Ask Mr. Car Person

Spring is here, which means driving fun time, unless your vehicle is a garbage truck or there’s a guy in the back seat with a gun who demands that you take him to an Eagles reunion concert.  How do you keep your car in tip-top shape?  Ask Mr. Car Person!

Dear Mr. Car Person:

My wife and I decided to get our daughter a new car as a surprise graduation gift.  I went down to the Toyota dealer after work to take care of it since it was my wife’s bowling night.  I called her up after I signed the papers (my wife, not my daughter–that would have ruined the surprise) and told her I got the Toyota Highlander, not the Sport model just the basic one without leather seats.  My wife started screaming and said don’t you know that if you drive around in a Highlander with the back windows down and the front windows up your head will explode, she heard it on the Today Show or 60 Minutes, she couldn’t remember which.

At least my head didn’t explode!”

Mr. Car Person, now I am worried that my daughter will forget about the back window problem some night and her head will explode and she will be permanently disfigured, which will hurt her marriage prospects as she already looks like my mother-in-law.  Any suggestions?

Durnell Holman, Knob Noster MO

“Why is that little light blinking?”

Dear Durnell–

Relax!  While the Highlander did indeed suffer from the exploding head defect from the time it was first introduced in 2001 until 2011, Toyota has added a dashboard light after the 2012 model year that gives drivers ample warning before they lose consciousness.  Bonus safety feature–if only one rear window is rolled down damage is limited to internal organs.

Oldsmobile Delta 88–sweet.

Mr. Car Person–

Last night I let my son Wayne borrow my 1995 Oldsmobile Delta 88 to take his girlfriend Sue Ellen to the Dairy Freeze, we were out of ice cream.  They didn’t get home until like 12:30, and this morning I noticed there’s a big spot on the back seat.  I asked Wayne how it got there and he says “Dad, with a front engine/rear-wheel drive layout you often get transmission fluid leaking into the back seat cushion, don’t get all bent out of shape.”  Do you think Wayne is lying?

Oren Embree, Paducah, Kentucky

“That spot?  We, uh, spilled some ice cream.  Over our shoulders.”

Dear Oren:

Our children represent the future, and we must trust them if they are ever going to mature into irresponsible adults such as us.  Because the Delta 88 featured the patented “Tilt-Away” steering wheel, there would be no need for teenagers to crawl into the backseat to “do what comes naturally.”  You are apparently projecting your unfulfilled sexual needs onto your son, and your time would be better spent trolling the internet.

Dear Mr. Car Person–

There is this girl at school who I will call “Tina” because that is her name.  She is nice to me whenever I drive to school but if I have to walk she ignores me and just hangs out with the Pep Squad.  I tried out for the Pep Squad but didn’t make it because my stupid mother put my pom-poms in the washer the night before and they came out looking like overcooked spaghetti.  How can I tell if “Tina” likes me for who I am or is just “along for the ride.”

Linda Lou Holcomb, Hoxie, Arkansas

Dear Linda Lou–

You should not hold a grudge against your mother as she apparently allows you to drive to school sometimes, which is more than a lot of kids get.  I have referred your question to the Teen Beat columnist, who will answer it if space permits.

Pepsi-Cola hits the spot!

Hey Car Person–

I have been told if your radiator overheats you can use soda to cool it down until you get to a gas station.  Last night I asked this girl Lurleen who I was on a first date with if I could pour her Diet Dr. Pepper into my six-cylinder Honda as the needle was inching up into the “red zone,” and she says “Don’t you know anything?  Diet soda only works in four cylinder engines.”  When I got to the Sunoco station out on South 65 the guy says your cylinders are scored, you need to get them sleeved quick or else you’ll have to buy a whole new engine block.  I told Lurleen she had to walk home, I wasn’t going to risk any more damage, and now she’s gone and told everybody I’m not a gentleman.  The way I see it, she should pay my repair bill.  What do you think?

Mike Dalton, Jr., Ottumwa, Iowa

Next time, come prepared.

Dear Mike–

The answer to your question depends on the “ground rules” you set before Lurleen ever got into your car.  Unless you agreed to go “Dutch treat,” your date has no liability for engine damage even if you paid for her soda, according to Dewayne Norman, a divorce lawyer who has written extensively on pre-marital dating claims.  You can get a good styrofoam cooler for $1.99 at any Kwik-Trip convenience store, and I suggest that next time you come prepared for an emergency with extra cans of soda.  The Honda owner’s manual recommends Mountain Dew.

