Board Game Lessens Pain of Summer Reading Lists

BOSTON, Mass.  This city is sometimes referred to as the “Athens of America” because of its many colleges and universities, but that doesn’t mean young boys here like summer reading lists any more than their peers in the rest of the country.  “I suffered through nine months of fourth grade and now this,” says Timmy Kampner, the son of professors at Boston University as he holds a sheet of paper out for a reporter to examine.  “I read chapter books all year—I need a break!”

board1
“. . . and then the poet blows his Fulbright on cocaine and a BMW!”

 

But some boys like to read, and the example they set is the envy of highly-competitive parents who want their children to acquire language skills at an early age in order to move on to more important academic functions, such as criticizing the work of other candidates for tenure.  “I wish my son were more like Ronnie Moskil,” says Jane Kampner as she watches her son pick his nose during Saturday “Story Hour.”  “That boy’s already finished the required reading for his sophomore year—in college.”


“Oh no–she got a Pushcart Prize!”

 

And indeed the young bibliophile is way ahead of other boys his age, a fact his parents attribute to their efforts to make reading fun.  “We created a board game called ‘Jr. Writers Fun Land!’” says Jane Moskil, a professor of English at Simmons College.  “It’s a good indoor activity for rainy days, which real writers use to write depressing poetry.”

Today Ronnie has Timmy Kampner and two other friends, Evan Slater and Frasier Moniz, over to play and the boys throw the dice to choose their roles.  “Yay–I get to be publisher!” says Evan, who rolled a six.  “I want to be editor!” says Frasier, who rolled a five.  “I want to be critic,” says Ronnie, who rolled a three.  “I guess I’m the writer,” says Timmy with a look of disgust, who threw a two.


“I’ll trade you a fellowship in Provence for tenure at an all-women’s liberal arts college.”

 

Play begins and Evan moves his piece six squares where he lands on the “Good Break” square and draws a card from the stack in the center of the board.  “Your college roommate is hired by The New Yorker.  Talk of the Town piece accepted—collect $700!”

“Yay!” Evan says as he pays himself from the bank of play money.  Next up is Frasier, who moves five spaces and lands on the “Writer’s Group” square and picks a card from that pile.  “Your girlfriend Chloe dumps you for a guy named Evan who wrote a sonnet to her—return to ‘Go.’”  “Darn it,”  he says.  “I never get a break.”

It’s Ronnie Moskol’s turn and he moves to the “Bad Break” square and draws his card.  “Your story ‘Abominable Snowwoman’  is about to be published when editor finds you previously posted it to your blog.  Repay $100 to Publisher.”  “Yay!” Evan shouts, “I’m getting rich!”

board
“Sorry–yucky boys can’t land on the Women’s Studies square.”

 

Finally Timmy moves his piece two spaces and lands on the “Death” square.  “What’s going to happen?” he asks Ronnie nervously.

“It could be anything,” Ronnie says reassuringly.  “You could draw a Ripe Old Age card and live long enough to become famous and sleep with a lot of college girls.”

Still, Timmy is nervous as he slowly turns over a card that says “You commit suicide at the age of 27 having published only one short story and two poems.”  A look of disappointment steals over his face.  “I guess I lose, huh?” he asks Ronnie.

“Are you kidding?” his more literary friend says with disbelief.  “You win!”

“But I hardly published anything and I killed myself.”

“That’s the best career move of all!”

At the Pine-Woods Golf & Poetry Club

For most of the 20th century, the poetry world resembled a country club.

                                     The New York Times Book Review

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I just wanted to get out of the damn house. I decided to head over to the club, see if I could squeeze in a round before dinner. I threw the old sticks in the trunk and, as I drove into the parking lot at Pine-Woods, saw Lowell, Berryman and Roethke heading down to the starter’s hut. Lowell had on those god-awful madras pants of his. What a preppy doofus.


Robert Lowell

 

“Hey guys,” I yelled out to them. They were absorbed in a deep discussion.  Probably talking about the club By-Laws, which had been under revision since Allen Ginsburg walked onto the putting green without a collared shirt.


Allen Ginsburg: “I didn’t know it was like a rule rule.”

 

I caught up to them as they were paying for their golf cart. The starter—a guy named Skip Derosiers—was giving them a hard time.

“Which one of you knuckleheads left the tracks on the seventh fairway the other day?


Theodore Roethke

 

“Not me,” said Roethke. Or course not—Mr. Nature Poet.

