Volunteers Gird for Busy Season Saving “Rescue Fruitcakes”

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  In a non-descript building in this western suburb of Boston, the stress of the holiday season is apparent on the forehead of Mark Foutreau as he barks into his landline.  “We need somebody to cover the South Shore,” he says with a no-nonsense tone.  “I can’t spare anybody in MetroWest until after Christmas.”


Framingham, Mass.: They could afford nicer offices if you’d donate some money.

 

Foutreau’s mission is not retail sales, however, despite the many shopping plazas that line the busy state highway where his non-profit’s office is located.  “It’s the neglect that breaks your heart,” he says with a pained expression.  “People buy them as presents, never asking themselves whether the person they give them to can take care of one.”

But the gifts he’s talking about aren’t puppies or kittens or rabbits, which are often given at Christmas and then abandoned to die quickly in the cold New England winter.  “Those animals are part of the circle of life,” he says, drawing a deep breath as he looks at pictures of rescues his organization made last year.  “Coyotes get them, but no coyote is going to eat this,” he says, as he thrusts a disturbing image in front of this reporter.

The photo shows a discarded fruitcake lying in a drainage ditch, where it would have triggered spring floods and sewer clogging if it had been left in an undigested lump.  “Poor kid,” he says, shaking its head.  “We found it a good home, a 73-year-old man who actually likes the stuff.  He finished it off by Easter.”

Foutreau is the passionate Executive Director of Fruitcake Rescue, whose mission is to stop fruitcake neglect both after the fact by placing “rescue fruitcakes” in caring environments, and before it happens by raising public awareness of the problem.


Pediatric Fruitcake Rescue Poster Child

 

A fruitcake is a cake made with fruit, nuts and spices, often soaked in spirituous liquors, which can lead to impaired motor skills and low standardized test scores.  “Growing up in an alcoholic environment, many fruitcakes start off several steps behind other baked goods,” says Amy Bilboff, a professional fund raiser brought in to help Foutreau with a fund-raising drive.  “Yes there are a lot of other great charities out there asking for your money, but this is the only one doing the Lord’s work of getting me a new Audi.”

Fruitcakes date from ancient Rome, when pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and raisins were mixed into barley mash to form circular objects that were used as chariot wheels when they went unconsumed despite being distributed in “bread and circuses” government welfare programs.  “How can this stuff be any good,” a character in a play by Roman satirist Juvenal says, “they’re giving it away.”


“You’re not sticking me with that damn fruitcake!”

 

Because of their alcohol content fruitcakes can remain edible for many years, a phenomenon that was brought home to American television viewers in 2003 when talk-show host Jay Leno ate a piece of an 1878 fruit cake kept as an heirloom by a Tecumseh, Michigan family.  “It’s good,” he said, “but not as good as the one Juvenal sent me.”

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Giants Stage O’Neill Play as TD Celebrations Lengthen

OAKLAND, Cal.  It was a rare bright spot in an otherwise forgettable day and a miserable season for the New York Giants: with 5:16 left in their game against Oakland, quarterback Geno Smith hit tight end Evan Engram with a 13-yard touchdown pass that narrowed the Raiders’ lead to 17-14.  Then, as so often has happened this year in pro football, the team that had just scored a touchdown went into an elaborate celebration, performing Eugene O’Neill’s rarely-seen play “More Stately Mansions” in the end zone.


“I can think of many more enjoyable activities, such as being here with you in my arms!”

 

“We’re 2-9 on the season at that point,” said Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo, whose job is widely believed to be in jeopardy.  “Might as well let the guys have their fun, if you find gloomy family tragedies written by an alcoholic amusing.”

O’Neill is considered the greatest American playwright prior to the AFL-NFL merger in 1967.  “More Stately Mansions” is his longest and most challenging work, and was first performed that year after his widow, Carlotta Monterey, had the unfinished script staged against her husband’s wishes.  “It was originally intended to be part of a nine-play cycle,” notes theatre historian Armand Clyde.  “O’Neill wanted to create a work whose performance would run past the time when physicists expect all life on earth to end.”

