Friday, December 26, 2008

Final Round and Subsequent Follow Up

Hey there, people. I hope y'all had yerselves a nice Christmas. Me, I ate some ham, lounged around, watched my nephew open some boxes and stuff and then brood because he got a game where you kill people one way when he really wanted that other game where you kill people another way. I told him if he wanted to learn how to kill people different ways, he should join the CIA or somethin instead of wasting his time sittin in front of the TV. He just rolled his eyes and scoffed at that, then put his headphones back on and slunk away. I mostly just stayed on the couch and watched the lights twinkle. That'll make more sense here in a little bit. Also, Charles sent me a nice summer sausage and cheese log set, so, I been eatin a lot of sausage and cheese. Now, I'm sure y'all didn't pop in dyin to know that I was eatin sausage, but because I promised to tell you how the final round of the Makin Stuff Up Championship went. I'm gonna warn ya, it's gonna be bad there for a couple of minutes, but your ol' pal Pat got through it just fine, I can assure you. If not, I wouldn't be sittin here writin this now.

So, there I was, gettin Squimassaged by Alistair, who was encouragin me to get back out there and do my best. We was also brewin a pot of coffee, into which Douggy added this 'Red Bull' stuff that he says he likes. I'll tell ya, that was the horriblest coffee I've ever tasted. It was as if you come into the office bright and early Monday mornin to discover that Edna has left the coffee pot on all weekend and that coffee has hardened to a solid powder at the bottom of the pot and, instead of rinsin out the pot and havin it explode on ya nearly costin you your eye, for which Edna later apologized pretty profusely and then offered to buy you dinner in recompense, which you accepted on a friendly only basis because Edna's married to a friend of your from elementary school named Marky who owns the biker bar in town and has always been a pretty tough cookie, but who is nice enough if you're on his good side, and so, when you go out with Edna, she starts touchin your hand and playin with your feet under the table and you can't figure out what to do so you get up to go to the salad bar and you spend 15 minutes starin at the beats before you notice Marky is sittin at another table in the restaurant and so you gotta try to slip out somehow but you can't go through the bathroom because Marky's table is on the way to the bathroom and you can't go through the front door because Edna's over that way and so you have to go through the kitchen and you get back there and can't find your way around and then the manage comes and yells at you and you think it's because you're not supposed to be in the kitchen but it's really because he thinks you work there and are just slackin off and so he keeps yellin until you spend the rest of the night washin dishes and then things are really awkward with Edna at work after that, instead of that, you just pick up a spoon and eat the coffee. It's just like that, only with a week old orange in it. 'Course, after drinkin that muck, I felt ready for anything because my mind was workin again.

"You know what I just realized?" I said aloud, hopin someone would ask me, 'What?'

"What?" someone asked me, and that someone was Douggy.

"Every time it's Earhart's turn to tell a story, she takes a swig from that water bottle and then her breath smells like she's been drinkin seawater," I explain.

"Why didn't you say anything before?!" yelled Alistair. "That bottle's not water, that's orphan tears! She's gaining strength before each round!"

I didn't think that was very good for me, so I said, "Well, that ain't good for me."

"Unless..." prodded Alistair.

"Unless..." thought Douggy.

"Unless we can find a way to get that bottle away from her!" I blurted out triumphantly.

"That's how you're going to beat her, Pat," explained Alistair, "You just keep talkin your stream of nonsense like you do and we'll work out a way to get the bottle away from her. Be prepared to run, though, you don't want to be up there on the stage faced with an angry Ice Giantess."

So, armed with a belly full of burnt-awkward-semi-date-and-week-old-orange coffee, a group of squimonk ready to steal a bottle of orphan tears and a penchant for telling long winded, pointless stories, I returned to the final round of the competition.

