For “Daughters of Brady Bunch,” Inter-Sister Strife is Rife

OUIMET, Mass.  Eve Walz and Caroline Mack are sisters whose lives would appear to be devoid of major problems; both are happily married with healthy, well-adjusted children and live in upscale suburbs where the most troubling incident to appear in the local newspaper’s police report is rarely more serious than a raccoon sighting at the town swimming pool.  “I don’t know what it is,” says Roger Walz, the husband of Eve, the elder of the two.  “They’re both happy when they’re apart, but they start hissing at each other after five minutes when we get together as families.”


Jan and Marcia Brady

The problem got so bad that Clint Mack, Caroline’s husband, asked his primary care physician to recommend a psychologist to analyze the situation, and Dr. Michael McAfee was called in to consult with the two families.  “Easiest co-pay I ever earned,” McAfee tells this reporter.  “I asked what the age range of the women was, and when I heard they were two years apart and in their early 60s, I knew what the problem was.”

McAfee diagnosed the cause of the frequent conflicts as Jan and Marcia Brady Syndrome, an intra-family malady that afflicts female siblings who grew up watching The Brady Bunch, a television program that aired from 1969 to 1974 and which frequently pitted attractive and popular Marcia Brady against her insecure, be-freckled younger sister, Jan.

“Just as schizophrenia is less an individual mental illness than the product of familial conflict, Jan and Marcia Brady Syndrome can only be addressed by treating both sisters, and not just one,” McAfee says as he fast forwards through episodes of the popular series, which produced a number of reunion films and spin-offs including The Brady Girls Get Married, A Very Brady Christmas, The Brady Bunch News Hour and Texas Rattlesnake Hunt with Jan and Marcia Brady.


In happier times.

Victims of Jan and Marcia Brady Syndrome exhibits symptoms that include narcissism in the elder sister and depression in the younger.  Inter-sister sniping often includes catch-phrases from the series itself, as when Eve Walz says “Sure, Jan” to Caroline Mack’s claim that her daughter is applying to nearby Wellesley College, and Caroline responds with “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” when her husband innocently compliments Eve’s outfit at a family get-together.

The evening ends with a truce as the two sisters “agree to disagree” on whose children’s school system is better, whether soccer is harmful to girls’ knees, and if the United States got a “raw deal” when the War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent.

“We’ll have to do this again real soon,” Roger Walz says to Clint Mack in the restaurant’s parking lot.

“Yeah,” cracks Eve.  “Like, Christmas 2025.”

Summer Party Advice, From Father to Son

We were sitting outside, enjoying a clear night after a spring of constant rain, when my wife told me that our eldest son was going to Martha’s Vineyard with friends for the Fourth of July.

“You’ll talk to him, right?” she asked nervously.

“Absolutely,” I said. “I was young and twenty once/and did things that befit a dunce.”

“I wish you wouldn’t recite poetry when I’m trying to be serious.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and I sorta meant it. “But when poetry chances to hit my ear/I recite it aloud, for all to hear.”

He was out on the driveway, practicing his lacrosse shots. I sauntered out, gin-and-tonic in hand, warming up to my best fatherly-advice tone.

“Hey there,” I said. “Off to the Vineyard, are we?”

“Yep,” he said, as he continued to whip shots at the goal. At his age, filial piety is best expressed by ignoring his parents.

“You’ll remember some of the things I told you when you came home . . . inebriated a while back?”

“I know,” he replied impatiently. “Whiskey on beer, never fear.”

“You’ve got it backwards. It’s ‘Beer on whiskey, never risky.’ And ‘Never mix, never worry.’”


Sandy Dennis, in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

“Who said that again?” he asked. Maybe I had gotten through to him–if only just a little–when we spoke before.

“Sandy Dennis, in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’.”

“Right, right,” he said dismissively, and went back to shooting.

“It’s important,” I said, returning to my theme of responsibility.

“It’s no big deal,” he said.

“Yes it is. I see so many young men your age making tragic fashion mistakes.”

“What?”

I got right up in his face. “Madras shorts with those candy-ass Brooks Brothers shirts? If you wear stripes with plaids, you’ll look like a TV test pattern.”

That sobered him up a bit. “Maybe you’re right dad,” he said, with a serious tone. “Even though I don’t know what a TV test pattern is since I grew up with cable, I sure as hell don’t want to look like one.”

“Attaboy,” I said as I tousled his hair. We heard a horn honk out front.

“That’s Will,” my son said. “I gotta go.”

“Okay,” I said. “But I want to talk to him.”

We made our way to the front driveway where I saw a carful of boys, energized with youthful high spirits.

“Whut up, dawgs?” I said in a cheerful tone. If you want to communicate with kids these days it helps to know the latest in “hip-hop” slang.

“Hi, Mr. Chapman,” Will, the driver said. “Whut up wif you?”

