Dick, First Grade Reading Icon, Dead at 93

CHICAGO.  Dick, one of the main characters in the Zerna Sharp basal readers who introduced young readers to complicated words such as “here” and “come,” died yesterday.  He was 93.

“We shall not see his like again,” said Opal Sturgis, who at the age of six mastered her first Elson-Gray Reader in which Dick and his little sisters Jane and Sally appeared as fictional characters.  “There were the movie stars like Clark Gable and the crooners like Frankie Avalon, but Dick was my heart throb.”

Dick and his sister Jane had a three-decade run as fictional characters beginning in 1930 and continuing until a final edition appeared in 1965.  “Those were the ‘go-go’ years when people demanded ‘relevance,’ said Donald Orthwort, a retired assistant principal.  “Dick and Jane moved out of their unnamed home town when the first Black family moved in.  Their father–whose name was coincidentally ‘Father’–decided the time had come to sell before the neighborhood went to hell.”

As Dick and his sister Jane grew up they lived as man and wife and never told friends and acquaintances that they were brother and sister.  “Theirs was a secret love, known only to their younger sister Sally,” said educational historian Zora Reilly.  “They never had children for fear of genetic abnormalities, and gradually disappeared from school curricula.”

Many of Dick and Jane’s adventures began with the mischief of their pets, “Spot” a dog and “Puff” a cat.  “I tell you, ‘See Spot Run’ was to our generation what ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was to The Lost Generation,” said Michael Horganheimer, a professor of elementary literature.  “‘Spot runs fast!’,” he added, recalling one of the phrases that became a shibboleth to boys and girls who started elementary school in the late 50s.

In 1977 Dick and Jane had a late chance to recover their faded celebrity fortunes when they were featured in the film “Fun With Dick and Jane” starring George Segal and Jane Fonda.  “Total box office was $13.6 million,” said Variety Phonics Reporter Aaron Belson.  “It was one of the most successful video rentals of all time, but Blockbuster is out of business and most VCRs are in garbage dumps today.”

Dick is survived by Jane, Sally, and Spot XIV.  Puff XIX died in 2019 after firemen were unable to rescue her from a tree she had climbed.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Zaner-Bloser Institute of Penmanship in Kankakee, Illinois, where Dick’s papers–in his now-obsolete cursive handwriting–will be preserved.

The Punch-Drunk School of Poetry

When Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay, appeared on the professional boxing scene following his gold medal performance at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, he became a sort of intergenerational Rorschach test.  Older boxing writers disapproved of his boxing style and his ego; Red Smith of The New York Times called him “the boy braggart,” and his colleague Arthur Daley predicted (wrongly) that heavyweight champ Sonny Liston would jam his “vainglorious boasts . . . down his throat.”

            Younger writers, by contrast, found much to admire in Ali.  He opposed the war in Vietnam, losing four years of his career when he refused to be inducted into the U.S. Army and was convicted of draft evasion.  At a time when the civil rights movement was just beginning to crest, he was proud of his African blood, dropping his “slave name”—he was named after Cassius Marcellus Clay, a white man who was nonetheless an abolitionist—and adopting a Muslim name after he converted to Islam.  He was something new, a rebel hero to the generation of scribes who came of age with him, and they helped to create the legend that grew up around him.

            But many of the historic milestones credited to Ali by his admirers weren’t original with him.

            He wasn’t the first heavyweight champ to avoid military service when America was at war.  That was Jack Dempsey, who continued to work and box during World War I.  He was tried for draft evasion, but acquitted when he showed that he was the sole support of his family.

                 Jack Dempsey

            He wasn’t the first black boxer to incur the wrath of the white establishment.  That was Jack Johnson, who openly consorted with white women, marrying three, causing Southern ministers to demand that he be lynched.

         Jack Johnson

            Ali didn’t invent the “Rope-a-Dope” strategy of wearing out opponents by letting them punch themselves out in early rounds that he first used in 1974 against George Forman.  It was as old as “Dutch Sam” Elias, who used it in 1814, and as recent as 1945, when Sugar Ray Robinson used it against Jake LaMotta.

