A Day in the Life of a Federal Catfish Inspector

               To date the U.S. Department of Agriculture has spent $20 million to set up a catfish office without inspecting a single catfish.  I’m not making that up.

Senator John McCain, remarks on Senate floor in opposition to the Trans-Pacific trade bill, Wall Street Journal

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“Ahem–we’re waiting.”


As I gazed out the window of my office in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Catfish Inspection Office, a little internal voice that I recognized as my conscience told me that I probably shouldn’t spend the whole morning looking out at the Lake of the Ozarks just above Bagnell Dam.  After all, I needed something to do in the afternoon, after I came back from my two-hour lunch at Catfish Larry’s.  If I spent the first three hours of my day admiring the water–so beautiful and placid, like my girlfriend Verna Lee–I might be too bored to waste time looking at it in the afternoon.

No, things weren’t like they used to be at the USDA, ever since Senator John McCain got a bee in his bonnet about catfish inspectors actually–inspecting catfish.  How naïve could he be?  The Viet Cong must have fried his brain during his five and a half years in captivity, otherwise he’d realize that soldiers like him fought and died so bureaucrats like me could goof off.

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The word “fried” made my mouth water thinking about the catfish basket at Catfish Larry’s.  It comes with cole slaw and fries, so it’s a balanced diet of grease, carbs, more grease and artery-clogging mayo.  I stood up, put on my USDA Catfish Inspector hat so I’d get priority seating (“Law enforcement–step aside!”) when I heard a buzz and saw my receptionist’s extension number on the screen of my phone.

“Catfish Inspector Dillard speaking,” I said.  You have to keep the menial GS-0318’s in their place, otherwise they’ll start bitching that they’re “professionals” and don’t have to go on coffee runs anymore.

“There’s a school of fish out here that wants to talk to you.”

I gulped involuntarily.  “Did you tell them I was here?”

“I don’t get paid enough to lie.  For that you need to be at least a Cabinet Secretary, or a . . .”

Enough with your cheap cynicism about our federal government!” I snapped.  “Do you think I could duck out the back?”

“There’s a truck back there flipping the dumpster–you’re blocked in.”

Damn the Ozark Mountains, I thought to myself.  Everything’s so hilly here its nearly impossible to find a good parking lot, like they have in, like Kansas, or . . .

“Are you coming out or not?”

I knew I was trapped.  “All right,” I said.  “You’ve got the Federal Marshalls on speed-dial, right?”

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You know you want it.

I heard a snort through the earpiece.  “You think you’re Abraham Lincoln or something?”

I’d had about enough of the punching-up backtalk from the receptionist, so I decided to face the music and dance.  The sooner I got over talking to catfish, the sooner I could eat one.  Or six.

I hitched up my pants, hesitated for a moment, then stepped into the reception area trying to look as cool as a cucumber–but I felt like I was lying in the sun at an outdoor produce stand, and so technically was sort of a hot cucumber.

“What can I do for you all?” I said in my most ingratiating federal bureaucrat voice.

The fish slithered across the floor to the point where I was standing.  Their slimy whiskers flipped back and forth across my “rough-out” suede cowboy boots.  Have to remember to write-up a claim for expense reimbursement after lunch.

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“He followed me home–can I keep him?”


“We’re here to stop government waste and abuse,” one of the smaller fry said.  Looked like the kind of fish who files his taxes a month early.

“Yeah–we want to be inspected!” another said.  I started looking around for the 60 Minutes “gotcha” camera crew, but the fish had apparently come without human assistance.

“Now hold on, just a minute everybody.”  Just what I needed–a bunch of gill-breathing escapees from a Tea Party caucus.  “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working hard . . .”

“You mean hardly working,” one of the fish said, and they all broke out laughing.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been mocked by a bunch of catfish, but it’s not pleasant.  I have to take a lot of bullhockey in my job, but at least it comes from the mouths of distinguished assholes, like congresspeople and citizens complaining about why I didn’t catch the latest e-coli or salmonella outbreak.  Hey–I was taking a personal day!

