One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Sesame Street Song

I don’t know if you remember this song from Sesame Street. Maybe they don’t use it anymore.

As I recall it, there were four items: 3 things the same and 1 thing different.

There might have been 3 circles and one square. Or three big things and one small. Or 3 … well, you get the idea.

I always thought I was pretty smart, because I could always see the differences. As I think about it now, I realize that we were probably all good at picking out the one that was different.

I think it’s human nature. Probably when were living in tribes in the far distant past, seeing the thing that didn’t belong could save your life.

For example, you looked at a nearby rocky hill and thought nothing was amiss. Then you noticed that a motionless shape – if you squinted your eyes just right – was shaped like a sabre tooth tiger.

Your noticing of the thing that was different gave you just enough time to outrun your best friend Tim. And as sad as you were for your good buddy Tim, you’d really rather it was him than you for supper.

You knew that the people of your tribe were safe. Or rather that they had your best interests at heart. Well, unless there was a predator involved. Still, you felt you could trust them.

What happened, though, when you met someone from a different tribe? Different, different, different, screamed your brain, much like when you saw the tiger. Be afraid. Be on guard. Don’t die.

I’m no anthropologist, but I think that’s why we are so quick to notice our differences, rather than to see our similarities.

At one time, our lives may have depended on it.

Flash forward to today, and we have very few predators left to worry about. Wild animals – and nature Herself – are generally far away from us.

And yet … and yet that old part of our brain still sees things that are “different” as a threat.

My oldest son is doing his teaching practicum at a local high school. He needed to watch the movie Hotel Rwanda for class. I had never seen it, so I watched with him.

The movie is about the genocide of the Tutsi people by the Hutu government. It is estimated that nearly a million people were killed in about a 100 day span.

The thing, to me, that was as crazy as the genocide was how the Tutsi and Hutu people were distinguished from each other in the first place.

Earlier, in colonial times, Belgium ruled Rwanda. To create a class system – because, let’s face it, you can’t have a ruling class if there is no lower class – the Belgians created the Tutsi and Hutu classes.

The real distinguishing difference between the two? Those who were put in the Tutsi class were thought – by the Belgians – to be more “white” looking. Hutus looked more “African”.

So a people was nearly wiped out because, before these people were even born, someone went to great lengths to find minute differences in the same race of people.

No difference other than they looked different. Slightly.

I suspect that this has something to do with old, outdated programming in our brains, but I’m no scientist. I do think, though, that we still look for differences as a first instinct, rather than as a more studied reaction.

If only I was evolved enough to first look for the similarities we all have, rather than the differences. I wonder what the world would look like then.

Who’s The Fairest Of Them All?

I’m pretty much exhausted, today. I was this close to just packing it in and saying forget about writing today.

But, here I am.

I’m pretty sure I’m just going to put down whatever comes up, so don’t look for too much jointedness. More likely disjointedness.

Sue and I watched a couple of movies in the last week or so. The two “Snow White and the Huntsman” franchise movies.

They were pretty fun. Action, romance, adventure, magic. Plus, Sue thinks Chris Hemsworth is not too hard to look at. Lest you start feeling sorry for me, Charlize Theron was the Evil Queen.

So the consolation prize is not too shabby.

But the show got me thinking about how much emphasis we put on people’s looks. When the queen looks into the magic mirror and asks:

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall
Who’s the fairest one of all?

it is not a stretch to imagine modern day humans asking the same thing.

This is because we are bombarded with “perfect” looking people. And advertising to tell us that there is something wrong with us. If only we were (fill in the blank), we would be happy.

Which is a bunch of BS, pardon my French.

Here’s the thing. I happen to think that Charlize is hot, a babe, or whatever the equivalent term of attractive is these days.

So when she seeks support from her magic mirror to reassure her that she is still more beautiful than Snow White (played by Kristen Stewart), it’s a no brainer. I would say yes every time.

Strangely enough, there would be a large number of people who would go with Snow White. And still others Snow White’s mother. And don’t forget the afore mentioned Hemsworth.

And there’s the big lie of our society: that you must look a certain way to be attractive to others.

That old saying that says beauty is in the eyes of the beholder is exactly right. We all come wired a certain way, and our experiences shape our tastes, too.

What bothers me about advertising is that it creates unrealistic expectations. For example, it is impossible to look like a cover model on a magazine. That’s right: no matter how you diet, exercise, and apply makeup, you can’t look like a cover model.

Why? A little something called Photoshop.

Every photo is edited. A quick Google search brings up the fact that many photos are retouched to the equivalent of removing some ribs. Some ribs! No matter how hard you work out, you can’t get rid of ribs.

And this is the message that young women especially are bombarded with.

Men are Photoshop’d as well. One fitness model said that he had never had abs like his cover photo. Never. Men, though, aren’t put under the same pressure to be attractive.

We generally get good marks just for showing up on time.

The thing is, though, what a lie beauty really is. I think it’s one thing. You think another. Ergo, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Which should allow us all to take a breath and relax. No doubt, you don’t look like Chris Hemsworth. Maybe you’re not a tall blonde like Charlize.

There is someone out there who finds your “type” attractive.

Yes, there are some “types” who most people seem to agree are attractive. If you are one of them, good for you. If not, don’t despair: someone out there thinks you are pretty great.

Just the way you are.

On Practice, Mastery, And The Lessons Of Renovating

It started out just changing the toilet.

We are in the middle of a basement renovation. We started longer ago than I care to comment on, and I’m tired.

