I Hear the Voices of Angels

It had been, for several years, a nagging problem; a high-pitched ringing in my ears that never seemed to stop. I attributed it to the barrage of noises I’m subjected to every day–squealing trolley wheels, urban traffic–or maybe to my misspent youth as keyboard man for crappy teen bands such as Otis & the Elevator Company, playing a red and black Farfisa Combo Compact organ.

“Hold on–I’m comin’!”


Whatever the cause, I made the mistake of telling my wife. “I think you should ask your doctor about it,” she said. When I noticed that the sound didn’t go away even on the quietest of weekends in the woods, I decided she was right.

“It’s probably just some nerve damage,” my doctor said. “Did you ever work in printing?”

As a matter of fact, I had. “I was a member in good standing of Graphic Arts Local 300, Revere, Massachusetts for three years,” I told him.

His face clouded over, and he examined my ear with an implement. “That could be a problem,” he said.

“Why’s that?”

“You know William Blake?”

“The wacked-out poet who sought to break the chains of rationality? ‘Tyger, tyger, burning bright’ and all that jazz?”

“That’s him. He was an engraver, and he had hallucinations. They think it had something to do with the chemicals he used.”

“But I was a phototypesetter.”

“I don’t think it matters.”

I was still skeptical. “So what kind of hallucinations?”

“An angel appeared to him in a hayfield,” he explained. “Do you . . . have any hayfields near your house?”

“I drive past one every Saturday on the way to the town dump,” I said. I didn’t like the dots he was trying to connect.

Spooky hayfield!


He gave me a dubious look. “Do you . . . write poetry?” he asked.

“Well, I think I do but the editors of numerous publications–both literary and general circulation–apparently disagree.”

“Ok, so you’re a poet, an ex-printer, and you drive past hayfields. That’s three telltale symptoms.”

“So you’re saying I’m going crazy?”

“Not until you start talking to them, like Blake did. He used to have friendly one-on-one mano a angelo conversations with the angel Gabriel.”

I was stunned, and my face must have showed it.

“You’re probably fine for now,” he said, trying to reassure me. “But let me know if it gets worse.”

I left his office disquieted, wondering whether I was losing it. Blake was a commercial failure, always mumbling to himself. When asked by a lady where he saw his visions, he tapped his forehead and said “Here, madam.” I didn’t want to end up like that.

That night, after a few glasses of red wine by the fireside, I forgot my concerns and eventually went to bed. This morning I woke up refreshed and set off on my Saturday routine; half-mile swim, cup of coffee, take the trash to the dump, dry cleaners, etc.

I was heading past the hayfield to the dump when I noticed the ringing in my ears again; and then, beside me–an angel, fiddling with the seat belt.

“How does this thing work?” he said with frustration.

His wings made it unlikely that he’d fit into the standard front-seat safety device. “Can you do something with your wings, like fold them down or in?” I asked.

He gave me the look of a sullen teenager–I know that one well–then caused his wings to cling closely to his torso, like a pigeon in the rain. “Like this?” he said.

“Let me help,” said a voice from the back seat–a second angel!  I could feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

“Listen–I’m going to the town dump,” I said. “This is a very small town, and people talk, okay?”

“We’re discreet,” said the one riding shotgun as he clicked his belt.

“Mum’s the word,” said the one in the back, as he fooled with his.

“Just get out of the car, look straight ahead, don’t talk to anybody and I’ll tell you where the stuff goes, okay?”

“Not . . . a . . . problem,” the one in the front seat said, a trifle defensively.

Actual, unretouched photo of Jesus debris at town dump.


We drove into the dump and the angels were on the best–or at least good–behavior at first.

“The newspapers and magazines go in there,” I told one as he hauled our wicker basket into a room with a chute down to a dumpster. “Plastics and cardboard over there,” I told the other.

They were minding their own business when a young dad, probably new to town, hoisted his kid up on the ledge, the better to allow the toddler to throw stuff down the holes. You’re not supposed to do it, but everybody does.

“Excuse me,” back-seat angel said. “For safety sake, you really shouldn’t let him up there.”

The father turned around with a look that said who’s-gonna-make-me. Probably a venture capitalist, I thought to myself. Thinks he’s the smartest guy in every room he enters.

