Me and Barney the Purple Dinosaur

The weekend is my time to give back to my community and my favorite institution within it–our local public library. I remember when I was young how much I loved Story Hour on Saturday morning. Kids would assemble in the library basement to hear a story read to us by Miss Sharp, the lavendar-scented bibliophile who was the gentle cop of the Children’s Room beat; shushing us when our volume exceeded a library-voice level, looking the other way when we returned “The Witchcraft of Salem Village” two days late, cutting one’s chewing gum out of one’s sister’s hair when one stuck it there. She was special.

“A book is your friend, you wouldn’t wipe a booger on your friend–please don’t wipe your booger on a book.”

I’m not reading a story today, however. My job is to pick up Barney the Purple Dinosaur and his first wife Baby Bop, who will be participating in a “Use Your Imagination!” session for the kids of our town. If you have children under the age of say thirty-five I’m sure you know Barney, the sickly sweet tyrannosaurus rex who first appeared on public television in 1992.

Barney’s 50 in t-rex years this summer, and his career has been on the skids since his show went on “hiatus” in 2009. Since then, he’s joined the ranks of the “working famous”; actors from cancelled sitcoms, one-hit wonder bands and comedians who’ve been on The Tonight Show a few times but haven’t made it big. For a while he was able to eke out a pretty good living doing so-called “skip and wave” shows at big venues like the Boston Garden, but it was a grind. Two performances a day, then hit the road to Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, or wherever he was scheduled to appear next.

But those gigs looked good when he was downgraded to the “B” circuit in smaller auditoriums like The Centrum in Worcester, Mass. The money wasn’t as good, and he was forced to scale back, selling his condo in Cambridge, Mass. right across the river from the studios at WGBH, the public TV station in Boston that gave him his first break in educational show biz. He now lives in a crummy two-bedroom apartment in Allston, a grimy neighborhood in Boston that is best described as a college student ghetto.

I pull up to Barney’s “triple-decker,” a somewhat run-down example of the three-floored apartment buildings that make up much of Boston’s older housing stock. On the front porch I see Baby Bop, the thirty-five year old triceratops who rose to fame with Barney, then divorced him when his personal life spun out of control. They have recently reconciled, but “Babe,” as we all knew her back in the day, says she’s not getting hitched again.

“Hey,” she says as she comes around to my driver’s side window. “I wanted to get to you before you rang the doorbell.”

“He’s hung over again?”

“Yep. He’s having a cup of black coffee and a donut. He needs to shave, but at least he’s up.”

It’s sad to watch a great artist in decline, but youth is fleeting, and with it the fickle favors of pre-school fans.

The other Purple One.

I look up and see The Purple One–not Prince, Barney–come out the front door. He’s always been a trouper–I shouldn’t have doubted for a second that he’d make it.

“Hey Barn–what’s shakin’?” I say.

In happier times.

He winces visibly. “Keep your voice down, would you?” he says as he gets in the “shotgun” seat for the drive down the Mass Pike.

“You . . . party like it was 1999 last night?” I ask, teasing him gently.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, holding his head.

“We had half a liter of tonic left,” Baby Bop says. “He’s so cheap, he didn’t want it to go flat, so he had three more G&T’s.”

“Ouch. I did that one time, but I was going away for a week. Totally missed my plane the next morning,” I say, trying to commiserate.

“Am I talking to myself, or did you not understand what I said before.”

“Sor-ree!” I say, and drive in silence.

Thankfully, the toll booths on the MassPike have been replaced by electronic toll monitors so Barney doesn’t have to hear me throwing quarters in the metal bucket. When we’re out on the highway, he falls back against his window, sound asleep, and Baby Bop and I have a chance to catch up.

Screwed, just like Barney

“How’s he doing?” I ask.

“Still bitter. He never got a dime’s worth of royalties from the licensing deals.”

“Like all the old doo-wop groups, huh.”

“Yep. I’m trying to hold things together for him, but it’s been hard.”

“You’re a saint,” I say, and she gives my hand a squeeze.

“I love him, what can I say,” she says with lump in her throat.

The big guy stirs as we hit the Weston exit.

“Sorry, pal, I had to change lanes and slow down,” I say.

He grumbles a bit, but he appears refreshed. “I just needed a little cat nap,” he says as he stretches. “What god-forsaken hell hole am I performing in today?”

