Sunday, February 23, 2014

Totally Rad

Hello! I hope everyone had a fabulous week!

I had a week that pretty much wiped me off of my feet, which is how I ended up, with my trusty Netflix account, watching Beverly Hills Cop.

It had been forever and a day since I'd seen it, but laying there with my nutritional yeast covered popcorn (don't knock it until you try it), watching Eddie Murphy run around shooting people was exactly the therapy my soul needed. The man even makes a car break down by stuffing bananas in the tailpipe. Seriously, what more could you need?

I love films from the 1980's. Despite the crisp, clean, shiny feeling that all new movies seem to have, I still love hearing that synthesizer theme song and terrible dialogue. So, in case you need to be convinced as to why 1980's films are the bomb, here is why I adore them:

1. 1980's film plots didn't have to make sense.

No, seriously, as long as there was dialogue, some form of a climactic story-arc and inspirational sounding synthesizer music you could have written any plot and put it on the screen. And people did.

You want a story about a kid who fakes being sick for a day then runs amok; avoiding his parents and the principal, destroying an expensive car  and somehow managing to hijack a parade float? Sure! We'll give you Ferris Bueller's Day Off!

You want a movie about a teenager trying to win back his girlfriend from a skiing bully? You also desire that this movie include an entire montage of dancing fast food hallucinations that serve no purpose to the plot? Oh, and you also want the movie to be almost entirely comprised of dialogue like this:

Just go watch Better Off Dead!

There is something fantastic about watching a film that had a basic premise that someone just said, "You know what? Maybe we just need to throw a random scene where someone attempts to get high by snorting fully set Jell-o! Oooh! I know! Let's throw in a fanatical, and possibly psychotic, paperboy who will travel to the ends of the earth for two dollars!"

And that is how 1980's film plots pretty much go.

2. Bad guys in the 1980's were completely ineffective at life.

It always amazed me that villains in 1980's action flicks hired the most incompetent henchmen ever. With all the money they were shelling out to employ these losers, you'd think that requirement number one on the job description would be, "Can hold, load and fire a gun and be able to hit the broad side of Texas."

Your generic 1980's bad-guy underling might as well be given a Supersoaker full of bubbles for all the good they did defending their evil overlords. It constantly confounded me while growing up that the bad guys would face off against the hero, empty countless clips and do nothing more than modify the scenery and possibly trim a topiary. Then the hero would step out and basically blindly fire, like the picture to the right, and every human being in a ten mile radius would hit the dirt.

The only time a hero is actually shot is if it makes him or her look more tough, and half the time I think she or he had to jump in front of a bullet to get it to hit them!

3. People were extremely philanthropic in 1980's movies.

Coolest High School Janitor Ever!
Apparently it was normal in the 1980's for some kindly old janitor  at your high school to take you in, train you in some random martial art and then give you a classic car. At least the kid in Karate Kid didn't seem overly surprised about this.

It is also fairly common for a random old scientist to befriend local teenagers and allow them to play with their extremely expensive technical equipment, even when they blow the living crud out of it. After all, that's basically where the plot to Back to the Future came from.

4. The future was so much cooler in the 1980's than it actually turned out to be.

Speaking of Back to the Future where are my flying cars and hoverboards? Also, I think my lightsaber is long overdue and I haven't even heard hints of magical food packets that we can stick in a machine and magically hot and delicious food will pop out. Come on science, get with it!

5. Heroes didn't have to be complex.

While I enjoy my modern renditions of Batman and Spiderman as much as the next person, I also sometimes enjoy just watching mindless destruction at the sake of saving the world. Why does the world need saving? Umm... reasons?

Let's face it they all had reasons to cause wonton destruction (90% of the time it was revenge), but normally those plot devices were kind of lame.

A drug dealer attacks your buddy? You turn in your license to kill and go wipe out the equivalent of the population of a South American country to get your revenge. You also must make at least one building explode and kill a maniacal mastermind. That's it, that's all you need to be a 1980's action hero. No deep, dark secret, no inner-turmoil or conflict. You just need to know you're the good guy, and they are all bad guys.

6. If someone ever needed to train for something, there was always a band nearby to play awesome workout montage music.

Remember this little gem?

How would Sylvester Stallone have ever survived Mr. T without his theme music?

7. Evil masterminds almost always defeated themselves with monologue.

20 Minutes Later...
"Alright Johnny Goodguy, I have you tied to a chair and completely at the mercy of my amazing array of weaponry. Before I kill you however, I am going to explain every last detail of my nefarious plot, taunt you, read you my college dissertation and then show you a slideshow of evil kittens..."

