Aging Chanteuse Hot Again With Tribute to Internet

SAN ANTONIO, Texas. Vikki Flores is an 80 year-old chanteuse who has sung for five vice presidents, but she hasn’t had a top-selling record in over two decades. She hopes to end that losing streak with her new CD “That Crazy, Wacky Thing We Call the Internet,” an attempt to re-position herself for a youthful audience “hip” to technological innovation.


Vikki Flores

 

“I was in my urologist’s office and I read an article that said the internet is here to stay,” recalls her manager, Del Floyd, Jr. “So I figured–what the hey!–let’s do an album around it!”


See Vikki this August at the East Texas State Fair!

 

In addition to the title song, Flores sings a soothing lullaby called “I Caught Daddy Bookmarking Victoria’s Secret,” a fast-paced polka titled “I’ve Had it With My Dial-Up Connection,” and “I’ve Got So Many Passwords, I Can’t Remember Them All,” a bluesy song about a woman who forgets her six-letter combination for shopping on-line at the Metamucil website.


“Vikki, you have two very nice chimichangas.”

Flores sang for Vice Presidents rather than Presidents, according to her manager, “because her act was so hot she was a security risk.” She changed the course of history when she asked Vice President Gerald Ford to name the dish he liked best, according to Ford’s autobiography “A Time to Heal.” “I like you,” Ford replied within earshot of his wife Betty, setting off a drinking binge by the First Lady that resulted in the founding of the Betty Ford Clinic.


Dino!

 

While her music is decidedly middle-of-the-road, she attracted the attention of Rat Pack charter member Dean Martin in the late 60′s as the boozy Italian crooner called her “the best girl singer in the business.” Martin was hospitalized from the blow to his head that Flores landed after she learned of his patronizing remark, but he recovered and was eventually able to drink without the use of a wheelchair.


“Need to write your doctor about your cramps? Try email–you’ll save on stamps!”

 

The senior citizen singer consults with the recording engineer as she tries one last take of a “big band” flavored number with a bridge that tests her “pipes.” After she adjusts her headphones in the isolation booth, she finally “nails it” as her manager beams with pride:

From late at night,
to early morn
You can “surf the ‘net”
for all kinds of porn.

Flores admits her technological skills aren’t “up to snuff,” but says she’s experimenting with email as a way of keeping in touch with her grandchildren. “They’re just adorable,” she says as she affixes a “forever” stamp to her computer screen and hits “Send.”

TGIF With a Big-Balled Yogurt-Eating Mouse

In an experiment at MIT mice fed yogurt as compared to junk food developed luxuriantly thicker fur and bigger testicles that they projected outwards, giving them an air of “mouse swagger.”

                                                               Scientific American

It’s Friday night and, like every other mouse in the lab, I’m cruisin’ the scene–TGIF and all that.  I reached sexual maturity when I was 35 days old, but my life expectancy is only two years even in the climate-controlled comfort of the lab, so I’ve got to grab all the gusto I can get while the gettin’s good.

I can’t believe what some of these guys eat.  High-fat, low-fiber crap, the Andy Capp Pub Fries of the rodent world.  They’ve all got premature pot bellies and–I hoff ta loff as they say here in Boston–chin scrotums.  Gross.

Not me, I’ve been hooked on yogurt since that fateful day at The Bandersnatch, the snack bar at the University of Chicago where I was born.  I was crawling around under the grill, scarfing down a french fry here, a hamburger roll there, when I spied a little puddle of something that looked like pudding.  I licked it up and–it was like I’d seen the face of the godhead or something.  My blood sugar shot up, and I felt like I’d passed through the doors of nutrition perception.  This, I said to myself, is the stuff I’ll be eating for the rest of my days, and my self said “If you know what’s good for you” right back at me.  I had entered a realm of higher consciousness, and suddenly all the hamburger crumblies and onion rings seemed like so much awful offal.

I started to read more about the magical properties of this nectar of the gods called yogurt.  I was given a mystery novel written by common-law husband and wife team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and discovered that Martin Beck, their fictional Swedish police detective, subsisted on yogurt, coffee and beer–just like me!  I adopted his cool, detached, self-deprecatory manner as my own.  Why not?  I–like he–had the biggest pair of balls around.  I was comfortable in my luxuriously fur-covered skin.  I had–there’s no other way to put it–mouse swagger.


Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

When I arrived in Cambridge I have to say I was not impressed with the supposedly world-class mice I’d be working with.  They seemed a bit effete, distracted, almost as if they weren’t eating right.  Me?  I went through yogurt by the ton.

