New England Ends Suicide Watch as Patriots Even Record

SAGAMORE, Mass.  Richard “Richie” Guertin is a forlorn-looking figure as he sits in a police cruiser sipping a cup of coffee while Adele Smithers, a volunteer from a local suicide prevention charity, assures him he’s made the right decision.  “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” she says cheerfully.  “A meaningless job, annoying neighbors, a crappy 2019 Kia Ray–what’s not to like?”


“Don’t do it!”

The source of Guertin’s despair that caused him to contemplate a leap to his death from the Sagamore Bridge, the #1 site for suicides in New England?  “You can’t really blame me, can you?” he says to Sergeant Dan Hampy of the Massachusetts State Police.  “I woulda had nothin’ left to live for if the Patriots opened the season 0-2,” he says of his abandoned effort to kill himself.


Kia Ray EV: Something to live for.

 

Hampy surveys the scene and decides to let Guertin off with a warning.  “People like you cost the state a lot of money in overtime for people like me,” he says tersely.  “If it keeps up, I may be able to buy a place on Lake Winnipesaukee and retire early.”

Law enforcement officers have been on high alert since the New England Patriots, winners of six or seven Super Bowls, no one knows for sure, lost their opening game to the Miami Dolphins, a group of highly intelligent aquatic mammals.  Because of the Patriots’ past success, fans have grown complacent and feel entitled to regular season victories and at least one (1) home playoff game per year.

Disaster was averted when the Patriots squeezed out a 17-14 road win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team whose own glorious past has faded due to competition from low-cost, high-tech steelmakers in other countries.

The New England professional football team provides vicarious meaning to the lives of men in the region who otherwise suffer from the quiet desperation spoken of by Henry David Thoreau, a local 19th century sage who died shortly before the merger of the AFL into the NFL.

worcester1
Thoreau: “Take the points on the road.”

The Patriots went two decades between losing seasons before falling to 7-9 in 2020.  That disaster set off an extended period of soul searching that ended only when television re-runs of “Soul Train,” a dance show that aired from 1971 through 2006, had been replayed in their entirety on the region’s cable TV stations.

worcester4

Grief counselors say it is unrealistic to expect spoiled Patriots fans to recover immediately from the team’s fall to mediocrity following the departure of quarterback Tom Brady, and that the healing process will take time.  “In a situation such as this a change of scenery is critical,” says Dr. Linda Sentri of MGH-Brigham-Pilgrim-Vanguard-Partners, the region’s sole remaining health care provider following a series of mergers.  “If Mac Jones gets a supermodel wife like Brady, male fans can find closure by ogling her.”

Ask the Love Shark

Bitten by hopeless infatuation?  Hungry for red-blooded romance?  Ask Love Shark for help–summer’s over, things are kind of slow.

cheerleader

Dear Love Shark:

I am head cheerleader at Grain Valley Consolidated Regional High School (Go Polecats!)  On Saturdays when there isn’t a game to cheer for, or if there’s no money in the budget for an extra bus for a “road” game, I like to “hang” with the other five girls on the squad.  We have fun together because we are popular.

My problem is this: There is this girl “Wenda” who did not make cheerleader and so is just part of the “Pep Club.”  They get uniforms that they wear to the games but they sit in the stands and repeat the cheers we tell them to.  So they are sort of a subordinate form of life, less evolved or something I don’t know, I’m already behind in biology.

Anyway, “Wenda”–which is her real name, but I thought I better use quotes in case she’s reading this–tags along after us yelling “Hey, where are you guys going, can I come too?”  It is really annoying and doesn’t help our image as the coolest girls in school.  Also, it’s kind of, you know, ghoulish.  I think she wants one of us to break an ankle so she can rush on the court or the field or whatever saying “Don’t worry–I know all the cheers!”  That would be a disaster as she is kind of fugly.

Any assistance you can provide would be great.

Amanda Fuller, Osawatomie, Kansas

shark
“Go away, you losers!”

 

Dear Amanda–

You come to right place, Love Shark know how you feel!  Love Shark constantly surrounded by pilot fish looking to eat scraps off me, host species.   While no one should be rude to a member of another species due to goo-goo high school “inclusiveness” codes, you can establish a “symbiotic” relationship with Wenda like I do with pilot fish.  Say “Here Wenda, take the burnt French fries I don’t want and in exchange I’ll let you write a book report for me!”


His inflatable inamorata.

 

Hey Mr. Love Shark–

I read your column religiously but don’t think you’ve answered this question before.  I took my inflatable love doll “Suzie” to the beach the day after Labor Day–she is my “sweet substitute” until I can find “Miss Right.”

We went into the water to cool off, and to my surprise a shark attacked Suzie, puncturing her leg.  She lost air rapidly, and was pronounced “Dead on Arrival” when we reached St. Bridget of the Surf Hospital in Hyannis.

