Burned by Shoplifters, One Store Turns to Higher Power

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

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


Most wear standard-issue rent-a-cop outfits, but two stand out from the bland crowd; Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea and Sister Mary Clarus, who wear the grey, white and black habits of the Little Sisters of Inventory Loss Control.

“They’re two tough hombresinas.”


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

“You hold him–I’ll hit him.”


The two got their start as a tag team handling a rough crew of boys who moved through Sacred Heart Grade School in Sedalia, Missouri, like a rat through a snake’s digestive track.  “The gang that graduated in 1965, they were sent to us from hell,” Sister Mary Clarus recalls with disgust.  “Dick Walje tried to knock my wimple off one day, and Scotty Lilja drew a picture of St. Agnes in a Speedo for his fifth grade art project.”

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

“I’m going to need to see an ID.”


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

My On-Line Degree in Philosophy is Really Real!

Love Philosophy? Get a Master’s or PhD online. Fill out a short form and compare top schools.

Banner advertisement, Facebook.

“C-o-g-i-t-o . . . e-r-g-o . . . s-u-m.”


I never used to pay any attention to those ads for on-line degrees until the other day at work. Sheree Lynn, the boss’s daughter, is supposed to report to me in human resources but her dad left early to play golf and all of a sudden she’s prancing around like she’s Assistant Director of Benefits!

Socrates: “Take my On-Line Philosophy course, and in a few short months you’ll have a Plato of your own to write stuff down for you!”


I tell ya–that kinda insubordinate crap royally frosts my ass. So I decided right then and there–enough is enough! I’m getting my on-line degree in philosophy and busting out of this sweatshop.

“Should we be willing to call anything a thing? Show your work.”


I’d been thinking about it for a long time and if you think, therefore you am–Descartes said that. I’d see those little emoticons for “Law Enforcement” and “Nurse” in the ads when I’d check out singles in my area, and I was always intrigued by the one for “Philosopher.” The ones for the other top professions were smiley faces, but the one for Philosopher was a frowny-face. I liked that–it must mean philosophers don’t have to suck up to their bosses!

Arthur Schopenhauer: Wrote In-a-Gadda-da-Vida, later recorded by Iron Butterfly.


So I been saving up for the course, and today I took the plunge. Philosophy’s a profession that’s almost recession-proof. For other jobs, the unemployment rate goes up and down all the time, but for philosophers like 90% are unemployed all the time. You can’t beat those odds!

“What is truth? Well, like if a guy says he ‘needs some space’ but he’s actually porking your best friend, his prior statement was false.”


The first course they sent me was epistemology–maybe because I’m studying to get an e-Ph. D. Anyway, epistemology is the study of how we know we know the things that we think we know. It’s really interesting, but it’s like a House of Mirrors! You can’t think or say anything without immediately questioning it. Makes me glad I’m taking the course on-line. What if I was in a real class and had to go to the bathroom and asked to be excused and the professor said “How do you know you have to go to the bathroom?” I could wet my pants before I thought up an answer!

Spinoza: Z-z-z-z-z . . .


But it got me thinking–how do I know that my on-line degree in Philosophy is real? I mean, if I went to a real school I’d see other kids and a professor in class, even though the testimony of the senses is notoriously unreliable. But as a student in an on-line Department of Philosophy, the things I see when I look around me are my crappy couch that my ex-roommate Cindy spilled Diet Pepsi on, my sick spider plant that seems to occupy a crepuscular netherworld between death and life, and my cat Kitzi. Is that sufficient for me to be able to assert without fear of contradiction that my degree will be the real deal?

“I wanna be a Superman–just like Nietzsche!”


The critical thinking skills I’ve developed so far tell me no. So I look around my kitchenette for additional evidence in support of what I believe is a synthetic versus an analytical proposition. Let’s see–CD player, unicorn poster, blender for margaritas, bills, more bills–even more bills.

Wait–that’s it! I rip open the envelope from Mastercard and there it is! $89.99 to eUniversity.com, Introduction to Philosophy. Just like Samuel Johnson refuting Bishop Berkeley by kicking a rock or a dog or something!

It doesn’t get any realer than a bill, unless you dispute something or somebody stole your credit card, which never happened to me, although sometimes I’ll dispute something if like I buy a pair of capri pants and take a ride on some guy’s motorcycle and they get a bunch of those little pilly things on the seat. The seat of the pants, not the seat of the motorcycle.

I bet I get an A++!


Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Let’s Get Philosophical.”

The Penguin Corrections Department

A review of four children’s picture books on Nov. 13 referred incorrectly to the little penguin who is the main character of one of them, “Penguin Problems.”  In the book he is unnamed; he is not called Mortimer. (That is the name of another penguin in the book.)

