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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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A group tale born at the Wisconsin Book Festival
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Literary graffiti at the Wisconsin Book Festival
Literary graffiti at the Wisconsin Book Festival
Credit:Janine Wachter

Literary graffiti. That was the concept for a contest held by Isthmus last weekend at the Wisconsin Book Festival. Here's how it worked: after we wrote a couple of sentences to start a story, anybody stopping by our booth at the festival was encouraged to stop by and add another thread to the yarn. Rising action, a climax, falling action, or a resolution, whatever people wanted to write, silly or serious (but not too serious).

Contributors could write words, phrases, sentences, or Walden-like full scale paragraphs; it was all up to them. Every person who participated in the literary graffiti was able to enter contests to win a book of their choice, which were awarded every hour at the festival. Isthmus also pledged to publish the full story online, to share Madison's creativity with the entire world.

The full story -- from hodags to Kyrzygstan -- follows below.


It all started with a wrong number, waking me up in the dead of night. I knew the Hodag had come for me. What was I to do? I found my way to the Orpheum?, and ducked inside. If he was looking for female, middle-aged Marge Percy fans, I was safe. I sucked on a mint, the one I found in my left pocket from last week. And I slipped on my tinted glasses, the yellow ones, that made me feel safe, and protected.

Hodag numbers on my mind, though had bothered me for a long time, so the mint didn't help. So I reached back into my pocket for something more. Something that would ease all my fears, cancel my debts, well at least give me sinus relief?I emptied the contents of two pockets into my lap: one tissue, used, One condom, unused, a business card, from some photographer in Baraboo, lottery tickets, paper clips, a pacifier, wallet, keys a broken watch, a paper airplane and half a pound of cigar butts. Must be something here to help?

? or maybe someone. After all, it is not a festival better shared with others, than the solo mind, itself. As if materializing from the Orpheum's ornate walls, a man appeared at my side. He was tall with compelling dark eyes and the faint scent of mint juleps. With a staft I noticed he had a nametag. The writing on it was small and smudged but I thought I read "God." If anyone could help me, he could! I went up to him and, before I could say anything, he handed me a business card. "I'm an existential detective," he said, "You need my help!"

But wait! Another man came forward. His nametag read "The Devil." The Devil looked a lot like Dustin Hoffman. "I'm not really the Devil," he said. "Actually, this is all in your head."

I stood there blinking, pondering over my current situation. I was in the Orpheum with, supposedly, God and the Devil, both who seem to be Hollywood megastars (God looking oddly like Christopher Walken, except no hilarious accent.) What the hell, was a zombie the next to show? "Or to be more specific, we need your help," said God, glancing at the Devil. Hmm, I thought. "We need you to help us settle a bet," the Devil said. Neither of them was smiling. I looked at my shoes.

There was a "Fair Wisconsin" bumper sticker stuck to my shoes! So I asked the Devil what to make of this and he pointed to the feet of the person next in line. "Barefoot," he said. "What do you make of that?" "Devil, God," I said. "The movie starts in, like, 5 minutes. You're gonna have to find another arbiter."

Later that same day, George W. Bush ordered his Starbuck's latte and said, "I may have been wrong once, but I cannot remember what that might have been."

The person next to him said, George I remember?

Suddenly he disappeared.

When King George wants someone to disappear he has ways for them to disappear, forever.

Happily, our heroine had discovered the way to make George himself disappear. So the multitudes rejoiced by and by.

Actually, the passage of Fair Wisconsin caused W's disappearance. The devil you say!

"No, No," George said, "you can't get to Heaven that way, you must first disperse your brothers and sisters to Starbucks for one more latte, and then all with be well," but the devil said, "No way, my friend, no way." And on they went along the road to...

In the end, not much comes down to knowledge or how one uses it. Yet if you wait long enough the choice will be made for you and it will be for the best. Those who believe this -- a small group to be sure -- will surely procrastinate assuming it will be for the best, but they will never be leaders, never take us to the next level, missing out on acting on the creative ways inside each of us.

So then the doorbell rang, and it was one of the Bush twins campaigning for Fair Wisconsin. Both were in tiny miniskirts in 30 degree below weather. Oh glory be, I thought with no little consternation. You would like some Halloween candy? I asked? Or join the LWV?