I had to pick up the story where it left off, which had Captain Duck and his men of the SS Shoe wrapped in grey blankets searching for a magic potion to lift the curse of the were-polar bears, which had been shaved in areas to give them spots. I came out heavy with the men falling through the ice and being rescued by the arctic mermen, who would have like to soothe the travellers with their stunning viola skills, but couldn't because the strings on their violas kept freezing and snapping and the wood kept warping, what with it being underwater and all. So the mermen offered to help Capt. Duck and his crew if they would bring something to keep their violas warm and dry. After that, and some lingering on the way that arctic mermen would have gained any sort of skill in the viola with the enormous obstacles that stood in their way and then some pontificatin on whether mermen would play stuff more like "Oh, Susanna" or "Danny Boy" or even "The Rite of Spring," it was Amelia's turn to go. She took a big swig of orphan's tears and shot back with the problem of size. The container for the viola needed to be warm and dry, yes, but it also had to be big enough and pliable enough to play the viola in. The only thing that met this qualification, and which generated its own heat was the bladder of the Giant Arctic Chimera, which one could only see when snow blinded. That bein the case, the men had to take a volunteer to stare at the snow for hours and then lead them to the Chimera. As she was speakin and gesticulatin and whatnot, I saw a squimonk being lowered from the ceiling on a bunch of rubber bands that had been tied together, carrying a water bottle in his, or her (it's really hard to tell unless you pick them up and they get really offended when you do) paws. It looked like someone was remaking mission impossible with genetic mutants and a budget of four dollars and eighty two cents, a dollar of which was spent of catering. Before Earhart could get to the Chimera tracks, bingo bango switcheroo, the bottles had been swapped and the squimonk was away into the ceiling again.

I got up for what was to be my final story, telling myself not to get nervous. I was a little woozy and I'm not entirely sure what I said, but there was something in there about the Giant Arctic Chimera being a fan of things wrapped in bacon and a search for the only bacon in the Arctic circle, which I said was available at the only gas station near the North Pole, which charges exorbitant prices. Well, after spinning this out for awhile, I took my seat and tried to scoot as far away from the center of the stage as I possibly could.

Amelia grabbed her bottle, took a big swig, wrinkled her nose up, smelled the bottle, took a smaller swig, then looked around suspiciously.

She was taking her sweet time with the water, so the judge said, "Miss Earhart, it is your turn."

Well, she started lookin under her seat and pokin around the table where her water was, then she went into the audience to look under their seats.

Finally, the judge said, "Miss Earhart, if you do not begin your tale in 30 seconds, you will be disqualified."

This didn't phase her one bit. She kept wanderin around and lookin around and stuff until, with 5 seconds left on the clock, she returned to the mic and said, "I will have my revenge!" Then, she tore off her face! I kid you not, she reached up, grabbed her own face and pulled it off. I thought I was gonna see that coffee again. But then, it turned out that her face was actually a mask. It came off and revealed a hideous head. It was shaggy and bearded, with white skin and pink eyes, like a baby rat. The whole face was flat and broad, like she'd been hit repeatedly with a shovel, and she had two long fangs poking up from her swollen bottom lip. When the mask came off, she started to roar like that tornado that ripped through town when I was a kid. Then, she just started swingin. She pulverized everything in her path.

I turned to run and heard Douggy yell, "Pat! Duck!" just as she hit me in the back. It felt like I'd been playing dodgeball and someone filled up one of the red balls with concrete. The wind got knocked out of me and everything went dark.

When I woke up, we were back on the zeppelin, on our way back to Iowa. Alistair told me that Douggy had carried me out of the building as the squimonk swarmed over the Giantess, distracting her long enough for me to reach the Zeppelin. A couple of them were hurt, but those little ones recover pretty fast. As for me, that strike in the back cracked a couple of my ribs and knocked by back outta place again. So for the past week, I been sittin on the couch watchin the twinkling lights and takin this pain medication, which makes the lights sparkle even more and has got me in a serious Christmasy mood. Also, NAMSU called and told me I'd been officially declared the 2008 Makin Stuff Up champion and they'd get me a trophy as soon as the funerals were over and a new president was found and all.

It also turns out that we gout ourselves a nice write-up in the local paper:

As I was layin there on the couch, thinkin about that trophy, I asked Alistair what set Amelia off so much. I mean, I knew she'd be weakened by the lack or orphan tears and everything, but I didn't think she'd go off like a badger with a burr in his butt over gettin water.

