A deer crashed into a liquor store in Weymouth, Mass., breaking a $205 limited edition bottle of beer, cocktail glasses and high-end liquors, causing damage estimated at $3,000 before sprinting out the front door.
The Boston Globe
“Arent’ you cute?” Yer damned right I’m cute, lady, but what I need now isn’t a handful of sunflower seeds. I need to get some beer.
I am getting sick and tired of all the human encroachments on my territory I have to live with every day. I tell ya, it’s driving me to drink. It’s time to take the battle to the enemy’s front door.
I wouldn’t mind if nature could produce snacks as good as humans get–but no. While I’m cracking my incisors on acorns and choking on scrub pine bark, stupid humans get honey-roasted peanuts, cheese-coated popcorn, blue corn chips. I can forage for days without ever seeing an ear of blue corn!
Let’s see, the closest packy [Editor’s note: New England slang for “liquor store.”] is probably in Weymouth. Can’t get any beer in Hingham–they’re afraid it will encourage the lawn guys to stay in town after they’re finished manicuring the holly and the ivy. Only malbecs and chardonnays. No butter in the grocery stores there. People complained it didn’t melt in their mouths.
Ah–here we go. Quik Pik Liquor–no muss, no fuss. No snooty “in-store sommelier” to ask me what vintage I’m looking for. “Bud Light 2013–I hear it was the best year of the 21st century!”
Whoa, sorry about that. Didn’t mean to knock over the display. How much do I owe you for that Sam Adams? $205! Are you freaking kidding me? For two hundred dollars I’d want a lap dancer to serve it to me. How can a bottle of beer cost $205?
Oh–it’s a “limited release Utopia.” Well, ex-cuuuuuse me! Here’s what I think of your flipping fruitcake beer. Yeah–how do you like them road apples? Like I give two shits about your “high-end cocktail glasses.” Maybe next time you’ll treat wildlife with the proper respect.
You talkin’ to me? You wanna go? You feel froggy just leap, pal. Why don’t I just . . . ram my head against the single-malt scotch rack? That’ll set you back about two years’ profits. Yeah, I know the high-margin stuff when I see it. Or how about some of this vodka? It’s all the freaking same–neutral grain spirits!–but somehow or other by brand differentiation and marketing you talk the best upper sets into paying ten times what they should for booze made from . . . potatoes.
What did you call me? Bambi? Ok, now you’ve gone and done it. Don’t you ever call me Bambi, understand? Or I might get really mad.
And try and pay by check.
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”
Venezuela has sponsored a ballet about Hugo Chavez, depicting the late dictator as a boy selling sweets known as “spiders” on the streets, giving up his dream of becoming a professional baseball player, and dancing against the background of riots in 1989, in which several hundred people died.
Today is the audition for “A Yugo for Hugo,” the only authorized ballet about our late lamented President for Life Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias! (Try saying that five times fast!) I have good feelings that I will win a starring role as I have been boning up on the evolution of the Great Leader’s thought, the aptly named “Chavismo,” a heady mixture of Bolivarianism and Socialism with a dash of cumin, baked at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes. Technical skills are not so important in the ballet of the people, so my career–which had been stalled by capitalist imperialist prima ballerinas who cared only for themselves–has new life! Me, I care lots about the poor of Caracas, as long as they keep their distance and don’t cough on me.
Must go now–poverty declined dramatically under the Great Leader but still the entire corps de ballet must share a single chile pepper for dinner. The Minister of Dance says hunger keeps us thin as ballerinas should be, but I want to get there in time to take the first bite.
Remember–George H. W. Bush is a donkey, it’s his son “W” who is the devil. This could be worth ten points on a Socialist Thought pop quiz.
“But wait–there’s more!”
I wish we did not have to read Noam Chomsky, the favorite intellectual of President Chavez. He makes the self-evident impenetrable, and has a paranoid streak that makes Oliver Stone look like something out of Family Circus! Oh well, if it makes me a better dancer.
Do they realize that Chomsky is an anti-Catholic from boyhood, while Fearless Leader Hugo maintained his faith–just in case–in the world’s most popular (although perhaps misguided!) religion to his dying day?
I guess not. Tonight’s reading assignment: Syntactic Structures–bo-ring!
My Little Paper Friend-
I have been cast in the pas de trois de double play, a tricky combination (second position to shortstop to first) which reveals how President Chavez felt when forced to give up his dream of playing in the major leagues and making mucho Yanqui dollars–so sad! I am not sure I am capable of conveying the emotions that this role calls for. It cannot have been easy to leave a life of unlimited money, a wide choice of women who want to have your baby and cool red, yellow and blue outfits that make you look like a walking loaf of Wonder Bread for a life of unlimited power, a wide choice of women who want to have your baby and cool red, yellow and blue outfits that make you look like a walking loaf of Wonder Bread.