NFL touchdown celebrations have grown longer and more elaborate this year, as teams have mimed hide-and-go-seek, Red Rover, tag and other children’s games following a six-point score.  “We had a team meeting Thursday and decided, if we ever scored a touchdown again, we’d make sure people remembered it,” said offensive captain Eli Manning, who was benched for the game so that he could direct the performance from the sidelines.  The original cast featured 46 actors, standbys, bit parts and “swing” players in total, forcing the Giants to activate a second punter from their “taxi squad.”


McAdoo: “Ah, won’t it be a beautiful life, when I am fired and can sit back at my ease”

 

New York is the drama capital of America, and the performance was hailed as a major step towards the maturation of the American end zone celebration by critics.  “So many of these little tableaux hardly rise above the level of community theatre,” sniffed Arnold de Gravure, author of How to Enjoy Ibsen.  “The Giants play this season has all the essential characteristics of tragedy, as they have failed to cover the point spread in seven out of twelve games.”

Oakland fans, who are known throughout the league for their colorful costumes and heavy consumption of alcohol, appeared to enjoy the performance even though it took a busted on-side kick by the Giants to put the game out of reach.  “When they started we had a crowd of 55,000,” said Oakland Coliseum Security Chief Ray Blisbane.  “When they finished Act II, we were down to 23.”

A Letter

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the football team had gathered to check in their equipment at the stadium. The atmosphere was a mixture of chagrin and relief; the team had lost the last game of the season and finished 5 and 5, no great shakes, but at least all the hard work was over. There hadn’t been that many seniors on the team—only five—so that was some kind of excuse. There had been six sophomores who saw a lot of action on offense or defense, and a couple of others who played on special teams, so the coaches were optimistic about the future and in a good mood.

Joe was one of the seniors, and the only one who hadn’t earned a letter at the start of the season. He was a bit undersized, but there were smaller kids who were better than him. He was fast enough—technically he was a halfback and defensive back—but he didn’t seem to make good use of his speed. He tended to run in a straight line, as if he were a chalk mark on the coach’s blackboard, and so when a hole closed or never opened he went nowhere, and on defense, he’d run right at a guy who’d put a move on him and be gone.

He’d done everything they’d asked all four years he’d played, but he was still on the junior varsity the year before. He got a dinky junior varsity patch that he put on his right breast, but on his left all he had was a letter for speech and debate. From a distance they all looked the same, and so Joe would pal around with the other four seniors and hope that their reflected glory would shine a little status on him.

He thought he’d built up a fair amount of goodwill with the coaching staff, then the school had gone and fired the head coach from the year before and replaced him with somebody from a junior college in Kansas. It was the man’s first head coaching job—he was apparently an offensive genius—but it meant that Joe had to start over and show the new man what a hard worker he was even if he wasn’t that good.

The coach had laid down the law the first day of practice, August 15th. He’d handed out a mimeographed sheet telling you what the rules were; everybody had to get a crew cut, coats and ties on game day, no alcohol, no smoking, and an eleven o’clock curfew. There was to be an honor system—if you saw one of your teammates break the rules you had to turn him in. And you had to run a six-minute mile with your equipment on—after practice. You had to keep trying until you could do it.

Joe had accomplished the feat the first day—he’d been in training all summer long—but the coach barely noticed it. He just made a check next to Joe’s name on his clipboard and yelled at the others who came in behind him.

It had continued like that the whole season. Joe was on the scout team, but he was never called upon to play the part of the other team’s number one back; when the head coach stepped in to demonstrate something, he was always directing his instruction towards the first team. Joe might have been just a cog in the machine, his dad told him, but machines still needed every one of their cogs. Hang in there, he’d said; hard work is the one thing that’s always rewarded in this world.

You had to play twenty quarters—half the season–to get a letter; Joe didn’t know if the assistant coaches kept close track, but he knew he had been in nineteen. There were three quarters—two of them mopping up–against a weaker team the first game, and he’d allowed himself to get his hopes up. Then there were three non-conference games that he got into for two quarters each on the kick-off team. He figured if the team played halfway decent ball he’d get at least two quarters a game the rest of the way, once when they kicked off at halftime or the beginning of the game, a second time when they scored. By the end of the fourth week he had nine quarters.

