642 Things – 89: The toy you most treasured

I actually wrote a chapter about this in my second book, The Coconut Monkey Horror. So I’m going to go ahead and just re-use that chapter here.

Perhaps it was a little cruel of me to start my first book like I did. Let’s face it, The Sock Story does not paint my mother in the best light, and the chapter about my Dad, although it came from a place of love, was not a loving testament like he received earlier in this book. And that’s really unfair, because my parents are pretty amazing people.

When I did community theater, or played sports as a child, I knew for certain my parents would be in the crowd every single time. Those poor people sat through every play I was in about a dozen times each. When I had farfetched dreams or goals, they always supported me, and never tried to get me to dream smaller. I’ve used this line many times, but I think it’s the truest representation of my parents I can provide. If tomorrow, at the young age of 32 years old, I went to my parents and announced that after much soul searching, I had decided that my true life ambition was to be an astronaut, they’d buy me a space suit for Christmas.

I’ve always loved and respected my parents. They’ve always loved and supported me. Far beyond what was called for. My parents would have been well within their rights to cut me off completely at 18. They’re job was done, legally I was an adult. But they helped me with college, and car insurance, and little things here and there. They let me move back in with them when I was pursuing my film career. They even sat me down and encouraged me to write my first book.

All pretty impressive stuff, especially when you consider that I was adopted. That’s probably the reason why I’ve never in my life wanted to say “you’re not my real parents!” in a fit of anger. Because they are my real parents. My mother couldn’t have kids, but clearly she and my father had so much love to give that they went out HUNTING for recipients of that love. And I’m glad they did.

I grew up assuming everybody loved their parents as much as I did. That’s human nature isn’t it? We all grow up assuming our lives are normal. But as an adult I find that most of my friends have an indifferent relationship with their parents, at best. Some of them flat out dislike their folks. One friend, we’re gonna call her Monica, recently told me that her father was coming in from out of state to visit her. She made this announcement the same way you’d announce that you just found out you had terminal cancer. Even my closest friend, The Princess, famously said to me “That’s right, I keep forgetting you actually LIKE your parents.”

To attempt to balance the scales of the hard time my parents received in the first book, I’m going to share an embarrassing tale from my childhood. I was probably 4 or 5 years old. My parents had adopted me at the age of 2. I was their first child….and this is what they were stuck with. I share these details because I really want you to see my parents NOT from the eyes of the little child in the forthcoming story, but through your own. As a child what they did felt perfectly normal to me, as an adult I can see it as another testament to what great parents they really are.

At the time our story begins, I have a favourite toy. It’s a large stuffed Fievel, from An American Tail. He’s about the size of a really large teddy bear, and perfectly soft. He was ideal for snuggling, which I liked to do when I was sleepy. I can’t even recall where he came from. He was either a gift from my parents, or from my grandmother. Either way, he was loved.

One thing I’ve never been good at is getting rid of things. I’m a bit of a hoarder. I don’t mean I keep stacks of old newspaper and garbage, but I just can’t seem to get rid of anything I ever had an emotional attachment to, even if that attachment is ancient history. My mother on the other hand, LOVES giving stuff to charity, old clothes, old toys, what have you.

This was my very first encounter with this whole charity giving thing (tragically not my last, but still the only one really worthy of a chapter). My mother explained to me that she wanted me to give up some of my old toys for little boys and girls who didn’t have any toys. So moved was I by the plight of these children, who didn’t have all the wonderful toys that I had, that I did something very very stupid. I decided not to simply give them my old toys, these poor children deserved something better than that. They deserved the best. They deserved…my favourite toy.

Sigh.

In my memory it feels like only hours later, but was probably in fact a day or two, when I realized what a horrible thing I’d done. I’d just given away my most beloved toy. That meant, shockingly, that I didn’t have it anymore.

I went ballistic.

There was crying, wailing, and a gnashing of teeth. The only thing I wanted IN THE WORLD, the only thing that could sooth my soul, was my Fievel back. I could not be reasoned with, not one little bit.

This is where my parents donned their capes and swooped into action. My mother actually called up the charity in question and tried to get my toy back. I repeat, my mother tried to get a toy back from poor children who had no toys. Other children be damned, her son wanted his toy back. Sadly the toy had already been taken (those kids knew quality when they saw it.) Now it was Dad’s turn.

My father scoured several stores trying to track down a new Fievel toy, but they simply didn’t have it anymore. Finally, at the last store, he thought he had found his salvation. Fievel had a new movie out, and so had a new toy out. Hoping it would suffice, he bought it for me.

