Archive for the ‘Hawaii film and TV jobs’ Category

Diana Ross and Other Milestones

By
June 10th, 2015



DING-DING-DING! One million and counting -- nope, didn't hit the Megabucks slots jackpot in Vegas, but saw my Career Changers TV YouTube Channel cross the one million views mark this past weekend. In an age when videos of cats jumping in boxes or people dancing around to pop hits easily surpass that number in a day, it still represents a big milestone for me because five years ago I wasn't sure my OC16 TV show would even last more than two or three episodes. Posting segments on YouTube was an afterthought. Now, we have subscribers from all over the world. People we featured have been contacted by producers of nationally-broadcast television shows for segments on the Food Network, Travel Channel and Discovery Channel because they saw those pieces on the CCTV YouTube Channel while Googling around for leads on Hawaii stories. You can see our latest videos by clicking here. But you should watch this month's episode on high def widescreen if possible to appreciate the beauty of the quilts that were on display at the Hawaii Quilt Guild Show last month. Just amazing.

As noted in my May 21 post about the end of the Dave Letterman era and Mad Men show, I've been in a New York state of mind (love that Billy Joel song). With Diana Ross coming here to perform this weekend, I had another flashback that reminds me how much things have changed in the past three decades since I left NYC. I was at her 1983 free concert in Central Park -- the one attended by more than 350,000 fans when it started raining, then turned to chaos as young black kids began snatching purses and knocking over stunned, mostly white people who had laid out picnic blankets and brought bottles of good wine and primo pot.

At the time, I lived on W. 89th Street a block from Central Park, where I shared the ground floor apartment of a brownstone with a time share law attorney, who traveled frequently... which meant I often had the large two-bedroom place to myself (brick walls, fireplace, small garden area in back). The Upper West Side was just starting to show signs of gentrification, so there was still a good mix of lower, middle and upper class incomes in that area. But if you went further uptown about 20 blocks or so, you'd find yourself in the heart of Harlem. Rarely did the twain meet in Central Park. Prior free concerts were for musicians like Simon & Garfunkel, who weren't big draws for young African-Americans in NYC, as you can probably imagine.

When all heck broke loose, I was in the vicinity of a group of young preppy types who were distraught and shook up. Two of the girls had their pocketbooks stolen, the guys got punched, they were soaking wet from the sudden downpour, and they needed help. I took them back to my apartment, where they were able to dry off, make phone calls and compose themselves. Turned out they had summer jobs in the Hamptons, where wealthy New Yorkers and the jet set vacation or own second homes. Part of the Hamptons was also a hot spot for gays to hang out during the summer season, as I learned from my boss at a publishing company in Greenwich Village.

The preppy group I rescued were grateful and invited me to stop at the restaurant they worked in if I ever got out to the Hamptons. That didn't seem likely, until my boss -- who was gay and diagnosed with AIDS -- asked me if I'd like to go with him one weekend to his beach house. He wasn't interested in me that way, and he knew I was straight. But his boyfriend was living abroad, he was lonely, scared and knew I liked to party hard -- and that's what people did in the Hamptons. He collected vintage Thunderbirds too, and had a couple at his Hamptons place. We stopped at the restaurant where the preppy kids worked, and they were surprised to see me. I don't know if it was seeing me with Marc (not all gays are obvious in their orientation -- he was though) but instead of greeting me with open arms, they were a bit stand-offish. They didn't offer to show me around town or meet up with me later.

At Marc's beach house, he had disposable plastic utensils, paper plates and cups for me to use because he knew straight people were afraid of catching AIDS from gays, infected with HIV or not. He also had Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of cancer that leads to telltale purplish lesions on the skin. Maybe the preppy kids noticed that when he and I sat down at the restaurant table for lunch. In some ways, being with him was like hanging out with a leper and trying to act like everything was normal while knowing that person was going to die soon. That night, I went to a bar by myself, got very drunk, then took a cab back to his place. He smiled as I attempted to tell him how sad it was for me to see him like this. I started crying, and we hugged. I was too smashed to be afraid of getting the "gay disease" through physical contact. He was just a human being who was dying and all alone. Marc passed away not long after that weekend.