No thanks! I'm here to invite you to join my party. "And what kind of party would that be?" I asked, glancing at their goose bumped legs with a smile? And she replied it's the story of reclaiming life from the state capital prison we found ourselves situated in when we finally woke up?

A story of covenant in community... or was it incontinence in the commons? Hard to tell. She blew smoke. I wheezed. As a result, I realized it was indeed, not incontinence. Rather I saw the continuity of our friendship, our love, the love of gods, the love of nations, the perspicacity of the universe, which held up to be observed.

Winning is better than losing said the spider to the fly... and then he ate it. Regurgitation, she tried to take a breath. She lost ere composure and stumbled on the ground.

Only breathing shallowly. Suddenly, our heroine had the great urge to join a traveling trapeze show, knowing that the aerobatics would assist her in developing greater balance, breath capacity and well being. At that very moment, a tiger roars. She believes this is a sign from above. And, in fact it is. It is a flying tiger that is also crouching, just next to the hidden dragon. As it whizzed past her left ear, she thought, where am I?

Alive? Dead? Inside my imagination or just going out for coffee? In fact, I am, exiting at the moment for a cup of java. Let the audience deal with the tiger.

Why can't the tiger come with us for Java? She won't eat much, I promise. (But how much is not much?... Would one person be just a bit?) Then we stopped, we sipped, then shook filled 3/4 to near top the caffeine took. The tiger walked away left, then right.

A half block further, she saw the Capitol dome! "Now there is a place full of devils!" "Maybe if I string some wire form the balcony inside, I can start my trapeze training."

As she stepped out into the street, there was a huge screech, "Screech" as a car nearly pounced on her. Then someone grabbed her hand and said "Matilda, Matilda, are you all right?!" "What is wrong with you; where are your clothes?" "Sorry, they just sort of came off!... I love being naked.."

"I don't know! There was this tiger and coffee and then I was looking for trapeze wire. I think its part of my trapeze act. It just makes me fee so free. And I feel like I can do anything."

Of course... she was a Sagittarius. And an existentialist. So none of it meant anything anyways, really.

The life of a constant performance artist may be entertaining to them but can often be a boring eye-roller to the rest of the world. "There's a reason the situationist movement died!"

Yelled a man from a passing car.

So she asked me to be a writer, but she caught me at the crossroads of one of my writer's blocks and anarchy. I didn't have much to say, so I declined to get involved... at the moment. But lack of words doesn't mean lack of thoughts. I couldn't stop thinking about the nude trapeze artist I'd met that day, and decided to search for her. Armed with a neon green spandex circus outfit from Ragsotck and an old trapeze, I set out into the mountains of Ecuador to find a team of flying monkeys to cure... an ancient disease that plagued the natives. My automatic bubble machine served no justice to my cause. But of course there is no justice and no Santy. Remember in 2nd grade, you learned there was no Santy Clause.

Wrong! Yes there is a Santy Claus. I met a jolly old elf that loved Madison, Wisconsin. She had to move to Colorado, but came back to see the lakes and visit the Libraries and shop two times a year.

He was an old sentimental (albeit Jolly) old elf who yearned for the good ol' day when he had sub sandwiches at "The Pad" and drank beer at Bob & Genes and all the free love hippie chicks that didn't save their pits. Now all he's left with is a swollen prostate and his memories. He is officially pathetic.

Which is why he decided to retreat to the woods by himself and seek the ancient roll master who had eyes of jelly and an enormous rainbow mouth.

Matilda was deathly afraid of the roll and had terrifying nightmare as a child of vicious trolls, clowns, and little people. It's amazing that with her fear of clowns that she actually joined the circus.

Here is a list of Matilda's circus skills:

  1. She could balance a teacup on her head while walking through fire.
  2. She could contort her body into a Swedish pretzel.
  3. She could fry up the best funnel cake this side of the Mississippi.

The latter accomplishment brought her the greatest fame and recognition especially at state fairs and small town celebrations. Her children, however, couldn't handle it. They died young after years of greasy funnel cake for breakfast clogged their arteries beyond repair (Needless to say, no funnel cake was served at the funerals).

