Survey: Pigeons Prefer to Walk, Not Fly

NEW YORK.  This city, home to the world’s largest urban population of pigeons, has encountered a new problem in its continuing effort to get cars off the streets and their passengers on their feet.  “Most of our pedestrians are pigeons,” says New York’s “Pigeon Czar” Aaron Kalkstein.  “I don’t know if their wings or tired or what, but they apparently prefer to walk, not fly.”


“It’s only a couple of blocks–let’s walk.”

As a result, New York’s miles of pavement, hailed in songs such as “The Sidewalks of New York” and books such as Alfred Kazin’s “A Walker in the City,” have become increasingly congested as pigeons, humans and pets share the city’s concrete.


Kazin:  “Um–the smell of pigeon crap is everywhere!”

Pigeons had historically flown in New York, as most memorably depicted in the Marlon Brando-Elia Kazan film “On the Waterfront,” but baggage fees as high as $15 imposed by airlines have persuaded many pigeons that travel by foot makes more sense, at least for now.

brando
Marlon Brando, pigeon, Eva Marie Saint

“We could afford to fly, but it was a nice day, so we said ‘What the hell,’” says Ira Pigeon of Queens on a sunny afternoon recently as he strolled through Flushing.  “He could use the exercise,” said his wife Sarah, as she poked at a hot dog roll she found in the gutter.


Corncrake:  Now playing in Chekhov’s “Agafya.”

Other birds capable of flight who prefer to walk include wild turkeys, which fly only under duress, and corncrakes, which fly only to cross bodies of water, as explained in the Chekhov short story “Agafya.”  With many airlines adding fuel surcharges, flying has become increasingly expensive, say experts on pigeons, which are referred to technically by the term columbidae.  “Woody Allen famously referred to pigeons as ‘flying rats,’” says noted pigeon expert and movie critic Lyle Searles.  “That’s a false analogy, because you wouldn’t call rats ‘walking pigeons.’”


“What are you guys all dolled up for?”

While pigeons have been largely unaffected by the rise in gasoline prices, media analysts say mention of this critical issue is nonetheless obligatory in any fake news story between now and election day in 2024.

“You need to address the things that are uppermost in people’s minds,” says Phil Domke, a visting professor at the Columbia School of Journalism on the city’s Upper West side.  “Like ‘Weird Hollywood Baby Names: Threat or Menace?’”

For Contestants in National Haiku Writing Month, Focus Is Kind of Important

SOMERVILLE, Mass.  Jayne Eisenstadt will be the first to admit that she’s not the world’s hardest-working writer.  “I took an independent study because I get freaked out by the deadlines in creative writing classes,” she says as looks off into the distance, searching for inspiration.  And how did she do, this reporter asks.  “I guess I’m too independent for independent study,” she says with her lips twisted into a little moue of chagrin.

But Eisenstadt made a New Year’s resolution that she was going to change her laggard ways, and began to search for a writing competition that wouldn’t tax her tender literary constitution.  “A month to write a novel is way too short,” she says, referring to the NaNoWriMo, the contest in which budding authors write a novel in a month.  “I thought I could handle a write-a-short-story-in-a-month contest, but I froze just as I was about to click on the ‘Enter’ button.”

poetess

After scouring various free listings of open calls, she was about to give up when a friend told her about “NaHaWriMo,” a contest that only requires contestants to crank out a single haiku in a month, albeit February, the shortest month on the calendar.  “Now that, I thought, was more my speed,” she says, referring to the seventeen syllable Japanese poetry form that is like writing with training wheels for blocked, buzzed or busy budding poets.

But as Groundhog Day rolled by and Valentine’s Day approached, Jayne found herself coming up short on her haiku, which she describes as a “work in progress that’s not progressing much.  Tell me how you like it so far,” she says, as she shifts gears to the elevated tone commonly used by poetry slam contestants:

I think of you all
the time. Do haikus have to
rhyme?

She grins sheepishly, but Steve Alfrond, another blocked writer who signed up to be her “writing buddy” in the contest, gives her a little “tough love” of the sort that her less engaged friends can’t provide her.  “I think you should try harder,” he says, looking into her eyes but maintaining a cool, professional distance.

poetess1

Jayne, who is known in writer’s groups she’s quit or been kicked out of as overly sensitive to criticism, responds defensively.  “Let’s hear what you’ve written before you dump on me,” she huffs.

“Okay,” Steve says a bit warily, since he’s notorious among his friends as the “author of seven unfinished novels.”

Moon out my window
on the snow. Where does it go
during the day?

It’s Jayne’s turn to smile as she counts the syllables in the last line on the fingers of one hand.  “You came up one short, dubohead,” she says with a superior air.  “You only have four.”

Steve looks down at his pad, rests his chin on his pencil, then scratches out the question mark and re-writes the last line to read

during the day, huh?

Ask Mr. Data Breach

Pretty sure you didn’t order that helicopter that showed up on last month’s credit card bill?  Wondering how your next-door-neighbor knows your high school nickname was “Binky”?  You may be the victim of a “data breach”–and Mr. Data Breach is here to help!

selfie1
“I did everything I could to make them extremely tasteful!”

