BOSTON. This city with its many colleges and universities is a mecca for young men and women looking for that special someone to spend the rest of their lives with. “I’m having a blast with my single friends right now,” says Caitlin Morgan, a senior at Boston University, “but I’m always on the lookout for Mr. Right.”
“Mint waxed floss–mint waxed floss!”
The high level of education among young adults here means there is less emphasis on the bar scene as a source of dating and mating prospects, however, and there are numerous social groups that cater to singles with specific interests. “There are clubs for tall people, outdoorsy types, and bridge players–even bowlers of Armenian descent,” says Myra Florin, founder of a local dating service.
Playmate of the Month
But until recently there has not been a place for Lyle Mason, a graduate student in physics at MIT, and Colleen Harrigan, an editorial assistant at a textbook publisher. Their niche? “We’re dental hygiene freaks,” says Mason as he pulls a dispenser of cinnamon-flavored dental floss from his shirt pocket.
“Hold that thought–I’ll be there in a minute–or ten.”
Oral hygiene fanatics have historically been at a disadvantage on the dating scene because of perceptions that they lack spontaneity. “It’s a real turn-off for me if I’m ready to hop into bed with a guy and he tells me first he has to rinse with anti-plaque solution, then brush, then floss, then use mouthwash,” says Bonnie Truman as she sips from a Cosmopolitan at Rise, a hot singles bar. “By the time he’s swirling whitener around in his mouth I’ve lost interest.”
“That was great–I’m gonna go floss again.”
So Lyle, Colleen and other like-minded flossers formed “Fresh Kiss”, a members-only social network with rigorous entrance requirements. “No smokers, no pepperoni, and don’t even think about applying if you don’t own a tongue scraper,” says Amanda Binshoff, the club’s president-elect.
In addition to fun social events the group supports research to find a cure for halitosis, the debilitating oral disease that they say strikes three out of every ten Americans. “It’s really an equal-opportunity crippler,” says Binshoff. “Rich people get it from eating brie, and poor people from eating pig’s knuckles.”
Walk for Fresh Breath team.
Fresh Kiss hopes to raise a million dollars with its first “Walk for Fresh Breath,” a fund-raising event in which donors solicit pledges from friends and co-workers for every mile they walk. “If we can raise awareness of halitosis by tying up traffic in Boston on a nice spring day,” says Binshoff, “it will be worth the suffering we endure from the bad breath of all the drivers screaming at us.”
WESTLAND, Mass. In this leafy suburb of Boston fall weekends are dominated by youth soccer, and Department of Public Works employee Paul Quichette is dreading it. “You’d think some of these families lived in a pig sty,” he says as he pokes at a discarded orange rind using a stick with a nail embedded in one end. “I didn’t go to community college for two semesters to learn how to do this.”
The overtime the town must pay and the damage to lawn mowers from plastic bottles in the spring forced a decision by the Board of Selectmen to resort to tougher measures than signs posted around soccer fields this season. “I’d heard great things about the response of the Yamaguchi-guma,” Japan’s largest yakuza family, “to the Kobe earthquake in Japan,” says Town Manager Ellen Benoit-Walker. “After a Sunday of twelve back-to-back games, we certainly have a disaster on our hands.”
Yakuza are members of traditional organized crime syndicates in Japan. While police characterize them as boryokudan, a term that means “violence group,” the yakuza consider themselves ninkyo dantai, or “chivalrous organizations.”
Like the Mafia, yakuza are organized along hierarchical lines that replicate familial and political structures. While they derive their revenue from illicit activities such as gambling and prostitution, they have a penchant for order that makes them an outlaw alternative when civil society breaks down, in much the same manner that La Cosa Nostra keeps litter and crime–by people other than themselves–at a minimum in Italian urban neighborhoods on the East coast.
A squad of two gokudo patrols the perimeter of Centennial Field here, watching the girls U-10 action on twelve reduced-size soccer pitches surrounded by orange cones. Their irezumi–gaudy tattoos–draw stares from suburban parents who are used to seeing such grotesque physical embellishments only on boyfriends their elder daughters bring home from liberal arts colleges.
“Hey,” barks Hisayuchi Machii at a girl with blonde pigtails. “Pick up your Evian bottle!”
The girl jumps, unused to such a harsh tone of reproof since her mother uses a cleaning crew composed of illegal aliens to pick up around the house.
“And put it in the trash container–over there,” seconds Jiro Kiyota.
The girl complies, and the men nod their approval. “This is correct, young kobun,” a term that means “foster child” and refers to one who has pledged allegiance to an oyabun, or foster parent within a yakuza family. Seventy percent of yakuza are descendants of Burakumin, outcasts of Japan’s feudal era who were consigned to tasks considered tainted with impurity, and so trash collection is hard-wired into their genetic makeup.
