The Old Curmudgeon Has a Lesbian Thanksgiving

It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the only people you see coming into work in Boston are those who either have to be here–like me–or guys like my partner the Old Curmudgeon, whose wife can’t stand to have him around the house.

“Hey there, Bink,” I call to him as he approaches the elevator bank. He has a look of consternation on his face, a sign that the brooding omnipresence that is the American holiday spirit has descended upon him. “Family home for Thanksgiving?”


“When I was a young man your age I was already an old man.”

“Yes,” Bink says, his voice lowered for once to a volume slightly below that normally associated with the horn on a fishing boat coming into Chatham harbor.  I sense there’s trouble on the home front.

“How are the kids?” I ask, assuming he’ll take the easy way out and say “Good, good, couldn’t be better.”  That’s Bink for you; if he was incarcerated in Walpole State Prison he’d say the food was terrific and other than his 300-pound cellmate’s snoring things couldn’t be better.

“Todd’s fine,” he says, and tries to leave it at that, but I’m having none of it.  I’ve become Bink’s close confidante over the years thanks to my uncanny ability to read his mind when he’s most troubled.

“How about Sarah,” I ask.  “Is she a lesbian yet?”

Bink gulped audibly, but the noise he made was overpowered by the loud “DING!” that the elevator made when it arrived at the ground floor.

Image result for brooding female
In search of . . . something.

“Why do you say ‘yet’?” Bink asked, trying as best he could to communicate sotto voce.

“Well, last time she was home she told you she was a vegan, right?”

“Yes, so?”

“It’s a natural progression, as night follows day, like from Socialism to Communism.  As a matter of fact, I read somewhere that lesbians actively recruit at vegetarian restaurants, dropping flyers at the tray return.”


Try the prime rib of lentil.

That didn’t seem to mollify Bink, so I tried to soften the blow.  “It could be only temporary,” I said.

“Really?  Like a head cold?”

“No, it takes longer to get it out of your system, but she could be a LUG.”

“What’s a ‘LUG’?” Bink asked.

“A ‘lesbian until graduation,’” a young woman in the back of the elevator piped up.

“Thank you,” I said, and turned my head around as far as I could to offer her a smile.

A look of relief flowed down Bink’s formerly troubled countenance, like still waters after a summer squall. “So, at the same time that I’m writing her last tuition check, she’ll be . . . getting over this little fling?”

“And return to the comforts of Presbyterianism?  Probably not.”

“But there’s a chance?”

It was time I “pulled Bink’s coat tail,” to use a hepcat expression that’s fallen into premature desuetude.  “There’s nothing wrong with the Sapphic rites,” I said, appealing to the classical erudition I know Bink picked up in prep school.  “Did you know I was married by a lesbian?”

“How is that possible?” he asked, confounded by an image he’d formed in his mind of some acrobatic contortions.

“He said married by a lesbian,” a bicycle messenger with dread locks said.  “Not to a lesbian.”

“Oh,” Bink said, a trifle embarrassed.  He’s losing his hearing.

“She was the real deal,” I said, reminiscing fondly over the woman who’d married me to my wife 35 years ago this month.  “Clunky boots, mullet–the whole nine yards.”

“That’s a stereotype,” the young woman in the back pronounced with authority.

“Sorry, I guess we got the last one they made before they broke the mold.  Anyway,” I continued, turning back to Bink, “there’s a long and proud tradition of lesbianism in the art form I care so deeply about.”


Sappho

“That boogie-woogie or whatever they call it?”

“The blues, man,” the bike messenger said, even though my guess was the kid probably thought that Eric Clapton was the greatest blues guitar player ever.

“Close enough,” I said to Bink.  I need to stay on his good side with year-end bonuses coming up.  “Like for example, did you know Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey . . .”

“Who’s she?”

“Only the Queen of the Blues.”

“Never heard of her.”

“She used to swing both ways.”


Ma Rainey

“Is that a–what do you call them–double entendre?” Bink asked.

“Yes, but it shouldn’t be too hard to decipher,” I said.  “She sang ‘It’s true I wear a collar and a tie, talk to the girls just like any old man.‘”

“Hmph,” Bink hmphed.  “Dinah Shore never sang about that.”


“Holding Hands at Midnight”–that’s all the further you’ve gone?

“And then there’s Alberta Hunter.”

“Don’t believe I know her.”

“For my money,” I began.

“You don’t have as much money as me . . .”

“.  .  . but you’ll fix that at the end of the year, right?  Anyway, for my money, the best version of Sweet Georgia Brown ever.”


Alberta Hunter

“So what?” Bink asked, sincerely missing the point.

“One woman singing about another and how ‘sweet’ she is?” I replied.

“Okay,” Bink said.  I noticed he wasn’t taking copious notes, the way he used to advise me to do whenever he’d drag me along to a meeting when I was a mere neophyte to his hierophant.  “Anybody else?”

“Well, there’s Bessie Smith.”

“She royalty too?”

“The Empress of the Blues.”

“What did she sing?”

“That ‘Boy in the Boat’ song I taught you.  Remember how it goes?”

Bink searched his memory for a bit and then, like the Moodus Noises, a strange sound began to emerge from his cavernous corpus:

Image result for bryn mawr undergrad

“When you see two women walking hand in hand . . .”

“Um hmm . . . ” I hummed.

“Just look ‘em over and try to understand–“

“Oh yeah!”

“They’ll go to those parties—have the lights down low . . .”

“Sing it, brother!”

“One of those parties, where only women can go . . .”

We finished in unison: “I’m talkin’ bout that boy in the boat.”

There was a moment of silence in the elevator, not unlike that which follows a deeply moving string quartet at Symphony Hall here.  Finally, as the bell rang for our floor and I started to get off with Bink, the young woman in the back of the elevator spoke up.

“It’s really nice that you guys are businessmen,” she said with a wistful note in her voice.

“Why’s that?” Bink asked, glad to know that someone appreciated his change of heart.

“Cause neither one of you can sing for shit.”