“You’re not going into the children’s room of my local library with that kind of attitude, you dig?”

“‘You dig?’” Barney says, mocking me in the sing-song hyuck-yuck-yuck voice that is part of his stage shtick. “What are you, a beatnik?”

“Just trying to get my point across,” I say, but I figure it may be time for an intervention. I know from personal experience that there’s nothing that works better with someone who’s slid into cynicism, as I did in my twenties, than to confront them with the facts, as directly as possible. “Why are you so bitter?” I ask.

Moi–bitter?” he says, a look of offended dignity on his face, but I know it’s just a pose. He knows he’s bitter–and he doesn’t care.

“Who wouldn’t be bitter?” he says after a beat. “‘Use your imagination!’ That’s what I get paid to say, one Saturday story hour after another. But you should take a look at the parents who’ll show up today. If any of them ever used their imagination, they’d call their accountant first to see if it was deductible, then their HMO to see if the imagination is covered in case they sprain it. They so rarely use them, they know they’re out of shape.”

I consider this, and have to admit he has a point. “There’s nothing stopping you from changing your act,” I say. “We have a pretty good library–lots of poetry, both print and audio books. The newer fiction is mainly best-sellers, but you can find the high brow stuff shelved by author in the Literature section.”

“You’re wrong–I returned ‘Invisible Man’ last Saturday–plenty of time to spare.”

He purses his lips as if he’s actually thinking about this, and looks out his window wistfully. “You just may have a point,” he says. “I guess it’s partly my fault, not adapting my act to changing tastes over the years.” He pulls out a pack of Newport Lites and pushes in my cigarette lighter.

“I really wish you wouldn’t smoke in my car,” I say.

“We’re on local roads, I’ll roll my window down,” he says as he fires up. “It relaxes me before I go on.”

I turn onto the road by the reservoir, hang a left past the community farm, then pull into the parking lot.

“This is it. It’s not Madison Square Garden, but the road back has to start somewhere,” I say.

“Okay,” he says, and he is transformed suddenly from the crabby mope he’s been for most of the ride into the consummate performer that he is. Think Elvis in Vegas, Richard Pryor on Sunset Strip. I can tell from his stride past the book return box that his hair’s on fire and he’s ready to burn the place down, as we say in show biz.

We stop in the vestibule where we’re met by Patricia Dineen, head librarian. She can’t restrain herself from the sort of star-struck gushing that Barney gets wherever he goes. “I’ve been a big fan of yours forever,” a dubious claim since she’s a fifty-year-old who would have been in grad school when Barney first came on the air. “Would you mind autographing something special for me?”

“Write ‘To Trish–my favorite head librarian.’”

“Sure,” Barney says. He holds out his hand, expecting maybe a VHS tape of “Barney & Friends,” when he sees Dineen lift up her blouse to reveal a white camisole.

Barney looks at me, and I shrug my shoulders with a look that says “The customer’s always right,” but Baby Bop intervenes.

“I have some autographed 8 1/2 x 11 glossies–take one,” she says sharply, then pushes Barney forward to a waiting crowd of fifty or so infants and toddlers.

“Yay–Barney!” one little boy screams, touching off a near riot. The kids crowd around, and it is all that Baby Bop and I can do to form a flying wedge and push our way up to the dais. I feel like a Hell’s Angel at Altamont.

“I love you . . . you love me!”

Barney launches right into his act, assisted by a boom box with his sound track that Baby Bop takes with them on the road. He has the kids clapping and singing along and, after he brings his big hit “I Love You, You Love Me” to a conclusion, he turns it down a notch for the spoken word segment–the important part of the program.

“You know boys and girls, you don’t need a TV or video games to have fun.”

“We don’t?” a precocious little boy down front asks.

“Nope. Each one of you has something more precious than any electronic gizmo, right in . . . here.” He taps his big purple head on the temple.

“What is it?” a girl asks.

“It’s your imagination. You can use your imagination to go anywhere you want. When your friends are off skiing at Gstaad over Christmas break, or on Nantucket for the whole month of August, and you’re stuck here in town–just use your imagination and it will take you anywhere you want to go!”

