At the Junior Algonquin Club

It’s getting close to Labor Day, time for me to check on the kids to see how they’re doing with their summer reading lists. Things haven’t changed much in our little town since I was a boy; every spring when school gets out a prim, lavender-scented woman at our local library draws up a list of ten categories, and parents agree that each boy and girl who reads a book in all of them by Labor Day gets a reward.


Summer reading fun!

 

There’s fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, science, sports, biography, hobbies, geography and romance. I was kidding about that last one just to see if you were paying attention; the tenth category is mystery/free choice, so the aging Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew hardbacks on the shelves still get a workout, as does Duns Scotus, the Scholastic philosopher generally known as the Godfather of Free Will.

I call the boys into the den—they know what’s coming. I never actually got a cupcake when I was a kid, because—story of my life—I’d choke on one single category (usually poetry) rather than sucking it up and reading “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” My sons are the product of breeding–as you might expect–and have acquired the stick-to-itiveness of their mother’s side of the family; finish the job, no matter how inconsequential or boring, for somebody might be looking, or it could come up on your performance review.


Stevenson: “God, I was hoping I wouldn’t appear in this post.”

 

“Let’s see what you’ve got here, Skipper,” I say to the younger of the two, a “rising” fifth-grader to use the new performance-enhanced lingo of the education profession. “Well, looks like you’re going to get a cupcake, young man!” I say proudly.

“He didn’t finish ‘The Witchcraft of Salem Village,’” his big brother Scooter says, tattling on him. I’m projecting him to be a first-round draft pick by the National Security Agency in about ten years.

“Skip—is that true?” I ask. This is a subject close to my heart, as the book in question was one of my favorites growing up.

“I got too scared,” Skipper says, stiffling a snife—I mean stifling a sniff.

I lift him up on my knee to impress upon him the importance of the matter.

“Skip,” I say with as much fatherly gravity as I can muster, “it’s important for you to understand just what happened here in Massachusetts back then.”

“What?” Skip says—he’s fighting back tears.

“Here in the cradle of liberty, one of our most precious freedoms is the right to harass our neighbors if they’re really weird.”

“Like how?” Scooter asks—he’s interested now.


                         “More rocks!”

 

“Well, crazy old women, men who own land you want—you call them names, pretty soon everybody hates them, then you burn them at the stake.”

“Cool!” You know that was Scooter.

“Or you crush them under rocks until they confess,” I add.

“What if they don’t?” Skipper asks.

“Well, they’d better, because until they do, you just keep piling more rocks on them.”

I can tell from Skip’s furrowed brow that he’s somehow troubled by the superficial unfairness of our unique system of justice, admired the world over. “You don’t have to worry about somebody innocent dying,” I tell him as I plop him back down on the floor. “Once our elected officials and newspaper of record and blow-dried TV reporters start a witch hunt, they’re never wrong. Just ask them!”


Coakley: “We all make mistakes–but I don’t have to admit them.”

 

He’s mollified, so I turn to his big brother. “Let’s see, Scoots.”

He hands me his card and I have to squint to make out the title in the Poetry category. “What’s this say—‘Arsenal and Other Poems’?”

“It’s Ariel,” he says correcting me, referring to the landmark second volume of poems by Sylvia Plath, the overrated poetess who grew up one town over from us.

“Really?” I say, and I try to work as much skepticism into that word as I can. “Who suggested that book?”


Plath: “What’s your problem–everybody else likes me.”

 

“Ms. Frobisher,” he says, referring to his fifth grade teacher, a young woman whose hyper-political approach to earth science caused our little elementary school to crap out of the pâpier-maché volcano regional tournament without making the finals for the first time in the 21st century. That’s what you get when you blame dinosaur extinction on George W. Bush.

It’s time for Scoot’s Little Lesson in Life from dad. “Scoots,” I say gently but firmly. “That book has a lot of racist and anti-Semitic images in it.”

His faces clouds over. “That means it’s bad, right?”

“I don’t think so—all the critics thought it was great.”

“But–they told us on Diversity Day,” Scoots begins, but I cut him off.

“Diversity is for saps,” I tell him. “When you’re a liberal poet—like Plath or Tom Paulin–you can say anything you want!”

