The Online Home of Jeff Grimshaw's 2005 Humor Columns

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I would like everybody to stop putting up big inflatable Christmas figures on their lawns. Especially big inflatable Christmas figures with lights inside them. They’ve been around for a couple of years now, but in the past you’d just see one or two in the course of a ten-minute drive, and now they’re all over the place. They give me the creeps. And the more jolly, happy, and festive-looking these things are supposed to be, the creepier they actually are. In the daytime they just look silly but once the sun goes down, it’s a whole different story. Brrr!

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. "What a little wussy-boy, scared by a big balloon," right? Wrong. That’s only what you THINK you’re thinking. What you’re really thinking is, "Wow! I’m glad this humor columnist—and of course he’s more than just a humor columnist, much MUCH more—had the guts to say out loud what folks like me are too doggone frightened even to admit to ourselves. Thank goodness someone is finally addressing this issue! "

Hey, you’re welcome.

You know and I know that these big inflatable Santas and Frostys are the most disturbing things we’ve ever seen. You could have a guy with a hockey mask and a meat clever skulking around on your front lawn and I’d snicker. But you stick an eight-foot tall Santa-shaped balloon out there and I am seriously weirded out.

It’s a lot like clowns. Everybody knows they’re really scary. I mean, in a circus, they’re fine, don’t get me wrong. Nobody likes a good clown act more than I do. You get 25 of them climbing out of a Volkswagen and I’m laughing so hard the tears are running down my cheeks. But put just one of them in my closet laughing maniacally and I totally lose it. HE DOESN’T BELONG THERE. I thought I lived in a world where there are no clowns in my closet, and whoops! there he is. This means that suddenly, everything I thought I knew about the world was wrong. Even before he fires up the chain saw and starts chasing me through the house, and of course he’s already locked all the doors from the outside. I HATE clowns.

Now, I don’t hate 8-foot Santa balloons. But I fear them, as do all normal people.

Question: What kind of people want to have an eight-foot tall Santa Claus on the front lawn, lit from below in the most sinister way imaginable? Odd people? Crazy People? STARK RAVING INSANE POSSIBLY CANNIBAL PEOPLE?

Answer: Likely. VERY likely. But ultimately the issue isn’t the people who put the 8-foot Santa balloons on the lawn. It’s the 8-foot Santa balloons themselves.

Here’s the thing about an inflatable 8-foot Santa: It’s WRONG, just like that clown in your closet. Santa isn’t that tall. This is something else, something that looks like Santa but obviously isn’t. But it went through a lot of trouble to look like Santa, didn’t it? Why? What’s it up to? Why is it just standing there on the lawn with that homicidal grin plastered on its face? Was it holding its arm up like that a couple of minutes ago? Wasn’t it looking the other way?? And hey, what happened to the paper boy? Did he really just "run away" or did something... else happen?

You know that movie, "The Thing," the one with Kurt Russell? There’s this alien monster that can assume any shape. It can look exactly like a dog, or like the guy sitting to your left. I think it’s safe to say that no one can look at one of those 8 foot Santas without thinking about that movie.

Question: Do I really think these stupid balloons are actually alien monsters that move when I’m not looking at them?

Answer: I see no reason to take chances here. And I’m not limiting this to Santa. As frightening as the big inflatable Santas are, nothing is a frightening as the big inflatable Spongebob-wearing-a-Santa-hat-and-sitting-on-a-giant-snowball. I don’t want to be driving through the Hunterdon County woods and go around a bend and see that.

So what is to be done about this? Am I suggesting some sort of vigilantism? I am not. First of all, this paper carries the address and phone numbers of our elected representatives, usually on the editorial page someplace. Look around. They need to be alerted to this situation. They also need to be altered to that radio station where they’re always playing two Led Zeppelin songs in a row, like they’re doing us this big freaking favor. Anyway, write your representative and your senators and let them know how disturbed you are by these inflatable Santas. (In fact, we have a brand NEW Senator and you should probably just pick up the phone and call him). Suggest possible fines and (substantial!) jail terms for people who keep putting them up year after year. They’re your representatives and they WANT to hear from you.

Up on the Roof

Shortly before Christmas the year that we all turned 11, Picarillo, Calvano and I were in Calvano’s basement tuning the portable TV. Calvano’s older brother Duff had taken up residence in the basement during the summer and had slowly been adding various tokens of civilization, such as black light posters, muscle magazines, and of course the portable black & white television set. He’d run the flat brown antenna wire out the casement window and up the side of the house to his very own antenna, which was attached to the same chimney as the antenna that delivered the broadcast signals to the big new family color set in the living room. Whenever the wind moved either antenna, the image on both sets would break up. The images would also break up if the wind stirred Duff’s antenna wire, which was secured to an aluminum rainspout with two staples placed roughly 40 feet apart. Mrs. Calvano was terrified of the antenna wire. She was sure some day if would break lose and wrap itself around somebody’s neck and she’d come home from the grocery store to find the strangled, electrocuted corpse of some neighborhood toddler dangling from the roof. That very thing, she told us, had happened—on the front page of the National Enquirer, no less! —just a couple of years earlier. Although in that case it hadn’t been an antenna wire, exactly, it had been a downed power line, and the unfortunate neighborhood toddler had been a drunken streetcar conductor in Manila. But still...

But still, Calvano and Picarillo and I were in the basement trying to get a decent picture on Duff’s TV because there was an Aztec mummy movie on, and we were having no success. For some reason, Aztec mummy movies were only shown on TV (in our area, anyway) around Christmas time. We loved Mexican monster movies, and particularly Mexican Aztec mummy movies. The Aztec mummies looked much funkier than the Egyptian variety favored by Hollywood. Also, the Aztec mummies sometimes turned out to be Aztec WEREWOLF mummies. We would find this out when an Aztec mummy was pursuing the movie’s heroine, and the moon would rise, and suddenly the Aztec mummy would have a snout. It wouldn’t move any faster, it would just have a snout. It made no difference to the story at all. It was just a snout for snout’s sake. American werewolves wouldn’t have snouts for another 15 years. But at that moment the picture was so poor we couldn’t tell whether the vague blur of visual static on the screen had a snout or not.

We found that if Picarillo picked up the slack in the antenna wire by holding it out at arm’s length a foot or so away from the casement window, we could at least hear the audio. Picarillo didn’t think this was a good enough trade off to justify standing that way for 90 minutes, so he let the wire drop. We continued playing with the fine tuning knob and the rabbit ears atop the set, to no discernible effect. We were unaware that the picture was more scrambled than usual because Mr. Calvano was up on the roof, stringing Christmas lights, and he had Duff’s antenna wire wrapped around one of his ankles.

"Boys!" cried Mrs. Calvano. "Come up! Cookies!"

Mrs. Calvano had been baking Christmas cookies all afternoon and we had been dreading this moment.

For the better part of two years, we’d been arguing about which of our mothers was the worst cook. I maintained—proudly, of course—that my mother was not only the worst cook in town but possibly on the planet. She once boiled away all the water in a pot full of pasta and burned the pasta so badly she had to throw away the pot. Can you top that, anybody?

Nobody could. But when it came to bad Christmas cookies, even I had to admit that Mrs. Calvano was the gold standard. They weren’t burnt—the most common Christmas cookie mishap. After all, even a decent cook can leave the cookie pan in the oven a few minutes too long. Mrs. Calvano’s cookies were never burnt. They were just unspeakably foul. They smelled fine while they were baking, but something horrible happened before they got to the big Christmas plate, perhaps something like the gruesome transporter malfunction in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture."

"Help yourselves, boys, but save some for Mr. Calvano. He’s up on the roof, making the house Christmassy!"

"Gosh, mom," said Calvano, "He deserves ALL the cookies!"

"Well, aren’t you the sweetest," said Mrs. Calvano.

"We should bring ‘em up there now. He’s up in the wind and all, and he needs some calories if he’s gonna keep warm. Some delicious calories!"

"Now you be careful on that ladder," she said. Mrs. Calvano transferred the cookies to a Tupperware container and Calvano put on his mittens.

There’s a lot of disagreement as to precisely what transpired up on the roof in the next few minutes. Mr. Calvano said he slipped and accidentally dislodged Duff’s antenna; Calvano told us that his father was so terrified of the cookies that he screamed "Nnhhggg! Nnhhgg!" and tried to kick the Tupperware container away, not realizing the wire was wrapped around his ankle. Duff said that his father had gone up with the sole intention of getting rid of the extra antenna, because otherwise he would have made Duff put up the lights. Mr. Calvano said that was absurd and that he would never have let Duff put up the lights because Duff would have spelled out swear words with them.

But there’s no disputing that the extra antenna did not survive the afternoon, and that Mr. Calvano was therefore able to enjoy the Giants-Packers game the following afternoon via the clearest picture the TV had displayed in nearly 6 months.

We never found out whether the Aztec mummy was also a werewolf or not. The cookies were scattered all over the yard, where they remained well into the spring. Not even the squirrels would take a chance on Mrs. Calvano’s cookies.



"Hey," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams. "I got an idea." His face was grotesquely scrunched up, as it always was when there was an idea forming in his cortex. Thinking was a painful process for him, like passing a kidney stone.

He was staring at the radiator, which happened not to be radiating at the moment. That was because last week Mulberry Street Joey Clams snapped off the valve that regulated the heat. We used a wrench to open and close it for a couple of days, until he stripped the thread. Now it was closed forever. It was basically a radiator-shaped piece of art.

I was hoping that Mulberry Street Joey Calms’ idea would concern getting the Custom Neon Sign Shop warm. I was hoping it would make sense, as well, but I was to be disappointed on both counts. "The radiator looks like a giant pasta," he said finally. "See, it’s got all these loops and stuff? And what do letters have?"

I was silent.

"They got loops and stuff!" he cried. "Same as the pasta. We could make NEON PASTAS for people!"

"Well, we could make some neon pastas," I conceded. "Radiatore is all loops and bends, but if somebody wanted bowties, they’d be out of luck."

"I disagree," he said, poking me in the chest with a finger. "A bow tie is two "A"s joined together at the skull, like that monkey skeleton we seen at the Chinatown Museum."


"Which kind of monkey do you think is rarer, any idea? The ones like the skeleton at the Chinatown Museum where you got two bodies kinda glued together at the skull, or the kind with two heads on one body?"

"I don’t really know..."

"The kinds with two bodies, they’d drive each other crazy trying to swing through the trees, you know? One grabs THIS vine, and one grabs THAT vine, and nothing happens. And then they’d be lookin’ at each other and doin’ that jabber jabber talk. You ever notice that when monkeys talk it always sounds like they’re swearing?"

"Not really."

"Fact. But forget the monkey stuff for a minute. You know what the greatest thing about neon pasta is?"

I did not.

"There’s no spelling!"

I sighed. Mulberry Street Joey Clams thought that the hardest thing about constructing neon signs was making sure they were spelled correctly.

I didn’t think that spelling was much of a problem with our signs. They were usually spelled correctly. They just didn’t work when you plugged them in. Sometimes they blew up.

But unusual things often impressed Mulberry Street Joey Clams. One afternoon we turned on Channel 13 (because "The Bold and the Beautiful" had been pre-empted by some sort of press conference) and watched Pavarotti singing a program of arias by Verde and Donizetti. When it was over, Mulberry Street Joey Clams said, "Wow. Imagine having to remember all those words!"

But I digress.

"Mulberry Street Joey Clams," I said, "Not only is there no spelling, there’s no market. Nobody wants neon pastas."

"You don’t know that."

"Well, why would they?"

"Well, why wouldn’t they? Hey! We could use the neon pasta to HEAT this place!"

"No, we couldn’t," I said.


"Mulberry Street Joey Clams, we’ve been making neon signs for 10 months. You never realized they don’t give off much heat? It would be like heating the place with a transistor radio. But then, why would you realize they don’t give off much heat? They blow up before you can get close enough to find out."

"Okay. But. If we could get the neon signs HOTTER, we could heat the place. Right?"

"You mean if we invented some new kind of neon sign that gave off heat instead of light? Sure. Why not."

"All right then!"

"Of course so far we haven’t even had a lot of success making normal neon signs..."

"Well, maybe that’s been the whole problem."

"I think the whole problem has been that the signs blow up."

"Nah, nah, you’re thinkin’ like a loser."

"It’s a miracle I can think at all in this temperature. I can see my breath. What is it, like 35 degrees in here?"

"All right! All right! I’m gonna go out and get a heater! They got them at the hardware store." He started counting out bills from the petty cash drawer.

"Don’t get one of those kerosene heaters. We’d have to keep buying kerosene, and we’d probably burn the place down again." He stiffened. Mulberry Street Joey Clams had burned down the place—or anyway gutted it—over the summer by replacing all the fuses in the fuse box with pennies and then plugging in about a dozen more appliances than the current could handle. It was something of a sore subject with him. I pressed on. "Get one of the heaters you plug in, that goes on the floor and it’s shaped kind of like a fan."

"This gonna run more than twenty bucks?"

"I don’t think so." Indeed, when Mulberry Street Joey Clams returned 45 minutes later, he announced:

"Twelve bucks!"

"Excellent," I said.

He removed the device from the box.

"Mulberry Street Joey Clams, this is a fan."

"That’s what you said to get!"

"I said get a fan-shaped radiator. Why would I tell you to get a fan? We got two fans!" This was true. We cooled ourselves off during the dog days of August with a couple of fans almost identical to the one he’d just scored.

"Well... we could take it back..."


"I’m not takin’ it back! They’d think I was a moron."

"No, they think you’re a moron now, buying a fan when it’s 20 degrees out. You’ll actually go up in their opinion if you return it."

"Stop thinking like a loser. This is an opportunity!"


"We’re sitting here trying to figure out how to get the heat outta the neon sign and into the room, right? Wah-Lah!" He placed the fan behind a (miraculously) functional sign we’d made—‘Happy Birthday Augie’—and clicked it on. "This’ll blow the heat all over the room. Watch."

"All I’m feeling is a cold breeze."

Mulberry Street Joey Clams parked himself in the path of the neon-enhanced air current. "I think I’m feeling something."


"Give it time," he said. "Anyway, winter’s gonna be over soon."

"It’s December 15th, Mulberry Street Joey Clams. Winter doesn’t even start for another week."

His hair was waving in the breeze. "Warmin’ up," he shivered. "I can feel it."



I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know every single frame of "King Kong." I have a fairly clear memory of buying my first issue of "Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine." It was number 11, published in September 1960, which means that I had just turned 5. And I bought it because I mistook the hairy gent on the cover for King Kong (It was actually the late Oliver Reed, totally wolfed out for his role in "Curse of the Werewolf"). But the point is, I was five years old and Kong and I were already old friends, notwithstanding the fact that I mistook Oliver Reed for him. I suspect that a lot of other people made that same mistake over the years.

I saw "Kong" at regular intervals well into adult hood; it’s a movie that grows up with you. When I was 14 and on the verge of losing interest in giant ape movies, I noticed for the first time that Fay Wray’s boob pops out of her dress in one scene (when she and Robert Armstrong bob to the surface of the water after Kong battles the pterodactyl). Yes, "King Kong" was just as riveting to Jeff the Healthy Adolescent as it had been to Jeff the Creepy Toddler.

There is probably no movie less in need of a remake than "King Kong," (except possibly "3-D Stewardesses") and yet people keep remaking it. It was remade in 1976 by Dino De Laurentiis, who not only produced it but went on the talk show circuit and insisted that his fiasco was way better than the crappy old black-and-white 1933 version. "The old-a one," he said in the most totally bogus Italian accent since Chico Marx, "was-a scary. Thees-a one is a LOAF story." And quite the loaf it was. At a cost of millions, he built a 60 foot mechanical ape that was used in one (1) scene for roughly five (5) seconds. The rest of the time Kong was a guy running around in a gorilla suit. As gorilla suits go it was top of the line, but King Kong is not a guy in a gorilla suit. Not ever. True, De Laurentiis partly redeemed himself 25 years later by producing "Hannibal," in which Anthony Hopkins eats Ray Liotta’s brain; but Anthony Hopkins will have to eat a lot of brains to make up for that abysmal 1976 "King Kong."

If you have a television set you are no doubt aware that there is a new "Kong" opening up any minute, and on the basis of the commercials I’m willing to concede that it’s almost certainly a huge improvement on the ’76 model. What I’m not willing to concede is that it needs to exist at all. The 1933 "Kong can not be improved upon.

At least that was my thinking until I stumbled across this paragraph by CNN’s Jonah Goldberg:

  • "Explain to me one thing. A bunch of explorers go to an island. They find a giant gorilla. That's cool. But they also find dinosaurs. They go crazy for the giant gorilla -- which is totally legit. But they're completely nonchalant about the dinosaurs. ‘Ho, hum, found a T-Rex zzzzzz.... But did you see that monkey!?!’"
  • Well. As noted, I’ve seen "Kong" scores of times, and each time I sat there totally absorbed in it, and never once in the past 45 years did this occur to me. It shook me. I’ve had to completely rethink my relationship with "Kong." Carl Denham and his crew encounter a whole bunch of dinosaurs. I can understand why they might be a little leery of attempting to capture a tyrannosaurus and then transport it 6000 miles across the Pacific. Remember that scene in some Chris Farley / David Spade movie where they stick a dead deer in the backseat of their car and then it turns out not to be dead? You don’t want that happening with a T-Rex. Fine. But if you’re looking to make some bucks on the exhibition circuit, a dead dinosaur (really dead) would certainly pull in plenty of paying customers, and you wouldn’t have the food bills you’d have with a 50-foot gorilla. Or the *ahem* clean-up problems. And not only does the crew kill a stegosaurus, Kong kills a whole bunch of dinosaurs including the tyrannosaurus. They’re just lying around waiting for somebody to drag them away. But nobody does.

    So if the new version addresses the issue of Why We Aren’t Bringing Back Any Dead Dinosaurs, all well and good. We shall see. (The ’76 version gets around this by not having any dinosaurs at all, just a big snake. Feh! Feh!) From the ads, it appears that the filmmakers have restored the giant spider sequence that was cut from the 1933 version, and again, I can’t help but approve. There is no movie, no matter how excellent, that wouldn’t be improved by the addition of a giant spider (with the possible exception of "3-D Stewardesses").

    And if the film proves to be a roaring success, perhaps it will convince the Powers That Be to revive a cherished tradition. For the first 30 years of my life, channel 9 in NYC would show "King Kong," "Son of Kong," and "Mighty Joe Young" every Thanksgiving. It wasn’t Thanksgiving without non-stop giant apes. Then, about 20 years ago they just stopped. The day they decided not to show ape movies on Thanksgiving any more is the day Western civilization officially went into the toilet. If this most sacred of all Thanksgiving traditions is brought back thanks to the new Kong, we will all owe it in incalculable debt.




    If, as you keep insisting, giblets are such a wonderful idea, why do they only come with turkeys? Why don’t the beef people throw in a bag of cow-type giblets whenever you buy a porterhouse? I would choose a steak over a turkey any time, and I imagine that goes giblet-wise as well.




    First of all, giblets are defined as ‘the visceral organs of a fowl.’ So the cow will not have any giblets, unless the cow had turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and kept the little bag. Second of all, even there was such a thing as cow giblets, you wouldn’t get them gratis with a porterhouse any more than you get them gratis with a package of chicken wings. You’d have to buy the whole cow. In the third place, they wouldn’t fit in a little paper sack. You would need at least a duffel bag and maybe even a set of luggage to haul them away. Believe me, no one is going to give you a free set of luggage just because you bought a porterhouse.



    Once again, the bag of giblets burst into flame while the turkey was cooking. Not only was the turkey scorched, but the stuffing was ruined and the little plastic thing that’s supposed to pop out when the turkey is done popped out three hours early and kind of melted all over the side of the turkey. Is there any way that I can prevent this from happening next year?




    One possibility: insist on a giblet bag made of non-flammable material, such as Pyrex™. Another possibility: remove the bag before putting the turkey in the oven. Although you don’t mention what happened to the giblets themselves, the Leftover Bag O’ Giblets Expert Guy infers that they were consumed in the blaze. Condolences.



    Here’s one all your readers can try at home. You know those little sacks of chocolate coins that kids get on their birthdays? I know I will always treasure the look on my sister’s face when she opened what she thought was a little bag of chocolate coins and found herself staring into a bag of giblets.




    Excellent suggestion, Bag. The Leftover Bag O’ Giblets Expert Guy never fails to marvel at how his readers continue to come up with great giblet-oriented games and activities. And here comes another one!




    Ah, a leftover bag of giblets—it’s like every turkey comes with it’s own "Fear Factor: The Home Game." But that’s not the only game in town. If your family is like my family, there’s no greater holiday treat for you than a rousing game of Monopoly that plays itself out over an entire evening—or even a weekend. But if your family is like my family, you’re always losing the little shoe or the top hat or the Scotty dog and you’ve got to make do with whatever tiny items happen to be at hand. Why not make sure that those tiny items are giblets? Seal them in polyurethane and paint them in festive colors—and then ditch that thimble and that stupid little shoe once and for all!



    I tried your idea of using giblets to spell out ‘Happy Birthday’ on top of the birthday cake and it didn’t go over too well. You might want to rethink this one.



    DEAR NO:

    We have received a great deal of feedback on this issue, and I regret to say that most of it, like yours, was negative. Morale here at Expert Guy HQ hasn’t been this low since the 1997 ‘Say It with Tripe’ debacle. Apparently some sorts of cake frosting are simply not compatible with giblets, and until we establish just which ones they are, we urge you not to attempt this project.

    We also thought about urging you to ignore our suggestion about using giblets for a pizza topping, but after due consideration we realized that it’s still no where near as gross as anchovies.



    Last week I explained the origin of my dread of visiting the "returns" department. To recap briefly, there were three factors. (1) Guys aren’t taught how to do it, so we don’t know. And since the only way to find out is to ask, we will never find out. This is related to our inborn inability to ask directions when lost (since this would mean clueing in some hick that we don’t know where we are and thereby putting him one up on us) or read instructions before attempting to assemble something (since this wastes valuable time that could be put to better use putting the object together incorrectly and taking it apart again, possibly multiple times). (2) The fear of looking like a dork for buying something that you are now returning. This applies even when returning something that’s defective. In fact, it applies even more strongly —what kind of a dork buys defective stuff? Some of us are so terrified of looking like a total dork that we spend all our time trying NOT to look like a total dork, which is an absolutely sure-fire way of signaling that you are a total dork. (3) We want to avoid the trauma of trying to return something and THEY REFUSE TO TAKE IT BACK. What is more pathetic than driving all the way to the mall with an ugly sweater and then driving all the way back home with it? Nothing. And this was a real fear when I was in my salad days. Now, of course, virtually every store in the world will accept returns for virtually any reason whatsoever unless you’ve set the thing on fire, but in 1973 "I hate it" was often considered an insufficient reason to give you your money back. In fact, "It doesn’t work" was often considered an insufficient reason to give you your money back.


    There is a fourth reason for my long-time reluctance to return stuff that I did not mention: I felt that if I returned something to the store, the Returns people wouldn’t like me. I never quite articulated it to myself like that until recently, and if someone had suggested such a thing I would have denied it with complete conviction, but it’s a fact. And worse: I apparently thought that if I DIDN’T return stuff, the folks in retail WOULD like me. This is even more pathetic. I was nearly 40 when I finally understood that everybody who has ever rung up a sale for me, or answered a question about a price, or even nodded a greeting as I walked in the door of the department store, hates me. They hate you, too, incidentally. Even people who love working retail would love it a lot more if they didn’t have to deal with customers. You know in the movie "High Fidelity," where Jack Black refuses to sell some guy a record because the guy won’t appreciate it? I’m certain that all sales people would do that if they could get away with it. In fact, if they could push a button and blow your head up when you said, "Excuse me, but could you tell me..." they would do it.


    And that’s okay; once I got that straight, I could look them in the eye and tell them I was bringing back these jeans because they make me look like I have no butt AND NOT CARE. Yes, I know that later back in the stock room they’re snickering that it ain’t the jeans, pal, but I don’t care about that either. Because (1) I’m making them do this pointless busy work and (2) it is SO the jeans. I’ve been doing these "get great glutes in time for the summer" exercises from ‘Men’s Health’ and they really work.


    Why do they hate us? Well, I spent about an hour recently in the return room at an Ikea, and in that time I saw:


    A woman returning two sofas. The sofas were upright on furniture dollies and still covered in plastic. Did I say "still?" Somehow a couple of cheeseburger wrappers slipped under one of the plastic packing covers. The woman did not notice them until she saw the girl at the return desk staring at them. From her reaction—covering her mouth and then glaring at her son—I’m guessing they didn’t slip in at the factory.


    A man returning some sort of unassembled cabinet because he didn’t realize it had to be assembled. The cardboard box containing it was about the size of an unabridged dictionary. Maybe he figured it was one of those new-fangled inflatable cabinets.


    Remember what I said above about how you could return virtually anything for virtually any reason unless you set the thing on fire? A gentleman was returning something—I’m not sure what—on the grounds that it had not been correctly tied to the roof of his car and had sustained some damage as a result somewhere on Rt. 1-9. Return guy: "The receipt says you bought this a week and a half ago." "Yes." "And you’re just returning it now? Why didn’t you bring it back as soon as it fell off the car?" "It fell off on the way here." "When you were bringing it back?" "Yes." "So you had it tied to the roof of your car for a week and a half?" "No, no, no. I tied it up there to bring it back." "It fell on the way there AND the way here?" "No." "So YOU didn’t tie it correctly to the roof?" "That is correct." "So why were you bringing it back?" "It got pretty banged up when it fell off the roof." (This conversation may still be in progress).


    When my turn came—we had to take numbers, like at the meat counter at the deli, and of course just like at the meat counter at the deli there was a little kid at work pulling 20 or 30 numbers off the machine to amuse himself and his charming mother—I was almost embarrassed that I was just returning a cutting board, and because it had sharp edges I hadn’t noticed because of the packaging. The guy just nodded and checked off some boxes on a form and that was that. He gave me a look like... well, not such much like he wouldn’t push a button and blow up my head if the opportunity presented itself, but like if there was a limit to the number of head-blowing-up buttons he could push, he might choose some of the buttons that weren’t wired to my head.


    It’s the best any of us can hope for.

    Many Happy Returns (Part One)


    There are many important things that you can learn from what my father used to call "your punk friends in the street corner." (This was so long ago that when my dad said ‘punk,’ he meant something uncomplimentary). It was indeed on street corners where young men wise in the ways of the world first imparted to me the secrets of both my incredible success with women and my brilliant financial strategies. These young men remained broke and celibate well into their thirties but I didn’t feel that was relevant. Just because they couldn’t follow their own advice didn’t mean it wasn’t any good. I mean, if you want dieting advice, do you ask some surfer dude with the metabolism of a humming bird who can eat a chocolate cake the size of his head every day and never gain an ounce, or the 279 pound girl at the beauty parlor who’s been on every diet featured on Oprah since 1987? Am I right, or am I right, as my pepperoni-complexioned turnip-shaped mentors on the street corner used to say.

    All their advice, I must admit, was not uniformly excellent; I was once told that I should get at least one pair of really big underpants to wash when I went to the laundromat. "Chicks’ll see this enormous pair of jockey shorts, they’ll see you’re on the slender side, they’ll start thinking about why a skinny guy like you needs a huge pair of underpants and they’ll figure you are what the author of the excellent highly recommended absolutely true book "My Secret Life" calls a ‘exceptionally well-favored young man.’ Fact." I never tried this technique but many years later I mentioned this anecdote to a young lady and she said that in the unlikely event that a girl noticed I was washing a really big pair of underpants, she would have assumed I had a fat boy friend. Yes, on reflection the ‘really big underpants’ advice was useless.

    But there is one area where I am afraid their advice was worse than useless, and that is Store Return Policies. Guys who hang out on street corners do not enjoy shopping. You either hang out or you shop if you’re a guy, because if you’re a guy and you shop, guys won’t hang out with you any more. (Girls, on the other hand, understand how to hang while they shop. It may be genetic). Now, if you don’t shop, you don’t learn about store return policies, except through cartoons or sitcoms, where the "return" desk is inevitably staffed by a surly gargoyle. But so what? you might ask. If you don’t shop, why do you need to know about return policies?

    Because there was a single exception to the ‘hang out or shop’ law, and that was records. It was okay to shop for records, and you could even do it in groups. There was a rule that you couldn’t actually refer to it as ‘shopping.’ Nobody every said ‘Let’s go shopping for records.’ It was always, ‘Let’s check out the record store.’ You might start to say ‘shopping,’ but if you didn’t somehow alter it in mid syllable—"Let’s go shhhhhhhhhhhoot some pool," for instance—you would be ragged mercilessly for weeks.

    So you’d check out the record store, and maybe buy some records, and then go to somebody’s bedroom or basement and listen to them, while looking at the album covers. (Vinyl records generally clocked in between 15 and 20 minutes a side, so you’d want record covers with a lot of stuff on them or else it got boring).

