When I was in the Peace Corps, the FBI captured the Unabomber and he was facing a trial for his crimes. The Unabomber was responsible for killing three people with package bombs that he mailed or delivered himself over the course of 17 years. He could have faced the death penalty, so his attorneys argued that he was insane. Their specific reasoning for declaring him insane included that he lived alone in a cabin. Now, a cabin is not too far from a hut, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was living away from “civilization.”Continue reading
Tuatara in New Zealand are the last surviving members of the order Sphenodontia that was around during the time of the dinosaurs. They like cool weather and have an average lifespan of 60 years though some may survive up to 100 years. In the wild, the tuatara can only be found on the islands around New Zealand. They are no longer on the mainland and went extinct when the Maori introduced the rat to New Zealand. In 2003, the tuatara was reintroduced to Tiritiri Matangi Island after an absence of 100 years.Continue reading
You can now get both the paperback and the eBook of “My Life in the Peace Corps” today at Amazon! I composed this from the letters I sent home while I was serving in Peace Corps Guinea, where I joined as a Public Health and Community Development Extensionist. I was assigned to the health center of a small town of about 5,000 people in the middle of the country. My nearest Peace Corp neighbor was 70 km away during my first year, and I could only get a car out of my village on Saturdays.Continue reading
Growing up, my grandfather helped our family a lot, in spite of the fact that he didn’t like the behavior of me or my sister. As children, my sister and I were not raised to be seen and not heard. Instead, we spoke back to adults and told people what we thought about anything. We also weren’t very good at sitting in a restaurant and being quiet while the adults conversed. At one point, he told my mom that he wouldn’t take us to a restaurant again unless we learned to behave.Continue reading
The snow floated down onto Christian’s overcoat as he walked through downtown Blackwood Forest. The large flakes were lazy as they wafted on the wind. Christian turned up his collar against the wind and quickened his steps. He looked up the street at the sign for the Wooden Pot. A warm cup of coffee would be great right now. This time of year, the Pot was making eggnog lattes with real eggnog. It was thick, rich, and a meal by itself. He might get a pastry, too. He reached the door of the café and reached for the handle. A howl rose up from somewhere in the woods around town.Continue reading
For a long time, bicycles were an integral part of my life. As a child living in the projects, I had the sweetest black bicycle that I had gotten during a mysterious Christmas. It was a hybrid mountain-road bike that I took everywhere in the HUD housing complex where we lived. When I was on that bike, the world was mine. I could make it do magic. I rode up and down stairs. I went to the neighborhood convenience store and searched the newspaper boxes for spare change. One day, I left my bike outside as I ran into my home to go to the bathroom. When I returned, the bike was gone. “My Life in the Projects” would never be the same.
In high school, I used my ten-speed to get to and from school when the weather permitted. I mostly left it at home when the weather was rainy, but some days, it was nice to have a faster way to get to school. On the weekend, we would use our bikes to go to the park or get downtown. This bike was built for speed and the roads, so sometimes, I would crank up the gears and head out onto the nearest big roads just to race the cars. I’d hit the Arctic Circle up for a lime rickey or a kid’s meal if I had the cash.
This was the time when I learned two good safety lessons. The first was that when riding a bicycle, the rider should always wear closed-toe shoes. We went to see my mom as she floated down the Willamette for some holiday. My sister’s foot slipped of the pedal while her flip-flop remained. Her foot flew back, and her big toe ended up in the spokes of the bike. There was plenty of blood, and my mom had to swim from the boat she was floating on to help my sister.
The second was when we were driving on the main road through town away from I-5. I saw a car hit a boy on a bicycle on a side road. He flipped up over the hood of the car and slammed his head on the windshield. He was then thrown forward and slammed his head on the roadway. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet. The boy crawled to the curbside, and mom turned down the road to see if she could help while we waited for the ambulance to arrive.
