Got a beef about a surly clerk at the license renewal counter? Wondering if you can re-take your vision test now that you’ve got contacts? Ask the Department of Motor Vehicles Action Reporter, he’ll cut through the red tape!
Dear Department of Motor Vehicles Action Reporter:
I have been a faithful patron of the Missouri Department of Motor Vehicles since I got my first learner’s permit back in 1964. Whenever I need to renew my license or registration, I always “go to the source” rather than making a federal or even a local case out of it.
Anyway, I “gifted” my 2004 Toyota Camry to my granddaughter Vernice for high school graduation, she had already stained the back seat doing I-don’t-want-to-know on graduation night. I bought a new Subaru (I know, it’s supposed to be a lesbian car, why didn’t anybody at the dealership tell me?) and was assigned license plate number RH666V. Department of Motor Vehicles Action Reporter, you should have seen the looks of horror when I drove into the parking lot at New Hope Church the next Sunday.
As you may know if you are religious, “666” is the mark of the beast with seven heads and ten horns in the Bible, and now there are rumblings of a movement to get me “shunned” because my license plate has revealed that I am the Bride of the Antichrist. There are only two Missouri Synod Lutheran churches in town, and I don’t want to leave New Hope because the other one isn’t air-conditioned.
Thank you in advance for your help.
(Mrs.) Janice Lee Ann Mosby
Florissant, MO 63034
The one that isn’t air-conditioned.
Dear Janice Lee Ann–
I checked with Sgt. Jim Hampy of the Missouri State Highway Patrol who said that you are allowed to turn your plate upside down so that the 6’s look like 9’s for religious reasons. He also said you can return that Subaru under your state’s “Lemon Law” if you were fraudulently induced to buy it by a salesman who did not disclose its gender.
Hey there DMV Action Reporter–
Long-time reader, first-time writer. I have been coach of the Lady Indians girls hockey team at Assaquinet Regional High School for the past 34 years. (Yes, Assaquinet is an Indian name, and no we aren’t changing our mascot just because some underemployed vegan hipster liberal arts major doesn’t like it.) I applied for a vanity plate that would say “ASSMAN” but was turned down by the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles on the grounds that it was “lewd and/or lascivious” and might “tend to offend other drivers or corrupt impressionable youth.”
Mr. DMV Action Reporter, “Assman” is not intended to be pornographic, the girls in my program have been calling me that for years as a token of their affection and appreciation for all I’ve done for Assaquinet High. You can ask my wife Sharon, who played for me from 2010 to 2013, or my first wife Carole, who played for me from 1986 to 1989.
I am willing to make a political contribution to “grease the skids” in this matter, but would prefer not to spend more than $50.
“There’s nobody in line, but you still have to wait!”
Dear Mr. Holcomb:
I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with the DMV on this one. If we don’t draw the line somewhere with today’s young girls, they could end up back-combing their hair, popping bubble gum in church or drinking Coca-Cola laced with aspirin really fast through a straw. Just be thankful you have a “farm team” you can scout for prospects when you dump your current wife.
“Now hop on one leg and make a noise like your favorite animal.”
Dear Department of Motor Vehicles Action Reporter:
My wife Ginger and I are getting up in years and have begun to think about drawing up a will. Unfortunately, we have been stuck in the “LICENSE RENEWALS ONLY!” line at the satellite registry office for six hours, and we still have the vision test and the Senior Citizen Cognitive Decline test to go. We are both concerned that we are going to die here, leaving our assets to be scooped up by some shyster lawyer in probate court.
We are wondering if it is legal to draw up a will on the back of a DMV form. There are plenty of people in line who could serve as witnesses, and we have a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts “Munchkins” to offer as an inducement.
We appreciate your help.
Vernon and Ginger Morgraine
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Morgraine–
You’re in luck–Ohio is one of the few states that requires only two (2) witnesses to a will, and not a pesky notary public to “attest” to their signatures. Use the $2 you will save on notary fees and buy ten more “Munchkins” for your new friends!
The mozo was an old man with a bad leg named Luis who had fought at Torreon and San Pedro and later at Zacatecas.
The charro stood leaning against the front fender of the truck with one thumb in his carved leather belt smoking a cigarette.
–All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
We rode for two days straight into the high country up where the commas stopped growing and there was nothing but scrub brush and rocks.
Do we have enough commas to make it to Saline County my unnamed companion asked.
I don’t know you cain’t have none of mine.
We’re gonna need a lot.
Because if we don’t have commas pretty soon we won’t understand each other.
Feliz Navidad I said.
It’s not Christmas.
I know but we are supposed to lace our conversation with random un-translated Spanish to show we are authentic or something and that is just about all I know except for Carlos Santana.
He is not a holiday he is a rock guitarist.
I know that.
You should also know piso mojado so you don’t slip on wet floors.
Fine I will learn that too.
Our horses carried us up the hill slowly as if they were going to the end of the earth and their deaths and an afterlife where they would be free from suffering.
Our horses are fatalistic no?
