Juan Jose Guiraldes, Boston Jaywalking Cop

BOSTON. This city, often referred to as the “Athens of America,” sometimes by non-residents, is famous for many things; the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell, the first use of ether to remove a tooth, the first three-point basket in NBA history by Chris Ford.


First use of ether; only worth two points.

 

But above all else, Boston is known as “The City of Jaywalkers,” just as Kansas City, Missouri is known as “The City of Fountains” and Worcester, Mass., is lovingly referred to as “The Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World.”


Boston jaywalkers: Cross at the green, not in between!

 

As its density increases with the return of empty-nester baby boomers from the suburbs, Boston’s jaywalking problem has reached crisis proportions; it is for this reason that I am serving as goodwill ambassador to Juan Jose Guiraldes, a forty-something gaucho from Argentina whom the City of Boston has recruited to become head of Pedestrian Traffic Enforcement.


Juan Jose, in his younger days.

 

I have arranged to meet Juan Jose at the Au Bon Pain in South Station, where I disembark from my train every morning. I realize I have foolishly forgotten to tell him that he must park his horse outside at the racks provided for the convenience of bicycle thieves as I hear the clip-clop of hooves on the marble floor.


“Excuse me, your horse is standing on my foot.”

 

“Juan Jose,” I say, holding up a sign bearing his name like a limousine driver at Logan Airport. “Welcome to Boston!”

“Buenos dias,” Juan Jose replies, barely breaking a smile. Consistent with the extensive research I have performed on Wikipedia, he has a more melancholy air than the typical American cowboy.

“Would you like a scone or something?” I ask hoping to break through his reserve.

He says nothing, but I can tell that he holds the sweet baked goods before him in contempt. “No thanks,” he says–his English is more than passable. He withdraws his facon–a large knife–from his saddlebags, along with a piece of cooked meat. He puts the meat in his mouth and tears at it with the knife, barely missing his nose. “I’m trying to cut back on carbs.”


“I am off to Boston–the greatest challenge of my life!”

 

I offer to at least buy him a cup of coffee, and he purses his lips, thinking. “Do you have yerba mate?” he asks the befuddled counter woman.

“I don’t think so,” she says, scanning the buttons on her cash register. “Is that like a cappucino?”

“No, senorita,” Juan Jose says. “It is an herbal tea-like drink, rich with caffeine and nutrients.”

The overworked and underpaid shift manager approaches. “We can make you a chai latte,” he offers helpfully.

“That’s probably as close as you’re going to get,” I say, withdrawing my wallet.

Before I have time to react his facon is on my wrist and his face has darkened. “Apparently your reading comprehension has not improved since fourth grade,” he says with an air of menace. “Had you reviewed the Wikipedia entry carefully, you would know that gauchos are proud men, and resort to violence quickly over petty matters.”

I slowly put my wallet back in my pocket, keeping my other hand out in the open so that I do not provoke Juan Jose further.

“You want a large, medium or small?” the counter woman asks.

“A large,” Juan Jose replies, then looks at me, puzzled. “Yesterday at a place called The Starbucks, I was offered four sizes of drinks in a semblance of my native tongue,” he says. “Tall, Grande, Venti and Trenta.” I notice that his eyes are misting over.

“Is everything okay?” I ask.

“Yes–it is just that I miss my daughters–Venti and Trenta–back home on the pampas in Argentina.”


The pampas

 

We take our drinks and head for what was once known as Dewey Square, but which some urban planning goober decided should be called “Financial Center” back in the 80′s. There, we are met with a sight that causes Juan Jose’s professional pride as a herder of animals to stir.


One Financial Center

 

“It is indeed a challenge that you have here,” he says, as he watches pedestrians cross against traffic lights and posted warnings, dodging speeding cars and trucks making early morning deliveries. “These people–they are more stupid than cattle.”

“Actually no,” I say, trying not to be defensive. “We have one of the highest concentrations of advanced degree holders in Amer–”

“These . . . ‘degrees,’” he says scornfully, cutting me off. “What good are they when you foolishly risk certain death in the face of on-rushing traffic?” He snaps the reins and his horse turns towards the Surface Artery. “Why do you add the word ‘Surface,’” he says as he trots off. “All roads–they have a surface, no?” he says, his voice heavy with irony.

