Barbie Hits the Double Nickel

2014 is Barbie’s 55th anniversary.


I looked out the window of my Dream House and allowed myself a teensy-tiny moment of reflection.  How far I’d come in fifty-five years!  It seemed like only yesterday I was born, fully-developed, in a secret test lab deep within the bowels of the Mattel Toy Company.

The dreaded “double-nickel,” and not a single stretch mark, even though I seem to have a daughter, Skipper, by Ken, my “on again-off again” boyfriend as my Press Site notes.  On again-off again, my bony ass.  He’s a shiftless, lazy, no-count loser.  But I don’t like to dwell on the negative.

Some people criticize me for having a perfect, unattainable body that creates unrealistic expectations in young girls, causing them to turn up their noses at mom’s American Chop Suey and Stuffing Puppies.  Well, which would you rather have–a durable, dishwasher-safe hard-plastic torso like mine, or a body that could be “attained” by every Buzz Lightyear and GI Joe on the shelf?  To ask the question, as they say, is to answer it.  Besides, American Chop Suey sucks.

I just wish I could spend more time with Skipper, but I seem to have shipped her off to boarding school, like some cruel parent in a W. Somerset Maugham novel.  Maybe she’ll be home for Thanksgiving–check my website for updates!

Maugham:  “May I have a turn with Barbie–please?”


You know, long before everyone got so “hip” to being “post-racial” and including black sidekicks in gangs of guys eating at Chili’s in TV commercials, I had an African-American friend–“Christie.”  The Federal Trade Commission investigated after someone sent in an anonymous tip that no self-respecting black woman would ever allow herself to be called “Christie.”  Because of Mattel quality control, we passed with flying persons of color!

But I’m not just racially tolerant, I’m omni-tolerant!  I had a friend in a wheelchair long before you did–Becky.  I had another friend with a crippling beauty handicap–glasses!  Don’t believe me?  Again, it’s right there on the World Wide Web, writ large so those who surf may read.

Maybe I’ll have a big family reunion for my 55th.  My brother Todd and my sisters Skipper, Tutti, Stacie, Kelly and Krissy.  My “gal pals” Teresa, Kira, Kayla, Becky and Christie.  My BFF Midge and her husband Alan.  I wonder what ever happened to Alan?  I don’t remember hearing about a divorce or a death or anything.  If anything ever happens between me and Ken, it’s on the front page of the National Enquirer before you can say “Holly Hobby.”

With Ken and me it’s always a “headline-generating breakup”–no thanks to the Mattel public relations department.  What I wouldn’t give for Midge’s quiet life with Alan!  I don’t want to end up alone in some Barbie Dream Nursing Home, with flabby bingo-arms, doddering around reliving my outfits of the past; Stewardess Barbie, Nurse Barbie, Executive Barbie, Rapper Barbie, Streetwalker Barbie.

No, all I want is . . . hey, that’s Midge down there now–with Ken!  Why that freaking skank!  Hey you!  Yeah you, you red-headed bitch!  Get your hands off my arm-candy!  He may drive around all day in my dream car, and shack-up in my dream house, and never go out and get a job so he could have cool outfits like me–but he’s all I’ve got!

Justice Ginsburg to Leave Supreme Court for Air Guitar

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Bowing to pressure from the Obama administration, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced today that she will step down from the Supreme Court next year in order to pursue her interest in air guitar.

Ginsburg:  “I didn’t bring my air guitar with me, but if someone else has one, I’d be happy to show you a few chords.”


“Ruth is a huge air guitar nut, but her playing has suffered because of all the time we have to spend listening to stupid lawyers argue nit-picky issues,” says fellow Justice Stephen Breyer.  “She’s been stuck at the Joe Perry level for years, but has the capacity to perform an Alvin Lee solo with enough practice.”


Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, left, with Justice Breyer, right, in wig.


The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, and is composed of nine members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Air guitar is a form of pantomime in which a federal judge pretends to play rock or heavy-metal guitar solos accompanied by exaggerated strumming gestures and a petition for a writ of habeas corpus.


