NASCAR Minivan Series Has Soccer Moms “Swappin’ Paint”

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. Michelle Trainor is a busy mother of three who admits she sometimes goes “just a teensy bit over the speed limit” in her 2012Honda Odyssey. “There’s no way I could get my kids to all their soccer games and ballet lessons if I obeyed the law,” she says with a look of exasperation. “It’s not like I’m an axe murderer or something.”

That outlaw spirit, shared by so many other suburban mothers, has given rise to NASCAR’s latest feature, The Minivan Series by Pottery Barn, a competition limited to soccer moms with at least 2.3 children who drive minivans over suburban courses featuring mandatory “pit stops” at drive-through franchise restaurants.


Route 9 Race-a-way, Framingham, Mass.

 

“The Pottery Barn Minivan Series is our attempt to make inroads into an affluent suburban female demographic,” says NASCAR spokesman Earl Salley. “Those women have historically looked down on us because we have grease under our fingernails and double names like ‘Joe Don’ and ‘Gene Ray’.”


Gene Ray

 

As with other NASCAR race series, fans of the Pottery Barn competition love rivalries between drivers, and Michelle is still smarting from a run-in last week with Mary Louise Peck of Olathe, Kansas, at the Overland Park 250. “That . . . I’m not gonna say it, but it rhymes with ‘itch’ and I don’t mean ‘witch’ . . . cut me off at the Dunkin’ Donuts express lane,” she says bitterly. “Then she goes and orders a Strawberry Coolata and I end up out of the money.” The two “swapped paint” in the parking lot on their way out onto the track, but no fines were assessed against either driver.

Race teams include not just a pit crew, but also “back seat drivers” in the form of actual children of drivers. “It makes it that much more special when you win,” says Mandy Weiskopf of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, #45 in her Chrysler Town & Country. “Of course, the kids slow you down on the backstretch because if you come out of the turn too fast they’re liable to upchuck over the back of your seat.”


Sullen teen in backseat

The Framingham 200 is a challenging race that involves high-speed straightaways down Route 9, a crowded east-west highway, then a detour to Route 30 and a homestretch through Shopper’s World, one of America’s oldest shopping centers. “You’ve got to pace yourself,” says Joni Gomez, who covers NASCAR for Ladies Home Journal. “If little Courtney doesn’t like the Happy Meal toy for girls at McDonald’s on Route 9, you’ve got to haul ass over to the Burger King on Route 30 through some heavy mall traffic on Speen Street.”


Coming into the home stretch

 

The race gets underway and Trainor takes the lead on what she considers her home track since she lives in nearby Sudbury. “Mary Louise Peck is not going to track her usual dog poop into my house,” she says grimly as she “bump drafts” an elderly woman who’s been poking along five miles an hour below the speed limit with her right blinker flashing for two miles.


Unscheduled pit stop

 

The senior citizen panics and ends up careening off the road into an office complex as Trainor zips by on her left. “I’d call 911 but it’s really not safe to drive and talk on the phone at the same time,” she says as she takes a sip of the vanilla iced latte she picked up at Dunkin’ Donuts a lap earlier. She heads for the left-hand turn lane onto Route 30 when she sees her nemesis Peck in the rear view mirror. “If that blue eye-shadowed bimbo thinks she’s going to cut me off she can think again,” Trainor says as she swerves past a delivery truck.


Blue eyeshadowed-bimbo NASCAR Minivan driver.

 

“Mommy, I’m hungry,” whines Caitlin, Trainor’s ten year-old daughter from the back seat. “What do you want, punkin’?” her mother asks. “I wanna go to Wendy’s!” the girl replies, sending the mother into a tizzy.

“Caitlin, honey, I’ve told you before if you want Wendy’s you have to tell mommy before we make the turn-off, okay?”

“I WANT WENDY’S!” the girl screams.

“They’re all the same, sugar.”

“No–Wendy’s has square hamburgers!”

Trainor turns around to console her daughter and as she does so she sees Peck cut around her just as the green arrow begins to glow on the traffic light overhead.

