The Cockroach Lawyer

Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, was also a lawyer.

One morning when the cockroach woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin—a lawyer.  He lay on his pajama-clad back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see that his belly, formerly brown and domed and divided by arches into stiff sections, was now flabby and white, like the underbelly of a trout.  The bedding was hardly able to cover it, and he had so little muscle tone he seemed ready to slide off any moment.

His many legs were now reduced to two pitifully thin appendages, with spindly calves and a furry line of demarcation where the hair ended and white ankles began, the follicles eradicated by the Gold Toe™ socks the members of his guild wore to work every day.

“What’s happened to me?” he thought.  It wasn’t a dream.  His room, a proper cockroach room in a Roach Motel, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls.  A collection of crumbs lay spread out in one corner, and above them hung a picture of his mother, who had been squashed by pair of Florsheim™ wingtips the week before.

The cockroach looked out the end of the motel at the countertop outside.  He thought of the day ahead, how he would have to read and revise text that would be applied, in screaming letters twenty-four points high, to the underside of a mop bucket.  “CAUTION,” it would say; “STICKING YOUR HEAD IN A BUCKET FILLED WITH LIQUID FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME CAN CAUSE DEATH OR SEVERE INJURY, INCLUDING BRAIN DAMAGE.”  It made him feel quite sad that some people were so stupid that they would misuse a bucket, hurt themselves, then be forced to hire a lawyer to get the settlement they deserved.  It made him even sadder that his job was to protect other people who would be sued by the stupid people who put their heads in the buckets.

“How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense,” he thought, but that was something he was unable to do because he felt compelled to get up and go to work, and so he couldn’t lay around the house until the lights went out, then feast on cake crumbs and Cool Ranch Doritos™ he’d find along the baseboard.

“Oh, God,” he thought, “What a strenuous career it is that I’ve chosen! Arguing all day over money, day in and day out.  Doing business such as this is much more disagreeable than public relations, or event planning, or marketing, where one persuades consumers to buy things they do not need!”

On top of that there was the curse of partners meetings, when each cockroach in his turn must chirp loudly about his last deal or big case that he won, each tale containing the most ludicrous embellishments, all in an effort to outshine the others, to appear bigger than the cockroach he really was.  There were the business lunches, with bad and irregular food, contact with indifferent and artificial people to persuade them to hire you, none of whom you can ever get to know or become friendly with.  ”It can all go to Hell!” he said aloud.  He was startled by the sound of his voice, which had only chirped before.

He slid back into his former position. “Getting up early all the time and going to work,” he thought, “it makes you stupid. You sharpen your mind by narrowing it.”  Was it Edmund Burke who said that?  He couldn’t recall; after all, he’d been a cockroach when he went to sleep the night before, not a hideous and disgusting insect and a member in good standing of the highest court in his state of domicile.  Whatever “domicile” meant.


“Here’s your pumpkin spice latte–don’t come back soon!”

The clients, on the other hand, lived lives of luxury.  While he would sit at his desk all summer long, they would call from the beach or their second homes to order him to write out a contract for them, these gentlemen who made so much money and then complained about his bills!

I ought to just try that sometime, he thought to himself; just try ordering someone around for a change.  Not my wife, of course, and not my department head.  Maybe—I don’t know—the barista downstairs at Starbucks.  “Hey,” I’d say, “Can you pour out a little more sticky ‘Classic Syrup’ on the counter for me, instead of all the crappy third-world music collections and the self-glorifying CEO autobiography?”

Anybody more important than her, he’d get stomped right there on the spot. But who knows, he thought, maybe that would be the best thing for him.  If he didn’t have his wife and kids to think about he’d have given notice a long time ago.  He’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what he thought, tell him everything–”Let him know just what I feel!” he said to himself.  “He’d fall right off his desk!

It’s a funny sort of business to be sitting up there at your desk, talking down at your subordinates like they’re insects.  Well, there’s still some hope, he thought; once he got the money together to pay off his student loans–another five or six years he supposed–that’s what he would do.  That’s when he’d make the big change.

First of all, though, he had to get up because his train left at five.  For another day under the fluorescent lights, tapping away at a computer.  It would have been easier yesterday, when he was still a cockroach.

Before his metamorphosis, he had six limbs, and could type 180 words a minute with four of them.

