Experts: Unemployment Numbers Don’t Reflect “Discouraged” Writers

BOSTON.  With the lowest unemployment rate in fifty years you’d think that practitioners of “The Dismal Science” would have nothing to complain about, but in doing so you’d grossly underestimate the capacity for negativity among economists.  “I don’t like to give presidents credit for rising wages in the low-income segment of the labor force,” says Alton Baird, a professor at the University of New England, “unless the president is a Democrat.”


“Thank you for that very dismal presentation.  Now, on to our next dismal speaker.”

 

And so a symposium of economists here warned yesterday that the current unemployment rate of 3.6% is vastly understated and would be considered a national crisis if the number of “discouraged writers” were included.  “What we are seeing is a lost generation of freelancers,” said Niles Deshaies of the Vermont College of Double-Entry Bookkeeping.  “They’ve spent their last fifty-five cents on a stamp for a self-addressed envelope, and are reluctant to send articles elsewhere due to restrictive ‘no simultaneous submissions’ policies.”

starbucks
“I’m so broke I sold my laptop and carry my desktop computer to Starbucks.”

 

The Department of Labor defines a “discouraged writer” as one who owns a computer and is able to work, but has not submitted an article to a print publication, either general circulation or literary, in the past four weeks.  Discouraged writers are not counted in official unemployment figures because they have day jobs from which they are trying to escape to the lucrative field of highbrow literature.

“It’s a sad commentary on the future of the American economy,” said University of Massachusetts-Seekonk professor Normand Cesoks.  “All the plum assignments like Parade Magazine’s ‘Ten Tips for a Stress-Free Christmas’ or a Cosmo Girl ‘How to Tell if Your Boyfriend is Dead’ list have been outsourced to India.”

latte
“We’ve got to nurse this baby until they bring back peppermint mochas next Christmas.”

 

Discouraged writers tend to form mini-gypsy camps in Starbucks outlets, huddled over a shared pumpkin spice latte.  “I wish the government would do something for us,” said Tyler Correnti, who holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from a low-residency program at SUNY-Yonkers.  “I’ve sent out a hundred short stories since Memorial Day, and only one nibble, from Forklift Operators Monthly.”

editors
“We found your story to be too ironic.  Also, not ironic enough.”

 

The number of discouraged writers is difficult to pinpoint because of the long lag time between submission and response at most print publications.  “I sent a couple of villanelles to plangent voices,” a journal of avant-garde poetry, says Correnti.  “First they told me the editor was out on maternity leave, then they said she had to go to her daughter’s high school graduation.”

The Woman Who Sang Sinatra

 

We had just one date
but it was a doozy,
me and the brown-eyed woman named Julie.
She was fun, she was late, but she wasn’t a floozy,
and I want you to know that I loved her truly.

I got in her car
and we hadn’t gone far
when she punched her tape deck like a fighter,
shouting “Hit it, Frankie!” with incredible verve–
as Pearl Bailey would say, she upset my nerve,
as I quietly sat there beside her.

She proceeded to sing “Come Fly With Me”
as if possessed by the Chairman of the Board.
A balled-up fist was her mike–
she just missed a stray tyke!–
and from then on it was she I adored.

She looked over at me
and I gather could see
I was not an exuberant Dago,
with WASPy flesh-toned glasses
that repelled female passes
and rhythm that recalls bad lumbago.

I joined in meekly
and she eyed me weakly
as if to say “What a wet dish rag!”
“Don’t you like Sinatra?” she asked incredulous,
“because if not there’ll be no Kuma Satra”
though my devotion to her was sedulous.

“Well, yeah—he’s okay,”
was all I could say,
but she divined my lack of enthusement.
I regret to this day
that to score a lay
I didn’t fake Sinatramusement.


We rode ‘round the park through “New York, New York”–
she became more convinced that I was a dork.
By the time Francis Albert had made it through “My Way”
She’d decided it was time for me to hit the highway.

She pulled to the curb to drop me off
and said she was throwing in the towel;
I begged for a chance but she said with a scoff
“Your last name don’t end in a vowel.”