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

The Poetry Kings

A grey day in the offices of plangent voices, the poetry quarterly I helped found nearly three decades ago, and from which I was summarily ousted in a hostile takeover in the early 80′s by Elena Gotchko, the Emily Dickinson-wannabe whom I had taken under my wing when she was still a naif young ingenue, cutting her own hair and not doing a very good job of it.

“You like . . . trochees?”

Elena had marched in to announce that she’d become “elena gotchko,” and with her new boyfriend, daniel de la sota, a hulking Frankenstein’s monster of a poetaster, had commandeered the only electric typewriter in the joint and proclaimed that a new era of poetry was about to begin. I was out and she and her lumbering companion were in.

So I suppose I should have felt a little frisson of satisfaction at her call, late last night, to say that she needed my help getting the summer edition out. Her body’s immune system had apparently rejected the lower case “g” she’d added to her last name, and she was groggy from the antibiotics. The doctors were fairly sure she’d recover, but the botched transplant meant that she might have to live out the rest of her days as elena Gotchko.

Back in the saddle!

An ordinary editor would have cringed at the submissions stacked high on the desks, tables, floor, air conditioner and kitty box for the magazine’s mascot, Neruda, a male tuxedo cat who’d started as an unpaid intern five years ago, and had since been promoted to the position of reader. We’d sit him down on a manuscript and if he . . . uh . . . relieved himself, it was returned to the author with our form rejection letter saying it did not fit our needs at this time.

“Your sonnet sucks!”

As I say, the slush piles heaped around me were daunting, but I was undeterred. I was just glad to be back in the game again, shaping the course of American literature. Maybe it wouldn’t mean much to somebody like Archibald MacLeish, who said poems shouldn’t mean but be, but I was happy just to be where I was.

MacLeish: “What I mean is, a poem should not mean . . . anything. I think.”

Until I looked up and saw Sound E-Fex and Back Wurdz, two rappers who struck fear in the hearts of poetry editors everywhere. The modern branch of their posse was known as The Poetry Kings; the classical branch was called The Latin Poetry Kings. In either manifestation, they were a poetry quarterly’s worst nightmare; men who were determined to git published or die tryin’. When they submitted a hard-hitting, slice-of-life, straight-outta-Bloomsbury tranche-de-vie, somebody usually went down ’cause of all the hyphens flyin’ around.

“You gonna publish our stuff, or we gonna have to go crazy on you?”

”Yo,” Wurdz said. I recognized the two from the picture that appears above ”Pimp Yo Poem,” their monthly verse column in The Source, The Bible of Hip-Hop.

“Hi there,” I said, playing dumb, a game I’d perfected in grade school when I’d hide behind my hardbound copy of “Our American Government” and crank out crude couplets. “The submission deadline for the winter issue is past, if that’s what . . .”

“We got our stuff in before yo deadline,” Sound said. “We wanna know whether you gonna publish it, or we gonna have to go crazy on you?”

elena Gotchko: Nice job on the bangs!

“We have a fairly rigorous review process here,” I began. “After initial consideration by a reader, a poem must be approved by two editors, at least one (1) of whom shall not have slept with the poet, then it goes to our board of–”

“I don’t wanna hear ’bout yo board of academic advisors,” Wurdz said. “Eggheads ain’t never done nuthin’ good for poetry.”

I nodded my head reluctantly–I had to agree with him on that one. Rappers may not be everybody’s glass of sherry, but they’ve added more life to the world of poetry than a thousand professors. They’re the 21st century’s version of Arthur Rimbaud, who produced his best work while still in his teens, and gave up creative writing before he turned 21 to work in his dad’s business.

Rimbaud: “Spackle?  Aisle 3.”

“Okay, well, I guess since you’ve made a personal visit to the office, I could take another look at what you’ve written,” I said. I knew this would be unfair to the hundreds of other versifiers who’d submitted the products of their late-night waking dreams, who’d torn their tortured lines from their hearts, their souls, and in some cases their spleens; but the men standing before me were bearing Glocks.

“Let me see, what was the title of your work?” I asked.

“The Land of Counterpane,” Wurdz said.

