Jack Garner, Parsley Farmer

Jack Garner gazed out over the farm that had been in his family for three generations and let out a sigh of exasperation. He looked down the rows of curly leaf parsley, often used as a garnish, and thought back to the lessons he had learned bouncing on his father’s lap as their old tractor made its way over the fields.

“Stay away from fad fruits and vegetables like endive, pomegranates and kiwis,” the old man had said. “Stick with something that people need, something that will last–parsley.”

And that advice had stood Jack in good stead for nearly two decades. When he was younger, every plate that emerged from a restaurant kitchen was adorned with the flat-leaved cultivar that he so diligently cultivated. Sure, nobody actually ate the stuff, but that wasn’t the point. Parsley brought smiles to the faces of diners across the country–around the world, even. It enhanced the presentation of a meal, in the words of Common Victualler’s Monthly.

Every rib eye steak with mashed potatoes? Parsley sat like a clump of trees beneath the timber line of the starch mountain next to it. Did somebody say scrod? Between the lemon and the fish, there was his bright, green biennial plantae. Pigs in a blanket? Give the little herbivores something to chew on.

But now, all his years of hard work were about to be washed away, like chemical run-off in an irrigation ditch. Times had changed, but Jack hadn’t changed with them. The bottom had fallen out of the parsley market, leaving him with acres and acres of petroselinum crispum that wasn’t worth the cost of the gas it would take to harvest the stuff. The culprit?

Jack’s eyelids narrowed, but he wasn’t squinting from the glare of the sun. “Freaking nouvelle cuisine,” he said to himself bitterly.

It was the celebrity chefs, with their “glamour garnishes.” The chives and the citrus zest strips. The white asparagus spears lying draped over a vegetable compote, like trees fallen into a swamp. The tomato roses–the radish mice–the hard-boiled egg bunnies-the . . .

“Papa Daddy!”

Jack was recalled from his bilious reverie by the voice of his son, Clell, Jr.

“Hey Clell!” he replied, forcing his face into a smile that he hoped would hide the depths of his financial distress from the boy.

“Can we go fishin’ today?”

“Sure, son, sure,” Jack answered with a distrait tone. He hopped down from the tractor and put his arm around the boy. “Let’s walk down to the pond.”

They made their way across the field, the boy talking excitedly about a barn mouse he had flattened with a shovel that morning.

” . . . and when he tried to get away, I squooshed him like a bug!”

Jack had been listening but not paying attention to his son’s story. When he realized that the boy was waiting for him to register his approval, he spoke.

“That’s fine, Clell. Just fine,” he said, then fell to musing again. The bank had sent him a final foreclosure notice thirty days before. The sale would begin at 10 o’clock. Maybe if they could make it to the pond before then, his son wouldn’t notice and he could explain it all to him–afterwards. After the lawyer and the auctioneer and the banker and all the bidders, and tire-kickers, and curiosity-seekers had gone.

“Papa Daddy?”

Again, the enthusiasm of youth interrupted the troubled mind of adulthood.

“What son?”

“Some of the kids at school are making fun of me.”

“What for?” Jack asked.

“They say I got a ‘Junior’ on my name, but you’re not a ‘Senior’.”

Perhaps it was time to be straight with the boy. “Clell,” Jack began, forcing back a lump in his throat, before continuing. “When you were born, your mother and I wanted to do the right thing by you. We didn’t want you to bear the stigma . . .”

“What’s a stigma, Papa Daddy?”

“Sorry–that was the author’s mistake. I’ll revert to my character’s plain-spoken manner.” He drew in a little breath, and continued. “What I mean is, people look down their noses at parsley farmers–always have. And we knew it would only get worse. Parsley goes well with fish, or sprinkled in spaghetti sauce–but raising garnishes is a dying way of life. There’s no future in it.”

The boy looked puzzled, and his father continued. “We thought it was better if you grew up with a name that would throw folks off the scent. Nobody will know you’re my son if you’re Clell, Jr. and I’m Jack.”

The boy’s eyes grew watery, as if he himself were a bundle of parsley beneath a misting machine in the produce section of a grocery store.

