Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Ever since we are born, we begin forming our world by observing the world. Where else are we going to get this information from? But what happens when the world just doesn't shape up? Some of us are compelled at an early age to seek our world elsewhere. So what's wrong with that? How different is that from the former option?

For starters, the world is all around. It's right there. Just follow the crowd. The other path, of course, was perhaps most famously described by Frost as The Road Less Travelled. Certainly, that poem, or at least its title, represents the alternative to the world sufficiently enough. However, I have conferred with others of like mind and we have determined this much about Frost. That son of a bitch left a whole lot out!

Can we blame him, though? After all, mankind has outdone Frost in mapping the world, long before his famous piece and long since. No, forget that. Astronauts and their scientific brethren have space all sussed out. Religion has managed to make innerspace literal and complete with infrastructure. React to or rebel against these occupations, you fall into places set for you and the picture is complete. Ultimately, the Road Less Travelled is so for a good god damn reason.

Still, we're out there, aren't we? You know who you are. We are still exploring. Whether it be in films, music, architecture or metaphysics, we are still chasing happiness and fulfillment like anyone else. It's like comparing health benefits from various employers. Most of those on the road paved with gold have what I call "The Package Plan". Sure there are bumps and hazards but the bumps and hazards are covered in the plan just as they are for the horde of other subscribers. On the other hand, I can assure you that there is not much support for the biblionaut. Do you know how I know that? I made the word up.

While I have done and continue to do my fair share of adventuring in the aforementioned mediums and disciplines, none have offered me as much refuge as the book. As a self-defined biblionaut, I still venture daily into the space between the lines and between the pages, craving the fellowship and comfort so many are able to derive from merely looking around the room they currently occupy. There was a time when I so desperately sought precedent for feeling how I feel that I would frantically dog-ear, underline and highlight with generous asterisks thrown in for good measure. When I moved back home, from my first apartment, I donated my apartment's furnishings to Hurricane Katrina victims but returned with boxes of my books.

If youve seen the film Inception, you may recall that time in dreams passes differently than time in real life. Well, even if you haven't seen it, I am sure this sounds like a reasonable assertion. That is the basis for why I ultimately derive the most solace from the novel and even more specifically, the graphic novel. If one novel can feel like a lifetime, imagine the experience of serialized works with reoccurring characters. Literary heroes and comic book superheroes exist for the better part of a century in real time. It is impossible to calculate how much time, in any sense of the word, I have spent with certain characters in my imagination. In fact, when I begin to read a given series, I often greet characters as I commence accompanying them on their respective journeys.

At the end of the day, we must define ourselves regardless of which road we have taken. If a role that fits you exists, take it and never look back. If not, search until you find your fit and if you so choose, name it. While I very much find myself in multiple realms of the dreamscape, at this moment I am best described as a biblionaut, a term I invented for the title of this blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

COLLISION CLAUS: A Christmas Story by John Wilkey

Chapter One

Louis Glock does not consider himself a lucky man by most standards. Yet he does believe that when opportunity meets preparedness, a man can make his own luck. That might explain the state-of-the-art, Kevlar-woven, Mother Lode 3-person tent. In his fantasies, Louis imagines there might one day be a special someone to share the tent with. For now, he is content to share the ample space with his power generator, flat-screen TV and PS2 video game platform, not to mention his heater, micro-fridge and Winchester air rifle. Yes, Louis Glock is armed. Only three nights earlier, the PowerStation 3 encampment outside the Prime Purchase in Princeton was assaulted by a drive-by pellet shooting. Louis was sure it was rival gamers caught in a desperate attempt to scare off the competition steadfast in their vigil for the release of the glorious game box. It just so happens that that night was only Louis’s second night outside the Prime Purchase in East Brunswick. Louis had already proved his resolve to be the first gamer to obtain a PS3 from the East Brunswick branch of Prime Purchase. On his very first night, moments after completing the arduous set-up process of his tent and all of its gear, several brigands waited for Louis to dose off. They then proceeded to hook a cable from their pickup truck to Louis’s tent. When Louis woke up he was in the Middle State bowling alley parking lot. Since then he has endured countless jeers from teenagers and fended off more than a few failed line jumpers. Several times, they had managed to move his entire tent several places back in the line. Still, fast forward to Christmas Eve, Louis remains the head of countless similar lines stretched out in front of toy and game stores nationwide. Just when Louis concluded that he had fended off the last of the attempts to supersede him in line, a blinding light washed the dank and dark twilight sky in a dazzling array of bright reds and greens, on a backdrop of pure snow white.

“I’ll be darned,” thought Louis. “Fireworks.”

It was a nice thought but one couldn’t help but wonder how anyone conjured up the means to set off such a top-shelf display of fireworks at three o’clock in the morning. The store is closed. Unless, it was a distraction. Just as the thought entered Louis’ mind, the lights seemed to fuse together into one fiery ball that began to rocket straight toward the front entrance of Prime Purchase. Showing an all new level of lack of concern for his own well-being, Louis jumped in front of the entrance doors as if he was going to succeed in blocking the veritable comet bearing straight down on him. Just a nanosecond before contact, Louis dove into his Mother Lode tent. As shards of glass and flaming signage rained down on the tent, Louis was already pumping himself up for his impending charge into the electronics retail giant. No one was going to come between Louis and the latest batch of PS3’s certainly stored in that East Brunswick location.

Sure enough, as the dust settled, Louis jumped into a crouched position and sprung like a mountain lion out of his tent, colliding quite forcefully with a gargantuan, lazy-eyed behemoth from South River named Roland. It seemed a stampede with the collective brain power of Louis had come to the same conclusion: someone is trying to steal the store’s stash of PS3s!! Though it may seem as if the crowd is ignoring the extraordinary set of events preceding the crash…..well, they are. Nothing will come between these people and the delivery of PS3’s they all knew were emergency shipped to the store for sale on Christmas day. Several of the maniacs charging through the gaping hole now smoking and sparking have actually pre-ordered their systems but after their customary 15 hours of television viewing, they accrued an overload of advertisement anxiety and made a beeline for the East Brunswick store.

Chapter Two

The gaggle of goofy consumers and erstwhile “outdoorsmen” did not glance for a second at what pieces of the store or merchandise they were trampling over on their way to the stockroom in the rear. Quite amazingly, the nine reindeer lying stunned in the home theater section went overlooked, presumed to be rather life-like decorations. Nor did the bearded fat man garner a single backward glance as he grunted and moaned as each obese video game freak jumped on and off his rather smashed sleigh en route to their destination. Alas, not even red-nosed Rudolph was immune to the narrow-minded fixation as he is jostled and rudely shoved out of the way. The tiny Elves accompanying Santa this night are fortunately quite adept at hiding. The mad dash of manic consumers would come nowhere near the giant refrigerators they had packed themselves into.

Colliding with the well-locked doors to the stockroom did not subdue the crowd. Rather, its members turned its ire and mania inward on each other. In the middle of the night, on Christmas Eve, men and women, boys and children were beginning to wrestle and assault one another. The sheer ugliness of it, thankfully, was only to be witnessed by an individual who is more than a mere man. From his earliest days leaving pies on windowsills, to his centuries of toy making expertise to the modern era of technology, Santa Claus has endured. No longer able to compete on the toy front, Santa’s role has been a bit more flexible, if you will. As an employee of God, Santa’s job is never really in jeopardy. Besides, God believes in Santa Claus just as the children who still carry God in their little hearts harbor a belief in the jolly old man.

