Some Athletes Hope to Make Big Splash at Summer Olympics

SANTA MONICA, California.  The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were still 347days away yesterday, but you couldn’t tell from the determined looks on the faces of the hard-core athletes who were gathered at an outdoor pool and diving facility here.  “A lot of people don’t have a sense of urgency about it but I do,” says coach Mark Wertz with an edge in his voice. “By the time people read that first sentence, it will be down to 346 days.”


Wertz is putting his charges through their paces today because he doesn’t want to lose a single minute available for practice, and he watches closely as Tyler Scher, a 19-year-old prospect from Indianapolis, climbs the ten-meter springboard for his first try. “These kids are so green,” Wertz says, shaking his head.  “I hope we’re ready by the time we get on that plane.”

As he says these last words sotto voce, Scher walks to the edge of the board, bounces, flies high in the air and then enters the water clumsily, making a splash big enough to put him out of contention in most diving competitions.

Can opener


“Good work, Ty,” Wertz says as he makes a note on his ever-present clipboard.  “You got good volume on your splash, but we need to work on the height.”

Scher and the others assembled here this morning hope to represent the U.S. in the first Olympic competition of its kind, performing one of the five classic jumps–cannonball, jack knife, preacher’s seat, suicide and “back splat”–into a pool ringed by a panel of international judges.  “I coulda been a diver,” says Tony DiStafano, an earnest sixteen-year-old from West Hartford, Connecticut, “but I like to make a splash.”

“You want to lean back into it a little more.”

Because many of the compulsory pool jumps are American creations, the U.S. team is expected to have a built-in edge when for the first time the sport advances beyond the “demonstration” stage, but Wertz is leaving nothing to chance.  “I don’t buy that for a minute,” says Wertz.  “The Eastern European women are the dark horse in the race, especially with all that hair on their upper lips.”

The Carnival Barker: Recalling a Dying Art

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

Southwark Fair by William Hogarth (1697-1764)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Rushing

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

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

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

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

As a matter of fact, the last time I saw Brad the Lizard Boy was on the northside of Chicago. He was on his way to an underground film festival, and was excited about a particularly grotesque childbirth film that he’d heard about. A taste for bizarre spectacle, once acquired, can apparently be refined but is never lost.

CIA: ISIS Takeover of Donut Shops “Inevitable”

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Senior officials at the Central Intelligence Agency, the civilian foreign intelligence service of the federal government, are quietly conceding in internal memos that they stand to lose a struggle they always assumed they’d win.  “I guess it’s like the Maginot Line,” said Mark Bavardi, a CIA spokesperson, referring to the French barricade that is often invoked as an example of fighting the last war.  “When our backs were turned while we checked our phones waiting for iced lattes the enemy filled out job applications and now control the counters are most major American donut chain stores.”

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Maginot Line: “They’ll never get past these puppies!”

Bavardi is referring to the dramatic increase in Muslim women working in donut shops, a trend that has been fueled by franchise owners’ desire to save money on hairnets that must be supplied to all workers under health regulations.  “You hire a Catholic, maybe she’s wearing a lace mantilla,” he says.  “You hire a Protestant or an atheist or an agnostic, you’ve got to get them a hairnet.”

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“I’ll need an extra skinny straw, too.”

While the takeover of the nation’s donut shops is still several years in the future, seasoned intelligence sources say that eventual denouement is inevitable.  “You look back twenty years and there was no female counter help wearing burquas,” says Lt. Col. Aaron Wilcox (ret.), who has studied the trend in retirement by visiting several donut shops each morning.  “I saw two ‘Islamo-gals’ yesterday, so that means we have to act now before the Dunkin’ Donuts Bacon, Egg & Cheese sandwich disappears from the face of the earth.”

Statistical extrapolation is often used to predict future events based on scanty evidence, but the method is nonetheless considered valid by those with poor math skills.  “Eventually, you reach a ‘tipping point’ where a ‘critical mass’ of facts creates a ‘watershed,'” notes Wilcox as he swats at several pesky buzzwords circling over his head.

