Survey: Pigeons Prefer to Walk, Not Fly

NEW YORK.  This city, home to the world’s largest urban population of pigeons, has encountered a new problem in its continuing effort to get cars off the streets and their passengers on their feet.  “Most of our pedestrians are pigeons,” says New York’s “Pigeon Czar” Aaron Kalkstein.  “I don’t know if their wings or tired or what, but they apparently prefer to walk, not fly.”


“It’s only a couple of blocks–let’s walk.”

As a result, New York’s miles of pavement, hailed in songs such as “The Sidewalks of New York” and books such as Alfred Kazin’s “A Walker in the City,” have become increasingly congested as pigeons, humans and pets share the city’s concrete.


Kazin:  “Um–the smell of pigeon crap is everywhere!”

Pigeons had historically flown in New York, as most memorably depicted in the Marlon Brando-Elia Kazan film “On the Waterfront,” but baggage fees as high as $15 imposed by airlines have persuaded many pigeons that travel by foot makes more sense, at least for now.

brando
Marlon Brando, pigeon, Eva Marie Saint

“We could afford to fly, but it was a nice day, so we said ‘What the hell,’” says Ira Pigeon of Queens on a sunny afternoon recently as he strolled through Flushing.  “He could use the exercise,” said his wife Sarah, as she poked at a hot dog roll she found in the gutter.


Corncrake:  Now playing in Chekhov’s “Agafya.”

Other birds capable of flight who prefer to walk include wild turkeys, which fly only under duress, and corncrakes, which fly only to cross bodies of water, as explained in the Chekhov short story “Agafya.”  With many airlines adding fuel surcharges, flying has become increasingly expensive, say experts on pigeons, which are referred to technically by the term columbidae.  “Woody Allen famously referred to pigeons as ‘flying rats,’” says noted pigeon expert and movie critic Lyle Searles.  “That’s a false analogy, because you wouldn’t call rats ‘walking pigeons.’”


“What are you guys all dolled up for?”

While pigeons have been largely unaffected by the rise in gasoline prices, media analysts say mention of this critical issue is nonetheless obligatory in any fake news story between now and election day in 2024.

“You need to address the things that are uppermost in people’s minds,” says Phil Domke, a visting professor at the Columbia School of Journalism on the city’s Upper West side.  “Like ‘Weird Hollywood Baby Names: Threat or Menace?’”

For Contestants in National Haiku Writing Month, Focus Is Kind of Important

SOMERVILLE, Mass.  Jayne Eisenstadt will be the first to admit that she’s not the world’s hardest-working writer.  “I took an independent study because I get freaked out by the deadlines in creative writing classes,” she says as looks off into the distance, searching for inspiration.  And how did she do, this reporter asks.  “I guess I’m too independent for independent study,” she says with her lips twisted into a little moue of chagrin.

But Eisenstadt made a New Year’s resolution that she was going to change her laggard ways, and began to search for a writing competition that wouldn’t tax her tender literary constitution.  “A month to write a novel is way too short,” she says, referring to the NaNoWriMo, the contest in which budding authors write a novel in a month.  “I thought I could handle a write-a-short-story-in-a-month contest, but I froze just as I was about to click on the ‘Enter’ button.”

poetess

After scouring various free listings of open calls, she was about to give up when a friend told her about “NaHaWriMo,” a contest that only requires contestants to crank out a single haiku in a month, albeit February, the shortest month on the calendar.  “Now that, I thought, was more my speed,” she says, referring to the seventeen syllable Japanese poetry form that is like writing with training wheels for blocked, buzzed or busy budding poets.

But as Groundhog Day rolled by and Valentine’s Day approached, Jayne found herself coming up short on her haiku, which she describes as a “work in progress that’s not progressing much.  Tell me how you like it so far,” she says, as she shifts gears to the elevated tone commonly used by poetry slam contestants:

I think of you all
the time. Do haikus have to
rhyme?

She grins sheepishly, but Steve Alfrond, another blocked writer who signed up to be her “writing buddy” in the contest, gives her a little “tough love” of the sort that her less engaged friends can’t provide her.  “I think you should try harder,” he says, looking into her eyes but maintaining a cool, professional distance.

poetess1

Jayne, who is known in writer’s groups she’s quit or been kicked out of as overly sensitive to criticism, responds defensively.  “Let’s hear what you’ve written before you dump on me,” she huffs.

“Okay,” Steve says a bit warily, since he’s notorious among his friends as the “author of seven unfinished novels.”

Moon out my window
on the snow. Where does it go
during the day?

It’s Jayne’s turn to smile as she counts the syllables in the last line on the fingers of one hand.  “You came up one short, dubohead,” she says with a superior air.  “You only have four.”

Steve looks down at his pad, rests his chin on his pencil, then scratches out the question mark and re-writes the last line to read

during the day, huh?

For Comic Sans-o-Phobes, Type of Narrator is a Deal-Breaker

WATERTOWN, Mass.  Brick-and-mortar bookstores, long predicted to be on their deathbeds due to the growing market power of on-line sellers, are on life support these days due to an unexpected shot-in-the-arm from an unlikely vaccine: audio books, now the most heavily-prescribed remedy for what ails the publishing industry.

