The bucket list, kicked

Kick the bucketNowadays the “bucket list” concept has become a wildly popular cultural meme, thanks to the movie of the same name. Subsequent marketing of the idea to millennials has proven a successful means to derive them of their income, with which they seem eager to part.

I don’t like the concept. The list, I mean, not necessarily the plucking of the millennial chickens who willingly hand over their financial feathers. They get what they deserve.

Bucketlist.org has, at the time of this writing, more than 5.317 million “dreams” for you to pursue. Contributed by more than 450,000 people. And your individual dream? Part of the Borg’s list. Pretty hard to think of something original that the previous 450,000 folks didn’t already add to the list.

Just search “bucket list” on Google and you’ll turn up close to 52 million hits, and a huge number of them are selling something, from New Age codswallop to travel to high-tech gadgets and everything in-between. Nowadays, “your” bucket list is everyone’s bucket list and has become part of a slick campaign aimed at your wallet. At every corner there’s some entrepreneur eager to play Virgil to your hollow life’s Dante, for a price.

A bucket list is, we learned from the film, the wish list of things you want to accomplish before you kick the metaphorical bucket  – i.e. die – as a means to give your previously pathetic life some substance. That notion quickly morphed into a commercial selling point, and it seems I encounter it every day in some new form, usually on social media. It’s up there with posts about puppies, angels, magic crystals, and nasty troll posts about liberals.

The movie is about two seniors undergoing an end-of-life crisis trying to figure out the Meaning of It All. They resolve to avoid dwelling on their inevitable end by taking very expensive trips around the world (Jack Nicholson plays a billionaire…). It’s a cute, moving film. It’s fiction, but also a great marketing idea. We are all susceptible to Hollywood, after all. And, of course, we all have billionaire friends who will buy the tickets, right?

Okay, I get it: we all want life to make sense, and to have meaning that makes the 9-5 grind worthwhile. But even if our lives are meaningless, we don’t want to die, either. We want to be able to say something we did made the journey worth the effort. But is this the way? Is life simply a series of boxes we check off? A list that keeps growing with more and more items to check? Your self esteem will suffer if you don’t check this off. And this. And this. And this…

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Old habits, old junk

My current ukuleles and guitars.

Old junkThe past couple of weeks I have been trying to turn my office (one of our spare bedrooms, once upon a time) back into my office. A working space I’ll need when Susan retires this winter. My man cave, so to speak.

Over the past few years, since I sold the store and went back to home-based freelance work, I have spread my tools and toys around the house, an inexorable sprawl, rather like moss overtaking a pathway. Books litter the house, while my office became more of a walk-in storage closet. Until you could no longer walk into it and it was more like a squeeze-into space.

I’m not so much a hoarder as restlessly obsessed with learning and as a result I accumulate along the way . I simply can’t stop learning, can’t stop exploring the intellectual horizon. Which means I’m always chasing information, data, images, content. And saving it to read later. Which all too often doesn’t happen because I’ve moved on to some new subject of interest, like a magpie distracted by some shiny bauble.

The detritus of my previous efforts and explorations pile up, collecting dust. Thousands of printed pages, collected in binders or bound in Cerlox, each one a silent monument to some pursuit or learning experience I engaged in. Plus hundreds of pages on municipal agendas, reports, emails, notices, Municipal World magazines…

It was time to let go. To admit that I simply won’t go back to that place and space again. To make new space for new purposes. De-clutter. All those lovely platitudes and euphemisms.

It’s been a slow, agonizing and emotional process. Physically, it was like one of those wooden puzzles where you have just so many pieces and they have to assemble into a particular shape. The room is small – really a kid’s bedroom, not something for an adult with eclectic tastes. And I have stuff. Lots of stuff. So what to keep and what to let go takes some time and consideration.

Who knew I had so many guitars and ukuleles? Fourteen ukes, four guitars, one bass. And cases. And harmonicas. Flutes. Stands, microphones, cables, amplifiers, effects, Tibetan singing bowls… stuff I mostly want to keep. I will sell off some, but will keep many. Where will even my soon-to-be diminished collection reside?

