Short Story: At The Push of a Button.

Social media allows us to connect with anyone in the world at the push of a button, literally. In this case, you either got here through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, an email from WordPress or some other way which doesn’t really matter. The point is you’re here now and for that, I am appreciative. Also, I have to give credit where it’s due so thanks to social media, without which in more ways than one, this story wouldn’t be possible. It has allowed us to connect on this journey which is about a time in our lives before social media was even developed. A time when the press of a button only consisted of the letters “A” and “B” on a Nintendo controller. A time when connecting was made by creating a straight line of matching discs during a game of Connect Four. A time when relationships were built on the fate of being placed in the same classroom at the beginning of a school year.

This tale takes place in the early nineties at the School of Somewhere located near the coast line of California. A friendship was being developed in the first grade amongst seven highly gifted six-year-old boys. Many adults, including their parents always knew the boys were advanced for their age, treating kindergarten like child’s play. They were finding upper and lower case letters in the alphabet as easily as trying to spot Polkaroo on Imagination Day barging through the Polka Dot Door yelling, “Polkaroo! Polkaroo!” When it came to reading and rhyming, they were catching on so quickly, it made Dr. Seuss look like a nurse. As for learning how to count, they were counting triple what the guy on Sesame Street does when he counts at a rapid and rhythmic pace from 1 to 12 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12.). The group of boys owned Sesame Street and needed to be challenged with bigger and better things.

Once they were freed from the cages of kindergarten and put out into the open school ground, many of their peers saw them as a little like celebrities. They were even given a group name after another famous boy band at the time. The students called them The Smart Kids On The Block, aka T.S.K.O.T.B. The boys were oblivious to the band but didn’t mind it at all. Besides, when it came to being smart, they all knew they had the…oh oh oh oh oh, the right stuff. Even their actual names had a boy band ring to them; Jack, Noah, Evan, Biz, Kevin, Mike and Mark. These boys were young, talented and gifted. If only they were smart enough to know the one thing that can cause even the smartest people not to think straight and more importantly, to maintain their friendship.

One Monday morning, the grade one class was interrupted by a knock at the classroom door. It was a faculty member asking for the teacher. As the two went about with their business, everyone in class was in awe to see a little girl behind the adults as she did her best to remain hidden. They knew whatever was being discussed, it would be “da bomb.” Although, it’s safe to say kids at this age find any news to be noteworthy. Just ask the janitor about the broken drinking fountain that one Friday morning. All the students in the class was thirsty to find out who the guilty culprit was that damaged the water pipes; it was totally awesome.

It’s expected for these kids to be curious but a few went as far as looking like windshield wipers, maneuvering left and right in their seats, peeking out to see more. As for the little girl, she continued to hide behind the faculty member as if she was the Counter in a game of Hide & Go Seek. To no avail, the class could see her long wavy blonde hair, white short-sleeve shirt, black skirt with red and blue plaid accents and plain Maryjane’s. Her shoes were similar to Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz, but rather than sparkling ruby red, they were black and simple. A minute went by and finally the faculty member left as the teacher led the little girl through the classroom door. Now, this could have been all coincidental but as she entered, a gust of wind simultaneously blew through the open window inside the classroom, causing her blonde mellifluous hair to slowly flow back. As she swung her head from left to right, it caused every strand of hair to fly behind her, allowing the class to see her facial beauty. All the boys in the class instantly drowned in her blue, oceanic eyes as they gave way to her angelic smile, which ironically for the boys, was a smile that could get her out of any school punishment.

“Hi, my name is Laurene.”

To the group of boys in this story, an angel just fell from the sky and transferred in to their classroom.

As Laurene made her way to the front of the class, she quickly scans the room only to acknowledge the one empty seat available. Now if you’re wondering “yeah right, what are the odds of the only available seat being near the group of boys?” I couldn’t possibly know the answer to this question but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of smart individuals found a way to make this happen. As ecstatic as the boys were to be sitting near Laurene, they were blindsided by the fact that none of them have actually ever socialized with a girl before. And so, for the first time in their lives, the group of boys was dumbfounded.

Once the class settled down, the teacher asked all the students to group into threes. It was time for their curriculum to switch from math to something with more creativity, arts. For Kevin and Mike, this subject is what separated them from the rest of their group. They loved to draw, especially shapes of all kinds. Many of their efforts were posted on the classroom’s Wall of Art with smiley faces to go along with A-pluses. As remarkable as their artwork would be from a couple of six-year-olds, they were best known for framing their artwork with borders around the subjects they drew. Other students would just draw and leave the subject “floating” on the piece of paper. For these two boys, they felt the need to always frame their drawings, as if to say every subject is a masterpiece.

