Me and Tennessee Williams at the Ten-Minute Play Festival

It’s been a long dry spell–six years–since I last had a play performed in the sort of church basement venues that community theatre is consigned to, but I’m hopeful–now that the President of the United States has declared the pandemic “over“–that things will start to pick up in the low-rent drama world that an amateur playwright such as myself inhabits.

Waltham, Mass., back in the day.


I’m sitting in The Busted Watch, a friendly neighborhood bar in Waltham that recalls the days when this little burg was known as “Watch City” because of all the timepieces it cranked out year after year.  “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution” is another monicker it is known by, although I wouldn’t refer to it that way unless you’re like a really good friend of it; not just Christmas card friendly, in other words, but hey-let-me-buy-you-a-drink friendly.

I’m waiting to see if I’ve made the cut for the upcoming ten-minute play festival to be put on by The Watch City Players.  Maybe I won’t make the big Saturday night performance, but I’m hoping to at least make the Friday night lights of the junior varsity.  I don’t know what it will take for me to get “off the schneid,” as my dad used to say, by which he (and others) meant to break a losing streak.  I’ve never actually been booed, but I was hissed in Lowell, Massachusetts when one of the characters in my last play referred to his former girlfriend’s German/Yiddish heritage, whose language gave birth to the now archaic phrase.  Everybody’s so touchy these days.

I’m waiting for the panel of judges to hand down their decision when who should sit down next to me but Tennessee Williams, whose plays continue to be performed nearly four decades after his death.  He’s achieved what all playwrights hope for as long as they live–posthumous fame!  Yes it always comes too late, but then so does my wife when we’re going out to dinner.

               Tennessee Williams


“Mind if I join you?” he asks, and it is all I can do to keep myself from gushing all over him like an autograph hound and saying “Oh my God–you’re one of my biggest fans!”

Williams and I couldn’t be more different.  He’s a successful playwright, I–well, if you want to meet someone who’s had a little success writing plays, I’ve had as little as anybody.  He’s gay, I’m straight.  He’s short, I’m . . . average in height.  He’s an alcoholic, I’m a moderate social drinker who never imbibes more than a pre-dinner sherry, a six pack of beer, a gin and tonic, a bottle of red wine, an after-dinner port and maybe a single malt scotch in a single sitting.

“So what’s eating you?” he asks, cutting right to the bone.  I’m not surprised; he seems to have a penetrating insight into the emotional injuries that cause people to run off the rails, to mix my metaphors.

“I’m a failure–isn’t that enough?”

“You’re not a failure–yet,” he says with calm assurance.  “Not until you die before you give up.”

          “Oh, please–get a grip.”


“Well, it’s been a while since I’ve had a play performed,” I say.

“Like that didn’t happen to me, at the beginning, middle and end of my career?”

“Very Aristotelian of you, but I don’t think you ever went seventeen years without having a play performed in New York,” I say.

                Bruce Jay Friedman


“Ouch,” he concedes, then nods to the bartender and orders a martini.  “That is bad.  And the last one was?”

“‘Welcome to Endive,’ in 2005.  At least I was on the same bill as Bruce Jay Friedman.”

“Don’t know him.”

“Wrote ‘The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life.'”

“Never read it.”

“They made it into a movie with Steve Martin in 1984.”

“Who’s Steve Martin?”

“I guess I should probably keep my references to the years before you died, huh?”

“That would be helpful, yes.”  He took a sip of his martini and looked me up and down.  “My guess is you’ve still got a shot.”

“You do?”

“Yessss,” he drawls out.  “I happen to know that you and I have a lot in common.”  Death will do that for you–all of a sudden you’re omniscient, you can see through people like those “Visible Man” and Visible Woman” kits they used to sell in hobby stores.

“Like what?”

He closes his eyes as if to communicate with the inchoate and the extramundane.  “I seem to see a connection to the University of Missouri.”

“My two sisters went there, and I went to a lot of their football games.”

“How about that 1960 Orange Bowl!” he says, recalling the win over Navy that capped a perfect, if slightly marred, 11-0 season.   “I went there but dropped out when I failed ROTC.”

“How, exactly, does one fail ROTC?” I ask.  “Isn’t it just marching back and forth and handling dummy rifles?”

“Yes but I wasn’t cut out for that.  While I was there I pledged Alpha Tau Omega.”

“You’re kidding!” I say.  “I went to a drunken rush party there!”

“And you decided on the basis of that Bacchanalian beer fest to attend college elsewhere–correct?”

“Yes, yes I did.”

“Well, I went on to Washington University in St. Louis.”

“One of my sons went there!”

“So I gather.  And during the summer I worked at International Shoe Company in St. Louis.”

