IRS Turns to Eunuchs for Tough Tax Cases

News item: Officials in India have used eunuchs to collect unpaid taxes.

HAZARD, Kentucky. Ray Bob Suggins, a career revenue officer for the Internal Revenue Service in this small town at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, thought he had seen it all in his thirty years collecting taxes for Uncle Sam.

Hazard, Kentucky

“I’ve seized a family’s satellite dish, I’ve put a lien on a guy’s blue tick hound–everything,” he says with a laugh. But his face clouds up with the latest directive from what he refers to sarcastically as “headquarters”–the national office of the IRS in Washington, D.C.

“Hey–don’t take that! ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ is on tonight!”

“Those guys sitting in their offices back east don’t know the people of Kentucky,” he says with emphasis. “Where they come up with some of their ideas I’ll never know.”

The idea that has Suggins’ dander up is Rev. Proc. 06-137, which will require IRS regional offices to implement “Project Eunuch,” an attempt to replicate in the U.S. the success Indian officials have had using eunuchs–castrated males who dress as women–to collect taxes.

Eunuchs in India.

“You can’t argue with the numbers,” says former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Hijras“–as eunuchs are referred to in India–”have produced remarkable results through the use of embarrassment, a tactic we have overlooked in the past.” And indeed in Patna, an Indian city with a population of nearly a half million where only about 2,000 citizens pay their property taxes on time, local officials report that eunuchs collected 425,000 rupees ($9,240) in their first day on the job.

Shulman: “They do this cool dance, sort of like this.”

In India hijras accost taxpayers on the street–taunting, cursing or touching their hair and cheeks–or set up outside a residence where they chant and dance loudly until a deadbeat relents and pays up. The eunuchs, who for the most part live in poverty because of their status as sexual outsiders, are paid a commission on what they collect. “We did a cost-benefit analysis,” says Shulman, “and eunuchs produce better results than boring techniques like putting a lien on somebody’s house and waiting for them to sell. Plus a lot of them are very attractive with all that makeup they wear.”


So Suggins agreed to be a “guinea pig,” subjecting himself to castration at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Louisville in exchange for two years’ extra credit towards his pension. “I should be able to retire at age 60,” he says as he squirms in his chair due to the discomfort that persists following the operation. “I figger it’s worth it if I live that long.”


As painful as it was to lose what he refers to as “the family jewels,” what comes next is even harder in his view. “I got to dress up like an Indian woman and go door-to-door and jingle my bells” to make delinquent taxpayers pay up. “That ain’t gonna be easy.”

Coffee Pot Cafe: First refill is free.

After Suggins applies cheap rouge, powder and lipstick, he heads over to the Coffee Pot Café where he know Lyle Oehrke will be sitting with his buddies at their regular table, sipping coffee before he heads out to work–or not–as a used car salesman at O’Connor Chevrolet-Buick on South Highway 65. “Lyle spends most of his paycheck every Friday at the Golden Palomino,” a “gentlemen’s club” just outside the city limits where he is generous with tips for the “pole dancers” and strippers who work there.

Where Lyle works–sort of.

Suggins appears at the entrance to the Coffee Pot, spies Oehrke over in the corner, and goes into his carefully-rehearsed “song and dance,” a tribute to the Indian god Krishna in the form of Mohini, a beautiful woman who is a central figure in the culture of the hijras. “Hey, hey, hey,” he chants as he claps rhythmically, swinging his sari back and forth. “I’m really gonna make your day.”

Oehrke is at first surprised, then dismissive. “Well look who’s here,” he says with a knowing grin. “If it ain’t Sweetie Pie Suggins, lookin’ for a date.” He laughs and his friends join him, although their nervous tension is apparent.

“Pay up now, or I’ll have a cow!”

“I’m from the IRS, and I’m gonna lift up my dress, dress, dress–unless”-Suggins stops for dramatic effect-“you clean up your overdue taxes, penalties and interest mess!”

“I wish I could wear me somethin’ like that!”

Nae Ann Wingersheek, long-time waitress at “The Pot” as locals here refer to the restaurant, comes to the table for a last round of refills and to present the check. “You all gonna sit here all day or go out and earn a livin’?” she says with a good-natured jab at the group’s indifferent work habits. “Hey, Ray,” she says to Suggins when she notices the tax collector, his arms above his head as he rings his finger cymbals.

“Hi Nae Ann,” Ray replies as he scoots back a step to allow her to get by.

“I like that outfit,” she says, referring to the saffron sari that he flirtatiously lifts from time to time, threatening to expose himself but pulling back in the hope that the full range of tax collection remedies permitted by the new IRS procedure won’t be necessary.

“You don’t think it makes me look fat?” Ray asks.

She studies him for a moment. “From the front, no. From the back, it looks like two hogs fightin’ under a sheet!”

The table bursts out in laughter, which Suggins joins in with good spirits. “I walked right into that one,” he says with a grin.

The table of regulars starts to pony up and, when Suggins sees Oehrke pull his wallet from his back pocket, he pounces.

Krishna says “Pony up.”

