Constructing the Drama (2)

We are examining the plot catalysts for the common drama.  The acronym to remember is C FAIMM PHADE (see fame fade).  We now continue our practical examples with the first M in FAIMM.

M stands for Mischief- The door to the darkened office opens casting a beam of light to the far wall.  A man sits behind the desk hands folded in front of his mouth.  Czarina slips in and activates the light. (Cue the Scene)

 Czarina:  (Seems startled to see Geoff.)  “What are you doing here?”

 Geoff:  “It’s my office and the writers haven’t given me a dysfunctional home life yet.”  (Pauses and adjusts his tie.)  “What are you doing here?”

 Czarina:  “Well, I came to conduct some insider trading using your computer.”

 Geoff:  (Stands) “But Czarina, I have a password on my computer.  How have you been able to get access?”

 Czarina:  “Well Geoff, I just typed in your birthday.  Please, don’t tell my FBI agent husband, Gregg.”

 Geoff:  “Only if you can keep my secret.  My real name is Jeff.  J-E-F-F.”

 Czarina:  (Drops jaw in shock.) 

 End Scene.

M (2) stands for Mystery- Sebastian’s slumped form drapes his desk.  There is a trickle of fake blood coming from the corner of one mouth.  All the other actors are circling “the body” which is obviously still breathing. (Cue the Scene)

 Natalie:  “Who could have shot Sebastian?”

 Dartainian:  “Well, (begins pointing at actors around the room) Bart owns a weapon that could be used for murder, Delilah is his jilted, dark mistress, Renaldo has hated Sebastian from birth, and Julian is the vengeful wife.  (Takes a deep breath and keeps pointing.)  Sebastian stole Tiberian’s life savings.  Basil is angry over a business deal gone horribly wrong.  And the pizza boy received no tip.” 

 Dartainian: “Ok!  Who’s contract is nearly up with the network?”

 No one raises their hands.

 Dartainian:  (Hands upraised in exasperation.)   Ok, fine!  It’s a dream sequence!  (All shrug and begin talking amongst themselves.  Dartainian wipes the fake blood from Sebastian’s mouth.)  “Ok, hold still.  We’re about to make the screen go all wavy for a minute then you wake up and rub your head ok?”

 End Scene.

P stands for Power Struggle- In the opulent boardroom of a powerful company; Benjamin and Franklin sit across form each other wearing perfectly tailored suits.  There is a stern look on both faces.  (Cue the scene.)

Benjamin:  “You cannot stop me from taking a controlling interest in Wacko Novelty Company and switching our paddleball production from China to Mexico thus increasing our sales to the important Hispanic community.”

Franklin:  (Lip curls in disgust.)  You make me sick with your run on sentences and mad dash for mastery of the world of novelty toys!  Well, I won’t let you!  Our Chinese facility also produces chopsticks and I must have genuine chopsticks!”

Benjamin:  Ha!  It’s too late for that!  I’ve been secretly taking the erasers off the office pencils and slipping them into your take out!  Ha, ha, ha!”

Franklin:  (Dumbfounded look on face.)

End Scene.

H stands for Health Handicap–  A patient is lying in a hospital bed with a woman leaning over his immobile form.  (Cue scene.)

Dew:  (clasps hands to her chest)  “Oh Royal, how will I be able to continue our feud with the Throneberrys without your manipulative harmonic voice?  I know the doctor said you will be ok otherwise but you’re an actor!  (Closes eyes)  Why does voice cancer have to be so cruel!?”

Director:  (Steps in from side of picture.)  “CUT!”  (Motions to actress)  “Barbara, look, we need to see a little more angst from you.  You look like a mannequin.”

Dew:  “I’m sorry Jack!  I just received my vitamin infused, partially organic Botox shot.”

End Scene.

A stand for Abuse (Personal)- A girl is crying with her knees pulled up to her chest.  It’s dark in her room and there are tattered stuffed animals everywhere.  She straightens suddenly with the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs.  Fright marks her face.  A large man enters the room.

Brutus: “I heard Mr. Fat Paw knocked over your milk during supper tonight.”  (Cracks knuckles)  “I’m here to punish.”

Alex-Alexia:  (Grabs several of the larger animals)  “No, daddy please don’t!”

Brutus:  (reaches over and grabs Alex-Alexia’s arm, pulls it open, and takes the large bear.)  “Maybe someday you’ll listen!”  (Begins punching bear in chest.  Squeak sound.)

Alex-Alexia:  (Throws a stuffed rabbit at her father.)  “No, daddy!  Please stop!”  (Rabbit bounces off Brutus’s face.  He stops punching bear.)

Brutus:  “Owww!  Darn it Alex-Alexia, one of those rabbit’s ears poked my eye and now my contacts out!  Help me find it.”  (Both begin searching for it.  Mr. Fat Paw silently kicks it under the dresser.)

End Scene.

D stands for Depression or Depressing Circumstances-  Father opens the door with slumped shoulders and a depressed look on his face.  He walks into the living room where his son is hooked up to a MP3 player and the latest handheld video game.  The daughter is watching the latest movie on an eight-foot wide plasma screen TV with a state-of-the-art sound system.  The wife is dressed in exotic French fashion.

Father:  “Folks I’ve got bad news.  I’ve lost my job as a TV executive and because I have no other marketable skills we’re now poor.”

(Daughter and son fail to hear.)  Wife: (drips a bit of spaghetti sauce on dress.  Giggles)  “Oops, I guess I’ll need to catch a flight to Paris tomorrow.  What can you do when you need new clothes?”

