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!”

It’s Academic!

The world of academia can be a hostile and forbidding place, with English professors telling you to use “an” before “hostile” as soon as you get the bloody words out of your mouth. Here are some of the issues that have been troubling our correspondents lately.

Student coffeehouse: Where many a “study date” has begun.


Dear Mr. Academic:

I am a secretary at the local college where I recently stopped for coffee in a little espresso bar. This guy with a beret comes up to me and strikes up a conversation as I was pouring cream and five Sweet ‘n Lows into my cup. I played along with him because he was kind of cute and he asks me “What do you do?” I figured I needed to impress him so I looked at a book that was laying (lying?) on a table and said I worked at Particle Accelerator Physics II. I figured it was sort of like “Brothers II Bar & Grille” or “Clip, Curl & Cutz II.” He got real excited and said “Wow”, could he come over and smash some atoms some time and I said sure, that sounds like fun.

Particle accelerator: Fun place for a first date.

Mr. Academic, I know what I did was wrong but now I am trapped. I have put this guy off for three weekends in a row and am running out of excuses. Should I tell him the truth or what?

Marie Ann Coburn, Normal, Illinois


Dear Marie Ann–

You know what Mr. Academic says–Honesty is the best policy, but sometimes you have to use crib notes. There just happens to be a very good particle accelerator within a few hours’ drive of your home–the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois! Buy a lab coat and ask the young man to meet you after work one day. When he pulls up to the curb come running out saying “What a miserable excuse for a proton-antiproton smasher! I’d give it up in a minute for a career as a secretary!” If he truly loves you, he will follow you right back to your word processor.

“Look out for the frisbee!”


Mr. Academic–

I am an assistant professor of comparative literature at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. I am up for tenure this year, but my chances don’t look good because there’s a women and a swarthy guy up at the same time, and I am a white male. (I think the swarthy guy uses tan-in-a-bottle but that’s a different story.) Anyway, I am thinking of having a sex change operation to improve my chances and wanted to know the pros and cons of such a procedure.

Lloyd Pfeiffer, Chillicothe, Ohio

“My name eesa Georgio Hamiltonio.”


Dear Lloyd–

A surgical procedure as serious as a sex change operation is not a step to be taken lightly. Are you dating anyone now, and if so, what sex? Have you factored the cost of new clothes into your budget? Do you belong to a men’s bowling team that will have to replace you once you are a woman?

Maybe he’d fit in here.


You should also check your school’s employee handbook to make sure that “foxhole sex changes” or “tenure-track transexuals” are not disqualified from academic advancement.


Dear Mr. Academic–

I was recently put on probation for having an affair with a student in my D.H. Lawrence seminar, which strikes me as the equivalent of going to the ballet and complaining about tutus. Having sex with students has been my practice for many years–my current wife is a former member of my senior tutorial on Shakespeare’s sonnets, and my first wife was in my Introduction to Romantic Literature survey course.

D.H. Lawrence with his hot wife.


Frankly, I think I was entitled to some warning that the rules of the game had changed. Please respond to my P.O. Box because I don’t want my wife to know I’m writing to advice columnists.

George W. R. Frazier, Croton-on-Hudson, New York.


Mr. Frazier–

The occupational hazard of becoming an English professor is that naive young women will throw themselves at any man who has read more poetry than “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck,” and you are not entitled to an exemption from state and federal sexual harassment laws just because you have leather patches on the elbows of your sport coat. While we’re on the subject, if you are fired will your position be publicly advertised or filled by word of mouth?


If you can’t shoot over her, dribble around her.


Dear Mr. Academic–

I have been an Assistant Bursar at a Christian college in Alabama for 18 years. Every Friday the coach of the women’s basketball team comes in to deposit her check in the credit union, and I try to “chat her up” a bit. She is friendly enough but I know that she looks down on me–literally and figuratively–as she is 6’1″ and I am only 5’7″.

I was wondering–do you think it is perverse for a short man to fall in love with a taller woman? If not, could you suggest a social setting in which the difference in our heights would not be so noticeable?

