Adventurers Get a Golden Second Chance

Movie inspiration: Finding Neverland, directed by Marc Foster

Revision: Never Finding Land


A very steady seafood diet

In the year 1992 a group of adventurers sets sail from Spain in three tiny ships named the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, seeking to replicate the voyage of discovery completed five hundred years earlier by Christopher Columbus.

The international crew, carefully chosen for skills as well as compatibility, encounters few problems as the ships slowly sail across the Atlantic toward the Bahamas. A few storms buffet the ships, but they prove well capable of handling rough weather.

The captain, Dirk Lee of Britain, and the first mate, Pierre Lateef of France, had helped to organize the voyage and became fast friends. Their friendship is never tested until the voyage is into its sixth week, several days after when land should have been sighted by the captain’s calculations. After all, Columbus made the trip in five weeks.

Early in the seventh week, Pierre and other crew members are seriously doubting the navigational skills of their captain. Late in the eighth week, Pierre leads a full scale mutiny and Dirk is confined to quarters.

Early in the ninth week, the Spanish bosun, Carlos Alvarez, deposes Pierre as captain. The crew is ready to mutiny with whoever gives the slightest indication of being able to find land. Rations are exhausted and rainwater is the only available liquid. The fishing is good, but every man, including Dirk, is getting more than weary of seafood.

As Dirk and Pierre sit and ponder the predicament, Carlos suddenly bursts into the room.

“Do either of you know about a television show called the Twilight Zone?”

Dirk nods in the affirmative.

“Well,” says Carlos, “some of the crew are saying we’re in an actual Twilight Zone. How do we get out of it? How did they do it on television?”

Dirk reflects on the questions briefly.

“If we’re in the Twilight Zone of endless seas, there may be no escape.”

But just then comes the cry: “Land ho!”

All the men rush up to the deck to get a glimpse of the treasured sight. And it’s true. Land looms in the distance, beckoning the adventurers. But when the ships get near to land, the men are confused again. They had expected to see signs of civilization, if they had indeed arrived in the Bahamas. The only thing in view besides the shore, however, is vegetation.

Carlos, Dirk and Pierre are selected for the landing party and as they reach shore a group of dark skinned people comes to greet them.  They’re friendly, but speak an unintelligible language.

“Gentleman,” says Pierre. “I suspect we came out of the Twilight Zone of endless seas and into the Twilight Zone of an unspoiled culture and land in the Americas. Perhaps we have a chance to do a better job with it than our ancestors. Are we up to the task?”

Carlos answers with a question of his own: “I wonder if these people can lead us to gold?”

Dirk nods.

“There has to be gold here somewhere.”

Let’s Be Happy Without Being Yappy

Movie inspiration: Happy, Texas, directed by Mark Illsley

Revision: Yappy, Texas

man talking to woman

Tired of the whole yappy thing

Growing up in Yappy, Texas, Sue Menlo had but one goal in mind: to move far, far away. Because everyone she knew in the small panhandle town, including her family members, lived up to the Yappy name.

Sue, a rare reflective type in the town, felt she might eventually explode into tiny particles if she had to live for years among folks who just couldn’t shut up. They talked about just about everything, but also often about nothing. And it was the nothing that drove Sue crazy, because she believed that unless you have something of value to contribute it’s best to close the old pie hole until useful thoughts come along.

So as soon as she finished high school Sue was out the door of her home and headed for California. And she never returned, keeping a vow she made while going down the road. She lost touch with her friends and family as her career as a writer took her around the world.

But then Sue’s parents died, and after being tracked down by a lawyer she found herself back in Yappy to deal with their estate, forty-two years after leaving. Sue had dreaded setting foot in the town again and had a few nightmares before her visit. In all of the dreams everyone she met yapped away with inane comments about inane subjects.

But after being in Yappy for a week, not a single person had said more than a few sentences to her. At first Sue avoided people, dealing only with those who had business regarding her parents’ estate. But then, stunned by the lack of yappiness, she began to venture out into the community.

