Spot Gets Involved in Politics

          A man who did not live in Wyoming was once the Democratic Party’s nominee for that state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  His campaign consisted entirely of sock-puppet videos.

          Los Angeles Times

 

Restaurants are finally open for take-out, and as I walk in the door with my California Pizza Kitchen 1/2 portion Waldorf salad (blue cheese instead of the vinaigrette dressing, please) I hear the clatter of a remote control bouncing off the screen of our TV and hitting the floor in the living room.

I peek my head around the corner and on the couch I see Spot, the former spokesdog for Pets.com, whom my wife picked up for a song when that particularly hare-brained internet company went under.  He’s shaking his head from side to side, a look of disgust on his little face.

“June, I’m home!” I call out in an impression of Ward Cleaver I’ve been working on for decades.  Spot glares at my attempt to lighten the mood with antic frivolity, so after I put my salad in the fridge I plop down next to him on the couch.


“Beaver, have you been watching the news on television again?”

 

“What’s got you so up in paws?” I say, laying on the avuncular unction with a trowel.

“This country is going to the cats!” he snaps.  I pick up the remote and mute the sound–the best way to watch TV!–and begin to administer the talking cure that has done so much to soothe troubled minds of Western Civilization from the ancient Greece of Socrates to the neurotic Vienna of Freud.

“You don’t have to watch television, you know,” I say, pouring a little highbrow oil on the stormy seas of a temperament agitated by televised political controversy.

“I suppose you expect me to sit around and read nineteenth century novels like you, huh?”

“It’s a more sedate way to come to an understanding of human motives and behavior.”

“Look at these little arms,” he says, holding out what are in fact his legs.  “How am I supposed to hold a big book like . . . what’s the one you’re reading now?”

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.”


Charles Dickens:  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to get out of this post at the next paragraph break.”

 

“How long is that one?”

“800 pages.”

“And why in the hell would anyone want to read an 800-page book?”

“I wanted to track down the quote ‘He do the police in different voices,’ which was T.S. Eliot’s original title for The Wasteland.  It comes from Mrs. Higden, a character in the book who takes in orphans, and one of her wards–Sloppy–reads the newspaper to her and when he comes to a quote from the police he . . .”

A light buzzing sound, as if there’s a fly in the room, strikes my ears.  I look over and Spot is feigning sleep to express his boredom.

“Okay, I get the message.  Still, you wouldn’t get so agitated about politics if you’d turn off the Idiot Box every now and then and read a book.”

The snoring sound has turned to a whimper, and when I look over I see now that Spot has buried his face in his paws.  Could it be that beneath his cynical carapace he has a vulnerable side?

“You okay?” I ask hesitantly.

“Yes.  Well, no.” he says with a sniffle.  “In case you didn’t know, I never progressed much beyond ‘See Spot Run!’ with my reading.”

“Being the hero of the first book you ever read went to your head?”

“Sorta.  Also, I couldn’t turn the pages.  I don’t have opposable thumbs like you.”

“Well,” I say, acknowledging his limitations as gracefully as I can, “the other thing you can do is get involved in politics.  So many people I know are frustrated because they just vent on social media all day long.  If they actually did something . . .”

“Like those stupid state-wide petition drives you did in the nineties?”

“Did you see the U.S. Supreme Court finally agreed with me yesterday in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue–twenty-two years later?”

“Was it on the sports page?”

“No, but I’m serious.  You ought to try getting involved.  At the end of the day you would feel the benefits of having exerted yourself, as opposed to just stewing in your own juices.”

He turns and gives me a withering gaze.  “I may be a stupid puppet, but at least I know that dogs–especially puppet dogs–can’t vote.”

“I didn’t say you could.  But you could help in other ways.”

“Like how?”

“Well, there are a lot of candidates who don’t live in the state where they want to run for office.”

Spot can’t stifle a laugh at this absurd assertion.  “Get out–name one.”


Carol Hafner:  “Excuse me–what state am I in right now?”

