How Do I Say Good-Bye?

This Sunday marks the end of an era at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  When the curtain falls after the final production of Young Frankenstein, it not only marks the end of another Playhouse season, it will also be the end of the tenure of the Playhouse’s creative leads, Carl Beck and Susie Baer-Collins.

I’ve had the benefit and pleasure of knowing Carl and Susie for the better part of 15 years.  During that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to grow as a performer under their tutelage and as a person under their friendship.  It’s hard to put into words the impact they’ve had on my life.  How do I say good-bye?

Let’s start with how I said hello. . .

Carl Beck

I met Carl Beck in 1999.  It was my very first audition for the Playhouse and the show was Dracula.  I entered the Playhouse and was hopelessly lost for I had entered through the front door and had no clue where to go.  Fortunately, a kindly person found me walking within the darkened area and led me to Carl.

I said that I was there to audition and Carl responded with an enthusiastic, “Wonderful!”  I was truly struck by the enthusiasm and the sincerity of that greeting.  He was truly glad that I was there to audition.  

I’d like to say I repaid that enthusiasm with a 5 star stellar audition, but that would be a bald faced lie.  It was a pretty poor audition.  Even so, a seed had definitely been planted.

In 2000, I was cast by Carl for the first time when I auditioned for the Sherlock Holmes dramedy, The Mask of Moriarty.  What’s important to note is that Carl cast me in spite of my audition, not because of it.  He gave me a chance at a point where I badly needed one and I’ve always appreciated it.  Later I found out that he cast me that he cast me simply because he thought I was a nice guy and seemed genuinely interested in the show.  Think about that.  Carl could have cast a vastly superior and promising performer, but he gave me the opportunity.

Though it didn’t seem so at the time, I would end up growing a great deal as a performer as I sat under Carl’s learning tree during the run of that show.  Carl even gave me one of my favorite bits as a performer when he gave me a classic trap door bit that I relished doing each and every night.  Truly, it had been a grand experience.

Carl cast me for the second time in 2003 in the farce, No Sex Please, We’re British.  What was more interesting is that I had not even auditioned for this show.  I had planned to audition for the show, but a blizzard bombarded Omaha on the first night and a prior commitment had kept me from auditioning the second night.  I asked Carl if there might still be a chance to read for the show, but he said auditions had been held during the blizzard and that he was able to cast the show from those who had auditioned.  However, there was a supernumerary role of a deliveryman if I wanted it.  I took it.

I cannot express how grateful I was for this chance.  I was recovering from a battle with situational depression and had recently had what precious little confidence I had remaining sorely battered in a particularly devastating audition.  The chance Carl gave me in this show helped keep me in the game at a point when walking away was nearly a dangerous reality.

Regrettably, that was the last time I ever got to work with Carl as a performer.  But in a wonderful twist of irony, I actually gained more from future “defeats”.  In fact, one instance in particular stands out.

Starting in 2006, Carl had taken to writing little inspirational notes on my rejection slips which made me feel like a worthy actor, even though I had “lost”.  But the last inspirational note I ever received came during a period when I needed it the most.

Towards the end of the period I dubbed “the drought” in my blog, I auditioned for A Night with the Family.  It was a very strong audition and I had a lot of hope for it.  Unfortunately, I found out through Facebook that I had not been cast before I received my formal notification.  But when I did get the rejection slip, Carl had written, “You have grown so much as an auditioner—Nice work.”  That note moved me so deeply that I’ve retained it in my scrapbook.  It was so inspiring that I finally managed to end the drought two months later.

Thank you, Carl.  The things you did for me may have seemed small, but they had a massive impact on me as both a person and an actor.

Susie Baer-Collins

I met Susie on opening night of The Mask of Moriarty when I sat with her and her husband, Dennis Collins, at Mama’s Pizza after the show.  At the time, she struck me as a very warm, friendly person.  And while that was true, she was also a wonderful teacher to me as well.

I took an audition workshop offered by Susie in the early 2000s.  At the time, I was at the height of my battle with situational depression and I was trying to do anything to salvage my seemingly dying prospects in theatre.  I learned a great deal from Susie, although it didn’t seem like it at that time.  Due to my depression, I felt like I was screwing up everything she tried to teach me.  To her credit, she was very patient with me.  Susie even gave me a little post-class critique by pointing out the things I did well and the things which needed work.  As I recovered from the depression, Susie’s lessons gained a greater hold in my mind and helped to evolve me into the actor I am today.  Again, it seems so small, but her not giving up on me helped me to not give up on myself.