“Dammit,” Trainor says. “Now look what you made me do!” she snaps at her daughter.

“Mommy said a swear, Mommy said a swear!” her son Jason, 9, begins to chant.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, sometimes Mommy gets mad and loses her temper.”

“Now you have to take me to Wendy’s or I’ll tell daddy,” the girl says with finality.


“But I want Wendy’s!”

 

“Your daddy says a lot worse than that, sugar, so you don’t scare me. You’re just gonna have to settle for Burger King because I can’t turn around.”

Trainor puts the “pedal to the metal” and gains some ground on Peck, who makes a critical mistake by turning onto the access road to Bed, Bath & Beyond rather than the cut-through that would take her to a victory lap and the grand prize–a $1,000 shopping spree at Pottery Barn, the upscale home furnishings store.

“I’m right on your bony little ass,” Trainor mutters to her rival under her breath as she whips into the drive-through lane at Burger King and turns to take orders from her children. “Tell me what you want and make it quick!”

“I want a root beer and a Whopper Jr.” her son replies.


BK Veggie Burger: Yum, sort of.

 

“I want a large order of fries, a Double Whopper with cheese, and a big chocolate shake,” her daughter says.

“Sweetie, the doctor says you have to cut back a little or you’re going to look like a Hungry, Hungry Hippo by the time you’re in high school.”

“I’m hungry!”

“Why don’t you try the BK Veggie Burger?” her mother asks. “It’s good for you–or at least not as bad for you.”

“May I take your order,” a disembodied voice barks through the drive-up loudspeaker.

“I WANT A DOUBLE WHOPPER!” Caitlin screams, and her mother relents as she sees Mary Louise Peck turn around and exit from the mall parking lot.

Their food paid for, the Trainor family heads for home on the heels of Peck and her brood of tow-headed youngsters. The light at the Oak Street intersection changes to yellow, then red, causing Peck to slow down, giving Trainor the opening she’s been looking for. She pulls off to the right as if to reverse direction at the intersection, but then makes a right-on-red that will give her a ten car-length lead by the time the light changes to green.

“Why you frigid, frost-headed slut!” Peck yells out her window.

“Sorry, Mary Louise,” Trainor calls back. “It takes a really good bad driver to get the checkered flag in Massachusetts!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “From NASCAR to NPR.”

Guy Named Mike Announces 2014 “Freakin’ Genius” Awards

WORCESTER, Mass. Three close friends of Mike Andruzzioni, a part-time cab dispatcher who also tends bar, were among the recipients of the 2014 Michael C. Andruzzioni “Freakin’ Genius” grants, awarded annually since 2010 to innovators in the arts, sciences and video games.


Mike, considering the finalists.

 

“This year’s winners represent the best and the brightest of America’s slacker dudes and dudettes, and promise to make substantial contributions to American culture and intellectual life if they can only remember to set their alarm clocks,” the Andruzzioni Foundation said in a press release signed by Mike as founder, president and chief executive officer.

“I am thrilled and also excited to join the distinguished field of Andruzzioni laureates from last year,” said Mike’s friend Ty Bruno, who is a groundskeeper at nearby Clark University. “I want to assure the applicants who were not chosen that this has nothing to do with the case of Narragansett Beer in long-neck bottles that I gave Mike over Labor Day weekend.”


MacArthur: “Who the hell is this guy Mike?”

 

The Freakin’ Genius Grants were created out of Andruzzioni’s frustration at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s so-called “genius grants,” which are awarded annually to individuals whom Mike doesn’t know and whom he does not consider to be geniuses. “They give ‘em out to women who play the hammer dulcimer, poets, people I wouldn’t want to have a beer with,” Andruzzioni said from his apartment on Grand Street, which is not the headquarters of the defunct literary publication “Grand Street.” “All of the guys who got grants this year, I promise you, they’re freakin’ geniuses, and a lot of fun to hang with.”


Iron Butterfly: “Dude–you rock!”

