That’s His Boy

We had finished up at the Bagby place and I thought we were through for the day but Ronnie and Jim said no, we had one more job to do.

“It’s almost dark,” I said. I didn’t know if you could rig up a light on the truck and bale hay at night that way, but I’d had enough.

“It’s a little job, a piss ant farm,” Ronnie said. “We’ll do it quick and get paid extra.”

“Why—is it supposed to rain tomorrow?” I asked. I knew some farmers would pay you more if they needed to get their hay in the barn before it rained.

“Naw, the guy’s rich,” Jim said. “He’s payin’ us extra because he can afford it.”

We were almost back into town, at the five-way stoplight by the cemetery. Instead of going straight to my house, or the left fork back to Ronnie’s house, Jim took a hard left, past the Holiday Inn out towards where the new subdivision was going in.

We went past the country club and turned into a driveway that led to a new house. I recognized it because it had been a farm when I was growing up; our neighbors knew the people who lived there, we went out there to ride an old horse one time.

The house that used to be there was just a farm house; the new one was a fancy suburban one, although there was still a barn out back. A man came out to greet us on a tractor; he had a teenage boy riding behind him on back.

“Glad you all could make it, follow me out back,” the man said. He turned the tractor around and headed out behind the house where there was a field of baled hay to be taken in.

“See, it ain’t so much,” Ronnie said. It was still work, but I could tell it wasn’t going to be that hard, maybe three truckloads. Still, I would have rather been home.

The boy got down and came over to where we were so that there four of us working; two bucking the bales, Ronnie on the truck bed stacking them, Jim driving. The boy didn’t say much, just smiled a goofy smile and said “Let me help” after he jumped off the tractor and came over.

“You take the left side,” I said. I’m right-handed, so it was easier for me to be on that side. Once we got goin’ I could tell the boy was right-handed too; he had to turn around to sling the bales on the truck going against him, which slowed him down as the motion of his swing carried him away from the truck as it rolled through the field.

The kid slowed us down but after a while I just ignored him; I figured he’d get the hang of it and any help would get the job done quicker. He was fatter than all of us and wasn’t really prepared. He wore just a white t-shirt; I liked to wear sleeves so my arms don’t get all scratched up—besides, it was getting cool as the sun went down. His gloves were cotton-like and didn’t look like they were going to last long. I learned to get leather gloves the hard way, the first day Ronnie and Jim took me out. My hands were so cut from the twine the first morning I could barely hoist a bale by noontime. The farmer gave me a set of his gloves when we broke for lunch and I made it to the end of the day.

We got the truck loaded and I got in the cab with Ronnie and Jim. The boy got on the back of the tractor again and rode back to the barn with the man.

We got the first load into the barn without much trouble; the loft wasn’t big, I guess because the man didn’t have that much land. You didn’t have to haul the bales very far across the floor, me and the boy would just grab them off the loader, turn around and stack them.

We didn’t talk much while we were working in the loft; at one point the boy asked me if I played football and I said yes.

“I’m going out this year,” he said with a big grin on his face, as if I was supposed to be impressed.

“Is that so?” I said and just kept working.

“I’m trying to get in shape. I’ve heard it’s tough.”

“First week is hell,” I said. I didn’t want to seem soft, but I figured a guy like him would just waste everybody’s time going out. Might as well try and discourage him.

When we were done the boy rode out to the field on the back of the tractor like before. I guessed it was only going to take one more run, and by the time we got out to where the man’s property ended I could see it wasn’t even going to be a full load. We made the turn and headed back towards the barn; there was still maybe fifty bales scattered around to get.

“I’m goin’ in—nice to meet you,” the boy said as he ran off and hopped on the back of the tractor. I looked at Ronnie but his face didn’t even change, like the loss of one pair of hands was no big deal. Of course it wasn’t to him, he was stacking, not bucking.

The boy caught up with the tractor and hopped on behind, like before. What would have been an easy finish was now twice as hard, and I resented it.

“What’s up with him?” I yelled up to Ronnie.

“I guess that’s all he’s gonna do—you can finish up, we’re almost done.”

I wouldn’t have minded ordinarily, but for the kid to just pick up and leave like that made me mad.

“Who the hell is he?” I shouted at Ronnie.