“He’s just . . .” the dad began, then he saw what he was up against. A 6’4″ supernatural being, with a foreboding manner and a wingspan like a California condor.

“Uh, you’re right,” the dad said after the angel gave him a grim little smile. “Come on Tyler–you’re not allowed up there.”

The angel gave him a nod, and came back to the car where we were finishing up.

“Don’t cause trouble, okay?” I whispered to him through gritted teeth.

“Hey–I’m like an off-duty cop, okay? If I see a problem, I intervene.”

“Just get in the car, would you?”

We headed back into town and I pulled into the dry cleaners. “Do you guys have anything to pick up?” I asked my new “friends.”

“Nope–dry cleaning’s not a problem for us,” the shotgun angel said. “We put Scotchguard on these things.”

They had on those long robes that the members of the mass choir on the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour wear.

“What is that, nylon?” I asked.

“Yeah–you humans are too hung up on natural fibers,” the one in the back said.

“I find cotton/poly blend shirts get dirty at the collar and the cuffs,” I said.

“Use a little Wisk liquid detergent on tough, hard-to-get-out grime like that before you wash,” the one in the front said.

I got my shirts and came back out. “You guys want a cup of coffee?” I asked, more out of politeness than genuine sentiment. I actually didn’t want them to come into the bagel place with me.

“We’re angels, so we don’t have to eat,” the one in the back said. “But we’ll come in with you.” Great.

We went inside and I got in line, while the angels grabbed a table. I got my coffee and sat down with them, drawing stares from my fellow exurbanites.

“Coffee’s a diuretic, you know,” one of them said as he watched me take a sip. “What’s the point of buying something you’re just going to pee out in a half hour?”

“It’s the experience,” I said. “The flavor, the caffeine–that stays with you.”

“Still, my guess is you’ll have to hit the head before we get out on the road again.”

“So does everybody,” I said.

“Ding-dong, you’re wrong,” the other said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We’re angels–we don’t go to the bathroom.”

The Vatican: You can tell the Pope’s human because he has his own bathroom.


I hadn’t thought of that, but I remembered the story about an architect who submitted a design for a Catholic church to the Vatican but forgot to put in bathrooms. It came back with a cryptic marginal note: “They aren’t angels.”

“Well, I’ve learned a lot hanging with you guys,” I said as I opened up my Boston Herald and turned to the sports page. “”Big game tonight,” I said. “Patriots against the Texans. Who do you like?”

“What’s the line?” the one from the front seat asked. The Herald, unlike the Globe, candidly recognizes that some tacky people actually bet on football, and prints the point spreads.

“Pats by sixteen,” I said. “You want to . . . make a friendly little wager?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking thoughtfully off into space. “I’ll do better than that. I’ll take New England by twenty.”

I looked at him skeptically, and was about to say “You’re on,” when the other one stopped me.

“Don’t do it,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Don’t ever–ever–bet against a supernatural being.”

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

At the All-Night Children’s TV Station

          Boston’s public television station will create a 24-hour channel dedicated entirely to children’s programming.

The Boston Globe


It’s 2:55 a.m. and I’m about to go on the air for the 1,339th edition–not that I’m counting or anything–of my late-night kids’ show “Are You Going to Eat That?”, a freewheeling, no-holds-barred look at the things kids will put in their mouths.  My ratings are down, and the station manager says I’m going to have to do something, anything, to goose them up.  He didn’t say exactly what would happen if I didn’t, but I figure I’ll be busted down to an off-camera position; cue-card holder, crowd-warmer for the station’s live phonics show, maybe the guy who gives the loser on Math Challenge! a home version of the game.


It’s hard to believe how far I’ve fallen since I burst on the scene as a fresh-faced seven-year-old late-night host wannabe five years ago.  I won a Pediatric Emmy for my hard-hitting expose of the lack of sugar in certain over-the-counter candy products, forcing the Snack-Industrial Complex to enter into a nationwide settlement, issuing coupons worth fifteen cents to underage consumers across the country, and paying the class action lawyers $25 billion.  They asked for $30 billion, but the judge told them not to be greedy.

Now, the station says they’re looking at younger faces to appeal to a more free-spending kids; the all-important four-to-six year-old demographic, who drive parental choices in the stuffed animal, DVD and crayon markets.  It’s enough to make a twelve-year-old bitter, and some TV critics says my personality has gone from a ray of sunshine to the scary thing under your bed.

