Nuptial Indemnity

           Insurance for weddings, family reunions and bar mitzvahs, already common in Britain, is becoming popular in the US.

                                                                             The Boston Globe

I drove out to Glendale to put three new tantes on a bar mitzvah bond, and then I remembered this lead on a wedding policy over in Hollywood.  I decided to run over there to see if I could get the future bride and groom to sign the paperwork while they were still in love.  Timing is everything when you’re selling insurance.

The house was one of those Mexican-style jobs everyone was crazy about a few years ago-white walls, red tile roof.  The couple was probably under water on the mortgage and couldn’t afford to leave.  I figured they’d been living together and she’d started making noises about palimony.  Or maybe there was a baby on the way, and I don’t mean from one of those third-world dumps where the gross national product doubles when a movie starlet on a mission touches down on the country’s only landing strip.  Funny how those things work out.

I rang the bell and waited–nothing.  I rang it again.  What the hell, I drove all the way out there, I might as well make sure.  Still nothing.  I turned to go back to my car when I heard footsteps inside.  I looked through the glass and saw a woman.  She opened the inner door and spoke through the screen.

”May I help you?” she asked.  You sure could, I thought.  It’s getting towards the end of the month, and I need the commission.

“Good afternoon–I’m Walter Huff, American Nuptial Indemnity.”

“Hello,” she said in a sultry voice, and that one word spoke volumes.  If I’d been selling encyclopedias I would have run to my car for a sample.  “I’m Phyllis Shamie Nirdlinger, or at least I will be as soon as I get married.”

“The home office said someone at this address was interested in some insurance.”  She had a body like an upside-down viola da gamba-without the sound holes, frets or strings.  Full at the top, narrowing at the waist, slender legs where the neck should have been.

“That would be my fiancé, Herbert S. Nirdlinger.”

“Yes, I believe that was the name.”

“What kind of insurance was he interested in?  I ought to know, but I don’t keep track,” she said as she twisted her lower lip into a little dishrag of affected concern.

“I guess none of us keep track until something happens,” I replied.  “Just the usual–collision, fire, family reunion, with a bar/bat mitzvah rider in case either of you convert to Judaism and have children.”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“It’s only a routine matter, but he ought to take care of it.  You never know when something might happen.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right.  So many entertainers get caught up in the Kabbalah-like Madonna.”

“You in the entertainment business?”  I was playing dumb.  I can spot an unemployed actress a backhanded Frisbee toss away.

“Yes.  I’m between roles right now,” she said as she gazed over my shoulder, as if she expected to see Spielberg coming up the sidewalk.   All of sudden she looked at me, and I felt a chill creep up my back and into the roots of my hair.  “Do you handle wedding insurance?”

I couldn’t be mistaken about what she meant, not after fifteen years in the insurance business.  Not with all the jewelry riders I’ve written up, not with all the homeowner’s policies I’ve stretched to cover some kid’s busted mountain bike two years after he graduated from college.

I was going to get up and go and drop her and that wedding policy like a hot shotput–but I didn’t.  I couldn’t, not when I looked into those eyes like turtle pools that little kids wade in and pee in, and-what the hell.  I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her towards me.

She looked surprised, but I was pretty sure that was a façade, a coat of paint.  I could see right through her if I wanted, but I liked what I saw on the surface, and I didn’t go any deeper.

“Oh, Walter,” she moaned as I clutched her close to me.  “Maybe this is the awful part, but I want . . . I need our wedding to fail.  Do you understand me?”


“Nobody could,” she sighed.

“But we’re going to do it.”

“We’re going to do it.”

“Straight down the line, right?


“To hell with the bridesmaids?”

“To hell with the bridesmaids–and their purple organza empire waistline floor-length dresses.”

If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right.  “All the big money on wedding insurance policies comes from the double indemnity clause,” I said to her.

“The double whatsis clause?”

“Double indemnity.  They found out pretty quick when they started writing wedding insurance that the places people think are danger spots–like the groom has a few too many pops and calls the mother-of-the-bride an old warthog–aren’t danger spots at all.”

“They aren’t?”

“No.  People think the groom thinks the mother of the bride is an old warthog, but he doesn’t.  He doesn’t think she’s all that bad, just a few decades older than the bride, who looks like her mother, so why would he say the mother looks like an old warthog, unless he thinks the bride looks like a young warthog?”

“I see.”

No she didn’t, but I decided to humor her.  “So they put in a feature that sounds pretty good to the guy that buys it, because he’s a little worried he’s going to slip.  It doesn’t cost the company much because they know he’s pretty sure to keep his mouth shut.”