“I’m proud of you Papa Daddy–and I always will be!” the boy said as he threw his arms around his father. The two embraced and, deep in the well of their sentiments, did not notice the black livery car turn on the long driveway that connected their farm to State Route BB. It was loaded with the crew from First Second Short Agricultural Bank, FSB.

Jack heard the crumble of the car’s tires over the dusty road, and looked up. It was too late, he thought. Time to face the music and do-si-do.

He stood up straight as the car pulled to a stop a few feet away from him and his boy. The rear doors opened and out stepped Lloyd Van Der Meer, Assistant Vice President; George Maher, Esq., the bank’s attorney; and Dan McMullin, licensed auctioneer.

“Who are the doofuses in the suits?” Clell, Jr. asked.

“Clell–don’t be disrespectful,” Jack said before turning to meet his adversaries.

“Good morning, Mr. Garner,” Van Der Meer said evenly and professionally. The
banker hoped to avoid trouble, but he was ready for it if it came.

“Good morning, Lloyd,” Jack replied. “There’s no need for the bogus formality.” You little weasel, he thought, but didn’t say.

“Mr. Garner, I’m Dan McMullin, the auctioneer. I assume you know why we’re here.”

“I may be a farmer, but I’m not stupid,” Jack replied, his gorge rising.

“Mr. Garner, there’s no need to be difficult,” Maher interjected.

“Difficult?” Jack said sarcastically. “What do you know about ‘difficult’ you wing-tipped dweeb, sitting in your air-conditioned office all day, surfing the Internet. Probably got some stupid blog going-’shyster.com’ or something like that, you . . .”

“Set the sign up,” Van Der Meer said crisply to the auctioneer. McMullin opened the trunk of the car and removed his traditional sandwich board with protruding red flags. The legend that it bore-”AUCTION TODAY’-meant the death of all that Jack had dreamed of for his family.

Cars began to make their way down the driveway, and Clell, Jr. grabbed his father’s leg with a fearful look. “What’s going on, Papa Daddy?” he asked

Jack looked the boy in the eyes and put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “Let me try and explain,” he said. “You know parsley–that green stuff that comes on your plate when you order the triple stack of blueberry pancakes at IHOP?” he asked.

“Yes,” the boy said quietly.

“Well, there aren’t many places that do that anymore. Most of your upscale–”

“What’s upscale?”

“Sorry–fancy restaurants use green onion ferns, or cucumber spirals, or carrot shavings.”


“Exactly. Well, I’ve got a lot of parsley out there that I can’t sell. And if I can’t sell it, I can’t pay back the money I owe that man over there, Mr. Van Der Meer.”

“The goofy-looking one?”

“No. That would be the lawyer. Anyway, we may have to leave the farm.”

Clell, Jr.’s face took on the appearance of a water balloon about to burst. The boy contained himself for a moment, then–finally and spectacularly–broke into tears.


“There, there,” Jack said as he tried to comfort his son.

“Jack!” It was Velma Garner, Jack’s wife, calling from the back porch.

“What is it, honey?” Jack replied.

“Phone for you.”

“Who is it?”



“You know–’Great Food and Great Service by Great People!’”

A look of puzzlement came over Jack’s face. “The one that discriminates against black people?”

“Only when they make too much noise, or hog a table for too long, or ask for too many free refills of coffee, or wear their hair in those loopy things with the beads in them. They want to talk to you.”

Jack looked at Van Der Meer and his crack team of foreclosure professionals. He saw that he had no time to spare.

“Coming!” he yelled and ran to meet his wife. He took the go-phone from her and spoke breathlessly into the mouthpiece. “Hello?” he said.

“Jack–Tony Martino, Director of Purchasing for Denny’s. How are you today?”

“Not so good.”

“Terrific. Say, I’ve heard you’ve got a nice crop of parsley that’s ready to go.”

You’ve got that right, Jack thought. Play it cool, he said to himself. “That is correct,” he said. “I could make enough tabbouleh to stock every Quiki-Mart in Lebanon.”

“That’s great. Say, I just had a vendor do a Dixie on me. Sold his whole harvest to International House of Pancakes. You got any you can spare?”

“Do I?” A thin little smile formed on his lips. “Yes, Mr. Martino, I believe I do.” And with that, Jack turned to confront his creditor.