I approached the car and put my hands on the driver’s side door. I gave Will my best look of grave concern. “You’re going to be cautious–right?” I asked with an upraised eyebrow.

“Don’t worry,” the boy said, unconvincingly.

“Because it’s every father’s nightmare to think that his son will come home someday–”

“I know, in a casket.”

“No, actually, in those goofy-looking pants with the little whales on them.”

See the source image

The seriousness of the situation finally hit him. “I understand,” he said with downcast eyes. “I’ll keep your son out of the nicer men’s wear shops–promise.”

I gave his arm a comforting pat. “Attaboy. Have fun,” I said.

“Wait a minute,” he replied. “You’re forgetting your ham-handed attempt to appear cool by using hip-hop slang.”

I was mortified. “You’re right. Peace out, brother!”

“Peace out to you too,” he said, a big smile on his face.

My son was throwing his stuff in the back of the Volvo station wagon, but I had one more topic to cover with him.

“You know,” I said as I took him aside, “I went to a fair number of wild parties at East Coast fleshpots in my chequered youth,” I said to him. “I know you’re saving yourself for your wedding night . . .”

“Absolutely, dad.”

“ . . . but you’re probably going to meet some pretty wild girls. I just want to make sure you’ve got some . . . protection.”

“Right here,” he said as he reached for the wallet in his back pocket.

I gave him a look of disappointment. “Not that kind of protection,” I said.

He appeared confused. “Then what are you talking about?”

“The Amazing Flying Monkey Sling Shot!” I replied.

“The one you gave me when I went off to college–for no apparent reason?”

“That’s the one. There’s nothing that sends the message that you’re a poor marriage prospect–and someone a girl doesn’t want to find in her bed the next morning–like a screeching simian projectile hurtling towards her.”

He seemed a little embarrassed that he’d overlooked this detail.

“Thanks, dad, I’ll go get it,” he said, and started to run up to his room.

“Wait a minute,” I said as I stopped him with my hand on his chest. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“What?”

I nodded at the car. “You’ve got three friends in there, and you’re going to someone’s vacation house, so you need to bring a hostess gift.”

It was my wife’s turn to get involved, since shopping for gifts is a native art form among her clan. “There’s no time to get a really nice gift now,” she said, her brow furrowed in concern.

I had to allow myself a moment of self-satisfaction. “You all make cracks about my lack of social skills, but it looks like I’m the only one who planned ahead.”

“What do you mean?” my wife asked.

“I had the foresight to buy the 7-Monkey ‘Me and My Homies’ pack for only $25.95, not including shipping!”

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

Surprised by the Fed

The Fed Should Surprise Us.

Headline, The Wall Street Journal

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

fed

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

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

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

fed4
“Sure Whoopee Cushions are fun, but for the initial shock I like a good, old-fashioned hand buzzer.”

 

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

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

fed2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Bowman.jpg
Miki Bowman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 fed3

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

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

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

“You are such a cut-up!” he says.

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

“Shoot,” says Powell.

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

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

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

fed6
William McChesney Martin:  “No punch for you!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fed7

“What’s in there?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

fed8

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

“Don’t rub it in,” she says.

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

“What the . . .”

“Surprise!”

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

Freedonia Bestows Highest Honor on “Great American Friend”

NORGZLIA, Freedonia.  On a windswept landing strip in this city of 248,000 that is often referred to as “The Cleveland of Freedonia,” a trio of dignitaries made its way across the tarmac last night to greet a plane that had just landed at Clauzial Ublek International Airport.  “This will bring much notoriety to our country,” said Noblk Dziuka, Minister of Commerce and Countertop Appliances.  “UN will have hard time keeping us out after this shebangski is concluded.”

Military history of Gibraltar during World War II - Wikipedia

Dziuka was referring to a ceremony tonight for Oren Daily, Jr., a “blogger” from Hoxie, Arkansas, who will be awarded Freedonia’s highest civilian honor, the “Crux dar Eflegmsion” (“Cross of Enthusiasm”), for his work celebrating Freedonian culture in a series of “posts” that stretches back to the dawn of the World Wide Web.

“Before, people thought Freedonia was a bad joke,” says Dziuka.  “Now, because of Mr. Daily, Jr., they think of our country as an off-color joke.”

Sashes – Wyedean.com

The award takes the form of a blue sash and a zinc-alloy medal with the motto “Nzi blzies unckutro” (No checks accepted) emblazoned on it.  The medal comes with one or two sumac leaf clusters, depending on the recipient’s achievements and the nation’s current balance of payments deficit.  In lean times, honorees are given a year’s supply of Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks in lieu of decorative accessories.


Consolation prize.