Moral: It takes all kinds.

Patriots Fans Turn to Cargo Cult as AFC Championship Doesn’t Return

BOSTON.  It is an eerie scene tonight along runway 32, the least-used landing strip of the ten runways at Logan International Airport.  “Don’t disturb them,” says state trooper Jim Hampy to this reporter, referring to crowds of people wearing New England Patriots-themed apparel standing outside in cold temperatures.  “They’re a primitive people.”

Despite that admonition, the crowd is loud enough to be heard on the tarmac a hundred yards away.  “Gron-kow-ski, Gron-kow-ski,” they chant, like Africans along the Belgian Congo in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  “What does it mean?” asks Sarah Levinson, a graduate student in anthropology from Brandeis University.

“The AFC Championship–it is gone,” Hampy replies, his face a mask of indifference as he finishes the dregs of his Dunkin’ Donuts “lahge regular.”


“If we can’t have Gronkowski, can you return Wes Welker to us?”

 

What Levinson and other local scholars are witnessing is the first cargo cult in New England since the Boston Red Sox broke an 86-year curse by winning the 2004 World Series.  A “cargo cult” is a primitive belief system whose adherents use superstitious rituals to bring back an idealized past in which they enjoyed modern luxuries, including American Football Conference championships.   Typical artifacts constructed by cargo cults to recall past glory include airplanes and landing strips, such as the one used by the Patriots when they returned victorious from Kansas City last year before going on to win Super Bowl LII, or 52 in the Arabic numerals used by other major professional sports leagues.

The Patriots had participated in the last eight AFC championship games, winning five, but this year were defeated by the Tennessee Titans in a “wild-card” game in which deuces and one-eyed jacks could be used to challenge penalties.  That loss set off a region-wide fit of weeping and wailing that included gnashing of teeth and a return to fundamental religion, such as that practiced by natives of Melanesia, where cargo cults originated.

The AFC will be represented by the Kansas City Chiefs in this year’s Super Bowl, causing New England fans to seek meaning in wacko religious dogma.  “It is sad when civilized people turn to primitive rituals,” said the Rev. Asa Ephraim of the Westland Congregational Church, a minister  of the Protestant denomination that was once the established religion of Massachusetts.  “We have so much to offer people if they would only come to church on Sundays instead of watching football: coffee, crumb cake, boring conversation after services, and a recently-resurfaced parking lot that is the envy of every other church in town.”

The Greenfather

Italian authorities seized $1.9 billion in “green” investments made by La Cosa Nostra to launder money.

Reuters

I’ve been recycling since a college roommate first introduced me to the activity that has become a secular religion for me. Whenever my wife throws away a plastic ketchup bottle, for example, I retrieve it from the trash, rinse it out and recycle it. I seem to recall similar compulsive tendencies having to do with the mystical numbers 3 and 7 when I was a prize-winning Catechism student in Catholic grade school.


Garage recycling center.

 

So what if I’m a little nutty about recycling, stooping to pick up aluminum cans in the street on the off chance that it might somehow save a baby whale from extinction.

Every night when I get home I haul cardboard, newspapers, cans and plastic from our two internal “transfer station” bins to my garage recycling center; it’s my pride and joy, my “fancy” as the cat ladies in England say about their tabbies.

It’s usually an uneventful trip; one time I tripped over a garden hose after I’d had a few beers, and one time I surprised an opposum–or more correctly, he surprised me–who’d stuck his nose in a discarded box of Trader Joe’s hors d’oeuvres. Probably having a party back at possum hollow.


“This guy’s got separate plastic bins for glass, cardboard–the works!”

 

So I jumped when I saw Tony “The Ice Pick” Gravano and Gaetano “Joey Pockets” da Silva sitting on my Rubbermaid plastic garbage cans last night. “Excuse me,” The Ice Pick said. “We’d like to talk to you.”

“Is something wrong?” I asked nervously. I knew I’d mistakenly dumped a container of plastics down the cardboard chute at the Town Dump last week, but it was my first trip since we’d returned from vacation. Anybody can make that kind of mistake if they’re out of practice.


