On the Attack With the Fighting Russian Girlfriends

Pamela Toler’s Women Warriors: An Unexpected History highlights lesser-known  women who have gone into battle, such as Maria Vasilyevna Oktiabrskaya, a Russian mechanic in World War II who drove a tank christened “The Fighting Girlfriend.”

The American Scholar, April 23, 2019

Oktiabrskaya:  “I will crush you like bug just to watch juice run out.”


This new group of girl tank drivers, I do not know if they are tough enough to repel the Nazi threat.  In old times, girl tank drivers underwent rigorous training regimen.  We would crawl through obstacle courses lined with the worst of the male sex: men who would tell you they would call, then when you see them on the street three months later they offer lame excuse like “I lost number!” or worse–“I have been neglecting our friendship, let’s do lunch sometime.”  Fat chance.

No, these new girls, they do not know what we went through, the first cohort of recruits for the elite tank corps, The Fighting Girlfriends.  We formed a tough sorority of case-hardened galskis, such that the Nazis were no match for us.  What did we care for their crummy Panzer Corps, with their lightening-fast “blitzkrieg” tactics?  Ha–they must have gotten the idea for “lightening fast” from their lousy performance in bed!

“You brought me . . . flowers to make up?  You only make me laugh, comrade!”


We had seen it all, and done it all.  We had been exposed to the most toxic forms of male behavior and, like Mithridates of Pontus, had developed an immunity to them.  The guy who brings a $5-off-lower-priced-entree coupon on the first date?  Been there, done that.  The fellow who tries to brush you off with “It’s not you–it’s me”?  Water off a goose’s back to us.  And how about the dinkskis who tell you after eighteen months of going out that they need to “find themselves.”  Yes, please get lost, then find yourself.

I line the girls up for inspection, and see that I have my work cut out for me.  There is not a one of them that has that killer instinct in her eyes.  Probably they have been hanging out with “nice” guys at liberal arts colleges, weasel-like men who flit between English and Comparative Literature majors like bees sampling pollen, unsure of themselves, wanting to be “friends,” listening to soft rock and folk music, incapable of breaking a girl’s heart.

“Does this T-28B turret tank with gun stabilization make me look fat?”


“Atten-tion!” I shout, but they don’t snap to attention–too busy checking for split ends.  I amble up to the worst ditz in the bunch and get right up in her imported fake eyelashes.  “Did you join the Red Army to see the world?”

“No, I joined because I had to, I received a notice in the mail and . . .”


She is taken aback by my gale-force fury, and corrects her posture to something resembling–in a vaguely-remote sort of way–attention.

“That’s better,” I say, then–with my hands behind my back in an attitude of thoughtful sadism–I begin to lecture them.  “You have been placed in my hands–you with your fresh, unused minds–to be molded into vicious tank drivers capable of crushing a kitten if it gets between you and a Nazi machine gun nest.”

A willowy blonde raises her hand.  “Yes?”

“Why do machine guns have nests?  Do they lay eggs in them?”

Hoo boy.  Looks like two years into the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive the military draft is scraping the bottom of the I.Q. barrel.

“Yes, my dear, they lay their eggs in trees, up where our tanks can’t get at them.”

“Oh,” she says, as if that facetious nonsense is sufficient to put her brain back to sleep.

“As I was saying, my job is to make you into a merciless brood of vipers, with no feelings for the men of the world.  For the greater glory of the Soviet Union, you must become Fighting Girlfriends.”

“I miss my boyfriend,” Ditz #1 says.  I can’t help but snort a little blast of contempt out my nostrils.

“Oh, you ‘miss’ him–do you?”

“Yes–a lot.”

“What part do you miss the most.  The part where he leaves the toilet seat up?”

“We do not have indoor plumbing in Glazok.”

“I see.  Well, how about the part where he demands sex from you six nights a week?”

“We have sheep for that.”

Hmm.  It’s harder getting through to her than I thought.  “Well, uh, how about when he criticizes your tank-driving, and grabs the steering wheel to take over?”

“I like it when a man drives,” Ditz #2 says.  “It makes me feel special.”

“What is your name?” I snap.

She takes a deep breath, then says “Anastasia Yastrzhembsky Khristorozhdestvensky.”

“I do not think you are cut out for the Fighting Girlfriend Tank Corps,” I say without malice, only brutal realism.

“Why not?”

“Because your name is too long to fit through the overhead tank hatch.”


