The Gertrude Stein Look-Alike Contest

We’re getting up in years, we few forthright men who revealed to each other that we wanted to write back in our youth.  It takes a lot for a guy to open himself up that way to another man.

Is it Ed, or Gertrude?


There’s the odor of the effete about sitting down, waiting for inspiration, then scribbling your purple prose out on the blank page.  And there’s the sin of ambition.  You’re not content to become an accountant or an actuary–you want to become famous, huh?  You think you’re better than everybody else?

But we stuck with it with varying degrees of failure, and now find ourselves looking back on what we haven’t accomplished.  It’s about this time of year we get together for some wistful bonhomie as we slyly check out each other’s bald spots and paunches.

Faulkner:  Gave up a promising career as a postmaster and took the easy way out to become a Nobel Prize-winning novelist.


There’s Ed, the guy who was smitten with William Faulkner as an undergraduate and almost allowed his infatuation with the Mississippi Master’s stream-of-consciousness style to ruin his career as an air traffic controller.  There’s Rob, the Hemingway fan who had cosmetic surgery performed on his cat to add a toe to each paw.  And there’s me, the Fitzgerald nut with my inflatable Zelda love doll.

Regardless of whom we modeled himself after, we had to admit that four decades later we’d been worn down to the same nub.  When we hit our fifties, we all started to look not like our Lost Generation heroes, but like . . . Gertrude Stein. Stoop-shouldered, thick about the middle, not much hair.

“It was *sniff* cruel what he did to us!”


At first we joked about it in a nervous manner; keeping the horrible consequences at bay.  But after a few years of channeling the woman known for her sophisticated baby talk, we embraced our inner Gertrudes.  We turned competitive–as men are wont to do–and began to hold annual Gertrude Stein Look-Alike Contests.

When word got out there was the obligatory human interest story in the local paper, which got picked up by a wire service.  The next year we were overwhelmed, like Yasgur’s Farm by Woodstock.  Our little burg of twenty-some-thousand was transformed in a day to a mid-sized city five times that size by 80,000 grumpy, stocky, cross-dressing guys with close-cropped hair wandering around in baggy skirts muttering stuff like “I like this town but I don’t like that I’m in this town.”

You had to work to get it just right.  Some of the younger squads would come into town with fancy matching embroidered loden coats–”Milwaukee Gertrude Brood”–and then crap out when it came time to complete the phrase “a house in the country . . . “

“Is not the same as a country house!” I’d fairly shout at the laggards from the provinces who thought all you had to do was skim “Tender Buttons” the night before “Stein Time.”  Fat chance.  As the Great Lady herself said, “Do you know because I tell you so, or do you know, do you know?”

You’d hear guys at the cash bar complaining about the judges as they hitched up their loose-fitting dirndl skirts.  “Gimme a break,” I said to one loudmouth, and it wasn’t the absinthe talking.  “What did Gertrude say–’The deepest thing in any one is the conviction of bad luck that follows boasting.’”  That shut him up.

Best buds!


We went into the men’s room to relieve ourselves before we went on, and I caucused with Ed and Rob at the urinal.  “You’ve got to remember,” I said as I cleared a path through the knee-length scarf I’d added to my outfit that morning, “be paradoxical, obscure and repetitive.”

“What was the last one again?” Ed asked as he shook himself.

“Repetitive,” I replied.  “Like ‘I who am not patient am patient.’”

“Can I write crib notes on my sleeve?” Rob asked.

“NO!” I snapped, then lowered my voice when heads turned.  “The essence of a good gertrudesteinism is errant, antic circularity.”

“Okay,” Ed said over the roar of the hand dryer.

“You guys ready?” I asked.

“I guess,” Rob said.

“You guess?” I straightened him up with a stiffarm to the shoulder.  “‘It is funny that one who prepares is not ready.’  Got it?”

“I just don’t ‘get’ this Gertrude gal!”


A look of enlightenment came over him, as if he finally understood calculus, or Avogadro’s number, or the appeal of Kathie Lee Gifford.

“Got it,” he said.  “The one who ‘gets’ something is the one who is gotten.”

“Attaboy,” I said with a grin.  “Let’s go–in a direction we don’t want to go.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Dead Writers Make More Money.”

