The Judging of the Poetry Contest

There once was a poetess, quite penurious
Who had no job to fall back on that was tenurious.
She’d work weekends at the food co-operative
In order to keep her body marginally operative.

But each week she grew thinner
Going without lunch or dinner.
In desperation she sent an application (with references) to Yaddo.
She was so thin she had to pass a place twice to make a shadow.

Just as she was about to expire,
her finances having become quite dire,
She hit upon a money-making scheme
That supplied the answer to her pauper’s dreams.

“Why am I forced to make a choice
between eating,” she said with a tremulous voice,
“and entering poetry contests at ten bucks a pop?
This Scylla and Charybdis stuff has got to stop!”

So she took out an ad in a poetry ‘zine
encouraging young, old and in-between
To submit their works, by the means they thought best,
to the Starving Poetess Sonnet Contest.

She waited a week, and then one more,
She watched for the mail from her front door.
It took a while, she began to feel worse,
When she spied the postman weighed down with verse.

“Oh goody!” she cried, as he dumped his load
Crushing a bug, just missing a toad.
“Wait,” said he, as she dragged it through the door.
“I’m going back to my truck—I’ve got a lot more.”

And indeed he did, he had poems by the ton;
Most deadly serious, none of them fun,
But she didn’t think them a pain in the neck.
For within each envelope she found a check!

She pulled down her shades to proceed by stealth
To count up and re-count her new-gotten wealth.
She was in poet’s heaven, when she realized with some dudgeon
That she was now obliged to actually judge ‘em!

“Oh woe is me—what e’er shall I do?
For this much is tragic,” she said and it’s true:
“Like many a poet I write them with freedom
But poems writ by others?  I don’t like to read ‘em.”

And so she repaired to a bleak promontory
That looked like a scene from a Gothic ghost story,
A cliff where many a poetess tried–
And some succeeded—to commit suicide.

She faced the wind in a fit of rage
And began to toss poems, page by page
Then declared the winner of her poetry prize
The one that when thrown, blew back in her eyes.

Moral: There’s no accounting for tastes, but there is double-entry bookkeeping.

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At the Cattes Film Festival

          The Walker Art Center, a well-regarded modern art museum in Minneapolis, held what is believed to be the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival recently.

                    The Boston Globe


“Truffaut? Please–he couldn’t change my litter box.”

 

I’ve come with Rocco–my tuxedo cat and the only one I have left after the recent death of his fractious older brother Okie–to the Cattes Internet Video Film Festival. We have high hopes for what we believe to be the Oak Man’s greatest work–Laser Pointer a la Mode–a moody noir meditation on the futility of love for a long-gelded grey tabby male.


Okie, as he approached Orsonwellesian size.

 

“What do you think of our chances?” Roc asks. He’s wearing a beret–a French touch that strikes me as an affectation. I have opted for the rough-and-tumble red-blooded Americanski look favored by directors such as John Huston. Huston famously divorced one of his wives when she demanded he choose between her and a pet chimpanzee. I’m not that far gone as a cat-man–not yet at least.

 


“Anybody seen my monkey?”

 

“I don’t know,” I say glumly to Rocco. It would be great, a feather in Okie’s cap, if the world of film were to recognize Laser Pointer for what it is–the capstone of a great career–but the competition’s tough. The simplistic videos of cats in t-shirts, cats playing the piano, we’ll blow through those amateurish efforts like shit through a goose. It’s the avant-garde I’m worried about; the long-angle re-tellings of The Cat in the Hat, the shifting points of view to be found in Kibbles ‘n Bits, Mon Amour. There’s a new new wave of young cat film directors out there, NYU, UCLA and ASPCA-trained. These kids are good, whereas Okie, Roc and me, we’re a bunch of old-schoolers stumbling around the house Blair Witch-style with a hand-held camcorder that looks like the VHS equivalent of a room-size Univac computer.


“Je regrettez to tellez-vous, le chat has upchucked on le rug again.”

 

“You have to admit in terms of visual comedy, we’re right up there with Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton,” Roc says as he signs the flea collar of a young female admirer.

“Are you staying at the Radisson?” the cute little Persian asks.

“We’re going to be pretty busy meeting with studios,” I say as I steer Roc away from what could be a potential paternity suit if he hadn’t been fixed about the same time I was.

“Hey, I want to have a little fun while I’m in town,” he grumbles to me.

“Your fun days are over, as are mine,” I tell him with a censorious look. “From now on, we’re dedicated to our art–not chicks, okay?”

He doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t have much choice. We’re swept along by the crowd into theatre #3, where Laser Pointer is scheduled to start in two minutes.

“So what if we come out of the festival without a studio deal?” Roc asks with a note of concern in his voice.

“We stay on the festival circuit,” I say. “Sundance, Telluride, maybe even . . . Boston.”

“Why bother?” Roc asks with a withering deprecation of his home town that surprises me. After all, he caught his first mouse there, humped his first couch there.

“You never know,” I say. “We might get a short-run distribution contract. Anything to avoid the stigma of direct-to-DVD.”

That seems to mollify him and, after I get refreshments–Raisinets for me, Liva Snaps for him–we settle into our seats.

We sit through the obligatory safety recitation–no smoking, where the exits are, turn off your cell phones, et cetera–and the lights go down.

“Cross your fingers,” I say, and he looks at me as if I’m daft. “I’ve got six digits per paw and can’t cross any of ’em,” he says and a bit huffily I might add. “Cross your own damn fingers.”


Slo-Poke: Essentialment a l’enjoyment du cinema.

 

The credits roll and our hope and dreams are launched into that artificial night of le cinema, which has inspired so many dreams, provoked so many nightmares, launched tongues to lick so many Slo-Poke All-Day caramel suckers. I exhale, feeling a sense of relief at the end of a long, difficult process over what we’ve accomplished. The festival received 10,000 cat videos; that’s right, five figures of Americans wasting their time as we have, blocking out shots, dealing with Friskies-fed prima donnas who want to stay in their trailers when the light is just right outside. Now it’s all come down to this; twenty-minutes of what we think was Okie at the very pinnacle of his cinematic powers.


Bergman: “We’ll have to re-shoot the death scene–he woke up from his 6-hour nap.”

 

I can sense the mood of the crowd as wave upon wave of Okie’s bleak end-of-life vision washes over them. It’s like an Ingmar Bergman movie with a concession-stand size pack of Twizzlers Red Licorice. I hear one woman sobbing down front; false alarm, somebody stepped on her foot trying to get to his seat.

As the lights come up it’s clear we’ve got a winner on our hands. I turn to look at Rocco, and he’s got a sly little smile on his face that says “Hollywood here we come.” I can see him sizing up a kitten on a casting couch in his horny little mind: “I want you to play a scene in which you’re desperately, tragically in love with an eight-year-old tuxedo cat.”

After a hush, the audience begins to applaud, softly, reverently at first, then louder and with an intelligent, critical enthusiasm. “Auteur!” someone yells, and others take up the call. I look at Roc, we shrug our shoulders, then we make our way up the aisle to the stage.

“Thank you, thank you very much,” I say since Rocco is capable only of a caw-like meow. “On behalf of our late colleague Okie, we are pleased that you enjoyed our entry in the Art-House category here at the Cattes Film Festival.”

“Art-House?” a cineaste in an aisle seat says, incredulous. “We thought it was a comedy.”

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

For One Instructor, Misanthropy is a Scholarly Pursuit

WESTLAND, Mass.  In this suburb of Boston continuing education courses at the community center are popular, with everyone from retirees to stay-at-home moms signing up for classes ranging from plein air watercolor painting to nature walks.  “It’s a way to keep my mind active,” says Elsie Copenhaver, a widow who keeps a trim figure with water aerobics and yoga.  “I aim for a little more stimulation than ‘Wheel of Fortune.'”

The center is staffed by volunteers who get credit against their property tax bills for the hours they work, but the advanced age of many part-timers sometimes leads to mix-ups; witness a class offered this fall, Introduction to Misanthropy, taught by Ned Flynn, a retired manufacturers representative.

“I thought it was like anthropology, or maybe philanthropy,” says Myra Florin, the administrator who processed the paperwork for the course.  “I had no idea the man was a dyed-in-the-wool crank.”

Flynn is indeed a bit of a curmudgeon, the result he says of being mistreated over the years by the big companies whom he served as an outside sales force without benefits, getting paid only a commission when he closed a sale.  “I should be teaching a class on human sexuality,” he says bitterly.  “If there’s any way to get screwed that hasn’t happened to me, I don’t know about it.”

The first class draws a motley mixture of the young and the old, some of whom are still “shopping” for a course in the manner of college students comparing professors before making final decisions.


“Anybody got an axe they want to grind for extra credit?”

 

“Welcome everybody,” Flynn says to bring the class to order, and the casual chit-chat that had filled the room comes to an end.  “This is Introduction to Misanthropy, so if you want to make origami cranes you’re in the wrong place.”  A few in attendance chuckle quietly and Flynn launches into his survey of the field that has not yet achieved academic respectability, even though it is widely practiced among members of the professoriate.

