Happy Cat, Happy Pew, Happy Wife

At the beginning of the summer, Holly and I had neither jobs nor directions. One week we were moving to Louisiana and the next we were moving to Montana. We lived in a one room guest house thirty minutes outside of town. Now we have a backyard, new bookshelves and a kitten named Toulouse.

Holly started her new job last week. She instructs gymnastics, among other things. I moved all our furniture with a few friends and family to our new house in town. When Holly got home, I proudly showed her the new arrangement of couches and standing lamps. After a few minutes of inspecting our new home, she asked, “Where’s the towel rack?”

Thirty minutes away, I remembered. It took me two more trips before Holly walked me through the towel rack location on the phone.

When we got married I made a deal: in six months, we could get a cat. We’ve had Toulouse for two weeks now. She was named after a character in Aristocats, though the wrong one. Since then, she’s lost her fear of man but hasn’t yet learned what her claws are for. They are not, for instance, meant to express affection. My back isn’t a climbing wall, sunrise is not an appropriate time for play, and dairy products are for humans only.

The house we moved into is too much for us. It was a gift of sorts. The problems it comes with are upper crust ones – we don’t have enough furniture to fill it. Last week Holly and I went to the Rogers Trading Post   on a whim. It’s a blank faced warehouse, crouching low behind other brick buildings. Inside, we found a leather recliner nursery. They were stacked four high next to bed frames, microwaves, wooden shutters and two full racks of unpopular flavored coffee.

The manager of the Rogers Trading Post is a Bulgarian man named Matt. Matt showed us around, explaining away the numerous trucks that everything “fell” off. He sold us a coffee table – our single objective – before Holly accidentally saw a church pew in on of the back aisles. The fabric is burnt orange but the wood has a good color. It now sits under our “cross wall,” the most heavily decorated part of the house. Matt “gives you very good deal.”

 

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Targeting the Audience

On Saturday, summer camp ended for the season. We went out with an awards dinner and a skit revue titled, “Encores.” I co-wrote this year’s, like last year’s, and modeled it after Saturday Night Live. There was “Celebrity Jeopardy” and “Weekend Update” as well as a musical guest.

Afterwards, the camp director approached me and said it was one of the best he’d ever seen. “Except for one thing,” he added. “That Drunk Uncle guy. I didn’t really understand that.” He was referring to a reoccuring character on SNL’s “Weekend Update.” Their version of Drunk Uncle complains mostly about the state of youth today. One of my co-workers has a solid impression and we ran with it. He complained about the coaching in campers’ tribal competition.

“So you didn’t like it?” I repeated dumbly.

“No, no I didn’t really see the point,” the director said. “But I’m not your target audience.”

This summer I also wrote Eagle Tales, the skit series that camp uses to teach the Christian gospel and camping values. In the past, Eagle Tales was a disjointed group of skits with consistent characters but an unconnected plot. That’s not me. Instead, I wrote a six part series that followed young Finneas the Knight, his twin sister Quintus the Archer, and Steve the Wizard. Steve spoke like Satchmo in a wizard hat and cast spells from an electric guitar. He was inspired by a picture of actor Ian McKellan in sunglasses For some reason, Steve was the absolute star.

In each episode, Steve had maybe four or five lines – half of which were always “STEVE!” Regardless of depth of character, campers loved him. Before some performances they would chant, “WE WANT STEVE” so loud that my character, a puppet named Blizz the Well Informed, would have to quiet them.

“Silence, children,” Blizz would squeal.

“Orange elmo!” campers would cry back.

The adventurers traveled a long way to slay a dragon and rescue a princess. Along the way they crossed the Bridge of Broken Rainbows, were captured by Rothgar the Pantsless, dueled Joe Jonas, and recited numerous puns and Star Wars references. Yet all the kids wanted was Steve.

I think the most frustrating thing involved in directing Eagle Tales was that no one appreciated my humor. Not only the kids, but even counselors didn’t recognize the deep pool of kill puns (Sorry to cut it short, I hope you get the point, Let me put a bow on it). It wasn’t until August until I realized that I missed my target audience. In my effort to craft the show that would make me laugh the hardest, I forgot that eight year olds don’t really have the cultural back ground for things like, “He’s all tied up at the moment!” All they wanted was a quirky wizard with a funny name.

In the last two weeks I finally gave the actor playing Steve carte blanche to say his name as many times per episode as he wanted. It was our most successful run to date. No person has yet to recognize the Star Wars quote in each episode.

Welcome Back to Camp!

I like to blog because funny things happen. I must tell someone. However, working at a summer camp introduces new difficulties. The camp-cultural background required to appreciate what these kids say and do, as well as the legal restrictions of privacy and concerns about context create obstacles in the way of making people laugh. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t laughed in July.

I, at the bottom right, practice a camp skit called the “Rocking Car.” It’s performed once every session. I just drove the car for the thirtieth time. It always ends the same way.

For two weeks, all summer staff at camp played a game of Assassins. You receive a water pistol and a secret target, and you spend your off-time trying to assassinate him or her, just as someone is secretly after you. In my six summers at War Eagle I have never made a kill. So when I was the first male killed out of a hundred and fifty males, I was unphased. As heavy footsteps sounded behind me, I thought, “Of course this happens to me.”

My wife Holly, however, chose to take the game seriously this year. She killed four targets before bowing out because of a possible rules infraction (she had rifled through someone’s luggage, looking for car keys so she could hide in the back of the target’s Civic). At one point she spent the two hours between 10 p.m. and midnight hiding under the bunk of a victim because her target locked the cabin at night.

I wrote a novel during fifth session, in outline form. Black pen marks cover the front and back of 22 pages of computer paper. My superiors were curious why I did so much paper work. It’s about a man from the future who falls into a portal, transporting him to a more medieval time, a la A Connecticut Yankee… or Timeline. All the characters have last names taken from campers in the cabins that I managed: Mondragon, Goforth, Overturf. Look no further than the real world for fantasy.

I like portal stories. I think it fulfills my own daydreams and fantasies.

I also drew several maps of the magical land. And invented a language. Tevwoshi-Elvish. “Ma’fest mish” – I go to death, as Skillian Underturf, the grizzled old dwarf says. The language itself has only one parsed tense and relies on prefixes to denote time or objectivity. It also has no prepositions, which I appreciate. Sometimes prepositions overwhelm me.

There’s only one week of camp left before I start my new job working for Ozone, War Eagle’s year-round outreach program. I will be a city director in Rogers, maintaining the camp experience all year for any attending kids. And at club, announcements will be in English and Tevwoshi-Elvish both.