Unfortunately, this does not stop Santa from having bad days. Each year, come Christmas, ole’ Kris Kringle can’t quit the bad habit of deliberating over his Naughty and Nice list. Should he adjust its criteria? Does anyone even care about his list? All too often, this train of thought leads to egg nog and egg nog leads to some uncoordinated sleigh riding. It doesn’t help that the leader of this pack of reindeer is the son of an old drinking buddy of Santa’s. Yes, that’s right, Rudolph inherited that red nose for reasons a tad different than the fairy tales and Christmas carols let on. And while the other eight reindeer are loved plenty by Santa, they are still reindeer-for-hire and loyal to the union. Rudolph has been Santa’s wingman since that one “foggy” Christmas Eve. This particular Christmas Eve was equally “foggy” as both Rudolph and Santa were sobering up via Gingerbread lattes while flying aimlessly about. They had delivered what homemade toys were still in demand. The remainder of the night consisted of whatever God felt like doing. It was His birthday, after all. Oddly enough, neither Rudolph nor Santa could see just yet how this crash landing played into God’s plans but they never did see how anything played into God’s plans. So, with a touch of egg nog still lingering in his veins, Santa let out a hoot and a holler as he burst out from underneath his sorry sleigh.

Before him, a miniature riot had broken out for reasons unknown to its participants. Barely distracted by the looming presence of a 6-foot-plus rotund man covered in white hair and gloriously topless, Louis had doubled back to his tent to get his hands on his Winchester BB gun. A sixth degree black belt in Aikido, Santa was doing quite a good job of defusing the ruckus with minimum damage when Louis turned up, pointing the barrel of his Winchester at Santa. Having judged the potential disaster accordingly, Santa abandoned his martial arts prowess and opted instead for his magical powers. In an instant, every single adult in sight was suspended in mid-air, frozen like department store mannequins. Santa’s melancholy seeped back into his heart even more so than before. Two fathers at each others throat. An elderly lady in a wheelchair, knocked to the ground. A mother in the midst of pushing a small child out of the way. Each person, still a child in Santa’s eyes, is a disappointment to ole’ St. Nick. As if it weren’t enough to witness their current behavior, a being with Santa’s scope of power must bear the memories of their innocence. Finally, on the left, a pair of young parents is stuck in the middle of an ear-piercing screaming match. Unbeknownst to them, the McFaydens were to be the centerpiece of Santa’s assignment this evening.

Chapter Three

If it weren’t for Mrs. Claus’ fear of flying, Santa might not count a red-nosed reindeer as his best friend. Yet, in his heart, Santa knows there is no comparison between the kind of best friend a wife makes and the kind a reindeer makes. Nonetheless, a sweaty and still slightly tipsy Santa is now stumbling over wreckage in search of his coat and hat. At the same time, a rather sober yet still very red-nosed reindeer saunters over to Santa with both articles of clothing hung from antlers. Falling in line directly behind Rudolph are Santa’s three elf assistants for the night: Gabriel, Denzel and Chang. Each carried two cups of coffee and shouted in unison:

“Hide, we did in the land of appliances. Abound with coffee makers it was, but not a single bean was to be found. One magic fart from Denzell and bags of grinds did surround”

Denzell was a stand-up elf and of the African-American persuasion. Gabriel was Hispanic and held the distinction of the first outwardly gay elf. Lastly, there was the North Pole’s premier sleigh designer, Chang, a female Asian elf. Admittedly, this crew is left over from the heyday of the PC movement. But they also happened to be the elf crew Santa has the most fun with, hands down.

Within minutes, the North Poleans have brushed aside debris and found seats for themselves as Rudolph and Santa down their coffee. The reindeer crews have come to and are stretching their aching muscles. More than a few choice obscenities are being worked out of their systems in the process. Not surprisingly, the sleigh-pulling union is mentioned on several occasions. It is at this precise moment of calm, that Santa spots movement out of his peripheral vision. Immediately, he sends his elves in the direction of the flurry of movement. In moments, the three elves have escorted a red-haired and freckled boy, no older than eight years of age, to Santa’s perch.

“What is your name, boy?”

“Tr-travis, sir.”

“What, you don’t have any wisecracks to make about the old man? It’s OK. Go ahead. I meet jaded five year olds these days.”

“No, sir. Anything’s better than the fighting.”

“Oh, that. I’ll have you know, I used all of my martial arts mastery to defuse the situation without harm. But in the end, it was the magic that calmed the commotion-“

“Not that fighting. That fighting.”

The boy pointed a plump but tiny little finger in the direction of the raging parents.

“Ah yes, that. My magic is limited, Travis. More than ever, I rely on the Boss for my orders.”

“Y-you mean you’re not in charge? Of the North Pole and all that?”

“Oh sure. But this isn’t about all that.”

“It isn’t”

“Y’see, the first few years after being human …God loved being the center of attention. He loved having a birthday. You could say the humanity took a while to wash off. Then, in true God fashion, it became more about giving to others than receiving. That’s where I came in. I thought I was just a silly old man who liked to carve toys and share pastries, cookies and other goodies with all my friends. That’s when I started hanging out with Randolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And hey, he was red-nosed for a reason. When I got the job, God hooked me up with the premier reindeer crew in the whole universe. They flew, which was good. It began as a working relationship but we bonded. So, it hurt them a bit when Randolph had a kid, Rudolph, and I eventually became his legal guardian when Randolph went to the Reindeer Stable in the Sky. One foggy Christmas Eve later and Rudolph is leading the crew. They’re used to it by now. All the other reindeer, they’re old friends. Rudolph is family. And he didn’t just inherit that red nose. He earned it just like his old man. “

“So, you don’t bring us toys, anymore?”

“Sure I do, Travis. But I’ve recently started to realize my full potential. Sure, kids love presents and sure, they need love. But God needs help. And out of all the ways he’s been represented, I just happen to be the best looking-“

“Harrumph!!” A collective scoffing sounds out from the direction of the reindeer crew.

“OK, not best looking in terms of being handsome. But I was certainly the friendliest, jolliest, most welcoming avatar to date. It just so happens that the toy game no longer takes up all of my time. So I have this free time. I’m still working it out. And you know God and the whole mysterious ways routine.

“Did God send you?”

“If I was lacking in the wisdom department, I might be inclined to tell you a few pints of egg nog sent me. But I know better-“

“Fix my parents”

“Umm….you’re sure you don’t just want one of these PP3’S?”

“It’s PS3 and I know Id have a lot of fun if I had one. Some kids would play with me just because I had one. But, it’s just—“

In the middle of the child’s sentence, the sounds of the real world outside come blaring through the decimated window front of the store. Sirens and flashing lights are suddenly apparent to Santa and his new friend but nowhere near as pressing or alarming as the eight policemen storming the store entrance with pistols drawn.


“You first.” With a tired wave of his hand, Santa renders the officers in the same condition as the would-be rioters.

“This time manipulation stuff is cool but it takes a lot out of you”

“It’s awesome,” declared Travis.

“Well, Travis, you can hang out with us as you want. Chang is going to work on the sleigh while Gabriel redecorates and renovates. And Denzel, uhm….”

“Hey Travis, what goes ‘Ho, ho, ho, SWOOSH! Ho, ho, ho, SWOOSH!’?” said the stand-up elf.

“I don’t know what?”

Leaning forward in a conspiratorial manner, the elf whispered “Santa Claus caught in a revolving door”

“I heard that!” boomed Santa as he starts to study the faces of all the men and women he has frozen over the course of the night. Denzel and Travis just giggle.

As Santa finishes his rounds, he thoughtfully stroked his beard and declares: “Tonight is a night of unfinished Christmas stories…and I’m going to finish ‘em”

Chapter Four

“When I was his age, we had Christmas every other year!”

“That’s because your father was a gambling addict!”

“That’s right! One year he’d slap a wad of hundreds in my hand, a little extra if I saw him with another woman. He’d slip even more to Mom, especially if she saw him with another woman.”

“Right, right. And your mom would blow the money on a new car, and then renege on the payments because Dad was dipping in for the old habit.”

“That’s right! And next Christmas, Id get an expired coupon to Toys R Us or some other fantastic present!”

“I know, I know. You’d think you would want the best for Trav after having such losers for parents.”

“Don’t show disrespect for Mom and Dad in front of the kid, I'm warning you Julie!!”

“Listen, I just don’t want my son to feel left out. Everybody’s too afraid these days.”