         “Dutch Sam” Elias

         He wasn’t even the first to dance in the ring to confuse or upstage an opponent, a move he called “The Ali Shuffle.”  According to The New Yorker’s A.J. Liebling, Jersey Joe Walcott used a jig-step to disconcert his opponents in the twentieth century, and in the 19th century Thomas Cribb “danced a hornpipe” in an 1811 fight against Tom Molineaux.

         Jersey Joe Walcott

            But, a sentimental fight fan who came of age in the Ali era might say, surely he was the first boxer-poet.  His deathless verse will live as long as man has breath to repeat his lines, such as this sublime cinquain he composed in 1975 before a fight with Joe Frazier:

It will be a killer
And a chiller
And a thrilla
When I get the gorilla
In Manila.

But as Santayana might have said if only he’d subscribed to Ring Magazine, those who cannot learn from boxing history are doomed to be knocked out by it.

Before Ali there was Henry Armstrong, a twentieth century fighter who was champion of three different weight divisions—featherweight, welterweight and lightweight.  He was poet laureate of his senior class at Vashon High School in St. Louis.

                Henry Armstrong


Before Armstrong there was William Bendigo Thompson, who in 1844 wrote an eight-stanza poem to John “Brassey” Leechman offering to fight “for love” if he couldn’t come up with the required stakes.  There was Bob Gregson, never a champion, but a poet and songwriter who wrote “British Lads and Black Millers.”  And there were many more.

William “Bendigo” Thompson


But greatest of them all was probably James “The Deaf’Un” Burke, an Englishman who fought from 1828 to 1843.  Like Ali, he was more or less illiterate—which tells you something about the low barriers to entry to the guilds of boxing and poetry.   Ali’s IQ score of 78 had originally kept him out of the draft, but in 1966 the Army reduced its standards due to the need for more cannon fodder to fight the escalating war in Vietnam.  Burke’s only school was the street, but despite his lack of education, he “had much ‘mother-wit,’ a quaint felicity of expression, [and] a sly touch of humor”—traits that Ali shared, proof that a man’s years of education and IQ test scores aren’t adequate measures of his mental potential.

Ali was not the author of the longest poem attributed to him–“Clay Comes Out to Meet Liston,” which was written by Gary Belkin, a New York comedy writer.  Burke may have had help in getting his rhymes down on paper—in one poem of six stanzas and eighty lines he says he “ne’er figur’d as a man of letters”—and the practice of a pugilist calling upon a scrivener for help wasn’t unheard of.  But it remains true that, for some unknown reason, boxers are frequently moved to write poetry.  And the mandarins of the poetry establishment, who jealously guard the entrance to their exclusive club, must face this uncomfortable fact:

Repeated shots to the head often lead to brain damage—and poetry.

Stop Singing and Write Your Damn Novel

William Faulkner was once thrown out of a speakeasy for singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

People think it’s easy bein’ a bouncer in a speakeasy but it ain’t.  “You never have to worry about losin’ your liquor license ’cause there ain’t no such thing as a liquor license on accounta prohibition,” they say.  Hah–whadda they know.  We gotta pay off the mayor, cops, assorted politicians, temperance goody-goodies, you name it, they got their hand through the little peephole in the door.  It’s no wonder the speakeasy failure rate is so high.

Image result for william faulkner

On top of that there’s the novelists.  Sheesh, what I wouldn’t do for one night–one lousy night–without that stream o’ consciousness guy, what’s his name, Faulkner, comin’ in here and ruinin’ everybody’s evenin’.

“Let him in,” the boss says.  “It gives the place cachet.”

“Like in my wife’s underwear drawer?” sez I.

“No, that’s sachet,” he says, and rather tersely I might add.  So I’m under strict orders to admit all future Nobel Prize-winning novelists, and also Scott Fitzgerald even though if you ask me he ain’t gonna win any major prizes, not while he’s alive at least.  Maybe posthumously–dead writers make more money too.

I hear a rap at the door and I slide the little panel to the side to look through the aperture so’s I can see who it is.  It’s Faulkner, all right, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

“What’s the password?” I ask.

“Malcolm Cowley,” the three of them sez together.  The voices of their generation, I guess.

“All right, yer in,” I sez, but I put a hand to Faulkner’s chest to let him know I don’t want no funny business.  “You!”

Yes it was me and the me who spoke was the me who was born of the octoroon in a morganatic marriage on the plantation of my incestuous mother and father, brother and sister . . .”