The Thinner Man

Written after falling asleep reading a Thin Man mystery by Dashiell Hammett, featuring those hard-drinking, wise-cracking sophisticates Nick and Nora Charles.

I felt lousy when I woke up because I didn’t have a hangover, so I put on my bathrobe and went into the kitchen to get something to drink. Nora was there doing the crossword puzzle left-handed and in Russian, to make it harder.  She was in her bathrobe and I was glad she wasn’t in mine–it would have been crowded.

“What’s a nine-letter word for ‘verdigris’?” she asked.

I said: “‘Verdigris.’ V-E-R-D-I . . .”

“I know how to spell it,” she said. “It’s right there in the question.  You look awful, by the way.”

“I feel worse. Who do I have to shoot to get a drink around here?”

“Me.” It was Arcangelo Correlli, the cop who worked our hotel and a famous composer and violinist (1653-1713), if you liked classical music.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m the answer to 23 down,” he said as he put some rosin on his bow. Baroque guys are like that; a little too sure of themselves, almost cocky, since their place in history is secure.

“Shouldn’t you have some breakfast?” Nora asked me.

I said “It’s too early for breakfast and too late for a nightcap.  I need a morning cap.”

Nora said “I’ll make you a drink–you can pour it on your Froot Loops.”

I sat down at the table and gave Correlli my nicest scowl.  “Catch any crooks lately, or are you just passing through on your way to an original instruments concert?”

Correlli said “None of the above.  I’m looking for a dame.”

“You care to enlighten me?”

“Why should I?”

I said “You lived during the Enlightenment.  It should come natural to you.”

I grabbed the sports page from him and saw that Dempsey had knocked out Seabiscuit in the 7th round.  I owed somebody some money, but I couldn’t remember who or how much.

Nora came in with a tray of drinks.  “I didn’t know what you wanted, so I made you a martini, a scotch and soda and Whiskey Sour.”

“Thanks–the Whiskey Sour will complement the delicious taste, fruity aroma and bright colors of the Froot Loops.”

Just then the kitchen door swung open and a woman wearing an apron with a frying pan in her hand came in.

“Where the hell’s that lousy bum Correlli?” she snarled.

I said: “He left.  The Baroque period ended and he had to go.”

“In a pig’s eye,” the woman said and threw the skillet across the room, bouncing off my noggin and knocking off Correlli’s wig.

“Easy, sweetheart,” I said.  “You almost spilled one of my drinks.”

“God what I wouldn’t do for a Rob Roy right now.”

“Say that five times fast and I’ll get you one.”

“robroyrobroyrobroyrobroyrob . . .”

“All right, don’t bust your tongue,” I said as I got up to mix her highball.  I made one for myself, one for Nora, and one for Correlli, even though I knew he preferred Galliano.

“Now, maybe you can tell me what this is all about,” I said as I handed her the cocktail.

“There’s no place to put my drink down,” she said.  “You have this little table in this tiny kitchen in a pre-war Manhattan apartment and there’s only room for seven drinks on the table.”

“It’s early.  You should see it once the lunch crowd comes in.”

I gave Correlli a sidewise glance and saw his hand go into his bathrobe.  It was nice silk–too nice for a guy who’s been dead for 220 years.

“Would anyone like some snails?” Nora said as she bent over the bathtub.  “They’re fresh–I’ve been breeding them.”

Correlli took a point blank shot at the woman, but just grazed her breast.  I would have liked to graze at her breast, but he got there first.

“What’d you go and do that for, you miserable cur?” the woman said.  “And when am I going to get a regular name like the rest of the characters in this God-forsaken sketch?”

“I’ll call out for coffee and liver and onions and a name for you, dear.”

Nora went into the living room where the telephone was and dialed HUdson 3-1154.  The boy showed up thirty seconds later with Chinese, but there was no room in the apartment because we’d made another round of drinks–rye whiskey highballs.

I said “Just hand it in the door,” and the boy squeezed the moo goo gai pan through the mail slot.

“What about my name?” the woman said.

The boy said “Your current name, or the one you had in Boston before you got here?”  You had to get up pretty early in the morning to fool him, and we had slept in.