Everywhere Sue went, she found residents whose behavior did not match the name of their town. In fact, almost everyone seemed shy. Conversations were businesslike, though friendly and hospitable.

Finally, Sue suspected either that the town had changed over its entire population or she was the object of a grand put on, with residents deliberately being non-yappy to tease her. So she began investigating and soon discovered the startling reason behind the town’s transformation.

Thirty years previously the mayor of the day became concerned that young residents, inspired by a woman named Sue Menlo who had written about her frustrations, were leaving in droves. So he began a campaign called Let’s Be Happy Without Being Yappy.

Within a couple of years the town had undergone major change. Residents made sure to think before they spoke. Being economical with words became a matter a civic pride. And Yappy stopped losing its young people and started to grow.

Sue absorbed this knowledge, then sat down to cry. Though she had unintentionally helped to bring change to Yappy, she missed out on decades of spending time with her friends and family. And, nostalgic for her childhood, she confessed to herself that she really wouldn’t mind running into the occasional yappy person.

An Unusual Way to Investigate a Bank Heist

Movie inspiration: The Usual Suspects,  directed by Bryan Singer

Revision: The Unusual Suspects


Just one more caper, says the old guy

When a local bank is robbed of $50,000, Detective Frank Waverly has no leads and no prospects of leads. He considers telling his junior partner, Josh Givens, to round up the usual suspects so that he can at least pretend to be investigating the case. But then he has another idea.

“Round up the unusual suspects,” he says.

Josh does a double take.

“How unusual do you want them to be?”

“As unusual as you can make’em,” says Frank. “I don’t want to see none of those usual guys in here. I’m sick of ‘em.”

So Josh, after much thought, decides to make an impression on his boss. The first day he brings in a priest. The next day it’s the president of a major corporation. Then it’s the news anchor at the local television station, followed by the college football coach, a city councilor, and then a man from a seniors home who has just celebrated his one hundredth birthday.

Frank is indeed impressed and admits to himself that he would not have, under ordinary circumstances, considered investigating any of these suspects. But he decides that in a pinch they’ll certainly do just fine. If Frank had not been an extraordinarily successful detective his supervisor would have probably thrown him and Josh out the door. But they get some leeway to pursue the investigation as they see fit.

Three months later, the bank heist remains unsolved. But Frank and Josh have uncovered an astonishing conspiracy among the unusual suspects to defraud the city of millions of dollars. The hundred-year-old guy is the boss of the operation. A a former underworld leader, he grew restless in retirement and decided to pull one more caper.

The priest and the coach are childhood friends who used to run numbers for the old guy’s son. The corporation president and the city councilor are his grand nephews. The TV anchor is the grandson of his best friend.

Frank becomes a hero for unraveling the conspiracy, but he fails to give proper credit to Josh for having the instincts to bring in the appropriate unusual suspects. But Josh doesn’t say anything. Because he knows that the next time he’s told to investigate someone unusual, his first target will be Frank.

Nothing Worse Than a Blue Sky Blizzard

Movie inspiration: The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming

Revision: The Odds of a Blizzard

snowy hillside

How do you define blizzard?

Some people will bet on anything, if the odds are right. Tom Trudeau is such a man, willing to wager in an instant if he thinks he has an advantage. So when Tom walks into the Sapphire Bar in a Rocky Mountain town in August, he is primed for any opportunity to gamble.

The television is on with the weather forecaster saying snow is on the way, and lots of it, along with high winds. Tom watches the television for a moment then steps back outside to confirm that his short-term memory isn’t failing. Just as he suspected, the sky is still blue from horizon to horizon and the air is so still the flutter of a passing bird’s wings can be heard.

Back in the bar, Tom snorts loudly: “Ain’t going to be no blizzard.”

From a table near the bar comes a retort from Bob Wilson, a man Tom knows casually: “Oh, yes, there is. The weatherman is my uncle, and he usually gets it right.”

Tom turns to face his rival, hands on hips: “So, Bob, just how often is that uncle of yours wrong?”

