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May 4, 2018

 Shenanigans is defined by Webster's dictionary as tricky or questionable practices or conduct; also, high-spirited or mischievous activity. It's a word I never used until I became an old fogy. Now it rolls off my tongue like a good set of dentures secured by a bad squeeze of Fixadent. I can't remember what we called shenanigans when I was growing up, but we sure knew when we were up to them. I can tell you that I've been up to my share and it doesn't seem that over my forty plus years I've learned lessons very well because I still tend to enjoy engaging in shenaniganly activities, as you'll see in two of these three stories.

My name is Michael Blackston and you're about to step right into a big pile of my funny, messy life.


 My mama still shakes her head at stuff I say and do. There's usually at least a little smile behind the shame, but I imagine a voice inside her head asking, Where did I go wrong? It's okay, Mama. I turned out pretty relatively enough alright-ish in the end and we should probably thank God I didn't end up worse than that. After all ...

I Was A Stupid Kid Who Did Stupidly Stupid Stuff

 As my oldest approaches manhood and the age when I have to trust him outside of my supervision, I cringe to think of what must be going through that head of his. I remember being his age and while the details are effectively buried under an avalanche of adult stuff that happened starting twenty years ago, stuff that includes bad eating habits, lack of exercise, tons of debt, two decades of happy marriage, a foot or ten I stuck in my mouth, and a toe fungus that seemed like it would never go away, there’s still a vapor of youth stank seeping through to the surface. It could be whatever ungodly manifestation is under my son's bed creating that odor, I suppose. I'm afraid to look. But as deep as the tiny details may remain at the bottom of my own life's heap, I do have some solid nuggets to remind me that if I don’t keep a close eye on my child, I’m likely to be removing layers of his skin from concrete and/or roofing materials before too long.

 The memories that evoke that sort of worry in my mind are tattooed there for eternity. We laugh about them now when we’re gathered around the dinner table and begin to reminisce about the Days of Good Ol’, but in truth, they still hurt a little, they still embarrass, or they still scare the crap out of me.

 I was stupid. We did stupidly stupid things and I wasn’t alone.

 I had my cousin by my side for much of it, but some things are mine and mine alone to take ownership of. So which were which and what did we or I do? Here are a few instances of stupid, all true stories, from my childhood.

Collecting Money From Neighbors For "The Functionally Illiterate" To Actually Buy Cigarettes

Stupid Rating: EVIL

 My cousin and I liked to smoke when we were about my son’s age. We thought we were cool and back in the Days Of Good Ol’, you could purchase cigarettes “for your aunt” if you were three years old. Tell the clerk they were for an adult family member and it was all good. We had one particular old man who worked the counter of a local convenience store that never asked questions and so we patronized his store often. Most of the time, we could come up with a couple of dollars for a pack of menthols with no problem, but on this occasion we had lots of daylight left and there was nothing we could get our hands on, money wise. I don’t remember who’s idea it was, but together we decided to grab a small crystal candy dish from my cousin’s coffee table and work the neighborhood going door to door asking for money until we’d collected enough to buy a pack. Most of the neighbors gave us a few nickels and sent us on our way. It wasn’t until one of them cocked an eyebrow and started asking questions that I had to improvise and came up with a story that turned into what we thought was a gold mine. I think it's important to mention that my cousin hid in the bushes while I knocked on the doors. The neighbor asked what charity we were collecting for and I hesitated only for a second. I had recently heard someone on the radio talking about helping those who couldn’t read and I said, “The functionally illiterate.” She asked what that meant and after I told her accurately, she gave me something like a dollar in quarters. I thanked her and calmly walked to the bush where my cousin was crouching and laughing. After it was all said and done, I think we collected enough for several packs of cigarettes and by the end of the day, we probably smelled like the Marlboro man after a stressful night. I’ve always felt an awful sense of regret and shame for doing that and as a result, I tend to give a little more than I normally would to the Santa that rings the bell.

 Yes, we laugh, but we also understand the depth of the“butt whoopin’” we should have taken after a stunt like that. And before you shout, “Where were your parents?!”, you have to realize that we went to great lengths to ensure they thought we were on our best behavior and right outside in the back yard.

