“The Lonely Lobbyist”

Note: This was my submission for the first-ever StoryhackVT contest, the “24 hour cross media hackathon” (i.e., digital storytelling contest) held on October 19, 2013. I didn’t win, but I was extremely pleased by what I was able to accomplish:

  • Created a story and two songs within 24 hours.
  • Did it with no prep, i.e., I had no idea what I was going to be writing about when the 24-hour-period kicked off.
  • Incorporated the required catchphrase “And none of this would have happened if you hadn’t arrived five minutes earlier” into the story in an intrinsic way.
  • Wrote my first-ever story. Really. Other than school assignments years ago, I’d never written a story before October 19.
  • Did it all by myself, only one of two teams to do so.

The story itself is supposed to be a satiric fable. I hope it resonates with you.

The Lonely Lobbyist
It’s not every day a lobbyist gets to save the country, maybe even the world. That’s how the CEO of the power company convinced The Lobbyist to help him.

The power company had a revolutionary new technology that could generate electric energy out of something made by everything everywhere: sound. When it was up and running, a sound power generator would suck up all the sound for miles around and use that energy to create power. It was remarkably efficient, and it only had one problem: it removed all the sound from the environment, effectively making the surrounding communities deaf.

The Lobbyist could see how that might make it a really tough sell, and for a minute she thought about saying “No”. On the other hand, she still had hundreds of thousands of dollars she owed for her undergraduate education, and, as they say, money talks. Without even making a sound.

So The Lobbyist started out by running focus groups in small communities, explaining sound power and seeing whether there was any interest. People had to decide, Would it be worth it to give up on talking, on hearing noises, on listening to music, so that they could power everything from lightbulbs to cars just from all the noise in the environment?

Everybody said no. That’s when The Lobbyist realized how hard her fight was and how unpopular she was going to be if she kept working for sound power. But she knew how much sound power would help the country if people gave it a chance, and also how much her grateful client would pay her in bonus pay. She decided to stick with the program, even if it meant she would be the only one fighting for sound power.

The Lobbyist convinced her client that it was going to take a lot of money and some time to change things so that Americans were in favor of sound power. The CEO agreed, and he convinced the big banks to join the power company, investing in the most ambitious marketing campaign the country had ever seen. Over the next few election cycles, the power company started giving money to candidates who they knew would be pro-sound-power, and all that extra money gave these candidates such an advantage that they all were elected to Congress. Then the power company gave a ton of money to a Presidential candidate who they knew was on the side of sound power, and she won, too.

However, the new, pro-sound-power Congress couldn’t just create a new bill for the President to sign, legalizing sound power for the first time. The truth was, most people were still against sound power, and they were likely to vote the pro-sound-power politicians out of office if sound power became the law of the land. The Lobbyist still had work to do.

Funded by the power company and the big banks, The Lobbyist was able to blanket all the media with the pro-sound-power message. The message was the same one the CEO had given to The Lobbyist on the first day they met…

“Look at all the wars America gets into because regions with oil are so important to it. Look at all the petrodollars that go to countries that are hostile to us. Like Canada. Look at the terrible global warming that’s caused by all of our carbon emissions. We could end all that overnight, for the price of hearing. Isn’t it worth giving up your hearing in order to save humanity, get us out of wars in oil-rich areas, and, not-coincidentally, give our economy the biggest boost ever with the cheapest energy in the world?”

The campaign included a special jingle called, “Let This Be the Last Song You Hear”.

Meanwhile, things kept getting worse in the world: There were more wars in oil-rich regions, global warming intensified, and oil prices kept climbing, hurting the American economy. These events, aided by the fact that all the media kept repeating The Lobbyist’s message that sound power is the only solution, eventually changed the mind of most Americans. They finally allowed sound power legislation, and the power company was able to roll out sound power.

One by one, sound power plants came online all across the country. They worked exactly as predicted: They were extremely efficient at converting sound energy into electricity, and everything in America was converted into using electricity for power instead of hydrocarbons. All the coal plants were converted to sound power plants, and all drilling for hydrocarbons in America stopped. Air pollution became a thing of the past, and people across the world saw that, if they converted to sound power, the world would eventually be able to stop global warming.

Of course, Americans had to adjust to a life without hearing anything at all. Everybody learned sign language and learned to enjoy watching dance as much as they used to enjoy hearing music. And The Lobbyist was happy that she was able to do such a good job, make so much money, and save America.