“Put a sock in it,” I sez.  Hemingway has already blown past me so my chances of getting decked with a sucker punch have declined dramatically.  Fitzgerald makes a bee-line to the men’s room to compare the size of his . . . uh . . . equipment to those of the others answering nature’s call at the urinal.

Image result for hemingway drinking

What is it you want from me, I who am here not by choice but by determinism the product of fates the scion of an accursed race who . . . “

“There’s plenty of places a guy can get a drink in New York, see.  We don’t have to put up with youse.  We’re running a nice little illegal drinking establishment here and I don’t want no trouble, okay?”

He takes a puff on his pipe–he’s smokin’ some kinda fruity cherry-scented stuff, smells like a goddamn faculty lounge–and ambles over to the bar at a lazy pace, just like a Southerner.

See the source image

Fitzgerald comes outta the men’s room and heads straight for the bowl of pizza-flavored goldfish on the bar, and it’s all I can do to stop him before he grabs a handful.

“Did you wash your hands?” I ask him in the brusque tone that is standard equipment for speakeasy bouncers.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing me,” he said with an air of sadness, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

I look him up and down–also sideways.  “Get back in there–now–and wash.”

He trundles off glumly–apparently the guy can’t do anything that ain’t lyrical–and I turn my attention to the bar where Hemingway is about to get into it with Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“I burn my candle at both ends and the middle.  Also I fight the bulls,” Hemingway is saying.

Image result for edna st vincent millay
Millay:  “Would you pass me the bowl of pizza-flavored goldfish please?”

“You think you’re so big and tough and wonderful,” she says before kicking him in the organ of Jake Barnes that didn’t work.

“Ow,” Hemingway said in the spare, stripped-down style that came as a revelation to a generation of writers.  Not at all like William Dean Howells, who if you kicked him in the nuts would give you 500 words of baroque, rococo expletives in the genteel mode.

I started to intervene but the boss says let ’em fight, it’s good for business, just don’t let it get out of hand.

“Fine, sure,” I says, but I don’t like it.  If you want to be a bouncer you got to keep things under control.  It’s a slippery slope–guys not washing their hands after urinating, getting into fistfights with ethereal lady poets.  Next thing you know you’ll have some nut in his cups singing popular songs from Broadway shows like Blackbirds of 1928 and . . . oh no.  What’s that?

Hey Faulkner–out you go, you bum!  Nobody sings Diga Diga Do in my joint and gets away with it!

Female Baboons, Mes Amours

          A nine-year study involving 125 male baboons revealed that “beta” males had almost as many mates and got just as much grooming as higher-status “alpha” males, but experienced less stress because they didn’t have to spend as much time fighting or following females around to keep other males away.

                               The Wall Street Journal, “Are Alpha Males Healthy?”

Hangin’ with the guys.

I was sitting with my friend Kruk on a sloping hill, watching the females go by.

“Nice ischial callosities,” I said about one babe’s seat pads surrounded by bodacious, brightly-colored naked skin.

“Forget it,” Kruk said.  “H-M-C.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“High maintenance chick,” he said, as if totally indifferent to her voluptuous beauty.

Sensitive beta male

“I can look, can’t I?”

“She’s already spoken for,” Kruk said as he moved some food from his cheek pouches to his mouth and swallowed.  “She’s Thwok’s girl.”

“I thought he was getting it on with that red-furred babe?”

“She’s his entree–that one’s his side dish.”

As he spoke, Thwok appeared from the woods with a pawful of fresh berries, which the female turned up her nose at.

“See what I mean?” Kruk said.  “She gets off by turning him down.”

Thwok turned to us in a threat posture and screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Ooo–I’m so scared!” Kruk said, with an expression of feigned fear on his face.  “Looka me–I’m shaking!” he continued, channeling George Costanza.

Thwok was too stupid to understand baboon irony, so he snorted, pawed the ground and moved on in pursuit of the big-butt babe.

“Man, I wouldn’t want to live in his skin,” Kruk said, shaking his head.

“You’re probably right,” I said, “but doesn’t the amount of, uh, poontang he gets make it worthwhile?”

“Are you kidding?” Kruk said, and I could tell he wasn’t kidding.  “Ol’ Thwok will die an early but glorious death.  He’ll have plenty of offspring, but you and me–we’ll be sitting on this hill, feeling the breeze against our cheeks, sipping cool water from a stream, and getting it on with his widow(s).”

