Croquet Slugger Vows to Fight Lifetime Ban

SHERBORN, Mass.  This bucolic town to the west of Boston is distinguished by its adherence to time-honored traditions, such as a volunteer fire department known for the conviviality it brings to the personal tragedy of watching one’s home burn to the ground.  “We always come with a picnic basket filled with strawberries, finger sandwiches and white wine,” says Assistant Fire Chief Edmund “Ned” Barker.  “It certainly eases the pain of losing that deductible.”


But that fidelity to the past is bumping up against the present at the Sherborn Croquet Club, where commissioner Asa Wharton yesterday handed down a life-time ban against young power-hitter Tompkins “Tom” Slater, III, an investment banker whose full-tilt approach to the sedate lawn game is raising eyebrows, as well as ire among long-time members.

“I gave him a citation when he walked on the court wearing his ‘Nantucket Reds’ instead of the required all-white uniform,” Wharton says, shaking his head grimly.  “He got a warning for excessive grunting when he ‘sent’ or ‘roqueted’ an opponent’s ball into Natick,” the blue-collar town to the east.  “But when we caught him with performance-enhancing drugs, that was it.”

“Dude–killer shot!”

The banned substance–a can of Miller Lite beer–is prohibited in league matches without a doctor’s prescription that a player requires it for health or safety reasons.  “It helps keep my hay fever under control,” Slater says as he takes a sip from an eight-ounce can.  “Also, I lose my balance when I get drunk, but I can drink light beer all day long and only get moderately sloshed.”

“It’s my turn, dammit!”

Croquet is a sport that involves hitting wooden or plastic balls with a mallet through hoops (often called “wickets” in the United States) embedded in a grass playing court.  It is a form of “ground billiards” that is played for fun by the overwhelming majority of proletarian participants, but is taken seriously by those with too much money and time on their hands.

“I don’t take this step lightly,” Wharton said as he notified Bruce Pastenak, coach of Slater’s team, the Wellesley Wealth Advisors.  “In fact, I want to come down hard, like I’m crushing a bug just to watch the juice run out.”

For One Generous Soul, Re-Gifting Has a Price Tag

BOSTON.  Tom Pharrell has had a long and successful career as an investment banker underwriting bond issues for New England’s numerous private non-profit institutions, and he has the memorabilia to show for it.  “These little doo-dads bring back fond memories,” he says as he picks up one of his many “deal trinkets,” a paperweight with the “tombstone” announcement of a particular transaction suspended in Lucite.  “Sure I missed a lot of dinners with my wife to close those financings, but she divorced me so it’s nice to have these mementos.”

       Like family.

One side benefit of the business never appealed to Pharrell, however; gifts of sweatshirts and jackets bearing the names of the prep schools and colleges that benefitted from the funds he raised.  “I’ve got enough clothes to last me a lifetime,” he says, “and I’m a conservative dresser.  I don’t like to call attention to myself with logos, unless I’m an actual alumni of the school.”

So Pharrell adopted a policy many years ago of giving away the clothing he received to social service agencies or, in some cases, directly to those who appeared to need it that he encountered on the walk from his office to the commuter rail station that takes him home each night.  “Some of these guys, they’re freezing to death,” he says, shaking his head.  “They need a quarter-zip fleece pullover a hell of a lot more than I do.”

The result has been a community of unlikely-looking vagrants in the South Station area here whose upscale clothing seems slightly discordant on them, given their lowly status in life.  “Tom’s a great guy,” says a grizzled man known only as “Mitch” to this reporter.  “I never could have afforded to go to The Pringy School,” he says, pointing to the crest above his heart on a blue velour sweater.  “Now people think I’m a scion of an old WASP family who has taken the road less traveled by, instead of what I am which is a bum.”

                  The Empress.

On the train platform Pharrell greets a woman who styles herself the “Empress of Amtrak” for the position she stakes out every morning, the better to beg money and food from passengers waiting to board the Acela Express to New York and Washington.

“How ya doing today, Empress?” he asks her cheerfully.

“Same stuff, different day,” she says with an air genial resignation.  “Whatcha got for me–anything?”

“Take a look at this,” Pharrell says as he removes a white windbreaker with a “Miss Chilton’s School” logo from a plastic bag.

“Nice,” The Empress says.  “Does it come in ‘Dusty Rose’?”

“I’m afraid not.  I was lucky to get this color, they usually only come in blue.”

“Bo-ring,” The Empress says.  “Thanks, I’ll take it.  But next time?”

“Yes?” Pharrell replies with anticipation.

“Do better, okay?”

Pharrell says “Sure,” then ambles off to catch his train but is stopped in his progress by Ned Forman, an acquaintance who works at a competing bank.

“Hey Tom,” Forman calls out.  “How ya doing?”

