DEATH WEATHER

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Someone once said, “If the year went to the bathroom, April is where it’d wipe when it was finished.” It’s the Ain’t month: ain’t winter, ain’t spring. One day it could be in the seventies and the next day in the twenties. The record high for my area of Iowa in April is one hundred degrees, and the record low is four degrees below zero. That’s a one hundred four degree swing! (They both happened back in the 1960’s before Al Gore conquered Mount Everest and found climate change in a cave at the top playing Pinochle with the Dali Lama.)
It’s a sucky month. What can I say? Fishing season isn’t open yet, and even if it was, the water’s too high to fish. And there isn’t one actual holiday in the whole month. What kind of month is it that doesn’t have a holiday? Of course some of you are saying in a whiny, nasal voice, “What about April Fools’ Day?” If you have to go to work or school and you don’t get presents, it’s not a holiday. Does anyone call Butterscotch Pudding Day—September 19—a holiday? (By the way, I have a hysterical story about an April Fools’ joke that I’ll tell if my wife dies before me. If I tell it while she’s still alive, I can guarantee I will die before she does.)
You can’t plan anything in April. One day its seventy degrees and sunny, and you think, tomorrow a picnic would be nice. By tomorrow there are penguins knocking at your door wanting to come in and get warm.
My mother thought of April as an evil hag just waiting to snatch her children away.
“I’m going outside to play, Mom,” I’d say on a warm, sunny April day.
“Not like that you’re not,” she said and pointed at my jeans and t-shirt.
“But it’s warm outside, Mom.”
“This is Death Weather,” she said. “It gets warm, kids go out without their coats and … BAM. It turns cold and they get sick and die.”
So she’d bundle me up in a parka, face scarf, stocking cap, snow boots and mittens, until I looked like Nanook of the North getting ready to head out on the pack ice to hunt seals.
“Why are you dressed like that?” Mary Kurl asked as she came up to me in a light tank top and shorts. “It’s like eighty degrees out.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” I laughed, taunting her, although I could barely see her from the sweat running in my eyes. “You’ll find out tomorrow when you’re dead.”
“Aren’t you suffocating in there?”
“Yes I am,” I answered smugly. “But at least tomorrow I’ll be alive, which is more than I can say for you. Ha, ha, ha.”
Mary reached down and picked a good-sized stone off the driveway.
“Want to play a little Dodgerock?” she asked.
She always wanted to play Dodgerock in April, because I was wearing so many clothes I couldn’t bend over to pick up rocks, and even if I could have, I couldn’t see to throw them at her. In the end the joke was on her, because I was wearing so many clothes the rocks didn’t hurt when they hit me. Ha, ha, ha. Although they did sting when they hit me in the face.
After a while, Mary got tired of playing Dodgerock—or Firing Squad as I called it—and came over to me.
“What’s that sloshing sound,” Mary asked.
“Never mind that,” I said. “You have bigger things to worry about, such as BEING DEAD. Ha, ha, ha.”
The sloshing sound was my boots. I think I blacked out a couple times from the heat, and my bladder might have let go and filled my boots. I wasn’t sure. I could already wring water out of my pants just  from the sweat.
“I better go inside for a while,” Mary said, looking at her shoulders. “I’m starting to get a sunburn.”
“Death Weather, kill this evil witch, now!” I screamed, but it didn’t work.
What usually happened was I’d get overheated, and when I finally got undressed, I’d get chilled and end up with a cold. I’m lucky I didn’t get pneumonia and die. Curse you Death Weather!

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THE SOPHISTICATION OF A TOAD