Although it wasn’t my first audition for Susie, my audition for The Talented Mr. Ripley was certainly my most memorable audition as well as a personal favorite of mine.  I was starting to come into my own as an actor and I credit this audition as a moment that really started to add fuel to the fire.

After I finished the audition, Susie stopped me and told me, “Excellent audition, Chris”.  At the time, it was a rare piece of praise for an audition and I treasured it highly.  Imagine winning the lottery after finding a treasure.  That sums up my feelings when Susie called me two nights later and told me that she wanted to bring me in for a callback, capped off with her line, “I’m considering you for the roles of Tom Ripley and Freddie Miles”.  The title role!!  I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible.  The callback was a hard fought night of performances and I came up a little short.  But Susie topped off my treasure and my lottery with a little slice of heaven with a novella of a rejection slip that read:

Dear Chris,

Thank you so much for your truly excellent audition for The Talented Mr. Ripley.  You read extremely well and had strong characterizations throughout.  I regret to inform you that I was unable to include you in this cast.  Please know how much I appreciate your time and dedication to this project.

Well done, Chris.

Sincerely,

Susie

That was almost as good as being cast because I felt accepted as a performer and it was a massive boost to my confidence and helped me to make greater strides as a performer.

I finally got to work with Susie when she cast me in Mister Roberts in 2010.  After 2 rounds of auditions, Susie called me on Friday night and told me I was one of the first people she was casting in the show.  That made me feel proud and continued to build my ever growing confidence.  Not only did I grow immensely under Susie’s directing, but she also told me how proud she was for how far I had come as a performer after the show closed.

Thank you, Susie.  Your faith in me nurtured my faith in myself and helped shape me into an actor.

This is the effect that Carl and Susie had on one person.  Over the past 30 years, they’ve touched the lives of countless others.  The theatre community is losing more than two great creative forces.  We’re losing two great people.  We’re all richer for their presence and will be a little poorer for their absence.

Thank you Carl and Susie.

Good-bye. . .

 

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 7: Epilogue

After saving Arizona Mat’s bacon, the summertime cold I had picked up returned with a fury.  Burning throat, stuffy head, weak as a kitten.  I ended up Skypeing my meeting with the SyFy Network executive which went well.  Currently we’re ironing out the details about “Giraffealanche”.

Arizona Mat was kind enough to take me to Sky Harbor Airport so I could catch my flight back home.  After a meal at Chelsea’s Kitchen, we bade each other good-bye.  As I approached the security checkpoint, I suddenly heard a thunderous, “YOU!!!!”

I turned to look at the origination of the shout and saw Tall Square exiting the gate area and he had spotted Arizona Mat.

“Oh, crap!!” said Arizona Mat as he bolted down the hallway with Tall Square in hot pursuit.

I smiled and shook my head.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  I could only wonder what would happen when next I ran into Arizona Mat and Tall Square.  Surprisingly, I looked forward to it.

Fin

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 6: Revelations & Bowling Balls

So a short while later, we found ourselves back at the estate of Arizona Mat where Mongrel, Arizona Mat, and the police sat around the living room while I stood court in the center of the room.  I pulled one officer to the side, whispered something in his ear, and sent him down the hall before beginning the denouement.

“In order to understand this case, we need to go back to the day of the first attack,” I said.

“Wait a moment,” said Arizona Mat.  “You’ve done well, my friend, but I’ll take it from here.  Obviously my colleague and I have come to the same conclusion.  Since I’ve been the target, I feel it’s my privilege to bring this fiend to justice.”

I stared at Arizona Mat for a moment, then gestured for him to take the stage while I stood in a corner.

“Thank you.  It has always been my philosophy that one truth prevails and that is certainly the case here.  The person responsible for these heinous attacks is Tall Square, my former sidekick.  He’s always been jealous of my intelligence, wit, good looks, and discoveries.  My besting him in the handshake contest was clearly the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Once he realized that he ended up in Nome, AK, he realized he had the perfect cover to launch a series of devastating attacks on me in secret.  