First Dannon fruit-on-the-bottom, then Yoplait in the plastic cones that drive skunks wild.  Then–incroyable–coffee-flavored yogurt!  And more recently, all-natural maple-flavored yogurt from hip, ironic cows in Vermont.  They’re spoiled up there, what with all the Manhattanites coming up for the weekend, leaving New Yorker cartoons lying around.

I belly up to the bar and try to block out the puerile jabbering of the hyperactive junk-food addicts who surround me.  I look at the crap they’re shoving down their pellet-holes–Jesus H. Christ.  Fatty crap you wouldn’t feed to a Goth gamester, or a couch potato sports fan who stays up all night because he can’t pry himself away from Australian rules football.

“What’ll ya have?” Smitty the graduate student assistant asks.

“The usual.”

“One strawberry-banana smoothie with wheat germ, coming right up!”

I pull myself up to my full ten centimeters in length, and the crowd of slumping schlumps parts like the Red Sea.

“Who’s the health nut?” one of them says snidely out of the side of his mouth.  I could pop him one but hey–I’m above that sort of stereotypical lab rat behavior.  I’m cool, calm, collected, and have a set of cojones that make his look like shriveled-up capers from the Museum of Forgotten Groceries.

I care not what such an inconsequential being thinks of me.  I’ll show him a thing or two once the action gets hot and heavy and . . .

And then she appeared–as if in a dream.  The most gorgeous specimen of Mus musculus I’d ever seen in my life.  And she’s making eyes at me!

The other males start to preen and strut their little courtship dance, but it’s no use.  Our eyes lock as our lips and then (I hope) our groins will a little later on.

“Hel-lo there,” I say, giving her the look–one eyebrow raised, the other slanting downwards–that the notorious faculty lothario Thorstein Veblen used to call the “physiognomy of astuteness.”  She’s cute, I’m astute–Q.E.D.

“Hi,” she says, batting her shy little eyelashes.  “I couldn’t help but notice your thick luxurious fur,” she says.  Hey–we’re mice, not Nobel Prize winners.


Veblen: “Oh what a cad am I of the academy.”

“Thanks.  You look like you keep yourself in great shape,” I say, the tried-and-true Esperanto version of “I want to jump your bones.”

“I eat right–nothing but yogurt for me,” she says.  “What’s that you’re drinking?”

“I stick to the traditional cocktails–a yogurt smoothie.  Can I . . . buy you one?”

“Sure,” she says.  Smitty belies his scientific demeanor with an extra-sensory perception of the situation and has a drink for the lady in front of her before you can say “National Science Foundation.”

“So . . . do you live around here?” I ask.  Always good to get the lay of the land right away.

“Over in Kendall Square–the Nerd Capital of New England,” she replies.

We exchange knowing glances–I put hers away in case she needs it later–and we make goo-goo eyes at each other as we sip our drinks, the way swingin’ teens used to do in malt shoppes of the 50′s.

When I reach the bottom of my drink I hesitate, knowing my next step involves a significant degree of risk.  I size her up; she’s everything a guy could want in a mouse, so fresh and un-experimented upon.  I decide to go for it–and make a gigantic slurping sound as I suck the dregs of my smoothie up my straw!

She’s taken aback for a second, so I pounce.

“You know what that sound means in Texas?” I ask.

“No–what?”

“There ain’t no more!”

She laughs, and I know I’ve got her eating out my hand.  “C’mon–let’s blow this pop stand!” I say as I grab her hand and lift her up in my arms where she belongs, like I’m Joe Cocker and she’s Jennifer Warnes or something.

We start to leave but suddenly I’m surrounded by the round-shouldered dweebs who’ve been eyeing me jealously while I put the moves on my Minnie.

“Where you think you’re going?” one of them says.

“Is that a slide rule, or are you just glad to see me?” my new-found girlfriend snaps at him.  She’s got spunk.

“Why don’t you dump Mr. Fitness here and give one of us a chance?” another says.

“I wouldn’t fuck you for practice,” she says sharply.  Must have been a stand-up comic before she settled down to a life of science.

“C’mon–what’s he got that we haven’t got?” a third interjects, and she looks lasciviously down at my crotch where the healthiest set of testicles this side of the mule barn at the Missouri State Fair are on display.

“This may be America,” she says, “but a girl still craves the crown jewels.”

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

Paging Lima Peru

I was, throughout my childhood, a cut-up.  From the time I was lined up next to Darrell Dunham in first grade as part of the Pageant of the Saints and told to portray St. Sebastian (who died from arrow wounds) and went “Gack!” while Darrell succumbed to an imaginary onslaught of stones (in his character as St. Stephen), I never missed a chance to make a smart remark or a face behind the back of a member of the constituted educational authorities.