“Roe . . versus Wa-a-a-ade!”


Ginsburg was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and right-wing critics say the senior female justice long ago entered her dotage.  “It would be one thing if she liked Ted Nugent,” a lead guitarist who opposes gun control, said Malcolm Cowpers of the American Freedom Forum.  “Instead, she spends her time during oral argument noodling around with Jerry Garcia solos under the bench.”

“Born . . . to be wi-i-i-i-i-ld!”


Ginsburg will be 82 next March, and had threatened to stay on the bench until she was 90, like former Justice John Paul Stevens, but liberals pressed her to resign in order to give President Obama the chance to appoint her successor.  “I’ve been trying to master Clapton’s solo in ‘White Room’ for four decades,” Ginsburg told Air Guitar Player magazine in an exclusive interview.  “It’s tricky–you have to keep your hands going and pump the air Wah-Wah pedal with your foot at the same time.”

Buddy Guy Wah-Wah pedal


Ginsburg’s resignation is likely to touch off a battle over the composition of the Court, with special interest groups pushing certain nominees in an effort to make the Court “look like America.”  “You’ve got a black seat and three women’s seats,” notes University of North Dakota Law School professor Jeffrey Lukier.  “But there’s no psychedelic seat and no shred guitar justice either.”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Supremes Greatest Hits.”

NCAA Promo Recognizes Kids With Non-Lethal Diseases

Couples Find Anatomical Gifts Pay Off for Both Spouses

EVANSVILLE, Ill.  Beth Dennis, a slim, 44 year-old mother of two, is dressed in surgical scrubs this morning, but she’s not a doctor or a nurse.  “Neil was there for me when I delivered the kids,” she says of her husband, “and I want to be with him all the way today.”

“When you wake up, we’ll both look better, honey!”


Neil is about to undergo breast reduction surgery to correct what Beth joshingly calls his “man boobs,” a drooping condition that affects men’s useless mammary glands as they age.  “I was starting to look like Bib the Michelin Man,” Neil says with a laugh that seems a bit strained.  “I’m doing this as much for Beth as I am for myself,” he adds as he is wheeled into the operating room.

Bib the Michelin Man:  “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m having surgery too!”


While Neil’s parting words might seem defensive, in his case they are literally true since the excess tissue that is removed from his breasts will be added to Beth’s as the couple recycles unwanted body mass from him to her.  “Having kids and getting older takes a lot out of you,” she says, her eyes misting over with tears.  “I’m just so lucky to have a husband who’s willing to suffer so that I can have the big knockers he craves.”


According to entertainment lawyer Norman Schwein, Neil and Beth’s saga “is like something out of an O. Henry story.”  He is referring to “The Gift of the Magi,” in which a husband pawns his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, while the wife cuts her hair off to buy herself an early version of the Black and Decker DustBuster.

“We’re looking at a movie-of-the-week, maybe an ‘as-told-to’ book,” Schwein says as he speed dials an assistant vice president at Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.

Anatomical gifts were illegal in much of America until the American Law Institute promulgated the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in 1978, and twenty-seven states quickly adopted the model statute in the hope of reducing holiday traffic jams.

Veriform appendix:  “I absolutely love it!”


“Anatomical gifts can be great stocking stuffers if you find yourself short on presents for someone you love,” says professional shopper Nan Kane O’Riley.  “Who wouldn’t love to find an appendix under the Christmas tree, as long as it’s packed in a styrofoam cooler with plenty of dry ice?”

For Beth Dennis, this Christmas will be one she’ll never forget.  “Neil’s gift will be one that I’ll wear proudly wherever I go,” she says, “unlike some of the stupid sweaters he’s given me in the past.”

Probably for the Best

When I heard the news it came as a sting, but a muted one; like realizing there was a mosquito on your arm only by the slight irritation the bite such a pest is capable of.