“Yeah, why’s that, I wonder?! Could it be drive-by pellet shootings?!”

“They caught those guys, Roger. Now stop yelling, you’re ruining Trav’s Christmas”

“I’m ruining his Christmas. I’ve got to sleep in my car so he doesn’t “feel left out”!”

“Oh you’re not sleeping in here the whole night! You’ve got to do your stint in the tent!

Roger McFayden’s father, Julius McFayden, was “the last of the big-time spenders”, to coin a phrase. As a small boy, Roger learned right away the power of money. His father was the owner of a jewelry shop and earned a meager sum each year, barely able to cover his overhead. Yet, this did not stop him from betting on everything from horses to sporting events to the weather. It was the year that the McFaydens went from living in a four bedroom house on Long Island to a one bedroom apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant that Roger began to learn the true nature of his parents’ relationship. His mother Sophie did not love his father. Their happiness as a couple fluctuated with Roger’s financial luck. Sophie would spend Julius’ winnings faster than he could count them. And Roger? He was a debit, a drain and a loss. At least, that’s how his mother saw him. His father would do his best to slip Roger a little extra but all too often, Sophie would snatch any such extra cash. It was this lack of stability and the misery caused by his parents’ financial failings that eventually would lead to a great deal of tension and obsessive controlling on Roger’s part when it came to he and Julie’s finances.

Julie McFayden, formerly Julie Hill, enjoyed a posh and luxurious upper middle class upbringing. Daddy was a lawyer and Mommy was a shrewd investor. Never wanting for anything, Christmas was always a joyous occasion filled with family and presents. It was an experience Julie could never fully explain to her husband Roger. His formative years resulted in an all too typical need to teach his son a lesson. Travis would always be happy, as much so as Roger and Julie could muster, but said happiness would never hinge on money or material belongings. At the same time, Julie saw no reason to not continue the Hill tradition of lavish spending and, as Roger saw it, spoiling the child. With this at the core of the McFayden family of Roger, Julie and Travis, the tension and all-too-often out bursts caused by money were so very much a repeat of history. Only Santa could see through the shackles of the mundane that could destroy a beautiful little family such as the McFaydens. What was lacking in Roger’s upbringing and merely measured by possession of the latest and greatest in retail goods over at the Hill residence, was pure, unadulterated and immeasurable. The genuine love of Roger and Julie superseded their own personal histories and resulted in a sublime marriage and ultimately the conception and birth of Travis. The most common tragedy of human experience is the inability to see love and place all of one’s faith in it. In recent years, with Travis no longer an infant, Roger and Julie have lost sight of the love they have been gifted with. Fortunately, a mythical fat man interrupted their latest round of bickering when he and his sleigh hurtled into Prime Purchase.

Chapter Five

“Yup, these two are do-able” bellowed Santa. “Oh my Boss, I am hungry!”

“Does that mean you can fix ‘em?” cried Travis.

“Kid, I don’t fix anything. Only people can fix themselves. Here, here’s twenty bucks. Go get Santa some KFC.”

At the mention of those last three letters, a loud commotion signaled the sudden attention of all ten reindeer and the three elves at work.

“OK, here’s a hundred. Get as many buckets as that’ll get you.”

“But Santa---“

“Go! As far as the answer to your question, I’m in control. But there’s this matter of a big fat jolly employer of elves and reindeer that loses control when he gets hungry!”

As Travis sprints off in the direction of the shopping center’s KFC, he passes Louis Glock and his Winchester air rifle poised to fire at the frozen rioters. As he begins to sprint across the parking lot, he looks back just as he passes through an invisible, jelly-like substance. Once on the other side of the jelly, Travis trips over himself in astonishment as the façade of Prime Purchase appears to be untouched.

On the other side of the façade, Santa is pure baffled as he sizes up Louis Glock.

Turning towards his reindeer, Santa sounds it out loud to see if it makes any more sense: “This man has armed himself with an air rifle due to an earlier event where several individuals instituted their own drive-by pellet shooting at another one of these here establishments?”

“That’s correct, sir,” responded Blitzen.

“And that Kevlar-woven, Mother Lode 3-person tent at the head of the line is his? The one with a power generator, a TV and all that?”

“That would be his,” replied Comet.

“And he’s been there for three days?”

“Three days and four hours,” offered Vixen.

“I’ve got an idea”

“Gabriel, remove Louis’ air rifle. Denzel, knock over that stack of boxes. Chang, arrange it to look as if those boxes landed on that fine young lady I froze by the restrooms over there. Apparently, she wasn’t part of the riot. She just took advantage of the entrance I created to take care of an emergency. Make sure you don’t get a scratch on her. I’ll go ahead and place Louis right near by. Perfect. So how are we doing?”

“The Sleigh is fully operational,” declared Chang as she put the finishing touches on the “damsel-in-distress” scenario.

“Nothing can put that old girl out of commission, baby!” shouted Rudolph.

“But I’m not done, yet!” yelled Gabriel, as he festooned Prime Purchase with more garlands and glitter and gift boxes than it has copies of the latest American Idol winner’s CD.

“Apparently, neither am I,” stated Santa in an uncharacteristic grim tone of voice.

Shoving his way through the fleet of frozen police officers was a man in worse fitness condition than Santa himself. Wearing his Prime Purchase polo shirt and khaki shorts, Orson Winkelmeyer bore the keys to paradise in his fanny pack. His eyes may well have been from the other end of a magnifying glass, or so they appeared from behind his ultra-thick glasses. Orson Winkelmeyer was the store manager of this particular Prime Purchase and, in his mind, HE was Santa Claus. He stood by as adults young and old overran their credit limits to make the yuletide voices in their brains cease their cacophony of Christmas carols and voices that cried out for this year’s must-have material object. Only he can satiate the ravenous need possessing the minds of so many. This year it is the PS#. Next year, the PS4, and so on.

With all his science and math skills, Winkelmeyer long ago decided Santa was a chump, defeated and no longer able to deliver the voracious appetites of Earth dwellers. Somehow, he knew the day would come when he could challenge the Claus directly and lo and behold, the jolly old relic had crash landed into his store.

Santa was befuddled. His freezing power, the time manipulation ability had exhibited twice before, was not working on Winkelmeyer.

“Who may you be?” asked Santa.

“I am Orson Winkelmeyer. Store # 235’s very own Santa Claus, if you will.”

“If I had a cookie for every fat guy who lost his mind and thought he was me….See, bub, it’s in my genes. I’m in terrific shape but I’ll always be fat. You got the way you are because, well, you do share the same lifestyle as many of your customers. I’ll give you that much if you want to claim some sort of kinship with them.”

“Huh?” replied Winkelmeyer.

“That’s right. Plasma flat screen TV with Surround Sound and only the best DVD player hooked up right next to the latest gaming console. Your apartment in the basement of your mother’s long-paid-for suburban home with a phone and mini-fridge all in arm’s reach. It’s a miracle you drive yourself to get here everyday. Surely, you’d prefer a chauffeur or at least a bus that stops in front of your house…”

“Oh that’s enough, tubby!”, Orson burst out, “You think you’re so physically fit? You still think you’ve got what the kids love? I hereby challenge you to……DANCE, DANCE REVOLUTION!!”

“You’re joking,” replied Santa.

Tearing open a box underneath one of the sample-showing TV screens, Orson yanks out the mat necessary for the game. Competitors in the game must step on whatever part of the mat the screen dictates as loud club music blares from the television. This is supposed to simulate dancing. For Orson, it’s as close as he will ever get to socializing. For Santa, it’s a sad, sad replacement for break dancing, jazz dancing and other favorite pastimes.

Orson’s choice of song, interestingly enough, is Flashdance(What a Feeling). As Winkelmeyer proceeds to flaunt his Winkelmeyerness, velcroed low-tops pounding the mat sloppily and instantaneous globules of sweat appearing everywhere, Santa can’t help but stifle a chuckle and accept that, however unlikely, this boy-man’s appearance is still a part of God’s plan for him.

