Woman Walks Cross Country, Urging Attention to Herself

OTTUMWA, Iowa.  It’s taken Elaine Snyder the better part of two years to make it here, to approximately the half-way point in her trek across America, but she says she’s going to keep going until she finishes what she’s started.  “We certainly admire all the folks from the right and left coasts who come through here on symbolic walks across the country,” says Earl Byrum, night shift manager at the Oren Grain Elevator as he offers her a bottle of Nehi orange soda from a vending machine.  “What is it you’re walking to call attention to?”

walker
Turn left at the amber waves of grain.

 

Snyder, a native of Needham, Massachusetts, looks at the garish-colored soft drink with distaste.  “You don’t have any Diet Coke?”

“No ma’am,” Byrum says.  “Menfolk around these parts like their women like they like their pork shoulder–with a little meat on the bone.”

Byrum smiles but Snyder, a latter-day version of the type of New England woman once known as a “bluestocking,” doesn’t join in the merriment as she forces down enough of the beverage to clear her throat.

“I asked what you was walking for,” Byrum continues as she finishes off her drink with a gulp.

“Time was growing short,” she says with an air of gravity.  “I’m involved in a lot of causes, but no one–and I mean no one–took this one as seriously as I do.”

Byrum nods thoughtfully, not sure if he’s missed something.  “So it’s . . . a disease?”

“No,” Snyder says.

“A raging ethnic conflict in a war-torn nation?”

 

Nehi

“Nope.”

“A looming threat to civilization itself, like global warming or nuclear proliferation?”

Snyder looks at the begrimed man with a fresh sense of admiration.  “My,” she says, “you’re really up on the issues of today.”

“Have to be,” Byrum says as he flips the switch on a seed-cleaning machine.  “Traffic is so heavy in the spring you can’t tell one walker from another.  So . . . which is it?”

Snyder is smiling now, as she decides to bring her little game of twenty question to an end.  “It’s the most important cause I can think of.”

“Which is?”

“Me!” the 50-something says as she strides off down State Highway HH.  “There’s nothing closer to my heart!”

Frustrated by a life that has seen her raise two average children, reach only the Vice Presidency of a major charity in Boston, and liquidate a greeting card and stationery store that her husband pulled the plug on after years of subsidies from his accounting practice, Snyder decided in 2012 to walk across country for the sole purpose of getting her picture in the paper and her face on local TV broadcasts to fill the gaping hole she felt in her suburban mother soul.  “I could leave it up to somebody else,” she says, “but I don’t think they’d bring the same passion to the task as I do.”

And indeed she is her own #1 supporter, writing press releases for radio stations looking for “feel good” news copy between sets of country and western music and grain and livestock market prices.  “We had her in for an interview,” says Lowell Broder, Jr. of Tarkio, Missouri, a journalism student working an unpaid summer internship.  “It was just like the national news–earnest, boring and self-absorbed.”

Jimmies
Little chocolate sprinkles, commonly known as little chocolate sprinkles.

 

Along the way Snyder is playing the role of cultural critic of the rest of the country, a tendency that Americans have noted in natives of Boston since the nation first began its westward expansion.  “You call that a Dairy-Queen?” Snyder “blogged” about Keokuk, Iowa, after a local soda jerk responded “What are jimmies?” when she asked that he add the little chocolate sprinkles that go by that name in Massachusetts to her ice cream cone.  “This is the saddest excuse for a laundromat I’ve ever seen,” she reported as she headed out of Danville, Illinois.

Still, locals agree that their peripatetic visitor is walking for a good cause.  “The sooner she gets out of town,” notes Broder, “the better everybody will feel.”

Emergency Beauty Technicians in Demand as Fashion Tragedies Rise

LADUE, Missouri. In this fashionable suburb of St. Louis, a fashion faux pas can set a woman’s advancement back years, even decades, according to local social historians. “Eloise Buchter wore open-toed shoes to a winter gala in 1917,” notes Sandra Day-Sneff, author of a three-volume history of the Veiled Prophet Ball, the area’s premier debutante event. “Her great-great-great grandaughter hopes to make the list in 2016.”


