In an End Fit for Shakespeare, Tragedy Strikes Librarian Confab

BOSTON.  As the plenary session of the American Association of Librarians annual convention wound down here yesterday afternoon, the long faces some attendees wore were not the result of dog-eared pages or overdue books.

Convention and Exhibition Center


“What happened is so sad,” said Priscilla Hindmarsh, head librarian for the Milwaukee Public School System.  “I would file it under ‘Tragedies, Senseless’,” she says, pulling a tissue from her purse to wipe away a tear.

Hindmarsh is referring to an altercation between adherents of the two principal library cataloging systems in use today, the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification, that broke out at a cocktail hour and dinner dance Saturday night.

“We were having a great time, cracking jokes about how the Library of Congress nerds group ‘recreation’ with ‘geography’ and ‘anthropology’, when one of the ‘Congress’ boys started eyeing one of our chicks,” says Lowell Hirshorn of the Boonslick Regional Library in central Missouri.  The literary lothario, Duane Holcomb, a reference librarian at the General Services Administration in Washington, made a move on Madeline Bousa, an early reading specialist for the Spokane Public Schools, and sparks flew.

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would be found under ‘S-Agriculture’ in the Library of Congress Classification.”


“We knew it would end in tragedy,” says Hirshorn, and he and some of his Dewey Decimal colleagues tried to intervene, but Bousa was smitten and took to the dance floor for a evening of excitement with Holcomb.  The night ended with a spirited rendition of The Village People’s “YMCA” that saw the two lovers holding hands to form the most difficult letter, “M”.  “That was the last straw,” says Ed Smythe, a story hour leader at the Snooky Lanson Branch of the Atlanta, Georgia, Public Library System.

The Village People


As the two lovers were leaving the convention center, jealous colleagues of Bousa gathered in the shadows near the taxi stand, then attacked Holcomb with 4″ x 6″ file cards, inflicting paper cuts that caused him to bleed to death.  They then dragged his corpse to Copley Square where they stuffed it in a book return slot at the Boston Public Library’s main branch.  “It was really barbaric,” says Ed Herlihy, head of collection enforcement for the library.  “If you drop a book in the slot on Saturday night you can rack up big fines because it won’t be checked in ’til Monday morning.”

Police say they have a few leads, but are reaching out to potential witnesses to try and crack the case.  “We have a composite sketch of the perps,” says Boston Police Sergeant James Hampy.  “They’re a group of middle-aged white males with round shoulders and a tendency to shush people who talk too loud in public.”

For Some Office Holdouts, Charity Begins at Home

LAKE FOREST, Il.  Chuck Schwermer is a 52-year old unmarried video game aficionado who writes code for Aviatrix Technology, a leading maker of air traffic control software.  “It’s not a job that exercises the full range of my intelligence,” he says, “but it sustains me while I implement my five-year plan for world domination.”

Viewed as a loner, Chuck is nonetheless subject to a constant barrage of charitable appeals from colleagues, a fact of life in the modern workplace.  “If employers would simply bar employees from fund-raising on the job, we wouldn’t have to outsource jobs to Upper Volta or Indiana,” notes Illinois Department of Labor economist Martin Gyorgy.

“Make it out to ‘Walk to End Shin Splints’ and leave the amount blank.”


But Chuck and others like him are at the forefront of a new trend that is addressing the problem of intrusive office charitable appeals in guerilla fashion by using a sort of mental jiu-jitsu to repel donation-seekers.  “I put the onus on them to change the world, one Chuck at a time,” he says with a sardonic smile.

“Has anybody seen my giant pen?  I need to write the amount in my giant check register.”


Alison Boul is a relative newcomer to the company, and she approaches Chuck with a request that he sponsor her participation in a Saturday “Walk to End Shin Splints.”  “That sounds like a good cause,” Chuck says as he eyes the leggy 26-year-old, “but I don’t have shin splints.”

“Oh, you don’t have to, Mr. Schwermer,” the woman begins, but he cuts her off.  “You know, there’s a Star Trek convention downstate in Danville this Sunday,” he says.  “That’s about 150 miles each way.  Most guys won’t have dates.  I’d pay you–I don’t know–$1 a mile for your shin splint charity if you’d come with me.”

The fun she’s missing out on.