The kids are spellbound. Nobody’s ever put it to them this way–no one’s ever even taken the time to try. They hustle around like FedEx delivery men from soccer, to piano lessons, to hockey, to Scouts, to play dates. Nobody’s ever told them they can sit on their butts like zoned-out drugheads and just . . . imagine things.

And then comes the turning point–the moment when Barney transformed himself from the Jerry Lewis of the kids comedy circuit, all sappy, treacly schmalz, into its Lenny Bruce. “And you,” he says, turning to the parents. “You can use your imaginations too, if you have any left after all the getting and spending you do.” I’m impressed. I didn’t know Barney knew any Wordsworth.

The moms and dads in the back row shift uncomfortably, not used to having their lifestyles put under the microscope by a fuzzy purple dinosaur. “When have you ever picked up something totally crazy, like Edgar Allan Poe, when you came to the library with your kids? No, it’s stupid sports biographies for the men, and for the women, chick lit that’s one step up–and a very little one at that–from bodice rippers.”

There is a murmur of dissent from the adults, but no one wants to prolong the discomfort, so they say nothing that can be heard down front.

Joris-Karl Huysmans

“Try a little J-K Huysmans, fer Christ sake,” Barney says. “That’s using your imagination. Or how about Les Fleurs du Mal, by Baudelaire. That’ll rock your world in a way that Jodi Picoult won’t.”

I had no idea that the Barn Man had become such a litterateur in his years of obscurity. I guess he had more time to read without a one-hour episode to tape every week.

“Yes, Barney, thank you for calling attention to our somewhat underutilized Literature collection,” Dineen says, trying to pour some oil on troubled waters. “Why don’t I lead the parents on a tour of the stacks while you continue with the children?” She may be star-struck, but she’s still got her sensible shoes on.

The parents nod in agreement and follow the librarian out of the room, and Barney quickly downshifts to the happy-talk patter he’s perfected over the past two decades.

Baby Bop gives me a look of relief, and we step outside into the sunlight.

“Does he go off like that very often?” I ask.

“Not since he’s back on his medication,” she says.

“What’s that?”

“Nesquik Chocolate Milk, in the convenient one-pint Grab ‘n Go bottle.”

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

I Wish You Loved Me as Much as Your Phone

We’re here together, but I’m all alone.
Your body’s here, but your mind is gone.
I might as well be in The Twilight Zone–
I wish you loved me as much as your phone.

You call me baby, you call me doll–
And then you say “I gotta take this call.”
You talk to someone from parts unknown–
I wish you loved me as much as your phone.

When we get home from our evening date
I think of romance as it’s gettin’ late.
And then I hear that little nuisance ring
I don’t know why you can’t turn off that thing.

You say you love me as you stare at your screen
The way you treat me is beyond obscene.
When you look up you’ll see this bird has flown–
‘Cause you don’t love me as much as your phone.

I Wear My Erudition Lightly

I wear my erudition lightly,
or at least I really try.
If you put on a heavily learned cloak
folks won’t think you’re a regular guy.

So I drop bon mots at cocktail parties
when the conversation starts to flag.
Like “Didja know that a guy named Tiresias
used to walk around all the time in drag?”

Or the fact that Lincoln crossed the Rubicon
to end the Peloponnesian War?
It was either that or the French Revolution,
I’m sure I read it somewhere before.

I’m also good with orthography,
I’m a former spelling bee champ.
I’ve never misspelled H2SO4
And I know why the lady’s a tramp.

I know about quantum mechanics,
Which is a concept thought up by Niels Bohr.
I take my quantum in every three thousand miles
and they lube my four-on-the floor.

I took some classes in vers libre,
which I found to be most stimulating.
I also drink mojitos and daiquiris,
and I find them all very intoxicating

If you want to display your brainpower,
don’t be afraid to let it all out.
When people say they think I’m unlearned,
I don’t leave any room for doubt.

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


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.”


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 sixty-one years later it had only gotten vaster.

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.

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.


“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.

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.”

My Gall Bladder is Really Warm Today

The English phrase “Nice to see you” translates into “My gall bladder is really warm today” in Berik, a language of New Guinea.

                                                    What Language Is, John McWhorter

I’ve never been very good at small talk, I just don’t have the ”gift of gab.”  But I know I’ve got to get better at it if I’m going to advance within Conglomerated Widgetek, the world-wide leader in whatever it is we make.