“This is why it’s so hard to get people to go into public service,” I remonstrated, and that shut the fish up.  I don’t think they’d ever even seen a remonstrator before.  I got it on cable TV, and it came with a battery-powered nose-hair clipper.

“We pay your salary, fat boy,” one of the more aggressive males snapped.  How do I know he was male, you ask?  He had a receding whisker-line.

“Folks, if you want to step into the conference room, I can receive your complaint in complete confidence.”  A lot of guys couldn’t pull off that high level of aplomb, but I got a Class 2 Plombers license after I got out of high school, and it comes in handy at times like this.

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“This appears to be some sort of chicken.”


I opened the door and the fish began to slither in, one by one.  “Would anybody like something to eat?”  Stupid negotiating trick:  Give some loser a free cup of coffee and subconsciously he feels he owes you something.  Which–if you’ve ever tasted the coffee in a federal agency break room–he most assuredly does not.

The fish looked at each other, making little moues with their wide mouths as if to say “What the hell, if he’s gonna offer, I’m gonna grab some!”

“I’ll have a couple hundred crappie,” one said.

“I’ll have a two-by-four and a tire,” said another.  Sheesh–I knew they were bottom-feeding trash fish, but I had no idea they were that disgusting.

“Okay, let me get Velma Jean in here to take orders,” I said, and after the receptionist had taken their lunch requests, we sat down for some serious negotiating.

“I understand your frustration,” I said in a low, considerate voice once the door was closed.  “I know you’re upset that after spending twenty million dollars on catfish inspection we still haven’t inspected any catfish.  But you’ve got to understand–there are almost three hundred and twenty million people in the United States.”

“We’re not people,” one of them said.

“Fair enough.  I walked right into that one.  On the other hand I’m a people . . .”

“A people who needs people?”

“No, I’m a people who works for the federal government, so I’d rather not have anything to do with people.  But catfish–that’s another story.”

I saw just a glimmer of approbation in their eyes.

“We’ve never had a catfish office in the history of the United States.  I’m going to be at the helm when we open up the first one.  Think about that.  I’m going to be the George Washington of catfish.”

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The Millard Fillmore of catfish


“Wow,” one of them said.  I didn’t think they were supposed to be too smart.

“So I’m only gonna get one chance in my life–America’s only got one chance.  I’m gonna get this right no matter how many million dollars it takes–okay?”

If they’d had feet, they would have been up on them, cheering me on.  What’s the old expression?  Patriotism is the last refuge of the catfish?  Something like that.

“When you put it that way,” one of the smart-aleckier ones said, “I’m behind you 100%.”

“No you’re not, you’re in front of me–right there!” I said as I poked him in his big, soft, white underbelly.

I had them eating out of my hand by then, so it was a good thing the receptionist was back with lunch.  “Let’s see, did you order the tuna?” I asked one.

“No–I had a dead dog.  And a Cooper Mini.”

“Right, right,” I said as I passed around napkins, salt and those little coffee stirrer things–as an appetizer.

“What did you get?” one of them asked as I started to peel back the wax paper on my order.

“Oh, nothing you’d like,” I said as I discreetly dribbled ketchup on the fried delight who, for all I knew, was a relative of theirs.

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Catfish basket–yum!


“C’mon, lemme see,” another said, and then, after he’d raised his ugly head to take a peek, recoiled in horror.

“You . . . bastard!” he hissed through whiskers that wiggled like those strips of paper they put on room air conditioners in appliance stores.

“What?” one of the fish asked.

The offended fish looked around the room with utter contempt.  “You won’t believe it!”

“How bad could it be?”

“He got fries–and we didn’t!”

At the Bizarro Rotary Club

It’s noontime on Wednesday, time for me to head over to the Bothner Hotel for the weekly meeting of our local chapter of the Bizarro Rotary Club.  It’s a great bunch and when you’re a small business man in a small town, you’ve got to get out and press the flesh if you want to be seen as a regular guy–and keep the big chain stores at bay.

