Who’ll Save the Princess?

Signature Princess telephone

Signature Princess telephone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 1994 and a half-dozen AT&T executives are meeting in New York.

“Alright, people, let’s get started. You all know why we’re here,” the Chief stated. “We’ve been selling Princess phones for 35 years, and now the big boys want to discontinue production.

“So before we pull the plug, I want to ask each one of you for salvage ideas: Who’ll save the Princess?”

“Carlson, your thoughts!”

“Only one, Chief! How ‘bout we make a new base, shaped like shoe, and add a toe to the handset, so when the two are joined the toe sticks out like a misfit shoe, and everyone gets a big kick out of it, thinking Cinderella?”

“Too corny, Carlson, but nice try,” the Chief said.

“Hoglund! What’s your idea?”

“Clear plastic, Chief, so that all internal components are visible to the consumer. Sort of a glass slipper takeoff on Carlson’s idea! With even greater appeal to mechanical nerds! And women do like shoes!”

“I like the mechanical angle, Hoglund. But Jesus, everyone, enough with the Cinderella crap!

“Who’s next? Schwartzmiller?”

“Jewels, Sir. Precious stones imbedded in both the base and handset. We might not sell as many phones, but if we charge enough and target the elitist crowd, we could still make a bundle!”

“Not bad, Schwartzmiller. I like where that line of thinking is headed. But I don’t think it’s wise to price anyone out.

“Peterson, you’re a woman. What would the ladies want in a new Princess phone?”

“It vacuums, cooks and scrubs toilets!” Peterson quipped. “Just kidding, Sir,  but grab yourself and consider what I think is a bold new concept.

“The Princess is already small, streamline and marketed for bedroom use. Let’s put all our cards on the table and make the entire handset a massager/vibrator as well as a phone. In fact, scrap the ringer feature altogether and add a vibration adjuster for appropriate stimulation. And maybe,” she added with a raised eyebrow and knowing smile, “rethink the shape of the whole phone, making it longer and thicker.”

Nine seconds of deafening silence followed Peterson’s delivery before the Chief, sitting slack-jawed and owl-eyed, cleared his throat, blinked four times and said, “Jesus, Peterson, a fucking vibrator? My wife would never go for that. And I don’t think Carlson, Hoglund or Schwartzmiller’s wives would either. Would they?”

“Excuse me, Sir,” said Mr. Wu, the last of the seated executives waiting to be heard. “I think we might want to look at the new cordless technology and messaging feature we’re hearing about. And a smaller, hinged product along the lines of the communicator device on Star Trek. Maybe even think about some kind of viewing screen down the road for message reading and photo imaging or conferencing potential.”

“Crissakes, Wu,” the Chief said. “We’re looking for tangible concepts here, not Star Fleet mumbo jumbo. Let’s think plausible, shall we?

“Peterson, back to you. How long? How thick? And colors? Do we stick with pink? Talk to me, people!”

(This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words or less on the topic Who’ll Save the Princess.)

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Whodunnit Story

Coach Gilbertson bust by Seattle sculptor Louise McDowell.

For several months, I was bothered that I’d been unable to convince a group of otherwise sound minds that we should credit Seattle sculptor Louise McDowell on a permanent marker for her work on a  bronze bust of legendary Snohomish High School coach Keith Gilbertson Sr. that was commissioned by family and friends and installed at the school.

No artistic credit was necessary, bust committee members told me.

That  is just plain wrong. Artists of every genre need and deserve proper recognition for their work.  We’re not talking graffiti here!

I discussed this with Sarah Clark-Langager, director of the Western Gallery at my old school, Western Washington University, widely known for its many outdoor sculptures, and where every piece has some type of permanent marker that includes the name of the piece, the artist’s name and donor identification.  She considered it unthinkable to display any work without identifying the artist.

Coach Armstrong statue by Seattle sculptor Louise McDowell.

McDowell previously sculpted a statue of legendary SHS football coach Dick Armstrong, and that piece, displayed at Snohomish’s Veterans Memorial Stadium, features a plaque with short bio of Armstrong  but no mention of the sculptor. I was told that no credit was necessary on that piece, either, and that McDowell was fine with that.

Not so.  I contacted McDowell by email, and she responded that she hadn’t been back to see the Armstrong statue since it was dedicated and had no idea that her name appeared nowhere near the work.  She also expected some type of acknowledgement with the Gilbertson bust and added that she was prepared to purchase plaques of her own, if need be.

Having relayed all this information to the head of the bust committee, I’m now told McDowell will be identified as the bust sculptor on a legacy plaque to be posted alongside the bust.

Can’t say what will be done about credit for the Armstrong statue, but score one small victory for artistic integrity with the bust and one small step toward getting off the hayseed list.

