As Other Taboos Fall, Earlobe-Nibblers Still Face Scorn

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. This quaint town on the outermost point of Cape Cod has historically been known for its location on the extreme end of another measure; the liberality of its residents’ views on matters sexual. “The first settlers ran the Puritans out of town when they came up from Plimouth Plantation,” says Matt Skerkel, using the original spelling as he drapes his arm around his husband, Tom Skerkel-Manning. “We’re got every variety in the GLBT produce section–even dogs and cats living together.”

“Oh, yes!”


But one practice is still considered beyond the pale here, as honeymooners Jim and Sandra Meznick find out when they snuggle together in a booth at the Lamplighter Inn and he leans in to first nuzzle his nose in her hair, then furtively takes a bite of her earlobe. “Hey you two perverts!” shouts bartender Courtney Balstrom from behind the beer taps. “I seen youse, and there’s none of that allowed in here.”

The faces of the two turn red with embarrassment and the husband reaches for his wallet while his wife wraps her shawl around shoulders as they prepare to leave. Jim drops three twenties on the table in payment of a $45 dinner tab but is too mortified to wait for change and pops the collar on his jacket to hide his face as the couple heads for the exit.


“Absolutely disgusting,” says Jim Hampy, a local fisherman who has formed a bestiality support network for others like him with dreams of getting “scrod” by the official fish of the state, the cod, under its other, more risque name. “It’s people like you who give this town a bad name!” he shouts after the Meznicks as they scurry into a crowded t-shirt shop next door to avoid detection.

Earlobe-nibbling is perhaps the last sexual taboo remaining in America, a practice that attracts the obloquy and scorn of both the strait-laced and the liberated. “I don’t mind the scorn,” says Niles Herstrom, a greeting card buyer for a large drugstore chain and a closet earlobe-nibbler. “It’s the obloquy that gets to me,” he says before turning away to fight back tears.  “I don’t even know what obloquy is!”


“The human earlobe is the last erogenous frontier,” says Philip Gluz, the Norman O. Brown Professor of Polymorphous Perversity at the University of Cape Cod, who teaches a seminar on the subject that has drawn criticism from state legislators as a front for indoctrination of young people. “Earlobe nibbling does not result in human reproduction, so the weirdos who do it have to perpetuate their species by other means,” says Rep. Mike O’Bannon (D-Seekonk). “We used to burn witches for lesser offenses, which was wholesome entertainment for the whole family.”

Inter-species earlobe nibbling was common in ancient Rome.


There is currently no specific law prohibiting earlobe-nibbling in the state, but prosecutors sometimes resort to a statute adopted in 1635 as part of The Book of the General Lauus and Libertyes of Maffachufets to repress the practice. “If any man or woman fhall LYE WITH ANY BEAFT, or fhall NIBBLE UPON THE LOBE OF ANY PERFON’S EARE,” the law reads, “they fhall furely be put to death.” Defense counsel argue that the law should be stricken from the books under the principle of desuetude, or that its enforcement should be suspended until a new shipment of s’s arrives from England.

But that won’t help couples like the Meznicks, who say they just want to pursue their love according to their own lights. “Why canth they just leaf uth alone,” Jim says as Sandra moans softly. “Ith really a victimleth crime.”

Public Works Dept. Intervenes to Halt Horrid Case of Plant Abuse

WESTLAND, Mass.  For Martha Colburn, summer is the time for her annual “getaway” weekend with girlfriends, even if Crevasse Ranch, her favorite spa, has imposed “social distancing” measures to comply with state health mandates.  “I guess that means our lounge chairs will have to be six feet apart,” she says with a laugh.  “That won’t get in the way of our drinking.”

Canyon Ranch: An Uber Spa Experience - Hartford Courant
*don’t think about dying plants . . . don’t think about dying plants*


But the forty-something housewife had health concerns of a different sort on her mind when she kissed her husband Jim goodbye Monday.  “You’ll water my plants while I’m gone, right?” she asked with an upraised eyebrow.

