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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

28:48

Sister Sister - FML 010

 If you asked people to tell you one of the most important things in life, it wouldn’t take long for them to say family. For me, family is a main ingredient in the stew of a happy life and I think you’ll be able to tell by the following three stories that little else comes before it. My sister and I have always been close, even when it came to fisticuffs, as you’ll see, so I think it’s a good idea to tell you some stuff about her. She’s been warned, but I can’t promise she won’t come for me after I finish with the following three stories.

 My name is Michael - Mr. Blackston if you’re nasty - and this is what I’ve come to know as my Funny, Messy Life.

___________________________

 If you’ve listened long enough to this podcast or read the blog, you probably think you have a pretty good bead on me. One thing you may not know about me though, is that I love to cook. Like almost everything I’m interested in, I consider it an art. Baking is no exception, but I don’t dabble in it too much. I tend more toward stuff that can be fried, grilled and fried, or fried and refried to make sure it’s fried enough. My sister, however, is a different story. She’s got skills and that’s why I just ...

 Let Her Bake Cake

 I like to give credit where credit is due, especially in the world of the arts. I believe that efforts ought to be lauded, in the good way most of the time. The good way is when you congratulate the artist for a job well done, even if the outcome is ugly but a strong effort was made. The bad way is when something is so ugly, all you can say is, “Oh my Laud!”

 Unfortunately,  for all the praise an artist might receive, the final product is rarely acceptable in their own eyes.

 I recently lived out this scenario with my sister. As I said, she’s a good cake baker, creating most of the ones that are the centerpieces of our family birthday get-togethers and she never disappoints. Well, that is she never disappoints us. She doesn’t own a cake makery bakery, but everything is created with love. She could run a cake makery bakery and would probably do a booming business, but I think she enjoys the art too much to taint the fun of it with annoying things like agendas and deadlines. Instead, she’d rather bless her family and friends with delicious, moist cakes baked at three in the morning because she put it off till the last minute.

 And I’m fine with that.

 What I’m not fine with is her being a complete artist about it. What I’m talking about is the insecurity that comes with being a creative person. I know the feeling. I still have a canvas that’s been sitting on an easel for ten years that only needs my signature to be considered a completed painting. There’s just something I’m not happy with and I’m convinced that if Jesus himself said to me, “Sign it Already, my son”, I would probably ask if he was sure because I’m just not happy with it.  Then I would say, "Just kiddin'', and I’d sign it. Then I would try to fist bump with Jesus and he would solemnly shake his head because you don't fist bump with Jesus. Anyway, I know all about insecurity when it comes to artwork.

 My daughter’s birthday was in mid-April and she wanted a frozen cake. Not a cake that had spent several hours in a freezer; that would have been much easier. No, she wanted a FROZEN-ANNA-ELSA-OLAF-FOR-THE-LOVE-LET-IT-GO cake. My sister was on the case and had something dreamed up all ready to go. She had an idea, researched some stuff for reference, and planned a grandiose spectacle of a cake for my little Ice Princess. As an aside, my daughter was named Merida after the character from Brave and I can’t wait to teach her how to shoot a bow and arrow. Ay’ll beh shootin’ far me oon haahnd, duntcha knoo?!

 I didn’t think much about the cake as we got ready to trek across the state line to my mom’s house where we were having the party. Imagine my surprise when right before we were about to leave, I get a text message from Steph that says, “CAKE FAIL!” It came with a photo of the early stages of the frosting process, which had apparently gone wrong. It wasn’t anything like the icy flow of fun that was supposed to cascade like a frozen lake over the top and drip like perfect, beautiful ice cycles down the side. Instead it had an Elsa has a very bad cold and has sneezed all over some round, blue object kind of a thing happening.

 In all honesty, when I looked at the photo she texted me, I had a bad feeling about it. I showed the photo to my wife, she just said, “Oh Laud.” We shared a chuckle and carried on with the business of trying to make a little girl out of the hurricane ball that was terrorizing one of the cats in the corner.

 We weren’t worried about the cake. Merida wouldn’t care one way or the other as long as she had something sugary she could spread all over her face and hands and store in her diaper for us to discover later. We just wanted it to taste good.