 

Long-time Freedonia watchers were caught off-guard by the selection of Mr. Daily as the first American to win the award, which is granted by the Freedonian League of Honor bi-annually or whenever they get around to it.  “I had Con Chapman in the Freedonian-American Social Aid and Pleasure Club betting pool,” said Milekni Duderosi, an immigrant to America from the war-torn country that was cobbled together after World War II from an abandoned Six Flags Over Texas amusement park and a number of vacant parking lots.  “I heard he got a snootful when they told him he’d only get one sumac leaf cluster.”

Nuptial Indemnity

           Insurance for weddings, family reunions and bar mitzvahs, already common in Britain, is becoming popular in the US.

                                                                             The Boston Globe

I drove out to Glendale to put three new tantes on a bar mitzvah bond, and then I remembered this lead on a wedding policy over in Hollywood.  I decided to run over there to see if I could get the future bride and groom to sign the paperwork while they were still in love.  Timing is everything when you’re selling insurance.

The house was one of those Mexican-style jobs everyone was crazy about a few years ago-white walls, red tile roof.  The couple was probably under water on the mortgage and couldn’t afford to leave.  I figured they’d been living together and she’d started making noises about palimony.  Or maybe there was a baby on the way, and I don’t mean from one of those third-world dumps where the gross national product doubles when a movie starlet on a mission touches down on the country’s only landing strip.  Funny how those things work out.

I rang the bell and waited–nothing.  I rang it again.  What the hell, I drove all the way out there, I might as well make sure.  Still nothing.  I turned to go back to my car when I heard footsteps inside.  I looked through the glass and saw a woman.  She opened the inner door and spoke through the screen.

”May I help you?” she asked.  You sure could, I thought.  It’s getting towards the end of the month, and I need the commission.

“Good afternoon–I’m Walter Huff, American Nuptial Indemnity.”

“Hello,” she said in a sultry voice, and that one word spoke volumes.  If I’d been selling encyclopedias I would have run to my car for a sample.  “I’m Phyllis Shamie Nirdlinger, or at least I will be as soon as I get married.”

“The home office said someone at this address was interested in some insurance.”  She had a body like an upside-down viola da gamba-without the sound holes, frets or strings.  Full at the top, narrowing at the waist, slender legs where the neck should have been.

“That would be my fiancé, Herbert S. Nirdlinger.”

“Yes, I believe that was the name.”

“What kind of insurance was he interested in?  I ought to know, but I don’t keep track,” she said as she twisted her lower lip into a little dishrag of affected concern.

“I guess none of us keep track until something happens,” I replied.  “Just the usual–collision, fire, family reunion, with a bar/bat mitzvah rider in case either of you convert to Judaism and have children.”

“Oh yes, of course.”

“It’s only a routine matter, but he ought to take care of it.  You never know when something might happen.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right.  So many entertainers get caught up in the Kabbalah-like Madonna.”

“You in the entertainment business?”  I was playing dumb.  I can spot an unemployed actress a backhanded Frisbee toss away.

“Yes.  I’m between roles right now,” she said as she gazed over my shoulder, as if she expected to see Spielberg coming up the sidewalk.   All of sudden she looked at me, and I felt a chill creep up my back and into the roots of my hair.  “Do you handle wedding insurance?”

I couldn’t be mistaken about what she meant, not after fifteen years in the insurance business.  Not with all the jewelry riders I’ve written up, not with all the homeowner’s policies I’ve stretched to cover some kid’s busted mountain bike two years after he graduated from college.

I was going to get up and go and drop her and that wedding policy like a hot shotput–but I didn’t.  I couldn’t, not when I looked into those eyes like turtle pools that little kids wade in and pee in, and-what the hell.  I grabbed her around the waist and pulled her towards me.

She looked surprised, but I was pretty sure that was a façade, a coat of paint.  I could see right through her if I wanted, but I liked what I saw on the surface, and I didn’t go any deeper.

“Oh, Walter,” she moaned as I clutched her close to me.  “Maybe this is the awful part, but I want . . . I need our wedding to fail.  Do you understand me?”

“No.”

“Nobody could,” she sighed.

“But we’re going to do it.”

“We’re going to do it.”

“Straight down the line, right?

“Right.”

“To hell with the bridesmaids?”

“To hell with the bridesmaids–and their purple organza empire waistline floor-length dresses.”

If we were going to do it, we were going to do it right.  “All the big money on wedding insurance policies comes from the double indemnity clause,” I said to her.

“The double whatsis clause?”

“Double indemnity.  They found out pretty quick when they started writing wedding insurance that the places people think are danger spots–like the groom has a few too many pops and calls the mother-of-the-bride an old warthog–aren’t danger spots at all.”

“They aren’t?”

“No.  People think the groom thinks the mother of the bride is an old warthog, but he doesn’t.  He doesn’t think she’s all that bad, just a few decades older than the bride, who looks like her mother, so why would he say the mother looks like an old warthog, unless he thinks the bride looks like a young warthog?”

“I see.”

