The Thinner Man

Written after falling asleep reading a Thin Man mystery by Dashiell Hammett, featuring those hard-drinking, wise-cracking sophisticates Nick and Nora Charles.

I felt lousy when I woke up because I didn’t have a hangover, so I put on my bathrobe and went into the kitchen to get something to drink. Nora was there doing the crossword puzzle left-handed and in Russian, to make it harder.  She was in her bathrobe and I was glad she wasn’t in mine–it would have been crowded.

“What’s a nine-letter word for ‘verdigris’?” she asked.

I said: “‘Verdigris.’ V-E-R-D-I . . .”

“I know how to spell it,” she said. “It’s right there in the question.  You look awful, by the way.”

“I feel worse. Who do I have to shoot to get a drink around here?”

“Me.” It was Arcangelo Correlli, the cop who worked our hotel and a famous composer and violinist (1653-1713), if you liked classical music.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m the answer to 23 down,” he said as he put some rosin on his bow. Baroque guys are like that; a little too sure of themselves, almost cocky, since their place in history is secure.

“Shouldn’t you have some breakfast?” Nora asked me.

I said “It’s too early for breakfast and too late for a nightcap.  I need a morning cap.”

Nora said “I’ll make you a drink–you can pour it on your Froot Loops.”

I sat down at the table and gave Correlli my nicest scowl.  “Catch any crooks lately, or are you just passing through on your way to an original instruments concert?”

Correlli said “None of the above.  I’m looking for a dame.”

“You care to enlighten me?”

“Why should I?”

I said “You lived during the Enlightenment.  It should come natural to you.”

I grabbed the sports page from him and saw that Dempsey had knocked out Seabiscuit in the 7th round.  I owed somebody some money, but I couldn’t remember who or how much.

Nora came in with a tray of drinks.  “I didn’t know what you wanted, so I made you a martini, a scotch and soda and Whiskey Sour.”

“Thanks–the Whiskey Sour will complement the delicious taste, fruity aroma and bright colors of the Froot Loops.”

Just then the kitchen door swung open and a woman wearing an apron with a frying pan in her hand came in.

“Where the hell’s that lousy bum Correlli?” she snarled.

I said: “He left.  The Baroque period ended and he had to go.”

“In a pig’s eye,” the woman said and threw the skillet across the room, bouncing off my noggin and knocking off Correlli’s wig.

“Easy, sweetheart,” I said.  “You almost spilled one of my drinks.”

“God what I wouldn’t do for a Rob Roy right now.”

“Say that five times fast and I’ll get you one.”

“robroyrobroyrobroyrobroyrob . . .”

“All right, don’t bust your tongue,” I said as I got up to mix her highball.  I made one for myself, one for Nora, and one for Correlli, even though I knew he preferred Galliano.

“Now, maybe you can tell me what this is all about,” I said as I handed her the cocktail.

“There’s no place to put my drink down,” she said.  “You have this little table in this tiny kitchen in a pre-war Manhattan apartment and there’s only room for seven drinks on the table.”

“It’s early.  You should see it once the lunch crowd comes in.”

I gave Correlli a sidewise glance and saw his hand go into his bathrobe.  It was nice silk–too nice for a guy who’s been dead for 220 years.

“Would anyone like some snails?” Nora said as she bent over the bathtub.  “They’re fresh–I’ve been breeding them.”

Correlli took a point blank shot at the woman, but just grazed her breast.  I would have liked to graze at her breast, but he got there first.

“What’d you go and do that for, you miserable cur?” the woman said.  “And when am I going to get a regular name like the rest of the characters in this God-forsaken sketch?”

“I’ll call out for coffee and liver and onions and a name for you, dear.”

Nora went into the living room where the telephone was and dialed HUdson 3-1154.  The boy showed up thirty seconds later with Chinese, but there was no room in the apartment because we’d made another round of drinks–rye whiskey highballs.

I said “Just hand it in the door,” and the boy squeezed the moo goo gai pan through the mail slot.

“What about my name?” the woman said.

The boy said “Your current name, or the one you had in Boston before you got here?”  You had to get up pretty early in the morning to fool him, and we had slept in.

“Put them in the fortune cookies and there’s a big tip for you,” Correlli said.

“Okay,” the kid said, and the woman fell hungrily, greedily on the fortune cookies.

“Not until you’ve had your dinner, and another round of drinks,” Nora said.  Nutrition is very important to her.

“What cockamamie cocktails haven’t we tried yet?” the woman asked.

I said “There’s plenty, don’t worry.  Singapore Sling, Grasshopper, Sidecar . . .”

“You’re making those up,” the woman said.  “That’s why I love you.”

She lunged at me and dug her fingernails–hard–into my neck.  “Let’s go into the bedroom, where we can have some privacy,” she said, her voice a lusty geyser eruption, an erotic Old Faithful.

I looked at Nora, who shrugged and made a little moue with her mouth.  “What’s a three-letter word for a soft-feathered flightless bird, the largest bird native to Australia, second in height only to the ostrich?” she asked Correlli.

“Let me give you a clue, baby,” he said.  “E-M . . .”

I saw my opening, grabbed the woman and threw her at Correlli.  She weighed as much as Scarlatti, but not Donizetti.  I wished we had gone out for Italian.