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When we were in California last year, my wife and I stopped at Napa Valley. When you’re in Napa Valley you visit a winery, because that’s really all there is. When you visit a winery, you sample wine. I don’t drink much, and Napa Valley makes very sophisticated, expensive wines. I’m not the kind of guy who should be sampling wine that can cost up to one hundred dollars a bottle. I’m not the kind of people who should be sampling wine that has a cork in the bottle or even comes in a bottle. It was like Jed Clampett going to a winetasting. (I kept asking, “Do you have an ’87 Bartles and Jaymes? Or maybe a ’75 Mad Dog 20/20? Our snooty little guide, “Bryan … with a y,” was not amused.)
They gave us score sheets to judge the wines. There were different categories for each wine and we were supposed to give a numeric score for each category: aroma, body, finish, miles per gallon, barometric pressure and best supporting actor. We were also told to look for the legs of the wine. (I never saw any legs, but I found one that tasted as if it might have had old tennis shoes soaking in it at one time.)
I simplified the scoring process by putting a happy face if I liked the wine, and a frowny face if I didn’t. Bryan with a Y looked at my score sheet, rolled his eyes and went off to find a more cultured and sophisticated crowd, such as the Duck Dynasty guys.
I can’t help it. I have the sophistication of a toad—and I’m not talking a high class toad in a top hat and tails, just your garden variety, give-a-guy-warts type of toad. When I was a kid I loved James Bond movies—the Sean Connery ones of course—but I didn’t care that his martinis were shaken, not stirred, or he could tell what wine a brandy had been made from just by tasting it. I liked the cool gadgets, his smart ass attitude and, when I was older, the beautiful women who flocked around him.
I’ve tried caviar; I don’t like it. The same with champagne. When I was younger, I knew couples who were slaves to whatever fashion was in vogue. If the IN thing was eating fermented monkey snot, they would have gobbled it down while raving about how great it tasted and its beneficial health value. If I’d said, with all the sophistication I could muster, “IT’S MONKEY SNOT! Grab a slice of reality people!” They would have shot me an arrogant, Bryan-with-a-Y look and gone right back to their slimy feast.
I have read everything Hemingway ever wrote, a lot of Updike, Joyce Carol Oats and Jon Steinbeck—I would give up certain body parts that I really, really like having to be able to turn a phrase the way Bill Faulkner could–but most of the time when I read it’s James Patterson, CJ Box or Stephen King. I guess I’m just a very uncouth kind of guy. In fact, I’m so uncouth I wasn’t even sure what it meant, so I looked it up. Webster defines uncouth as, “Not being couth.” That fits me to a tea. I’ve never done a couth thing in my life. You can ask any of my friends, although they’re so unrefined, I’m sure they don’t even know what couth means. Brian with a Y would know.

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THE BLAME GAME

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The other day my wife walked through the door and started yelling. Of course I quickly went through the list of things she might have found out that I’d done. I came up empty. I believe it was a loss of memory that comes with age more than any angelic behavior on my part—just the backlog of the last forty-five years should fill a three-ring binder. When I was younger, I would see my wife get out of the car with a scowl on her face, and I would run out to the garden and pick her a bouquet of flowers. I was always guilty of something. It was just a matter of finding out which one she had discovered. It’s the part of being an empty-nester nobody ever talks about. When I had a house full of kids, I could always blame it on one of them. Now all I have is a dog, and it’s a female so I can’t even put leaving the toilet seat up on her. It turned out my wife was upset because some company had billed her for something she’d already paid for, so it had nothing to do with me. Figure the odds of that happening. I made a note of it on the calendar.
Growing up I had a lot of brothers and sisters. You would think with eight kids it would be easy to spread the blame around. If everyone took turns stepping up and taking blame, nobody should have gotten punished more than once a week, but it never happened that way. I was always the one who got the blame, even for the few things I didn’t do—to this day I’m sure I was spanked for The Bay of Pigs fiasco, The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Alaskan earthquake of 1964. (I think sometimes Mom just wanted to keep her arm loose, the way a relief pitcher throws some balls around if he hasn’t pitched in a few days.)
When I was young and we lived in South Dakota, I didn’t have anyone I could slough the blame off on when something went wrong. There were only five of us kids then. I couldn’t blame my oldest sister for anything, because she was mean and vicious. Even if she got punished for something, she’d give it to me ten times worse with her razor-sharp eagle’s talons. My second oldest sister had a sweet innocent face that made Snow White look like the Wicked Witch of the West. If I blamed her, no one would believe me, and I’d get punished twice as much for lying. I had a younger brother and sister, but my sister could turn on the waterworks as if she had a switch. Within five minutes of accusing her of anything she’d be standing in a puddle of tears:
“Waa. I didn’t do anything, and now you’ve made my sore arm hurt.”
For as long as I lived at home, she always had a sore arm and I never knew why. Most of the time I had a sore butt, and I knew exactly why.
My younger brother was the baby of the family and the Golden Boy. He couldn’t do anything wrong. I swear he would poop his pants, and I’d get blamed for it:

“When he kept saying, ‘I got to go potty. I got to go potty.’ You should have taken him to the bathroom.”