The basement, by the way, looks pretty bad.

As with any reno, there were plenty of surprises. The first was a random drain that ran through approximately thirty feet of wall. Each stud had been carefully notched out, and there were several 90º corners.

I’m no pro, but I don’t think it was up to code.

I found it even stranger because there is a floor drain that runs within 3 feet of where this thing started.

Then there were the water pipes. There were two pipes that had been hidden behind the drywall “pillar” that hid a telepost. Both had water in them and been capped off.

They were simply hanging there.

So, as per usual, there have been lots of things to be fixed or brought up to code. I’ve been down there for about a month or two. Probably longer. There have been plumbers down there – off and on, mostly off – for the last three weeks.

And it looks like nothing has been done.

It reminds me a bit of watching a house being built. You drive by a piece of land and maybe see some surveyors out. Then there are stakes in the ground. A few weeks later, there’s a large hole in the ground.

Then it rains.

Weeks later, you see city workers and electricians digging around. Finally, a company puts up walls for the basement.

Finally, a basement.

Over the next while, lumber is delivered and floor joists are put down. A few days later, plywood sheathing goes down. A couple of guys come by and snap out lines.

Two days later, there’s a house.

Once the framers show up, the house magically takes shape. You can see the walls, inside and out. The trusses are on.

This is time when you marvel at how fast they build houses these days.

The house couldn’t exist until the hole was dug and the foundation laid. This takes a great deal of time, because it needs to be done right.

I’m about at the same stage with the basement. The drywallers are coming next week. Once drywall is up, it’s like magic. The project seems like it is nearly complete.

It’s just hard to get there.

It’s hard to put in the work and not see any progress. I work as much as I can in a day, and it looks like nothing.

Just like it’s hard to sit at the piano and play scales. And have it sound bad. It’s hard to play your guitar until your fingers bleed – and keep playing. It’s hard to bang on the drums and sound terrible until you finally start to get some rhythm.

I live in a fast paced, easy button society. It seems a bit passé to work hard at something. To put in effort for no pay or result.

But, if you want to work towards mastery in your chosen field – or at least a finished basement – you need to know that it is going to take time and effort.

Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.

True, there are shortcuts to mastery. You can get a teacher. A teacher can cut your time to mastery significantly. When I don’t know how to do something, I can call someone who knows how to do it.

Plus, there’s the internet. It’s amazing how many helpful videos reside on Youtube, or how many helpful articles can be found online.

Still, there is no shortcut for the time you have to put in. My family is very musical. My wife is an excellent pianist. My oldest son plays the guitar, plays in a band and writes songs. My youngest son plays the drums so well that, if I close my eyes when he plays along with Rush, his favourite band, I sometimes don’t know if it’s him or Neil Peart.

But … and this is the part that people forget … they sucked when they were starting out. Scales. Awkward notes. Terrible banging.

And yet, with perseverance and hard work, the three of them can now make beautiful music.

Yes, they had excellent teachers who helped them find shortcuts. In the end, though, it was perseverance and hard work that got them to where they are today.

And there’s no substitute for that.

This is the point I’m at in my basement. We’ve gotten a lot of work done, but if you saw it before and now, you’d say not much has happened. But, if the drywallers can spend a few days in my basement, it will look like it is closed to being finished.

If you are at a place where you are thinking you might want to give up. If it seems like it is too hard right now. If it seems like you are spinning your wheels in spite of giving all your effort.

Hold on. You are probably closer to your goal than you think. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes. Sometimes encouragement from a friend or loved one. Sometimes it just takes you getting up, grabbing your piano bench / guitar / drumsticks / hammer and getting back to work.

You are getting closer. Don’t give up now. You can do it.

I think our society believes that things that are valuable come without effort. Oh, she’s really attractive, so she’s a rich model. Oh, he must have cheated everybody to become wealthy. Wouldn’t it be great to win the lottery?

Well, in my experience, it’s not true. And I think it’s better that way. True, no one sees the effort you put in.

Except you. And that’s worth it right there, isn’t it?

I’ll leave you with a quote that I like from Bill Gates. Maybe it can give you a different perspective, if you are struggling right now.

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

Take care out there.

We Wish You A Merry 4×4

Sue and I went for a walk yesterday. I know what you’re thinking: this is the best he can do? It’s day 9, and he’s already talking about going for walks? Way to put in the effort.

We were on our way home, when we saw some Christmas lights on display.

Here at the old hacienda, we put up our displays on the first advent Sunday. This may already be too early. People on our street, though, have had lights up for weeks.

Which is apropos of nothing.

Anyway, it was a pretty cool display. Not just plain lights, you understand. Rather, these were computer generated, with what looked like a Christmas tree, snowman, and maybe the Death Star with a garland on it.

Everything kept changing, and I was reminded of walking the Strip in Vegas. Except that it wasn’t 96 degrees at 8:30pm, and I wasn’t being solicited for … uh, certain favours which could be obtained for money.

What was even more amazing was that these were all on a truck. A truck! Can you believe it? What a world we live in, when you can have a computer generated, graphic display on the side of a truck.

And not just on the side. Oh, no. There was a different light display over each wheel! I stopped to look, expecting that the flying car, which we’ve been promised for decades, was finally here.

I turned to Sue and said, “Poor guy.”

“Poor guy? That truck must be worth more than our first house!”

And I think she was right. Not that our first house was expensive by today’s standards. Still, I’m guessing it cost north of $50,000. The truck, not the house. Actually the house, too.