I don’t like to hold a grudge against an entire species, but I feel I am entitled to damages of some sort, either a refund for the summer cottage I rented–at the off-season rate, I might add–or a mail-in rebate or something.

Sending this to you because I tried the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and they just said “Tough yupkas–nature rules!”

E.G. “Ted” Swarth, Buzzards Bay, Mass.

Dear Ted:

I’m sorry, but you should have read the disclaimer which is posted at all Cape Cod beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day: “Not responsible for lost limbs, flotation devices or girlfriends, natural or artificial.  No dogs, no fires, no alcohol.”

My suggestion would be that you check your homeowner’s insurance policy and see if it covers damage or destruction of personal property.  Be sure to include gory pictures of “Suzie” when you file your claim.

shark1

Dear Love Shark:

Over Christmas I proposed to my girlfriend Noreen, whose dad owns a truck body company as well as an A&W Root Beer franchise.  I mention these businesses to let you know I am not just “head over heels” in love, I am also very practical and want to make sure her parents can provide for her in the style to which she’s become accustomed.

Anyway, Noreen turned me down and not too nicely I might add.  “Oh Claude, it is just so klee-shay to propose at Christmas, that’s not very original,” she said as she handed me back the ring I had purchased at Furnwald’s, the only jewelry store left in town.

Mr. Love Shark, I have two questions for you if I may: One, what is a klee-shay, and two, do you recommend I carry a torch for Noreen or look elsewhere?

Sincerely,

Bud Blankenship, St. Clair Township, Pennsylvania

shark2
“Do you have a cubic zirconium in a solitaire setting?”

 

Dear Bud:

You know Love Shark’s rule–you must keep moving or you will die.  For me, I breathe through my gills.  For you–judging by your letter–you probably breathe through your mouth, so forget about Noreen and find another daughter of a captain of industry who can offer you the kind of position that will likely elude you forever if you try to make it on your own.

As for your other question, a cliche is a small external parasite that lives off the blood of other animals, so this was actually a nice compliment!

shark3
“He bought me a drink, then he bit me.”

 

Dear Love Shark:

I was born without the “gift of gab” and get all “tongue-tied” when I see a girl I’d like to get to know.  This leads to embarrassment and rejection as I blurt out some stupid pick-up line instead of just being myself, which is what my mom encourages me to do.  The problem is that the “self” my mom is referring to is the one who keeps getting turned down, not the little boy she sees when she flips through old family photo albums.

Do you have any helpful “tips” you could give me about how to be more comfortable in social situations and not come on so strong?

Will wait to hear from you before going out again.

Charles O. Buchter, Braintree, Mass.

shark4

Dear Charles,

I used to have the same problem.  See cute surfer girl–blonde, friendly smile–the kind you just want to eat up.  So I would bite into her, then we would lie there in the water with nothing to say to each other, it was very awkward.

This is why I now prefer kayaking and paddle-boarding–they are very relaxed sports, not all rush-rush like surfing.  You cruise up from behind to your prey . . . I mean prospect . . . slowly position yourself underneath.  Then casually smile, say hello and let nature take its course.

If it happens, it happens.  If not, remember, there’s too many humans in the sea to get all mopey about one who screams and rejects you.

Be sure to remember to floss afterwards–you never want to offend the next “potential special someone” you approach with a gross limb stuck between your front teeth.

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

“Girls of the Dewey Decimal System” Draws New Support to Libraries

BEAVER, Oklahoma.  The “panhandle” region of Oklahoma has been occupied by humans for millennia, but it has been losing population in recent years, a fact that puts a strain on public services.  “When people call to say they got a house on fire, I have to tell them to wait until the next budget cycle,” says Cimarron County Fire Chief Mel Orthwein, shaking his head sadly.  “Also that they should show up to vote in case it’s a close call.”


“I can check you out.”

But when officials called for a 10% across-the-board cut to regional services, the overwhelmingly female employees of the twelve largest libraries in the area’s three counties adopted a fund-raising technique that has been successful in other, more populous areas of the country; a calendar that mocks the pin-up versions often seen in gas stations and other predominantly male workplaces by depicting women of a certain age and physique in alluring poses and varying states of undress.

“We wanted to do something, not just hang our heads and say is ‘Woe is me,’ or rather ‘Woe is–are?–us’,” says Emily Nostrand, who runs the library in Balko.  “We decided it should be both educational as well as embarrassing.”


“Shh–we don’t want anyone to hear us.”

And so “The Girls of the Dewey Decimal System” was born, after a relatively uneventful gestation period.  “For some reason, there was no shortage of volunteers to display their, uh, wares in an effort to get people to read more,” says Nostrand.

The chosen theme was drawn from the Dewey Decimal System, a library classification method devised in 1876 by Melville Louis Kossuth “Melvil” Dewey, an educator who also established the standard dimensions for catalog cards.  “Dewey assigned a number to just about every possible topic with a prurient interest,” says Gosling Rutherford, who is writing a biography of the man credited with opening library “stacks,” once accessible only to librarians, to the common man.  “You’ve got 306.7 for Sexual Relations, 616.8583 for Sexual Practices Viewed as Mental Disorders,” Rutherford notes.  “He really covered the waterfront.”