St. Sebastian: Gack!

 

On the other hand, someone near and dear to me who is related to me by marriage and who shall remain nameless–like my wife–has been a goody-goody all her life.  She is a member of an ethnic group–Scots Presbyterians–that goes around looking for rules to obey.  She once threw her parents out of the house at the tender age of twelve because she wanted to clean and they were getting in the way.


“Go away–I’m cleaning.”

 

And yet we both, in our otherwise dissimilar childhoods, indulged in the same form of grand-scale mischief: using a public address system to broadcast a joke name to a mass audience.


Missouri State Fair

In my misspent youth, I lived in a town of 20,000 whose population was increased six-fold for ten or so consecutive days in August as hordes of carnival workers and carnival goers, 4-H youths, stock car racers, sulky drivers (I’m speaking of their vehicles, not their moods) and other human flotsam and jetsam came to town for the Missouri State Fair.


Sulky

 

The fairgrounds had a central administration building, to which lost children were brought and from which announcements of varying import were made, e.g., “The free country music grandstand show will be a little late getting started tonight because Conway Twitty’s bus ran into a Black Angus cow just this side of Marshall.”


Conway Twitty

At some point, I and the other budding wags who I counted among my friends decided it would be fun to see if we could trick the man at the microphone into making an announcement that had no basis in fact, and whose only purpose was to hear him repeat a funny name.  For some reason the first personality we fastened upon was Newton Minow, FCC chairman under President Kennedy, who had made headlines by denouncing television as a ”vast wasteland.”


Newton Minow:  “Television is a vast wasteland.  Boys and girls should be out in the fresh air, making gag announcements.”

 

I don’t recall the precise form our maiden gag took, but it was something along the lines of “Newton Minow, Newton Minow.  Please come to the Administration Building.  Your television has been found.”

Once the boy who had gulled the announcer made it outside with a straight face, we burst into laughter and ran off, only to return a few minutes later, determined to build on our early success.  Bill Fold, Chuck Roast, Jim Shoe and Douglas Fir were all duly paged, but never responded.  At some point I’m sure the poor shlub who manned the microphone got wise, and cut us off.

Fast forward–or slow forward, I don’t care–to the 1980s, when I succumbed to the charms of the woman whom I would marry.  While a smart-alecky sense of humor is not necessary for a woman to be a good wife and mother, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to overlook her extreme, and apparently genetic, irony deficiency.  But then, as on late-night cable TV steak knife commercials, I learned there was more.


“You’ll also get this homicide-quality meat cleaver!”

 

As a teenager working the night shift in a department store, she told me, she and her girlfriend had taken turns walking the floor helping customers while the other stayed upstairs on a sort of observation deck, making change and processing charge slips that shot around the store through the pneumatic tubes that were the precursor to today’s electronic point-of-sale machines.  Along with this high fiscal responsibility came control of the store’s public address microphone, which she and her girlfriend used to try and make the other crack up while waiting on a customer.

And so, as one or the other tried to keep a straight face while telling an overweight women that a chemise dress was indeed flattering on her, the other would intone, in a voice redolent of official indifference, “Paging Lima Peru.  Lima Peru, please come to the loading dock.”

Or “Melba Toast–Melba Toast.  Please report to the kitchen on the basement level.”

So remember–it’s the little things that can make the difference when you’re trying to attract a potential mate.  Never underestimate the romantic attraction that a high-risk childhood prank may have on a future marriage prospect.  Your happiness may depend on it.

The Carnival Barker: Recalling a Dying Art

Fairs–that is, open-air public festivals at which entertainment is provided for a price–are both a current phenomenon and a tradition dating to ancient Rome. Fairs tend to be held in rural areas–there is already sufficient amusement in cities–and they serve as occasions for the loosening of inhibitions that bind fairgoers in their everyday lives.


Southwark Fair by William Hogarth (1697-1764)

 

There to encourage the fairgoer to depart from his workaday virtues of thrift and reserve is the carnival barker. At the lowest level of the profession, he encourages children and adults to part with their money in the hope of winning hopeless games of chance. At the higher reaches of the guild, he entices farmers and tradesmen to inspect deformed beasts–the six-legged pig, the two-peckered billy goat; to contemplate without embarrassment a human oddity; or to purchase a ticket to a show featuring music and dancing girls.

Barkers are, within the world of the traveling carnival, the most learned of professions, glib persuaders. The grizzled carney who takes tickets on the Tilt-a-Whirl is a ditch-digger compared to the lawyerly status achieved by a barker who can coax people into a tent to look at Lizard Boy, the bearded fat lady, Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, or the bored hermaphrodite.

