As I mentioned in my last post, I'm transitioning from screenwriting to books because the odds of getting published aren't as daunting as selling a movie script. For my own amusement, over the years I've also written little hand-made books for my nieces. Sasha and Ana were about the same ages as President Obama's daughters, Malia Ann and Sasha, when I began the Uncle Monkey series of Christmas stories. It was also a form of therapy to deal with disappointment and frustration that my writing career wasn't going as planned.
In the books, Uncle Monkey is a grumpy, cynical chimpanzee writer of animal-centered tales that mirror current events in the human world. When President Obama and his family came to stay in Kailua after the historic 2008 elections, the prolific primate was inspired to write "Empty Boxes," which seems even more apropos this holiday season. Here is a shortened version, minus the art work...
"Can you tell us a Christmas story?" little Ana asked.
The chimp scratched his chin and nodded. "Hmm," he hmmm'd. "Yes, I can, as President Obama would say. Actually, he would say, 'Well, um, yes'... except I must warn you, it's a sad tale that will leave you weeping with joy or laughing in sorrow. It's about a character named Sandy Claws."
"You mean Santa Claus, don't you?" interrupted Sasha.
"No, Sandy Claws was a crab who lived in the ocean. But he liked to hang out on the beach too, where he would scavenge for odds and eggs --"
"You mean odds and ENDS," Ana said.
"No, eggs -- fish eggs and bird eggs, which he liked to eat for breakfast. Now stop trying to tell me what I mean and listen, or I will not continue!" Uncle Monkey snapped. In truth, he was cranky because he had a beginning for his fable about human greed, but he was still searching for a satisfying ending. He often told himself, It will all work out in the end. Yet all the troubles in the world never seemed to end! So how could things ever work out? This thought made him sad and depressed.
"Well," he said, sounding a bit like the President. "I did, um, say it was a sad story... and... look, these are troubled times with enormous challenges facing crabs and sea life due to global warming --"
"AHEM, " Ana interjected. "We want to hear a Christmas story, not a political speech!"
"Oh, okay," sighed the grizzled old chimp. "Here is The Fishy Tails of Sandy Claws, The Crabby Crab of Christmas Beach, which was rejected by all the fish book publishers."
"Did you try to sell it as a movie or TV show?" asked Sasha.
Uncle Monkey nodded yes. "My agent thought it would be perfect for Animal Planet Shell-o-vision, but they felt it was too depressing for kids. They thought Sandy Claws acted greedy and shelfish."
"You mean selfish?" said Ana.
"No -- shellfish! Ever since Finding Nemo became a big hit, they only want fish stories. Not crab fables or shrimp tails. They're prejudiced against shellfish. But I will tell you the story and you can judge for yourself if Sandy Claws was selfish."
"I thought you said he was a shellfish," Sasha noted.
"Yes, he is a shellfish. But I meant selfish this time... oh, never mind. Just read the darn story, okay?" he grumbled.
EMPTY BOXES by Uncle Monkey
Once upon a beach in Hawaii, there lived a cranky old crab who constantly complained about the litter and mess people left behind or threw in the ocean. It made him so mad that fish and "honu" (Hawaiian sea turtles) would ask if he had sand in his underpants, which might be irritating him. But since none of them wore underwear, this only made the crab even crabbier.
Christmas was the worst time of all for him. Sea birds and monk seals would mock the crab for the way he walked sideways. When he angrily raised his claws and snapped them at the birds, they laughed at him. "Ha! You couldn't snip your way out of a wet paper bag with those weak little claws of yours," taunted the birds.
Turning red with embarrassment, the crab retreated to his hole in the sand. Sandy Claws didn't have many friends. Like many crabs, he was shy and at parties would not come out of his shell. And his habit of eating dead fish he found on the beach was a turn-off for live fish he wished to befriend.
The reason he disliked Christmas so much was that more humans would flock to his beach for the holidays, and many would toss their flower leis into the water or throw wrapping paper from their gifts on the sand. Sandy Claws had to pick up all the bows and ribbons these careless people threw out. But he was jealous too because no one ever gave him any gifts. All he ever got was the empty boxes people left behind.
