Nail Polish Strips: Best Invention EVER!

Best invention EVER: Nail Polish Strips by Sally Hansen.

                                            find n save website

“I need a syringe, a cotton swab and a cuticle stick–STAT!”


The groans of the sick and the dying were too awful to bear, made more horrible by the relentless heat of the equatorial sun, but who was I to complain?  I was just a lowly orderly, while Dr. Walter Reed was the brains of the operation, working night and day to develop a vaccine that would rid the world of yellow fever, the wasting disease that had brought progress on the Panama Canal to a grinding halt, thereby strangling the U.S. cruise ship industry in its cradle.

“Sure he’s suffering.  You would be too with nails like that!”


I dragged myself from bed to bed, applying cold compresses to the foreheads of the dying ditch diggers, hoping to give them a few moments’ surcease of suffering before they left this world for a better one.  I had just wrung out my cloth and was about to lay it upon the furrowed brow of a young man whose eyes had rolled back under his lids when I heard a shout from Dr. Reed’s makeshift laboratory.

“Eureka!” I heard him exclaim.  “I have succeeded–finally–and stand ready to have a hospital in the greater Washington, D.C. area named after me!” he cried out with joy.

“A vaccine?  You’ve found a cure for the disease that will thrill young readers of Landmark Books for generations to come?”

“No, you goombah!” Reed said with excitement.  “Nail polish strips!  At first I thought they were press-on nails, but they’re definitely not!”


As a mechanic at the Ford Motor Works in Dearborn, Michigan, I often felt as if I was a witness to history.  I know, I know–I should have said “were,” but the subjunctive mood would have been inconsistent with my character as a humble grease monkey on the first prototype of an automobile manufacturing plant.

The problem that our wacky anti-Semitic boss Henry Ford was struggling to solve was how to produce a car that could be afforded by the great mass of men who would build it.  He had tried stacking auto bodies on top of each other, putting them into a gigantic restaurant-style blender, arranging them in crop circles in the hope that alien life forms in flying saucers would build them as a hobby, the way young boys like the author tried without success to make miniature hot rods out of plastic and glue.  Nothing seemed to work.

Ford had been holed up in his “skunk works,” the drawing room where the tables were covered with blue prints of various designs, for days now.  They guys on the shop floor were growing restive, juggling chrome bumpers, trying to scratch their armpits with their hobnail boots.  And then, like a bolt of lightning, Ford emerged from seclusion with an enormous smile on his face and let out a shout that could be heard all the way to Detroit.

“Gadzooks, the answer was hiding in plain sight right before me!” he cried to the junior engineers who crowded around him.

“So you think my idea of assembling the ‘cars’ on a moving assembly line will work, Mr. Ford?” one of them asked hesitantly.

“Who said anything about cars?” Ford snapped in a peremptory manner.  “My best friend Emily that lives in Indianapolis called and told me I HAD to try Sally Hansen Nail Polish strips!”


Boston’s Bowdoin Square was covered in snow, and Alexander Graham Bell shivered in our unheated quarters.  He had used up nearly all of the money he had raised from friends and family to construct his “phonautograph,” a machine that would someday enable suburban mothers to maintain constant contact with each other while they drove “automobiles,” if Henry Ford would ever get off his duff and mass produce the oversize SUVs that an impatient nation yearned for.  At the moment, however, he faced almost certain business and personal failure, and I withdrew from his laboratory, pained as I was by the site of the man in his sore distress.

Blow man, blow!

When I reached the adjoining room, however, I heard the culmination of all of our hard work, as clear as a bell.  “Mr. Watson,” I heard Dr. Bell say.  “Come here — I want to see you.”

“Yes, Dr. Bell!  I’ll be right there!”  I could hardly contain my sense of relief and happiness as I skidded around the corner and saw him sitting in his chair, smiling, holding up his handiwork for me to see.

“Look, Watson,” he said, his fingernails lit up as if by Thomas Alva Edison’s light bulb.  “You won’t believe how easy Sally Hansen Nail Polish Strips are to apply–and there is no drying time!”