“My mom and dad met there!”

“That’s so sweet,” he says drily as he nods to the bartender for another drink.  “I couldn’t stand it.”

“I can’t say either of them had an artistic temperament,” I say.

“I wrote poems on the sides of the damned shoeboxes.”

“Now, now,” I say, as the son of a former shoe company owner.

“It was mind-numbing stuff.  I lived for a while in Provincetown.”

“So did I,” I say, then add sheepishly, “but only for a weekend.”

“I had a play–Battle of Angels–performed in Boston.”

I’ve had a play performed in Boston!”

“And did you make any money on it?”

“Well, no.  It was community theatre.”

“That’s okay.  You know the old saying?”


“You can’t make a living in the theatre, but you can make a killing.”

“Ha,” I replied, and I meant it.  At this point I’m running a deficit if you add up all the play contest entry fees I’ve spent and put them in the balance across from my *cough* receipts.

“What else?” he asks.

“Well, I’ve been to Chicago, New York, Miami and Key West–and you have too, right?”

“True but trivial.  Anything else?”

“I was raised Catholic.”

“I was converted, but it didn’t take.”

“Yeah, those Ten Commandments are awfully tempting.”

“Are those do’s . . . or don’ts?”


“I was a failure as a screenwriter,” he says.

“This is getting downright . . . eerie–so am I.”

“Okay,” he says, as he signals to the bartender to bring him his check.  “I think you’ve got enough to go on.  Now get back to your desk, get your ass in your chair, and get to work, okay?”

“Thanks,” I say, and I mean it.

“One last piece of advice?”


“Don’t depend on the kindness of strangers.”



Our Hypoallergenic Night Out

Saturday night found us–we hadn’t been missing that long–with our friends Ted and Sally at Nourriture, which is French for “food.”  Tres simple! as we used to say in Madame Clooney’s 10th grade classe de Francais when we wanted to show off our knowledge of cognates.

After we were seated the water boy came by and asked if we wanted still or sparkling, then a comely young woman named Claire stopped tableside to say she’d be taking care of us tonight.  If only, I thought to myself as I shot a glance at Ted.

“First I must ask if anyone has any allergies,” she asked with a hint of chagrin, sprinkled with cumin and cardamom.  “It is, you know, ‘the law,'” she said, making little air quotes.

That’s what makes the Commonwealth (not a state–please!) of Massachusetts such a great place to live.  Founded by nay-saying Puritan divines, we’ve got laws for everything, and some for nothing at all.

Claire surveyed our faces and with that semi-apologetic air that comes over Presbyterians whenever they cause the least inconvenience, my wife spoke first.

“I’m allergic to some of my husband’s jazz,” she said, almost sheepishly.

“Okay,” Claire said.  “Any particular kind?”

“It’s strange,” my wife said, “but I have a particularly strong reaction to jazz violin–which he loves.”  I patted her hand to re-assure her that, despite our differences, my love for her was unlimited.  Up to a point.

“But you like classical violin, don’t you?” Sally said, and she was right.  Check her Pandora settings and you’ll find “Violin, classical, heavy on the schmaltz.”

“I do, but jazz violin–it’s so hectic and scritchy-scratchy.  It drives me nuts.”

“Even Stephane Grappelli,” I said, shaking my head.  “And don’t get her started about Stuff Smith.”

Stuff Smith 3
Stuff Smith:  “Why me?”


“Oh God,” my wife groaned.  “Just the mention of his name makes me want to cover my ears.”

Claire made a little moue with her mouth–what other facial feature was she going to make it with?  “That’s too bad,” she said as she jotted something on her little pad.  “And you madame?” she asked, turning to Sally.

“I’m allergic to guys yammering about football as if everyone cared,” she said.  I looked around quickly and saw there was only one television in the place, and it was over the bar in a spot where Sally couldn’t see it without turning around.  So we were probably in the clear on that one.

“Is it . . . just on TV, or do live human beings have the same effect on you?” Claire asked in a deadpan, just-the-facts-ma’am tone, like Sgt. Joe Friday’s sidekick Harry Morgan in Dragnet.

“I think the team that scores the most points is gonna win!”


“Both,” Sally said.  “Although the ones on television seem to have no necks, while the ones around here”–she turned to look at her husband, then me, then around the room generally–“they all seem to have body parts that connect their heads to their torsos.  Why is that?”

“Do you have the same reaction to pre-season games?”


“It’s because the ones you see on TV played football too long, and they have no necks left from ramming their heads into each other,” Ted said.  “Guys like us got out while the getting was good,” he added, and I nodded in agreement.  As I often say, the three happiest days of my life were my wedding day, the day I got out of the University of Chicago, and the day I quit high school football.