 

Among this year’s winners are Ray Tolson, a custodian who can play chess while smoking pot “and beats me every time,” according to Mike; Todd D’Etienne, a former music major who can play The Doors’ “Light My Fire” with his left hand while simultaneously playing “In a Gadda da Vida” by Iron Butterfly with his right; and Bruno, who has reached the 15th level of the video game “Warlock’s Cavern.”

The grants are a cash award of $100, which Mike says “is probably worth like fifteen six packs of beer if you buy imported, sixteen if you stick to domestic.” They are intended to give budding geniuses the wherewithal to hone their talents free from the necessity to earn surplus funds in excess of rent and utilities and buy beer.


“We take food stamps, but not sweaters.”

 

The prizes were to be awarded in August year, but Andruzionni says he fell behind schedule. “I returned a lot of deposit bottles, but I was counting on getting cash for a sweater my mom gave me for Christmas,” he says. “I could only get store credit, which you can’t use in liquor stores.”

Matt Slade, Esq.–Pro Bono Czar

It was one of those early autumn days when the setting sun spreads a trail of gold over the surface of the Charles River like a streak of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” on a murky brown morning glory muffin. Too bad it was the wrong time of day to get my blood sugar up. What I needed was a shot of rye whiskey to start my nightly slide into oblivion, to be completed in Bill’s Place, a down-at-the-heels drinking establishment voted “Boston’s Worst Bar” for three years running. I walked past it on my way home every night, and couldn’t resist the attraction.

I reached in my desk drawer and pulled out a “nip”-one of those little bottles of booze you see up by the cash register in a liquor store. I keep a supply of them on hand, camouflaged to look like Wite-Out, the leader in typewriter correction fluids. I know you’re not supposed to use it on a computer monitor screen, but sometimes in the morning I need something to block out all those pulsing pixels when my head is pounding from the night before.

I screwed off the top and was about to take a slug when who should appear at my door but Brownlow Thurston, III, known to all as “Bink.” Good old boy, Bink. He’s the guy who got me kicked downstairs to my office on the eighth floor with its commanding view of a parking garage when I confused the Rule Against Perpetuities with the Rule in Dumphor’s Case. They couldn’t fire me-my dad founded the firm of Slade, Groton & Welby back in the 50′s-but that was the last estate plan they ever let me touch. I still don’t see why it was such a big deal. By the time anybody noticed they were all dead.


Bink

So they made me pro bono czar, in charge of all the charity cases. As you can imagine, I don’t produce a lot of revenue with that kind of client list.

“Hello there Matt, how’s it going?” Bink asked in his best prep school manner. He had on a pink oxford cloth shirt, a maroon-and-blue striped bow tie, and a pair of pants that showed about three inches of sock at the ankle, just in case he spotted a snowy egret in a salt marsh when he got off the train in Pride’s Crossing after work.

“Fine, Bink, just fine.” That’s how we WASPs relate to each other-everything’s just fine, couldn’t be better. If they lock you away for securities fraud, you tell the family on your weekly phone call that the food’s great and you’re singing tenor in the D Block a cappella group.

“I have . . .uh . . a new pro bono client I’d like you to meet if you’ve got a few moments.”

I’ve heard that one before. Your old-line Boston Brahmin types like to squeeze their nickels until the buffalo become extinct, so they’re always coming up with some lame excuse why we should represent-for free–their old frat brother “Trip” or “Trey” after he gets caught taking short lobsters, or defrauding widows and orphans in some convoluted pyramid scheme.

“Bink,” I began, trying to reach the moral high ground before him, “pro bono legal services are for the truly needy, those who can’t afford to defend themselves against avaricious landlords, loan sharks and . . . .”

I was about to say “repo men” when I got my first look at my new client, and my tongue froze up faster than road kill raccoon on a New Hampshire state road in February.

“Matt, this is Delores Delfina.”