I wave to Ethel, my top salesgal, and even though she knows from many years of habit where I’m going, she asks “You heading over to Bizarro Rotary?”

“How’d you guess?” I reply facetiously–I’m known as a great “kidder” around town.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she says coquettishly.  “A little birdie told me.”

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“I’m expecting Jackson”–our desultory trashman–“to come by to haul away some cardboard boxes.”

“I’ll look out for him,” Ethel says.

“He’s like the Abominable Snowman,” I quip.  “If you blink–he’s gone and you may never see him again.”

We share a laugh and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail I’m out on Indiana Avenue and headed over to the meeting.  A lot of guys would view membership in Bizarro Rotary–the contrarian doppelganger of Rotary International–as a mark of failure, but not me.  Sure, I’m an upbeat, can-do, go-getter, but everybody needs a little negativity to recharge their battery from time to time.  I mean, if all you have is a positive charge, you’ll never get anywhere!

I recall my first apartment after college, with a roommate named “Ed” from Chicago.  Ed and I were friendly, but there was a wide gulf that separated our tastes in music.  Mine ended with bebop, and I leaned–quite dramatically, I might add–towards Clifford Brown on the trumpet and Johnny Hodges on alto sax.  Ed, by contrast, liked to listen to stuff that struck my ears as sandpaper Q-Tips: Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra.  To me, hearing McCoy Tyner recalled the sound you’d get if you dropped a piano out a third-story window.  And Sonny Sharock?  What he did to a guitar should have been illegal.

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Sonny Sharrock: Worst jazz guitar player ever?


“You know what you need?” Ed said to me late one night, dropping the quotation marks that he habitually wore around his name since we’d been deep into drink and drugs for some time.


“You need some chaos in your life,” he said with finality, setting off one of life’s little epiphanies for me.  Perhaps, I thought, he’s right.  Maybe I did need some unbridled, in-your-face, don’t-stint-on-the-hyphens Dionysian disruption to balance the rational, orderly side of my psyche.

Of course, I’d had a germ of the Bizarro in my being from boyhood, perhaps best revealed by an unprovoked wise-crack I made in the very building I was about to walk into, in the Bothner Hotel Barbershop.  After getting my usual mortifying crew-cut, which my mother had trained the barbers to give me even if I asked for a flat-top, I hopped out of the chair, accepted my stick of Juicy Fruit gum and put on my cool crew jacket.

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What I WANTED to look like.


“You’re looking pretty sharp there, young man!” the barber named “Frosty” said as I walked towards the door.

“Forms a nice contrast, since you’re not,” I cracked, causing audible gasps to escape from the gaping mouths of the assorted idlers assembled in the little white-tiled shop.

“That boy’s headed for trouble!” a hare-lipped farmer said as I walked away, as if to put a gypsy curse on me.

“Pah!” I pahhed.  What did I care for the opinions of a bunch of yahoos, rednecks and hilljacks?  I was above all that, a Nietzsche in short pants.

But when I came back to my little home town after college, I found out that my reputation formed in childhood had hardened with time; I was, forever and irredeemably, The Kid Who Cracked Wise.

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Whoa–look out!


I tried to join the Lions, the Moose, the Elks.  Nothing.  I called up the Shriners, the Masons, and the Odd Fellows.  Nada.  Desperate, I called the Extremely Odd Fellows.  Even they turned me down.

But then one night when I was in my cups–or more precisely in my longneck beer bottles–a fellow embittered townsman “pulled my coat tail,” as they used to say in Harlem.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, man,” he said as he reached in front of me for the last of the Pizza-flavored goldfish.

“How so?”

“You should try the Bizarro fraternal societies.”

I was vaguely familiar with the concept of Bizarro culture, the alternative universe created for Superman’s mirror-image antagonist.  Where Superman fought for truth, justice and the American Way, Bizarro fought for falsehood, injustice, and–uh–I guess the un-American Way.