I’m not sure they’re persuaded, but I’m the only published poet in the house, so they defer to my aesthetic ruling.

“Well, an objective judge might disagree with me, but I’m your dad so I’m going to sign your cards.”

“Yay—cupcakes!” Skipper yells.

“Not so fast, young man,” I say, putting the brakes on his enthusiasm. “Cupcakes are dessert. First you have to have a wholesome dinner.”

“But we get an afternoon treat,” Scooter says.

He’s right, and I see from the fancy faux-antique clock that my wife bought to make my man-of-letters cave less comfortable that it’s three o’clock, the Pavlovian point at which by routine the boys’ mouths start watering for a snack.

“All right. But you can’t have a cupcake on an empty stomach. First you’ve got to have cocktails.”

The two look at each other as if I’m daft–they score very high on aptitude tests, by the way. “We can’t drink anything in the liquor cabinet—you told us,” Scooter says.

“We’ll make some play cocktails. Why don’t you call up Mary Beth Schoenen and Tommy Valvo and ask them to come over.”

“If we do, there won’t be as many cupcakes for us,” Skipper says.

“I knew you guys would come through, so I got enough to go around. I want you kids to learn how to have a literary soirée.”

“What’s a . . . swa-ray?” Scooter asks.

“Since you’re both so literate, now you ask your friends over for a Junior Algonquin Round Table Party!”

“What’s that?” Skipper asks.

“Well, the Algonquin Round Table was a bunch of funny men and women, all very well-read. They’d get together and make smart remarks about each other.”

“Whenever we do that mom tells us not to be ‘fresh.’”

“I know, bub. She’s just trying to make sure you grow up to be a well-behaved, respectful young man so you can toady up to people who have more money than you.”


Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley

 

“Why would I want to do that?” Skipper asks.

“So they’ll give some to you!” I fairly shout. I’m tempted to say “Duh,” but I refuse to corrupt the boys’ speech the way I undermine their morals.

“Oh, I get it,” Skipper says.

“Great. Well, let’s get going—you call your friends, I’ll set the kids’ table and put out the Hostess snack treats.”

The boys’ friends arrived in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, and Mary Beth Schoenen almost wouldn’t come in when she saw the mess the lamb had made on the floor. “Eww,” she said. “Lamb doody!”

“I’ll clean it up, you kids sit down and start being witty.”

Each of the boys took a card from our Junior Algonquin Club deck; Skipper draws Robert Benchley, my favorite because we both lived in Worcester, Mass., one of two—count ‘em—two Roundtable members to come from the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World, the other being playwright S.N. Behrman. Scooter picks George S. Kaufman, another playwright and author of several Marx Brothers screenplays; Tommy Valvo goes last because he’s guest—the transvaluation of values as my buddy Fred Nietzsche would say–and selects . . . Harold Ross.

“Who’s he?” Tommy asked.

“Only the greatest editor The New Yorker ever had.”


Harold Ross

 

“What’s The New Yorker?” Tommy asked.

“It’s the magazine that keeps turning our dad down,” Scooter said. He really knows how to twist the knife.

Mary Beth has only two choices, Ruth Hale and Dorothy Parker. I cross my fingers and hope against hope that she won’t pick Hale, a tiresome feminist and a freelance writer more successful than me.

“Turn it over, Mary Beth,” I said. Yes—Dorothy Parker!

“I don’t want to be her,” Mary Beth said, her little mouth turned upside down into an exaggerated frown.

“Why not, sugar?” I asked.

“She was unhappy.”

I don’t have any daughters, so I was a bit uncertain as to how to proceed. “Mary Beth—think of all the happy women you know, like your mom and her friends.”

“Yes?”

“Don’t you think they’d be much happier if they knew that people would be repeating their funny jokes nearly a half century after they died?”

She thought about this for a second; I could tell she was struggling with the concept of posthumous fame. “I don’t think so,” she said finally.

“Why not?” I asked, genuinely interested in the workings of the female litterateur’s mind.

“Because my mommy wants a new Sub-Zero refrigerator—she told my daddy.”


