A Happy Rhythm ‘n Blues Halloween to You

As I walk down the streets of my neighborhood and look at the Halloween displays that decorate the lawns and porches, I’m struck by how trite and predictable everything appears.  Tombstones angled crookedly out of the ground; cobwebs spread over shrubbery; skeletons, witches and ghosts.  Forget about the hazards to trick or treaters from silent but deadly hybrid cars speeding down darkened streets; it’s a wonder the kids don’t die of boredom.

At our house, by contrast, it’s an entirely different scene.  Instead of the ticky-tacky products of the holiday-industrial complex, the kids will walk through a highly original tableau; scenes of death and violence from rhythm ‘n blues.


The Ghost of Jackie Wilson

 

Down by the mailbox there’s a grisly effigy of Marvin Gaye, his body riddled with holes left by bullets from his father’s gun.  Walk up the driveway and you’ll see Otis Redding’s crashed plane sticking up out of the ground.  There’s Jackie Wilson, who suffered a massive heart attack while singing his hit “Lonely Teardrops” at a Dick Clark show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  His brow is bloodied with ketchup to recreate the damage produced by a head-first fall to the stage.

I’ve recreated these scenes for the kids in order to educate them about the many great black  singers who laid the foundation for the crappy white pap they listen to on their iPods.  I got the inspiration a few years back when a little boy and girl came to the door, she with eyebrow-pencil scratches on her face, he wearing a fright wig.  “You look like James Brown,” I said to the boy.  “And you look like his wife, Tomi Rae Brown!”

“Who’s Tomi Rae Brown?” the girl asked.  It was all I could do to stifle a snort of disgust.  “What are they teaching you kids in school these days?” I said with barely-disguised contempt.  If their dad hadn’t been standing on our driveway with a flashlight, I would have made them come inside and listen to “Star Time,” the definitive 4-CD collection of the Godfather of Soul’s Greatest Hits.  No wonder the kids in Singapore are always cleaning our clocks on standardized tests!

I decided that Halloween Night that I would henceforth decorate our house in a tasteful but edifying fashion to convey to the kids of today the roots of the blues, America’s greatest gift to the world.  Besides the Kitchen Magician and Durward Kirby, I mean.


Durward Kirby:  Obscure for a reason.

 

I also swore that each year I’d dress up like a famous figure from R&B history and re-enact a scene from its tumultuous past.  Not for me the goofy-looking witch’s hat or the bowls of peeled grapes that pass for eyeballs in our neighborhood.  No–I was out to educate the kids.  Nothing wrong with spoiling a fun holiday with a little pedagogy.

This year, I’d decided that I’d dress up as Al Green, who underwent a life-changing experience in 1974 when a 29-year-old woman named Mary Woodson threw a pan of hot grits on him as he sat in a bathtub.


Al Green, Mary Woodson:  Hold the grits!

 

Green took the incident as a sign, like the burning bush that Moses saw, to do something.  The burning bush told Moses that he was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt; the burning grits told Green that he would be the leader of the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Memphis, and give up songs of sex for gospel music.  Same story, slightly different scale.

We’ve set up a play stove on the front porch and the grits are cookin’ as our first little goblin makes her way up the path.  It’s Gaura Pandit, ten-year-old daughter of Balreev Pandit, a high-tech entrepreneur who lives down the street.

“Trick or treat!” she exclaims.

“What have we here!” I ask in mock horror.

“You don’t have to be scared–I’m a princess!” she replies.

“Okay, then.  Do you want some candy or do you want to play a game first?”

The girl looks back at her father, who indicates by a nod of his head that she should humor me.

“Uh, play a game–I guess.”

“Okay!  Grab that little pan”–she does as instructed–”now fling it on me.”

The girl is unsure whether to follow my instructions, and looks at her dad again.  “Go ahead, Gaura,” he says.

She rears back and, with a remarkably vigorous motion, thrusts the pan forward, spraying the hot corn and milk mixture over my bare torso.

“Arrgh!” I scream and hit the ground.  Her father comes rushing up the front stairs to help me.

“You told her to do it, I heard you!” he screams, afraid I’m going to sue him.

“No, really, I’m fine,” I say as I shoo him away.

“Why did you have her do that?” he exclaims in his somewhat-stilted British accent.

“It’s a valuable lesson about the forgotten religious overtones of the season,” I say as I wipe the grits off with a paper towel while the little girl looks on.  “Next week is All Souls Day, when Christians used to pray for the poor people burning in Purgatory.”

“I don’t see the connection,” the highly-educated engineer says with a puzzled look on his face.

