A Happy Rhythm ‘n Blues Halloween to You

As I walk down the streets of my neighborhood and look at the Halloween displays that decorate the lawns and porches, I’m struck by how trite and predictable everything appears.  Tombstones angled crookedly out of the ground; cobwebs spread over shrubbery; skeletons, witches and ghosts.  Forget about the hazards to trick or treaters from silent but deadly hybrid cars speeding down darkened streets; it’s a wonder the kids don’t die of boredom.

At our house, by contrast, it’s an entirely different scene.  Instead of the ticky-tacky products of the holiday-industrial complex, the kids will walk through a highly original tableau; scenes of death and violence from rhythm ‘n blues.


The Ghost of Jackie Wilson

 

Down by the mailbox there’s a grisly effigy of Marvin Gaye, his body riddled with holes left by bullets from his father’s gun.  Walk up the driveway and you’ll see Otis Redding’s crashed plane sticking up out of the ground.  There’s Jackie Wilson, who suffered a massive heart attack while singing his hit “Lonely Teardrops” at a Dick Clark show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  His brow is bloodied with ketchup to recreate the damage produced by a head-first fall to the stage.

I’ve recreated these scenes for the kids in order to educate them about the many great black  singers who laid the foundation for the crappy white pap they listen to on their iPods.  I got the inspiration a few years back when a little boy and girl came to the door, she with eyebrow-pencil scratches on her face, he wearing a fright wig.  “You look like James Brown,” I said to the boy.  “And you look like his wife, Tomi Rae Brown!”

“Who’s Tomi Rae Brown?” the girl asked.  It was all I could do to stifle a snort of disgust.  “What are they teaching you kids in school these days?” I said with barely-disguised contempt.  If their dad hadn’t been standing on our driveway with a flashlight, I would have made them come inside and listen to “Star Time,” the definitive 4-CD collection of the Godfather of Soul’s Greatest Hits.  No wonder the kids in Singapore are always cleaning our clocks on standardized tests!

I decided that Halloween Night that I would henceforth decorate our house in a tasteful but edifying fashion to convey to the kids of today the roots of the blues, America’s greatest gift to the world.  Besides the Kitchen Magician and Durward Kirby, I mean.


Durward Kirby:  Obscure for a reason.

 

I also swore that each year I’d dress up like a famous figure from R&B history and re-enact a scene from its tumultuous past.  Not for me the goofy-looking witch’s hat or the bowls of peeled grapes that pass for eyeballs in our neighborhood.  No–I was out to educate the kids.  Nothing wrong with spoiling a fun holiday with a little pedagogy.

This year, I’d decided that I’d dress up as Al Green, who underwent a life-changing experience in 1974 when a 29-year-old woman named Mary Woodson threw a pan of hot grits on him as he sat in a bathtub.


Al Green, Mary Woodson:  Hold the grits!

 

Green took the incident as a sign, like the burning bush that Moses saw, to do something.  The burning bush told Moses that he was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt; the burning grits told Green that he would be the leader of the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Memphis, and give up songs of sex for gospel music.  Same story, slightly different scale.

We’ve set up a play stove on the front porch and the grits are cookin’ as our first little goblin makes her way up the path.  It’s Gaura Pandit, ten-year-old daughter of Balreev Pandit, a high-tech entrepreneur who lives down the street.

“Trick or treat!” she exclaims.

“What have we here!” I ask in mock horror.

“You don’t have to be scared–I’m a princess!” she replies.

“Okay, then.  Do you want some candy or do you want to play a game first?”

The girl looks back at her father, who indicates by a nod of his head that she should humor me.

“Uh, play a game–I guess.”

“Okay!  Grab that little pan”–she does as instructed–”now fling it on me.”

The girl is unsure whether to follow my instructions, and looks at her dad again.  “Go ahead, Gaura,” he says.

She rears back and, with a remarkably vigorous motion, thrusts the pan forward, spraying the hot corn and milk mixture over my bare torso.

“Arrgh!” I scream and hit the ground.  Her father comes rushing up the front stairs to help me.

“You told her to do it, I heard you!” he screams, afraid I’m going to sue him.

