My Liebster Award Acceptance Speech

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, purse-sized dogs and cats.

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It is an honor and a privilege to be here tonight as a recipient of a 2015 Liebster Award, the Oscar, the Heisman, the ne plus ultra for bloggers.

I need to thank a lot of people tonight, but first and foremost, Nikki Stern, for nominating me.  Nikki–are you here tonight?  There she is, ladies and gentlemen, over there at table 23.  Let’s give her a big Liebster round of applause.

[Tepid, golf-tournament level clapping.]

Oh, come on, people–you can do better than that!  Can I at least get a couple of “woots”!

[Louder, more enthusiastic clapping, punctuated by woots.]

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That’s more like it.  (clears throat nervously)  You know, Nikki is really the nicest person I know.

[Moderate applause.]

No seriously, I truly don’t think she has a mean bone in her body.  That’s why I find her so . . . and I’m groping for the right word now, because I’m a happily married man . . . intriguing.  I mean, it’s like we’re those little Scotty dog magnets, the black and white ones you used to see in tacky gift shops?  The kind where you try to sneak one dog up behind the other, and the other–the one being snuck up upon, not the one doing the sneaking–whirls around as if propelled by some mysterious force.  Like, say, magnetism.

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(pauses for laughter that doesn’t come)  Is this mike on?  Anyway, Nikki is the author of “Hope in Small Doses,” which is a great title and a very heartwarming book if your heart needs warming.  Which mine does, no doubt about it.  “Hope” now comes in two decorator colors, green and orange, and as all good poets know, there’s nothing that rhymes with “orange.”

But I’ve wandered off the path a bit.  I was going to say that Nikki is so nice that she’s allowed me to make up my own questions, which is a good thing, because I was never good at “slam” books in high school, those self-administered personality tests that kids would pass around for you to record your deepest, darkest secrets in, like “Who do you think is better, Herman’s Hermits or The Dave Clark Five?”

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No, I had a bad experience with slam books in 10th grade.  I had just started dating Lisa Flores–I think we’d kissed once at a homecoming dance.  When the latest slam book found its way into my hands and I flipped to the page that asked “Who do you think is the best kisser?” I ran my finger down the column to find Lisa’s entry and it read–Junior Fidler!

[Gasps from audience.]

Well, you can imagine how I felt–not so hot, lemme tell ya!

But again, I digress.  Nikki has been kind enough to allow me to make up my own questions, rather than struggle in vain to come up with a favorite color or a favorite TV show.  I’ve never been able to keep a favorite color for very long–I’m capricious that way–and I haven’t had any favorite TV shows since “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges went off the air.

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So here goes–no holds barred, lumberjack rules, you may tap out at any time by saying the safe word “Blog!”

1.  Where did you get that the ugly car you drive?

Seems strange to say, but I inherited the 2006 Pontiac Torrent that I drive to the train station every day from my son.  Not that he left it to me in his will, it’s just that he’s living in the city and it’s really expensive to keep a car and . . . maybe we better move on to your next question.

2.  Who was your favorite baseball player growing up and why?

Stan Musial, no question.  Great hitter, plays harmonica like me, and as my dad pointed out–he never argued with an umpire.

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[Hypocritical, self-congratulatory applause.]

Oh, please.  Like you don’t scream at the ump every time a call doesn’t go your way?  Next question.

3.  Were you raised by wolves?

What the hell kind of question is that?  Of course not.  They were muskrats, or something.

4.  Any scars or distinguishing marks?

Whadda you, the FBI?  As a matter of fact I have an unsightly mole on my right elbow that’s so big it has the right to vote in municipal elections around here.

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Family portrait, Christmas, 1963

5.  What surprising fact will people discover when they read your obituary?

You mean other than the cross-dressing?  I hope to have that under control by the time I die.  I guess it would be the curious fact that I played harmonica with both Mississippi Fred McDowell and Willie Dixon . . .

6.  Forty years ago, and you’ve been dining out on it ever since.

I thought you were supposed to ask questions, not make snide remarks.

