Me and the Portable William Blake

It had been an impulse buy, as so many of my books are when they’re purchased on a Saturday after I’ve had a few glasses of wine and we’re wandering around a bookstore.  But it was an acquisition I’d been planning for a long time; I have a home William Blake in the den, the Seven Centuries of English Verse anthology I bought 45 years ago for my freshman college Humanities 101 course, so I’d decided that the next William Blake I bought would be the portable kind.

“Let’s go get ice cream!” it said as I carried it past the security scanners and out the front door of Barnes & Noble.

“I’m not hungry,” I said and I wasn’t lying.  I was stuffed from a dinner of turbot in a mushroom sauce with some of those sprouts on top that look like . . . short and curlies.

“I didn’t ask if you were hungry,” said the guy who, as Alfred Kazin says in his intro, makes such fierce demands on the human imagination.

blake
The Portable William Blake: Batteries not included.

 

“My wife doesn’t want any either, so you’re outvoted.”

“What kind of wimp cares what his wife thinks?” said the man who was a libertine in his own mind, but who proposed to his wife the first time they met when he told her another woman had dumped him.  And she said she pitied him.

“Sorry, I bought you, you’re gonna live by my rules.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them, because I knew what was coming next; an anti-commerce diatribe.

“When nations grow old, the Arts grow cold,” he intoned, “and Commerce settles on every tree.”  One of his favorite gags.

“Bill,” I began, trying to strike a reasonable note, “Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean you can say stupid stuff.”

“It’s not stupid, it’s true,” he snapped, more than a little defensive.

“To you and maybe a few other demented types, mainly college professors.”

“Hey–if it wasn’t for a college professor you probably wouldn’t know me.”

“Not true.  I read you senior year in high school, in college prep English.”

“Did you have Mrs. Reisgang?”

I held him up to eye level.  “How do you know her?” I asked skeptically, wondering where he could have heard about the Mrs. Robinson-like figure who lured me into the writerly life when she singled out my lame, post-nuclear tale of betrayal as the best short story of the Class of ’69.

graduate
“That was a tough assignment.  ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ gave me a stiffie!”

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed,” he said in a deep, portentous voice, “everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.”

O-kay.  Guess I’d better watch what I say.  “You know,” I said, trying to sound a more amiable note, “it really is amazing that they teach you to high school students, not to mention Samuel Taylor Coleridge.”

“That drughead!” he said with contempt.  “I’m Bernie Carbo to his Bill Lee.”

“How so?”

“I’m naturally crazy, I didn’t need to work at it.”

carbo
Carbo: “If I got traded to Cleveland, could I get out of this post?”

 

The old innocence/experience dichotomy–nobody rings the changes in that bell tower better than Blake.

“Seriously, it’s a wonder the right wing hasn’t copped to the subversive influence you have on impressionable young kooks.”

“Like you?” he asked, arching an eyebrow skyward.

“Well, yeah.”

“Don’t fence me in–the left wing won’t have anything to do with me either.”

“Why not?  You’re Mr. Anything Goes.”

“But I’m also obsessed with God.  It’s a wonder anybody can get ‘Little Lamb, who made thee?’ and ‘Tyger, Tyger’ in a public schoolhouse door.”

blake1
*sniff*  Do I smell popcorn?

 

“So if you’re not of the right, and not of the left–what are you?”

“Apparently your reading comprehension hasn’t improved since you bombed the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.  Read the intro, would ya?”

I took off my glasses–I only need them for distance–and began to flip the pages.  “Holy crap,” I said to myself.

“What’s the matter?” my wife asked, her forehead plowed into a little soybean field of concern.

soybeans
Like this

“It says here that William Blake was a libertarian.”

“Are those the people who come to the door on Saturdays?”

“No, those are Seventh Day Adventists.  Look,” I said to the book in my hand.  “You’ve got to be careful about following unorthodox philosophies in Massachusetts.”

“Why?”

“We burn witches here, remember?  People will think you’re crazy.”

The picture on the back cover gave me a look that could have chilled a beer mug to a fine, frosty finish.  “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Just be careful what you say, okay?  I’m already a pariah in just about every social circle my wife wants to join–and some she doesn’t.”

“Perhaps,” Blake said slily, “it’s because you’re too much like me.”

I gulped the gulp that follows the shock of recognition.  “Ya think?”

“Don’t go all Valley Girl on me, you’ve already noticed it here, in this blog post.”

He had me dead to rights, so I started flipping through the biographical sketch in my new book.  Loner–yep.  Printing industry–yes.  Self-published books, the mark of the literary crank–on the nosey.  Anti-clerical–again, yes.  Hates to travel–that’s a oui. 

“Recall that at one point I didn’t leave my house for two years except to go out for beer,” Blake said.  “What did you do last weekend?”

“I . . . uh, stayed home and wrote.  Then I went out to get some beer.”

“And you say I’m whacked.  I used to spontaneously burst into song, adding melodies to my poems.  You?”

“Uh, guilty as charged.  Say, this is getting kind of uncomfortable.  Can we talk about something else?”

“Sure–how about our mutually respective unsuccessful writing careers.  How’s yours going.”