Emergency Beauty Technicians: They look bad so you can look good.

 

The consequences of a dress or cosmetics miscue are so severe that county government took a look at the problem three years ago, concerned that the loss of woman-hours at work and out-migration by eligible bachelors to growing marketplaces such as Springfield, Missouri, had put their region at a disadvantage. “If a woman dresses in the dark and puts on dark hose with light shoes, she’s going to have to go home unless she has an extra pair of pumps in her desk drawer,” says Chamber of Commerce President Gerald “Jerry” Gardenkas. “It’s no wonder we’re losing population.”


Don’t tell me, let me guess: You dressed in the dark, right?

 

The solution, supported by city managers in the suburban ring around the city’s core, was a highly-trained squad of Emergency Beauty Technicians–EBTs for short–who perform the same function in the realm of fashion that Emergency Medical Technicians are responsible for in the public health sector.


“You’ve got a sore throat. You’re Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a nose napkin–I give up!”

 

“Say you spot a woman in the breakdown lane because she came too close when she tried to match pink with red,” says Stacy Weinraub, a veteran of the force who has one of the first EBTs in the country. “We can give her a blue or white blouse and she’ll be on her way.”

Stacy and partner Adrianna Healy are cruising this morning on Interstate-70, the highway that crosses the state at its waistline, when they spot a woman applying make-up in her rear-view mirror.

“Let’s roll,” says Weinraub, and Healy flips on the siren and the emergency flasher, causing traffic to pull over as they make their way to the damsel in distress.


“You’ll have thick, lustrous lashes in just a second!”

The driver, Nancy Miscalino, a receptionist at a dentist’s office, slows down, then stops when she realizes the ambulance is approaching to assist her.

“What did I do?” she says as the crack team of beauty repairwomen spring into action.

“Get the Eyelash Curler of Life,” Weinraub barks at her partner, “STAT!”

“I’m on it,” Healy says as she grabs a metal object from the back doors of the van.

The two wield the unwieldy apparatus to apply blusher to Miscalino’s upper cheekbones, then groom her eyelashes with heavy-duty mascara, giving her precious seconds to spare when she walks into work late–as usual–ten minutes from now.


“You’re good to go!”

 

“Thanks–you guys saved my life!” the perky brunette says as the EBTs pack up their equipment.

“All in a day’s work,” says Weinraub. “Try to be more careful next time.”

“I will–I promise,” Miscalino says. “Oh wait–I had one last question before you go.”

“Shoot,” says Healey, reveling in her fashion heroine status.

“Does this seat belt make me look fat?”

Some Cry Foul as Skinny Guys Dominate Marathon

BOSTON. The Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon, attracts runners from around the world every Patriot’s Day, a holiday on the third Monday in April that serves as an excuse for local bureaucrats to take the day off. “Running Boston is my dream,” says Ngtmbe Jpksgzi of Kenya, whose name was cobbled together from surplus letters left behind by American “eco-tourists.” “Perhaps if I win, I can afford a few more vowels.”


McKelvey: “It’s not fair!”

 

But local runners are beginning to chafe at what they say is a system that results in skinny guys and gals winning the event year after year, leaving them with nothing to show for their half-hearted efforts to stay in shape.


“Jeez, those guys are skinny!”

 

“I musta done ten, maybe twenty situps since last year,” says Chuck McKelvey, a regular at the Kinvarra Pub in East Roxbury. “They told me to forget about entering. Me–who grew up here!”


“When we get to Copley Square, let’s split a celery stick.”

 

So regulars stage a “drink-in” at the bar every Patriots Day, refusing to move from their seats until all the free snacks have been consumed and the winners have crossed the finish line in mid-afternoon.