7.  What exactly does “snide” mean, anyway?

Cutting, sly, malicious or sarcastic.  That counts as one of your questions, by the way.

8.  No it doesn’t.

You’d better quit while you’re ahead.

9.  All right.  What was the name of your first pet?

So you’re the one who’s been trying to hack into my bank account!

10.  No I’m not.

Gotcha–you’re out of questions.  So now it’s time for me to send each and every one of my 2,896 followers . . .

11.  You haven’t made it past the 3,000 reader threshold after you’ve been blogging for what . . .

Nine years.  Don’t rub it in.  Send them over to Nikki’s blog.

12.  Aren’t you supposed to recommend five other blogs or . . .

Or what?

13.  Or you’ll break the chain.

Let me tell you something my dad told me the first time I ever saw a chain letter.

14.  Okay.

Do you have to say everything with a number?

15.  I’ll stop after this one.

Anyway, he showed it to me, and told me anybody who’d send a dollar to a stranger because an anonymous letter said something awful would happen to them if they didn’t needed to have his head examined.

Like people who fall for the Liebster Award and spend time answering questions on the internet in the vain hope it will increase their readership and make them rich beyond the dreams of avarice?

Yeah.  Present company excepted, of course.

The Lost Worcester Poems of Elizabeth Bishop

          Elizabeth Bishop was born and lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, and is buried there, but “had no fond feelings” for the city.

                                                 The Boston Globe

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Diner Sonnet

I am in need of Worcester home fries, the kind
that the counter-man makes jump in the skillet
at the Miss Worcester Diner. He really kills it,
underneath the railroad bridge, where you find
pigeons at any hour of the day. It may be a grind
but he with pride has made it his life’s trade.
I will wake tomorrow with indigestion, I’m afraid
but even with sweat-drenched brow he doesn’t mind.

The secret, the Worcester-magic, is in the paprika.
In no other city is this ingredient added to the mix.
It is not just the spice, it is the oddity, the loneliness
of this recipe in the world. Who first said “Eureka!”
when sprinkling the red powder, perhaps for kicks,
and created a dish that I celebrate for its only-ness?


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South Main Nocturne

And now creeps down
Grand Street from South Main,
to the top porches of the town’s
triple-deckers, a mother’s pain:

“Karen,” she cries to her kin,
“Put that pigeon down,
you don’t know where it’s been!”
The girl looks up and frowns.

Later, at Guertin’s, a waggish crone
calls out to the owner regarding his fare:
“Richie–are them pigeon eggs?” She is alone,
the publican lets the question hang in the air.

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Stupid Argument

The City Council’s proceedings
are there for all to see,
in the paper, for the reading.
The Mayor’s adversary, a hack,
calls him “Stupid.”
Hizzoner’s response is not muted,
he says “Stupid!”–quite cursory–back.

Nanotechnologists Confirm Nothing Ever Happens in Business Meetings

WASHINGTON, D.C.  After an exhaustive peer-reviewed research project lasting the better part of a year, nanotechnologists at the National Science Institute have confirmed that nothing ever happens at business meetings, long thought to be a productive use of employees’ time.

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“So the plus-size Spanx aren’t available in Dusty Rose?  Bummer!”


“There had been some question in the minds of business school professors, guys who couldn’t run a lemonade stand,” said Robert Nardoff, CEO of Amalgamated Electro-Dingbats.  “I think we can lay that base canard to rest alongside the notion that honesty is the best policy.



Nanotechnology, the study of incredibly teensy-tiny things, is a science that promises to transform our lives over the coming years as sub-atomic robots download iTunes songs directly to the human brain.  For now, however, nano-scientists say they are satisfied in running to ground the rumor, widely circulated in business advice columns read by insecure junior employees, that acting interested during a business meeting can help further one’s career.

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“You drew that doodle . . . for me?”


“False theories distract us from more important work that drops straight to the bottom line,” said Nardoff.  “Like this morning I stared out the window, and this afternoon I’m playing golf.”

“I do my best ‘desk sleeping’ in the morning, when I’m hung over.” 


