As Thanksgiving Nears MFAs Fear Families’ Awkward Questions

MEDFORD, Mass.  Isabella Gostini is a semester away from receiving her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Tufts University, but a look at her face for signs of relief after nineteen years of formal education reveals only angst.  “This is just a terrible time of the year for all of us,” she says as she takes in her fellow MFA students sitting at a table in an off-campus coffee shop.  “Every day we’re here with the best and the brightest of our generation, and at Thanksgiving we go home to our relatives.”

Image result for worried woman
“Should I lie and tell them it’s an MBA program?”


Gostini and her friends are representative of their fellow students nationwide, who pay enormous sums of money for advanced degrees only to face a tight market for low-paying jobs.  “Last year my Uncle Ned said it was like a reverse lottery ticket,” says Nora Holcomb, who is only three clinical credits away from an MFA degree in Puppetry.  “’High cost, low payout,’ he said but dammit, puppets are important!”

The US has been remarkably free of the turmoil that has roiled European nations as young people prolong their entry into the job market while they pursue worthless advanced liberal arts degrees, but some say a day of reckoning is coming.  “A day of reckoning is coming,” says Dean Otto Coffin of the College of the Northwest, who counsels students in the low-residency poetry MFA offered by his institution at various locations around Oregon, including a strip mall in Eugene.  “These kids sacrifice so much, except for the ones who were unemployable to begin with.”

Image result for student union
“I think I’ll go check the job postings at the Placement Office, then slit my wrists.”


Some MFAs have discussed a “March on Washington for Jobs, Dignity or Whatever” in the spring of 2020, but others say they feel more comfortable parsing poems that practicing politics.  “I think I’ll pass,” said Ray DeLaMontaigne who is midway through his first year at Brainerd College’s MFA program in theatre arts.  “While everybody else is marching or riding the bus back and forth to D.C. I’ll have unlimited access to the photocopier in the Placement Office.”

But before that day comes, MFAs-in-process and newly-minted have to face intrusive questions next week when they get together with relatives who don’t understand the value of a degree in the fine arts to an economy that runs on productivity, not creativity.  “I guess it will pay off for you,” says Bob Holcomb, Nora’s father, as he writes her last tuition check.  “You can entertain people with your puppets while you’re standing in the unemployment line.”

After POTUS Health Scare, Pence to Hold Dirty “Louie, Louie” Lyrics

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Responding to concerns about his health after a non-routine visit to Walter Reed Hospital Saturday, President Donald Trump agreed to turn over one of the nation’s most closely-guarded secrets, the “dirty” version of the lyrics to the rock song “Louie Louie,” to Vice President Michael Pence.

“The secret is safe with this nerd!”


“Fine, if everybody’s going to get all paranoid, Pence can carry the ‘Louie Louie’ football,” Trump said, referring to the briefcase containing nuclear codes which, when activated, transform the copyrighted lyrics into the ribald version of the song typically performed at frat parties.

Pence accepted the awesome responsibility with the self-effacing humility that has become the Midwesterner’s trademark.  “When that song came out I–-like a lot of other kids–-spent hours with my ear up to a cheap Radio Shack speaker, trying to decipher lyrics that I thought would unlock the meaning of life,” Pence said to a gaggle of music reporters from the front porch of Number One Observatory Circle, his official residence.  “I never thought that we might have to use the song that has brought so much joy to so many horny young people as a weapon.”

Richard Berry


“Louie Louie” was written by Richard Berry in 1955 and has become part of the canon of rock ‘n roll classics that have withstood the test of time.  Perhaps the best-known version of the song is by The Kingsmen, in which the mock-Jamaican lyrics are rendered in an unintelligible fashion, giving rise to speculation that the distortion conceals prurient matter.

The Kingsmen


“We have known about the dirty words of ‘Louis Louis’ for some time,” said Christopher A. Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, using the song’s formal, legal name.  “Pornographic content concealed in popular culture was once used to destroy America’s  youth, but there are unfortunately no remaining American youths who haven’t been corrupted.”

