Spam in the Terror Closet

Fall has come to New England and as I ventured into the storage closet yesterday to get out my boots–the ones I use to track wayward clients into the woods–a shiny metallic object caught my eye. I picked it out of the junk on the floor–a can of Spam?

“Honey,” I called out to my wife. “Why do we have Spam in the closet?”

“You mean unsolicited bulk messages sent electronically?”

“No–the canned, precooked meat product made by the Hormel Corporation.”

“Don’t you remember,” she said. “We set up a terror closet after 9/11.”

Of course–how could I forget! We take terrorism very seriously here in the suburbs of Boston. The 9/11 highjackers flew out of Logan Airport and spent the night in a motel not far from our home where we’d had dinner many times with our kids. And not too long ago they arrested a Pakistani teenager one town over who was plotting a Mumbai-style assault on a popular mall in bankruptcy proceedings that our kids patronize for over-priced branded sportswear.


The ultimate Chapter 11 shopping experience!

 

“Now I remember,” I said. “We were advised to stock a secure room that could be locked from the inside with staples in the event of an attempted takeover by Islamofacists. But why Spam?” I asked. “You hate the stuff.”

“I know, but if al Qaeda is going to establish a world-wide caliphate based on sharia law . . .”

“Which they’ve sworn to do . . .”

” . . . one of the first things to go will be Spam. It’s got pork in it!”

I hadn’t thought of that, but she was right. “What else did we . . .”

“You mean me . . .” Okay, so I’m not the most conscientious anti-terrorist in the world, but I’ve got a job to go to every day. After this brief stream-of-consciousness interlude, I returned to our conversation.

” . . . put in there?”

“Well, the boxed set of seasons one through six of Sex and the City.”

“Good call,” I said, even though I have never been able to sit through a single episode. “You know when the mullahs reach Route 128, the first thing to go will be an HBO series that glorifies female promiscuity in what Jesse Jackson . . .”

“Ahem–I think you mean the Reverend Jesse Jackson.”

“I stand corrected–fondly refers to as ‘Hymietown.’”

“That’s what I thought. ‘Rob and Big’ may survive, but I have to think that Sex and the City would be done for.”

“So we’ll be eating Spam and watching Sarah Jessica what’s-her-name. What else?”

“Well, I stocked up on vodka. Liquor will be banned under sharia, and I figured it packs more alcohol per square inch than white wine.”

“Right–we’ve got to conserve space. How about money? We may have to pay ransom for the kids if the destruction of the American Way of Life comes at a time when they’re at lacrosse or baseball practice.”

“Not to worry,” she said. “I stuffed $200 . . .”

“Do you really think that will be enough?”

“It should be plenty. I can’t spend more than a few hours with them, and I’m their mother. The Taliban will probably let them go for a bargain price.”

I felt comforted, reassured. She’d thought of everything. Still, we can’t let the terrorists rule our lives–if they do, they really have won.

“Is that envelope still in here?” I asked. “I’m a little short of cash, and I need some red wine.”

She came in and rummaged around for a bit, and finally produced the envelope from behind a box of Pappagallo pumps.

“Here’s $10, that’s all that’s left.”

“What happened to the rest of it?”

“I dipped into it a couple of times when the pizza guy showed up and I didn’t have any money.”

Monkeying Around With My Money

Scientists are studying monkeys for clues on human financial behavior.

The Boston Globe

It was time, I figured, to bite the banana.  My brokerage statement from Simian Financial Advisors had been lying on my desk for a week, staring at me in silent reproach.  At some point I’d have to actually look at it and see how much I’d lost, on paper at least.

I ripped open the envelope to see the bloody trail of how I got to where I am today.  Ouch–down 25% since the end of summer!  While not as bad as some of the chimps I play cards with at my club, it still hurt.

I picked up the phone and called Hairy, who’s been handling my money for years.

“Oooo-ooot GREET!” he screamed into the phone.  It wasn’t a good idea to call him before 4 p.m. when the market closed.

“Hairy–it’s me.  Or what’s left of me,” I said grimly.

“Chatta,” he boomed over the wire.  “Great to hear from you.”

Once a saleschimp, always a saleschimp.  Guys like Hairy just can’t turn it off.

“It’s not so great to be talking to you,” I said.  “I just opened up my account statement–I feel like I just read my own obituary.”

“C’mon, it’s not that bad,” he replied, trying to buck me up.  “We’ve got a hot little tech stock that’s ready to take off.”