Boul is taken by surprise, and begins to backpedal from Schwermer’s cubicle.  “Uh, thanks, but I think I’ll still be pretty sore from the walk,” she says.

“Not a problem,” he responds.  “We’d drive down and I could carry you fireman’s style around the convention,” but the woman is gone, having fled down the hallway as fast as office decorum permits.

Fireman’s carry:  A real turn-on for some guys.


Other “charity refuseniks” resort to deception to repel solicitations, such as Ned Philburn of the Keokuk, Iowa, Consolidated Water District.  “I’ve never understood why I have to support your damn kid’s Pop Warner football team,” he says as he takes a bite of a Snickers bar while watching a pressure valve fluctuate.  “I’ve got enough problems of my own,” he adds just as Jim Vlisbek, a father of twin girls, rounds the corner carrying a box of chocolate bars.

Sort of a  good cause


“Hey Ned,” Vlisbeck says as Philburn crumples up his candy wrapper and tosses it in his wastebasket.  “I’m selling chocolate bars to raise money so my daughters’ U-12 soccer team can go to Disney World,” he continues.  “It’ll be the trip of a lifetime for us, so I hope you can buy a couple.”

“Gee, Jim, I’d love to,” Philburn says as he wipes his mouth with a napkin, “but I’m diabetic.”

“Oh, gosh, Ned, I had no idea,” Vlisbeck says with a look of concern on his face.  “You’re a real trouper the way you come into work every day and never complain.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Philburn replies with a look of contrived humility.  “I tell you what though–my gutters need cleaning now that fall is here.  I’ve got a bad knee so I really shouldn’t get up on a ten-foot ladder, but maybe your girls could come over this weekend and earn some money that way.”

“Gosh, I think that would be kinda dangerous, Ned,” Vlisbeck says with an air of fatherly concern.

“Well, you don’t want me to climb up there and risk my neck, do you?” Philburn asks in an offended tone.  “Isn’t my life just as valuable as your kids’?”

“Yeah, sure, you’re absolutely right,” Vlisbeck says sheepishly.  “They’ve . . . uh . . . got a tournament this weekend, so they’ll be busy.”

“But we don’t want to clean gutters!”


“Well, maybe in February if I get ice dams,” Philburn says, and Vlisbeck is visibly relieved at this cue that the conversation is at an end.  “Sorry I can’t help.”

“Sure, Ned, sure.  I’ll talk to you later,” Vlisbeck says as he waves and scurries away.

Alone again, Philburn pulls out another Snickers bar and gives himself up to a contemplation of our imperfect world.  “You know if everybody would just give a little bit,” he says reflectively, “we could accomplish so much.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”

English Department, Med School Collaborate on Semicolonoscopy

Three Americans Share Nobel Prize in Home Economics

STOCKHOLM, Sweden.  Three American housewives will share this year’s Nobel Prize in Home Economics in recognition of innovations they contributed to traditional recipes.

Hageboom:  “I wish Darrell would get that dang vibrator fixed!”


Pamela Hageboom of St. Clair, Idaho, was honored for her Khristmas Krispie Squares, a variation on the traditional rice krispie and melted marshmallow recipe that features ground olive and pimento loaf, lending a “festive holiday air to a recipe that had become emblematic of formulaic thinking,” according to the official announcement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Khristmas Krispie Squares


Cindy Lauderbeck of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, was recognized for her Lime Jello Salad Supreme, the recipe for which uses small curd cottage cheese, mayonnaise, horseradish and gypsum to add texture to wobbly gelatin salads so that they can withstand the tornadoes that frequently sweep through her community.

“My gelatin desserts stand up to gale-force winds!”


Moira Maloney of Fall River, Massachusetts, was honored for her Cheez Whiz Surprise Meat Loaf, a mound of ground beef built around a can of the aerosol-propelled food product that explodes when baked at 350 degrees for two hours.

“Make all three with a double-rack oven!”


The Nobel Prize in Home Economics is designed to counterbalance the prize in “the dismal science” of Economics, which generates yawns worldwide when it is announced each fall.  “Which would you rather read about,” noted Thorbjorn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee:  “The effect of trade imbalances on the body mass index of left-handed sumo wrestlers, or a creamy Kool-Whip parfait that satisfies your sweet tooth while allowing you to keep your slim, girlish figure?”