Creating space means discarding other stuff; stuff that had – or even has – meaning to me; stuff that I gathered for a particular voyage into knowledge or experience.

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Dilbert, Dogbert and Collingwood

I’ve often commented that the cartoon strip Dilbert, by Scott Adams, is closer to a documentary than it is to a cartoon. Not just about the quagmire of corporate life: Dilbert applies equally to the sodden bureaucracy of government. And here are some strips to prove my hypothesis, at least on the local level.

I culled these strips from around the web, from many, many sites, but the copyright and credit all belongs to Scott Adams. I hope he won’t mind me using his work as an example of how things work in Collingwood. It’s very, very instructive, after all. And true…

For this expository, I’ve chosen strips about lawyers, consultants and management. The former two reflect how our Council depends on these two species of barnacles to tell them how and what to think. The Block has opted to abdicate its responsibilities onto the shoulders of outsiders and let them do the work. But clearly, as the strips show, this is not unique to Collingwood. It is endemic in every poorly-run, top-heavy, bureaucratic corporation. See below if you agree…

Here, for example, is how town administration might have approached one of its chequebook lawyers to re-concoct the Shared Services Agreement with Collus PowerStream:

Lawyers 01

I’m pretty sure that’s why a simple 30-minute task is still not completed after two years. And this is how one of those lawyers might have reacted to the original Collus share sale agreement:

Lawyers 02

Then the lawyers work on it, busy little minions gleefully tabulating the hours they get paid, working to the pleasant musical hum of the cash register. And when they’re done, the administration dumps the result on staff.

Imagine, say, Collus staff being presented with the administration’s revised concoction about the share sale, a frightening dog’s breakfast of wild imagination, egregious fiction and paranoid fantasy:

Lawyers 03

And of course the staff have to live with the consequences when this toxic material gets into the media. Imagine Collus staff being subsequently ordered to manage that codswallop by town administration (for whom they do not work but who demand of their time and energy regardless):

Lawyers 04

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What did the former council ever do for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?
TIM: What exactly are the demands?

BRIAN: We’re giving Powerstream two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Collus utility, and if they don’t agree immediately, we execute the shotgun clause.

TIM: You mean, cut their nose off?

DEB: Cut all our noses off. To spite our collective faces. Show them we’re not to be trifled with.

BRIAN: Also, we’re demanding a ten foot mahogany statue of the former mayor with his conflicts hangin’ out.

KATHY: What? They’ll never agree to that, Brian.

BRIAN: That’s just a bar– a bargaining counter. And of course, we point out that they bear full responsibility when we sell our utility and the rates go sky high, and that we shall not submit to blackmail!

BLOCK: No blackmail!

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These Old Bones

Skeleton DanceThese old bones;
You wouldn’t think they’d cut a rug
jitterbug
dance between the rain drops but
once I could.
Once I did.
Danced to the music,
lover in hand,
that time in the park when we didn’t care
laughing in the face of the storm.
The rain, the wind, splashing in the grass.
The music was all in our heads, our breath, our hearts
beat with the tunes we sang inside.

I remember every line, every lyric.

These old bones
knew music.
These old bones knew
the hotcha rhythm of the dance.

You wouldn’t think them spry enough,
not today.
But once they raced the wind.
Lightning bugs in my pants.
Legs pumped like pistons, flailing bicycle pedals,
racing friends along the sidewalks
careening, chasing our imagination.
Look, no hands, circles round you, I’m a race car, I’m an airplane, jet propelled, look at me.
Fearless, made of rubber.
Down the tracks, by the creek, skidding into gravel driveways.
Friends laughing, falling, rising to challenge again,
scraped knees, elbows, didn’t care.

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The raison d’etre

Maxine“Why do you do it?” A voice asked me, momentarily distracting my attention from deciding between the firm and silky tofu in the grocery store. I looked up to find a woman close to my own age in front of me. Well, perhaps she was a teensy bit older by about 20 years, but once you cross 60, age differences between seniors seem smaller. To my aging eyes, at least.

I couldn’t easily disengage since her cart was wedged up against mine, and because I needed to find my way to the sweet potatoes across the aisle, I responded, hoping to soon untangle without appearing rude.