“It’s the fastest-growing category out there,” says Simon Pearsall of DigiPublishing, a trade journal that covers the business of selling books not made with paper.  “Nobody saw this coming, maybe because we spend all our time at trade shows in hotel bars.”

comic
Not New Jersey

 

The trend has made “rock stars” out of certain audiobook narrators, including Maeve Glincher, an unassuming woman with grey hair and bad posture who is favored by readers of what is sometimes referred to as the “there’s-something-nasty-in-the-garden” genre of women’s fiction written by authoresses such as Rosemary R. DeLuth and Anna Marie Glockenspiel.  “Typically you have a quaint, idyllic setting, such as the Cotswolds in England or Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey,” Glincher says as she takes a seat behind an autograph table at Charles River Books here.  “The scullery maid comes back from the compost heap to say the vicar’s been clubbed to death with a potato rake, that sort of thing.”

The line starts moving and Glincher tries to accommodate each request for a personal inscription with a smile, but she is buttonholed by one woman who wants to gain some insight into the nitty-gritty details of book narrating.

“Do you read straight from the book,” the woman asks as she fishes an audiobook by Glockenspiel she bought online out of her knitting bag, hoping to save $3.29 off the in-store retail price.

comic1
Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey (not shown actual size)

 

“Oh no, the type’s too small,” Glincher says.  “I need my own big print version.”

“Can we see one?” the woman next in line asks hopefully.

“Well, sure, I have one right here,” Glincher says, but as she pulls a well-worn manuscript out of her tote bag, the women in line recoil in horror, as if they’ve stumbled upon one of the grisly scenes they love to hear their favorite narrator describe.

“It’s . . . it’s Comic Sans,” one woman exclaims, her hand flying to her mouth as if to keep from vomiting.  “I don’t think I can ever listen to you again!”

comic2

“You don’t actually hear the typeface,” Glincher says apologetically.  “It’s easy-to-read, unlike Garamond,” she continues with a supplicating tone.  “My eyes aren’t tired at the end of a recording session,” she says weakly, but it’s clear she’s lost the wave of enthusiasm that had twenty-seven bookish women prepared to buy her latest effort at the full price of $31.50, plus 6.25% sales tax.

“Comic sans” is a casual sans-serif non-connecting script typeface inspired by comic book lettering.  It is intended for use in informal documents and children’s materials but has spread like an invasive weed to formal documents such as SEC filings, office lunch room posters, and first-to-die life insurance policies.

comic3

“Generally speaking, the typeface a narrator chooses is irrelevant to the audiobook experience,” says Norton Weaver, Jr. of Books-on-Disks.  “Some people with Stage 3 Comic Sans-o-Phobia develop a ‘contact high’ similar to that experienced by ‘guides’ on youthful LSD ‘trips,’ however, although I wouldn’t know anything about that.”

For those listeners, the knowledge that a narrator favors what has been described as “the most hated typeface on earth” is a deal-breaker.  “How COULD you!” Emily Grotswiler screams at Glincher as she escorted from the store by security guards.  “I’ll have to re-think whether I even enjoyed you before!”

Ask Mr. Data Breach

Pretty sure you didn’t order that helicopter that showed up on last month’s credit card bill?  Wondering how your next-door-neighbor knows your high school nickname was “Binky”?  You may be the victim of a “data breach”–and Mr. Data Breach is here to help!

selfie1
“I did everything I could to make them extremely tasteful!”

 

Dear Mr. Data Breach:

I am not sure I have a case here, but I need your help.

I work at an educational company, it has something to do with education.  Recently I asked the IT people if I could add WiFi to my phone, they said talk to Reynaldo, he handles that.

So I called Reynaldo and he says sure, come to my (his) office.  We had a friendly chat while I sat there and he fiddled with my phone, but in NO way did I make any kind of romantic advancements towards him, it was all just your usual everyday flirting.

Later Reynaldo came by and said he needed to check my phone to make sure it was working properly.  I did not think anything of it as I was in a hurry to leave, but when I looked at my phone later I noticed that my photos were opened and had been scrolled through but I chalked it up to a tiny mistake on his end and forgot about it.

Last night I checked my messages app and it looks like five nude photos of me were sent to a phone number I don’t recognize.  This is up “in the cloud” so even though he erased them from my phone the messages show up on my home computer.

Mr. Data Breach, these are very sensitive pictures because I am wearing a Spanish-American War hat to please a former boyfriend of mine who was really into Teddy Roosevelt and “rough riding.”  What with everybody being so sensitive these days I’m afraid Reynaldo might leak them to some Latino group who will organize a protest against me.

It is probably better if you call my landline at the bottom of this letter, do NOT put it in the paper!

Carol Ann Zobriski, Paducah KY

roosevelt

Dear Carol Ann–

In order to help you I would need to see the “forensic” evidence, as they say on TV crime shows.  If you will send me copies of the nude photos I will see what I can do.

dental
“Let’s knock her out with general anesthesia, then get her credit card numbers.”

 

Dear Mr. Data Breach–

I am a receptionist/billing clerk in a dentist’s office.  Every now and then I get a little behind in my bills because I do not make much money.  When this happens, I very discreetly copy down a patient’s credit card information and use it to pay for necessities such as gas for me to get to work and haircuts.  I figure if I didn’t, where would the patient be?  Out of luck with a bum tooth, is where.

I know what I do is wrong, but I have heard of something called “situational ethics” and that’s my situation, so it seems ethical to me.  I know if I’m ever caught I will have to make restitution, but will that include interest?  Rates on credit cards are so high!