“Tech, schmeck,” I said.  “I should have opened a Christmas Club account!”

“Now, don’t start in with that,” he said.  “You know, you’ve built up a little cash in your account.”

I was stunned.  “I have?”


” . . . but exchange-traded funds are hot!”

 

“Yeah–I don’t know if it’s dividends or what, but I’ve got a nice little play for you–assuming your wife hasn’t castrated you since we spoke last.”

That was always his sales pitch.  Whenever he’d call me with a short play against the box on cocoa futures, I’d tell him my wife wouldn’t let me.

“Excuse me,” he’d say, his voice dripping with testosterone.  “Has your wife made any money for you today?”

Well, no, I’d always have to admit.  “But I have to give her an end-of-year statement.”

“Why?” Hairy would ask.  “Is she your bank or something?  Did you go public and not tell me about it?”

“It’s called trust,” I’d say.  “And love.”

He’d hold the phone at arm’s length then, because he’d be laughing at me.  This is a guy who always hires a Jane Goodall-lookalike stripper for arm candy at his firm’s holiday party.


Jane Goodall and sock monkey:  Kowa-bunga baby!

 

I swallowed my pride.  “Okay–tell me about it,” I said, and he launched into his sales pitch.

“It’s a banana-backed securitized obligation.  Your yield can never be less than 13%.”

“Who’s the issuer?” I asked.  I’ve learned to ask the tough questions.

I heard him inhale, trying to work up an air of self-righteous umbrage.  “Why Simian Financial Advisors, of course,” he said, ending on a huffy note.

“Is that the full legal name?” I asked skeptically.

There was silence at his end of the line.  “Well, actually,” he said after a moment, “it’s Simian Financial Advisors IV, S.a.r.l., a Luxembourg special purpose limited liability company.”


“Who gave you this god-awful frost job?”

 

“. . . with no operating history, and no assets except banana-backed receivables–correct?”

Like a lot of people, I’d started to pay attention to what was on my account statement now that I knew that members of Congress fly all over the world on the bankers’ dimes while pretending to get tough with them whenever a television camera light went on, and their portfolios remain curiously–stable.

“So my yield could be a big fat goose egg if that special purpose vehicle goes belly-up–correct?”

All I could hear was the sound of paper shuffling.  “Say, listen, would you like some tickets to a Patriots game?” Hairy said after a while.

“No, and don’t send me one of your chintzy leatherette checkbook covers, either.”

He was silent for a moment.  “So that cash balance–what do you want to do with it?”

I thought for a moment.  “I’m going all in on commodities!” I yelled in a “Eureka” moment.  It was the one kind of investment Hairy didn’t handle.

“You don’t want to get into commodities,” he pleaded with naked self-interest.  “You don’t want a truckful of pork bellies to get dumped on your lawn someday, do you?”

“Who said anything about pork bellies?” I asked derisively.  “I’m talking Planet of the Apes Souvenir Drink Cups!”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”

Eat, Pray, Love Author’s Cat to Pen Tell-All Book of Her Own

NEW YORK.  The runaway success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” has, according to The New York Times Book Review, spawned a mini-industry of spin-off titles including the forthcoming “Eat, Pray, Whine” by her former husband and “Eat, Pray, Floss” by her dental hygienist.  “A lot of people claim to know Elizabeth,” says Cheryl Dimarco of Metropolitan Dental Associates, P.C., “but have they ever seen what’s behind her third molars?”


Elizabeth Gilbert:  What’s behind those molars?

 

The newest entry in the field is being written not by human hands, but by paws, however.  Mitzy, Gilbert’s cat, has an axe to grind about the noted author’s year-long sabbatical to recover from the aftermath of her first marriage, during which the orange tabby was shunted through a succession of petsitters before ending up in a cage at a pet boarding service.


Mitzy:  “What about my needs?”

 

“If I hear the words ‘self-discovery’ one more time I’m going to hurl Iams Healthy Natural Weight Control Adult Cat Food all over somebody’s dining room rug,” said Mitzy through a publicist hired to promote the “tell-all” tome, tentatively titled “Eat, Sleep, Scratch Furniture.”


“Uh, Splash, when you go on the book tour you’ll get some questions about your name.”