 Stephanie couldn’t deal with it, however, and we learned this as soon as we walked through the door of my mom’s house.

 “LOOK AT IT”, she screamed and pointed toward what we considered a fine work of baking and decoration. She’d done well. It looked good and deserved the nice kind of lauding. Yes, I’d seen more magazine worthy work from Steph, but considering what she’d sent a photo of earlier, we thought she’d pulled it off.

 “What’s wrong with it?”

 “Did you look at it?!” She hissed.

 “Yes. Just now and it’s fine. It really looks good.”

 She’d worked herself up into what we classy southerners call a Tizzy over this cake and was close to pitching what we refined folk call a Hissy Fit. She had in mind something that could be featured in a bridal magazine or Cakes That Really Look Like They Are From The Set Of FROZEN Weekly.

 “NO! LOOK. AT. IIIITTTT! You’re not looking at it!” she screamed and used a full nelson move to force my face to within centimeters of the cake. All I could think of in that moment was that it’s a good thing Jesus wasn’t standing there saying, “It’s beautiful, my child.” I don’t think she could have handled it.

 “There’s nothing wrong with the stupid cake!” I screamed back and then told mom on her. “Moooooom, Stephanie’s pickin’ on me about her caaaaake!”

 I thought it was over, but nay. She smoldered a while and before long the subject was brought up again.

 One of my aunts was asked her opinion and the reply of, “Oh that turned out nice!” wasn’t what Stephanie wanted to hear. You’ve heard the sayin, “Hell hath no fury like a woman’s corn”, well I say Hell hath no fury like an artist who doesn’t believe you like what they’ve created.

 Steph drew in a deep breath and the room fell silent, expecting the worst.

 “WOULD YOU LOOK AT IT?!”

 No matter how hard we tried to convince my sister that, in all sincerity, it was a nicely decorated cake, she wouldn’t have it. Her mind was made up that the cake authorities would soon be breaking down the door and taking her to answer a few questions in a dim room with only a single light and a metal chair. And because it was a Disney themed cake and she loves The Mouse with all her heart, the interrogator would probably be wearing an ear hat, whether it’s the mouse ears or the Goofy headgear, we have no way of knowing.

 I can say that I didn’t do myself any favors later by having a little fun at her expense right after we‘d finished shoving grilled meats down our throats and watching my princess tear into her mountain of gifts like a honey badger. I couldn’t help myself and I dare say a bit of little brother justice came out as a form of revenge for the rasslin’ move she'd put on me earlier.

 “What’s for dessert?” I will neither confirm nor deny whether there was a smart-alecky look on my face when I asked it.

 “The cake,” mom answered.

 “I meant what’s for REAL dessert?” I couldn’t help myself.

 I’d hoped to catch the look on my sister’s face, but she vaulted herself at me from the top of the deck railing and I was rendered unconscious by a karate chop to the back of the neck Ricky Steamboat style.

 I do vaguely remember hearing, “LOOOOOK AAAAAT IIIIIT!” just before I blacked out.

 It really was a fine cake.

 And yes, I know it's "woman scorned.”

__________________________

 From what I can tell, especially raising a couple of children of my own, siblings tend to be different from one another. My sister and I have plenty of differences between us, but maybe the tie that binds us the closest is that we’re both artists. Steph doesn’t dabble heavily, but she could. When she takes a notion, she can turn out beautiful artwork. In fact there’s a part of me that harkens back to the child I once was - the little brother that always hoped to be as good an artist as his big sister. I guess that’s why she and I still work well together after all these years on certain projects. There’s just one problem ...

 We Think Too Big

 The Christmas parade float was finished. Stick a fork in that bad boy, he’s done.

 My sister and I worked on it for two and a half days and it was a winner in our eyes, especially being the first parade float we’d ever been in charge of creating. I won’t say we were as proud of it as we wanted to be, though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s everything it could have been with the budget we had. But the problem we have with the Christmas parade float for the local theatre was the same problem I have when I build sets for shows I direct at the same local theatre. I want my sets to rival shows on Broadway and I wanted our float to compare to something you’d see cross your television screen Thanksgiving morning.

 Simply put, I see things in my head bigger than I can make them and my Stephanie’s the same way. Put us together on a project and we dream up things it would take a six figure budget and an enormous crew of helper minions to achieve.

