Sometimes you get snow. In a can. And it’s amazing.

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In the Beyond section of Bed, Bath, and Beyond, there exists a magical item.

This item is so wonderful, so indescribably joyous, that it can only be used at the holidays.

It has the power to bring a smile to the face of any person who holds it in their hand.  It has the ability to grow to ten times its original size.

I am speaking, of course, of Snow In A Can.

I discovered this mysterious and original bit of holiday magic while doing some Christmas shopping with my two younger brothers.  After assessing this magnificent invention and examining the pros and cons of a purchase of said item, I decided to splurge and take it to the cashier.

$2.99 later, it was mine!  Snow In A Can!

As soon as I got home, I rushed into the kitchen, my family assisted me in placing down plastic and newspaper, and I yanked back the pull tab on the aluminum container.

There, inside, was the magical substance – approximately a teaspoon of a fine, white powder.

After retrieving a cup of tap water, I put my sorcery to the test.  I filled the can with water, and lo and behold!!  It turned to snow!!!!

OK, maybe not snow per se, but a certainly a moist, gelatinous substance that certainly reacted like snow when played with.

We were able to roll it into little balls but, unfortunately, the balls did not join together well enough to make a snowman.  The weight of the abdomen completely crushed the base.  Even after placing the snowman on a diet and decreasing the circumference of the waist, the base still would not hold up.  It was at this point that we performed a base-otomy and constructed a snowman that was only one ball high.

Using the small piece of ribbon (read: scarf) and googly eyes that came in the aluminum can with the powdery pre-snow and miniature snow shovel, we decorated our blobbish snowman and felt the Christmas spirit coursing through our veins.

It was a joyous five minutes.

I whole-heartedly recommend Snow In A Can to all peoples, regardless of age, race, sex, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or baseline holiday spirit level.

I will be back to the Beyond to get another can before the holidays are over.  Make no mistake.

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Sometimes you accidentally release a demon clown into the world.

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Meet “Funny Face.”

He was painted in 1969 – a Christmas gift to my father from his godmother (an amateur artist).

How this character earned the name Funny Face, I’m not certain we will ever know.  He looks like John Wayne Gacy.  Or Tim Curry as Stephen King’s It.  

He has no neck to speak of.  He’s pretty chubby, but not in that fun happy-chubby way.  His eyes are dark and expressionless, not to mention rather lopsided.  His uni-brow is menacing, to say the least.  His fire-engine red lips are ginormous.  And he has fangs.  

I repeat – he has FANGS.  Not huge ones, I’ll be honest, but FANGS, people.  FANGS.

Why does he have no other teeth?  And why are his fangs so tiny and pointy?  They’re like the canines on my cat.  And his smile is so lazy and half-hearted, like – I’ll say it – like a pedophile’s.

Finally, it looks like he has stubble.  There is actual darkening around his chin.  And it looks like it was actually painted on there.  On purpose.  Why would someone do that?  Was she playing with shadow?  Was she trying to give him a fat neck?  Or was she actually painting stubble on this guy?  Alas, we shall never know.

Funny Face lived in my garage as I was growing up.  Mom refused to let him inside the house (I wonder why).  But there he was, every time I went out to get a screwdriver or work on a Boy Scout project.  Watching me.  Eventually, it was time for me to be a real human and move out of the house into something of my own.  I took Funny Face.

Why, you ask?  Because I could.  And because I figured he would eventually get thrown out if he stayed with my parents.

Unfortunately, several significant others found him less-than-desirable on my apartment wall, so he stayed well-hidden.  One day, though, I made a decision and I put my foot down and got the old creep out of storage and stuck him up on my wall.  In my bedroom, no less!  I claimed him as my own and made no apologies about it.

My current girlfriend is still getting used to sleeping in a room with this guy, but thus far he hasn’t stolen her soul or anything.

Now, meet this guy:

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Apparently this charmer has been roaming the streets of Northampton of late, just standin’ around with his balloons and generally scaring the knickers off anyone who chances to see him.  You can read more about him here:
http://www.inquisitr.com/951291/northampton-clown-leads-to-police-warning-town-mystified/

So here comes the confession:

When I was home alone a few days ago, I happened to be in a really good mood.  And when I’m in a really good mood, I end up talking to inanimate objects (personality trait story for another day, perhaps).  Anyway, while getting dressed after my shower I spied my ol’ pal Funny Face on the wall and I struck up a convo.  We chatted about several things, to include lyrics for a song I was working on and some story ideas I had for a new novel, but I finally got around to saying, “Ya know, you really are a creepy looking guy.  I really hope you never come to life and terrorize the countryside or anything.”