The licentious atmosphere that fairs create has historically resulted in public disturbances, causing governments and the respectable burghers whom they serve to regulate fairs by means of charters; one town is granted the right to hold a fair for a certain number of days, usually at the end of the summer harvest, since fairs often include competitive exhibitions of farm animals, produce and rural crafts and skills.

In fair towns such as the one I grew up in the annual event would attract 100,000 people to a county seat whose normal population was 23,000, transporting the residents from rural slumber to a moderate-sized city without moving an inch.

Left at liberty to wander the carnival midway, an impressionable young mind with an ear for a well-turned phrase becomes a connoisseur of carnival barkers. The man who claims that, within his tent, there is a boy who walks, who talks, who wriggles on his belly like a reptile, is to be avoided. We know who’s inside; it’s Brad, the kid with the bad eczema, finally turning a profit from his affliction–with the addition of a green rubber mask.

The man who drones into the microphone outside the show that promises “Live models, in the nude, definitely not for Junior!” loses our interest after awhile. Because of our age, we won’t be able to get in to see whoever’s on display inside, and the customers who do part with their money are a forlorn crew; hare lips, club foots, and teenaged boys in blue jeans and white t-shirts with rolled-up sleeves, trying to prove they are men. No wonder they have to pay good money to see a naked woman.

No, the best show, even if you can’t afford it or they won’t let you in because you’re too young, is the Club Ebony. The barker’s patter is the best on the midway, and it is recited over a thumping backbeat, a precursor of sorts to Jamaican dub and rap. Jimmy Rushing, the rotund singer who is featured on some of Count Basie’s most memorable recordings, called the come-on before the black revue the “bally-hoo.” Rushing was a product of the traveling “territory” bands of the midwest, and knew whereof he spoke.


Jimmy Rushing

 

The revue you will see more of–if you part with the price of admission–is brought out one by one; the ribald comedian, the dancing girls, the R&B house band, a soul shouter, a sultry female blues singer. Each gives a tantalizing taste of the full range of his or her talents, then stops; you don’t give away what you can sell.

When the crowd has been whipped to a froth of anticipation, the barker makes his final pitch; “It’s showtime–if you’re in line you’re in time,” he begins to call. The entertainers leave the stage and disappear behind the curtain, and the rubes follow them into the tent if the barker has done his job.

The air of sadness that hangs over a fairgrounds at night is a reflection of its artificiality; beyond the tents and the rides one can see farmland and the road out of town, and the hard work that is to be done the next day looms over the gaiety. The spectacle of the carnival is a momentary illusion for the fairgoer, and for the hard-bitten men who must strike the tents and hit the road for another town soon, it is just a job. Their manufactured enthusiasm is sustained by electricity, like the calliope one hears from the merry-go-round that the children ride.

The patter of the barkers is heard less frequently these days; traveling carnivals have nothing to bring to a small town in the summer that can’t be found on the internet every day of the year. Traveling side shows are expensive, because they require a number of talented or unique human beings, unlike automatic games of chance or carnival rides, which can be operated by a single person, unskilled and normal. The genus has evolved, and the descendants of the pitchmen of the midway can be found on Rush Street in Chicago, luring convention-goers into nightclubs to drink overpriced beer and watch pole dancers.

As a matter of fact, the last time I saw Brad the Lizard Boy was on the northside of Chicago. He was on his way to an underground film festival, and was excited about a particularly grotesque childbirth film that he’d heard about.

A taste for bizarre spectacle, once acquired, can apparently be refined but is never lost.

At the Junior Algonquin Club

It’s getting close to Labor Day, time for me to check on the kids to see how they’re doing with their summer reading lists. Things haven’t changed much in our little town since I was a boy; every spring when school gets out a prim, lavender-scented woman at our local library draws up a list of ten categories, and parents agree that each boy and girl who reads a book in all of them by Labor Day gets a reward.


Summer reading fun!

 

There’s fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, science, sports, biography, hobbies, geography and romance. I was kidding about that last one just to see if you were paying attention; the tenth category is mystery/free choice, so the aging Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew hardbacks on the shelves still get a workout, as does Duns Scotus, the Scholastic philosopher generally known as the Godfather of Free Will.

I call the boys into the den—they know what’s coming. I never actually got a cupcake when I was a kid, because—story of my life—I’d choke on one single category (usually poetry) rather than sucking it up and reading “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” My sons are the product of breeding–as you might expect–and have acquired the stick-to-itiveness of their mother’s side of the family; finish the job, no matter how inconsequential or boring, for somebody might be looking, or it could come up on your performance review.


Stevenson: “God, I was hoping I wouldn’t appear in this post.”