“Lord Krishna, all-powerful, crush this deadbeat like a grasshopper beneath your heel–he is about to pay for his meal!”

“C’mon, Ray,” Oehrke pleads. “You know I got alimony to pay.”

“Alimony, palimony-don’t indulge in matrimony!”

“And I need my car to get to work.”

“Why should I worry about your work, when you treat your fellow taxpayers like a jerk?”

Everyone in the restaurant is watching now; Oehrke’s friends have ponied up, and tax collector and deadbeat stare each other down, mano a former-mano.

“All right, goddamn it,” Oehrke says with disgust. “Here,” he says as he pulls a roll of bills out of his back pocket and counts off two hundred dollars in twenties.

“The IRS Commissioner thanks you very much,” Suggins chants as he picks up his haul, “but I’ll tell him for the record you were not a soft touch.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Death, Taxes and More Taxes.”

A Year of Brilliant Water

Had I known that Jackie’s boss was making a play for her, right there at the party she and her husband Jonathan were throwing, I would have liked him even less than I did at first impression. He—Andy was his name–was a nice guy, thoughtful and sensitive and all that, but irritating all the same.

Andy was half a head taller than everybody there except for Jonathan’s boss, the public TV newscaster with the sonorous voice and the forehead as high as a dolphin’s. He was always “Jonathan”—nobody ever called him “Jon,” not even Jackie, which may explain Andy’s appeal. Both Andy and Jonathan worked for non-profits, but lived well; it didn’t take a detective to figure out there was trust fund money behind both of them, although Jonathan was less subtle about letting you know it. He’d leave brokerage statements out on his desk when we went to visit, like Poe’s purloined letter, but his intent was not to conceal but to disclose.

Image result for christmas party

There was a high-end store downtown that bore the family name but Jonathan wanted no part of it; he wanted to take part in the great debates of our time, and be recognized as a thoughtful commentator. He’d tried every angle in the book to get hired at our local liberal paper of record, but I guess nobody told him that he was NOKD—“not our kind dear.” He had that rag-trade background, if you know what I mean.

So he ended up catching on at public TV, which in my mind was just as good. You were on the right side of all the issues as far as the local prevailing thinking went, and you didn’t have to cover fires in triple-decker apartments or stabbings and shootings in poor neighborhoods. You only addressed the big national and international issues, even though anybody who mattered in New York or Washington didn’t give a damn what a little channel in Boston thought.

Image result for public tv news

But while Jonathan was talking about big things, Andy was—as I understood it—doing something about one of them, the big one. Jackie humbly introduced him to Marci and me as “one of her fellow earth-savers.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said with a smile that you’d say was self-deprecating, if you were charitable.

We chatted a bit, the four of us with no one joining in. Jackie and Marci went to college with Jonathan, so I always felt like a fifth wheel when we got together. At least Andy acted interested, where Jonathan tended to lord his position as a minor local celebrity and future philanthropist over you.

“Do you like to hike?” Andy asked me.

“Depends on where we’re going.”

“It’s the journey, not the destination!” Jackie chimed in. She’d dragged Jonathan to Nepal for their honeymoon, and stayed in touch with their Sherpa.

Image result for monadnock

“There’s a lot of easy mountains not too far from here in New Hampshire.”

“I’ve climbed Monadnock twice,” I said.

“You should try Kearsarge next,” Andy said.

“Or Chocura!” Jackie added, more excited than I thought justified by a hunk of granite.

At this point Jonathan appeared behind the other three, appearing a bit anxious to join the group. They were talking and didn’t notice him, so after a while I looked at Marci and nodded in Jonathan’s direction. She didn’t understand at first, so I cleared my throat until she said “What?”

“Jonathan’s trying to say something.”

Image result for trinity college conn

She gave him a look without sympathy. She’d heard whatever complaints Jackie had about living with him in the first year of their marriage, which he had such high hopes for. “May you have a life of brilliant water,” the minister had said at their wedding, “like the diamond in the ring, which you may now place on the bride’s finger and repeat after me.”

They had had a Book of Common Prayer wedding, with nothing improvised. She was a beauty and her parents were paying for it, so he—in a last act of grace—had acceded to their wishes. They had moved into a home far away from the city, in an exurban town that young people typically didn’t live in unless they grew up or worked there, but she wanted to be near the ocean and the mountains.

The first year had been brilliant, or at least that’s what Marci kept hammering into me. I was a faceless drone in a corporate job, Jonathan was not. Jackie had room to build her harpsichord, Marci did not. They had a wonderful house on the North Shore where they had lively dinner parties, we had a place on the back side of Beacon Hill that was dark and cold and too small. We didn’t have all the furnishings you got when you got married because we weren’t, just living together; they’d taken the leap, a further one in Jackie’s case since she didn’t want to leave the little town in Connecticut where she and Marci had grown up, while Jonathan needed to be in a major media market. And so the quaint little house in Newburyport had been their compromise.

Image result for building harpsichord

“Jackie, do you want to move people on to the activities?” Jonathan finally managed to get in sidewise between a crack that formed momentarily in the wall that the two women and Andy formed with their backs.