 This has been an ongoing issue ever since my first fully produced show. It was Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. My wife and I fell in love with the show early on in our marriage and found ourselves involved with a production. We were cast in smaller roles, but we had big dreams for our own production and were soon approved to stage it in Hartwell, Ga.

 The cast count was nearly forty and the set, in my over-imaginative brain, was to be one of the most, if not the most, elaborate one ever built there. The problem is that the stage is the size of a postage stamp. And not the big ones either. It was the size of those stamps nobody ever wanted and always got shoved into the junk drawer. Not only would it be a challenge to build what I had in mind because of the limited room, but placing forty people on it would be nearly impossible. Did that stop me?

 No it did not.

 I have way too much imagination for anything like logic to have a say in what can be done. That’s why I enlisted the help of my set partner and sister, Stephanie. Did this mean that I would be pairing myself with someone who would be the voice of reason to my Mad Hatter of the Stage mentality?

 No it did not.

 What fun would that be? Steph was as insane as I was about trying to fit every little squirt of imagination we could into it. I needed no silly voice of reason; I needed a partner in crime.

 What we managed on that stage with the amount of people in the cast may have been crowded and the very small wing space may have been ripe with sweat and actor funk, but it was awesome sweat and faaaaabulous actor funk and the audience loved it. There were concessions we had to make though, notably a golden chariot that appears center stage at the end of the show with tall wings that raise and lower to each side majestically at the whim of the stage manager. It was in the plans and we built it. The Broadway show has the chariot intricately layered in gold scales, so of course I designed our chariot in the same fashion and bought the materials which ended up being a crap ton of cardboard, gold spray paint, chicken wire, zip ties, and PVC pipe. I set my sister to work on it and she was excited. She meticulously cut individual scales out of the cardboard, sprayed each one of them gold, hole punched each one of them in the top, then fixed every single one into place in perfect harmony with the others. It. Took. Her. DAYS. And it was FAAAAABULOUS!. So when the time came to set it in place at center stage, we were riddled with anxiety and glee - rich, thick, mind numbing theatre glee. You know what I mean if you’ve ever built set pieces you were proud of. We’d made it light and portable so the crew could get it on and offstage quickly. That’s why we used PVC pipe. And let me interrupt myself to suggest to any future set builders that you can build a sturdy version of almost anything out of PVC pipe.

 We raised it up and began to lower it into place. And VOILA!

 It didn’t fit.

 Oops. My bad. I’d measured wrong somewhere, so in quick decision pro-like director form, I stated the following:

 “It don’t fit. Scrap the chariot.”

 Stephanie blinked her eyes at me as if she were trying to clear her vision because obviously she was in some sort of dream where chariots she made don’t fit in their place.

 “What did you just say?”

 “Chariot’s too big. We’re losing the chariot,” I crossed to stage left with my nose in the air. If I’d been wearing sunglasses, a turtleneck, and a scarf, I’d have flipped the scarf from one side to the other nonchalantly with directorial swagger.

 “That chariot. Took. Me. Days.”

 “We can’t use it.”

 “We can fix it. I’ll make it work.”

 “Nope. There’s no time and I need you painting intricate hieroglyphs with mother.” Mom was over at a side stage up on a ladder with a paint brush where I’d erected tall flats (thin walls of canvas with wood frames, for you poor non-theatrey folk) and recreated the entire plot of the play from start to finish in actual Egyptian hieroglyphs. Mom was tasked with painting them. Another side note - Those walls were necessary to create dressing rooms on the side stages because of the small space we had to work with and the sheer number of cast members. There were times during the performances when there was literally five feet separating the front row and a bunch of naked people.

 Anyhoo, Steph wasn’t happy.

 She jumped at me screaming, “LOOK AT IT!!” And she hasn’t let it go to this day.

 Unfortunately, the lessons we’ve learned have only served to enhance our insatiable need to try bigger and bigger things. It broadened our belief that It CAN be done!

 That made its way to our future productions. While Steph didn’t help with Into The Woods, I still solicited the assistance of another artistic lunatic. While most who put together the set for that particular show are happy with stylized versions of the woods, even opting at times for the charming cardboard cut out trees, I could not see anything but being honest to the title. A woods effect that can be done simply? Not I! The actors must be IN the woods!

