I was unpopular before it was cool.

So, I’ve seen a lot of this story across the internet, and I can’t help but remember the time when I was a joke nominee in my high school Homecoming. For those unfamiliar with the current story, here’s a snippet:

High school student Whitney Kropp was shocked earlier this month when she was  named to the homecoming court.

Her happy surprise turned to humiliation when she learned the reason. The  students thought it would be funny if the popularity contest was won by someone  who was unpopular.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120924/METRO/209240341#ixzz27gT0w1qo

The story goes on to say that the town is rallying around Whitney, offering her services and products so that she might be the belle of the ball.

The town of Middleville didn’t exactly rally around me in this way.

Here’s my story.

It started, I think, in marching band practice. The teacher was giving out instructions for the upcoming Homecoming game. When he started handing out the assignments for the low brass section (I played trombone), I raised my hand and said, “Mr. Rickert, I won’t be able to march at the game since I’ll be the Homecoming King.” The whole band had a good chuckle. I meant it as a joke after all.

It isn’t that I was an outcast, but I definitely wasn’t the most popular kid in school either. My clique was the brainy, sarcastic crowd. If there were jocks among us, they were soccer players, which aren’t really in the same category of jocks as footballers, basketballers, or wrestlers. We were the kids who aced tests and talked about Monty Python, ever ready with a quippy jibe at another’s expense.

It was a fun little clique to be in.

So when the announcements for the Homecoming Court came out with my name on the list, I was surprised. Was I really popular enough to be on this list? Maybe, I thought.

And then I thought back to my marching band announcement and realized that I was probably being the butt of my own joke (this was not the first, nor last, time this has happened to me). I believe I was nominated to the Homecoming Court as a joke. But rather than feel the affront that some teenagers are wont to do, I played it cool. After all, even though I was probably there as a humorous offset to the other options, I was still going to be paraded about in a Corvette, I still got out of marching that night with the band, and I got to escort one of the pretty girls in my class around. All good things.

Now, when the night of the Homecoming game arrived, did I expect to be crowned king? No. Not really. But did I think that I had a chance? That my classmates would look past the obvious choices (a football jock and a party-hardened slacker) and choose the best choice (the brains with a sense of humor (me))? I hoped so.

Alas, I was not crowned king (the slacker was). But nor was I laughed out of the stadium.

What was my point in saying all this?

I remember at the time all of the emotions, feeling triumphant, then slighted, accepting myself as a joke, and secretly hoping that I was popular after all. I remember how I was in high school, how desperate I was to be cool, how important it was to be liked, how sharp everything felt. Perhaps time and maturity have dulled my sensitivity to such ups and downs, or perhaps my younger self was making mountains out of mole hills. I think it was the latter.

Anyway, I hope that Whitney learns to take things in stride, that her town’s rallying around her doesn’t reinforce an unhealthy perspective that the opinions of other people are still the most important thing in the world. Because at the moment, I’m sure that she is feeling super loved, and that is great. But I hope she is learning to love who she is in spite of all of this attention.


Señor Pantalones Rides Again!

Fact 1:

I took Spanish 1 in my senior year of high school. The class was informed to choose a Spanish name to use in place of our own name during class time. While other kids chose names like Raul, Pedro, and Juan, I went with Señor Pantalones.

Fact 2:

I’ve always taken an interest in the history of words and language, so when I saw “Mysteries of Vernacular” featured on Annie Cardi’s blog, I took a look. Fantastic stuff!

Flash Fiction Challenge Entry | Matchstick, Shoe, Levitation

Dr. Mark Hedge was ridiculed in the physics community when his “Mentally-based Theory of Gravity” was released.

“Dr. Mind Over Matter” they called him.

He claimed the ability to move small objects with his mind: toothpicks, matchsticks, paperclips. Of course, no one had seen it.

“The process disrupts recording devices,” he claimed. “And my assistants have terrible timing. But I’m working out the problems and should soon be able to prove my work to my colleagues.”

When he arrived at the International Conference on Physics Science and Technology, his peers laughed, until they noticed his shoes not touching the floor.

Salvador Dali putting the theory to work.

Flash Fiction Challenge | 10 Options, 100 Words, Limitless Possibilities

This past week, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

So, I’ve been writing a lot of flash fiction (really short stories) recently and posting them on my blog. The problem is that, while I enjoy writing flash fiction, once I post it, I can’t submit it anywhere else for publication. My favorite thing about the flash fiction that I’ve been doing is writing to a prompt. So here’s the deal: I would like you to give me some prompts. They should be a word or a short phrase around which I can craft a story. If I choose your prompt, I’ll give you a sneak peek at what I’m submitting. Any ideas for me out there?

I got back some wonderful prompts, but one of them stood out among the rest. The contributor gave me a whole list of prompt ideas. She meant them to be taken individually, but what I saw was a challenge. Could I craft a story using all of these words? After that, ideas started to form and a story is already in the outline phases. So rather than offer you the same challenge using the same words, here’s the plan.