“Could you help me carry these back to the stacks?”

 

The initiative has been a moderate success and has put reading on the radar screens of many males whose interests had previously been limited to football, fishing, spring football, rodeos and more football.  “It really opened my eyes to a whole different world,” says Del Furnell, a 33-year-old bachelor who lives in Texhoma.  “I’m gonna drop by the library today and check out Jane Austen’s latest.”

Mud Lizards Decry Political Environment as Mid-Terms Approach

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and Jim Glzorp readily admits he’d rather be in bed than standing outside in the cold handing out leaflets at a strip mall.  “I’ve successfully avoided politics all my life,” he says, as his 9-year-old son Jim, Jr. hugs his leg.  “When I read about all the crazies out there these days, I had to start getting involved–for my kid’s future.”

Glzorp is referring to a recent poll showing 4% of registered voters believe lizard people control American society through political power, a number that shocked him into action.  “I really don’t know where we went wrong,” he says.  “That number should be much higher.”

Glzorp is a shape-shifting mud-lizard, one of the two main reptilian political parties who vie with each other for invisible dominance of humans.  “We take a more laissez-faire approach,” he says, after giving his son a $5 bill for a frozen yogurt cone.  “The Annunaki Party wants to run your life down to how many times you floss, whether you wear boxers or briefs, and what kind of vacuum cleaner you use, upright or canister.”


“I’m glad we could reach a bi-partisan compromise that puts lizards’ interests above those of humans.”

In the past, lizards have been content to control the world on a top-down basis, infiltrating the United Nations, the Freemasons and senior management of Starbucks, but many are starting to question that approach after learning of the dismal 4% number.  “We really haven’t gotten out into the communities where we live,” says Mike Axzliia, who lists himself as an “independent” lizard but who leans towards shape-shifting mud lizard positions on major policy issues, including his personal environmental “hot button,” the wide-spread use of insecticides by humans that keeps lizards’ food costs high.  “We should be running for school board, town council, those humble offices that touch humans’ lives directly, so we can make a difference,” he says.


“We’ve been at this for several hours.  Let’s take a break and go eat some bugs.”

But lizard leaders agree it will take a lot of effort on the part of volunteers in “retail” politics to bring about change, a fact that doesn’t seem to darken Jim Glzorp’s mood as he watches his son return followed by a human child, 8-year-old Jimmy Cagnetta, whom he met inside the mall.

“He followed me back!” Jim Jr. says to his dad with a big smile.  “Can I keep him?”

China Wants My Bigfoot-Cheerleader Teen Rom-Com

Fictional friends who I make up to move the plot of blog posts along often ask me, “How do you handle the daily rejection you have to live with as a failed writer?  How do you keep going after getting kicked in the gut day after day?”


“You’re going out there an 8-foot tall mammal, but you’re coming back a star!”

 

When these “friends” are finished shedding their crocodile tears, I laugh a mirthless little laugh and shake my head from side to side to let them know how utterly . . . benighted they are.

“Unsuccessful?  Did I hear you say . . . unsuccessful?” I ask rhetorically.

“Well, yeah.  Your total earnings from writing in 2021 were less than 10% of your salary at your real job,” they say, pausing for effect, “–forty years ago!”

That’s the kind of abuse I used to get.  But I’m not taking it anymore because I am thisclose  to selling my screenplay for a teen romantic comedy involving a torrid affair between a Bigfoot-like creature and a head cheerleader to a major Chinese movie studio!

Thanks, really, you’re too kind.


Add a production number you say?  Great idea!

 

And don’t think for a minute I’m not going to lord it over all the nay-sayers, the wet blankets, the sticks-in-the-mud, the Mrs. Grundys who’ve been snickering behind their hands at me for years, saying “And the funny part is . . . he calls himself a writer!”  To them I say, “Same to you pal!” causing people on the street to look at me with alarm as they pass.  “Sorry,” I say to one particularly startled old lady with chin hairs who I’m helping across the street.  “Just having an argument with some imaginary fair-weather friends of mine.”

“I do the same thing!” she replies.

And it’s not just one studio–there are nine of them, including powerhouses such as Biggest China Film Group Ltd., Hanging Duck Carcass Films, Xiuangcho Media, and Golden Shrimp & Extra Soy Sauce Studios.  My agent tells me these are the creme de la chinois creme!

I’ve got to play it cool, though.  I’m in the catbird’s seat–they’re bidding for me!

The sad part is–this movie could have been made in the U.S., keeping good jobs from going overseas.  I shopped this sucker all over creation, starting with the film club at my kid’s high school.


Oscar night party at Hanging Duck Carcass Films.

 

“What’s it about again?” the class valedictorian asked.