First, he arranged to have an explosive “surprise” sent to me, sans return address, so I wouldn’t be able to trace the package back to Alaska.  After arranging for the package, he chartered a flight back to Phoenix and has been following me around.  He rented a car so he could chase me down at Paseo Vista.  When my superior brain outfoxed him, he immediately drove to my home and set up the wasp farm, since he still had keys to my home.  When that failed, he trailed us to Buffalo Wild Wings where he paid off a thug to beat me senseless.  Unluckily for him, Chris spotted him waiting outside the scene of the crime.  

He slipped into my house, hoping he could get at me while the others were asleep.  Due to Chris’ propensity for deep sleep, he managed to get to me, but chose not to finish me off, as he would want it on a grand stage.  He hoped that stage might have been the sushi restaurant, but we managed to escape the sinister swordsman he had hired. In case that attack failed, he set up a bomb in my pool. Unfortunately, Chris took the evening swim that night and was nearly blown to kingdom come.  When he realized he failed, he followed Chris and I to Castles N Coasters where he used us like a real life shooting gallery.

By now, my former sidekick must have reached the limits of his patience and, any moment now, will kick in the door in an attempt to launch one final murderous assault upon my glorious personage.”

Everyone turned to look at the door.

Nothing happened.

I came out of the corner and patted Arizona Mat on the shoulder.

“That was actually a nimble piece of logical reasoning.  But you made two crucial errors.  One, Tall Square doesn’t strike me as the most subtle of people.  He would have started with the murderous assault.  Two, it’s a 10.5 hour flight from here to Nome and they are two hours behind us.  It’s simply not feasible for him to have arranged any of this.”

“Oh,” said Arizona Mat, sitting back down, his face red as a beet.

“Not that he was completely wrong,” I said.  “The assailant certainly wanted us to think Tall Square was behind this.  Hence, the little surprise delivered to Arizona Mat as well as hiring someone with a similar physical build to Tall Square for us to witness on the scene for the BWW brawl.  The attacker had to be someone with access to the house.  He also had to have knowledge of where Arizona Mat would be in order to set up these traps and attacks.  I realized that Arizona Mat’s need to broadcast his whereabouts to the world via Facebook was how the assaulter managed to set up his various death traps.

At that point I ordered Arizona Mat to stop broadcasting our whereabouts via FB and the combination of that plus our staying close to home closed off the avenues of attack for our villain.  The day of the Castles N Coasters attack, I happened to glance at Arizona Mat’s cell phone which was open to his FB page and I learned the truth.

He only has one FB friend.  Clearly that person must be the attacker.  But to be certain of my theory, I posted that we were at Castles N Coasters in an attempt to provoke an assault.  I had arranged for the police to be nearby, but the attacker managed to slip through the cordon.  Of course, the attacker didn’t always need FB to set up an attack.  On several occasions, he was right along our side.  Isn’t that right, Mongrel?”

Mongrel had blanched when I made that accusation.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said with a nervous chuckle.  “I was there at Paseo Vista and BWW.  I was also attacked by the wasps in the pool.”

“That was the brilliant and, dare I say, daring part of your plan.  You made yourself look like a potential victim of collateral damage so you wouldn’t be suspected.”

“But there’s no motivation,” countered Mongrel.

“Oh, I disagree.  You’ve had the run of the estate since Arizona Mat and Tall Square started their little handshake duel back in January.  It would be such a shame to lose it all and be reduced to a lowly B level sidekick again.  So at some point, you decided to eliminate Arizona Mat and frame Tall Square for the crime.  Or maybe you planned to get rid of both of them and adapted your plan after you found out Tall Square was flown to Alaska.”

While I was speaking, the officer whom I had sent out of the room returned with a sheaf of papers in his hand.

“And I believe this kind officer has provided me with the evidence I need to prove your guilt.”

An examination of the papers revealed Mongrel had been forging Arizona Mat’s name on various documents.  He had given himself power of attorney over Arizona Mat’s assets as well as rewriting his will to name himself sole heir.

“Anything you care to say, Mongrel?” I asked.

“You don’t know what it was like,” said Mongrel in a sad voice.  “I was kept so much in the background that you didn’t even know I existed.  Why shouldn’t I have had the estate?  I took care of it.  Arizona Mat was never around.  Occasionally he’d bed here, but normally he and Tall Square were out having misadventures.  When you started publicizing his antics, it made him even more insufferable.  This estate is mine.  I earned it.”

Mongrel was cuffed by one of the officers, read his rights, and taken away.