I did what career coaches say is essential for advancement up the ladder of a multinational corporation; when a promotion became available in a far-flung outpost of our empire, I jumped at the chance.  I’m single, so I didn’t have to uproot my family, and I knew it would help me leapfrog ahead of guys like Dwight Van de Velde, a brown-noser of the first water who I had to listen to yapping to his skanky girlfriend on the phone in the next cubicle over for two years in Keokuk, Iowa, where we have our test labs.

But it hasn’t been easy getting acclimated to the American scene after ten years in Papua, New Guinea.  When I left in the summer of 2004, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years.  Now I find out they’ve won it four times!  And I bought a bunch of pleated slacks that are now totally out of style!

I’ve got to get back in the swing of things, so tonight I’m going to a networking event at the Marriott Hotel.  Press the flesh, trade some business cards, maybe even meet a nice woman!  Hey, you never know–it could happen.

I plunk down my $25, get my name tag, fasten it to my left lapel so that people can get a good look at it when they shake hands with me, then begin the uncomfortable–but absolutely necessary!–task of greeting my first stranger, a loser–I mean–up and coming business-type like myself.

“Hi there!” I say with enthusiasm, establishing eye contact and extending my hand prepared to grip-and-grin with alacrity.  “Ed Dworpkin, Conglomerated Widgetek!”

“Mike Bluverski, Sheehan, Flark & Greunberg, Councillors at Law.”

Luck of the draw–I had to pick a lawyer, the least desirable type in the room.

White is all right between Labor and Memorial Days in the Southern Hemisphere.

“What kind of business are you in?” he asks.  Desperate for a client is my guess.

“My company makes high-speed pneumatic and electronic widgets for commercial and industrial applications,” I say, repeating the first line of my “elevator speech.”  “We have sales offices in over forty-eleven countries.  How ’bout you?” I say, hoping to get this tete-a-tete done and move on to a more profitable one.

“We’re personal injury lawyers,” he says, scratching his nose.  “We typically sue companies like yours, but we’re always willing to change sides.”

“Well, suing somebody is no way to win friends,” I say with a hale-fellow-well-met sort of cheer.  “Gotta run–my gall bladder is really warm today!” I say as I shake his hand.

The shyster looks at me as if I’m a fly in his Miller Lite Beer, but I’m already on to my next prospect, a tall, silver-haired guy who looks like what central casting would send you if you asked for a CEO.

“Ed Dworpkin, Conglomerated Widgetek,” I say, a big you-know-what-eating grin on my face.

The guy shakes my outstreched hand.  “Morris Dane–Superior Flange & Hasp,” he says.  That’s more like it, I say to myself.  Flange and hasp makers are the biggest customers for widgets, domestically and internationally.

“What kind of quality controls do you have at Conglomerated?” he asks, giving me the opening of a lifetime.

“We’re Six Sigma, ISO-certified and Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” I say, taking my handkerchief out of my pocket just in case I’m watering at the mouth.  “Also, Underwriters Laboratory.”

“Gee, that’s great,” he says.  “But when I establish a relationship with somebody, I want to know that the person I’m dealing with is level-headed, stable–somebody who’s not just in it for the commission, and will jump ship for a bigger paycheck across the street.”

“Oh, that’s me all right.  Been with the company all around the world!”

He cracks a smile, and I think I may just have made a sale, if I can s-l-o-w-l-y reel him in.  “How ’bout those Patriots?” he says, touching upon sports, the one subject–other than politics and revenge–that is dear to all New Englanders’ hearts.

“Well, they need to find a new quarterback with Mac Jones out, but I whenever I think about what happened when Drew Bledsoe went down and a guy named Tom Brady got the start, well, the gastric secretions from my spleen get ripe!”

Dane seems to be–ill all of a sudden.

“Yes, well.  Maybe you should see a doctor about that,” he says with a distracted air as he looks over my shoulder.  “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go try some of that shrimp.  Nice to meet you.”

“My gall bladder is really warm today!”

I try to shake his hand, but he’s off like a shot.  Sales are funny.  Just when you think you’ve got a hot prospect, they turn cool on you.

