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Friday, 19 May 2017

The Golden-ish Girls --Episode: “Thank You for Being My Insurance Provider?”

(A Fan-Fiction Salute)

[Intro: “Thank You For Being A Friend”]
[Interior scene: Kitchen]
[Two men in suits walk into the kitchen from the garage. They carry a little old lady in a yellow robe between them. She has a boombox in one hand, a purse in the other. They set her down.]
Man #1:
So Mrs. Petrillo, you understand the mission.
Yeah, I sing my song. Then I get a big-screen TV.
Man #2:
If they like it…
[Man #1 pokes him]
I mean, after you sing it. This is the final stop -your home turf.
Of course, they’ll like. This reminds of a story...picture it, Rome, 1952. I was visiting my cousin Gina…
Man #1:
Are they out there? You want that big beautiful big-screen television, am I right?
[She walks to door leading into livingroom. She sneaks a peek and turns back]
They’re on the couch.
Man #1:
[To Sophia] Now get out there and sing your sweet little Italian grandmother butt off!
[Whispers to Man #1]You can treat me to an egg cream at Wolfie’s first. [She pinches his butt. The man looks uncomfortable.]
Man #2:
[He walks to the door, pokes his head out]
Are you ladies ready for some great entertainment?
We’re as ready as a vixen at a Chippendales convention! [Turns to Dorothy] Can you believe my sister Virginia stole that idea for her new book “Vixen Goes to Hollywood! [She picks up a book from the endtable and reads the back of it]Vixen meets a group of retired male strippers and becomes embroiled in a torrid affair with them all’. Can you believe her thievery? Now I’m glad I stole her beau at that winter cotillion that one year back in school.
Not now, Blanche! [Turns her head to the kitchen and points]
Who was that man? [Everyone ignores her]
Oh boy! Afternoon entertainment! Dorothy, is this what they call a ‘matinee’?
[sarcastically] Yes, Rose. In a minute, Dreyfuss is going to come along pulling a wagon asking us to go to the lobby and buy ice cream and Raisinets.
I like Goobers. You know the chocolate-covered peanuts in a……
[Interrupting Rose] Rose, you are a Goober.
[Sophia walks into living room. Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy just watch her as she plugs in the boombox. Sophia smiles and presses the play button.]
[Singing to the tune of "Thanks for the Memory"] "Thanks for the Medicare / For Blue Cross and Blue Shield / For a hip that finally healed /
Aetna and United Healthcare, oh such great appeal!/ We thank you so much!" Okay, what did you think? Now don't hold back, I can take the criticism.
[Unplugging her boombox and storming out] Go to hell, all of ya!
[Sophia bursts back into the kitchen]
Okay, Rodgers and Hammerstein, let’s talk about the TV.
Man #1:
Did they like it?
Sophia: Did they like it? Does the Pope love my marinara sauce? Let me tell you a story...picture it, Rome, 1970. I was visiting my cousin Gina. She gets a call from the Vatican saying the cook had food poisoning. Immediately, I jump into action. I run to the Vatican with my saucepan. I’m in such a hurry that I trip. A small child helps me to my feet. That child was...Mario Batali.
Man #2:
Ok, they hated it. I demand my TV though, I can’t be blamed for shoddy writing.
Man #1:
Ok, Mrs. Petrillo, you’ll get your TV. If anything the health insurance industry is fair and generous.
[Reaching into her purse, she pulls out a card]
You can deliver it tomorrow. Before supper….anytime before four pm.
[Man #1 takes the card and he and Man #2 walk to the door to the garage]
Man #2:
[whispers] You’re going to give her the TV?
Man #1:
[whispering back] Only a small 12-inch set. It’ll be a big screen when she sits really close to it –we’re cancelling her vision coverage next week. [He pauses, looks around, and gives a big grin] Pre-existing condition!
Man #2:
You’re my hero! [He pats Man #1 on the back. They exit.]
[Dorothy walks into the kitchen followed by Rose and Blanche]
Ma, who were those men?
[Nervously] The Hopkins twins...collecting money for their paper route...yeah, that’s it, Hopkins kids, paper route.
Ma, Sam and Mike are eleven years old.
[sarcastically] Hey, when you were eleven, the Harlem Globetrotters tried to put you on their team. Unfortunately, it was the same year you got braces. Your father worked too hard to get that metal into your mouth….plus we couldn’t find a mouthguard large enough.
I’m serious, Ma. What is going on?
They hired me to go around singing that little song in all the malls. They called it community outreach. They’re insurance lobbyists...and they’re giving me a big-screen TV.
Ma, I forbid it. I will not allow you to do this. Lowering yourself to their level. The Tv probably isn’t even real. They used you, Ma.
You won’t allow me? Oh, what will you allow me to do? [sarcastically] What will you allow me to do? Go on a date without a chaperone? Buy a wine cooler with my new ID? I’m going to my room! [She pauses and turns back] If the cute one calls, tell him I might be able to sneak out after 11:00 after you go to bed! [She storms out, slamming the kitchen door]
[Dorothy and Blanche sit down at the table. Rose pulls a cheesecake out of the fridge and brings it to the table]
Should I carry a slice to Sophia?
[sarcastically] No, Rose. We’ll let her calm herself down and read her Tiger Beat magazine first.
[Rose looks puzzled]
Will she be alright, Dorothy?
She’ll be fine. She’s just scared and angry. We both got letters from our healthcare providers saying our premiums will be going up. It’s frightening to be old and knowing your health insurance might not be affordable in a time you really need it. But we’ll make it!
Of course we will. We have each other! [She pats the other girls on the shoulder] And we’re going to get out there and change the system.
You know this reminds me of the time in St.Olaf when Johan Higgehlooper tried to get universal udder insurance for his dairy cows. You see Johan had really dry skin on his hands and everytime…
Dorothy and Blanche:
[Together] Oh, shut up, Rose!
[Credits roll]

