The Sylvia Plath Foreclosure Sale

I grew up surrounded by females.  My dad owned a women’s clothing store.  Both of my sisters were girls, and my mom was a woman.  We had two female cats whose names–Big Kitty and Baby Cat–could have been taken straight from a Eudora Welty short story.  As far as I know, the box turtle in the basement was female, too.

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Eudora Welty

As a result, I am uniquely well-equipped to intervene in, and resolve, disputes between women, sometimes referred to colloquially as “catfights.”  At the tender age of twelve, my dad took me to see a night of men’s, women’s and midget wrestling matches.  The truths I absorbed that night, all wide-eyed innocence as the ladies leapt upon each other’s bodies from the ropes, I have put to good use.

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That’s why I am frequently called on to referee the All-Female Poetry Slams that are held around New England as fund-raisers for what A.J. Liebling disparagingly referred to as “the quarterlies,” the high-brow, low-revenue publications that pluck drops of verse from the torrent of poetry that is showered on them, providing them with a brief, mayfly-length existence, before they are recycled at one of the region’s many picturesque do-it-yourself town dumps.

“You’ve got your helmet, right?” my wife asks anxiously as she eyes the bandage on my forehead that covers a three-inch cut I received last weekend when a symbolist poetess smashed a villanelle over my head after I whistled her for a shot-clock violation.

“Yes, dear,” I say sheepishly, like a kid who’s asked if he’s clipped his mittens to his coat sleeves.  It took three stitches to close the wound, and my carelessness will leave a scar that matches one I acquired four decades earlier when my helmet cracked in a freshman football game.

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“Mixed metaphor–3 minute major penalty.”

“I worry about you, okay?” she says, her face a placemat of concern, like June Lockhart’s on Lassie when Timmie announces he’s going upstairs to study for his algebra quiz and doesn’t need his genius collie’s help.

“Just be careful,” she says with a lump in her throat.  “I love you.”

“Love you too,” I say.  We kiss, and I head out the door with my gym bag.

I arrive at the Blacksmith House in Cambridge, one of the rougher venues on the NEPA (Northeast Poetess Association) circuit.  A crowd of black-turtlenecked women and girls mills about outside, smoking French Gauloise-brand cigarettes, “freestyling” with each other.  The losing female–the one who “craps out,” unable to come up with a quatrain after her opponent finishes–often runs off in tears to gorge herself on pastry inside.

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The odds-on favorite.

I move through the crowd with difficulty, as many of the distaff versifiers have gigantic egos and yield only grudgingly.  I squeeze through the front door and notice that two women are already going at it, and the bell hasn’t even rung yet!

“You couldn’t write your way out of a Barnes & Noble bag!” one screams at the other, who has a hand full of beret and is trying to get at her adversary’s hair.

“Ladies, ladies–please,” I say, with more extreme unction than a Catholic priest at a big donor’s dying bedside.  “What’s this all about?”

“She says she was into confessional poetry before me!” the one in the beret says.

“You’re a Ginny-come-lately,” the other hisses.

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The shock of recognition hits me, even though both women have had cosmetic surgery recently.  In the beret is elena gotchko, who’s had the capital letters removed from her name, e. e. cummings-style, since I last saw her.  Her opponent is jean-marie benson, who opted for an Italicized style during a recent fellowship in Rome.  I notice that she’s added a hyphen between her first and middle names and her face is still puffy from the surgery, which has not yet been approved by the FDA.  Even though neither will be eligible to enter the Yale Younger Poets Competition ever again, I have to admit that both are looking great.

“Why don’t we settle this lawyer-style,” I say, “using summary judgment.”

“How does that work?” elena asks.

“You both give me your version of the facts, and I decide solely on the law.”

Okay,” jean-marie says.  “I was into confessional poetry at such a young age I had an Anne Sexton Dream House, with working car running in the garage.”

“Hmm,” I hum.  “elena?”

“That’s nothing,” the lower-case literata fairly spits back.  “When I was a little girl, I had the Sylvia Plath Brown ‘n Serve Toy Oven!”

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I look at the two, trying to conceal my self-satisfied amusement.  “That’s it?” I say.  “That’s the best you’ve got?”

“Well, yeah,” gotchko says.  “I thought that made me–special.”

I can’t help but emit a mirthless little laugh.  “Excuse my frankness,” I say, “but give me a break!”