“That’s his boy,” he said, nodding off towards the tractor. “He don’t have to work, you do, so get busy.”

A Friday Night Ride With the Kosher Krusher

It’s time to bring more non-Jews into the faith.

Arnold M. Eisen, Wanted: Converts to Judaism, Wall Street Journal

FULTON, Ohio.  It’s the opening night at the Fulton County Fair in this tiny town in northwest Ohio, and the grandstands are packed for the first round of the event that is the annual highlight of this rural chivaree–Demolition Derby.

“We draw our biggest crowds for Demolition Derby,” says the fair’s general manager, Oren Daily, Jr.  “I don’t know what it is–people just love to see cars smash into each other.”

In addition to crowd favorites from the past such as Floyd Littleton, the “Sandusky Sniper,” there’s a new kid in town this year.  A bearded man wearing a hat and a black suit–Rabbi Eli Silberstein of Temple Beth Shalom in Shaker Heights, Ohio–sits in the “shotgun” seat of his 2002 Volvo.  His driver is Jim Bob Embry, who wears a shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve on his bicep.

The “Kosher Krusher,” the name painted on the front doors of Silberstein’s car, is the rabbi’s recruitment tool as he takes a radical step to reverse the declining number of Jews in America.  “Intermarriage is the silent Holocaust,” he says to Embry.

“Uh-huh,” Embry replies, nodding slightly.  He has his eye on a red Dodge Charger that is idling near the bleachers.

“Unless we become proactive, Jews will disappear from the face of the earth.”

“That’s what I hear,” Embry says quietly.  He guns the engine and takes off after an Oldsmobile Rocket 88, ramming it in the front left bumper, causing Silberstein to lurch forward.

“You okay, Rabbi?” the goy driver asks.

“I’m a little tsedreyt in kop (disoriented), but I’ll be okay,” the holy man says.  “Anyway, before 1965 10% of Jews married non-Jews.  Since 1985 . . .”

“Hold on, padre—”

Embry steers the Kosher Krusher into the Sandusky Sniper, and Floyd Littleton gives him a dirty look before driving off, damaged but still going.

“As I was saying,” the rabbi continues, ”since 1985, 52% of Jews have married outside their faith.  One million American Jewish children under the age of 18 are being raised as non-Jews or with no religion at all.”

“Jesus Christ!” says Embry.

Goot gezugt,” (well said) Silberstein replies with emphasis.  “Anyway, I thought it was time to get off my toches (rear end) and get out here among the Unchosen People.  Maybe pick off a few goyim.

“Should be like shootin’ fish in a barrel,” says Embry.  “We don’t get many Jews come out for demolition derby.”

“I wonder why that is?” the rabbi asks, staring off into the crowd.

“Probably ’cause of your people’s higher level of education,” Embry says as he eyes the car on his right about to cross the center point of the derby’s figure-eight pattern.  “You won’t find any geniuses in the stands here tonight.”

“Could be,” the rabbi replies modestly, not wanting to seem too proud.

“You know, teaching them kids of yorn Hebrew in addition to English is a real IQ booster,” Embry says.  “At least according to psycholinquists.”

“I did not know that,” Silberstein says in a distant tone, as if he’s considered the possibility for the first time.

“You know where them Catholics went wrong?” Embry asks sharply as he swerves to avoid a three-car pileup.

“Where?”

“Priestly celibacy,” Emply replies with authority.  “You take the smartest man in your congregation, at least by book learnin’, and you tell him he can’t reproduce.  You lose a lot of IQ points out of your gene pool that way.”

Because the first round of Demolition Derby is held on Friday night, the rabbi must leave the driving to a shabbas goy–a non-Jew who assists him by performing work that Jews are forbidden to engage in on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

After a while the pack is thinned and only the Kosher Krusher and the Sandusky Sniper are left as the remaining cars are reduced to smoking hulks.  Embry plays cat and mouse with Littleton, his lone adversary, with the rabbi urging him on.

A broch su dir!” (“A curse on you!”) Silberstein yells out his window at their opponent, and Embry feints a charge.  The Sandusky Sniper bites on the fake, and its passenger side door is exposed.

“I got him now,” Embry says.  He steps on the accelerator and, like a matador,skillfully discharges his opponent with a single direct hit that sends Littleton to the hospital with a fractured collarbone.