“It was me,” Lowell and Berryman said together. Figures—two confessional poets, two confessions.


John Berryman

 

“Do you guys mind if I make a fourth?” I asked.

“There’s a guy on the list ahead of you,” Derosiers said.

“Who?” Lowell demanded.

“The Old Man—Wallace Stevens.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Berryman.

“Can’t you do something?” I asked.


Wallace Stevens

 

“He’s one of the club’s founders.” He pointed to the left breast of his polo shirt, which featured a bantam rooster before a stand of pines.

“You know he’s going to walk the course, hit the ball thirty yards every time and compose poems between shots,” Roethke said. “The course will be backed up for a week.”

“No can do,” Derosiers said.

“Do you know who I am?” Lowell asked imperiously.

“Let me see if I remember,” he said, a sardonic gleam in his eye, and began to speak in a taunting, sing-song manner:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod.
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

“What’s your point?” Lowell asked, a bit defensively I thought.


“But I don’t even like fishcakes and beans.”

 

“When you talk to me, you ain’t talkin’ to a Cabot—you’re talking to a God,” Skip said, as he clicked the remote to see who was on the leaderboard at the Buick Open.

I tried a different tack. “What if we made it worth your while?”

Derosiers looked us over, one by one. “Talk to me.”

We looked at each other. Thankfully, Berryman had brought a six-pack of Budweiser with him. He tore two cans off the plastic yoke and, after checking over his shoulder, handed them over the counter.

“You know, some golf industry publications say that bribing a starter can backfire,” Derosiers said as he handed us scorecards and pencils. “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” he added with a smile, as he waved us onto the course.

“What if old man Stevens catches up to us?” Roethke asked.

“Humor him,” Derosiers said as he popped the top off a twelve-ouncer. “He’s really quite whimsical.”

That didn’t sound good, but we forgot about it as we waited the standard six-minute interval for the foursome in front of us to clear the fairway.

“You want to make it interesting?” Lowell asked. “Five dollar Nassau?”

Easy for him to say with all that old money to burn.

“No automatic press on the back nine,” Berryman said. On his second beer, he was already beginning to slur his speech, but like his verse, he remained in technical control and rooted in the conventions of his time.

“Sure, John, sure,” Lowell said as he made his way to the back tee. “Okay, ladies and germs, hide and watch.”

“Grip it and rip it,” Roethke said, egging him on. I personally think trash-talk has no place in golf, but ever since Karl Shapiro said Marianne Moore was “never more beatable,” suddenly everybody’s doing it.


Marianne Moore throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium—I kid you not.

 

The big guy shuffled forward, tall, slightly stooped, ran his fingers back through his dishevelled grey hair and stuffed it under his cap. He took a few practice swings, set himself, and—scorched a worm-burner into the rough! I stifled a laugh.

“I call Mulligan,” Lowell said without even looking back, as he pulled another ball out of his pocket.

“No way,” Roethke said. “Mulligans are allowed only when expressly agreed upon by all partners in advance.”

“Too late, Bob,” I agreed. “We’ve all got skin in the game.”

I knew what was coming. A manic-depressive temper tantrum.

“God damn it to hell!” Lowell screamed as he threw his driver into a water hazard and stormed off to look for his ball.

“Ooo,” Berryman said in a mocking tone. “Huffy Bobby hid the day/unappeasable.

Roethke stepped up next. He’s a deliberate player—it took him ten years to write Open House, his first book of poems, fer Christ’s sake.


Walt Whitman: “Hey—that’s my line!”

 

He plucked some leaves of grass and threw them up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. He fiddled with his gloves, his visor and his left shirt sleeve. He took in the natural beauty of the course, with all its mystery, fierceness and sensuality; the ball washers, the spike cleaners, the liquid refreshment stand at the tenth tee.

“While we’re young, Teddy-boy,” Berryman said, shaking his head, “while we’re young.”

“I don’t have to take that from you, Mr. Yips,” Roethke said out of the side of his mouth. Always lyrical, I thought with admiration.

Finally he took his stance, wig-wagged his butt a bit, then weighed into the ball–a nice clean stroke, the solid thwock, if I may be allowed just one little onomatopoeia.

His ball sailed down the fairway where a tall, austere man had wandered out of the rough. It was Stevens, and Roethke’s shot hit him square in the temple!