Wait–who is talking.
I know it is you but who are you I lost track.
We turned our horses around and went back down the hill to the point where I said Feliz Navidad and figured out who was who and started back up the hill again.
As we came over the rise we could see clear to the town of Tyler Texas which had recently lost its comma in a tornado. We encountered an old mozo with a bad leg making their way up the hill toward us.
Hola the mozo said.
Hello I said because even though I didn’t know Spanish I knew enough to know he was saying hello. What is your name?
My name is Ramon.
And what is the name of your bad leg?
His name is Luis.
These are good names my companion said.
You could do worse I said.
Actually you mean their parents could have done worse nobody names themselves.
You have a point I said but if you comb your hair right maybe no one will notice. How come your bad leg has a name I asked the mozo.
It is because he misplaced my modifier the leg said.
Where did you see it last?
It was in my saddlebag when we left Juarez the mozo said.
Maybe if you broke up your long run-on sentences into smaller ones they would fit better and would not fall out my companion said.
There you go again I said cutting him off at the root. I have told you time and again to pace yourself we’ve got a two-day ride to the next chapter.
You could put in a semi-colon every now and then the bad leg named Luis said that would help.
I looked at Luis through narrowed eyelids. What makes you so bad I said.
Did you not read the little squib that introduces this piece Luis said I fought at Torreon and San Pedro and later at Zacatecas.
That is a lot of fighting for just a leg my unnamed companion said how did you pull it off?
It is simple to pull something off a leg the mozo said boots socks huaraches all of them easy-peasy.
Humph I said.
Look my companion said there is a charro coming this way in a truck.
Charo? The multi-untalented actress comedian flamenco guitarist and ubiquitous talk show guest whose full name is Maria del Rosario Mercedes-Benz Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza and who is known for her trademark phrase cuchi-cuchi the mozo asked.
No. Charro with two r’s meaning horseman.
If he is a horseman why is he driving a truck the leg asked.
The same reason police dogs do not wear badges I said.
The truck of the charro came to a stop and he got out along with his thumb which was smoking a cigarette. Buenos dias the thumb said.
I looked sideways at the two can I give you some free advice I asked.
As long as it is worth every peso we pay for it the charro said.
So what is your advice to us the thumb asked without removing his cigarette which dangled precariously from his lips.
This is no country for non-smokers so go ahead it don’t make me no never-mind but.
Yes the charro said.
Don’t go dangling your modifiers around here you may never see them again.
This piece appeared originally in The Spectacle, Issue no. 8.
WORCESTER, Mass. This city in central Massachusetts is midway between Boston and the bucolic Berkshire Mountains, the latter being home to many spas where the residents of the former can get away from the bustle of the city. “I try to get Mike out here once a year,” says Linda Rutazanski about her commercial real estate broker husband. “I’m afraid if I don’t he’s going to die of a heart attack, strangle his boss or run off with his secretary.”
But as with any health remedy, there is a possibility of an overdose, as Mike’s friends Larry Utz and Jim Narberry learned late last night when they got an urgent text message from their friend. “Either of you guys there?” it read. “I’m having a reaction to Linda’s liver detox regimen–can you help?”
“We’re on it,” Narberry texted back, and with a call to Utz the two arranged to meet Rutazanski here for emergency treatment at Moynihan’s, a neighborhood bar in the Main South district.
A call was placed to the owner, Jerry O’Riley, to have adequate medical supplies and personnel on hand when the three men met.
“How bad is it?” O’Riley asked.
“I think he may have been exposed to cucumbers on his eyes,” Utz said, his voice barely under control.
“Oh no–not that!”
“That is serious,” O’Riley said. “I’ll tell Smitty”–the bartender on duty Saturday nights–“to get a pitcher of beer ready.”
As the Rutazanskis’ Subaru pulls up outside, the three men leap into action like a pit crew at a NASCAR race.
“Is he going to be okay?” Linda asks.
“No way of knowing until we get him inside,” Narberry says. “What–exactly–did you subject him to?”
“I signed us both up for a Liver Detox weekend,” the wife says as she watches helplessly while her nearly-lifeless husband is wheeled into the bar. “No alcohol, lots of cauliflower, cabbage, kale . . .”
Utz looks into her husband’s glassy eyes. “You didn’t make him eat broccoli sprouts–did you?”
“Well, yes,” the pallid man’s wife admits after a few seconds’ hesitation. “Was that so . . .” she begins, but Narberry cuts her off.
“Get some quahogs into the toaster oven,” he shouts, “STAT!”
Female liver detox devotees, while well-intentioned, often causing lasting damage to men’s bodies says Dr. Clyde Macy of the Center for Masculine Health, an expert in “retoxification” treatment. “The male body is a very delicate thing,” he notes while examining a computer printout of salt, fat and alcoholic beverage intake among 1,250 married male subjects. “If you suddenly eliminate one of these three essential food groups from a man’s diet, the result isn’t toxic cleansing but toxic shock.”