 

“There’s Carol Hafner, a Democrat who wants to represent Alaska in Congress even though she doesn’t live there, doesn’t plan to campaign there, and has never even been there.”

“You’re making that up.”

“No I’m not–click on this link.”

“Hmm,” Spot says after he skims the news story.  “But what does that have to do with little ol’ me?”

“You didn’t read all the way down,” I say.

“The part about the New York man who ran for a Democratic senatorial nomination in Alaska and lost?”

“No, next paragraph, about the Arizona man who ran for the Democratic nomination for Wyoming’s seat in the House of Representatives in 2014.  His campaign consisted almost entirely of sock-puppet videos, and he won!”

Spot gives me that RCA Victor-dog look–head tilted to one side, like he can’t quite figure me out.  “So what do you want me to do?”

“Don’t you see?” I say.  “There are so many bright, talented people who’d like to get involved in politics, but they can’t.  There’s an incumbent in their state who’s going to hold office until he or she dies.  They’d love to devote themselves to public service, and there are 49 other states in the Union with open offices.  If they take the path of the guy in New York and campaign without sock puppet videos–they’re doomed.  But if they do what the guy in Arizona did and craft a carefully thought-out campaign that consists almost entirely of sock puppet videos broadcast in a state where they don’t live–they win!”

Spot takes a deep breath, then exhales what he’s just inhaled.  “So . . . I could become a king–or queenmaker, huh?”

You have the power, big guy!”  I extend my hand for a high-five, which is a high-one in his case because he doesn’t have reticulated fingers.

He takes the remote from me, turns off the set and gazes wistfully into the middle distance.  “You know, I’ve always wanted to . . . give back to society.”

“That’s great.  I was hoping you wouldn’t end up just a grumpy old armchair critic.”

“No, I want to make the world a better place through targeted investments in public infrastructure.”

“Really?” I say with surprise.  I’ve wasted . . . spent a good part of my career pushing for improvements in that area without much success.  “You never mentioned it before–where would you start?”

“More fire hydrants.”

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.”

Spice Up Your Marriage With Role-Playing!

Unless you’re one of those organisms like the bdelloid rotifer that gave up sex forty million years ago because of their kids’ early-morning hockey games, sexual intercourse is an essential element of your marriage. As Sigmund Freud once said, “Sex is the oil-and-lube job that keeps the motor of marriage running smoothly.” Or maybe that was Richard Petty.


Freud and Petty: When you close your eyes, you can’t tell them apart.

Any marriage can go stale without variety, say relationship specialists. “Sure the Mongolian Cartwheel is exciting the first time,” says fictitious marriage counselor Sheryl Marchant, “but do it every Saturday night for 18 years and you run out of the yaks and Strawberry Twizzlers that are essential to this difficult position.”


“The yak tickled me!”

That’s where role-playing comes in. By imagining yourself and your spouse to be someone (or something) other than the humdrum partners who’ve made love a thousand times before, you can re-energize a sex life that has become, in the words that caused Diane von Furstenberg to dump her first husband, “like the right hand touching the left.”


von Furstenberg: “Let me get this straight. You’re comparing me to your hand?”

Here are a few role-playing exercises that are guaranteed to make your bedroom a honeymoon suite all over again:

Game Warden and Endangered Species: There’s no touch quite so loving as a member of your state’s Fish and Game Department as he carries a wounded badger or garfish to safety.


Record-setting garfish: “I caught him and he’s mine!”

Sample dialogue to get you started follows:

HUSBAND (as he enters bedroom): “I sure hope no poachers have violated the federal Endangered Species Act in this secluded forest glen . . .”

WIFE: (jumps out from behind door dressed as Kodiak bear): GARRRRAGARRAR!

Required equipment: Bear costume, Smokey the Bear hat.

Trophy Wife and Pool Boy: In gated communities across America, bored trophy wives sit idly by their pools while their corpulent husbands eat steak tartare and close big deals in oak-panelled restaurants far away. All it takes for the fire of love to ignite is a little spark.

