The Great Idea Famine

It was back in ’07. There had been some hard times for us in the past. Ideas where we lived had always been pretty scarce, but nothing like the big famine that happened that year. That was the year me and the family moved out East, packing ourselves and everything we owned into our old Toyota and hitting the road. Ma and Pa sat up front, with my little brother Dingbat between the two of them on the front-seat, and me and my big sister, Slappy, in back, sitting on either side of the family’s big-screen tv, which Pa insisted we had to take along. It was a good thing, too, because it kept us separated so Slappy couldn’t whack me every few minutes with her open hand, which she did all the time, for reasons I never found out. The tv took up so much room that we had to strap a lot of other stuff to the roof of the car, including Woof and Squeak, our dog and cat, who had to share a dog-crate up there and weren’t all that happy about it. We could hear them fighting every once in a while.
Pa had made a decent living before then, drawing funny pictures for magazines, but he had to have those ideas to work with and the supply seemed to dry up around Tulsa right about then. Pretty soon, we couldn’t pay the mortgage anymore, which was one of those dicey loans the banks handed out to all us suckers back before the housing boom went bust.

Pa heard there were ideas aplenty out there on the East Coast. They said a man could just reach out and grab fistfuls of ‘em right out of the air.

We weren’t the only ones had to pull up stakes. We saw a lot of other folks out there on the road, other cartoonists’ families, mostly, in similarly dire straits. We stopped at Comfort Inns and such along the way. Pa would sit around the campfires we made in the parking lots in those places, swapping stories and dreams about the future with other cartoonists, while I hung out in our motel room with the door open, playing mournful background music on my saxophone and fending off Slappy, who was close by and in her usual bad mood. I convinced her after awhile to smack me in time with the music, which was some improvement.

Those were tough times but things got better. Once we hit New Jersey, Pa got a couple of used ideas from a down-on-his-luck tv writer and sold a cartoon to a big magazine in New York. It was a hard, slow climb, but eventually he started selling more regularly there and finally got a contract. We still lived week to week even then, but we all helped out. Ma found she had a hidden talent for oral surgery and started operating on people in the kitchen of our new rental. Dingbat ran errands for some mob guys in the neighborhood. Slappy got a job acting in daytime tv, specializing in playing angry women. Me, I landed a gig with a band playing Klezmer-Techno music at Sunday brunches over in the City. I decided to pursue a career in music. Pa told me that wasn’t much smarter than deciding to be a cartoonist.

Pa did pretty well, though. His cartoons are all over the place now, in magazines and on t-shirts and coffee-cups and what have you. Ma had to give up on her new profession when someone complained to the authorities after an especially difficult and unsuccessful operation on a man who said he had eight inflamed wisdom teeth. Fortunately, by that time, money was coming in from Pa’s work. Dingbat is now doing time for activities associated with his gangster affiliations and Slappy has moved in with a masochist she met on the set of “All My Apoplectic Children” and seems pretty happy. Woof and Squeak seem to be getting along better. I’m making absolutely no money playing and writing music, just like Pa predicted.

I got an idea the other day for a song:

Things were dark
I thought I was dead
Til I saw that light-bulb

Over my head

It lit my path
It showed the way
It made me what
I am today

Find your bulb
Make it spark

Ideas are waiting
In the dark

Those folks back in Tulsa were right.
Here in New Jersey, you can just grab ideas right out of thin air.


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