The Quest for the Elusive–Yet Ubiquitous–Mimi

One of Mariah Carey’s CDs is titled “Me. I am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse.”

mimi
“Seriously–they’re in different Zip Codes.”

 

I have come to the woods of Manhattan in search of that most elusive of creatures, one whom I glimpsed once only briefly on TV, her famous (infamous?) 1990 appearance on Saturday Night Live, singing her breakthrough hit “Vision of Love”–Mariah Carey.

Shortly thereafter she disappeared into Central Park, perhaps frightened by her encounter with a national television audience of men marveling at her enormous . . . uh, vocal range, and has never been seen since.  Except for Grammy Award ceremonies and an occasional feature-length motion picture.

But these are all unverified sightings, and who knows, they may turn out to be fake, like the infamous Roger Patterson/Robert Gimlin film of Bigfoot.

Bigfoot
“And now, here’s a little something called . . . One Sweet Day.”

 

Like Bigfoot a/k/a Sasquatch, Mariah goes by a pseudonym–“Mimi”–to avoid detection.  It’s been reported that she was seen on American Idol, but by the last season nobody watched it anymore, so I don’t put much credence in such claims.  Hey, unless you get it on tape it didn’t happen, and I still haven’t figured out how to work Tivo.

I’ve been told that the best spots to catch a glimpse of the woman who occupies the #2 spot on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Women in Music–and yet remains so elusive!–are the pricier luxury stores.  Mimi apparently has a voracious appetite for jewelry, furs and the finest tchotchkes that money can buy.  She can reportedly be lured from her lair–and try saying that five times fast–by a gaudy bauble.

I have accordingly come armed with a walnut-sized cubic zirconium from Service Merchandise–the web-based 2.0 iteration, not the brick-and-mortar version that folded in 2002.  The new Service Merchandise always has high quality products at the best prices, and I’m not above a little product placement if it helps me defray the high overhead of my cryptozoological expeditions.

service
“Whadda ya mean, take it back?  It’s a real cubic zirconium!”

 

I stake out the entrace to Harry Winston Diamonds and make myself comfortable leaning against a lampost while I chew on a Nature Valley Granola Bar.  The elusive creature has a weird, scintillating mating call that spans a five-octave range.  Her multiplatinum albums are often issued in “For Dogs Only” versions that can’t be heard by humans like you and me.

granola

I crouch down behind a solar-powered trash compactor and listen for the best-selling ringtone of all-time, created from this secretive creature’s monster holiday hit “All I Want for Christmas is You.”  It’s quiet–too quiet–and a sense of ominous foreboding washes over me through the din of the traffic, here in this City of Contradictions.

And then–I see her!  The glare from her diamond earrings blinds me momentarily, but I recover and make a bee-line for the entrance.  Unfortunately, bees don’t fly in straight lines, and so it’s several minutes before I catch up to her.

mariah2
“It’s not easy being elusive–but I try!”

 

“Ms. Carey–yoo hoo!” I cry after her.

“Yes?” she asks with that sultry, seductive voice that has won the hearts of millions, along with 17 World Music Awards, 31 Billboard Music Awards, a Nobel Prize for Best Female Vocalist and the NHL’s Lady Byng Award.

“I’ve got a little present for you,” I say as I extend the cubic zirconium to her in the hope that I’ll distract her long enough to get a picture, since my dial-up access to her website is so slow.

“You weren’t kidding when you said ‘little,’ were you?” she asks rhetorically.  That’s something we may have in common, I think, since I studied Aristotle’s Rhetoric in college.

“Well, it’s not much,” I say as I sidle around her in an attempt to get a photobomb I can sell to The National Enquirer.

Before I can push the button–I can never remember whether it’s on the top or the bottom–one of her bodyguards has me down on the ground and has wrestled my phone from me.

“C’mon,” I say.  “I’m just trying to earn a living in the competitive world of paparazzi-dom.”

“No can do,” the bruiser says as he smashes my ticket to wealth beyond the dreams of avarice on the concrete pavement.  “Opening bid for one of those bad boys on eBay is $14.21.”

