Study Shows 9 Out of 7 Americans Lack Basic Math Skills

WASHINGTON, D.C.  A new report issued today by the American Society of Arithmetic Instructors reveals that innumeracy–mathematical illiteracy–has remained stubbornly resistant to efforts to improve Americans’ math skills.

“Copying from each other isn’t going to help–you’re both idiots.”

“Many Americans lack the basic skills to understand NFL point spreads or to subtract cents-off coupons in checkout lines,” said Wilson Rath, a fourth-grade math instructor at Bernie Carbo Elementary School in Seekonk, Massachusetts.  “Our productivity suffers because of toll takers who can’t make change.”

Bernie Carbo:  “Is 2 an even number after Daylight Savings Time, or does it go up?”

The study was based on a survey that asked adults basic math questions posed to contestants on the Fox Network’s “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”  “We asked people how many places they could carry pi out to,” says Norman Salkic, who co-authored the study.  “Eleven percent said 3.14 was as far as they could go, 21% said they didn’t serve pie, 47% said they didn’t offer take-out, and the rest claimed we had the wrong number.”

         Pi are square, but pie is round.

Educators such as Rath blamed the tendency of local politicians to name schools after sports heroes rather than scientists and mathematicians.  “Bernie Carbo once blew a sign because he didn’t know whether 2 was an even or an odd number,” he notes of the former Boston Red Sox outfielder for whom his school is named.  “Our youth baseball programs are at risk of falling further behind the Japanese, who win the Little League World Series every year anyway.”

While the final numbers have not yet been tabulated because researchers used solar-powered calculators indoors, Salkic says it appears that nine out of every seven Americans may need remedial help in computing numbers.  “That’s 1.2857%,” he observes, “which is a lot.”

Cal Tech Supercomputer Helps Stars Pick Weird Baby Names

PASADENA, California.  Amid growing concern that the world’s store of words has nearly been depleted by entertainment industry parents, the California Institute of Technology today announced the development of a supercomputer that will assist Hollywood stars in coming up with unique names for their children.

“It has become not just socially acceptable but downright fashionable to saddle your kid with a weird name like ‘Pilot Inspektor’,” said Dr. Philip Walker of Cal Tech’s Center for Advanced Computing Research, referring to the name chosen by actor Jason Lee and his wife Beth Riesgraf for their son.  “It’s like giving your child a tattoo while he’s still in diapers, with none of the commotion you’d get if you poked him with a needle.”

Baby Keanu Reeves:  “It’s an anagram for ‘a nuke’.”

The new computer will be dubbed “BABYNAMER,” an acronym that stands for “baby name” with an “r” at the end.  Funding will be provided by a coterie of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.  Pitt and his wife Angelina Jolie have a daughter named “Shiloh Nouvel,” which means “No Checks Accepted” in Nama, the language of Namibia, the African nation where the child was born.

Shiloh Nouvel:  “Why’d you give me such a stupid name!”

“People think of actors and actresses as self-centered people who don’t care about anything but money and fame,” said Cal Tech’s Walker.  “But many were concerned that there wouldn’t be any names left when they had a child, and that made them open up their hearts and their wallets to us.”

The weird name movement is believed to have begun with Frank Zappa, the eccentric rock musician who named his children “Dweezil” and “Moonunit.”  Zappa’s flights of fancy have since been topped by comedian Penn Jillette, who has inflicted the names “Zolten” and “Moxie Crimefighter” on his offspring.

Cute widdle Moxie Crimefighter!

Cal Tech says BABYNAMER will be up and running in the summer of 2023 after it passes through “beta” testing, the tech world’s term for the process by which bugs in software are exterminated.  “We did a dry run the other day that assumed a B-list actor with a background in daytime soaps, and a loopy wife who campaigns for mandatory condom use by coyotes,” Professor Walker explained.  “The computer spit out ‘Larry’ and ‘Julie,’ so we’ve got some work to do.”

The Logical Positivist Boxing Team

A.J. Ayer, a 77-year-old philosopher, confronted Mike Tyson who was forcing himself upon then little-known model Naomi Campbell at a party. When Ayer demanded that Tyson stop, the boxer said: “Do you know who the fuck I am? I’m the heavyweight champion of the world,” to which Ayer replied: “And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men.”

