She’s Plucked Her Eyebrows

When I was a lad of twenty or so
Hanging around the house, detached,
My mother would ask me why I didn’t go
Out with nice girls in town, unattached.

“Like who?” I asked with a skeptical note
and a voice that resembled a bark;
“Someone you know,” she said and I quote:
“That sweet little Bethany Farks.”

I burst out in laughter and threw back my head,
I nearly choked and my face turned red.
My mirth was excessive, perhaps, seen from now,
But the lass in question had the dread Unibrow.

“You’ve got to be kidding—Bethany Farks?
She has a set of eyebrows like Groucho Marx!”
Mom wouldn’t relent, she called Beth a highbrow
who played the piano, “and she’s plucked her eyebrows!”

“Oh, mother, come on!” I said with a grin.
She countered and said “She has lovely skin,”
Which is sorta like praise for a girl’s personality
To most guys I know, a romantic legality.

“Won’t you please give her a try, just once, for me?”
She said through a mother’s tears.
Her nightmare was that I’d stay single and free,
No grandkids from me was her fear.

“All right,” I said, “I’ll give Beth a call,”
But just for mom’s sake, to please her;
Chicks with Synophrys I don’t like at all
Perhaps, I thought, I’ll bring my tweezers.

I put the thing off for many a day,
Hesitating, never calling.
My mom told Beth’s mom I would call, not may;
I’m sure Beth perceived I was stalling.

When finally I worked up the nerve to drop by
Imagine my shock and surprise:
Beth came out the door with some other guy
Her brows trimmed to clear a path ‘tween her eyes.

“Beth,” I exclaimed, “my mother was right–
The difference I see is like day and night!”
She eyed my quite coldly, and without remorse;
It was too late for me her brows to endorse.

“You’re so narrow-minded, you human beef jerky.
Monobrow’s considered attractive in Turkey.
I hate and despise you, you’re so freaking shallow
You can’t dig me just ‘cause I look like Frida Kahlo.”

Moral: Attraction, like baseball, is a game of inches.

Trapping for Poetesses

In these days . . . so many ingenious traps for catching and hamstringing female poets have been invented that it is a rare editor who ever really sees one.

H.L. Mencken, Memoirs of an Editor

I set a snare before the door
of a shoppe that brewed its coffee bitter.
An Adrienne Rich-type took the bait,
and scurried through where the deadfall hit her.

She was stunned, to say the least,
her poetic gifts, for the time, suspended;
her close-cropped hair couldn’t go awry
but her derriere was, of course, upended.

“Why’d you do that?” she finally asked
when sense and sensibility returned.
“Has a bounty been offered to those who trap
a female poet, by passion burned?”

“Sorry,” I said, “just doing my job,
don’t think of me as your natural predator.
I was asked to capture all feral bardettes
by an overworked, underpaid poetry editor.”

“I assume,” she said, “that you speak of a he,
a man with a plan to bar feminine verse.”
“Uh, yeh,” I replied, “it’s an editing guy
who decreed that distaff stuff’s the worst.”

“What about Dickinson, what about Moore?
What about Sappho, to give you one more?
What about Edna St. Freaking Millay?
I could name you so many you’d probably get bored.”

“Sure, they’re fine, each in her way,”
I danced in response, I practically pavaned her.
“The problem is not just the poems in themselves,
They’re written on paper that’s scented with lavender.”

Available in print and Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Girl With the Cullender on Her Head (and Other Wayward Women).”

Mullet-Americans Seen as Crucial Swing Votes This Fall

HOXIE, Arkansas.  This town in Northeast Arkansas is drawing an unusual amount of attention for this fall’s elections with the announcement by the Department of the Census that it has become the mean center of the nation’s mullets, a hairstyle that is short in the front and long in the back.

Likely Mullet-American voter


“Knob Noster can kiss my grits,” said Hoxie Chamber of Commerce President Herman Orthwell, referring to the Missouri town that previously held the distinction.

Bob Radik, Dog Catcher of Pettis County, Oklahoma:  “I
own the mullet vote around here.”