“Absolutely,” Jim said as he took a bite of a cinnamon raisin bagel, making his response difficult to understand.

“Because for some reason whenever I go away they seem to wither and die.”

Why my husband's love is different from my father's love
“Of course I’ll neglect your plants while you’re away.”


“Well, they just like you better, I guess,” Jim said as Martha got in her car for the two-hour drive to western Massachusetts.

“All right,” she yelled as she backed out of her driveway, “but there’d better be something growing when I get back.”

Coronavirus Spread Creates Risk for 911: Who Will Answer? - WSJ
“I’ve got a pansy neglect and abuse in progress at 314 Shimer Road.”


That cheery goodbye masked a clandestine surveillance operation the housewife had put in place with local officials in a desperate attempt to get to the bottom of a problem that has bedeviled her and her friends for years.  “We set up hidden cameras and voice activated tape recorders,” says Detective Sergeant Jim Hampy of the Westland Police Department.  “Whoever is murdering these poor little green fellows is going to feel the full force of the law coming down hard on ’em–unless they made a significant donation to our fraudulent telemarketing fund-raiser.”

The involvement of local officials allowed Martha to relax with her friends until last night, when she got a text message from Town Hall saying she needed to log-on and identify the perpetrator of a crime-in-progress.  She went to the resort’s “business center,” where an assistant connected her to the internet.  “What’s going on?” she asked Hampy as she saw a shadowy figure on her front porch, barely visible with the outside light turned off in violation of homeowner association by-laws.

“I’d say this is an inside job,” Hampy replies.  “Whoever that guy is, he’s familiar with the surroundings and he’s comfortable–almost brazen–in the liberties he’s taking in that Adirondack chair.”

The low-quality of the video precluded a positive identity until the suspect emitted a belch that sounded all-too-familiar to the co-owner of the unit.  “That’s Jim!” Martha exclaimed.

“Okay, good.  Why don’t you send him a text ‘reminding’ him to water those . . . what are they . . .”

“Morning glories.”

” . . . at his feet.”

The woman complies, and her husband responds promptly with a “Will do.”  Then, in a move that shocks the conscience of both his spouse and the case-hardened law enforcement officer, he pours the dregs of his beer into a flower pot.

“Water the roots–NOT the leaves!”


“Oh my God!” the wife exclaims, and Hampy responds “We’re on it,” before bawling “Code Red, 314 Shimer Road, copy?” into his dispatcher’s microphone.

“Roger that,” a voice responds, and it is the work of a minute for a SWAT team from the Town’s Department of Public Works to arrive with potting soil and other gardening supplies to effect a dramatic rescue and save the future lives of the endangered perennial.

Last night, after Jim was released into his wife’s custody on his own recognizance, the two returned home and shared an uncomfortable few minutes of silence on their living room couch before Martha could restrain herself no longer.

“I can’t believe what you poured on that poor plant,” she says with disgust.

“It was light beer!”


New Drug Cocktail Offers Hope to Congenital Smart-Alecks

DOVER, Mass.  This western suburb of Boston is known as a “horsey” town, with stables, bridle paths, saddle shops and other amenities that serve the many residents who move here for its equine culture.  Unfortunately, that demographic doesn’t include Ted Worniack, a newcomer who attended his first neighborhood picnic last night, accompanied by his wife Sheila.

Image result for dover mass horses
“Well, I never thought of it that way, but I suppose it’s true.”


When Worniack asked the hostess, Alison Symmes, what she did for fun, she responded naturally enough that she enjoyed horseback riding, and he responded with a wisecrack he’d been saving up for years.

“Oh, so you like the feel of a wild beast between your legs, huh?” he said as his wife groaned audibly.

“I’m sorry,” she said to Symmes, “Ted’s not feeling well, you’ll have to excuse us–we had a lovely time.”

“What?  What did I say?” Ted said to Sheila once they were in their car driving home.

