Glass (*)

For many years, Erick toiled in a glassblower’s shop under his father’s supervision.  He learned everything there was to understand about the ancient art of shaping glass.  Just by watching the burning oven, he could determine if the heat was correct.  The sand was always properly measured and filtered.  With skill that rivaled magic, Erick could spin the molten glass while blowing a right amount of air.  His creations were smooth and nearly flawless.

The apprenticeship wasn’t easy.  Glass is a fickle medium.  Imperfections could not be sanded out or painted.  It would not bend – if put under pressure it would shatter.  Imperfections were common even under a skilled hand.  Erick found the skills difficult at first and tried to quit but his father, a man named Charles, refused to allow him to leave.  There were times Erick’s immaturity overcame him and he would purposely quench misshapen bottles.

Everything changed for Erick after his father crafted a special vase for him.  Other than a bold streak of violet beginning at the lip and pooling along the base, the vase’s structure wasn’t spectacular but its effect was profound.  When Erick looked into it, his eyes filled with images of wealthy commissions by royal houses.  Princes vied for this handiwork; offering him handsome prices.  Erick gazed into a future filled with promise and prosperity all because of his keen skills shaping glass.  The images were not imaginary; instead they were keen in detail.  The vision of the future seared away Erick immaturity and from that hour on, the boy worked tirelessly to master his craft.  He accepted his father’s training with zeal.

The next day the purple staining was gone and only days later the vase cracked and broke.  Clear shards covered the floor one moment and in the next they were gone.  The broken glass simply dissolved.  It was as if the earth absorbed them.  When Erick expressed dismay at losing the vase, Charles simply shrugged and moved on.  “When time is gone, it can never be reclaimed.”

During the next few years, Erick surpassed his aging father and became a true master in his own right.  And yet, he was never able to add to the magic allure that some of his Charles’s work had.  Some claimed the glassblower’s work allowed them to see the future.  Erick didn’t doubt them but was afraid to share the vision he had experienced – even with his father. 

“Erick, come.”  His father’s worn hand took Erick’s shoulder and pulled him aside.  “I have something I need to show you before the sands of time drag me under.  Follow me to the back room where we store the sand and coal.”

Both men entered a small, dark storage room.  Coal was heaped to one side and sand on the other.  The wooden floor was smudged black and worn smooth from years of shoveling fuel into a small kart and wheeling it toward the furnace.  Long, iron clamps and other tools hung from thick rafters.

“Take the sand shovel and move the entire pile near the door.  There’s something underneath you should know about.”

“What is it father?”

“Time, distilled and tangible.  Hurry, we must do this before your mother or sisters come back from the commons.”

Erick’s back and arms were sore from the day’s work but found new life with such an unexpected prospect.  His shovel didn’t slow or tarry until bulk of the sand was shifted close to the door.  With the last few scoops, Erick finally found something unusual.  Near the room’s corner, built into the floor was a door less than two feet square.  Along one side the top of an iron ring poked through the sand.  Erick tossed the tool aside.  His finger dug out sand inside the ring and he lifted.  It took some effort before he was able to pry the door free from the grit that had wedged between it and the rest of the floor.  Inside was a square gold plate.  It was engraved and each corner was being bit by what Erick believed were small snake heads.

“Lift it out.  There’s much more than you can see from above.”

Erick wrapped his fingers around the edge of the gold plate and lifted it out.  There was something heavy attached.  As it emerged from the hole, Erick finally understood what he was holding.  It was a massive hourglass almost three feet tall fitted with solid gold.  The upper and lower hemispheres were fashioned from crystal and clear to near invisibility.  Sand, almost as warm and deep yellow as the gold, filled both halves.  Even now, it trickled silently into the lower half.  The rods that affixed both the top and bottom plate were shaped into long snake coils with the heads biting into the top plate.

“Father!  This is a marvel!  It must be worth five times what we could make in a year!  Where did you get it?  Why did I not know about this earlier?”

Charles’s expression didn’t change.  “I don’t know how our ancestors came to possess it.  I was told it was made by the Biblical Aaron at the same time as he fashioned the Ark of the Covenant.  The sand came from the smashed tablets Moses first brought down from Mount Sinai.  After they were broken they dissolved from stone into sand.”

“How long does it last?  It was still pouring when I pulled it out.”

“No one knows.  It will not flip.  A force binds it and keeps it upright.  Is it set to run out at the end of the age?  Possibly the final judgment?  Sand just continues to run from the top to the bottom.”

Erick wiped a little grime from the top of the hourglass.  “What does this say?”  There was script etched into the top of the timepiece but he didn’t recognize the characters.

“It’s an angelic language.  I think the top portion reads, ‘Enta Socumal Demapola Jari Escosatia.’  Don’t ask me what it means.  Now set it on the edge of the crate over there.”

Erick lifted the heavy treasure and heaved it onto the wooden box.  He balanced one side against the crate and he continued to hold the opposite side up.  The old man reached underneath and slid something aside.  “There is a movable plate on the bottom.  If you try hard enough, you can move it slightly to one side.  A trickle of sand will escape.  It isn’t much but if you’re patent you can capture enough to work with.”

“Work with!?”  Erick finally understood the implications of such magical sand.  “You have fashioned glass from it?!  What happens!?”

“I think you know.”

“You mean the vase!  I saw a purple glaze and in it the future!”  As his father closed the plate, Erick pushed the hourglass completely on the crate.

Charles straightened and let the sand slowly spill though the gaps between his fingers.  “It showed you a portion of time that would make a difference in your outlook. Time teaches.  It forgets, destroys and advances without care or concern.

“I made a vase for you because I didn’t want you to lose the family’s skills.  The purple you saw was more than I expected.  It indicates grand prosperity.  As it turns out, your skill has far surpassed my own and soon you will gain the notoriety your abilities deserve.  I took some risk for if it had shown you black I would not have forgiven myself.”

“What does black mean?”

“The glass made from the sands of time take on shades based on what they have to show you.  Black will show you great sorrow, loss, even death.  Others I’ve discovered are purple for wealth, brown for poverty, pink for companionship, and white indicates peace.  Often the colors are blended creating a fortune that is more complicated.  Anyone can see the color but only the recipient can see the future.”

Erick was incredulous.  “How can you not make use of this power?  We should be crafting everything from this!”

“What it shows you cannot be controlled!  If you see time as God has fashioned it, you may not stand to bear it.  Do you want to know the coming suffering your children will endure or view your long forgotten grave?  How about seeing your wife after her beauty has long faded?  How can you enjoy your wine today when you know tomorrow you will suffer from a terrible fever?  The burdens of this life should not be assumed until you must.  Our lives are harsh and short.  Enjoy what you have today and take pleasure in it.

“Now put it back.”

Erick complied without another word.  He replaced the wooden panel and began moving the sand back where it covered the hourglass.

“One last thing…” Charles stood as Erick finished.  “You must promise not to disturb the hourglass until I am gone.  Even then, I would not use the sand.  Your work is as fine as can be found.  You will prosper; let it be enough.”

“As you desire father, it will remain here counting the seconds until eternity.”

Erick did as he promised.  The seasons of his life changed from spring to summer.  Nobles, mayors, and wealthy tradesmen sought his work.  They paid him and he was able to marry well.  His wife came from high blood and her father was an aristocrat from the neighboring province.  Two girls followed and Charles watched over the growth of Erick’s family with great pleasure.  He lived another fifteen years before his body was returned to the earth

All the while, Erick kept the hourglass near to his thinking.  He wondered about the secrets that could be revealed.  He wondered if the shape of the glass affected the fragments of time that would be shown.  Erick had plans for the sands of time and now that his father was gone he was free to test them.  The warnings were understood but for Erick it was madness to have such an opportunity and fail to try it.

