Thursday, December 17, 2015

FOR GOODNESS SAKE

If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to tell you about my friend, Frankie. Frankie’s a good kid. He does as he’s told, he’s nice to his sister, he respects authority and he’s kind to other people. But he wasn’t always like that. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Frankie was a real troublemaker. He goofed off at school, pulled pranks, talked back to teachers and parents, picked on his little sister and pretty much did whatever he felt like doing.
            
But all that changed last Christmas. The rest of the year he had been worse than ever, and his father told him that if he didn’t straighten up, Santa wouldn’t bring him any presents at all this year. Frankie pretended not to care, but secretly he was very worried. He’d gotten presents before, but what if this year was the year Santa finally gave up on him? He had been pretty naughty all year round, even by his standards. And there was one present he wanted more than anything: The new GameStation 4000. It was the coolest video game system ever and he knew all his friends at school were getting one, so he had to have one too so they could all play together. But would he get one after all the bad things he’d done?
            
Yes, Frankie was pretty sure he would be getting nothing for Christmas until he saw the flier hanging up on the school bulletin board:

ARE YOU ON THE NAUGHTY LIST?

I CAN HELP.

CALL 555-4646
(that’s 555-HO-HO)

Having nothing to lose, Frankie called the number.

"Hello?" said a weird, deep voice.

"Um, I saw your flier? The one about getting people of the Naughty List?"

"320 Sycamore. After school tomorrow. Ask for Dixon." Then they hung up.

The next day after school, Frankie went to 320 Sycamore and was greeted at the door by a woman who was, apparently, Dixon's mother. She showed Frankie to the basement, where Dixon was working on his very fancy and complex array of computers. Dixon was much younger than Frankie was expecting; about two years younger than Frankie himself, which put him in second grade.

"You're Dixon?" Frankie asked. "The one I spoke to on the phone?"

"Sorry about the voice modulator," said Dixon, without taking his eyes off the screen. "Can't be too careful."

"So you can get me off the Naughty List?"

"I can. For a price."

"What price?"

"Every single check and/or giftcard you receive this Christmas."

"That seems pretty steep."

"Not if you want something other than coal this year."

"How are you going to do it?"

"Easy. Over the past several years, Santa has been upgrading his Naughty/Nice list to a computer database of every kid in the world. It makes his job easier but, more importantly, it means that, for the first time in centuries, the List is accessible by outsiders."

"Wait, wait...you're going to hack into Santa's computer?"

"Of course. I got into the Pentagon's internal servers last week. The North Pole is nothing."

"And all I have to do is give you all the money I get as Christmas presents?"

"Don't worry. You don't have to pay until after the holiday."

"That's pretty trusting of you."

"Not really. If you don't pay me, I hack into the school's system and change all your grades for the semester to F's. Deal?"

Frankie only had to think about it for a moment. If it meant getting off the Naughty List, and getting his GameStation 4000, it was worth it. "Deal," Frankie said, and Dixon went to work. It took longer than Frankie had expected and he didn’t really understand what the kid was doing in the first place, but finally, two hours later, the deed was done.

"You're all set," said Dixon.

“That’s it?”

“Yes. School starts again on January 3rd. You can put my fee in an envelope and stick it in my locker then. In the meantime…Merry Christmas.”

Frankie went home confused and nervous. Had this really just happened? Had this little kid actually gotten him off the Naughty list and on to the Nice list? What would happen on Christmas morning? Well, that was still a whole week off, so Frankie had nothing to do but think and worry until then.

When Christmas morning finally did come, Frankie crept downstairs and…there were presents for him under the tree! It had worked! Frankie had been bad all year, but still got presents from Santa! He started to think of hiring Dixon to work his magic every year from now on, so he could misbehave and still get toys. But for now he was happy to just play with his GameStation 4000. Sure enough, it looked like all his friends were online playing with their new GameStations.

Well, almost all of them.

Frankie had one friend, Steven, who had been expecting a GS4K for Christmas but he wasn’t on the server. Frankie didn’t worry about it, because he figured Steven was probably spending time with his family or going to a Christmas party or something else lame like that. Steven was kind of a goody-two-shoes, but he never squealed on Frankie and let him copy off his test a few times, so he was all right as far as Frankie was concerned.

In the days following Christmas, Frankie still never saw Steven online. Finally he called him and asked why he wasn’t playing.