“You can say that again.”


“Not literally–figuratively.  They tell you they’ll pay double indemnity if the groom insults the bride’s mother, because then you’ve got a living hell.  You married the guy and have to live with him the rest of your life, but he insulted your mother, so what are you going to do for holidays, and the kid’s birthdays, and so forth.”

She was quiet for a moment.  “How much is that worth?”

“On a regular $10,000 wedding package?  When we get done, if we do it right, we cash a $20,000 bet.”

“Twenty thousand dollars?”

“To bring the immediate family, flowers and a cake back to the original location, with a photographer-absolutely.”

“But–what if I don’t want to do it over?”

I knew where she was going.  I wanted to go there too.

“The check is made out to you and your fiancé–jointly.  What time does he get home from work?”

“6 o’clock-closer to 7 if traffic’s bad.”

“And what time does the mail get here?”

“Usually by 4:30.”

“Have you got his signature on a piece of paper?”

“Yes, on the installment contract for the bedroom air conditioner.”

“How about a glass coffee table and a flashlight?”

“Yes.  The batteries in the flashlight may be low . . .”

“You can get new ones at the hardware store.  Here’s how we do it.  You get under the coffee table, shine the light through contract, and I’ll trace his signature on the check.”

“Very clever,” she said, a dizzy grin on her face.  I could tell she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

“Now listen to me,” I said, a little out of breath.  I was winded from switching back and forth between our staccato dialogue and my first-person narrative.


She was all ears, with some lips, hips, legs, breasts and other body parts thrown in for good measure.

“You can’t breathe a word of this-not so much as a vowel of it–to anybody.”

She leaned into me like the bulkhead of a four-story apartment building. “Do you understand?” I asked as she pressed against me.

“I understand,” she said.  She had a smile that could light up the inside of a refrigerator.

* * * * *

There’s a million things can go wrong with a wedding.  An uncle who has to see the Southern Cal game brings a portable TV to the church.  A groomsman sticks a bottle rocket in the tailpipe of the bride’s limo.  A maiden aunt who’s allergic to nuts keels over after two bites of the tortoni. It doesn’t take long to come up with a couple of crazy schemes, not if you’ve been in the business as long as I have.  Problem is, you’d make better use of the brain cells you burn thinking them up having a rye highball and going to bed.

“How are you going to do it?” I asked Phyllis one night as I stared into the fire.

“Well, we’ve got a swimming pool out back.  We could have a cocktail party for him to meet my parents’ friends, and I could bump him so he knocks my mother into it.”

“Out of the question.”

She screwed her mouth up into a little moue.

“You don’t like that idea?” she asked.

“It’s terrible.  Your mother would just laugh it off.  She’d be telling friends about it till the day she died.  What else?”

“Um-what if he got really drunk at his bachelor party and . . . left something personal with a stripper?”

“It’s no good.”

“Why not?”

“You call things off over that, you’re the bad guy, not him.  He’s just letting off a little steam.  Worst that happens is he picks up a social disease-gives you something to talk about at bridge club.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

I grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her around and made her do the Bunny Hop into the bathroom until we were standing in front of her medicine cabinet mirror.

“You’ve got to get this straight–there comes a time with any wedding policy when the only thing that will see you through is audacity, and I can’t tell you why.  Understand?”

“Why you can’t tell me why?”

“No, why you need audacity.”

“I don’t understand why you need audacity.”

“Neither do I, but you need it.  So what we do is this.  You get to his best man, tell him you know Herbert was a ladies’ man, you’ve always wanted to hear what a rake he was . . .”

“You mean hoe?”

“No, rake.  You set the guy up to give the most embarrassing toast at a rehearsal dinner since the wedding feast at Cana.”

“And when he does?”

“You bolt the banquet hall, crying.  Deal’s off.”

“And the insurance company pays?”

“They have to.  You don’t fall within the runaway bride exception.  You didn’t get cold feet–you had no idea Herb was such a cad, a bounder, a . . . “


“You got it.”

*    *    *

We had it set up so it couldn’t fail.  It would run like a Swiss cuckoo clock, chirping at the appointed hour.  Floyd Gehrke, the best man, liked to drink, and he liked to talk.  Phyllis had pumped him up like an air mattress.

“I want to hear everything–everything, you understand?” she told Gehrke.

“I could go on all night,” Floyd said.  “Won’t you have to pay the band extra?”