I gave him a look that expressed volumes, or at least an epic poem. “You realize, don’t you, that Robert Louis Stevenson has already used that title?”

An angry Stevenson: “Don’t you go infringin’ my s**t, you waffle puffin’ punk!”

“So what if he did?” E-Fex asked. “Copyright done run out.  We sampled it.”

He was right, but that was hardly the point. A reputable–or semi-reputable–poetry quarterly could hardly publish a known plagiarism. Unless The Poetry Kings were going to make a substantial tax-deductible contribution, I allowed myself to think in a moment of mercenary madness.

I flipped through the reject pile and found what I was looking for. “All right, let me give it a second read,” I said. “But I can’t promise you anything.”

I leaned back in my chair, turned on my hand-held scansion device, and started reading.

Hand-held scansion device: Don’t start reading without it.


When I was sick and lay a-bed,
With several bullets in my head,
Around me all my firearms lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

“You’re off to a good start,” I said. They smiled at me, showing their grillz, the hip-hop orthodontic devices that are purely cosmetic in nature. I read on.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I’d watch my leaden homies go,
Tricked out sick and lookin’ good,
Among the bed-clothes
through the hood;

“You’ve spun a rather elaborate conceit,” I said, hoping to manage their expectations. “It will be interesting to see whether you can conclude in a manner that makes the work into a literary whole.”

“Wus he talkin’ ’bout?” Wurdz asked Sound.

“He wants to see whether we game or lame.”

“Testing–a-b-b-a, c-d-e, c-d-e.”

I nodded. He had divined the essence of my task. I picked up the paper–I noticed it was scented with Courvoisier–and continued:

I’d sometimes send my Escalade
‘Neath knees bent upwards, spreading shade;
A sound–a shot?–bestilled my heart,
‘Twas but an under-blanket fart.

“Nice touch, that,” I said with admiration. “And now,” I announced with upraised eyebrow, “let’s see if you can nail the dismount.”

“Wus he talkin’ bout?” Sound asked.

“Like Mary Lou Retton,” Wurdz replied. “Anybody can git up on da pommel horse, only a champ can git down off it clean.”

“On the nosey,” I said, then looked over the top of my glasses and continued.

I was the gangsta great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
Yaddida, shaboopalaboopy pain.

It was, to say the least, a letdown. “What happened with the last line?” I asked. “You just trailed off without completing either the sense or the form of the poem.”

The two co-poets seemed embarrassed. “I’ll be the first to admit,” said Wurdz, “that it needs more work.”

“What the hell is a ‘shaboopalaboopy’ anyway?” I asked.

“It’s a neologism,” Sound said. “It originated with Bay Area rappers, the hyphy movement. They used it to . . . make their raps better by”–he hesitated, apparently chagrined–”filling in spaces.”

“So basically, it’s the hip hop equivalent of ‘Yadda yadda yadda’,” I said, a bit scornfully.

“We thought we’d have a better chance if we submitted something on our forearms.”

“Thass right,” a woman’s voice said from the doorway. It was Pho’Netique, a stone fox who was known to contribute to Pimp Yo Poem when the guys couldn’t get their copy in on time.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to pass on this,” I said to the 2 Jive Crew in front of me. “Take another crack at that last stanza. You’ve got something there, but it needs a little work.”

They were crestfallen, having been shown up for what they were–poetic wankstas–in front of a woman. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of manuscripts . . .”

“Wait!” It was Pho-Netique’s turn to whine. “I submitted some confessional poems a while back and I was wondering if you’d had a chance to read them.”

“Uh, I don’t recall,” I said. “What was the title?”

The Bell Jar.”

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

Friday Night Cruisin’ on the Space Shuttle

News item: NASA allowed astronauts to fly drunk. 

                                                                 Associated Press

GROUND CONTROL:  Shuttle Commander, this is Houston, do you read me?

Van Morrison

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  You, my-y, Brown Eyed Girl.  Do you remember when . . .

GROUND CONTROL:  Shuttle Commander–

CO-PILOT:  The voices–why won’t the voices stop?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Oh, Christ–it’s Cape Canaveral.  Hey guy–what’s going on?

GROUND CONTROL:  You’re supposed to use official terms like “Roger” or “Copy”.

CO-PILOT:  Who’s Roger?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  The guy who’s always eating out of the Tang jar.