We jumped in the cart and tore off down the fairway, coming to a stop where Stevens lay on his back, apparently dazed.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Stevens,” Roethke said, distraught at the thought that he had nearly killed one of the major American poets of the 20th century. “Are you all right?”

The great man propped himself up on one elbow, shielded his eyes from the sun and began to speak, a big groggily at first.

Call the smoker of big cigars, Stevens began,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In snack bar cups, concupiscent frozen custard.
Let the wenches dawdle in such pink culottes
As they are used to wear, and let the caddies
Bring the clubs to the bag drop.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only captain is Walter Hagen,
captain of the Ryder Cup Team.

Lowell leaned over the great poet for a look.  “He’s fine,” he said, as he took his four iron out of his bag, and then–as he dropped his ball next to fallen bard–“Winter rules.”

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

Pink Tights, Tu-Tus, and Schmaltzy Music

ballet

(With apologies to Joe and Rose Lee Maphis,
who don’t need ‘em ‘cause they’re already dead.)

Pink tights, tu-tus and schmal-tzy music
Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand.
Pink tights, tu-tus and schmal-tzy music
You’ll never make a wife to a home-lovin’ man.

A home and little children mean nothing to you.
You’d rather spend your nights prancin’ round in a tu-tu.
You’d rather be with friends takin’ your a-dult bal-let
At a walk-up studio that’s ten miles the other way.

You say that you’re just goin’ ‘cause you want to take the barre.
I say well that’s okay I don’t really need the car.
And then I get a call from a different kind of bar
They say you’re drunk on Cosmos and actin’ quite bizarre.

Pink tights, tu-tus and schmal-tzy music
Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand.
Pink tights, tu-tus and schmal-tzy music
You’d rather spend your time with a tights-wearin’ man.

The music that you dance to, I just cain’t understand
It’s treacly and it’s schmaltzy, played on a baby grand.
This fella named Tchaikovsky, you say he’s pretty smart
I’m sorry for you and your adult ballet heart.

The guys you hang around with, they strike me as real weird
They all wear tights in public, and there ain’t none has a beard.
And even when they’re inside, they always wear a scarf.
There’s one who goes by “Evan,” who really makes me barf.

Pink tights, tu-tus and schmal-tzy music
Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand.
Pink tights, tu-tus and schmal-tzy music
You’ll only make a wife to an arts-lovin’ man.

The Man Who Turned Into Bo Diddley

I’ve been channeling Ellas McDaniel–better known by his stage name, Bo Diddley–for so long that I didn’t realize I’d been transformed into him until I arrived at the coffee shop across from my train station this morning.

“That’s quite a jacket,” the woman behind the counter said, and I looked down to see that instead of my usual blue or grey solid or pin stripe suit, I was wearing a loud red plaid sport coat.

“Thanks,” I said, a little mystified.

“Medium?” the woman at the counter asked.

“Yes, please,” I replied.

“Anything for your friends?” she asked as she handed me a cup.


The Duchess, in a fleeting good mood.

 

I turned around and saw Jerome Green, Bo’s long-time maracas man, and “The Duchess,” his gorgeous sister.

“Unh, sure,” I replied, a little embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed them before.  “Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t see you two standing there.”

“Thass alright,” Jerome said.  “”I’ll have what you havin’.”


Bo and Jerome

 

The Duchess was a different proposition.  She could be moody, sullen, uncommunicative, haughty.  “You got any cross-ants?” she asked, showing off the French she’d learned on our tour of the Continent during the British Invasion of the ’60′s.

“No,” the woman behind the counter said.  “Just muffins and scones.”

The Duchess exhaled a little sigh of contempt.  “I don’t want no scone,” she said.  “Jest give me a coffee, unlest you got cappuccino.”

“We can make that for you,” the woman said, trying to be agreeable.  I felt sorry for her; she was just doing her job, and wasn’t used to dealing with royalty.

“Duchess,” I said, “I’ve got to make the 5:55 train.”

“Whuffo?” Jerome asked.

“So I can get in early,” I said.  “I’m more efficient in the morning.”

“You forgit,” Jerome said, “you ain’t no businessman no mo’.  You Bo Diddley.”

If anybody would know Bo, it was Jerome-subject of “Bring it to Jerome” and the party of the second part in “Say, Man,” Bo’s spoken dialogue hit that anticipated rap by twenty years.

“If you say so,” I replied.

The woman behind the counter had the cappuccino ready for The Duchess, and placed it on the counter.