There is a shout on the field as Emily Neidermeyer, the star of the Fred’s Hardware Comets, scores a goal, but the momentary burst of euphoria is chilled when a father from the opposite sideline approaches Nancy Thibeault, the team’s coach, and makes clear his displeasure with what he regards as illegal play.
“You can’t hang back in three-on-three Kinderkick because there’s no goalie,” he says, growing red in the face. “I’m gonna report you to the league.”
The two men have only been working the sidelines for a month, but yakuza form strong bonds of attachment based on jingi, their code of loyalty and respect as a way of life. They exchange glances, then spring into action.
“Excuse me, Wellesley-san,” Kiyota says. “I believe the Code of Sportsmanship of the Metrowest Girls Soccer League requires you to direct your anger towards the referee, not your opponents’ coach.
“It is Rule 4.06,” adds Machii, with a menacing tone. “That’s at Tab 4 of the white, three-ring binder provided to all coaches at the beginning of the season.”
The Wellesley coach, who was red-faced just a moment before, turns ash-grey when he sees the traditional Japanese swords borne by the yakuza.
“You’re . . . uh . . . right,” says the man. “My bad.”
“That was not much of an apology,” says Kiyota. “You must do more.”
“Like what?” the man says. “Get down on my knees?”
“No, nothing like that,” says Machii. “Hold out your left hand.”
The man’s face breaks out in an antic expression, as if he is going to have his hand smacked with a ruler. “Okay,” he says with a goofy grin. “Now what?”
“This,” says Kiyota, as he swings his sword down on the man’s pinky, cutting off the tip in the penance ritual of yubitsume, Japanese for “finger shortening,” also known as yubi o tobasu or “flying finger.”
It’s in there somewhere.
“Jesus Christ!” the man screams in pain, and a chorus of “Ewww” is heard from the Westland bench, where the severed body part has landed in a Yoplait strawberry yogurt.
Machii approaches the girls and removes the finger tip from the container, then presents it to Coach Thibeault. “Here is your iki yubi” or “living finger,” he says. “This asshole now accepts you as his kumicho.”
“What does that mean?” the owner of the suddenly-shorter finger asks.
“It may be girls soccer,” Kiyota says, “but she is now your godfather.”
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”
The great white shark is “one of the more charismatic, popular sharks in the world.” Greg Skomal, Senior Biologist, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
The Boston Herald
I was walking along the beach in Hyannisport, enjoying the warmth of the fall sun, when I spotted a basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, lying propped up on one fin, staring out at the Atlantic.
It’s the time of year when folks on Cape Cod are more outgoing since the tourists are gone, so I sidled up to him.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Okay,” he muttered. I could tell he wanted to be left alone, but the Cape has a fairly high suicide rate, and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t so depressed that he’d try and end it all. If he made it to the Sagamore Bridge, the most popular place around here to commit self-slaughter, to wax Shakespearean for a moment, he’d tie up traffic for hours and I wanted to drive home around 2.
“Just okay?” I asked, hoping to get him to snap out of his melancholy reverie.
He let out a sigh. “‘Okay’ is exaggerating,” he said finally. “Pour some water on my gills, would you?”
I picked up a styrofoam Dunkin’ Donuts cup and filled it with water. “Yuk,” he said. “French vanilla.”
So what’s the matter?” I asked.
“Did you see The Herald the other day?” he asked. We’re still a two-paper town; sharks read The Herald, dolphins read The Globe.
“It’s the first thing I read in the morning,” I said. “Was it something on the op-ed page?”
“No, a news item. Some ‘Senior Biologist’–whatever that means–said that the great white is one of the ‘more charismatic, popular sharks in the world.’ I nearly sprayed my chum all over the sports page.”
“You’re exaggerating,” I said. “I happen to know you’re a passive filter feeder whose diet consists exclusively of zooplankton, small fish and invertebrates–you don’t eat chum.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so blunt, but sometimes that’s the best way to handle a mopey shark.
He was silent for a moment, except for a hissing sound that put me on notice that an explosion was on its way.
“Goddamn it!” he shouted, slapping his fin on the wet sand. “I can’t catch a break. The whale shark is the biggest shark–I’m number two–and now I find out the great white is Mr. Popularity, Mr. Charisma.”
Miss Popularity, board game once owned by my sister.
“The guy didn’t say the great white was the most charismatic or popular shark. And I can think of lots of sharks with less charisma than you.”
“Like who?” he asked.
“Well, to be completely bipartisan about it, there’s Rahm Emanuel for the Democrats. And Ted Cruz for the Republicans.”
I let him stew for a moment, then began as quietly as I could. “You know, being charismatic and popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
He rolled over and gave me a look; receding hairline, big forehead, nerdy glasses. “And how exactly would you know?”
“How do you think? I read about it in a book.”
“Which one–‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’?” he asked with a snort.
“Did you know that Dale Carnegie was born in Sedalia, Missouri–the town where I grew up?” I said, with no small amount of misplaced pride.