“It’s part of the Communion of Saints–one of the weirder doctrines of the Catholic faith, and one that’s usually worth twenty bonus points on an exam,” I say.  I know whereof I speak, having taken home the plastic statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary awarded annually to the highest score in Catechism three years in a row at Sacred Heart Grade School during the 60′s.  Sort of like the Gretzky-era Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.

“This is most impressive,” Pandit says.  “So you take your pain–offer it up to your god . . .”

The God,” I correct him.

“. . . whatever–and it helps somebody get out of a hot spot?” he asks, incredulous.

“Yep,” I say.  “Just like the guys who throw themselves under the juggernaut in your country.  Pretty neat, isn’t it.”

I look down at little Gaura, who’s taking care of business filling her bag with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Her father looks me over, and I sense that he thinks I’m–what’s the word I’m searching for–eccentric.

“You know,” he says after a while, “it’s funny.”  He begins to speak, but his voice trails off.

“What?” I ask.

He pauses–perhaps uncomfortable because rhythm ‘n blues is still new to him.

“I came to this country to get away from religious kooks.”

Against Odds, Kids Resist Healthy Treats on Halloween

WELLESLEY FALLS, Massachusetts. Janet Disalvo is, by her own admission, an unreformed hippie.

The mother of three lets the grass in her front yard grow wild, creating a sharp contrast with the well-manicured lawns of the homes on either side of hers. “I don’t really fit in,” she says, “but we moved here for the schools,” whose students regularly score in the top one percent of districts in the state. She grows vegetables out back, and there are solar panels on her roof.

“Basically, what you get with me is the full counter-culture package, plunked down in white-bread suburbia,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh.


The garden out back.

 

As Halloween approaches, Janet spends hours creating a “haunted house” atmosphere for trick-or-treaters, stringing spider webs across her front porch and placing illuminated ghosts and goblins in her yard. “I do everything I can to create a fun atmosphere,” she says with a tone of disappointment, “and yet every year vandals seem to single us out.”


Spooky!

 

Janet leads this reporter into her kitchen, where she is finishing homemade treats for the youngsters who will begin to show up at her front doorstep in a few minutes. “I was really one of the pioneers of the ‘wholesome treat’ movement,” a claim that is borne out by the cookie sheets that cover every square inch of counter space.


Soy-carrot congo bars: Yum, sort of.

 

“We have zucchini-carob cookies, and soy-carrot congo bars over there,” she says as she places the nutritious snacks in colorful baskets lined with festive black and orange napkins. “I grew everything in my garden. Ooo! I almost forgot the seaweed-apple fritters,” she says with alarm as she scoots around the counter and turns off her oven.


Boo!

 

Within minutes the first trick-or-treaters arrive. It’s the seven-year old Armstrong twins from down the street; Justin is dressed in camouflage while Allison has on a nurse’s outfit. “Hi, Janet,” their mother, Karen, says after the children sing out their “trick-or-treats.”

“Well, well–what do we have here? Let’s see,” she says as she looks Justin over. “You must be some sort of paramilitary death squad commando forcing American imperialism down the throats of an impoverished third-world country. And you,” she says as she examines his sister, “have been sexually stereotyped into a low-wage, subservient position within America’s inequitable and inefficient for-profit healthcare industry.” After she catches her breath, Janet hands each of the children a lentil and molasses cookie with a cheerful “Here you go-there’s your treat!”


Food, or dooty?

 

Justin offers a perfunctory “Thank you,” but Allison holds the cookie up for inspection. “It’s a dog dooty!” she says as she tries to drop it into her mother’s Kate Spade handbag.

“Allison,” her mother Karen says sternly with a tone of reproach. “What do you say?”

“Thank you,” the little girl says without enthusiasm as she turns to move on to the next house.

“She’s tired,” Karen says, apologizing for her daughter. “They all get so whooped up about Halloween and then they just crash!”

“I know!” Janet says, shaking her head. “It’s become so commercial!”

“Right,” Karen says and, as her voice trails off, turns to leave. “Well, see you up at the school!”

“Okay-bye now!”


Fright night.

 

No sooner have the Armstrongs left than another group of children approaches. They are a little older than the twins, and without adult accompaniment.

“Trick or treat!” the kids yell with enthusiasm when they see the various baskets of goodies.

“Oh, my goodness–you really threw a scare into me!” Janet says with mock fright. “Take your pick–whatever strikes your fancy!”

The kids mill about and look through the natural snacks, holding them up to their noses and, once they smell them, putting them back.

“You’re not hungry?” Janet asks with surprise.

“Uh, no,” says a girl dressed as a witch. “I have trick-or-treat for UNICEF, though.” The girl holds up an orange box.


Trick or treat for Ban Ki-moon!

 

“I’ve got some money in my pocket.” Janet digs down deep and pulls out a dollar. “Here,” she says as she slips the bill through the slot. “You send this to Ban Ki-moon and tell him to take his U.N. troops to the Middle East and kick the Americans way the hell out of there.”