Kanye Fumes as Fed Chair Nominated for Second Term

WASHINGTON, D.C.  President Biden said Monday he would nominate Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to a second term, hoping that continuity in the central bank’s leadership would calm inflation fears, but the announcement left one person far from placid.  “GODDAM YOU WANNA GIT PRICES UNDER CONTROL I’M THE MAN FOR THE JOB” rapper Kanye West said in his characteristic all-caps style in a “tweet” he sent out to his 368 million followers.  “PRICES IS TOO DAMN HIGH WHAT YOU GONNA DO BOUT IT?” West continued, revealing a less dovish approach towards the nation’s money supply than Powell is known for.

West has a history of protesting honors awarded to others that he believes should have been conferred on him.  In 2009 he disrupted the MTV Music Video Awards when Taylor Swift won the Best Female Video award, and when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis I in 2013 West stormed the Vatican and demanded to be canonized as Saint Kanye the First, saying “HE FROM BUENOS AIRES THAT AINT SHIT I’M FROM ATLANTA!”


“Take that, inflation!”

The Federal Reserve is the central banking system of the United States.  Kanye West now goes by the name “Ye” but was born Kanye Omari West.  He is an American rapper, record producer and fashion designer, and in the last-named capacity has been a frequent critic of Fed Chairman Powell.  “WHAT YOU WEARIN BOXY GREY SUITS ALLA TIME FOR MAN?”  Powell has refused to be engage  with West, saying “The role of the Federal Reserve, as stated by former Chairman William McChesney Martin, is to take away the punch bowl just as the party is heating up.   In that capacity, it is best if I do not wear ‘party clothes’ to work.”


Martin: Party animal.

 

West is reported to be worth $6.6 billion, and is thus in a position to provide liquidity to commercial banks in the event of rapid deflation in asset values.  The current salary of the Federal Reserve Chairman is $203,500, and so West’s quixotic quest to replace Powell would come at a high personal cost.  He has compared himself to Jesus Christ and Moses, religious figures who are generally held in lower esteem than former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who brought inflation under control in the 1970s.


“Who do you think you are, Paul Volcker?”

West has twice been named one of the most influential people in the world by Time, a non-influential weekly magazine, but covets the respectability that the Federal Reserve position would bring him.  “PEOPLE SAY I’M NEVER BORING,” he wrote in a tweet storm yesterday, “I’M GONNA PROVE ‘EM WRONG.”

Guide Dogs Help Color-Blind Avoid Tragic Fashion Mistakes

BOSTON.  White-collar workers are slowly returning to downtown offices here after nearly a year and a half of working remotely, and with that sea change comes an upgrade in wardrobes.  “I’ve been working in my pajamas since 2020,” Mark Overton says as he decides to buy a pricey white-on-pink French-cuffed shirt at the Brooks Brothers store located in Boston’s financial district.  “I don’t think that will cut it when we start meeting in person instead of Zoom,” he says with a laugh.

Sensing an opportunity to “up-sell” the refurbishing stock analyst, Niles Howard, the salesman who is waiting on him, suggests that he add a $75 yellow foulard tie with miniature red and blue figures to complement it.

dog3
“Check for mark-downs.”

“This is a very fashionable pattern that is quite popular these days,” Howard says, but Trixie, a German shepherd who has accompanied Overton into the store, registers her disapproval with a growl.

dog2
“I tried to stop him, but no–he just had to have a robin’s egg blue short-sleeved shirt.”

“What’s that Trix?” Overton says as he looks down at his constant companion.  The dog barks twice, and Overton attempts a translation.  “Red and pink don’t provide sufficient contrast within a single color group?”  The dog opens its mouth in what appears to this reporter’s eye to be a smile, and Overton pats her on the head and hands her a doggie treat.

“She’s a lifesaver,” says Overton as he pays the disgruntled cashier, who had hoped to add to his commission.  We leave the store together, and on our way out Howard snarls “Next time leave your dog outside,” to which Overton responds angrily by snapping “Discrimination against the handicapped is illegal!”

dog
“Where did you get that skanky tank top?”

Overton, like many males, suffers from red-green color blindness as well as a general inability to coordinate colors when choosing his outfits.  “If I mix and match, I always clash,” he says.  “If I wear blue on blue, people tell me I dress like a bus driver.”

Trixie is a graduate of the Farkness School for the Colorblind in Watertown, Mass., where she underwent a rigorous six-month training course that taught her not only to identify potentially fatal color combinations such as yellow/brown and pink/red, but also such fashion basics as not to mix stripes with plaids.  “Trixie is a natural,” says headmistress Heidi Hagerty.  “We knew she was ready for her placement when she dashed into the street to save a woman whose skirt was hiked up in the back due to static cling.”

dog1
“I don’t think the belt is helping that look.”

Guide dogs for the colorblind still face resistance from some people who view fashion handicaps as less crippling than other disabilities.  “I don’t mind that dog coming in here if she sticks to the color-blind guy,” says Pete Famiglia of Napolitano Pizza on lower State Street down a block from the Brooks Brothers store.  “It’s when she barks at me for my tank-tops that I get mad.”

I Hear the Voices of Angels

It had been, for several years, a nagging problem; a high-pitched ringing in my ears that never seemed to stop. I attributed it to the barrage of noises I’m subjected to every day–squealing trolley wheels, urban traffic–or maybe to my misspent youth as keyboard man for crappy teen bands such as Otis & the Elevator Company, playing a red and black Farfisa Combo Compact organ.


“Hold on–I’m comin’!”

Whatever the cause, I made the mistake of telling my wife. “I think you should ask your doctor about it,” she said. When I noticed that the sound didn’t go away even on the quietest of weekends in the woods, I decided she was right.

“It’s probably just some nerve damage,” my doctor said. “Did you ever work in printing?”

As a matter of fact, I had. “I was a member in good standing of Graphic Arts Local 300, Revere, Massachusetts for three years,” I told him.

His face clouded over, and he examined my ear with an implement. “That could be a problem,” he said.

“Why’s that?”

“You know William Blake?”

“The wacked-out poet who sought to break the chains of rationality? ‘Tyger, tyger, burning bright’ and all that jazz?”

“That’s him. He was an engraver, and he had hallucinations. They think it had something to do with the chemicals he used.”