Like he couldn’t crawl there himself.

These days, they say if you spank kids they could end up getting psychological damage. I’m skeptical. I got spanked and I’m fine. Okay, I do write murder/mysteries where people sometimes get killed in horrific ways, and I just finished a horror novel, The Almond People, where a lot of creepy weird things happen, but it had nothing to do with being spanked … I think. I’ll have to ask my therapist at the next session and see what she thinks about it.

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THE AUTOMATIC CAT

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I’ve always believed cats are alien beings from another planet that have come here to conquer Earth. They would have already accomplished their goal if they had opposable thumbs to hold death guns, and their brains weren’t the size of Skittles—just being an alien being doesn’t necessarily make you smart. The big cats had already called dibs on the jungles, mountains and savannahs, so the house cats were regulated to trying to dominate man.
Cats and I have never gotten along, because they know I’ve discovered their devious plans. I’m sure they would have put together a Cat Delta Force by now and taken me out, but when you can’t hold weapons, it limits your options—I guess someday they could contract it out to the lions or tigers, then I’d be in trouble, but when you’re dealing with the intelligence of a marshmallow, the odds of them ever thinking of that are slim.
My son doesn’t know about the plot. He has a cat—the oblivious fool. Recently his company has been sending him out of town for several days at a time. I took care of his cat while he was gone. I fed it, gave it water and changed the litter box. The first time I went to do it, the cat came around the corner and gave me a look that said:

“Who are you? What are you doing here? Where’s my death gun?”
As soon as I gave it food and water its attitude changed, because I was serving it.
“As it should be, puny Earthling.”
After that the cat met me at the door every time I showed up.
“Can I get you something to drink? Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge.”
The cat has no loyalty to my son. It tolerates whoever serves it.
My son has since gotten an automatic feeder, automatic waterer and enough litter boxes that they can go a few days without being changed. Occasionally I’ll go down to his place to see if he left anything on when he left. The cat doesn’t show itself. It’s busy in the back room trying to draw up a contract with the lions.
I know many of you cat people are going to tell me how your cat is all excited when you come home and rubs against you and cuddles with you in bed. You’ll say, “My widdle Tabby wubs me.” Maybe you have a point, and by have a point, I of course mean you are a naive moron—and by the way, you sound silly when you use that baby talk, so stop it. Your cat is just glad that no other cat killed you before it got a chance.
My oldest daughter also has a cat. (I swear I tried to raise these kids the best I could, but what are you going to do?—I blame their mother.) For years I thought her cat was some mythical creature like the Phantom of the Opera, Bigfoot or Randy Quaid, because I never saw it. She said it stayed in the basement in the furnace room behind a stack of boxes and only came out at night. One day my daughter decided to prove to me that she really had a cat. She went down in the furnace room to get the cat. The resulting noises sounded like someone trying to put the Kraken back in the cage. There was hissing, screaming, whining and growling plus all the noise the cat made. When she finally came out, my daughter’s clothes were shredded and her hair looked as if she’d just taken a ride in the clothes dryer. In her hand she held a fur ball with a scowl that definitely said, “Wait until I get my death gun perfected.”
She let the cat go and there was a faint blur as the cat streaked back to the furnace room. The cat could die and my daughter wouldn’t know it until a rotting, dead odor filled the basement, and her teenage son’s bedroom is down there, so there’s a good chance they wouldn’t even notice the smell.

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I’m thirteen chapters into the sequel for the horror novel I haven’t published yet. It’s strange writing a sequel when nobody has read the first installment. Much of the first part of the book deals with what happens to people when they don’t talk about the most traumatic event to ever happen in their lives for twenty-five years. It’s scary, but there aren’t any cats.