Only a week after Charles was laid to rest, Erick returned to the storage room.  Very little had changed; the coal and sand were piled where they had always been.  It took him longer to move the sand then when he was younger but the excitement was the same.  After almost an hour of work, the hidden door was uncovered.  Erick took hold of the iron ring and forced the door free.
The gold hourglass was exactly as he remembered it – if feeling slightly heavier.  Erick set it on the floor and tried tipping it to one side.  It would not rock in any direction.  He brought the seats of two chairs together and hefted the hourglass between them.  Erick took a small pan and placed it under the hourglass, found the bottom plate, and pushed it slightly open.  The trickle of golden sand began piling up along the bottom of the pan.  It took three hours before Erick decided he had enough to work into a vase.

The sand was stubborn and was reluctant to melt.  Flames from the furnace were made strong making it difficult for Erick to get close enough to melt the sand.   When it did comply, the molten glass gave off light beyond the expected orange glow.  Instead it gave off a white light not overwhelming but steady.  Erick spun the solidifying glass on the ends of his rods working it into a narrow-necked flask.  It was an exquisite work by any standard.

When it was finished, Erick held the flask up by his fingertips.  Sunlight danced and wavered through the glass.  A few moments later, a strong green hue spread with slow fingers throughout the bottle.  “Hmmm, I had no one in mind as I shaped it.  Perhaps someone will see something in it that I cannot.  I’ll set it along my storefront for sale.”

The very next day the new cobbler flew through the Erick’s shop door.  He was a young man of marrying age.  “Master Erick!  Master Erick!  That green flask you have in your window!  It’s amazing!  It sounds like foolishness but I believe I saw something like a dream inside of it!”

Erick set down his tools.  “Tell me Timothy, what did you see?”

Timothy spread his hands.  “Well, I saw myself taking my entire inheritance and investing it with Kamron’s caravan group.  The man is a boar and once he found out my grandfather had died he’s been pestering me continually!  I’ve been ignoring him and was going to buy several sets of new clothes instead.  You see, there is a lady I’ve been working to attract.  However, I saw myself lending Kamron the money and six months from now receiving close to three times as much in return!  I saw it all and it felt real!

“I believe the vision and now I want to purchase the flask.  Tell me, how much?”

Erick couldn’t believe it.  This young man was given the benefit of a hard lesson before living through it.  His inheritance was saved thanks to the wisdom time’s perspective could bring.  Immediate pleasure delayed for much greater gain in the future – the benefit of time!
“Six months from now your new clothes could have been food for moths but now you have the right perspective.  Take the flask.  There is no charge.”

That night, Erick went back to the hourglass.  He siphoned off additional sand and the next morning he began work on a glass bowl.  Again, the heat necessary to work the magic sand was excessive.  Erick felt as if his skin cooked each time he had to approach the furnace.  The finished bowl was peach in color and completely level; a true marvel.

“I shall set this at the edge of my highest shelf, crowded by many other works.  It shall be a test of the hourglass’s unique power.  I wonder who will be able to next partake of the hourglass’s perspective?”

Erick did as he planned.  The bowl was even set behind a much more elaborate pitcher Erick had made.  For almost three days, those who entered his shop glanced about or spoke with Erick, but no one ever mentioned the glass bowl.  Some even commented on the glassblower’s other works, but nothing was said about the bowl.

On the fourth day, a young woman entered Erick’s shop.  She was dressed well but her clothes were dirty and it looked as if the woman had not bathed for some time.  Her eyes met Erick’s and filled the glassblower’s heart with pity.  He knew this woman.  Her husband and three year old son became sick over this last winter with a terrible fever.  Both had perished and she was left alone.  Her father and the church had tried to care for her but she could do nothing but weep over her loss.

She had come to beg him for a few glass needles.  They were once a specialty of Erick’s; now his apprentices made them from thin metal molds and open the needle’s eyes with a thin bit of wire.  Erick gave them to the poor to sell.  This young widow had been in many times.  Erick placed a few in her apron when something attracted her attention.  Her eyes were taken away from his almost as if they were pulled with strings.  Her gaze fell to the top shelf.  “What, what is…?”

Erick made a dismissive gesture toward the far wall.  “Everything you see is for sale of course, but are you sure you can afford it?”

She didn’t respond.  The widow took two steps toward the shelves then stopped.  “May I see that amazing peach colored bowl you have there?  Please let me see it.  Please.”

“The bowl?  Yes, you may see it.  Let me get it down for you.”  Erick took his step stool and took the bowl down.  The widow had her hands open and gently lifted it away from Erick.  Immediately Erick could see deep shades of violet and crimson swim through the cream color then slowly dissipate.

“Look!  Look, do you see it?!”  Her brows lifted and she smiled.  “There!  Between the reds and the violets!  I can see myself!  I am beautiful again and there are arms to love me!”  She had to close her eyes; tears zigzagged down her dirty cheeks.  “I have a family again!”  The widow clasped the bowl to her dress.  “How much?!  Please, how much do you want for this magnificent bowl!?”

  Erick studied her for a moment.  “The bowl is yours if you will tell me exactly what you saw in it.”

“Hope.”  The word came without thought.  It sounded like a reflex.  “The unrelenting ache of losing my family has worn into acceptance.  It is a bitter acceptance to be sure, but one I can live with.  There is hope.”

  Erick seemed perplexed, “I don’t understand.”

“I saw another man who loves me even more than my first husband and two little girls that follow me around town doing as I do.  They kiss my cheek and life is wonderful again – they give me hope.”  She paused to wipe the tears from her eyes.  “I believe this vision.  It seems so real!  It sings to my soul.”

  “Take the bowl.  It’s yours.”

That very hour, Erick returned to the back room and began moving the sand aside.  “The benefit of time!  Imagine!  Perhaps the sands will speak to me again blessing me with the wisdom of future experiences!  I will try again this time crafting for my wife.”

He removed the large hourglass and again placed it between two stools.  The slide on the bottom was reluctant to move but eventually it opened.  Bits of glimmering gold began pouring into the tin pan Erick had placed on the floor.  It took hours for the sand to finally accumulate enough for the tall vase Erick planned to fashion.  Then the sand suddenly stopped.  Erick looked under the hourglass to divulge the problem.  The plate had moved back into place without help and would not move again.  Erick had no choice but to replace the hourglass and the concealing pile of sand.  He then estimated the sand he had extracted.  “It will be enough.  I’ll make the vase first thing tomorrow and see what becomes of it.”

The next day was Saturday and the glass shop would not be open for business.  Everything felt quiet and empty as Erick began to work.  Before the sun’s new beams lit the eastern sky, the glassblower had the furnace to its hottest breath.  When the radiated heat felt as if it was blistering his skin, only then did the Erick begin his work.  He spun and spun the thin layer of glass molding in into a shape that was he could nearly make blindfolded.  It had a narrow base, gracefully swelled as it rose then closed forming a perfect lip.  As he finished the vase, there was a small amount of sand leftover. 

“The fire is still high – I suppose I can make a lamp globe.”

That afternoon, Erick’s wife quietly entered the shop to surprise her husband a half loaf of warm rye bread.  She was baking that morning and wanted Erick to enjoy the fresh bread while he worked.  She entered the shop quietly so that her husband wouldn’t know she was there. 
Erick was still putting the finishing touches on the simple globe when he finally noticed his wife.  She was handling the vase he had crafted – her eyes seemed transfixed.  “Julia, the vase…how did you know?”

But Julia didn’t respond – her eyes were locked on the vase.  Erick stepped beside her and watched as black pooled up then rose from the base swelling like a thundercloud.  As fast as he could, Erick knocked the vase out of her hands.  It struck the floor smashing into countless tiny fragments.

  “Julia, what did you see?!”

 Julia turned to him, eyes wide and filling with tears.  Her face became a terrible mix of sadness and anguish.  It seemed as if her soul was crushed – bleeding from some mortal wound.  She seemed to waver for a moment before running toward the back door.     

Erick followed begging for her to explain.  He caught his wife by the arm just as she shoved the back doors open.  Julia spun and as hard as she could – stuck him with her fist.  The blow landed on Erick’s shoulder and he did not release her.

 Julia began struggling wildly throwing her fists into her husband’s chest in an effort to get away.  Erick had one arm and refused to release her.  “What’s wrong!?  Julia, what did you see?!”
 She finally kicked her way free.  Julia was sobbing now.  “Why, Erick – why?!  You’ve found a younger tart!  I have always l-loved you and I, I believed we shared that, that love.”  Sobs came uncontrollably – she was choking on her words.