Business meetings are gatherings of business men and women in a single room.  Beverages are often served after participants have asked each other how the spouse is, how the kids are and how ’bout them Red Sox?  Someone important arrives late, asks to be “brought up to speed,” and prior accounts of familial matters and sports talk are re-hashed.  Lunch is brought in and snores are heard as meeting participants indulge in post-prandial slumber.  Upon awakening everyone then breaks off half of a cookie or brownie because they claim to be “dieting” and returns to actual work.

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Congo bars–yum!


With the addition of a speaker phone or “squawk box” productivity can be further reduced as remote participants forget to mute their phones and on-site colleagues are entertained with the sound of barking dogs, slamming screen doors and whining children.  “It’s no wonder the Chinese are eating our lunch,” says Nardoff.  “Although I wish they hadn’t taken that congo bar from the cookie tray.”

Friday Night Cruisin’ on the Space Shuttle

News item: NASA allowed astronauts to fly drunk. 

                                                                 Associated Press

GROUND CONTROL:  Shuttle Commander, this is Houston, do you read me?

Van Morrison

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  You, my-y, Brown Eyed Girl.  Do you remember when . . .

GROUND CONTROL:  Shuttle Commander–

CO-PILOT:  The voices–why won’t the voices stop?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Oh, Christ–it’s Cape Canaveral.  Hey guy–what’s going on?

GROUND CONTROL:  You’re supposed to use official terms like “Roger” or “Copy”.

CO-PILOT:  Who’s Roger?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  The guy who’s always eating out of the Tang jar.

CO-PILOT:  Gross.

GROUND CONTROL:  We were recording some erratic flight movements so I thought I’d give you a call.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  That’s awfully god-damned nice of you.

GROUND CONTROL:  You guys–uh–quit drinking last night when I told you to–right?

CO-PILOT:  Actually, we still had about half a bottle of gin left, and I figured we’d be gone for a long time and it might go bad.

GROUND CONTROL:  Gin doesn’t go bad.

CO-PILOT:  Oh, right.  It was the tonic.  There was about half a one-liter bottle left–we didn’t want it to go flat.

GROUND CONTROL:  All right.  What are you guys doing?


GROUND CONTROL:  Yes, now–when did you think I meant?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:   Uh, we’re playing zero-gravity beer pong.


CO-PILOT:  Hair of the dog that bit you, man.

GROUND CONTROL:  You guys are nuts!

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  I know–it’s really hard when you’re weightless.

GROUND CONTROL:  Guys–I thought we had an understanding.

CO-PILOT:  Right.  We’re not allowed to drink in outer space unless we go up in the Space Shuttle first–for safety’s sake.

GROUND CONTROL:  That’s not how I remember it.  Anyway, you’re shut off.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Aw, c’mon!  I just cracked open a Miller High Life, the Champagne of Bottle Beers!

GROUND CONTROL:  How do you keep it from flying all around?

CO-PILOT:  Sippy-cups.  Hey–why don’t we do bar bets.  Each one we win, we get to have another round.

GROUND CONTROL:  Let me check my Shuttle Employee Manual.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  It’s under the “Bottle-to-Throttle” rule at tab 7.

GROUND CONTROL:  You’re right–here it is.  Let’s see, astronauts are not allowed to drink within 12 hours of lift-off.

CO-PILOT:  We already broke that one.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  See–we’re okay.  It doesn’t say anything about in-flight drinking.

GROUND CONTROL:  All right.  I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop you.  Fire away.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Who made the first three-point shot in NBA history?

Chris Ford

GROUND CONTROL:  Please–don’t insult my intelligence.  Chris Ford.

CO-PILOT:  My turn.  Have two National League teams ever played against each other in the same World Series?

GROUND CONTROL:  That’s impossible.  You’d have to have one from the American League–

CO-PILOT:  So your answer is?


Cardinals Bruce Sutter and Darrell Porter celebrate the last out of the ’82 World Series against the Brewers.

CO-PILOT:  BAAAP!  You’re wrong.  1982–Cardinals versus Brewers.