“There’s no rush,” she said with an airy toss of her head, and continued talking. I felt sorry for the guy, even though he wasn’t my favorite human being. I’d tried to connect with him back when we first got together as couples but it was clear he didn’t think I was anybody who was going to help him get wherever it was he wanted to go.

I could see him seething a bit over Jackie’s shoulder, and then Christopher, Jonathan’s boss, came over to talk to him.

“Do you want me to read from Dickens’s Christmas Carol?” he asked.

“Maybe later, after we’ve eaten,” Jonathan said. The guy clearly wanted to hear himself talk—it was a diplomatic way of putting him off. “Can I have everybody’s attention please?” Jonathan said to the crowd and, surprisingly, people turned to hear him without being asked twice, except for Jackie, Marci and Andy, who continued to talk until they finished their conversation.

Image result for making christmas ornaments

“We have all kinds of arts and crafts supplies over on the table here for you to make Christmas ornaments with,” he said, and there was a murmur of appreciation that a party among the sort of young strivers we all were back then could include such a creative activity. “Nobody’s a pro, so there’s no need to be embarrassed if you make a mess. Unless you make it on my Shiraz here,” he said, pointing to the Oriental rug he stood upon.

There was laughter and a general movement in the direction of a game table on which were laid out felt and thread and glitter and glue and other makings for ornaments. I joined the crowd, hoping Marci would follow me, but she stood there with Jackie and Andy, talking on, not seeming to care.

I got some black and white and orange felt and a needle and thread to make a penguin, and came back to sit down by the trio. “Are you going to make anything?” I asked Marci. She had been so close to Jackie for so long, I wanted to make sure she didn’t get Jonathan upset without intending to. If she meant to be an accessory to marital friction, there was nothing I could do to stop her.

“I will. Jackie said she’s not in a hurry.”

Image result for shiraz rug

I started to sew as best I could, which wasn’t very well. Eventually Marci put down her drink and went to get the makings for an angel, which she had no better luck with; she tried to glue the felt together to save the trouble of sewing, but it turned into a mess.

Jonathan was holding court, accepting the casual flattery that came one’s way for resisting the tides of convention among our crowd. It was a wonderful idea, Jackie was so lucky to have such a creative husband. This sort of talk flowed easily, since there was an implied pat on one’s own back with each compliment; aren’t we all so interesting as opposed to our parents and other suburbanites who just ate and drank too much when they got together for the holidays.

Jackie and Andy had moved to the tree, out of the way of the arts and crafts, and were sitting underneath it talking intently about something of great importance to them both. Their faces took on a more youthful cast, like college freshman in a coffee shop discussing their plans to change the world before they graduated and realized there was no money in that. I finished my penguin, made a little loop of gold thread to attach it to the tree, and took it over to the table to offer it to Jonathan.

“Hey thanks, that’s great. Look everybody,” he said, drawing more attention to my little creation than I wanted. “Why don’t we have a contest for best ornament? Here’s the early leader.”

There were oohs and ahs, mostly mock but some sincere, from the crowd, and a new burst of energy now that we were engaged in friendly competition. I went back to Marci to see how she was doing and she’d given up and had started over.

Image result for penguin ornament homemade

“What’s with Jackie and her boss?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“They’re all by themselves making goo-goo eyes at each other.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You don’t think it’s a little rude to go off like that at a party?”

“No—they work together.”

I just shrugged my shoulders. We’d had this conversation before, how men shouldn’t think of women as exclusively theirs, like a dog. I thought there was probably a happy medium between the two extremes, but I wasn’t going to get into it.

As the evening wore on Jonathan continued to play the convivial host while Jackie and Andy rarely took the time to unlock their eyes. When they did, it was usually for a gush-fest with somebody who was coming or going and they’d stand together, or maybe Andy would withdraw a few steps if he didn’t know the people. Jonathan was usually off taking care of drinks and food, some of which he’d cooked himself. He could have afforded a caterer, but it wouldn’t have seemed right; he and Jackie were into showing others how much they didn’t care about his money, and how they’d do things their way, not in the grand style of his parents.

And so after a while I noticed him getting—a bit frazzled. He was drinking, but not that much, but running around a lot, trying—it seemed to me—to appear happier than he was. Marci had told me he’d turned out to be more high-strung than Jackie had thought he’d be. They didn’t live together first, the way most of us did back then, so she hadn’t seen him during long periods of togetherness, which means isolation. She hadn’t seen him through a winter here, where you’re thrown back on your own resources. In the end, I guess you’d say she’d only seen his social side.

I saw him go to the kitchen and then up the stairs that led to their bedroom on the second floor. It was pure Jackie—a pencil post bed, no TV, everything very plain, uncluttered. There was a throw on the bed from her grandmother, blue and white. Wide-plank floors with Shaker rugs. I’d only been up there once, when he took me to show me what he’d done with a print I’d given him; it was of an old London newspaper hawker, shouting “’Speshill ‘dishun, ‘orrible railway haccident.” The occasion was his promotion to on-air reporter, so I figured a news theme would be appreciated.