As the rest of the class try to partner into threes, their group of seven boys were left trying to divide themselves into two groups of three without leaving a variable. They knew this is one equation that would leave someone on their own, forcing to partner with other students in the class. While many of the boys bickered back and forth, Kevin and Mike snatched the opportunity to partner with the new girl instead. As frightening as it may seem for the two boys, they felt they should use this subject as a bridge to confront their fears of socializing with a girl. They felt it gave them a sense of confidence other group assignments couldn’t provide. The two boys somehow slipped away from the herd and ventured into an unknown territory. If only they knew what lay ahead besides confronting their fears.

When Kevin and Mike approached Laurene, they immediately panicked and couldn’t even think of a two letter word between them like “Hi.” Instead, they stood in front of her side-by-side like two of the happiest mimes you’ll wish to never meet. As much as this startled Laurene, she understood their intentions and in return, smiled back. Somehow, they all agreed to form a group without saying a single word. Not too distant from all this, the rest of the boys received the message of betrayal loud and clear. They felt Mike and Kevin had just chosen a girl over their friendships. A lesson the boys should have learned later in life. Some guys will be men about it and simply shrug it off, but then again, we are dealing with a bunch of six-year-olds so in a way, feeling betrayed at this stage in life warrants immaturity.

As expected, the class admired the creativity of Kevin, Mike, and now Laurene. It should also come as no surprise the two boys continued framing their artwork and Laurene even helped provide different styles of borders. Some borders were as thin as a pencil, others were as thick as a marker. For one of their drawings, they even drew a double-lined border around the subject. It was during this time that something miraculous happened. Mike was using a crayon to shade within the double-lined border when he accidentally coloured inside where the subject was drawn. He knew he must continue shading over the whole subject including the borders or else the piece would look unfinished. In the end, the drawing with the double-lined border was fully shaded. The class admired the unique look it had and the teacher respected the bold display by the three students. The admiration Laurene received from the class helped boost her confidence with feeling accepted. As for Kevin and Mike, this particular art piece would find its way back into their lives decades down the road to help develop a way to inspire the rest of the world.

Mark, Jack, Noah, Evan and Biz remained at their seats while the rest of the class huddled around the Wall of Art admiring each other’s work. They were clearly disinterested and were doing a poor job hiding it from anyone who was willing to notice. The teacher didn’t appreciate the lack of participation and felt they could use an extra thirty minutes in class during the one hour lunch to reflect on their poor behaviour. As for Kevin and Mike, this hurt them a great deal knowing it wasn’t for lack of creativity that caused their friends’ disinterest in art but more the jealousy at partnering with Laurene.

“Not my fault they’re a bunch of chicken.” It didn’t matter who whispered this between Kevin and Mike while leaving for lunch but the rest of the guys heard enough to know what had been said. It was clear there was a lot of tension in the room so in a way, dividing the group was a blessing in disguise. As for Laurene, she escaped from the rest of the students once the lunch bell rang, looking to adjust on her own terms in her new school environment.

Meanwhile, the grade one classroom was nice and quiet, occupied by a disappointed teacher and five boys with long pouty faces. The kids sat at their desks with their elbows resting on the table and fists pressed against their chins until they possessed the cheeks of a Cabbage Patch Kid. Although their punishment was to sit there and do nothing for thirty whole minutes, some of the boys felt it would be therapeutic to relieve some of their anger by swinging their legs back and forth like untamed pendulums. It may not have been much of a stress reliever but at least it gave them something to do. The frustration of the boys had the look of a scene from the Breakfast Club. Instead of teenage boys and girls, it would just be a group of childish boys and rather than a scene in the library, it would be in a classroom. Come to think of it, nothing about this is like the Breakfast Club except for the number of bratty students in detention. In case you weren’t aware, the answer is five (John, Andrew, Brian, Allison and Claire).

Evan, underneath his breath muttered something to himself that almost caused him to laugh and breakdown. As he quickly adjusts himself to look innocent, the teacher from his desk looks up from his reading material to see who has been disobeying. What he sees are five sets of eyes staring back with a puzzled look of innocence as if he is the one hearing things. To reassure himself that he’s not the crazy one, he tells the boys, “Cut it out guys, you know better.” The teacher then goes back to his reading material, prepping for the next curriculum while Biz discreetly catches Evan’s attention.

“Hey, what cha laughing at?” whispers Biz.

“Nothing…just this class has a bunch of squares,” responds Evan in the same tone.

“What? Who’s a bunchy square,” adds Jack.

Noah, being the last one to chime in, “Who? Who’s fat? Tell me, tell me, tell me.”