Others have started to crowd around now, anxious to hear my decision.  “I can beat you both–I handled Sylvia Plath’s foreclosure sale!”

“What?” squawks a forbidding women with a Katherine Hepburn-Main Line Philadelphia accent, and a haughty attitude to match.  It is Professor Natalia Seals-Croft, Head of Women’s Studies at Bryn Mawr.  “Sylvia Plath was never foreclosed on!”

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Hepburn:  “I’m thinking of a poem between 1 and 10.”

“Well, she wasn’t,” I begin, “but the site of one of her poems was.”

I’ve got them eating out of my hand, and it makes me hungry.  “Bring me one of those congo bars, and I’ll tell you the story.”

My blood sugar restored, I launch into my tale.  “Sylvia had a summer job at Lookout Farm, in the suburbs west of Boston.  It was there that she overheard the conversations that she wove into ‘Bitter Strawberries,’ which was published in the Christian Science Monitor.  You can find it on neuroticpoets.com.”

“So?” Seals-Croft asks, one eyebrow making its way up her imposing forehead like a mountain climber with crampons.

“In the 1980’s,” I begin, “the farm had a new owner.  He’d taken on a lot of bank debt to buy the place and was going to try to turn it into a year-round attraction, with llamas the kids could pet and ride, u-pick-em apple harvesting, a butterfly exhibit.  Real estate prices dropped, the bank got nervous, and they started to foreclose.  The owner called me up and I put him into Chapter 11.”

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Lookout Farm:  I’m telling the truth!

“Why didn’t you start at the beginning of the book?” gotchko asks.

“It’s not that kind of chapter,” I explain.  “It’s a court proceeding in which a company is protected from creditors while it attempts to reorganize.”

“There’s a lot of insolvency in Dickens,” benson adds helpfully.

“Right,” I say, then continue.  “Anyway, the guy didn’t have enough cash flow to pay the bank, and people wouldn’t come to the farm until he’d fixed it up, and he couldn’t raise money to do it.  So the bank got permission to foreclose.”

“On the very land that Plath walked on,” gotchko said sadly.  “So what did you do?”

“Everything goes when the whistle blows,” I said, “unless you can find a ‘straw man’–”

“That shouldn’t be too hard on a farm,” benson interjected.

“Not that kind of straw,” I explained.  “Somebody friendly to the owner who’d buy it and maybe sell it back when he could come up with the money.  So while the auctioneer’s rattling off the terms of sale, I launched into a desperate plea.”

“How’d it go?” the woman behind the counter asked.

“I’m glad you asked,” I said.  “Here it is.”

On Lookout Farm, where Plath did write
  I rise to tell you of her plight.
If no one raises up their hand
 The bank will shortly own this land.
Where she picked berries, red and blue
 and where we planned a petting zoo.

The room was silent.  Finally, a young woman in toreador pants and black glasses spoke.  “So–did anybody come through?”

“No,” I had to explain sadly.  “My guy lost it.  Since then the place has gone through two owners, neither of whom knows Sylvia Plath from a lath.”

“What’s a lath?”

“A thin, narrow strip of wood used in building lattices,” I replied, becoming emotional.  “They’ve got laths all over that place.  You’d think they could name one–just one!–the Sylvia Plath Lath–but no.”

I noticed a few tears running down pale cheeks, and the owner came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder.

“Thanks very much for sharing that with us,” she said.  “Would you like a complimentary vanilla latte or something?”

“No thanks,” I said, after I’d calmed down a bit.  “I’ve got promises to keep.  And, uh, miles to go before I sleep.”

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

Scooter & Skipper Learn About the Tea Party

One of the reasons I moved to Massachusetts so long ago–has it really been forty-eight years?–was because my mom instilled a love of American history in me, and New England’s got history like Heinz has pickles. “History so thick you can hit it with a stick!” is the slogan I keep offering to the state Department of Tourism–gratis–but they never take me up on it.

But I’m not going to let bureaucratic indifference keep me from teaching my kids–Scooter who’s 12, and Skipper, two years younger–about the many important events that happened here as we near the Sestercentennial of the Boston Tea Party.

“Why do you like the Tea Party so much, dad?” Skipper asked me as we drove into Boston yesterday on the 248th anniversary of that milestone of American history.