“There are–Bizarro lodges?” I asked, incredulous.

“Sure–how do you think I can stand living in this boring burg?”

I looked him over and sized him up; an embittered post-adolescent like me.

“Do you think,” I began hesitantly, “I’d qualify?”

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“Let’s see,” he said.  “Are you shunned for your grotesque appearance?”

“Look at me!” I said, pointing to the numerous scars on my face.  There was the one from a football helmet that cracked during a freshman game, giving me a cut that required six stitches to close.  There were chicken pox and acne scars.  I hit myself over my left eye playing tennis–not an easy trick–three more stitches.  There was the one on my upper lip from a punch.  Finally, there was one from a potato rake; don’t ask me how I got that one, but it involved a tree, a dare and some youthful hijinks.  It was the 70s–everybody else was having sex.

“Okay,” he said, “You’ll pass that test.  Do you have strange speech patterns?”

I thought of the many hours I’d spent with crackpot speech therapists as a child; forced to recite poetry in the hope that it would untie my tongue, to this day I can recall entire stanzas from Sir Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel on a bet.

“I got that one covered,” I said.  “What else?”

“Are you habitually contrarian, trying to make a joke out of everything, making cutting remarks . . .”

“You’re looking at the King of the Gratuitously Smart-Aleck Comment.”

And so I was inducted, after a brief instructional course, payment of first month’s dues and purchase of a goofy hat–a prerequisite for membership in any self-respecting men’s lodge–into Bizarro Rotary.

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Loyal Order of the Blue Buffalo


Bizarro Rotary, as the name implies, is the obverse of normal Rotary.  The Rotary Pledge is an inspiring set of principles that have seeped out of that order’s meetings into the broader stream of American life.  They are, quite frankly, words to live by, at least as far as idle remarks go.  And believe me, as the guy who once referred to one of his law partners as “The Blanche DuBois of the Boston bar” because he always depended on the kindness of strangers–idle remarks can go a long way.

Surely you have heard the Rotary Pledge, even if you don’t observe its tenets.  It has been translated into over a hundred languages, so you can’t say they don’t apply to you because you only speak Urdu.  Before a Rotarian says, thinks or does anything, he must ask himself these questions:

1.  Is it the TRUTH?

2.  Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4.  Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

(As you can see, the “Caps Lock” key gets stuck a lot at Rotary headquarters, but you get the drift.)

If the answer to any one of these questions is “no,” a regular Rotarian may not say, think or do what he was ever-so-close to saying, thinking or doing just moments before.

At Bizarro Rotary, on the other hand, it works the opposite way.  If the answer to question 1 is “yes,” and the answer to any of the next three “no,” the Bizarro Rotarian must plunge ahead, consequences be damned.  Do think Jerry Spagnola’s tie is ugly?  It may be true, but it may not build a better friendship, so you’d better tell him so.

Do you think it’s likely Al Urquart’s daughter will never get married because she looks too much like him, instead of his gamine-like wife Marjean, who possesses a prize-winning collection of thimbles?  Sorry, but you’re going to have to break the news to him.

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“Shore is purty at sundown, ain’t it?”


As I walked into the lobby of the Bothner I spied Bob Gramach, our local Chevy-GMC dealer.

“Hey Bob–still selling those crappy cars like the lemon you unloaded on me?” I say by way of greeting.

“You better believe it,” he says with a smile.  “Are you still stuck in that dead-end job you hate?”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” I say.  I push the button on the old-fashioned elevator with the brass grillwork and we glide slowly up to the second floor, where we see a number of our fellow local bad-handers palavering about things.

“Des Moegelin!” I say when I spy our local farm implements dealer.  “How’s you’re inadequate sexual equipment hangin’?”

“A little to the left, but my little looks big next to yours!” he says and his buddies erupt in laughter–that’s the Bizarro Rotary spirit!