Wray:  “Me find a bone . . . ah, in her hair?”


The song was the subject of an FBI investigation in the sixties when an outraged parent wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to complain that The Kingsmen’s version was “obscene and pornographic.”  After listening to a 45 rpm record played at 33 rpm’s and deciphering the lyrics, Kennedy took swift action.  “Hey Jack–Teddy!” he was quoted as saying at the time.  “C’mere–listen to this!”

The lyrics to “Louie Louie” are America’s third most closely-guarded secret, after the formula for Coca-Cola and the recipe for KFC Popcorn Chicken.  According to Anthony Wright, a college classmate of the Vice President, Pence kept a notebook in which he would write down his interpretations of the song’s muddled vocal track.  An excerpt that has been making the rounds contains this entry:

At night, at ten, I’ll see her again.
Share crib notes from-ah-class today.
Ah on her bed, I dropped my pen–
I smelled some toast . . . ah, in her hair.

Pence has responded to a hostile White House press corps with a less defensive tone than his boss, leading some reporters to wish privately for Trump to step down, a possibility that the Vice President has rejected.  “What do you do if the President resigns?” he asked Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, alluding to principles of succession under the U.S. Constitution.  “The Vice President is in charge,” Todd replied.  “What happens if the Vice President dies?” Pence persisted, to which Todd responded “The Speaker of the House is in charge.”  “And what happens if the speaker dies?” Pence asked sharply, guessing that Todd would be ignorant of a basic provision of the U.S. Constitution.

Todd:  “Nancy Pelosi?  Roger Goodell?”

When Todd hesitated, Pence answered his own question: “You go to Radio Shack and get a new one.”

Poetry for Cats

Call me crazy, but I like to write poetry.

For cats.

Cats are a good training ground for poets. They are largely indifferent to poetry, like the overwhelming majority of people, but that still makes them a more receptive audience than my wife, who is openly hostile to the stuff.

Writing poetry for cats is low-level mental stimulation, like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but you make up the problem to be solved, not than some faceless drone at a newspaper syndicate, so when you’re done you’ve created something.  Albeit on a par with a gimp necklace at summer camp.

It takes very little activity, or inactivity, on the part of my cats to serve as my muse. Here’s a cat poem I thought of just last night:

I take my laser pen in hand
and shine it in a circle.
My little cat goes chasing ’round,
it drives him quite berserkle!

Then I take what I’ve written, crumple the paper up into a ball, and throw it across the room. My cat pounces on it, extending our fun, and conserving precious resources through recycling. I’m trying to reduce our humor footprint.

Just because I write poetry for my cats doesn’t mean they’re sissies. They’re both males who will stay out all night, getting into fights with all manner of beasts. They bring us sustenance; field mice, birds, chipmunks. Once Rocco, the younger of the two, horse-collared a squirrel from behind, like a member of the New England Patriots’ defense, and dragged it, dying, to our back patio. As a former high school middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive alignment, I found this to be a most gratifying spectacle.

Horse collar tackle


T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is perhaps the most famous collection of cat poems, but it has always struck me as a bit fuss-budgety, like its author, a native of St. Louis who became a British subject in 1927, thereby missing out on seven World Series titles by the St. Louis Cardinals.  What a dope! That book, of course, was turned into the hugely successful Broadway show Cats.

T.S. Eliot: And you call yourself a Cardinals fan!


My wife once bought us tickets to see the show for my birthday, assuming that because I liked cats, I would like the show, but she sensed my indifference to Eliot’s work at dinner. As we left the restaurant for the theatre we were approached by two show tune mavens who breathlessly asked us if we had tickets we were willing to sell. We gave each other a look that lasted as long as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, then sold the ducats at a premium. This is the first and only known instance of scalping by a Presbyterian woman since the church was established during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.

Cats: Thanks, I’ll pass.