“Van Der Meer!” he yelled as he approached the banker at a rapid clip. “Tell your auctioneer to put his hammer down. There’ll be no sale today!”

“We’ve heard your sob story before,” the lawyer said as he interposed himself between the farmer and his client. “Everything goes when the whistle blows, unless you’ve got cold, hard cash.”

“I’ve got something better than that, pal,” Jack said with a snarl. “Here,” he said, as he handed the phone to the banker.

Van Der Meer took it with a confused look. “Hullo?” he said.

“Who’s this?” Tony Martino asked at his end of the connection.

“Lloyd Van Der Meer–Troubled Loan Division, First Second Short Agricultural Bank. Who are you?”

“Tony Martino–Denny’s.”

“The largest family-style restaurant company in America?”

“Not just America-North America.”

“Wow,” Van Der Meer said. “Home of the ‘Lumberjack Slam’?”

“On the nosey. What’s the problem there?”

“Parsley farmer on the ropes. So what else is new, right?”

“Wrong-o. I need that parsley-now!”

“You do?”

“You better believe it. And I’m willing to pay top dollar for it.”

“You are?”

“Yep. You like to bowl?”

“Who doesn’t?” Van Der Meer rheplied rhetorically.

“How would you like a coupon for a free game of bowling with the purchase of any Denny’s dinner entrée?”

“You mean it?” the banker asked, softening for the first time.

“Coupon is subject to lane availability and rules of participating PBA bowling centers, including regulations requiring use of socks when wearing rented shoes.”

“No problem!” Van Der Meer fairly shouted into the phone. “Guys,” he said to Maher and McMullin, “I hate to break your hearts, but the sale is cancelled.”

“Shoot,” said the lawyer. “I never have any fun.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Van Der Meer replied. “We’re going bowling!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Vegetables Say the Darndest Things.”


Dancing With the Refrigerator

In the fifties when the madness of dance
descended upon the youth of the land,
enflamed by images of other teens
flickering across TV screens


from Philadelphia, of all places,
practice was essential if perfection
was to be achieved, and a necessity,
since able males willing to serve as partner

were in short supply.  It was as necessary
as a pessary had been to their mothers
for girls to practice their steps holding
on to the handle of a refrigerator.

Stoic, stolid, the appliances stood
doing their duty as men would,
allowing the girls to shine; after all,
a fridge is just an appliance.

I wonder what passions pulsed
through their Freon tubes,
trapped beneath their skins of
avocado green, harvest gold and white.

To feel the warmth of a girl’s hand upon
their handles, tiny lights unlit within; up
in their freezer compartments their brains
frozen like those of boys they stood in for.


For the duration of a 45 rpm record, they might
believe themselves beloved, but of course
nothing would come of it.  The most
morganatic marriage Faulkner could dream of

did not contemplate that an icebox
would lose its cool over
a gamin’s brown locks.  And
as for those girls, now long grown,

let us hope they have men
as solid, if less cold, and capable
in their domestic dealings
of better expressing their feelings.

Your Bug Advisor

Summer is here and bugs are back!  There are between six and ten million species of insects, but only one for humans.  Hardly seems like a fair fight, which is why you need Your Bug Advisor on your side!

Dear Bug Advisor:

I have carpenter ants–I don’t mean me personally, I mean my house.  They are going into the wood of my soffits as part of my eaves.  Again, I do not have either soffits or eaves, although I have shingles.  What can I do about this?

Tula Marie Grealy, Prairie Village, Kansas

House with random number stickers


Dear Tula Marie–

My what a pretty name!  Shingles are (is?) a viral infection of the nerve roots that causes a rash on one side of the body, either the left or the right.  You don’t get to choose, the shingles do.  Shingles are also a roof covering consisting of individual overlapping elements.  With roof shingles, you do get to choose where they go.  Ask your doctor which is right for you!

Dear Your Bug Advisor:

We have spiders coming out of our electrical switches.  I don’t mind so much but they get my wife upset when she goes to unplug the toaster to make room for the donut maker.  I personally think we have too many countertop appliances, but she says it is her kitchen and for me to stay out of it, except to eat, which I do.