But the minimum wage was a bushel of oats and small carrot.

Anyway, I continued. “I meant poor guy. He must think that his penis is quite small.”

Now I don’t mean to imply that all guys who own very expensive trucks feel somewhat inadequate in their manliness.

I think I’m inferring it.

Hey, there are definitely people who need trucks. For example, farmers and ranchers. These are people who need vehicles that can traverse tough terrain while carrying big payloads.

Plus it’s hard to put bales into a Prius.

Truck drivers, obviously, need big trucks to haul big loads. Plus they are all very manly, what with their moving big loads and having wallets on chains.

It’s a good thing we have truck drivers. We all know that the white line is the life line of the nation, and men like Will and Sonny make it move … whoops, went back in time to the 70s. Do you remember the show?

Contractors of all sorts need the roominess of a truck bed to carry ladders, 2x4s, and enough Tim Horton’s donuts for the crew.

And don’t forget conservation officers. They also travel into tough areas and sometimes have to haul out a carcass of one sort or the other. You could probably put hunters in this group as well.

I don’t, but you probably could.

But … I think that, for the rest of us, very few need a truck. We might want a truck, but how many of us really need one?

Oh, I know, you have all sorts of reasons for having them. Most of which you desperately came up with on the way home from the dealership with your unexpected purchase.

“But honey, we may have to help the kids move at some point.” The kids, by the way, are 30 years old, and they make more than you ever did. They can afford a mover.

“But honey, it needed the extra lift kit for our Canadian winters.” There’s maybe a little truth to this one. Some clearance can make a difference when the snow piles up. Still, you probably don’t need to be able to walk under your truck without bending over to get through the ice and snow.

“But honey, we need it in case we are ever going to go off road.” Please. There’s no way you are taking a $50,000 vehicle off road. Heck, you won’t even take a speed bump at more than 3 km/hr.

I know. I’ve sat behind you, easing your trucks over tiny speed bumps. Me, revving my Cobalt behind them.

I realize that I am being sexist, here. I’m inferring – or is it implying? – that it’s only men who drive these big 4x4s at 3 km/hr over speed bumps. I’m sure there are women who do the same.

I just haven’t seen any.

Wait, I’m pretty sure I’m implying. I think you would be inferring. Maybe I’m insinuating.

Where was I? Oh, right. Most guys who drive really big, expensive trucks with lift kits, light displays over each tire, and who can walk under their trucks without bending over are likely overcompensating for something.

Now what was it, again?

 

A Swinging Hotspot

 

swinginghotspot

They say that oil and water don’t mix.

If I remember Herr Koenig’s explanation in high school chemistry, it had something to do with oil floating to the top because it is less dense. Unlike a few of my buddies. Then something about water molecules being more attracted to each other than to oil molecules. And …

At this point, I’m pretty sure I was checking out how tight jeans were in the 80’s. Ah, the 80’s.

They also say that oil and water don’t mix, meaning that some things, or people, just shouldn’t be together. Or don’t belong together.

“J and I are going to watch the game at Fred’s house. Want to come?”

“Nah. J and I are like oil and water.”

This is a socially acceptable way of saying that J is a tool.

I rarely use this saying. In fact, I think it was more of a my-parent’s-generation saying. Still, if you want to seem cool and sophisticated, try it out. Let me know how it goes.

I would like to propose a new saying. It’s like oil and water don’t mix, but updated for the new millenium: Water and electronics don’t mix.

Specifically, water and routers don’t mix.

It was my own fault, really. If you don’t take into consideration that I was nowhere around when it happened.

Here’s the deal.

We are in the middle of a major basement renovation. One of the jobs I needed to sub out was plumbing. Ah, I see you are already ahead of me. Hold on. We’ll get there.

Now, I can do some plumbing, but this was beyond both my skillset and desire. We are putting in a much needed bathroom. Well, it was much needed when the boys were home. Now that it’s just the two of us, we’re doing it more to tick them off. A spite reno, if you will.

Along with trenching, laying drains, replacing old copper pipes, and general plumberyness, there was also the fact that if I screwed things up, we’d finally have that indoor swimming pool we always talked about.

Things have been going about as expected: to get the job, the plumber said that it would take, at most, a day or two. This was three weeks ago. After a couple of weeks of “we’ll be there tomorrow”, we are finally nearing the end, and things are starting to take shape.

I was out most of the day. When I got home, I thought I’d check my email. Hmmm. No internet. I checked the wireless router. It was on, with all pistons … er circuits firing.

Now I’m not helpless when it comes to electronics. I used to make a living telling people to shut the electronic item off, unplug it, wait 3 1/2 hours, plug it in and turn it on.

I assumed I’d go down to the Shaw router, unplug it, wait, plug it back in and Bob’s your uncle. At least I hope he’s your uncle, because he’s not mine.

So I walked down to where I’d temporarily moved it to be out of the way of the renovating. Right under where there used to be copper pipes.

There are no more copper pipes to be seen. Instead, there is PEX everywhere. Beautiful red, white, and blue plastic. I felt like I needed to stand at attention and salute.

I bent down to unplug the router. It was sitting in a small lake. All the lights were on. And I mean ALL the lights were on. Normally they are green or off. Ocaisionally yellow. The colours I saw indicated that my router had gone off on a long acid trip.

So, I unplugged it, dried it out carefully, plugged it back in and … shit. No go. Lights flashing off and on. Colours of all sorts. And, I’m pretty sure I saw a unicorn eating moonbeams on a rainbow.