TROPHY WIFE: I am so bored–my husband is off doing another “merger.” Tell me, Enrico–what is this thing called a merger?

POOL BOY: A combination of two legal bodies into one, senorita.

TROPHY WIFE: I am just a simple trophy wife–perhaps you could demonstrate for me.

POOL BOY: Si, senorita. (picks her up)

TROPHY WIFE: Ummm–what is that fragrance?

POOL BOY: It is called “Chlorine.”

Bus Driver and Passenger: Figuring out a complicated public transportation system can stoke the flames of passion with sexual frustration. Here’s verbatim dialogue you can use to drive your mate wild!

PASSENGER: Excuse me, I want to go to Forest Hills.

BUS DRIVER: This bus don’t go there. You need to take the Orange Line to Edgemont, or the Blue Line to Ashmont.

PASSENGER: Can . . . can I get a bus transfer and a transit system map from you?

BUS DRIVER: The maps are down there. You can’t use a bus transfer on the subway.

Appliance installer/housewife: There’s something indescribably sexy about hooking up rubber hoses to hot and cold water faucets in a dark, damp basement. Let’s listen in as a man and a woman read through the owner’s manual of a brand new Maytag stackable electric model:


It doesn’t get any sexier than this.

INSTALLER: You’re all set! Hope you enjoy your new washer/dryer combo!

HOUSEWIFE: It’s beautiful! But, how will I ever understand all the knobs and buttons?

INSTALLER: Well, we could . . . uh . . . take off our clothes and do a test load right now.

Dieting Customer and Pizza Delivery Guy: Ever felt the disappointment of waiting hungrily for a pizza only to find when the delivery guy arrives that they got your order wrong? It creates the kind of sexual tension that is usually found only in Tennessee Williams plays, except right on your doorstep.

PIZZA DELIVERY GUY: Here you go ma’am. One green pepper, onion and anchovy pizza.

CUSTOMER: But I’m on a diet!

PIZZA DELIVERY GUY: You look pretty good to me.

CUSTOMER: Still–I hate anchovies.

PIZZA DELIVERY GUY: (with a leer) Don’t worry–I’ll eat ‘em.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

Managing Your Cats

Business experts say sound personnel management is the key to surviving tough times. These are the same business experts whose current advice on “best practices” is “Your business sucks–you should ask for a government handout.”


“. . . so we’re going to stop making widgets, and become a Wall Street investment bank.”

 

Managing your personal budget is no different. Every member of your household should be evaluated periodically in order to avoid costly litigation down the road, even though you don’t live down the road, you live at your current mailing address.

If there are cats in your house, you will find that fundamental principles of wildlife management are inappropriate tools to achieve your home economic goals. For example: Leave birds alone and they build a nest; leave beavers alone and they build a dam; leave cats alone and they don’t build a multi-level carpeted condo, they scratch the chintz couch, barf on the rug and take a nap.


“It’s not like I’m stealing legal pads from the supply room or something.”

 

In other words, managing cats is much like “herding cats,” a favorite simile of business advice books, although in this case it’s a tautology. To make the job of managing your cats easier, here is a transcript of my mid-year performance review of Okie and Rocco, two mid-level cats at my house, for the fiscal quarter ending June 30th.

(Clicking sound as tape recorder is turned on.)

ME: Does this thing work? Test–one, two, three . . .

TAPE RECORDER: Test–one, two, three . . .

OKIE: Sounds like Madonna with a head cold.

ME: Okay, I wanted to tape our little session so that we’d have a record of your performance reviews.

ROCCO: If you’re going to fire me, I want my lawyer here.

ME: No, not at all. Basically, the message I want to send is that you’re both doing a good job, despite . . .

OKIE: Despite what?

ME: Well, I’ve noticed a drop off in your performance.

OKIE: Meaning?

ME: Here are your numbers for the first five months of the year. No chipmunks, no mice, no squirrels . . .

OKIE: I’m 70 years old in cat years. Sales is for young guys–I should be a manager.