I pulled my revolver from the inside pocket of my double-breasted suitcoat, killing them both.

“Do you mind if I stay here tonight?” the woman asked as the blood seeped out of her pulmonary artery.

“Not at all, sweetheart,” I said as we headed out the door to a speakeasy run by a guy named Taki who I collared in a divorce case before I retired from the detecting business.  “Just be sure to clean up after your . . .”

Dryer buzzer sounds.

Me and Debussy and Our Respective Mannequins

Debussy’s personal life brought some unhappiness in his first marriage in 1899 to a mannequin, Lily Texier.

Keith Anderson, liner notes to Debussy: Orchestral Works vol. 7


*sigh*  She’s so lifelike!

I’m sitting in Maison Robert (Bob’s Place) nursing a glass of wine, waiting for Claude Debussy to come in.  He’s asked to meet me in the present–103 years into the future for him, a blink of an eye in the wacky world of time travel–to discuss his, ahem, “man problems.”

Seems that Claude has, by accident or mistake, married a mannequin.  It’s more lifelike than most, as it–she–has a name: Lily Texier.  Pretty name, but a mannequin by any other name is just a doll.


Ohio Street, Sedalia, Missouri:  Gateway to Main Street

He’s called upon me because he’s heard I’m an expert in female mannequins–which I am.  Having grown up the son of a ladies ready-to-wear man, I know my way around mannequins.  Saturday mornings would find me, if they were looking, at my dad’s store, earning money for my early onset rhythm ‘n blues record collection.  I believe the first 45 rpm record I bought was “Charlie Brown” by The Coasters and then, when I’d saved up enough for an “LP” (long-playing record), I sprang for Ray Charles Greatest Hits, hold the apostrophe.

I’d scrub the toilets, make a few sweater boxes, vacuum the carpet, maybe fix the hat display, and then expend my pre-pubescent erotic impulses spray-cleaning and wiping down the, uh, “foundation undergarment” mannequins.

There was Olga and Bali.  Also Playtex.  I was paid a flat rate for a morning’s worth of cleaning so I couldn’t spend all my time wiping the bra mannequins, but I sure as hell could try.


*sob*  “What have you done with the rest of her?”

It was hard to get close to them, though.  Most had been decapitated, perhaps because of retrograde sentiments that caused the Jacobins of the Mannequin world to send them to the guillotine, so you couldn’t strike up a very lively conversation with them.  These early mute interactions with women’s upper torsos may account for my inability to make small talk when faced with a pair of bodacious mammary glands later in life.

I look down at my watch–7:05, come on Claude baby–and as if a half measure past his cue, the great composer taps me on the shoulder.

“I was getting worried,” I say, but I was actually just getting impatient.  This is what the French call a “euphemisme,” which I think you can understand without my translating.

“Sorry I am late, I ran into a lot of traffic around the turn of the century,” he says as he doffs his chapeau–he’s bi-lingual–and takes a seat.

“Don’t apologize, it’s our damn traffic rotaries, which belie our reputation as the educated corner of America.”


Massachusetts traffic rotary: “Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo . . .”

He nods his head at the bartender and orders an absinthe.  “We don’t have any,” the guy says.

“Qu’est ce que c’est?” Debussy says, uttering the phrase I could never get the hang of in French I.  Or II, III or IV.  Literally, it means “What is it that this is?” or, more colloquially, “What-the-hell?”

“You’re just lucky you didn’t stop here a decade ago,” I say in commiseration.  “Absinthe was illegal in Massachusetts until 2009.”

“Pourquoi?” (Why) he asks.

“Because it was good, or fun, or something.  We were settled by the Puritans, and you know what H.L. Mencken said about them.”

“No, what?”

“A Puritan is someone haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere, is happy.”


Mencken:  Nailed it.

“Huh,” he huhs.  “What would you recommend?”

“Get the Malbec, they can’t screw that up.”

He does as I say–we’re off to a good start–and after a few sips his tongue is loosened and he begins to tell me of his troubles.

“This Lily–I loved her so, but we never consummated our marriage.”

“Dummies are like that.”

“She was no dummy!  She was pure and fine and beautiful!”

“All the same, take it from me–the thing about mannequins is, they’re just not that into us.”

“Into?” he asks, but I’m not about to brook some high-handed Academie Francaise language snootiness.

“I know the expression sounds like Valley Girl speak, but it’s been part of the American vernacular since at least the time of George Ade, the funniest writer you’ve never heard of.”


George Ade

“How are you so wise in the ways of mannequins?” he asks.

“Nobody knows ’em better,” I say as a hard-bitten habitue of our little boit de nuite, to lapse into franglais.  “I fell–hard–for a Bali bra mannequin when I was twelve.”

“And your love was . . . how you say . . . unrequited?”

“Totally.  Didn’t get a single ‘quite’ out of it.”

“What did you do?”

“I moved on–to a real flesh and blood junior high girl.”

“Was it . . . good?”

“For me or her?”

“Either–both.”

“Well, for me, it was tough at first.  After the brooding silence of a mannequin, I hated having to listen to her inane chatter about not making cheerleader or baton twirler, and having to settle for pep club.”

“Hmm.  Je comprends.”  (He understood.)  “But things . . . got better?”