“No, really, I’m fine,” I say as I shoo him away.

“Why did you have her do that?” he exclaims in his somewhat-stilted British accent.

“It’s a valuable lesson about the forgotten religious overtones of the season,” I say as I wipe the grits off with a paper towel while the little girl looks on.  “Next week is All Souls Day, when Christians used to pray for the poor people burning in Purgatory.”

“I don’t see the connection,” the highly-educated engineer says with a puzzled look on his face.

“It’s part of the Communion of Saints–one of the weirder doctrines of the Catholic faith, and one that’s usually worth twenty bonus points on an exam,” I say.  I know whereof I speak, having taken home the plastic statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary awarded annually to the highest score in Catechism three years in a row at Sacred Heart Grade School during the 60′s.  Sort of like the Gretzky-era Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.

“This is most impressive,” Pandit says.  “So you take your pain–offer it up to your god . . .”

The God,” I correct him.

“. . . whatever–and it helps somebody get out of a hot spot?” he asks, incredulous.

“Yep,” I say.  “Just like the guys who throw themselves under the juggernaut in your country.  Pretty neat, isn’t it.”

I look down at little Gaura, who’s taking care of business filling her bag with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Her father looks me over, and I sense that he thinks I’m–what’s the word I’m searching for–eccentric.

“You know,” he says after a while, “it’s funny.”  He begins to speak, but his voice trails off.

“What?” I ask.

He pauses–perhaps uncomfortable because rhythm ‘n blues is still new to him.

“I came to this country to get away from religious kooks.”

Against Odds, Kids Resist Healthy Treats on Halloween

WELLESLEY FALLS, Massachusetts. Janet Disalvo is, by her own admission, an unreformed hippie.

The mother of three lets the grass in her front yard grow wild, creating a sharp contrast with the well-manicured lawns of the homes on either side of hers. “I don’t really fit in,” she says, “but we moved here for the schools,” whose students regularly score in the top one percent of districts in the state. She grows vegetables out back, and there are solar panels on her roof.

“Basically, what you get with me is the full counter-culture package, plunked down in white-bread suburbia,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh.


The garden out back.

 

As Halloween approaches, Janet spends hours creating a “haunted house” atmosphere for trick-or-treaters, stringing spider webs across her front porch and placing illuminated ghosts and goblins in her yard. “I do everything I can to create a fun atmosphere,” she says with a tone of disappointment, “and yet every year vandals seem to single us out.”


Spooky!

 

Janet leads this reporter into her kitchen, where she is finishing homemade treats for the youngsters who will begin to show up at her front doorstep in a few minutes. “I was really one of the pioneers of the ‘wholesome treat’ movement,” a claim that is borne out by the cookie sheets that cover every square inch of counter space.


Soy-carrot congo bars: Yum, sort of.

 

“We have zucchini-carob cookies, and soy-carrot congo bars over there,” she says as she places the nutritious snacks in colorful baskets lined with festive black and orange napkins. “I grew everything in my garden. Ooo! I almost forgot the seaweed-apple fritters,” she says with alarm as she scoots around the counter and turns off her oven.


Boo!

 

Within minutes the first trick-or-treaters arrive. It’s the seven-year old Armstrong twins from down the street; Justin is dressed in camouflage while Allison has on a nurse’s outfit. “Hi, Janet,” their mother, Karen, says after the children sing out their “trick-or-treats.”

“Well, well–what do we have here? Let’s see,” she says as she looks Justin over. “You must be some sort of paramilitary death squad commando forcing American imperialism down the throats of an impoverished third-world country. And you,” she says as she examines his sister, “have been sexually stereotyped into a low-wage, subservient position within America’s inequitable and inefficient for-profit healthcare industry.” After she catches her breath, Janet hands each of the children a lentil and molasses cookie with a cheerful “Here you go-there’s your treat!”


Food, or dooty?

 

Justin offers a perfunctory “Thank you,” but Allison holds the cookie up for inspection. “It’s a dog dooty!” she says as she tries to drop it into her mother’s Kate Spade handbag.