Then one Christmas Eve, something remarkable happened. He noticed there were more humans than usual with cameras, all stopping and staring at a particular house near his hole in the sand. There were men in long pants, wearing dark sunglasses, talking into radios while standing around the house. Obviously a Very Important Person was visiting. But who could it be?
"Pssst... wanna know who it is? Do ya?" whispered a little birdie. "It's the Obama!"
"What's an Obama?" asked the crab.
"I dunno, but everyone is wearing shirts or carrying signs that say something about Obama," the birdie replied.
"Well, whoever or whatever this Obama is, I hope he does something to clean up the ocean and beaches," the cynical crab said.
As more people came and left, Sandy Claws saw that some were leaving gift-wrapped packages next to a palm tree by the Obama house. What could be in those boxes, and who were they for? "Maybe they're for me!" thought the crab. Oh, he knew they were not meant for him, but he could not resist the temptation to pretend that these presents had his name on them.
And when he sneaked closer to the packages, what did his beady stalk eyes see, but the name Santa Claus on some labels. "Close enough," said Sandy Claws as he began to drag the boxes back to his hole. Using his claws and smaller pincers, he carefully removed the ribbons and unwrapped each package. Then he took out the gifts and replaced them with wilted, soggy flower leis he found on the beach or other plastic junk he plucked out of the ocean. Some of the boxes he re-wrapped contained nothing at all except a little sand. After he put the bows and ribbons back on, he placed the packages next to the palm tree where they were originally left.
Sandy Claws looked at all the gifts he had taken: candy, cookies, Hawaiian goodies and also things for little girls such as dolls and toys. So it was clear this Obama had children. And Sandy Claws disliked children because they were always chasing after crabs like him or poking sticks into their holes in the sand.
"Ha! I'm glad Obama and his daughters will be getting trash and empty boxes for Christmas," the crab muttered to himself. "Besides, why are people giving them more useless stuff when they obviously have so much already?" Which made Sandy stop to think about the gifts piled up around his humble hole. To fit in all the pilfered presents, he had to dig out more space. It was exhausting work to make room for things he didn't really need.
Despite his constant grumbling, the cranky crab realized he didn't have it so bad after all. He had eight good legs, plenty of garbage to eat, plus a beautiful beach he called home. "I should share my bounty with the honu, fish and dolphins. They'll see that I may be a shellfish, but I am certainly not selfish!"
That evening, the men in long pants with the dark sunglasses (which they wore at night to make themselves look more mysterious) picked up the "re-gifted" packages and brought them into the big Obama house. Meanwhile, Sandy Claws put all the pilfered presents into a large mesh bag he had swiped from a kayak, and dragged it into the sea to deliver his gifts to less fortunate sea life.
"Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas to all my ocean friends," he called out. Soon he was surrounded by curious dolphins, fish and honu. Even a couple of sharks cruised by to investigate what was happening. He opened the mesh bag and began to give presents to the smallest and youngest creatures. Unfortunately, all the candy and cookies had dissolved into a messy mixture.
"Nice," snickered a sarcastic starfish. "Some gift!"
Undeterred, Sandy Claws gave a silver necklace with a silver flower charm on it it to a baby parrotfish.... who ate it by mistake. "That's just great," the angry parent parrotfish squawked. "Why don't you just hand out sharp hooks to all the baby fish, huh?!"
"Sorry about that," the crab said. "How about a doll then for your other baby fish?" However, as he pulled the cheaply-made doll from the mesh bag, his claw severed the plastic head. The monk seals and dolphins began to play an underwater version of soccer with the doll head. Sandy looked at the label on the doll's body: MADE IN CHINA. "Tsk-tsk," sighed an old honu. "That doll was probably made by underage kids who are forced to work for slave wages!"
Sandy Claws was very sad. He tried to do a good thing by sharing his gifts. But all he got in return was scorn and scoldings. This was his worst Christmas ever. As he turned sideways to crabwalk away, he heard a small soft voice call to him from the ocean floor... "Hey, Sandy," the tiny starfish said.