Pizza-flavored goldfish on Salisbury Steak

 

“It’s tough, believe me,” says Bob Wychekowski, a long-time patron whose loyalty caused him to adopt the pub as his mailing address last year when he was going through a divorce. “I know the runners are in excruciating pain, but on the other hand they don’t start serving lunch here until twelve o’clock on the dot.”


“It tires me out just lookin’ at them guys!”

 

Until then, customers depend on a subsistence diet of honey-roasted peanuts and pizza-flavored goldfish served free at the bar, or garlic and onion potato chips and Andy Capp Pub Fries purchased from a vending machine next to the men’s room. “You got to suck it up,” says Mike Donahue, pronounced “DONE-a-who.” “Those urinal deodorizers can kill your appetite if you get a Bubble Gum or Wild Cherry scent.”


Cabernet-scented urinal deodorizer blocks.

 

Advocates say they will push for the creation of a new category for participants, just as the Boston Athletic Association, the marathon’s sponsor, eventually recognized female and wheelchair partipants. “I don’t see why they can’t have a separate Couch Potato Class,” says McElvey, whose weight tops out at around 250 pounds during the off-season. “Don’t they understand I have an eating disorder?”

The My Little Pony Corrections Department

          An article on Monday about Kirsten Lindsmith, a college student with Asperger syndrome who is navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.

The New York Times

In the “Sunday Styles” section Knight Shade, a male Earth Pony, was identified as Elizabeth Taylor’s fourth husband. Eddie Fisher was Ms. Taylor’s fourth husband, Knight Shade was her twelfth. The Times regrets its error.


Granted, it was hard to keep track.

An op-ed written by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in last Friday’s Times should have identified Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore as failed assassins of President Gerald Ford during the 1970′s. Due to a copy editing error, the names of Earth Ponies Jubilee and Cupcake were inadvertently substituted for those of Ms. Fromme and Ms. Moore. The Times apologizes to Ms. Fromme and Ms. Moore for the confusion.


And you think we’re living in crazy times now.

A music review in the “Arts & Leisure” section transposed the names of the Lennon Sisters in a picture accompanying a story about the musical legacy of Lawrence Welk.

Instead of “Dianne, Peggy, Kathy and Janet,” the caption should have read “Baby Surprise, Locket, Whizzer and Gingerbread.”

The Times stands by its error.

Pencils in the Air for Your Jazz Mid-Term

It’s Friday–the day I’ve been dreading for two weeks since bombing a pop quiz in Jazz 101 at Carl Yastrzemski State College. I got a D+ for mixing up Fats Navarro with Fats Waller and spacing out on “Where or When: Compare and contrast.” That means I’ve got to get at least an A- on the mid-term if I’m going to maintain the B average dad says I need if he’s going to keep me on “the gravy train.” “College bred means a four-year loaf,” he says with that sarcastic laugh of his. He’s always talking about food for some reason.


“If you knew how I loved you . . .”

 

The proctor goes up and down handing out the exam books, and I’m sweating bullets. Stay cool, I tell myself, like–I dunno–the Miles Davis Nonet? Hope that’s on the exam.

I pop the seal and open it up. Keep breathing, I tell myself, and don’t get hung up on questions you don’t understand. Do the easy ones first, just like on the SAT. I scan down the page, hoping to find some handhold that will get me started up the sheer rock face of my ignorance of America’s classical music.

Bingo–the first question is “How Long Has This Been Going On?” I know I know I know I say to myself, barely able to control my pencil as it races across the page. “There were chills . . . down my spine, and some thrills I can’t define,” I write. If you can’t answer the question completely, you’re allowed to say how you would research it using sources not available within the classroom.


Ethel Waters

 

Question #2: Why is there no sun up in the sky? Hmm—I seem to recall a jazz flash card about that age-old riddle. Wait–I know–Stormy Weather! That’s why there’s no sun up in the friggin’ sky! I scribble it down quickly–I may have a shot at an A!