What can I do to get rid of the spiders?  I just want some peace in my house.  I will be in the den if you call, I have a separate line in there.

Claude Boulrice, Florissant MO 63034



Dear Claude–

Leave those spiders alone!  They eat other bugs, and if you kill the spiders, you will just have more bugs, only different kinds.  I know this sounds like a “zero sum” game since either way you have about the same number, but wouldn’t you rather have spiders who generally do not bite humans except when they (the humans) are sleeping?  The choice is up to you; death by spider bite, or a clean countertop.

Dear “Bug Advisor”:

I was looking through the garage sale ads in yesterday’s paper when I came across this little tidbit I thought your readers would be interested in.  “The lily beetle has cut a deadly swath through New England over the past 17 years.  The adults are about a quarter of an inch long and if you squeeze them they squeak, a defense mechanism to deter predators.”

Hel-lo?  Anybody home at The Bug Advisor?  Where in the hell have you been for the past 17 years while a squeaking, quarter-inch long beetle cut a “deadly swath” through New England?  I might as well get my bug advice from Dear Abby.

Sign me–


A former reader, Shrewsbury, Mass.

Lily beetle:  Squeak!


Dear Former Reader:

As noted above, there are millions of insect species–how am I supposed to find the time to write about every one?  Especially since I get paid freelance rates, with no health or dental benefits.  And yesterday they sent around a memo saying you could no longer carry over unused personal days.  You’re lucky I’m taking the time to answer your snippy, impertinent question.  I don’t mean to seem defensive, but if you squeeze me, I do a hell of a lot more than squeak at you!




Dear Bug Advisor person:

I am deathly afraid of getting Lyme Disease, so much so that I stay out from under branches at all times, as I understand this is how ticks get on people, by dropping down on you when you pass under them.  I mean when you pass under the ticks, not the people.

Now I come to find out they have another secret tactic called “questing,” where they sit on a leaf, a twig, or even a blade of grass, then crawl onto you if you get close and linger long enough next to them.  What I want to know is, my daughter has been invited to go on a “Spirit Quest” with her Girl Scout Troop, and I am being asked to sign a medical waiver.  Do you think a reputable paramilitary organization such as the Girl Scouts would deliberately give my Shonna a deadly disease?

Mrs. Lionel Gehrke, Cairo, Illinois

More ticks


Dear Mrs. Gehrke:

I believe you have been misinformed.  The Girl Scouts are not a paramilitary operation, they are a clandestine domestic security force.  A “Spirit Quest” is simply a walk around the neighborhood with flashlights and rolls of toilet paper, to be thrown in the trees outside houses occupied by cute boys.  Sign the waiver, and tell your daughter to stay away from blades of grass.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

Don’t Call Me Bambi

A deer crashed into a liquor store in Weymouth, Mass., breaking a $205 limited edition bottle of beer, cocktail glasses and high-end liquors, causing damage estimated at $3,000 before sprinting out the front door.

The Boston Globe

“Do you have Bud Light in the convenient 24-can ‘beer suitcase’ package?” 


“Arent’ you cute?”  Yer damned right I’m cute, lady, but what I need now isn’t a handful of sunflower seeds.  I need to get some beer.

I am getting sick and tired of all the human encroachments on my territory I have to live with every day.  I tell ya, it’s driving me to drink.  It’s time to take the battle to the enemy’s front door.

“I’m looking for something light and crisp, a Vouvray or a Sauvignon Blanc.”


I wouldn’t mind if nature could produce snacks as good as humans get–but no.  While I’m cracking my incisors on acorns and choking on scrub pine bark, stupid humans get honey-roasted peanuts, cheese-coated popcorn, blue corn chips.  I can forage for days without ever seeing an ear of blue corn!

“It’s one thing to look at US Weekly in line–you actually bought a copy?”


Let’s see, the closest packy [Editor’s note: New England slang for “liquor store.”] is probably in Weymouth.  Can’t get any beer in Hingham–they’re afraid it will encourage the lawn guys to stay in town after they’re finished manicuring the holly and the ivy.  Only malbecs and chardonnays.  No butter in the grocery stores there.  People complained it didn’t melt in their mouths.