“Fine, fine,” Pharrell replies.  “How’re the kids?”

“Okay, but we’re pulling them out of private school next year.”

“It’s expensive, I know,” Pharrell says, commiserating, but Forman promptly corrects him.

“It’s not the money,” he says, “it’s that all these expensive schools seem to turn out nothing but losers.”

At the Viking Poetry Slam

                A mastery of poetry was a must for any young Viking.  A few Viking poems dwelt on love, but the heroes often undermined their happiness by chasing adventures that separated them from their beloveds. 

                                     The Wall Street Journal

“Who’s got the beer cooler?”

It’s 1230, and I don’t mean by the hands of the sundial.  I mean it’s 1230 A.D., and me and my buddies, Gunnlaug Snaketongue and Hallfred the Troublesome Poet, are having our regular Tuesday night poetry session.  We meet at Ericson’s, where they have 20 ounce King Olaf’s for only a clam, and pitchers for five clams.  Let me tell you, we usually set back the progress of Western civilization a couple of decades before the night is through.

Ericson’s:  Get there early for Friday Night Oxen Races.

We roll the bar dice to see who goes first, which is actually not the most desirable spot.  It’s better if your listeners have consumed a little mead before you start to bare the workings of your innermost soul.  Unfortunately, I roll snake-eyes.

“You go first Kormak Ogmundarson!” Hallfred says with glee.  I can tell he’s going to pounce on my handiwork like a blood eagle grabbing a baby chick.

“Okay, here goes nothing,” I say.  I take one last drink to wet my throat, then I launch the Viking ship of my verse onto unknown seas.

That night I dreamt of a maiden fair
whose dress I removed with a flourish.
What I saw underneath was a navel and hair
but a body that looked overnourished.

I looked up from my rudimentary parchment note pad to judge the effect of my quatrain on Gunnlaug and Hallfred.  “You say overnourished like it’s a bad thing, dude,” Gunnlaug says with a look of disapproval.

“But wait,” I say, anticipating twentieth-century cable TV pitchman Billy Mays, “there’s more.”

“There’s more bad poetry where that came from!”

“Let ‘er rip,” Hallfred says as he unleashes a belch that could be heard in Vinland.

“Okay,” I say, then compose myself and start in again.

She could have been my winter consort
if I’d paid more attention to her
But I was consumed by televised sport
and another Vike came to woo her.

Vinland, via the scenic route

I’m surprised to see a look of empathy on Gunnlaug’s face.  “That’s beautiful, man,” he says as he pretends there’s something in his eye in order to hide the fact that he’s wiping away a tear.  “Ain’t that always the way.  You’d like to have a relationship with a woman, but you want some freaking adventure with your guy friends, too.”

Hallfred, on the other hand, being the Troublesome Poet that he is, is unmoved.  “What the hell are televised sports?” he asks.

“It’s an anachronism I threw in for dramatic effect,” I say.  “This is a stupid blog post–you’re going to have to wilfully suspend disbelief if you’re going to get anything out of it.”

He takes this in slowly, and mutters a grudging “Okay–that was pretty good.”  He’s not the brightest shield on the battlefield, if you know what I mean, but he leaves a pretty wide wake at poetry slams because of his brooding good looks and primitive style.  Personally, I think it’s all a facade.  He’s so dumb his descendants will be going bare-chested to football games in Minnesota winters seven centuries hence.

“Show me what you got, big fella,“ I say to him throwing down the poetic gauntlet.

He pops a handful of squirrel nuts into his mouth, and washes them down with a gulp of beer.  “Here goes,” he says, and begins:

My old lady’s quite a dish
if I do say so myself.
She don’t come along when I icefish,
she eats tuna from the pantry shelf.

Gunnlaug emits a tepid grunt of approval.  “I sense the difference between your maleness and her femaleness,” he says looking off into the distance, “but you didn’t do much to establish dramatic tension.”

It’s clear that Hallfred is hurt by this faint praise, and he lashes out, bringing his pickaxe down on the bag of Astrix and Obelix Pub Fries that Gunnlaug’s been munching on.  “Anybody can be a critic,” he fumes.  “Let’s hear some poetry out of you, blubber-belly!”

“Well kiss my ass and call it a love story,” Gunnlaug says with a withering smile.  “Looks like Mr. Brutalist has a sensitive side, too.”

“Your doggerel smells like two-year-old Swedish Fish.”

“Actually,” I interject in an effort to keep the peace, “Swedish Fish stay moist and chewy forever in the patented Sta-Fresh resealable bag.”

But Hallfred isn’t letting his rival go.  “Come on, man,” he says angrily, as other patrons turn their heads in the hope of seeing a senseless killing.  “It’s Rhyme Time.”