 “Julia, I don’t know what you’re saying!”  Erick stood before her with his palms outstretched.  “There’s no tart!  I have ever been yours!  What you saw in the vase was only a vision!  It’s not the truth – it’s…”

 “No!”  She cut him off.  “It’s as real as you standing before me now!”  Before Erick could get in another word or even approach his wife – she bolted for their home. 

That evening was the worst of Erick’s life.  Julia would not be counseled.  She was convinced that what she saw was the truth.  The next day Julia had saddled two horses, one for her and the other for their daughters.  As soon as the sun was up, she and the girls rode away even as the Erick continued to plead with her.

 During the next several months, Erick traveled to his father-in-law’s many times in an effort to win back his family.  Julia would not see him and Erick was given only limited exposure to his daughters.  A divorce was forced upon Erick by Julia’s father and he was no longer welcome in the halls of his wife’s maiden home.

 A year passed, and then another, Erick’s heart never completely healed but he did come to accept the destruction of his family brought about by the mystic glass.  Eventually he did marry again, and although it was impossible for him to know, his second wife was the woman Julia saw in her vase.  Erick loved his new wife, a woman named Helen, with as much vigor has he did Julia.  A little less than a year after their marriage, Helen delivered a son.  They named him Charles in honor of Erick’s father.  Charles developed quickly and spent much of this youth learning the glass blowing trade from his father just as Erick had done. 

 Erick grew frail and died only two months after Charles took full control of the shop.  The elder glass blower rejoined the earth without telling his son about the powerful relic that hid under the sand in the back room.  There was no warning only a hope that the hourglass would never be found again.

 One late summer evening, Charles was working late in the glass shop trying to rework the ledgers.  The long hours of summer sunlight had finally weakened to the point Charles could no longer see clearly.  He found the lamp.  With ink covering his fingertips, the globe slipped out of his hand and broke on the wooden floor.  “Very well, I’ll fetch another.”

 He pulled an old globe from the storage room and lit the oil wick before sliding the globe over the brass fittings.  Without warning, the glass flared with a piercing white light.  Charles fell back dropping the lamp.  It struck the floor and the second globe was broken.  The light went out with it.

 Charles rubbed his eyes.  He’d seen a vision of him uncovering the most magnificent hourglass he’d ever seen and then burying it in a forgotten corner of the woods.  Words he could not explain were emblazoned into his memory.  “Enta Socumal Demapola Jari Escosatia – God allows men to hold the future with only wisdom and hope.”

Breach of Trust

Supper is coming together at the Teply household.  Matt and Melissa flip the stove on and begin assembling the ingredients to for spaghetti.  Within minutes, Melissa is watching as the water begins boiling and steam curls toward the ceiling.  Matt does his part digging through the pantry.  “Where did you say the spaghetti sauce was?”

Satisfied with her success over the water, Melissa moves to the cutting board.  She’s chopping up a bell pepper.  “It’s over to the right.  While you’re down there, pull out a can of olives and mushrooms.  We need to stiffen the sauce a bit.”

Eventually Matt finds the right jar and pops the top.  He sets it on the counter and examines the label.  The sticker is laced in bright green with “NOW OUR CHUNKYEST IS EVEN CHUNKER!” written from one side to the other.

Matt looks at the extra ingredients his wife is asking him to pull out and then looks again at the label.  “The sauce isn’t really that chunky is it?’


That’s when Matt’s soul tears in two – a sacred trust between consumer and producer has been destroyed.  Those executives at Happy Time Spaghetti Sauce Company (Note: not their real name) know their “chunky” sauce really isn’t chunky!  They abuse the word because it contains microscopic bits of onion and garlic.  Anyone who understands the definition of chunky would never look at those jars of tomato juice and offer the adjective “chunky.”  Do you hear me Happy Time?!  NOBODY!

Speaking of things I no longer trust…

I no longer trust jewels.  I remember waltzing into a mall jewelry store on a whim and seeing a sapphire the size of thigh on sale for a surprisingly low price.  Then I took a closer look at the label…”What do they mean, ‘LAB CREATED?  They can make precious stones in the lab?”

I envisioned men with plastic safety goggles and white lab coats mixing the swirling contents of test tubes into a homemade bread maker (sometimes I pretend it’s a blender), setting the timer, then coming back to a beautiful gem.  What does this do to the value and integrity of the real stones!? 

The salesperson swore that there’s no way you can tell the difference between a natural sapphire and one that has been lab created.  He must have believed that I was interested when, in fact, I was horrified.  You can’t tell the difference!?  That makes sapphires, rubies, and emeralds close to worthless.  Let’s just all wear costume jewelry!

Come to think of it, I don’t trust the phrase, “financially secure” either.

Cloud Weavers (*)

   In the land of sand and palms, was a kingdom named after the sun.  Its capital was Jinta a city carved from a series of rocky outcroppings.  It rested as the desert’s crown jewel in a sea of golden sand.  The city’s terraces and gardens were fed from a single river provided by the mountainous regions to the north.

   A family of sheiks ruled the kingdom and had overseen the endless miles of desert for almost a thousand years.  Other nations were forged and later undone but the Kingdom of the Sun remained protected by a scorching desert no invading army could traverse.  The kingdom’s stability attracted skilled craftsmen who in turn brought merchants and traders.  Business filled Jinta’s streets and they flowed with money.  The wealth created wide, open air markets and topped domes over the royal palace clad with copper.

   All of this wealth was brought in along one trade route.  It meandered through the narrowest part of the desert into the city.  It was a journey made many times by a merchant named Ephraim.

   The men in Ephraim’s family joined his father’s caravan.  They managed their own wagons and servants.  Each man bought and sold independently so there was no argument over who owned each shilling or camel.

   Each of his brothers and uncles had shown a great propensity for trading except for Ephraim.  He was the remarkable failure amongst his family.  They had an intuition for buying goods at low prices and finding the right buyers when the caravan reached its destination.  Ephraim would make purchases when the price was too high.  When the goods were to be sold Ephraim often had trouble finding anyone to purchase his wares.  Ephraim’s wealth decreased as the years passed.  His brothers and father allowed him to continue with the caravan but only out of family courtesy.  Ephraim had no servants only one packed camel and three sheep. 

   His goals for Jinta were modest.  Ephraim hoped to find a buyer for the perfume he had purchased on a whim.  If he could sell it for a reasonable price he could afford to buy silks to be sold later.

   Almost half way through the desert, Ephraim’s luck became poor once again.  His camel became ill and refused to continue.  The camel represented almost half of Ephraim’s remaining wealth and he could not carry his perfume without the animal.  Ephraim was forced to let the rest of the caravan pass in order to care for the sick camel.

   Instead of helping, his brothers mocked him as they passed.  “Ephraim!  I’ll give you twenty shekels for your perfume and another ten for all three sheep.  That’s much more than you would have received anyway!”

   Another says to anyone listening, “You know, I have servants who have accumulated more money than Ephraim.  The man has been given every opportunity and cannot gather anything but sand.”

   Ephraim’s face hardened and he refused to be baited by his brother’s harsh words.  “I will stay with my animal.  When it has recovered, I will catch the end of the caravan.  Proceed without me.”

   The brothers shook their heads in resignation and turned back to their own matters.  They knew Ephraim had traveled the route many times before and were not concerned about his well being.

   It took almost all of the merchant’s patience but he knew that there was nothing as hard to bend as the will of a stubborn camel.  The sun was merciful and the temperatures did not reach too high.  It took almost a full day for the camel to recover enough to travel. By that time, half of Ephraim’s water was gone.  He would need to catch the caravan to replenish his supply but he was unable to make his camel travel fast enough.

   Ephraim’s fortunes deteriorated further as the western sky began to darken and the wind grew strong.  “A sand storm is coming.”  Ephraim told his animals.  “We will not survive without shelter.”