"Actually," Alistair told me, "That wasn't water, we peed in the bottle."

So, that was the championship. I'm gonna recover for a few days, see what happens, but I'm sure I'll be back out on the road for Lindbergh in the next couple of days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Some comptetition

Well, it was a pretty wild weekend. We got to Tallahassee on Friday night. I was asleep by the time we got there, so I didn't get a chance to see much. Saturday mornin, though, I got up pretty early and got to walk around, do a little sightseein, you know. From that walk, there's two things I have to say about that city. First, it's warm. I never been to a place so warm in December. With it this warm in the winter, though, summer's gotta be murder. Summers in Iowa is bad, what with the Mississippi right there throwin off 110% humidity and that sun beatin down. Last August, it got so humid one day that Douggy swam to my house through the air. He was up there doin loop-de-loops and whatnot, just havin a good ol' time. I thought I'd had a touch too much of the moonshine, but then he grabbed a coupla catfish right outta the air. We fried them up and it was the lightest, tastiest catfish I ever had. There was some sorta extra flavor they got by swimmin around in the air. It's hard to describe, but there was a certain kind of birdiness to it. So, that's the first thing about Tallahassee. The second thing about Tallahassee is that it's dark. I said I got up early and wandered about. Early for me is about 4 am, and the sun had yet to peek it's head over the horizon, tip its hat, give us a wink and bring the new day in its suitcase to try and sell. That bein so, it was dark and, since that's the only time I got out of the hotel all weekend, I will just assume that Talahassee is dark until I am proven otherwise.

After I walked around a bit, I had to get back to the hotel for registration. The Makin Stuff Up championship didn't actually start until 9 am, but once you were registered, you had access to all the free food and shirts they were givin away and things. I was pretty hungry, so I wanted to register right away and then take a crack at the pancakes they had sittin out. There was also a tray of donuts there, but the squimonk have really spoiled me when it comes to donuts. They turn out about a thousand donuts each day, but we only sell a coupla dozen. The rest, we all eat or we give away to charity. Douggy and I take the donuts down to the soup kitchen and drop them off every mornin. Since we been doin that, though, those people down there have been gettin a little bigger. Maybe I'll talk to them squimonk about addin more fruit or somethin to those donuts. But right then, I was focused on sinkin my teeth into some of them pancakes, and then defeating the Queen of the Ice Giants. Man's gotta have his priorities, after all.

After I got myself registered, I was standin there at the food table, tryin to choose between bacon and ham with my pancakes when a woman walks up next to me and grabs an apple. She was a long woman; long nose, long face, skinny and tall. She looked a bit like she'd been trapped in a room with the walls closin in and she'd escaped just in time. At first, I thought I recognized her from somewhere. I was lookin closer when she started talkin to me.

"You hear for the competition?" she inquired, genially.

"I sure am," I shot out, not really thinkin about it, "and yerself?"

"Yeah, and I'm gonna win," she stated confidently.

"Huh," I grunted, still distracted. Right about then, I noticed she was wearin one of them leather caps that come down over the ears and a pair of goggles on her head. To top it all off, she was wearin this long white scarf and a leather jacket. I don't know why I didn't notice it before, 'cept for the fact that the decision between bacon and ham with pancakes can affect your whole day. If you make the wrong choice, you may get picked up by a giant eagle and carried to Minnesota, where you gotta hitchhike your way back home by bribing a guy carrying a truckload of chickens with a twelve pack of red bull and a giant foam finger that says "We're #1" on it, because the guy has to stay awake and he wants everyone to know that he and some others are #1 at all times. And then, by the time you get back, your bacon has been sitting out for hours and has gotten all congealed in the fat and it smells kinda funny, but you go ahead and eat it anyway and you end up in the hospital overnight and they ask you why you ate bacon that'd been sittin around that long and you tell them the whole long story and they don't believe you and you gotta go see a shrink for six months and he ends up quittin the business because he's writing a book, but don't worry, he won't use your name. What I'm sayin, though, is that you gotta think carefully about the bacon or ham question. The smallest distraction can have consequences beyond your imagination, even if you've got a pretty active imagination. Sometimes, sausage is thrown in there, as well, but that opens up the whole "link or patty" debate, which I didn't have time to deal with because I had to be fresh for the competition.