One Big Fish Writing Coach Focuses on Small Fry

NEWTON FALLS, Mass.  It’s the middle of August, and the thoughts of youngsters–and their parents–have turned towards the first anxious days of school.  “It can be really traumatic,” says Marilyn Elgar, who has seen three of her children begin their formal education at Tony Conigliaro Elementary School in this high-achieving suburb where many young people won’t finish their schooling for another two decades.  “If your child doesn’t get off on the right foot, he or she might not end up at a Big Four Accounting Firm like me,” says her husband Oliver, who has not one but two programmable calculators hanging from holsters on his belt.

accountant
“This one is for debits, and this one is for credits.”

 

And so the Elgars have hired a writing coach to help their youngest, Tyler, a precocious eight-year-old, handle the first-day assignment that so many second-graders stumble over, setting the stage for a lifetime of professional failure, low-earnings, substance abuse and divorce: the “What-I-Did-Over-My-Summer-Vacation” essay, which in many competitive school districts can count for half of a child’s grade in “Language Arts,” whatever that is.

The Elgars sit nervously while Tyler presents his first draft to Emily Niederhofer, a blond whose hair has been styled in the pageboy fashion favored by her favorite writer, Sylvia Plath, who grew up one town over in Wellesley, Mass.

accountant1
Plath: Kinda like this.

 

“So . . .” Niederhofer begins as she scans the opening paragraph with a gimlet eye.  “You went to camp?”

“Um-hmm,” Tyler says as he wipes a booger on his pant leg, to the dismay of his mother who hands him a tissue.

“Don’t you think a lot of other children went to camp too?” Niederhofer asks.

“Yes, but my dad told me to write what I know,” the boy says as his attention drifts away to the green lawn outside Niederhofer’s office window, where he wishes he could be at this moment.

Niederhofer gives the boy a patronizing smile, then glares at his father.  “That’s the oldest saw in the writer’s tool shed,” she fairly snaps.  “And it’s getting pretty rusty.”

The father is taken aback, but not by the harshness of the criticism; he’s used to it after ushering Tyler’s elder siblings through the rite of passage.  What’s jarring to an observer is instead the fact that Niederhofer is herself only eleven years old, a “rising” fifth grader this fall, but one who’s in demand because of the high grades she has received on her back-to-school essays for three straight years.

accountant2
“I don’t want anybody shifting point of view in the middle of the essay, okay?”

 

“Emily’s the best, no doubt about it,” says Danielle Overshinski, whose daughter Chloe was transformed from a middling observer of her childhood summers to one whose essay was given a gold star and pinned to the corkboard at the front of the classroom across town at Mosi Tatupu Middle School last fall.  “She gets the kids to take a step back and use a broader lens so they can put the loss of a pet turtle in perspective next to a Chilean mudslide that wipes out thousands.”

For the Elgars, that critical approach means a few moments of discomfort as they watch Niederhofer tear their son’s work to shreds before their eyes.  “Do you realize how many of your classmates went to camp this summer?” she hisses in an unforgiving tone as Tyler squirms in his seat.

“A lot?”

“That’s right.  So you have to dive down into the deep end of your soul, and come up with the thing–the one unique and miraculous moment–that separated your camp experience from everyone else’s.”

Tyler scans his memory and rejects as themes a tough day in a canoe, a skit that was panned by campfire critics, and the shedded skin of a dead snake that he found along with four other boys on a nature hike.

“I know!” he says, brightening visibly as he picks up his pencil and begins to scribble on a Big Chief lined tablet that the writing guru keeps handy for just such moments of inspiration.

accountant3

“What is it sweetie?” his mother asks gently, hoping not to disturb the muse that has jump-started her son’s imagination.

“One day at lunch I was sitting in the mess hall and Richard Lyle came over with his tray and took one bite of the tuna noodle casserole and vomited it all over,” the boy says.