Mike Rutazanski is wheeled to a booth on a gurney, then propped up to receive an emergency dose of a drug cocktail that has been successfully used to reverse the adverse effects of liver detoxification: a shot of ginger brandy, a bag of Andy Capp Pub Fries, a Narragansett beer, and plate of stuffed quahogs, a tough clam whose taste and texture has been unfavorably compared to an L.L. Bean boot.
The patient begins to show signs of life as the injection reaches his vital organs, and a chastened Linda Rutazanski pats his arm as she looks lovingly into his half-closed eyes.
“Can you ever forgive me, sweetie?” she asks over a lump in her throat.
“Sure,” her husband mutters in a barely audible voice.
“I had no idea good health could be so dangerous.”
BOSTON. It was a scene that would have been hard to imagine not too long ago; perennially sold-out Fenway Park with baseball players on the field, but no fans in the stands.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said groundskeeper Mel Carnaki of Medford, Mass. “Until they discover a vaccine for the COVID virus that’s more effective than a placebo, I’m social distancing from people besides my mother-in-law.”
In order to lend an air of verisimilitude to radio and TV broadcasts, the Sox decided to generate artificial crowd noise to go along with cardboard cutouts of fans scattered through the stadium. “We want everybody watching at home or listening in their cars to get the feel of a regular game,” said Emily Norgran-Phillips, Director of Fan Experience. “We have a smorgasbord of familiar sounds to make people think nothing’s changed except we lost our best player, Mookie Betts, so we’ll probably suck for a few years.”
The 75 plus “samples” of traditional Fenway Park noise include a constant crowd “murmur” when the ball isn’t in play and “oohs” and “ahs” for home runs, as well as complaints about the smell of the ballpark’s traditionally odoriferous restrooms. “Geez,” a women’s voice with a working class Boston accent is heard to say as starting pitcher Nate Eovaldi took the mound. “It smells like my first husband’s armpit in there.”
No trip to Fenway pre-coronavirus was considered complete without an unwelcome spray of beer from a clumsy fan returning to his seat, and the for-now anonymous Red Sox employee working an iPad to bring the sounds of the past to the empty stadium of the present is on the case.
“Hey, you spilled beer on my kid!” an outraged father’s voice exclaims.
“Did I tell your wife to dress him in a $90 shirt with a freaking polo player on it?” a gruffer voice replies. “I don’t think so.”
The Sox were the last major league team to field an African-American player, Pumpsie Green in 1959, and given the team’s fraught history in this area the decision by the front office to paint a large “Black Lives Matter” on the outside of the stadium was met with derision by one artificial fan. “Who are you kidding?” a wiseacre voice complains. “You think I’m gonna take a lecture on race from a team that turned down Jackie Robinson?”
On July 25, 1907, a boy named “Cornelius” was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to John H. and Katie Swan Hodges. His last name was given as “Hodges”—not “Hodge” as some have claimed.
Johnny Hodges’ birthplace, 137 Putnam Avenue, Cambridge, Mass.
There are several reasons for the uncertainty as to the spelling of the boy’s last name: the father’s name appears as “John H. Hodge” in the City of Boston’s record of the couple’s 1896 marriage, and as an adult the son displayed a curious indifference to this vital statistic. He reportedly owned a rubber stamp of the name spelled “Hodge” with which he marked his luggage, and records of American Federation of Musicians Local 802, the union that he was a member of in New York City, give the spelling as “Hodge” from 1928, when he first joined, until 1948, when it is corrected to “Hodges.”
1945 publicity photo of Hodges.
Most sources suggest that Cornelius Hodges had only one sister, but U.S. and Massachusetts official records confirm that John and Katie Hodges had three daughters. The first was born February 24, 1897, also in Cambridge, and left unnamed at the time her birth was recorded, as was frequently the case in those days; she was subsequently named Claretta. The second was born July 1, 1899, at the Boston Lying-In Hospital. The girl was again unnamed when the record of her birth was made, but would be called Daisy B. The third daughter was born May 18, 1902, in Cambridge, and was named Cynolia. She would go by a name other than that which appeared on her birth certificate—Josephine.
As would her little brother. The name “Cornelius” was soon dropped and by the time of the 1910 U.S. Census, when he was three, his family had reconsidered their christening choice; he is listed then as “John C. Hodges,” and “Johnny” is the name by which the world at large would know him. The name “Cornelius” had peaked in popularity among Americans in the 1880s; it was often given in talismanic tribute to business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), but it was a playground burden to boys whose parents hoped his Midas-like touch would pass to their sons. (The author, whose full name is Cornelius John Chapman, speaks from experience).
David Stone Martin cover of a Hodges EP.
