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Funny Messy Life

80 EpisodesProduced by Michael BlackstonWebsite

Stories about life, relationships, and culture delivered in a way that will help brighten your day or at least make you ask, "What is he smokin'?" But don't worry. It's all in good fun and it's family friendly. I'm Michael Blackston and these are tales from my blog - in audio form - all based on rea… read more

12:32

Into The Woods (not the musical) - 061

   I’m a Type 2 diabetic, which means that I should stay a safe distance from sugary delights, such as ice cream, milk chocolate, cakes and pies, spoons full of sugar to make the medicine go down, and soft drinks. I thought I was being a good boy when I started ordering diet drinks, but then people seemed to take a wicked pleasure in bursting my healthy eating bubble by happily admonishing me with the news that …

   Those are just as bad for you as the regular drinks because your body thinks its really sugar and the blah blah blah blah blah!

   They’ll tell me that, and in my mind, they’re throwing their heads back in maniacal laughter as they take a ridiculously long drag from a straw jammed down into a ridiculously enormous, full-on, jacked up with sugar, absolutely real Pepsi.

   When that happened to me recently, it naturally sent me into a tailspin of memory of playing in the woods with my cousin who joined me in the doing of stupidly stupid things. And that’s the stuff this episode is actually about. From Atomic Red studios, and frankly, the Huddle House in Hartwell, Georgia, where this was written and I used really sugar in my coffee (yeah, but that orange juice is horrible for you. Just HORRIBLE!), I’m Michael Blackston and this is a rustic, woodsy look into my Funny Messy Life.

_________________________

 

   How do the diet drinks tie in already?

   My cousin and I spent a lot of time in the woods. Back in our day, the woods were the Play Stations. Our XBoxes were actual boxes that we painted an “X” across because X marks the spot, and we needed to remember where we’d buried the broken glass, poisonous mushroom spore bombs, and sticks we’d whittled to sharp points for when the vampires finally attacked. We were prepared, son! And if you go back there now and look close enough, beneath the briars, and pine needles the earth uses to record the passage of time, you’ll likely come across a number of aluminum cans from the mid to late 1980s - Diet Coke cans, to be precise. They’ll be faded, even completely robbed of their former red and silver glory, but they’ll tell you a story. 

   First, I guess it’s the story about what litterbugs we were. Young boys don’t generally think about the environment, and we were no exception. But the real story is one of adventure, one of intrigue, and no small amount of Tomfoolery. It’s because we needed those drinks if we were to survive the Georgia summer heat as we made our huts and blazed the intricate trails that wound throughout the property we called, Our Land. But the drinks were off limits. Oh, yes! The Diet Cokes belonged to my grandpa, who was a Type 2 diabetic, and had been told not to ever let anything with sugar in it pass his lips again. Our instructions were to stay out of the refrigerator, and especially, stay out of J.C.’s Diet Cokes. They watched us like a hawk because they knew that we knew that they knew that we knew that they were watching us, and if we were to get our hands on them, it would take a special forces unit to successfully acquire the target. Luckily for me and my cousin, we thought we WERE a special forces unit, and were, therefore, the right men for the job.

   The Big M’s! That was the name of our secret club, but it wasn’t just any normal club like the ones other boys created. There was no scrap plank of wood hanging over the entrance of our main hut with our name scrawled in the clumsy handwriting of a twelve year old with a bucket of old paint and a gnarled, worn out brush. Our club was a secret. Shhh! No one could know about the Big M’s, except for those in the organization. We were as invisible as the C.I.A - our existence as sacrosanct as the Illuminati. We had plans and drawings of our future underground lair - a bunker to beat all bunkers, complete with armored war trucks, an ice cream bar, and entire room dedicated to playing with our action figures. And the one thing that was an absolute, chiseled in stone must, in order to be a member of the Big M’s was that your first name had to start with the letter “M”. My best friend at the time, also named Michael, was officially a member, but as I recall, it was a thing akin to the first drummer for the Beatles. My cousin’s name starts with an “M”, and we were together all the time, so really, it was about the two of us. We had the skills, the stealth, the know-how, and the guts to execute Operation: Grandpa’s Cokes and get away with it. We performed this covert action time and time again, but we couldn’t throw the empty Diet Coke cans in the trash back at the house. Therefore, the ground in the woods seemed to be the next best option.

