A short preface: My son came home with an assignment to write a story based on the Blarney Stone. He was having trouble getting started, so to encourage him, I started writing one of my own, to show him how easy it is to make crap up and push it into a somewhat coherent story. Well, this is what I wound up with.
Here Comes a Stone
Once upon a time there was a very annoying dog who wouldn’t stop barking. People in the village where the dog lived really hated the little scruffy pest. “For crying out loud!” shouted an old man with warts on his bald head, “Tell that mutt to shut it!” Children would throw rocks at the dog as it strove to nip their heels, the brooms of housekeepers swatted at him almost hourly, and a local priest went so far as trying to exorcise demons out of him. Alas, there were no demons. He was just a really annoying dog.
Then one day a boy came to town. He was a nice boy with blond hair and a big smile. He was also carrying a very pretty stone. It was green, but unlike an emerald, the most famous green stone we know, this one glowed brightly like the sun and seemed to shower people with its rays. The boy carried the stone about town, showing it to everyone he met, and all the people agreed it was a very lovely stone. “Where did you get it?” a small girl asked the boy.
“Oh, from very far away,” said the boy. “Now listen to me. Whosoever lays a kiss upon this stone will gain a magical power. Who wants to be the first to kiss it?”
The crowd of people looked at each other warily. “What… what kind of power?” asked an old woman with hair growing out of her nose.
“Well, all sorts of powers.” The boy smiled and began listing them on his fingers: “The power to soil your pants without making a smell or a mess. The power to shave a yak without getting your hands dirty. The power to write a love story where the lovers don’t die, but don’t live happily ever after either. The power to find ice cream wherever you want it and whenever you need it. SO MANY POWERS!”
The people oohed and aahed.
“Now who wants to kiss the stone?”
There came a moment’s hesitation until one brave soul, a chubby teenager approached with an ironic smirk and said, “Let me take a crack at it.” Taking the stone from the insouciant boy, the teen held it aloft with two hands in a great show of skepticism before the awed crowd, gave the little girl a wink, and placed his lips on the stone with a noisy smacking sound. Then he handed it back to the boy and waited.
“What did you wish for?” asked the boy.
“You’ll see” was the unhelpful reply. The teenager stood patiently, arms folded across his chest, and stifled a yawn. The crowd watched in puzzlement and the boy himself seemed a little put out, having expected to be the star of this show.
A minute later, when all patience seemed at an end, a frantic scampering of little feet was heard approaching the scene from the direction of the town windmill. Surrounded by a cloud of dust, the town’s source of auditory woe scrambled down the dirt path toward the crowd, his beady little eyes full of outrage and judgment. Most times the approach of this hell hound would have set the people off in all directions, but at this moment the crowd was allayed by a rather curious incongruity. The dog’s vicious jaws snapped furiously, yet otherwise no sound came forth.
A cheer went up and the teen received pats on the back and vigorous handshakes accompanied by remarks of “well done” and “oh, you clever bastard” and “thank you, dear boy, thank you”, all of which he returned with a silent smile of satisfaction. On her tippy toes, the little girl prompted him to lean over slightly and accept a kiss on his cheek.
Quickly the spotlight returned to the little boy, blond and smiling, as the crowd clamored to know the source of this stone’s magical powers. “It’s magic,” shrugged the boy. “Who knows?” This little satisfied the more discerning members of the crowd, but as the village school master remarked, results is results, so their attempts at further explanation were drowned out by demands and pleas to be the next benefactor of the stone’s mysterious power. First came the warty, bald old man, who after kissing it, regained his hair and lost his warts. Soon the old woman with hair sticking from her nose won a clear set of nostrils, and just a little work done on the bridge of her nose. These two then went about and cured whomever among their fellow citizens suffered similar ills. The village schoolmaster obtained the power to fascinate his pupils on the finer points of grammar. Several young men and women seemed to gain a pronounced allure and talent for romance (and not a few old men and women, too.) As the day wore on, every one of the townsfolk found some wanting aspect of their character, their abilities and their lives and through the strange boon of the stone corrected it with the necessary power.
Everyone, except the little girl.
While the people were engaged with the improvement of their lives through magical means, she stood apart, ignoring them. She stood, hands clasped behind her back, one ankle crossing the other, her head tilted to one side. She studied, standing before her, the plight of the little dog.
The dog had ceased his scampering and his dust-raising and his jaw-snapping. In fact, he did not move at all. His legs were taut beneath him, his stub of a tail pointed accusingly at the sky. His eyes flared. The disgrace of his unanticipated silence ground between his teeth. Studying this change in one who had heretofore been so active, the little girl watched as the little dog seemed to have reached a conclusion, one that seemed to prompt a decisive action she was only a half-moment declaring to the townspeople in warning: “He’s going to bite!”
