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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

My wife asked me the other day what it was I REALLY wanted to do for a living if I could do anything in the world. I'm in the midst of a career change right now - any career at all will do since mine is apparently withering on the vine under the new administration. 

I do this thing where I spend about 10 minutes thinking the question over and then suddenly, the answer jumps out at me about 24 to 48 hours later.  Well, that happened to me this morning as I was looking through my Demand Studios assignment list - 10 barely doable story titles gleaned from 50 pages of impossible titles like "How to Replace the Engine in a 1968 Chevy Impala".  Don't get me wrong I'd take the story on, but they want me to do it in 400 to 500 words for $15. Most of the story titles are like that, so I spend almost as much time looking for titles as I do working.

Anyway, all that to tell you this.  One of the titles was "How to Start a Canoe Livery Business".  I am studying that one diligently because that is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.  First off, I don't want to live anywhere near town. I could cheerfully skip the morning commute forever. The noise and the traffic are gradually eroding the ventricles of my heart.

Ah, but I could really get into the canoe/kayak rental business.  I know just where I'd put it.  I'd find a little piece of land beside the main road that crosses Lake o' the Pines dam.  I'd need sheds to hold the canoes and kayaks, a small office for transacting business, a pickup and two 8 place canoe trailers. I'd need a shop for building and repairing boats and a place for the basic tools and equipment for maintaining things.  I already have a lot of that and could acquire more tools as I need them.

Finally, I'd need a small cottage in the pines behind the livery for me and my sweetie to live in. 

And an Internet connection - for advertising and promotional purposes, of course.

I would rent canoes, kayaks and sailboats to use on the lake and on the river below the dam that runs from the Lake to Jefferson Texas.  I'd set up a variety of trip packages so paddlers could have long trips, short trips or easy trips that avoid hazards in the river. They could take out in downtown Jefferson at the landing and walk up the hill to a nice restaurant for supper. I'd promote it on the web and through local news organizations.  I'd offer guided trips for youth groups, bird-watching societies and families.

I have a motorboat to use for rescuing overturned sailboats or stuck canoes or tired kids.  I'd get a fan boat to use on the river where there are shallow spots.  I'd sell equipment like life jackets, fishing rod supports, pre-packed lunches.  I'd build custom cedar strip and fiberglass canoes for folks that want something fancy.  I'd offer canoe safety classes two or three times a year on various lakes about the area and invite Scouts, Pathfinders, Royal Ambassadors, Campfire Boys and Girls, Boys and Girls Clubs and other youth groups and teach the classes for free, paying for it with sponsor dollars.

I'd hire kids to wax the boats and teach them to do repairs and to help load and launch groups.  As they got older, I'd turn them into river guides. I'd be outside most of the time and we'd work hard from spring till fall. In the winter, we'd catch up on boat repairs and maintenance. 

It would be a lovely sort of life to lead. Just need 50 to 100K to get started.

Ah, well. Just one man dreamin'

Tom King

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hard Day at Work in East Texas

I don't often pass along e-mails, but ever once in a while something dribbles out of my mailbox that's just too funny not to share. 

Ernest Thomas of Odessa, TX sent me this photo.

What we have here is a........
            High-powered Redneck Hedge Trimmer

 And after a hard day of Redneck hedge trimming, everybody gathers at the backyard gymnasium for a little.....

                               Redneck Yoga!

We call this the Heineken Position.
It's a German relaxation technique!

I'm not sayin' nothin' else.  Some of these guys look too much like kinfolk.

Tom King

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Tragic History of Breaking Strings

- Keene, Texas circa 1966

It started when I was 12. My friend Leslie Gilley, a male person despite the ambiguous first name, lived on 10 acres on the outskirts of town. You got there by crossing the public school grounds, ducking through a pasture inhabited by hostile cattle and climbing over a bob-wire fence.

Leslie had his own creek. his own pond and an assortment of plastic guns, cap guns and Army helmets.  My brother and I had similar military accoutrements.  We all used to get together in the dry creek bed and throw dirt clod hand grenades at one another for fun.

Part of the fun was the Tarzan vine he had strung across the creek at its deepest, most gorgelike point.  The Tarzan vine was little more than a glorified string, badly frayed on the end you clung to.  You really couldn't tell much about the condition of the rope at the top end because the tree was 30 some odd feet tall. Leslie's older brother had tied the rope up there somewhere back in the dim past.

We must have been pretty dim ourselves to rely on its integrity after all those years being exposed to the elements, but we were to enjoy several months of high test swinging on that Tarzan rope.

You had to climb out on a tree trunk that bent out across the creek bed.  There was a spot over the middle of the creek where you could stand up on the limb, grab the rope and fling yourself into space. You would swing down the gravel creekbed lengthwise, up along a bank where the creek curved sharply and then back up the creek toward the tree like some demented pendulum. You'd cling to the rope till your swing slowed down enough at the bottom that you wouldn't lose toes when you set your bare feet down in the one sandy spot along your glide path.