“That won’t be necessary,” I cut in.  I didn’t want to use up the deductible on Leo Bopp and his Musical Magicians.

“Okay,” Floyd said, as he wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood up.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, and Phyllis and I were tapping our crystal water glasses like English handbell ringers.

“If I can have your attention for a few moments, I’d like to say a few words about my best bud–Herb Nirdlinger.”

The crowd began to uncouple from their conversations, and Floyd launched his dinghy onto the dark waters of the Chateau de Ville Ballroom and Function Facilities.

“I’ve known Herb for many, many years-I don’t think any man knows him better than I do.”

There were a few coughs in the back of the room, but then things settled down for good.

“Like a lot of guys, Herb sowed a fifty-pound bag of wild oats when he was younger, but–and this is a big but, just like Herb’s-

There were a few laughs spread across the room–fewer than Floyd was expecting.  I thought I saw a few drops of flop sweat break out on his brow.

“Every girl Herb ever dated, then dumped–every one of them would come running back to him today.  All he’d have to do is say the word.  And the reason is, when he dropped them, he let them down easy.”

Floyd was off to a good start.  I gave Phyllis the high sign; one hand under my chin, which I waved up and down, so I looked like Oliver the Dragon on “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”

That’s Ollie on the right.

“Herb was always a perfect gentleman about it, and that’s why he remains friends to this very day with so many of the women he dated.”

It wouldn’t take too much more of this before any reasonable woman would have fled in tears.  That’s all I needed–just a little actuarial ammunition to back us up.

“And I hope he continues to do the same thing with Phyllis–the nice part, not the breaking up part.”

I kicked her–kicked her hard–and she stood up.  “You–you lout, you!” she said, looking at Herb.   “The wedding’s off!” she screamed, took off her ring and threw it at him.  Then she ran off into the night like a scalded cat.

I picked up the ring, put it in a #1 Brown Kraft coin envelope with Gummed Closure and handed it to Herb.  “Your policy does not cover goods that are intentionally damaged or discarded,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied.  I thought I saw a tear in his eye, and I thought he was crying about Phyllis.  The cold duck must have gone to my head.

*    *    *

“Huff, I don’t like it.”  I was sitting in the office of Keyes, my claim manager.

“What’s the matter with it?”

“Gal goes out and buys a wedding policy,” he said as he paced up and down in my office.  “Never hires a florist or a caterer.  Doesn’t book a band.  Has one, maybe two fittings on her wedding dress.  Picks out some godawful purple organza material none of the bridesmaids like, but none of them says a thing.”

“Nothing unusual about that.”

“It gets unusualler.  The night before the rehearsal dinner she calls up the fabric shop and cancels the order.”

“So–it happens every day.”

“Sure it does.  But you know what doesn’t happen every day?”


“She doesn’t argue about the $200 deposit, and in fact tells the girl she can keep it–’cause she’s been so nice to her.”

My heart was pounding.  “It’s a chick thing.  Women don’t tip for service, they tip because they like somebody, they tip . . .”

“Huff-it wasn’t a tip.  It was hush money, pure and simple.  Only she gave it to the wrong person-someone who’s got a shred of ethics left in this lousy, stinking world. Someone who understands that the cost of insurance fraud for all of us is a lot higher than the price tag on a lousy 50 yard bolt of discontinued fabric.”

A lump rolled down my throat and into my stomach.  The honeymoon was over.  It was time to kill Phyllis.

*    *    *

I told her I’d meet her at her place, that I had the check.

“Oh, Walter, that’s thrilling.”

”Just be sure you’ve got new batteries for the flashlight, and use some Windex on that coffee table of yours so I can do a good job on Herb’s signature.”

“I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“Fine isn’t good enough.  This is a big check, so there’ll be a manual examination when it hits my company’s account.  It’s got to be perfect.”

“Don’t snap at me,” she said in a hurt little voice.  “What do I know about reasonable industry standards of care in the commercial banking business?”

I couldn’t afford to have her go wobbly on me now.  “Sorry, sugar.  We’ll get this last piece of business behind us, and then we’ll be together.”


“That’s right.”


Until death did us part.

I rolled into her driveway around twelve-thirty.  There wasn’t any point in parking down the street and walking any more; it would all be over–for better or worse–when I walked out that door.

I rang her doorbell and she answered it in the same get-up she had on the first day I met her.

“Looks familiar, baby.”

“I figured you liked what you saw then.”

“I sure did,” I said, and I wasn’t lying.  “Where’s that coffee table?”