   He hurried his camel and sheep toward a thick cluster of boulders a little less than a mile from the route he was traveling.  With even a slow pace from the camel, he would reach them before the storm gathered too much intensity.  As Ephraim reached the boulders, he discovered they were the footings to a short sandstone hill.  On one side was a shallow cave.  Thanking the gods for such good fortune, he checked it for scorpions.  Then he herded his sheep in followed by the reluctant camel and himself.

   Ephraim had never seen such a thick draping of wind and sand.  For another full day, the sands raced outside and sent swirling bits of sand and rock into the mouth of the cave.  Several times, he tried to peer into the raging maelstrom but was unable to see anything.  Desperation took hold of Ephraim’s heart and he prayed for the sands to rest.  On the second day, they finally did.
When Ephraim exited the cave, he and his animals entered a world that made no sense.  The sun was arching though the sky on a north to south pattern.  Wild gusts of wind seemed to change direction with the passing of each minute.  At once blowing into the trader’s face, then a moment later wind came from behind him.  Clouds crossed each other’s path and the landscape had changed noticeably as patches of hard packed earth spilt the shallow dunes.

   “Where…where am I?”  He looked around again.  “I don’t have time or water for further delays.  I can make it another day – maybe until tomorrow night on the water I have.  After that I am sacrificed to the sun.”

   A strong and somewhat high-toned voice came from above Ephraim.  “That doesn’t need to be.”

   Ephraim and the camel jerked their heads up and found a man perched on the rocks above them.  Bushy eyebrows and a wide beard masked the man’s sun-browned features making it difficult to place an age on the stranger.  The true surprise was the man’s clothing.  The very threads of his turban and robe seemed to be in constant movement like spider webs bound and swaying.  They shimmered and swirled with a beautiful restlessness.  Colors as vibrant as the green of new growth, blood red, and white so pure it seemed to glow crisscrossed the robe.
Ephraim was stunned and stood staring at the man.  “Where…where am I?  The sun fools me into questioning my own senses.”

   “No, your senses do not deceive you.  The place you find yourself is a place with a certain uniqueness.  The sun here charts its own course as does the much more temperamental wind.  And as you can tell, even the sand has a hard time making up its mind.”

   “Who are you?”  Ephraim asked as he pulled his animals from the cave’s shelter.
The man hopped down from his perch on the boulders.  He was not quite as tall as Ephraim expected.  “I am Ezra.  My daughter, son, and I make our home here in this most unique of places.”  He looked at the camel and sheep then back to Ephraim.  “You seem to be trapped in some difficult circumstances.  Perhaps we can make a deal.  Give me your thin sheep and aged camel and I will offer you a cool place to call home.”

    “I am like a ship on the waters.”  Ephraim replied.  “There is no one place I call home.  All I have is what you see with me, I know nothing else.”

   “Come then.”  Ezra turned and motioned toward the east.  “I have fresh melon and fruit that will make your throat burst out in song.  You may reconsider after you are refreshed.”

   They traveled to another outcropping of tall rocks next to a low hill.  Ezra led them between two of the largest.  Another cave swallowed part of the hill’s side.  The opening was framed by wooden door built specifically for the entrance.

   Inside, the walls and floors were covered with thick carpets of extraordinary detail.  There were worktables with bolts of the same amazing material that made up the swirling threads of Ezra’s clothing and just beyond that was a large loom.  The polished wood gleamed even in the feeble candlelight that lit the cave.

   Ephraim couldn’t help himself.  “Is this the magic loom that allows you to create the material you are wearing?  Do you realize what it’s worth?  For such as this, I will give you my sheep, camel, and all the perfumes I am carrying for just a single roll.”

   A short chuckle escaped Ezra.  “No, I sell to the Emir of the Sun Kingdom personally.  I have no need for a go between.  But I will show you what I do need.”

   They walked deeper into the cave and across further wonders.  Enfolded around poles the length and width of broomsticks were spinning bits of captured clouds.  Ephraim reached to touch one.   

   Ezra reached out and clasped Ephraim’s hand.  “Oh, no.  Do not spoil the small clouds I have captured.  There are so few in the desert of the other world and I cannot allow the filth on your hands to taint them.”

   “You are taking clouds and weaving them into fabric!?  How are you able to do such a thing?!”

   “A genie gave me a wish and I chose to have my happiness completed.  The wish gave me extended life, a son and daughter, this hidden home, the loom, and the ability to magically weave material taken from the heavens.  My son captures the clouds and brings them here.  My daughter spins the clouds along with colored smoke into threads almost lighter than air.  Finally, I use the loom the weave the fabric.  The clothes I make breath as you do.  They do not trap heat as wool does – it refuses to absorb warmth from the sun.  Though the clouds and smoke are bound tight they still swim within their constraints.  It creates clothing finer than silk.  Unfortunately, the material wears easily and once it begins to fray the entire garment can disappear within weeks.”

   Ephraim stroked his bearded chin.  “And so you again sell your material to the royal family.  It would seem you should be quite wealthy.”

   They reached the back of the cave and another door shaped to the entrance’s exact contours.  It fit so well it almost sealed out any sand from the outside desert.

   Ezra opened it and Ephraim needed to blink to readjust his eyes.  Outside in a small canyon, an oasis flourished.  Tall grasses covered the ground before him.  Healthy palms provided shade and guarded the clear pool in the garden’s center.  Built into the sloped walls of the canyon were terraces where large melons and other fruits were being cultivated. 

   “This is amazing!  May I drink from your spring?”

   Ezra made a dismissive gesture and Ephraim rushed to the pool’s side.  The trader drank until every limb in his body felt refreshed.  Then he threw water over his face and smiled as it trickled down his short beard.

   “Select a melon from the lower terraces.  They should be ripe by now.”

   Ephraim stood.  “Have my animals been taken care of?”

   “They drank long before you did.”

   Ephraim ran his fingers along his forehead.  The water collected along his fingers and was absorbed by his sleeve.  “You mentioned striking a deal with me.  What did you have in mind?”

   “Look beyond that far palm.  What do you see?”

   Ephraim leaned to one side and caught a glimpse of a girl taking water from the spring’s source.   “There is a young woman taking water.  Why is this important?”

   “That is my daughter Opal.  She is the one who spins the clouds to thread.  But with all the tasks needed to keep our garden up, she doesn’t have all the time she needs to finish her work.  My son spends his days hunting clouds in the other world.  I would like you to stay here with us to care for the garden while my children work for me.”

   Ephraim looked about the garden again.  It was huge and would take him many hours to maintain.  “I decline your offer.  I am a trader as my ancestors were and although I lack the business sense they have, that is my given profession.  You will have to find another.”
Ezra didn’t sound too disappointed.  “Are you sure?  The fruits and vegetables grown here will extend your life.”

   “Again, no.  I would like to offer you some of my scented oils as payment for helping me and offering me a night’s stay.  However, tomorrow I must make my way to the capital city of Jinta.”

   “You may find that difficult since it was my magic that brought you here and without it you will not be able to leave.”  Ezra’s voice still sounded pleasant.  “Come, let’s eat and wash.  Perhaps you will agree to my terms after a meal and bath.”

   After a long soak in a reed-sheltered portion of the pool, Ephraim went inside and sat down with Ezra and his two children.  The boy had returned.  Except for the darker beard and younger eyes, Ezra and his son Habib resembled each other very strongly.  Both were built as the common man with a small measure of added height.  As Ephraim approached, Habib raised his cup and offered a warm smile.  “Welcome Ephraim!  I understand you will be staying with us and helping with the garden.  That is good and I am sure Opal most certainly approves.”

   “Is that so?”  Ephraim swallowed his flux of anger.  “I was not aware I had completely agreed.  In fact, I have already declined your father’s offer twice now.”

   Opal sat down beside her brother.  “Father, you swore you would not simply take someone!”

   Ezra reached for his cup but his expression was unchanging.  “Ephraim, I will not keep you forever.  Work on behalf of my family now and when I see fit, I will return you to the natural realm with enough gold to buy ten slaves to serve you.”

   Ephraim looked at Opal and Habib for any sign that their father might be lying but their faces did not change.  “I will agree but only if you teach me the art of using the loom.  I have made a poor merchant.  Perhaps my skills lie among the threads and shutters.”