Thursday, 11 May 2017


      Malcolm had barely been awake for five minutes when he heard the soft footsteps in the hallway headed toward him. The door opened and his granddaughter rushed to the bed, bouncing on the covers.
     “Happy tire mint, grandaddy!”
     He patted her on the head and reached for his glasses. “It’s called ‘retirement’, Maya, and thank you!”
     “Maya, did you wake up your grandfather?” Malcolm’s wife, Loretta, stood in the doorway, her arms crossed.
     “No, Nana, he was already woked up.”
     She crossed over to the bed and gave Malcolm a kiss. She then picked up Maya.
     “We’ll let you get yourself together and then you can join us for breakfast”, she said to him and then looked at Maya. “How about waffles this morning?”
     “Yes, waffles, please, “ Maya replied.
     “How about waffles?” Loretta asked Malcolm.
     “Well, why not! Woo hoo! It’s my big day!” He held up his hands and gave them a wave.
     “Woo hoo!” shouted Maya, waving her little hands too.
     Loretta grabbed Maya and walked to the door. She turned back to Malcolm and gave him a small smile, then left.
     Malcolm sank back into the pillow. This was his last day at work. He let out a sigh. He had accomplished so much in the past fifty years and he never guessed he’d make it to this day. But he was going to simply treat it like any other day. He had one last Restitution to preside over, then no more. It was actually a good thing that he could pass the responsibility on to James, his deputy. Malcolm knew that he had secured his place in history when the government had adopted his idea of Restitution for criminals. It had been the project of a lifetime. He had to now let it go. He felt it was time.

     Maya was dabbing a piece of waffle into her syrup when Malcolm walked into the kitchen. Loretta walked over to him and gave him a cup of coffee.
     “You should just stay home with me and Maya,” she told him. “What can they do? Fire you?”
     “Let me have this last day and one last Restitution. We’ve already discussed this.”
     “Oh, I know. But you haven’t had to go to any Restitutions in years. You’re only a figurehead at the company anyway, they would be fine with you…”
     “You think I’ll decide not to retire...”
     “I just want you all to myself now,” Loretta leaned in and gave him a kiss. “Now let’s get some homemade waffles into you to start your big day.”
     “I hope we’ve got some juicy sausage or bacon, too.”
     Loretta frowned as she held up a blue and white package. “Only this,” she replied.
     “Not that fake stuff...not today of all days!”
     “I tried to get some real bacon, my dear, but Orlon’s has stopped carrying it. I talked to the manager but he said that it was too much trouble with all the new laws and everything.”
     Malcolm sighed and thought about the days before animals were thought to be feeling sentient creatures. He wished for the time when pigs were ham, bacon, chops, and sausage, and not emotional beings with rights. Since most industrial nations had given animals rights and banned slaughtering animals for food, the United States had seen a huge rise in meat prices and a move toward similar laws concerning animal welfare. The food corporations had begun to cut their ties with the animal farming operations, converting to meat substitutes. The fresh water crisis only sped up the process – it took too much water to raise food animals. Some called it progress, Malcolm called it madness.