Swinging On A Rickety Cable Over A Rocky Creek

Stupid Rating: DUMMY

 Again, my cousin was there, but I can’t blame him for my injuries. In the woods close to his house, there was a large oak tree that overhung a ten-foot ravine with a small, very rocky creek at the bottom. From a thick branch was tied a metal cable and at the end of the cable, a stick was tied into a loop so you could hold on. My cousin and his friend had found it and spent hours enjoying the bliss of swinging from the edge and out over the creek. He couldn’t wait to show me and we planned on a day of it the very next time I was over. That time came on a Sunday; I remember that. Mom was not easy about letting me spend the day out of her sight with friends, but she was trying to let me be a boy and gave me her trust. It didn’t help that I'd told her what we were planning to do.

 “Absolutely NOT! You'll kill yourself!” she yelled and I promised we’d find something else to entertain ourselves. My eyes would have been shifty during that promise and I probably had fingers crossed behind my back because as we all know, that makes it a clever deception, not a lie - which is not a sin.

 When we got to the tree, completely disobeying my mother, my cousin and his friend each took turns showing me how it was done. They pulled the cable in, took hold of the stick in both hands, pulled it tight, swung out over the ravine and back. Glee and laughter and cries of, “WEEEEEEE!” filled the spring day. It was my turn and it looked easy enough. I pulled the cable to myself just as they had. I grabbed the stick in both hands just as they had. I jumped straight out from the bank over the ravine just as they HAD NOT. I wasn’t the best at paying close attention and the pull it tight and swing part had escaped my notice. There is a big difference between pulling a cable tight and swinging over a ten-foot ravine with a rocky creek at the bottom and jumping straight into the air over the ravine so that there is quite a lot of slack in the cable, until that is, gravity takes effect moments later and the slack lets out violently. I knew it as soon as my feet left the safety of the bank, but there was nothing I could do. The cable snapped straight and I wasn't strong enough to hold on.

 I fell the ten feet face first.

 On my way down, I managed to protect my face with my left arm and break my fall with my right, which snapped both bones of my right arm cleanly.

 My injuries could have been much worse, but I was lucky to walk away with a broken arm and a severely bruised face. There was no hiding it from mom, of course, so I gave her the details … I had slipped on some mud while walking by the creek and tumbled down the embankment.

I Was A Teenage Ninja Mercenary

Stupid Rating: IDIOT

 I was fourteen when we moved to not only a new house, but also to a new state. Rambo was all the rage at the movies and so were ninja films. I was totally convinced that I would be a great military weapon for my country and also, I had seen First Blood more than 8,000 times. I was already qualified to be considered a master at sneakery. On top of that, I had a black ninja suit complete with hood and boots, so win/win. I decided that one of the first nights in our new house would be dedicated to sneaking out and wandering the neighborhood to engage in a little surveillance. After all, I’d seen Invasion USA, where Chuck Norris had to tackle a terror cell in what seemed like a normal, quiet nook of suburbia, so it was best to be prepared in the event that bazooka fire erupted in our back yard.

 When the opportunity came, I suited up and soft-stepped through the house, backing against the walls and doing that quick around-the-corner peek all the expert silent assassins employ, although I knew my mom and step-dad were in their bedroom asleep. I opened the door and smelled the crisp night air. From a bush at the front, I scanned my surroundings and picked my route of covert ninja sweetness. I would cross the front yard fleetly of foot, making no sound and take my next cover behind a tree in the side yard of the house across the street. From the safety of those shadows, I would plan my next move of bold, swift execution.

 It was late (or early) and there were no cars. Nevertheless, there was need for stealth and I took off across the yard like a panther. I made no sound; left no shadow. I was a breeze for all anyone but me could tell and I could see the tree in the side yard of the house across the street getting closer. The focus on my destination was sharp – too sharp – and so I didn’t see the chain-link fence between me and the tree. I hadn't noticed it before when we were moving in and, in the black of night, I did not notice it then.

 I caught the thick metal top bar of the fence with my face, right in the middle of my upper lip. Dazed, I put a ninja glove to the point of impact and it stung like a mother. Then I noticed great droplets of blood speckling the pavement as I limped back toward my house. I carefully removed the ninja gear and hid it in my room, then went to my mother and explained how I had slipped on something in my bedroom and planted my lip into the corner of my wrought iron bed. She had no reason not to believe me as apparently, I was prone to slip on things.