Recycler di tutti recyclers

 

“No, nuthin’ wrong,” Joey Pockets replied. He was pleasant enough, but I detected an undercurrent of menace in his voice. “You got a nice place here, we was just admiring it.”

I knew what was coming next.

“I’d hate to see anything happen to it,” The Ice Pick said in a business-like tone as he examined his well-kept fingernails, which still shone from the clear nail polish applied at his last manicure. I don’t know what it is about The Mob; I guess if you spend your days garroting bookies who won’t pay up, you want your hands to look nice.

“Gee, I wouldn’t either.”

“Then perhaps you would be interested in discussing a–shall we say–investment in your little operation.”

I knew the mob liked cash businesses–laundromats, vending machines, bars–to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, but the most I get is a nickel deposit on cans and bottles. Why would they want to muscle in on me?

“‘Little’ would be an understatement,” I said with genuine humility. “I know we do better about recycling in the suburbs than they do in Boston, but still it’s just a bunch of lousy–”

I was cut off by the sound of deposit bottles and cans skittering across the cement floor. The Ice Pick had kicked my ez-carry bottle bin–hard–sending its contents flying. These guys meant business, but I wasn’t about to fold like a card table at my mom’s bridge club.

“Don’t try to scare me,” I said with a sneerl through a snaar. I mean a snarl through a sneer. “You want somethin’ a mine, you got to pay for it.”

The two mobsters looked at each, a little surprised that I’d fought back.

“There are lots of benefits of joining La Cosa Nostra,” said Joey Pockets. “Much better than our competitor, Ndrangheta in Southern Calabria.”

“Like what?”

“We got full medical and dental, with minimal or no co-pay. ‘Ndrangheta ain’t got that,” the Ice Pick said.

“We got a code of silence–omerta–so youse don’t never have to worry ’bout nobody rattin’ you out,” Joey Pockets added.

I thought about it for a moment. “How about nicknames,” I asked. “Do I get a cool nickname like you guys?”

“Sure, unless it’s already taken,” the Ice Pick said. “You couldn’t have two ‘Ice Picks’ for example. It would screw up the computers in human resources.”

“How about ‘The Ice Man,’” I said. “I was an ice man for three years when I was young.”

“That’s kinda close,” the Ice Pick said. “You may want to pick an alternate.”

“Okay–how about ‘The Gerbil.’”

“I’m pretty sure that’s available,” Joey Pockets said with a contemptuous snort. “So you in?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, playing out the string. “I’m thinking maybe . . .”

“Well think about this, you mook,” the Ice Pick said as he slammed me up against the wall, where I hit my head on a rake that was hanging from one of those tool organizers.

“We know where your cats are–right now. Capisce?”

“A seafood dish made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices?”

“No, you goombah–that’s ceviche. I’m saying ‘You understand?’”

I understood. The last thing I wanted was for one of my cats to get hurt.

“All right, you win.”

A look of smug satisfaction spread across their faces. “Welcome to our crime family,” Joey Pockets said. “We are tough, but cruel.”

“Really? You’ve got to meet my crime family.”

The two exchanged looks of concern. “Who is this?” The Ice Pick asked cautiously.

“My in-laws. They never recycle anything.”

For One Family, Pledge Never to Forget is Hard to Remember

BOSTON.  The Wyznorksi family has always been close-knit, but since the death of second-born son Todd last year, they’ve taken their commitment to each other to an even higher level.

“When Todd drew the number one in the lottery for the clinical trial for OsSchlat,” an experimental drug cocktail to treat the minor pain of Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease, “we were overjoyed,” says his mother Debbie, fighting back tears.  “When he succumbed–sucame?–to an allergic reaction, we sort of wished somebody else’s boy had gone first.”

Out of grief came a commitment to do something, even if it would have only an attenuated, indirect and miniscule effect on the ailment, which primarily strikes young boys and prevents them from playing vigorous games for periods as long as twenty-four hours.  “I kinda regretted I gave Todd so many noogies,” says his older brother Mike.  “With only twelve years on earth and the disease and what-not, it’s too bad I tormented him so much.”