The fifth week the conference schedule began, and the coaches began to pit one player against another for playing time to see who was tougher. They had “hamburger” drills halfway through practice every day; one-on-one challenges to see which kid would drive the other back, no “cupping” around because there were tackling dummies on either side so you had nowhere to run. Joe didn’t see what that had to do with his position; he was a back, not a lineman.

Some of the younger backs were sturdier, more compact than Joe, who was wiry. He’d tried everything to put on weight, drinking milk shakes and supplements, but then he’d run it off trying to stay in shape. He told himself it was better to be lighter and quicker and in good shape when August rolled around than to be heavier and puke up your guts the first week.

And so when it came his turn for the hamburger drill he got pushed around, and would grow frustrated that a bunch of sophomores were gaining on him, then passing him on the depth chart. He couldn’t believe the coaches would put some younger kid into a conference game that counted against a good team, he who’d been working so hard for so long.

So at the halfway point in the season he had eleven quarters, then he only got into two quarters the next three games, then only one quarter the last two games–that was nineteen. He figured they’d round up, or cut him some slack because he was a senior. It was no skin off their nose whether they gave out one more letter, he figured.

He sat on the bench next to his locker and fiddled with his stuff, waiting for the head coach to come out of his office so he could say goodbye and thank you, maybe talk to him for a second. His dad had told him that was important, that was something you’d learn in life; to make a connection with people, look them in the eye, make a good impression so they’d remember you when the time came to make an important decision. Joe knew his dad was talking about adult things like raises and promotions, but there wasn’t anything more important to him in the world right now than getting a football letter.

He saw the coach emerge from his office with Don, one of the sophomores, a little water bug of a kid with acne and glasses who didn’t look much like a football player, but who played with a reckless abandon that scared Joe a bit, and the defensive coach named Skip.

“Love to hit, love to hit, love to HIT!” Skip was saying as he put his arm around Don and clapped him on the shoulder. The head coach shook Don’s hand and said “You’re gonna be the first kid lined up outside the gate the first day of practice next summer, aren’t ya?”

“I’m gonna sleep outside the night before,” Don said with a big smile on his face. He shook Skip’s hand and walked off looking down at a piece of paper the head coach had given him, and the two coaches watched him go with obvious appreciation of a fine piece of football flesh.

“Coach?” Joe said softly and then, when he saw the two men talking to each other, “Coach?” a little more firmly.

“Huh? Oh, hi Joe. What can I do for you?”

“I . . . uh . . . just wanted to say thank you and I . . . uh . . . enjoyed playing under you, even if it was only this year.” He stuck out his hand and, after the coach looked down, they shook.

“Well, thanks, Joe, nice of you to say that. I came in not knowing anybody and it’s nice to hear I had some impact on people.”

“No, really, it was a great year even though we coulda done a little better, I think you’ve got a nucleus here for next year’s team.”

Skip interrupted to say “I’m gonna go to the equipment room to start taking inventory.”

“Okay,” the head coach said. “I’ll be in the office for awhile.”

The head coach turned and started to walk away as Joe spoke, after swallowing a little.

“Coach?”

The coach didn’t hear him at first, so he spoke again.

“Coach?”

“Yeah? Oh, sorry, I thought we were through here.”

“I was wondering . . .”

“Yes?”

“I was wondering whether I was going to get a letter.” Joe looked straight ahead at the coach, but he felt the eyes of the players behind him trained on his back.

“A letter?”

“Right. I’m a . . . senior, and I think I got into enough quarters to get a letter.”

“Well, Joe, I don’t know what being a senior has to do with it. It’s not a perfect attendance award. You get a letter in football for accomplishing something, not just showing up. You have to get into the games and knock somebody on their butt.”

Joe inhaled, even though his lungs already felt full. “I think I had enough quarters, coach . . .”

“I don’t think so Joe. I’m pretty good at arithmetic. Even if you did, hell, son, you have to make a difference out there on the field.”