 So why do I cringe when I think that my son is coming into the fearless days of his life? I think you know the answer to that. History tends to repeat itself, so I need to be extra vigilant. I wish I had the time to regale you with every story like this I can think of and maybe one day I’ll tell some more. For right now, though, I think it’s all I can stomach. Although … Yeah, as bloody and painful as they may have been, sometimes I do still long to revisit those Days Of Good Ol’.


 Wow, you say. This guy is lucky to be alive or at the very least, lucky not to be somebody's girlfriend in a maximum security prison. And I'll say to you, I know … I know. Someone was watching over me. I imagine God has assigned me some pretty awesome guardian angels over the years and I also reckon there's been a lot of turn-over at that position with angelic voices screaming, I can't take it anymore! Well, this next story will show you that shenanigans are still a part of my life. I submit to you now a tale of ...


Hotel Shenanigans

 Since I travel so much, I’d expect that my readers and listeners will be treated to stories that center around hotels every now and again. One of the hardest things about consistently releasing content is figuring out what to write about. It probably wouldn’t be as tough if I were blogging about how to better yourself, make money online, or decorate the garage you’re renovating for your mother to move into by using trash you stole from your neighbor’s bin.

 I, however, am making a valiant attempt at comedy and that ain’t so easy a task. I will say that it doesn’t make it any easier trying to type with fried chicken grease on your fingers because you’re on your lunch break and the buffet at Olde Town Café in Walterboro, SC has been calling to you since you drove by this morning.

 Fortunately, I had an idea last night that helps in this area. I was bored while I waited in line at the front desk of my hotel to check in and I began thinking of ways I could up the entertainment ante of trips away from home.

 When I first started traveling, the novelty of staying in hotel rooms was enough. I could go out to any of the restaurants that surrounded me, then see what was happening in whatever town I was working in at the moment. Afterward, what little night was left would be spent in the comfort of a room that would be magically clean and tidy when I returned after work that day. It didn’t take long, though, to become bored with all of the exploration and even the eating out. Soon my evenings began to consist of picking up a rotisserie chicken from Walmart and going straight to my room to den up like an old, decrepit bear with bad teeth and worn down claws. Had I any lawn in front of my hotel rooms, I would have screamed at children to, “Stay off it, by thunder!”

 So as I stood in line behind every person who ever retired to Florida, I started thinking of fun ways to prank people in the hotel. I would never have to venture far from my room and still find entertainment that may be considered in poor taste, cruel, even evil, but would help me to pass the time with a smile.

 Here are some things you might consider attempting the next time you’re in a hotel and have the proper tools at your disposal:

The little girl at the end of the hall

 We’ve all seen the imagery in one movie or another. There is nothing creepier than a little girl standing silent and alone in a place she shouldn’t be. The very end of the hall in a hotel is the perfect place and the stringier her hair, the better. Let her locks fall with reckless abandon in front of her face and if you can swing it, have her hold a teddy bear by the leg loosely at her side. This could be your daughter or your niece. Have her stand there in silence, staring straight ahead so that when people get off the elevator, they see her just standing at the end of the hall. When they approach (IF they approach), have her remain silent or softly whisper something like, “I’m sorry I was bad, mommy, but they told me to do it. Now it's your turn.” She can repeat that same line over and over or maybe just raise her finger to point at whoever comes off the elevator. If you’re a real sicko and have identical twins, station them at each end of the hall dressed exactly alike and with the same props you’ve decided on, with one twin out of sight. When the unsuspecting traveler approaches the first twin, have the one behind them speak from the other end of the hall. When the traveler turns, they see the exact same girl behind them. They will inevitably turn to look for the first girl, but she is gone; hidden around the corner. When they turn back, the second girl is gone and the first one behind them steps back into view and speaks the creepy line of dialogue. This can go on and on until the traveler either gets it and laughs at your cleverness or passes out and dies from a heart attack.

Elevator Mind Games

 I have to be honest, I’m not the first to think of playing pranks on an elevator by far. But if you have the guts to put yourself in an awkward position and make others very uncomfortable so that you may enjoy a thumping good time at another’s expense, an elevator is one of the best places to do it. There are always the classics, like facing the corner as if being punished while everyone else is enjoying the aggressive silence that permeates all elevators and looking blankly ahead. You might wait till the door shuts on a crowded elevator and ask, “So I suppose you all know why I’ve asked you here.” But I say kick it up a notch. After all, you have a captive audience and the old saying applies, Go big or go home!