 

Books by non-human animals have scored publishing successes in the political realm, notably First Cat Socks during the first and second Clinton administrations, First Dog Millie during the presidency of George H. W. Bush, and “My Senator and Me” by a Portugese water dog owned by the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy named “Splash,” apparently without irony.  All of those books have depicted a warm and close relationship between human and pet, leading some to question whether a bitter feline expose is likely to sell.

“Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass,” said Mitzy as she sharpened her claws on a Restoration Hardware couch leg.  “She’s got so much money, she can buy all the furniture she wants.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

With Robert Frost, at Wal-Mart

          Derry, New Hampshire town officials are considering zoning changes that would permit strip malls, fast-food outlets and big-box stores to be built a short distance from Robert Frost’s farm.

                   The Boston Globe


Frost

It’s Sunday, the day I check in on my fellow rustic poet, old man Frost, who lives down the road less travelled. He’s a cranky old cuss, but you would be too if you’d fallen as far as he has. In 1960, he was America’s most revered poet and spoke at Kennedy’s inauguration. Today, he’s seen his star eclipsed by a Republican surety bond lawyer, Wallace Stevens, whose poetry Frost dismisses as “bric-a-brac.” You’ve got to love the old fart. Frost, that is, not Stevens, who’s an unloveable old fart.


Wallace Stevens, going out for ice cream.

I stop at Frost’s mailbox. A few flyers, an oil and lube job offer from the local tire and battery store, an expiration notice from plangent voices, the quarterly journal of avant-garde poetry edited by my former lover, elena gotchko.


“my love is like a red, red rose, that’s somehow stuck inside my nose.”

elena and I had parted ways when she showed up at our little apartment with a skunk-streak dyed into her hair a few years back to announce that she’d had the capital letters removed from her name–and was leaving me.

“you stultify me,” she had said, eschewing the upper case as she spoke with emotion not yet recollected in tranquility. “you’re holding me back–you with your insistence on meter and rhyme.” Fine, I said, and I’d never regretted it. How she ever roped Frost into subscribing was a mystery to me, although he was a sucker for those Publisher’s Clearing House come-ons.


“This Frost guy’s apparently gone for a walk in woods. Who’s next on the list?”

I knock on the door and Frost opens it up right away–he’s always eager for a little company and to get out of the house. It must be lonely out here, living all by himself with nothing but the sound of cars rushing by.

“I’m ready,” he says, the cheap polyester “gimme” hat already on his head. I don’t know what it is with old men and free baseball caps–they can’t resist them.

“Hey, Bob,” I say as I try to straighten his cockeyed hat a bit. “I got your mail.”

He looks at it without interest and, as usual, launches into perfectly-formed verse:

A hushed November morning mild,
with leaves as frail as Kleenex tissue;
tomorrow’s mail, if it be wild
would bring, perhaps, a swimsuit issue.

I allow myself a little laugh. There are two things about being an old man I’m looking forward to: one, you can wear just about anything you want; and two, you can be a complete lecher, and say just about anything you want to women, and no one seems to mind.

“No, that won’t come until February,” I say to him.

“Okay,” he says after he absorbs this information. He turns to close the door and his cat, an orange tabby named Demiurge, stakes out a wary watch on the threshold.

“I shan’t be gone long,” he says to the cat. “You come too.”

“Bob, we’ve gone over this before,” I say with repressed exasperation. “You can’t bring a cat into McDonald’s.”


Senior citizen coffee at McDonald’s

The thought of the golden arches causes him to lose interest in his cat. I can see by the far-away look in his eyes he’s thinking of the Senior Citizens coffee special and again, he can’t deny his muse.

I’m going to get my elderly java
by riding with you over dales and hills.
It tastes like ash and is hot as lava
but I can’t resist those free refills.

We head out towards State Highway 28 with the more distinguished poet in the car staring out the passenger side window at the bright fall colors; the orange of Home Depot, the red of Staples, the yellow Walmart smiley face on a billboard.

“Turn here,” Frost says sharply.

“Don’t you want to get something to eat first?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on what? Your only choice is fast food.”

“No–I need some Depends.”

Dawn breaks on Marblehead, as we say in New England.

“Okay,” I say, a little chagrined that I’ve forced him to disclose the one aspect of growing old I’m really not looking forward to.

We make our way through the parking lot and enter the store where we are met by one of the chain’s ever-present greeters, a white-haired old man in a blue vest festooned with inoffensive buttons. I try to avoid eye contact and accelerate past him when I hear Frost’s voice boom out–to the extent that he’s capable of producing such a sound, even metaphorically–”Well if it isn’t The Emperor of Ice Cream–Wallace Stevens!”