“It’s about a yeti who emerges from the swamps of town, befriends you . . .”

“Me?”

“Yes, you, and as captain of the school squash team you transform his primitive stick-handling ability into racquet skills that have Ivy League colleges crawling over each other’s backs to offer him scholarships!”

“Uh, I think we’ll pass,” the kid–now at Harvard through some lucky quirk of fate–replied.  “We just gave the green light to a hip-hop version of Gone With the Wind.

“Fine, no problem,” I said as I got up to go.  “But don’t come crying to me when my first-day grosses make Titanic look like an air-raid safety training film from the 50′s.”

But I listen to the marketplace and the signals it gives to aspiring writers.  The problem?  Nobody cares about squash, the ultimate preppy pastime. No, I had to find a sport with broader appeal, and what’s broader than badminton, the most popular sport in the most populous nation on earth!

I’ll let you know when it’s released here in the U.S.  If you’re real nice, I’ll invite you to the after-party on Oscar night, after I hoist that little statuette up in the air in front of millions of television viewers and say . . .

“First I’d like to thank my third grade basketball coach, who taught me the importance of never giving up.  And Sister Agnesita, you believed in me when nobody else did.  Timmy Hohimer–hey–I told you we’d do it!  Mr. Dougherty, the mean old man who said I’d . . .”

[Cue “Hooray for Hollywood”]

Dinner With the Footnotes

My wife’s phone gave off a strange sound and, after she’d looked down at its screen, she said “Oh no,” and not in a cheerful way.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“It’s Pam Footnote,” she said as she picked up her mobile device, the better to see the full text of the message that lay concealed beneath the placid green screen.  “They want to have us over for dinner.”

I groaned, inwardly and outwardly.  “I thought we were done with them,” I said, recalling my Reverse Triangular Strategem for Getting Two Annoying Couples Out of Your Life With One Fell Stroke; I had invited them to dinner with our most liberal friends, hoping that the latter twosome’s strident political approach to all issues great and small would cause them to permanently break off our friendship, and that the former’s indifference to anything other than conspicuous consumption–golf, decorating, travel, etc.–would constitute a bridge too far for the leftie couple.

“Your brilliant idea completely backfired,” my wife said, and with more than a little smug satisfaction.  “Both couples left congratulating themselves on how tolerant they were, and how they’d made friends of people who were totally at the opposite end of the spectrum from them.”

“It was worth a shot,” I said, as I stuck my nose back into my glass of Malbec, hoping the vapors would send me to a place far, far away, where scents would overrule sense and the irrational would ride astride the rational mind like a child on a supermarket mechanical horse.  “So, do we have to accept?”

“I can hardly say no,” my wife said.  “I saw her in the grocery store the other day and let slip . . .”

“The dogs of war?” I asked, reverting to Shakespeare, the last grip I had on Western Civ before I fell asleep.

“No, silly, that we were in town for the weekend and didn’t have any plans.”

“You know, if this were a World War II movie, I would have you prosecuted for treason, and maybe even shave your head.”

“Like Sinead O’Connor?”

“A little.  That’s how they punished the French women for sleeping with Nazis.”

“The Footnotes aren’t that bad,” she said as she tapped a reply to the distaff half of the couple.

“History has yet to hand down its judgment,” I said as I finished my wine and toddled–as if I were the City of Chicago–off to bed.

I should provide some backstory, as they say in Hollywood.  The Footnotes–Pam and Dave–go by a different surname, which shall remain undisclosed for fear of libel claims and social retribution.  We gave them their nomme de whatever after sitting through too many dinner and cocktail parties with them, and enduring their dreadful conversation.  They are a mutual perpetual emendation machine, hitting on two cylinders at all times to refine, improve, expand or correct each other’s bland and boring statements.  If Dave says they joined the Woronoco Country Club in 2002, Pam immediately jumps in to say no, it was 2003, that was the year her mother died, she remembers it well.  If Pam says their favorite restaurant Estella’s is at the corner of Clarendon and Newbury Streets in Boston, Dave swoops in like a red-tailed hawk on a field mouse to insist that Dartmouth is the cross-street, don’t you remember, that’s where that parking lot is located.

“Oh yes,” Pam will say, and they’re off, pulling each other further into the Labyrinth like Hansel and Gretel off to find the Minotaur.  A private conversation in a nearly-private language ensues while everyone else sips their drinks, too polite to change the subject, too embarrassed to try and direct them back to the main path of the evening’s discourse.  After awhile the Footnotes emerge back into the sunlight, like cheerful kittens kept in the basement overnight, and blurt out “So how’s work going?” to the first male who catches their eye, or “What’s new with Chloe/Caitlin/Chelsea?” to the first female.  By then the rest of the crowd is too deep in their cups to say anything other than “Fine.”

In short, they are a walking illustration of Noel Coward’s gibe about footnotes: “Having to read footnotes resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love,” and so we thusly christened them.  In fact, I have often wondered what love-making might be like at Chez Pam et Dave:

Pam:  (. . .) What are you doing?