“Who cares?” the shark said. He was really in the dumps–I decided to stop being so flip for once.
“No, it was Max Weber’s On Charisma and Institution Building. Did you ever read it?”
“I’m not a big reader. The only reason I finished Jaws was some doofus threw it at me when I got too close to his kayak.”
“That was a very successful book,” I said. “You can’t begrudge the guy a little positive p.r.”
“Hey–look me up in Wikipedia. It says I’m a ‘cosmopolitan species, found in all the world’s temperate oceans.’“
“Well, you’ve got that going for you. On the other hand,” I said in a voice that reeked of reasonableness, “the great white has been glorified in movies and ESPN 2 fishing shows.”
“Big freaking deal,” he said.
I thought his defensive tone gave him away. “You’re just jealous,” I said.
“Jealous?” he said. “You think I’m jealous of a mackerel shark that’s so dumb it can’t tell the difference between a boogie board and a seal?”
“Here’s the deal with charisma,” I said. “Weber said that in a democracy it’s difficult to maintain because it’s based on short-lived mass emotion.”
“So that would explain Biden’s approval ratings right now.” he mused. I was glad to see that he wasn’t so depressed that he’d stopped paying attention to current events.
“You got it. You can’t help but like the guy, but the Kool-Aid’s worn off for some of his cult-like followers.”
“The New York Times turned on him the other day,” he said. I was impressed–not that many sharks read the Times on the Cape because they add a dollar to the cover price for transit costs.
“And some comedians are starting to mock him.”
“Get out. Like who?”
“Not just Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, too,” I said, then was silent for a moment. “Maybe you should stop worrying about other sharks, and work on your own personality.”
He rolled over and looked at me. “You think so?”
“Just a suggestion,” I said. “Every summer you float into Boston Harbor and people panic even though you’re harmless, all because you come on like you’re going to bite the ass off of every bikini-bottomed babe on the beach.”
“I’ll give you props for alliteration,” he said. “But the great white is scary. How did he get to be so popular?”
“What works for him may not work for you,” I said. “You’ve got to be yourself.”
I started to fill the cup again, but he spoke up. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“Nope–all set. I think I’m going to swim over to the fish pier, entertain the kids a bit. Give me a push, would you?”
“Okay,” I said.
I got him back into the water and he turned to say goodbye. “This has been very helpful.”
“Where’d you pick up the shallow, pseudo-psychology that reduces apparently complex problems to simple answers composed almost entirely of words of one syllable.”
“Sixties hit machine Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stone, that’s where,” I said, not missing a beat.
“Yeah–‘Different strokes for different folks.’”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”
The weekend is my time to give back to my community and my favorite institution within it–our local public library. I remember when I was young how much I loved Story Hour on Saturday morning. Kids would assemble in the library basement to hear a story read to us by Miss Sharp, the lavendar-scented bibliophile who was the gentle cop of the Children’s Room beat; shushing us when our volume exceeded a library-voice level, looking the other way when we returned “The Witchcraft of Salem Village” two days late, cutting one’s chewing gum out of one’s sister’s hair when one stuck it there. She was special.
“A book is your friend, you wouldn’t wipe a booger on your friend–please don’t wipe your booger on a book.”
I’m not reading a story today, however. My job is to pick up Barney the Purple Dinosaur and his first wife Baby Bop, who will be participating in a “Use Your Imagination!” session for the kids of our town. If you have children under the age of say thirty-five I’m sure you know Barney, the sickly sweet tyrannosaurus rex who first appeared on public television in 1992.
Barney’s 50 in t-rex years this summer, and his career has been on the skids since his show went on “hiatus” in 2009. Since then, he’s joined the ranks of the “working famous”; actors from cancelled sitcoms, one-hit wonder bands and comedians who’ve been on The Tonight Show a few times but haven’t made it big. For a while he was able to eke out a pretty good living doing so-called “skip and wave” shows at big venues like the Boston Garden, but it was a grind. Two performances a day, then hit the road to Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, or wherever he was scheduled to appear next.
But those gigs looked good when he was downgraded to the “B” circuit in smaller auditoriums like The Centrum in Worcester, Mass. The money wasn’t as good, and he was forced to scale back, selling his condo in Cambridge, Mass. right across the river from the studios at WGBH, the public TV station in Boston that gave him his first break in educational show biz. He now lives in a crummy two-bedroom apartment in Allston, a grimy neighborhood in Boston that is best described as a college student ghetto.
I pull up to Barney’s “triple-decker,” a somewhat run-down example of the three-floored apartment buildings that make up much of Boston’s older housing stock. On the front porch I see Baby Bop, the thirty-five year old triceratops who rose to fame with Barney, then divorced him when his personal life spun out of control. They have recently reconciled, but “Babe,” as we all knew her back in the day, says she’s not getting hitched again.