   Ezra crossed his arms.  It was the first time he’d shown any real expression.  “You know, you may be able to weave the magic cloth but you won’t be able to sell it without me helping you leave this canyon.”

   “I know.”  Ephraim was not dissuaded.  “Yet I wish to learn your craft and feel the magic of spun sky across my fingers.”

   Ezra eventually agreed to spend evenings teaching Ephraim the weaver’s skill.  For the next five years, Ephraim worked in Ezra’s garden.  The world outside the cave never changed.  The garden never experienced a shift of seasons.  The trader watered the plants each day from the spring that never ebbed in its flow.  Ephraim removed plants Ezra grew tired of and replaced their yield with fruits from other plants.  The cycle would change and so would the crops Ephraim tended.  Ezra spoke truthfully about the magic of the garden.  Ephraim never became sick.  His limbs seemed to fill with vigor.  The desert sun could cascade its heat over his shoulders and he would not grow weary.

   Other things grew in the garden as well.  The most important of which was a friendship between Ephraim and Ezra’s children.  When all had finished their chores, the three would sit and watch the stars dance in zigzags.  A breeze would enter the oasis followed by the call of strange birds.

   Habib traced the stars with his eyes.  “Father says you have become quite skilled with his loom.  He’s even thinking of letting you make some of the emir’s cloths.  Your use of the colored smokes has impressed him.”

   “That’s good to hear.”  Ephraim replied.  “But I have special carpets that I have woven on Ezra’s loom and I wish to sell them before the sheiks.  I have taken the wool from my small flock and the threads made from the clouds and blended them.  The results have been quite striking.  I have kept my work away from Ezra because I fear he might try to sell them himself.”

   Opal took Ephraim’s shoulder.  “You are wise.  My father does take whatever advantage he can.  Perhaps I should not mention this but my father has no real plans of freeing you.  The skill you have developed with our loom has made you much more valuable than a simple gardener.  He wishes to keep you.”

   Ephraim became angry.  “That’s not possible!  Ezra and I had an agreement!  He must release me soon!  I have done everything I have been asked for more than five years.”

   “Our father,” Habib began.  “He takes whatever he desires even the clouds.  The desert that surrounds the kingdom is so large because I harvest them.  When they are woven to thread the water seeps into the earth under the cave and feeds our spring.  Areas that are now the outer rim of the desert were once productive farms.  Now the land is being given to sand and dune.  We have more gold than three emirs and yet our father demands more at the expense of others.”

   “Then what must I do?”

    Habib replied, “After our father leaves for the capital city, I will take you and your rugs to the natural realm. While I spend the day hunting clouds you may sell your loom work.”

   “I will travel with you Ephraim.”  Opal spoke over her brother.  “Someone has to make sure you return and it has been too long since I have walked the streets of the city.  I look forward to tomorrow’s trip.”

   The next day after Ezra left, the three friends loaded a small cart with Ephraim’s rugs and walked to the small cave where the trader had long ago taken shelter.  They backed the cart inside then squeezed in as well.  Habib took a handful of sand and spoke to it in tones Ephraim didn’t understand.  The other man then threw it outside.  The sand didn’t fall to the ground instead the wind gave it life and it began swirling.  More sand was picked up and soon it was impossible to see out of the cave’s entrance because of the sandstorm.

   “This storm will only last about an hour.  My father and I have developed ways to speed the magic.  We will only need to wait a little while longer before we reach the Kingdom of the Sun.”
When the sand subsided, the three left the cave.  Ephraim immediately recognized the world he had left.  Everything moved correctly and in order.  It was like he had lived in a box of twisted gears for five years and was now in a working clock.

   Habib took three poles out of the cart.  “I’m leaving to gather the sky’s fleece.  I will meet both of you here one hour past sunset.  That will allow us to return home before father returns.  Good luck Ephraim.”

   Jinta was exactly as Ephraim remembered it.  The tall walls made of sun baked bricks funneling crowds of people and animals up and down narrow streets.  There were merchants everywhere under awnings of bright colors.  The temples with their wonderful statuary and glazed bricks filled Ephraim’s heart with joy.  In vain, he looked about for his brothers and found no one he recognized.

   As they neared the royal grounds, Opal spoke, “Ezra will be here today bartering the value of his magic garments for gold.  We will not want him to recognize us.  All I will need to do is keep a veil over my face but you will need more of a disguise.”

    She handed him a small sack and razor.  “Your beard has grown long.  Cut it short and dust your hair with fine ashes.  It will gray your hair enough to make you look older.  It should be enough to fool my father.”

    Once their disguises were set, they wheeled their cart up the slope to the palace gates along with other merchants hoping to sell to the emir.  A minor official approached Ephraim.  He looked over the rugs and nodded to the guards.  “This one may pass.  Let the vizier see these.”
Opal and Ephraim were allowed entrance into the grand hall.  Proud columns covered in turquoise spiraled upward from floors of smooth stone.  Gilded doors and banisters offered entrance to some of the palaces more private chambers.

   Ephraim was awestruck but Opal didn’t seem to notice.  “Ephraim, you cannot look around like a charmed snake.  You will embarrass yourself.”  

   A tall man with oiled beard and hair approached them.  His staff was set with small gems marking him as the vizier.  He listened to the official for a moment then looked at Ephraim with unfriendly appraising eyes.  Then he examined the rugs and his expression changed completely.  “Not once in my many years of service have I seen such exquisite detail!  The least of your carpets make the best we have into rags.  Wait here and you will see the emir.”

   Ephraim knew his work was good but his reception was unexpected.  He looked at Opal whose face also glowed with pride and another emotion Ephraim hadn’t seen in a long time.  Opal realized she was giving away her feelings and hurriedly pulled the veil over her face.

   The palace’s inner court shown with so much wealth Ephraim was sure the dust his sandals collected was made of gold.   Incense burned from the mouths of solid silver lions.  Life size calves of solid gold guarded the very steps to the emir’s throne.  The emir was dressed in Ezra’s heavenly garments with wide jewels adoring his brow and arms.  Other attendants surrounded Ephriam all dressed in the clothes made from spun clouds.  The emir looked on and said nothing as one of his officials bargained with Ezra over a beautiful cloak made with swirling patches of red smoke.

   When the haggling was finished, Ezra bowed and stepped away from the throne.  Then the vizier advanced to the bottom of the throne’s steps and called for attention.  “I have found a weaver of skill that matches Ezra’s!  This man’s work is so exquisite that I have brought him to you my master, without delay!”

   The emir straightened.  “Bring him before the steps.”

   Ephraim took three of his finest rugs and laid them before the emir and his servants.  Those in the court crowed in and a servant held them up for all to observe the amazing patterns.  Ezra also looked on but did not seem to recognize his daughter or Ephraim.

   Even the emir seemed impressed.  “Yes, these are outstanding.  Ezra, come before me and tell me why your work is superior.”

   Ezra stepped forward.  “Master, I fear that your court has grown callous to my craft for if I had walked in today and offered you my magic robes for the first time you would not look twice at this man’s trash.  As it is, I do have something special to show you.”

   He snapped his fingers and a servant brought Ezra’s sack to him.  He opened it and pulled out a sash that glistened then flashed.  He offered it to the vizier who walked it to the open hands of the emir.  “I have found a way to not only force the sky into my threads but now the lightning as well.  This sash is the first of its kind and it can gird a man with the power of the gods.”  Ezra smiled and bowed.  “I give it as a gift to you, master, that I will again find the utmost of favor in your eyes.  In fact, if you still find this man’s work superior to mine I will offer him three requests of his choice.  If not he will give me all of the rugs he has that I may sell them.”
The emir ran his fingers over the slow flashing sash.  “Merchant, do you accept?”

   Ephraim deepened his voice and replied.  “I do.  Master, you will find my carpets far superior than captured lighting for my work is not strictly ornamental.”  He stepped onto the nearest.  “My craft is also woven with the power of the elements.  I have used wool and spun it with the restless power of the wind as well.”