 I knew a business owner nearby who had recently cleared a lot for parking, so I asked for the trees.

 I then, after obtaining permission from theatre management, bolted actual tree trunks that rose out of sight into the fly space (that’s the rafters for you poor non-theatrey folk). There have been plenty of other sets that went the Michael’s Gone Mad route and I have other artists who help out on occasion. I recall a second production of Joseph at a different theatre when I almost came to my senses and permanently fixed a very heavy set piece to the wall, but opted for my original idea whereas I intended it to raise and lower with a pulley system. My associate, the insane David, said, “It can be done.” He then spent hours crawling dangerously among the support beams in the fly space rigging it up and the piece worked as I’d hoped, although it took half the crew to hoist it.

 You see, when I begin to develop a plan for a set that I intend to build, I can’t make myself see it on the stage I’ll be working with. Yes, you pious theatre set builders who may read this, I do measure the stage first. But that’s just numbers and I math not so good. My mind has its own stage inside it and that stage will handle anything I can think to throw at it. That’s the stage I do my planning on. And because of that, I’m inevitably disappointed when the final screw is in place and stand back to look at my creation.

 This float was like that too.

 Steph and I built it together and we were proud. We stood back and looked at it, complementing each other on a job well done.

 “Job well done, my sister. I dare say thine skill and determination hath won the day. Victory be in our grasp.” (There were prizes for the top three floats. We didn’t win.)

 “Abandon not, brother, thine own applause. For thou didst indeed pour forth also upon this mobile creation thy vintage of art’s wine. Thy job, too, is well met.”

 But I had to admit that it didn’t live up to the float that paraded valiantly past my mind’s eye - with its jubilant spray of color and sound; the one I saw causing children to shout, other floats to cower under a shadow of unworthiness, and parents to point and tell their kids, “There be the example for living up to live up to, me child.”

 I see that my inner voice has quickly changed from Olde English, reminiscient of Shakespeare, to that of a crusty, sweaty pirate.

 And Steph agreed with my assessment of the float.

 We both wondered if we could‘ve done something more. I didn’t mention scrapping it to Steph because I was pretty sure that even though she’s as crazy as me when it comes to this stuff, she’d be tempted to … oh, how does she put it … dot me in the eye. I’ll eventually tell you the story of how she dotted me in the eye in a piece titled, My Sister Dotted Me In The Eye.

 Now I ponder how to take the Christmas parade float to a higher level next time - a level beyond what’s appropriate to one that is, frankly, ridiculous:

 A giant helium balloon shaped like the comedy/tragedy masks – It would follow behind the float and would be tethered to twenty children dressed as elves gaily dancing and singing show tunes that mention Christmas. Also, I would insist on hand-stitching the elves’ costumes from reindeer skins. And not reindeer that had been hunted, but reindeer that had died natural deaths from an overdose of Christmas cheer.

 A dancing kick line - Comprised of local cheerleaders dressed as Mrs. Claus. I figure the cheerleaders are probably already in the parade, so let’s give them a reason to be there. Unfortunately, I can imagine a domino effect if we came to a sudden stop and all the ladies tumbled one by one off the back of the trailer, bowling style, into the group of elves holding the balloon. That’s a reason to think longer on that one.

 Thought about it.

 Still wanna do it.

 A celebrity representative – I know it might seem a bit “pie in the sky” to think I might get a big name like Robert Downey, Jr. or Pat Sajak to star on our float. But Tony Danza might be available.

 Circus freaks – Who wouldn’t want to see that? The 800 lb belly dancer, the tiny lady covered completely in tattoos, the pygmy prince who jump ropes through the enormous holes in his earlobes. That’s what I call entertainment! And I’m still playing the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman endlessly on my commutes. Then again, if you want to see that stuff on any given day, all you have to do is walk into a Walmart.

 In the end, it makes sense to come down to earth and be happy with what we accomplished with our little float. You can’t have it all, even if you believe there’s room for one more slice of spectacle pie. You just have to settle yourself down and allow reality to be your guide.