“Only about twenty percent of the time, I reckon.”

Tom nods, considering the situation.

“So I expect you’ll give me four to one odds on a blizzard happening by tomorrow morning?”

“I expect I will,” says Bob. “For a thousand bucks.”

The two men shake on the bet and Tom sits down for a beer with Bob. By the time they’ve shared two drinks the wind is beginning to howl, rattling the door and windows. Tom doesn’t pay the wind any attention, but Bob says he’s considering heading home before the weather worsens.

“Go ahead on,” says Tom. “Just bring me the four thousand bucks tomorrow evening, right back here.”

Ten minutes after Bob leaves snow begins to fall and the other patrons head for the exit. Tom leaves his table, sits at the bar, and orders another beer. Soon the phone rings and after the bartender takes the call he turns to Tom.

“That was the boss. He wants me to close early because of the blizzard. Like right now.”

Tom sips his beer.

“Ain’t going to be no blizzard. This is August.”

“You’re right about the month, Tom. But the boss says the snow is coming down hard, the wind is getting stronger, the visibility is poor, and the highway is getting treacherous. So I’m closing up. Can I give you a lift somewhere? You’ve had three beers and shouldn’t be driving in this mess.”

Tom takes another sip and considers the situation.

“Let me ask you something. Did you hear Bob offer a definition of blizzard?”

“No, Tom. I don’t believe he defined it in my earshot. But neither did you. So it may be up to the weatherman to define whether what we’re getting is a blizzard.”

Tom nods his head.

“What are the odds that Bob’s uncle is going to come down on his side?”

“Probably about a million to one.”

Tom nods his head again.

“Do you know where a fellow might make a thousand dollars by tomorrow night?”

The bartender starts his closing down procedures but then stops to look at Tom.

“Well, Tom, I figure if you’re sober by morning, you’ll be able to make quite a bit of money shoveling driveways and sidewalks. No one was really expecting this kind of weather so lots of folks will be looking for help.”

Tom nods his head again.

“I was afraid you were going to say that. What kind of odds will you give that I’m going to be sober?”

When Life Goes Weird, There’s No Place to Hide

Book inspiration: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Revision: The Fly in the Catsup


Always a pest?

For more than three years Lloyd Nelson has eaten at the same restaurant every Friday night. He loves fish and chips, and Boater’s Seafood Restaurant serves a tasty and generous dish.

But when Lloyd discovers mid-bite that a fly had found its final resting place in his catsup, he no longer likes fish and chips. And he doesn’t want  to eat at Boater Bill’s again, no matter how tasty the fare.

All weekend Lloyd thinks about the fly that he almost ate. If fact, he can think of little else. When Monday arrives and he goes back to work at the city library, he notices that some of the books being checked out have the word “fly” in the title. All through the week, he sees the same pattern and begins to suspect that either he is becoming deranged or may be in the early stages of turning into a fly. Either way, life seems kind of crazy.

On Friday night, Lloyd tries a new restaurant that does not serve fish and chips or catsup, Wong’s Chinese Cuisine. He likes the décor and the wait staff is friendly. But when Lloyd finds a fly in his sweet and sour soup on the second spoonful, he knows he will never learn if the restaurant has fine cuisine. Because he’s out the door like a flash and decides to settle for his own cooking.

After another week of seeing even more books with “fly” in the title checked out, Lloyd decides to take a little holiday. He rents a small cottage by the sea and settles in for a quiet week away from the library and restaurants. His appetite has been poor since the last fly incident so he stocks in only a few grocery staples.

Late at night he lies in bed listening to the breakers on the shore and feeling more at peace than he has since his last visit to Boater Bill’s Restaurant. Then he hears it. A fly is buzzing against the window, unable to find its way to a more useful environment, such as the garbage can.

Lloyd realizes then that he is destined to be in the presence of flies, in one way or another, forever. Even if he doesn’t turn into a fly himself, which still seems a good possibility, Lloyd knows he must make the best of a difficult situation. So he makes a choice that he considers both courageous and obvious. He gets out of bed, swats the fly with a newspaper, plops it into a saucer of catsup, and gulps down the culinary creation that he had refused in disgust just a short while ago.