Lots of poets have had cats, chief among them Samuel Johnson, whose cat was named “Hodge.” I had a girlfriend whose cat was named after Johnson’s. When we had her refined friends over she’d tell the story about how, when Johnson learned of a wave of cat-napping sweeping London at the height of the popularity of cat’s meat pies, he looked down at his cat and said “They’ll not have Hodge!” Sort of NPR humor, as Harry Shearer would say–loads of muted titters. We broke up; she got the cat, and I got the hell out of there.

Johnson: How do you know you won’t like cat’s meat unless you try it?


For my money, the greatest of all cat poems is For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey by Christopher Smart (1722-1770), from Jubilate Agno. It’s a work that all pet store owners and cat groomers should have on their walls, in needlepoint. Surely you know its stirring opening lines:

Christopher Smart, wearing his “everyday” mortarboard


For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God,
duly and daily serving him.
For at the First glance of the
glory of God in the East
he worships him in his way.
For this is done by wreathing
his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk,
which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.


Musk is the smelly substance found in a small sac under the skin of the abdomen of the rodents cats kill, and to “roll upon prank” refers, in a charming 18th century way, to cats’ preferred method of applying it. Yep–that’s a real cat there, not some Broadway-bound dancer-pussy.

Oh–I neglected to mention that when Smart wrote the above, he was a resident of Bedlam, the London hospital for the mentally ill.

Call him crazy.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collections “Cats Say the Darndest Things” and “poetry is kind of important.”

The Poetry Fixer

A self-published poet who focused on homelessness in her work has resigned after only a week on the job as North Carolina’s poet laureate following criticism of the governor’s appointment process.

Associated Press


As I sat staring out the window, wondering how to jump-start my career as a poet, I automatically, involuntarily lapsed into verse:

I think that I’d feel more secure
If I could get me a cozy political sinecure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing . . . okay. Since my first poem–Thoughts on Waking After Spending the Night in a Kosher Vegetarian Commune–was published by plangent voices, I’ve been anthologized twice. It’s not as painful as it sounds, really, you just get jammed between the covers of a book with a bunch of other poets, sort of like the Green Line at rush hour.

But there seems–and I don’t want to come off as paranoid–like there’s a conspiracy against me, led by my high-profile poetess and ex-girlfriend elena gotchko. She and I parted amicably enough–she dumped my stuff out on the sidewalk, I graciously carried it away–but I’ve been troubled by a pattern of commenters with suspiciously anagramatical names lighting into me with vituperation on-line and in print. NeLa K. Chetogo, Klanee Gootch, Cheona Kloget–the natural wit that continually creates the world anew was always missing from elena’s poetic makeup. That’s why she’s become more of a poetry professional than a professional poet. Editing little journals, pontificating about the importance of poetry, charging high three-figure sums to schmoes who think, if they take a course from somebody who spells her name without initial caps, they’ll magically be transformed into poets.

state house

No, if I was going to get anywhere, I needed juice. There’s an old saying–it’s not what you know, it’s who you know–and that applies in spades in Boston, a town where, as a slightly newer saying goes, the three major industries are politics, sports and revenge. So I dropped in on my state rep and asked him if he could get me on as Massachusetts poet laureate.

“I got a long list of people who wanna be poet laureate,” he said, looking at his watch after we’d been together for ten seconds. “Tell me why it should be you.”

“Well, I’ve self-published a book of poetry, and I’ve written a book about poetry.”

“That meta-stuff don’t cut it. You can’t write that kinda junk until you’re at the top of the poetry heap.”

I jabbered on about the one poem I’d actually sold, to The Christian Science Monitor–just like Sylvia Plath! I told him how I’d won a poetry prize, only to see the publication that awarded it go under before they ran my poem. I started to tell him how I’d won honorable mention in the Somerville Press poetry contest. “Somerville!” I exclaimed. “You can’t throw a brick without hitting a poet over there!”

He looked at me as if I was a pack of cold cuts that had passed its freshness date. “You’re goin’ about this all wrong,” he said with a glint of cynicism in his eyes.

Actual un-PhotoShopped picture of poetry slammer.