CO-PILOT:  Gross.

GROUND CONTROL:  We were recording some erratic flight movements so I thought I’d give you a call.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  That’s awfully god-damned nice of you.

GROUND CONTROL:  You guys–uh–quit drinking last night when I told you to–right?

CO-PILOT:  Actually, we still had about half a bottle of gin left, and I figured we’d be gone for a long time and it might go bad.

GROUND CONTROL:  Gin doesn’t go bad.

CO-PILOT:  Oh, right.  It was the tonic.  There was about half a one-liter bottle left–we didn’t want it to go flat.

GROUND CONTROL:  All right.  What are you guys doing?


GROUND CONTROL:  Yes, now–when did you think I meant?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:   Uh, we’re playing zero-gravity beer pong.


CO-PILOT:  Hair of the dog that bit you, man.

GROUND CONTROL:  You guys are nuts!

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  I know–it’s really hard when you’re weightless.

GROUND CONTROL:  Guys–I thought we had an understanding.

CO-PILOT:  Right.  We’re not allowed to drink in outer space unless we go up in the Space Shuttle first–for safety’s sake.

GROUND CONTROL:  That’s not how I remember it.  Anyway, you’re shut off.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Aw, c’mon!  I just cracked open a Miller High Life, the Champagne of Bottle Beers!

GROUND CONTROL:  How do you keep it from flying all around?

CO-PILOT:  Sippy-cups.  Hey–why don’t we do bar bets.  Each one we win, we get to have another round.

GROUND CONTROL:  Let me check my Shuttle Employee Manual.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  It’s under the “Bottle-to-Throttle” rule at tab 7.

GROUND CONTROL:  You’re right–here it is.  Let’s see, astronauts are not allowed to drink within 12 hours of lift-off.

CO-PILOT:  We already broke that one.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  See–we’re okay.  It doesn’t say anything about in-flight drinking.

GROUND CONTROL:  All right.  I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop you.  Fire away.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Who made the first three-point shot in NBA history?

Chris Ford

GROUND CONTROL:  Please–don’t insult my intelligence.  Chris Ford.

CO-PILOT:  My turn.  Have two National League teams ever played against each other in the same World Series?

GROUND CONTROL:  That’s impossible.  You’d have to have one from the American League–

CO-PILOT:  So your answer is?


Cardinals Bruce Sutter and Darrell Porter celebrate the last out of the ’82 World Series against the Brewers.

CO-PILOT:  BAAAP!  You’re wrong.  1982–Cardinals versus Brewers.

GROUND CONTROL:  The Brewers were in the American League then–

CO-PILOT:  Another beer for both of us.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  You got him that time.

CO-PILOT:  I’m going to go get some chips.  You want anything?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  I need to go to the bathroom but you can’t do that for me.

GROUND CONTROL:  Somebody’s got to stay on the flight deck at all times, okay?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Okay–one last question then I gotta take a leak.  Name the Jewish ballplayer with the highest season batting average in baseball history.

GROUND CONTROL:  Uh–let’s see.  Hank Greenberg?

Rod Carew:  Mazel tov!

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Nope–Rod Carew.  .388 in 1977.

GROUND CONTROL:  Rod Carew isn’t Jewish, he’s, like Panamanian or something.

Sammy Davis, Jr.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  He converted–like Sammy Davis, Jr.

GROUND CONTROL:  That’s a trick question.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  No use crying over spilt beer.

CO-PILOT:  Hey, we’re out of chips.

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Ground control, permission to change course requested.

GROUND CONTROL:  Why–where are you going?

SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  Phobos, one of Mars’ moons.  There’s a 7-11 there–we’ll bring you back a Slurpee.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Sci-Fi Kind of Guy.”

Carbon Offsets Bring First, Third Worlds Together

RIDGEWOOD, New Jersey.  Amy Webster describes her new 5,000 square foot, five-bedroom home in this affluent suburb of New York as her dream come true.  “We finally have four separate air-conditioning zones,” she says with relief.  “Now I don’t have to fight with the kids over the thermostat.”

Her dream come true

But along with the creature comforts came a nagging sense of guilt, she says.  “The people from Greenpeace would come to the front door, and when I’d tell them to get off the property they’d yell ‘McMansion’ back at me.  I had to look that word up, and it wasn’t in the dictionary.”