The Peace Corps
Once I got my first car, bicycles went by the wayside. It wasn’t until I joined the Peace Corps that bicycles got a new lease in my life. The Peace Corps supplied the bicycle and trained us in how to fix them. This bike was freedom. It allowed me to travel hundreds of kilometers during my service. “My Life in the Peace Corps” was much better for the mobility that the bicycle provided.
While I couldn’t take the Peace Corps bike with me, when I returned to the U.S., I was able to purchase a bicycle. In Kalamazoo during the summer months, it was my only transportation. I would ride to the American Red Cross and use one of their vehicles to get to teaching gigs. When winter rolled around, I had a new job, a new apartment, and a new car. I kept that bike, but I stopped riding. Now, my niece uses it.
Get the Books
If you’d like to read more about “My Life in the Projects,” the book is available on Amazon and here. It’s the mostly true account of living in HUD housing during the 1980s. “My Life in the Peace Corps” will be available on Amazon on Dec. 28, 2020. Pre-order today. Or get the autographed book when it comes out in hard copy.
When I was a child living in the projects in California, mom made sure that we had on vacation every year. She wanted to show her children that there was more to life than abject poverty, pee-yellow housing complexes, and government cheese. Almost all of those vacations consisted of a trip to Disneyland. Sometimes, we would leave at three in the morning, so we could be there when the park opened. We would stay one day. When the park closed, she would drive home stopping at a rest area to get some sleep when she got too tired to drive. She would then go to work the day we got back.Continue reading
The original “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry is about a poor couple that sacrifice to give each other gifts for Christmas. Jim sells his heirloom watch to by Delia combs for her long, beautiful hair. For better or worse, Delia sells her hair to by a chain for Jim’s watch. In the end, O. Henry implies that they are richer because of their sacrifices for one another. The story is often read as a feel-good Christmas story. However, as “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” shows, there are other interpretations of this short story and the meaning behind it.
‘Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas’ Summary
In the Disney version, Mickey gives Minnie a chain for her heirloom watch, and Minnie gives Mickey a case for his harmonica. The watch and the harmonica have been sold to pay for the gifts. They laugh and say the best gift is they have each other. How sad it is that they had to give up the only two items of value to learn this lesson.
Minnie works at Mortimer’s wrapping gifts with her friend Daisy. Minnie is working quickly because she needs her Christmas bonus to get Mickey a gift. Daisy is impressed, and Minnie gets a call to Mortimer’s office. The head mouse offers his praise for Minnie’s work ethic but never gets her name right. He then gives her the bonus for her work – a fruitcake. This echo of real-world, corporate bonus policy changes of the 1980s and ‘90s cuts to the quick of anyone who lived through counting on their bonus only to have the company pull the rug out from under them in search of greater profits and lower expenditures. Not only was it clearly not the bonus Minnie was expecting, but it was just as clear that her work wasn’t valued by her employer. The bonus achieved the exact opposite effect it should’ve had. Minnie walks out dejected rather than enthused about her work, which is keeping her in poverty.
While Minnie is employed by the local department store, Mickey has job with the typecast villain Pete. Pete runs a Christmas tree lot where people can get their 10-footers on a payment plan. His trees aren’t as fresh as he makes them out to be. He uses hot glue and paint on old, dead trees to make them new and green again. When a poor family comes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, Pete tries to sell them a 10-footer – a tree bigger than their house – even though it’s clear they can’t afford it. The dad wouldn’t want to disappoint the kids at this time of year, right? As the father is about to sign for the payment plan, Mickey brings over a smaller tree. The family leaves happy, but Mickey loses his job and Pete confiscates his wages to make up for the lost sale. While Mickey’s being fired on Christmas Eve isn’t a surprise, after all, he works at a Christmas tree lot, it still has its real-world echoes in the layoffs started by Neutron Jack Welch of GE. The celebrated CEO fired thousands of employees from GE, the most profitable company in the world at the time, in a surprise move during the holidays. Other companies followed suit throughout the 1990s.
