“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt,” Erma Bombeck wrote.
Author Richard Bell is proof of that as evidenced in his quirky book full of dark humor, Life Seemed Good, But…
Take his story about a huge mutant potato named Spud who takes over a man’s life, controlling all his thoughts and actions. Growing in the backyard, he demands to be fertilized and watered for hours at a time and to be addressed as “King Potato-Pants.”
The man loses his job and has to beg money from family and friends. He is instructed to install a widescreen TV on the side of the house so the mutant potato can learn more about humans with the ultimate goal of world domination.
King Potato Pants watches TV constantly with inquisitive eyes poking up through the ground. Daytime talk shows are his favorites. One summer, to the man’s dismay, Spud lifts himself free of the ground and walks unsteadily on his giant root feet. The man tries to call 911, but the potato punishes every hint of rebellion with severe headaches followed by an irrational urge to move to Alaska.
King Potato-Pants begins a path of destruction through several counties. No one dares to get close enough to read him his rights or thump him to see how ripe he is. While attempting to conquer the world, the mutant potato suddenly dies. The cause is unknown. Was it germs, pollution, or potato bugs? Or perhaps more likely, was he slowly poisoned by television from which his mind had no natural immunity?
“Unfortunately, Spud got his final revenge. Everyone who ate of him turned into a permanent couch potato with an overwhelming appetite for daytime talk shows,” Richard writes in his humorously clever book.
I only quoted part of this quirky short story. You would have to read the fable in its entirety to appreciate Rich’s imaginative, funny, and insightful tale more fully. The short story is just one of many in his book that sprung from a dark place in Richard’s life. In fact, be forewarned. Spud is one of the more light-hearted characters in this book.
“You’re never too old to try to follow your dream, but make sure your dream is somewhat realistic,” says Richard. “Just because you wish upon a star doesn’t mean the star can hear you.”
Sage advice coming from a baby boomer who learned some tough lessons later in life. After searching for decades to find his true love, Richard finally married for the first time when he was almost 40. Happy at last, life suddenly took some strange and sad twists.
The mortgage company where Richard and his wife, Lorianne, worked began to downsize and they both lost their jobs. But that was nothing compared to the next blow that was delivered when the couple discovered Lorianne had leukemia. The thought of losing his wife after waiting so long to find her was terrifying.
Richard relied on his faith in God and turned to a lifelong love of writing and a warped, dark sense of humor to relieve some of the pain.
“I wrote a little story about a cow and a tiger and a rabbit, where the cow liked to eat rabbits,” Richard says. “All my stories are a bit on the tragic side. Only years later did I realize my first story was not as funny as I supposed, but rather was my mind’s way of relieving some of my stress without falling apart. It was mostly successful in that regard.”
More stories poured out of Richard’s soul as his wife almost died twice from chemo-caused pneumonia. If some of his stories seem outright mean and sad, Rich explains that cancer does that to a person. “I don’t know if it’s worse to have cancer or watch a loved one have it,” he says.
Nonetheless, his bizarre and colorful stories are also funny at the same time. “I also like to make people laugh,” says Richard, who describes himself as an average eccentric recluse with a warped sense of humor. “It’s just my personality.
To support them, Richard was forced to take on temp jobs to pay the bills in between unemployment. Influenced by some of his favorite comics like Jonathan Winters and Bob Hope, Richard continued writing short stories for his own therapy and amusement.
When he was almost 50, Richard saw a magazine, Wassup Local, with an ad looking for writers. As a lark, he answered the ad. The editor was impressed with his stories and Richard began writing a monthly column entitled Modern Fables.
Eventually, the collection of short stories evolved into his book, “Life Seemed Good, But… “I was originally going to title the book ‘Stupid Stories for Depressed People,’” Richard jokes. “But since I’m not a doctor or therapist, I didn’t want to be sued if someone read the book and then got worse.”
A percentage of the sales from his book are donated to cancer research.
Bizarre characters pop up in Richard’s humorous stories like the mutant potato I mentioned, a smelly and bald porcupine, and a mean clown.
But if you dig deeper, you’ll find the stories are based on Richard’s life experiences, frustrations, and fears. The fables, some of which are interrelated, include hidden life lessons, trivia references – and even allusions to song lyrics by Paul Simon and Frank Zappa along with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in.
Despite the cover art, Richard warns that this book is not meant for young children. This is a book of quirky and sometimes dark humor filled with deeper meaning.
For example, a short story entitled, “Laugh, Clown!” is an allegory for finding one’s identity during youth. “I was not a popular kid and never socialized well,” Richard admits. “School was like going to hell.” “Revenge” is about the temptations that come with freedom as a young adult. “Bed-Bears” represents a child’s fear of losing his parents which is followed by the story, “Going to the Airport” which symbolizes the fear of losing one’s self.
In another story, “Making New Friends,” a balloon thinks she’s a giraffe and is named after the Kayan tribe with women who elongate their necks. Aluminum foil which appears in several of Richard’s stories represents wishful thinking for a better life.
“Just think, if you buy my little eBook, you are in essence getting my life story for around four bucks, which is pretty cheap for a life nowadays,” Richard jokes. “And yet I am pretty sure that you will see some of your life in here as well.” A paperback edition is available as well.
Since the stories helped Richard deal with the enormous stress he was under, he hopes his quirky humor can help others in similar situations. “Sometimes humor is a healthy outlet when you feel that life’s problems are crushing you,” he says. “If life seems crazy, a short story that is even crazier helps bring one back down to earth and give perspective.”
Thankfully, Richard’s personal story has a happy ending. Lorraine recovered and is now in remission. Although Richard had difficulty finding another full time job for over a decade, he now has a career he loves, preparing class materials and exams at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.
His advice for other baby boomers who may be hitting some bumps in the road?
“Do something to brighten your little corner of the world and stay away from people who are negative,” he advises.
“If you’re going to write, keep editing until you have exactly what you want no matter how long it takes,” he continues. “Sometimes an idea will present itself from out of nowhere. Be open to these. Keep writing, if only for yourself. I wrote mainly to make myself laugh and if others find it funny also, more power to them!”
Good advise from a guy who writes in the “About the Author” section of his book: “He has not won any awards but used to be fairly good at table tennis.”
One more prudent piece of advice, as part of Richard’s words of wisdom from a turtle at the end of his book: “Always keep your mouth closed when cleaning the toilet.”
To purchase a copy of Richard’s book, click here.
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.