Juan Jose takes up a position in the crosswalk where a young woman, iPod earbuds showing through her brown hair, nearly barrels into his horse’s hindquarters as she walks head down, not looking for cars. He leans down and gracefully picks her up, plunking her down behind his saddle horn.


Saved!

 

“What are you doing?” she asks, more in surprise than anger.

“You would have become Prius-meat in a matter of seconds,” Juan Jose says. “The full hybrid electric mid-size car developed and manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corporation operates silently while in electric mode.”

“Gosh, I . . . I don’t know how to thank you,” the woman says. “How can I ever repay you?”

“Please, senorita,” he replies. “It is the Code of the Gaucho. I do not accept gratuities from the cows I herd–I could do no less for you.”


Toyota Prius: Silent but deadly.

 

Unclear whether she should feel grateful or insulted, the woman slides off the horse, her brief case and purse askew. “Thanks–I guess.” She walks off, glancing suspiciously at us over her shoulder as she goes.

Juan Jose doffs his hat with a chivalrous flourish. “No hay problema!” I am surprised at how quickly he has picked up the expression preferred by Boston’s many slacker dude customer service representatives for “You’re welcome.”

Juan Jose turns back to his task and spies a rumpled-looking lawyer-type, huffing as he scurries to the curb about to cross to Federal Street after the light has changed but before the cars idling at the intersection can race forward.


Gaucho using boleadoras: Substitute lawyer for ostrich.

 

Sensing an imminent catastrophe, Juan Jose takes his boleadoras or bolas–wooden balls attached with braided leather cords–and swings them over his head. He lets fly, catching the man’s legs just as he has felled so many ostriches on the plains of Argentina with his primitive throwing weapon.

“Are you all right?” Juan Jose asks as we catch up to the man, the papers from his briefcase scattering in the wind off the Atlantic.


Heading back home

 

“Of course I’m not all right, you nut!” the man screams. Juan Jose’s face clouds over, and for the first time I sense that he has doubts whether he is up to the task of taming the wild bulls of Boston’s concrete pampas. Juan Jose stares off into the distance–visibly disgusted with the man’s ingratitude; I imagine he is thinking of the freedom of his life on the plains.

“The job–it comes with four weeks paid vacation, health and dental,” I say, trying to reassure him.

He is silent for a moment. “I no think I will do it,” he says.

“Why not?”

“Because,” he begins haltingly, trying hard to be gracious, “$4.06 is a lot to pay for a freaking chai latte.”

Available in print and Kindle format as part of the collection “Boston Baroques” on amazon.com.

Big Book of Presbyterian Humor Due in Stores Today

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. Molly Yardnal is a stocking clerk at the Barnes & Noble book store in this suburb of Boston who’s finding it hard to do her job now that students have returned to local colleges and the aisles are jammed.  “I guess people are buying books because big-ticket items are too extravagant in this economy,” she says as customers squeeze by her. “Either that or they’re way cheap.”

Today, Molly is working the humor aisle as she rips open cardboard shipping boxes filled with copies of “The Big Book of Presbyterian Humor,” the latest in a series of similar titles by Minoz Press. “Next to the Big Book of Jewish Humor and the Big Book of Catholic Humor, it looks kind of small,” she notes dubiously.


“If I told you you had a nice body, would you hold it against—never mind.”

 

“It should sell well as a Christmas stocking stuffer,” says editor Morris Korkin of his latest release, which runs to 24 pages including a table of contents, an index and a blank last page that can be used for taking notes during sermons. “Actually, you could fit two copies in your typical stocking.”


“I’ll be here all week. Be sure and tip your elders and deacons!”

 

American Presbyterians have been known as a humorless bunch since colonial times, when Founding Father Thomas Jefferson first noted a dour streak in the Scottish immigrants. “The Puritans put a man in the stocks this morning,” Jefferson notes in his diary at one point. “The Presbyterians came by later and criticized his outfit for being too casual.”


“He hath not got those breeches at Brooks Brothers!”