 

Dear Mr. Data Breach:

I am not sure I have a case here, but I need your help.

I work at an educational company, it has something to do with education.  Recently I asked the IT people if I could add WiFi to my phone, they said talk to Reynaldo, he handles that.

So I called Reynaldo and he says sure, come to my (his) office.  We had a friendly chat while I sat there and he fiddled with my phone, but in NO way did I make any kind of romantic advancements towards him, it was all just your usual everyday flirting.

Later Reynaldo came by and said he needed to check my phone to make sure it was working properly.  I did not think anything of it as I was in a hurry to leave, but when I looked at my phone later I noticed that my photos were opened and had been scrolled through but I chalked it up to a tiny mistake on his end and forgot about it.

Last night I checked my messages app and it looks like five nude photos of me were sent to a phone number I don’t recognize.  This is up “in the cloud” so even though he erased them from my phone the messages show up on my home computer.

Mr. Data Breach, these are very sensitive pictures because I am wearing a Spanish-American War hat to please a former boyfriend of mine who was really into Teddy Roosevelt and “rough riding.”  What with everybody being so sensitive these days I’m afraid Reynaldo might leak them to some Latino group who will organize a protest against me.

It is probably better if you call my landline at the bottom of this letter, do NOT put it in the paper!

Carol Ann Zobriski, Paducah KY

roosevelt

Dear Carol Ann–

In order to help you I would need to see the “forensic” evidence, as they say on TV crime shows.  If you will send me copies of the nude photos I will see what I can do.

dental
“Let’s knock her out with general anesthesia, then get her credit card numbers.”

 

Dear Mr. Data Breach–

I am a receptionist/billing clerk in a dentist’s office.  Every now and then I get a little behind in my bills because I do not make much money.  When this happens, I very discreetly copy down a patient’s credit card information and use it to pay for necessities such as gas for me to get to work and haircuts.  I figure if I didn’t, where would the patient be?  Out of luck with a bum tooth, is where.

I know what I do is wrong, but I have heard of something called “situational ethics” and that’s my situation, so it seems ethical to me.  I know if I’m ever caught I will have to make restitution, but will that include interest?  Rates on credit cards are so high!

Thank you in advance for your cooperation,

Therese van der Linken, Schenectady NY

 

Dear Therese–

I checked and the Code of Conduct of the American Dental Receptionists Association provides that members may not exempt themselves from that organization’s requirements using concepts borrowed from German philosophers.  If caught, you will need to complete a remedial course in Dental Profession Ethical Standards and Practices (2 continuing education credits).  Try to schedule your exam someplace you can afford without defrauding an innocent dental patient, like a Motel 6.

 

Hey there, Mr. Data Breach–

Long-time reader, first time writer!

I have a question regarding first wives.  I had one, we are now divorced, we had credit cards in both our names.  I have been getting emails from the bank recently saying “Your password has changed,” things like that.  To be frank, I can’t keep track of all my passwords so I take their word for it.  After all, they’re a big bank, they even have a minor league stadium named after them (“MegaSouthUniBankOne Park”).

Used to be you could put a notice in the classified ads saying “I will no longer be responsible for the debts of my former wife, Earleen” and merchants would go along with it.  I see a couple charges on this month’s bill for meals in restaurants I’ve never heard of, and whenever I call the 800 number I get some guy in India who has never even been to Ohio.

We always used pet names for passwords, so I figure Earleen got a new dog or cat and is using that.  Can I get a court order requiring her to disclose her password so I can monitor the bills she’s running up in my name?

Joe Don Webb, Chillicothe, Ohio

divorce

Dear Joe Don:

I’m sorry but pet names are protected under the Pet Name Privacy Protection Act of 2015, which passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress “with flying colors.”  An effective “work around” for dealing with mischievous first wives is to follow her to Bennigan’s or another one of her favorite restaurants and ask that she be paged by saying “Earleen Webb, your third slab of ribs is ready.”  That will cut down on your fraudulent charges real quick.

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

Among the Painterly Poets

He brought his aesthetic approach to the inner life of colors in a series of 10 poems commissioned in the early 1960s by one of his clients, Fuller Paint Co.

Obituary of Ken Nordine, “word jazz” poet

We were sitting at a tiny table in the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, calmly enduring the scornful remarks and sneering put-downs of the more-successful poets who bumped into us–sometimes “accidentally” spilling their drinks–as they made their way back and forth between the bar and the men’s room.

“Oh, excuse me!” they’d say in mock-apologetic tones.  “I must have been rocked by the poetic earthquake that’s shaking the world these days.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” I’d say, matching their contempt with a little of my own.  “So funny I forgot to laugh.”  Not exactly a new comeback, but–like all great art–it has stood the test of time since I was in fourth grade.


Dylan Thomas, admiring a freshly-applied coat of acrylic.

 

“Don’t let it get to you, Forest, it only encourages them,” my girlfriend Violet Orchid said.  I turned and looked deeply into her leotard, then–after she cleared her throat–into her eyes.


Violet Orchid:  “Crazy, man–crazy!”

 

We were nursing our drinks; none of us had any money in those days, unlike the capital b “Beat Poets,” who could command as much as $5 for a couplet, $7.50 for a quatrain, $20 for a sonnet!  But what did we care?  We were young, we were mad for colors, we could live on paint fumes and paint chips if we had to!