BAM – the next day, this bloke shows up in Northampton.

You do the math.

I can only imagine that my dad’s godmother somehow trapped this frightening clown in her painting using magical means, and I somehow freed his soul.  It’s really the only logical explanation, I think.

At this time, I would like to apologize to the inhabitants of Northampton and its environs for releasing this demon clown upon them, and ask for their patience as I consult several resources relating to the occult in order to fully realize his transference back to the aforementioned painting.

If you do manage to garner an audience with the spirit, I would recommend that you address him as “Funny Face” (as that is his given name) and I ask that you please request of him to get the heck back into his stubbly, fang-toothed painting.

Thank you.

 

Sometimes you feel like a nut. Because nuts don’t have summer vacations. And neither do you.

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Remember summer vacations?

Remember that time when they were all you thought about the last few weeks of school?
Remember how, as soon as that last day of school (usually a half-day) was over, there was this enormous weight lifted off your shoulders and the world literally felt different?  The smells were different, the sounds were different, the feel of the sun on your skin was completely different than the sun on your skin the day before.

Remember how you would go home and wake up at your leisure for three months?  And, even if you didn’t, it was because you were going to band camp, or Boy Scout camp, or basketball camp, or generic summer camp, or some other kind of definitely-more-fun-than-staying-at-home camp.  Or getting up early to fly or drive to a vacation destination.  Or just because you could, because it was summer and you could do whatever the heck you wanted.

Remember how you would go to the beach and it would be completely packed with everybody else in the world on summer vacation?  And how it didn’t matter, because that was the only time the kids were out of school, so it wasn’t as annoying as it should have been?

Remember how you felt like you were doing something wrong when you went to a store or a restaurant in the middle of a weekday?  And how you kept waiting for someone to ask you why you weren’t in school?  And how it felt really really really good to be doing that something wrong?

Remember those days in the middle of the summer when you were bored out of your mind because you had absolutely no idea what to do?  That was when I started to employ my younger brothers to lip-sync along to musical soundtracks as I filmed them on the trampoline.  But that’s another weblog post…

Remember how, after that mid-point, you realized that summer was already halfway over and you didn’t do a fraction of what you wanted to?  So you put on your gettin’-stuff-done cap and you packed as much fun as you could in that last month.  This, unfortunately, contributed to the old adage “Time flies when you’re having fun,” so the summer was over long before you were ready for it.

Back-to-school shopping was fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was always the last vestige of a dying way of life, and the stress of a new school year with new teachers and new classes and new responsibilities and new things you have to do loomed out there on the horizon.

Remember how that last day of summer before you went back to school was a complete blur?  How you could never quite remember what happened, because your mind was clouded with so many different thoughts and feelings?

And then remember that first day of school, when you were at once excited to be doing something new but still mourning the death of those three lovely months of nothingness?

I miss that.

These days, my summer vacations are haphazardly thrown together and stuck in all over the calendar.  I took a week in the winter, I take a day or two here and there, I have these weeks off so I do some stuff there…  Gone are the days of a large time-frame given to me to use exclusively for vacationing.  In that respect, I envy those who work in the field of education.

Still, I always seem to make it work, even if it’s rushed and slapdash.  Unfortunately, summer now resembles the rest of the year.  It smells the same, it sounds the same, and that sun feels exactly the same as it did before.  The magic of it has disappeared a little.

I think, as adults, we need to strive to get that magic back.  And that’s my summer resolution.  🙂

What’s yours?

 

(Also, I’ve used the word “magic” in A LOT of my posts…  What’s up with that???)

 

Sometimes you start a story at 16. And finish it at 26.

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Ah, high school.  Those ripe and rare salad days.  The virgin landscape of yesteryear.  That delightful time when anything can – and does – occur.  When all roads are open to you, and everything is possible.

It was during this impressionable time in my life that I explored every creative outlet I had in my body.  I acted, I sang, I danced, I composed music, I wrote plays, and of course – I wrote fiction.  Although recently undertaken as a solid professional goal, the urge to write was bred in me long before a whisker showed its face on my chin.  Now, there have been little stories swimming through the river of my mind for as long as I’ve been a sentient being, but it was in high school that the idea of THE NOVEL first reared its head. 

