Samurai Accident Poems Fight Asian Bad Driver Stereotype

SPRINGFIELD, Mass.  It was early Thursday afternoon and Hiromichi Kotani had just finished teaching his last class of the week in theoretical physics at the Springfield Institute of Technology, so he was in a hurry to  drive back to his home in Watertown, Mass., an hour and a half away.  “In retrospect, I should have been more careful,” he says to this reporter as he sips green tea in his living room.  “I have brought shame on my family, my native country, and the discipline of physics,” he says with genuine remorse.

In his haste to leave, Kotani backed into the car parked behind him, denting the front bumper of Cindy Tinocci’s 2012 Toyota Camry, a run-of-the-mill accident that was followed by what appeared to a commonplace scene: Kotani got out of his car and scribbled on a piece of paper, which he then left under Tinocci’s windshield wiper.  Onlookers assumed that he was leaving his name and contact information for the young woman, an administrative assistant in the college bursar’s office, but that’s not what Tinocci read when she got off work at five.

“What is this crap?” she exclaimed as she scanned the note, which read as follows:

Like a tree that rots at the roots
and falls into a stream
I have rammed your car,
the hope of all your dreams.

The cryptic verse was a latter-day instance of an ancient tradition, the samurai death poem, which members of Japan’s medieval warrior caste wrote before committing ritual suicide after bringing dishonor to their feudal lords.  The form has seen a revival among higher educational faculty members–notoriously bad drivers–when they are involved in accidents that a Westerner would attribute to their race as a whole based on the stereotype that Asians are bad drivers.

“I have dinged your Honda Civic–now I must die!”


“It’s a shame there have to be so many fender-benders for this ancient genre to be revived, but as either Robert Louis Stevenson, Lenin, Napoleon or Yogi Berra once said, ‘If you want to make an omelette you have to break some eggs,'” says Daniel Martinson, Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts-Seekonk.  “A $500 deductible is not too high a price to pay to keep a fifteen-hundred-and-fifty-year-old literary form alive.”

Samurai death poems were generally written before, and not after a samurai committed suicide, a sequence that Kotani followed even though he had just come from a lecture in which he had explained how time can, under some theoretical models, flow backwards.  “This is not simply unfortunate, it is entirely my fault,” he said when Tinocci tracked him down with the help of a bystander who wrote down his license plate number.  “However, it was necessary for me to atone for my misdeeds first by writing a poem, before I contacted my insurance company to tell them you might make a claim.”

Literary magazines looking for an alternative to the gloom-and-doom tone that has pervaded American poetry for over a century have begun to track likely accident perpetrators as they leave faculty buildings in the hope of capturing a jiko uta (accident poem) fresh from the pen of a wool-gathering professor whose motor skills are less highly developed than his intellect.  One such candidate is Ichiro Sakita, a specialist in quantum field theory who, his colleagues joke, needs a forty-acre field to make a three-point turn.

Sakita emerges from the Nathan and Gloria Krumholtz Physical Science Building here, his head in the clouds as he contemplates similarities between gluons, an elementary particle, and Klingons, extraterrestrial humanoid warriors in the Star Trek entertainment franchise.  “Very few letters separate the two,” he muses to himself as he puts his Subaru Forester in reverse, looks over his left shoulder, then clips the back bumper of a Chevrolet Equinox parked in front of him as he tries to drive out of his space.

“Oh,” he exclaims as he surveys the damage, “so much damage from a body moving at such a slow speed.  I must seek Chevy-san’s forgiveness with a poem.”

He takes out a small note book and a pen, and writes these lines.

Equinox comes but twice a year,
Once in the spring, once in the fall.
I hit your Chevy in the rear,
Here is my number, give me a call.


Bananas, Not Words

In the Melville and Bathurst islands it is words rather than bananas which are forbidden.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind


Two attractive islands of which I’ve heard
are Melville and Bathurst, which apparently ban words–
at least as they refer to relatives deceased;
to me, it sounds like a blessed release.

I think that it would be bliss all day
to be relieved of having a thing to say
about your ancestors, and also my nanna–
instead you’re encouraged to eat bananas.

I also have read of some Indian natives
who when dealing with in-laws can get quite creative.
Rather than mention them in conversation
they studiously leave them out of the equation.

These places, they seem like paradise to me,
eating bananas, and running quite free,
wearing my loincloth, or perhaps I would not,
leaving it off when it got really hot.

In the morning I’d wander the beaches in silence
and then canoe off to the other fun island,
where instead of not talking about my wife’s mother,
I’d go back a generation and omit her grandmother.

When I got home and she asked “How’s your day, dear?”
I would shrug and reply “I really can’t say, dear,”
as I walked in the door of our little cabana,
then plopped down and said “but I ate some bananas.”