Gunnlaug looks Hallfred up and down, then a frosty snort of Arctic air escapes from his nostrils.  “It ain’t bragging if you can do it,” he says, then clears his throat.  The silence in the room is broken only when he speaks in a low voice steeped in regret:

I once got a peek of a wench’s breasts
that made me forget I was a Viking.
I’m telling you man, they were the best–
I gave up my Harley and biking.

An audible gasp rose from the crowd.  The ultimate aesthetic error of Viking poetry–to succumb to the wiles of a woman!  How was Gunnlaug going to get out of the lyrical gulag he’d wandered into?

She had a big hat with horns festooned
and said “Dear Vike, please impale me.”
But a friend had some tickets to the Wild vs. Bruins
“Stay with me,” she cried, “and don’t fail me!”

Now it was Hallfred’s turn to snort.  “The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole,” he said with a sneer, “is to stop digging.”

“Hold your freaking reindeer,” Gunnlaug said.  “I ain’t through.”

He took a deep breath, then began again.

I looked in her eyes, both drowning in tears–
Though watery, they still looked nice.
“Look,” I said, “I’ll make it up to you dear–
I’ll take you to Smurfs on Ice!”

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

Surprised by the Fed

The Fed Should Surprise Us.

Headline, The Wall Street Journal

I have come to the headquarters of The Federal Reserve System, the nation’s central bank, on a mission: from everything I’ve seen and heard on the news, all hell is about to break loose, and I want to be at ground zero when it happens.


It was this lurking feeling of looming disaster that caused The Wall Street Journal to wring its hands with concern back when former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was starting to complain about “irrational exuberance.”  The editorial pages of the Journal rightly put their finger on the problem–a massively over-leveraged mortgage market, fueled by government subsidies–but it was too late, resulting in the “planet-shaking subprime-mortgage meltdown” of 2008.  The quoted phrase comes from the weekend edition of the Journal, in which a biographer of Greenspan wrote that, in order to avoid another crash, “The Fed Should Surprise Us.”  I don’t know whether the governors of the Fed have the wisdom and the courage they need to heed the Journal’s advice this time around.

I check in with the guard at the reception area, and am ushered into the office of Jerome H. “Jay” Powell, the current Chair of the Board.  I understand that he is a sober, thoughtful academic type–he’s got degrees from Princeton and Georgetown with a long career in government behind him.  One doesn’t get to be Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance by being an office wag.

“Come in,” he exclaims cheerfully from behind his desk as he rises to greet me.

“Sure Whoopee Cushions are fun, but for the initial shock I like a good, old-fashioned hand buzzer.”


“Thanks for allowing me into the ‘inner sanctum,'” I say facetiously as I stride across the thick carpet that the Fed, unlike more parsimonious agencies, can afford thanks to the fees they charge big banks.

“Pleasure to have you,” he says with a smile as he grasps my right hand, sending shock waves up my arm.


“Yow!” I exclaim, but more from shock than the irritating sensation his hand buzzer gives me.  “Why”–here I bite my tongue to keep myself from using a profanity–“did you do that?”

“I dunno, I read in The Wall Street Journal Saturday that we’re supposed to surprise people.”

“I don’t think the guy meant it in that sense, it was more an argument against changing economic behavior by telegraphing what you’re going to do with rates.”

“Oh,” he says sheepishly.  “It was the weekend, I didn’t really read the paper that closely.  Would you like me to show you around a bit?”

“Sure,” I say, and he takes me down the hall after telling his secretary to take messages while he gives me a tour of the building.

We pass by the mail room where we see piles of correspondence stacked high upon tables.

“Wow–you guys must get a lot of important business correspondence, huh?”

“This is crank mail from right-wing conspiracy theorists.  The threatening letters from left-wing populists are over in Room 4B.”

We stop at a water cooler, and Powell gulps down two cups.  “Liquidity is very important,” he says as he crumples the little paper cone and drops it in a wastebasket.  “Especially in a time of sudden asset deflation.”

He knocks gently on a closed oak door bearing the nameplate of Miki Bowman, seated at her desk.

Michelle Bowman.jpg
Miki Bowman


“Miki, we have a visitor,” Powell says, as he introduces us.  “Mr. Chapman is author of ‘Our Friends the Fed.'”

“I’m not familiar with it,” Bowman says.  “Is it like one of our ‘Beige Books‘?”

“No, it’s not as funny as that,” I say.

Powell gives me a look like he’s just sniffed a carton of sour milk.  I guess he takes his job controlling the world’s largest economy seriously.

“C’mon in,” Bowman says, and picks up a can from her desk.  “You know, one of the benefits of being a Governor of the Federal Reserve System is the many wonderful presents we receive from grateful bankers across the nation.  I just received a can of peanut brittle in this morning’s mail–would you like some?”