Nicknames, unlike given names, are applied by one’s family and friends–or enemies–after our features, characters and personalities have developed a bit, and not at the baptismal fount. As Herman Mellville put it in Bartleby, the Scrivener, nicknames imply “cherished disrespect and dislike” “under the form of merriment,” and are thus typically given (in the case of those we like) if we want to kid them a little. Johnny Hodges went by seven in all, the most enduring being “Rabbit,” and several grounds for it have been proposed: First, that Hodges was fast afoot, able to escape truant officers who pursued the errant student through the streets of Boston. This was the story Hodges himself told, perhaps because it satisfied a male ideal of athleticism and a boy’s distaste for the tedium of the classroom. “They never could catch me. I’d go too fast,” he said. “That’s why I’m called ‘Rabbit.’” The second and more likely explanation, since it comes from Harry Carney, who knew Hodges growing up and who would spend most of his professional life playing with him in Duke Ellington’s orchestra, was that Hodges looked like a rabbit when he regularly nibbled on lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
For a nickname to last, it must seem apt to successions of acquaintances who are unfamiliar with its origin, however, and in Hodges’ case there was ample justification. According to Carney, Hodges was shy and skittish like a rabbit when it came to taking a solo, and he was known to bolt from interviews, bringing them to an abrupt conclusion. He was small, like a rabbit. His stage demeanor was impassive, and his face was a mask that camouflaged his emotions; as Tenor sax Johnny Griffin put it, Hodges “looked like a rabbit, no expression on his face while he’s playing all this beautiful music.”
Eugene the Jeep
Then there was “Jeep,” as in some of his most popular numbers, “The Jeep is Jumpin’ and “Jeep’s Blues.” Some have expressed puzzlement as to the source for this name, but those familiar with the cartoon character Popeye will recognize its antecedent in Eugene the Jeep, a friendly animal of indeterminate species who was introduced to the comic strip in 1936. This nickname was given to him by Otto “Toby” Hardwick, a fellow alto in the Ellington band. Eugene the Jeep is a dog-like creature who walks on his hind legs, says little (just the word “Jeep”), and has an oversize head and a large nose, all traits shared by Hodges, and thus the moniker satisfies the principal purpose of a nickname; an affectionate put-down that points out an individual’s flaws in a shorthand manner without rubbing them in too much.
There was also “Squatty Roo,” an invidious comment on Hodges’ short stature that he applied by a sort of creative jiu jitsu to a jaunty number he played with Ellington small groups. The song is a solo vehicle for him, and he seems to use it to answer those who called him by that name for derisive reasons, as if to say that sticks and stones might break his bones, but you could stick that nickname in your ear.
Cat Anderson and Hodges on the band’s bus.
The boy was born in the family’s home, like two of his sisters, rather than a hospital. At the time home birth was considered the safer alternative for several reasons, the primary one being the lower rate of infection for home versus hospital deliveries. The house was located at 137 Putnam Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a residential area known as “Cambridgeport.” The Hodges family is listed as residents of Ward 8, Precinct 13 of Cambridge in the 1910 census, when Johnny was reported to be two years old. In 1920 when Johnny was twelve his family moved within Cambridge to 10 Clarendon Avenue, Ward 11, part of Precinct 2, in the area known as North Cambridge, and they apparently remained there until they moved to Boston around 1922.
One aspect of the 1910 census data concerning Hodges’ family is curious; all members are listed as white. Johnny was light-colored, his skin “like coffee with a lot of cream” according to Rex Stewart, but his birth certificate lists him as black, and his parents are both listed as black in Boston marriage records. (Hodges’ sisters are listed as black or colored on their birth certificates.) This error, unlike the misspelling of John H. Hodges as “Hodge” in Boston marriage records, can’t definitively be chalked up to a civil servant’s negligence or indifference. Did Katie Swan Hodges hope that, by claiming her children were white, she would give them a chance for a better life? In any case, all family members were later listed as “B” for black in the 1920 census. A final thought on this curious item; if Johnny’s father self-identified as black and his mother did not, it would have been illegal for them to marry in Virginia, where they were born. Interracial marriage was barred by statute in Virginia until the United States Supreme Court struck down state anti-miscegenation laws in 1967 in the coincidentally-named case Loving v. Virginia, so it is possible that the two moved north in order to consummate a marriage that would have been forbidden in the south.
Jazz critic and Ellington biographer Stanley Dance, who knew Johnny’s mother, said that she was Mexican-Indian. There is no evidence to support this claim although trumpeter Rex Stewart was one of several observers who saw characteristic traces of Native American physiognomy in Hodges’ appearance. Hodges himself apparently repeated this tale of provenance, but he was known for his dry sense of humor, and may have been pulling Stanley Dance’s leg on this score.
The address where the family settled in Boston, 32 Hammond Street, was located in the city’s South End, like Cambridgeport a racially-mixed neighborhood. The area was home to many young musicians, including Leonard Withers, a pianist; James “Buster” Tolliver, who played reeds; and Harry Carney, who lived, as Hodges recalled many years later, “about three blocks from me.” As to why the Hodges family moved from Cambridge to the South End, the latter neighborhood had experienced a dramatic drop in real estate values—38.4%–in the thirty years from 1875 to 1905, shortly before their relocation there. As a result of this downturn in the real estate values, the three-story houses that had been built to hold a single family were divided up into apartments, rooming houses (available by the week or month), or lodging houses (available by the night). Thus, instead of becoming an urban refuge for the well-to-do, the South End became a place where housing was affordable to the masses; young clerks and office workers, laborers who had risen as far in life as they would go, and those who had begun to succumb to despair. One single-room residence alluded to the latter problem by the sign on its door: “Friendly Lodging House for Sober Men, No Drunken Men Admitted.” It is thus likely that the six-member Hodges family moved to the South End in part for reasons of economy.