“Because I don’t have a GameStation,” said a very upset sounding Steven.

“What? You didn’t get one for Christmas?”

“I didn’t get anything for Christmas, Frankie! Santa didn’t come!”

This didn’t make any sense. Steven was a good kid. Why would he…just then a terrible thought came into Frankie’s mind. He said goodbye to Steven, hung up, then called Dixon and told him what he thought might have happened.

“Yes, I know,” said Dixon, carelessly. “You see, if there were suddenly dozens of names in the ‘Nice’ column, Santa would notice. That’s why my algorithm is so clever. It doesn’t just move you from ‘Naughty’ to ‘Nice,’ it changes someone else from ‘Nice’ to ‘Naughty.’ That way the number add up the same and Santa never gets wise.”

Frankie was horrified. It was his fault that Steven didn’t get any Christmas presents. Steven, who was always cool and deserved presents had nothing under his tree, just so that Frankie could have what he wanted. He felt awful. But he knew how to make it right.

That night, Frankie snuck out of bed, loaded up all his Christmas presents in his sister’s red wagon and carted them down the street to Steven’s house. Then, very quietly, so as not to wake anyone, he unloaded them all (including his GameStation 4000) on Steven’s front porch. He wrote a quick note and stuck it to the top of the pile then rang the doorbell and ran. The note he had written read:

Dear Steven,

Sorry these are late, some of my elves goofed up. Merry Christmas!

Love,
Santa

Frankie went back home, put his sister’s wagon away, then got into bed. He had done it. He had given away every single one of his Christmas presents. He had, really, gotten nothing for Christmas…but he was happy. Because he had done something nice for someone else. And he was smiling as he fell asleep.

When he woke up the next morning, there was a present on the foot of his bed. There was a note on it which read:

            Dear Frankie,

I guess you learned your lesson about what Christmas is really all about. Keep up the good work, and Merry Christmas!

Love,  
(The Real) Santa.

Frankie tore open the present and saw a brand new GameStation 4000. It was the only Christmas present he had that year, but it was more than enough.


Well, it  took a long time, but Santa's IT guys eventually traced the hack back to Dixon's IP address. First, they sent an email to Dixon's mother telling her what her son had done, and she was so angry she took all of Dixon's Christmas presents and gave them away. In addition, Santa's team sent him a computer worm which fried his system beyond all recognition. This meant, among other things, that he couldn't make good on his threat to give Frankie straight F's, which meant Frankie didn't have to give him all his Christmas money and giftcards.

Frankie put that money to good use, however, buying belated Christmas presents for his family and friends. And ever since then, he's been one of the best kids in town. So, this year, when Santa makes his list and checks it twice, Frankie will have earned his place on the Nice List...

How about you?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

THE MAGIC PURSE

Suggested by the Jewish Fairy Tale, 'The Black Dwarf'

Once upon what we in the industry often refer to as “a time,” there lived a tailor named Jacob. Now, Jacob was a very good tailor and, what’s more, he was a very good man. Kind, compassionate, honest, cheerful and charitable. Unfortunately he was also poor. Quite poor. He worked very hard but, for whatever reason, he hardly ever seemed to have enough money. It was an effort just to keep a roof over his family’s head, not to mention food in their bellies.

One day after making all the clothes he was going to try and sell, he found he had some material left over. Not enough to make another suit, but too much to throw away, so he made a tee shirt out of it. It was a pretty small tee shirt and he doubted anyone would buy it since it probably wouldn’t fit anybody, but he put it in his pack and took it with him.

Before he got to town to try and sell the clothes he had made, Jacob was set upon by a band of robbers. “Give us your money!” they demanded.

“I don’t have any money!” insisted Jacob.

They snatched away his purse which, indeed, was empty. So they took the only thing he did have: clothes. They tore through his pack and took every shirt, jacket, pair of pants, skirt, sock and every last set of underwear. In the end they left him only the tiny tee shirt, which they knew was too small to be of any use to him anyway.

Poor Jacob was distraught. Now he and his family were sure to starve. The only thing he had left in the world was that tiny little tee shirt.

“Who in the world would ever want a shirt this small?”

“I do!” said a voice from behind. Jacob spun around and was rather surprised to see a dwarf…with no shirt on. “It just so happens I need a shirt, as you can see. And that one you’ve made looks like it’s just my size. Here,” he said, putting a hand in his pocket and bringing up a gold coin. “Do you have change?”