Image result for dover mass horses

“I don’t want to discuss it,” Sheila snapped, “and don’t think you’re getting  in between my legs anytime soon.”

Ted Worniack suffers from CSA Syndrome; the acronym stands for “congenital smart-aleck,” a person who cannot restrain him or herself from making offensive remarks in social settings.  “Because the ailment has an early-onset, usually appearing first when a toddler first reaches kindergarten age, it was long thought to have a genetic basis,” says Dr. Susanne Faber of the New England Inappropriate Humor Clinic.  “Now, we’re beginning to think that environmental factors may stimulate outbreaks of the malady, as you don’t find many camel sex wisecracks in desert climates.”

Image result for pediatrician young boy
“Now open wide and say ‘doody-head.'”


An experimental drug, PutaSockInItrol, has produced encouraging results in clinical trials,  with test subjects experiencing gag reflexes as they are about to tell lame jokes in settings where it would be inappropriate to do so.

“How are you feeling today?” Faber asks Mike Cleve, an outside sales rep to tech companies who depends on his constant patter of one-liners to “break the ice” with reluctant purchasing departments.

Image result for FDA Drug Tests
The race for the cure.


“Pretty good,” Cleve says, as he gives the willowy brunette the once-over.  “Say, have you heard the one about the priest, the rabbi, and the lady snake-charmer?”

“No.  I’m going to increase your dosage to 500 milliliters a day.”

“Songs of Practical Romance” a Hit Among Busy Suburban Moms

WESTLAND, Mass.  When Wendy Alpicka gets tired of the music she exercises to, she calls on Norman Rouse, a twenty-year old next door neighbor who sometimes babysits her two young sons.  “Norman’s great, he’s a deejay for his college radio station, so he keeps up on the new trends,” she says, gasping for breath as she pumps away at her Flabbaciser 200 “elliptical” machine, which she bought so she could squeeze in a home workout when her fitness club is closed.

“You’re digging it?  Cool!”


Rouse is a music business major at Emerson College in Boston, and so he takes a personal interest in monitoring industry shifts.  “For some reason, suburban housewives don’t buy much gangster rap, despite the sincere efforts of young music critics to persuade them they need to if they want to be considered cool,” he says as he scrolls down the index of songs he’s saved to his laptop.  “I put together a playlist for Mrs. Alpicki that reflects who she is, and the mean streets she has to drive everyday looking for parking near the stores she likes.”

Out of that unlikely youth-adult initiative has grown “Songs of Practical Romance”–a sub-sub-genre designed to rekindle flames of romance that female listeners recall from their teens and twenties, without burning down a $1.5 million “starter home” in a suburb with a good school system.

Starland Vocal Band


When this reporter asks to hear a few samples the female half of the unlikely May-August duo presses “Play” on her phone, and through the magic of Bluetooth technology the strains of “Let’s Brush Our Teeth and Have Sex” begin to fill her finished basement from designer speakers.  “It’s sort of a variation on ‘Afternoon Delight,'” Rouse says, referring to the gag-inducing 1976 hit for the Starland Vocal Band.  “There’s this couple and they’re thinking of having sex in the morning,” Wendy says, “but they care enough that they don’t want to inflict dog breath on each other.”

The playlist segues into “Not Tonight, I Just Washed the Sheets,” a song that reflects the sad truth of living in an exurban town with minimum acre-and-a-half zoning.  “We’re don’t have municipal sewers out here, so I can only do one load of wash a day,” she says.  “I told Bob–my husband–that some nights he’s just going to have to play with himself, I can’t have the septic tank overflowing.”

When that bluesy lament ends, the tempo heats up a bit with “Be Careful (I Didn’t Shave My Legs),” a dance tune by Iris Bogaard, a twenty-something chanteuse from the Allston-Brighton neighborhood of Boston, known as its “student ghetto.”  “It’s both a feminist manifesto, and a song of warning,” Rouse says, and Alpicki nods her head to the pulsating rhythm, then adds by way of agreement “It’s a jungle down there unless you keep the underbrush mowed.”