“What I hope to give to those who decide to enroll in this class and stick with it is a comprehensive world view, not just a limited, one-dimensional approach to interpersonal relations.  Has anyone here dabbled in misanthropy before?”

A few stick their hands up, and Flynn calls first on Mike Quals, an older man with a red-and-white “Make American Great Again” cap on.  “I know a little bit about it,” he says.  “I hate all them lily-livered, panty-waist Hillary Clinton supporters.”

“Anybody else?” Flynn says, before recognizing Veronica Upshaw, a woman wearing a cable-knit sweater and a head-band who is president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.  “I reserve a special fury for the sexist followers of Donald Trump,” she fairly spits out, giving Quals a laser-like glare of contempt.

“Okay, this is a good place to start,” Flynn says as he moves to the black board and writes “Misanthropy: Hate everybody equally,” underlining the last word for effect.  “If all you’re doing is singling out one group, you’re not doing misanthropy right.”

A few in the class begin to take notes, even though the course description has made clear that it is not offered for credit, and that there are no exams.  “So–it’s an ecumenical thing?” asks Eric Fleming, a young man with a wispy beard who is a theology student at a nearby seminary.


“I want a 300-word essay on why you can’t stand the person sitting next to you.”

“Precisely,” Flynn replies.  “You have to move beyond the particular person or group you dislike to a universal, all-encompassing hatred of humans in general.”  He then leads a roundtable discussion designed to help others overcome their parochial antipathies, and broaden the range of their animosity.  By the end of the hour, many emerge from the classroom with a newfound respect for the power of negative thinking.  What, this reporter asks Quals, did he learn from the first class?

“I think in the past I’ve been too quick to make snap judgments about individuals based on politics,” he says with a tone of rueful self-criticism.  “I really should just lump them together with all the other weirdos in the world and leave it at that.”

 

Ask Ms. He’s So Cheap

Have you fallen for a man who wouldn’t pay a quarter to see an earthquake?  Somebody who throws nickels around like they’re manhole covers?  A fellow who checks the change slot whenever he passes a vending machine?


“We could save a lot of money if you’d just let me re-use condoms.”

 

Finances are the most common source of arguments between husbands and wives, ranking far ahead of those started by questions such as “Why don’t you stop and ask directions?” and “Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing Ed Pendergast, Regional Vice President-Sales, home for dinner?”  To get to the bottom of money issues before they fester and turn into a household fiscal contagion, ask Ms. He’s So Cheap for help!

 

Dear Ms. He’s So Cheap:

I recently had my first anniversary with “Ed,” a man who swept me off my feet at Bay State Job Lot in Seekonk, Mass.  We made mad passionate love in a pit of styrofoam packing peanuts in the stock room after looking locks–I mean locking looks–over the discounted romance novels.

“Ed” asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted something special for the occasion and I grabbed him by the biceps and said in no uncertain terms “I want the gift that lasts a lifetime”–meaning a diamond ring, of course.


You know you want to . . .

 

When the day came he took me to lunch at Applebee’s and after we finished he slipped an envelope across the table at me.  I said “What’s this?” and he said “Go ahead, open it up.”  Well I did, and it was a gift certificate, the lower-priced entree was free.  Since he had Prime Rib and I had the French Dip sandwich with Suzie-Q french fries that meant he only had to pay for his.

I gave him a “look” and said “Excuse me?” and he just said “What?” like he had no idea he’d done anything wrong.  I said “I asked you for the gift that lasts a lifetime!” through my tears, and he said “Oh, my bad.  I thought you said the gift that lasts a lunchtime.” Then he said sorry, took back the coupon and paid as if it was no big deal.

Ms. He’s So Cheap, I would like your opinion as to whether this was an “honest” mistake or a sign that I should not have a joint checking account with this man if we do get married, which is not at all a sure thing right now.

Sue Ellen Pfeiffer, Swansea, Mass.

 

Dear Sue Ellen:

There is a fine line between “cheap” and “thrifty” that is difficult, if not impossible to define when based on a miscommunication.  Why don’t you take Ed to your local Sears Hearing Aid Center for a “fun hearing check-up” date.  You may be surprised when you hear his reaction!

cheap
“So I threw out a deposit bottle–so what?”

 

Dear Ms. He’s So Cheap:

Settle a bet for me.  My husband says it is okay to take soaps and shampoos from hotel rooms even if you have not opened up the package, he sold annuities for Modern Moosehead of Omaha for many years and claims this is the “rule of the road.”  I say you are only allowed to take what you have used in the shower or whatever, as they would only have to throw it out after you left.  We have agreed to abide by your decision.