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The furthest previous advance of Muslim invaders upon Western civilization occurred in 1529, when the Ottoman Empire reached the gates of Vienna, Austria, but military experts foresee possible encroachments as far inland as Cleveland, Ohio, where Tim Hortons stores predominate.  “The Siege of Vienna was just about them little Vienna sausages,” notes patron Ferrel Hoskins, Jr., a long-haul trucker as he tucks into one of the chain’s Hot Breakfast Sandwiches.  “This is about your choice of sausage or bacon on a biscuit, and I’ll fight to the death for my right to choose both.”

Pope Urges Onanists to Return to Church

VATICAN CITY.  Continuing his efforts to welcome “lost sheep back to the fold,” Pope Francis I followed up yesterday’s historic outreach to remarried Catholics by urging onanists to return to the faith that once shunned them.

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“Don’t touch my National Geographic!”


“To the many who have touched themselves inappropriately, the Church will now take a ‘hands off’ approach,” the Pontiff said in a papal bull entitled “Laudato masturbare,” or “In Praise of Self-Love.”  “If we’re going to forgive some guy who dumped his wife for an au pair, I suppose we can’t turn away a mere monkey-spanker.”

“Onanist” is the technical scientific euphemism for a person whose love for him or herself crosses the boundary from an appropriate level of amour-propre into the forbidden realm of the physical.  “This is an area of inquiry that is rife with euphemisms,” said Professor Norbert Weinman of the Lobaugh Institute for the Study of Auto-Eroticism.  “My favorite is ‘choke the chicken’–it’s such a colorful term.”

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“To the thousands who have come here to seek forgiveness–you’re all set!”


Self-abuse has historically been forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church as a mortal sin, but it will be down-graded to the level of “venial,” Latin for “not a big deal.”  “Where before you burned in hell forever for just one Playmate of the Month,” said Father Ignatius O’Keefe of St. Columbkille’s parish in Brighton, Mass., “now you say three Hail Mary’s, an Act of Contrition and you’re good to go.”

Initial reaction of onanists to the Pope’s outreach were enthusiastic.  “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this day,” said Bob Pfeiffer, a former communicant at St. Columbkille’s who journeyed to Rome to express his gratitude.  “Let me shake . . .” he began, before the Pope recoiled in apparent horror.

“Please,” the Vicar of Christ on Earth said with barely-concealed disgust.  “No touch-a the hand.”

Among the EPA Porn Dogs

The Environmental Protection Agency gave awards to several employees making around $120,000 a year who were caught viewing pornography at work.  One admitted that for approximately 2 to 6 hours a day over a period of several years he viewed and downloaded over 20,000 pornographic images onto EPA computers, and spent much of workday organizing the porn into saved folders.  When the employee was caught, he expressed surprise that what he was doing was wrong.

News item.

Every day when I come into work at the Environmental Protection Agency–at substantially less than I could make in the private sector, I might add–I take pride in the job my colleagues and I do protecting America’s natural resources and cute animals.  It’s a constant battle; every time you turn around some dentist is shooting a lion, or some less-ferocious animal subject to our jurisdiction.  Turn off the lights of regulatory oversight and the scumbags come out to feast on snail darters and other endangered species.  Turn them back on, and the scumbags scatter like the cockroaches that they are.

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Snail darter: Single-serving size makes for snackin’ good fun!

It’s grueling, and a guy can be forgiven for spending an idle moment here and there on something . . . fun.  Diverting.  Relaxing.  Like  It’s free, unless you want to enter the private “chop shop,” where you can conduct one-on-one conversations with the Women of the Road, the gals who stay glued to their seats hugging hot gas tanks with their thundering thighs.  For that you’ll need a major credit card.  Good thing I’m in a senior position here and have been entrusted with an EPA-issued VISA card to defray expenses associated with my . . . uh . . . investigations.