“Duly noted,” Claire said.  “Gentlemen?”

“You first,” I said to Ted.

“I’m very allergic to decorating magazines,” he said, and I could tell by the look that passed over his face–like the shadow of a storm cloud on a sunny day–that his pain was real.

“Ted,” Sally said with genuine concern in her voice.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was only recently that I hit my saturation level,” he said.

“Like the point where Stevie Wonder and I had both smoked so much pot that the THC in our systems turned us paranoid?” I asked.

“Maybe,” Ted said.  “I mean, we get Southern Living and New England Home.”

“That’s why we fought the Civil War,” I said to Sally.  “To preserve this great nation of ours.”

“We get House Beautiful and Beautiful Home,” Ted said.

“Almost a decorating palindrome,” I said.

“What’s an arena for bicycle racing have to do with interior decorating?” my wife asked.

“You’re thinking of a velodrome,” Ted said.  “A palindrome is a combination of words that reads the same forwards and backwards, like ‘A man, a plan, a canal–Panama!'”

“Oh,” my wife said.  She’s the math major, I’m the word guy.

“But yesterday,” Ted said, then paused for a moment as if the difficulty of what he was about to say took the air out of his lungs.  “I saw a copy of Vestibule magazine on the coffee table.”

“It’s free,” Sally said.  “I didn’t buy it–it comes with . . .”

“It doesn’t matter, it was the tipping point for me,” Ted said, color rushing into his cheeks.  “What’s next–Den Magazine?  Foyer Magazine?  Sears Tool Shed Magazine.”

Claire waited a second for that storm to pass.  “Et vous?” she asked, turning to me.

I swallowed, and hard.  When one suffers from a crippling disability, it isn’t easy to admit it publicly.  “I,” I began, but stopped, all choked up.

Lady Di
We really have one.


“Yes?” my wife said, her eyes little pools of sympathy.

“I’m allergic to Anglophiles.”

You could have heard a breadstick hit the richly-carpeted floor of the little boit de nuite (literally: “box of night”).

“Sweetie,” my wife said, her face a map of anguish.  “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because,” and here I was gasping for breath, “I know how much the little princess in you loves British royalty.  I’ve overcome my deep aversion to landed gentry and upper-class British twits and learned to live with you and your Lady Di-Prince Charles fruitcake tin, but . . . it’s hard.”

“Isn’t there something you can take for it?” Sally asked.  She’s a doctor, and thinks that Western medicine has a cure for everything.

“There’s no drug strong enough to counter-act the pervasive Anglophilia around here,” I said.  I tried not to be curt, but people have no idea what I go through every day.  “Channel 2”–our award-winning public TV station–“would have nothing but dead air to broadcast if it weren’t for tepid British dramas.”

“They never show any sports, that’s for sure,” Ted said.

“And if they did, it would be cricket,” I said.  There was a lump in my throat, and you could hear it in my voice.  “We fought a freaking war to rid ourselves of the dead hand of Albion . . .”

“Who’s Albion?” Sally asked.

“A poetic name for England, much used by William Blake.”

“I thought he was one of your jazz violists,” my wife said.

“You’re thinking of Al Biondi–different guy.”

“O-kay,” Claire said.  “Is that it?”

“That’s it for me,” I said as I dabbed at my eyes with my napkin.

“Excellent,” Claire said.  “Excusez-moi for a moment, I must speak to the owner.”  With that she turned and headed towards the maitre’d’s station, and returned with our host, a suave-looking man in a dinner jacket, tuxedo shirt and fake bow tie.

“Bon soir,” the man said.  “My name is Emile.  I am the proprietor.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said, not sensing any trouble.

“I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave,” he said.  I’d say I was speechless, but I found my tongue and palate and asked him “Why?”

“Because, my friend, you are all so–how you say–allergic, there is nothing on the menu we can serve you.”

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

“Blessing of the Pets” Turns Wild When Komodo Dragon Shows Up

NATICK, Mass.  St. Rocco’s Parish here is a survivor in an area of the state where Catholic churches have been closing or consolidating, and it is attention to “congregant service” that makes the difference, says its pastor, Father Greg Zwibeck.  “We try to have something for everyone,” he notes as he puts on his priestly vestments on a beautiful late August day.  “Sacraments for the devout, bingo for the elderly, fun events for the kids and requiem masses for the dead.”

“May you have a summer filled with love, fun and Liver Snaps.”