“Well, no, I’m afraid not.”

“Oh, that’s okay. Keep it.”

“A gold coin for one shirt? No, that’s too much.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re really saving my neck selling me this shirt. If I show up at home half-dressed again, my wife is really gonna lay into me. Besides, you seem like a nice guy. I’m sure you’ll put the money to good use. Oh, I see you don’t have a purse to put it in. Here, take this one. No, I insist. I have tons of them at home. My  brother is an arts and crafts nut. I keep telling him ‘We have enough purses!’ but he doesn’t seem to hear. Anyway, have a nice day!”

So Jacob accepted the gold coin and the dwarf ran home at once with his new tee shirt. Jacob just stood and gazed at the coin. He had never held this much money in his hands before. On one side, he read these words:

Money used wisely will surely grow.

On t'other side, it read:

Money used poorly will quickly go.

He didn’t really know what that meant, but he put the coin in his purse and went home to tell his wife and son all about his adventure. But when he took the coin back out of the purse, to show it to them, a most peculiar thing happened. Jacob put his hand in the purse and felt not one but two gold coins! Barely daring to believe it, he put the two coins back in the purse, tied up the top, waited a few seconds, then opened it again. Sure enough, now there were four gold coins.

“This is a magic purse!” Jacob declared. “However much money we put inside will double!”

“We’re rich!” cried Jacob’s son, Benjamin. His mind filled with images of dozens, hundreds of gold coins pouring out of the little purse.

“No, son. We are not going to squander this gift. We shall use the purse to make only as much gold as we need. And we must all swear right now that however much we spend each week, an equal portion goes to the poor.”

Jacob and his wife swore to the oath (as did Benjamin, though less enthusiastically) and from then on life for the tailor and his family was good. They never lived in the lap of luxury, but they never again had to worry if they would starve to death. And, true to their word, however much money they needed, they always took twice that amount from the magic purse, so they could give half to charity. And because they used their money wisely and shared their wealth, Jacob and his wife lived happily ever after…

No, come back! This isn’t the end! Yeah, I know it sounds like the end, but trust me, it’s not.

See Jacob and his wife were able to live happily ever after. What they weren’t able to do was live forever. After reaching a ripe old age, they both died and the magic purse became the property of Benjamin, their son. And if you’ve been picking up on the subtle foreshadowing I’ve been laying down these past few paragraphs, you’ll know that he did not use the purse as wisely as his father.

Benjamin used the purse to produce massive amounts of gold all at once. He used them to buy a big mansion, expensive clothes, rich foods, the finest imported servants and a stable full of Arabian cows (which are not as famous as Arabian stallions, but still nice in their own way). And he never, ever, not even once, gave so much as a penny to those less fortunate.

After six months of this kind of thing, a very strange thing happened: the magic of the purse started to work in reverse. One night before bed, Benjamin put twelve gold coins in the purse. When he awoke the next morning there were only six. As a test, he put two gold coins in and took out only one. He threw the purse away, lest it wipe out his fortune completely, and started keeping his gold in his pockets. But they too started to work in the same way as the purse, and every time he took out his money, he had half as much as he expected.

It didn’t take long for Benjamin to be down to his very last gold coin. As a matter of fact, though he had no way of knowing this, it was the exact same coin that had started all this so many years ago. He lost the mansion, the clothes, the food, the servants and the finance company repossessed his Arabian cows. He was kicked out into the streets, all alone.

Shortly after being kicked out, as though the forces of nature (or a vindictive writer) were conspiring against him, it started to rain. Benjamin decided to use his last gold coin to buy food and lodging for the night and then find work in the morning. But on his way to the inn, a little old woman walked up to him and asked if he could spare a little money.

Benjamin was about to say that, no, he had no spare money, when he looked down at the inscription on the coin:

Money used wisely will surely grow
Money used poorly will quickly go

Benjamin felt that he understood that message for the first time in his life. With a weary sigh, and the unpleasant thought that he’d have to spend the night in the rain, he handed his very last coin to the old woman and said, with a sad but sincere smile, “Here you are, madam. I only hope it brings you more happiness than it brought me.”

“Silly, Benjamin,” said the old lady. “Haven’t you learned by now? Money cannot buy happiness. Don’t you remember your father? Jacob was happy all his life before he even got this coin.”

“Wait, how do you know me? And my father?”