Professors Say Lack of In-Person Classes Reduces Student-Teacher Nookie

BOSTON.  In this city of numerous colleges and universities, the coronavirus has taken an exceptionally heavy toll.  “You don’t get the full, life-enriching undergraduate experience taking classes by video conference,” says Michael Norgrand, a tenured professor of English.  “You only see people’s faces, no sense of depth perception,  no chiaroscuro shading beneath the breasts under a tight-fitting sweater.”

“You split another infinitive.  That means two sessions as a naughty meter maid.”


For Norgrand and others like him, the end of in-person classes has meant a dramatic reduction in opportunities to hand out high grades to comely young women in exchange for sexual favors, a loss that many liken to an unfair labor practice.  “Technically, it doesn’t appear in my contract or the faculty by-laws,” says Allan Weinstock.  “But when I was hired I got a nudge-nudge/wink-wink from the Dean of Arts and Sciences, and I relied on that when I accepted his offer.”

“You got a C on the pop quiz, but I’ll give you a do-over take-home exam.”

Academics here are strongly resisting proposals that they switch to “distance learning” out of public health concerns, saying their own mental health and self-esteem should be weighed in the balance.  “How am I going to hold my head up at a Modern Language Association convention when some dork at a cow college in a state with one zip code tells me he adds six notches to his headboard every semester,” says Justin Traisten, who has parlayed a series of papers on suicidal female poetesses into a file cabinet full of paternity suits.  “I don’t want to have to drive twenty miles every morning to get a cappuccino.”

“Well, since you put it that way, I guess I could raise your grade to A+++”

Because professors are involved in academic policy they can’t unionize, so individuals are on their own in navigating the brave new world of diminished student-teacher nookie opportunities.  “I’d be willing to take less money for more sex,” says Traisten, “but I am not giving up my assigned parking space.”

For Covid Survivors, Loss of Taste Leads to Aesthetic Lapses

WELLESLEY FALLS, Mass.  For Ron and Judy Forshtblat, the coronavirus is both a public health matter and a personal issue, as the two are among the first to survive a bout with the disease.  “We were so afraid we were going to lose each other,” Judy says, fighting back a tear.  “I didn’t want our last conversation to be an argument over whether he could add another Tom Brady jersey to his man-cave now that he–Brady, not Ron–plays for Tampa Bay.”

He needs it to complete the set.


But the disease took its toll on the two, leaving them without their senses of smell and taste, common after-effects that physicians have noted but not yet understood.  “I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life without experiencing the scent of fresh-cut flowers on our dining room table,” she says through a sniffle she blots with a tissue.  “On the other hand, I guess I won’t mind if Ron makes his ‘Three-Alarm Chili’ the way I used to.”

Image result for Fresh Cut Flowers Dining Room Table

Ron, a certified public accountant, is taking things philosophically, saying it could be a blessing in disguise.  “I’ve spent a lot of money on Old Spice Classic Scent Roll-On Deodorant over the years,” he says with a distant air that suggests he’s calculating the cost in his head.  “I get the whim-whams just thinking about what we could do going forward without that recurring expense.”

The lifting of some restrictions on commercial activity has the Forshtblats out for a stroll through this town’s charming shopping district today, as Ron is barred by his company from coming into work for more than two days a week until the coronavirus “curve” has been further flattened.  “It’s sort of a preview of retirement,” Judy says with a halting grin.  “So far it hasn’t been too bad being cooped up with a guy whose idea of fun is playing Tetris with an Excel spreadsheet.”

Image result for american impressionism
           So tasteful!

The sixty-something couple stops for coffee, then moseys across an intersection to check out an art gallery–bEth uPshaw sTudios–that opened up again for the first time on Monday.  “I’ve finally talked him into buying a painting for the living room,” she says, “and before things shut down I had my eye on several impressionist-style things.”