“Hey,” she says as she comes around to my driver’s side window. “I wanted to get to you before you rang the doorbell.”
“He’s hung over again?”
“Yep. He’s having a cup of black coffee and a donut. He needs to shave, but at least he’s up.”
It’s sad to watch a great artist in decline, but youth is fleeting, and with it the fickle favors of pre-school fans.
The other Purple One.
I look up and see The Purple One–not Prince, Barney–come out the front door. He’s always been a trouper–I shouldn’t have doubted for a second that he’d make it.
“Hey Barn–what’s shakin’?” I say.
In happier times.
He winces visibly. “Keep your voice down, would you?” he says as he gets in the “shotgun” seat for the drive down the Mass Pike.
“You . . . party like it was 1999 last night?” I ask, teasing him gently.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, holding his head.
“We had half a liter of tonic left,” Baby Bop says. “He’s so cheap, he didn’t want it to go flat, so he had three more G&T’s.”
“Ouch. I did that one time, but I was going away for a week. Totally missed my plane the next morning,” I say, trying to commiserate.
“Am I talking to myself, or did you not understand what I said before.”
“Sor-ree!” I say, and drive in silence.
Thankfully, the toll booths on the MassPike have been replaced by electronic toll monitors so Barney doesn’t have to hear me throwing quarters in the metal bucket. When we’re out on the highway, he falls back against his window, sound asleep, and Baby Bop and I have a chance to catch up.
Screwed, just like Barney
“How’s he doing?” I ask.
“Still bitter. He never got a dime’s worth of royalties from the licensing deals.”
“Like all the old doo-wop groups, huh.”
“Yep. I’m trying to hold things together for him, but it’s been hard.”
“You’re a saint,” I say, and she gives my hand a squeeze.
“I love him, what can I say,” she says with lump in her throat.
The big guy stirs as we hit the Weston exit.
“Sorry, pal, I had to change lanes and slow down,” I say.
He grumbles a bit, but he appears refreshed. “I just needed a little cat nap,” he says as he stretches. “What god-forsaken hell hole am I performing in today?”
“You’re not going into the children’s room of my local library with that kind of attitude, you dig?”
“‘You dig?’” Barney says, mocking me in the sing-song hyuck-yuck-yuck voice that is part of his stage shtick. “What are you, a beatnik?”
“Just trying to get my point across,” I say, but I figure it may be time for an intervention. I know from personal experience that there’s nothing that works better with someone who’s slid into cynicism, as I did in my twenties, than to confront them with the facts, as directly as possible. “Why are you so bitter?” I ask.
“Moi–bitter?” he says, a look of offended dignity on his face, but I know it’s just a pose. He knows he’s bitter–and he doesn’t care.
“Who wouldn’t be bitter?” he says after a beat. “‘Use your imagination!’ That’s what I get paid to say, one Saturday story hour after another. But you should take a look at the parents who’ll show up today. If any of them ever used their imagination, they’d call their accountant first to see if it was deductible, then their HMO to see if the imagination is covered in case they sprain it. They so rarely use them, they know they’re out of shape.”
I consider this, and have to admit he has a point. “There’s nothing stopping you from changing your act,” I say. “We have a pretty good library–lots of poetry, both print and audio books. The newer fiction is mainly best-sellers, but you can find the high brow stuff shelved by author in the Literature section.”
“You’re wrong–I returned ‘Invisible Man’ last Saturday–plenty of time to spare.”
He purses his lips as if he’s actually thinking about this, and looks out his window wistfully. “You just may have a point,” he says. “I guess it’s partly my fault, not adapting my act to changing tastes over the years.” He pulls out a pack of Newport Lites and pushes in my cigarette lighter.
“I really wish you wouldn’t smoke in my car,” I say.
“We’re on local roads, I’ll roll my window down,” he says as he fires up. “It relaxes me before I go on.”
I turn onto the road by the reservoir, hang a left past the community farm, then pull into the parking lot.
“This is it. It’s not Madison Square Garden, but the road back has to start somewhere,” I say.
“Okay,” he says, and he is transformed suddenly from the crabby mope he’s been for most of the ride into the consummate performer that he is. Think Elvis in Vegas, Richard Pryor on Sunset Strip. I can tell from his stride past the book return box that his hair’s on fire and he’s ready to burn the place down, as we say in show biz.
We stop in the vestibule where we’re met by Patricia Dineen, head librarian. She can’t restrain herself from the sort of star-struck gushing that Barney gets wherever he goes. “I’ve been a big fan of yours forever,” a dubious claim since she’s a fifty-year-old who would have been in grad school when Barney first came on the air. “Would you mind autographing something special for me?”
“Sure,” Barney says. He holds out his hand, expecting maybe a VHS tape of “Barney & Friends,” when he sees Dineen lift up her blouse to reveal a white camisole.
Barney looks at me, and I shrug my shoulders with a look that says “The customer’s always right,” but Baby Bop intervenes.
