Riding With the Dead

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles issued driver’s licenses to 1,905 dead people.

The Boston Globe

It was one of those miscues that causes you, in retrospect, to slam your palm to your forehead and say “How could I be so STUPID?”  I’d worn a raincoat to work in the morning, but the weather had cleared up by the time I left so I forgot to wear it home.  When I got off the train I reached in my pocket and, not feeling my car keys, realized what I’d done.  They were back at the office in my coat, and I had no way to start my car.

I called my wife’s cell, but she was at the ballet until ten, so I decided to download one of the “apps” I’d been hearing about from my kids.  You tap your phone, and some enterprising guy who wants to make a little money on the side picks you up in his car, which he probably keeps cleaner than a taxi that’s rented out by the day because the driver is the owner.

It was the work of a half-hour for me to overcome the technological challenges involved, but once I was hooked up my phone showed the driver making his way towards my location, on the bridge overlooking the commuter rail tracks.  Apparently his name was “Tracker”–unusual, but this whole “ridesharing” thing is new to me.  After a while the little red worm that was inching across the screen stopped and started to throb, and my phone rang.

hi it’s me i’m here i don’t see you,” a voice said in a monotone.

“Where are you?” I asked.

at the train station like you said.”

“I’m up the hill, on the bridge.”

“why didn’t you say that then.”  I thought I had, but I’m getting older and memory fades.  Still, not exactly a customer-friendly thing to say.

A rusted-out 1990s American model sedan made its way up the hill to where I was standing, and I had to say my first impression dashed my hopes that “gig economy” transportation would be an improvement over a cigar-infused taxi with empty fast-food containers strewn about the floor.  The vehicle looked like it had gotten into an argument with a car crusher–and lost.

“you must be my ride,” the driver said in a real-life version of the flat, uninflected voice I’d heard on the phone.

“That’s me.”

“you can sit up front if you want.”

I eyeballed the guy and politely declined.  He looked like he’d volunteered at a school of mortuary science and they’d put him to work as a cadaver.  “Thanks,” I said, “but I’ve got to, uh, spread some work out on the backseat.”

“suit yourself.  busy professional, huh?  That kind of hectic pace is not for me.  You know what John Maynard Keynes said, don’t you?”

“When the facts change, I change my mind?”


“Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

“I think that was Yogi Berra.  No, I meant ‘In the long run, we are all dead.'”

Keynes:  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to get out of this post at the next paragraph break.”


He’d hit a sore point on one of my favorite whipping boys, to mix my metaphors.  “You know Keynes never had any children, right?”


“So, we pass on the effects of inflationary monetary policy and reckless public expenditures to our children, who must pay for them.”

“i don’t follow.”

“It’s easy to say in the long run WE are all dead, but in the long run, our children are not.  They’re dead in the longer run, and their children are dead in the even longer run.”

“are you an economist?”

“No, but I play one on TV.”  I was hoping he’d be taken aback, or even aforward by my oblique wit, but he pressed on.

i thought that was for doctors,” he said as he swung the wheel left at a stoplight.

“You know where you’re going, right?”

“just follow the bouncing ball,” he said, alluding to the special effect I so loved when I was a kid, a musical interlude in a cartoon in which the audience sang the lyrics to a song projected on the screen as a little while ball bounced along the syllables.  Guy must have been of my vintage–a precocious sixty-something varietal with a broad nose but nice legs.

I looked over his shoulder at the GPS, which was in fact set up to display our progress along the route home by a bouncing little . . . was that a brain?

“Say, that’s a unique little gizmo you’ve got there,” I said, trying to draw him out with a bogus avuncular tone.

“had it made special.  i like . . . brains.”

“Huh.  That’s kind of an unusual . . . taste.”

“didn’t you write a poem with the phrase ‘side order of brains’ in it?”

Much to my surprise–he had me there.  “Why yes–yes I did.  How did you know?”

i like bad poetry.

There goes your tip, pal, I thought to myself.  “What is it . . . exactly . . . you like about brains?”

aren’t you the guy who tells his mother-in-law ‘i like it because i like it’ when she asks you why you eat yogurt?

Again, he had me dead to rights.  “I . . . have been know to say that, yes.”

well, that’s how it is with zom . . . with me.  they ease my pain.