But still, we were all feeling a little down.  The Beats had captured the imagination of the nation–and try saying that five times fast–through a skillfully-executed plan of public relations.  They wisely decided to swim in a school, like fish, so that it was harder to pick off any one of them, while giving them the appearance of a full-fledged movement.  Dingbat reporters from TIME magazine swarmed the Village, looking for something to report on besides the loss of China to the Commies, notebooks in hands, asking their fatuous questions:

“So poetry–doesn’t have to rhyme?”

“No, daddy-o, don’t be a square!” the Beat Poet on Call to Answer Your Inane Questions would say.

The reporter would dutifully transcribe the obscure argot for readers unfamiliar with the crazy, wigged-out talk of the Best Minds of Their Generation, and the headline-hungry versifiers would snap up the next issue as soon as it hit the newsstands to find their slang immortalized in one of Henry Luce’s popular Glossaries:  “Chick: A female hepcat.”  Then the squares would flood our crowded little neighborhood, scouring our mean streets for espresso, bebop, and “reefer.”

“hey guys,” a voice said through the thick cigarette smoke.  It was our friend red menace, looking a little green around the gills, but upbeat nonetheless.  In pursuit of the purity of his e.e. cummings-style poetry he’d recently had the initial letters of his first and last names de-capitalized, and he was still a little puffy in the face.

“Hi red,” Violet said as he bent down to kiss her.  She had, of course, slept with him and just about every other crayon in the box, but I didn’t care.  We were into free love and no attachments; women, we guys had agreed, were basically public utilities, with periodic outages, harsh dunning when you didn’t come through with money, and spotty service during the hot summer months.

“why’s everybody so down in the mouth?” red said.

“Just look over there,” I said, my tone as bitter as my coffee.  “Don’t you get sick of The Beats hogging all the attention, when we have so much to offer the world of poetry?”

red was cool, slowly rotating his eyes sideways to take in our smug, bongo-playing competitors.  “call me crazy . . .”

“You’re crazy,” Violet said.

“i meant figuratively,” red continued, “but i don’t think the beats’ business model is sustainable.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“they’ve staked out a position as outsiders.  if they succeed, they’ll become insiders, with their pictures on the cover of time . . .”

“I think you have to capitalize the T,” Violet said.  “It’s a proper name.”

“fine,” red said.  “Time, getting teaching positions at the universities they now scorn, becoming tenured, comfortable old farts with interest-free housing loans, holding forth at sherry hours.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said.  “That doesn’t mean I can’t hate their guts.”

“knock yourself out,” red said, “as long as you pour your rage into your poems.”

I sat there and absorbed what he’d said for a moment.  Something about it didn’t sit right with my personal aesthetic.  “I don’t think the ‘angry young poet’ style is for me,” I said.

“no?”

“No.  I’m more interested in . . . art for decorating’s sake.”

“really?” red said.  “do tell.”

“Does the poet roll his words on smoothly so that there are no air bubbles?  Does he use a drop cloth so as not to spill ink on the floor?  Does he start on one side of the paper and work his way evenly around the page?”

“you make poetry sound like painting a living room,” red said.  “it’s just crazy enough that it might work.”

There was a commotion at the entrance, the kind of hubbub that only occurred when a publisher, an agent or a critic showed up, raising the possibility that one of us might be touched by fame or fortune.

I looked up and making his way through the crowd, I saw a stocky, balding man with a paunch, hardly the sort of avant-garde presence I expected.

“Forest Green?” the man asked, extending a hand that looked like a lump of recently-kneaded pizza dough.

“That’s me,” I said warily.  Had I knocked up some suburbanite’s daughter visiting the Village for a taste of bohemia?

“I’m Ed Kolewski, Finger Lakes Paint & Wallpaper, how ya doing?”

“Fine, fine.  Do I . . . owe you money?”

“No, not at all.  In fact, I want to pay you money.”

“You do?”

“You betcha.  For a twelve-poem cycle extolling the virtues of my wide selection of oil-based and acrylic paints.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Absolutely.  I’ve read your colorful poems, and they’re just the thing I need to move buckets of product.”

I scanned the room, and saw glimmers of jealousy steal across the visages of the poets who had, only a few minutes before, looked at me like I was moderate Republican running for New York City Council.

“At your service,” I said, putting on the manner of a cool businessman about to close a big deal.  “What were you thinking of in terms of price?” I asked.

“Let’s see,” Kolewski said, fingering his chin as he looked at the picturesque tin ceiling tiles overhead.  “How many poems are there in a gallon?”

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

My Yogurt Jones

Like most addicts, I can remember my first time–over forty years ago–as if it were yesterday.

I was working the grill at a snack bar at the University of Chicago when a guy named Manny–who claimed to be a vegetarian despite a gut that impressed even the campus cops–offered me a hit.

“This is good stuff,” he said as I fixed myself a cheeseburger.

“What is it?”

“Try it,” he said with a sidewise glance.  He seemed to be sizing me up, seeing if I was man enough.  As former philandering Chicago prof Thorstein Veblen observed, use of intoxicants is a mark of masculine indulgence practiced as a form of emulation among primitive tribes and affluent Americans.