It was clear whispering was causing a lot of confusion. The only one lost for a different reason was Mark for having a tendency to blank out and wander into his own little world. He was known to always be thinking multiple steps ahead and the boys figured this was just another one of his quirks they’ve learned to accept. As for dealing with all the confusion, the boys knew exactly what needed to be done in these types of moment. Before there were iPhones, Blackberries, or any form of handheld communication devices, students relied on passing paper notes secretly to one another as if executing a drug deal. Not to say Jack, Noah, Evan and Biz operated on a system which allowed them to trade illegal substances, but when it came to communicating discreetly with one another, they were at the top of the game.

Anytime there was an indoor recess with not much excitement going on, the four boys would cut pieces of paper into small rectangular shapes. Each piece would be the height of a thumb and a width of a middle finger. As for the note itself, it needed to be big enough to be able to write a short message on it but small enough that when it’s folded a couple of times, the piece of paper becomes the size of a single tic-tac.

Their system worked on three factors. First, the note needed to be short and sweet. Long sentences only prolonged the writing, increasing their chances of being caught. The second part, which took a bit more thinking relied on using less letters in the words. They were careful to still keep its meaning, and the same can be said about using popular expressions. For example, when someone showed a high interest of laughter, rather than writing “Laugh out loud”, the boys would simply put, “LOL.” Lastly, if a note needed a response, it would be written at the back of the note that was just received. If it didn’t need a response, the boys would start on a new note. You’re probably thinking none of this is ground breaking but if you were to refer back to the first note you passed in class, what grade were you in? Regardless, the four boys would end up developing something more advanced than we could have imagined back then. I wouldn’t be surprised if you just used their technology sometime today or maybe even just before diving into this story.

After going back and forth with their notes, the boys felt their punishment ended quicker than expected. The teacher with a simple nod of his head, gave the direction to the boys that detention was over. Finally, they were free to enjoy the rest of their lunch hour. Without any hesitation, the boys rushed out of the building looking to make the most of what little playtime they had left. They decided not to exit through the door into their regular school ground in case Kevin and Mike were out there. They may have spent the last thirty minutes cooling down but clearly the boys were still heated. Instead, everyone felt it would be best to remain distant for now. And so, the group of boys dashed out into the unknown grounds of the building only to walk into the one person they were least expecting.

They found Laurene socializing with girls, none from their class but girls from the second grade. The boys knew right from the moment they laid eyes on her, it would be a matter of time until she made friends at their school. They just weren’t expecting it to be so quick and with an older group. She was already an angel in their eyes and within half a day in her new school, she’d become the coolest girl in grade one. This just made it even harder for the boys to treat her just as another classmate. If you recall back in elementary, if this type of thing happened, it automatically gave anyone the status of, depending on whether you’re a guy or a girl, either “Zack” or “Kelly.” So much for being saved by the bell, the group of boys see Laurene and her friends approach them with still twenty minutes left of their lunch hour. This brought their nervousness to a level only Big Bird could reach and just like him, the boys knew they couldn’t fly out of the situation.

“Hey, I see you guys are just getting out now,” Laurene comments with optimism.

“Yeah,” says the boys.

“Got in trouble eh?” she follows up with a slight touch of sadness.

“Yeah,” the boys reply.

“Was it bad?” she adds.

With the harmony of uncertainty, the boys respond, “No.”

The boys failed miserably but at least it wasn’t for lack of effort. Maybe they would’ve done a lot better if they knew Laurene a bit more. She may have been an angel on the outside but she was more of a saint on the inside. Laurene was kind to every boy she knew, not just to the jocks who played Tug of War, Capture the Flag or Baseless Baseball. And so, she tried reaching out once more with a simple, “Hello.” This time, towards Mark’s direction. “Ahh…ummm….Hhhh, hhh…hi,” Mark responds. Social norm would tell us a simple response such as “Hello” in this situation should be as easy as pie, but Mark found a way to make it as difficult as trying to recite at least five numbers after 3.14 in the other Pi, even for him.

Mark was a special person. He was different. He was exceptional. He was the childhood version of Doogie Howser, gifted with a brilliant mind and challenged with living as a normal six-year-old child. One of those challenges was grasping a sense of social norm towards people he had just met. At first, he may seem awkward and distant, but like Inspector Gadget’s arm, he’d find a way to reach you and maybe, just maybe, you’d do the same. So when he’s faced with an awkward situation such as this, his anxiety took over.

There was an awkward silence which lasted roughly five seconds where everyone just stood there like a bunch of drones. Evan, being the eldest in the group (by months) summoned enough courage to ask Laurene and her friends what they were doing. She gladly responded with an invitation to play a game of tag. Everyone in the circle was excited to start playing except for Mark. His anxiety still hasn’t calmed down and the boys weren’t about to let him drain everyone’s excitement.