The owner of the eponymously-named establishment greets the couple at the door and asks them to sanitize their hands and put on face masks before they enter, and they gladly comply.  “I have a few new things for you to look at,” Upshaw says to Judy.  “I’m sorry to say that ‘Ethereal Woman Walking in a Garden of Flowers’ sold to a buyer on my website while I was closed.”

“Darn coronavirus,” Judy says through her mask.  “Mass death and disruption of the economy is one thing, but I had my heart set on that one!”

“Well, I have a few others you might want to look at.”

“Sure,” Judy says, before Ron adds “As long as it’s still within her budget.”

The women laugh but the husband doesn’t, and by an upraised eyebrow he telegraphs to his wife that he’s serious.

“Oh, you,” she says, giving him a light tap on the chest.  “I won’t go crazy.”

But Upshaw is surprised when the wife nixes a number of similarly-tasteful works in the astigmatic fashion of Monet, Degas, and other Impressionists that her prospective customer had previously singled out as guides for the gallery-owner to use in scouting prospective purchases for her.

“Maybe it’s the coronavirus,” Ron suggests.  “You know, Judy’s lost her sense of taste since she recovered, a lot of people have.”

“Oh, phooey on you,” Judy says, dismissing her husband’s far-fetched theory.  She surveys the other items on display, then notices a print behind the owner’s desk depicting two girls listening to records, a tacky relic of the sixties “Big-Eyed Children” school of painting founded by Margaret Keane.

“That’s interesting,” Judy says.

“That?” Upshaw laughs.  “That’s kind of a gag–a friend of mine picked it up at the Museum of Bad Art and gave it to me for my birthday as a joke.”

“Is it for sale?” Judy asks.

Upshaw starts to reply but, sensing an aesthetic shift of seismic proportions, bites her tongue, then says “Yes–it’s $2,000.”

“I’ll take it!”


Surprised by the Fed

The Fed Should Surprise Us.

Headline, The Wall Street Journal

I have come to the headquarters of The Federal Reserve System, the nation’s central bank, on a mission: from everything I’ve seen and heard on the news, all hell is about to break loose, and I want to be at ground zero when it happens.


It was this lurking feeling of looming disaster that caused The Wall Street Journal to wring its hands with concern back when former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was starting to complain about “irrational exuberance.”  The editorial pages of the Journal rightly put their finger on the problem–a massively over-leveraged mortgage market, fueled by government subsidies–but it was too late, resulting in the “planet-shaking subprime-mortgage meltdown” of 2008.  The quoted phrase comes from the weekend edition of the Journal, in which a biographer of Greenspan wrote that, in order to avoid another crash, “The Fed Should Surprise Us.”  I don’t know whether the governors of the Fed have the wisdom and the courage they need to heed the Journal’s advice this time around.

I check in with the guard at the reception area, and am ushered into the office of Jerome H. “Jay” Powell, the current Chair of the Board.  I understand that he is a sober, thoughtful academic type–he’s got degrees from Princeton and Georgetown with a long career in government behind him.  One doesn’t get to be Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance by being an office wag.

“Come in,” he exclaims cheerfully from behind his desk as he rises to greet me.

“Sure Whoopee Cushions are fun, but for the initial shock I like a good, old-fashioned hand buzzer.”


“Thanks for allowing me into the ‘inner sanctum,'” I say facetiously as I stride across the thick carpet that the Fed, unlike more parsimonious agencies, can afford thanks to the fees they charge big banks.

“Pleasure to have you,” he says with a smile as he grasps my right hand, sending shock waves up my arm.


“Yow!” I exclaim, but more from shock than the irritating sensation his hand buzzer gives me.  “Why”–here I bite my tongue to keep myself from using a profanity–“did you do that?”

“I dunno, I read in The Wall Street Journal Saturday that we’re supposed to surprise people.”

“I don’t think the guy meant it in that sense, it was more an argument against changing economic behavior by telegraphing what you’re going to do with rates.”