“Allison,” her mother Karen says sternly with a tone of reproach. “What do you say?”

“Thank you,” the little girl says without enthusiasm as she turns to move on to the next house.

“She’s tired,” Karen says, apologizing for her daughter. “They all get so whooped up about Halloween and then they just crash!”

“I know!” Janet says, shaking her head. “It’s become so commercial!”

“Right,” Karen says and, as her voice trails off, turns to leave. “Well, see you up at the school!”

“Okay-bye now!”


Fright night.

 

No sooner have the Armstrongs left than another group of children approaches. They are a little older than the twins, and without adult accompaniment.

“Trick or treat!” the kids yell with enthusiasm when they see the various baskets of goodies.

“Oh, my goodness–you really threw a scare into me!” Janet says with mock fright. “Take your pick–whatever strikes your fancy!”

The kids mill about and look through the natural snacks, holding them up to their noses and, once they smell them, putting them back.

“You’re not hungry?” Janet asks with surprise.

“Uh, no,” says a girl dressed as a witch. “I have trick-or-treat for UNICEF, though.” The girl holds up an orange box.


Trick or treat for Ban Ki-moon!

 

“I’ve got some money in my pocket.” Janet digs down deep and pulls out a dollar. “Here,” she says as she slips the bill through the slot. “You send this to Ban Ki-moon and tell him to take his U.N. troops to the Middle East and kick the Americans way the hell out of there.”

“I think it’s just for children.”

“Just don’t let them use it to extend American hegemony over the Middle East in the service of their Zionist puppet-masters,” Janet says.

“We just hand the money in to our teacher.”

“Whatever.”


A little too old.

 

The children leave and Janet hears the sounds of teenage boys yelling in the street. Three boys chase each other into her yard, where they quiet down a bit as they approach her door.

“Trick or treat,” they say, a bit sheepishly.

“Aren’t you boys a little old to be trick-or-treating?” she asks them.

The boys suppress laughs, and one of them says “I’m twelve.”

“I guess that’s all right. Still, you should be helping out in the community. You could be crossing guards at busy intersections, or make treats for underprivileged children, or hold a fund-raiser to pay for a bi-lingual teacher . . .”

The boy who spoke previously interrupts her. “Uh–since I’m only twelve, I have to be in bed pretty soon if you don’t mind.”

“All right–just making a few suggestions. Help yourself to the treats-I’ve got plenty left for some reason.”

The boys poke at the alleged goodies for a moment, before one of them speaks up.

“Don’t you have any like, Airheads, or Snickers, or Daffy Taffy, or something like that?”


Air Heads–the literal kind.

 

“Goodness no–and take all the fun out of a traditional, old-style Halloween with sugary junk that will make you hyperactive and rot your teeth?”

“Well, yeah,” one of them says. “That’s sort of the point.”

“Not around here it’s not. Your moms and dads will be thankful that I was thoughtful enough to care about their children’s health. If you don’t like the snacks, I’ve got some punch inside.”

“What’s it made out of?” a boy dressed as Darth Vader asks through his mask.


“Resistance is futile!”

 

“Camomile tea, pomegranate juice and honey.”

“Uh, sure, sounds good,” the boy says as his friends appear to stifle coughs.

“Sounds like you two could use something for your throats with all that yelling you were doing!”

“Sure,” one of the others says.

“I’ll be right back,” Janet says. She goes into the house, pours three cups of punch and puts them on a tray. As she emerges from the house she is splattered with eggs that the boys throw before running off, laughing as they go.

“It’s like this every year,” Janet exclaims as she wipes herself off. “The harder I try, the worse they treat me!”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs From the Burbs.”

My Mute TV Intervention

This is, without a doubt, the best time of the year for me, and not just because of the cool, crisp autumn air and New England fall foliage.  The NFL season is in full swing.  The World Series ended last night, and the Royals, the team closest to my hometown, were in it.  The professional hockey and basketball seasons have started and I’m following two college football teams.  Yes, October is a veritable cornucopia of a smorgasbord of a goulash for sports fans.