I wonder how many times the world would have been destroyed or taken over if the evil mastermind had just cut out his ten-minute monologue and just shot the hero without further explanation?

 So, what were all of your favorite things about films in the 1980's?

In other news, thank you everyone who put a bid in at the Washington Chapter of the Modified Dolls' auction for the signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus!" The auction raised quite a bit of money for the Not For Sale Campaign!

As always, I can be found on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some "Jokes" Just Aren't Funny

Hello everyone, I hope you all had splendid weeks full of magic and purring kittens!

Before I delve into tonight's topic I just want to post a quick reminder that the Washington Chapter of the Modified Dollsauction to support the Not For Sale Campaign will be going on until this Saturday. I have entered a signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" into the auction, and there are tons of other awesome items up for grabs. Seriously, check it out here!

I have a few disclaimers before I launch into this particular blog post. First off, I am a humor author, but I am also a social worker and community activist, so while my blog tends to stay on the lighter side of things, I feel that it is important to give a voice to some less than pleasant things on occasion. Second, while I work for the YWCA, the views expressed in this blog are my own, these are not necessarily the views of the organization for which I work. Finally, I wish to issue a trigger warning to anyone sensitive to the topics of rape or domestic violence.

Whew, lots of disclaimers this time around, but you all made it through like champs! I'm writing about this issue because, as a social worker and humor writer who currently resides in Spokane, I can hardly ignore something that is happening literally less than five miles from where I sleep at night.

This past Saturday I stood in out in the "spit goes clink" cold of downtown Spokane amongst protesters holding this sign:

Since my phone is both terrible at being a phone and a camera, you may have to click and enlarge that picture to read it.

Photo Courtesy of The Inlander
What were we protesting? In Spokane a brand new bar opened a couple weeks ago and they posted the drink list to the right online and in their bar.

As you peruse the drink names you might notice one that stands out, particularly because it is both a rather obnoxious color of purple and super-duper offensive. That's right, you read that correctly, "Date Grape Koolaid."

You can now get a thinly veiled rape pun at happy hour prices.

When asked nicely to change the name, the bar's owners not only refused to, but responded by mocking and belittling concerned community members, rape victims and basically anyone else who didn't "get the joke." I'm not going to go too much further into the background of the situation as several national news outlets have already done that for me.

So what's the big deal? It's just a cruddy drink name. Isn't this just another crazy feminist attempt to stop normal people from having fun?

If these were the first questions that popped into your head, you might find what I have to say next a little earth shattering. I hope you'll continue reading, though.

We live in a culture that glorifies rape and violence against women. This is not an opinion, but a fact. I could sit here and prove it to be true, but then this would cease to be blog post length and more like a PhD dissertation. If you need some immediate proof there is this very excellent article on rape culture or you could just go watch Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video (though I don't recommend the latter if you want to have any faith in humanity after the first 30 seconds).

In America it is estimated that sexual assault happens every two minutes. That's over 237,000 instances of sexual assault a year. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of either attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (numbers from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Let me put that into perspective for you: An attempted or completed rape is nearly 7 times more likely to occur to you or someone you know than a fatal car accident (34,080 in 2012), fatal airplane accidents (794 in 2012) and lightning strikes (an average of 51 per year since 2008) combined.

Now here is where the humor writer side of me kicks in. Since starting to protest this issue, my fellow protestors and I have been accused by a plethora of people as having no sense of humor. Apparently, we just don't "get the joke" that creating an alcoholic drink name that sounds like "date rape" provides.

First, I'd like to ask, have you read my book? Because humor is kind of my deal.

So for those people who don't understand why this isn't funny, let me explain humor to you:

There are two muffins in an oven. One muffin turns to the other and says, "Man, it's getting hot in here."

The other muffin yells, "Holy crap, a talking muffin!"

Ok, admittedly not my best work, but you will notice something about my cheesy little joke. It's funny without making fun of a giant issue in our culture that ruins lives and leaves victims feeling defenseless and permanently damaged. Huh, imagine that, one can be funny and not say horrible demeaning things to do it!

Rape is not funny, and it greatly saddens me that I even had to write that phrase. Making jokes about these horrible acts only downplays the emotions and experiences of victims and vindicates perpetrators. After all if it is "just a joke" then what's the big deal?

That is why I spent a Saturday night, bundled up in enough layers to give an onion a run for it's money, holding my sign surrounded by other individuals who do not wish to see a menu that reads the name "Date Grape Koolaid."

However, I must say there are two small positive outcomes that I have seen in this controversy.

