With Robert Frost, at Walmart

          Town officials are considering zoning changes that would permit strip malls, fast-food outlets and big-box stores to be built a short distance from Robert Frost’s farm.

                   The Boston Globe


It’s Friday, the day I check in on my fellow rustic poet, old man Frost, who lives down the road less travelled. He’s a cranky old cuss, but you would be too if you’d fallen as far as he has. In 1960, he was America’s most revered poet and spoke at Kennedy’s inauguration. Today, he’s seen his star eclipsed by a Republican surety bond lawyer, Wallace Stevens, whose poetry Frost dismisses as “bric-a-brac.” You’ve got to love the old fart. Frost, that is, not Stevens, who’s an unloveable old fart.

Wallace Stevens, going out for ice cream.


I stop at Frost’s mailbox. A few flyers, an oil and lube job offer from the local tire and battery store, an expiration notice from plangent voices, the quarterly journal of avant-garde poetry edited by my former lover, elena gotchko.

“my love is like a red, red rose, that’s somehow stuck inside my nose.”


elena and I had parted ways when she showed up at our little apartment with a skunk-streak dyed into her hair a few years back to announce that she’d had the capital letters removed from her name–and was leaving me.

“you stultify me,” she had said, eschewing the upper case as she spoke with emotion not yet recollected in tranquility. “you’re holding me back–you with your insistence on meter and rhyme.” Fine, I said, and I’d never regretted it. How she ever roped Frost into subscribing was a mystery to me, although he was a sucker for those Publisher’s Clearing House come-ons.

“This Frost guy’s apparently gone for a walk in woods. Who’s next on the list?”


I knock on the door and Frost opens it up right away–he’s always eager for a little company and to get out of the house. It must be lonely out here, living all by himself with nothing but the sound of cars rushing by.

“I’m ready,” he says, the cheap polyester “gimme” hat already on his head. I don’t know what it is with old men and free baseball caps–they can’t resist them.

“Hey, Bob,” I say as I try to straighten his cockeyed hat a bit. “I got your mail.”

He looks at it without interest and, as usual, launches into perfectly-formed verse:

A hushed October morning mild,
with leaves as frail as Kleenex tissue;
tomorrow’s mail, if it be wild
would bring, perhaps, a swimsuit issue.

I allow myself a little laugh. There are two things about being an old man I’m looking forward to: one, you can wear just about anything you want; and two, you can be a complete lecher, and say just about anything you want to women, and no one seems to mind.

“No, that won’t come until February,” I say to him.

“Okay,” he says after he absorbs this information. He turns to close the door and his cat, an orange tabby named Demiurge, stakes out a wary watch on the threshold.

“I shan’t be gone long,” he says to the cat. “You come too.”

“Bob, we’ve gone over this before,” I say with repressed exasperation. “You can’t bring a cat into McDonald’s.”

Senior citizen coffee at McDonald’s

The thought of the golden arches causes him to lose interest in his cat. I can see by the far-away look in his eyes he’s thinking of the Senior Citizens coffee special and again, he can’t deny his muse.

I’m going to get my elderly java
by riding with you over dales and hills.
It tastes like ash and is hot as lava
but I can’t resist those free refills.

We head out towards State Highway 28 with the more distinguished poet in the car staring out the passenger side window at the bright fall colors; the orange of Home Depot, the red of Staples, the yellow Walmart smiley face on a billboard.

“Turn here,” Frost says sharply.

“Don’t you want to get something to eat first?”


“Depends on what? Your only choice is fast food.”

“No–I need some Depends.”

Dawn breaks on Marblehead, as we say in New England.

“Okay,” I say, a little chagrined that I’ve forced him to disclose the one aspect of growing old I’m really not looking forward to.