“I think it’s just for children.”

“Just don’t let them use it to extend American hegemony over the Middle East in the service of their Zionist puppet-masters,” Janet says.

“We just hand the money in to our teacher.”

“Whatever.”


A little too old.

 

The children leave and Janet hears the sounds of teenage boys yelling in the street. Three boys chase each other into her yard, where they quiet down a bit as they approach her door.

“Trick or treat,” they say, a bit sheepishly.

“Aren’t you boys a little old to be trick-or-treating?” she asks them.

The boys suppress laughs, and one of them says “I’m twelve.”

“I guess that’s all right. Still, you should be helping out in the community. You could be crossing guards at busy intersections, or make treats for underprivileged children, or hold a fund-raiser to pay for a bi-lingual teacher . . .”

The boy who spoke previously interrupts her. “Uh–since I’m only twelve, I have to be in bed pretty soon if you don’t mind.”

“All right–just making a few suggestions. Help yourself to the treats-I’ve got plenty left for some reason.”

The boys poke at the alleged goodies for a moment, before one of them speaks up.

“Don’t you have any like, Airheads, or Snickers, or Daffy Taffy, or something like that?”


Air Heads–the literal kind.

 

“Goodness no–and take all the fun out of a traditional, old-style Halloween with sugary junk that will make you hyperactive and rot your teeth?”

“Well, yeah,” one of them says. “That’s sort of the point.”

“Not around here it’s not. Your moms and dads will be thankful that I was thoughtful enough to care about their children’s health. If you don’t like the snacks, I’ve got some punch inside.”

“What’s it made out of?” a boy dressed as Darth Vader asks through his mask.


“Resistance is futile!”

 

“Camomile tea, pomegranate juice and honey.”

“Uh, sure, sounds good,” the boy says as his friends appear to stifle coughs.

“Sounds like you two could use something for your throats with all that yelling you were doing!”

“Sure,” one of the others says.

“I’ll be right back,” Janet says. She goes into the house, pours three cups of punch and puts them on a tray. As she emerges from the house she is splattered with eggs that the boys throw before running off, laughing as they go.

“It’s like this every year,” Janet exclaims as she wipes herself off. “The harder I try, the worse they treat me!”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs From the Burbs.”

My Mute TV Intervention

This is, without a doubt, the best time of the year for me, and not just because of the cool, crisp autumn air and New England fall foliage.  The NFL season is in full swing.  The World Series ended last night, and the Royals, the team closest to my hometown, were in it.  The professional hockey and basketball seasons have started and I’m following two college football teams.  Yes, October is a veritable cornucopia of a smorgasbord of a goulash for sports fans.

And so it was that I sat down in front of a big screen TV last night.  I hit the “mute” button on the channel changer and loaded my six-CD player with a selection of music that would last me through three-and-a-half hours of televised sports.  A little Bud Powell, some Jacky Terrasson, some Michel Petrucciani; delicate stuff, I know, but the perfect counterpoint when you’re watching some steroid-infused slugger pound a helpless little white ball off a light tower.


Jacky Terrasson, Michel Petrucciani

The doorbell rang–an unusual sound at night in our neighborhood.  Must be the Seventh Day Adventists, I thought.  Anybody else would have entered the modern world and texted me.


The Watchtower:  Salvation’s at your front door!

 

I got up and went to the back door, where I saw my next-door neighbor through the glass.

“Hey Rob,” I said.  “What’s up?”

“I . . . uh . . . just thought I’d come watch the game at your house.  My TV’s on the fritz.”

“Sure,” I said, but I didn’t mean it.  If I wanted company, I would have asked for it.

We had no more than sat down on the couch when I heard the doorbell ring again, this time at the front.  “Help yourself to a beer,” I said as I got up to respond to a second unexpected intrusion on my quiet evening.

Through the glass I saw Ed, Mike and Tom, three guys from the neighborhood who I’d wave to when I passed, or see at cocktail parties, but for whom–to put it bluntly–I have no special affection.

“Hey, guys, how’re you doing?”

“Fine, fine,” Ed said.  “Say, we were just about to watch the game when we discovered that our remote needed some new batteries.”

“What size?”

“Uh, triple D,” Tom said, not sounding very sure of himself.

“You guys wait here,” I said, and I scurried down into the basement to check our supply.  Nope–no triple D’s.  I walked back up the stairs to tell them the bad news.

“Sorry, guys,” I said, even though I wasn’t.  “We don’t have any triple D’s.”

“No problem,” Michael said.  “We’ll just watch the game here,” and before I could throw a block on them they were past me on their way into the family room.  When I caught up with them, I saw not just four uninvited guests, but a whole room full of them, along with my wife, whose eyes were red and who was trying unsuccessfully to keep herself from sobbing.

