Thursday, March 30, 2006

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

This blog was launched a little over a year ago, but the Rocky Road Scholar started writing long before that. About 25 years ago, the bug to "report news" bit me hard.

We had just moved from north Florida to Bismarck, N.D. It was quite the change in scenery. Many of my new friends had newspaper routes. Delivering the paper just didn't do it for me. I longed to be on a different side of the business. I was more interested in the content.

Unfortunately, at the time, news and other current events didn't measure up to the action happening inside Rocky's residence. There was much better news at home, and I was just the kid to report it.

My Mom and Dad had an old typewriter and a copy machine in their home office, so printing would not be an issue. It was just a matter of writing the copy. Granted, I didn't churn out enough to fill the New York Times. I wrote just enough to fill one standard 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, which I named Rocky's Record. But it was loaded with good stuff.

Initially, my newspaper started to take a tabloid slant. It was mainly a bunch of gossip about my sister, Bubbles, who was 16 at the time. It was the perfect vehicle to continue picking on her, a little brother's duty. I mainly focused on who she was rumored to be dating, what she was wearing, what she ate and other juicy tidbits, ala The National Enquirer or The Star.

I tested the waters with Bubbles Sleeps Until Noon Again. That went over OK, so I tried Ditzy Bubbles Loses Scrabble Game to Sixth-Grader Brother next, before rolling the presses with Bubbles' Room Declared Disaster Area.

Eventually, I became an even bolder reporter, daring to tell the story: Shuttle Astronauts Report Seeing Zit on Bubbles' Face From Space. It read: "Yes, the zit was as big as Mt. St. Helens and every bit as unstable. But Bubbles has been working extra hard to try and contain the disaster, trying to pop it with a tweezers. Word on the street is, as soon as Dad gets home, he's going to help her take care of business with a vice grip, a hammer and a large chisel."

I even branched out on this story and was a photographer as well. I took a snap shot with a Polaroid Instant camera of her trying to pop it in the bathroom mirror. She went all Sean Penn on my ass, trying to inflict damage on her paparazzi brother, the camera and the fresh polaroid. The story still ran.

Eventually, I took on even bigger news stories, like Welcome to Dumpsville: Population, Bubbles.

It read: "Bubbles and Steve broke up four nights ago, but she's still laying in bed blubbering about it. He was a jerk. Get over it. When she isn't in bed bawling over this loser, she comes upstairs to have a snack, which usually consists of 4 donuts, 2 bananas, 2 Eggo waffles and about 7 glasses of orange juice. How long will it take for her to get over this? We're not sure, but it's no biggie. It's not like she's an old maid now."

You'd think this kind of edgey journalism would have led to death threats, but Bubbles would always laugh it off in the end. Until she heard I was selling copies of my paper to neighbors for 25 cents. Then she was pissed. But she forgave me again a while later and laughed about it.

Mom and Dad thought although it was a little mean at times, it was a major creative outlet for me. Maybe I reminded them of Peter "Scoop" Brady with my newspaper reporter fixation. I could have been a far worse brother, spraying Bubbles and her friends' with some goofy volcanic science experiment. But even Mom and Dad reached a point where no news was good news.

Like the day they were engaged in kitchen combat. Unfortunately, an embedded reporter was at the snack bar, eating pizza. He took notes on a napkin and it became his Pulitzer Prize hopeful story Stove Off But Kitchen Heats Up.

It read: "Dad took Mom's questions of why he was late for lunch as "nagging." As the tension grew, barbs were traded until Dad finally bellered 'Ah, blow it out your big ass!' Mom was lightning quick with her response: 'Oh, yeah? My ass isn't half as big as yours, buddy!'"

After Bubbles and I laughed about this fight for 20 minutes, I realized this was my Woodward and Bernstein moment. I had to get cracking on that cover story. Needless to say, those quotes were a huge hit with the neighbors. I sold a record number of Rocky's Record that day - 13 copies. It proved to be an unlucky number.

One of the copies came back to Mom and I quickly learned about censorship. She flipped when she found out I sold a play-by-play of her and Dad's kitchen spat to the whole neighborhood for $3.25. Rocky's Record was immediately shut down.

Mom and Dad laugh about all that now. And they actually enjoy my blog. So no worries of Rocky Road Scholar getting its plug pulled after this trip down Memory Lane.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good Year of Blogging Did Not Tire Me

Time certainly does fly when you're having fun.

