Motor City Pillow Patrol

Detroit police prevented a pillow fight Saturday, confiscating pillows. 

          Associated Press

detroit
“Look under that chintz sham!”

 

It was Saturday, the most dangerous night of the week.  I waited for my partner, a green rookie named Lew Tompkin, to get in on the passenger side of our cruiser, then we headed out for an eight-hour shift through the dark underbelly of the Motor City.

“How long have you been on the force?” Tompkin asked.

“Nineteen years, ten months, two weeks and three days,” I said grimly.  “Or to put it another way, five years, one month, one week and four days until retirement.  Not that I’m counting or anything.”

“You must really know the city,” he said, all wide-eyed innocence.

“You’re looking at the murder capital of America,” I said evenly.

“I thought St. Louis . . . “

“We kicked St. Louis’s ass, kid.  2,289 violent manslaughters to 2,198.”

“Golly,” Tompkin said.  I had to think hard to remember back when I was as naive as him.  “So–you think we’ll see any bloodshed tonight?” he asked.

I took a sip of my Tim Horton’s coffee, trying to bring myself up to his level of interest with a jolt of caffeine.  “Don’t think so.  Sarge has got us on a tougher beat tonight.”

I gave the rook a sidewise glance.  It was fun to watch his face turn as white as a coho’s underbelly, which is a much lighter shade than the city’s dark underbelly.  He was silent for a moment.  “Tougher than . . . murder?” he asked finally, gulping a bit as he spoke.

”Um-hmm,” I hummed, nonchalantly.  “Tonight we’re on the home furnishings beat.”

You could have heard a parking ticket drop in the cruiser he was so quiet.  I noticed he was looking off into the distance–probably thinking about his family.  “You married?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding distrait, whatever that means.  “Baby on the way too.”

“That’s too bad–but it’s what you sign up for when you join the Detroit P.D.”

His lips twisted into a thin, downward sloping wrinkle of resignation, sort of like a teeter-totter with a curly-cue on the lower end.  “I know,” he said.  “It comes with the territory, right?”

I had just finished agreeing with him when I saw a man dart down an alley, a DreamKuddle huggable security pillow under his arm.

detroit1
Crime scene: Do not cross.

 

“Let’s roll,” I said.  I whipped the cruiser around so that the passenger side was nearest the sidewalk.  “Hop out and cover the street.”

He did as he was told and I tore around the block and up the other end of the alley.  We had the guy trapped.  I turned on my loudspeaker to give him fair warning.  “Drop the pillow and come out with your hands up,” I announced.

Nothing moved, and the only sound was the skittering screech of cat’s claws on a metal trash can lid.  I tried to keep still, but my heart was pounding loudly against the inside of my chest, like a beat borrowed from Eminem, the city’s only remaining profitable business.


Detroit’s principal employer.

 

I tried not to blink, but in the time it took to bat my eyelashes a man jumped out from behind an empty appliance box and ran towards my partner, swinging his pillow wildly, like a soft cuddly machete.

“Look out!” I yelled, but it was too late.

“Mmmph!” I heard the kid scream as the soft buddy pillow hit him flush in the face.  I pulled my firearm–a door snake draft stopper–but the perp was beyond my range.

I knelt over my fallen comrade and cradled his head in my hands.

“You okay?” I asked.  His mouth was filled with cozy fleece, and the impress of the whimsical bunny design was splattered across his face.

“I guess.  My wife is going to go crazy.”

“You may want to buy her a couple of heavy-duty, hypo allergenic throw pillows–for your peace of mind when you’re out all night.”

“Where do you get them?”

I sighed, exasperated by the restraints our society puts on law-abiding citizens.  “They’re illegal, but I can get them for you.”

He was not just hurt but angry now.  “When are the pillow control groups ever going to get the message?” Tompkin said, as he looked up into my eyes.  ”When pillows are outlawed, only outlaws will have pillows.”

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Everyday Noir.”

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At the Repo Man’s Christmas Ball

It was the depths of a recession,
And real estate prices had fallen.
Some contractors were overextended
And their creditors were callin’.

Me? I was just doing my job
Arranging for repossessions
Of cranes and ‘dozers and backhoes and such
By gun-for-hire Hessians.

One was a guy named Rocco
with a gooseneck trailer and truck.
Another was known as just “Jimmy”
By those who were down on their luck.