We make our way through the parking lot and enter the store where we are met by one of the chain’s ever-present greeters, a white-haired old man in a blue vest festooned with inoffensive buttons. I try to avoid eye contact and accelerate past him when I hear Frost’s voice boom out–to the extent that he’s capable of producing such a sound, even metaphorically–”Well if it isn’t The Emperor of Ice Cream–Wallace Stevens!”

Stevens’ face registers the shock of recognition that Herman Melville spoke of, when a man of letters comes face to face with one of his rivals while working a minimum-wage job to make ends meet. Being the darling of the academy doesn’t do you much good if you have to mix wet cat food and pinto beans to make chili.

“Hello, Frost,” Stevens says in a frosty tone. “How’s the poet of–subjects.” He says this last word with a sneer.

“Fine,” says Frost. “Tell me, since you must know–down which aisle would I find–bric-a-brac?”

Stevens draws himself up to his full six feet, seven inches, looks down at Frost as if from Olympus, and begins to speak:

I placed a Hummel figurine,
Down to your left, in aisle three.
‘Twas much too tacky for myself
But not too gauche for one such as thee.

I can tell that Frost is pissed, but he’s trying hard not to let it show.

“C’mon Bob–we haven’t got time for this nonsense,” I say as I take him by the elbow. “We’ve got miles to go, and . . . ”

He cuts me off and glares at Stevens, not about to back off in this mano-a-mano poetry throwdown.

He squares his shoulders and even I can’t believe the fearful symmetry of what comes out of his mouth next:

Two aisles diverged ‘neath a yellow face,
that bore a sickly, foolish grin. And I–
I took the one marked “Incontinence,”
and that has made all the difference.

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

Just in Time for Mother-in-Law Day: Matter-Sucking Mini-Black Holes

As every good son-in-law knows, Mother-in-Law Day is rapidly approaching.  It’s the fourth Sunday of this month, October 23rd.

Mother-in-law (not shown actual size)


What-you haven’t started shopping yet?  The good presents may already be gone!

What do you get for the mother-in-law who has everything?  Under the laws of physics, it can only be something that has not previously appeared in a Restoration Hardware catalog.

Thanks to the friendly physicists who created Europe’s Large Hadron Collider, an $8 billion machine that smashes protons together at the speed of light, there is something new in the universe; mini-black holes that could all get together and turn into a “matter-sucking maelstrom” someday, according to a law suit filed against them recently.  The physicists, not the black holes.  No lawyer with half a brain is going to file a lawsuit against a black hole.

Technically speaking, a black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational field is so powerful nothing can escape from it.  To get a feeling for what one is like, hold your hand up to a vacuum cleaner suction tube, flip the switch, then spiral inward along with light and hot gases from nearby orbiting stars.  Pretty neat, huh?

The new mini-black holes are being funded by top research universities.  Wouldn’t you know it–the people who have learned how to vacuum all the money out of our wallets for college tuition are using that knowledge to suck all life out of the universe.  Who says science doesn’t make our everyday lives better?  I mean, in addition to Tang.

Aside from their inherent wicked awesomeness, single-serving black holes are a great gift for a mother-in-law who already has a donut-maker and all the other counter-top appliances she’ll ever need.  Imagine your ”second mom’s” surprise when you hand her the gift box:

Good if she already has one of these.


MOTHER-IN-LAW:  What’s this sweetie?

SON-IN-LAW:  Something I picked up for Mother-in-Law Day.

MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Well, that was awfully nice of you!


MOTHER-IN-LAW:  What’s this?

SON-IN-LAW:  A mini black hole!

MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Honey, you shouldn’t have!

SON-IN-LAW:  Aw, you’re worth it.


SON-IN-LAW:  Here–let me show you how to turn it on.

MOTHER-IN-LAW:  Does it need batteries?

SON-IN-LAW:  Two size D’s.  I already put them in.

MOTHER-IN-LAW:  You think of everything!

SON-IN-LAW:  Like the Boy Scouts say–be prepared.  Let’s turn it on “Low” for starters.