 

The book is being hailed by the denomination’s ministers as a helpful tool in defusing familial tensions. “Say two Presbyterian daughters get in an argument over whose David Yerman bracelet was more expensive,” says Rev. Scott Lee of the First Presbyterian Church in Duxbury, Massachusetts. “Nothing gets people in a good mood again like a joke that begins ‘A priest, a rabbi and a lady snake charmer walk up to the Gates of Hell.’”


David Yerman bracelet: “Haven’t you got something a little more expensive?”

 

The age-old question—Is there such a thing as a dirty Presbyterian joke?—is answered with an emphatic “Yes” by the collection, with a knee-slapper involving a first-class airline passenger who “poops his pants” after a particularly bumpy flight, notes Korkin.


“You shouldn’t say ‘fart’–use a polite euphemism such as ‘toot.’”

 

“That’s the only one we found,” he says. “For years we’ve heard rumors there’s another, about a grandmother who farts when her family visits her in a nursing home, but like Bigfoot it turned out to be a hoax.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Our WASPy Heritage.”

Releasing Your Inner Bigfoot

Dorothy Parker once observed that Katherine Hepburn’s emotional range ran the gamut from “A” to “B”.


         “A”                 “B”

 

The average man’s mid-life crisis doesn’t even get that far.

There is the Automotive (sports cars), the Athletic (late-in-life marathons) and the Amorous (making passes at young lasses).


“Just passing through.”

 

To this triple-A club, allow me to add a “B”–Bigfoot, the apelike creature who walks upright like a man.

Since grainy footage of the creature first became available in the ’60′s, I have dreamed of owning a Bigfoot costume.  Now that I’m in the autumn of my years and I’ve begun to reflect on what I want to accomplish before I die, it is time to put on the sasquatch suit and go into the woods west of Boston, like Thoreau, deliberately.


Farrah Fawcett, not Thoreau

 

In the ’70′s, Bigfoot was romantically linked with Farrah Fawcett, spotted in an Arkansas 7-11 with Elvis, and tabbed the front-runner to be Secretary of the Interior had Gerald Ford defeated Jimmy Carter.

He has since avoided the spotlight, resurfacing only for serious scientific study such as a 2002 National Geographic article.  As with J.D. Salinger, Bigfoot’s mystique has been enhanced by his private nature, and his Garbo-like attitude has opened the field to imitators, like me.


J.D. Salinger:  “Bigfoot?  Yeah, I’ve seen him around.”

 

Those who have longed to dress as Bigfoot in the past but were deterred, like transvestites, from shopping publicly have found a haven in the internet.  There are numerous high-quality Bigfoot costumes available on-line for sale or lease.  Ask your accountant which is right for you.

 

If you’re the handyman type, try the do-it-yourself models available on hunting websites.  These strikingly realistic outfits can be fashioned from a few items you probably already own–camouflage, foam padding, jute and Shoe Goo.

Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area as prolonged exposure to glue fumes can cause behavior that would be considered erratic even for a creature that eats housecats.

Like the Evangelist you may ask, “What doth it profit a man to gain a Bigfoot costume, and lose his wife’s faith in his sanity?”  I’ll tell you what it doth profit as soon as I can untie my tongue from these frigging fricatives.

Roger Patterson, the man who faked home movies of Bigfoot, made a bundle selling prints to supermarket-checkout line tabloids.  Our property borders conservation land, a perfect setting for the sort of Blair Witch Project cinéma vérité-style that is de rigeur for any Bigfoot flick.

After spending an afternoon staggering around your backyard in a sasquatch costume in front of a video camera, you’ll have college tuition for the kids pretty well covered.  Then the little woman will think it’s a good idea.

Having a Bigfoot costume can also extend the life of your pets.  If coyotes are moving into your neighborhood, there is nothing like the sight of a yeti to send them packing.  No cruel leg traps for your neighbors with the PETA membership to complain about.

And then there’s the matter of convenience.  No one likes to wait in line, but everyone wants that wake-up cup of coffee first thing in the morning morning, causing caffeine gridlock across the country all weekend long.


“Uh, sure–you can cut in front of me.”

 

If you want to clear out a Starbucks in a hurry, try showing up some Saturday morning dressed as an 8-foot tall mammal!  You’ll find plenty of empty seats, and maybe even a newspaper someone in a hurry left behind.  Probably needed to feed his meter.