Cow dung as fuel:  A different sort of natural gas.

After a little research, Amy stumbled across EnergyXchange, a Vermont-based cooperative that sells “offsets” in renewable energy resources to those whose carbon footprint is several sizes bigger than what is considered acceptable by environmental groups.  “We bought an animal dung fuel pack,” Amy says, “and I threw in some potpourri from Pottery Barn as a little thank you to our ‘offset’ family in the Bolivian Andes.”

The Websters got something back that brought home to them just how personal the fight for a cleaner environment could be.

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Webster and Webster wawas” (Quechuan for “child”) read the thank-you note from Yamil Callisaya, an Andean shepherd.  “Thank you for the three-pack of cow, sheep and llama dung we received from the EnergyXchange gift catalog.  We are enjoying it tremendously, and hope to progress beyond a subsistence economy now that our winter fuel needs are taken care of.  All the best–Yamil.”

Ox:  “From all of us here in Myanmar–a great big thank you!”

On Monday, Amy’s husband Bill, a venture capitalist, will hop aboard a jet bound for California, where he will spend the week with a potential investment.  Bill admits he could complete his due diligence from the East Coast, but he’s going to try and sneak in 18 holes of golf at the historic Pebble Beach course, where greens fees run $425 a round, not including golf cart.

Pebble Beach:  Natural beauty like this doesn’t come cheap.

“Amy’s put the environmental bug in my ear,” says Bill with a sheepish grin.  “I told her I was already paying a ‘green fee,’ but she told me I needed to do something more.”  So Bill has purchased a “Get Ox Out of Ditch Free” card to offset the 2,030 pounds of carbon dioxide his jetliner will belch into the atmosphere during his travels.  The card will be sent to Myanmar, where Khin Maung has been waiting for relief since his ox, Than Shwe (whose name is a tongue-in-cheek dig at the country’s current military leader), fell in a deep irrigation ditch last week.

Back on the job!

“Thank you for the Get Ox Out of Ditch Free card,” Khin writes.  “This is like a AAA membership for a farmer such as myself, with roadside service coming just in the nick of time!  You guys rock!  Khin Maung.”

EnergyXchange executive director Allison Goode admits that she sometimes helps her third-world clients with their thank-you notes, based on the extensive training she received in the Business Etiquette class she took at Buckhill College in upstate New York.  “A well-written thank-you note can mean the difference between being a highly-paid professional in America and living like a peasant in Burkina Faso,” she says.  “I know which one I’d rather be.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”

How to Have a Date by Valentine’s Day


It’s coming: Valentine’s Day, after New Year’s Eve, the second most dreaded day on the calendar for singles, grade school Romeos, and philanderers. Thankfully, Cosmopolitan magazine regularly publishes tips on how to have a boyfriend by the time significant holidays roll around, and I save them–the articles, not the holidays–for your convenience and to mock them mercilessly when the “mood” to add superfluous quotation marks hits me. Here are some of my favorite suggestions from Cosmos past:

Stock photo couple rubbing noses.


Take a long walk during a full moon.

The people at Cosmo–they’re the experts, right? So there must be some point to this tip, included in the 2009 article “How to Have a Boyfriend by the Holidays.”   Wait–I get it. What woman wants to waste a perfectly good romantic holiday on a hairy guy who’s going to go all werewolf on her once a month? That’s her job!

Wolf Man model kit: Yes, I had one as a boy.


Go ice skating, even if you don’t know how!

Nothing’s cuter than an inept couple mauling each other as they try to stand up on a slippery surface! Be sure to skate indoors, as assiduous reading of Boy’s Life Magazine in my youth has convinced me that nobody goes skating on a pond without falling through the ice.

Special this month:  Another little brother falls through the ice!


Pick a town you’re never visited, get in the car and drive there.

This tried-and-true dating technique, also known as “kidnapping,” is a great way to cut through the noisy “meat-market” atmosphere of superficial singles bars and get to know that “someone special” a little better. While prohibited in some states, it worked for Patty Hearst! A favorite “ice breaker” question: “What did you think of William Faulkner’s Sanctuary?”


Surprise him with an unexpected date that will blow his mind: a shooting range, boxing match, or beer and chocolate tasting.