So, you are asking, how did I post this amazing post? Well, my friends, I used my cell phone.

Apparently my iPhone can become something called a wireless hotspot. I turned it to hotspot, connected my old computer, and voila! Or voici! I’m sorry, Mme. Gantner, I can’t seem to remember those riveting French lessons from Grade 10.

It might have had something to do with tight jeans.

So, my new saying, which you are welcome to use, is water and electronics don’t mix. It has no hidden meaning. Pretty self explanatory.

Now, how do I download old Oprah shows with this hotspot thingy?

Some Days Are Weird

It was a weird day for me. While I accomplished quite a few things, there was an under current of dissatisfaction running through my day. My thoughts were jumbled. Well, they still are.

I confess: sometimes I’m not too thrilled with myself, and today was one of those days.

Take yesterday’s post. I started out talking about something that made me feel good – getting rid of junk. I thought I’d write about it, and I even thought some of you may have had a similar experience.

Or you would think I was completely wrong. Which is fine. Good even. What a boring world it would be if you all thought like me. A better world, sure, but boring.

I think I even had some sort of insight into how our society today obsesses over stuff rather than substance. That, in spite of having fewer and fewer attending church or believing there is a God, we certainly do bow down to the religion of consumerism.

And that’s what I had planned to write about. When I started writing about deleting emails (which I did, by the way. And it felt good.), I saw an opportunity for some laughs.

Which are good. I like to laugh. I like to make other people laugh. Laughing is good. Sometimes I need to laugh. Down deep, I’m an entertainer.

Or else I’ll cry. And I’d rather laugh.

Still, I think I was going somewhere and ended somewhere else. It sort of ticked me off.

I didn’t sleep well, because … well, I thought I had wussed out.

One of the reasons that I write is to find out what I think about stuff. About big questions, sometimes, but even about small things. Writing things down make them real for me.

And I don’t mind making stuff up, either. Making stuff up is fun. I really get a kick out of making something from nothing. Creating a new story makes me feel good. Alive. Useful.

It’s just that I need to tell the truth while I’m making stuff up. You know? The two are not mutually exclusive.

I’m not sure where this fear of telling my “truth” comes from. Part of it is, no doubt, my Mennonite upbringing. A good Mennonite is always humble. Never proud. As a people, we are proud of our humility.

So maybe that’s part of it. Don’t put yourself out there. Why should people listen to you? What makes you so special? Who do you think you are? Why should anybody care?

On those days, though, when I can look myself in the eye and admit it, I know what the issue is: for as long as I can remember – almost – I’ve been afraid.

My earliest memories are un-fearful. I just have a couple that are totally without fear. They are short snippets, and they mostly centre around my Dad. Out on the tractor with him. Running home from the field. Racing him when he would get in from working.

Simple memories.

I also remember, with great clarity, the day he died.

Is that the point I started to become afraid?

I don’t mean that I developed any phobias. I don’t like snakes, but I’m not deathly afraid of them. I didn’t like heights, but I forced myself to climb them and found out I liked it. I can go out in public. Clowns do not put me in a sweat.

Maybe, in my four year old mind, I made up a story that caused me to be afraid. And I’m still living out that story, even though it no longer serves me.

It’s weird. I have stood up and talked to hundreds of people at a time and felt relatively at ease, but meeting a new person makes me break into a cold sweat.

It’s not that I don’t like people. I do. Really. Some of my best friends are people.

I have a friend who will talk with anyone. He believes that strangers are just friends he hasn’t met. He has no issue meeting new people. It energizes him.

Now, I’m 50 years old. I’ve had a lot of time to work on this, and I’m definitely getting better. But I don’t think the same way as my friend. Even as I throw back my shoulders, make eye contact, smile, and put out my hand, my body is breaking into a cold sweat.

I suppose I should sit down and really think this through. Which, I guess, is why I started writing out loud, as it were. To probe the perimeters and see what’s going on.

I have something that I’ve wanted to write about for quite a few years, now, but I’ve never had the courage to do it. Maybe I can tackle it in the next few weeks or so.

If I can just work up the guts.

The Joy Of Getting Rid Of Stuff

We have been looking to simplify our lives. Over the last three months or so, we have Kijijied numerous items, resulting in tens of dollars of income. We have donated anything that is still decent but hasn’t been used in the last … Oh, say 26 years. And we have tossed stuff.

It feels good.

As that great philosopher, Dr Seuss, once said:

If you would really like to feel like a boss,
Into the trash the junk you must toss.

Or maybe it was Yoda. Or Shakespeare.  I can’t recall at the moment.

Those of you who have trashed stuff, in a serious way, know the joy and freedom that doing so brings. You get a feeling of lightness. You feel more open to the universe. You feel like your inner you can finally come out and be seen and loved by the world.

Not to mention that you free up space in your closet.

It makes me wonder if maybe we give our stuff too much power in our lives. Like the accumulation of stuff – AKA the American / Canadian / North American dream – somehow holds us back from really being who we were meant to be.

Or whatever. I’ll leave that to the more intelligent among you to hash out.

I must say, each thing that went out the door, never to return, felt like a weight lifted from my shoulders. It was like I had an unbearable lightness of being, or something.

Anyway, I thought that if getting rid of physical stuff  was so lightening, getting rid of virtual stuff would be just as good.

I decided that I would go through my hard drive and turf out all the pictures I’ve taken over the last 14 years or so and organize them. How hard could that be?