“Hmmm,” he says. “Surprisingly tasty, with a long finish. So am I going to end up as a fly cannibal or just a guy who likes snacking on the odd fly in the catsup?”

What’s In a Name? That Depends

Movie inspiration: Mary Poppins, directed by Robert Stevenson

Revision: Mary Pop Pins


A good option for a name

As soon as Laura and David Pins learn that a baby is on the way, they begin searching for suitable names. When the ultrasound shows the baby will be a girl, they’re able to narrow their choices.

David favors the name Safety while Laura prefers Clothes. David’s parents suggest that Ballpoint would be a good option. Laura’s parents make it known that they like Needles with the middle name of Ann, but they are willing to settle for Broach Ann. David’s uncle Joe, a bit of a rebel, suggests the name Dee but also really likes Pigg.

The expectant parents become stressed from all the family pressure. While they like all the suggestions, they’re not sure that any of the names are superior to Safety or Clothes. Then Laura has a brilliant idea: why not give the baby an ordinary old fashioned name instead of something newfangled and fancy. David agrees and they soon settle on Mary, the name of Laura’s grandmother.

To be fair, Laura insists that David should honor a grandparent with the middle name. Since he has always called his only surviving grandparent Pop, there doesn’t seem much room to maneuver, especially since his grandfather’s given name is Eustace and that doesn’t really fit with Mary.

So little Mary Pop Pins arrives in the world with no idea, at first and for quite a while afterward, that she has a name that could lead to social embarrassment. It’s not until the first grade that the name draws negative attention. That comes when the teacher reads her list of students and says aloud, “Mary Pop Pins? You’ve got to be kidding!”

The negative attention kind of grows exponentially from there, and by high school little Mary has grown into muscular Mary, pumping iron with a ferocious dedication so that no one dares to joke about her name.

And no one does joke about it in front of her. But behind her back and in social media the legend of Mary Pop Pins spreads. Mary considers hating her parents for naming her in such a way, but she realizes they meant well. So she toughs it out.

Had she only known what the future might bring, she would have been thanking her parents all along rather than harboring resentment. Because one day she gets a call from a movie studio. They intend to do a remake of the Mary Poppins movie and think it would be cool to have her name in the credits as a producer. The studio offers her big money for the use of her name.

But that’s not the best part about having the name. On the movie set Mary meets a muscular cameraman, Barry Dee Penz, and they soon marry. Being modern about last names, they agree that their children will take the last name of Penz-Pins. And they hope that one day one of their offspring will be a wrestler, because it would be nice to hear an announcer say that Penz-Pins pins somebody. Just once.

The Mayans Make a Strong Comeback

Movie inspiration: A Good Day to Die Hard, directed by John Moore

Revision: A Hard Way to Buy Goods


Company attire for men, until change comes

The business practices at the Bardillo Corporation in Phoenix cause confusion for most of its employees. They don’t understand. They just follow instructions, get a decent paycheck, spend it, and start the cycle over again.

Still, some wonder if perhaps a different approach might be better for business. For example, all employees are required to wear the company uniform while on duty, which is not so unusual. Unless the uniform is red Bavarian lederhosen for the men and dirndls for the women. Since the company has no direct ties to Bavaria or Germany, a few workers grumble about the uniform, saying it makes them feel embarrassed.

Those most embarrassed are the sales staff, who spend a lot of time meeting the public. And during Arizona’s sweltering summer months, the leather breeches for the men are both a blessing and a curse. The short pants are great for staying cool, but the leather not so much.

Even with that fashion handicap, the Bardillo sales staff manage to meet targets and garner bonuses so the complaining about the dress code is muted among them.

It’s the purchasers in the company who face a more difficult challenge. Whatever the company needs to manufacture its line of automotive accessories must be bought in Deutsche marks. That’s company policy and non negotiable. Of course, Deutsche marks are a strong currency and very negotiable. But finding American suppliers that will accept marks without complaint is not so easy.