“What the . . . ” I began, but Rob ended my confusion swiftly and abruptly.

“This is an intervention, pal,” he said, his face dripping with altruistic severity.

“An inter-what?”

It was my wife’s turn to speak.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she said, choking back the tears.  “But I couldn’t take it any longer.”

I looked around the room–I was outnumbered, and there was no use resisting.  I sat down on a foot stool, resigned to whatever it was they had planned for me.

Mike came over, got down on one knee, and announced the charges against me.

“She tells us you watch TV with the sound off.”

I was, quite frankly, stunned.  Like many who suffer from a harmful dependency, I was oblivious to–or unwilling to face–my personal demon.

“Yeah, well, so what?” I asked defensively.

“This is going to be more difficult than I thought,” Tom said to my wife

“The first step towards recovery is to admit you have a problem,” Rob said.  “There’s over 220 million people in America who watch TV with the sound on.  There’s three, maybe five guys who watch with the sound off.”

“And one of them’s an old man in Otterville, Missouri, whose TV broke before he lost his hearing,” Ed added.

“So he doesn’t count,” Mike said.

I took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling.  “I’m . . . I’m sorry guys,” I said when I’d recovered my composure.  “Just because I’m in the distinct minority doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”

If I could have had a nickel for every rolled eye in my family room just then, I’d have bought a 16 oz. jar of Planter’s Honey Roasted Peanuts, and damn the calories.

It was Tom who spoke–or should I say snorted–first.  “Are you all right?” he asked dubiously, “or is the world all wrong?”

I gave him my best slit-eyed, hard-boiled look.  “I’m right,” I said firmly, “and I can prove it.”

The assembled group gave each other sidewise glances, unsure of where I was going to take them.  “Listen, you can never have a Super Bowl party in your house unless you turn the sound on,” Ed said.

“Who gives a rat’s rear-end about that?” I shot right back.  “If I want to go to a Super Bowl party, I’ll come over to your house.  I turn the sound off to keep my mind from rotting from exposure to the black mental mold that you can get from listening to TV–like this!”

I grabbed the remote and hit the mute button.  It was the work of a nanosecond for one of the announcers to say something incredibly stupid.

I turned the sound off again.  I laughed a mirthless little laugh.  “Anybody want to double down on that bet?” I asked, one eyebrow arched skeptically.

There was silence for a moment, then a guy named Bob, who claims to win money betting on football, took up the challenge.  “That was lucky,” he said.  “I’ll bet you three to one Sam Adams Light Beers he don’t say nothin’ stupid for . . . let’s say another minute.”

“You’re on,” I said gleefully.  “Starting”–I glanced up at the clock–“now!”

I put the TV sound back on, pressed the “Pause” button on the stereo, and before you could say “Madison Bumgarner” an announcer stepped in it again.  “Now listen to this,” I said as I reversed the electronic order of things.


Bud Powell

Out of my stereo speakers came the sounds of Terrasson whirling through Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare,” one of the most evocative jazz compositions ever written.  Terrasson’s take was a thing of beauty, as delicate as a doily in your grandmother’s parlor, and yet vigorous–almost athletic.

“Geez,” Bob said, a bit chagrined.  “I guess you’re right.  I always thought of Joe Buck as some kind of genius.  Now–I’m not so sure.”

“Is that enough evidence,” I asked, perhaps a little smugly, “or would you like me to subject you to Tim McCarver?”


McCarver:  Don’t make me do it to you.

 

“So–there’s a method to your madness?” Tom asked, the scales having fallen from his ears.

“You bet your life there is.  And it’s not just sports.  Take American Idol, for example.”

“But that’s a singing program,” Tom said.  “You wouldn’t turn off the sound to that, would you?”

“Sure I would,” I said.  “That program is slowly but inexorably destroying the classic, restrained vocal style developed by jazz singers as they interpreted the Great American Songbook.  The only way to watch it is with the sound off.”


American Idol:  Better with the sound off.

I had them now, and I knew it.

“So you’re saying . . . that some shows are actually better without sound?” Rob asked, incredulous.  “What about something like The View, which doesn’t have music?”

I had to tread carefully now, as I could reasonably assume that the popular ABC daytime show was a favorite of the wives of many of the men present.

“That’s a special case,” I said, proceeding thoughtfully.  “The only way to make that show better is to turn off your TV entirely.”

Fred Nietzsche, C.P.A.

That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.


Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1888

 


That which does not kill you only makes you stronger, PricewaterhouseCoopers ad

 

You think it’s easy being an accountant?  You think once tax season is over I just come into the office to open up the mail and cash the checks?  Let me tell you, all is not strudel and schnitzel at Nietzsche & Nietzsche, P.C.