“Oh,” he says sheepishly.  “It was the weekend, I didn’t really read the paper that closely.  Would you like me to show you around a bit?”

“Sure,” I say, and he takes me down the hall after telling his secretary to take messages while he gives me a tour of the building.

We pass by the mail room where we see piles of correspondence stacked high upon tables.

“Wow–you guys must get a lot of important business correspondence, huh?”

“This is crank mail from right-wing conspiracy theorists.  The threatening letters from left-wing populists are over in Room 4B.”

We stop at a water cooler, and Powell gulps down two cups.  “Liquidity is very important,” he says as he crumples the little paper cone and drops it in a wastebasket.  “Especially in a time of sudden asset deflation.”

He knocks gently on a closed oak door bearing the nameplate of Miki Bowman, seated at her desk.

Michelle Bowman.jpg
Miki Bowman


“Miki, we have a visitor,” Powell says, as he introduces us.  “Mr. Chapman is author of ‘Our Friends the Fed.'”

“I’m not familiar with it,” Bowman says.  “Is it like one of our ‘Beige Books‘?”

“No, it’s not as funny as that,” I say.

Powell gives me a look like he’s just sniffed a carton of sour milk.  I guess he takes his job controlling the world’s largest economy seriously.

“C’mon in,” Bowman says, and picks up a can from her desk.  “You know, one of the benefits of being a Governor of the Federal Reserve System is the many wonderful presents we receive from grateful bankers across the nation.  I just received a can of peanut brittle in this morning’s mail–would you like some?”

“Sure, I grew up in Missouri–I love peanut brittle.  We used to buy it at Stuckey’s when we’d go down to the Lake of the Ozarks as kids.”


“I know it’s not good for my teeth, but I’m just crazy about the stuff,” Bowman says, as she struggles to open the can.  “Damned arthritis,” she says.  “I can’t get the top off.”

“Here let me help,” I say, as I take it from her hands.  “My dad always emphasized the importance of having a strong grip.” I say, but before I can finish my reminiscence three fuzzy snakes come whooshing out of the can and hit me in the face.

“Ha!  Got ya!” Bowman says, as she accepts a gleeful ‘high-five’ from Powell.

“You are such a cut-up!” he says.

I try to be a good sport about it, but I’m beginning to have my doubts about the people who have final say over the nation’s money supply.  “Sure fooled me,” I say sheepishly.  “But . . . can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot,” says Powell.

“Bang!” says Bowman, and they again break out in laughter.

“What I’m wondering is–should you really be fooling around with novelty items from a joke shop when we’re trying to reverse a depressed labor force participation rate?”

Powell’s face takes on a serious look.  “Well, perhaps not when you look at the long and distinguished history of this institution, going all the way back to William McChesney Martin.”

William McChesney Martin:  “No punch for you!”


“He’s the one who said ‘The job of the Fed is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going,'” Bowman adds with obvious pride.

“But then we read in the Journal that we’re supposed to surprise people,” Powell says.  “So–peanut brittle!”

Okay, I say to myself.  Everybody’s entitled to a little office fun, even the Fed.  Perhaps especially the Fed.  I wouldn’t want them screwing up the job and life prospects of my sons, just starting out in their careers, with the sort of hyper-inflation I lived through back when–speaking of peanuts–Jimmy Carter was president.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to work,” Powell says.

“Or appearing to work,” Bowman says, verbally goosing her male colleague in the hope that he’ll do something about industrial productivity before the end of the year.

“Nice to meet you,” Powell says, but I spurn his offer of a handshake for fear of getting the hand-buzzer treatment again.  “Nothing personal,” I say.  “I’m kind of a germophobe.”

Bowman escorts me down to the end of the hall, where a windowless door–ever-so-slightly ajar–is decorated with the creepy pyramid that appears on the dollar bill.


“What’s in there?” I ask.

“It’s kind of a secret,” Bowman says, as she starts to make a right turn down a perpendicular corridor.