The parents look at Niederhofer to judge her reaction.  The young writing instructor tilts her head for a moment like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads, as if hearing a sound at a frequency pitched too high for non-creative types like those before her to hear.

accountant4

“That’s . . . good,” she says finally, and the parents are visibly relieved.  “Let’s work with that!”

For Young Cowboy Poets, Hot Practices Only Get Verse

AMARILLO, Texas. Joe Don Mergen has just two weeks of freedom left before he begins the school year as a sophomore at Darrell Royal High School here, but he says he’s looking forward to Labor Day even though it will mean a return to school books and an end to summer fun.

“It’ll mean the end of two-a-day practices, and I’m all for that,” he says.

Joe Don was a highly-touted halfback at Tommy Nobis Junior High School when a crushing tackle in the last seconds of a come-from-behind win over archrival Bum Phillips Voke-Tech left him with a fractured vertebrae, effectively ending a promising football career.

“I was real depressed there for a while,” he says. “I considered suicide, but I learned at Vacation Bible Camp that you can go to hell for that.”

So Joe Don followed the route taken by an increasing number of Texas teenage jocks whose football glory days are prematurely cut short and joined his high school’s Cowboy Poet Squad.

“It gives you something to say to girls,” he says with a shy smile. “Most of the guys on the football team never get beyond ‘Wassup?’”

The frontier ethic that turned Texas high school football into a metaphor for the hardscrabble nature of life on the windswept plains of the adjective-rich Lone Star State has been carried over to high school poetry with the tradition of “two-a-day” practices. Morning practices began yesterday at 6 a.m., and there is a second afternoon session every day until Labor Day.


MacLeish and McKuen

 

“This is where we separate the Archibald MacLeishs from the Rod McKuens,” says head coach Jim Ray Dugan, a former English major at the University of Texas. “I don’t want to hear any sentimental ‘June-moon’ crap out there today-understand?” he barks at thirty young men who fear that they will be consigned to the school yearbook staff if they don’t make the cut for the Cowboy Poetry Squad.


Burma-Shave signs

 

After limbering-up exercises that include limericks and Burma-Shave rhymes, the boys divide into offensive and defensive groups, with Dugan taking the Romantics while his assistant, Ray Eberle, works with the Symbolists.

“Guys, we’ve got six weeks before we play John David Crow Prep,” he says, referring to a long-time powerhouse that had three representatives on the Parade Magazine High-School All-America Poetry Team the previous year. “You guys have got to be sharp, you’ve got to scan your sonnets pre-cisely, okay?”


John David Crow, Texas A&M football great with a name that’s pure poetry

 

“Yes sir!” the boys shout in military fashion. “Mergen–line up against A.C.,” the coach says, referring to an African-American senior named Alonzo Carl Byrd who is already drawing comparisons to Langston Hughes. “When I give the signal, you peel out, okay?” he says to A.C.

“Got it coach.”


Langston Hughes: 9.7 yards after the catch

 

The boys take their positions across from each other at the line of scrimmage as their coach counts off a quarterback’s cadence–”Hut-one, hut-two, hut-three.” He slaps A.C. on the butt, and the wide receiver takes off on a traditional sideline-and-up pattern:

Old Bill Jones had two daughters and a song,
One went to Dallas and the other went wrong.

Mergen back-peddles and keeps Byrd in front of him, as he’s been coached. Suddenly, Byrd puts the “up” move on him after Coach Dugan pump-fakes a pass to the sideline.

His wife she died in a poolroom fight
While he kept singin’ day and night.

The juke-step has given the receiver a yard on the defender, and the coach lofts a tight spiral that Byrd is just about to haul in when Mergen recovers.

You’re wife’s as ugly as a bitch coyote
And you ain’t half the man of Truman Capote.


Truman Capote: “Why did you drag me into this post?”

 

“Good job, son,” his coach says gruffly, not wanting praise to go to the young man’s head with the home opener coming up.

As Mergen trots back up the field, his coach notices that A.C. Byrd is bent over, puking up his guts. “Goddamn it A.C.,” Dugan yells. “Were you out drinkin’ last night?”