Tiger’s Masters Win Unites Nation, Except for Pancake House Waitresses

AUGUSTA, Ga.  It was a win for the ages and one that, against all odds, seemed to unite a country riven by deep partisan divisions.  Coming back from divorce, an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol and a decline in his golfing skills that dropped his world ranking below 1,000, Tiger Woods rallied to win his fifth Masters Tournament Sunday, leaving even long-time detractors teary-eyed at his uniquely American tale of redemption.

Lawton:  Get a load of that stack of flapjacks!


But one occupational group isn’t joining in the celebration: pancake house waitresses.  “As far as I’m concerned, he can go crap in his hat,” said Mary Ann Delvecchio of Intergalactic House of Pancakes in Brighton, Mass.  “That’s always the way it is, the guy rides off into the sunset, the pancake house waitress is left behind with nothing but regret and maybe a lousy 15% tip.”

Delvecchio is referring to Woods’ fling with Mindy Lawton, an $8 an hour waitress at a Perkins restaurant in the Orlando suburb of Windemere, Florida.  “I was shocked,” says Dining Out Magazine editor Floyd Nullit.  “I always thought of Perkins as a fast-casual restaurant that serves breakfast throughout the day.  I had no idea it was a steaming cauldron of sexual mischief that sold pastries on the side.”

“Are you ready to order, or are you dead?”


According to the United States Department of Labor a “pancake house waitress” is a waitress who works in a restaurant that serves pancakes.  It is considered a lower-caste position by restaurant hostesses and wait staff in upscale restaurants, where professional golfers routinely tip 18%, even 20% on their bills, not excluding tax.  “In a pancake house, you figure, it’s not dinner, it’s just breakfast,” says Nullit.  “A gal is lucky to get a 15% tip, to get up to the standard 18% she’s going to have to do something really special.”

Forget it–nobody likes that stuff.


Pancake house waitresses are not unionized but a trade association–the National Association of Pancake House Waitresses–lobbies Congress and state legislatures on their behalf.  “Our big initiative for 2019 is the elimination of parsley garnish,” says executive director Carl Flemstrand.  “Nobody eats it, but our members have to recycle it as kale for vegans.”

Your Air Travel Advisor

Wondering why you’re always served last when the complimentary beverage cart comes around?  Think it’s time the FAA cracked down on people who fully recline the seat in front of you?  Ask Your Air Travel Advisor–maybe she can help!

Dear Air Travel Advisor:

We just pulled away from the gate (there’s only one) at Porter Wagoner International Airport in West Plains, Missouri, and a horrible thought just occurred to me: airplanes can go backwards!  I had not previously realized that modern-day jets had a “reverse” gear, which raises the question, could a plane ever go backwards in the air because of “pilot error” or mechanical failure?

I ask because my first husband, the late Bob Batcher, Jr., once ruined a perfectly good driveway gnome when he “accidentally” threw our Dodge Valiant into reverse instead of first gear making a three-point turn in our driveway on South Lamine.

Thank you,


Mrs. Eloise Batcher Fidler
Grimmet, MO

Wheels up!


Dear Mrs. Batcher Fidler–

No need to worry–modern passenger aircraft have an “autolock” system that goes into effect as soon as it’s “wheel’s up!” on a plane: all doors are locked, and the only operable gears move the plane in a forward direction.  “Reverse” gear can only be activated by an aborted take-off if your pilot runs the plane into the sorghum field adjacent to the airport.

Historic downtown Chillicothe, Ohio.


Dear Ms./Mrs. Air Travel Advisor:

We have begun our descent into the greater Chillicothe, Ohio, area, and the pilot has called for passengers to return both tray tables and seats to the upright position, and to turn off all electronic devices.  There is a woman across the aisle from me who is completely disregarding that last instruction, and is continuing to “text” her friends and check her “Instagram”–whatever that is.

I have half a mind to tell her to follow the captain’s orders for her safety and mine, but I do not want to start a “donnybrook” that will appear in USA Today tomorrow–I mean tomorrow’s edition of USA Today.  Which overhead button do I push?  I don’t want the woman to know that I’m the one who reported her, and if a bell rings she’ll be all over me like a duck on a June bug.

Yours truly,


Verna Hubbardston, Xenia, Ohio

“Mom, do FAA rules apply to fashionable people like us, or just schlubs?”


Dear Ms. Hubbardston:

I have one word for you:  Busted!  How are you able to communicate with Ms. Air Travel Advisor unless your phone is on, in violation of FAA regulations?  A $2.50 surcharge will be added to your airfare for the complimentary bag of pizza-flavored goldfish you were given from the snack cart, and Federal Air Marshalls will take you into custody when your plane touches down.

Thinking deeply about it.