“Sure, I grew up in Missouri–I love peanut brittle.  We used to buy it at Stuckey’s when we’d go down to the Lake of the Ozarks as kids.”


“I know it’s not good for my teeth, but I’m just crazy about the stuff,” Bowman says, as she struggles to open the can.  “Damned arthritis,” she says.  “I can’t get the top off.”

“Here let me help,” I say, as I take it from her hands.  “My dad always emphasized the importance of having a strong grip.” I say, but before I can finish my reminiscence three fuzzy snakes come whooshing out of the can and hit me in the face.

“Ha!  Got ya!” Bowman says, as she accepts a gleeful ‘high-five’ from Powell.

“You are such a cut-up!” he says.

I try to be a good sport about it, but I’m beginning to have my doubts about the people who have final say over the nation’s money supply.  “Sure fooled me,” I say sheepishly.  “But . . . can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot,” says Powell.

“Bang!” says Bowman, and they again break out in laughter.

“What I’m wondering is–should you really be fooling around with novelty items from a joke shop when we’re trying to reverse a depressed labor force participation rate?”

Powell’s face takes on a serious look.  “Well, perhaps not when you look at the long and distinguished history of this institution, going all the way back to William McChesney Martin.”

William McChesney Martin:  “No punch for you!”


“He’s the one who said ‘The job of the Fed is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going,'” Bowman adds with obvious pride.

“But then we read in the Journal that we’re supposed to surprise people,” Powell says.  “So–peanut brittle!”

Okay, I say to myself.  Everybody’s entitled to a little office fun, even the Fed.  Perhaps especially the Fed.  I wouldn’t want them screwing up the job and life prospects of my sons, just starting out in their careers, with the sort of hyper-inflation I lived through back when–speaking of peanuts–Jimmy Carter was president.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to work,” Powell says.

“Or appearing to work,” Bowman says, verbally goosing her male colleague in the hope that he’ll do something about industrial productivity before the end of the year.

“Nice to meet you,” Powell says, but I spurn his offer of a handshake for fear of getting the hand-buzzer treatment again.  “Nothing personal,” I say.  “I’m kind of a germophobe.”

Bowman escorts me down to the end of the hall, where a windowless door–ever-so-slightly ajar–is decorated with the creepy pyramid that appears on the dollar bill.


“What’s in there?” I ask.

“It’s kind of a secret,” Bowman says, as she starts to make a right turn down a perpendicular corridor.

“Well, I wouldn’t be doing my job as an investigative reporter if I let you keep me away from the inner workings of the American economy with such a casual brush-off,” I say, getting my back up a bit.

Bowman looks at me for the first time with an expression of concern.  “I really shouldn’t let you in there,” she says.

“All the more reason for me to see what you’re hiding,” I say.  “This is the problem with the Fed.  You lack transparency, you’re not politically accountable, you . . .”

“All right, fine,” she says, with resignation.  “We probably never should have agreed to let you in to the Federal Reserve Bank, but since you insist on seeing everything . . .”


“Thank you,” I say, trying to be gracious but firm.  “Americans have a right to know what you people do here.”

“Don’t rub it in,” she says.

“It’s their money,” I say as I open the door–and a bucket of water falls on my head.

“What the . . .”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Our Friends, the Fed.”

On Dylan’s Birthday, Appliance Dealers Ask “What If?”

HIBBING, Minnesota.  As tributes marking Bob Dylan’s 82nd birthday appeared in the national news last Wednesday, word spread around this town of 17,000 in northeastern Minnesota that its most famous local musician was being celebrated for his longevity and not, for once, his creativity.  What did he think of the milestone, this reporter asks Al Sklarski, a shift supervisor at a local iron mine.  “You mean Gary Puckett?  I used to love that song of his, what was it–‘Lady Willpower’?”


When informed that the subject of the profiles was Bob Dylan, the world-renowned singer-songwriter, Sklarski drew a blank.  “Never heard of him,” he said as he took off in his pick-up truck.

The confusion stems from the fact that when Dylan left Hibbing at the age of 18 he was known as Bobby Zimmerman, son of a local appliance store owner.  Dylan changed his name after moving to New York City, and skyrocketed to fame when the folk themes and styles he revived found a new audience among college protestors in the 1960’s.

Dylan, ne Zimmerman

But others in this town recall Zimmerman/Dylan with a mixture of pride and regret.  “He could have been one of the great ones,” says Mike O’Dwyer, owner of O’Dwyer Appliances.  “He could’ve become manager of his dad’s appliance store and done real well for himself.  Instead, he took the easy way out and became a Nobel Prize winner.”