And so it was that I sat down in front of a big screen TV last night.  I hit the “mute” button on the channel changer and loaded my six-CD player with a selection of music that would last me through three-and-a-half hours of televised sports.  A little Bud Powell, some Jacky Terrasson, some Michel Petrucciani; delicate stuff, I know, but the perfect counterpoint when you’re watching some steroid-infused slugger pound a helpless little white ball off a light tower.


Jacky Terrasson, Michel Petrucciani

The doorbell rang–an unusual sound at night in our neighborhood.  Must be the Seventh Day Adventists, I thought.  Anybody else would have entered the modern world and texted me.


The Watchtower:  Salvation’s at your front door!

 

I got up and went to the back door, where I saw my next-door neighbor through the glass.

“Hey Rob,” I said.  “What’s up?”

“I . . . uh . . . just thought I’d come watch the game at your house.  My TV’s on the fritz.”

“Sure,” I said, but I didn’t mean it.  If I wanted company, I would have asked for it.

We had no more than sat down on the couch when I heard the doorbell ring again, this time at the front.  “Help yourself to a beer,” I said as I got up to respond to a second unexpected intrusion on my quiet evening.

Through the glass I saw Ed, Mike and Tom, three guys from the neighborhood who I’d wave to when I passed, or see at cocktail parties, but for whom–to put it bluntly–I have no special affection.

“Hey, guys, how’re you doing?”

“Fine, fine,” Ed said.  “Say, we were just about to watch the game when we discovered that our remote needed some new batteries.”

“What size?”

“Uh, triple D,” Tom said, not sounding very sure of himself.

“You guys wait here,” I said, and I scurried down into the basement to check our supply.  Nope–no triple D’s.  I walked back up the stairs to tell them the bad news.

“Sorry, guys,” I said, even though I wasn’t.  “We don’t have any triple D’s.”

“No problem,” Michael said.  “We’ll just watch the game here,” and before I could throw a block on them they were past me on their way into the family room.  When I caught up with them, I saw not just four uninvited guests, but a whole room full of them, along with my wife, whose eyes were red and who was trying unsuccessfully to keep herself from sobbing.

“What the . . . ” I began, but Rob ended my confusion swiftly and abruptly.

“This is an intervention, pal,” he said, his face dripping with altruistic severity.

“An inter-what?”

It was my wife’s turn to speak.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she said, choking back the tears.  “But I couldn’t take it any longer.”

I looked around the room–I was outnumbered, and there was no use resisting.  I sat down on a foot stool, resigned to whatever it was they had planned for me.

Mike came over, got down on one knee, and announced the charges against me.

“She tells us you watch TV with the sound off.”

I was, quite frankly, stunned.  Like many who suffer from a harmful dependency, I was oblivious to–or unwilling to face–my personal demon.

“Yeah, well, so what?” I asked defensively.

“This is going to be more difficult than I thought,” Tom said to my wife

“The first step towards recovery is to admit you have a problem,” Rob said.  “There’s over 220 million people in America who watch TV with the sound on.  There’s three, maybe five guys who watch with the sound off.”

“And one of them’s an old man in Otterville, Missouri, whose TV broke before he lost his hearing,” Ed added.

“So he doesn’t count,” Mike said.

I took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling.  “I’m . . . I’m sorry guys,” I said when I’d recovered my composure.  “Just because I’m in the distinct minority doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”

If I could have had a nickel for every rolled eye in my family room just then, I’d have bought a 16 oz. jar of Planter’s Honey Roasted Peanuts, and damn the calories.

It was Tom who spoke–or should I say snorted–first.  “Are you all right?” he asked dubiously, “or is the world all wrong?”

I gave him my best slit-eyed, hard-boiled look.  “I’m right,” I said firmly, “and I can prove it.”

The assembled group gave each other sidewise glances, unsure of where I was going to take them.  “Listen, you can never have a Super Bowl party in your house unless you turn the sound on,” Ed said.

“Who gives a rat’s rear-end about that?” I shot right back.  “If I want to go to a Super Bowl party, I’ll come over to your house.  I turn the sound off to keep my mind from rotting from exposure to the black mental mold that you can get from listening to TV–like this!”

