Walking My Lobster Back Home

 

On learning that the poet Gerard de Nerval had a pet lobster he walked on a leash.

 

Gee but it’s great after being out late–
Walking my lobster back home.
There’s little risk that she’ll turn into bisque,
Walking my lobster back home.

She grows quite bored of the maddening horde,
So I recite her a poem.
She slept with me once and complained that I snored,
Walking my lobster back home.

We stop for a while, she gives me a feel,
And snuggles her claws to my chest.
She’s not like a dog or a shrimp that you peel
Her green roe’s all over my vest.

When we stroll about I keep her on a leash,
Sometimes she borrows my comb.
We go out to eat and of course she has quiche,
Walking my lobster back home.

She rides on my back to a little clam shack
For a re-test on Teapot Dome.
She borrows my pen and she fails it again
Walking my lobster, talking my lobster
She’s sure my baby, I don’t mean maybe
Walking my lobster back home.

The Poetry Fixer

 

A self-published poet who focused on homelessness in her work has resigned after only a week on the job as North Carolina’s poet laureate following criticism of the governor’s appointment process.

                                                              Associated Press 

poetry

As I sat staring out the window, wondering how to jump-start my career as a poet, I automatically, involuntarily lapsed into verse:

I think that I’d feel more secure
If I could get me a cozy political sinecure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing . . . okay.  Since my first poem–Thoughts on Waking After Spending the Night in a Kosher Vegetarian Commune–was published by plangent voices, I’ve been anthologized twice.  It’s not as painful as it sounds, really, you just get jammed between the covers of a book with a bunch of other poets, sort of like the Green Line at rush hour.

But there seems–and I don’t want to come off as paranoid–like there’s a conspiracy against me, led by my high-profile poetess and ex-girlfriend elena gotchko.  She and I parted amicably enough–she dumped my stuff out on the sidewalk, I graciously carried it away–but I’ve been troubled by a pattern of commenters with suspiciously anagramatical names lighting into me with vituperation on-line and in print.  NeLa K. Chetogo, Klanee Gootch, Cheona Kloget–the natural wit that continually creates the world anew was always missing from elena’s poetic makeup.  That’s why she’s become more of a poetry professional than a professional poet.  Editing little journals, pontificating about the importance of poetry, charging high three-figure sums to schmoes who think, if they take a course from somebody who spells her name without initial caps, they’ll magically be transformed into poets.

state house

No, if I was going to get anywhere, I needed juice.  There’s an old saying–it’s not what you know, it’s who you know–and that applies in spades in Boston, a town where, as a slightly newer saying goes, the three major industries are politics, sports and revenge.  So I dropped in on my state rep and asked him if he could get me on as Massachusetts poet laureate.

“I got a long list of people who wanna be poet laureate,” he said, looking at his watch after we’d been together for ten seconds.  “Tell me why it should be you.”

“Well, I’ve self-published a book of poetry, and I’ve written a book about poetry.”

“That meta-stuff don’t cut it.  You can’t write that kinda junk until you’re at the top of the poetry heap.”

I jabbered on about the one poem I’d actually sold, to The Christian Science Monitor–just like Sylvia Plath!  I told him how I’d won a poetry prize, only to see the publication that awarded it go under before they ran my poem.  I started to tell him how I’d won honorable mention in the Somerville Press poetry contest.  “Somerville!” I exclaimed.  “You can’t throw a brick without hitting a poet over there!”

He looked at me as if I was a pack of cold cuts that had passed its freshness date.  “You’re goin’ about this all wrong,” he said with a glint of cynicism in his eyes.

poetryslam
Actual un-PhotoShopped picture of poetry slammer.

 

“But you’re my elected representative,” I said.  “Aren’t you supposed to . . . you know . . . pull strings for people in your district.  In the name of ‘constituent services.’”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, apparently amused at my naivete.  “You’re in the big city now,” he said, then he reached in his desk drawer, pulled out a business card and handed it to me.  “You need to call this guy.”

I looked at the card.  Francis X. Shaughnessy.  “Who’s he?” I asked.

“A registered lobbyist.”

“What does a lobbyist do?”

“He comes to talk to me about good things I could do for people like you.”

“But . . . I’m here trying to talk to you about good things you could do for people like me.”

“It ain’t the same.”

“Why not?”

“If you give me money, it’s a bribe.  If you give him money, it’s compensation.  If he throws a ‘time’ for me, that’s everybody’s free speech petitioning government.  You give to his PAC, he gives it to me.  It’s in the First Amendment–you could look it up.”