                               Ben Rogers, “A.J. Ayer: A Life”

Ayer:  “Are you talkin’ to me?”


I dunno as I got the guys I need.  I mean, I got Rudolf Carnap at lightweight, he’s comin’ along okay.  We call him “Carnap the Magnificent,” trying to get him some Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 with Teddy Atlas.  Ring Magazine rates him #4 contender in the Logical Positivist division, but he needs to learn how to grab and hold, you know what I’m sayin’?  You can punch yourself out against a phenomenologist if you don’t know how to clinch, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Rudolf Carnap:  Needs to develop a jab.


I dunno as I’d match Carnap against Karl Popper.  Popper, he’s a big critic of logical positivism, always running his mouth.  What the fuck does he know?  So I says to the guy I says, “You and your freakin’ ‘falsifiability.’  You think that’s better than verifiability?  Shut your trap, you stupid mook!”

ESPN2′s Teddy Atlas, showing scars received in Oxford University philosophical debates.


I wish I still had Lou Wittgenstein, but he turned pro.  I can’t blame him.  You can’t make no money bein’ an amateur.  If he hadn’t turned pro I coulda taken him to the Olympics, but that’s water over the bridge, what can I say.  Lou had the right idea; make money and give it to the rich.  You give it to the poor, they’re just gonna blow it on booze and drugs and dames and horses.  ‘Course he coulda give some to me–I woulda known what to dood with it.

Karl Popper:  What a mook.


People say I oughta give Bertrand Russell another chance.  I say no freakin’ way–too many shots to the head writin’ Principia Mathematica, he’s off doin’ peace marches and nookular dismemberment–he’s lost his marbles.

Wittgenstein:  “Lou–you okay?  How many fingers am I holdin’ up?”


No, I gotta go wit da guys I got for the Golden Gloves Tournament.  We’re up against some real heavyweights like Thomas Kuhn, Mr. Structure of Scientific Revolutions and all dat crap.  Good ting I got A.J. Ayer in that weight class.

Thomas Kuhn, Willard Van Orman Quine


And cruiserweights like Willard Van Orman Quine–I could knock his freakin’ beret offa him!

Me–what am I sayin’!  I mean one of my guys, like Hans Hahn, or Otto Neurath.

That’s a problem fight managers have, we’s always confusin’ ourselves with our fighters.  It’s a problem of identity.

Good thing I gotta lotta philosophers around to help me with it.


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

At the James Joyce Piggly-Wiggly

VERSAILLES, Mo. Lemoyne Green’s family has been in the grocery business in this town in south central Missouri, pronounced “ver-SALES,” going back four generations. “I guess you could say food is in our blood,” Lemoyne says with a barely-detectible trace of irony. “I know when I give blood they always give me a couple of fig newtons to eat, and that’s something we sell over in Aisle 6, Cookies, Snacks and Syrups.”

Green’s Piggly Wiggly


Lemoyne had hoped to break away from his small town roots, earning bachelors and masters degrees in English at the University of Iowa before “hitting a wall” when it came time to write the required dissertation for his Ph. D. “You go into the library every morning and look at all the little 3 by 5 note cards you’ve filled out, and you just get a pit in your stomach,” he recalls with apparent anxiety.

Storm clouds a brewin’


So Lemoyne returned to his home town with more education than he needed to run a grocery store, but less time to ponder the deep subject he’d specialized in: the difficult “stream-of-consciousness” prose of James Joyce, author of “Finnegans Wake,” the work ranked #1 on the Modern Language Association’s list of “Books People Lie About Having Read.”

Royal Theatre, downtown Versailles


“It wasn’t easy making the adjustment at first,” Lemoyne says, “then I decided to incorporate what I’d learned into our customer’s shopping experience.” His first step in splicing the two strands of his existence was to change the motto of the business–”Quality, Value, Selection”–which had been printed on the store’s bags since the 1880′s. “That’s fine, but very superficial and not at all subversive, which is the hallmark of Joyce’s writing,” Green notes. He changed the logo to read “Silence, Exile and Cunning,” the tools used by Stephen Dedalus in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” to express himself as wholly and freely as he can.