I take the clipboard from my producer, Cindy Felchner, the gal who keeps “Are You Going to Eat That?” going even when I’m in a foul mood like today and the other days in the week that have the word “day” in the them.

“Who do we have on tonight?” I ask.

“There’s a kid who eats grass . . .”

“Haven’t we done that before?”

“He does it in the winter–when it’s brown.”

“That’s it?”

“We have a girl who ate her mother’s lipstick.”


“Did we get pictures of the vomit?”

Cindy gives me a look that could thaw a Creamsicle.  “Does Oscar Mayer make hot dogs?” she says with the withering smart-aleckiness that makes me hope she’ll be my Valentine come February.

“I should have known.  So that means I’m going to have to take calls to fill the time?”

“You’re the King of All Kids Media,” she says matter-of-factly as she turns and walks off the set.

Dream wedding.

The camera boy starts his countdown: “Are You Going to Eat That in five–four–three–two–one,” he says, then pans in as our theme music begins to play.

I wouldn’t eat that, if I were you–
It looks like something they’d serve in a zoo.
You’ll probably get sick and you may get fat,
And that’s why we ask “Are you going to eat that?”

The studio audience applauds wildly–I’ve hyped them up with unlimited free Lik-M-Aid before the show–and I bound onto the stage with my best poop-eating grin to greet the gang.


“Thank you, thank you everybody–thank you,” I say, motioning for the audience to quiet down even though they’re not really that loud.  These are good kids from Public Television Homes.  They’ve probably never ridden in an American car, and the closest they’ve ever come to deprivation in their sheltered little lives was having to settle for a vacation on Nantucket one summer when daddy got laid off by his hedge fund for failure to meet his “hurdle rate.”

“How’s everybody doing?” I ask of all and sundry.

“Okay!”  The kids have been prompted by my sidekick Ronnie Blasberg, a rising 8-year-old comic with an air of menace about him that recalls the early Bob Goldthwait.  He told them if they weren’t sufficiently enthusiastic, they wouldn’t get a Barney stuffed animal as a promotional consideration.  Then he told them he’d come to their houses and eat their pet turtles.


“Who’s going to stay up past their bed-time tonight?” I ask with affected curiosity.

“WE ARE!” the kids shout, punching the volume meters in the control room “into the red,” as the sound engineers say.

“Great!  Let’s bring out our first contestant!”

I turn it over to my sidekick who introduces Timmy Nobles, a third-grade spelling champ from Framingham.  “He’s distinguished himself on the playground and in the classroom, where on a dare he ate a guppy from the class fish tank, so let’s say a big hello to–Timmy Nobles!”

Timmy’s a personable little kid with a big smile, which makes my life easier.  I’ve studied film of Art Linkletter from the 50s doing his “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” schtick and I have to say, I don’t know how he did it.  He was a genius, a master at drawing out his little guests, some of whom obviously were IRS Revenue Officers in the making.


We palaver back and forth a bit–how many siblings he has, what’s his least favorite subject in school, etc.–and then it’s time for the game.

“Okay, are you ready to play?” I ask, and Timmy nods yes, so we head over to the Challenge Bar, where there are three progressively-tougher items to consume, with increasingly more valuable prizes to win if he can keep them down.

“Pile #1–250 points!” I proclaim loudly, as my assistant Darlene sweeps her lovely lithe arm over a greyish mound of . . . something.  “It could be edible, or it could . . . something else.”


Timmy looks the stuff over, correctly guesses that it’s non-toxic, and pulls the trigger.

“I’ll eat it for 250!” he says and, after sticking his finger in and scooping out the minimum requirement, he eats it, makes a face–and then breaks into a two-dimpled smile that must have the girls back at Mosi Tatupu Elementary School begging to go into the cloak room with him.

“It’s liver pate,” I say.  “A disgusting food that adults eat, but it won’t kill you.”

The crowd applauds, but the stakes rise as we move on to Pile #2.  “It’s another mystery substance, worth five hundred points.” says Ronnie Blasberg in a portentous voice over the studio’s p.a. system.

“I’ll give you two hints,” I say, “but they’ll cost you fifty points apiece.”