By the time it is Santa’s turn, Winkelmeyer has stumbled to the Men’s Room in order to pay the porcelain his due for the exertion he forced upon his pathetic physique. Granting Winkelmeyer a few moments, Santa finally mounts the platform in time for El Ritmo Tropical to start its South American pulsations. Orson is dumbfounded as Santa once again bares his rose red chest and snow white chest hair in order to deliver Latin gyration after :Latin gyration. “How did a North Pole boy learn such equatorial dance moves?” you might ask. Santa’s reply?

“Rio.” “De.” “Janeiro”.

Hey, no one said Santa isn’t entitled to a vacation.

“OK, I win. So what am I supposed to get out of this?” asked Santa.

In the midst of a tearful tantrum, Orson cried out “NOTHING! You’re not supposed to get anything! You BIG FAT JERK!” hollered Orson as he stamped his feet like a little boy.

At that moment, a small figure carrying a sack full of buckets of chicken comes trudging through the wall of frozen cops and onto the main floor of the store.

“Food’s here!!” declares Travis.

“THAT’S IT!!” bellows Santa.

“W-what?” responds a rather stunned and unstable Winkelmeyer.

“Chicken?” said a puzzled Chang.

“I couldn’t freeze you!” realized Santa.

“So?” replied Orson

“Only those who believe in me can manage to resist my time manipulation powers”

“Oh that’s so cheesy” muttered Orson.

“How old are you?”

“Thirty three” Orson managed to let slip under his breath

“How long have you been holding onto this, son?”

“Just SHUT UP!! I H-HATE YOU” stammered Orson.

“That’s fine, my boy. To hate me, you must believe in me.”

“You’re thirty three and you still believe in Santa?” interjected Travis, as the reindeer and elves lined up for their fried chicken.

“Shush, Travis” said Santa. “Orson, when did it start?”

“You know. You’re Santa, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I want you to take me there in your mind”

Chapter Six

Christmas Morning, 1986





As Santa and Orson materialized in the middle of this shouting match, both large men began to well up. For Orson, this was what he listened to almost every Christmas. It was only his belief in Santa that granted him the confidence that each year would leave what he wanted underneath that tree. For Santa, it was simply the result of the overabundance of empathy God had empowered him with. In his millennia of service, Santa Claus always knew there were children who loved him for what he gave. Often times, that toy or other object of obsession was transformed into some cosmic confirmation or pay-off. At this point in time, Santa and Orson are about to witness a Christmas morning, twenty years ago, when Orson was a young teen. This year, the cost of Orson’s love would be the delivery of one Atari 2600.

“I remember, Orson. Back then, I could actually make those game systems myself. But God and your Mom had other plans that year.”

“Oh yeah, what? Ruin my parents’ marriage”

“I’m sorry, Orson. The purchase of that game was left up to your father. I was under strict instructions to leave this gift up to him. As meaningless as such an object is in the long run, this point in time represents the last straw. Your mom had repeatedly reminded your dad about this all too important present. But for the last year and a half, Nathaniel had become more and more despondent, detaching himself emotionally and physically from his family.”

“And there was nothing you can do?”

“Orson, I have a way with love. It is my gift, granted me by God. I can pour love into the very molecules of each and every present I make. Only I can leave behind such an intoxicating residue of love that Christmas Morning can be such an intangible source of joy blanketing all of the day’s festivities. But where do you think I find this love?”

“Are you saying Mom and Dad didn’t love each other?”

“There simply wasn’t enough. Your Dad simply had not planned on being a husband and father so early in life.”

“But Mama loved me, and now she’s gone and I don’t know what to do” sobbed Orson as he collapsed into Santa’s arms. “I had this feeling in my gut that I had to get to the store at all costs tonight.”

Still weeping, Orson looked into Santa’s eyes with tears streaming down his face and whispered “Take me back. I’ve done something…..I-I’ve done something.”

Chapter Six

Re-materializing in front of the charging police officers, Orson immediately fell to his knees.

“LET THEM TAKE ME AWAY!!” screamed Orson, in agony. “I took them all. Every one of them.”

“Oh, Orson” muttered Santa, holding his head and shaking it.

“The camping out, the selling on E-bay…THESE KIDS!” Orson pointed out Travis in mid-rant “who take it for granted that their parents are setting up camp so they can get the latest fetish object, the latest video game console.”

“So you stole the PS3s?

“Yeah, I know. There’s no excuse. I thought you’d at least understand the lesson.”

“No one appointed you to teach lessons, Orson. Not even I have the authority to teach lessons. People just tend to derive them from love. Me, I’m just a love dealer.”

“I understand, Unfreeze them so they can take me away.”

“I don’t like that as an ending to the story. Chang, is my ride ready?”

“Yeah, but make it quick. If we have to hear one more joke from Denzel, there’s going to be regurgitated chicken by the bucket all over the joint.”

“She’s right, Santa. I’m not cleaning that in the morning” said Orson. “Let’s go!”

“Wait, Santa!”

“What is it, Denzel?”

“Listen to this one. ‘What do you get if you deep fry Santa Claus?’”

”I give up.”

“Crisp Cringle”


In the blink of Travis’ left eye, the sleigh and its contents disappeared in a cloud of glitter. In the blink of his other eye, the sleigh had returned and both Orson and Santa hefted sacks full of boxes, boxes with highly coveted game systems inside.

“See, Orson, I may look out of shape but as you can see, not only do I dance, but I’ve been responsible for some heavy lifting in my time. If you want to be like Santa, you have to work out the body and the soul.”

“Does this mean we’ll be seeing a fitness video from you soon?”

“Funny, Orson:”

“Hmmph” The sound came suspiciously in the direction of a certain stand-up elf.

“Christmas cheer wouldn’t be the same without some sense of humor. That goes for elves, too.”

Denzell beamed widely at the nod from the Big Man.

“Santa, Santa, Santa.” Gabriel came striding out of the music aisle with both hands in the air, both carrying CDs. “Now that we’ve eaten and now that I’ve endured the most tasteless belching contest to date(they even involved the boy), us Pole creatures thought you might want to have a little going away party, seeing as how we’ve spent more time here than we’ve spent just about anywhere these past few Christmases.”

“My store…what have you done to my store?” whimpered Winkelmeyer.

“It’s been Gabrielized. Retail is so fluorescent and ‘blech’. I’ve made it shine.”

To this, Chang chimed in, “Hey Gabe babe pass me the sounds. I tricked the sleigh out with one killer sound system.”

As Santa smiled warmly as his friends always made him feel inclined, Travis shuffled over and tugged on Santa’s sleeve.

“Yes, Travis”

“Is everything going to go back to normal now?”

“Normal? That’s a loaded word, Travis. When I first started this gig, ages ago, I thought it was the absence of love that made people behave like the bunch that stampeded through here earlier tonight. But there is no absence of love. Love is EVERYWHERE! It just gets harder to see it. It gets harder to feel it. Sometimes it gets misplaced. Like this silly video game. An object, like any other object, is given status through love. Ideally, people hope that these objects will do more than their designed purpose. They pray that each gift will pass love on to their cherished friends and family. So how does it become this? Two fathers at each others throat. An elderly lady in a wheelchair, knocked to the ground. A mother in the midst of pushing a small child out of the way. It’s been twisted, ya see, Travis? Sure, plenty of people covet this machine for the noblest of reasons. But they forget that that power, that Godliness, rests in their own hearts—“


“Yes, Travis?”


“Excuse me?

“I’m eight years old. And I live in the real world. And I know that grown-ups are the way they are because they don’t know all that stuff anymore. They use so little of their imagination and so little of their minds, that’s probably why it’s so easy to freeze them like you do. But when I asked you to fix them, I asked because I know that when this dream of a night comes to an end, you’ll hit ‘Play’ again and it will all go back to normal.”

“Touché, kid. No one’s ever called me out on one of my heartwarming monologues. But you’re right. When my work here is done, time will carry on from where it left off.”

“So what do you do?”

