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

My Close Brushes With Fame

Whenever I get tired of depressing news stories about overpaid fat cat CEO’s, I turn to the sports pages for relief.  There you can return to the lost innocence of youth and find depressing sports stories about overpaid fat cat athletes.


Albert Pujols, as a less-wealthy St. Louis Cardinal

Take, for example, sure-thing, first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols who abandoned the St. Louis Cardinals, my boyhood favorite, for a bigger paycheck with the Los Angeles Angels a few years ago.  He’s struggled since, but he was once MVP of the National League.  Before that he was a kid, and not just any kid.  He was a kid on a high school All-Star Baseball team that the son of my second-eldest sister’s third husband’s first wife threw batting practice to.

I could let that kind of fifth-hand notoriety go to my head, but my friends–or at least those whom I consider to be my real friends–say it hasn’t.  “He could Lord it over us,” they say, “but he doesn’t.  He’s still very down-to-earth.”


Aretha Franklin, then and now

I’m also hot-wired in the world of Soul Music.  When I was a high school senior, I drove 100 miles with three friends to an Aretha Franklin concert.  As the Queen of Soul brought down the house with her final song, the #1 hit “Respect,” an inspiration struck a member of our group.  “Let’s go backstage and try to meet her!” she said, and the word became the deed quicker than you could say “sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me-sock-it-to-me,” as Aretha’s sister Carolyn sang in her backup vocals.

We somehow made our way past security guards to a narrow passageway outside the singer’s dressing room and, after a decent interval during which Aretha did whatever R&B legends do after a concert, she emerged into the hall and came thisclosetotouching me.

The irony, of course, is that if this encounter were to occur today, Aretha and I would touch since both her circumference and mine have increased substantially in the past four decades.


Hoffman:  “Thanks for the ketchup–Dustin”

 

But it isn’t just me.  When my wife worked in Manhattan, she sat next to two-time Academy Award-winner Dustin Hoffman one time in a diner.  “He was very nice, not at all stuck-up,” she recalls of the meal that followed.  “He asked me to pass him the ketchup, because his table didn’t have any.”  As you might have guessed by now, my wife has passed me the ketchup numerous times in the past quarter century, so it’s as if there’s this great-chain-of-ketchup-passers that links me to the star of “Rain Man” and “The Graduate.”


Christopher Cross

 

Of course, hanging out with the stars isn’t all sweetness and light.  You have to be there for them when they go through personal tragedies.  Take Christopher Cross, for example, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter whose 1984 song “Thinking of Laura” recalls a friend who died young.  One of my wife’s college roommates’ best friends went to high school with that girl, and she (my wife, not the roommate or the dead girl or the best friend) can’t listen to that song without getting all choked up.  Actually, she can’t listen to it at all because I took the album to a used record store shortly after we were married and sold it.  I can’t stand the guy for making my wife cry, although that’s a relatively easy thing to do since she bursts into tears over “Grey’s Anatomy” and certain particularly emotional commercials for instant coffee and long-distance telephone providers.

I hope you won’t think I’m just dropping names if I mention that O.J. Simpson’s daughter once spit on my wife’s sister.  We don’t have the loogie to prove it, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the two eyewitnesses I’ve spoken to, who are both related to me by marriage.


John Updike:  “I said ‘heavy starch on a hanger’, and I get my shirts back in a box!”

 

I like to think that the famous writers I have known have influenced my work in some small way.  Take John Updike, for example.  I didn’t actually know him know him, but a friend of mine lived in the same town as the famous novelist on the North Shore of Boston.

I savor the memory of the story my friend told me about the Saturday he found himself in line behind Updike at the dry cleaners.  Those cable-knit sweaters you see on Updike on the dust jackets of some of his most famous works?  Updike had brought one in that day, and went into the same kind of detail you will find in works such as “Rabbit, Run” with the woman behind the counter about how he wanted it cleaned.  And I heard about it–second hand!


“I’m sorry, Mr. Updike, we lost one of your shirts and two ironic short stories.”

 

But I never let this kind of stuff go to my head.  I think I’m still the regular guy I used to be, before I met my famous friends.  People tell me it’s true.  “You’re so modest,” they say.  “And you have so much to be modest about!”

U-10 Girls Soccer Yakuza

NEEDHAM, Mass.  In this leafy suburb of Boston fall weekends are dominated by youth soccer, and Department of Public Works employee Paul Quichette is dreading it.  “You’d think some of these families lived in a pig sty,” he says as he pokes at a discarded orange rind using a stick with a nail embedded in one end.  “I didn’t go to community college for two semesters to learn how to do this.”


Post-game mess in the making.