“But you’re my elected representative,” I said. “Aren’t you supposed to . . . you know . . . pull strings for people in your district. In the name of ‘constituent services.’”

He shook his head slowly from side to side, apparently amused at my naivete. “You’re in the big city now,” he said, then he reached in his desk drawer, pulled out a business card and handed it to me. “You need to call this guy.”

I looked at the card. Francis X. Shaughnessy. “Who’s he?” I asked.

“A registered lobbyist.”

“What does a lobbyist do?”

“He comes to talk to me about good things I could do for people like you.”

“But . . . I’m here trying to talk to you about good things you could do for people like me.”

“It ain’t the same.”

“Why not?”

“If you give me money, it’s a bribe. If you give him money, it’s compensation. If he throws a ‘time’ for me, that’s everybody’s free speech petitioning government. You give to his PAC, he gives it to me. It’s in the First Amendment–you could look it up.”

“Is there anybody here who isn’t Irish?”


“So–I have to pay money to get somebody else to say things to you I can say myself for nothing.”

“On the nosey.”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s ‘well-connected.’ It’s in the papers. Every time they write his name they say ‘The well-connected Francis X. Shaughnessy.’”

“And me?”

“You’re just an ordinary voting schlub.”

Dawn broke on Marblehead, as we say here in Massachusetts. “Nice talkin’ to ya,” I said, with a trace of bitterness.

“Nice talkin’ to you!” my rep said.

“Where can I find this Shaughnessy guy?”

Jimmy Piersall: Certifiable.


“Down the hall, out the State House door, cross the street. His office is right above Guertin’s Bar and Grille.”

“How . . . convenient.”

“Ain’t it though?”

We shook hands and I took my leave, which I’d left by the door. I was across the street and walking up a flight of stairs to Politico Strategies LLC in less time than it would take you to recite the Miranda Warning.

“Is Mr. Shaughnessy in?” I asked the receptionist, who was holding her hands out at arm’s length to let her nail polish dry.

“Whom shall I say”–she began. Apparently she went to Katie Gibbs Secretarial School on Marlborough Street.

“Mr. Chapman,” I said, interrupting her.

katherine gibbs
Graduation Day at Katie Gibbs!


“Who’s he?” she asked.


“Not you,” she said, clucking her tongue. “Whom shall I say sent you?”

I was losing my innocence with every tick of the clock. “That would be Representative O’Kiley,” I said.

She smiled for the first time and said “Have a seat.”

The reading materials available in the reception area consisted of a big picture book of Boston, so that those in the Athens of America who don’t like to read would have something to look at; the two daily newspapers; and a selection of recent magazines. Newsweek seems to think Howard Dean has the Democratic nomination sewed up, but Time likes John Kerry.

Shaughnessy emerged from his office, his hand apparently attached to the back of someone whose deserving cry for help was next in line in front of me.

“So I think if we came up with a Nuts of the Red Sox series, with one each devoted to Bernie Carbo, Jim Piersall, Bill Lee, Gene Conley and Pumpsie Green, it could be a real winner.”

“I’ll talk to my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Vanity and Commemorative License Plates and we’ll see what we can do.”

Pumpsie Green rookie card: I used to have one!


“Thanks, thanks an awful lot,” the guy said. He looked hopeful, so I figured he wrote a big check.

“What do I have next,” the guy asked the receptionist.

“This man here–O’Kiley sent him.”

“Well in that case, come on in Mr. . . .”

Again, I felt humbled by my lack of importance. After introductions, I was shown into the inner sanctum, where I was offered a chair and initial cup of coffee, gratis.

“So,” Shaughnessy began. “What can I do for youse?”

“I’m looking for a job,” I said.

“As are so many of my constituents in this dreadful economy brought about by greedy Wall Street bankers and mean old Republicans. What kind of work were you lookin’ for?” he asked, but before I could answer he finished the sentence for me. “Indoor work and no heavy liftin’ I presume?”

“I guess you could say that. I want to be the state’s poet laureate.”