“You egg-suckin’ dog, you,” Littleton screams in pain as he is loaded into an ambulance.  “Next time I see you I’m gonna punch you a new asshole, you little peckerwood.”


Mano a mano, caro a caro.

A glick ahf dir” (“Good health to you”) the rabbi says as the ambulance drives off.

The winning team steps to the podium to accept their prizes; $200 in cash and two ten-pound packages of Roseland Lard.  “You can have mine,” the rabbi says, handing the clarified hog fat to his partner.

Embry and the rabbi are the stars of the moment, and they wade into the crowd to accept the congratulations of men and women who have little formal education and–in many cases–less than a full set of teeth between them.  He introduces himself to Gene Ray and Veneta Sue Doogs.

“Hello, there,” he says.  “Have you ever considered converting to Judaism?”

“Wait a minute,” Gene Ray says suspiciously.  “I thought Jews weren’t supposed to proselytize.”

“Good point,” the rabbi replies.  “Under normal circumstances, the Jewish community does not seek converts.”

“Where’d you learn that?” Veneta Sue asks her husband.

“I heard it on ESPN2′s Texas Rattlesnake Hunt.”

“These are not normal times,” the rabbi continues.  “Jewish fertility rates are not high enough to replenish our people, so for a limited time only, we are accepting new members.”

“I like music in church,” Veneta chimes in.  “The Old Rugged Cross, Just a Closer Walk With Thee . . .”

“We have a full-time cantor–he’s excellent.”

“How many days off do Jews get?” Gene Ray asks.

“We got holidays like Heinz has pickles,” the rabbi replies, as he begins to tick them off; “Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Channukah, Purim, Pesach . . .”

“Sounds like a good deal,” Gene Ray says.  “I like to fish, and I can’t get off unless it’s a religious thing.”

The Doogs take a pamphlet and Gene Ray accepts a complimentary yammukah, which he holds gingerly on his head.  They say goodbye and walk across the parking lot to their truck, which seems unlikely to get them home.

“Well, Jim Bob,” the rabbi says expansively as he watches them go.  “I think we caught a couple tonight.”

“Good deal, rabbi,” Jim Bob says.  “See you for the finals tomorrow night.”

“Looking forward to it.  I always enjoy our little conversations on comparative religion.”

“Aw shucks,” Embry says.  “‘Tain’t comparative religion so much as comparative sociology of religion.”

“Yes, I think that’s a bit more precise,” the rabbi says as he starts to walk off.

“Say–you better fix that front suspension before tomorrow night if you want to win the championship,” Jim Bob calls after him.

“Not to worry,” Silberstein replies.  “When I get under that car, I work like a moyel who gets paid by the schlong.

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

The Old Curmudgeon Meets the Boy in the Boat

A Thursday afternoon in August and, like a lot of other paper-shufflers in Boston, I sneak out of the office for the 4:30 train from South Station.  I’m just about to settle into my seat when I notice the Old Curmudgeon, who usually drives into work–the better to burn fossil fuels and hasten the end of life on earth as we know it–in the double-facing seat across from me.

“Hey there, Bink,” I say to him as I plop down; it’s too late to escape, so I might as well be sociable.  Might be worth some money in December when the Old Bulls of the firm–of whom Bink is a member in good standing–divvy up our obscene profits. “I thought you drove into work.”


Bink

“I usually do,” Bink says, and there’s no hint of conviviality in his voice. “The kids are home from college so Sarah’s driving the Volvo and Todd’s probably wrecked the Land Rover by now.”

I do a quick mental calculus: three car garage, Der Binkster has three cars.  What about the third?

“Don’t you usually drive the Jag-you-are?” I ask, laying on the British accent like peanut butter on a PBJ.


Sarah:  A vegan so skinny she has to pass a place twice to make a shadow.

“I do,” he says, a bit sheepishly, “but Meg . . . said she wanted it today.”

“Oh,” I say.  Must be a major upheaval in Home Economics for the family routine to be disrupted so drastically.  “Garden Club . . . or bridge?”

“She’s sore at me,” he says as he tries to hide behind his Wall Street Journal–The Daily Diary of the American Dream.  “Said she needed some time to herself.  To think about . . . things.”  So there’s Trouble in Paradise.