   As Ephraim raised his hands the rug floated up.  A cry of wonder escaped those gathered.  By simply adjusting his feet Ephraim controlled the path and speed of the rug.   He flew between the court’s pillars before coming to rest where he started.

   “A flying carpet!  How magnificent!”  The emir was on his feet and coming toward Ephraim.  When he was close enough he embraced Ephraim and shouted,  “Leave them here with me and take whatever treasures you deem as yours!”

   Ezra flew into a rage.  “Foul!  Merchant, how did you do that!?  How is it possible?  Only I have control of the magic loom!”  He stepped close to Ephraim.  Then he recognized the trader and Opal.

   “Ephraim!”  Ezra clenched his teeth.  “I saved your life and taught you the art of the loom and this is how you repay me!?  I will not accept this shame!  You will never leave my service now!  Never again will you set foot in my home.  From here forward you can sleep in the garden with the animals.”

   “There is nothing you can do now to control the path my sandals take.  In fact, it is I who has some measure of control over you.  After all, you owe me three requests.”  Ephraim calmly continued.  “I want freedom for your son.  I desire your daughter’s hand in marriage and you must cease stealing clouds from this realm.  It must rain again.”

   The emir’s brows knitted.  “The drought we have experienced since the beginning of my reign is caused by your weaves!?  The desert grows and threatens to further isolate us because of the clouds you have taken?!”

    Ezra looked about.  He saw in the court’s eyes a reflection of the emir’s anger.  There would be no way for him to leave without being caught.  Quickly, he jumped onto the third flying carpet and lifted off the ground.  With one final look toward Ephraim, he flew out one of the high windows and was gone.


   When Habib returned to the cave after sundown, the mouth had collapsed and only a rugged pile of rocks remained.  He set the staffs he carried and the clouds that quickly swirled around them against one of the boulders.

   “What happened?”  He mumbled to the night air.  “How will I return home?”

   From above his head, Opal replied, “You could travel with us.”

   Habib looked up and found Ephraim and Opal hovering on one of the merchant’s rugs.  “Brother, you may free the clouds you have captured.  Rain must again return to the desert and allow portions of her to bloom.”  She embraced Ephraim.  “Father has left us to this world but I have no doubt we will find happiness.”

Lead Laced Tongue

Nothing casts so gracious a light upon a man’s brow as saying the right thing at the right time.  It’s the perfectly fitting piece to a jumbled puzzle of competing voices.  It makes your case and clads your point in stainless steel.

A shrewd man once quoted another by saying, “Borrowed wisdom is always better than the dung you were going to say.”

Scenario Number One: 

Your coworkers are discussing a difficult problem that has development of your new supercomputer at a complete standstill.  Groups of engineers are looking at the beta type and blue prints and saying something about reversing the polarity.  You have no idea what the problem is because you’ve been learning to juggle your collection of stress balls for the last three weeks.

Suddenly, they all turn to you and ask, “Bob, what do you think the problem is?”

Dynamic Quote:  It looks like there’s a little play in the mechanism.”

Further Application:  Use this handy phrase whenever anyone asks you to diagnose problems with cars, computers, home electronics, economic recovery plans, and recipes.  If they ask you to clarify, simply restate the quote, “I said, it looks like there’s a little PLAY in the MECHANISM.”

Scenario Number Two: 

A new supervisor has been hired for your department, restaurant, or school.  His first long oration revolves around finding the “right people for my new ideas.”  Everyone with three years of experience knows that means extra responsibilities with no extra pay.  If your job is secure, step into his office, look around a bit confused, and say…

Dynamic Quote:  “Wait, this isn’t the men’s bathroom!”

Further Application:  As long as it isn’t over used, this quote is laser sharp.  It also has value anytime you waltz into a meeting a bit late.  It amuses and deflects from the fact that you were running a bit late, but you’ve got to sell it.

Scenario Number Three: 

 One of your coworkers has a proposal that has “apocalyptic failure” written all over it.  You are asked your opinion.

Dynamic Quote:  “I’d rather teach roaches to do circus tricks on a street corner in Haiti.”

Further Application:  In recent tests, this verbiage has been found ineffective in relieving spouses of household chores.  Tests indicated subjects still had to take out the trash.  This quote is best left to shoot down suggestions from people who cannot physically harm you.

Scenario Number Four: 

The following quote is best kept under glass with emergency decals plastered across it.  It is guaranteed to bring any group conversation to a screeching halt.  You instantly become the center of attention and the previous subject of conversation is completely forgotten.

Dynamic Quote: Hey, guess who I saw picking his nose while he was driving to work?”

Further Application:  This quote adjusts well to any and all social situations but it must be used only in dire circumstances.

Elderly Thinking

Sunday morning…tiny motes of dust swim through slanted columns of light that pushed through the window curtains. Each bit took my thoughts in a different direction.
Am I breathing that stuff in? How much does each one weigh? Is it skin off that guy over there?

I thumbed to the maps in the back of my Bible and studied the path of Paul’s third missionary journey again. The room was filled with the smell of old paper and jasmine perfume. Every time I squirmed a bit the battered, metal folding chair would creak.
Hmmm, I wonder if Paul ever contacted a travel agent?

I was trapped in the Sunday school class called the “Late Bloomers.” I should have escaped to the class with for my own age group but it was too late now. They had just taken six thousand prayer requests for various aches, pains and other more serious matters. I know God listens and is aware of each one but I couldn’t care less about Silas Gretchmore’s gall bladder.

Have I ever read the book of Numbers? I wonder what it’s about?

Then it was time for prayer. At the front of the small room, an elderly voice droned, “And Lord, we also pray for Eugene Blatamer’s gallbladder as well. We pray that you would give him comfort as it has been removed.”

I wonder if those around me are praying or getting a head start on their afternoon nap?

I didn’t know any of the folks for whom they were praying and it wasn’t easy to sit still.  My most recent bout with “prehistoric” jock itch was occupying most of my attention. Each time I adjusted my hindquarters the chair would release another squeak – like the cry of a pinned rat.

Mmmm…I can smell the casserole dishes from here. This potluck is going to be great.

My wife should be sitting beside me but she woke up with a headache and flu symptoms. I might have stayed with her but my Grandmother-in-law persuaded me otherwise. “Oh yea, you can come with me. You’ll enjoy the prayer request time where each member gets to air their latest health problem.” He smiled and poked me in the ribs. “I’ll be sure they mention your fungus problem for prayer.”

“…and Lord we pray that you would give Matt comfort from his unmentionable request. Lord, we don’t know the exact nature of Matt’s problem but we pray for Your hand on whatever it is bothering him…Amen.”

I sat half listening to the lesson on fleeing from temptation. Listening to all the metaphors to running, I couldn’t help wondering when was the last time anyone in the room had fled from anything.

After the closing prayer, I offered this question to my grandmother-in-law and a few of the older gentlemen around her. “When was the last time you actually picked up your knees and ran?”

They looked at each other smiles creasing their faces. No one could answer my question. I pressed the issue. “Well why don’t you? Wouldn’t you like to run again even if it’s for no apparent reason?”

A man in an out of date polyester suit pointed to me. “We don’t run because we’re old. Once you get old – you’re done running. Actually, you’re done doing a lot of things.” The guys around him chuckled a bit making me feel uncomfortable.

“So basically what you’re telling me is that once a man is old, that’s it, he’s old. The sign a man is officially old is that he can no longer run.”

Another man said, “You’re only as old as you feel and if you feel old, you ain’t running.”

One of the wives scooted her chair toward the men. “So you think that’s what makes a man old huh? Well then, what makes a woman officially old?”

This answer I knew. “Ma’am, if you look at all the other women’s hair you’ll notice it’s permed into spirals so tight it would take a can opener to reach their scalps. That’s how you know an old…I mean mature woman.”

The woman’s expression didn’t change for a second then she smiles and said, “Well, look who just talked his way out of the potluck.”