“Why don’t you sit this one out?” said Noah. Being the joker of the group, he tries to find ways to put you in a joyful mood, but Mark wasn’t buying it. Noah should’ve ended while he was ahead but decided to make one jokingly comment too many, “Weirdo,” added Noah. Of all the words to describe Mark, whether serious or kidding around, this was the one word Mark couldn’t tolerate. He accepted being “odd,” but there was just something about being referred to as “weird” that he just couldn’t stand. He saw the two words like the characters in Spy vs. Spy; the differences between them are as obvious as black and white.

The rest of the guys knew Noah was horsing around as he normally does, but Mark clearly took offense and stormed away from the group. As he looked back to see if they felt any remorse, all he saw was Laurene’s reaction to Noah’s comment. He hated the fact that she found it humorous for him to be considered weird. This was her way of pleasing Noah by making him think he was the life of the group. If only Mark had known the truth.

Lunchtime ended and in a way, so did their friendships. For the first time ever, the boys didn’t have lunch as a group. There was too much anger and betrayal from one another to consider it any type of a Kodak moment. Even on the last recess of the day, there was no trade talk of Pogs, no jumping for joy in Hop Scotch or any reason to move for a game of Red Light, Green Light. In an instant, their friendship was lost like Waldo on American soil during the 4th of July. The strength of their friendship was still there, it was a matter of whether or not it was worth looking for. Instead, they allowed their friendship to slowly die like a neglected Tamagotchi. By the end of the year, they still remained school friends, but it was never the same.

Summer had past and by the time second grade started, the group of boys kept their distance and remained divided into three.

Kevin and Mike became best friends over the summer and continued using borders around their drawings while exploring different types of shading overlays. Their interest in this approach, combined with their brilliant minds inspired them to develop a way for us all to share creativity with the rest of the world. They called it, Instagram.

Jack, Noah, Evan and Biz continued passing notes around in class as if they were secret agents. Whether someone wanted to point out an observation, make a comment or simply vent, they knew they could rely on each other to stay connected. Who knew their system which started in grade one would graduate to a more advanced version that allows us to do the same… Of course, within a certain amount of characters using Twitter.

As for Mark, well, right after that moment on the school grounds during lunch, he knew there were a few quirks he needed to work on. As he got older, he wasn’t quite focus on his social skills and instead, applied them to his love for computers. Through his brilliancy, he developed a way for people to socialize online with anyone in the world and avoid the awkwardness he felt during face-to-face interactions. Last time I heard, all his success led him to be one of the 100 most wealthiest and influential people in the world. Maybe you’ve heard of him?

Laurene remained friends with all the boys throughout elementary school. She never looked at them as being gifted or special. She simply saw them for who they are, a group of kids who were so smart and constantly thinking, they almost forgot to think of just being themselves. She ended up doing really well for herself and just to show she is more beautiful inside than she is in the out, the root of all her success remained the same; to help those who are in need.

Like I said at the beginning, this story wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for social media, mainly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Mind you, everything about this journey is fictitious except for the names of the gifted children and a snippet of their outcomes. Who knows how life would be without these networks to connect us all? It makes the world seem the size of a classroom, where connecting with someone is only a couple of steps away. Of course, if you wanted to increase the worth of that relationship, like everything else in life that matters, nothing worth having comes at the push of a button.

Later on that eventful day, way back when, while Laurene was walking home, a little boy called out her name. While she didn’t recognize him, she did know they attended the same school. Unlike the group of boys she met earlier that day, this one was filled with confidence. He had a nice smile and very thick brown hair. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of him, but something about him was special. He had a certain bounce in his step unlike that of other boys, maybe it was his New Balance grey sneakers. Maybe it was the long-sleeved black turtle neck he wore on the Californian, early summer day. Or better yet, how she found it strange that he walked home carrying an apple in his hand.

“Hi, you must be Laurene, the new girl in school. I’m Steve.”

The End.

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Short Story: The Man of the Hour.

A 60th birthday is a meaningful chapter in anyone’s life. For many, it’s a moment best spent with family and friends. As for the man of the hour, he finds himself instead surrounded by colourful individuals who he happened to come across earlier that day. He knew what type of evening he was expecting, so in a strange way, he bought his companionship. At the moment, he was enjoying the liveliness they were providing, giving him a sense of warmth just by being around. Unfortunately, he knew this was a feeling that wouldn’t last for very long.

As he decides to take a seat on his multi-purpose futon, he leans back to hide away from anyone he thinks could be listening. He begins to whisper to himself in a creepy, slow-pace voice, “Haaappy Biiirrtth Daaay tooo meee, Haaappy Biiirrtth Daaay tooo meee…”

In the middle of the depressing song, he pauses to acknowledge if anyone is listening, or at best, thinking of him. Instead, all he sees are the shadows of their movements on his living room walls, as a sort of dance foreign to his generation. In his mind, he is being disregarded. Without losing a verse, he resumes whispering the selfish song all to himself until the final note, “…biiirrttth daaay tooo me.”