My phone rings and I look down at the caller ID screen.  It’s the damn Sierra Club gal again–what a nuisance.  Just when I was starting to unwind a bit.

“Hello Ms. Mangel-Wurzel,” I say wearily after I pick up.  A hyphen in the middle of her name–how novel!  “What is it now?”

“Did you guys look at that stuff I sent you on the run-off in the Monongahela River basin?”

I rustle some papers to make a noise like I’m looking for the file.  “Ah, here it is,” I say.  Actually, I recycled what she sent me a long time ago.  It was doing no good cluttering up my desk.  Might as well get it back in the waste stream, where it could be made into something useful, like a post-consumer content coffee cup for Starbucks.

“So have I convinced you that the discharges and effluents are a threat to the environment?  All you have to do is run a couple of tests on . . .”

Blah, blah, blah–tell me something I haven’t heard a million times before.  A little email envelope shows up on my screen as she drones on and on.  It’s from Chuck over in enforcement.  “Check this out,” his message says, and I open up the attachment.  It’s an image from of a raven-haired bimbo getting it on with a gecko, one of the small to average-sized lizards found in warm climates throughout the world.

“If you look at the documents,” Mangel-Wurzel says, “you’ll see that the pollution comes from several companies that are under court orders already.”

“Jesus Christ,” I say.  I turn on my computer speakers and set the volume on low, so I can hear the moans of the gecko, the only lizard that vocalizes.

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“I love it when you flick your little tongue!”


“Exactly, that’s a big deal,” she says.  “Are . . . are you okay?” he asks.  “I hear a chirping sound.”

“Just clearing my throat,” I say as I turn the speakers off.  Have to maintain the EPA’s standards of professionalism, which are a god damn nuisance if you ask me.

“So–are you guys going to do anything about it?” she asks.  Who, I ask myself, died and left her boss?

“You know, Ms. Mangel-Wurzel,” I begin patiently, “in order to convict someone of an environmental offense the EPA must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual acted with criminal intent to–oh my god!”

“Oh my god what?”

The money shot!”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you guys for years!”

Me and Sappho

Sunday night in Boston.  The city’s winding down at the end of the weekend, or at least some of us–like me–are.  Others are pursuing the hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you strategy that caused a woman I rode with in an elevator on a Monday morning many years ago to admit that she wasn’t quite ready for work yet.

“How was your weekend?” I had asked, quite innocently.

“I guess it was pretty good,” she said.

“You guess?”

“Yeah.  Sunday night I woke up on the floor of the Cask ‘n Flagon”–a bar strategically located outside Fenway Park to serve all of your pre, during and post-game drinking needs.

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Me? I’m pacing myself, just having a sparkling water and lime–and a glass of malbec–while I wait for Sappho, the lesbian poet from the isle of Lesbos, to arrive for a rendez-vous.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a happily married man approaching my fourth decade of connubial bliss, but I’m also a professional poet–I have a copy of the check for $40 from The Christian Science Monitor to prove it.  Sappho is a far better poet than me, but her star has been eclipsed by other, more recent poetessas, to the point where she’s known only to poetry professionals; the kind of dweebs (I do not exclude myself) who write angry letters to The New York Times Book Review if you confuse an anapest with an anacrusis in a review of a some M.F.A.’s first chapbook.  I’ve offered her my Poetry Promotion Package (call now, operators are standing by, only $199.95!) to try and goose up her ratings as compared to overrated suicidal mortals such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who come from my neck of the woods–the western suburbs of Boston.  I like to think of our little collection of affluent zip codes as the Bermuda Triangle of female poets.

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Whenever I arrange an  imaginary consult with a female poet I always get my wife’s imaginary permission first, so after we’d finished the Sunday papers this colloquy ensued:

ME:  Say, do you mind if meet a lesbian poet for drinks this afternoon?