“Because it has something for everybody,” I said as I looked for a parking space along Fort Point Channel, where I took the kids on an educational excursion to the museum dedicated to the Tea Party.  “For conservatives, it’s an anti-tax feast day.”

“Ms. Mangel-Wurzel says the Tea Party is bad,” Scooter said.

“Is she the one who still has the ‘Ready for Hillary!’ bumper sticker on her Prius?”

“Yes,” Scooter replied, and not too enthusiastically. The young woman in question is what Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. referred to as a harpy of the shore in his poem “Old Ironsides.” Sample question from her sixth-grade earth sciences unit: “The year is 2525, the year that pop apocalypse duo Zager and Evans predicted the world would end. Your family has died from: (a) high temperatures caused by global warming, (b) rising tides caused by global warming, (c) killer bees, or (d) Donald J. Trump. Show your work.”

“And what’s my paraphrase of what Santayana said about drips like her?” I asked them.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to screw up the future,” they both replied in a drone-like tone of voice.


Santayana: “That’s NOT what I said!”

 

“Precisely.  I was into The Tea Party before there was a ‘Tea Party’–as anybody who read my ground-breaking 1993 white paper on the subject would know. It was more about government favors to big business–The East India Tea Company–than it was about taxes, just like we have bank bailouts and tax breaks for stadiums for overpaid pro athletes today!”

I could tell from the subdued chatter from the back seat that for some reason they’d lost interest, so I shifted into Hyperspace, as we Star Wars parents like to call the parallel state of existence we enter when we teach our children forbidden truths.

“The Tea Party is also about street theatre,” I said.


“Yay! We can destroy other people’s stuff!”

 

“You mean like the puppet shows that dweeb Drew Conley puts on in his front yard in the summer?” Scooter asked. He has a low opinion of any boy his age who is not an accomplished athlete in one of the four major sports groups.

“Not exactly.  Street theatre means you go out into the world as a performer, and not just as a somebody going about their daily routine.”

“Did they get dressed up?” Skipper asked.

“They sure did, they dressed up as Indians, and . . .”

“Ms. Mangel-Wurzel says you have to say ‘Cowboys and Native Americans.’”

It’s time to level with them. I pull up to the ticket booth at the parking lot and turn around to face them as we wait to enter. “Scooter, how smart do you have to be to teach sixth grade?”

“As smart as a seventh grader,” he replied in a monotone. We’ve been through this before.

“Exactly.  If Ms. Mangel-Wurzel was really smart she’d be an investment banker, making a lot more money than Daddy–okay?”

The guy in the booth tells me it’s $20 to park–a bargain, comparatively speaking, for downtown Boston, because we’re in the rapidly-developing neighborhood known as South Boston, The Seaport District or The Innovation District, depending on what phase of the moon we’re in. Once they decide what to call it rates will be much higher. I hand the man a bill and we drove off to find a space.

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Tea Party Museum

I continued my pedagogical enrichment when we got out of the car. “They weren’t just any costumes either,” I said. “The guys who threw the Tea Party got dressed up in culturally offensive garb so they could pin the blame on a powerless minority. It’s a tradition that’s been kept alive by successive generations of Bostonians–like Charles Stuart.”

“Who’s Charles Stuart?” Skip asked.

“He’s the daddy in the birthing class at Brigham & Women’s Hospital where you guys were born.  He shot his wife and blamed it on an imaginary black man.”

I get the sense that they’re impressed with the elegance of this solution; if you do something really bad, pin it on somebody else!


Charles Stuart

“It wasn’t really a tea party, was it dad?” Scoots asked.

“No, that’s another part of the Tea Party that’s interesting–the name,” I said. “Ironic understatement–the men dumped big wooden boxes of tea in the ocean, but they called it a ‘tea party.” How many other nations on earth have a major historical event with a figurative nickname? Not many, I’ll bet.”

We were almost to the museum, and the kids had a spring in their step at the prospect of history brought alive by underemployed actors and actresses in period costumes, tacky souvenirs and a high salt-high fat lunch.

We bought our tickets–$25 bucks for me, $15 each for the kids–and as my wallet got lighter my sense of responsibility to the boys began to weigh more heavily on me. “I want you guys to pay attention, this experience isn’t cheap!” I said sternly, and as we made our way through the exhibits, I was pleased–and quietly proud–to see that my children were taking history seriously.