On the day the last sound power plant went online, The Lobbyist had a last meeting with the CEO of the power company to review all the work she had done for them. During the meeting, she told the CEO a story about their first time they had met, that time when the CEO said it’s not every day a lobbyist gets to save the country, maybe even the world.

The Lobbyist said that, five minutes into that very first meeting, she had received an email from National Public Radio asking if she would be able to work for them to lobby for increased public funding, or at least not to have any more funding cut off. At that time, The Lobbyist loved NPR, and it was the kind of thing that she normally would have said “Yes” to, but, as it turned out, NPR was just a little too late; she was already hooked on the idea of sound power. She told the CEO about this, then added, “And none of this would have happened if you hadn’t arrived five minutes earlier!” This was all in sign language, of course.

– The End –

”My Prayer” – A Capella Cover of The Ink Spots

It ain’t dubstep.

Song composition: Georges Boulanger and Jimmy Kennedy. Video & performance: Nate Orshan (AKA Nato).

My mom and stepdad introduced me to The Ink Spots in the early 1980′s. I don’t recall if it was love at first sound, but, man, did I finally get that Ink Spots bug.

There’s so much about the average Ink Spots slow song that, when added together, makes my heart overflowing with joy:

  • Arrangements ready for a 1930′s Disney movie
  • Lyrics so squeaky clean that you wonder if they’re a parody
  • Proto-do-wop harmonies
  • Recapitulation of first verse, but featuring the bass singer, who recites the thing (making him…the first rapper?) while interjecting little colloquialisms throughout

But what seals the deal for me is lead singer Bill Kenny’s voice. His diction so precise. His vibrato so rippling. His range so, SO damn high. It’s like he’s doing an impression of a singing prince from a Disney musical. More perfect than perfect. (RIP, Bill Kenny.)

Here’s the original:

Meanwhile, sometime in the late 1990′s I stumbled across what I call my Fake Opera Voice, a technique I assume is closer to the way a vocal coach would want me to sing if I ever, y’know, went to a vocal coach. I hauled it out a bit for “Do the Funky Sidewalk (Snow Dragon)”, but otherwise hitherto had yet to attempt the full-blown thing.

The thing is, Fake Opera Voice seems to sound best when paired with Fake British Accent. Together they’re a rafter-shaking force of exquisite pretentiousness. With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson: Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

(Special thanks to Toby the Cat for harmonizing throughout. He’s undoubtedly saying, “Stop! Make the bad noise stop! Stooooop!” He gets his digs in at the end, as a cat is wont to do.)

Song © Copyright 1939 Georges Boulanger and Jimmy Kennedy
Video © Copyright 2013 Nate Orshan

“Do the Funky Sidewalk (Snow Dragon)”

What becomes a growing legend most? How about…his own 70′s soul theme song?

Video:@BTVSnowDragon. Song composition, performance, and production: Nate Orshan (AKA Nato)

Snow Who?

@BTVSnowDragon is a made-up character who’s supposed to be one of (or all of?) the many sidewalk plows that are used to keep Burlington (Vermont) safer in winter for pedestrians. Whoever created and keeps this fun and funky character alive is still a mystery.*

The song was actually inspired by another fellow Vermonter, stalwart Twitter user @MeowVT (AKA Kitty), who posted this last summer:

It took me about a nanosecond to reply with something like, “A SONG? Did somebody say, ‘SONG’?!?”. I volunteered, and I encouraged @MeowVT to send lyrics…which, unfortunately, I then ended up not using.**

OK, and you did this…why?

You really have to follow @BTVSnowDragon to get a sense of his fun personality. The person behind Snow Dragon has done a bang-up job bringing this heretofore nonexistent character to life, and I’m sure it’s no easy feat to keep a fictional, online persona going all the time with style and consistency.

Unlike some other famous and mythical Vermont creatures, Snow Dragon is actually a very recent creation. The story is that it all started with Seven Days Digital Media Manager Tyler Machado, who wrote the following in January of 2012 in the midst of covering an interminable mayoral debate on Burlington transportation:

The next day came an unexpected yet fateful answer, a short sentence sure to join the ranks of immortal lines such as, “Watson, come here, I need you”, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, and “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ means”:

All right, so, truth be told, that was actually Snow Dragon’s second post, as he had written his first tweet the previous day:

But apocryphal or not, Snow Dragon’s birth has been linked to Machado’s tweet, so much so that for most of last year I would have bet money on them being one and the same. I’m fairly confident that’s not the case, but the uncertainty highlights what makes Snow Dragon all the more intriguing: Nobody knows who the heck he is!***

OK, but…a soul song?