“But I was a phototypesetter.”

“I don’t think it matters.”

I was still skeptical. “So what kind of hallucinations?”

“An angel appeared to him in a hayfield,” he explained. “Do you . . . have any hayfields near your house?”

“I drive past one every Saturday on the way to the town dump,” I said. I didn’t like the dots he was trying to connect.


Spooky hayfield!

He gave me a dubious look. “Do you . . . write poetry?” he asked.

“Well, I think I do but the editors of numerous publications–both literary and general circulation–apparently disagree.”

“Ok, so you’re a poet, an ex-printer, and you drive past hayfields. That’s three telltale symptoms.”

“So you’re saying I’m going crazy?”

“Not until you start talking to them, like Blake did. He used to have friendly one-on-one mano a angelo conversations with the angel Gabriel.”

I was stunned, and my face must have showed it.

“You’re probably fine for now,” he said, trying to reassure me. “But let me know if it gets worse.”

I left his office disquieted, wondering whether I was losing it. Blake was a commercial failure, always mumbling to himself. When asked by a lady where he saw his visions, he tapped his forehead and said “Here, madam.” I didn’t want to end up like that.

That night, after a few glasses of red wine by the fireside, I forgot my concerns and eventually went to bed. This morning I woke up refreshed and set off on my Saturday routine; half-mile swim, cup of coffee, take the trash to the town transfer station, dry cleaners, etc.

I was heading past the hayfield to the dump when I noticed the ringing in my ears again; and then, beside me–an angel, fiddling with the seat belt.

“How does this thing work?” he said with frustration.

His wings made it unlikely that he’d fit into the standard front-seat safety device. “Can you do something with your wings, like fold them down or in?” I asked.

He gave me the look of a sullen teenager–I know that one well–then caused his wings to cling closely to his torso, like a pigeon in the rain. “Like this?” he said.

“Let me help,” said a voice from the back seat–a second angel!  I could feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

“Listen–I’m going to the town dump,” I said. “This is a very small town, and people talk, okay?”

“We’re discreet,” said the one riding shotgun as he clicked his belt.

“Mum’s the word,” said the one in the back, as he fooled with his.

“Just get out of the car, look straight ahead, don’t talk to anybody and I’ll tell you where the stuff goes, okay?”

“Not . . . a . . . problem,” the one in the front seat said, a trifle defensively.


Actual, unretouched photo of Jesus debris at town dump.

We drove into the dump and the angels were on the best–or at least good–behavior at first.

“The newspapers and magazines go in there,” I told one as he hauled our wicker basket into a room with a chute down to a dumpster. “Plastics and cardboard over there,” I told the other.

They were minding their own business when a young dad, probably new to town, hoisted his kid up on the ledge, the better to allow the toddler to throw stuff down the holes. You’re not supposed to do it, but everybody does.

“Excuse me,” back-seat angel said. “For safety sake, you really shouldn’t let him up there.”

The father turned around with a look that said who’s-gonna-make-me. Probably a venture capitalist, I thought to myself. Thinks he’s the smartest guy in every room he enters.

“He’s just . . .” the dad began, then he saw what he was up against. A 6’4″ supernatural being, with a foreboding manner and a wingspan like a California condor.

“Uh, you’re right,” the dad said after the angel gave him a grim little smile. “Come on Tyler–you’re not allowed up there.”  Had to be a Tyler.

The angel gave him a nod, and came back to the car where we were finishing up.

“Don’t cause trouble, okay?” I whispered to him through gritted teeth.

“Hey–I’m like an off-duty cop, okay? If I see a problem, I intervene.”

“Just get in the car, would you?”

We headed back into town and I pulled into the dry cleaners. “Do you guys have anything to pick up?” I asked my new “friends.”

“Nope–dry cleaning’s not a problem for us,” the shotgun angel said. “We put Scotchguard on these things.”

They had on those long robes that the members of the mass choir on the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour wear.

“What is that, nylon?” I asked.

“Yeah–you humans are too hung up on natural fibers,” the one in the back said.

“I find cotton/poly blend shirts get dirty at the collar and the cuffs,” I said.

“Use a little Wisk liquid detergent on tough, hard-to-get-out grime like that before you wash,” the one in the front said.

I got my shirts and came back out. “You guys want a cup of coffee?” I asked, more out of politeness than genuine sentiment. I actually didn’t want them to come into the bagel place with me.

“We’re angels, so we don’t have to eat,” the one in the back said. “But we’ll come in with you.” Great.

We went inside and I got in line, while the angels grabbed a table. I got my coffee and sat down with them, drawing stares from my fellow exurbanites.

“Coffee’s a diuretic, you know,” one of them said as he watched me take a sip. “What’s the point of buying something you’re just going to pee out in a half hour?”

“It’s the experience,” I said. “The flavor, the caffeine–that stays with you.”

“Still, my guess is you’ll have to hit the head before we get out on the road again.”

“So does everybody,” I said.

“Ding-dong, you’re wrong,” the other said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We’re angels–we don’t go to the bathroom.”


The Vatican: You can tell the Pope’s human because he has his own bathroom.

I hadn’t thought of that, but I remembered the story about an architect who submitted a design for a Catholic church to the Vatican but forgot to put in bathrooms. It came back with a cryptic marginal note: “They aren’t angels.”

“Well, I’ve learned a lot hanging with you guys,” I said as I opened up my Boston Herald and turned to the sports page. “”Big game Monday night,” I said. “Patriots against the Panthers. Who do you like?”

“What’s the line?” the one from the front seat asked. The Herald, unlike the Globe, candidly recognizes that some tacky people actually bet on football, and prints the point spreads.

“Pats by four,” I said. “You want to . . . make a friendly little wager?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking thoughtfully off into space. “I’ll do better than that. I’ll take New England by seven.”

I looked at him skeptically, and was about to say “You’re on,” when the other one stopped me.

“Don’t do it,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Don’t ever–ever–bet against a supernatural being.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”

Walk for Self-Abuse Brings Shady Secret Into the Light

BOSTON. Thousands of men and boys soaked in the cool fall air today as they filed down Beacon Street on their way to the Boston Common for the first annual “Walk for Self-Abuse,” a fund-raiser that hopes to bring public awareness to a problem that has historically been kept behind closed doors.