And so today finds the Wyznorskis on the Boston Common where they have organized the first-ever “Never Forget Todd!” 6-kilometer walk-run.  “It’ll be cold,” says Todd’s father Jim, “but we’ll have a lot of hot chocolate for everybody.”

“I didn’t buy any hot chocolate,” says Debbie, looking at Jim with surprise.  “Did you?”


“What’s the kid’s name again?”

 

“I thought you were going to pick some up on the way in this morning,” Jim says with a look of embarrassment.  “Maybe we can buy some at a convenience store.”

“It’s too late now,” Debbie says.  “The people are already starting to arrive.”

An elderly couple, Bob and Maria Malinkrodt, approaches the starter’s table with an anguished look on their face.  “When we heard about what you two went through, and what you were doing, we knew we had to pitch in,” Maria says.  “How much is it?”

“It usually $65 or whatever you can give, but for senior citizens we only ask $50,” Jim says pleasantly.

“It’s a very worthy cause,” says Bob, who had the disease when he was a boy, as he pulls out his checkbook.  “Do you have a pen?”

Jim looks at Debbie with a shrug of his shoulders, who in turn looks at their son Mike.  “Do you have a pen?” she asks him.

“I don’t need pens,” Mike says as he looks at his phone.  “I text everybody I know.”


The siren smell of cheese pizza.

 

“Well, uh, I can give you some cash,” Bob says as he fishes in his wallet and pulls out a twenty-dollar bill.

“Thanks, that’s great, really sorry about that,” Debbie says.  “So two seniors, Mike, give them their free t-shirts.”

Mike looks at his mother with confusion.  “T-shirts?  Nobody told me anything about t-shirts.”

“Yes I did,” his mother says, slightly perturbed.  “I said you had to go by the screen printer last night and load them up in your car.”

“Screen printer?”

“Yes–in Watertown.”

“Oh, right, right.   Huh.  I . . . uh . . . there’s that pizza place in the square, I stopped there and some friends of mine came by, and it sort of slipped my mind.”


“I don’t see my name on this list.”

 

The Wyznorskis look sheepishly at the Malinkrodts and, after an awkward moment, Jim apologizes.  “Say, I’m really sorry, I guess we don’t have any of those souvenir t-shirts that charity run-walkers treasure so much,” he says.

“Maybe we’ll do something for people afterwards,” Debbie adds pleasantly.

“Oh, that’s fine,” Maria Malinkrodt says.  “My closet’s stuffed anyway!”

“Excuse me folks,” a policeman says as he gently interrupts the group.

“Yes?” Mike Wyznorski asks.

“I’m gonna have to ask you to move your car.  We got a charity thing comin’ through today.”

“Oh, we know,” Debbie Wyznorski says.  “That’s us.”

“You’re the . . .” the officer begins before checking a clipboard, “March to Save the Komodo Dragon?”

The Wyznorskis exchange looks that turn from puzzlement to chagrin.  “Did you get the parade permit?” Mike asks Debbie.

“I thought you were going to,” she responds.

“What group are you with?” the policeman interjects, hoping to end the byplay and get a cup of coffee before the event he’s been assigned to begin.

“We’re the ‘Never Forget Todd Run-Walk.'”

The policeman scratches his head and one eyebrow rises involuntary as he looks the three Wyznorskis over with a skeptical gaze he reserves for foreigners and suburbanites venturing into the city on weekends.  “Look, everybody’s got a story why they need a parking space,” he says.  “What did Todd die of–hereditary amnesia?”

Aria For a Former Girlfriend Who Believed Her Neighbors Were Spying on Us

Their lights are off–but we know they’re there.
They’re quiet as a family of mice.
They’re saying a rosary, kneeling in prayer,
’cause they think what we’re doing ain’t nice.

It’s true we’re living a life of sin,
but this is a totally free nation.
So grandmamma and all her kin
Can lay off our reputations.

san-severino

Why can’t they all just . . . get a life,
or take up stamp collecting.
Why must they spy on us every night,
particularly when we’re necking–

You can take all the San Severinos . . .
toss them into the deep blue sea.
Both the old folks and little bambinos–
it’s perfectly all right with me.