Dear Ms. Air Travel Advisor:

The woman in front of me on the “red-eye” from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Missoula, Montana has been sleeping with her seat all the way back since we took off.  I have taken just about all I can stand, but I am not a vindictive guy– I’m a successful pneumatic fastener salesman and am required to have a pleasant personality at all times.  I’m also a “frequent flyer” with a lot of points, so I feel that I am entitled to better treatment than I’m getting.

I was wondering if you thought it would be okay if I just slipped my hand gently under her seatbelt as if I was gonna tap her on the shoulder but instead “copped a feel.”  It seems to me I’ve suffered enough, and she probably won’t even wake up, she had two little bottles of rosé wine right after we took off.  I checked the “SkyMall” section of the in-flight magazine and there’s nothing in there I can’t do without.

Thanks for any help you can give,


Darrell Kohammer
Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico

“We have a report of passenger flatulence in Row 27.”


Dear Darrell–

I’m afraid you are seriously confused.  No matter how many “frequent flyer” miles you have accumulated, these represent an obligation of the airlines you have flown, and not your fellow passengers.  I would suggest you flip through the SkyMall catalog again and see if there is a “throwback” Pan Am stewardess inflatable love doll you can take out for dinner and a movie when you reach your destination.

Shortage of Interpreters Leaves Starbucks Refugees Confused

RICHMOND, Virginia.  The airport here is relatively small by comparison to those located in larger cities, but for many travelers that’s one of its attractions.  “The lines are short, it’s clean, and the parking isn’t bad,” says Mindy Kavanaugh, a sales representative for International Tchotchkes.  “The one thing it doesn’t have is a Starbucks,” she says as she purses her lips in disapproval.  “I need bitter-tasting coffee to wake me up in the morning if I’m going to make six sales calls on mom-and-pop gift shops by cocktail time.”

While others have learned to make do by frequent usage of the limited dining options here, others are not so savvy, leading to confusion and embarrassment when regular Starbucks patrons are forced to use English as a second language to order their drinks.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Starbucks.”


“What’ll ya have, sweetheart,” barista Elvira Smuthers asks as New Yorker Lisa Curtwein steps to the cash register after making her way to the front of a line that snakes out as far as the cream-and-sugar station at Caribou Coffee across the concourse.

“Venti Macchiato,” Curtwein says, then looks back down at her phone to see if her cat sitter has been able to lure Fluffernutter, her orange tabby, out from under her bed at home.

“Excusez-moi?” Smuthers asks, not understanding the espresso-Esperanto that employees and patrons of the Seattle-based chain use to appear worldly or something.

“Ven-ti Ma-chi-a-to,” Curtwein repeats in a slow cadence, as if speaking to a child, a foreigner, or a slightly dim-witted relation from what she calls “flyover country.”

Smuthers rolls her eyes, then signals to a Transportation Safety Agency employee for help.  “Do we have any coffee interpreters?” she asks, as customers in line behind the Manhattan resident begin to fume.

“I’m afraid not,” says Floyd Urselback.  “What with the government shutdown, they never hired a lot of those people to come back.”

“He speaks Starbucks.”  “No, SHE does.”


Exasperated, Smuthers asks customers who aren’t distracted by their phones to help.  “Excuse me, does anybody here speak Starbucks?” she shouts.

“Feliz Navidad,” says Mike Adamle, an auditor for a regional accounting firm here for a client site visit.  “Piso mojado frijole enchilada, por favor.”

“Great,” Smuthers says.  “Can you help this woman here, a lot of these people are going to miss their flights.”

Adamle confers with Curtwein, and determines that what she wants is a large espresso drink with a small amount of milk, and he conveys this request to Smuthers.

“Well why didn’t you say so, sweetheart,” the barista says with characteristic Southern hospitality.  “I woulda fixed you right up.”

“If you want your latte WITH foam, line up on the right.”


International relief agencies say they are ill-equipped to handle the crush of Starbucks patrons who flood out of urban areas on their way to weekend getaways, college campus visits, and sporting events, burdening untrained counter help with demands for drinks that never existed until imagined by Starbucks marketing executives.  “What the hell is a ‘Matcha Latte,'” says Refugee International spokesman Floyd Shima.  “And ‘Frappucino’ sounds like a Providence, Rhode Island-based organized crime family.”

Smuthers eventually produces a reasonable facsimile of Curtwein’s favorite drink, and the frazzled traveler moves off to add an artificial sweetener to it to the muttered exclamations of thanks from those who have been waiting behind her.  “I don’t know what it is with these people,” says Eugene Ushu, a claims adjuster from Charlottesville who shakes his head as he watches her go.  “They think they can come in here like Julius Caesar and make us start using Roman numerals or something.”