Dylan got his start singing at “Sidewalk Days” promotions for his father’s store, which handled several major “white goods” brands including Maytag and Frigidaire.  An early attempt to capture the discontent of the fifties was his “Dryin’ in the Wind,” about the superior quality of a stackable, front-loading Amana washer/dryer:

How may loads can one dryer dry
Before its motor conks out?
Where do you get the best appliance deals–
At Zimmerman’s, there’s no doubt.

Competition was intense among aspiring folk singers in the late 50s and early 60s, but Dylan outpaced others with his gift for wrapping political commentary in powerful lyrical images.  “A lot of people thought Phil Ochs would emerge as the voice of that generation,” says Arnie Welstead, former editor of Folksong! magazine.  “Where Phil went wrong was he was tough on warranty claims if your ‘big ticket’ item broke.”

Image result for phil ochs
Phil Ochs:  “If only I’d had Dylan’s background in gas and electric ranges.”

In addition to Dylan and Puckett, Hibbing was home to Kevin McHale, forward for the Boston Celtics and later coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the professional basketball team, not the carnivorous predators.  The local Chamber of Commerce here has invited the three famous sons to a “Celebration of Hibbing” tentatively scheduled for October of this year when Puckett will turn 81.  When asked if he would attend, Dylan, a reclusive artist known for his obscure lyrics, replied in a cryptic email “What time is the Early Bird Special at Applebee’s?”

As Friends Rallied Round, One Avoided Bloodshed

SEEKONK, Mass.  For Phil Sturgis, a 57-year-old pipe fitter, it was always about friends.  “Seriously, where would I be without these guys,” he says as he points to a faded picture of him and six of his buddies on a deep-sea fishing excursion.  “I wouldn’t be anywhere is where, he says,” fighting back a tear.

Sturgis has a rare blood disorder, Weiman-Flojit Syndrome, in which his red blood cells gang up on the white ones, give them the blood cell equivalent of a wedgie, and steal their lunch money.  “There is faint hope that someday we’ll have a cure,” says Dr. Emily Carstairs of St. Judith the Prudent Hospital here.  “Until then, all we can do is pump new blood into the victims and send them gigantic bills.”

While the hospital takes care of the second part, it was Phil’s friends who pitched in for the first.  “I had no problem giving a pint of blood for Phil,” says Al Mayo, who has known him since grade school.  “He’s bought a few pints for me.”



But one of Phil’s friends, Alton Mack,  asked if he could contribute to the cause of saving a life in a different way.  “I’m thin because I don’t drink like these guys, and I get queasy at the sight of blood,” says the professor of English at nearby UMass-Seekonk.  “You wouldn’t want me to get sick to help somebody else get well–would you?”

So Mack offered to memorialize Sturgis by the greatest honor an academic can confer on another human being–a footnote in an academic paper.  “A footnote is forever,” says Geoffrey Hargraves, incoming president of the Modernist Language Association.  “Most consumer goods are crap, and once the warranty expires the best you can do is sell them for pennies on the dollar at a tag sale or eBay.”

Mack, wandering lonely as a cloud.


Sturgis’s footnote strikes a personal tone, and is unlikely to take its place in history alongside those of Edward Gibbon, whose “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” used footnotes to skewer St. Augustine and other lesser figures, or Vladimir Nabokov, whose novel “Pale Fire” consists largely of footnotes to a 999-line poem.  “I didn’t want to embarrass him with something mushy,” Sturgis says, “so I kept it short, sweet, and to the point.”

The memorial footnote appears in a study of the works of John Updike, which Mack hopes to see published in a more prestigious journal than he has so far been able to crack.  “Updike’s ‘Rabbit Run’ is a basketball novel, of which there haven’t been many,” he notes, as he flips to page 23 and points to footnote number 114.  “See–it’s really a nice tribute.”

This reporter runs his finger down the page to find the memorial, which reads as follows: “The paucity of basketball novels may be due to the fact that basketball fans would rather–for some strange reason–watch basketball than read books.  The author gave ‘Rabbit Run’ to Philip Sturgis, a life-long Boston Celtics fan, but he returned it two weeks later saying it was boring and he couldn’t finish it.”

Pahk Your Kahma in Hahvahd Yahd

          Yoga instructions have been added to parking citations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to “debunk the idea that all parking tickets are a hostile action.”

                                                                        The Boston Globe

It ain’t easy bein’ a meter maid in Cambridge, believe me.  Everybody thinks they’re a genius here.  You try tellin’ Alan Dershowitz he’s parked more than a foot from the curb.  “Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable,” he says, like I haven’t heard that one before.

“You can appeal,” I says.  “It’s right there on the ticket, next to the Pranayama.”  We got to write 340,000 tickets a year, I don’t have time to stop and show everybody how to do the Uddiyana Bandha.