THE NOVEL came to me one day after watching a performance of Puccini’s La Boheme at a waterfront amphitheater.  It was a beautiful evening, and Rodolfo and Mimi sang of their love as the sun set behind them.  I was with my first love, and I had never felt more alive before.  I went home and immediately knew what I was meant to do with my life.
Well, not really.  That never happened.

Really, I have no idea where or how I got the idea for THE NOVEL in the first place.  But it appeared one day and I said, “Hey, that’d be a cool book.”  So I sketched out some ideas and wrote a chapter or two in a journal and promptly forgot about it.

Cut to my sophomore year of college four years later.  Going to school in Philadelphia, I was working part-time at Adventure Aquarium across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ (which, at the time, was considered the most dangerous city in America – fun fact).  Every day I had to get on the PATCO train which connected the two cities and ride it across the Ben Franklin Bridge.  While on this commute one day, I suddenly remembered THE NOVEL.  (I should mention I was going to school for musical theatre at this time, so I had entertained no intention of writing.  Ever.  Not that I was against it – it had just never occurred to me.)

Being an ambitious lad with an hour of nothing to do every day while commuting, and not being one of those silly bookworms who read on the train, and not being one of those crazy teenagers who listen to music on the train, I decided I liked the romance of writing a novel on the train.  I found my old red notebook and set to work with a serious mind.

I plotted out THE NOVEL and created a map of the world (Yes, it was an epic fantasy.  Of course.).  I wrote a few chapters and was so pleased with the novelty of it all.  This was so different than going to voice lessons and dance class and crying in Meisner studio and dealing with hot girls who were actually crazy.  Alas, all good things end, however, and my time at the aquarium drew to a close.  I typed out what I had written and saved it on my computer.  And promptly forgot about it again.

So it went for the next few years – I graduated and got my first professional acting gigs.  I fell in love, fell out of love, moved in with people, moved away from people, had other day jobs, and eventually moved to New York.  During all of this, THE NOVEL would stop by my head to say hello every now and then.  I wrote a couple of chapters between acting gigs, I rearranged a bit of dialogue when going through a breakup, I edited the map anytime I saw a cooler map in another epic fantasy book.

I actually got a lot of writing in during Army basic training.  After the day was over and our drill sergeants released us for the night, I’d sit up in bed with my little notebook, scribbling away about fairies and magic with my M-16 semi-automatic rifle by my side.

Anyway, there came a point when I realized I had finished the darn thing.  So I said, “Neat!” and promptly forgot about it.

Cue me making the decision that I’d like to start writing fo’ realsies.  THE NOVEL is ecstatic.  Happily, I read through it, prepared to start the editing process.  I am appalled.

Here is the problem with beginning a novel at 16 and finishing it at 26:  it was written by at least ten different people. 

I could point out exactly what section each author wrote.  And not because I remembered when I wrote what.  It was because it was so blatantly obvious.  I will highlight a few of these authors:

The 16-year-old wrote like Tolkein or Dickens:  long, luxuriating sentences that carried such weight of import that you wanted to take a nap after every period.  You lost track of the subject of the sentence after hearing how beautiful it was in the moonlight.

The 21-year-old wrote like David Mamet:  whole chapters filled with dialogue.  Occasionally there’d be a “he said” in there, but that was about it.  Otherwise, it was action-action-action.

The 26-year-old wrote with a sense of motivation: whole pages where we followed the characters’ thoughts and feelings, their wants and desires, and then a little blip about what them doing something to get it.

It was like somebody with multiple personality disorder wanted to write a book.

So here we are, a year later, and my agent suggests (not wrongly) that I give it yet another go-through to clarify some points.  Sigh.  How much longer shall I continue to edit, trying desperately to unify these many voices into one?  Only time will tell. 

Hopefully it’s not another ten years.

Sometimes you tell your six-year-old he’s going to prison.

I realized, after I wrote my last post, that MAGIC (the all in caps kind) was just in my life a couple of days ago.  While traveling back home on a jitney bus from New Jersey, I related the following story of my youth to my fellow passengers.  Please bear in mind that this is, in fact, an actual event in my life.  It is not a work of fiction.

When I was (I’m going to say) six years old, I had an affinity for MAGIC.  This, I believe, goes hand in hand with being a weird kid.  I was also very much into writing my own songs, making my own movies that may or may not have included puppetry and stop-motion technology, and hosting my own radio show entitled “Artie Is Funny.”  Mayhaps someday I shall retrieve the old cassette tapes and grace the digital pages of rtcvers.wordpress.com with the transcripts of the aforementioned antics.