The room had grown quiet as the man and the boy spoke. “Coach, I tried to make a difference every time I got into a game.”

“This is a good lesson for you,” the coach said, then turned to face the boys sitting on the benches that ringed the room, “and for all of you boys. This is a life lesson for you all, right here. Don’t ever confuse effort with results—got it?”

Joe couldn’t see the boys behind him but he could feel them exhale, as if relieved that they were being spared as another was sacrificed.

“Before you got here . . .” Joe began, but the coach cut him off.

“It doesn’t matter what happened before I got here, son,” the coach said with a half-measure of empathy in his voice. “The only thing that matters is what I think because I’m the head coach now. If you can understand that, you can understand why I can’t just hand out football letters like they’re penny candy. That wouldn’t be fair to the other kids who came out and worked just as hard as you—maybe harder–but who got better than you, see?”

Joe looked down and said “I see,” and then “thanks.”

“No problem. Hey, good luck in college next year wherever you go, okay?”

“Okay,” Joe said.

The coach stepped into his office and Joe walked over to the bench and stuffed his gym bag with the few items of equipment that were his to keep; his mouth guard and his jockstrap and an extra pair of socks he kept in his locker.

He knew all the other boys in the room to call them by their first names, but he said nothing to them as he walked out.

Walter Bujkowski, Shovel Pass Inventor, Dead at 97

DULUTH, Minnesota. Walter “Bug” Bujkowski, a football innovator credited with the invention of the shovel pass and the tackle-eligible play, died in his sleep last night of congestive heart failure. He was 97.


Proper shovel pass technique

 

One of the game’s early visionaries, Bujkowski developed the shovel pass in a 1937 game against the Pottsville Maroons.

“Bug was at tailback for the Duluth Eskimoes,” recalled Jim “Popcorn” Brandt, a Maroons’ lineman, “and he took a direct snap. Bug sorta flipped the ball to the wingback, Johnny ‘Horse’ Hampton, and hit him right in his nickname. I pounced on it but Bug started yelling ‘shovel pass, shovel pass’ and convinced the referee it wasn’t a lateral.”


Pottsville Maroons

 

Bujkowski’s quick thinking saved the day as Duluth went on to beat Pottsville, 12-3, the only bright spot in a 1-8-0 season for the Eskimos. He had developed his shoveling skills as a youth working in the hard-scrabble, rough-and-tumble Owl Creek Mountains of Wyoming, where life-threatening avalanches of hyphens are an unfortunate fact of life.


Earl “Milk Train” Poindexter

 

Bujkowski would later improvise another pigskin innovation, the tackle eligible play, when he coached the Providence Steam Rollers. “We had an end that year who was real lazy,” recalled Earl “Milk Train” Poindexter, the Steam Rollers’ wing back. “He’d lean on the defensive lineman and grunt–just go through the motions.”


Bukj–I mean Bujkowski, with Duluth Eskimos

 

“Bug finally had enough one day and pulled the guy out of the game. One of the assistants asked who they should send in to replace him. Bug said, ‘We’re better off with nobody at that position than somebody who’s going to dog it.’”

Two plays later Bujkowski forgot that he had removed the end and called for a pass play. Providence quarterback Ed “Thunderbolt” Thompson threw it to the tackle at the end of the offensive line, paving the way for modern-day uses of the formation such as Mike Vrabel’s touchdown for the New England Patriots in the 2005 Super Bowl against the Eagles.

Bujkowski was a self-effacing man who wanted no credit for his pioneering inventions. When asked by a reporter at his 1993 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction how history would view his contributions to the game, Bujkowksi replied “Who gives a rat’s ass–where’s the buffet?”


Tige: Sorta looks like a squirrel.

 

His eyesight failing, Bujkowski lived out his declining years in a double-wide trailer with his chihuahua “Tige.” When interviewed by this reporter shortly before his death, Bujkowski said “I have no regrets. I’ve lived a full life, and I–JESUS, GET THIS DAMN SQUIRREL OFF MY–oh wait. That’s Tige.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to the Bemidji Institute for the Study of Sports Head Trauma.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fauxbituaries.”