The other lasting memory connected to that Diana Ross concert was what transpired a day or two later in the jazz joint I regularly visited after work. I had become good friends with the bartender, Lee Dobson,  a talented actor who never got that big break to launch his stage or screen career. He was black, smart, funny and we used to joke that I was his "Samurai Brother" after he found out that I was half-Japanese. Most of my friends at the Seventh Avenue South jazz club were black, and when race came up, it was usually joking around about the differences between whites and blacks  -- how we danced, dressed, talked. Jazz music was our common language though.

Anyway, the topic of the Diana Ross concert came up and I told Lee how terrible it was "those animals" came down from Harlem and ruined everything, or something to that effect. There was a look of pain and hurt in Lee's eyes that I will never forget. I didn't consider myself prejudiced, but yes, I had to acknowledge that I viewed blacks from above 125th Street differently than the blacks I knew at Seventh Avenue South. Lee felt things were blown out of proportion because the kids were black -- and he was probably right. Words like "mobs" and "riots" were thrown around by the media, and even myself afterwards. He tried to get me to see things through their eyes -- the have-nots on the outskirts of affluence, watching the wine and cheese set take the best spots in front of the concert stage while they had to push and shove their way through the crowds just to get a glimpse of Diana.

Today, we have an African-American President and I live down the street from the beach the Obama family has stayed at for their Christmas vacations. We've seen attitudes about gays and gay marriage progress a great deal in recent years throughout the country. It's a long way from Central Park and that summer weekend trip to the Hamptons... but there's still too much prejudice, racism and intolerance in the world. New York taught me how to deal with it. Hawaii has shown me that we can do better.

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Mad Men, Letterman, Rupert Jee and Me...

By
May 21st, 2015



Late Show signI stopped watching David Letterman's Late Show regularly a long time ago when he seemed to be falling back on stale bits and spending most of the show on digressive grumblings that went nowhere. He wasn't the quick-witted, anything-goes sardonic young host I grew up with while living in NYC as a bachelor in my mid-20s during the go-go 1980s. By "go-go," I mean there was lots of drinking and copious amounts of cocaine in the bars, jazz joints and after hours clubs I frequented from the Village to the Upper West Side. Bruce Willis, who I knew from Montclair State College, was still bartending at Cafe Central in 1985 -- the year I pulled a geographic and moved to Hawaii, in part, to avoid the fate of people like John Belushi and others who were part of that scene.

Generally speaking, I'm not the nostalgic type who likes to post a bunch of old photos on Facebook and tag people I hung out with way back when. Yet it's hard for me not to reflect on the passing of the Mad Men television series and Letterman show because of personal connections to both that remind me how far I've come or gone, literally thousands of miles away, and how old I am. Aging sucks -- unless you consider the alternative. Just surviving long enough to grow into a crusty, cynical curmudgeon like Dave, can be considered a success in itself. It's like that old song, "I'm Still Here" from Follies: Good times and bum times, I've seen them all.

The other day I had a business meeting with a former New Yorker and during our chat, this younger woman asked how old I was to compare notes about our respective time frames in the Big Apple. I hesitated, thought about fudging by saying "I'm in my 50s" or "mid-50s," then shrugged and admitted: "Fifty-eight. I'm old." Ugh. Why did I feel like I had to apologize for not being young any more?

She appeared to be caught off guard. Her New York and mine were decades apart. She only knew the Disney-tized Times Square version. My NYC was dirty, dangerous, dying from the AIDS epidemic, yet still retaining some of Don Draper's Mad Men business trappings from the 60s and 70s. I even interviewed at Grey Advertising, one of the biggest agencies in the world, rivaling the agency that swallowed up Don's firm. At the time, I was news editor of my college paper and a friend's dad at Grey introduced me to their head copywriter -- a woman, just like Peggy on Mad Men! She looked over sample commercials I wrote, liked a couple, suggested I write more, then get back to her after she returned from vacation. But I needed a job fast, so I never followed up with her and wound up stumbling down other career paths.