I Got More Dog Than You

          Somebody knocked on Gavin Bushnell’s door at three o’clock in the morning.  He opened it and there was Sidney Bechet, with his dog.  Sidney said “I heard that you had a dog that you said was more dog than my dog.”  He’s bringing his dog there, and he wants to see whose dog is more dog.

                                   Quoted in Jazz, America’s Music, Ken Burns, Geoffrey C. Ward

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.
My dog’s too big for most parking lots,
and several municipal zoos.

My dog can go around the world twice,
While your dog programs his GPS device.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.
My dog’s bigger than your dog by a lot,
and not just by a few.

My dog can conjugate verbs in French
He can fix your foreign car with a crescent wrench.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.
Folks always say my dog’s real hot,
and quite good-lookin’ too.

When my dog travels, he goes first class,
Comes back to coach to kick your dog’s ass.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.
I’ve given it a lot of thought,
and I’m givin’ your dog what he’s due.

Your dog’s missing part of his ear,
I wonder if my dog hid it somewhere around here.

I don’t care how much dog you got,
I got more dog than you.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Place

Her:

The first time ever I saw your place
With furnishings of orange and blue, oo oo oo.
I thought perhaps, this guy likes the Mets,
Or he hasn’t got a clue, my love–
Or he hasn’t got a clue.

Him:

The first time ever I saw your place
With pastel pillows all around—ow ow ound.
And a Streisand album on the turntable
That produced such maudlin sounds, my love–
That produced such maudlin sounds.

 

Together:

Now we live together, in a joint-owned space,
Where the work is split in two—oo oo oo.
Her decision rules as to furnishings
And the music he doth choose, my love–
And the music he doth choose.

Secession Fever Spreads as Missouruh Breaks From Missouri

KNOB NOSTER, Mo.  Lowell Studer, Jr. was disappointed last night to hear that the vote for Scotland to secede from the United Kingdom failed, but he says it won’t deter him from doing “the job the Good Lord put me on earth to do.”


“Are y’all high-falutin’ East Coast media-types come here to make fun of us?”

 

That mission, like that of the failed Scottish separatists and the Catalan  independence movement in Spain, is to force a break between his native land, Missouruh, from the state that the rest of the country refers to as Missouri.  “I’m tired of all the high-hat we git from St. Louis tourists pestering our womenfolk about the thread count of the sheets” in the rustic cabins he rents out during the summer.  “They got better things to do than count threads, like butcherin’ hogs.”

Missouruh is, as either Blaise Pascal or Yogi Berra once said of God, a place “whose center is everywhere but whose circumference nowhere.”  It is primarily a state of mind, making the task of drawing boundaries for a new political subdivision more difficult.  “We could wall off St. Louis and Kansas City, but then you have Columbia in the middle with all their cutesy-pie store names and froofy espresso bars,” says separatist leader Dewayne Holcomb.  “One tell-tale sign of ‘Missouree-ism’ is when folks start wearing preppy outfits from L.L. Bean back east, instead of decent hard-working clothes from Wal-Mart.”  In Missouruh, the presence of a Wal-Mart store signifies that a town, village or hamlet has grown large enough to be considered a city.

“Are you up for a game of squash, or would you rather go giggin’ fer frogs?”

 

The two regions have been drifting apart for years as different dialects used by their respective natives have evolved into two separate languages.  A phrase in Missouruh such as “Yore young’uns are gunna look just as cute as peahens in them overalls,” while it contains several cognates, would be unrecognizable to an old-money shopper in a suburb of St. Louis who would translate it as “I’m looking for some nice trousers for my grandsons–don’t you have anything a little more expensive?”

My Bunny Hop Years

They were, in retrospect, a Periclean Golden Age; a time of innocence, but a time of experience as well.  Like the Jazz Age, they burned brightly for only a brief time, but their embers continue to smolder latterly on the so-called “World Wide Web”–six decades later!


Bunny Hop, transmogrified as The Penguin Dance

I speak, of course, about The Bunny Hop; that Latin-influenced visitor that appeared upon the scene shortly after I was born, and swept the country club and grade school dances of my youth.

You, who live in the “go-go” 21st century, where everything is permitted and nothing is forbidden, cannot know the thrill that shook through a nine-year-old-boy’s body when he ever so delicately placed them on the hips of Caroline Spretka.


The true, the ORIGINAL Bunny Hop–danced by swinging guys ‘n gals.