1. Thanks to some seriously insensitive bar owners, the topic of rape has been brought to the forefront in my community, which means advocates, such as myself, for victims have a chance to educate the public about a very pervasive problem.

2. I have gotten to see an amazing outpouring of support in my community over this issue. The night I went to protest there were over 50 people there. Three other local businesses actually bought the protesters coffee so that we didn't completely freeze. The fact that so many people have decided to call this business out on their abominable behavior gives me little shreds of hope for civilization.

I can only hope that rape is taken off the menu in my city soon.

As always, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Some Days I Feel Like an Animal in the Zoo

Well hello all of my weekday warriors! I'm hoping you all survived the week with relatively few harmful hijinks!

I have just a quick announcement before we get into the meat of this week's post. The Washington Chapter of the Modified Dolls is holding an auction to benefit the Not for Sale Campaign.

The Not for Sale Campaign helps bring awareness to the subject of human trafficking and helps victims of modern-day slavery. The Modified Dolls is a national organization of tattooed women who get together to support worthy causes. So basically, they combine two of my favorite things, altruism with body art!

I have entered a signed copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" into the auction. If you want to enter the bidding click here.

I would also encourage you to check out the other items in the auction, there are some pretty sweet items up for the bidding there and all the proceeds are going to help end human trafficking.

You know those jobs that kids dream about getting when they grow up? Bill Naylor actually got one of those jobs: he has spent much of his life as a zoo keeper.

Not only did Bill spend many years surrounded by exotic animals, he also wrote material for several comedians. So what step can one take after such a varied and prolific career? He decided to write a book. Lucky for you and I, he also agreed to an interview!

Have you ever wondered, could my job get any worse? Bill Naylor's "Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper" pretty much answers that question for you, and the answer is, "Yes, it really, really can."

From being attacked by an amorous duck to explaining the dangers of the cassowary (yes, I had to Google what that was too), Naylor presents a world unfamiliar to most of us as he explains parts of his life as a zookeeper. With pearls of wisdom such as, "...he who hesitates gets bitten," this book flows from one hilarious story to the next. With stories that prove that truth is by far funnier than fiction, "Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper" is sure to make even the most austere person grin.

Here is an interview with author Bill Naylor.

1. How did you get into comedy writing?

I basically rang up producers of TV shows threatening to jump off something high if they didn’t read my scripts. The first joke I sold wasn’t even spoken, it was flashed up on screen. "Wailing Wall for sale, only one previous moaner!” 

2. You've written material for several comedians, which one was your favorite to write for?

I wrote for over a hundred comedians and comedy shows, mainly British, over a twenty year period. So it’s hard to choose one. Les Dawson, Russ Abbot, The Two Ronnies, are ones that stand out. The worse comedy actor I wrote for didn’t know funny from a migraine. When I told him my gag, "never play darts with a guy who has a bald head, he just won’t stick in the board," he said, “Nobody  plays darts with a guy who has a bald head, you use darts.” 

3. Of all the animals in the zoo, which was your absolute least favorite and why?

That would be a toss up between a hairy nosed wombat and a hippo. The hippo because they weigh two tons and are mega poop machines. They have a tail shaped like a like a toilet brush and scatter you know what everywhere. In an African river it’s not noticable. But in a zoo? Hippo keepers are equipped with spiked boots and ice axes as every hour they are confronted with a mountain range of  poop.  

The Hairy Nosed Wombat (A.K.A. Houdini)
The other animal I disliked was a  hairy nosed wombat, because I never ever saw the charming animal I looked after. He regularly tunneled out of his enclosure and went  wombat walkabout, The sign on his cage read, “On Tour." He’d usually tunnel into other animals enclosures.  Consequently we had to leave extra food in all the other animal enclosures for HNW. He also had the irritating habit of digging a new tunnel every time he vacated an enclosure. So the zoo section I was responsible for looked like a building site.
4. How on the earth did you end up a zookeeper, and how long were you employed as one? 

Had loads of pets, waifs and strays and exotic animals as a boy. “That bloody menagerie,” my dad called it. Started at Chester Zoo England aged sixteen, worked in zoos and wildlife parks around the world till I was fifty something. But also had a parallel career as a writer. Wrote articles on wildlife, which I still do. Have sold short stories, and comedy scripts from the age of thirty.    

5. At what point, during your rather tumultuous career, did you stop and say, "I really need to start writing some of this stuff down?"

I always have written ideas down. But realised a few years back, that during my time in zoos I had worked with some strange, bizarre and scary creatures. Mostly humans. So I started to put some stories together. 