Eldon Felger, Muscle Shoals, AL 35661


Dear Mr. Felger–

Love doesn’t get vertigo from looking down, nor a crick in the neck from looking up. Compatibility between the sexes doesn’t depend on seeing “eye to eye.” I would suggest a nice dinner out at a table for two, since most of one’s height consists of the length of one’s legs–no one will notice you two are not a matched set when you are sitting down. And when you get your lady friend out on the basketball court, remember to pump fake up, get her in the air, then drive for the score!

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

What Would Jesus Wear? Divides Upscale Congregation

WELLESLEY FALLS, Mass. In this affluent suburb of Boston, churchgoers at the Wellesley Falls Presbyterian Church tend to look like they stepped out of the pages of a Brooks Brothers catalog, or perhaps the shop window of the Talbots store down the street.

No shoes, no shirt, no Sunday service.


“I like a nice church service,” says Sarah Ward, whose family has been members of the church for three generations. “Looking nice is part of the experience.”

“Sorry, no pets allowed.”


The church has never had a dress code and has never needed one–until recently. “Part of it is a decline in standards across the country,” says Ernest Homer, a lay deacon, as he glares disapprovingly at a man in a polo shirt entering the church vestibule. “The other part is just plain stupidity,” he says with disgust.

Homer’s anger is prompted by the appearance of Dan Martin, groundskeeper at a local country club who has begun to attend Sunday services in garb–sackcloth and sandals–that would not appear out of place on Jesus himself or one of his Apostles, but which sticks out like a sore thumb among the well-dressed congregation he has joined.

“Yeah, a lot of people say I look like Dan Fogelberg.”


“The best part of my relationship with God is getting dressed up for church on Sunday,” says Mitzi Heinz, a former commercial banker turned stay-at-home mom who says she misses the days when she wore nice clothes to work. “I don’t go to church to sit next to somebody who looks like Jesus.”

The church has struggled with the issue, offering Martin a blue blazer and tie in much the same manner that pricey restaurants try to enforce their dress codes without turning away business, but to no avail. “Jesus said, ‘Look at the lilies of the field, how they neither toil nor spin,’” Martin says, quoting the Sermon on the Mount. “‘Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,’ and he had charge accounts at all the more fashionable stores of his day.”

Lilly Pulitzer


But Mitzi Heinz is unimpressed. “I’ve heard of Lilly Pulitzer,” she sniffs. “Where do they sell Lilies of the Fields?”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Oh . . . My . . . God.”

Royals Celebrate Wild Card Win With Cold Duck, Asti Spumante

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  Breaking a drought that began before many of them were born, the Kansas City Royals made it to baseball’s post-season last night for the first time in 26 years, touching off a locker room celebration by players who sprayed each other not with expensive champagne but low-priced alternatives “cold duck” and Asti Spumante.

“C’mon–that was just a little bitty squirt.”


“We’re a small market team,” said 62-year-old clubhouse “boy” Arnold “Bud” Wirtziger.  “Maybe your ritzy teams on the coasts can afford that kind of party, but not us.”

“Cold duck” is a sparkling wine made in the United States by mixing the dregs of unfinished wine bottles with Champagne.  Asti Spumante is a sweet Italian sparkling wine made from sports cars that have crashed in high-speed chases.  Both are less expensive than French champagne, which professional sports teams in major television markets use to celebrate significant milestones, such as trading chicken-wing fattened starting pitchers and their burdensome contracts.

The Royals’ lack of success is generally tied to their inability to pay players competitive salaries due to a small regional television audience.  Kansas City’s market is the 31st largest in the nation, and includes high percentages of demographic groups media buyers consider undesirable because of their frugal spending habits.  “That would include people who save plastic grocery bags and make them into Christmas decorations,” said Advertising Monthly columnist Phil Nelson.  “Also there’s some double-counting of twins who watch TV together.”

Prices for cold duck and Asti Spumante range from $2.45 to $7.19 a bottle at area liquor stores where a bottle of champagne will set a consumer back from $9 to $137 for top-of-the-line Dom Perignon.  That price difference didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of the Royals’ players, who sprayed each other with gusto even as Wirtziger shuffled through the clubhouse, trying to keep things relatively clean.  “Excuse me,” he says to this reporter amid the din, as he holds up an empty bottle and points to the label.  “Is this one of those deposit bottles you can redeem for ten cents in Michigan?”

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