A favorite celebration for children once summer ends is an annual “Blessing of the Pets,” which gives kids the chance to introduce their furry, feathered and finned friends to the mysterious but entertaining rituals of the Roman Catholic Church, which have been a source of solace for followers of the faith since it was founded in the year zero by Jesus Christ.  “Holy Water is a great way to lower a dog’s dangerously high temperature in the summertime,” says Sister Carmelo Anthony, the principal of the parish school.  “As long as the kids don’t load up their Supersoakers with it, everybody has a good time.”

But the happy atmosphere of the festive event this year is broken by the presence of Doug Schief, a local slacker who still lives in the basement of his parents’ home after dropping out of the University of Massachusetts-Seekonk.  Schief is older than any of the other pet-owners present today, the result of an oversight in the church’s bulletin last Sunday, which neglected to set an age limit for participants.

“C’mon Sparky, let’s go say high to the toy poodle over there!”

“I’ve been droppin’ money in the collection box since I was six,” the 24-year-old says as he tugs on the leash of “Sparky,” his 140-pound Komodo Dragon, a member of the monitor lizard family.  “I have more right to be here than some punk who just had his First Holy Communion.”

Father Zwibeck gives Schief a dirty look as the unemployed film major lines up behind little Amanda Clesko, who has brought her pet tabby cat “Miss Kitty” to receive the animal sacrament.

“Sparky’s fun to ride!”

“Does your cat like to be sprinkled with water?” Schief asks the little girl.

“No, but I’m responsible for saving her soul,” Amanda replies as she pokes her finger in the screen of a plastic pet carrier, trying to calm the agitated feline who is upset by the barking of the many dogs assembled in the church’s parking lot.

“Why don’t you let her out for a little while,” Schief says helpfully.  “Cats hate to be cooped up.”

“I think I will,” Amanda says.  “It’s almost her turn.”  With that, the little girl unlatches the wire cage door, ties a long piece of yarn around the cat’s neck and shuffles forward to prevent Ronnie Glascup from cutting in front of her.

“See,” Schief says to Amanda.  “She’s not so cranky anymore.”

The little girl bends down to pet her pet, then shields her eyes to see why the line’s not moving.  “I hope Father Greg isn’t going to bless every one of Mary Pat Feltenthime’s guppies!” she groans.

“Me neither,” says Schief, who seems to be bonding with the little girl.  “If you’re hungry, I can give you some money for a snow-cone for you and Miss Kitty,” he says.

“Umm–Fish ‘n Berry flavor!”


“Sure,” Schief says as he takes out a five dollar bill and hands it to the girl.

“Gee, thanks, Mister!” Amanda says.  “Will you hold my cat while I go?”

“No problem!” Schief says and the girl turns and heads across the parking lot to where an ice cream truck is parked.

“They’re so cute at that age,” Schief says to this reporter as he watches the girl run to get her cool treats.

“You’re next,” Father Greg says to Schief with a scowl as he finishes up with the owner of a cockatoo.  “What do we have here?”

“This is my komodo dragon Sparky and this . . .” says Schief as he looks down at the yarn leash.  “Now where the heck did that cat go?”

Boys State Adds Philandering to Summer Leadership Program

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio.  In an effort to keep pace with current trends in American government, Boys State, the national summer leadership program for high school students, this summer has added a philandering component to its roster of activities.

Clinton and Kennedy:  “Angie Dickinson and Marilyn Monroe?  Wow!”

“We have a lot of young men who want to enter public service out of a sense of compassion,” said American Legion Regional Director Thurston Van der Wall.  “Other boys are called to government by the freely-available nookie.”

The ranks of politicians who cheat on their wives are a model of bi-partisanship, with big names from the Democratic Party such as Bill Clinton and John Edwards and Republican eminences including Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  “I don’t know if I’d call it a trend,” said Allen Griswold, an on-line columnist for  “More like a tsunami.”

Boys State and its female counterpart Girls State are summer leadership programs sponsored by The American Legion and its female auxiliary in each U.S. state.  A mock legislature of students who have completed their junior year in high school meets to debate bills, accept payments from lobbyists and lose their virginity to mock interns.

Boys State alumni Mike Huckabee:  “In my free time I made a gimp lanyard–there were no mock interns back then.” 

A number of distinguished politicians have participated in the program, including former Arkansas governors Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton, who was photographed with then-President John Kennedy at his session.  “I only hope I can carry on your tradition, Mr. President,” Clinton is reported to have said, “and I’m not talking about lower marginal tax rates.”

Beauty Secrets of 20th Century British Philosophers

In 1941, philosopher Bertrand Russell was paid $50 for an article by Glamour magazine.

Intellectuals, Paul Johnson


THE logic which occupies Part I of the present work has been constructed under the guidance of three different aesthetic purposes. In the first place, it aims to bring out the inner you that’s just waiting to explode with a total philosophical makeover! In the second place, it is framed with a view to your personal face shape, which determines the hairstyle, sunglasses and eyebrows that are right for you. In the third place, the system defines the 10 Things Women Do That Drive Guys Crazy!