Fashion tip: Remove costume before meeting wife at Talbots.


“I love this cable knit cardigan . . . oh my god!  It’s Bigfoot!”

 

Kids love furry animals, and you can make a lot of money at birthday parties with your new outfit.  The going rate for a three-hour gig is $200 and can go higher if you’re willing to do a little face painting–assuming the kids will come out from behind the sofa.

That first check will seem like found money.  Take your wife out for a meal at a nice restaurant–a well-timed growl from “Bigfoot” will get you the best table in the place.

Psychologists describe the mid-life transition as “middlescence”–the second coming of adolescence, without the complexion problems.

What could be more adolescent than staggering out of the house at night, hair down to your shoulders, dressed to scare people, smelling of Shoe Goo?

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Yes I Can’t!”

Among the Stoned Lab Rats

An experiment at the University of British Columbia found that tetrohydrocannabinol (THC), one of the active ingredients in marijuana, turned even hard-working rats into slackers.

                    The Wall Street Journal

mouse

It was Sunday night and me and Mikey and Ike were sitting in Bill’s Lounge–voted “Boston’s Worst Bar” for the sixth consecutive year!–when Mikey made the mistake of asking Bill for another bag of Andy Capp Pub Fries.

“You guys don’t got no more credit here,” Bill said as he wiped down the bar with a rag that came with the fixtures when he bought the place a decade ago.

“We don’t?” Ike asked, and he might as well have done it rhetorically.  When Bill says you can no longer run a tab, there’s no Supreme Court of Bud Lite Pitchers to appeal to.

“Nope.  I got a business to run here, even if it don’t look it.”

I felt like whackin’ the two of ’em upside the head.  “How many times have I got to tell you mooks!”

“What?” Mikey asked, all offended dignity.

“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that one now,” Ike said.

“You should,” I replied.  “I only said it like five minutes before the author chose to make us the subject of this here post.”

I could see their little heads spinning.  America’s best and brightest aren’t going in to the lab rat business these days.

I turned my little head to the right, towards the windows that looked out onto Park Square, and the lines of Auden’s September 1, 1939 came into my head from outta nowhere.

Faces along the bar,

I began, reciting from memory,

Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home.

“Did you just make that up?” Bill asked as he dunked a beer mug and an Old Fashioned glass in the sink of dirty water that looked like the Charles River before they cleaned it up.

“If I did, will you give us another bag of . . .”

auden
Auden:  “On the whole, I’d rather be in an anthology.”

 

“Ix-nay on the ee-fray ack-snay,” he said, showing off his skills in Pig Latin.

“Okay, no need to get shirty about it,” I replied.  “Well boys,” I said to my two comprades, hitching up my little gut, “looks like it’s time for us to go out and earn our keep.  Maybe amble over to MIT and see what they’re . . .”

I looked at the two of them, and I noticed a certain lack of joie de vivre, get-up-and-go, moxie.

“Are you guys with me or not?” I asked them, a bit louder this time.  They were staring off into the middle distance whilst the soothing sounds of California soft rock oozed out of the black speakers up in the corners where the ceiling met the walls.

“Am I talking to myself here?” I finally had to shout at them to get their attention.

“Oh, sorry,” Mikey said.  “What was you sayin’?”

“I was saying like I was talking to myself that we have to go out and find a new experiment to be in.”

Again with the blank stares.  “Why?” Ike said after a pause that was so long it went beyond “thoughtful” into the realm of . . . stoned.

“Because we gotta EAT!”  Heads turned–it’s considered impolite to disturb someone’s dismal depression at Bill’s.

“Why is that?” Mikey asked.

“You know,” I said out of the side of my mouth, “I could take that one of two ways.”

I waited for them to ask me to explain, but again they just sat there, their eyes glowing red like little laser pointers.  “Either it’s a very deep existential question, the primordial ‘Why?’ with which we meet the absurdity of the universe and its complete and utter indifference to all our aspirations . . .”