 

“Let’s see what you’ve got here, Skipper,” I say to the younger of the two, a “rising” fifth-grader to use the new performance-enhanced lingo of the education profession. “Well, looks like you’re going to get a cupcake, young man!” I say proudly.

“He didn’t finish ‘The Witchcraft of Salem Village,’” his big brother Scooter says, tattling on him. I’m projecting him to be a first-round draft pick by the National Security Agency in about ten years.

“Skip—is that true?” I ask. This is a subject close to my heart, as the book in question was one of my favorites growing up.

“I got too scared,” Skipper says, stiffling a snife—I mean stifling a sniff.

I lift him up on my knee to impress upon him the importance of the matter.

“Skip,” I say with as much fatherly gravity as I can muster, “it’s important for you to understand just what happened here in Massachusetts back then.”

“What?” Skip says—he’s fighting back tears.

“Here in the cradle of liberty, one of our most precious freedoms is the right to harass our neighbors if they’re really weird.”

“Like how?” Scooter asks—he’s interested now.


                         “More rocks!”

 

“Well, crazy old women, men who own land you want—you call them names, pretty soon everybody hates them, then you burn them at the stake.”

“Cool!” You know that was Scooter.

“Or you crush them under rocks until they confess,” I add.

“What if they don’t?” Skipper asks.

“Well, they’d better, because until they do, you just keep piling more rocks on them.”

I can tell from Skip’s furrowed brow that he’s somehow troubled by the superficial unfairness of our unique system of justice, admired the world over. “You don’t have to worry about somebody innocent dying,” I tell him as I plop him back down on the floor. “Once our elected officials and newspaper of record and blow-dried TV reporters start a witch hunt, they’re never wrong. Just ask them!”


Coakley: “We all make mistakes–but I don’t have to admit them.”

 

He’s mollified, so I turn to his big brother. “Let’s see, Scoots.”

He hands me his card and I have to squint to make out the title in the Poetry category. “What’s this say—‘Arsenal and Other Poems’?”

“It’s Ariel,” he says correcting me, referring to the landmark second volume of poems by Sylvia Plath, the overrated poetess who grew up one town over from us.

“Really?” I say, and I try to work as much skepticism into that word as I can. “Who suggested that book?”


Plath: “What’s your problem–everybody else likes me.”

 

“Ms. Frobisher,” he says, referring to his fifth grade teacher, a young woman whose hyper-political approach to earth science caused our little elementary school to crap out of the pâpier-maché volcano regional tournament without making the finals for the first time in the 21st century. That’s what you get when you blame dinosaur extinction on George W. Bush.

It’s time for Scoot’s Little Lesson in Life from dad. “Scoots,” I say gently but firmly. “That book has a lot of racist and anti-Semitic images in it.”

His faces clouds over. “That means it’s bad, right?”

“I don’t think so—all the critics thought it was great.”

“But–they told us on Diversity Day,” Scoots begins, but I cut him off.

“Diversity is for saps,” I tell him. “When you’re a liberal poet—like Plath or Tom Paulin–you can say anything you want!”

I’m not sure they’re persuaded, but I’m the only published poet in the house, so they defer to my aesthetic ruling.

“Well, an objective judge might disagree with me, but I’m your dad so I’m going to sign your cards.”

“Yay—cupcakes!” Skipper yells.

“Not so fast, young man,” I say, putting the brakes on his enthusiasm. “Cupcakes are dessert. First you have to have a wholesome dinner.”

“But we get an afternoon treat,” Scooter says.

He’s right, and I see from the fancy faux-antique clock that my wife bought to make my man-of-letters cave less comfortable that it’s three o’clock, the Pavlovian point at which by routine the boys’ mouths start watering for a snack.

“All right. But you can’t have a cupcake on an empty stomach. First you’ve got to have cocktails.”

The two look at each other as if I’m daft–they score very high on aptitude tests, by the way. “We can’t drink anything in the liquor cabinet—you told us,” Scooter says.

“We’ll make some play cocktails. Why don’t you call up Mary Beth Schoenen and Tommy Valvo and ask them to come over.”

“If we do, there won’t be as many cupcakes for us,” Skipper says.

“I knew you guys would come through, so I got enough to go around. I want you kids to learn how to have a literary soirée.”

“What’s a . . . swa-ray?” Scooter asks.

“Since you’re both so literate, now you ask your friends over for a Junior Algonquin Round Table Party!”

“What’s that?” Skipper asks.

“Well, the Algonquin Round Table was a bunch of funny men and women, all very well-read. They’d get together and make smart remarks about each other.”

“Whenever we do that mom tells us not to be ‘fresh.’”