 

The overtime the town must pay and the damage to lawn mowers from plastic bottles in the spring forced a decision by the Board of Selectmen to resort to tougher measures than signs posted around soccer fields this season.  “I’d heard great things about the response of the Yamaguchi-guma,” Japan’s largest yakuza family, “to the Kobe earthquake in Japan,” says Town Manager Ellen Benoit-Walker.  “After a Sunday of twelve back-to-back games, we certainly have a disaster on our hands.”


“You gonna pick up that Evian bottle, or am I gonna have to get rough?”

 

Yakuza are members of traditional organized crime syndicates in Japan.  While police characterize them as boryokudan, a term that means “violence group,” the yakuza consider themselves ninkyo dantai, or “chivalrous organizations.”


“Mommy, that man’s scaring me!”

 

Like the Mafia, yakuza are organized along heirarchical lines that replicate familial and political structures.  While they derive their revenue from illicit activities such as gambling and prostitution, they have a penchant for order that makes them an outlaw alternative when civil society breaks down, in much the same manner that La Cosa Nostra keeps crime–by people other than themselves–at a minimum in Italian urban neighborhoods on the East coast.


“No hanging back by the goal in 3-on-3 Kinderkick!”

 

A squad of two gokudo patrols the perimeter of Centennial Field, watching the girls U-10 action on twelve reduced-size soccer pitches surrounded by orange cones.  Their irezumi–gaudy tattoos–draw stares from suburban parents who are used to seeing such grotesque physical embellishments only on boyfriends their elder daughters bring home from liberal arts colleges.


“What happened to your pinky?”

 

“Hey,” barks Hisayuchi Machii at a girl with blonde pigtails.  “Pick up your Evian bottle!”

The girl jumps, unused to such a harsh tone of reproof since her mother uses a cleaning crew composed of illegal aliens to pick up around the house.

“And put it in the trash container–over there,” seconds Jiro Kiyota.


“Go Needham–beat Wellesley!”

 

The girl complies, and the men nod their approval.  “This is correct, young kobun,” a term that means “foster child” and refers to one who has pledged allegiance to an oyabun, or foster parent within a yakuza family.  Seventy percent of yakuza are descendants of Burakumin, outcasts of Japan’s feudal era who were consigned to tasks considered tainted with impurity, and so trash collection is hard-wired into their genetic makeup.

There is a shout on the field as Emily Neidermeyer, the star of the Fred’s Hardware Comets, scores a goal, but the momentary burst of euphoria is chilled when a father from the opposite sideline approaches Nancy Thibeault, the team’s coach, and makes clear his displeasure with what he regards as illegal play.

“You can’t hang back in three-on-three Kinderkick because there’s no goalie,” he says, growing red in the face.  “I’m gonna report you to the league.”

The two men have only been working the sidelines for a month, but yakuza form strong bonds of attachment based on jingi, their code of loyalty and respect as a way of life.  They exchange glances, then spring into action.

“Excuse me, Wellesley-san,” Kiyota says.  “I believe the Code of Sportsmanship of the Metrowest Girls Soccer League requires you to direct your anger towards the referee, not your opponents’ coach.

“It is Rule 4.06,” adds Machii, with a menacing tone.  “That’s at Tab 4 of the white, three-ring binder provided to all coaches at the beginning of the season.”

The Wellesley coach, who was red-faced just a moment before, turns ash-grey when he sees the traditional Japanese swords borne by the yakuza.


“Can I have my pinky back after the game?”

 

“You’re . . . uh . . . right,” says the man.  “My bad.”

“That was not much of an apology,” says Kiyota.  “You must do more.”

“Like what?” the man says.  “Get down on my knees?”

“No, nothing like that,” says Machii.  “Hold out your left hand.”

The man’s face breaks out in an antic expression, as if he is going to have his hand smacked with a ruler.  “Okay,” he says with a goofy grin.  “Now what?”

“This,” says Kiyota, as he swings his sword down on the man’s pinky, cutting off the tip in the penance ritual of yubitsume, Japanese for “finger shortening,” also known as yubi o tobasu or “flying finger.”


It’s in there somewhere.

 

“Jesus Christ!” the man screams in pain, and a chorus of “Ewww” is heard from the Needham bench, where the severed body part has landed in a Yoplait strawberry yogurt.

Machii approaches the girls and removes the finger tip from the container, then presents it to Coach Thibeault.  “Here is your iki yubi” or “living finger,” he says.  “This asshole now accepts you as his kumicho.”

“What does that mean?” the owner of the suddenly-shorter finger asks.

“It may be girls soccer,” Kiyota says, “but she is now your godfather.”

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”

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