Love Is a Gift
“Do it for the kids” features in Mickey’s next adventure. While the Firehouse Five band is putting out a fire at Pete’s Christmas tree lot, the charity they were supposed to play for is floundering. No one is donating toys for the kids who won’t have a Christmas this year because they’re parents are too poor to afford gifts. Mickey is asked to remember the kids, and he puts aside his needs as a small child pushes his teddy bear on stage to listen to Mickey play the harmonica. Mickey starts the concert, is joined by the band fresh from the fire, and the toys stack up to overflowing. Mickey’s given a thank you and has to rush to the store to get his own gift for Minnie.
The entire story is based on giving the person something precious is an indication of how much you love them and how much joy they will get out of the present and the holiday. If you don’t spend the money, your loved ones will be disappointed. Minnie is disappointed in her holiday bonus. Pete tells the poor family the kids will be disappointed if they don’t have a tree. Mickey is told that the kids will be disappointed without gifts from their parents. Both Mickey and Minnie want to express their love through the “perfect” Christmas gift.
Feeling of Christmas
Mickey arrives at the shop just as the shopkeeper flips the sign to close. When the owner exits the shop, Mickey asks him if the shopkeeper could open, so Mickey could trade his harmonica for the gold necklace in the window. The shopkeeper dismisses the harmonica as not worth very much and walks away with a “Merry Christmas” on his lips. A dejected Mickey sits on the curb and plays a sad “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The melody softens the shopkeeper’s heart to allow Mickey to trade the harmonica for the necklace. In this transaction, Mickey trades away his means of making wealth, the harmonica, for a gift for Minnie. With the shopkeeper’s admission that the harmonica isn’t worth very much, it’s possible the gold chain is worth more. However, its only real value lies in appreciation, whereas Mickey could’ve used the harmonica to busk and possibly cut a record deal as was shown earlier during the wildly successful gift-collecting effort. One could also fault the shopkeeper’s Christmas generosity in opening the shop to take the only real wealth-producing instrument Mickey has and trading it for something that may or may not accumulate wealth over time but will certainly not provide for Mickey or Pluto in the near future.
Minnie’s trade is even dearer. She gives up her heirloom watch, something that likely has value as an antique that still works, for a box. Even if it’s an ornate case designed to keep Mickey’s harmonica safer, it will not accrue value on its own the way the necklace and watch could have. Still, it’s a sign of love, and Christmas is about what you spend not how you feel.
What Is Christmas about?
When a corporation like Disney can so easily lampoon the crass commercialism of a holiday that’s supposed to be about family and love without people recognizing that’s what the corporation is doing, it becomes clear the country has lost its way. Instead of money spent, Christmas should be about how people spend their time and with whom. Even in the age of COVID, people can get together virtually to sing carols and enjoy each other’s company. The true expression of love isn’t what we spend, but what we give. “The Gift of the Magi” in “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” would have us believe otherwise – except for the one closing statement when Minnie and Mickey realize what has happened and confess their love for one another.
If you want to read more about Disney and creativity, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Read more about the Disney Company in “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Check out other Disney stories at www.penguinate.weebly.com. This is part of our Disneycember coverage. Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic, and Channel Awesome appear to have coined the term “Disneycember.” Come back every day during December and read an article.
One of the first events I attended when I got back from serving in the Peace Corps in Guinea was a wedding. Karaoke was the main activity featured at the reception. No one was singing, so the karaoke DJ was having to wing it. Playing questionable music and trying to get people up on stage to get involved. I wanted this wedding to be successful, so I signed up.Continue reading
As I wrote over the summer and through October, I would find Disney Park music on YouTube to listen to. Some of the videos contained ambient sounds hidden in the background to subvert the copyright bot. Others were straight from the park. Still others were clear and beautiful. Then YouTube decided to monetize smaller creators’ videos without sharing revenue. This is the same content they said wasn’t worth monetizing in 2018 because it was too small.Continue reading