“Dad, it says the men met at the Green Dragon Tavern beforehand to plan the Tea Party,” Skipper said.

“That’s right, Skip.  You’ll find as you grow older that when men are on the verge of doing great and serious things, it helps if they drink a lot of beer first.” He nodded quietly, almost reverently.

“Look at this!” Scooter yelled from a few stops up in the exhibit hall. He was examining the text next to the pictures of the men throwing tea overboard. “They opened up the boxes with hatchets to make sure the tea spoiled!” he said, impressed with the attention to detail that went into our nation’s most famous act of vandalism.

“There’s a lesson for you in all of this,” I said to him, as I tousled Skipper’s hair.

“What’s that?” Scooter asked.

I crouch down so I can look them both in the eyes. What I’m about to say is important, and I want to make sure they “get it.” “The thing I want you kids to learn,” I said, “is that if you damage somebody’s property, you can usually get away with it if you do it for a political reason.”

“Like what?” Skip asked.

“Well, the men who ruined the tea were fighting for lower taxes, and against government monopolies–so they’re heroes today. Otherwise they’d just be criminals.”

I can tell from the looks of consternation on their faces that they haven’t quite grasped the concept.

“Did you ever damage somebody’s property dad?” Skipper asked.

“Sure I did. Me and a kid . . .”

“Mom says you’re supposed to say ‘Another boy and I,’” Skip said. He’s the rule-bound, studious one of the two.

“I wish mom would read page 456 of the 1937 edition of The American Language by H.L. Mencken,” I said.


H.L. Mencken

“What’s on that page?” Scooter asked. He’s hoping to get some relief from the hidebound rules of grammar that are enforced with such strictness around our house.

“That it’s perfectly okay to say ‘Me and you should go fishing,’ for example, but you can’t say ‘you and me should go fishing.’ It’s just a question of what usage permits, not some Platonian rule revealed only to English teachers.”

“Cool!” Scoots yelled.

Skipper isn’t fazed; he’s going to stick to what mom says because he knows which side his cracker is peanut buttered on. “You damaged somebody’s property?” he asked, incredulous.


“Does this count towards our final grade?”

“Sure. Wade and I”–I used the first person nominative just to restore his sense of a harmonious universe–“snuck into our Current Events teacher’s back yard and set fire to his woodpile.”

“Why’d you do that?” Skip asked.

I stole a glance at my budding outlaw Scooter, and gave him just a hint of a smile. “Because it was there, silly!” we screamed together at his little brother.

“Oh,” Skipper said with an embarrassed tone, as if he’d missed a question on the times twelve multiplication tables. “So that was . . . okay?”

I could see I’ve fallen short of my duties as a father. “Skip–of course it was wrong. It’s always wrong to destroy somebody else’s property.”

“Oh.”

“Unless you can come up with some high-minded phony-baloney excuse, like the guys in the Tea Party did.”

He’s starting to get it, but he’s not quite there . . . yet.

“Did–you have an excuse?”

“Of course not–because we didn’t get caught,” I say. “If my Current Events teacher had found out who did it, we would have said it was because he stifled our discussion of the Vietnam War–or something–in class. THEN it would have been protected by The First Amendment.”

I could tell from the looks of awe on their faces that they’d grasped the significance of freedom of speech, the cornerstone of our liberty that is subject to heavy regulation–even fines–by the federal government when used in a political campaign. Not sure that’s how it was supposed to work out, but there it is.


Teach your children well: Vandalism is fun!

“Is that why Ms. Mangel-Wurzel hates the Tea Party so much?” Scooter asked.

“No, I think she has a perfectly legitimate reason to dislike them,” I said.

“What’s that?” Skipper asked.

“Well, would you like it if somebody who’s smarter than you and knows more than you said things you disagreed with?”

“No,” Skipper says.

“Well, that’s the position she finds herself in,” I said with a tinge of sympathy.

“Are YOU a member of the Tea Party?” Scooter asked, and I realize my scrupulously dispassionate pox-on-both-your-houses review of the relative merits of the Tea Party and its detractors may have left the kids . . . confused as to where I stand.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

“How come?” Skipper asked.

“I’m a coffee man myself.”

Available in print and Kindle formats from Humor Outcasts Press as part of the collection “Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!”