“Oh?”

“Yesterday was her birthday,” Bink says as he skips over the editorial page and heads straight for the stock tables.  Nobody’s going to outwork Bink.

“And?”

Bink lowers his paper and gives me a look that’s a cry for masculine empathy.  “I was meaning to get her something . . .”

“Ouch,” I say.  “But there’s the florist on the first floor,” I say, referring to the price gouger who lives a life of luxury off of chumps like Bink who need to pick up something on their way home from work on birthdays, Mother’s Day, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day.

“That son of a bitch wanted $200 for a dozen red roses!” Bink says, looking for all the world like an impoverished stage witness at an Elizabeth Warren Congressional hearing.

“That’s highway robbery!” I say with exquisite sympathy.  “So–you didn’t bite?”

“No, and now I’m in the doghouse,” he says ruefully.  The car fills up and, after a last-minute rush of latecomers is horded into our car, the last in the train set, we begin to move.

“Looks like you’re in for a rough time,” I say, and I know whereof I speak.  Just try to save money by going to the town dump and bringing home a perfectly good Scandinavian dish rack that would set you back $80 at a fancy home furnishings store, and you’ll dine on hot tongue and cold shoulder all weekend.  “You may have to do something, you know, extraordinary to wriggle out of the Houdini-like bind you’re in.”

“What would you suggest?” he asks with a skeptical look on his face, his head cocked to one side like a parakeet, as if I’m the last person in the world who could come up with a solution to his predicament.

“Well, you could go down on her,” I say.  I make like I’m checking my phone for messages, but I sneek a peak over the top of my glass frames to see Bink’s reaction.

“What did you say?” Bink asks, his voice lowered to a whisper appropriate for the Catholic confessionals I used to visit once a month to cleanse my soul of impure thoughts, words and deeds.

“He said you might have to go down on your wife,” a young woman who’s reading D.H. Lawrence says from across the aisle.

“Thanks,” I say, but I don’t mean it.  I’m perfectly capable of giving the senior partner from my firm tips on the Way to Win a Woman’s Heart.

Bink is . . . stunned, like a steer hit in the head with a mallet as it enters the slaughterhouse.

“What . . . exactly . . . do you mean?” he asks, a bit goggle-eyed.

“Muff-diving,” says a woman who’s busy with a Find-A-Word puzzle book, without looking up.

“Carpet munching,” says another, a loquacious grandmotherly type who sits with a regular group of friends and shares the mundane details of her life and her family with all those around her in a loud voice each way, every day.

“Sushi,” says a Goth-looking girl with a rose tattoo on one shoulder, and another of a little flock of birds flying over the other one.

Bink flushes a bright shade of crimson.  “Welcome to public transportation, Bink,” I say.  It’s one of the things I love about Boston; how locals here are ready to share their most intimate erotic techniques with total strangers–out-of-towners, visiting dignitaries, national news reporters looking for the “Pahk your cah in Hahvahd Yahd” Boston.

“Is that . . . legal?” Bink asks as he glances over one shoulder.  MBTA conductors are empowered to make arrests to protect public safety or to prevent imminent civil disorder, so you have to be careful.

“Technically no,” I say.  “We still have a sodomy law on the books, but it’s unenforceable after Lawrence vs. TexasRemember what I told you about Jelly Roll Morton?”

“The Negro musician?”


Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton

“Actually, he was Creole.  You and I discussed him at the beginning of the summer.  His unexpurgated version of Winin’ Boy Blues is in the Smithsonian Institution.”

“I seem to recall something about it,” Bink says, staring out the window.

“Surely you can’t forget the deathless line ‘Salivate your pussy ’til my’ . . .”  The conductor comes over the loudspeaker to announce the stops, and asks that passengers get their tickets or money out for inspection, collection or rejection.

“You say it’s in the Smithsonian?” Bink asks, relieved that the interruption has spared him the embarrassment of hearing the entire verse.  My singing has that effect on people.

“You betcha,” I say.  “It’s probably the best value we’ll ever get for our taxes, worth a whole lot more than foreign aid to Third World kleptocrats.”

That doesn’t seem to assuage Bink’s brain, the highly-developed product of three centuries of Puritan inbreeding.  “I don’t think she’d be comfortable with . . . uh . . whatever you call it,” he says after a moment’s consideration.  About as long as the batting of a hummingbird’s eyelash.