“Put them in the fortune cookies and there’s a big tip for you,” Correlli said.

“Okay,” the kid said, and the woman fell hungrily, greedily on the fortune cookies.

“Not until you’ve had your dinner, and another round of drinks,” Nora said.  Nutrition is very important to her.

“What cockamamie cocktails haven’t we tried yet?” the woman asked.

I said “There’s plenty, don’t worry.  Singapore Sling, Grasshopper, Sidecar . . .”

“You’re making those up,” the woman said.  “That’s why I love you.”

She lunged at me and dug her fingernails–hard–into my neck.  “Let’s go into the bedroom, where we can have some privacy,” she said, her voice a lusty geyser eruption, an erotic Old Faithful.

I looked at Nora, who shrugged and made a little moue with her mouth.  “What’s a three-letter word for a soft-feathered flightless bird, the largest bird native to Australia, second in height only to the ostrich?” she asked Correlli.

“Let me give you a clue, baby,” he said.  “E-M . . .”

I saw my opening, grabbed the woman and threw her at Correlli.  She weighed as much as Scarlatti, but not Donizetti.  I wished we had gone out for Italian.

I pulled my revolver from the inside pocket of my double-breasted suitcoat, killing them both.

“Do you mind if I stay here tonight?” the woman asked as the blood seeped out of her pulmonary artery.

“Not at all, sweetheart,” I said as we headed out the door to a speakeasy run by a guy named Taki who I collared in a divorce case before I retired from the detecting business.  “Just be sure to clean up after your . . .”

Dryer buzzer sounds.

A Few of My Least Favorite Things

Portable crappers, and phat gangsta rappers,
Overdressed lawyers who think that they’re dapper,
Blonde second wives who are festooned with bling–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

New SUVs that my teenage son crashes,
Posh window treatments with jabots and sashes,
Pant legs that stick ’cause they’ve got static cling–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

When a friend croaks, when my feet stink,
When I’m feeeeling sad . . .
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Cool summer cocktails whose tonic is flattened,
Obnoxious parents with children they’ve fattened,
Hearing your cell phone when you let it ring–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Visible butt-cracks and sandals with sweat socks,
Income and sales tax, celebrity de-tox,
Middle-aged men who still wear college rings–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

When the pierced tongue, and the nose ring
Become more than fads–
I simply remember my least favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Non-urgent emails with little red flaggies,
Mice that my cat kills in clear plastic baggies,
Ersatz Gambinos who say “Ba-da-bing”–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Travel by buses and overstuffed bedding,
In-laws who offer to sing at my wedding,
Being held hostage, all tied up with string–
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Poets

With apologies to Waylon Jennings, not that he needs them.

They’re hard to love and harder to hold.
They’ll give you a poem ‘stead of diamonds or gold,
Ripped off from Auden, or maybe from Yeats
Somethin’ that won’t make them rich as Bill Gates.
As each night fades into a new day
They can’t find a job with their MFA’s.

They think it’s a safe job hanging ’round a faculty lounge.
But when mealtime comes, they find that they have to scrounge.
There isn’t much market our there in the world for sestinas.
They’d make more as a cop, or even a ballerina.
They’re wrong in the head, I think you know that for sure
Their poems are the symptoms, and lettin’ them write is no cure.

Poets git lost when they’re out drivin’ around,
Wanderin’ lonely as old Bill Wordsworth’s cloud.
They takin’ the road less traveled, like Robert Frost
But unlike him they tend to get lost.
They’re anal retentive about every one of their commas,
Freud would have a heyday analyzin’ their mommas.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be poets
They’re headed for ruin for sure and both of you know it.
Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such,
the schoolin’s as long, but poets don’t make as much.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be poets.
‘Cause they’re always at home but they’re always alone.
Even with someone they love.

Don’t Come Home From Book Group With Lovin’ on Your Mind

(with apologies to Loretta Lynn)

Image result for don't come home from drinkin with lovin on your mind

Well you thought I’d be waitin’ up when you came home last night
You’d been out with all the girls and you ended up half tight.
But books and chardonnay don’t mix, leave a bottle or me behind
And don’t come home from book group with lovin’ on your mind.