Pretty darn hard, it turns out. I have, apparently, accumulated a number of photos. What with storage becoming relatively cheaper all the time, I had simply added new photos to the old. Still, out with the junk.

I did a search for JPEGs: 247,369 pictures.

Uh oh. This could take a bit longer than I originally thought. Like 462 times longer.

So I did the next best thing; I copied all the photos to a separate directory. This way, the next time I get the urge to organize them, I will simply say “Oh, wait … I organized those last November” and go back to watching Game of Thrones.

Still, I thought, there is one place that definitely needs organizing. That’s right, I made the 423 icons and files on my desktop appear in alphabetical order. Then I moved them all into a folder called Miscellaneous.

Technically Miscellaneous(14). It appears I may have tried this before.

Still, although somewhat daunted, I remained undaunted.

I felt like I really needed to actually do something constructive with my computer, so I opened up Google and typed in Kevin Bacon. 4 and a half hours later, I realized something pretty startling: Kevin Bacon’s landlord’s sister’s best friend was a person I had read about in People magazine.

I gave myself a forehead slap and determined to dive into the one area that I needed to fix: my email.

For the last little while – approximately 8 and 3/4 years – I had noticed that there was a bolded number on my screen that seemed to be climbing. I didn’t really pay attention to it until the last few weeks or months.

47,642 unread emails.

Folks, that’s nearly 47,643 unread emails. How?

Some were innocent enough, with “Dear Mr Ron: You are being nearly an millionaire. Please send …” in the subject line. Some were from legitimate sources like Cialis™, and still others were of unknown origin.

This one I was not prepared to bypass. These emails would be my Rubicon. These would be my elephants over the Alps. These would be my Waterloo.

I’m not sure if Waterloo goes with the rest.

I dutifully began slogging through.

“Dear Mr Ron: You are being a rich, powerful, and wonderful man. I am being a beautiful Russian woman with fur hat and secret borscht recipe. Pleased be to marry me immediately.”

Delete.

“Dear Mr Ron: Pleased to be sending me $4967.56 for the liberation of up to $47,642,000.00 for only you.”

Delete.

“Dear Mr Ron: Is your wife satisfied with your bedroom performance? Pleased to be sending $49.99 to me for never fail tricks.”

Move to !Amazing folder.

After an hour, I had read through 12 emails. 12!

I thought of the days and weeks it would take me to do a proper job with these unread emails. I could picture my ease and contentment, and a feeling of job-well-done at the end. So, I took a deep breath, steeled my nerve, and deleted them.

Whooosh!

Gone! No bolded number! No slowness of program! Just a wave of relief. Phew!

It felt great … until I heard the “You’ve Got Mail” tone go off. Yes, I am still using AOL’s dial up account.

I looked at the unread emails counter. 2.

What? Who would dare?

I opened the first email. It was from the FBI.

“Dear Mr Ron. Pleased to be standing by for an email from president-elect Donald Trump.”

I opened the second email. What follows is a simple copy and paste.

From: Donald J Trump <imtheprez@p*ssygrabber.com>
Date: Today at 15:23
To: Mr Ron
Subject: You have just deleted more than your maximum allowable emails and stuff

Mr Ron:

As the president elect, it is my job to to make sure that emails are handled in a manner that keeps America safe. I have sworn to do this. Nobody makes America safer than me. Nobody.

The emails you have deleted – and the number you have deleted – have set off red flags at the NSA, and I have decided to investigate personally. Nobody investigates things more personally than me. Nobody.

Now these are new flags, prepared by me. They look for anything that would be of personal interest to me. And nothing is more personal to me than me. Nothing.

The first flag that was tripped has to do with Russian women. As you know, all Russian women – especially the attractive ones that are, say, more than 7s – must be personally vetted by me. And no one vets Russian women better than me. No one.

Next, you set off the Viagra / Cialis flag. I have undeleted these emails personally, and I will be studying them for … uh, business purposes for the good of the Trump Foundation … er, America. Nobody buys … I mean studies Viagra more than I do.

Finally, you tripped the flag for deleting too many emails at one time. This makes people nervous. And by people, I mean me, because who cares about the rest. I’m the president, so now everyone has to bow down to me. So, no more deleting emails by the thousands.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that you are a subversive of some sort. Perhaps a liberal. Or commie sympathizer. Or worse, a working class person. Either way, expect Seal Team 6 to come through your windows at any moment.

Sincerely,
Donald J Trump
President of the Galaxy

I guess I’ll see you in 3 to 6 years. If you’re down around Guantanamo Bay, drop by and say hi. I’m really hoping that waterboarding is a lot like wakeboarding. If you don’t see me, check the IT department.

I’ll be the one undeleting emails.

Star Wars Goes Bananas: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Continued

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Schwarzenegger before he was nearly hired to be Luke Skywalker

George Lucas had decided to follow Billy Bob Burnett’s advice and hire a few good actors, which would make the bad acting that much worse – consequently taking attention away from the lack of plot and dialogue.

His first hire was David Prowse. If you Google David, you will immediately recognize him as the actor in the Darth Vader mask. David had honed his acting chops as the National Road Safety Committee’s Green Cross Code Man in the UK. Being British, he was, naturally, a superb actor.

The same was true of Sir Alec Guinness, the heir of Sir Jimmy Guinness, creator of the Guiness Book of Records. Alec’s resume was long and, while he didn’t have the same acting abilities as Prowse, he did have the English accent. He was contracted to play an older Obi Wan Kenobi.