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PICKING OUT A CAMPER

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When my wife and I retire in a few years, we plan on doing some traveling. My wife has this idea that if we buy a $40,000 camper and pull it with a $60,000 truck that gets three gallons to the mile, and we stay at campgrounds for fifty dollars a night, we’ll be money ahead, rather than wasting seventy-five dollars a night for a motel room. (I’ve learned after years of marriage that the proper response to this, no matter what I’m thinking, is: “Yes Dear.”) She decided we needed to go to a camper dealer to look at campers, because it’ll only be another four years or so before we retire, and it’ll take her at least that long to decide which one she wants to buy.
It’s amazing what they have in campers nowadays, and it is all push button. Push a button and the living room slides out. Push a button and the kitchen expands. Push a button and the awning comes down. Push a button and the fireplace lights. If they could just hook up a computer to push the buttons, the camper wouldn’t even need us, and I could stay home.
When I was a kid, I normally camped out in whatever I could get ahold of: a cardboard box or a lean-to I’d made. I never had trouble sleeping in anything—to this day my wife says sleeping and death are close to the same thing with me. The problem was, if it rained, a cardboard box turned to cardboard mush and lean-tos became leak-throughs no matter how well they’re built. One day at the hardware store I came across a cardboard tube with a tent in it. The picture on the outside of the tube showed a tough old trooper by a tent I’m sure would have fit the needs of Roald Amundsen on his journey to the South Pole. It said, SIX-MAN PUP TENT, and more importantly, 100% WATERPROOF.
I ran home, grabbed my birthday money and in less than an hour I was sitting at home with my first-ever tent. I took it out of the box and looked at the picture again. What I had gotten was a big piece of green plastic. It reminded me of the plastic you get when you pick up clothes from the drycleaners, although not nearly as heavy. There were two wooden poles in three sections to hold up each end of the plastic, several bent pieces of number nine wire to serve as stakes and several pieces of black cord. There was no floor, and it wasn’t big enough to hold six men if they had been members of The Lollipop Guild. I’d paid good money for the tent so you better believe I was going to use it.
At the time I had three main friends: Franny, my outdoor friend who I did outdoor things with, fishing, camping, etc.; Jasper, my indoor friend who I did indoor things with, reading, writing, playing chess; and Otto my backup friend who filled in if either of the other two couldn’t fulfill their obligations. Somehow Jasper found out Franny and I were going camping and invited himself along. Franny was my outdoor friend because he had a cool head and was easy-going. Sometimes he was so easy-going people thought he was asleep. I swear a spider could crawl up his shorts and he’d casually say, “I didn’t know there were tarantulas in Iowa.”
Jasper, on the other hand, was a skinny little guy. Doctors could take X-rays of him with a six-volt flashlight. Most of the time you’d think he had a tarantula in his shorts. He’d run around like his hair was on fire and the world was coming to an end if he ran out of tissues. He wasn’t the sort of guy I wanted roughing it with us. I knew he’d never make it through a full night in the woods, but I didn’t want to turn him down and have him get mad at me—Otto couldn’t play chess worth a hoot.
The three of us went out to the woods and set up the tent. After we’d eaten and toasted marshmallows over the fire, we turned in for the night. Jasper looked nervous. Off in the distance I could hear the faint rumble of thunder.
“Sounds like a storm’s coming,” I said as we snuggled into my 100% WATERPROOF tent. “In case you wanted to know,” I said to Jasper, “your house is that way.” I pointed off to the south. I knew there was no way he’d be here in the morning. In moments I was sound asleep.
I woke up just before dawn and Franny was laying on his back looking up at the sky. It had turned into a beautiful night. Not a cloud in the sky. The stars were shining, and I could see the Big Dipper and Milky Way.
“The storm must have missed us?” I asked Franny.
“We got some pretty good winds, but I think the rain went north of us.”
I raised up on an elbow and looked around. “Where’s Jasper?”
“He left a while ago.”
I chortled smugly. I knew he wouldn’t make it through the whole night. I lay back down smiling, looked up at the stars and asked the obvious question. “Where’s the tent?”
Franny shrugged. “The first good wind gust took it. Those little tent pegs popped out like champagne corks. I think one of them might have hit a raccoon.”
“I paid good money for that tent,” I said. “You could have at least tried to save it.”
“I did, but that plastic is really slippery and hard to hold onto.”
“You should have wrapped it around your hands.”
Franny nodded. “Jasper did that. He grabbed the corners and wrapped them around his wrists and tucked them in so tightly, he couldn’t let go if he wanted to.”
“So what happened?”
“The wind started blowing really hard, and it picked up the tent. Jasper went with it like he was riding one of those parasails. It was really something to see. When he flew over the top of me, I grabbed hold of his ankles.”
Franny stopped for a moment and raised up to look at me. “You know to look at that plastic you wouldn’t think it would be tough enough to hold two people, but it did.
“We kept crashing into trees, and I was sure the tent would get hung up on one of them, but it never did. When we were high enough that I could see we were going to clear the top of the trees, I grabbed a branch and let go of Jasper.
“I shinnied down the tree and ran after him, but with my extra weight gone, that tent and little guy really picked up speed. I lost sight of him after about a quarter-mile. I could still hear him screaming for another ten minutes or so. It was really loud. I’m surprised it didn’t wake you. You really are a sound sleeper.”
Jasper finally came down when the wind died. The tent acted like a parachute, and he floated safely to the ground somewhere up in Minnesota. He didn’t get hurt—except his underwear. He ruined his underwear, and the tent had a small tear in it.
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I’ve had a bunch of people ask me why I haven’t done a blog post for a while. I told both of them that I’ve been busy working on my next novel, The Almond People. It’s a light horror novel. Those of you who have lived in my area are going to recognize some of the places and a lot of the lore. Those of you who haven’t lived in the area can just enjoy a good story. The novel is finished now, so I’m going to try to post more often.
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RAINY DAYS AND MONDAYS