Post-Labor Day email-Inbox Clean-Up

The Allegorical Cocktail Party

I’d fallen asleep Saturday afternoon reading John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the undisputed heavyweight of allegories.  Bunyan is, to my knowledge, the only author in the canon who’s taken a position against napping; it’s right there in Book I: “O wretched man that I am,” says Christian, “that I should sleep in the day-time.”

I don’t want you to  think I spend the whole weekend snoozing on the couch. It was only my second nap  of the day, and Sunday lay ahead, a blank slate on which to write new daytime  dreams.

John Bunyan: “You writin’ ’bout me,  suckah?”


Allegories are great because you don’t have to spend a lot of time on  character analysis. You go straight to their names–Mr. Worldly Wiseman,  Obstinate, Ignorant–and you know exactly who they are and what their  motivation is.

“We have to be at a cocktail party in an hour,” my wife said as she stuck her  head in the den, waking me up.

“Whose house?” I asked as I rubbed my eyes.

“The Volunteers,” she said.

“Who?” I asked, genuinely befuddled.

“You know–she brings oranges and water to soccer even when it isn’t her  turn, and he shows up to coach teams that don’t want his help because he doesn’t  know the rules of lacrosse or field hockey or whatever.”

“Right, now I remember,” I said, still a bit confused. And then it hit me;  through overmuch study of Bunyan I’d absorbed his allegorical naming function,  which had apparently overridden my long-term acquaintance memory lobe.

“Sweetie, I’d like you to meet the Golf Bores.”


I shaved and we got in the car, where my wife proceeded to give me some  inside dope to help me navigate the social shoals and eddies that lay ahead.  “The Private Schools will be there,” she said, “but don’t ask how their  daughter’s doing.”

2 horses for ev-e-ry girl!


I recalled the couple–our #1 in the state K-12 school system wasn’t good  enough for their little girl, nosirree. No equestrian program, no deal!

“Why, something the matter?” I asked.

“She’s had her heart set on Bryn Mawr, but had to settle for Penn.”

“Bummer! Recalls the old Diane White gag–what’s failure for a WASP?”

Diane White, Boston Globe humor columnist of the  ’80’s


“I don’t know, what?”

“Getting into Penn.”

We pulled up to the curb and saw the Venture Capitals getting out of their  car just in front of us. They like to pretend they don’t know us, but they  couldn’t ignore us.

“Hey there, strangers!” my wife called out cheerfully. She can wear the mask  better than I.

“Well, hello!” Mrs. VC says. “Haven’t seen you two in a long time!” Probably  because you dropped us like a purple swirl bowling ball once you figured out you were worth five times what we are, I thought–but didn’t  say.

We chit-chat as we walk up to the door where we’re greeted by our harried  hostess, who brushes a bang back from her brow to show how hard she’s been  working on making everybody feel . . . at home.

As with most suburban parties, contrary to the wishes of the hostess everyone  has gravitated to the kitchen, the one room of the house she’d like to get out  of for a change.  It’s her fault, however–she put the liquor in there.

We start to enter but standing next to the refrigerator, blocking the door, I  see Mr. Golf Bore.  “Oh, God,” I say.

“What?” my wife asks, thinking from my anguished tone that I’ve got some kind  of gastrointestinal problem.

“I want a beer, but I don’t want to get caught in the web of Mr. Golf Bore  over there,” I say.

“. . . and how’d you do on the back nine?”


“Is he that bad?”

“He taped the Buick Open one year so he could watch it . . .  again.”

“Dear God in Heaven!”

“He said he thought he’d missed the rhythm of the final day of  play.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to talk golf,” my wife said.  “What are we  going to do?”

We looked at each other and shrugged, then resorted to our regular  dispute/controversy resolution mechanism: single-elimination  rock-paper-scissors.

We were just about to “throw down,” as R-P-S pros like to say, when our  hostess–as always–volunteered to assist us.

“Can I get you two something to drink?” she asked, her forehead plowed in  little horizontal furrows of concerned hospitality.

“That would be terrific,” my wife said, and we gave her our drink orders: a  glass of oaky chardonnay for the lady, and a beer for me.

“Any one in particular?”

“Whatever you’ve got.  A blueberry wheat Alsatian cockapoo I.P.A. would be  fine.”