“I have some autographed 8 1/2 x 11 glossies–take one,” she says sharply, then pushes Barney forward to a waiting crowd of fifty or so infants and toddlers.
“Yay–Barney!” one little boy screams, touching off a near riot. The kids crowd around, and it is all that Baby Bop and I can do to form a flying wedge and push our way up to the dais. I feel like a Hell’s Angel at Altamont.
“I love you . . . you love me!”
Barney launches right into his act, assisted by a boom box with his sound track that Baby Bop takes with them on the road. He has the kids clapping and singing along and, after he brings his big hit “I Love You, You Love Me” to a conclusion, he turns it down a notch for the spoken word segment–the important part of the program.
“You know boys and girls, you don’t need a TV or video games to have fun.”
“We don’t?” a precocious little boy down front asks.
“Nope. Each one of you has something more precious than any electronic gizmo, right in . . . here.” He taps his big purple head on the temple.
“What is it?” a girl asks.
“It’s your imagination. You can use your imagination to go anywhere you want. When your friends are off skiing at Gstaad over Christmas break, or on Nantucket for the whole month of August, and you’re stuck here in town–just use your imagination and it will take you anywhere you want to go!”
The kids are spellbound. Nobody’s ever put it to them this way–no one’s ever even taken the time to try. They hustle around like FedEx delivery men from soccer, to piano lessons, to hockey, to Scouts, to play dates. Nobody’s ever told them they can sit on their butts like zoned-out drugheads and just . . . imagine things.
And then comes the turning point–the moment when Barney transformed himself from the Jerry Lewis of the kids comedy circuit, all sappy, treacly schmalz, into its Lenny Bruce. “And you,” he says, turning to the parents. “You can use your imaginations too, if you have any left after all the getting and spending you do.” I’m impressed. I didn’t know Barney knew any Wordsworth.
The moms and dads in the back row shift uncomfortably, not used to having their lifestyles put under the microscope by a fuzzy purple dinosaur. “When have you ever picked up something totally crazy, like Edgar Allan Poe, when you came to the library with your kids? No, it’s stupid sports biographies for the men, and for the women, chick lit that’s one step up–and a very little one at that–from bodice rippers.”
There is a murmur of dissent from the adults, but no one wants to prolong the discomfort, so they say nothing that can be heard down front.
“Try a little J-K Huysmans, fer Christ sake,” Barney says. “That’s using your imagination. Or how about Les Fleurs du Mal, by Baudelaire. That’ll rock your world in a way that Jodi Picoult won’t.”
I had no idea that the Barn Man had become such a litterateur in his years of obscurity. I guess he had more time to read without a one-hour episode to tape every week.
“Yes, Barney, thank you for calling attention to our somewhat underutilized Literature collection,” Dineen says, trying to pour some oil on troubled waters. “Why don’t I lead the parents on a tour of the stacks while you continue with the children?” She may be star-struck, but she’s still got her sensible shoes on.
The parents nod in agreement and follow the librarian out of the room, and Barney quickly downshifts to the happy-talk patter he’s perfected over the past two decades.
Baby Bop gives me a look of relief, and we step outside into the sunlight.
“Does he go off like that very often?” I ask.
“Not since he’s back on his medication,” she says.
“Nesquik Chocolate Milk, in the convenient one-pint Grab ‘n Go bottle.”
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Everyday Noir.”
T.S. Eliot was placed on academic probation while at Harvard and almost flunked out. His final transcript included six C’s and one D.
The Boston Globe
Lab Report, Biology 101, Professor Evarts September 15, 1904
The broad-backed hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.
Please see me after class on Tuesday. The assignment was to write a lab report on the dissection of a frog.
* * *
The frog lies on his greenish back
I fondly and I truly wish
That I could take this class at Radcliffe in a coed section.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells.
Thanks for the invitation, although you don’t make the Undergraduate Verse Society Ice Cream Social and Poetry Slam sound very appealing. When boys court me, they usually ask me to go sit out under the moon in June so they can croon a tune to me–no disgusting images of yucky sick people on examining room tables.
While I would love to accompany you, I notice that we are scheduled to play Vassar in the annual spring “March Madness” women’s half-court basketball tournament, so I will unfortunately be very busy this month. I will of course have to wash my hair and bathe afterwards, and then spend a few weeks recuperating so that I don’t get the fantods. I hope we are not disappointed in the tournament as we have been so often in the past–April is always the cruelest month!
Yours ’til cats kill mountains!
Hermione Stimson, Radcliffe Class of ’06
Introduction to Physics, Section II January 13, 1905
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
I’m afraid this won’t do. I asked for an explication of the Law of Entropy, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I am going to give you a D, and that’s being generous. What is all this stuff about “hollow men” and “stuffed men”? If you don’t like the meal plan you are currently on, talk to the bursar’s office, or there are vending machines with Cracker Jack and jujubes in the basement of your dormitory.