I amble over to the cash bar and order a beer, when I detect the most heavenly fragrance wafting up to my nostrils from my right.  I turn my head slowly and see the most gorgeous creature I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Blond hair, blue eyes, blue eye shadow–lots of it, just like I like ‘em.

She gives me a smile, but I can’t tell whether it’s a “I’m networking” or “I’m looking for love” expression.  It’s a good thing I came prepared.

I reach discreetly into my briefcase and pull out my penis sheath gourd, a handy dating tool I picked up in New Guinea to telegraph to eligible females just how strong and sexy I am, how I’m capable of giving them the many, many children that I know women are just dying to have!

“Eek!” she cries.

“What is it?” I ask urgently, hoping to play the role of rescuer of a damsel-in-distress.  “A mouse?”

“No–more like a snake.”

I look under the buffet table–nothing.  I scout the room and, when I turn around, I see her, running away.  I also notice that everyone is looking at me with, as John Keats would say, a wild surmise.

“What?” I say, genuinely perplexed.  “I was just trying to help that nice young lady.”

“What company did you say you were with?”  It’s the lawyer again.

“Conglomerated Widgetek,” I say.

“So that’s what a widget is,” he says.  “I always wondered.”

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

To Make Ends Meet, More Poets Turn to Discounters

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Curtis Bascomb, Jr. is a third-generation family business owner, so he has more than just his time and money invested in his workplace.  “Grandad founded this place on a promise,” he says with a trace of a lump in his throat.  “He believed no poet should ever go without a figure of speech because of high prices.”

“I’m looking for a synechdoche for wine.”


And so the Poets Discount Supply House was born, a harmonic convergence of New England thrift and the historically impecunious nature of the poet’s trade.  “I’m entering my coming-of-age collection in twenty chapbook contests at an average of $22.50 a pop,” says would-be poet Todd Heftwig, who prowls the aisles looking for bargains.  “If I can pick up a slightly-used simile or metaphor at half-price, I may be able to recoup my investment.”

“There’s a size 7 and a half sestina back here with seagulls in it.”


In addition to garden variety figures of speech such as similes and metaphors, the Poets Discount Supply House carries more exotic forms such as synechdoches and metonyms, as well as a deli case stocked with onomatopeia and tropes.  “We buy this stuff fresh every day,” says Bob Vibeck, who started with the company when it was run by Bascomb’s father, Curtis Sr., in the 1960s.  “That’s why poets come back to us even when they hit the big time, which is really still the little time.”

The store is located in an undistinguished warehouse off a busy commercial street, part of the family’s business plan to keep costs down.  “We can sell you a package of three generic themes–seagulls, unrequited love, the effect John Coltrane’s music had on you in college–at half the cost of the high-end retailers,” says Curtis Senior.  “That’s our sweet spot.”

“If you need a rhyme for the word ‘love,’ line up on the right.”


The store is ramping up for what is usually its busiest time of the year, as shoppers stop in for a turn of phrase for a Thanksgiving toast, or get ready for Christmas proposals, when the family will bring in temporary sales help to handle the crush of smitten but unlettered Romeos.  “These guys come in here with something scratched on a cocktail napkin looking for le mot juste,” says Curtis Junior, shaking his head.  “I tell ‘em you can’t bring in your own stuff, you got to buy it here.”


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

Knee-Jerk Moderates Caught in Political Crossfire

NEWTON LOWER HILLS, Mass.  This quiet village just west of Boston looks much like any other suburb on a rainy Tuesday; well-tended lawns sprinkled with a few early-fallen leaves that are sent swirling by a gust of wind.  There’s one striking difference however; yard-signs, considered a tacky declaration of partisan politics in Wellesley Falls, one town further west, are par for the course here as election day approaches.

Home in Newton Lower Hills, Mass.

“I’m caught in the middle,” complains Carol Pierce.  “To my left I’ve got Marie Sansone,” the wife of a firefighter whose family would benefit from a proposed budget override that will be on the ballot next week, “and to my right I’ve got Polly Endicott,” a widow on a fixed income who wants to stay in the house she’s lived in for forty years.  “If taxes go up, Marie’s happy, but Polly’s pissed.”

Carol suffers from OSV, for “omnisympathetic vision,” the ability to see all sides of an issue.  Her warring neighbors have forced her to make a choice, however, as the Sansones have placed a large “We Support Our Firefighters!” sign on their lawn, while Polly Endicott has joined the “No New Taxes!” movement that is fighting to keep municipal assessments low.