One day, Les, feeling generous I suppose, made the unusual gesture of allowing me "first swing". I should have smelled a rat, what with him glancing nervously at the top of the tree and his solicitude in handing me the rope and reassuring me that it was my turn to go first.

I swung clear of the tree in perfect form, feet together, hands in the baseball bat grip we'd learned to use.  As I descended, I swung my feet out in front of me.  At the bottom of the arc I was doing a good 20 to 25 miles an hour when the rope parted high up in the tree and drove me butt first into the gravel creek bottom.
As a very light person, the damage to my bones was surprisingly minimal.  My butt hurt for a week though.  The damage to my brain which rattled around in my skull for some time after the impact, might have been more permanent. The 30 feeet of rope coiled down out of the tree on my head.

As my hearing returned, I became aware of Leslie screeching at me from the bank.  "You broke my rope! You broke my rope!" he shrieked as he slid down into the creek in front of me.

I looked up at Les, standing there red-faced with his hands on his hips.  "You broke my rope!" he said accusingly.

"I'm sorry," I said a little confused.  "Did you want to break it?"

I've made it a policy to this day. I don't borrow other people's musical instruments, weed eaters or anything else with strings or string-like elements. I don't want to break anyone else's strings, ropes or vines for them. It's always painful when it happens and my friends always get mad at me no matter how nice they try to be about it.

Also, I change my strings, rope or vines once in a while. Helps keep my butt out of the gravel!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Canceled Series Network

What I want is my own television network.  Actually, I could just buy the Sci-Fi network and cancel all the "reality" shows and horror movies and do just as well.  What I would replace them with are all the television series that people loved that were canceled without ending properly.

One of the reasons a television series gets canceled is because they don't find an audience quickly enough.  Oddly enough, this isn't so much a consequence of the quality of the show or how well-written or well-acted it is.  It's all about numbers.  What's aggravating for television viewers is that too often, the networks' dim-witted scheduling decisions, hide the good shows so that you can't find them and by the time you do, they've canceled it.   Is it any wonder so many shows don't collect a fan base quickly enough to save them.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm just about ready to stop watching network television of any kind. I'm sick of investing time in a new show only to see it canceled just as it is getting interesting.  I can name a whole string of shows that have gone by the board that shouldn't have.  I can also tell a couple of cautionary tales about dumping a show prematurely.

Way back in the 60's an unlikely new show came out called Star Trek. The network didn't quite know what to do with it and almost canceled it. It was their first experience with outraged fans and it frightened them a little so they left the show in place. They finally canceled the series well short of the end of Enterprise's famous "5 year mission".  The ensuing movies and cable series are proof as to how wrong the network was.

Then, an oddball comedy show called M*A*S*H appeared on CBS.  The network moved it around all over the schedule so no one could find it anymore and then almost canceled it the first year.  Fortunately, smarter folks at CBS prevailed and M*A*S*H went on to become one of the longest running series in history with the largest audience for a finale in TV history.

Give an audience time to find really well crafted writing and acting and you will have a loyal audience. The hardest part for audiences is finding something worth watching.  Networks should make it easy for them to do that.  That's why I propose creating the Cancelled Series Network (CSN).

Now not everything that is canceled deserves to be revived, of course.  My Mother the Car springs to mind. But finding a good canceled series is easy.  Just check what people are watching on Hulu or in the network archives and pluck from oblivion, any series with a loyal fan base.  In the past few years, here are some notable examples:

1. Firefly - I don't care how many people didn't "get" Firefly at first, it was great storytelling, wonderful characters.  The best SF series ever if you listen to the rabid fans.  That's the first one I'd bring back.

2. Jericho- Even if you only shot another 5 episodes and brought it to an end, at least you'd have a DVD set worth buying! I mean, the Republic of Texas was fixin' to kick some Western Alliance behind unless I missed my guess. My favorite post-cancellation stunt by the fans was filling up CBS's lobby with nuts in protest! That kind of imagination and loyalty should be rewarded.

3. Kyle XY - It took me a while to find this little ABC Family gem as it did many others.  When it went to Hulu, viewers worldwide discovered it and made the series immensely popular in places like Canada, France, Brazil, Iraq and Turkey of all places.  It needs another season or two to bring the story cycle to its end. Besides it's a really good story with admirable characters actually doing honorable things.We should be exporting shows like this one with a really decent main character set.

4.  Journeyman - This involuntary time traveler tale was just beginning to get interesting when ABC pulled the plug. I think there should be a rule of a minimum one year and a requirement that the series be ended properly or you can't start the series at all.  A one-season mini-series would have been about right for Journeyman.

5.  New Amsterdam - This one, a Highlander-like, tale of a 400 year old police detective was, again, just starting to get interesting when they killed it.  This is another one that begs to finish the season and have an ending.

6.  Life on Mars - This one they did right.  I'd like to have seen one more season for this series, but at least they ended the series.  I loved the ending. I think the American ending was better than the British one, but then I like my stories to have closure.  I hate open-ended ambiguity.  Bravo to whoever let "Mars" write an ending before they killed it.