“I’ve a light touch for a big man, my boy. I leave a reminder here. Point a heart over there. Whisper in some ears. I set the record straight. Sometimes it’s as easy as arranging the players in the right position.”

That said, Santa spun and re-animated Louis Glock and the pretty young lady buried in boxes. It was the classic damsel-in-distress scenario as Louis lifted the girl to her feet and she fell into his embrace.


“What about my Mom and Dad, then?

“Your Mom and Dad have oodles of love to work with. Dad just lets some old fears about money get in the way. And Mom just spoils you a bit. But in you, in that little heart, they have given you so much love. And I happen to know just what they really want for Christmas. Don’t you worry.”

Chapter Seven

Christmas Day, Present Time

Travis McFayden is standing on the sidewalk in front of Prime Purchase and shaking his head. The day is unseasonably bright and the previous week’s snow was starting to melt. To his right, the line of tents and folding chairs stretched again. Louis and his new girlfriend practically skipped out of Prime Purchase, leaving Louis’ tent and belongings behind. The man in front of him in line is the same man that been frozen executing a choke hold on the man in front of him. That man’s daughter was the child pushed out of the way by the mother in front of them. Alas, the tension and animosity was gone. Each consumer seemed to have been outfitted with brand new tents and camping gear. Rather than behaving as if they were gladiators in the Coliseum, these men and women were jovially passing the time as if at a barbecue.

Seeking out his own tent, Travis was flabbergasted at the sight before him. Both his Mom and his Dad lie asleep in each other’s arms. Without a moment’s hesitation, Travis managed to squeeze himself into the middle of a parent sandwich. Bliss had erupted in the unlikeliest of places.

In that instance, another rather tickled individual strode out of the entrance of his store, in full Santa regalia.

“Seasons’ Greetings, shoppers. I am Orson Winkelmeyer, store manager here at Prime Purchase #235. While I am inclined to close this establishment due to it being Christmas, there are a few matters to attend to, I understand. To all employees reporting for duty this morning, go home. It’s Christmas. A bonus will await you all when you return. Please contact your co-workers not scheduled for today and notify them. Finally, my queue of video game fanatics and/or parents of said maniacs. My two little elves have some pieces of paper you might be interested in”

With that said, Gabriel and Denzel stepped out from behind Winkelmeyer. Simultaneously, Roger and Julie McFayden awoke with their beautiful son in their arms. As contented as he was in that position, his parents were under the assumption that this moment was all he’d been waiting for.

By the time, the two elves arrived at the entrance to the McFayden tent.

“Let’s go! Only those with the tickets get the PS3”

At that, Travis poked his head out from the tent flap.

“What are you guys still doing here?”

“Winkelmeyer got all inspired and wanted elves. Considering how hard it would be to hire a pair of midget on such short notice, we agreed to stay.”

Wondering what all the conversation was about, Roger and Julie joined their son and poked their heads out as well.

“Travis, do you know these elves?”

“Oh no, Mom. This one was about to tell a joke.”

Gabriel’s eyes rolled while Denzel’s lit up like Rudolph’s nose.

“Why is Christmas just like a day at the office?”

“I give up” said Travis.

“You do all the work and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit.”

“I like that one,” laughed Roger.

“I heard that” yelled Winkelmyer. “Carry on, elves”

“He’s even bossier than the real deal” exclaimed Gabriel.

By now, Travis had come out of the tent all together and his parents weren’t far behind. As he started down at the ticket that his elfin friends had given him, he couldn’t help but get giddy feeling in his stomach. The PS3 was going to be so much fun! While his imagination tried to conjure all the different types of games he would get his parents to buy, his peripheral vision was drawn to the wheelchair-bound middle-aged lady who had been knocked over in the riots from the night before. Slowly, with a sigh, she had begun to wheel away.

“Where ya going?” Travis gently asked.

“They were one short on the tickets, I’m afraid.”

“You play video games?”

That gave the lady a hearty gut laugh.

“No, but my grandson does. But his parents don’t have the constitution that your parents have and that I have. I said, sure, it’s just a toy and it’ll be obsolete next year. But I heard about these lines and it sounded like an adventure. Y’know I waited on line for every one of the Star Wars prequels. I even liked Jar Jar Binks. I thought he got a bad break….”

As the lady rambled a bit further, Travis took one look at both his parents in that tent and then another look at his ticket. The PS3 would be back on the market in a couple of weeks. And so, after a night unlike any night he’d ever experienced and his parents holding hands for the first time in his young memory, Travis McFayden passed his ticket onto the outspoken Grandma.

Travis’s parents, quite taken aback, were left speechless.

“Cmon guys, lets pack up and go home. It’s Christmas.”

As the McFaydens took down their tent, Travis looked over at Orson Winkelmeyer and gave him a mini-salute which Winkelmeyer returned. As for Gabriel and Denzel, Travis had to ask:

“Are you guys going to duck behind the building and disappear into magic glitter?”

“No, we’re taking a bus to Hackensack. We have some family up there,” replied Denzel.

Chapter Eight

As the McFaydens filed through their front door, Roger McFayden lifted his son up and squeezed him as hard as he could.

“Well, kid, what you did back there just took our breath away, your Mom and I. But unfortunately, it really took your Christmas present away.”

“Very funny, dad!”

With much jubilation, Travis dropped from his father’s grip and made it to the base of the tree in leaps and bounds. Under the tree, there was but one box with a folded up letter attached. Tearing the letter off, Travis began to read:

“Dear Travis, I had to split before I got to the grandma. But I knew you had it covered. Enjoy the PS3. Maybe next year we can go head-to-head on Street Fighting Massacre. Love, S.C.”

Rather than dwell on the juicy mystery, Roger and Julie went to work on something Julie had wanted since having Travis and Roger had been afraid of for just as long. Could we provide for two? Are we spoiling the one we have? Can we pay for both to go college? All these questions and more created massive tension in the old Roger, a tension he shared freely with his small family. On this Christmas Day, the McFaydens had somehow been reminded of why Travis really existed and the reason for their marriage.


One Year Later.

What sounded like heated battle in the form of barely contained fits of whispering started to make its way upstairs in the McFayden household. Julie awoke first, but barely. Groggily, she nudged Roger.

“I think your son is flirting with disaster. He’s going to wake Trisha while he’s snooping around the tree.”

Downstairs, in the living room, Travis is merely engaged in mortal combat with none other than Santa Claus, himself. By now, Street Fighting Massacre had spawned a sequel and it was supposed to be one of many presents to open in a few hours on Christmas Morning proper. Yet, as promised, Santa did pay a visit as promised and took up the Player 2 controller with great zeal. Right in the middle of an unstoppable flurry of tornado kicks, Santa was distracted by a sound. The sound was an infant crying for her Mama.

“Ha! It worked!”

“What worked?” said Travis.

“Never mind. You win. I’ve got to split.

“But it’s best 3 out of 5”

“That’s super, kid. Really. But right now, your mom is telling your dad to come check on the baby and I can’t be here. Maybe next year.”


“If it means you taking a trip to my place, we’ll do it. But I got to warn ya, it’s not too fancy a place. An old girlfriend of mine used to say, ‘Love don’t pay the bills.”

“What does Mrs. Claus say?”

“All you need is love, kid. All you need is love.”

Merry Christmas & happy new year from john

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.

Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.

Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game

It's easy.

There's nothing you can make that can't be made.

No one you can save that can't be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be in time

It's easy.

All you need is love, all you need is love,

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

Love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

All you need is love, all you need is love,

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

There's nothing you can know that isn't known.

Nothing you can see that isn't shown.

Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.

It's easy.

All you need is love, all you need is love,

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

All you need is love (all together now)

All you need is love (everybody)

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

FACEBOOK aka Friendship: A Quick One Part Two

This is not a pipe.

This one is from a lesson I learned via Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics. That is where I first learned of the above painting. The idea of the original piece, should you be standing in front of it, is that you are not looking at a pipe. You are looking at a painting of a pipe. In McCloud's piece, he points out that you are looking at several printed copies of a drawing of a painting of a pipe. So, I must point out that you are now looking at the HTML code of a JPEG of a picture of a painting of a pipe....or something like that. Does your head hurt? Mine too.

