To Make Ends Meet, More Poets Turn to Discounters

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Curtis Bascomb, Jr. is a third-generation family business owner, so he has more than just his time and money invested in his workplace.  “Grandad founded this place on a promise,” he says with a trace of a lump in his throat.  “He believed no poet should ever go without a figure of speech because of high prices.”

“I’m looking for a synechdoche for wine.”


And so the Poets Discount Supply House was born, a harmonic convergence of New England thrift and the historically impecunious nature of the poet’s trade.  “I’m entering my coming-of-age collection in twenty chapbook contests at an average of $22.50 a pop,” says would-be poet Todd Heftwig, who prowls the aisles looking for bargains.  “If I can pick up a slightly-used simile or metaphor at half-price, I may be able to recoup my investment.”

“There’s a size 7 and a half sestina back here with seagulls in it.”


In addition to garden variety figures of speech such as similes and metaphors, the Poets Discount Supply House carries more exotic forms such as synechdoches and metonyms, as well as a deli case stocked with onomatopeia and tropes.  “We buy this stuff fresh every day,” says Bob Vibeck, who started with the company when it was run by Bascomb’s father, Curtis Sr., in the 1960s.  “That’s why poets come back to us even when they hit the big time, which is really still the little time.”

The store is located in an undistinguished warehouse off a busy commercial street, part of the family’s business plan to keep costs down.  “We can sell you a package of three generic themes–seagulls, unrequited love, the effect John Coltrane’s music had on you in college–at half the cost of the high-end retailers,” says Curtis Senior.  “That’s our sweet spot.”

“If you need a rhyme for the word ‘love,’ line up on the right.”


The store is ramping up for what is usually its busiest time of the year, as shoppers stop in for a turn of phrase for a Thanksgiving toast, or get ready for Christmas proposals, when the family will bring in temporary sales help to handle the crush of smitten but unlettered Romeos.  “These guys come in here with something scratched on a cocktail napkin looking for le mot juste,” says Curtis Junior, shaking his head.  “I tell ‘em you can’t bring in your own stuff, you got to buy it here.”


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


Female Scent-Marking in the Suburbs

Several cats can make use of the same hunting ground without coming into conflict by using it according to a timetable, in the same way as housewives use a communal washhouse.  An additional safeguard against undesirable encounters is the scent marks which these animals–the cats, not the housewives–deposit wherever they go.

                                               On Aggression, Konrad Lorenz

Lorenz:  “Sweetie, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t spray my favorite chair.”


Saturday night, and for once we get to go to my favorite restaurant, the one my wife hates.  “What is it you don’t like about it?” I asked her as we drove up.

“We never get a good table,” she said.  “It feels crowded.”

As we approached the hostess station I could see that there might be a problem.  One couple ahead of us, two open tables.  One table is next to the kitchen with fluorescent bulbs shining through swinging doors, the other a quiet corner booth under subdued lighting.  It seems like we just can’t get off the schneid at this place.

The hostess told the couple in front of us their table would be ready in just a moment, then greeted us.  I gave her our name, she scratched us off her list, then said “I’ll seat you right after this couple.”

My wife gave me a look that could have microwaved a potato, said ”I see somebody I want to say hi to,” then scooched past the couple ahead of us with an “Excuse me.”

I watched her, puzzled, as she headed to the booth where the bus boy was clearing away the dishes.  She removed an atomizer from her purse and squeezed out a few puffs, then retook her place in line.  “Ding dong–I was wrong,” she said with a smile.

“Right this way,” the hostess said to the couple in front of us, and the trio walked over to the booth where the female of the couple hesitated.  “Actually, could we have the little table over by the kitchen?” she asked apologetically.

“No problem,” said the hostess, leaving the prime spot open for us.

A few moments later when we were seated, I asked her “What’d you just do?”

“I scent-marked the table,” she said.  “I can’t depend on you to exercise our territorial imperative, so I have to.”

Try the pad thai!


So she had finally adopted the principles of animal behavior that I’ve used for dinner table anecdotes over the years.  “Fine with me,” I said.  “It’s not like I want to butt antlers with some hedge fund manager over a lousy Saturday night dinner reservation.”

I’ve been “hip” to animal behavior ever since I took a college class in the subject, and it has stood me in good stead.  Whenever I see somebody bare their teeth or flare their nostrils in a business negotiation I take evasive action, retreating to my lair–boring legal boilerplate–where I have a distinct tactical advantage.  I’ve learned to recognize threat postures and dominant-submissive patterns that have enabled me to play three-dimensional chess with my adversaries, while they in their benighted ignorance of animal behavior have been playing checkers.