I can't believe it, but today marks the one-year anniversary since I started my blog. Here I am 60 posts and almost 18,000 hits later, in complete awe how this project has exceeded my wildest expectations.

When I initially started this blog, it gave me a creative outlet for my writing. My goal in a story has always been to entertain, and hopefully make people laugh. It also gave my family and friends a place to read my work whenever they wanted to.

I have to thank my better half, The Rockette, for encouraging me to start the blog and share my attempts at humor. She is incredibly supportive of everything I do, and every story I write is a little bit better thanks to her encouragement, suggestion(s), and/or editing.

What I didn't expect from the blog was to attract many other regular readers. By that I don't mean readers with a high-fiber intake, I mean readers who enjoy my stuff and come back for more. I simply can not convey what a truly rewarding yet humbling experience that has been for me, seeing familiar names reading my stories and many times even commenting.

I'm trying not to make this sound like an Oscar-winning speech, but I just can't help it. I've "won" an audience, a far better award than a golden trophy of some anatomically incorrect dude. However, I am very close to blubbering "You like me, you really like me!"

I really want to thank each and every reader for inspiring me to write better: JudiBootie, Spammy, FuzzBox, Ella, JohnB, Watcher, David Amulet, Stringman, WarCryGirl, T, Nicole, DanjerusKurves, Crazy Dan, Phoenix, Alekx, CT, Marti, Amy, Meg, Lingo Slinger, Ranea, Burfica, Anelize, Curare_Z, DebbieCakes, Janey, Kimberly, Rev. Billy Bob, PhlegmFatale, TJoint, Shaken Not Stirred, LadyBug, Haddock, Helen, Kip, AKA Fatty, Kevin, Empress, PDX Biker, Metal Mark, Polly & Deiter, Andria, Gary, Samantha Burns, Sudiegirl, Rainstorms, Phred, Ann, and Tina. If I inadvertently left you off of the list, it was purely unintentional (give me a swift kick in the butt and I will revise it).

Also, a special hats off to these gentlemen at MNspeak: Rex for listing my blog and exposing it to Minnesota and other area bloggers, and Matt for selecting my polar bear story for a local news link March 9. That was too cool.

My hope is that this blog will help me launch a writing career someday. It has been my dream since I was a kid to write books that make people laugh. In my 20s, I worked as a reporter for newspapers. It was fun, but it didn't fill the bill creatively that this blog has. Rocky Road Scholar has literally given me free reign to write about whatever I want, however I want with no censorship. It is about as free as a writer can be.

I've selected 10 posts which I got the biggest kick out of writing. I would ask for a favor: Input from readers. Which post is your favorite? Give them a read and let me know by voting via comment (or email me if you wish to vote anonymously) which was my best work.

Which post would be the runner-up? (The runner-up post would assume the crown if the favorite post was somehow lost in a freak Blogger mishap or home computer crash, etc.) If I left a story off the list that you think belongs there, by all means vote for it anyway.

Here's the list...

You're Excommunicated! - from March 25, 2005
Scent of a One-Armed Woman - from April 3, 2005
Feeding Frenzy - From August 14, 2005
Who's The Cheesiest of Them All? - From August 30, 2005
Just Plain Nuts - From September 21, 2005
Viking Ship Turns Into Love Boat - From October 16, 2005
Bizarre Bazaar - From November 11, 2005
Brokeback Burrito Line - From January 6, 2006
The Fat Is In The Fire - From January 11, 2006
Buckle It Or White-Knuckle It - From February 12, 2006

UPDATE - Thanks to everyone who voted and commented. Brokeback Burrito Line was the clear favorite with 13 first-place votes. Just Plain Nuts and Buckle It Or White-Knuckle It were the top runner-up choices.

On Thursday, I will post a historical look at my first attempts at writing my own newspaper at the age of 11. I suppose you could call those efforts the "grandfather" of this blog.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My Post-Whammy Plan

I was bummed to hear that Press Your Luck game show host Peter Tomarken died in a plane crash earlier this week. Yes, he had big bucks, big bucks, but in the end, even he could not avoid The Whammy.

The Rockette and I heard the news while we were looking for some important documents. Then it hit us. Although our home looks clean on the surface, it's about as organized as a landfill once you start digging deeper. We just don't have a lot of our things in order.

This mess, Tomarken's accidental death and Kirby Puckett's passing at age 45 last week led The Rockette to say "If something happened to one of us, the other person would be totally screwed." She didn't just mean from losing a soulmate, but that the survivor would also have to sift through thousands of papers just to figure out what the hell was going on. That's not the type of burden you want to put on your spouse during a mourning period.