GROUND CONTROL:  The Brewers were in the American League then–

CO-PILOT:  Another beer for both of us.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  You got him that time.

CO-PILOT:  I’m going to go get some chips.  You want anything?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  I need to go to the bathroom but you can’t do that for me.

GROUND CONTROL:  Somebody’s got to stay on the flight deck at all times, okay?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Okay–one last question then I gotta take a leak.  Name the Jewish ballplayer with the highest season batting average in baseball history.

GROUND CONTROL:  Uh–let’s see.  Hank Greenberg?

Rod Carew:  Mazel tov!

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Nope–Rod Carew.  .388 in 1977.

GROUND CONTROL:  Rod Carew isn’t Jewish, he’s, like Panamanian or something.

Sammy Davis, Jr.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  He converted–like Sammy Davis, Jr.

GROUND CONTROL:  That’s a trick question.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  No use crying over spilt beer.

CO-PILOT:  Hey, we’re out of chips.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Ground control, permission to change course requested.

GROUND CONTROL:  Why–where are you going?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Phobos, one of Mars’ moons.  There’s a 7-11 there–we’ll bring you back a Slurpee.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Sci-Fi Kind of Guy.”

The Socialist Dictator Haircare Department

A movie producer who gelled his hair upwards sat through a lunch with Fidel Castro during which the Cuban leader spoke without interruption for three hours.  When he finally stopped talking, he looked at the guest from Hollywood and asked “How do you get your hair to stand up that way?”

Review of “The Best Table in Hollywood,” The Wall Street Journal.

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“You should rinse with cold water, you know.”


I had come to Russia–me, Walter Duranty of The New York Times–to take the measure of the man born Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, but known to all simply as Stalin; the smallpox-scarred, taciturn, phlegmatic former peasant who could, with just a withering sidewise glance, condemn a million human beings to death.  I recall one of his favorite wisecracks–“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic“–what a nut!  I had to meet this guy.

Of course The Times, then as later, was known for its tendentiousness; its ability to slant the facts in the setup, the “lede” as honest journalists put it, and then report the facts to meet its theory.  So many stories were just too good to check out!

As I entered his grand office–no skimping for this son of the proletariat–I felt the full force of his will, the indomitable urge to conquer that gave rise to his cult of personality.  I have to admit, I trembled a bit, knowing that I was in the presence of a guy who would be responsible for more deaths than Hitler, but would still get a free pass because–well, because he claimed to be for the people!


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“Dear Diary:  Slow day today, only killed a couple hundred thousand.”


I cleared my throat to let the great man know I was there, and he looked up from the daily reports: 120,000 enemies of the people, 250,000 Trotskyites, a quarter million Poles–slow day at the office.

“Yes?” he asked with a pregnant pause.

“General Secretary Stalin, my name is Walter Duranty.”

“From The New York Times?”


“Sit down,” he said with an almost gracious air.  “I can never figure out that damned crossword.”

“It’s the best in the world,” I said with no small amount of institutional pride.

Stalin’s face darkened, and I began to fear for my life.  Had I said something too proud, too egotistical?

“Your hair,” he said with squinted eyes after a few moments.  “Do you use creme rinse, or is it always that smooth and silky?”


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“Check out the 2-for-1 sale at Lenscrafters!”


As I entered Pyongyang, I couldn’t help but admire the magnificent progress that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had made despite the efforts of imperialist powers such as the United States of America to bring it to its knees.  Sixty percent of the people had access to modern sanitation facilities–take that Arkansas!  The average life expectancy was 69.8, only two decades less than Americans!  I sensed that this proud people had turned the corner under the benign despotic rule of Kim Jong-un, Glorious Sun and Room Air Conditioner of Mankind!

But I wanted to see for myself, I wasn’t just going to take the word of a former NBA All-Star such as Dennis Rodman.  No, I wouldn’t be swayed by the Hall of Famer’s average rebounds per game.  If you’re a real journalist, you’ve got to kick the tires on a story, check out the plush leather interior and push hard to get the saleman to throw in floor mats.

