Thomas, The Resentful Tank Engine

Recently, my wife and I were walking between stores in a shopping center and saw one of those little children’s ride machines you often see outside of stores. Instead of being shaped like a horse, a motorcycle or an airplane, this one appeared to be modeled after the main character of the children’s television series Thomas and Friends –  Thomas, The Tank Engine.

If you’re familiar with Thomas, you’ll note that this train doesn’t look as cheery as the original. In fact, I’d say that this train has some significant attitude problems. There’s no way I’d put my son on this train, and not just because he’s twenty-three years old. 

I stopped to take a picture. Mrs. Omawarisan said “you’re writing about that, aren’t you?”

No, what are YOU lookin' at buddy? I suggest you step off before I derail you (photo by me)

Unibrow. (photo by me)

Yup. I had to write to get the words “Thomas, The Resentful Tank Engine” out of my head. And you’re about to read why I don’t often do fiction…


People say I’m not myself before I get some caffeine. I knew it was a mistake to stop for coffee; I was already running late. But if there was ever a day that I needed to be myself, this was it. I took the chance, grabbed a cup and made it to the train just in time.

Looking back, I wish I’d missed that train. The doors slammed shut just after I stepped aboard and the train darted forward without warning. I wasn’t the only passenger jolted off-balance by the sudden start, but I was the only one who was wearing half of a pumpkin spice latte when he stood back up. Read the rest of this entry »

My One Act Play About The Statue Of Liberty

Kinda in New York. Kinda in New Jersey. A proud symbol of the nation either way you look at it. (image public domain)

This week, I read quite a bit about the one-hundred-thirtieth anniversary of the Statue Of Liberty’s arrival in New York. One of the things I learned is that the statue is sort of in New York and sort of in New Jersey. Liberty Island is part of New York, but the waters surrounding the island are part of New Jersey.

As I was trying to fall asleep last night, I thought about how important the statue is to us as Americans. I considered how my relatives saw Lady Liberty as they came to the United States and what that meant to them. And I wondered why nations don’t seem to give each other cool gifts like that anymore.

But where the statue ended up…sort of in New Jersey, sort of in New York, got my imagination running on the idea of the statue being an over-the-top housewarming gift that a couple didn’t really know what to do with.

I tossed and turned. Eventually I got the idea far enough along that I could get some sleep. And this morning, I wrote a play about the statue as that outrageous housewarming present.

To paraphrase an old Army recruiting slogan – “I write more off the wall stuff before noon than most people write all day.”

Behold, my one-act play.

“The Gift”. Read the rest of this entry »

You Remember Uncle Joe. He Was The One Afraid To Cut The Cake.

Music is something that different people experience in different ways.  Some of us enjoy different styles of music. We’re all moved by the lyrics we hear; those lyrics move us to different places.

Uncle Joe. He was afraid to cut this. (image by roozita ccbysa3.0)

Lyrics are subject to being mis-heard. One of the brightest people I will ever know once believed that Jon Bon Jovi was singing “head full of lice” in the chorus of his band’s hit “Dead or Alive”. The words to other songs are confusing. For instance, what was Bob Seger talking about in his song “Fire Lake” when he sang “you remember Uncle Joe; he was the one afraid to cut the cake”?

The Uncle Joe is a mystery to so many, but like I said, people experience music in different ways. I hear “Fire Lake” and the line about Uncle Joe far differently than most of you. You see, I do remember Uncle Joe. There aren’t many left who know about my Uncle’s struggles, not just with cake, but with all baked goods. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Criticism: George Washington, By Gilbert Stuart

Chances are you’ve got a Gilbert Stuart painting in your pocket. Of course, if you live outside the US or are having some financial difficulties you might not. The picture of George Washington on a U.S. one dollar bill is from a Stuart portrait of the first president of the United States.

Gilbert produced more than one thousand portraits during his career. Not all of those paintings were of George Washington, but a lot of them were. Washington was a favorite topic for Gilbert. Not just any art critic would take on the task of critiquing a very skilful portrait artist on a painting of that artist’s favorite subject.

I’m not just any art critic.

Today, I am going to discuss a particular Washington portrait by Gilbert. The original is at the Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston. A reproduction of this painting hangs in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rise Of The Tea Picking Monkeys

The second half of a tale I started telling…here.

Picking tea was a path to the good life for generations of monkeys. And then innovation lifted the tea industry while it drove monkeys to the poor house.

The poor house is something I don’t know much about. I’m sure it exists because when I was a kid my father used to say “you’re going to drive me to the poor house”. The poor house didn’t seem like somewhere I wanted to send dad, so I changed my ways.

The Monkeys Find Themselves In Hot Water

The change that hit the tea industry hit the monkeys so fast that they had no chance to change their ways.