(. . .)

In spite of the fact that eyebrows are theoretically superfluous, it is nonetheless true that, when considered as a whole, they often convey more important information than is expressed by the sum of the hairs taken individually. Thick, Brooke Shields-esque brows can be maintained with Occam’s Razor—the simplest solution is the best!—reducing the number of trips you need to make to your waxer or plucker.

(. . .)

The statement “You are as big as a whale” is true but falsifiable if you take these simple steps to accentuate your cheekbones. Swirl mauve blush onto a darker foundation of nihilism, then highlight with an apercu by a French philosophe. Remember Plato’s cave–most people can’t tell the difference between reality and something else!

* * *


Cosmo’s Guide to a Romantic Dinner for Two


J.L. Austin

Planning a dinner party or other important social occasion? As I wrote in my essay “Pretending”, when entertaining someone “special” it is considered vulgar to pretend to be vulgar, even though one is pretending and may not actually be vulgar. Thus, it is no excuse on such an occasion that you are imitating a former boyfriend when you remove a wad of pork gristle from your cheek while saying “This is ‘zackly how my ex Darrell used to take food out of his mouth!”

* * *

This Month in Redbook: Keep Your Man Crazy in Love the Logical Positivist way!

by A.J. Ayer

I am often asked, “What is logical positivism and how can it help me have a more fulfilling love life?” I respond that the central principal of logical positivism is that no relationship exists unless there is a verifiable basis by which you can determine that your potential new boyfriend has dropped the woman he was previously dating. If, for example, a young man regularly asks you out on Friday nights, but is curiously unavailable on Saturdays, there is no cognitively meaningful grounds upon which one can make the statement ”Floyd is all mine now, he dropped that back-combed bimbo he used to date.”

* * *

Ask Dr. Wittgenstein, a Marie Claire Exclusive

Dear Dr. Wittgenstein:

In your column last month you said many conventional philosophical problems are “meaningless wordplay.” I was at the bottom of the page where you said “What is Truth?” was one such problem, but I was in the beauty shop and it was time for my rinse and when I came back from the sink some other girl had taken my copy of Marie Clare! I’m going out on a second date tonight with a guy I really like and could use a few more examples if you have any.


Mary Beth Patrick, Seekonk MA

Dear Mary Beth:

There are a number of philosophical problems of this sort which can be used as “icebreakers” when conversation lags or to get someone else talking when you feel a burp coming on. I like “What’s reality done for you lately?” and “Have you seen Truth? She’s like totally changed her look!” If you need to fend off an importunate attempt to “cop a feel,” try “If p follows from q, I can make an inference from q to p, deduce p from q, so mind your p’s and q’s, buster!”

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

Feds: Office “Bump Drafting” is Sexual Harassment

WASHINGTON, D.C.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has announced guidelines that address a growing source of workplace conflict–”bump drafting” by male NASCAR fans of female co-workers.

“We’re on the case,” said Assistant Commissioner Eleanor Mangel-Wurzel to reporters gathered for a briefing at Commission headquarters.  “No woman should be forced to endure high-speed contact on her way to the copy machine.”

“Gene Ray, I don’t want to talk to you now.  Or ever.”

“Bump drafting” is used by drivers at NASCAR “super speedways” such as Daytona Beach and Talladega.  Horsepower-choking restrictor plates on carburetors at such tracks keep speeds down, and drivers bump cars in front of them to maintain momentum in straightaways.

“No I was not trying to pass you, Veneta.”

“I didn’t think what I was doing was wrong,” said Gene Ray Vaughn, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan from Knob Noster, Mo.  “Veneta Hicks was taking her own sweet time in the cafeteria line and I just sorta nudged her past the puddings and jello parfaits with a bump to the rear.”

Salisbury Steak:  The yellow “caution” flag is out.

As a result of Vaughn’s contact, both he and Ms. Hicks were able to accelerate past other workers clustered around greasy Salisbury steak and American chop suey entrees.  “There was an oil slick there that was really treacherous,” Vaughn said, using a vocab word he had picked up at State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo.

State Fair Community College: Go Roadrunners!

The EEOC regulations, which will appear at 29 CFR 1605, prohibit all bump drafting, regardless of sexual intent.  Hicks, a claims processor for an auto insurance company, applauded the move.  “Gene Ray has had his eye on me ever since high school.  If he wants to touch me he’s got to at least buy me dinner, and he throws nickels around like they’re bales of hay.”