They were glad to hear from me, though,
The guy who sent them the work;
They had to eat too, they’d say,
When the deadbeats would call them both jerks.

So they’d wrap their log chains ‘round the axles,
and drag the machinery off,
Then we’d sue for the balance that was due
with a grim face and contemptuous scoff.

When Christmas time rolled around
I found an envelope in my mail box
Inviting me to the Repo Man’s Gala,
The prom for my school of hard knocks.

I dressed in my best vest and finery,
and put on patent leather shoes;
I looked forward to wining and dining
‘Cause repo guys knock back the booze.

I drove to the cheesy steak restaurant
and looked for a place to park
but my little white banged-up Toyota
presented a contrast quite stark

With the varied and sundry tow trucks
That the repo men used for their labor,
A pit bull in each of the front seats
and the ball bats they swung as their sabres.

I squeezed in between two behemoths
big boom winches stacked on their backs
with barely an inch in between us,
a gnat couldn’t fit through the cracks.

When I entered I was greeted by cheering
and glad handings all the way round,
but when I emerged with my speech slightly slurred
my Corolla was nowhere to be found.

I looked high and low for my compact
that was missing from its parking space.
I scanned the dead-ends and alleys
I looked every god-damned place.

But nowhere did I find hide or hair of it,
It had vanished into the snow.
Had I failed to pay parking tickets
and given cops reason to tow?

When I turned I saw guys with their dollies
all red-faced and florid from drink.
One said “Hey–you don’t look so jolly–
There must be a problem, methinks.”

When I told them my car had been stolen
While I hobnobbed with them inside,
They scratched their heads and hemmed
and hawed until finally one replied:

“I don’t want to start no trouble,
On this festive occasion and all,
But one bit of advice that I’d give you—
watch where you pahk at the repo man’s ball.”

Burned by Shoplifters, One Store Turns to Higher Power

BOSTON.  The Christmas shopping season is in full swing here, and the usual crush of office workers on the streets of Boston is made worse by suburban mothers and children in town to see the “Santa’s Workshop” display in the Clark’s department store window.  But there’s another, more ominous addition to the typical workday crowd–extra security guards, hired to minimize shoplifting losses that can eat away at retailers’ critical December profits.


Da Sistahs:  “One of the ballers tried to rip this off.”

 

Most wear standard-issue rent-a-cop outfits, but two stand out from the bland crowd; Sister Mary Joseph Arimathea and Sister Mary Clarus, who wear the grey, white and black habits of the Little Sisters of Inventory Loss Control.

Bob Duffy, Clark’s Director of Security, says he brought the two nuns on board last year after seeing their handiwork across the street at Sheehan’s Church Goods, Boston’s leading provider of religious artifacts and supplies.  “Some kid tried to boost a pack of Upper Deck All-Star Martyrs Trading Cards,” he recalls wistfully.  “The sisters were all over him like a cheap suit.  When he walked in he had the face of an angel, and when they got through with him he looked like he needed Accutane.”


“You hold him–I’ll hit him.”

 

The two got their start as a tag team handling a rough crew of boys who moved through Sacred Heart Grade School in Sedalia, Missouri, like a rat through a snake’s digestive track.  “The gang that graduated in 1965, they were sent to us from hell,” Sister Mary Clarus recalls with disgust.  “Dick Walje tried to knock my wimple off one day, and Scotty Lilja drew a picture of St. Agnes in a Speedo for his fifth grade art project.”


“You’ll never take me alive, Sister Joe!”

 

The two moved on from those humble beginnings to work security for Pope John Paul II during his American tour in the fall of 1979.  “There were always groupies and lepers trying to get backstage for blessings after gigs,” says Arimathea, known to those she has collared as “Sister Joe” for her no-nonsense approach, modeled after Sgt. Joe Friday of the “Dragnet” television show.


“Put down the holy water and nobody gets hurt.”

 

The two stand a watchful guard over the Winter Street entrance to the store, leaning back against an Elizabeth Arden bath oil bead display to make themselves inconspicuous.


What do you do with the thick, rubbery skins after the water runs out of the tub?

 

“Our job isn’t to wait until trouble happens,” says Clarus.  “Our job is to stop it before it starts.”  As she finishes, she casts a jaundiced eye at Tiffany Uxbridge, a twenty-something secretary who’s brought her Starbucks peppermint mocha into the store with her.  Sister Joe nods her head, says “Let’s roll,” and the two make a bee-line for the perp.