“Not right away.  Slowly we got to know each other’s bodies at Friday night sock hops.”

“Your socks . . . they hop?”

“Like mad, my friend, like mad.  Then when you take a break and sit down and share an ice-cold Coca-Cola and hold hands with your girl, you’re about to burst with passion.”

“So what did you do?”

“I waited for my chance.”

“Which was?”

“A basement party with the lights out.  Five horny freshman couples making out with mom clumsily checking every half hour to ‘make sure we had enough Chex Party Mix.'”

“Shouldn’t you make the little ‘TM’ sign over ‘Chex’?”

“I don’t know how to do that on the World Wide Web.  Anyway, if you timed it right, you’d go for a feel right after mom closed the basement rec room door on her way back up the stairs.”

“And did you?”

“You better believe it.  Why shouldn’t I?  All the other guys were doing it.  I didn’t want to get a reputation as having sub-par petting skills, two grade levels behind my peers.”

“And what did you find beneath the blouse of your . . . Lily?”


Debussy’s Lily.

“They were beautiful–just as I’d hoped they’d be.”

“And what did you do?”

I cocked my head and looked at him, like a parakeet stumped by a polysyllabic tongue-twister.  “What did I do?”

“You’re repeating things, like a parrot.”

“I’ll tell you what I did: Just what I’d been trained to do.”

“And what was that?”

“I grabbed a 32 ounce bottle of Fantastik Heavy Duty All Purpose Cleaner, sprayed her with it liberally, then wiped her clean with Bounty Paper Towels, the Quicker Picker-Upper.”

Your Workplace Romance Advisor

The perils of romance in the workplace are so widely known they are summed up by figures of speech familiar to us all: Don’t dip your pen in the company ink, don’t get your meat where you get your bread, don’t put your hand on Lurleen Wingo’s honking big . . . wait, that’s not a metaphor.

Your Workplace Romance Advisor is here to help you navigate through the shoals and eddies of office romance, and make a safe landing on the dock of career success!

 

Dear Workplace Romance Advisor:

A few months back I discovered that my husband “Bill” (real name: “William”) was involved in an intense intra-office flirting relationship with a woman named “Marci” (her real name, and yes she dots the “i” with a little smiley-face).  This included numerous emails, cell phone calls and text messages.  I confronted “Bill” about it and he says you’re making too big a deal out of this, she’s a direct-report to me, we are just trying to increase shareholder value, yadda yadda yadda.  I said okay, but your “efforts” had better be reflected in your bonus check because I wanna re-do the kitchen.

Well, come December, “Bill” gets a check for $300 and a scenic calendar, whoop-de-do, so now I want to complain about Marci to the company president.  What do you think?

Eunice Wolff, Sepulveda, CA

Dear Eunice:

I think you are “barking up the wrong pant leg.”  The problem should be resolved by sending a memo to the Human Resources Department; make two copies for yourself, one for your alphabetical file and one for your “chron” (chronological) file.  Most presidents of big companies are too busy hitting on secretaries to handle complaints such as yours in an expeditious manner.

Dear Workplace Romance Advisor:

My wife works at RayCo Rod and Reel, over on South 65.  She used to date Lloyd Dollinger in high school–he was one-third tri-captain of the football team senior year–and now she has to work with him.  She says there is nothing going on between them, but Jim Ray Esdaile, a friend of mine, said he saw them talking in the light bulb aisle of the True Value Hardware Store while I was away last weekend at an all-night bass fishing tournament.

Workplace Romance Advisor person, I got a hold of the Employee Manual for RayCo and it says they have a strict policy against fraternization, with an anonymous “hot line” to report violations.  Do you think I should “drop a dime” on Mr. Football Hero, or wait until I catch them in the act?

Vernon Muller, Chillicothe, MO


Tri-captains

 

Dear Vernon:

I think your problem is semantic, not romantic.  “Fraternization” refers to relations between males, just as “sororitization” refers to friendships between females.  Unless and until your wife has a sex change operation and becomes involved with Lloyd, you have no grounds for complaint.


Nipple-gripping:  A great team-building exercise!

 

Dear Workplace Romance Advisor:

My husband Earl has a boss who is really into “team-building,” and is always coming up with “extreme” activities such as whitewater rafting, rock climbing and karaoke to “foster group cohesion.”  Or so Earl says–I think he makes some of this stuff up just so he can spend time with Judith Ann Horning, who is the reigning Miss Divorced Rockingham County until next August, when a new one is chosen on the first day of the county fair.

I keep asking Earl how come I am not invited to any of these activities, and he says they are “employees only.”  Fine, I says, then I’m going out next time you have one, but when I pulled into the parking lot at the Highway 63 Bowl-a-Way the night of the company scavenger hunt, who did I see making out in the back seat of Earl’s car but Judith Ann Horning!  With Earl, I should add, just so you are clear about it.

Workplace Romance Advisor, I do not think it is fair that spouses are excluded from so many of this company’s special events.  Is there any kind of law that protects innocent victims such as myself?