R. Crumb jazz cards

 

Uh-oh–an essay question. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” Shit. I’ve never been there. I tap my pencil against my head–ouch! I hit a sebaceous cyst I need to have removed, but the shock sets my synapses crackling. “Moonlight on the bayou–Creole tunes fill the air. I dream . . . of magnolias in June. Soon I’m wishin’ you were the-e-ere.” Not too original, but I do have the entire hockey team in my class–they should hold down the curve.

What’s next. “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Sure I have, uh, lots of them. Let’s see, what was it like? “And all at once I lost my breath–and all at once was scared to death–and all at once I own the earth and sky.” That oughta do it. Okay–one last question. “Lover man, oh where can you be?”


Billie Holiday

 

What kinda power trip is this professor on? I’m a guy. I shouldn’t have to answer a woman’s question! I gaze around the room, trying to find some inspiration. I see Valerie Dickman, the brunette who sits in the front row crossing her legs to improve her score in the class participation component of the final grade. She’s mouthing something to me. There . . . is . . . no . . . answer. It’s a trick question!

So the prof wants us to think outside the Big Joe Turner 5-CD boxed set! Okay–I’ll give it to him, and give it to him good. “I’ve heard it said,” I begin, “that the thrill of romance . . . can be like a heavenly dream. I go to bed with a prayer that you’ll make love to me . . . strange as it seems.” Voila. You want creative gender-blender thinking, you got it.

But I am not doing an oral report for extra credit.

At the Farrah Fawcett Wing of the Smithsonian

     Farrah Fawcett’s red bathing suit and a poster bearing her image have been donated to the Smithsonian.
                The Boston Herald

As I herded my class of seventh-grade boys from Ryan O’Neal Consolidated Middle School up the steps of the Smithsonian Institution, I had to catch myself more than once, the wave of emotions that swept over me was so strong.

“This isn’t like the Lincoln Memorial,” I had said to the kids the day before. “That’s just a boring statue of a guy sitting in a chair who made a lot of people mad by giving away free slaves, then got shot at a theatre. Tomorrow’s trip will be about the woman who launched America into the Curling Iron Age, with side bangs that flipped up higher than any manned space craft the Russians ever launched.”


With sufficient Dippity-Do, no helmet is required.

My little guys had soaked it all in; they’re good kids, just–so ignorant of American history! It makes me wonder what the hell their sixth-grade history teacher, Rose Alba Quince, taught them last year. Goldie Hawn? Connie Stevens as Cricket Blake in Hawaiian Eye? I tell you, it’s the decline of standards in American education that has allowed back-lot nations like Japan and Singapore to vault past us in mastery of TV starlets.


Connie Stevens: Go, girl, go!

No, I wanted my kids to understand where the hair styles of the girls they’d be dancing with at this Friday’s sock-hop came from. How America had progressed from the uptight tresses of Hesther Prynne, to the demure bun of Emily Dickinson, to the pageboy, to the bee-hive, then ultimately the heavenly tresses of Farrah, like the wings of a cherubim, in Charlie’s Angels. Don’t tell me you can’t make history exciting!


Emily Dickinson: Bo-ring.

I was already planning the study materials and exam I would give them the day after to gauge their mastery of what they would see. Sample question: In the famous poster of Farrah that sold over 12 million copies, which nipple is standing at attention through her bathing suit: (a) left, (b) right, (c) other, (d) none of the above. I know, I know–people say that “high-stakes” exams force teachers to “teach to the test,” but dammit–this stuff is important!


Kate Jackson: Compare and contrast–show your work.

I hope some of my students will go on to advanced studies in Charlie’s Angelsology, maybe write a master’s thesis like “Kate Jackson: Third Wheel or Brunette Glue That Held the Angels Together?” Or how about “Jaclyn Smith: What Happened to the Other Letters in Her First Name?” These are important questions, people!


Jaclyn Smith

What’s that, Timmy? Who are Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith? Oh-my-God! Do you mean to tell me that you think Charlie’s Angels was just a movie with Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu? Good Lord–it is just so sad to me when kids grow up ignorant of the past, not knowing our nation’s treasured heritage.