Or maybe he was thinking of me as a prospective customer, the way all “pushers” do.  Probably had a lot of student loans to pay off.


Thorstein:  “Take your wife–please?”

I said “Okay” and after filling up a spoon, I took a hit.  To say that I was changed, changed utterly, as Yeats wrote in the poem we read in “Humanities 101: The Study of Literary Wholes,” would be an understatement.  It was as if my entire being had been transformed into The Body Electric–Whitman’s phrase, not mine, but he’s dead so I borrowed it.  I felt as if I was standing under a warm shower, or wrapped in a down blanket.

Yes, yogurt will do that to you.

I don’t know what it is about the stuff.  Maybe it’s the bacteria it provides, so essential to the functioning of the human body, which for millions of years used those friendly little micro-organisms to keep its intestines working properly.  Mankind’s innards have been out of whack ever since eating dirt went out of style.


“*sniff*  Is that yogurt I smell?”

And so began a love affair with a thick, semisold substance.  Sort of like Mary Van de Velde, the chubby girl who was assigned to me in my 6th grade polka troupe.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, I started out on fruit-on-the-bottom but soon hit the harder stuff; plain yogurt, the kind the Turks and Bulgarians ate in those commercials that featured an English-language voiceover saying the village elders depicted in the film were over 150 years old.  Of course there was no way to verify the claim, birth records in Bulgarian villages being somewhat deficient by U.S. standards, but it didn’t matter.  If you could eke out even another three score and ten years on top of your allotted time by eating something that tasted good–to me at least–it was a win-win situation.

And then there was the evidence of hard science; an experiment at MIT found that mice who were fed yogurt grew thicker fur and developed bigger balls that projected outwards, giving them a swaggering air.  If I ate acidulous acidophilus assiduously–and try saying that five times fast–I’d be the king of the assisted living center when I was 80; head full of hair and a set of cojones that would draw lustful stares from the mah-jong tables.

Back when I was underemployed in a series of low-wage jobs in my twenties I even tried to set up my own manufacturing operation, sort of a yogurt meth lab, like the guy in Breaking Bad.  I bought one of those home yogurt makers but I was no match for the drug kingpins.  The stuff I produced was thin, watery–nowhere near as good as the high-quality “white lightning” the yogurt kingpins cranked out.  I was hooked on the creamy, gelatinous texture they achieved.  How did they do it?  Who knows what they were feeding their cows.

Of course you have to hide a yogurt addiction if you want to make it in the highly competitive world of business, so I resorted to easily-concealed yogurt snacks; yogurt-covered raisins, yogurt-covered malted milk balls, even yogurt-covered pretzels.  The latter sound awful, but the mixture of sweet and salt added a new “kick” to my yogurt high.  I needed it, just as every junkie has to keep increasing his dose to get the same effect he got with less heroin when he was a beginner.

As long as I got my yogurt I was okay–I got married, even started a family.  I couldn’t let my kids know–I didn’t want them to go down the same bacteria-riddled road I walked every day.  When one of them would throw a yogurt container that still had some left in it into the trash, I’d dig it out and give them a stern lecture about how my parents lived though the Depression and taught me not to waste food.  Then I’d proceed to eat it, like George Costanza in the Seinfeld “eclair” episode, drawing disgusted “Ewws!” from them.  Little did they know what I was hiding.


“If you’re a lumberjack, where’s your lumber?”

Still, I wonder sometimes if I should have followed my dream and gone into the yogurt business instead of ending up behind a desk, reading–and writing!–boring boilerplate terms and conditions for home widget systems, flanges and hasps.  I could have been like those ladies I read about in The Wall Street Journal the other day who, after decades of hauling heavy ice boxes filled with yellow-colored yogurt drinks South Koreans consume to aid their health, have now been outfitted with motorized bathtub-size four-wheelers to make their deliveries.  A yogurt Zamboni–I want one!

yogurt

Korean Yogurt Zamboni

I pass among members of non-yogurt society nervously.  At quaint little New England bed-and-breakfasts you sit at communal tables for the first meal of the day, and my little bowl of yogurt and muesli looks lost among hardy Yankee types bulking up for a day of manual labor in the form of cross-country skiing by eating bacon ‘n eggs ‘n ham ‘n biscuits ‘n hash browns ‘n sausage ‘n pancakes ‘n syrup ‘n waffles.  (I have to stop now, I’m out of apostrophes.)  Inevitably some lunkhead in a black and red checked shirt and suspenders will say something like “That’s not much of a breakfast, is it? Har-har-har!”

I plead ill health, or a “small is beautiful” philosophy, or say I’m going to spend the day wandering lonely as a cloud taking the road less traveled by so I can write some poetry.  Mrs. Lunkhead usually chimes in at that point with “Oh, that sounds nice!” saving me from a potentially embarrassing revelation that, if it became more widely known would bar me from polite society and expose me to the obloquy of all right-thinking men:

I have a yogurt jones.

A Night Ride With the Girl Scout Legbreakers

          Girl Scouts in Akron, Ohio are taking vigorous steps to collect debts owed by adults who fail to pay for cookies.

