Me and My Parrot Walk Into a Bar

Lewis Rosensteil, head of Schenley Distillers, once had 5,000 parrots trained to say “Drink Old Quaker” bourbon, then gave them to bartenders.

The Wall Street Journal, review of “Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey” by Reid Mitenbuler

I believe it was Montaigne who first said, more or less, that no man is a hero to his valet, but the Frenchman never met my parrot “Poll.”  He’s named after the bird in the TV ads of my youth whose Poll Parrott Shoes, it was said, would enable me to run faster and jump higher.  Since I was slow of foot and once injured myself by hitting the crossbar high-jumping, bringing a stanchion down on my head, I longed for those shoes but could never convince my mother to buy them for me.  After my tragic high-jumping accident Karen Smirtka’s mother drove me home while Karen sat in the front seat looking at me with a mixture of disgust and disgust.  “It looks like you have an egg growing out of your head,” she said.  Karen pulled wings off flies for her science project.

Image result for paul parrotI got Poll for a song, even though he’s not much of a songbird.  He was laid off by Schenley Distillers after a failed marketing move in which he and 4,999 other parrots were taught to say “Drink Old Quaker,” a second-rate bourbon whiskey.  I guess nobody ever told the executives at Schenley that when you get the urge to have a shot of bourbon, the first religious group you think of is not Quakers.

Image result for stanchion high jumpPoll’s getting up there in years, like me, but he’s the restless sort while I’m slipping into senescence sensibly, slowing down, assiduously pursuing my new hobby of collecting sibilants.

“Are we going to do something tonight, or are you going to sit around listening to the Greatest Hits of the Thirties again?” he asked, and rather sharply I might add.

Image result for old quaker bourbon
Old Quaker bourbon: Try it with oatmeal!

“Is it my fault you’ve never shed the impulsiveness of youth, unlike the feathers you molt around the house every year?”

“You never want to go out, you just sit there looking stuff up in books.”

“You might feel differently if you had prehensile ability and could turn pages.”

“I want to go to a bar,” he snapped.

“It’s cheaper to drink at home.”

“That’s not the point.  You drink to be social, to meet other members of your species.”

“Sorry, I’ve already met enough of ’em.”

“Well I haven’t–let’s go to the Coach & Four.”  He was referring to the faux-Colonial watering hole where the elite of our little exurban town likes to meet and mate.  On any given night you may meet a local zoning attorney, perhaps a selectmen or an insurance broker on the make, wooing a no-longer-young divorcee from a neighboring town to the west who’s trying to climb her way into our acre-and-a-half zoning paradise.

Image result for women at bar
“Don’t even think about sitting next to us unless you’re a millionaire!”

“All right, but don’t blame me if you come up empty-handed.  You’re not exactly a spring chicken anymore.”

“Look who’s talking,” Poll said, giving me the gimlet eye of disdain.  “A guy who’s literally counting the days until he qualifies for the Senior Citizens Discount at Applebee’s.”

We hopped in my car, which elicited another critical remark from the bird in my hand.  “You know, the Olympics is every two years, presidential election is every four, census is every ten.”

“What’s your point?”

“Do you think you could wash this accident-waiting-to-happen once before it dies?”

Image result for pollen on car

“I’m waiting for spring pollen season to end,” I said as I squirted wiper juice on my windshield to clean off the sickly-green coating that greets me every morning.

We drove over to the bar and took one of the high tables off to one side, at Poll’s suggestion.  “This way you can scan the whole scene, and you’re not tied to the women on either of side of you.”

“Sort of like being a linebacker instead of a defensive lineman in a three-point stance?”

“I wouldn’t know–try to catch the waitress’s eye, would you?  You’re bigger than me.”

I raised a finger and attracted the attention of Dottie, a veteran of “The Coach” (as locals refer to the place) who has, in her twenty years on the sawdust-coated floors, seen it all.

“What’ll you boys have tonight?” she asked with her genuine smile as she wiped the table.

“I’ll have a Michelob Ultra and he’ll have the suet and a shot glass of water,” I said.

“Coming right up.”

“A Michelob Ultra–whadda you, training for the Marathon?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“We’ll do a blind taste test and see if you can tell the difference between that ‘beer’ and my water.”

“I didn’t know you were such a connoisseur.”

Dottie brought placemats and Poll hopped on his, eager to get at his suet.

“Pace yourself,” I said cautiously.  “Eating that stuff will make you drink faster and you won’t be able to perform if you get lucky.”

He gave me that querulous eye parrots are known for.  He started to speak–seemed to hesitate–then plunged ahead.  “You’re not actually trying to give me advice in the romance department–are you?”

“I’m a married man, just passing on–gratis–wisdom I’ve acquired at great expense.”

“If you think I need your help,” he said with a voice that was pregnant with machismo, “just hide and watch.”

With that he flew haltingly–I warned him about the suet–over to the bar and landed between two bottle-blonde–is “bimbos” too strong a word for the internet?  My guess is they’re either real estate brokers looking for listings or secretaries looking to quit their jobs and become kept women.

“What a cute little bird!” one says as she offers Poll a pizza-flavored goldfish.  He sniffs at it but doesn’t bite, clears his throat and, despite all the bravado he displayed when he was just hopping around on my table, he seems to–freeze in the face of the waves of peroxide that hang from the heads of the harpies of the bar.

Image result for pizza-flavored goldfish
Pizza-flavored goldfish: Yum.