No she didn’t, but I decided to humor her.  “So they put in a feature that sounds pretty good to the guy that buys it, because he’s a little worried he’s going to slip.  It doesn’t cost the company much because they know he’s pretty sure to keep his mouth shut.”

“Oh.”

“You can say that again.”

“Oh–”

“Not literally–figuratively.  They tell you they’ll pay double indemnity if the groom insults the bride’s mother, because then you’ve got a living hell.  You married the guy and have to live with him the rest of your life, but he insulted your mother, so what are you going to do for holidays, and the kid’s birthdays, and so forth.”

She was quiet for a moment.  “How much is that worth?”

“On a regular $10,000 wedding package?  When we get done, if we do it right, we cash a $20,000 bet.”

“Twenty thousand dollars?”

“To bring the immediate family, flowers and a cake back to the original location, with a photographer-absolutely.”

“But–what if I don’t want to do it over?”

I knew where she was going.  I wanted to go there too.

“The check is made out to you and your fiancé–jointly.  What time does he get home from work?”

“6 o’clock-closer to 7 if traffic’s bad.”

“And what time does the mail get here?”

“Usually by 4:30.”

“Have you got his signature on a piece of paper?”

“Yes, on the installment contract for the bedroom air conditioner.”

“How about a glass coffee table and a flashlight?”

“Yes.  The batteries in the flashlight may be low . . .”

“You can get new ones at the hardware store.  Here’s how we do it.  You get under the coffee table, shine the light through contract, and I’ll trace his signature on the check.”

“Very clever,” she said, a dizzy grin on her face.  I could tell she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

“Now listen to me,” I said, a little out of breath.  I was winded from switching back and forth between our staccato dialogue and my first-person narrative.

“Yes?”

She was all ears, with some lips, hips, legs, breasts and other body parts thrown in for good measure.

“You can’t breathe a word of this-not so much as a vowel of it–to anybody.”

She leaned into me like the bulkhead of a four-story apartment building. “Do you understand?” I asked as she pressed against me.

“I understand,” she said.  She had a smile that could light up the inside of a refrigerator.

* * * * *

There’s a million things can go wrong with a wedding.  An uncle who has to see the Southern Cal game brings a portable TV to the church.  A groomsman sticks a bottle rocket in the tailpipe of the bride’s limo.  A maiden aunt who’s allergic to nuts keels over after two bites of the tortoni. It doesn’t take long to come up with a couple of crazy schemes, not if you’ve been in the business as long as I have.  Problem is, you’d make better use of the brain cells you burn thinking them up having a rye highball and going to bed.

“How are you going to do it?” I asked Phyllis one night as I stared into the fire.

“Well, we’ve got a swimming pool out back.  We could have a cocktail party for him to meet my parents’ friends, and I could bump him so he knocks my mother into it.”

“Out of the question.”

She screwed her mouth up into a little moue.

“You don’t like that idea?” she asked.

“It’s terrible.  Your mother would just laugh it off.  She’d be telling friends about it till the day she died.  What else?”

“Um-what if he got really drunk at his bachelor party and . . . left something personal with a stripper?”

“It’s no good.”

“Why not?”

“You call things off over that, you’re the bad guy, not him.  He’s just letting off a little steam.  Worst that happens is he picks up a social disease-gives you something to talk about at bridge club.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

I grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her around and made her do the Bunny Hop into the bathroom until we were standing in front of her medicine cabinet mirror.

“You’ve got to get this straight–there comes a time with any wedding policy when the only thing that will see you through is audacity, and I can’t tell you why.  Understand?”

“Why you can’t tell me why?”

“No, why you need audacity.”

“I don’t understand why you need audacity.”

“Neither do I, but you need it.  So what we do is this.  You get to his best man, tell him you know Herbert was a ladies’ man, you’ve always wanted to hear what a rake he was . . .”

“You mean hoe?”

“No, rake.  You set the guy up to give the most embarrassing toast at a rehearsal dinner since the wedding feast at Cana.”

“And when he does?”

“You bolt the banquet hall, crying.  Deal’s off.”

“And the insurance company pays?”

“They have to.  You don’t fall within the runaway bride exception.  You didn’t get cold feet–you had no idea Herb was such a cad, a bounder, a . . . “

“Rake?”

“You got it.”

*    *    *

We had it set up so it couldn’t fail.  It would run like a Swiss cuckoo clock, chirping at the appointed hour.  Floyd Gehrke, the best man, liked to drink, and he liked to talk.  Phyllis had pumped him up like an air mattress.

“I want to hear everything–everything, you understand?” she told Gehrke.

“I could go on all night,” Floyd said.  “Won’t you have to pay the band extra?”

“That won’t be necessary,” I cut in.  I didn’t want to use up the deductible on Leo Bopp and his Musical Magicians.

