At the Repo Man’s Christmas Ball

It was the depths of a recession,
And real estate prices had fallen.
Some contractors were overextended
And their creditors were callin’.

Me? I was just doing my job
Arranging for repossessions
Of cranes and ‘dozers and backhoes and such
By gun-for-hire Hessians.

One was a guy named Rocco
with a gooseneck trailer and truck.
Another was known as just “Jimmy”
By those who were down on their luck.

They were glad to hear from me, though,
The guy who sent them the work;
They had to eat too, they’d say,
When the deadbeats would call them both jerks.

So they’d wrap their log chains ‘round the axles,
and drag the machinery off,
Then we’d sue for the balance that was due
with a grim face and contemptuous scoff.

When Christmas time rolled around
I found an envelope in my mail box
Inviting me to the Repo Man’s Gala,
The prom for my school of hard knocks.

I dressed in my best vest and finery,
and put on patent leather shoes;
I looked forward to wining and dining
‘Cause repo guys knock back the booze.

I drove to the cheesy steak restaurant
and looked for a place to park
but my little white banged-up Toyota
presented a contrast quite stark

With the varied and sundry tow trucks
That the repo men used for their labor,
A pit bull in each of the front seats
and the ball bats they swung as their sabres.

I squeezed in between two behemoths
big boom winches stacked on their backs
with barely an inch in between us,
a gnat couldn’t fit through the cracks.

When I entered I was greeted by cheering
and glad handings all the way round,
but when I emerged with my speech slightly slurred
my Corolla was nowhere to be found.

I looked high and low for my compact
that was missing from its parking space.
I scanned the dead-ends and alleys
I looked every god-damned place.

But nowhere did I find hide or hair of it,
It had vanished into the snow.
Had I failed to pay parking tickets
and given cops reason to tow?

When I turned I saw guys with their dollies
all red-faced and florid from drink.
One said “Hey–you don’t look so jolly–
There must be a problem, methinks.”

When I told them my car had been stolen
While I hobnobbed with them inside,
They scratched their heads and hemmed
and hawed until finally one replied:

“I don’t want to start no trouble,
On this festive occasion and all,
But one bit of advice that I’d give you—
watch where you pahk at the repo man’s ball.”

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Burned by Shoplifters, One Store Turns to Higher Power

BOSTON.  The Christmas shopping season is in full swing here, and the usual crush of office workers on the streets of Boston is made worse by suburban mothers and children in town to see the “Santa’s Workshop” display in the Clark’s department store window.  But there’s another, more ominous addition to the typical workday crowd–extra security guards, hired to minimize shoplifting losses that can eat away at retailers’ critical December profits.


Da Sistahs:  “One of the ballers tried to rip this off.”

 

Most wear standard-issue rent-a-cop outfits, but two stand out from the bland crowd; Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea and Sister Mary Clarus, who wear the grey, white and black habits of the Little Sisters of Inventory Loss Control.

Bob Duffy, Clark’s Director of Security, says he brought the two nuns on board last year after seeing their handiwork across the street at Sheehan’s Church Goods, Boston’s leading provider of religious artifacts and supplies.  “Some kid tried to boost a pack of Upper Deck All-Star Martyrs Trading Cards,” he recalls wistfully.  “The sisters were all over him like a cheap suit.  When he walked in he had the face of an angel, and when they got through with him he looked like he needed Accutane.”


“You hold him–I’ll hit him.”

 

The two got their start as a tag team handling a rough crew of boys who moved through Sacred Heart Grade School in Sedalia, Missouri, like a rat through a snake’s digestive track.  “The gang that graduated in 1965, they were sent to us from hell,” Sister Mary Clarus recalls with disgust.  “Dick Walje tried to knock my wimple off one day, and Scotty Lilja drew a picture of St. Agnes in a Speedo for his fifth grade art project.”


“You’ll never take me alive, Sister Joe!”

 

The two moved on from those humble beginnings to work security for Pope John Paul II during his American tour in the fall of 1979.  “There were always groupies and lepers trying to get backstage for blessings after gigs,” says Arimathea, known to those she has collared as “Sister Joe” for her no-nonsense approach, modeled after Sgt. Joe Friday of the “Dragnet” television show.