Did you know that Farrah styled her own hair for her iconic 1976 poster? That she applied her makeup without using a mirror? Or that her blonde highlights were further heightened by a squeeze of lemon juice? No? These are the sacrifices our forestarlets made for us!

I can’t believe it–it just breaks my heart.

Let’s go–everybody into the museum–now! And I want you to march straight to the Smithsonian Gift Shop. I may have to reach down deep into my own pocket–that’s what budget cuts mean for underpaid teachers like me–but I’m going to make sure each and every one of you leaves here today with a poster of your own!

U of Chicago Dream Team Helps Zimbabwe Fight Inflation

HARARE, Zimbabwe. Inflation has ravaged this landlocked country in southeastern Africa for decades, but recent events have surprised even hardened observers such as Zkanu Nkomo (pronounced “Jim Smith”). “I asked the man at the store how much he charged for a cup of mukaka wakakora (curdled milk),” Nkomo explains. “He said 120,000,000 Zimbabwean dollars, but by the time I got my wallet out, the price had gone up another 30 million.”


“With our ragged faculty clothing, we should fit right in.”

The rate of inflation recently hit its highest level ever, 7,000 percent per year, causing international bodies to seek help from leading academics around the world to stabilize the situation before the country descended into chaos. A group of inflation fighters from the economics department at the University of Chicago has stepped into the breach, offering hope that the country may be able to reverse its current course with an infusion of market discipline.


“Excuse me, do you have change for a $100,000,000 bill?”

“We were hoping for Bono,” says Nkende Masvingo, referring to the rock singer who has made sub-Saharan poverty his personal crusade, “but they sent us Gary Becker because U2 was on tour.”


Becker: “Bono sends his regards.”

Becker, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics, will lead a “dream team” including Steven Levitt, co-author of the best-selling pop economics book “Freakonomics,” that will set up camp in this city, the nation’s capital. “First, we need to understand the situation,” said Becker. “Then, we’ll bloviate on what people should do about it.”


“Freakonomics” author Steven Levitt: “Did you know that higher marginal tax rates cause weight loss in sumo wrestlers on crack?”

Translating the highly analytical language of economics into terms that everyday consumers and business people can understand won’t be easy. “These economists do not know how to talk normally,” says Mberte Oswingo, a cab driver. “They also dress funny.”


Milton Friedman: “A million dollars for Cap’n Crunch? There’s no such thing as a free breakfast!”

So local tsava musicians, who perform in a gently swaying style popular among native Zimbabweans, are working with Becker’s team to come up with songs that will convey an inflation-fighting message in a rhythmic wrapper.

As the two contrasting groups meet in their first jam session, Oliver Mtaweira, the senior statesman of tsava, asks Becker to give him a few basic themes to work with. “Well,” Becker begins, “Our Godfather, Milton Friedman, said that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”

“This is quite lyrical,” Mtaweira says, as he strums a few chords on his guitar and begins to sing. “Baba munini francis, wenhamo haaneti,” he croons, “Hatisitoses tvimbodzemoto,” and Levitt asks a translator what the words mean. “Inflation she is your enemy, she’ll cause you to die. Tell your central banker to reduce the money supply.”


Three Celine Dions–no waiting.

“Very nice,” Becker says, nodding his head to the beat. The musicians work out the verses, a chorus, and a bridge from a Celine Dion song–”A New Day Has Come”–that the Chicagoans have brought with them as a gift. “Gary’s nuts about her,” says Phyllis Ostertag, an assistant professor. “Personally, I think she’s a dingbat, but he’s the big enchilada.”

After the group works out enough songs to make up a 45-minute set suitable for weddings and circumcision rituals, they relax and begin to swap stories and tales about their respective professions. Mtaweira, who like many Zimbabweans has a native suspicion of free-market economics, offers to tell a favorite joke about the visitors’ profession.