ROCCO: How about me?


Squirrel Melt–yum!

 

ME: Off the charts. Chipmunks–14. Birds–3. One squirrel, and a big one.

ROCCO: All right! I can just taste that sales incentive!

ME: Well, actually, these are tough times we’re going through right now . . .

ROCCO: Oh, puh-lease. You’re a lawyer–you make money off of financial misery!

ME: It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

OKIE: I just want to say in my defense, that if I don’t catch chipmunks, you don’t have to clean up the mess outside.

ME: True, but let’s not confuse effort with results.

OKIE: (. . .) What the hell is that supposed to mean?

ME: I don’t know–it’s a business cliche. Anyway, let’s move on to some of the ancillary aspects of your overall performance. We use a number of metrics to evaluate personnel here, and I wanted to talk to both of you about . . .

ROCCO: Here it comes . . .

ME: Climbing on furniture.

ROCCO: Look, I got up on the bar stool last night because that stunod wanted to fight and I was trying to take a nap.

ME: You guys have got to work on your intra-office conflict resolution skills.

OKIE: Fine, if you tell that pervert not to sniff my butt every time he walks by.

ME: Roc–I’ve warned you about our Dignity in the Workplace policy.

ROCCO: I know, but I can’t turn to tab 3 in the Employee Handbook.

ME: I’ll make a copy of the page for you.

ROCCO: (aside) You can put it in the bottom of my kitty box.

ME: That’s another thing. I want you to treat all members of the family with respect. Have you sent thank-you notes to Aunt Chris?

OKIE: What for? There was no catnip in the gift box she sent this year.

ME: You know how Mom feels about drugs in the house.

ROCCO: Speaking of the gift box–there was something else in there you neglected to mention.

ME: What, those cat treats?

ROCCO: Yeah. If I’m doing so well, how about we add those to the menu in the company cafeteria, instead of that crap you buy at the organic food store.

ME: It’s not organic, it’s just low-cal, so your bellies don’t start dragging the ground like a dachsund’s.

TOGETHER: (chanting) Friskies Party Mix–Friskies Party Mix–Friskies Party . . .

ME: All right, I’ll talk to Mom about it.

OKIE: Which means “no.”

ME: Hey!

ROCCO: Why don’t you man up for a change. We’re direct-reports to you on the org-chart, but you never do squat for us.

OKIE: Yeah–you’re nothing but a lap dog.

ME: All right, cool it. Anyway, we’re almost halfway through the year, so stay on course and I’ll let you tear up some wrapping paper at Christmas.

OKIE: And?

ME: And what?

OKIE: Can we bat ornaments off the tree?

ME: Absolutely not!

ROCCO: Can we at least climb up and try to get the star?

ME: This meeting is over!

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

As Other Taboos Fall, Earlobe-Nibblers Still Face Scorn

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. This quaint town on the outermost point of Cape Cod has historically been known for its location on the extreme end of another measure; the liberality of its residents’ views on matters sexual. “The first settlers ran the Puritans out of town when they came up from Plimouth Plantation,” says Matt Skerkel, using the original spelling as he drapes his arm around his husband, Tom Skerkel-Manning. “We’re got every variety in the GLBT produce section–even dogs and cats living together.”

earlobe
“Oh, yes!”

 

But one practice is still considered beyond the pale here, as honeymooners Jim and Sandra Meznick find out when they snuggle together in a booth at the Lamplighter Inn and he leans in to first nuzzle his nose in her hair, then furtively takes a bite of her earlobe. “Hey you two perverts!” shouts bartender Courtney Balstrom from behind the beer taps. “I seen youse, and there’s none of that allowed in here.”

The faces of the two turn red with embarrassment and the husband reaches for his wallet while his wife wraps her shawl around shoulders as they prepare to leave. Jim drops three twenties on the table in payment of a $45 dinner tab but is too mortified to wait for change and pops the collar on his jacket to hide his face as the couple heads for the exit.