“I know, bub. She’s just trying to make sure you grow up to be a well-behaved, respectful young man so you can toady up to people who have more money than you.”


Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley

 

“Why would I want to do that?” Skipper asks.

“So they’ll give some to you!” I fairly shout. I’m tempted to say “Duh,” but I refuse to corrupt the boys’ speech the way I undermine their morals.

“Oh, I get it,” Skipper says.

“Great. Well, let’s get going—you call your friends, I’ll set the kids’ table and put out the Hostess snack treats.”

The boys’ friends arrived in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, and Mary Beth Schoenen almost wouldn’t come in when she saw the mess the lamb had made on the floor. “Eww,” she said. “Lamb doody!”

“I’ll clean it up, you kids sit down and start being witty.”

Each of the boys took a card from our Junior Algonquin Club deck; Skipper draws Robert Benchley, my favorite because we both lived in Worcester, Mass., one of two—count ‘em—two Roundtable members to come from the Industrial Abrasives Capital of the World, the other being playwright S.N. Behrman. Scooter picks George S. Kaufman, another playwright and author of several Marx Brothers screenplays; Tommy Valvo goes last because he’s guest—the transvaluation of values as my buddy Fred Nietzsche would say–and selects . . . Harold Ross.

“Who’s he?” Tommy asked.

“Only the greatest editor The New Yorker ever had.”


Harold Ross

 

“What’s The New Yorker?” Tommy asked.

“It’s the magazine that keeps turning our dad down,” Scooter said. He really knows how to twist the knife.

Mary Beth has only two choices, Ruth Hale and Dorothy Parker. I cross my fingers and hope against hope that she won’t pick Hale, a tiresome feminist and a freelance writer more successful than me.

“Turn it over, Mary Beth,” I said. Yes—Dorothy Parker!

“I don’t want to be her,” Mary Beth said, her little mouth turned upside down into an exaggerated frown.

“Why not, sugar?” I asked.

“She was unhappy.”

I don’t have any daughters, so I was a bit uncertain as to how to proceed. “Mary Beth—think of all the happy women you know, like your mom and her friends.”

“Yes?”

“Don’t you think they’d be much happier if they knew that people would be repeating their funny jokes nearly a half century after they died?”

She thought about this for a second; I could tell she was struggling with the concept of posthumous fame. “I don’t think so,” she said finally.

“Why not?” I asked, genuinely interested in the workings of the female litterateur’s mind.

“Because my mommy wants a new Sub-Zero refrigerator—she told my daddy.”


“Hmm–more venom, or more spleen?”

 

“Oh, okay,” I said. I should have known that people in our wealth-obsessed suburb would make bad choices and prefer material comforts while they were alive to acclaim that they couldn’t enjoy once they were cremated and their ashes scattered over unsuspecting sunbathers on Cape Cod.

“Well,” I said to Mary Beth, “in Junior Algonquin Club, as in life, you have to play the cards you’re dealt, so you’re going to have to be Dorothy Parker, okay?”

“Fudge!” she said bitterly, and then—much to my surprise—blurted out a little quatrain that sounded like something Parker might have written when she was a girl:

You tell me how I should prefer
Future fame to stuff in the present,
I disagree, and I demur
I’m not a stupid peasant.

“That’s very good for a little girl,” I said. “Where did you learn that?”

“We did a unit on Depression as a Fuel to Creativity in Language Arts,” she says, before excusing herself to bang on the bathroom door. “I’m not through!” Skipper calls out from within.

Things settle down in a bit and I make the kids a pitcherful of lemonade “martinis” that I serve with a raisin garnish. Skipper starts to gulp his, but I remind him to observe ceremonial conventions. “Somebody needs to propose a toast.”

“I had toast for breakfast,” Tommy says.

“Not that kind of toast—you say something fitting about the occasion.”

“Like what?” Mary Beth asks.

“Well, for example, if one of you got an A on a paper . . .”

“We all get A’s on our papers,” they say in unison. I’d forgotten about grade inflation.

“Okay, well, if one of you just got a big part in a school play, or won the talent contest.”

I see four sets of lips purse together as they think for a moment. “I got a gold star on my drawing the other day.”

“Okay, let’s work with that. Guys—anybody?”

Skipper, the natural gentlemen, rises to the occasion: “To Dorothy,” he says as he stands up and raises his glass. “On her latest, but most assuredly not her last artistic triumph!”

“Hear, hear!” I say. We all take a sip of our lemonade-tinis.

“Now what?” Scooter asks.

“Now you all make cutting remarks about each other. Mary Beth—why don’t you go first?”

She looks around the table until her eyes lock on Scooter, as if he’s an animal caught in the crosshairs of her rifle scope. “You stink!” she cries out.