“Yeah, but I noticed the object of that sentence was plural,” I said.  “So he comes out ahead, right?”

“Not necessarily,” Kruk said.  We’d both developed higher-order language and analytical skills that our crude physical appearance served to mask.

“How much are you getting?” I asked in a moment of uncharacteristic bluntness.

Kruk gave me a sly smile.  “I’m doin’ okay.”

Just then a troupe of three females approached.  Kruk gave them a 100-watt smile and said, simply, “Hi,” the way he’d been taught by our fellow beta male Alanalda.

“Hey Kruk!” a beauteous babe with a distinctly dog-like nose–like something out of Picasso–said with a big smile.  “Want me to pick the lice out of your fur?”

“Sure,” Kruk said as he laid back on the grass and rolled on his stomach.  “Let’s put on some music.”

I had salvaged a Jackson Browne tape and a boom box from a dump in Nairobi a few weeks before and, after a few unsuccessful tries, I got the thing to work.  “Jamaica say-ay-ay you will, help me find . . .” issued from the metallic speakers.

The female groomed Kruk carefully, and from the expression on his face he appeared to be enjoying every minute of it.

“You have such powerful hind limbs,” said the second one, as she began to give him a shiatsu massage.

“Um–that feels good,” Kruk said, and I could tell he could barely contain his ecstasy.

“Hi,” the third one said as she sat down next to me.  “Do you like Rod McKuen?”

She had on a big floppy hat and a purple blouse, the kind of outfit I would have dismissed with a snort if my brain, and not my organ of generation, had been in charge of my thought processes just then.

“No–who’s he?”

“He a great poet!” she said.  “I love it when I find somebody who hasn’t heard of him, so I can be the first to introduce his genius to them.”

Rod McKuen, right.  More distinguished poet to the left.

I started to correct her grammar and syntax, but I figured, what the hell–Kruk had something going on here, I might as well ride the wave.

“Do you want to read some of his poetry . . . to me?” I asked, all barefoot baboon with cheeks of blue, playing the ingenue.

“Would I?” she exclaimed.

“Hit me!” I said.

“Okay,” she said, as she swung her arm down on my head.

“Ow!” I yelled, grimacing in pain.

“Sorry, that’s what you told me to do!”

“I intended it . . . figuratively.”

“What’s that mean?” she asked, her gaze as deep and soulful as those in the paintings of big-eyed children.

“It means,” I began, then stopped.  She wouldn’t get it, no matter how hard I tried to explain it, so I might as well let her do her thing.  “Never mind,” I said, “just read something to me.”

I do remember, she began,
The only fuzzy circumstance
is something where–and how.
Why, I know.
It happens just because we need
to want and to be wanted too,
when love is here or gone
to lie down in the darkness
and listen to the warm.

“God–that is so freaking beautiful!” I said, and extended my arms to hug her.

“I know,” she said as she embraced me.

“Say, as long as we both like crappy poetry–how about a roll in the hay?” I say.

She recoils, and looks hurt.

“I . . . I thought there was . . . something . . . more between us than just . . . physical attraction,” she says, and I think I detect a lump in her throat.

“Well, of course there is!” I say.  I look over at Kruk; he’s manipulating the two other females simultaneously, and he grabs a boob from one of them and holds it up to his ear, while he takes a boob from the other and puts it up close to his mouth.

“Hello Rangoon!” he says as if talking over a two-way radio.  “Can you hear me?”

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

Pencils in the Air for Your Jazz Final

It’s the day I’ve been dreading for two weeks since bombing a pop quiz in Jazz 101 at Carl Yastrzemski State College. I got a D+ for mixing up Fats Navarro with Fats Waller and spacing out on “Where or When: Compare and contrast.” That means I’ve got to get at least an A- on the final if I’m going to maintain the B average dad says I need if he’s going to keep me on “the gravy train.” “College bred means a four-year loaf,” he says with that sarcastic laugh of his. He’s always talking about food for some reason.

“If you knew how I loved you . . .”


The proctor goes up and down handing out the exam books, and I’m sweating bullets. Stay cool, I tell myself, like–I dunno–the Miles Davis Nonet? Hope that’s on the exam.