“What’s your name?” the other asks.

I wait, on tenterhooks, to hear his response, but nothing comes.  The tenterhooks are starting to dig into my Dockers “No Wrinkle Zone” chinos, with signature “Iron Free Straight Fit”–and try saying that five times fast.  I could hardly bear to see the little guy suffer, but since he was so insufferable just a few minutes before, I found the inner strength–somehow–to endure it.

He opened his little beak and, as I’ve done so many times in my own life, haltingly began to stumble over his words.

“Drink . . . Old Quaker!” he finally spat out–and the two women began to laugh hysterically!

“You’re so cute–I’m going to take you home with me!” the more buxom of the two said, as she tucked him into her cleavage and stood up to go.

Image result for woman parrot cleavage
“Don’t mean to suggest you’re a bird brain, but is that a parrot on your head?”

I could only look on in envy as the three settled the tab and got up to go.  Poll looked rather snug tucked into the décolletage that bounced by on their way out.  “Poll didn’t want a cracker,” he says as he passes by, “so you can have my goldfish.”

Celine Dion, Ph. D.

Céline Dion blinked away the first of many tears in Quebec City Thursday when she was presented with an honorary doctorate from Université Laval that adds the title “Dr. Dion” to her resumé.

                                     The Canadian Press

Mes cher amis–

It is a great honor today to accept from thees fellow with thee funny hat the honorary doctorate degree.  For too long, how you say, “smart aleck” American rock critics have made fun of me because I have 3,000 pairs of shoes or somesing like that.  Well, to them I say–“Phooey.”  What do they have, a worthless English degree from a cow college in one of America’s square states, or one that begins with an “M” such as Missourissippie or something.  Fat lot of good that will do you when you apply for the job of mutli-talented singer with her own theatre in Las Vegas!

Alanis Morrissette:  “Anybody got any Static Guard?”

I see you back there, Monsieur and Mademoiselle Protestor!  You say University Laval has lowered its standards by giving me an honorary degree.  What do you know, you who have spent five or six years sucking down American cola drinks in the student union to stay up for your crummy calculus mid-term, while I was winning the hearts of millions?  Let me tell you what you know–zero for nothing!  Who do you think should get the honorary degree–maybe Alanis Morrissette, who is only beginning to be somewhat good-looking after years of stringy, fly-away hair.

“Excusez-moi if I look a little–how you say–smug?”

You cannot know how long my lack of a high school degree has haunted me, like a hidden scar on my body that you would die to have–if you are une femme–or to touch if you are un homme!  Now, I skip over the awful high school years–and college too!  I am Celine Dion, Ph. D, like Brenda Starr, Reporter, or Nancy Drew, Girl Detective!

Trois Celines–no waiting!

How many plus often times after a wonderful performance would I attend a reception with powerful people, and my lack of education would hinder me.  “Celine,” someone would say after introductions and pleasantries, “I know you are beautiful and have a voice that would blanch an almond, but what are the principal exports of the Benelux Countries, and when did they dig the Suez Canal?”  To these questions, I could only respond with that determined-petite-jeune-fille look I get when I play air guitar, and sing “My Heart Will Go On” to change the subject.

L’guitar d’air, a la francais.

But no more.  Now, when someone asks me “Dr. Dion, who wrote Voltaire’s ‘Candide’?” I simply say–“I cannot answer that now.  Come see me during office hours between 10 and 11 p.m. on the fifth Tuesday of each month.”

As School Year Ends, Some Ask if 6th Grade is Worth It

COLUMBIA, Missouri. Timmy Salmon has enjoyed his big brother Tom’s four years at the University of Missouri, visiting the Sigma Nu fraternity house on football game days and being fawned over by visiting sorority girls. “The Tri-Delts are pretty,” he says with the discerning eye of a budding ladies’ man, “but the Kappa Alpha Theta girls are yucky.”

C’mon, Timmy–cut ’em some slack.

Still, he’s not sure he wants to follow in the footsteps of an English major who so far has received only one job offer, a temporary minimum wage position reviewing mortgage documents for typos and punctuation errors that could undermine a bank’s rights. “They’re paying him $7.35 an hour,” Timmy says with apparent disgust. “I can make that much mowing lawns.”

So Timmy and his friend Scott Rouchka are taking a long, hard look at whether it makes more sense for them to cut their losses now before they invest precious time and effort in sixth grade, which has historically been viewed as the gateway to seventh grade and eventually a college degree.

“Sixth grade math is a BIG jump,” says Rouchka, who was fifth-grade arm-wrestling champion. “There’s fractions and decimals, which computers already know how to do.”

The two boys’ skepticism represents a worrisome sign for college admissions officers, who already struggle to keep male-female ratios in balance in order to avoid the “loathsome cad” effect; women now make up 57% of college students, and male students are emboldened to treat their distaff counterparts badly as the imbalance between their range of possible dating and mating prospects widens over those of coeds.

“I blame college dropout billionaires like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell,” says Dean Claus Ornstein of Glendon College in Normal, Illinois before this reporter interrupts him. “I could go on,” he says, but agrees to cut his list of examples short due to editorial restrictions.

Pigs in a blanket: The choice is clear.

A bachelor’s degree is still viewed as an essential credential for most white-collar jobs by many adults, but Timmy Salmon says times have changed. “When I told the President of the Tri Delts I made enough money to buy a bike last summer her eyes got REAL wide and she said ‘Wow!’” he recalls. “I’m pretty sure I could have kissed her but they had those pigs-in-a-blanket mini-hot dogs that I love and I didn’t want to leave the buffet.”