Ability to Endure Boredom Seen as Leading Indicator of Aptitude

WESTLAND, Mass.  It’s a Wednesday afternoon, the time when Emily Folkstone normally picks up her third-grade son Jeremy by herself, but today she’s accompanied by her husband Josh, who fiddles nervously with his necktie as he parks his car outside Pumpsie Green Elementary School in this upscale suburb west of Boston.  “The teacher said it was important, that they wanted us to come in for a talk,” Josh says to this reporter, who will be allowed to accompany the young couple to the appointment on the condition that he not write a story such as this one.  “I just hope Jeremy doesn’t have some kind of gross learning disability,” Folkstone says with a note of nervous anticipation.

“Maybe he’s lysdexic, like me.”


The Folkstones enter the office of Claire Pluginski, the school’s developmental educational specialist, and try to make themselves comfortable in plain wooden chairs while Pluginski makes polite chit-chat to put them at their ease.

“So what is it?” asks the husband, a venture capitalist used to “cutting to the chase” with chief financial officers of portfolio companies in the medical technology and used tongue-depressor “space.”


“contact us at”


“Oh, goodness,” Pluginski says, “I just realized, I may have alarmed you by calling you in for a conference!”

“Damn right,” the husband says, as his wife pats his knee and scolds him mildly.  “Josh, please–calm down.”

“I have very good news for you about Jeremy,” Pluginski says.

“You do?” Josh Folkstone says, clearly relieved.  “Well–what is it?”

“Well–we recently administered the BAT exam to all the third-graders,” the young educator says.

“And?” Josh Folkstone asks.

“Jeremy scored in the 99th percentile!”

“Wow–that’s great,” the husband says, as he turns to his wife with a big smile on his face.  “Right up there, huh?”

“Wow–off the charts!  This kid’s got C.P.A. written all over him.”


“That’s nice,” Emily Folkstone says with a more restrained tone.  “What exactly does BAT stand for?”

Pluginski smacks her forehead with mock dismay at her obtuseness.  “Gosh, we get so caught up in our education school jargon sometimes, we forget how to relate to people!” she says with a self-effacing smile on her face.

“So?  Spill the beans,” Josh Folkstone says, resuming the anxious demeanor that burdened him when he first walked in.

“BAT stands for Boredom Aptitude Test,” Pluginski says with a comforting smile.  “Pediatric psychologists have determined that the leading indicator of a child’s ability to grow into a well-adjusted and productive adulthood is the ability to endure boredom.  Hence the BAT!”

The husband and wife look at each other with a somewhat mollified surmise, then the husband turns back to the educator.  “So, you’re saying Jeremy’s good at . . .”

“Staring at the blackboard during math drills, listening to teachers read the school lunch menu, watching first aid and artificial respiration instructional videos.”

A bit confused now, but somewhat relieved, the mother presses for more information.  “So . . . what does that mean for his future?” she asks.

“That’s my boy!”


“Just this,” the teacher says.  “You know all the students you went to college with who dropped out to write the Great American Novel, or start a rock band, or make jewelry, or become a clam digger?”

“Yes,” the father says.  “I know a pallet-load of them–losers.”

“Well, at the lower end of the BAT bell curve, he could become a mailman and retire with a soft pension, but that’s unlikely given his reading and math scores,” Pluginski says.

“Good,” the father says.

“Or he could become a tax lawyer, poring over IRS regulations to help people richer than himself make more money.”

“I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that,” Emily Folkstone says.

“As long as he doesn’t commit an artifice and device to defraud the I.R.S.,” Pluginski says, sounding a note of caution.

“What’s next up the ladder?” Josh Folkstone asks.

“Next is certified public accountant.  You get crushed at tax time, but the rest of the year you’re calculating depreciation on strip malls and medical office buildings,” Pluginski says, “solid but not lucrative.”

“And then?” Emily Folkstone asks, hoping that there’s a future for her son, who’s absorbed picking his nose and wiping it on an inspirational poster on the office wall, more exciting than the jobs that have so far been enumerated.

“At the apex of the occupational pyramid for those who score high on the BAT are actuaries,” Pluginski says with pleasant finality.

“Refresh my memory,” says Emily Folkstone, who’s been out of the workforce for awhile raising Jeremy and his little sister Suzanne.  “What’s an actuary?”

“An actuary,” Pluginski says in a dispassionately professional tone, “is an accountant without the personality.”

In Story Fit for Christmas, Strangers Save Man From Starbucks Eviction

BOSTON. Niles Oberg hates Christmas music and doesn’t consider himself a religious man. “The only time I see the inside of a church is when a friend gets married,” he says. “And even then my flesh starts to creep when I think of all my one-night stands.”

“Dude, don’t EVER leave your seat.”