“Oh, you know.  Dribs and drabs.”

A noise like the riffling of pages escaped from the spine.  I guess that’s how books snort with contempt.  “Didn’t your motto used to be . . .”

“Yes?”

“Another day closer to posthumous fame?”

Once again, he knew me too well.  “So–I’m just resigned to my fate as a ballad monger . . .”

“I would have said Rhime trader, but that’s just me.  I think you’ve been reading my catalogue entry on ‘The Penance of Jane Shore in St. Paul’s Church’–hmm?”

“Which part?”

“Where I say ‘If a man is not employed by those who pretend to encourage art, he will employ himself, and laugh in secret.’”

 

SUV Skills Give Soccer Moms Monster Truck Edge

STAFFORD SPRINGS, Connecticut. Tori Carrington is a mother of three with a black labrador retriever named “Boots” and a pick-up and drop-off schedule that reads like a cab dispatcher’s log. “I’ve got so much stuff to haul around town, there’s no way I could handle it with a car,” she says as she slams the rear door of her Chevy Suburban on six bags of groceries and her daughter Amanda’s finger.

The same is true for Mindy Michaels, who lives next door. “We bought the Expedition because we needed the space for all our kids’ junk,” she says as she wrangles her son Jason’s mountain bike and her daughter Ellie’s vaulting poles and javelins into the super-sized Ford SUV.

Tori and Mindy are both ranked in the top ten of the Monster Jam Points Series as the season winds down with an event at Stafford Motor Speedway in this leafy Connecticut suburb, the American Express Super Modified Monster Mayhem Weekend. As monster truck racing has previously been an all-male preserve, the two stand our for reasons more obvious than their Ann Taylor sweaters and pearl necklaces.

“We see soccer moms as the next big wave in professional Monster Truck racing,” says Amex’s James Saltonstall, III. “Sort of like Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam on the PGA Tour. It’s a very affluent target audience with tremendous upside potential because right now they’re all watching Martha Stewart and Meredith Viera on The View.”

That sentiment isn’t necessarily shared by Monster Truck veterans such as Duane “Bug Juice” Johnson of Warrensburg, Missouri. “I don’t have anything against women drivers in general, but those two are kind of aggressive on a Chicago-style track,” he says. “Also, their back porches are a little skimpy for my tastes.”

But Tori and Mindy say they won’t let hidebound prejudice stand in their way as they line up for the qualifying heat of the Super-Modified division in which they compete. “I work out four days a week with a personal trainer so I can fit into size 6 capri pants,” she says with uncharacteristic firmness. “I’m not going to take fashion tips from some Midwestern hilljack who doesn’t have an MBA.”

As the women maneuver their SUV’s into position they can look down the starting line at snarling 800 horsepower behemoths with names like “Grave Digger,” “The Avenger” and “Wild Thang” painted on their sides. Tori thought about adopting une nomme du monster chariot, but decided against it. “My parents always taught me not to call undue attention to myself,” and indeed her Suburban is a muted forest green in contrast to the bright reds, oranges and yellows of some of her male competitors.


Mom and Dad.

The announcer counts down from “Drivers Ready,” to “Get Set,” and then screams “Go!” over the public address system, sending the vehicles scrambling around the short track with dirt-mound jumps. Tori and Mindi are inveterate cell phone uses—”It’s attached to my ear!” Mindi admits—and Tori calls her friend as soon as they take their places in the pack.

“Hi there,” says Tori. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No,” Mindi replies. “I’m going over a jump in a minute so I may lose coverage.”

Mindi scales the dirt mound and her Expedition goes flying, landing on the bed of Bug Juice Johnson’s “Eradicator”.

“Nice air, Mindi!” Tori says with admiration.

“Thanks. I’ve been working on my technique in the Lord & Taylor parking lot.”

“How can you? That place is always packed. I was in that mall the other day to pick up my David Yurman bracelet.”

“The one with the sapphires?” Mindi asks.

“Right. Oops—hold on.” Tori swerves to avoid J.T. “Rascal” Dupree from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Watch where you’re going!” Dupree yells at her.

“Sorry,” Tori yells back over the roar. “I didn’t want to spill my drink!” She takes a sip of a Starbucks vanilla latte, extra foam, and resumes her conversation. “Anyway, I went in there to have the mounts tightened. I almost lost one of the stones at a cocktail party last week.”

“At the Ohrbachs?”

“Right.”

“You never would have found it in those blue oriental rugs of theirs.”

“I know!”

“Hey, lady—shut up and drive!” It is Darrell Joseph, the current points leader, who cuts Tori off.

“What a jerk,” she tells her friend.

“I know. He thinks he’s so macho. How much would you guess he makes?”

“The top drivers on the circuit earn around $80,000, before endorsements.”

“Not very much, is it? You couldn’t buy a potting shed in Greenwich with that.”

“You couldn’t make a down payment on a potting shed with it!” Tori says with a laugh.

The cars are on the last lap and the drivers jockey for position as they try to advance to the championship round. “Well, I should probably hang up now,” Mindi says as she cuts off Rascal Dupree.