“Hmm–more venom, or more spleen?”

 

“Oh, okay,” I said. I should have known that people in our wealth-obsessed suburb would make bad choices and prefer material comforts while they were alive to acclaim that they couldn’t enjoy once they were cremated and their ashes scattered over unsuspecting sunbathers on Cape Cod.

“Well,” I said to Mary Beth, “in Junior Algonquin Club, as in life, you have to play the cards you’re dealt, so you’re going to have to be Dorothy Parker, okay?”

“Fudge!” she said bitterly, and then—much to my surprise—blurted out a little quatrain that sounded like something Parker might have written when she was a girl:

You tell me how I should prefer
Future fame to stuff in the present,
I disagree, and I demur
I’m not a stupid peasant.

“That’s very good for a little girl,” I said. “Where did you learn that?”

“We did a unit on Depression as a Fuel to Creativity in Language Arts,” she says, before excusing herself to bang on the bathroom door. “I’m not through!” Skipper calls out from within.

Things settle down in a bit and I make the kids a pitcherful of lemonade “martinis” that I serve with a raisin garnish. Skipper starts to gulp his, but I remind him to observe ceremonial conventions. “Somebody needs to propose a toast.”

“I had toast for breakfast,” Tommy says.

“Not that kind of toast—you say something fitting about the occasion.”

“Like what?” Mary Beth asks.

“Well, for example, if one of you got an A on a paper . . .”

“We all get A’s on our papers,” they say in unison. I’d forgotten about grade inflation.

“Okay, well, if one of you just got a big part in a school play, or won the talent contest.”

I see four sets of lips purse together as they think for a moment. “I got a gold star on my drawing the other day.”

“Okay, let’s work with that. Guys—anybody?”

Skipper, the natural gentlemen, rises to the occasion: “To Dorothy,” he says as he stands up and raises his glass. “On her latest, but most assuredly not her last artistic triumph!”

“Hear, hear!” I say. We all take a sip of our lemonade-tinis.

“Now what?” Scooter asks.

“Now you all make cutting remarks about each other. Mary Beth—why don’t you go first?”

She looks around the table until her eyes lock on Scooter, as if he’s an animal caught in the crosshairs of her rifle scope. “You stink!” she cries out.

“Do not!” Scooter fires right back.

“Kids, please,” I say, intervening as a thoughtful, conscientious parent should when a party game threatens to spin out of control.

“But you told me to!” Mary Beth pleads by way of excuse.

“I should have made myself more clear. You have to proceed by indirection if you want to be known as a wit.”

“What does ‘indirection’ mean?” Skipper asks.

“It means you have to insult your friends in an obscure, roundabout way. So if Mary Beth thinks Scooter stinks, she can say ‘I think I’m going to change seats. Being downwind from Scooter is like walking along the beach at low tide.’”

“Ew!” Tommy says, holding his nose. “P.U.!”

They all giggle except Scooter, who is not known for his adherence to high standards of personal hygiene.

“Okay, Skip—why don’t you give it a shot,” I say, encouraging my younger son who can be something of a wallflower in grade school social settings.

He looks around the table, and both Tommy and Mary Beth put on their most innocent faces, hoping to divert whatever spleen Skip may be capable of venting onto someone else.

That someone is, naturally, Scooter, who has made his little brother’s life a living hell for the better part of a decade, what with noogies, wedgies, Indian sunburn and—most painful of all—“monkey bites,” a hard clamp with the hand to the region of the thigh right behind the knee.

“Can I have your cupcake, Scooter?” he asks after a moment, in the sweetest, most genial voice you can imagine.

“No, dubohead,” Scooter snaps. “Why would I do that?”

“I didn’t think you’d still be hungry,” Skipper says, “after picking your nose and eating it all day.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Scooter and Skipper Blow Things Up!”

Salad Lovers Fret as Crouton Shortage Looms

GREEN RIDGE, Mo. Sam Jones has been a grain buyer in this small town for nearly four decades, but he wears an expression of concern as he watches farmers arrive at the local grain elevator to sell their crops. “If I had the money right now, which I don’t,” he says with a knowing look, “I’d be buying up all the croutons I could find.”