After I moved to Manhattan in the early 80s, I got a marketing job in publishing down in the Greenwich Village area. I ducked into a jazz club to get out of the rain one summer evening, and that's where I met musicians from the Late Show band and Saturday Night Live orchestra. It was named Seventh Avenue South and was owned by the Brecker Brothers, well-known jazz musicians in their own right. It became my pau hana hangout, where I held court with Hiram Bullock, the original Letterman band shoeless guitarist (played with David Sanborn often too); Sammy Figueroa, a percussionist (the conga player on David Bowie's "Let's Dance"); Will Lee, still playing bass with the Late Show band; Paul Shaffer would pop in; Jaco Pastorius, the late great electric bass player with Weather Report was a regular... plus a host of other young actors, musicians, artists and riffraff. Hiram told me how Belushi was at his place one night, found a box containing all of Hiram's tax info and receipts, and proceeded to throw them out the window. A few months later, Belushi would OD.

I also befriended David Murray of the World Saxophone Quartet, who I learned was related to Walter Murray -- the UH football receiver, best remembered for dropping a pass that would have given the 'Bows their first victory over vaunted nemesis, BYU. As it happened, on my final night in New York before getting on the long flight to Honolulu, a co-worker scored tickets to the Late Night show as a going away gift for me. I had always wanted to see it live, so it was a big deal. However, David Murray also offered to put me on his guest list for a gig he was doing with another jazz legend, Ron Carter, at the Lush Life that same night. I opted for the Lush Life instead of Dave. Sigh. That was New York in a nutshell -- too many choices, too much to do in too little time.

It's strange how things come full circle. Three years later, I was married, had gone through rehab for alcoholism, got sober and started growing up at the age of 31. That's when I began writing screenplays based on my wild nights in NYC and 28-day stay at Castle's treatment center in Kailua. Eventually, I would get to meet staff writers for Mad Men, who were doing a UH screenwriting workshop. They had worked on the Baywatch Hawaii series, along with former Star-Bulletin columnist, Charlie Memminger. He got that short-lived TV staff job as a result of winning the Maui Writers Conference screenwriting contest -- the same one I came in second place for a script that was set in NYC a year before 9/11 would change the skyline forever.

Me and Rupert JeeIn 2006, my wife and I stopped by the Late Show theater to see if we could get tickets but none were available. We did get to meet Rupert Jee, the Hello Deli owner and frequent guest on Letterman (often put in amusing, uncomfortable situations when Dave would fit him with an earpiece and instruct Rupert to do odd things to unsuspecting parties outside the theater).

I'm still searching for that illusive first big script sale. Heck, I'd settle for a small low budget straight-to-video deal. I used to snicker at shows like Baywatch Hawaii, but now that I'm older, wiser and less full of myself, I realize what it takes to be a professional screenwriter no matter what you or I may think of the quality of the show itself. The Mad Men writers I mentioned had gotten to know Matt Weiner long before he achieved critical acclaim with his series about a Manhattan advertising agency, and the characters we watched grow up (or not) before our eyes. Most don't know what a hard sell it was for the creator of that series to get it on the air. It's really an inspiring story for any writer, artist or entrepreneur. You can read the Fast Company piece by clicking here.

The last night I spent in New York, I remember coming back to my apartment on 14th Street, still intoxicated and high from the Lush Life show. Down on the corner, there was a lone sax player I could hear through the open window, blowing sad, sweet notes -- a serenade for no one in particular. But in my heart, I believed he was playing his song for me. I miss the city... I'll miss Mad Men and Dave too.

Hello Deli sign

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For daily viewing times of my Career Changers TV show, visit www.CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel... including commercials written and produced by this former NYC mad man.