“Okay—talk to you later,” Tori says as she snaps her razor phone shut and puts it in the “clutter caddy” between the front bucket seats. In third place, she is well-positioned to qualify, but Mindi is stuck at the back of a pack behind the leaders. “I should try and help her out,” Tori says to herself, bringing a spirit of feminine cooperation to a sport that has long been ruled by masculine notions of cut-throat competition.

Tori positions her Suburban down low, waits until she makes the turn for the home stretch, and then slams on her brakes, causing the bunched-up cars behind her to rear-end each other, leaving Mindi free to pass them on the rail.

Tori’s cell phone rings, and she opens it up as she crosses the finish line.

“That was so sweet of you!” Mindi exclaims.

“Happy to help!” Tori replies. “I wanted to make sure my girlfriend got into the finals!”

Darrell Joseph doesn’t share the women’s enthusiasm as he comes running across the track, shaking his fist. “You crazy bitch! You coulda killed me!” he screams.

“Oh, blow it out your boxer shorts,” Tori says dismissively. “How much is a life like yours worth anyway?”

The blunt nature of the question causes Joseph to stop and think. “Well, let’s see. I got three years’ worth of payments due on my double-wide trailer home. I got a 2006 Camaro that’s leaking oil. Most of my paycheck goes to my first two wives in alimony. I guess you’re right. If I died today, I’d probably come out ahead.”

“See? It helps to do a mental inventory when you get upset like that.”

“Where’d you learn how to do that?” Joseph asks gratefully.

“Yoga class!”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Blurbs From the Burbs” and “From NASCAR to NPR.”

I Wish I Could Break Your Honky-Tonk Heart

You said you was goin’ outside for a smoke.
A half hour later I called up your folks.
They said you weren’t there and just laughed at your joke.
And you weren’t in bed when I next awoke.

I got in the car to drive around town.
I’d find you if I had to hunt you down.
Our life is a circus, and I play the clown.
If I let myself cry, I’d most likely drown.

I wish I could break your honky-tonk heart
Into little pieces and tear them apart
Then throw them away like sharp little darts
At the next man who falls for your honky-tonk heart.

I found you at Darrell’s, the bar down the street.
A place where loose women and tight men might meet.
I looked on the dance floor, my vision complete,
And you there a twirlin’ so light on your feet.

I said “Come on home, your babies need you.”
You said “They’ll be fine, I’m losin’ my blues.”
You knocked back a drink, and kicked off your shoes.
Tomorrow the whole town will all know the news.

I wish I could break your honky-tonk heart
Into little pieces and tear them apart
Then throw them away like sharp little darts
At the next man who falls for your honky-tonk heart.

Walking My Lobster Back Home

 

On learning that the poet Gerard de Nerval had a pet lobster he walked on a leash.

 

Gee but it’s great after being out late–
Walking my lobster back home.
There’s little risk that she’ll turn into bisque,
Walking my lobster back home.

She grows quite bored of the maddening horde,
So I recite her a poem.
She slept with me once and complained that I snored,
Walking my lobster back home.

We stop for a while, she gives me a feel,
And snuggles her claws to my chest.
She’s not like a dog or a shrimp that you peel
Her green roe’s all over my vest.

When we stroll about I keep her on a leash,
Sometimes she borrows my comb.
We go out to eat and of course she has quiche,
Walking my lobster back home.

She rides on my back to a little clam shack
For a re-test on Teapot Dome.
She borrows my pen and she fails it again
Walking my lobster, talking my lobster
She’s sure my baby, I don’t mean maybe
Walking my lobster back home.

The Poetry Fixer

 

A self-published poet who focused on homelessness in her work has resigned after only a week on the job as North Carolina’s poet laureate following criticism of the governor’s appointment process.

                                                              Associated Press 

poetry

As I sat staring out the window, wondering how to jump-start my career as a poet, I automatically, involuntarily lapsed into verse:

I think that I’d feel more secure
If I could get me a cozy political sinecure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing . . . okay.  Since my first poem–Thoughts on Waking After Spending the Night in a Kosher Vegetarian Commune–was published by plangent voices, I’ve been anthologized twice.  It’s not as painful as it sounds, really, you just get jammed between the covers of a book with a bunch of other poets, sort of like the Green Line at rush hour.

But there seems–and I don’t want to come off as paranoid–like there’s a conspiracy against me, led by my high-profile poetess and ex-girlfriend elena gotchko.  She and I parted amicably enough–she dumped my stuff out on the sidewalk, I graciously carried it away–but I’ve been troubled by a pattern of commenters with suspiciously anagramatical names lighting into me with vituperation on-line and in print.  NeLa K. Chetogo, Klanee Gootch, Cheona Kloget–the natural wit that continually creates the world anew was always missing from elena’s poetic makeup.  That’s why she’s become more of a poetry professional than a professional poet.  Editing little journals, pontificating about the importance of poetry, charging high three-figure sums to schmoes who think, if they take a course from somebody who spells her name without initial caps, they’ll magically be transformed into poets.

state house

No, if I was going to get anywhere, I needed juice.  There’s an old saying–it’s not what you know, it’s who you know–and that applies in spades in Boston, a town where, as a slightly newer saying goes, the three major industries are politics, sports and revenge.  So I dropped in on my state rep and asked him if he could get me on as Massachusetts poet laureate.

