Butter Rum Cartoon

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Monday, January 26, 2015


Yesterday, for my wife Micki's birthday, my family and I went out to take the tour through Talking Rocks Cavern at Branson West, Missouri. While waiting for the tour to begin, we perused the gift shop and then went out to see the Speleo Box outside. The last time we had been there was about fourteen years ago, when our children had gone through the box and two had been traumatized by it.

The Speleo Box is about six feet wide, ten feet deep, and eight feet tall. It has an entrance and an exit, between which is a grueling, five-level tunnel over a hundred feet long to crawl through, to see how you might like the adventure of exploring natural caves, or spelunking. Here are the signs posted on the front of the Box.

Our two grandsons immediate climbed in and had fun going through it. So did our youngest daughter. But our older two daughters were still traumatized by it and would not go through it. Our oldest daughter did begin, but backed out before reaching the first turn. Our middle son was with us, and followed his sons in, but he exceeds the weight requirement and began having real difficulties after the first few turns, and ended up backing all the way out through the entrance. I kept looking at that little entranceway, and the more trouble my children had, the bigger the challenge became for me to try it.

When in elementary school, I contracted tracheobronchitis. It became so hard for me to breathe that finally a doctor was called to our house and I was then taken to a hospital. I remember that on the way to the hospital I slid off of the back seat and onto the floor of the car, thinking I was dying. I struggled hard to breathe and sounded terrible as I did.

After being put on oxygen in the hospital, which didn't seem to help, some doctors at the foot of my bed discussed my problem and an insane doctor was called in. I say "insane" because he was the one who finally came around and sat on my bed with a nice smile and said in a exaggeratedly pleasant voice, "It's all right. You have nothing to worry about. You're going to be fine. All we're going to do..." and he touched the front of my neck with his finger "...is put a little hole right here..." And before he could finish the sentence, they not only had a young patient struggling to breathe, but a hoarsely screaming kid having a violent panic attack. My mother did her best to try to calm me down, but couldn't. 

Mom had remained faithfully by my side throughout my illness, and then came the time for surgery. They put me on a gurney and wheeled me out of the room and down the hall, with Mom following. They wheeled me into an elevator, and I called, "Mom?" No answer. "Mom?!" No answer. And I panicked again. They wheeled me into the operating room.

When I woke up, back in my hospital room, Mom was there with me. I was so terrified of finding a hole in my neck, but Mom smiled and said, "They didn't do it." It turned out that, after I had been sedated and unconscious, they noticed I breathed better. And they realized that besides my difficulty in breathing, my added problem was my fear of not being able to breathe. And so for the rest of my five-day hospital stay, they gave me horrible-tasting medicine and hypos in my butt every three hours to relax me. Except for these tortures, the stay wasn't so bad. Dad brought me the book, Danny Orlis and the Angle Inlet Mystery, by Bernard Palmer, and my family gave me the model of the Visible Man. But since then my greatest fear has been not being able to breathe.

Add to tracheobronchitis claustrophobia. In my early high school years, our Methodist Youth Fellowship group was going on a nighttime outing, and we all piled into one station wagon. I made the mistake of going in first, and was pushed further and further back as each person got in, until I was pressed against the rear door, and the glass of the rear window slanted over me. Suddenly I felt very closed-in and I couldn't move. Suffering a violent bout of claustrophobia for the first time, I was too embarrassed to scream and flail in the company of my classmates, so lay there sweating profusely and developing the lifetime, morbid fear of being closed in a confined space.

To this day, occasionally I will get bouts of claustrophobia and struggling to breathe while in bed at night. I will have to get up. I've gone and opened a window and put my face to the screen to breathe fresh air, but it wasn't enough. I've even stepped outside onto the front porch, and still felt like I had trouble breathing. I'm thinking that even in the middle of an open field, if I thought about it enough, I could experience a claustrophic struggle to breathe. And yesterday I thought of the challenge and stared at the entrance of the Speleo Box. 

Throughout my growing-up years I had had an inordinate fear of insects and spiders, and so, to conquer my fear, I acquired a live tarantula for a pet while in my freshman year of high school. I went on to write the first published book on tarantula care, All About Tarantulas, and to found the original American Tarantula Society, and to keep pet tarantulas for most of the rest of my life. My phobia was conquered. Maybe this idea is what led me suddenly to take off my coat, hand my sandals to Micki, and crawl into the Speleo Box. My family watched, surprised, and my middle daughter, who had been traumatized by the Box fourteen years ago, was terribly worried for me.

Inside the Box, after the first turn, I realized I had made a mistake. Claustrophobia set in. Not only are the tunnels small, but here and there pieces of wood stick out in the way. At one point I even had to suck in my stomach to make it through. The worst parts, though, are the corners, which not only turn but often go up or down, and are so tight that before entering them one must stop and figure which way to turn his body to avoid becoming stuck. 