Father:  “No honey, I don’t think you heard me.  I said I lost my job.  We don’t have any money any more.”

Wife:  (Slightly puzzled look on her face.) “Well, as a family we will come together to overcome these tough times thus growing more mature.  Hmmm, they didn’t take your credit cards did they?”

Father:  (Perking up.)  “Wait!  No they didn’t!  We’ve overcome!”

Daughter and Son:  “Keep it down!”

End Scene. 

E stands for Excess of Money, Power, or Ego-   The view opens to a courtroom.  Many attractive people are jammed into the seats.  Peanut and soda venders walk up and down the isle quietly peddling their food.  A lawyer stands before the jury and the judge. 

Rathbert:  “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all come here today to see how eloquently I manage to defend justice from those who would lift her skirt.”  (winks to one of the jury) 

Rothchild:  (Other lawyer stands and pounds his table.)  “I object!  No one is more important here than I am!  And if anyone is going to grope justice then it’ll be me!”

Judge Eugene:  “Porceed…uh, both of you.”

Rothchild:  “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we don’t have superheroes in real life and they really aren’t popular during prime time so I’m here to defend any and all with the ten legal terms they taught me at the world famous Gary Coleman School for the Performing Arts.”

Rathbert:  “E Pluribus Unum!  I invoke Tempus Fugit!”

Rothchild:  “Superheroes also work for free, which makes them inferior because everyone knows you get what you pay for.”

Rathbert:  (Leans over to the aid and whispers loud enough for everyone to hear.)  “Sanders, go get my Latin dictionary and a book of cool sounding presidents.”

Sanders:  “You mean precedents?”
Rathbert:  (Stands) “Your honor I propose a mistrial.  My lunch reservations at La Porta will expire in about a half hour.  The statute of limitations directly states that you can’t do that.”  (Rathbert’s client looks aghast.  She’s about to say something when the judge speaks.) 

Judge Eugene:  “Sustained.  I’ll strike down the law as unconstitutional and then we’ll make it to lunch.”  (Smashes gavel.)  “Nice work gentlemen.”

End Scene.

Remember, that’s C FAMME PHADE or “See Fame Fade.”  It’s the key to your successful drama!

Note: will be in the incubator for the next two days.  A new Buffalo Rind will appear on Saturday and a fresh Dodo Egg on Monday.

(Also note: comments are closed to to receiving an extraordinary amount of spam.)

Constructing the Drama (1)

Hello! This handy guide can usher any unemployed couch potato to the lofty ranks of the Senior Network Program Executive Coordinator.  All you need is a suit, the ability to recycle old ideas, and a willingness to move to New York or California.  Remember, CREATIVITY IS NOT A REQUIREMENT.

Consider this, executives commonly pass on show concepts that wind up as smash hits on other networks.  Nearly every network passed on the phenomenon that became “Yiddish Idol” until Fox picked it up.  Could you have missed the next television sensation by letting it waltz right under you nose?  We say, “Yes!”

What about all the terrible shows that these same executives try to pass on an unsuspecting public each season?  With such a high percentage of sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows failing, we are confident that you can also give the green light to the next big flop.  We say, “Yes!”

Chapter 1- The Art of the Drama
Section 3 – Plot Catalysts

Now that your concept has been created (Setting The Drama), you have selected your “Love Level” (Loving the Drama), and you have created a working mock-up (Loving the Drama – Lab) you’re finally ready to flesh in the show.  All you need to remember is the handy acronym; C FAIMM PHADE pronounced, “See fame fade.”  This will be on the test.

C stands for Conflict of Interest- Swen is standing alone on a balcony overlooking Los Angeles.  Behind him a cocktail party continues without him.  The French doors open and the beautiful Shade joins him.  (Cue the Scene)

 Shade –  “It’s a beautiful night.  I love these fresh ocean breezes.  Why don’t you come in and try a cigar?  Tobias has cracked out the Cubans.”

 Swen – (Turns with constipated look on his face.)  “Shade, (dramatic pause) I just bought two hundred shares of stock in the Sugar Rush Candy Company.  It was too good a deal to pass up.”

 Shade- (Look of disbelief)  “No, Swen, but you’re a dentist!”

 End Scene.

F stands for Family Trouble- A normal nuclear family sits around a dinning room table enjoying meatloaf.  Dad is tanned, Mom has obviously had plastic surgery, the young woman is wearing a designer blouse, and junior has perfectly tussled hair. (Cue the Scene)

 Mom:  (to girl)  “Porcelain, what’s wrong?  You haven’t touched your meatloaf.”

 Porcelain:  “It’s my date to the prom, Brick.  He’s getting a limo and renting a tux and taking me to a private party after the dance.  He’s also hinting he wants more than just a kiss after the evening is done.”

 Mom:  (confused)  “What?  That doesn’t sound like Brick, maybe I should call his mother?”

 Porcelain:  (Stands up in a huff then yells.)  “You just don’t understand me!”  (Stomps off)

  End Scene.
A stands for Abuse or Abusive- Two woman and a haggard looking man are sitting at a small table outside a café. (Cue the Scene) 

Herculina:  (sips a cup of coffee)  “Denzel, I’m concerned.  You just don’t seem yourself.”

Denzel:  (Groggy and disheveled)  “I don’t need your help!

Dew:  “You don’t get out like you used to.”

Denzel:  (stands up, jumps over the short iron fence that separates the café’s tables from the busy street.)  “I said there’s nothing wrong!  Leave me alone!”  (Runs into traffic and is struck by a bus.)