I grabbed the remote and hit the mute button.  It was the work of a nanosecond for one of the announcers to say something incredibly stupid.

I turned the sound off again.  I laughed a mirthless little laugh.  “Anybody want to double down on that bet?” I asked, one eyebrow arched skeptically.

There was silence for a moment, then a guy named Bob, who claims to win money betting on football, took up the challenge.  “That was lucky,” he said.  “I’ll bet you three to one Sam Adams Light Beers he don’t say nothin’ stupid for . . . let’s say another minute.”

“You’re on,” I said gleefully.  “Starting”–I glanced up at the clock–“now!”

I put the TV sound back on, pressed the “Pause” button on the stereo, and before you could say “Madison Bumgarner” an announcer stepped in it again.  “Now listen to this,” I said as I reversed the electronic order of things.


Bud Powell

Out of my stereo speakers came the sounds of Terrasson whirling through Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare,” one of the most evocative jazz compositions ever written.  Terrasson’s take was a thing of beauty, as delicate as a doily in your grandmother’s parlor, and yet vigorous–almost athletic.

“Geez,” Bob said, a bit chagrined.  “I guess you’re right.  I always thought of Joe Buck as some kind of genius.  Now–I’m not so sure.”

“Is that enough evidence,” I asked, perhaps a little smugly, “or would you like me to subject you to Tim McCarver?”


McCarver:  Don’t make me do it to you.

 

“So–there’s a method to your madness?” Tom asked, the scales having fallen from his ears.

“You bet your life there is.  And it’s not just sports.  Take American Idol, for example.”

“But that’s a singing program,” Tom said.  “You wouldn’t turn off the sound to that, would you?”

“Sure I would,” I said.  “That program is slowly but inexorably destroying the classic, restrained vocal style developed by jazz singers as they interpreted the Great American Songbook.  The only way to watch it is with the sound off.”


American Idol:  Better with the sound off.

I had them now, and I knew it.

“So you’re saying . . . that some shows are actually better without sound?” Rob asked, incredulous.  “What about something like The View, which doesn’t have music?”

I had to tread carefully now, as I could reasonably assume that the popular ABC daytime show was a favorite of the wives of many of the men present.

“That’s a special case,” I said, proceeding thoughtfully.  “The only way to make that show better is to turn off your TV entirely.”

New Program Teams Bluetooth Yakkers With the Demented

BOSTON.  Ted Wyzinski is a familiar sight to those who work in the South Station area here, his grizzled visage a reminder that in the race of life there are both winners and losers.  “I went off the rails in the 70s,” he says as he accepts some spare change from a passerby.  “I heard Morris Albert sing ‘Feelings’ and I guess I let my emotions take control of my life.”


“You talkin’ to me?”

 

Ken Venezia, by contrast, is a young man with a seemingly unlimited upside.  “He’s one of the ‘go-to’ guys in town if your start-up in the psycho-babble pharmaceutical space needs funding,” says Dean Cleska, whom many consider the dean of New England angel investing.


“I know I look like a dork, but I feel really cool!”

 

But Wyzinski and Venezia have at least one thing in common; they walk the streets of this town talking to unseen listeners.  Wyzinski has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, while Venezia’s ailment is generally considered to be even more crippling; “Ken is a greed-obsessed yuppie,” says Cleska, shaking his head with avuncular amusement as he looks at Venezia’s “Bluetooth” headset embedded in his ear.  “The only known cure is to move into a McMansion and become a greed-obsessed suburbanite.”

But until that day comes, the two are paired in a unique program that brings disassociating street people together with yapping financiers to ease the stigma attached to homeless people who talk to themselves.  “It’s been a godsend,” says Wyzinski in a rare lucid interval.  “Before, I’d talk to myself and people would stare at me.  Now, I talk to myself and nobody notices except for the ones who scowl at Kenny’s twit-worthy Vineyard Vines ties.”


“Don’t you have anything with a few more whales on it?”

Self-absorbed talkers are a major source of urban anxiety, according to Dr. Philip Reiff of the Doris K. Seidermann Institute here.  “When you talk out loud to yourself in a big city people assume you’re crazy,” he notes as he trails a few yards behind a venture capital-wino pair he put together this morning.  “That’s not necessarily true, but it’s a good indication you should run like hell to the other side of the street.”