Thank you in advance for your cooperation,

Therese van der Linken, Schenectady NY

 

Dear Therese–

I checked and the Code of Conduct of the American Dental Receptionists Association provides that members may not exempt themselves from that organization’s requirements using concepts borrowed from German philosophers.  If caught, you will need to complete a remedial course in Dental Profession Ethical Standards and Practices (2 continuing education credits).  Try to schedule your exam someplace you can afford without defrauding an innocent dental patient, like a Motel 6.

 

Hey there, Mr. Data Breach–

Long-time reader, first time writer!

I have a question regarding first wives.  I had one, we are now divorced, we had credit cards in both our names.  I have been getting emails from the bank recently saying “Your password has changed,” things like that.  To be frank, I can’t keep track of all my passwords so I take their word for it.  After all, they’re a big bank, they even have a minor league stadium named after them (“MegaSouthUniBankOne Park”).

Used to be you could put a notice in the classified ads saying “I will no longer be responsible for the debts of my former wife, Earleen” and merchants would go along with it.  I see a couple charges on this month’s bill for meals in restaurants I’ve never heard of, and whenever I call the 800 number I get some guy in India who has never even been to Ohio.

We always used pet names for passwords, so I figure Earleen got a new dog or cat and is using that.  Can I get a court order requiring her to disclose her password so I can monitor the bills she’s running up in my name?

Joe Don Webb, Chillicothe, Ohio

divorce

Dear Joe Don:

I’m sorry but pet names are protected under the Pet Name Privacy Protection Act of 2015, which passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress “with flying colors.”  An effective “work around” for dealing with mischievous first wives is to follow her to Bennigan’s or another one of her favorite restaurants and ask that she be paged by saying “Earleen Webb, your third slab of ribs is ready.”  That will cut down on your fraudulent charges real quick.

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

Among the Painterly Poets

He brought his aesthetic approach to the inner life of colors in a series of 10 poems commissioned in the early 1960s by one of his clients, Fuller Paint Co.

Obituary of Ken Nordine, “word jazz” poet

We were sitting at a tiny table in the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, calmly enduring the scornful remarks and sneering put-downs of the more-successful poets who bumped into us–sometimes “accidentally” spilling their drinks–as they made their way back and forth between the bar and the men’s room.

“Oh, excuse me!” they’d say in mock-apologetic tones.  “I must have been rocked by the poetic earthquake that’s shaking the world these days.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” I’d say, matching their contempt with a little of my own.  “So funny I forgot to laugh.”  Not exactly a new comeback, but–like all great art–it has stood the test of time since I was in fourth grade.


Dylan Thomas, admiring a freshly-applied coat of acrylic.

 

“Don’t let it get to you, Forest, it only encourages them,” my girlfriend Violet Orchid said.  I turned and looked deeply into her leotard, then–after she cleared her throat–into her eyes.


Violet Orchid:  “Crazy, man–crazy!”

 

We were nursing our drinks; none of us had any money in those days, unlike the capital b “Beat Poets,” who could command as much as $5 for a couplet, $7.50 for a quatrain, $20 for a sonnet!  But what did we care?  We were young, we were mad for colors, we could live on paint fumes and paint chips if we had to!

But still, we were all feeling a little down.  The Beats had captured the imagination of the nation–and try saying that five times fast–through a skillfully-executed plan of public relations.  They wisely decided to swim in a school, like fish, so that it was harder to pick off any one of them, while giving them the appearance of a full-fledged movement.  Dingbat reporters from TIME magazine swarmed the Village, looking for something to report on besides the loss of China to the Commies, notebooks in hands, asking their fatuous questions:

“So poetry–doesn’t have to rhyme?”

“No, daddy-o, don’t be a square!” the Beat Poet on Call to Answer Your Inane Questions would say.

The reporter would dutifully transcribe the obscure argot for readers unfamiliar with the crazy, wigged-out talk of the Best Minds of Their Generation, and the headline-hungry versifiers would snap up the next issue as soon as it hit the newsstands to find their slang immortalized in one of Henry Luce’s popular Glossaries:  “Chick: A female hepcat.”  Then the squares would flood our crowded little neighborhood, scouring our mean streets for espresso, bebop, and “reefer.”

“hey guys,” a voice said through the thick cigarette smoke.  It was our friend red menace, looking a little green around the gills, but upbeat nonetheless.  In pursuit of the purity of his e.e. cummings-style poetry he’d recently had the initial letters of his first and last names de-capitalized, and he was still a little puffy in the face.

“Hi red,” Violet said as he bent down to kiss her.  She had, of course, slept with him and just about every other crayon in the box, but I didn’t care.  We were into free love and no attachments; women, we guys had agreed, were basically public utilities, with periodic outages, harsh dunning when you didn’t come through with money, and spotty service during the hot summer months.

“why’s everybody so down in the mouth?” red said.

“Just look over there,” I said, my tone as bitter as my coffee.  “Don’t you get sick of The Beats hogging all the attention, when we have so much to offer the world of poetry?”

red was cool, slowly rotating his eyes sideways to take in our smug, bongo-playing competitors.  “call me crazy . . .”

“You’re crazy,” Violet said.

“i meant figuratively,” red continued, “but i don’t think the beats’ business model is sustainable.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“they’ve staked out a position as outsiders.  if they succeed, they’ll become insiders, with their pictures on the cover of time . . .”