     Malcolm worked for the National Prison Agency. Thirty years ago, he had lobbied for a change in polices concerning capital punishment. He himself had put forth the idea of Restitution as a graduate student in college, but it wasn’t taken seriously until the drug crisis occurred.
     Companies had started to end production of the drugs used in lethal injection executions. Some states had stockpiled the drugs for future use, but eventually those supplies began to drop. States began looking into other methods – firing squads, hanging, even the guillotine had been considered -but all were considered to be painful, drawn-out processes. Others had begun looking to ban capital punishment altogether, bowing to anti-capital punishment activists.
     One of Malcolm’s friends in college had remembered his graduate work and talked to a senator about it. Malcolm was called to Washington to explain his ideas. A few years later, the National Prison Reform Act was passed and Malcolm was chosen to implement Prisoner Restitution as a cornerstone of the reforms. “Capital punishment” was replaced by “Restitution” and states readily accepted this humane practice.
Malcolm walked into his office. He noticed a large book on his desk. He walked over and opened the cover.
     “The Victim’s Liaison Office went back through their files and put that together for you,” said his assistant Janine, poking her head through the doorway. She walked in and set down some papers. “I need you to sign these.” She looked at the inscription inside the book. “Letters from over the years from crime victim’s families praising the Restitutions they had gone through. That was real sweet of them.”
     “I’ll have to pop down and thank them later.”
     “Don’t forget you’re having lunch with the commissioner before the Restitution.” Janine tapped the papers lightly, reminding Malcolm to sign them. Malcolm adjusted his glasses, then took out his pen from his briefcase. “Your retirement party is a 5:30,” she reminded him. She then whispered, “ on’t be late. I hear there will be appearances by some bigwig politicians – maybe a vice-president – but you didn’t hear it from me.”
     “Oh, Janine.”
     “Some people think you’re a big deal, Boss.”
     “Not after today.”

     Malcolm did very little work. Most of the morning was spent accepting best wishes and congratulations from colleagues and taking phone calls saying pretty much the same. Lunchtime was spent with the prison commissioner and a few select VIPs in the prison industry. Restitution had proven to be a quite profitable option. Two hours later, Malcolm rushed away to his last Restitution.