“Okay,” Floyd said, as he wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood up.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, and Phyllis and I were tapping our crystal water glasses like English handbell ringers.

“If I can have your attention for a few moments, I’d like to say a few words about my best bud–Herb Nirdlinger.”

The crowd began to uncouple from their conversations, and Floyd launched his dinghy onto the dark waters of the Chateau de Ville Ballroom and Function Facilities.

“I’ve known Herb for many, many years-I don’t think any man knows him better than I do.”

There were a few coughs in the back of the room, but then things settled down for good.

“Like a lot of guys, Herb sowed a fifty-pound bag of wild oats when he was younger, but–and this is a big but, just like Herb’s-

There were a few laughs spread across the room–fewer than Floyd was expecting.  I thought I saw a few drops of flop sweat break out on his brow.

“Every girl Herb ever dated, then dumped–every one of them would come running back to him today.  All he’d have to do is say the word.  And the reason is, when he dropped them, he let them down easy.”

Floyd was off to a good start.  I gave Phyllis the high sign; one hand under my chin, which I waved up and down, so I looked like Oliver the Dragon on “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”


That’s Ollie on the right.

 

“Herb was always a perfect gentleman about it, and that’s why he remains friends to this very day with so many of the women he dated.”

It wouldn’t take too much more of this before any reasonable woman would have fled in tears.  That’s all I needed–just a little actuarial ammunition to back us up.

“And I hope he continues to do the same thing with Phyllis–the nice part, not the breaking up part.”

I kicked her–kicked her hard–and she stood up.  “You–you lout, you!” she said, looking at Herb.   “The wedding’s off!” she screamed, took off her ring and threw it at him.  Then she ran off into the night like a scalded cat.

I picked up the ring, put it in a #1 Brown Kraft coin envelope with Gummed Closure and handed it to Herb.  “Your policy does not cover goods that are intentionally damaged or discarded,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied.  I thought I saw a tear in his eye, and I thought he was crying about Phyllis.  The cold duck must have gone to my head.

*    *    *

“Huff, I don’t like it.”  I was sitting in the office of Keyes, my claim manager.

“What’s the matter with it?”

“Gal goes out and buys a wedding policy,” he said as he paced up and down in my office.  “Never hires a florist or a caterer.  Doesn’t book a band.  Has one, maybe two fittings on her wedding dress.  Picks out some godawful purple organza material none of the bridesmaids like, but none of them says a thing.”

“Nothing unusual about that.”

“It gets unusualler.  The night before the rehearsal dinner she calls up the fabric shop and cancels the order.”

“So–it happens every day.”

“Sure it does.  But you know what doesn’t happen every day?”

“What?”

“She doesn’t argue about the $200 deposit, and in fact tells the girl she can keep it–’cause she’s been so nice to her.”

My heart was pounding.  “It’s a chick thing.  Women don’t tip for service, they tip because they like somebody, they tip . . .”

“Huff-it wasn’t a tip.  It was hush money, pure and simple.  Only she gave it to the wrong person-someone who’s got a shred of ethics left in this lousy, stinking world. Someone who understands that the cost of insurance fraud for all of us is a lot higher than the price tag on a lousy 50 yard bolt of discontinued fabric.”

A lump rolled down my throat and into my stomach.  The honeymoon was over.  It was time to kill Phyllis.

*    *    *

I told her I’d meet her at her place, that I had the check.

“Oh, Walter, that’s thrilling.”

”Just be sure you’ve got new batteries for the flashlight, and use some Windex on that coffee table of yours so I can do a good job on Herb’s signature.”

“I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“Fine isn’t good enough.  This is a big check, so there’ll be a manual examination when it hits my company’s account.  It’s got to be perfect.”

“Don’t snap at me,” she said in a hurt little voice.  “What do I know about reasonable industry standards of care in the commercial banking business?”

I couldn’t afford to have her go wobbly on me now.  “Sorry, sugar.  We’ll get this last piece of business behind us, and then we’ll be together.”

“Finally.”

“That’s right.”

“Forever.”

Until death did us part.

I rolled into her driveway around twelve-thirty.  There wasn’t any point in parking down the street and walking any more; it would all be over–for better or worse–when I walked out that door.

I rang her doorbell and she answered it in the same get-up she had on the first day I met her.

“Looks familiar, baby.”

“I figured you liked what you saw then.”

“I sure did,” I said, and I wasn’t lying.  “Where’s that coffee table?”

“In there,” she said, and she pointed into a sort of parlor off foyer.

I walked in and started to sit down on the couch.  As I hiked up my pants the way men used to do before the coming of wrinkle-free, easy-care styles, something hit me in the back of the head like Jack Dempsey in a clinch.

“Ow,” I said as my head hit one of those expensive coffee table books that nobody ever reads but everybody says “This is so lovely!” when you give it to them.  People are like that.