Or how about them snow emergency tickets?  We got to clear the streets for the plows, so that ticket’s gonna run you forty bucks.  And what do I get when I try to write one?  Nuthin’ but grief.  Last winter one guy says “You call this an emergency?  We’ve got a senile old man in the White House, we’re on the verge of World War III, we’ve got Weimar-level inflation—that’s an emergency.”

“You should take a deep breath,” I said to the guy as I ripped the ticket off my pad.  “Try the Jalandhara Bandha.”

“The what?”

“The Net Bearer Bond.  Right there on the citation.  Like you’re catching fish.”

The guy looked down at the ticket.  “Are you nuts?” he asked.

“No, I’m centered is what I am.  I don’t fly off the handle just because somebody’s doing her job trying to make the Athens of America a better place to live.”

I could see I’d caught the guy off guard, deflecting his rage with my verbal jiu-jitsu.

Namaste,” I said as I turned to go.  “The divinity within me salutes the divinity within you.  Have a nice freaking day.”

This time of year is the worst, though. You got kids moving out going to “internships” that pay more than I make after twenty years on the job.  You got dingbat out-of-town parents in town for graduation, totally ignorant of Traffic, Parking & Transportation Regulations, which are available on the city website, I might add.  Would it kill anybody to take a minute from illegal downloading to review them?  I don’t think so, and yet as I approach Central Square I see a twenty-something kid with a wispy beard getting out of his beat-up Volvo with an armload of CD’s on his way to a used record store.  As soon as he looks up, I pounce.

“I’m gonna have to write you up,” I says.

“What for?”

“You’re pahked you cah within twenty feet of an intersection—twenty bucks.”

“Come on—give me a break.  I have to sell my roommate’s stuff because he can’t pay his share of the rent.  I’ll be lucky to get half that much for all this folkie crap.”

“That’s not my problem,” I say as I note his license number.  I watch him carefully out of the corner of my eye—meter-maid rage is the biggest occupational hazard of my profession.

“This is so unfair!” he screams when he can control himself no longer.

“You know what John Kennedy’s dad said?” I say, recalling one of Hahvahd’s most illustrious graduates.

“No, what?”

“Life is unfair.  Here—try the Chaturanga Dandasana when you get back to your apahtment.”

“The what?”

“Right there on the back of the ticket.  It’ll help you relax, maybe you can talk some sense into your knucklehead roommate, okay?”

The kid looks at the pose, and I can tell he’s a little confused.

“I . . . I thought parking tickets were about enforcement—hostility.”

“Maybe in Boston, but not on this side of the river,” I say.  “In Cambridge, it’s all about helping you—the violator—reclaim the wholeness that’s your birthright with the three limbs of Patanjali’s classical yoga: dharana, dhyana and samadhi.”

I can see the kid is having a little trouble getting his mind around the enlightenment I’m offering him—for free.  Your tax dollars at work.

“You don’t have to do it as part of the Sun Salutation sequence,” I say, trying to reassure him.  “You can do it individually, too.  Just be sure to exhale when you release.”

“Okay—I guess.”

I smile at him, and bow low.  All in a day’s work—for a City of Cambridge Parking Enforcement Officer and Guru.

Squalid Conditions at Chinese Blog Factories Draw Human Rights Scrutiny

XIANGGANG, China.  Emily Costbinder doesn’t look like a crusader with her Patagonia fleece pullover, khakis and sensible shoes, but the slight Bryn Mawr student is taking a grave personal risk as she pulls out her cellphone once inside the Xianggang Xingxing Special Products factory here.  “I have to speak truth to power,” says the young woman of the independent study project she designed herself.  “The world has no idea where the flood of blogs and posts on the internet is coming from, but they will if I have anything to say about it.”

“So many Kardashians–get to work!”

She waits until a tour guide’s attention is diverted by a question from a harried-looking foreman, then surreptitiously snaps a picture of workers–mainly recent arrivals from the Chinese countryside–who slave away up to twelve hours a day in an unventilated building with only a half-hour mid-day meal break allowed.  “If they need to go to the bathroom,” she says, her face a picture of anguished concern, “they must stay after hours to meet quota of Kim Kardashian posts.”

“Bigfoot . . . UFO . . . getting sleepy.”

Xingxing in Xianggang has emerged as the “Blogtown” of China, playing the role that Pittsburgh filled as “Steeltown” during the Industrial Revolution in America.  “X is the least-used letter in English,” says Dao Fang, the Minister of Social Media Industries of the People’s Republic.  “Our people can subsist on them much as American trophy wives get by on celery stalks and Triscuits, the 100% whole grain wheat cracker now available in ten different flavors including fire-roasted tomato and olive oil,” Fang says, trying to earn bonus compensation for “product placement.”