"Yes?" he replied hopefully.
"YOU'RE NOT GONNA LEAVE ALL THIS CRAP HERE, ARE YOU?" yelled the angry starfish. The gifts that looked so nice and new when he first unwrapped them were just more useless junk and garbage -- because, as the dolphins would say, they had no useful porpoise for these sea creatures.
On Christmas morning, Sandy Claws woke up and decided he would return to being crabby since being generous did not work out very well for him. But as he walked home, over the sound of gentle waves breaking on the shoreline, he heard two young girls giggling with delight. It was coming from the big Obama house. "Oh, no! Those girls will be so disappointed when they open their presents and see they got garbage, or worse -- nothing at all!" he blurted out to the little birdie pecking around in the sand next to his hole.
"Whatcha gonna do, Sandy? It's too late to fix things now that you ruined their gifts... unless -- nah, it's too crazy," the birdie said, his voice trailing off.
"What? Tell me!" the crab implored.
"You could make up for it by offering yourself as a gift to the Obama," chirped the bird.
"Huh? You mean..." said Sandy, slowly getting the bird's drift.
"Yeah. Crab salad. Self-sacrifice is what Christmas is all about, right?" the birdie noted.
"Maybe they don't like crab meat though. In which case, it would be a wasted sacrifice," said Sandy. Depressed and dejected, the forlorn crab looked up and saw the entire Obama family was gathered outside in front of the house with their presents. He quickly scooted over the sand and rocks to get a closer look at the famous family. There was the President, his wife and two young daughters, all beaming with anticipation.
The father handed wrapped presents to his wife and girls. "These gifts are from the good people of Hawaii. I wonder what they gave us! Let's open them, and, um... let's see, shall we?" While he and Michelle carefully opened their packages, Malia and Sasha gleefully ripped open their gift boxes.
"Hey! There's nothing in my package," whined the older daughter.
"Mine is empty too," frowned the younger sister.
The wife held up a wilted flower lei that was still dripping sea water. "It smells like wet dog," she sniffed. The father held up his empty box. A few grains of sand and pieces of plastic junk fell out. He smiled though and took the wilted lei from his wife. Then he put it around his neck.
"Dad, are you crazy?" asked the younger daughter.
"I think the people who gave us these empty boxes are the ones who are crazy," said the older sister. "Not just crazy, but mean too. Why would anyone wrap up boxes of nothing!"
Their father nodded thoughtfully, paused for a second as he looked out at the beautiful blue ocean and white sandy beach. "Well, girls... um... maybe someone less fortunate than us needed what was in those boxes, or wanted those things because they lack, um, something. So they took the things inside the boxes... and, um... they forgot that they could not take what the gift-givers intended to share with you -- with our family. And that is the gift of love. What I see in this empty box is Hope and Love."
Sandy Claws' eyes welled up with tears. But as he tried to wipe them with his big claw, he nearly cut his eye stalk off. He sniffled and turned to the little birdie. "The Obama understands the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes the best gift is... nothing!"
Then they heard loud laughter -- it was the father and mother, who were consoling the crying girls. "Nah! Just kidding. Your mother and I got you real presents that are inside. You think we'd give you nothing for Christmas?" the father chuckled. The sisters wiped their tears off and smiled. Their father sniffed the soggy lei and made a face. "I bet some crabby old McCain-Palin supporters left us those packages. At least we can be thankful it wasn't a bomb."
So Sandy Claws was right after all. Sometimes an empty box is the best gift.
Ana and Sasha looked at each other. "That's a terrible Christmas story, Uncle Monkey!" said Sasha. Ana agreed: "Nobody would give a bomb for a Christmas present!"
"Ah, but they could. That's the point of my story. Things can always be worse than they are," the chimp replied. "So, a box full of nothing can be better than a box that has useless stuff in it... or worse, BAD things in it."
May all your empty boxes be filled with good memories and room for better things to come. Mele Kalikimaka from all of us at Career Changers TV!