That anticlimactic feeling was caused by the fact that we had all known Rob and Maria’s marriage was coming apart for a long time; there were the separate vacations, he going off to do “guy” things under the guise of business development, she taking time off for a week at an artists’ colony.  Where the kids were during these interregnums wasn’t always clear, but they were out of high school in two cases, and nearly so in the third.  Everyone pitched in to take the boy overnight if need be, and the need arose more than once.

I rarely saw Rob anymore; we’d worked together, then he changed firms to one five or six blocks away.  It was funny, at some point I decided that the goal when I got into work each morning was to get things done as quickly as possible and get out, not hang out with the guys until everybody ordered take-out and stayed even later.  I didn’t see Rob because I had no occasion to go in his direction; skyscrapers rose and fell between my building and his, but I didn’t know about it because my office window looked north, and he was south.

When I next stumbled upon Rob I recognized him from halfway across the room at a squash club before he divined who I was.  I could tell he was searching his memory and not coming up with anything right away, so I called out to him and said my name.

“You’re out of context,” he said, half-apologetically.

“I know, I used to work out across from South Station, now I’m here.”

“Great, maybe we could play some time.”

“Sure,” I said, then we were both silent for a moment.  He apparently wasn’t going to say anything about the subject I assumed we both had on our minds, so I finally did.  “Sorry to hear about you and Maria.”

“Yeah, thanks.  It’s probably for the best,” he said, and not sheepishly.  The thought occurred to me–how, exactly, could it be for the best?–but that’s not the kind of question I’d ask him in public place unless we’d had a few drinks first.

“Kids okay?”  I didn’t mean anything by it–it would have been received as innocent small talk any other time–but he took up the suggestion.

“Yeah, I think they’re holding up okay.  Of course they’re all out in the world now, or nearly so.  It’s not like their happy home got broke up or anything.”

“Sure, sure.”  The way he said it, I wondered if he’d been waiting for the first opportunity, as soon as they became empty-nesters, or at least had all the boys squared away for college.

He’d been a good dad, or at least a proud dad–which is a different thing–the way I remembered it.  Always there at the games, cheering them on, but then taking off and leaving Maria to pack up the hockey bag or whatever.  When he joined the golf club he said it was so he could spend more time with the boys, teaching them the game.  “There’s no better way to get your kid’s undivided attention for three hours than playing a round of golf,” he said.  I assumed that was true, but I didn’t remember too many dads making a Sunday foursome with their sons when I was growing up.  Maybe we had different experiences.

“Well, I hope we’ll stay in touch and get together every now and then,” he said.  I let the sentence drop–it sounded like one of the easy sales pitches that Rob was so good at.

“You know how those things go,” I said.  “It’s usually the wife who decides who’s in or out of the social circle.”

“Right, I know.  I find I’m being . . . dropped by a fair number of people.  Guess that’s the way it always happens.”

I thought back to the time when I’d come by one Saturday to pick up his middle son to take him to a ball game with my kids.  It was hot as hell, and Rob and Maria were still moving into an old house they were renovating.  They didn’t have air conditioning yet, and there were boxes to unpack.  As his boy got in our car I said something like “Sorry to leave you two here sweating together.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he’d said.  “I’m going into the office–where it’s air conditioned.”

I looked over at Maria.  I expected to hear a grim little laugh, like she understood that he was the bread winner and this was what she had to put up with.  Instead, her eyes got that cloudy shade they get when you narrow your eyelids with rage.  “You could stay here and help,” she said.

“Yes, dear, I could,” Rob said, then gave out a little locker-room laugh, the kind you hear from a guy who thinks he’s got life figured out, and when all the chips are counted, just may.  “But I’d rather stay cool.”

I returned from my reverie to see him grinning at me, the way he had that day.  “No, it’s not the way it always happens,” I said.  “Unless you’re a dick.”  I said it with a smile that reflected his own; I don’t think he could tell whether I meant it or not.


With B.B. King and Jane Austen at The Burning Spear

“Jane Austen! I love Jane Austen!”


            B.B. King, quoted by Claire Harman in “Jane’s Fame.”