“I got a long list of people who wanna be poet laureate,” he said, looking at his watch after we’d been together for ten seconds.  “Tell me why it should be you.”

“Well, I’ve self-published a book of poetry, and I’ve written a book about poetry.”

“That meta-stuff don’t cut it.  You can’t write that kinda junk until you’re at the top of the poetry heap.”

I jabbered on about the one poem I’d actually sold, to The Christian Science Monitor–just like Sylvia Plath!  I told him how I’d won a poetry prize, only to see the publication that awarded it go under before they ran my poem.  I started to tell him how I’d won honorable mention in the Somerville Press poetry contest.  “Somerville!” I exclaimed.  “You can’t throw a brick without hitting a poet over there!”

He looked at me as if I was a pack of cold cuts that had passed its freshness date.  “You’re goin’ about this all wrong,” he said with a glint of cynicism in his eyes.

poetryslam
Actual un-PhotoShopped picture of poetry slammer.

 

“But you’re my elected representative,” I said.  “Aren’t you supposed to . . . you know . . . pull strings for people in your district.  In the name of ‘constituent services.’”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, apparently amused at my naivete.  “You’re in the big city now,” he said, then he reached in his desk drawer, pulled out a business card and handed it to me.  “You need to call this guy.”

I looked at the card.  Francis X. Shaughnessy.  “Who’s he?” I asked.

“A registered lobbyist.”

“What does a lobbyist do?”

“He comes to talk to me about good things I could do for people like you.”

“But . . . I’m here trying to talk to you about good things you could do for people like me.”

“It ain’t the same.”

“Why not?”

“If you give me money, it’s a bribe.  If you give him money, it’s compensation.  If he throws a ‘time’ for me, that’s everybody’s free speech petitioning government.  You give to his PAC, he gives it to me.  It’s in the First Amendment–you could look it up.”

Irish
“Is everybody here Irish?”

 

“So–I have to pay money to get somebody else to say things to you I can say myself for nothing.”

“On the nosey.”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s ‘well-connected.’  It’s in the papers.  Every time they write his name they say ‘The well-connected Francis X. Shaughnessy.’”

“And me?”

“You’re just an ordinary voting schlub.”

Dawn broke on Marblehead, as we say here in Massachusetts.  “Nice talkin’ to ya,” I said, with a trace of bitterness.

“Nice talkin’ to you!” my rep said.

“Where can I find this Shaughnessy guy?”

Piersall
Jimmy Piersall:  Certifiable.

 

“Down the hall, out the State House door, cross the street.  His office is right above Guertin’s Bar and Grille.”

“How . . . convenient.”

“Ain’t it though?”

We shook hands and I took my leave, which I’d left by the door.  I was across the street and walking up a flight of stairs to Politico Strategies LLC in less time than it would take you to recite the Miranda Warning.

“Is Mr. Shaughnessy in?” I asked the receptionist, who was holding her hands out at arm’s length to let her nail polish dry.

“Whom shall I say”–she began.  Apparently she went to Katie Gibbs Secretarial School on Marlborough Street.

“Mr. Chapman,” I said, interrupting her.

katherine gibbs
Graduation Day at Katie Gibbs!

 

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Me.”

“Not you,” she said, clucking her tongue.  “Whom shall I say sent you?”

I was losing my innocence with every tick of the clock.  “That would be Representative O’Kiley,” I said.

She smiled for the first time and said “Have a seat.”

The reading materials available in the reception area consisted of a big picture book of Boston, so that those in the Athens of America who don’t like to read would have something to look at; the two daily newspapers; and a selection of recent magazines.  Newsweek seems to think Howard Dean has the Democratic nomination sewed up, but Time likes John Kerry.

Shaughnessy emerged from his office, his hand apparently attached to the back of someone whose deserving cry for help was next in line in front of me.

“So I think if we came up with a Nuts of the Red Sox series, with one each devoted to Bernie Carbo, Jim Piersall, Bill Lee, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green, it could be a real winner.”

“I’ll talk to my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Vanity and Commemorative License Plates and we’ll see what we can do.”

Pumpsie
Pumpsie Green rookie card:  I used to have one!

 

“Thanks, thanks an awful lot,” the guy said.  He looked hopeful, so I figured he wrote a big check.

“What do I have next,” the guy asked the receptionist.

“This man here–O’Kiley sent him.”

“Well in that case, come on in Mr. . . .”

Again, I felt humbled by my lack of importance.  After introductions, I was shown into the inner sanctum, where I was offered a chair and initial cup of coffee, gratis.

“So,” Shaughnessy began.  “What can I do for youse?”

“I’m looking for a job,” I said.

“As are so many of my constituents in this dreadful economy brought about by greedy Wall Street bankers and mean old Republicans.  What kind of work were you lookin’ for?” he asked, but before I could answer he finished the sentence for me.  “Indoor work and no heavy liftin’ I presume?”

“I guess you could say that.  I want to be the state’s poet laureate.”

“Jeez Louise–that’s a tough one.  The pay is lousy but the hours are good.”