Amy Conroy, Plaistow, New Hampshire

 

Dear Amy:

I wish I could say that relief is on the way, but big business interests have kept the Spouses of Employees Right-to-Know Act bottled up in our do-nothing Congress for the past eight years, thanks to high-powered Washington lobbyists who are thwarting the will of people such as yourself.  Until it passes you might try planting a concealed “global positioning” device in Earl’s car.  That way, he may be out of your sight, but if you need to find him and Judith Ann, you’ll know just where to look.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

Under the Knife of a Temp Surgeon

Surgeon Shortage Pushes Hospitals to Hire Temps–The Wall Street Journal

 

From: temp4@brigham.com
Sent:  Monday, May 6, 2019 9:15 AM
To: prettylady1@gmail.com

Subject: Where r u 2day?

Hey there gurlfriend!  I’m at my placement for today, but a teensy bit disappointed.  The temp agency asked me if I’d mind doing some filing at Brigham’s and I said sure, I love their ice cream!  Then I get over here and find out it’s a hospital!  I hate that antiskeptic smell! 😦

brigham
Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Brigham’s Ice Cream:  Note the similarities.

 

Oh well, I O I O so off to work I go.  Let me know if you’re in the neighborhood–we’ll have lunch!

Leeza

From: temp4@brigham.com
Sent: Monday, May 6, 2019 11:43 AM
To: prettylady1@gmail.com

Subject:  Gross!

Well, I finished all my filing and started to flip through US Weekly when this mean nurse saw me and said if you don’t have anything to do, come down to the operating room we have to take out somebody’s appendix.

Well, sure, glad to help I said, but I wasn’t a Girl Scout or nothing, I don’t even know how to tie a tourniquist.  They put me to work, it was pretty easy.  They cover up the patient and all you have to do is cut down through this little hole they make for you.  The appendix looks like a little sausage so it’s easy to find.  I’m going down to the cafeteria now but I’m not going to have a hot dog!

L

From: temp2@bethisrael.com
Sent: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 10:32 AM
To: prettylady1@gmail.com

Subject:  Nose job

Hey pretty lady!

I’m over at Beth Israel today.  Typed some dictation this morning, then they called me in to help on a “rhino plasty.”  What’s that I said but everybody was so busy washing their hands and putting on their green pajamas they didn’t pay attention to me.  Anyway, I figured if it’s a rhino plasty I’m supposed to make somebody look like a rhino, right?  I did my best–I was just glad it wasn’t an elephant-plasty!

Afterwards they told me “rhinoplasty” is a nose job, so, um, I’m not sure the patient’s gonna like it.  But what do I care?  I’ll be at a new job tomorrow!

Leeza

 

From: temp2@SanctaMariaHospital.com
Sent: Wednesday, May 8, 2019 1:30 PM
To: prettylady1@gmail.com

Subject:  Heartbreaker

You will not believe what just happened to me!  I got this real cute patient to operate on–I noticed he didn’t have a wedding ring on–and he kinda smiled at me as he was passing out.  Then they handed me the clipboard and I got to operate on his heart!  So I could see if he liked me or if he just felt goofy from the gas.

When I cut in to him I couldn’t find anything that looked like a heart, so I moved some of the stuff around, you know, thinking maybe it’s back behind his lungs or something.  I had to disconnect some of the tubes–I hope I hooked them up right when I was done!

They had free pens at the reception area to celebrate a new outpatient clinic they’re opening.  I got two–one for you and one for . . . holy crap–I think I left one in his aorta!

G2G

From: temp3@BBSIMWH.com
Sent: Thursday, May 9, 2019 11:15 AM
To: prettylady1@gmail.com

Subject: Uh oh

I’m over at Brigham’s again, still no ice cream.  Come to find out that Beth Israel and Brigham & Women’s and Sancta Maria have “merged” into Beth Brigham Sancta Israel Maria Women’s Hospital, so the family of the nose job patient has been prowling the halls looking for me.  But it’s not my fault–I did the best I could!  At least with Word or Excel there’s a little “Help” icon or drop-down menu or something you can go to if you have a problem, but in an operating room, nooo! You’re flying solo.

Have to do a liver operation today, and I’m meeting my “heart” patient for a drink after work.  Hope the liver doesn’t come with onions!

 

C U L8ter

From: temp42@MegaHealthCenter.com
Sent: Friday, May 10, 2019 4:25 AM
To: prettylady1@gmail.com

Subject: Outta here

Today I’m at MegaHealthCenter, which used to be Beth Brigham Sancta Israel Maria Women’s Hospital.  They shortened the name because people were wasting too much time typing it.

What a week–I’m exhausted!  As soon as I get my check, I’m going to run to the bank and cash it.  Everybody here says I need to buy some “malpractice” insurance, but I called my friend who’s a broker and he said you don’t need it unless you’re a doctor, which obviously I’m not–duh!

U want 2 meet 4 drinks?

Self-Mutilation on Rise Among Motivational Speakers

CHARLESTOWN, Mass. Over the course of his life Butchie Dorr has tried a variety of techniques–some legal, some not–to keep his body and soul together. “I scalped tickets for awhile, then I caught on as a bus driver for the T,” the Boston area’s public transit authority. “Then I went out on disability for a couple years until they snuck into the bowling alley one Tuesday night and caught me playing candlepins.”

After scuffling around for a few years, Butchie is excited about his latest career change; he has signed on with Face Time International, a local speakers bureau, and will begin a career as a motivational speaker–as soon as he can figure out how to lose an appendage without killing himself in the process.