O-kay.  Starting to get a little too much information, as the young people say when they go on their “social media chat sites.”  Still, I was curious, if a bit yellow.  “And how . . . exactly . . . do brains ease your pain?”

i eat them–like you eat yogurt.

I gulped, and the lump in my throat didn’t go down my gullet easily.  We were thankfully getting close to my house.  I looked over at the community farm that presents such a pleasing prospect on my commute and saw the same white-faced cow lying against the fence that had been there in the morning when I’d driven by going in the opposite direction.  Nice work if you can get it, even if they do put cold metal suction cups on your nipples twice a day.

“Well, as the great social philosopher Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stone used to say, different strokes for different folks.”

are you ever bothered by headaches?” the driver asked.

“Not a lot,” I said, as we turned onto my street.  “I fell off an eight-foot loading dock a few years ago and landed on my head, though.  Every now and then it starts to tingle.”

He turned around and gave me a look that made me feel like a cold cut in a deli case.  “if you’d like,” he said, “I could take a look under the hood.

His eyes grew larger and he smiled beneath brows that gave off an air of menace.  “Thanks, but I’m all set,” I said as his car slowly rolled to a stop.  “Well, uh, this has been my first time in one of these car services.  Sure has been a . . . unique experience.”

He threw his arm over the back of his seat and grabbed me by the wrist.  I thought of all the crap I’d wasted my brain on over the years–Steve Miller Band albums, high school French class dialogues, the hagiography of Roman Catholic saints–and regretted that what little grey matter I had left was about to be consumed by a member in good standing of the undead.

“Please,” I begged, “can I just go inside for one minute.”

“why?” he asked skeptically.

“I want to say goodbye to my wife.”

goodbye–but you just got home.

“Aren’t you going to eat my brains?” I said, looking down at his viselike-grip.

eat your brains?  no–i just wanted to ask you for a five-star review.  so i don’t get fired.”


In First, San Francisco to Create Mime-Free Zones

SAN FRANCISCO.  Alton Birdsell, Jr. will admit that what he was doing on Fisherman’s Wharf last night wasn’t exactly appropriate for a public street, but it was something that had to be done.  “I always forget to clip my fingernails before I go on vacation,” says the community banker from Leavenworth, Kansas, here for a convention.  “They seem to grow faster as soon as I leave home.”

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco


Birdsell purchased a pair of fingernail clippers with an embossed image of the Golden Gate Bridge on the leatherette holster at a souvenir store and had begun to clip his nails over a trash can when he was “accosted,” as he puts it, by an aggressive mime imitating his actions.  “Frankly, I was embarrassed as hell,” he says. “It made me mad.  It’s none of his damn business what I do on vacation.”

“Why don’t you try these clippers, banker boy?”


But the mime, Jack Tressel, thinks differently.  “These people come into one of the most beautiful cities on earth and act like they’re back home in their bathrooms,” he says.  “Mimes can be the first line of defense against offensive public behavior.”

“He’s going to the movies later–that’s why he was picking his seat.”


But the San Francisco Convention & Tourism Council became concerned that so-called “mime-sliming,” as the artists describe the practice of holding a mirror up to habits that non-mimes practice in public but should keep behind closed doors, was driving away business.  “The endoproctocologists cancelled,” says Herman Stone, executive director.  “Then the chiropodists backed out before I even had a chance to look up what the first group did,” he notes with exasperation.

So beginning October 1st, vacationers will be able to wander in and out of designated mime-free zones around the city where they can pick, scratch, tell offensive jokes and otherwise enjoy themselves while away from home without fear that they will ridiculed by a mute artist in whiteface.

Moscone Convention Center


Convention goers say they are willing to give San Francisco another try this year based on the new policy, but won’t make the sort of commitments for the future that municipal convention authorities count on in making capital spending plans.  “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery,” says Vernon “Chip” Thomas, Midwestern Vice-President of the Soybean Growers of America, which will meet for a plenary session at the Moscone Convention Center in November.  “But I still don’t like it.”

Mime                            Not a mime.