Boston’s South End
There was also the matter of convenience; the South End was closer to hotels and restaurants where Johnny’s father could find employment as a waiter, and to the Back Bay railroad station, where he could work as a porter. A 1913 study reported that a “large number of negro waiters, cooks and stewards, barbers, janitors, and porters” found rooms in the belt of territory that extended across the South End from the Back Bay Station to Tremont Street and the lower part of Shawmut Avenue—precisely where the family’s new home on Hammond Street was located.
In the decade before the Hodges family moved to the South End the neighborhood had taken an even further turn downwards; the Boston Elevated Street Railway from downtown to the South End was completed, which made it easier to commute to and from Boston but added to the grime and noise that already marred the neighborhood. The two stations at either end of the railway became dock pilings to which the barnacles of urban life–saloons, theatres, pool halls—began to attach, and a “garish night life . . . ‘turned night into day.’” Boston Brahmin poet Robert Lowell, who would write about the more proper neighborhoods he frequented, could open his windows in the Back Bay and “hear the South End/the razor’s edge/of Boston’s negro culture.” The neighborhood thus came to resemble a sort of permanent fair that an impressionable young boy with an ear for music might appreciate, and the music he would hear in the South End would not be the genteel sort that he would have been exposed to in Cambridge. “Johnny was into the big world,” his neighborhood pal Howard Johnson would say, “but I was still in the little world. . .He used to hang out nights, while I was more or less a home boy.”
With the South End’s increased density and poverty came an increase in crime; prostitutes, pimps and pickpockets walked the streets of the neighborhood, and the life of the roguish petty criminal must have appealed to a boy bored with school but forced to attend classes under the Massachusetts compulsory education law, the first in the nation. “I think I was all set to be a crook, a mastermind crook,” Hodges would explain in later years, “until I came under the spell of music, music was too strong.”
From “Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges” (Oxford University Press).
KALISPELL, Montana. In a darkened screening room here, Northwest Montana State University head football coach Joe Ray Diggs is conducting an experiment for Floyd Morglin, president of the institution, who is under pressure to cancel the school’s intercollegiate sports schedule for the coming academic year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
“I want you to watch this right here,” Diggs says as he clicks a video link on his laptop computer, causing flickering images to appear on a projector screen. “What does that look like to you?”
Morglin squints, not due to the poor quality of the video, but rather in puzzlement at what he sees before him. “I don’t know–it’s some kind of sporting event, right?”
“Close,” Diggs says, but offering no further guidance.
“Is it . . . a football game?”
Diggs chuckles. “Some people might say that.”
“It’s not the pros,” Morglin says, groping for the proper category to apply to the depicted activity.
“You’re getting warm.”
“It’s not high school though, is it?”
Morglin hesitates, and inhales. “I’m going to take a wild guess and say . . . it’s a college football game.”
Diggs, who also teaches an introductory philosophy course at the school, smiles at the results of his Socratic questioning. “That’s what they call it,” he says with satisfaction. “Yale versus Princeton, 2015.”
“But that can’t be true,” Morglin says. “Those players–they look like students.”
Diggs laughs, then says “And yet they want us to cancel our football season, just because they canceled that, and they have the unmitigated gall to call it football.”
Genuine college football players (not shown actual size)
Diggs is referring to the decision by the “Ivy League,” an association of eight northeastern colleges infested by evergreen climbing plants of the Araliaceae family, to cancel intercollegiate sports scheduled for the fall of 2020, a move applauded by goody-goody naysaying public health officials, but which has drawn the opposite reaction from fans of actual college football.
“I’d say that’s good news,” says Mike Tomaschevski, who maintains an on-line compilation of scores during the season. “People come on my site and have to scroll through a bunch of words and numbers that have nothing to do with real college football. I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but the Ivies take up valuable bandwidth on the internet that could be better used tracking Southeastern Conference groin pulls.”
At one time the Ivy League dominated college football, as member schools were the only institutions of higher learning that could afford shoulder pads. Public land-grant colleges eventually surpassed them, and the sport as practiced by the nation’s elite schools became infected by ironic self-deprecation, with marching bands devoting half-time shows to tongue-in-cheek gags rather than stirring martial music played in comic opera military costumes.
At Northwest Montana it is hoped that college football will bring luster to a school that has previously lacked it, and Head Coach Diggs has turned his powers of persuasion on its President to ward off any foolhardy pursuit of academic excellence as an alternative to the blunt head trauma the sport produces.
Harvard marching band in facetious formation.