They are re-writing the script to work in the bold Shortstop Embargo of 2004, when Dear Leader Chavez stood up to the Yanquis of Nuevo Yorquos and other capitalist provinces and said no, no more will you take the fruit of our nation to work in your infields! We will nationalize your scouts if they dare to come here again with their lousy “signing bonuses” and “guaranteed money.” Pah!
On the other hand, the gringos brought many hot dog rolls with them that American pigeons had rejected as stale. Sure could go for one right about this month.
“He wore a razz-berry beret . . .”
I sense envy on the part of Maria Enriqueta during rehearsals. She says I do not possess the classical ballet body that accurately reflects food shortgages. Perhaps I am just a bit quicker on the draw when the weekly pinto bean is carved up to make dinner for twenty!
“There’s a riot goin’ on!”
Tomorrow is opening night-please do not wish for me to break one of my legs!
O Dearest Diary-
The leit-motif of rising oil prices captivated the audience, while the counterpoint of Supreme Leader Chavez giving away home heating oil to the People’s Republic of Massachusetts to further the political career of a Kennedy underscored his continual ability to outfox the Yanqui oppressors!
I think–at least that’s what they told us to think. They say the Citgo sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square has brainwashed the fans of the Medias Rojas (Socks of Red) into thinking such tripe too.
I hear that our neighbors in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile have something we don’t.
Tell me Diary–what is this thing called a “standard of living.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Dance Fever.”
Summer’s mid-point is fast approaching, and signs of boredom are visible in the demeanor of our two boys, Scooter and Skipper. Instead of riding their bikes to the corner store to buy baseball cards with money they cadge off their dad, they’ve taken to staying indoors in the air conditioning in a state of blissed-out electronically-induced torpor. Time for a little parental discipline, even if the parent in question–me–is incapable of much discipline himself.
“It’s too early in the summer for you two to be lying around like slugs in a hubcap of beer,” I say, harkening back to a favorite quasi-educational activity of my youth. “You shouldn’t be bored out of your minds for another two weeks.”
“It’s too hot,” Scooter, the older of the two at twelve says. I check the temperature on my phone and see that it’s 90 degrees. If that were Celsius I could understand, but it’s only Fahrenheit.
“You kids must have inherited your mother’s upstate New York blood,” I say, referring to the woman I love, who carries a battery-powered pocket fan with her where’er she goes. “Ninety degrees isn’t hot hot.”
“We could get cancer from the sun,” Skipper, our ten-year-old whines.
“I don’t seem to recall getting cancer when I was your age, but if you’re going to stay inside you need an activity.”
“Do we have to?” Scooter groans.
“I think you’re going to like what I have in mind,” I say, whetting their appetites. By family tradition they’re entitled to a blood sugar-raising treat in the middle of the afternoon, so they don’t start beating each other up.
“What is it?” Skipper asks.
“Marshmallows!” I reply, and they both shout “Yay!” just like I used to do when I was a boy and earned a neato-keeno prize for . . . actually, I never did earn any prizes.
“We’ll turn it into a club,” I say.
“What kind of club?” Scooter asks. Whatever kind it is, he’ll want to be President.
“A delayed gratification club.”
“What’s ‘delayed grati-fi-ca-tion’?” Skipper asks, mincing the word out in hesitant syllables.
“Delayed gratification is when you put off something good in the present, so you can have more of it in the future,” I say.
“So . . . are we going to do this right now, or later?” Scooter asks.
“A little of both,” I say as I take a bag of marshmallows out of a hermetically-sealed metal canister my wife uses to keep them fresh. I’m careful not to disturb the hermit at the bottom, he’ll be coming out mid-to-late August for his annual haircut.
“Now, the way this works,” I begin, “is I put one in front of you, like this,” I say, placing one (1) plump standard-size marshmallow down on the table before them both. “It’s up to you whether you want to eat it now or . . . hey, stop!” I’m forced to interject as Skipper has his candy in his mouth before I’ve laid out the rules of the game.
“But you said we were gonna get a marshmallow,” he says, on the verge of tears now that it’s clear I’ve gulled him.
“I didn’t say you weren’t going to get one,” I say, pouring oil on the troubled waters of his sense of injustice. “I’m going to give you a choice. You can have one marshmallow now, or if you wait fifteen minutes, you can have two.”