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“Right now they’re running the flex offense, so I’d dress in a skirt-and-sweater set.”


I stood at the shoulder of the Second Supreme Leader and tried to ease my way into his line of sight as he watched the entire Korean People’s Army eat civilians to ease their hunger pangs.  It was painful to watch–there was so little meat on the bones of those who hadn’t volunteered for military service.

Kim, or Jong-un, I can never remember which is the first name, turned when he heard me sigh with compassion.  He smiled at me, then looked upwards.

“Sweet,” he said after taking in my “Mainstream Hipster” do.  “I wish I could get my hair to do that!”

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As night fell, the German countryside began to glow with the light of a thousand candles.  Another fun National Socialist German Workers’ Party pep rally!  I had won one of the coveted seats on stage with Der Fuhrer his own bad self for turning in double my weekly quota of Jews, homosexuals, Poles and Masons.  Not to brag or anything, but I truly felt I deserved the honor.  Have you ever tried to round up twenty-five Masons?  It’s not easy, what with those little scooters they ride.

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“Excuse me–you’re in my seat.”

I cut short my internal musings when the Reich Chancellor–the man to whom all of us pasty-faced Aryans owed the revival of our race–started to bound up the steps like a talk-show host after a warm-up man.  The guy was a natural entertainer, fiddling with every detail down to the precise start times of our rallies, to make sure we were enveloped in a dream-like state of darkness as he reached down into the deepest, darkest recesses of his psyche from the podium.

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“Really?  You like it this way?  Thanks!”


He was about to pass me when he stopped, as if struck by something he’d caught the barest glimpse of.  That’s the kind of all-seeing, all-knowing power that coursed through his frame!  He turned and looked at me, cocked his head back a bit for better perspective, and then spoke the words that I’ll be recounting to my grandchildren once the Thousand Year Reich prevails:

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“Your hair,” he said, almost dreamily.  “Do you iron it yourself, or do you have your roommate do it for you?”

Kansas City Jazz: A Little Evil Will Do You Good

In the film The Third Man, Orson Welles plays Harry Lime, a black marketeer in post-World War II Vienna.

Orson Welles as Harry Lime

When he is confronted by his friend Holly Martins, Lime excuses his misdeeds with a speech that Welles himself contributed to Graham Greene’s screenplay.  “In Italy,” Lime says, “for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.  In Switzerland they had brotherly love–they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins

While the requirements of dramatic tension compelled Greene to make the results of Lime’s crimes as horrible as possible–children crippled by meningitis they contracted due to his diluted penicillin–the principle pronounced by Lime has a curious element of truth to it.  Consider not the Borgias’ Italy, but Kansas City, Missouri.

Tom Pendergast

From 1925 to 1939, Kansas City was ruled by “Boss Tom” Pendergast, a Democratic politician who allowed alcohol to flow freely despite Prohibition, and who averted his gaze (and no doubt profited) from illegal gambling.  Pendergast achieved Sadam Hussein-like victory margins by a combination of payoffs, fraud and intimidation.  Under his rule, the bars never closed and musicians jammed all night long and into the morning.  The neighborhood that fanned out from the intersection at 18th and Vine became known as a reincarnation of Storyville, New Orleans’ red light district where live music was the come-on to more intimate pleasures during the infancy of jazz.

There developed out of this ever-simmering heat–like a barbecue pit that never went out–a distinct Kansas City sound that changed the course of American music at the same time that it gave birth or schooling to jazz masters such as Lester Young and Ben Webster on tenor sax, and Charlie Parker on alto.

Bennie Moten, by R. Crumb

Claude Williams, a violinist who played with Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy, summed up the competitive nature of those all-night cutting sessions thusly:  “Kansas City was different from all other places because we’d be jamming all night.  And [if] you come up here . . . playing the wrong thing, we’d straighten you out.”  The story is told that the first time Charlie Parker got up at such a session to take his licks, his failing grade was communicated to him by the drummer, who crashed a cymbal over on him to tell him to get off the stage.  A guild of musicians with the chops to tell Parker–the most protean improvisator of the bebop era–to come back when he’s ready is one tough union.