Grishkin is nice; her Russian
Is underlined for emphasis;
Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.
Dear Dean Briggs:
I wish to lodge a complaint against a Harvard man, a Mr. Thomas Stearns Eliot. He has apparently written a nasty quatrain with an a-b-c-b rhyme scheme about me in one of the bathroom stalls at the Widener Library. Because it will many years before women are admitted to Harvard, and even then many more before there will be coed bathrooms, I must ask that you dispatch a custodian to erase it as soon as possible, or write over it if that would be simpler. Might I suggest the following:
I’ve attracted the attentions of one Mr. Eliot,
a fellow from St. Louis, an awful little twit.
He says one day he’ll be a world-renowned poet
but from the stuff he’s cranking out as an undergraduate
you’d certainly never know et.
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”
Facebook devised a system known internally as “X-Check” that exempted certain high-profile users from its rules. Included among those “whitelisted” were soccer star “Neymar,” former President Donald Trump, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and a dog named “Doug the Pug.”
The Wall Street Journal
I don’t know if it’s really true, as I’ve heard, that the more time you spend on social media the more depressed you get, but it’s certainly accurate in my case. Every morning when I check the World Wide Web to see if Hilary Clinton is still covering up pedophile rings operated out of pizza parlors, I find myself low in spirits. Despite getting–on average–46 “friend” requests per day, I feel as if the 1.9 billion or so Facebook users . . . just don’t understand me.
There are, for example, all the people trying to get me to invest in bitcoin. Sorry, I had a coin collection when I was growing up, and that little venture into numismatics earned me exactly one cent per penny–I’m not getting fooled again. Then there are the people who take me literally when I was posting figuratively, and the reverse.
And the women! As protean blues songwriter Willie Dixon once said, “Great Googly Moogly!” They are, without exception, young, nubile and attractive. They are also, again uniformly, not the brightest bulbs on the scoreboard. Their every message to me starts out the same: “Hi! Do you like sex?” I don’t think a woman who asks the sort of question the answer to which is self-evident is going to win a Rhodes Scholarship, if you know what I mean.
But today I found out that, as usual, I’ve been going about things all wrong. Facebook has been running a secret society for the elite, sort of like the Skull & Bones club at Yale. While ordinary schlubs like me and probably you get the dregs of the on-line experience, internationally-known figures in the arts, sports and politics go to the head of the line, like those people who buy first-class plane tickets and are doted on by curvaceous stewardesses who pour them champagne while denying you your constitutional right to drink the quart bottle of malt liquor you thoughtfully brought on board.
As I read down the bi-partisan list of Davos-level celebrities who benefit from this platinum service–Donald Trump on the crazy right, Elizabeth Warren on the dingbat left–my blood began to simmer, but it hit a rolling boil, as the cookbooks say, when my eyes landed on a name that belonged not to a human, but to a dog, and an ugly one at that: Doug the Pug.
I don’t have anything personally against pugs, even though–or perhaps because–one relative of mine by marriage has owned a succession of them. My father-in-law proposed to get one, but as he was in his mid-80s the question arose: who would care for the dog when grandpa died? My mother-in-law said “Well, you would, of course.” To which I said ix-nay on the ug-pay.
My curiosity was piqued, however, so I had to look up this Doug the Pug. Who was he, what had he done to deserve special treatment, while humans like me toil for our allotted time on earth and end up obscure, a subject for Thomas Gray’s “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard.” Getting in touch with Doug was accomplished in a matter of seconds: He had (when I checked) 5,852,349 Facebook followers, and I quickly became the 5,852,350th.
Doug, as it turns out, while he is the self-proclaimed “King of Pop Culture,” was happy to engage with a Commoner of Pop Culture like myself. Here is our back-and-forth using Facebook’s annoying Messenger app:
Me: Doug, if you have a moment, I have a few questions about how I can attain your exalted X-Check status.
Doug: Sure, but it’s a lot harder than getting TSA Precheck.
Me: What exactly did you do to qualify?
Doug: I made people . . . happy.
Me: Ah, I see. That’s going to be a problem for me.
Me: I’m not a, how you say, “people person.”
Doug: Well, that’s not something I can fix.
Me: I know. Still, there are divisive X-Checkers like Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren. Can’t they make room for one more abrasive, irritating personality–like me?
Doug: Those two went out there and earned it. They shook hands, ate whatever foodstuffs were offered to them during their campaigns, told obvious lies and otherwise ingratiated themselves to millions of Americans. You stayed home, took naps, noodled around on the guitar, and wrote whimsical little “posts” on social media.
Me: Sorry, I’ve had no desire to run for public office since my single-term as 5th grade class president came to an ignominious end.
Doug: Were you impeached?
Me: No, I was promoted to sixth grade.