Some deals fall through because of the currency requirement, but the Bardillo company does not waver and does not bend. It’s either accept our marks or we’ll buy elsewhere.

Then one day Bardillo appears destined for change, and for most employees not a second too soon. The founder, Herman Schwarzkopf, dies and leaves his fortune to his granddaugher, Monica. Within a month Monica, who is married to a Mexican, brings in new policies.

The dress code now will require men to wear Mayan style cloaks, breechcloths, and sandals. Women must wear colorful Mayan ankle skirts, tunics and sandals. If sales staff happen to venture into some inclement winter weather in northern Arizona, they are permitted to throw on an extra cloak or blanket if they are in the approved Mayan style. The sandals, though, even in snow, are still required. Being caught without them is a firing offense.

And the company’s new currency requirement for purchasing through suppliers? Mexican pesos, of course. Monica realizes that with Arizona’s location next to Mexico, the German currency just doesn’t make sense anymore.

The Aroma of Blueberry Cobbler Travels a Long Way

Book inspiration: A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Revision: A Farewell to Farms


It’s sure not Atlanta

When Joe Ames awakes every day for the dawn chores on the family farm, his first thought is always the same: How can I escape this place? For seventeen years, just about since he got out of diapers, Joe has been helping his parents and brothers run the farm. For sixteen years, he liked it.  Now, he just wants out.

Joe decides the best way to leave is just to leave. So one morning in July, with only cursory notice to his family, he bids farewell to farms and heads to Atlanta to seek his fortune. But on the way to the big city from south Georgia, a lot happens.

First off, when he’s about a mile down the road, Joe realizes he misses his dog, Spike. He visualizes Spike running after him all over the farm. Then he starts missing the cows, the ducks, and the pigs. Although he’s had enough of farming to do him for an eternity, he’s not quite sure how to live without the animals that have surrounded him all of his life.

About five miles down the road, Joe starts wondering if he’ll be able to find fruits and vegetables as good as those grown on the Ames farm. He sees a pan of his mom’s fresh strawberry pie skipping across the road ahead then disappearing into the weeds. He has visions of blackberries in cream, blueberry cobbler, and peach ice cream. In fact, he’s pretty sure he even smells the blueberry cobbler, and he starts to get hungry even though he recently ate a large breakfast.

Joe knows the can go to the supermarket in Atlanta and buy almost any kind of vegetable. But he’s doubtful that they will have the same flavor as his mom’s green beans. And the corn. Where can he possibly get corn that has the flavor he’s used to?

As Joe ponders these critical issues, he also realizes that he is truly madly deeply in love with Janey Graham, the girl next door. Will he be able to stand not seeing her every day?

Joe makes it about half way to Atlanta before his body starts to ache and his hands start to tremble. The closer he gets to Atlanta, and the farther away he gets from the farm, the worse he feels.

So Joe finally makes an executive decision, since he is the only one in charge of his life, to turn around and head back to the farm. He arrives right at noon, just in time for lunch. When he walks into the house he finds the family getting ready to sit down at the table, and he notices a plate set in his usual place.

“Better wash up, dear,” his mom says. “We’re just about to eat. Can you smell that blueberry cobbler in the oven? Oh, by the way, Janey called and said she’ll be over to help you with the pigs in about an hour.”

You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down for Long

Movie inspiration: How to Train Your Dragon, directed by Peter Hastings and Chris Sanders

Revision: How to Refrain from Dragging

happy man

Always upbeat, never dragging

Howie Linder makes his living telling people how to stay upbeat in a downbeat world. He gives talks to business groups, schools, government agencies, and anyone else who will pay his hefty fee.

The speech he gives is always the same. Entitled “How to Refrain from Dragging,” the three-hour workshop deals in detail with strategies to avoid being dragged down by negative events, co-workers, and friends. Howie remains cheerful throughout the event, using lots of one-liners and anecdotes. Invariably, he is rewarded with a standing ovation.