“Put down the holy water and nobody gets hurt.”

 

The two stand a watchful guard over the Winter Street entrance to the store, leaning back against an Elizabeth Arden bath oil bead display to make themselves inconspicuous.


What do you do with the thick, rubbery skins after the water runs out of the tub?

 

“Our job isn’t to wait until trouble happens,” says Clarus.  “Our job is to stop it before it starts.”  As she finishes, she casts a jaundiced eye at Tiffany Uxbridge, a twenty-something secretary who’s brought her Starbucks peppermint mocha into the store with her.  Sister Joe nods her head, says “Let’s roll,” and the two make a bee-line for the perp.

“Excuse me, young lady,” Clarus says.  She grabs the elbow of the arm that isn’t holding the cup, an incapacitating martial arts hold that she first used on Con Chapman, a second-grade spelling champ, to keep him from a life of crime that was about to begin with the misdemeanor of talking in line during a fire drill.  “Aren’t we forgetting something?” Sister Joe says as she sets a pick directly in front of Uxbridge.


“I’m going to need to see an ID.”

 

“What?” the girl replies, not removing her ear buds.

“Your coffee, dingleberry!” Clarus shouts, growing angry at the woman’s apparent indifference.  “If it don’t say ‘coffee shop’ on the outside, it ain’t a freakin’ coffee shop.”

Some shoppers slow down to stare at the stop-and-frisk that follows, while others give the trio a wide berth, hoping to avoid trouble.


“These are my jeans–I wore them into the store!”

 

Arimathea writes the woman up with a warning and escorts her to the exit.  “Take your damn shopping list to Filene’s,” she says with a sarcastic laugh, referring to a competing department store next door that was demolished.  “Maybe they’ll want your business.”

The two take a turn down to corner, where the store’s back entrance faces a less savory streetscape.  “Isn’t that D’Angelo?” Arimathea says, referring to a young man with low-slung jeans and a flat-brimmed New York Yankees cap.

“The same,” Clarus replies, and like birds flying in formation they fall in behind a dropout from St. Columbkill’s High School in Brighton, a suspect who has eluded the sisters to date.

They watch as he walks through the glass doors, and note a curious departure from his usual manner; he removes his ever-present hat and hands it around the anti-shoplifting device.  “Something’s not right,” Arimathea says, and the two move in for the kill.

“Hel-lo D-Angelo!” Clarus says as she applies her vise-like grip to the man’s elbow.  “Nice to see you doff your hat when you come to visit us.”

“I ain’t done nuthin’,” the man says.  “You can’t arrest me coming in to your store.”

“Why don’t we do an instant replay,” Arimathea says as she steers him back to the entrance.  “Let’s just ‘pass the hat,’” she says as she removes the man’s baseball cap and holds it between the transmitter and receiver antennae of the anti-shoplifting device.

A loud “BLONK” sound is heard, and Clarus brings her 12-inch metal edged ruler down on the thief’s right ear.

“Ow!” he screams and falls to the floor.  Arimathea moves in, slaps handcuffs on the young man and begins to recite his rights.

“You have the right to burn in hell forever,” she says, reading from a plastic card that she pulls from the front marsupial pocket of her habit.  “You have the right to suffer in purgatory until the end of time.  You are not entitled to a lawyer if you can’t afford one.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fun With Nuns.”

Christmas House Tour Helps Bring Rancor to Season of Joy

WESTLAND, Mass. In this exurban town fifteen miles west of Boston, starter homes begin at $1.3 million and there are few two-income households, leaving many stay-at-home moms with time and money to go overboard on holiday decorating. “It goes beyond creating a festive mood,” says Marci Griener-Wilson as she plugs in her Martha Stewart autograph model glue-gun, “the way crashes make NASCAR more than just a car race.”


Starter home: “Haven’t you got something just a bit more expensive?”