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It has been a while since my last blog post. It has been a busy summer, and I’ve had a lot to do with trying to make the weeds grow in my garden and all. Today it was raining and a Monday so I thought I’d write something.
I had an unexpected tragedy occur in my life: my coffee pot died—I cried a little. One day I poured water in it, and the water slowly leaked out the bottom and made a big puddle on the floor. It kind of reminded me of Grandpa, or me in a few years. I have a back-up coffee pot I’m using now, but it’s not the same. My old pot had a timer and a little red digital clock that told me every morning what time it was: COFFEE TIME! The pot I’m using now just has a boring on/off switch. I used to wake up in the morning and my coffee would be waiting for me, hot and fresh like an old friend or a junkie’s syringe. Now I wake up and have to turn on the boring switch and wait three days for the coffee to get done—maybe its ten minutes, but either way it’s waaaaay too long.
My wife has one of those new coffee pots that uses plastic cups with pre-measured coffee grounds already in them to make a single cup of coffee at a time. I have a problem with some person in Montreal, Canada deciding how strong I can have my coffee. You can’t give the Canadians that kind of power! The next thing you know, Bangladesh will decide how much ketchup we can have on our French fries, then the French will decide how many tanks we can have and the Portuguese how many nuclear missiles! Wake up people!!! (Did I mention the coffee pot I’m currently using can hold more grounds than my old one and can make the coffee stronger?)
My wife says she’ll watch for a sale on the kind of coffee pot I used to have, which means I’ll be getting one for my birthday or Christmas which is waaaaay to far away. Coffee is my elixir of life. We should build a monument to the first caveman (Juan Valdez) who saw a herd of wild coffees and hunted one down and dragged it home for his wife (Mrs. Olson) to cook. For the next million years after that, they just fed the coffee to their donkey until Joe Dimaggio invented the Mr. Coffee machine so we could all wake up, drink coffee and keep our eyes open without blinking until noon. (Did I mention I like my coffee strong?)
I’ve been doing a lot of writing, working on my fifth novel. It’s a horror novel I’m calling The Almond People, even though there are no almonds or even people who look like almonds. (There is a nut, but in my books that’s usually taken for granted.) It’s going to be longer than any book I’ve done before—I’m guessing about 90,000 to 120,000 words, depending on how much I decide to cut when I start editing. Stephen King said when he wrote The Stand it was like Vietnam in that he didn’t know when or how it would end. I know how mine will end, but it keeps growing and going down side routes to get there. I think I have four chapters left in the rough draft, which will make thirty-nine chapters all together, but I do have an idea for a fortieth.
Anyway, I have to go push a button and wait a couple days for some coffee. Those of you who have bought my novel In The Lake, a big thank you. I’d appreciate a review.