For once we ate in peace without her rolling her eyes at my lack of “street smarts,” by which she means not my ability to find my way out of neighborhoods she’d never get within a howitzer’s range of, but my inability to successfully pull off dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant.  Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the author of the phrase had in mind, but let it pass, we’re having a good time.

Afterwards we strolled the streets, doing a little window-shopping, when something caught her eye as we passed Talbots, the upscale clothing chain that 85% of American women think is for customers older than them.  “There’s that sweater I asked you to get me for our anniversary,” she says.

Talbots:  “Haven’t you got something a little more expensive?”


“You gave me three choices, and I got the cheapest,” I said, an eminently reasonable defense if you ask me, but it didn’t sway her.

“I’m going in to take a look at it,” she said, and I dutifully followed, like a sheep following the Judas goat.

“Excuse me,” she said to a saleswoman after she’d examined the price tag.  “Is this on sale yet?”

“It will be marked down next Saturday,” the saleswoman said.

“Can you hold it for me?”

“I’m sorry, we can’t do that.”

“That’s all right, thanks,” my wife said, and the saleswoman wandered off to help someone else.

Again, she pulled the atomizer out of her purse and gave the sweater a squirt.

“It works on clothes too?” I asked.

“We’ll see,” she said as we walked out.

“Put the cable-knit cardigans on the sale table–they’re not moving.”


We stood discretely out of the line of view as we looked through the plate glass window, like kids watching a mother guppy eat her young in an aquarium.  A woman approached the sweater rack but stopped suddently, as if she sensed a dark force like that which Darth Vader projects in Star Wars movies–and backed off.

“I think it will still be there Saturday,” my wife said slily, and we got in our car to go home.

We exited off the highway and I was just about to turn onto our street when my wife said “Hold it–stop here” in front of the house of friends who, for some reason, we haven’t seen much of lately.

She checked the driveway–looked like they were out for dinner, too–then got out of the car and applied several liberal squirts to the rhododendrons and holly trees.

“Okay–I think you’ve officially gone round the bend now,” I said as she got back in the car.  “You’re a respectable, upper middle-class woman–not a feral cat.  What the hell did she do to deserve that?”

“She came to our Christmas party two years ago–and she didn’t compliment me on the decorations.”

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

Aging Hippie Recalls Days of Rage With Child’s Play

DOWNERS GROVE, Illinois. At the age of 67, Zack Coffelt still can’t believe he’s a grandfather, much less a happy one. “My generation believed you couldn’t trust anyone over 30, and now I’m an old geezer myself,” he says with a laugh.

But Coffelt does his best not to fit the stereotype of the conventional grandparent; he insists that his grandson, five-year old Todd, call him by his first name instead of “Gramps,” and he tries his best to impart the lessons of ’60′s counterculture to his grandson to make up for his son’s rebellion.

Bus sold separately.


“My boy Jake fell in with a bad crowd when he went to college,” Coffelt says, shaking his head, “a bunch of accounting majors.” That wrong turn on the road of life led to a job as a C.P.A. that Coffelt scorns, although he made his peace with his wayward son once his grandson arrived.

“I feel like I’m a child again,” he says, but Jake quickly corrects him. “What do you mean–’Again’?” he asks rhetorically, but Zack dismisses him with a snort–”Young fart!” and shows his grandson the present he’s brought with him.

“What is it?” the boy asks, but Zack wants to savor the moment. “Open it up and see,” he says, and the boy rips off the paper to find a box containing a “Protestors vs. Establishment” plastic action figure set.

“Neat!” the boy exclaims, and Zack gets down on the floor to play with him. “Which side do you want to be?” he asks Todd.

“Which side has bigger guns?” the boy asks.

Grandpa Zack is here!


“Well, the establishment has the guns, but the protestors get the girls!” his grandfather says with a wistful gleam in his eye.

“Yuk,” the boy says. “I wanna be the establishment!”

“Okay, have it your way,” Zack says, and child and man get to work lining up their pieces for the coming battle.

“You go first, Zack,” the boy says.

“O-kay,” Coffelt says as he scans the floor, looking for an opening. “I think I’m going to attack your–administration building!”

The aging hippie quickly moves his troops towards a plastic brick building and blocks the entrance. “That will stop you from turning creative young minds into tools of your corporate war machine!” he says with satisfaction.

“What do I do now?” the boy asks.

“Well, you can try to reason with me–use your Dean piece.”

“Which one is that?”

“The little man with the bow tie whose wife is sleeping with the English professor piece,” the grandfather says, pointing to a plastic figure at the boy’s knee.