“I like the platform of this None of the Above fellow.”

Carol, who prefers to stay out of local politics, agonized over her dilemma until she came up with what some are hailing as a grand compromise: “Knee-Jerk Moderates,” a loose coalition of similar-minded folks who are somehow able to live their lives without getting bent out of shape by local, state or national governmental issues.

Image result for angry neighbors
“Either you compromise with us, or we crush you like a bug just to watch the juice run out.”


“I had a nice sign printed up that said ‘I Support Our Firefighters–Up to a Point,’” Carol says, and passers-by began to wave and honk their horns.  “The Sansones are nice people, but so is the kindergarden teacher who’ll get laid off if the override passes.”

Pollsters say this state, whose elected officials are almost exclusively Democrats but which also has large numbers of independent voters, may be the launching pad for a nationwide movement of people who are indifferent to political controversy.  “Exit polls in 2020 showed that voters thought the economy was the most important issue,” says Charles Culver, president of Opinion Research.  “After that there was no consensus, with national security, healthcare and long lines at Chinese restaurants tied for second place.”

As Helicopter Kids Grow Up Bring Your Parents to Work Day Spreads

NEW YORK. Safra Cohen is a lowly first-year associate at a corporate law firm with offices in mid-town Manhattan who has spent her first three months on the job as the junior member of a team working on a billion-dollar merger. Her office is furnished with a standard-issue desk and file cabinets, but she has managed to soften it by a floral print and a potted plant that could have been purchased by thousands of other young lawyers like her across town. There is one fixture that is totally unique to her surroundings, however; her mother.

“You’re going to work dressed like that?”

“I’ve been involved in Safra’s education since I wrote her first application to the Solomon Schecter Day School,” says Sheila Cohen. “I’m not going to leave her hanging out there now that she’s getting started in her career.”

“Helicopter parents,” so-called because of the way they hover over their children as they face life’s challenges, have moved on to the next stage of their off-springs’ lives–the world of business and the professions–creating new workplace tensions and challenges for business etiquette.

“He looks old enough to be my father because he’s . . . uh . . . married to my mother.”

“A helicopter parent is one who simply can’t let go of his or her precious little baby,” says Ellen Dowling of Hinsdale College in Illinois, a no-nonsense liberal arts school that prohibits parents from accompanying children to class or providing them with answers to tests. “They’re baby-boomers who never got over their sense of entitlement, and they’re passing the same spoiled mind-set down to their children,” she notes. “Either that or they actually own a helicopter, which is even worse.”

“Seriously sweetie, having me on the honeymoon will make things go a lot smoother.”

So major companies who compete for top graduates to fill entry-level positions have begun to offer “Bring Your Mother (or Father) to Work Day,” a once or twice a week accommodation for children who, while they may have received top-notch academic training, have not yet developed a sense of mature judgment to guide them through tough negotiations or intra-office politics.

“The first day I got here I looked around and checked out the other kids’ offices,” says Martha Lynch whose son Toby is an assistant loan officer at Credit Banque, an international trade bank in lower Manhattan. “Every other new hire got colored paper clips and Toby was stuck with those yucky metal ones that get all rusty when they sit for too long in your files. I marched straight down to the Senior Vice President’s office and gave him a piece of my mind, not that I’ve got that much to spare.”

“Hey–he’s got a bigger stapler than my kid!”

The parents themselves say they are merely protecting their expensive investment in an education–prep school and undergraduate and graduate study–whose price tag is in many cases more than they paid for their first home. While the term “helicopter parents” has been around since the early 1990′s, it has recently achieved more serious consideration as economists have become concerned over the effect the phenomenon may have on America’s long-term competitiveness. “Say you’re in Tokyo negotiating a big joint venture with Mazda and you hit a bottleneck over labor costs,” says Ryan Coburn of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Do you want somebody representing you whose mother’s heating up Lipton Cup-a-Soup for her little darling? I don’t think so.”