    But vinyl, miracle substance though it was, was not perfect and from time to time you’d get a defective record that skipped or clicked or caught the needle in such a way that the same few seconds were repeated ov were repeated ov were repeated ov were repeated over and over, just like that. When that happened, common sense said: return the record.

    "Don’t even bother," said one of my punk friends from the street. "That song stinks anyway. You should run a nail across cuts two, three, and five while you’re at it. They won’t give you a refund. You already broke the seal on the shrink wrap."

    "Plus, you took it out of the jacket," said another.

    I asked how you could tell the record was defective unless you broke the seal and took it out of the jacket. Shrugs. "That’s how The Man puts it to you," said one font of wisdom.

    Since I didn’t understand the protocols of returning a defective item, I was hesitant about it anyway, but I liked the record and I wanted a good copy so I continued asking how to go about it. What if they asked this, what should I say? What if they said that, what should I do? My punk friends from the street corner smelled blood, and perhaps with a few winks and nudges I missed while staring at the motionless album cover, they agreed to return with me to the store the next day. "We’ll cover your back," they said.

    What they really did was call a friend of theirs who was the assistant manager at the Melody Hut and set me up but good. When we arrived at the store, said friend was behind the ‘returns’ desk and proceeded to enact every nightmare situation I had discussed with my buddies the day before

    "What are you trying to pull here? You didn’t buy this here. We don’t sell this record." I pointed to a dump bin full of them. "Where’s your receipt? What the hell is this? It’s torn!" I said it tore because it was stapled to the bag and I couldn’t get it open without tearing the receipt. "You don’t own a staple remover? Plenty of time to come back here and stir up trouble, but no time for a staple remover. Well, we don’t accept torn up receipts. I’ll have to get the manager. Why are you returning it?" It sticks. "Let me guess. Is it Song Four, side one?" Why yes, it is. "It doesn't stick! That’s the way they recorded it, it’s joke, unless you’re too much of a Mongoloid idiot to get it. Unless—you didn’t push the needle then, did you?" Well, yes... "Well, now it sticks!! God, you tear up the receipt, you admit you pushed the needle and ruined the album, and we’re supposed to go, ‘Ooooh, poor baby! His weckod is awwwww bwoken! Wet US give you Bwand new one!’ Here! Take it, you friggin’ Goo-goo!! People like you make me sick!! Enjoy your record, sonny, but lemme tell you this: You are now on THE LIST. I’m sending your name to every record store in New Jersey and if you try to pull this garbage again, that’s it! No more Mister Nice Guy!"

    All my worst fears were confirmed. I was a basket case for days. Well, maybe ‘days’ is the wrong way to put it, because that was about 35 years ago and I’m still a basket case. Eventually my friends confessed but it didn’t make any difference. I knew I was still on The List.



    I was sitting in my cubicle comparing the list of potential jurors with the list of convicted felons and crossing anyone I found on the latter list off the former list. This is what I did all day, every day, during the summer that I worked for the Passaic County ID Bureau, and it was mighty dull. I paused for a moment, wondering whether Mitchell Maynard Grizwald (list one) was the same person as Mitch Maynard Grizwald (list two) when the head of the ID Bureau slapped his palm against the side of my cubicle and said: "Got a TaNojoDe, pal." I drew a line through one of the Grizwalds, either knocking him off jury duty or expunging his criminal record, and grabbed my coat. A TaNojoDe!

    TaNoJoDe-- which is pronounced tah-NOJ-oh-dee-- was a quasi-acronym for Task Not on Job Description. A TaNoJoDe could be anything: it might mean I was picking up a lunch order from the deli, it might mean I was photographing an autopsy because the regular autopsy photographer was too hung-over to operate the camera properly. A few times I had been assigned to draw pictures of cockroaches on an overhead projector transparency for a lecture the boss was giving (the summer I was there, he gave at least three lectures about cockroaches; I have no idea why, or to whom, but he said "These are great! You were born to draw cockroaches, kid," and he bought me lunch every time (Hot Texas Wieners! Yum!), so what the heck). Occasionally my TaNoJoDe had been something really cool, such as trying to stuff a body, recovered recently after spending two or three weeks in the Passaic River, into a body bag.

    Today it was a very low-key TaNoJoDe. "Get this baby down to Doctor Moskowitz," he said. 'This baby' was a shoe, actually a heavy-duty work boot with a reinforced steel toe; it was sealed inside a plastic bag. "I don't know what the hell they sent it here for. Should have gone right to Moskowitz. Tell him they want to see the report on this Ay Ess Ay Pee." I nodded, picked up the shoe. Even heavier than it looked. "Then get yourself some grub. Here." He gave me a chit for lunch in the cafeteria. This was not as good as giving me 5 bucks for Hot Texas Wieners at the Falls View Grill, but then I was just bringing a shoe to the lab, not something, you know, gross. "I'm counting on you, kid," he said. He always said that.

    I took the scenic route to the lab-- through the sub basement, past the holding tanks, through the little room where I was sometimes allowed to fingerprint and photograph recidivists, past the soda machine which the trustees deliberately mis-stocked so that you got some crappy generic orange soda no matter which button you pushed, and into the little tangle of offices where the coroner and his crew worked. There was a sign on Dr. Moskowitz's door: "Lunch. Back soon." I hollered "Yo! Shoe! Anybody here?" But there was no answer. I thought of just leaving the shoe by the door, but decided against it. I strolled down the corridor towards the caf, jauntily swinging the bag full of shoe.

    The day's menu was meatloaf. The day's menu was always meatloaf. I traded my chit for a couple of slabs and sat down, and placed the shoe on the table next to my plate.

    "You're a better man than I am," said the cop at the next table.


    "I wouldn't put that thing on the table when I was eating. I was there when they recovered it."

    I grunted and shrugged. Everybody at the ID Bureau spent at least 5 minutes a day trying to gross me out. It was always 'See that coffee mug you're drinkin' out of? Correy ran out of specimen jars an' used THAT MUG to send A BRAIN to the lab this morning.' So I didn't even bother to ask what the story was with the shoe.

    "I don't even want that thing on the table next to my table when I'm eating," said the guy next to the cop. He got up and actually left the room, leaving a half-eaten slice of pie on his plate.

    "Shouldn't that thing be in the lab?" said the cop.

    "Out to lunch," I said.

    "Well, Geez, I can't believe you brought it in HERE."

    "Okay," I sighed, "Where did you find it?"

    "Route 46, near the McBride Avenue turn-off."


    "So nothing," he said, helping himself to the abandoned pie. "What's the difference where we found it?"

    "You tell me."

    He gave me a quizzical look. "That ain't the point. Boy, you're a hard customer, ain't you?"

    I was now thoroughly confused. "Well, what's the big deal? Why do they want to even bother to check this thing out?"

    He almost spit out the pie. He coughed, patted his mouth with a napkin, swallowed. "Well, hey, chief, don't you think we ought to? I mean, aren't you a little curious about where it came from and how it got there?"


    "Tough guy," he said, shaking his head.

    "I see these things all the time," I said.


    "I mean, sure, you wonder what the story is, you know, like, where's the other one, but who cares?"

    "Who cares," he said, smiling. "You are something."

    "You know what I wonder?" I went on. "You ever see, like, a pair of sneakers tied together and hanging from a telephone line?"


    "Well," I said, "What's the story with THAT?"

    He stared at me. "Kid," he said, "You really ought to get that thing to the lab."

    I finished my lunch and went back down to the coroner's office, and now Dr. Moskowitz had returned. "Ah," he said, "I've been expecting this."

    "What's the big deal?" I said. "Do they think this shoe is a clue or something?"

    "A clue???"

    "Well, I mean, why are they... why did they even bring it in? Do they think it belongs to some, like, missing person or something?"

    "Wouldn't surprise me a bit," he said. "Not entirely missing, though."


    "Kid-- the foot is still in the shoe."



    Usually I don’t instigate the interviews that I conduct with my daughter Emma for publication. She calls me because she’s got something very compelling to express to my lucky readers. But this time I made the phone call. I’d discovered, by reading her blog, that she had just hosted her fourth annual "We Still Believe You, Winona" movie marathon and I wanted to get the inside scoop. Marathon Attendee "Maximillian" also participated in the interviewed, thanks to the miracle of "three-way calling," which I didn’t know I had until my daughter said "What do you think the ‘link’ button you’ve had on your phone for 15 years is for?" Live and learn, huh?

    The Winona in question is Winona Ryder, and the festival is held on her birthday. The 'we still believe you' refers to Miss Ryder's declaration of innocence following her arrest for shoplifting some years ago. Although surveillance cameras documented the incident, my daughter has steadfastly refused to entertain the possibility of Miss Ryder's guilt. This refusal may be a genetic trait; my mother, for instance, insisted that O.J. couldn't possibly have committed murder because he was too good-looking.

    On the other hand, the last conversation I had with my mother-- she was literally on her death bed-- went more or less like this:

    MOM: He killed her, you know.

    ME: Who?

    MOM: You know who. Captain Kirk. He drowned her, the fat bastard!

    My mother was sure that William Shatner had murdered his wife. This suspicion, so far as I can ascertain, has never been expressed by anyone else on the face of the earth. My mother could never forgive Mr. Shatner for 'letting himself go.'

    In any event, I began the interview by addressing the belief issue.


    ME: You call this the ‘We Still Believe You Winona’ Marathon...

    EMMA: Yes. She was FRAMED.

    ME: But I couldn’t help noticing that when you wrote about it on your blog, you headlined it "Klepto of My Heart."

    EMMA: Um...

    ME: It seems to me...

    EMMA: I don’t like where this is going...

    ME: ...That if you think she’s a klepto, you don’t believe she was framed.

    EMMA: Uh...

    ME: Maximillian, do you believe Winona was framed?

    MAXIMILIIAN: No, of course not. Nobody but Emma believes that. I’ve seen the security tape. Everybody’s seen the security tape.


    ME: So which movies did you show this year?

    EMMA: ‘House of the Spirits,’ ‘Little Women,’ ‘Mermaids,’ and ‘Dracula.’ When Michelle was renting them at Kim’s Video, the girl at the counter said, "Are you renting these because it’s Winona’s birthday?" I mean, that just shows you.

    ME: Shows you what?

    EMMA: That the girl at Kim’s was aware that it was Winona’s 34th birthday.

    ME: Ah.

    EMMA: Meryl Streep makes out with Glenn Close in 'House of the Spirits.' ‘Mermaids’ is the greatest—ONE of the greatest movies of all time. Winona loses her virginity in a church tower.

    MAXIMILLIAN: It was an awful movie.

    EMMA: No it wasn't. And when she looses her cherry she makes this incredible sound, like "hhhhuuuhhnnn!!"

    MAXIMILLIAN: That's pretty accurate. Although you did it exhaling, and she did it on the inhale.

    ME: 'Hhhhuuuhhnnn?'

    EMMA: Please. Don't even try. Inna got very violent at Maximillian because he said he...

    MAXIMILLIAN: Well, I live on East 2nd Street and I said I live below Houston. Inna started yelling. "Houston is ZERO! Houston is ZERO!"

    ME: That’s true, sort of. But I can’t see getting angry about it.

    EMMA: I’m thinking. Who else was there? There were these two soulless people from my Italian class.

    ME: Souless? In what sense?

    EMMA: In the sense that they were devoid of soul. One of them asked me if I knew what she was going to be for Halloween and I said, ‘a hooker?’ and she said, ‘NO! Little Red Riding Hootch.’ I mean excuse me, but how was I wrong? I mean what’s the difference?

    ME: What’s a hootch?

    EMMA: It’s a hooker. They hate Inna. They thought she was being mean. She wasn’t being mean. She was just cold and sullen because she’s Russian. Devra brought her mustache over and we were...

    ME: Wait. You’re kind of jumping around. Mustache?

    EMMA: Yes. We were both Vanzetti for the marathon.

    ME: Ah. I forgot. You and Devra are going to be Sacco and Vanzetti for the Halloween parade this year.

    EMMA: Yes, post-electrocution Sacco and Vanzetti. We’re going to have our hair sticking straight up.

    ME: Very authentic. What are you going to be on Halloween, Maximillian?

    MAXIMILLIAN: I’m gong to be the Mad Hatter and my girl friend Ari is going to be Alice. I...

    EMMA: AHEM. Excuse me. Back to me. It was decided in March that Devra and I were going to be Sacco and Vanzetti. Only Vanzetti has the mustache, though, so we considered both being Vanzetti? And we had a cake.

    ME: A Sacco and Vanzetti cake?

    EMMA: No, we are back to Winona. Keep up. The cake said "Winona 4 Eva," and I drew a line through the ‘na’ so it said ‘Wino 4 Eva.’

    ME: I don’t understand.

    EMMA: It was a tribute to Johnny Depp.

    ME: Oh right, the ‘Winona Forever’ tattoo he had. Did he spell it like that, ‘4 Eva?’

    EMMA: No, but he did get the ‘na’ removed. I couldn’t spell the whole thing out because there wasn’t enough space.

    ME: Please. You had a whole cake. He fit it on his arm.

    EMMA: He was using a needle. I had this big clunky squirty thingee with icing in it.

    ME: Wait, let me get that... ‘Big clunky... squirty...’

    EMMA: I begin to be annoyed. Write this: "Hanson is hot, but their music isn’t."

    ME: Hanson...?

    EMMA: The BAND. Devra got us free ticket to the Hanson documentary and there was a Q & A after with the band itself—themself—with...

    ME: The ‘Mmmm-bop’ Hanson?

    EMMA: It was all like ‘ooh the record industry is so corrupt and it took us so long to get our third album out and... Oh, wait, Maximillian, my dad BOUGHT ‘Mmmm-bop‘ because he saw them on MTV and he thought ‘the chick in the middle is really cute.’ True.

    ME: Well... yeah...

    EMMA: I mean, who can blame him? Anyway they gave out copies of the new CD and it’s all acoustic-y and dull but they look really hot now? And then we went to KFC and we hear somebody yell ‘Go Tay!’ and what that was is the other guys telling Taylor to get a cab? Anyway, they look hot. Taylor looks like Chelsea Clinton now. He’s like buzzed his head? Taylor is holding the torch of hotness. But I mean they were complaining about ‘Tiger Beat.’

    MAXIMILLIAN: What’s Tiger Beat?

    EMMA: A Teen Fan Magazine. They did a lot of stories about Jonathan Taylor Thomas, before he got all gross. Somebody wrote in and said they had 25 posters of JJT and then I got 26. Deliberately. Remember, dad?

    ME: Alas yes.

    EMMA: I want to finish this up with some general Winona observations but first I just want to say that it is perfect that the disgusting Anaheim Rally Monkey is named Katie...

    ME: The Rally Monkey...

    EMMA: Remember I bought the Rally Monkey t-shirt and it made me break out? That was intentional on the part of the disgusting rally monkey!

    ME: Didn’t you buy that on eBay?

    EMMA: Yes—from RALLYMONKEY.COM! And it’s named "Katie" just like Katie Holmes, which in my view is totally appropriate. During the play-offs the rally monkey came on and I screamed and Mal woke up. Then we watched that episode of "Dawson’s Creek," it was so sad, the one where Michelle Williams says, "And I can take all the jerks in the world climbing out of my bedroom window, but when Dawson Leery does it, it better be for me." SWOON.

    ME: What??

    EMMA: What what?

    ME: What does that mean?

    EMMA: It is so beautiful!

    ME: It doesn’t even make sense. It’s like a randomly generated words with some random punctuation thrown in.

    EMMA: You don’t get it.

    ME: I...

    EMMA: Put "get" in quotations.

    ME: Will do.

    EMMA: Winona is making a HUGE COMEBACK—all capitals, thank you—in March. She’s got two movies and it’s just a supporting role in one, but she will win the Oscar™ for the other one, 'A Scanner Darkly.'

    MAXIMILLIAN: Did you see preview for 'V for Vendetta?' Natalie Portman’s shaved head? It looks ridiculous.

    EMMA: NO!

    MAXIMILLIAN: The head, I mean, not the movie.

    EMMA: Oh. Well, yes. And Instead of going to my Socialist Theory class (because they’re all commies), I go to the dog run. There’s a French bulldog (black and white spotted) named Stella. When they want the dog to come they yell "STELLA!" like Marlon Brando in "Streetcar."

    ME: I... Uh...

    EMMA: What?

    ME: I’m not sure. You made my brain completely stop working for a second.

    EMMA: Swish! She scores.



    Picarillo had been on a diet all summer. As far as Calvano and I could tell he was eating exactly the same food in exactly the same amounts as always, but in addition he was now drinking about a case of diet soda every day. Modern diet sodas, if anything, taste too sweet; diet sodas in the mid-sixties tasted like someone had put a cigarette out in the can. Brake fluid tasted better. Used brake fluid tasted better. And Picarillo was swilling it down by the gallon.

    The only thing was, he didn’t appear to be losing any weight. He looked no different in mid October than he had when he’d begun this brutal regimen back in late May. Of course his mother insisted that he was now almost unrecognizably svelte. "Michael—you look so handsome!" she would announce 5 or 6 times a day.

    "How much has he lost?" asked Calvano.

    "Seven pounds," she said. Seven invisible pounds. Later it turned out that the Picarillo family scale had been * cough * recalibrated manually, and that Picarillo had actually lost a pound and a half during his grueling 5 month ordeal, but in mid October his mother was still convinced that her son was imperially slim. This may be why she agreed to his proposed Halloween costume.


    At this time there was a Tarzan TV show in prime time, starring one Ron Ely, and as he was the Tarzan de jour, Picarillo used him as the template for his own Tarzanning, at least as far as his mother would permit. Like many cinematic Tarzans, Ron Ely what appeared to be a pair of leopard skin briefs, the better to display his impressive abdominals. Picarillo’s abdominals were impressive too, but in a different way, and Picarillo acceded to his mother’s suggested substitution of the more modest over-the-shoulder leopard skin outfit.

    Mr. Ely also sported longish blonde hair, not hippie length, exactly, and perfectly acceptable for swinging around in the jungle. Picarillo sported a butch cut—a modified crew cut with a slightly longer crop of hair at the very front, like a tiny duck blind. This was kept upright and spiffy with a tube of Butch Wax. As there was (probably) no Butch Wax to be had in the jungle, Picarillo felt it wouldn’t do. There was no time to allow a Tarzan-like crop of wavy blonde hair to grow in, so he prevailed upon his mother to find him a suitable wig.

    "Well, I don’t know," mused Mrs. P. She absently breaded a pound of calamari while she mused. "I think your Aunt Angelica has an old blonde wig... maybe we could do something with that..."

    "Call her!" cried Picarillo.

    Calvano and I could scarcely conceal our delight. We’d been backing up Picarillo all the way, even though his Tarzan idea went against our "Only Monsters On Halloween" policy. The idea of Picarillo trick or treating in a blonde wig was just too good to be true.

    Picarillo modeled his costume for us four or five days before Halloween. Thanks to his diet and non-exercise routine, he was as completely pear shaped as ever. The Tarzan outfit his mother had concocted looked amazingly like an old yellow one-piece bathing suit augmented with some hand-drawn spots. Aunt Angelica’s blonde wig looked just the way you’d expect Aunt Angelica’s blonde wig to look. We’d never seen anything like this before, and we wouldn’t see anything like it again until the early 1970’s when "Female Trouble," starring the 200 pound transvestite Divine, played at the Willowbrook Cinema.

    "Wow," I said. "You look exactly like Tarzan, Picarillo."

    "Yeah," said Calvano. "Hey, you know what you should use for your trick or treat bag? My uncle’s leather ammo bag. He took it on all his African safaris."

    "Whoa!" said Picarillo. "You guys are the best!"

    "No," I said, "You are the best!"

    On Halloween things worked out even better than we’d anticipated. The temperature hovered between 40 and 45 degrees all day and began to drop just about the time we were heading out. Picarillo was so cold he barely noticed how much Calvano’s uncle’s leather ammo bag resembled a purse. The folks in the first houses we hit on Prospect Street stared at Picarillo with undisguised amazement. "What the hell is this?" asked Mr. Mullen.

    "It’s me, Mike!" cried Picarillo, pulling off his wig.

    "Hababababa," said Mr. Mullen. He shut the door on us without giving us any candy.

    "I’m freezing, you guys," he said as we trudged on to the next house. Calvano and I were quite comfortable in our jackets and werewolf masks. (In fact, I was especially warm since it was my turn to wear the deluxe over-the-head werewolf mask that year).

    "We’ll see what we can do," said Calvano. "Maybe... hey, let’s skip this house and go right to Miss Hoonhaut’s." She was the librarian and our theory was that people are always leaving coats and jackets at the library, so she’d be able to help Picarillo out.

    "My goodness," she said when she opened the door. "You poor girl—you must be frozen."

    "It’s Picarillo, Miz Hoonhaut," I said.

    "Picarillo!" she said. "Merciful heavens! I can’t believe your mother let you go out like that."

    "The wig was her idea," said Calvano.

    "I don’t mean the costume. I mean not making you wear a coat. It must be 30 degrees out!"

    "I’m Tarzan," Picarillo explained.

    Miss Hoonhaut opened her mouth to say something, but changed her mind.

    "Tarzan doesn’t wear coats," Calvano explained. "But I think maybe it would be a good idea."

    "Why does he have that purse?" she asked.

    "It’s an ammo bag," said Picarillo.

    "Nonsense. I have the same one. It’s from Gimble’s." We stood in her living room and looked at her knickknacks while she rummaged through the closet. "Here," she said. "This will keep you nice and warm."

    Since Miss Hoonhaut was what they used to call a maiden lady, she of course had no men’s outerwear in her closet. She draped a large old coat with a fur collar around Picarillo. "This isn’t the kind of a coat Tarzan would wear," he pouted.

    "Sure it is," said Calvano. "It’s got some kind of, like, jungle animal fur around the collar. Look, when you get inside somebody’s house, you just throw open the coat and do the Tarzan yell. You haven’t been doing the Tarzan yell."

    Calvano and I profusely thanked Miss Hoonhaut and we continued on our rounds.

    We convinced Picarillo to essay the Tarzan yell at the next house. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on Dr. Fergusson’s face when Picarillo threw open the coat, clutched his purse, and cried "Wugga wugga wugga!" By now it was too cold for Picarillo, even with Miss Hoonhaut’s coat, so we walked him back home.

    Picarillo wanted to change into his street clothes but we wouldn’t hear of it. "You should give out candy to little kids in the Tarzan costume," suggested Calvano. "They’d love it. Hey, you could even wear my Uncle’s ammo belt!"

    "Whoa! An ammo belt!"

    "Yee-ah," said Calvano. "I brought it over before... I, uh, gave it to your sister. Where’s Noreen?" Calvano carried on a brief, furtive conversation with Picarillo’s sister Noreen, who tried unsuccessfully to suppress some very unsisterly snorting. She ran upstairs and returned shortly with a paper bag.

    "Here, Mike," she said. "It’s Rob’s uncle’s ammo belt-thingee."

    Picarillo eagerly removed it from the bag. "It doesn’t look like I figured."

    "Well, it’s the real deal," said Calvano.

    "It looks like Noreen’s tutu."

    "No, no," said Calvano. But it was one accessory too much.

    "Do you think I’m stupid?" said Picarillo. "I’m not gonna wear this! Forget it! I’d look like a fool!" He tossed the tutu aside, fixed the strap on his over the shoulder bathing suit, adjusted his wig, picked up his purse, and prepared to greet the first trick-or-treater.

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE

    A Pig in a Poke

    I was going to present an exciting account of the Community Day bed race that was held on Bridge Street in Milford this past weekend, but I had a problem with a pig.

    The pig in question was being roasted outside the Milford Market. It was looking very dapper and devil-may-care, as only a pig with an apple in its mouth can. Now I wonder why is it, I said to myself, that this roasted pig can look so suave, while I, who am the pig’s equal or better in terms of erudition and general sophistication, look like the sort of fellow seen on "Cops" without a shirt, trying to convince the arresting officers that he has no idea how his pick-up truck ended up in that there swimming pool. At least that’s how I look in the official photos that ornament this column.

    It occurred to me that I might have my picture taken with the pig and perhaps in that manner appropriate some of the pig’s glamour for myself. Maybe my arm around the pig, and our faces literally cheek-by-jowl. I looked around for one of the DVN photographers but to no avail, so I popped a roll of film into my own camera and enlisted my friend Curt to do the honors.

    "Yes," he agreed, "that’s certainly a fine looking pig." By this time the idea for the photo was becoming more distinct in my mind. Maybe the caption could say something like "Columnist Grimshaw (left) and friend." "Hey," said Curt, "Maybe you should both have apples in your mouths."

    There was definitely something to be said for that, I decided. A little of the common touch. On the other hand, another possibility for the caption I’d been considering was "Grimshaw and friend (with apple)" or alternatively, "Grimshaw (without apple) and friend," and if both the pig and I had apples in our mouths that would effectively kill the joke. Really, you have no idea how difficult this humor stuff is. I explained the problem to Curt.

    "Well, how about this then? You could be biting the same apple as the pig, like you both dove for it at the same time. You could kind of glare at each other." Since the pig’s eyes had been replaced by a pair of cherries I would have to do the glaring for both of us. But the issue was moot because I had no intention of biting the same apple as the pig. This is the problem with 90% of the suggestions I get from my readers, or 90% of the suggestions that don’t involve rolling donuts, anyway. I want to do something witty and subtle (like posing next to a pig with an apple in its mouth), and they want me to rip the apple out of the pig’s mouth with my teeth. I politely declined.

    "Why do they put the apple in the pig’s mouth anyway?" asked Curt. I said I didn’t know. "Does somebody eat it? Is it some kind of a delicacy after it’s been roasted in a pig’s mouth?" I repeated that I didn’t know. I volunteered that I had never seen anyone eat the apple from the pig’s mouth but that didn’t mean it didn’t happen. I suggested to Curt that he ask the gentleman carving sandwiches from the haunch of the pig. "Nah," said Curt. "Look. Let’s say there was a live pig and it was eating an apple. Okay?" I agreed that it could happen, and probably had. "Well, would you swipe the apple out of the pig’s mouth and eat it?" I said that I would not. It might upset the pig. "Even if it wouldn’t upset the pig, you wouldn’t do it, because it’s gross. Now that’s a live pig. Let’s talk dead pigs for a minute." I said okay, let’s talk dead pigs for a minute. I glanced at my watch. "I’m not talking some road kill-type pig, on day three after the Buick nailed it. Let’s go back to the live pig that was eating the apple. It hasn’t eaten the apple yet, though. Let’s say it sees an apple, starts eating it, and drops dead."

    What was the cause of death, I asked, because I had a pretty fair idea of where Curt was going with this. "Not the apple. Nothing to do with the apple. Let’s say it was an embolism. The pig doesn’t suffer at all. No disease, no sickness, just perfectly healthy one minute and BOOM! dead as a doornail the next. Well, you come by and this dead pig has this apple in its mouth. Do you have the slightest desire to eat that apple?" I said no, but of course I wouldn’t be aware that the pig had died of an embolism. For all I knew, it was a poisoned apple. "You’re dancing around the issue, dude. You would not eat an apple you found in the mouth of a dead pig no matter what. True?" I had to admit it was true. "Well, yonder apple is in the mouth of a dead pig and I’m betting nobody’s going to eat it." I said I would not take that bet. I also pointed out that Curt had brought up the subject himself and even though it sounded like he was arguing with me, I had taken no position on the apple-in-the-mouth-of-the-roasted-pig issue. Curt did not dispute this. "It might not even be an eating apple," he said. "It could be a cooking apple. Why waste an eating apple in a dead pig’s mouth?"

    I said let’s take the picture. I’ll just crouch next to the pig, I said. Should I have an apple in my mouth or not? All in favor raise your right hand.

    Curt raised his right hand. So did the pig.

    Actually, I realized a couple of seconds later, the wind had just lifted some of the aluminum foil around the pig and he didn’t really raise his right hand, or paw, or whatever you call it. But by the time I realized that the pig hadn’t really voted in favor of my having the apple in my mouth it was too late and I had to go home and change my underwear. And that’s why I can not give you any details about the bed race, but I’m sure you can find the details elsewhere in the paper. I don’t know what happened to the apple, either, and if it’s all the same to you I’d like to keep it that way.

    Pumpkins for Columbus

    The Custom Neon Sign Shop had been open for business only two weeks and I had not quite mastered some of the technical aspects of making neon signs, such as shaping the glass tubes into letters, getting the neon gas into those tubes, and running an electrical current through the gas to make it glow. It might have made sense to delay our Grand Opening until I had mastered these technical aspects. But that would have necessitated a delay of well over 25 years since the sad fact is that well over 25 years have passed since then and I never quite mastered those technical aspects. That’s why so many of our signs exploded when they were plugged in.

    I was sitting at my desk ruining another glass tube. I could make a pretty fair "C," a reasonable "J," a very respectable "L," and my "U" and "V" were competent. It goes without saying that my "I" was perfection. But there was no word in the English language that could be assembled from these letters, unless you count "LUV," and since I was not a 14 year old girl I did not. Another attempted "A" snapped into three pieces, and Mulberry Street Joey Clams entered the shop with a milk crate full of tiny pumpkins.