Up a tree before he lunged through her, the girl watched as a blur of fur darted from hindquarter to hindquarter, rending cloth from backside and perhaps a small chunk of meat, too. The townsfolk cried and whooped and gawked at each other, and all quickly realized that none of them had thought to gain the power to fend off the teeth of a vengeful dog. Aiming toward any place promising safety, they ran in terror, the dog circling along a widening circumference to drive them off. Only the boy with the stone was spared.
That was the curious thing. He knelt to the ground and extended a hand. With a cluck of his tongue, he called to the dog. Still guarding his perimeter, the dog slowed to a trot and watched the boy, alert but not afraid. Up in the tree the girl observed the boy place his glowing green stone an arm’s length before him, and then step away, standing to his full height as he kept an eye on the dog. Quitting his guard duty, the dog approached the stone, gave it a sniff and quickly backed away. Another approach, a sniff, this one deeper, covering every bit of its surface, turning the pupils of the dog’s black eyes an eery green. He gave the stone a lick.
Keeping his distance, the boy peered into the dog’s face. “What did you wish?”
“Someone to talk with,” said the dog. Up the tree the girl’s sudden gasp did not break the dog’s focus upon the boy’s gentle smile.
“Would you like to come home with me?” asked the boy.
“Yes,” said the dog. “That would be nice.”
As she climbed down from her tree, the little girl watched them walk away from the stone still in the grassy spot where the dog had kissed it. She picked it up and chucked it in the river that ran by the mill. If she ever came to regret her decision to not kiss it, she never let on.
Newly added to the Learning Curve page, a cartoon about “Won’t Back Down” and the parent trigger option it propagandizes. The real challenge of this cartoon was rendering Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis in a cartoony fashion, less caricature, more cartoon character (subtle difference, I know.) I think the top panel is successful, Maggie reads well in the second, but Viola slowly falls apart. Not her fault, she is a great and lovely actress, despite her appearance in this POS film; but I subjected her to the narrative demands for cartoony facial expressions.
Did I see the movie I criticize here? Nooo. I watched several trailers, read several reviews and the comments by people who said YOU MUST SEE THIS MOVIE IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE on its Facebook page. The dramatic merits aside (pretty well excoriated by film critics universally), the movie’s argument for the parent trigger — reenforced by its promotional website and the school reform advocates who exhort you to see it — rests upon a lot of wishful thinking combined with bashing of teacher unions and public schools. Conveniently left out of the discussion: the failure of the two California test cases to get past the litigation phase; said phase brought on by buyer’s remorse among parents who signed the trigger petition when they saw what kind of schools they were getting; the heavy financing of trigger efforts by unaccountable school boards full of ties to education materials companies; the lack of interest by charter schools to serve special needs and the TAG designated student populations; and the uniform curricula imposed on teachers who thought they were getting more freedom to teach.
But, hey, this kinda crap gets bipartisan support, so expect it to proceed without much hinderance.
I came up with this one prior to Obama’s somnambulant performance during the first debate, when Romney was imploding so bad that it distracted from some of Obama’s own problems. But after the first debate, I decided to wait until after the second, when I knew he would be more aggressive and thus earn a blue ribbon from a narrative-obsessed news media. Honestly, I have no confidence that Obama will win, but I have a harder time believing that Romney won’t shoot himself in the foot (after placing it in his mouth) and give Obama the election.
The third debate is about foreign policy. How much attention will be paid to the issue of predator drones? So far they are killing more innocent people than presumably legitimate targets — a ratio of 49:1 according to a recent Stanford-NYU study (that’s 98% collateral damage; that’s war crimes territory) — and I have yet to see much about it. The two candidates allowed to debate (and not, say, chained to a metal chair for eight hours for trying to attend) are in agreement on the assassination by remote control policy, so I don’t have any hope anyone will bother to ask.
For more caricatures, see the gallery.
My son was watching The Adventures of TinTin, an early 90s animated adaptation of Hergé’s classic comic books, and it inspired the above entry in my sketchbook. The series is faithful to the look and style of the comics, the character design, the stories and, more unsettling, Hergé’s unapologetic racism and imperialist condescension. If anything, putting his stereotypes into motion and giving them buffoonish voices only makes them worse. Seriously, it’s mind-boggling. To it’s only credit in this respect, the producers wisely omitted TinTin’s notorious adventures in the Belgian Congo.
For those who don’t know, the late Edward Said was a Palestinian-American intellectual best known for Orientalism, a ground-breaking study of how Western literature, art and other art forms treats Middle Eastern peoples and religions as monoliths, as a threat or as exotic, as animals or as mystics, or simply in the way of resources the West wants. I thought TinTin would have a horrible epiphany should he ever come across the book.