Mullet-wearers, long derided as unreliable employees and unattractive marriage prospects, are being viewed as an untapped resource by both Democratic and Republican Party elders seeking any edge they can find given the anti-establishment mood revealed by Tuesday’s New Hampshire presidential primary.  “Mullet-wearers represent a huge pool of potential voters that has hardly been skimmed for pond scum,” says Charles Collins, a principal of Electoral Strategies in Washington, D.C.  “There are over four million of them, but only 3% have ever cast a ballot for any public office other than dog-catcher.  Eighty-one percent have never registered, and the remaining 16% are convicted felons who can’t vote.”

The mullet center of America is defined as the point at which an imaginary, flat, weightless, and rigid map of the United States would balance perfectly if weights of identical value were placed on each of the nation’s mullet-wearers.  “It really is an approximation,” says Clyde Tillotson, a demographer who follows population trends for the Census Bureau.  “We tried putting weights on mullet-heads, and they punched our lights out.”

Billy Ray Cyrus:  Not a lesbian bartender.


The golden age of the mullet began in the 1970′s and ended in the 1990′s, but its impact on American life and culture continues, according to Arthur Widoff, Professor of American Culture or Lack Thereof at St. Olaf’s College.  “The mullet goes by as many nicknames in this country as we have states,” he notes.  “It is called a ‘Kentucky Waterfall,’ a ‘Missouri Compromise,’ a ‘Mississippi Mudflap,’ a ‘Tennessee Tophat’ and a ‘Louisiana Purchase.’  It is probably the only shibboleth that can reliably be used to identify both Billy Ray Cyrus fans and lesbian bartenders on their day off.”

Florence Henderson:  Soccer-mom mullet head.


It is believed that the mullet was first developed by Jean Baptiste Prosper Bressant, a 19th century French actor who persuaded Florence Henderson to wear the style in the opening credits of The Brady Bunch in 1973.  Among high school dropouts who go on to sell wholesale auto parts, the look is known as “Business in the Front, Party in the Back,” because of its versatility in a variety of social settings.

Mullet, Mullette and Mini-Mullet.


Mullet heads tend to be anti-gun control and thus unlikely to vote Democratic, but GOP candidates say they can’t take the mullet vote for granted.  “Too many mullet heads have a sense of resentment towards the upper classes,” says Republican Party chairman and Scrabble bonus word Reince Priebus.  “We’re going to try and change that by allowing them to take home the scraps when they bus dishes at our country clubs.”

In One New Hampshire Town, Voters Go to Polls Tongue in Cheek

WAG’S NOTCH, New Hampshire.  Lydia Robinson, registrar of voters in this town just across the Maine border, was up at 5 a.m. yesterday morning to start the coffee brewing at the aging clapboard building that serves as town hall, grocery store and gas station for the five other permanent residents of this tiny hamlet.  “I like to get a head start on the rest of the state,” she says.  “If we hustle, I can be back home in time for LIVE With Kelly and Michael.”

Town clerk

Wag’s Notch is one of several New Hampshire towns that race every four years to complete their voting in the presidential election thus earning the distinction, however small, as the first municipality to report its results.  “It’s our one chance at the spotlight,” says Asa Wagstaff, III.  “We’re so far up in the mountains when you do a Google Earth search you get lost.”

Kelly Ripa:  “What did you do with the Old Hampshire?”

Long-time political observers expect Wag’s Notch to come in first this year, as it did in 2008 and 2012, because of a built-in advantage its residents have over voters elsewhere in the state.  “The people of Wag’s Notch will be first to report,” says Larry Avalon, a professor of political science at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire.  “Their secret is they don’t give a damn.”

And indeed as Robinson hands out ballots to the other voters who make their way into the room one by one, it is clear they have less important things on their mind than presidential politics.  “Do you want to sell your snowmobile?” Luke Wagstaff, Jr. asks Stephanie Schuster, a retired Federal Express driver who fell in love with Wag’s Notch when she delivered a Mopar air filter to the town in 1996.  “Not for what you want to pay you skinflint,” she snaps back at him, and her fellow townspeople break out in laughter.  “You wouldn’t pay a nickel to see an earthquake.”

