Saturday, February 28, 2009

Real Life #7

    "Thank you. Thank you very much!"

     Originally published, (by me,) in 'The SSC Log,' 11/7/91.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

African Pen Pals

The Internet has really shrunken the world. Thanks to the ol’ World Wide Web, I have re-established old friendships, both nearby and across the globe, and I have also made some new friends from as far away as Europe, New Zealand and Australia. I have also been contacted by many, (and I mean MANY) people from West Africa, all looking to share their opportunities of good fortune with me. (And, fortunately, I saved many of the more interesting ones in a special file!)

God-fearing and generous, the people who have written to me, (with a surprisingly high percentage from Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire,) usually begin with a very pleasant and loving, (albeit frequently uncomfortably spiritual,) greeting. I have received salutations that have opened with, “Dearest in Mind,” “Dearest Friend,” and “ With utmost respect,” all the way to “ Dear Beloved in the Lord,” “Dearest one of God,”  and the most bewildering, “ Compliment of the Season,” (bewildering as it arrived on June 1st.)

Greetings as kind and thoughtful as these are made all the more heart-touching when one considers the various plights these people are enduring. The number of orphaned daughters of murdered wealthy cocoa barons, as well as the widows of murdered wealthy cocoa barons, all trying to protect their accrued family nest eggs is simply heart-breaking. *sniff*

But not all those who write to me are the lone relatives of the recently deceased cocoa barony who’d fallen prey to the villainy of the unscrupulous, or the unflinching finger of fate.  I very frequently am contacted by bank employees,  (including a Bank Manager, Accounts Manager, Foreign Remittance Manager, Branch manager, Bill & Exchange Manager, Chief Auditor, Credit Officer, and Auditing/Accounting Sections Chief, among others,) who have discovered untold riches without any claims for them due to the numerous plane crashes in which the policy holders and all of their  families were killed. The bank staff who write me are asking to share this money with me so that it does get lost in bureaucratic red tape, asking in exchange only that I supply them with my bank account information in order to transfer these funds. Swell guys, but far too trusting.

A great deal about human nature can be learned from Western Africa. And not just human nature. Other lessons that I have been lucky enough to glean during my many introductions and social discourses with the residents of Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire include: 1) No matter how glamorous it sounds, ‘cocoa baron’ is a surprisingly dangerous job, 2) Never, ever, fly in an African airplane with your whole family, and 3) due to the high rate of early retirement, there must be quite a number of job opportunities in the Bank Of Africa in Burkina Faso.

Strangely, as quick to share with a stranger as the Burkinabè and Ivorians are, they appear to be blind to a glaring irony of their national condition; although these two countries are consistently among the poorest nations on the planet, (with GDPs per capita of about $1200.00 and $1700.00 respectively,) I have been personally approached to share in over US$339,200,000.00 in their liquid assets. 

But fear not, dearest reader, for in my many correspondences with my new African buddies, I have explained this point. And it is my hope that sooner or later, the call to national obligation will move these individuals to remedy their economic imbalances.

Yes, with a global network of individuals, nay, friends, with my financial well-being as a real and serious concern, I am truly a blessed man. But, it would be grossly negligent of me not to remember those who have sacrificed so much. Thusly, before I conclude, I would like to dedicate this blog posting to the memory of the following recently deceased individuals, whose life savings are without legitimate claims:

- Dr. Harrison Thomas, cocoa baron. Taken by mysterious circumstances,

- Mr. Anthony Patrick, cocoa baron. Murdered, (poisoned) by business partners,

- Mr. Alfred Kamra,  cocoa baron. Taken by mysterious circumstances,

- Richard Jean, cocoa baron. Taken in a car accident,

- Mr. Emmanuel  Bamba, cocoa baron. Murdered by his own brother!, 

- Ebenezer Tema. Died from a 4-day illness shortly after becoming a Born Again Christian,

- Dr. John Gomo. Died from a 4-day illness shortly after becoming a Born Again Christian,

- Benson Williams. Died from a 4-day illness shortly after becoming a Born Again Christian,

and to all of those families who mistakenly believed that it was safer to fly than to drive:

- Mr. Floyd Tarantino and family. Killed in a plane crash while on vacation,

- William Bryant and family. Killed in a plane crash,

- Mr. Morris Thomas and family. Killed in a plane crash,

- Andreas Schranner and family, (of Germany.) Killed in a plane crash,

- Mr. Joseph Knight, (no next of kin.) Killed in a plane crash,

- Dr. George Brumley and family. Killed in a plane crash,

And four other families discreetly mentioned only as “foreign customer(s) and entire family.”