During this discussion, another uncomfortable topic arose. We had never really told each other about our preferred funeral arrangements should the unthinkable happen. Granted, I'm only 36 and she's only 33, but you just never know. It was a sad, dark, but necessary thing to discuss.

After The Rockette disclosed her "last wishes," I thought it was necessary to lighten the mood for a little while. It's tough for me to see her sad. I've been a goofball my whole life and have always turned to humor to brighten up any moment. I also like giving The Rockette a hard time for fun, so I figured it was time to do some macabre multi-tasking.

Here were my top 10 funeral ideas to try and get The Rockette smiling again...

#10 – Buy an empty lot somewhere and bury me on it. A few years later, remove my headstone and build a new house on my grave, then sell it to some unsuspecting family. This will enable me to go totally Poltergeist on their asses. Only a creepy midget lady telling me to go to the light would cleanse the house of my spirit.

#9 - Plant my body near my scumbag former boss' house and make it look like a clumsy homicide with all evidence pointing directly back at him. Even better, somehow get my body inside the trunk of one of his cars. Then make an “anonymous” tip.

#8 - Do a bottom's up open casket, meaning I want my body to be placed face down. The top part of the casket should be left closed but the bottom half should be open. My pants should be around my ankles, enabling my moon to shine for the open viewing. Anyone who didn't think I was a smart ass in life would get the picture now.

#7 - Have my best friend Spam and some lucky blog reader whisk my corpse off to some tropical isle and then masquerade as if I am still alive ala Weekend at Bernie's. I'm sure it would be much funnier watching Spam and one of my blog readers trying to drag my dead ass around than that movie was.

#6 – Put me in a suitcase and go to the airport. Talk about overpacking! Find someone with an identical bag and switch them. Then buy a ticket for their flight so you can watch them try to stuff me in the overhead compartment.

#5 – How about an Old West theme? First find a funeral home that still sells those old “pine box” coffins. You may have to go to western South Dakota for this, but I assure you it will be well worth it.

Dress me in country western clothes, preferably all in black. Then have a makeup artist fashion a fake bullet hole in my forehead (unless I happen to die in such fashion, then just leave as is). Create wanted posters featuring my face and a “reward” offer.

Then have funeral-goers pose with my standing corpse like they did in the Old West, taking pictures with one of those exploding flashbulb cameras of the era. Serve Tombstone pizza and invite Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, and Sam Elliott.

#4 - Babble some bullshit to Amy Grant how it was always my dream to climb Mount Everest and how you want to make that last wish come true for me. Then find some little Sherpa to try and drag my 335-pound dead ass up the mountain (no yak assistance allowed).

If he actually makes it, by all means, have him pitch my carcass next to the hundreds of oxygen tanks discarded there.

#3 – Donate my body to science. Make sure to film a videotape of my autopsy. My naked body would make more cops faint than the opening of Quincy when that sheet got pulled back in the morgue. Then Quincy would crack over when he sees my liver was bigger than Ruben Studdard.

#2 – Offer me for sale as emergency rations to any survivors from that Chilean soccer team that had co-pilot leftovers for 3 months in the Antilles. I've got way more quality meat, probably 175 pounds field dressed. I’m sure I would have great ribs, a tender rump roast and bitchin' drumsticks.

#1 - Some people are getting cremated into yellow diamonds as a keepsake for loved ones. Imagine the gargantuan rock my wife would have on her finger after my cremation! It would be way bigger than the ring Kobe gave his wife to smooth over that whole rapist thing.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Grin and Bear It

I was minding my own business, sitting on a bench in the Mall of America waiting for my wife to finish up some shopping when it appeared. I hadn't seen something that big, white and hairy since Christmas.

"Hey, you," the man, probably 400 pounds, grunted as he staggered up to the bench. "Is there enough room left on that seat for a big ol' polar bear?"

"Sure," I said, sliding down slightly to allow him more sitting space.

"Most people don't know what to think when I ask them that," he said.

"Really? People won't move over to let you sit down?" I asked.

"No, no! People get nervous when I tell them I'm a polar bear," he said.

This always happens to me. My personality is like a double-edged sword. I am very open and social, so I tend to attract a lot of people I don't know into conversation. Usually, these are people who end up being quite pleasant to be around. But that magnet also attracts a weirdo every now and then.