San Francisco has the highest number of mimes per capita of any American city at 7.96 per 1,000, followed by Seattle, Boston and, in an apparent rounding error, Glasgow, Missouri.  “We appreciate the attention, but they made a mistake,” says Glasgow Chamber of Commerce President Danny “D.J.” Green.  “They counted our white-faced cattle, who for the most part do not practice theatrical mimicry.”

For Near-Sighted Boxers, Road to Top Isn’t Clear

BROCKTON, Mass.  This gritty Massachusetts city is the home of two great boxers, heavyweight Rocky Marciano and middleweight Marvelous Marvin Hagler, but tonight fight fans’ interest is concentrated on a pair of flyweights.  The favorite is Luis “The Librarian” Gonzalez from Newark, New Jersey, so-named because, as he put it at a pre-fight press conference, “When I knock somebody out, they stay as quiet as a liberry.”

Luis “The Librarian” Gonzalez:  “Hey–shut the hell up over there!”


His opponent is Terry “The Poet” O’Hanlon, an Irish-American who took his monicker from his favorite Eugene O’Neill play “A Touch of the Poet.”  “Just a touch of The Poet,” O’Hanlon said mockingly at the weigh-in, “that’s all it’s gonna take when I hit you.”

“Protect yourself at all times, and for God’s sake don’t squint!”


The two fighters walk to the center of the ring to receive instructions from referee Bob Delahanty, who rattles off the usual rigmarole–”When I say break, you break–no hitting below the belt–protect yourself at all times”–just as he has on over 800 nights before, but this time with a twist.  “Gentlemen, let’s have a good, clean fight–now take off your glasses.”

O’Hanlon’s second removes his horn-rimmed spectacles, but Gonzalez hesitates a moment before allowing his trainer to lift his wire rims from the bridge of his nose.  “If I ever see you again,” he says menacingly to O’Hanlon, “I’m going to break your jaw.”

“Where did he go?”


O’Hanlon and Gonzalez are practitioners of the newest innovation in a sport that traces its roots back to ancient Greece–near-sighted boxing.  “You get a lot more action with near-sighted boxers,” says Vincent “Big Horse” Pascaglia, commissioner of the WMBA, the World Myopic Boxing Association.  “With regular boxing you have fighters grabbing and holding on to each other all night long.  It looks like two guys trying to get into the same raincoat.”

“You missed me!”


With near-sighted boxing, by contrast, boxers spend the early rounds just finding their opponents, a fact that has caused state boxing commissioners to look with favor on WMBA bouts.  “Most of your near-sighted boxers come up through the ranks of proofreaders and typesetters,” says Massachusetts Boxing Commissioner Rocco Zeppo.  “Even when they land a punch, it don’t carry the force of a slap on the wrist by a Little Sister of the Precious Blood.”

“Uh, let’s see–the 5:08 to Attleboro is on track . . . 7?”


Fighters stay in shape by reading train schedules on overhead announcement boards and looking up names in city white page directories held up by sparring partners across the ring, a fact that some critics say leaves them ill-equipped to find work when their fighting days are over.  “Many of these young kids will be washed up before they’re thirty,” says former sportswriter Mel Carnigan, who asked to be taken off the boxing beat because, he says, “I couldn’t stand it any more.  You’d see these guys, they couldn’t get a fight and they’d be down at the public library reading large-print books with magnifying glasses.”

For many kids on the rough-and-tumble streets of this down-at-the-heels town where hyphens are as cheap as the drugs that are readily-available in open-air markets, near-sighted boxing is the only way out of a life of grim poverty.  “I wish I lived in some rich town and could afford contact lenses,” says Alonzo “Four-Eyes” Tatum, a quiet kid with an explosive right hand.  “But I don’t, so I got to keep my glasses on a chain around my neck, and hope for the best.”

Talk Like Betty Boop Day

Today, as every schoolboy knows, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  First observed in 1995, the day is celebrated by adopting the speech patterns of the stereotypical corsairs of the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1720:  “Avast!” replaces “Stop!”, “Ahoy” is used instead of “Hello,” and “Aaargh!” is substituted for “Jesus F**king Christ” when you hit your thumb with a hammer.