Charlie Parker

For the most part the Kansas City sound was a product of musicians born in the central or southern midwest; Bennie Moten, Parker and Webster (Kansas City Kansas or Missouri); Jay McShann (Oklahoma); Andy Kirk (Kentucky); Hot Lips Page (Texas); Lester Young (Mississippi); Walter Page (Missouri).  But it began to reach a greater share of the nation’s ears when a transplant from the east coast–Bill “Count” Basie–collected several personnel from Bennie Moten’s band following the latter’s death in 1935.  John Hammond, who would later discover Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen among others, heard a short-wave radio broadcast of the band from New York and went to Kansas City to check them out.  He described their 1936 sessions for him–the first on which Lester Young was ever heard–as “the only perfect, completely perfect recording session I’ve ever had anything to do with.”

Lester Young

The Kansas City sound moved at a loping gait–a 4/4 beat rather than the 2/4 time that had characterized jazz recordings up to then.  Kansas City bands often played according to so-called “head arrangements,” communal affairs composed and arranged collectively, changing every night on the fly, rather than sight-reading composed music.  (Basie’s band began to go downhill musically once it was financially successful enough to purchase the services of outside arrangers.)  Finally, Kansas City jazz was a counterpoint of “riffs,” with one section playing a repetitive, rhythmic line behind a vocalist to add energy, or two sections–sax vs. trumpets–alternating and competing with each other, driving the music without exhausting it.

Jay McShann, leader of the first band in which Charlie Parker played

Could Kansas City jazz have evolved without vice and corruption?  Perhaps, although it was a wide-open laissez-faire attitude towards man’s ineradicable taste for forbidden pleasures that brought it to a boil.  Where moral strictures are tight, art tends to wither.  You won’t find any jazz of consequence in Utah, for example, even though that’s the name of their pro basketball team.

I’ll bet it’s a great place to shop for cuckoo clocks.

This article appeared previously, in slightly different form, in Brilliant Corners

Deep Space Telescope Locates Seventh Pointer Sister

DELAWARE, Ohio. Scientists at Ohio Wesleyan University, home of “The Big Ear” radio telescope, reported today that they have detected signals from a distant galaxy confirming the existence of a seventh Pointer Sister, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity that had stumped stargazers for nearly a century.

The Big Ear radio telescope

“We were channel-surfing when we stopped at VH1,” said astrophysicist Emile Nugent, referring to a cable television network that airs biographies of stars that have faded into obscurity. “In the penumbras of emanations in a grainy rock video from the 1980s we detected a seventh sister ‘Tonya,’ who had eluded all prior attempts to capture her on Tivo.”

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“He’s so shy . . .”


The Pointer Sisters are an all-female rhythm ‘n blues singing group from Oakland, California where, according to American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein, “there is no there there.”  Over the course of their 46-year career the group has been comprised of six different women, not all of whom are sisters, and the existence of a seventh sister remained largely–and smally–a matter of conjecture.  “There was never any doubt about June, Bonnie, Ruth and Anita,” said Norbert Carver, a Professor of Pointerology at Fordham University of the four original Pointers.  “When Issa and Sadako Pointer became visible to the naked eye in 2006 and 2009, respectively,  the possibility of an additional sister that would make the group a seven-member constellation comparable to the Pleiades seized the minds of scientists at major observatories and shook them like a labrador puppy with a chew toy.”

The Pleiades, appearing at The Sands, in Las Vegas.


Einstein predicted the success of the group in his 1905 paper On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of “Lite” R&B published in Tiger Beat magazine.  His work was vindicated when two of the sisters, June and Bonnie, bent streams of light on the TV dance show “Soul Train.”
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The discovery is predicted to be a boon for cable music channels in the THX 1138 spiral galaxy, where the seventh sister orbits in tandem with a member of The Brothers Johnson, another sibling R&B group from the 80s. “We make most of our money on infomercials and religious programming,” said station manager Glorp “Buddy” X21173. “It’s nice to have something besides the Ab Blaster to watch on the monitors.”

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