Big brother Tom says he thinks Timmy is wrong and that there is value to be gained by exposure to the humanities early in life. “When I smoked pot in high school I was totally clueless,” he recalls. “Now our drug-addled bullshit sessions are really deep.”

Your Maternal Buttinsky Advisor

Have a mom who criticizes your cake-decorating skills?  Wondering why she always praises your brother’s water-skiing and not yours?  Ask Your Maternal Buttinsky Advisor, she’s full of vindictive ideas!

Dear Maternal Buttinsky Advisor:

I am dating this boy “Randy,” that’s his real name but he likes the “look” of quotation marks, he uses them on all his notebooks and his locker label.

My mom is a widow, our dad died of late-onset Osgood Schlatter’s Disease two years ago.  She met “Randy’s” dad at a PTO meeting, he is a widower, his wife died when her hand tragically got caught in ball return at the West Broadway Bowl-a-Way.  The two hit it off and now they say they’re going to get married, which will make me and “Randy” step-brother-and-sister, right?  As far as I know, that means we can’t legally get married–which we fully intended to do before my mom butted in.

Also, even if we elope, won’t our kids turn out to be low-I.Q.?

Please use the self-addressed stamped envelope I have enclosed that says “Your subscription to American Girl is about to expire!” on the outside to throw my mom off the scent.

LuAnn Meinik, Valparaiso, Indiana


Dear LuAnn–

I have good news for you!  Even though you and “Randy” will be related by marriage, statutory prohibitions on incest apply only to blood relatives, so you will be able to marry as soon as your reach legal age.

As for the low I.Q. part, I think you have that covered.

PTO:  A great place to meet your next significant other!


Dear Maternal Buttinsky Advisor:

Last night our house burned to the ground when the kids forgot to unplug their Creepy Crawler maker after a day of creative fun.  I had to scooch across the floor to keep from dying of smoke inhalation, and when we got out I took the kids to my mother’s house, my dingbat husband was off at his fantasy PGA Golf Tour draft night.

When we got to my mother’s she took one look at me and said “I can’t believe you left the house without throwing on some make-up.”  Then she saw my blouse, which was dirty and wrinkled as you might expect, and she said “Honey, don’t you own an ironing board anymore?”

She says this is her way of showing her love for me, but I think she could cut me some slack under the circumstances.  I forgot to mention, she is Presbyterian.  Any suggestions?

Veronica Thwait, Croton-on-Hudson, New York

Dear Veronica–

I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with your mother on this one.  The Creepy Crawler toy has been subject of a series of recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which as you may know is staffed by zealous advocates fighting for our rights who leave work every day at 3 p.m., I should be so lucky.

When thing have calmed down a bit, I suggest that you and she arrange a marshmallow roast with the kids over the smoldering embers of the house they set on fire!

Dear Ms. Buttinsky or whatever–

I am writing you as a “pre-emptive” measure before my daughter Debbie gets to you first.  She came home from spring semester at the University of Missouri with her jeans torn to shreds like they’d gone through a wood chipper.  Being the thoughtful mother that I am, I got busy on my sewing machine and patched up all the holes, then presented the “finished product” to her when she woke up, which I might add was just in time for lunch.

Debbie starts shrieking and says “Mother, what have you done!”–just like that, without even a “Good morning.”  I said I have sewed up all the holes, you must have fallen down the rock pile in the end zone of the football stadium, they were so torn up.  She breaks into tears and says “take them all out, those were a $188 pair of jeans!” and I said, like the farmer the first time he saw a giraffe, there is no such animal.

Then she showed me the sales slip from someplace called “Lulu’s” and I guess I am wrong, there are people in this world stupid enough to pay nearly $200 for a pair of “dungarees.”  I firmly believe I did the right thing even though some might say I was being a buttinsky.  I was only thinking of Debbie’s health, she could have caught bronchitis or allergies through the holes and have to drop out of school and die.

(Mrs.) Verna Lee Hutchinson, Smithton MO


Dear Mrs. Hutchinson–

I believe you have stepped in a steaming pile of “buttinsky” doo-doo with this one.  While the Greek philosopher Aristotle said the family was the basic unit of society, he did not say that a mother has a right alter her college-age daughter’s clothing except in the case “hot pants” or plunging neckline cowl sweaters that give boys a spelunker’s view of deep chasms of mammary glands.

To “patch things up” with Debbie, I suggest you buy some “hip” iron-on patches in popular styles such as unicorns, rainbows and peace signs, and use them to repair the damage you have done to those designer jeans and your relationship with your daughter.



Dear Ms. Maternal Buttinsky–

My boyfriend Ron decided out of the blue last Christmas that he was going to “transition” to female, and broke up with me.  He is now nearly six months into his treatment and is working as “Rhonda” at the Piggly-Wiggly Super Market.  He isn’t fooling anybody–he’s got an Adam’s apple as big as a cue ball–but I must say his complexion looks better with the foundation makeup and blusher he is using.

Anyway, my problem is, the Piggly-Wiggly is the only place to shop in town and I was going through the “express” line the other day with 12 items, including cucumbers and tomatoes, I was going to try making a salad for once.  Who do we get as cashier but “Rhonda,” so I was polite as could be but my buttinsky mother took the vegetables off the conveyor belt and set them to one side.