“If you want to be a successful motivational speaker these days, it is essential that you be blind, paralyzed or somehow disabled,” says Paul Welch, president of Face Time. “Top speakers can make a lot of money, but with Butchie we’re going to start small and see where it goes.”

So Butchie is sitting in his kitchen, facing a speaking engagement at the Young Presidents Club of Boston, an organization of local executives. The title of his speech? “How I Overcame Adversity to Be the Man I Am,” an emotional account of his recovery from the injury he will inflict upon himself today.

“I read in the Wall Street Journal there where that blind guy who climbed Mt. Everest makes two mill a year,” he notes with approval as he rubs alcohol on his finger. “I’d like to get me a piece of that.”

With his wife Doreen by his side, Butchie makes a fist with his left hand as he prepares to stick his right index finger in the maw of a Rival brand electric can opener.

“You ready?” Doreen asks Butchie. He purses his lips and, after downing a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey in one gulp, nods his head. Doreen takes Butchie’s right hand, steadies it in the narrow space between the white plastic body of the machine and the cutting wheel, counts down “One-two-three”–and slams the chrome handle down.

“Jesus H. Christ!” Butchie screams, and pulls his hand away immediately.

“Lemme see,” Doreen says as she holds her husband’s hand up for inspection. “Nice,” she says with admiration. “Good clean cut, real ugly lookin’.”

Butchie continues to scream as Doreen holds his hand under cold water from the kitchen faucet, pats it dry with a paper towel (“Bounty–the Quicker Picker Upper!” Doreen says with a laugh), then wraps a piece of gauze around the gaping wound. “Let’s get you taped up,” she says as she secures the oversize pad with a piece of white adhesive tape. “Okay, what’s next?”

“Now I gotta climb something,” he says as the white bandage on his finger quickly turns red.

“I’ll drive you up to the Monument,” Doreen says, referring to the granite obelisk that sits atop Bunker Hill, site of one of the most famous battles of the Revolutionary War.

The Dorrs’ 2014 Toyota sputters up the street and Doreen drops Butchie off at the curb. “See you later,” she says.

“You ain’t gonna come wit’ me?” he asks, a pained expression on his face.

“Naw–I gotta take the kids to hockey, remember?”

“Oh, right,” Butchie says, recalling that his twin boys, Sean and Kyle, have a tournament game against archrival Somerville. “Well, see you later. Thanks for your help.”

“No problem,” Doreen replies, then adds wistfully, “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Butchie says, and he makes his way up the hill to the Cleopatra’s needle that sits at the heart, if not the liver, of this blue-collar town just north of Boston.

Butchie sizes up the monument and begins his climb, stopping every now and then as his finger begins to throb. “Must be the altitude,” he tells himself, and indeed by the time he is halfway up the internal iron staircase his heart is racing and his bandage is more red than white.

He finishes after a half hour’s stop-and-go progress and allows himself a peek out the narrow windows at the skyline of Boston off in the distance. “This was tough, but it’s gonna mean a better life for my family,” he thinks as tears well up in his eyes like morning dew on the skin of a Vidalia onion.

Butchie takes the Orange Line subway into Boston where he gets off at the Old State House, the site of the “no taxation without representation” speech that stirred the hearts of the colonists. He stops and asks for directions to 60 State Street, where a roomful of high-powered business men and women awaits him.

After a few moments of difficulty getting past the first-floor security guards, Butchie is on his way to the 34th floor, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide him with some perspective on how far he’s come today, literally and figuratively, from his tough neighborhood to the rarified atmosphere of a private dining club.

“Mr. Dorr?” Butchie’s reverie is interrupted by Barton Hicks, the club’s executive director.

“That’s me–in living color!” Butchie replies enthusiastically, eager to begin his new career.

“I think we’re just about ready for you, if you’d like to take a seat at the dais,” Hicks says.

“The what’s-is?”

“The dais–up there,” Hicks says, pointing to a table set in front of a window on the other side of the room.

“Sure-wherever you want to put me.”

Hicks and his featured guest make their way up to the rostrum, where the executive director silences the members’ chit-chat by tapping a fork on a water glass.

“Ladies and gentlemen–if you wouldn’t mind, I think we’re ready to begin today’s program. We have with us today a man who has overcome virtually insurmountable difficulties in his life, and who can serve as an inspiration for us all. Please welcome–Mr. Butchie Dorr.”

The assembled tycoons applaud politely, a foreshadow of the thunderous applause that Face Time’s inspirational speakers usually generate by the time they’ve finished their stirring tales of how they beat the bad hands that life has dealt them.

“Thank you very much,” Butchie begins. “I really appreciate that. Geez, I feel kinda underdressed,” he begins, noting that the audience is wearing business suits and dresses while he has chosen a Hollywood Choppers jacket that he bought to celebrate his first gig.

“First of all, let me start by saying, none of youse has nothin’ to be ashamed of, cause down deep in side of youse is something that you couldn’t sell for all the money in the world.” He pauses for effect, and every eye in the house is on him.