The voters of Wag’s Notch have learned to play it coy in order to attract the maximum amount of attention before they return to hibernation until the next quadrennial election cycle.  “I made Dana Bash hop on one foot and make a noise like her favorite animal,” Asa Wagstaff recalls, referring to CNN’s senior political correspondent, “and I still wouldn’t tell her who I was voting for.”

Bash:  “C’mon, give me a hint.  Sanders, Trump, animal, vegetable or mineral?”

Ballots are handed out and Elaine Bismarck, a third-generation resident who raises squash and corn on forty acres of land studded with granite left by glaciers that covered the state during the Ice Age, takes her pencil out of her pocket and licks the tip.  “Once again, I’m going to have to write in my favorite,” she says as she writes “Hillary” on the line for “Other.”  But a reporter points out, Hillary Clinton is on the ballot and not a write-in.  “That’s Hillary, her sow,” says Joe Durnell, the town’s auto mechanic, as he pencils in “Alfred E. Neuman,” the long-time cover boy of Mad Magazine, the juvenile humor publication.

Hillary, the early leader.

Wag’s Notch was settled in the seventeenth century by descendants of the Wag family of Scotland, a tribe of people that failed where other Highland clans succeeded because they joked about everything.  “If there is one central theme that runs through the history of the Wags,” says Alfred Tuttle, a genealogist who specializes in Scottish family history, “it’s that they don’t give a rat’s ass about anything other than their daily bread.”  Cold temperatures and indifference to sexual pleasure have caused the Wags’ numbers to decline even though their surname has come to be applied to many unrelated individuals who are also compulsive jokers, much as the Norwegian family name “Quisling” refers to collaborators generally after its most famous member.

Alfred E. Neuman:  “What, me president?”

Robinson tallies the votes handed to her by her fellow townspeople as she works hard to complete her own ballot, filling in circles in five columns for the different types of candidates–Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green and Other–running this year.  “Hey Lydia,” Joe Durnell says as he watches her, “You only get to vote for one person.”

She gives him a sly smile, then turns her ballot around to show him her selection.  “Not when you play ‘BINGO’!”

Sunrise Service With the Don King Worshippers

A South Seas island tribe worships boxing promoter Don King. 

                                             New York Times

Praise the Lord!

I have come to Vanuatu as so many pilgrims have before me, seeking religious freedom.  The freedom to worship as one chooses is a basic human right, and yet people of my faith–the Church of Don King–are persecuted wherever we go.

Just as the Puritans were driven out of England, just as the Mormons were driven out of Missouri, just as the early Christians were offered as guilt-free low-salt snacks to carnivorous lions in the Roman Coliseum, we few, humble Don King worshipers must practice our religion and the rituals of our forefathers in hiding, in exile.

“Let us pray.”

And so it is with a gigantic breath of relief that I look out over the assembled masses of Kingons–Kingites?–Kingians?–who are gathered here for an inspirational sunrise service.  We face east, back towards Cleveland, Ohio, our Mecca.  It was there that our Lord and Savior was born on Kingmas Day.

What’s that you say?  Didn’t our God kill two men?  Well, yes he did–but who among us hasn’t?  As Jesus said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  We’re talking about a God here–a member of the Gaming Hall of Fame.

And anyway, the Christian God kills people all the time with floods and avalanches and hurricanes and tornadoes.  At least our God has the decency to shoot them in the back or stomp them to death on an individualized basis–it’s the personal touch that makes the difference!

Besides, our God was pardoned when he got letters of recommendation from Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King.  Your God gets recommendations from–Jimmy Swaggart.  ‘Nuf said.

A hush falls over the congregation as acolytes bearing candles, incense and free throwback “Rumble in the Jungle” t-shirts emerge from the sacristy to the altar.  They make their way up the aisles with collection baskets in their hands.  Sure it’s cheaper to watch at home on Pay-Per-View, but nothing beats the experience of a seeing a figh–I mean a religious ceremony live.

I give the guy five bucks and he hands me a slightly faded but still crisp “Thrilla in Manila” one-size-fits-all cap–sweet!  Unlike a lot of your establishment religions that offer you nothing but pie-in-the-sky, worship at the Church of Don King produces immediate and tangible rewards.