Nothing says, ''The sex appeal is gone!'' like a good perm

Nothing says, ''The sex appeal is gone!'' like a good perm

The Digressive Gene

I’ll be honest; there is a digressive gene in my family that has been proudly passed on from generation to generation.  It isn’t apparent to the eye but Teply’s have a genius that is difficult to detect (see:  To prove my point, I am offering you three quick snippets of information.  Two of them are absolutely true and one is fictional.  See if you can pick which one.

Eight Track Static

Uncle Bill Teply has a nose for valuable collectibles…well valuable is the wrong fit.  When cassette tapes first made their appearance, 8-tracks were doomed to share the dodo bird’s place in oblivion.  However, my uncle saw an opportunity for investment.  One day Bill went to K-Mart (You know what a K-Mart is right?) and bought stacks of eight tracks with a mind that they would one day be sought after antiques.

You know there is only one way this ends…a dusty box in a musty basement.  The only thing of value my Uncle earned was this valuable lesson:  Never let good money chase bad technology.

Of course you never know, there’s always a chance that all that plastic and magnetic tape could appreciate.  I suggested to my Uncle that he send each 8-track to the respective artist.  Perhaps getting each one autographed would help the value.  After all, it’s not like any of those musicians are doing anything now anyway.

He replied with something unbecoming so I suppose that means his collection won’t be left to me…whew.

Pay to the Order of…My Hindquarters!!

Papa Teply hated paying the bills.  That’s really no surprise and no one can really blame him.  What separated Mr. Teply from other dads was the charismatic way my father went about paying his bills.  As he wrote out the check, he would make good use of the Memo line.

What do I mean?  Instead of writing, “Electric Bill – August ’85,” he would spell out something of a more abusive nature.  That’s right; my father would cuss on his checks.  The water bill would have, “DROWN IN $!##.”  The electric bill would be embellished with, “KISS MY ELECTRIC @$$!”

Who needs personalized checks when Papa Teply was so adept at doing it himself?  Don’t you wish you were a Teply?

Hey Kids, Do You Like Chicken?

Teply’s are masters of innovation.  There is no problem that a Teply can’t either cobble together a solution for or completely ignore.  It’s a gift.  My brother Nate bares this talent.  Try as I might to convince him he was adopted…the mark of Teply genius is simply too strong to dismiss.

Sometimes apartment dwellers are left a little in the lurch when it comes to Halloween.  Do you stock copious amounts of candy in case smart trick-or-treaters decide apartments offer the most doors with the least walking or do you buy just one bag because many parents steer kids away from these dens of debauchery?

A few years back, Nate decided that his Halloween traffic would be light and there would be no need for more than one sack of candy.  He didn’t even bother putting it in a bowl.  Yet before seven o’clock his stores of confectionary delights was running low.  (It didn’t help that he couldn’t keep his own fingers out.)
With the doorbell continually ringing and the bag running low, Nate went into Teply genius mode.

“Hey Jennifer, if we had any candy hidden where would it be?”

Jennifer replied, “Well since you don’t cook…I’d hide it behind the spices but I don’t think there’s any there.”

Nate went to the narrow cabinet and seeing nothing sweet settled on a different option.  For the remainder of the night, he passed out colorful, foil wrapped chicken bouillon cubes.

“Hey, at least they’re sugar free.”

Removing Political Stain

Dichotomy- “Being of two parts.  Having dual thinking…”

This definition may be the perfect way to describe American’s feelings toward their politicians.  Opinion polls consistently find good approval for the representatives of your district or state but a poor regard for the Congress as a whole…and EVERYONE feels this way.  So when you’re sitting at home complaining about Congress and the homers every other state is sending to Washington, your neighbor across the state line is wondering the same thing about you!  This development isn’t a complete surprise after all; each member of Congress is, in theory, beholden to the people of his own district.  He/she isn’t necessarily trying to impress those who will never cast a vote on their behalf.

To remedy this I have cobbled together a powerful set of suggestions that I firmly believe will set you on a course to nationwide acceptance.  In fact, using my techniques I can almost guarantee that even though some people will disagree with your take on the issues…they will at least avoid shading you as just another politician.  Take my word on this then HIRE me as a consultant (pay and perks to be discussed later).

Handy Steps to Wiping Off the Political Stink

Step One – Rediscover the art of saying nothing.

Why in the name of Calvin Coolidge are you forced to give an answer to every question you’re asked.  Make your words count!  It’s easy to tell when a political leader doesn’t have an answer.  He will start yapping about something else entirely for at least thirty seconds (the time it takes for most people to forget the question) then stop and act like his answer was clear.  Let ME be clear…Your answer was wasted air and all the words you just wasted will go a long way to drowning out the clear responses you want people to hear.

Of course if he has an answer but doesn’t want to use it, then we are subjected to a repeat of something he’s said earlier.  He may begin with, “As I’ve previously stated…” or “Let me regurgitate – I mean reiterate – what I’ve said before.”

How about this…”I’m not addressing that issue right now.” or the classic, “No comment, next question please.”  I know the second quote makes you seem a bit dodgy but not HALF as much as blabbing your way around a question.

Step Two – Refuse to use (or overuse) statistics.

Thanks to the wonders of photo shop programs the camera can now lie and we have number wonks that can make statistics do the same thing.  Take ANY issue and ask each side to find “hard data” to back up their positions.  What are the chances that one side will return and confess, “You know what…we got nothing.”

No one trusts statistics any more.  The first thing that goes through my head when I hear politicians use them is, “What hidden variable are they neglecting to tell us?”

Here’s the idea.  Because people are skeptical of statistics, refrain from using them.  Say things that the average listener will remember. No one remembers all the numbers politicians throw out.  Make concrete statements about your placement on the issues.  And if your opponent is throwing out numbers that are cooked, say so.  Post debunks on your website or offer them in your next interview…it’s a good way to discredit him.

(My head splits completely in two when I hear that a new program is completely paid for only to find out later that it is coming from “future savings” or “projected budget surpluses.”  Does anyone else hear Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons saying, “I’ll gladly pay you a dollar tomorrow for a hamburger today.”  It’s worth noting that I’ve never seen Wimpy offer Popeye a dime.)

Step Three – Give the vote back to the People

I know this will sound revolutionary but I’m confident it will work.  Pull the latest entitlement program or tax cut out of your platform and offer the American People their vote back!

Abortion, gay marriage, marijuana, school bussing, even allowing folks to text while driving should all be left for the states to decide.  Wouldn’t it be crazy if the citizens of each state voted on their own laws?  You know, give the people their votes back.  Currently some of our congressmen are working a law to make texting while driving illegal by a federal government mandate…and states can’t handle this?  What part of the constitution mentions abortion?  It doesn’t…which means a high school government class means more than the law degrees and experience of nearly half our Supreme Court justices!

Instead of doing what many of our politicians perform so well (creating mandates) offer the people the option of ruling themselves.

Hair (check), suit (check), evasive answers (check), long worn policies (check), sloppy stats (check)…
Hair (check), suit (check), evasive answers (check), long worn policies (check), sloppy stats (check)…

Fun Impaired

Subject: Matt Teply – aka:  Matthew, “BUT ONLY IF YOU’VE CHANGED MY DIAPER!!”

Condition: Adultius Funonium Retardus – An inability to enjoy the events in life that have great appeal for so many other people.

Synopsis: Adultius Funonium Retardus was once clinically referred to by the acronym AFR but has become better known as “Lame-O’s Disease.”  It’s a rare disorder that inhibits the brain from producing the chemicals necessary for fun when exposed to most stimuli.

Research: We’ve studied Mr. Teply for over a decade and performed almost eight different lobotomies (One time didn’t count – we just shaved his head.) with no measurable change.  Mr. Teply has been exposed to almost everything commonly associated with enjoyment and with neutral to negative responses.  The subject’s condition appears to be permanent.

Here is a listing of stimuli in alphabetical order.

Concerts – Subject complains of loud noises and that the music doesn’t have the same clear quality.  Instead of participating in the public event, Mr. Teply searches relentlessly for a bathroom.  Although many people dance, Mr. Teply prefers to sit and completely refuses to dance with the music.  Mr. Teply admits, “Is the show worth the hearing loss?”