I asked “Momma, why did you do that?” she says in a voice that could be heard two lanes over “Don’t you know transsexuals transmit diseases, you don’t want to buy anything from them that isn’t in a can or at least wrapped in cellophane?”

Well, I turned beet red, and “Rhonda” gave me the hairy eyeball.  I was beside myself, as I am trying to stay on her/his good side in case he changes his mind.  My marriage prospects in this godforsaken one-horse town are slim and none, none being Ray Edmonds whose daddy owns the Chevrolet-GMC-Hyundai dealership and it would take the Jaws of Life to pry Cindy Sumack off of him.

Will wait for your reply before doing anything drastic, I am not yet ready to go lesbian.

Wanda Furlong, Otterville MO 65348


Oh, Wanda–

I feel for you so!  Many girls are losing their men to the “gender-bending” fad that is sweeping the nation, and your mother should definitely have let nature take its course as many formerly “out-and-proud” types who go the full nine yards with earrings and make-up eventually return to their “home team.”

If I were you, I would leave “momma” home next time you go shopping.  I know she probably likes to get out of the house but there is a time and place for everything, and remind her that “Days of Our Lives” is only on the TV once a day.

Is That Your Cat, or Are We Having Guacamole?

          An image that Google correctly categorized as a tabby cat was, with only a few pixels changed, subsequently identified by the same algorithm as guacamole.

The Boston Globe

We’re heading into summer, which means that my cats are even lazier than usual.  They stay indoors most of the day, venturing outside only in the cool of the evening to chill their ever-widening bellies on our bluestone patio, before rushing off into the dark to wreak havoc on chipmunks and squirrels.

Rocco left, Okie right.

“I’m getting concerned about your lifestyles,” I say to them as they take the two Adirondack chairs for a change of pace.

“Says the guy who drank a bottle of Malbec by himself last night,” Rocco says out of the side of his mouth.

“I’m serious,” I say, trying to re-take the moral high ground.  “You lie around all day, then you’re out all night.  You’re not twenty-one in cat years anymore.”

“How do you do the math in your head so fast?” Okie asks.  He’s the handsome grey tabby who’s gotten by on his looks, not his wits, his entire life.

“Don’t you remember anything?” Rocco snaps.  “He’s the former Boy Scout/Altar Boy who does fractions in his head when he’s swimming laps.”

“Seven and 15/16 laps.”

“Fractions–ugh!” Okie groans.  He’s lived the life of the beta male ever since his younger brother Rocco arrived on the scene.  For some reason whenever the cat food is divided in half, he only gets 40%.

“I’m only saying this because we love you guys,” I say.  I found this rhetorical turn to be very helpful when dealing with our sons as they grew up.  In essence, it boils down to “Don’t break your mother’s heart, you sullen teenager, you.”

“We have to live our own lives,” Rocco says as he gets up to follow the path of a chipmunk, who disappears under the wooden fence we put up around the air conditioning units.

“Do you remember a few summers ago, when Okie disappeared for weeks?” I say in an imploring tone of voice.  “How are we not supposed to be worried when something like that happens?”  When I want to, I can really implore.

“One for you, two for me.  One for you, three for me.”

“That was then, this is now,” Rocco says as he sits back down.  “If you want to be able to find us, just give us Google chip implants.”

“Yeah, sort of like the Italian dad down the street who put a GPS device in his daughter’s car so he could break the legs of any boy who tried to slide into home with her,” Okie adds.  He apparently listens when we talk at the dinner table.

I give them a look of pitiless contempt.  “You guys think you’re so smart–you’ve been watching too many cute cat food commercials that glorify the feline brain.”

“It’s true,” Rocco says.  “I read it on the internet.”

“Well, maybe you should pick up a newspaper some time.”

“What’s a newspaper?” Okie asks.

“It’s that stuff he puts in our litter boxes,” Rocco advises him.

“What’s a four-letter word for ‘excrement’?”

“It has other uses.”

“Right,” Rocco says.  “You can also line parakeet cages with it.”

“While that is generally true of The Boston Globe, every now and then you come across something useful in it besides the comics.”

“I like Garfield!” Okie says–figures.

“No, I mean stories like this,” I say, and point them to an article about an Artificial Intelligence conference where the shortcomings of the technology were demonstrated.  “Change just a few pixels, and Google thinks you two are guacamole.”

“You’re not going to put me on a nacho chip, are you?”

They are both silent for a moment, as they walk over the Business section.  “Gosh–I had no idea,” Rocco says, for once sounding . . . almost humble.

“So let that be a lesson to you, okay?” I say as I give them both a scritch on the head.

“What’s the lesson?” Okie asks, as usual missing the self-evident.

“Simple,” Rocco says, stepping in like teacher’s pet to explain.  “The difference between your brain and guacamole is, like, one avocado.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

My Dark Horse Run for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award

It’s hard out there–to coin a phrase–for a guy who’d like to quit his day job and write.  You look for any advantage you can get.  A few weeks ago I read about a guy two towns over from me whose first collection of short stories received a glowing, full-page review in The New York Times Book Review.  He’s now wheeling his second collection around in a grocery cart, selling them at Little League weenie roasts and Elks Lodge shad bakes.  He’ll read you a sample page in the hope that you’ll buy a copy.

And so it was that I fastened upon the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award as a possible promotional tool.  I’d written a novel with bad sex in it–why not me? I asked myself.