Veneta Doogs, Otterville, Iowa


Four generations of the Schucter family have cleaned out the ice machine

Dear Veneta:

As with so many things in life, it depends.  If you paid full-price for your room–no AAA or Oddfellows’ group discount–then by all means take whatever you want.  If on the other hand you are with a tour group or large family reunion that is hogging the game room and emptying out the ice machine before other people have a chance at it, “courtesy” dictates that you take only one (1) bar of soap or shampoo bottle.


“Preparing Schedule A Itemized Deductions is a lot more fun when you do a duck walk.”

 

Dear Ms. He’s So Cheap:

I have been dating a high-powered tax lawyer at a big firm here and we agreed to go beyond “heavy petting” to you-know-what last spring right after tax season.  Well, “Gary” was completely wiped out on April 16th and I have to say, I wonder what all the R-rated movies are about, there doesn’t seem to be much to this “sex” thing.  Anyway, the day after Gary shows up and says next time will be better and gives me a present, which when I opened it up turned out to be two 8 1/2 by 14″ legal pads.

Ms. He’s So Cheap, I was wondering whether this is a tradition among tax professionals or mandated by IRS guidelines, as I would have expected flowers or candy for giving up what I have heard referred to as my “maidenhead” in an old Robin Hood movie.

Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.

Donna Vermeil, Wyandotte, Kansas

 

Dear Donna:

Count your blessings.  Remember–you can only lose your virginity once, but “Gary” can keep you in legal pads as long as his license to practice is not revoked by your state bar authorities.


In legal pads as in so many other things in life–size matters.

 

Dear Ms. He’s So Cheap:

Last Saturday night I had a first date at a “tablecloth” restaurant with “Lyle,” the guy who fixes the copy machines where I work, the County Recorder’s Office in Muskegeon.  It turns out “Lyle” owns the machines and leases them to Opal Dufresne, who was elected to a four-year term in 2016 on the wave of anti-incumbent sentiment that swept the nation.

I am not used to eating in fancy restaurants as I can only afford fast food and take-out on my assistant clerk’s wages, but I was a little surprised that “Lyle” left only a $2 and a quarter tip on a $22.95 bill.  “You don’t tip on tax,” he said.  “You should know that, working in government as you do.”

Ms. He’s So Cheap, what is the rule in this regard?  I do not want to question Lyle’s judgment, on the other hand I do not want to be beholden to him for groceries if he’s going to slice the lunch meat so thin, if you get my drift.

Before you come down too hard on “Lyle” I should tell you that I don’t have a lot of other prospects.

Peggy Hohimer, Auxvasse, Michigan

 


Singles Night, Elks Club, Wakefield, Mass.: Get off your derriere and out of your chair-ierre!

 

Dear Peggy:

I must side with Lyle on this one.  If you tip on tax, where does the money go?  Not to “vital” social services such as cowboy poetry festivals and Little Miss Sorghum contests.  Government doesn’t bring the food to the table or clear the dishes or ask if you want coffee or dessert.

If you cannot see your way clear to agreeing with Lyle it may be the result of a deep-seated “big government” prejudice you have developed sitting on your derriere in your chair-ierre at that layabout County Recorder’s Office.  Perhaps if you’d spend some time in the “private sector” answering stupid questions from sad sacks like yourself at minimum wage with no health or dental, you’d have a higher regard for Lyle and a lower opinion of yourself.

BTW, did you formally “break up” with Lyle and if so, could you send me his email?

 

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

A Flag Stop

The bus had made good time from Chicago to St. Louis, or at least it seemed that way to Carl, who had fallen asleep as it drove through Springfield. When he woke up they were approaching the bridge over the Mississippi River; he glanced at his watch and saw it was 9:30 at night. He looked around the bus at the other passengers, some of whom—like him—were just waking up as the bus slowed down and the lights became brighter after ninety minutes of rolling through dark plains on a smooth highway.

bus3

A black woman across the aisle rubbed her eyes while her young son continued to doze by her side. A middle-aged white man with a top coat over a blue blazer and tie looked out the window, his briefcase ready on the seat next to him; probably a salesman, Carl thought, without having any particular experience that would qualify him to reach this conclusion. He was only nineteen, and the only salesmen he’d ever seen either had either come to the front door of the house where his parents still lived, or he’d seen them calling on merchants downtown in the county seat where he grew up.