“Don’t do it,” comes a call from the audience, countered by an immediate “It’s worth it!”

Timmy hesitates, then hesitantly says “I’ll buy one clue.”  The audience applauds, and I hand him an envelope, which he promptly tears open to read “It’s something your hippie big sister eats in natural food restaurants.”

“What say you, Timmy?”

“If it’s good enough for Claudia, it’s almost good enough for me.”


He takes a scoop and, after eating it, I let him know that it’s nothing more than lentil stew, a high-protein entrée that keeps New Age types flatulent.

“We’ve got just one more to go, the grand prize, worth a thousand points that you can redeem for swell prizes including a Tickle-Me-Elmo, a Barney and Friends pup tent, or a physically-correct doll approved by the Boy Scouts of America for Female Anatomy Merit Badge training.”


A hush falls over the audience now that the stakes have risen.  I see Timmy glancing over at the toys stacked up from a card table–this is public broadcasting–almost to the ceiling.  Darlene wheels out Pile #3, and does a yeoman’s–or is it yeowoman’s?–job of disguising whether the stuff stinks.

“This is for all the marbles, Timmy,” I say, trying to impress upon him the seriousness of the decision he’s about to make.  “You’ve got 700 points.  If you eat just one spoonful of that, you’ll have 1,700, and you’ll be the richest kid in the third grade.  If you gamble and lose, you’ll go home with a consolation prize and probably end up sleeping on a heating grate outside the Boston Public Library.”


Timmy mulls it over, and I can almost see the synapses snapping underneath his scalp.  He could have a bike, a fishing rod, a baseball glove autographed by some steroid-swilling slugger, or he could go home with–a lot less.  An aquarium, one of those Bolo-Bat things I can never get to work, maybe a jump rope.  In other words, as one of life’s cautious losers.

He thinks about it a little more while the audience screams their encouragement.

“Do it!”

“Go for it!”

“Don’t be a chicken!:

Finally, and with a look that says that he needs to go to the bathroom soon, he says “I’m gonna pass.”

A collective groan goes up from the crowd, as the dreamers, the risk-takers–or those who just like to watch other people go first–register their disappointment.

“Is that your final decision?” I say, trying to squeeze the last little drop of drama out of the situation.

“Um, yes,” Timmy says finally.

“Okay,” I say.  “It’s your funeral–or not.  Darlene–let’s tell him what he’s missing out on!”

My comely assistant glides downstage, picks up a card lying face down on the Challenge Bar, and hands it to me.

“Ooooo, Timmy,” I say, my voice freighted with sadness.  “It looks like you passed up a chance to eat . . . dog doody!”

The audience erupts in cheers, Darlene kisses Timmy and I clap the kid on the back in congratulations.

“That’s all for tonight!” I shout over the roar of the crowd.  “Tune in tomorrow night to meet a boy who picks his nose . . . and eats it!”


A Day in the Life of a Supermodel Armpit Makeup Artist

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen had “to hold really still whilst makeup was applied to her armpits.”

                    The Boston Herald

It was 6:30 a.m., and my CD player-alarm clock sounded the opening notes of Albeniz’s “Asturias,” which is familiar to 60′s drugheads as the intro to The Doors “Spanish Caravan.”  It fit my mood; anxious, edgy–depressed.

Some of my early work.


I’d been out of work as an armpit makeup artist for three months following a disastrous shoot for “American Girl” magazine.  I had prepped precocious Cindy Hammer for a feature on Camp Pa-He-Tsi in Winnisquam, Michigan, using every tool in my portable makeup kit; styptic pencil, upper armpit blusher, highlighter.

Then the little twerp went and switched from a side pose to a full-frontal/arms-extended look, exposing her wispy alfalfa-sprout armpit hair to view.  Scoutmaster Mary Louise Fernald had told me we didn’t have time to prep both armpits on all the girls–they had Junior Life Saving at 1:30, gimp necklaces at 2:00.   I’d been caught leaning the wrong way.

No, don’t!


When the proofs arrived back in New York, the editor 86′d them and told me not to bother calling him anymore.  Needless to say, I didn’t get a nomination for the “Harrys”–the armpit makeup industry’s prestigious annual awards–and my name was mud from Manhattan to Hollywood.