Image result for pencil post bed

I started talking to Jonathan’s boss—Christopher. I guess nobody was allowed to have a nickname in public television. He’d come from a big Irish family, his dad was a working farmer who died young, so there was more depth there I’d guessed from appearances. He talked about how he loved Christmas, with the rituals and the parties, and this reminded him of his offer to read from Dickens. “Have you seen Jonathan?” he asked me, as he looked around the room. I guess he didn’t want to upset the rhythm of the party by starting a story without permission.

“I saw him go upstairs,” I said.

“I’ll go fetch him,” Christopher said, and bolted away like he was in fact a dog after a stick.

I went back to Marci in the hope of getting out by the time Christopher got back so I wouldn’t be stuck listening to Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, but she was in no mood to leave. She and Jackie and Andy were still having a grand old time, so I got another drink and sat down in a chair near the fire. I could have gone to sleep there—I was starting to nod off—when Christopher came back downstairs and rushed over to Jackie with a look of concern.

He whispered something in her ear, and they went back upstairs after she’d excused herself to Andy and Marci. I was wide awake now, and stood up in case there was some medical emergency. I didn’t want to intrude, but I could tell something was wrong.

After a few minutes Jackie came back down and began to announce, in quiet tones to people in groups as small as she could manage, that Jonathan wasn’t feeling well. Christopher put on his coat and went outside, apparently to bring his car to the door from where it was parked down the country road from the house.

“What’s the matter?” Marci said, and Jackie took her aside so that I didn’t hear very well. The explanation between the two old girl friends was longer and more detailed than the version that had been announced generally. I stepped away and let them talk.

Christopher came back in and escorted Jonathan down the stairs; he looked pale, and his face was red. They stopped as they reached the door for Jonathan to put on a heavy coat, and Christopher waved a common goodbye. “Good night and Merry Christmas everybody,” he said, and everyone responded in kind, including some who had yet to hear the news.

“Feel better, Jonathan,” Andy called out in an affable, sympathetic tone, but Jonathan had already stepped outside.

I didn’t hear the story until we were out on the highway, headed home, the windshield wipers scraping a view through heavy wet snow. “Jonathan seized up,” Marci said. “He’s wound pretty tight. Jackie’s talked to him about meditating, but he won’t.”

“He’s got a tough commute and he works on deadline—I’m not surprised he’s tense. And there was a bit of provocation as well.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Maybe you missed it,” I said, and kept driving.


When Puppet Shows Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Puppet Shows

Libertarian activists are protesting restrictive New Hampshire state laws by staging unlicensed puppet shows.

The Boston Globe


A cynic’s definition of a libertarian is a Republican who smokes pot, but that is a half-truth. A libertarian is someone whose tattooed ferret smokes pot. And owns a puppet. The libertarian, that is, not the ferret.

I came by my puppet, whom I call “Spot,” through the turbulence of creative destruction that free-market types welcome; Spot is the former star of commercials, and when the dot-com boom ended, my wife picked him up as a present for me for a song.

Ever since, we’ve been working on a medley of Chet Baker tunes to which he lip-synchs, casting an eerie spell as he channels Baker’s ethereal boppish voice.

Chet Baker: If you close your eyes, you can’t tell them apart.


It was after a late-night rehearsal–actually, I guess one doesn’t really rehearse lip synching–that Spot floated a crazy, off-the-wall idea.

“You know, lip-synching is fine,” he said, “but I feel it’s limiting my career.”

“How so?” I asked.

He turned from his perch on the end of my finger and looked me straight in the eye. “I want to sing–for real,” he said.

I considered for a moment what that would entail. “If you want to sing,” I said as the unseasoned music business pro that I am, “you’re going to have to work a lot harder.”

“No you’re going to have to work a lot harder,” he shot back at me.

“Why me?”

“Because I’m just a puppet. You need to work on your ventriloquism.”

He was right about that. I’ve been fooling around with “throwing my voice” ever since Tommy Racunas used to take home a prize, year after year, in the Sacred Heart Grade School Spring Talent Show with his dummy “Charlie” back in the 60s. For weeks afterwards, he’d have Carolyn Stretz, Trudy Espinosa and Candace Mitzel eating out of the palm of his hand. Then he’d run out of sunflower seeds, and things would return to normal.

“You’re right,” I said. “If we’re going to take our show on the road, we need to get better, and start at the bottom.”

“Someplace like Hampton Beach, New Hampshire,” Spot opined.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I almost got to play with Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy of ‘Blues Brothers’ fame in Hampton Beach when my roommate’s bass player showed up a half-hour . . .”

“Only about a million times.”

Matt “Guitar” Murphy: I came thisclose to playing with him!


“Right. I remember now.” I was humbled. No man is a hero to his sock puppet. “There’s just one problem with your idea,” I said after I’d recovered my self-esteem.

“What’s that?” Spot asked.

“Unlicensed puppet shows are illegal in New Hampshire.”

You could have knocked Spot over with a feather–if he hadn’t been attached to my arm. “You’re kidding,” he said. “The ‘Live Free or Die’ state?”

“The same.”