 

 

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Commercial Interruptions

By
May 14th, 2015



Before the advent of DVRs, VCRs, and remote controls -- or "the clicker" as my wife still refers to it -- people had few TV programs to choose from, and would sit through commercials rather than get up and change the channel. Fast forward to modern viewing habits, and it's evident technology has not only altered the way we watch television -- it's physically transformed us into couch potatoes. Speaking of which, I found this interesting bit of etymology:

"Very few words have a birthday so precise, and so precisely known, as couch potato. It was on July 15, 1976, we are told, that couch potato came into being, uttered by Tom Iacino of Pasadena, California, during a telephone conversation. He was a member of a Southern California group humorously opposing the fads of exercise and healthy diet in favor of vegetating before the TV and eating junk food (1973). Because their lives centered on television--the boob tube (1966)--they called themselves boob tubers. Iacino apparently took the brilliant next step and substituted potato as a synonym for tuber. Thinking of where that potato sits to watch the tube, he came up with couch potato."

I digress though, which is typical of channel surfers with short attention spans who are loathe to sit through commercial interruptions while plopped down in front of our bigger and bigger high def widescreen TVs. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not pretentious about my television preferences or an anti-TV snob like some people I know, who equate television with lowest common denominator forms of entertainment. In fact, I'd say some of the best writing in the past decade can be found on today's flatscreen TVs.

But I don't like wasting time on commercials that are trying to sell me something I don't need for problems I don't have. So, like a lot of people, I DVR nearly everything and press the >> button to speed through the 3-4 minute commercial breaks on most network programs. As a local TV producer this puts me at odds with myself, since I rely on advertisers to keep my Career Changers  TV show on the air. To get around the problem of channel jumpers, I've tried to be more creative.

Instead of running a lot of short-form commercials (15 to 30 seconds) I run longer info-tainment style segments that are paid for by sponsors, but tell interesting stories about the companies, organizations, or people behind that business. When we do run conventional advertising, I limit my breaks to no more than two 30-second spots or a single minute-long commercial to reduce the likelihood of viewers switching channels. With other network programs, I can basically watch most of two shows in the same half hour because they pack so many commercials into each break. Which is bad for the advertisers who pay for those time slots. The ad sales people tell clients they'll be running the spot dozens of times in a short period -- what they don't say is that commercial is going to be buried in a string of 7 to 8 other ad messages that probably have no relevance whatsoever to the client's target market.

I'm not sure when 30-second spots became the norm, but I decided to go old school on new commercials I produced for Waimea Valley and Remington College, two of my long-time show sponsors. For them, I did one-minute commercials because I felt the extra time would help sell the upcoming Summer Concert Series at Waimea Valley (here's a link -- great summer line-up and great deal!) and the new Remington campaign features Augie T, so we wanted to take advantage of his comedic talents. What's more, Augie has a talent for connecting with local folks, so I wanted to let him interact with actual students (which was a lot of fun too).

Here's one of the Augie T commercials that showcases his comedy skills, while this one displays a more serious side of Augie.

So, let me ask you: How long are you willing to watch commercials before changing channels? Or do you DVR most of your programs too?

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For daily viewing times -- subject to change due to high school sports lately -- please visit www. CareerChangers.TV. You can also watch segments from past and current episodes on the CCTV YouTube Channel, now closing in on one million total views... which is great for our paid sponsors, and another way conventional television viewing has changed!

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TV, Film Startups Help

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March 18th, 2015



As producer of the Career Changers TV show, I've been following the startup movement the past four years, which has mainly been driven by high tech applications for computers and mobile devices. First, there were incubators to help nascent companies develop their business plan. Then accelerators sprouted up around the country that offered seed money, office space and mentoring, in exchange for equity in startups they hand-picked (usually a 5 to 10 percent stake). Events such as Startup Weekend brought together like-minded entrepreneurs who would pitch their ideas to actual venture capitalists, angel investors and business consultants.