Still, I forced myself to get up every morning.  They say that’s essential when you’re out of work.  You’ve got to be just as disciplined when you’re unemployed as when you’re working; shower, shave, make breakfast (the most important meal of the day), scan the want ads and make some calls.  If you don’t, you’ll end up sleeping on a heating grate in a couple of years as the inexorable downward undertow of self-pity drags you . . .

The phone!  Maybe a call-back!  I knocked over my bowl of Special K–the lightly toasted, lightly sweetened rice cereal by Kellogg’s that is high in flavor but low in calories–lunging to answer it.

“Hullo?” I said into the mouthpiece, trying to sound eager, but not desperate.

Excellent source of 11 vitamins and minerals.


“Is this Duane Fontana?”

“That’s me.”  Dammit–should have said “It is I”, I thought, remembering the telephone-answering skills I had learned in 4th grade English class.

“Dov Lemuelson here–how are you?”

“Fine, fine–just fine Mr. Lemuelson.”  I was talking to the head of Dov Modeling Service, one of the largest agencies in Southern California.

“Keeping busy?” he asked, and a tremor of fear shot down my spine.  I couldn’t sound like I was too busy, but I also couldn’t let him sense how far I’d fallen.  “Sure,” I said after I composed myself, “but never too busy to work with you, one of the top . . .”

“Skip the obsequies.”  I think he meant “flattery,” but he’d probably been taking a “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary” course and had assumed that the word for funeral rites was derived from “obsequious”–i.e., fawning attentiveness.  I started to correct him, but on second thought bit my tongue.


“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“I jutht bit ma tung.”

“Terrific.  Say, I’ve got a supermodel out on a spread for Marie Claire–”

“The publicathion that women turn to for infomathion on fathion, thtyle, beauty, women’th ithues and careerth?”

“That’s the one.  Anyway, the armpit makeup artist just walked off the job.  I need to get someone out there quick, before they cancel and I’m stuck with nothing but a ‘kill’ fee and have to pay Frederica out of my own pocket.”

As he spoke, I’d been bathing my tongue in the remaining milk in my bowl to ease the pain of my self-inflicted bite.  By the time he’d finished, I was ready to pounce.

“Just give me the address, and I’m on my way.”

“3820 Feliz Navidad Boulevard.”

“I’m already gone,” I said as I slammed down the handpiece.

“Please hurry–I can’t hold my boobs like this forever!”


By the time I reached the scene, the structured atmosphere of your typical high-fashion photo assignment had descended into chaos.  Up against the adobe wall of the San Luis Obispo mission lay the shattered fragments of a Mitchum Smart Solid deodorant container, apparently hurled in a fit of pique by Duchess Frederica von de Velde, one of the world’s most temperamental supermodels–and that’s saying something.

“Hello,” I said as I walked up to her.  “My name is Duane Fontana–Dov sent me.”

“Then you know who I am,” she said, with a bitter tone.  “Everybody does.  I have no privacy!”

An odd complaint for someone who makes a lot of money spreading her bony ass and leggy body all over glossy magazines, but I let it pass.

“I’m here to help, Ms. von de Velde.”

“Please–let us not stand on these silly formalities.”


“Call me ‘Duchess’.”

Bo Diddley:  “Nice pits, babe.”


So she wanted to maintain a professional distance between us.  Fine.  I made small talk while I unpacked my bag.  “Didn’t Bo Diddley have a sister named ‘Duchess’?”

“Who is this Bo Diddley of which you speak?” she asked in the stilted English she had learned in European boarding schools.

“He’s dead.  Rock ‘n roll pioneer–’Shave-and-a-haircut–two bits’ beat.”

“Oh,” she replied blankly.  I understood that she did that a lot.

I held up my light meter and took some readings.  Bright sun called for a #4 armpit masque, with just a hint of groin shadow on top to give that chiaroscuro finish that female readers respond to by renewing their subscriptions early.

“You have really nice pits,” I said as I went to work.

“No I do not,” she said.  “They are ugly.  I got them from my father’s . . . how you say–jeans?”

“No, ‘genes’.”

She gave me a look that would have dried a prune.  “I know that all of you makeup types are homonymphos, but please–do not pull your homonyms on me.”

“Sorry,” I said, “just trying to help.”