“In there,” she said, and she pointed into a sort of parlor off foyer.

I walked in and started to sit down on the couch.  As I hiked up my pants the way men used to do before the coming of wrinkle-free, easy-care styles, something hit me in the back of the head like Jack Dempsey in a clinch.

“Ow,” I said as my head hit one of those expensive coffee table books that nobody ever reads but everybody says “This is so lovely!” when you give it to them.  People are like that.

“Okay, you human file cabinet,” I heard a gruff voice say.  “Hand over that check.”

I looked up and saw Floyd Gehrke standing there with the Bucheimer “Midget” sap that he had just flattened me with.

“So it’s the best man,” I said through the salty taste of blood in my mouth.  The oldest trick in the book, and I fell for it.

”That’s right,” he said.  “You were expecting maybe the ring bearer?”

“That would have been just a little too cute.”

“Enough with the wisecracks,” he said.  “Hand over the $20,000.”

“Sure, sure,” I said.  “I’ve got it right here.”

I reached in my inside jacket pocket and pulled out my Beretta PX4 Storm Sub-Compact.  It holds thirteen rounds-unlucky thirteen.

I let the best man have twelve while Phyllis stood there shrieking, her hands over her ears.  Then I turned to her.

“There’s one left, baby.  You want it?”

“Oh, Walter-please don’t.  We have so much to live for!”

“Like what?” I said bitterly.  “Name one precious little thing.”

“Just look,” she said, and with a sweep of her arm she showed me what every newlywed couple hopes for and dreams of.

“Look at these wedding presents!  We got a Cuisinart! And a Donut Express countertop donut maker with standard and mini-size pans–it’s dishwasher safe!”

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

Stop Singing and Write Your Damn Novel

William Faulkner was once thrown out of a speakeasy for singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

People think it’s easy bein’ a bouncer in a speakeasy but it ain’t.  “You never have to worry about losin’ your liquor license ’cause there ain’t no such thing as a liquor license on accounta prohibition,” they say.  Hah–whadda they know.  We gotta pay off the mayor, cops, assorted politicians, temperance goody-goodies, you name it, they got their hand through the little peephole in the door.  It’s no wonder the speakeasy failure rate is so high.

Image result for william faulkner

On top of that there’s the novelists.  Sheesh, what I wouldn’t do for one night–one lousy night–without that stream o’ consciousness guy, what’s his name, Faulkner, comin’ in here and ruinin’ everybody’s evenin’.

“Let him in,” the boss says.  “It gives the place cachet.”

“Like in my wife’s underwear drawer?” sez I.

“No, that’s sachet,” he says, and rather tersely I might add.  So I’m under strict orders to admit all future Nobel Prize-winning novelists, and also Scott Fitzgerald even though if you ask me he ain’t gonna win any major prizes, not while he’s alive at least.  Maybe posthumously–dead writers make more money too.

I hear a rap at the door and I slide the little panel to the side to look through the aperture so’s I can see who it is.  It’s Faulkner, all right, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

“What’s the password?” I ask.

“Malcolm Cowley,” the three of them sez together.  The voices of their generation, I guess.

“All right, yer in,” I sez, but I put a hand to Faulkner’s chest to let him know I don’t want no funny business.  “You!”

Yes it was me and the me who spoke was the me who was born of the octoroon in a morganatic marriage on the plantation of my incestuous mother and father, brother and sister . . .”

“Put a sock in it,” I sez.  Hemingway has already blown past me so my chances of getting decked with a sucker punch have declined dramatically.  Fitzgerald makes a bee-line to the men’s room to compare the size of his . . . uh . . . equipment to those of the others answering nature’s call at the urinal.

Image result for hemingway drinking

What is it you want from me, I who am here not by choice but by determinism the product of fates the scion of an accursed race who . . . “

“There’s plenty of places a guy can get a drink in New York, see.  We don’t have to put up with youse.  We’re running a nice little illegal drinking establishment here and I don’t want no trouble, okay?”

He takes a puff on his pipe–he’s smokin’ some kinda fruity cherry-scented stuff, smells like a goddamn faculty lounge–and ambles over to the bar at a lazy pace, just like a Southerner.

See the source image

Fitzgerald comes outta the men’s room and heads straight for the bowl of pizza-flavored goldfish on the bar, and it’s all I can do to stop him before he grabs a handful.

“Did you wash your hands?” I ask him in the brusque tone that is standard equipment for speakeasy bouncers.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing me,” he said with an air of sadness, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

I look him up and down–also sideways.  “Get back in there–now–and wash.”