“Just some amaretto while I worked on my sestinas,” Byrd says, obviously winded from an elementary pattern he should be able to handle easily if he had followed the squad’s mandatory offseason conditioning program.

“If you guys think you can go out there and sling a few similes around and beat John David Crow, you are sadly mistaken,” the coach says as he shakes his head. He blows his whistle and calls the entire squad into the middle of the field for wind sprints.

“All right, we’re gonna go at it hard today, cause I get the impression some of you been doggin’ it on me,” the coach says, and the budding poets inhale deeply, preparing themselves for the worst.

“Haikus and villainelles, stay right here. Elegies and terzanelles, over there.”

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

In Goodwill Gesture, Prince Charles Launches Polo for the Poor

LONDON.  The British monarchy has successfully beaten back repeated attempts to replace hereditary peers with elected delegates to the House of Lords, which has led to a dangerous sense of complacency among some members of the peerage.  “The folks in Brixton are too busy rioting and clubbing for us to care much about them,” said Alexander Patrick Gregers Richard Windsor, who goes by the nickname “Earl of Ulster.”  “As long as they’re only shooting at each other, why should we care?”

ascot
“I do so love to watch the poor people–they’re so, you know, rhythmic!”

But all that will change if Prince Charles has his way.  “It’s time for us to become more involved with the people who support our gaudy lifestyle,” he said at a press conference called to announce a new “Chukkas for Children” program, which will instruct disadvantaged youth in the finer points of polo, a game that has previously been restricted to British upper classes.  “If the people are going to pay for my string of polo ponies, they jolly well ought to be able to ride them around a bit, don’t you think?”


Prince Charles

Charles is an accomplished polo player, a source of pride and comfort to his subjects.  “The more time he spends up on that polo pony of his, the less time he has to bugger up the government,” says Gilly Firth, a housewife who lives in Brixton.  “It also cuts down on the number of irrelevant subjects he can spout off on, like modern architecture and McDonald’s.”


Buzkashi Fever–Catch It!

 

Polo traces its origins to Buzkashi or “goat grabbing,” the national sport of Afghanistan.  The goal of the game is to grab the carcass of a headless goat, streak past other players on horseback and pitch the carcass across a goal line or into a target circle or vat.  Prizes range from fine turbans to home yogurt makers and “nice” Ralph Lauren sweaters.  “It’s definitely a sport that can pay off in the long run for a toff who knows how to ride a bit,” according to Khuda Gawah, editor of Buzkashi Fever, a magazine devoted to the sport.


Parker-Bowles, in the bloom of youth.

Charles developed an interest in the game in his youth, and found that his experience paid off by providing him with an ice-breaker in chilly social situations.  “‘I play polo,’ the Prince would say to young women he was introduced to such as Camilla Parker-Bowles, followed by the seemingly innocent question ‘Do you like to ride?’” according to London Daily World society correspondent Edmund Ponsby-Britt.  “If they answered ‘Yes’, he’d say ‘Oh, so you like the feel of a wild beast between your legs?’.  The girl would then slap Charles and he’d go home and have a nocturnal emission.”

As the Prince and three of his mates makes their way on horseback down the crowded streets of London’s Brixton neighborhood, a gritty multi-racial area of South London, they are met with stares and some hostility from residents who’ve never seen a polo pony before.  “We’re proud folks, we are,” says Gilly Firth.  “People come from miles around to purchase illicit drugs here, and it won’t help business if they have to step over horse manure to get them.”


“I’d like to have me a polo pony some day, I would!”

 

Young boys, excited at the power and beauty of the thoroughbred horses the royal party rides, come running up to greet them.  “Give us some money, would ya governor?” one of them yells at Colin Weston-Smith, who plays the no. 2 position on the Prince’s team.  “Not likely,” the horseman replies.  “We’re just here to spread good will and teach you brats the value of fresh air and exercise.”

“Go on with ya then,” the boy yells as he throws a rock, causing a horse to rear, nearly throwing his rider onto the pavement.


“What ho!”