Needless to say, Arizona Mat was ecstatic now that the threat to his life had ended.  In celebration, we went out to the Brunswick Zone for a few hours of bowling.  Arizona Mat was back to his arrogant, self-aggrandizing ways.  As he bored me with tellings of his various “explorations”, he managed to have a red hot night of bowling, closing all, but 2 frames and bowling a 200+ point game for the first time in 20 years.  I, myself, had a sharp night of bowling as my old form began to reassert itself as I averaged 120 points.

We returned to his home and slept the sleep of the peaceful, but this adventure wasn’t over just yet.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 5: Catastrophe at the Castle (N Coasters)

It’s amazing how nearly dying truly opens up the mind.  As I sailed through the air, I saw the whole truth of the mystery for a brief flash, but it faded as I blacked out.  

I survived thanks to dumb luck.  While Arizona Mat’s lawn was the last thing I saw before fading into oblivion, the trajectory of the blast actually put me onto the roof of his house making my fall only a few feet.  I was slightly banged up and bruised, but none the worst for wear.  Later we found the remains of a bomb in Arizona Mat’s pool.

“Great!!  Now they’re after you,” said Arizona Mat.

“No, they’re not,” I replied.

“Did you hit your head when you hit my roof?”

“Think about it.  What do you normally do at night?”

“I take a swim.”

“Right.  The assailant was expecting you to be in the pool that night.  It was just coincidence that I happened to be in there.”

“I can’t take this anymore.  I’m scared!!” cried Arizona Mat as he ran to his bedroom and hid under the covers.

I paced around Arizona Mat’s living room, trying to think through this mystery.  I desperately tried to regain the momentary flash I’d had as I flew through the air.  I sat down on the couch for a moment and saw that Arizona Mat had left his phone unlocked.  I idly grabbed it and noticed it was on his FB page and there made an amazing discovery.  I was now certain as to the identity of the culprit, but knew I needed to give it an acid test.

After arranging the stage, I knocked on Arizona Mat’s door.

“Go away, Mr. Killer,” said Arizona Mat.

“It’s me.  I think we need to get out for a while.  I read about this place called Castles N Coasters.  Why don’t we stop there?”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Arizona Mat.

“So far, the attacks have been focused solely on you and the attacker has tried to avoid Mongrel and myself.  If we’re in a place where there’s a lot of people, I think you’ll be all right.  You can even wear your disguise.”

There was silence for a moment.  Then Arizona Mat opened his door a crack.

“OK.”

Castles N Coasters is a small fun center/amusement park in the downtown Phoenix area.  It boasts 4 miniature golf courses, a decent arcade which includes a section for classic games, and a little amusement park area with 2 roller coasters, a log flume, bumper cars, and other such rides.

Despite 2 of the courses being closed, we actually had a grand day and Arizona Mat began to loosen up a bit.  He managed to defeat me at mini golf as a couple of bad holes at the end finished me off.  We enjoyed playing classic games such as Tron, Killer Instinct 2, Joust, Donkey Kong, and various pinball machines.

At 5pm the rides section opened up and I crushed Arizona Mat in a Go Kart race, rode the log flume multiple times, enjoyed a spin on the roller coaster, and dueled Arizona Mat on the bumper cars.  As we got ready to leave the park, I persuaded Arizona Mat to do the obstacle course at the front of the park.  We got hooked up as if we were going to go ziplining and had some fun walking balance beams, rickety rope bridges, and walking high wires.

“This was actually a good idea,” said Arizona Mat as he walked the rope wires on the third level.

Suddenly a shot rang out severing the rope Arizona Mat had been holding.

“This was a terrible idea,” said Arizona Mat.

After the first shot, I unbuckled myself from my harness.  I grabbed the severed rope and swung for all I was worth.  Using my feet, I gave Arizona Mat a mighty shove and pushed him to the far edge of the platform where he would have some cover under the pylons by the stairs.  A second swing brought me over to his position.

“How did he find me?” blubbered Arizona Mat.

“Because I used your phone to post that we would be at Castles N Coasters,” I replied.

“Why would you do such a thing?!!!!”

“Because I needed to confirm a theory and now I’ve done that.  Why do you think I suggested doing the obstacle course?  I knew it was the best time for the assailant to make another go at you.”

“Are you insane??????”

“Relax.  I took precautions.  See, there’s the police coming now.”

“I truly admire your bravery in the face of my danger,” said Arizona Mat.

“Don’t mention it.”