“You make me feel so young–you make me feel that spring has sprung!”


He turned away, then angrily slammed his little paw against the wall.

“Ow,” I said.

“What are you crying about–it’s my paw,” he snorted.

“You’re an inanimate object,” I replied. “I’m the one who can feel pain.”

“Oh, right. Anyway, I still can’t believe it. Doesn’t anyone read John Milton anymore?” he asked.

John Milton–or Dan Fogelberg?


“No,” I replied. “And if they did, what difference would it make?”

He was fired up now. “Because if they did, they might have learned a thing or two from Areopagitica.

A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing?”

“On the nosey. For my money, it’s still one of the greatest defenses of free speech.”

“You don’t have any money,” I reminded him. “What would people learn if they read it?” I asked, a bit skeptical.

He went to the bookshelf, pulled down his little thumbnail-sized edition of The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Milton, and flipped to page 720.

“They would know that licensing–a requirement of prior approval–’is but weaknes and cowardise in the wars of Truth,’” he declaimed, warming to his topic. “We arrive at truth by permitting a diversity of ideas.”

“Except for Catholicism–right?”

“Talk to the hand.”


“Well, yeah. Milton did have a blind spot about that.”

We sat there in silence, thinking about the never-ending struggle to keep speech and puppet shows free.

“So are we gonna do something about it?” he asked after a moment.

“What can one man and one puppet do?” I asked.

He gave me a look of cold, pitiless contempt. “I can’t believe you,” he said. “You sit there all day with your finger up my butt, while our precious freedoms are frittered away.”

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t help–I just have to know what I’m in for.”

He got right up in my face. “We’re going to New Hampshire–tonight!”

“I’m kind of tired,” I said.

“I’ll drive,” he snapped. “You can sleep ’til we get there. In the morning, we’ll hit the streets, and put on the baddest unlicensed puppet show New Hampshire’s ever seen!”

I had to admire his courage. “Okay–I’m in,” I said.

“All right!” He gave me a high five, or actually a high one, since he doesn’t have reticulated digits on his paws.

“Just promise me one thing,” I said, slowing him down for a moment.

“What’s that?”

”You’ll give me plenty of warning if you have to pee.”

“A Patch of Pink–or Green” Tells Sad Story of the Colorblind

NEW YORK.  With tickets to the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival set to go on sale in four days, the early buzz from critics emerging from previews is that “A Patch of Pink–or Green” is the entrant most likely to achieve both artistic and commercial success when it is released later this year.

Sundance Film Festival

“I was in tears from the opening credits until I got up to get a box of Jujubes,” said Jenelle Bridges, a film student at the University of Southern California who saw the film earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.  “Then as soon as I got back, I started bawling like a baby all over again.”

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Bridges:  “That was so–freaking–sad!”

“Pink or Green” as festival-goers affectionately refer to it, is the story of Evan Jamison, a color-blind boy who overcomes his handicap to become chief mens’ clothes buyer at Filene’s, the defunct Boston department store.

Cahiers du Cinema:  If you can’t understand this, take it to someone who can.

“It’s got everything going for it,” said Antoine Ste. Joan, who is covering the festival for Cahiers du Cinema, the high-brow French film magazine.  “A sad story line, lots of ambiguous sexuality and the demise of a petit bourgeois American commercial enterprise.”

Ste. Joan:  “Eet ees not as good as a Jerry Lewis film, but then what is?”

The film describes Jamison’s journey from a young boy whose classmates taunt him for the mismatched color schemes he wears to class at a rough-and-tumble public school in Newton, Massachusetts, to necktie counter clerk at a small men’s store, and finally to the pinnacle of the retail clothing industry–a position as chief buyer of a major department store chain.

Jamison’s color-blindness is discovered in a dramatic scene in which his principal competitor, a cold and calculating female buyer, places two tie-shirt combos in front of him in an attempt to embarass him before top executives.  When he incorrectly places a pink tie on a green shirt and vice versa, his disability is exposed, leading to a reassignment to Filene’s Basement, the store’s cut-rate discount outlet.

Filene’s:  The basement is downstairs.

Jamison fights back, risking everything by purchasing unsold pink oxford-cloth shirts from Brooks Brothers that he believes are green.  When pink shirts become fashionable, he is able to sell the inventory at a significant mark-up, and is promoted over his rival.  The store is ultimately forced to close when Jamison places a substantial order for peach-colored shirts that he believes are blue, but he vows to continue his struggle at a factory outlet store in New Hampshire.

“Bobby–put down that baseball bat.  You can realize your dream of becoming an interior decorator!”

Color-blindness is primarily a male affliction, striking about 6% of boys but only .5% of girls.  Parents of color-blind boys say the film has given them new hope that their sons can overcome their handicap.  “We always told our son that if he worked hard and played by the rules he could realize his dream of becoming an interior decorator, but we were lying,” says Tom Childress of Utica, New York.  “Maybe this movie will prove us wrong.”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “I Hear America Whining.”

Tax Code Found to Be Safe Yet Potent Aphrodisiac

WASHINGTON, D.C. It’s getting close to tax time, and across the nation women are nursing two-month-old babies they delivered in January.