Dew:  (sips from her coffee)  “Let’s plan an intervention next week.  It’ll help boost ratings.”

End Scene.

Note: To add a genuine feel to your addiction scenes, ask your actors what recreational drugs they are currently enjoying then film them without make up.

I stands for Identity Issues- Iliad and Odyssey (yes, twins) are standing in a busy hallway between classes. 

Note:  Real school halls are filled with loud mobs.  The actresses are able to have a conversation because all the other students (extras) are racing by mouthing the word “watermelon” over and over again.  Low-level crowd noise is pumped in during postproduction.  (Cue the Scene)

Iliad: (Her hair is in a bun.  She’s wearing too much make up.  Her polka-dotted skirt has ruffles and her t-shirt says, “I brake for yodeling.”  She has very thick, ugly glasses.)  “I’m just not pretty.  No one will ever ask me to the prom.  I’m not like you.”

Odyssey:  (Stands next to her sister in the latest fashion with guys checking her out as they walk by.)  “But we’re twin sisters you moron!  We can look exactly the same and I have guys hanging all over me!”

Iliad:  (hangs her head.)  “Yea, but that’s you.  You’re popular and all the guys think you’re hot.  That’s just not me.”

Odyssey:  (Eyes widen.)  “But we’re identical twins!!”

End Scene.

(Part Two tomorrow.)

Cold Water

There aren’t too many things better for a middle-aged man’s ego than when PYTs (Pretty Young Things) look at him and giggle.  (I mean that is the positive sense, of course.)  They may look a bit too long and the brave ones may even wave.

It seems unlikely but this has happened to me before.  Being married, how am I to react?  Disgust?  Confusion?  Giddiness?  I wind up giving them a flat smile and go back about my business.     

(Sometimes I would casually mention these encounters around Mrs. Teply.  I would smile, chuckle a bit, and raise my eyebrows.  This is why I’ve never bothered to take an IQ test.  Anyone stupid as I am would be profoundly disappointed with the results.  Egad!)

During this last summer, a couple of PYTs were sitting in chairs near the edge of the shallow pool.  I was on the stand nearby watching dutifully over the lives of small children.  I knew they were sitting there but I wasn’t paying them any sort of special attention.  When the rotation finally came around, Rachel took the rescue tube from me and waited for me to hop down.

Hey, Mr. T” She whispered.  “Those girls over next to the shallow zone are really checking you out.”

Thank you Rachel.  And how should his affect my behavior?”

Rachel took on a nonchalant expression.  “Well, I don’t know.  I’m just telling you because I thought you’d want to know.”

The knowledge did change my behavior a bit.  Instead of my casual, lackluster saunter back to the guardroom, I used my trusty straight posture, commanding stride.  There’s a difference but you may only notice if you were an aficionado.

Another twenty minutes and the rotation returned Rachel to the guardroom.  “My my Mr. T, I noticed you used your patented constipated, purposeful pace on the way back to the guardroom.  I think they were watching you.”

“Alright, you caught me straightening my posture, big deal.”

Are you going to walk by again?  I’d kind of like to see your gritty, stoic amputee.  Yea, I’d bet those girls would like that too.”

No,” I replied.  “In fact, I think I’ll but an end to all this right now.”  Then I raised my voice to gather the attention of the other guards (mostly female).  “There’s an easy way to dump cold water on this whole deal.  Are you ready?”

Go ahead, Mr. T.”  Rachel replied.

Then think about this.  I’m closer in age to forty than I am twenty.”

For females who hadn’t graduated from high school or were only a couple of years into college (that being everyone within earshot), “forty” equated to “old man.” 

The looks on Rachel and the other’s faces changed instantly.  It looked as if they were fitting me for a coffin.  “Boy Mr. T, you’re sure right about the cold water thing.”

Interview with Jared Laroosi

Miss Nomer:  Hello to my worldwide audience!  My name is Miss Nomer and I’m coming to you live from the beautiful penthouse offices of in busy downtown Manhattan!  I bring you the cutting edge interviews with all the Z list celebrities! 

Today, I’m sitting here with one of the Internet’s most notorious thugs, Mr. Jared Laroosi.

Jarad L:  (adjusts his booster seat and straightens) Thank you Miss Nomar and yes, I am exceedingly dangerous.

Miss Nomer:  Let’s see here, you are only five foot three and a whopping one hundred twelve pounds yet you nearly make a living as a professional bully.  Tell us how.

Jarad L:  Well, it all started when I was a young man.  (Laughs a bit and shakes head.)  I’m telling you, being such a small guy is no picnic.  (deepens voice)  I had to go the  “Little Big Man” route to get any attention.  You know, being extra loud and wearing loud clothes.  But I was better at being abusive than loud.

Because I was so physically lacking, I had to make up for it somehow with personality, style, or expensive toys.  Like I said, the “Little Big Man” thing.  As it turns out, I have the personality of a leach, the pizzazz of a Star Trek convention, and I stuff my wallet with coupons.  (Pauses a bit)  That I cut from my mom’s woman’s magazines.  (Pauses again)  I guess I didn’t need to mention that.

Miss Nomer:  Ok, you don’t have the blatantly obvious characteristics that make men respect you and women take notice of you.  But the Internet helped you…

Jarad L:  (Interrupting.)  I’m also pretty stupid.  I can fill out a personal classified add with words to spare.  (Does the quotation gesture with both hands)  Single White Male seeks Any Female. Enjoys being mean, long arguments in the park, and sending food back in cozy restaurants.