The lights beaming down on the streets shed a orangish-purple cast on the near-deserted city, making him think of the yellow lights on the back porch of his boyhood home, and how they were supposed to keep bugs away during the summer but didn’t entirely succeed. He thought of the possibility that the odd light that colored the streets was designed to get people to go home and go to bed, so there’d be less crime, but it took him only a second to smile at that improbable notion.

bus1

The bus slowed as it crawled through the streets from one stoplight to the next, giving him a chance to take in the night people of the city. Everyone either had a place to go to, and moved rapidly towards it, or stood around outside the few places that were still open—bars and convenience stores. Within a few minutes the bus turned into a side street, where it pulled into a diagonal parking spot outside a station and came to a stop with a hissing noise from its brakes.

The mother woke her son up and they got off; the salesman stood and waited for them to go by before walking down the aisle to the door. He said “Thank you” to the driver as he got off, which reinforced in Carl’s mind his theory about the man’s occupation; no one would thank a bus driver for taking him from one place to another who wasn’t trained to think that being obsequiously polite could help him get ahead in the world.

The driver pulled some suitcases out of the baggage compartment on the side of the bus for the few passengers who had checked them in Chicago, not knowing that the bus would only be half full, or perhaps not wanting to drag their luggage up into the bus. Then he started to take tickets from a line of new passengers that had formed outside, headed to stops on the next leg of the trip along the older, slower highway through the middle of the state, and not the interstate.

bus2

He watched the people get on, trying to get a glimpse at them without looking them in the eye. He had been told by his mother growing up not to stare at people, but had fallen back into the habit at college; things were new and strange in Chicago, and he found himself gaping at individuals who would have been out of place in his little hometown. A black man in the bus station in Chicago had broken such a reverie by saying “Whadda you looking at?” before laughing to show that he wasn’t angry to be gawked at. “I’ll bet you’re a jitterbug,” the man had said as he had taken in Carl’s bright purple shirt and cowboy boots.

“I guess,” Carl had said sheepishly, then looked back down at the book—”The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”—he had brought along for diversion on the long trip, around eight hours.

A blonde woman climbed up the steps into the bus; she was attractive, and looked vaguely familiar, so he allowed his eyes to linger in a sidewise manner towards the aisle to get a better look at her. As the woman approached, their eyes met and she spoke.
“Carl?” she asked.

He said only “Yes” as he couldn’t place her at first.

“Jan—Jan Hohlinger.”

bus4

“Hi Jan. I didn’t recognize you, out of context.”

“You don’t expect to see someone from your high school in a bus station two hundred miles away from home, do you?”

The bus was filling up and so the woman stepped out of the way to let others pass. “Is anybody sitting here?” she said, pointing to the seat on the aisle.

“No, go ahead.”

“Thanks.” She had a little pink overnight case, which she started to lift to the rack overhead.

“Let me do that,” Carl said, and he took the bag from her hands, lifted it up awkwardly over his shoulder and found a place for it between his own and another person’s things.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she said as she sat down. “You going home for Thanksgiving, I assume?”

“Yep.”

“And where are you now?”

“In Chicago—in college.”

“Better you than me,” she said as she put her ticket in her purse and otherwise got organized and settled in.

bus

“Do . . . do you live in St. Louis now?” he asked.

“I live in Kansas City. I was in St. Louis for a modeling job.”

“So you’re not a stewardess anymore?”

“I am, just trying to break into modeling full-time, make a little extra money. Being a stewardess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“It’s not?”

“You’re basically paid waitress wages in a flying restaurant. Back and forth all over the country all the time. It gets old after awhile.”

Carl was surprised to hear Jan’s cynicism. When she had started out as a stewardess four or five years before it was a matter of local pride; another young woman would follow her a few years later, but she was the first. It was taken as proof that the girls in their town were just as pretty as city girls, just as polished. They were flying to big cities in the U.S. and abroad.

“How about you?” she asked. “What year are you now?”

“This is my third.”

“So a junior. You gonna graduate on time, or are you on the six-year plan?”

“I’ll be out of there in four years. I can’t stand it.”

bus6

“Really? Why not?”

“Not a lot going on. Everybody studies all the time.”

“I remember you liked to party a bit in high school.” She gave him a sly smile. “You and Richard and Freddie used to hang around our place a lot.” Several years older, she and two roommates had been the first to rent an apartment and move out of their parents’ homes after graduation. It became a meeting place on weekends, and there was always beer brought by the older boys who came to call from the Air Force base.