“Hints of asparagus, with overtones of cumin and cigar box.”


“Coming right up!” Mrs. V said.  It’s no wonder she retired the Horace Mann Middle School Volunteer-of-the-Year Award after winning it three years running  in the late 1990s.  She was to after-school activities of that decade what the  New York Islanders were to pro hockey in the 80s.

She returns with our drinks and leaves us to our own devices–an iPhone in my  wife’s case, a BlackBerry in mine.  We check on the kids through our local alarm  service–nope, haven’t burned down the house yet–and are just about ready to  start enjoying ourselves when I see one of the most baleful characters of the  allegory of my life–Mr. Can’t Hold a Job–approaching.

“Those guys–they didn’t understand their own  business!”


He’s “in-between jobs,” according to his wife, who then importunes me  sotto voce to ask if I know anybody who’s hiring in his field.  “He’s  outstanding in his field,” she adds.

I’m tempted to give her a snappy comeback that I recall from my youth–“And  that’s where we all wish he was, out standing in his field”–but I bite my  tongue.

“Things are slow everywhere,” I say, hoping that’ll make her feel better  about the lousy life choice she’s made.  “It’s been a really weak recovery.”

My offhand remark is unfortunately picked up by the two people I try hardest  to avoid at these little shindigs, Mr. All Republicans Are Pigs and Mr. All  Liberals Are Idiots.  “Worst ever!” says Mr. ALAI.

“If Republicans would only approve the President’s job bill . . .” Mr. ARAP  begins, but ALAI cuts him off.

“If you had half a brain, you’d understand why I’m  right.”


“And hire more mailmen and billboard inspectors and toll takers,” ALAI  sneers.  “Yeah, that’ll get this country moving again.

I give my wife the eye and we put our drinks down, making sure we plant them  on coasters so as not to leave a ring on the table top, and we discreetly make  our way to the door.

“Sorry, we’re going to have to run!” my wife says to our hostess, making a  little frown of disappointment.

“Nothing the matter at home, I hope,” Mrs. Volunteer says, right-back-at-ya  with a grimace of genuine concern.

“One of the cats has a hairball,” I say.  “And the other forgot how to give  him a Heimlich.”


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

At the Painful Memory Erasure Lab

          Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology replaced negative memories of electric shocks in mice with the pleasurable one of mingling with mice of the opposite sex.

The Boston Globe

After working as an experimental subject for six months–half my lifespan–I was ready to relax a bit.  No more running round in mazes, responding to stimuli all day for me; these were supposed to be my golden months fer Christ sake, a time to reflect on what I’d accomplished on behalf of the institution of higher leaning I’d served so well.

But my plan to glide to a soft landing in the eternal quiet of the grave was hit by crosswinds, a downdraft and a stupid seagull in my right engine, so to speak.  I’d been shocked so many times that the slightest sound–a fellow test subject chomping on Charles River Rat Pellets, the Grey Poupon of mouse lab cuisine, for example–would send me up the wall and out of my cage.  That sort of behavior–as you might imagine–is frowned upon by underpaid adjunct lab assistants.

“I don’t care if you got an audition with the Boston Pops–pipe down!”


So out of the kindness of the humans’ hearts–I’ll continue when you stop laughing–they came up with cutting edge genetic tools to try to alter the emotional context of painful memories.  The hope is that someday they’ll be able to use them to erase the painful recollections that torture humans like Jerry, my personal human lab rat.  I see them come over his face whenever somebody brings a Diet Coke into the lunch room here at the Otto and Ruth B. Tucker Memorial Science Building; he recalls his senior high school prom, the pinnacle of his adolescent dating experience, when he spilled a cup of the brown beverage all over the white gown worn by his date, the zaftig Clydia Jean Wingo.

I want to help the poor sap, so I volunteered, hoping both he and I might find  surcease of our respective sources of pain.

And so here I am sniffing xenon gas, hoping that I won’t be so jumpy when I hear loud noises from now on.  This better be the decaf version.

Hmm–colorless and odorless, sort of like vodka.  Swirl it around the old nostrils, then with one big gulp like a swimmer getting a mouthful of air on the breath stroke, I swallow it down.

Not bad–not bad at all.  Now, to see if this stuff works.