“The only ID I have is my Sierra Club card.”


Ah–here we go.  Quik Pik Liquor–no muss, no fuss.  No snooty “in-store sommelier” to ask me what vintage I’m looking for.  “Bud Light 2013–I hear it was the best year of the 21st century!”

Whoa, sorry about that.  Didn’t mean to knock over the display.  How much do I owe you for that Sam Adams?  $205!  Are you freaking kidding me?  For two hundred dollars I’d want a lap dancer to serve it to me.  How can a bottle of beer cost $205?

Oh–it’s a “limited release Utopia.”  Well, ex-cuuuuuse me!  Here’s what I think of your flipping fruitcake beer.  Yeah–how do you like them road apples?  Like I give two shits about your “high-end cocktail glasses.”  Maybe next time you’ll treat wildlife with the proper respect.

“You have the right to remain silent.”


You talkin’ to me?  You wanna go?  You feel froggy just leap, pal.  Why don’t I just . . . ram my head against the single-malt scotch rack?  That’ll set you back about two years’ profits.  Yeah, I know the high-margin stuff when I see it.  Or how about some of this vodka?  It’s all the freaking same–neutral grain spirits!–but somehow or other by brand differentiation and marketing you talk the best upper sets into paying ten times what they should for booze made from . . . potatoes.

What did you call me?  Bambi?  Ok, now you’ve gone and done it.  Don’t you ever call me Bambi, understand?  Or I might get really mad.

And try and pay by check.

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

Ask the Aesthetician

After climbing to the top of the corporate ladder many women find themselves unfulfilled, silently asking themselves “Is this all there is? A seven-figure salary as a top international financial advisor helping billionaires shelter their wealth from greedy governments in Caribbean tax havens?”

Beauty’s only skin deep, but who wants to go without skin?


Many turn to second–and even third or fourth–careers in aesthetics, the profession that makes people feel good about their outsides.  Could a similar switch help you find greater fulfillment?  There’s only one way to find out–ask the Aesthetician!

Aristotle:  The first aesthetician, and could use a little moisturizer around the eyes.


Dear Aesthetician:

In last week’s column you told “Oily T-Zone in Des Moines” that “Spectacle is the least important element of tragedy.”  You said it was from Aristotle but when I Googled him I did not find any books on esthetics by him.  Could you give me a correct citation for that quote? I am writing a paper for half-credit in Introduction to Blushers at the Elayne Smyrna Institute for Esthetics and do not want to have to repeat the course, it has been hard.

Marva Lee Waynans, Valdosta, Georgia

“Umm . . . Aristotle.”


Marva Lee–

Aristotle was a fourth-century B.C. Greek philosopher who wrote a book titled “Aesthetics” from which much of the curriculum in the study of the beautiful was derived.  However, modern practitioners of the art prefer to call themselves “estheticians,” thereby saving an “a” for Scrabble, Hangman and other fun time-wasters.  You should be able to find a copy of Aristotle’s classic at your local library–ask a policeman where it’s located!

Kant:  “I think you should do more to highlight your wonderful cheekbones.”


Dear Mr. Aesthetician:

I switched to esthetics because your column said that demand for skin-care specialists is expected to explode 25% by the year 2020.  When I tried to matriculate in esthetics at Brown University they said before I could read Kant’s Third Critique, which is where he goes into his theories of beauty, I had to read his First and Second Critiques first–and second!

Mr. Aesthetician, those critiques are really long books and I’m wondering if there will be any jobs in aesthetics left by the time I finish them all, which could be sometime in, like, 2021.

Amy Grealy, Swansea, Rhode Island

Kant-Keats Super Group Jam Session


Dear Amy:

Would the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lie to you?  I mean, unless there was a presidential election coming up?  Job growth in the field of aesthetics will outpace all other occupations over the coming decade, meaning it’s time for you to turn off the TV, get a bowl of popcorn and hit the books, missy!  If you find yourself bogged down by Kant’s heavy Germanic syntax, switch to the Classic Comics versions of Critiques I and II.