With the wail of the sirens, I was able to get a visual of the shooter.  She or he was too far away to see, but the person immediately got into a nearby car and burned rubber getting out of the lot.  The police were in hot pursuit and I prayed that they were able to catch the attacker.

They didn’t.

“I’m going to die!!!” squealed Arizona Mat.

“You’re not going to die,” I said.  “In fact, if the officers are willing to come back to your place, I’m ready to reveal who’s behind this whole scenario.”

To be continued. . .

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Days 3 & 4: Guard Duty

“Who would want to hurt me?” whined Arizona Mat.  “I’m so sweet and lovable.”

Mongrel and I shared a look.  “Well,” I said, turning back to Arizona Mat, “you know there are a lot of strange people in this world.  Maybe we can come up with a list of suspects if you can think of anybody who might have a particular dislike for you.”

“Um, let’s see.  There’s Tall Square. . .my brother. . .a couple of old roommates. . .that UPS driver who delivered the package. . .the pizza delivery guy I never tip. . .my mailman. . .the curator of the museum. . .my barber. . .that elderly lady whose seat I stole on the bus. . .”

Two Hours Later

“my third grade teacher. . .that kid in kindergarten whose glue I always ate. . .and that’s about it.”

“Huh?” I grunted as I woke from a light sleep.  “All right.  Since we’ve narrowed down the list to everyone you’ve ever met, I think the best thing to do would be to post a guard until we catch whomever is behind this.”

I volunteered to take the first watch, though it was probably not the best of ideas.  I’m not much of a night owl and I was now forced to admit that I truly was sick.  My sore throat was still bothering me and now I was starting to ache as well as feel incredibly weak.  I fought sleep as long as I was able, but ended up nodding off.  I was awoken by a shake from Mongrel.

“Hey.  You OK?” asked Mongrel.

“Yeah, I just dozed off.  Let’s check out Arizona.”

We knocked on the door to Arizona Mat’s bedroom, but received no response.  Cautiously I opened the door and found Arizona Mat hanging from his ceiling fan by his underwear.  Somehow his attacker had slipped into the home and past me.  Man, I wish I wasn’t such a heavy sleeper.

Since his attacker had made it clear she or he could get to Arizona Mat at any time, we vowed that one or the other of us would keep an eye on Arizona Mat at all times.  I went to the local grocery store to lay in some supplies while Mongrel kept an eye on the panicky explorer.  After returning, Mongrel announced that he had to go out for a while and I agreed to watch over Arizona Mat since my illness rendered going out a highly unlikely scenario.  We stayed indoors all day playing Uno and watching films, though every sound seemed to send Arizona Mat into a frenzy.

CREAK!!

“What was that?”

“The house settling.”

TWEET!!

“Ah!  What was that?”

“Your electronic parrot, Polly.”

VROOOM!!

“Ah!  What was that?”

“My foot connecting with your keester in about a minute,” I said under my breath.

About 4pm, I asked Arizona Mat if he would drive me to St Mary Magdalene so I could attend a evening worship service.  Donning a cheesy disguise of an oversized handlebar moustache, a monocle, and a ten gallon hat, Arizona Mat drove me to the service.  I invited him in, but his paranoia made him reluctant to do so.

At 5:40, he picked me up and seemed a little more relaxed.  Apparently, he had killed the hour at a Barnes and Noble and when he wasn’t accosted, he thought the worst had passed.  He drove us to a sushi restaurant when we enjoyed a peaceful meal full of delicacies such as eel, salmon, spicy tuna, miso soup, and other delights.

Arizona Mat was starting to behave more like his old self, regaling me with stories of his explorations which I managed to ignore while nodding politely to present the illusion of listening.  As I turned to take a drink of water, I saw one of the teppanyaki chefs slowly approaching from behind.  In his hands, he held a samurai sword which he pulled down from the wall.

“Look out!” I shouted, shoving Arizona Mat to the side.  The sword passed harmlessly between us.  I grabbed my water glass and smashed it  over the attacker’s head, while Arizona Mat started walking over the teppanyaki grills to escape, dancing as the hot grills scorched the soles of his shoes.

We hotfooted (pun intended) it out to his car and he tore out of the parking lot.

“How were you found?” I wondered aloud.

“I don’t know.  I didn’t tell anybody.  I just posted it on Facebook.”

“You what?”

“I said I just posted in on FB.”

Given my normally polite nature, I’ll spare your ears from the barrage of invective I unleashed on Arizona Mat.  Suffice to say, I ordered him to have no contact at all with the outside world and not to leave the house unless Mongrel or myself was with him.