“Well, I wouldn’t be doing my job as an investigative reporter if I let you keep me away from the inner workings of the American economy with such a casual brush-off,” I say, getting my back up a bit.

Bowman looks at me for the first time with an expression of concern.  “I really shouldn’t let you in there,” she says.

“All the more reason for me to see what you’re hiding,” I say.  “This is the problem with the Fed.  You lack transparency, you’re not politically accountable, you . . .”

“All right, fine,” she says, with resignation.  “We probably never should have agreed to let you in to the Federal Reserve Bank, but since you insist on seeing everything . . .”


“Thank you,” I say, trying to be gracious but firm.  “Americans have a right to know what you people do here.”

“Don’t rub it in,” she says.

“It’s their money,” I say as I open the door–and a bucket of water falls on my head.

“What the . . .”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Our Friends, the Fed.”

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.”

As Boston Re-Opens Some Fear “New Amiability” Will Lead to Virus Surge

BOSTON.  It’s shortly after 7 a.m. as the first mass transit train of the morning rolls into South Station, and debarking commuters hit the platform for what will be for many their first full day of work outside the home in two months.  “It’s been a frustrating time,” says Meredith Olson-Jenkins, who home-schooled her ninth grade daughter with her husband while schools were closed.  “Had we known we’d have to use algebra as adults, we would have paid attention in class instead of passing mash notes back and forth.”

Image result for south station boston

There are some new faces in the crowd of public sector officials who man and woman public transportation facilities to maintain order in addition to the usual members of local, state, federal (Amtrak) and MBTA police this morning; white-coated representatives of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, who closely scrutinize the passengers as they pass by.

Miles Northcutt, an Underassistant Deputy Secretary in the DPH, whispers out of the side of his mouth to Kaitlyn Ferber, who holds a clipboard, cotton swabs and a forehead thermometer at the ready to screen passengers who display potentially risky symptoms.  “We’re going to have to intervene with these yahoos,” he says sharply, and Ferber reaches into her “Public Health is for EVERYONE!” tote bag to pull out a bull horn.

Image result for woman with bullhorn

“ATTENTION,” she blares at a group of three people, all wearing masks, who have been chatting with each other.  “I’m going to have to ask you to observe Anti-Amiability Guidelines.”

“But we’re all wearing masks,” says Ed Phloebersk, an actuary at Modern Moosehead Insurance Company, referring to the exception carved out of social distancing guidelines by the state’s executive order.

“That may be,” says Northcutt, “but you’re being way too amiable.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asks Emily Cheshire, an associate at a real estate law firm.

“Boston is a world-class city known for the reserved demeanor  and haughty–some would say hostile–attitudes of its citizens,” Northcutt says.  “We don’t want to backslide  into being a third-world hellhole like Keokuk, Iowa, where people actually talk to each other on the street–for no good reason.”

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Boston Public Garden:  Please don’t compliment the tulips, it’ll go to their heads.


Boston is known, in a well-known poem handed down through the ages, as a place where the Cabots speak only to Lowells, and the Lowells speak only to God, but the two-month coronavirus has eaten into that reservoir of disdain, causing people to think that they’re “all in this together,” notes local historian Benedict Traister.  “It’s troubling, both from a public health perspective, and in terms of decorum.  If you begin to experience sympathy for your fellow man to the point where you actually speak to someone who wasn’t known to your grandparents, you should lie down until the feeling goes away.”

Order is restored as the group of commuters heeds the warning and re-sets their faces into masks of grim indifference, but the two public health officials can’t drop their guard as successive waves of workers file past them, many with expressions of relief on their faces as they achieve social distance from their spouses for the first time in eight weeks.  “Familiarity breeds contempt, absence makes the heart grow fonder–these are age-old truisms,” says Northcutt.  “It is literally impossible to miss someone unless they go away first.”