The award was established by Carol Koenig, a literary critic, and Auberon Waugh, then editor of the Review, in 1993.  The prize,  a “semi-abstract trophy representing sex in the 1950s,” is given to the author who has written the worst description of a sex scene in a novel.  Spoiler alert:  my second novel, CannaCorn, includes sex between a baseball player and a cheerleader that involves the use of–and here I hesitate, for fear of bringing a blush to the cheeks of maiden readers–actual, unretouched cheers from my high school days.  I know–society’s going to hell in a handbasket, and I’m not helping.

Auberon Waugh


But I needed some juice, dammit!  So I called up my agent and asked her what she thought.

“It’s not an award for bad sex,” she said.  “It’s for bad writing about sex.  Surely you don’t want to have your name associated with such a prize–do you?”

“What did Samuel Johnson say?”

“Never give a sucker an even break?”

“No that was W.C. Fields, although they look alike.  He said ‘Fame is a shuttlecock.  To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends.’”

Johnson:  “This is hot stuff!”


“Suit yourself,” she said, “but you’re going to have to work at it.  They’re not going to just drop it in your lap.”

“The book’s written–it is what it is.”

“Don’t go all Belichick on me.  What I mean is, Tom Wolfe won it, Norman Mailer won it posthumously, and John Updike received a Lifetime Achievement award, but those guys had big reputations to start.  You’re a nobody, a dark horse.  You need to campaign.”

“Hi–I’m running for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, and I’d appreciate your vote.”


I was mildly taken aback.  “That sounds . . . unseemly.  Shouldn’t I wait for the judges to make their decision based on the merits–or demerits–of my bad sex scene?”

“No, you’ve got to build ‘buzz,’” she said, and I could feel the breeze from the little finger quotes she made in the air several hundred miles away.  “What did Tip O’Neill say?”

I was ready for that one:  “If you want people to vote for you, you’ve got to ask them,” I said.  “Okay, I understand.  So what’s the game plan?”

A young Tip O’Neill


“I say let’s start bright and early tomorrow morning,” she said.  “We’ll hit the gates at factories when the first shift shows up, then the strip malls at noon when the moms are out shopping, then maybe a social event at night.”

It seemed like a lot of work to me.  In truth, the whole process had been a slog from the get-go, to mix British and American slang.  I’d had a hard time writing about bad sex because, well, sex has been okay for me.  Oh sure, there was Mimi, the tri-athlete who suggested we jog, play tennis, then squash, swim and finish things off with bowling before sex in her apartment without air conditioning, but she was the exception, an outlier.  For the most part, I’ve enjoyed sex, either alone or with another.

“What should I wear?” I asked.

“Always overdress,” she said.

“Well, I wasn’t going naked.”

“No, I mean you should always dress at least one level of formality above the people you’re meeting.”

“But won’t that make me look . . . stiff?”


“And won’t people assume from my clothes that means I . . . don’t know much about sex.”

“Actually,” she said, “if that’s your concern I don’t think your clothes will have anything to do with it.”

Your Stuffed Animal Advisor

Animals are our friends, but pets can also upchuck on our white wall-to-wall carpeting, or tear up a new pair of pumps we just bought last week on sale.  That’s why stuffed animals are often better friends than real ones.  Got a question about our fake little furry friends? Ask Your Stuffed Animal Advisor!

Image result for stuffed animal set
Save the manatees–collect them.


Dear Stuffed Animal Advisor:

When I broke up with my boyfriend “Todd” a year ago because he could never bring himself to “pop the question,” I did not go out and get a cat like a lot of women I know.  I was not going to end up like them, making popcorn on a Saturday night and watching Lifetime movies with fourteen pounds of fur named “Kitzi” on my lap. So I began to collect stuffed animals which as you suggest are a lot easier to take care of.  They never escape outside and have to be lured back in by leaving a plate of food on the back porch like my girlfriends Mary Anne and Jeanie do whenever their cats run off into the woods.  Also they don’t pee on the rug.  The cats, not my girlfriends.

Now that I have joined the ranks of “virtual pet owners” I have a question.  I have a growing collection of stuffed dogs, cats and turtles.  I checked our local zoning code and it says nothing about legal occupancy for a one-bedroom apartment by unrelated inanimate figurines.  Is 162 (not including me) too many, or can I get the “My Little Puppy Friends” special Christmas edition when it arrives in stores next week?

Miriam Urshel, North Hollywood, Florida

Your best stuffed animal storage shelter value!


Dear Miriam:

Your Stuffed Animal Advisor says “The more the merrier!” when it comes to the toy buddies that make our lives so rewarding when human beings like “Todd” prove incapable of making a commitment.  Make sure you don’t block fire exits with your little furry friends, and you may want to buy a free-standing storage shelter to hide your “stuffed stuff” when nosy mental health professionals from local government bodies come snooping around.


Image result for stuffed animal set
Get the Grab ‘n Go Sixpack.


Dear Your Stuff Animal Advisor:

I am a guy, as you can probably deduce from my name below.  As a boy I was excluded from many youth sports activities because of the crippling effects of Osgood Schlatter’s Disease, and as a result I remained attached to my stuffed animals longer than most young men.

I have now become engaged to a wonderful young lady–I will call her “Opal” because that is her name–who is a real “go-getter.”  She was recently re-elected to a second term as County Prothonotary, the second highest-ranking official around here with plenary powers to issue and revoke licenses for fishing and all-terrain vehicles. Opal has her eye on County Commissioner, and a run for higher office would put her in the local “media spotlight,” which is pretty intense around here what with a newspaper and two radio stations, one “Classic Country” the other “Top 40” format. My concern is that some jerk reporter will find out about my collection–which is now in the high three figures–and try to make an “expose” out of it.