To my mind, a beer and chocolate tasting spoils two good things, but what do I know? Listen to your inner Cosmo Girl–the one who keeps whispering “I’m desperate”–and find a Sunday afternoon “meat shoot” at a local hunting club or veterans’ lodge.

Meat shoot” participants: “We don’t get many gals at these shin-digs.”


If you strike out with your intended, there’ll be plenty of over-60 guys with beer bellies to latch onto.


Alien Abduction:

Think about it: You’ve never seen an alien from the THX 1138 spiral galaxy without a date on Valentine’s Day, have you? I didn’t think so! That’s because space aliens plan ahead, thanks to the miracle of relativity. “If you can travel faster than the speed of light, you will be able to know who won’t have a date on Valentine’s Day light years from now,” says Cal Tech physicist Norbert Huang.  This allows you to avoid blowing big bucks on Whitman’s Samplers and Evening in Paris perfume.

Be sure to use Vaseline petroleum jelly before attaching electrodes to your date for full-body-cavity probes. He’ll appreciate it!

At the Smoothie Bar With Herr Doktor Professor Freud



The agency that oversees federal programs relating to mental illness recommended drinking fruit smoothies and line dancing.

                                                                        The Wall Street Journal

The “Dora” Case: A young woman named Ida Bauer, whom I will call “Dora” to preserve her anonymity, had been diagnosed with hysteria. She claimed that a friend of her father had made a pass at her, and she slapped him—the friend, not the father. Her father did not believe that his friend “Herr K.”–an impecunious sort who could not afford a full last name–would do such a thing.

Dora developed dyspnea (hysterical choking), cough, depression, fainting spells, aphonia (fear of one’s cell phone), the whim-whams and what W.C. Fields referred to as “the inside meanies.”

I encouraged Dora to share her dreams with me. She told me of one in which the family house was on fire. Her father woke her up and told her to flee, but her mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case. Her father said: “I refuse to let myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your stupid jewel-case.” “But it contains precious stones!” her mother exclaimed. “I hate to break the news to you,” her father replied, “but it’s mainly cubic zirconia, cultured pearls and 10 Karat gold.”

I determined that Dora had an unresolved internal conflict that was affecting her psychological and physiological health. “Your hysteria is a manifestation of your forbidden desire for your father, Herr K, his wife ‘Frau K,’ and the junior varsity Alpine ski team at Fachhochschulstudiengaenge Burgenland. You must reconcile these conflicts if you wish to control your symptoms, especially that nasty cough,” I told her.

“That is not much help to me,” she sniffed. “I thought you were the world-famous Herr Doktor Professor Freud who could solve all my problems. Telling me to ‘reconcile these conflicts’—isn’t that your job?”

There was a certain innocent justice to her charge. I was the Father of Psychoanalysis, after all, but I could not allow her to indulge in “transference” and undermine my treatment by shifting her affections to me. It was necessary that I promptly re-establish our analyst-analysand relationship.

“Sometimes I find,” I began with great professional reserve, “that a multi-berry fruit smoothie, made with milk, plain or vanilla yogurt, one-half cup orange juice and honey to taste is just the thing to overcome a psychosomatic cough and a numbing psychic blockage.”



The “Rat Man” Case: A man with obsessional thoughts—principally about rats—came to me for relief. Casting about for a cool nickname for the patient, I hit upon “Rat Man.” When I was in school at the University of Vienna I was social chairman of the Ubermut Nordpol Ypsilon fraternity, and was quite admired for my uncanny ability to pick out monickers that would stick to my frat “bros.”

“Rat Man!” I would call to him as he lay down on my couch. “What’s shakin’!” It was only by “loosening him up” (Knotenumgimmerhofer) in this manner that I persuaded him to reveal what he said was his deepest, darkest secret: That he wished his father were dead, so he could inherit all his money and marry a good girl.

“This is a rather banal secret,” I said to him. “It falls squarely within the range of what is considered normal. Selfish, yes, perhaps even wicked, but abnormal? Not in my book.”

The patient’s condition worsened despite my ministrations. He began to have suicidal thoughts, triggered by guilt over an episode of infantile masturbation while looking at an image of “Hansel and Gretel” in his Grimm Brothers fairy tale book. I told him that these sorts of fact/fiction ménages a trois were permitted in France, but to be sure to cover his reading material with a Ziploc® brand oversize “craft and hobby” size plastic bag while he indulged in this innocent form of sexual recreation.