Dave:  But . . . you like that.

Pam:  Since when?

Dave:  Don’t you remember?  That time in Bermuda, right before we were married?

Pam:  At the little inn that was once a provincial courthouse?

Dave:  Right.

Pam:  No, that was the time we went down with the Palmers, we didn’t have sex that vacation.

When the night for the Dreaded Encounter came, I steeled myself ahead of time with a rye on the rocks, like some character out of a John O’Hara short story.

“You’re drinking before we go?” my wife asked.

“It’s the only way I’m going to get through the evening.”

“Just let them talk, eventually they’ll wear themselves out.”

“Easy for you to say,” I said.  “You can always go fuss in the kitchen over the pre-fabricated Trader Joe’s hors d’oeuvres you bring.”

With the ground rules thus established, we found ourselves soon enough on the Footnotes’ doorstep and, after the obligatory exchange of air-kisses, made our way into their overheated living room, whose walls are covered with the sort of conventional prints a conventional New England couple inherits from their conventional parents when they suffer the end to which we are all headed by nature, not convention: sail boats, a Cape Cod sunset, one vaguely experimental painting purchased on a madcap weekend in New York and, off to the side, the poorly executed work of a relative whose sense of perspective could trigger an LSD flashback.


The kids

“How have you two been, it’s been ages!” my wife asked with an air of conviviality that, God love her, sounded sincere.

“Oh, puttering along,” Pam said, and I hoped Dave wasn’t going to make some stupid pun about golf, a subject that always sets off my narcolepsy.  “Have you two taken any vacation lately?”

On my scale of Universal Weights and Measures of Boredom, the surest sign that two couples have nothing left to say to each other is when one side asks the other this question, but that may just be me.  My wife pounced on it like a duck on a June bug, as they say where I come from.

“We went to Saratoga Springs last summer to see ballet,” she said, and we were off to the races.

“Oh, I love dance!” Pam said.  “I wish Dave would take me.”

“I took you once,” her worse half said.

“No you didn’t!” Pam countered, with mock outrage.

“Yes I did, that time with the Nugents.”

“When?”

“At that big auditorium.”

“The Convention Center?”

“Not the new one, the old one, on Boylston Street.”

“That wasn’t ballet, that was some Chinese cultural thing.”

“You said ‘dance.’  There were dancers on stage.”

“You had to go because of work, it was free, so that doesn’t count.”

I stared down into my drink and, seeing that it was both half-full and half-empty, got up to refresh it in the kitchen.  I figured by the time I got back the Footnotes would have reached the intermission of the long-forgotten event, and we might have a chance to get things back on track.

Sure enough, when I returned the Footnotes had stopped for re-fueling, and had turned over the conversational driving to my wife.

“How are the kids?” she asked innocently, perhaps thinking that it would be hard for any couple to disagree as to the basic facts of their children’s existence.

“Oh, Jeremy’s fine but he quit his job at the consulting firm and is working on an ‘app’–whatever that is.”

Risky life decisions by offspring–while rich fodder for conversation among our other friends–struck me as a cue for infinite regression on the Footnotes’ part, so I quickly interjected with something less sensitive, and more quantifiable.

“Where’s he living now?” I asked.

“In South Boston,” the husband said.

“It’s not South Boston where he lives, it’s something else,” Pam corrected him.  “The South End . . .”

“That’s not the South End,” Dave said.  “The South End is way the hell over on the other side of the Turnpike.”

“Well, it’s the Seaport, or the Innovation District, or the Waterfront or something, but it’s definitely not South Boston.”

“South Boston is trendy now, they should stop trying to name it something else,” Dave said in a voice devoid of defensiveness.  That’s how the Footnotes are; never contentious, always dry, academic, just-the-facts-ma’am, the Joe Fridays of social chit-chat.

“Well, I think he calls it something else.  Fort Point Channel?”

I looked at my watch, and I didn’t try to hide it.  I felt as if we were trapped inside an encyclopedia, and were only halfway through the volume with Aa-As on the spine.

“What’s that I smell from the kitchen?” I interjected.  No one’s ever actually died of starvation at the Footnotes, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

“I’m making noisettes du porc au pruneaux,” Pam said.

“Sounds yummy!” my wife said.  “What’s that?”  I’m the Francophile in the family.


Yum!

“It’s a six-day bicycle race in France,” I said.

“Oo, you’re bad!” Pam said to me, then to my wife, “It’s pork with prunes.”  To my shock and surprise, the next words out of Dave’s mouth didn’t include a correction.

“We tried it when we took a tour of the Loire Valley in 2005,” he said.

“It wasn’t 2005,” Pam replied, “that was the summer right before Jeremy graduated from college, so it would have been 2004.”

“It wasn’t 2004, I would remember.  That’s the year the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.”

