If you were born with any luck at all, your family had an “Uncle Jimmy” lurching about in the periphery of your life. You know… that old childhood friend of one of your parents who, somewhere in the deep dark past, zigged when the rest of the world zagged. Who never quite got his head around life but served well as a “do as I say, not as I do” role model in reverse. He was the guy who staggered and stumbled at life’s edges just long enough that they gave him the honorary designation “Uncle.”
Uncle Jimmy used to magically appear with cicada-like regularity from his place in obscurity, hang out long enough to tell a few stories which we referred to as “Whoppers” after he left, then disappear with such regularity that it all seemed quite normal. But in point of fact, there was nothing quite normal about Uncle Jimmy.
The Uncle Jimmy story I remember best was the time he was an Army private with the post WW2 Occupational Forces in France. One morning while on patrol, he happened upon a bombed out village. On further investigation, he discovered deep in the rubble the entrance to a wine cellar and spent the next four days attending the “First Annual Uncle Jimmy Wine Tasting Festival.” He summed up the entire experience with three letters… FUN! The Army summed it up later in four… AWOL!
At the Court Marshal hearing, Uncle Jimmy’s lawyer began his defense by describing the important role wine had played throughout history. He pointed out that it wasn’t the broad sword or the military phalanx or even the seductively addictive 16”pizza pie with everything on it that fueled the expansion of the Roman Empire, although the very first wheel was in fact a stale pizza. (In the words of Julius Caesar: Gallia est omnis divisa in slicea tres” or “All Gaul is divided into three slices”)
No. It was wine! “Hey! Take a sip of this, you Carthaginian elephant jockey. You’ll like it!” and “Que passa, you Egyptian serial pyramid constructor. A little cup of this and you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself” Then before you could say “Twelve Step Program” those poor barbarians were drunk and passed out and when they woke up, they found themselves conquered. “Hail Caesar and pass the parmesan cheese” the Romans screamed. “The Nectar of the Gods strikes again. This invasion was brought to you by the vineyards of Ernest and Julio Gallo!” The lawyer concluded his defense by asking the court a single question, “If most of the world succumbed to the power of the grape, then what chance did our poor, pitiful, soon to be Brooke’s Uncle Jimmy have?”
They kicked Uncle Jimmy out of the Army and transported him back to the States where he got a job as a milk man and that was fine until he hurt his back opening up an envelope full of milk money and got on permanent disability, after which he spent his days doing heavy construction work while getting paid under the table, playing Little League Baseball with kids half his size and bungee jumping off of bar stools.
“What does any of this have to do with crane chicks?” you ask. “Patience! I’m getting to that!”
So like I was saying, the grape has been a tool used to shape the destiny of the human race for centuries. Like the Golden Rule says in the Bible, “Shape the behaviors of others as you would have them shape the behaviors of you. So drink up, everybody.” In the end, it’s all about control. Like Uncle Jimmy used to say, “Control a guy’s oxygen and you got a friend for life.”
Establishing control of the whooper’s oxygen would be problematic. But carrot and sticking them into following us isn’t all that hard. For our part, this project is really just one big exercise in following. If the chicks follow the trike and the costume sitting in it, the trip to Florida is a done deal. If they don’t? Well, there’s always the crane box. Many years and millions of research dollars have been spent studying the subject and it was finally proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you put a bird into a box, then put that box into the back of a van, the box will follow the front of the van anywhere you drive it. It is referred to as the “Crate Away Home” study. But I digress…
Whooper chicks aren’t much for carrots but they sure do love those grapes. They’re the glue that binds crane to costume. And the chicks down them with such delight that it would make a carnival sword swallower blush with envy. You can actually watch the bulging grape slowly make its way down their necks while they’re giving you that “Stop laughing! I’m passing a kidney stone” look. Then no more do they swallow one and they’re fighting for another. You can call it “Crane Candy” or “Whooper Crack” or whatever you want, but it’s an essential tool in shaping their behaviors. In fact, next year we are going to feature the ”Grape Cam” a grape with a little camera inside of it so you can watch the grape’s migration from beginning to end. We’re going to call it “Mr. Grape’s Wild Ride” or perhaps the “Colonoscopy Express” to tread where no man has tread before. But truth is, grapes are just the beginning. By the end of migration, we’re giving them watermelons! Really! In truth, a watermelon may not do much for shaping their behaviors but it sure does shape their anatomy! Besides, you haven’t lived until you’ve watched a crane chick spitting out those seeds! “Incoming!”
So the next time someone asks you if you want wine with dinner, beware. You’re behavior is about to be shaped or you’re about to be conquered. But don’t fight it. Instead, just kick back and enjoy the ride. And remember; if it’s good enough for the chicks and Ernest and Julio and Roman Empire and Uncle Jimmy, it’s good enough for you.
On a more serious note; A Toast… to Robin Williams – who for so many years guided us to that special place within all things… where there is laughter.