First, there is my partner-Elisabeth, my sister.  Don’t get me wrong-I love her to death.  But would it be too much to ask that she include self-addressed envelopes in the tax returns she sends to her clients?  God is dead, but God forbid that one of them should ever pay us in thirty days.  We’re a business too!

As for her filing, the less said the better.  I found the home office worksheet of Lou Andreas Salomé under “A,” not “S,” and her self-employment expenses under “L.”  Zarathustra gave us the Superman-why can’t I have a Superwoman for the office!

I’ve told Elisabeth not to eat at her desk, but every day she spreads her tuna salad sandwich out on her work papers when I’m trying to concentrate.  I can’t have clients in-the place smells like the cafeteria at the Domgymnasium in Naumburg.


Mouflon

 

I’ve thought about going out on my own since I seem to be the only one with any business-getting skills around here.  It takes a will to power to hustle for clients.  You can’t sit back and just wait for the Übermensch to do it all.  I joined the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Mouflon and the University of Basel Booster Club.  I spent a hundred Deutschmarks on an ad in the program for the Bayreuth Festival, and she gave me a ton of grief!  “When do we see the payoff on that one?” she asked.  “Or is this another one on the ‘Eternal Return on Investment’ plan?”

I could put up with her constant caviling about which depreciation schedule to use for business equipment if she would just stay out of my personal life!  Last summer she insisted on serving as “chaperone” when Lou and I tried to get away to Tautenburg for a week.  “It is improper for someone who will one day be revered by college freshmen around the world to be seen with an unmarried woman at a Dionysian Fantasy Camp,” she said.

What she doesn’t “get” is that there’s no money in auditing, and tremendous exposure.  That’s why all the other existentialist accountants are going into consulting.  Schopenhauer’s building a nice book of business in the construction trades, retail and ethics.  Kierkegaard’s pretty much cornered the restaurant and hospitality industry and the subjective nature of truth.  And what do I have?  Nothing, because I must constantly correct Elisabeth’s arithmetic!  Naught, naught, carry the one-how hard is that to remember?


Kierkegaard:  “‘Fear and Trembling and Sickness Unto Death’?  Naw–too depressing.”

 

No, if I am to succeed, if I am ever to take my place at the head of the German Institute of Certified Public Accountants, I must breathe free!  Perhaps Malwida von Meysenbug and Enno Friedrich Wichard Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff would join me in an office-sharing arrangement.  I would of course ask Enno to drop some of his names, as the extra expense will increase the cost of our stationery and business cards.  “Nietzsche, Meysenbug & Wilamowitz, P.C.”  Kinda catchy, no?

But I am thinking-big picture-I need to rebrand myself.  Deloitte’s slogan is “To be the standard of excellence.”  Ernst & Young has “Quality in everything we do.”  KPMG has “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”  PricewaterhouseCoopers has “That which does not kill you only makes you stronger.”  God I love that one!

Wonder if they’re hiring.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Let’s Get Philosophical.”

Your Work-Life Advisor

Balancing your life and your work can be difficult.  If you don’t work, you probably won’t eat, in which case you will die and won’t have any life!  On the other hand, you can work so much you won’t have a life even while you’re living.  Your Work-Life Advisor is here to help people like you, several of whom wrote in with questions this month.


“See?  When I touch the screen it leaves a little oily fingerprint!”

 

Dear Work-Life Advisor:

My wife who I will call “June” is in “network security.”  I don’t pretend to understand what she does, but every job she gets they take advantage of her.   She works 12-hour days and is “on call” all the time to fix computer bugs, even in the middle of the night.

I have heard about a French fad called the “enlarge a twah” in which a man and a woman expand their relationship to take on a third person who makes their love life more fulfilling.  I am wondering whether this is legal in the U.S., as I feel “June” is putting her work before her life.

E.J. “Bud” Mack, Cape Girardeau, Mo.


Oo-la-lah, those cra-zee French!

 

Dear Bud:

I believe the term you are referring to is menage a trois, which means a mixture of three people for job-sharing and romantic purposes.  It is technically legal only in Louisiana, a state whose laws are based on the Napoleonic Code, but authorities in other states tend to look the other way when they see it, usually because it grosses them out.  If you were to find another woman who is an expert in “network security” you could perhaps work out a graveyard shift arrangement so that each woman could alternate with you in bed.  Bonne chance!


“What this country needs is a thrifty and industrious working class!”

 

Dear Mr./Ms. Work-Life Advisor:

I have a really creepy old boss who is not good at motivating people.  If you do something wrong he makes you stay until you get it right.  This often makes me late for roller derby, which isn’t fair to the other girls as I am one of only three “blockers” on our team.