“Okay, you human file cabinet,” I heard a gruff voice say.  “Hand over that check.”

I looked up and saw Floyd Gehrke standing there with the Bucheimer “Midget” sap that he had just flattened me with.

“So it’s the best man,” I said through the salty taste of blood in my mouth.  The oldest trick in the book, and I fell for it.

”That’s right,” he said.  “You were expecting maybe the ring bearer?”

“That would have been just a little too cute.”

“Enough with the wisecracks,” he said.  “Hand over the $20,000.”

“Sure, sure,” I said.  “I’ve got it right here.”

I reached in my inside jacket pocket and pulled out my Beretta PX4 Storm Sub-Compact.  It holds thirteen rounds-unlucky thirteen.

I let the best man have twelve while Phyllis stood there shrieking, her hands over her ears.  Then I turned to her.

“There’s one left, baby.  You want it?”

“Oh, Walter-please don’t.  We have so much to live for!”

“Like what?” I said bitterly.  “Name one precious little thing.”

“Just look,” she said, and with a sweep of her arm she showed me what every newlywed couple hopes for and dreams of.

“Look at these wedding presents!  We got a Cuisinart! And a Donut Express countertop donut maker with standard and mini-size pans–it’s dishwasher safe!”

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

Lines in Contemplation of a Tragic Accident

If you were hit, dear, by a truck,
And I were left without you–
I wonder then who I would, er,
Sorry–let me start over.
I wonder up with whom I’d end
Among our unwed female friends.

There is the woman nicknamed “Midge”
Who meets with friends for contract bridge.
She’s quite well-dressed and “pulled together,”
If ill says she feels “Under the weather.”
There’s Tupperware inside her fridge–
I do not think it would be Midge.

There’s Tricia with her mountain bike
Who likes to go on longish hikes.
Tri-athlete and marathoner
With super-wicking clothes upon her.
She wears me out just thinking of her–
Trish wouldn’t have me as her lover.

There’s Julie-she’s the cineaste–
Au courant
woman with a past.
Prefers her novels cutting-edge
And once was talked down from a ledge.
I’ll say this now and mean it truly–
I do not think it would be Julie.

 

As I my malbec do imbibe
My prospects thus seem circumscribed.
Perhaps I’d end up all alone
With empty mailbox, silent phone.

I like our life in quiet burb–
Be careful stepping off the curb.

First published in Light. Available in print and Kindle format as part of the collection “The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head.”

Library Shocked by Frugal Patron’s Bequest

WILLIAMSTOWN, New York.  In this leafy-green suburb of Buffalo, there are few institutions that rate higher in the eyes of residents than the local public library.  “We’re especially proud of our historic displays,” says Library Director Edith Quigley, who holds a Master of Library Science degree in addition to a black belt in karate which she has been known to use on wayward children who talk too loudly.  “This month we have a stuffed buffalo, and next month we’re bringing in the first known hairbrush owned by a resident of Erie County.”

buffalo

But no one loved the library more than Dewey Heuser, a long-time patron who died last week at the age of 91.  “Mr. Heuser was always very punctilious about paying his fines,” says Quigley.  “If a book was due on Saturday and he brought it back on Monday, he’d insist on paying an extra nickel for Sunday, even though we have historically waived charges for that day on account of townspeople’s Sabbath duties.”

Known for his frugal ways, Heuser lived modestly, which is why trustees were shocked when they learned from the executor of his estate of the size of the bequest he had left the library in his will.  “We were totally floored,” says Edward H. Ritchie, Jr., a local lawyer whose father served on the board before him.  “We literally did not see it coming–at all.”

buffalo1
“This shit’s boring.  Where do you keep the good stuff?”

When news of the gift got out, the library’s staff was similarly flabbergasted.  “We expected it to be like one of those human interest stories in the paper, where some old miser who loved reading leaves you a million dollars,” says Quigley.  “Instead, Mr. Heuser lived up–or down–to his reputation.”

Heuser’s direction to his executor was that the library should receive the grand sum of $100, a not-inconsiderable amount to give to a Boy Scout troop or ladies’ sewing circle, but far below the standards set by other cheapskates around the country who vie for eternal renown by saving deposit bottles and going without luxuries in order to give seven-figure gifts.  “He was such a gentleman, always very gracious to the staff,” says Ritchie.  “I had no idea he was such a cheap bastard as well.”

Heuser’s estate would have been in the mid-seven figures, consistent with other lonely men and women who wouldn’t pay a nickel to see an earthquake and at the end of their lives have accumulated significant sums that they leave to eleemosynary institutions, but he depleted his assets over time in his desire to ensure that almost none of his wealth would go to future generations.

librarian

“Dewey was an aficionado of internet porn, and felt very strongly that libraries shouldn’t allow patrons to access such perverted smut on computers that could be viewed by young kids on their way to Saturday morning Story Hour,” says Quigley, as she wipes away a tear she sheds at the thought of losing enough money to double the size of her institution’s endowment.  “I just wish we could have found some way to satisfy his desires and gotten our hands on all that cash.”