Doug: Okay. Well, even an allegation of criminal conduct won’t keep you off the X-Check Xpress if you’re popular enough.
Doug: Yeah. Consider Neymar, full name Neymar da Silva Santos, Jr.
Me: Who’s he?
Doug: HUGE soccer star, 150 million followers. How many do you have?
Me: Uh, five hundred and thirty-six.
Doug: That’s not going to cut it.
Me: What did “Neymar” do.
Doug: Posted nude photos of a woman who he said was trying to extort money from him.
Me: And he’s still got an account?
Me: But if I post nude photos . . .
Doug: Any woman who tries to extort money from you is barking up the wrong pant leg.
Me: (. . .) How do you know my net worth?
Doug: This is Facebook, we’re in the data business.
Me: Okay, but hypothetically . . .
Doug: If you post nude pix without consent your account is closed. One strike and you’re out.
Me: Seems unfair to me.
Doug: You know what John F. Kennedy’s father said to him?
Doug: Life is unfair.
Me: But people don’t have to be.
Doug: Says Mr. Unpopular.
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana. This city, the capital of Indiana, is also famed as the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World,” a fact that explains its selection as the site of the world’s first Carefulympics Games. “It’s a real feather in our cap,” says Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ewell Norton. “I don’t wear hats, so I stick the feather behind my ear,” he says with a twinkle in his eye to assure this reporter that he’s only “joshing,” a Midwestern folk tradition of ironic banter.
But public health officials are dead serious about the Carefulympics, an event intended to underscore the importance of being careful, which has come under attack as COVID-related restrictions on personal freedoms have become the object of contentious protests. “Haven’t we learned anything from the pandemic?” asks Marjorie Orthweiler, Head of Outreach at Marion County Extension Services. “I keep my mask on in my car and in the shower, and I think you should too.”
The genesis of the Carefulympics was the realization by the Indiana School Nurses Association that many physical activities carry risks, which led to a petition to the state legislature to fund “demonstration” games to see if potential harms could be reduced or eliminated. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the improvements we’ve made to a number of sports that were plagued by injuries ranging from skinned knees to actual deaths,” says Eloise Hart, the group’s executive director. “If anybody gets hurt this weekend it’s going to be their own damn fault.”
The innovation game organizers hope will meet with the greatest acceptance worldwide is the use of airbags on soccer players, which should both cut down on concussions and reduce the practice of “flopping,” that is, injuries feigned by players in an effort to draw a penalty kick. Soccer coaches and players are not enthusiastic about the proposal, however. “You take away half my offense,” said Alejandro Norumbega, who plays midfield for the Freedonian National Team. “I trained for many years to perfect my flop, and spent much money on acting lessons.”
Indoors, basketball players are urged to use the “matador” defense, a term coined by Los Angeles Lakers’ announcer Chick Hearn. “A good defender such as Dennis Johnson or James Worthy uses every part of his body–hands, arms, feet, et cetera,” says Mike Alaweski of Basketball Today magazine. “A matador waves at offensive players as they go by him, maintaining a proper social distance at all times.”
In the swimming and diving pavilion athletes are inevitably thrown together in a veritable crockpot of each other’s germs, so event organizers have urged them to wear super-safe diving bells rather than skimpy Speedos. “Which is more important,” says judge Emily Northcutt, “coming in first or insulating yourself from a runny nose with time-tested 19th century technology?”
One afternoon, while heading home
Upon a hot commuter train,
I fell asleep, and dreamed this poem,
As summer’s light began to wane.
I saw a scene of baseball’s past
When stadiums were built to last
With brick-and-ivy outfield walls
Bombarded hard by sluggers’ balls.
And every man, and every maid
Would swelter in the noon-day heat.
And by the time the game’d been played
They’d smell as bad as postmen’s feet.
My reverie became a wish
That bordered close on heresy:
That Fenway Park, the Red Sox home,
Become an air-conditioned dome.
And as I slept the train rolled on
Past Back Bay then to Newtonville,
My narcoleptic state absorbed
What otherwise was time to kill.
Through Wellesley Farms to Wellesley Hills
And Wellesley Square I slept.
Through Natick and West Natick too
The engineer his schedule kept.
When hot and groggy I awoke
To the conductor’s awful yawp,
The scenery out my window showed
We’d rolled four stations past my stop.
I stumbled off the train to see
A wave of fans in front of me
With baseball caps upon their heads
That bore the letter “B” in red;
The Night of the Red Sox Living Dead.
Their heads had swelled (or was it mine,
That lay asleep for all that time?)
“Ortiz” and “Schilling” on their backs.
With wild surmise and looks quite wacked.
They staggered towards me, two by two,
I froze, then turned and tried to flee.
Well, what exactly would you do,
If I were you, and you were me?
They seemed intent on mayhem mad
Or maybe something even worse.
As I imagined just how bad,
A mother hit me with her purse.