I am willing to take the heat, but I do not want to impede Opal’s career and so am wondering if I should switch to a more conventional hobby such as bowling or fishing.

Norman “Bud” Ohlrich, Keokuk, Iowa

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Dear Bud:

The stigma formerly attached to adult male stuffed animal collectors has declined over the years as our society has become more “accepting” of our nation’s hobby diversity.  I say turn what some people may consider a liability into a campaign asset by becoming an “out-and-proud” stuffed animal nut!  Pollster Ed Francis of Mid-States Political Consultants says a lot of weird hobbyists are “swing” voters who can tilt an election against an anti-stuffed animal candidate in a close race.

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Dear Stuffed Animal Advisor Lady:

Please settle an “e-commerce” dispute for me.  I recently bought what was advertised as an original issue, limited edition “Furby” on from a seller named lloydinknobnoster.  When the package arrived the thing didn’t look right so I turned it upside down and the label said “Fruby,” made in Deng Xiaoping City, China.  I tried to stop payment but it was too late, so I filed a complaint with the webmaster who says there was nothing they can do, “lloydinknobnoster” is a “Platinum” member with an unimpeachable record.

I contacted “Lloyd” by mail–there are not that many people in Knob Noster so the postmaster knew who it was.  “Lloyd” says I should be thanking him, not complaining, it’s a collector’s item.  I said I wouldn’t take him to small claims court if he would abide by your decision and he agreed although he said he wasn’t waiving “sovereign immunity” whatever that means.

Curt Dwinnel, Hill Jack, MO


Dear Curt–

I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with Lloyd on this one.  Furbies with the spelling “Fruby” down in the crotch where you insert the two “D” batteries are commanding top prices on world collectible markets.  Apparently Chinese stuffed animal workers are only given one bathroom break per week and as a result sometimes lose consciousness while impressing plastic parts with basic information such as product name, serial number, and toll-free number to call if you spill something on the fur. I hope your new acquisition brings peace to your life.  If not, please stay off stuffed animal websites for awhile as I’m bidding on a number of items and don’t want to get caught up in your legal hurricane, thank you very much.

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

The Last Baseball Game

Don’t come ’round here looking for the fresh, clean, family-friendly content this site is known for this afternoon. I’m taking off at 3:30 to watch my kid pitch what may be the final start of his high school career. He will take the mound today with a 3-0 record and three home runs last week alone! He hit them, I mean; he didn’t give them up.

It’s an occasion that causes normally hard-bitten sports writers–and Boston has them by the pallet-load–to turn sentimental and wax rhapsodic. I have to say, now that I’m in their shoes, I can’t blame them. My kid didn’t get a scholarship and will thus try to walk on when he gets to college, but he may never play another competitive game.

Premature babi–hey, who gave them Sprite, the refreshing lemon-lime soft drink?


He’s 6’2″ and weighs 165 pounds, but when he came into this world, the prospects that he would ever develop into such a strapping young man were slim. He was born a month premature; for an infant boy, that means his lungs were dangerously underdeveloped.

“Is there anything you can do about it?” I asked the doctor who delivered him.

“We recommend that they go on drugs right away,” she replied.

“What kind of drugs?” my wife asked nervously.

“Steroids,” the doctor said.

Jose Canseco: He, uh, did a lot of push-ups.


I looked at my wife, and I could tell she was with me 100%. “Go ahead,” I said, “Triple the normal dosage.”

Thanks to the miracles of modern science, my boy was out of the incubator in a few days, but we kept him on the medication. No point in taking chances when a kid’s lungs are at risk.

It paid off, let me tell you. By the time he started T-ball he was hitting tape-measure shots, 565-foot home runs over everything. Eventually, we lowered the dose as the ‘roid-rage fines began to get expensive. I’ll never forget the look on the face of the teenaged umpire who called him out on a ball that just barely grazed the outside corner of the plate. My kid chased him back to his crappy Honda Civic and flipped it over–at the age of 10! That’s the kind of upper-body strength you need to hit with power to the opposite field.

As any parent of a young athlete will tell you, a lot of sacrifice goes into the making of a kid who can play at the Division I level. There was the $45 per half hour hitting coach, the pseudo-religious earrings a la Barry Bonds, the heavy chains that look like they could have been lifted off the neck of a Rottweiler or an investment banker’s second wife. But it’s all part of the great American tradition of baseball.

“I don’t really like you, but I’m 0 for 21 in June.”


I don’t mean to suggest that my kid’s career has been one long home run trot around the basepaths. Like any baseball player, he’s had his ups and downs. I remember when he was 11 and started the season 0-for-June for the Orthwein Insurance Agency A’s. One night I heard him sobbing to himself as I walked past his bedroom.

“What’s the matter, kiddo?” I asked as I sat down beside him and tousled his hair.

“I’ve lost it, dad,” he said through his sobs. “My career is over.”

“No it’s not,” I said reassuringly. “You’re just going through a dry spell.”

He calmed down a bit. “You think so?” he asked.

“Sure. What you need is a slumpbuster!”

“What’s that?”

“Well, it’s a girl who you might not really like as a friend because she hasn’t got the greatest personal hygiene or something, but you, uh, decide to . . . to spend some time with her to change your luck.”

