Rivalry Isn’t Friendly for Clip, Staple Makers

BOSTON.  As conventioneers emerged from the Bayside Hotel here yesterday morning after weekend-long trade association gatherings, there was more than the usual jostling for cabs at curbside caused by an urge to return home.  “It was like a rugby scrum,” said long-time doorman Al DiBennideto.  “Usually we only see that kind of infighting when the American Library Association is in town and a scuffle breaks out between the Dewey Decimal gang and the Library of Congress thugs.”

convention

The source of the conflict was a scheduling snafu that booked two competing and conflicting groups at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center at the same time; the National Staple Products Association in Exhibit Hall A, and the Paper Clip Manufacturers of America in Exhibit Hall B.

“Those two groups, they really don’t like each other,” says Assistant Director of Exhibition Space Michael “Mickey” O’Reilly.  “They’re like the cattle and sheep farmers in the old westerns,” he says, thinking back to the television cowboy shows of his youth.  “They’re basically in the same line of business, and yet they’re fierce competitors.”

convention1
Sexy, no?

 

The market for staples and paper clips has shrunk dramatically since the invention of the desktop computer in 1975, according to office supply historian Milton Gabwertz of the New England College of Business.  “Prior to that time a young man or woman could expect to handle a million paper clips during a four-decade career, and staple a comparable number of documents,” he says.  “Today kids use paper clips to dig crud out of their ears, and some of younger girls we hire have staples in their noses for some reason.”

convention2

The natural friction that close proximity brings was exacerbated when the two groups unknowingly adopted similar slogans for their confabs this year; the staple group chose “Staples: Holding America Together for 150 years” while the clip crowd came up with “Paper Clips: We Keep Important Stuff Together.”  “In hindsight, we should have asked them both to submit marketing materials in advance,” says Deputy Convention Commissioner Jack Halloran.  “We were too busy counting the days until our pensions max out I guess.”

An uneasy détente is achieved at the taxi stand as members of the two groups go their separate ways, trying their best to ignore each other, with just an occasional jibe breaking the steely science.  “Hey Fred,” one clip partisan says in a stage whisper to a colleague, “when Microsoft wanted an image for an attachment to an email, did they choose a staple, or a paper clip?”

His friend begins to laugh and an angry staple advocate is about to throw a punch when a change in the rotating sign outside the facility announces the next group that will convene here, and the two warring factions are united by a common enemy.

“Oh man,” says Ted Frobisher of Upper Peninsula Stapler Co. to Paul Gonsalvo of Buckeye State Clips, “is there anything worse than a binder clip salesman?”

The True Meaning of Presidents Day: Great Deals on New Cars

When I was a boy my mother instilled in me a love of American history.  George Washington was the Father of Our Country, she told me.  Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator.  Ulysses S. Grant could Drink his Entire Cabinet Under the Table, she said, not stinting on the capital letters.  These were the men who made our country great.


Grant:  “Hand me the Presidential bourbon, please.”

 

But just as many of us who came of age in the 60′s learned that there was a darker side to our nation’s glorious past recounted in history books, I came belatedly to learn that there was a more troubling aspect of Presidents Day, the successor by merger to two Presidential birthdays that fall in the month of February.


“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to
trade in their 2010 Mazda MPV minivan . . .”

 

The Presidency, it turns out, while a separate and co-equal branch of Our American Government, was formed for the sole purpose of hawking cars!

It was one score minus five years ago, to sound a Lincolnian note, that the sinister purpose of Presidents Day was revealed to me as I worked late into Halloween Night at a troubled car dealership.  The company’s creditors were at the door, tax liens had been filed by the IRS, and key employees were on the verge of walking out.  “If only,” the owner said, “we can make it to Presidents Day.”


Note how the eye follows you around the dealership when you say “Just looking.”

 

A neophyte in the greasy service bays of the Presidency, I cocked my head to one side, puzzled, like a dog hearing a high-pitched sound inaudible to human ears.  “Why is that?” I asked, all innocent naivete.

“Because,” the dealer said, his grim countenance showing a faint glimmer of hope, “Presidents Day is when we move the most metal.”


“This baby’s loaded with constitutional powers!”