If I can redirect all of the prayers sent my way for the purpose of assisting to launder funds out of Africa towards the departure and and safe transition of these unfortunate souls, they would surely sleeping among the angels as I write.

A passage that I felt relevant:

“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

I blessed the rains down in Africa

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had”

- “Africa” by Toto

Sunday, February 22, 2009

'The Straw House'

This photo was from my first art competition, 1971, Our Lady of The Assumption School, first grade, Miss Smith's class, (ahhh, Miss Smith! My first true love! How smitten I was! But I digress...) My entry was entitled “The Straw House,” and as you can see from the blue ribbon, it took first.

Sure you may well look at that and say, “Wow! That sucks!” but it was, after all, done by a six-year-old, (You say you’ve got a six-year-old who has done better art work? Fine. Post a picture of THEIR first prize ribbon!) and there was also an abstract element that didn’t quite carry over into the photo. The picture was outlined in drinking straws, and then painted in. So clever, (again, I'm talking "six-year-old clever.") Compare it to some of the visible competing entries for an idea in its appeal; it was different. Not technically superior, but it stood out. (And that always gets attention.) I’m not saying it was better than my classmates’ more, uh, "free-form" efforts, (but, of course, the judges did!) but it was my first blue ribbon piece of artwork. More importantly, though, it taught me early on that different was as good as better.

My mother took this photo of it, those thirty-eight, (or so,) years ago, all proud of her little boy’s achievement, and I store it now, here, in My Virtual Attic.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Incidental Conceptual Art Misdemeanor

Going through some old photos during my vacation, I came upon this one. I really like this photo. It has special meaning for me. Lemme 'splain...

About twenty years, (or so,) ago, I was working at Marblehead High School. My commute brought me past this bridge daily, and the graffiti on it changed fairly regularly, (kind of like the forerunner of the blog, but in a more rebellious, anti-social, way.) Then, one day, there was the message in the photo. Scared that the message would change too quickly, I brought my camera the following day to take this picture.

Although prior to reading seeing this, I had never given it much thought, (of course, that is the responsibility of good art, to invoke thoughts or feelings in its audience,) but immediately after seeing it, a spotlight shone down on the preconceived ideas that I had held.

I realized that in my mind, there were “types” of people. Many types. There were those who used, disliked and voiced their opinions regarding artificial sweeteners, and, in a separate and not-remotely-related category, there were those that tagged bridges in spray paint. It was simply my foregone understanding that these were mutually exclusive groups. It was not, mind you, something that I had ever consciously pondered prior to seeing this, just a preconceived assumption. With the blurring of this line, however, this assumption and many others, lacked the hold that once they had, and my "understanding" of people types was limited and not necessarily without exceptions.

I know that, in reality, this was probably just a case of graffiti by someone a quirky sense of humor, but sometimes, when seeking enlightenment, you gotta really grasp at straws and let the mundane assume the role of the exceptional.

In any case, I like this picture a lot.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Real Life #6

This one got some complaints when it first came out in The Salem State Log in April, '91. But I really liked the idea of Bert in the wedding dress.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Legacy Quest

I believe that once a person becomes aware of his or her own mortality, the quest to leave a legacy begins. It seems the concept of passing through life, minding one’s own business, and then quietly leaving for the grave, is one that few, if any, find embraceable. 

As soon as death is considered inevitable, (and for some of us, that realization came blissfully late!), it appears that a need to “leave a mark”, or to be remembered begins to rank higher in the personal priorities list. I believe this to be the frequent impetus of both graffiti and having children, (and the similarities of these two seemingly unrelated institutions don’t stop there. Both require minimal skill, or forethought, and both seem like good ideas at the time but can come back around and bite you on the ass… But I digress.) 