    "Very cute," I said. It was early October and I assumed we would be dressing the shop window up with some sort of harvest motif, or perhaps a Halloween scene.

    "If you can figure out how to make a letter a day, in a week we’re ready to rock and roll," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams. He lined up his pumpkins on the desk, placing the larger, softball sized pumpkins at one end and the scrawny tennis-ball sized pumpkins at the other.

    "I can make 6 letters now," I said. "A letter a day for a week is seven letters, and together that’s 13. Rumor has it they’ve added a few more letters recently."

    "Yeah, but I don’t know if you ever picked this up, but I noticed recently a lot of the letters don’t do anything. Like ‘C,’ sometimes it sounds like ‘S,’ sometimes like a ‘K.’ Sometimes they even stick it right in front of the ‘K’ so it doesn’t sound like nothing. It’s not even a real letter if you ask me. It’s got this real cushy spot right up at the front of the alphabet but it does nothing. It’s somebody’s brother-in-law, you know what I’m saying?" He made some adjustments in the row of tiny pumpkins.


    "’C’ never sounds like ‘C.’ It’s nuts."

    "Well, ‘cease,’ the ‘C’ actually does sound like a ‘C’ there."

    Mulberry Street Joey Clams stopped playing with the pumpkins for a moment while he considered this. "That’s true," he said at last. "Huh. Also, the ‘C’ in ‘sequins’ sounds like ‘C,’ now that you mention it."


    "Yeah, it’s that sparkly stuff strippers glue on their boobs."


    "But that’s just two words out of literally hundreds. Ditch the letter ‘C.’"

    "I can make a ‘C’ already, though."

    Mulberry Street Joey Clams sighed. "Well, what’s done is done. But like ‘T’ and ‘D,’ for instance, just figure out one or the other."

    "One or the other."

    "It’s practically the same thing, you know? In this neighborhood especially. Some people say ‘Tanks,’ some people say ‘Danks.’ Did you ever notice that?"

    "Yes. Yes I did."

    "You know, now that I think of it, maybe you got the right idea with this ‘C’ business after all. I mean, it works for ‘S’ and ‘K,’ why not use it for both of those, and forget about the actual ‘S’ and ‘K?’"

    "Well, for one thing, ‘sick’ would be spelled ‘c-i-c.’ And so would ‘kick.’ So would ‘kiss.’ So would ‘Sis.’"

    "I’m sure you got a point there some place..."

    "Some people might find it confusing," I suggested.

    "Yeah, well, some people find a lot of things confusing," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams, in such a way that I got the impression he felt I might just be one of those people myself. "Anyway, we can work out which letters stay and which ones go later. You can make an ‘I,’ right?"

    "Yes. A world class ‘I.’"

    "You’ll notice I got this whole bunch of little pumpkins here? And Halloween is coming. Now here’s the plan. You make an ‘I.’ Which you can already do. We figure out how to get the neon inside, and then we run it off like a D cell or something. You following me?"

    "The letter ‘I.’ We power it with a D cell."

    "Right, if that’ll work. If not, we can wire it like a lamp and run it out of a wall socket. Right?"

    "I think that would work. Maybe both ways would work," I said. "So we’re just selling the letter ‘I?’ I’m thinking there might be a limited demand."

    "You are the mayor of Miss-The-Point City. You see these pumpkins? I got ‘em at that Korean vegetable stand on Kenmore Street for almost nothing. The letter ‘I’ is a neon candle, get it? We carve these into Jack O’Lanterns and we stick the neon candle inside, and you got a Jack o’lantern with a candle that never burns out and don’t stink up the whole place and can’t set the house on fire."

    "It’s a pretty good idea, Mulberry Street Joey Clams, but these pumpkins are so tiny I don’t think we could carve a face that looks like a face in any of them. And if we did, the *cough* neon candle would have to be less than an inch high. I definitely can’t do that."

    "You kill me. These are baby pumpkins. We don’t carve them until they’re like the size of a basketball."

    "Did the guy at the Korean vegetable stand tell you these were going to grow to the size of a basketball?"

    "Nah, he speaks like 10 words of English. Hey, college boy, I’ve SEEN pumpkins before. I know how big they get."


    "It’s like bananas. You buy them when they’re green, and then they get yellow and then you eat them. Same deal here. Only instead of yellow, we want big."

    "They keep getting bigger until you pick them off the vine, Mulberry Street Joey Clams. Then they don’t get any bigger."

    "For true?"

    "I swear."

    He was silent for several minutes. "What about if we stick them in a pan of water?"

    "We could do that."

    He was silent for several more minutes. "Well, okay, forget the jack o’lanterns. What about Columbus Day? Doesn’t Columbus have something to do with pumpkins?"

    "No, Mulberry Street Joey Clams. He discovered America."

    "I know he discovered America!" He went to the slop sink and put an inch of water in a cookie pan. "What about pumpkins? What did he have to do with pumpkins?" Mulberry Street Joey Clams carefully placed his pumpkins in the cookie pan. "Think!" he cried.

    We thought, and stared at our pumpkins, which sat in an inch of water and refused to grow any bigger.

    Ask the Dishwashing Expert Guy



    Dear Dishwashing Expert Guy:

    How long should one allow the dishes to soak in the sink before one commences with the actual washing?


    Hates to Rush These Things


    This is, one hardly needs to note, variable. It depends upon the type of dish, the amount of soiling, the solvent to be employed, and so on. In general, a moderately soiled plate (pâté de foie gras, let us say, with an unobtrusive garnish, and a brace of perfectly prepared asparagus spears whose savory delights might have been better appreciated on a separate plate—but how cunning they looked, crossed oh-so-casually (not!) beside the pâté!) should be soaked for a minimum of one-and-a-quarter hours before any thought is given to cleaning. And one should add ten minutes for each additional plate deposited in the sink. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, this initial soak should be in warm water (100 degrees F). The water should be changed before it cools to room temperature. In general you won’t need to do this more than three times, but in the cooler months it may be required more frequently. Tedious? Not if you remember the result is worth it!


    Dear Dishwashing Expert Guy:

    How did our caveman ancestors wash their dishes?


    Curious about How Our Caveman Ancestors Washed Their Dishes


    The fossil record is not entirely clear on this point, so some of what I am about to relate is speculation, but make no mistake—it is speculation based upon the best scientific evidence available. In the Paleolithic period, dishes were crudely chipped from rock, and much food debris was trapped by the uneven and porous surface of the stone. Unless the cave-dwelling chef happened to live near a hot spring, the dishes were often imperfectly cleaned, and... Well, let’s not dwell on that. Experts agree that things got much better in the Neolithic (Latin for "New Plates"), when Porcelain was introduced to us by the space aliens.


    Dear Dishwashing Expert Guy:

    When it comes to dishwashing liquid, which is better—the pink, the blue, the white, or the green?


    Wants to Know Which Color Is the Best


    In the long-ago days of the Dishwashing Expert Guy’s youth, there was only white and pink—an anemic palate, perhaps, but a not-unpleasing one. Now virtually every color of the rainbow is available for your dishwashing fluid needs and excellent results may be obtained with any one of them, although we suggest reserving the citrus-based orange solvents for the industrial uses for which they were developed. These solvents are strong enough to do serious damage to the designs on your hand-painted flatware—and why, pray tell, would you use any other kind of flatware?



    No, I mean which color dishwashing liquid is best for killing cockroaches?


    Still Wants to Know Which Color Is Best


    Ah! To begin with, let me repeat my injunction vis-à-vis the orange solvents. Your standard cockroach finds them unpleasant, no mistake, and in time there may be a toxic effect, but stay with the more traditional liquids when dealing with Mr. Roach. The quality you want is viscosity—the thicker the better. Therefore, select your dishwashing liquid on this basis, not color. Chose an opaque fluid. The more translucent, the less likely it is to do the job you want done.


    Dear Dishwashing Expert Guy:

    How many dishes can be safely washed at the same time? I would think the more dishes in the sink, the less efficient, no?


    Needs to Know


    Indeed. The Dishwashing Expert Guy is willing to soak any number of dishes in the same sink at the same time, but when it comes to washing, the rule is: One At A Time. It is far, far better to give each dish its own sink full of water. Isn’t this wasteful? Not as wasteful as an imperfectly clean dish! How much time should you put aside for a total dishwashing experience? Figure roughly 12 minutes washing per dish, plus another two and a half minutes to pat it dry. And of course you need to drain and refill the sink between dishes—especially if you’re dealing with an assortment of dishes requiring multiple dishwashing fluids. But in a pinch you can do as many as 8 dishes ‘fast n sloppy’ in just under two and a half hours. What’s that I hear you say? ‘Too much time?’ Please! If you don’t have the time to do the job properly, dine in restaurants or eat off paper plates like a serial killer.



    I am thinking about buying a new dishwasher. What kind do you recommend?


    Gotta Get a New One


    I have read your letter several times but it makes no sense to me. "Buy" a new dishwasher? But slavery has been illegal for 140 years. Surely you don’t mean you want to buy an automatic dishwasher? Please! The Dishwashing Expert Guy admits they have their place. For instance, a friend of a friend lost three fingers on one hand and two on the other while incorrectly using jumper cables [note from the Jumper Cable Expert Guy: do NOT attach the ground to the metal cap of a can of gasoline, even if you are "like 80% sure" it’s "mostly empty."] Dish washing by hand was just not an option for him; but the idea of an able-bodied adult using a dishwasher is disgraceful. The dishwashing expert guy is all for labor saving devices— no one is more attached to his apple corer than your undersigned—but the automatic dishwasher eliminates the entire raison d’être of dishwashing—becoming One with the dish. Without this, the whole thing becomes a mere exercise in hygiene. Use an automatic dishwasher? I’d just as soon let a woman wash my dishes! Feh!


    In general I don’t discuss my cultural experiences in this space—because I haven’t actually had any—but earlier this month I went to see Jandek. I’ve been a fan for years, but he’s never performed on the East Coast before. In fact, until last year he never performed anywhere, although his career spans 28 years and 42 albums. Despite this incredibly low profile, his CDs have sold literally dozens of copies. No exact figures are available because he’s also his record company, Corwood Industries. The first time I heard Jandek—it was the song "They Told Me I Was a Fool"—the hair stood up on the back of my neck. There was no melody, the guitar was tuned to some key incomprehensible to human ears, the strings were struck at seemingly random intervals, the lyrics were simultaneously creepy and nonsensical, and the vocals... Well, suffice to say he doesn’t sound like anybody else, and it’s probably a mistake to play Jandek for anybody who isn’t thoroughly prepared. I had his second album on not long ago when my ex-wife dropped by. She started talking but the intro to a song just froze her in mid-sentence for a few beats and she said, "What is wrong with you??"

    The fact is, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I have 26 Jandek albums so it must be something fairly serious. As soon as tickets became available I scooped up a pair. When you have a girl friend you tend to always buy tickets in pairs, but this becomes problematic when Jandek is involved.

    My girl friend did not attend the Jandek concert with me. She was given the option but wisely asked to hear some Jandek first. We got 8 seconds into "They Told Me I Was a Fool" before she said, "You’re on your own," and turned off the CD player. I don’t think he’d even started singing. "He sounds a lot different in concert, I hear," I said, but I didn’t press it.

    So the extra ticket went to my friend Irwin Chusid. I first learned about Jandek in Irwin’s "Songs in the Key of Z" book, so it was only fitting. On the other hand, as readers of that book are aware, Irwin has little regard for Jandek's music, and ridicules it mercilessly. Many of the folks in the Jandek fan club react to the mention of Irwin’s name the way that the guy on the Abbott and Costello show used to react to the mention of Niagara Falls, but then many of them first became aware of Jandek through Irwin, so there’s a degree of ambivalence about him that there might not be for someone else who compared Jandek’s music to ‘a muttering sleepwalker aimlessly plucking amplified bicycle spokes’ in print. Still, I was kind of hoping nobody would recognize him.

    I parked in Soho—a fair hike from the Anthology Film Archives but there’s free street parking on some of the side streets as early as 5 PM. I was about three steps out of my car when I nearly walked right into Kirsten Dunst, looking—well—like a movie star: that is, she was not in the frumpy non-celeb drag she wears all the time on Page Six or in The National Enquirer, but in a white sun dress so plain and simple that I’m sure it cost more than the car I’d just parked. We briefly made eye contact, she glanced down at my sneakers (Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Goths, black with black rubber trim and laces), and that was that, although for the next couple of blocks we were having a terrific imaginary conversation in my head, and I like to think, in hers. In fact, as I got further away I realized she had given me that unmistakable "Ah, if only I had been born 30 years earlier" look that so many beautiful young movie stars give me when we meet. Sometimes girls give me that look at the gym, too, but they usually spoil the moment by asking me if I ever thought about shaving my shoulders.

    The line was already 50 or 60 people long when I got to the venue. As it happened, the doors didn’t open for another 2 hours, nearly an hour after the concert was scheduled to begin. I must say the crowd remained remarkably high spirited and good humored during the endless delay, even when Irwin was saying that Jandek’s entire career was the world’s longest and most elaborate conceptual art piece. Around 8, the line started to move. Irwin asked one of the Anthology people why the long delay? "He was making sure everything was perfect," she said. What could this possibly mean, I wondered—I mean, a guy who reviewed Jandek’s recent Austin, Texas appearance mentioned that Jandek had paused to tune a guitar string and commented, "He tunes his guitar. Who knew?"

    He didn’t tune his guitar for the New York gig. He flummoxed everybody and played a two-tiered keyboard, and a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer accompanied him. Jandek’s keyboard technique was quite similar to his fretboard technique—that is, like he’d maybe heard rumors about this instrument but never actually seen one before—and then every five minutes or so he’d play something that indicated he was a perfectly competent musician and I’d think, "Geez—does he play that way on purpose??" I was disappointed that Jandek was playing keyboard instead of guitar because the Bizarro guitar tuning / playing is my main area of Jandek interest, but I had to admit he found some totally new ways to be unlistenable that night. And I mean that in a GOOD way.

    It turned out later that his guitarist suffered from tinnitis, but the audience didn’t know this during the performance—all we knew was that he sat out that last 20 minutes sitting center stage with his hands over his ears while Jandek tortured the keyboard and wailed away in his inimitable fashion. It seemed perfectly plausible that he just couldn’t take Jandek’s playing any more. Wow, I thought—he’s broken his guitar player! Best Concert Ever!

    I hadn’t been paying much attention to the lyrics, but when the lights came up, I found that Irwin had been keeping a running total of how many times Jandek used some of his favorite words—empty (8), nothing (17), die (6). They announced that there were two more acts appearing after a 15-minute intermission but

    I couldn’t imagine anything could top what I’d just witnessed with my eyes and ears and I left.

    I was disappointed to see that Kirsten Dunst hadn’t left a note with her phone number under my windshield wiper after all. The slender chance that she had may have kept me sane during the last couple of songs. I didn’t really think she was going to leave her phone number, but I thought that maybe she’d ask me where I got the cool sneakers, and ask me to leave the info with her agent or something. Possibly she did and some neighborhood low-life swiped the note. It was a bittersweet conclusion to the evening, but the knowledge that the Jandek concert had been recorded and would be released soon on DVD—so I could experience it again whenever I wanted!—sustained me through the long drive home to Milford.



    Years ago my friend Pashwari was a featured performer on a cable TV kiddies show, and now from time to time the survivors get together and perform at dinner theaters, retirement homes, prisons, and so forth. They bill themselves as a ‘burlesque show,’ although there are no scantily dressed females in sight, except perhaps in the audiences at the retirement homes. What they do is baggy-pants seltzer-in-face comedy. Pashwari not only wields a mean seltzer bottle, he is also the gang’s booking agent.

    "We were booked at ‘Mister B’s Entertainitorium,’ a pretty good-sized restaurant with a stage at one end of the dining room, and about two months before the show he’s running this big ad in the local papers—‘The Uncle Maury Show—Sold Out.’ So we're thinking, great! We almost never sell out, and this took about a day and a half. I called up and asked if he wanted to book a second show.

    "’First let’s see how this one does,’ says Mr. B., who sounds like his been gargling with gravel. I said, what do you mean, it’s sold out! It’s doing great. He says, ‘So far we haven’t sold any tickets.’ I said, ‘huh?’ He says, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do fine. Leave it to me. I know how to sell out a room.’ I have visions of taking a pie in the face in front of like 2 waiters and 5 bus boys. I like bus boys, don’t get me wrong, but we get a percentage of the gate and what amounts to a benefit concert for bus boys just doesn’t appeal to me.

    "But a week before the show—and he’s been running these ‘sold out’ ads the whole time—the place really is sold out. How did you manage? I ask. ‘People call up and say, you got any tickets left?’ I say nah, it’s sold out, but leave your name and number and if there’s a cancellation I’ll call. And a couple of days later I call and say "We had a party cancel out but here’s the thing. It’s a block of 8 tickets, so you gotta buy the whole block. Call your friends. You prolly got a lotta friends who’d like Uncle Maury. Or maybe there’s some old ladies at church or kids with shunts inna head you could bring and get a tax write off." Took three weeks to sell out the whole room.’ I said, ‘Kids with shunts in the head??’ He says, ‘Water onna brain. They need a shunt to relieve the pressure or they heads swell up like a balloon. Lotta those kids don’t get out much. We’re doin’ the Lord’s Work, sellin’ these big blocks of tickets, believe me.’ I’m hoping it being the Lord’s work might make up for the illegal sales method, but I have my doubts.

    "Night of the show, I’m stumbling around in the basement of the place, looking for another bathroom room, because Gordon [largest and most annoying of the burlesquers] has digestive issues and has been in the men’s room that we’re supposed to be using for 45 minutes already. He’s never in the bathroom for less than 45 minutes, and then when he comes out it’s another 20 minutes before any human with a functioning nose can go in there and live.

    "Anyway, I’m in the basement, and there’s Mr. B., rinsing off a table full of fruit with a garden hose. When I say ‘fruit,’ I don’t mean like whole apples or anything like that. I mean little chunks of fruit, like you get in a cocktail. ‘From last night,’ Mr. B. explains. ‘A lotta people, they order a Mai-Tai, they don’t eat the fruit.’ I said, ‘So you just put it in another drink?’ He says, ‘I rinse it off first.’ ‘Well, couldn’t somebody get sick from this?’ Because I’m thinking this or that little chunk of pineapple might be on its 8th go round by now. He says, ‘People get sick, they never think of the fruit. They always think a the lobster or something. Never the fruit.’ This sounds like the Voice of Experience to me, and I think, ‘memo to self: Do Not Order The Mai-Tai.’

    "Well, we were using the pantry as our dressing room, and by the time I returned to the pantry Gordon is back among us and telling us the bus boys are huge fans of his—they all recognize him and call him ‘Gordo.’ Doc the banjo player nudges me and says, ‘"Gordo" is Spanish for ‘fat.’" I update my Memo to Self: ‘Do Not Order the Mai-Tai, Call Gordon ‘Gordo’ From Now On.’ Anyway, we’re in the pantry, and we’re surrounded by all these enormous cans of food. Institutional sizes—like a half-gallon can of tomato paste. We’re all marveling. Gordon goes out on stage to warm up the crowd, he being the warmer-upper. He’s not too good at it—he’s pretty much a ‘Is there anybody here from...’ [takes a long look at am index card] ‘...New Jersey?’ guy, but we make him do it because it gives us an extra few minutes to get ready without him babbling away, and also it’s the only way to guarantee everybody a shot at the bathroom before the show. ‘I got an idea,’ says Doc, and when he tells us, we agree that it’s really good.

    "So we each put one of these monster cans in our bags, and we do the show, and after the show we’re getting dressed and Gordon says, ‘Hey! There’s like five cans of food in my bag!’

    "‘While you were doin’ the warm-up, Mr. B. came back stage and told us to make sure we took some of this grub. They got too much inventory.’

    "‘What a guy,’ said Gordon.

    "So we’re leaving, and Doc stuck an enormous bag of frozen shrimp under his coat. However, he poked a hole in the bag. We’re all walking to the parking lot, and Doc is leaving a trail of frozen shrimp. It’s like Hansel and Gretel with the bread crumbs. Mr. B. goes, ‘Hey! What’s with the shrimp? Open up your coat!’ Doc has this puzzled-but-innocent look on his face. He opens up the coat and of course there’s a bag of shrimp the size of a Volkswagen. ‘How did that get there?’ he says. And then he gets a ‘the-light-is-dawning’ expression, like you see with bad actors in silent movies. ‘Gordon!’ he says. ‘He was fooling around with my coat in the dressing room!’ And Charlie goes, ‘I saw him around my bag before,’ and he takes out the can of tuna. He looks just flabbergasted. All the guys start saying how now that you mention it, Gordo was monkeying around with my bag too. So now there’s about 80 pounds of canned goods sitting in the parking lot and everybody’s got his bag open but Gordon. ‘Let’s see your bag, Mr. Funny Man,’ says Mr. B. ‘I was set up!’ says Gordon. Mr. B. opens his bag and it’s like we all just can’t believe our eyes.

    "Mr. B. says, ‘The rest of youse can go. You...’ That’s Gordo—‘Stay right here.’ None of us have any idea what’s going to happen to Gordon. Mr. B. is not a man to be trifled with. Although we don’t much like Gordon, I felt a little guilty, like possibly we’d gone just a little too far. I didn’t want to just leave him there totally helpless. I had to do something.

    "So as I was getting into the car, I yelled, ‘Gordon—whatever you do, don’t drink the Mai-Tai!’"




    ME: I’m calling to see if you’re okay. You haven’t called for a couple of days. I just wondered if your bike had been stolen yet.

    EMMA: Brando is fine.

    ME: ???

    EMMA: I named the bike ‘Brando.’ Ooh, I just re-read ‘Contagion’ by Robin Cook and the main character bikes to work every day from West 106th Street through the Park and down Second Avenue to 23rd and First. It’s practically MY ROUTE, except I’m on the East Side and I go a lot further. Brando is yellow.

    ME: The bike.

    EMMA: Yes. The other Brando is dead. Speaking of that, we have TWO HUGE MARATHONS coming up. First, there’s the 4th Annual ‘We Still Believe You Winnona’ Marathon, on her 34th birthday.

    ME: The who?

    EMMA: WINNONA. Winnona Ryder! We considered having all period pieces but that would be too morose so we’re going to just have two—I think ‘House of Spirits’ and ‘Dracula,’ and then two lighter ones. And this year we’ll have a keynote speaker.

    ME: A celeb?

    EMMA: Yeah sure. No, but we might have tryouts for it

    ME: You might be able to get Winnona herself. I believe she’s at liberty these days.

    EMMA: You are SO funny. The other marathon is the ‘Stud Debut Marathon.’ Last year’s we did Marlon’s—"The Men"—Johnny Depp—"Nightmare on Elm Street," and Arnold—"Hercules in New York." This year I think we’ll give the ladies equal time but we can only think of two really hot ladies in the whole history of Hollywood—Natalie Portman and Lauren Bacall.

    ME: What I really called about, besides the bike, I wanted to know if you got that hole in your door fixed. You could stick your whole arm through that hole.

    EMMA: It was perfectly round.

    ME: Well, yeah. There used to be a deadbolt lock there. You should—

    EMMA: I was taking a nap? And I hear the door open and somebody comes in and OPENS MY REFRIGERATOR. So I yelled, ‘Hey, what’s up in there?’ and they ran out.


    EMMA: I did. I got a locksmith to put in a new deadbolt. But the joke was on whoever came into my apartment because the refrigerator was EMPTY. Ha!

    ME: !!!

    EMMA: The Mets won on my birthday. They almost didn’t, but then they did. Inna broke up with her boyfriend during the 8th inning. He was crying.

    ME: Is that why she broke up with him?

    EMMA: No, he was crying because she broke up with him. At that point the Mets were losing and I think that maybe she dumped him right then just so I would have a memorable birthday. That would make her a VERY fun friend. They sort of only broke up for the night. He’s only going to be here another week and then he goes back to England, so I think it was like, ‘we’ll pretend we’re still going out.’ They got locked in Shea and had to get out the fire escape exit. Have you seen ‘Prison Break,’ the TV show?

    ME: No.

    EMMA: It’s great. I haven’t seen most of my friends from high school in a while so it’s the next best thing.

    And I went to a special preview of ‘An Unfinished Life.’ A bear mauls Morgan Freeman and then it mauls Robert Redford. Who is very grizzled in most of the movie. He’s only hot now when he’s grizzled.

    ME: Wait a minute—isn’t this a documentary? What are Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman doing in it?

    EMMA: No, you’re thinking of ‘Grizzly Man.’ Hey, I have now seen two movies with MAJOR GRIZZLIES in the same month! That is so cool!

    ME: Uh...

    EMMA: We’re going to get a cat. An old one. I feel bad for the old ones. We’ll name him ‘Howard Roark’ after Howard Roark in ‘The Fountainhead.’ You know they have DOOGIE HOWSER on DVD but not "Sisters?" What is WRONG with everybody?

    ME: I don’t know.

    EMMA: Ooh, and we have a rat.

    ME: Pardon?

    EMMA: You know, like a mouse only bigger?

    ME: Tell your super. Now. And get a trap.

    EMMA: We will only get rid of him if you promise to mention him in the article.

    ME: DONE. Just get a trap and...

    EMMA: Mal doesn’t want to kill him. AND, we haven’t named him yet.

    ME: Don’t name it. It’s a RAT.

    EMMA: I need some tickets to stuff. Kelly Clarkson is playing soon. And Bruce Springsteen, too.

    ME: On the same bill?

    EMMA: This is not Heaven, so no, they are not on the same bill. Will you buy tickets?

    ME: No.

    EMMA: Then I am naming the rat.

    ME: You’re an idiot.

    EMMA: The rat is named JEFFREY. I have to go.



    Sometimes, a week or so before school started, my mother and Calvano’s mother would team up for joint back-to-school shopping.

    Shopping for school supplies was not exactly fun, but it was something you had to do, and there was no denying that it had its pleasures: the smell of a brand new plastic pencil pouch—if that’s not the 12-year-old’s equivalent of ‘New Car Smell,’ I don’t know what is. And choosing your three-ring binder, maybe with a pocket inside the front cover, and definitely with something cool on the front— a NY Giants logo was good because nobody would give you a hard time about it, and cars were good for the same reason. I would have preferred monsters but sometimes the older kids made fun of you if you had a monster on your notebook, and even worse, the artists who drew them were often perfunctory about it, even slapdash, drawing werewolves with the fangs poking down instead of up, for instance. You can’t leave the selection of something like that to someone else, least of all to your mother.

    Shopping for school clothes was not fun at all. It was a horrible experience with just one mother on hand; with two, consulting and clucking and ‘isn’t that just adorable’ing, it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

    Part of the problem was the school dress code. You weren’t allowed to wear t-shirts or sweatshirts or football jerseys, so there was no way out. We knew we’d end up with something gruesome. One year Victor Santella had shown up for the first day of school in a Hawaiian shirt. Even though this was not explicitly proscribed by the dress code, Mrs. Ruthcouff had sent him home to change anyway. "If you want to look like a ‘hipster,’ you do it after school," she said.

    On the other hand, when my mom had forced me to attend the first day of 6th grade wearing a Nehru shirt ("You’re just being silly, all the boys will be wearing them!") and I’d wanted to be sent home to change, it didn’t happen. Mrs. Ruffalo had cooed over it and made me stand in the front of the room so everybody could see how ‘smartly’ I was attired. The Nehru shirt went really well with my crew cut, too.

    As bad as the dress code for shirts was, the dress code for pants was even worse—no jeans, no chinos, and that meant school pants. They weren’t like the dress pants you had to wear to church. I don’t know what the hell they were. They were these mutant pants, either polyester or corduroy, and tailored for maximum discomfort and dorkiness. The dorkier they were the more likely it was that my mom was going to fall in love with them.

    Calvano and I watched with mounting horror as our moms examined the material of the pants on the mannequin at the entrance to the Bamburger’s boys department. "Oooh," said Mrs. Calvano, "cranberry cords!"

    "If you know any prayers about clothes, start saying them now," Calvano whispered to me. I snorted. We thought we knew what we were in for, but we didn’t have a clue.

    "You know what would be adorable?" said my mother. "If Bobby and Jeff wore the same pants on the first day of school, like little twins!"

    "Ha-ga-ga-ga," said Calvano. "Mom, No!"

    "Oh, hush!" said Mrs. Calvano. "Oh, that would be adorable!"

    Numbly, Calvano and I tried on the cranberry cords, and even more numbly watched as our mothers purchased a pair for each of us.

    "It’s just pants," said Calvano. "If we don’t stand near each other, nobody’ll notice..."

    "Now what SHIRT should they wear?" my mother mused.

    "Blue!" cried Calvano. He poked me in the stomach with his elbow. "Say something besides blue, you idiot."

    "Stripes!" I said.

    "Blue stripes," murmured Mrs. Calvano.

    "This can’t be happening," said Calvano. "I must be dreaming." He slapped himself in the face but the bag with the cranberry cords was still there.