Irish
“Is everybody here Irish?”

 

“So–I have to pay money to get somebody else to say things to you I can say myself for nothing.”

“On the nosey.”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s ‘well-connected.’  It’s in the papers.  Every time they write his name they say ‘The well-connected Francis X. Shaughnessy.’”

“And me?”

“You’re just an ordinary voting schlub.”

Dawn broke on Marblehead, as we say here in Massachusetts.  “Nice talkin’ to ya,” I said, with a trace of bitterness.

“Nice talkin’ to you!” my rep said.

“Where can I find this Shaughnessy guy?”

Piersall
Jimmy Piersall:  Certifiable.

 

“Down the hall, out the State House door, cross the street.  His office is right above Guertin’s Bar and Grille.”

“How . . . convenient.”

“Ain’t it though?”

We shook hands and I took my leave, which I’d left by the door.  I was across the street and walking up a flight of stairs to Politico Strategies LLC in less time than it would take you to recite the Miranda Warning.

“Is Mr. Shaughnessy in?” I asked the receptionist, who was holding her hands out at arm’s length to let her nail polish dry.

“Whom shall I say”–she began.  Apparently she went to Katie Gibbs Secretarial School on Marlborough Street.

“Mr. Chapman,” I said, interrupting her.

katherine gibbs
Graduation Day at Katie Gibbs!

 

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Me.”

“Not you,” she said, clucking her tongue.  “Whom shall I say sent you?”

I was losing my innocence with every tick of the clock.  “That would be Representative O’Kiley,” I said.

She smiled for the first time and said “Have a seat.”

The reading materials available in the reception area consisted of a big picture book of Boston, so that those in the Athens of America who don’t like to read would have something to look at; the two daily newspapers; and a selection of recent magazines.  Newsweek seems to think Howard Dean has the Democratic nomination sewed up, but Time likes John Kerry.

Shaughnessy emerged from his office, his hand apparently attached to the back of someone whose deserving cry for help was next in line in front of me.

“So I think if we came up with a Nuts of the Red Sox series, with one each devoted to Bernie Carbo, Jim Piersall, Bill Lee, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green, it could be a real winner.”

“I’ll talk to my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Vanity and Commemorative License Plates and we’ll see what we can do.”

Pumpsie
Pumpsie Green rookie card:  I used to have one!

 

“Thanks, thanks an awful lot,” the guy said.  He looked hopeful, so I figured he wrote a big check.

“What do I have next,” the guy asked the receptionist.

“This man here–O’Kiley sent him.”

“Well in that case, come on in Mr. . . .”

Again, I felt humbled by my lack of importance.  After introductions, I was shown into the inner sanctum, where I was offered a chair and initial cup of coffee, gratis.

“So,” Shaughnessy began.  “What can I do for youse?”

“I’m looking for a job,” I said.

“As are so many of my constituents in this dreadful economy brought about by greedy Wall Street bankers and mean old Republicans.  What kind of work were you lookin’ for?” he asked, but before I could answer he finished the sentence for me.  “Indoor work and no heavy liftin’ I presume?”

“I guess you could say that.  I want to be the state’s poet laureate.”

“Jeez Louise–that’s a tough one.  The pay is lousy but the hours are good.”

“It’s an important position.  Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

“That’s a great line,” he said as he gazed wistfully out the window.  “Who said it?”

“Yogi Berra.”

“I thought so.  So what’s your angle?”

“My . . . angle?”  I had passed through 19 years of schooling without ever being told I needed an “angle” to be a poet.

“Sure.  Are you . . .”–he picked up a laminated sheet that listed the currently favored racial/sexual/ethnic/gender categories of the Commonwealth and began to tick them off starting with “Aleutian Islander.”

“No, can’t say that I am.”

“But O’Kiley sent ya, huh?  Okay, well, let’s think about it.  Can you give a bunch o’ money to my friend Mr. O’Kiley?”

“Not since my wife found out political contributions aren’t tax deductible.”

“Okay–can you raise a bunch?”

“Don’t think so.  My friends tend to be apolitical.”

“Okay, well it’s gonna cost you then.”

“How much?”

“A $2,000 a month retainer, and a $10,000 success fee . . .”

“I thought that was illegal.”

“Excuse me.  I meant if you get the job, you hire me as a consultant to the State Office of Poetry for $10,000.”