HER:  Are you sure she’s a lesbian?

ME:  Well, she did have a daughter–Kleis–by a guy she called “The Prick from the Isle of Man.”

HER:  So she’s bi?  Not sure if I like that.

ME:  Does it help if she’s been dead for 2,585 years?

HER:  I suppose.  Are you buying, or is she?

ME:  I’m buying, but it’s business development–I’m trying to sign her up for a poetry re-branding seminar.  I can expense it.

HER:  Because our credit cards are getting kind of high.  Can you pick up some milk on the way home?

ME:  What kind?

HER:  Two percent–for my coffee in the morning.

ME:  One percent, two percent–I love you percent.

HER:  Must you?

ME:  When poetry happens to strike my ear/I recite it aloud, for all to hear.

HER:  Don’t be late.

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The place I’ve chosen is The Saint, a dual-purpose bar that I unwittingly stumbled into back in the 80’s with my friend “Rich,” an ur-male of the type you may recall from that frenzied decade; white button-down shirt, yellow power tie loosened at the neck, a heavy layer of “chin goo” at the knot that turns it a darker shade than the rest of the cravat.

Rich and I went to The Saint for burgers and a beer one lunchtime, and Rich–a salesman who made it his business to learn the name of everyone he met, especially waitresses and bartenders–started to chat up the woman who was serving us.

“This is a fun place,” he said with innocent bonhomie.  “What’s it like at night?”

Our server–a woman in a sleeveless black t-shirt, her hair cut in a mullet–gave him the once-over and then said drily “You wouldn’t be welcome here.”

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Since then the bar and its habitues have emerged from darkness, both literally and figuratively.  The elevated highway known as the Central Artery has been torn down, allowing some sunlight to hit the front windows for the first time since a wonderful future was envisioned on the drawing boards of urban planning goobers in the 1950s.  And the love that dare not speak its name–in the memorable words of Lord Alfred Douglas–has received the imprimatur of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Everything’s copacetic!

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The future ain’t what it used to be.


I’m looking around, noticing the improvements in the place, when I see a short, dark and not–in a conventional sense–very attractive woman walk in the front door.  It’s got to be Sappho, even though her image has been romanticized over two and a half-millenia by those who admire her poetry.  She strikes me as a precursor of Dorothy Parker, the acerbic twentieth century poet who wrote so deeply of love because she’d been so disappointed by it.  The kind I used to fall for like a ton of anthologies across a crowded college classroom.

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Dorothy Parker, Sappho:  Well, you’ve never seen them in the same room together, have you?


“Yoo-hoo!  Sappho!  Over here!” I call, drawing looks from those who, shall we say, detect in me an alien presence.

She saunters over, looking “darting-eyed” as she once said of a woman from Thebe, at the others in the joint.  I put on my best marketing manner–I’d like to close a sale since Edna St. Vincent Millay cancelled her platinum membership last month, leaving me without an income coming in.

We exchange pleasantries and she orders a retsina, which stumps the bartender.

“What’s that?”

“A Greek wine my brother used to pour for the Mytileneans at their town hall,” she says, with a bit of an attitude.  She’s got a chip on her shoulder because the culture of Lesbos has been largely forgotten, surpassed in the canon by Athens.  When you hear some professor with elbow patches bloviating about “The Grandeur of Greece,” he ain’t talking about her little island off the coast of Turkey.

“Try a malbec,” I say, offering her my glass.  “It’s been my favorite since the wine snobs abandoned merlot after it got dissed in the movie Sideways.

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She takes a whiff and signals that it’s okay, the waitress leaves to get her a glass, and then we get down to the more serious subject that’s brought us together: monetizing her poetry in the manner of Rod McKuen so she can make some serious moolah.

“So, since you’re one of the immortals now–why exactly do you need to make money?” I ask.