EARlobe2

“Absolutely disgusting,” says Jim Hampy, a local fisherman who has formed a bestiality support network for others like him with dreams of getting “scrod” by the official fish of the state, the cod, under its other, more risque name. “It’s people like you who give this town a bad name!” he shouts after the Meznicks as they scurry into a crowded t-shirt shop next door to avoid detection.

Earlobe-nibbling is perhaps the last sexual taboo remaining in America, a practice that attracts the obloquy and scorn of both the strait-laced and the liberated. “I don’t mind the scorn,” says Niles Herstrom, a greeting card buyer for a large drugstore chain and a closet earlobe-nibbler. “It’s the obloquy that gets to me,” he says before turning away to fight back tears.  “I don’t even know what obloquy is!”

earlobe3

“The human earlobe is the last erogenous frontier,” says Philip Gluz, the Norman O. Brown Professor of Polymorphous Perversity at the University of Cape Cod, who teaches a seminar on the subject that has drawn criticism from state legislators as a front for indoctrination of young people. “Earlobe nibbling does not result in human reproduction, so the weirdos who do it have to perpetuate their species by other means,” says Rep. Mike O’Bannon (D-Seekonk). “We used to burn witches for lesser offenses, which was wholesome entertainment for the whole family.”

earlobe4
Inter-species earlobe nibbling was common in ancient Rome.

 

There is currently no specific law prohibiting earlobe-nibbling in the state, but prosecutors sometimes resort to a statute adopted in 1635 as part of The Book of the General Lauus and Libertyes of Maffachufets to repress the practice. “If any man or woman fhall LYE WITH ANY BEAFT, or fhall NIBBLE UPON THE LOBE OF ANY PERFON’S EARE,” the law reads, “they fhall furely be put to death.” Defense counsel argue that the law should be stricken from the books under the principle of desuetude, or that its enforcement should be suspended until a new shipment of s’s arrives from England.

But that won’t help couples like the Meznicks, who say they just want to pursue their love according to their own lights. “Why canth they just leaf uth alone,” Jim says as Sandra moans softly. “Ith really a victimleth crime.”

Zither Player Estimates He Slept With Four, Maybe Five Women Over Career

WASHINGTON, Missouri.  This town of 14,000 on the banks of the Missouri River is known as the “Corncob Pipe Capital of the World,” a distinction that draws smokers from around the world to the Missouri Meerschaum factory here.  “It would be a shame if they ever left,” says Matthew Oldenberger, an expert on the subject.  “I would have to make substantial revisions to my two-volume treatise on the corncob pipe–which you can buy on amazon.com for only $14.95.”


Washington, MO.

But to music lovers, Washington is better known as the Zither Capital of the World, after Franz Schwarzer, the 19th century master craftsman who built a zither empire here that reached its peak in 1873, when three of the stringed instruments he made won the Gold Medal of Progress at the Vienna Exposition.  “That was pretty much the Woodstock for the zither,” says Hubert Noals, a curator of zithers at the National Museum of Forgotten Stringed Instruments in Arlington, Virginia.  “Anti-German sentiment increased with World War I, so I guess you’d say that was the zither’s Altamont,” he adds, referring to the disastrous free concert in 1969 at which a man was killed by motorcycle gang members providing security for The Rolling Stones.


Zither

But now zither enthusiasts see the instrument making a comeback, as Fritz Kleinschmidt, considered by many to be the “Jimi Hendrix of the Zither,” has moved back to Washington to write his memoirs and compile his Greatest Hits, Vol. 4.  “It is an opportunity for me to reflect,” he tells this reporter.  “I have been such a hot shot for so long, time for me to cool down.”

Prompted by guitarist John Mayer’s recent revelation that he has had sex with five hundred women during seventeen years of sexual activity, Kleinschmidt makes a revelation of his own.  “So many I have lost count,” he says, shaking his head as an easy smile comes to his lips.  “It was either four or five.”