 

“I see,” I said, and indeed I saw, if only dimly.  The President of the United States, while less than a king, is greater than a commission-based showroom salesman.  He is the nation’s Sales-Manager-in-Chief.

As with any conspiracy worthy of the name, the signs were there to see if only you had the key.  Take, for example, Washington’s Farewell Address.  “No man ever left a nobler political testament,” said Henry Cabot Lodge, who drove a Studebaker.  That speech was never actually delivered orally, in much the same manner that you can’t expect a used car salesman to actually read you a vehicle’s repair history.  In addition to warnings against the party system and entangling foreign alliances, Washington laid down fundamental principles that car buyers can profit from 220 years later.


1951 Studebaker

 

“Here, perhaps, I ought to stop,” Washington wrote, after expressing his hope that the administration of every department of the federal government would “be stamped with wisdom and virtue”–the Internal Revenue Service had not yet come into existence.  He then offered “sentiments which are the result of much reflection”:  “A man is not free who is forced to pay for underbody rustproofing, but you should always ask a dealer to throw in free floor mats.”

As for Lincoln, bloviators such as Bill Clinton could have learned from his great but succinct expression of deeply-felt emotion, The Gettysburg Address.  Only 269 words in length, it honors the doleful circumstances of the day while placing them in their larger historical context.  “But, in a larger sense,” Lincoln said, “we can not dedicate…we can not consecrate…we can not hallow the oil-stained ground on which the decrepit Honda Civic you have offered as trade-in rests.  My sales manager has consecrated it far above its Blue Book value, whose final offer is beyond my poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget the deal that I’m offering you on this low-mileage, one-owner, fully-loaded cream puff, which was previously owned by an agnostic, who only used it drive to church.”


Would you buy a used car from this man?

 

The United States government sold off its last shares in General Motors in 2013, closing the books on a transaction in which it lost $10.5 billion dollars, but freeing up precious space on the lot for new inventory.  President Trump is the new Sales-Manager-in-Chief, ready to close a deal if you’re ready to buy a car–today.

Be sure and get the lifetime powertrain warranty.

Fighting Low Ratings, NPR Adopts NBA 24-Second Clock

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts.   Bob Zukoff, producer of the weekly radio show “The Creative Mind”, fidgets nervously as Amy Weber, a hammer dulcimer player and poetess who is one of tonight’s guests, strolls into the studios of WGBH, the local National Public Radio outlet.  “Looks like trouble,” he says.


Multi-talented

The show’s host, Jim Viebeck, welcomes Amy and, after a simple question–“How would you describe your creative process?”–Zukoff’s fears are borne out.

“I take every aspect of my daily existence–composting, recycling aluminum cans, cleaning out the kitty box–and I transform it into art in every media I work in,” she says with a self-absorption that one would almost call conceited.  “Like for example, the other day I ran over a squirrel, and I’m going to take the horrible sound it made and incorporate it into a new piece I’m writing by dragging a grapefruit knife across my dulcimer,” she explains.  “But I also want to work out the onomatopeia–more of a skluntch than a crunch–for a poem I’m working on–‘Unintentional Road Kill’.”


Life is short, art is long.

 

Station manager Marilee Hudson watches the phone bank set up to take calls for the station’s pledge drive go dead, as tote bags, golf umbrellas and even boxed sets of “Mr. Bean” television episodes go begging.


Mr. Bean:  Even he couldn’t stem the outgoing tide.

 

“We really needed to do something,” she notes.  “We have a $200,000 deficit and if the Northeast loses any more seats in Congress they’re going to turn us into a country-and-western station.”


Batik print:  The squirrel’s in there somewhere.

 

Weber is about to launch into a description of a squirrel-themed batik print she is working on when a buzzer goes off and Zukoff uses the interruption to retake the microphone.  “Sorry Amy,” he says politely.  “You didn’t get to the point in 24 seconds so you lose possession to our next guest, cultural historian Richard Archer.”


James “Manifest Destiny” Polk

 

Archer takes off on an up-tempo exposition of the connection between import duties during the administration of President James K. Polk and the explosive growth of square-dancing as a source of American social capital in the 1950’s.


“Swing your partner, do-si-do, allemand left, get off her toe.”