I’m going to list ten words below. Your challenge is to craft a 100 word story using any three of the words as inspiration. The words themselves don’t need to be used in the story, but the reader should be able to see where you got your inspiration, so include them in the title of your piece.

The Words: Soda, Matchstick, Ninja, Dragon, Popcorn, Shoe, Crimson, Light, Trash, Levitation.

Once you post the story on your blog, drop me the link in the comments and I’ll post it in the body of this blog. Use the image here to link back to this post so people can see what you are doing and why. Also, so they can read the other contributors. The deadline for posting your story is October 19th. After that, you are welcome to post in the comments, but I’ll no longer be adding it to the body of the blog.

Sound a lot like what Julia’s Place does every week? It is. I love the Julia’s Place 100 word challenges and liked the idea of starting my own.

And last, though I’ve offered prizes for these challenges in the past, I got the best response when the only prize was the feeling of job well done. So that’s what the prize is for this challenge as well. Good luck!

The List of Contestants Starts Here:

I am a former ska band member.

Remember ska?

It was the late 90’s. Groups like the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, and No Doubt ruled the airwaves. That is, unless you were a God-fearing Christian, and then you listened to The O.C. Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy, and if you went in for them, the Insyderz.

I was sold out for ska.

This may have been due to my background interest in jazz, big band, and swing music. It may have been because this was the popular music when I was at my most impressionable age. Or it may have been because I saw the possibility of people simultaneously playing trombone AND being cool.

I was band geek in high school. King of the band geeks, actually. Voted “Most Musical” in my senior yearbook (along with “Class Kiss Up”, but we don’t need to talk about that now), recipient of the John Phillips Sousa Award, and member of the Jazz Band on Bass Trombone, the Symphonic Band on Baritone, and the Freshmen Band (as a senior, mind you) on Tenor Sax. Also, I sang in the Honors Choir. So, my senior year was dominated by music classes.

And as if I didn’t get enough music during the day, I was also in the school musicals.

But I digress. All of those accomplishments happened in my senior year of high school. It was while I was a sophomore that I was in the ska band.

Our band’s name was the Kung Foo Chickens and a Guy Named Fred. We didn’t really have a guy named Fred, and I would have been surprised if anyone in the band knew any form of martial arts. Mainly, we just thought it was a cool name for a ska band. Also, we liked the idea of our band logo including a Karate Kid version of Colonel Sanders (Kung Foo Chickens = KFC) in what would surely have been blatant copy-write infringement.

The Kung Foo Chickens had very few original songs. We were mostly a cover/praise band. We did a few songs by the Supertones, a few by Five Iron Frenzy, and a few ska-versions of praise songs. Mostly, we had a good time.

But those good times were short-lived.

After our first official gig at church all-nighter, our band disbanded. Or rather, they morphed into a rock band, leaving the horn section that defines the ska band behind.

Was I hurt? I don’t remember. Probably. But it wouldn’t have been because I was convinced that our band could have made it in the arena of ska. It would have been because I hate rejection, and the fact I chose the wrong instrument to play seems an arbitrary reason to be ousted from a group. Anyway, I’m mostly over it now.

Also, ska is coming back. I heard the other day that No Doubt is getting back together. And Five Iron Frenzy recently broke all kinds of records on Kickstarter for having the fastest and most funded money drive ever.

Perhaps it isn’t too late for a resurrection of Kung Foo Chickens. Or maybe some better-named ska band.

Anyone in need of a rusty trombone player?

100 Word Challenge | As the apple fell…

Jon Chapman, great-great-grandson of American folk hero Johnny Appleseed, grinned for the camera.

“I declare this orchard,” he paused for effect, “delicious.”

The crowd went wild.

Jon had been doing these events his entire life. Visiting orchards, biting into an apple, saying a few words, and getting a big check for his time and travel expenses.

As the apple fell, Jon started feeling nauseous. When he reached his hotel room, he couldn’t see straight. His body was discovered by the hotel staff the next day.

The coroner declared it a result of accidental cyanide poisoning.

Only the maid saw the note, “I hate apples.”

On Waiting for Inspiration

The other night, I was finishing up the most recent 100 word story post and… well, I should say that I had just started the post… that is to say, I was sitting in front of my computer and staring off into space.

Normally, I write in the mornings after my wife leaves to drop off the girls to daycare (Grandma & Grandpa’s house) before heading in to work at 8am. But that morning, I had to make a church delivery for my work and I ended up dropping the girls off, so I didn’t have time to work on my post.

I knew that I wanted to participate in the last prompt from Julia’s Place, but I didn’t have any story ideas.

Not one.

Sometimes, I pull ideas for these prompts from past story ideas, ones that have been rolling around in my head or on my notebooks for years. But the most recent prompt, returning to the routine, didn’t lend itself to any of my past ideas.