“Umm?” Bill ummed audibly.  Like a lot of Boston bartenders, his degree from the Harvard School of Bartending is not the only sheepskin on his wall, so he sometimes joins in the highbrow palaver–I’m tempted to say “bullshit”–his patrons put out.

barry

“Or, it’s the stupidest question anybody ever asked since ‘Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp.”

“I’m gonna go with the latter,” Bill said as he made his way down the bar to “freshen up” the chardonnay of a bottle blonde who looked like she needed a little freshening up herself.

Even with that insult slapping them in the face the two just sat there, like driveway gnomes.  And then it dawned on me:  my old buddies, who used to run through mazes all day, working up a healthy appetite while maintaining vital muscle tone, had turned into idle, apathetic stoners–without even going to college!

“Okay–I get it,” I said.  “You think that just because you’re high on pot the world revolves around you, like the guys I used to waste my time with in dank basements glowing with black lights and iridescent posters.”

“What kind of posters?” Mikey asked, at least at last showing some signs of life.

“Iridescent,” Ike said.  “They were a spin-off band from Genesis.”

hendrix

I let him stand uncorrected.  I had some serious intervenin’ to do.  “Look, you lunkheads,” I said, growing alliterative, “If we don’t work, we got no money.  If we got no money, we can’t buy the things we need to survive.  If we don’t buy the things we need to survive, we won’t survive–got it?”

I looked at them, hoping to see some will to live.  But no–nothing there.  Again I was reminded of a poem, and began to recite from rueful memory The Lotos Eaters by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and why he’s got that comma in there I’ll never figure out.  Surely you know its doleful recitation of the perils of indolence:

How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes, ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!

I don’t know if it was the verse that stirred them, but something did, because Mikey sat up and said “You may be right.”

I couldn’t believe my ears; after all, they were constantly ringing.

“Did I hear you correctly?” I asked, incredulous.

tennyson
Tennyson, after a particularly long night of pot and Jethro Tull

 

“Yeah, me too,” Ike said.

“What’s got into you two all of a sudden?” I asked.

They looked at each other as if I was the one who was daft.

“We got the munchies, dinglebrain.”

A Day on the Campaign Trail With the Fruit-in-Bra Candidate

               A Cambridge man who has appeared on local cable access TV wearing a white brassiere filled with fruit is running for office.

                                                  The Boston Globe

Just forty-eight days until election day.  It sounds like a long time, but when you’re out on the hustings–whatever they are–every day goes by in a blur. As the advance man for the only candidate in the race with the guts, the intestinal fortitude, and the produce to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people who don’t wear fruit-filled bras, I’ve never felt so inspired in my life.

“Look at these polls,” said Angela Marconi, the candidate’s chief of staff as she burst into the “war room.” We’re using “micro-targeting” to identify other Massachusetts residents who may have stuffed fruit or vegetables into their undergarments. Our job is to find them, mind them, and drive them to the polls. With a little luck and a few endorsements, we think we’ve got a shot at winning the whole rutabaga.


Rutabaga

 

“Whadda ya got,” I say to her.

“These swing districts out in the western part of the state,” she says as spreads a brightly-colored map out on the conference room table, “They’re right in our sweet spot.”

“How so?”

“You’ve got precincts with high concentrations of elderly voters who keep lemons under their armpits.”

“Why?”

“They double as deodorant and as an alternative to salt on salads. Keeps their blood pressure down.”

“I see.” Angela was an angel. She was the glue that held the campaign together, the straw that stirred the drink. If I had any more metaphors to mix, I’d throw them all in the blender with her.

“How about the pink districts?” I ask, pointing to areas around the state’s many college campuses.

“You can’t throw a canteloupe without hitting a vegan in them!” she squealed. I think we were both getting giddy at the prospect that we could literally change the face of American politics. No more of the same tired, old left-right divisions. We were on the verge of introducing a new paradigm; Fruititarians and Vegetabilists were our base, and we’d use them to triangulate the ever-diminishing number of Massachusetts residents who ate red meat. Peel off a couple of fish and chicken types, and we’d both have high five-figure staff jobs come January!

“You know,” I said to her, my voice dropping a few decibels and my eyes narrowing to hard-boiled little slits, “this whole thing is just crazy enough that it might actually work!”