“You are the cutest widdle $3,200 deduction from ordinary income mommy’s ever seen!”


Demographers have noticed that a disproportionate number of the nation’s children are born during the first month of the year, and the Internal Revenue Service believes it has discovered why.

Shulman: “The tax code has always been a tremendous turn-on for me personally.”

“Our nation’s tax code, while complex, can be a safe but potent means of increasing the libido of married couples who file joint returns,” said former IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman. “There’s the fighting over ‘Why don’t you make more money?’ and then–the make-up sex.”

Looking at naughty forms on the IRS website helps couples get in the mood.

Taxpayers seem to agree with Stiff’s analysis. Linda Barnes of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, says tax time is a period of increased intimacy with her husband Duane, who prepares their taxes using off-the-shelf software. “Just say it real slow and sultry-like–‘Turbotax–Turbotax’. It kinda gets to you.”

Church ice cream social: “Lloyd, is that an ice cream cone in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”

Others say they use the stimulus of tax preparation to avoid the side effects of other erectile dysfunction remedies. “My husband Lloyd thought he was going blind from Viagra,” says Cindi Kennon of Hoxie, Arkansas, “and with Cialis he’d walk around all weekend with a lump in his pants–not good for a Sunday night ice cream social,” at the Bethany Baptist Church where the Kennons worship. “On the other hand, alcohol is like prunes–is two beers enough? Is six too many? You never know.”

Muu-Muus: Also available in men’s sizes.

There are even couples who use tax-based role playing to add an extra kick to the Internal Revenue Code’s 9,545 pages of erotic stimulus. “We introduce cross-dressing into our love-making routine during April,” says Anna Simon of Grosse Point, Michigan. “I buy my husband Jim some plus-size panty hose and a muu-muu, and he plays the poor, pitiful housewife while I pretend I’m an IRS auditor.” After scolding him for improper deductions of commuting expenses from W-2 wages, Mrs. Simon spanks her husband and allows him to file an amended return correcting his error.

“All of our private suites are booked right now, but I can put you on the table in the conference room.”

Tax-preparation giant H&R Block says it will add private “consultation” rooms to its offices to handle the needs of couples whose personal tastes include exhibitionism. “The guys come in here and want to show me how big their mortgage interest deductions are,” said branch manager Herb Webb of the firm’s Council Bluffs, Iowa office. “Frankly, they don’t pay me enough to watch that kind of sicko stuff.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Death, Taxes and More Taxes.”

Moi et La Vache Qui Rit

I have generally found that, if you are in quest of some certain escape from Philistines of whatsoever class—sheriff-officers, bores, no matter what—the surest refuge is to be found amongst hedgerows and fields, amongst cows.

                    De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

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I first encountered La Vache Qui Rit in a little neighborhood grocery store in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  She was, in a word, irrepressible.  “Look,” she said to all and sundry, including those over in the sundries section.  “‘Cheese flavored food product,'” she read from a package of American “cheese,” breaking out in laughter.  “It isn’t cheese, it’s a ‘cheese-flavored food product.'”

To say that I fell in love with The Laughing Cow at first sight would not be an understatement; she was “La vache qui rit quand je ne peux pax,” viz., “The cow who laughs when I can’t.”  Burdened as I was by hours of freshman homework in the humanities, social studies, the physical sciences, phys ed and of course French, I had neither the time nor the energy to laugh–I needed a bovine friend with little cheese wheel earrings to do my laughing for me.

It was Charles-Andre-Joseph-Marie de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic, the man named after quadruplets who cracked “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”  “Je ne sais pas,” as I used to say when Dr. Bell or Madame Cooney or Mademoiselle Quintana or Monsieur Isacharoff, the four pedagogues who tried unsuccessfully to drum French into my head, would ask me a question.  En Anglais: “I don’t know,” because the only cheese I ever needed was La Vache Qui Rit.

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Ye olde dorm.

I took her home, or more precisely to my dorm room, in her most popular format, the “spreadable wedge.”  What followed was an orgy of cheap pleasure that surpassed anything I’d previously experienced with Velveeta, my cheesy “If you’re lookin’ at me, you’re lookin’ at country” girlfriend back in Missouri.  After we were done dusting the cracker crumbs out of my bed, it occurred to me that there was more to life than oral gratification.  “You know, Vache . . .”


“I was wondering–do you think you could help me fend off a few bores?”

“What kind?”

“A varied assortment.  Academic, artistic–”

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Siegel-Schwall Band:  They may be bad, but they’re also boring.


“You mean The Siegel-Schwall Band?”

“Well, yeah.”

“They’re awful,” she laughed.  She was, after all, La Vache Qui Rit.  “White guys imitating white guys imitating black guys.”

“Like somebody making hand puppets in Plato’s cave.”

“Anybody else?”

“Wegener–the professor of something or other who can’t make it in the English Department and can’t make it in the Philosophy Department so he latches on to a scholar . . .”


“. . . on the nosey, who’s too big for any one department, and becomes his acolyte.”