He trundles off glumly–apparently the guy can’t do anything that ain’t lyrical–and I turn my attention to the bar where Hemingway is about to get into it with Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“I burn my candle at both ends and the middle.  Also I fight the bulls,” Hemingway is saying.

Image result for edna st vincent millay
Millay:  “Would you pass me the bowl of pizza-flavored goldfish please?”

“You think you’re so big and tough and wonderful,” she says before kicking him in the organ of Jake Barnes that didn’t work.

“Ow,” Hemingway said in the spare, stripped-down style that came as a revelation to a generation of writers.  Not at all like William Dean Howells, who if you kicked him in the nuts would give you 500 words of baroque, rococo expletives in the genteel mode.

I started to intervene but the boss says let ’em fight, it’s good for business, just don’t let it get out of hand.

“Fine, sure,” I says, but I don’t like it.  If you want to be a bouncer you got to keep things under control.  It’s a slippery slope–guys not washing their hands after urinating, getting into fistfights with ethereal lady poets.  Next thing you know you’ll have some nut in his cups singing popular songs from Broadway shows like Blackbirds of 1928 and . . . oh no.  What’s that?

Hey Faulkner–out you go, you bum!  Nobody sings Diga Diga Do in my joint and gets away with it!

Christie Promises to Be Own Vice President

CONCORD, New Hampshire.  In this most conservative of the New England states, residents pride themselves on their flinty self-reliance and a first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which brings added revenues to local merchants when political reporters arrive in droves every four years.  “I’d compare them to a plague of locusts,” says Ewell Perkins, a retired sawmill employee seated at the Flinty Self-Reliance Diner on Loudon Road near the state capitol building, “but the locusts have the decency to come only once every seven years.”

“I won’t let them touch your Social Security, but I would like to finish your fries.”


With the Democratic nomination almost a foregone conclusion interest in the Republican primary is high, and an unlikely dark horse is starting to gain traction as the date approaches.  “I like the fat one,” Perkins says, momentarily at a loss for the name of Chris Christie, the brash New Jersey governor who over the years has struggled with his weight, usually losing best two falls out of three.  “He’s got some new ideas, and God knows them folks in Washington need ’em.”

A new poll shows Christie surging into fourth place among the 216 announced candidates for the Republican nomination following the release of his platform, which includes a plank that promises to save taxpayers money by reducing the number of federal employees by just one position.  “I’m man enough to admit that our government has grown too big to understand the needs of ordinary citizens,” reads the text of his “Cutting the Fat in Government” proposal.  “If elected president, I’m a big enough man to be my own vice-president, thus eliminating a do-nothing job that mainly involves going to funerals of heads of third world countries nobody gives a crap about.”

“Are you going to finish those onion rings?”


The current salary of the Vice President is $235,100 even though in the words of John Nance Garner, the 32nd Vice President, the office is “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”  Historians of the Vice Presidency say Garner’s assessment has “held up remarkably well,” says Peter Bruinz, a professor of political science at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire.  “We can disagree as to its precise temperature,” Bruintz says, “but I don’t think there’s any debate that a bucket of piss–sometimes euphemized as ‘spit’–is what the office is composed of.”


Christie’s actual weight is a closely-guarded secret, with two New Jersey National Guardsmen stationed outside his bathroom whenever he steps on his scale.  He had “lap-band” surgery in 2013 that may have reduced his avoirdupois by as much as 100 pounds, which he uses as a stand-in to appear at press conferences when he closes traffic lanes on state-controlled bridges.

Despite all the flak he takes for his portly figure, Christie has won the hearts of New Hampshire residents with his homey retail politics, going from one greasy spoon to the next to sample the fare in the state whose unofficial nickname is “The Breakfast-All-Day State,” shaking hands as he goes with his signature line “Are you going to finish that?”  “I hate to see people leave waffles and sausages on their plates,” he says, growing misty-eyed, “when there are kids in Newark going to bed hungry.”

Female Baboons, Mes Amours

          A nine-year study involving 125 male baboons revealed that “beta” males had almost as many mates and got just as much grooming as higher-status “alpha” males, but experienced less stress because they didn’t have to spend as much time fighting or following females around to keep other males away.

                               The Wall Street Journal, “Are Alpha Males Healthy?”

Hangin’ with the guys.

I was sitting with my friend Kruk on a sloping hill, watching the females go by.