     Malcolm got to the Restitution Center as they were bringing in Jimmy McKinzey for his Restitution. He entered the chamber as a nurse judged Jimmy’s dosage of Calmicolizine. The prisoner looked at him and meekly smiled – the effects of the drug given to him at his last meal. Malcolm silently burped – the effect of too much fake steak at his last meal. Malcolm was glad that most prisoners were now given sedatives and other drugs, it made it easier to deal with them. He was thankful the drug companies had introduced programs to medicate prisoners, it had made prisons calmer places, almost like schools.
     People slowly began to appear in the chamber – Jimmy’s attorney, the victim’s family, the commissioner, and others. Malcolm sat down at the large table across from Jimmy. He looked at his watch, it was time to start.
     An officer called the chamber to order. Malcolm shuffled through his papers and then looked up at Jimmy.
     “James Arthur McKinzey, inmate number 45629D, you have been called forth to this chamber for your Restitution. Do you understand that today you have to pay for your crimes against Nathalie Howe, who you brutally murdered last year, and provide restitution to her surviving family? Do you comply?”
     Jimmy stared at him for a second. “I do,” he said, with a slight slur.
     “As the verdict has been made and the prisoner understands that restitution has to be paid to the satisfaction of the victim’s family, to this state, and to this nation, according to the law. Your assets have already been transferred to the victim’s family in the amount of $3, 235.00; as a balance is still outstanding, we will proceed with the Restitution.” Malcolm turned and motioned to the two officers standing behind him. Jimmy made no show of emotion.
     The officers walked over to Jimmy and helped him to his feet.
     “James Arthur McKinzey, proceed to make your Restitution.”
     The officers escorted Jimmy to a curtained side of the chamber. They led him through the curtain into a small antechamber, followed by Malcolm. Meanwhile, inside the large chamber a large screen appeared from behind a wooden panel and the lights were lowered. A camera in the antechamber flashed, signaling that it had begun transmitting the event to the large screen.
     The officers placed Jimmy onto a slightly-inclined large metal slab, jutting out from the wall. Malcolm pulled over a stool and sat down beside Jimmy.
     “Time for your Restitution, James.”
     Jimmy slowly turned to look at Malcolm. He looked into Malcolm’s eyes and smiled.
     “Do you understand?” Malcolm asked, and slightly shaking his own head.
     Jimmy gave a shallow shake of his head, then grinned.
     “He’s ready.” Malcolm gave a sign to the officers standing near the slab.
     One of the officers moved a console close to Malcolm. The other officer reached up and pulled down a swing arm to which was attached a headset. Three large cylinders protruded out from the headset. Malcolm placed the headset onto Jimmy’s forehead. He adjusted it over Jimmy’s eyes and secured some straps which encircled Jimmy’s head. The other officer secured a strap across Jimmy’s chest and his legs.
     “Okay, Jimmy, I want you to count down from ten with me.” Malcolm pressed a few buttons on the console. “Okay, now we will start. Count with me. Ten...nine...eight...” The man slurred the number eight. Malcolm pressed a red button. There was a soft thud and a wisp of smoke appeared above the cylinders. There was a shudder across the man’s entire body as three bolts were driven into his brain, as was once done to cattle and pigs in slaughterhouses. There was no seven.
     “The law places the value of $488,000.00 on human life. Today, James Arthur McKinzey paid that ultimate price toward his debt. There can be no outstanding balance and Restitution has been paid,” said Malcolm, after turning to the camera which had shown the event to the people in the chamber. Malcolm paused and removed his glasses. “I would also like to say this is the last Restitution I shall preside over. I am glad that I have helped give closure to the family of victims over the years and that I have offered to the world a quick and painless method to implement justice. May we never go back to old days of needless and drawn-out suffering again. Thank you.” The camera light then signaled the end of the transmission.
     There was loud bell, and the nurse appeared. She placed a mask over Jimmy’s nose and mouth. There was a slight buzz and she placed a device on Jimmy’s chest. She pulled a display panel from the side of the slab. The slab was raised parallel to the floor. A hatch opened in the wall and there was a rush of cold air. The slab moved into the hatch, then closed quickly after Jimmy’s body disappeared inside.
     “Thank you, Nurse Greene. My office will finish the paper work and send in on.” The nurse nodded and left.
     Malcolm would now leave the organ harvesting and all to the medical division. The victim’s family would receive their commissions, and Jimmy’s body could realize a big return in compensation for them. There was still so much paperwork, but he was not too worried about it. It’s a job for someone else now, he thought. He had a retirement party to attend.