The truth is I have a sincere and abiding love of R&B from the 70s, and I’ve wanted to try creating a retro-soul song for a long time.

When I started thinking about a theme for Snow Dragon, I was quickly inspired by Isaac Hayes’ one-of-a-kind “Theme from Shaft”, and that song became a touchstone throughout the writing and production process.**** Among other things, the song gave me the opportunity to try out my best, soulful chest voice.

And what’s “The Funky Sidewalk”?

Essentially, it’s just a play on what some people would say after hearing Snow Dragon visit.

“Why’s the dog barking?”
“Oh, the plow just came by and did the sidewalk.”

But where most of the song might be an Isaac Hayes homage, the “Funky Sidewalk” bridge is a straight-up ripoff tribute to The Godfather of Soul…you know, that part of the song where he’d exhort the crowd to “Do the Mashed Potatoes”, “Do the Popcorn”, “Do the James Brown”, etc.

And here’s your chance to get in on the fun:

Send @BTVSnowDragon a video of you doing “The Funky Sidewalk”!

Snow Dragon wants to do a follow-up video showing people doing their own version of “The Funky Sidewalk”. What would that look like? Here’s a little inspiration thanks to Vermonters @RowGirl2012 and @n8zog:

I was also delighted recently to see WPTZ’s Bridget Shanahan and Tom Messner getting into the spirit of things, asking their viewers to send Snow Dragon their own “Funky Sidewalk” videos. Will they contribute a dancing video of their own?

WPTZ's Bridget Shanahan and Tom Messner talk about 'Do The Funky Sidewalk (Snow Dragon)'

So, hey, funky people near and far: Film yourself doing “The Funky Sidewalk”, then write to SNOWDRAGON {at} GMAIL.COM.

In the end, if “Do the Funky Sidewalk (Snow Dragon)” helps cement Snow Dragon’s fame as an (unofficial) mascot for our Department of Public Works or a quirky (unofficial) representative for Burlington, Vermont, then I can say we did a good job by doin’ the Funky Sidewalk.

Do the Funky Sidewalk (Snow Dragon)

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

Now the blizzard’s on and freezin’ winds blow
(Snow Dragon!)
Comes a mighty sound outside your window
(Snow Dragon!)

When the flakes begins to fly
Snow Dragon’s on your side
Don’t you wanna take a ride?

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

In the Queen City’s cold and stormy hour
(Snow Dragon!)
He pushes through for me and you with power
(Snow Dragon!)

Beams high, blades down low
Goin’ where angels fear to go
Nothin’ more he loves than snow

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!


   Do the Sidewalk
   Do the Sidewalk
   Do the Funky, Funky Sidewalk…

Clearin’ sidewalks like no one else can do now
(Snow Dragon!)
Makin’ sure you can get to work and school now
(Snow Dragon!)

With his blade so well-endowed
The Queen City’s safe for now
So give a wave to our favorite plow

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

   Snow Dragon!
   Go Dragon!
   Go, go, Snow Dragon!

…Get your plow on, Snow Dragon…

…”Beep, Beep!” means I love you in Snow Plow…*****

© Copyright 2013 Nate Orshan

* And, no, I’m not Snow Dragon. As of this posting, I still don’t know who their true identity. I think it’s someone who identifies as male…but maybe that’s just more subterfuge to throw me off the trail…

** By the time I sat down to work on the song writing, I had a pretty definite idea of the song’s melody and structure, and, try as I did, I just couldn’t fit Kitty’s lyrics into the form and meter. I did make an attempt to write a different soul tune with them, and, although her lyrics were great, the music itself just didn’t have the same oomph as the current tune. It calls into question whether I’m actually any good at adapting someone else’s lyrics, a hypothesis I should test again…

*** For the record: I’ve never met Snow Dragon and have only communicated with…him?…via email. I’m not Snow Dragon, nor do I play him on TV.

**** What? You’ve never heard it? Who’s the cat who won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?

***** “Get your plow on” and “Beep means ‘I love you’ in snow plow” are both real Snow Dragonisms, just like his snowplow smiley, “:]”.