In a candid moment, Vaughn admitted that his bump was motivated by more than a desire for speed. ”You ever watched Veneta’s hips when she walks down the hall in a tight skirt?” he asked this reporter.  “It looks like two hogs fightin’ under a sheet.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “From NASCAR to NPR.”

Deep Space Telescope Reveals Stanley Cup Finals Underway

DELAWARE, Ohio.  Scientists at Ohio Wesleyan University, home of “The Big Ear” radio telescope, reported today that they have detected signals from a distant galaxy indicating that the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup finals are underway, with teams from the states of Florida and Colorado competing.

The Big Ear radio telescope

“We were channel-surfing and stopped at the Fishing Channel while we went out for a six-pack of Old Milwaukee,” said astrophysicist Emile Nugent.  “When we got back from the liquor store the Bass Master 100 Challenge was over and there were a bunch of people skating around, without sequins.”

The Stanley Cup is the championship trophy of the National Hockey League, a professional sports league that was determined to be irrelevant following a 310-day labor dispute in 2004-05.  Since it resumed play, the league has struggled to attract fans and viewers, often falling behind curling, snake hunt tournaments and “strong woman” competitions in ratings.

“I could break Sidney Crosby in two and beat Zdeno Chara with the bloody stumps!”

The astronomers reported that teams involved in this year’s playoffs include the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a claim that was met with skepticism by advertising agencies.  “Tampa is in Florida where the only ice is in the drinks,” said Miles McConnachie of Brands+Impact LLC.  “And Colorado is not part of Canada.”

The signals bearing the Stanley Cup broadcast are believed to originate in the THX 1138 spiral galaxy, where broadcast time is cheaper than on American cable channels.

Transmission difficulty:  Do not adjust your television set.

“We make most of our money on infomercials and religious programming,” said station manager Glorp “Buddy” X21173.  “It’s nice to have something besides the Ab Blaster and Holy Rollers to watch on the monitors.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Space is the Place.”

Notarizing the World’s Largest Malted Milk Ball

In 1977, the creator of the world’s largest malted milk ball had it notarized.

The Boston Globe

I have to admit, many years after the fact, my mom was wrong.

“Get your notary license, it’s a good sideline,” she said.  “You’ll never be out of work.  There’s too many dishonest people in the world, you can’t trust anybody anymore.  That’s why notaries will never go out of style.”

Ha–fat chance.  Last time I proposed to my long-time, on and off girlfriend Cynthia DeMasio, she said no way.  “Not until you get a real job,” she said.  “Being a notary public you just have delusions of grandeur.”

But what delusions they are!  Maybe I can’t officiate at wedding ceremonies, like snooty justices of the peace, but taking acknowledgments on real estate documents?  Authenticating signatures on affidavits?  Notaries are still your best bet, and at $2 a signature, you can’t beat our everyday low prices!

“Look out!  They’re gaining on us!”


What my mom had no way of foreseeing was the revolution in technology that now permits people to sign documents electronically!  No need for the face-to-face, “sit-down” closing.  Your mark–whether it’s a simple “X” or a roccoco “John Hancock” is good even though signed miles away.

At the same time, there has been a precipitious decline in notarial ethics; notaries who take acknowledgments over the phone with a wink that no one at the other end of the line can see.  Notaries who “witness” signatures they’ve never seen, but have merely heard about, depending on the so-called “hearsay” exception.  Talk about bending the rules to the breaking point!

“Can’t stay . . . awake.  Blog post . . . boring.”

I decide I might as well take a nap since the notary profession seems to be in such a deep depression, when my cellphone buzzes.  I look at the screen, see a number I don’t recognize, but decide to answer it any way.  In the immortal words of Roy Cohn, closeted gay Republican lawyer and assistant to Senator Joseph McCarthy, “Pick up the phone–it might be business.”

Roy Cohn


“Hullo,” I answer drearily.  How would you answer if your last notarial assignment was a retail installment sales contract–three months ago?

“Hello, I’m looking for a notary public–are you available?”

Thank God my phone is a cordless model, otherwise I might have choked myself lunging with excitement.  “Twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week!” I say breathlessly.  “What kind of job is it?”

“A record-breaking piece of candy.”

I review in my mind all the phone gags of my youth: Is your refrigerator running?  Do you have Sir Walter Raleigh in a can?  Nope–nothing registers.

“Well, why don’t you let him out?”


“I . . . uh . . . might have to charge a premium for such an unusual request.”

“That’s okay–this is my only shot at getting in the Guiness Book of World Records.”

“Where are you?”

“Over at the Whoppers plant, in Canton.”