 I’ll  have to be content to let my imagination run wild and pretend I’m surrounded by tall buildings, large balloons, and choruses of singers from Broadway shows.

 And waiting there at the end of the line might be someone famous to interview me. Perhaps Pat Sajak.

 I know, I know. I think too big.

__________________________

 My son is nine years older than my daughter. We had hoped that the age difference might diffuse some of the obligatory fighting that goes on between siblings, but our hopes were dashed in quick fashion. As soon as she could walk and talk, which now feels like only a couple of days after we brought her home from the hospital, the sparring began. My sister and I are closer in age  by four years, so there was PLENTY of fighting between us. Steph wasn’t content with pulling hair and tattle-telling. She was a fan of pro wresting at an early age and you better stay out of arms reach of her if she’s just finished watching a Rocky movie. That’s why this last story exists. It’s why ...

 My Sister Dotted Me In The Eye

 You know those things that come to be early in life and somehow find a way to have staying power? Silly things like pet names your granddaddy called you or being an idiot. In some cases, those things can last so long that they become a an endearing side note the parties involved can share on occasion and enjoy a good laugh.

 I used to call you Butt Face. Remember that?

 I sure do, Grandpa. I sure do.

 Hahaha. Good times!

 It’s not always a fun volley of hurtful name calling, though. Sometimes an event gets a title. Let’s use the time my sister dotted me in the eye for example. While you can probably grasp the idea of what physically happened to me from that phrase, you need to know the story behind it.

 It was a dark and stormy night. A Saturday if I recall correctly. My mother had taken the family somewhere and we were parked outside of my aunt’s house to either put her out or pick her up, if I remember it correctly. If memory serves me right, I was in the ballpark of seven years old and my sister was in the ballpark of twelve. We fought a lot, but if I’m accurate in my recollection, my sister and I had been at each other’s throats more than usual and tensions in the car were heightened, when she said something smark-alecky and I didn’t take it well.

 Mama wouldn’t have been happy about it and would have warned us multiple times, in that nurturing way mother’s do when they’ve had enough.

 “Sit down and shut and shut up. I’ve had enough!

 It’s important to mention that we probably were standing because in the 1980’s I don’t think seat belts had been invented yet and kids just tumbled to and fro with reckless abandon all about the back seat.

 You’re a stupid head!

 You’re a poopy mouth!

 You’re a butt face!

 Then mom would have to chime in.

 Hey! Just because your grandpa calls him that, doesn’t mean you get to.

 That’s the way it sort of went down, except for the butt face part. My grandpa never called anybody that as far as I can recall.

 The point is that whatever we were saying got serious and when I’d said one thing too many, my sister, whom I love with all my heart and have built many wonderful and beautiful masterpieces of artistic glory with, hauled off and punched me - not slapped - but full knuckle PUNCHED me right in the eye. I recall that correctly.

 It didn’t even hurt at first. As anyone who’s ever been punched will probably attest, getting hit isn’t that painful. It’s healing that hurts. The funny thing is that I didn’t realize how hard she’d hit me until I looked in the rear view mirror and saw an enormous bump rising just below my eye socket.

 She’d made her mark. She’d dotted me in the eye.

 I don’t know where it came from or when it started that we began calling getting punched in the eye getting DOTTED in the eye, but it seemed to fit, so it stayed.

 From that moment on, any time there was a mention of a fight or the threat of one, someone would be described as having been dotted in the eye.

 Over the years, it’s gotten to be a joke between us. I’ll say something joking, but maybe a tad mean, the way brothers do, and she’ll respond with “Ima dotchoo in tha eye.”

 So I give that to my readers/listeners as a little gift. Don’t make threats of knocking out teeth or laying someone out. Take the road my sister and I have paved for you. Offer to dot them in the eye. That way you can both have a good laugh all the way to the hospital.

__________________________

 I have stories for days about my sister and me and the stuff we got up to. There was the time she crucified herself - in a manner of speaking, the time we snuck and made a bomb that would have killed us had we set it off in a field like we intended, the time we snuck into the woods and found a monster, the time we snuck into the woods for a game of blind rock chunking with the neighbors ... a million stories and I’m certain they’ll come forth sooner or later. So sis, if you’re getting this, I love you and I can’t wait to create more stories in the years to come.

 

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