It wasn’t what I wanted. The new Fievel was much smaller, and he wasn’t soft at all. You couldn’t cuddle with him, and I thought his new western clothing looked stupid. Still, even as a kid I realized this particular cause was lost. My toy was gone forever.

My parent’s valiant efforts were sufficient to pierce my childish cloud of self-absorption that I think all kids have. This wasn’t the toy I wanted, but I know that they tried so hard. And let’s be honest, I’d given that toy away of my own free will. They had nothing to do with it. My mother may have even asked me if I was sure I wanted to do it.

I took away three important lessons that day.

1) You can’t always change your mind later, some choices are for keeps.

2) My parents loved me very very much.

3) I should never EVER give away ANYTHING.

Every now and again, I go to ebay and consider buying myself another Fievel, just for that little child inside of me who gave away his favourite toy. They have them, they only cost around $20, I could easily buy back a sad moment of my childhood. But I never have, because some choices are for keeps.

The takeaway here isn’t that I gave away my toy though. It’s the amount of effort my new parents went through to try and make me happy again. I mean honestly. It’s easy to picture loving parents sitting me down and explaining how it was gone, and how I should be more careful in the future, and then buy me ice cream. It’s also easy to picture parents shouting “stop you’re crying, it’s just a toy, get over it!”

My parents instead did everything they could to help me get it back. Now, you may want to say that meant I was a spoiled brat, but if you look back just a couple of paragraphs, I clearly learned a lot from this scenario.

This is just one of countless tales of my parents going above and beyond the call of duty, because that’s just how they’ve always been. When I actually became an adult, and realized how extraordinary my parents had always been, I dedicated myself to the idea that I should try and be at least as good a son. I don’t think I always succeed, but I damned well try.

One last thought. I know for a fact, if I asked them to, even this many years later, they’d happily buy me that Fievel toy on ebay. They probably wouldn’t even roll their eyes when they did it. They’d go ahead and purchase a stuffed toy for their 32 year old son. That’s just the kind of parents they are. The ridiculous kind.

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642 Things – 88: Three objects in your childhood bedroom.

1. Red bricks – ok, not actual red bricks. It was a set of small rectangular cardboard boxes painted to look like bricks, and you could build structures out of them. About as simple as a toy could be, but I recall hours of fun with them as a child, not the least of which was building small structures and training our dog to leap over them.

2. A Marble Run – I don’t know how many of you guys had these as kids. It’s basically a large collection of weird plastic shapes that can all fit together in dozens of different ways, and then you can watch marbles travel from the top to the bottom of your creation. Again, endless fun.

3. A Transformer – In case you haven’t noticed, I had a happy childhood, and because of that I occasionally get it into my head to track down things from my childhood. I’ve occasionally re-read books from middle school, or hunted down a movie I had seen once, and I still hold Earthbound up as the gold standard of video games. I tell you all of this so that you understand what I’m talking about when I say that I have never been able to find this Transformer since. I don’t even know what his name was. He was a red Transformer, and he turned into…sort of like an SUV. He looked vaugely like the SUV that we had at the time. I know it wasn’t Optimus Prime, because he turned into an 18 Wheeler, this was nowhere near that impressive. His fists we detachable, and he had some kind of walking mechanism, which was mainly him rocking back and forth.

Having learned from the Fievel Fiasco, which you’ll read about tomorrow, my parents made it a habit of quietly sneaking out my toys when they thought I wouldn’t notice. Toys that they thought I’d never touch again, and they wouldn’t tell me they were doing it, because even then if I did notice a missing toy, the could claim that I must have lost it somewhere. I know this because I caught them TWICE trying to get rid of this Transformer…but the third time they succeeded, because here I am a full grown man and I have no idea where my Transformer is. I’d still be really curious as to his name though, I’ve never seen one like it since, even Google Image Search lets me down.

So there you go, three things that stick in my memory from my childhood bedroom….and since all 3 are toys, let’s do a bonus 4th.

4 – Along the walls of my bedroom was a starscape. It was just a banner that ran the entire length all the walls in the room, maybe 3 or 4 inches tall, of various planets and stars. Yeah, I remember that.
 

 

 

 

 

Unlike my two books (“The Great Platypus Caper” and “The Coconut Monkey Horror”) I can not promise that each entry in my 642 things to write about series will be true stories drawn from my life, I’ll leave the amount of truth in each entry up to your imagination.
Want to stretch your writing muscles as well? Post your response to the writing prompt in the comments section. I’d love to see it.