I glared at him with eyes that I narrowed to grim, little slits.  “You don’t look like a poet.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said.  “Tell me a little bit about your verse,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and made a little church-and-steeple with his fingers.

“Well, I’ve self-published one book of light verse about women–The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head.

“Is that like ‘chick lit’,” he said without contempt, just an air of honest appraisal.

“Not really–it’s more like anti-chick lit.  It’s dedicated to my wife and it’s a bunch of poems about the women I dated before I met her, and how they compare unfavorably to her.”

“Smart husband, dumb poet.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You gotta have a sympathetic political theme, like that poet laureate who got hired in North Carolina the other day.”

“What was her–angle?”

“Homelessness.  Very sensitive.  That’s the beauty of political art.  You pick the right topic, anybody who criticizes you looks like jerk.  Some critic pans you, you get your friends to write angry letters to the editor sayin’ ‘Oh, so your hotsy-totsy poetry editor don’t like that chapbook, eh?  I guess the cruel son-of-a-bitch don’t like homeless people, neither.’  Pretty soon the guy’s busted down to writing about the spring performance of Lion King at Miss Cynthia’s School of Tap and Ballet.”

baby seal
“These poems have got to be good–they’re about baby seals!”

 

It was as if the clouds had parted and rays of light shot down to give me inspiration.  “Okay, I’m gonna write the most poignant, sensitive, morally unassailable collection of poetry the world’s ever seen.”

“Whatta ya gonna call it?”

“The Don’t Club Baby Seals to Death Poems.”

I Feel Bad About Your Neck

One of my first literary crushes was the late Nora Ephron, who back in the 70s wrote for Esquire magazine.  She was funny, and from the looks of her little caricature icon drawn by David Levine, she was cute.  To me, at least.

And so it was with some dismay that I read her collection of essays: “I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.”

If only, I thought, she had known me back when I was putting together my Thirty-Year Plan for Long-Term Neck Maintenance, she wouldn’t have felt bad about her neck.


Do this 3,000 times a day and you’ll be fired from your job and your wife will leave you.

 

That’s right.  I was thinking about how my neck would look in the 21st century back when you were watching Grizzly Adams and The Brady Bunch.  If you were even alive.


Grizzly Adams, right, Some Other Guy, left

 

My long-term perspective on neck upkeep was prompted by Jabba the Hutt, the Star Wars character who bore more than a passing resemblance to Richard J. Daley, the long-time Mayor of Chicago whose neck melded into his pot belly shortly after the 1968 Democratic Convention.


Jabba the Hutt, Richard J. Daley:  Separated at birth?

 

Jabba was my nightmare–what I would look like if I didn’t take care of my neck; a double or even triple-chinned blob of a man, cast aside while hard-charging up-and-comers half my age blew by me on the Dan Ryan Expressway of life.  I wasn’t going to end up a flabby mound of blubber, dammit!  Like William Faulkner, I would not only endure, I would prevail!


William Faulkner: Note nice neck.

 

And so it is that I end up, approaching the sixth decade of my life, without a double chin (or “chin scrotum,” as fitness freaks like to call them).  From some angles.  If the light is right.  With the wind at my back.  Unlike the guys I read about in The Wall Street Journal who are paying $6,231 for face lifts (proper name, rhytidectomies), money they could be spending on cheap red wine if only they’d taken care of themselves.

How can you achieve the same semi-tough neck–with the approximate firmness of a trout’s belly–at my advanced age?  Simple–follow this E-Z Home Neck of Steel program, and you’ll never feel bad about your neck.

Go Out for High School Football.  High school football is a great way to build neck muscles so that you end up at +60 years with very little flab on your neck.  Or sometimes no neck at all.  Consider Tommy Nobis, my role model when I was a budding young middle linebacker.  Tommy built up his neck to a robust 19.5″ circumference by daily neck exercises of the sort our coaches made us do; we would drop down on the ground in push-up position, but support the upper half of our bodies with our heads instead of our arms.


Tommy Nobis:  Doesn’t feel bad about his neck, he doesn’t have one.

With this type of conditioning, we could use our heads as human battering rams, which led to some neck injuries, but that was a small price to pay for a neck that looked like an Ionic column.  Hint:  start work early on this part of the program, preferably three decades before you wish to avoid anxiety about a flabby neck.

Whiplash:  Whiplash is a great conditioning tool for the neck.  The best way to acquire it is to drive a car in the left-hand lane of a state highway while three girls drive behind you, talking and laughing so that they don’t notice you have stopped for oncoming traffic.  When they finally see you, it will be too late and they will slam into your rear-end (I mean your car’s rear-end), causing your head to snap back, then bounce off the head rest.