“I see what you’re saying,” Morglin says to Diggs, stifling a yawn when the film ends. “That’s a terrible thing to inflict on alumni on a beautiful fall afternoon.”
“You got that right.”
“It’s no wonder all their co-eds have tattoos and nose rings.”
“Having trouble getting married? Maybe you aren’t doing enough pole dancing in your living room.”
Wall Street Journal, “In Japan, ‘Marriage Hunting’ May Require the Right Lair.”
Back in my bachelor days I sometimes despaired that I’d ever meet that special someone who’d make my life complete. When you work long hours as a legal beagle you don’t get out much, and hitting on the secretaries was generally considered a source of liability rather than a promising mating strategy.
And so it came to pass that I was singing the single guy blues one night as I sat around my apartment with my friend Gino.
Perhaps “friend” is going too far. Gino is a world-class horn dog, what a less sensitive person than myself might call an “Italian Stallion.” He had little conversation beyond tales of his amorous adventures and sports trivia, but unlike me he’d never had a problem finding the “right girl.” In fact, he was so good at it he’d found three before he was thirty, and then disposed of them thoughtfully, as it says on the side of the natural juice containers. My only consolation was that he was out-of-pocket for the cost of all those rings.
Gino looked at me through heavy-lidded eyes as I recalled my romantic miscues: how I’d started to chat up a woman in a bar just as her fiancé arrived, and the time I persuaded the check-out girl at the local gourmet food shoppe to have a drink with me, only to find out when she ordered a Shirley Temple that she was younger than I thought.
And then there was the time I had a pleasant game of pick-up squash with a slender spaghetti-headed young woman, sorta like Barbra Streisand in her “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” phase. Afterwards she asked if I wanted to go to a concert with her–I said sure, and offered to pay for the tickets. Okay, she said, but you can only buy them at one place, a little bookstore up a flight of stairs on Winter Street in downtown Boston. No problem, I said, but when I went to buy them, the rather butch-looking woman behind the counter gave me a dubious look and said “You realize . . . this is an all-lesbian concert, don’t you?”
“Of course I knew that!” I replied, giving her my best look of offended hermaphroditic dignity. “I go to all-lesbian concerts all the time–sheesh!” We did go, but I was the only male in the place except for the stage hands.
“You know what your problem is?” Gino asked when he tired of my whining.
To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. Go ahead–say it. See? Didn’t even faze me.
“I didn’t know that my mating prospects were tied to . . . in-home pole dancing.”
“Shows how much you know,” he spat out contemptuously. “What you need is a pole, right there,” he said, as he threw a pork rind down in the center of my lime green shag rug. I’ve always loved that color, and ever since “Broadway” Joe Namath famously decorated his bachelor pad with a shag rug, that form of floor covering has been de rigueur for swinging single guys on the make–and is there any other kind?
“So . . . what, exactly, would I do with a . . . pole in the middle of my living room.”
Gino gave me a wild surmise, like the men of Cortez in On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer by Keats. “Didn’t you never watch Denny Terio of The Solid Gold Dancers?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, sure, who didn’t watch Solid Gold?” I said sheepishly.
“Some watched it closer than others,” he said as he stood up, pulled his black polyester shirt over his head, revealing his perennially-tanned body and a set of gold chains that is referred to in Boston’s Jewelry District as a “Mr. T. Starter Set.”
Keats: “What, pray tell, am I doing in this post?”
“Pay attention, you mook,” he said, as he grabbed the galvanized metal jack post–also known as a “lally column”–next to my breakfast nook that supported the sagging floors of the unit above me. “This here is a perfectly suitable stripper pole, if you know how to use it.”
Like this one.
What followed was a display of tacky terpsichorean skill that recalled nothing so much as a strip club in an alternative universe; where women lined the bars and men menned the poles, shaking their thangs for dollar bills stuffed into thong BVDs. Not sure where all this dubious talent came from, but I was duly impressed.
“That was really . . . terrific,” I said somewhat tentatively when he’d finished, his body now glistening with hard-earned sweat. “But are you sure that’s the right approach–for me?”
He looked me up and down. What he saw was the man who the child was the father of, if I remembered my aphorism correctly; shy, reticent, haunted by the memory of being kicked off his–I mean my–7th grade basketball team in Catholic grade school for hosting a boy-girl party before Vatican II opened the floodgates to pre-teen “feel-up” sessions.
“Well, maybe youse is not cut out for pole-dancing,” he said finally, then fell silent.
“So–what can I do to win the heart and other body parts of a young lady I persuade to come up and see my etchings?”
Gino considered the question for a moment. I could tell he was struggling to come up with an answer.
“You might . . .” he began finally.
He gulped. Uncharacteristically, he was having trouble putting his feelings into words.
“Start out slow at first, with sumpin’ like The Bunny Hop.”
DOS FLEDENS, Freedonia. Vergloz Deprens is a father of two young children, but they won’t see him this morning when they wake up. “He is called away, middle of night,” says Olglz, his 32-year-old wife. “Must be something important, that is usually when he is coming home.”