“It was a good deal,” he said, smiling back. “Chip in a couple dollars and you didn’t have to hang around the liquor stores downtown to find somebody to buy booze for you. Plus TV and music.”

“It was a great little place. Nobody bothered us as long as we kept the noise down.”

“You guys ran a pretty tight ship. I remember you threw Freddie out one night when he got drunk.”

“He gets kinda foolish when he’s had too much to drink. He wanted to bring a girl over and use my bedroom. Fat chance of that.”

Carl grinned and shook his head at the thought of the ludicrous request.

bus8

“It’s like they say, a stiff dick has no conscience,” Jan said. He was a bit surprised that she would use such language in a public place, but he looked around and saw no one had heard her. She opened her purse, took out a compact, and applied some lipstick.

“How about you? Do you have a girl up there in Chicago?”

He hesitated; it was a source of some chagrin that he didn’t. There had been a girl his first year that he had pursued and won, then realized it was only because she was the most attractive woman in his crowd, not because he liked her. The relationship had ended abruptly, a poor reflection on his maturity in the eyes of his small circle of friends.

“Not really.”

“Nobody you like?”

“I’ve, uh, gone out with this woman I work with in the snack bar but she doesn’t want a relationship.”

“Why not?”

“She’s got a boyfriend back home, in Connecticut.”

bus7

“So? If you can’t be with the one you love—love the one you’re with, right?”

He shrugged. “I suppose that’s what we’re doing.”

“But you want to get serious?”

“I guess. When he comes to visit he moves in with her for a week, and I’m out. Once he’s gone I have to like, woo her all over again.”

“’Woo her.’ Sounds so old-fashioned—and formal,” Jan said with a laugh. “Is she a real serious person or something?”

“Yeah. She’s into like Indian mysticism, Eastern philosophy.”

“Oh my God,” Jan said. “You sure can pick ‘em. Well, I guess I can read my beauty magazine if you don’t like to talk to stewardesses anymore.”

“No, I feel the same way,” he said, trying to re-assure her. “She tried to get me to stop eating hamburgers.”

“And that’s where you drew the line?” she laughed.

“Yeah, well, that and other things.”

“Like what.”

“She burned incense in her bedroom.”

“That stuff’s too hippie for me, too.” She turned and looked at him. “I think you need to move back and find a normal woman.”

“You may be right. I suppose it depends on where I end up after college.”

“What are you studying to be?”

“Nothing in particular. Most people I know plan to keep going and end up as professors.”

“There’s no money in that. My sister divorced my brother-in-law ‘cause they’d been married six years and were still living in a little place like I used to have for God’s sake.”

They passed through the state capital, then rode in silence for a while. The road was dark, the lights were few and, it seemed, miles apart. “Are you going all the way to Kansas City?” he asked after a while.

bus5

“No, and I have to be careful I don’t fall asleep. My mom is picking me up at a flag stop.”

“What’s that?”

“If you want to get on the bus, you have to flag the driver down, it’s not a regular stop. If you want to get off the bus, you have to tell the driver.”

“She doesn’t live in Sedville?”

“No, she moved out here after I graduated from high school. She inherited my grand daddy’s farm. I better remind him now,” she said as she got up and walked down the aisle to tell the bus driver where she needed to get off.

“He had it on his clipboard,” she said as she sat down again. “It’s just a couple of miles away, I lost track of where we were going through all that farmland in the dark.”
She collected her things from the pouch in the seat in front of her and stuffed them into two bags she had brought with her, a small purse and a larger handbag. “Well, it was good seeing you again.”

“Same here. Best of luck with the modeling—maybe I’ll see you in a catalog someday.”

“Maybe even in my underwear,” she said with a mock leer. “And best of luck to you with that undecided girl friend of yours.”

“I think it will be over after this year.”

“Why’s that?”

“Her boyfriend is moving to Chicago. She’s going to live with him.”

“So . . . no chance to ‘woo’ her back, huh?”

“I guess not.”

“Probably for the best—if you ever want to eat a hamburger again,” she said with a laugh.

The bus slowed down at a wide spot in the road, where there was a plain street light and a car waiting. “That’s my mom down there,” she said. She stood up and he tried to help her with the suitcase, but she said “I think I got it” and was able to slide it off the rack with minimal effort, but with a clatter as it hit the bus floor harder than she expected.

“You take care, okay,” she said, as she leaned in closer and—to his surprise–kissed him.

“You too,” he said, over an unexpected lump in his throat.

“Bye,” she said with a little wave as she made her way down the aisle with some difficulty.