WIFE (from kitchen):  What’s that noise?

SON-IN-LAW:  I’m showing your mom how to use something that will keep her busy for a while.

WIFE: How long?  I’m about to put dinner on the table.

SON-IN-LAW:  Oh, until the end of all life in the universe as we know it.

For Some Office Holdouts, Charity Begins at Home

LAKE FOREST, Ill.  Chuck Schwermer is a 52-year old unmarried video game aficionado who writes code for Aviatrix Technology, a leading maker of air traffic control software.  “It’s not a job that exercises the full range of my intelligence,” he says, “but it sustains me while I implement my five-year plan for world domination.”

Viewed as a loner, Schwermer is nonetheless subject to a constant barrage of charitable appeals from colleagues, a fact of life in the modern workplace.  “If employers would simply bar employees from fund-raising on the job, we wouldn’t have to outsource jobs to Upper Volta or Indiana,” notes Illinois Department of Labor economist Martin Gyorgy.

“Make it out to ‘Walk to End Shin Splints’ and leave the amount blank.”


But Schwermer and others like him are at the forefront of a new trend that is addressing the problem of intrusive office charitable appeals in guerilla fashion by using a sort of mental jiu-jitsu to repel donation-seekers.  “I put the onus on them to change the world, one Chuck at a time,” he says with a sardonic smile.

“Has anybody seen my giant pen?  I need to write the amount in my giant check register.”


Alison Boul is a relative newcomer to the company, and she approaches Schwermer with a request that he sponsor her participation in a Saturday “Walk to End Shin Splints.”  “That sounds like a good cause,” he says as he eyes the leggy 26-year-old, “but I don’t have shin splints.”

“Oh, you don’t have to, Mr. Schwermer,” the woman begins, but he cuts her off.  “You know, there’s a Star Trek convention downstate in Danville this Sunday,” he says.  “That’s about 150 miles each way.  Most guys won’t have dates.  I’d pay you–I don’t know–$1 a mile for your shin splint charity if you’d come with me.”

The fun she’s missing out on.


Boul is taken by surprise, and begins to backpedal from Schwermer’s cubicle.  “Uh, thanks, but I think I’ll still be pretty sore from the walk,” she says.

“Not a problem,” he responds.  “We’d drive down and I could carry you fireman’s style around the convention,” but the woman is gone, having fled down the hallway as fast as office decorum permits.

Fireman’s carry:  A real turn-on for some guys.


Other “charity refuseniks” resort to deception to repel solicitations, such as Ned Philburn of the Keokuk, Iowa, Consolidated Water District.  “I’ve never understood why I have to support your damn kid’s Pop Warner football team,” he says as he takes a bite of a Snickers bar while watching a pressure valve fluctuate.  “I’ve got enough problems of my own,” he adds just as Jim Vlisbek, a father of twin girls, rounds the corner carrying a box of chocolate bars.

Sort of a  good cause


“Hey Ned,” Vlisbeck says as Philburn crumples up his candy wrapper and tosses it in his wastebasket.  “I’m selling chocolate bars to raise money so my daughters’ U-12 soccer team can go to Disney World,” he continues.  “It’ll be the trip of a lifetime for us, so I hope you can buy a couple.”

“Gee, Jim, I’d love to,” Philburn says as he wipes his mouth with a napkin, “but I’m diabetic.”

“Oh, gosh, Ned, I had no idea,” Vlisbeck says with a look of concern on his face.  “You’re a real trouper the way you come into work every day and never complain.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Philburn replies with a look of contrived humility.  “I tell you what though–my gutters need cleaning now that fall is here.  I’ve got a bad knee so I really shouldn’t get up on a ten-foot ladder, but maybe your girls could come over this weekend and earn some money that way.”

“Gosh, I think that would be kinda dangerous, Ned,” Vlisbeck says with an air of fatherly concern.