By way of an answer, the little old lady started to glow. So brightly, Benjamin had to shield his eyes. When the light dimmed, however, the little old lady had changed into a dwarf with a tee shirt that looked really cool. “I’m sorry I had to take away my gift,” said the dwarf, not unkindly, “but you were not honoring the promise you made. You used the money foolishly and selfishly, so I had to take it back. But now, since you were willing to give your last possession in the world to a stranger, I see that you have learned your lesson. So, here, take the coin back. Oh, and I think you mislaid this.”

Benjamin’s eyes widened when he saw that the dwarf was holding up the magic purse. “I give you my solemn word, o dwarf,” said Benjamin, “to use the purse’s magic as my father did from this day on.”

“Glad to hear it! But now, if I were you, I’d see about getting a room for the night. This rain’s not gonna let up any time soon.” And the little man disappeared as mysteriously as he had come.

With a new feeling of purpose and a much lighter heart, Benjamin went to the inn, bought dinner for all the poor children in the village then went to sleep. But when he woke up the next morning, he was not in the inn, but back in his mansion! He had all this clothes, food, servants and even his Arabian cows back! But he kept true to his promise and didn’t squander the money he got from the purse. And even if he did splurge every now and then (after all, he’s only human), he made sure to give an equal amount to the poor and needy.

Okay, now it’s the end. No wait! Sorry, not quite. I forgot the bit about how he lived happily ever after and nobody ever saw the dwarf ever again. Okay, we’re done. Bye!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

JACK THE DULLARD



Inspired by a story by Hans Christian Andersen


Princess Lauren was pretty awesome. Besides being beautiful and rich and powerful like most princesses, she was very clever and interesting and nice and just about everything you could want in a ladyfan. That’s why everybody wanted to marry her. And when everybody in the whole wiggidy wide world wants to marry you, it means you can afford to be pretty picky when choosing a husband. Which is why Princess Lauren of Someplace Very Far Away decided to set a challenge for her prospective suitors. Most fellows, as you are probably aware, will give a lady a diamond ring when they ask her to marry them. But Lauren had forty-seven diamond rings, so she wanted something else. She wanted a treasure she had never seen before. So she decreed that any man who could bring her such a treasure would win her hand…the rest of her, too, but “win her hand” is an old expression meaning…well, never mind, you get the idea.

Of the many, many, many, many people who thought they had a shot at marrying the princess were three brothers. Their father was just a humble woodchopper, but he did own two prized possessions of great value and he gave these to his two eldest sons in the hopes that it would win them the hand (remember from before?) of the fair princess. To his eldest son, Manfred, he gave a solid silver shoehorn, which is not something you see every day. To his middle son, Maurice, he gave a set of silk shoelaces with solid gold aglets (an “aglet” is the hard tip on the end of a shoelace), which is something else you don’t see every day. He also lent them his two horses and wished them good luck on their quest.

Of course, this would all be very well and good, but sharp-eyed readers may notice that I said there were three brothers. The youngest, Jack was…what’s a nice way of putting this…a dullard. The light of his mind was sort of dim, if you see what I mean. Not stupid, necessarily. Not the kind of stupid where you eat soap and mix up your pants and your shirt and walk into a door over and over again cuz you can’t figure out how to turn the knob or even the kind of stupid where you vote for a third party candidate. No, he was just a little bit…off.

For these reasons, his father thought Jack had no chance of impressing the princess, so he didn’t give him a darn thing. But Jack was determined that he would marry the princess, so he saddled up his pig (he didn’t have a horse) and set off on the road to the palace. Unfortunately, dullard that he was, he forgot about the princess’s challenge to bring her a treasure she had never seen before. Still, ever the optimist, he and his pig, Trevor, went off on their quest.

Being a pig and not a horse, Trevor moved rather slower than Manfred’s or Maurice’s steeds. But Jack didn’t mind, as he enjoyed slow, leisurely trips through the woods. In fact, if he really wanted to get there quickly, he would have gotten off the pig and simply walked to the castle, but he was, as you may have heard somewhere before, a dullard, so this never occurred to him. And it’s just as well, because if he had been going any faster, he might have missed the wonderful things he saw.

First he saw a nest full of eggs hatching. He saw the little nestlings breaking out of their shells and chirping for food. Jack felt blessed to have witnessed this miracle of nature. Just then, a piece of eggshell fell from the tree and Jack caught it and put it in his pocket then he and Trevor went on their way.