In addition to the British actors, George also cast a young Al Pacino as Imperial Stormtrooper #2.

Realizing that the acting was becoming too good, and that plot holes would soon be discovered, Lucas decided that the main character, Luke Skywalker, would be played by a relative unknown: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Years prior, George had accidentally walked into Schwarzenegger’s movie Hercules Goes Bananas. While at first he was irritated at the lack of plot, he realized that he soon ignored it, as the acting ability of Schwarzenegger was much, much worse.

“You have strucked Hercules!” bellowed Schwarzenegger. Except it came out more like “Aidy id id Ai!”.

When a bad actor was required for Wars (originally the title. The “Star” wasn’t added until later), George immediately thought of Schwarzenegger and gave him a call.

“Arnold, it’s George Lucas.”

“George, how are you?”

“Good. I’d like you to come out and read for a part.”

“I’m funtastic, too, George. Thanks for asking. This part sounds like the most funtastic part ever! I can see that we are destined to make the bestest, most funtastic movie of all time! We’re going to make millions! Why don’t I come out and read for the lead?”

“I like your enthusiasm, Arnold. See you tomorrow.”

When Arnold arrived, George realized he had forgotten just how big Schwarzenegger was and how un-teenagey he looked. He was having second thoughts when he realized that this was the perfect distraction.

“OK. We’re going to do a quick run through of a scene. Arnold, in this scene, you and Alec Guinness … Oh, sorry. Arnold, this is Sir Alec Guinness.”

“Alex. How you doing? I love your bier!”

“Yes. Quite,” said Sir Guinness.

“Anyway, Arnold, you and Alec are stopped by some storm troopers because you have some droids that look suspicious. Alec will put his finger to his temple, squint, and say something like ‘My good man, these are hardly the droids for which you are looking’.”

“And what do I say?” asked Arnold. “I’ve been reading the script.”

“Actually, nothing. We’ll just do a quick run through with that. And ACTION!”

Alec Guinness walks up to the storm troopers, waves his hand, and says “These are not the droids you are looking for”.

“Write that down,” whispered Lucas. “That’s gold. And the hand motion is way better than putting his finger to his temple like I was picturing.”

“I don’t know, man,” said Storm Trooper #2. “Are you sure about that? Because if you’re not, I should TAKE A FLAMETHROWER TO THIS PLACE!”

Arnold jumps in front of the storm troopers, punches one in the face and kicks the other between the legs.

“Force You!,” he yelled.

“That was actually really good,” said George. “Write that down, too.”

“I can really feel the chemistry working between us,” said Sir Alec, reaching for a bier. “Here, Arnold, you earned this.”

Arnold grabbed the bottle and drained it. “I always think it improves a scene if I kick someone in the sweets and yell something humourous.”

Lucas agreed and was ready to have Schwarzenegger sign on the dotted line. Fortunately for the franchise, though, Billy Bob was on set.

“That man is way to good an actor,” he said. “Unless you get Arnold to rewrite the script – which would be hilarious, by the way – you better pass. This acting will show up the lack of plot and dialogue in a minute.”

As George did not want to give Arnold a writing credit, he regretfully informed Arnold that he would not be getting the part. He did offer him, however, a shot at another part.

“What part is it? Not that it matters, because I know it would be a funtastic part, and I would be funtastic at it.”

“It is basically putting on a Bigfoot suit and running around with a crossbow. Your name would be Chewbacca, and you would be a Wookie.”

“Sounds great! I could say ‘Chew on this, Vader!’ and then kick him in the sweets. Or maybe ‘Wook no further’, and punch someone in the back of the head.”

George, writing this down. “This stuff is gold, Arnie! Unfortunately, he doesn’t speak English.”

“This is OK. I don’t really speak English, either.”

“No, I mean he speaks shyriiwook, which is a bunch of grunts and yells.”

Arnold looked sad. “Ah, but the one liner is my particular idiom. How can I get the audience to laugh uproariously if I can’t speak. Sorry, George, but I’m out.”

Billy Bob tried to persuade Lucas to let Arnold rewrite the whole story and give him a writing credit, but George wouldn’t budge.

The search for a young Skywalker continued.

to be continued

The Making Of Star Wars: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

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The surprising inspiration behind the Star Wars prequel trilogy

I got a nice little message about a previous piece I wrote on how Donald Trump used the Star Wars™ method of storytelling to win the recent election.

“Dear Ronald: You are probably the worst political analyst since Sir Laurence Olivier. Your thoughts are shallow and obtuse, and I suspect that you having been watching too much Luke Cage on Netflix. I told you it was no good and would rot your brain. Please don’t try to write anything more that you might think is insightful or avant garde or funny. Please stick to writing fluff pieces or about cats.”

I immediately wrote back:

“Dear Mom: Thanks for the constructive criticism. I’ll take it under advisement. See you Sunday for supper.”

I was a bit offended, as I didn’t think that Luke Cage was bad enough to rot my brain. Well, OK … it’s pretty bad. I guess I was expecting Daredevil or Jessica Jones quality.

It wasn’t. It did, however, have Rosario Dawson. So there’s that.

Anyway, I had gotten a bit of decent feedback on my Star Wars™ synopsis, so I thought maybe I’d go with a related theme.

So, here it is: Star Wars™: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Spoiler Alert! In the interests of accuracy, most of this will be the bad and the ugly. Search your feelings. You know this to be accurate.

As I thought of where to begin, I decided to begin in the middle, with Episode 4(1): The Phantom Scripting™.