Last Friday I mentioned to my boss that people might appreciate him more if he used “carrots” instead of “sticks” around the office.  He looked at me and said “Perhaps you’re right.”  I was feeling pretty good about myself until Monday morning when he brought in a plate of sliced vegetables and a sort of ranch dressing dip and put it in the employee lounge.

Work-Life Advisor, I did not mean what I said literally.  How can I get through to this man who is not “up to date” on a lot of the current workplace slang?

Evelyn Wanamaker, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.


Yum–sort of.

 

Dear Evelyn:

What a wonderful work-life balance you have achieved!  I admire young women like you who refuse to be “pigeonholed” into a dead-end job when there are so many fulfilling activities available outside of the office!

That said, I think your boss will admire your leadership qualities and perhaps even consider you for a promotion if you will spell out in a straightforward, bullet-point memo what you are seeking instead of carrots–chips, honey-roasted peanuts, pork rinds or whatever.  There is nothing that contributes to workplace satisfaction like high-salt, high-fat snackfoods instead of boring vegetables.

 

Hello Work-Life Advisor:

I have been a long-time reader of your column but have never felt the need to write–until now.  My wife is very domineering and is always telling me I shouldn’t stay late at work, I should be home with her and the kids.  She says “Don’t be a Billy Big-Deal–you have a family!”  That is all well and good but I am a firefighter and cannot just leave my job when she calls and says she wants to go to book group to discuss “Love’s Tender Heartstrings” or some other mushy novel.


Secret Odd Fellows initiation rites.

Last night she called me on my cell phone just as I was wrapping up a talk on proper installation of smoke detectors to the Odd Fellows Club to say she was going out for a glass of wine with her friend Susan, could I come home and watch the kids.  Ms. Work-Life Advisor, I became really flustered and completely forgot my conclusion, which was a good joke I had heard about a priest, a rabbi and a lady snake-charmer.

How do I get my wife to understand that while family is important I have to put food on the table and this sometimes entails community outreach efforts at night?

Wayne Goshen, Chillicothe, Ohio


Waiting for him to call.

 

Dear Wayne:

I think your wife is on to you–you have your eye on that big promotion to Fire Marshall!  Every housewife needs a break from her little carpet-creepers every now and then, however, and oftentimes all that is required is a “heads-up” so that your wife can know when to put dinner on the table.  Just a simple phone call–“Honey, I am in the middle of getting an orange tabby cat down from this tree, there we go, nice kitty.  I’ll be home in about ten minutes.”  You’ll find your wife in a much better mood when she can plan confidently around your schedule.


Her defense mechanism.

Ms. Work-Life Advisor:

I believe it is my husband Bud who wrote the first letter in today’s column, but I will deal with him later.  As Bud says, I am constantly on call from work with problems caused by users of System A who receive errors that Remote System B does not accept their yadda-yadda whatevers.  Frankly, after 10 p.m., I couldn’t care less.  I have started bring small bags of potato chips to bed–usually one barbecue and one sour cream and onion–and whenever I get one of these “urgent” calls I open the bag, crumple it and say “Sorry–we’ve got a bad connection–I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”  Then I hang up and eat the chips.

Bud says it is unsanitary to bring chips to bed as it will attract cockroaches.  I have to laugh at that one–you should see the den on Tuesday morning after he stays up late watching Monday Night Football.

My question, Work-Life Advisor, is this:  I would not be buying the 5-bag snackpack of chips if not for my job-related “issues.”  I would be buying the large economy size at a much lower cost-per-chip.  Can I deduct the difference as an employment-related expense such as tools, union dues, and mileage?

June Mack, Cape Girardeau, Mo.


Employees pretending to be satisfied with their jobs.

Dear June:

I believe you are engaging in a little bit of “deception,” both of yourself and your company.  There is no need for you to eat potato chips to duck phone calls–people avoid each other every day, all day long, eating healthy foods such as carrots and celery.  I would suggest you contact Evelyn Wanamaker of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as she has a tray of left-over crudites that may still be fresh.

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

Jimi Hendrix at the Supreme Court

“What about Jimi Hendrix?”

    Question by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts during oral argument in a copyright case. 

COURT CRIER:  Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court and stay away from the brown acid!

CHIEF JUSTICE:  Who’s on first?

COURT CRIER:  Case number 10-545, Golan vs. Holder.

CHIEF JUSTICE:  Cool–let’s rock ‘n roll.  Counselor?

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, sir.

CHIEF JUSTICE:  Please–call me “dude.”


“Hmm . . . Marbury vs. Madison?  Or the Slaughterhouse Cases?”