“Wait–you all do it?”

“I’m an out and proud onanist,” says Bill Leeds of Wayland, Massachusetts, using one of many euphemisms that victims of self-abuse use to cloak their disability for purposes of public discussion.  Onan was the second son of Judah and in an incident recounted in the Book of Genesis, “spilled his seed on the ground” by withdrawing from his late brother’s wife before climax during intercourse.  Dorothy Parker named her parakeet “Onan” because the bird also spilled his seed on the ground.


Celebrity spokeswoman: “I beg you, please–do NOT do it to pictures of me.”

The theme of the march and the ensuing gala ball is “One Man Can’t Do it Alone,” a reference to the fact that self-abuse, referred to by medical professionals as “masturbation,” is typically a victimless crime that goes unreported, leading law enforcement and public health officials to offer widely varying estimates of the magnitude of the problem.

“Many men hide the damage they have suffered, because they are also the perpetrator,” says Sergeant Jim Hampy of the Massachusetts State Police. “It’s tough to file a complaint and risk self-retaliation for abusing yourself.”


Do it like the pros!

The platinum sponsors of this year’s walk include Maxim Magazine and Vaseline Intensive Care Hand Lotion, a measure of the public acceptance that the affliction has gained through outreach and marketing.


Available in dishwasher-safe edition.

“This disease strikes entire families,” says Norwell Fulsom of the Self-Abuse Society. “We had a father-son weenie roast at the march’s halfway point to highlight the generational tensions it reflects, and relieves.”


Ernest Borgnine: Past Grand Marshall of the parade.

The highlight of gala dinner will be the presentation of the Ernest Borgnine-Jocelyn Elders Public Service Award, named after the Academy Award-winning actor who created a sensation by crediting his long life to frequent self-abuse, and the Surgeon General appointed by President Bill Clinton who proposed that masturbation be incorporated into the curriculum of public schools. Clinton eventually fired Elders, saying “Dr. Elders’ remark was entirely inappropriate. That sort of thing should be learned at home.”  This first recipient of the award will be Jeffrey Toobin, the legal analyst for The New Yorker magazine and CNN who brought the age-old practice into the era of Zoom teleconferences.


Jocelyn Elders: “Hey Ernie–don’t let your meat loaf.”

Event organizer Fulsom tries to keep the marchers on track, but becomes frustrated when walkers use the men’s room at a gas station along the route for a prolonged “pit stop.” “C’mon guys,” he yells as he knocks on the restroom door. “What the hell is taking so long?”

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

Ballot Questions Show Americans United by Deep Divisions

ARLINGTON, Virginia.  A survey of state-wide ballot questions voted on yesterday reveals a nation deeply divided by partisan differences that nonetheless unite people with common viewpoints, or something like that.


Tatum:  “You have to ‘keep it simple, stupid,’ without letting people know you think they’re stupid.”

“The measures that passed tended to be very simple statements of bedrock principles,” said George Mason University political scientist Gerald Tatum, “or else people ganging up on an unpopular minority.”


“Here comes a guy with Mass. plates now.”

In Vermont, voters approved a $14 million tax on a single package of cigarettes, enough to close that state’s projected budget deficit.  “All we got to do is sell one pack to some hedge fund guy from New York or Massachusetts driving through in his Lexus, and we’ll be able to pave a lot of state roads,” said Lyle Hampton, state Highway Commissioner.

Here is a rundown of initiatives in other states:


Porkepyn pork despyne.

Tennessee: Voters rejected a ban on “porcupine racing,” the practice of putting two live members of this spiny species of rodent in a laundromat dryer, throwing in a sheet of ”Bounce” fabric softener, setting the timer for twenty minutes and pushing “start.”  “If your porcupine survives, you win,” says State Fish and Game Warden Oliver Crawford.  “It will come out fluffier as well, although there may be guts stuck in the lint trap for the next customer.”


Bounce:  Adds softness to even the toughest spinous hog.

Wyoming: A broad-based coalition of public policy groups and churches succeeded in passing a measure requiring mandatory condom use by all funeral home workers.  “While most of our mortuary scientists have a pretty clean record when it comes to necrophilia, it’s the 95% who are bad apples that spoil it for the good guys,” said State Department of Health Secretary Ronald Golson.  “The last thing you want is for a loved one to become pregnant after their health insurance has run out because of death.”


Drive-through funeral home:  What’s the rush?

Michigan:  An initiative petition here will require heterosexual couples to use gay wedding planners.  “Your hard-core left-wing types think they can cram this kind of social engineering down the throats of good, hard-working people,” says Marriage Must Mean Something spokesman Charles “Buddy” Montgomery, who promised a referendum drive to repeal the law.


“That doesn’t look like Marilyn Sue on the right.”

“I for one am not going to stand idly by while my daughter has to hire some fruitcake who’s going to talk her into a dark chocolate wedding cake.”  The measure is expected to pass but some absentee ballots have been challenged because they came back scented.

Ohio: This state voted to tax out-of-state fans who attend Ohio State football games.  “Some people look at the world the way it is and ask ‘Why?’” said Earl Bucholtz, Commissioner of Revenue.  “I look at all them Michigan fans traipsing through this state and say–’What the hell?’”  The State of Michigan has challenged the new law by filing an appeal to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

California:  A law banning plastic-stemmed cotton swabs passed overwhelmingly after a photo of a seahorse dragging home one of the ubiquitous consumer items went “viral” on the internet, not as a virus per se.  Pharmacists and health care professionals will seek its repeal.  “I for one do not care what kind of health and beauty aids a small marine fish uses,” says Emil Nostrand, who works the night shift filling prescriptions at the San Dorito CVS.  “And neither should you.”

Massachusetts:  A law that would legalize the possession of psychedelic drugs by the terminally well-organized was still too close to call in this liberal Northeastern state.  “We made the health argument that it will help women who alphabetize their spices or save their receipts for six years to understand that not everything has to be in its place,” said petition drive organizer Mark Warden.  “In fact, has anybody seen my car keys?”  Warden says he is depending on late-counted absentee ballots to put his bill over the top.  “You can get an absentee ballot if you’re absent-minded, right?”