They start flashing images designed to recall the pain of electric shock; an electric chair, a toaster oven, an annoying solo by a “shred” guitar player.  Okay, I can handle this.  Is that all ya got?  C’mon, show me a live 220 volt wire or something.

They keep ‘em coming, but all I can think of is–mingling with mice of the opposite sex.  How . . . pleasant.

So this is what my new life will be like; all the pain and suffering I’ve been through before to earn my daily bread–gone!  And in its place images of Veronica, the cute little Peromyscus leucopus over in the hamster wheel division.  Gosh, she’d be so nice to come home to, as the old Cole Porter song put it.

What?  What’s that?  Her image seems to be speaking to me, as in a dream: Please put the lettuce away in the fridge, you don’t like it room temperature?  Don’t take a nap with my head on the throw pillows?  Could I at least send my mother-in-law a birthday card for once?  Would it kill me not to roll my eyes when Grey’s Anatomy is on?

Call the FDA–the cure is worse than the disease.

As Faulkner’s Birthday Nears, Mailmen Ask “What If?”

OXFORD, Miss. This college town of approximately 19,000 was once home to William Faulkner, one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century, but before he became famous, Faulkner was postmaster at the University of Mississippi Substation Post Office here, a fact that endears him to postal employees around the world.

Oxford, Mississippi


“He could have been one of the great ones,” says Dewey Norman, a letter carrier for the past three decades. “Instead, he took the easy way out and became a Nobel Prize-winning author.”

Faulkner: “You know what you can do with that postcard, Mr. Beauregard?”


The link between Faulkner’s experimental, stream-of-consciousness style and first class mail is celebrated every year in September as postmasters from around the country converge on Oxford to celebrate the Nobel Prize winner’s life and mail-sorting techniques. “Faulkner was known for ignoring customers and playing cards in the back room,” says Mitchell Helms, Assistant Postmaster of Tarkio, Missouri. “That’s a style that will endure when the go-go methods of Federal Express and UPS fade into oblivion.”

Faulkner eventually quit his job as postmaster, saying that he was tired of being “at the beck and call of every son of a bitch with a two-cent stamp.” “My sentiments exactly,” says Oren Daily, Jr., a postman in Muskogee, Oklahoma, “even though the price of stamps goes up every year.”

“I’ll be there in a minute–I’m out back sunning myself.”


Faulkner even used the imagery of first-class mail to describe the setting of his writings. “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it,” Faulkner said of Lafayette County, Mississippi, the basis for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. “I also found that if you lick the two of them, neither one tastes good.”

The anniversary of Faulkner’s birthday is September 25th, but postmen are sending out invitations well in advance of that date in order to insure a good crowd. “We waited until the week before one year,” says Faulkner’s postal descendant Gregory Hollins, “and the letters didn’t get there until Halloween.”

Ask Mr. Furniture

Refinishing furniture can be a fun–and profitable!–hobby for those who have a creative side and enjoy inhaling toxic fumes.  Mr. Furniture answers your questions and helps you turn “gunk” to “glow” and “crap” to “crapola.”

Dear Mr. Furniture–

I have a bone to pick with you.  I have been after my husband for years to refinish the chifferobe in our bedroom.  I inherited it from my mother, just barely gettting it out of her house before my sister-in-law had a chance to grab it.

Well, “Floyd” (not his real name in case his sister is reading this) finally agreed to start on it Labor Day weekend but he is not very “handy” so he asked me what he should do.  I read Chapter 3 of your book “From Junk to Jewels!” where it says it takes about a quart of alcohol to remove the finish from an average-sized chifferobe.  I told “Floyd” and went to the regional meeting of the Daughters of Ruth at our church, figuring I was entitled to some time off after hectoring that man for the better part of a week.

Well, when I come back he was asleep on the couch, passed out with a fifth of Old Crow in his hand.  I shook him until he woke up and I said “This is how you repay me for having sex with you once a week, regular as clockwork, for 29 years?”  It was a rhetorical question, I wasn’t expecting any real answer.

He blinks and says “Sorry, honey.  Burton’s Liquors didn’t have the quart bottle, so I had to make do with a fifth.”  This is all because of you Mr. Furniture, and I am going to complain to your newspaper syndicate.