642 Things – 87: A powerful Hollywood agent’s personal to-do list

Try to get studio to greenlight needless sequel.
Arrange for a pretend relationship between my C list celebrity and my fellow agents’ A list celebrity
Get the D-listers to wash my car again.
Try and find an indie film I can cram my oldest star into, bring back his career
Get out of bed (this one is optional)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike my two books (“The Great Platypus Caper” and “The Coconut Monkey Horror”) I can not promise that each entry in my 642 things to write about series will be true stories drawn from my life, I’ll leave the amount of truth in each entry up to your imagination.
Want to stretch your writing muscles as well? Post your response to the writing prompt in the comments section. I’d love to see it.

642 Things – 86: The general manager of the New York Yankees’ personal to-do list

(Oh God, ummm…)
Watch the winning teams, what are they doing that we aren’t?
Hire new team members
Rotate out the coaches ever 4,000 miles
Spend 2 hours in a sensory deprivation tank
Trim my toenails

 

 

Unlike my two books (“The Great Platypus Caper” and “The Coconut Monkey Horror”) I can not promise that each entry in my 642 things to write about series will be true stories drawn from my life, I’ll leave the amount of truth in each entry up to your imagination.
Want to stretch your writing muscles as well? Post your response to the writing prompt in the comments section. I’d love to see it.

 

 

 

642 Things – 85: The president’s personal to-do list

(Well, this one’s gonna get a bit political, I know it’s not my style, but they specifically asked for it)
Skip morning briefings to watch Fox News
Track down reporters talking about my small hands and tweet about their families
Call anyone who says anything negative about me FAKE, because anything negative about me must be fake, I’m the best.
Tell Spicer to inform that press that I’m actually the first legitimate president we’ve ever had. This is totally historically accurate.
Hope that finally someone catches on that my entire presidency is a brilliant performance piece about the dangers of celebrity politics.

 

 

 

Unlike my two books (“The Great Platypus Caper” and “The Coconut Monkey Horror”) I can not promise that each entry in my 642 things to write about series will be true stories drawn from my life, I’ll leave the amount of truth in each entry up to your imagination.
Want to stretch your writing muscles as well? Post your response to the writing prompt in the comments section. I’d love to see it.

 

642 Things – 84: Write a scene in which a person is leaving a restaurant with her husband and bumps into a former lover. What words are exchanged or not exchanged? What do her body positions say?

As Jennifer walked out of the restaurant with her husband, she saw James walking in.

Jennifer’s Mind: Oh God, please don’t see me.
Jennifer’s Body: Make yourself small, hide behind your husband.
James: Oh! Hey Jennifer!
Jennifer’s Body: Quick, stand up straight, try and look desirable!
Jennifer’s Mind: Well, I guess we’re doing this.
Jennifer’s Mouth: Oh, hey James, long time no see.
Jennifer’s Mind: Yeah, it’s been 4 years and 6 months since you dumped me for my best friend.
James: Yeah, how are you doing?
Jennifer’s Mind: Be positive, not being with him was the best thing that could happen!
Jennifer’s Body: Grab the husband, use the husband.
Jennifer’s Mind: Yes, the husband is MUCH better looking than the Ex, point out the husband.
Jennifer’s Mouth: Oh, I’m doing great, I don’t think you’ve met my husband Ryan.
Jennifer’s Body: Nudge the husband forward.
Jennifer’s Mind: Come on hubby, shake the hand, be superior to this guy.
Ryan: Hey, good to meet you!
Ryan’s Body: Crushing grip. Must make myself look big to intimidate potential threat.
James: Oh hey, good to meet you.
James’ Body: Ouch my hand.
James’ Mind: Oh good, he see’s me as a threat. Yeah, I could totally still have her if I wanted. She looks good…maybe I should renew our friendship…keep that door open.
James: Hey listen, I’ve got to run now, but we should grab coffee sometime, you know, catch-up.
James’ Mind: Don’t bring the gorilla though.
James: Ryan, you’re welcome to come as well.
Jennifer’s Mind: He wants me back. Now I can have my revenge, lead him on, and then SHUT HIM DOWN like he did me.
Jennifer’s Body: You know you still want all this.
Ryan’s Mind: No way am I letting this guy alone with my wife.
Ryan: Sure, that sounds fun.
Jennifer’s Mind: Now I just have to find a way to meet for coffee without the husband.
Jennifer’s Body: Grab the husband’s arm, flash some cleavage, just a hint.
James’ Mind: This guy is big, better end this quick.
James’ Body: Walk away, wave
James: I’ll give you a call later, we’ll set something up.
Jennifer’s Mind: This is gonna be fun.
Ryan’s Mind: I’m gonna kill that guy.
Jennifer’s Body: Hint of a smile, quick, almost secretive wave, make him think he can have you.
Jennifer: Sure, I’ll talk to you later.