“I think you have to capitalize the T,” Violet said.  “It’s a proper name.”

“fine,” red said.  “Time, getting teaching positions at the universities they now scorn, becoming tenured, comfortable old farts with interest-free housing loans, holding forth at sherry hours.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said.  “That doesn’t mean I can’t hate their guts.”

“knock yourself out,” red said, “as long as you pour your rage into your poems.”

I sat there and absorbed what he’d said for a moment.  Something about it didn’t sit right with my personal aesthetic.  “I don’t think the ‘angry young poet’ style is for me,” I said.

“no?”

“No.  I’m more interested in . . . art for decorating’s sake.”

“really?” red said.  “do tell.”

“Does the poet roll his words on smoothly so that there are no air bubbles?  Does he use a drop cloth so as not to spill ink on the floor?  Does he start on one side of the paper and work his way evenly around the page?”

“you make poetry sound like painting a living room,” red said.  “it’s just crazy enough that it might work.”

There was a commotion at the entrance, the kind of hubbub that only occurred when a publisher, an agent or a critic showed up, raising the possibility that one of us might be touched by fame or fortune.

I looked up and making his way through the crowd, I saw a stocky, balding man with a paunch, hardly the sort of avant-garde presence I expected.

“Forest Green?” the man asked, extending a hand that looked like a lump of recently-kneaded pizza dough.

“That’s me,” I said warily.  Had I knocked up some suburbanite’s daughter visiting the Village for a taste of bohemia?

“I’m Ed Kolewski, Finger Lakes Paint & Wallpaper, how ya doing?”

“Fine, fine.  Do I . . . owe you money?”

“No, not at all.  In fact, I want to pay you money.”

“You do?”

“You betcha.  For a twelve-poem cycle extolling the virtues of my wide selection of oil-based and acrylic paints.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Absolutely.  I’ve read your colorful poems, and they’re just the thing I need to move buckets of product.”

I scanned the room, and saw glimmers of jealousy steal across the visages of the poets who had, only a few minutes before, looked at me like I was moderate Republican running for New York City Council.

“At your service,” I said, putting on the manner of a cool businessman about to close a big deal.  “What were you thinking of in terms of price?” I asked.

“Let’s see,” Kolewski said, fingering his chin as he looked at the picturesque tin ceiling tiles overhead.  “How many poems are there in a gallon?”

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

“Raised by Penguins” Seen as Last Gasp of Creative Non-Fiction

CALUMET CITY, Ill.  This suburb of Chicago has long been known for The Smiley Towers, twin water towers that bear the insipid round yellow face associated with the slogan “Have a Nice Day,” but last year townspeople were confronted by a darker, more disturbing work with a local connection.  “I don’t know as I believe what that young man wrote,” says Erwin Schlacter, former principal of Mike Tomczak High School, referring to Jeff Flect, a 2009 graduate.  “I don’t recall things the way he wrote them down.”

Schlacter is referring to Flect’s book “Raised by Penguins,” which won the coveted Hornel-Scheusser Prize for Creative Non-Fiction last month, bringing with it a $1,500 prize, a teaching fellowship, a publishing contract and a cool fleece pullover that is his to keep even when the next winner is chosen.  “I’m honored, and humbled,” Flect says to this reporter when asked how his life has changed.  “And for all those idiots who question the truth of what I’ve written, they can blow it out their shorts.”

Controversy arose when people who knew Flect came forward and swore that there had not been a second ice age in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and that, as a result, the central claim of his book was false.  “I knew Jeff, we lived right down the street,” says Heidi Klamholz.  “His mother was your typical cold Presbyterian, but she was no penguin.”


“I’m worried about Jeff.  He doesn’t seem to have many friends among the other birds.”

Flect was able to avoid scrutiny during the judging process for the award because both of his parents died in mysterious circumstances shortly after he received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction from the University of Minnesota-Mankota, where he was enrolled in a low-residency program while he claimed to be circumnavigating the world by pogo stick.  “Nobody took the loss of my parents harder than me,” he says with an audible lump in his throat.  “I really could have used them if I ever turn my hand to creative fiction-fiction.”


“For next week’s assignment, I want you to make up some truth about yourself.”

The creative non-fiction genre has been criticized for its sometimes strained relationship with the truth, and some of its most noteworthy practitioners such as Dave Eggers and Augustan Burroughs have been embroiled in lawsuits by those who felt they were defamed by their works.  “I wouldn’t want to be embroiled in a lawsuit,” Flect says, shaking his head with concern over the risks inherent in his chosen art form.  “I burnt my hand once taking an English muffin with tomato and cheese out of a toaster oven, that was enough broiling for me.”

 

My Yogurt Jones

Like most addicts, I can remember my first time–over forty years ago–as if it were yesterday.

I was working the grill at a snack bar at the University of Chicago when a guy named Manny–who claimed to be a vegetarian despite a gut that impressed even the campus cops–offered me a hit.

“This is good stuff,” he said as I fixed myself a cheeseburger.

“What is it?”

“Try it,” he said with a sidewise glance.  He seemed to be sizing me up, seeing if I was man enough.  As former philandering Chicago prof Thorstein Veblen observed, use of intoxicants is a mark of masculine indulgence practiced as a form of emulation among primitive tribes and affluent Americans.

Or maybe he was thinking of me as a prospective customer, the way all “pushers” do.  Probably had a lot of student loans to pay off.