(Mrs.) Opal Lee Vacca
Camdenton Mo.

Dear Ms. Vacca–

I must plead “innocent” to the charges.   I said use “wood alcohol,” not bourbon whiskey.  Had you followed my directions closely, your husband would be dead and this argument could have been avoided.


Dear Mr. Furniture:

I bought an old commode–I suppose there is no other kind with indoor plumbing being nearly universal now–which I would like to refinish and turn into a decorative conversation piece for my front parlor.

I considered a sewing table, then a buffet, then a coffee table, but it really is not suitable for any of these uses.  I have decided to make it into a baby grand piano and was wondering what color stain you think would go best.

Eve-Elise Brisker-Norton, Shrewsbury, Mass.

Dear Eve-Elise–

What a great idea–you certainly have an imagination!

I would use a darker stain, such as mahogany, English chestnut or Minwax #2718, “Espresso.”  Be sure to add plenty of white and black keys and your little project will be a “hit” the next time you have your artistic friends over.


Dear Mr. Furniture–

My husband Evan and I are practicing vegans, and strictly abstain from the use of animal products, even those that may have dinosaurs in them, such as motor oil.  I read the column in which you said “shellac–the traditional finish of the old cabinet-makers–is still the most widely used by the home refinisher.”  You said nothing about any animal products being used in its manufacture, did you?

Well, when we had our fellow vegan friends Tim and Lisa over for dinner of lentil soup, lentil bread, lentil loaf and and macrame pudding, I told them I had used shellac on an end table I found on the curb where a student had discarded it, and they were horrified.  “Don’t you know shellac starts out as a resinous substance deposited by the female lac bug on the trunks of trees in India?” Tim said.  He has been on Jeopardy! and won over a thousand dollars, and so is very smart.

Female lac bug, making a resinous deposit.


Well, of course word got out–Lisa is like that–and now we are no longer invited to the “nicer” vegan affairs and our children are shunned by other vegan children on the playground.

I have a hard time being sarcastic because I am a nice person, but any suggestions, Mr. Furniture?

Miriam Konitz, Evanston, Ill.


Dear Miriam–

Don’t get your animal-friendly underpants in an uproar!  No lac bugs are killed in the making of shellac, and they survive the process quite well unless you paint the stuff over them–which I’m sure you wouldn’t do.  In order to get back in the good graces of your vegan friends, why don’t you go through Tim and Lisa’s garbage and see if you can find a Burger King Whopper wrapper!

“Haven’t you got something a little more damaged?”


Dear Mr. Furniture–

This question may be more legal than refinishing, but here goes.  I import new furniture from my native Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, and sell it at a mark-up as antique.  There has been an anonymous posting on my store’s website making the absurd claim that this is unfair and deceptive–I suspect a disgruntled law student who tried to return a coffee table kit because he couldn’t figure out how to put it together.  “Mycket svar!” I told him, because it was more than 30 days after purchase and he did not have the sales receipt.

I am now afraid that he may take legal action.  Is there something I can do to bring myself in compliance with your annoying U.S. “consumer protection” laws?

Sven Bjorklund, Croton-on-Hudson, New York



Welcome to our country, where commercial chicanery is now somehow suspect after two hundred years of robust economic growth under the motto “Caveat emptor.”

In order to satisfy the Fair Trade in Antique Furniture Act of 1994, you should follow this “safe harbor” procedure: Take all new furniture as soon as it is uncrated, and fire a shotgun at it.  Attach by a log chain to the back of a vehicle and drag around an asphalt parking lot for fifteen (15) minutes.  Drop down a basement stairway, then place in an open pickup truck bed and drive through a carwash.

Your “new” furniture will look as “good as old” when you get through, so don’t forget to mark it up another ten percent!



Let’s Put on a Show!

Like every red-blooded American boy of a certain age–gay or straight–the first time I saw Judy Garland I fell deeply and tragically in love.  Those big cocker spaniel eyes; the quivering lip when faced with perplexity; the slightly pudgy midsection; the permanent wave that anticipated Farrah Fawcett’s flaring side-bangs of the seventies.  She was, as the French would say, trop pour moi.  Also des saucisses, sans doubte.