“Why do I do what?” Always answer a question with a question, or so I was raised. Well, maybe not raised. I think I read about that tactic in a book. I was raised to be seen and not heard, which I suppose is why I’m a writer not a singer. My parents heard me sing once, and that ended my musical career pretty toot sweet.

“Write those things. Online. You know, all those nasty things about council. Why do you do it?” I didn’t think explaining about my writer-versus-singer upbringing would satisfy her, so I took another direction.

“Well, first I don’t think they’re always nasty. Sometimes they’re funny. I hope. You can never tell about humour. Didn’t any of them amuse you, at least a little?”

“I don’t read them all. Not online. I don’t have a computer,” she replied.

“Well then how do you know about them?” I asked in my best Sherlockian fashion.

“My son prints them out and brings them to me. Not all of them. Just the ones he wants me to read. The ones about the people I voted for. The nasty ones.”

Well so much for my career as a satirist, and cultural commentator. Didn’t really connect if no one read it. Maybe I could take up singing after all. You know, busk downtown. With a ukulele. But I couldn’t start my new career until this new critic finished with me. So I responded.

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Bumble, Fumble, Stumble and Mumble

EcclestoneCouncillor Cam Ecclestone did an unusual and unexpected thing this week at Collingwood Council. He spoke. Normally, the intrepid but mute councillor is too busy to open his mouth. Like his colleague, Councillor “Sponge Bob” Madigan, he takes seriously his duty of holding his chair in place in case gravity ever lets go, while laboriously turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. At both tasks, these two excel beyond normal expectations. Yet this meeting, they stepped out of character.

Take a look at the Rogers recording of the Monday night meeting, starting at 1:35:00. Read the story in the Connection, too (the EB didn’t even bother to write it up…). It’s entertaining, in a sad sort of way. The title of the piece refers not to some comical law firm or accounting agency, but to my interpretation of the missteps and sidesteps taken in this little dance.

A novice to the Collingwood table, Ecclestone is noted mostly for his unique, naive approach to the procedures and rules of meetings: he ignores them. When not speaking out of turn, he is usually frantically trying to figure out where in the agenda the rest are. But for the most part, he stares fixedly into space, clearly in a meditative state. Or is that vegetative?

During the election campaign, Ecclestone alleged he had been a “head of council” previously, as well as chair of various political committees (see here for a video of him making these claims) and in the private sector was “very responsible for managing committees.” He claimed to have “learned a lot about the political system.” Except, it seems, the basic rules of procedure and meetings. Well, process is probably overrated. Learning, too.

At 1:35:05, Ecclestone declares he has a “prelude to an actual notice of motion.” No, he has a motion to waive notice so an actual motion can be presented. There will be no notice. That’s what the waiver is all about.

He then starts to read the motion, but quickly backs up to begin again with the proper process of first identifying the mover and seconder. He calls it the “procedure bylaw” at 1:35:14, rather than the correct “procedural bylaw.” But I’m sure that’s just a minor brain fart, and we’re all subject to them from time to time.

At 1:35:34 he beings to speak; out of turn of course, and has to be interrupted by the mayor, bringing him back to the proper process and explain to him what he’s doing. The motion to waive passes, and at 1:36:38 he reads the actual motion: to ask council for $5,500 (1:37:20) to go to Japan and represent the town for the 35th anniversary of the Katano-Collingwood Sister City relationship. Whew. That was like pulling teeth, if you don’t mind the metaphor.

Sister City relationships, as you will soon read, seem to mystify The Block. They can’t figure them out, as if they were some sort of complex, difficult alchemy. Nor, it seems, can they figure out the crafty mechanics of a timeline. But I’ll come back to them. And watch how they eat their own.

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Collingwood’s comedy duo

Abbott (top) and CostelloAbbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Pegg and Frost. Wilder and Feldman. Jeffrey and Doherty. Great comedy duos of our time. Such memorable moments they have given us.

Who can forget the timeless Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s On First?” Or Laurel and Hardy’s “Soda Fountain” skit? W.C. Fields and Jody Gilbert doing “The Diner Skit” in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break? Or Jeffrey and Doherty in “How I Spent Your Tax Dollars Partying at FCM” at the last Collingwood Council meeting?