“Get out the way, we’re comin’ through!”
She screamed from deep within her lungs.
She pushed a snot-nosed kid or two–
Why is youth wasted on the young?
I stumbled back on to the train
Not knowing how or even why.
Crushed flat beneath a press of flesh
I thought that I was going to die.
We rattled back towards the town
From whence I’d come when wide awake,
Squeezed tight so I could make no sound
Squashed flatter than sardine pancakes.
West Natick first, plain Natick next
By Wellesley Square I’d caught my breath.
“Excuse me,” I could finally say,
“I’m getting off, my stop is next.”
“This guy here thinks he’s getting off!”
A ghoulish fan saw fit to scoff,
And then a chilly chorus said,
“He didn’t say the magic word!”
I racked my brain both high and low,
Then left, then right and upside down.
What sound would cause the zombie hoard
To let me off at Wellesley town?
I couldn’t think, I had to beg,
“Please tell me,” I implored a girl.
“I’m really not too bad an egg,
If not the nicest in the world.”
She looked at me with deep brown eyes
That bore through me like fine drill bits
A loyal fan, quite undersized,
She’d brought along a catcher’s mitt.
Child of the Damned, in schoolgirl clothes,
A tartan kilt of blue and green;
She wore a pair of Mary Janes
Her brown locks tossed by breeze unseen.
“If you want to get off this train
In Wellesley Square, one stop away
You’ll have to say the magic word!
Or ride with us to Yawkey Way!”
I didn’t want to go that far, I’d rather
–if the truth be known–
Be sitting in my easy chair
And watch the stupid game at home.
She read my mind by ESP
The zombies then advanced on me.
“Just say the simple syllable
And we’ll ride on while you go free!”
My mouth was dry, no words would come
I guess you’d say I’d been struck dumb.
In fear I struck a fetal pose,
And on they came, as zombies come.
The little girl sank to the floor
Like Jolson, skidding on her knees,
And screamed “You silly nimmynot–
The word you need to say is ‘Please’!”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Red Sox and Yankees: Why Can’t We Be Enemies?”
News item: Three stray cats evaded security and wandered around the main stage at a G-20 Summit meeting.
“I seriously don’t know what it is with these human ‘leaders’ who think they run the world,” Rocco said as we stepped onto the stage at the G-20 Summit.
“They’re delusional,” I said as I checked the placement of the microphones and the podium. “They believe they’re in charge, like some crazy guy who thinks he’s Napoleon.”
We were joined by Chester, an orange tabby who went walkabout years ago while just a kitten. He’d been on the run, or “feral” in human-speak, ever since, returning to our home on infrequent occasions to berate us for being domesticated house-cats, while he has fomented revolution where’er he went.
“ME get out? Why don’t YOU get out?”
“How did the G-7 become the G-20?” he asked.
“If you would come out of the woods every now and then, you might know,” Rocco said.
“I’ll take that to mean you don’t know,” Chester said.
“Ask Okie,” Rocco said. “He’s older–maybe even wiser.”
“Oak?” Chester said to me with a quizzical tone–or was it merely skeptical?
“It was expansion, like the Memphis Grizzlies, or the Florida Marlins,” I said. “Broadening the base gets more fans interested in the machinations of the lever-pullers who control the world’s economies.”
Billy Marlin: “Why am I wearing my pajamas at the ballpark? Why not?”
“Have they added a wild-card format since I went off the grid?” Chester asked.
“Everything but,” Rocco said. “You’ve got Turkey, Mexico . . .”
“Mexico?” Chester asked, incredulous. “That’s like adding an NBA franchise in Oklahoma.”
“They’ve got one of those too,” I said.
“Good Lord,” Chester groaned. “I step out of the room for 5 years and all hell breaks loose!”
“Enough with the kvetching,“ Rocco said. “We’ve got some serious ruling to do.”
“I’m with you,” I said. “The twenty humans they’ve assembled for this chivaree couldn’t find their asses with both hands.”
“We are the world . . .”
“Why is that I wonder?” Chester said.
“It’s the old student council conundrum,” I said.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“The kind of people who are attracted to world government are precisely the ones who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near it,” Rocco interjected.
“Because?” Chester asked. He has been out in the woods a long time.
“Because of their vaunting ambition, and overweening self-regard,” Rocco said. He’s like that; a slumbering giant in the vocab department, but once he gets going it’s Katy-bar-the-door–whatever that ancient phrase means.
“Still,” I said, “I think there’s one world leader who deserves our support as cats.”
“Which one’s that?” Chester asked.
I could sense an explosion coming on, like Old Faithful or the Mount St. Helens volcano. It was Rocco, stifling a laugh, which he could restrain no longer, as he erupted like Vesuvius.
“And why on earth should we give a rat’s rear-end about her?” he asked with evident skepticism.
“Because,” I replied calmly, “she’s got the best lap of any G-20 leader!”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”