“I am so sorry!”

When your car finally comes to a stop, the girls will surround you and apologize profusely, enveloping you in the scent of perfume while their long hair gently brushes your face and–I had a point back there, before the crash.

Oh yeah.  Whiplash results in pain that can be alleviated by yoga, especially the cobra position, which also tones your neck muscles.  Again, remember to start early–give yourself plenty of time, like, say three decades.

Buy Executive Health Briefs.  In the late 70s ads began to appear in leading business publications for an expensive newsletter called “Executive Health Briefs.”  For an exorbitant annual subscription price, you would receive a weekly collection of health tips that would keep you trim so that when you discarded your first wife in an expensive divorce you could acquire an aerobics instructor who shortened her name to a diminutive with the letter “i” in it just so she could dot it with a smiley face.


“When you die, can I have all your money–please?”

 

As a come-on, the publisher offered a free copy of “How to Avoid a Double-Chin and Pot Belly” to new subscribers.  In a risky arbitrage move, I signed up for Executive Health Briefs, then as soon as I’d received the Double-Chin/Pot Belly teaser, I canceled my subscription.  After all, I couldn’t afford to spend what little beer money I had on a magazine whose price point was set for six-figure CEOs!

But three decades later, I still refer to that handy collection of exercises, which cost me $3 (adjusted for inflation through the Carter administration, $1.2 billion).  I am now willing, nay happy, to share key double-chin fighting exercises with you–free, because that’s the Way of the Internet!

1.  Interlace fingers across forehead.  Bow your head forward until your chin touches your navel.  Dig down, remove belly button lint, resurface.  Repeat six times.

2.  Turn your head towards and then over your left shoulder.  Place chin on left shoulder blade, scratch patch of dry skin that you have been unable to reach using your right arm.  Return to original position, and repeat over right shoulder.  If neck becomes stuck behind shoulder, call Fire Department.

3.  Place palms against side of head.  Press until lymph nodes in head pop, sending colorless liquid streaming out ears.  Repeat until neck is drained of fluid.  Adjourn to singles bar to receive admiring compliments from people two decades younger than you who would like to inherit your estate.

To the Veterans of Boston Disco

          The Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party drew a far more diverse crowd than just veterans of the disco era.

                                                                              The Boston Globe

disco

I doffed my disco hat as the national anthem of disco, “Love to Love You, Baby,” slowly swelled over the crowd gathered in Boston’s City Hall Plaza, voted America’s Ugliest Public Space for 46 years running!

boston
Boston City Hall: “Uh, I think you got it upside down.”

 

Yes, we have a lot to be proud of here in Beantown.  We occupy a crucial place in American history.  It was here that Donna Summer (nee LaDonna Adrian Gaines) was born in 1948In 1975, just one year before the Bicentennial of America, she started a royalist revolution in music with Love to Love You that would restore a monarchy to this nation, which had succumbed to the bland temptations of rock democracy, when she was crowned “Queen of Disco.”

I looked to my right and saw my old buddy Salvatore Di La Saltimboccacino de Nunzio.  We had been among the early disco rebels, meeting secretly in the men’s rooms of the 70’s clubs where doped-out rock fans would smoke some dope and then go out and sit like dopes down front of some white punks on dope playing dopey music.  Sal–he ultimately shortened his name because it was too wide to get in the doors of some of the basement clubs–helped me plot the revolution that would spread like wildfire in the wake of The Trammps “Disco Inferno.”  We wanted to get up–or down, as the case may be–and boogie!

disco1

I noticed Sal still had his disco hat on.  “Hey,” I said.  “What’s with the no-doffing-your-disco-hat?  They’re playing . . .”

“I know,” Sal said disconsolately.  “I guess I’m just . . . discouraged.”

I hadn’t seen Sal this down since the infamous “Death to Disco” night at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1979.  After that rout, it had been all downhill.  The Anti-Disco Forces had won.  They had us on the run, and we went into exile.

disco2

“Whatsa matta you?” I said, doing my best imitation of Sal’s pidgin Italo-American dialect, trying to bond with him a bit.

He took off his hat and gave me a look of resignation.  “You and me–we’re like disabled soldiers of some despised and forgotten war.”

“Like Vietnam?” I said.

“What’s that?”  Sal had been too busy dancing during the 70’s to keep up with relatively current events.