“Nice ischial callosities,” I said about one babe’s seat pads surrounded by bodacious, brightly-colored naked skin.

“Forget it,” Kruk said.  “H-M-C.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“High maintenance chick,” he said, as if totally indifferent to her voluptuous beauty.

Sensitive beta male

“I can look, can’t I?”

“She’s already spoken for,” Kruk said as he moved some food from his cheek pouches to his mouth and swallowed.  “She’s Thwok’s girl.”

“I thought he was getting it on with that red-furred babe?”

“She’s his entree–that one’s his side dish.”

As he spoke, Thwok appeared from the woods with a pawful of fresh berries, which the female turned up her nose at.

“See what I mean?” Kruk said.  “She gets off by turning him down.”

Thwok turned to us in a threat posture and screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Ooo–I’m so scared!” Kruk said, with an expression of feigned fear on his face.  “Looka me–I’m shaking!” he continued, channeling George Costanza.

Thwok was too stupid to understand baboon irony, so he snorted, pawed the ground and moved on in pursuit of the big-butt babe.

“Man, I wouldn’t want to live in his skin,” Kruk said, shaking his head.

“You’re probably right,” I said, “but doesn’t the amount of, uh, poontang he gets make it worthwhile?”

“Are you kidding?” Kruk said, and I could tell he wasn’t kidding.  “Ol’ Thwok will die an early but glorious death.  He’ll have plenty of offspring, but you and me–we’ll be sitting on this hill, feeling the breeze against our cheeks, sipping cool water from a stream, and getting it on with his widow(s).”

“Yeah, but I noticed the object of that sentence was plural,” I said.  “So he comes out ahead, right?”

“Not necessarily,” Kruk said.  We’d both developed higher-order language and analytical skills that our crude physical appearance served to mask.

“How much are you getting?” I asked in a moment of uncharacteristic bluntness.

Kruk gave me a sly smile.  “I’m doin’ okay.”

Just then a troupe of three females approached.  Kruk gave them a 100-watt smile and said, simply, “Hi,” the way he’d been taught by our fellow beta male Alanalda.

“Hey Kruk!” a beauteous babe with a distinctly dog-like nose–like something out of Picasso–said with a big smile.  “Want me to pick the lice out of your fur?”

“Sure,” Kruk said as he laid back on the grass and rolled on his stomach.  “Let’s put on some music.”

I had salvaged a Jackson Browne tape and a boom box from a dump in Nairobi a few weeks before and, after a few unsuccessful tries, I got the thing to work.  “Jamaica say-ay-ay you will, help me find . . .” issued from the metallic speakers.

The female groomed Kruk carefully, and from the expression on his face he appeared to be enjoying every minute of it.

“You have such powerful hind limbs,” said the second one, as she began to give him a shiatsu massage.

“Um–that feels good,” Kruk said, and I could tell he could barely contain his ecstasy.

“Hi,” the third one said as she sat down next to me.  “Do you like Rod McKuen?”

She had on a big floppy hat and a purple blouse, the kind of outfit I would have dismissed with a snort if my brain, and not my organ of generation, had been in charge of my thought processes just then.

“No–who’s he?”

“He a great poet!” she said.  “I love it when I find somebody who hasn’t heard of him, so I can be the first to introduce his genius to them.”

Rod McKuen, right.  More distinguished poet to the left.

I started to correct her grammar and syntax, but I figured, what the hell–Kruk had something going on here, I might as well ride the wave.

“Do you want to read some of his poetry . . . to me?” I asked, all barefoot baboon with cheeks of blue, playing the ingenue.

“Would I?” she exclaimed.

“Hit me!” I said.

“Okay,” she said, as she swung her arm down on my head.

“Ow!” I yelled, grimacing in pain.

“Sorry, that’s what you told me to do!”

“I intended it . . . figuratively.”

“What’s that mean?” she asked, her gaze as deep and soulful as those in the paintings of big-eyed children.

“It means,” I began, then stopped.  She wouldn’t get it, no matter how hard I tried to explain it, so I might as well let her do her thing.  “Never mind,” I said, “just read something to me.”

I do remember, she began,
The only fuzzy circumstance
is something where–and how.
Why, I know.
It happens just because we need
to want and to be wanted too,
when love is here or gone
to lie down in the darkness
and listen to the warm.

“God–that is so freaking beautiful!” I said, and extended my arms to hug her.

“I know,” she said as she embraced me.

“Say, as long as we both like crappy poetry–how about a roll in the hay?” I say.

She recoils, and looks hurt.