Mark Summers, John Baur, founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day


The day got a big boost in 2002 when humorist Dave Barry first touted it in his nationally-syndicated column, and the rest is history of the back-to-the-future kind.  Once enough people started talking like pirates–pirates came back.

Somalian pirates


Piracy is one of those social ills like prostitution and political corruption that is only charming in the past.   Arid, sterile Government Center in Boston was plunked down on Scollay Square, a lively neighborhood of burlesque houses and bars, because too many people were getting knifed and robbed there.  Now, people write charming, sentimental songs and books about the place, precisely because they never paid the price for a lady of the evening only to get rolled by her pimp.

Captain Hook


The pirates of the new millenium are very much like the pirates of old; ruthless brigands who live by plunder, and don’t hesitate to kill civilians who get in their way.  They deserve to be imitated in a whimsical fashion about as much as terrorists–and I haven’t heard anyone proposing an International Talk Like an Islamofascist Day.

So it is time, regrettably, to lay Talk Like a Pirate Day to rest.  But what, you ask, am I going to do to be stupid today?  I could say that you’ve got plenty of material to work with–but I won’t.  Instead, I’m going to give you some practical suggestions on how you can turn an unofficial anti-social holiday into an uplifting day of imitating your choice of several people:

Talk Like Michael McDonald Day: I used to be a big fan of this guy, but I have to admit; after listening to him for thirty years, I’ve maybe understood about thirty words he’s sung.  “You Belong to Me,” are four of them, and they are repeated in half his repertoire, so there’s even some double-counting involved.  I was shocked–shocked!–a few years ago to learn that he has been lumped with wimpy singers Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross into a sub-genre derisively referred to as “Yacht Rock,” meaning the kind of music you’d expect to hear as you sat down to dine on somebody’s multi-million dollar boat for a light lunch of lobster salad with a crisp Vouvray to complement it.  Well–what’s so wrong with that?

But I hit rock bottom when the Jane Lynch character in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” draws the ire of her employees by turning all of the TV sets in the electronics store she manages to a tape of McDonald.  Okay–all right–I get it.  He’s no longer the coolest guy around.  Sorta like me.

Anyway, to celebrate Talk Like Michael McDonald Day, clamp your jaws together, leaving only a slight aperture at the front; pick a note in the middle of your range–nothing too high or low–and stick to it.  Now, say the magic words:  “Nomoregoodbyesbabeyou’nmewe’regonnamakeit- ifweonlytryandraiseourfistsuptothesky!”

You are so freaking–cool!

Mae Questel


Talk Like Mae Questel Day: How soon we forget the unforgettable voices of the past, like Mae Questel.  Mae was the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in Max Fleischer cartoons, and late in life an actress in commercials for Bounty paper towels.   She first came to the attention of Fleischer with her signature “Boop-boop-a-doop” line, which was considered naughty at the time.  It was a more innocent era.

In order to successfully imitate Questel it is not necessary to achieve a falsetto; the trick is to manipulate the pronunciation of simple sounds:  “I” becomes “oi,” for example, recalling Dorothy Parker’s comment upon meeting a woman with an exaggerated Southern accent:  “I didn’t know ‘egg’ had three syllables,” Parker said.

Betty Boop


Questel is best invoked while in line at a busy store–say when you’re getting coffee.  “Can I help who’s next?” the overworked and overeducated counter person asks, to which you answer:

“Oi’d loik a half-caf soi choi latte from you–nobody but you–poo-poo-pe-do!”

People behind you will really appreciate the time you spend perfecting this difficult but essential character in the history of animated cartoons.

Slim Gaillard


Talk Like Slim Gaillard Day

Slim was half of the jazz novelty duo “Slim and Slam,” the other half being Slam Stewart, the bassist who hummed along when he bowed his strings, producing an antic but full-bodied sound that was half-played, half-sung.  Slim’s contribution to the American language was a form of hipster slang that he called “Vout,” which he memorialized in a dictionary.

His biggest hit was “Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy),” but my favorite is the less well-known “Slim’s Jam,” in which Slim greets Dizzy Gillespie as “Daz-mac-skivvins-vouse-o-rooney” and Charlie Parker as “Charlie Yardbird-o-rooney.”  You can imagine the possibilities.