Until then, as I was saying – I dug magic.  I even had a plastic top hat with a hidden compartment, in which sat the shabby puppet version of a white rabbit.  Now, I was six, mind you, so I had no money.  All magic sets at my disposal were given to me as gifts.  That is, until one fateful day…

I can’t tell you with which parent I was walking one day through Kmart.  I’m not certain if it was summer, or winter, or another less important season.  What I do remember is breaking away from my guardian at some point (as children are wont to do) and wandering over to the toy aisle.

Yes, the toy aisle – the paradise of those whose years have not yet reached a dozen.  The hours I spent browsing its sumptuous goods would span the lives of hundreds of generations of mayflies.  And cheaper stores like Kmart were the best, because their toy aisles were usually a mess.

Whole squads of GI Joes sat on top of a box of Koosh balls, Tamagotchis peppered the shelf of LEGO sets, and “Press Me” stickers stuck to the floor, the talking animals they once protected now harried and silent.  And sometimes the toys’ packages were open, no doubt laid to waste by the grasping hands of some miniature human hoping for a few seconds of playtime with the object before their parents returned to claim them.  After pleading their case for ownership of the item to their own masters, the adults balked and the toy was discarded, thrown back into the slush pile, its case of cardboard and plastic in pieces a foot away.

Such was the scene as I stepped into the deserted toy aisle on this all-too-important department store trip.  I moved in a calculated fashion from end to end, not wanting to miss anything that could be fodder for my annual List of Wants to Mr. Claus.  Decks of cards, a new version of Monopoly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…  And suddenly, there it was.

Lying on a rather empty cream-colored metal shelf was a single magic trick out of its package: a Restoring Broken Rope Magic Prop.  For those of you unfamiliar with such things, I will provide the description used by Amazon.com for the item:

“One rope inside the cutting machine, push the box, the rope will be cut into two pieces; but push the box back into place, the rope will be restored!  Very easy to learn and perform, a great accessory and gift for magic lovers!”

I now direct your attention to the following photographs so that you may more easily conceive the premise behind the trick:

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Here we see the rope inserted into the apparatus.

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Oh my goodness – it’s cut!

I would put in the final picture of the trick (the Prestige, if you will), but it would look the same as the first.

Got it?  Good.  No?  Well, it’s not that important.

What’s important is that I wanted it.  I looked to my left and I looked to my right.  I scanned the ceiling for security cameras.  (I was a right smart one, I was.)  The coast was clear.  Without hesitation, I reached out my hand, secured the device, and placed it swiftly into my pocket.  Not eager to be present at the scene of a crime, I hurried back to my guardian.

I can’t quite recall if I played much with the magic trick.  I’m not sure if I included in my act at the time for my audience of plush toys and baby brother.  I don’t even know how my parents discovered I had stolen it.

But discover it, they did.

My father shook his head grimly.  He pursed his lips and let out a sigh.  “Artie,” he said.  “We have to return this.  You know that, right?”

I agreed, wholeheartedly.  It’s very easy to profess the mastership of Right and Wrong once you are caught in an act of the latter.

“I’m going to call the manager of the store and let him know we’re bringing it back.  And you’re going to have to go give it to him and apologize in person.”

My heart stopped.  Me?  I was going to have to talk to this person?  And apologize?  My face was red with embarrassment already; what would it be like to stand in front of the veritable King of Kmart and proclaim my wrongdoing?

After my father hung up the phone, he conferred with me again.  “Artie, I’m ready to go.  I’ve called the manager and he knows we’re on our way.”  He paused, a hint of hesitation in his voice.  “I think you should go pack a bag, because I’m not sure you’re going to be able to come home with me.”

My world stopped.  I’m sure I managed to squeak out a query of some sort, because my father expounded:

“Well, you stole something.  That’s against the law.  And people who break the law are arrested.  We’ll see what he says when we get in there, but I think you’ll have to go to prison, Artie.”

I was blind with fear.  My gut lifted into my throat as I shuffled to my bedroom.  Tears streamed down my face as I crammed a few possessions into my bookbag.  I took out my notebooks and pencils because I just didn’t know if I was ever going to go back to school.  I hugged my mother, who kissed me lightly on the head.  Then I followed my father into the garage.

As we drove to Kmart, I attempted to take stock of the world around me.  I cataloged the smell of pine trees, the brightness of the sun, the sound of children laughing, and the accidental rainbow in a suburban yard’s sprinkler.  My father and I did not speak much.  In my hand was clutched the bane of my existence, that ridiculous prop I once thought so crucial to my happiness.