Defying Hopes, Tricksters Reject Healthy Treats

WELLESLEY FALLS, Massachusetts. Janet Disalvo is, by her own admission, an unreformed hippie.

The mother of three lets the grass in her front yard grow wild, creating a sharp contrast with the well-manicured lawns of the homes on either side of hers. “I don’t really fit in,” she says, “but we moved here for the schools,” whose students regularly score in the top one percent of districts in the state. She grows vegetables out back, and there are solar panels on her roof.

“Basically, what you get with me is the full counter-culture package, plunked down in white-bread suburbia,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh.


The garden out back.

 

As Halloween approaches, Janet spends hours creating a “haunted house” atmosphere for trick-or-treaters, stringing spider webs across her front porch and placing illuminated ghosts and goblins in her yard. “I do everything I can to create a fun atmosphere,” she says with a tone of disappointment, “and yet every year vandals seem to single us out.”


Spooky!

 

Janet leads this reporter into her kitchen, where she is finishing homemade treats for the youngsters who will begin to show up at her front doorstep in a few minutes. “I was really one of the pioneers of the ‘wholesome treat’ movement,” a claim that is borne out by the cookie sheets that cover every square inch of counter space.


Soy-carrot congo bars: Yum, sort of.

 

“We have zucchini-carob cookies, and soy-carrot congo bars over there,” she says as she places the nutritious snacks in colorful baskets lined with festive black and orange napkins. “I grew everything in my garden. Ooo! I almost forgot the seaweed-apple fritters,” she says with alarm as she scoots around the counter and turns off her oven.


Boo!

 

Within minutes the first trick-or-treaters arrive. It’s the seven-year old Armstrong twins from down the street; Justin is dressed in camouflage while Allison has on a nurse’s outfit. “Hi, Janet,” their mother, Karen, says after the children sing out their “trick-or-treats.”

“Well, well–what do we have here? Let’s see,” she says as she looks Justin over. “You must be some sort of paramilitary death squad commando forcing American imperialism down the throats of an impoverished third-world country. And you,” she says as she examines his sister, “have been sexually stereotyped into a low-wage, subservient position within America’s inequitable and inefficient for-profit healthcare industry.” After she catches her breath, Janet hands each of the children a lentil and molasses cookie with a cheerful “Here you go-there’s your treat!”

Justin offers a perfunctory “Thank you,” but Allison holds the cookie up for inspection. “It’s dog dooty!” she says as she tries to drop it into her mother’s Kate Spade handbag.

“Allison,” her mother Karen says sternly with a tone of reproach. “What do you say?”

“Thank you,” the little girl says without enthusiasm as she turns to move on to the next house.

“She’s tired,” Karen says, apologizing for her daughter. “They all get so whooped up about Halloween and then they just crash!”

“I know!” Janet says, shaking her head. “It’s become so commercial!”

“Right,” Karen says and, as her voice trails off, turns to leave. “Well, see you up at the school!”

“Okay-bye now!”


Fright night.

 

No sooner have the Armstrongs left than another group of children approaches. They are a little older than the twins, and without adult accompaniment.

“Trick or treat!” the kids yell with enthusiasm when they see the various baskets of goodies.

“Oh, my goodness–you really threw a scare into me!” Janet says with mock fright. “Take your pick–whatever strikes your fancy!”

The kids mill about and look through the natural snacks, holding them up to their noses and, once they smell them, putting them back.

“You’re not hungry?” Janet asks with surprise.

“Uh, no,” says a girl dressed as a witch. “I have trick-or-treat for UNICEF, though.” The girl holds up an orange box.

UN
“And kids, please, try to send me some Reese’s Pieces, okay?”

 

“I’ve got some money in my pocket.” Janet digs down deep and pulls out a dollar. “Here,” she says as she slips the bill through the slot. “You send this to that Antonio Guterres and tell him to take his U.N. troops to the Middle East and kick the Americans way the hell out of there.”

“I think it’s just for children.”

“Just don’t let them use it to extend American hegemony over the Middle East in the service of their Zionist puppet-masters,” Janet says.

“We just hand the money in to our teacher.”

 


A little too old.

 

The children leave and Janet hears the sounds of teenage boys yelling in the street. Three boys chase each other into her yard, where they quiet down a bit as they approach her door.

“Trick or treat,” they say, a bit sheepishly.

“Aren’t you boys a little old to be trick-or-treating?” she asks them.

The boys suppress laughs, and one of them says “I’m twelve.”

“I guess that’s all right. Still, you should be helping out in the community. You could be crossing guards at busy intersections, or making treats for underprivileged children, or holding a fund-raiser to pay for a bi-lingual teacher . . .”

The boy who spoke previously interrupts her. “Uh–since I’m only twelve, I have to be in bed pretty soon if you don’t mind.”

“All right–just making a few suggestions. Help yourself to the treats-I’ve got plenty left for some reason.”

The boys poke at the alleged goodies for a moment, before one of them speaks up.

“Don’t you have any like, Airheads, or Snickers, or Daffy Taffy, or something like that?”


Air Heads–the literal kind.

 

“Goodness no–and take all the fun out of a traditional, old-style Halloween with sugary junk that will make you hyperactive and rot your teeth?”

“Well, yeah,” one of them says. “That’s sort of the point.”

“Not around here it’s not. Your moms and dads will be thankful that I was thoughtful enough to care about their children’s health. If you don’t like the snacks, I’ve got some punch inside.”

“What’s it made out of?” a boy dressed as Darth Vader asks through his mask.

UN1
“Resistance is futile!”

 

“Camomile tea, pomegranate juice and honey.”

“Uh, sure, sounds good,” the boy says as his friends appear to stifle coughs.

“Sounds like you two could use something for your throats with all that yelling you were doing!”

“Sure,” one of the others says.

“I’ll be right back,” Janet says. She goes into the house, pours three cups of punch and puts them on a tray. As she emerges from the house she is splattered with eggs that the boys throw before running off, laughing as they go.