Next he saw a snake rubbing its head against a tree root. Then he slid out of his old skin as smooth as water, leaving the discarded skin behind. Jack thought it was pretty neat so he picked it up and put it in his pocket with the eggshell.

Finally, when he was really quite near the castle, he saw a piece of string someone had dropped. For reasons best known to himself, he thought this too was worthy of preservation, so he added it to the contents of his pocket and made his way to the castle.

Several hours earlier, his brothers had come to the castle and presented their treasures to the princess. The silver shoehorn sparkled in the light, but the princess had seven of them. The silk shoelaces with golden aglets were very fine, but the princess was actually wearing a pair at that very moment. They were just leaving in defeat when they saw their brother, Jack, and his pig, Trevor, riding up to the castle.

“How’d it go?” asked Jack, stupidly.

“She didn’t accept either of our gifts,” said Manfred.

“Sorry about that. Well, maybe she’ll like what I have for her.” So saying, he handed Trevor’s reins to Maurice and went in to see the princess.

“So, what do you have for me?” asked the princess, who after days and days of this was getting pretty bored.

“I have, not one, but three gifts for your most beautiful of majesties.”

“Three? Let’s see them.” And Jack took from his pocket the fragment of eggshell. Princess Lauren looked at it as if expecting it to explode or something. “Is this it? An eggshell?”

“Yes!” said Jack enthusiastically.

“How is an eggshell a treasure?”

“It may not be worth much gold, but not long ago this tiny fragment of shell was the most important thing in the world to a mother bird. And as I passed beneath her nest, it hatched, and the miracle of new life was born out of this insignificant little fragment. Some day that baby bird will grow so big that his beak won’t even fit in this fragment of shell, but he used to be so small that he could live inside it. If you don’t find that remarkable, then it’s no wonder you’re so hard to impress.”

Princess Lauren was intrigued by what Jack was saying and asked to see the next treasure. She recoiled slightly at the sight of the snake skin, but then Jack pointed out the intricate patterns of the indentations of the snake’s scales. The marvel of design that had created the snake and the beauty of its movements as it slid like a liquid from this discarded skin. Princess Lauren was beginning to see things in a new light.

Finally Jack showed her the string. He had no speech about the marvel of nature or the miracle of life, of course. “But imagine,” he said, “that before it was garbage, this was a useful piece of string. Maybe someone had tied up a birthday gift with it, or a bundle of sticks to sell for kindling, or maybe a young man tied it around his finger to remind him that he had a date with his sweetie. This string may have had a long and exciting life before it was discarded or lost or whatever happened to it when I rescued it from the country road.”

Princess Lauren just stared at Jack. For days and days, men from all over her kingdom had shown her gold, diamonds, silver, emeralds, platinum, rubies, and other precious stones and metals. But here was a man who saw the world as something beautiful, with magic all around and wonderful stories hidden behind every commonplace thing. She had asked someone to show her a treasure she had never seen before, and it was clear to her that Jack had done just that.

Which is howcome Jack the Dullard became Jack the Prince when he married the princess and together lived happily ever after, because they never forgot that there is treasure all around and beauty everywhere we look…if we know how to find it.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

THE WIZARD AND THE BOY

I wroted a poem. Here 'tis:



The wizard just wanted to be left alone.

He wanted some quiet and peace.

So, he built him a cottage way out in the woods

With nothing around him but trees.

He couldn’t stand noise, so he hid in the wood

So far from the maddening crowd.

No people to bug him, no neighbors to pry,

And nothing was ever too loud.

The wizard lived thus for a year and a day

When he heard, much to his great surprise,

The whimpering, sniveling, miserable sound

Of a small child’s pitiful cries.

He followed the sound to the brook where he got

All his water he needed at home,

And that’s where he found him, the sad little boy

Who was sobbing there all on his own.

Why was he crying? I really don’t know

And history doesn’t relate.

Sufficed to say he was really quite sad

And was mourning his unhappy state.

The wizard, for his part, cared not for the whys

Nor the withertos, wherefores and coulds.

All the he knew was the boy was too loud

And he wanted him out of his woods.

“Look here, little kid,” the wizard proclaimed,

“You are certainly not welcome here!

“So hush up your crying and be on your way!

“Well, what’s wrong? Am I not being clear?”

The boy did not move, he just sat there and sobbed

And ignored all the wizard’s demands.