“Jeez Louise–that’s a tough one. The pay is lousy but the hours are good.”

“It’s an important position. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

“That’s a great line,” he said as he gazed wistfully out the window. “Who said it?”

“Yogi Berra.”

“I thought so. So what’s your angle?”

“My . . . angle?” I had passed through 19 years of schooling without ever being told I needed an “angle” to be a poet.

“Sure. Are you . . .”–he picked up a laminated sheet that listed the currently favored racial/sexual/ethnic/gender categories of the Commonwealth and began to tick them off starting with “Aleutian Islander.”

“No, can’t say that I am.”

“But O’Kiley sent ya, huh? Okay, well, let’s think about it. Can you give a bunch o’ money to my friend Mr. O’Kiley?”

“Not since my wife found out political contributions aren’t tax deductible.”

“Okay–can you raise a bunch?”

“Don’t think so. My friends tend to be apolitical.”

“Okay, well it’s gonna cost you then.”

“How much?”

“A $2,000 a month retainer, and a $10,000 success fee . . .”

“I thought that was illegal.”

“Excuse me. I meant if you get the job, you hire me as a consultant to the State Office of Poetry for $10,000.”

I glared at him with eyes that I narrowed to grim, little slits. “You don’t look like a poet.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said. “Tell me a little bit about your verse,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and made a little church-and-steeple with his fingers.

“Well, I’ve self-published one book of light verse about women–The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head.

“Is that like ‘chick lit’,” he said without contempt, just an air of honest appraisal.

“Not really–it’s more like anti-chick lit. It’s dedicated to my wife and it’s a bunch of poems about the women I dated before I met her, and how they compare unfavorably to her.”

“Smart husband, dumb poet.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You gotta have a sympathetic political theme, like that poet laureate who got hired in North Carolina the other day.”

“What was her–angle?”

“Homelessness. Very sensitive. That’s the beauty of political art. You pick the right topic, anybody who criticizes you looks like jerk. Some critic pans you, you get your friends to write angry letters to the editor sayin’ ‘Oh, so your hotsy-totsy poetry editor don’t like that chapbook, eh? I guess the cruel son-of-a-bitch don’t like homeless people, neither.’ Pretty soon the guy’s busted down to writing about the spring performance of Lion King at Miss Cynthia’s School of Tap and Ballet.”

baby seal
“These poems have got to be good–they’re about baby seals!”


It was as if the clouds had parted and rays of light shot down to give me inspiration. “Okay, I’m gonna write the most poignant, sensitive, morally unassailable collection of poetry the world’s ever seen.”

“Whatta ya gonna call it?”

“The Don’t Club Baby Seals to Death Poems.”

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

Don’t Come Home From Book Group With Lovin’ on Your Mind

(with apologies to Loretta Lynn)

Image result for don't come home from drinkin with lovin on your mind

Well you thought I’d be waitin’ up when you came home last night
You’d been out with all the girls and you ended up half tight.
But books and chardonnay don’t mix, leave a bottle or me behind
And don’t come home from book group with lovin’ on your mind.

Image result for book groupbooks

No don’t come from book group with lovin’ on your mind.
Keep talkin’ about your novel and suckin’ down your wine.
When you gals read that chick lit it don’t improve your minds,
So don’t come home from book group with lovin’ on your mind.

Image result for book group

You’re never home, you’re always gone, readin’ bodice rippers.
Many’s the night I’ve laid awake, yearnin’ for your nippers.
But you come in too drunk for love, it happens every time
No don’t come home from book group—with lovin’ on your mind.

Ask the Bus Etiquette Lady!

The bus is still your best transportation value, especially with airfares “sky high”–pun intended! Unfortunately, many Americans are woefully ignorant of the “unwritten rules” of the road when it comes to bus travel–but the Bus Etiquette Lady is here to help!

Velma and Gene, in happier times


Dear Bus Etiquette Lady:

I recently traveled by bus from Lone Jack, MO to Denver. As you may know, Kansas is bo-ring so I brought along a pint of Jack Daniels Green Label, which is more affordable than the high-priced “Black” label.