The three winners will share a prize which, at current exchange rates, is worth approximately $1.2 million dollars.  “I don’t begrudge the other winners their money,” said Lauderbeck, “I just wish we had it last week when the credit union foreclosed on our jet ski.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Genteel Crowd: Being Vulgar is So Much More Fun.”

The Woman Who Sang Sinatra

We had just the one date
but it was a doozy,
me and the brown-eyed woman named Julie.
She was fun, she was late, but she wasn’t a floozy,
and I want you to know that I loved her truly.

I got in her car
and we hadn’t gone far
when she punched her tape deck like a fighter,
shouting “Hit it, Frankie!” with incredible verve–
as Pearl Bailey would say, she upset my nerve,
as I quietly sat there beside her.

She proceeded to sing “Come Fly With Me”
as if possessed by the Chairman of the Board.
A balled-up fist was her mike–
she just missed a stray tyke!–
and from then on it was she I adored.

She looked over at me
and I gather could see
I was not an exuberant Dago,
with WASPy flesh-toned glasses
that repelled female passes
and rhythm that recalls bad lumbago.

I joined in meekly
and she eyed me weakly
as if to say “What a wet dish rag!”
“Don’t you like Sinatra?” she asked incredulous,
“because if not there’ll be no Kuma Satra”
though my devotion to her was sedulous.

“Well, yeah—he’s okay,”
was all I could say,
but she divined my lack of enthusement.
I regret to this day
that to score a lay
I didn’t fake Sinatramusement.

We rode ‘round the park through “New York, New York”–
she became more convinced that I was a dork.
By the time Francis Albert had made it through “My Way”
She’d decided it was time for me to hit the highway.

She pulled to the curb to drop me off
and said she was throwing in the towel;
I begged for a chance but she said with a scoff
“Your last name don’t end in a vowel.”

Moral: It takes all kinds.

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.


Walk for Man Boobs Draws Cheers, Jeers

WAYLAND, Mass.  Brisk fall weather and brilliant foliage are the signs of autumn in the Northeast, and with them plans for the numerous walk-a-thons, 6 kilometer races and other charitable fund-raising events that crowd the region’s roads once summer is over.

Man boobs:  Occupational hazard of round-shouldered bloggers.

“We have old narrow highways, so sometimes tempers flare when a walker runs–er, walks–somebody off the road,” says State Trooper Jim Hampey as he monitors two different streams of volunteers converging at the intersection of routes 20 and 27. “It can get ugly in a hurry, assuming you didn’t start out ugly in the first place.”

For one such event, the Walk for the Cure for Man Boobs, the ten-mile route is a mine field for those who suffer from the affliction, as participants in the “Break the Chain Walk to End Smoking” taunt their flabbier fellow walkers. “Hey fat boy,” says Claude Thurman, a rail-thin cigarette addict who gets his oral gratification from Marlboro Lights in the hard pack. “Those things are worthless as tits on a tomcat!”

“You guys are like totally gross!”


“May be, pal,” says Furman Boul, a claims adjuster who has spent the better part of the summer on his sofa watching televised sports, “but I’ll be reclinin’ in my La-Z-Boy where your bony ass is six feet under.”

“Why don’t you bend over and pick up your dirty laundry!”


It’s not just other men who are dismissive of victims of man boobs. Women line the streets when the long file of sufferers moves through Sudbury, and they make it clear that they think the supposed ailment of the marchers is all their fault. “Why don’t you lift something heavier than a 12-ounce can of beer every once in a while,” yells Linda Fairley, who has just come from a private session with a personal trainer that shows in her well-toned upper arms and torso. “You eat a bag of marshmallows,” she yells at Wade Newsome, “you end up looking like one.”

“Foot long subs . . . foot long subs!”


Sympathy runs low for the victims of man boobs because they are viewed as partly responsible for their condition, or at the very least capable of correcting it. “I don’t know why those guys get their own march,” says Norton Dennison, executive director of VOSII, an acronym that stands for “Victims of Self-Inflicted Injuries.” “I’ve got guys who fell out of tree stands hunting or ran over their own foot with a lawn mower who are in much worse shape.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving: Untrue Tales of Inspiration and Generosity.”

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