinthine plots to take over the world are so convoluted the guys who actually wrote the script get lost about thirty minutes in. 

The biggest reason I go to these movies is I was a comic book kid.  I loved comic books.  Every time I walked to the convenience store or went to the grocery store with my mother I would get a comic book.  Now before the younger generation reading this column starts thinking I was some sort of Richie Rich (non-superhero comic book reference) comics didn’t cost four bucks a crack.  The very first comic books I bought were twelve cents apiece.  No, they were not painted on the walls of caves.  Those would have been a bear to store under my bunk bed.   (Also, when I bought bubble gum baseball cards there was actual bubble gum in the package.  The bubble gum and the cards tasted about the same but the bubble gum would not make the cool sound in your bicycle spokes.)

I still think comic books helped me develop the vocabulary I have to this day.  Think about it.  Would someone who only read the readers in school use the words I like to use?  The school books didn’t say things like:

This is Dick.  Dick has a ludicrous costume.
See Jane.  See Jane run.  See Jane run with her cadre of mutant companions. 
See Puff.  Puff plays with Spot.  Puff has a labyrinthine plot to kill Spot. 

I would have preferred books like that in school, especially one with Puff being an evil doer planning canicide.  (Yes, that is the real word for killing a dog.)

I think we all would like to be a superhero or at least have a super power. 

My choice would probably be the power of flight.  Let me add an extra requirement to that power.  I want to be able to fly really fast.  I would love to be able to travel around the country and still make it back to work on Monday.  See my kids at college each evening.  Fly to New York for a show.  Heck, even making a quick trip to Toledo would be great if I could fly there. 

Christopher Pyle considers his true super power to be confusing people with his words.  He can be contacted at  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brushes with Greatness

It seems to be a common component of the human condition to be impressed by people because they are famous, even people who are famous for being as useful as Lindsey Lohan at a…at a…Lindsay Lohan pretty much anywhere.  I freely admit I am right there with all those other humans. 

The other night I was watching television.  That’s a lie.  I was watching a television show on my computer via (he says hoping the people at hulu will see I mentioned them and be grateful enough to send me a check for the unsolicited solicitation on their behalf – I am willing to lend my column out for flagrant begging).  The show had a scene which took place in a hat store.  I almost fell out of my chair when I recognized the store as the place I had visited in New York City.  The very place I went with my daughter and spent an unconscionable amount of money on two fancy hats was on TV.  I was so excited I had to tell people that one place on that one television show is a place I once stood.  How cool is that? 

Actually, not that cool at all.  It is a store in one of the most densely populated cities in the United States.  It is a store in one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country.  It is less than a block from the Empire State Building.  There have been thousands of people in that store.  I am far from special.  But I still texted people in a sad attempt to be associated with famous.  (By the way, the name of the store is J. J. Hat Center.  I am saying that in hopes they will send me a new Borsalino fedora – size seven and half – in gratitude for the plug.  See previous parenthetical for my explanation for having no shame.)

I once lived in one the epicenters of famous people, Los Angeles, California.  Really there were movie stars just walking around like they actually were people who had to eat and buy stuff and mundane things  like that.  Weird, huh? 

I worked at a bookstore and Jonathan Banks (a talented character actor in tons of things from 48 Hrs. to Breaking Bad) asked if there were any Ansel Adams calendars.  I hopped to it and went to the backroom to find what he wanted.  He was very nice and thanked me.  I responded that is it was the least I could do considering that very morning I had watched John Lithgow choke him death.  I had been watching The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and he had indeed been killed by Lithgow.  This started a conversation with him about how he doesn’t live through a lot of his movies.  He asked if I had seen Beverly Hills Cop and the guy behind him in line reminded him that Eddie Murphy had shot him in that one.  (Oh, yeah.)

There were two pinnacles of brushes with greatness at my bookstore job.  George Carlin came in looking for some sort of philosophy book.  I held myself together and took him to the proper place in the store and we looked.  We didn’t have it.  I said we really are just a top forty bookstore and he laughed.  George Carlin laughed at ME.  One of the first people to ever make me fall of the couch laughing released a small giggle at something I said.  I am never washing these ears again. 

The other one was Dick Van Dyke.  He stepped up to the cash register and I lost the power of speech and movement for a second.  Rob Petrie was who I wanted to be when I grew up.  Dick Van Dyke was a comedy god to me.  At first all I could muster was “That’ll be seven dollars and forty-eight cents.”  Then as he turned to go I blurted out.  “I am a huge fan of your work.”  He turned and gave me a big genuine smile saying “That is always so nice to hear.”  I think I fainted. 

I was in the store as a customer to get a friend a birthday card.  John Larroquette was there.  I approached him and asked if he would sign the card I had purchased for my friend.  He asked if I thought my friend would believe he had actually signed it.  I was too polite to say if I was going to make up someone to sign the card it would be someone more famous than him.  He refused the mere Bic I offered him and signed it with a fountain pen from his breast pocket. 

Destiny? Not so much...

People will point to major events in their lives as the turning points where destiny was fulfilled.  I think it is more often insignificant things which actually put people into the places they end up.  I love to tell this story which illustrates my point.

My father was the City Manager of McCook, Nebraska.  He had applied for the same position in Hutchinson.  McCook was celebrating some sort of centennial so most the men in town had grown beards or mustaches to look like pioneer guys.  This only worked so well as they still wore slacks and button down shirts with ties, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.  Dad had grown a mustache to be with the in crowd in McCook.

He goes down to Hutchinson a day early for his interview.  He drives around town to get the lay of the land and checks into a hotel for the night.  That evening he looks in the mirror and decides to shave off the mustache, a small decision for which even he didn’t have a real explanation for why he did it.