Riot police!


“What do I do with him?” the boy asks.

“He comes out and makes a restrained appeal to the protestors to engage in rational discourse,” the grandfather says helpfully. “Then my guys get to pelt him with eggs!”

“Cool!” the boy says, and he walks his Dean piece to the steps of the administration building. “You kids are the best and brightest of your generation,” the boy says, lowering his voice to the stern tone his father uses when he scolds him for finger-painting the walls. “There’s no reason why we can’t agree to disagree on . . .”

Zack takes a little white plastic egg and flicks it at the Dean, hitting him in the head. “Ow!” Todd says, and trots the figure across campus to the President’s house.

“That’s the way!” his grandfather says. “He who turns and runs away, lives to fight another day!”

“Do I get to attack now?”

“Yep. Now the President of your college calls in the white ethnic policemen to beat up the upper-class trust fund students!”

The boy grabs a fistful of dark blue plastic police and begins to march them towards the protestors. “Youse spoiled brats!” he says, his voice a gruff imitation of the supermarket clerk who told him to take his sticky fingers off the comic books earlier in the day. “I’d give my right arm to be able to goof around for four years on my old man’s nickel!”

Zack is visibly moved as he sees how the youngster grasps the complicated sociological dynamics that made 60′s protest a sometimes ambiguous business.

“What’s that pig’s name?” he asks the boy.

“I’m Sergeant Pulaski and I’m gonna bust your head open like an overripe melon!” the boy says as he brings a billy club down on the head of a plastic protestor.

Zack experiences a twinge on his skull where a member of the Chicago Police Department cracked his head open four decades earlier. “I think I’m having a flashback,” he says, as he puts his hand to his head.

“What’s that?” the boy asks.

“That’s when you get all the benefits of drugs without having to pay for them!”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Kids–They’re Cute When They’re Young.”

Guy Named Mike Awards 2017 “Freakin’ Genius” Grants

WORCESTER, Mass. Three close friends of Mike Andruzzioni, a part-time cab dispatcher who also tends bar, were among the recipients of the 2017 Michael C. Andruzzioni “Freakin’ Genius” grants, awarded annually since 2010 to innovators in the arts, sciences and video games.

Mike, considering the finalists.


“This year’s winners represent the best and the brightest of America’s slacker dudes and dudettes, and promise to make substantial contributions to American culture and intellectual life if they can only remember to set their alarm clocks,” the Andruzzioni Foundation said in a press release signed by Mike as founder, president and chief executive officer.

“I am thrilled and also excited to join the distinguished field of Andruzzioni laureates from last year,” said Mike’s friend Ty Bruno, who is a groundskeeper at nearby Clark University. “I want to assure the applicants who were not chosen that this has nothing to do with the case of Narragansett Beer in long-neck bottles that I gave Mike over Labor Day weekend.”

MacArthur: “Who the hell is this guy Mike?”

The Freakin’ Genius Grants were created out of Andruzzioni’s frustration at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s so-called “genius grants,” which are awarded annually to individuals whom Mike doesn’t know and whom he does not consider to be geniuses. “They give ‘em out to women who play the hammer dulcimer, poets, people I wouldn’t want to have a beer with,” Andruzzioni said from his apartment on Grand Street, which is not the headquarters of the defunct literary publication “Grand Street.” “All of the guys who got grants this year, I promise you, they’re freakin’ geniuses, and a lot of fun to hang with.”

Iron Butterfly: “Dude–you rock!”


Among this year’s winners are Ray Tolson, a custodian who can play chess while smoking pot “and beats me every time,” according to Mike; Todd D’Etienne, a former music major who can play The Doors’ “Light My Fire” with his left hand while simultaneously playing “In a Gadda da Vida” by Iron Butterfly with his right; and Bruno, who has reached the 15th level of the video game “Warlock’s Cavern.”

The grants are a cash award of $10, which Mike says “is worth one six pack of beer if you buy imported, maybe two if you stick to domestic.” They are intended to give budding geniuses the wherewithal to hone their talents free from the necessity to earn surplus funds in excess of rent and utilities and buy beer.

“We take food stamps, but not sweaters.”

The prizes were to be awarded in September, but Andruzionni says he fell behind schedule. “I returned a lot of deposit bottles, but I was counting on getting cash for a sweater my mom gave me for Christmas,” he says. “I could only get store credit, which you can’t use in liquor stores.”

You Can Keep Your Glow-in-the-Dark Sheep

          The Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay has produced a genetically altered lamb that glows under ultraviolet light.