Anyway, I sat down next to a woman named “Velma” who had brang (brung?) a 2-liter bottle of Coke along. We got to talking, it turned out she had just broken up with her boyfriend and–well, it just seemed natural that we’d be together for the ride.

The trip took all night and I will admit, I did get frisky with Velma but we practiced “safe bus sex” as you have advised readers in the past.  Way back by the restroom so nobody would hear us. When I woke up in the morning Velma was beaming and holding up a little white stick, I said what’s that and she said “I’m pregnant!”

Bus Etiquette Lady, I was suspicious so I asked why she even bothered to check and she said she had missed her period when she woke up. I asked if she looked in the overhead racks and she said yes she searched everywhere and couldn’t find it so she had to take the test.

I know bus tickets are subject to Department of Transportation regulation. Is there some way they could give Velma a DNA test so I know the baby is mine and not the guy who dumped her?

Gene Houchens, Lone Jack MO


Dear Gene–

All I can say is–oh my! “Bus paternity entrapment” is on the rise according to federal transportation officials, who recommend that single men carry condoms and No-Doz to ensure that they are not preyed upon by unscrupulous females.

Dear Bus Etiquette Lady:

I am currently on a bus trip, writing you from the “Business Centre” at the I-70 Truck Stop in Normal, Illinois. I am on a Daughters of the Spanish-American War-sponsored “Leaf-peeper” tour of New England, and was hoping to get a window seat on the left-hand side so as to better see the fall foliage, which is generally to the north. I read your column on “POSH: Port Out, Starboard Home” as the best seat strategy.

Well, I got my hair done for the trip and the beauty parlor was low on cash so I had to go across the highway and get change for a five at the Kwiki-Mart, when I got to the bus terminal there was only one window seat left, on the right–if you follow me.

Now we are at our first “rest stop” and I hurried back from the ladies room to claim a seat on the other side only to be told by Mary Louise Peckham that she has “dibs” on her seat for the whole trip!

Ms. Bus Etiquette Lady, that doesn’t seem fair. Can you please send me a fax c/o the Carmel, Indiana Stuckey’s, that is where we are stopping next. I will get you some peanut brittle if you give me the right answer.

Luellen Jepson, “en route”

“C’mon, people–back to your seats! I want to be an airline stewardess before I die.”


Dear Luellen:

By a wonderful coincidence, you’re both right–and wrong! According to the American Association of Bus Travelers Code of Ethics, “dibs” are good until you reach a final destination, but the “turnaround” point at which you begin your trip home counts as an “FD.” So Mary Louise can keep that seat until you reach an ocean, preferably the Atlantic, then it’s yours–all the way back to whatever rock you two crawled out from under!

Dear Bus Etiquette Lady:

My husband Floyd and I are getting ready to leave on our “dream” bus vacation from Mankato, Minnesota to Padre Island, Texas. I was just putting my knitting needles in my sewing bag when Floyd told me you can’t take them on a bus anymore, it’s something to do with terrorism.

Bus Etiquette Lady, is that right? I don’t recall reading about any “busjackings.”

(Mrs.) Judith Pfeiffer


Dear Judith:

Unfortunately in these tense and troubled times, knitting, crewel work and needlepoint have in fact been banned on interstate buses by the Department of Homeland Security. I would suggest that you take along a romance “book on tape,” but I have my doubts as to whether you could keep up with a battery-powered electronic device.

Dear Bus Etiquette Lady:

I recently traveled from Chattanooga to Georgia on a full bus. We hadn’t gone twenty miles before the man next to me falls asleep and when the stewardess came around with the complimentary bag of pork rinds I couldn’t wake him up. Turns out the guy was dead, so I asked the “stew” if we could maybe drop him off at the first county coroner’s office we came to–I wanted the extra leg room.

They stopped the bus and the driver came back and looked at the dead guy’s ticket and he had paid one-way fare to Atlanta so the driver said they couldn’t move him, otherwise his estate might make a claim against the bus company.