Flash forward several days.  My father is hired to be the City Manager of Hutchinson.  The vote to hire him was 4 to 3 by the City Commission so he was barely hired (the vote might have been 3 to 2, Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for this so I have exhausted my research capabilities).  Flash forward several more days.  There is a reception to welcome Dad to town.  One of those stand around with glasses of punch and balancing little smokies in one hand while shaking hands with people you know full well you will not remember their names even ten minutes from now because you have been unenthusiastically introduced to roughly seven thousand people in the last three hours, kind of receptions.  During this reception he mentions to one of the commissioners that he had a mustache the day before the interview but had shaved it off that night.  The commissioner tells him she would not have voted for him if he had still had the mustache at the interview.  (It was 1966, and only hippies and Dan Rowan had mustaches back the.) 

Think about it.  If my father hadn’t shaved I would not have moved to Hutchinson at a young age.  I would not have met the friends who shaped big parts of my personality.  It is because of those friends that I decided to pursue a career in the movie industry.  That is the reason I majored in film studies at KU.  That is the reason I dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles.  That is the reason I hated living in LA and moved back to Kansas.  That is the reason I returned to KU.  That is the reason I ended up with a film degree from KU.  That is the reason I worked at a bookstore in Kansas City.  That is the reason I did an open mic night at a comedy club.  That is the reason I abandoned the dream of being a comedian.  That is the reason I had to go back to college years later to get a degree which led to an actual job.  That is the reason I became a teacher.  That is the reason I pursued writing as a hobby.  That is the reason I started writing a newspaper humor column which paid roughly thirty dollars a month.  That is the reason I became a principal.  That is the reason I made enough money to send my kids to college, well, not enough money, enough to go into mind numbing debt in order to send three children to college because mind numbing is required when you sign that master promissory note.   That is the reason I still kind of hope I will be discovered and whisked away to be a comedy writer.  That is the reason I wistfully ponder being whisked.  That is the reason I am writing this particular column.  That is the reason you are reading this column right now.  So if you hate this column address your angry letter to the Gillette Corporation who made it possible for my father to shave off his mustache.  Darn those activist razor companies.

Please remember this cautionary tale when you are thinking about doing something as monumental as facial hair removal.  It may mean your child will never become the next Johnny Carson like he always dreamed of being.  That is the reason we became stuck with Jay Leno.  That is the reason for the whole Conan O’Brien debacle.  Sorry…I won’t do that to you again.

No Skills No Problem

Okay, before we start our regularly scheduled column I have to share something.

Let me set the stage.  As many of you know I live in Dodge City and out here in Dodge City we understand wind.  Chicago, Illinois claims to be the “Windy City” but that is as full of beans as the large number of mayors and governors that city and state has seen indicted.  Dodge City knows wind.  So on this past Monday when the wind was blowing a consistent thirty miles an hour and gusting to forty-five we took it in stride.  Even though most of the topsoil from Grant County had taken up residence in my hair and between my teeth I just went about my day.  Sure some of the kindergarten kids at my school had to pulled back down to earth as I guided them to the bus and sure I had used a stapler to ensure my hat stayed on my head and I grant you the birds were white knuckling it on the tree branches due to a fear of flying I soldiered onward.  Even with all that being said I saw something which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we hardy denizens of western Kansas scoff at wind.

I was driving away from my house at about 6:30 in the evening and the wind was doing its darnedest to not only separate hats from heads but was going for the naturally sprouted hair as well.  I go past a place of business with a large lawn and the professional lawn guys were cutting and trimming their little hearts out.  One of the minions of a well manicured lawn was dutifully wielding a common tool of his trade as he moved down the sidewalk.  He was using a leaf blower.  Holy unnecessary Batman. 

Now back to our regularly scheduled column…

It is a poor musician who blames his instrument.

I am a very poor musician and I have no desire to blame the instrument.  Even with a Stradivarius in my hands if I played the violin it would sound like a schizophrenic cat arguing with itself about who used up all the catnip. 

Different tools get very different results in the hands of different people.  Don’t get me wrong I have some skills in the handy man department.  I can use a screwdriver, but there have been times I used the handle of the screwdriver as a hammer because I couldn’t find the hammer.  Hey, it worked and truthfully, I hit my thumb less frequently when I do it that way. 

Whenever I have had “do it yourself” projects they weren’t totally done by myself.  I have to rely on the kindness of friends.  Sometimes I just need to borrow the proper tools.  Sometimes I need others to act as consultants as I use the tools.  Other times I need to borrow the person to wield the tools.  I always return them, the people at least. 

Truthfully, this lack of any useful skill set makes my life easier in many ways.  Think about it.  If you can fix plumbing issues friends will call you evenings and weekends to help them out because a plumber would cost roughly the Gross National Product of Finland.  If you have computer skills people call you when they have a virus, their e-mail won’t open or their uploads and downloads are pinging over 100 milliseconds. (I don’t exactly know what that last thing means, I Googled “common computer problems” in order to finish the joke.) Even just owning a truck means people call you when they have to move big stuff.  I am left alone because I have no discernible skills and my four door sedan barely holds my family.
I am probably being too hard on myself.  I do have some skills.  I have been a school administrator for about nine years so I can threaten to take away recess really well.  I can help a kindergarten kid find his or her lunch card in under 2 seconds.  I can be totally invisible to children as I try to slow them down when they are running for the bus as if Usain Bolt riding a cheetah was chasing them. 

I have some other skills. I can play the Jeopardy “thinking about what to write on your screen for the Final Jeopardy question” music on the ukulele (just don’t ask me to answer it for you the one time I had a crack at that I messed up).  Also, I have pretty much mastered juggling the three ball cascade pattern.

Now don’t everybody call out at once for my services.