First, a little background. I have dug deep into the archives, and what follows is, to the best of my knowledge, how things really happened.

Sometime after Return of the Jedi™ had made it’s first quadzillion dollars, George Lucas decided to do something he’d always wanted to do: swim – a la Scrooge McDuck – naked in his billions. As he was doing so, he was hit with an epiphany. Well, it was actually a tennis ball that his wife hurled to get his attention, but the result was the same:

“Honey. We’re watching Spaceballs™ tonight!”

Now, if you’re not familiar with Spaceballs™, it is a Star Wars™ spoof by Mel Brooks. As he re-watched the show, George came to one game changing realization: the acting in this so-called spoof was light years ahead of the acting in his trilogy.

Also, that Mel Brooks had given him an awful idea. George got a wonderful, awful idea: he would make Spaceballs 2™: The Soich For More Money, just as Brooks had predicted.

Except that instead of Spaceballs, he inserted Star Wars. You can assume the  symbol from now on. It’s exhausting to use it all the time.

“Why shouldn’t I?” thought the Grinch … I mean Lucas. “I should have at least as much dough as Spielberg. Shouldn’t I?”

The next day, he wrote the screenplay. Then, realizing that a trilogy would make at least two times more money, he wrote the other two as well.

It all took two and a half hours and covered the back of a napkin. Oh sure, there were a few things missing: plot, characterization, dialogue, and any semblance of order, but those could all be fixed in post production.

He confidently showed his creation to a couple of producer buddies of his. “This is schlock! This is crap!” they all said.

“It’s going to make billions on the merchandising alone”, said Lucas.

“We’re in!”

With the money in place, Lucas had to figure out how to get around the biggest obstacle of the whole movie: the lack of a plot and dialogue. Not that this had stopped him before.

In the original trilogy (AKA Episodes 1-3 / 4-6), George had had a similar problem: while the overall idea was strong, the plot itself was weak. The problem drove George crazy, and he didn’t know if he would get the original movie made. As a last resort, he was even thinking he might have to strengthen the writing to overcome the problem.

Then, on his way home from the office one day, it hit him. Well, it was actually a Plymouth Reliant “K” car that hit him. A nice, reliant automobile.

As George discovered that he was OK, he began looking around at the scene. Once the police, fire fighters, EMTs, and street sweepers showed up, no one paid any attention to him whatsoever!

George realized that this was because the Swedish Bikini Team happened to be filming a new commercial not 100 yards from where he was hit.

“That’s it!” George thought. “If I distract people enough, they won’t realize that the script and dialogue ain’t so hot.”

When he got home, he phoned his backers to let them know that he had fixed the problem.

So, that was George’s original plan: shoot the movie “as is”, and have the Swedish Bikini Team show up at strategic times.

His wife, however, had other plans.

“Hoth will freeze over before I let you be around the Swedish Bikini Team,” she said.

Poor George. Back to the drawing board.

First day of shooting on Episode 1 / 4 was set to begin, and George still didn’t have a solution. Desperate, he turned to the ultimate Hollywood fixer: “Rebel” Billy Bob Burnett.

Billy Bob had grown up on a huge hog farm in West Philadelphia. Born and raised. Longing for the lights of Hollywood, with nothing on him but the clothes on his back – and $42 million in the bank – Billy Bob went to try his luck out west.

He found it immediately.

As he was hanging around a movie set, trying to get a starlet’s phone number, he overheard the director saying that he needed to get rid of the lead actor, the famous Hal Lippenstein, but that his contract was ironclad.

“On the farm,” said Billy Bob, “If a hog acts up, we just shoot it.”

This was the start of a brilliant and lucrative career, as Hollywood has always been prepared to pay handsomely to anyone with common sense.

Wait, you say. I’ve never heard of Hal Lippenstein, you say.

Exactly.

Billy Bob took a look at the money-filled duffle bag, nodded, and proceeded to fix the film.

“Here’s the key,” he said. “George, you were on the right track with the Swedish Bikini Team. You definitely need to distract people. Since bikinis are out (this was later rescinded), we’ll distract the people in two ways:

First, leave a couple of mistakes in. Like if there’s some spaceship or what have you, show a hand holding it. Or a string. Or whatever you movie boys do. Or if you use a transporter or some such, make it obvious that the person has just moved out of the shot. You know better than me about that stuff. But make it obvious.

Next, and this is the kicker, have some really bad actors in it. A couple of good actors, for contrast, but mostly bad ones. Nothing distracts from a bad plot like bad acting.”

George thought that this was brilliant, and he immediately knew who would be perfect to play his young hero Luke Skywalker: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

to be continued …

Lest We Forget: Remembering My Two Dads

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Remembrance Day, for me, brings back thoughts of my two dads.

My biological father died when I was 4. I have a few vivid memories of him, including the day he died. Everything else I know about him comes from family and friends.

My mom married my (step) dad about 5 years later. He was considerably older than she, and this caused its own issues. He was, I believe, the making of me.

Both men were in wars: my stepdad in the Russian Revolution, and my dad in WW2.

My stepdad, Jacob Thiessen, was born and raised in a small, Mennonite village in what is now the Ukraine. Being the son of a Mennonite preacher, he was very familiar with the church’s stance on peace and pacifism.

When the revolution broke out, towards the end of WW1, dad was a young teacher in his late teens. As the revolution grew, the Red Army began to terrorize the villages where the Mennonites lived. Theft, rape, and murder were common.