“You don’t need to know,” I said, throwing my arm around his shoulders.   “You gotta look on the bright side, pal.”

“What bright side?”

“Look all around youse,” I said.  “Yes we been lurking in the shadows for what–35 years?  But finally, at long last, this great country of ours is beginning to recognize disco’s contribution to truth, justice–and the American Way.”

disco3

“I thought that was Superman,” he snorted.  Then a mirthless little laugh came out of his mouth.  “Ha,” he said.

“Why you say ‘Ha’ like that?”

“Because.  Yeah, it’s great that they drew a far more diverse crowd than just veterans of the disco era to the first annual Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party, but have you tried to get an appointment at the Chateau de Ville Disco Veteran’s Memorial Hospital lately?”

In fact I hadn’t, but then I had emerged from disco era battles relatively unscathed.  Yeah, my knee pops every now and then, and I get neck spasms whenever I hear The Bee Gees hit the high note in “You Should Be Dancin’,” but at least I can still keep up with the kids on the Dance Dance Revolution machine when I go to the mall.

disco4

“Is it . . . bad?” I asked haltingly.  You could see me halting back there, couldn’t you?

“It’s a national disgrace,” Sal said.  “There are waiting lists to get on the waiting lists.  The docs are underpaid–according to them.  The nurses have big tits but . . .”

I could tell Sal was turning maudlin, so I cut him off.  “Look, youse,” I said.  “We got the rest of our miserable lives ahead of us.  Let’s you and me . . .”

“You mean ‘you and I’–don’t you?”  Everybody’s a freakin’ grammarian these days.

“Check page 456 of the 1937 edition of The American Language by H.L. Mencken,” I said hurriedly.  “It’s fine.”

“Oh, okay–if you’re being descriptive instead of prescriptive.”

“You got that right.  Anyway, let’s dedicate ourselves to preserving the legacy of disco.”

“How we gonna do that?”

“Well, we could start in Kenmore Square.”

disco5
Emergency snow crews race against time to clear a path to Lucifer during the Blizzard of ’78.

 

His eyes grew misty, and when he spoke, there was a clutch in his voice.  “Yeah–Lucifer, Narcissus.  Them was the days all right.”

“Remember the Blizzard of ’78?” I asked.

“Boy, do I!  We tramped through snow and ice and sleet to get down and get funky back then.  People died in that storm!”

“Absolutely.  So we could create the Tomb of the Unknown Dancer there.”

“Yeah, like that guy from Revere who did the splits without stretchin’ out first.”

The Baddest Cat on the Team

          A star high school quarterback was persuaded to play football at Rice University by a handwritten letter its offensive coordinator wrote to his cat.

Sports Illustrated

 

Rocco
“With these feet, I’m gonna need high-tops, like Johnny Unitas.”

 

Ho-hum.  Another day, another Division I offensive coordinator prostrating himself before me.  “Dear Rocco,” Clyde van Pelt of Nebraska writes.  “Can’t you see yourself in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day, with 87,000 screaming fans urging you–and of course your human–on to victory with a national title on the line?”

Uh, no, actually I can’t.  “Beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska”?  Are there two of them?  Is the beautiful one located out-of-state?

To cop a line from Fred Allen, Nebraska’s a great place to live–if you’re a stalk of winter wheat.  Into the round file from waaay downtown–for three!

Okay, who’s next?  Penn State.  Sorry, when I go into the kitty box, I want privacy.  Ix-nay on the ittany-nay ions-lay.

Okie
“How about me?  I’m a Nittany Cat.”

 

Whadda we got here.  Harvard?  Are they serious?  Well, an Ivy League education is worth something–in some benighted minds.  Let’s see what kinda package they’re offering.  Canvas tote bag, no-show job at the Widener Library, free use of a Volvo station wagon.  For what?  To pick up Environmental Studies majors in Harvard Square?  That ain’t the way the Big Cat rolls.

Let’s see–Miami.  Too hot.  Wisconsin–too cold.  Missouri–they don’t pay enough.

Stanford–now we’re getting some place.  Top-notch academics, competitive program, all those venture capital alums to give me a job in case I go undrafted.

And the pussy!  I mean really sharp looking cats, brainy too!

Gotta get this one in front of the bi-ped, see what he thinks.

Funny kitten
“I want everybody down in a 4-point stance!”

 

Hey–wake up, Cheetos-breath.  C’mon, don’t force me to make happy paws all over that stupid sweater of yours.