 When someone new gets on and chooses a floor, why not whisper under your breath, but loudly enough to be heard, “They’re pushing my buttons … They’re pushing my BUTTONS!”? Or perhaps you invite everyone to a pantie raid in your room later. If someone looks nervous, comfort them by saying something like, “Don’t worry. It shouldn’t get stuck for hours … again.”

Phoning The Front Desk

 There is no law against asking questions and the front desk clerk is there to help you.

 Start easy. Make it something reasonable to lull them into a sense of pride in their top-notch customer service.

 “Hello, front desk? This is Mike in room 326. Can I get a copy of my receipt when I check out in the morning?”

 The clerk will show the utmost in customer service and never give a hint that while they understand your question to be legitimate, they also believe you to be an idiot for not already knowing you can get a copy of your receipt at check out. Then you move into phase two.

 “Hello, front desk? This is Mike again in room 326. Can I get that receipt in Braille?”

 “I’m sorry,” they’ll smile from the other end of the phone. If you could see them, you’d notice the stink-face they are giving you. “I’m afraid we can’t print a receipt in braille. I didn’t realize you were sight impaired.”

 “I’m not.”

 “Oh. Well is there anything else we can do for you?”

 “You can print my receipt in braille.”


 Now you’ve properly irritated them and the game is on …

 “Hello, front desk? This is Mike in room 326. Sorry to bother you again, but could you send up some soap made out of baby tears? The stuff in this bathroom smells like it was made with old man sweat.”

 “What are you talking about?” They may or may not still be attempting to keep an air of hospitality, but probably not.

 Now you raise your voice as if their incomprehension is due to the volume of the call.


 They will interrupt. “This isn’t funny, sir. Please make no more calls to the front desk.” Click.

 Now the apology … in a different accent.

 “Hello? Theees eees Miguel een room Three Tweeeenty Seeeex. (Make sure to roll your R sounds.) Let me apologice for de rudeness uff my preeevious calls. One final quesschon.”

 There will be a sigh from the other end. “Yes?”

 “Dun you thin it would be nice to give blind peoples a receipt they can read?” You should be prepared to be asked to leave.

 If you’re creative and don’t mind being called all manner of offensive names, you can definitely make your next hotel stay interesting. Just do me a favor, don’t tell them I put you up to it.



The Stuff Wings Are Made Of

 You might think this will be an article about either angels, spicy bar foods, or colorful cartoon ponies with tattoos on their butts. It’s possible you’re thinking it might have something to do with birds or flying comic book hero demi-gods, but you would be wrong. This article is about the very bestest, most super-duper experience a human being could ever have.

 It’s about live theatre and the crap that goes on behind the scenes … IN THE WINGS!

 It’s the stuff wings are made of and I have a long list of shows under my belt to pull examples from.

 When I was a young’n, only knee-high to a grass hopper, my mama taught me how to perform for an audience. As a child, I was in the casts of shows like Oliver, The Music Man, Annie Get Your Gun, and a local kids troupe production of Hansel And Gretel in which I donned the costume of an enormous cupcake made of sponge foam. But as puberty reared its ugly white head in the form of, well … white heads, I became uninterested in stagecraft. There was a dark time in my early teenage-hood-dom when I yearned to ride around in a pickup truck while my life’s soundtrack blared into the wind, sung by Hank Williams, Jr. I hunted and fished and felt I needed to prove that I was a country boy who could survive. And no, there’s nothing wrong with hunting and fishing in my opinion, but it’s not the person I’ve proudly become. I left that behind me after seeing my first show on Broadway. I traded my fishing rod for the face mic I’d dropped at the foot of the stage door a few years before when I lost interest. I picked that mic back up, fixed it to my cheek with medical tape and haven’t looked back. Now my fondest of memories take place at the theatre. Some are tales of onstage moments, but some of the best are the things that happened offstage and in the wings.

 People who have never been a part of the magic that is putting together a live stage show frequently wonder what it is that makes us "theatre people" so darn crazy about it. And they wonder why, when the run is over, our eyes fill with tears and we weep like babies that are being ripped away from the one that gave them life. Just in case you’re one of those people who wonder, it’s because we’re babies being ripped away from something that gave us life!

 Theatre is a lifeline to most of us. It’s where we take our deepest breaths, even when the choreographer has danced our feet into nubs that feel like they’re crusted with push pins and our lungs are filled with glass. Even when the director has made us run the same scene eight hundred times because someone got the giggles and now the whole cast has the giggles and the director thinks there’s nothing at all funny about it. We hurt and we laugh until we can’t breathe and to us, it’s still the best air we could ever take in.