Ms. Delfina was pretty fina-looking. She had a nicely-turned ankle that slipped without spillage into her black pumps. Her skirt ended mid-calf, and flowed upwards over rolling hills of gluteus maximus to a wasp waist. From there you scaled the El Capitan of her rock-ribbed midsection, then went for a ride over hill and dale just below the forest line of a froofy lace blouse. After you climbed up her slender neck and reached her chin you saw the sweetest-looking kisser you’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.

“Hello, Mr. Slade,” she said, and the words blew breezily by my ears like a puff from a forbidden cigarette in our non-smoking office environment.

“Pleased to meet you,” I said, and for once I meant it.

“I’ll leave you two to business,” Bink said in his characteristically self-effacing manner. As far as I was concerned, he couldn’t have chosen a better time to efface himself.

“So tell me, Ms. Delfina,” I began . . .

“Please, call me Delores,” she interjected. Delores–it was an old-fashioned name, from the era of De Sotos, those curvy cars of the forties with the ample rear wheel wells, like a certain prospective pro bono case seated right in front of me. I snapped back to attention at the sound of her chewing gum, which popped as a bubble collapsed on her lips.

“I really shouldn’t,” she said as she cleared the smear of pink goo from her lips, and pocketed it in one of her cheeks.

“Please, don’t apologize,” I said. “We take our clients from all walks of life. Gum-chewing, gum-eschewing. Smoking or non-smoking, aisle or window, paper or plastic.”

“It’s a wonderful thing you do,” she said as she batted her eyes at me, knocking my native resistance off the left-field wall.

“I have a series of questions to ask to determine whether you are truly one of society’s neediest, or just some fly-by-night floozy who Bink is trying to slip past me in order to avoid sending you a bill,” I joked weakly.

“Oh, most certainly, I understand completely,” she said with a look of wide-eyed innocence. “Go ahead, shoot.”

“Okay, first, are you a person of limited means?”

“Um, yes, although in one sense I resemble an elite private university.”

“How so?”


38DDD and Harvard: Both are well-endowed.

“I’ve been told I’m very well-endowed.”

She gave me a sly little smile as she said this. I allowed my eyes to range over her investment portfolio, and concluded that her assets exceeded her liabilities.

“Okay. Next, does your case involve activities that will improve the law, the legal system or the legal profession in a manner that will primarily benefit people of limited means?”

“Oh, I would hope so,” she said, re-arranging herself into a self-dramatic pose at the edge of her chair. “My struggle is that of every woman who’s ever been jilted, who’s ever been misled by an unscrupulous suitor, who’s ever . . .”

“I’ll put that down as a ‘yes’,” I said.

“Please,” she continued, “let me tell you my story.”

“By all means.”

“My boyfriend, Carlos, we sometimes buy lottery tickets together. We agree, should we ever win, we will split the winnings.”

“Um-hmm,” I said.

“Last Friday, I give him $10 to buy me a ticket, and $5 for the ticket we will share.”

I knew what was coming next. “And he picked a winner?”

“How did you guess?”

“You get a sort of sixth sense about these things after a while. Go on . . .”

“Carlos, he says he also bought a $10 ticket, which was the winner–my two . . .”

“One and a half . . .”

” . . . were the losers.”

The wheels implanted in my head by my first-year Contracts class began to turn. Unjust enrichment, Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, quasi-contract.


Umm–the Carbolic Smoke Ball.

“Now he says he has a new girlfriend, one who does not love him for his money, as he claims I do.”

If my critical faculties had been working, I would have shown her to the door with our usual brush-off gift set; Slade, Groton & Welby coffee mug, mouse pad and Volunteer Day T-shirt (Women’s S, M, L, Men’s M, L, XL, pink available in ladies’sizes only). A dispute with a boyfriend over a winning lottery ticket didn’t rise to the level of an eviction, a foreclosure, or a repossession, but my erotic instincts had my intellect in a headlock, and wouldn’t let go.

“Okay,” I said. “One last question, just so we don’t give away the candy store.”

“Where is this candy store you speak of?”