“Well, you don’t want me to climb up there and risk my neck, do you?” Philburn asks in an offended tone.  “Isn’t my life just as valuable as your kids’?”

“Yeah, sure, you’re absolutely right,” Vlisbeck says sheepishly.  “They’ve . . . uh . . . got a tournament this weekend, so they’ll be busy.”

“But we don’t want to clean gutters!”


“Well, maybe in February if I get ice dams,” Philburn says, and Vlisbeck is visibly relieved at this cue that the conversation is at an end.  “Sorry I can’t help.”

“Sure, Ned, sure.  I’ll talk to you later,” Vlisbeck says as he waves and scurries away.

Alone again, Philburn pulls out another Snickers bar and gives himself up to a contemplation of our imperfect world.  “You know if everybody would just give a little bit,” he says reflectively, “we could accomplish so much.”

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

One Stand-Up Comic Never Counted Out His Dream

PARAMUS, New Jersey.  Mike Ross, Jr., comes from a long line of entertainers.  His grandfather, Aaron Ross, was a tap dancer, his father Mike Sr. a slick-haired crooner in the 50′s, and his mother Annette a ventriloquist.

Annette Ross and “Woody”:  “Don’t touch me there, lady–I’ve got termites.”


“I was encouraged to go into show business,” he says as he waits in the wings of The Comedy Corner, a bar that is considered a stepping stone for comics on the way up to the big time in Manhattan, or on their way back down.  “Actually, ‘pushed’ is the better word,” he adds with a professional’s timing.

“But seriously, folks.  You should consider a Roth IRA.”


Mike has flirted with fame in the past, logging a Tonight Show appearance and a week-long engagement opening for Celine Dion in Las Vegas, but he says the applause and the laughter left him strangely unfulfilled.  “It was what my parents wanted,” he says ruefully, “but it wasn’t what I wanted.”

“This stuff is a scream!”


And so Mike studied on the side, sneaking off to night school when he didn’t have a gig, sometimes telling his wife Mona “little white lies about where I was going,” he says with obvious embarrassment.  Then one night last month, after she caught him with a roll of calculator tape in his pocket, he was forced to confess.

“I want,” he told her tearfully, “to become an accountant.”

After a heated exchange in which she threatened to leave him, Mona gradually came to understand that “‘for better or for worse’ means you’ve got to let your husband follow his dream,” she says with a look of hopeful resignation on her face.  “I’ll miss the free cocktail napkins,” she adds.

“A beefalo tax shelter?  You’re cracking me up!”


Mike is blunt about what he saw before him if he stuck with comedy for the rest of his life.  “Sure, maybe I’d get a guest host slot or a special on Comedy Central, or maybe even my own telethon for a crippling disease,” he says.  “But in the back of my mind, I’d always know that I could be preparing K-1′s for a wealthy family’s limited partnership, or consoling a young couple who were late with their estimated tax payments.  Making people laugh pales beside that kind of responsibility.”

“ . . . and the guy from the IRS says ‘You call this a home office?’”


Mike’s apprenticeship with a six-man accounting firm hasn’t been easy, but he says he’s willing to “pay his dues” in order to earn the coveted designation of C.P.A.  “Some of the senior tax guys heckle me when I’m filing an extension with the IRS, but it’s something you have to put up with when you’re a nobody just starting out,” he says with a smile.  “I don’t mind as long as they don’t throw the federal tax code at me–that thing’s heavy!”

Conscious Cuckolds Newest Trend on Dating Scene

NEWTON, Mass.  When Curt Filbring read about the tragic fate of Melinda Carlino, whose husband died unexpectedly at the age of 32 from late-onset Osgood Schlatter’s Disease, an involuntary cry of grief escaped his lips.  “That is so sad!” he exclaimed loudly enough to be heard several seats away at the coffee shop counter where he read the obituary, which described how the widow was left with twin daughters, ages 7 and 8 because of a particularly difficult delivery.

“I HATE lying to get laid!”