Hudson is pleased as she sees the switchboard light up again.  “You get more transition points from a fast-paced show,” she notes with approval.


Hudson:  “Yes, I just woke up from a nap–why do you ask?”

On the surface, there would appear to be little connection between the high-IQ programming offered by public radio and the tattoed, low-post thugs of the NBA, but Hudson disagrees.  “We’re both in the entertainment business, and we both need to keep pace with our audience,” she says.  “If the NBA hadn’t switched to the 24-second rule the highlight of All-Star Weekend would be the Dentu-Creme Two-Handed Set Shot Competition.”


“Hey, dawg–I heard you on ‘All Things Considered’ yesterday.”

As the show comes to an end host Viebeck seems pleased with the new format.  “I think that history will look back on the advent of the 24-second rule and rank it with the signing of the Magna Carta, Gutenberg’s development of movable type and the invention of the Salad Shooter,” he says with excitement.

“The history of the human race is one of continual innovation as man-and-womankind strive to reach an ever-receding horizon through technology that seeks to complement and at the same time extend our reach to the outer limits of our grasp . . .” he continues, before he is cut off by the sound of a buzzer.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Genteel Crowd: It’s So Much More Fun Being Vulgar.”

The Hip-Hop League of Nations

     Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin popped up on a music TV show surrounded by rappers. 

                                         The Boston Herald

I guess it all started–like so many other things–with Barack Obama.  Da man was the first to harness the power of hip hop for political purposes with will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” video.  Pretty soon every third-rate head of state had to have his or her own rapper, which is where me–Sound E-Fex–and my homey BackWurdz come in.  We’s headed to Da East Side of New Yawk to offer our services to Da Diplomats of Da World.  We can’t be lettin’ no waffle-puffin’ Russian punks muscle in on our business.

We drive up to da UN and park on the street.  Wurdz starts to put some money in the meter but I stop him cold.

“Don’t you know nothin’?” I ask, incredulous.  “When you work for the UN, you don’t pay for parking!”

“You don’t?” he asks.  It’s his turn to be incredulous.  We’s like that with each other–we got plenty of incredulity between us, so we take turns wif it.

“Hell no,” I say.  “We gonna have diplomatic immunity.  Once we’re hired, we can do anything we want and get away with it.”

Anything?”

“Yeah, man.  We can drive drunk and kill people, solicit sex from fourteen-year-olds, stop paying rent . . .”

“So workin’ for da UN’s gonna make us the baddest rappers they ever was?”

“You got dat right.”

We make our way into the building and ask where the employment office is.  Tha guard points us down the hall, where we find a paper-shufflin’ UN bureaucrat behind da desk.

“Excuse us,” I say.  “We wanna apply for diplomat jobs.”

The guy looks up from his “Russian Ladies Want to Marry You” catalog.  “Well, we have a number of job openings,” he says.  “Did you check the postings at http://unjobs.org?”


“At the United Nations, we have a variety of high-paying, do-nothing job opportunities!”

 

We’re silent–I hate being caught off-guard by tough interview questions.  “Uh, no,” I say finally.

“You might be interested in this vacancy,” he says.  “We’re looking for an International Consultant for Updating Ecological Assessment of Livanjsko Polje.”

“Where’s dat?” I ask.

“Not far from the Adriatic Sea, in the back country of Split, lies quiet the Livanjsko polje,” he says, waxing rhapsodic as he reads.

“You want dat one?” I say to Wurdz.

“Naw–you can have it.  I don’t want to be operatin’ no waxer.”

“What else you got?” I say to Da Pasty-Faced One.

“Well, you might be interested in this one–Gender Expert – PRP Phase II, Dhaka.

“What’s da duration uh dat one?” I ask one.

“Here, take a look,” he says as he turns his laptop around for me to see.

“Initially ONe Year with POssibility of Extension,” it says.  “I like what they done with them letters,” I say.  “Random capitalizing is very hip-hop, like in my rap nickname.”

“Man, that’s in Bangladesh,” Wurdz says sharply.

“So?” I sez.

“That’s not just an impoverished country, it’s one of the worst rock songs of all time!”

The UN guy nods his head.  “It’s like Oscar Wilde said,” he adds.  “‘All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling’–that’s why there are so many bad poems about John Coltrane.”