 

“Let’s not argue, boys,” Charles says as he intervenes.  “We’ve brought plenty of equipment for you to use,” and indeed bringing up the rear is an escort leading a string of sleek polo ponies, ready to challenge the Prince’s equine arsenal in a pick-up game of polo in Brixton’s open-air market area.


“There’s no room in me mum’s flat as it is–where am I going to keep a bloody horse?”

 

The boys seem suspicious at first, but after petting the horses for a bit they feel comfortable enough to mount them and take the helmets and mallets that Charles offer them.  “The point of the game is to drive the ball through the goal,” Charles says.  “Let’s say yours is between the newstand and the fish ‘n chips shop down there, and ours is between the cheesemonger and the green grocer over here.”


“If you don’t mind, your pony’s standing on me foot.”

 

“All right–yer on!” one of the boys shouts as he turns his horse to take his position.  An umpire bowls the ball into the middle of the street, and play begins.   Pedestrians scatter as the two teams clash in the middle of an intersection, and a blow by one of Charles’ teammates causes the ball to carom off a curbstone and strike an elderly woman’s shopping bag, breaking a carton of eggs.  “Don’t worry ma’am,” shouts Weston-Smith.  “It’s for a good cause.”

“You’ll be fully reimbursed from the Civil List,” Charles says to the woman, referring to the annual appropriation received by The Royal Family in exchange for surrender of Crown Lands.  “I should hope so,” the woman says with difficulty as she struggles to stand up.  “I was going to bake me husband a cake,” she says.  “There’s a lot of cholesterol in eggs,” Charles says as he rides off.  “They’re not good for you, y’know.”


“We could have swept the streets with you little buggers, but we’re building goodwill here.”

 

The boys fall behind two-to-nil in the first chukka, but rally after a tea break to even the score, at which point Charles pronounces the game a tie in the interest of preserving the feelings of good will produced by the afternoon’s activity.  “Everyone’s entitled to keep his equipment as a gift of The Royal Family.”

“Hooray!” one of the boys exclaims.  “I’ve always wanted a pony!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Fool Britannia.”

Letitia Diamond, Bovine Flatulence Advisor

          We’ve piloted the first program in North America to naturally decrease global warming gas emissions from cows. 

                                                                        Stonyfield Farms yogurt container.


Who cut the cheese?

 

I awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, ready to take on global warming in my new position as Bovine Burp & Fart Advisor to Stonyfield Farms.  And who better than I, Letitia Diamond, who has loved perusing the rules of etiquette since I was a little girl growing up on Beacon Hill in Boston, the capital of good manners in New England–nay, all of America!

My mother used to dandle me on her knee as we flipped through Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt, mercilessly critiquing the rules those two parvenus made up as they went along.  When I got tired of being dandled, I’d run outside to criticize my playmates for not saying “Throw me the bouncy-ball, please!”


Beacon Hill playground:  The sound of silver spoons dropping can be deafening.

 

For some reason, the other children would become irritated.  I remember Constance Wilmot yelling “I’ll bet butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth, you goody two-shoes!”  Oh, how cruel children can be when they live off wealth that was only earned two generations ago!

I ran home, hot tears streaming down my face, and went straight to the kitchen.  “Augusta,” I said to the farm girl who was working off her great-grandparents’ indentured servitude as our live-in maid, “may I have a pat of butter, please?”

I popped the pat into my mouth and was overjoyed when I felt it run off my tongue.  “Muthur,” I said running upstairs, “thoth kidth wur wong–butter doth too melt in ma mouth!”

I snapped myself out of my reminiscences.  I had a job to do; teach the cows employed by Stonyfield Farms to control their burps and farts in order to save the planet.  Those nice young Greenpeace girls whom I spoke to last week warned me that unless we stop global warming right now, the basement of my house on Pinckney Street could be flooded, even though it sits at the very tippy-top of Beacon Hill!  At least I think that’s what they said before I had them removed from the property.

I pulled my Mercedes into Stonyfield Farms and walked over to the fence of the feedlot.  There I saw four cows, chewing away–and not, I might add, with their mouths closed!