You can watch the skit here on the Rogers’ broadcast of the meeting. It starts about 1:52:58 and runs on for a laugh-a-minute pace until 2:21:05. That’s almost 30 non-stop minutes of side-splitting hilarity!

And to think, regular delegates only get a maximum of 10 minutes to entertain council. But when you’re part of The Block, you get to keep them in stitches three times that long! Oh, the lovely, lingering stench of entitlement.

And it’s well worth it, for you comedy fans. You’ll howl, you’ll guffaw, you’ll roll your eyes and snicker as our crazy comediennes stumble and fumble through their lines to justify why Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey was given a blank cheque by The Block for her unlimited expense account. Now she can fly her solo act all across Canada, wining and dining in style at your expense. After even a few minutes of this uproarious skit, you’ll want to throw money at her, too!

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Spiralizing out of control

SpiralizerI bought myself a spiral veggie cutter recently – a spiralizer, they’re called – after hearing a friend rave on about how wonderful his was. And since I both like to cook and I’m a gadget freak, I thought I ought to get myself one, too. And as an added bonus, I eat a lot of veggies and stir fry dishes. Sounded like a perfect match. Oh, and they are called by other names, too, like spiral slicers and spiral cutters.

Somehow I must have missed the bandwagon because these things are all the rage, with dozens to choose from through in store and online sellers and websites gushing all over them. I suspect they get advertised on TV, which, of course, we don’t subscribe to.

Locally, I found a few models in the nearby Bed, Bath & Beyond, both the handheld and tabletop varieties, each marked with packaging claims to be the best, easiest, toughest and so on, but nothing independent to tell me which was good, better, or would best fulfill my fantasies as a soon-to-be madly spiralizing chef. I didn’t go on to search for them in other stores, because at this point I realized I needed to know more to be a properly informed consumer. That meant the internet.

Research time. One of my favourite pastimes. I quickly ruled out the models that are basically bladed funnels into which you corkscrew a veggie shaft (never mind the sexual innuendoes…). Not enough control over the results, only one type of output, too likely to make my wrists sore and, from what I could see, the most likely to create waste from the ends. Besides, I figured that exposed, sharp blade was an accident in the waiting. At my age and declining dexterity (daily ukulele playing notwithstanding), you think about things like that. Not to mention the arthritis.

Other handheld models looked safer, but still required dexterity. Turning out continuous, unbroken strands is a skill that appears to require some practice. It was said on several reviews to be much easier with a tabletop versus a handheld cutter.

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The accomplishments of council

Three Stooges“You really are negative about our council,” the woman said to me as I stood in the grocery store, trying to decide whether to converse or pick mushrooms from the bin. But she insisted on the former. “Your blog is always about the bad things they do. You ought to try to say something positive now and then.”

“What if I can’t think of anything?” I replied.

“Oh come on,” she said. “They can’t be totally bad. Everyone does something good. Even them. You shouldn’t just write about the bad things. Write about the good things, too. It will improve your credibility if you compliment them on their accomplishments now and then.”

Well, that’s possibly true, I conceded, and picked another mushroom button to add to my paper bag. And it made me think. She’s right. I do tend to dwell on the negatives, and even if they outnumber the positives by a sizable proportion, I should not be merely one-sided in my coverage, like the local media. I should air some of the other side, too.

So, in response to that conversation, here below, for the sake of my credibility and in the name of fairness and objectivity, is the complete and comprehensive list of all of Collingwood Council’s accomplishments to date since they took office, more than a year-and-a-half ago.

And to be fair, while this conversation took place several days ago, it took me some time to go back through the records of the past 18 months, to re-read the agendas and minutes of meetings, and the media reports in order to collate everything and be sure I hadn’t missed anything. I had to create two piles: one for those things I felt were negative to the greater good, and those that were, on fair assessment, good for the community. Sure, the former was larger, but the latter was not empty, once I applied some standards of fair and objective judgement.