Miss Nomer:Soooo (Rolls eyes a bit), the Internet thing.  You’re a cyber bully despite the fact that you barely weight enough to depress a key.  Care to explain?

Jarad L:  Wait, I want to show you my tattoo.  (Pulls up sleeve to reveal a dark purple bruise across his bicep.)  What do you think of that?

Miss Nomer:  Wow!  What did you do to yourself?  That looks terrible!

Jarad L:  I already told you.  (Puts sleeve back down.)  It’s a tattoo but my arm is so thin the ink began bleeding through and showing up on the other side of my arm.  It was supposed to be barbed wire but now it’s just a swirling mist.  (Pauses then louder.)  Of Internet Death!

Miss Nomer:  Speaking of that…

Jarad L:  Fine!  I send scathing emails to corporations and businesses large and small.  I complain about their service and the attractiveness of their employees.  The Internet has been a real boon since I don’t have to come up with a good lie on the spot.  Remember, I’m not very smart.  When I complain I’m sketchy on the details and a lot of times they wind up sending me coupons and gift certificates.   

When I’m not doing that, I like to get in chat rooms and bark strong opinions at anyone elsoe online.  (Gets excited and starts pounding the table.  No ripples formed in his coffee.)  Yea!  It’s great to royally chew people out when they can’t get to you.  I’ve got like, seventy different abusive monologues that I can simply copy and paste into emails and posts!  You will hear from me and your eyes will burn!

Miss Nomer:  So what’s the value on these fraudulently earned certificates?

Jarad L:  Oh, not much.  My favorite one was the free pass to the zoo after I complained that the ticket staff didn’t make animal noises when I asked them to.

Miss Nomer:  What was so special about the zoo?

Jarad L:  Cussing at the animals but only the ones whose cages I know are locked.

He’s Not Sane, He’s My Brother

Morning arrives at the household of Nathan Teply.  Bare-chested and unshaven, he wanders into the kitchen at the same time as his older brother Matt.  Nate pulls the milk out and a couple of spoons while Matt struggles to find the cabinet that keeps the bowls. 

Nate looks on amused by Matt’s fruitless search.  “Hey dummy, there right over there.  Yea, right there.  Way to go genius.”

Matt lets the bowls drop onto the countertop a little extra hard.  “You realize you just called me stupid and smart in the same breath.”

“But the sarcasm is all the same dude.”

The cereal (New!  Sugar Coated Colon Flow!) and milk are poured.  Nate’s bowl is a heaping mound of dry flakes with a “ditch” dug into the edge facing his chest.  Milk pools at the bottom completely overwhelmed by the three-inch pile of flakes.  Matt pours a small, level bowl of cereal then drowns it in milk.

Matt comes to a quick and sure conclusion.  “You’re eating that wrong.”

Nate replies through a mouth full of rearragning flakes.  “The only wrong here (crunch) was mom leaving the hospital with you.”

“No, look, cereal needs milk.  I pour (slurp) a small bowl so that I can go back and pour another small bowl later (munch).  That way my bran flakes stay crunchy.  You know, it’s kind of like making substations half way through the game.”

A bead of milk escapes down Nate’s chin.  “That’s stupid.  I get all the cereal I need.  I can tip my bowl (crunch) and get all the milk I want as well.  It’s like getting a fresh bowl with every spoonful.  I don’t need to go back to the kitchen three times to get all the cereal I want.”

Both men let the matter drop to concentrate on their breakfasts.  Except for the rabid crunching everything became quiet. 

Finally Matt blurts out, “Oh, I forgot to ask how much mom spent on your Christmas present last year?”

“I don’t know.  Why are you asking?”

“Well, I’m averaging all of our siblings gifts for the last five years to find out who mom’s favorite child is.  So, how much was spent on you last year?”

Nate looked frustrated.  “Man, you have got to me kidding me!  Fine, she bought us a new mattress and box springs.  That’s about four hundred dollars.  But you’re going about this all wrong.  If you really want to know where you rank, you should check out their will.”

“I would but mom and dad have never shown it to me.”

Nate’s eyes filled with mock surprise. “Really?  Wow, I’ve seen it three times.”  He paused.  “I guess that answers that question.”

The Coin’s Second Face (Part 2)

The dark shroud was finally broken by the dawn light’s growing wisps.  Even the beams of weak morning light allowed Dimitri to see again.  He had been taken from the old man’s chest and returned to the table in his study.  Removed from the second coin and placed in another.

“Twice now I have given the less fortunate a chance to change their lives and both times the power of my worth has been ignored.  This time I will not fail.”  He quieted his thoughts then, “Come.”

Upon his silent request, another pigeon, this one darker than all of the rest, swooped through the window. 

“Take me to a man clad with sensibility.  Take me to someone who understands money’s place as tool for growing your means but also as door to life’s pleasures.  Does such a man exist?”

With a last boob of its head, the dark bird took up Dimitri and flew from the window but it didn’t fly far.  It circled around Dimitri’s estate and stopped on the sill of his dining hall window. 

The hall was largely empty except for Dimitri’s son Costa and the spend thrift old man.  Both sat at the broad dining table talking.

“No you fool bird!  My son isn’t fit!  Besides he has the rest of my wealth and we’ve already met the old man!”  Dimitri felt like he was shouting.  “Take me away from here!”

The bird didn’t move.  It didn’t adjust its stance or even coo.