“Good to see you again,” says Mike Dworpkin, an insurance agent for Modern Moosehead Indemnity.  “That bump on the side of your nose is getting bigger all the time!”

“Thanks,” I say proudly.

Many people mistake the blunt honesty of Bizarro Rotarians for some sort of disorder, like Asperger’s Syndrome, but our demonstrated lack of empathy is our way of steeling each other for the hard rows we all have to hoe; if you want a lodge that’s going to give you a false sense of comfort, like life’s a big bag of marshmallows, get your ass over to the Knights of Pythias.

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Knights of Pythias: What the hell–are you guys a glee club or something?


We begin to take our seats at the round tables that are set up for lunch and our Grand Scorchmaster, Ted Wyboldt, offer’s the day’s invocation.

“Heavenly Father,” he intones as we all bow our heads, “you have made one gigantic hot steaming mess of the world.”

“A-men,” we all murmur humbly, recognizing that our pitiful inadequacies in the here and now are nothing compared to the way the Creator of All Things has screwed things up.  They say on the seventh day he rested, but my guess is he looked upon his work and decided it was too broke to fix.

The speaker on program today is the new head coach of the Oklahoma A&M Fighting Stinkbugs, Joe Ray Diggs, an up-and-coming offensive genius who has turned around every team he’s touched so far in a career that has every appearance will end up with him on national television some New Year’s Day.  After the obligatory business part of the meeting–unpaid dues, recognition of how poorly the winners of our local oratorical contest did in the regionals–it’s time for some game film and football talk.

“Thanks for having me today, Ted,” Diggs says as he fumbles with the remote that turns on the projector.  “How many A&M grads we got here today?” he begins, using the old public speaking gimmick of getting the audience on your side from the get-go.  Approximately a third of the hands in the room go up, and Diggs smiles.  “That’s good,” he says with a smile.  “May I remind you that every check you write to the Booster Club does not have to be reported to the NCAA.”

The crowd laughs appreciatively, and Diggs moves on to his pitch.  “Folks, I know A&M has let you down over the last few decades,” he says.  He’s been told to tell the truth and not sugarcoat it.  “My predecessor was the kind of guy who couldn’t find his ass with both hands, to tell you the truth.  He couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if there was instructions on the heel.”

Diggs plays these for laugh lines, but when he realizes that such rough talk is permitted–even expected–he continues.  “Me?  I’ve got a different philosophy,” he says.

“What’s that, coacher?” ask Gene Haskins, a beefy man down front who played for the Fighting Stinkbugs during their last winning season a decade-and-a-half ago.

“If you want to win,” Diggs says with squinting eyes that evince his seriousness, “you’ve got to pay your players enough.”


Everything I Know About Nature I Learned Indoors

A Close Reading, New Criticism-Style

When Robert Lowell and Jean Stafford reported to work for “New Criticism” proponents Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren at the Southern Review, Stafford described the scene thusly: “Letters from contributors are received with shrieks of laughter, mss. are sneered at, rejection slips go out furiously.”

Lost Puritan: A Life of Robert Lowell, Paul Mariani

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Warren:  “Your sonnet?  We stuffed it in a hole in the attic to keep the squirrels out.”


Dear Diary:

Day One of my summer internship at the Southern Review.  I’ve promised myself–and you!–to keep a journal of the literary greatness that I will be surrounded by, cross my heart and hope to die.  They say the only way to become a writer it to, you know, write, but so far I’m just doing menial stuff.  Getting coffee and hominy and grits and bacon for the big breakfasts that Mr. Warren and Mr. Brooks eat, emptying the trash at the end of the day.  This place is very organized–there are separate bins for poems, essays and short stories.

Got2Go–I get to drive a load of rejection slips down to the post office!

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Brooks, Warren:  ” . . . so I wrote ‘Despite your work’s evident merit–oh, why lie?  You couldn’t write your way out of a overnight book return chute.'”