The car parked, I savored my last moments of freedom as we crossed the asphalt.  I didn’t even try to run.  The glass doors parted with a hiss and there, on the red entry mat, stood The Manager.

My memory has blocked any image of The Manager from my conscious mind.  No doubt he dwells solely in my dreams now, haunting my id when it is tempted by evil.  I remember he took us to his office.  And I remember he made my father wait outside.  A brusque goodbye hug transpired between me and my pater familius before I was ushered into the stark room with the two-way mirror.

All dignity to which my soul lay claim was thrown asunder.  I handed over the magic trick, the accursed toy which had veritably severed the rope of my life in two.  I wept without shame.  I decried myself for the awful misdeeds perpetrated and pledged my eternal sorrow for their actuality.  I beseeched The Manager for an ounce of kindness, an iota of forgiveness, a dollop of absolution.  Had there been a cat-o-nine-tails in the room, I have no doubt the six-year-old Artie Sievers would have picked it up and thrashed himself, singing “Mea culpa” to the asbestos-filled raftors of my red and white Gethsemane.

The Manager studied me with the calmness of one who has total control over another’s life.  He reached out and picked up his telephone.  “Don’t worry about it, officer,” he mumbled into the receiver.  “We’re ok in here.”  Then he hung up the device and stared into my very soul.

“You do know that stealing is against the law, right?”

My head had never before nodded with such fervor.

“And you’ll never do this again, right?”

My brain rattled as the melon on my shoulders shook side to side.

“Alright then.  You can go.”

I practically fainted with relief.  The door burst open and my father stood there, his arms open wide.  I rushed into him, the stinging odor of his Aqua Velva signalling a new life of atonement, of good citizenship, and of doing RIGHT.

The whole experience was my own person restoring magic trick – just when I thought my rope was cut, the box was pushed back together to reveal it as whole once again!  I was reborn.

I didn’t do much magic after that.  I suppose I lost my stomach for the stuff.  It’s really a rotten business, you know.

Sometimes you have a night that’s all about MAGIC.

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There are several different kinds of magic in my life today.  Please find them listed below:

1. First and foremost, I discovered that I can post pictures in my weblog posts.  This is magic of the highest degree.  Please note the above picture and be amazed and awed at the twenty-first century’s technology.  This is the world we live in, folks.

2. I figured out how to link my weblog to profiles I have on various sites.  If you go to Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6562198.Artie_Sievers) or Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Artie-Sievers/e/B0078N7SH0/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1), you will now be able to see RSS Feeds (I don’t even know what that means) of my weblog posts there!  Again, I request that you express enthusiasm and veneration at the things that can be done on the Interweb.  This is magic of the second highest degree.  Goodness gracious!

3. I bought a new pillow today.  It is of the down persuasion.  It was $20, but was marked down to $8.99.  This is magic of the monetary degree.  I tried it out already.  It’s a pretty sweet ride.  For my head.

4. I’m making pizza tonight.  I would be remiss if I wrote a post about magic and did not include my friend and yours: yeast.  Can we give it up a little for yeast, folks?  I mean, he’s just sitting around in its little packet, tucked away in the baking aisle, so nonchalant, so unassuming.  Heck, he usually even comes in packs of threes, with the little perforated edge between he and his compatriots.  Paper packaging, mind you.  Certainly this can’t be anything that important, the uninformed consumer tells herself as she places the trio of yeast brothers into her cart.  Once at home, he asks so little of you.  He agrees to sit ever so politely on your pantry shelf, taking up no room at all.  Perhaps you put him in that little plastic container you have for all of your paper packet-ed pantry items like marinade and taco seasoning.  “Don’t worry about me – I’ll be here whenever you need me,” he says with a grin.  And it could be months.  But as soon as you get him down off the shelf, and let him do its magic, hot dog!  He actually changes the size and shape of dough!  He becomes a veritable David Blaine of the culinary world and creates a whizzbang levitation illusion.  Nothing will ever be the same.  This is magic of the natural degree.  I shall witness this magic this evening, and I will be enthralled.

5. There will be a movie night this evening in The Duncraggen.  The theme?  Magic.  The films?  The Illusionist and The Prestige.  Remember those guys?  Poor things, they came out at the exact same time and had practically the exact same subject matter.  Say what you will, but I believe neither got their fair share of appreciation.  Tonight I will relive the wonder, the drama, and the excitement of seeing world-class magicians in high-tension, life-altering situations that I experienced when I first saw both oh those many years ago.  This is magic of the cinematic degree.  And it shall be spectacular.