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Spirit Check

Still have turkey leftovers in my fridge, but, by God, my Christmas lights are already up.

I’m no Clark Griswald, and my cottage-style home is no castle. I’m talking one string (75 feet) of red and green bulbs along the eves on two sides of my house. And one short string of 6-inch penguins and another short string of 6-inch snowmen along the flower beds on each side of my front door.

I’m getting old and my wife doesn’t want me on the roof anymore, but that’s what daughter boyfriends are for, and mine (ours?) scaled the ladder and leaned over the peak to secure the lights in the area of highest risk. The kid is a foot taller than me and has the wingspan of a condor, so let’s just say that his skills are beyond my reach.

Penguin lightNot sure one string of lights is enough, however.

Wish I could afford to hire a guy to sit on my roof in a Santa suit and “Ho, Ho, Ho” everybody on cue, just to keep pace with the guy in the next block with the inflatable Santa on his roof. Of course, the other dude also has an inflatable sleigh and blow up reindeer on his roof, but I won’t have a live show that might leave reindeer poop in my rain gutters.

Wait! Wait! I could ground everything and rent some sheep, a donkey and maybe a cow or two and some actors for a live nativity scene in my front yard. Maybe find a nice homeless family to live in a makeshift stable. I could play the innkeeper. Maybe pay a woman to actually give birth right on my lawn!

Forget the house lights. I want moving spotlights that can be seen in space. And maybe a choir in white robes with wings singing Christmas carols.

Geez, am I feeling it here, or what? I’ll bet Walmart carries stable makings.

On second thought, maybe I’m getting carried away.

The Norwegian in me now has me thinking austerity and humility. May even pull back on the penguins.

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A Short Life Line

One of the first names to capture my imagination in genealogy research was my uncle, Justin Anker Olson, who was no more than 2 years old when he died more than 100 years ago on the family homestead in Harding County, South Dakota.

Justin was the fifth of nine children born to John and Annie Olson, and the other eight all reached adulthood, a blessing of its own considering mortality rates in the early 20th century.

According to church records, Justin was born on May 29, 1907 in Fort Ransom, North Dakota, and was baptized at Standing Rock Lutheran Church. The following spring, Grandpa John loaded his wife and five kids and their worldly possessions into a horse-drawn wagon and joined another dozen Fort Ransom families heading southwest to seek homesteads in South Dakota cattle country.

After traveling about 350 miles over America’s northern prairie, the Olsons settled at place called Clark’s Fork in Harding County outside Buffalo. During the bumpy ride, one can only imagine baby Justin being held by his mother or passed between two older sisters, ages 8 and 6 at that time, giving them a live doll with which to play.

The Olson homestead near Clark’s Fork in Harding County, S.D. around 1916.

That first fall in Harding County, Grandpa broke just two acres of ground before filing papers for his 160-acre homestead in February of 1909 and planting corn and trees on those two acres while also breaking ground on 21 more acres and building a 1½-story frame house, 16 by 30 feet with a cellar underneath, according to BLM records. That strongly suggests that the family camped in their wagon for that first winter in South Dakota, and the exposure may simply have been too much for the little guy. Pop said Justin just got sick and died.

Whatever the nature of his illness, sometime in 1909 baby Justin died and was buried on the homestead, where four more Olson kids were born, starting with my dad in May of 1910. I can only imagine that Pop represented a healing addition to a family that had just lost an infant son in the preceding few months.

The last I know of Justin is that nine years after his death the Olsons moved back to Fort Ransom, and Grandpa John faced the grim task of disinterring his baby son and carrying the remains back to North Dakota, where Justin was reburied in Standing Rock Cemetery. The return trip also took place in a horse-drawn wagon, with Grandma Annie holding another newborn, my uncle Reuben, in her arms. Reuben was the last of John and Annie’s nine kids, which included six boys and three girls.

Pop said Grandpa found only a few bones when he opened Justin’s grave, but he saved what he could, including the headstone that he’d fashioned from a cast iron stove lid in his  blacksmith shop and upon which was inscribed the baby’s  name, birth date and death date.

I’m told that stove lid remains in family hands, but no one knows where.

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt,  500 words or less, on the topic Short Life Line.)

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Paradise Blown

Turns out there’s more to the story of Mankind’s fall than what’s found in the Bible or what Milton described in “Paradise Lost.”

The revelation came to light with the recent discovery of a stained scroll containing graphic sexual images with Aramaic commentary that relatives of a 17th Century London cleaning woman claim was found under Milton’s mattress.

According to the scroll, after God created Adam and Eve, he gave the couple dominion over all the Earth and free rein to procreate. But like a lot of parents,  the Father was a bit vague in His birds-and-bees speech, leaving vital bits of knowledge to experimentation.