“That’s just an expression. Sometimes my partners try to do people favors for . . . ah . . . selfish reasons. ‘Describe any personal or family relationship you have with present or former employees of Slade, Groton & Welby’,” I said, reading from the firm’s pro bono intake form.

She hesitated for a moment, and I could see color flow into her cheeks, like the slow reddening of a lobster under a bed of seaweed at a New England clambake. “Well, Mr. Bink Thurston has been a great friend to me.”

For the first time since I’d laid eyes on her, my ears were my most attentive body part. “A friend–or more?”

Before I could say res ipsa loquitur she had thrown herself against me, and was excreting tears like a well-squeezed sponge.

“Mr. Slade–he is also–my employer. I am the nanny for the two children he had by Estelle Burden.”

“The former paralegal?”

“It’s all perfectly legal,” I heard Bink say in his fruity-toned voice over my shoulder. “I’ve filed federal information return Form 942 and paid Social Security and Medicare taxes on her wages.”

I turned and gave him my best steely gaze. “What’s legal isn’t necessarily right, Bink,” I said. “And if you’re such a ‘friend’ of Ms. Delfina, why don’t you just pay her enough so she doesn’t need free legal assistance.”

Bink laughed that mirthless little laugh that men in power are so often capable of. He had me and Delores right where he wanted us. “Matt, that’s a very noble suggestion, but we’re talking about my money, not yours. Perhaps this ‘pro bono czar’ thing has gone to your head.”

As my father once told me, you’ll never meet a cheaper man than one who’s inherited his money.

I looked at him, then at Delores. I had only one card to play, so I turned it over.

“Maybe you’re right, Bink,” I said. “Maybe if we win her case there’ll be plenty of money for Delores–and you.”


Nantucket Reds: If you ever see me wearing a pair of these, please shoot me.

This time it was Bink who turned a shade of burnished ocher that matched the Nantucket Reds he wore in the summer.

“Well, of course if I’ve been of any assistance to Delores, it is only because of the . . .”

” . . . payday you see coming if you win?”

“Well, uh . . .”

“I know your game, Binkster. You keep your wives until they start getting crow’s feet, then you throw them over for the first pretty young thing who comes along, who usually happens to be a naive paralegal who works for you. Well listen up and listen good, pal. You can do that if you want, but you’re not going to do it on my pro bono nickel, see? You can pay full freight, just like every other well-heeled heel who walks in our doors.”

“You mean . . .”

“Five hundred smackers per hour–and that’s just for the paralegals.”

Bink looked like a baked scrod who’d just been–well, scrod.


Scrod, the past tense of “screwed.”

“You know Delores,” he said after he’d recovered a bit, “not every legal wrong can be righted.”

“You do not think I have a case?” she asked with a tinge of disappointment.

“Not really,” he said as he took her by the arm and escorted her out of my office. “You see, under the Act of 1677 for the Prevention of Frauds and Perjuryes, there’s nothing we can do if you didn’t get your boyfriend’s promise in writing.” He fed her a bushel basket of b.s. as he led her down the hall to the reception area, where he shook her hand politely and ushered her into an elevator.

I called June, the woman I’ve been dating in a desultory fashion since the second Clinton administration, thinking maybe tonight’s the night I finally have a reason to walk past Bill’s Place with my head held high, on my way to something better.

“Hello?” she purred into the receiver.

“It’s me,” I said.

“Howdy, stranger. Long time no see.”

“I’ve been . . . uh . . . neglecting our friendship.”

“To put it mildly,” she replied.

“Listen,” I began, not knowing exactly what I was going to say until I said it. “Have you ever considered becoming a pro bono czarina?”

Available in print and Kindle format as part of the collection “Everyday Noir.”

My Dog’s Hipper Than Your Dog

My dog’s hipper than your dog,
My dog’s hipper than yours–
My dog’s hipper ‘cause he wears a French beret
My dog’s hipper than yours.

My dog’s cooler than your dog,
My dog’s cooler than yours–
My dog’s cooler ‘cause he digs Charlie Parker
My dog’s cooler than yours.