The New York Times Book Review

Chilly Willy, Chill Wills

In an article on television icons of the 1950s in Monday’s Arts & Leisure section, a photograph of Chilly Willy, the anthropomorphic penguin character who was second only to Woody Woodpecker in popularity among devotees of Walter Lantz cartoons, was mis-labeled Chill Wills.  Chill Wills was a character actor known for his Western twang who provided the voice of Francis the Mule in a series of popular films.  The times apologizes to Mr. Mule.

Francis, a mule not a penguin.

In an article in last Sunday’s Lifestyle section penguins were likened to Mormons and Muslims for condoning polygamy.  Penguins are in fact serial monogamists, like American college students, changing mating partners once each year.  The Times regrets its error.


An editorial in last Sunday’s Times referred to Beethoven’s nine symphonies as the crowning achievement of the Western musical canon.  In the view of scholars who study the musical tastes of marginalized peoples, Rufus Thomas’s “Do the Funky Penguin, Part I” and “Do the Funky Penguin, Part II” have surpassed Beethoven’s fourth and eighth symphonies, which nobody used to listen to anyway.  The Times apologizes to Mr. Thomas’s penguin.


A consumer product review in last Saturday’s special, glossy Christmas pull-out shopping section referred to the “Playful Penguin Race” toy as a hazard because the penguins are so darned cute and small children might eat them.  After consultation with the manufacturer’s lawyers, The Times stands corrected and can verify that the Playful Penguin Race toy provides hours of innocent fun to children ages 3 to 65.  One “D” battery required (not included) and it would help if you’d feed your kids regularly so they don’t try to eat plastic toys.

My Octopus Girlfriends

Octopuses have “three hearts. . . .and their reproductive life seems cool and distant: The male hands the female a sperm packet from a safe distance, and then she wanders off to fertilize and hatch her eggs alone.”

                              Review of “Other Minds” by Peter Godfrey-Smith


I wish, like an octopus, I had three hearts.
I’d have three girlfriends who you couldn’t tell apart.
Saturday night when it was time for a date
I’d let each of them know that they shouldn’t be late;
If they weren’t ready when I dropped by to woo-
I’d just go out with the other two.


I’d be a perfect gentlemen, and wouldn’t maul them
With lecherous tentacles, or whatever you call them.
And when it came time for each to, uh, sample my wares
I wouldn’t make a pass at her, or muss up her hair.
No, the suave approach is best; put on a smoking jacket
and hand the female octopus a little sperm packet.


Keep your distance and extend it arm’s length,
Allowing the female to conserve her strength,
For when girl octopuses perform erotic arts
They sadly are forced to play both parts.

Freedonian Hopes Soar as Trump Calls Taiwan

NOVGRZLI, Freedonia.  Miskta Forka is a 52-year-old single woman who frequently sits by her phone on Friday nights in the hope that Likwo Kwirksz, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, will call.  “He is very faithful,” she says with a look of amused resignation.  “He always rings me up right after his money runs out.”

Forka:  “I sit by the phone, my hair up in curlers, waiting for his call.”


But tonight Forka is waiting for a different kind of call.  “I have been assigned the 9:30 to ten p.m. shift,” she says, referring to a nationwide effort in Freedonia to monitor the nation’s 2,374 land lines on the off chance that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will call one of them.  “He did it for Taiwan, which has been an international donut hole since 1979,” according to Deputy Minister of State Vlez Iokwlini, referring to the year the U.S. ended diplomatic relations with the island nation off the coast of China.  “We are better than them, because we are an island surrounded by land.”

“AND you get two sides with the Dancing Shrimp platter!”

The nation’s hopes soared Friday when Trump spoke by telephone with Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, a major departure from prior U.S. policy sure to anger China.  “We had a great conversation,” Trump told reporters “They throw in a side of white rice on all orders over $10, and they deliver, which has been a problem with Beijing.”

Freedonia was formed after World War I from parts of Albania and Armenia, an abandoned skate park and two above-ground swimming pools.  The last American president to call the non-aligned nation was Jimmy Carter, who in 1978 dialed an 800 number with a question on a hand-held hair dryer, a cosmetic appliance that came to prominence during his term in office.  Carter withdrew the nation’s ambassador when he was told he would have to bring the product to Freedonia for repair.

Beautiful downtown Novgrzli.


A phone call from a foreign king is foretold in Freedonian folklore, according to Envlo Morakil, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Glozks.  “It is in our creation myth,” he says as he opens a copy of “The Song of Likaoick, Reluctant Tyrant,” an epic poem that recounts the beginnings of the Freedonian people.  “There will come a message from a great orange one from beyond the waters,” Morakil intones in a deeply resonant voice.  “If it is a collect call, do not accept the charges.”

Output Soars as Unfriending Tsunami Follows Election, Thanksgiving

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Rod Scalzo is a production manager at Sneezitek, a manufacturer of motion-sensitive tissue dispensers in this leafy suburb that borders Route 128, sometimes referred to as “America’s Technology Highway.”  “We’re low-tech high-tech,” he says with a look of chagrin. “By the time cutting-edge developments reach us, the blade is pretty dull.”