Dimitri tried to move on his own but he was still in the bird’s grasp.  Instead he looked upon his son and the tight fisted man.  Costa looked ragged and weary but it didn’t appear to be the look of a long night with his friends.  It looked as if he was in deep morning.

“Rinadlo what do you trouble me for?” 

The old man reply, “I am sorry about the loss of your father.  He was truly an amazing businessman and no doubt an upstanding father.”

Costa brought his hand to his forehead.  Invisible strings pulled down his countenance.  “You have asked to meet with me Master Renaldo.  Although I am not in the mood you were granted an audience.  What business do you have with me?”

“I have enough money now sir!”  Renaldo set his black chest onto the table.  “Finally I can invest on your next ship.  Do you have leverage for another investor?”

“We have a ship leaving in less than a month for the Palestine.  You may invest.  Do you have the binding receipt so that I may put my seal on it?”

Renaldo produced a parchment and Costa signed and sealed it.  The old man rolled the parchment and hurriedly left leaving chest of precious metals with Costa.  He didn’t move for a while then with a sigh he picked up the box.  A moment later he had left the room.

Before Dimitri could question what had happened, the pigeon turned and flew from the window.  It flew sharply up and perched at the very top of Dimitri’s villa.  For several minutes, it didn’t move.

Finally Costa’s form materialized from a side street.  He was walking beside one of the guild buildings.  Scaffolding bracketed the outside as masons worked to repair a damaged wall.

“Well, stupid bird what is next?  You haven’t followed my requests at all.  What are you to do with me?”

With a suddenness that startled Dimitri, the bird lifted from the villa and flew swiftly in Costa’s direction.  It stayed well above the scaffolding not allowing the young man or the masons to spy it.  Finally, it banked back toward Costa and dropped Dimitri.

The gold coin struck the stones near Costa’s feet and quickly rolled in the direction of another man following close behind.  He saw the coin rolling toward him and snatched Dimitri up.  Michael knew the coin didn’t belong to him.  When he looked up, he saw Costa still walking and gave chase.
“Sir!  Master Costa!”  Michael held the coin up and began running toward the other man.  “Master Costa, excuse me!  You have dropped this gold coin and I wish to return it to you!”

Costa was wrapped in his own thoughts.  The loss of his father was proving a very bitter loss.  It was now for him to maintain trade and build wealth yet he had given his father’s actions very little regard.  Business would need to be tended and ledgers checked.  His heart ached and suddenly he had no appetite for pleasure.

“Master Costa, Master Costa!”

Costa held Renaldo’s chest close to his torso.  He would take it to the bank he was now presumed to help manage.  He knew the other aristocrat’s names and nothing else.  Dimitri tried to teach him…

“Master Costa!” 

The latest shout pulled Costa from his thinking and brought him about.  At that moment, a small stack of bricks fell from the scaffolding above Costa.  The deadly missiles landed with hard breaking sounds and plumes of dust only a few feet away.

Michael caught up.  “Master Costa, I am certainly glad I caught you.  Even more so now that I stopped you from being struck by those bricks.  Here is a gold coin I believe you dropped near your home.”

Costa didn’t immediately reply.  He turned and looked at the broken bricks near his feet.  Two further steps and he would have joined his father in the afterlife.

From the top of the scaffolding, came the sound of cursing men and one voice blustered over them all.  “Benni!  Benni You fool!  You almost killed a guild member!  And you’re drunk again!  You no longer have a job here!  Go back to your tavern and never return!”

“Master Costa?”  Michael waved the gold in front of Costa’s face.  “Master you don’t appear to be well.  I know your father’s death had been hard.  May I assist you?”

Costa stepped away from the bricks and scaffolding with Michael in tow.  Finally he asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Michael Bortelli.  I am a minor bookkeeper with your father’s longtime assistant Angelo.  I was going to the bank to drop off these accounts when I saw the glint of a gold coin near your feet.  It quickly rolled my direction so I picked it up.”

“You could have kept it.”

“Not I master.  The money is yours I only help manage it.”

Costa took the man’s shoulder with his free arm.  “Do you know the names and dispositions of the aristocrats at the bank?”

“I should.  I spend much of my given daylight toiling in that dark, musty building.”

“And my ships?”

“Twelve here in dock and the manifests of all the rest are carefully recorded in the papers I carry with me.”

“Then consider the gold your first wage in your new position as my personal counsel.”  He placed Rinaldo’s chest into Michael’s arms.  “Whether it was your intention or not you have saved may life and proved your character all at once.  Come, we will conclude your business and mine at the bank together.”

Michael protested.  “Master I have done nothing yet to deserve this money.  Pay me after I have managed your accounts for some time and I am sure you will find that I am worth much more.”

Costa smiled.  “Well said, but what will you do with this coin?  As I have sworn, it isn’t mine.”

“If you will excuse me for a few moments, I will make it an investment on your behalf.” 

Michael stepped across the plaza to a to the busy stand of a bread seller.  “Sir, how much for a loaf?”

The baker replied, “But thirty lira sir!”

Michael looked at the wicker baskets filled with fresh loaves then handed the baker Dimitri’s gold form.  “I will have all that you have left.  Give a loaf to every young boy or girl that passes your stand.  Two if they look hungry.  Tell them it is a gift from Master Costa Trolli and if word reaches my ears of my master’s generosity then you will receive twice the business.”
The baker smiled and quickly agreed.  “Very well sir.  Gifts from Master Costa Trolli, I understand.”

Michael took a loaf and broke it as he strolled back to a waiting Costa.  He sprinkled the crumbs to a large group of pigeons gathered in the plaza. 