Ripe croutons, ready for harvest

 

Croutons–sauteed or rebaked bread that is seasoned, cut into cubes and added to salads and soups to provide texture and flavor–are a reliable cash crop in the Midwest, where school children have historically been excused from class during spring planting and fall harvest times.  “It’s a way of life,” says Marilee Dunham, whose husband Darrell puts their five sons and two daughters to work in early June “de-tasselling” crouton plants to enhance fertilization. “It teaches the kids about the rhythms of nature and the seasons, and the role of the Caesar salad in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.”


Harvest time

 

But some fear the salad days of croutons are ending, with demand for biodiesel fuels eating up available acreage. “It’s sad,” says Wayne Durrell, Mayor of Green Ridge, whose seven year-old daughter Kylie was named Little Miss Crouton during the town’s annual Crouton Festival last summer. “To see a way of life wither away and die all because a bunch of goo-goo liberals want to feel good about what they put in the gas tanks of their hybrids.”


World’s Largest Crouton, Missouri State Fair, Sedalia, Mo.

 

As with all changes in economic trends, this one produces both winners and losers. While biodiesel producers benefit from government-sponsored tax breaks, small towns such as Green Ridge find their traditions threatened by agribusiness giants that buy up land at distressed prices and convert them to open-air factories, where a former independent farmer often finds himself tilling a field he once owned for a distant–-and faceless–-corporate crouton enterprise.


Bumper crop from 2014

 

“I’ll do what I have to in order to feed my family,” says Wendell Baker, Jr., whose family has raised croutons for three generations but who is now a contract employee for a commodities producer headquartered in Chicago. “But the pride we used to feel when we walked by the salad bar at Wendy’s is gone.”

Whither Butter Sculpture?

It has been several years since Norma Lyon, the pre-eminent practitioner of a uniquely American art form–butter sculpture–died, and the deep impact of her passing becomes more clear with each passing day.


“I can’t believe it’s not Jesus and the 12 Apostles!”

Lyon’s death was noted in The New York Times and on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.  She had appeared on the Today and the Tonight Shows, Late Night With David Letterman, and To Tell the Truth, among other nationally televised programs.  She was the face of butter sculpture in America–nay, the world.  She was the Leonardo da Vinci of butter sculpture, and had in fact imitated that asexual gay genius–a precursor of Andy Warhol–by crafting her own dairy version of The Last Supper in 1999.

I was introduced to butter sculpture as a boy under the grandstands of the Missouri State Fair.  As with the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, you probably know the building by sight even if you’ve never been there, for outside hangs what were for a time the World’s Largest Pair of Blue Jeans, until jeannie-come-latelies in Peru and Croatia elbowed their way to the front of the pack in the humongous denim pants race.


Walk under the crotch to reach butter sculpture exhibit.

Missouri’s State Fair is no slouch in the butter sculpture department.  La Lyon didn’t carve Iowa’s official Butter Cow until 1960, at which point butter sculpture aficionados in my little hometown were already sophisticated critics of the genre. Would we have been satisfied with a humble sculpture of a cow in 1960?  Puh-lease!  Would Parisians of the Impressionist era swoon over a big-eyed kid picture?

Butter cows were standard fare in the dawn of butter sculpture, but by the early sixties Missouri’s cholesterol carvers had advanced to full farm families, seated around the dinner table, discussing best methods of crop rotation in order to achieve maximum sorghum yields.


“You finish your butter, or there’ll be no butter for you!”

Still, Lyon seen her opportunities and she took ‘em, in the words of Tammany Hall ward heel George Washington Plunkitt.  When other sculptors were working in flimsy, insubstantial materials such as stone, she got her hands wet first with ice, then with butter.

Sculpture is one of those art forms that, like poetry, seems to contradict our most cherished notions of our superiority over past ages.  Take a look at Michelangelo’s Pieta. (Best US viewing opportunity, 1964 New York World’s Fair–hurry before it closes!)  Now compare that masterwork to one of the many tributes to jocks that are going up outside stadia these days and tell me–if you dare–that we’ve made progress since the 15th century.


Michelangelo’s Pieta:  Famous non-butter sculpture.