Well, after I'd had my pancakes and ham, which I decided on after testing the consistency of the syrup, I went back to the room to prepare for my first round. While I was there, I let Alistair know that I'd spotted Earhart at the breakfast table.

"I know," he retorted. "We've been tracking her since we arrived. Just stay out of her way until the final round, we don't want problems."

So, I tried to do just that. I went back down to the conference room, where the competition was bein held, and listened to the opening ceremony. There was a bunch of hullabaloo in there about past winners and some things about presidents and rulers of banks and whatnot, but I wasn't really payin attention that much. Then came the part about the rules. Now, one thing about the makin stuff up championship is that the previous year's winner gets to make up the rules for the current year's competition. The winner ain't allowed to write anything down or prepare in any way beforehand. The winner, in this case Stuart Shepardson of Casper, Wyoming, just hasta step up to the mic and list some rules off the top of his or her, in this case his, head.

Stuart announced, "This year, the rules are as follows; first, each round will have three competitors, the first competitor will be given a topic to tell a story on, the second competitor must give an alternate explanation of the story and the third competitor must claim to have been an eyewitness to the story and explain the real situation; second, one competitor from each round will be chosen to move on to the next round by a panel of 4 judges and a stuffed hippopotamus; third the final round will not be judged, the three competitors will continue telling the same story until they can no longer think of things to say or add, the last one standing wins the championship; finally, every story must contain a a shoe...for some reason..a.a.and it has to be part of the story, it can't be just layin around somewhere."

Well, that didn't sound too difficult to me. My only worry was that I'd never told a story to a stuffed hippo before and I didn't know the kind of stories they liked. Other than that, it all seemed pretty straightforward.

I ain't gonna tell you about all the rounds, 'cause there were, by my closest estimate, twenty to thirty thousand. It was a long coupla days, I tell ya. I just wanna tell you about the first, because it was my first time competing in this sorta thing, and then I'll skip ahead some.

In my first round, I was with this little nerdy guy who was a literature professor at some community college or something and this mousy woman who ran some sorta business on the internets. I don't remember exactly what it was, but something containing the words "erotic" and "macaroni". 'Course, she coulda been making the whole thing up. We sat on the stage and Professor McLiterati got pulled to go first. He was told to talk about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He told some dark detective story about a plot to overthrow the world and how John Wilkes Boothe was some sorta visionary magician thing that was really savin humanity. I dunno, it all sounded like a bunch of hooey to me. When he was done, though, he was disqualified for not having a duck in a shoe in his story. He looked pretty crestfallen at that and slunk away. Fortunately, I pulled second position.

"That wasn't the way that happened at all," I explained, leanin back in my chair some, "you see, he wasn't so far off in the plot to take over the world, but it wasn't Lincoln that was doin it, it was actually a race of space ducks from Andromeda. They'd destroyed their water-like world through over fishing and had to come somewhere where they'd have a chance to breed and thrive. Sadly, their space technology wasn't really up to intergalactic standards and so they just took an old shoe and wrapped it in plastic wrap. They gave the astroduck a couple of tanks of air and a tuna sandwich and sent him on his way. When he landed in Booth's backyard, he used his crazy spaceduck mind ray on Booth, who he mistook for a leader because Booth, being an actor, was practicing a monologue from Henry V and the space duck thought that Booth had an invisible army that he was leading into battle. However, when the duck learned the truth, he used his mind ray to get Booth to kill the president because the duck thought that whoever killed the leader became the next leader, which is what happens on Andromeda. Well, fortunately, Lincoln's spy network had detected the presence of space ducks on the planet and had taken precautions. They made a steam powered robot that was basically a bag of oranges and some 2x4s to impersonate Lincoln for a period of 2 months. Lucky they did, because Booth showed up at the theater and everything that night. After the shooting, the secret service caught the space duck, caught Booth, had a glass of fresh orange juice and got Lincoln out of hiding and he ran the country in secret for the next two years. At least, that's what I read in the encyclopedia."