Asked to give the salacious details, Kleinschmidt plunges right in.  “First there was Margie Hoffmeister.  Her brother Johan asked me to sleep over, I was only ten, she was twelve.  We were watching Revenge of the Cheesemongers on a portable television set.  She was so scared, she crawled into bed with me–fully clothed!”


“Oh no!  Anything but Limburger!”

 

He goes on to give details of other encounters with women who succumbed to his romantic stylings on the instrument that may have from thirty to an astonishing fifty-two strings.  “Eve-Elise Wehrmacht-Schnizen was my favorite,” he reminisces fondly.  “A woman with two hyphens–incredible!”

Some town fathers and mothers are embarrassed by Kleinschmidt’s prurient late-in-life revelations, but say there is little or nothing they can do to silence him given inconvenient American notions of “free speech” that are alien to their Austro-Hungarian heritage.  “Besides corncob pipes and zithers, the only thing we have to hang our hat on is that we are the birthplace of Con Chapman, a failed novelist,” says town historian Mathias Werner. “And we have been trying to live that down for nearly three score and ten years.”

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.”

Public Works Dept. Intervenes to Halt Horrid Case of Plant Abuse

WESTLAND, Mass.  For Martha Colburn, summer is the time for her annual “getaway” weekend with girlfriends, even if Crevasse Ranch, her favorite spa, has imposed “social distancing” measures to comply with state health mandates.  “I guess that means our lounge chairs will have to be six feet apart,” she says with a laugh.  “That won’t get in the way of our drinking.”

Canyon Ranch: An Uber Spa Experience - Hartford Courant
*don’t think about dying plants . . . don’t think about dying plants*

 

But the forty-something housewife had health concerns of a different sort on her mind when she kissed her husband Jim goodbye Monday.  “You’ll water my plants while I’m gone, right?” she asked with an upraised eyebrow.

“Absolutely,” Jim said as he took a bite of a cinnamon raisin bagel, making his response difficult to understand.

“Because for some reason whenever I go away they seem to wither and die.”

Why my husband's love is different from my father's love
“Of course I’ll neglect your plants while you’re away.”

 

“Well, they just like you better, I guess,” Jim said as Martha got in her car for the two-hour drive to western Massachusetts.

“All right,” she yelled as she backed out of her driveway, “but there’d better be something growing when I get back.”

Coronavirus Spread Creates Risk for 911: Who Will Answer? - WSJ
“I’ve got a pansy neglect and abuse in progress at 314 Shimer Road.”

 

That cheery goodbye masked a clandestine surveillance operation the housewife had put in place with local officials in a desperate attempt to get to the bottom of a problem that has bedeviled her and her friends for years.  “We set up hidden cameras and voice activated tape recorders,” says Detective Sergeant Jim Hampy of the Westland Police Department.  “Whoever is murdering these poor little green fellows is going to feel the full force of the law coming down hard on ’em–unless they made a significant donation to our fraudulent telemarketing fund-raiser.”

The involvement of local officials allowed Martha to relax with her friends until last night, when she got a text message from Town Hall saying she needed to log-on and identify the perpetrator of a crime-in-progress.  She went to the resort’s “business center,” where an assistant connected her to the internet.  “What’s going on?” she asked Hampy as she saw a shadowy figure on her front porch, barely visible with the outside light turned off in violation of homeowner association by-laws.

“I’d say this is an inside job,” Hampy replies.  “Whoever that guy is, he’s familiar with the surroundings and he’s comfortable–almost brazen–in the liberties he’s taking in that Adirondack chair.”

The low-quality of the video precluded a positive identity until the suspect emitted a belch that sounded all-too-familiar to the co-owner of the unit.  “That’s Jim!” Martha exclaimed.

“Okay, good.  Why don’t you send him a text ‘reminding’ him to water those . . . what are they . . .”

“Morning glories.”

” . . . at his feet.”

The woman complies, and her husband responds promptly with a “Will do.”  Then, in a move that shocks the conscience of both his spouse and the case-hardened law enforcement officer, he pours the dregs of his beer into a flower pot.


“Water the roots–NOT the leaves!”