While filming segments on Blue Startups and Henk Rogers of Tetris empire fame, I saw similarities to what writers and filmmakers must go through to sell their TV or movie projects to producers. Many of the same principles apply, like the attention-getting premise or "elevator pitch" that succinctly sets up the concept and the synopsis that spells out what makes this project different or better than similar ideas. But in the TV and movie biz, the script was pretty much the entire franchise plan for the writer. Tech startups live or die based on "proof of concept" and demonstrations of their new product, service or app.

However, with the explosion of multimedia options -- or "transmedia" -- writers and filmmakers suddenly had plenty of other means to get their projects noticed in Hollywood: short films shot on high def video cameras, movie trailer style pitches for unproduced projects, YouTube, webisodes that can transition to mainstream TV, crowdfunding sites, etc. So it was only a matter of time before there were accelerators specifically created to nurture entertainment franchises. We now have one in Kona called Global Virtual Studio Transmedia, which had its first accelerator cohort last year. I learned about it after the application deadline had passed, but was invited to pitch a project for their GVS Boardroom panel event on Feb. 27.

I've been writing scripts for a long time, and had some minor success. Yet I haven't been able to get over the hump. I've often felt the missing ingredient was that to sell my scripts, you had to "see" it because they were written for the big screen and incorporated spectacular visual images -- such as locations in Hawaii related to the legends of the Menehune. Anyhow, I decided to submit a proposal for a franchise based on my feature screenplay, "Stinky Feet and the Secret of Menehune Gulch."

Since I had gotten good responses to prior email pitches I wrote for that script, I adapted my e-queries for the GVS submission and fleshed it out with images of Kauai's lush valleys, dramatic cliffs, underground lava tubes, and what might pass for a Menehune village. The GVS accelerator offers $50K over a six month period to each of the six teams they will select for the next cohort in the fall, which is a very nice incentive for fledgling screenwriters and filmmakers. In exchange for providing funding, facilities in their Kona studio, plus mentors with lots of experience and Hollywood connections, the project creator gives 10 percent equity in the franchise to GVS... which is a strong incentive for GVS to make it work too.

Backing this accelerator, is the State Dept. of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, which also has a major stake in seeing winners emerge from the program. Two of the top DBED&T officials -- Georja Skinner and Karl Fooks -- are taking a hands on approach, as I found out when I was selected as one of the eight presenters. Although our pitches were NOT being judged as part of the application process for the next cohort, we were told the feedback should be used to hone our franchise concepts to address questions that would be brought up by the specially-assembled panel. Besides Georja and Karl, there was a former Disney and Pepsico exec, a former marketing exec for Sony Pictures, and people with major movie experience sitting in the audience of about 50 people.

To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement. I hate speaking in front of groups, and have never been comfortable pitching my TV or movie projects to industry people. But I felt confident in my Menehune concept, and I thought the Power Point I put together right before the event was good.

There was just one problem. When the presenters were gathered to do our run-through, we had to use their system to show whatever media we had. Instead of a laptop with the Presenter's View mode for my Power Point slides (which includes "Notes" at bottom you can use as a cheat sheet) all I had was a keyboard and a big monitor screen slightly behind me on my right side. They gave me a clicker to advance the slides... which had a slight delay. I had printed out my "Notes" text to consult, i.e. read from, if I got nervous and forgot the scripted lines. On top of that, we were limited to exactly five minutes for our spiels, and there was a GVS staffer to my left holding a digital clock.

So I'm trying to remember my lines, checking my printed-out notes, glancing back at the slide on the screen to my right -- crap, that's not the right slide! -- looking back at the clock ticking down to my left, clicking the clicker back a slide, then another... and I realize I'm not even halfway through before my time is up. This is why I hate public speaking. I could feel the pity from the other presenters. All of them did their run-throughs in one shot with not much problem. Me, I was asked to stay behind and do it again. Ugh. How embarrassing.