When I first met Jane Austen in 1972, in a classroom in Chicago discussing “Pride and Prejudice,” I have to say I wasn’t impressed. She was pretty in a frail sort of way but mousey, and I found her mind to be rather trivial. When the professor asked us for our impressions, I couldn’t restrain myself; I put up my hand and said something along the lines of “All of her characters are so petty!” A black woman on the other side of the room began to laugh, but after a moment I realized it wasn’t because she disagreed with me; it was the laugh of recognition, that I’d hit the nail right on the head.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony,” I heard Jane say, and I realized as I looked at her flushed cheeks that I’d gone too far.

“Sorry,” I whispered, as the discussion continued with Austen defenders mounting a counter-attack on the position I’d staked out. “But this is a class in literary criticism. If you can’t stand the heat, go outside and get flash frozen by the wind off the Lake.” I was referring, of course, to The Hawk, as Lou Rawls called it, the gale that gave the city its nickname. “And you’re in Chicago—a place that chews up the proud and the vain and spits them out.”

Smokin’ hot!


“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously,” she said sotto voce. “A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

“Whatever,” I said. The class began to break up—the professor said we’d be moving on to Othello next week, people began to file out. “Listen,” I said after a moment as she sat there packing her highlighter in her purse, obviously biding her time hoping she wouldn’t have to walk with me. “I’m sorry if I was a little harsh. Would you like to get a cup of coffee or something?”

She gave me a look that could have cut the pages of Northanger Abbey. “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others,” she said defiantly. “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

“I wasn’t trying to bully you. It’s just that—well, I’m from Missouri. You know what Mark Twain says about you, right?”

“How he wants to dig me up and beat me over the skull with my own shinbone?”

“No, the one about how you could start a fairly good library even if you had no money by not buying any Jane Austen books.”

She made a sickly little smile and shook her head like a lamb shaking its tail, as if to say, in the old grade school put down, “Ha ha—so funny I forgot to laugh.”

But—she agreed to come with me to The Bandersnatch, the student snack bar named after Lewis Carroll’s fictional creature. She got a cup of tea, I got a strawberry yogurt and coffee, and we sat down.

We began to palaver back and forth, trading generalities about the sexes. I didn’t believe half of what I was saying, but I said it just to annoy her and keep the conversation going. After a while she’d had enough, and the outburst that had been building up within her erupted like a volcano. “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures,” she said. “None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”

“Oh really?” I asked, raising my left eyebrow to form the expression that Thorstein Veblen, big University of Chicago hero of mine at the time, called “the physiognomy of astuteness.” I figured I had her. “Okay, so if you want a break from the placid surface of your provincial existence, how about you and I go down to The Burning Spear tonight to see B.B. King.”

Much to my surprise, she agreed right away. I had inherited my sister’s crappy green 1965 Delta ’88, and I told her I’d pick her up at 7 for the 8 o’clock show at the blues landmark at 55th and State, where King had recorded a live album in 1966. “Don’t wear that goofy Regency get-up you’ve got on now, okay?”

She blushed and I realized too late that we were from different centuries; I was in the twentieth, she was just barely into the 19th. She wasn’t used to men making direct and unflattering remarks about women’s appearance. It was the feminist double standard, transported back in time; she didn’t want to live in calm waters, but she also didn’t want to hear any discouraging words. English romantic novelists—you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em.

I picked her and we stopped at Burger King on Stony Island Avenue for a bite to eat. There’s a two-drink minimum at The Burning Spear, and I’m just a college student, so I didn’t want her to order a slab of ribs or something. I’d be out of money by Thursday next week, and I’m somewhat proud of the fact that I’ve yet to bounce a check in my career as a penurious undergrad. She screwed up her face as she bit into the Whopper Junior™ that she ordered on my recommendation. “It’s not that bad,” I said.

“Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”

We got in line and got in after a half-hour wait during which we drew a lot of stares—me in my Steve Miller wannabe Space Cowboy outfit, she in her high-waisted gauze gown. The locals must have thought I was a hippie who’d taken a wrong turn into the ghetto, and that she was a cult member with her long-sleeves and bonnet.