Hot water. A metaphor I can be proud of. (image public domain – wikimedia)

When tea was grown on trees, monkeys pulled down some serious cabbage harvesting the most savory tea leaves. Then a human realized that the trees could be trimmed to the size of bushes. Tea bushes meant that the crop could be harvested without the expense of paying a skilled simian labor pool. Hard times befell those tea harvesting monks. A lot of them probably saw the poor house.

The worst part was that even though monkeys were not picking tea anymore, the phrase “Monkey Picked Tea” was (and still is) used to market the product. But instead of meaning that monkeys were at work, the phrase now meant that a product contained higher quality tea leaves.

No trickle of the tea industry’s new profitability made it down to the monkeys who lost their jobs. Communities that had thrived were now steeped in misery. Without sufficient income, trouble brewed. Unsavory elements infused the once proud neighborhoods where the unemployed monkeys lived.

It’s Hard To Kick The Door Down, When You Ain’t Wearin’ Any Shoes*

A new hope began to rise from this blight. Inspired by some old-timer’s tales of the way things were, a group of younger monkeys wondered why it couldn’t be that way again. Why couldn’t the trees grow tall? Why couldn’t their kind harvest again? Did they dare to dream of self-reliance?

As it turns out, yes, they dared. But it is one thing to dare to dream of pulling yourself up by your boot straps. It is another to realize that you don’t have any boots. So, with the help of a government grant, the monkeys went to work. They formed a corporation and bought a tea plantation. Some of the money went toward sending young monkeys to good agricultural colleges.

Always ask – “Did a monkey pick this?” (image public domain via wikimedia)

When the young ones returned, they had new ways to grow the trees taller and fuller. As the tea trees reached for more sun, more monkeys went back to work at picking tea. The corporation kept their eye on the goal of self-reliance even as they reinvested and grew their market share. Communities that once grew cold were now infused with income and the energy of the working man…or in this case, working monkey.

So today, when you shop for tea, remember that “monkey picked tea” doesn’t always mean that monkeys plucked your leaves. Be a responsible tea drinker. Read the label before you buy. If the package is designated as monkey picked, ask your retailer to confirm that product in the box was indeed harvested by simians.

If your shop keeper can’t say for certain that real monkeys picked their tea, simply refuse to purchase it. Because seriously, throwing feces doesn’t represent anyone very well.



*Todd Snider – Sideshow Blues

Monkey Picked Tea

The other day I spotted an online ad for “Monkey Harvested Tea”. The idea of industrious monkeys on a tea plantation interested me.

The truth is, I don’t drink tea. I’ve just never liked it. But I like the idea of monkeys at work. Besides, if you have a lot of monkeys at work, they might sometimes want to liven things up a bit. What could be more lively than if a dog came by and a monkey rode it? Remember, a monkey riding a dog is always funny.

The Early Days

Monkeys harvesting tea for George Washington, or maybe his cousin. (public domain, wikimedia)

I looked into the idea of monkey harvested tea. Because I am a visual guy, I wanted a picture. The first thing I found was a very old drawing of a man who may or may not be George Washington with two other men at a monkey tea harvest. Because I know that Northern Virginia doesn’t have the climate that tea needs to thrive, I believe this picture was drawn on Washington’s diplomatic visit to China. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting That Girl

I kept looking at her. There was just something familiar about her.

Maybe it was the way she dressed. Perhaps it was the shape of, well, of her face.  The fact that she was black had a lot to do with it. She wasn’t black in the racial sense that we commonly use. She was black, like the words in a newspaper headline.

“Yes, I’m her”, she said, “didn’t anyone tell you it is impolite to stare?” She caught me. “I’m sorry. You look so familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen you before. What’s worse, I mean, besides getting caught staring, is that I can’t put my finger on why I think I’ve seen you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Traveling with Mr. Peanut

Sculpture of Mr. Peanut seated on a bench in A...

A statue of “the client” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was my first job out of college. I liked to think that it was the pay off for my work in school. The truth was that my uncle knew someone who knew someone. The PR guy in me re-phrases that into “it was the job I was born to get.”

I had a discouraging first week. Reading company policy, learning the mission statement and arranging my cubicle occupied my time. Then came Friday morning. It was the day I got my first big assignment.

The morning meeting droned on. It appeared I’d stay busy helping someone else with their projects instead of getting my own. I was wrong. A senior partner in the firm called my name.

“Michael, it is time for you to show us we hired the right man. One of our clients is traveling to New York to shoot an ad. We need him to arrive, on time. Make that happen. You and Mr. Peanut leave for the east coast on the red-eye tonight.”

I was thrilled! The boss had entrusted me with a celebrity client. It was time to make my opportunity count.

When the car service dropped him off at the airport, I was there at the curb. As Mr. Peanut got out of the car his height surprised me. I introduced myself. Mr. Peanut looked me over and adjusted his monocle. “Bags, Mike. Get my bags.”

Read the rest of this entry »