“Do not!” Scooter fires right back.

“Kids, please,” I say, intervening as a thoughtful, conscientious parent should when a party game threatens to spin out of control.

“But you told me to!” Mary Beth pleads by way of excuse.

“I should have made myself more clear. You have to proceed by indirection if you want to be known as a wit.”

“What does ‘indirection’ mean?” Skipper asks.

“It means you have to insult your friends in an obscure, roundabout way. So if Mary Beth thinks Scooter stinks, she can say ‘I think I’m going to change seats. Being downwind from Scooter is like walking along the beach at low tide.’”

“Ew!” Tommy says, holding his nose. “P.U.!”

They all giggle except Scooter, who is not known for his adherence to high standards of personal hygiene.

“Okay, Skip—why don’t you give it a shot,” I say, encouraging my younger son who can be something of a wallflower in grade school social settings.

He looks around the table, and both Tommy and Mary Beth put on their most innocent faces, hoping to divert whatever spleen Skip may be capable of venting onto someone else.

That someone is, naturally, Scooter, who has made his little brother’s life a living hell for the better part of a decade, what with noogies, wedgies, Indian sunburn and—most painful of all—“monkey bites,” a hard clamp with the hand to the region of the thigh right behind the knee.

“Can I have your cupcake, Scooter?” he asks after a moment, in the sweetest, most genial voice you can imagine.

“No, dubohead,” Scooter snaps. “Why would I do that?”

“I didn’t think you’d still be hungry,” Skipper says, “after picking your nose and eating it all day.”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Scooter and Skipper Blow Things Up!”

Someday All This Crap Will Be Yours

When I saw the news I gulped involuntarily; a man riding a bike had been struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver not far from where I make the turn to head home from my Sunday morning ride.

This tragedy came close on the wheels of a near miss a few weekends before: a car had crashed through the front window of the little cafe that marks the halfway point of my ride, and I had been sitting there half an hour earlier sipping my coffee, thinking how life was good like the idiots say on those t-shirts the kids pay premium prices for.


It coulda been me!

 

It was beginning to seem that exercise had become a brutally-efficient middle-aged male herd thinning device, what with these accidents and the first Cape Cod shark attack in a century this year, and it caused me to take stock of my life. I’ve got two sons in their twenties, but no grandchildren. Both boys have long-term girlfriends, however, so the prospects are good that my DNA will, as my buddy Bill Faulkner puts it, not just endure but prevail. I like both girls very much, and while I want to live to a ripe old age, I’ve got to think about what will happen after I’m gone.

There’s Maya, the free-spirit. She was all-conference wing deep on her college ultimate frisbee team, speaks three languages, Dean’s List all four years. For her senior community service project she taught the polka to disadvantaged Chicago youth who had lost touch with their Polish heritage. Believe me, if anybody’s going to change the world, it’s this young lady.

Still, I wonder sometimes whether her charitable tendencies might someday get the better of her. What if she starts a foundation to teach synchronized swimming to kids with Osgood Schlatter’s Disease and blows a hole in my estate? I don’t want to rule things from beyond the grave, but I don’t want my assets squandered, either.

 

 

The other one–Sloane–is just as nice, but totally different. She grew up in a sailing family in Marblehead, Mass. It’s pronounced “marble-HAY-Yed-duh” by long-time residents, a shibboleth that separates old money from newcomers. The contorted sounding reflects the schizophrenia of the New England WASP: the first syllable expresses proper Puritan humility, while the 4-on-3 ending lets the working stiffs know you’ve still got enough gumption to boss your vassals and serfs around.

Sloane’s been surrounded by money all her life–her mom and dad have his ‘n hers J 24 sailboats that they take out on weekends for “chowder” races. I don’t have the heart to tell them you can get chowder at the fish market for less than the cost of a sailboat, and I’m somewhat concerned that their daughter has developed a taste for the luxe life.

The thing I want to avoid is a fight over my accumulated wealth. I don’t want to see the two branches of the family square off in some kind of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce squabble that will enrich only asshole lawyers like myself.

So yesterday, I invited the girls over–without the boys–to talk to them about my estate, and how I’ve made provision for both of them. I sat them down in the family room and, after superficial pleasantries were exchanged, it was time to get serious.

“Girls–or perhaps I should say ‘gals’–I want you both to know that if something terrible were to happen to me, both boys are going to be taken care of very generously in my will. I don’t want either of you to be envious of what the other has–okay?”

They look at each other, then back at me.

“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” Maya says.