Before the Bouncy House Court of Appeals

The Massachusetts state supreme court rejected the argument that prior approval of a bouncy house was precedent for a subsequent residential use of land.

The Boston Globe

bounce5

CLERK:  Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save this Honorable Court.

JUSTICE No. 1: Counsel, you may . . .

JUSTICE No. 2: Hold on a second–aren’t there supposed to be three “Oyezs”?

JUSTICE No. 1:  That’s the Supreme Court of the United States, this is just Massachusetts.

JUSTICE No. 3: Can I ask a question too?

JUSTICE No. 1:  Shoot.

JUSTICE No 4: Bang!

JUSTICE No. 3: What the hell’s an “oyez” anyway?

JUSTICE No. 5: Oyez comes from the Anglo-Norman oyez.  It’s the plural imperative form of oyer, from Old French ouïr, which means “to hear.”  So oyez means “hear ye”–it’s a call for silence and attention. It would have been common . . .

 

JUSTICE No. 6:  Enough with the pedantry.

JUSTICE No. 1:  Call the first case.

CLERK:  The case of 125 Elm Street LLC v. Zoning Board of Westland is now before the court.  Counsel for the appellant?

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  May it please the court . . .

JUSTICE No. 1:  For your sake, it better.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Your honors, this case boils down to a simple question: Can a local zoning board approve a bouncy house . . .

JUSTICE No. 7:  What’s a bouncy house?

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  That’s an excellent question, your honor.

JUSTICE No. 7:  It’s funny, when I go to a restaurant the waiter always says I make excellent choices.  Here, the lawyers always say I ask excellent questions.  Wonder why that is?

JUSTICE No. 1:  You got me–there’s no tipping here.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  If I may?

JUSTICE No 1:  Proceed.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Your Honors, a bouncy house is a type of temporary inflatable structure used for recreational purposes.  People–generally children and the terminally immature–enter the house and bounce on the inflated cushions contained therein.

JUSTICE No. 2:  So sort of like a “moonwalk.”

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Precisely, your honor.  They are also called bouncy castles, inflatable castles, moon bounces, jumpers . . .

JUSTICE No. 3:  We haven’t got all day.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Right, gotcha.  Anyway, the Town of Westland had previously approved a “bouncy house” on the site of 125 Elm Street . . .

JUSTICE No. 4:  What was it for–birthday party, ice cream social, bar mitzvah–what?

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Your honor, it was for a birthday party, but I should emphasize that the overwhelming majority of kids at a birthday party are not there on their birthdays.

JUSTICE No. 3:  I don’t see how that’s germane.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Germaine Greer, or Jermaine Jackson?


Germaine Greer:  “This is a really stupid post, okay?”

 

JUSTICE No. 3:  I don’t know.  You want to do rock-paper-scissors to settle it?

JUSTICE No. 2:  That is a rather childish way to settle a dispute.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Which brings me back to my argument.  Your Honors, while it may seem childish, a bouncy house is still a house.  Once the Westland Zoning Board approves a bouncy house for 125 Elm Street, it is bound by the principal of stare decisis . . .

JUSTICE No. 4:  I forget what that means . . .

JUSTICE No. 1:  No checks accepted.

JUSTICE No. 2:  No, that’s pas de fumez.  Stare decisis means once we decide on a principle, we have to follow it in future cases . . . unless we change our mind.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  So since the Zoning Board approved a bouncy house for the prior owner of 125 Elm Street, they are bound by the guiding principle of Anglo-American law to approve a house for the current owner.

JUSTICE No. 1:  What kind of structure is your client planning on putting up?

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  A thirteen-story, 86-unit apartment building, with several set aside for low-income tenants.

JUSTICE No. 1:  And the Chairman of the Zoning Board lives at . . .

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  At 127 Elm Street.

JUSTICE No. 1:  Funny how that works out.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  Funny strange, or funny ha-ha?

JUSTICE No. 1:  Both.  It’s the iron law of affordable housing: one’s enthusiasm for it is inversely proportional to the distance it’s located from one’s residence.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL:  I rest my case.