I was tempted to jump in with some sports talk and break the mind-forg’d manacles that always seemed to lock up the Footnotes’ talk, but I hesitated and was lost.

“It had to be 2004, he graduated from high school in 2000, so . . .”

“You’re forgetting,” Dave said, gently reminding her.  “He got that F in biology on his junior year abroad, so he didn’t graduate until 2005.”

Pam was, for just a moment, speechless; there it was, out in the open, for all to see, like an upchucked chipmunk from their cat Mitzi on the rug in front of us.  The shame, the embarrassment that our children can cause us, we who like to present a placid exterior to our social equals, betters and inferiors.  I could detect in her face the hot flush of blood rushing to her cheeks.  It took her a moment, but–like the dinner party trouper she was–she shook off the blow and in a second had her wits about her again.

“It wasn’t biology,” she said finally.  “It was organic chemistry.”

Volunteers Raise Like Millions for Liberal Arts Major Disease

LAS VEGAS, Nevada.  It’s Sunday morning in this desert city and the streets are quiet.  Inside the casinos, where there are no clocks, gamblers who have played through the night order breakfast at blackjack and craps tables.

At the edge of town in the studio of channel KQJA (for “King-Queen-Jack-Ace”), a small crew of technicians is working as comedian Sheldon “Shecky” Felton begins the final day of his national telethon to raise funds for his signature charity, which doesn’t have enough clout to pay for air time on Labor Day weekend.

“Ladies and gentlemen out there in the television land–I’m begging you,” he says, exhausted from two straight days of singing, cracking jokes and talking to guests.  “Liberal Arts Major Disease cuts down our kids in the prime of their youth, just as they’re about to begin their journey into adulthood.  It’s the saddest thing in the world.  So please-give and give generously.  Now we have two little girls who’ve come all the way from Calumet City, Illinois to dance for us–please welcome–The Tapping Twitchells!”

Liberal Arts Major Disease–the delusion that all big numbers are essentially the same–is an affliction that affects more than 80 million Americans.  Its onset can be traced to the realization among high school upperclassmen that they have completed the minimum number of math classes required in order to graduate.

“A lot of kids basically shut down the left side of their brains as soon as they finish Algebra II or Geometry,” says Dr. Philip Heyman at the University of Massachusetts-Seekonk.  “The degenerative process begins the moment they know they’ll never have to take another math class.”

Experts say that Liberal Arts Major Disease, or “LAMD,” effects America’s productivity as well as its long-term future.  “You look at China and India, they are cranking out more engineers and obtaining many more patents,” says Erskine Hollins of the Council on Economic Progress, a business-government group.  “Of course those kids have been chained to their desks for two decades, but we should be able to overcome that competitive advantage with a little more discipline.”

Back in Las Vegas, a contingent from the National Council of Plumbers and Pipefitters makes their appearance on the KQJA set to present an oversized check in the amount of $1,500, which Shecky Felton, who himself suffers from LAMD, graciously accepts.  “Guys–this is just fantastic.  Fifteen hundred dollars!  Wow!  Let’s see-we had a million nine hundred thirty-thousand before so now we’ve got, let’s see . . .”  His voice trails off and the producer, sensing trouble, cuts to a commercial.

Meanwhile, across the country in Wellesley, Massachusetts, a stream of volunteers is holding a walk-a-thon along the 26.2 mile route of the Boston Marathon to raise money for LAMD.  “Hey look, everybody,” says Meghan Morrissey, a first-year student at Wellesley College from Saratoga, New York.  “The sign says its 13.5 miles from here to Hopkinton,” the walk’s starting point.  “That means we’ve only got like-uh-15 more miles to go!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”

Our Hypoallergenic Night Out

Saturday night found us–we hadn’t been missing that long–with our friends Ted and Sally at Nourriture, which is French for “food.”  Tres simple! as we used to say in Madame Clooney’s 10th grade classe de Francais when we wanted to show off our knowledge of cognates.

After we were seated the water boy came by and asked if we wanted still or sparkling, then a comely young woman named Claire stopped tableside to say she’d be taking care of us tonight.  If only, I thought to myself as I shot a glance at Ted.

“First I must ask if anyone has any allergies,” she asked with a hint of chagrin, sprinkled with cumin and cardamom.  “It is, you know, ‘the law,'” she said, making little air quotes.

That’s what makes the Commonwealth (not a state–please!) of Massachusetts such a great place to live.  Founded by nay-saying Puritan divines, we’ve got laws for everything, and some for nothing at all.

Claire surveyed our faces and with that semi-apologetic air that comes over Presbyterians whenever they cause the least inconvenience, my wife spoke first.

“I’m allergic to some of my husband’s jazz,” she said, almost sheepishly.

“Okay,” Claire said.  “Any particular kind?”

“It’s strange,” my wife said, “but I have a particularly strong reaction to jazz violin–which he loves.”  I patted her hand to re-assure her that, despite our differences, my love for her was unlimited.  Up to a point.