So what does this have to do with Facebook? Recently, I CLICKED on an IMAGE of an ACQUAINTANCE to see what she looked like as Lady Gaga. While on the FACEBOOK PAGE, I saw an IMAGE of a pretty girl and CLICKED. I then sent a MESSAGE asking the ACQUAINTANCE about the girl in the IMAGE. As a result, I am told that it is REALLY WEIRD that I am CREEPING around her FRIENDS. Are you with me here? Facebook is only a few years old, social media a bit older and the entire Internet itself, not even as old as me. Yet it has seemingly assimilated reality, or vice versa, in the minds of young people. Think about it. Eight minutes of me staring at my screen like a vegetable while scrolling through random combinations of words and images not only translates into meaningful interaction for others but is grounds for judgment!

Friendship: A Quick One

I heard something about friendship VS. facebook. Something about taking a stand on behalf of REAL friendship by taking action and DEFRIENDING in Facebook. You dont really distance anything or anyone from a "Facebook World" by establishing a holiday based on activity done in the same world. Right now, to me, Facebook is what Im typing and MAYBE the rest of the visible screen. I dont know offhand how many "friends" i have. I never had my concept of friendship confused with Facebook terminology. And Facebook does not play a central role in my life. Noam Chomsky, in some way, says that what keeps our brand of democracy going is a never ending stream of inconsequential "opinions" on which we can fall on either side of, as long as the chatter continues. It is what media exists for. So ill continue to communicate with people on Facebook. Ill state opinions, make jokes. have fun. But does it have anything to do with my worldview? None whatsoever. Does it tell me something about the worldview of everyone else? Certainly. The last I remember an intense discussion over the meaning of "friends" and how many you had was when I taught high school and it was Myspace. Now I can only hope the theme of this blog is supported by a prominent media figure or Im screeeewed.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bullies Won't Change But You Must...Especially If You're A Bully

"Bullying Must Stop" Someone points at the heavens and we all look at their hand. We are finite beings trying to comprehend the infinite. The world does not change.  There is no winning a war on terror and there is no stopping bullying...unless you are the bully. Please allow me to add my own story to the public forum.

You're four years old and about to enter kindergarten. Do you get a lunchbox, a pat on the back and some encouragement to make friends? My mother is Sicilian, I'm an only child and I'm adopted. No, I get told that if anyone hits me, I hit them back. Mom, and I believe Grandma, even show me a little boxing. By the time I am five, I am in my hometown of North Brunswick, NJ but I have carried my early training with me. Around first grade, my school does a tremendous favor for certain students by separating them from the student body and making them stick out by no fault of their own. We are placed in two groups: Special Ed and Gifted & Talented. The difference is irrelevant. They decide to hold me back from GT for a year because I talk too much and don't complete my assignments. This does very little to spare me the distinction of being a nerd nor does it delay the bullying that would become a constant presence in my life for the remainder of grade school. The nerds that grin and bear it may or may not have earned some relief but the kid who talks back and fights back? Here's where I get to share how everyone from administration to faculty to my parents tried to STOP BULLYING while I held my own with my mouth and my fists.

Bullies at my school were given special privileges like collecting playground equipment or playing computer games in the principal's office. They were labeled with impressive classifications like "Neurologically Impaired". Some just had alcoholic fathers who would threaten to come to school with a shotgun if their little bully was treated unfairly. These same kids would make up their own rules and roam hallways, even darting into bathrooms to harass children trying to urinate or chase them back to their classroom in order to punch them in the kidney. School's solution? Have my teacher secretly press the PA button to alert the front office to every time I needed to go to the bathroom so the principal could mosey on down to keep an eye out. Policemen assigned to school matters would be enlisted to aid in the case of having bullies expelled. Meanwhile, my fists are deemed in need of training by my parents when other bullies take the place of the one that was expelled. That's one way of stopping bullying, right? Beat them silly until they "learn their lesson". You may say it doesn't work that way. You would be right but that lesson comes later. Before leaving the public school system, another move designed to rescue me from bullying, I pounded a bully's face in right in front of my classmates. The vice principal even expressed gratitude, unofficially of course. Wow, that training worked, didn't it? Not yet, but it will. Stick with me.

One year after I "stopped" the bully with several blows around and about his face, I am no longer going to the same school but I am hanging out with a friend and guess what? Mr. Bully lives right across the street. He sees me and this time he brings a friend. I give but a moment's consideration to the aforementioned martial arts training and decide to opt for a stick instead, seeing as how I have never faced multiple opponents. I managed to pummel the bully's friend, ironically enough a former fellow nerd turned sidekick. The bully got off easy with just one bruise on his arm from the stick. So, YOU tell ME? How is "STOPPING THE BULLYING" going so far? What say we drop that NONSENSE and get to the heart of the matter? But before I do, let me recap that: "STOPPING THE BULLYING" is NONSENSE.

Some time not too long after that last encounter with MY bully, I stopped fighting AND being bullied for the rest of my life. Was it magic? Was the bullying STOPPED? Did the world change? No, I changed. Why did I think I was being bullied? What was it about me that was being bullied? They called me a Mama's Boy because my mom worked at the school and was very protective of me. SO WHAT. Oh, and Mom bought my clothes because I was a child and couldn't be bothered with it. SO WHAT. I sucked at kickball. SO WHAT. I was a nerd. SO WHAT. Whatever I was, was fine. THAT'S what "stopped bullying". IF I WAS GAY, the answer would be the same. SO WHAT. If I was a BULLY, then guess what? It's still ME that needed to change. What are our kids thinking? About themselves? About others? I'm not hearing this in the media, are you? My problem was that I was fighting with bullies but guess what I was thinking about MYSELF and OTHERS each and every day? I only thought one thing, that I was going to be bullied and that I would have to fight. Take a wild guess what happened.

Now, I grant you this. There was martial arts. There were my parents and my grandmother. I had love and support. Thank god because if our schools and institutions were failing over twenty years ago, when I was a child, imagine where they are at now. That kid that just picks up a gun and shoots himself? He didn't just pick up a gun and shoot himself. No one wants to consider how many opportunities there were to find out what was going on in this kid's life. Instead, they want to repeat the mantra "Stop The Bullying". Find out what's going on with the bullied. Find out what's going on with the bully. THEY'RE ALL KIDS!!!

Before I go, let me leave you with this.. I am a former teacher, at least for the time being. If you were to tell me that there should be someone at the school whose job it is to do the above. And you would be right. Even in the sort of financially strapped school I taught in, there was always at least one person ready to talk to a student. But HOW does the student get TO the help? Are we leaving it up to them? Apparently, look at the results. THEY'RE ALL KIDS!!! Even the most popular kid doesn't have a clue what's going on. Believe me. EVERY ADULT that has even the most MINUTE contact with a kid's life is RESPONSIBLE for it. There is no exception. One of my former students comes to mind. The shy or low-key student gets lost in the shuffle at any school. At an urban charter school, they are virtually invisible...but not to me. One such student, female, was always present and always completed her work. At some point, her attendance started getting spotty. Quality of work started falling off. My immediate response was to connect that student with the person she could speak to. Don't get me wrong, many times, I was the one they spoke to. But in my mind, not only were these kids my responsibility but it was also my responsibility to share. It's the true business we were in as educators and caretakers. Concerned about a suicidal student? Forget about the bully. Spend Christmas Eve with her in the in-patient facility when her so-called "loved ones" won't.