 

“Oh my God!” the wife exclaims, and Hampy responds “We’re on it,” before bawling “Code Red, 314 Shimer Road, copy?” into his dispatcher’s microphone.

“Roger that,” a voice responds, and it is the work of a minute for a SWAT team from the Town’s Department of Public Works to arrive with potting soil and other gardening supplies to effect a dramatic rescue and save the future lives of the endangered perennial.

Last night, after Jim was released into his wife’s custody on his own recognizance, the two returned home and shared an uncomfortable few minutes of silence on their living room couch before Martha could restrain herself no longer.

“I can’t believe what you poured on that poor plant,” she says with disgust.

“It was light beer!”

 

Breakaway Sect Honors Extra Virgin Mary

ROME, Italy. Angered by what they consider a decline in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, a splinter group of Roman Catholic traditionalists has formed a new schism within the church that will worship “Extra Virgin Mary.”


A call for extra virginity.

 

“We need a new Mary for a new age,” says the cult’s leader, Antonio d’Erario. “Not just a virgin–an extra virgin.”


Purer than the regular stuff.

 

The term “extra virgin” is used to refer to the highest quality olive oil. “Extra virgin olive oil is characterized by perfect flavor and odor and a maximum acidity of 1%,” says Rocco Donatelli, an olive buyer for the del O’rro brand of food products. “Regular olive oil is like Madonna–like a virgin, but not the real thing.”


Madonna: Not the real thing.

 

Worship of the Blessed Virgin is particularly strong in this predominantly Catholic country, where virginity until marriage or sexual intercourse, whichever comes first, is common. “This Madonna–she had sex with Dennis Rodman,” notes cult member Donna de Varonna. “You might as well drink out of a urinal,” she says as she spits on the ground.


Rodman:  “It’s fun trading clothes with Madonna!”

 

British bookmakers, who will lay odds on nearly any proposition, peg the new faith as a 5-1 shot to overtake Episcopalianism and other high-income Protestant denominations within a year. “We were short on Scientology, and look what happened to us,” says bookie Reg Winstall of Liverpool. “They wiped us out when they crushed the Presbyterians last year.”


“If you change your mind it doesn’t count.”

The possibility of a higher level of virginity was first postulated by Oscar Levant, the pianist and author who said of Doris Day’s movie studio makeover “I knew her before she was a virgin.”  Day never recovered from the remark, and in her despair went on to star in a series of films opposite gay actor Rock Hudson.


Oscar Levant

There is no comparable Marian cult in America, although coeds at Southern colleges often undergo a transformation that they claim makes them “born-again” virgins.  “I kinda had sex with Jimmy Ray Lester after a Sigma Nu party once,” says Mary Louise Mulleneau, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University.  “Then I met Lee Twitchell, Jr., whose daddy owns a bunch of hotels and stuff.  I asked the girls in my sorority, and they said if you change your mind about a date it doesn’t count.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Oh. . .My. . .God.”

Happy Poor Fern’s Day

Today, as every schoolboy knows who went to school in Sedalia, Mo.–Queen City of the Prairies, Gateway to the Ozarks, the State Fair City–is Poor Fern’s Day.

What?  You’ve never heard of the holiday?  Have you been living under a rock, or are you just emerging from a cave on a South Pacific island, like those Japanese soldiers who didn’t get the memo about V-J Day?  Perhaps, as the man said who started his sci-fi story with the line “The world had just ended,” I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was the mid-1960s, and Americans had begun to doubt the truth of the news that was spoon-fed to them by compliant media outlets.  “Body count” became the measure of success in the Vietnam War, but because a higher number of KIAs (for “killed in action”) meant promotions for officers, there was pressure to inflate their reports of the enemy dead.  A staggering 61% of American commanders considered body counts to be grossly exaggerated.  Not their own, of course, just the other guys’.

A newfound cynicism washed over the nation’s thinking, and it began to seep down even–perhaps especially–to America’s youth.  If ABC, NBC and CBS could lie to us about what was happening halfway around the world, we thought, why can’t we lie about what’s happening right here at home?