 

But with local progress in diversity consisting largely of inviting a Presbyterian to join an Episcopalian bridge club, there is a tendency towards homogeneity that makes it tough on judges for the annual Women’s League Christmas Decorating Tour, the organization’s largest fund-raiser. “There are so many lovely homes that could be included,” says club president Alice “Winnie” Wilson. “You have to make close calls and cut some women because of their innate tackiness.”


“. . . and congratulations to Winnie for freezing out that bitch Mary Louise Olshinski!”

 

Those hard decisions inevitably lead to hurt feelings which in the past have been sublimated into a greater involvement in club activities, but this year was different. “I’m sorry, when you bake 15 life-size gingerbread men for your front lawn, you expect more than a ‘Better luck next year’ kiss-off evaluation sheet,” says Mary Louise Olshinski, who incurred the wrath of Winnie Wilson when she cut her off for a parking space in front of the local needlepoint shop.


Strawberry Alarm Clock: Turn on, tune in, drop out, be home by 11.

 

So Olshinski organized her own alternative house tour, which she dubbed “Counter Christmas.” “It’s the most rebellious thing I’ve done since I went to a Strawberry Alarm Clock concert with Mike Herbsheimer in high school,” says the sixty-something housewife with a plaid headband. “I’m just glad my parents are dead, because I don’t know that they’d approve.”


Rivers: “You don’t want to go too heavy on the candy canes.”

 

Drawing inspiration from the underground concerts organized by saxophonist Sam Rivers to showcase cutting-edge acts excluded from the Newport Jazz Festival in the 70′s, Olshinski’s “Counter Christmas” is a tour of the dark places in upscale suburban homes. “We take people into the recycling bins, the kitty box rooms–everywhere that the decorating magazines refuse to show you,” she says as she is called away by her front doorbell.

“We’re here for Counter Christmas,” an elderly woman announces as a gust of cold air blows past Olshinski. “Come right in,” she says to a group of three. “We’re just about to begin the 11 o’clock tour.”


“Move over, Fluffy. I want to show the nice ladies our old cream cheese.”

 

After a leisurely stroll through a cluttered garage, attic crawl space and basement utility room, Olshinski brings the group to the final stop on the tour in her kitchen. “This is really the black hole of Counter Christmas,” she says, “the place where no matter how much of a shine you put on the rest of your house, you find that it’s still–at bottom–a sneaker. Voila,” she proclaims as she throws open her refrigerator, which is stuffed with staples as well as holiday delights.

“Ooo, my goodness,” says Blanche Furbois, the wife of a retired insurance agent. “That certainly looks like it’s chock-full of goodies!”

“Thank you, Blanche,” Olshinski says, “but if you’ll come closer, I want you to notice one detail in particular.”

The women crowd around and Olshinski urges the family’s pet rabbit “Fluffy” to move to one side to afford them a better view. “See that microwave-safe baking dish back in the back?” she asks.

“Yes,” Furbois says hesitantly after craning her neck.

“That’s last year’s oyster-and-sausage stuffing!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs From the ‘Burbs.”

As Harassment Claims Mount, Notary Romantics Are in Demand

BOSTON.  December 1st is the unofficial beginning of the holiday party season, but Chuck Webberau doesn’t seem to be in a festive mood as he sits off in a corner in the hotel ballroom where Modern Moosehead Insurance Company is holding its annual shindig.  “I’m sort of like a designated driver,” he says as he plays a game on his phone.  “I have to be ready to step in when others are about to step out of line.”

The recent spate of sexual harassment claims that has claimed big names in politics and entertainment has spooked Modern Moosehead, the third-largest insurer headquartered in this city, so much so that they’ve hired Webberau at $2 a signature to serve as on-call “notary romantic,” a notary public who verifies consent at every step of an illicit overture, from initial flirtatious remark to final bedding upstairs in a hastily-rented bargain suite.  “We’re not as big as John Hancock or Prudential, so one bad outcome in a lawsuit can hurt us financially,” says Norman Klinefeldt, a Senior Vice President who has spent his entire career at the boring but stodgy company.  “We were the company that came up with the ‘Seatbelts for Soccer Safety’ program, so ‘risk-averse’ is hard-wired into our DNA.”