“I know it well.”  Only too well, as I have been known to ingest an entire Whoppers theatre-size box of the the flavorful treats before the previews are over at the Framingham 14 Megaplex, thereby bringing on a near-fatal case of the hiccups.  “I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

I grab Dulcie, my pet lamb, and put her in the front seat of my 2006 Pontiac Torrent.  “You can shake it once on the drive, but save the second one for when we pull in the driveway.”

“Bah,” she says.  “I was hoping to catch Antique Roadshow this afternoon.”  She’s so wooly-headed–she watches PBS all the time.

I head out to Route 128, America’s Technology Highway, then south to Canton, hoping to make it before this plum assignment gets scarfed up by somebody else in the high-powered stamp-eat-stamp world of notarization.  Because my notarial income has been flat for the past two decades, I don’t have access to GPS and must find my way by sight to the job, with Dulcie riding “shotgun” as she navigates.

“Would you hurry the fuck up?”


“Turn off here,” she says sharply as we reach Route 138.

“Are you sure?”

“You’re asking me?” she asks, rhetorically and incredulous.  “You couldn’t find your way out of a Barnes & Noble bag if there were instructions on the sales slip.”

“Okay, maybe I am a little introverted,” I say.

“Now a left,” Dulcie says, and I see what has to be the world’s largest malted milk ball, sitting in the driveway of a modest split-level.  Not my tastes, but . . .

“The guy’s waiting,” Dulcie snaps.  “You can’t sit there woolgathering with an interior monologue!”

I get out, grab my notary bag, and approach a man who is throwing sandbags around the base of the giant confection in the apparent hope of stabilizing it.

“Glad you could make it,” he says.  “All the other notaries were busy.”

“It’s student loan application season,” I say, removing my stamp and seal.

“What’s with the sheep?” he asks.

“I need two witnesses, at least one of whom must be disinterested.”

“And believe me,” Dulcie says, “nobody could be less interested in your bloated malted milk ball than me.”

“You’re thinking of ‘uninterested,'” I say, parsing a fine point of notarial jurisprudence for her.  “‘Disinterested’ means you have no prospect of financial gain from your service, ‘uninterested’ means . . .”

“Would you cut the palaver?” the man says.  “There could be malted milk ball makers in parts unknown who are gaining on me.”

“Fine,” I say, and ask him to raise his right hand.  “Do you solemnly swear that this giant malted milk ball is solely the product of your efforts?”

“I do.”

“That it was made entirely of fresh, natural ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, malted milk, whey . . .”

“Like Little Miss Muffet, who sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey?” Dulcie interjects.

“On the nosey,” I reply, and return to the grave and solemn act of authentication.  “Along with 2% or less of really weird-sounding stuff like tapioca dextrin, resinous glaze, sorbitan tristearate and soy lecithin.”

“Soy isn’t so bad.”  It’s Dulcie again.

“Nothing in there I wouldn’t eat myself,” the man says.

“And is this your free act and deed?” I ask.

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” the man asks.

“That nobody’s making you do this,” Dulcie says.  “It’s part of the routine.”

“Of course not,” the man replies.  “Is it official now?”

“You didn’t say ‘yes’ yet,” I remind him.

“Freaking Mother-May-I . . . YES!” he nearly screams.  “I’m gonna be in the Guiness Book!”  The guy’s ecstatic, and as I look around at the pathetic life he’s living–aluminum siding on the house, cracking driveway, kid’s “Big Wheels” car in the yard–I can understand why.

“How much do I owe you?” he asks.

“Let’s see,” I say, taking out my price chart. “There’s usually 18 pieces in a 1.75 ounce package.  That’s, uh, 162 pieces in a pound, that thing’s got to weigh 500 pounds . . .”

“Easy,” says Dulcie.

“So, it would be $2 for a regular malted milk ball, 2 times 500 times 162 equals–$162,000.

“What?  That’s highway robbery!”

“Hey–you want your place in history or not?”

The guy stops and thinks a moment.  “I got a better idea,” he says.

“What?” I ask.  You learn to be skeptical as a person whose job it is to take sworn statements that can literally mean the difference between recording a condominium smoke detector certificate–or not.

“I’ll give you $3 and a free box of malted milk balls.”


Investors Score With CEO Mother-in-Law Death Bets

GREENWICH, Conn.  This town is home to some of America’s most successful hedge fund managers, whose palatial mansions recall the robber barons of the Gilded Age.  “It’s not enough to just have a helipad anymore,” says local real estate broker Marci Adams.  “You really need your own landing strip if you’re going to be able to show your face in public.”

Helipad:  So last year.


But the men who make big bets with borrowed money that can bring them nine-figure annual incomes are focusing on slower means of transportation these days; wheelchairs and walkers used by the mothers-in-law of CEO’s at the companies they stalk.