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Boris Godunov

Boris GodunovI’m not sure why Boris Godunov, moves me like it does, but it has a curious, emotional effect on me. It’s a sprawling tragedy mixed with politics and betrayal, weighted down by brooding and scheming characters, a fickle mob, a holy fool, a ghost, an imposter as pretender to the throne, and the overthrow of a ruler – very Shakespearean. Or perhaps Machiavellian, in the negative sense of the word.

I’ve been listening to it, again, as background music while I work at home these past few days. And every now and then I stop to listen, and marvel at the boldness, the richness of the music,the strangeness of it.

I’ve actually been listening to both versions – the original from 1869 and the version revised by Rimsky-Korsakov in 1872. I’m at a loss to say which version I prefer. The original is shorter and darker, and feels dense and moody, but the revision was the first version I encountered and still holds a special place for me. Besides, it’s not exactly light itself. But I think I lean more to the revision simply for the extra material.

I can’t recall when I first heard it, but I think it was sometime in the early 1980s, around the time I was studying the history of the Soviet Union and its institutions. I may even have discovered Pushkin’s play – on which the opera is based – first, but that may be the chicken-and-egg question. Somewhere in my library, I still have that book, just as I have the CDs of the opera in my music collection. Pushkin’s 1831 work was apparently inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry IV. But I cannot help but think of it as the Russian King Lear.

I recall driving down the road from work, in the ’80s, windows open on a summer afternoon, the opera blaring from the car in competition to the pop and rock blasting from the other drivers. I used to do that with the 1812 Overture, too. What a rebel, eh?

In general, I like opera, as I do most classical music, even if I’m the musical equivalent of a patzer when it comes to truly appreciating it. But Boris is somehow different from other operas.
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Dear Amazon…

Amazon shipping
Dear Amazon:

Hello, it’s me, Ian. Yes, that’s right, the crazy guy who orders all those books. Yeah, the history books, the science books, the philosophy books, the ones on leadership and politics… you know, the guy who spends at least $100 a month buying books from you.

Plus don’t forget the pasta maker, the PC games, the laptop battery, the kitchenware, the ukulele tuners, the gaming mice, drawing tablet, Kindle and other stuff, I’ve bought from you… 26 orders from you in the last six months alone. Yeah, that Ian.

Well, I’m at it again. I just can’t get enough. After all, can you ever have too many books? Of course not! But I’m concerned.

Six days ago I placed an order for three more books. All of them were all marked “in stock” at the time. But every time I check my order, it tells me you’re “preparing to ship” them. And trust me, I’ve checked several times.

I don’t know where you and your staff shop, but six days to “prepare” something that’s supposedly already in stock seems like a very long time to wait. Would you eat in a restaurant where the waiter took your order and told you to come back next week?

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The gems of Salomé

SaloméI was perhaps 11 or 12 when I first encountered Oscar Wilde’s play, Salomé. Some of it, at least.

At the time, I knew nothing of Wilde, his writing, or even much about theatre in general. After all, I was in grade seven or eight. It would be a few years before I encountered (and developed a passion for) Shakespeare and other playwrights. But Wilde I actually discovered first.

Faced with the dramatic challenges of their own – my mother was either still in hospital or had only recently been released and was struggling with the paralyzing results of her stroke – my parents allowed me to make the trip downtown to spend a day at the museum on my own. I would do that many, many times in those years. A solitary visit, a day spent in wonder and imagination.

Allowed may be a kind word. They were struggling with serious life issues, and I was, admittedly, a bit of a handful with a wayward sense of independence.

I figured out how to get to the museum, alone and by public transport, from our home in distant, suburban Scarborough to the downtown, and went off on my own, paying my way with money earned through my paper route. My parents accepted my excursions after the fact as a fait accompli, although not without stern warnings. It was not the destination, perhaps, that concerned them, but the hour-long trip by myself, negotiating buses, transfers and finally the subway.

Still, I returned every night intact, unmolested, and richer for the experience. A day in the museum was for me like a day in Oz or some other magical kingdom. The dinosaurs, the mummies, the urns, the totem poles, the stuffed animals frozen behind glass.

The words from Wilde were written in raised letters on a wall in the entrance to the mineralogy hall of the Royal Ontario Museum. It was always the second place I always visited after the invertebrate paleontology hall. I believe they are still there, today.