                                                                   Associated Press

It’s two o’clock in the morning, and I’m lying in bed, wide awake, drenched in sweat. I know what I need–a Thin Mint cookie–but I don’t know where I’m gonna find one.

I finished my last cellophane roll of the Girl Scouts’ signature cookies last week.  The sweet treat that Akron police refer to as “brown dynamite” won’t appear on the streets again until mid-March. I can’t wait that long.

I have only two options: One, drive to the 7-11 and buy a legal pack of Keebler Fudge Shoppe Grasshopper Mint Cookies, a poor substitute for Thin Mints, the most addictive cookie known to man. “Grasshoppers” are methadone to the Girl Scouts’ heroin.

Two, try to score some black market “Thins” on the street.

I put on some clothes, stagger out to my car and head to the corner of Main and Mill in downtown Akron, a 24-hour bazaar of the illicit late-night snack trade. Here, dealers operate openly and without fear of retribution from cops who have been bought off cheaply with Caramel deLites and Samoas–-low octane stuff that hard-core addicts look down–or is it turn up?–their noses at.

I pull into the parking lot of the convenience store and head to the entrance when a short figure emerges from the shadows.

“You want the real thing, man?”

I jump, and the hair on the back of my neck snaps to attention.

“Sure,” I say innocently. “We’re talking Thin Mints, right?”

“You think I’d be out here at this hour of the night hocking Tagalongs and Do-Si-Dos?” the dealer asks sarcastically.

“Sorry–I was just making sure.” You never want to alienate your source. “How much you asking?”

“Ten dollars a box.”

“Ten dollars! That’s armed robbery!” I say, my voice shaking. “Girl Scout cookies are sold for $2.50 to $4.00 per box, depending on the troop’s location, to cover both the current cost of cookies and the realities of providing Girl Scout activities in an ever-changing economic environment. Check the website.”

“A wise guy, huh? If you’re so smart you oughta know that National Girl Scout policy prohibits the sale of cookies over the Internet. When you buy online, there is no guarantee that your seller is in fact a member of the Girl Scouts.”

She’s got me there. “Okay,” I grumble, and start to reach in my back pocket. As I do so I feel the rough grip of a hand on my wrist that pins my arm against my back. From the smell of the Peanut Butter Patties on her breath, I can tell without looking that my assailant is none other than Mary Jane “The Hammer” Macomber, long-time enforcer for the Greater Akron Girl Scout Council.

“Nice to see you again–scumbag,” she says menacingly into my ear. “I believe you owe us $24.50, not including late fees and penalties.”

I’m not about to escape the grip of the woman who has grabbed many a young girl by the bicep and told her to settle down–right now!

“Look, Mary Jane,” I say as she slams me up against the wall. “It’s been a tough year for me.”

“It’s about to get a whole lot tougher,” she says as she pushes me into the back seat of her Dodge Caravan SE minivan. “Girls–get in and buckle up,” she yells at her charges, and in an instant we are zooming down an entrance ramp to Interstate 77, the girls holding me down, singing camp songs at the top of their lungs.

Oh, Noah, he built him, an ar-ky, ar-ky, arky.”

“There are three and a half million Girl Scouts throughout America, including U.S. territories,” Macomber says to me over the din, with a tone of disgust. “Stiffs like you think we’re patsies.”

“I had a good job when I bought the cookies,” I say. “Then I got laid off.”

“Remind me to buy an extra-large box of Kleenex, so I can cry along with you,” she says contemptuously.

The girls keep singing. “The animals, they came, by two-sy, two-sy, two-sies.”

“We’ve got summer camp lifeguards to pay, gimp to buy–we’re a big business.”

“I’ll pay you back, I promise, I just need a cookie.”

“‘I just need a cookie,’” Macomber says, mocking me. “Nobody can eat just one–nobody.”

“That’s the problem,” I say. “You’re pushers!”

Elephants and (clap) kanga-roosies, roosies!

We pull into a driveway and Macomber turns off the engine. The girls push me out of the car and into a split-level ranch house, then down the stairs into the rec room. Down here, nobody will hear me scream.

Macomber orders me to sit down in a Fisher Price Kitchen Play chair, and I comply. What choice do I have?

“Now,” she says, “we can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”

“What’s the easy way?” I ask.

“Do you have a major credit card on you?”

“I barely had the strength to change out of my pajamas,” I whimper.

“Bonnie,” Macomber says to one of the girls. “Show him the polar bear trick.”

The girls giggle as Bonnie takes my hand, opens a drawer of the play kitchen cabinet and positions my knuckles on the edge of it. “Now,” she says, “Don’t think about a polar bear.”

I’m puzzled. “Why not?” I ask.

“Just don’t, okay?” She waits a second. “Are you thinking about one now?” she asks.

“Well, yeah, ’cause you keep talking about . . .”

The words are barely out of my mouth when she slams the drawer shut, causing me to cry out in pain.

“I bet you’re not thinking about one now!” she exclaims with glee.

The other girls burst out in laughter, and Macomber does nothing to stop them. So much for building character–the “new” Girl Scouts nurture skills for success in the real world.

“Maybe you’ve got some money back in your car,” Macomber suggests.

“Just some change for tolls,” I reply.