My dog’s smarter than your dog,
My dog’s smarter than yours–
My dog’s smarter ‘cause he likes Jean-Luc Godard movies
My dog’s smarter than yours.

My dog’s edgier than your dog,
My dog’s edgier than yours–
My dog’s edgier ‘cause he makes dead cat jokes
My dog’s edgier than yours.

My dog’s deeper than your dog,
My dog’s deeper than yours–
My dog’s deeper because he doesn’t make stupid remarks about Mark Rothko paintings when we go to the Whitney Museum
My dog’s deeper than yours.

Life Insurance Industry Courts Young With Songwriting Contest

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois.  The American Life Underwriters Association, a trade group that represents the interests of life insurance companies nationwide, finds itself in an unusual position today: instead of lobbying Congress to maintain their members’ exemption from federal regulation, three representatives of the group in white shirts and grey suits are seated at a dais more suited to “The Voice” or “American Idol,” pencils in hand.


“Let me tell you, there’s nothing like cash surrender value . . .”

 

“The life insurance industry faces a crisis,” says Executive Director Miles Anrud.  “People buy life insurance when they have kids, and with couples putting off marriage and starting a family to spend money on stupid stuff like tattoos and . . .”

He is interrupted mid-sentence by Steve Segal, from the public relations firm of Highland/Nelson, which came up with innovative idea of a singer-songwriter contest to appeal to potential buyers of term and whole life insurance policies. “What Miles meant to say is that we offer a product that must compete with a myriad of other consumer choices, and we recognize that we must make it attractive to a younger demographic.”

And so three finalists will sing their tributes to life insurance and its wonders as they vie for a $100,000 prize that enticed thousand of young musicians to craft original pop tunes with death benefit themes.


“The clause that really thrills me, is the one about non-con-test-a-bility . . .”

 

First up is Ty DiMasio of Revere, Massachusetts, a folk-style singer who strikes a sensitive note as he launches into “I’m Really Doing This for You,” his ode to the ephemeral nature of the benefits of a policy to the person whose life is insured.

I love you so much, baby, he begins,
I mean that, I don’t mean maybe,
Whole life is really expensive,
I don’t think I need to tell you,
The coverage is no more extensive,
but it has cash surrender value.



“I got the policy, and now I’ve got a cough.  Please girl please, don’t bump me off.”

 

“That was really nice,” says Clint Cain, owner of a one-man agency in Keokuk, Iowa.  “I guess I’d like to hear you put a little more emotion into the part about the value that whole life brings to a growing family, but thanks.”

DiMasio accepts the criticism gracefully and exits, stage right, to be replaced by Melinda Urquhart, a willowy blonde from Butte, Montana who introduces herself by noting that she “literally grew up in the life insurance business, playing in my dad’s office with death notices and claim denials.”  That little touch seems to warm the chilly hearts of the three judges, who smile as Urquhart launches into “I Cancelled Your Policy Today.”

Don’t know what I was thinkin’, she sings with her eyes closed,
Almost sent you a check today.
When I checked your file I found
There was a premium installment you “forgot” to pay.

“Just beautiful,” says Orel Newcomb of Chillicothe, Ohio, who sells both property and casualty and life insurance while maintaining an active notary public practice on the side.  “Sentiment is fine and dandy, and many people are genuinely sad when a loved one dies, but life insurance is a business.”


“Think about your loved ones, sure, but think about your insurance agent and all he has to endure.”

 

Last up is a young man who, like purple-clad rock star Prince, dresses in just one color–black–and uses only one name, “Mort,” which he discovered in his high school French class means “death.”  His approach is decidedly different from the other contestants, as he launches into a full-bore assault on term life policies, which provide a death benefit with no investment component:

Just think what death is gonna do to you,
You’ll be dead when it gets through with you.
If you bought term life you think you got off cheap,
but you can’t spend that money when you’re six-feet deep.

“Now that’s what I like to hear,” says Duane Thomas, Jr., who inherited his agency in Stillmore, Oklahoma from his father.  “A lot of people try to go cheap with term policies, but they’re only thinking of themselves, not us.”