“Do your job,” she said with disdain as she lifted both arms over her head.

“Okay,” I said as I took out my Dust It Mineral Makeup Brush.

She may have been a bitch, but she was a pro.  She held herself stock still, and in five minutes she was camera-ready with a pair of armpits that most women would die for.

“All set,” I said as I poofed her with a glistening atomizer to give her that last touch of musky moistness that a man forced to flip through next month’s issue as he waits for his wife in a women’s clothing store might find a tad erotic.  “It’s been a pleasure working with you,” I said, and I meant it–if only for the money.

“Thank you,” she said as she walked over to the photographer’s umbrella, her arms akimbo to keep her pits in picture-perfect shape until the shutterbug was ready.  “I am always happy to bring pleasure into the lives of little people like yourself.”

She walked away and, as I stood there admiring my work, a thought occurred to me.

“Duchess?” I said timidly, causing her to turn around.


“Would you . . . “  I hesitated, unsure of myself.


“I’d like to have a memento of my work with you.”

“Like a publicity photo?”

“No.  If you don’t mind–would you autograph this dress shield for me?”


Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Bad Girls.”

Outrage as Dean Calls Freedonian Studies “Bogus Claptrap”

CAZENOVIA, N.Y. Curtis Bascomb is head of information technology at The Chronicle of Ethnic Studies, but he says he’ll be looking for a new job following a weekend when he was on call 24/7. “They don’t pay me enough to give a crap as it is,” he says as he coils wire around his arm like a rock group roadie. “If I have to give up my hobby of Spanish-American War re-enactment I’m outta here.”

His idea of weekend fun.


The cause of the crisis that crashed the academic journal’s servers was an article by Dean Lisa Tilden of the State University of New York-Cazenovia attacking the work produced by candidates for advanced degrees in the nation’s Freedonian Studies departments, which ended with a facetious call for universities to divert scarce resources currently spent on such programs to Friday night keg parties. “We would be better off producing graduates who are unemployable because they are drunk, not drunk because they are unemployable,” she wrote.

Tilden, casting a gimlet eye at a Freedonian Studies major’s senior project.


Tilden quoted from a number of dissertations in the field to make her point, including “Who’s Your Nanny: An Examination of Goat-Human Eroticism in 19th Century Freedonian Vers Libre” by Dos Fledens-Gzodny, a Ph. D. candidate at SUNY-Cazenovia. “My work is as respectable as so much of what is written in other less untraditional departments like Women’s Studies and Sports Management,” he says, clearly agitated. “I spit on the grave of this so-called ‘dean’s’ mother, this is how bad I am thinking of her.”

Spoiled potatoes used to make spoiled instant mashed potatoes.


Freedonia was formed after World War II from portions of Albania, Serbia and New Jersey, along with a boxcar of instant mashed potatoes that spoiled before it could be served to liberating U.S. troops. A Freedonian diaspora followed a brief but intense civil war between rival ethnic groups, the Large and Small Curds, which U.N. peacekeepers were unable to prevent due to bribes paid in zlotniks, the nation’s unwieldy currency whose coins are as large as manhole covers.

Freedonian women harvesting Tater-tots while men remain at home, drinking fermented malt beverages.

Tilden says she expects to be fired, but for now is on unpaid leave while the journal’s Board of Academic Advisors determines whether she violated the publication’s Standards of Civility. “It’s not like they were paying me before so I can’t complain too much,” she says. “On the other hand, every footnote in that post adhered strictly to the Chicago Manual of Style.”

Freedonians are sometimes referred to as America’s most neglected minority, always by members of the ethnic group itself. How, this reporter asks Fledens-Gzodny, can he be offended at verbal slights that are directed at him as a member of a fictional if vibrant culture.

“I hear your words,” he says defiantly. “What is your point?”

Dealers Pin Hopes on Game-Worn Dress Shields to Weather Sports Card Crash

BOSTON.  Bromfield Street is a dark, unimpressive lane that is only two blocks long, but it is the epicenter of the New England sports card market, much as Wall Street is the headquarters of securities fraud in America.  “We’re the canary in the coal mine of the economy,” says dealer Mike “Tork” Torkinson, who has held down a spot at the corner of Bromfield and Province Streets for twenty years.  “With higher interest rates and a strong dollar, if a dad has to choose between giving his kid five bucks for a pack of baseball cards and drinking single malt scotch, you know which way he’s going to go.”