Which raises the question–in the wake of Lyon’s death, who is the pre-eminent butter sculptor of our time?  Not an easy call, but here are a few of the front runners:


Ted Williams?  Walt Dropo?  Pumpsie Green?

Velma Jean Ritter, Keokuk, Iowa. Long obscured by Lyon’s imposing shadow, Velma Jean is ready to move out into the sunlight of the world of butter sculpture.  Figuratively, of course; she has to stay in the walk-in cooler to do her best work or else her medium melts.  Ritter’s tour de force is a margarine-based version of Michelangelo’s David, complete with Ritz Cracker genital cover.


“Hey–wrap a towel around yourself, fer Christ sake!”

Wanda Goetzkee, Gumbo, Missouri. Wanda’s work draws comparisons to modern masters such as Alexander Calder for her gravity-defying use of spray-on butter substitutes to create light, airy confections that challenge our very conception of what a “stick of butter” means.

“I personally don’t know how she does it,” says Wim de Van Wenders, curator of the butter wing of the Minneapolis Museum of Dairy Arts.  “It recalls string cheese–not that I would know what that looks like.”


“We certainly wouldn’t serve that at a Silver Donors Wine & Cheese reception!”

Tony Joe Cutter, Hoxie, Arkansas. Warmer weather has held this young Turk back, but a recent relocation to Kearney, Nebraska during the summer months has produced a sea-change in his edgy, unnerving works–even though there’s no sea in Nebraska!


Butter Yoda:  “On corn on cob spread me you must!”

“I want to break out of the hidebound strictures that keep butter sculpture penned up with farm animals,” says Cutter.  “Where are the butter driveway gnomes, the butter Jabba the Hutt, the butter Buddy Holly?”

Summer’s End Finds Grade School Cougars on the Prowl

NATICK, Mass. Emily Adams is a twelve-year-old who will be entering sixth grade at Mosi Tatupu Middle School in this western suburb of Boston next month, and today finds her with her mother shopping for back-to-school needs.


“Let’s see–Artgum eraser, backpack, boyfriend . . .”

 

But Emily’s eyes aren’t on her new pencil box and three-ring binder as she waits for the cashier to ring up her purchases. Instead, she’s looking at rising fourth-grader Timmy Fallman, who’s with his mother two cash registers to her left. “He doesn’t know it yet,” Emily tells this reporter, “but he’s going to be my new boyfriend.”


“Sure it’s fine . . . if you want me to marry the manager of a Jiffy-Lube.”

 

Like penguins, Emily practices a form of serial monogamy, dumping her boyfriend for a new one every fall, but this year she has sworn off boys in her own grade and is looking for a younger man. “It’s due to a constellation of factors,” says her mother Trish, an assistant producer of Nova, the public television science program. “Boys in her grade learned how to belch on cue and make armpit farts last year, so she’s looking for someone . . . how shall I put this . . . more malleable.”


“My fifth-grade boyfriend could never satisfy me this way!”

 

Emily and girls like her form a new sociological group within the K-12 demographic; pre-teen “cougars” who seek out younger men rather than put up with the gross habits that boys acquire as they near puberty. “In many ways, it’s a wise choice,” says actuary Mike Mildam of Modern Moosehead Life Insurance, whose headquarters is just a frisbee toss away at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike. “A young girl can expect to live five years longer than a boy her age. What’s she going to do for the last half-decade of her life–twiddle her thumbs and watch Wheel of Fortune?”


“She’s a year older than me. What would we talk about?”

 

There is a financial aspect to the trend as well, as many older boys are saddled with obligations to “legacy” girlfriends that act as a drag on their spending power, like alimony. “Brian Forsh asked me to go to the movies but I said no,” says Vicki Swinson, who will be head cheerleader for the Oil Can Boyd Middle School Vikings this fall. “He gave his old girlfriend a ring over the summer, and I know he hasn’t got two Chuck E Cheese tokens to rub together now.”

Emily knows her younger man will eventually acquire all the nasty traits of boys her age, but she hopes to teach and guide him as he matures in order to modulate their more baleful aspects. “He’s a guy, so I know he’s going to pick his nose,” she says with resignation. “But if I get to him when he’s young, maybe he won’t eat it.”