“That’s stupid,” Scooter says.
“No it’s not,” I say. “If you can delay your gratification for that long, it shows you’ll be successful in later life according to a famous experiment.”
The little wheels in their brains start to turn. Their faces take on the look of card sharks at the World Series of Poker; eyes narrowed to grim little slits, lips pursed. “Well, I’m going to leave you two to your will power. See you in . . . fifteen minutes,” I say as I leave the room.
It’s one of the many times I wish I had a two-way mirror so I could watch the boys undetected, but all I can do is wait. You have no idea how slowly time can move when you’re trying to replicate a dubious psychology experiment on your sons. Not as slow as it goes when you’re watching a Little League game go into extra innings, or when you’re waiting for your girlfriend to get her period in high school, but still–very slowly.
I check Twitter, email, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Netscape, AltaVista, aol.com, Yahoo, Pets.com and Internet Explorer to kill time. When I’ve run out of failed internet companies, I check my watch and with thirty seconds to go, return to the laboratory.
I knock softly before entering, then push the door open to find–to my great disappointment–that there are two boys, but no marshmallows. I mean, I’m not disappointed there are two boys, just that they ate their marshmallows.
“This isn’t good, guys,” I say, shaking my head.
“Yes they were!” Skipper exclaims.
“No, I mean it doesn’t bode well for your future. According to the non-replicable results of the experiment, your inability to delay gratification for fifteen measly minutes means you’ll probably end up unemployed members of the underclass, abusing opioids, failing to complete twelfth grade, sleeping on heating grates, suffering from heartbreak of psoriasis and otherwise disappointing me and mom.”
“Maybe you, but not mom,” Skipper snaps.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because your experiment is dumb,” Scooter says.
“No it’s not. Some very smart people at Leland Stanford Junior University devised it.”
“Well, then they were dumb,” Skipper says, “because mom always lets us have three marshmallows anyway, so why should we hold out for just two?”
Dawn breaks on Marblehead, as we say here in Massachusetts.
“Sorry guys,” I say, shaking my head, unable to keep from laughing at myself. “I forgot about grade inflation.”
SOMERVILLE, Mass. When this suburb of Boston decided to become a “sister city” with Pamplona, Spain a decade ago, few realized what it would mean for the many cat-owners who live here.
“We have cats the way some cities have cockroaches,” says city animal officer Hardy Michaels. “There are more apartment dwellers here per capita than any city in Massachusetts, so we have more cats. Also a lot of goldfish, but they don’t get out as much.”
Running of the idiots . . . er, bulls, Pamplona, Spain
Pamplona is the site of the annual running of the bulls made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises,” however, and when officials from the Spanish sister city visited Somerville in 1998, they asked why there was no counterpart to their annual San Fermin festival, generally regarded as the world’s leading manifestation of innate male stupidity.
“Frankly, we were caught off guard,” says Elinor Harrity, who chaired the Committee on International Relations that the City Council set up because they found the topic of sewers boring. “We improvised to show our Spanish compadres that we meant them no disrespect, and the running of the cats was born.”
All able-bodied males take to the streets of Somerville today while their Spanish counterparts participate in the San Fermin festival. There are eight scheduled runs before a pack of cats that have been fed only dry food and water for a week, whetting their appetite. “It is a sign of your manhood to risk your life running before the jaws and claws of the hungry cats,” says Andrew Benis, a freelance photographer who recently broke up with his girlfriend of six years. “Women admire a brave man, but what’s the point if you get trampled to death by a bull before you can score?”
Last year, two men were admitted to Mt. Auburn Hospital with claw scratches on their calves and small puncture wounds on their hands that they suffered when they were bitten as they tried to remove attacking cats from their legs. “You see your whole life flash before you when those cats come tearing around a street corner,” says George VandeKamp, who works in a used record store. “Of course, if your life is mainly beer, pizza and beating off like mine, that’s not such a big deal.”
Because of its density, city officials say they would never issue a permit for a running of the bulls here, not that such an event is very likely. “It’s pretty rare to see a bull around here,” says Assistant Chief of Police Dan Hampy, “although you hear a ton of it any time you walk into a bar.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”
NEEDHAM, Massachusetts. Josh and Ginnie Nostrum are self-confessed “foodies,” traveling twenty miles or more every Saturday night seeking the latest in culinary excitement. “We like to be able to tell our friends we tasted a new fad before they did,” Ginnie says with a guilty laugh at the couple’s one-upsman-and-woman-ship. “You should have seen the look on Lydia Sperkle’s face when I asked if she’d ever had deep-fried yak.”