“I don’t know,” she said, her fescue-sweetened breath blowing my way.  “That’s two tall orders.  Anybody else?”

“Well there’s this guy who’s in my dorm . . .”

“Um hmm . . .”

“It’s like he’s already become an old fart at the tender age of eighteen.”

“How so?”

“Smokes a pipe.  Has elbow patches on his sweaters.  Says things like ‘I’m in the mood to read a really good epic poem.'”

“Ouch,” she said.  “Were his parents . . .”

“Professors?  You got it.  He brought his own file cabinets to school with him.”

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“I think a case like that is probably incurable.  You can’t help somebody who’s the product of inbreeding.”

I figured she was right on that score.  “So what can you do for me?”

She looked off into the distance, as if yearning for the peace and contentment of her home in the former French province of Bresse.  “I can give you the tools,” she said with a distracted air.  “What you do with them is up to you.”

I gulped in recognition of the challenge that lay before me.  “Okay,” I said solemnly.  “Let’s do it.”

“Follow me,” she said.

“Where are we going?”

“To class.  Let’s start you out easy with a feckless academic.  They’re easier to cow.”  She said this with a glint in her eye, seeing if I caught her play on words.

“I’m right behind you.”

“Watch out for bovine flatulence.”  So earthy!

We made our way to the building where the Department of the History and Philosophy of History and Philosophy was housed, and made our way to the fourth floor, where an eager retinue of acolytes sat waiting for the entrance of the semi-great professor.  I sat down at one of the rectangular tables, each with an ashtray that said “No smoking” on it.  I looked around, but didn’t see any bottles that said “No drinking” on them.

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French cows: “Mieux!”

At the stroke of the hour he entered; the fraud, the con man, the second fiddle, the guy who’d parlayed a symbiotic (if not parasitic) relationship with the great translator of Aristotle into a cushy position with tenure; two courses a semester, a sabbatical every seven years, three months off in the summer.  Nobody ever went into academics looking for hard work.

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“I thought we’d have class outside today so you wouldn’t be stifled by my hot air.”

“What’s this guy’s game?” Vache whispered to me as he sat down.

“He’s the Professor Irwin Corey of academia.  Talks a bunch of nonsense but makes it complicated so you think it’s your problem if you don’t understand.”

“It is your problem–he’s handing out the grades.”

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“Did I say teleology of hermeneutics?  My bad–I meant hermeneutics of teleology.”


The prof gave everybody a poop-eating grin, the way Oprah or a Tonight Show host looks out on an audience that’s been warmed up for them.  “Let’s dive right into Lucretius!” he said, but everyone knew that was a head-fake.  He wouldn’t stay with the Roman poet-philosopher long enough to make a cogent argument; he’d be off to the races, comparing him to Rousseau, Marcel Duchamp, Neil Young and Shemp, the Fourth Three Stooge.
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Lucretius:  “What’s with the No Smoking ash trays?”


The neophyte intellectuals were scribbing away, except for one particularly devoted devotee named Eliot–figures–who had brought a tape recorder.  He didn’t want to miss a word while writing, which would also detract from his ability to fawn.

The prof was going a mile a minute and almost missed the exit for Sartre, and so had to slam on the brakes and double back.  La Vache seen her opportunity and took it, like Tammany Hall boss George Washington Plunkitt.  “Excuse me,” she said after swallowing the cud she’d been chewing.  “Is this little bout of logorrhea going anywhere?”

The academic was caught off guard by Vache’s no-nonsense air.  He was used to having his ass kissed, not kicked.

“Well, uh, yes, of course.  It leads to Giambattista Vico, and from there to Marx, and . . .”

“Yogi Berra?”

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Berra:  “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”


“Excuse me?” the prof said.  “You’re introducing a lowly baseball player into a colloquy about the greatest minds of Western Civilization?”

“He’s the second most quoted person in history after Lewis Carroll,” Vache said.  “As Casey Stengel used to say, ‘You could look it up.'”

The professor had been knocked off his balance, but he regained his footing on the firmer ground of academic bureaucracy.  “I don’t believe I’ve seen you in this class before,” he said blandly.  “You know you can’t audit a course without the registrar’s permission.”

“I’m a visiting faculty member in the French department,” she said.  “I’ve come to America to see how we can improve on our academic inefficiency.”

At the Jennifer Aniston Intensive Hair Care Clinic

Living Proof, a company whose owners include two MIT-trained engineers, adopted a scientific approach to haircare, then reached out to Jennifer Aniston, “possessor of what is perhaps the most famous hair on the planet.”  “I read the testimonials about how Living Proof products actually changed women’s lives,” says the company’s CEO.  “I’d never seen anything like that before.”

The Boston Globe

We were sitting in the lounge at the Jennifer Aniston Intensive Haircare Clinic, shooting the breeze, as is our wont; it’s not easy maintaining a constant focus on saving the world’s hair, one split end at a time.

“Please–don’t hate me because my hair is beautiful.”

“You guys want to try something different today?” I asked my colleagues, Dr. Etang Chin and Dr. Anil Gupta, both world-renowned hair care specialists.