The three judges confer among themselves and, after a few minutes of intense consideration, announce that “Mort” is the winner of the $100,000 first prize.


“So–I have to die to get the money?”

 

“Cool,” he says with enthusiasm.  “Where’s my check?”

The three judges give each other perplexed looks.  “It’s not a cash prize,” Thomas says.  “It’s a hundred thousand dollar whole life policy with the first year’s premium paid up.  After that, you’re on your own.”

“Celebration of Mediocrity” Draws to Close With a Bang

OMAHA, Nebraska. This city is abuzz today as municipal employees paint lamp posts and spruce up planters in the downtown area for an unprecedented celebration that some say is bigger than a world’s fair or an Olympic Games. “We’re only one spoke in the wheel,” says Chamber of Commerce President Orel Heinze, “but we’re the one that has the baseball card attached to it with a clothes pin.”


Hruska: “You say ‘mediocre’ like it’s a bad thing.”

 

Heinze is referring to the conclusion of a four-city, four-year “Celebration of Mediocrity,” the first such event ever, which began in Boston, moved on to Memphis, then Indianapolis and will conclude with a grand finale here. “Those are all great cities, don’t get me wrong,” Heinze says with a mischievious gleam in his eyes, “but when it comes to mediocrity, we’ve got them beat hands down.”


Snooky Lanson, upper left, on “Your Hit Parade.”

 

The occasion for the celebration is the unlikely confluence of birthdays a century ago of three entertainers who have come to epitomize mediocrity in America; Sonny Tufts in 1911, Durward Kirby in 1912 and Snooky Lanson in 1914. “The only comparable grouping of birth dates of such notable artists was the 100-year span that included Vivaldi in 1678, Bach in 1685, Mozart in 1756 and Beethoven in 1770,” says cultural historian Wil van de Verde of Shimer College. “Those guys were pretty good, but it still took them almost a century to do what Kirby, Lanson and Tufts did in four years.”


Vivaldi: “Here’s a little song I wrote for Wayne Newton called–you guessed it–‘Danke Schoen.’”

 

Omaha was the home of none of the three greats, but it was the final resting place of Senator Roman Hruska, who defended mediocrity in a stirring speech that challenged critics who complained that Judge Harold Carswell, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Richard Nixon, was “mediocre.” “Even if he were mediocre,” Carswell said in a stirring peroration that is still studied in oratorical classes here, “there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? And you notice how I nailed the subjunctive back there?”


Durward Kirby: Curiously, his names are an anagram for “Irk by raw dud” with an extra “r.”

 

Each of the three entertainers celebrated as the festival moved from city to city had his own unique claim to mediocrity; Kirby virtually created the model of the “affable sidekick” to TV host Garry Moore that continues to this day on late-night TV shows. “He may have been born in Kentucky,” says Indianapolis city historian Ewell Cutrino, “but he really used Indianapolis as the one-meter springboard to his fame.”


Sonny Tufts?

 

Lanson, who was born in Memphis, and Tufts, who was born in Boston, share one reliable indicator of mediocrity; both were the butt of jokes on the “Rocky & Bullwinkle Show,” a 60’s afternoon cartoon feature that sprinkled obscure pop culture references throughout its regular features in order to convey coded messages to Russian spies through the characters of Boris and Natasha.


Sonny Tufts!

 

While scholars will debate the relative merits of the entertainment greats in a Festschrift, a collection of scholarly essays that will celebrate their respective lives and contributions to the bland cultural pudding that is America’s leading export to the world, those with extensive backgrounds in the nascent field of mediocrity studies say the smart money is on Sonny Tufts to emerge as pre-eminent among the four when the dust of the academic rug-beating settles. “You look at Tufts’ Wikipedia entry, and he was lampooned by everybody,” says van de Verde. “It takes a special kind of dud to be picked on by Rowan & Martin, Dick Van Dyke and Bullwinkle the Moose.”

Swamp Thing Film Festival

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