Monday, October 31, 2022

The Breather and the Haunted Hand

Last week, I gave you a little taste of spooky fiction. Today being Halloween, I'm offering up some spooky (and funny) non-fiction from my own life. To the best of my recollection, every word is true...

stilton’s place, stilton, political, humor, conservative, cartoons, jokes, hope n’ change, halloween, Pa, the Breather, ghost story

When I was a kid, it wasn’t unusual for my siblings and me to have weekend sleepover visits from other kids who we’d known our whole lives and considered extended family. We’d play board games, run around outside, and watch scary movies hosted by the ghoulish “Sammy Terry” on TV.

And sometimes, if the conditions were just right on an eerie, inky black night, my Dad would tell us ghost stories. And these were no ordinary, over-told ghost stories. No cub scout campfire tales about the young couple who encountered “The Hook” in lover’s lane, no plaintive voice in the darkness calling “who’s got my hairy toe?” while drawing unstoppably closer.

No, my Dad told us real ghost stories. Things that had happened to him and to the generations of family members who came before him. Poltergeist activity. Prophetic dreams of death. Sounds in the night. Ghosts.

On the night in question, my Dad was telling his rapt audience the chilling story of “The Breather.” We all sat in the living room with all the lights off and only a flickering candle or two for creepy, shadow-casting illumination. My siblings and our guests were seated on our large, L-shaped sectional sofa. At one end of the sofa, there was a rectangular table and chair, from which my Dad was spinning his dark tale while facing his audience.

“The Breather” was a presence that had followed my Dad throughout his childhood years. At night, alone in his bed, sharing the old house only with his grandmother, he would become aware of someone or something else breathing in the room with him. Something coming closer. And when he pulled the blankets over his face and held his own breath in fright, The Breather would draw near. Inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, exhaling…

As my Dad wove his story, I excused myself for a bathroom trip. Or at least, that’s what I said I was doing. In reality, once I was out of sight in the darkness I dropped to my hands and knees and very slowly crept back into the living room and under the table where my Dad was sitting. My younger sister, seated next to the table, was the only person who could see me. I met her questioning look with a “shush” finger held to my lips and she nodded.

As my Dad notched the suspense in the room ever higher, I slowly slipped my hand up over the side of the table and left it directly next to my father. Bent at the wrist, it would have looked like a detached human hand. And then I waited.

The moments which followed are among the greatest memories in my life. Every nerve in the room was stretched taut at the moment my father paused in his narrative for a moment and put his hand down on mine. For the briefest of seconds, I could feel his fingertips exploring and trying to identify what he had encountered. And then came the scream.

My Dad shouted in true horror while leaping out of his chair. And of course, everyone else in the room screamed too. Panic, pandemonium, and confusion reigned until I crawled out from under the table, laughing my young rear end off.  And after a suitable cool-down period, everyone else laughed while sharing how terrified they were at that exquisite moment. 

And The Breather? My Dad speculated that the entity was perhaps someone who had died in the old house where he was raised (now a historical site in Indiana) or a deceased relative just paying a visit. Indeed, he wondered if the somewhat raspy breath, not unlike his own in his later years, had been coming from his own ghost who was returning to keep an eye on his younger self.

It was an interesting and somewhat comforting theory. So that’s the one I choose to believe now, in the dark of night...

...when The Breather visits me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

You Are Now Entering...The Stilton Zone

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I'd do a little change of pace and present a very short story that hopefully has an appropriate amount of fun seasonal creepiness.

About a week ago, this story just told me that it wanted to be written. I didn't feel like writing a story, nor had I done so in years. I wasn't aware of thinking about anything even vaguely related to the story's subject matter. And why bother to write a story anyway? 

Because I had to. 

A favorite saying of mine is "people become writers because they can't help it." So here's a story I couldn't help writing. The setting is small town America back in the 1950's, and the story is about...

          THE MAN WHO BOUGHT SPIDERS          

Stilton Jarlsberg, Halloween, story, spiders

The screen door slammed behind him as Davy Thompson exploded into the house.

“Mom! Hey, Mom!” he shouted, looking around eagerly.

“Not here!” called a male voice.


“I said she’s not here,” Davy’s dad repeated over the sound of rushing water. He was washing his hands in the bathroom sink. “Gone to the grocery store.”

“Nooooo,” Davy moaned theatrically as he rushed into the bathroom. “I need to ask her if we’ve got any empty jars!”

“Why don’t you ask me if we have any empty jars?”

“You don’t never know that kind of stuff,” Davy argued as he handed his father a towel.

“I don’t ever know that kind of stuff,” Dad corrected. “But maybe this time I do.”

“Do we have any empty jars?” Davy asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad shrugged - then chuckled at his son’s look of dismay. “Kidding. I’ve got a few of them on my workbench to put screws and nails in.”

“Thanks!” shouted Davy, already racing for the basement steps.