James Joyce: “In Aisle 3 would you brighthearted find Count the Chocula.”


Customers didn’t complain about the change, emboldening Green to go further. Promotional announcements over the store’s public address system began to take on a meandering, modernist aspect reminiscent of Joyce’s “Ulysses”:

“In Aisle 4 the hungry come that man eft seeking yogurt fruit with on bottom, ywimpled to Delores the express lane clerk that her have a nice day levin leaping lightens his load.”

Townspeople slowly detected the shift from the mundane to the highbrow, and began to ask about it at the store’s checkout lanes. “It’s about James Joyce,” Mona Morton, a gum-chewing twenty-something with a Harley Davidson tattoo on her bicep says in reply to a question from Bob Visbeck, a farm implements dealer.

Jim Joyce, umpire: “A way a lone at last to the showers you commodius vicus bum!”


“Jim Joyce, the former major league baseball umpire?” Visbeck asks.

“Naw, he wrote a book or sumpin’. Do you have any coupons to redeem?”

“Bleep it says if food she scans blonk it honks if need to price check Aisle 5.”


By the end of March Green hopes to have his entire workforce trained in the nuances of Joyce’s peculiar tongue, even down to his teenaged baggers. “I’ve been workin’ overtime with Duane Merken here,” Green says to this reporter. “Go ahead and show him your stuff,” he says to the boy, who takes a deep breath before speaking to a woman whose purchases crowd the conveyor belt and are held back by only a slim, plastic baton.

“Paper plastic plastic paper,” the boy begins. “By minivan along State Fair Road or on South Limit is it parked. You have chicken livers, Wet Ones and a pack of fags, good no good for you remember no tip no tipping yes I have girlfriend yes know your daughter not in Old Testament way she has eczema right?”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Dead Writers Make More Money.”

My Dark Horse Run for Anti-Pope

It was one of the darkest periods of my life: my girlfriend had dumped me,  the firm where I worked had broken up in a fight between two factions, neither  of which *sniff* wanted me to join them in their new ventures.  I was at loose  ends, with no one who’d listen to my troubles but my old buddy, Bates.

“I’m  running because I believe I can make a difference.  To me.”

“So you’ve got nothing lined-up, job-wise,” he said as he tipped back a  longneck Narragansett beer.

“I’ve got a few resumes out,” I said.  “Nobody’s calling me back.”

“Hmm,” he hummed.  “There always the comfy, cozy public sector.  Indoor work  and no heavy lifting, as we say in Boston.”

“You brought Cool Ranch Doritos?  Awesome!”

“I don’t know any politicians,” I said.  “That’s kind of essential, isn’t  it?”

“It’s the essence of essential,” he replied, staring out the window at a  breathtaking view of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  “How about saving men’s  souls?”

“You mean life insurance?  No, I’ve never been a salesman.”

“Not that, dingleberry.  I meant the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”

“Are they hiring?”

“For entry-level jobs–sure, all the time.”  He paused for effect.  “You take  a vow of poverty, and they make sure you keep it.”

“So why would I want to apply there?”

He snorted with contempt.  “You don’t answer the Help Wanted ads, stunod.   You aim high.”

“How high?”

Il Papa,” he said triumphantly.

It was my turn to laugh.  “Dude–I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.   The Pope is elected according to canon law.  He stays in office until he  dies.”

“Go to the head of the class–loser!” he snapped, and I felt the same hot  breath of scorn that had blown my hair dry in fifth grade as I rattled off one  correct answer after another in a lightning round session in the tenets of the  Baltimore Catechism, only to be pounded to a pulp at recess by boys apparently envious of my knowledge of the Communion of Saints.

“If you’re going to play by the rules, you’ll never get anywhere,” he said.   “If you want to BE somebody–run for Antipope.”

Pope  Peyton I, three-time RCC Player of the Year

It was a daring suggestion, fraught with risk–but it promised great  rewards.  The Vatican is the world’s second-largest private landowner, after  Starbucks.  They’ve got diamonds, jewels and great works of art.  I’d be ex officio Commissioner of CYO basketball leagues around the  world!