Croquet Slugger Vows to Fight Lifetime Ban

SHERBORN, Mass.  This bucolic town to the west of Boston is distinguished by its adherence to time-honored traditions, such as a volunteer fire department known for the conviviality it brings to the personal tragedy of watching one’s home burn to the ground.  “We always come with a picnic basket filled with strawberries, finger sandwiches and white wine,” says Assistant Fire Chief Edmund “Ned” Barker.  “It certainly eases the pain of losing that deductible.”


“Unga!”

But that fidelity to the past is bumping up against the present at the Sherborn Croquet Club, where commissioner Asa Wharton yesterday handed down a life-time ban against young power-hitter Tompkins “Tom” Slater, III, an investment banker whose full-tilt approach to the sedate lawn game is raising eyebrows, as well as ire among long-time members.

“I gave him a citation when he walked on the court wearing his ‘Nantucket Reds’ instead of the required all-white uniform,” Wharton says, shaking his head grimly.  “He got a warning for excessive grunting when he ‘sent’ or ‘roqueted’ an opponent’s ball into Natick,” the blue-collar town to the east.  “But when we caught him with performance-enhancing drugs, that was it.”


“Dude–killer shot!”

The banned substance–a can of Miller Lite beer–is prohibited in league matches without a doctor’s prescription that a player requires it for health or safety reasons.  “It helps keep my hay fever under control,” Slater says as he takes a sip from an eight-ounce can.  “Also, I lose my balance when I get drunk, and I can drink light beer all day long and only get moderately sloshed.”


“It’s my turn, dammit!”

Croquet is a sport that involves hitting wooden or plastic balls with a mallet through hoops (often called “wickets” in the United States) embedded in a grass playing court.  It is a form of “ground billiards” that is played for fun by the overwhelming majority of proletarian participants, but is taken seriously by those with too much money and time on their hands.

“I don’t take this step lightly,” Wharton said as he notified Bruce Pastenak, coach of Slater’s team, the Wellesley Wealth Advisors.  “In fact, I want to come down hard, like I’m crushing a bug.”

Two Dead as Restoration Hardware Catalog Falls Off Coffee Table

BROOKLINE, Mass.  It came without warning, says Chloe Vanderslice, who with her husband Rick narrowly avoided a gruesome death.  “I stood up to help with the hors d’oeuvres, turned my back for a second,” she recalled.  “Then I heard this ungodly rumbling noise, like an earthquake.”


Silent–but deadly.

 

The sound was not a natural disaster, but a decorating one.  “I feel so sad for the kids,” says Mindi Baker, referring to Joey and Claire Elsworth, the two children who were orphaned when another guest’s knee hit a loosely-secured copy of the massive mail order catalog of Restoration Hardware, the high-end home furnishing company.  The collision sent the volume cascading into their parents, who were buried under items from the chain’s “Wyeth Split Bamboo Collection.”  “At least they’ll grow up knowing that their mom and dad died in good taste,” Baker said tearfully.


“Should we get some more doo-dads, or just another gew-gaw?”

 

The heavyweight glossy tome is circulated to potential customers in high-net worth zip codes without regard to safety considerations, says Assistant Consumer Products Safety Commissioner Anne de Borchgrave, the federal agency that regulates overpriced gew-gaws.  “Those things should be strapped down in high winds, and also central air conditioning,” she says as she scans a map of the United States by which she keeps track of catalog-related deaths and dismemberments.  “If you lose your footing serving a canapé you could wipe out the Sherpa who helped you get it up to your apartment.”


“Where do we live again?  Oh, right–New York City.”

 

The union representing letter carriers for the U.S. Postal Service has sought unsuccessfully for years to bar transmission of the massive catalog through the mails, citing the high number of hernias suffered by their members.  “We tried to switch the pack mules,” says the company’s Director of Logistics, Ira Millstone, “but the ASPCA was all over us.”

At the Viking Poetry Slam

                A mastery of poetry was a must for any young Viking.  A few Viking poems dwelt on love, but the heroes often undermined their happiness by chasing adventures that separated them from their beloveds. 

                                     The Wall Street Journal


“Who’s got the beer cooler?”

It’s 1230, and I don’t mean by the hands of the sundial.  I mean it’s 1230 A.D., and me and my buddies, Gunnlaug Snaketongue and Hallfred the Troublesome Poet, are having our regular Tuesday night poetry session.  We meet at Ericson’s, where they have 20 ounce King Olaf’s for only a clam, and pitchers for five clams.  Let me tell you, we usually set back the progress of Western civilization a couple of decades before the night is through.


Ericson’s:  Get there early for Friday Night Oxen Races.