Wurdz starts to sing in imitation of George Harrison’s whiny, nasal voice–“Bang-ala-desh, Bang-ala-desh!”–but I cut him off and tell him to shut da crunk up.


Coltrane:  “Please stop writing bad poems about me.  What do you think I am–a seagull?”

 

“How about Peacekeepers?  UN Peacekeepers are welcomed around the world!” Mr. Human Resources suggests.

Wurdz and I look at each other, den just bust out laffin’.  “When we go into troubled areas,” he says, “we don’t keep no peace–we kick ass!”

“Yeah.  ‘Sides, we wanna work right here at headquarters,” I say.

“You don’t nevah want to work in da branch office someplace like Burkina Faso,” Wurdz adds with a menacing tone.  “It stifles yo chances fo advancement.”

“Don’t you have any openings for hip-hop translators?” I ask, growing frustrated.

“Not since we signed up for rapdict.org,” he says.  “It’s the leading on-line rap translation engine–and it’s free.”

“I ain’t workin’ fo free,” Wurdz says.

“Well–that’s about all we have,” da man says.  “Unless . . .”

“‘Lest what?” I ask.

“Hmm,” he says.  “Here’s a new opening just popped up on my screen.”


“Ah-ha-ha–welcome, homies!”

 

“What is it?” Wurdz asks.

“Ban Ki-moon is looking for two rap sidekicks.”

“Ban Ki-moon? Who dat?”

“He’s the Secretary-General,” the human resources guy sez.  “He wants to complete his posse.”

“Oh–sorta like da Wu-Tang Clan?”

“Yes.  It will be called the ‘Ban Ki-moon Clan.’”

I looked at Wurdz, and he looked back at me.  “When do we start!” we yelled together.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Our Friends, the Rappers” and “The United Nations Puts the UN in FUN!”

Trump Trims Travel Ban, Bars Canada Goose Coats from U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Taking the advice of calmer heads in his inner circle, President Donald Trump today cut back his much-maligned ban on travel from predominantly-Muslim countries in favor of a narrower restriction on the importation of “Canada Goose Arctic Program” coats, which sell at prices in excess of $1,000 on the strength of a stitched-on quasi-official-looking patch on one sleeve.

goose
“There’s one now–get her!”

 

“Who is Canada Goose Arctic Program, clandestine paramilitary outfit?” Trump tweeted to his 781 million followers on Twitter.  “We should not let them in our country–Sad!”

Liberal nitpickers immediately piled on, noting that Canada geese are so-named not because they are Canadian, but because they were invented by John Canada, who was either a real or a fictional ornithologist.  “I can’t believe such an ignorant man is our President!” fumed Sandra Wallack of Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts.  “Even my fifth-grade son knows the alternative facts about Canada geese.”

goose5
Low-fashion Canada goose.

 

Trump is the first President to elevate questions of fashion to a cabinet-level issue since Harry Truman, a failed haberdasher, became President following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  “While I deplore the President’s continual assaults on our civil liberties, I applaud his efforts to raise awareness of the harm that a fashion faux pas can cause in an upscale yuppie watering hole,” said Diana Urstenbock, editor of Post-Adolescent, the first magazine to be made up entirely of advertising.  “Canada Goose is the ultimate ‘look-I’m-rich-but-I-dress-utilitarian’ label, even better than Eddie Bauer.”

goose2
“Wearing this coat makes me feel practical–in a very affluent way.”

 

Trump is the first president to carry the “football” that contains the nation’s nuclear “fashion codes,” and is said to have warned hostile powers such as North Korea and Nordstrom’s over recent acts of aggression.  “It’s really scary what he could do,” said Avril Lemaistre, a buyer for H&M.  “All he has to do is wear an article of clothing and boom–it’s instantly out of style.”

Mission of Mercy Brings Much-Needed Letters to Vowel-Starved Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan.  As a C-40A  military transport plane touched down on the runway at Bishkek International Airport here today, tears streamed down Askr Bakyv’s weather-beaten cheeks.  “Me–I am too old for help now,” he says.  “But perhaps it is not too late for them,” he continues as he takes in his son and two daughters with a wave of his hand.  “They are the future.”