We bow our heads, fold our hands and kneel in anticipation as the God Who Walks the Earth and Controls All Weight Classes appears.  He makes a grand entrance, clothed in a multi-colored robe and stars ‘n stripes accessories.  He raises his hands heavenward and intones the familiar words that, like the referee’s injunction to “Protect yourself at all times” begins a boxing match, serves as introit to our worship.  “Let us pray,” his Donhead says.

“Let us pray,” we all repeat.

“Only in America–could a South Seas island tribe worship an ex-convict!”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Oh . . . My . . . God.”

Read My Lips, or Simply Refer to the Sub-Titles

A friend of mine—a composer—has been shopping an opera around for some time without success.  I can’t understand why nobody’s buying; it’s based on the life of Arthur Inman, a creepy hypochondriac who spent most of his life in a darkened room in Boston’s Back Bay and hired people to come talk to him.  He recorded these conversations in a 155 volume diary, and had sex with some of his working-class female interlocutors.  If that heartwarming story doesn’t scream “Broadway Bound!” I don’t know what does.

I was commiserating with my friend last weekend when he told me that he had enhanced the DVD that he sends to potential producers.  “I added subtitles,” he said.

“In what language?” I asked.


“But,” I asked, a bit confused, “isn’t the opera in English?”

Well, yes, he said, but having subtitles makes it easier to understand.  So much of operatic singing is vocal virtuosity that distorts the sense of what is being said.

“We just stepped on each other’s TO-OOES!”


To say that I had a “Eureka” moment—a lightbulb over the head epiphany—would not be an exaggeration.  “So there are people who will add English subtitles to ordinary, everyday English?” I asked.

“For a price,” he replied, a bit ruefully.  “It’s not cheap.”

“Gimme a ballpark.”

“More than a teeth-cleaning, less than a car.  Depends on how long your libretto is.”

“I don’t speak Italian, but let’s keep my private parts out of this.”

“I mean the text, the words . . . “

“Oh, right.”

Calvin Coolidge:  “You lose.”


In my life and work I try to follow the taciturn example of Calvin Coolidge, who famously replied “You lose” to a reporter who told the President he had bet his editor he could get ”Silent Cal” to say three words.  If I could keep a firm grip on the faucet from which flowed the life-giving waters of conversation, perhaps I could afford a sub-titleist for my family.

Not that kind of Titleist.


“Give me the guy’s number,” I said with barely-repressed excitement as I recalled the many misunderstandings I’ve had with my wife over the years due to saying the wrong thing, or the right thing under the wrong circumstances.  “This will be the best money I’ve ever spent.”

“Why did he say I have nicer in-laws than him?”


I rang the guy up and he reviewed his various payment options: a la carte one-off subtitles for especially tense events such as extended family get-togethers; weekly and monthly retainers during particularly stressful periods such as the November to December holidays; or an annual ”Platinum Club” for the most creditworthy customers.

“I’ll take the a la carte plan.   I’ve got my wife’s birthday next week, then the in-laws visit,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, “but I wouldn’t skimp if I were you.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s the misunderstandings before the in-laws arrive that are usually the problem.”

I considered that assertion for a moment, and ended by agreeing with him.  “You’re right,” I said.  “It’s the eye-rolling, the exasperated sighs that I can’t hold in when my wife tells me that I have to get dressed up to have dinner in my own home.  That’s what gets me in trouble.”

“You got it pal.  So you want to go with a month’s worth?”

“That oughta do it.”

“I can’t believe you called my mother a gerontomatriarch.  She is not a dinosaur!”


He showed up the next night for dinner, and I sat him down at the end of the table.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” my wife asked.

“He’s not a friend, really, he’s Lowell Buntrock, a sub-titleist.”

“What’s that?”

“He’s going to translate into English what we say to each other from now until your folks leave.”

“But we already talk in English,” my son said.  Easy for him to say.  He just grunts.