“That’s not gonna do it,” she replies coolly. “Elizabeth–let’s make the nice man a Creeple Peeple.”

A second little girl brings her vintage Thingmaker out from under a table and plugs it in.

“Who’s your favorite Creeple Peeple?” she asks as the machine warms up.

“Uh, I guess I’d have to pick Gangly Danglies,” I say.

girl-scout

“Okay–let’s make one of those,” she says sweetly as she pours the melted goo into the mold. A few seconds later, she turns to me and says “Ready?”

“Aren’t you supposed to let it cool?”

She flips the mold onto my hand, causing the hot goop to sear my flesh.

“I’ll pay–I’ll pay!” I cry. “Just stop it–please!”

“All right,” Macomber says with a satisfied air. “Julie, put some ice on his hand. Vicki, get his money.”

Vicki fishes my wallet out of my back pocket, where she finds an ATM card. “What’s your PIN number?” she asks methodically as she prepares to write it down on a Big Chief tablet with a no. 2 lead pencil.

“It’s my birthday–09-28-51,” I say, fighting back tears.

“That’s not such a good idea,” Macomber says, playing the role of good cop now. “Anybody who knows that could rip you off.”

“What would you suggest?” I ask.

“How about D-E-A-D-B-E-A-T?” she says with a smirk.

For some reason–I don’t find her funny.

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Everyday Noir.”

Me and Debussy and Our Respective Mannequins

Debussy’s personal life brought some unhappiness in his first marriage in 1899 to a mannequin, Lily Texier.

Keith Anderson, liner notes to Debussy: Orchestral Works vol. 7


*sigh*  She’s so lifelike!

I’m sitting in Maison Robert (Bob’s Place) nursing a glass of wine, waiting for Claude Debussy to come in.  He’s asked to meet me in the present–103 years into the future for him, a blink of an eye in the wacky world of time travel–to discuss his, ahem, “man problems.”

Seems that Claude has, by accident or mistake, married a mannequin.  It’s more lifelike than most, as it–she–has a name: Lily Texier.  Pretty name, but a mannequin by any other name is just a doll.


Ohio Street, Sedalia, Missouri:  Gateway to Main Street

He’s called upon me because he’s heard I’m an expert in female mannequins–which I am.  Having grown up the son of a ladies ready-to-wear man, I know my way around mannequins.  Saturday mornings would find me, if they were looking, at my dad’s store, earning money for my early onset rhythm ‘n blues record collection.  I believe the first 45 rpm record I bought was “Charlie Brown” by The Coasters and then, when I’d saved up enough for an “LP” (long-playing record), I sprang for Ray Charles Greatest Hits, hold the apostrophe.

I’d scrub the toilets, make a few sweater boxes, vacuum the carpet, maybe fix the hat display, and then expend my pre-pubescent erotic impulses spray-cleaning and wiping down the, uh, “foundation undergarment” mannequins.

There was Olga and Bali.  Also Playtex.  I was paid a flat rate for a morning’s worth of cleaning so I couldn’t spend all my time wiping the bra mannequins, but I sure as hell could try.


*sob*  “What have you done with the rest of her?”

It was hard to get close to them, though.  Most had been decapitated, perhaps because of retrograde sentiments that caused the Jacobins of the Mannequin world to send them to the guillotine, so you couldn’t strike up a very lively conversation with them.  These early mute interactions with women’s upper torsos may account for my inability to make small talk when faced with a pair of bodacious mammary glands later in life.

I look down at my watch–7:05, come on Claude baby–and as if a half measure past his cue, the great composer taps me on the shoulder.

“I was getting worried,” I say, but I was actually just getting impatient.  This is what the French call a “euphemisme,” which I think you can understand without my translating.

“Sorry I am late, I ran into a lot of traffic around the turn of the century,” he says as he doffs his chapeau–he’s bi-lingual–and takes a seat.

“Don’t apologize, it’s our damn traffic rotaries, which belie our reputation as the educated corner of America.”


Massachusetts traffic rotary: “Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo . . .”

He nods his head at the bartender and orders an absinthe.  “We don’t have any,” the guy says.

“Qu’est ce que c’est?” Debussy says, uttering the phrase I could never get the hang of in French I.  Or II, III or IV.  Literally, it means “What is it that this is?” or, more colloquially, “What-the-hell?”

“You’re just lucky you didn’t stop here a decade ago,” I say in commiseration.  “Absinthe was illegal in Massachusetts until 2009.”

“Pourquoi?” (Why) he asks.

“Because it was good, or fun, or something.  We were settled by the Puritans, and you know what H.L. Mencken said about them.”

“No, what?”

“A Puritan is someone haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, is happy.”


Mencken:  Nailed it.

“Huh,” he huhs.  “What would you recommend?”

“Get the Malbec, they can’t screw that up.”

He does as I say–we’re off to a good start–and after a few sips his tongue is loosened and he begins to tell me of his troubles.

“This Lily–I loved her so, but we never consummated our marriage.”

“Dummies are like that.”

“She was no dummy!  She was pure and fine and beautiful!”

“All the same, take it from me–the thing about mannequins is, they’re just not that into us.”