 

Where before, you had been limited to box-stepping with her around a gymnasium, or–if you were a particularly good dancer–pairing off with her as part of a talent-show polka troupe that performed on stage–now you got the real thing, the primal view that the male bunny sees when he fulfills his primordial urge to you-know-what-like-a-bunny–am I out of my ration of hyphens yet?


World’s longest Bunny Hop line?

No, The Bunny Hop represented that riot-like atmosphere–in cuddly guise–described by Claude Levi-Strauss in his seminal essay that I have forgotten the name of it’s so important.  Anyway, he says the feast (la fete) is a time for the breakdown of social norms, such as The Fox Trot that our parents sought so grimly to impose on us.  Yes, yes–I know it’s original name was “The Bunny Hug,” but by the time I came on the scene, 1951, a year before the invention (discovery?) of The Bunny Hop, The Fox Trot was old hat, leftover casserole.

It was a race against time: The Twist was looming on the horizon, a brooding future of no-contact dancing.  We were a doomed generation, like The Beatniks; aware that with the single flick of a switch in Moscow or the release of a single by Chubby Checker, our idyllic youth would be gone.  And so we danced into the night, since the morrow might never come!

Some (I don’t know who) would say The Bunny Hop was the beginning of it all, the whole “youth rebellion” movement that would culminate in “White Rabbit” by The Jefferson Airplane, the first psychedelic bunny in American cultural history.  Perhaps–I do not profess to know.


“So I’m tripping and all of a sudden I see this fucking HUGE white rabbit, and . . .”

 

I do know that when The Bunny Hop was announced at youth dances, the cynical boys who had snuck outside for smokes and the introverted girls who had turned their Barbie Dream Houses into Little Virginia Woolf “Rooms of Their Own” would suddenly rush to the dance floor, wallflowers no more, ready to participate in the communal rite that went back to the ancient Greeks.  It was, after all, Euripedes who wrote “Blessed are those who give themselves up to the dance.”  (Bacchae, line 74, R. Robertson, trans.)  I’m pretty sure he was thinking about The Bunny Hop–κουνέλι πηδώ–for those of you keeping score at home.  In Attic Greek.

Some say the 19th century Finnish dance jenkka is the mother of The Bunny Hop, but I say–so what?  When you’ve sweated through the one white shirt you own–probably left over from your First Holy Communion–and you want to get it on bunny-style, there are usually no 19th century Finns around to help you.

All I know for sure is that, when you’ve had three cherry Cokes, and the mother who’s stuck being chaperone calls for lapin sautee, and Stella Siragusa grabs you by the hand and pulls you out on the dance floor and you begin to tap twice to the right, twice to the left, then hop forward, backward, then three times forward–the madness of the dance is upon you.

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.”

Love Among the Sporks

In Clinton, Mass., there’s a factory,
straight outta the Industrial Revolution.
It cranks out product merrily
while it spews foul air pollution.

It was there while walking the streets one night
I spotted a wan factory girl;
her skin bleached white from lack of light,
her face the saddest in the world.

I couldn’t be a witness to such tragedy
without letting my heart have its say;
I stopped her right in front of me
and asked “Are you okay?”

She sniffled a bit, then began to cry,
I felt like a helpless dork;
The tears began to fall from her eyes,
and she told me about the spork.

“I work all day from dawn to dark
on a fiendish dining tool;
it’s not a spoon, it’s not a fork,
and the bosses are so cruel!”

I asked what kind of instrument
might this strange object be?
Was it a bowl-like implement?
or did it have tines of three?

She said “It’s neither fowl nor fish,
it’s betwixt and it’s between;
it cuts by a third the silver on your dish,
it’s something you’ve never seen.”

And then she reached into her purse
and from it drew a sight,
that shocked my eyes from bad to worse
on that dark starry night;

It was—a spork! A hybrid thing
that you could use to eat with;
It would pick up soup or anything–
It’d work to chow down beets with.

My joy worked wonders on her mood,
she brightened up a bit.
I guess she saw what it meant for food
and how people struggled to eat it.

“So you don’t think it’s the work of the devil,
This cross-bred thing of plastic?”
“Why no,” I said, and I was totally on the level.
“Au contraire, it’s a godsend, it’s fantastic!”

And so she linked her arm in mine,
we’ve been together since that day;
we went and bought a bottle of wine
and sporked the night away.

Moral: If you love what you do it’s not work.

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