The man of the hour slowly closes his eyes to block out his surroundings, willing himself to be in a happier place. In this dark and mystic space of his own creation, he envisions a bright presence. A life filled with laughter, affection and most of all, unconditional love. He imagines opening his eyes to his loved ones as they celebrate this eventful evening. He dreams of the wife he could have had as a life-partner, children he could have had as his own, and grandchildren he could have called his little treasures. As for finding a wish to wish on this special occasion, he stops; realizing there is no need. After all he is the man of the hour, who could wish for anything more.

Returning back to reality, he inhales deeply and begins to slowly open his eyes. But rather than exhaling to bring life back, he sighs in defeat as his shoulders fall into hopelessness.

“If only,” whispers the man of the hour.

Sitting on his futon with his birthday cake resting on a folding table, he glances around once more to look at his surroundings. He sees their presence brightening even his darkest moment but the liveliness they bring reminds him of how much he is dying from within. As he stares at the cake he bought for himself, he notices the piercing knife only inches away. It has the look of a knife that can easily carve anything it touches. As he reaches over to the key that could end this evening, he sees his eyes in the reflection of the shiny silverware. It’s the look of a depressing man, one with nothing to lose.

The man of the hour decides to pause a moment to make that unfound wish, but soon remembers how often they are unanswered.

Instead, he begins to act as any man in his state of mind. Before anything else, he examines his small living room, terrified to see all the shadows bouncing off the walls. Unfortunately for them, their part in this evening is strictly for his own entertainment. He knew there was nowhere to escape with what was about to happen. He took another deep breath, and with ease released all the anger building up inside him. One-by-one, no one survived as he took what little life they had left. Even the little ones didn’t have a chance. There was no science to his madness as he maneuvered his lunacy in any direction he wanted. An act he knew, once started, would have no turning back.

It wasn’t until he finished that he realizes his life of sadness remains unchanged. The man of the hour asks himself, “What if I never pushed my wife away or if my children chose to stay, would my life be any better?”

It’s a question to which this very day, we will never know its answer.

As crazy as it sounds, you have to feel sorry for the man of the hour. This is supposed to be a night to remember. A night to celebrate with close family and friends 60 years of life. Instead, he finds himself sitting on a futon in a living room with a birthday cake resting on a folding table. A night alone in the dark with sixty, colourful candles he innocently blew away.

LIFE: For What It’s Worth…

The register showed $4.76 but all I heard from the cashier was, “$4.75 please.”

Two words is all it took to diminish the value of a coin, whereas in the past, no amount of cents was safe from the wrath of a single penny. Not long ago, it had the ability to weaken the efforts of a beaver, the flight of a loonie and even the strength of a polar bear. Now, find a penny on the ground and it simply has no merit of being earned but instead is ignored. Change was imminent, causing its worth to diminish even more by removing it from our Canadian existence. They’re still around like public payphones and may be called upon in despairing moments but when was the last time you made the call to use a penny?

In many cases, I saw a penny for more than its value, it gave me a cents of adventure (pun intended). Looking at my current dilemma, a quest would require finding a penny in a short period of time. I needed to be quick unless I wanted to feel the tension of annoyed customers as I delayed them by paying with exact change. The journey would start by searching far and wide in the depths of my leather change holder, combing through all the content starting with my membership cards. My first challenge would be to face an old, expired health card. With the flick of a finger, I would scroll pass this card and move to a Pure HMV card. Without losing a beat, I would dance around this card and onto the next, a Mexx Connect card. My fingers would then catwalk to a Global Pets Food Rewards card and finally, end at a Wal-Mart Gift card. Every adventure had a unique value, I just needed to know if I was willing to pay the price. What perils would await me, if I were to ever lose my change holder? The person who found it could only assume I am an unhealthy, music junky, fashion conscious pet owner who loves a good value.

Another obvious, but classic purpose for a penny is to be thrown into a fountain or a wishing well. Now if I was fortunate enough to peer down an actual well in the middle of an open field with green grass, blue skies and yellow dandelions, then an old wish of mine would have already been granted to be temporarily removed from enduring a congested city. Unfortunately, similar to what was once bestowed onto our old penny, I am simply not as lucky. The pennies residing with the membership cards in my change holder would be the lucky ones to soar into man-made fountains. They’re strictly built for the amusement of photo hungry travellers. Some fountains are more extravagant than others but overall, the experience of making a heartfelt wish seems a tad artificial. Don’t get me wrong, every wish made is as significant as my other wishes, similar to the ones before blowing out my birthday candles or by spotting a shooting star. But just like the rarity of a meteor sized golf ball falling through our atmosphere, seeing one deep in the night is now as sporadic as coming across a penny for making a wish. Look to any of our water fountains and chances are, the bottom is no longer covered with copper maple leaves. Instead, you’ll be spotting shiny nickel beavers, sunken silver ships and the occasional silver caribou. There may be times you’ll come across a drowning golden goose or even a bronzy, silver polar bear. I guarantee, the people who put them there would share the same odds of their wish being granted at the cost of one single penny.