Ms. Bus Lady Etiquette, I think I’m entitled to a rebate. That guy started to smell something awful before we even hit Lumpkin County, and I had to bear the brunt of it.

Deward Darrow, Macon, Georgia

Dear Deward:

Frankly, I’m disappointed in you. Traveling with a dead friend by bus is a tradition with a long heritage in America, dating back at least to “Midnight Cowboy” in the 70′s when “Joe Buck” (Jon Voight) stuck by his little buddy “Ratso Rizzo” (Dustin Hoffman) after he passed away. I fear for the future of our country if bus travelers are going to become as cold and heartless as you. You were, however, entitled to the dead man’s bag of pork rinds.


Dear Bus Etiquette Lady:

Last week I was on a bus trip from Prairie View, Texas to Kansas City and a guy pulled out a guitar and started playing and singing. He was pretty good, so people didn’t mind. After a while he asked if anybody had any requests and I called for “Me and Bobby McGee.” Well–it turns out the guy was a down-and-out Rhodes Scholar who had gone to Oxford with Kris Kristofferson so he threw in a bunch of verses that he said were taken from KK’s thesis, “Figures of Mitochondria in the Poems of William Blake.” I had to say I was pretty impressed, so when we got to my flag stop in Otterville I gave the guy a dollar tip and told him how much I’d enjoyed his playing.

As I was walking to my mom’s car–she came out to the highway to pick me up–the guy pulls back his window and says “Thanks a lot, you cheap bastard.”

Ms. Bus Etiquette Lady, as far as I know I was under no obligation to give him anything. Do you have any guidelines in case I ever ride with the guy again, which I hope I don’t.

Ewell Markey, Knob Noster MO

Bus Etiquette Lady “hits the road”!


Dear Ewell:

TV used to be free, but now you have to pay for cable. Same with bus-based “hootenannies”–some of these ramblin’ guys are struggling, just trying to make a few bucks so they can send alimony checks back to the many girls they’ve abandoned on the road as “ramblin’ guys.”

As a rule of thumb, you should tip 15-20% of the fare for the leg of the trip on which your request was sung, taking 1% off for any competing requests especially Billy Joel songs. Remember, it’s always better to “over” rather than “under” tip if you don’t want to get a reputation like that Luellen Jepson woman up above.

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

Your High Culture Etiquette Advisor

Ever wonder if it’s okay to blow your nose during a Beethoven sonata?  Or take a “selfie” in front of a grieving Virgin Mary in Michelangelo’s Pieta?  Ask your High Culture Etiquette Advisor for artistic demeanor guidance!

“Don’t cry, he’ll have a big holiday named after him someday!”


Dear High Culture Etiquette Advisor:

I cut hair at VIP Cuts II and there’s this hedge fund guy “Evan” who is a regular of mine.  He gets kind of flirty sometimes and last week he asked me if I appreciated ballet and I said “Are you kidding?  I am a professional dancer myself!”  This is technically true as I teach Introductory Hip-Hop at Miss Tammi’s Tap Studio.  So he asks me if I want to go with him to see the New York City Ballet, he has a couple of tickets and I said sure, I’m a big fan of all the local teams.

Things were going fine until halfway through the show when I popped my bubble gum and a bunch of people turned around and stared at me.  I didn’t know what to do so I swallowed the wad, which made it hard to talk the rest of the night and I probably didn’t come off as vivaciously as I should have.

Yesterday I saw Evan out the front window of VIP Cuts II and he was walking into Executive Hair Stylists across the street, big as life.  I’m afraid I have broken some “unwritten rule” of the ballet, perhaps you can tell me what it was.

Thanks a bunch,

Tiffany-Marie Santosuosso, Permberwick, CT

Dear Tiffany-Marie–

Yes, I am afraid you have violated one of the cardinal principles of balletomanes, namely, never ever pop a gum bubble during a pas de deux.  For future performances I would suggest you abandon the Bubblicious for something more refined, such as Wrigley’s Spearmint or Dentyne.