My Memoirs, to the Best of My Knowledge

The tradition of American memoir is a rich and varied one, from Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice to J. Edgar Hoover’s Memoirs of a Cross-Dressing G-Man.   That vein of silver has been tarnished by fabrications such as James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years,” in which the author claimed she was adopted by a pack of wolves during World War II.

Frey:  Just kidding.


Then came “Goodbye to Most of That,” written by a woman who says she was abducted by aliens from her home in suburban Atlanta, raised by two out of three Pointer Sisters and forced to work for Mary Kay Cosmetics.   It’s enough to make you question the critical faculties of top New York editors who let these howlers slip by. Everyone knows there are actually four Pointer Sisters.

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Pointer Sisters:  Special 4-for-the-price-of-3 sale


In a variation on Gresham’s Law, counterfeit tales are crowding out true life stories such as mine, Barefoot Boy With Pogo Stick. To stop this disturbing trend, this country needs a self-administered exam, like a home pregnancy test, that could weed out made-up memoirs from the real thing before they hit the bookstores and separate unsuspecting readers from their $24.95.

What follows is my first crack at such a helpful writer’s tool. Use a #2 lead pencil to circle your answers and see if the memoir you’ve written is true or false!

You were raised by:

(a) wolves
(b) penguins
(c) your future first spouse

The flop, the turn, the river


Complete the following sentence: “I feel most alive when I’m . . .”

(a) chopping sugar cane with Che Guevara.
(b) playing Texas Hold ‘Em with my fellow geishas.
(c) telling Ty Cobb to stop picking on the sales help at Talbots.

Ty Cobb:  “Do you have any cable-knit cardigans?”


You knew from an early age that you were:

(a) a man trapped in a woman’s body.
(b) a wolf trapped in a penguin’s body.
(c) a commuter trapped on the 5:15 Framingham train next to a mime talking on a cell phone.

During World War II you were:

(a) tail-gunner on the Enola Gay
(b) Eva Braun’s electrologist
(c) roadie for an all-female gypsy guitar combo

Your favorite form of self-abuse is:

(a) taking over-the-counter drugs for coughs and colds.
(b) drinking frozen smoothies so fast you get brain cramps
(c) watching Arena Football games through 3-D glasses

“Bigfoot, darling, you’ve got some housecat fur on your upper lip.”


DNA tests prove you are the love child of Audrey Hepburn and:

(a) Bigfoot
(b) Wilt Chamberlain
(c) The Sons of the Pioneers

Pas de deux par dessus tombe jammer


You hit bottom the night you:

(a) flew into Paris with Lindbergh
(b) shared a jail cell with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rick James
(c) mistook Twyla Tharp for Truman Capote at a Bronx Banshees roller derby tryout

Jujubes:  Bet you can’t eat just one.


After decades of self-destructive behavior, you entered rehab to:

(a) take a break from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the wolf den
(b) kick a crippling addiction to jujubes
(c) meet new people and make new friends

You think the world would be a better place if we:

(a) learned to tolerate the personal grooming habits of people raised by wolves.
(b) resolved international conflicts by playing Twister.
(c) understood that it’s not enough to win an Ultimate Fighting Championship if you can’t find true love.

“We have fun here, but there’s a serious side to death, too.”


You turned your life around when you realized that:

(a) life is for the living, unless you’re a funeral director.
(b) don’t sweat the small stuff, unless the small stuff is a fatal virus.
(c) if you hold an empty gin bottle under hot running water, you can make it secrete another half shot.

Score three points for each “a”, five for each “b” and seven for each “c”.

If your score is 28 or less, you have an unfortunate penchant for the truth, and should stick to certified public accounting.   If your score is at least 29 but not more than 37 with less than two minutes to play, foul the man who catches the inbounds pass and hope he misses the front end of the one-and-one.  If your score is greater than 37, your memoir is ready for publication as either fiction or non-fiction, whichever comes first.

Oprah’s people want to talk to you–ask one of your personalities to give them a call.

This article first appeared, in slightly different form, in The Boston Globe Magazine