“Good morning girls!” I called out to them in a friendly tone.  It’s my policy to be pleasant with the help, without becoming too familiar with them.  After all, we are a totally different species.

“Ummf,” one of them replied, while still chewing!

“Let’s get off on the right foot, shall we?  You shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Who are you?” said one of the four Holstein-Friesians.  At least they came from noble European bloodlines.

“I’m Letitia Diamond, your new–’etiquette advisor’.”  I don’t like to resort to euphemisms, but it is impolite to say “burp” or “fart” outside of one’s salle de bain.

“We’re cows,” another said.  “We don’t need no stinkin’ manners.”

“Oh, but yes you do!” I replied.  “Because of the . . . gases . . . you emit, you are imperiling our way of life!”

“Why should I give a cowflap about your way of life?” another asked.

It was clear I had my work cut out for me.  “Because if you girls continue to embarrass yourselves by . . . emitting gases from your mouths and your derrieres . . . the world will come to an end!  Or something.  Because of global warming!”  I wasn’t too clear on the science part.

The cows looked at each other, then at me.  “You realize, don’t you, that we have four stomachs?”

“Well, why not?  There are four of you.”

“No–we have four stomachs apiece!” one of them said.

”Oh–I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, mortified.  It is always ungracious to be insensitive to another’s disability.

“So don’t go blaming us for global warming.  Park your freaking Mercedes and ride your bike next time you come.”

I needed to re-establish my authority, or risk some sort of yucky labor dispute.  “Be that as it may,” I said with the haughtiest air I could muster, “there’s no reason why you ‘gals’ shouldn’t do your level best not to offend others.”

“We don’t exactly have a lot of options–what did you have in mind?”

“Well, for example,” I began in a didactic tone, “when you feel the need to ‘cut the cheese’ . . . “

“Lady, if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t have any cheese at your next intimate little soiree.”

“Still,” I said, “if you sense a gaseous moment coming on, excuse yourself from the trough and go to the powder room.”

The cows looked at each other, then at me.  “We’re out here in freaking nature, lady!” one said.

I looked around and immediately sensed the fundamental correctness of her observation.  “Then I would suggest that you go down to that boggy area over there”–I couldn’t help but point, I know it’s impolite, but there were no other humans around–”and release your gas where it will perhaps mingle with other unpleasant odors.”

The cows turned their heads, then looked back at me.  “That’s a long way–what if we, uh, don’t have time?” one of them asked.

“Then the proper thing to do,” I said primly, “is to lean to one side, allow the gas to escape silently, and then say ‘It’s low tide–the clams must be happy!’”

 

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

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 looms ahead. “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 Modern Moosehead Indemnity Company, the insurance company where he worked for ten years, 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 already 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 working men with actual 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 nice 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 because you look poor, she probably won’t stick by you when you can’t afford to anymore.”

The Summer We Cornered the Hog Lard Market

The year was 1962. The place–a small town in Missouri so insignificant it billed itself as The Gateway to the Ozarks. Not the Ozark Mountains themselves, you understand, but if you wanted to get to them you had to go through us. Unless you were coming from the south, the east or the west, in which case you could avoid us and go through some other gateway.


Ray Sadecki, bespectacled left-handed fireballer, 6-8 that year.

I was one of five eleven-year-old boys who, because of our inadequate baseball skills, had been held back on a B-level Little League team, when others our age or younger had been promoted to the “A” league. Even John Bader, who couldn’t throw a ball and hit the broad side of a barn, was called up because his dad was chummy with–there I go again, angrily rehashing the past. It’s better to just let it go.


Charlie James: .276 batting average.

In any event, we were a bitter bunch, determined to strike back at the world that had so cruelly cast us aside to play with kids who were as much as two years younger than we were! We went on a tear and, after losing a game early in the season to the Lions Club team, we swept our way into the B League championship game where we defeated the Optimist Club team, whose members included Timmy Slater, a hot-shot ten year old who had made a cutting remark about me and the other over-the-hill retreads on our team earlier in the season. “See you next year,” I said facetiously to Timmy as we walked off the field. “Don’t gloat” said my dad after we were out of earshot, but who could blame us for enjoying the comeuppance we had administered to our doubters.