Mongrel had returned by the time we got back and he slept outside Arizona Mat’s bedroom, while I slept on a chair in the room.  The night passed without incident.

The next day, Mongrel again left to run some errands and Arizona Mat and I stayed indoors all day playing cards and watching movies except for a brief lunch stop at In and Out Burger where we picked up animal style double cheeseburgers to go.  No attacks happened that day and the slow day helped my health as my sore throat finally disappeared in the evening and I began to feel stronger.

After a supper of grilled steaks and salad, I decided to swim in the pool.  Too scared to take his customary evening swim, Arizona Mat stayed in the dining room area looking out so I could keep an eye on him.  As I floated in the water, letting it take all my stress away, I was suddenly surprised as I was carried off on a tidal wave that launched me into the air.  The last thing I remember before everything went dark was the backyard rushing up to meet my face.

To be continued

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 2: Arizona Mat and the Very Bad Day

I awoke the next morning with a pounding headache and a sore throat.  I was hoping this sore throat was due to going through a number of berserk weather changes, but given how much my strength was sapped, I began to fear that it was of the viral variety.  Oh, well.  Nothing much that I could do except take it easy.  Given how weak I felt, I contacted the SyFy rep and rescheduled our meeting for next week.

In the meantime, I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and washed it down with a cold glass of water which coated my throat nicely.  I then took a long, hot bath in an attempt to draw out some toxins and eliminate my sore throat more quickly.

After my bath, I diddled around on Arizona Mat’s computer, playing both the original Shadowgate (a classic text adventure game) as well as working on the beta version of the upcoming reboot of the game.  While I gamed, Arizona Mat came out of his bedroom and seemed none the worse for wear.

“Where’s Tall Square?” he asked.

“Nome, AK,” I replied before filling in the details of what had happened the previous day.

“I’ll send him a pair of pants,” said Arizona Mat as he went to get his own breakfast.

While Arizona Mat sat on the couch and munched, the doorbell rang.  He answered the door and there stood a UPS man with a package.

“Package for Mr. Arizona Mat,” said the UPS man.

“That’s me,” said Arizona Mat as he grabbed the package and shut the door in the UPS man’s face.  “That’s strange.  There’s no return address.”

I casually shrugged my shoulders and went to the kitchen to get some more water.  I heard Arizona Mat open the box and a few moments later, I heard a loud BAMF!!  I turned to look at Arizona Mat and saw him holding a smoldering package, his face and hair now blackened by soot.  I stifled a chuckle as he now reminded me of a victim of Jokey Smurf and his explosive surprises.

“I’m going to go wash up,” Arizona Mat said tightly.

As he cleaned himself up, a car pulled into the driveway and a young man came into the house.  He introduced himself as Mongrel, another sidekick of Arizona Mat’s.  He was a tall man with a sharp, chiseled chin and ash blonde hair.  Mongrel was quite a bit more likable than Tall Square so I could only conclude that he was either the most laid back guy in the world or hadn’t had enough exposure to Arizona Mat’s neurotic behavior.  Apparently, he had been acting as caretaker of the estate while Arizona Mat and Tall Square had been engaged in their handshake duel.

After washing up, Arizona Mat announced that we were going to go play frisbee golf at Paseo Vista.  It was a rather pleasant outing as we had gone out early enough in the day so the weather was hot, but not scorching.  That is, it was a pleasant outing until the 12th hole.  Arizona Mat’s shot had gone a little wide and he went to retrieve his frisbee at the same time that a car was exiting the course.  As soon as the driver caught sight of Arizona Mat, he or she gunned the motor and started chasing after him.

Mongrel and I scrambled to the top of one of the retaining walls and watched as the car pursued Arizona Mat all over the course, tearing up the ground and mowing down the plant life.  I’ll say this.  For a stocky guy, Arizona Mat could really sprint.  Mongrel and I attempted to call 911, but we were out of range of cellular towers and could only watch as Arizona Mat was hunted like an animal.  I tried to get a look at the driver, but the windows were tinted.

Finally, Arizona Mat managed to get inside one of the tunnel obstacles on the course.  Too sturdy for the car to hit and too narrow for the car to continue chasing Arizona Mat.  Reluctantly, the car turned around and left the course.

“Are you all right?” I asked the “explorer”.

“Of course I am,” Arizona Mat replied with his customary egoism.  “All in a day’s work for an intrepid explorer.”