“So, two regular coffees and a cappuccino, $8.75.”

I put down two fives, and the woman plunked a dollar and a quarter down on the counter.  That was enough to set Jerome off, and he began to shake his maracas to our trademark “Shave-and-a-haircut-two bits” beat.  CHICK-a–chicka-chick-chick–CHICK.

“That’s catchy,” the woman said.

“Thanks,” I said, as I dropped the quarter in the tip jar.  “Let’s go,” I said to my two new companions.

We got in my car and drove over to the train station, where we joined the usual early morning crowd; everyone silent, keeping to him or herself, contemplating the dreary day ahead.

“We goin’ to a gig?” Jerome asked.

“Yeah, but not the kind of gig you’re thinking about.”

The Duchess didn’t look happy.  “We gonna eat when we get there?”

“Duchess,” I said, a little exasperated.  “You had a chance to get something back at the coffee shop.  I can get you a croissant when we get into Boston.”

The train rolled into the station and we climbed aboard, me with my briefcase and guitar, Jerome with his maracas, The Duchess with nothing but her purse and her cup.

After we got settled in, the conductor came down the aisle, checking tickets.  I showed him my monthly pass, then he looked at my entourage.

“Where you goin’?” he asked Green.

“I dunno-he’s the headliner.  I’m just the maracas man.”

“Where you headed?” he asked me.

“South Station.”

“You payin’ for her too?” he asked, nodding at The Duchess.

She gave me a look that would have flash-frozen a pan full of peas, then turned and stared out the window.

“Two round trip,” I said, a little annoyed at the extra expenses I was beginning to incur as a rock ‘n roll pioneer forced to stay out on the road long after I could have retired if somebody’d told me not to give up the rights to my songs for flashy clothes and a Cadillac.

“You jest payin’ the cost to be the boss,” Green said with a sly little smile.

The train pulled into the Wellesley Farms station and who should get on but Todd Smirsky, an insufferable twit of a trader who bolted my firm last year, taking millions of dollars of business with him.

“Well, hello there, Bruce,” Smirsky said.  “How’s it going?”

“Fine, fine,” I said trying not to be too friendly in the hope he’d shut his yap and let me ride into Boston in silence.

bo

“What’s with the funny-looking guitar?” he asked, pointing at my trademark “cigar box” model.

“This?  Oh, sort of a new hobby.  I . . . uh . . . twisted my knee skiing this winter, so I decided to take up rhythm ‘n blues.”

“Really?” he asks, more a supercilious put-down than an inquiry, really.

“Yeah.  I . . . uh . . . go by ‘Bo Diddley’ now.”

I could tell from the look on his face what was going on in his mind.  “How déclassé!“  Smirsky’s idea of a wild weekend is two gin and tonics after eighteen holes of golf, year after year, stretching out in an unbroken line from here, to retirement, to the grave.  How boring.

“To each his own,” he says as he sits down with his Wall Street Journal and opens it up to the Money and Investing section.  “How’s everything at the old shop?” he asks.

What he wants to hear is my hollow-sounding claim that things couldn’t be better, business is booming, we’re going great guns, etc.  Instead, I give Jerome the cue, and he starts to shake out our trademark rhythm, while I launch into the hard-edged guitar sound that first got kids up on their feet, jerking spasmodically, a half century ago.

We got forty-seven billion in assets–
Our large cap fund is top-rated –
A Scandinavian receptionist, a company jet,
And none of our trades was back-dated!

“Oo-ee!” Jerome chimes in, and The Duchess begins to rock her head from side to side and snap her fingers.  I can see Smirsky is taken aback.  He was expecting to Lord it over me as usual, and instead he’s been hit by a rock ‘n roll tsunami; a pulsating, insistent beat and a fecund verbal imagination that he’s never encountered, even in the prospectus of the riskiest biotech start-up.

“That’s good to hear,” he says, then tries to change the subject.  “And how’s Meg?” he asks, referring to my wife.

The question catches me off-guard.  I hadn’t expected Smirsky to drop his usual business one-upsmanship in favor of innocuous social chit-chat quite so willingly.  Jerome, however, doesn’t miss a beat-literally or figurative.

“Man, your wife’s so ugly she’s got to sneak up on a glass of chardonnay to take a drink!” he says to Smirsky, eager for an impromptu “dozens” match of rapid-fire insults.

Smirsky is silent for a moment, then asks me “Who’s this fellow?”