Slam Stewart


So next time you’re pulled over by the police because your inspection sticker has expired, or you failed to yield the right of way in a traffic rotary, try this time-tested response:

“Why ossifer-o-rooney, I was on my way to pick up some avocado seed soup for my ailing parrot, who has the grippe-o-rooney.   You wouldn’t want to floogie my woogie in a dank ol’ skivvinsy cell, now would you?”

Remember, you get one free phone call when you’re in jail.

Just don’t call me.

Two Hurt as Boston’s “Running of the Brides” Turns Deadly

BOSTON.  For many years one of the most visited sites in this city full of tourist attractions was Filene’s Basement, the off-price retailer where men’s and women’s clothes that other stores couldn’t sell were displayed without ceremony and sold at deep discounts. “It appealed to a New Englander’s sense of thrift,” says Omar Hayes, a professor of history at Brandeis University. “‘Thrift’ is code for ‘cheap,’” he adds.

But “The Basement,” as it was known to locals, closed its flagship downtown location in 2007, leaving its annual “Running of the Brides” sale without a home.

“I saw him first!”


That misfortunate end inspired wedding planner Desmond Hathaway to suggest a make-over for the event, at which women race to grab gowns marked down by 50% or more. “I thought we could turn it into a fund-raiser for my charity, the ‘Left-at-the-Altar Foundation,’” which he says re-locates brides and grooms who are stood up on their wedding days to a different town where they can start over. “You have no idea how it can stigmatize you to be left at the altar,” he says, his eyes glistening as he fights back tears. “Also, the father of the bride will sometimes try and stiff me, and the foundation has been very supportive of me, my work, and my need to get away from Boston to someplace warm in the winter.”

“Okay–I’m sorry I didn’t call!”


He modeled the re-branded event on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, challenging Boston’s bachelors to take to the streets to see if they could outrun women whom they have dated and then dropped or disappointed in one way or another over the years. “It’s for a good cause,” says Tim Hampy, last year’s first-place finisher. “The guy who makes it to a singles bar in Quincy Market first without being caught wins the pot, net of Twinkle-Toe’s expenses,” he explains, nodding his head in Hathaway’s direction.

They’re off!


Among the bachelors who have paid the $75 entry fee are Jim Ornwald, a graduate student working on his third masters degree, and Hampy, a roue who has cut a wide swath through the downtown “yuppie” scene. “I try very hard to let women down easy,” he says with a look of manufactured sympathy on his face. “If I run into them at a club when I’m with another woman, I always remember to say ‘I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting our friendship’ or something quasi-sensitive like that.”

“You hold him, I’ll hit him!”


After the women have chosen their gowns, they line up with the men twenty yards ahead of them. Margie Tabor, who was unceremoniously dumped by Hampy after she developed a pimple on her chin in 2016, works her way to the front of the crowd like an Ethiopian marathoner, intent on breaking a world record.

“He can run, but he can’t hide,” she says, her well-toned calves peeking out from under the hem of her tulle and crinoline outfit. “I’ve been training for six months to hunt him down like a dog.”

Ornwald, on the other hand, would like to be caught. “I find it hard to meet women,” the self-described introvert says. “I need to carry 3 x 5″ index cards with me wherever I go, in case I think of something I could use in my dissertation someday. Those little file boxes, as handy as they are, don’t project a very romantic image.”

The starter calls out “On your mark–get set” and shoots off his pistol, sending the men around the corner to Washington Street with the women in hot pursuit. Ornwald slows to a trot, hoping he will be overrun and crushed beneath a cloud of Vera Wang perfume, but the women, sensing his desperation, stride past him in the hope of catching a man with a lower student loan balance to pay off. He stumbles as Julie Furman, a management trainee at Lord & Taylor, bumps into him, and sprawls to the ground.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and a flood of sympathy causes her to overlook his unfashionable outfit; blue jeans, black Converse All-Star low-cut sneakers and a ripped “Star Wars” t-shirt. She dabs at a cut on his head with an Elizabeth Grady moisturizing pad that she takes from her purse. “You know, you have nice skin, but you need to take better care of it.”