For about three minutes, I sat there. I looked at the prompt, I looked at my blank post, I checked Facebook to see if any of my friends had posted anything to spark an idea.


Now, I turned my chair to face my wife who was sitting on the couch doing some accounting work on her laptop. She looked at me, smiled.

Still nothing.

And then the dog brought me his mangy, old, stinky rope and wanted to play. Well, the story idea wasn’t exactly pounding down my brain’s door, so my dog and I wrestled for a bit until he got too excited and started barking. The girls had just gone down to sleep, so I quickly grabbed the leash and took the dog outside.

It was a nice night. Warm. Stars were just starting to come out. My dog and I made for the back yard.

Returning to the routine…

And then I had it. My main character would be a person who worked in a factory. They hated their job, but couldn’t afford to quit. What if something went wrong at their station in the factory, but instead of the faulty piece damaging someone else, they got it and it led to a settlement on which they could retire?

I still refer to this set of rules for writing flash fiction and this idea had everything, including a twist.

But where did the idea come from?

I’ll be honest. I have no idea. Inspiration is a fickle mistress. Sometimes, you just have to go about your life and wait for her timing.

Maybe my dog will inspire you too. Isn’t he cute?

5,000 All-Time Views

Don’t worry. You are in the right place.

If you notice a new look to the blog, it is because I decided to freshen things up in honor of my 5,000 all-time blog views. I started this blog on a whim as a way to promote the fact that I am a writer (also to prove to myself that it was true).

$5000 bill feat. James Madison. Also how much I would get if each hit on my blog was worth $1. Math.It’s only been about five months since I launched the blog, and I am excited to have received such a response in so short a time. Even though I know the majority of my blog views come from family and friends, I’ve met a number of other great writers out there and have taken part in some fun interviews and discussions.

I hope that you’ll keep reading, because I still have a lot to say.

Do you have something to say to me? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

I am a terrible cowboy.

One of the first things that I did when I got to Clark Canyon Bible Camp in the summer of 2002 was help a local rancher brand cattle. The director of the camp told me how important it is to be a good neighbor when you are the face for any organization.

“You’re going as a representative of Clark Canyon Bible Camp,” he told me. “So do what they ask you, work hard, and have fun.”

“Aren’t you coming too?” I asked.

“I’ve got a few things to take care of in town,” he explained. “My part of being a good neighbor was bringing you to help in my place.”

There were three of us volunteering at the camp that summer who got drafted to help out with the branding. For the first ranch we helped out, my job was to run the hot brands from the iron stove to the real cowboys who were doing the branding. It was a good job. Simple.

Everyone else was working harder than me. The work went like this: Cowboys on horses would rope a calf around its rear legs. They would then drag the calf to the branding station which was basically a tire inner tube that was tied to a stake in the ground. As the calf would be dragged by, a cowboy would toss the inner tube over the calf’s head in such a way that it was secured but not choked at all. The cowboy would ease his horse forward until the calf was stretched out. This is where I come in. While another cowboy was making eunuchs of the calves, I would bring over a hot iron, hand it to the cowboy who would brand the animal and then I would take it back to the guy stoking the iron.

Every now and then, the cowboy responsible for removing the “rocky mountain oysters” would throw a couple on the branding iron stove to cook them. He would then offer them around, asking us if we wanted to have a ball. I declined.

By the end of the day, I was familiar with the smell of burnt hair, the sound of calf’s screaming, and the feeling that I was desperately out-of-place among real men.

But that was only the first ranch. We three camp volunteers were asked to help out at another ranch a couple of weeks later. Word had got around that we were hard workers (and free labor).

At the second ranch, I was given the job of nasal injections once the cattle were stretched out. This was difficult because calves tend to snort a lot when they are under stress (such as when people are poking them with burning bits of metal).
This ranch didn’t just brand the cattle to mark them. They also gave them ear marks. Now some ranch ear marks look like triangles, some like circles, but this one just lopped the whole tip of the ear off.

When it was all over, the ground was littered with clipped ears. Hairy little triangles about three or four inches to a side. In fact, they looked a lot like hairy tortilla chips. That gave me an idea.

I still had my brown paper sack from lunch, so I started grabbing clipped ears by the fistful. My idea was to dry them, then when I return to Michigan, put them into a bowl next to some salsa and invite friends over to see what they would do.

It was a great idea. There were only two problems: I didn’t have time to dry them over the summer, so I just stuck them in the freezer with the intention of doing it later; and when the end of the summer came around, I underestimated the ability of my cooler to keep frozen things frozen for the three-day drive that happens between Montana and Michigan.

There are few things that smell worse than burning hair, but I know that one of them is rotting cow ears that have been baking in cooler on the cross-country voyage.

I learned a lesson that day. Sometimes the joke isn’t worth the effort. Or maybe the lesson was to finish something immediately if there is a chance that it could rot and stink up most of your belongings. Anyway, it was one of those.

Also, I wasn’t asked to help with another cattle branding all summer. This might be related or not.