As fat as I am, I did more sliding than crawling, and fortunately the tunnel floors are smooth. The more claustrophobic I became, the more intent I was on getting through it, and I tried to think of other things, but it didn't work. I was too big. It was too small. But about a third of the way through, another fear hit me. I'm out of shape! I haven't done much at all since retiring 3 1/2 years ago. And with a cholesterol count of 336 and triglyceride count of 440, a heart attack is a very real possibility and likely the way I'll die. Besides being in a tight space, I was becoming short of breath and very exhausted. But I pressed on. 

There are some doors on the sides of the Speleo Box that, in case of trouble, the management can come out and unlock. Micki saw that I was getting really tired, and began asking me if she should call them to open a door and get me out. By then I was so exhausted that I ignored her and kept on moving. At times I would stop and lie there and rest, but then the claustrophobia would get worse so I'd soon begin moving again. It dawned on me, hey, I'm 65! Sixty-five-year-olds don't do this! Finally it was just too much, I felt incredibly weak, and so when Micki asked me again I said, "Yes, have them open it up." And I lay there, as I once lay in the back of that station wagon, only this time the sweat wouldn't come.

Soon I heard a man's voice, who said, "Oh, he's there? I can't reach him there." And that's when my worst bout of claustrophobia set in. 

Once again I pressed on. My throat was dry, my chest was tight, and I thought to myself, "What a horrible place to have a heart attack!" Meanwhile my family was cheering me on, saying, "It's not far now, Dad," "You're almost there."

The last corner seemed like the worst, but finally I came to the last straight passage and saw the exit, with my kids peering in. It didn't take me long to reach them. It seemed as though I was being born all over again. I reached out and my two youngest daughters grabbed hold of my arms and pulled. It had been drizzling rain and the ground was wet and I didn't want to get my socks wet, so grasping onto my daughters I had them pull me out of the Box and onto my knees on the ground. I asked Micki to put my sandals back on my feet, as I knelt there utterly exhausted. I was so disoriented that I walked several yards before realizing that she had put my sandals on the wrong feet. 

The cave tour was then about to start and we all went in to be seated for the introductory talk. It was all I could do just to sit there like a normal human being, and I wondered if I'd be able to get through the tour and all the many stair steps along the way. Fortunately I was hit with having to spend some time in the restroom when the tour began, so excused myself. As my family went happily on their way into the earth, I sat and emptied myself in the restroom, then gazed in the mirror at how pale I was. I went and lay down across several chairs where we had listened to the introductory speech, then decided to go out and recline in the car instead. As I walked out the door, my butt felt cooler than usual and I felt and realized my wallet was gone! In hopes, I checked the restroom and the chairs, but nope, it wasn't there, and so yep, it's in the Box. I hadn't noticed that on one of the signs it had said not to take your wallet into the Box.

A young employee there and I went out to check, and sure enough, he shined a flashlight on it right away from the rear of the Speleo Box. My wallet lay propped up against the side of a tunnel in the very middle of the maze. After trying unsuccessfully to reach it through the cracks with sticks, he unlocked an upper door, crawled in and somehow reached it from above.

So, with wallet again, I went and reclined in the car, finding that whenever I lay back I would choke on phlegm and keep coughing. Finally I got out of the car, gagging, and almost threw up. All in all, this is the closest I've felt to death in a long time, and although accomplishing the feat, I'm sorry I did it. I didn't overcome any phobias and probably increased them, even having another claustrophobic, hard-to-breathe episode in bed last night while thinking about what I'd write in this post today.

Speaking of today, during which I'm miserably sore all over by the way, some of us went back out to Talking Rocks Cavern to take pictures of the Speleo Box signs for this post, and, while there, my wife Micki crawled through the whole Box. She had fun.

For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Some time ago I agreed to teach Sunday School at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Yellville, Arkansas. They gave me the curriculum materials to teach the junior high school class, but the curriculum seemed too milk-toast for me, and so, rebel that I was, out of my pocket I purchased several copies of the Jesus--Light of the World Catechism by Fr. Robert J. Fox to use instead.

During our first morning, the kids were really rowdy, as junior high school kids are. They were visiting with each other as I tried to teach, and one boy even went over and began drawing pictures on the chalkboard. Finally I pleaded, "Hey, this is my first time teaching Sunday School. Give me a break."  To my astonishment and delight, all the kids quieted down and the boy at the chalkboard returned to his seat. From that moment on, and throughout the year, the kids were polite and respectful, and I was greatly impressed and thankful. Each one became not only a student but a friend.

During the first teachers' meeting, we teachers went around the table telling how it's been going in our classes, and for my turn I told them that I thought the curriculum I was given was too milk-toast and that I wanted more meat in the lessons, and showed the woman in charge the textbook I had bought and was using. There were gasps around the table, and her eyes widened. I realized it was uncommon to take such an independent step without first getting approval. She paged through the copy I handed her for several minutes, while the other teachers waited for Dale to be reprimanded at best. Finally she handed it back, and nodded her head, and said, "I guess that will be all right. You go right ahead and use that."