   We did a lot of preparation for battle in those woods. At that time, Sylvester Stallone had roused our tiny pre-teen hunger to fight anything and everything with an M16 in one hand and an Uzi in the other. Arnold Schwarzenegger also did his due diligence when it came to that, so we saw ourselves as the next wave of ninja killing, terrorist destroying, death machines. We submerged ourselves in the Chuck Norris of it all to the degree that one of the places we always went when we landed at the local department store was the toy department, because at that time, toy companies not only sold realistic looking plastic assault rifles with some rattling contraception inside them that made a sound like playing cards on bicycle spokes when you pulled the trigger, but they weren’t yet required to put the silly orange tips on the end of the barrels. Not that I don’t understand the need for those orange tips. I’m just saying that a black Sharpie marker fixes that little problem right quick for a kid with even a thimble full of creativity.

   Our first exercises to prepare us for war happened with our fists gripping the stocks of guns that were really sticks that happened to bend the right way. If you look hard enough and squint your eyes just right, most branches will do, shape wise, as some form of firearm. Imagination is a wonderful thing. But even more wonderful was the wielding a replica of the real thing, even if the ratta tat tat sound was closer to that of the giant wheel on The Price Is Right than to actual automatic gunfire.

   “I got you! You’re dead. You have to count to twenty!”

   Those were the rules of combat in the woods behind Grandma’s house. If you got shot, you had to stop and count to twenty before returning to the game, fresh and unharmed, as if you’d never been riddled by a hundred invisible bullets from a gun that had the power and audio equivalent of someone blowing you a raspberry. Most of the time, you toed the line. If you heard the sound, and the immediate cry from your opponent, “I got you!”, it was over with no argument. That was, at least, until the count of twenty had been made - basically the same thing as “respawning” in video games today, and assuming that you agreed.

   Sometimes you didn’t agree. Sometimes, you were sure that the bullets had hit the trees between you, or that you were running so fast, that your enemy hadn’t been able to accurately aim their weapon. It was in time like those that a sort of debate took place between the shooter and the supposed dead soldier.

   “I got you!”

   “No you didn’t!”

   “Yes I did! You have to count to twenty!”

   “You missed!”

   “No I didn’t! You have to count to twenty!

   “No I don’t! You missed!”

   There’s a dance that takes place between the two parties. It sounds eerily like a political debate, only more sophisticated.

  During the counting of twenty, of course, the shooter gets to disappear into the woods and re-establish covert sweetness.

   We either played war or made trails and huts in the woods. There was also a good bit of exploration, but never too far. In the end, we stuck to what we knew. In the winter, it was easier because the thicker layers of clothes kept us from being lacerated head to shoulder by briars. In the summer months, it was a sweat fest and we were constantly on the lookout for snakes. We only saw one during our childhood. Later, as adults, the two of use took a nostalgic stroll through those woods and saw a big, beautiful black rat snake coiled up under a tree. I’m certain that as much time as we spent out there as kids, we must have been inches from the strike of a copperhead or two, but the only snake we encountered was harmless. Since then, I’ve grown to love snakes and have educated myself on them. I squeal like a kid on Christmas morning when I see one in the wild now, but back then, a snake was a snake, and I held the irrational fear of them that probably 90 percent of the population does.

   We were walking along one of the many trails we’d beaten down with the sticks we called our babies, and suddenly from the trees to the right, a bright green noodle stretched across our vision, right in front of our heads. It might startle me for that to happen today, but only for a second. After that, I’d likely reach out and take it in my hands, name it something silly - Mr. Snookeypants - and take it back to the house for my family to play with before releasing it, frightened and confused, back into the woods.

   As it turned out, twelve year old me, along with my twelve year old cousin, who did stupidly stupid things with me, squealed, not like kids on Christmas morning, but like terrified children at a gory Halloween carnival, and ran back the way we came. I remember we made it to the house and burst through the door to tell the others of the monster we’d just encountered, looking death straight in the red, glowing eyes. Oh yes, by the time we made it back to the safety of the house, the snake would have had red, glowing eyes full of fire. It would have curled it’s head back in that classic “S” shape, ready to strike. Before doing so, it would have opened its great maw of a mouth, revealing fangs as sharp as surgical scalpels, the flesh from its last victim hanging bloody and rotting from them like shredded, rancid curtains.

   They’d told us to watch out for snakes and we’d found one.

   I’ve noticed two things about this latest offering. 1. I long to revisit the places of my childhood, and 2. When I read something by Stephen King, it influences my writing. 

   The woods have been the backdrop for so much of the best scene in my life’s play. The woods behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house rank at the top, but there are other places. It pains me that my own children have grown up unable to relate to that kind of fun. The woods just haven’t been a part of their lives very often. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize how important that part of my life would be. It was just the woods. Nothing magical about them. There’s trees, and fallen leaves. There are old, weathered logs to step over sounds in the distance that might be danger, but probably isn’t. And now, when I give them a reason to follow me there for some small adventure, their eyes light up with excitement. Because they haven’t gotten numb to it. And they know there really is magic in there.

   All it takes is a little imagination.

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