But you know how it is when you’re little and sad

And nobody quite understands.

The sorcerer’s anger had started to grow

As the young boy continued to weep.

If this carries on, thought the grumpy old man,

I never will get any sleep.

“I will warn you once more, you impertinent youth,

“To get out of my neighborhood now

Or else I will stop you from crying myself!”

Said the wizard, uncertain of how.

The boy tried his best to clam up then and there

And this terrible fate to escape.

When he found he could not, then the wizard said, “Fine!

“Then I’ll crush you just like you’re a grape!”

So he stretched out his arms and encircled the boy

And ‘twas then, with a furious frown,

That he squoze and he squoze (fairly hard, as it goes)

The small boy who refused to pipe down.

He squoze the small kid just as hard as he could.

“This,” he thought, “will soon stop this boy’s cries.

“I’ll squeeze him so tight that he can’t even breathe!”

But the wizard was in for surprise.

Cuz the boy wasn’t hurt by the old wizard’s squeeze

And when the old man let himn loose,

He discovered his sadness had been squoze away

Like an orange is drained of its juice.

The boy was so happy he smiled ear to ear

And, much to the wizard’s chagrin,

He grabbed the old wizard and started to squeeze,

Just the way the old man had for him.

At first he was angry, this magical coot,

To be squoze in this way by the boy.

But soon all his anger had been squoze away

In its place there was nothing but joy.

The old man and the boy had discovered this day,

Accidentally, as often is true,

That when people are squoze, all the sadness inside

Goes away, all the misery too.

The boy went on home and whenever he saw

A friend or a relative cry,

He would squeeze him real tight and as sure as can be,

Away all their sadness would fly.

And as for the wizard? He left those dark woods

And instead bought a house in the town.

There he made lots of friends who would happily squeeze

Him whenever he felt a bit down.

 

And that’s why, today, when you feel in the dumps

And you’re lower than dirt neath a rug,

Somebody who loves you will squeeze you real tight…

Although, these days, we call that a “hug.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015

THE WOODCUTTER AND HIS SON by Freddy Flunkerer



In honor of Father's Day, here is a story about fathers and son by Freddy Flunkerer:



Once upon a jolly ole’ time, there was a very unhappy woodcutter. And why was he so unhappy? Well, because he didn’t want to be a woodcutter, that’s why. He hated being a woodcutter. Hated living out in the forest, hated the constant birdsong, hated how hoarse his throat got from shouting “Timber” all day long, hated everything about it. So why was he a woodcutter in the first place? Because his father was a woodcutter. And so was his father’s father. And so was his father’s father’s father. I could even go father…but I won’t.

In fact, this woodcutter might have been completely miserable had it not been for the one great joy in his life: His son, Trevor. And one day, he took the boy to one side and told him, “Son, I’m not like my father, and I don’t want you to be like me. I’m not going to force you to be a woodcutter like me. You can be anything in the world that you want and I’ll do everything in my admittedly limited power to make your dream come true. So, tell me: What do you want to be?”

“Well, said Trevor, “I’ve always thought I’d like to be a clown.”

“Then you’ll be the best clown in the world!”

Of course, clown school was expensive, even back then, so the woodcutter had to work twice as hard to cut enough wood to make more money to send his boy to school. It wasn’t easy, but he was happy the whole time knowing that his hard work would make his son’s dream come true. And before long, he could afford to send Trevor to clown school.

He studied Comedic Theory, Advanced Face Painting, Intermediate Juggling, Cramming Yourself Into An Overcrowded Car With Twenty-Six Other Guys and all the other courses which were of vital importance to anyone hoping to become a professional clown. He did well and graduated top of his class and soon landed a job at a circus. But studying something in a classroom is very different from doing it in real life, and somehow the reality of being a clown didn’t appeal to Trevor as much as he thought it would. After a year, he quit clowning for good.

“Sorry, father,” he said upon arriving back home. “I guess I was wrong about wanting to be a clown.”

“That’s all right, son. You’re still young. You have plenty of time to find your calling.”

“Actually, I did enjoy spending time with the animals at the circus. I think I’d like to be a veterinarian.”

Once again, the woodcutter had to redouble his efforts in the forest in order to pay his son’s way to veterinary college. And, as before, he was only too happy to do it if it meant making his son’s dream come true. And in no time at all, he had earned enough to send his son to veterinary school.