“How, exactly,” I began hesitantly, “does one go about . . . running for  antipope?” I asked him.

“It’s not as hard as you’d think.  Antipopes go almost as far back as Popes,”  Bates said, reaching for a handful of Cool Ranch Doritos, the unique combination  of great taste and good fun rolled into one great snack.  “The first–as every  good Catholic smart-aleck ought to know–was St. Hippolytus in 217  A.D.”

I cringed a bit.  I hate it when people throw Catholic lore or liturgy that I don’t know back in my face.  Like my Jewish friends who caught me leaning the  wrong way one night, confusing the Immaculate Conception with virgin birth.   Ouch!

“So,” I said.  “What’s involved?”

“You gotta ‘go into schism,’ like Pope Novatian did in 251 A.D.”

“What’s that mean?”

He turned and looked at me with a cold glare.  I sensed that he was trying to  figure out if I had the fire in my belly.

“You don’t mess around,” he said and there was a strange, hard element–like  carbon or titanium–in his tone.  “When everybody in the world is saying the guy in St. Peter’s is the Pope, you simply say–”


H.L.  Mencken

“Ding dong, you’re wrong.”

The elegance of his solution struck me as bogus.  I’m a Menckenian, and  believe as he did that for every complex problem there is an answer that is  clear, simple and wrong.  “You can’t just announce that you’re Pope and  expect people to follow you,” I said.

Bates shook his head, as if in wonder at how hopelessly naive I was.   “Listen, you dingbat” he said as he got up to play Willie Ruff’s Gregorian  Chant, Plain Chant and Spirituals.  “Might makes right, and votes make  Popes.”

“What’s that mean?”

“The Pope was elected by the College of Cardinals.  You go out, get  yourself some disgruntled bishops, guys who lost a few parishes in the last  round of church closures, and get them to vote for you!”

“Can you really do that?”

Can you really do that?” he repeated in a mincing tone, mocking my  diffidence.  “Do you think Novatian asked anybody if he could ‘do that’ before  he did it?  No!  He just went out, rounded up three disaffected bishops from  southern Italy and–voila!  He’s just as much the Pope as your namesake,  Cornelius.”

Antipope Novatian, as drawn by my buddy Bates, making fun of Pope Cornelius

Bates was persuasive but still, there was something that didn’t seem  quite right about the whole scheme.  “If it’s that easy,” I said after taking a  moment to mull his plan over, “why don’t you become the antipope?”

Usually so confident, almost cocky in his approach to life, Bates flinched  like St. Sebastian getting hit in the armpit with an arrow.

“You think I don’t want to?” he said, a cloud of regret passing over his  usually-blase countenance.  “If I thought I had a chance, I’d be out on  the campaign trail in the batting of a gnat’s eyelash.”

“Is that shorter or longer than two shakes of a lamb’s tail?”

Way shorter,” he said.  “C’mere.”

He led me into his room, to his closet, and reached up on the shelf above the  clothes rod.  He pulled down a stack of notebooks and sat down on his bed.   “Take a look at these,” he said.

Theresa  of Avila vs. Catherine of Siena: Cast your vote on-line–now!

We flipped through the pages, filled with drawings Bates had done of himself  in full papal regalia; mitre, crozier, the works.  Beneath them he’d practiced  signing autographs as “Pope Bates I.”

“I . . . had no idea,” I said as I patted him on the back to console him.   “So why did you give up . . . on your dream?”

“I’m a marked man,” he said, his voice catching on the lump in his throat.   “I took on the Pope over heretical baptism.”

“Ah,” I exclaimed, understanding immediately.  The question whether former  heretics need to be re-baptized in order to be reconciled to the Church has  started more bar fights in the neighborhood around St. Peters than who’s cuter,  St. Theresa of Avila or St. Catherine of Siena.  “Funny, isn’t it,” I said to my  old University of Chicago roommate.


Leopold  and Loeb

“That the same dorm that produced thrill killers Leopold and Loeb produced  two Pope wanna-be’s.”

He laughed, more at himself than at my lame attempt at a joke.  “You go  ahead,” he said.  “I’ve got no chance.  The Pope and his cordon of nefarious  henchmen . . .”