Although the kids listened well and participated in class, I suppose my teaching was dryer than they were used to. I treated them as adults, and they responded in kind. Yet I quit after the first year; teaching is very stressful for me even with such a good class. I like to think they missed me after that, and they never found out that I had lied to them on that first day: It was not the first time I had taught Sunday School. The first time I had taught Sunday School, I bombed.

It was at the end of the 1960's, at the United Methodist Church in Sultan, Washington. My father was the pastor there, and somehow he or somebody talked Geneva and I into jointly teaching an elementary class. Geneva is the girl you read about in I Saw a U.F.O. It was shortly after the Christmas I received some new slippers, the book The Gospel according to Peanuts by Robert Short, the book A Treasury of Motorcycles of the World by Floyd Clymer, and a little, portable, reel-to-reel tape recorder, when tape recorders were still quite a novelty. And so, to help entertain the children during Sunday School on our first day, I brought along my new tape recorder. I have no idea why. It was just neat.

While Geneva and I were making do, presenting some sort of lessons, the kids saw my tape recorder and were fascinated. So I turned it on and recorded and played back some of their voices. They were amazed -- "I sound like that?" Then I showed them that, by rubbing the microphone on the leg of my jeans and playing it back, it sounds just like a saw cutting wood. And then, by whistling like a falling bomb while bringing the microphone closer and closer to my mouth, then cupping my hands over the microphone at my mouth and making a breathy explosion sound, and playing it back, it sounds just like a big bomb falling and a tremendous explosion when it hits the ground. The kids thought this was just great, and had me do it again and again, and loud.

Then the door opened. And there stood another Sunday School teacher, an older man, dignified and upset. And there sat Geneva and I, with big smiles on our faces, making bomb sound effects for kids gathered around us, so loud that it was disturbing the other classes. It was impressed upon us afterwards that making big bomb sounds was perhaps not the best way to teach Sunday School. Geneva and I sort of pooed out after that, and someone took our place, which is good, because we found that teaching Sunday School wasn't really that fun after all.

For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Here's a gift for the readers of the Butter Rum Cartoon. I am going to share with you the secret of the Magazine Trick. My family has been having fun entertaining and befuddling guests and friends with this throughout our lives, and now you can, too. All it takes is at least two people in the room who know the secret of the trick, and at least one who doesn't. For the illustrations below, I've used all the same magazines, simply because they were handy here for me to grab. But you can use any variety of magazines and all different ones if you like, Time and Boys' Life, upside-down, right-side up, whatever.

First, you lay out nine magazines on the floor like this.

Then while one person who knows the secret leaves the room, the rest of the people pick one magazine of the nine. When he returns, you point at one of the magazines with a stick and ask, "Is it this one?" If it's the wrong one, he'll say "No." You continue pointing at different magazines, asking, "Is it this one?" and when you point at the right one, he'll say "Yes." People will be amazed, and will come up with all sorts of guesses as to how it's done. If someone thinks they know, have him go out of the room and come back and see if he's right. If he is, he can join in the fun. And people who know the secret can take turns with the stick.

The secret lies with the first magazine you point to. It can be any of the nine magazines, it doesn't matter. You imagine that the first magazine is a miniature of all nine, like this. And where you point to on the cover of the first magazine will reveal which magazine of the nine was chosen.

So if you point, say, to the bottom center of the first magazine, it says that the secret magazine chosen is the bottom center of the group of nine.

If you point to the center of the first magazine, it says that the secret magazine is the center one of the group of nine...
and so on.

It's so simple, but it's funny what complicated codes some people will come up with in guessing how it's done. Since comparatively few people of the world's population read the Butter Rum Cartoon, I have dared to share the secret with you. Even my brother-in-law, who currently lives with us, does not know how this trick is done, and probably won't read this. So, now that you know, have fun.

For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


When the weather outside isn't nice enough to play Stickerchief, a neat game we used to play inside when I was a kid (and still do) is Clothespins in a Bottle. This was in the days when milk was delivered on our porch and when many people used the old-fashion clothespins instead of the springy kind, but the old style clothespins can still be found in some stores or ordered online, and a vintage milk bottle can be found in flea markets. And once you get one bottle and at least ten clothespins, you're set.

The game is simple and fairly challenging and fun, and can be played by any number of people, young and old. To play, you just set the bottle on the floor in front of your feet, and while standing you try to drop all the clothespins into the bottle. I like to play with twenty clothespins, or as many as I can hold in one hand while dropping them with the other. The clothespins cannot be dropped from below the waist. Taking turns, the object is to get more clothespins into the bottle than all your opponents. If there are any ties, those players play again until there is a winner.

For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.