He was silent for a moment. “So somebody like Susan van de Kamp?”

“Is that the chubby girl in your class who’s always wearing her Little Dutch Girl outfit to school on Show ‘n Tell Day?”

“That’s her,” he said. “She picks her butt in line to the cafeteria.”

My eyes misted over. “She sounds perfect. Why don’t you give her a whirl.”

“Like how?”

There are some things you can’t coach, but I gave it a try. “You do something to make her think you like her.”

“What do the big-leaguers do?” he asked me.

“They, uh, invite them over to spend the night, sort of like you and Timmy Salmon last Friday.”

“Yuk!” he said, clearly repulsed by the thought.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “At the Little League level, all you have to do is throw a spit ball at her.”

Republished annually after the fashion among weepy Boston sportswriters. Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Kids: They’re Cute When They’re Young.”

How to Talk to Your Cat About Drugs

If you have cats and they’re anything like mine, they’re apolitical. Mine are outdoor cats and get plenty of exercise, so they’re not fat cats. A check of the records at our state Office of Campaign Finance revealed that neither made any political contributions during the last election cycle. That’s why I was surprised this afternoon when Okie, the older of the two, jumped on my stomach while I was trying to take a nap, holding a petition to legalize catnip in his mouth.

“I’ve asked you not to disturb me when I’m resting,” I said.

“This will only take a minute,” he said. “We’re gathering signatures to legalize catnip.”

I looked at him with my left eyebrow raised to express my pitiless contempt for his inferior intellect. “Catnip is legal, you stunod.”

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“That’s not what mom told us.”

I shook my head, almost involuntarily. “For somebody who’s supposedly curious, you’re awfully credulous.”

He gave me that tilted-head look, like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads. He does that when he’s confused or I’m playing the harmonica.

“What does ‘credulous’ mean?” he asked. I was glad to see that he’d at least learned to add quotation marks around a word he’s mentioning but not actually using in a sentence. It’s something he picked up when I read to him from the writings of Willard Van Orman Quine, a philosopher. I’ve tried to instill this linguistic precision in all of our pets, except for the fish my son’s girlfriend gave him, who seems to be a mute. The fish, that is, not the girlfriend.

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W.V. O. Quine: Note obligatory beret to offset four initials.


“‘Credulous’ means you believe things too readily,” I explained. “Mom tells you catnip’s illegal because she doesn’t want you getting high.”

He took all this in. “Sign it anyway,” he said after a while. “Just to be sure.”

I signed, and began to scratch his head. “Look,” I said, “I know you guys like it when I give you catnip, but it’s a special treat, or to get you to stop beating the crap out of each other when I’m listening to music.”

He stared off into space, the way dogs in George Booth cartoons do. “I think music sounds better when I’m on catnip,” he said after a while.

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“That’s because catnip is a euphoric, like marijuana,” I said, scratching him under the chin.

“How would you know?” he asked, and with that, the moment so many Baby Boomers have dreaded arrived. It was time to talk to my cat about drugs. I cleared my throat and set sail over uncharted and possibly stormy waters.

“Okie–buddy,” I began, but he cut me off.

“You only call me ‘buddy’ when you’re putting me down in the basement for the night.”

“This is one of those subjects that call for ‘tough love.’ When I was your age, I experimented with a lot of things. Rather than risk an arrest that would follow me for the rest of my life, one day I took some catnip . . .”

“Which belonged to Baby Cat and Big Kitty, right?” He was referring to the two cats I grew up with.

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Baby Cat: Nobody wanted her because she was *sniff* different!



“Those are extremely stupid names.”

“We named those cats when we were toddlers.”

“Still,” he said with a little snort. “Continue.”

“Well, when I reached high school, a lot of kids went off to Haight-Ashbury for the Summer of Love. I stayed home.”


“I needed something to help escape my boring summer job, so I put some catnip in one of my dad’s pipes and–smoked it.”

He looked at me like I was the one with the sub-human intelligence. “Why didn’t you just put some in a felt mouse and roll around on it?” he asked.

“I was out with friends in a car–that would have looked pretty stupid.”

“Okay,” he said. “So what happened?”

“Not much. I felt a little light-headed, but that could have been just from the smoking. Humans can get high from catnip, but the effect is pretty mild.”

He seemed to be taking it all in, processing it. “I know you’re going to hit me with a moral now,” he said after a moment.

“Not really,” I said as I stroked his back. “I think you’re better off trying something that won’t do you much harm than to have mom scare the bejeezus out of you.”

He nodded his head and took a lick at his left shoulder. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said finally.

“I think it’s best.” So I’d gotten through to him after all. “I always feel better after we have these talks,” I said. “Anything else on your mind?”

“Yeah,” he said as he jumped down from the couch. “Do you have any Grateful Dead albums?”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

At the Procter & Gamble Bad Hair Day Laboratory

Procter & Gamble has mobilized a team of researchers to determine by scientific methods when a woman will have a bad hair day.

                                                      The Wall Street Journal

Don’t laugh–it could happen to you.

We had just ordered pizza for the night shift at Procter & Gamble’s top-secret Bad Hair Day Laboratories buried deep beneath the surface of the earth in an undisclosed location at 301 East 6th Street–between Sycamore and Broadway–Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, you can’t miss it.

Shhh–it’s a secret.