“I . . . I thought there was . . . something . . . more between us than just . . . physical attraction,” she says, and I think I detect a lump in her throat.

“Well, of course there is!” I say.  I look over at Kruk; he’s manipulating the two other females simultaneously, and he grabs a boob from one of them and holds it up to his ear, while he takes a boob from the other and puts it up close to his mouth.

“Hello Rangoon!” he says as if talking over a two-way radio.  “Can you hear me?”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Let’s Get Primitive.”

Pencils in the Air for Your Jazz Final

It’s the day I’ve been dreading for two weeks since bombing a pop quiz in Jazz 101 at Carl Yastrzemski State College. I got a D+ for mixing up Fats Navarro with Fats Waller and spacing out on “Where or When: Compare and contrast.” That means I’ve got to get at least an A- on the final if I’m going to maintain the B average dad says I need if he’s going to keep me on “the gravy train.” “College bred means a four-year loaf,” he says with that sarcastic laugh of his. He’s always talking about food for some reason.

“If you knew how I loved you . . .”


The proctor goes up and down handing out the exam books, and I’m sweating bullets. Stay cool, I tell myself, like–I dunno–the Miles Davis Nonet? Hope that’s on the exam.

I pop the seal and open it up. Keep breathing, I tell myself, and don’t get hung up on questions you don’t understand. Do the easy ones first, just like on the SAT. I scan down the page, hoping to find some handhold that will get me started up the sheer rock face of my ignorance of America’s classical music.

Bingo–the first question is “How Long Has This Been Going On?” I know I know I know I say to myself, barely able to control my pencil as it races across the page. “There were chills . . . down my spine, and some thrills I can’t define,” I write. If you can’t answer the question completely, you’re allowed to say how you would research it using sources not available within the classroom.

Ethel Waters


Question #2: Why is there no sun up in the sky? Hmm—I seem to recall a jazz flash card about that age-old riddle. Wait–I know–Stormy Weather! That’s why there’s no sun up in the friggin’ sky! I scribble it down quickly–I may have a shot at an A!

R. Crumb jazz cards

 Uh-oh–an essay question. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” Shit. I’ve never been there. I tap my pencil against my head–ouch! I hit a cyst I need to have removed, but the shock sets my synapses crackling. “Moonlight on the bayou–Creole tunes fill the air. I dream . . . of magnolias in June. Soon I’m wishin’ you were the-e-ere.” Not too original, but I do have the entire hockey team in my class–they should hold down the curve.

What’s next. “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Sure I have, uh, lots of them. Let’s see, what was it like? “All at once I lost my breath–and all at once was scared to death–and all at once I own the earth and sky.” That oughta do it. Okay–one last question. “Lover man, oh where can you be?”

Billie Holiday


What kinda power trip is this professor on? I’m a guy. I shouldn’t have to answer a woman’s question! I gaze around the room, trying to find some inspiration. I see Valerie Dickman, the brunette who sits in the front row crossing her legs to improve her score in the class participation component of the final grade. She’s mouthing something to me. There . . . is . . . no . . . answer. It’s a trick question!

So the prof wants us to think outside the Big Joe Turner 5-CD boxed set! Okay–I’ll give it to him, and give it to him good. “I’ve heard it said,” I begin, “that the thrill of romance . . . can be like a heavenly dream. I go to bed with a prayer that you’ll make love to me . . . strange as it seems.” Voila. You want creative gender-blender thinking, you got it.

But I am not doing an oral report for extra credit.

Ask the Wedding Lady

The day of your wedding should be the happiest day of your life, or at least the day of your first wedding. But the customs, folkways and by-laws of matrimony are so darned confusing, it is easy to “slip up,” with disastrous consequences. Ms. Wedding Lady is here to help sort it all out.

Dear Wedding Lady:

Six years ago my sister Nae Ann got “married” to “Chick” Johnson, whose dad owns the Jiffy Lube franchise out on south 65. I use “quotes” (around “married,” not “Chick”–that is his nickname) to indicate my problem.

We went along with Nae Ann and Chick’s little “charade” for many years, then they announced last summer they were getting divorced. He moved out of the trailer, and along about November I asked mom “How come there was never no divorce notice in the paper?”

Turns out Nae Ann and Chick were never married, just cohabitating until they got past the 7-year common law marriage limit, all to save $40 on the justice of the peace! That is Chick for you–he is a former “carney” who will order a cup of hot water for a nickel at a restaurant, then put little packs of ketchup in it to make tomato soup.