The High Deductibles, the five-piece band hired to provide music for the affair, has the crowd jumping with a disco medley, then a specially-tailored tune they’ve written for Modern Moosehead, “Take This Ring (Add it to Your Homeowner’s Policy).”  Sheryl Tigue, an administrative assistant in the company’s records department, is cozying up to Ted Flomm, a top-earning broker who just landed a big account and is in a celebratory mood.  As the song comes to an end, Flomm whispers “Let’s go to the cloak room” to his bleached-blonde dancing partner, and soon the two are canoodling between down coats, with Tigue running her manicured nails through Flomm’s heavily-moussed hair.


“You may now touch your secretary’s breast(s).”

 

“Hi guys,” Webberau says, as he moves in with his notary stamp and seal, then turns to Tigue and asks “Is this your free act and deed?”

The young woman, who has never taken out a mortgage or made a will, balks as she is unfamiliar with the formalities of the notary public trade.  “What does that mean?” she asks.

“Just a formality,” Webberau says.  “I need to know at each stage of your ‘relationship’ as it develops tonight that you’ve given informed consent to, uh . . .”

“Ted.”

“Ted’s actions, and any plans he has to go further.”

Tigue looks at the notary with a dubious surmise, then at Flomm with a smile, says “Sure,” and gets back to work playing tonsil hockey with the man she believes could give her an engagement ring big enough to choke the garbage disposal in her tiny one-bedroom apartment.

“Great,” Webberau says.  “Do you have a driver’s license on you?” he asks Tigue, and she uncouples her tongue from Flomm’s mouth long enough to fish in her tiny Kate Spade handbag, find her wallet and hand it to Webberau, who examines her license to make sure it is valid, then writes the number down on his Holiday Party Consent form.

“Here you go,” he says as he slips the ID back into Tigue’s purse.  “Now all I need is for you to sign right here . . . and here . . . and here.”

Tigue displays more than a little irritation as Flomm edges his hand up her dress and advances on the hills of her décolletage.

“Unh-uh-uh,” Webberau says, shaking a scolding finger from side to side.  “Let’s get these forms filled out first.”

“Oh, baby,” Flomm moans, showing the effects of a gin-and-tonic, two beers and a glass of red wine.  “I want you so bad.”

“Bad-ly,” Webberau says as Tigue finishes the paperwork.  He stuffs it in a plastic-covered portfolio that bears the Modern Moosehead logo and motto (“Always never there when you need us”).  “Okay, you two are good to go!” he says with a smile that soon disappears when he hears the strains of Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” coming from the dance floor.  “Crap,” he says knowingly from past experience, “all hell’s about to break loose.”

“Let’s go,” Flomm says to the woman who has enabled him to forget the depressing aspects of his life, such as a wife and children.

“Shh,” Tigue says, putting a finger to her lips.  “We don’t want Mr. Nerd to hear.”

The two make their way stealthily towards the exit but freeze in their tracks when they hear Webberau’s voice calling out to them.

“Hey you two!” he shouts.

“Damn,” Flomm says, as the two turn with excrement-eating grins to face their employer’s Enforcer of Comportment.

“I’m sorry,” Tigue says with an incandescent smile that could light up a salad crisper.  “I thought we were through.”

“No way,” Webberau says, as he hurries up to confront them.

“Look pal,” Flomm says, taking out his wallet and extending a $20 bill to the notary.  “Can’t you cut us a little slack?”

Webberau looks down at the bill, then back up at Flomm.

“Sure,” he says.  “It’s only $6, $2 notary fee for three signatures, so I owe you $14.  And here are your copies.”

Study Says Immoderate Wine Drinkers Feel Less Pain

BOSTON, Mass.  An article in the New England Journal of Medicine released today indicates that people who drink from 8 to 16 glasses of wine per day, particularly red wine, feel less pain and have fewer worries than teetotallers and social drinkers.


New England Journal of Medicine “End of Summer Party” edition.