My stars and garters!

“Oh, yes she would!” the grandmotherly type says, and the Goth girl and Ms. Find-a-Word concur.

The great weight of consensus causes Bink to relent, but still, he seems . . . uneasy.

“I had no idea that I left Meg . . . unsatisfied,” he says after a while.

“Woman’s gotta have it,” I say, quoting the recently-departed social philosopher Bobby Womack.  “You . . . of course recall ‘I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll’–don’t you?” I ask.


Butterbeans & Susie

“Yes,” Bink says.  “I think I recall you saying something about . . . Butterbeans & Susie.”  There is nothing so gratifying to an educator as the sight of a student who’s been struggling but finally “gets it” and masters the fundamental building blocks of a discipline.

“Then you’re probably ready to learn about The Boy in the Boat,” I said.

“What’s a boy in a boat got to do with Meg and I?”  I felt like correcting Bink, but like so many upper-crust types, he has a deathly fear of using “me” and other objective case pronouns, which of course was called for by the prepositional phrase.

“Well, it’s a helpful guide,” I said to nods from my fellow passengers.  “Rather obscure cunnilingus blues song.  Meade Lux Lewis on piano, George Hannah on vocal, or you’ve got the Bessie Smith version.”

“I don’t need all the ethnomusicology.  How does it work?”

“Well, you’ve got the boy, that’s . . . one erogenous zone.”

Bink was all ears.  Well, maybe part nose, mouth and goofy black eyeglasses, but you know what I mean.

“And the boat, well, that’s another, less sensitive organ, but it’s one men tend to focus on.”

I could see Bink wanted to whip out his–fooled you!–notebook.  He used to say to me when I was just a tyro, a neophyte to his heirophant, to always take copious notes: if they didn’t mean anything to you later, at least you looked like you were paying attention.

“Auburndale,” the conductor announced, and Bink started to get up.  “Well, this has all been most helpful!” he said as he folded his newspaper into his briefcase.  “Thank you,” he said with a wry little smile to me, “and thank you, ladies.”

Our three fellow passengers assured him they would have done the same thing for any elderly man who discussed his sex life on an outbound commuter train, and wished him well.

“You getting off here?” I asked.  “Because if you go two more stops I can give you a ride home.”

“Thanks,” Bink said, with a look that approached–in a very surreptitious manner–a leer, “but Meg’s waiting for me.”

As Families Tighten Belts, Distressed Jeans Feel the Pinch

OAK PARK, Illinois. Martha Reznik is the mother of a teenaged son, Todd, whose summer growth spurt means a trip to the mall for new clothes as the school year begins. “He shot up like a weed,” she says as she picks through sale items on a display table inside Lochner’s, an off-price retailer here. “We tried spraying him with Round-Up,” the popular weed and grass killer, she notes, ”but it apparently doesn’t work on similes.”

Todd’s dad is between jobs following a round of layoffs at American Moosehead Indemnity Company, however, so the family needs to cut back in an area that is sacred to Todd; “distressed”-look clothing that has been pre-washed, torn or otherwise made to appear as if it has previously been worn or damaged.


Roundup: Works only on literal, not figurative weeds.

“Mom, you don’t understand,” Todd says as his mother throws a non-distressed t-shirt priced at $4.99 into her cart, rejecting a Chicago Bears throwback distressed shirt that retails for $24.99. “If my clothes look new, the other kids will think I’m poor.”


Brand, spanking-new faded, worn-appearance t-shirt.

“Honey, we need to cut back,” Martha says consolingly to her anxious son, for whom matters of social status among his peers are far more important than the mere legal tender it would take to keep him in fashion.

He grudgingly concedes on the t-shirt, hoping to maintain some shred of dignity when it comes to the most important item in any teenaged boy’s wardrobe–his blue jeans. “My jeans are a reflection of who I am,” he says to this reporter, who pretends to care. “If they don’t look like I worked in them for three years in some blue-collar job while listening to Bruce Springsteen, the kids who drive BMW’s to school will look down their noses at me.”


Ashley: “Sorry Todd. I could never go out with someone who can’t afford to buy expensive genuine fake
po’ boy jeans!”