For One Street Preacher, It Isn’t Christmas Without a Little Hellfire

BOSTON.  In a city with a goodly number of eccentric street people, Jerry O’Reagan still manages to stand out.  “I’ve got a message nobody else has,” the grizzled 66-year-old says as he rings a hand bell to solicit contributions.  “That’s for damn sure,” says an unidentified businessman who drops loose change into O’Reagan’s metal bucket.  “He may be crazy, but he does have a point.”

The un-churched minister’s message is a familiar one–put Christ back into Christmas–and O’Reagan works hard to put it across in a city that, despite its religious roots, is increasingly secular.  “I know I’ll never persuade most of the adults to change their ways,” he says with a rueful pursing of his lips.  “That’s why I go after the kids.”

O’Reagan’s “schtick” as old school stand-up comics would say, is to revise the lyrics to popular non-religious Christmas carols in more sacred terms, and he draws a crowd of toddlers with their mother as he launches into a tune that would normally inspire visions of expensive toys to dance in their heads:

Oh, you better watch out,
you better not cry,
you better not pout,
I’m telling you why–
Jesus Christ is coming to town.

The eldest of the three children gives his mother a look of puzzlement as O’Reagan turns to the “bridge” of the familiar song:

He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows when you’ve been bad or good
So be good or you’ll burn in hell forever.


“Please go away Jerry–you’re killing our business.”

 

Realizing that O’Reagan’s appeal is, to put it mildly, slightly unorthodox, the mother shepherds her kids into Macy’s, where an escalator will take them to meet a Santa who conveys a more conventional message for the season that conforms to his employer’s commercial goals.


“You want a bike?  How about 500 years off your time in Purgatory instead?”

 

“I’m not going to apologize for who I am,” O’Reagan says to this reporter when he stops to take a smoke break, and indeed his personal history does much to explain how he got to be who he is today.  A former altar boy at St. Columbkille’s in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston, he traveled west in 1967 to participate in the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco.  There, he “dropped acid” and his religious training mixed with psychedelic visions to form an apocalyptic world view that mixes early Christian history and Christmas nostalgia, without losing the distinctive character of either.

“Are you excited about Christmas?” he asks a little girl whose dad has given her a dollar to hand to O’Reagan.

“Yes,” she says shyly.

“Make sure mom and dad don’t light a fire on Christmas Eve or Jesus will get burned coming down the chimney.”

“Okay,” she says warily before running back to her father.  “He’s silly,” she says as he takes her in his arms and scurries away at a faster-than-normal pace.

It’s time for the show to begin again, and O’Reagan clears his throat for his next set of songs, kicking it off with a re-purposing of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”:

I saw Mommy cut up her credit cards,
With pinking shears it was pretty simple.
A snip through each, it wasn’t hard–
like Jesus throwing money changers out of the Temple!

Burned by Shoplifters, One Store Turns to a Higher Power

BOSTON.  The Christmas shopping season is in full swing here, and the usual crush of office workers on the streets of Boston is made worse by suburban mothers and children in town to see the “Santa’s Workshop” display in the Clark’s department store window.  But there’s another, more ominous addition to the typical workday crowd–extra security guards, hired to minimize shoplifting losses that can eat away at retailers’ critical December revenues.


Da Sistahs:  “One of the ballers tried to rip this off.”

 

Most wear standard-issue rent-a-cop outfits, but two stand out from the bland crowd; Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea and Sister Mary Clarus, who wear the grey, white and black habits of the Little Sisters of Inventory Loss Control, the only religious order in Christendom whose mission is to protect the narrow profit margins of America’s retailers.

Bob Duffy, Clark’s Director of Security, says he brought the two nuns on board last year after seeing their handiwork across the street at Sheehan’s Church Goods, Boston’s leading provider of religious artifacts and supplies.  “Some kid tried to boost a pack of Upper Deck All-Star Martyrs Trading Cards,” he recalls wistfully.  “The sisters were all over him like a cheap suit.  When he walked in he had the face of an angel, and when they got through with him he looked like he needed Accutane.”


“You hold him–I’ll hit him.”