JUSTICE No. 1:  Let’s hear from the other side.

APPELLEE’S COUNSEL:  Your honor, the arguments of my distinguished adversary are vapid, jejune, and meretricious.

JUSTICE No. 2:  I thought that was a law firm.

APPELLEE’S COUNSEL:  It may very well be, your honor, but the fact remains that one lives in a house, but one merely bounces in a bouncy house.

JUSTICE No. 4:  I used to love bouncing on our couch when I was a kid . . .

APPELLEE’S COUNSEL:  That’s probably a zoning violation as well.

JUSTICE No. 5:  Or on a bed, at a slumber party–that was a blast!

JUSTICE No. 2:  Until you broke a slat.

APPELLEE’S COUNSEL:  Could you guys  stop reminiscing and get back to ruling in my favor?

JUSTICE No. 1:  But you can bounce in a non-bouncy house–correct counselor?

APPELLE’S COUNSEL:  Sure, when your mom is out of the room.  But when she comes back, you’re in big, big trouble.

JUSTICE No. 2:  I’m inclined to rule in favor of the bouncy-house guy.

JUSTICE No. 3:  The one who’s in favor of them, or this dweeb in the wingtips?

JUSTICE No. 2:  Not this one, the first dweeb in wingtips.

JUSTICE No. 1:  Shall we rule from the bench?

JUSTICE No. 5:  If we don’t, we have to write a long, boring opinion.

JUSTICE No. 1:  Okay, all in favor of a slumber party at Appellant Counsel’s house, say “Aye.”

ALL:  (All) AYE!

Speed-Dating With the Supreme Court

In the case of Bilski and Warsaw v. Kappos, Justice Stephen Breyer asked counsel whether he could patent a method of teaching that would keep 80% of students awake and Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if speed dating could be patented. 

The Wall Street Journal

As Marshal of the Supreme Court, my job is an important one, but there’s not a lot of variety.  Every day I say the same thing:  “Oyez, oyez, oyez: All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this honorable Court.”  Then I sit down.  That’s it.


Breyer:  “I find a Hawaiian shirt helps keep students awake.”

 

But last week, let me tell you, was something special.  It’s not often you see the kind of intellectual fireworks we heard in Bilski and Warsaw v. Kappos.  I talked to Justice Breyer afterwards, and he said he hadn’t seen anything like it since somebody set off a bottle rocket at a Harvard Law School 4th of July picnic.


Bottle rockets:  Another joy of youth, now proscribed by goody two-shoes regulators.

 

The question before the court was whether “business methods”, like keeping a bank open on Saturdays–duh–could be patented.  And Justice Breyer, let me tell you, for a former Harvard professor, he’s a pretty sharp guy.  He saw the business angle right away.

“Counselor,” he said, and there was an undertone of pecuniary self-interest in his voice, “under your argument, would I be able to patent a method of teaching law school that promised to keep at least 80% of students awake?”


“I don’t mind if you sleep, but please don’t drool.”

 

“Your Honor,” the lawyer replied, “if you can keep that many law students awake during a lecture on antitrust, it would be the greatest invention since canned beer.”


Canned beer, early experimental prototype

 

“Thanks, counselor, that’s just great,” Breyer said.  “You know, it’s not easy sitting up here day after day, listening to wing-tipped dweebs like you drone on and on, and not make as much money as a first-year associate at a Wall Street law firm.”

“I can understand your frustration,” the lawyer said.  “As a high-bracket taxpayer I’m not prepared to do anything about it, but I understand.”

“Counselor,” Justice Alito, interjected, and we all braced ourselves for a high-IQ onslaught.  He has a prodigous memory and can rattle off the actors and actresses who appeared in the Brady Bunch at the drop of a hat.  You have to take off your hat when you come into the Supreme Court, but I’ve seen him do it.

 

“Counselor,” Alito began, and nobody coulda guessed where he was headed.  “Don’t you think that some people, horse whisperers or others, might have some patentable insights into the best way to train animals?”


“You have horse breath.”

 

“Your honor,” the lawyer began, “with all due respect to Robert Redford, who did a great job in that movie . . .”

