Hugs Not Drugs by Courtney Mehlhaff

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit for your review the poster I designed in second grade for an anti-drug campaign. You can tell this was an important artistic work, because it's laminated.

Let's break this down, shall we?

So it looks like we have a little kid clinging to his father in the upper left-hand corner, and he's recounting a crazy-ass dream he had. Or maybe he just doesn't want to get back into that nightmare of a bed with what appears to be giant claws on either end.

What's happening in the dream?

In the center we have Mr. Milk lassoing Mr. Cigarette in a bizarre cowboy vs. Indian tableau. They actually don't look terribly unhappy. However, things get more serious on the outskirts. On the left we have Mr. Apple stabbing Mr. Asprin (who evidently is already wounded, since he's missing an I) in the mouth. I'm not sure why aspirin makes the cut of dangerous illegal substances, but there you have it.

On the right, we have the young fruits and vegetables engaged in a Lord of the Flies situation, armed to the teeth and out for blood. At the top, Baby Orange is poking Baby Drug (must be a generic) in the ass with a dagger. Below that, Baby Carrot is dueling with Baby Wine (though shouldn't he really be just a grape?)

But the best part is that, above all this violence and chaos, is the overarching message of "Hugs Not Drugs." Because clearly Mr. Milk and his associates are winning the day with love. Did anyone, at any point during the creation of this elementary school propaganda masterpiece, think to point out that perhaps I shouldn't illustrate my thesis with a crying child and a group of slightly racist characters locked in mortal combat? No. No, they did not.

Or maybe they did, and I ignored them. What matters is that I won second place, as evidenced by the red ribbon on the top left. So suck it, logic and good taste. You've never been key players in the war on drugs, anyway.

The Case of the Missing Prisoner by Courtney Mehlhaff

I present to you another gem from my elementary school archives. I think I made this "book" in 2nd grade. How do I know? Because it's not about dinosaurs. Everything in 3rd grade had a decidedly extinct reptile theme. But evidently I decided to take my first crack at a crime caper at age 8.

Okay, we're starting off strong. We have a main character, and he seems pretty likable.

Not bad. Alex can hoist a handcuffed man by his belt loop, and he does it with a smile. However, he seems to be driving some sort of spaceship. And the criminal appears to be shackled to an anti-gravity ball and chain. Also, I don't know why he doesn't just walk out between the bars.

Only minor problems here. I seem to have forgotten how to draw elbows, even though two pages earlier I was doing just fine. I've made the criminal a bit cocky and placed a handy dandy map of his entire plan on the back wall. It starts with a shovel and ends with a hole, and these are really the kinds of schematics you're bound to forget if they're not prominently displayed. Also, that's the brightest moonlit night I've ever seen.

Interesting. We find out that Alex is a redhead (and a bit of a drama queen). But things really start to fall apart on the right-hand page. It looks like all my artistic energy went into drawing that rolling fortress, and I had to make do with a red felt-tipped pen in a pinch. That's okay. I'm sure no one will notice. They probably won't notice that the ticket counter is located on top of the train, either. 

Three things I love about this spread: 1) I didn't know what to call the passenger car, so I went with "people carry," which I think cuts right to the chase. 2) I knew that there was a double letter in "caboose," dammit, but I chose the wrong one. 3) The most exotic destination I could conjure for the train was New Mexico. 

On the previous page, we established that "Alex is the boss," and boy, is he authoritative. And now bald, apparently. But look how he commands attention. I'd obey anyone who knew how to say "hurry up" in two different ways. Especially if he had six fingers.

On your left, you'll note that not only is Alex a crack shot with his "pop" gun, but he manages to look downright jaunty while doing it and even throws in a sassy comment to boot. Although it appears he's now a midget. I think that, while Alex was aiming at the criminal, I was aiming for perspective.  

On your right, in a bizarre twist, Alex and his "helper" Jon (who has not been introduced until just now) disguise themselves as clowns before arresting the criminal (whom I now refer to as "the stupid guy"), and a previously unknown plot point involving peanut shells turns out to be the key to the entire case. When pressed for an explanation of this tidy wrap-up, and asked why I chose not to draw any of these colorful shenanigans, I can only speculate that I simply ran out of room.

But sometimes our visions just have to be crammed into 12 pages, no matter how grand they are. You work with what you got, man. You work with what you got.