Golf – Subject is allowed to roam free on a public golf course and immediately begins breaking golf norms.  He takes a baseball-style swing at the golf ball with a completion percentage in the low twenties.  He then kidnaps a bucket of driving range balls and uses them to play the actual game.  Subject refuses instruction.  Mr. Teply lost eight balls on eight holes played, and was finally shooed off the course by the course manager.

Boating/Jet Ski/Water Skiing – Despite being a certified lifeguard and spending a great deal of time at the public pool, Mr. Teply was generally unenthusiastic about all three endeavors.  When asked to explain, the subject shrugs.  Again, classic Lame-O’s Disease symptoms.

Mr.Teply responds, “A boat?  They are expensive, eat up an entire driveway, require upkeep, are a pain to get anywhere, and you only use them a few times a year.”  Lame-O’s Disease for sure.

Beach – Subject complains about the sun.  Subject complains about the salt water.  Subject complains about being board.  Subject is given heavy sedative and thrown to sharks.

Enjoying Alcohol – Mr. Teply has been given multiple types of drinks to enjoy and finds them all “yicky.”  Subject equates beer with “horse piss” and becomes visually and verbally combative if challenged.  When forced to consume alcohol, Mr. Teply mistakenly chooses drinks specifically designed for females such as cosmopolitans, fruity schnapps, and white zinfandels.  Teasing from our research staff only increased the subjects hostility to the beverages.

Movies – Subject developed a toxic mix of outright hostility at being asked to pay large sums for an hour and a half of “tripe.”  Mr. Teply’s general response to the movies we showed him was disgust.  He hated the idea that people along the California coast were making millions and congratulating themselves for scripts real authors wouldn’t wipe their rears with.  Mr. Teply kept repeating, “Thank goodness for special effects!!”

Gambling – This trial was the shortest in duration.  Subject lost five dollars in three minutes on a slot machine and stormed out.  Research aids that tried to stop him from prematurely leaving the lab were summarily beaten.

Conclusion: We have failed to find a cure or even a treatment.  To ease the subject’s suffering we plugged him into a computer game and left the room.  Furthermore, do not invite Mr. Teply or anyone stricken with Lame-O’s Disease to anywhere other than a knitting club.

Variations on an Old Favorite

Dear Doctor Pokorny,

My buddies and I use the classic game Rock, Paper, Scissor to settle everything.  You know…who gets to chase the best looking bridesmaid or who has to clean our dorm’s kitchen.  It’s gotten to the point where we have begun calling each other by their favorite play – like my friend Dwayne – we call him “The Rock.”  My name is Ed so of course people call me “Scissorhands” – which was only funny the first time.

Ok, so here’s my problem – we need a new way of deciding things.  Is there another game we can play to make small and large decisions in our lives?  I mean – just by reading this letter you should be able to tell that there’s no way we reason our way to a correct decision.

Thanks and if you answer my question I’ll get you a free pizza from the place I work – if you live in Scuttlebutt, Connecticut.  If you don’t live in Scuttlebutt, I’ll deliver the pizza myself but only if you’re within, like, uh, twenty miles of town.  That’s as far as I can get in a half hour, you know what I mean?

Edward – Scuttlebutt, CT


Have you ever tried flipping a coin?!  Of course, a guy like you probably doesn’t have any money.

Despite the ridiculous nature of your question, I do have a soft spot for the game that aided me with the tough choices of childhood.  As my classmates and I advanced through the grades we added one rule to the game each year until junior high when we started making decisions with our hormones.  Here are the adjustments that made Paper, Rock, Scissors into something a bit more intriguing.

1st Grade-

KARATE CHOP- Bring our fist down towards the palm and at the last second open the side of your play hand to the palm / Yell, “Hi-ya!”

WHAT IT BEATS- Nothing really…except your crayons.

WHAT BEATS IT- Everything.  This is just a play for the slow kids who didn’t know how the game worked.  The kids in the know would encourage the stooge to karate chop – the stooge would get excited and do the best, loudest, most dynamic karate chop he could – then everyone would tell him he lost.

RESULTS- Lots of, “Go back to Kindergarten, you tourist!”

2nd Grade

SIMULTANEOUS PLAY- Bring your play hand down on your open palm at the SAME TIME!

RESULTS- Some kid in Akron, Ohio, was finally able to beat Sammy “the Sloth” Malone.  Once Sammy was barred from playing a full three seconds after the first player, his career as a professional Rock, Paper, Scissors player went downhill.  He now lives in Chicago.

3rd Grade

FISH- Bring play hand down on palm and open it at the last second / instead of letting the hand rest (that would be paper) flop it around.


WHAT IT LOSES TO- Nothing.  Make this play over and over again to drive your friends to distraction.  Once they get frustrated call them a “big baby.”  Laugh…repeat.

RESULT- A harmless game of Rock, Paper, Scissors would often be set aside for Fist, Face, Bloody Nose.

4th Grade

ATOMIC BOMB – Shaping hand hits palm with the back of the wrist / all fingers on the playing hand go up into the air.  Adding a “BOOM” afterward makes your point and then rubs it in.

WHAT IT BEATS- Atomic Bomb beats Rock, Paper, Scissors, Fish.

WHAT IT LOSES TO- Nothing…at least not yet.

FALLOUT- When Rock, Paper, Scissors became Rock, Paper, Scissors, Atomic Bomb, the game became nearly unplayable.  Slow witted kids would still try the occasional Scissor only to have it blown to bits buy the Atomic Bomb.  The United Nations finally stepped in and issued a non-binding resolution number #0002B, which banned the use of the Atomic Bomb play.  It was summarily ignored.

5th Grade

FALLOUT SHELTER- Bring play fist toward open palm / just before the fist hits the palm bend wrist forward and back / the fist should fly right past the palm.

WHAT IT BEATS- Only Atomic Bomb.

WHAT IT LOSES TO- Rock, Paper, Scissors, Karate Chop, Fish

RESULT- With atomic weapons threatening to destroy Rock, Paper, Scissors, our class decided to develop the Fallout Shelter play.  It was a rousing success.

6th Grade

BEST TWO OUT OF THREE- You must count aloud to three then say, “Shoot.”  Something as important as who gets the last donut cannot be left to a single play.  Allegations of cheating and delayed selection can tear apart friendships and destroy lives.  The Best Two Out of Three development allowed each party to more closely watch the other for fraud.

RESULT- People still cheat only now it takes longer to play Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Ed, Just try a Magic Eight Ball Keychain.

Sincerely, Dr. Pokorny

Inside the Brain

Special Investigative Report By Eugene written exclusively for!

They say that human adults use only ten percent of their brain.  So what’s the other ninety percent doing? Using all the investigative clout at, I bought a brain off the internet.  (IGOR.COM has slightly damaged to barely used brains on sale everyday!  Most sell below IQ!)  When it arrived, I was afraid to open it and so was everyone at our Manhattan headquarters.  We wound up just painting the box black and leaving on a bench in Central Park.

Desperate for leads, I called my cousin who is the accountant for one of New Jersey’s most renown brain-o-colologists.  He promptly responded with a one page, hand written, list of valuable data.

10% – Everyday activities:  sleeping, eating, organizing, prioritizing, blah, blah, blah

Now here’s the shocking continuation…

3% – Commercial Jingles                                                2% – State Capitals

5% – Rationalizing Poor Choices                     4% – ½ the chorus to about 6,000 songs

4% – Dirt about Friends                                                  4% – Complaints about Family

1% – Tying Your Shoes                                                    2% – Riding a Bike

6% – Dumb Things Your Boss Does                            3% – Supply and Demand

4% – How Much Money Your Siblings Make          2% – Your First Car

7% – Sex (Males) / Appearance (Females) / Supper (Old Males) / Perms (Old Females)

3% – Being Self-conscious                                             4% – Tattoo Regret

5% – Childhood Traumas                                               12% – Corrupted Space (Alcohol)

1% – How to Hand Shake                                               6% – Celebrity Gossip

9% – Avoiding Work                                                         1%- Work You’re Putting Off

1% – Dreams & Daydreams                                          1% – Counting to Ten in Spanish

This is Eugene reporting from the world headquarters of