“Rat Man” began to have fantasies of marrying my daughter and told me he believed the only reason I was so kind and incredibly patient with him was because I wanted him for a son-in-law, and so I was forced to take drastic measures:

“I’m going to give you an easy, one-step detox smoothie recipe from the editors of Prevention magazine,” I said as I tore the scrip off my pad. “Grab your blender and get ready for the most delicious health food of your life!”


The “Wolf Man” Case: Perhaps my most famous case, From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, involved a patient named Sergej Pankejeff, known to the world since as the “Wolf Man.”

The Wolf Man’s father and sister had committed suicide, sending him into a state of severe depression. He sought my help and recounted for me the following dream:

“I dreamt it was night and I was lying in bed. Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see seven wolves sitting on the big walnut tree in front of my window, drinking smoothies. I screamed and woke up. My nurse hurried to see what the matter was. It took quite a while for her to convince me it had only been a dream.”

It was clear to me that the Wolf Man had seen his parents have sex as a child—while he was a child, not them—and so the remedy normally indicated by psychoanalytic protocols, a delicious, super-healthy fruit smoothie, would be of no avail.

“Mr. Man,” I said to him.

“Please—call me Wolf.”

“All right. Wolf, I am going to refer you to the Vienna Center for Adult Education.”

“Is my problem beyond the power of the brave new science of psychoanalysis?”

“Yes,” I said, somewhat abashed at the failure of my skills, grounded in my deep insight into human nature and years of rigorous training. “The only treatment that holds out any hope for you is a course in line-dancing. I hear the ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ has produced some remarkable breakthroughs.”

As Entree Baby Talk Spreads, Support for Plain English Menus Grows

SEEKONK, Mass. For Frank Marino, the last straw came after a long day at a youth hockey tournament two years ago.  “I took the kids to a Friendly’s and they was kinda cuttin’ up,” he says, his forehead furrowed from the memory.  “The wife is bitchin’ at me, the service was slow–I wasn’t my usual affable self.”

Then the waitress arrived to take the group’s order and when it came his turn, the 47-year-old grease trap cleaner decided to take a stand, in much the same way that Rosa Parks set off a civil rights revolution by taking a seat.  “What I wanted was a fish sandwich, but I was in no kinda jolly mood to order a ‘Fish-a-ma-Jig,'” he recalls.  “I also wanted a frappe”–the term used in New England for a milk shake–“but I was not gonna put on a smiley face and ask for a Fribble,” the restaurant chain’s brand name for the same item.

“We call this the Two-and-a-Half Inward Pike Gainer With a Chocolate Twist Sundae!”

And so Marino fired the shot heard round the restaurant world, pointing to the oversize laminated menu and saying loudly enough for patrons several tables away to hear, “I want a fish sandwich with ketchup, no tartar sauce, and a strawberry frappe–please.”  When waitress Juliana Ohlmeyer affected not to understand him, saying “We don’t have no fish sandwiches or frappes,” Marino persisted, pointing to the items’ goofy-named counterparts on the menu.  “I want this with ketchup, and a strawberry that,” this time with a tone so heated that shift manager Danny Orojeda came over to prevent the situation from escalating.

“We were out of cheesecake, but I can offer you some Um-Boy-That-Fat-Will-Look-Good-on-My-Hips! cake.”


Nationwide, the trend among dining establishments both large and small is to gussy up run-of-the-mill menu items with fancy names to increase profit margins that rarely exceed 3%, causing high rates of restaurant failure, bankruptcy, divorce and back acne.  “If you sell a grilled cheese by that name, you can charge maybe two bucks tops because they sell them for ninety-nine cents at McDonald’s,” says restaurant consultant Miles Hallinan.  “If you call it an Ooey Gooey Cheese Bomb! your price point is just slightly below a filet mignon at a snooty French restaurant where the chef wears a toque and always has his face screwed up into a moue, whatever that is.”

Echoing Abraham Lincoln, Marino says the world will “little note, nor long remember” who he was, but generations of adult males will be the beneficiaries of his fight against froofy food names.  “Our forefathers were a hardy race,” he says as he pulls a Tedy Bruschi jersey over his head in preparation for the New England Patriots’ victory parade today.  “They didn’t get off the Mayflower and pull into Howard Johnson’s to order a Yummylicious Double Whammywich.”


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