“It’s an important position.  Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

“That’s a great line,” he said as he gazed wistfully out the window.  “Who said it?”

“Yogi Berra.”

“I thought so.  So what’s your angle?”

“My . . . angle?”  I had passed through 19 years of schooling without ever being told I needed an “angle” to be a poet.

“Sure.  Are you . . .”–he picked up a laminated sheet that listed the currently favored racial/sexual/ethnic/gender categories of the Commonwealth and began to tick them off starting with “Aleutian Islander.”

“No, can’t say that I am.”

“But O’Kiley sent ya, huh?  Okay, well, let’s think about it.  Can you give a bunch o’ money to my friend Mr. O’Kiley?”

“Not since my wife found out political contributions aren’t tax deductible.”

“Okay–can you raise a bunch?”

“Don’t think so.  My friends tend to be apolitical.”

“Okay, well it’s gonna cost you then.”

“How much?”

“A $2,000 a month retainer, and a $10,000 success fee . . .”

“I thought that was illegal.”

“Excuse me.  I meant if you get the job, you hire me as a consultant to the State Office of Poetry for $10,000.”

I glared at him with eyes that I narrowed to grim, little slits.  “You don’t look like a poet.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said.  “Tell me a little bit about your verse,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and made a little church-and-steeple with his fingers.

“Well, I’ve self-published one book of light verse about women–The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head.

“Is that like ‘chick lit’,” he said without contempt, just an air of honest appraisal.

“Not really–it’s more like anti-chick lit.  It’s dedicated to my wife and it’s a bunch of poems about the women I dated before I met her, and how they compare unfavorably to her.”

“Smart husband, dumb poet.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You gotta have a sympathetic political theme, like that poet laureate who got hired in North Carolina the other day.”

“What was her–angle?”

“Homelessness.  Very sensitive.  That’s the beauty of political art.  You pick the right topic, anybody who criticizes you looks like jerk.  Some critic pans you, you get your friends to write angry letters to the editor sayin’ ‘Oh, so your hotsy-totsy poetry editor don’t like that chapbook, eh?  I guess the cruel son-of-a-bitch don’t like homeless people, neither.’  Pretty soon the guy’s busted down to writing about the spring performance of Lion King at Miss Cynthia’s School of Tap and Ballet.”

baby seal
“These poems have got to be good–they’re about baby seals!”

 

It was as if the clouds had parted and rays of light shot down to give me inspiration.  “Okay, I’m gonna write the most poignant, sensitive, morally unassailable collection of poetry the world’s ever seen.”

“Whatta ya gonna call it?”

“The Don’t Club Baby Seals to Death Poems.”

I Feel Bad About Your Neck

One of my first literary crushes was the late Nora Ephron, who back in the 70s wrote for Esquire magazine.  She was funny, and from the looks of her little caricature icon drawn by David Levine, she was cute.  To me, at least.

And so it was with some dismay that I read her collection of essays: “I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.”

If only, I thought, she had known me back when I was putting together my Thirty-Year Plan for Long-Term Neck Maintenance, she wouldn’t have felt bad about her neck.


Do this 3,000 times a day and you’ll be fired from your job and your wife will leave you.

 

That’s right.  I was thinking about how my neck would look in the 21st century back when you were watching Grizzly Adams and The Brady Bunch.  If you were even alive.


Grizzly Adams, right, Some Other Guy, left

 

My long-term perspective on neck upkeep was prompted by Jabba the Hutt, the Star Wars character who bore more than a passing resemblance to Richard J. Daley, the long-time Mayor of Chicago whose neck melded into his pot belly shortly after the 1968 Democratic Convention.


Jabba the Hutt, Richard J. Daley:  Separated at birth?

 

Jabba was my nightmare–what I would look like if I didn’t take care of my neck; a double or even triple-chinned blob of a man, cast aside while hard-charging up-and-comers half my age blew by me on the Dan Ryan Expressway of life.  I wasn’t going to end up a flabby mound of blubber, dammit!  Like William Faulkner, I would not only endure, I would prevail!


William Faulkner: Note nice neck.

 

And so it is that I end up, approaching the sixth decade of my life, without a double chin (or “chin scrotum,” as fitness freaks like to call them).  From some angles.  If the light is right.  With the wind at my back.  Unlike the guys I read about in The Wall Street Journal who are paying $6,231 for face lifts (proper name, rhytidectomies), money they could be spending on cheap red wine if only they’d taken care of themselves.

How can you achieve the same semi-tough neck–with the approximate firmness of a trout’s belly–at my advanced age?  Simple–follow this E-Z Home Neck of Steel program, and you’ll never feel bad about your neck.

Go Out for High School Football.  High school football is a great way to build neck muscles so that you end up at +60 years with very little flab on your neck.  Or sometimes no neck at all.  Consider Tommy Nobis, my role model when I was a budding young middle linebacker.  Tommy built up his neck to a robust 19.5″ circumference by daily neck exercises of the sort our coaches made us do; we would drop down on the ground in push-up position, but support the upper half of our bodies with our heads instead of our arms.


Tommy Nobis:  Doesn’t feel bad about his neck, he doesn’t have one.