 

The two got their start as a tag team handling a rough crew of boys who moved through Sacred Heart Grade School in Sedalia, Missouri, like a rat through a snake’s digestive track.  “That gang, they were sent to us from hell,” Sister Mary Clarus recalls with disgust.  “Dick Waljek tried to knock my wimple off one day, and Scotty Lilja drew a picture of St. Agnes in a Speedo for his fifth grade art project.”


“You’ll never take me alive, Sister Joe!”

 

The two moved on from those humble beginnings to work security for Pope John Paul II during his American tour in the fall of 1979.  “There were always groupies and lepers trying to get backstage for blessings after gigs,” says Arimathea, known to those she has collared as “Sister Joe” for her no-nonsense approach, modeled after Sgt. Joe Friday of the “Dragnet” television show.


“Put down the holy water and nobody gets hurt.”

 

The two stand a watchful guard over the Winter Street entrance to the store, leaning back against an Elizabeth Arden bath oil bead display to make themselves inconspicuous.


What do you do with the thick, rubbery skins after the water runs out of the tub?

 

“Our job isn’t to wait until trouble happens,” says Clarus.  “Our job is to stop it before it starts.”  As she finishes, she casts a jaundiced eye at Tiffany Uxbridge, a twenty-something secretary who’s brought her Starbucks peppermint mocha into the store with her.  Sister Joe nods her head, says “Let’s roll,” and the two make a bee-line for the perp.

“Excuse me, young lady,” Clarus says.  She grabs the elbow of the arm that isn’t holding the cup, an incapacitating martial arts hold that she first used on Con Chapman, a second-grade spelling champ, to keep him from a life of crime that was about to begin with the misdemeanor of talking in line during a fire drill.  “Aren’t we forgetting something?” Sister Joe says as she sets a pick directly in front of Uxbridge.


“I’m going to need to see an ID.”

 

“What?” the girl replies, not removing her ear buds.

“Your coffee, dingleberry!” Clarus shouts, growing angry at the woman’s apparent indifference.  “If it don’t say ‘coffee shop’ on the outside, it ain’t a freakin’ coffee shop.”

Some shoppers slow down to stare at the stop-and-frisk that follows, while others give the trio a wide berth, hoping to avoid trouble.


“These are my jeans–I wore them into the store!”

 

Arimathea writes the woman up with a warning and escorts her to the exit.  “Take your damn shopping list to Filene’s,” she says with a sarcastic laugh, referring to a competing department store next door that was demolished.  “Maybe they’ll want your business.”

The two take a turn down to corner, where the store’s back entrance faces a less savory streetscape.  “Isn’t that D’Angelo?” Arimathea says, referring to a young man with low-slung jeans and a flat-brimmed New York Yankees cap.

“The same,” Clarus replies, and like birds flying in formation they fall in behind a dropout from St. Columbkill’s High School in Brighton, a suspect who has eluded the sisters to date.

They watch as he walks through the glass doors, and note a curious departure from his usual manner; he removes his ever-present hat and hands it around the anti-shoplifting device.  “Something’s not right,” Arimathea says, and the two move in for the kill.

“Hel-lo D-Angelo!” Clarus says as she applies her vise-like grip to the man’s elbow.  “Nice to see you doff your hat when you come to visit us.”

“I ain’t done nuthin’,” the man says.  “You can’t arrest me coming in to your store.”

“Why don’t we do an instant replay,” Arimathea says as she steers him back to the entrance.  “Let’s just ‘pass the hat,’” she says as she removes the man’s baseball cap and holds it between the transmitter and receiver antennae of the anti-shoplifting device.

A loud “BLONK” sound is heard, and Clarus brings her 12-inch metal edged ruler down on the thief’s right ear.

“Ow!” he screams and falls to the floor.  Arimathea moves in, slaps handcuffs on the young man and begins to recite his rights.

“You have the right to burn in hell forever,” she says, reading from a plastic card that she pulls from the front marsupial pocket of her habit.  “You have the right to suffer in purgatory until the end of time.  You are not entitled to a lawyer if you can’t afford one.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fun With Nuns.”

Writing Coach Helps Blocked Women Tap Latent Meanness

WELLESLEY, Mass.  Wednesday night in this suburb of Boston finds the house packed at L’Endive, a wine bar where a large rustic pine table is surrounded by a group of five women, all would-be writers and all apparently having a wonderful time.

“It is so great to get together and talk about each other’s work,” says Sue Casagrande, who’s been writing a torrid Viking romance novel for “way too long,” according to her own self-deprecatory assessment.