Monday, 3 April 2017

A Celebration Feast of Blue Willow

Bertil Wreting/Fototeket/Nationalmuseum, Sweden

The Legend of Blue Willow

Long ago in China, there lived a very wealthy mandarin. He had a beautiful daughter named Koong Shee. The beautiful, young girl was the promised bride of Ta-Jin, a very old but wealthy merchant. The young girl however, fell in love with her father's secretary, a young man named Chang. Koong Shee and Chang would meet in secret beneath a large Willow tree and dream of their future together. Koong Shee was of noble descent and Chang was a mere commoner. So the young couple, no matter how great their love, would never be allowed to wed.
When the girl's father found out about their secret meetings, he was furious. He banished Chang and forbade his daughter from ever seeing Chang again. Koong Shee would sit beneath the Willow tree that had once been a place of joy and would quietly weep. Her heart was filled with pain. Not only had she lost Chang but Ta-Jin was a wicked man and a very difficult person to please. Koong Shee longed to see her handsome, young Chang and her thoughts would fill with the happiness they shared while sitting in this very same spot together.
As the day of the wedding drew near, Chang returned. He sent a message with Koong Shee's maid to meet him by the Willow tree. As Chang approached, he saw his beautiful Koong Shee sitting beneath the tree. Chang rushed to her side and once more held Koong Shee in his arms. They were so very much in love and did not want to be separated ever again. Chang and Koong Shee finally decided to elope and get married without her fathers permission. As they were starting to leave together, Koong Shee's father saw them and chased after the pair. The young couple raced across the bridge to a waiting boat and sailed away.
A storm developed and the boat sank at sea. Suddenly from out of the storm flew two snow white doves. Seeing the young couple's love for one another, the gods transformed Koong Shee and Chang into two beautiful white doves. These two doves have lived on forever and can still be seen today flying high above the Willow Tree where Koong Shee and Chang first pledged their love.

The Willow Legend
from the International Willow Collectors 1993 pamphlet

Long ago in China, in a magnificent pavilion surrounded by fruit trees, lived a Mandarin, his daughter Koong-shee and his young secretary, Chang. Chang and Koong-shee fell in love, but Chang was only a commoner, and she the daughter of a noble. Still, their love grew, and they met beneath a willow tree in the garden. But the Mandarin discovered their secret. Enraged, he banished Chang, and imprisoned Koong-shee by circling the pavilion with a zig-zag fence. Then he promised her hand to the Ta-Jin, a noble man far older than she.
Not long afterward, the Ta-Jin arrived in pomp and the wedding feast began. Wine flowed freely. When all grew sleepy with the wine, Chang crept into the pavilion, and he and Koong-shee fled through the hushed rooms, carrying a casket of her jewels. But just as they reached the outer door the Mandarin awoke, and in a drunken rage pursued them across the little bridge that spans the river. Koong-shee carried her distaff, a symbol of virginity; Chang carried the jewels; and the Mandarin followed, brandishing a whip. But the lovers escaped the Mandarin, hiding in the small pavilion at the far side of the bridge.
Here lived Koong-shee's maid and her husband, the Mandarin's gardener. They hated the tyrant, and welcomed the lovers in their home. But the Mandarin discovered them, and Chang and Koong-shee were forced to flee once more. They poled a tiny boat down the Yang-Tze until they came to a small island. Here, they thought they would be safe. Selling the casket of jewels, they bought the island, and built a lovely pavilion on it. Chang tilled the land until it blossomed with every kind of fruit and vegetable. So successful were his agricultural ventures, Chang wrote a book about how to cultivate the land. This book became so well known throughout China that even the Ta-Jin heard of it. Guessing who the author was, he sent his soldiers to the island, determined to avenge himself on the man who had stolen his bride-to-be.
The Ta-Jin's soldier came upon Chang as he was working his fields and slew him. Koong-shee, who had watched the entire scene from afar, rushed into their pavilion and set it afire, determined to be with Chang in death as she had been in life. The gods, looking down on the tragedy, took pity on the lovers and transformed them into a pair of earthly but immortal lovebirds. Until this day, we can see the faithful Chang and Koong-shee, flying high over the willow tree. Their story lives forever on the Willow-pattern plate.

The Willow Pattern Plate

by Horace Hutchinson, Westminster Gazette, Jan 1, 1912

Betty in her kitchen broke a willow pattern plate.
I spoke to her severely, but I spoke a moment late
To save those little people from a very dreadful fate
Whose fortune's told in blue upon the willow pattern plate.
Two blue little people come running, together
Across a blue bridge, in the sunshiny weather,
They run from a garden, where stands a blue tree
Above the house of a wealthy Chinese.
The one is maiden, the other her lover

A blue weeping willow hang half the bridge over.
Behind, in pursuit, comes papa with a whip,
But they're over the bridge, and aboard the blue ship
That her lover has moored by the strand of the sea

With a shove off the shore, from his wrath they are free.
Now deep in the water their oars they are plying,
While high in the heaven the blue doves are flying.
To his blue island home her lover with waft her,
And there they will happily live ever after.
This is the story of the willow pattern plate,
So please be very careful-though it's only one and eight

And remember that you have in hand a very precious freight
When you carry from the kitchen a willow pattern plate.