The emergency that Deprens responded to was an outbreak of hostilities between two neighboring countries, his homeland of Freedonia and Ruritania, which until recently had vented its national spleen on another neighbor, the Grand Duchy of Graustark. “You know how it is,” said Ruritania’s Foreign Minister Zbiegnew Holstrkch. “You get tired of arguing with your wife, so you go to your girlfriend’s house and argue with her. It was time for a change.”
Freedonia and Ruritania are the world’s two most heavily-armed fictional nations, although both are listed as “sub-atomic” powers by the United Nations. “In Ruritania, everything is settled by the sword,” says military historian Anthony Fleming-Pfeiffer, editor of Jane’s Battleships of the 19th Century. “In Freedonia, they use a long pole with a mud dauber’s nest attached to one end.”
Ruritanian freedom fighters (not shown actual size)
While relations between the two nations have historically been peaceful if not friendly, tensions have risen in recent years as sales of The Prisoner of Zenda, the 1894 Anthony Hope novel that serves as Ruritania’s Declaration of Independence, have fallen while Hail Freedonia!, a 99 cent “e-book” have taken off. “It is a matter of national pride to them, that is all they have,” says Zlotnirk Vberlisch, owner of a bookstore here. “Us? We couldn’t give a krapnikz,” he adds, using a vulgar epithet for “goat dropping.”
For Olglz Deprens the looming threat of war between the two non-aligned nations couldn’t have come at a worse time. “His children need him, but more important I need him,” she says in a plaintive voice over a lump in her throat. “So your love for him is strong?” this reporter asks her in the hope of eliciting a tender response that could serve as the “lede” to a sentimental story about hopes and dreams crushed beneath the jackboot of armed conflict and man’s inhumanity to man.
“No, the nanny goat is about to deliver, someone must milk the cows.”
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. The Friday morning before the 4th of July finds Sergeant Jim Hampy playing possum at the Storrow Drive entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike. “We shouldn’t have long to wait,” he tells this reporter as he sips on a Dunkin’ Donuts large regular coffee and munches on a French cruller donut. “They’ll be thick as flies heading out to the Berkshires soon.”
Hampy is part of a statewide crackdown on graduate student drivers; not 16-year-olds working on their learners’ permits, but people with advanced degrees in the humanities, social and physical sciences who because of their over-stimulated grey matter are too often guilty of distracted driving. “They used to call it ‘woolgathering,'” Hampy says, citing a term that has fallen into disuse that referred to idle picking of tufts of wool from thorns and hedges, a species of daydreaming while appearing to be actively engaged in a task at hand. “The only wool these kids have is in their Patagonia long-sleeve recycled wool shirts, but that don’t matter, they’re still guilty of it.”
Fulfilling the State Policeman’s prediction, a battered Subaru hatchback takes the exit and heads towards the turnpike, easing into the left-most lane where faster-moving cars are soon bunched up behind it. “Code 15 westbound at Allston tolls,” Hampy barks into his two-way radio, “in pursuit.”
“Roger that,” comes a voice over his unmarked car’s speaker, and as he accelerates into the jammed-up traffic he turns on his siren and blue flashing lights to make his presence known.
“PULL OVER TO THE SHOULDER,” Hampy says once, then twice, then a third time through his car’s bullhorn. Cars clear space for the law enforcement officer, and he begins to ride the right rear bumper of the Subaru like a running back following his blockers. “I SAID PULL OVER!” he snaps more loudly than before, and finally the absent-minded driver, Evan Paulsen, begins to move cautiously, one lane at a time, until he reaches the right-hand break-down lane and stops.
“Was I doing something wrong, officer?” Paulsen asks with an innocent tone when Hampy approaches from behind.
“I’m gonna let you off with a warning, okay, but don’t go readin’ no Marcuse or Foucault–understand?”
“I’m gonna need your license, registration, and your academic transcript,” Hampy snaps and, when the driver hands over the required papers, he takes them back to his vehicle and runs them through a national database. “Geez, this is terrible, this guy’s a three-time offender,” he muses aloud as he scans the results. When asked the nature of the perp’s offenses, Hampy responds “He’s got a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from Stony Brook, an undergrad degree in the History of Consciousness from UCal-Santa Barbara, and he’s in an inter-disciplinary program at Harvard and MIT in Hermeneutical Teleology, whatever that is.”
After taking a deep breath and preparing himself for an encounter fraught with risk, Hampy returns to the vehicle. “Do you know why I stopped you?” he asks.
“You have a monthly quota to fulfill?”
“Your solipsistic, jingoistic view of driving regulations causes you to overlook the many nations–including those of the United Kingdom–who drive on the left-hand side of the road?”
“You deduced from my somewhat-shabby vehicle that I was a potential threat to the ruling-class hegemony that oppresses the poor but provides you with a gilt-edged pension and benefits at public expense?”
“No. You was . . .”
” . . . were.”
” . . . traveling in the passing land below the minimum speed.”
“There’s a minimum speed limit?”