I pop the seal and open it up. Keep breathing, I tell myself, and don’t get hung up on questions you don’t understand. Do the easy ones first, just like on the SAT. I scan down the page, hoping to find some handhold that will get me started up the sheer rock face of my ignorance of America’s classical music.

Bingo–the first question is “How Long Has This Been Going On?” I know I know I know I say to myself, barely able to control my pencil as it races across the page. “There were chills . . . down my spine, and some thrills I can’t define,” I write. If you can’t answer the question completely, you’re allowed to say how you would research it using sources not available within the classroom.

Ethel Waters


Question #2: Why is there no sun up in the sky? Hmm—I seem to recall a jazz flash card about that age-old riddle. Wait–I know–Stormy Weather! That’s why there’s no sun up in the friggin’ sky! I scribble it down quickly–I may have a shot at an A!

R. Crumb jazz cards

 Uh-oh–an essay question. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” Shit. I’ve never been there. I tap my pencil against my head–ouch! I hit a cyst I need to have removed, but the shock sets my synapses crackling. “Moonlight on the bayou–Creole tunes fill the air. I dream . . . of magnolias in June. Soon I’m wishin’ you were the-e-ere.” Not too original, but I do have the entire hockey team in my class–they should hold down the curve.

What’s next. “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Sure I have, uh, lots of them. Let’s see, what was it like? “All at once I lost my breath–and all at once was scared to death–and all at once I own the earth and sky.” That oughta do it. Okay–one last question. “Lover man, oh where can you be?”

Billie Holiday


What kinda power trip is this professor on? I’m a guy. I shouldn’t have to answer a woman’s question! I gaze around the room, trying to find some inspiration. I see Valerie Dickman, the brunette who sits in the front row crossing her legs to improve her score in the class participation component of the final grade. She’s mouthing something to me. There . . . is . . . no . . . answer. It’s a trick question!

So the prof wants us to think outside the Big Joe Turner 5-CD boxed set! Okay–I’ll give it to him, and give it to him good. “I’ve heard it said,” I begin, “that the thrill of romance . . . can be like a heavenly dream. I go to bed with a prayer that you’ll make love to me . . . strange as it seems.” Voila. You want creative gender-blender thinking, you got it.

But I am not doing an oral report for extra credit.

For One Generous Soul, Re-Gifting Has a Price Tag

BOSTON.  Tom Pharrell has had a long and successful career as an investment banker underwriting bond issues for New England’s numerous private non-profit institutions, and he has the memorabilia to show for it.  “These little doo-dads bring back fond memories,” he says as he picks up one of his many “deal trinkets,” a paperweight with the “tombstone” announcement of a particular transaction suspended in Lucite.  “Sure I missed a lot of dinners with my wife to close those financings, but she divorced me so it’s nice to have these mementos.”

       Like family.

One side benefit of the business never appealed to Pharrell, however; gifts of sweatshirts and jackets bearing the names of the prep schools and colleges that benefitted from the funds he raised.  “I’ve got enough clothes to last me a lifetime,” he says, “and I’m a conservative dresser.  I don’t like to call attention to myself with logos, unless I’m an actual alumni of the school.”

So Pharrell adopted a policy many years ago of giving away the clothing he received to social service agencies or, in some cases, directly to those who appeared to need it that he encountered on the walk from his office to the commuter rail station that takes him home each night.  “Some of these guys, they’re freezing to death,” he says, shaking his head.  “They need a quarter-zip fleece pullover a hell of a lot more than I do.”

The result has been a community of unlikely-looking vagrants in the South Station area here whose upscale clothing seems slightly discordant on them, given their lowly status in life.  “Tom’s a great guy,” says a grizzled man known only as “Mitch” to this reporter.  “I never could have afforded to go to The Pringy School,” he says, pointing to the crest above his heart on a blue velour sweater.  “Now people think I’m a scion of an old WASP family who has taken the road less traveled by, instead of what I am which is a bum.”

                  The Empress.

On the train platform Pharrell greets a woman who styles herself the “Empress of Amtrak” for the position she stakes out every morning, the better to beg money and food from passengers waiting to board the Acela Express to New York and Washington.

“How ya doing today, Empress?” he asks her cheerfully.

“Same stuff, different day,” she says with an air genial resignation.  “Whatcha got for me–anything?”