Others shook their heads gravely when he gave them the details of the tragic situation, but unlike those patrons, who soon were chatting again or looking at their phones, Filbing decided to do something about it.  “I’m going to call her up,” he said, causing several people to recoil in shock at his audacity.

“Why?” a young man in a stocking cap with a wispy beard asked.

“I just think it’s incredibly sexy when a woman already has the kids in place, so you don’t have to go through all the b.s. of trying to get her into bed,” Filbring replied, as several patrons got up and moved uneasily away.

Horns of the cuckold


Filbring is one of a growing number of “conscious cuckolds,” men who are turned on by single women with children because they’d rather watch televised sports or play video games than be dragged through the expense, inconvenience and risk of social disease inherent in dating.  “I showed up early for my first date with Mary Ellen Griske at 7:25,” says Ed Walters, a bachelor approaching his thirtieth birthday with no marriage prospects in sight.  “She was still blow-drying her hair, then she had to say good-bye to her cat, and we didn’t walk out the door until 7:55.  That’s a half hour of my life I’ll never get back.”

The term “cuckold” refers to a man who unwittingly raises a child fathered by another, from the practice of the female cuckoo, which lays its eggs in other birds’ nests.  “At first glance consciously becoming a cuckold does not appear to be a trait that would survive under Darwin’s theory of natural selection,” says evolutionary biologist Martin Scram of Wilkes-Barre State College of Pharmacy.  “On the other hand, when you think of how much it costs to take a woman out for a nice pizza and pitcher of light beer, you can see how it might appeal to a lot of men.”

“Are we at least going to get separate entrees?”

Cuckolds are sometimes singled out by an Italian hand gesture that suggests they have horns, alluding to the mating habits of deer in which a stag forfeits a female if he loses an antler-butting contest with a rival.  But the social stigma that might otherwise attach to the practice rolls off Filbring’s apparently healthy ego “like water off a duck’s back,” he says as he rings the doorbell at Carlino’s modest bungalow with a note of hopeful expectation on his face.  “I just hope she isn’t expecting any action from me tonight,” he says as he looks at a television schedule on his phone.  “The finals of Australian rules football is on tape-delay at 11:30 on ESPN 23.”




For Infinite Thank You Victims, Syndrome Just Keeps on Giving

WELLESLEY FARMS, Mass.  It’s 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, and Bill Wainscot, an estimator at a local construction company, is already in bed after a weekend in which–he admits candidly–he “over-imbibed.”  “We had a tailgate party Saturday afternoon, then a cocktail party Saturday night,” he says ruefully.  “After the Patriots game Sunday, I could barely force down two glasses of Malbec at dinner.”


But just as he is ready to go to sleep, his wife Cindy sits bolt upright in bed and says “I think I forgot to run the dishwasher, you don’t need to leave a light on for me.”

“Okay,” he says just before they kiss and she leaves to go downstairs, where she has planned a clandestine mission she hopes to conceal from her husband.

“I’m not going to sleep until you do.”


As she makes her way into the kitchen she turns on the low-wattage light over the stove and tries to make as little noise as possible as she removes scissors, tape and wrapping paper from behind boxes of cereal and baking goods in a pantry cupboard, but she is caught in the act by her husband, whose suspicions were aroused when she didn’t return to bed promptly.

“Cindy,” he says with a tone of censorious gravity after he flips on the overhead lights.  “No.”

“But,” she begins in a repentant tone, “it’s just a little something I got for . . .”

“Just . . . stop.”

“All right,” she says finally, although she allows her fingers to linger on the white bow she had been tying around pink wrapping paper to wrap a thank you gift to her friend Marcia, who had sent her a thank you note for a hostess gift Cindy had given her when Marcia had Cindy over for drinks after Cindy watched Marcia’s cat for three days this Columbus Day weekend.

“Just one more–and that’s IT!”