“I think we should call the police,” said Mongrel.

“No.  Undoubtedly, it was some deranged fan.  I’m certain he’ll disappear and trouble me no further.”

So what have we learned, kids?  Nothing helps a problem more like ignoring it.

We returned to Arizona Mat’s home and he and Mongrel decided to swim in the pool while I decided to lie down for a little bit, as the heat and sore throat were rapidly sapping my vitality.  I ended up catching a catnap and when I awoke 40 minutes later, I decided I wanted to swim too.

As I began to head out to the pool, I heard a series of smacks and splats.  I gazed out the window and saw Arizona Mat and Mongrel seemingly slapping the water with foam noodles for no apparent reason.  As I looked more closely, I saw that the two were actually being attacked by a small army.

Wasps!  Hundreds of them flitted around the two.  They were using the water to avoid being bitten and using the noodles and their hands to swat the pests.  I saw that the wasps seemed to be coming from behind Arizona Mat’s waterfall, so I rummaged through his garage and found a bug bomb and carefully made my way behind the waterfall, covering myself with a towel to avoid being bitten.

When I made it behind the waterfall, I found the culprit.  Someone had left a wasp’s farm behind the waterfall.  I activated the bomb and watched as the wasps began to succumb to its effects.

“I really think we should call the police,” I said a short time later.

“Never!” declared Arizona Mat.  “I laugh in the face of danger.”

I rolled my eyes and saw Mongrel sadly shaking his head.

After the insect jamboree, Arizona Mat took us to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings where we enjoyed a night of good food and trivia.  Our table dominated the trivia night which prompted Arizona Mat to constantly whoop and holler.  Finally one of the patrons seemed to have had enough and told Arizona Mat to shut up.

“Bite me!” replied Arizona Mat.

“I think I don’t like you,” replied the patron.

Arizona Mat ignored him.

“I said, I don’t think I like you,” repeated the patron.

Arizona Mat continued ignoring him.

“Are you listening to me?” asked the patron.

“There’s a fine line between not listening and not caring and I like to think I walk that line every day,” said Arizona Mat smugly.

The patron pulled Arizona Mat from his stool and the  fight was on.  Soon everybody in the joint was getting into it.  I ducked behind the bar with a couple of the pretty waitresses and got their numbers while I watched the place turn into a shambles.  As the brawl intensified, I looked out the window and saw a powerfully built figure standing by a car, intensely watching.  As police cars began pulling up to the restaurant, the figure got into a car and drove away.

After I bailed Arizona Mat out of jail, I told him that I suspected that the fight had been deliberately started.

“Of course it was.  Nobody starts one accidentally.”

“No, I mean somebody got that guy to pick a fight with you.”

“Nonsense.”

As we pulled into Arizona Mat’s driveway, we all saw that someone had painted a message on his garage door.

PLEASANT DREAMS, ARIZONA MAT.  TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.

Mongrel and I looked at Arizona Mat who had visibly paled.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 1: Unwelcome Reunions

Have you ever had one of those days when you wake up with the feeling of impending doom?

I had a day like that yesterday.  When I woke up in the morning, I would almost swear that the Sword of Damocles was hanging over my head.

I didn’t know why I felt this way.  It was a pleasant day, after all.  The sun was shining.  The birds were chirping.  And the clouds were looking especially fluffy.

Maybe it was just nerves.  I was getting ready to fly down to Phoenix, AZ for a meeting with a representative from the SyFy Network to discuss optioning my story, Giraffealanche, for their latest SyFy Original Movie.  Now, now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Chris, your writing is so clever, sharp, and witty,” says you.  “Why would you waste your great talent writing such schlock?”  To which I reply, “Because the money is really good.”

I shook off this feeling of dread as best as I could and prepared for my journey.  I arrived at the airport, checked my luggage, and flew through security.  Armed with my new Kindle Paperwhite, I sat down at my gate and read the latest Adrian Monk mystery while I slowly sipped a Dr. Pepper.  Still the heebie jeebies remained within me.

My flight was slightly delayed, but that was no cause for concern as my meeting was scheduled for the following day.  Normally, I prefer window seats when I fly, but, this time, I took a middle seat right in the front of plane.  For some reason, I just felt that I needed to get off of that plane as soon as possible.