The women are just about to order another bottle of Kendall Jackson chardonnay when a brooding presence appears at their table; a man dressed in black t-shirt, jeans and blazer, the standard-issue uniform of the professional writer, with a look of disgust on his face.

“Susan,” he says menacingly, as if he’s a husband who’s caught a cheating wife in a discreet liaison with another man.  “I thought I made myself clear about this sort of thing.”


“I love you more than sacking wussy French cities like ‘Cologne.’”

Casagrande gulps and her face turns a light red as she blushes with embarrassment.  “You’re right, we did,” she says weakly as she drops her phone in her purse, puts some money on the table and prepares to leave her friends.  “I’m sorry,” she announces to the table at large.  “My writing coach is here and . . . I’m not supposed to be.”

“I’m sure you lovely ladies understand,” says Neil Dormunder, author of over twenty Civil War potboilers that typically feature a doomed love affair between a New England abolitionist bluestocking and a dashing Confederate soldier.  “Sue isn’t going to get anywhere wasting her time fraternin–I mean, sororitizing with you.”

And with that Dormunder escorts Casagrande to the bar, where he plunks her down in a seat between two eligible divorcees who scoot their stools aside to make room for her.  “You’re pissing away your talent being sociable,” he says through gritted teeth.  “Either stare sullenly ahead and ignore these overgrown yuppies or throw yourself into a foolish affair that will break up your happy home, but do not spend another second of your time being nice to another female writer.”


Dormunder:  “When Chloe asks you what you think of her sestina, you say ‘Crap.’”

“Okay,” she says with a sniffle, and Dormunder signals to the bartender to bring her a fresh glass of wine.  “Keep ‘em coming” he says as he throws some bills down and turns to leave.

Dormunder is one of a new breed of “tough love” male writing instructors who help female writers get over blocks by coaching them to be more selfish and egotistical–”Like men,” he says with a sardonic laugh.  “89% of writers’ groups are all-female, and 97% of them never produce anything that is sold,” he says with disdain.  When this reporter asks him where he got his figures he says “Blow it out your ass” by way of explanation.


“You told Veronica her poem was ‘luminous’–you’re just enabling her!”

Another practitioner of the manly art of herding female writers is Floyd J. Miller, who supplements his income as author of 47 e-books featuring hard-boiled private eye Dick Floodlight by teaching group seminars in crawling ruthlessly over the backs of your peers.  “It’s a proven fact that women are too nice, always ‘helping’ and ‘encouraging’ each other’s work,” he says as he makes finger quotes of scorn in the air.  “What you need to do is make such brutally cutting remarks about your weaker sisters’ work that you drive them from the market and shrink the slush pile.”


Flannery O’Connor: Hated “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Miller rattles off a list of noteworthy female writers who were tough as nails on their sister writers and rose to the top without a caring instinct in their bodies.  “Flannery O’Connor, Mary McCarthy, Dorothy Parker–do you think any of them ever said anything nice about a female competitor’s work to ‘encourage’ her?” he snaps.  “You’ve got to be like Faulkner–aloof and scornful–or Hemingway, punching out competitors.”

Sometimes the intense focus of the new mode of instruction causes a student to break down in tears, a sign of weakness that Miller has no patience for.  “Oh excuse me,” he barks at a thirty-something woman who says he’s being too mean to Ariel Sundstrom, a “flarf” poetess he caught smiling and laughing during a mandatory smoke break.  “I thought you were here to be a writer, instead of what you are, which is an overgrown cheerleader.”

As Folk Music Returns to Roots, Some Try to Bury Them

ACTON, Mass.  It’s Folk Music Night at The Den of Antiquity, a coffeehouse in  the basement of an Episcopal Church here that serves as a meeting place for  those whose tastes are offended by the thumping bass beats and loudspeakers to  be found in local bars.  “Folk music aficionados are more genuine than lounge lizards,” says Rev. Norbert Stowe, who is manager of the club by virtue  of his status as pastor.  “Instead of a meat-market atmosphere, we promise a more  tofu-like experience.”


” . . . and Jim is sleeping with Jerry’s  wife.”