“I thought he was cute in The Way We Were,” Justice Ginsburg said by way of interruption.  Ruth’s like that–always butting in.

“As I was saying,” the lawyer continued, “I think horse whispering is overrated.  Anybody can talk to a horse, and in the case of Mr. Ed, the horse can even talk back, so I think it fails the test of obviousness.  Goldfish whisperers, now that’s another story.”


“You touch it, you play it.”

 

I’d been watching Sonia Sotomayor out of the corner of my eye.  I knew she was single–the first single woman to sit on the Supreme Court!  She was just chomping at the bit to ask a question, and as soon as she saw daylight, she hit the hole running.

“Counselor, let me pose a hypothetical,” she said, easing into her query.  “Let’s say someone came up with a really effective system of speed dating . . . ”


“Really?  A Supreme Court Justice?  Wow!  I’m . . . a valet parking attendant.”

 

“Speed dating?”  The guy was clueless–probably hadn’t been inside a singles bar since the first Clinton administration.

“Yes, speed dating.  It’s a formalized method for singles to meet a large number of new people, invented by Rabbi Yaacov Deyo of Aish HaTorah.”

“I’m not familiar with the process, your honor.”

“Men and women rotate through a series of short ‘dates’ lasting from 3 to 8 minutes.  First impressions are usually accurate, except Congressional first impressions of me, which were totally wrong.”


“We only have a couple of seconds, so let me just say that I love you madly.”

 

“Okay, I follow you.”

“Anyway, suppose someone came up with a system of screening out the men who don’t have jobs as prestigious as Supreme Court Justice.  In my mind, that would be a very valuable enhancement to a process that is currently very hit-or-miss.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

The guy was drenched in flop sweat.  You never want to disagree with a Supreme Court Justice, but if he agreed with her, wouldn’t he be saying she needed help with a courtship technique that was already steeped in desperation?

“Your honor, I see my time is just about up . . .”

“I have discretion to grant you extra time,” she said with an icy tone.  “I’m waiting . . .”

“Your honor,” he said, and I could tell he was stalling for time.  “There are some women who are too good for any man.  Beautiful, talented, brilliant–think you know the type.  Anyway, there are some improvements that are beyond the imagination of even the brightest minds.  So I don’t think that’s possible.”

If there was a rule against hyperbole before the Court I wouldn’t have a job.  But there isn’t, so I have to sit through this kind of sugar-coated b.s. every day.

She looked him up and down, taking the measure of the man.  “No further questions,” she said finally.  “Anybody else?”

“Yes.”  It was Justice Thomas, who never says a thing at oral argument.  “Can somebody get me a Diet Coke?”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Supremes Greatest Hits.”

You Don’t Know What Love Is

I was sort of between girlfriends then–Marthe had moved out after we’d come back from the Bahamas. We’d had that trip planned for a long time, though why she even booked it was a mystery to me since we hadn’t been getting along. I guess she thought maybe it would bring us back together, but I already had my eye on someone else.

I’d seen her around Beacon Hill a few times, then one night at a bar I saw her across the room, laughing in a way that Marthe never did, her head thrown back. When I turned back to Marthe she was reading her program from the Symphony earlier in the night. She was like that, self-contained, in an ethereal little world of her own—probably the only woman in history who’d done needlepoint while sitting in the bleachers at Fenway Park.

With Rachel, as I later came to learn was the other woman’s name, everything was on the surface, there were no depths, but that’s what I was looking for just then. It wasn’t drama that was the problem with Marthe, it was tragedy. She didn’t make scenes, but when she deigned to come out of her high-WASP cocoon or from whatever century Johann Freaking Bach and his sons lived in, everything was serious. Rachel on the other hand was the first Jewish woman I ever knew who had no intellectual side whatsoever. I took her to the ballet—Billy the Kid—on our first date, trying to impress her. Afterwards she said if I ever tried to do that again she’d kill me, and she didn’t sound like she was kidding.