“Like what?” Chin asked, and I noticed his tone was somewhat harsh.  “What’s more important than hair?”

“I dunno,” I said.  I figured it was better to take a roundabout approach rather than broaching the subject head-on.  After all, I wasn’t wearing my broach.

Broaching a broach.

“You brought it up,” Gupta chimed in.  “What in the world were you thinking?”

They had me back on my heels.  Hunger made people hungry, but bad hair–it could ruin your whole day.

“I was thinking maybe . . .”

“Yes,” Chin asked, ready to pounce.

“There’s this thing called . . . cancer.”

“Cancer–please!” Gupta fairly shouted.  “How is that a problem?”

“Yeah,” said Chin.  “Cancer’s got its own zodiac sign–it’s all set.  Hair is the most neglected outgrowth of the skin of an animal there is!”

“But cancer,” I said, trying to recover from the gale force of their arguments, “people . . . die from it.”

“Listen,” Gupta said, turning on me so that I couldn’t avoid his gaze.  “Have you ever heard of cancer of the hair?”

He had me there.  “I . . . I guess not.”

“So case closed.  Please–start thinking about the important things in life, would you?”

I shut up for awhile, having painted myself into a logical corner from which there was no escape until the oil-based premises of my syllogism dried.  I had to admit, my fellow researchers had a point.  For years, decades–centuries–women had been yanking down just any old haircare product from drug and beauty store shelves, the ingredients depressingly the same; heavy silicones, greasy oils.  It was a wonder there were still humans left on planet earth.  If men hadn’t been so ignorant of the fundamentals of shampooing–how you have to lather, rinse, then repeat–they would have risen up and demanded the new molecules we had invented at the Jennifer Aniston Intensive Haircare Clinic.

Nice nippers!

This stuff is top-secret, which is why I’m only allowed to disclose it in the realm of fiction.  We patented octafluoropentyl methacrylate, which shields hair from humidity, thereby reducing frizz and repelling dirt.  Can you imagine what a difference that would have made to someone like Shirley Temple, forced into early retirement when her hair curled up like Gordian Knots.  You know the kind tied by angels’ hands to bind true friendship?  Huh.  I guess you don’t know that poem.

Shirley Temple:  “Let’s get frizzy!”

Or how about poly-beta amino ester-1, which according to advertising approved by our crack team of lawyers working round the clock, “creates a microscopic pattern of thickening dots on every hair strand.”  What’s the point you ask?  Oh yes you did, I heard you on the other side of this computer monitor.  I’ll tell you what.

That friction makes thin hair look and behave “like textured, full, thick hair.”  Who writes, this stuff, you ask?  With all those commas, probably Henry James  or some other Harvard man.

But the idea for PBAE’s–I’m going to have to use shorthand or else my fingers are going to faint from all these multi-polysyllabic chemical compounds–came out of MIT, down Mass Ave.  My rule of thumb: MIT discovers stuff, Harvard makes money off of it.

“But,” I began after this internal reverie played out, “isn’t there something fundamentally . . . trivial about using the breadth and depth . . .”

“Don’t forget the height,” Gupta interjected.

“Finally I have found scientific explanation for light blue eye shadow!”

“. . . okay, fine, all three dimensions of our scientific training to develop–hair care products?”

They drew themselves up, offended that I would question their raison d’etre.  Also their voulez-vous couchez avec moi.

“I guess you don’t understand,” Gupta said, and there was more than a trace of menace in his voice.  “I came to the Jennister Aniston Intensive Hair Care Clinic with no preconceived notions about what could and couldn’t work in beauty products,” he hissed at me.  “Apparently, you can’t say the same.”

“The same what?”

“That you have no preconceived notions in the realm of beauty products, the mission to which everyone at JAIHC but you has dedicated his life, his fortune, his sacred honor,” Chin continued.

“The study of what is perhaps the most famous hair on the planet!” Gupta snapped.

“I’m detecting unusually high concentrations of dry, flyaway hair.”

I gulped, and felt a frisson of guilt flow down my spine like a rat scampering along a downspout.  I had, after all, been drawing a paycheck from the Institute for three years, first as an intern, then as a fellow, then as a jolly good fellow.

“Look guys,” I said, trying to placate them.  “I know our haircare products have changed women’s lives–I get that okay?”

“We have a ph imbalance on test subject no. 3914.”

“I’m not sure you do,” Chin said, “but go on.”

“I know a woman who’s unhappy with her hair can suffer from depression, anxiety, heartbreak of psorias and yellow waxy buildup.”

“But you don’t seem to understand that our haircare products literally change women’s lives!” Chin said with emphasis.

“But what you guys don’t understand,” I said–and I meant it–“is that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.”

“Now that,” said Gupta, “is scientific heresy.”

“No it’s not,” I said, regaining my self-assurance.  “You wanna know why?”

“Why?” they said in unison.

“Because no matter how dramatically you turn around a woman’s problem hair . . .”


“No matter how happy she is with the new look of her locks . . .”


“She’s still not going to out with either of you two dweebs.”

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