“Write how chance encounter with Robin Williams changed your life.”

A large volume of blogging production shifts overseas when American presidential elections approach, as domestic bloggers fall behind in the manufacture and delivery of umbrage and outrage.  “Every time your President Biden fall down stairs, I must add second shift,” says Liu Ne De Ye, production supervisor at Xingxing.

“What is a LeBron James anyway?”

American bloggers who outsource work to the Far East say a Chinese “dan ci gong yio” or “word janitor” will write blog posts U.S. typists turn up their noses at, and for far less.  “Kids these days want to go into dicey professions like medicine and accounting,” says Mike Aramak, who writes the “Smash Mouth NFL Draft” blog but sometimes falls behind in production.  “Nobody wants their kid to grow up to be a blogger.”

Walk for Irish Alzheimer’s Finds Old Wounds Still Fresh

BOSTON.  In this, the most Irish city in America, the streets are filled from spring through summer with walks for cures for numerous diseases.  “It a good thing they don’t have one for Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease,” says Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Mary Ann McGlogarty.  “All that walking would only make things worse for the little fellas.”

“I don’t know where we’re going, but I’ll never forgive Tim O’Brien.”

But there is a new entrant in the crowded field of ailments that tug at residents’ heartstrings by filling the streets with walkers clad in souvenir t-shirts, water bottles in hand:  “We’ve taken care of everybody but our own folks,” says Siobhan Blakey.  “The cobbler’s kids go shoeless, and our poor mums and dads go without the critical aid they need in their golden years.”

“You stepped on my foot last year too, you oaf.”


Blakey is referring to “Irish Alzheimer’s Disease,” which strikes eight out of ten descendants of the Emerald Isle before they die, after which it doesn’t matter.  “Victims of Irish Alzheimer’s forget everything but the grudges,” says McGlogarty.  “It’s the one thing they have to hold on to when they can’t remember where they left their glasses and car keys.”

Local primary care physicians had long doubted the existence of a separate strain of Alzheimer’s Disease until they encountered the curious case of Seamus Houlihan, who wandered into Massachusetts General Hospital one day because he had heard that actor John Wayne had once been treated there.  “He was incoherent, babbling, couldn’t tell us where he lived,” says Dr. Philip McGrath.  “Then he saw my name tag and recalled that a girl named Daisy McGrath refused to dance with him in junior high, and he was off to the races.”

Medical researchers say they are hopeful a new drug cocktail will provide relief from symptoms, which include grumbling, muttering under one’s breath, and general orneriness.  Patrick Keoghan, a local resident who can trace his ancestry back to 18th century County Cork, is encouraged by the news.  “I’ve been collecting grievances for years,” he says as he opens the bulkhead door to his basement.  “My wife says I’ve got to throw them out to make room for her canned goods.”

A Day in the Life of a Supermodel Armpit Makeup Artist

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen had “to hold really still whilst makeup was applied to her armpits.”

                    The Boston Herald

It was 6:30 a.m., and my CD player-alarm clock sounded the opening notes of Albeniz’s “Asturias,” which is familiar to 60′s drugheads as the intro to The Doors “Spanish Caravan.”  It fit my mood; anxious, edgy–depressed.

Some of my early work.


I’d been out of work as an armpit makeup artist for three months following a disastrous shoot for “American Girl” magazine.  I had prepped precocious Cindy Hammer for a feature on Camp Pa-He-Tsi in Winnisquam, Michigan, using every tool in my portable makeup kit; styptic pencil, upper armpit blusher, highlighter.

Then the little twerp went and switched from a side pose to a full-frontal/arms-extended look, exposing her wispy alfalfa-sprout armpit hair to view.  Scoutmaster Mary Louise Fernald had told me we didn’t have time to prep both armpits on all the girls–they had Junior Life Saving at 1:30, gimp necklaces at 2:00.   I’d been caught leaning the wrong way.

No, don’t!


When the proofs arrived back in New York, the editor 86′d them and told me not to bother calling him anymore.  Needless to say, I didn’t get a nomination for the “Harrys”–the armpit makeup industry’s prestigious annual awards–and my name was mud from Manhattan to Hollywood.

Still, I forced myself to get up every morning.  They say that’s essential when you’re out of work.  You’ve got to be just as disciplined when you’re unemployed as when you’re working; shower, shave, make breakfast (the most important meal of the day!), scan the want ads and make some calls.  If you don’t, you’ll end up sleeping on a heating grate in a couple of years as the inexorable downward undertow of self-pity drags you . . .

The phone!  Maybe a call-back!  I knocked over my bowl of Special K–the lightly toasted, lightly sweetened rice cereal by Kellogg’s that is high in flavor but low in calories–lunging to answer it.