Being a clever, hard-working boy, Trevor once again did well and graduated top of his class. But, just as before, he found that being a veterinarian in real life was not as exciting as he’d expected it to be. The sad truth is he spent most of his time putting sick animals down, and that gets pretty depressing after a while.

That plus the constant spaying and neutering.

“Sorry, father,” he said when he arrived back home for the second time after giving up on being a veterinarian. “Maybe I wasn’t really cut out to be a vet.”

“Never mind, son. I’m sure you’re next idea will be the right one for you.”

“Well, once a knight brought in his horse for me to treat. I thought he must have an exciting job.”

Now if you thought clown school and veterinary school were expensive, it was nothing compared to knight school. The woodcutter worked harder than he ever had in his life to pay Trevor’s tuition, but he knew it would be worth it if his son would (finally) be living his dream.

Knight school was not easy. There was physical training, history lessons, and a whole unit on Advanced Chivalry (like what to do when a maiden drops her hanky and stuff like that). It challenged Trevor more than he had ever been challenged. But in the end, he succeeded and was knighted by the king as Sir Trevor and he was sure that now, finally, finally at last, he had found his purpose in life…or at least he thought that until his first encounter with a fire-breathing dragon.

“Well, for Pete’s sake!” said the woodcutter when his son came home after giving up on his career for the third time in a row.

“I’m sorry, father. I know you’ve been working really hard at something you hate just to help put me through school.”

“I don’t mind, it’s just…well, yes, I mind a little. I love you, son, but I’ve been working myself to death paying for all these lessons for things you don’t really want to do anyway!”

“Well, the truth is, I kind of already know what I want to do. I’ve sort of known it all along. I just never said because I didn’t think you’d approve.”

“Really? What is it? What do you really want to be, son?”

“…A woodcutter!”

“Whu?!?!”

“All my life I’ve been so proud of my dad, going out into the wild, braving the elements, communing with nature, all to make sure the people of the village have enough firewood to get them through the long, cold nights. You stay in good shape, work with your hands and provide a vital service to the community. You ask me what I want to be. Well, I want to be like my dad.”

The woodsman was touched. He had never been more proud of his son. Even though others thought he was a failure, giving up being a clown, a veterinarian and even a knight for the sake of being a mere woodcutter, neither father nor son cared. The woodsman not only taught Trevor everything he knew about being a woodcutter, but seeing it through his son’s eyes made him realize that it wasn’t such a bad gig after all. He was finally happy with what he did and who he was. So it’s no wonder that the woodcutter and his son lived happily ever after.



Flunkerer's FablesThis story was taken from the book Flunkerer's Fables, now available at Lulu.com, Amazon and other fine online retailers.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

FROWNS AND TEARS Or "Why I do what I do"

The world we live in is, in a word, terrible. It is a terrible thing to be alive at this point in human history. Everyone hates everyone for being different. Half the world is starving and the other half is obese. We’re slowly killing the only planet we’ve got. There are guns and germs and things which threaten to kill us each and every day and looking at the state of the world, that might not be such a bad thing.

The good news is that there are people trying to fix it. Extraordinary men and women who are dedicating their lives to fixing the world. They’re passing legislation, they’re inventing new technologies, they’re curing diseases, they’re giving to others, they’re teaching us more and more about the world and, little by little, making the world a less terrible place every single day.

And I can’t do those things.

I can’t cure a disease. I can’t stop people from building weapons. I can’t force rich people to share the wealth. I can’t solve everyone’s problems. I can’t solve anyone’s problems. This world we live in is full, overflowing, with frowns and tears and there’s not a single thing I can do about that.

But what I can do, what I’ve always been able to do, what I have had a clear talent for doing for even longer than I can remember, is making smiles and laughs. I can’t get rid of the frowns and the tears, but I can create smiles and laughs.

If you put too much cream in your coffee, you can’t take the cream out again. But you can always add more coffee. And I decided a long time ago that maybe that’s what I was supposed to do. I can’t take the cream out of the coffee. I can’t take the bad things, the frowns, the tears, out of this world; that’s a job for better people than I could ever hope to be. But maybe I can put more good things into the world. Maybe if I fill the world with silliness, with love, with hope, with laughter, with smiles, maybe if I can do that, then the bad things won’t seem so bad. Or at least it won’t seem like quite as many bad things.

It’s not much. It’s nowhere near enough. But it’s the best I have to offer.