But Oberg and others who knew each other only as passing acquaintances found themselves inspired by the Christmas spirit yesterday when the management of a downtown Starbucks coffee shop moved to evict Len Siklarski, a former financial products salesman who has camped out at a table near the cafe’s restrooms since he was laid off in June.

“Hand me one of the little green thingies, please.”


“He seemed nice,” said Debbie Hawes, a mutual fund accountant who works down the street. “One time he handed me one of those little green plastic plungers you stick in the Solo Traveler lid to keep your drink from spilling.”

Faced with an ultimatum from the afternoon shift manager that he buy another drink or face eviction, Siklarski appealed to the better natures of other twenty-something patrons, soliciting donations for a cup of Pike Place Roast that would enable him to renew his lease on his favorite table, or at least a barstool at the counter that looks out onto Summer Street.

“Ha, look at Siklarski’s resume–so weak!”


“Did I sell some people whole life insurance when all they needed was term? Sure,” Siklarski says to this reporter. “Did I get somebody into tech stocks when they should have bought an S&P Index fund? Possibly. Am I going to shut up at some point and let you ask a question? I don’t think so.”

Siklarski set a Kickstarter-like fundraising goal of $4.40, enough to buy a “tall” cup of coffee and a blueberry scone, but he was shocked when people he’d never met came through with $6.65, enough to get not just a scone and a peppermint mocha, but also leave a three-coin tip in the jar by the cash registers.

“THIS is what a tip looks like, you cheap bastard!”


“Pay it forward is what I say,” Siklarski said as he took a moment to inhale the aroma of his hot drink. “Or at least as far forward as me.”

Big Book of Presbyterian Humor Due in Stores Today

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. Molly Yardnal is a stocking clerk at the Barnes & Noble book store in this suburb of Boston who’s finding it hard to do her job now that students have returned to local colleges and the aisles are jammed.  “I guess people are buying books because big-ticket items are too extravagant in this economy,” she says as customers squeeze by her. “Either that or they’re way cheap.”

Today, Molly is working the humor aisle as she rips open cardboard shipping boxes filled with copies of “The Big Book of Presbyterian Humor,” the latest in a series of similar titles by Minoz Press. “Next to the Big Book of Jewish Humor and the Big Book of Catholic Humor, it looks kind of small,” she notes dubiously.

“If I told you you had a nice body, would you hold it against—never mind.”


“It should sell well as a Christmas stocking stuffer,” says editor Morris Korkin of his latest release, which runs to 24 pages including a table of contents, an index and a blank last page that can be used for taking notes during sermons. “Actually, you could fit two copies in your typical stocking.”

“I’ll be here all week. Be sure and tip your elders and deacons!”


American Presbyterians have been known as a humorless bunch since colonial times, when Founding Father Thomas Jefferson first noted a dour streak in the Scottish immigrants. “The Puritans put a man in the stocks this morning,” Jefferson notes in his diary at one point. “The Presbyterians came by later and criticized his outfit for being too casual.”

“He hath not got those breeches at Brooks Brothers!”


The book is being hailed by the denomination’s ministers as a helpful tool in defusing familial tensions. “Say two Presbyterian daughters get in an argument over whose David Yerman bracelet was more expensive,” says Rev. Scott Lee of the First Presbyterian Church in Duxbury, Massachusetts. “Nothing gets people in a good mood again like a joke that begins ‘A priest, a rabbi and a lady snake charmer walk up to the Gates of Hell.’”

David Yerman bracelet: “Haven’t you got something a little more expensive?”


The age-old question—Is there such a thing as a dirty Presbyterian joke?—is answered with an emphatic “Yes” by the collection, with a knee-slapper involving a first-class airline passenger who “poops his pants” after a particularly bumpy flight, notes Korkin.

“You shouldn’t say ‘fart’–use a polite euphemism such as ‘toot.’”


“That’s the only one we found,” he says. “For years we’ve heard rumors there’s another, about a grandmother who farts when her family visits her in a nursing home, but like Bigfoot it turned out to be a hoax.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Our WASPy Heritage.”

Will Your Relationship Survive the Holidays?

The holidays are a stressful time of the year, straining both long-term relationships and brief flings that begin as drunken come-ons at office parties. How does one cope with competing and often conflicting demands of “significant others” that clash with family obligations, year-end business demands and last-minute shopping? Ask your Holiday Relationship Advisor, that’s how!

Dear Holiday Relationship Advisor:

For eight years I have been living with a man named Darren Fletcher, who I will refer to as “Bud” to preserve his anonymity. Bud is a homebody and does not like to travel since he is on the road so much for his job as a saleman for Arch Pneumatic Fasteners. This year Bud surprised me at Halloween by announcing that he wanted to go see the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving. I was overjoyed and I told him so, but he said “Uh, Earleen, I want to go by myself.” I was hurt, but I realized if I am ever going to talk Bud into marrying me I have to be tolerant of his “quirks.”