“It’s like this every year,” Janet exclaims as she wipes herself off. “The harder I try, the worse they treat me!”

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

Happy Absurdist Halloween

The half-way point of my Sunday bike ride always makes me fear for the future of this great nation of ours.  I stop at one of the coffee places that mark the turn-around point of my three regular routes, and at each I am confronted by the sad products of American K-12 education.


Talk about absurd–I was nearly killed!

This week was no exception.  One town over from us is a community where the kids are such high achievers that getting into Penn is considered failure, and yet when I buy a cup of coffee for $2.25 and give the young woman at the cash register a ten-dollar bill a look of consternation clouds her face.


Mere et Pere Ubu

After more than a few moments of hesitation, she hands me a five, a one and three quarters.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” I ask.

“Oh, sorry.  Have a nice day!”

“No, I mean something . . . monetary.”

Again with the clouds–she’s a one-woman storm front!  “Uh . . . do I owe you more money?”

I calmly explain to her that $5 + $1 + .75 + $2.25 = something less than $10.

“Oh,” she says.  I can see she’s still struggling, so I help her out.

“Math is hard, isn’t it?” I say consolingly.  “You owe me a dollar.”

“Right, thanks,” she says, genuinely grateful that I’ve rescued her from an arithmetical blind alley.   She hands me a bill with America’s first president on it, and I’m on my way.

It’s incidents like this that have inspired me to include an educational component in our Halloween festivities every year, one that will help fill the gaps left by our one-size-fits-all, homogenized, teach-to-the-test, overly-hyphenated mode of schooling.  I try to include subjects that are excluded from the current K-12 curriculum, even though they form an essential part of our cultural heritage–like Absurdism.

Absurdism, as every schoolboy ought to know but doesn’t, plumbs the meaning of the meaningless; the harmony of the incongruous; and the rationality of the irrational.  Personally, I can’t think of a more valuable tool to give to young people on the verge of adulthood.

I’ve decorated the walk up to our front door this Halloween with important figures from the history of Absurdism; there’s a rhinoceros with a roadside attraction plaque that tells kids about the Eugene Ionesco play.  There are six characters from a play by Luigi Pirandello, but no Pirandello; duh–they’re in search of the author!  I’ve got a Søren Kierkegaard effigy, or rather several, each representing one of his many pseudonyms.


Caution–Highbrow allusion ahead.

Once the kids make it to the top of our driveway they see Sisyphus, the figure from Greek mythology popularized by Albert Camus.  He’s just about to push the rock to the top of the hill on which our house sits when–oops!–it rolls down and he has to start all over again.  Don’t worry, I’ve placed a number of cautionary signs–in the original French–along the way so kids have plenty of warning when the avalanche starts.


Alfred Jarry:  “Etes-vous lookant a moi?”

As for me, well, I’ve written a play about Alfred Jarry that was performed once in Cambridge, so I’m able to dress up and play the part of the guy who pretty much started it all–Pere Ubu, the protagonist in Jarry’s play Ubu Roi, a work that some in the audience (including W.B. Yeats) considered to be revolutionary.

And yet and yet and yet–the play began as nothing more than a satirical sketch by a bunch of fifteen-year olds about their fat, bumbling physics teacher.  For this reason Ubu struck a chord with me that is still twanging since I first encountered it in my late teens; after all, I too had a bumbling physics teacher, one who for some reason pronounced the word “around” as “areerin”–so easy to mock!

Our first visitor this Halloween is little Deborah Fairchild, the eight-year-old daughter of a pair of certified public accountants who live down the street, accompanied by her dad, Bob.  There was some concern early in the couple’s marriage as to whether the offspring of two C.P.A.s would be feeble-minded from inbreeding, but little Debbie has turned out just fine.


Pere Ubu, as he appeared in off-Mass. Ave. (Cambridge) play.

“Trick or treat!” she squeals and I recoil in mock horror.  “Don’t be scared–I’m an angel!” she says, and it’s true, both literally and figuratively; her costume couldn’t be more appropriate for a little girl who has a 4.75 weighted GPA in elementary school deportment.

“Oh, okay,” I say, holding out our big plastic pumpkin with the candy inside.  “How are things in heaven?”

“Fi-ine,” she says as she scoops handfuls of Milky Ways, Snickers and other sugary plunder into her bag.

“Don’t you want to know who I am?” I ask.

“You’re Mr. Chapman,” she says as she throws a Bit-O-Honey back in my bowl.  As I say–smart kid.


Bit-O-Honey:  The bad cold of Halloween candy–you can’t get rid of it!

“No, I mean my costume.”

“Oh–that’s a costume?”

Kids–they’re so cruel!  Sure I dress funny sometimes, but I have an excuse–I don’t give a shit.

“Debbie, say you’re sorry,” her dad says.

“Sorry.”

“Now ask him who he is, honey.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Pere Ubu, that means Daddy Ubu.”

“What’s an ‘oo-boo’?”

“Well, it’s nothing.  It’s just . . . a silly made-up name for a big, fat stupid teacher.”

“Oh.”

“Do you have any teachers like that?”

“Well, there’s a substitute who’s real fat, and we can usually trick her into thinking we’re still on Chapter One of every book even though it’s almost November.”

“Okay, so she can be your Ubu.”

“Uh, I don’t know if I want my daughter to be disrespectful to her teachers,” my accountant friend says, a model of circumspection.

I turn the full intensity of my Absurdist soul upon him.  “Has science ever progressed except by challenging the past?” I ask scornfully.

“Well, maybe not, but still . . .”


Thomas Kuhn

“Everybody always saying ‘The science is settled’ these days–doesn’t anybody read ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ by Thomas Kuhn anymore?  Have you?”

“Well, no,” Bob says.  “I double-majored in accounting and accounting.”

“You can do that?” I ask.

“Sure.  Double-entry bookkeeping.”

“Huh,” I say, genuinely impressed with Bob’s willingness to go all cautious belt-suspenders-and-jock strap even as an undergrad.  “You know, something similar happened to me when I was in college.”

“What?” Bob asks.

“I took French Theatre of the Absurd, and I liked it so much–I took it again.”

“Can you do that?”