 

“People who are immoderate in their consumption of red wine tend to be happier and oblivious to minor injuries that do not result in the loss of vital organs,” said Dr. Alicia Niergarten, one of the study’s co-authors.  “They have redder teeth and often forget to fill their cats’ food dishes, but we were not able to establish a causal link for these phenomena.”



“We’re sending you a very important message by telepathy–OUR BOWL’S EMPTY YOU WINO!”

 

The study examined the drinking habits of 2,700 volunteers divided into three groups; white wine, red wine, and a “control” group that was given a placebo drink consisting of warm Jello-brand gelatin.  The white wine drinkers formed book groups that read novels about men who were unfaithful to their wives, the red wine drinkers finished their bottles and went out for more, and the Jello drinkers took several hostages from an unrelated experiment using chimpanzees.


“He took me hostage–can I keep him?”

 

Dr. Allen Thomson, a practitioner of participatory experimentation, in which the scientist takes the dosage administered to subjects and records his or her own reaction, was confident that the group’s findings would withstand rigorous peer review.  “This ish the best, freakin’ exshperiment anybody ever did on thish subject,” he said as he finished off a precocious petite syrah with overtones of vanilla and undertones of menace.  “And everybody at the New England Journal of Medishine is just beautiful, you know what I’m saying?

With “Bowling Together,” Sociologists Mend Fences in Blue Collar Burbs

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  It was, says Professor Michael Auschloss, the academic equivalent of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, showing his age (66) by the dated reference.  “Our discipline used to be a sleepy backwater,” he says, referring to the 2000 publication of Robert D. Putnam’s “Bowling Alone,” a study of social isolation and the breakdown of civil society.  “Then all of a sudden we were like a creepy guy who starts hanging around the boys’ locker room at a public swimming pool–everything changed.”

Bowling is America’s most popular participatory sport, and the recognition by amateur keglers such as Andy Brandnewjetski that social scientists had been observing them led to widespread feelings of consternation and animosity.  “Do I go over to Brandeis,” a local university, “and peer in their windows?” he asks as he holds his hand over an air dryer.  “I should freaking hope not.”

So sociologists at this region’s many institutions of higher education took it upon themselves to reach out to the lower class men and women who make up the overwhelming majority of this country’s bowlers with a program called “Bowling Together.”  “The idea is to get out of our faculty lounges and connect with actual human subjects,” Auschloss says, “by which I mean people who think macchiato is an outfielder for the Red Sox and don’t drive Volvos.”

Tonight the sociologists, who use “The Distinct Social Units” as their team name, take on the Mac’s Tire & Battery Kingpins, a group of four men whose total years of formal education (32) are equaled by just three members of their professorial opponents’ squad.  “This should be great fun,” says Professor Emil Nostrand of Northeastern University as he shakes the hand of Mike Abruzzi of the Kingpins.  “Yeah, sure,” Abruzzi says, then quips “I think we can take ’em” sotto voce to Brandnewjetski.

The men display roughly similar technique when they roll their balls down the highly-polished lanes, but when they sit idly on the plastic seats around the scoring table waiting their turns the difference between the two groups becomes apparent.  The blue-collar men focus on the game and their beers, lustily cheering on their teammates, while the academics can’t stop themselves from pursuing research.

“How much is your family income?” Auschloss asks Debbie Abruzzi, who is sitting in the spectators’ seats a step up from the lane.

“Excuse me?” she says with more than mild surprise.


That’s more like it!

“I mean ballpark,” Auschloss says.  “Thirty to forty thousand, forty to fifty–you don’t have to be too specific.”

The woman gives Janet Brandnewjetski a shocked look, then politely declines to answer except to respond, and rather tartly, “I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Thanks,” Auschloss says, as he checks a box marked “Did not respond” on a spreadsheet he brings with him to every match.  He stands and picks up his black-and-red swirl bowling ball to take his turn, and Nostrand takes his seat.

“Are you Mrs. Brandnewjetski?” he asks in the unassuming voice he has developed as the least intrusive tone to use when gathering data.


Bowling’s more fun when you’re not the only one!

 

“Yeah,” she replies.  “What of it?”

“I assume that’s a Polish name–are you Polish by birth too, or some other nationality?”