Dear Mr. Aesthetician:

I have been dating this guy “Brett,” not his real name but I thought I’d use it because it always sounded “cool” to me.  He is cute and has a good job as a replacement window salesman, so money is no object, or even the subject, when we go out.  My problem is we always do what “he” wants to do, and if I complain he says “So what?”  All we see is movies about super-heroes or cops ‘n robbers, when I would like to go to something that would make him have tender feelings about me.

Croce:  “Feelings . . . whoa, whoa, whoa–feelings.”


I read what you wrote to that girl Cheryl S. from Ottumwa, Iowa that Benedetto Croce is the aesthetic philosopher of feelings par excellence, so I sprang (sprung?) that on “Brett” Satuday night when he started to order tickets to Lethal Bloodlust II at the Framingham Multiplex 14.  “Who the hell is cro-shay?” he said, and I did not have a good snappy comeback for him.

Can you verify that he said “Art is the expression of the emotions”?  I am trying to make this relationship work, dammit, but I would rather stick my curling iron in my eyes than go to another Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie.

Lisa Ann Fiandacca, Natick, Mass.

“Brett–I gave myself Farrah Fawcett bangs.  Now can we go to a movie I want to see?”


Lisa Ann–

Croce (pronounced CROW-chay) was indeed the aesthetician who first drew the connection between the head of philosophy and the heart of chick flicks.  For a brief primer on his philosophy that you could finish in the time it would take to blow dry your hair, try his entry in Philosophy, Poetry, History: An Anthology of Essays, translated and introduced by Cecil Sprigge, London: Oxford University Press (1966).  Copies can be found in most beauty shoppes underneath the Photoplay magazines from 1963.


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

Dance of the Banana Republic Dictators

Venezuela has sponsored a ballet about Hugo Chavez, depicting the late dictator as a boy selling sweets known as “spiders” on the streets, giving up his dream of becoming a professional baseball player, and dancing against the background of riots in 1989, in which several hundred people died.

                                                         Associated Press


Dear Diary:

Today is the audition for “A Yugo for Hugo,” the only authorized ballet about our late lamented President for Life Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias!  (Try saying that five times fast!)  I have good feelings that I will win a starring role as I have been boning up on the evolution of the Great Leader’s thought, the aptly named “Chavismo,” a heady mixture of Bolivarianism and Socialism with a dash of cumin, baked at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes.  Technical skills are not so important in the ballet of the people, so my career–which had been stalled by capitalist imperialist prima ballerinas who cared only for themselves–has new life!  Me, I care lots about the poor of Caracas, as long as they keep their distance and don’t cough on me.

Must go now–poverty declined dramatically under the Great Leader but still the entire corps de ballet must share a single chile pepper for dinner.  The Minister of Dance says hunger keeps us thin as ballerinas should be, but I want to get there in time to take the first bite.

Remember–George H. W. Bush is a donkey, it’s his son “W” who is the devil.  This could be worth ten points on a Socialist Thought pop quiz.

“But wait–there’s more!”


Diary Dearest:

I wish we did not have to read Noam Chomsky, the favorite intellectual of President Chavez.  He makes the self-evident impenetrable, and has a paranoid streak that makes Oliver Stone look like something out of Family Circus!  Oh well, if it makes me a better dancer.

Do they realize that Chomsky is an anti-Catholic from boyhood, while Fearless Leader Hugo maintained his faith–just in case–in the world’s most popular (although perhaps misguided!) religion to his dying day?

I guess not.  Tonight’s reading assignment: Syntactic Structures–bo-ring!

“Besame–besame mucho!”


My Little Paper Friend-

I have been cast in the pas de trois de double play, a tricky combination (second position to shortstop to first) which reveals how President Chavez felt when forced to give up his dream of playing in the major leagues and making mucho Yanqui dollars–so sad!  I am not sure I am capable of conveying the emotions that this role calls for.  It cannot have been easy to leave a life of unlimited money, a wide choice of women who want to have your baby and cool red, yellow and blue outfits that make you look like a walking loaf of Wonder Bread for a life of unlimited power, a wide choice of women who want to have your baby and cool red, yellow and blue outfits that make you look like a walking loaf of Wonder Bread.