Bromfield Street


While numerous dealers on “The Street” were wiped out in the Great Rickey Henderson Crash of 2003, those who employed complex hedging strategies survived, and this reporter finds Torkinson with a wary but relaxed expression on his face even as other shop-owners here say they are nervous that the bottom could fall out again if the yield on the three-year Treasury bill climbs much higher.  “A lot of your thinly-capitalized traders will fold, but I’ve got it all figured out,” Torkinson says, lifting a finger to tap his temple, but poking himself in the eye when he nods his head to congratulate himself on his foresight.


And what, this reporter asks, is his plan?

Torkinson’s lips form themselves into a smug little moue before he says, slowly and deliberately, “Game . . . worn . . . dress shields.”

About a year ago, Torkinson pitched his concept to the major sports card companies; take the “game-worn jersey” concept, in which a scrap of a player’s uniform is embedded in a card like the relic of a saint, but use dress shields worn by football and basketball cheerleaders to justify premium prices.  “It worked in the 90s to raise margins when a lot of newbies came into the market hoping to capitalize on the steroids era,” he says as he eyes a teenaged boy who has entered the store with his mother.  “We’re trying to extend the buying cycle of our typical card consumer, who tends to lose interest in little cardboard squares once he notices girls’ bazoombas.

Official dress shield of the NBA.


“Dress shields” are underarm liners worn by women to prevent tight-fitting clothing from showing perspiration in the armpit region.  Also known as “sweat guards” and “pitty protectors,” they are considered as important to cheerleaders as a helmet to a football player or a tattoo to a basketball player.

“Some of these girls, it’s tragic,” says Dr. Philip Costernau, a pathologist at New England Armpit Hospital, the leading acute-care facility for the diagnosis and treatment of underarm sweat gland disorders.  “They’ve been training since they were toddlers to take their place along the sidelines of a major sports event in a subsidiary role to male lunkheads, and then they start spraying sweat like a sprinkler system in a four-alarm fire.”

                  No sweat!

While a fascination with the female axilla, the technical Latin term for “armpit,” has in the past been viewed as an unhealthy fetish, it was recently removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the leading compilation of criteria used by psychiatrists and psychologists.  “It’s time for the armpit-loving community to come out of the shadows,” says a shopper in Torkinson’s shop who prefers to remain anonymous, but whose credit card reads “Mike Grealy.”  “What Tork has done for guys like me is validate the legitimacy of our weirdness.”

“And this young lady here has slept with the entire special teams unit of the Philadelphia Eagles.”


Sales of the cards were slow at first, but from foot traffic up and down the street today it appears that the concept has legs.  The sound of his cash register ringing puts a smile on Torkinson’s face, but it is quickly dispelled when he is forced back into his familiar role of inventory cop.  “Hey kid,” he shouts across the crowded store at a twelve-year old who is fingering an Arizona Cardinals Dance Team Member card.  “Get your hands off the push-up bra–now!





Female Baboons, Mes Amours

          A nine-year study involving 125 male baboons revealed that “beta” males had almost as many mates and got just as much grooming as higher-status “alpha” males, but experienced less stress because they didn’t have to spend as much time fighting or following females around to keep other males away.

                               The Wall Street Journal, “Are Alpha Males Healthy?”

Hangin’ with the guys.


I was sitting with my friend Kruk on a sloping hill, watching the females go by.

“Nice ischial callosities,” I said about one babe’s seat pads surrounded by bodacious, brightly-colored naked skin.

“Forget it,” Kruk said.  “H-M-C.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“High maintenance chick,” he said, as if totally indifferent to her voluptuous beauty.

Sensitive beta male


“I can look, can’t I?”

“She’s already spoken for,” Kruk said as he moved some food from his cheek pouches to his mouth and swallowed.  “She’s Thwok’s girl.”

“I thought he was getting it on with that red-furred babe?”

“She’s his entree–that one’s his side dish.”

As he spoke, Thwok appeared from the woods with a pawful of fresh berries, which the female turned up her nose at.

“See what I mean?” Kruk said.  “She gets off by turning him down.”

Thwok turned to us in a threat posture and screamed at the top of his lungs.