“You can’t bottle it, you can’t wrap it up and tie a bow around it, cause it’s,” Butchie pauses to check a 3X5 note card, “ee-phem-er-al.” Impressed by his own eloquence, Butchie smiles before continuing. “It’s the human will, which, like Schopenauer said, is what the world is, along with representation.” Face Time provides all of its speakers with inspirational and high-toned anecdotes and quotes that they can use to dress up their speeches.


Arthur Schopenhauer: Always good for a laugh.

 

“I mean,” Butchie continues, “just this mornin’ I was sittin’ in my kitchen when I nearly cut my freakin’ finger off! And not more than like twenty minutes later, there I was, climbing the Bunker Hill monument. Now if that ain’t inspirational, I don’t know what is.”

Butchie checks his notes but he has dropped one of his cards on the subway, and so skips over the meat of his planned presentation and ends up looking at his concluding remarks.

“And so I says to youse, if you don’t blow your own bazoo, there’s nobody gonna blow it for you. Thank you very much, and be sure and tip your waiters and waitresses,” he concludes, using a line he understands from comedy clubs is the traditional peroration used when speaking in refined settings. The assembled members, who are not allowed to tip the help under club rules, exchange puzzled glances.

“Thank you very much Mr. Dorr,” Hicks says a little nervously as he glances at his watch and sees that he has twenty minutes left to fill. “I’m sure Mr. Dorr would be happy to answer any questions you may have,” he says to the audience.

“Sure,” Butchie says. “Fire away!”


“What in God’s name is he talking about?”

 

A elderly, grey-haired man in a boxy suit raises his hand and rises slowly.

“Yes–Mr. Isham,” Hicks says graciously.

“I just want to know,” he begins in a frail voice, “how much the club paid you for that wagon-load of bull you just dumped on us?”

Hicks helpfully repeats the question for members of the audience who didn’t hear it. “Mr. Isham asked how much Mr. Dorr was paid.”

“Eight hundred fifty smackers,” Butchie replies, “and believe me I can use it. I got no tread on my tires and we gotta drive my kids all over creation for their hockey,” he says with a smile, expecting laughter to follow. Hearing none, he continues. “Next question.”


Working the networking!

 

A prim-looking woman in a knit skirt and jacket ensemble rises. “What exactly is your disability–I don’t believe you told us.”

“Ain’t that the way it always is–you forget the most important part,” Butchie replies sheepishly. “I cut my finger in the goddamn can opener this morning–hurt’s like a son-of-a-bitch too.” He notices that the women’s face turns a lighter shade, and adds, “Excuse my French.”

“Anybody else?” Hicks asks. “No one? Well, thank you very much, Mr. Dorr, for those moving remarks. We have a little token of our appreciation for you.”

“Oh, geez, you didn’t have to do that,” Butchie says modestly. “The check is gonna be enough.”

“No, this is for you,” Hicks says as he hands him a Steuben glass figure of Don Quixote astride his spavined horse, Rocinante. “May you continue to tilt at windmills the rest of your life.”

“What the hell is this thing?” Dorr says with a mock-quizzical look on his face as he holds it out at arm’s length for inspection.

“It’s Don Quixote de la Mancha, who exemplifies the man who dreams an impossible dream.”

“Donkey who?” Dorr asks before fumbling the statue and dropping it to the floor, where it shatters into pieces.

“Good Lord!” Hicks exclaims. “That cost $350!”

“Christ amighty!” Dorr yells. “Somebody get the Dustbuster!”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Yes I Can’t!”

The Existentialist Starter Kit

It was a dark and stormy night when we received the late-night call that every parent of a college student dreads.

“Dad,” my son said, struggling to present a brave front in the face of the disaster that had befallen him, “I’ve become an existentialist.”


Jean-Paul Sartre:  “L’existentialisme est un babe magnet!”

 

Existentialism, like mononucleosis, is a wasting disease that afflicts college students across America almost as soon as they unpack their computers and iPod docking stations.  It is a lethal cocktail of philosophy and attitude that transforms ordinary, garden-variety adolescent slackers into arrogant and pretentious post-adolescent slackers.  There is no known cure, other than a job and a landlord knocking at your door for his rent check once you move out of a dorm paid for by mom and dad.


Albert Camus: Gauloise cigarette comes standard.

 

The central tenet of existentialism is that individuals create the essence and meaning of their lives—not exactly an earth-shattering proposition, or one that will provoke a lot of debate at this late date.  It is the execution of this doctrine in one’s daily life that distinguishes existentialism from other fraternal orders such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or the Moose Lodge.  Here is a typical interaction between parent and child before the onset of this crippling disease:

PARENT:  Go clean up your room.

OFFSPRING:  In a minute, I want to check Instagram.

Now, the same conversation, post-existentialisme.

PARENT:  Go clean up your room.

OFFSPRING:  Why would I do that?  It is not a part of who I am, and it contributes nothing to who I want to become.


Nietzsche:  Using your magnet, you can move the iron filings from his lip to his forehead.

 

I am a recovering existentialist, and am thankfully in a position to help the youth of today avoid the swamp of despair that one becomes mired in after reading too much Sartre, Camus and Nietzsche.  The trick is to inoculate one’s self with a minute dose of the streptococci of existentialism—like a vaccination—before the fever sets in.