“You’re a nobody among the gods unless you’ve got ready cash,” she says.  “Zeus, Apollo–all they have to do is say the word and things happen.  Humans are turned into animals, people are struck with curses, all sorts of cool stuff.  Me?  I have to pay non-divinity prices in the cafeteria for a freaking grape leaf.”

“Well, you’ve got a lot of great stuff to work with,” I say, exaggerating a bit as I open up the slim 28-page volume that contains every word of hers that’s ever been found.

“Like what?” she asks skeptically.

“Well, there’s ‘Wealth without virtue is no harmless neighbor.'”

“Are you kidding?  You live in 21st century America.”

“Maybe we could put it on t-shirts, sell it in natural food stores.”

“You’re going for the capillary, not the jugular,” she says as her wine arrives.

“How about ‘Honestly, I would like to die.'”

She gives me a look that could flash-freeze a bowl of peas.  “You’re kidding, right?”

“I’m thinking maybe we put in on a throw rug for Valley Girls to put outside their bedroom doors.”
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“And she’s like, do you like Sappho?  And I’m like, Sappho?  Are you serious?”


I can tell she’s not interested in that kind of down-market approach, so I shift gears.  “How about we try trolling?”

“What’s that?”

“You sue people for infringing your stuff.”


“Well, that line of yours about the children of Kleanax.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Kleenex?  The soft facial tissue that comes in all varieties to match your lifestyle?”

Image result for kleenex facial tissues 60s

She gives me a heavy-lidded look.  “That’s the best you’ve got?”

“That’s just a teaser.  How about we go after J.D. Salinger?”

The greatest writer ever to stay in prep school?” she says with a laugh, repeating Norman Mailer’s put-down.

“That’s him.  You wrote ‘Lift high the roofbeam, lift high, you carpenters.”


“He wrote ‘Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.”

She shows a little more interest in this more obvious case of literary larceny.  “Has he got any money?”

“Are you kidding?  The Catcher in the Rye is one of the top-selling books of all time, right after the Bible, Gone With the Wind and the Chilton Auto Repair Manual for the 1973 Chevrolet Vega.”

“Ok, good catch.  Anything else?”

“I like ‘And One for His Mistress.'”

“Really?”  She perks up a bit.  Apparently the bitter diatribe she wrote against the Egyptian courtesan who was her eldest brother’s lover is a work she’s particularly fond of.

“I’m thinking maybe turn it into a screenplay for one of those divorcee movies Dianne Keaton’s always cast in.”

Diane Keaton diane

“Anything to keep her from making another record album.”

We pause for a moment to take sips, and she grows reflective.  “So–on the whole–how am I holding up?”  I can tell she’s feeling insecure; her Aeolic dialect has been ground into the dust by Attic Greek, and Hollywood’s never made a biopic of her.

“Are you kidding–you’re the top!”  I’m s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g it a bit to make her feel better about herself–to give her hope so she’ll hire me–but there’s more than a modicum of truth in my claim.  “Did you know that the world is so hungry for your verse that they cherish a scrap of papyrus torn from the wrapping of a mummified crocodile?”

She looks at me, as Keats said of Cortez’s men in On first looking into Chapman’s Homer, with a wild surmise.  “You can’t be serious,” she says, and now I know where John McEnroe got the phrase he used to belabor tennis linesmen with.  “What kind of nut makes a crocodile mummy?”

“I don’t know, but it’s true.  Scholars swoon when they find a syllable you wrote–you get them tenured.”

She allows herself just a wisp of smile of self-satisfaction.  “That’s–gratifying to hear,” she says with a becoming modesty.  “What are your favorite lines of mine?”

“That’s easy,” I say.  “‘The moon has set/and the Pleiades; it is the middle/of the night and the hours go by/and I lie here alone.’  Reminds me of nights in my backyard, looking up at the sky to the west, after my wife has gone to bed.

“You’re married?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply.  “A lesbian married me.”