We took our seats and the waitress was on us like a duck on a June bug. They need to push the booze to make money to pay B.B., who’s at the peak of his popularity right now. White kids with discretionary income have discovered him, and he’s making more money than he ever did before, but he’s also able to charge the highest appearance fee of any blues guitarist.

I order a beer and the waitress asks to see my ID. I’ve just turned 21 so I’m finally able drink in a club. Jane orders a glass of claret.

“What’s that honey?” the waitress asks.

“That’s what the British call red wine from Bordeaux. Bring her whatever you’ve got open,” I say, figuring the wine list at a blues club is probably its weak spot.

“We got Riunite on ice, thass all. Can I see some ID baby?”

Jane fishes in her purse and pulls out her Oxford student identification card.

“A hunnert and twenty-six? Woowee!” the waitress exclaims when she sees the 1775 birth date. “I didn’t think noboby lived that long since Methuselah died.” She goes off to the bar and just in time, because the emcee has come on stage and started a typically florid introduction for The King of the Blues.

King comes on stage and, unlike the college concerts I’ve seen him at before, there is no immediate standing ovation by a bunch of white punks on dope whose opinion has been formed by reading Rolling Stone magazine. These are the people King built his career on; there’s a relationship of respect but not adulation. The audience has come to hear B.B. play and to tell the stories of the blues that reflect the tough lives they lead.

He launches, as always, first of all into an extended guitar solo, horns blaring behind him, building dramatic tension. After five choruses of tasty licks, punctuated by the facial expressions that he mugs more broadly at bigger venues, he finally begins to sing:

In vain have I struggled.
It will not do.
You must allow me to tell you
how ardently I admire and love you.


(All quotes guaranteed verbatim Jane Austen.)

Receding Glaciers Reveal Cream Cheese, Baking Soda

POINT BARROW, Alaska.  The effects of global warming are nowhere more evident than at the earth’s poles, a phenomenon that attracts climatologists from around the world to this, the northernmost point in the United States where espresso drinks are available.  “I’m willing to endure extreme cold, endless nights and separation from my wife for months at a time,” says Dr. Peter Generiz of Clark University in Worcester, Mass.  “But I need a vanilla latte every morning.”

That’s not the only form of sustenance on his mind and those of his colleagues as they study the Great Northern Glacier here, which has been receding at the rate of 1.38 centimeters a year over the past decade, uncovering materials that date from prehistoric times including wooly mammoths, Deep Purple 8-track tape cassettes and even some items that would be familiar to a modern homeowner defrosting a refrigerator.

“It’s a real breakthrough, something that should attract the attention of one of the top scholarly journals,” Generiz says with barely-suppressed excitement.  What has the team of freezing scientists giddy isn’t a primitive hunting tool or a specimen of a now-extinct species; instead, it is a container of cream cheese, the food item most likely to be found forgotten up against the little light that brightens the inside of refrigerators.

Cream cheesius primigenius.

“Mankind has been buying, then forgetting about cream cheese since the dawn of time,” notes Ronald Olberg, host of the popular PBS television series “I Didn’t Know That.”  “I’m sure if this team keeps digging they’ll find some wilted celery, maybe some parsley that’s turned brown and slimy.”

A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that moves constantly but slowly under its own weight, formed when the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation, whatever that means.  Refrigerators are the modern-day equivalent of such geological formations, often concealing pennies, dead mice and lost sheets of homework beneath their bulk.

“Ummm . . . leftover mastodon!”

Scientists hope the study of cream cheese and cartons of baking soda they find will shed light on man’s origins, when glaciers to keep food fresh were used while primitive man waited for his credit to be approved to finance the purchase of man cave mini-fridges.  Generiz says he’s assembled a top-notch team of specialists to help him push the boundaries of human knowledge forward, including Dr. Ray Hymowitz of the University of Illinois-Chicago.  “Ray’s a real gem,” he says as he turns to search for his colleague.  “He’s worked at the South Pole and . . . Ray–put that bagel down!”

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