“Into?” he asks, but I’m not about to brook some high-handed Academie Francaise language snootiness.

“I know the expression sounds like Valley Girl speak, but it’s been part of the American vernacular since at least the time of George Ade, the funniest writer you’ve never heard of.”


George Ade

“How are you so wise in the ways of mannequins?” he asks.

“Nobody knows ’em better,” I say as a hard-bitten habitue of our little boit de nuite, to lapse into franglais.  “I fell–hard–for a Bali bra mannequin when I was twelve.”

“And your love was . . . how you say . . . unrequited?”

“Totally.  Didn’t get a single ‘quite’ out of it.”

“What did you do?”

“I moved on–to a real flesh and blood junior high girl.”

“Was it . . . good?”

“For me or her?”

“Either–both.”

“Well, for me, it was tough at first.  After the brooding silence of a mannequin, I hated having to listen to her inane chatter about not making cheerleader or baton twirler, and having to settle for pep club.”

“Hmm.  Je comprends.”  (He understood.)  “But things . . . got better?”

“Not right away.  Slowly we got to know each other’s bodies at Friday night sock hops.”

“Your socks . . . they hop?”

“Like mad, my friend, like mad.  Then when you take a break and sit down and share an ice-cold Coca-Cola and hold hands with your girl, you’re about to burst with passion.”

“So what did you do?”

“I waited for my chance.”

“Which was?”

“A basement party with the lights out.  Five horny freshman couples making out with mom clumsily checking every half hour to ‘make sure we had enough Chex Party Mix.'”

“Shouldn’t you make the little ‘TM’ sign over ‘Chex’?”

“I don’t know how to do that on the World Wide Web.  Anyway, if you timed it right, you’d go for a feel right after mom closed the basement rec room door on her way back up the stairs.”

“And did you?”

“You better believe it.  Why shouldn’t I?  All the other guys were doing it.  I didn’t want to get a reputation as having sub-par petting skills, two grade levels behind my peers.”

“And what did you find beneath the blouse of your . . . Lily?”


Debussy’s Lily.

“They were beautiful–just as I’d hoped they’d be.”

“And what did you do?”

I cocked my head and looked at him, like a parakeet stumped by a polysyllabic tongue-twister.  “What did I do?”

“You’re repeating things, like a parrot.”

“I’ll tell you what I did: Just what I’d been trained to do.”

“And what was that?”

“I grabbed a 32 ounce bottle of Fantastik Heavy Duty All Purpose Cleaner, sprayed her with it liberally, then wiped her clean with Bounty Paper Towels, the Quicker Picker-Upper.”

The Existentialist Starter Kit

It was a dark and stormy night when we received the late-night call that every parent of a college student dreads.

“Dad,” my son said, struggling to present a brave front in the face of the disaster that had befallen him, “I’ve become an existentialist.”


Jean-Paul Sartre:  “L’existentialisme est un babe magnet!”

 

Existentialism, like mononucleosis, is a wasting disease that afflicts college students across America almost as soon as they unpack their computers and iPod docking stations.  It is a lethal cocktail of philosophy and attitude that transforms ordinary, garden-variety adolescent slackers into arrogant and pretentious post-adolescent slackers.  There is no known cure, other than a job and a landlord knocking at your door for his rent check once you move out of a dorm paid for by mom and dad.


Albert Camus: Gauloise cigarette comes standard.

 

The central tenet of existentialism is that individuals create the essence and meaning of their lives—not exactly an earth-shattering proposition, or one that will provoke a lot of debate at this late date.  It is the execution of this doctrine in one’s daily life that distinguishes existentialism from other fraternal orders such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or the Moose Lodge.  Here is a typical interaction between parent and child before the onset of this crippling disease:

PARENT:  Go clean up your room.

OFFSPRING:  In a minute, I want to check Instagram.

Now, the same conversation, post-existentialisme.

PARENT:  Go clean up your room.

OFFSPRING:  Why would I do that?  It is not a part of who I am, and it contributes nothing to who I want to become.


Nietzsche:  Using your magnet, you can move the iron filings from his lip to his forehead.

 

I am a recovering existentialist, and am thankfully in a position to help the youth of today avoid the swamp of despair that one becomes mired in after reading too much Sartre, Camus and Nietzsche.  The trick is to inoculate one’s self with a minute dose of the streptococci of existentialism—like a vaccination—before the fever sets in.


Kierkegaard:  Note rare double letter, like “Exxon”

 

I have accordingly created the Existentialist Starter Kit, which you can apply to your-college-bound child, allowing him or her to develop the immunities needed to make it through all-night college bull sessions that lower the resistance and allow the virus to gain the upper hand.

Black turtleneck and/or beret.  If you want to be an existentialist, you have to look the part, and one of these items of clothing should be worn at all times.  Fashion tip: If you select the black turtleneck, use Head & Shoulders Dry Scalp Shampoo.

Paperback copy of L’etre et Neant (Being and Nothingness):  This work by Jean-Paul Sartre is widely considered to be the touchstone of existentialism by many people who have bought it and read the introduction, or at least the back cover.  To achieve that well-worn look, fill a sink with warm water, add a teabag and soak your copy until the pages turn a light yellow.  When it dries, it’ll look like you read the whole thing!