Babes in Arms
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in “Babes in Arms”


But what I and my somewhat effeminate friend Dennis loved about her most was her willingness to stop whatever she was doing, no matter how important, and break into song.  Some of the transitions were awkward, of the “. . . and that’s why I say–” variety memorably mocked by comedian Jonathan Winters in his stand-up send-up of Broadway shows.  But we didn’t care.


Jonathan Winters


No, Judy was our heroine, and not just because of The Wizard of Oz, one of those classic movies an indulgent teacher might actually let you watch in the classroom as a study aid to Frank Baum’s text.  Judy–like Dennis and I–had a dream burning inside her, an eternal internal flame, and she wasn’t going to let anybody or anything stand in her way.

puppet show
Actual backyard puppet show


In Dennis’s case, that dream was his own backyard puppet show.  He didn’t care what the rough boys said about him; he just went ahead and built his jerry-rigged puppet theatre, set it up in his front yard, tried to charge admission–a dismal failure, since you could stand outside his fence and watch for free–and then put on his show.

Just like Judy and Mickey Rooney in “Babes in Arms,” the mother of all “Let’s put on a show” shows, not to get too meta on you.  It was Judy who said “We’ve gotta have a great show, with a million laughs . . . and color . . . and a lot of lights to make it sparkle.  And songs–wonderful songs. And after we get the people in that hall, we’ve gotta start ‘em in laughing right away. Oh, can’t you just see it?”

Er, you may want to re-think the minstrel number.


In that 1939 movie, Mickey and Judy put on a show because their parents, aging vaudevillians, won’t take them on a revival tour, sort of like Ozzie Osborne not wanting to let his kids perform in a Black Sabbath reunion concert.  The “Let’s put on a show” theme has morphed into something larger with a much broader reach; it is now used as an inspiration when times seem bleakest, a ray of hope in your darkest hour in a wide variety of situations.  Outbreak of bubonic plague?  Mudslide in the Chilean Andes?  Forty-car pileup on fog-shrouded highway?  Let’s put on a show!

The number of Let’s-Put-on-a-Show movies is in the low double figures, including such cinema classics as Blues Brothers, The Full Monty, White Christmas and Hannah Montana.  South Park and SpongeBob Square Pants have used the theme, as has The Onion.  It’s not too great of a stretch to say that one-off benefits such as Farm Aid are real-life derivatives of the phenomenon, a sort of life-imitates-art inversion.

“The band sucks–but they’re all we’ve got.”


The importance in life of merely putting on a show was impressed upon me in college when, trying to make time with the most popular woman on campus, I uttered some cutting remark about a half-assed band playing covers of Grateful Dead songs at a backyard party.  “Well, at least they’re doing something to make life more enjoyable around here,” she said with disdain bordering on contempt.  Also bordering on Lake Michigan, since we were in Chicago.

I took that lesson to heart, and as a result have since put on plays of my own composition in venues large and small, but mainly small.  The basement of a former grade school.  A room in a YMCA next to the indoor swimming pool, which steeped the audience with the smell of chlorine.

“Some guy in there thinks he’s Hamlet or sumpin’.”


I reached the nadir of my experience as playwright one night in Salem, Massachusetts–that’s right, where they used to burn witches.  I had responded to a “call for scripts” and my hockey-themed play was selected for a reading!  When I arrived at the address the night of the performance I found–a pizza parlor.  Thinking there was some mistake, I took a walk up and down the block.  No performance space to be seen.

After standing around for awhile a fellow showed up and introduced himself as one of the actors.  Where were we going to put on the play? I asked.  “In there,” he said.  “After they close.”


“Alas, poor Yorick.  He ordered the anchovy.”


And so, after the last slice of pepperoni and mushroom had been served, the world premier of What Mickey Belle Isle Told You was held before an audience of precisely one (1); the janitor, who was sweeping up.

But these are the indignities that backyard impresarios and community theatre playwrights endure for your sake, to make of the world a brighter place, one where children laugh, and hearts are free, where men put on shows and women love ‘em.

Instead of the guys in that Godawful Grateful Dead cover band.

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