And so, back to my dilemma. There I was standing at the payment aisle at Starbucks holding in one hand, a hot beverage with just the right amount of caffeine to be my mild-mannered alarm clock, and a warm toasty, buttered croissant in the other. As I laid down my morning buzz to complete the transaction, two of my senses were giving me mixed messages. My eyes were seeing $4.76 while my ears were hearing $4.75. I searched for my change holder to uncover what adventures lay before me, if any. After all, it’s been awhile since I held a single penny. After quickly rummaging through my membership cards and a couple of old receipts which brought back bad memories of poor purchase habits, I realized this adventure had ended even before it even began. I recently cleared all my change with a previous purchase, leaving me with nothing but a holder of cards instead. Surprisingly, I encountered a bill of unknown currency so I was reassured a payment of cash would be made. It then dawned on me, the guilty role I would play by dismissing the value of a single penny with the payment of a five dollar bill.

I decided to keep the cash in the event I would need it down the road. But more importantly, I elected to let the penny keep its power in the total of $4.76 with a single swipe of my debit card. It wasn’t until seconds later while waiting for the receipt, I realized I was in a trance. After all, I had just saved the life of a penny. The cashier brought me back by politely asking, “A penny for your thoughts?”

And with a simply smile and my affable tone, I responded, “If you only knew.”

Review: Building an Imagination.

Some kids have the craziest imagination when playing on their own. I use to wonder if I was any less cool in the social standard of being a kid by simply not having an imaginary friend. After all, it’s the easiest form of friendship any kid could ever make. I didn’t have an imaginary playmate to tell me whether or not I should colour within the lines. I didn’t have the support of an imaginary co-pilot to help me navigate to the moon and back. As for staying up late terrified of battling evil gremlins beneath my bed, I had no choice but to confront the vicious creatures on my own. I may have awoken to damp bed sheets a couple of times, but at least I went to bed feeling safe lying next to a trusty security blanket, my spray water-bottle. Mind you, not having someone always by my side had its advantages. As an outsider without an imaginary friend, while I understood the importance of sharing, I was glad to keep my imagination all to myself.

Before the days of G.I. Joes, Transformers or Ninja Turtles, a lot of my fond memories as a child playing with toys in the Philippines were invested in building magical worlds with LEGO. Don’t get me wrong, I loved how my action figures brought the excitement of realism, transformation and moving parts to every battle scene I could think of. But before the use of artificial fire power, I was relying on my imagination to blow things apart. Playing with LEGO allowed me to do everything and anything I wanted. Despite growing up with minimal number of toys, in my eyes, I considered myself to be one rich kid.

I can still recall my days as a race car driver, taking hold of the fastest car imaginable; faster than the speed of light. I called her Lightning Rod. It was a bright yellow car with racing spoilers, tires and lightning stripes on the side so my electrifying skill as a race car driver would be easily identifiable. I would take her for a ride down the mean streets of my bedroom floor through slippers and used, crumpled pop cans. What I enjoyed most were the days I would position a magazine on a 45 degree angle to provide the largest and most death-defying ramp any daredevil would desire. Lightning Rod was built strictly for this purpose. And so, like any kid filled with adrenaline, I would pinch my car between my thumb and forefinger and let her take flight, cutting through stagnant, windowless air in my stuffy bedroom. In the blink of an eye, while still in mid-flight, Lightning Rod would change into a flying yellow jet plane called Ghost Rider. She would trade in her racing tires for a couple of jet engines. Her spoilers became jet fins, giving me the freedom to maneuver dangerously around large, indestructible sculptures known as my siblings. As for the lightning stripes, no change was required because as a pilot, I remained just as electrifying. I would zigzag in the air, over my bed and around the dining table sporting my dark tinted shades smiling down at the ladies below while they called my name, Maverick.

Playing on my own, I imagined going to a lot of new places I’ve never been before. Although I found myself in many dangerous and challenging situations, it at least took me away from reality. I see children today complaining about having to decide between an Xbox and a PlayStation, or how their iPod is outdated for not being the latest colour. Inside, I get disappointed not at the kids, but more at myself. I too have lost the ability to appreciate the littlest things in life. I looked at my Xbox 360 and disappointedly agreed with video gamers when they consider it to be ‘old’. Meanwhile, there was a time in my life when the only thing 360 was the degree of flight my jet plane could achieve. Despite going in circles, it brought me joy. That yellow plane was also my yellow car, yellow submarine, yellow train or whatever else I needed it to be. LEGO allowed me to build my imagination, and not from owning a thousand pieces. I had to allow my imagination to run wild and free because I only owned one yellow piece of LEGO.