“Hold on, hold on! What’s all the excitement about empty jars, anyway?”

“I’m making money,” Davy explained impatiently, “and I need empty jars with lids on ‘em!”

“Well, I guess you can’t use them for begging if they’ve got lids on,” mused Dad, “so what’s your scheme?”

“I’m selling spiders to Old Man Haberman. All the guys are! That’s why I’m in a hurry!”

Dad settled into his chair in the living room, amused and curious.

“Mr. Haberman, the henpecked guy down the street?”

“What’s ‘henpecked?’”

“Doesn’t matter. You say he’s buying spiders?”

“All he can get and a dime apiece!” Davy’s eyes glowed with the anticipation of great wealth. “And we must have a million spiders around here!”

“Quite likely,” Dad agreed. “But why would Haberman be buying spiders…?”

“Dad, I gotta get going!”

“Hold your horses, we’re having a conversation here. Why is Mr. Haberman buying spiders?”

“Heck, I don’t know. I guess he just likes ‘em!”

“Is he killing them? Putting them in his garden?” Dad prompted.

“No, he puts ‘em in his house!” The exasperation was clear in Davy’s voice. “Jar after jar. Shakes ‘em out and off they skedaddle. They’re all over the place and I’ve got to catch more spiders before he stops buying ‘em!”

Dad’s brow furrowed and he leaned in toward Davy, perplexed. 

“So he’s filling his house with spiders? Did you see this?”

“Sure did! I saw Nick running over there with a couple of jars and followed him to see what was going on. All the guys were over there on Old Man Haberman’s porch and he was passing out money to beat the band and dumping spiders inside his house!”

“Well, I can’t imagine Mrs. Haberman is going to like that. Not that she likes much of anything.”

“She ain’t there,” Davy pointed out.

“She isn’t there,” Dad corrected. “Where is she?”

“Old Man Haberman said she ran off a few days ago and won’t be coming back.”

“Ran off where?”

“I asked and he thought for a minute, then he said she ran off to join the circus.”

“What, like a clown?”

“That’s what I asked! He said she’d be more like a Ringmaster so she could stand in a spotlight with a big megaphone and tell people what to do all the time!”

Dad leaned back in his chair, genuinely puzzled.

“That would fit her personality,” he conceded, “but it just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Dad!” Davy barked, “I’m gonna miss out if I don’t get going!”

“Okay, okay - help yourself to the jars and every spider you can find!”

Davy wheeled on his heels and again bolted for the basement steps.

“Davy,” Dad called.

His son’s shoulders drooped in frustration. “What now?!”

“What kind of spiders is he buying?”

“See, I asked him that too, and he said it didn’t matter!”

Davy dashed down the steps to the basement, his voice echoing up the stairwell.

“Didn’t matter at all as long as they can eat a lot of flies!”

Friday, October 21, 2022

Boston Baked Beings

stilton’s place, stilton, political, humor, conservative, cartoons, jokes, hope n’ change, Covid, Boston University, nukes, meat hat, stand-up comedy

By now, it's pretty safe to say that anyone who doesn't believe that the Covid virus came straight out of the poorly run, unmonitored, US taxpayer-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology is a godforsaken idiot. A towering icon of ignorance. A person whose IQ is expressed in negative numbers because other people get dumber just standing near them.  But remarkably, they are not the stupidest people on Earth.

No, that would be the researchers at Boston University who playfully wondered what would happen if they took the original Covid virus and the more recent, more communicable variants and combined them in a laboratory. It turns out you get a peachy new virus with an 80% kill rate, as opposed to the approximately 3% kill rate that the unmodified virus had.

The researchers did not inform authorities of their Frankensteinian experiments because they "didn't think they had to." They also pointed out that their enhancement of bat virus to bat-out-of-hell virus wasn't actually forbidden "gain of function" research because hey look over there a squirrel! No, no - they said it wasn't gain of function because it was just a combination of functions which, more or less coincidentally, are unfathomably lethal.

To discourage future attempts by researchers to poke Armageddon with a sharp stick, it would seem prudent to visit a disciplinary action on Boston University. Which we're thinking should be several kilotons at the very least. 

Not that we're suggesting America nuke one of its own universities! We're just suggesting that somebody put the bug in Putin's ear that Boston University has huge strategic value and a surprise multiple warhead strike would certainly prove to the world that Vlad needs to be taken seriously.

But for now, nobody seems to be doing diddly squat to stop this existential madness and life goes on as usual. Which in Boston means going to the University wet market to buy used lab rats with which to make chowder.

It's funny because it's true

I reported a few weeks ago that I've enrolled in an online course (via Zoom) in stand-up comedy, and Monday marked my first two-minute performance for the class. And I think they likely see me as the next Rodney Dangerfield because they gave me no respect at all. Or laughs.