In this polluted atmosphere a campaign of fake news was born that continued for several years, as a group of waggish boys (plus a few girls) gulled our local newspaper into reporting on the existence of a fictitious charitable organization–The Poor Fern Society–that celebrated a made-up holiday, Poor Fern’s Day, complete with a parade, the crowning of a Poor Fern’s Queen, and an awards ceremony that recognized members of the group who had served with distinction during the immediately preceding twelve-month period.


Premiere of film “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!” in Sedalia, Mo., March 10, 1948.

 

I am both relieved–and a bit disappointed–to find as I read old news clippings from the Sedalia Democrat-Capital that I am not identified as a ringleader of the organization, although I was singled out as a member of a “committee working on arrangements for . . . festivities” in 1969.  Memory plays tricks on the mind nearly a half century later; I thought by 1969 I was done with Poor Fern’s Day.  Like so many holidays, over time it had become too commercialized, and we had lost sight of our original purpose, which was, in the words of our chairman, to “have fun by helping others to have fun.”  I don’t know that we ever actually voted on that guiding principle, but you know how it is with non-profits; after a while, everybody abandons the hard work of drafting a Mission Statement because you’ve figured out what it is you need to do, and you just do it.


Bare ruined drive-in, where late the juvenile delinquents hung out.

 

I don’t mean to suggest that our cock-and-bull society was all fun and games–no sir.  In addition to keeping ourselves amused and avoiding the near occasions of sin such as drive-in hamburger joints that led to juvenile delinquency, we falsely claimed to do volunteer work, sponsor a Little League team, and visit the sick and shut-ins so beloved by evangelical preachers who spread the word of God–and collected donations from those who could ill afford it–by our two local radio stations.

When asked, we estimated the size of our group to be 80 strong, a gross but excusable exaggeration.  Would a newspaper send a reporter to cover your event if it was known that the actual number of your non-dues-paying members was probably less than ten?  Oh sure, that count swelled on the day of the annual parade because we pooled our money and bought soft drinks and ice cream to keep us cool in the summer heat, but if Joseph McCarthy or some other red-baiting legislator had hauled us before a latter-day House Un-American Activities Committee, the great majority of our fair-weather friends could have truthfully said they were not then, nor had they ever been, members of The Poor Fern Society.


“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of The Poor Fern Society?”

 

While we violated the Old Testament injunction against telling a lie, we apparently took care to follow the rules governing our conduct, as opposed to mere speech.  We had a police escort for our parade, with a formal line of march through the downtown shopping district–where my father’s women’s clothing store was located!  It was thus an adventure fraught with risk for me, since my mother’s rule was “Fools’ names and fools’ faces are always seen in public places.”


South Ohio Street, Chapman’s Ladies Ready-to-Wear at left.

 

We claimed to be the third-most active chapter of The Poor Fern Society in America, after The Bronx, New York, and McKeesport, Pennsylvania.  In retrospect, I think The Bronx chapter had an unfair advantage, as we located the imaginary Poor Fern Hall of Fame in New York City.  I suspect there may have been some ballot-box stuffing involved in their #1 ranking, but then I now live in Boston, where Mayor James Michael Curley used to urge his supporters to vote “early and often.” As a result, I am inclined by hard usage to skepticism in matters of politics.


W.C. Fields

 

Like all good spoofers, we included a key to unlock the door to understanding our fictional tale.  We elected as our national president Curtis T. Bascom, a pseudonym used by comic actor W.C. Fields to open secret bank accounts where he hid his money from creditors when he worked on the vaudeville circuit as a juggler.  If schoolboys don’t know that these days, then what the hell are they teaching them in school–algebra?  Give me a break!

Thus, all it would have taken to unmask our fraud would have been a five-minute search for “W.C. Fields AND pseudonyms” on the forerunner to the internet:

The network of pneumatic tubes in C.W. Flowers, the most modern department store downtown.