The driver helped her with her bags as she got off, then climbed back in. “Next stop Sedville,” he said, then sat down and put the bus in gear. They drove off and, as they moved again into the darkness of the countryside, he inhaled and smelled her perfume.

The Poet’s Embezzlement

          Every poet cheats his boss.

                    Russian proverb.

 

Into the middle distance
I fix my blankest stare.
I nod my head
at what is said.
My brain is God knows where.

office

“Our revenue’s declining”-
so says our CFO.
I hear the words–
it’s too absurd–
I care not ’bout his dough.

With every idle moment,
My fancy ventures free
spelunking mines
within my mind,
committing vagrancy.

My body sits upon its chair
To earn its daily bread.
I’ve picked the lock
while on the clock–
the ghost within has fled.

Too bad we’re not in textiles–
at gathering wool I’m good!
Perhaps like Melville’s Bartleby
I’m just misunderstood.

The folks down in accounting
can’t figure out what’s wrong.
Lyric’s gain is mammon’s loss
’cause every poet cheats his boss.

 

Previously published in The Poetry Ark

Hugh Hefner, Lonely Guy

Two of Hugh Hefner’s three girlfriends are moving out of the mansion.

Wonderwall, msn.com

Image result for playboy mansion
Playboy Mansion

I’ve come to the Playboy Mansion on a mission of mercy. Hugh Hefner, my good buddy, has just lost two girlfriends in a single day! It can’t be easy for him, rattling around in a 22,000 square foot bachelor pad with just one remaining live-in girlfriend to console him.

As I turn off Charing Cross Road into the circular driveway, my way is blocked by the Kilgore Rangerettes, the famous all-girl precision marching team, and six full-size buses with signs to indicate the affiliations of the passengers within, including the National Association of Female Actuaries, the faculty of Bryn Mawr College and the Jacksonville Juice, Florida’s entry in the American Women’s Football League.
Image result for women's football

“What’s all this about?” I ask Eduardo, the valet who takes the keys to my 2012 Toyota Highlander–the “LE” edition with the plush velour interior.

“You know Mr. Hefner,” he says. “He is a real ‘people’ person.”

I make my way to Hef’s room, where I find him–as always–working in his circular bed, sipping a Pepsi Twist, the lemon-accented cola drink that is mother’s milk to the notorious mammophile. He doesn’t notice me at first, engrossed as he is in editing a short story by Philip Roth, author of “The Breast.”

“Hef?” I ask tentatively.

“Hi–say, which sounds better: ‘Her left boob, which was visible beneath the scoop of her leotard’, or ‘that was visible’ et cetera.”

“I’d go with ‘which.’ “You use ‘that’ to point something out, and ‘which’ to refer to the only one in question.”

Image result for e b white
E.B. White: “That breast of yours is totally bodacious.”

 

“Hmm–that’s a pretty good yardstick. Where’d you pick that up?”

“Strunk & White–you know E.B. White, right?”

“Charlotte’s Web?”

“On the nosey.”

“Has he written anything lately?”

“I don’t think so–he’s been dead for 32 years.”

“Too bad. We pay top dollar, you know.”

I could tell that this was so much nervous chatter, the idle babbling of someone with something else on his mind.

“Hef–do you want to talk?”

For the first time in the forty-odd years I’ve known him, Hef shows an introspective side.

“I’m in a bad place right now,” he says softly after a moment. “It’s not easy getting by on just one live-in girlfriend.”

“I know what you mean,” I say, although I don’t. “You need a change. You know what Sir Topham Hatt says, right?”

“Who’s Topham Hatt?”

Image result for topham hatt
Chris Bosh with Sir Topham Hatt

 

“The little fat man in the Thomas the Tank Engine movies.”

“Oh. What does he say?”

“A change is as good as a rest.”

Hef takes this in for a moment, but his reverie is broken by the sound of footsteps and girlish chatter on the steps outside.

The door bursts open and in come the girls of Scout Troop #473, Vallejo, California–all 36 of them.

“Hi Mr. Hefner,” says Kelly Oswego.

“Hey there, Kelly!” Hefner exclaims, genuinely glad to see his young proteges. The breast and highbrow literature magnate has quietly kept this rag-tag collection of freckle-faced young girls from a life of white slavery by placing six-figure orders for Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos and Tagalongs for the past three years. It’s the quiet philanthropic side of a very prominent man that he keeps from public view.

“How’re you girls doing?” Hef asks.

“Fine, Mr. Hefner,” they reply in unison. “But we heard you were very sad,” adds Courtney Fabre, a cute redhead in pigtails.