But Wyzinski and Venezia have established a rapport that puts fellow pedestrians at ease as they stroll rapidly down Federal Street, speaking with animation and gesturing with their hands.  “I enjoy my talks with Kenny, even if we don’t really communicate,” says Wyzinski.  And for Venezia?  “Listen, I’ve got to go,” he tells an unwelcome caller on the other end of the line.  “There’s some nut trying to talk to me.”

Fred Nietzsche, C.P.A.

That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.


Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888

 


That which does not kill you only makes you stronger, PricewaterhouseCoopers ad

 

You think it’s easy being an accountant?  You think once tax season is over I just come into the office to open up the mail and cash the checks?  Let me tell you, all is not strudel and schnitzel at Nietzsche & Nietzsche, P.C.

First, there is my partner-Elisabeth, my sister.  Don’t get me wrong-I love her to death.  But would it be too much to ask that she include self-addressed envelopes in the tax returns she sends to her clients?  God is dead, but God forbid that one of them should ever pay us in thirty days.  We’re a business too!

As for her filing, the less said the better.  I found the home office worksheet of Lou Andreas Salomé under “A,” not “S,” and her self-employment expenses under “L.”  Zarathustra gave us the Superman-why can’t I have a Superwoman for the office!

I’ve told Elisabeth not to eat at her desk, but every day she spreads her tuna salad sandwich out on her work papers when I’m trying to concentrate.  I can’t have clients in-the place smells like the cafeteria at the Domgymnasium in Naumburg.


Mouflon

 

I’ve thought about going out on my own since I seem to be the only one with any business-getting skills around here.  It takes a will to power to hustle for clients.  You can’t sit back and just wait for the Übermensch to do it all.  I joined the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Mouflon and the University of Basel Booster Club.  I spent a hundred Deutschmarks on an ad in the program for the Bayreuth Festival, and she gave me a ton of grief!  “When do we see the payoff on that one?” she asked.  “Or is this another one on the ‘Eternal Return on Investment’ plan?”

I could put up with her constant caviling about which depreciation schedule to use for business equipment if she would just stay out of my personal life!  Last summer she insisted on serving as “chaperone” when Lou and I tried to get away to Tautenburg for a week.  “It is improper for someone who will one day be revered by college freshmen around the world to be seen with an unmarried woman at a Dionysian Fantasy Camp,” she said.

What she doesn’t “get” is that there’s no money in auditing, and tremendous exposure.  That’s why all the other existentialist accountants are going into consulting.  Schopenhauer’s building a nice book of business in the construction trades, retail and ethics.  Kierkegaard’s pretty much cornered the restaurant and hospitality industry and the subjective nature of truth.  And what do I have?  Nothing, because I must constantly correct Elisabeth’s arithmetic!  Naught, naught, carry the one-how hard is that to remember?


Kierkegaard:  “‘Fear and Trembling and Sickness Unto Death’?  Naw–too depressing.”

 

No, if I am to succeed, if I am ever to take my place at the head of the German Institute of Certified Public Accountants, I must breathe free!  Perhaps Malwida von Meysenbug and Enno Friedrich Wichard Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff would join me in an office-sharing arrangement.  I would of course ask Enno to drop some of his names, as the extra expense will increase the cost of our stationery and business cards.  “Nietzsche, Meysenbug & Wilamowitz, P.C.”  Kinda catchy, no?

But I am thinking-big picture-I need to rebrand myself.  Deloitte’s slogan is “To be the standard of excellence.”  Ernst & Young has “Quality in everything we do.”  KPMG has “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”  PricewaterhouseCoopers has “That which does not kill you only makes you stronger.”  God I love that one!

Wonder if they’re hiring.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Let’s Get Philosophical.”

Your Work-Life Advisor

Balancing your life and your work can be difficult.  If you don’t work, you probably won’t eat, in which case you will die and won’t have any life!  On the other hand, you can work so much you won’t have a life even while you’re living.  Your Work-Life Advisor is here to help people like you, several of whom wrote in with questions this month.