“That’s Jerome Green-my maracas man.”  As if to make the point with greater clarity, Jerome leans across the aisle and shakes his instruments in Smirsky’s face–CHICK-a–chicka-chick-chick-CHICK.

“Impertinent,” is all Smirsky says by way of rejoinder, and turns his attention back to the stock tables.

Jerome isn’t letting him off that easy. “You wife’s so ugly she broke yo brand-new iPhone when you took her picture!”

Smirsky gives Green a bitter, sardonic smile-the adult equivalent of “So funny I forgot to laugh.”  I guess the burden he puts on the left side of his brain as a top stock-picker has caused his right-brain–the locus of our creative and imaginative talents–to atrophy.

“Man-yo wife is so ugly, she sets off the security alarms when she walks into Talbots!”

Smirsky is smoldering now, and slams his briefcase shut. “You know ‘Bo’,” he says to me, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “I’m chairman of the membership committee at Pine Woods Country Club.  I seem to recall that you’re getting to the top of the waiting list there.”

All of a sudden, the downside of my walk on the wild side becomes apparent.  There’s no way I’m going to fit in with a bunch of white suburban males now that I’m possessed by the soul of Bo Diddley, except that my wild clothes will blend in with their weekend golf outfits.

“Bo Diddley’s a four handicap!” Jerome sings, but I extend my hand to silence him.

“Listen, Todd, I . . . uh . . . apologize for Jerome.  He’s new to the metrowest suburbs of Boston.  He was just engaged in a little signifiyin’.”

“Signifying?  He’s downright insulting.”

“He’s just joshing,” I say.  I’ve got a $2,500 deposit down on that club membership, and my wife will kill me if we blow it. Smirsky calms down a bit.  He didn’t get to be the top producer in our office by taking needless offense at friendly invective that’s part of an oral tradition dating back to dawn of history in Africa.

Jerome glares at Smirsky, his lower lip twisted into an expression of contempt, but he cools it, and stares out the window while he continues to pump out the beat.  The Duchess, however, is having none of my attempt at peace-making. “We don’t want to join your damn country club anyway,” she fairly spits out at Smirsky.

Smirsky snorts at her apparent presumptuousness.  “What makes you think we’d even consider you for membership?”

“Don’t you know nothin’ about the British Peerage?” she asks, incredulous.  “You all’s wives may be ladies,” she says, drawing herself with pride.  “But a Duchess outranks a lady.”

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

Boring Our Children to Safety

“They’re at it again,” my wife said with concern.

I looked up and saw flames rising from a pile of dead branches off in the  distance. Another Friday night, another bonfire in the woods beyond the stone wall that  separates our property from conservation land.

“They’re just kids being drunken, destructive, nihilistic kids,” I said as I  knocked back the spit hit at the bottom of my bottle of Bud Light Lime and returned to Paradise Lost, the special 350th anniversary edition that  comes with the free t-shirt of John Milton.


Milton: Preferred his bonfires on the  beach.

 

“We should do something to stop them,” my wife said, growing alarmed as the  flames climbed higher.

“I cleaned out the brush at the back of the lot,” I said. Maybe it was the Milton, but I seemed to speaking in blank verse.


Bud Light Lime: Cleanses the pallet for late night blank verse slams.

 

“No, I’m thinking someone will get hurt,” she said. “One of the boys will get  drunk and fall in it, or maybe one of the girls will get too close and her scarf  will catch on fire.”

“Well, what do you suggest I do?” I asked.

“You could go out there and bore them away. You’re pretty good at that.”

I stood up and squinted, the better to see what was going on. “I don’t know,”  I said. “It’s been a long time since I took on a crowd that big.”

“When was that?”

“The American Society of Chiropodists convention, 2009.”

“Please, do something,” my wife said. “If anybody gets hurt we might be  blamed–for doing nothing.”

She was right about that. In today’s litigious society, because of obnoxious lawyers like me you can’t be too careful.  Still I hesitated, but then I reflected that I’m in the seventh decade of my life; I’m somewhat concerned about my legacy as a bore, my place in the history of boredom.  When I die, I’d like to be remembered as one of the greats, like William Haley.  The sentimental, interminable versifier, a patron of William Blake, not the Father of White Rock ‘n Roll.

Bill Haley
Not that Bill Haley.

 

“Okay,” I said grimly. Like Gary Cooper in High Noon, I was too  proud to run.