 

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  You got it.  May it please the Court.  Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act did something unprecedented in American copyright law.  It took millions of works out of the public domain, where cover bands at Holiday Inns across the country had been playing them on “Rockin’ With the Oldies” night for years.  That violated the Copyright Clause, the First Amendment and the Rule in Dumphor’s case.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG:  I like Carole King’s “Tapestry.”  Did you know it’s the biggest-selling album of all time, and yet my “macho” colleagues on this honorable court will never let me play it in the Justice’s Lounge?

JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA:  That is such a chick album.

JUSTICE GINSBURG:  Well, I am a chick.

JUSTICE JOSEPH ALITO:  I’d say you haven’t met your burden of proof.

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  If I could get back to my argument.


“Okay–you’ve had your fun.  Now can my cat and I get out of this post?”

 

CHIEF JUSTICE:  Proceed.

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  Section 514 “restored” copyright protection to foreign works . . .

JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY:  That was cool how you got those quotes of dubiety into your argument without using your fingers . . .

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  It’s kind of like ventriloquism.

JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER:  I used to love Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney . . .

CHIEF JUSTICE:  And Knucklehead Smith?

JUSTICE BREYER:  I’m glad we could finally agree on something.

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  Anyway, Congress passed the law because some countries voiced skepticism that the U.S. was in compliance with the Berne Convention and . . .

CHIEF JUSTICE:  What about Jimi Hendrix?

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  What about him?

CHIEF JUSTICE:  Isn’t he like the most totally bitchin’ guitar player of all time?

JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN:  Guys who are into overwrought guitar solos are just transferring their masturbatory tendencies from the bathroom to the concert stage.

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  She’s the most junior justice–is she really allowed to talk like that?

CHIEF JUSTICE:  I think it’s a First Amendment thing.  Anyway, to get back to Hendrix–do you think more people would pay attention to the Supreme Court if I set my gavel on fire, the way he did with his guitar?

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  You mean when he played “Fire”?


The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  It was the sixties–you had to be there.

 

JUSTICE THOMAS:  You’re thinking of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  The correct name of the Hendrix song is “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire.”

PETITONER’S COUNSEL:  I stand corrected.  Anywho, Section 514 could cause American works in the public domain abroad to have their copyrights restored.  It’s a slippery slope from there to . . .

CHIEF JUSTICE:  I want to get back to Hendrix.  He was left-handed, but he played a right-handed guitar.  Freaking amazing if you ask me.

JUSTICE SCALIA:  He was a switch-hitter?

CHIEF JUSTICE:  With power to all fields.  He could change from soft, deeply soulful songs like “And the Wind Cries Mary” to the dark, forboding “All Along the Watchtower” faster than you could say “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.”

JUSTICE KENNEDY:  Hey–you can do that quote thing too.  Why am I always the last to know?

JUSTICE GINSBURG:  You want soft and soulful?  My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue . . .

JUSTICE SCALIA:  Here we go again . . .

JUSTICE GINSBURG:  An ever-lasting vision, of the ever-changing view . . .

JUSTICE ALITO:  I’m going to fwow up . . .

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  Your honors, with all due respect, I get the impression that somebody dropped some Owsley acid in the SCOTUS water cooler this morning . . .

JUSTICE THOMAS:  No, it was in the Mr. Coffee machine.  When I filled my cup Mr. Coffee had been staring at the Cremora container for half an hour, humming “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

CHIEF JUSTICE:  That’s a very serious charge, counselor, and one that is likely to undermine your argument.

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  What was it Justice Potter Stewart said?

JUSTICE BREYER:  “That place is so crowded nobody goes there anymore?”

JUSTICE KAGAN:  That was Yogi Berra.  Or Victor Hugo.

PETITIONER’S COUNSEL:  No, I was referring to “I know it when I see it.”

CHIEF JUSTICE:  You say you know it when you see it–but are you experienced?

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Supremes’ Greatest Hits.”

Life in the Vanilla Almond Clusters Cult

Do you wake up early just because you miss your favorite Peace Cereal product?  Do you ever wish lunch or dinner was really a big bowl of Peace Cereal?  Do you have a pet named after your favorite Peace Cereal?

We think this is normal behavior and understand completely.

Text on box of Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes by Peace Cereal.


Look upon my works and tremble!

 

It’s hard now to remember what my life was like before I joined the Vanilla Almond Cluster.  I like to think of them as my family now–I’ve renounced the one I was randomly assigned by some malicious deity in the World Before Ours.  Some people call us a cult but I think they’re just jealous.

St. Paul was knocked off of and onto his ass on the road to Damascus, and my epiphany was almost as dramatic.  I’d avoided the Scientologists on Beacon Street, had juke-stepped my way past the Hari Krishnas on Commonwealth Avenue, and was just about to step into the Burger King on Boylston Street when I came face to face with the face of enlightenment.


St. Paul:  “Stop squirting me!”