My question is this. Sue Ellen–that’s my wife–and I went all out and bought the newlyweds the 6 and a half quart ceramic Crock Pot with the “dancing vegetables” trim. Since Nae Ann and Chick never legally “tied the knot,” don’t we have a right to get it back?

Duane D. Bohammer, Smithton MO


Dear Duane:

First, let’s work on your anger. Sure you are upset, but in the great scheme of things, won’t that Crock Pot bring happiness to Nae Ann as she tries to cope with her loss–or gain?  Rather than focus on Chick’s perfidy, why not join Nae Ann for a Quik ‘n Easy Chicken Pot Stew–the recipe is in the instruction manual, if she didn’t throw it out. You’ll find that with the larger six and a half quart size, the stew won’t stick to the sides and burn.

“Lowell, we have enough official NHL Penguins gear!”

Dear Wedding Lady:

My fiance Lowell is a die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins fan. He lives, breathes and eats Penguins. He doesn’t really eat them, you know what I mean. He actually prefers steak.

Anyway, we have been talking about a number of “themes” for our upcoming wedding, including “Hawaiian Luau” and “Evening in Paris,” but Lowell is insistent we make it a black-and-white Penguin theme. He thinks he can get somebody from the team to come if he tells the community relations department we’re a charity.

Sidney Crosby: Forget it, you’ll never get him to come.

I know there is a certain similarity between the Penguins colors and men’s tuxedos and a white wedding gown and the ice and snow of the South Pole and all that, but do you really think that is enough to change a whole ceremony that goes back many centuries?

Trudy Birks, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Dear Trudy:

I agree, Lowell has gone way “over the top” on this one. Many contemporary couples express their individuality by a “theme” wedding, but don’t drag a losing team that has only won five Stanley Cups into your bridesmaids’ dress planning! Why don’t you suggest, over a candlelight dinner, that Lowell switch his allegiance to the Montreal Canadians, the most successful NHL franchise ever, with their bleu-blanc-rouge color scheme to work with!

Dear Wedding Lady:

I am engaged to my betrothed, Frasier Collins Hemmings III, and the banns have been published. Mummy, Popsy and I had long ago decided that we wanted to have Henry Purcell’s “Trumpet Voluntary in D Major” for the processional, and of course Mendelsshon’s “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as the recessional for my ceremony. Then along comes my fiance, who “sowed a few wild oats” I’m afraid, who insists that we walk out of the church to Al Green’s “Let’s Get Married.”

Mummy is beside herself as is Popsy, although on the other side, because they can find no precedent for this in the Book of Common Prayer. Mummy, Popsy and I have agreed to abide by your decision as long as you take our side.  We are, after all, Presbyterians.

Elinor Chadwick, Wellesley Falls, Mass.

Dear Elinor:

I think you are being just a tad narrow-minded. Al Green is in fact an ordained minister, and his “Let’s Get Married” is slowly but surely working its way into the canon of accepted wedding marches. It is nonetheless inappropriate for a recessional since by the time you are leaving the church you are already married. Why not compromise; Al Green going in, Mendelssohn coming out?

You can’t go wrong with candlesticks!

Hey Wedding Lady:

My buddy Rick got married last year to a woman who I swear has a poker up her you know what. All his brothers from the “I Felta Thi” fraternity tried to talk him out of it, but no luck. I uh, didn’t get around to buying a gift by the day of the wedding, but I asked somebody and they told me you can hand it in up to a year late.

Anyway, I timed it pretty close, got them a cocktail party tray thing, and was on my way to their apartment when I got busted for speeding. Long story short, it was exactly one year, one hour and fifteen minutes later when I got to their place, and his wife who’s already gained ten pounds says you missed the deadline, you have to get us another gift, we’re registered at Pottery Barn and we could still use a large salad bowl.

Ms. Wedding Lady, I don’t think I should be penalized since I am already facing a fine for breaking the speed limit. I was trying my best to get there on time–isn’t there like an emergency exception?

Blake Cauthen, Ridgewood, New Jersey

“Star Wars” wedding

Dear Blake:

Thankfully, late wedding gift sanctions can be appealed, just like traffic violations. File a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, District Court, Traffic Division, and ask for an ex parte hearing so the other side won’t know about it. Give the bailiff a $10 bill, just as you tipped (I hope!) the altar boys at the wedding. And next time, rather than speeding around town, shop on-line at stores where the bride and groom are registered. The life you save may be mine.

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

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.”

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.

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.”