“Well done my friends.  There will much more business in the future for you as well.”

The baker slipped the gold into his pocket and Dimitri’s spirit was released.

The Coin’s Second Face (Part 1)

It all began in the trade city of Venice with a dying old man named Dimitri.  Master Dimitri was a wealthy financier and member of the ruling class.  In his prime, he was tall and strong but his health had been failing for several weeks and the flicker of life had begun to fade.  Finally, he was unable to stand or even move.  Although his body thinned, he was in little pain.

The members of his extended family rushed to extend their wishes and say their goodbyes.  They traveled from all over Italy.

“I could not ask for death’s kiss to be any gentler.”  He told those around him.  “God’s blessings and hard work have given me everything this life could offer.  And now I ask for one thing more, to rest eternally.  I will soon be at peace.”

Despite these words, one thought through his soul into turmoil.  Costa, his only son, did not abide in wisdom or dwell with diligence.  He felt entitled to all that his father had worked to provide.  Life was for his enjoyment and for those pleasures he spared no expense.  Costa invested heavily in clothes and food all for appearance’s sake.

Dimitri didn’t want his wealth squandered but there was no one else with whom he could leave the money.  His partner, a man named Angelo, was almost as old and his strength would soon fade as well.  Giving the inheritance to one of his son-in-laws would only tangle his family in strife and grow hard feelings like thorns.  Giving it all away would destroy his business.

On Dimitri’s final day of life, he begged heaven for the wisdom and the ability to make sure his wealth was not pilfered away by the money hungry vultures that seemed to circle Costa. 

“Please,” he began with word’s too weak to be heard,  “I have taught my son but he has not listened to my words.  I cannot die knowing my gold will line Venice’s narrow walks for rats to collect and horde in the city’s darkest corners.  Please…”

The nurse looked on Dimitri’s darkened face and watched as his lips moved.  She saw the words but could not make them out.  She understood they were not for her.  Finally, the lips slowed then stopped.


Dimitri’s vision returned with great suddenness.  With death’s grip closing about his mind, his thoughts were hazy but now they were restored.  He felt energy again and the ability to move.  It was like waking from a deep sleep or breaking the surface of deep water.

Yet something wasn’t right.  He wasn’t in his bed but was instead in his second floor study.  Everything seemed abnormally large about him.  He sat on his wide accounting table with too much room to spare.  The shelves that held souvenirs from distant lands seemed impossibly far away.  What was wrong?

He lurched upright and noticed the massive gold coins stacked around him.  The stacks were resting exactly where he had last counted them.  Dimitri began moving to the edge of the table and caught sight of his reflection in his silver inkbottle.  He looked again and then a third time.  All he could see was a gold coin standing on its edge. 

He moved toward the bottle’s polished silver surface and the gold coin rolled in synchrony.  Dimitri moved backward and the coin rolled away from its reflection. 

His spirit became panicked and confused.  “I…I don’t understand.  Why has this happened?  Where is my body?”

Dimitri rolled to the edge of the table.  There was the stool he had used for decades, and far beyond that was the tile floor.  Looking around, the room appeared as a cavernous space larger than any massive cathedral he had seen.  The former merchant was sure now.  His spirit was bonded to the coin.

The hasty, ruffled sound of pigeon wings brought Dimitri’s attention to the far open window.  The bird landed only inches from him.  It ambled slowly around him with its head bobbing back and forth.

“And what do you want?!  I have no time for pigeons!  I need to get out of here.  Find people!”

The pigeon opened its wings and snatched the gold coin with one of its talon feet.  A second later, the bird’s clumsy flight took Dimitri out of the study’s open window.  Dimitri was taken up to the top of one of the colonnaded Roman structures. 

The ancient building overlooked Venice’s main plaza.  To one side, the main market street was visible and along the horizon was the Mediterranean port.  The terracotta tile roofs over grey stone buildings appeared as broken bits of a child’s puzzle.  Dimitri watched the long white clouds creep over the horizon as the far distant hills reached up to meet them. 

Directly below were traders, merchants, craftsmen, clergy, laborers, farmers, and women moved about their tasks.  There was the noise of a thousand conversations.  People bartered and argued over every item along the market street.  For many years, Dimitri had considered it the purr of his profitable trade.

“What shall I do with myself?”  Dimitri thought.  “As a gold coin, I may not be able to speak but perhaps I can still influence people’s behavior.  My wealth may not be wasted after all.  I will go to one in desperate need.”

Unexpectedly, he was snatched by the pigeon and hoisted above the thriving city.  The path of their flight rose then turned sharply toward an alehouse and an inn.  In the narrow alley and nearly concealed by shadows, Dimitri saw a man slumped against the wall. 

The pigeon dropped the coin into the space between the buildings.  Dimitri landed hard.  The coin’s rounded edge became flattened on one side, an effect of gold’s relatively soft nature. 

The high metal sound brought the man’s head up with a sudden jerk.  He looked about for what had disturbed him.  When he noticed the gold coin, it took him some time to focus on it.  He was completely drunk.

“Well, another cup of wine is just what I need to maintain my good mood.” 

He picked up Dimitri and groaned as he found his footing.  The man’s hands were covered in a haze of dry mortar and his clothes were covered in dirt.
“No, no!”  Dimitri’s thoughts screamed out to the man but he could not be heard.  “You are not to trade me for the same cup into which you drown your talents and hope!  I am a new start!  Do not squander this opportunity!”