With this type of conditioning, we could use our heads as human battering rams, which led to some neck injuries, but that was a small price to pay for a neck that looked like an Ionic column.  Hint:  start work early on this part of the program, preferably three decades before you wish to avoid anxiety about a flabby neck.

Whiplash:  Whiplash is a great conditioning tool for the neck.  The best way to acquire it is to drive a car in the left-hand lane of a state highway while three girls drive behind you, talking and laughing so that they don’t notice you have stopped for oncoming traffic.  When they finally see you, it will be too late and they will slam into your rear-end (I mean your car’s rear-end), causing your head to snap back, then bounce off the head rest.


“I am so sorry!”

When your car finally comes to a stop, the girls will surround you and apologize profusely, enveloping you in the scent of perfume while their long hair gently brushes your face and–I had a point back there, before the crash.

Oh yeah.  Whiplash results in pain that can be alleviated by yoga, especially the cobra position, which also tones your neck muscles.  Again, remember to start early–give yourself plenty of time, like, say three decades.

Buy Executive Health Briefs.  In the late 70s ads began to appear in leading business publications for an expensive newsletter called “Executive Health Briefs.”  For an exorbitant annual subscription price, you would receive a weekly collection of health tips that would keep you trim so that when you discarded your first wife in an expensive divorce you could acquire an aerobics instructor who shortened her name to a diminutive with the letter “i” in it just so she could dot it with a smiley face.


“When you die, can I have all your money–please?”

 

As a come-on, the publisher offered a free copy of “How to Avoid a Double-Chin and Pot Belly” to new subscribers.  In a risky arbitrage move, I signed up for Executive Health Briefs, then as soon as I’d received the Double-Chin/Pot Belly teaser, I canceled my subscription.  After all, I couldn’t afford to spend what little beer money I had on a magazine whose price point was set for six-figure CEOs!

But three decades later, I still refer to that handy collection of exercises, which cost me $3 (adjusted for inflation through the Carter administration, $1.2 billion).  I am now willing, nay happy, to share key double-chin fighting exercises with you–free, because that’s the Way of the Internet!

1.  Interlace fingers across forehead.  Bow your head forward until your chin touches your navel.  Dig down, remove belly button lint, resurface.  Repeat six times.

2.  Turn your head towards and then over your left shoulder.  Place chin on left shoulder blade, scratch patch of dry skin that you have been unable to reach using your right arm.  Return to original position, and repeat over right shoulder.  If neck becomes stuck behind shoulder, call Fire Department.

3.  Place palms against side of head.  Press until lymph nodes in head pop, sending colorless liquid streaming out ears.  Repeat until neck is drained of fluid.  Adjourn to singles bar to receive admiring compliments from people two decades younger than you who would like to inherit your estate.

To the Veterans of Boston Disco

          The Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party drew a far more diverse crowd than just veterans of the disco era.

                                                                              The Boston Globe

disco

I doffed my disco hat as the national anthem of disco, “Love to Love You, Baby,” slowly swelled over the crowd gathered in Boston’s City Hall Plaza, voted America’s Ugliest Public Space for 46 years running!

boston
Boston City Hall: “Uh, I think you got it upside down.”

 

Yes, we have a lot to be proud of here in Beantown.  We occupy a crucial place in American history.  It was here that Donna Summer (nee LaDonna Adrian Gaines) was born in 1948In 1975, just one year before the Bicentennial of America, she started a royalist revolution in music with Love to Love You that would restore a monarchy to this nation, which had succumbed to the bland temptations of rock democracy, when she was crowned “Queen of Disco.”

I looked to my right and saw my old buddy Salvatore Di La Saltimboccacino de Nunzio.  We had been among the early disco rebels, meeting secretly in the men’s rooms of the 70′s clubs where doped-out rock fans would smoke some dope and then go out and sit like dopes down front of some white punks on dope playing dopey music.  Sal–he ultimately shortened his name because it was too wide to get in the doors of some of the basement clubs–helped me plot the revolution that would spread like wildfire in the wake of The Trammps “Disco Inferno.”  We wanted to get up–or down, as the case may be–and boogie!

disco1

I noticed Sal still had his disco hat on.  “Hey,” I said.  “What’s with the no-doffing-your-disco-hat?  They’re playing . . .”

“I know,” Sal said disconsolately.  “I guess I’m just . . . discouraged.”

I hadn’t seen Sal this down since the infamous “Death to Disco” night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979.  After that rout, it had been all downhill.  The Anti-Disco Forces had won.  They had us on the run, and we went into exile.

disco2

“Whatsa matta you?” I said, doing my best imitation of Sal’s pidgin Italo-American dialect, trying to bond with him a bit.

He took off his hat and gave me a look of resignation.  “You and me–we’re like disabled soldiers of some despised and forgotten war.”

“Like Vietnam?” I said.

“What’s that?”  Sal had been too busy dancing during the 70′s to keep up with relatively current events.

“You don’t need to know,” I said, throwing my arm around his shoulders.   “You gotta look on the bright side, pal.”

“What bright side?”