7. Crusoe - I was really getting into this retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story and I don't care how politically correct it was compared to the original or how few people watched it.  At least end the series for crying out loud.  For people that liked the series, you could at least buy the series or watch it on Hulu or something where it could generate some ad revenue.  Get the man home to his wife at least.

8. Defying Gravity - This intriguing bit of science fiction got pulled halfway through the first season and left me hanging big time. I'm beginning to despise ABC for doing that to me. They will be the first network I boycott.  Let them do dancing idol worm-eating survivor desperate ghost wife shows without me.  At least finish the couple of seasons it will take to complete the series.  That or turn it into a mini-series and end it.

9. The Unit - Finally the network does a military series that isn't anti-military. But, of course, CBS can't figure out where to put it and manages to hide it from any hope of an audience.  This one just needed to go on for about 5 more years till everybody on the team's hitch is up.

10.  Early Edition - The engaging saga of Gary Hobbs, the pub owner who gets tomorrow's newspaper today lasted only 3 seasons.  It could have gone on much longer.  I don't know whether they ended it or not, because I can't watch it on-line anywhere yet (at least not without risking an FBI raid).  I hope it ended well for Gary. At any rate, EE was one of those good-hearted shows that you watch every week to make you feel like there's some hope for the world.  I miss it. 

The Rest - Eli Stone I would have like to have seen brought to an end.  It was quirky and interesting. Same with My Own Worst Enemy Dead Like Me was a very strange little show, but killing it, then following up with a movie that doesn't end it either is just goofy.  Showtime needs to go ahead and run a few more seasons or finish with a closer movie WITH Mandy Patinkin this time.  Threshold and Invasion were two SF shows that deserved at least an ending for crying out loud.  And I don't think I'd have ever got enough of Monk, but at least they did wrap the series up.

Shows in Jeopardy:

Chuck - If NBC kills Chuck, I may commit an act of terrorism.
Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles - My Sweet Baboo likes the Terminator movies and this spinoff TV series. I don't know why, but I put this in for her.
Flash Forward - I just got into this one.  Please don't cancel this one.  I'm just catching up on the back episodes.
Numb3rs - They always cancel the geek shows.  Remember Dweebs.  I loved that show and it didn't last but a few paltry episodes.  Numb3rs is brilliant and must be a bear to write with all that math in it.  I hope they at least bring it to an end.  I think they are, at least based on the last few episodes I've seen.

My network would mine from these series that have a dedicated fan base and set them up with a secure home for a minimum of one complete season.  No series would be canceled without at least a two hour series finale or more.  The first series I would sign would be FIREFLY, then The Unit, Jericho, Early Edition and Kyle XY and on down the list.  I think you could make a fortune buying and rebroadcasting these series with the promise of new episodes and an ending.  I'd rerun Life on Mars and add a half dozen or so new episodes sandwiched in between the last two episodes.  Forget the 26 show season minimum. We could just broadcast however many episodes the series works out to be.

I'd love to borrow Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf and Good Neighbors from the BBC and revisit them too.  I think you could build a successful TV network using that model.  Only two rules.


Only good storytelling, great acting and well-crafted concepts. I'd work for 5 figures and hire gifted amateurs to run the network and shoot the first marketing guy that shows up to tell me my demographic is skewed.

I would.  I'd get a conceal and carry permit just for that purpose.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Old Bob, the Duck and the Houston Man

My Grandpa told this as though it were a true story. I have a picture of him at age 5 in his knee britches with "Old Bob" and her puppy "Dixie", so I know Old Bob existed.  Grandpa told lots of stories of her prowess as a retriever.

She was so famous a rich businessman came up from Houston just to hunt with Old Bob. They went out by the little lake outside of town and he picked off a duck. Grandpa sent Dixie splashing off into the lake while Old Bob just sat there.

This happened several times till the Houston man finally said, "When am I going to get to see Old Bob in action?  I mean I did pay for the privilege."

Grandpa kinda shrugged and didn't say much. The Houston man picked off another duck and it splashed down out in the middle of the lake.

"G'wan, Bob," Grandpa pointed toward the duck.

Old Bob backed waaaay up and took a running start at the shore. Her feet were spinning around so fast that when she hit the water, she just kept on running on top of the water!  She snagged the duck with her teeth as she went by, made a long wide turn throwing up water like a jet ski and tore back toward shore. A moment later, she laid the duck down by the startled hunter's feet, then ducking her head, slunk 'round behind Grandpa's legs looking shame-faced for all the world.

"Wow!" the Houston Man said. "I've never seen anything like that in my life!"

Grandpa looked down at his feet.  "I'm sorry about that," he told the Houston man regretfully.  "I never could teach this danged dog how to swim!"

Grandpa never would say whether that one was true or not.

(c) 2009 by Tom King

*The photo to the right is my grandpa, Thomas Adolph King, Old Bob (left) and her daughter, Dixie (right) circa 1915.