I hacked my way through the tall grass and came to a clearing where the kids  were seated around the fire. I recognized a few of them; Derek, the scrappy,  pass-first point guard from my U-12 CYO basketball team; Chris, the pot-smoking  son of pot-smoking aging hippie parents; Meghan, the nimble vegan vixen who  introduced my elder son to the joys of . . . uh . . . BK Veggie Burgers in the  front seat of our Toyota Highlander.

“Hi kids,” I said affably as I ducked under a pine tree branch. “How’s it  going?”

The gang looked up at me with surprise. They thought they were beyond the  prying eyes and censorious looks of old farts like me.

“Hi, Coach,” Derek said. There was silence; I think they expected me to be  judgmental, to tell them to put the fire out and go home, but that’s not how I  operate. I accept teenagers as they are, in the fullness of their adolescent  stupidity. It’s why we get along so well.

“What’s up?” I asked, my voice a model of equanimity.

“Uh, we came out here because we got bored playing video games,” Chris  said.


Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley

 

“I don’t blame you,” I said. “You know, when I was a kid . . .”–I hesitated  for just a moment to see if I had their eyes rolling yet–”we didn’t have video  games, but we had great cartoons.” I waited for someone to say “Really?” or “No  kidding?” Hearing nothing, I continued.

“Tennessee Tuxedo, Top Cat, Underdog.”

Again, silence. Finally, the vegan girl spoke. “I think I saw Underdog in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade once.”

“That’s him!” I said with enthusiasm. I was glad I was getting through to  them. “Those cartoon shows had great theme songs,” I said, as one of the boys  stood up, tried to conceal a quart bottle of malt liquor under his shirt and  shuffled off.  “Come on and see, see, see–Tennesee Tuxedo!” I sang.

They were good listeners, those kids. They sat there and seemed to hang on my  every word.

“The Top Cat theme went like this: ‘Mmmmmmmm–Top Cat! The indisputable  leader of the gang! He’s the boss, he’s the king, but above everything, he’s  the most tip-top–Top Cat!’

“I’m not really into cartoons,” one of the kids said when I was done.

“That’s okay,” I said. “There’s plenty of things we can talk about. How  about–life insurance?”

To say that the kids were stunned by this segue would have been a  gigantic understatement. I truly don’t think they’d even  considered life insurance before.

“You know, there are basically two different kinds of life insurance,” I said  quickly, before I lost their attention.

A kid whom I’d heard the others call “Dragon” on the soccer field spoke up.  “What difference does it make if you’re dead?”

“Good question.  Well, there’s whole life, which has an investment component, and there’s  term life, which is just a basic death benefit,” I said, passing on the wisdom  of the ages. “Pretty soon, one of your classmates will become a life insurance  saleman, and he’ll start hounding you to buy whole life.  Don’t let him do  it!”  I said this with a stern tone of admonishment.  I didn’t want these  kids to go down the wrong path in life.  “Buy cheap term life, and put the  difference between the premiums into an S&P 500 index fund!”

“You really seem to know a lot,” said a Goth girl in a black S&M restraint-style bodice. “I’m going to go home and write this all down before I forget it.”

“Good idea,” I said cheerfully as she walked off with three others. I noticed  that the fire was dying out, but some of the hard-core kids were holding on,  hoping for something to break the dreary monotony of the sheltered lives they live in our upscale zip code.


Paul Goodman, sticking burning leaves in his  mouth out of alienation.

 

I looked into their eyes and saw a great void–a blank where their imaginations should have been. “Do you guys have summer jobs?” I asked  after a while. As Paul Goodman wrote in Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth  in the Organized Society, one of the reasons adolescents rebel is the lack  of meaningful work available to them.

“I’m working at the snack bar at the country club,” one of them said after a  while.

“You know,” I began, “that reminds me of the summer I spent driving an ice  cream truck. That damn jingle–‘Ding, ding, ding–da DING ding  ding’–drove me crazy!”

I turned to face them with an avuncular smile–and they were gone!

Just another day at the office, for a full-bore bore.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Kids: They’re Cute When They’re Young.”

For Victims of Hip Restaurant Aphasia, Meals Are Gone With the Wine

BOSTON.  At the July meeting of the Young Women’s Professional Circle, a group of high-powered, up-and-coming female business leaders that holds monthly lunches where members network and share stories of success and struggles, Cindy Pelham is making small talk with her tablemates when an appararently innocent question causes her to panic.