“But you like classical violin, don’t you?” Sally said, and she was right.  Check her Pandora settings and you’ll find “Violin, classical, heavy on the schmaltz.”

“I do, but jazz violin–it’s so hectic and scritchy-scratchy.  It drives me nuts.”

“Even Stephane Grappelli,” I said, shaking my head.  “And don’t get her started about Stuff Smith.”

Stuff Smith 3
Stuff Smith:  “Why me?”

 

“Oh God,” my wife groaned.  “Just the mention of his name makes me want to cover my ears.”

Claire made a little moue with her mouth–what other facial feature was she going to make it with?  “That’s too bad,” she said as she jotted something on her little pad.  “And you madame?” she asked, turning to Sally.

“I’m allergic to guys yammering about football as if everyone cared,” she said.  I looked around quickly and saw there was only one television in the place, and it was over the bar in a spot where Sally couldn’t see it without turning around.  So we were probably in the clear on that one.

“Is it . . . just on TV, or do live human beings have the same effect on you?” Claire asked in a deadpan, just-the-facts-ma’am tone, like Sgt. Joe Friday’s sidekick Harry Morgan in Dragnet.


“I think the team that scores the most points is gonna win!”

 

“Both,” Sally said.  “Although the ones on television seem to have no necks, while the ones around here”–she turned to look at her husband, then me, then around the room generally–“they all seem to have body parts that connect their heads to their torsos.  Why is that?”


“Do you have the same reaction to pre-season games?”

 

“It’s because the ones you see on TV played football too long, and they have no necks left from ramming their heads into each other,” Ted said.  “Guys like us got out while the getting was good,” he added, and I nodded in agreement.  As I often say, the three happiest days of my life were my wedding day, the day I got out of the University of Chicago, and the day I quit high school football.

“Duly noted,” Claire said.  “Gentlemen?”

“You first,” I said to Ted.

“I’m very allergic to decorating magazines,” he said, and I could tell by the look that passed over his face–like the shadow of a storm cloud on a sunny day–that his pain was real.

“Ted,” Sally said with genuine concern in her voice.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was only recently that I hit my saturation level,” he said.

“Like the point where Stevie Wonder and I had both smoked so much pot that the THC in our systems turned us paranoid?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Ted said.  “I mean, we get Southern Living and New England Home.”

“That’s why we fought the Civil War,” I said to Sally.  “To preserve this great nation of ours.”

“We get House Beautiful and Beautiful Home,” Ted said.

“Almost a decorating palindrome,” I said.

“What’s an arena for bicycle racing have to do with interior decorating?” my wife asked.

“You’re thinking of a velodrome,” Ted said.  “A palindrome is a combination of words that reads the same forwards and backwards, like ‘A man, a plan, a canal–Panama!'”

“Oh,” my wife said.  She’s the math major, I’m the word guy.

“But yesterday,” Ted said, then paused for a moment as if the difficulty of what he was about to say took the air out of his lungs.  “I saw a copy of Vestibule magazine on the coffee table.”

“It’s free,” Sally said.  “I didn’t buy it–it comes with . . .”

“It doesn’t matter, it was the tipping point for me,” Ted said, color rushing into his cheeks.  “What’s next–Den Magazine?  Foyer Magazine?  Sears Tool Shed Magazine.”

Claire waited a second for that storm to pass.  “Et vous?” she asked, turning to me.

I swallowed, and hard.  When one suffers from a crippling disability, it isn’t easy to admit it publicly.  “I,” I began, but stopped, all choked up.

Lady Di
We really have one.

 

“Yes?” my wife said, her eyes little pools of sympathy.

“I’m allergic to Anglophiles.”

You could have heard a breadstick hit the richly-carpeted floor of the little boit de nuite (literally: “box of night”).

“Sweetie,” my wife said, her face a map of anguish.  “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because,” and here I was gasping for breath, “I know how much the little princess in you loves British royalty.  I’ve overcome my deep aversion to landed gentry and upper-class British twits and learned to live with you and your Lady Di-Prince Charles fruitcake tin, but . . . it’s hard.”

“Isn’t there something you can take for it?” Sally asked.  She’s a doctor, and thinks that Western medicine has a cure for everything.

“There’s no drug strong enough to counter-act the pervasive Anglophilia around here,” I said.  I tried not to be curt, but people have no idea what I go through every day.  “Channel 2”–our award-winning public TV station–“would have nothing but dead air to broadcast if it weren’t for tepid British dramas.”

“They never show any sports, that’s for sure,” Ted said.

“And if they did, it would be cricket,” I said.  There was a lump in my throat, and you could hear it in my voice.  “We fought a freaking war to rid ourselves of the dead hand of Albion . . .”

“Who’s Albion?” Sally asked.

“A poetic name for England, much used by William Blake.”

“I thought he was one of your jazz violists,” my wife said.

“You’re thinking of Al Biondi–different guy.”