    "That’s so sweet," said Mrs. Calvano. "He’s so happy he thinks he’s dreaming!" The horrible blue striped shirts were folded up and bagged while Bamburgers seemed to spin and distort around us, like the bad special effects in a Health Class documentary about drug abuse.

    Our only hope was to get Picarillo to wear something even more horrible than our cranberry cords. This was not out of the question. Unlike us, Picarillo loved his school clothes. He was flushed with delight when his mother told him how handsome he looked in some pleated atrocity.

    The plan was to convince Picarillo that his most grotesque pants—the famous Saint Patrick’s Day pants, emerald green, with, I swear, shamrock patches on the knees—were the only pants worthy of the first day of school. "Geez," said Picarillo, "I really like those pants. I thought you guys thought they were stupid."

    "No, no, they’re great," said Calvano. We heard Mrs. Picarillo puttering around in the hall with the duster so Calvano kicked the door open a little wider to make sure she heard everything. "Those green pants, those are the nicest pants I ever saw, Mike. Honest. I was telling Jeff, boy I wish I had pants like that."

    "They’re really St. Patrick’s Day pants. They have those Irish flowers on the knees."

    "That’s the best part. You’d be making a big mistake not to wear those on the first day of school, all right." Calvano continued in this vein for quite a while, his voice sometimes shaking with suppressed emotion. When it was over, we had no idea whether we had succeeded. We were conscious that our fate was in Picarillo’s hands.

    When I got to Calvano’s house the morning of the first day of school—wearing, of course, my cranberry cords and my blue striped shirt—I was staggered by what I saw.

    Calvano had awakened to discover that after he’d gone to bed, Mrs. Picarillo had brought over the green pants he’d admired so much, and his own mother had stayed up till 12:30 taking them in so he could wear them. She’d done her best, but Picarillo was equal to about two and a half Calvanos and the Shamrocks on the knees seemed even more enormous now. Calvano was literally speechless as we walked to school.

    It would be churlish of me to report the general reaction to Calvano’s pants in any detail, but I think it’s fair to say that my cranberry cords received no attention whatsoever.

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE



    [Note to readers: The Daylight Savings Time Expert Guy has not been heard from in quite a while—not since April 0f 2000!—as the ‘b’ on his computer was not working right and would print as a ‘v.’ This, the Daylight Savings Time Expert Guy had to admit, made reading his column something of a chore. But he has spent a nice chunk of change upgrading his computer and getting some spiffy new word processing software. The problem should not occur again. Thank you for your patience—it’s great to be back! And now, this week’s colcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu mcolcolu]


    I hear there is a plan afoot to extend Daylight Savings Time by an hour. Is this true? And if so, where will we get the extra hour from?




    There are a couple of plans, really. In one version, we’d simply go on permanent DST; an alternate plan calls for an extra hour of sunlight to be added sometime in July, although it’s not clear (at least to me) whether we’d then lose both bonus hours at the same time or incrementally during the Fall. In any case, neither plan is likely to come to fruition. Although it was reported in the late nineties that we had a surplus of hours that was expected to last well into the next century, this turned out to be a bookkeeping error and in reality the mega-hour ‘surplus’ was a shortfall of 27 minutes and 19 seconds. This has since been made up by cutting 27 minutes from the Special 10th Anniversary Edition DVD of ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ so there’s no danger that the hours are going to run out, but if we’re talking about ADDING hours of sunlight... sorry. Just ain’t gonna happen.



    The other day I woke up two hours early and now I know that Daylight Savings is a total rip off. We don’t get any more daylight with DST, not one fargin’ second. We just change the clock! I know it sounds incredible, but it’s true. If you get up early enough, you’ll find that the hour of darkness we supposedly lost at dusk is right there at five o’clock in the morning!




    What did you think we did with that extra hour? Just threw it out? It obviously has to be stored somewhere if we’re going to use it again in October. So yes, we store it at 5 AM, when decent people are asleep. We used to keep it in a storage facility in Queens, but back in 1972 there was a change of ownership, the locks were replaced, and we had to break in with crowbars to get it back. And when we did, there was mildew damage. That’s why 6-7 PM smelled that way in the fall of 1972. Rather than risk something like that again, we just moved that hour to the early morning, where it gets plenty of fresh air and it can be inspected for routine maintenance as often as we like.



    I know that all countries do not have Daylight Savings Time, even have too much sunlight (countries such as ones that are really hot). I was thinking that perhaps we could trade something for their unwanted daylight? Probably there is something they want that we have, just as vice versa. Maybe some kind of beans, such as the ones with the little dots (just a suggestion). What do you think?


    Enjoys the sunlight


    During the Great Daylight Shortage of the 1830’s, our fledgling democracy opened negotiations with various tropical countries for their surplus daylight and even set up an enormous and complex system of mirrors to transport it to our shores—the famous 300 foot Curved Mirror on Martha’s Vineyard is part of that system. The shortage ended before the plan could be put into operation but if the situation became dire once more, we would surely dust off those old giant mirrors and do precisely what you suggestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg gestsugg



    It seems to me that the big problem everyone has with DST is that hour we cheat ourselves out of when we set the clock forward. All of a sudden everybody’s got jet lag, and we didn’t even go anywhere! It’s crazy. Solution: every week for 12 weeks we set the clock forward five minutes. This gives everyone’s inner clock time to adjust to the change. And—this is the part I’m really proud of—the FCC could use this in dealing with broadcasters who violate community standards. Rather than fine these potty-mouths X number of thousand dollars, which they just write off anyway, they could be ordered NOT to adjust their broadcast schedules to keep up with Daylight Savings Time so that people who keep tuning into their shows will be missing 5 and then 10 and then 15 minutes of the show, which will eventually start hurting the ratings, which is where these guys REALLY feel it. What do you think?


    I have many other good ideas too, just ask me about them

    DEAR I:

    I have examined your plan from every conceivable angle, but I can find no flaw in your thinking.



    Despite all your whining, we can have as much Daylight Savings Time as we want. All we need to do is use solar batteries. As you know, these batteries absorb sunlight and convert it into electrical power. Well, science tells us that if you can make X into Y, you can just as easily make Y into X. In other words, all we need to do is reconvert the electrical power to sunlight and release it at whatever time of day we’d like more sunlight. And we can do this at any interval we choose—we could decide to have six more hours of daylight on December 29th, for instance, when we could all use it. The best thing about this is we do not LOSE an hour of sunlight somewhere else—there’s none of this clock-changing nonsense involved, just ADDING more light.


    More light


    Science does not tell us that "if you can make X into Y, you can just as easily make Y into X." A pepperoni pizza every night for two weeks can easily change into two extra inches around the hips, but you will be hard pressed to change two extra inches around the waist into even a single slice of pepperoni pizza. Still, I believe you are on the right track. I am certain that all the problems surrounding Daylight Savings Time will ultimately be solved through the application of advanced technolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo gytechnolo

    * * *



    The Park Theater was three days into a two-week Ingmar Bergman Film Festival and the owner of the place was not happy. We were doing incredible business— a more-than respectable crowd on Thursday, two sold out shows on Friday, and a ticket line snaking past the health food store down the block as we prepared to open up for the first Saturday night show. "I’m going broke!" he cried. The vein in his forehead was visibly throbbing and the ushers were putting down bets about exactly what time it would blow. Jay was giving odds. Chuck the manager overheard us and gave us a dressing down.

    "You pathetic little creeps," he said. "Betting on when Nathan is going to stroke out. You’re monsters. You have no hearts, no souls. I got $10 that says the vein pops at 8:15."

    "You’re covered," said Jay.

    The doors opened and the crowd—decidedly upscale for the Park, which specialized in movies about flesh eating zombies and / or strippers in jeopardy—trickled in. A few people paused at the candy stand to purchase a (small) soda or a (small) popcorn, but not many. During last week’s double bill of "Motor Psycho" and "Faster Pussycat Kill Kill" we’d had to open the supply room three or four times a night to restock the pre-popped popcorn (which was stored (appropriately) in 30 gallon garbage bags). No danger of that tonight.

    "They buy NOTHING," Nathan wailed. He often complained about how little the Park Theater made, but these complaints ("This place is hemorrhaging money!!") were perfunctory for the most part and probably intended to keep anyone from asking for a raise. Tonight it was different. He was genuinely upset. He was used to losing money when the seats were empty, he explained; you took your chances, you showed something offbeat, nobody showed up, okay, you chalk it up to experience. But here we were with fannies in every seat and NOBODY WAS BUYING ANYTHING AT THE CANDY STAND. If the candy stand didn’t turn a profit the theater didn’t turn a profit; it was as simple as that. It was heartbreaking. It was maddening. It was hilarious, at least if you were an usher.

    I had five bucks that said the vein would erupt sometime between 7:30 and 7:45 but—it was now 7:18—his face was getting redder and redder and I was starting to think I had been way too conservative. "I’m going broke!" One of his eyes was twitching and bulging and looked about 50% larger than the other one.

    People just didn’t want to scarf down popcorn while they got morbidly depressed watching Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow wallow in angst. And it was angst, angst, angst. They were angsting it up like crazy in these movies.

    "Maybe they want something less popcorny," said one of the candy girls. "Some kind of, you know, depressing Swedish food."

    Nathan blinked. "Less popcorny," he repeated. His right eye slowly returned to normal size. Jay, who had put his money on 7:25, slapped the candy counter in disgust and stomped out of the lobby. Nathan didn’t notice this. "Less popcorny," he said. "You know, I’ve often thought the same thing. These are not popcorn people. They need something with more class. You," he said to me, "Go to the office, get some oak tag and your Magic Markers. We’ll need a sign."

    "What’s it gonna say, Mr. Nathan?"

    "I’ll be back in a few minutes," he said dreamily, and left. We all exchanged looks. No veins would be popping tonight. I sighed and went to get my sign-making equipment.

    Nathan returned with a grocery bag. "We’ll need a sign. I’m not concerned tonight with profit per se, this is an experiment, so let’s say $3 per box, which represents a 33% mark-up. It’s nothing, but this is an experiment. This is what I want," he said. I took notes on a legal pad. "Uh... ‘Special during our Ingmar Bergman Festival. Swedish Treats, $3 a box. Any variety.’ Classy lettering, none of your dripping blood-type of signs."

    "Okay," I said sadly.

    "Here we go," he said. He reached into the grocery bag and pulled out a box of frozen chocolate bon-bons. "Before anybody says anything, I know they’re not really ‘Swedish Treats,’ in the sense that they come from Sweden, but I also know the Scandinavians go for these in a big way, so there’s no misrepresentation going on here. I should have thought of this a long time ago."

    "How do you spell ‘variety?’" I asked. "The same as the newspaper?"

    "Exactly." He hung around just long enough to make sure I was using classy lettering. "I’ve got to get over to the Rialto. I’ll call later to see how the ‘Swedish Treats’ are moving. Better get those in the freezer."

    He strolled out the door.

    "What freezer?" asked the candy girl.

    Chuck the manager rubbed his temple and made a kind of "mmmgggghhh" noise. There were 12 boxes of bon-bons and there was no freezer on the premises. Chuck got Trish the ticket girl to call her mom and ask if she’d drive over and store the bon-bons in her freezer. Trish’s mom said yes, but it took her twenty minutes to get there and by that time the ‘Swedish Treats’ had devolved into ‘Box o’ Glop.’

    I felt that I could make a pretty good case that if a guy goes out and buys 20 dollars worth of bon-bons to put in a freezer that doesn’t exist, the vein has probably popped, but since Nathan had come up with the Swedish Treat idea at 7:23, Jay would have won the bet, so I didn’t mention it.



    "I been thinking," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams one afternoon at the Custom Neon Sign Shop, bravely peering into the depths of his falafel, "we gotta get some customers in here. Once they came in and saw our New Fall Line of Custom Neon Signs, we’d have more work than we could handle."

    "New Fall Line?" I said.

    "I’m thinking about an open house kinda thing. Little glasses of that clear wine, and those little sandwiches with the classy toothpicks."


    "There’s these toothpicks with curly little ribbons on them," he explained.

    "Let’s get back to the New Fall Line. This is the first I’m hearing about it."

    "We’ll work that out," he said. "Maybe some new colors or something. The open house... I see this as a show. You know. Songs and stuff, to get across the New Fall Line."

    "Which doesn’t exist yet..."

    "Yeah, yeah, yeah." He waved this objection away with the falafel in his right hand. "We need some girls. Uh..." He grunted in a slightly higher register than usual, signifying that normally unexploited portions of his brain were kicking into gear. "They will be called... The Clamettes."

    "The Clamettes," I said.

    "It’s the female of ‘Clam,’" said Mulberry Street Joey Clams. "It would work like this. I would come out on the stage and thank everybody for coming, and then I’d say, uh, ‘And now ladies an’ gennelmen, please welcome... The Clamettes!’ And the Clamettes would come out on stage. There would be this da-da-da-DA-DAH type music. And the Clamettes would say, ‘And now Ladies and Gentlemen, here he is...’ This is two separate Clamettes so far, I don’t know if you picked that up. The first Clamette says, ‘And now ladies and gennelmen,’ and the second one says ‘here he is.’ And the third one says, ‘The host of the show,’ something like that, and then all six of them say, ‘Mulberry Street Joey Clams!’"

    "Six of them."

    "Yeah. All blondes except for this really hot one in a top hat. Anyway, they all say, ‘Mulberry Street Joey Clams!’ All at the same time, I mean."

    "Right. They’ll have to practice that."

    "Absolutely. And there’s more of the da-da-da-DA-DAH music. And I come out and I say, ‘Thank you, ladies and gennelmen.’ Because they been applauding like maniacs. ‘Ladies an’ Genelmen—the Clamettes!’ What do you think?"

    "It’s great. So you introduce the Clamettes, and then the Clamettes introduce you, and then you introduce the Clamettes again?"


    "Then what? They introduce you again? I love it. Then you could introduce the Clamettes. Then... the Clamettes could introduce you. And then you introduce them. It’s simple, but elegant. You’ve just got to remember who got introduced last. I mean, you don’t want to introduce the Clamettes and then introduce them right away, until they’ve introduced you again. Otherwise you’ll look like an idiot."

    I was treading on very dangerous ground here but an idea as stupid as The Clamettes is likely to cross your path only once in a lifetime and I knew that if I didn’t do my best to help Mulberry Street Joey Clams wring the maximum amount of stupidity out of it, I would never cease to regret it. I didn’t want to push it too far, because if Mulberry Street Joey Clams realized that I was making fun of him, it could get unpleasant. There was no danger that he’d fire me, since I did all the actual work at the Custom Neon Sign Shop, but he would probably pout for a couple of days and refuse to speak to me directly. Speaking to me indirectly was difficult because we were the only two people in the shop. He had to say things like, "If there was a THIRD guy working here I would tell him to tell Grimshaw to call Mr. D’amato and tell him his sign was ready," and I would say, "If the third guy told me to call Mr. D’amato I’d tell him to do it himself, I’m busy with this bagel, whereas the third guy isn’t doing anything as far as I can tell." This sort of thing infuriated Mulberry Street Joey Clams but it would get him speaking directly to me sooner or later.

    However, this time Mulberry Street Joey Clams was so enraptured by his vision of the Clamettes that it didn’t occur to him that I might not be offering all this advice in good faith. "We’ll have to advertise. We’ll have auditions..."

    "I’ll make up some fliers. ‘WANTED—CLAMETTES.’ How’s that for starters?" I was thinking maybe the second line should be something along the lines of ‘Hot Brunette Needed to Wear Top Hat. Own Top Hat Preferred But Not Essential.’

    "I dunno... I don’t think you get professional dancers with fliers. I’ll call Uncle Danny—he knows about this stuff." He picked up the phone, but there was no dial tone because we hadn’t paid the bill for a few months. "We’ll call from my mother’s place. C’mon."

    I was always a little nervous going to Mulberry Street Joey Clams’ mother’s apartment, because I had no idea what to call her. Certainly not ‘Mrs. Clams.’ She probably had no idea that her son called himself ‘Mulberry Street Joey Clams.’ I didn’t know what his real name was. Or hers.

    "Maaaa!" cried Mulberry Street Joey Clams. "Get offa the phone! We gotta call Unca Danny."

    "Why?? Are you in trouble??"

    "Nah, nothing like that. We’re gonna have a open house at the Sign Shop, that’s all, and we need some girls who can dance. We’re going to call ‘em ‘The Clamettes.’"

    "That’s so cute! The Glamettes! Little Glamour Girls! What about your cousin Teresa? She takes dance classes. I’ll call your Aunt Angela and tell her you need dancers. Maybe the other girls in her class could..."

    "Ma! Teresa is NINE."

    "A little Glamour Girl. What do you call them? Glamettes?"

    "CLAM-ettes, Ma."

    Mulberry Street Joey Clams’ mother dropped the phone. "CLAMS?? Little CLAMS??"

    "Ma. I gotta use the phone to call Uncle Danny."

    "Use somebody else’s phone," she said. "No little Clams on MY phone!"


    "Little GLAMOUR girls. Not little CLAMS. Nobody wants to be a little clam anyway. You have to promise."


    He promised, but of course once he’d promised to use his cousin Teresa as the lead dancer in his Open House extravaganza, he lost his desire to have an open house.

    And so the Clamettes never got to introduce Mulberry Street Joey Clams introducing the Clamettes introducing Mulberry Street Joey Clams, and nobody got to introduce the New Fall Line, which was probably just as well, since there was no New Fall Line to introduce anyway.



    Once upon a time I accompanied my friend Chuck to a Tower Video store in Paramus. Chuck looked around and noticed that there were a lot of new DVDs and no new laser discs whatsoever. "I knew it," he muttered, "I just bleeping KNEW it." He buttoned-holed a shaggy guy behind the counter and snarled, "You lying bleep! You SWORE to me there would be no more technological advances!!" I couldn’t decide what was crazier—that Shaggy’d told Chuck there would be no more technological advances, or that Chuck had believed him. Either way, I had a warm sense of satisfaction; Chuck had been giving me a hard time for years about my refusal to take the leap into laser discs. "Those VHS tapes of yours are going to stretch, they’re going to get scratched, they’re going to degrade," he said over and over. "Some afternoon you’re going to want to watch "2001" and when you pop it in the tape player, you’re going to discover that tape got stretched just a little and the sound will be awful. What then?"

    ‘What then’ indeed. Although I was right to resist the siren call of laser discs—not because I knew they were about to turn into the 8 Track Tapes of the nineties, but because my middle name is "Inertia"— I occasionally sympathize with Chuck, and wish I had my own shaggy guy behind some counter to grab by the shirt and snarl at every time technology takes another great leap forward. Every time, for instance, I’m at someone else’s house and somebody yells from the kitchen, "Flip on the Yankee game for a second and get the score," I’m flummoxed. I goggle at the battery of remotes on the coffee table and despair. I tell myself it’s an embarrassment of riches—grandpa never confused the TV remote with the DVD remote or the TiVo with the CD player because he just had a Philco radio. I really hate feeling like I’m not keeping up. I mean, you know the old George Carlin bit about how everybody who drives faster than you is a "maniac" and everybody who drives more slowly is a "moron" and there are a lot of maniacs and morons out there? There are two corollaries to this. Number One: It works for everything. Everybody who gets offended by the dirty joke you told is a prude; everybody who didn’t get offended by a dirty joke that disgusted you has no moral standards. Everybody to your left politically is a howling moon bat; everybody to your right is a fascist Neanderthal. And everybody LESS comfortable with new technology is a horse-and-buggy luddite, while everybody MORE comfortable with it is a computer geek with no social life. Number Two: You can deduce exactly where you are on any of these scales by the "moron" to "maniac" ratio. That is, if you’re surrounded by maniacs and rarely encounter morons, you’re probably going about twenty-five miles under the speed limit. Well, as recently as ten years ago I was surrounded by luddites who couldn’t figure out how to delete an email. Now I’m up to my armpits in computer geeks and I’m yelling, "Hey! Get out of the basement once in a while, Four eyes!"

    This is not good.

    All this is by way of prologue. I got a new cell phone and it took me two days to figure out how to work it. And "figure out" is me being really generous to myself. Some of the problem was due to me being, you know, sort of ‘out of it,’ and some of it, I believe, was not.

    PROBLEM NUMBER ONE: "To activate your new phone," said the instructions, "you must call the 800 number below." Well, I tried to do this several times and I kept getting a recording saying that the number

    I’d dialed was not in my calling area. My calling area is the continental United States plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which made me wonder where I was calling. So I called Customer Service, explained the problem, and got a lot of "huh" and "hmmm" sounds for a while, and eventually the person on the other end (who really needs to get out of the basement once in a while) activated my new phone. She said she was doing it "manually," but since she didn’t have the phone in her hands and I heard a lot of key board clicking, I had a brief, totally unjustified sense of superiority for about 8 seconds.

    Later it dawned on me that the phone didn’t connect with the 800 number because it hadn’t been activated yet—yes, I tried to activate the unactivated phone by making a phone call on the phone which hadn’t been activated yet. This seemed to make perfect sense when I was doing it—I’d dial this number, there would be some beeps and whirrs, and the phone in my hand would be fully functional. It didn’t occur to me that activating a cell phone is done the same way you activate a credit card. The person who wrote the instruction book didn’t mention that you need to dial the 800 number on your home phone, because it was self-evident. The cell phone wouldn’t work. Of COURSE you call it on another phone! Why waste ink belaboring the obvious?

    Because the person reading the instructions might be me, that’s why.

    The editor has inexplicably refused my request to cut out all those real estate ads to make room for PROBLEMS 2-16, which are therefore omitted.

    PROBLEM NUMBER 17: My new earpiece refused to recognize my phone, or vice-versa. I know this sounds like I’m having a flashback to that party in 1968 where Danny Corbin’s mom put the wrong mushrooms on the pizza, but I’m not. In this mod-a-go-go world your bluetooth handsfree connection must be PAIRED with your phone, and to do this they have to... well, I don’t know what THEY have to do, but what I had to do, according to the instruction book, is go to MENU, then select SETTINGS, then select CONNECTION, then select BLUETOOTH LINK, then select SETUP, then select FIND ME, and then the two pieces of hardware are supposed to do that voodoo they do so well. But they didn’t. Not on the first try, not on the fifth. So it was back to customer service, and I was walked through the whole thing. After FIND ME, I had to return to BLUETOOTH LINK and then go back to FIND ME, and then everything was fine. "You know, it doesn’t say that in the instructions," I said.

    "Yeah. It’s counterintuitive, so people found it confusing."

    "But... uh... er... but... I mean... don’t they find it confusing that the instructions are wrong?" My guess was that an ‘editor’ looked at this, said, "this makes no sense," and edited it out.

    "They just call us," he said, "and they’re usually really glad when they find out it isn’t their fault. When the instructions were right and they didn’t follow them they’d call, too, of course, but when we told them, ‘you didn’t follow the instructions and go back to ‘bluetooth’ and then return to ‘find me,’ they’d often get very defensive and sometimes angry. This is nicer."

    Any comment I made after that would have been superfluous.


    In Which My Daughter Phones to Announce That She and Her Roommate Have Found an Apartment


    ME: Well, good.

    EMMA: Yes, it is. There are French Bulldogs everywhere. Chocolate ones.

    ME: What?

    EMMA: It means ‘brown.’

    ME: I know. You mean in the apartment?

    EMMA: The neighborhood. And chocolate puggies, too.

    ME: Most people who just signed a lease for their first ever apartment would probably start off with something besides the neighborhood bulldog situation. Like, oh, how many rooms.

    EMMA: Four or five. I’m not totally sure.

    ME: What floor is it on?

    EMMA: I think the fourth. I’m pretty sure.

    ME: Is there an elevator in the building?

    EMMA: I don’t need an elevator.

    ME: Are you planning to move the furniture upstairs with your telekinetic powers?

    EMMA: I don’t need telekinetic powers, either. You so underestimate my endurance and strength. I walk from the dorm to Wall Street all the time.

    ME: You do?

    EMMA: Well, I’m capable of it.

    ME: You didn’t get this through a broker, did you?

    EMMA: No, no. I found it on Craig’s List. Oh, is this an interview? Talk about how I got tickets on Craig’s List to that talk by John Mechum, from Newsweek? And how I made him blush? By asking him that question about how Bill Clinton lost his virginity? I mean, it’s in his book. Mechum is a professional journalist, he should have read it.

    ME: Um...

    EMMA: Uh-oh! Oh no.

    ME: What’s the matter?

    EMMA: My computer!! It’s been quarantined by NYU’s Internet Service!

    ME: What do you mean it’s been quarantined?

    EMMA: I just tried to go online and this dialogue popped up and said ‘your computer is quarantined!’

    ME: Why?

    EMMA: I’m checking... huh.

    ME: What’s wrong?

    EMMA: My computer is infected with all these trojans and viruses and stuff. This is depressing.

    ME: How many trojans?

    EMMA: Over 200. And thirty-something worms. All together it’s more than 600 things I’ve got to delete from my computer to get back online. Ugh. It’s because I keep downloading all these Yahoo! games.

    ME: Well, why do you...

    EMMA: Let’s not talk about that. The Mets are definitely going to get to the World Series this year because I gave up Diet Pepsi for their championship run.

    ME: You do that every year and they haven’t been in the Series since you were two...

    EMMA: You just have no idea. I’m giving it up until the 2nd of October if they don’t get into the playoffs. Or till the end if they do. Oh, Devra wants to go see the Willy Wonka movie. I do not. I am opposed to making Roald Dahl books into movies, except for "Danny the Great," which is the best one. I’m not sure who should be in it. Not Freddy Highmore, I’m adamant.

    ME: I have no idea who that is.

    EMMA: I’m so surprised.

    ME: Could we get back to your new apartment? How long did you look?

    EMMA: Forever.

    ME: How many apartments did you see before this one?

    EMMA: Approximately one million.

    ME: How many boroughs did you look in?

    EMMA: Just Manhattan and Brooklyn. A lot of them didn’t count though.

    ME: Didn’t count in what sense?

    EMMA: They were in slums. I’ve deleted 19 viruses.

    ME: Can I call you back? I need to take a break for a couple of minutes.

    EMMA: If it’s a you-know-what break, take the NY Post in the bathroom with you and see if you can finish the Su Doko puzzle before you’re done.

    ME: The Post Su Doko puzzles are ridiculously easy. Koko the gorilla could do them.

    EMMA: Untrue. Beginning today they have increased the difficulty of the second puzzle.

    ME: I’ll call you back in a few minutes.

    EMMA: My computer will be disinfected by the time we resume.

    [Twelve Minutes Later]

    ME: I’m back. I want to know a little more about your new neighborhood.

    EMMA: Did you do the puzzle?

    ME: Almost. I screwed something up and I got two sevens in the same line.

    EMMA: Loooooser.

    ME: About the neighborhood...

    EMMA: It’s the Upper East Side. It’s all gourmet markets and French Bulldogs.

    ME: Well, so what? You won’t eat gourmet food.

    EMMA: That’s true, but Malzda will.

    ME: Gourmet vegan food? No such thing, I bet.

    EMMA: OH NO! There’s a WORM in my INSTANT MESSENGER PROGRAM! Why would somebody infect THAT?

    ME: So you can spread the virus while you’re Instant Messengering.

    EMMA: Stop! You’re creeping me out! Oh—"March of the Penguins" is the best movie EVER. And so is the one where Natalie Portman shaves her head.

    ME: What movie is that?

    EMMA: I forget. I don’t think it’s out yet.

    ME: Then how do you... never mind.

    EMMA: There’s a kid in my class named Phrixos Papachritides.

    ME: Would this young man be Greek by any chance?

    EMMA: Sort of. He has quadruple citizenship. Greek, Canadian, British, and Italian. He wants American citizenship, too. He collects them.

    ME: Sounds like he’s got plenty already.

    EMMA: Aunt Pam collects Precious Moments figurines. If you told Aunt Pam she had plenty already, she’d tell you that you just don’t get it.

    ME: Maybe Phrixos should switch to Precious Moments figurines. How many viruses have you deleted now?

    EMMA: Almost thirty.

    ME: That leaves about six hundred or so, huh?

    EMMA: I have to go.

    Reflections on a Frozen Mosquito


    A couple of local hicks got into a drag race and the one in the ’56 BelAir creamed the transformer by the gate to Camp Altaha. He wasn’t hurt but the paint job on the BelAir was ruined and he was still swearing and kicking the defunct transformer when the cops arrived and hauled him away, much to the amusement of the assembled Camp Altaha campers. But now the camp had no power.

    Of course we slept in tents and lived a mostly electricity-free existance anyway, aside from our battery-powered transistor radios. The only real problem was the mess hall. The grown-ups got the generator running within a couple of hours and most of the refrigerated food was deemed salvageable, aside from the ice cream. It was pretty gloppy, and rather than refreeze it—which imparts a foul taste and texture— all the Scouts were ordered to line up for what was called "A Very Special Treat." A cone of delicious glop, mostly vanilla, contaminated with rich veins of melted chocolate and strawberry.