Kierkegaard:  Note rare double letter, like “Exxon”

 

I have accordingly created the Existentialist Starter Kit, which you can apply to your-college-bound child, allowing him or her to develop the immunities needed to make it through all-night college bull sessions that lower the resistance and allow the virus to gain the upper hand.

Black turtleneck and/or beret.  If you want to be an existentialist, you have to look the part, and one of these items of clothing should be worn at all times.  Fashion tip: If you select the black turtleneck, use Head & Shoulders Dry Scalp Shampoo.

Paperback copy of L’etre et Neant (Being and Nothingness):  This work by Jean-Paul Sartre is widely considered to be the touchstone of existentialism by many people who have bought it and read the introduction, or at least the back cover.  To achieve that well-worn look, fill a sink with warm water, add a teabag and soak your copy until the pages turn a light yellow.  When it dries, it’ll look like you read the whole thing!

Name hyphen:   Are you concerned that your daughter Veneta Sue could be seduced by the siren melody of a Top 40 hit of existentialism such as Kierkegaards’ Afsluttende uvidenskabelig Efterskrift til de philosophiske Smuler?  Give her a name hyphen so that she becomes Veneta-Sue, and she’ll stick to her declared major of Animal Husbandry.

Gauloise cigarettes:  Favorite source of oral gratification of French existentialists.  Don’t worry about lung cancer—it’s mainly a fashion accessory to dangle from one’s lips, and need not be lit to achieve its desired effect.

If your high school graduate faithfully uses the tools in this kit, by the time mid-terms roll around sufficient antibodies will have been built up so that when asked “Have you read any Sartre?” he or she can reply with chilly disdain—”Existentialism?  I’ve progressed beyond that.”

Which, if said with just the right mixture of indifference and arrogance, sounds really existential.

 

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

The Pickleball Coach

I’ve a sensitive subject that I need to broach–
I think my wife’s fallen for her pickleball coach.
The extra lessons, and extended sessions,
are making me suspect this racket-sport Hessian.

“It’s a game that’s well-suited for elderly people!”
she says when I ask for details ‘bout the creeple.
“Then why is he so damn . . . young?” I ask.
as she heads off with gym bag and chic water flask.

“I think you’d like it—it’s fun and social!”
“That’s the sort of thing I hate the mocial.”
“He’s patient and pleasant–unlike you.”
“With the fees we pay him, I would be too.”

“You can play with two people, and also with four,”
she says, as she sashays out the door.
I don’t know the rules, and I don’t want to learn them–
if I find her copy, I’ll be tempted to burn them.

Perhaps I’ll consent, before I die,
to try this new form of exercise.
‘Til then, she can play, and I’ll be the grouch
whose favorite sport is to sleep on the couch.

Cat Fancier Magazine Names “Kitten Stuck in Tree” Top 7 News Stories of 2022

ST. PAUL, Minn.  Cat Fancier Magazine, the leading newsweekly for cat owners, released its annual list of top news stories of the preceding year today, with “Kitten Stuck in Tree” taking the top seven honors.


Daring rescue.

“While 2022 was a year of great upheaval in the realms of politics, the environment and social justice, we felt that stories of kittens stuck in trees outweighed climate change and terrorism in terms of human interest and newsworthiness,” said Editor-in-Chief Carmella Hewlett.  “Mr. Wifflesworth agrees, dudn’t he?” she adds as she scratches her ten-year-old, fourteen-pound orange tabby under the chin.

In eighth place was “Kitten Rescued From Storm Drain,” followed by the conflict in Ukraine and inflation. In response to critics who found the list too heavily oriented towards kittens in peril, Hewlett blamed demographics and the changing market for special interest magazines.  “I plead guilty to that one–our readers just find stories about kittens to be more appealing, and we’re a business.” she noted.  “But Mr. Wifflesworth is just as cute as those kittens, idn’t he?” she added as she scratched her cat’s belly.


Mr. Wifflesworth, Jr.

Kittens stuck in trees have been a staple of the news business since the 19th century, when a period of intense competition between the Hearst and the Pulitzer newspaper empires resulted in low content, sensationalist reporting that came to be known as “Yellow Journalism.”  “With the dawn of the internet age the hope was that lower production costs would result in higher-quality investigative stories,” says Floyd Harches, a professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts-Seekonk.  “The exact opposite happened, with cat videos placing second only to porn as the premier source of on-line banner ad revenues.”

Hewlett notes that a cat doesn’t have to be “fancy” to appear in Cat Fancier Magazine, a misconception she says causes more reputable news outlets to write off her reporting as “fluff.”  “It’s used in the British sense of a liking or a fondness for something,” she notes.  “And it’s not as fluffy as Mr. Wifflesworth, is it snookums?”

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

A Guy’s Guide to Figure Skating

You know, eventually, the day will come.

It’s the dead of winter.  You live in a four-sport town, but your football team didn’t make the playoffs, your NBA franchise is playing for the lottery and your local hockey team seems to trot out the heroes of the Stanley Cup squad from four decades ago a little too often.

Your wife or girlfriend turns to you and utters the six words that, strung together in the proper order, bring nausea to the stomach of any red-blooded American male.

“Is there any skating on tonight?”

Your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth, as if with peanut butter, because without a rooting interest to guide you, you can’t rattle off a televised sports event of greater significance than a non-title bout in the junior flyweight division of the WBA.  Or is it the WBO?  WBC?