Speaking of food, it’s lunch time at Alexander, Fanning & Co., an investment bank with offices on Wall Street, and senior partner Whitney Stillman is walking the halls looking for a “warm body” to accompany him to a client lunch. He sticks his head in the office of Alexandria Keats, a 2022 graduate of Wellesley College, and asks if she can join him. “Spencer had to cancel on me and I’ve got the folks in from Glenmore Industries–are you free?” She starts to say “yes” but her father, a retired lawyer, intervenes. “If you’ve got two seats–fine,” he says. “Otherwise, my little girl is staying put.”

Me and Tennessee Williams at the Ten-Minute Play Festival

It’s been a long dry spell–six years–since I last had a play performed in the sort of church basement venues that community theatre is consigned to, but I’m hopeful–now that the President of the United States has declared the pandemic “over“–that things will start to pick up in the low-rent drama world that an amateur playwright such as myself inhabits.

Waltham, Mass., back in the day.


I’m sitting in The Busted Watch, a friendly neighborhood bar in Waltham that recalls the days when this little burg was known as “Watch City” because of all the timepieces it cranked out year after year.  “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution” is another monicker it is known by, although I wouldn’t refer to it that way unless you’re like a really good friend of it; not just Christmas card friendly, in other words, but hey-let-me-buy-you-a-drink friendly.

I’m waiting to see if I’ve made the cut for the upcoming ten-minute play festival to be put on by The Watch City Players.  Maybe I won’t make the big Saturday night performance, but I’m hoping to at least make the Friday night lights of the junior varsity.  I don’t know what it will take for me to get “off the schneid,” as my dad used to say, by which he (and others) meant to break a losing streak.  I’ve never actually been booed, but I was hissed in Lowell, Massachusetts when one of the characters in my last play referred to his former girlfriend’s German/Yiddish heritage, whose language gave birth to the now archaic phrase.  Everybody’s so touchy these days.

I’m waiting for the panel of judges to hand down their decision when who should sit down next to me but Tennessee Williams, whose plays continue to be performed nearly four decades after his death.  He’s achieved what all playwrights hope for as long as they live–posthumous fame!  Yes it always comes too late, but then so does my wife when we’re going out to dinner.

               Tennessee Williams


“Mind if I join you?” he asks, and it is all I can do to keep myself from gushing all over him like an autograph hound and saying “Oh my God–you’re one of my biggest fans!”

Williams and I couldn’t be more different.  He’s a successful playwright, I–well, if you want to meet someone who’s had a little success writing plays, I’ve had as little as anybody.  He’s gay, I’m straight.  He’s short, I’m . . . average in height.  He’s an alcoholic, I’m a moderate social drinker who never imbibes more than a pre-dinner sherry, a six pack of beer, a gin and tonic, a bottle of red wine, an after-dinner port and maybe a single malt scotch in a single sitting.

“So what’s eating you?” he asks, cutting right to the bone.  I’m not surprised; he seems to have a penetrating insight into the emotional injuries that cause people to run off the rails, to mix my metaphors.

“I’m a failure–isn’t that enough?”

“You’re not a failure–yet,” he says with calm assurance.  “Not until you die before you give up.”

          “Oh, please–get a grip.”


“Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a play performed,” I say.

“Like that didn’t happen to me, at the beginning, middle and end of my career?”

“Very Aristotelian of you, but I don’t think you ever went seventeen years without having a play performed in New York,” I say.

                Bruce Jay Friedman


“Ouch,” he concedes, then nods to the bartender and orders a martini.  “That is bad.  And the last one was?”

“‘Welcome to Endive,’ in 2005.  At least I was on the same bill as Bruce Jay Friedman.”

“Don’t know him.”

“Wrote ‘The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life.'”

“Never read it.”

“They made it into a movie with Steve Martin in 1984.”

“Who’s Steve Martin?”

“I guess I should probably keep my references to the years before you died, huh?”

“That would be helpful, yes.”  He took a sip of his martini and looked me up and down.  “My guess is you’ve still got a shot.”

“You do?”

“Yessss,” he drawls out.  “I happen to know that you and I have a lot in common.”  Death will do that for you–all of a sudden you’re omniscient, you can see through people like those “Visible Man” and Visible Woman” kits they used to sell in hobby stores.

“Like what?”

He closes his eyes as if to communicate with the inchoate and the extramundane.  “I seem to see a connection to the University of Missouri.”

“My two sisters went there, and I went to a lot of their football games.”