The audience sat in silence for a little while, and I thought I'd lost the competition right then. But then the room burst at the seams and there was applause all around. It felt good knowin that I'd just impressed a bunch of story tellers with my story, I won't lie. After the applause died down, Mousy woman wasn't really able to say anything, so she forfeited. After the round, I went and had a snack with Douggy. I told him that, if I'd known how easy this thing was, I woulda entered years ago.

After that, the rounds went pretty smoothly until the final round on Sunday evening, just before which Alistair told me that they didn't know what was gonna happen when Earhart lost this thing, so the squimonk were gonna be hiding in the ceiling and Douggy was gonna be in the audience to whisk me away if anything bad happened. Well, that made me a little nervous going into the round. I had a little time to settle my nerves, I thought, since I'd drawn number three in the round. It would allow me to get into the swing of the competition. The guy who'd drawn first was an older gentleman from New York, apparently he was some sorta aspiring writer, but had just never made it. Instead, he ran store that sold Cardigans, pipes and used books. It was apparently very popular with the intellectual crowd there. We were all anxious to hear the topic for the round, so we could begin makin our stuff up. I kept glancin over at Amelia, seein if I could see any sorta Ice Giantiness about her, but she just looked like a normal woman to me. Finally, we were given the topic; spotting polar bears in the Arctic.

Sweater guy told a long and fairly interesting adventure story about the SS Shoe getting caught in the ice and how the men, led by Captain Duck (which I thought was a nice touch, I'd heard so much about ducks and shoes that I hoped I'd never see a duck in a shoe again), had to keep the ice away from the boat for the entire winter, working in shifts with picks and shovels to keep the boat clear of the deadly, crushing ice. All the while, though, a man had to stand in the crow's nest looking out for bears, who would appear out of nowhere and devour the men. It was full of adventure and heroism and, I'll admit, I got a little teary when Sam died.

When he'd finished, it was Amelia's turn. She pulled a water bottle out of her jacket and took a swig. Then, she took a deep breath and began on her version. She left the SS Shoe and Captain Duck, but, this time, it wasn't the ice that was most worrisome, it was the fact that they were fighting were-polar bears. And, she said, when a polar bear attacked a human, that human became a werebear as well. Then she said the only was to kill a were-polar bear is with a bullet made out of mercury, which is impossible to do in anywhere but the coldest climates, because mercury has a very low freezing temperature. So, the men forged mercury bullets to wage war on the were-bears.

Well, I was just stunned. I wasn't sure what to do, when inspiration suddenly hit me. I remembered watching on some nature show that polar bears actually have black skin, it's just their fur that was white. So, I started sayin that Captain Duck, worried about the invisibility of the were-polar bears asked for volunteers to sneak up to the bears and shave small circles in their hair, thereby spotting the polar bears, which would make them completely visible on the ice and would give them men the time they needed to prepare the mercury bullets.

Well, after a couple of rounds like this, which involved visiting the king of the were-polar bears to ask for a truce and a witch of some sort, Sweater And Pipe had no more to say and so dropped out of the competition. I was now just me and Earhart. We went back and forth for awhile, her jabbing with a magical curse that had to be lifted and me countering with pirate treasure containing a map to the secret ingredient needed in the potion to lift the curse. She'd shoot forward with a ghost army protecting the treasure and I'd come back with the fact that ghosts are color blind and so the men wrapped themselves in grey blankets to get past them. We went back and forth many times, and I could feel my brain getting tired. Fortunately, 4 hours into the competition, a dinner break was called.

I stumbled into the room and flopped down on the bed. "I don't know how long I can hold out," I mumbled into the pillow.

"I felt Alistair running up and down on my back, giving me a massage. "You can do it, Pat," he encouraged, "We all believe in you."

"She's just too strong," I said, feeling hope slipping away.

I'm gonna leave it there for now. There's more in the final round. I want you to know, though, with Christmas coming up and everything, I may not get back to this story right away. I'll do my best, though, to deliver the ending some time this week.