Despite Gains, Creamy Italians Say They Face Obstacles

EAST BOSTON, Mass.  This neighborhood of Boston hangs suspended in a sort of twilight zone, with jet planes flying in and out of Logan International Airport, but residents on the ground often living out their lives without ever venturing beyond their zip code.  “Why would I go anywhere else?” asks 78-year-old Nunzio Fabrizio, a retired mailman.  “I got everything I need here: wine, cheese, lottery tickets and the newspaper,” he says as he suns himself in the cool spring breeze off the Atlantic Ocean.

Our Lady of Perpetual Airplane Noise Church


But others aren’t so complacent.  “Easy for him to say,” cracks Gaetano di Silva, a more recent immigrant from Reggio Emilia, Italy.  “After forty years here, he’s a bland Italo-American, not like me, fresh off the boat.”

di Silva is one of many able-bodied men and women who were encouraged to come to this country in the past two decades by food conglomerates to meet rising demand for Creamy Italian Dressing, an old-world condiment that was native to rural regions of Italy, but which has fallen into disfavor lately as American palates have grown more sophisticated.

“The Creamy Italians will perhaps be the last wave of Italian immigrants to wash up on our shores,” notes sociologist Morton Kenderson of New England College.  “They survived internecine warfare between pasta and antipasto forces, only to find themselves cast aside like some unwanted garnish on a plate of eggplant parmesan.”

Both men worship at Our Lady of Perpetual Airplane Noise Church on Maverick Avenue, but the social distinctions between the groups the two men represent are readily apparent even to an outsider.  “The regular Italians, they’re oily,” says Mike D’Angelo, who left this insular area and moved to the suburbs for greater opportunity.  “The Creamy Italians, I don’t know–they’re kinda thick if you ask me.”

Fabian Forte


Oily Italians made great strides in the 1960s, producing a string of smooth, suave singers such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin and Fabian Forte that countered stereotypes from the Sacco and Vanzetti era that Italians were dangerous anarchists.  Creamy Italians have yet to match that success, and say they struggle by comparison to their countrymen who arrived here before them.

“It’s like as soon as they got into the castle, they drew up the drawbridge,” says di Silva, who spends his weekends fishing off East Pier here.  “All they left us was a moat filled with oil and vinegar.”

Social workers say they try to help the newcomers, but the older generation of oily Italians considers the newcomers’ approach an offense to tradition, as well as unhealthy.  “You looked at the recipe?” asks cab driver Vincent Canuzzo as he drops off a passenger at Terminal E here.  “What kinda mook puts mayonnaise and sour cream in dressing?”


A Neighborhood Without Euphemisms

The El over my head thundered just as it did in that early New York of the Oliver Optics; there were signs hung above the roofs, gold letters on a black field, advertising jewelry, Klein’s Special Size Suits for Fat Men, pawnshops.

Alfred Kazin, A Walker in the City

As I walked the streets of my childhood again, it struck me that they were just the same as they had always been:  Brownsville, that forthright neighborhood, so unlike the ones in which They, the Others, The Protestants lived.  They were reticent, evasive even, about what went on inside their commercial establishments.  Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Tiffany & Co.  What did Lord & Taylor make?  What were the Brooks Brothers first names?  Who was this “Co.” that so many of the Eastern Establishment had taken into their partnerships, and why did he get a period at the end of his name?  In their striving for discretion, they left a walker in the city confused, in the dark, constantly questioning.

Not at all like Brownsville, where every store shouted out its wares, and–if you were a likely customer–insulted you in the process.  Klein’s Special Size Suits for Fat Men.  Sarah’s Fine Fashions for Single Women Who Aren’t Getting Any Younger and Could Do Worse Than Marry an Accountant.  Cohen’s Baked Goods That Maybe You Shouldn’t Eat So Many Of You’re Getting a Little Broad in the Beam, You Know.

How did the WASPs live their lives of quiet desperation, constantly reining in their emotions, instead of letting them fly free, like the pigeons from their wire cages on the roofs of our apartments.  Yes, our merchants had chutzpah, and our pigeons would relieve themselves on your head, but isn’t that better than becoming an alcoholic and having your brother-in-law forge your name on a power of attorney and transfer your gilt-edge bonds to a blind trust for the benefit of his sister’s poodle?  What was it with the descendants of Puritans and their testamentary gifts to little yipper-dog house pets?