“O-kay,” Claire said.  “Is that it?”

“That’s it for me,” I said as I dabbed at my eyes with my napkin.

“Excellent,” Claire said.  “Excusez-moi for a moment, I must speak to the owner.”  With that she turned and headed towards the maitre’d’s station, and returned with our host, a suave-looking man in a dinner jacket, tuxedo shirt and fake bow tie.

“Bon soir,” the man said.  “My name is Emile.  I am the proprietor.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said, not sensing any trouble.

“I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave,” he said.  I’d say I was speechless, but I found my tongue and palate and asked him “Why?”

“Because, my friend, you are all so–how you say–allergic, there is nothing on the menu we can serve you.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs From the Burbs.”

Two Dead as Joyce Carol Oates Books Topple on Shoppers

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. Firemen worked frantically against the clock in a desperate attempt to save the lives of shoppers at the Barnes & Noble bookstore here after a shelf gave way when “Breathe: A Novel,” the most recent work by prolific author Joyce Carol Oates, was added to her already bulging collection of titles.


Oates: “All right, I’ll take the afternoon off.”

“In retrospect, they shoulda maybe broke her stuff up into fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, how-to guides, self-help and other distinct categories,” said Fire Chief Bill Haulsey as he surveyed the carnage. “Either that or stacked ‘em against a load-bearing wall, maybe added structural supports under the floor.”


Scene of the tragedy.

Oates is an American author who has written fifty-eight novels, twenty short story collections, eight novellas, thirty-two plays, sixteen works of non-fiction, ten books of poetry, eight books for children and young adults and a Toyota Corolla auto repair guide for the model years 2010-2012. She also writes under the pen names, “Rosamond Smith,” “Lauren Kelly,” “Mickey Spillane” and “Charles Dickens.”


2012 Toyota Corolla: “I looked with sadness at the air filter, so worn by years of breathing diesel fumes.”

On average Oates writes 365 books a year, 366 in a leap year. She once dictated a novella while talking in her sleep as she napped after finishing the fourth volume of a trilogy.

Oates, who wrote a well-received book on boxing, announced she would honor the lives and memories of two shoppers who died in the literary avalanche by turning off her computer and watching some TV this afternoon.

“I tried to Tivo the Tecate Friday Night Fights on ESPN but I screwed it up,” she said with chagrin as she fiddled with her television set. “I may have to settle for This Week in NASCAR.”

Guy Named Mike Awards 2022 “Freakin’ Genius” Grants

WORCESTER, Mass. Three close friends of Mike Andruzzioni, a part-time cab dispatcher who also tends bar, were among the recipients of the 2022 Michael C. Andruzzioni “Freakin’ Genius” grants, awarded annually since 2012 to innovators in the arts, sciences and video games.


Mike, considering the finalists.

“This year’s winners represent the best and the brightest of America’s slacker dudes and dudettes, and promise to make substantial contributions to American culture and intellectual life if they can only remember to set their alarm clocks,” the Andruzzioni Foundation said in a press release signed by Mike as founder, president and chief executive officer.

“I am thrilled and also excited to join the distinguished field of Andruzzioni laureates from last year,” said Mike’s friend Ty Bruno, who is a groundskeeper at nearby Clark University. “I want to assure the applicants who were not chosen that this has nothing to do with the case of Narragansett Beer in long-neck bottles that I gave Mike over Labor Day weekend.”


MacArthur: “Who the hell is this guy Mike?”

The Freakin’ Genius Grants were created out of Andruzzioni’s frustration at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s so-called “genius grants,” which are awarded annually to individuals whom Mike doesn’t know and whom he does not consider to be geniuses. “They give ‘em out to women who play the hammer dulcimer, poets, people I wouldn’t want to have a beer with,” Andruzzioni said from his apartment on Grand Street, which is not the headquarters of the defunct literary publication “Grand Street.” “All of the guys who got grants this year, I promise you, they’re freakin’ geniuses, and a lot of fun to hang with.”


Iron Butterfly: “Dude–you rock!”

Among this year’s winners are Ray Tolson, a custodian who can play chess while smoking pot “and beats me every time,” according to Mike; Todd D’Etienne, a former music major who can play The Doors’ “Light My Fire” with his left hand while simultaneously playing “In a Gadda da Vida” by Iron Butterfly with his right; and Bruno, who has reached the 15th level of the video game “Warlock’s Cavern.”

The grants are a cash award of $10, which Mike says “is worth one six pack of beer if you buy imported, almost two if you stick to domestic.” They are intended to give budding geniuses the wherewithal to hone their talents free from the necessity to earn surplus funds in excess of rent and utilities and buy beer.

The prizes were to be awarded in August, but Andruzionni says he fell behind schedule. “I returned a lot of deposit bottles, but I was counting on getting cash for a sweater my mom gave me for Christmas,” he says. “I could only get store credit, which I found out you can’t use in liquor stores.”