Name hyphen:   Are you concerned that your daughter Veneta Sue could be seduced by the siren melody of a Top 40 hit of existentialism such as Kierkegaards’ Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift til de philosophiske Smuler?  Give her a name hyphen so that she becomes Veneta-Sue, and she’ll stick to her declared major of Animal Husbandry.

Gauloise cigarettes:  Favorite source of oral gratification of French existentialists.  Don’t worry about lung cancer—it’s mainly a fashion accessory to dangle from one’s lips, and need not be lit to achieve its desired effect.

If your high school graduate faithfully uses the tools in this kit, by the time mid-terms roll around sufficient antibodies will have been built up so that when asked “Have you read any Sartre?” he or she can reply with chilly disdain—”Existentialism?  I’ve progressed beyond that.”

Which, if said with just the right mixture of indifference and arrogance, sounds really existential.

 

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

The Pickleball Coach

I’ve a sensitive subject that I need to broach–
I think my wife’s fallen for her pickleball coach.
The extra lessons, and extended sessions,
are making me suspect this racket-sport Hessian.

“It’s a game that’s well-suited for elderly people!”
she says when I ask for details ‘bout the creeple.
“Then why is he so damn . . . young?” I ask.
as she heads off with gym bag and chic water flask.

“I think you’d like it—it’s fun and social!”
“That’s the sort of thing I hate the mocial.”
“He’s patient and pleasant–unlike you.”
“With the fees we pay him, I would be too.”

“You can play with two people, and also with four,”
she says, as she sashays out the door.
I don’t know the rules, and I don’t want to learn them–
if I find her copy, I’ll be tempted to burn them.

Perhaps I’ll consent, before I die,
to try this new form of exercise.
‘Til then, she can play, and I’ll be the grouch
whose favorite sport is to sleep on the couch.

A Guy’s Guide to Figure Skating

You know, eventually, the day will come.

It’s the dead of winter.  You live in a four-sport town, but your football team didn’t make the playoffs, your NBA franchise is playing for the lottery and your local hockey team seems to trot out the heroes of the Stanley Cup squad from four decades ago a little too often.

Your wife or girlfriend turns to you and utters the six words that, strung together in the proper order, bring nausea to the stomach of any red-blooded American male.

“Is there any skating on tonight?”

Your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, as if with peanut butter, because without a rooting interest to guide you, you can’t rattle off a televised sports event of greater significance than a non-title bout in the junior flyweight division of the WBA.  Or is it the WBO?  WBC?

You’re trapped.  And, since it’s Saturday night, you decide to be nice to her–for ulterior reasons.

You hand her the remote, and head for the fridge.

Wait–come back.  You can learn to stomach figure skating.  Really.  Just follow these easy “Learn-to-Love Skating!” guidelines:

She’s Not That Into Them.  You dread the thought of watching guys salchowing around in sequins and stretch pants.  Don’t assume she wants to watch men, or even pairs, however.  For reasons that are unclear down deep, but readily apparent on the surface, women like to watch women.  You don’t watch the WNBA, do you?


Kowa-bunga!

Look at That Outfit!  In case you only pay attention to women’s figure skating when sombody takes a tire iron to an Olympic hopeful’s shinbone, the women’s outfits leave nothing to the imagination, as the foundation undergarment industry used to say.


“The yellow caution flag is out.”

Pretend It’s NASCAR.  Just as some fans go to stock car races for the crashes, and some hockey fans only get excited when there’s a fight, it’s fun to watch skating for the falls.  If the networks were smart, they’d zoom in on the point where the panties hit the ice and circle it with a John Madden-model video pen to show the circumference and depth of concave impression.

ANNOUNCER #1: Looks like Maria must be wearing husky sizes now, Carol!

ANNOUNCER #2: I think she’s been gobbling down too many linzer tortes, Dick.


Katerina Witt:  “Yes I was a Communist informant–so whatski?”

Pick a Villian.  Pro wrestling promoters learned long ago that it takes a villain to raise the ratings.  Katerina Witt was for years the Barry Bonds of women’s figure skating–unloved, even at the top of her game.  If you’re the type who hates winners, rag on the current #1–here’s a link to The Best Female Figure Skaters in the World Right Now.


Irina Slutskaya: My cup of borscht.

Pick a Favorite.  The flip side of picking a villain is to select a sentimental favorite–the wide-eyed, white-skated equivalent of the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox before they wised up and decided to win a World Series.   You can then gush over her every toe loop.  My favorite was always Irina Slutskaya; she, like me, had overcome the handicap of having a name with negative connotations.  And a need to buy our clothes in the chubby children’s department.


“Michelle was robbed!”

Get Mad At the Judges.  Everyone knows that skating is as crooked as boxing.  When your favorite skater finishes her routine, take a deep breath as she picks up her teddy bears and long-stemmed red roses and heads to the “kiss and cry” area.  Get ready to explode when the scores are announced.  “Only 9.8 for artistic expression!” you scream.  “She was robbed!”

Storm out of the room, check score of Australian-rules football game on the den TV.  Pull a nose hair or two until your eyes water, grab a Kleenex and return sniffling to the couch.

The woman waiting for you there will give you a big hug.