Meanwhile, Hampy has escaped down Milk Street and turns onto Congress Street. He has only two blocks to go to the finish line at Clarke’s, a singles bar, and he has a fifty-yard lead on the pack of female runners. “This is a day at the beach,” he says to himself before he is blindsided by Tabor, who knows a long-abandoned cut-through from her days working for a large mutual fund.

She takes him down with the brutal efficiency of a linebacker and drags him back into an alley, where he cowers beneath her as she pulls down his pants.

“Wh-what are you going to do to me?” he asks, a look of abject fear on his face.

“The worst thing I can imagine,” she says with a bitter smile. “Brazilian bikini wax.”

Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”

Your Alien Encounter Advisor

Starting to wonder whether those weird lights over the salt marsh aren’t swamp gas?  Finding incisions in your body where you’ve never had surgery?  You may need to talk to Your Alien Encounter Advisor.

Dear Alien Encounter Advisor:

We recently moved to a condo as our kids are grown and we are “empty nesters.”  Other people in our complex are kinda careless about security and leave the gate to South Lamine Street unlocked, the mailman and the management company are the only ones besides owners who are supposed to be able to get in there.

Last Friday a being with a large head appeared at the outer door to units B-1 though B-12, I know that sounds like vitamins but it’s not.  He said his name was Xzzix38 and he was from the Intergalactic Census Bureau.  After he showed me a semi-official-looking badge he started right in asking a lot of nosy questions–how many people living in the house, how many toilets do we have, was our refrigerator running, etc.

Mr. Alien Encounter Advisor, I cut him off after that last one as I recognized it as a “gag” along the lines of “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”  I asked how it came to be they were taking a census in 2018, usually they only do it in years ending with a zero.

He got a little huffy after that, and said we were required by law to respond to his questions and he was going to report us.  I don’t want to get in trouble as my husband Earl still owes some meals taxes from his kielbasa stand that failed, on the other hand the whole deal seemed fishy.

Mrs. Opal Welter, Ottumwa, Iowa

“We have a few questions to ask about your bodily fluids.”


Dear Opal:

I think I know the source of the misunderstanding.  It is actually year 30080 in Gloxz8@/*, the parallel universe to ours, so your “census taker” and his questions were entirely legitimate.  Be sure to go on-line at intergalacticcensusbureau.com to give Xzzix38 a “rave” review.


Dear Alien Encounter Advisor:

I do not believe in UFOs but my girlfriend Cherylynn does.  This is becoming a major issue with us as she says she does not see a long-term relationship in the cards with someone who thinks she’s crazy.  I don’t think she’s crazy, I think she’s bodacious.

I wrote to the romance advice columnist and she said “fake it ’til you make it” which seems dishonest to me, so I told Cherylynn “Let’s not let aliens come between us.”  When she heard that her eyes got real big and she said “I think a three-way would spice up our love life.”

“If I told you you had a nice body would you hold it against me?”


I am only human so of course I got jealous when she said that, and she says “You’re being too possessive, our galaxy is just one of many, I’m not ready to make a commitment to one planet–I’m still young.”

Mr. Alien Encounter Advisor I am tired of the dating scene and want to settle down and have frequent sex without paying for a lot of drinks.  What’s the best way to “corral” this gal?

Luke McGuire, Stillwater, Oklahoma


“Fine–we can do the Mongolian Cartwheel if it means that much to you!”


Dear Luke–

I feel for you, you seem so sincere.  I would recommend that you purchase my Alien Lover (Male) Play-Mate costume, only $199.95 with mail-in rebate for Alien Encounter Advisor “Platinum” members.  It’s a real turn-on, and Cherylynn will think you’re “out of this world”!


Dear Alien Encounter Advisor:

Settle a bet for me.  I say the product of human-alien sex would be sterile, like the offspring of a horse and a donkey.  Erroll, who works the next bay over here at Rapid-Lube, says no the baby could have alien grandchildren.  We have agreed to abide by your decision.

George Norgaard, Bemidji, Minnesota

“make love to me handsome earthling.”


Dear George–

Happily, you’re both right–it depends on which solar system the female is from.  Residents of those beginning with a vowel have an even number of chromosomes, those beginning with a consonant have an odd number.  Add the total to a 46-chromosome human, then divide by the year of your birth.  The result will be your high school locker combination, in case you forgot it.