“Two economists have been lost in the Chimanimani Mountains for many days with nothing to eat, when they stumble upon a can of pork and beans,” he begins. “The one economist says to the other, ‘This is most fortunate, but how will we open it?’ The other economist thinks for a moment and says ‘Assume a can opener.’”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Chicago: Not Just for Toddlin’ Anymore.”

Yellen: Sports Tchotchkes Next Bubble to Burst

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen warned Congress yesterday that a speculative bubble in over-priced sports “tchotchkes” threatens the nation’s fragile recovery from the crash that followed a run-up in housing prices, and could hamper more tasteful decorating schemes of female consumers.

yellen
“It was this enormous tacky gew-gaw with a little statue of World Series MVP David Ortiz.”

 

“Price stability and decorating predictability are the hallmarks of guidance on fiscal and monetary parameters in periods of misallocation of resources to blah-blah-blah,” Yellen said in “Fedspeak,” the Esperanto of central bankers.  “Money spent on commemorative sports doo-dads represents expenditures more wisely used on window treatments, such as swags and jabots.”

otiz
Limited edition!

 

The all-male panel of the Senate Banking Committee responded negatively to Yellen’s dour assessment of the potential upside in sports collectibles, saying consumer spending by sports-obsessed males could jump start the economy.  “When you go to the ballpark everybody wants a souvenir,” said Edward Markey (D-MA).  “Cash you don’t spend in the gift shop is money that would just go to waste being saved in some boring bank, and that’s no fun.”

pillows
Pillows are like prunes: Is 6 enough?  12 too many?

Yellen cited a Keynesian “multiplier” effort to more tasteful decorating expenditures, saying the purchase of a burnt sienna throw pillow often resulted in supplementary purchases of similar goods in ecru, brick and seafoam.  “Basically, you buy one piece of commemorative Super Bowl crap you’ve shot your wad,” she noted drily.

senate
“Next thing you know she’ll be going after your Packers throwback helmet desk lamp!”

Republican members of the committee said their Democratic counterparts in the majority were only getting their comeuppance after they ignored the counsel of colleagues in the minority party.  “I told you there was a reason the name of the job was ‘Chairman’,” noted Mike Crapo (R-ID).  “Don’t cry to me when they come after your limited edition 2014 Ralph Lauren Ryder Cup Big Pony Hooded Windbreaker.”

Solve Your Plastic Food Container Problems the Internet Way

In 1969, the first message was successfully sent over the ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet. Four and a half decades later, the internet has developed into one of the greatest advances in human history, freeing up human capital wasted on actual labor and diverting it to fantasy football leagues and cat videos.

Before the internet came into our lives, U.S. husbands and wives would often quarrel, holding back American scientific progress that allowed the Russians to launch space satellites before us. Here is actual, post-dinner dialogue captured on a reel-to-reel tape recorder in 1954:

WIFE: Put away the Franco-American spaghetti leftovers, would you sweetie?

HUSBAND: Sure, hon. Let me just get a convenient plastic food storage container out of the pantry here.

WIFE: Don’t forget the lid!

HUSBAND: You and your joshing!

[SOUND OF CRASH]

HUSBAND: Dad blast it! Why are our food storage containers and lids always in such an uproar!

WIFE: I wish somebody would hurry up and invent the internet!


Utter chaos

The internet allows scientists and intellectuals to share news of developments without having to attend boring conferences with cash bars and listen to white papers with titles like Threat or Menace: Is America’s Love Affair With Plastic Food Storage Receptacles Endangering Our Standard of Living? With the internet at their fingertips, food storage scientists can now log onto http://www.wikihow.com/, search the index for “How to Organize Empty Food Storage Containers and Lids”, and enter a magical world where ideas are exchanged freely and openly, as if by telepathy, generating new and exciting concepts in food-storage-container-and-lid-technology twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.


Much better!