She gave me a sweet little smile, filled with a pregnant sense of the possibilities that lay ahead. Me and her, living the political life we loved, loving the life we lived, maybe even . . .


“I need somebody to do a palm card drop in Ward 5.”

 

My reverie was interrupted by none other than the candidate himself, who strode into the room chomping on a cigar as he adjusted two Golden Delicious apples in the D-cups of his bra.

“If you two can stop flapping your gums about demographics and wedge issues for a minute I’ve got some old school politics to talk to you about.”

We both sat up straight and gave him our undivided attention.

“Politics is about people,” he began, “not computers and the internet and stuff like that. It’s about getting me out to every freakin’ nursing home and factory gate in the state between now and election day, you understand?”

“Actually,” I said, taking a big chance that he’d hear me out. He came up the hard way and doesn’t like to listen to what he calls “political scientology.”

“What?” he asked, a skeptical tone in his voice.

“We were thinking . . .”

“Who’s this we?”

“Me and Angela–that maybe it would be a good idea if we limited your public appearances and focused on radio talk shows, phone-banks and . . .”

“Why in the hell would I do that?” he asked, incredulous. “I’m a people person–I gotta get out and meet the voters.” He hesitated for a moment while he looked the two of us over like we were goldfish he was thinking of flushing down the toilet because he was tired of cleaning our aquarium. “Are you saying I should–hide who I really am?” He sounded hurt–vulnerable.


“How come you won’t go on TV in your bra?”

 

“No, no,” Angela interjects, anxious to let him know we’re with him 110%–maybe even 115%. “It’s just that we’re looking at groups with a lot of likely voters, and as you know, the elderly are . . . “

“Don’t go there,” he says. “Sure, it’s easy to think how tolerant we all are today, and to assume that the hidebound prejudices of the past were uniformly shared by all. But I know better. My mom and dad used to reach out to men and women that society marginalized because they accessorized with fruits. Carmen Miranda–Banana Man on Captain Kangaroo.” He was getting emotional.

“Look,” I said. “We’re not saying you should conceal anything from the voters, it’s just that–well–a lot of people still have trouble accepting a man who keeps . . . bananas in his bra.”

He fixed me with a stare that would have frozen a boiled vegetable. “You know something,” he said, drawing in his breath to fuel the outburst I knew was coming. “They’re . . . just . . . plain . . . wrong. The proper way to store bananas isn’t out in some Martha Stewart designer bowl.”

“It isn’t?” Angela asked, incredulous.

“No. No way. You store them in a closed paper bag–the dark, understand?” he snapped.


The Haymarket, Boston

 

“I guess,” I said. I edged a little closer to Angela–it was our first big screw-up of the campaign.

“When the bananas get ripe–when they’re yellow with a few brown speckles–you put them in the refrigerator. Again, in the dark. Got it?”

Angela was on the verge of tears. She’d worked for some tough candidates, but I don’t think she’d ever received a tongue-lashing like we were getting now.  I had to come to her defense.

“Look,” I said firmly, “we’re doing the best we can here. The mainstream candidates belong to Harry and David, they get gift baskets delivered to their door. We have to go down to the Haymarket and scrounge around for bruised oranges in the dark.”

“You make do with what you got,” The Candidate said, his voice as forceful as I’d ever heard it.

I was beating my head against the wall and I knew it, but I had to admire the guy for sticking to his guns. “Look, would it kill you the next time we go to a senior center to just wear a pair of grey slacks and a blazer?”


“The other candidate brought us fresh fruit.”

 

“But why?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “If I get elected, I don’t want anybody saying I misled him.”

How do you explain water to a fish, I thought.  He’s so committed to the fruit-and-underwear dynamic, he just doesn’t get it.

“Look,” I said as calmly as I could given the heat of the argument. “There’s a lot of people who think that it’s . . . undignified . . . to walk around in a bra with fruit in it.”

He looked as if I’d hit him with a ball peen hammer, but I gave him credit; he recovered right away.

“So that’s what people think,” he said, shaking his head. “Well let me ask you something–what the hell’s dignity got to do with politics?”

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”

The Last Days of the Lab Rats

               Bioengineers are trying to replace the lowly lab mouse with insentient but biologically sophisticated substitutes. 