I can’t believe how much fun this internship is!  Yesterday I got to sit in while the editors reviewed new manuscripts.  We had more fun than a barrel of monkeys (is that a cliché?) reading submissions from “big names” like Eudora Welty and William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe–how pathetic they seem when they’re begging!  Mr. Brooks read Faulkner’s cover letter aloud.  “I am submitting herewith the morganatic issue of a perfervid night in the swamps of unprotected miscegenation that his sister whom he knew but did not know was his sister down through ages of that family who in their desire to not just endure but prevail and . . . I had a point here, but it is lost now, lost like the scions of that benighted land.”

“Get to the freaking point!” Mr. Warren screamed with laughter as he cut the stamps off of the self-addressed envelopes for his collection.  I have heard  he is a closet philatelist, which is why I try to stay away from him at our “TGIF” parties.  I wish somebody would hurry up and invent the birth control pill!

TTYL–have to find a hazardous waste site that accepts hot, steaming confessional poetry.

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Stafford, Lowell


Diary Dearest–

I’m beginning to wonder whether the “close reading” that the “New Criticism” calls for isn’t a bunch of “hooey.”  I know, I’m supposed to discover how a work of literature functions as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object, but Mr. Warren and Mr. Brooks seem to have a slightly different method.

Mr. Brooks takes all the poems, puts them in the back seat of his Nash Rambler convertible, drives into town with the top down (hey–I’m starting to sound like a poet!) and whatever’s left when he gets back he accepts.

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Mr. Warren’s method is more judicious, and perhaps comes closer to the scrupulous ideal of the New Criticism as it has been imparted to acolytes like (such as?) myself.  He goes into the bathroom with a stack of submissions and whatever’s left when he comes out, gets in.  I don’t know what he does with the rejects.

First thing on my “to-do” list for today is to call a plumber.

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“Another rejection from the Southern Review!”


Oh Diary!

I am completely over the moon–they’ve accepted one of my poems for publication in the fall issue!  Now I can go back to Vanderbilt a “published poet”!  One who succeeded where wannabes like Delmore Schwartz failed!

Of course, I had to work hard to persuade the editors of my bona fides.

They both snore a lot in the morning.




Ask Mr. Car Person

Spring is here, which means driving fun time, unless your vehicle is a garbage truck or there’s a guy in the back seat with a gun who demands that you take him to an Eagles reunion concert.  How do you keep your car in tip-top shape?  Ask Mr. Car Person!

Dear Mr. Car Person:

My wife and I decided to get our daughter a new car as a surprise graduation gift.  I went down to the Toyota dealer after work to take care of it since it was my wife’s bowling night.  I called her up after I signed the papers (my wife, not my daughter–that would have ruined the surprise) and told her I got the Toyota Highlander, not the Sport model just the basic one without leather seats.  My wife started screaming and said don’t you know that if you drive around in a Highlander with the back windows down and the front windows up your head will explode, she heard it on the Today Show or 60 Minutes, she couldn’t remember which.

At least my head didn’t explode!”

Mr. Car Person, now I am worried that my daughter will forget about the back window problem some night and her head will explode and she will be permanently disfigured, which will hurt her marriage prospects as she already looks like my mother-in-law.  Any suggestions?

Durnell Holman, Knob Noster MO

“Why is that little light blinking?”

Dear Durnell–

Relax!  While the Highlander did indeed suffer from the exploding head defect from the time it was first introduced in 2001 until 2011, Toyota has added a dashboard light after the 2012 model year that gives drivers ample warning before they lose consciousness.  Bonus safety feature–if only one rear window is rolled down damage is limited to internal organs.

Oldsmobile Delta 88–sweet.

Mr. Car Person–

Last night I let my son Wayne borrow my 1995 Oldsmobile Delta 88 to take his girlfriend Sue Ellen to the Dairy Freeze, we were out of ice cream.  They didn’t get home until like 12:30, and this morning I noticed there’s a big spot on the back seat.  I asked Wayne how it got there and he says “Dad, with a front engine/rear-wheel drive layout you often get transmission fluid leaking into the back seat cushion, don’t get all bent out of shape.”  Do you think Wayne is lying?