Yeah, you, numbnuts.  Have you signed your national letter of intent yet?  Well, don’t, okay?  I want you to look at Stanford, then maybe Northwestern, or Virginia, before you commit to four years in some God-forsaken hell-hole where the only entertainment is football and beer.  I don’t want to waste the best years of my life in some place that Gertrude Stein would rank lower than Oakland; not only no there there, no where where.

Look at this course catalog–lots of interesting classes.  History and Philosophy of History and Philosophy.  Can’t top that for circular academic thinking.  The Courtly Tradition in Fiction from Le Morte d’Arthur to Raymond Chandler.  Cats in Cartoons: From Felix to Top Cat.

cats4
“PLEASE–promise me you’re not considering Ohio State!”

What?  Oh you want to spend the next four years in a drunken stupor–is that it?  Well, include me out, Buster.  This cat’s got a brain, okay?  Even if we make it to the NFL–and that’s a big if–we’ll spend the first three years holding a clipboard. Making millions of dollars, granted, but do you know how many jobs there are out there for clipboard-holders?  Not too freakin’ many, pal, and they don’t pay diddly squat.  You know why?  Low barrier to entry.  Anybody can be a clipboard holder, it takes very little training, no professional certification or state-mandated test, no . . .

catfood

Hey, what’s this?  Somebody actually took the time to write us a nice handwritten note–in big cursive letters, too!  This is straight outta Martha Stewart!

Lemme see where it’s from, gimme gimme gimme.  Rice U?  Wha?  You mean like Eukanuba Adult Dry Cat Food Lamb and Rice Formula?

Yuk.

Isn’t there a University of Friskies Party Mix?

You Forgot To Be Beautiful

An evening of jazz, how pleasant one thinks,
then you hear a noise like a kitchen sink
being tossed out a window into a dumpster
or bombs bursting in air over Fort Sumter.
There’s a hint of three tomcats all tossed in a bag,
then shaken, not stirred as a loathsome gag.
You smile and applaud, but as a critic quite dutiful,
you tell the quartet, “You forgot to be beautiful.”

aacm
AACM:  Gack!

 

The public unveiling of a grand civic sculpture:
when disrobed, it looks like an arthritic vulture.
There’s rusted metal enough for a two-car collision,
the sculptor would think my praise quite high derision.
His manifest intent is epater le bourgeois,
I can only conclude that the guy is a doucheois.
When I meet him, I admit, I got kinda cute-iful:
“Hey man, great stuff—but you forgot to be beautiful.”

picasso

The Greeks had it right, if you want my view,
the good, the beautiful, and also the true.
Anything else—why bother trying it?
You can call it art, but I ain’t buying it.

picasso1

The lady’s got two noses on one side of her face–
somehow, something looks . . . out of place.
If I could I would take my Artgum eraser
but the museum guard would pull out his Taser.
I’d be laid out twitching on the marble floor,
while the docents cried lustily “Give him some more!”
And so she retains a weird double snootiful.
My artistic advice—don’t forget to be beautiful.

 

For Second-Tier Ballet, Climb to First Rank Requires Puck

WORCESTER, Mass.  This gritty city in central Massachusetts is the second-largest in New England, a fact that comes as a surprise to many both outside its boundaries and in.  “You coulda knocked me over with a feather when I heard dat,” says Butch Wyznorski, who lives in the tough Main South area of town.  “I swore it was Hartford, or maybe Seekonk.”

worcester1
Main South: Join us for the Festival of Burning Mattresses, this August!

 

That lack of notoriety is the source of some chip-on-the-shoulder resentment, as well as an attitude of boosterism that takes little provocation to erupt.  “Yes, we’re #2 in many respects,” says local Chamber of Commerce President Chuck Guertin, “but when it comes to industrial abrasives, Boston can’t touch us.”

Civic leaders hope to address the municipality’s inferiority complex with a new emphasis on the arts, starting with the Quinsigamond Ballet, the place to go to see local terpsichorean talent in action.  “We have everything we need to succeed,” says Artistic Director Jean Nataniel.  “Except for an audience.”

hockey
Pas de deux.

The company competes for a share of a limited local entertainment dollars spent on high culture, and will try to gain an edge on its fellow arts charities by a subscription series that will feature original works with connections to more popular amusements.  The first is a full-scale work created by Latvian choreographer Ivo Ozols entitled “Original Six,” a tribute to the founding clubs of the National Hockey League.