Keep on Noodling: A Salute to America’s Handfishers

Give a man a fish, goes the Chinese proverb, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he will bore you to tears on summer Mondays with an account of how he and his wife Marjene caught over 170 crappie at the Lake of the Ozarks over the weekend.


Crappie:  As a meal, about as bad as the name is spelled.

 

Teach a man to hand-fish, on the other hand, and he will regale you with tales of how he wrestled a fish that was bigger than a dog but smaller than a cow out of the water and into his truck; now that’s worth hanging around the water cooler for.


“Did I wash my hands before returning to work?  Uh, no.”

 

It can fairly be said that sports–that great male time-waster–has been at the vanguard of social change in America.  Think of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball.  Consider Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.  Or how about Manny Ramirez, the first Dominican outfielder to take a leak behind a manually-operated scoreboard during a pitching change in an American League game.  Truly, as a nation, we have much to be proud of.


Kathrine Switzer, failing the Boston Marathon
cojones test.

 

But many are surprised to hear that, until recently, there were still obstacles to full participation in the athletic endeavors that make this country great.  One such barrier is laws, such as that in force in Missouri until the first decade of the 21st century, that made it illegal to “noodle,” or fish with one’s hands.


A guy named Phil, with a giant catfish caught by hand

 

As a teenage boy in a small Missouri town, I often worked with country people who spoke of noodling.  Not having much interest in fishing, I never accompanied them on their clandestine trips to muddy creek banks, where they told me they would stick their arms into hollow logs, risking bites by snakes or snapping turtles, to catch catfish by hand.  As a result, I have wrongly assumed all these years that the fish they caught would fit on a dinner plate.


Humping a giant catfish: Dinner and a movie not required.

 

It turns out these men were diving under water, holding their breath and sticking their arms into catfish “holes” where they would grab fresh-water behemoths, smaller than a jet ski but not by much, and wrestle them into submission.  Where noodling is permitted, a fish must typically be as much as two feet long in order to be a legal catch.  Catfish are bottom feeders who remain stationary for long periods of time, eating anything that floats by–smaller fish, dead dogs, outboard motors–and as a result can grow to be enormous.


“He followed me home–can I keep him?”

 

You would think that the Missouri legislature, in its wisdom, would have long ago followed the example of the other eleven states where handfishing (also referred to as “hogging”) is legal, and let man and fish fight it out fair and square.  Missouri’s scruples in the area of man-fish relations stemmed not from fear for fisherman’s safety, but from a solicitous regard for the fishes’ sex life.  Handfishing, according to fish and game officials, depletes the number of sexually mature fish.  Well, what do you want noodlers to do–knock before entering?


Moby Catfish

 

Since moving to the east coast forty-three years ago, I’ve gone deep-sea fishing a number of times and had naively formed the opinion that it was more challenging than fresh-water fishing.  Having conducted further research into hand-fishing, I now believe that the only way ocean fishing could measure up to the challenge of noodling is for the beer-sodden men who pay hundreds of dollars to fish off Florida or Cape Cod to crawl overboard, find a bluefish or a marlin and subdue their prey using nothing but wrestling holds learned on WWE Royal Rumble.


Exhausted noodlers

 

So here’s to America’s hand-fishers, true sportsmen who eschew fish-finders and other high tech doo-dads that unfairly tilt the pond in favor of humans.  I salute you, but I have one request.

If you don’t mind, I’d rather not shake your hand.

Me and My Unthinking Lobster

          Orson Welles wrote a spoof of Hollywood titled “La langouste qui ne pense a rien” (The Unthinking Lobster).

David Hadju, Lush Life

lobster4

As I turned the knob of the door to my house and looked into the living room, I was overcome with disgust and frustration.  There sat Eloise, my lobster, just as I found her at the end of every other day; spread out on the couch, watching soap operas, popping sea urchins into her mouth.  She didn’t even look up at me as I came in.