But that's another story. The more important story is that they carried on her tradition of developing circus skills and her pursuit of a literary life. Grammar provided discipline for their minds and exercise provided discipline for their bodies. They considered this carefully. And progressive politics ruled the day!

Her greatest cruces skill was that she believed in herself -- in her core, her strength, her ability to learn and evolve.

But by far, the most dangerous circus was when a large number of enlightened well-read Wisconsinites stood in the shadow of the dome of the state and began to talk with John Nichols about impeachment! There were lions of all sorts talking about democracy.

And some of the lions would go home to their small Wisconsin city -- one extremely disinterested and uniformed and try to spread the words of courage and principal.

And the Lion King said, "You are a Lion." You have courage inside. Plant the seeds for change, then make it grow.

And so it continues... he waited breathlessly until she walked into the room. He knew it was now or never. He turned to Arnie and said...

"Let's impeach the President for lying." But back to the story -- it was a dark and rainy night... deep in the bowels of the headquarters of the corporate oligarchy a tremor shook the room.

You can't have a democracy without democratic institutions, let's preserve them. Democracy is the voice of the people, their stories, the thread.

A Buddhist definition:

Wisdom: the ability to see the consequences of one's actions.

Are any Americans less wise than our careerist politicians and media talking heads?

While our nation claims to be a democracy, we have never been a true, all-inclusive, participatory democracy. I thought we almost made that goal in the 1960s (or at least made efforts in that direction) but now we are sliding toward a repressive, neo-fascist police state. We must hold our government accountable for its crimes against humanity -- impeach (and imprison) Bush and his junta now!

Please join Tammy Baldwin and support House Bill 1673 to create a U.S. Dept. of Peace to stop violence before it starts on our streets, in our schools and internationally. Buck Ervin, 2nd District Outreach Coordinator-Madison; www.dopcampaign.org, gravity ofpeace at yahoo dot com.

After this brief political interlude, we can now return to the story.

She picked up a rather large, green book and headed up three flights of stairs until she arrived at his floor, floor 7. She went right up to his door and knocked twice, softly.

With murderous intentions clouding her mind, she awaited his answer.

And it was, "Yes."

Opening the door timidly, she peered inside to a dimly lit room, adorned only by several bushel baskets, overflowing with apples. "Hungry?" murmured the man's voice.

"As a matter of fact, I am famished," she responded.

Yet an eerie thought of Snow White's poisoned apple demise came to her mind, and she retracted with a bit of embarrassment.

Harry was a salesman. Ask him and he'll tell you he is the best salesman in the world.

He decided he would sell the Book Festival to the world. He would talk to people and get them to read. He bought books and gave them to everyone he met.

And actually Wisc Humanities Council did give us this book -- the festival free thanks to the WHC Treasures... Dean et al.

And the Isthmus pleased us with a free book if we simply continued this fascinating group story.

But alas, the Book Festival must come to an end! So -- back to all the junk on TV -- including the multitude of reality shows. No, no, not TV. I have so many new and some not so new authors and their books. My TV is remaining in storage.

It was suggested that the Book Festival advertise on TV, but it seems in many ways so inappropriate. Rather spread the news by word of mouth Revel in the language of good news about the books.

Good lord, lets' have some separation between books and TV. Oh wait. I read while I watch don't I? Ok. My lesson this year at the festival is to treasure my books and my reading time. Then, while I read, my pick up truck fell into the moat.

And I rolled over with book in hand, asleep and wondering what the next sentence would really be (not just what my sad little mind conjured up). And I slept all night and woke up sweating? for it seemed like I had moved into another universe or, was I being strung along by someone? No, I acted off my own free will.

"Wisconsin Book Festival," the detective pondered. Is it a clue, a lead, a man panama?

He wrote and rewrote the words down in his pad, rearranging the letter again and again like a neurotic interior designer first delving into Feng-Shui. At last, the truth became apparent in a burst of enlightenment?Wisconsin Book Festival really meant "Fit wives ok sin sob cola" and then he saw the N... hmm...

Aha, he said: Wives kiss in focal boons! But what exactly are focal boons? And then an asteroid collided with the Earth and everybody died -- except a small band of rugged survivors in the mountains of...

Kyrgyzstan. Which then became the new center of civilization.

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