“Take a look at this,” Pharrell says as he removes a white windbreaker with a “Miss Chilton’s School” logo from a plastic bag.

“Nice,” The Empress says.  “Does it come in ‘Dusty Rose’?”

“I’m afraid not.  I was lucky to get this color, they usually only come in blue.”

“Bo-ring,” The Empress says.  “Thanks, I’ll take it.  But next time?”

“Yes?” Pharrell replies with anticipation.

“Do better, okay?”

Pharrell says “Sure,” then ambles off to catch his train but is stopped in his progress by Ned Forman, an acquaintance who works at a competing bank.

“Hey Tom,” Forman calls out.  “How ya doing?”

“Fine, fine,” Pharrell replies.  “How’re the kids?”

“Okay, but we’re pulling them out of private school next year.”

“It’s expensive, I know,” Pharrell says, commiserating, but Forman promptly corrects him.

“It’s not the money,” he says, “it’s that all these expensive schools seem to turn out nothing but losers.”

On Dylan’s Birthday, Appliance Dealers Ask “What If?”

HIBBING, Minnesota.  As tributes marking Bob Dylan’s 82nd birthday appeared in the national news last Wednesday, word spread around this town of 17,000 in northeastern Minnesota that its most famous local musician was being celebrated for his longevity and not, for once, his creativity.  What did he think of the milestone, this reporter asks Al Sklarski, a shift supervisor at a local iron mine.  “You mean Gary Puckett?  I used to love that song of his, what was it–‘Lady Willpower’?”


When informed that the subject of the profiles was Bob Dylan, the world-renowned singer-songwriter, Sklarski drew a blank.  “Never heard of him,” he said as he took off in his pick-up truck.

The confusion stems from the fact that when Dylan left Hibbing at the age of 18 he was known as Bobby Zimmerman, son of a local appliance store owner.  Dylan changed his name after moving to New York City, and skyrocketed to fame when the folk themes and styles he revived found a new audience among college protestors in the 1960’s.

Dylan, ne Zimmerman

But others in this town recall Zimmerman/Dylan with a mixture of pride and regret.  “He could have been one of the great ones,” says Mike O’Dwyer, owner of O’Dwyer Appliances.  “He could’ve become manager of his dad’s appliance store and done real well for himself.  Instead, he took the easy way out and became a Nobel Prize winner.”

Dylan got his start singing at “Sidewalk Days” promotions for his father’s store, which handled several major “white goods” brands including Maytag and Frigidaire.  An early attempt to capture the discontent of the fifties was his “Dryin’ in the Wind,” about the superior quality of a stackable, front-loading Amana washer/dryer:

How may loads can one dryer dry
Before its motor conks out?
Where do you get the best appliance deals–
At Zimmerman’s, there’s no doubt.

Competition was intense among aspiring folk singers in the late 50s and early 60s, but Dylan outpaced others with his gift for wrapping political commentary in powerful lyrical images.  “A lot of people thought Phil Ochs would emerge as the voice of that generation,” says Arnie Welstead, former editor of Folksong! magazine.  “Where Phil went wrong was he was tough on warranty claims if your ‘big ticket’ item broke.”

Image result for phil ochs
Phil Ochs:  “If only I’d had Dylan’s background in gas and electric ranges.”

In addition to Dylan and Puckett, Hibbing was home to Kevin McHale, forward for the Boston Celtics and later coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the professional basketball team, not the carnivorous predators.  The local Chamber of Commerce here has invited the three famous sons to a “Celebration of Hibbing” tentatively scheduled for October of this year when Puckett will turn 81.  When asked if he would attend, Dylan, a reclusive artist known for his obscure lyrics, replied in a cryptic email “What time is the Early Bird Special at Applebee’s?”

As Friends Rallied Round, One Avoided Bloodshed

SEEKONK, Mass.  For Phil Sturgis, a 57-year-old pipe fitter, it was always about friends.  “Seriously, where would I be without these guys,” he says as he points to a faded picture of him and six of his buddies on a deep-sea fishing excursion.  “I wouldn’t be anywhere is where, he says,” fighting back a tear.