“Hel-lo?” I said, hoping to express with my lilting tone the disappointment I felt towards her.  I’d rescued her from the seafood department of our local grocery store on the recommendation of Orson Welles, the man who caused a nation to crap its pants with a fictional account of a Martian invasion, but instead of enriching herself by perusing the many books that lined the walls of our house, she just sat in front of the TV, slowly molting her life away.

“Oh, hi,” Eloise said.  I don’t think it was just coincidence that a commercial came on at the very moment she looked up at me.

“Busy day?” I asked, and I infused those two little words with as much sarcasm as I could.

“Yes,” she said, and apparently without irony.  I know it’s tough to crawl out of bed when you’re a ten-legged marine crustacean, but she’s got that muscular tail as well.  It wouldn’t be so hard to just flip herself upright and get on with her life, but no, she’d rather take her own sweet time and e-a-s-e her way into the day, while I’m up at 4:30, on the train by 5:45 and at my desk by 7:15.

“Do you mind if I switch to the nightly news?” I asked as I grabbed the remote out of one of her claws.

“Hey!” she said.  “I wasn’t through watching As the Tide Turns,” her favorite soap opera.

“Tough noogies,” I snapped.  “I work my butt off all day, I’m entitled to a little consideration around here.”

lobster

A story came on about a guy who caught a blue lobster off Plymouth, on Cape Cod.

“That’s ironic,” I said.

“What?” Eloise asked.

“They caught a blue lobster down where the Mayflower landed.  That means that both the descendants of the Pilgrims and the lobsters down there have blue blood.”

“All lobsters have blue blood,” she said, and rather haughtily, I might add.

“Well ex-cuuuuse me!” I said, and got up to go to the kitchen.

“Geez, somebody needs a little fiber in their diet,” she said, as she picked up the remote where I’d thrown it and started channel-surfing: reality show, soap opera, dumb sit-com, professional wrestling.  Newton B. Minow called TV a “vast wasteland” in 1961, and fifty-five years later it had only gotten vaster.

lobster1
Newton B. Minow:  “My favorite Howdy Doody character is Flub-a-Dub.”

 

“You know,” I said finally, as I watched the passing parade of photonic idiocy, “it wouldn’t kill you to pick up a book and read every now and then.”

She gave me a look that could have steamed a cherrystone.  “Easy for you to say,” she said.  “You think I can turn pages with these?” she asked, holding out her six legs with claws, assuming I’d have no answer.

“As a matter of fact, you could–if you’d only try.  Instead, you just let your mind rot watching this drivel all day.”

I thought I heard a little sniffle come out of her gills.  I was just about to say “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it,” when she blurted out the sad truth of her apparent lack of intellectual curiosity.

“I . . . never learned to read,” she sobbed, and I scooched across the couch to comfort her.

lobster2
The Magnificent Ambersons:  Bo-ring.

 

“I’m sorry–I never knew.”

“That’s okay,” she said over an audible lump in her throat.  “It’s been my deepest secret for a long time.  I’m tired of holding it in.”

I patted her greenish shell on the little orange freckles and tried to think of something I could do to brighten the dark corridors of her tiny mind.  “Hey, you know what?” I said when inspiration struck me.

“What?”

“You don’t need to be able to read to sample the rich stew of American culture–you can watch movies on TV!”

“You . . . you actually sprang for cable?”

“Just sports and basic, but that means we can watch classics, like Citizen Kane.”

She rolled her little eyes.  “I’ve only seen that like a million times.  Remember–I used to hang out with Orson Welles.”

“Oh.  Right.  Well, how about The Magnificent Ambersons?”

“From the novel by Booth Tarkington?”

“That’s it.  C’mon,” I said as I grabbed the remote and tried to remember how to get on-demand movies.  “Is it this button?” I asked aloud, but Australian rules football came on the screen.  “Maybe it’s this one,” I said, but I got some kind of shopping channel.

lobster3
Sea urchins–crunchy!

 

“Gimme that thing,” she said, and before you could say “Peter Bogdanovich” she had found the film I wanted and paid for it with my credit card.  We snuggled back into the couch to watch what Welles always thought was his greatest triumph, but which is actually a crashing bore on a scale almost as big as Welles himself.

“You want some popcorn?” I asked as I got up to go to the kitchen.