6. If you could choose a comedian (not including those you wrote for) to go bowling with, whom would you choose?

My favourite English comedian is Michael Mcintyre. But I’d like to go bowling with a young Jerry Lewis. because in the “Nutty professor” he went down the bowling lane with his finger stuck in the ball, and I’d like to see him do that again. 

7. Are you planning on following up "Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper" with another book?

 I've had a few ideas in the pipeline, and people are keen for “More Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper." I haven't as yet decided.

If you are interested in "Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper" you can check it out on Amazon!

As always, feel free to check out my exploits on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It Takes a Community...

Hello all! I hope you all survived your respective weeks with finesse and grace.

In contrast, I spent much of my week pretty much doing this:

Before I jump in to why I might as well have been IV injecting caffeine, I should probably announce the results of the latest contest.

Thank you everyone who voted for "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus" to win a People's Choice Award. Sadly, I did not win, but I was the runner up with 93 votes because my readers are rad! Our t-shirt winner was Lauren Schmitt-Boyd! Wear your platypus with pride, Lauren!

 I also, finally, have the results from the November and December book drive to benefit the YWCA! Thank you to everyone who bought a copy of "Life is a Circus Run by a Platypus", you raised around $100 that will go to help support women and men who suffer from homelessness, domestic violence and other life-barriers! Thank you! 

I realize that on this blog I tend to stay on the lighter side of life, however, we must all admit that life is not always peaches and cream.

My day job, when I'm not driving my coworkers insane, is working with those that society has mostly forgotten. I work with those who are homeless, women and men who face domestic violence, ex-convicts, street kids, people with active warrants, veterans, drug addicts, those with untreated mental diagnosis, sometimes people who smell like excrement and people who have struggles in their lives bigger than they are.

I am a social worker.

This post is not to get on any platform or start some political argument based around who does and does not deserve help. Though, honestly, if anyone is going to have a judgmental attitude about those I serve, please keep in mind I've always wanted to try this:

I bring up my vocation because of what I was a part of this week. Every year in Spokane, or for the past three years, The Homeless Coalition has held an event called The Homeless Connect. The event is basically a one-stop-shop for social services.

Why might that be important? Ok, imagine, if you will that you are homeless and your main form of transportation is your feet. Now imagine that in one day's time you have to go set up an appointment to see if you qualify for housing, then travel six miles to see if you can get on a computer at the local labor office so you can check to see if your resume has been accepted by any companies, then you must walk another four miles to find the nearest place that is serving lunch, then you must walk another five miles to see if you can get on a list to stay in a shelter (because, after all, if you don't get your name in early, you won't get a bed)...

If you want to survive, there is no such thing as being homeless and lazy.

The average homeless person will walk upwards of ten to fifteen miles a day to receive basic services. The Homeless Connect, for one day a year, unites as many agencies as we can get in one location changing that ten to fifteen miles into the distance of one gymnasium.

I was on the planning committee for this event, which took months and months of tired looking social workers gathering around a table and saying things like, "Does anyone have any idea who actually said they would show up this year?"

 Well, as it turns out, over 40 agencies showed up. We had veterans services, DSHS, domestic violence services, a free medical clinic, a group that came to fix homeless peoples' bikes for free, mental health services and representatives from the school districts. We even had a group of cosmetology students come and volunteer to give free haircuts to people, some of which hadn't been able to get a haircut in years.

The event fed over 200 people and gave them a warm place to be for a day with wraparound services at their fingertips.

I spent all day on my feet, running about like I had weasels in my pants, but could not have been happier with the results. So much good was done mostly because of the community members who showed up to help.

I truly appreciate all of the social workers, agencies, volunteers and people who donated food and money to get this event off of the ground. You've probably heard that old phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child," but just as true, "It takes a community to help people out of homelessness."

That is what I want this blog post to be about, a moment to realize the difference that communities can make to the downtrodden in our society. In a time of rapidly shrinking resources in the world of social work, it is more important than ever that communities come together in meaningful ways to help the forgotten.

Probably one of the best moments of the entire whirlwind event was when a little old man wandered up to a service provider and said, "Thanks for not making me feel all alone."

My little one-line eavesdrop reminded me a of a poem written by my friend B.S. Johnson, which I have put, with her permission, below:


Sometimes I feel like I'm in this world alone,
All I seem to do is wander and roam.
Feelings from deep down inside my soul,
Surround my heart, my mind and don't let go.

Help me someone; don't let me fall too far,
Had my chance, missed my falling star.
Fear in my heart, gripping my throat,
Sinking quickly in this boat.

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to help the homeless and downtrodden in their communities feel less alone in their struggles.

As always, feel free to check out my daily adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads!