Summer’s End Finds Grade School Cougars on the Prowl

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


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

 

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


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

 

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


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

 

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


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

 

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

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

The Lot of the Poet’s Wife

The poet’s wife must endure a lot,
it’s usually not Housman he’s forgot,
or Coleridge, Wordsworth, one of their ilk.
More likely it’s a quart of 1% milk.
Of woolgathering he is often and rightly to blame
for leaving a child at a youth soccer game.

He’ll generally find there’s hell to pay
if he compares her to a summer’s day.
“It’s hot, and humid and very muggy,
if I go outside it’s also buggy.
What a terrible, horrible thing to say,
likening me to a summer’s day.”

But worst is the meter he may beat
on her back in the midst of passion’s heat
as he hugs his beloved’s entire diameter
and taps on her shoulder iambic pentameter.
“For a second, put poetry out of mind’s sight
and focus entirely on me for tonight.”

Sunrise Service With the Don King Worshippers

A South Seas island tribe worships boxing promoter Don King. 

                                             New York Times


Praise the Lord!

I have come to Vanuatu as so many pilgrims have before me, seeking religious freedom.  The freedom to worship as one chooses is a basic human right, and yet people of my faith–the Church of Don King–are persecuted wherever we go.

Just as the Puritans were driven out of England, just as the Mormons were driven out of Missouri, just as the early Christians were offered as guilt-free low-salt snacks to carnivorous lions in the Roman Coliseum, we few, humble Don King worshipers must practice our religion and the rituals of our forefathers in hiding, in exile.


“Let us pray.”

And so it is with a gigantic breath of relief that I look out over the assembled masses of Kingons–Kingites?–Kingians?–who are gathered here for an inspirational sunrise service.  We face east, back towards Cleveland, Ohio, our Mecca.  It was there that our Lord and Savior was born on Kingmas Day.

What’s that you say?  Didn’t our God kill two men?  Well, yes he did–but who among us hasn’t?  As Jesus said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  We’re talking about a God here–a member of the Gaming Hall of Fame.

And anyway, the Christian God kills people all the time with floods and avalanches and hurricanes and tornadoes.  At least our God has the decency to shoot them in the back or stomp them to death on an individualized basis–it’s the personal touch that makes the difference!

Besides, our God was pardoned when he got letters of recommendation from Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King.  Your God gets recommendations from–Jimmy Swaggart.  ‘Nuf said.

A hush falls over the congregation as acolytes bearing candles, incense and free throwback “Rumble in the Jungle” t-shirts emerge from the sacristy to the altar.  They make their way up the aisles with collection baskets in their hands.  Sure it’s cheaper to watch at home on Pay-Per-View, but nothing beats the experience of a seeing a figh–I mean a religious ceremony live.

I give the guy five bucks and he hands me a slightly faded but still crisp “Thrilla in Manila” one-size-fits-all cap.  Sweet!  Unlike a lot of your establishment religions that offer you nothing but pie-in-the-sky, worship at the Church of Don King produces immediate and tangible rewards.

We bow our heads, fold our hands and kneel in anticipation as the God Who Walks the Earth and Controls All Weight Classes appears.  He makes a grand entrance, clothed in a multi-colored robe and stars ‘n stripes accessories.  He raises his hands heavenward and intones the familiar words that, like the referee’s injunction to “Protect yourself at all times” begins a boxing match, serves as introit to our worship.  “Let us pray,” his Donhead says.

“Let us pray,” we all repeat.

“Only in America–could a South Seas island tribe worship an ex-convict!”

 

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

Highway Poet Tells Bureaucrat to Hit the Road

ENFIELD, Connecticut.  Mike Abruzzioni is Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Roads and Bridges at State Highway Department District #2 Headquarters here, a position he earned after many years of service, plus frequent contributions to state legislators.  “It ain’t what a lot of people think,” he says of the keys to his success.  “In addition to hard work, there’s a lot of ass-kissing you gotta do.”

Image result for led highway sign

Still, after two decades climbing the bureaucratic ladder he thought he had achieved some measure of personal freedom to do his job as he pleased, including some latitude as to the messages he posts on the Department’s LED message signs.  “Frankly, I didn’t even know Connecticut had a poet laureate,” he says ruefully.  “Seems like a waste of money to me at a time when I got to lay off two brush-hog cutters.”

Image result for brush hog cutter
“I leave a wake where’er I go/That’s what you get whene’er you mow.”

Abruzzioni is referring to the run-in he had with Tristram Morgan, the state’s official poet until December 31, 2017, after he posted “Stay awake/take a break/for safety sake” along Route 1 over the July 4th weekend.  “I didn’t think nothin’ of it, then I get a call the Monday morning after from the Arts & Cultural Council saying they’re filing a grievance against me.”

Image result for led highway sign
“Zombies ahead/fear and dread/pretty soon you’ll all be dead.”

The complaint referred to the terms and conditions under which Morgan took the largely honorary position of state poet laureate, which pays only a stipend of $2,000 plus a 5-minute shopping spree at Annie’s Gently Used Romance Paperbacks in West Harford.  “POET,” the rider to the standard state contract terms and conditions reads, “shall be the official source of all poetry purchased by the STATE until the expiration of the term hereof,” which the assistant professor at Trinity College says entitles him to craft the traffic messages that are flashed to motorists.

“I found Mr. Abruzzioni’s little doggerel to be deficient in many respects,” Morgan sniffs when the question “Who cares?” is put to him by this reporter.  “An elementary, almost banal rhyme scheme.  The abbreviated line length–surely the marks of a poetaster.”

Image result for state highway headquarters command center
“Take the detour round West Hartford/or what the hell is all my art for?”

In its place Morgan began to post verse that, in the formulation suggested by Archibald MacLeish, tended to “be” rather than “mean” and echoed the work of the state’s most famous poet, the notably obscurantist Wallace Stevens:

Nutmeg State, Dunkin’ Donuts
Please slow down folks, and don’t go nuts.

When Abruzzioni objected, saying his work was protected by civil service regulations, Morgan began to write poems that crossed the line into advocacy, as Byron’s late work was enflamed by his support of the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey:

Poems written by highway hacks–
They give me bad gas attacks.


Image result for highway line painter truck
“Hey–slow down/What the fuck?/Don’t you pass my/painting truck!”

Ultimately the conflict between the two public employees will be resolved by binding arbitration before a three-member panel composed of a writing instructor from the University of Connecticut-Storrs, an industrial accidents court judge, and Bob Nash, the driver of a line-painting truck who is hoping to move up from two-lane state roads to four-lane highways eventually.  “I’m gonna try to be an impartial judge,” he tells this reporter as he squints into the sun at the end of the workday.  “On the other hand, that D I got in senior English means I can never get a job at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.”

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

One Dirty Old Man’s Bucket List is Only Skin Deep

BRYN MAWR, Pa.  Doug Dickerman was a man who, until six months ago, seemed to have it all.  A good job, two high-achieving kids in college, and a wife–Meg–who tolerated his tendency to defer life’s pleasures.  “He’d never completely unplug on vacation,” she says, growing wistful.  “I had to make him put his cell phone on vibrate when he came to bed.”


“He’s a horndog–but he’s my horndog.”

But all that changed when Dickerman was diagnosed with Fahrquahr’s Syndrome earlier this year.  “Farhquahr’s is a wasting disease that slowly constricts the nostrils until the victim can’t breathe,” says Dr. Nancy Wilbur-White, a research physician at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school.  “There is some trade-off in that you can’t smell people with pepperoni pizza aura in an elevator, but most people would just as soon live longer.”


“So–neither one of you is free tonight?”