“Excuse me, young lady,” Clarus says.  She grabs the elbow of the arm that isn’t holding the cup, an incapacitating martial arts hold that she first used on Con Chapman, a second-grade spelling champ, to keep him from a life of crime that was about to begin with the misdemeanor of talking in line during a fire drill.  “Aren’t we forgetting something?” Sister Joe says as she sets a pick directly in front of Uxbridge.


“I’m going to need to see an ID.”

 

“What?” the girl replies, not removing her ear buds.

“Your coffee, dingleberry!” Clarus shouts, growing angry at the woman’s apparent indifference.  “If it don’t say ‘coffee shop’ on the outside, it ain’t a freakin’ coffee shop.”

Some shoppers slow down to stare at the stop-and-frisk that follows, while others give the trio a wide berth, hoping to avoid trouble.


“These are my jeans–I wore them into the store!”

 

Arimathea writes the woman up with a warning and escorts her to the exit.  “Take your damn shopping list to Filene’s,” she says with a sarcastic laugh, referring to a competing department store next door that was demolished.  “Maybe they’ll want your business.”

The two take a turn down to corner, where the store’s back entrance faces a less savory streetscape.  “Isn’t that D’Angelo?” Arimathea says, referring to a young man with low-slung jeans and a flat-brimmed New York Yankees cap.

“The same,” Clarus replies, and like birds flying in formation they fall in behind a dropout from St. Columbkill’s High School in Brighton, a suspect who has eluded the sisters to date.

They watch as he walks through the glass doors, and note a curious departure from his usual manner; he removes his ever-present hat and hands it around the anti-shoplifting device.  “Something’s not right,” Arimathea says, and the two move in for the kill.

“Hel-lo D-Angelo!” Clarus says as she applies her vise-like grip to the man’s elbow.  “Nice to see you doff your hat when you come to visit us.”

“I ain’t done nuthin’,” the man says.  “You can’t arrest me coming in to your store.”

“Why don’t we do an instant replay,” Arimathea says as she steers him back to the entrance.  “Let’s just ‘pass the hat,’” she says as she removes the man’s baseball cap and holds it between the transmitter and receiver antennae of the anti-shoplifting device.

A loud “BLONK” sound is heard, and Clarus brings her 12-inch metal edged ruler down on the thief’s right ear.

“Ow!” he screams and falls to the floor.  Arimathea moves in, slaps handcuffs on the young man and begins to recite his rights.

“You have the right to burn in hell forever,” she says, reading from a plastic card that she pulls from the front marsupial pocket of her habit.  “You have the right to suffer in purgatory until the end of time.  You are not entitled to a lawyer if you can’t afford one.”

 

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fun With Nuns.”

Giants Stage O’Neill Play as TD Celebrations Lengthen

OAKLAND, Cal.  It was a rare bright spot in an otherwise forgettable day and a miserable season for the New York Giants: with 5:16 left in their game against Oakland, quarterback Geno Smith hit tight end Evan Engram with a 13-yard touchdown pass that narrowed the Raiders’ lead to 17-14.  Then, as so often has happened this year in pro football, the team that had just scored a touchdown went into an elaborate celebration, performing Eugene O’Neill’s rarely-seen play “More Stately Mansions” in the end zone.


“I can think of many more enjoyable activities, such as being here with you in my arms!”

 

“We’re 2-9 on the season at that point,” said Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo, whose job is widely believed to be in jeopardy.  “Might as well let the guys have their fun, if you find gloomy family tragedies written by an alcoholic amusing.”

O’Neill is considered the greatest American playwright prior to the AFL-NFL merger in 1967.  “More Stately Mansions” is his longest and most challenging work, and was first performed that year after his widow, Carlotta Monterey, had the unfinished script staged against her husband’s wishes.  “It was originally intended to be part of a nine-play cycle,” notes theatre historian Armand Clyde.  “O’Neill wanted to create a work whose performance would run past the time when physicists expect all life on earth to end.”

NFL touchdown celebrations have grown longer and more elaborate this year, as teams have mimed hide-and-go-seek, Red Rover, tag and other children’s games following a six-point score.  “We had a team meeting Thursday and decided, if we ever scored a touchdown again, we’d make sure people remembered it,” said offensive captain Eli Manning, who was benched for the game so that he could direct the performance from the sidelines.  The original cast featured 46 actors, standbys, bit parts and “swing” players in total, forcing the Giants to activate a second punter from their “taxi squad.”