“Look all around youse,” I said.  “Yes we been lurking in the shadows for what–35 years?  But finally, at long last, this great country of ours is beginning to recognize disco’s contribution to truth, justice–and the American Way.”

disco3

“I thought that was Superman,” he snorted.  Then a mirthless little laugh came out of his mouth.  “Ha,” he said.

“Why you say ‘Ha’ like that?”

“Because.  Yeah, it’s great that they drew a far more diverse crowd than just veterans of the disco era to the first annual Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party, but have you tried to get an appointment at the Chateau de Ville Disco Veteran’s Memorial Hospital lately?”

In fact I hadn’t, but then I had emerged from disco era battles relatively unscathed.  Yeah, my knee pops every now and then, and I get neck spasms whenever I hear The Bee Gees hit the high note in “You Should Be Dancin’,” but at least I can still keep up with the kids on the Dance Dance Revolution machine when I go to the mall.

disco4

“Is it . . . bad?” I asked haltingly.  You could see me halting back there, couldn’t you?

“It’s a national disgrace,” Sal said.  “There are waiting lists to get on the waiting lists.  The docs are underpaid–according to them.  The nurses have big tits but . . .”

I could tell Sal was turning maudlin, so I cut him off.  “Look, youse,” I said.  “We got the rest of our miserable lives ahead of us.  Let’s you and me . . .”

“You mean ‘you and I’–don’t you?”  Everybody’s a freakin’ grammarian these days.

“Check page 456 of the 1937 edition of The American Language by H.L. Mencken,” I said hurriedly.  “It’s fine.”

“Oh, okay–if you’re being descriptive instead of prescriptive.”

“You got that right.  Anyway, let’s dedicate ourselves to preserving the legacy of disco.”

“How we gonna do that?”

“Well, we could start in Kenmore Square.”

disco5
Emergency snow crews race against time to clear a path to Lucifer during the Blizzard of ’78.

 

His eyes grew misty, and when he spoke, there was a clutch in his voice.  “Yeah–Lucifer, Narcissus.  Them was the days all right.”

“Remember the Blizzard of ’78?” I asked.

“Boy, do I!  We tramped through snow and ice and sleet to get down and get funky back then.  People died in that storm!”

“Absolutely.  So we could create the Tomb of the Unknown Dancer there.”

“Yeah, like that guy from Revere who did the splits without stretchin’ out first.”

The Baddest Cat on the Team

          A star high school quarterback was persuaded to play football at Rice University by a handwritten letter its offensive coordinator wrote to his cat.

Sports Illustrated

 

Rocco
“With these feet, I’m gonna need high-tops, like Johnny Unitas.”

 

Ho-hum.  Another day, another Division I offensive coordinator prostrating himself before me.  “Dear Rocco,” Clyde van Pelt of Nebraska writes.  “Can’t you see yourself in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day, with 87,000 screaming fans urging you–and of course your human–on to victory with a national title on the line?”

Uh, no, actually I can’t.  “Beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska”?  Are there two of them?  Is the beautiful one located out-of-state?

To cop a line from Fred Allen, Nebraska’s a great place to live–if you’re a stalk of winter wheat.  Into the round file from waaay downtown–for three!

Okay, who’s next?  Penn State.  Sorry, when I go into the kitty box, I want privacy.  Ix-nay on the ittany-nay ions-lay.

Okie
“How about me?  I’m a Nittany Cat.”

 

Whadda we got here.  Harvard?  Are they serious?  Well, an Ivy League education is worth something–in some benighted minds.  Let’s see what kinda package they’re offering.  Canvas tote bag, no-show job at the Widener Library, free use of a Volvo station wagon.  For what?  To pick up Environmental Studies majors in Harvard Square?  That ain’t the way the Big Cat rolls.

Let’s see–Miami.  Too hot.  Wisconsin–too cold.  Missouri–they don’t pay enough.

Stanford–now we’re getting some place.  Top-notch academics, competitive program, all those venture capital alums to give me a job in case I go undrafted.

And the pussy!  I mean really sharp looking cats, brainy too!

Gotta get this one in front of the bi-ped, see what he thinks.

Funny kitten
“I want everybody down in a 4-point stance!”

 

Hey–wake up, Cheetos-breath.  C’mon, don’t force me to make happy paws all over that stupid sweater of yours.

Yeah, you, numbnuts.  Have you signed your national letter of intent yet?  Well, don’t, okay?  I want you to look at Stanford, then maybe Northwestern, or Virginia, before you commit to four years in some God-forsaken hell-hole where the only entertainment is football and beer.  I don’t want to waste the best years of my life in some place that Gertrude Stein would rank lower than Oakland; not only no there there, no where where.

Look at this course catalog–lots of interesting classes.  History and Philosophy of History and Philosophy.  Can’t top that for circular academic thinking.  The Courtly Tradition in Fiction from Le Morte d’Arthur to Raymond Chandler.  Cats in Cartoons: From Felix to Top Cat.

cats4
“PLEASE–promise me you’re not considering Ohio State!”