“See?  When I touch the screen it leaves a little oily fingerprint!”

 

Dear Work-Life Advisor:

My wife who I will call “June” is in “network security.”  I don’t pretend to understand what she does, but every job she gets they take advantage of her.   She works 12-hour days and is “on call” all the time to fix computer bugs, even in the middle of the night.

I have heard about a French fad called the “enlarge a twah” in which a man and a woman expand their relationship to take on a third person who makes their love life more fulfilling.  I am wondering whether this is legal in the U.S., as I feel “June” is putting her work before her life.

E.J. “Bud” Mack, Cape Girardeau, Mo.


Oo-la-lah, those cra-zee French!

 

Dear Bud:

I believe the term you are referring to is menage a trois, which means a mixture of three people for job-sharing and romantic purposes.  It is technically legal only in Louisiana, a state whose laws are based on the Napoleonic Code, but authorities in other states tend to look the other way when they see it, usually because it grosses them out.  If you were to find another woman who is an expert in “network security” you could perhaps work out a graveyard shift arrangement so that each woman could alternate with you in bed.  Bonne chance!


“What this country needs is a thrifty and industrious working class!”

 

Dear Mr./Ms. Work-Life Advisor:

I have a really creepy old boss who is not good at motivating people.  If you do something wrong he makes you stay until you get it right.  This often makes me late for roller derby, which isn’t fair to the other girls as I am one of only three “blockers” on our team.

Last Friday I mentioned to my boss that people might appreciate him more if he used “carrots” instead of “sticks” around the office.  He looked at me and said “Perhaps you’re right.”  I was feeling pretty good about myself until Monday morning when he brought in a plate of sliced vegetables and a sort of ranch dressing dip and put it in the employee lounge.

Work-Life Advisor, I did not mean what I said literally.  How can I get through to this man who is not “up to date” on a lot of the current workplace slang?

Evelyn Wanamaker, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.


Yum–sort of.

 

Dear Evelyn:

What a wonderful work-life balance you have achieved!  I admire young women like you who refuse to be “pigeonholed” into a dead-end job when there are so many fulfilling activities available outside of the office!

That said, I think your boss will admire your leadership qualities and perhaps even consider you for a promotion if you will spell out in a straightforward, bullet-point memo what you are seeking instead of carrots–chips, honey-roasted peanuts, pork rinds or whatever.  There is nothing that contributes to workplace satisfaction like high-salt, high-fat snackfoods instead of boring vegetables.

 

Hello Work-Life Advisor:

I have been a long-time reader of your column but have never felt the need to write–until now.  My wife is very domineering and is always telling me I shouldn’t stay late at work, I should be home with her and the kids.  She says “Don’t be a Billy Big-Deal–you have a family!”  That is all well and good but I am a firefighter and cannot just leave my job when she calls and says she wants to go to book group to discuss “Love’s Tender Heartstrings” or some other mushy novel.


Secret Odd Fellows initiation rites.

Last night she called me on my cell phone just as I was wrapping up a talk on proper installation of smoke detectors to the Odd Fellows Club to say she was going out for a glass of wine with her friend Susan, could I come home and watch the kids.  Ms. Work-Life Advisor, I became really flustered and completely forgot my conclusion, which was a good joke I had heard about a priest, a rabbi and a lady snake-charmer.

How do I get my wife to understand that while family is important I have to put food on the table and this sometimes entails community outreach efforts at night?

Wayne Goshen, Chillicothe, Ohio


Waiting for him to call.

 

Dear Wayne:

I think your wife is on to you–you have your eye on that big promotion to Fire Marshall!  Every housewife needs a break from her little carpet-creepers every now and then, however, and oftentimes all that is required is a “heads-up” so that your wife can know when to put dinner on the table.  Just a simple phone call–“Honey, I am in the middle of getting an orange tabby cat down from this tree, there we go, nice kitty.  I’ll be home in about ten minutes.”  You’ll find your wife in a much better mood when she can plan confidently around your schedule.


Her defense mechanism.