“The most important metric we look at before we make an investment is–when is the old bat finally going to kick off?” says David Halperin, whose Metamorphosis Fund has produced gains of 21% for investors over the past three years.

“Once the EKG of the M-I-L declines to zero, profits soar.”


The new–some would say morbid–strategy comes on the heels of a study that indicates a company’s stock is likely to fall after the death of a CEO’s wife or child, but rise after the death of a mother-in-law.  “It’s uncanny, when you think about it,” says Fordham University business professor Daniel Ferrone.  “They’re all human beings, and yet for some reason the death of one type of family member uniformly brings a tremendous upsurge in a guy’s sense of well-being.”

Ernie K-Doe's Mother-in-Law Lounge - New Orleans Music Map
Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge


The strained relationships between men and their mothers-in-law has been a staple of popular culture throughout the ages, ranging from Hubert Humphrey’s quip that “behind every successful man is a proud wife and a surprised mother-in-law,” to Ernie K-Doe’s 1961 R&B hit “Mother-in-Law,” whose lyrics include the put-down “She thinks her advice is a contribution, if she would leave that would be the solution.”

“She’s fallen and she can’t get up–buy Infotronics!”


But it took a former rocket-science arbitrageur to figure out how to turn that folklore into trading profits, as Halperin hired young MBA’s fresh out of business school to make daily calls to assisted living centers to monitor the health of CEO mothers-in-law.  “You wouldn’t buy a car without kicking the tires,” he says.  “I’m not going to plunk down $100 million for a minority stake in a company until I know what kind of wheels the mother-in-law’s got on her.”

“That nice young man with the iPad keeps asking about my health.”


Some say the practice of tracking the elderly women represents an invasion of privacy, but lightly-regulated hedge funds operate free from many of the disclosure rules that public investment vehicles face.  “Anybody could follow these women into the grocery store if they just took the time,” says Halperin.  “If I notice that the mother-in-law has stopped buying green bananas, I know she’s hit the homestretch.”

On Dylan’s Birthday, Appliance Dealers Ask “What If?”

HIBBING, Minnesota.  As tributes marking Bob Dylan’s 81st birthday appeared in the national news yesterday, word spread around this town of 17,000 in northeastern Minnesota that its most famous local musician was being celebrated for his longevity and not, for once, his creativity.  What did he think of the milestone, this reporter asks Al Sklarski, a shift supervisor at a local iron mine.  “You mean Gary Puckett?  I used to love that song of his, what was it–‘Lady Willpower’?”


When informed that the subject of the profiles was Bob Dylan, the world-renowned singer-songwriter, Sklarski drew a blank.  “Never heard of him,” he said as he took off in his pick-up truck.

The confusion stems from the fact that when Dylan left Hibbing at the age of 18 he was known as Bobby Zimmerman, son of a local appliance store owner.  Dylan changed his name after moving to New York City, and skyrocketed to fame when the folk themes and styles he revived found a new audience among college protestors in the 1960’s.

Dylan, ne Zimmerman

But others in this town recall Zimmerman/Dylan with a mixture of pride and regret.  “He could have been one of the great ones,” says Mike O’Dwyer, owner of O’Dwyer Appliances.  “He could’ve become manager of his dad’s appliance store and done real well for himself.  Instead, he took the easy way out and became a Nobel Prize winner.”

Dylan got his start singing at “Sidewalk Days” promotions for his father’s store, which handled several major “white goods” brands including Maytag and Frigidaire.  An early attempt to capture the discontent of the fifties was his “Dryin’ in the Wind,” about the superior quality of a stackable, front-loading Amana washer/dryer:

How may loads can one dryer dry
Before its motor conks out?
Where do you get the best appliance deals–
At Zimmerman’s, there’s no doubt.

Competition was intense among aspiring folk singers in the late 50s and early 60s, but Dylan outpaced others with his gift for wrapping political commentary in powerful lyrical images.  “A lot of people thought Phil Ochs would emerge as the voice of that generation,” says Arnie Welstead, former editor of Folksong! magazine.  “Where Phil went wrong was he was tough on warranty claims if your ‘big ticket’ item broke.”

Image result for phil ochs
Phil Ochs:  “If only I’d had Dylan’s background in gas and electric ranges.”

In addition to Dylan and Puckett, Hibbing was home to Kevin McHale, forward for the Boston Celtics and later coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the professional basketball team, not the carnivorous predators.  The local Chamber of Commerce here has invited the three famous sons to a “Celebration of Hibbing” tentatively scheduled for October of this year when Puckett will turn 80.  When asked if he would attend, Dylan, a reclusive artist known for his obscure lyrics, replied in a cryptic email “What time is the Early Bird Special at Applebee’s?”