Image result for book groupbooks

No don’t come from book group with lovin’ on your mind.
Keep talkin’ about your novel and suckin’ down your wine.
When you gals read that chick lit it don’t improve your minds,
So don’t come home from book group with lovin’ on your mind.

Image result for book group

You’re never home, you’re always gone, readin’ bodice rippers.
Many’s the night I’ve laid awake, yearnin’ for your nippers.
But you come in too drunk for love, it happens every time
No don’t come home from book group—with lovin’ on your mind.

That’s Why the Lady is a Slut

She’s never too bloated to eat a Slim Jim.
She never showers before taking a swim.
She belches loudly at the Pizza Hut–
That’s why the lady is a slut.

She’s not the type to play bridge at her club.
Doesn’t like salads, preferring a sub.
If she were a dog you’d call her a mutt–
That’s why the lady is a slut.


She likes the free, fresh wind in her hair
As she dares
To drive getaway, it’s okay.
She hates New England, ‘cause it’s cold and it’s damp–
That’s why the lady is a tramp.



She doesn’t like opera, and hates the ballet–
If a flick’s got subtitles, it isn’t okay.
Won’t do Pilates and it shows in her gut–
That’s why the lady is a slut.


Her blue eye shadow says she’s a bimbo.
When she screams at you her arms are akimbo.
An old boyfriend’s name’s tattooed cross her butt–
That’s why the lady is a slut.


At the Pine-Woods Golf & Poetry Club

For most of the 20th century, the poetry world resembled a country club.

                                     The New York Times Book Review

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I just wanted to get out of the damn house. I decided to head over to the club, see if I could squeeze in a round before dinner. I threw the old sticks in the trunk and, as I drove into the parking lot at Pine-Woods, saw Lowell, Berryman and Roethke heading down to the starter’s hut. Lowell had on those god-awful madras pants of his. What a preppy doofus.

Robert Lowell


“Hey guys,” I yelled out to them. They were absorbed in a deep discussion.  Probably talking about the club By-Laws, which had been under revision since Allen Ginsburg walked onto the putting green without a collared shirt.

Allen Ginsburg: “I didn’t know it was like a ‘rule’ rule.”


I caught up to them as they were paying for their golf cart. The starter—a guy named Skip Derosiers—was giving them a hard time.

“Which one of you knuckleheads left the tracks on the seventh fairway the other day?

Theodore Roethke


“Not me,” said Roethke. Or course not—Mr. Nature Poet.

“It was me,” Lowell and Berryman said together. Figures—two confessional poets, two confessions.

John Berryman


“Do you guys mind if I make a fourth?” I asked.

“There’s a guy on the list ahead of you,” Derosiers said.

“Who?” Lowell demanded.

“The Old Man—Wallace Stevens.”

“Oh, God,” groaned Berryman.

“Can’t you do something?” I asked.

Wallace Stevens


“He’s one of the club’s founders.” He pointed to the left breast of his polo shirt, which featured a bantam rooster before a stand of pines.

“You know he’s going to walk the course, hit the ball thirty yards every time and compose poems between shots,” Roethke said. “The course will be backed up for a week.”

“No can do,” Derosiers said.

“Do you know who I am?” Lowell asked imperiously.

“Let me see if I remember,” he said, a sardonic gleam in his eye, and began to speak in a taunting, sing-song manner:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod.
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

“What’s your point?” Lowell asked, a bit defensively I thought.

“But I don’t even like fishcakes and beans.”


“When you talk to me, you ain’t talkin’ to a Cabot—you’re talking to a God,” Skip said, as he clicked the remote to see who was on the leaderboard at the Buick Open.

I tried a different tack. “What if we made it worth your while?”

Derosiers looked us over, one by one. “Talk to me.”

We looked at each other. Thankfully, Berryman had brought a six-pack of Budweiser with him. He tore two cans off the plastic yoke and, after checking over his shoulder, handed them over the counter.

“You know, some golf industry publications say that bribing a starter can backfire,” Derosiers said as he handed us scorecards and pencils. “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” he added with a smile, as he waved us onto the course.

“What if old man Stevens catches up to us?” Roethke asked.