Ms. Work-Life Advisor:

I believe it is my husband Bud who wrote the first letter in today’s column, but I will deal with him later.  As Bud says, I am constantly on call from work with problems caused by users of System A who receive errors that Remote System B does not accept their yadda-yadda whatevers.  Frankly, after 10 p.m., I couldn’t care less.  I have started bring small bags of potato chips to bed–usually one barbecue and one sour cream and onion–and whenever I get one of these “urgent” calls I open the bag, crumple it and say “Sorry–we’ve got a bad connection–I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”  Then I hang up and eat the chips.

Bud says it is unsanitary to bring chips to bed as it will attract cockroaches.  I have to laugh at that one–you should see the den on Tuesday morning after he stays up late watching Monday Night Football.

My question, Work-Life Advisor, is this:  I would not be buying the 5-bag snackpack of chips if not for my job-related “issues.”  I would be buying the large economy size at a much lower cost-per-chip.  Can I deduct the difference as an employment-related expense such as tools, union dues, and mileage?

June Mack, Cape Girardeau, Mo.


Employees pretending to be satisfied with their jobs.

Dear June:

I believe you are engaging in a little bit of “deception,” both of yourself and your company.  There is no need for you to eat potato chips to duck phone calls–people avoid each other every day, all day long, eating healthy foods such as carrots and celery.  I would suggest you contact Evelyn Wanamaker of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as she has a tray of left-over crudites that may still be fresh.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

The Rhino’s Got to Go

Director John Huston’s third wife gave him an ultimatum after his pet chimpanzee smashed her perfume bottles and defecated in her dresser drawers; he had to choose between her and the chimp. Huston chose the chimp.

John Huston, Courage and Art, Jeffrey Meyers


Huston: “I’m thinking, okay?”

 

Some people say the rhinocerous is the most dangerous animal on earth, but not my little rhino-whino, no, she’s a good girl isn’t she? Just because she ran her big–but beautiful, don’t get me wrong–horn through mommy’s BMW, that doesn’t make her a bad girl, no it doesn’t-wuznt. C’mere sweetie, daddy won’t let mommy talk about you that way ever, ever again–promise.


Daddy’s widdle girl

 

What? What’s your problem now? Oh come on–she got up on your precious Restoration Hardware couch? Puh-lease! A rhino’s a living, breathing being, a creature of God. A couch is a couch is a couch is a couch.

No, I’m not making fun of your fondness for Gertrude Stein–I mean it! You’re so materialistic sometimes. Five years from now you’ll be begging me to take that couch to the town dump. What? No, people will still claim it even if it has rhino tracks on it.

Put the rhino outside? Are you kidding? It’s freezing out there! Well, maybe I should have thought about that before she followed me home from Africa, but I couldn’t resist! Those big eyes! And feet, and trunk and . . . horn. And those cute widdle earsies!

—————————————

What? The alligator needs to go out? I walked him last time–it’s your turn.

I thought we were going to share the gator. My idea? I don’t think so. He was our idea, remember?

Oh, that was before he ate your poodle. And your cat. And the bunny. Now all of a sudden he’s my alligator.

What? He took a dump in the sink? Are you sure it was him? It could have been any of the animals. Or a carpenter ant. Or a silverfish–that’s it, it was probably one of the silverfish. Those were your idea. I never liked them. They’re so cold . . . and indifferent . . . not like alligators.

What is it Harry Truman said–in Washington, D.C., if you want a friend buy an alligator.

————————————————–

I can’t hear you–what? Did I smash your perfume bottles? Are you kidding? Why would I do something like that?

Oh, now don’t go blaming the dingos–you’re the one who got all skittish after they bit the kid on the playground, not me.

I told you they weren’t indoors pets, but no-o-o-o. You said they’d be fine as long as we kept them fed.

Well, what are we supposed to do? I can’t let them run loose in the neighborhood. We only have three million in liability insurance, and we blew through a million of that with that damn baby they brought home.

I think you’re going to have to make a choice; either the perfume bottles go, or the dingos go.

What? What’s the third possibility?

Me?

But sugar–I’m only human. And humans are animals. I thought you liked animals.

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