 

It was attached to the head of a girl whose name in her prior life was “Dorcas,” and whatever else she was, she wasn’t a dork.  She had the most beatific smile, dancing eyes, and skin as pure as the driven snow.  Also two humongous knockers beneath her peasant dress, but I don’t think they had any influence on my decision to give all my money and worldly possessions to the guy she said was the Cereal Master.  Now, her name was “Vanilla Almond Cluster,” just like everybody else at her commune.

“You’re not going in there, are you?” she asked, her eyebrows and the corners of her mouth drooping down like dowsing rods plumbing the depths of ineffable sadness.

“Um, actually I was,” I said, but she was too beautiful to brush past.  “I’m only going to get the BK Veggie Burger and a Diet Dr. Pepper, if that helps.”

“Did you ever wish that your lunch was a big bowl of Peace Cereal?”  No, I hadn’t, I said.  Did that make me a bad person?

“Oh, no no no,” she hastened to assure me.  “It’s just that . . .”

“That what?”

“What what?”

“The what you were about to say before your voice trailed off.”

“Oh, that what.  Well, it’s like this.  Happiness, like the foods we eat, are a choice.  Do you have fond memories of eating cereal in your pj’s as a kid . . .”

“Watching Heckle ‘n Jeckle cartoons?  You betcha!”

“Wouldn’t you like to recover that lost innocence, and return to the Garden of Eden of breakfast foods and other stuff?”

That was always the pitch with these street cultists; somehow we’ve been corrupted by something, the Media, the Pope, the CIA, Big Cereal.  We had to break down the doors of perception, return to a state of nature, blodda-blodda.  I’d resisted every such appeal since my undergraduate days, when I persuaded a comely lass with a history of out-of-body experiences to leave her body in my dorm bed while she floated around for awhile in the ether.

The morning after was too painfull to recall, too excruciatingly polite to endure again.  Over breakfast at a diner she asked if I’d had a good time astral traveling with her.  I told her I hoped not, we weren’t allowed to leave campus without a weekend pass.

She took it the wrong way, which was the right way, and I never saw her again.  Still, my close brush with the occult had taught me a valuable lesson; that way lies madness or worse–vegetarianism.

But this sweet, innocent woman-child in front of me melted my hard-earned reserve.  I decided to hear her out.


“Seriously–try Gojii Berry Clusters & Flakes too!”

 

Was I happy with my life, she asked?  Well no, I admitted–but I preferred it that way.  Who wants to be happy all the time–it’s exhausting!  Like being at a wedding reception for a cute young couple, your mouth gets tired smiling.  This was back Before the Fall; that is, before 2004, when the Red Sox went and spoiled the gloomy omnipresence that pervaded Boston due to their 86-year World Series drought.  Many people in town were only happy when they were miserable back then.

Did I have a pet?  Yes, I said.  A cat named “Hodge,” after Samuel Johnson’s feline companion.  The one he reassured when people’s cats began to disappear in London at the same time that cat’s meat pies became popular.  “They’ll not have Hodge,” Johnson would say as he stroked his furry little buddy.

“Have you ever considered changing its name to that of your favorite breakfast cereal?” she asked.

“Well, no.”

“That could mean you don’t like your cereal enough!” she said, beaming.

“Or that I like my cat too much,” I replied.  “Who wants to walk out onto their front stoop at night and call ‘Here Count Chocula–here boy!’  Certainly not me.”

“Well, you might be happier if you achieved the unity, the oneness that comes to those who join the Vanilla Almond Cluster.”


“The Snack-Pack only comes with 10 mini-boxes of cereal, so we need a miracle.”

 

“So Peace Cereal . . . will bring me inner peace?” I asked hesitantly.  I had been gnawing at the inside of my left cheek a lot lately.

“For sure!”  There was that smile again.  A million watts of happiness, probably lit by solar or wind power.

And so I agreed and I have to say, I don’t miss my former “life”–if that’s what you want to call it.  No, I eat, sleep and poop Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes.  My two cats–Big Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes and Little Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes–enjoy their Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes Kibbles ‘n Bits.  My wife–yes, I married that wonderful young lady I met on Boylston Street that day–and I spend quiet evenings at home, contemplating Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes, before turning in for the night to sleep on our Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes-filled futon.  Along with my 45 other wives and her 45 other husbands.  I changed my name to “Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes” so that it would match my wife’s, and the other 92 members of what we like to call our little “cluster”–that’s kind of an “inside” joke, but I think even an unenlightened “outsider” like you will get it.

Nope, things are pretty sweet here–naturally sweetened of course.  It’s a very simple and ordered life, none of the hassle and confusion of the outside world.

Until somebody calls on the land line and asks to speak to Vanilla Almond Clusters & Flakes.

 

 

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