    Picarillo was a vanilla man and used his wooden spoon to sluice off as much of the other flavors as possible. "You’re an idiot, Picarillo," said Calvano. "You’re losing twice as much vanilla as chocolate, and you’re gonna end up eating chocolate anyway."

    Picarillo ignored him and continued sluicing, the tip of his tongue protruding from the intense concentration. Suddenly he cried, "Gaak!"

    A mosquito—a fairly large one—had imbedded itself in Picarillo’s vanilla glop.

    "Spoon it out, genius," said Calvano. "It’ll be easier than the chocolate, no lie."

    "I... I... I can’t eat a ice cream cone with a BUG in it," Picarillo stammered.

    "A course not," Calvano said. "So spoon it out."

    "Is the whole cone ruined? It’s a MOSQUITO!"

    "I guarantee if the mosquito landed in his mashed potatoes, they’d already be in the garbage can," I said.

    "But it’s ice cream," Picarillo whispered.

    "Spoon it out," Calvano said, "while there’s still time. Every second you wait, you gotta spoon out more ice cream. While you’re gabbing the mosquito is pumping more and more yellow fever into your cone."

    Picarillo quickly spooned out the mosquito and a fair amount of ice cream, and deposited them on a flat stone we’d been using earlier in the day to detonate a roll of caps from a (contraband!) cap gun.

    "Enough?" said Picarillo.

    "Maybe. We’ll know definitely when you get sick as a dog and die later tonight."

    Picarillo spooned out about half the remaining ice cream.

    "Okay, I think that’ll do it. If the ice cream had been firmer, the poison might have spread rapidly throughout the entire cone by now. But by melting, most of the channels through which the poison would have traveled were collapsed. You’re safe. Probably. Dig in."

    Picarillo took a tentative lick. "Yeah, I got everything out," he said. "Definitely. But you know what I wonder? When a mosquito gives you yellow fever or something, does it HAVE yellow fever? I mean, is it sick? Or is the yellow fever in a separate compartment, like snake poison?"

    "The fact is, it can happen either way," Calvano said. "It depends upon the type of mosquito. Some types are, indeed, immune to the diseases they carry and store the tainted blood in a sort of tube within the body, much like a chamber of Batman’s utility belt. Other, less fortunate varieties, suck the poisoned blood directly into their own stomachs and then sickness and death shortly follow."

    "What about werewolves?" Picarillo asked. This was a pretty amazing non-sequitor even for Picarillo, and it was a while before Calvano could bring himself to ask:

    "What about them?"

    "If a mosquito bites a werewolf and then bites somebody else, is it the same as being bit by the werewolf? Does the guy bit by the mosquito turn into a werewolf?"


    "And does the mosquito turn into a WERE-mosquito?"

    "Science tells us there’s not enough blood involved in the first case to turn somebody into a werewolf. I mean, think about it, Picarillo. Werewolves are always lurking around swamps where you’ve got mosquitoes up the wazoo. They must get bit like 80 times a minute. So everybody around the swamp would be a werewolf in about three weeks if you could catch werewolfism like that. Plus, there’d be all these stories about people who turn into werewolves and they have no idea why. Have you ever heard of that?"

    "Well, no..."

    "That’s right. Doesn’t happen. Now, as far as the were-mosquito goes, it’s unclear, but many top scientists feel it’s possible. VERY possible."

    "Geez," said Picarillo. We all sat in silence, wondering about were-mosquitoes, when Picarillo emitted his second "Gaak!" of the day.

    Down on the surface of the flat rock, the mosquito was stirring, trying to extricate itself from the viscous vanilla. "It’s alive," said Picarillo.

    "Tough break, Picarillo," said Calvano. "You know the Scout law. Now you’ll have to take care of it and nurse it back to health."

    "I dunno how to... I mean, it’s a mosquito." He placed a corner of his paper napkin into the glop, so the mosquito could get some traction, but the mosquito seemed unwilling to avail itself of this.

    "What if it’s a were-mosquito?" I said.

    "Well, he should have thought of that before he whacked it with his ice cream."

    "But I didn’t..." said Picarillo.

    "Stop. We were right here, remember? Besides," said Calvano, "Maybe when it gets healthy, you can teach it to do tricks."

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE



    Steve and I were film students and we were broke, but that wasn’t the major problem. The major problem was that we looked broke. There we were—aviator glasses, uncombed hair, beat-up sneakers, a copy of "The Cinematographer’s Manual" poking out of the back pocket... we looked so cool! We had no idea that every carefully selected item of clothing or accessory was a neon sign screaming ‘BROKE!’ or ‘NERD’ or (if there was a hunk of tape on the aviators) (and there was) "BROKE NERD!" As far as girls were concerned, we might as well have been bathing in formaldehyde, and we couldn’t understand it.

    And yet there was Lee Orloff. His neon warning signs flashed just as loudly as ours did, and yet he was always going out with these incredible girls. What was his secret?

    It turned out to be dogs. Lee worked for a dog walking service, and he worked all the angles to walk the cute scruffy little dogs—the very dogs that would have majored in film if they’d gotten into NYU—and the incredible girls stopped HIM on the street and started talking. To be fair to Lee, it’s still very easy to blow it at that point, so he must have had something on the ball to get those phone numbers. But without the dogs, those girls would have never talked to him. If he’d talked to them, they would have called the cops.

    We didn’t find this out until Lee started his own dog walking service. Lee got his dog walkers (virtually all of them his fellow film students) by telling them the dogs were chick magnets. At first he paid some absurdly tiny wage for each walk, and then as word spread about how effective these magnets really were, guys paid HIM to walk the dogs. There were bidding wars over walking this mostly-Scottie mutt with a tail that curled up like a backwards question mark.

    Steve and I had way too much pride to walk dogs for Lee, let alone pay for the privilege. We watched a dead ringer for Valerie Bertinelli squeal at the mostly-Scottie and then chat with the guy walking it—he looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy, or would have, if his acne hadn’t been so bad.

    "Pathetic," said Steve. I adjusted the tape on my glasses and agreed. We’d just finished shooting a fake Alka-Seltzer commercial for our ‘non-narrative film’ workshop and were hauling 60 or 70 pounds of equipment back to the school. While we were waiting for a ‘Don’t Walk’ light to change I took out the Bolex and cleaned the lens. After we dropped off the equipment Steve said, "You know, while you were fooling around with the Bolex, this girl was checking us out."


    "Yeah. She was kind of hot. I’m thinking here. Maybe... movies could be as good as dogs, chick-wise. Maybe better."

    "Because we wouldn’t be paying Lee Orloff."

    "There’s that," he said. We sat in the park and figured out a plan of attack. We’d have a camera and a tripod, set up some place there were bound to be plenty of girls—a ‘target-rich environment.’ We’d look at our watches, as though we were waiting for someone, and finally one of us would approach a likely young lady and explain that our actress hadn’t shown up, and we needed to finish this project today, and we just needed a couple of reaction shots... Well, how could any girl say no to that?

    A couple of days later we set up our borrowed equipment on a corner of Washington Square and put our foolproof plan into effect. The first five or six girls I approached blew me off, but most of them were nice about it. Then Steve approached three or four girls, and did no better. We quickly eliminated entire classes of females from our pool of possible ‘actresses’—girls wearing pumps wouldn’t even stop to hear the pitch, ditto girls with gym bags; girls walking dogs usually listened, but they had a built-in excuse for not hanging around on the end of the leash, so they were also out.

    Eventually I convinced a semi-cute girl in cut-off overalls to help us out. We hadn’t planned to settle for semi-cute, but we were getting a little impatient. I brought her over to Steve, who was pretending to study the readings on the light meter. "Wow, thank you so much, miss. You’re a life saver."

    "What’s this movie about?" said the lifesaver. Steve and I gaped and looked at each other, dumbfounded. We had no idea what the movie was about. I started to improvise something stupid, but the pause had been a little too long and a little too dumbfounded. Miss Overalls narrowed her eyes and hit the bricks. We folded the tripod up and retreated to a diner, to figure out the movie. We worked up a rudimentary plot about a runaway balloon. We just need some shots of you looking up and seeing the balloon, we’d tell the girl. We went back to the park but had no luck that day.

    A week or so later we had another whack at it and this time we snagged the fifth girl we asked. Penny. We spent 20 minutes framing her in the lens of the filmless camera, reacting to the non-existent balloon. "Now it pops!" Steve said. "Look sad. EXCELLENT!"

    We offered to buy her lunch but she already had plans. "How do we get hold of you for the premiere?" asked Steve. She hesitated before giving him a phone number. "If I’m not there, just give the information to my boyfriend," she said.

    We got better at recognizing which girls would agree to ‘fill in’ for our missing actress; by the sixth or seventh week, we had something like a 60% success rate, if you define success as ‘girl will make faces for the camera for half an hour or so.’ Our balloon movie got more and more elaborate, and our recruitment technique smoother and better. I’d bring an aspiring actress to Steve and he’d moan, "No, no—this girl is way too good looking. We need somebody more ordinary. I’m sorry, miss..." "Steve, we got no time!" I’d plead. "All right," he’d sigh. "Okay. I’ll try to shoot it so she won’t look too distracting..." Then, after a couple of reaction shots: "Cut! CUT! Jeff, we can’t do this. This girl is obviously a professional actress. We’ll have to pay Screen Actors Guild rates, or we’ll have the union on our butts, not to mention her agent..." The girl would assure us she’d never acted before. "Incredible," we’d say, shaking our heads. We, or anyway Steve, started getting phone numbers that worked.

    We took turns being the director, but I realized the girls Steve was bringing me were not nearly as attractive as the girls I was bringing him, and that even when they were, he got the phone number anyway. We had a falling out. The balloon movie was shelved. I was drowning my sorrows at the Student Union and there was Lee Orloff, playing darts. I asked him how it was going. He said so-so. With the new pooper-scooper law it wasn’t as easy to get dog walkers. A couple of months ago, guys were paying him 5 bucks to walk the almost-Scottie. "What does it cost now?" I asked.

    "A mere $3.50," he said. "Or you can walk him three times and pay just ten bucks."

    I slid a ten across the table. "I’ll start Monday," I said.



    Calvano and I found a couple of frozen catfish in his freezer and decided it would be neat to borrow one and toss it back and forth like a football.

    We went over to my Uncle Tug’s house because he had a big back yard where we could run patterns. He also had a swimming pool.

    We certainly had no intention of swimming in the pool, since Tug "saved a bundle" by not hooking up the filter or adding chlorine to the water, which was consequently coated with a thick scum of algae.

    But we figured that when the catfish thawed to the point where you could no longer put a nice spiral on the throw, we’d slip it into the pool and check out Calvano’s theory that if you stuck a dead fish back in the water, it returned to life.

    Tug had been nonplused to see us arrive with the catfish, but raised no objection to our throwing it around in his backyard. Later he told us he’d assumed it was vinyl or something.

    So he sat in his lounge chair reading The Racing Form and listening to a cassette of Sammy Davis Jr.’s Greatest Hits while we ran post patterns and sent the catfish in beautiful spiraling arcs over the rhododendrons.

    But the afternoon heated up and the catfish grew steadily less stiff. It began leaving a sort of brownish paste on our hands. Neighborhood cats stated to show an interest in the proceedings. Tug asked, "You guys smell something?"

    It was time, Calvano told me, to slip the fish into the pool and reanimate it.

    "I dunno," I said. "Maybe we waited too long. It looks deader now than it did in the freezer. A lot deader."

    Calvano didn’t say anything.

    "Do you think it’ll start swimming as soon as it hits the water?" I continued.

    "Well," said Calvano, "It’s hard to say. Probably not. It might take a few minutes. And it’s possible that the catfish has sustained brain damage after all that time in the freezer, not to mention that time you dropped it on that button-hook pattern."

    "You underthrew it."

    "Whatever. The point is, we’re not looking for miracles here. If it moves at all, we’re ahead of the game. Thawing brain tissue is a delicate matter. That’s why they’re going to wait a while with Walt Disney, even after they find a cure for cancer. They’ll wanna check it out the defrosting process on some frozen dead criminals or something before they take a chance with Walt. Fact."

    Rather than drop the fish right in the pool—something we dimly suspected Tug might balk at—we decided to make it look unintentional. Calvano would toss the fish underhand in my direction and I would fail to catch it and it would sail unimpeded into the pool.

    However, the fish had grown so slimy that it slipped off Calvano’s palm during his wind up and landed in Tug’s lap.

    Tug erupted into the air as though... well, as though someone had tossed a dead fish in his lap.

    The fish shot off his lap and into the pool more or less as planned while Tug swore frantically and wiped the catfish residue off his pants with a wad of newspaper.

    Calvano and I raced to the edge of the pool to see if the catfish was moving.

    "Boys," said Tug.

    We couldn’t really tell. There was a hole in the sheet of algae that the catfish had made, but the scum was so thick we could see nothing else.

    "Boys," Tug said again.

    "I think it must be swimming around in there," said Calvano. "If it was still dead, it would float to the surface. It'’ still down there, so it must be swimming around. Q. E. D."

    "Boys," said Tug. "The trouble here is, you have no direction in life. For all your affluence, you are underprivileged. It’s not your fault. It’s the do-gooders in this town. When they shut down the pool halls back in ’53, the kids had no place to go, and what happens? Instead of developing their eye-hand coordination and learning the value of money and so on, they end up in my backyard throwing dead fish at each other. It’s a national disgrace is what it is. No direction in life. But I will give you direction. My direction is, get that dead fish out of my pool. Do it. Do it now."

    It took us 12 minutes to locate the fish—it was on the bottom of the pool—and get it out with the aid of a stick with a pin on the end which Tug had acquired while policing the beach one long ago summer.

    "Is it dead?" I asked Calvano. "I mean, is it still dead, or is it dead again? What do you think?"

    "We’ll never know for sure," he said sadly.

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE


    Mah Jong is a Chinese game played with tiles.

    A Mah-Jong craze swept America in the 1920’s—there was a song by Billy Rose called "Since Mama Plays Mah Jong" ("If you want to play the game / I‘ll tell you what to do / Buy a silk kimono and begin to raise a queue / Get yourself a book of rules and study till it‘s clear / And you‘ll know the game when you‘ve got whiskers down to here..."). In 1923 Mah Jong sets outsold radios. Then America turned its attention to flagpole sitting and Mah Jong faded from the national whatever, although it remained popular in small select enclaves—Jewish matrons in Brooklyn, for instance. I lived there for several years and occasionally heard a demented cry of "PUNG!" or CHOW!" from the neighbor’s apartment. I like to think they dressed up in kimonos but they probably didn’t.

    Once I left Brooklyn I didn’t give Mah Jong another thought until I discovered that some women in my social circle had begun to play it on a regular basis. I would have filed that away in the ‘find out if they wear kimonos’ drawer and forgotten about it, but one evening I found out that this was a co-educational Mah Jong circle; there were two guys who (at least occasionally) joined in the festivities. I found this out because one of them actually won a game. This was Dom. He explained how Mary THOUGHT she’d won but it turned out she’d made an illegal bid so she lost her turn and the game continued, and Dom prevailed.

    I was intrigued by this masculine intrusion into what I’d heretofore considered a feminine preserve. Of course there are often perfectly rational explanations for such things—I started going to yoga class when it was pointed out to me that I would usually be the only man in a room full of ‘flexible, open-minded women.’ But Dom is married, and his wife is one of the Mah-Jongers, or Mah Jongettes, or whatever they call them. I wanted to figure out just what was in it for Dom.

    First I wanted to bone up a little on the rules of Mah Jong, so I’d know what I was talking about.

    Well, this is always a bad idea, but this time it was really a bad idea. I now know considerably less than I did before I read the rules, because no two sets of rules are the same and none of them make any sense. Even when the rules are written in reasonably lucid English I was unable to decipher them. It was like reading the chess instructions that came with my Japanese chess set, which begin, "First you must line up your chesses."

    There are local variations in staggering profusion—over 450,000,000 different ones have been recorded in Brooklyn alone.

    Well, not really, but there are a lot of them. And apparently whenever a new variation occurs, the variation is more complex than the branch it sprang from. For instance, in what my encyclopedia drolly calls ‘the American variations,’ there is something called a ‘Charleston.’ To quote from one of the less maddening rule books:

    "Before each hand begins, a Charleston is enacted. This consists of a procedure where three tiles are passed to the player on one's right, followed by three tiles passed to the player opposite, followed by three tiles passed to the left. If all players agree, a second Charleston is enacted, followed by an optional pass to the player across of one, two or three tiles. This is a distinctive feature of American-style Mahjong that may have been borrowed from card games."

    Got that?

    Several authorities insist that the rules are so complicated to prevent cheating, but it seems to me that at some point the rules become so complicated that you are playing T.I.G.W.A.R., or The Incredible Game Without Any Rules. Novice poker players sometimes discover that have not been playing poker but T.I.G.W.A.R when they produce (for example) two pair—an apparently winning hand—and attempt to claim the pot. "Gee, your other card is the seven of hearts," says one of the more experienced players. "We forgot to explain that if the left-over card is the seven of hearts..." "...Or the queen of spades," interjects another expert. "...Right, or the queen of spades, you LOSE the hand and the rest of the players split the pot." I would guess this sort of thing is endemic in Mah Jong. Lord knows it would be if I were playing.

    At any rate, your reporter was now fully engaged in the subject, and conducted the following interview with Dom, outside a gelato shop in Westfield, New Jersey.

    ME: How often do you play?

    DOM: Not that often. Not often at all. Maybe once a month. They only call me when they don’t have enough people. The number of people has to be divisible by four. So if they only have 15 people, they call me. If they have 12 or 16 they don’t.

    ME: How good are you?

    DOM: I’ve won three times. I won the first game I played, but it was beginner’s luck.

    ME: You must be very secure in your masculinity to play Mah Jong. I mean, I’ve always thought of it as sort of a woman’s game...

    DOM: No, no, not at all. Over HERE, mostly women play it. I don’t know why. In Asia, it’s totally different. Serious gamblers play it. A lot of men play it.

    When he said ‘men,’ the italics were audible. He clearly didn’t mean just, you know, men. He meant MEN. I pictured Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Vin Diesel and the whole cast of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ except maybe Horst Buchholz, all discarding tiles and periodically crying "Pung!" and "Chow," with the testosterone coming off them in waves so strong that it peeled the wall paper right off the wall.

    To check this theory out, I googled "Vin Diesel Mah Jong." I did this, I confess, with the expectation that I would be able to continue, "...and I got no hits whatsoever, so there goes that theory," but to my amazement I got 5100 hits, which pretty much killed my cheap joke.

    What do Vin and Mah Jong have in common? Is he in fact a Mah Jong fiend, going head to head and tile to tile with Chuck Norris or The Rock in Hong Kong even as we speak?

    Alas no. The common link turns out to be video games—there are several games based on the films in Vin’s oeuvre, and there are several ‘virtual’ Mah Jong games, and they are not infrequently mentioned on the same gaming websites.

    But for a minute there, I confess I was a little concerned.

    Anyway, to get back to the interview with Dom:

    ME: What do you enjoy most about Mah Jong?

    DOM: Handling the tiles.

    ME: Pardon?

    DOM: The FEEL of the tiles. It’s a tactile, kinesthetic pleasure. [Kinesthetic: adj. Of or relating to bodily reaction or motor memory] I like to rub the tiles.

    At this point I thought it might be a good idea to shift gears, but the only thing I could think to say was, "Look—cows!" and there weren’t any around.

    I felt I had gone as deeply into the subject as I could in good conscience. There the matter rests.




    The complete (and politically incorrect) lyrics to "Since Ma is playing Mah Jong" by Billy Rose (circa 1925)



    Since Ma is playing Mah Jong,
    Pa wants all chinks hung.
    We get rice chop suey each night,
    Chinese cooking you should see how Pa is looking.
    Ma wears a kimono
    She yells "Pung!" and "Chow!"
    Ma left dishes in the sink
    Pa went out and killed a chink
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.


  • If you want to play the game I‘ll tell you what to do
    Buy a silk kimono and begin to raise a queue
    Get yourself a book of rules and study till it‘s clear,
    And you‘ll know the game when you‘ve got whiskers down to here.
    After that you buy a set and oh how you get stung,
    Then you start in guessing which is Chow and which is Pung;
    And when you‘re exhausted and you're shaky in the knees,
    Then you know why people say "Darn clever, these Chinese!"


    Since Ma is playing Mah Jong,
    Pa wants all chinks hung.
    We get rice chop suey each night,
    Chinese cooking you should see how Pa is looking.
    Ma wears a kimono
    She yells "Pung!" and "Chow!"
    Ma left dishes in the sink
    Pa went out and killed a chink
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.

    I’ve got a wonderful mother,
    But of late she‘s not the same
    Things were O. K. until the day
    Ma learned a new Chinese game.
    China you‘re poison to me,
    You broke up my whole family


    Since Ma is playing Mah Jong,
    Pa wants all chinks hung.
    We get rice chop suey each night,
    Chinese cooking you should see how Pa is looking.
    Ma wears a kimono
    She yells "Pung!" and "Chow!"
    Ma left dishes in the sink
    Pa went out and killed a chink
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.

    Though Pa drives a swell limousine,
    We‘re not braggin’, mamma drives a laundry wagon.
    Ma is using chopsticks
    Forks she won‘t allow.
    Papa scratches till he‘s red,
    She put rice in Papa‘s bed,
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.


  • If you want to play the game I‘ll tell you what to do
    Buy a silk kimono and begin to raise a queue
    Get yourself a book of rules and study till it‘s clear,
    And you‘ll know the game when you‘ve got whiskers down to here.
    After that you buy a set and oh how you get stung,
    Then you start in guessing which is Chow and which is Pung;
    And when you‘re exhausted and you‘re shaky in the knees,
    Then you know why people say "Darn clever, these Chinese!"


    Since Ma is playing Mah Jong,
    Pa wants all chinks hung.
    We get rice chop suey each night,
    Chinese cooking you should see how Pa is looking.
    Ma wears a kimono
    She yells "Pung!" and "Chow!"
    Ma left dishes in the sink
    Pa went out and killed a chink
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.

    Mamma makes papa use chop sticks,
    All the knives and forks are ‘canned’

    Poor papa frets, each meal he gets,
    Splinters all over his hand.
    Her fingernails were like tacks
    So Pa clipped them off with an ax


    Since Ma is playing Mah Jong,
    Pa wants all chinks hung.
    We get rice chop suey each night,
    Chinese cooking you should see how Pa is looking.
    Ma wears a kimono
    She yells "Pung!" and "Chow!"
    Ma left dishes in the sink
    Pa went out and killed a chink
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.

    Father‘s name is Lewis Fitzroy,
    Things are blooey, mamma calls him ‘One-Lung Louie’

    General Stonewall Jackson
    Learned this game somehow,
    "He who touches yon grey head,
    Dies like a dog-- Mah Jong!" he said.
    Ma plays Mah Jong now.


  • If you want to play the game I‘ll tell you what to do
    Buy a silk kimono and begin to raise a queue
    Get yourself a book of rules and study till it‘s clear,
    And you‘ll know the game when you‘ve got whiskers down to here.
    After that you buy a set and oh how you get stung,
    Then you start in guessing which is Chow and which is Pung;
    And when you‘re exhausted and you‘re shaky in the knees,
    Then you know why people say "Darn clever, these Chinese!"


    Since Ma is playing Mah Jong,
    Pa wants all chinks hung.
    We get rice chop suey each night,
    Chinese cooking you should see how Pa is looking.
    Ma wears a kimono
    She yells "Pung!" and "Chow!"
    Ma left dishes in the sink
    Pa went out and killed a chink
    Ma plays Mah Jong now!



    Very early on in my career as a Distinguished Journalist, I discovered there were two things I could not say or my mailbox filled up instantly with invective, abuse, and insult: 1) at least SOME cats have character flaws, and 2) the scientific underpinnings of astrology may not be all that solid. In fact, a column I did about cats nearly 20 years ago brought me so much demented hate mail that I printed up a form letter: "Dear Sir or Madam: I regret to inform you that an escaped mental patient is sending out letters under your signature (see attached)." Unfortunately this just brought me more hate mail, so I stopped.

    Anyway, this week I discovered that there is a THIRD thing I can’t say without unleashing a flood of angry correspondence: "It’s no big deal if your oldies station changes its format." That’s what I said last week, and MAN did I hear it. Sixteen furious emails, plus a couple of the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger variety. One gentleman chose to express his displeasure in verse, which I would share with you if he had not rhymed my last name with "have," "laugh," and "rave." Just for the record, my last name terminates with a "w," not a "v," and "have," "laugh," and "rave" don’t even rhyme with each other. Most of my correspondents marshaled their arguments in prose, and there were two points that kept coming up over and over: I am a moron, and all music since 1970 (or, in the case of a few more adventurous souls, 1975) stinks.

    The only exception to this was a friend of mine (who wishes to go unnamed: I’ll call him "Pashwari," after the entrée I had tonight at the Indian restaurant), who took issue with my cavalier attitude but did not resort to either insults or poetry. He wrote:

    "No, you still don't get it. The point is not that the oldies are gone or that advertisers have stopped targeting us because we're over 49. The point is that the baby-boom generation, which is now largely between 49 and 59, is the LARGEST group of people in America. This is not analogous to the people born in 1920 who felt neglected in 1969 when they were out of the desirable demographics. Those people were in the minority. And throughout history, people over 70 have been in the minority. Until now. We're living longer, well into our 80's. And there are a lot of us over 49. Which means that MOST of the American population has been marginalized."

  • ME: Well, so what?

    PASHWARI: When I say we've been marginalized by popular culture I mean that we're out of the loop when it comes to water-cooler conversation. I can't discuss last night's episode of ‘American Idol’ because I didn't watch it and wouldn't tune in if you paid me. Add to that rap music, ‘Survivor’ and all the other crap, and I'm almost like an alien in my own country. Perhaps what I'm getting at is more of a question than a statement. I could sum up by saying, "What happens to a country and its culture when the majority of the population is marginalized and excluded?" I don't think you disagree with me at this point; you don't care. Which is great for you. I think apathy is the best defense, especially since there's not much we can do about it.

    ME: Well, Apathy is ALWAYS the best defense, except in the case of flesh-eating zombies. Then you need a tire iron, and you’ve got to aim for the HEAD.

    PASHWARI: Perhaps I care more about this stuff than most people. I've been working in television in one way or another since 1976, right up to 1999. It's weird to think that not only can't I get work in the industry for being too old, but I'm not even a consumer anymore. I have to reiterate, however, that this isn't just about me. "Wah-wah, they took away my radio station." Because of the science of demographics, this kind of thing is happening to a hundred million or more of us. I find that a little scary.

    ME: Why ‘scary?’ Advertisers have always targeted the most attractive demographic.

    PASHWARI: Not true. The science of demographics wasn't "invented" until around 1969. Prior to that, broadcasters got plain ratings from the research companies that said only how many people were watching/listening to a given program. TV was full of variety shows like Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason. There were also the country comedies like ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ ‘Petticoat Junction,’ and ‘Green Acres.’ I can tell you that ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ ran for something like 8 years and it was rated the number one show for most of those. Bear in mind that with only three networks to choose from it was very possible to get a 50 share (50% of America tuning in to the same show at the same time). No TV shows come close to that today because there are so many other choices. When demographics were introduced it gave the broadcasters additional information about their programming. Not only did they know how many were watching, they could tell the age, gender, income level and geographic distribution of the audience. They found that Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton had huge numbers of viewers but they were mostly older. They also found that ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ and the other country comedies were very popular among people in rural areas but didn't do well among affluent city-dwellers. These shows had big audiences but undesirable demographics. Look at the 1970 TV schedule and ALL of the shows I mentioned above were gone. In the time slot that had been home to Jackie Gleason for a decade they put ‘All In the Family,’ an urban show that skewed young. Since that time demographics have gotten more and more sophisticated to the point where they break it down into so many categories it makes the Grammy awards look simple. A given program might have good ratings among women 18-24, or males 24-25, or urban-dwelling foreign-speaking childless couples with a median income of $100,000 or more. I'm not exaggerating.

    ME: If advertisers don’t appeal to people in their fifties, aren’t they just poking themselves in the eye? It seems to me that’s an awful lot of people with an awful lot of disposable income to spend.

    PASHWARI: Nope. Even though it's counter-intuitive, statistics show that people over 49 are not good customers. It seems like we spend money like water but they don't want us because we have most of what we want by now, we're brand loyal, and we're not easily swayed by advertising. (I'm sure there are exceptions to this but we're talking generalities here, by definition.) If the U.S. population is close to 300 million and more than half the population is over 50 we're talking about some 150,000,000+ people who don't participate in popular culture.

  • He makes some excellent points (I had to omit many more because of space limitations (and also because they make me look really stupid)), and none of it rhymes. I can’t really dispute any of this. As Mr. Pashwari says, it’s not so much that I disagree, it’s that I don’t care. If 150,000,000 Americans don’t participate in pop culture, that’s okay with me. Maybe it’s even a good thing. But as Mr. P. demonstrates, I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. AND (don’t forget!) I don’t care, either.