Oren Embree, Paducah, Kentucky

“That spot?  We, uh, spilled some ice cream.  Over our shoulders.”

Dear Oren:

Our children represent the future, and we must trust them if they are ever going to mature into irresponsible adults such as us.  Because the Delta 88 featured the patented “Tilt-Away” steering wheel, there would be no need for teenagers to crawl into the backseat to “do what comes naturally.”  You are apparently projecting your unfulfilled sexual needs onto your son, and your time would be better spent trolling the internet.

Dear Mr. Car Person–

There is this girl at school who I will call “Tina” because that is her name.  She is nice to me whenever I drive to school but if I have to walk she ignores me and just hangs out with the Pep Squad.  I tried out for the Pep Squad but didn’t make it because my stupid mother put my pom-poms in the washer the night before and they came out looking like overcooked spaghetti.  How can I tell if “Tina” likes me for who I am or is just “along for the ride.”

Linda Lou Holcomb, Hoxie, Arkansas

Dear Linda Lou–

You should not hold a grudge against your mother as she apparently allows you to drive to school sometimes, which is more than a lot of kids get.  I have referred your question to the Teen Beat columnist, who will answer it if space permits.

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot!

Hey Car Person–

I have been told if your radiator overheats you can use soda to cool it down until you get to a gas station.  Last night I asked this girl Lurleen who I was on a first date with if I could pour her Diet Dr. Pepper into my six-cylinder Honda as the needle was inching up into the “red zone,” and she says “Don’t you know anything?  Diet soda only works in four cylinder engines.”  When I got to the Sunoco station out on South 65 the guy says your cylinders are scored, you need to get them sleeved quick or else you’ll have to buy a whole new engine block.  I told Lurleen she had to walk home, I wasn’t going to risk any more damage, and now she’s gone and told everybody I’m not a gentleman.  The way I see it, she should pay my repair bill.  What do you think?

Mike Dalton, Jr., Ottumwa, Iowa

Next time, come prepared.

Dear Mike–

The answer to your question depends on the “ground rules” you set before Lurleen ever got into your car.  Unless you agreed to go “Dutch treat,” your date has no liability for engine damage even if you paid for her soda, according to Dewayne Norman, a divorce lawyer who has written extensively on pre-marital dating claims.  You can get a good styrofoam cooler for $1.99 at any Kwik-Trip convenience store, and I suggest that next time you come prepared for an emergency with extra cans of soda.  The Honda owner’s manual recommends Mountain Dew.

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

Overweight Bass Players Cheer Huckabee’s Presidential Bid

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa.  The news that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had entered the 2016 presidential race sent national politicians and pundits scrambling to explain the cable news talking head’s apparently quixotic decision, but to local observers in the state with the first-in-the-nation caucuses it made perfect sense.  “From the outside, it looks mysterious,” says Iowa State University political science professor Charles Turner.  “To those of who know Iowa, it’s as plain as a pig on a sofa.”

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“In the sun-shine of your love.”


The explanation?  “Iowa is home to a large number of overweight current or former bass players,” says Turner, who himself used to pluck the strings of a Fender Bassman with the Quad City Armadillos, a soul cover band in the ’70’s.

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“Smells Like Teen Spirit–on the one!”


Huckabee has played electric bass with the group Capitol Offense since 1996, and continues to do so despite warnings from political consultants that he will be tarred by the image of the bassplayer as the moodiest and least attractive member of most rock groups.

“With the exception of Paul McCartney, girls flock to the rhythm guitarists, drummers and lead guitarists in that order,” says Jim Spaulding, who writes on the bass scene for Guitar Magazine.  “If you do a Google image search for Bill Wyman”–the former bass guitar player for the Rolling Stones–“you’ll come up empty.”

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Jack Casady:  He played for the . . . um . . . Strawberry Alarm Clock? 