                                    The Wall Street Journal

You know what really gives me the creeps?
The very idea of phosphorescent sheeps.
I’m generally partial to wooly lambikins
But a glow-in-the-dark one
would scare me out of my jammikins.

When I’m tired I want sheep
merely to count them.
Farm boys and perverts
like to mount them.
But an animal guaranteed to give me a fright
would be a sheep that shines brightly in the night.


I realize that scientists always try to make things better
They dot i’s and cross t’s and fix other wayward letters
But they can keep their new ewe, I’d rather not vet her,
The one from which spinners make incandescent sweaters.

If I Had Math Skills

If I had math skills, oh the things I could do!
I could probably tell you the square root of two.
I’m sure I could reel off the Rule of 78s
and impress both close friends and also blind dates.

But alas, I crapped out at geometry
so you won’t get any math insights out of me.
I don’t know calculus, don’t know trig,
don’t know statistics, and don’t care a fig.

You see, there was a girl in the back row of class,
and rather than listen I pined for the lass.
And so I emerged from Algebra II
knowing nowhere near as much as you.

While the instructor explained a quadratic equation
my mind was abroad on a romantic vacation.
It’s hard to learn what a teacher can teach
when you’re with a hot chick on an imaginary beach.

I’d slather her body with Sea ‘n Ski lotion
while we two relaxed in the breeze off the ocean.
The learned prof would drone on about binomials
While I thought thoughts that were, uh, matrimonial.

Sadly, the girl moved away,
Haven’t seen her for years, down to this day.
I remember her smile, eyeliner and bra–
but am hazy on details about algebra.

Green Messages Have Brown-Baggers Seeing Red

FALL RIVER, Mass.  Tony Amico and Greg Brown are two “finish” carpenters who spend their days installing cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms.  “It’s not Finnish like Teemu Selanne,” Amico says, referring to the former high-scoring NHL winger from Finland.  “It’s ‘finish’, like ‘Let’s finish this job and go get some lunch,’” he laughs.

“Hedgehogs are neither hedges nor hogs!”


When it’s time for lunch, Amico and Brown usually head for a local convenience store to buy a drink to go with their brown-bag fare, favoring juices over soda.  “My sister’s been drinking Diet Coke for thirty years,” says Brown, “and she ain’t getting no smaller.”

When they choose their bottles, however, the two union members find themselves facing a dilemma.  “If you buy Snapple,” says Amico, “you get a tree-hugging fact in the cap.  If you buy Nantucket Nectars, you get a stupid message about some guy’s cat.”

“Tom’s girlfriend sometimes sleeps with Tom.”


Snapple and Nantucket Nectars dominate the “grab and go” sector of the bottled juice market, and each company does indeed include text on the inside of its bottle caps.  “It’s our way of making people feel loved,” says Snapple director of marketing Jeff Spore.  “We nag you just like your mother would.”

Snapple labels bear such nature-related messages as “Hummingbirds can fly backwards at sixty miles an hour,” and “Polar bears cover their noses with one paw while hunting.”  To which Amico says, “Who gives a flying freep at a rolling doughnut?–excuse my Urdu.”

Nantucket Nectars caps, by contrast, feature cutesy messages about the company’s founders, Tom First and Tom Scott.  The legends range from the trivial–“You can see seals from the couch in Tom’s sister’s apartment”–to the fatuous:  “Both Tom and Tom spell their first name T-O-M.”  But it was a little-known fact about the island of Nantucket that set off Amico, and inspired him and Brown to start their own business.

“You’re gonna have to wait.  All five are occupied.”

“I’m sitting there eating my tuna salad on wheat, when I turn over the Nantucket Nectar cap and read ‘There are five public toilets on Nantucket.’  Can you imagine anything more unpleasant to think about when you’re eating than some smelly public john in the middle of August?  If so, please don’t tell me about it.”

With that inspiration, Amico and Brown started “Real Guy Juices,” which makes drinks with no sayings, quotes or factoids to interrupt one’s train of thought, or lack thereof, during a lunch break.  “Our motto is–‘Man-Made for Men–No Message’,” says Brown.

The two hired a chemist to develop a formula whose principal component is water, but after that “everything has to show up on the periodic table,” says Amico.  “We got electrolytes–chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium,” he notes, “We got phosphorus, sulfur, zinc, selenium, iodine, copper, manganese, fluoride and chromium.”



“The works,” adds Brown.  “If you boil the water away, you could  build a car with this stuff.”

The two working stiffs say they are just trying to help people like themselves who want to eat in peace without a feel-good message or a lecture to irritate their digestion.  “If you really love nature,” says Amico, “you don’t coop it up in a bottle.”