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DANCING AT A KNIFE FIGHT

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I’ve never been a big fan of movie musicals. I don’t hate them. It’s just, if I had my choice, I’d rather have a movie with a good story, good acting, symbolism, irony and some social commentary on life, and leave the music in the background as the score. (I’m of course referring to that classic movie Porky’s.) I guess I just don’t glisten with culture the way some people do.
As with most people my age, the first musical I ever saw was The Wizard of Oz when it played on TV, but you really can’t count that as a musical. It’s more of a kid’s movie, like Sponge Bob only with witches and flying monkeys. The first movie musical I ever saw was West Side Story. I saw it in the backseat of our family car at the drive-in at Tyndall, South Dakota. I had to have been about eight. There were five kids in the family at the time—with three more Iowa-born siblings to follow later. We were piled into the family Ford Fairlane 500. Mom and Dad were in the front seat, with probably the two youngest, while I sat in the backseat with my two older sisters, the nice one with chubby cheeks and the mean one with fingernails like eagle’s talons that she was not afraid to drive clear to the bone if I pulled her hair or flipped a booger her way.
I believe my mother must have somehow conned my father into taking us to the movie, because it was not the kind of movie he would normally go see. (I’m sure she told him it was a gang movie and there would be a lot of fights and action and swearing.) I freely admit to having the sophistication of a toad. I’m not cultured, well-heeled or suave ( I’m so un-suave I’m not even sure what suave means), but compared to my father, I’m James Bond—the Sean Connery one of course, Shaken, not stirred. My father just looked bored at the beginning of the movie and then the Sharks and Jets started chasing each other around.
“Who dances at a rumble?” he whispered to my mother. She just patted his leg.
He put up with the singing and tolerated the dancing, when both gangs were at the dance. Then the big knife fight between Riff and Bernardo started. The action finally got his attention. This was what he had come for. He watched the movie intently for a moment until his face dropped down into a look of disbelief.
“WHO THE HELL DANCES AT A KNIFE FIGHT?” he yelled at the screen, or us in the car, or anyone within earshot.
“Serves you right getting stabbed, dumbass,” he said. “I mean, who the hell dances at a knife fight?”.
After a while he lost interest and dozed off. My mother woke him when the movie ended.
“It was a modern version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,” my mother said to fill him in on what he’d missed. “Two people in rival groups fall in love, and it ends in tragedy.”
He looked at her as if she were insane. “Who the hell dances at a knife fight?” he said.
Needless to say our father did not take the family to see The Sound of Music. And so began my baptism with musicals.
The second musical I remember was Roger N. Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Lesley and Warren. It was on TV and my father sawed logs on the couch while my sisters prayed he wouldn’t wake up until it was over.
Who the hell sings while they’re scrubbing a floor? I mean, who the …
I was at the age where hair was starting to grow in places it had never been before, and Lesley was easy on the eyes. It got me through the show. You might even say I enjoyed it (Although I never would have said it to my sisters any more than I would have told them about the hair.)
I can truly say my favorite musical made into a movie is Paint Your Wagon. The guts and absurdity of director Joshua Logan casting two people who can’t sing a lick in the lead roles of a musical has my undying admiration.
Joshua Logan: Let’s see, I have Clint Eastwood, who can’t sing at all, cast in one of the leads. Now who can I get for the other lead that will actually make Clint sound good? I know … Lee Marvin.
Both my daughters have been in high school musicals—my son figures Hell will be a place where they make you be in musicals. I have been in church plays, and I played Jeff in The Curious Savage in community theatre, but I have never been in a musical. There is that silly requirement that you have to know how to sing—unless you’re in Paint Your Wagon.

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