 

Meg made her husband a promise–that she’d help him do all the things he’d been putting off while he climbed up the corporate ladder, his so-called “bucket list” that she understood customarily included thrilling activities such as parasailing and driving a Formula 1 race car at Watkins Glen, New York, even though she herself is not adventuresome.  Doug, however, gave his wife a pleasant surprise when he told her he wanted to go back to college to take English classes he’d foregone in favor of accounting and business courses as an undergraduate.

“I realized that the things I’d mentioned to her over the years were rather shallow,” he says as he gazes off into the distance.  “What I really wanted to do–down deep in my heart–was something extremely shallow.”

So Doug arranged a special program at Bryn Mawr College, the all-women’s school near Philadelphia, in which he audits courses in romantic poetry and modern American literature with one fervently-held goal in mind.  “I’d like to shack up with a really hot co-ed for just one weekend,” he says, his outdated slang revealing how long he’s been away from the dating scene.  “Is that too much to ask?”


“Who’s the creepy guy with the Cliff’s Notes?”

 

The request took Meg by surprise, but she stood by her promise to her husband of thirty years.  “If he went to his grave without satisfying his dream, I could never live with myself,” she says, fighting back tears.  “On the other hand if he survives, I won’t be able to live with him, so it’s a fair trade.”


“Don’t you have some Wite-Out or something?”

 

Thursday morning finds Doug in The Bandersnatch, the undergraduate coffee shop where he sits ogling women who are four decades younger than him, trying to make eye contact.  “I’m out of practice, but I had a movie date last weekend,” he says as he rubs a Band-Aid over a new sleeve tattoo he’s sporting, an attempt to relate to a younger generation of women who are into “body modification.”  Did he cut himself, this reporter asks.  “No, I guess I misread what Valerie was looking for in terms of a commitment,” he says a bit ruefully.  “Apparently getting your girl’s name tatooed to your bicep doesn’t mean as much as it used to.”

One Prospect Is Hot Because He’s So Cold

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.  Lyle Carroll is the starting left fielder for the Cape Girardeau River Rats, a AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, but opponents’ scouting reports paint a pessimistic picture of his chances of reaching the big leagues.  “Can’t hit curve ball,” says one in the telegraphic style favored by monosyllabic baseball lifers.  “Weak arm–we can run on him,” says another.

But Lyle has been getting an entirely different message from River Rats’ management and the parent club.  “This kid is gonna have a long career,” says General Manager Tom Browning.  “He may not stay in our organization, but he’s the kinda long-term prospect a lot of teams would ask for as a throw-in on a big trade.”

Carroll began to attract attention in 2016 when he was a role-player on the University of Central Missouri Mules team that won the regular season championship of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  “He caught an easy pop fly in left field for the third out,” recalls River Rats owner Bud Schmeling.  “Kids were begging him for the ball the whole way into the dugout–he didn’t flinch.”

Instead, Carroll kept the ball and politely handed it back to the umpire as he ran to the dugout.  “Those things are expensive,” he explains.  “Some woman in Haiti spent a lot of time sewing it for subsistence wages–who am I to just give it to some snot-nosed kid?”


“Ramirez walks down to first–high throw–he’s still out.”

 

That sort of sentiment is music to the ears of long-suffering billionaire owners of major league teams, used to being abused by abrasive agents who obtain multi-million dollar contracts for players who refuse to run out ground balls.  “Every baseball that kid saves drops straight to the bottom line,” notes Erwin Mayerson, a professor at Mt. Holyoke College who studies the economics of professional sports.  “Over a long period of time–say 200 years or so–it could result in real savings.”


“My deodorant really, really works.”

 

Carroll majored in sports management at Central Missouri, where he was on the Dean’s List all four years and received the August A. Busch Achievement Award–a used bat autographed by Cardinal semi-great Mike Shannon–for his senior project, “Enhancing Revenue Opportunities Under a Salary-Cap Regime.”


“Get your autographs here, only two bucks!”

 

“Lyle’s got all the tools,” notes Baseball Business Today’s Bud Schieffer.  “A lot of guys will refuse to sign autographs at the park, then turn around and charge for them at a strip mall three hours later,” he notes.  “It was Lyle who came up with the concept of carrying a portable point-of-sale terminal with him during batting practice, so he could accept credit cards right there on the field.”

His swings in the batting cage complete, Carroll greets a line of young fans as he makes his way back to the dugout, including 10-year-old Timmy Wardkopf, who suffers from Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease, a debilitating knee ailment whose victims are predominantly young boys.

“Would you sign my program, please?” the boy says, the expression on his upturned face a mixture of hero-worship and hope.

“Sure, kid, sure,” Carroll says sympathetically.  “You got $2?”

The boy digs in his pocket and pulls out two crumpled bills.  “That’s my popcorn money,” he says, his face clouding over.

“You don’t want the husks to get stuck in your teeth, do you?” the ballplayer asks.

“Well, no.”

“Then fork it over,” Carroll barks.  “What’s your name?” he asks as he signs the boy’s program.


“Give up soccer and play baseball, the sport where you don’t have to run.”

 

“Timmy.”

“Okay–there you go,” he says affably as he hands the program back.  “Maybe you’ll be a big leaguer some day!” he adds as he begins as he walks off.

“Wait, mister,” the boy calls after him.  “You spelled my name wrong–it’s ‘Timmy’, not ‘Tommy.’”

Carroll turns, his face clouded over with regret.  “Sorry, kid,” he says.  “It’s three dollars to get your name right.”

Pscooter & Pskipper Get Psychedelic in Pseattle

The kids are getting older–they’re in high school now–and with summer jobs and college campus visits, every year it’s harder to squeeze in the special family time of aggravation and bickering we used to experience during summer vacations.

“We need to get away and just do it,” my wife said. “Someplace far, like the west coast.”


Wax Jimi Hendrix: Do not place near burning guitar.

 

“Well, we’ve both got friends in Seattle,” I said, “and they don’t have an NBA team anymore, so there will be fewer tattooed millionaires crowding the nicer restaurants.”


Seattle Supersonics commemorative dish towel

 

To our mutual surprise, we quickly agreed for once and made plans that came to fruition this week when we touched down at Seattle’s internationally-renowned “Sea-Tac,” which sounds like something you take for seasickness but is actually an airport.

The kids had already done their on-line research and wanted to go to the Fun Forest Amusement Park for go-kart rides and the all-sugar luncheon special, but I was insistent that we sample the area’s educational and cultural attractions first.


Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and Stuff

 

“You kids need to learn some history while we’re out here,” I said sternly.

“Aw, dad!” Scooter, our seventeen-year-old, groaned.

“Don’t start, young man,” I added firmly.

“History sucks!” Skipper, the fifteen-year-old said with a disgusted look on his face.

“Kids, I agree that nothing takes the irrational exuberance out of a family vacation like the dead hand of the past,” I said, trying to calm everyone down a bit, “but irrational exuberance is a bad thing, and history can be fun!”


“Please, everybody–calm down!”

 

“No way!” Scooter said.

“Oh yeah?” I countered. “Have you ever been to a history museum that looked like a car wreck?”

They were silent now–I had their attention.


Designed by Frank Gehry, before the acid wore off

 

“I didn’t think so,” I said as I set the GPS for “museum paid for by a Microsoft billionaire that looks like the architect was on drugs.”

“Do you want,” came the disembodied voice over the instrument, “Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame?”

“YES,” I said loudly and clearly.

The computer directed us through a series of turns until we reached the weird-looking structure designed by noted architect Frank Gehry that resembles nothing so much as the stucco walls along the stairway of my boyhood home during one particularly bad acid trip. “Here we are, kids!”

“Neat!” Skipper exclaimed.

I could have said “I told you so”–but I didn’t. To me, it’s more important to see the wonder in kids’ eyes as they learn American History in a safe, controlled environment, with no risk of a “bad trip” or an Iron Butterfly interlude, than score intra-family “points” for being right about the importance of Our Nation’s Psychedelic Era.