She looks over the sociologist’s shoulder at her husband, who has overheard the conversation and is none too pleased by it.

“You got a problem with that?” Brandnewjetski says in a menacing tone.

“No, not at all, in fact, I’m hoping to work this data into a monograph I’m writing.”

“Oh–you’re writing a ‘monograph,’ are you?” Brandnewjetski says with a wink at his teammates.

“Yes, the hope is to get it published in a reputable . . .”

“You want to write something?  Well, kiss my ass and make it a love story, pal,” Brandnewjetski says as he grabs the sociologist and throws him over the last row of seats, where the tenured intellectual lands unceremoniously on a multi-colored carpet that was last shampooed during the first administration of George W. Bush.

Aghast at the rough treatment his teammate has received, Auschloss rushes to aid him.  “Are you okay?” he asks with the sort of high-level concern he usually reserves for footnotes.

“I’m fine,” Nostrand says, before taking his colleague’s spreadsheet and writing “Lower class males resort to violence to settle insignificant questions of honor more readily than those in higher social classes and learned professions.”

 

Two Scalded in Pumpkin Spice, Gingerbread Latte Clash

BOSTON.  It started innocently enough; retail clothes buyer Evan Winslow turned around after grabbing a wooden stir stick to scrape the foam off his latte at Beantown Coffee and bumped into Mary Rashell, who was standing behind him with her boyfriend Matt Vaughan.  Apparently Winslow didn’t apologize profusely enough for Rashell’s tastes, and then Vaughan caught a whiff of the aroma that rose from the other man’s cup.

gingerbread1
Gag me with a wooden stir stick.

 

“You’re one of the ‘pumpkin spice’ people, aren’t you?” he sneered, his lip twisted in disdain.

“What if I am?” Winslow said with a defensive tone.

“That means you’re a pumpkin punk,” Vaughan said as he brushed past, giving Winslow a bump that was hard to interpret as unintentional.

With that, a cry of “Latte fight!” was heard over the hiss of the espresso machines, and warring gangs of highly-caffeinated young people poured out the doors for an all-out street battle that recalled a latter-day “West Side Story.”

latte
“Back off man–I said no foam!”

 

“It gets ugly around this time of the year,” said Danielle Olberg, a barista at the coffee shop who hides an oversize peppermint stick beneath the counter to quell incipient riots between partisans of the most popular specialty drinks for fall and winter; pumpkin spice and–with the turn of the season–gingerbread lattes.  “You try to sense when trouble’s brewing, but we offer so many seasonal beverages, it’s really hard.”

gingerbread
“My baby–they shot my baby!”

Pumpkin spice lovers have become the butt of jokes, internet memes and newspaper editorials, leading some to seek protection from law enforcement agencies and Starbucks, the coffee chain that is the world’s second-largest landholder after the Vatican.  “Unfortunately, pumpkin spice is not a protected class under our anti-discrimination laws,” says Assistant Attorney General Evelyn Jebso.  “They’ll have to get in line behind Aleutian Islanders, left-handed onanists and New York Jets fans.”

gingerbread2

The problem is exacerbated by a mid-December influx of gingerbread latte drinkers, who are “grandfathered” under existing immigration quotas but are ignorant or dismissive of the pumpkin’s pre-eminent position on fall menus.  “It’s like the range wars in the Old West between cattle and sheep ranchers,” notes Bill Lunehan of private security firm Clandestinex.  “Except instead of livestock you’ve got hipsters in Sherpa hats battling guys in those skinny Pee-wee Herman suits.”

latte1
Five models to choose from, you’ll look ridiculous in all of them!

Hopes for a peaceful settlement depend largely on drinkers of non-aligned brews, who are viewed as a source of stability in the troubled regions of the nation’s coffee shops.  One such consumer is Patricia Norquette, a tall woman with earbuds who steps between the two combatants in what appears to be an attempt to prevent hostilities from escalating.  “Excuse me,” she purrs as she smiles at the two angry men, before turning to the barista to say “I’ll have a large, no-foam peppermint latte, please.”