“Well, you did it with accounting, I did it with the absurd.  Granted, I was a little confused.”

“How so?”

“Drugs, blunt trauma to the head in high school football, Jack Daniels Green Label.”

“No, not how you got confused.  Why did you take the same French course twice?”

“I thought the second time it was a different course because it had a different reading list and a different teacher.  Turned out it wasn’t.”

“And that’s why you’re so . . . into this Absurdism thing of yours?”

“Not entirely–I’m sincere in my beliefs.  It’s the only non-sensical world view that makes sense of the world.”

He gives me a look–you may know it; the fear that your neighbor is at some point going to bust a synapse and start parking a truck in his front yard, or leave the Christmas decorations up until Fourth of July.  A little madness in a neighborhood can wreak havoc with property values.

“Okay, Sweetie, that’s enough candy,” Bob says, laying his hand on his daughter’s wrist to guide her gently on to the next house, where I can sense he hopes the cool waters of rationality will be flowing again.

“That’s okay, we always have leftover candy.  That’s what half-acre zoning will do for you.”

“Please, Daddy,” his little angel begs him.

“Well, okay,” he says.

“She’s such a good little girl,” I say with an avuncular tone, even though I’m not her uncle.  “Are you . . . inculcating the principles of absurdism upon her impressionable young mind?” I ask hesitantly, fearing the worst.

“Well, no,” he replies sheepishly.  “She’s got school all day, then Kinder Kick soccer.”

I cluck my tongue loud and strong.  “You know,” I say, “physical fitness is fine, but what about psychical fitness?  How are our kids going to compete in the crazy, mixed-up world of the 21st century if we don’t teach them the fundamentals of Absurdism?”  I’m trying to be diplomatic, but god damnit–I’ve half a mind to report the Fairchilds for child abuse.  The other half wants to report them for boredom.

I’m so disgusted I decide to take matters into my own hands.  “Debbie–sweetie?” I say gently, tenderly, trying to get her to focus on something other than the bag of Swedish Fish she’s hauling in.

“Yes?”

“I’m going to do a little diagnostic testing on you, okay?  Like they do at school to see if you’re color blind or going deaf.”

“What kind of test?” her dad asks.  The guy just can’t turn off his internal three-ring binder.

“I want to see whether her capacity for the absurd has atrophied due to excessive exposure to ratiocination.”

“What’s that?” Debbie asks.

“It’s like the radon in your basement.  You can’t see it, but it’s all around you and if you get exposed to too much of it, it can be very harmful.”

“Well, okay,” her dad says.  He makes a great show of looking at his watch to make me think they can’t stay much longer.

“Okay,” I say, and crouch down so I’m looking the little girl straight in the eye.  “What would you say if I told you that this morning I took a sponge bath of two-tone wallpaper?”

She starts to giggle.  “I’d say you’re silly!”

“That’s good,” I say, nodding and turning to show her dad the prognosis is favorable.  “Okay, what if I said my house dresses up like a dying monkey?”

“I’d say you’re even sillier!”

“She’s fine,” I say to her dad.  “There’s no reason to think she won’t lead a full and productive life.”

Then I turn to Debbie for a final word of comfort.  “Sweetie–do you have a Barbie doll?”

“Yes . . .”

“Well, I want you to know that—while your mommy and daddy love you very much—my parrot wants to sniff your Barbie’s armpit.”

Italicized quotes guaranteed verbatim Alfred Jarry.

Bike Gangs Show Sensitive Side With “Baiku”

MAYNARD, Mass. It’s Thursday night at the Sitting Duck Pub, a biker bar in this Massachusetts town of 10,000. A reporter asks Darlene Rivers, a thirty-something woman in a tube top, whether anyone is sitting on the empty bar stool next to her. “Not right now,” she says after blowing cigarette smoke out of the side of her mouth, “but if my old man comes in and sees you sitting there, you’d better have good dental insurance.”

Darlene is here because of her self-proclaimed “artistic” side, which she says finds expression in the many Harley-Davidson tattoos on her upper arms and her love of poetry. “I’m here every week for the verse,” she says as she flips her long hair back over her shoulder. “‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’ and all that jazz.”


“If you even so much as touch my hog/I’ll come to your house and poison your dog.”

As she takes a sip of her beer, Gene Dominici, the first performer of the evening, takes the stage to read a sampling of his biker poetry, a gas, chrome and rubber genre of folk verse that has become popular as a result of the publication of the anthology “Rubber Side Down,” a collection of poems written by bikers.

Domenici leads with a “baiku,” a variation on haiku, the Japanese short-poem format.

Full tank, old lady
on the saddle. I turn, she
says “Let’s go, Pig Pen.”

A murmur of appreciation rises from the crowd. “Sweet,” says Oran “Big Dude” Swartski, who has ridden his 2012 Indian Chief Roadmaster over 150 miles to be here tonight. “Give the man a Slim Jim,” Swartski calls out to the bartender, who tosses one of the convenient beef jerky sticks that many bikers subsist on over long road trips onto the stage.

Next up is Floyd “Hard Times” Daniels, whose Harley-Davidson Low Rider FXRS announces his approach from several blocks off whenever he has a new poem ready to read to the Sitting Duck aficionados. He takes a swig of his Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, clears his throat, and adopts a pastoral tone that reveals the beauty of the world as seen through the bug-splattered goggles of a biker:

Some guys ride hills up and down,
Then stop to terrorize small towns.
Me, I’d rather have my fun
On a summer day for a poker run.

“That was so–freaking–beautiful,” Darlene says, and it is clear that she has been touched by the emotions that Daniels has so skillfully evoked by the image of a biker with his girlfriend picking up the winning hand at a motorcycle club’s fund-raising event.


“I promise I won’t call your bike a scooter/if you won’t refer to my breasts as hooters.”

Daniels graciously cedes the microphone to Jim “B.S.” deJong, a symbolist whose bike of choice is a Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja.

deJong is a devotee of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and like the author of “Kubla Khan,” he’s not above a little chemical stimulation to get his creative rivers flowing:

Whose hog this is, I think I know
His straightpipes have that healthy glow.
He will not see me stopping here
To deal a little high-grade blow.