“Hullo?” I said into the mouthpiece, trying to sound eager, but not desperate.

Excellent source of 11 vitamins and minerals.


“Is this Duane Fontana?”

“That’s me.”  Dammit–should have said “It is I”, I thought, remembering the telephone-answering skills I had learned in 4th grade English class.

“Dov Lemuelson here–how are you?”

“Fine, fine–just fine Mr. Lemuelson.”  I was talking to the head of Dov Modeling Service, one of the largest agencies in Southern California.

“Keeping busy?” he asked, and a tremor of fear shot down my spine.  I couldn’t sound like I was too busy, but I also couldn’t let him sense how far I’d fallen.  “Sure,” I said after I composed myself, “but never too busy to work with you, one of the top . . .”

“Skip the obsequies.”  I think he meant “flattery,” but he’d probably been taking a “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary” course and had assumed that the word for funeral rites was derived from “obsequious”–i.e., fawning attentiveness.  I started to correct him, but on second thought bit my tongue.


“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I jutht bit ma tung.”

“Terrific.  Say, I’ve got a supermodel out on a spread for Marie Claire–”

“The publicathion that women turn to for infomathion on fathion, thtyle, beauty, women’th ithues and careerth?”

“That’s the one.  Anyway, the armpit makeup artist just walked off the job.  I need to get someone out there quick, before they cancel and I’m stuck with nothing but a ‘kill’ fee and have to pay Frederica out of my own pocket.”

As he spoke, I’d been bathing my tongue in the remaining milk in my bowl to ease the pain of my self-inflicted bite.  By the time he’d finished, I was ready to pounce.

“Just give me the address, and I’m on my way.”

“3820 Feliz Navidad Boulevard.”

“I’m already gone,” I said as I slammed down the handpiece.

By the time I reached the scene, the structured atmosphere of your typical high-fashion photo assignment had descended into chaos.  Up against the adobe wall of the San Luis Obispo mission lay the shattered fragments of a Mitchum Smart Solid deodorant container, apparently hurled in a fit of pique by Duchess Frederica von de Velde, one of the world’s most temperamental supermodels–and that’s saying something.

“Hello,” I said as I walked up to her.  “My name is Duane Fontana–Dov sent me.”

“Then you know who I am,” she said, with a bitter tone.  “Everybody does.  I have no privacy!”

An odd complaint for someone who makes a lot of money spreading her bony ass and leggy body all over glossy magazines, but I let it pass.

“I’m here to help, Ms. von de Velde.”

“Please–let us not stand on these silly formalities.”


“Call me ‘Duchess’.”

Bo Diddley:  “Nice pits, babe.”


So she wanted to maintain a professional distance between us.  Fine.  I made small talk while I unpacked my bag.  “Didn’t Bo Diddley have a sister named ‘Duchess’?”

“Who is this Bo Diddley of which you speak?” she asked in the stilted English she had learned in European boarding schools.

“He’s dead.  Rock ‘n roll pioneer–’Shave-and-a-haircut–two bits’ beat.”

“Oh,” she replied blankly.  I understood that she did that a lot.

I held up my light meter and took some readings.  Bright sun called for a #4 armpit masque, with just a hint of groin shadow on top to give that chiaroscuro finish that female readers respond to by renewing their subscriptions early.

“You have really nice pits,” I said as I went to work.

“No I do not,” she said.  “They are ugly.  I got them from my father’s . . . how you say–jeans?”

“No, ‘genes’.”

She gave me a look that would have dried a prune.  “I know that all of you makeup types are homonymphos, but please–do not pull your homonyms on me.”

“Sorry,” I said, “just trying to help.”

“Do your job,” she said with disdain as she lifted both arms over her head.

“Okay,” I said as I took out my Dust It Mineral Makeup Brush.

She may have been a bitch, but she was a pro.  She held herself stock still, and in five minutes she was camera-ready with a pair of armpits that most women would die for.

“All set,” I said as I poofed her with a glistening atomizer to give her that last touch of musky moistness that a man forced to flip through next month’s issue as he waits for his wife in a women’s clothing store might find a tad erotic.  “It’s been a pleasure working with you,” I said, and I meant it–if only for the money.

“Thank you,” she said as she walked over to the photographer’s umbrella, her arms akimbo to keep her pits in picture-perfect shape until the shutterbug was ready.  “I am always happy to bring pleasure into the lives of little people like yourself.”

She walked away and, as I stood there admiring my work, a thought occurred to me.

“Duchess?” I said timidly, causing her to turn around.


“Would you . . . “  I hesitated, unsure of myself.


“I’d like to have a memento of my work with you.”

“Like a publicity photo?”

“No.  If you don’t mind–would you autograph this dress shield for me?”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Bad Girls.”