Stevens’ face registers the shock of recognition that Herman Melville spoke of, when a man of letters comes face to face with one of his rivals while working a minimum-wage job to make ends meet. Being the darling of the academy doesn’t do you much good if you have to mix wet cat food and pinto beans to make chili.

“Hello, Frost,” Stevens says in a frosty tone. “How’s the poet of–subjects.” He says this last word with a sneer.

“Fine,” says Frost. “Tell me, since you must know–down which aisle would I find–bric-a-brac?”

Stevens draws himself up to his full six feet, seven inches, looks down at Frost as if from Olympus, and begins to speak:

I placed a Hummel figurine,
Down to your left, in aisle three.
‘Twas much too tacky for myself
But not too gauche for one like thee.

I can tell that Frost is pissed, but he’s trying hard not to let it show.

“C’mon Bob–we haven’t got time for this nonsense,” I say as I take him by the elbow. “We’ve got miles to go, and . . . “

He cuts me off and glares at Stevens, not about to back off in this mano-a-mano poetry throwdown.

He squares his shoulders and even I can’t believe the fearful symmetry of what comes out of his mouth next:

Two aisles diverged ‘neath a yellow face,
that bore a sickly, foolish grin. And I–
I took the one marked “Incontinence,”
and that has made all the difference.

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

A Day in the Life of a Vatican Sales Rep

For the first time in half a century, Vatican administrative staff will be required to clock in for work as part of a clampdown on slackers.

Bloomberg News


“Have you considered our get-out-of-Purgatory free extended warranty coverage?”

 

It was three o’clock, and I had to admit I was getting drowsy, even though we get like no sunlight whatsoever in Call Center Room 3B, where 270 Vatican Indulgence Sales Associates work the phones, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year except for Christmas, Good Friday and the feast of St. Blaise, the patron saint of people who get fish bones stuck in their throat.


St. Blaise: “Next time, stick to the 6-piece box of Chicken McNuggets.”

 

I was flipping through the sports pages of L’Osservatoro Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, trying to decide on my weekend Lega Nazionale Professionisti football bets. Hmm–the over/under on Genoa vs. Torino was 1/0. Take the nil, I told myself, and ran with it, reaching for my phone to call my bookie.


Pope Benedict XVI, reading “Ziggy” in L’Osservatoro Romano.

 

“Psst,” pssted Emilio in the next cubicle over. “Francis is coming–look busy.”

I stuffed the paper into my blue recycling bin, turned my espresso cup so that the words “Jesus is coming–look busy!” were hidden from view, and started an imaginary conversation over my headset.


Jesus throwing the money changers out of the Temple: “I told you to push the Platinum Plan–but no!”

 

“Your Basic Indulgence Packet is a good buy at 15 euros a month, but we’re having a limited-time offer–the MoneyChangers Special. For 24 easy payments of 13 euros a month, you get . . .”

I felt the heavy hand of the Bishop of Rome, the head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Sovereign of the Vatican City-State go upside my head. “Ow,” I cried, and I meant it.

“You taka me for soma kinda mook?” the Pope said in the phony Italian accent that all popes are required to use while “on the clock” at the Vatican. “I canna see-a you no gotta light onna you phone–you talkin’ to yourself.”

I was caught red-handed. “Sorry boss,” I began, “but I’ve already made my call quota today and I thought I’d get a bet down for Sunday . . .”

“Shut uppa you mouth,” the Pope screamed in rage. I realized he was going to make an example out of me, to scare the holy crap out of everybody else.


“If you make your sales quota this month, you’ll get this cool replica Star Wars light sword.”

 

“You guys sit around all day on your fat asses–that’s my job!” he yelled, the veins bulging out on his forehead. “Heads are gonna roll unless you move some mountains before the end of the month.”

I don’t like my job–I’m a telemarketer selling time-shares to get out of hell and purgatory early–but I like to eat. There used to be a word for what I do–simony–but it has passed out of the lexicon of most theologians. They don’t know what goes on in the bowels of the Vatican in the boiler-room call centers where we prey on elderly women, still worried about that time they stayed late in the girl’s room at afternoon bathroom break in 4th grade, learning how to gargle and making fart noises with their hands inside their dress shields.