To be fair, both my material and delivery were on the eccentric side: "Introverts like me only attend the Introverts Anonymous meetings because it feels so good when we can finally go home."

Plus, if you're doing comedy what you want is an audience of relaxed people who are already having fun and are likely intoxicated. For our class, what each of us had was an audience of about five people on Zoom, all of whom were tasting stomach acid while nervously anticipating their own two-minute set.

And they were nervous for good reason, as it turns out that their material was even sketchier than mine. But hey, that's why we're all taking the class - so we can have our dreams dashed now without years of hecklers throwing beer bottles at us.

Fortunately, I have no desire to pursue a career (or even a hobby) in stand-up. But as a lifelong humorist,  I'm academically interested in the inner workings of stand-up as an art form. So I'm genuinely enjoying the class and, for the sake of verisimilitude, instituting a two-drink minimum at my house for future performances.


Amazon, in its infinite algorithmic wisdom, frequently suggests things it thinks I should buy based on my taste, discernment, and overall sense of elegance. And they may have nailed it with this recommendation:

Oh yeah, baby! That's me all over! Or maybe just meat all over!

When I see products like this I always have the same scenario run through my head; somewhere in the world, in a darkened bedroom, a man suddenly sits bolt upright and shouts "Eureka!"
"Wha...?" his wife, Eureka, will yawn. "Is everything okay?"
"Better than okay, baby! The future is ours! We're about to have it all! Unlimited wealth and a life of extravagance and joy!"
"Oh," the sleepy wife mumbles. "Another idea...?"
"THE idea, honey! THE idea!"
"What is it...?"
"A SUMMER HAT THAT LOOKS LIKE RAGGED CHUNKS OF RAW MEAT! I'll start production tomorrow with our life savings and the kids' college money!"

But say this for the dreamer, he got his hat made. I honestly have no idea what this would be good for, other than gifting it to some a**hole in your life along with a season pass to this place:

Nature Trivia: These guys never prosper

Monday, October 10, 2022

Goodbye Columbus Day

stilton’s place, stilton, political, humor, conservative, cartoons, jokes, hope n’ change, lefty lucy, busty ross, columbus day, indigenous peoples day

I had planned to wish everyone a Happy Columbus Day today, but then I remembered that only a privileged, genocidal, imperialistic a**hole would celebrate such a historical calamity. So instead, I'm wishing you a politically correct but not-so-happy Indigenous Peoples Day. You can buy greeting cards at any Hallmark display under the category "White Guilt."

On Indigenous Peoples Day, we celebrate those who lived on this land before we did and honor them by observing traditional native customs such as not delivering mail and snacking on holiday foods like free-range gluten-free pemmican. 

And this year, more than ever, it might be good for us to take some time to seriously consider the simple, basic, hand-to-mouth, back-to-Earth lifestyles of our North American progenitors. Because with Joe "I'm a member of the Puerto Rico tribe" Biden as point man in our current game of nuclear chicken with Russia, we might all be living at a subsistence level soon...

stilton’s place, stilton, political, humor, conservative, cartoons, jokes, hope n’ change, joe biden, star wars, bad feeling, armageddon, russia, nuclear, putin

Monday, October 3, 2022

Baby BOOMers

stilton’s place, stilton, political, humor, conservative, cartoons, jokes, hope n’ change, Russia, Putin, Biden, nuclear war, baby boomers, duck and cover

There is a popular misconception that "Baby Boomers" got their name because they were born in the population explosion following the return of manly men from World War II. In reality, members of my generation are called "Baby Boomers" because we had it drilled into us that "boom" was the last freaking sound we'd ever hear after our eyeballs were melted and our skin was fried like bacon by a nuclear detonation that could happen at any moment

Although it never happened, those lessons stuck with us - greatly reinforced by the Cuban Missile Crisis - and we've been in a state of anxiety ever since. This perhaps explains why we seem to be the only ones really worrying about the possibility of a nuclear war that could happen at any moment. 

If anyone would like to make the argument that the world is a saner place now than back in the 50's, I'm willing to listen - but your odds of convincing me aren't peachy. So I'm pretty uncomfortable with Putin's escalating nuclear saber-rattling, even if he IS a pal of Barack "Tell Vlad I'll Be More Flexible" Obama.

Maybe it's just me, but there's just something in the air that feels like Putin is determined to put at least one nuke into play soon, which might immediately trigger the world's shortest and most final game of dominoes.

Fortunately for our national security, we've got Joe Biden at the helm...

stilton’s place, stilton, political, humor, conservative, cartoons, jokes, hope n’ change, Russia, Putin, Biden, nuclear war, baby boomers, duck and cover

Hopefully, nothing will come of this. But just to be on the safe side, I'm laying in some extra food and water (and by "water" I mean Clan MacGregor). And on Ebay, I've found the one and only thing that can protect a human from a nuclear blast - and it's a bargain at just $100 plus shipping!

I just hope it gets here in time.