What?  Oh you want to spend the next four years in a drunken stupor–is that it?  Well, include me out, Buster.  This cat’s got a brain, okay?  Even if we make it to the NFL–and that’s a big if–we’ll spend the first three years holding a clipboard. Making millions of dollars, granted, but do you know how many jobs there are out there for clipboard-holders?  Not too freakin’ many, pal, and they don’t pay diddly squat.  You know why?  Low barrier to entry.  Anybody can be a clipboard holder, it takes very little training, no professional certification or state-mandated test, no . . .

catfood

Hey, what’s this?  Somebody actually took the time to write us a nice handwritten note–in big cursive letters, too!  This is straight outta Martha Stewart!

Lemme see where it’s from, gimme gimme gimme.  Rice U?  Wha?  You mean like Eukanuba Adult Dry Cat Food Lamb and Rice Formula?

Yuk.

Isn’t there a University of Friskies Party Mix?

You Forgot To Be Beautiful

An evening of jazz, how pleasant one thinks,
then you hear a noise like a kitchen sink
being tossed out a window into a dumpster
or bombs bursting in air over Fort Sumter.
There’s a hint of three tomcats all tossed in a bag,
then shaken, not stirred as a loathsome gag.
You smile and applaud, but as a critic quite dutiful,
you tell the quartet, “You forgot to be beautiful.”

aacm
AACM:  Gack!

 

The public unveiling of a grand civic sculpture:
when disrobed, it looks like an arthritic vulture.
There’s rusted metal enough for a two-car collision,
the sculptor would think my praise quite high derision.
His manifest intent is epater le bourgeois,
I can only conclude that the guy is a doucheois.
When I meet him, I admit, I got kinda cute-iful:
“Hey man, great stuff—but you forgot to be beautiful.”

picasso

The Greeks had it right, if you want my view,
the good, the beautiful, and also the true.
Anything else—why bother trying it?
You can call it art, but I ain’t buying it.

picasso1

The lady’s got two noses on one side of her face–
somehow, something looks . . . out of place.
If I could I would take my Artgum eraser
but the museum guard would pull out his Taser.
I’d be laid out twitching on the marble floor,
while the docents cried lustily “Give him some more!”
And so she retains a weird double snootiful.
My artistic advice—don’t forget to be beautiful.

 

For Second-Tier Ballet, Climb to First Rank Requires Puck

WORCESTER, Mass.  This gritty city in central Massachusetts is the second-largest in New England, a fact that comes as a surprise to many both outside its boundaries and in.  “You coulda knocked me over with a feather when I heard dat,” says Butch Wyznorski, who lives in the tough Main South area of town.  “I swore it was Hartford, or maybe Seekonk.”

worcester1
Main South: Join us for the Festival of Burning Mattresses, this August!

 

That lack of notoriety is the source of some chip-on-the-shoulder resentment, as well as an attitude of boosterism that takes little provocation to erupt.  “Yes, we’re #2 in many respects,” says local Chamber of Commerce President Chuck Guertin, “but when it comes to industrial abrasives, Boston can’t touch us.”

Civic leaders hope to address the municipality’s inferiority complex with a new emphasis on the arts, starting with the Quinsigamond Ballet, the place to go to see local terpsichorean talent in action.  “We have everything we need to succeed,” says Artistic Director Jean Nataniel.  “Except for an audience.”

hockey
Pas de deux.

The company competes for a share of a limited local entertainment dollars spent on high culture, and will try to gain an edge on its fellow arts charities by a subscription series that will feature original works with connections to more popular amusements.  The first is a full-scale work created by Latvian choreographer Ivo Ozols entitled “Original Six,” a tribute to the founding clubs of the National Hockey League.

“People here love hockey, so why don’t we give them what they want is what I say,” says Nataniel.  “I have had a little trouble convincing Mr. Ozols of the importance of hockey to the region, but as every schoolboy knows we are home to the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks, the minor league affiliate of the San Jose Sharks.”

moxie

For his part, Ozols resisted a pure hockey-themed ballet, and worked to transform his assignment into a “mash-up” with the Old Testament in the hope of preserving his reputation among first-class ballet companies around the world, his target market.  “I imposed a leitmotif of original sin on the god-awful concept I was presented with,” he says as he sips a bottle of Moxie, the most popular soft drink in the city which is isolated–like Rome, Italy–by the seven hills that surround it.  “You have the Garden of Eden with the original six cities of Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Boston, New York and Detroit,” he notes.  “Adam and Eve are expelled because they cannot comprehend the rule for ‘icing’–no one could.  The end result is a team from Los Angeles–the City of Angels–wins the Stanley Cup.”

worcester3
Seven Hills Bus Station, Worcester:  Try the peanut butter crackers in the vending machine!

 

Critics were at first confused, then exasperated, and finally jubilant when they realized what they were seeing at an in-studio preview for big donors and the media.  “It was as delicate as a Cam Neely forecheck,” said Bendall Hyde of Worcester Arts Spectator.  “At the same time, I was glad to see the principal male dancer sent to the penalty box for a cross-check on that last fouette.

The company is hoping for a big opening night crowd, but a scheduling snafu may put the damper on that.  “Who was the bonehead who picked October 8th?” says Director of Operations Dick Tradzewski.

“What’s wrong with that date?” Nataniel asks.

“That’s the Bruins home opener against the Flyers!”

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