Anyway, the night before Bud was going to fly out of KC International a woman shows up at our door and asks is this where Darren lives and I said yes, who are you? She says she is Judith Marie Oehrke and is going to the Grand Canyon with Darren–I mean Bud.

Well, I was polite and all and I told the woman to have a seat and I went in and gave Bud “what for.” He says calm down, it’s a charter flight and Judith Marie has driven up from Camdenton, we’re going to ride to the airport together to save gas. Okay, I says, I understand, although I was a little bit “put out.”

Hawaiian pork chops–yum!


After dinner, which was Pork Chops Hawaiian Luau-Style with Kraft Miniature Marshmallows on top, Bud says he’s tired and is going to get a good night’s sleep, and Judith Marie says me too, so I says “You two go pack your bags I’ll clean up,” which I did. When I was finished I went into the bedroom to get some sheets for the pull-out couch and what do I see but Bud and Judith Marie under the covers together big as life, she’s reading a Southern Home magazine from my nightstand!

Well, there was probably smoke coming out of my ears by then, but Bud just looks up at me and says “What?” as if he can’t understand why I’m mad. I nodded my head at the “interloper,” and he says “There’s plenty of room and you wouldn’t want Judith Marie to sleep on the couch–she’s gonna be stuck on a plane all day tomorrow.”

Take care of your spit curls, and they’ll take care of you.

I didn’t want to make a scene, so I brushed my teeth and put on my nightgown and Scotch-taped my spit-curls to the sides of my head and climbed over Bud and got in the middle. I was not going to let my two “vacationers” turn my bedroom into a “bridal suite” if you know what I mean.

Next morning I get up and fix them breakfast and say goodbye in the driveway, but now I am haunted by the fear that I may be losing Darren. Am I wrong to be suspicious?

Earleen Walters, Knob Noster MO
Dear Earleen:

I’m afraid I’m going to have side with Darren and Judith Marie on this one, Earleen. If we as a nation are ever going to end our dependency on foreign oil, car-pooling is a must. Don’t let your feelings for Darren get in the way of energy conservation–or we’ll all be the losers, not just you!


Dear Holiday Relationship Advisor Lady:

A few months ago a new fellow started working in our mail room, his name is Keith. I will be right up-front about this–I have a gigantic crush on him, and I think the feeling is mutual.

Keith delivers our mail every morning around 11:30, although he is actually supposed to get it done by eleven under his job satisfaction goals. He is very “social” and likes to talk to people as he makes his rounds, this slows him up–or down.

Yesterday Keith came by my cubicle and handed me an inter-office envelope, the goldenrod-colored kind with the holes in it. He was giggling when he gave it to me, and said “Here’s something for you from the guys in the supply room.” I squished it in a couple places to see if I could figure out what was inside, but I gave up after a while and unwound the string.

Holiday relationship lady, I nearly fainted when I unwrapped the white tissue paper inside and a white mouse with a red ribbon around its neck jumped out at me! I squealed but by then “Keith” was gone and Jim Ray Houchens and Ernie Bott from the supply room came out from around the corner and started laughing at me.

Needless to say, I filed a grievance with Human Resources and now Jim Ray and Ernie have named Keith as a witness. Do you know any way I can avoid dragging Keith into this mess? I don’t want to spoil my best chance at romance since that stupid fishstick Ray West dropped me for the hostess at the Round-Up Steakhouse.

Maureen Eberly, Paducah, Kentucky


Dear Maureen:

Jim Ray and Ernie have a constitutional right to a fair trial, and they did use an envelope with holes in it so the little animal could breathe. I see no way out for the “object of your affection”–perhaps you and Keith can set up a “deposition date” where you prepare for your testimony while you share a late-night dinner of take-out Chinese!


Hello Holiday Relationship Person:

I have a question for you. Last month you told “Confused in Chillicothe” that he should not give a Best Buy gift card to a woman on their first Christmas together because it was “impersonal.” I beg to differ–giving a woman a gift card lets her know exactly where she stands with you, she can see the amount you spent right on the card.  She gets to pick out whatever she wants and doesn’t have to waste time returning something she doesn’t like. She also doesn’t have to lie to you when you go over to her apartment and say “Hey, where’d you put that tiger print I gave you for Christmas?”

I don’t know where you get off trying to run people’s lives. Maybe that’s good advice in the “ivory tower” where you live, but not for regular folks down here on the ground.

Clint Weller, Jr., Stillwater OK


Dear Clint:

I certainly didn’t mean to offend you or “Confused in Chillicothe.” All I meant to convey is that women appreciate it when a man puts a little thought into a gift, instead of just plunking down his credit card at the check-out counter of a soulless, big-box retailer. If you have had success with pre-paid gift cards by all means continue to give them to your girlfriends. Or you might just use cash, and get yourself a real hooker.

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