“Me neither,” Sloane says

Kids–they’re so innocent when they’re just starting out in life. I don’t want to burst the little bubbles they’ve been living in, but before too long they’ll run smack dab into adulthood and real world responsibilities. They’ve got to start learning the cold hard facts of life sometime.

“Well, for instance,” I begin. “Take my record collection.”

I point over their shoulders, and the girls turn to the shelves above our “entertainment center,” which are filled with CDs, albums, even 45s.

“I’ve made a special effort to build a collection that can be split fairly right down the middle so that you won’t have to liquidate it and split the proceeds–after estate taxes, of course.”

“That’s okay,” Sloan says diplomatically. “I . . . don’t really like jazz.”

“It’s more than jazz,” I say reassuringly. “It’s R&B, soul, spirituals. To give you just one example, I have two Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson CDs, his Greatest Hits and ‘What the Hell is This?’ Some people would say that’s not fair, the girl who gets the Greatest Hits comes out way ahead, but what they don’t realize is the other album has ‘I Don’t Want to Be President’–which is not on the Greatest Hits CD!

They look at each other and I think the lengths to which I’ve gone to be fair are starting to register. “Wow, that’s great,” Maya says.

“And ‘Boogaloo Down Broadway’ by The Fantastic Johnny C? Whoever gets that, the other girl gets ‘Funky Broadway’ by Wilson Pickett.”

“That’s super that you’re trying to be so fair,” Sloane says. For a moment there I thought she was stifling a yawn–but I know she’s been afflicted with the Curse of Bruxism; probably just stretching to keep her jaw loose.

“Music’s been a big part of my life,” I say, “and I want my descendants to appreciate the best and highest products of American civilization.”

“Thanks,” Maya says as she starts to stand up.

“Wait,” I say, not wanting to sound like a late-night cable TV come-on, but I can’t avoid it; “there’s more.”

“Like . . . what?” Sloan asks.

“Well, there’s literature.”

“I like to read,” Maya says.

“Then you’re going to love my collection of early 20th century comics.”

“You collect comics?” Sloane says, apparently incredulous at her good fortune.

“Yep. One of you girls will get my Katzenjammer Kids.” I see blank stares–perhaps Hans and Fritz are a bit too recondite for the girls, who’ve been forced to specialize early in their academic careers. “And the other will get Krazy Kat–see how it works out with each of you getting two capital K’s?”

The girls look at each other, each with a little moue on her lips. “It does seem awfully . . . fair.”

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be, that’s the way I want it,” I say with Solomonic wisdom. “Now you may notice that these comics–they contain a good deal of violence in them. Mice throwing bricks at cats, little boys setting their father’s shoes on fire–while their father is in them. Innocent stuff like that.”

“Are they really something . . . we should let our kids read?” It’s Maya–she’ll make a great mom someday!

“Absolutely!” I say. “It was good enough for the boys and for me and for my father, a member of the greatest generation who had to have a deep capacity for violence in his heart in order to defeat the Nazis!”

The greater seriousness of such a trivial aesthetic choice causes them to fall silent for a moment.

“Gosh,” Maya says. “I never knew our basic freedoms could come down to such an apparently insignificant thing like . . . a comic book.”

“That’s what our forefathers fought and died for, kiddo,” I say, giving her a wink that I hope she won’t take the wrong way.

“Is that . . . it?” Sloane asks. Probably wants to be alone with her thoughts for a while to ponder the gravity of everything I’ve revealed to them today.

“One more thing,” I say. “Let’s go out in the garage for a second.”

We make our way out to our spacious three-car garage, where vehicles from model years 2011, 2008 and 2004 sit snug and cozy, protected from the depredations of the mean streets of half acre minimum lot size suburb.

“Take a look,” I say.

“I’m not really into cars,” Maya says. “Whichever one Sloane wants is fine . . .”

“I’m not talking about the cars, hon,” I say as I drape my arms over their shoulders. “Take a gander at that state-of-the-art recycling center over there.”

The two of them lift up their eyes to the far wall, where separated neatly into brightly-colored bins are plastics, paper, cardboard, glass–you name it, we recycle it

“Is that . . . yours?” Maya asks, obviously impressed that I’m such an earth-head.

“Yep,” I say with pride. “Now count off the containers.”

The girls count from left to right, and Sloane says “There’s ten, right?”

“That’s right–five for each of you,” I say, perhaps a trifle smugly, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished in life.

“So someday,” Maya begins, “all of this . . .”

“Crap,” Sloane says, finishing the thought her future sister-in-law left hanging out of courtesy.

“Will be ours?” Maya says.

“No, just the bins and containers,” I say. “I’m taking the crap to the dump next Saturday.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Kids: They’re Cute When They’re Young.”

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,” Emily 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.”