“Like on Rocky and Bullwinkle?”

“Right.  They follow me everywhere–I wouldn’t live past the first  primary.”

“They aren’t monitoring your brain waves, are they?”

“How did you know?” he screamed in mock paranoia.  We both knew that, as  powerful as the Vatican might be, they couldn’t read our minds from afar.  As  long as we didn’t drink fluoridated water.

“Have you ever run for office?” he said as he put his notebooks back into the  closet of his broken dreams.

“Three times.”

“And what’s your record?”

“Two wins and one loss.”

“Pretty good,” he said.  “What were your wins?”

“Fifth grade class president, and trustee of the 337 Marlborough Street  Condominium Trust.”

“And the loss?”

“Junior High Student Council President.”

“What was the margin of victory?”

“I lost in a landslide,” I replied, and not without a trace of  bitterness.

“What was the problem?”

“I knew nothing about retail politics,” I said.  “I hadn’t heard Tip  O’Neill’s famous line.”

“All politics is local?”

“No–if you want people’s votes you’ve got to ask for them.”

“Right,” he said.  “Well–do you know any renegade priests who could use a  little–‘walking around money’ to vote for you instead of Pope Francis?”

I thought for a moment.  “There’s that guy with the clerical collar and the  tambourine who patrols lower Washington Street.”

“Okay, well–that’s a start.  Does he control any swing voters?”



“An all-important demographic.  The winos on the bench outside South  Station.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”

Classical Conductor Ups Ante, Says “Call Me Jellyroll”

BUFFALO, New York. Conductors of major metropolitan symphony orchestras are known to be a highly competitive and egotistical lot, but a recent move by the Buffalo Symphony’s musical director has the normally-sedate world of classical music buzzing.

Scalzi:  “I also like to be called ‘The Big Boss With the Hot Sauce.'”

“It is my desire that other conductors should henceforth refer to me as ‘Jellyroll,'” said Riccardo Scalzi. “I am the big dog with the baton right now, and I think they should recognize me as such.”

Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton

The nickname “Jellyroll” was first used by Ferdinand Morton, the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz who learned his trade playing in New Orleans’ houses of prostitution. The word “jellyroll” alludes to the resemblance between the pastry and the male sexual organ, and its adoption by Morton served as public proclamation of his superior position in his predominantly male musical world.

Other conductors were quick to respond, with most saying they would not honor Scalzi by using his chosen monicker. “He ain’t da big dog,” said Isidore Mazel of the Sheboygan Philharmonic Orchestra. “I’m da big dog–I take two strong men and a boy with me when I go to the bathroom ’cause my doctor told me not to lift heavy objects.”

Ozara:  “Scalzi has sex on the brain.  He told me a story about a two-peckered billy goat who walks into a bar . . .”

Akira Marukawa, former director of the Billings, Montana Symphony Orchestra, refused to take sides in the dispute, but said that the strength of a symphony was based primarily on factors other than its conductor. “We are at best glorified timekeepers,” Marukawa said modestly. “A great symphony is made up of great musicians and a great selection of candies and snacks available at intermission, which people tell me is their favorite part of my performances.”

Mazel stood his ground, however, saying Marukawa was in no position to judge his talents. “That little schlong? Please. He couldn’t carry my jock strap to the podium.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Genteel Crowd: Being Vulgar is So Much More Fun.”

It’s Not Too Soon to Feel Crabby ’bout Christmas!

News item: A radio station began playing Christmas music before Veteran’s Day this year.

Holiday people, being too cheerful.
I’d like to give one or two a good earful.
Jolly like Santa, talking too loud-
I can’t avoid them, I’m stuck in the crowd.

It’s Christmas time-
Bah, humbug to you.
It’s not too soon–
to feel crabby ’bout Christmas.

No man is an island, but I’m going to try, man.
At least for this Christhmus I’ll stay on my isthmus.
Or better, if we get shut in by the snow
I’ll be on my own archipelago.

It’s Christmas time-
Bah, humbug to you.
It’s not too soon–
to feel crabby ’bout Christmas.

Gathering round the Christmas tree-
Only enflames my misanthropy
Call it Chanukkah, call it Kwanzaa
Whatever the name, I just don’t wanzaa!