"Probably got you wonderin' too," he rambled on. "But it's true. Yep, I'm 100 percent polar bear. I should be up in Alaska chasing down seals for supper."

"Well, I guess I kind of know what you mean," I said. "I should be in Jellystone Park stealing pic-a-nic baskets."

"What?" he said.

"I was joking," I said. "You made it sound like you felt at home in the cold like a polar bear. I'd probably feel at home in a park eating hot dogs and potato salad like Yogi Bear."

"Oh, I wasn't joking," he said. "This is no cartoon. I really am a polar bear."

OK, I don't know what the hell was up with this dude, but he may have had one too many Icees in the former Camp Snoopy. Maybe he crossed the line and mixed the cherry and blue raspberry flavors, creating some weird mascot trip.

"You still don't believe me do you?" he said. "Well, I've got proof. Wanna see?"

I didn't know really what to say at that point. I was now engaged in a conversation with some sort of disturbed large mammal. I didn't spot any tracking tags on his ears, which meant he wasn't currently being monitored by animal scientists. But maybe he was a polar bear. He did sport a large matted white beard with yellowish spots, which may have been either blonde hair or mustard.

He whipped out this photo album cleverly disguised in a Barnes & Noble bag. There were pictures of polar bears all over it, and a picture of this guy's face in the middle. It read: My Polar Bear Book. What scrapbook club was stuck with this nutcase?

"You know what I am?" he whispered.

"Drunk?" I asked.

"No, no!" he growled. "I'm one of them crazy guys who straps on his bathing suit once every winter, cuts a hole in the ice and jumps in for a swim. I'm a polar bear, get it?"

Then he flips open his album and there are dozens of pictures of him, frolicking around on the ice of a frozen lake, jumping in the water, and splashing around. Later, there are pictures of same guy shivering under a mountain of blankets, looking like a Titanic survivor plucked from the frigid North Atlantic.

"Wow, I've never seen a polar bear look so cold," I commented. "You don't look too dangerous in that shot, all wrapped up in those plush blankets. You look more like a Care Bear."

"Care Bear!" he roared. "How dare you call me that! It's the worst kind of bear you could be!"

"You're insulted? I thought it was a compliment - Care Bears are so popular," I lied. "It's not like I called you Teddy Ruxpin."

"Who?" he said. "Well, anyway, I normally shake it off and don't need blankets, but it was 3 degrees that day. So there, I'm still a polar bear."

"Well, I don't feel the need to go winter swimming to pretend I'm a bear," I said. "If I was going to imitate a bear during the winter, I'd rather just hibernate in my den in front of the TV."

"You could never be a polar bear then," he snipped, slamming shut his album. "I can't believe there are people living in Minnesota like you. If you don't like the cold, you should just move to Jamaica."

I had heard more than I could bear at this point, so I went totally Nanook on his ass.

"Hey, chill out," I said. "If you are so obsessed with polar bears, maybe you should move closer to the Arctic Circle. And aren't you going a little overboard with the whole polar bear thing? I mean, you only do this once a year, right? I'd figure a polar bear would swim all winter long."

"I would swim more if they had more events," he backpeddled.

"What the hell do you need an event for?" I asked. "You're a polar bear. Or are you the type of polar bear who spends his weekends chugging cases of Coca Cola with penguins?"

"Those commercials don't reflect the true spirit of the polar bear," he snarled.

"And you do?" I laughed. "Have you ever made an Eskimo piss in his parka?"

"No..." he said somberly.

"And you call yourself a polar bear?" I said.

"Not just me," he countered. "I even have a certificate on page 34 of my album that says I'm a polar bear."

"Come on!" I laughed. "Polar bear, my ass. How'd you get here?"

"I took the bus," he said.

"Bus? But you're a polar bear!" I said. "What polar bears use the bus?! I would have thought you floated down the river on an ice floe."

"Well, if I could, I would," he said. "Usually I just walk like a polar bear."

"On all fours?" I asked.

"Sometimes!" he exclaimed.

"Have you been to the doctor's office?" I asked.

"What does that have to do with being a polar bear?" he asked.

"A lot. If you were a real polar bear you wouldn't be waiting in a reception area reading People for 45 minutes until the doctor's ready to see you," I said. "You'd be running for your life when that fucker is chasing you in a helicopter. Then he'd dart you with a tranq gun - pretty much the only way to perform a medical exam on a polar bear."

"Hey, waitaminute," he said. "That is the only way I'd let a doctor come close to me. I guess I really am a polar bear."

I finally nodded in agreement. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.