Thorstein:  “Take your wife–please?”

I said “Okay” and after filling up a spoon, I took a hit.  To say that I was changed, changed utterly, as Yeats wrote in the poem we read in “Humanities 101: The Study of Literary Wholes,” would be an understatement.  It was as if my entire being had been transformed into The Body Electric–Whitman’s phrase, not mine, but he’s dead so I borrowed it.  I felt as if I was standing under a warm shower, or wrapped in a down blanket.

Yes, yogurt will do that to you.

I don’t know what it is about the stuff.  Maybe it’s the bacteria it provides, so essential to the functioning of the human body, which for millions of years used those friendly little micro-organisms to keep its intestines working properly.  Mankind’s innards have been out of whack ever since eating dirt went out of style.


“*sniff*  Is that yogurt I smell?”

And so began a love affair with a thick, semisold substance.  Sort of like Mary Van de Velde, the chubby girl who was assigned to me in my 6th grade polka troupe.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, I started out on fruit-on-the-bottom but soon hit the harder stuff; plain yogurt, the kind the Turks and Bulgarians ate in those commercials that featured an English-language voiceover saying the village elders depicted in the film were over 150 years old.  Of course there was no way to verify the claim, birth records in Bulgarian villages being somewhat deficient by U.S. standards, but it didn’t matter.  If you could eke out even another three score and ten years on top of your allotted time by eating something that tasted good–to me at least–it was a win-win situation.

And then there was the evidence of hard science; an experiment at MIT found that mice who were fed yogurt grew thicker fur and developed bigger balls that projected outwards, giving them a swaggering air.  If I ate acidulous acidophilus assiduously–and try saying that five times fast–I’d be the king of the assisted living center when I was 80; head full of hair and a set of cojones that would draw lustful stares from the mah-jong tables.

Back when I was underemployed in a series of low-wage jobs in my twenties I even tried to set up my own manufacturing operation, sort of a yogurt meth lab, like the guy in Breaking Bad.  I bought one of those home yogurt makers but I was no match for the drug kingpins.  The stuff I produced was thin, watery–nowhere near as good as the high-quality “white lightning” the yogurt kingpins cranked out.  I was hooked on the creamy, gelatinous texture they achieved.  How did they do it?  Who knows what they were feeding their cows.

Of course you have to hide a yogurt addiction if you want to make it in the highly competitive world of business, so I resorted to easily-concealed yogurt snacks; yogurt-covered raisins, yogurt-covered malted milk balls, even yogurt-covered pretzels.  The latter sound awful, but the mixture of sweet and salt added a new “kick” to my yogurt high.  I needed it, just as every junkie has to keep increasing his dose to get the same effect he got with less heroin when he was a beginner.

As long as I got my yogurt I was okay–I got married, even started a family.  I couldn’t let my kids know–I didn’t want them to go down the same bacteria-riddled road I walked every day.  When one of them would throw a yogurt container that still had some left in it into the trash, I’d dig it out and give them a stern lecture about how my parents lived though the Depression and taught me not to waste food.  Then I’d proceed to eat it, like George Costanza in the Seinfeld “eclair” episode, drawing disgusted “Ewws!” from them.  Little did they know what I was hiding.


“If you’re a lumberjack, where’s your lumber?”

Still, I wonder sometimes if I should have followed my dream and gone into the yogurt business instead of ending up behind a desk, reading–and writing!–boring boilerplate terms and conditions for home widget systems, flanges and hasps.  I could have been like those ladies I read about in The Wall Street Journal the other day who, after decades of hauling heavy ice boxes filled with yellow-colored yogurt drinks South Koreans consume to aid their health, have now been outfitted with motorized bathtub-size four-wheelers to make their deliveries.  A yogurt Zamboni–I want one!

yogurt

Korean Yogurt Zamboni

I pass among members of non-yogurt society nervously.  At quaint little New England bed-and-breakfasts you sit at communal tables for the first meal of the day, and my little bowl of yogurt and muesli looks lost among hardy Yankee types bulking up for a day of manual labor in the form of cross-country skiing by eating bacon ‘n eggs ‘n ham ‘n biscuits ‘n hash browns ‘n sausage ‘n pancakes ‘n syrup ‘n waffles.  (I have to stop now, I’m out of apostrophes.)  Inevitably some lunkhead in a black and red checked shirt and suspenders will say something like “That’s not much of a breakfast, is it? Har-har-har!”

I plead ill health, or a “small is beautiful” philosophy, or say I’m going to spend the day wandering lonely as a cloud taking the road less traveled by so I can write some poetry.  Mrs. Lunkhead usually chimes in at that point with “Oh, that sounds nice!” saving me from a potentially embarrassing revelation that, if it became more widely known would bar me from polite society and expose me to the obloquy of all right-thinking men:

I have a yogurt jones.

A Night Ride With the Girl Scout Legbreakers

          Girl Scouts in Akron, Ohio are taking vigorous steps to collect debts owed by adults who fail to pay for cookies.

                                                                   Associated Press

It’s two o’clock in the morning, and I’m lying in bed, wide awake, drenched in sweat. I know what I need–a Thin Mint cookie–but I don’t know where I’m gonna find one.

I finished my last cellophane roll of the Girl Scouts’ signature cookies last week.  The sweet treat that Akron police refer to as “brown dynamite” won’t appear on the streets again until mid-March. I can’t wait that long.