I could tell we were in for a rough night on the “graveyard” shift.  We took on all cases, regardless of a patient’s lack of tonsorial insurance, as part of P&G’s “Quest for the Cure for Bad Hair Days.”  We were in a race against time; for every day that went by without some way to detect nascent bad hair days–before they developed into full-blown 48-hour “category 2″ bad hair disasters–women would suffer untold anxiety, lost wages due to unnecessary “personal” days, and “skank profiling” by construction workers and law enforcement personnel.

Subject #1 was a woman known only to us as “Amy”–an emotional red-head whose career as an actuary at Modern Moosehead Insurance Co., Inc. was stymied because she could not control her unruly locks.  God, I felt for her.  I know we’re not supposed to become attached to the human victims of bad hair days, but the pain and anguish she suffered through the night were palpable.  The sounds that emanated from her as she slept were a cacophony of moans and whimpers, sometimes even a scream.  When she wasn’t snoring, I mean.

Amy had tried everything to perfect the spit curls that were the de rigeur style of the successful female actuaries at the firm–Scotch brand Magic Tape, corn starch, White Rain Hair Spray–all for nought.

White Rain Hair Spray and “mall bangs”

I took “Amy’s” pulse, adjusted the quotation marks around her head so she could sleep better, and wrote out a scrip for the night nurse.  “She needs to be put on Prell Shampoo,” I said as I tore the piece of paper with my illegible handwriting off the pad.

“Prell Concentrate or Liquid Prell?” the nurse asked as she looked at the paper, her brow furrowed with concern like the rumpled sheets on the bed that she’d slept in with one of the interns last night.  “Instead of telling me what you wrote, why don’t you just try writing more neatly.”

“I’m a doctor!” I snapped.  “I deal in life and death, not the Zaner-Bloser or Palmeri-Milligan methods of penmanship.”

“Sorry, doctor,” she said, her eyes downcast.  “I forgot my place.”

“Liquid Prell, but I want you to test it first,” I said.  “You drop a pearl in it, and if it reaches the bottom of the bottle before the end of a sixty-second commercial, use concentrate.”

Ceramic straightening iron

“Okay,” she said, as she turned to minister to the ailing woman with a straightening iron.  “I’ll take care of it.”

I moved between the beds to a woman named “Vicki,” who had come to us because of a history of bad hair days in her family.

“How ya doin’?” I asked in the most affable tone I could muster in the face of her face, which was surrounded by a head of hair that looked like Phyllis Diller after a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl.

“Better,” she said, and I had to admire her courage.  She’d been with us for a week, and during that time she’d missed bridge club, golf and book group, but somehow she had found the inner strength to carry on.  “Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked with the trumped-up sincerity that Alan Alda used to manufacture for his role in “M*A*S*H.”

“It’s getting . . . harder,” she said.  “I . . . don’t know . . . if I can hold on.”

“Nurse,” I called out, and an angel of mercy appeared at my side as if by transubstantiation.

“Yes, Doctor?” the man said.  I found it difficult to look at hairs sneaking up through the v-neck of his scrubs instead of a couple of Indian mounds of heaving boobs.

“Get me some Alberto VO5,” I said sharply.

“Are you sure?” he asked timidly.  Probably flunked out of med school because he spent too much time trying to become the next Cat Stevens.

“Don’t question my professional judgment,” I said fiercely.  “Get it–STAT!”

“I’ve always wondered what exactly that means,” the guy said.  A real wool-gatherer–too much pot was my guess.

“It’s from the Latin statim, for immediately, but here’s a good way to remember it:  SOONER THAN ALREADY THERE!” I screamed.

“Okay, I’m on it,” the guy said and after I watched his bald spot disappear down the hall, I turned to console “Vicki.”  “We’ll do everything we can for you okay.”


“I mean that guy will do everything he can.  I’ve got to keep moving.  Nice talking to you.”

“Her black roots are lengthening–better get Spray-On Blonde.”

“Argalarga,” she said as she downed two Perfect Hair Vitamins with a swallow of water.

It was time for the toughest part of the evening–the Critical Care Ward.  Some people find it hard to look at the victims of the most serious cases we handle, but I have to.  I took the Hippocratic Oath as a follicularologist:  The first rule–do no harm, unless someone has been “rat-combing” her hair and needs to have a hairball removed.

I greet a young woman named “Brenda,” who has allowed a stylist to give her “mall bangs” on the eve of her junior prom, and now can’t get the tidal wave of her hair to crash down on the beach of her forehead.

“Hi there,” I say, and “Brenda” forces a brave little smile.

“Hi, doc,” she says with affected cheer, but I can see right through her facade.  I know she’s in agony, what with cheerleading camp next summer looming ahead.

“I . . . spoke to your parents,” I say cautiously.


“They’ve approved the procedure,” I say.

Her eyes light up like the burning of Atlanta.  “They did?”

“Yes,” I say, trying to keep an even tone in order to manage her expectations.  “You realize it’s still experimental, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to . . .”

“I don’t care,” she says, her cheeks reddening as tears begin to stream down her face.  “I just want . . . my life back.”

I look in her eyes, and I sense that she understands the risks.  “All right,” I say, and the nurse brings a pair of latex gloves and a jar containing a substance that was used by women ages ago, but which has only recently come back into fashion as a possible antidote for the more exotic and intractable forms of bad hair that have grown resistant to other cures.

“This isn’t going to hurt,” I say, as I slather Dippity-Do on her hair.  “Or at least it’s not going to hurt me.