You’re trapped.  And, since it’s Saturday night, you decide to be nice to her–for ulterior reasons.

You hand her the remote, and head for the fridge.

Wait–come back.  You can learn to stomach figure skating.  Really.  Just follow these easy “Learn-to-Love Skating!” guidelines:

She’s Not That Into Them.  You dread the thought of watching guys salchowing around in sequins and stretch pants.  Don’t assume she wants to watch men, or even pairs, however.  For reasons that are unclear down deep, but readily apparent on the surface, women like to watch women.  You don’t watch the WNBA, do you?


Kowa-bunga!

Look at That Outfit!  In case you only pay attention to women’s figure skating when sombody takes a tire iron to an Olympic hopeful’s shinbone, the women’s outfits leave nothing to the imagination, as the foundation undergarment industry used to say.


“The yellow caution flag is out.”

Pretend It’s NASCAR.  Just as some fans go to stock car races for the crashes, and some hockey fans only get excited when there’s a fight, it’s fun to watch skating for the falls.  If the networks were smart, they’d zoom in on the point where the panties hit the ice and circle it with a John Madden-model video pen to show the circumference and depth of concave impression.

ANNOUNCER #1: Looks like Maria must be wearing husky sizes now, Carol!

ANNOUNCER #2: I think she’s been gobbling down too many linzer tortes, Dick.


Katerina Witt:  “Yes I was a Communist informant–so whatski?”

Pick a Villian.  Pro wrestling promoters learned long ago that it takes a villain to raise the ratings.  Katerina Witt was for years the Barry Bonds of women’s figure skating–unloved, even at the top of her game.  If you’re the type who hates winners, rag on the current #1–here’s a link to The Best Female Figure Skaters in the World Right Now.


Irina Slutskaya: My cup of borscht.

Pick a Favorite.  The flip side of picking a villain is to select a sentimental favorite–the wide-eyed, white-skated equivalent of the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox before they wised up and decided to win a World Series.   You can then gush over her every toe loop.  My favorite was always Irina Slutskaya; she, like me, had overcome the handicap of having a name with negative connotations.  And a need to buy our clothes in the chubby children’s department.


“Michelle was robbed!”

Get Mad At the Judges.  Everyone knows that skating is as crooked as boxing.  When your favorite skater finishes her routine, take a deep breath as she picks up her teddy bears and long-stemmed red roses and heads to the “kiss and cry” area.  Get ready to explode when the scores are announced.  “Only 9.8 for artistic expression!” you scream.  “She was robbed!”

Storm out of the room, check score of Australian-rules football game on the den TV.  Pull a nose hair or two until your eyes water, grab a Kleenex and return sniffling to the couch.

The woman waiting for you there will give you a big hug.

For Chronic Reduplicators, Things Aren’t Hunky-Dory

GREEN VALLEY, Arizona.  It is a typically beautiful day in this south central Arizona town–blue skies and not a cloud in sight.  Still, Maribeth Grealey draws the blinds to darken the living room in which her husband Jim, unemployed for nearly six months, sits quietly on the sofa waiting for an interview with this reporter.  “I don’t want him to get overstimulated,” she says quietly.  “It can set off one of his spells.”


Green Valley, Arizona

 

Jim is a victim of CRS, or Chronic Reduplication Syndrome, a disability whose victims pepper their speech with reduplications, the repetition of a word root to form expressive combinations such as “roly-poly.”


“He’s back here, in the den.”

 

“Everything was hunky-dory at my last job,” Jim says of MediPet, a maker of veterinary supplies such as narrow tongue depressors used to give throat exams to kitty-cats.  “Then my manager quit and they hired this real fuddy-duddy.  He gave me the heebie-jeebies.”


Grealey:  “I don’t get along with hoity-toity people.”

 

Chronic reduplicators are often viewed as flippant or unserious by those who do not understand the nature of their handicap, according to National Disability Law Center staff attorney Will Young.  “If employers would give reduplicators a itsy-bitsy chance, they can prove themselves in just about any occupation other than public address announcer,” he claims.

But business groups say reduplication hurts productivity in many jobs, and can be dangerous in others.  “An air traffic controller who tells a pilot ‘You’re doing okey-dokey, just make an itsy-bitsy turn to your right, not too herky-jerky’ puts a stewardess at risk of spilling complimentary bags of peanuts helter-skelter all over the place,” says Walter Reeves, executive director of the National Chamber of Commerce.  “I know all the politically correct goody-goody types will jump on me for saying that, but it’s true.”


Quinlan:  “I don’t shilly-shally around on this issue.”

 

Occupational psychologist Vera Quinlan say there is a fifty-fifty chance a reduplicator will be disciplined, demoted or fired within the first year on a job, but Reeves pooh-poohs that figure.  “That’s a bunch of clap-trap,” he says.  “The number of fired reduplicators is teeny-tiny.”

But disputes over workplace statistics don’t help Grealey, who says all he wants is a chance to become a productive member of society.  “I just need someone to do me an itsy-bitsy favor,” he says, his voice cracking with emotion.  “I don’t want to get all palsy-walsy with them.”

Available in Kindle format as part of the collection “I Hear America Whining.”