But with the continual search for thrills through expensive dinners comes, eventually, exhaustion. “We were just about burned out about this time last summer,” says Josh as he pulls into a parking space outside L’Endive in this western suburb of Boston. “Then we discovered Sister Joe, and we’re excited about eating again.”
The woman with the unusual name isn’t a celebrity chef, of which this region has plenty, but rather a more humble restaurateur. Sister Joseph Arimathea is a member of the Little Sisters of the Frozen Quiche, a religious order whose mission is to ensure that no food is ever wasted, and she stands guard over every morsel that goes uneaten in her establishment, just as she did for forty years in the cafeteria at Sacred Heart Grade School.
“I don’t care if she didn’t like it,” the grey-habited nun says as she looks at a half-eaten serving of noisettes du porc that she intercepted just as it was about to be scraped into the garbage. “She’s going to finish it or burn in Purgatory until the end of time.” With a peremptory air Sister Joe snatches the plate from the busboy and heads over to a table of four, where Mimi Desaulniers has foregone the last few bites of her entrée to “save room for dessert,” a crème brûlée that she views as her well-deserved reward after chauffeuring three children around to summer camps all week.
“Excuse me, missy,” Sister Joe says with a sarcastic tone she has honed over the years.
“Yes?” Desaulniers asks innocently, as this is her first time sampling “guilt-infused” cuisine.
“Did you honestly think you could hide this behind a parsley garnish?”
“Well,” Desaulniers begins, but the nun cuts her off. “Bartimaeus is the blind guy in the Bible, not Joseph of Arimathea, so you’re not sneaking this past me.” With that the nun drops the plate on the table with a bang, sending a frisson up the spines of jaded palates around the room more used to sending unsatisfactory dishes back to the kitchen than being bossed around like a rented mule by a woman who took vows of poverty and chastity.
“Foods infused with vodka and other liquors were very fashionable for awhile,” says Emil Nostrand, editor of Gourmand magazine. “Sister Joe and her cordon of nefarious henchwomen are the first to infuse their dishes with Catholic guilt, which is a hot spice that is very popular in Latin countries.”
Restaurant consultants are skeptical that the business model of L’Endive can be replicated apart from the celebrity nun who devised it, but Sister Joe thinks otherwise. “Who gives a rat’s patootie what a bunch of ‘experts’ thinks,” she says as she makes finger-quotes of scorn in the air. “A little self-flagellation never hurt anybody.”
It’s almost as if Starbucks, the ubiquitous purveyor of high-end coffee products, wants to drive customers away.
The uproar over the racially-charged arrest of two men for loitering at a Philadelphia Starbucks was barely two months old when an unnamed company employee in the same city decided to make fun of a customer who stuttered as he placed his order the other day, saying “Okay S-S-Sam,” then writing his name as “S-S-SAM” on his cup. Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, but it’s also the town where Eagles fans booed Santa Claus.
Starbucks’ mission, you’ll be charmed to know, is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Except for blacks and people with speech impediments, I guess.
The subject is of more than passing interest to me because, like former Vice President Biden, basketball announcer Bill Walton and other notable public figures, I stuttered from childhood until early adulthood.
“Stuttering” is the short-hand term used to describe verbal non-fluency in a variety of forms, including involuntary repetitions of sounds, blockages and abnormal hesitations before speaking. The disability has both physical and psychological aspects. The stuttering speaker is unable to reproduce a sound in one context, even though he (and stutterers are overwhelmingly male) can in others, through singing, adopting an accent, taking on the voice of a character, or speaking to a pet. The inability to speak leads to low-self esteem, self-imposed isolation and anxiety, which makes it more likely that the stutterer will face new speech situations with heightened tension, leading to even more stuttering, heartbreak of psoriasis, and yellow waxy build-up.
The world of speech impediments has been comprehensively covered by Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes cartoons, where no character is singled out for obloquy. Porky Pig stutters, Daffy Duck has a tongue thrust, Elmer Fudd has rhotacism. In the world of Looney Tunes, you’re weird if you don’t have a speech impediment.
Each form of speech impediment has psychological or cultural overtones, which are usually wrong. Lispers are supposed to be effeminate, but Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education, lisped, and he played pro basketball in Australia. I’m pretty sure he could post me up. Stuttering is associated with neurosis and other forms of psychological anxiety, but there’s no mellower dude in the world than Bill Walton.
Speech impediments are handicaps that get you nothing. You don’t get to park in the convenient spaces near the mall entrance.