“People here love hockey, so why don’t we give them what they want is what I say,” says Nataniel.  “I have had a little trouble convincing Mr. Ozols of the importance of hockey to the region, but as every schoolboy knows we are home to the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks, the minor league affiliate of the San Jose Sharks.”

moxie

For his part, Ozols resisted a pure hockey-themed ballet, and worked to transform his assignment into a “mash-up” with the Old Testament in the hope of preserving his reputation among first-class ballet companies around the world, his target market.  “I imposed a leitmotif of original sin on the god-awful concept I was presented with,” he says as he sips a bottle of Moxie, the most popular soft drink in the city which is isolated–like Rome, Italy–by the seven hills that surround it.  “You have the Garden of Eden with the original six cities of Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Boston, New York and Detroit,” he notes.  “Adam and Eve are expelled because they cannot comprehend the rule for ‘icing’–no one could.  The end result is a team from Los Angeles–the City of Angels–wins the Stanley Cup.”

worcester3
Seven Hills Bus Station, Worcester:  Try the peanut butter crackers in the vending machine!

 

Critics were at first confused, then exasperated, and finally jubilant when they realized what they were seeing at an in-studio preview for big donors and the media.  “It was as delicate as a Cam Neely forecheck,” said Bendall Hyde of Worcester Arts Spectator.  “At the same time, I was glad to see the principal male dancer sent to the penalty box for a cross-check on that last fouette.

The company is hoping for a big opening night crowd, but a scheduling snafu may put the damper on that.  “Who was the bonehead who picked October 8th?” says Director of Operations Dick Tradzewski.

“What’s wrong with that date?” Nataniel asks.

“That’s the Bruins home opener against the Flyers!”

Scooter & Skipper at the National Museum of Dance

It’s family vacation time, and against their noble savage instincts, we’ve decided to inflict some high culture on the boys by taking them to the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs.

“Do we have to?” Scooter, the older and more forthright of the two at twelve asked–or to be more precise, whined.

“Yes,” I said with grim determination as we made the turn down the Avenue of the Pines, which by coincidence was lined with pine trees.  “Learning to endure boredom is part of growing up.”

ballet4

“It won’t be boring,” my wife interjected.  Easy for her to say; she’s been taking ballet since she was a chubby little girl, while I crapped out as the next Gene Kelly after one (1) class at Miss Finch’s School of Tap.  “There are interactive videos, so it will be like Disney World.”

“Will there be rides?” Skipper, the younger one asked.

“No such luck, Skip,” I said, “although that’s a great idea.  You could have the 32-fouette Don Quixote Tilt-a-Whirl.”  I snuck that one in just to show my wife that I do listen to her ballet talk, if only to mock it mercilessly later.

ballet1

We parked and entered the graceful building, which is maintained in tip-top shape thanks to an endowment funded by 19th century robber barons.  “I’m going straight to the Kirov and Bolshoi exhibits,” my wife said, like a St. Louis Cardinals fan who makes a beeline for the Rogers Hornsby plaque as soon as he enters Cooperstown.

“I think we’ll roam around for a bit,” I replied.  “I want the kids to get a broader sense of the history of the dance, rather than just a limited focus.”  I narrowed my eyes as I uttered these words to distract her from noticing how deeply my tongue was lodged in my cheek.

Hornsby
Hornsby:  “Why the hell am I in a ballet post?”

 

I wandered the halls with the boys, taking in the many colorful and informative exhibits.  As I stopped at a video of Judith Jamison, I got the sense that they had, after five minutes, just about had enough.

“Dad–do you like ballet?” Skipper asked.

“Some of it,” I replied.  “I like the older stuff, as long as it’s not a story ballet.”

“I like stories,” Scooter said.

Everybody likes stories, Scoots, but in ballet a story means that the dancers cock their heads and put their hands under their cheeks to show that they’re sleeping.  It’s like something you’d do in kindergarten.”

“Why don’t you like the new stuff?” Skip asked.  He’s young, and in his world new–baseball gloves, bicycles, etc.–is better than old.

“I don’t know why the dancers in the new stuff are so angry all the time.  I mean, they’re doing what they love for poverty-level wages.  They’re giving up the best years of their lives and any chance of having a family.  They get to stay overnight at the artistic director’s apartment and get dumped a year later when a younger dancer comes along.  It’s all good!”

ballet2
“Why the long face(s)?”

 

“So . . . if you don’t like the new stuff and you don’t like the story stuff–why are we here?” Skipper asked with the relentless logic of a pre-adolescent boy who’d rather be eating ice cream.