We roll the bar dice to see who goes first, which is actually not the most desirable spot.  It’s better if your listeners have consumed a little mead before you start to bare the workings of your innermost soul.  Unfortunately, I roll snake-eyes.

“You go first Kormak Ogmundarson!” Hallfred says with glee.  I can tell he’s going to pounce on my handiwork like a blood eagle grabbing a baby chick.

“Okay, here goes nothing,” I say.  I take one last drink to wet my throat, then I launch the Viking ship of my verse onto unknown seas.

That night I dreamt of a maiden fair
whose dress I removed with a flourish.
What I saw underneath was a navel and hair
but a body that looked overnourished.

I looked up from my rudimentary parchment note pad to judge the effect of my quatrain on Gunnlaug and Hallfred.  “You say overnourished like it’s a bad thing, dude,” Gunnlaug says with a look of disapproval.

“But wait,” I say, anticipating twentieth-century cable TV pitchman Billy Mays, “there’s more.”


“There’s more bad poetry where that came from!”

“Let ‘er rip,” Hallfred says as he unleashes a belch that could be heard in Vinland.

“Okay,” I say, then compose myself and start in again.

She could have been my winter consort
if I’d paid more attention to her
But I was consumed by televised sport
and another Vike came to woo her.



Vinland, via the scenic route

I’m surprised to see a look of empathy on Gunnlaug’s face.  “That’s beautiful, man,” he says as he pretends there’s something in his eye in order to hide the fact that he’s wiping away a tear.  “Ain’t that always the way.  You’d like to have a relationship with a woman, but you want some freaking adventure with your guy friends, too.”

Hallfred, on the other hand, being the Troublesome Poet that he is, is unmoved.  “What the hell are televised sports?” he asks.

“It’s an anachronism I threw in for dramatic effect,” I say.  “This is a stupid blog post–you’re going to have to wilfully suspend disbelief if you’re going to get anything out of it.”

He takes this in slowly, and mutters a grudging “Okay–that was pretty good.”  He’s not the brightest shield on the battlefield, if you know what I mean, but he leaves a pretty wide wake at poetry slams because of his brooding good looks and primitive style.  Personally, I think it’s all a facade.  He’s so dumb his descendants will be going bare-chested to football games in Minnesota winters seven centuries hence.

“Show me what you got, big fella,“ I say to him throwing down the poetic gauntlet.

He pops a handful of squirrel nuts into his mouth, and washes them down with a gulp of beer.  “Here goes,” he says, and begins:

My old lady’s quite a dish
if I do say so myself.
She don’t come along when I icefish,
she eats tuna from the pantry shelf.

Gunnlaug emits a tepid grunt of approval.  “I sense the difference between your maleness and her femaleness,” he says looking off into the distance, “but you didn’t do much to establish dramatic tension.”

It’s clear that Hallfred is hurt by this faint praise, and he lashes out, bringing his pickaxe down on the bag of Astrix and Obelix Pub Fries that Gunnlaug’s been munching on.  “Anybody can be a critic,” he fumes.  “Let’s hear some poetry out of you, blubber-belly!”

“Well kiss my ass and call it a love story,” Gunnlaug says with a withering smile.  “Looks like Mr. Brutalist has a sensitive side, too.”

“Your doggerel smells like two-year-old Swedish Fish.”

“Actually,” I interject in an effort to keep the peace, “Swedish Fish stay moist and chewy forever in the patented Sta-Fresh resealable bag.”

But Hallfred isn’t letting his rival go.  “Come on, man,” he says angrily, as other patrons turn their heads in the hope of seeing a senseless killing.  “It’s Rhyme Time.”

Gunnlaug looks Hallfred up and down, then a frosty snort of Arctic air escapes from his nostrils.  “It ain’t bragging if you can do it,” he says, then clears his throat.  The silence in the room is broken only when he speaks in a low voice steeped in regret:

I once got a peek of a wench’s breasts
that made me forget I was a Viking.
I’m telling you man, they were the best–
I gave up my Harley and biking.

An audible gasp rose from the crowd.  The ultimate aesthetic error of Viking poetry–to succumb to the wiles of a woman!  How was Gunnlaug going to get out of the lyrical gulag he’d wandered into?

She had a big hat with horns festooned
and said “Dear Vike, please impale me.”
But a friend had some tickets to the Wild vs. Bruins
“Stay with me,” she cried, “and don’t fail me!”

Now it was Hallfred’s turn to snort.  “The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole,” he said with a sneer, “is to stop digging.”

“Hold your freaking reindeer,” Gunnlaug said.  “I ain’t through.”

He took a deep breath, then began again.

I looked in her eyes, both drowning in tears–
Though watery, they still looked nice.
“Look,” I said, “I’ll make it up to you dear–
I’ll take you to Smurfs on Ice!”

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