I have only two options: One, drive to the 7-11 and buy a legal pack of Keebler Fudge Shoppe Grasshopper Mint Cookies, a poor substitute for Thin Mints, the most addictive cookie known to man. “Grasshoppers” are methadone to the Girl Scouts’ heroin.

Two, try to score some black market “Thins” on the street.

I put on some clothes, stagger out to my car and head to the corner of Main and Mill in downtown Akron, a 24-hour bazaar of the illicit late-night snack trade. Here, dealers operate openly and without fear of retribution from cops who have been bought off cheaply with Caramel deLites and Samoas–-low octane stuff that hard-core addicts look down–or is it turn up?–their noses at.

I pull into the parking lot of the convenience store and head to the entrance when a short figure emerges from the shadows.

“You want the real thing, man?”

I jump, and the hair on the back of my neck snaps to attention.

“Sure,” I say innocently. “We’re talking Thin Mints, right?”

“You think I’d be out here at this hour of the night hocking Tagalongs and Do-Si-Dos?” the dealer asks sarcastically.

“Sorry–I was just making sure.” You never want to alienate your source. “How much you asking?”

“Ten dollars a box.”

“Ten dollars! That’s armed robbery!” I say, my voice shaking. “Girl Scout cookies are sold for $2.50 to $4.00 per box, depending on the troop’s location, to cover both the current cost of cookies and the realities of providing Girl Scout activities in an ever-changing economic environment. Check the website.”

“A wise guy, huh? If you’re so smart you oughta know that National Girl Scout policy prohibits the sale of cookies over the Internet. When you buy online, there is no guarantee that your seller is in fact a member of the Girl Scouts.”

She’s got me there. “Okay,” I grumble, and start to reach in my back pocket. As I do so I feel the rough grip of a hand on my wrist that pins my arm against my back. From the smell of the Peanut Butter Patties on her breath, I can tell without looking that my assailant is none other than Mary Jane “The Hammer” Macomber, long-time enforcer for the Greater Akron Girl Scout Council.

“Nice to see you again–scumbag,” she says menacingly into my ear. “I believe you owe us $24.50, not including late fees and penalties.”

I’m not about to escape the grip of the woman who has grabbed many a young girl by the bicep and told her to settle down–right now!

“Look, Mary Jane,” I say as she slams me up against the wall. “It’s been a tough year for me.”

“It’s about to get a whole lot tougher,” she says as she pushes me into the back seat of her Dodge Caravan SE minivan. “Girls–get in and buckle up,” she yells at her charges, and in an instant we are zooming down an entrance ramp to Interstate 77, the girls holding me down, singing camp songs at the top of their lungs.

Oh, Noah, he built him, an ar-ky, ar-ky, arky.”

“There are three and a half million Girl Scouts throughout America, including U.S. territories,” Macomber says to me over the din, with a tone of disgust. “Stiffs like you think we’re patsies.”

“I had a good job when I bought the cookies,” I say. “Then I got laid off.”

“Remind me to buy an extra-large box of Kleenex, so I can cry along with you,” she says contemptuously.

The girls keep singing. “The animals, they came, by two-sy, two-sy, two-sies.”

“We’ve got summer camp lifeguards to pay, gimp to buy–we’re a big business.”

“I’ll pay you back, I promise, I just need a cookie.”

“‘I just need a cookie,’” Macomber says, mocking me. “Nobody can eat just one–nobody.”

“That’s the problem,” I say. “You’re pushers!”

Elephants and (clap) kanga-roosies, roosies!

We pull into a driveway and Macomber turns off the engine. The girls push me out of the car and into a split-level ranch house, then down the stairs into the rec room. Down here, nobody will hear me scream.

Macomber orders me to sit down in a Fisher Price Kitchen Play chair, and I comply. What choice do I have?

“Now,” she says, “we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”

“What’s the easy way?” I ask.

“Do you have a major credit card on you?”

“I barely had the strength to change out of my pajamas,” I whimper.

“Bonnie,” Macomber says to one of the girls. “Show him the polar bear trick.”

The girls giggle as Bonnie takes my hand, opens a drawer of the play kitchen cabinet and positions my knuckles on the edge of it. “Now,” she says, “Don’t think about a polar bear.”

I’m puzzled. “Why not?” I ask.

“Just don’t, okay?” She waits a second. “Are you thinking about one now?” she asks.

“Well, yeah, ’cause you keep talking about . . .”

The words are barely out of my mouth when she slams the drawer shut, causing me to cry out in pain.

“I bet you’re not thinking about one now!” she exclaims with glee.

The other girls burst out in laughter, and Macomber does nothing to stop them. So much for building character–the “new” Girl Scouts nurture skills for success in the real world.

“Maybe you’ve got some money back in your car,” Macomber suggests.

“Just some change for tolls,” I reply.

“That’s not gonna do it,” she replies coolly. “Elizabeth–let’s make the nice man a Creeple Peeple.”

A second little girl brings her vintage Thingmaker out from under a table and plugs it in.

“Who’s your favorite Creeple Peeple?” she asks as the machine warms up.

“Uh, I guess I’d have to pick Gangly Danglies,” I say.

girl-scout

“Okay–let’s make one of those,” she says sweetly as she pours the melted goo into the mold. A few seconds later, she turns to me and says “Ready?”