Hey High Culture Etiquette Advisor–

I have a question for you.  Last night I went with this woman “Evelyn” to the Boston Symphony.  I didn’t think it was a real “date” date, she is a client of my accounting firm and when she asked me if I was free the boss said I had to go.

Classical music is not my “thing” but I figured I had to for my career so I tried to be an enthusiastic fan.  The first number was Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which I thought was a singing group with Franki Valli, but I guess not.  Anyway, the band started, played for awhile, then stopped, so I clapped.  I mean, they worked really hard and did a good job–why shouldn’t I applaud?

Antonio Vivaldi, Frankie Valli:  Curiously, never seen in the same room together.


Instead, Evelyn gave me a look like I was from outer space or something.  I kept on clapping whenever the band was through–what was I supposed to do, leave them hanging?  I hear classical musicians don’t make much money, I figured they’d appreciate it.

At intermission Evelyn was pretty icy, which was fine with me, she’s not exactly a candidate for Miss America if you know what I mean.  When the show was through she asked me could I just drop her off at her place, she didn’t feel like a nightcap.

I am wondering whether I did something wrong, not because I want to “jump Evelyn’s bones,” but I would like to make partner at my firm, Frangilli, Ersch & Como, P.C., someday and hope I haven’t screwed things up somehow.

This letter represents just my views, not those of my firm, in case any of the partners read it.


Yours truly,

Mike Adamrick, Framingham, Mass.

“Okay, everybody, you can go home, the opera’s over.”



Sorry to say, you have run afoul of one of the trickier conventions of the symphony, to wit, don’t clap between “movements” of pieces, only at the end.  This hard-and-fast rule causes problems of “closure” when a majority of uptight concert-goers don’t realize that the music is over until the orchestra starts packing their instruments and leaves.

In the future, restrain yourself from being the first to applaud so as not to look foolish before dates and even quasi-dates such as Evelyn.  Or you could just go to Red Sox games, where you can make noise whenever you want.

Mahler, channeling John McEnroe:  “You CAN’T be serious!”


Dear High Culture Etiquette Advisor–

I have been seeing this guy “Fritz” for several months now.  He is originally from Germany so I knew he had more culture than my ex-husband “Jimbo,” whose idea of art is cable TV fishing shows and tractor-pulls.

I know Germans cause a lot of wars and things but Fritz seemed nice and he was always a gentleman, kissing me on the hand when he said goodnight on our first date and progressing slowly from there, not going nuts and “invading Poland” right away like some of my friends warned me.

Anyway, Fritz took me to a concert last night and I couldn’t understand a word of the lyrics, but I hung in there because I am trying to make this relationship work, dammit!  At intermission I asked Fritz about the music and he said it was by some guy named “MAH-lur.”  When I asked him what the words meant he said “It’s the Kindertotenlieder–songs for dead children.”

Mr. or Mrs. High Culture Etiquette Advisor, I nearly fell over as I am not a punk rocker and am not into “twisted” humor like dead baby jokes.  I had half a mind to tell Fritz off then and there, but I decided instead I would just be really “cool” to him for the rest of the night as I did not want to touch off an international incident.

Is there some sort of “nuance” I am missing, or is this another example of Germans being colossal jerks under the cover of “culture,” like that guy Nietzsche who said God was dead?

Melanie Ann Barner, Wilmette, Illinois

Dear Melanie Ann–

I think you owe Fritz another chance.  Yes, Kindertotenlieder is a shocking work that jolts us out of our comfort zone, but so were Rocky Horror Picture Show and “cosmic bowling” when they first appeared on the scene, which many people enjoy today without embarrassment.

High culture, like beer and some cheeses, is an acquired taste, and may be repulsive at first, but the deep rewards it pays to the patient, mature mind greatly exceed the superficial satisfaction you may currently get from watching Access Hollywood.

And I would hold off on giving Fritz “half a mind” as you were tempted to.  It sounds like you’re going to need all you’ve got.


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