But his mother is insistent, and passes up a pair of Seven7 Distressed Jeans marked down to $49 for a pair of Dickies, the style worn by actual working men with jobs, for $16.

“Mom, you can’t!” Todd groans, but his mother ignores him as she heads towards the winter coats, passing up a $159 scuffed bomber jacket for a similar but less stylish model for $72. “Ashley”–Todd’s girlfriend–”is going to dump me if she sees me wearing new-looking clothes. Don’t make me!”

It’s a “teaching moment” for the mother, who puts her hand on her son’s shoulder and tries to look into his downcast eyes. “Todd, sweetie,” she says. “Ashley’s a very sweet girl, but you’ll learn in life that the fundamental values are the most important.”

“Like what?” Todd says, his face flush with emotion that he tries to conceal from other teens in the store.

“If a woman is only attracted to you just because you look poor, she probably won’t stick by you when you can’t afford to anymore.”

Pressure Mounts on Normal Kids to Get Personality Disorder

FLORISSANT, Mo.  Amy Ratcliffe is a high school junior who says she’s “on the bubble” for her first college choice, Vanderbilt University.  “I bombed the math part of my PSAT test,” she says ruefully, “and I don’t have any trips to Costa Rica to build water purification plants on my resume,” as do many children from more affluent families.


Secretary-Treasurer, Narcissists Club

So at the urging of her mother, last night Amy attended the Personality Disorder Fair at her high school cafeteria, along with her friend Melinda Sothern, in the hope of finding a resume-enhancing mental problem that will make her college applications more attractive.


“Hmm–maybe someday I can be a paranoid-schizophrenic.”

“So many of our students just need that extra little something to distinguish themselves,” says guidance counselor Norbert Branson.  “The top twenty percent of students at elite college have personality disorders,” he notes, referring to a recent study sponsored by the New York Psychiatric Institute, “and our kids are going to have to suck it up and become obsessive-compulsive or something if they want to get into a top school.”


“You kids can be anything you want to be–neurotic, psychotic–go for it!”

Amy and Melinda stop first at the Narcissists Club table, where they interrupt Linda Smiley, an attractive senior, as she examines her eye makeup in a compact mirror.

“Excuse me,” Amy says politely in deference to the upperclassman’s senior status.  “Could we get some literature or information about this club?”

Smiley ignores the two at first and then also at second, until Amy says “Hello?” with a hint of irritation.

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” Smiley says, “or not.  I’m the president of the Narcissists Club, so it tends to be all about me.”

“Is there an initiation ceremony?” Melinda asks, somewhat nervous about the tales she’s heard of students forced to eat raw onions, wear funny clothing to school or have intimate relations with biology lab frogs in order to be accepted by some clubs.

“If we gave a damn about you, we could come up with something I suppose,” Smiley says as she applies lip gloss.  “Frankly, I don’t have time.”

The girls say thanks and move on to the Paranoid Society, a group whose membership is predominantly male, with a sprinkling of high-performing girls who were cut from the Pep Squad for being too anti-social.


Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme

“Hi,” Amy says cheerfully as she approaches the folding table on which a papier-mache diorama of the unsuccessful assassination attempt upon President Gerald Ford by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme is displayed, above a banner reading “When Will the Truth Be Known?”

“What do you want?” says Tommy Racuniz, a slight boy from one of her classes who tends to avoid eye contact.

“Well, like, just some literature,” says Melinda.

“Never write when you can speak,” Racuniz says ominously, “and never speak when you can nod.”

“Are there any club dues?” Amy asks, and the boy shakes his head from side to side.

Melinda poses the question “Do you get student activity credit for meetings and stuff?” and Racuniz explodes at her, yelling “You people–why do you torment me?  What have I done?  Why won’t you leave me alone?”

“Thanks,” Amy says.  “See you in Current Events.”


Baron von Munchhausen

The girls move on to the Munchhausen Syndrome Club table, where the school nurse is examining Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Phillipson, a senior who plans to become a doctor.

“Where does it hurt?” the nurse asks him.

“All over,” the boy says.  “It’s like a knife running through my stomach and a bowling ball on my foot at the same time!”

The girls hesitate while the nurse puts a thermometer in the boy’s mouth, but they turn when they hear snickers from behind them.