“Aren’t you supposed to let it cool?”

She flips the mold onto my hand, causing the hot goop to sear my flesh.

“I’ll pay–I’ll pay!” I cry. “Just stop it–please!”

“All right,” Macomber says with a satisfied air. “Julie, put some ice on his hand. Vicki, get his money.”

Vicki fishes my wallet out of my back pocket, where she finds an ATM card. “What’s your PIN number?” she asks methodically as she prepares to write it down on a Big Chief tablet with a no. 2 lead pencil.

“It’s my birthday–09-28-51,” I say, fighting back tears.

“That’s not such a good idea,” Macomber says, playing the role of good cop now. “Anybody who knows that could rip you off.”

“What would you suggest?” I ask.

“How about D-E-A-D-B-E-A-T?” she says with a smirk.

For some reason–I don’t find her funny.

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Everyday Noir.”

EPA Adds Lounge Lizard to Endangered Species List

WASHINGTON, D.C.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday placed the lounge lizard, one of nine species of squamate reptiles native to the United States, on its endangered species list.

lizard1
“Want to hear my Wayne Newton imitation?”

 

The notice in the Federal Register cited a sharp drop-off in lounge lizard populations since 2017, when singer Buddy Greco died.  “Buddy was the ultimate lounge lizard,” said Las Vegas booking agent Marty “Spec” Gold.  “Where the hell is Greenpeace when you need ’em?”

A “lounge lizard” is a singer who performs in, or a male who patronizes, establishments frequented by wealthy women with the intent of seducing them by flattery and deceptive charm.  The term is an allusion to the cold and insinuating quality of reptiles, which are thought to be common to both lizards and male humans.

lizard2
Buddy Greco: “Everybody check your wife, somebody’s got mine.”

 

“Buddy set the standard for going through women like a hot knife slicing butter,” says Jerry Mastroangelo, who is writing an unauthorized biography of the late singer.  “He had either five or six wives, depending on whether you use the Celsius or Fahrenheit scale.”

lizard3
The Rat Pack:  “You call THAT ‘hep’?”

 

A lounge lizard typically uses finger-snapping “hipster” patter to attract females, who are lured by the rhythmic mating call in much the same way that female cicadas are driven wild when they hear males click their tymbals against their anterior abdominal region.  “As a Ph. D. in biology, I can sympathize with the female cicada,” says Emily Nussman, a post-doctoral researcher at Carneseccha College in Elmira, New York.  “Banging a body part against your abdomen would be more subtle than the passes I’m subjected to every day in the student union.”

lizard4
Lounge lizards (not shown actual size).

 

Previous efforts to breed lounge lizards in captivity have failed because they are, despite their amorous nature, skittish when they find themselves in a situation fraught with risk.  “If you want to see a bunch of lounge lizards scatter,” says Nussman, “just approach them with an unpaid bar tab.”

My Dark Horse Run for Anti-Pope

It was one of the darkest periods of my life: my girlfriend had dumped me,  the firm where I worked had broken up in a fight between two factions, neither  of which *sniff* wanted me to join them in their new ventures.  I was at loose  ends, with no one who’d listen to my troubles but my old buddy, Bates.


“I’m  running because I believe I can make a difference.  To me.”

“So you’ve got nothing lined-up, job-wise,” he said as he tipped back a  longneck Narragansett beer.

“I’ve got a few resumes out,” I said.  “Nobody’s calling me back.”

“Hmm,” he hummed.  “There always the comfy, cozy public sector.  Indoor work  and no heavy lifting, as we say in Boston.”


“You brought Cool Ranch Doritos?  Awesome!”

“I don’t know any politicians,” I said.  “That’s kind of essential, isn’t  it?”

“It’s the essence of essential,” he replied, staring out the window at a  breathtaking view of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  “How about saving men’s  souls?”

“You mean life insurance?  No, I’ve never been a salesman.”

“Not that, dingleberry.  I meant the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”

“Are they hiring?”

“For entry-level jobs–sure, all the time.”  He paused for effect.  “You take  a vow of poverty, and they make sure you keep it.”

“So why would I want to apply there?”

He snorted with contempt.  “You don’t answer the Help Wanted ads, stunod.   You aim high.”

“How high?”

Il Papa,” he said triumphantly.

It was my turn to laugh.  “Dude–I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.   The Pope is elected according to canon law.  He stays in office until he  dies.”

“Go to the head of the class–loser!” he snapped, and I felt the same hot  breath of scorn that had blown my hair dry in fifth grade as I rattled off one  correct answer after another in a lightning round session in the tenets of the  Baltimore Catechism, only to be pounded to a pulp at recess by boys apparently envious of my knowledge of the Communion of Saints.

“If you’re going to play by the rules, you’ll never get anywhere,” he said.   “If you want to BE somebody–run for Antipope.”


Pope  Peyton I, three-time RCC Player of the Year

It was a daring suggestion, fraught with risk–but it promised great  rewards.  The Vatican is the world’s second-largest private landowner, after  Starbucks.  They’ve got diamonds, jewels and great works of art.  I’d be ex officio Commissioner of CYO basketball leagues around the  world!

“How, exactly,” I began hesitantly, “does one go about . . . running for  antipope?” I asked him.

“It’s not as hard as you’d think.  Antipopes go almost as far back as Popes,”  Bates said, reaching for a handful of Cool Ranch Doritos, the unique combination  of great taste and good fun rolled into one great snack.  “The first–as every  good Catholic smart-aleck ought to know–was St. Hippolytus in 217  A.D.”