It was the smoothest flight I’d been on in years.  There was nary a trace of turbulence to disturb me as I read my novel cover to cover.  Upon landing, I grabbed my laptop and bolted out of the plane.  As I walked down the hall, I remembered a very similar walk I had taken roughly six months prior.  Before my mind could seize the memory, I became aware of a powerful, fetid stench that filled my nostrils.  Then all went black!

The next thing I remember was an airport employee waving some smelling salts under my nose to revive me.

“Hey, pal, are you OK?” asked the employee.

“Yeah, I think so.  What happened?” I asked.

“You passed out.”

“I remember smelling some foul odor,” I said.

“Oh!  That’s probably from our local attraction,” said the employee.

“A skunk farm?” I queried.

“Nah,” said the employee with a chuckle.  “I’ll show you.”

The employee led me down the hall and that chill down my spine began to grow sharper and colder.  I now had a hunch of what I was about to see, though it defied belief.  Just past security, I saw a crowd of people around two men and I wanted to weep.

It was Arizona Mat and Tall Square.

For those of you who are new visitors to my blog, I refer you to the archive section under the series entitled “The Arizona Chronicles” in which an odd set of circumstances thrust me into meeting Arizona Mat, a so called explorer, and Tall Square, his goofy sidekick.

They were exactly as I had left them back then.  Each still had the other’s hand locked in a death grip of a handshake.  They had lost a considerable amount of weight and were using their free hand to hold up their pants.  Feeding tubes had been inserted in their noses and IVs pumped water into their bodies. You could almost see the B.O. wafting from their bodies.  The crowd was taking bets as to which man would finally yield and break the handshake.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I said.

“Nope,” said the employee.  “These guys have been doing this for six months now.  It’s been really good for business for the stores around here, if somewhat stinky.”

Now, I suppose I could have slipped quietly away, checked into a nice hotel, and avoided what was to come.  But I made my first mistake.  I said hello.

“Uh, hi, guys,” I said.

Tall Square looked at me, then let go of Arizona Mat’s hand to wave at me.  Time seemed to stop.

A stunned silence fell over the crowd.  Finally the duel had ended.  A maniacal light gleamed in Arizona Mat’s eyes.  A huge smile split his lips.

“You lose!!  You lose!!” crowed Arizona Mat.  “I’m the winner!  You’re the loser!  Winner!  Loser!!  Loser!!  Winner!!  I am such a winner!!  You are such a loser!!  I am such a winner!!  You are such a loser!!”

Arizona Mat had broken into a conga dance, shaking his butt in Tall Square’s face.  I could tell Tall Square was about to explode and the following seemed to occur in slow motion.

Tall Square cocked back his fist for a mighty punch and had just begun the follow through when a people mover ran into him from behind.  I watched in horror as the upper half of his body bent backwards in a 90 degree angle.  His body flipped up and over the people mover, sailing through the air.  I covered my eyes as I braced myself for the sickening crack of his body hitting the ground.  Instead, I heard a thump.

I peeked through my fingers and saw that Tall Square’s body had somehow landed on a luggage mover going down the opposite direction.  I turned to look at Arizona Mat who had fallen to the ground due to weakness, yet he still had that cheesy grin on his face and he was pumping his arms up, chanting, “Winner!  Winner!  Winner!”

I pursued the luggage mover, but the unusually high level of people in the airport slowed me down and I was unable to catch up with it.  I looked through the window and watched as Tall Square was blithely loaded with the luggage onto a plane bound for Nome, AK.  Poor Tall Square.

I returned to Arizona Mat, still pumping his arms on the ground.  I could have walked away at this point, but then I made my second mistake.  I decided to do my Christian duty and help.

I loaded Arizona Mat onto a wheelchair, picked up my suitcase, and hailed a cab.  Once we had gotten to Arizona Mat’s home, I tucked the poor sot into bed and decided to head for a hotel and then I made my third mistake.  I got cheap.

I realized that I could stay here for free and save myself on a hotel bill.  So I sent the cab away and made myself at home in the guest room.  I was hungry so I walked down the street to the Flaming Kabob when I enjoyed some delicious hummus, chicken lemon rice soup, and chicken gallaya.  Bringing the leftovers with me for lunch the next day, I proceeded to jump into Arizona Mat’s pool which was much more enjoyable now as opposed to the icy plunge he forced me to take six months earlier.

As I swam, I realized I was probably in for another series of hijinks and misadventures, but I heaved a mighty sigh and decided I would try to make the best of things.

To be continued. . .