McAdoo: “Ah, won’t it be a beautiful life, when I am fired and can sit back at my ease”

 

New York is the drama capital of America, and the performance was hailed as a major step towards the maturation of the American end zone celebration by critics.  “So many of these little tableaux hardly rise above the level of community theatre,” sniffed Arnold de Gravure, author of How to Enjoy Ibsen.  “The Giants play this season has all the essential characteristics of tragedy, as they have failed to cover the point spread in seven out of twelve games.”

Oakland fans, who are known throughout the league for their colorful costumes and heavy consumption of alcohol, appeared to enjoy the performance even though it took a busted on-side kick by the Giants to put the game out of reach.  “When they started we had a crowd of 55,000,” said Oakland Coliseum Security Chief Ray Blisbane.  “When they finished Act II, we were down to 23.”

The View From Cezanne’s Studio

The guide book said the one thing you shouldn’t miss
in Aix was the view from Cezanne’s atelier. The No. 1
bus dropped me off on a hill and the man standing
by the driver said “La bas,” down there, and so I
walked to where two college girls were standing,
waiting for the gates to open at 2, after lunch.

cezanne1

Up the hill came a man waving me off, saying
“Don’t do it, it’s not worth it.” He was about
my age, less hair, near-sighted like me I guessed
from his glasses. “It costs five euros,” he said,
and the college girls looked at him with studied
condescension; how could he know more
than their professor had taught them?

cezanne2
“I’ve lived here all my life,” he said. “The view’s
better up the hill—for free.” We climbed higher
and he told me he worked in a hotel in town.
He pronounced the painter’s name SEA-son,
not say-ZON. “Is that how he said it?” I asked.
“What–the name? Sea-son, say-zon,” he said,
as if it made a difference only to snobs.

cezanne

“Up there is the promenade du peintres—
the walk of the painters,” he said,
“turn left–you’ll see it.” I thanked him
and made my way up to the peak.
An older woman was climbing ahead of me,
slowly, so I turned and looked–
Sainte-Victoire stood there, a shell
against the sea of a sky. I thought I
knew then why his brush strokes seemed so rough.

God So Loved the World He Wants You to Become an Atheist

     He questioned the existence of God after two friends, an Episcopalian and a Catholic, died in the explosion of a pipe bomb they were making while a third, an atheist, escaped unharmed.

               Obituary of William Hamilton, a member of the God is Dead movement.


Shiva, performing the Flying Divinity Drop

 

I can’t believe I pulled the 2 to 10 shift on Saturday night–again.  All because of Shiva, the Destroyer.  He just has to watch his professional wrestling.  I guess I’m paying for all those nights in the 70’s when the lineup was M*A*S*H, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, then Saturday Night Live back when it was good.  I used up a lot of my TDCs (transferable divinity credits) back then.


“If there’s a god in Heaven, may I PLEASE have another bag of complimentary peanuts?”

 

Oh well, as long as I’m stuck here in the control room, I might as well have a little fun.  Let’s see, whadda we got going on.  A priest, a rabbi and an atheist in a life boat.  The debit memo from accounting says two of them have got to go.  Fair enough–onesy, twosy, Catholic, Jewsy–voila!  A little twenty-foot swell is all it takes–the atheist lives to disbelieve another day.


Zoroaster–as in toaster?

 

That was fun–but too easy.  Maybe I’ll stir up a Chilean mudslide–or even a tsunami!–a little later.

The living don’t realize we’ve got a business to run up here in heaven.  We outsourced the call center to India, but still the phones are ringing off the hook.  I lost all my money in the stock market, I want Alabama to beat Auburn, my baby was born with only one liver–duh, that’s what everybody gets.  Boo hoo to all of you!


“You’re all set with the overtime shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils.  Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

 

That’s why I like the atheists and agnostics.  They’re not on the horn all the time, asking for favors.  You can sneak a six-pack of beer in here on a Saturday night, kick back and relax a bit if you draw the North American beat.  The Christians loosen up their morals and you can take it easy.  Oops–what’s this?  A Moslem, a Hindu and an atheist are walking into a bar–sounds like a joke.  Better check it out.