You don’t get to take your pets into restaurants, even though as a stutterer this would help your fluency. I know–just last week I tried to take my two cats, Rocco and Okie, into a fancy French restaurant, leading to the following exchange:
MAITRE D’: Good evening–welcome to L’Endive. How many in your party?
ME: Three–me and my two cats.
MAITRE D’: I’m sorry sir, but we do not allow patrons to bring their pets into zee restaurant.
OKIE: What about that guy with the white cane? You let him bring his dog in.
MAITRE D’: He is blind, thees ees a seeing-eye dog.
OKIE: Well, we’re speaking-mouth cats.
ROCCO: Yeah–that’s discrimination!
OKIE: Let’s blow this pop stand!
Stuttering generally manifests itself in early childhood, and usually in children of above-average intelligence (I make no claims for myself here). There is probably a link between these two factors; all children pass through a period of non-fluency (significantly, perhaps, during the toilet training years) and a child who speaks earlier than usual will typically encounter more problems than one whose power of speech manifests itself on a normal schedule.
Add to this situation a concerned parent, who is at first excited that his or her child is precocious, then anxious when non-fluency is heard. Parental anxiety is communicated to the child through both express means–intervention by doctors and speech therapists–and non-verbal cues; the concerned look on the mother’s face that a child sees whenever he or she tries to speak. In cultures that do not demonstrate a high level of concern for early mastery of speech, stuttering is rare; for example, a number of Native American tribes have no word to describe stuttering in their language, and no stuttering among them.
Stuttering is, as the Starbucks’ employee’s mockery of the customer makes clear, the one disability that can be mocked with impunity. There’s the movie A Fish Called Wanda; there’s Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which suggests that the problem of stuttering can be cured if the victim gets laid (if only!). For those of you keeping score at home, the last sympathetic depiction of a stutterer in a work of art is probably Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, written in 1886 (and subsequently the basis of an opera by Benjamin Britten). That’s right–it’s been all downhill for the last 132 years.
The list of stutterers who overcome or simply ignore their impediment and become successful is long and distinguished. Politicians from the mundane (Biden comes to mind) to the heroic–Winston Churchill. Athletes such as former pro basketball player Ron Harper to the Philadelphia Eagles’ Darren Sproles. Three of my favorite artists–musician Bill Withers, poet Philip Larkin, and master storyteller Jorge Luis Borges–all are or were stutterers.
In one of the more baroque ironies of this curious phenomenon, Floyd Abrams, the greatest First Amendment litigator of our time, stutters (according to a former partner of his whom I know); that’s right, the nation’s leading advocate for free speech can’t speak freely himself–outside the courtroom. Once he’s before a judge, however, he becomes totally fluent, or at least as fluent as anyone can be when they’re being grilled by somebody in a black robe.
As much as one may want to be sympathetic to a stuttering friend or acquaintance, at some point impatience and even exasperation can set in. A friend of mine who lived in the same town on the North Shore of Boston as novelist John Updike, a lifelong stutterer, said that while he admired the man’s writing, he hated to get stuck in line behind him at the dry cleaners.
I consider myself cured of stuttering since the age of 25 through a self-developed program of relaxation, yoga, self-hypnosis and general health maintenance. At the end of a long week I can find myself regressing into abnormal levels of non-fluency, and have to remind myself that rest, relaxation and meditation are called for, but for the most part the situations that caused me so much difficulty growing up–talking on the phone, speaking in public–are no longer occasions for angst.
All former stutterers have our moments of anxiety, however. Mine usually comes in a noisy and busy public place as I approach a counter after standing in line, thinking about a retail order and the words I’ll have to say to place it. A morning coffee purchase, for example, amid the cacophony of chatter around me, facing the prospect of an indifferent, even hostile barista once I reach the cash register. In other words, a place such as Starbucks.
In these situations, I do a mental inventory of the crutches stutterers use, trying to find a way to get through what for most people in line is a non-event. I can’t use a substitute word–stutterers are known for their large vocabularies, an essential tool since you may block on a word and need a synonym–or I won’t get what I want. I can’t sing my order to her without embarrassment, and I don’t have my cats with me. The only option left is for me to assume the voice of a character, so it isn’t me who’s speaking, it’s Tony “The Icepick” Gravano, my Mafia hit man alter-personality. My turn comes, I’m asked what I want, and I reply in a steely voice designed to strike fear in the heart of the young woman with the tattoos and the tongue stud.
“You gonna give me a freakin’ grande, no-whip mocha,” I say in a menacing voice, “or am I gonna have to blow you a new bodily orifice?”
You better believe I don’t get no C-C-CON on my cup after that.