“Those guys are depressing losers!”

They turn around to see the four members of the school’s pom-pom squad.  “What’s so funny about human suffering?” Amy asks with genuine umbrage.

“Don’t you know?” snickers captain Marci Young.  “You have to be sick to join that club!”

The Last Days of Joe Oliver

They don’t know exactly where he was born;
it was either New Orleans or a plantation
outside of town.  His date of birth is a

Oliver

shifting signpost as well.  It could have been
1885, or earlier, or later.  Jazzmen would move
the date up so people wouldn’t think they were

moldy old figs, or move it back to show that
that they were there at the beginning, in the
Garden of Eden, when jazz was created.

Oliver1

He lost his left eye when he still in his teens,
in a fight.  He started on trombone, switched
to cornet, and soon you could hear him shaking

the blackberry leaves as he played in funeral
parades.  By the time he was fifteen he was
touring in a brass band, but he was known

in the cabarets as well.  That’s where he came
to be called “King” Oliver, after he cut
Freddie Keppard one night in Storyville.

keppard

He lit out for Chicago, then California,
then back to Chicago when his gold rush
to the coast didn’t pan out.  He formed

the Creole Jazz Band to play in a swank
ballroom with a crystal ball on the ceiling.
In the spotlight, he wanted to do it right.

He assembled a tight band of New Orleans
natives, but he felt there was still something
missing.  He wired home for Louis Armstrong.

Armstrong

His former apprentice joined the band and,
as if by telepathy, they played in unison, long
cornet lines, seemingly improvised on the spot.

They had a system, Louis said, he and Papa Joe,
but they never wrote out their duet breaks.  They
didn’t have to, they were so wrapped up together.

It wasn’t long before apprentice surpassed his master,
and went out on his own.  Papa Joe started the
Dixie Syncopators, and began to play arrangements–

the duets by osmosis came to an end.  Joe Oliver
still wore the crown, but his kingdom had been
usurped.   His teeth, essential to his embouchure,

started to go; after a while he couldn’t play at all.
He moved to Savannah, where he worked as the
janitor in a pool room and at a fruit stand.  He was

whiteman

the real King of Jazz, not the white man Whiteman,
but he was now a pauper.  One day Louis passed
through town with his orchestra and saw his mentor.

“No tears,” Louis said, “just glad to see us.”  Louis
gave him $150 he had in his pocket; the others—Joe’s
former employees—chipped in what they could.

That night, playing a dance, Louis looked over in the
wings and there was Papa Joe, looking sharper now,
not like a pool hall janitor pushing a broom in his

shirtsleeves.  Louis left town with his band and
later heard that Joe ended up cleaning out cuspidors.
When he died they thought it was a heart attack, but not

Louis, who said the King died of a broken heart.

Among the Cokehead Federal Reserve Lab Rats

Regrettably, Sehgal fails to report experiments in which rats, offered a lever that releases cocaine, press for more and more stimulis until they die, even though this model would explain the Federal Reserve’s approach to interest rate cuts.

Jay Weiser, Review of “Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us” by Kabir Sehgal, The Weekly Standard

Image result for lab rats animal
“I could sure go for a few lines of coke and an increase in the money supply.”

I was basking in the sun with my buddies Mikey and Ike, my fellow lab rats here at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, down on Fort Point Channel.  Every now and then one of us would pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreamin’.  We had the greatest job on earth–all the cocaine we could sniff, plus our little paws held the levers that could rattle world markets through manipulation of interest rates and the money supply.

“You guys up for a game of Scare the Tourists?” I said to my two confreres. 

“We did that yesterday,” Mikey said as he propped himself up on one elbow, the better to gaze at the waters in the channel; when I started out in the lab rat business, it was pretty disgusting.  Now, thanks to a billion-dollar cleanup paid for by taxpayers across the country, the waters were safe for us to swim in.  We’d emerge wet and slimy onto the banks and chase picnicking secretaries who’d drop their ham sandwiches and yogurt for us to nosh on.  Life was good.

“Okay, you slackers,” I said.  “But don’t fall asleep.  We’ve got some heavy lifting to do after lunch.”

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“Yum–Charles River Rat Food!”

“Why–what’s up?” Ike asks.