Iron Butterfly: Do NOT put this album on while tripping.

 

We let the kids wander around for awhile, taking in the amazing sights and sounds, reading the explanatory text next to the exhibits. “Did you ever drop acid?” Scooter asked after he’d learned a little about the importance of hallucinogenic drugs to the crappy art, literature and music of the sixties.

“Scoots,” I said as my wife discreetly absented herself from a conversation she wanted no part of, “I took LSD ten times–but I didn’t inhale.”

“Oh,” he said thoughtfully. “So that makes it okay–like President Clinton?”


“I did not have sex . . . with that drug.”

 

“That’s right. I maintained my deeply-held skepticism throughout the experience. So I became experienced, but the experience didn’t become me.”

That last bit of psychedelic babble threw them for a loop, and the potentially-embarrassing questions stopped. “Listen, kids,” I said after a moment. “This museum is all about the ‘experience’ of drugs, and I want you to be inoculated by the sensory impulses without running the risk of adverse pharmacological consequences. So why don’t we take a ride on Jimi’s Wild Trip!”

“Yay!” Skipper nearly shouted. He’s the one member of the family who really enjoys scary amusement park rides.

We headed over to the ticket counter, passed muster next to the “You Must be THIS Tall to Ride THIS Ride” stripe painted on the wall, and got in one of the four-seater gondolas.

“Everybody strapped in?” the grungey carney said as he locked the safety bar.

“All set,” I said, and we embarked on a tour through a tunnel with a mind-blowing barrage of lights and sounds that left the kids’ ears ringing and their previously static views of reality challenged.

“See, kids,” I said as we got off. “Everyday reality can be a downer, so sometimes it’s good to go outside through the Doors of Perception.”

“I’m hungry,” Skipper said.

“How can you be hungry?” my wife asked. “I’m nauseous from that ride.”

“He’s a teenaged boy,” I said. “Let’s stop into the Munchie Zone.”

We got some food and grabbed a table, where our shared experience led to the kind of intimate conversation that great family vacations inspire.

“I notice your band plays a little Hendrix,” I said to Skipper–he’s a drummer.

“Yeah, he’s cool,” Skipper said. “He died young, so he’s not around anymore to turn groaty and hit on girls five decades younger than him like Nick Jagger.”

“It’s Mick,” I corrected him, but his mistake was telling. For a group that humbly refers to itself as The World’s Greatest Rock Band, The Rolling Stones don’t seem to be inspiring many imitators among the younger generation of rock musicians.

“Did you ever burn your guitar, dad?” Scooter asked with wide-eyed ingenuousness and an expression that revealed his admiration for his father’s amateur musical skills.

“No, sweetie, it just sounds that way when he plays in the basement,” my wife said.

Scooter started to laugh and milk came gushing out his nose, which brought back happy memories of family meals past.

“Don’t do that,” his mother said with furrows of concern ploughed across her forehead. “You’ll choke.”

“It’s okay,” a busboy interjected. “Every employee of ‘The Experience’ is Heimlich-trained to prevent patrons from choking on their vomit the way Jimi did.”

As we left the museum we stopped to pick up souvenir tie-dyed flower-power t-shirts, personalized with the kids’ names spelled “Pscooter” and “Pskipper.”

“So–the ‘p’ is silent?” Scooter asked.

“Right,” I said. “As in ‘pseudointellectual’.”

“What’s that?” Skipper asked.

“Someone like your father,” my wife answered helpfully.

“So I can take a ‘p’ and add it onto a word that begins with an ‘s’ and it’s okay and nobody will know?” Skipper asked.

“That’s right, sweetie,” my wife answered.

Skipper turned to his older brother with a malevolent look and yelled “You’re a pshithead!”

Available in print and Kindle format as part of the collection “Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!” (Humor Outcasts Press).