So let's not STOP bullies. May I suggest talking to them? Talk to the bully. Talk to the bullied. Be aware. Be vigilant. These are our children, whether we are parents or not. Please let's save their lives and drop the media gloss for once.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Information Overload

We all grew up reading literature and viewing films loaded with allegorical science fiction, warning us all of technology getting the better of us. The essential sci-fi literature of the 20th century was published before most of us were born but it laid the groundwork for the world we are accustomed to, giving us essential concepts/ideas such as "Big Brother"/omnipresent surveillance(1984), scuba diving(20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), and artificial wombs(Brave New World), just to name a few. Eventually, Hollywood caught up and took the lead with Star Trek, The Terminator and The Matrix. Computers in these films were gruesome, world-dominating behemoths while phones were always hand-held communicators. As long as this was our reality, cell phones seemed like fun little walkie-talkies and computers were boogey-men.

In the 21st century, cell phones and computers have become one and global interconnectivity is no longer ominous. Life without a hand-held computer is now nearly impossible to conceive of. In fact, most of us seem unable to live life just once. We are compelled to report on every waking minute of it. Since we are able to do it anywhere at anytime, the experience of life is being recorded and represented creating an effect not unlike the visual effect of a picture of a person holding that picture.

Skynet is no longer a tyrant but a cute little accessory that people line up for at 5AM. It would seem that the very concepts that shook our culture are now the ultimate source of amusement. What about serious uses for us serious folk? What about blog writers who need a softer transition from their laptops? Cue the Macbooks and IPads. As for this particular blog writer, I have yet to progress from my "archaic" desktop with its "primitive" wireless internet connection. Honestly, a laptop with MSWord on it would be just fine for me but didn't they have those when I was a kid? Weren't they called Word Processors? What if I need to use the internet to research or verify something for any one of my writing projects? It seems that in this present reality, Skynet doesn't need to send any Terminators to squash dissenters. The Matrix doesn't need to enslave us in goo-filled pods to get what it needs from us nor does it need to jack us into some elaborate program to make us complacent.  No, the big baddies of yesterday merely needed to appeal to our fashion sense. Our individuality was never threatened. It is encouraged through the purchase of mini-miracle gadgets.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Karate Kids

It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. This is certainly true of martial arts and is practically a rule in Hollywood. When TV commercials first appeared for The Karate Kid, I was five years old. My mother saw the commercial one night at dinner and casually asked: “Do you wanna do that?” and I eagerly nodded my head. Five years later, I was enrolled at Golden Tiger Karate. Twenty years later, I continue to teach and train at the very same school and you know what? There is nothing new under the sun and that is exactly how it should be. In The Karate Kid, the fighting and authenticity both took a back seat to the relationship between teacher and student. The lifestyle passed from father to son, from Myagi to Daniel, was what charmed audiences and first planted the idea in parents’ heads that their daily efforts to raise their children to be good people could only be augmented by signing them up for karate lessons.

Through hard work and practice, Daniel La Russo transitioned from lost boy to young man. He was no Bruce Lee and there is no Crane Technique but he made it seem like any kid could do it. This weekend, the remake of The Karate Kid starring Will Smith’s son, Jaden Smith, was released to the sort of box office success Hollywood has been waiting for after a rather disappointing year in receipts. Set in China with Jackie Chan in the mentor role, Dre, the titular ‘Karate Kid’, is actually trained in kung fu. The goofy, fake but quaint style of action in the original is replaced by the sort of slick choreography kids today demand. The basic plot is followed rather faithfully. Most importantly, a displaced boy, younger than Daniel, is initially confused by the strange methods of his new teacher. Rather than waxing a car, painting a fence or sanding a floor, Dre puts his jacket on, takes it off, drops it and hangs it up. Sound silly? Just wait. Earlier in the film, Chan’s maintenance man, Mr. Han, witnesses a tense episode between the 12 year old Dre and his mother over his bad habit of leaving his jacket on the floor and failing to hang it properly. Of course, much like Daniel’s chores are later revealed to be karate “techniques”, the practice with the jacket turns out to be a kung fu lesson. At the same time, his mother is astonished when the same jacket is placed on its hook at home.

So, with this remake in a never-ending stream of remakes proving the aforementioned adage true many times over, what is there to take away from the experience? Might thousands of young boys and girls be begging for karate lessons after being taken to see the film? I certainly hope so. Will they be more likely to be impressed by a miniature Will Smith trading punches and kicks with bad boys and Jackie Chan? I’m sure. However, I am certain that each and every parent that takes their children to see this movie will come away with something different. They will have to identify with a mother’s frustration over the sort of mess a youngster can cause only to see or be reminded how the ancient arts of the East address the problem. Sure enough, at least one opportunistic karate franchise was stationed right inside the theater lobby offering free self defense classes, hoping to capitalize on moviegoers’ excitement. On the other hand, throughout my own personal history with the martial arts, the mission of shaping the character of young people has always been front and center. It could be learning to pick up after them selves or being more respectful to parents, both themes in this film. In a world where parents feel increasingly against all odds, allies in the war against harmful influences on their children cannot be more highly valued. Finding the right teacher may be as fateful as the encounters of Miyagi and Daniel or Mr. Han and Dre. In the end, I can guarantee that the truth of what you seek is right here, right now and certainly nothing new under the sun.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Comics: The Future of Movies

So, I saw Iron Man 2 each day of this fine weekend. The first was opening day. The 2nd was a private screening hosted by Main Street Comics. The third was with Mom for Mother's Day. Think what you will but I just had a great thought about my beloved comics. Always the underdog, dismissed as disposable shite while simultaneously broadcasting unexplored realms of invention and imagination, the medium of comics has now achieved a new milestone with the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Just to establish a little background, before Bryan Singer's X-men, there was Donner's Superman and Burton's Batman. Sure, Blade stirred the waters a bit but no one knew he was a comic book character and those who did knew he never even had his own title. Besides, it would take a hell of a lot more than Wesley Snipes to banish the memory of be-nippled Batsuits from our minds. By the time Spiderman reached the upper echelons of Hollywood's hallowed box-office top-grossers, a new era had been ushered in. As dutiful hacks played the part of skeptics and asked if it was a fad, the forces of common sense already knew the obvious. Like any other film genre, there would be good films and there would be bad films. At this point, the odyssey from Captain America with the motorcycle helmet to Captain America with the rubber ears to Captain America's shield being used as a red herring in this weekend's Iron Man 2 couldn't be a more perfect metaphor for the same quest for credibility comics are still earning the hard way.

Now, here we are, 10 years later. Superheroes are here to stay, in Hollywood that is. They have raised the bar for blockbuster action/adventure, fantasy and sci-fi. Eventually, the ruthless addiction comic fans have to smart characterization, snappy dialogue and "big picture" interconnectivity started seeping into these cinematic events and forcing the bar to raise not in response to special effects innovations but by aspiring to comics' tapestry-like approach to storytelling. And so the Marvel Cinematic Universe concept was born.

The original Iron Man film introduced moviegoers to a spy organization called S.H.I.E.LD and its intrepid leader, Nick Fury. This would be the Big Bang of the MCU. Then, following a fleeting glimpse of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence and a slightly more overt reference to the "super soldier" concept from Captain America, Robert Downey, Jr. shows up as Tony Stark at the end of The Incredible Hulk. Still with me? With Iron Man 2, we have a full-fledged supporting role for old Nick Fury and he introduces us to Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D co-founder Howard Stark and a last second clue to the mystery of how the science-based world of Tony Stark's Iron Man coincides with the more "enchanted" elements of the Marvel Universe. By 2012, we will see all of these elements and characters converge into the event film of the future: The Avengers.