Holiday sentiments flow much too cheaply
For me to feel mine very deeply.
So just in case you think I’m a snot–
I hope you’re happy this Christmas, even if . . . I’m not.

Genetic Risks of Lawyer-to-Lawyer Marriage Raise Concern

CHICAGO. It was, Alicia Fahrquahr now admits, a cringe-inducing moment. “I picked up a ‘Daddy’s Little Lawyer’ onesie for Mikey without even thinking about it,” she says with a look of embarrassment on her face as she cradles her six-month old son in her arms. “When I got to the checkout counter at Babies ‘n Things this Goth girl at the cash register said ‘You’re not really going to do that to the poor kid, are you?’”

Alicia and her husband Bob are members of perhaps the most despised class of young parents in the nation; both are lawyers, and both saw nothing wrong with buying lawyer-related baby gear for their first child until they noticed the looks of scorn on faces of friends and were subjected to withering comments such as the one described above. “We’ve dialed it back a bit,” she says, “but every once in a while I . . . I just can’t help myself and I buy a Little Litigator Brief Case or a Junior Notary Stamps & Seals Kit.”

Geneticists say inbreeding among members of the legal profession may result in a genetic abnormality known as “Cardozo Syndrome,” after the Supreme Court justice. “It’s characterized by an inability to laugh at lawyer jokes unless they are told by a member of the bar in good standing,” says Dr. Philip Wertz of the Illinois Institute of Technology. “Also a penchant for cutesy legal memorabilia in the home and office, and in extreme cases, law-related infant wear.”

    Victim of law-related child abuse.

Social workers say they are prepared to remove children who are subjected to “My daddy & mommy are lawyers!” wear and other psychic abuses from the homes of two-lawyer families and place them in foster homes where they will be free from legal shoptalk that can cause narcoplepsy and crying jags among infants.

“We’ve recognized the risks inherent in second-hand smoke,” says Wertz. “The next step is to get to two-lawyer couples before they make their kids wear baby wingtips.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Lawyers Are People Too–Sort Of.”

My Alien Invasion Wedding

Frank Zappa edited an alien attack into his parents’ wedding video.

The Wall Street Journal

It was a big anniversary for us, either our 35th or 36th depending on when you started counting; the date of the actual ceremony, or the date almost one year earlier to the day when we got to know each other better in the Biblical sense. In either case, I thought I would give my wife a surprise by editing our wedding video, which had been filmed in the mid-1980s using technology that had long since been surpassed.

“Do you want to watch something special tonight?” I asked as we settled onto the couch to “Netflix and chill,” as the kids say these days.

“Um, okay–what is it?”

“I read about it in The Wall Street Journal. A man around my age–although dead–edited his parents’ wedding video to add an alien attack.”

She looked at me, like Cortez’s men in Keats’ On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, with a wild surmise. “Why . . . would you want to do that?”

I turned around to face her squarely, in my best heart-to-heart conversational pose. “That day . . . it was completely out of this world!” I said as I clasped her hand, 8th grade sweetheart-style.

“Don’t make me marry him!”

She didn’t seem convinced, but she got that look of hopeful resignation that used to come over her face when the wedding photographer–do they all have dandruff, or just ours?–was doing his thing. That expression that seems to say “He may be a dingbat, but he’s my dingbat.”

I clicked on the video remote and, as they say in Hollywood, the camera was rolling.

“Here are the bridesmaids going into the church,” I said as the camera panned to the shabby-genteel Protestant house of worship on Boston’s Newbury Street where our nuptials were held. It was the real deal; homeless guys sleeping off hangovers in front of the back entrance, an announcement of an upcoming ham and bean supper to support the Sandanista National Liberation Front, a lesbian minister in clunky leather boots.

“I’ve sort of lost touch with Janice,” my wife said, as her eyes began to moisten involuntarily.

“I think it’s inevitable,” I said. “I haven’t talked to Bill, or Rich, or Vince, or Mike, or Zlorg for years.”

“Who’s Zlorg?”

Image result for alien invasion 1950s

“He’s the big guy–over 7 feet–you see menacing your Aunt from Wisconsin.”

“Why is he doing that?”