An eleven-member team of food storage receptacle scientists and engineers, generously donating their apparently ample time, has posted a ten-point food storage container organization protocol at this “wiki” website. “Wiki” refers to software that allows multiple users to collaboratively create, edit, link and organize content on a website. The term “wiki” is a reduplication of the Hawaiian word for “goof off.”

While users are cautioned that the protocol has not yet been peer-reviewed by independent specialists in the field, it appears to represent a breakthrough in container-organization comparable to the realization during the Italian Renaissance that it is easier to fit small containers inside large ones than vice versa, a discovery that helped bring the Dark Ages to an end.

That historical breakthrough forms part of the canon of modern plastic food container thought, and appears as principle no. 6 in the new world-wide web protocol on food storage container organization, as follows:

6. Nest and stack. For the containers, nest them in stacks that are as tall as your space. Start with the largest on the bottom and work upwards to the smallest.

Note the citation of an important ancillary principle of food storage container organization: stacks should only be as tall as the space you have to put them in. If you stack them any higher, you risk breaking through the ceiling into an upstairs bathroom!

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of trenchant, insightful, hard-hitting plastic container news I’m looking for when I log on to the internet in the office every morning.

Right after I watch a few cat videos.

Mort Spiksa, “Poet of Terms and Conditions,” Dead at 78

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  Morton “Mort” Spiksa, a lawyer who came to be known as the “Poet of Terms and Conditions,” died last night after a brief illness at Gino Cappelletti Memorial Hospital.  He was seventy-eight.

“Mort really had a way with words,” said Norton Oswald, a retired plant manager at the General Motors assembly plant here before it closed.  “Our vendors didn’t mind that we were the big guy who could crush them like a bug just to watch the juice ran out when they read his lyrical ‘T&C’s’.”

lawyer
Mort Spiksa, about to exclude the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose.

 

Spiksa had hoped to become a poet as an undergraduate but decided to study law after his father was diagnosed with terminal Osgood Schlatter’s Disease.  “He realized he’d have to take care of mom,” said his sister Evelyn Spiksa Ryan.  “I could barely support myself as a left-handed stenographer cruelly forced to work in a right-handed desk.”

In law school Spiksa was a slightly-above-average student who nonetheless demonstrated a perverse passion for commercial law, one of the less lucrative and more boring areas of the profession.  “It appealed to his poetic side,” said Professor Galston Willier.  “Nobody reads poetry, and nobody reads those terms and conditions in four-point type on commercial forms.”

desk
Awkward!

 

Spicksa became living proof of Clarence Darrow’s belief that “inside every lawyer is the wreck of a poet,” but he nonetheless struggled to forge an aesthetic identity apart from the mundane prose he wrote for purchase orders and invoices, such as his oft-repeated quatrain celebrating a number of common shipping terms that he surreptitiously slipped into a bill of lading:

F.O.B., C.I.F.,
Take away one and what is left?
C&F, F.A.S.,
One is more, the other less.

“There’s a simple sense of mystery to Mort’s verses, like William Blake’s,” says Newton Adair, III, Professor of Commercial Poetry at the University of Southern Iowa.  “He could take a homely warehouse receipt and turn it into a thing of beauty–in triplicate, with white, pink and canary-colored copies.

 

loading dock
“Behold the lonely loading dock, where we made off with Pots of Crock.”

His specialty was the so-called “Battle of the Forms,” when terms in documents presented by different parties conflicted and the parties’ agreement had to be determined by statutory rules of construction.  In a case involving the rejection of a defective shipment of flanges and hasps, Spiksa’s poetry reached perhaps the apogee of his style, at once perfervid and peremptory:

These flanges and hasps,
are so defective it’s barely
worth shipping them back.
They make me gasp,
I mean that squarely,
I’m giving the whole lot the sack.

He is survived by his wife Ethel; a son, Mort Jr. of Mundelein, Illinois; a daughter, Traci of Hamtramck, Michigan; and his pet fork lift, Chucho.  In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Business Forms, Systems & Labels Hall of Fame.

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