 But once the show is ready, or nearly ready, and costumed characters are flitting about the area just beyond the curtain legs at stages right and left, it becomes a whole new deal.

 The wings during a show is a world all its own. It’s a dark and crowded land floating somewhere between the reality of the world outside and the fantasy playing out just steps away across the sight lines on the stage.

 We have our instructions and they’re almost always the same for every show. One of them is "Stay behind the sight lines." That’s the painted or taped line on the floor that marks the boundary that separates the stage the audience can see from the mystery of the wings. If you cross it, someone in the audience can see you and that’s a no-no. If you do so, it's possible that the ghost of Thespus, the man credited as being the first actor to deliver a monologue, may curse you with fumble fingers and you'll spend the rest of your life dropping your props onstage. Many times I’ve toyed with the stage manager as I awaited an entrance and teased them with a toe pushed vicariously close to the line. Stage managers reserve the right to rip your limbs from your body if you cross the line or break a rule and they usually don’t care for my monkey-like shenanigans in the wings. I can’t help it, though. I become a kid again when the show’s going on. It’s like Christmas morning and every reaction from the audience is a gift under the tree.

 Once, when I and my cast mates were about to open the first act of Into The Woods, which is done by raising the lights on a stage full of frozen characters who come to life, section by section, as the narrator introduces them, I turned to the actress playing my wife just before we were to take the stage.

 “Did I ever tell you about the time I peed on my leg?”

 She started laughing and was nearly roaring by the time the story was all told, just in time for the call of, “places.” We opened the curtain and she was doing everything she could to stifle her laughter. But that wasn’t enough. Several years later, I was directing my own production of Into The Woods and the same actress was reprising her role as The Baker’s Wife. I was not The Baker this time, but imagine her surprise when one night I, as the director, sidled up to her just before the curtain opened and whispered in her ear, “Did I ever tell you about the time I peed on my leg?”

 I got a good elbow in the gut for that one, but there was still a grin at the corners of her mouth.

 By the way, now it’s a tradition of mine to ask someone that question at least once right before they go on, no matter what show we’re doing.

 Anyone who haunts the wings during a show will tell you that at some point another actor waiting in the wings all the way across the stage will catch your eye and do something stupid. I like to aggressively lip sing whatever musical number is happening onstage like I’m a rocker screaming out my hit ballad at a concert. If I happen to be holding a prop (It was my fencing sword during a recent production of The Addams Family – The Musical. I was Gomez), I’ll wield it like a guitar and accessorize my performance from the wings with a sweet air guitar solo. The best application of this particular shenanigan is when there is a group of people watching from across the way and your entrance is so close that you have to immediately jump from the shenanigan to your character and enter the scene onstage without so much as a pause. That kind of timing takes practice and a level of experience best left to veterans.

 There’s always the high note in passing. Allow me to set the stage for this one. (See what I did there?)

 You have a few minutes before your next scene. You have to pee and you don’t want to create a funny story to tell people just before they go out onstage. Or maybe you’re making the trek from the dressing rooms to the stage for the pre-show sound check. Whatever the reason, there is a journey you are taking among the corridors of the facility and you see up ahead that you are about to pass a fellow cast or crew member. What are you supposed to do in regards to greeting as you meet? There is only one thing you can do. You both open your mouths wide in the most comically exaggerated way as possible and let out a soprano’s “AHHHHHH!” high note. You don’t have to be a soprano. You don’t even have to be able to sing. It’s just something you do and I’ll bet more actors than not have at least once in their lives participated in this literal right of passage. It’s most effective when both are in full costume and makeup.

 There’s the poke on the shoulder of the unsuspecting actor waiting to enter the scene. You poke and quickly turn away as if a phantom pokester is afoot. They almost never fall for it and will probably employ the, Oh you! stare.

 I love backstage tomfoolery, as long as it doesn’t affect the show going on. There are plenty of other examples to tell and I’m sure I will because I love this stuff.

 Shenanigans are simply a part of life for some people and I'm one of those. After a while, I finally gave up on acting responsible and have accepted that there will always be a little impish influence in me that enjoys a good, unhurtful prank.

 Annnnnnnnd BLACKOUT!