  As age makes its presence more clear, via sore joints, lessened durability, and parts beginning to sag just a bit more than one would consider aesthetically pleasing, the concept of a legacy seems to climb higher and higher on the aforementioned priorities list, (chicks call it a “biological clock.” This term is the same thing as a starter pistol to guys. They hear this phrase as “Get up, run fast, run far. Don’t look back!”)

So what does a law-abiding (at least recently!) citizen with no children, and no “desire to sire” do to ensure he is remembered after he is gone? Build bridges? Start a charitable organization to give sensible shoes to clog-shod children? Develop a cure for the common cold, teen angst, or Pauly Shore movies? These are important goals, true, but a bit too lofty for an average guy of limited finances, intellect or caring for his fellow man.

The answer found by some others in this predicament has been to become a big-time criminal and make the news. Like that famous guy that killed all those people, you know the one. Or that other guy that did that really bad thing… Man, those guys sure did get remembered. (Local “gang-bangas,” pimps, and rappers seem to think this earns them some form of respect. But, I don’t want to wax pedantic…) In any case, the idea of imprisonment isn’t a fond one either, if only due to the subsequent dating scene!

So, there it is. The eternal dilemma. The quest for immortality. Time is of the nigh and I have done nothing to leave my mark. Should I have some children? (I do have quite a few chores around here that need to get done…) Should I write a great American novel? Should I shop for a nice rifle with a high-powered scope? Where IS Pauly Shore these days? 

George Eliot wrote, “Oh may I join the choir invisible of those immortal dead who live again in minds made better by their presence.”  I like that quote. I’m going to go spray-paint it on a bridge…


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Real Life #5

Originally published by, *ahem*, my humble self, in The Salem State Log, April 1, 1993.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Fable in Verse

The end.

Written and illustrated by your humble author, Christopher P. Toler.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Artificial Memories

Nieces and nephews are the best kids. You get to hang out with them, they are happy to see you, you don’t have to be a bad guy and enforce their rules, and if they act up, or need changing, or become annoying, you give ‘em back to their folks for the dirty work. Best of all, though, you get a chance to be the coolest person they know. I really enjoy this part. My niece and nephews have heard my tales of adventure and bravery from my days of shark fishing, singing in a rock band, traveling the globe, or some other story where a creative interpretation of my exploits trumped the the truth by a degree or two.

They are, however, children. It shouldn’t be too long before they realize that I didn’t actually work as a workshop custodian for Santa Claus, or see a U.F.O. landing when I was visiting the set where the roadrunner show was filmed. Plausibility is going to have to be factored into some the ol’ Uncle Chris anecdotes to maintain that starry-eyed hero worship that my ego feeds upon. Or proof of the implausible.

Of course I chose the latter. To me, coming up with evidence to support an unlikely claim seems far easier and more entertaining than watering down my stories. This is the basis of my “Artificial Memories” collection.

Chapters of my life, part 1: Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’ve sung the hyped-up tales of the days of my band “Stinkhammer” for years to the kids, (leaving out the fact that we were a collection of ten-thumbed, talentless, noise-polluters, o’course!) but now with the help of some manufactured artifacts, that band will have a sense of pedigree, forgotten, but worthwhile.

The Magazine Cover

Yes, that sexy bitch to the far right is your humble author...

Oh, sure it is simply a photoshop job, BUT it is laden with such extreme mediocrity that it probably doesn’t require too much imagination to conceive of it really taking place. It is just this “C-Average” setting of the bar that makes this artificial memory almost credible.

The Gold Record

Yeah. I actually made this. Did I mention the "too much time on my hands" factor?

Okay! A whole new dimension, here, (third, to be accurate!) Photoshop and doctored photos are one thing, but a real, live, phony gold record? That just speaks volumes! (Okay, the volumes it speaks are lies, but HEY! Truth can be subjective, too. Can’t it?) Destined to widen the eyes of the naïve!

And Coming Soon: The Video! If I can ever find the stinking tape of the sole studio session of Stinkhammer, I now have the means to clean it up, multi-track it, juxtapose some images, Et Voila! The jewel in the crown of my auditory forgery trifecta.

Yes, it is such an exiting life that I pretend to lead!

In the next showing of my collection; the memories of my career in television!!!

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