Suddenly the crowd in The Saint is all ears.   I sense their bemusement, which doesn’t mean they think I’m funny–they’re confused.

The bartender comes over and squints at me, as if trying to recall where she’s seen me before.  “Did you come in here back in the 80’s?” she asks suspiciously.

“That I did.”

“With a guy named Rich?  Yellow power tie, greasy at the knot–correct?”

“On the nosey.”

She’s silent for a moment.  “I thought I made it clear your kind weren’t welcome here,” she says with an air of menace.  “And now you come in cracking jokes at the expense of my clientele.”

“It’s not a joke,” I say.  “My wife and I were married by a lesbian.  She was the only minister who would perform the ceremony for us since we didn’t belong to any church.”

“Oh yeah?  Where was it?”

“Down on Newbury Street.  Real crunchy granola kind of place.  Soup kitchen in the basement, Tuesday night lentil soup suppers to benefit the Sandanistas.”

The bartender softens a bit, but she’s still not convinced.  “Sounds fishy to me.  I need to think of a shibboleth . . .”

“What’s that?” Sappho asks.

“A word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from outgroups,” I say.  I have the definition at my fingertips, since I can check Wikipedia on my phone.

“I got it,” the bartender says.  “What would a lefty lesbian minister of the 80’s wear to the ceremony that would horrify your Presbyterian mother-in-law?”

I hoff ta loff as we say here in Boston.  “I would say that’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” I begin, “except shooting fish in a barrel is hard by comparison.”

“Okay, smart guy,” the publican says.  “What was she wearing?”

“E-Z, peasy,” I reply.  “Frye boots.”

Walk for Self-Pity Falls Short of Its Goals

BOSTON.  Lyman Sturgis is standing at the finish line of the Walk for the Cure for Self-Pity, looking down at a clipboard, and from his expression you can tell that something isn’t right.  “It’s funny,” he says as the last straggler completes the 5-mile course.  “We had 532 people sign up, but only 286 finished.”

“I know I’m not going to make it.”

A short walk down Commonwealth Avenue is all it takes to get to the bottom of the mystery, however, as one encounters walkers of all stripes who gave up not far from the finish line, convinced that the obstacles ahead of them were insurmountable.

“These shoes suck,” says Kris Mufano, an actuarial accountant who was encouraged to participate by his wife Leanne.

“They’re just as good as everybody else’s,” she says as she drains the last of the water from the commemorative bottle she received for participating.

“Not everybody else’s,” her husband says bitterly as he sees an elderly man in soft leather sneakers that appear from a distance to be the ultimate in pedestrian comfort.

Built for comfort.


Self-pity is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Whiney Disorders as a state of mind in which an individual perceives generally applicable conditions as affecting him or her to a greater degree than others.  People who suffer from the ailment consequently believe they are deserving of sympathy and are a gigantic pain in the keister.

For Normand Oliver III, a fifth-generation Bostonian who has never traveled south of New York City, the affliction manifests itself in the form of a excessive sensitivity to heat.  “Global warming is killing me!” he says as he takes a seat on a bench next to a statue of the ur-WASP historian Samuel Eliot Morison on the Commonwealth Mall.

Morison:  “Get off your duff and get moving!”


“It’s the same temperature for everybody,” says his father, who traveled the South to oversee the family’s investments in cotton mills before he retired.  “Down in Atlanta they’d consider this cold weather,” he adds, referring to the pleasantly-cool seventy-degree temperature.

“I don’t care, I say it’s hot and I’m not walking another step,” says his son as he folds his arms across his chest like a stubborn toddler twenty years younger.

Back at the finish line Sturgis says the failure of so many walkers to complete the course may cause his organization, the New England Self-Pity Foundation, to miss its fund-raising goal.  “You sign up pledges, and if you don’t follow-through with your commitment they may back out,” he says ruefully.  “That can happen to any charity, but still I ask myself–why me?”

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