Because of their subordinate status within most rock groups, bass players often neglect their appearance and become obese, at least by the flyweight standards by which rock musicians are judged.  Huckabee was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes in 2003 and was informed by his doctors that he would die within ten years if he did not lose weight.  He lost over 110 pounds in a short period of time, although he regains some weight whenever he straps on his “axe”–a Tobias Basic 4-string model manufactured in Conway, Arkansas.

“No doubt about it, bass players pay the heaviest dues and can outeat any lead singer,” says Lloyd “Buster” Wright, who performs every Friday and Saturday with the country band “Hog Jowls” at the La Quinta Inn just south of town.  “Whenever I lose ten pounds my wife says ‘Turn around, you’ll find it.'”

With New Breakthroughs, Library Science Silences Critics

HORNEL, New York.  The process of checking out a book from a library is a simple task repeated millions of times each day in America, but when Dr. Claude Nostrand, a professor of chemistry at Upstate New York State College, hands over his selection to head librarian Emily Schuskopf, it is one fraught with tension.

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“Ooo–I’m getting this, like, science-y feeling all over!”


“Master of Library Science,” Nostrand sniffs, barely concealing his contempt as he edges forward, third in line.  “Real scientists get to wear cool lab coats and blow things up,” he notes drily.  “The biggest technological problem ever solved in a library was a jammed book return.”

But Schuskopf, who has endured Nostrand’s abuse before, isn’t backing down.  “Library scientists have long been derided as poor relations to the ‘hard’ sciences,” she tells this reporter, making little finger quotes of dubiety in the air to express her contempt for the hierarchy she suffers under.  “But at least library scientists know what ‘derided’ means, which is more than you can say for this bag of molecules,” she says, nodding at Nostrand.

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“Our story hour guest today is this illiterate mook, so you’ll see what happens if you don’t read.”


The disdain that those trained in the physical sciences feel towards library scientists is due for a re-appraisal, however, as recent breakthroughs herald a new era of respect for the men and women who man and woman our nation’s stacks, checkout counters and reading rooms.  “If John Dewey walked into a library today he wouldn’t recognize the place,” says Patricia Ormond of the Croton-on-Hudson Municipal Library, referring to the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, a method of library classification.  “Of course, he’s been dead for 63 years, so he has trouble recognizing a lot of things.”

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Dewey:  “Where do you file the Mad Libs–under M or L?”


To prove her point, Ormond escorts this reporter to a back corner of the library, where a group of high school girls is gathered around a table, ostensibly to do their geometry homework but in fact giggling as they manipulate a “cootie catcher” to determine who will be their dates for the spring prom.

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Cootie catcher:  File under “Catcher, cootie.”


“Girls,” Ormond says primly, “I asked you before to use your ‘library voices’ but other patrons have complained.”

“We’re sorry,” Cynthia Lemon, a popular cheerleader, says with feigned contrition.

“That’s all right,” Ormond says.  “I was able to hack your Instagram accounts using our bodacious new server.  I don’t think any of you need to worry about going to the prom now.”

She turns on her heel leaving the gaggle of girls aghast, and enters the library’s command center, a darkened room where a bank of computers casts an eerie blue and green glow.

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“I’ve got a teenager in Zone 4 taking Lady Chatterley’s Lover into the bathroom.”


“In the past library science was about ‘inputs’–how many books we bought and checked out.  Today, it’s more rigorous.  We are the interface between the printed word and the human species,” she says, using high-flown language that would sound more appropriate in a college classroom than a community library.  “Here, take a gander at this gizmo,” she says, pointing her finger at a dial that measures volumes of bodily secretions per library patron.  The needle climbs slowly from a green “safe” zone to an amber “warning” zone and, as it approaches a red “danger” zone, she reacts sharply.

“Excuse me,” she says as she springs into action and turns on a microphone that feeds into the building’s public address system.

“Bobby Lilja,” she barks. “Do not wipe that booger on ‘David Copperfield’!”

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