One day Satan appeared in the form of a penis-like Serpent, and Adam and Eve’s unbridled passion soon spread to oral and anal sex as well as masturbation, which went well beyond procreation. But God refrained from punishing his prized creations, realizing that he had not set any sexual boundaries nor left clear enough instructions.

He then explained the forbidden fruit, where Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We know how that went, and the couple wound up booted from the Garden of Eden. But before the actual booting, God decided to give Adam and Even one last chance because, with the apple thing, neither understood the concept of sin before succumbing to temptation.

The scroll says God opened up a rainbow and showered the Garden with bits of candy in many colors, telling Adam and Eve that this was another gift because He loved them so much, and that they could eat all they wanted except for one stipulation: “Don’t eat the purple ones.”

Well, life in the Garden was a bowl of Skittles until one day, while Eve was smoking Adam’s sausage, the Serpent again appeared in penis form and said to Eve, “Hey, weren’t you forgiven for all this great sex that God never told you about?”

And Eve thought to herself, “That’s right.”

“And weren’t you given another chance after the misunderstanding about the apple?”

“Yes.”

Then the Serpent added, “When you get right down to it, are you certain that all these purple candies lying about are really purple? Wouldn’t you say that some might actually be more violet or mauve than true purple?”

“Well, yes,” Eve thought, “now that you mention it.”

“You can’t really tell the purple ones just by looking at them,” the Serpent said. “There’s only one way to tell the difference, and that’s by taste. The purple ones taste like grapes and turn to wine in your mouth, which will free your mind even more. Might even open up new avenues to sexual gratification.”

“Geez, I don’t know,” Eve hesitated.

“Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” an ecstatic Adam cried out.

“OK,” Eve decided. “I’ll try one!”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt, 500 words on less, on the topic: Don’t Eat the Purple Ones.)

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Veteran Advice

I always looked up to my dad, and even now as an old fart myself I aspire to be more like him. When others in a quandary might wonder, “What would Jesus do?”,  I’m more prone to wonder, “What would Lloyd do?”

Roll back the clock. I’ve just turned 18, and the Vietnam war and anti-war protests are both escalating in the month before the Kent State shootings, and I’m already feeling blown away. Still, you could excuse yourself from high school to sign up for the draft, so I enlisted a carful of buddies to accompany me to the draft board, where two or three of us faced the same obligation.

On the registration slip, there was a box to check Conscientious Objector. I did so and turned in my slip.

My dad’s WWII campaign medal.

That night at dinner, I told Lloyd about the experience, and the proud WWII veteran and VFW member with an older son who’d enlisted right out of high school could not have been more understanding or  sympathetic toward his younger son. Yet, while hardly missing a beat between bites of meat loaf and mashed potatoes, he advised me to reconsider my action.

“No one WANTS to get drafted,” he said at the time, “and I’m the last guy that wants to see you go off to war. But you’ll never meet their standard as a conscientious objector, and if you don’t go they’ll throw you in jail, so you  should just be a man and take your chances like every other guy in the country your age.”

“But I don’t believe in war. Or killing,” I said as a pat answer.

“No one does,” he said, “but sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”

The next day, I went back and withdrew my objector status. I wound up with a draft number well over 200 and never even got called in for a physical while attending college on a student deferment. But the registration thing and my dad’s measured response left a big impression on me. I took part in a few protest rallies   in college, but I never measured up to being an anti-war activist any more than I measured up as a soldier.

“Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”

My big brother Skip, No. 2 in line behind our dad as my role models,  served his Navy hitch as a yeoman at the fleet supply center in Sasebo, Japan, and didn’t have to set foot in Vietnam.   With money from the G.I. Bill, he went to broadcasting school and achieved early ambitions to become a disc jockey, and I always envied the veteran link that he shared with Pop.

Lloyd was drafted into WWII and observed his 32nd  birthday on a troop train heading for Camp Claibourne in Louisiana. Within a few weeks, he was  overseas  with the 344th Engineering Regiment and spent the next 38 months as a carpentry specialist and occasional combat engineer in England, North Africa, Italy, France, Germany and Austria. The war in Europe ended on his 35th birthday, and that was probably the best birthday present he ever got, until my brother was born two years later on the same date.

My dad would be 102 years old if he were still alive today, and I’m now “older” than Skip, who died in 2005.  I think of them often with great pride, but I’m particularly mindful on their birthday every  May 8 and on Veterans Day.

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Out Damned Spot!

A woman who cleaned with great zeal

peeled back her Good Housekeeping Seal

to find the damn thing left a telltale ring

that diminished the honor’s appeal.

(Note: This limerick was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt on the topic Good Housekeeping.)

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