The man wandered into the alehouse and ordered a bottle of expensive wine.  As soon as the gold coin was placed on the counter, several other patrons asked to make the man’s acquaintance.  The hours waned and the sunlight was wasted.  Dimitri could see only a bit of light from the proprietor’s pocket and then nothing.

There was a flash and Dimitiri’s vision went white.  When it returned, he was sitting again on his accounting desk in his old study.  The room and everything in it was still massive in scope.  As he sat up and moved, he could feel his edge rolling.  He was a coin again, a different gold coin from the stack left on his table.

There was no confusion this time.  “Come to me.”

Flapping and the rapid scratching of the pigeon’s feet was the next thing Dimitri heard.  It was a different pigeon but it responded the same way as the other.  Dimitri thought and the bird served his request.  

“Gold and opportunity accomplished nothing for that man.  He could have at least invested me but instead chose to tangle again in the grapevine that grows around his neck.”

The pigeon bobbed about waiting for Dimitri to make a request.

“Take me to someone who values money for what it can do.  Who refuses to waste it.” 

A talon closed about Dimitri’s edge and lifted him up and out of his study’s open window.  The pigeon’s path stayed fairly level rising only slightly.  It flew into the plaza only a few feet about the crowd’s head.  For most, it was just another useless pigeon and no one took notice. 

It passed only a foot or two above an old man’s head.  The man carried a basket full of nearly rotten produce.  Dimitri was dropped onto the shoulder then he fell to the stones.

“What is this?”  A wide grin split the old man’s face as he eyes met the gold coin.  “What good fortune is this that the golden sun above would bless me with a valuable fleck from its surface!”

The man tightly closed his hand around Dimitri.  He stopped shopping and rushed to a worn, dirty cottage on the outskirts of town.  The man tossed his cheap produce onto the table.  A frail old woman sat inside patching a threadbare dress.  She said nothing as the man crossed the room and passed her without a glance. 

“This is wonderful!”  Dimitri thought.  “Here is where money can make a difference.  With me, this man can buy his poor wife new clothes or better food to eat.  I can pay for repairs to the beaten home.  My gold will not be wasted.”

A small chest was pulled from under a bed.  The old man fumbled with the bolt then opened it.  Inside was a surprising pile of silver coins!

The man dropped Dimitri in with the rest of his money and said,  “Now, I have even more!  This has been a wonderful day!”

The top of the chest began closing on Dimitri and as it did he caught one last look at the saddened face on the old woman.  The lid closed with a sharp clap and everything was cast in darkness.

“Grandma Dollar”

Sometimes life’s gear work requires a dab of good grace to keep things working smoothly.  Situations will arise were the details say you’re right but you bow to avoid hard feelings.  Someone may say something careless and you pass over it without causing a stink.  It’s a trait that separates the peacemakers from the unbearable protests of squeaky wheels. 

Here’s an example.

During the long days of summer break, my cousin Dustin would come to North Dakota and invest his time helping the Teply boys find the “next good time.”  We played violent video games, rode our bikes everywhere, enjoying a good laugh, and the rest of our time was spent underwater at the pool.  When Dustin was visiting us, he was one of us.

These were the years immediately following the break of Mom and Dad Teply and Dustin came from Mom’s side of the family.  Despite the ugly circumstances, Dad would welcome Dustin along whenever he took the rest of us for a weekend.  To my understanding, it was never really an issue.  Until…

My father decided to take all of us, including Dustin and my Teply Grandparents, on a little vacation.  What you should understand about vacations in western North Dakota is that it requires at least a six-hour drive just to get out of the prairie.  The Black Hills and Mount Rushmore constitute the only exception to the monolithic carpet of grass.  Ergo, the only other choice is a little tourist town in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Mind you, Roosevelt was a New York native.  Notable people are hard to come by in Dakota.).  Considering I’d been there nearly once a month, the trip didn’t send my heart racing. 

We stopped at a fast food restaurant for some hamburger-like sandwiches before leaving town.  We stood in front of the register eager to order a cumulative five pounds of French fries each mechanically sliced to be the exact diameter of the adult aorta.  All of us were there:  Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, the complete Teply brood, Uncle William, and Dustin.    

Once inside, Grandma ambled up to Dustin and asked, “Well, did you bring any money?”

“No.”  Dustin replied. 

“Are you expecting Jack to pay for your food?  Why should he pay for you when you aren’t family?”

Dad overheard the conversation and quickly said that he would cover for Dustin.  The matter was settled except in Dustin’s mind.  Once back in the car, he leaned over to Nate and said, “Wow, what was your grandma’s name again?  Isn’t it Grandma Dollar?  I think I’m going to call her Grandma Dollar from now on.”

When I heard what Dustin had said, I simply rolled my eyes and hoped the matter would go away.  It didn’t.  Mom heard about the story, then everyone on the other side of the family, then the mailman, the family psychiatrist, call centers all over India…you get the idea. 

Technically, Grandma was right.  Dustin wasn’t in Dad’s family anymore and perhaps Dad didn’t need to take responsibility for him.  However, good grace prevailed and Dustin received his meal. 

Although my siblings and I respect our Grandmother too much to ever call her Grandma Dollar, the story and especially the meaning behind it sticks with us.  A little  grace always greases the wheels.

The Good Old Days

During my free time, I enjoy working as a lifeguard for the parks department in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I am affectionately known as “the oldest guard in human history” and the “rusty whistle.” In fact, every year the Aquatics coordinator calls the Red Cross to make sure that my age does not disqualify me for regular service as a lifeguard. He thinks it’s funny.