Dear Diary: Tales from the First Grade by Courtney Mehlhaff

I recently discovered the diary that I kept when I was seven years old. It sounds like I'm making that up, because what first grader keeps a daily journal? This one, that's who. It's been an interesting peek into the psyche (and varying stages of penmanship) of my young self. For example:

January 14, 1985 was a pretty jam-packed day, and not a great one for Mindy. I'm glad I felt the need to specify that the wall involved in the tooth-cracking incident was "hard." I'm also glad I confessed to my greatest fear in elementary school (other than E.T.), which was somersaults. And apparently I still don't know how to spell that correctly, because I had to defer to spell check about three seconds ago. Live and learn. Well, sometimes.

Dear Diary: Modest AND Good at Math by Courtney Mehlhaff

I'd only like to point out that Ortonville is a whole 12 miles from my hometown. Oh, and I just happened across my old sticker books the other day. I noted that, in addition to the standard sticker fare, I had also slapped in some thin sheets featuring the days of the week in a line: Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri. In my current adult state, these were instantly recognizable as belonging to birth control pills. So that's how much of a sticker freak I was. I lifted the daily reminder strip off my mom's oral contraceptives. No wonder I have a sister.

Dear Diary: Aspirin Espionage by Courtney Mehlhaff

It somehow comforts me to know that, at about this time 26 years ago, my mother was attempting to trick me into taking medication. It may interest you to know that she did not abandon these attempts, as I distinctly recall a similar betrayal involving a bowl of icky-tasting "applesauce." Mom, if our poodle could lick off all the peanut butter and spit out the heartworm pill, I'm pretty sure your 7-year-old could detect acetaminophen in her favorite foods.

Courtney and the Bandit by Courtney Mehlhaff

I don't really have an explanation for this one. I guess in second grade I already had a thing for hirsute men? Although, since the story is about Jack, I suppose it's a bit homoerotic. I'd also like to note that, in the intervening years, I have learned how to spell "surprised" and how to use a semicolon properly. Thank you.

Dinodon by Courtney Mehlhaff

I wrote this story in third or fourth grade. It's fairly self-explanatory, but I would like to say three things. 1) Yes, I'm a super huge nerd. 2) Trischoolatops High would make a great band name. 3) I think I drew some pretty kickass punk dinosaurs toward the end. Thank you.

Fight It! by Courtney Mehlhaff

I found this on the back of an envelope at my parents' house recently.

I don't have a good chronological reference for this piece of ... let's call it "art." Whatever my grandfather's malady, it appears that I wanted to send him my best wishes, along with some very wise advice that I felt the need to repeat three times.

I also drew an example (or maybe a continuum) of wellness and what seems to be a mountain range with people falling into chasms. I have no explanation for this illustration, but I welcome any and all suggestions for what it might be. 

The Envelope, Please by Courtney Mehlhaff

While helping my parents decorate their house over the Thanksgiving holiday, I came across some Christmas artwork from my elementary school days. I now present them with the following awards.

Shiftiest Santa Ever:

Shiftiest Reindeer/Most Misspelled:


Creepiest Santa Ever (a.k.a. Santa Who Just Ate Your Family):

Dear Diary: Checkers by Courtney Mehlhaff

Item one: I referred to markers as "neat" and went ga-ga over high-tops. Nerd alert!

Item two: Where the hell did we find a Chinese restaurant in 1985 South Dakota?

Item three: I referred to movies as "movie films" for no discernible reason.

Item four: Jesus, Dad! Give me a break. I've only been playing checkers for two days!

Dear Diary: Love Hurts by Courtney Mehlhaff

What a day! Not sure if the grounding was related to the piano. Also not sure why I was allowed to see a movie when I was grounded. Pretty sure Evan getting maimed had nothing to do with me.

Again, don't think the two are related. Evidently my relationship with Evan changed drastically the day after the head injury. And now a tooth! This boy seems to be falling apart.

We're together now, just in case you forgot. Perhaps I needed to remind myself that I was taken ...

... because five days later I'm cheating on him like crazy. What a slut!

Jacque Jose Pepkeer by Courtney Mehlhaff

The assignment may have been to write a tall tale, and it may have been around third grade. Whatever my age, I think it's pretty clear that I was on crack at the time.

I'm not sure what I like more: that a spiteful international terrorist murdered a sweet little librarian, or that her ex-NFL player son vengefully hunted down the killer on the back of a white tiger. Take your pick. It's all comedy gold.