“I told him to be on the lookout–she threatened to sing ‘O Promise Me,’ and if she so much as opened her mouth in song he was to blast her with his anti-neutrino ray gun.”

“What’s an anti-neutrino?”

“I don’t know, but I learned about it in Introduction to Physics for Non-Majors in college.”

The groomsmen filed into the church ahead of me from the side entrance, with my best man Bill carrying the ring–along with two rebel Xyklonites from the THX1138 spiral galaxy.

“I don’t remember those . . . creatures being in the wedding.”

“They weren’t, but . . . “


“I didn’t have so much money back then, and I know you would have liked a bigger ring.”

“Mine’s just fine.”

“No, I want you to have something nicer, so those two are carrying a massive diamond from the mines on their planet Xyklon.”

“Is that a real planet?”

“Well, no, but you don’t want me to spend real money on a fictional precious stone, do you?”

“I guess not.”

We had reached that poignant moment when we would exchange our vows and the lump in my throat was visible from the videographer’s vantage point way in the back of the church. Neither of us had wanted to get creative with an institution that is thousands of years old, so instead of writing some facile dipshit for our vows, we stuck to the Book of Common Prayer, which was alien to me since I’d been raised as a Catholic.

“It’s funny,” I said.


“The nuns told us in grade school that if we went to Protestant Church we’d be committing a mortal sin.”

Image result for nuns in space

“What does that mean?”

“It’s pretty serious. If you die before you confess it, you go straight to hell, do not pass Purgatory, do not collect $200.”

We turned our eyes back to the big screen, where a ray of some sort beamed through a stained-glass window–and transported me bodily out of the church through the miracle of light-wave travel!

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To get a beer.”

“No, I mean in the film you’ve so craftily edited.”

“I think I’m being whisked away to another dimension.”

“Which dimension is that?”

“The Guy-i-verse, where a being can burp quietly without being subjected to the penetrating glare of Wife-X laser beams.”

Me and Jim the Wonder Dog

A trip back to my boyhood home in Sedalia, Missouri presents me with an opportunity to visit with Jim the Wonder Dog, the most famous native of my hometown with the possible exceptions of Dale Carnegie and Scott Joplin.

“C’mon Jim–let’s go conjugate some irregular French verbs.”

Jim’s 97 years old in human years, which makes him something like 679 in dog years, so he’s not as spry as he was back in the twentieth century when he was amazing university psychologists with his uncanny predictions of Kentucky Derby and World Series winners, and translations of ancient Egyptian scrolls and avant-garde French novels.

Visit the Jim the Wonder Dog Shrine!

I pull up to the front porch of the Old Missouri Home for Aged and Infirm Canines and Jim hobbles down the steps to my car.

“Where the hell have you been?” he snaps. Same ol’ dog, I think to myself.

“I had to get some peanut brittle at the Stuckey’s out on I-70,” I say. “Want some?”

“Sticks to my dentures,” he says. “Let’s go to Hardee’s.”

We drive in silence for a while punctuated only by Jim’s wheezing. He can’t have much longer to live and I’m trying, as he reaches the end of his life, to make his final days as pleasant as possible.

“So who’s on TV these days?” he asks. They only have basic cable at the Home, and Jim–ever conscious of his legacy and the chances he missed by staying in the provinces–always grills me about rising canine stars.

“Well, Lassie’s still on TV Land.”

“Don’t worry, Lassie–we’ll find your Modern Library edition of L’Etre et Neant!”

Jim coughs, or at least I think he does before I realize that he spat on the rubber floor mat of my rental car.

“You okay?” I ask, playing innocent.

“Lassie was a hack,” he says as he looks out over fields of soybeans. “She couldn’t act her way out of a 25 pound bag of Purina Dog Chow. Who else?”

“Let’s see–Rin Tin Tin had a biography written about him.”

“Best wishes–Rinnie.”

“Probably by some studio flack,” he grumbles.

“As a matter of fact, it was written by Susan Orlean.”

“Of The New Yorker?” he asks, incredulous.

“That’s the one.”

“Good Lord–that magazine has gone to the humans ever since Harold Ross retired,” he mutters. “I mean–Rinnie’s not a bad guy, don’t get me wrong, but he’s no James Thurber.”