“Sort of,” Hef admits, his warm smile breaking down just a bit now that he’s been reminded of his troubles. “I lost two girlfriends.”

The girls groan in commiseration. “Did you look in your laundry hamper?” asks Cindy Wenderman. “Sometimes I find stuff there–or under my bed.”

“Nope–they’re gone,” Hef replies, and he does a poor job of masking his unhappiness.

Image result for hefner girlfriends
“I could swear I had three live-in girlfriends this morning.”

 

“You know what you need?” asks Cherie Sala, an olive-skinned girl of Italian descent.

“What?” Hef asks.

“You need to go on a Spirit Quest!”

“What’s that?” Hef asks.

“You get a flashlight or a lantern, and you walk around your neighborhood and you talk to your friends, and by the time you get back you’ve forgotten all your troubles!” Courtney says.

Hef is not one who’s much into the outdoors, or out of the indoors, but the idea strikes his fancy. “What do you think?” he asks me.

“I’m game,” I say.

“If you’re game, somebody might shoot you!” Kelly says, and the other girls laugh.

“Do we have enough supplies for everyone?” I ask Hef with concern. “You’ve got that football team, the actuaries, the professors from Bryn Mawr, and now the Girl Scouts.”

He nods his head, all business. “Let me check.” He picks up the phone and dials down to the mansion’s supply room. “How many wholesale cases of Viagra do we have left?” he barks into the receiver.

He seems satisfied as a tinny voice is heard through the earpiece. “126? Okay–that should be enough. Thanks.”

He turns to the girls as he replaces the receiver. “We’re all set!” he exclaims. “Just remember to fill up your canteens in the kitchen!”

We walk downstairs and grab flashlights and Coleman lanterns from a closet, then head down the driveway, the Kilgore Rangerettes leading the way with their crisp choreography.

We make our way into the Hollywood Hills and, after a few miles of hustling to keep up with the high-kicking Rangerettes, the 91-year-old magazine publisher and media magnate begins to tire. “Now, on a Spirit Quest, do we ever get to stop and cuddle with each other?” Hef asks Cindy, who has recently completed the field work required for a Bug Collector merit badge.

“You can if you want, but you don’t want to get left behind.”

“Well,” Hef says, “I may not be able to keep up with you. I think I’m going to rest for a bit with the top-ten-ranked members of the Womens Professional Bowling Tour,” he says.

“Okay,” Courtney says. “Take one of the flashlights.”

“I don’t think we’ll need it,” Hef says with a smirk in my direction. What a card!

“If you get lost, you can find your way back by looking at the stars,” Cherie Sala tells him.

“How do you do that?” Hef asks.

“See the Big Dipper?” she says as she points skyward. “It’s a constellation up there that looks like a Playboy Rear-View Mirror Air Freshener.”

“Say–you’re right,” Hef says. He takes out his cell phone and calls his twenty-four hour on-call intellectual property lawyer. “Hey Mort,” he says into the mouthpiece. “There’s a bunch of stars up in the sky tonight that look like a Playboy bunny–are we getting licensing fees from them? No? Well, get on it right way, okay? Thanks.”

He snaps his flip phone shut and the girls walk off, leaving him alone with a choice selection of female bowlers.

“Hef,” I ask as I avert my gaze. “You’ve always been so fortunate with women, and yet you have really high standards.”

bowlers

“That’s key,” Hef says as he nibbles the earlobe of Katy Zlieciewcz, a fresh-faced southpaw from a Polish neighborhood of Chicago who has just won the Lady Gillette Invitational at the Columbus, Ohio AMF Bowladrome. “I like girls with that wholesome, girl-next-door look, who like candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach, and who have a set of homongous knockers.”

I nod in appreciation of a man who aims high, and yet still achieves his goals. As I quietly contemplate how different my life might have been had I only capitalized on the innate desire of large-breasted women to expose themselves to public view, as Hef has, I hear a rumbling above us. It’s one of California’s notorious mudslides, headed our way!

“Hef! Look out!” I yell as I scramble for cover beneath an outcropping of rock. Hef dives into a small depression and lies flat, just in time to avoid several tons of mud and rocks that rumble down the mountainside, wiping out 237 women and leaving us shaken and, once again, alone.

“You okay?” I ask Hef, and he pats himself down, checking to see whether he’s still in one piece.

“I guess,” he says, as he pulls his cell phone from his shirt pocket. He dials the mansion, and when he connects, speaks in a subdued tone.

“Hi–it’s Hef. I’m going to need somebody to come pick me up,” he says, a little out of breath. “And can you send over the Playmates of the Month for January through May?”