“How about that 1960 Orange Bowl!” he says, recalling the win over Navy that capped a perfect, if slightly marred, 11-0 season.   “I went there but dropped out when I failed ROTC.”

“How, exactly, does one fail ROTC?” I ask.  “Isn’t it just marching back and forth and handling dummy rifles?”

“Yes but I wasn’t cut out for that.  While I was there I pledged Alpha Tau Omega.”

“You’re kidding!” I say.  “I went to a drunken rush party there!”

“And you decided on the basis of that Bacchanalian beer fest to attend college elsewhere–correct?”

“Yes, yes I did.”

“Well, I went on to Washington University in St. Louis.”

“One of my sons went there!”

“So I gather.  And during the summer I worked at International Shoe Company in St. Louis.”

“My mom and dad met there!”

“That’s so sweet,” he says drily as he nods to the bartender for another drink.  “I couldn’t stand it.”

“I can’t say either of them had an artistic temperament,” I say.

“I wrote poems on the sides of the damned shoeboxes.”

“Now, now,” I say, as the son of a former shoe company owner.

“It was mind-numbing stuff.  I lived for a while in Provincetown.”

“So did I,” I say, then add sheepishly, “but only for a weekend.”

“I had a play–Battle of Angels–performed in Boston.”

I’ve had a play performed in Boston!”

“And did you make any money on it?”

“Well, no.  It was community theatre.”

“That’s okay.  You know the old saying?”


“You can’t make a living in the theatre, but you can make a killing.”

“Ha,” I replied, and I meant it.  At this point I’m running a deficit if you add up all the play contest entry fees I’ve spent and put them in the balance across from my *cough* receipts.

“What else?” he asks.

“Well, I’ve been to Chicago, New York, Miami and Key West–and you have too, right?”

“True but trivial.  Anything else?”

“I was raised Catholic.”

“I was converted, but it didn’t take.”

“Yeah, those Ten Commandments are awfully tempting.”

“Are those do’s . . . or don’ts?”


“I was a failure as a screenwriter,” he says.

“This is getting downright . . . eerie–so am I.”

“Okay,” he says, as he signals to the bartender to bring him his check.  “I think you’ve got enough to go on.  Now get back to your desk, get your ass in your chair, and get to work, okay?”

“Thanks,” I say, and I mean it.

“One last piece of advice?”


“Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers.”



Columnist Uses Polygamy to Keep Anecdotes Flowing

WINNIPESAUKEE, New Hampshire.  It’s 6:30 p.m., and Anson Myers has a looming deadline for the thrice-weekly column he writes for the Winnipesaukee Sentinel He hasn’t written a word yet, but he doesn’t appear nervous.

“How about a new bike story?  You haven’t done one of those for months.”

“Ten years ago I would have been tearing my hair out right about now,” he says after sticking out his tongue at his editor, who is lurking beside Myers’ desk.  “That was before I got my family life under control.”

Plenty of raw material.

When Myers first became a columnist he made his name writing treacly stories about his kids that are typical fare at newspapers across the country.  “I realized that those vignettes about a lost baseball glove or a new puppy were pure gold, but I couldn’t keep mining the same vein forever,” Myers notes.  “Once your kid turns 15, he’s good for a few years of coming-of-age columns, then he’s pretty much worthless.”

So Myers decided to try polygamy, and took four additional wives in eight years.  He now has a total of twenty children, and is never at a loss for material.

“You want touching?  I got touching coming out the wazoo.  You want bittersweet–I got bittersweet like Heinz has pickles,” he says with a laugh before banging out an 800-word column on a daughter’s dance recital in less than fifteen minutes.

Dance recital fun!

There is little jealousy among Myers’ four later spouses, but his first wife Tonya and their only son Tim seem resentful that they’ve been displaced just so that he can have a steady stream of anecdotes.  “Dad says I’ve got no one to blame but myself,” says Tim, now 27.  “One time he wrote a column about a goldfish of mine who died, and I made him promise he’d never do it again.  So he went out and had 19 more children.”

For his part, Myers understands the pain his decision has caused his first family, but says he’s only doing what’s necessary in order to put food on the table.  “Timmy was seven at the time,” Myers notes.  “I coulda told him that contracts with minors are unenforceable.”

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