Oh great.  Muhammed’s gonna go nuts on everybody–over pitchers of Miller Lite and wet t-shirt night!  I wish some of your edgy, daring comedians would take on the whole throw-the-gays-off-the-roof and stone-the-slut crowd, but no.  They’re too busy firing at the evangelicals and the Mormons and the Catholics.  Chicken shits.

Now what’s Mahatma doing?  I can’t believe it–he’s gonna pick a fight with somebody over the steak tip platter?  That’s my favorite!  Holy cow, to coin a phrase.  His commitment to non-violence is gonna get tested now.

Oh well–if people are gonna be that freaking stupid, they don’t deserve to be saved.  I’ll just ease Mr. Atheist over here to the men’s room, conveniently located next to the back exit.  Have a nice rest-of-your-life–from the Big Guy Upstairs!

You other two knuckleheads, let ‘er rip!

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

Christmas House Tour Helps Bring Rancor to Season of Joy

WESTLAND, Mass. In this exurban town fifteen miles west of Boston, starter homes begin at $1.3 million and there are few two-income households, leaving many stay-at-home moms with time and money to go overboard on holiday decorating. “It goes beyond creating a festive mood,” says Marci Griener-Wilson as she plugs in her Martha Stewart autograph model glue-gun, “the way crashes make NASCAR more than just a car race.”


Starter home: “Haven’t you got something just a bit more expensive?”

 

But with local progress in diversity consisting largely of inviting a Presbyterian to join an Episcopalian bridge club, there is a tendency towards homogeneity that makes it tough on judges for the annual Women’s League Christmas Decorating Tour, the organization’s largest fund-raiser. “There are so many lovely homes that could be included,” says club president Alice “Winnie” Wilson. “You have to make close calls and cut some women because of their innate tackiness.”


“. . . and congratulations to Winnie for freezing out that bitch Mary Louise Olshinski!”

 

Those hard decisions inevitably lead to hurt feelings which in the past have been sublimated into a greater involvement in club activities, but this year was different. “I’m sorry, when you bake 15 life-size gingerbread men for your front lawn, you expect more than a ‘Better luck next year’ kiss-off evaluation sheet,” says Mary Louise Olshinski, who incurred the wrath of Winnie Wilson when she cut her off for a parking space in front of the local needlepoint shop.


Strawberry Alarm Clock: Turn on, tune in, drop out, be home by 11.

 

So Olshinski organized her own alternative house tour, which she dubbed “Counter Christmas.” “It’s the most rebellious thing I’ve done since I went to a Strawberry Alarm Clock concert with Mike Herbsheimer in high school,” says the sixty-something housewife with a plaid headband. “I’m just glad my parents are dead, because I don’t know that they’d approve.”


Rivers: “You don’t want to go too heavy on the candy canes.”

 

Drawing inspiration from the underground concerts organized by saxophonist Sam Rivers to showcase cutting-edge acts excluded from the Newport Jazz Festival in the 70′s, Olshinski’s “Counter Christmas” is a tour of the dark places in upscale suburban homes. “We take people into the recycling bins, the kitty box rooms–everywhere that the decorating magazines refuse to show you,” she says as she is called away by her front doorbell.

“We’re here for Counter Christmas,” an elderly woman announces as a gust of cold air blows past Olshinski. “Come right in,” she says to a group of three. “We’re just about to begin the 11 o’clock tour.”


“Move over, Fluffy. I want to show the nice ladies our old cream cheese.”

 

After a leisurely stroll through a cluttered garage, attic crawl space and basement utility room, Olshinski brings the group to the final stop on the tour in her kitchen. “This is really the black hole of Counter Christmas,” she says, “the place where no matter how much of a shine you put on the rest of your house, you find that it’s still–at bottom–a sneaker. Voila,” she proclaims as she throws open her refrigerator, which is stuffed with staples as well as holiday delights.

“Ooo, my goodness,” says Blanche Furbois, the wife of a retired insurance agent. “That certainly looks like it’s chock-full of goodies!”

“Thank you, Blanche,” Olshinski says, “but if you’ll come closer, I want you to notice one detail in particular.”

The women crowd around and Olshinski urges the family’s pet rabbit “Fluffy” to move to one side to afford them a better view. “See that microwave-safe baking dish back in the back?” she asks.

“Yes,” Furbois says hesitantly after craning her neck.

“That’s last year’s oyster-and-sausage stuffing!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs From the ‘Burbs.”