Raptors: 19 years and counting…

If I mention the name Damon Stoudamire and you find yourself recalling fond memories of him as a Raptor, then you’re likely a Toronto Raptors fan like me. As a fan, we took pride in watching our ‘Mighty Mouse’ scorch the opposition but more importantly, we were even prouder to see our first ever draft pick win the 1996 Rookie of the Year Award. I wouldn’t consider myself pre-historic but I’ve been following the Raptors since they were born. From their days of infancy to their teenage years, they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs. Like every team gaining years of experience, they’re now finally a team on the rise. Many of us can recall the year we turned nineteen. Usually, it’s a year to remember. For the Toronto Raptors, they are giving us a year we will never forget.

It’s easy to say the Raptors have had a great year thus far, but it wasn’t long ago when they were in jeopardy of becoming extinct again for another year. The end of 2013 was looking like many Raptor years of the past; playoff-less. In their inaugural year, they had a winning percentage close to the value of a shiny new quarter. It wasn’t much but at least we finally had a team we could call our own. The trend of having a losing record continued for three more years. Despite the lack of success, in came Vinsanity. In 1998, the Raptors drafted an unbelievable talent in Vince Carter and with just one of his incredible dunks, he put Toronto on the NBA map with ease. Heading into the new millennium, the Raptors did something that had never been done before in the history of the franchise; they were headed to the NBA playoffs. The team was locked and loaded with the ammunition of young talent in Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter. But it was a quick fall from the sky when they faced a team grounded and filled with experience in the New York Knicks.

The following year (2001) was the year I felt most conflicted as a fan passionate about the game of basketball and of the Raptors. They advanced to the next round of the playoffs, getting their revenge against the New York Knicks. In the second round, they were facing the Philadelphia 76ers. I was torn between supporting the team I belonged to and cheering on a player they had no answer for who I fully admired; Allen Iverson. To this day, it’s the most exciting playoff series in the history of the Raptors. The city may have had their hearts broken by losing in game 7, but you could sense the beginnings of a country’s growing love for the game of basketball. Unfortunately, even the unbridled support of a country couldn’t carry the Raptors to future victory. The city began questioning where the heart lay for some of the players. Many felt change was imminent. And just like that in 2004, the man we considered half-man, half-amazing was taking his full arsenal to the New Jersey Nets.

From 2006 to 2008, despite the Raptors having a winning season in both years, they could find no success in the first round of the playoffs. From there, they couldn’t unlock their losing habit or the door to the playoffs across the next five seasons. They never fell to the low of their inaugural year when it came to the number in the wins column, but they came close. In 2011, they were only one game better with 22 wins and in 2012 only two with 23 wins. Losing that much is one tough pill for any fan to swallow.

Let’s avoid reliving any further disappointments and jump straight to December 2013. The NBA world saw the Raptors as a team in need of rebuilding for the future of the organization. That belief was just made stronger with one trade that saw one talented player being shipped out of Toronto for a bunch of role players. But only three short months later, the Raptors have accomplished what any team sets out to do at the start of any sport season, improve their city…in more ways than one.

The Raptors have once again opened the door to the playoffs, but not how they’ve ever done it in the past. Despite adding new faces, they’ve found the way to play as a complete team; they’ve made sacrifices as a team; they’ve mentally matured their game as a team; and the Toronto Raptors have turned 19 years old, growing into adulthood understanding the meaning of winning, as a team. No one knows what will happen in the playoffs, but one thing is for certain, like many Raptor fans out there you can count on me supporting my loudest, chanting “Go Raptors Go.” Whatever happens this Spring, I just want to thank the Toronto Raptors for having a season like no other. And if things don’t go as well as we all would like, I hear on their 20th birthday, the basketball world will see the Toronto Raptors the way their fans have been seeing them for all these years…as an All Star.

LIFE: The Rule of Three.

We’re all familiar with the folk tale of the Three Little Pigs. Would the moral of the story be less impactful if the number of pigs was different? What if there were five pigs, or even worse, there was only two. It would no longer have the same punch or rhythm. In literature, advertising and film-making, the Rule of Three is a timeless principal that suggests when things come in threes, it’s more effective and memorable than other sets.