Image result for thanksgiving
“We thank thee father for breaking Uncle Ed’s leg so he couldn’t come this year.”


But Scalzo noted a surge in productivity in the second week of November, followed by another boost in the last week of the month, and he spent the better part of yesterday trying to figure out the cause.  “I’d like to be able to replicate that if I could,” he says, “as long as it doesn’t require any time, money or effort on my part.”

Image result for clean room
“Yep, that’s a juicy one.”

The sense that American businesses got a double boost last month was confirmed by preliminary numbers from the Department of Commerce, which says that “unfriending” on social media by those disgusted with others’ political views caused them to actually pay attention to long-neglected jobs for the first time in many months.  “I unfriended a bunch of people November 9th,” says Amanda Carter-Loggins, who has had a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker on her car since 2006.  “If they weren’t miserable at the results of the election, as far as I’m concerned they’re illiterate knuckle-dragging sub-humans–who nonetheless should vote Democratic in the 2018 mid-terms.”

Phil Primack, a punch press operator in Plaistow, New Hampshire, says he’s turning out an extra 65 flywheels, hasps and flanges a day following Thanksgiving dinner at his in-laws in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts.  “My brother-in-law wore his Trump hat to the table, so I stopped following my dingbat sister Mona and their three ugly kids,” he says with an air of relief.  “Like I give a crap about whether Courtney’s U-12 soccer team goes to Disney World.”

For Some Struggling Poets, Trump’s Inauguration is the Chance of a Lifetime

BETTENDORF, Iowa.  Lindsay Curtin, Jr. works the night shift at the Quad Cities Power plant in this town of 33,000, a solitary job that gives him time to pursue his dream of becoming a published poet.  “William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying when he worked the graveyard shift at a power plant so I figured it was a position that would serve as a springboard to literary fame,” he says as he inspects a dial on a control panel.  “I must be doing something wrong since they gave that guy Dylan the Nobel Prize instead of me.”

Faulkner’s power plant:  “They ought to tear that dump down!”


Curtin’s struggles as a versifier are reflected in the rejection slips he’s accumulated over the years, which he’s stacked next to his desk in a pile that reaches nearly to his waist.  “I’m bloodied, but unbowed,” he says, borrowing a line from William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” one of the most popular poems of all time but also one that is scorned by critics as middlebrow.  “And with the inauguration of Donald Trump coming up, I think my time has finally arrived.”

“Roses are red, violets are blue.  My nose is cold, and my butt is too.”


Curtin is incoming president of the Poetasters of America, a trade organization for poets whose work is rejected by literary journals for failure to meet rigorous modern standards of vulgarity, depression and obscurity.  “We’ve adopted the scorn of the poetry-industrial complex as a badge of pride,” says outgoing president Norris Byrum, echoing the words used by former Vice President Dan Quayle to express his contempt for the liberal slant of the White House press corps.  “Poetry used to be everywhere–Grit Magazine, Burma Shave signs on the road.  Now the nation’s poetry output is controlled by pansy-ass college professors who think they’re smarter than ordinary people, and nobody reads it.”

“Here I sit, all broken-hearted.
The first of possibly two Trump administrations
has now just started.”


With Trump’s election, there is opportunity to return bad poetry to the throne upon which it once sat in the hearts and minds of the American people, in much the same way that Robert Frost’s recitation of his poem “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration touched off a surge of consumer spending.  The resulting economic boom confirmed Kennedy’s claim that “A rising tide lifts all boats, especially those owned by people like me that I bought with money my daddy made as a bootlegger.”

Curtin and Byrum are friendly competitors to provide a poem for Trump’s inauguration, and when asked to provide samples of their work, they oblige this reporter, the former going first with his “Ode to a Trumpian Ascendancy.”

On January 17th Donald Trump will be sworn in as President,
the White House will be the place where he’s a resident.
It’s slightly nicer than Reagan and George W. Bush’s ranches
Did you know the federal government has three branches?

When this reporter asks what the poem means, Curtin shows signs of irritation.  “What do you think it means, you stupid dooty-head?  It means just what it says, unlike the crap you read in high-falutin’ poetry rags that keep turning me down,” he snaps, before yielding to Byrum, who clears his throat and begins.

I’m now inspired by the divine afflatus
to write a poem about the liberal snobs
who looked down their noses at us.
People just didn’t like that woman in the suit of pants
I relish her supporters’ tears and revel in their sobs.
I also get a big kick reading their on-line rants.

“What do you think?” he asks as a solitary tear rolls down Curtin’s cheek, a reflection of the depths that have been stirred in his heart by his friend’s lines.  This reporter suggests that some distance is needed between the poet and his feelings, legitimate though they may seem to him, if his lines are to achieve the “emotion recollected in tranquility” that Wordsworth said was the origin of poetry.

Wordsworth:  “Oh . . . my freaking . . . God.”


“What a bunch of baloney,” Curtin snaps.  “What the hell does this Wordsworth guy know about poetry?”