“No, but if you wouldn’t mind, I could go for another bag of sea urchins.”

 

 

The Quest for the Elusive–Yet Ubiquitous–Mimi

One of Mariah Carey’s CDs is titled “Me. I am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse.”

mimi
“Seriously–they’re in different Zip Codes.”

 

I have come to the woods of Manhattan in search of that most elusive of creatures, one whom I glimpsed once only briefly on TV, her famous (infamous?) 1990 appearance on Saturday Night Live, singing her breakthrough hit “Vision of Love”–Mariah Carey.

Shortly thereafter she disappeared into Central Park, perhaps frightened by her encounter with a national television audience of men marveling at her enormous . . . uh, vocal range, and has never been seen since.  Except for Grammy Award ceremonies and an occasional feature-length motion picture.

But these are all unverified sightings, and who knows, they may turn out to be fake, like the infamous Roger Patterson/Robert Gimlin film of Bigfoot.

Bigfoot
“And now, here’s a little something called . . . One Sweet Day.”

 

Like Bigfoot a/k/a Sasquatch, Mariah goes by a pseudonym–“Mimi”–to avoid detection.  It’s been reported that she was seen on American Idol, but by the last season nobody watched it anymore, so I don’t put much credence in such claims.  Hey, unless you get it on tape it didn’t happen, and I still haven’t figured out how to work Tivo.

I’ve been told that the best spots to catch a glimpse of the woman who occupies the #2 spot on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Women in Music–and yet remains so elusive!–are the pricier luxury stores.  Mimi apparently has a voracious appetite for jewelry, furs and the finest tchotchkes that money can buy.  She can reportedly be lured from her lair–and try saying that five times fast–by a gaudy bauble.

I have accordingly come armed with a walnut-sized cubic zirconium from Service Merchandise–the web-based 2.0 iteration, not the brick-and-mortar version that folded in 2002.  The new Service Merchandise always has high quality products at the best prices, and I’m not above a little product placement if it helps me defray the high overhead of my cryptozoological expeditions.

service
“Whadda ya mean, take it back?  It’s a real cubic zirconium!”

 

I stake out the entrace to Harry Winston Diamonds and make myself comfortable leaning against a lampost while I chew on a Nature Valley Granola Bar.  The elusive creature has a weird, scintillating mating call that spans a five-octave range.  Her multiplatinum albums are often issued in “For Dogs Only” versions that can’t be heard by humans like you and me.

granola

I crouch down behind a solar-powered trash compactor and listen for the best-selling ringtone of all-time, created from this secretive creature’s monster holiday hit “All I Want for Christmas is You.”  It’s quiet–too quiet–and a sense of ominous foreboding washes over me through the din of the traffic, here in this City of Contradictions.

And then–I see her!  The glare from her diamond earrings blinds me momentarily, but I recover and make a bee-line for the entrance.  Unfortunately, bees don’t fly in straight lines, and so it’s several minutes before I catch up to her.

mariah2
“It’s not easy being elusive–but I try!”

 

“Ms. Carey–yoo hoo!” I cry after her.

“Yes?” she asks with that sultry, seductive voice that has won the hearts of millions, along with 17 World Music Awards, 31 Billboard Music Awards, a Nobel Prize for Best Female Vocalist and the NHL’s Lady Byng Award.

“I’ve got a little present for you,” I say as I extend the cubic zirconium to her in the hope that I’ll distract her long enough to get a picture, since my dial-up access to her website is so slow.

“You weren’t kidding when you said ‘little,’ were you?” she asks rhetorically.  That’s something we may have in common, I think, since I studied Aristotle’s Rhetoric in college.

“Well, it’s not much,” I say as I sidle around her in an attempt to get a photobomb I can sell to The National Enquirer.

Before I can push the button–I can never remember whether it’s on the top or the bottom–one of her bodyguards has me down on the ground and has wrestled my phone from me.

“C’mon,” I say.  “I’m just trying to earn a living in the competitive world of paparazzi-dom.”

“No can do,” the bruiser says as he smashes my ticket to wealth beyond the dreams of avarice on the concrete pavement.  “Opening bid for one of those bad boys on eBay is $14.21.”