    Ignorance and apathy. They have been my constant companions through life and they rarely let me down. I’m not about to abandon them now, believe me.



    Not one... not two... but FIVE emails landed in the Grimshaw inbox this week suggesting—no, pleading—no, DEMANDING—that I deal with the demise of WCBS-FM, which was apparently the last oldies station in the Milky Way galaxy. I had no idea there was a shortage of oldies stations. I doubt if I have run down the radio dial any time in the past 20 years without encountering "Stairway to Heaven" and /or "Hotel California" and /or "Sweet Home Alabama," all of ‘em older than dirt and still getting programmed relentlessly all over the place. I wrote back to one of my correspondents with this observation and she responded that those are all songs from the SEVENTIES and nobody was playing songs from the SIXTIES and was I just going to write another stupid article about COW BRAINS or was I going to DO something about it?

    Well, Mooooo.

    The main reason I’m sticking with cow brains is that I just. Don’t. Get. It. I have never had a favorite radio station. Yes, I listened (and listen) to the radio, but that’s because I have to listen to something, or else I’m stuck listening to my own thoughts, and believe me, that wouldn’t be pretty. There were and are a lot of songs from 40 years ago that I like, but there are way more that I don’t. I would rather stick slide down a cheese grater than ever listen to "Indian Reservation" by Paul Revere and the Raiders, for instance. Maybe WCBS-FM never played it, but I wasn’t willing to take that chance, so I never tuned in. When I was growing up, the top forty station with the most powerful transmitter was WABC, out of New York. WABC played all the hits all the time, which in practice meant you would hear the week’s number one song at least 5 times in the course of two hours. Very useful if the number one song that week happened "Louie Louie" and you were trying to figure out if the lyrics really were as smutty as your sister’s boy friend said (actually the theme from "Mr. Ed" is smuttier), but otherwise it was annoying. Did I say ‘annoying?’ Man! If you didn’t live through the ‘golden age’ of top 40 radio, you have no idea what ‘annoying’ means. When a song you hated went into the top 5 the only way to escape it was to TURN OFF THE RADIO. Kids, this was in an age when aaaalllllll the stations were top forty or close enough (or else they played GROWN-UP music and therefore were totally beyond the pale), and cars generally did not have tape players yet. And when they did, the tapes tended to jam and tangle and explode out of the suddenly defunct machine in a blast of accordion pleats. There were entire weeks when your choice was either silence (unthinkable!) or "Horse with No Name." *Shudder*

    And yet, people are really upset. My friend Dave is upset about WCBS going south. He’s got an enormous music collection and any time he wants to hear "Indian Reservation," it’s just a click away. Of course he’s not just lamenting the loss of a radio station; he’s upset because he and I turn 50 this year and that means we are no longer demographically attractive to advertisers. "They won’t target us any more," he said. "You mean," I said, "it bothers you that low-lifes in the ad business won’t try to get us to buy worthless garbage now?" "Yes," he said. For Dave, WCBS is just a symbol of a greater existential dilemma—the idea that in a very short time we’re going to look even more like wrinkled shapeless blobs than we already do. Like Naugahyde hassocks left out in the yard all winter. In fact, we’ll be worse than Naugahyde hassocks. They don’t need Depends.

    But the rest of my correspondents are not despondent. They are FURIOUS that THEIR MUSIC is now off the air. Folks: the Sixties got rolling 45 years ago and although I haven’t checked this, I’m pretty sure that I could have listened to a lot of radio stations in 1965 without finding the greatest hits of 1920. People who were teenagers in 1920 probably enjoyed their music just as much as people who were teenagers in 1965. And I bet they hated the music of 1966 as much or more than the erstwhile teens of 1966 hate the music of 2005. They even wrote crabby letters to the editor about it. They just didn’t happen to think they were ENTITLED to a station devoted to 40-year-old music.

    So what should you do? You should PAY MORE ATTENTION TO MY COLUMN!! Just a few weeks ago I gave you people a website where you could download 365 really cool songs and things, including a bunch of 8 year-olds screaming "I like cheese!" for three solid minutes. This ALONE is worth more than every single song released commercially in 1966, and 1966 was a great year for pop music. I have no idea what the WBS playlist was like but I can guarantee this wasn’t on it.

    Time Capsule



    When I was 12 years old, the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of my hometown was celebrated with a gala 2-hour ceremony in front of the municipal building. President Johnson had been invited but did not attend, although he did send his regrets; maybe he heard that the music was going to be provided by the members of the Shriners’ All-Star Celestial Orchestra, one of whom played a banjo made from a cigar box. They played a number called, or at any rate with the refrain, "O’Brien Is Tryin’ to Learn to Talk Hawaiian." Between songs, local politicians made speeches, and the whole thing climaxed with a time capsule being sealed in the foundation stone of the newly erected library (since the library was already up and open for business I guess it was a faux-foundation stone). The mayor held up all the objects being sealed into the time capsule and explained what they would reveal about the residents of Little Falls circa 1967 to the residents of 2067. I remember only one object: a can of aerosol cheese.

    Aside from the cheese, Calvano and Picarillo and I did not think much of the selection when we discussed it over the next few days, but we loved the concept of sealing a lot of cool stuff in a time capsule for future generations to discover. We talked about it in Calvano’s basement, or in the belly of the World War I Tank Memorial in the park, or accompanying Picarillo on the way to the drug store- his mother sent him out for various embarrassing ‘ladies’ products’ about six times a day. At first we debated what we would include without regard to the size of the capsule or our ability to obtain the items we would seal within it for posterity. "A Corvette," Calvano suggested at one point. "A red one, with white walls, definitely. And a couple of episodes of either ‘Combat’ or ‘Rat Patrol.’ Which means a TV to show them on, too, of course..."

    "A big one," said Picarillo, nodding, "Like Dr. Fergussen has. It’s got the rabbit ears built RIGHT INTO THE SET." I shook my head in disbelief and whistled. We had no conception of how an episode of ‘Rat Patrol’ might be stored—in film canisters? On reel-to-reel tape? On punch cards? –But there was no doubt that at least one should be preserved for all time.

    We list after list, arguing whether to include Picarillo’s copy of the Zager and Evans hit single "In the Year 2525;" we agreed it was the greatest song ever but Picarillo had played it so much that it sounded like it had been sandpapered, in addition to which the needle got stuck on the last chorus so you had to either throw a shoe at the record player or actually get up and lift the tone arm manually. "What does it say about us if we leave the Children of the Future a defective record?" asked Calvano. "Nothing good. It would be better to include a second can of calamari."

    Eventually we concluded that our time capsule should be no larger than the one sealed up on Little Falls Centennial Celebration Day, and that had been roughly the size of a milk crate. We thought about including some personal items like the pickled cow brain Picarillo kept in a jar on his night stand, but upon further reflection figured that maybe that would tell future generations a little too much about us. We certainly intended to seal up some of the rubber spiders we made with the Mattel THINGMAKER™, because we were very proud of our custom blend of black and red plasti-goop which, poured into the mold at exactly the right moment, gave our spiders a unique marbleized look.

    If the opportunity to stock a time capsule arose, everything on our ultimate list was already in our possession (like the spiders) or easily obtainable (like the calamari, or Calvano’s brother’s copy of the October 1965 Cavalier Magazine with the Yvette Mimieux cover). We stored the objects on hand in one of the countless drugstore bags in the Picarillo household.

    But we knew, of course, that the opportunity would never arise.

    And then, amazingly, it did. A housing development went up on the property beside the abandoned junkyard we called ‘Tomato Smash’ at the edge of town, where we spent far too much time. Most of the houses were in various stages of construction. We made friends with the rummy who’d been hired to watch the unfinished structures when there was no work underway, and he let us eat lunch inside them and listen to ball games on our transistor radios, which is what we were doing when Calvano, halfway through a peanut butter sandwich, announced: "There are SPACES between the outside and inside walls!" And even between the walls of adjacent rooms. True, there was insulation and wiring and plumbing in those spaces... but there was still plenty of room to STICK A TIME CAPSULE within most of them, and in that room, a couple of the walls had been partly sealed already—we could just slide our capsule behind a slab of drywall and in all likelihood it would go undiscovered for decades or even millennia.

    "What do we need, besides Yvette?" said Calvano.

    "I’ll go down to the Valley Spa and get some wax fangs," I said. "Picarillo, you get the squid."

    We separated and met up in Tomato Smash about an hour later. Calvano had been unable to get the Cavalier because his brother Duff was at home. We either had to wait for Duff to leave—which could be days, now that he had a lava light—or do without it. We did without it. Picarillo held out the bag and I slipped the fangs into it. Calvano chatted up the rummy while Picarillo and I made the drop. It was exhilarating, as though we had thrown a switch and sent our time capsule a thousand years into the future.

    When we got back to Picarillo’s house, his mother said, "Michael! What’s all this junk?" She rattled a paper bag. "Rubber spiders! Fake vomit! What did I tell you about that fake vomit? What happened to my things from the drug store?"

    "Uh, I dunno, Ma..."

    She sent us back to the drugstore to get the missing items. "Picarillo, you’re an idiot," said Calvano. It was a gruesome list. Two rolls of toilet paper! Pink plastic hair curlers! Tampons!

    "Maybe we should go back to the house and just switch the bags," I said, but we were already half way to the drugstore by then.

    "Nah, it’ll be okay," said Calvano. He was looking into the middle distance and having one of his visions. "Someday 80 years from now someone may be stuck on the toilet in that house, and they’ll run out of toilet paper, and in frustration they kick a hole in the wall, and miraculously, they will find toilet paper."

    "Also tampons and pink plastic hair curlers."

    "The calamari is there, too, and the fangs," Picarillo added.

    "It will be a gift from the distant past," said Calvano.

    "What I don’t get," I said, "Is, why would they kick a hole in the living room wall?"

    For a second Calvano’s eyes clouded over. Then his incredibly efficient mental paper shredder kicked in. My question vanished from his brain in a blur of mental confetti, and his eyes cleared again. "A gift from the distant past," he murmured.

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE



    EMMA: Hello? I’m on the N Train... We’re pulling into Union Square. Can you send me $40?

    ME: Why?

    EMMA: Because I don’t have it. Oh, listen, you told me there was this movie star in the Golden Age of Hollywood who was so short he had to stand on a milk crate to kiss the leading lady? And if they were walking side by side, she had to walk in a ditch? Who was that?

    ME: Alan Ladd. He was 5’2".

    EMMA: Who? No, no, this was a MOVIE STAR.

    ME: Alan Ladd was a big star—he was "Shane." He was in "This Gun’s for Hire." He, um...

    EMMA: Yeah, whatever. Well, if you remember the name of the REAL movie star, let me know. Oh, listen, Devra is on the train too. We have some more stuff to tell you. Call her on your three-way calling thing so we don’t have to pass the phone around.

    ME: I don’t have three...

    EMMA: Yes you do! I’ve seen it on your phone bill.

    ME: You look at my phone bill??

    EMMA: I wanted to see if you made any calls to those smutty 900 numbers. The month I looked you didn’t. But you have three-way calling.

    ME: Are you sure?

    EMMA: Just hit the ‘link’ button on your phone, and then dial Devra’s number, and after she picks up hit your ‘link’ button again, and then we can talk like civilized humans...

    [The three way calling actually works on the second attempt]

    ME: Is everybody there?

    DEVRA: Yes, hello.

    EMMA: I knew you could eventually do it.

    ME: What’s the scoop?

    DEVRA: My teddy bear, Black Bear, is going to marry Emma’s teddy bear, Big Bear.

    EMMA: It was supposed to have already happened, but there were no witnesses...

    DEVRA: Except Bryant...

    EMMA: Who doesn’t count, so it wouldn’t have been legal.

    ME: This is creeping me out. It would be sort of cute if you were in, oh, 5th grade...

    EMMA: We’ve selected music for the ceremony. It’s ‘The Bear Necessities’ from "The Jungle Book."

    ME: Look, this is a little too sick for my paper...

    DEVRA: No, it’s okay! Black Bear is a girl! She used to wear a girl bathing suit even, for the better part of seven years...

    ME: How old are you two?

    EMMA: We want to have the wedding at this bar on Third Avenue. The Black Bear Lodge. We asked...

    ME: You’re 21.

    EMMA: And I need 40 dollars.

    ME: What happened to your job?

    EMMA: I quit.

    ME: It was a great job! It was The TODAY Show!

    EMMA: No, it was OUTSIDE the Today Show. I got tired of getting up at 4:30 in the morning and going down to the Today Show studio to wave a sign for a dog food company. I did it for three days and that’s enough. And Al Roker GROPED me.

    ME: Oh please.

    EMMA: He did. All these people stick out their arms so he’ll TOUCH them, but I DIDN’T stick out my arm. It turns out if you DON’T extend your arm he will grope it.

    DEVRA: And the sad part is, there were all these people there who wanted to be groped who weren’t.

    EMMA: Reba MacIntyre was there one morning singing. All these Reba MacIntyre fans were there. And you know, on the other side of the dog food company sign I wrote ‘I (heart) Devra,’ So I could whirl the sign around when it got on camera and Devra would see it and go ‘awww,’ and these country music fans said, "it’s spelled ‘R-E-B-A.’" And I said, ‘I’m a corporate shill, leave me alone.’ They got really mad. They thought I said something dirty. Oh! And there’s a FRENCH BULLDOG in the neighborhood. They have tongues that hang out all the time, and they’re all smushy, but very dapper. They walk with a STRUT. Wait, wait—scary homeless man!

    ME: Why’s he scary?


    ME: But so what?

    EMMA: Let me explain then: You know Nothing. NOTHING.

    ME: So explain it then.

    EMMA: That was the explaination. We saw Clint Eastwood’s directoral debut.

    ME: "Play Misty for Me."

    EMMA: Aside from THAT, you know nothing. Anyway, the girl reminds me of the nanny in "Pinnochio’s Revenge."

    DEVRA: She had a real Amy Sedaris vibe. But Clint had GOOD hair.

    EMMA: Very good.

    DEVRA: And he wore jockey shorts. White.

    EMMA: Yes. Briefs. Guess who’s behind Devra? ERNEST RAWLSON’S EX-GIRLFRIEND.

    ME: What?

    EMMA: And I got the special edition "Beaches" DVD. There’s an interview with the girl who played the young Bette Midler. She played Blossom in "Blossom," too. I never saw the show but I remember you spit out your soda one night when this commercial said, "Tonight... on a VERY SPECIAL BLOSSOM..."

    ME: That’s because they were ALL special.

    EMMA: Devra and I are going on the Oregon Trail.

    ME: You mean the computer game?

    EMMA: No, the real thing. In a car. And we’ll backpack through the rough parts. And then, in October, we’re going to a Halloween party as Sacco and Vanzetti. POST execution.

    ME: Were they hung or electrocuted? I forget.

    EMMA: Electrocuted. And I already have the hair for it.

    ME: Is that why you’re doing it?

    EMMA: No, of course not. I’m a HISTORY major. Katie Holmes...

    DEVRA: Has a Herpie on her upper lip.

    EMMA: Yes. On two different magazine covers. She’s on a third one, but it’s all blurred there, like they tried to fix it but they couldn’t. She should go to the NY Eye and Ear Infirmary to get it taken care of. My eye was all swollen and I waited 5 hours to see somebody and then he told me to put a HOT POTATO on it.

    DEVRA: You were given the option of another vegetable.

    EMMA: True. Forty dollars. Remember. Must go now.



    I did not personally matriculate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but my friend Dave Willinsky’s older brother Toby’s buddy Curt spent a couple of semesters there before flunking out, so I have always considered it my ‘almost alma mater.’ Curt wore rimless glasses with round lenses and had that impressive unshaven I’ve-been-up-36-straight-hours-cramming-for-my-post-Calculus-finals look. The fact that he could pull it off without bothering about the actual cramming just made it all the more impressive. I considered applying to MIT—I was sure I could manage that unshaven genius look at least as well as Curt, once I started shaving more than twice a week—but in the end I traded a couple of Larry Niven paperbacks ("Ringworld" and "Neutron Star") for Curt’s MIT sweatshirt and left it at that.

    Shortly after acquiring the sweatshirt I read an article in "True: The Men’s Magazine" about the madcap science students at Cal Tech, which included their instructions for attaching 60 feet of aluminum foil to a helium-filled weather balloon so it would show up on radar and cause the Strategic Air Command to send jet interceptors. As I have written here in the past, my attempt to duplicate this experiment was unsuccessful, but the experience was almost enough to get me to switch my science-school allegiance and get a Cal Tech sweatshirt. Almost.

    This past week I’ve had to rethink my loyalty to MIT yet again. As you may have heard, on May 7th a Time Travelers’ Convention was held on the MIT campus. According to the organizers, you would only need to have one time traveler’s convention, ever, since as a time traveler you could always attend it as often as you like. It was held in the East Campus courtyard and got rolling at 8 PM. There were live bands and refreshments and "awesome lectures." (Says here).

    Unfortunately, there were no time travelers. What went wrong? Speculation is rife, let me tell you. The erudite website "PaleoJudeaica" ticks off six possible reasons why time travelers avoided the MIT bash, including "Time travel really is impossible" (reason 1), "Time travel is possible, but the many-world's interpretation of quantum physics is correct, and time travelers who went to the convention started new branches of the multiverse," (reason 3), and "Someone in the future is going to throw a better party for time travelers," (reason 6).

    I think number 6 is almost, but not quite, on the money.

    Just how cheap and easy would time travel have to be for anyone in, oh, 3,400,057 AD to think, "Hey— party at MIT on May 7th, 2005—East Campus Courtyard!" ANSWER: Doggone cheap and easy.

    Like, totally free and utterly effortless. But let’s assume it is. Let’s say in 3,400,057 AD it’s easier to zip back to 2005 AD than it is in 2005 AD to turn on the TV and find an episode of "Law and Order." If you can go any place in the world at any time in history, why would you want to go to THIS particular wingding? No matter how easy it is to get there, once you get there, you’re THERE. In the East Campus Courtyard at MIT. Even if you just hang out there for 2 hours, it’s still 2 hours out of your life that you’ll never get back. And if you’re from the future, you already know that the organizers called it a rousing success since they had "awesome lectures." I mean, apparently they also had a keg, but still, at the risk of offending the fine folks at my almost-alma mater, that doesn’t seem like much of an incentive to travel through the eons. As the Radio Free Wyhtl site so eloquently put it, "You can throw a party for Tom Cruise, but that doesn’t mean he’ll show."

    My real guess is that reason (1) is correct and time travel is impossible. I wish it were otherwise. If time travel were possible, all parties would be great parties, because you’d be able to find out in advance if they weren’t, so you wouldn’t have them. "The beer bash next Wednesday is canceled because only 6 people will show up and one of them is that smelly kid from Kappa Delta."

    On the other hand, if you cancel the party, then it doesn’t happen. Therefore you didn’t find out in advance what a drag it’s going to be. So then you have it anyway. But then the smelly kid shows up and... Well, you see where this leads. A kind of temporal feedback loop with some frat boy with bad breath winking in and out of existance forever. None for me, thanks.

  • CORRECTION: A couple of weeks ago I wrote that my friend Paul Proch posted a picture of himself on eBay in which he was "wearing a ski cap, goggles, and a smoking jacket, with his arm around a stuffed gorilla." In fact, writes Mr. Proch, "...I wasn't wearing a ski cap and goggles in the gorilla photo; I was wearing a fez with an eyeball on it that I bought in Las Vegas, and ‘Goofy Glasses.’" The Delaware Valley News extends its apologies to Mr. Proch and his stuffed gorilla.

  • 365 Reasons to be Cheerful


    A couple of years ago the warranty on my appendix expired and during my recovery, unable to amuse myself in my usual fashion (bar fights, shark baiting, etc.), I had quite a bit of time to kill. I killed a lot of it (or anyway gave it a good kick in the shins) on the World Wide Web. One afternoon while I was annoying strangers on the Internet by pretending to be a Nigerian banker, I stumbled across the 365 Day Project.

    Ah! Just typing the words "365 Day Project" suffuses me with a warm glow.

    No, wait. It’s not a warm glow, exactly, it’s more a kind of... bloated, uncomfortable feeling, sort of a stomach cramp, like I overdid it with the moo shoo pork at the Chinese restaurant tonight. Which, come to think of it, I did. Whoa!

    Excuse me, I’ll be right back.

    Okay. Much better.

    Now I’m typing ‘365 Day Project’ again, and this time it is a warm glow, all right, without a hint of indigestion. The 365-Day Project was the brainchild of one Otis Fodder, who posted a bizarre mp3 every day in 2003. My appendix threw its hissy-fit in June, when the Project was already half over, but the first thing I did every morning was download the latest offering and then hit the archives for treasures I’d missed. It took me about two months to catch up.

    What do I mean by ‘bizarre mp3?’ Obscure songs from past decades; weird children’s records; forgotten commercials; demented performances lifted from high school marching band LPs; oddball demo tapes; kids singing along with their record collections; promotional flexi-disks, amateur cassette releases, berserk karaoke interpretations, and that’s not the half of it, or even a 30th of it. There are a few celebrities scattered here and there—William Shatner reciting "Rocket Man," Orson Welles flipping out during a blown take for a canned pea commercial, Van Morrison getting out of his contract for Bang Records by delivering 28 hastily improvised 2-chord ‘songs’ like "Ringworm" ("I heard you got / Ringworm / It’s a very common disease / Ringworm..."). But for the most part, the 365 tracks are by people you’ve never heard of, some of them talented, many of them not, some of them utterly charming, some of them seriously disturbed. I would have mentioned this long ago and given it my highest possible recommendation, but when the project ended the mp3’s came down and that was that.


    It’s back. The whole thing. You can type http://www.ubu.com/outsiders/365/ into your address bar or just google "The 365 Day Project," and you’ll get there. It’s archived in bi-weekly chunks and every track is copiously annotated so you can download the entire project or browse around and just get the stuff that sounds like it’s your cup of meat. And it’s all FREE.

    My friend Irwin Chusid, who used to program this sort of thing on his now-defunct WFMU radio show "Incorrect Music," liked to say, "This isn’t comedy, it’s anthropology," and he had a point, although some of this stuff is incredibly funny. If I listen to a couple of them in a row they sound like novelty records, but when I let an hour or so of this material play while I’m balancing the checkbook and paying bills, it sounds like the secret history of the 20th century.

    Case in point: "What Would We Do without Glass," by Herby and Elena Ayers, the selection for August 6th. A little classic from 1951, enumerating all the wonderful things made of glass, produced "by and for" the Glass Blowers Union. It contains the line, "What would the neighbors do without your television?"

    This lyric probably makes no sense to anyone born much later than 1950. I, of course, WAS born later than 1950—much MUCH later, thank you— and the line resonates for me only because I grew up next door to a large family that had no TV set, well into the 1960’s. It was a middle-class family, normal in every way except for the extraordinary absence of a TV in the living room. This was so unusual that the kids in the neighborhood imagined that they must’ve belonged to some weird religion that prohibited television. (In fact they were Lutherans). When they eventually broke down and got a TV (around 1966) I think I made some sort of remark at the dinner table about how they were FINALLY joining the 20th century, because I remember my father telling me that on the contrary, they had been the first family on the block to own a TV, and the entire neighborhood used to congregate in their living room night after night after night, people dropping by on any kind of flimsy pretext and then staying to watch TV (and abuse their hospitality) until the wee hours. When the TV gave out the patriarch simply refused to get it repaired or replaced. This little comedy was repeated with variations all over the country in the late forties and very early fifties, and then everyone had a TV set and folks stayed in their own living rooms and the whole structure of community life was altered. The brief window of time when there were just one or two TV’s per block and a whole neighborhood was crammed around it watching Milton Berle while somebody adjusted the rabbit ears closed, and vanished without leaving a trace in the popular culture of the day—aside from a throwaway line in a goofy, privately distributed record that no one heard for 50 years, until it ended up in the 365-Day Project.

    I would suggest getting everything, even stuff like the guy who sings "Stagger Lee" like a duck, and the 8-year-old kids screaming "I like cheese!" for three and a half minutes. There must be 50 hours of mouth-dropping material here (there’s a high school marching band version of "Lady Madonna" alone that lasts for 20 minutes). And it will all sound just as fresh in 20 years as it does today.

    Good taste is timeless.


    A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that my friend Paul Proch had put himself up for auction on eBay. I don’t mean he was offering to live in the basement and keep the floors waxed and the plants watered for life if you won the auction—he was offering himself for one night only. As he put it:

    "Your NIGHT OF ENCHANTMENT will commence when you rendezvous with me, PAUL PROCH, at a convenient pre-arranged location. Then you will accompany me, PAUL PROCH, to the garden spot of the world – BROOKLYN, USA – for the opening night world premiere of "Theatre for the New Ear" at the ST. ANN’S WAREHOUSE Theater..."

    "Theater for the New Ear" is the classy title for a pair of radio plays written and directed by the Coen Brothers (Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou) and Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Opening night tickets were not easy to come by, since (despite the Brooklyn location) the cast included Meryl Streep, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marcia Gay Harden, and Steve Buscemi, but since Paul is Charlie Kaufmann’s erstwhile writing partner AND the guy who drew all those pictures used in "Eternal Sunshine," he managed *cough* to snag some.

    (Paul also did the illustrations for *cough cough* my last three books, available at extremely reasonable prices at the Delaware Valley News office).

    The description of Paul’s proposed Night of Enchantment continues for several paragraphs, concluding, "Then, weary and languid as your NIGHT OF ENCHANTMENT nears its conclusion, I will leave you with a waggish "adieu" and your treasured memories of a NIGHT OF ENCHANTMENT. After that, you're on your own. After all, I have to get up and go to work thin the morning. I need my rest—I’m not a machine, you know. In addition, your entire NIGHT OF ENCHANTMENT will be fully documented by PAUL PROCH’s personal team of photographers (his sister and her husband)."

    I ask you—how could anyone (at least anyone female between the ages of 25-50, as specified in the ad) resist the urge to bid on this auction? Which, by the way, was illustrated with a photograph of Paul wearing a ski cap, goggles, and a smoking jacket, with his arm around a stuffed gorilla, captioned: "That’s right, one lucky lady could be this gorilla… for a price!"

    And what was that price? I hope you’re sitting down. The Night of Enchantment went for $306.34. There was a spirited bidding war—by which I mean that at least two different females were vying for the right to PAY Paul for the pleasure of his company. And even though it took place online, and the weapon of choice was money, it surely qualifies as an example of Nature’s most awesome spectacle: a GIRL FIGHT! Ideally, of course, both girls in a girl fight should be wearing black underwear, and begin the fracas by throwing table lamps and high heels at each other and gradually close the distance until they’re grappling hand to hand, and in the course of the struggle they rip each others’ blouses to shreds which is how we find out about the black underwear, and then they tumble into a nearby shallow canal, and the busty redhead yells, "You keep your hands off him! He’s mine, you bitch!" And then the incredibly hot blonde chick gives her a shove and, um... er...

    Well, this auction wasn’t like that, exactly, but it’s the same basic idea.

    The winner was one Kathy Newland of Moore, Oklahoma. And since among the many many conditions, disclaimers, and caveats Paul included in his auction was, "The date does not include your transportation to the initial, agreed-upon convenient meeting location, or your return. So if you’re in California, or Guadalajara, or Moscow, or some other ridiculous place outside of New York City, you’ll have to get here and back on your own," she paid for her own transportation from Oklahoma and hotel accommodations. (I suspect this means that her out-of-pocket expenses for this Night of Enchantment added up to more than $304.34).

    Kathy, it turns out, is a married mother of three and possibly the world’s biggest "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" fan, having seen it at least 40 times. Her husband of 20 years not only approved of her bidding on the auction but encouraged it. I’m not sure if he saw the picture of Paul with his arm around the monkey or not.

    So how did the date go? Did Paul (as his auction notice promised) at least buy Kathy dinner at the Brooklyn Diner on 57th Street in Manhattan?

    PAUL: We ate at the Heartland Brewery, next to the Empire State Building.

    ME: What did you have?

    PAUL: Nachos and beer.

    ME: I see. And did you actually take her to the play, or just rent some videotape ?

    For some reason Paul cut the interview short at that point, although later he told me that they "did so" go to the play. "Afterwards, Charlie saw me and came over and talked to us for a while; then he asked if we wanted to stay for the opening night party, which was held in the lobby with food and open bar. Kathy got to meet Meryl Streep, Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage. Then around 1:00 AM she got in a cab, went back to her hotel, and left for Oklahoma the next morning. She said she had a wonderful time (even though we never made it to the Brooklyn Diner) and that it was a dream come true."

    Noticing that he totally sidestepped the videotape question, I felt it was necessary to interview Kathy to get the real story. She backed up Paul’s claim about really going to the play and the after party, as well as the ‘wonderful time.’

    ME: Did Paul show you his stuffed monkey collection? If so, which was your favorite?

    KATHY: Unfortunately I didn’t get to see it, not enough time. Actually, I didn’t know that one existed. Did see the gorilla on eBay though.