Last, but certainly not least, is last week’s winning poet Carson “Mudflap” Poquette, who honed his literary skills while incarcerated for aggravated assault in a medium-security prison. His style is edgy, fueled by rage and the ravages of social diseases he’s picked up over a long life of drunken one-night stands.

When down I bring my pool cue (maple)
Upon a roadhouse bumper table.
Be sure upon the felt of green
Your head ain’t sitting, or your spleen.

The crowd is quiet for a moment, then the sound of applause is heard, soft at first, then building to a crescendo as the audience absorbs the delicate tracery of Poquette’s four-line, a-a-b-b rhyme scheme over the subtext of a not-so-thinly veiled threat.

“You’ve got my vote,” yells Dominici as he heads for the exit.

“Mine too,” calls out Daniels, who quickly settles up with the bartender.

The only poet to stand his ground, however unsteadily, is deJong, who rises and staggers to the stage with menace on his face. “You call yourself a poet,” he fairly spits out.

”You got a problem with that?” Poquette snarls back at him.

”Yeah,” de Jong says. “You put a period at the end of the second line–it should have been a comma.”

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

U-10 Girls Soccer Yakuza

WESTLAND, Mass.  In this leafy suburb of Boston fall weekends are dominated by youth soccer, and Department of Public Works employee Paul Quichette is dreading it.  “You’d think some of these families lived in a pig sty,” he says as he pokes at a discarded orange rind using a stick with a nail embedded in one end.  “I didn’t go to community college for two semesters to learn how to do this.”


Post-game mess in the making.

The overtime the town must pay and the damage to lawn mowers from plastic bottles in the spring forced a decision by the Board of Selectmen to resort to tougher measures than signs posted around soccer fields this season.  “I’d heard great things about the response of the Yamaguchi-guma,” Japan’s largest yakuza family, “to the Kobe earthquake in Japan,” says Town Manager Ellen Benoit-Walker.  “After a Sunday of twelve back-to-back games, we certainly have a disaster on our hands.”


“You gonna pick up that Evian bottle, or am I gonna have to get rough?”

Yakuza are members of traditional organized crime syndicates in Japan.  While police characterize them as boryokudan, a term that means “violence group,” the yakuza consider themselves ninkyo dantai, or “chivalrous organizations.”


“Mommy, that man’s scaring me!”

Like the Mafia, yakuza are organized along hierarchical lines that replicate familial and political structures.  While they derive their revenue from illicit activities such as gambling and prostitution, they have a penchant for order that makes them an outlaw alternative when civil society breaks down, in much the same manner that La Cosa Nostra keeps litter and crime–by people other than themselves–at a minimum in Italian urban neighborhoods on the East coast.


“No hanging back by the goal in 3-on-3 Kinderkick!”

A squad of two gokudo patrols the perimeter of Centennial Field here, watching the girls U-10 action on twelve reduced-size soccer pitches surrounded by orange cones.  Their irezumi–gaudy tattoos–draw stares from suburban parents who are used to seeing such grotesque physical embellishments only on boyfriends their elder daughters bring home from liberal arts colleges.


“What happened to your pinky?”

“Hey,” barks Hisayuchi Machii at a girl with blonde pigtails.  “Pick up your Evian bottle!”

The girl jumps, unused to such a harsh tone of reproof since her mother uses a cleaning crew composed of illegal aliens to pick up around the house.

“And put it in the trash container–over there,” seconds Jiro Kiyota.


“Go Westland–beat Wellesley!”

The girl complies, and the men nod their approval.  “This is correct, young kobun,” a term that means “foster child” and refers to one who has pledged allegiance to an oyabun, or foster parent within a yakuza family.  Seventy percent of yakuza are descendants of Burakumin, outcasts of Japan’s feudal era who were consigned to tasks considered tainted with impurity, and so trash collection is hard-wired into their genetic makeup.

There is a shout on the field as Emily Neidermeyer, the star of the Fred’s Hardware Comets, scores a goal, but the momentary burst of euphoria is chilled when a father from the opposite sideline approaches Nancy Thibeault, the team’s coach, and makes clear his displeasure with what he regards as illegal play.

“You can’t hang back in three-on-three Kinderkick because there’s no goalie,” he says, growing red in the face.  “I’m gonna report you to the league.”

The two men have only been working the sidelines for a month, but yakuza form strong bonds of attachment based on jingi, their code of loyalty and respect as a way of life.  They exchange glances, then spring into action.

“Excuse me, Wellesley-san,” Kiyota says.  “I believe the Code of Sportsmanship of the Metrowest Girls Soccer League requires you to direct your anger towards the referee, not your opponents’ coach.

“It is Rule 4.06,” adds Machii, with a menacing tone.  “That’s at Tab 4 of the white, three-ring binder provided to all coaches at the beginning of the season.”

The Wellesley coach, who was red-faced just a moment before, turns ash-grey when he sees the traditional Japanese swords borne by the yakuza.


“Can I have my pinky back after the game?”

“You’re . . . uh . . . right,” says the man.  “My bad.”

“That was not much of an apology,” says Kiyota.  “You must do more.”

“Like what?” the man says.  “Get down on my knees?”

“No, nothing like that,” says Machii.  “Hold out your left hand.”

The man’s face breaks out in an antic expression, as if he is going to have his hand smacked with a ruler.  “Okay,” he says with a goofy grin.  “Now what?”

“This,” says Kiyota, as he swings his sword down on the man’s pinky, cutting off the tip in the penance ritual of yubitsume, Japanese for “finger shortening,” also known as yubi o tobasu or “flying finger.”


It’s in there somewhere.

“Jesus Christ!” the man screams in pain, and a chorus of “Ewww” is heard from the Westland bench, where the severed body part has landed in a Yoplait strawberry yogurt.

Machii approaches the girls and removes the finger tip from the container, then presents it to Coach Thibeault.  “Here is your iki yubi” or “living finger,” he says.  “This asshole now accepts you as his kumicho.”

“What does that mean?” the owner of the suddenly-shorter finger asks.

“It may be girls soccer,” Kiyota says, “but she is now your godfather.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”