“Humor him,” Derosiers said as he popped the top off a twelve-ouncer. “He’s really quite whimsical.”

That didn’t sound good, but we forgot about it as we waited the standard six-minute interval for the foursome in front of us to clear the fairway.

“You want to make it interesting?” Lowell asked. “Five dollar Nassau?”

Easy for him to say with all that old money to burn.

“No automatic press on the back nine,” Berryman said. On his second beer, he was already beginning to slur his speech, but like his verse, he remained in technical control and rooted in the conventions of his time.

“Sure, John, sure,” Lowell said as he made his way to the back tee. “Okay, ladies and germs, hide and watch.”

“Grip it and rip it,” Roethke said, egging him on. I personally think trash-talk has no place in golf, but ever since Karl Shapiro said Marianne Moore was “never more beatable,” suddenly everybody’s doing it.

Marianne Moore throws out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium—I kid you not.


The big guy shuffled forward, tall, slightly stooped, ran his fingers back through his dishevelled grey hair and stuffed it under his cap. He took a few practice swings, set himself, and—scorched a worm-burner into the rough! I stifled a laugh.

“I call Mulligan,” Lowell said without even looking back, as he pulled another ball out of his pocket.

“No way,” Roethke said. “Mulligans are allowed only when expressly agreed upon by all partners in advance.”

“Too late, Bob,” I agreed. “We’ve all got skin in the game.”

I knew what was coming.  A manic-depressive temper tantrum.

“God damn it to hell!” Lowell screamed as he threw his driver into a water hazard and stormed off to look for his ball.

“Ooo,” Berryman said in a mocking tone. “Huffy Bobby hid the day/unappeasable.

Roethke stepped up next. He’s a deliberate player—it took him ten years to write Open House, his first book of poems, fer Christ’s sake.

Walt Whitman: “Hey—that’s my line!”


He plucked some leaves of grass and threw them up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. He fiddled with his gloves, his visor and his left shirt sleeve. He took in the natural beauty of the course, with all its mystery, fierceness and sensuality; the ball washers, the spike cleaners, the liquid refreshment stand at the tenth tee.

“While we’re young, Teddy-boy,” Berryman said, shaking his head, “while we’re young.”

“I don’t have to take that from you, Mr. Yips,” Roethke said out of the side of his mouth. Always lyrical, I thought with admiration.

Finally he took his stance, wig-wagged his butt a bit, then weighed into the ball–a nice clean stroke, a solid thwock, if I may be allowed just one little onomatopoeia.

His ball sailed down the fairway where a tall, austere man had wandered out of the rough. It was Stevens, and Roethke’s shot hit him square in the temple!

We jumped in the cart and tore off down the fairway, coming to a stop where Stevens lay on his back, apparently dazed.

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Stevens,” Roethke said, distraught at the thought that he had nearly killed one of the major American poets of the 20th century. “Are you all right?”

The great man propped himself up on one elbow, shielded his eyes from the sun and began to speak, a big groggily at first.

Call the smoker of big cigars, Stevens began,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In snack bar cups, concupiscent frozen custard.
Let the wenches dawdle in such pink culottes
As they are used to wear, and let the caddies
Bring the clubs to the bag drop.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only captain is Walter Hagen,
captain of the Ryder Cup Team.

Lowell leaned over the great poet for a look.  “He’s fine,” he said, as he took his four iron out of his bag, and then–as he dropped his ball next to fallen bard–“You guys don’t mind if I play winter rules, do you?  The course is kind of scruffy.”

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

“Songs of Circumcision” Unite Christian and Jewish Men at New Year

BROOKLINE, Mass.  The population of this near suburb of Boston is disproportionately Jewish now, but it is also the birthplace of John F. Kennedy, the nation’s only Roman Catholic President.  “In many ways, this is the perfect place for the old and the new strands of the Judeo-Christian tradition to be woven together,” says Rabbi Moshe Zuckerman of Temple Beth Shalom with a smile.  “It’s a wonderful ecumenical project that will bring together two major world religions while keeping out wack-job cults like Scientology and Buddhism,”  adds Father Andrew McConnachy, pastor of the Church of St. Rocco, the patron saint of tow-truck drivers.

Birthplace of JFK.