                                                                           The Boston Globe

It was getting late, and I was getting frustrated.  I’d been stuck in a blind alley of a maze for probably five minutes, my blood sugar too low for my brain to figure a way out of the stupid place.

Same with my job.  I’ve been running mazes, pushing pellet and water bars in response to positive and negative stimuli, doing the whole double-blind test thing now for nearly three decades.  You’ll forgive me if I say that I’m getting tired of the rat race.

I closed my eyes for a second, trying to recall how I got into this mess–both my immediate dead end, and the larger rut I was stuck in.  I retraced my steps in my mind: I made a left turn last, so make a right turn.  Before that I made a right–now take a left.  Ah–there it was!  The pathway home.  I stumbled out of the maze and saw Pinky, my son, running to greet me.

“Hi dad!” he yelled as he jumped into my arms.  Let me tell you, there’s nothing like it, the love of a boy for his dad.

“Hey Pinky, how’s it going?” I said as I gave him a big hug.

“I scared the crap out of a woman today!”

“Great!  Did she say ‘Eek–a mouse!’”

“Yeah–and she climbed up on a chair to get away from me!”

“Outstanding!”  He was a chip off the old block.  “You’re going to be a real rat someday!”

“Thanks, dad!”

“As long as you remember to stay away from . . . “

“I know–don’t fall for the old cheese-in-the-mousetrap bit.”

Kids.  You try to drum some sense into them, I thought, and you hope some of it sticks, to mix my metaphors.  He was a good boy.

“Hi, honey!”  It was my wife, Minnie.

“Hello, beautiful,” I said as I gave her a peck on the cheek.  I was feeling like the luckiest guy in the world right then.

“How was your day?” she asked.  It was just a greeting.  We don’t talk about serious stuff in front of the kid.

“Same mouse droppings, different day,” I said with resignation.

“Well, just be thankful you’ve still got a job!” she said, her face an oxymoronic mixture of relief and concern.  I’m not saying she’s an oxymoron, it’s just that–well, she spends her days in a world that’s very different from mine.

“Any mail?” I asked, eager to hop onto the exercise wheel to work off some of the tension of the day.

“A few bills, a fund-raising letter from an anti-cat group, and this letter from work.”

She handed me an envelope with the familiar Droper Labs logo in the upper left-hand corner.  I slid my paw under the flap, ripped it open and took a glance at the letter inside.

“What’s the matter?” my wife asked.  “Your face just turned white.”

I tried to conceal my sense of panic.  “Sweetie, I’m a white rat–remember?”

She didn’t fall for it.  “What does it say?”

“Pink, buddy, why don’t you go play for awhile,” I said to my son.  “Go gnaw through some of the lunch bags in the employee lounge.”

“You mean it?”

“Sure–just stay out of the microwave.”

“Okay, dad!”

“Don’t spoil your dinner!” his mother called after him as he scurried off.

I turned to face my wife.  “I’ve been laid off,” I said.  “They’re giving me two weeks worth of pellets and that’s it.”

“Oh dear,” she said.  The sound of her voice was half an exclamation, half a groan.  “It won’t be easy for you to find another job at your age,” she said.  “You’re too old for Disney.”

I instinctively reached up, touched the top of my head and felt the fur that remained there.  I wasn’t that old.  But she had a point.

“We’ll be all right,” I said, but without much confidence.  “I’ve squirrelled a few pellets away over the years.

“Could you . . . go back to them . . . and beg a little?”

“No way,” I snapped.  “Not after the way they’ve treated us.”

“Sweetie,” she said, “now is no time to stand on pride.”

“You don’t understand–they’re replacing living, breathing lab rats with insentient but biologically sophisticated substitutes.”

“Your job is being . . . automated?”

“Not exactly.  I’m being replaced by a complex, living microtissue from cultured cells.  Sort of like a cloned boob from the . . . uh . . . decolletage of an opera diva.”

She stared off into space and sobbed quietly.  I put my arm around her and tried to comfort her.  I’ve never felt like less of a rat than I did just then.  My whole being–who I am–was bound up in my ability to bring home the pellets every night.

We both started when we heard Pinky come racing around the corner.