The precious cargo arrives.

 

Kyrgyzstan, a land-locked country in Central Asia, has survived since 201 B.C. on an orthographic diet based largely on the vowel “y,” the least nutritious form of this common speech sound.  “It was fine for my father, and his father before him,” Bakyv says.  “In today’s world, it is not enough.”


“Daddy, Gyzk ate all the y’s!”

 

The plight of Bakyv and other Kyrgyzstanians like him is beginning to attract the sympathies of western hearts through the efforts of rising Hollywood starlet Victoria Caine, who has made three trips into this mountainous terrain since 2015 and has filed papers to adopt a Kyrgyzstanian orphan, Klyzk, an adorable two year-old boy.  “We are so fortunate in America,” Caine says in a voice tinged with both sadness and anger.  “We have vowels we don’t even use.  Whenever I hear someone say ‘I shouldn’t have a second piece of cake’ I tell them ‘That silent ‘o’ and ‘i’ you just threw away could make a little boy or girl in Kyrgyzstan very happy.”


Victoria Caine: She’s made the plight of vowel-deprived Kyrgyzstans her own.

 

Kyrgyzstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union in August of 1991, and by December of that year it was free of seven decades of Russian rule.  “Eveything happened so quickly,” says Kurmnbk Kznetsov, a reporter for the Bishkek Daily Glz at the time.  “The Russians were just sitting there with an ‘o,’ an ‘i’ an ‘e’ and even a ‘u’ in the words ‘Soviet Union.’  God what we could do with those letters today.”


Kyrgyz Republic: It’s in there somewhere

 

Kyrgyzstans are a hardy people who must endure extreme temperatures and winds off the steppes that reach over a hundred miles an hour, forcing families to secure what few vowels they have against the elements.  “I tell Gyzk–he’s my oldest–’Get your a’s in the tent, the wolf is coming,’” Bakyv says, lapsing into the figurative speech that characterizes his nation’s rgyszs, a six-line poetic form that resembles a cross between a Japanese haiku and a six-pack of beer.


Kok Boru All-Star Game

 

The Kyrgyzstans are a nation of horsemen, as their native pastimes amply demonstrate.  The national sport is Kok Boru, meaning “blue wolf,” a game in which two teams attempt to drive the headless carcass of a goat into their opponent’s goal.  Other popular sports include Tyiyn, picking a coin off the ground from horseback at full gallop, and Kkyrysh, riding a horse through the express lane of a yrgysh, or convenience store, with more than twelve items in one’s saddlebags.


“You are so generous to donate six vowels–we really appreciate it!”

 

Caine, the Hollywood actress, says she will make her support of the Kyrgyzstan people personal this year when she donates an “a” and an “i” to the cause in exchange for a “y” that was removed from an elderly Kyrgyzstan man who died in an avalanche.  “I really don’t need to be ‘Victoria’ like I’m some kind of queen or something,” she says with a self-effacing smile.  “I’m shortening my name to ‘Tory.’”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”

Several Ways of Choosing a Wife

Here’s a helpful suggestion for choosing a wife:
Don’t pick from the bin that says “Tragic view of life.”
Sure, she’ll share your love of Friedrich Nietzsche,
But I find that kind to be overly prietzsche.

While you wile away hours talking Schopenhauer
You could be outside fertilizing the flowers.
If I had to choose between that and Paul Ricoeur
I’d rather get fresh air spreading manure.

On the other hand, if you’re the type who enjoys conviviality,
Get yourself a beauty queen, or at least a Miss Congeniality.
I tried that once, it was draining all right,
When you have to keep smiling the whole freaking night.

If you told her a joke, she’d say “You’re a stitch!”
You’d never be tempted to call her a–witch.
But there are limits to one’s appetite for pleasantry;
After a while you want to go back to the peasantry.

No, the best choice of all is like Chinese food,
Sweet mixed with sour, refined with crude.
Outgoing/reserved, changing like seasons,
Keeping you on your toes, at least within reason.

I’m happy to say, on this Valentine’s Day
Watching guys in tights, dancing modern ballet
That I’ve married a woman, by a stroke of luck,
Who can walk out and say, “Well, that totally sucked.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head (and Other Wayward Women).”