Besides the direct feedback received at the workshop, Howie regularly gets email messages and letters from grateful clients explaining how much he helped them. Howie frames the best of these testimonials and hangs them on his office wall.

He really needs that reinforcement, because Howie’s own life is dragging dangerously low. His wife has left him, his mistress on the East Coast seems to be getting suspicious about the mistress on the West Coast, and all the club memberships he buys to drum up business are just one part of the financial drain he faces after investing badly in real estate.

Every day Howie goes through his workshop presentation and picks out nuggets that he thinks might help keep his butt off the ground. For an hour or two, and sometimes even half a day, Howie perks up and feels almost as if he might pull out of his tailspin.

But the night times are terrible for him. Insomnia is his worst friend as he stews over his predicament rather than focusing on getting rest. Finally, Howie realizes something has to change.

The solution comes to him in the blink of an eye. He’ll say goodbye to mistresses, alimony payments, and financial debt. He’ll join the priesthood. He’ll focus on spiritual matters and let the cares of the world slip away.

Then within the blink of another eye Howie realizes that he really, really likes having mistresses, a perk that priests don’t – or aren’t supposed to – get. And he really, really likes his Mercedes, big screen television, Hawaii vacations, and weekend golfing. Otherwise, he feels he would definitely become a priest.

Then within the blink of another eye, Howie realizes he has a solution to his financial problems. He will develop a workshop on how to become wealthy in a bad economy. With the extra income, he’ll reverse his financial losses. He’ll give up the East Coast mistress, and then try to find a wife who has money of her own. And rather than golfing every weekend, he’ll take a couple of days a month to work on spiritual matters.

Howie knew he could refrain from dragging. He just had to figure out the details.

Trapped Americans Spirited Out of Hostile Country

Movie inspiration: Argo, directed by Ben Affleck

Revision: Cargo

cargo train

A deluxe way to travel

The year is 2030 and a political uprising in Canada leaves fifty thousand Americans trapped and unable to get home. The Chinese embassy, also known as the Province of Alberta, secretly provides a hiding place for the Americans until the government in Washington under President Chelsea Clinton can find a solution.

Some of the Americans aren’t exactly itching to leave because the skiing in the Rockies is pretty nice. However, the Chinese, on the hook for food and accommodation, pressure Washington to take action before the political protestors learn the whereabouts of the Americans and storm the embassy.

President Clinton urges the CIA to develop a plan to extricate the Americans from the dangerous and deteriorating situation. Finally, after two months of making detailed arrangements, agent Arnold Alvarez is ready to act.

Alvarez decides to make use of the resources available. He knows that Alberta, a.k.a. the Chinese Embassy, exports a lot of oil and grain through boxcars. So his plan, code named Cargo, is to ship the Americans back home via train.

There is just one tiny problem. Many Americans, especially those enjoying the skiing, aren’t keen on riding the rails like hoboes.  They want to leave in style. So Alvarez gets approval to transform boxcars into passenger cars that don’t look the part.

All the windows and doors are disguised so from the outside nothing appears different. On the inside, however, the joint is rocking with deluxe seats, beds, and dining facilities. Drinks are plentiful and the casino is open for business.

Alvarez manages to sell the stranded Americans on the idea of taking a scenic rail cruise, and in the dead of night the first train departs Calgary and heads for the border. Over the next few weeks the scene repeats over and over, with all the Americans getting safely home – except for about five hundred who have fanned out across Alberta and British Columbia, skillfully evading the political protestors to take jobs at ski resorts.

Agent Alvarez, never having left a mission unfinished, intends to track down every last one of the stragglers and bring them home. This time though, instead of using a deluxe boxcar, he intends to use a pipeline. It’s unclear whether this mode of transport is legal under American law, but Alvarez pushes hard to get White House approval.

President Clinton, understandably, has reservations but passes the problem to her legal team. Soon, Alvarez has his answer. So long as the ski bums are put in the pipeline feet first with an oxygen supply, it’s all perfectly legal.