I copied them down into the notebook I always carried then, long since lost, but the words remained scribbled in my heart. They moved me in unexpected ways for a pre-teen, and still move me today. And I still carry notebooks to record such things, although they tend to be used for more prosaic purposes, since moments of wonder seem fewer and farther between these days.

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Two conferences and a show

Windsor: Ontario Water Conference

I had the honour and the enjoyment of attending two municipal conferences last week. While no longer directly involved in politics, I am able to keep my finger in some of the political pies through my current work for an NGO. Plus, I like to remain informed and up-to-date about politics and governance, and am always looking for opportunities to increase my knowledge and understanding of pretty much any topic.

The first event was the Ontario Water Conference, in Windsor. While predominantly a technical and operations event for facility managers and operators, it also has a good political component where utility board members and politicians can learn about initiatives, developments and government updates.

I sat in on presentations over two days, learning about levels of service and risk models; improvement actions from frozen services; eco-fiscal challenges to building resilient communities; business case for a one-water approach; updates from the IESO, the MOE, MOECC, Drinking Water Advisory Council and Safe Drinking Water Branch of the MOECC. From climate change to electricity prices to algal blooms and utility board governance… I learned a lot.

The great majority of workshops were, however, technical, and well out of my depth of knowledge. It also has a large trade show where attendees can see the latest updates in water-related technologies and discuss their implementation with the vendors.

As the website tells it:

The Conference continues to be the premier drinking water event in Ontario, consistently attracting over 900 delegates from all areas of our industry: operators and owners, manufacturers and suppliers, consultants, academics and regulators. The Trade Show has more than 100 exhibitors representing the manufacturers and suppliers of products and services to the water industry. This is a great opportunity to network, and keep informed about technical, regulatory, and equipment development which affect the industry.

I would have assumed that any politician who sits on a water utility board or any public member of such board, who is dedicated to their role and cares about water would have at least made the effort to attend these sessions. After all, they are personally liable for the quality of our water and can be sued for not maintaining it.

I guess if you don’t read the Clean Water Act, this might not concern you. (Hint: it’s crucial reading for members of water utility boards like ours…)

However, there were not many politicians in sight, although I did encounter a few. While I recognized several water utility employees from Collingwood, none of its water utility board (which consists of five inexperienced, neophyte politicians) was present. You would think someone who knew nothing about the subject would be eager to learn about what they have the responsibility over, but perhaps I expect too much from them. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

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The Crow and the Lion

Fat CrowOnce upon a time, a crafty, old crow was sitting in his nest while his dole of pet doves brought him his breakfast. He happened to look down to the forest floor and saw a convocation of animals had been called. The animals gathered in front of their leader, a wise old lion.

I don’t like lions, said the crow to himself. They’re too full of themselves. The animals like them too much. The lion shouldn’t be king of the beasts. I should be.

So he called his doves to his side. “I am far more experienced, wiser, and smarter and better looking than any lion,” the crow told the doves. “You must confront the lion. You must tell the lion to step down so I can be king of beasts.”

“But how can we do that?” asked the leader of the doves. “The lion is big and strong and has many teeth that could bite us. The lion could eat us.”

“The lion won’t dare eat you in front of all the other animals,” said the crow. “The lion respects the rules.”

So the leader of the doves flew down to the forest floor and stood before the lion. “Old lion,” the dove said. “You must relinquish your crown. The crow wishes to be king of beasts.”

And the lion laughed. “Does he? Well, tell your master I was voted into this office by all the other animals in the forest. If he wishes to be king, he has to run in an election against me. Now fly away little one.”

And the dove flew back while the other animals chuckled at his presumption.

“Wah, wah, wah,” the dove cried to the crow. “The lion laughed at me. He hurt my feelings. He made me look silly in front of the other animals. Wah, wah, wah.”

“Now, now,” said the crow, patting the dove on his head. “You’re a big, strong dove and you don’t need to take such disrespect from the mean old lion. Nasty, nasty lion. Hurting my little dovie-wovie’s feelings.”

“What can we do?” asked the dove, wiping his tears with a wing.

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