No, we lived in a different world.  In Brownsville, every day after school we boys would pummel each other with fists and with words.   “Your sister shops at Chubby Girls Clothes by Lola!” we’d yell, then when our antagonist was reduced to tears, throw in the coup de grace:  “Your mother wears army boots from the Canal Street Shoppe for Big-Footed Women–ha!”  Then we’d run home to do our homework, all in the hope of pleasing our forbidding Protestant teachers so we could rise in the world.

Even our door-to-door salesmen and women possessed an edge that you didn’t see or hear in the Presbyterian streets just a subway ride away.  Over there, it was “Ding, dong–Avon calling!”  Among us, it was “BZZZZT” on the door buzzer, then “Ruth’s Oily T-Zone Cosmetics for Women Whose Foreheads Look Like the Ghawar Oil Field in God-Forsaken Saudi Arabia!”  But that’s the way we lived, that was the way we were; a neighborhood without euphemisms.

Should a little goy boy who’d eaten too many Twinkies wander our way with his mother, looking for a bargain at a “Chubby Children’s Clothing Emporium” or a store with a “Portly Boys” department, we’d give them the gimlet eye, cluck our tongues and say “Excuse me, I think the place you are looking for is Farnsworth’s Fat Boy Duds, over on Houston Street.”

The mother would recoil all June Cleaver-like, give us a “Well, I never!”–then spin on her low-heeled pumps and head back to where she belonged.

To those mean streets where everything was full-price, no discounts, no haggling.  All very decorous–and expensive.  We could have said “We don’t want your kind around here!” as they high-tailed it out of Brownsville, but no–we were tolerant.  We understood that God made all clothing customers, and that he made WASPs with a very special purpose in mind:

Somebody’s gotta pay retail.

“Lawyers Without Borders” Bring Aid, Strife to Third World

MALCZW, Freedonia. In this land-locked, vowel-starved country, many residents have never even seen a lawyer, much less retained one. “It is both a blessing and a curse,” says tribal chieftain Mzrz Glzorp. “We do not have to listen to boring dweebzskis in wing tips, on the other hand I don’t understand the warranty on my glzblzxti,” a three-wheeled cart used to haul lumber and produce.

A busted glzblzxti


When Matt Costro, a third-year associate at Hacker, Flem & Koff LLP, a New York law firm, heard of the plight of the Freedonians, he decided to do something about it. “I really challenged my firm,” he says with all the eagerness and optimism of the twenty-seven year-old that he is. “I could sit here at my desk and just bill a bunch of hours, or I could try to make the world a better place.”

“We could do a leveraged buy-out for their chickens . . .”


So Matt started Lawyers Without Borders, a non-profit modeled on Doctors Without Borders, the organization that sends physicians into remote and war-torn areas of the world to do good without regard to the national, cultural or political orientation of its patients. “So many of these people are beyond the reach of regular pro bono activities,” Costro says, referring to legal services offered for free to the indigent. “We had a chance to really distinguish ourselves.”

Victim of the “Evil Eye”


Matt and his colleague Bob Pernstein decided to take a two-month leave of absence to get the Freedonian program off the ground, going door-to-door in villages such as Malczw to find people with unmet legal needs. “Hello,” Matt calls into a mud hut where tribal elders are smoking clay pipes while humming chlazrks, a type of folksong that combines tales of woe similar to African-American blues, but with a rapid beat that resembles a polka. “Anybody need a leveraged buy-out in here?” says Pernstein, a corporate lawyer by training.

“Can I have a legal pad–please?”


Norkz Chmzzia, the guide and translator for the American lawyers, explains the transaction to the males within. “It is a deal where you borrow a lot of money to buy something, and you use the same thing as collateral for the loan,” he says, as several of the men nod in understanding. One of the tribesmen speaks: “So you double your money by folding it in half?” he says in his native tongue, and the others break out in hearty laughter while the two lawyers wait for the translation. “Yes,” says Pernstein with a sheepish smile after the wisecrack is explained to him, “that about sums it up.”

Later Costro and Pernstein counsel a distraught widow who fears that a neighbor has put a curse–the “evil eye”–on her only daughter, Eliakrzi. “You must protect her,” the old woman says. “She is my only hope in this world.” After a few hours of investigation and drafting, the two lawyers have put together a complaint for injunctive relief and have served the offender–a young woman who is competing for the attention of Zlkrstri Mzzlxkr, an eligible bachelor who owns twenty goats–with a temporary restraining order. The suit throws the village into an uproar as families take sides for and against Eliakrzi and her rival, hurling insults and spitting at each other.

“Before the lawyers come, we were always running out of things to argue about.”


“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” says Costro, reflecting on the strife they have brought to this formerly peaceful village. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Pernstein replies, “but this is a start.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of” and “Hail, Freedonia.”