The second run-through was slightly better after I switched to using the keyboard to advance my slides. It was still running long though, so I knew I had to ditch the scripted "Notes" text and refer directly to the outline or visual images on my Power Point slides when we did it in front of a live audience -- and cameras. Which is another thing that gives me stage fright.

Minutes before show time, I considered bailing. Rather than stand in front of a crowded room and make a sputtering fool of myself, I could just say I felt sick and wouldn't be doing my presentation. The other seven projects were very impressive, and those people had better credentials than me -- or so I told myself. "Stinky Feet"? What was I thinking! Yet part of me knew years of rejections, failures, and even ridicule as a kid, had prepared me for this moment. I started off a little shaky, relying too much on reading my notes. Then when I had to refer back to my outlined thoughts on the screen behind me, I loosened up and got through it okay.

The panel then spent 12 minutes asking questions and commenting on my pitch. The former Disney exec immediately said he had never heard about Menehune, and was so fascinated by the myths that he felt it could be a TV series. The former Sony Pictures guy said he loved the concept. After I explained why the lead kid character is nicknamed "Stinky Feet" by a local bully, I confessed that it got left out because I was terrible at pitching. "I disagree," the Sony guy interjected. "When you stopped reading your notes, your passion and knowledge of your subject really came through!"

Later, Big Island Film Commissioner Ilihia Gionson and his significant other came up to me. He said he really liked my Menehune project even though it's set on Kauai. She said she voted for mine as her favorite of the eight presentations (I didn't win that vote -- a martial arts movie project by a Big Island filmmaker got the audience choice award). But there was one more twist after I returned home to the other Kailua...

The next day, I got an email that said, "Great Pitch!" in the subject line. In my Power Point, I included my email address on the last slide that said, "Pau." You never know, right? It turned out an audience member with contacts in the movie and TV business loved my concept and disagreed with panelists who said it should be a $10 million dollar movie, not the $100 million budget I guess-timated. She wrote that I should stick to my vision of a big movie about little people, and not make it a smaller project just to fit the accelerator's business model. They know it's almost impossible to sell a $100 million project even if I was able to use the accelerator to create a dynamite movie trailer or short film to promote it. But a $10 million film is something they could realistically help set up, and their 10 percent stake would pay dividends.

I want to believe this person who contacted me has the connections that can move my Menehune project forward as a big budget film. If not though, I'd be happy to see it made even if we have to dress up little people like Polynesian Munchkins instead of the expensive CGI "Lord of the Rings" type dwarves, trolls and elves I originally pictured for my Menehune village scenes. And maybe that's the best thing about the GVS Transmedia accelerator... it gives writers like me a chance to dream of seeing our work be brought to life, even if it's not exactly what we hoped for.

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My Annual Obama Parable

By
December 26th, 2014



NOTE: I wrote this story in 2008 for my nieces, Sasha and Ana, who are about the same ages as President Obama’s daughters, Malia Ann and Sasha. Since the Obamas may only be returning to Kailua for Christmas another two years, I figure it's worth rerunning in the hopes that he or someone from his entourage will stumble across my cockeyed parable and invite me to lunch with the First Family. Or maybe they could just walk out in front of their beach house and wave to folks like me and my visiting relatives who walk down to the checkpoint to get a glimpse of where they're staying. Anyway, in the little hand-made books I created for my nieces, Uncle Monkey was a cynical chimpanzee writer of animal-centered tales that mirror current events. Six years later, despite all the positive improvements in our economy and world standing, President Obama continues to get dumped on instead of the pat on the back he deserves. But as Uncle Monkey cheerfully reminds the kids, things could always be worse!

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PROLOGUE

“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 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 his 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.

THE END

*********

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.”

Mele Kalikimaka! May all your empty boxes be filled with good memories and room for better things to come. You can still catch the Christmas edition of Career Changers TV daily at different times on OC16. Click here for the viewing schedule and links to videos on the CCTV YouTube Channel.

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