I cringed a bit.  I hate it when people throw Catholic lore or liturgy that I don’t know back in my face.  Like my Jewish friends who caught me leaning the  wrong way one night, confusing the Immaculate Conception with virgin birth.   Ouch!

“So,” I said.  “What’s involved?”

“You gotta ‘go into schism,’ like Pope Novatian did in 251 A.D.”

“What’s that mean?”

He turned and looked at me with a cold glare.  I sensed that he was trying to  figure out if I had the fire in my belly.

“You don’t mess around,” he said and there was a strange, hard element–like  carbon or titanium–in his tone.  “When everybody in the world is saying the guy in St. Peter’s is the Pope, you simply say–”

“What?”


H.L.  Mencken

“Ding dong, you’re wrong.”

The elegance of his solution struck me as bogus.  I’m a Menckenian, and  believe as he did that for every complex problem there is an answer that is  clear, simple and wrong.  “You can’t just announce that you’re Pope and  expect people to follow you,” I said.

Bates shook his head, as if in wonder at how hopelessly naive I was.   “Listen, you dingbat” he said as he got up to play Willie Ruff’s Gregorian  Chant, Plain Chant and Spirituals.  “Might makes right, and votes make  Popes.”

“What’s that mean?”

“The Pope was elected by the College of Cardinals.  You go out, get  yourself some disgruntled bishops, guys who lost a few parishes in the last  round of church closures, and get them to vote for you!”

“Can you really do that?”

Can you really do that?” he repeated in a mincing tone, mocking my  diffidence.  “Do you think Novatian asked anybody if he could ‘do that’ before  he did it?  No!  He just went out, rounded up three disaffected bishops from  southern Italy and–voila!  He’s just as much the Pope as your namesake,  Cornelius.”


Antipope Novatian, as drawn by my buddy Bates, making fun of Pope Cornelius

Bates was persuasive but still, there was something that didn’t seem  quite right about the whole scheme.  “If it’s that easy,” I said after taking a  moment to mull his plan over, “why don’t you become the antipope?”

Usually so confident, almost cocky in his approach to life, Bates flinched  like St. Sebastian getting hit in the armpit with an arrow.

“You think I don’t want to?” he said, a cloud of regret passing over his  usually-blase countenance.  “If I thought I had a chance, I’d be out on  the campaign trail in the batting of a gnat’s eyelash.”

“Is that shorter or longer than two shakes of a lamb’s tail?”

Way shorter,” he said.  “C’mere.”

He led me into his room, to his closet, and reached up on the shelf above the  clothes rod.  He pulled down a stack of notebooks and sat down on his bed.   “Take a look at these,” he said.


Theresa  of Avila vs. Catherine of Siena: Cast your vote on-line–now!

We flipped through the pages, filled with drawings Bates had done of himself  in full papal regalia; mitre, crozier, the works.  Beneath them he’d practiced  signing autographs as “Pope Bates I.”

“I . . . had no idea,” I said as I patted him on the back to console him.   “So why did you give up . . . on your dream?”

“I’m a marked man,” he said, his voice catching on the lump in his throat.   “I took on the Pope over heretical baptism.”

“Ah,” I exclaimed, understanding immediately.  The question whether former  heretics need to be re-baptized in order to be reconciled to the Church has  started more bar fights in the neighborhood around St. Peters than who’s cuter,  St. Theresa of Avila or St. Catherine of Siena.  “Funny, isn’t it,” I said to my  old University of Chicago roommate.

“What?”


Leopold  and Loeb

“That the same dorm that produced thrill killers Leopold and Loeb produced  two Pope wanna-be’s.”

He laughed, more at himself than at my lame attempt at a joke.  “You go  ahead,” he said.  “I’ve got no chance.  The Pope and his cordon of nefarious  henchmen . . .”

“Like on Rocky and Bullwinkle?”

“Right.  They follow me everywhere–I wouldn’t live past the first  primary.”

“They aren’t monitoring your brain waves, are they?”

“How did you know?” he screamed in mock paranoia.  We both knew that, as  powerful as the Vatican might be, they couldn’t read our minds from afar.  As  long as we didn’t drink fluoridated water.

“Have you ever run for office?” he said as he put his notebooks back into the  closet of his broken dreams.

“Three times.”

“And what’s your record?”

“Two wins and one loss.”

“Pretty good,” he said.  “What were your wins?”

“Fifth grade class president, and trustee of the 337 Marlborough Street  Condominium Trust.”

“And the loss?”

“Junior High Student Council President.”

“What was the margin of victory?”

“I lost in a landslide,” I replied, and not without a trace of  bitterness.

“What was the problem?”

“I knew nothing about retail politics,” I said.  “I hadn’t heard Tip  O’Neill’s famous line.”

“All politics is local?”

“No–if you want people’s votes you’ve got to ask for them.”

“Right,” he said.  “Well–do you know any renegade priests who could use a  little–‘walking around money’ to vote for you instead of Pope Francis?”

I thought for a moment.  “There’s that guy with the clerical collar and the  tambourine who patrols lower Washington Street.”

“Okay, well–that’s a start.  Does he control any swing voters?”

“Sure.”

“Who?”

“An all-important demographic.  The winos on the bench outside South  Station.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”