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Somehow we got past that and after a few more dates she was prepared for me to meet her girlfriends, so I started getting the once-over from a lot of women I’d never met before. You may know the look, but only if you’ve been a piece of sirloin in a meat counter; the new boyfriend is examined with a gaze that’s part greeting, part appraisal. I think they were glad for her—I know that sounds conceited, but I just mean it completed their social circle so they didn’t have to fill it in with gay guys.

It was a change of altitude figuring out what to do with her when we were on our own though. On Friday nights we’d have a lot of catching up to do, then if there was a party Saturday night we’d go to that. I’ll say this, there was never any sitting around arguing about whether to listen to classical or jazz like Marthe and I sometimes ended up doing when we needed an excuse to go at each other.

Rachel said she’d checked me out and was satisfied. Not sure what that meant—the mutual friend I found to introduce us barely knew me, although he was the kind of guy who figured he’d plumbed the depths of your soul once he’d given you a firm handshake and looked you squarely in the eye. He was dating Rachel’s friend, so maybe he just wanted somebody to talk to on Saturday nights.

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I wasn’t looking for a rebound romance, if that’s what she thought. I was just looking for a change of pace. Marthe had been the first woman I’d met in Boston, and maybe we latched on to each other because both of us were new to town and didn’t know anybody. Rachel was from the suburbs, she knew people, and they wanted to have fun together—nothing wrong with that.

I figured at some point I needed to show Rachel my domestic side, even if I didn’t think we were made for each other long term, so I offered to make her dinner at my apartment, veal I think. She acted surprised, said she was impressed, etc. went through the whole range of standard role reversal reactions—she couldn’t cook for shit, that was for sure. What does a Jewish American Princess like to make for dinner, her friend Catherine had asked me when the question of Rachel’s culinary skills first came up. I said I didn’t know, and she said “reservations.”

It hadn’t been that way with Marthe. She got home before I did, but I was expected to help out with everything, from cooking to birth control up to but not including demonstrating for the equal rights amendment. I did have to drive her to the traffic rotary where she stood out with her sign, though.

I had a second-floor apartment in the Back Bay that faced south so you got sun in the winter. I put the dinner table in the window so it was like you had a good table at the Hampshire House. Rachel brought flowers—nice touch, I said, but I’d probably kill them.

“Why?” she asked.

“I have a black thumb.”

“I thought you meant intentionally.”

“I wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

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She sat down and had a glass of wine while I cooked and she began to unload on Catherine’s husband, a stockbroker who was sucking all the money he made up his nose.

“Why doesn’t she divorce him?”

“She was madly in love with him not too long ago—they’ve only been married a year,” she said. “She can’t believe she made such a mistake.”

“I guess those things happen,” I said.

“I know, it’s too bad. I feel sorry for her.”

She didn’t get up to help with the cooking—she’d brought a cheesecake for dessert, so I guess she figured she’d already done enough.

“So guess what?” she asked.

“What?”

“We’re going to be neighbors.”

“You’re kidding!” I really was surprised. She lived on the other side of Beacon Hill, and I thought she liked the distance between us.

“Nope–my father’s going to buy me a condo.”

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I figured I should be enthusiastic so I said “terrific” or something like that. “Where is it?”

“On Exeter, between Newbury and Comm Ave,” she said. I did the math—five blocks away—and put the asparagus on. “Close to shopping,” she said.

“It’s a wise man who knows his daughter,” I said. “We’re about ready.”

“Can I take anything to the table?”

“Just your plate and your drink.”

She sat down and I put on one of the few records I owned that I could play at dinner without Marthe complaining.

“Well, this is nice,” Rachel said as she raised her glass.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers.”

We started to eat—Rachel wasn’t one like Marthe to starve herself all the time, and she dug in as usual.

“What is this music?” she asked.

“Chet Baker,” I said. He was singing “You Don’t Know What Love Is” at a concert in Italy.

“What’s this guy’s problem?”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s like . . . pathetic.”

“It’s a sad song.”

“You don’t know,” she sang, mockingly, “what love is! God, did his goldfish just die or what?”

I looked at her evenly, not wanting to ruin things. “I can change it if you want,” I said, and got up to put on something else.