    ME: You ended up winning the auction with a bid of $306.34. Were you prepared to go higher? If someone had bid $306.35, would you have just said to hell with it? How much WOULD you say a date with Paul is worth?

    KATHY: Honestly, I would have bid until I won. Paul is priceless....and the sweetest I might add.

    ME: Did Paul make you pay for the nachos?

    KATHY: No, he wouldn’t let me. They were good nachos too!

    ME: Did any of the celebrities you met try to borrow money from you?

    KATHY: No!

    ME: Not even Meryl ‘Oh-goodness-I-left-my-purse-in-the-dressing room-could-you-loan-me-$30-for-cabfare’ Streep? How much did Meryl Streep try to borrow from you, and has she made any effort to pay it back yet?

    KATHY: [politely suggests this was covered by the previous question and answer]

    So everyone seems to be happy with the way things turned out. And why not? If we deduct the cost of the nachos (and forget about airfare and hotel rooms and stuff) the actual cost of a date with Paul works out to about $293. Get out your check books, ladies! Mr. Proch is still available!



    One day I had healthy raspberry bushes. The next day I had nothing but cringing, twitching, shell-shocked raspberry bushes. The Japanese beetles had arrived and were skeletonizing the leaves.

    The bushes shook wildly under the impact of hundreds of beetles carrying on in the most shameless fashion imaginable. The branches were bouncing.

    When your standard Japanese beetle wants to have a good time, he doesn’t curl up with a book and a plate of cheese and crackers. He parties. I’m talking about serious partying here, none of this PG-13 stuff. These bugs may wear their skeletons on the outside, but that’s all they wear, if you get my drift.

    So I bought a Japanese beetle trap, the deluxe kind, with both the floral lure and the sex lure, and come sundown I had myself a bag full of beetles.

    The box says, "They fall in and die," but apparently nobody told these beetles. The beetles in my bag were still having a party. They were trying to bust the lease. And more beetles were clamoring to get in. They were hitting the bottom of the bag with little mop handles and brooms.

    One of the beetles escaped from the bag but returned a few minutes later with a case of beer. The sex lure and the floral lure were working overtime. Beetles from out of town, beetles from the next county, beetles with Boston accents were showing up in my yard. I had to buy six more traps to handle the overflow. That made seven sex lures and seven floral lures, all doing that voodoo that they do so well.

    An hour later, 60,000 beetles pulled up in a car with Arizona plates. I secured the door and windows as best I could and tried to sleep, but the beetles outside were going crazy. They kept playing Benny Goodman’s "Sing Sing Sing" over and over again at a painfully high volume.

    Sometime before dawn I went downstairs for a glass of water. There was a beetle talking on my phone. He saw me and dropped the receiver, scrambling for a hole in the baseboard. I picked up the phone. On the other end a tiny insect voice was saying something in Japanese. I hung up.

    By 10 AM boatloads of beetles from the home islands were steaming up the Delaware, millions of tiny camera shutters clicking away at the Jersey riverbanks. They poured up the embankments and across the railroad tracks, heading straight for my yard. I screamed and barricaded myself in the dining room.

    "Hey!" yelled one beetle. "We need MORE TRAPS!"

    I hid under the table. Hours later—I had managed to doze off despite the incredible racket—a beetle tapped me on the shoulder and told me there was a cop outside who wanted to talk to me. I went out. It was like a scene from Fellini’s "Satyricon," only with more antennae.

    "These your beetles?" asked the cop.

    "No," I said.

    "Well, they’re in your yard. Neighbors are complaining. And you know none of these beetles are wearing any pants?"

    I nodded and stumbled back to my table. "Excuse me," said the beetle who had awakened me, "But we’re just about out of ice." I didn’t reply. "Say, you look a little down in the mouth, bub. Why doncha join the party?"

    "I thought you guys were supposed to fall in the bag and die."

    "Huh? Well, sure, sure. Of old age! C’mon, get out there and have some fun. Hey, check out the thorax on that one! Hubba hubba!"

    He shot back out to the party and I’m still here, under the table, listening to that Gene Krupa drum solo for the 600th time. Say what you want about Japanese beetles, but they know a good tune when they hear one.

    This Year’s Correspondence

    The year several people (=2) contacted your reporter to compliment him on the new photo which accompanies this column. "It makes you look like a normal person," gushed R.R. of Holland, and Dorothy M. of Flemington also waxed enthusiastic about it, although she doesn’t go quite so far as to say it makes me look normal. I’m sorry to report that all this gushing and waxing has little to do with the way I really look; the image has been manipulated by the madcap graphics department at the Del Val News, I suppose with one of these new-fangled computer thingees, to make it appear that I have a receding hairline. All in good fun, of course, but I think it’s time to restore my wavy chestnut brown hair. Or failing that, bring back the picture with the goatee and beret.

    As more and more people grow familiar with their cyber-mail programs, and perhaps the English language, I receive fewer and fewer cryptic-but-charming emails. Just one real puzzler this year: "Liked the ‘pineapples’ and glad clean. After." That’s it. I guess my correspondent just had time to hit "Send" before the meds kicked in. It came a week or so after my "Ask the Pineapple Core Expert Guy" column appeared and I asked for further elaboration, but it was not forthcoming, alas.

    Three people sent me a series of questions for the "Ask the Expert Guy" feature. I’m afraid the two of these were unusable because they related to anatomical and/or ethnic subjects unsuitable for a family newspaper—in fact they would have been a little over the top for "Hustler"—but I used the ‘Ask the Olympic Expert Guy’ questions submitted by Dave Pratt in the September 2nd column. The September 2nd column was actually entitled "Ask the Perogie Expert Guy," because I figured, you know, it would be sort of funnier that way. I haven’t heard a peep from Mr. Pratt since then, so maybe not. Oh well.

    As always, I received nearly as many letters about the columns I didn’t write as for the ones I did write. Why, asked J.G. (no relation) of Reiglesville, did I not write about the flood a few weeks back? Because I wrote about the flood in September and my contract limits me to one flood column per year. Fact. The civil defense folks required me to sign a ‘refusal to evacuate’ form. It included the name of my dentist, in the event that dental records were required to identify my bloated festering corpse. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t come to that—hence my signing the refusal form and all—but I did put my guitar on the couch, just in case.

    Prunee [at least that’s what it says on the email address to the left of the "@"] wanted a column about the low carb diet. Not an intrinsically bad idea, but Prunee sent me a follow-up seconds after the next edition of the paper hit the stands asking, "What happened to the low carb column?" More inquiries followed at weekly intervals. For a while I toyed with the idea of running a column consisting entirely of Prunee’s increasingly furious emails about the nonappearance of the low carb column, but in the end, I didn’t. Other rib-tickling suggested topics from readers included out-sourcing, Chinese restaurants that serve bad food, and fat people at high school reunions.

    One topic no one suggested was cats. And a good thing. As it happens, this past year I ran a column about bathing my daughter’s cats and my-oh-my did I get mail. "Anyone who suggests such a thing as a ‘flea blow torch’ to remove fleas from a cat has no business writing for a newspaper, even yours," began one letter on the subject. Though not a typical one, since everything was spelled correctly and the writer lined up 26 words in a row without a single obscenity. Cats are truly the third rail of American and you write about them at your peril, even in Warm & Fuzzy mode, which believe me I was.

    In re my column about "MacArthur Park" and the meaning of same, some folks wanted to know where they could get a copy of the bootleg Frank Sinatra version I quoted ("Someone left the cake out in the rain / that coo-coo nutty cake..."). Well, it’s out there, but since it’s a bootleg (there’s an official Sinatra version on "Trilogy" but without the interpolated lyrical changes, so it’s totally worthless) (Just kidding) (cough), you’re going to have to deal with some puh-ritty shady customers to get your hands on it. You certainly can’t get it from me, burned on a CD-R, with a pretty spiffy slim line case with a cover designed by me, even if you send me well concealed cash, a money order, or a check for one dollar and a stamped self addressed envelope. No siree bob.

    After the column about my friend Paul Proch, who illustrates my books—which are, by the way, on sale for a pittance in the Delaware Valley News office, signed (and for a pittance!)— F.K. of Clinton wanted to know if Paul really exists, or if he’s just somebody I made up "like Calvano and Picarillo." Oh Ye of little faith. As I write this, Paul has just auctioned himself off on eBay, or rather he has auctioned off a date with himself. Go on eBay and put "Paul Proch" in the search engine if you don’t believe me. An evening with Paul went for $306.51 after some wild bidding in the final seconds. I know after you ladies see the photo of Paul with his stuffed monkey you’re going to be kicking yourselves that you didn’t get in on the action. A complete account of the "date" itself as soon as I hear about it, you bet.



    I ate lunch at the same place every day when I had a summer job at the Passaic County ID Bureau in Paterson—at the Falls View Diner, which was just four or five blocks from the office. I usually ate alone but every so often one of the other worthless teenage drudges would tag along, and within a couple of weeks everyone at the Bureau knew where I spent my lunch hour and that I always ordered the same thing: two Hot Texas Wieners All the Way with an order of french fries, and a chocolate milk. If I’d hung a right when I got to the Falls View, I would have been on McBride Avenue, where there were three other Hot Texas Wiener emporiums—Libby’s, The Olympic, and Ducky’s—but I did usually not hang a right when I got to the Falls View because I much preferred the Falls View Hot Texas Wiener sauce to both Libby’s and the Olympic’s. Ducky’s sauce was excellent, but they had shoe string fries instead of the more robust variety at the Falls View, and their chocolate milk was, to be frank, a disgrace. I suspected that they watered it down.

    I say I did not usually hang a right, but from time to time the Assistant Head of the ID Bureau would get a hankering for Hot Texas Wieners—and who doesn’t? —and when he did, he wanted them from the Olympic. There was a little too much cinnamon in the Olympic sauce for my taste. I did not like going the extra block and a half to the Olympic, and I did not like the Assistant Head of the ID Bureau.

    Half an hour or so after I got back from one such lunch run, I was shading the thorax on a cockroach I had just drawn when the Assistant Head (the name plate on his desk read ‘Ass. Head,’ a rare instance of bureaucratic Truth in Advertising as well as the source of his indelible nickname) suddenly loomed over me. "I dunno who you think you’re kidding," he said, "but it’s not me. I’m on to you."

    "????" I said

    "You think I can’t tell the difference between a Hot Texas Wiener from the Olympic and one from the Falls View?"

    "Bernard," called the Head of the ID Bureau, "Would you sit down and leave the kid alone? I need them cockroach pictures for my talk tonight."

    "Frank, I’m just saying," said Bernard, "Young Mister Rembrandt here pulled a fast one today but he’s not getting away with it."

    "Pretend you’re a grown up," said Frank.

    "I’m just SAYING," said Bernard. And then, to me, "This isn’t over."

    "Yes it is," I said. I placed a sheet of transparent plastic over my drawing and traced it. My illustrations were intended for an overhead projector.

    "It’s over when I say..."

    "BERNARD! Let him draw my cockroaches, would you please?" Bernard threw up his hands and returned to his own desk until I had completed my graphics assignment and was searching through the files with the aim of removing convicted felons from the jury duty lists.

    "The way I see it, you owe me three dollars and 57 cents, because I am not finishing that lunch because it ain’t what I asked for. That’s the way I see it."

    "The way I see it, it’s exactly what you asked for, and I don’t care if you finish your lunch or not." Bernard made a ‘humph’ sound and went to Frank’s cubicle. A spirited discussion ensued. Usually spirited discussions between Frank and Bernard concerned Bernard’s nameplate and Frank would insist that the county budget would not allow him to order a new plate ("‘T’s cost money."). This time the subject was Hot Texas Wiener Sauce.

    "Well, what was the bag? Was it an Olympic bag or a Falls View bag?"

    "Olympic, but..."

    "But what? He bought a Falls View hot dog and then walked to the Olympic and had them put the Falls View hot dog in the Olympic bag just to make you miserable?"

    "Well, it’s crazy, but it’s what he DID! And it’s not the first time!"

    "All right," said Frank. He put on his coat and got into his car and drove down the mean but oh-so scrumptious streets of Paterson. He returned about an hour later with a brown paper bag, and ordered one of the trustees to rinse out some specimen jars.

    "So you think you can tell the difference between Hot Texas Wiener sauce from the Olympic and the Falls View and alla these place, huh?"

    "Are you kidding?" said Bernard. "Absolutely. And when I do, I want a ‘T’!"

    "We shall see," said Frank. "Maybe if you get it right I get you a ‘T,’ and if you get it wrong, we remove the period." He took the four freshly rinsed plastic jars and numbered them "1" through "4" with a marking pen. He took them into his cubicle and when he emerged a moment later, they each contained a few ounces of Hot Texas Wiener sauce. "I’m the only one who knows which sauce is in which jar. Let’s go." He tossed a plastic spoon to Bernard. Everyone in the office had now stopped work and was watching the taste test.

    "I want a glass a water," said Bernard, "to clear my palate between each taste."

    "Yitzchak, get him a glass of water."

    Bernard sampled the first sauce. "Falls View." He sipped. Number two: "Ducky." This was a little more tentative than his first identification. Sip. Number three: "Olympic." sip. "No need to try the last..."

    "Try it anyway," said Frank.

    "Okay. Hmm. This one is Libby’s, as expected."

    "You sure?"

    "Yeah, yeah," said Bernard. "Of course I’m sure. A retodded monkey could tell these apart. Well?"

    Frank tossed a memo pad on the desk. It read: "All Sauce from Falls View."

    The applause and cheering was deafening. "Maybe we should get a retodded monkey up here, " said one of my co-workers. Somebody pounded my desk in appreciation, which knocked a couple of books to the floor. Unfortunately, I kept my secret supply of bags from The Olympic hidden between those books, and now they were neither secret nor hidden.

    Frank picked up the phone and spoke to the dial tone. "Cancel that retodded monkey," he said. "We’ve already got plenty, thanks."

    Getting a Handle on the Van

    The Custom Neon Sign Shop van was purchased for just under 100 dollars, and among the many reasons for this excellent price was the condition of the back doors. The latch didn’t function correctly all the time, which meant that on occasion we would be driving along and suddenly the doors would fly open. We could prevent this by locking the doors, but sometimes when we locked them we couldn’t unlock them unless I grabbed the handle and pushed the right hand door upwards with all my strength, bracing one foot against the curb to get enough leverage, while Mulberry Street Joey Clams grabbed the handle of the other door and pulled it down and to the left, at the same time twisting the key in the lock. We got to be pretty good at this, but even so it often took two or three tries to synchronize everything. One morning I came into work and found that Mulberry Street Joey Clams had soldered the back doors shut. "In the first place, we don’t hafta open the doors that much anyway, and when we do, it’ll be less trouble to bust them open with a crowbar and resolder it than do alla this yankin’ and dancin’ every time," said he. But when the time came to test out this theory—we were picking up a couch from his cousin in Staten Island and bringing it to his mother’s apartment in Little Italy—it turned out that he hadn’t soldered the doors at all. He had welded them together. We beat the sides of the van with the crowbar to make ourselves feel better and then tied the couch to the roof. This made us dangerously top-heavy crossing the Verrazano and at one point the wind nearly picked us up and deposited us in the Bay. "We coulda died there," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams as we took the Belt Parkway Ramp.

    "We’ll laugh about this later, after we change our underpants," I said.

    "You know, a normal guy such as me says something a normal guy would say, like I just did, and YOU start talking about underpants! What does underpants have to do with anything? Underpants! A normal guy would just say, ‘That’s right, Mulberry Street Joey Clams, we coulda died there.’ Not you. Talking to you is like talking to the Liberti kid, but he’s got that metal plate in his head from when the fire hydrant blew up last year. No more talking about underpants!"

    I recalled that Mulberry Street Joey Clams had reacted badly to the mention of undergarments in the past, so I dropped the subject and we delivered the couch without further incident. But we now had a van with an interior we could reach only by crawling over the front seats (the side door had been concaved by a Buick long ago and was as immobile as the back door). We didn’t use it much for Custom Neon Sign Shop business; mostly we moved articles of furniture from the home of one relative of Mulberry Street Joey Clams to the home of another. We had to tie whatever we were transporting to the roof. "Well, the thing is," Mulberry Street Joey Clams would explain to his baffled relatives, "we’re using the inside for somethin’ else right now. You know what I’m saying?" Since (like Mulberry Street Joey Clams himself) all of his relatives were genetically incapable of saying, "No, I have no idea what you’re saying," this usually ended the conversation.

    A couple of weeks later we were parked outside the falafel place on Spring Street when this punk broke into the van to steal the radio. Mulberry Street Joey Clams and I were arguing about something—possibly underpants—and we opened the doors and the kid was disconnecting the speaker wires under the dash. "Ugh," he said as Mulberry Street Joey Clams pulled him out of the van and dangled him off the pavement by the collar of his jacket. "You’re a moron," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams. "Can’t you read?" We had slapped one of those ‘Car Has No Radio’ stickers on the driver’s side window. But the punk knew nobody puts that sticker on the car unless there’s a radio inside. ‘Car Has No Radio’ and ‘Car Has Radio’ mean exactly the same thing even though they sound like they don’t, just like ‘I could care less’ and ‘I couldn’t care less’ or ‘Kick Me’ and ‘Don’t Kick Me.’

    "Check the radio."

    I turned it on. "The speaker on your side is okay, he disconnected mine."

    "Lucky for you," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams. "If you’d messed up my speaker so I couldn’t hear the Julius Larosa Show..." His eyes clouded over at the thought, and then he released the punk with a shove.

    But the near-loss of Julius Larosa sent Mulberry Street Joey Clams into a frenzy of demented van security measures. "Get this," he said the next morning. "I jerry rigged the inside door handles so they’ll fall off if somebody in the van tries to open the door without following the correct protocols."

    My head swam, mostly at the idea of Mulberry Street Joey Clams using ‘protocols’ properly. "What are they?"

    "You gotta tighten these screws here before you open the door. Then you loosen them again before you shut the door. It’s fool proof." He demonstrated by getting in the van. "Now, I do not tighten the screws. Watch what happens when I try to open the door." The handle came off in his hand. "Now, I... uh..." he looked around for the screws. "All right. We’ll get more screws. The point is, anybody tries to steal the radio, they’re trapped in the van." I got in the other side. "Close the door very gently. I loosened the screws on that door, too." We were going to get some screws at the lumberyard on Thompson Street but when we hit a pothole on the corner of Houston Street the handle fell off my door. "Okay. That’s good to know. So as soon as we get in the van, tighten the screws, an’ then just loosen them when we get out."

    "What’s your thought on how we get out?"

    "We’ll roll down the windows," he said, and began to roll his down, but as soon as it went down about three inches that handle came off in his hand as well. "Huh. Apparently you start foolin’ with these screws all kinds a things can happen," he mused.

    "Apparently. So I guess I won’t be able to roll down my window, either."

    "Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. When we get to the lumberyard give it a shot." A few moments after we got to the lumberyard the handle to my window was resting in the palm of my hand. We gestured to several passersby to please open our doors from the outside; in time— 12 very long minutes—because minutes spent trapped in a van with Mulberry Street Joey Clams are measured like dog years—someone did. We screwed the handles back in place; I convinced Mulberry Street Joey Clams that the possible benefits of loose inside door handles were outweighed by the definite problems and he tightened them up, though they still felt wrong, somehow. We didn’t realize how wrong until a few days later when we emerged from Buffa’s luncheonette (tuna salad platter including choice of soda or Yoo Hoo: $2.35) and saw our punk had just one more connection to sever in order to free the radio from the dashboard. "Nnnggh!" cried Mulberry Street Joey Clams, and he and I tried to open our doors without unlocking them. Suddenly we were both sitting on our rear ends, staring at the outside door handles we had just yanked off the van. It took the punk a few beats to understand what was happening but once he did, he acted with commendable coolness and hot-wired the van. He gave us a friendly wave as he drove off.

    "Let’s call the cops," I said. "How far is he gonna get in a van with ‘CUSTOM NEON SIGN SHOP’ in two foot letters all over it?"

    "Well, let’s think about this..."

    "I know you don’t like to call the cops on principle, but..."

    "Well, the principle is, there are some ownership issues that might complicate things..."

    "You paid a hundred bucks for that van."

    "Correct. But the thing is, the guy I paid the hundred bucks to may not exactly have had legal title to the van at the moment I paid the hundred bucks. Possibly."

    "That complicates things," I said.

    "Like I said." Mulberry Street Joey Clams tapped the disembodied handle in his fist and looked sad.



    I know that ‘acid reflux’ (so-called) is annoying and uncomfortable, but is it actually dangerous? I ask because I’ve had a little heartburn and I can handle it fine. But then again, unlike (apparently) 99% of the people today, I am not a major wuss.




    Sure, tough guy, so ahead and walk it off. I’m sure you’ve seen the TV commercials and you know what this stuff can do to your esophagus over time. Maybe you’re thinking you’ve got a cast iron esophagus, but probably not. And here’s something else to think about: the esophagus is not the only part of your body in danger. One of these nights you’re going to be asleep, and this time it might not be a simple case of heartburn. This time the stomach acid could back up all the way into your skull and completely dissolve your brain. Does this happen often? No. Does it happen? You bet. In fact, you ARE betting. You’re betting on your brain. And the odds are getting shorter all the time. Or, no, wait. The odds are getting LONGER all the time. Well, wait. Whichever one means the odds are getting better that your brain will dissolve, that’s the one we mean.



    I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but you’ve been giving out a lot of crazy advice to your readers. Last week you told some guy that if he wanted to relieve his acid reflux problem, he should stand in his front yard and swing a bag of chicken parts around his head three times. You told another reader she could cure her acid reflux by blinking repeatedly and spitting between her knees. I think you’re losing your mind.




    Thanks for writing. We value our reader’s opinions and insights.



    Is there any advantage in suffering from acid reflux? We just hear about the bad things. Surely NOTHING is all bad.


    Can’t Be All Black and White


    I was about to say that there is no possible advantage to acid reflux, but it occurs to me that if you had an ice cube blocking your windpipe and no one was available to administer the Hiemlech Maneuver, a momentary attack of acid reflux might melt the ice cube enough to dislodge it and save your life.



    I have to read a Henry James novel for my English class this semester. Is there a really short one?




    "Daisy Miller" and "Washington Square" are both quite short—so short, in fact, that your instructor may consider them novellas and insist on something longer, in which case you might consider either "The Europeans" or "A London Life," both well under 200 pages.



    I have acid reflux. I was born with an extra toe on each foot, as well. Do people suffering from extra digits have a higher incidence of acid reflux, and (B) would having the extra toes removed alleviate the acid reflux problem at all?




    It’s hard to say for sure. Many celebrities with extra toes—Jennifer Anniston, Brit Hume, the late Queen Mother—in fact do suffer from acid reflux, but no comprehensive studies have been done correlating extra toes with acid reflux. And of course many celebrities who have had their extra toes removed (J. Lo, Kofi Annan, and several Legends of Mexican Wrestling) later deny that they ever had extra toes to begin with. Obviously much work needs to be done in this field.



    How come nobody ever heard of ‘acid reflux’ until the pharmaceutical companies invented drugs to treat it? And if it did exist before then, what was it called?




    Despite your well-founded suspicions, acid reflux has been around for millennia, albeit under a variety of names. Sometimes it was called "heartburn." To Victorians it was known as "The Vapors." Others simply called it "Chester."


  • WINNER OF THIS YEAR’S ‘THE LIGHTER SIDE OF ACID REFLUX HUMOR CONTEST’: Once again, George F. Macoy takes the honors for his wacky definition: "Reintarnation: being reborn as a hillbilly." Congratulations to Mr. Macoy. To all those who write in to complain that Mr. Macoy wins every year for this joke, all we can say is, there is a much better chance of someone else winning if someone else sends in an entry. It is true, as several people have pointed out, that the joke doesn’t appear to have much to do with acid reflux, but Mr. Macoy points out that ‘acid reflux is not limited to the cultural elites. A hillbilly can suffer from this malady just as easily as a captain of business or a lawyer or something." So true! It’s a point that can’t be made often enough, and Mr. Macoy should be proud of making it for 13 consecutive years now, just as we are proud of honoring his making that point for those 13 consecutive years.
  • *


    In the movie "The Fly," when Jeff Goldblum eats that guy’s foot, he sort of drools on the foot and the foot dissolves and more or less inhales it. Two part question: Is that stomach acid he’s using to dissolve the foot, and if so would that be acid reflux, and is this in fact how flies do eat feet, or whatever things it is that flies eat?




    I spoke with the House Fly Expert Guy, who reports: "Flies dissolve their food with powerful enzymes, not with stomach acid. They dissolve their food because they don’t have teeth." So in real life there would be no acid reflux involved. But the House Fly Expert Guy things it’s possible that Matter Eater Lad, in the DC comic book "Legion of Super Heroes," may possibly be able to eat normally uneatable substances (including steel doors) because of extremely powerful stomach acid, as well as very strong (and presumably acid resistant) teeth. Thanks for writing.

    Crazy About That Taft!

    This was actually going to be sort of an Easter column, because I was going to write about those little Easter chicks that you eat (the candy ones, I mean), but every time I sat down to write it, the enormous face of William Howard Taft would appear superimposed over my monitor, making concentration difficult to say the least.

    I didn’t ask for this, believe me. If you’re going to superimpose yourself over my monitor, I would rather you be, say, Selma Hayek than William Howard Taft. But we don’t choose these things, and Taft it was.

    I confess a certain interest in Taft. He was our fattest president by several orders of magnitude (326 pounds at his recorded peak) and also the last one to sport facial hair while in office, unless you count Jimmy Carter’s terrifying 1970’s side burns or Richard Nixon’s permanent five o’clock shadow. I’m not sure why, but after World War I you just couldn’t have a president with hair on his face. Harry Truman’s margin of victory in 1948 was precisely the width of Thomas Dewey’s skinny little mustache.

    Taft looks like he belongs to an earlier era than not only his successor in the White House, Woodrow Wilson, but his immediate predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, as well. He looks like a bigger, bulkier version of the pre-modern era baseball players from the 1890’s, with their handlebar mustaches and striped jerseys. This is the way presidents SHOULD look, as far as I’m concerned. The founding fathers seem so far removed in time and spirit you can almost picture them in togas, and the post-Great War presidents all seem too... presidential, more like the presidents played by Henry Fonda in the movies than real presidents (although come to think of it, I guess I can picture Bill Clinton in a toga, too).

    But Taft... now THAT’S a president. You can look at his face and think, "there’s a man who could say ‘by George!’ and not sound like a dork." Which is what you want in a president.

    But it’s not necessarily what you want staring up at you when you’re trying to write about Easter chicks. After this happened two or three times I had to suspect that my subconscious was telling me that the Easter chick column was just not happening. But why was my subconscious using William Howard Taft to tell me this? I mean, why NOT Selma Hayek? Why not, for that matter, just announce "The Easter chick thing isn’t working. Abort!" and leave Taft out of it? Why does the subconscious communicate in these stupid cryptic ways, like an annoying girl friend who won’t come out and tell you what she wants for her birthday and then throws a fit when you get her the wrong thing?

    It took a couple of days, but eventually I remembered that I had recently had a WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT DREAM. And, I recalled, it was hilarious. Now I didn’t remember the dream itself, only that I’d had it, so I wasn’t sure exactly why it was hilarious, but now I felt that my subconscious was at least making an effort to communicate lucidly. "You won’t even have to WRITE this week’s column," it was saying. "I’ve done all the work for you! All you have to do is REMEMBER it!"

    Of course it’s usually futile to try to remember a dream. The effort often shreds the fragile tissue of the memory into unrecoverable fragments, and then where are you? You’re stuck writing "Ask the Acid Reflux Expert Guy" twenty minutes before deadline, that’s where. So you just do your best to keep the right receptors open and hope the memory will gel before you have to start googling "Nexium."

    And I know you’re thinking that it didn’t work, and you’ve been reading the dreaded "column about how I couldn’t think of an idea for the column" (or as James Lileks calls it, "The Nuclear Option"), but you’re wrong. Less than an hour ago, the ol’ subconscious came through and the memory of the hilarious William Howard Taft dream came flooding back. It turns out it was a musical dream. A song, to be precise. It was a song about William Howard Taft. To the tune of... (Wait for it!)...

    ‘Theme from Shaft.’


    As long as the channels of communication were open, I took the opportunity to speak directly to the subconscious.

    ME: Um...

    SUB: Pretty good, huh? Why aren’t you typing? Hurry, before you forget the details!

    ME: You know... uh... I really can’t use this...

    SUB: Why not? What’s wrong?

    ME: Well, for one thing, it doesn’t make any sense. I remember in the dream it was quite a knee slapper, but here in the cold light of day it’s just... I don’t know... stupid.

    SUB: Oh really.

    ME: I don’t mean to be ungrateful...

    SUB: Oh, of course not.

    ME: But it doesn’t make sense—it doesn’t even RHYME... Uh...

    SUB: Don’t stop now. I’m sure there are 15 or 20 other flaws you can find.

    ME: And it’s obscene. I hate to be a prude, but I couldn’t get this published in Hustler, let alone the Delaware Valley News...