 

 

 

 

Unlike my two books (“The Great Platypus Caper” and “The Coconut Monkey Horror”) I can not promise that each entry in my 642 things to write about series will be true stories drawn from my life, I’ll leave the amount of truth in each entry up to your imagination.
Want to stretch your writing muscles as well? Post your response to the writing prompt in the comments section. I’d love to see it.

642 Things – 83: Write a scene that begins: “It was the first time I killed a man.”

It was the first time I killed a man, but let’s be honest, it’s not like I had another choice. I was minding my business, content to simply go about my new life. He’s the one who had to come flying out of my past to disrupt my present.

For the last 16 years I’d been Mike James, and I loved it. Mike is a simply guy, a guy of small pleasures and no pressures. He works as an auto mechanic, makes decent money, goes to the occasional happy hour with his coworkers, and has a pretty nice little apartment. I love being Mike.

I’d spent the first 30 years of my life being Anthony Howard…and I didn’t enjoy it at all. My family had money. Not CRAZY money, but money. If we’d had more money, maybe things would have been a bit different, I could have been raised as the idle rich, but no, it was expected that I would work my butt off on behalf of the family to continue to raise our income. We had an image to maintain, and it was my job to help maintain it.

I had my first ulcer at 23.

At no point in my life do I remember anybody ever asking what I wanted to be when I grew up, they wouldn’t have cared anyway. My destiny was spoken for, I would go into business. When I went to college I was overwhelmed by all the options suddenly available to me….well…I say “available”…. I was overwhelmed by all the choices everyone else was getting to make. I once met a girl who was majoring in History. HISTORY! This charming young lady had decided to dedicate her life to studying the past, and nobody was going to stop her.

I hope nobody stopped her.

But my path was spoken for. I got my MBA, with as few extra-circulars as I could manage, heaven forbid I get a broader education, I might find something I wanted to do. And I began my job working for the family business.

Would you believe my family even picked my wife for me? Nice enough girl I suppose, but we always felt like two strangers forced to share a house. A kid didn’t fix that. Nothing could fix that.

And then came September 11th. Now I know it was a national tragedy, really, so many innocent people died that day, but at least one life was created that day, the life of Mike James.

I was supposed to be in the first tower early that morning, but I wasn’t. In a rare bout of insanity I decided to just show up late, I would grab a sandwich downtown, have some coffee, read a paper. I had decided that for 2 hours this day I would do whatever I wanted, and just be another face in the crowd.

And then IT happened.

It didn’t occur to me right away, no, what kind of madman would I have to be where this was my first thought? But eventually it occurred to me that everyone I knew would assume I was in that building, right where I was supposed to be. And I could go anywhere else, and BE anyone else.

I found myself a nice little small town in the middle of nowhere, found an old auto-shop in need of a helping hand, and BAM! Mike James was born.

16 years of doing just as I darn well pleased. It wasn’t a fancy life, but it didn’t need to be, I’d had fancy, I was ready for something smaller. I was aiming for contentment, and I landed smack dab in the middle of it.

And then Carl showed up. Of all the small towns for him to cut through on his little business trips. Of all the places for his car to break down. I had hoped at first he wouldn’t recognize me, but he did. I could tell as the blood drained from his face.

My cousin Carl had just seen a ghost, and it was me.

Luckily I was alone in the shop at the time, before he could say anything, before he could pull out his phone and ruin my world, I was on him. Mechanics have access to some pretty heavy wrenches, and his head caved in with a soft sound.

Then I just crammed him in his own trunk, fixed his car, and waited until night time when I could drive it into Lake Camapek. Sure, they’d probably find his car quick enough, but if I was lucky the water would wash away any evidence. Besides, even if it doesn’t, all the evidence will do is point to a man who died 16 years ago.

It was the first time I had killed a man, but it was surprisingly easy…hmmmm……

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike my two books (“The Great Platypus Caper” and “The Coconut Monkey Horror”) I can not promise that each entry in my 642 things to write about series will be true stories drawn from my life, I’ll leave the amount of truth in each entry up to your imagination.
Want to stretch your writing muscles as well? Post your response to the writing prompt in the comments section. I’d love to see it.