So what does all this amount to besides geek porn? What exactly was my great thought? The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not just a milestone in the history of comics. It is a milestone in cinematic history. That's right. Having established itself as the treasure trove, the veritable goldmine for immensely profitable ideas, comics creators are now well on their way to ushering in a never before seen synergistic frontier. Sequels are old hat for Hollywood but franchises linked together as the basis for ONE film starring the original lead actors from each said franchise? You're welcome. Oh, and don't forget one thing. Comics have been blowing minds with the same brand of ingenuity every month for the last 75 years or so. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


You know what it stands for. When you say you're having a bad day, you have not only defined your day. You have defined yourself. That was always the case until the dawn of the current era of mass communication. Now, when you have a crappy day, you not only make it so in your mind but you repeat the process countless times in text messages, Tweets and Facebook posts. In fact, the maelstrom of daily communication, no matter how inane, has barely allowed us to take a step back and look at what we've become. Well, I have chosen these three letters as where I am taking my stand: FML. As I said, you know what it stands for. NOW is the time to take a step back. Think of what you're saying. Now think of the implications of packaging such a thought in such a neat little expression and tossing it around like it's a sigh or a yawn. Are you getting me? Am I off base? Am I out of line? Does it mean nothing? George Carlin once said that we think in language so the quality of our language affects the quality of our thoughts. How about the quality of our lives? You can have a bad experience, extrapolate it into more bad experiences by fixating on the first one, write off the rest of the day as a 'bad day' then RELIVE the entire saga in multiple electronic formats and arrive finally at the grand finale of summarily dismissing your LIFE with three letters. Just think about it, folks. I'm a passenger like all of you but we can take that step back even as fast as life can be these days. Remember the immortal words of one Ferris Bueller:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it"

Solidarity, Part 2: Fun With Personal Pronouns

I'm thinking of YOU. While I am sure the concept of solidarity is associated more with a sense of belonging to a particular group, I am using it in reference to my belonging to THE group: YOU. It is the one group we all belong to yet still can't seem to remember it. Now if you noticed I described this one group as YOU and not US, bonus points for you. WE are all members of this group but it is all too easy for the group to become YOU. THEY? Ok, that exhausts our supply of personal pronouns. Let's re-center with the last words I left you with in Solidarity, Part 1:

"The fundamental delusion of humanity is to assume that I am here and you are out there." Yasutani Roshi

Zen masters such as Roshi use the word 'mindfulness'. This word better serves this essay and any hope I have of achieving lucidity than the term 'meditation'. The wizards of popular culture and the ministers of propaganda have reduced this concept to a caricature as it does so many other useful concepts. Alas, these tiny broadcasts are subatomic particles compared to the work of those machines. Thus, while at this very moment, I may be somewhat mindful of you, all or any of you, the owners of the means of production and the satellites are rendering the very same concept as a Coke commercial. After all, they can actually show you a convincing image of the rest of the world on those flat-screens of yours. I guess I can't.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Children are not safe. Let me get back to that. Loneliness is not a passive emotion. It does not just appear but rather, it convinces you. While the choice is yours, that should not mean that we all dismiss it, ignore it or remain oblivious to it. Yet, the sad truth is that when a person has become convinced of their loneliness, they then convince the world around them as well. Now let me tell you how this blog's title and its opening statement factor in. While I lead quite a full life and thoroughly blessed, I have my reasons for hearing that call heard by the lonely. We're not talking about a "I have nothing to do tonight and no one to do it with" lonely either in case that is what's on your mind. When I declare my solidarity with this particular group of people, I do so while standing amongst those convinced of and therefore oblivious to their condition. I remain as mindful as I can be despite my own natural aversion to that state of mind.

Now, where do the children come in? Why are they not safe? It was once said to me that most people settle into who they are and will be for the rest of their life by the time high school is over. This does not mean that things stop happening to you. It just means that, for better or worse, your basic set-up is established and you're on your own. All common sense always then used to dictate that until such time, we so-called adults are supposed to cover the children. In part, this particular thread of the blog came about upon hearing reactions to the recent suicide of an Irish teen who took her own life due to "excessive bullying". See, I believe I structured that sentence to reflect the proper order of importance. Upon hearing the story, my focus settled on the girl's suicide. In my mind, this occurrence should be cause for pause. But when I have to hear people, adults, say things such as "When I was a kid, I got bullied and I didn't hang myself.", I shudder just a little bit. I almost imagine them saying that while the kid is hanging in front of them or does the always increasing distance from humanity provide the disconnect necessary to form such a thought? Children are not safe. If we can intercept terrorist communications and still be attacked from within, a la Fort Hood, what sort of urgency does the cries for help preceding a teen suicide have? Just a few days ago, the anniversary of Columbine passed us all by rather unnoticed and that couldn't be more fitting.

Our refusal to evolve as adults is literally killing us AND our children. The solidarity I refer to in this blog may be with the lonely and forgotten. It may be with the young people who are reaching out and grasping air. But don't you see? Solidarity is the whole point. Look around you. These children are everywhere. The lost are everywhere. The lonely are everywhere. You or I might not be stopping terrorists anytime soon but all it takes to stop the rain from falling on these people is to let them in. It's their party too.

"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." John Lennon

"The fundamental delusion of humanity is to assume that I am here and you are out there." Yasutani Roshi

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blog To The Future

So Im back to the blog, to blog to the future. Title reference! Since my last entry, I have gone through a change that actually involved deleting a number of blogs due to the place I was in when I wrote them. Now this is a miniscule aspect of the change and as a writer, I realize that the place one writes from is integral to the writing and not really a reason to eliminate the work. But one does have a right to edit one's life in a sense and once I unlocked the key to closing a chapter that needed closing, I did whatever the new chapter called for. I didn't mean to stop writing in this space all together but at least one major new development happened in the meantime. The notion of surrounding myself with creative people, especially writers, has been one that plenty have done their best to get through to me. Yet, the young and dumb punk in me always misconstrued the notion as elitist so I was too good for that. I know. Gag. But perhaps I shed an ounce of ignorance during this change and realized that writing never should have been the Plan B that I made it. The fact that the failure of Plan A would be the catalyst of the change I have undergone could very well have something to do with that.

As for the change itself, you could say that the final bubble of my twenties has finally burst. Gone is the pipe dream of making a difference as a teacher and established is the very directive the King himself hung around his neck: TCB. That's right, Taking Care of Business. Work is work. The dream is the dream. Whether or not they get to occupy the same space is not my focus anymore. Does this not mean I don't want to teach writing while writing myself any longer? No. But I am certainly not holding out for it. I can't afford to. This fella needs to get moving big time. So, I started to see that notion of surrounding myself with like-minded folk not as elitist but as absolutely vital to my plan of taking my talent to the next level. I applied to Fairleigh Dickinson's MFA program in Creative Writing. Not only was I accepted but I was given the Director's Award for Fiction, a distinction and monetary reward reserved for one writer showing significant promise in fiction writing. That's that.

What of employment? It turns out that the whole of my teaching experience in ALL schools I have taught in boils down to one immutable fact. My conscience is my undoing. I have known this since the time in 7th grade when all the boys snuck into the school kitchen, stole cans of soda and were able to return to the open to enjoy their drinks while yours truly immediately hid in a bathroom, gulped half the can with shaky mitts and threw out the rest. Now, saying that my conscience is my undoing may make me sound high and mighty. However, the flipside is that a certain school of thought would have me believe that I am flawed, somehow inept or disabled in my inability to eat it and grin. But it is this understanding of the "real world" that I have been told I lack that allows me to see how insidious that which thwarts us all remains and shall always be. There are no heroes and villains. It is what it is. And what it is can be everything to everyone. It will not compromise but you and I will. An old friend showed me the model of establishing the career and family while working at what you love remained separate. Whether or not that included eventual success, however measured, in the work that you love was a separate matter. Still, I had to have it all. In those twenties I mentioned, that bubble I dwelled in allowed me to judge a simple 8 hour a day, 40 hour a week paycheck and place on a pedestal the notion of holding out for the so-called "dream job" where I could make a difference for a living. Well, here's the deal. Like I said, that bubble is burst and I remain a caring person who strives to make a difference in the lives of those he loves and those who gift him with friendship and kindess. And THAT guy needs to start making a living. THAT guy doesn't need to find himself in helpless scenarios, feeling utterly futile while events, big and small, fly in the face of what he cant help but call his conscience, his principles, his standards, etc. THAT guy has learned compromise to the point where it is no longer compromise but a deliberate suppression of perception. THAT guy has finally learned to take care of himself. THAT guy has finally learned to take care of business. Thanks, King.