“We do and we don’t,” I said as I cocked my head knowingly, which I do whenever I’m about to dispense a little mature advice for my son to ignore.  “We talk—but do we really communicate?”

“That means he thinks you’re lying about that empty bottle of Smirnoff’s Green Apple vodka he found in the driveway,” Buntrock said.

“See—he’s already helping out!” I said to my wife with satisfaction.

“I suppose that’s better than trying to drag a little conversation out of you after a day at the office,” she said.

“That means she wants to talk about curtains,” Buntrock translated.

“I thought as much!” I said as I glanced from him to her.  “What’s the point of even opening my mouth with you?”

“To give her a chance to catch her breath,” Buntrock interjected.  This guy was a real pro.

“I’m not sure I like this idea,” my wife said as she looked askance at Buntrock.

“That means she doesn’t like your idea,” the sub-titleist said.

Father really doesn’t know best.


“You know, there’s something to be said for subtlety, and shading the truth just a bit,” my wife said.  “I think it would be hard to live with brutal honesty 365 days a year.”

“That means she bought another throw pillow she doesn’t want to tell you about,” Buntrock said.  “And it’s 366 in a leap year.”

You could have cut the tension with one of those dull but fancy cheese knives women buy each other when they run out of gift ideas.

“Could you, uh, turn it down maybe a notch?” I asked Buntrock.

“It’s your money, pal,” he said with a resigned shake of his head, “but that’s like asking a kick return specialist to go at half speed.”

I looked at my wife, who looked back with a cold expression on her face.  “Maybe we’ll . . . uh . . . just write this off to experience, okay?” I said to Buntrock.

“You forfeit the balance,” he said as he got up to go.

“That’s okay,” I said, hoping to worm my back into my wife’s affections.  “I really do enjoy getting together with my in-laws.”

“That means he . . . ” Buntrock began, but I cut him off.

“That means that, like Alice Roosevelt Longworth, my motto is ‘If you can’t say anything nice, come sit by me.’”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Boston Baroques.”

For One Lit Mag, What’s Between the Words is Most Important

MT. HOLYOKE, Mass. Pamela Wykoff is under pressure, and it shows in the furrows on her forehead as she races to meet a deadline for the winter issue of Punc, the only literary journal devoted exclusively to “transgressive punctuation.” “Punc attempts to free writers from the dead hand of punctuation rules,” she says with a grim determination that seems excessive for a bunch of little dots and curlicues. “I don’t like to be hemmed in by inverted commas–it triggers my claustrophobia.”

If you quote me, please don’t fence me in with inverted commas.

Wykoff exhales a sigh of satisfaction as she selects the final piece for publication, a poem in which a semicolon appears boldly out of place at the beginning of a line. “Editors say they want to be surprised by poetry,” she says, “then they take out the blue pencil if you put a # in the middle of a verb.”

The transgressive punctuation movement has gained adherents among a growing number of poets as young as nine, who chafe under hidebound rules that punctuation nerds, emboldened by such books as “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” seek to perpetuate. “Why exactly should I put a comma after the last word in a quote,” says third-grade poetess Amy Louise Nilburn as she looks over this reporter’s shoulder to make sure he is not punctuating his transcription of her remarks, “and why should I use quotation marks at all?”

Collision of words at punc poetry reading

Wykoff herself is a poet who places random punctuation marks–a virgule, a left parenthesis–“any where I damn well please,” she says. When this reporter points out that writers have rebelled in the past without forsaking punctuation as a helpful tool to guide the reader’s eye, she scoffs. “And where the hell did that get them?” she asks. “Nothing but a bigger printer’s bill on their self-published chapbooks for the question marks and periods.”

“Get the defibrillator–a man was just crushed by a semi-colon that fell off the top shelf.”

Industry sources confirm that punctuation drives up the cost of high-quality avant-garde literature, but insist upon it out of concern for readers’ safety. “Without punctuation, words tend to run off the page like quicksilver,” says Curtis Bascomb of Absurdist Poets Discount Supply House in Newton, Mass. “I saw a young girl scarred for life because some punc poet didn’t use a period at the end of a line the other night. You might as well drive around naked without a seatbelt wearing a babushka.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

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