Gap Widens for Couples With Political Differences

NEEDHAM FALLS, Mass.  Bob and Jennifer Markham are the target of good-natured joshing by friends for the attention they draw every four years in this western suburb of Boston.  “Bob’s the perennial Republican fiscal conservative gadfly in town–letters to the editor, the whole nine yards,” Jennifer says with a laugh and a toss of her strawberry-blonde hair, “while I’m immediate past chair of the Democratic town committee.”  As such, they find themselves the subject of “argue cute” articles in the local paper every election cycle, along with other couples whose political views differ.  The Markhams’ marriage survives, Bob says, because of their shared love of politics and mutual respect.  “When things get too heated we have a pitcher of martinis and enjoy the fruits of the marital bed,” he says, disguising the erotic content of his comment with a dour facial expression he might use at his job as a commercial construction estimator.

needham1
“Bob’s an idiot, but he’s my idiot.”

 

But this year, the Markhams say, is different, although not at their address.  “The election is tearing people apart,” Jennifer says, and Bob agrees.  “If you really want to see a couple at opposite ends of the spectrum, go over to the Fantolds on Circle Drive,” he says, and when this reporter later finds himself in the last-named couple’s living room, the differences between husband and wife are, as predicted, quite stark.  “I think it’s time for a woman president,” says Jill Fantold, who has overcome doubts about Elizabeth Warren’s $12 million net worth and legal fees for advising big corporations.  “I think it will be wonderful for little girls to know they can grow up to be anything they want, except maybe nose tackle for the New England Patriots.”

But her husband Jeff, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and plans to do so again, has a hard time concealing his contempt for his wife’s thinking.  “Jill has been a housewife for a long time, and doesn’t have experience in the real world,” he sniffs.  “Trump is the only candidate who’s willing to talk about the loss of American jobs to the Fourth World.”

needham2

I ask Jeff whether he has misspoken, since the up-by-his-bootstraps-and-his-father’s-real-estate-empire businessman has made immigration and protecting domestic manufacturing jobs with tariffs two of his signature issues.  “That’s sleight-of-hand,” the head of a soap and shampoo distributor says, his voice dropping to a whisper.  “He can’t come right out and say it say it, but if you give a $1,000 to his campaign, you get daily secret updates on the shape-shifting mud lizards who control the world’s economy.”

Where, this reporter asks, can one gain access to the materials he’s referring to in order to verify his claims, and he responds with a snort.  “This is Needham for Christ sake–look out there,” he says, pointing towards the living room picture window where the broadcast tower of Boston’s Channel 5 is plainly visible.  “You can pull in the signals from here using nothing more than a coat hanger and a box of jujubes for resistors.”

It’s not just the right that has gone haywire however, says Ted Flynn, the chief of police who sometimes responds to noise complaints only to find a husband and wife arguing politics.  “Without wanting to violate anybody’s privacy or nothing like that, you might want to talk to the Kaplans over on Sunset Street,” he says, and the couple agrees to an impromptu interview after an introductory phone call.

Art Kaplan and his wife Miriam are both professors at local colleges, and they agree that each other’s political positions are thoughtfully considered, if misguided.  “I’m voting Bernie Sanders, I think he’ll shake things up and make life better for people like us,” Art says, without going into the difficulties any redistribution of wealth would encounter in a democracy where people who disagree with him are entitled to vote.  “What’s the point of voting for an establishment candidate when you’re not part of the establishment?” he asks rhetorically, prompting Miriam–who plans to vote for Socialist candidate Gloria La Riva–to speak up.

needham
Shape-shifting mud lizard (not shown actual size)

 

“Bernie Sanders is no socialist,” she snaps.  “Real socialists kill millions of people, like Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Hitler.”

Art bristles at the last suggestion, but Miriam holds firm in her disdain for the Vermont senator.  “Nazi stands for National Socialist Worker’s Party,” she says.  “If Sanders was really a socialist, he would have invaded New Hampshire years ago.”