Sturgis has a rare blood disorder, Weiman-Flojit Syndrome, in which his red blood cells gang up on the white ones, give them the blood cell equivalent of a wedgie, and steal their lunch money.  “There is faint hope that someday we’ll have a cure,” says Dr. Emily Carstairs of St. Judith the Prudent Hospital here.  “Until then, all we can do is pump new blood into the victims and send them gigantic bills.”

While the hospital takes care of the second part, it was Phil’s friends who pitched in for the first.  “I had no problem giving a pint of blood for Phil,” says Al Mayo, who has known him since grade school.  “He’s bought a few pints for me.”



But one of Phil’s friends, Alton Mack,  asked if he could contribute to the cause of saving a life in a different way.  “I’m thin because I don’t drink like these guys, and I get queasy at the sight of blood,” says the professor of English at nearby UMass-Seekonk.  “You wouldn’t want me to get sick to help somebody else get well–would you?”

So Mack offered to memorialize Sturgis by the greatest honor an academic can confer on another human being–a footnote in an academic paper.  “A footnote is forever,” says Geoffrey Hargraves, incoming president of the Modernist Language Association.  “Most consumer goods are crap, and once the warranty expires the best you can do is sell them for pennies on the dollar at a tag sale or eBay.”

Mack, wandering lonely as a cloud.


Sturgis’s footnote strikes a personal tone, and is unlikely to take its place in history alongside those of Edward Gibbon, whose “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” used footnotes to skewer St. Augustine and other lesser figures, or Vladimir Nabokov, whose novel “Pale Fire” consists largely of footnotes to a 999-line poem.  “I didn’t want to embarrass him with something mushy,” Sturgis says, “so I kept it short, sweet, and to the point.”

The memorial footnote appears in a study of the works of John Updike, which Mack hopes to see published in a more prestigious journal than he has so far been able to crack.  “Updike’s ‘Rabbit Run’ is a basketball novel, of which there haven’t been many,” he notes, as he flips to page 23 and points to footnote number 114.  “See–it’s really a nice tribute.”

This reporter runs his finger down the page to find the memorial, which reads as follows: “The paucity of basketball novels may be due to the fact that basketball fans would rather–for some strange reason–watch basketball than read books.  The author gave ‘Rabbit Run’ to Philip Sturgis, a life-long Boston Celtics fan, but he returned it two weeks later saying it was boring and he couldn’t finish it.”

Walk for Irish Alzheimer’s Finds Old Wounds Still Fresh

BOSTON.  In this, the most Irish city in America, the streets are filled from spring through summer with walks for cures for numerous diseases.  “It a good thing they don’t have one for Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease,” says Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Mary Ann McGlogarty.  “All that walking would only make things worse for the little fellas.”

“I don’t know where we’re going, but I’ll never forgive Tim O’Brien.”

But there is a new entrant in the crowded field of ailments that tug at residents’ heartstrings by filling the streets with walkers clad in souvenir t-shirts, water bottles in hand:  “We’ve taken care of everybody but our own folks,” says Siobhan Blakey.  “The cobbler’s kids go shoeless, and our poor mums and dads go without the critical aid they need in their golden years.”

“You stepped on my foot last year too, you oaf.”


Blakey is referring to “Irish Alzheimer’s Disease,” which strikes eight out of ten descendants of the Emerald Isle before they die, after which it doesn’t matter.  “Victims of Irish Alzheimer’s forget everything but the grudges,” says McGlogarty.  “It’s the one thing they have to hold on to when they can’t remember where they left their glasses and car keys.”

Local primary care physicians had long doubted the existence of a separate strain of Alzheimer’s Disease until they encountered the curious case of Seamus Houlihan, who wandered into Massachusetts General Hospital one day because he had heard that actor John Wayne had once been treated there.  “He was incoherent, babbling, couldn’t tell us where he lived,” says Dr. Philip McGrath.  “Then he saw my name tag and recalled that a girl named Daisy McGrath refused to dance with him in junior high, and he was off to the races.”

Medical researchers say they are hopeful a new drug cocktail will provide relief from symptoms, which include grumbling, muttering under one’s breath, and general orneriness.  Patrick Keoghan, a local resident who can trace his ancestry back to 18th century County Cork, is encouraged by the news.  “I’ve been collecting grievances for years,” he says as he opens the bulkhead door to his basement.  “My wife says I’ve got to throw them out to make room for her canned goods.”