They are re-writing the script to work in the bold Shortstop Embargo of 2004, when Dear Leader Chavez stood up to the Yanquis of Nuevo Yorquos and other capitalist provinces and said no, no more will you take the fruit of our nation to work in your infields!  We will nationalize your scouts if they dare to come here again with their lousy “signing bonuses” and “guaranteed money.”  Pah!

On the other hand, the gringos brought many hot dog rolls with them that American pigeons had rejected as stale.  Sure could go for one right about this month.

“He wore a razz-berry beret . . .”



I sense envy on the part of Maria Enriqueta during rehearsals. She says I do not possess the classical ballet body that accurately reflects food shortgages.  Perhaps I am just a bit quicker on the draw when the weekly pinto bean is carved up to make dinner for twenty!

“There’s a riot goin’ on!”

Tomorrow is opening night-please do not wish for me to break one of my legs!

O Dearest Diary-

The leit-motif of rising oil prices captivated the audience, while the counterpoint of Supreme Leader Chavez giving away home heating oil to the People’s Republic of Massachusetts to further the political career of a Kennedy underscored his continual ability to outfox the Yanqui oppressors!

I think–at least that’s what they told us to think.  They say the Citgo sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square has brainwashed the fans of the Medias Rojas (Socks of Red) into thinking such tripe too.



I hear that our neighbors in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile have something we don’t.

Tell me Diary–what is this thing called a “standard of living.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Dance Fever.”

The Hunt for the Next Great American Novelist

It was a steamy Washington summer exactly four decades ago. I was working for the federal government at a scandal-plagued agency alongside a veteran bureaucrat named Fred. Fred wasn’t going any higher on the org chart, but on the other hand–because of Civil Service regulations–he was never going to be fired, no matter how assiduously he avoided work and decision-making at all costs. He had a nice life, and he knew it. As Thomas Jefferson once said of federal jobs, “Vacancies by death are few, by resignation none.”

“Z-z-z-z-z-z-z . . .”


I learned many valuable lessons from Fred. You could take a nap in the carrels in the back of the library. S-t-r-e-t-c-h every project so that you never ran out of work; if you did, they might give you some more. The Three Questions That Must be Asked Before You Ever Respond to Somebody Else’s Question: Who wants to know? What do they want to know for? When do they want an answer? Mission-critical stuff that keeps this country moving!

Most importantly, take every minute–every second–of your allotted breaks. You’re not getting paid as much as the private sector, so don’t give your time away. If we finished lunch in the basement cafeteria in a half hour, we sure as hell weren’t going back to our desks for another half hour.

It was on these occasions that Fred taught me a valuable tool of literary criticism that I use to this day. “C’mon,” he said as we headed out into the Washington humidity, “Let’s go look for the Next Great American Novelist.”

An unlikely quest, you might say, and that was exactly my thought. Washington doesn’t produce novelists the way Russia cranks out chess champs and ballerinas, because the young and the creative don’t go to D.C. to fulfill their artistic dreams; they go to New York, or Hollywood, or Nashville–anyplace but D.C. Novels about national politics tend to have brief butterfly-length life spans; they may be the bright entertainment of the season–Advice and Consent, Primary Colors, etc.–but they don’t endure, proof of the maxim that love and other elemental human interests are more important than politics.


“You think it could be him? Nah.”


“Where are you going to find the Next Great American Novelist?” I asked Fred.

“You know, that’s the amazing thing,” he replied. “It could be anywhere–a bookstore, a coffee shop. Speaking of which, let’s try this place,” he said as he stopped outside a non-chain precursor to the espresso craze that would sweep the nation in the years to come.

We approached the counter and Fred turned to say “Watch closely.”

The barista looked up and acknowledged us, although not with enthusiasm. “That’s a good sign,” Fred said sotto voce.

“Hi,” Fred said in his friendliest manner. “What’s the coffee of the day?”

“It’s a dark-roast Sumatra blend with spicy overtones,” the woman said, and not unpleasantly.

“I guess I’ll have one of those, with room for milk, thanks,” Fred said, then turned to me and asked “You want anything?”

“A large iced coffee.”

“Very good,” the woman said, and turned to her task.

“So what do you think?” Fred asked me.

“I dunno. What does making coffee have to do with writing a novel?”