“We don’t get into town much anymore,” says Julia Alston, a forty-something banker who moved to the suburbs when she had her first child.  “What are some of the hip, new restaurants people are going to these days?”


“We used to be called Monaco, but we changed our name to Macaca.”

 

“Excuse me,” Cindy replies, obviously flustered.  “I need to go to the ladies room to . . . pluck my eyebrows.”

Across town, Cindy’s twin brother Dan is chatting with a partner at the accounting firm where he works, and a query of the same sort causes a similar reaction.  “What are you guys doing this weekend?” asks Bob Sciortino.


“We went out for dinner–don’t ask me where, okay?”

“We’re going to meet the Ferbers at, uh . . . ” Dan begins before freezing up and changing the subject.  “Say, what do you think of the new accounting standard on accelerated depreciation of weasel pelts?” he asks, drawing a blank look from Sciortino.


“Where are we again?”

The Pelham twins are victims of Hip Restaurant Aphasia, a disorder that prevents a person from remembering the unconventional names that fashionable restauranteurs adopt to project an au courant image.  Public health officials say the disease is spreading rapidly as baby boomers enter the Alzheimer years, a tough economy increases the number of restaurant failures, and hot chefs adopt ever-stranger names to distinguish themselves.

“It used to be that a French restaurant had a French name, like ‘La Putain’, and an Italian restaurant had an Italian name,” says food service industry analyst Martin Scholes.  “Then things sort of got blended together in an Esperanto Cuisinart, and now the names are all over the parking lot.”


Grill 23:  Due to inflation, will soon be Grill 24

 

The Pelhams are working with a neurologist to develop mnemonic devices they can use to recall restaurant names in stressful social situations, using a series of simple categories to divide dineries up into easily identifiable groups.  “There are the ‘number’ restaurants, like Grill 23, Bin 47 and No. 9 Park,” says Dr. Philip Weinstein of the Massachusetts General Hospital, a stone’s throw away from many trendy eateries on Boston’s Beacon Hill.  “Then there are the nonce words–Truc, Bano, Urk and Grunk.  They’re so hip nobody knows what the hell they mean.”

Cindy Pelham hopes future medical breakthroughs will bring relief to her and Dan, but until then she’s taking no chances as she flips through a phone book at the maitre d’s station and scribbles restaurant names on her cuff.  “I’ve always been close to my brother,” she says as patrons stare at her curiously.  ”Why can’t we just eat at ‘Mom’s?’”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “I Hear America Whining.”

Washing of the Watchbands Marks Summer’s Mid-Point for Preppies

SEAGULL COVE, Mass.  This secluded village, a township so obscure it isn’t listed on maps of the municipality of which it is a part, is a place you probably can’t get into if your family didn’t buy a summer place within its borders long before you were born.  “It’s sad, really, and I feel for those people,” says Oliver “Budge” Northcott, a long-time resident from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  “But it’s not my fault they chose the wrong grandparents.”


“I’m sorry, but if my grandmother didn’t know your grandmother, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

 

As exclusive as it is, however, this quiet seaside neighborhood is always packed to the gills mid-July for a tribal ritual not observed anywhere else in the United States; the ceremonial washing of grosgrain watchbands or, in cases where the fashion accessory is too dirty or damaged to survive until Labor Day, a burial of the same at sea.

“It’s a throwback to the sumptuary laws of our Puritan ancestors,” says Rev. Ancil Fleming, pastor of St. Stephen’s Church, a congregation dedicated to the patron saint of haberdashery.  “If you were successful and made enough money to buy a pew in the local congregation, you were allowed to add a ribbon to your clothing without being stoned to death.”

“Grosgrain” is a corded fabric whose weft is heavier than its warp.  Watchbands made from the material function as gang “colors” among “preppies,” white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who attend private secondary schools.  While such bands are typically either striped or solid in color, so-called “super-preppy” crime syndicates have been known to flout convention by wearing bands with plaid patterns.


Don’t be messin’ with these bad girls.

 

The washing of the watchbands stands in sharp contrast to other community events up and down Cape Cod, such as the blessing of the Portuguese fishing fleet in Provincetown and the psychoanalysts’ three-legged race in Wellfleet.  “We are a bit more reserved than some of our fellow summer residents, it’s true,” notes Northcott.  “On the other hand, we’re going to heaven and they can throw their loud parties in h-e-double hockey sticks.”