I’m always happy to help them to better understand the tenets of their faith, however–especially if it will bring me a sweet sales incentive like a detail job for my 2002 Fiat Spider, or a DVD of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” “You did what?” I ask the ex-nuns who call in to tell me they think they may have committed a venial sin when they thought impure thoughts after seeing Bing Crosby in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

“Sister, sister, sister,” I say with mock disbelief. “You’re going to be on the Weber Grill of God until the end of time!”

With that kind of sales savvy, I close from 15 to 20 deals a month, more than anybody in my district. I’m on track to be Salesman of the Month for October, which as every schoolboy knows is Rosary Month.

“You guys thinka you bigga deal becausa you sella maybe 5, 10 packages a month. So what? You thinka my collection of funny hats comes cheap? Get back to work–all of you!”

The storm had blown over, so I decided to approach the Big Guy privately, just so we understood each other.

“Hey, Frank, I’m sorry, okay? But I’ve already hit my number for the month, okay, so cut me a little slack.”

He looked at me like a father of a teenage son who’s just discovered a scratch on the side of the new Lamborghini. “I know–you-a gooda boy.”

“What do you say–three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys? How’s that for a penance?” I asked, dripping with phony remorse.

He considered this proposal for a second, then turned to me with a smile that blended equal parts forgiveness and nostalgia for the wild and crazy life I’m sure he led as a top-performing sales rep for Papal Publications, hocking My Little Messenger and penny-dreadful bios of the saints.

“Alla right,” he relented. “But you forgotta one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“You got to firmly resolve with the help of my grace to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin.”

“I’ve always wondered what that meant,” I said, grateful to be let off easily but still curious. “What the hell . . .”

“Watch it–“

“Sorry. What exactly is an ‘occasion of sin.’”

“I don’t know–maybe a Feast of St. Rocco Party at the home of Gina from Accounting.”

“The one with the big bazoombas?”

“Right. She has a balcony like the one I got at St. Peter’s.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”

Guidance Counselers “Ghost Ride Whips” to Fight Boring Image

NEEDHAM, Massachusetts.  Bob Brenson has been a high school guidance counselor for nearly twenty years, but a comment by a member of last spring’s graduating class made him rethink his approach.


“You kids can do anything you set your minds to.  Assuming you have minds left when you graduate.”

 

“I was talking to kid who hadn’t applied to college, and I asked him why,” Brenson says in his cluttered office.  “He rolled his eyes and said ‘Why go to college if I’m just gonna end up as a tool like you?’  I knew then that I wasn’t getting across to some of the kids who need help the most.”

So Brenson and colleagues at other high schools in the suburbs west of Boston formed an ad hoc group to reach out to marginal students on their own terms.  They take their cars–“whips” in hip-hop slang–out on Saturday night and participate in high-risk “ghost-riding” sessions in which they stand or even dance on their vehicles as they roll at slow speeds down deserted streets.


Ghost-riding the whip.

 

“It’s been a real breakthrough,” says Brad Hairston, assistant guidance counselor at Newton West High School.  “From Monday to Friday we’re drumming the message of work and study into these kids’ heads, then on weekends we show them we’re just as stupid as they are.”

“Ghost-riding” has been cited as the cause of several serious and even fatal accidents, leading police to form night patrols in isolated areas to discourage the fad.  “I don’t know why the guidance counselors would want to undermine our efforts to keep our roads and children safe,” says Needham Chief of Police Edward O’Herlihy.  “On the other hand, I suppose if any of those guys was really smart he wouldn’t have ended up as guidance counselor.”


The use of dorky helmets deters teens from ghost-riding.

 

Brenson takes exception to the police chief’s criticism, saying the presence of adult supervision insures that the teens will behave responsibly.  “We insist that they wear helmets when riding,” he says, “so that when they crack their heads on the concrete it doesn’t leave a sticky mess.”


Mattress racing:  The safe alternative.

 

O’Herlihy says he will sponsor a youth basketball league and other activities to create alternatives to the fast-growing but stupid pastime of ghost-riding, including one he thinks may eventually become as popular.  “Mattress-racing gives you the same low-speed thrills,” he says, “with a softer ride and an upper-body workout for the ‘mules’ who lug the mattress.”

In an End Fit for Shakespeare, Tragedy Strikes Librarian Confab

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


Boston
Convention and Exhibition Center

 

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

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

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


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

 

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


The Village People

 

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

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

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