The Legend of the Plate

Author Unknown

My Willow ware plate has a story, Pictorial, painted in blue
From the land of the tea and the tea plant
And the little brown man with the queue.
What ever the food you serve, daughter
Romance enters into the feast,
If you only pay heed to the legend,
On the old china ware plate from the East.
Koong Shee was a mandarin's daughter
And Chang was her lover, ah me,
For surely her father's accountant
Might never wed pretty Koong Shee
So Chang was expelled from the compound,
The lovers' alliance to break,
And pretty Koong Shee was imprisoned
In a little blue house by the lake.
The doughty old mandarin reasoned
It was time that his daughter should wed,
And the groom of his choice should banish
That silly romance from her head.
For years had great artists been stitching
In symbols the dress she should wear,
Her headband of scarlet lay waiting,
She should ride in a gold wedding chair.
He was busily plotting and planning,
When a message was brought him one day,
Young Chang had invaded the palace,
And taken his sweetheart away.
They were over the bridge when he saw them,
They were passing the big willow tree,
And a boat at the edge of the water
Stood waiting for Chang and Koong Shee.
The furious mandarin followed
The Groom with revenge in his eyes,
But the little boat danced on the water
And traveled away with the prize.
But vengeance pursued to their shelter
And burned the pagoda, they say
From out of the flames rose the lovers
A pair of doves winging away.
They flew toward the western heavens
The pretty Koong Shee and her Chang
Or so says the famous old legend
From the land of the Yangtze Kiang,
I wouldn't be one to deny it,
For the little blue dove and her mate
Forever are flying together
Across my Willow ware plate.

An Old Stafford-shire Rhyme

Two pigeons flying high,
Chinese vessels sailing by,
Weeping willows hanging o'er,
Bridge with three men, if not four,
Chinese temple, there it stands,
Seems to take up all the land.
Apple tree with apples on,
A pretty fence to end my song. 

Blue Willow china, c. late 1800s, various manufactures, Lahaina Heritage Museum

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Most Difficult Thing For Mankind

Humans are capable of doing grand things. We build monumental feats of engineering. We crystallize our ideas and imaginations into books. We travel at breath-taking speeds. We even leave our own planet to explore the heavens above. However, we still view the world according to our own immediate environment. We see the world usually as our home, family, and friends...simply put, whatever is comforting and familiar to us. Of course, there are the explorers, the people who expand beyond the immediate; yet, still, for many of us humans going outside this, we feel fear, hate, intolerance, all those negative things. We are afraid of what we don’t understand and what is different. Religion helps many of us to make sense of all we don’t understand. Yet we even take religion and mold it into something familiar, comforting, routine.

God knows what we humans are like.

We have created a million ways to seek God and the ultimate truths. A million sacred texts to find the answers and the way. Once you take out all the man-made stuff—Bible interpretations, traditions, requirements, customs, doctrine, and all that generates fear and misgiving or that forces you to conform to a man-made idea of what religion should do or be --you are left with something simple. Something so simple we humans can’t seem to collectively grasp it.

That simple thing is for us to get along and love one another. It is not to fear what is strange and new. It is wanting us all to work together. It is treating others the way we wish to be treated. It is wanting us to really love one another and seek peace. You can see for the entirety of human history, we have fought this simple idea of true peace. Wars, terrorism, greed, slavery, genocide, hatred, mutilation, intolerance, the pains of humanity have been "business as usual" for the human race since it has existed. We even quote Bible verses to say there will always be war and rumors of wars. We kill other religions and ideas to push our own agendas. We blindly follow leaders who tell us to hate. We applaud greed as necessary. We say we speak for God when we want violence to comfort our fear.

Maybe what God only wants for us and from us is for us allevery person, every race, every nation, every faith, everyone— to simply get along and love each other...because He knew that that would ultimately be the most difficult thing we would ever have to do.