But don’t worry for me, I have ways of taking my revenge and it has nothing to do with living well or turning the other cheek. I’m not sure whether it’s my rock solid credibility or maybe just a convincing delivery but I could convince some of the younger folks I work with of just about anything.

Here’s one of my favorite stories and yes, I’ve convinced many of our younger generation that it was true if only for a moment or two.

Here’s how I begin, “Back in the good old days, when I was born things were nothing like they are now. My parents were very young and had basically no money. When I was just an infant, my mother would feed me things that she thought were safe for a young babies like raisons and nuts. Of course, most of my teeth hadn’t come through so I couldn’t really chew any of it. The nuts I simply choked on until she quit feeding them to me. You must remember, she was very young and didn’t really know what she was doing.

Anyway, it didn’t take her long to quit with the nuts but the raisons she continued. I couldn’t chew them so with chubby little fingers I would shove them into my mouth then swallow. When my mother changed my diaper, the raisons were still very much as they were when I ate them.
My mother looked hard at the small pile of raisons. It wouldn’t hurt to save some money by rinsing them off, sprinkling some sugar over them, and running them through me again.
Please remember! She was young and poor! She told me later that she only did this one time and that was it. Really, no harm was done. I mean think about it, it’s not like my stomach had really done anything to them.”
 I then casually change the subject to the next guard rotation or whatever I can pull out of the air. They are left gapping at me or grimacing unsure of what do say. And yet there’s a hint of plausibility in the back of their eyes.
Wait, Mr. T! That can’t be right!”

I tighten my lips a bit and knit my brow. ”

You don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to but denial doesn’t change history. Really there’s more to this story.   A year or two later my parents were traveling and I was crying nonstop. My mother (remember she was young) gave me some adult painkiller to put me to sleep. Well, it worked and I slept. However, when they arrived at my grandmother’s I wouldn’t wake up. I didn’t wake up for a full hour after that!”
Mr. T, that’s serious!”

“Geeesh, that’s nothing.” I roll my eyes a bit and shrug. “Now remember my mother was poor and didn’t have a lot of money so I wore whatever she had available. Sometimes it was even girl’s clothes. Heck, as a baby what’s the difference in appearance between boys and girls right? Anyway, a few times I went to the grocery store in a dress or whatever was clean. Some of the shoppers would wander up and compliment my mother on having such a pretty girl.”

I’ve never told all three of these stories successively but I have used them all. Especially the raisin story, I love that one. Only one or twice has my narration been passed off. Apparently, my advanced age (thirty-four) and stern demeanor give each story a false credence.

I worry about out young folks. If they fall for my stories, what else is their judgment succumbing to?

Candy Land

Here’s one of the downsides to fatherhood…watching your son grow, develop, and become stronger as your attributes diminish.  Perhaps it shouldn’t matter considering I would age regardless of Saul’s presence but I can’t help but feel that he’s speeding the process.

Eventually, Saul will surpass me physically and mentally.  This will force me to make a few small adjustments.  When we wrestle, I’ll have to fight dirty.  I’ll feed him misinformation when it amuses me.  During games of wit, I’ll simply cheat. 

However, even these tactics will eventually fail and I’ll be forced to bend before my son’s youthful vitality.  All of these difficult times I had planned for the future.  It was a bit unexpected that my dark days would arrive this early…

September 27th –Melissa Teply purchases the popular and familiar children’s game Candy Land for Saul James.   

Matt looks at the box and grins, “Hey, I remember this game!  It sounds like fun.  Saul, would you like to play?”

Saul turns towards his toy box and away from his parent’s vision.  He rubs his hands with maniacal glee.  “Wonderful,” he thinks.  “Now I can begin putting my old man in his place.”

With careful precision, Saul selects the right colored gingerbread man.  Victory is assured with the blue choice.  Matt selects yellow before Saul insists his father use red.  Matt grudgingly agrees.

Matt foolishly thinks, “I guess red will be fine.  After all, what difference does it make?” 

Two quick and resounding loses later, Matt folds up the Candy Land board.  “It’s just a bit of bad luck.”  He thinks. 

Saul etches two notches into the top of his toy box.

An old fashioned beat-down…Candy Land style!

September 30th –  Another seemingly benign game is played.  Matt is unaware that the dreaded Mr. Mint has been paid off and will drag Matt back to the beginning only twenty squares from King Candy.  Saul cruses to another victory over his helpless father.  

October 3rd-  “It’s ok daddy.”  Saul consoles his father after a crushing defeat by over a hundred colored squares.  “Mama loves you.”

October 4th – Saul hands his father a copy of the Candy Land rules with, “Read This” crudely written in crayon across the front page. 

October 7th – A stuffed animal joins Saul and Matt.  Two additional loses for Matt as the toy plays a stunning first game claiming victory in a record seven cards.  Matt considers stacking the deck.

October 14th – Saul begins bragging to his friends about his seemingly insolvent winning streak.  Everyone congratulates him (even the non-potty trained, a tough demographic).

Wait! No! That’s Not Candy!

October 18th –Matt throws the board across the room in a rage.  Police are called but no charges were pressed but the Teply family does make the local news.  News anchor begins with, “Sour ending to a sweet game.  Local educator acts as if he’s had a little too much sugar.”

October 21st –Melissa pours a pot of hot caramel onto the game board and slaps it shut.  Thus ending a short but dark chapter in the Teply household. 

October 31st – Matt comes home with Chutes and Ladders.  “Hey Saul, want to play?”

Ages 3 and Up? Maybe Not.