Like thousands of other suburban women, Cindy Wainscot is a victim of ITYS, an acronym that stands for “Infinite Thank You Syndrome,” a debilitating ailment that eats into the retirement savings of many households at the same time that it fuels the retail sector of the economy.  “ITYS strikes at a woman’s sense of self-esteem,” says Philip Levin, an anthropologist who has studied the Wainscots for two years on a Ford Foundation grant.  “The last woman to receive a gift in the daisy-chain fears a loss of caste, and so keeps the streak alive by inventing some excuse–however flimsy–to give a gift back to the most proximate gift-giver.”

“Oh, Marci–you shouldn’t have!”


The practice has cross-cultural parallels in the Pacific Northwest, where a gift-giving ritual known as “potlatch” is used by Native American tribes such as the Heiltsuk, Haida, Nuxalk, Tlingit, Makah, Tsimshian, Nuu-chah-nulth and Kwakwaka’wakw to shame or even socially destroy one’s rivals by giving a present that is too expensive for the donee to reciprocate.  “It is a form of malice masquerading as goodwill,” says Levin as he peers around the Wainscots’ living room sofa to take notes.  “As an alternative to violence I suppose it’s okay, but it’s really scalp-taking by another name.”

The Wainscots lower their voices once they realize a reporter and an anthropologist are observing their tense little stand-off, and Bill announces that they’d better turn in since he has a long Monday ahead of him.

“Before you go up . . .” Cindy says hesitantly.

“Yes?” Bill replies with an upraised eyebrow.

“Could you do me a teensy-weensy favor and hold your finger on this bow?”


Some Cry Offsides as NHL Awards Lady Byng Trophy to Dylan

NEW YORK.  Members of the National Hockey League Players Association are angry today, and it isn’t because of a cheap shot by an enforcer on an opposing team.  “Severe head injuries and possible spinal paralysis I can take, but elevating a musician like this really frosts my ass,” said Brad Marchand, left wing for the Boston Bruins known for his dirty style of play.

Marchand:  “Dylan?  Puh-lease.  You can’t dance shirtless on a bar to his music.”


What has the gritty and often front-toothless practitioners of “The Coolest Game on Earth” upset is the decision by the National Hockey League to award the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, given annually to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability,” to Bob Dylan, the folk-rock singer.

Evelyn “Lady” Byng, Viscountess Byng of Vimy, dressed for a Bruins-Canucks Sunday matinee.


“There was a big uproar last week when they gave Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature, with a lot of writers calling it wildly inappropriate,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.  “We wanted to get some of that wildly inappropriate buzz for ourselves before the controversy died down.”

Gary Bettman:  “The runner-up is . . . Cat Stevens!”


The award is based on votes by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, who defended their decision based on Dylan’s career statistics.  “The guy’s what, 75 years old, and he’s never been in a hockey fight and has zero penalty minutes,” said Knute “Tommy” McDonald of Hockey Today.  “As far as I can tell he’s never even been whistled for icing, whatever that is.”

“Don’t listen to all of your coach’s crap/You should be lined up in a neutral zone trap.”


Dylan, whose real name is Robert Allen Zimmerman, grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, on the Mesabi Range, a hard-scrabble region of north central Minnesota whose principal exports are iron ore and entertainers.  Along with Dylan, Hibbing also produced Gary Puckett, front man for the 60’s pop band The Union Gap, causing confusion when visitors ask to see the house the town’s most famous musician grew up in.  “I dunno, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ versus ‘Lady Willpower,'” said Chamber of Commerce President Darrell Olway.  “It’s a close call.”

Your name on this cool trophy!


The Lady Byng Trophy comes with no financial reward, only the inscription of the winning player’s name on a silver cup, and is sometimes viewed as a handicap in future contract negotiations by players.  “Not for nothin’ neither,” said Pavel Datsyuk, winner of the award for four consecutive years as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.  “Nobody ever got paid more as a hockey player for bein’ nice.”