“Ooo–I’m so scared!” Kruk said, with an expression of feigned fear on his face.  “Looka me–I’m shaking!” he continued, channeling George Costanza.

Thwok was too stupid to understand baboon irony, so he snorted, pawed the ground and moved on in pursuit of the big-butt babe.

“Man, I wouldn’t want to live in his skin,” Kruk said, shaking his head.

“You’re probably right,” I said, “but doesn’t the amount of, uh, poontang he gets make it worthwhile?”

“Are you kidding?” Kruk said, and I could tell he wasn’t kidding.  “Ol’ Thwok will die an early but glorious death.  He’ll have plenty of offspring, but you and me–we’ll be sitting on this hill, feeling the breeze against our cheeks, sipping cool water from a stream, and getting it on with his widow(s).”

“Yeah, but I noticed the object of that sentence was plural,” I said.  “So he comes out ahead, right?”

“Not necessarily,” Kruk said.  We’d both developed higher-order language and analytical skills that our crude physical appearance served to mask.

“How much are you getting?” I asked in a moment of uncharacteristic bluntness.

Kruk gave me a sly smile.  “I’m doin’ okay.”

Just then a troupe of three females approached.  Kruk gave them a 100-watt smile and said, simply, “Hi,” the way he’d been taught by our fellow beta male Alanalda.

“Hey Kruk!” a beauteous babe with a distinctly dog-like nose–like something out of Picasso–said with a big smile.  “Want me to pick the lice out of your fur?”

“Sure,” Kruk said as he laid back on the grass and rolled on his stomach.  “Let’s put on some music.”

I had salvaged a Jackson Browne tape and a boom box from a dump in Nairobi a few weeks before and, after a few unsuccessful tries, I got the thing to work.  “Jamaica say-ay-ay you will, help me find . . .” issued from the metallic speakers.

The female groomed Kruk carefully, and from the expression on his face he appeared to be enjoying every minute of it.

“You have such powerful hind limbs,” said the second one, as she began to give him a shiatsu massage.

“Um–that feels good,” Kruk said, and I could tell he could barely contain his ecstasy.

“Hi,” the third one said as she sat down next to me.  “Do you like Rod McKuen?”

She had on a big floppy hat and a purple blouse, the kind of outfit I would have dismissed with a snort if my brain, and not my organ of generation, had been in charge of my thought processes just then.

“No–who’s he?”

“He a great poet!” she said.  “I love it when I find somebody who hasn’t heard of him, so I can be the first to introduce his genius to them.”

Rod McKuen, right.  More distinguished poet to the left.


I started to correct her grammar and syntax, but I figured, what the hell–Kruk had something going on here, I might as well ride the wave.

“Do you want to read some of his poetry . . . to me?” I asked, all barefoot baboon with cheeks of blue, playing the ingenue.

“Would I?” she exclaimed.

“Hit me!” I said.

“Okay,” she said, as she swung her arm down on my head.

“Ow!” I yelled, grimacing in pain.

“Sorry, that’s what you told me to do!”

“I intended it . . . figuratively.”

“What’s that mean?” she asked, her gaze as deep and soulful as those in the paintings of big-eyed children.

“It means,” I began, then stopped.  She wouldn’t get it, no matter how hard I tried to explain it, so I might as well let her do her thing.  “Never mind,” I said, “just read something to me.”

I do remember, she began,
The only fuzzy circumstance
is something where–and how.
Why, I know.
It happens just because we need
to want and to be wanted too,
when love is here or gone
to lie down in the darkness
and listen to the warm.

“God–that is so freaking beautiful!” I said, and extended my arms to hug her.

“I know,” she said as she embraced me.

“Say, as long as we both like crappy poetry–how about a roll in the hay?” I say.

She recoils, and looks hurt.

“I . . . I thought there was . . . something . . . more between us than just . . . physical attraction,” she says, and I think I detect a lump in her throat.

“Well, of course there is!” I say.  I look over at Kruk; he’s manipulating the two other females simultaneously, and he grabs a boob from one of them and holds it up to his ear, while he takes a boob from the other and puts it up close to his mouth.

“Hello Rangoon!” he says as if talking over a two-way radio.  “Can you hear me?”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Let’s Get Primitive.”