“Dad, these are what real trophies look like.”

For our efforts, we received trophies that were approximately four inches high, trifling little things that my kids, who receive hunks of metal that outweigh the Stanley Cup for coming in second, wouldn’t use as a doorstop. We had the rest of the summer ahead of us, however, and we were just getting started.


“On your mark, get set . . .”

After every broadcast of a St. Louis Cardinals’ game on a local radio station, there was a feature called Baseball Quiz, in which an announcer would ask a question about the game–for example, who replaced left-handed pitcher Ray Sadecki in the seventh inning. The first caller to correctly answer it received an assortment of prizes that included unwanted 45 rpm records that hadn’t become hits and a variety of products provided by advertisers.

Since the typical caller was a pre-teen boy, this made a somewhat dubious reward for one’s efforts. What was an eleven-year-old baseball fan supposed to do with Mrs. Paul’s Fishsticks, Lipton Instant Soup, and the piece de resistance, a one-pound package of Roseland Lard?


Lard, in all its glory.

Lard, in case you didn’t know, is clarified hog fat that is used as a cooking oil, shortening or a spread similar to butter. Despite the efforts of British lard producers to glamorize the product, it is not generally associated with an upscale lifestyle.


These British toffs use lard–shouldn’t you?

But we were young–we didn’t know what to do with the stuff. So whenever one of us won Baseball Quiz, we’d give the foodstuffs to our mothers, then take the 45′s out in our backyards and throw baseballs at them until they were smashed to bits. The records, not our mothers.

Until one day it dawned on me, the only one of our gang who would go on to study free market economics at a leading research university, that we were literally throwing money away.


Andrew Carnegie, taking a break from robber baroning

“Listen guys,” I said to my pals. “You know Andrew Carnegie, the robber baron who donated the money to build the Public Library?”

“No,” came the answer.

“He made billions because he was able to control the production of steel in America.”

“Let’s go to the pool.”

“Wait–if we win Baseball Quiz every day, eventually we’ll have a monopoly on hog lard! People will have to come to us whenever they want to make fried chicken, or hush puppies.”


Hush Puppies: Yum.

“What’s in it for me?” asked Wayne Goshen, our fireballing right-hander.

I hesitated before I spoke. After all, it was my idea. But Wayne was the guy who had carried us all season long, gunning down batters with his wicked sidearm delivery. Great business leaders don’t care who gets the credit, I thought, as long as the enterprise succeeds.

“You can be president of the company,” I said magnanimously. “I’ll be vice-president.”

“Okay–deal,” he said, and a conspiracy in restraint of trade was born.

For the rest of the summer we coordinated a rapid-response team that would tie up the phone lines after Cardinals’ games. We’d listen to each other’s answers–dialled in on rotary phones–risking earsplitting feedback if we called from a point too near our radios. Eventually, by memory or process of elimination, we’d come up with the correct answer and take home the hog lard.


Excess crappie: “Uh, thanks but no thanks.”

Soon, our mother’s refrigerators were full of the stuff. Just as neighbors would come back from the Lake of the Ozarks with hundreds of crappie they had caught but couldn’t eat, we had more lard than we knew what to do with.

But for some reason, the anticipated crisis in hog lard supply never materialized. Maybe it was because there is no shortage of hogs in central Missouri, or perhaps it was the availability of butter and margarine substitutes that eased the market chokehold we had hoped to create. As monopolists, we were failures.

My mother, cleaning the refrigerator one day, gave away her stash to Augusta, the country woman who did housework for us. My co-conspirators lost interest, or were forced to turn their attention to seventh grade, which loomed ahead. I was left with my shattered hopes of owning an agribusiness empire that would make me rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Oh, and a question that I continue to ask to this day.

You wouldn’t by chance be interested in a couple of boxes of Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks, would you?