Dad joined up with a group of similarly minded Mennonites that called themselves the Selbschutz, or self protection. They stockpiled weapons and, under the guidance and training of the White Army, began using guerilla tactics to make life as difficult as possible for the Red Army.

This put him on the Bolshevik watch list.

In addition to his outwardly disruptive ways, Dad was also marked because of the subversive nature of his job: teacher. Under Lenin, all intellectuals were targeted and systematically eliminated.

After a number of death-defying scrapes, Dad was advised to leave Russia immediately. He asked his fiancee to go with him to Canada. She said yes. They left that day and literally stayed an hour or two ahead of the military police until they reached the border to freedom.

Dad’s memoirs read a bit like a James Bond novel, and I loved listening to his stories. Learning how to use a bayonet to permanently silence a sentry (left arm around the windpipe, thrust upwards between the 5th and 6th ribs to hit the heart with the right) seemed very exciting and daring to a young boy.

There were times, though …

Dad would be telling a story:

“There was a young Sawatsky boy in our unit. We all made fun of him, because he was about 6′ 6″ and not more than 140 lbs. He looked like a scarecrow.”

Pause. And I knew, even at that young age, that Dad was no longer there, but back in Russia. His eyes would lose focus, and tears would sometimes come.

“And yet, when a grenade was thrown into our foxhole, it was Sawatsky who threw himself on it to contain the blast. Without him, we would have all died.”

Dad had gone into the war to protect the people he cared about. In doing so, he went against the teachings of the church. As a consequence, he was looked at with suspicion and mistrust.

Coming out of the war, though, Dad had become convinced that pacifism was a better response. “The problem with war,” he would say, “is that it doesn’t solve anything in a real way. The Russian Revolution set the stage for Lenin and Stalin, who killed millions of their own people. WW1 turned into WW2. WW2 started the Cold War, with Korea and Vietnam thrown in.”

“There must be a better way.”

I know less about my “real” dad. Everything I know comes from my mom or uncles and aunts, and this makes it hard to figure him out.

Julius Schellenberg, dad number 1, volunteered for the Air Force in WW2. This was a surprise to the members of his church, as he believed in peace and was a pacifist. My mom said that Dad and his oldest brother volunteered to protect their younger brother from being drafted.

Of the four Schellenberg boys, three were of draft age and one was too young; however, one draft aged male was allowed to stay home and work the farm. The two oldest volunteered.

Dad was shipped off to a base in Ontario for basic training. While there, the air force discovered that he had a knack for repairing things, and he was assigned to be a mechanic.

I was talking to Mom a few months ago. She mentioned that, although he had gone into the armed forces as a pacifist, things had changed as the war progressed. Towards the end of his stint, Dad had volunteered to rotate overseas to Europe; fortunately, the war ended, and he didn’t need to go.

When Dad came back home, he, too, was looked at with mistrust and suspicion from his faith community. Unfortunately, this was common at the time for others in the community returning as well.

As I think back about my two dads, I realize that it is easy to pass judgement from afar. Obviously neither of them were really pacifist. Obviously they hadn’t really learned anything from their peace-loving churches. Why didn’t they become conscientious objectors?

One of the things Mom said was that Julius had volunteered for two main reasons: to keep his brother safe, and to have a choice in what arm of the armed forces he would serve. He believed that if he was in the air force, he wouldn’t have to kill anyone personally.

It’s easy to cry hypocrite. Surely he knew that keeping the planes flying meant that those planes could kill others. Surely he knew that by being a cog, it was the same as pulling a trigger himself.

It’s easy to think these things from afar, with the benefit of time and hindsight. It’s tougher to do when you are a young kid, doing what you believe to be the best thing in a bad situation.

I try and keep my judgement of, and anger at, the church in check. At a time when both of my fathers needed it most, the church withheld comfort and support; however, the church, too, existed in that time and that place. It, too, tried to do what it believed was right, even if I don’t agree with its decision.

So often, we would like to be in control of our world, and so we see the world in black and white. This is right. This is wrong. Peace is right. War is wrong. And yet, both my dads tried to find their own ways through the shades of grey that we all need to deal with.

I believe that control is a mirage. It’s a unicorn. It would be nice if it was real, but it doesn’t really exist.

On a day like today, I try to remember the people who fought and died. Many, I’m sure, were doing what they believed was the right thing to do, in that time and in that space. As I read, with dismay, that more than 22 military veterans in the United States commit suicide every single day, I realize that even the survivors – maybe especially the survivors – paid a very heavy price.

As human beings, we are just not equipped to see and do the things they had to see and do.

My dads were not perfect. They were flawed, as am I. They did, however, do the best they could. And for that, if for no other reason, they deserve my respect. As do all the other moms and dads who, in times past and present, do the best they can, too.

I’ve spent more than my share of time in hospitals. For about a week, my room mate was an old Native Canadian man with a great sense of humour.

“Schellenberg,” he said. “I knew a Julius Schellenberg. We were stationed together in WW2.”

“My Dad,” I said.

He broke into a grin. “Schelly! Man, that guy was always telling jokes and playing the guitar. Boy, could he play!” And he broke into a story of the two of them pulling pranks to break the tension that they all felt.

It seems a fitting way to remember them: two ordinary kids, from two completely different walks of life, thrown into extraordinary circumstances and trying to make the best of it.

My wife works for Mennonite Central Committe, the relief and service arm of the Mennonite church. They have a button that I really like: To remember is to work for peace.

I think both my Dads would agree on that.