In the world of fashion, apparently the same rules apply. Many fashionistas give pointers on the perfect number of accessories to mix-and-match with the right shades of colour; with the simple rule of only choosing three of each kind. I can only imagine the complexities of trying to put a female’s outfit together, but when the right look is found, in my eyes she could do no wrong. Not to sound judgemental or sexist, but common knowledge suggests women have more of an interest in fashion than men. With some simple observation, I would have to agree.

My knowledge and experience of the real fashion industry is a whopping 20 minutes of minimal online research, plus one hundred and ten minutes watching The Devil Wears Prada. So as far as my credentials go in the world of fashion, I get two thumbs down. I may not have the insight of Miranda (the devil who wore Prada), but I’ve always felt confident in how I present myself through clothing. And in the world of fashion, that’s what matters…and of course, I do it with the help of a couple of rules.

Like many of us, we work with what we have, and what I had as a teenager wasn’t much. In a way, this was a blessing in disguise because in my Fashion Rule of Three, there was only so much I could have done. My closet didn’t consist of Calvin, Giorgio or Tom…neither Ford nor Hilfiger. Instead, I had an array of colours. Each article had an average price of what an average low income teenager could afford…and that price was “not much.” Even though colour was the livelihood of my outfits and not who designed them, the shades I favoured mostly fell to the neutrals like beige and brown. (On a side note, my fascination towards my two favourite colours in clothes extends to the same physical attributes I love in women, light skin [beige] and brunettes [brown].) In clothing, I understood which colours matched and which ones clashed so whether it was neutral, light, bright or dark, any shade I would be judged by would be easy on the eyes.

We’re told we should never judge a book by its cover (and that’s what Nutology is partly about), but we also shouldn’t be swimming right after a meal and still after a big lunch, many find themselves in deep water. We all have our own insecurities and limitations, so what I lacked in height, I covered with a number of my small sized, perfectly coordinated outfits. Regardless of what I decided to wear, whether it was runners, dress shoes, jeans, belts, shirts, hooded sweaters, watch or man purse, you name it…I would keep my complete look within a total of three colours that complemented one another. If not, one would be looking to out-do Joseph and his technicolour dreamcoat, a challenge I don’t recommend accepting.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the ideology of accepting one’s self. Physically, I accepted being vertically challenged despite the number of glasses of milk I drank everyday as a teenager. So, realizing my humour and humble personality could only take me so far, I knew something had to step up if I wanted to get in the game. One day, I looked in the mirror and without the help of Google (non-existent back then) I had to improvise and my Fashion Rule of Three was born. I am no Don Juan, not even close, but I’ve played the game enough (some would think too much for my own good) to now understand there was more to my Fashion Rule of Three than just fashion itself. Emotionally, we can all use a hand. I am not here to tell you how you should look, I’m hoping at this point in the story you have figured that out by now. The Rule of Three was my stab at making me feel good about myself; my armor of confidence. And in life, its one outfit that will always stay in fashion.

LIFE: Go.

Go…A simple word with a simple meaning: To Move.
Some words can be easily defined, but with others, context can expand their meaning. For instance, the phrase “Let’s go!” can instill feelings of excitement and adventure for the word ‘go’; as its simple meaning suggest. Just change one word with the phrase “Let it go” and suddenly, the word ‘go’ becomes the end of movement. It’s really the moment which dictates the words we use, not their definitions. It’s up to us to define that moment to make it either positive or negative. A word like ‘Go’ may have a simple definition, but I saw it for more than its two characters. For me, in my moment, it meant to Stop.

Now search the definition of the word ‘family’ and you will see it too is not a simple word. Then again, nothing about it ever is. Some will even say it’s indescribable; likely true. The family I grew up in is nothing like the one I recently had. Don’t get me wrong, birthdays were still celebrated, anniversaries were still monumental and as a whole, we enjoyed each other’s company. And mind you, it wasn’t always easy. We all worked hard at making memories last forever, but to some it was easily forgettable. Eventually birthdays were celebrated less, anniversaries lacked importance, and the company of others once relished became distasteful. Slowly, we began to break apart, and not by choice.

Although we shared the same roof, the same living space and ate at the same table, it didn’t make us a true family. There were times we supported one another, stayed up late to share secrets, but regardless of how tight knit some of us were, tension began to see it all unravel. Our family was growing in distance and size. What was not growing was our friendships. In moments, I would see change and glimmers of hope, but I too was miserable to feel the change. Gone were the days I felt like I belonged. I saw it all slowly slip away until there was one last thing they needed to do. The ones I considered as the heads of our family unapologetically took me aside and said, “Paulo, we have to let you go.” A moment I will never forget, but not for the reason you may think.

In some situations, life is defined and structured. Then change the context and like the word ‘go’; its meaning can expand. After all the struggle I put myself through, thinking I was advancing my career, I realized with those three words, “…let you go,” I would finally Stop, and my life could finally Move Forward.