“Dad–guess what!” he exclaimed before he screeched to a halt when he saw the sad scene his mother and I made.  “What’s the matter?”

It was time to level with him.  “Pink, buddy–there’s going to be some changes around her.  Daddy lost his job–I’m going to try and catch on at another lab, but it won’t be easy.  We’ll cut back, but we’ll be fine.  I just want you to know that your mother and I love . . .”

“It’s okay, Dad–don’t worry,” he said.  I had expected him to be crushed by the news, but he was completely unfazed by our uncertain prospects.  “Everything’s taken care of–food and shelter.”

“How?” his mother asked, genuinely puzzled.

“I found a 3-pack of Pringles!”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”

For One Crime Reporter Trail of Death is Fishy

BOSTON. Pete Boyle has been a reporter for the better part of three decades on a succession of newspapers here, but he says he has no fear he’ll ever be out of work. “I cover crime,” he says in a voice roughened by years of cigarettes and cheap coffee consumed on all-night stakeouts. “I never run out of inventory.”


Stakeout.

 

But beneath Boyle’s hard-bitten exterior lies a soft, mushy center today as he lays to rest Goldy XIV, the latest in a succession of goldfish that have died in mysterious circumstances. “He was a good one,” Boyle says, fighting back tears. “I mean all of them were, but I got kind of close to him in the two days I had him.”


Scene of the crime

 

Boyle is a committed bachelor, having decided long ago that his subject matter made him too much of a target for retaliation by organized crime for a conventional home life. “It wouldn’t be fair to a woman,” he says looking off into the distance after he turns the last shovelful of dirt into his goldfish’s grave. “She goes off and buys percale sheets with a high thread count, a new dust ruffle and duvet, and next morning the stuff is ruined because some mook dumped a horse’s head in your bed.”

But a few years ago, finding himself growing older–and lonelier–Boyle decided to acquire a pet. “I put a lot of thought into it,” he says. “I decided since I keep odd hours I shouldn’t get a cat or a dog cause they’d tear up my apartment. Goldfish seemed the best bet.”

As Boyle took his leave the morning after setting up his fish bowl, he gave the first Goldy an ample supply of food. “I was scheduled to listen in on a Mafia initiation ceremony that night, so I knew I’d be getting home late,” he recalls. “I shook Goldy out a bowl full of fish food–he seemed really happy.”

When he returned home that night, Boyle was devastated to find Goldy floating lifelessly, the apparent victim of a mob snuff-out while he was gone. “I knew they were trying to send me a message,” Boyle says as he tears well up in his eyes. “The Mafia will leave a dead fish on a stool pigeon’s door step as a warning to keep quiet or you’ll sleep with the fishes.”


Fish on–no wait–that’s a toad.

 

But Boyle didn’t back down, and his friends on the police force were glad to help. “Pete gets our names in the paper,” says Sergeant Jim O’Hanlon of the Boston Police Force. “It was the least we could do.” So his apartment building was put under twenty-four hour surveillance, with teams of police watching the front and back entrances except when forced to leave for coffee and donuts. “I didn’t mind sticking around even if it meant my coffee wouldn’t be hot when my partner got back,” says Patrolman Richie Guerin. “We all have to make sacrifices.”


“We know you’re in there–we can hear the fish screaming!”

 

But the crimes continued, even with the police presence, making the serial killings Boston’s biggest unsolved crime since the 1960′s murders attributed to Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler.”


Boston Strangler: “You got nothin’ on me, copper. I was watching the gerbils the whole time.”

 

But DeSalvo died in 1973, and police say every lead they’ve developed has turned into a dead end. “We have a profile of the killer,” says the BPD’s O’Hanlon. “We cruise the frozen food section of local supermarkets, looking for guys with an unnatural interest in Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks.”


Fish sticks: Could there be a link?

 

Boyle appreciates the work his pals on the force have done, and says their failure to nab the culprit won’t stop him from living his life just the way he wants. “I’m off to get Goldy XV,” he says as he hops into his car and writes down something in his reporter’s notebook. “I’ve got to remember to stock up on fish food–I’m running low again.”

 

Available in print and Kindle formats on amazon.com as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”