“Everything–and nothing. If you don’t consider serving a fellow human being in a commercial setting to be beneath you, you probably don’t have what it takes to be the Next Great American Novelist.”

“Ah,” I said, beginning to see the light as the Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges song goes. “So you’re looking for somebody who’s condescending . . .”

“Almost haughty.”

“Indifferent . . .”

“I think ‘hostile’ is le mot juste . . .”

“. . . who basically sends the message that he or she has something better to do than wait on you.”

“Precisely–they should be writing the Next Great American Novel, but instead they’re stuck in some lousy minimum-wage retail job.”

We drank our coffee as we roamed the sweltering streets and, as we finished, found ourselves outside Hecht’s, then the top-shelf department store in D.C. “This place is a veritable breeding ground for Great American Novelists!” Fred said with enthusiasm.

We wandered the aisles for a while, exchanging nods with the floorwalker, passing through a haze of perfume sprayed by the spritzer girls in the cosmetics department, and then Fred stopped short, throwing an arm across my chest with such force he almost knocked me over.

“We’re not Great American Novelists!”


“It’s him,” he said breathlessly. “If that isn’t the Next Great American Novelist standing there right in front of us, as plain as a pig on a sofa as Flannery O’Connor might say, I don’t know my scribblers.”

I looked up and saw the tie counter, and behind it a young man, well-groomed, apparently bored to tears, with barely-suppressed rage boiling up within.

O’Connor on sofa, sans pig


“You think so?” I asked, although the testimony of my senses answered my own question for me.  The fellow hissed as sighs of disgust escaped from him. It was hard to fight off seasickness induced by the rolling of his eyes as he stood there, folding and arranging ties on hanging displays and under the glass counter.

“Let’s roll,” Fred said, and he approached the counter with all the modest self-restraint of a used car salesman.

“Hello there, young fellow!” he boomed out, his face a picture of amiability. “How are you today?”

“Fine,” the young man said as his eyelids just barely rose high enough to reveal his pupils. I noted he didn’t offer to help us.

“I’m looking for something in a stripe to go with a checked suit,” Fred said, scanning the haberdasher’s wares.

You could see the sales guy trembling inwardly. It shook him to his core to hear someone suggest that he would actually consider wearing a striped tie with a plaid suit, but he didn’t want to offer a suggestion to the contrary since that would have required . . . human interaction.

“We have some stripes over here,” the fellow said, as if he were offering us day-old mashed potatoes.

Fred surveyed the selection, then shook his head with distaste as if he were rejecting some long-held belief that had led him astray in life–virgin birth, warm water freezes faster than cold, always take the points on the road. “No, what I think I need,” he said thougtfully, “is a foulard. Have you got any foulards?”

The young man sighed loudly enough to be heard at the gloves and scarves counter. “The foulards are over here,” he said with annoyance.

Again, Fred trained his gimlet eye on the selection. “Could I see . . . this one,” he said, pointing to a vibrant pink number.

“This one?”

“No . . . that one,” Fred said.

“Why don’t I bring out both since I can’t see your fingers from behind the counter.”

“Very well,” Fred said.

When the selected ties were laid out on the counter, Fred put his finger to his chin and gave them the gimlet eye. “You know what,” he said after a few moments, “I’ve always been a big fan of Winston Churchill’s–do you have any of those little pin dot numbers he used to wear?”

I thought I heard the young man groan, but I couldn’t be sure. It wasn’t as loud as Old Faithful before it erupts, but on the other hand it was . . . audible . . . and growing in volume . . . like a freight train approaching a station from a long way off.

“Do you think you will be making a purchase in the next thirty seconds?” the clerk finally snapped.

“I don’t know,” Fred said, not even looking up. “Twenty-four ninety-five for a tie is a big investment.”

With that the young man turned on his heels and spun out the little gate to the department store floor, saying “Well that’s too bad, because it’s my break time!”

Another young man appeared wordlessly behind the counter, but Fred was too engrossed in the sight of the young man who’d been waiting on him as he strode purposefully away, like an ocean liner under full steam.

“I expect great things out of that fellow some day,” he said with admiration.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Maybe not Moby Dick,” Fred said, “but The Sound and the Fury is not out of the question.”