Part of the passion for sincerity that is embedded in the club’s mission  statement is a commitment to original music that faithfully depicts the lives of  everyday people in the area.  “I think we’d be doing our patrons a disservice if  all they heard when they came here was ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘The Whistling Gypsy  Rover,’” Stowe says.  “We carefully vet our acts to make sure the mirror they  hold up to life doesn’t present a mere reflection of the past.”


“. . . and so vote NO on Proposition  2-0!”

As a result, featured acts take a page from the happenings around them in the  area, much as the wandering minstrels of days gone-by would work true stories of  love affairs and killings into their lays.  “People have forgotten that folk  music comes from real folk,” says Ted Dwynar, tonight’s opening act, as he tunes  his guitar.  “You’ve got to use the material of your own life if you want to  keep it fresh.”


“That lousy bitch was such a phony/I stopped  paying alimony.”

Dwynar’s opening number is a rousing anthem on a political issue that has no reverberations beyond the town’s borders, an upcoming vote on a bond issue that would finally, after 300 years of doing without, finance a sewer system for  residents who currently rely on septic tanks or cesspools.  “It’s gonna  raise our taxes quite a bit, and only for to haul away our . . . poop,” he  says with a smile in a nod to the church’s no-profanity policy.  The audience is  evenly divided between those in favor and those opposed to the measure, but they put aside their differences with a bi-partisan round of applause when the song  comes to an end.

Next Dwynar turns to a song of a love gone wrong, specifically, his first  marriage.  “Violet was into shells and sea anemones, now I deal with her lawyer ’cause she’s the enemy,” he sings, and a few grey-haired widows in  the crowd try to catch his eye to signal their availability.

Next up is Basil Sheed, a banjo-picker with a self-produced EP to his credit,  who is known for his detailed slice-of-life songs that, in his words, “peel back  the shrink wrap from the little hermetically-sealed packages our daily lives have become.”  “O, the Daisy Chain goes round and round, sparking gossip  round the town,” he begins, then settles in for a series of verses that  detail the various infidelities he’s aware of.  “Jim is sleeping with  Jerry’s wife, keeps her moanin’ through the night,” he sings.  “Sandy  likes the way Bob spanks, when he’s done she gives him thanks.


“Good song.  I didn’t realize you were boinking my  wife until the last verse.”

Stowe grows concerned that Sheed is coming dangerously close to a violation  of the group’s policy of not giving needless offense to any living animal,  vegetable or mineral, and rises from his spot at the card table near the entrance in order to act swiftly if he goes over the line.

When a preacher comes to visit your spouse, you better make sure you’re  in the house,” he sings, but before he can get the next line out of his  mouth Stowe cuts him off with a curt “Thank you very much Basil,” and grabs the  microphone.  “There’s congo bars and mulled cider over in the Snack  Shack.”

The Old Curmudgeon Has a Lesbian Thanksgiving

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, so?”

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


Try the prime rib of lentil.

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

“Really?  Like a head cold?”

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

“What’s a ‘LUG’?” Bink asked.

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

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

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

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

“But there’s a chance?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sappho

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

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

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

“Who’s she?”

“Only the Queen of the Blues.”

“Never heard of her.”

“She used to swing both ways.”


Ma Rainey

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

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

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


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

“And then there’s Alberta Hunter.”

“Don’t believe I know her.”

“For my money,” I began.

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

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


Alberta Hunter

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

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

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

“Well, there’s Bessie Smith.”

“She royalty too?”

“The Empress of the Blues.”

“What did she sing?”

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

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

Image result for bryn mawr undergrad

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

“Um hmm . . . ” I hummed.

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

“Oh yeah!”

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

“Sing it, brother!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kanye Fumes as Fed Chair Nominated for Second Term

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

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


“Take that, inflation!”

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


Martin: Party animal.

 

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


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

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

Guide Dogs Help Color-Blind Avoid Tragic Fashion Mistakes

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

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

dog3
“Check for mark-downs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Hear the Voices of Angels

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


“Hold on–I’m comin’!”

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

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

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

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

“Why’s that?”

“You know William Blake?”

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

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

“But I was a phototypesetter.”

“I don’t think it matters.”

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

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

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


Spooky hayfield!

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

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

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

“So you’re saying I’m going crazy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Actual, unretouched photo of Jesus debris at town dump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just get in the car, would you?”

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

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

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

“What is that, nylon?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So does everybody,” I said.

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t do it,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

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

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