“Yep. You gotta go at least forty miles per or pull over where you ain’t blockin’ traffic.”
“Sorry, I wasn’t aware. I was thinking about Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption as all the luxury vehicles whooshed past me. How people spent so much on brand-names that added nothing of value or workmanship to the massive, gas-guzzling hunks of steel and rubber . . .”
Veblen: “Droll. Verry droll.”
“Don’t fergit glass, professor.”
“Right–and glass that probably cost them $60,000, almost enough to pay my tuition for a year.”
Hampy hears the man out patiently, then begins to write him up for various traffic violations and excessive use of academic jargon. “I’m going to give you a warning and affix this to your rear end.”
“Isn’t that cruel and unusual punishment?”
“I meant your car’s rear end,” Hampy says, holding out a bright orange and black bumper sticker that reads “CAUTION: GRADUATE STUDENT DRIVER.”
WEBSTER FALLS, Mo. Dorinda Walthrip was an English teacher in this town’s public schools for forty-five years, retiring a decade ago to a quiet life in an apartment that overlooks a public park. “It’s nice, except on Sundays,” she says with an air of disappointment. “That’s when the white trash come out to wash their cars,” she says, pronouncing “wash” as if it includes the letter “r,” the one vernacular lapse in her otherwise proper pronunciation.
Where every prospect pleases, until the hot-rodders warsh their cars.
But lately Walthrip’s peace of mind has been shattered by more pressing issues; racial tensions, mass violations of social distancing rules imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus, and an upswing in acrimonious partisanship as elections loom in the fall. “I watch the 6:00 news every night, and it distresses me to see what’s happening in this country,” says the long-time “knee-jerk moderate,” who has never joined a political party and says she votes for the best person, not the party. “I don’t see why everybody can’t just get along,” she adds, echoing the words of Rodney King as Los Angeles burned around him in 1991.
“I wish people wouldn’t end their sentences with prepositions.”
Hobbled by arthritis, there isn’t much the widow can do in the real world to make it a better place, so lately she has been gingerly dipping her toes in the robust political debates that take place on the internet. “My grandchildren finally bought me a computer so I could stay in touch by email,” she says with a dash of chagrin in her voice at having been tardy to the digital age. “I don’t get out much, but I’m well-informed.”
This morning after she finished her regular breakfast of bran flakes, fruit, orange juice and decaffeinated coffee, Dorinda signed on to her favorite social media platform, cringing as she did so to see what the body count was from late-hour arguments from the night before.
“M-u-t-h-a-f-u . . . what? I’m going to have to deduct 5 points for spelling.”
“Oh dear,” she says as she “doom scrolls” down through an extended comment “thread.” “Looks like there was a ‘black lives matter, all lives matter’ tiff after I went to bed,” she says, moving her cursor just below a comment by “bluenomatterwho.” “I HATE the all lives matter idiots,” the comment reads. “Their just racists and they know it.”
Dorinda takes a sip from her second cup of Sanka–“and that’s it for the day,” she tells this reporter firmly–then types out a response: “Dear bluenomatterwho, I think you mean ‘they’re,’ a contraction for ‘they are,’ not ‘their’ which is the possessive form of ‘they.'”
A bubble appears on her screen with a series of blinking dots, indicating that “bluenomatterwho” is taking his or her time formulating a thoughtful response. “FUCK YOU GRAMMAR NAZI!” the comment reads after winging its way across the World Wide Web. “Oh dear,” Walthrip says with a scowl and a shake of her head. “Someone needs more fiber in ‘their’ diet,” she adds with a smile as she makes finger quotes in the air.
“What a terrible thing to say!”
From that brief but disturbing encounter, Dorinda shifts gears to log on to Twitter, which she has been told has taken steps to weed out abusive accounts in an effort to elevate the tone of users’ discussions and avoid the heavy hand of government regulation. “I like the little blue bird mascot, he’s cute!” she adds.
Her eye is caught by a picture of a statue of Ulysses S. Grant being torn down by a masked gang, which an account named “God&Country” has posted with a rambling diatribe on America’s young people. “If you don’t like this country, leave it you pussies! Its the greatest country on Earth in the history of the world.”
Dorinda purses her lips as one eyebrow shoots upwards. “Typically the error goes in the opposite direction,” she says, then adjusts her hands on her wrist pad and begins to type: “Dear God&Country, you have made a common mistake. You should have written ‘It’s, a contraction for ‘it is.’ Without the apostrophe, those three letters are a possessive pronominal adjective.”
“Don’t blame me–I’m out her minding my own business.”
She gets up to look out the window at a yellow finch that has settled on her birdfeeder–“They are so pretty!” she says–then returns to her chair to find that her comment has not been received favorably.
“You with your fancy college education look down on hard-working people like me. Well take your damn ‘apostrophe’ and stick it up your ass, you bastard!”
Dorinda gulps, and not from her coffee. “I don’t know why people are so harsh,” she says as she stares off into the distance. “I’m only trying to bring them together.”