I gave him a withering look.  It’s amazing to me how some guys think working for the most powerful central bank in the world is a job you can just blow-off whenever you feel like it.

“Haven’t you been paying attention to what’s happening in China?” I asked incredulously.  I don’t often append an adverb to my questions, but I felt the need to emphasize the importance of the afternoon that lay ahead of us.

“If it wasn’t on the sports pages, he missed it,” Mikey said with a sly grin.

“They devalued their currency, then they lowered interest rates,” I said.  “Take a peek at the TV screen in the employee cafeteria.  They’re taking pictures of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, so you know the world’s going to hell.”

That caused the Ikester to sit up and take notice, although not without some difficulty.  He’s not exactly Pilates-class material, if you know what I mean.

Image result for pilates class
“Eek–a mouse.  Must remain centered.”

“So what does that mean?” Ike asked.

“Who knows?  But the first thing you need to do is panic.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s a fundamental rule of stupidity that applies whenever any dramatic change occurs in financial markets: Don’t just stand there, do something, even if it makes no sense.”

The guys got the message, so we got up and started to amble back to the bank’s unique “washboard” building on the Boston waterfront.  The slab of silver metal and glass was apparently designed by somebody who dreamed of a career in household goods and sundries–whatever they are–but flunked the high-stakes aptitude test and was instead relegated to an ignominious career as an architect.

Image result for federal reserve bank boston

“So how exactly do you propose to solve the world’s financial crisis while we’re stoned out of our gourd on cocaine?” Mikey asked.

“Are you kidding?” I replied, channeling my inner Nancy Pelosi, which hasn’t had quite as much plastic surgery as the other one.  “Sucking white powder up your nose is the model recommended by Nobel Prize winning economists for fine-tuning the world’s third largest economy, after Starbucks and the Vatican.”

“It is?” Ike asked.

“Sure,” I said as we entered the free cocaine bar on the 29th floor, right down the hall from the regulatory library that was frequented by the author of this post in his salad days as a banking legal beagle.  “If you keep pushing this lever,” I said as I pushed the lever, “all of your inflationary worries disappear as your nose grows numb and your whole body starts to buzz.”

“Ahh,” Mikey said as he snorfed up a line that looked like a windrow of fescue in the August sun, to wax poetic for just a second.

Image result for windrows
Windrows:  NOW we’re talkin’!

“Okay, your turn,” I said to Ike, and he inhaled his portion like a shop-vac cleaning up a basement after a flood.

He finished his line and then it was my turn; I cleared my head of anti-inflationary thoughts, exhaled, then Hoovered up my line like my mother’s old canister-style vacuum cleaner.

“Primo,” I said, as mopped the residue around my nostrils with a wet finger, then licked it so as not to waste any.  Like the nuns in grade school told me: appreciate every gram of your controlled substances, kids are going to bed straight all over the world.

We could have sat back like fat satraps plastered in an opium den then, but we had work to do.

“Mikey, push the M1 button,” I said sharply, like the captain of a ship changing course in mid-battle.

“What’s M1?” Ike asked, and rather dully I might add.

I’m sure my mouth dropped open when my ears heard what he said.  “How long have you been working here?” I asked with a full measure of disbelief in my voice.

“With a life span of 2 to 3.5 years, I can’t be expected to learn everything,” he said defensively.

“M1 is measure of money supply that includes all physical money, such as coins and currency, as well as demand deposits, checking accounts and Negotiable Order of Withdrawal accounts,” I said slowly and clearly, as if reciting the rule against hitting your sister to a particularly dull 8-year-old boy.  “It measures the most liquid components of the money supply, as it contains cash and assets that can quickly be converted to currency.”

“Okay–what do you want me to do with it?”

“Pull it–hard!” I said, and you could almost feel liquidity pulsing back into the barren nooks and crannies of the American economy, like butter melting into an English muffin.  “Now you!” I screamed at Mikey.

“What?”

“I want you to go upstairs and scare the beejezus out of Janet Yellen.”

Image result for janet yellen
Yellen:  “It was this big, I tell you!”

“What good will that do?”

“Maybe she’ll raise interest rates, so that investment will flow out of some of the goofier asset classes that have been soaking it up . . .”

“Like what?” Mikey asked.

“Vacation homes, baseball cards, and Star Wars memorabilia.”

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