The two clergymen are referring to “Songs of Circumcision,” an attempt to honor with choral music the anniversary of the bris, or ritual circumcision, of Jesus Christ traditionally celebrated on New Year’s Day, thereby elevating the holiday to equal status with Christmas.  “I got tired of hearing Jews whine about how Christmas takes over the month of December,” says McConnachy.  “I gave Moshe a call and said ‘Hey, let’s do something together for once, instead of giving each other the side-eye all the time.”

“This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me.”

The result is a fifty-member choir–half Catholic, half Jewish–that will publicly perform, then record, songs that shine a favorable light on what for many men is an event too painful to contemplate; the removal of the foreskin of the penis to comply with the covenant in the Book of Genesis that Abraham made with God for reasons that are not entirely clear.  “I’m not sure what we got in return for it,” Zuckerman says, “other than Sandy Koufax and control of the weather.”

Sandy Koufax:  The Chosen Pitcher

The difficulty creating new content for the holiday becomes apparent as the singers launch into “Careful With That Freaking Knife,” a plea to the attending mohel, a man trained in brit milah, the practice of circumcision, whose melody bears a strong resemblance to “Angels We Have Heard on High”:

Careful with that freaking knife–
that you wield so clumsily.
Dad will take your worthless life,
if you don’t cut carefully.

The harmonies rise in the apse of St. Rocco’s high above the singers’ heads, and echo there in a pleasing effect that is almost anesthetic in removing images of pain from the minds of the men in attendance.  “Beautiful, simply beautiful,” McConnachy says.  “Let’s try one of the novelty tunes,” and the choir engages in a few seconds of collective throat clearing before singing the opening bars of “Ouch–It Really Hurts Down There!”, a rousing tune that again resembles a familiar melody, that of “Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me!”

Ouch–it really hurts down there,
Ouch–don’t you dare touch my pair.
Your instructions are very clear,
Snip the foreskin–then let me get out of here!

Feelings of terror bring the two groups together through shared sensitivity since the ritual of circumcision is now followed almost universally among Gentiles such as McConnachy and his hand-picked vocalists, some of whom–children of low-income rural parents–waited until they served in the armed forces to subject themselves to the procedure.  For those men the song “Your Freezing Hands”–sung to the tune of “O, Holy Night”–brings back painful memories that the purgative power of art helps to dispel:

Your freezing hands
are causing me to shrivel,
can we please get this
over with soon.

Your freezing hands,
cold as a witch’s nipple.
Is it too much for you
to warm them up first?

Satisfied with the results, the rabbi cries out “It’s a wrap!” and the choir and their religious leaders gather to listen to the raw takes, which will be remixed for several target markets, including religious, dance and “emo.”

“That should give guys something to do on New Year’s Day instead of watching stupid football games,” says Brother Evan Winstead, choirmaster at the Pope Innocent XII Seminary in the western suburbs.

Silence falls on the formerly jovial crowd, and Winstead looks around, then finally asks “What–what did I say?”

McConnachy glares at him, then says sternly “We still punish heresy around here, you know.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Oh . . . My . . . God.”

Walking My Lobster Back Home

On learning that the poet Gerard de Nerval had a pet lobster he walked on a leash–to the tune of “Walking My Baby Back Home.”

Gee but it’s great after staying out late–
Walking my lobster back home.
There’s little risk that she’ll turn into bisque,
Walking my lobster back home.

She grows quite bored of the maddening horde,
So I recite her a poem.
She slept with me once and complained that I snored,
Walking my lobster back home.

Gerald de Nerval

We stop for a while, she gives me a feel,
And snuggles her claws to my chest.
She’s not like a dog or a shrimp that you peel
Her green roe’s all over my vest.

When we stroll about I keep her on a leash,
Sometimes she borrows my comb.
We go out to eat and of course she has quiche,
Walking my lobster back home.

She rides on my back to a little clam shack
For a pop quiz about Teapot Dome.
She borrows my pen and she fails it again
Walking my lobster, talking my lobster
She’s sure my baby, I don’t mean maybe
Walking my lobster back home.

All’s Fair in Love and Ping Pong

To her surprise, the room opened out to a porch with cushioned chairs in place and a ping-pong table.  There was another ping-pong table on the newly laid turf beyond.