Susan Orlean: Her writing’s gone to the dogs.

“The whole general circulation magazine market is just about dead,” I say as I turn into Hardee’s, home of the Monster Thickburger, or as its friends call it, “Audacity on a Bun.”

We have to drive through due to local health regulations that ban dogs from common victuallers’ establishments, even though a former President of the United States has admitted to eating dog in his youth.

We get our burgers and park in the lot just as we used to do back in my misspent youth at the Wheel Inn, home of the Guber Burger. After the grease relief flows over our taste buds, Jim loosens up just a little.

“So, it must be easy for you to find all the books you want in Boston, huh?” he asks, a note of envy in his voice.

“Actually, it’s harder than you’d think,” I say, as I pop a Suzie-Q french fry in my mouth. “Downtown Boston has no new book store anymore–Borders and Barnes & Noble both closed.”

“You’re kidding–the freaking Athens of America?”

“Gone barbarian,” I say.

“Huh,” he says as he stares out the window at a cute poodle giving him the eye from the passenger side of a Chevy SUV. “So, you buy e-books?”

“No, can’t bring myself to do that–yet.”

“I feel better about life in the sticks all of a sudden,” he says. I sense a turn in the tide of his mood and decide to try and wangle some inside sports dope out of him.

“So you think the Patriots will make the playoffs?”

“I have no idea,” he says. “Besides, that was all a parlor trick, those sports predictions.”

“It was?”

“Sure–who in their right mind would bet against the Yankees in the ’30′s?”

He had me there. “Who you reading these days?” I ask.

“P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh–I want to spend my last days on earth laughing.”

“Good idea,” I say.

Conrad: “Your dog is drooling on me.”

“How ’bout you?”

“I’m on a mission,” I say. “One Shakespeare play a year, one Dickens novel, one Conrad. Maybe someday I’ll catch up with you.”

“Not likely,” he says, and I don’t disagree. Jim is an unsung literary pioneer, his autobiographical stream-of-consciousness eponymous “Jim the Wonder Dog” occupying a place within its genre–dog literature–comparable to the contributions made by James Joyce and William Faulkner to human fiction. It’s clear that he absorbed the lessons of the avant-garde even as he was “setting” coveys of quail in the fields of central Missouri.

“How much did Clarence Mitchell contribute to . . .”

“Him? As Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac, what he added wasn’t writing, it was typing.”

“You could have just hired somebody who wouldn’t want to share credit, the way Hillary Clinton did with ‘It Takes a Village or a Humongous Federal Agency or Department.’”

“Mitchell had me over a barrel. He had the contacts with the publishers, and he had the hands with prehensile ability to type. So I gave him the ‘by’ line.”

“It’s too bad,” I said as I turned the key in the ignition. Now everybody thinks it’s just another ‘as told to’ book, and they blame you for the typos.”

“What typos?” he snapped. Pride of authorship runs high among canine writers.

“Page 34 of the second edition–I believe ‘roll’ should be ‘doll.’”

Jim the Wonder Dog “Truther”

“At least one of my books has a second edition,” he said. He really knows how to hurt a fellow writer.

“As a matter of fact,” I begin in my own defense, “my first novel had a second edition.”

He casts a skeptical eye my way and snorts. “Meaning you self-published yourself twice? Isn’t that like switching hands after beating off?”

“No, the publisher of my second novel . . .”

CannaCorn was a stupid title.”

“Published a new edition of my first novel . . .”

“As was A View of the Charles . . .”

Product Details

“In an edited, re-packaged edition with a new title–Making Partner.”

“Meaning you erased all the shameful traces of its prior existence by re-naming it and cutting out 150 pages of semi-autobiographical crap in the vain hope that you might actually sell a copy to someone who isn’t related to you by blood or marriage?”

I bristle, and more than a bit. This is how writers hurt each other, going for the jugular–financial success or failure–belying their oft-repeated claim that they write only for art’s sake.

“That’s a god-damned lie,” I say, my eyes and lips narrowed into a grim mask of menace.

“Oh yeah? I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true. Nobody on my wife’s side of the family bought a copy.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”