“We’re here because mom likes ballet,” I said, and I got down on one knee, as I always do when I want to drive home a point to the kids.  “Guys, you’re going to find when you get older that you’re going to want a mommy.”

“We already have a mommy,” Scooter said with a confused look on his face.

“I mean a girl–a woman–like mom who you’ll want to play house with.”

“Ew!” Scooter exclaimed, almost involuntarily.

“Trust me, Scoots, you will.  Anyway, when you find the right girl, you have to start giving things up so you can live together.”

“Like what?” Skipper asked.

“Well, chances are as you grow older you’ll pick up a friend named Mad Dog in high school or college.  She’s going to want him out of your life.”

“Why?” Scooter asked.

maddog

“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain.  Your friend Mad Dog will be the guy who stood by you when you said you couldn’t go any further and had to give up.  He’s going to encourage you, really push you to keep going when you don’t think you can go on.  He’s going to make you drink another beer, and then another, and another, until you’ve matched and exceeded your personal best.”

“Beer stinks,” Scooter said, and screwed up his nose in disgust.

“Sure it does, at first,” I said.  “But sometimes in life we have to learn to accept and even enjoy unpleasant things if we’re going to barf our guts up later.”

This last truth caused the two of them to launch into their respective imitations–complete with sound effects, facial expressions and gestures–of the act of upchucking, which they have perfected to a high degree of artistry.  Unfortunately, there is no National Museum of Vomit.

“Are there other things you have to do to make mommies happy?” Skip asked when they were done.

couch

“Well, you’ll probably have to let her decorate your room.”

“No way!” they both screamed.  Over the years they have acquired a valuable collection of posters of athletes from the four major sports groups, plus a boy band or two and a few sullen-faced rappers.

“Unfortunately, that’s the way the world works,” I said.  “That’s why it’s important that all the furniture you guys buy when you’re out on your own be very lightweight.”

“Why’s that?” Scooter asked.

“So the mommy won’t hurt herself when she throws it out on the curb.”

The Corrupting Influence of Staten Island Picnics

Picnics on Staten Island Blamed for Ruin of Young Girls

                                           New York newspaper headline, 1884

 

If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t let her go
on a picnic with just any Tom, Dick or Joe
to Staten Island, ruin of young girls,
so precious, so dainty, beneath their spit curls.

picnic
Let’s get this party started!

 

On a picnic you’re likely to encounter ants
that can climb up your legs if you don’t wear long pants.
To scratch them requires an action indelicate
which you must do yourself, you can’t ask your fellow-cate.

picnic1
Oh yeah!

 

If you start to sweat, he may see your nipples
as your perspiration down you ripples.
If your face grows flush, he may think it passion
and take liberties if he thinks himself dashin’.

picnic2
Beneath those snarling exteriors lie snarling interiors!

 

With all of these threats to a young woman’s virtue
it’s best if she sticks to a quite early curfew
because things can get ugly, indeed quite hairy
if she succumbs to his wiles and should miss the last ferry.

Youth is Not Wasted on the Young

There once was a man of an uncertain age
Who felt his life slipping, that he’d turned a page,
So he dumped the Mrs. and gave her some dough,
And set off to find self, where’er it might gough.
He tried Grecian Formula to blacken his locks,
Wore slim-fitting sweaters, bought new argyle socks.
A little red sports car was of course required
And a personal trainer was quickily hired.

His friends and companions, they noticed the change
And more than one came soon to think he was strange.
His vocab was sprinkled with “awesome” and “skeevy,”
He watched Jersey Shore on his new high-def TV.
He’d buy rounds of drinks at a bar that had ferns
He studied the ways of the young, and he lerned.
He found you have friends if you freely spend money–
Folks hark to your talk, and think your jokes funny.

Once he was settled in his brand new skin
He looked round himself, and he took it all in.
He’d mastered the art of playing the dandy
And now it was time for some major arm candy.
He took up with a bleach-blonde aerobics instructor,
He briefily wooed her, then brieflier fucked her.
She found him too fast, “like a bleeping Niagara.”
She told him to get lots of full-strength Viagra.

One word to the wizened was more than enough–
He went to the drug store and purchased the stuff,
And when next the lovebirds climbed into the sack
He was like his old self at the beast with two backs.
He huffed and he puffed through the first time, then twice,
He recalled all he’d read of Hugh Hefner’s advice.
He would have been golden, except for one fact,
He lay back and suffered a mass heart attack.

Moral: If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

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