Brimmer reminded me a little of Superman when he takes off his spectacles.  I thought he was as attractive as men can be who don’t really care about women as such.  We played a round robin game of ping-pong and he handled his bat well.


“I must go along now,” said Brimmer.  “I’ve got to meet some people.”

“No, stay,” said Stahr.  “I never have said what I wanted.  We’ll play ping-pong and have another drink and then we’ll tear into each other.”


The ping-pong balls lay around in the grass like a constellation of stars.

                    The Love of the Last Tycoon, Scott Fitzgerald

“See how he puts topspin on his return?”


We got into Pamplona late in the afternoon and the bus stopped in front of the Hotel Montoya.  Out in the plaza they were stringing electric-light wires to light the plaza for the ping-pong festival.  A few kids came up when the bus stopped, and a customs officer for the town made all the people getting down from the bus open their bundles on the sidewalk to see if they had brought illegal paddles.   We went into the hotel and on the stairs I met Montoya. He shook hands with us, smiling in his embarrassed way.

“Your friends are here,” he said.

“Mr. Campbell?”

“Yes. Mr. Cohn and Mr. Campbell and Lady Ashley.”

“Where are my friends now?”

“I think they went to the rec room.”

“And how about ping-pong?”

Montoya smiled. “To-night,” he said. “To-night at seven o’clock they bring out the table. Will you all play?”

“Oh, yes. They are eager for a pingpongnada.”

Montoya put his hand on my shoulder.

“I’ll see you there.”

He smiled again. He always smiled as though ping-pong were a very special secret between the two of us; a rather shocking but really very deep secret that we knew about. He always smiled as though there were something lewd about the secret to outsiders, but that it was something that we understood. It would not do to expose it to people who would not understand.

“Your friend, is he aficionado, too?” Montoya smiled at Bill.

“Yes. He came all the way from New York to see the Killer Spin Table Tennis Tournament.”

“Yes?” Montoya politely disbelieved. “But he’s not aficionado like you.”

He put his hand on my shoulder again embarrassedly.

“Yes,” I said. “He’s a real aficionado.”

“But he’s not aficionado like you are.”

Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about ping-pong. All the good players stayed at Montoya’s hotel; that is, those with aficion stayed there.  In Montoya’s room were their photographs. The photographs were dedicated to Juanito Montoya or to his sister, who was a top women’s player.  The photographs of ping-pong players Montoya had really believed in were framed. Photographs of those who had been without aficion Montoya kept in a drawer of his desk. They often had the most flattering inscriptions. But they did not mean anything. One day Montoya took them all out and dropped them in the waste-basket. He did not want them around.

We often talked about the ping and the pong and the players of ping-pong. I had stopped at the Montoya for several years. We never talked for very long at a time. It was simply the pleasure of discovering what we each felt. Men would come in from distant towns and before they left Pamplona stop and talk for a few minutes with Montoya about ping-pong. These men were aficionados. Those who were aficionados could always get rooms even when the hotel was full.  Montoya introduced me to some of them, who were stacked one on top of each other like cord wood to fit them in when the hotel was full.

They were always very polite at first, and it amused them very much that I should be an American. Somehow it was taken for granted that an American could not have aficion for ping-pong.  He might simulate it or confuse it with excitement, but he could not really have it.   There was no password, no set questions that could bring it out, rather it was a sort of oral spiritual examination with the questions always a little on the defensive and never apparent.

“Your American friend,” they would say to Montoya.  “Is he aficionado?”

Montoya would glare at them, but without malice.  His eyes would narrow to grim little slits, and then he would say “Clearly.”


“He has learned la tenis de mesa as a nino in the basement of Sacred Heart Grade School.”

And then there was this same embarrassed putting the hand on the shoulder, an actual touching.  It seemed as though they wanted to touch you to make it certain.

One of them rose now and crossed the room, the look on his face half smile, half chagrin.  He extended his hand to my shoulder and clapped it down there in a gentle but manly way.  Then he looked in my eyes with both respect and regret for having doubted me and said simply . . .

“Buen hombre.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Dead Writers Make More Money.”