    SUB: And I suppose that’s MY fault. Listen, my friend—just whose subconscious do you think I am?

    ME: I know, I know, I’m not blaming you...

    SUB: Funny... somehow I thought you were! I just work here, you know. YOU’RE the one who’s fantasizing about William Howard Taft.

    ME: I wasn’t FANTASIZING...

    SUB: No, of course not. Chubby chaser!

    ME: What did you say?

    SUB: (looks at fingernails and hums "YMCA.") Nothing. Nothing at all. Selma Hayek indeed. You big Nellie!

    ME: Why you—!! (Grabs Subconscious by the neck. Both fall backwards over the sofa). From now on you just butt out! I’LL write the columns by myself!

    SUB: Oh yeah? You and what morbidly obese ex-president?

    At which point I pretty much ceased all communication with my subconscious. In fact, if anyone out there is in need of a new subconscious, please contact me care of this paper. I’ve got one available. Cheap.



    When Picarillo knocked the principal out it was a total fluke.

    Calvano and I were terrible athletes, but Picarillo was far, far beyond terrible. He was so uncoordinated that, in motion, he seemed like some sort of mollusk—a large squid maybe—that had been crammed into jeans and sneakers and set loose in the playground. Or perhaps like two large squids, with very bad skin.

    We were playing one-pitch kickball that morning, and as usual Picarillo had been picked last. Picarillo was almost always chosen last for the teams that formed at recess. Most kids hated having Picarillo on their team, but Calvano and I lived for it. Not because Picarillo was our friend, but because we felt that his incredible ineptitude made us look good by comparison. Needless to say, nobody ever said, "Hey, those two guys look good compared to that other guy." They said, "Hey, those three guys stink." But we didn’t realize this for years. Anyway, Picarillo was up, Steve Retzer was pitching the kick ball, and no one on the field had moved into a defensive position because Picarillo always struck out swinging (if there was something to swing) or kicking (if there was something to kick). But the law of averages finally caught up with Picarillo.

    His foot hit the ball with a resounding ‘wump!’ and the ball sailed away. It was foul, of course, but it had some real velocity. We all paused. It looked like it was going to bounce off the red door of the kindergarten, and it would have if our principal, Mr. Lux, had not opened the door just in time to catch the ball squarely in the face. Even though Mr. Lux was a good 60 feet away, that ‘wump’ seemed far louder than the initial ‘wump.’ Mr. Lux stood for a second with a look of utter bafflement on his face, and then his glasses slid off his face—one half slid off the bridge of his nose to the right and dropped to the ground, the other half slid left and dangled by the ear piece for a few beats before falling away. He tried to take a step forward and instead executed a rubber-legged stagger that would have done Buster Keaton proud. Then his knees buckled and he flopped face down on the playground.

    "Whoa," said Calvano. Several teachers ran over towards the fallen principal and Mrs. Herdman, who’d been making some pointless notations on her clipboard, said "What’s going on over there?"

    "Picarillo killed Mr. Lux," Calvano explained. Mrs. Herdman ran over to the crowd gathered around Mr. Lux.

    "That was incredible, Picarillo," said Sindorf. Sindorf was the oldest kid in the class by a considerable margin. He’d been in the sixth grade for at least 8 years and was older than most of the teachers. "You better hightail it, though. If Lux pulls through, he’s gonna be furious. And if he don’t, his relatives’ll hire somebody to kill you."

    "Fact," Calvano agreed. Picarillo snuck around the edge of the playground and hid in the janitor’s room in the basement.

    Meanwhile, several of the lady teachers helped Mr. Lux to his feet. The knees of his trousers had been blackened and shredded by the unforgiving playground surface, and he was already developing a matching set of black eyes.

    "What happened?" he gasped.

    "The boys kicked the ball right in your face," said Miss Threlfall.

    "Not boys," hissed Calvano. "BOY. One kick, one boy..."

    "It may have been an accident," said Miss Threlfall,

    "Of course it was an accident," said Mrs. Herdman. "It was Picarillo. He couldn’t hit a barn from two feet away."

    "No, no, of course not," mumbled Mr. Lux. "Not on purpose, certainly."

    Calvano inserted himself into the circle of teachers and proctors. "Mr. Lux! Mr. Lux! Is Picarillo in trouble?"

    "No, no," said the principal. One of his eyes was swelling shut. "It was a meefer."

    "A what?" said Calvano.

    "Moofah," explained Mr. Lux, and then he allowed himself to be walked to the nurses’ office, all the while muttering "meefer" and "moofah" and various other words that didn’t exist. At lunchtime our teacher, Mrs. Ruffalo, informed us that Mr. Lux had gone home for the day but would be fine. "Where’s Picarillo?" she asked.

    "He’s hiding in the janitor’s room," said Calvano.

    "Well, go tell him that he’s not in any trouble and he should get back to class."

    Calvano and I went down to the janitor’s room, where Picarillo and the janitor were playing hearts. I was about to give him Mrs. Ruffalo’s message, but Calvano cut me off. "Bad news, Picarillo. Mr. Lux is BLIND."

    "Aw no!" said Picarillo.

    "Fact. In a way you’re lucky. They thought he was gonna die. They’re operating on him now. Maybe he won’t be permanently blind. Anyway, you’re in a lot of trouble."

    "Don’t listen to him, Picarillo," said the janitor. "It’s the bunk."

    "We’ll see what’s the bunk," said Calvano. "C’mon, Picarillo. Miz Ruffalo says you gotta come back to class." The janitor shook his head in disgust as we lead Picarillo away. "This afternoon, if Mr. Lux survives the operation, he’s gonna have a list of things you gotta do if you want to stay in school."


    "I’m just telling you what they told me," Calvano declared solemnly. "I don’t know what it’s gonna say, all I know is, if you don’t do exactly what it says, you get shipped off to military school." He paused. "And it’s a GIRLS military school."

    "They can’t do that!"

    "He’s BLIND, Picarillo," Calvano reminded him. "So he can do whatever he wants."

    That afternoon Calvano showed up at the Picarillo home with the first of Mr. Lux’s orders. "I know this sounds crazy," said Calvano, "but Mr. Lux says here... ‘Picarillo must wear his pants backwards tomorrow.’"


    "I’m just the messenger," said Calvano. "Geez, Picarillo, it’s a lot better than going to a GIRLS military school!"

    And so the next morning Picarillo arrived at school with his pants on backwards. This did not go unremarked upon by the staff, and Picarillo was ordered to change in the boys room, which he did, even though he objected strenuously: "I don’t WANNA go to girls’ military school!" Picarillo often made demented statements like this, but Mrs. Ruffalo sensed the hand of Calvano in there somewhere and got the whole story from Picarillo. So Mr. Lux issued no more orders regarding Picarillo’s pants, and Calvano spent some quality time after school that week. "How could you do something like that to your friend?" demanded Mrs. Ruffalo. "What POSSESSES you??"

    "Some men see what is, and ask ‘why?’" Calvano explained. "I see what might be and ask, ‘why not.’"

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE

    In Which We Almost Hear About Emma’s Oscar Party



    (We join the conversation in progress)

    ME: How did you host an Oscar Party in your dorm room? You don’t have any money.

    EMMA: The college paid for it.

    ME: What do you mean they paid for it?

    EMMA: I told them I was going to have an Oscar party and they gave me money to buy chips and things. It was free.

    ME: This is the college I send your tuition check to? Because if so, I can’t help thinking that some small but not inconsiderable percentage of that check apparently goes to paying for ‘chips and things’...

    EMMA: [makes universally understood hand sign for ‘yak yak yak.’]

    ME: No, seriously, I...

    EMMA: You should write your beloved Dr. Phil. ‘Dear Doctor Phil, I am upset because my daughter’s college subsidizes wholesome parties in her dormitory. I’m sure it would be much better if they like STOLE the chips and had the party in some crack house. Sincerely....’

    ME: I’m not saying...

    EMMA: [Makes ‘yak yak yak’ hand sign]. I know. In YOUR day, you had to buy your OWN chips and walk ten miles to school everyday, in a blizzard.

    ME: Well, how did the Oscar party go?

    EMMA: Natalie didn’t win. That UGH won. She overacted. Natalie should have won. But the party itself was epochal. I’m going to be on the front page of the Washington Square News.

    ME: Why? Did it turn into a riot?

    EMMA: No. Devra and I watch ‘Jeopardy’ every day. We’re going to get on it. Absolutely. We sent in our applications already. This is NOT going to be like the ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ auditions. They were fixed. [She plops down on my bed, then suddenly screams and jumps off]. Aaaaagggghhh! Aaaaggghh!! Omygawd I breathed in KNEE SWEAT!

    ME: What?

    EMMA: You hid that THING you wear on your knee when you jog on the bed and I inhaled your disgusting KNEE SWEAT!

    ME: My Knee Support Bandage? I didn’t hide it. It was right out in the open...

    EMMA: They should make you put FLARES around it! Ugh! Ugh!

    ME: Why do you think the ‘Millionaire’ auditions were fixed?

    EMMA: Yes, quickly change the subject from your disgusting knee sweat thing. There was a written test.

    ME: So?

    EMMA: So they had all these SCIENCE QUESTIONS.

    ME: So?

    EMMA: So it was FIXED. I can’t DO science questions. I am a very one-dimensional intellectual. Speaking of one-dimensional, did I mention Cate Blanchette stole the Oscar from Natalie? Oh yeah. Hey, talk about how horrible Britney’s new video is. I’m against it on principle. Half the video is her in a HUMMER flying through the clouds. It’s like a Care Bears on acid. It’s disturbing and stupid. Quote me.

    ME: Hold on. ‘Disturbing and stupid.’ Got it.

    EMMA: There’s this girl—you should probably put asterisks or dashes instead of her name—ooh, wait. Change of subject. We go to karaoke every Wednesday at San Marcos. They give me free Diet Cokes and free mozzarella sticks because we bring so many people. I ask all these people on IM and they come so the place is always jumping because of us. Hence free mozzarella sticks et cetera. My online community is sprawling. I’ve been practicing my secret song for three weeks for Karaoke. I think 2 more weeks and I can unveil it. Oooh, and Jocelyn—you can put asterisks for HER, too—she did Ashley Simpson’s "Pieces of Me" at karaoke and she was actually worse than Ashley Simpson. TRUE. Wait, you can write her name.

    ME: Well, who was the other girl I was going to put asterisks?

    EMMA: Goodness what a splendid sentence. What’s your first language?

    ME: Hey—

    EMMA: That was also Jocelyn.

    ME: But you said I could put asterisks for Jocelyn TOO. So that means...

    EMMA: [makes ‘yak yak yak’ hand sign].

    ME: But... Okay. What’s your secret song?

    EMMA: Fifty Cent’s "Inda Club."

    ME: Is that ‘Indie’ like ‘independent’ or...

    EMMA: No, it’s INDA as in IN DA.

    ME: Spell, please.

    EMMA: You are sooo out of it.

    ME: Um. Let’s get back to your Oscar party. How many people were there?

    EMMA: 65.

    ME: Good grief. Did you know them all??

    EMMA: No. There were a lot of weird film school people there.

    ME: Who invited them?

    EMMA: We had fliers everywhere. It was the best party of my career.

    ME: And NYU gave you 200 bucks for this thing. That works out to something like... um... Just over two dollars per guest.

    EMMA: Whatever. Anyway, we watched the Oscars and Natalie lost...

    ME: No, no—wait a minute. A bag of potato chips costs like $1.49.

    EMMA: How interesting. So anyway, Chris Rock was awful. And Jamie Foxx! Did you see "Ray?" There’s NO PLOT. It’s just him bobbing his head around for 2 hours and every so often he shoots heroin. But then the REAL Ray Charles died so they HAD to give him the Oscar. If "The Aviator" had won best picture I would have died. It was two and a half hours too long.

    ME: How long is it?

    EMMA: Two hours and thirty seven minutes.

    ME: I want to get back to the chips. NYU gave you enough money so everybody at the party could have had their own bag of chips, with about $50 left over.

    EMMA: Believe me, everybody did NOT get their own bag of chips. I was talking about "The Aviator" being too long. We went to "The Aviator" with Fink.

    ME: Fink?

    EMMA: It’s his name.

    ME: F-i-n-k? His name is Fink?

    EMMA: Yes. It’s not his NAME name, though. Anyway, every time there was a sex scene he went to the bathroom.

    ME: Why?

    EMMA: We DON’T KNOW. Fink ghost hunts. He goes around California looking for ghosts, he talks to them so he can take pictures of them.

    ME: Has he taken any pictures of them?

    EMMA: He has this picture he says has a ghost in it but I can’t see it. He says you have to open your mind. He’s an idiot. There are no ghosts.

    ME: I’m glad to hear you say that...

    EMMA: If there were ghosts Marlon Brando would have talked to me by now. Q.E.D.

    Pickle Right Side Up


    I’m not sure how many handstands I did on Thursday night, but it couldn’t have been as many as it seemed. And although I should be—and AM, don’t get me wrong—happy that I can do a handstand at all at my advanced age (which we will just say is a good day’s drive north of 25), I have to admit I was disappointed that they weren’t better.

    But nowhere near as disappointed as my yoga teacher. Well, ‘disappointed’ might not be the word. ‘Furious’ would be better, but it doesn’t capture the overwhelming sense of sorrow at my less-than-perfect alignment while my head is down and my feet are up. "Work those legs as soon as you’re up! Bring the toe-pads back!"

    You can’t fake the toe-pads back thing, even though the human eye can not measure the nano-meter that I can bring them back, because if you’ve engaged all the toe-bringing-back muscles, you have a very obvious racing stripes down the side of the calf. If that racing stripe isn’t there, you aren’t bringing the toes back, and if you aren’t bringing the toes back, the arch isn’t lifted and the legs aren’t pulling you up against the force of gravity and you might as well be right-side up and doing whatever it is people who are right-side up do. Wearing pants, I guess.

    So that’s what I was doing for an hour-and-a-half, although the clock said it was only six minutes or so.

    The stupid clock. And on my way home, I kept thinking about getting those handstands right. I sat in the McDonald’s parking lot thinking about being upside down while I consumed my cheeseburger. It was a chilly night and I had my jacket zipped up all the way but I didn’t feel the cold because I was thinking ‘Toe pads. Back!’ I was becoming one with my toe-pads as my cheeseburger became one with me. Then I had to forget about the toes briefly while I floored it home, because the bran muffin I had become one with before class decided it was getting kind of crowded in here, what with my ever-expanding cosmic consciousness and the two cheeseburgers with ketchup and pickles and the medium fries and all, and it wanted out.

    But a couple of days later in the gym—still not thinking about my toes, mind you—I was loosening up a little on the mat, stretching out the hamstrings and so on, and this teenage girl asked her boyfriend what I was doing. "Just some warm-ups," he said, and she asked home how come HE never did the kind of warming up I was doing, and HE said, "You got a choice. You can be mostly strong or you can be mostly stretchy. This guy is mostly stretchy, while guys like me are mostly strong."

    Well. I thought about just popping up, walking over to the bench press, and totally humiliating this ‘dude’ in front of his ‘chick’ by bench pressing three times my body weight, but I decided against it since I don’t weigh 30 pounds and I can only bench press about 90 pounds before I start going "Ummph! Gak!" Instead, I slowly rolled over into ‘headstand ready’ position, where I remained gathering my strength and wits for about 30 seconds, and moved into a headstand, which I held for a good minute and a half, eyes closed to keep from being distracted by the gaping faces of the now-chastised teens, and—this is the part you’ve all been waiting for—I pushed up into a handstand from there, which I had never done before! I was pretty cool about it, too, and didn’t open my eyes for five seconds or so. I expected to see the high school kid and his girlfriend absolutely awestruck. In fact, though, I had an excellent view of the window that looks out onto the parking lot, where they were getting into a PT Cruiser, having apparently left the premises shortly before I slowly rolled into the headstand ready position. There was nobody else in the gym except an old guy in boxer shorts and black socks, and he was trying to figure out how to work the paper towel dispenser. I slowly dropped out of my handstand, my first perfect hand stand, which I suppose I need not mention was also my last perfect hand stand.

    And there this pathetic story would end, but apparently it wasn’t pathetic enough. I brought my car into the shop to get some brake work done a couple of days later, and after I’d been in the waiting room for an hour or so they told me everything was ready and I went to pay the cashier, and as I glanced down to fill out the check, I noticed an odd blur of green on my jacket.

    This turned out to be a slice of pickle, which had plastered itself to my jacket 5 or 6 days earlier while I was thinking about my toes in the McDonald’s parking lot. "The guys in the service department got a pool going after you come in," said the affable cashier. "They were betting on when you were gonna notice that pickle. One hour and 13 minutes," she said, simultaneously pushing the intercom button. Loud cheering from the service department. I peeled off the pickle. The guy waiting in line behind me said, "You gonna eat that?" In my youth that would have responded with a memorable bon-mot, but not this time. In a way I was grateful.

    I’d learned a fundamental Law of Life: Nobody will ever see your perfect hand stand, but everybody will always see the pickle plastered to your jacket for a week. That’s just the way things are.




    Every morning for the past I don't know how many days I've been getting up and there has been ice on my windshield. Sometimes it is only a little ice, & that is okay because I can just scrape it off one-two-three with my plastic scraper, but sometimes it's a quarter of an inch thick & then I am kind of stuck because the plastic ice scraper won't do the job. Is there some kind of way to keep the ice from forming on the windshield in the first place?


    Sort of sick of all this scraping


    There are two main ways of keeping ice from forming on the windshield. Number one, you can leave the car in the garage. Number two, just leave the car running over night with the 'defrost' switch on. The only downside to number two is, some cars can sustain engine damage if you keep the motor running for long periods of time without depressing the gas pedal. But this is not a problem if you have kids; just work out a schedule where one kid goes out to give the car some gas every 15 minutes or so.



    I heard that if you rub an onion on the windshield, this will prevent ice from forming. True or false?


    Wants to give onions a shot


    The Ice-on-the-Windshield Expert Guy had never heard this about the onion, but he is an open minded guy and doesn't like to dismiss any theory, no matter how stupid, out of hand, so he went out and bought an onion, and he spent about 20 minutes rubbing it on the windshield like a son-of-a-gun, and as far as he can tell, it made no difference at all.



    You are supposed to SLICE the onion first.


    Maybe I should've made myself a little clearer


    Okay, okay, okay. The Ice-on-the-Windshield Expert Guy has now sliced up the onion and rubbed it on the windshield. Only then the phone rang so he went in to get the phone and it was this guy Herb who wouldn't let him off the phone for like 20 minutes and when the Ice-on-the-Windshield Expert Guy came back out the two halves of the onion he'd been using were both frozen to the windshield like big yellow warts and that is where they still are and the Ice-on-the-Windshield Expert Guy certainly thanks you for this excellent suggestion.



    Perhaps your readers will learn from an unfortunate experience of mine. When the windshield on my station wagon was far too iced over for the scraper to be of use, I took a hammer and gently tapped the ice. This worked extremely well; 16 little taps, 16 large slabs of ice slid off the windshield. However, on the seventeenth tap, not only did a slab of ice fall off, but a small, web-shaped crack appeared in the windshield. In fact, I noticed that all together there were 17 small web-shaped cracks in the windshield. In fact, some of them were not so little. In fact, I am giving serious thought to replacing the windshield, or would, if my station wagon was worth more than the 300 bucks it would cost for a new windshield, which it is not.




    Thanks for the tip.


    What about onion juice on the windshield? Because it would seem to me that if you rub the sliced onion on the windshield and that prevents ice from forming, it's not the onion per se, but the juice of the onion that's doing the job, so what if you just pour onion juice over the windshield? Good idea or what?


    How about the Juice?



    Great idea. The Ice-on-the-Windshield Expert Guy recommends that everybody toss a dozen onions into the blender and use onion juice instead of windshield wiper fluid. I myself can not do this because my onion is kind of bonded to the windshield, but I tried it with tomato juice and that won't cut it. You end up with red ice. But by all means use this onion juice idea, I'm 100% sure it will work.



    Why don't you heat up some pennies in the oven and just toss them at the windshield? That sounds to me like exactly the kind of brilliant thing a big shot super genius ice expert like yourself would do. I bet if you did this half the pennies would end up in that grill under the windshield wiper and make the car sound like a cement mixer every time you turned on the heat which coincidentally is exactly what your car sounds like whenever you turn on the heat. So why don't you try that?




    This is a total lie. I would never do anything like that. The noise the heater makes has nothing to do with the pennies because hardly any of them went into the little grill.



    I once got my sister a poker-playing-dogs calendar for her birthday, my reasoning being that (a) she likes dogs and (b) the calendar had lots of them (and also it was marked down about 70%). At first she seemed to like it but as she flipped through the pages she was clearly growing more and more disappointed. "Something’s wrong," I said.

    "No, no," she insisted. "It’s really... nice."

    "Great," I said, and made a beeline for the onion dip because I sensed that if I hung around, her next sentence was going to begin with "It’s just that..." And I learned long ago that no sentence beginning with "it’s just that..." ends up anywhere I want to go.

    My potato chip had barely broken the surface of the dip when a voice at my side said, "It’s just that..."

    Well, it was just that although my sister liked dogs, the dogs she really liked were dachshunds, and they were under-represented at the poker table. And then there was the whole poker thing itself. "I don’t get it."

    "Get what?"

    "The dogs playing poker. Is it supposed to be funny?"

    "Um," I explained.

    "Because it looks like it’s supposed to be funny, but I don’t get the joke."

    "Well, they’re dogs, and they’re playing poker," I said.

    "So what?"

    There’s no answer to ‘so what.’ Except possibly, ‘so THIS,’ and then you dump the onion dip in her lap, but it was her house, not to mention her onion dip.

    On top of that, I was not 100% sure that I got them either. I hadn’t given the whole poker-playing dog thing a lot of thought, aside from calculating (Dogs + Cheap) that the calendar would make an ideal gift for my sister. They didn’t seem funny to me, but I kind of liked them, and not ironically, like Elvis on black velvet or "Plan 9 from Outer Space." It bothered me a little that they were so popular, because I’m basically a snot about stuff like that, so in the long run I found the idea that my sister didn’t ‘get’ the poker playing dogs reassuring. They seemed weird and cool, like Bahaman Gospel records or the labels on old orange crates.

    Last week two of the poker playing dog paintings were auctioned off for $590,400, which is the highest price ever paid for poker-playing dog pictures. Naturally there was a lot of publicity about them, and it turns out that their creator, one Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (1844-1934), was a genuinely odd duck.

    Until I started reading up on Cassius Coolidge, I’d thought that William A. Mitchell (1911-2004), the inventor of Jell-O, Tang, and Cool Whip, was the most amazing Unknown American of the 20th century, but Cassius gives him a real run for his money. He painted the famous series of poker-playing dogs in 1903 for a Minneapolis advertising company and this may have been the most normal thing he ever did. Among (many) other things, Coolidge wrote an opera about a mosquito epidemic in New Jersey. Of course anybody can write an opera about a mosquito epidemic in New Jersey if he’s insane enough, but Coolidge actually got his performed. And what was he doing when he wasn’t painting poker playing dogs or writing mosquito music? Pretty much everything. He founded a bank, founded a newspaper, patented a device for collecting streetcar fares, worked as a druggist, a sign painter, and eventually moved to Brooklyn where he tried raising chickens.

    But he has at least one other indisputable claim to immortality besides the poker-playing dogs: he created what he called ‘the comic foreground,’ which are those life-sized, full-length portraits with holes instead of heads. You paid somebody a dollar and stood behind them and stuck your head through the hole, and there you were with your Knights of the Round Table, or in an Old West saloon, and the guy running the concession snapped your picture. I don’t know if these things are still around now, since you can do this sort of thing all but effortlessly on your own computer, but in my youth every carnival had a selection of them, and the poker-playing dog guy invented them. And he painted hundreds of them.

    I don’t know if he ever put his two greatest ideas together, to allow you to sit down at a poker table with half a dozen cigar-smoking dogs, but I hope so. Maybe 4 or 5 ice ages from now archeologists will uncover the only remaining trace of our civilization—a snapshot of some kid sticking his head into a game of five card stud with a collie, a bulldog, two beagles, and a basset hound. "They seem to have been an unusual culture in some respects," is how I like to think the preliminary report will begin.


    In general I find myself to be excellent company but there are days when I would not answer the phone if I knew that it was me on the other end. This morning, for instance, I found myself thinking about Monty Woolly.

    When you realize you’ve spent the past 10 minutes thinking about Monty Woolly, you have to admit Aldous Huxley was on to something when he called the stream of consciousness ‘the idiot monologue in our heads.’

    Here’s how Monty crept into my idiot monologue: I was browsing in a music store the other day and noticed the soundtrack album for a movie called "De-Lovely," a biopic about the great songwriter Cole Porter. I’d seen the CD around for months but had no memory of the movie itself ever coming out—I didn’t recall any TV or print ads, any reviews, any of the stars promoting it on talk shows.

    Well, 20 or 25 years ago your reporter had his finger on the pulse of American popular culture and would have known immediately whether any given movie had been released, but several decades of writing about himself in the third person have taken their toll and now he doesn’t have a clue.

    So—I’m back in the first person now, and plan to remain here for the rest of the column—I emailed somebody who keeps up on this sort of thing. What happened to this movie? (This movie, I did not see fit to mention in my query, in which I had no interest at all).

    It came out last year, said my correspondent. And it was de-lousy. "Night and Day," the bad 1945 Hollywood biopic with Cary Grant as Cole Porter, was actually better.

    This is where Monty Woolly comes in. Monty Woolly was a Hollywood character actor in the forties, best known now for his starring role in "The Man Who Came to Dinner." This was one of those can’t-miss productions that has so many can’t-miss ingredients—script based on a Pulitzer Prize winning comedy by Caveman and Hart, A-list director (Michael Curtiz, who did "Casablanca" a couple of years later), stellar cast headed by Bette Davis—that it misses totally; everybody is so sure it can’t fail that they don’t bother to do what’s necessary to make it succeed. And Monty Woolly, who inexplicably came out of this mess with an Oscar nomination, gives maybe the most inadequate performance in a movie chock full of them. Perhaps ‘inadequate’ is a little unfair. He stinks like a rancid woodchuck.

    Well. Monty Woolly plays Cole Porter’s sidekick in "Night and Day." I saw this on TV when I was about 12, and only reason the movie stuck in my head at all was that Monty Woolly was playing a character called Monty Woolly.

    As it happens, Monty Woolly was playing himself, an ex-Yale professor who hung around with one-time student Cole Porter and then became a Hollywood character actor, but I didn’t know this when I was 12. I just knew (1) he was stinking up the place just as appallingly as he had in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and (2) he was playing MONTY WOOLLY. Talk about Nice Work if You Can Get It. It seemed to me that as a career, nothing would be cooler than a Hollywood contract like Monty Woolly’s, which I assumed stipulated (in clause 18): "Monty Woolly shall be cast in at least 5 motion pictures per year and shall always play Monty Woolly whether it makes sense or not." Surely there were westerns, war movies, Frankenstein sequels, Flash Gordon serials, where Monty Woolly appeared as Monty Woolly, wearing clothes from his own closet and giving performances so lousy you couldn’t help but cringe.

    In short, it was a niche in Hollywood that I felt that I could one day fill. The stinking-like-a-rancid-woodchuck was important to that goal, since even at twelve I COULD DO THAT. If my talent were properly cultivated, I might stink like a dozen rancid woodchucks.

    Alas, it was not to be; the place in the Hollywood firmament that I sought to occupy, like the contract I had envisioned, did not exist, and The Man Who Would Be Monty Woolly went on to another, albeit equally fragrant, future.

    All of which lead me to wonder: first, who played the Monty Woolly part in the new Cole Porter movie? And did the producers, in keeping with the tradition of Cole Porter biopics, gave the character the same name as the actor? If so, I’m hoping the part went to either Steve Buscemi or Ice T.

    The other thing I wonder is, who should play ME in the movie about me? I wonder about this a lot, and not just when I’ve been thinking about Monty Woolly. We’ll figure out just which aspect of my exciting life the movie covers later. But a couple of rules (1) no dead actors. They can’t play me because they’re DEAD. You would think this was pretty much self-evident, but last time I ran this contest a number of people sent in the suggestion that the late "Divine" would be just the actor to do me justice on the big screen. (2) No bald actors. Last time NOBODY could think of any actors with hair. If you don’t know any actors with hair, ask around. I will make an exception for bald actors like, say, Vin Diesel (an EXCELLENT pick, incidentally), who are bald because they have so much testosterone that their hair spontaneously combusts. But no more of this "Wallace Shawn" or "Charles Nelson Reilly" nonsense.

    Send your picks to: ‘WHO SHOULD PLAY JEFF’ c/o this paper.

    Calvano’s Shopping Cart


    February had been cold but there’d been no snowfall since the second week of January. Even the huge filthy piles of snow in the bank parking lot downtown had long since evaporated, so Calvano, Picarillo and I were startled to find that a glacier had formed on the hill that sloped down from the Overlook Avenue dead end. The Wilhorskys lived at the top of the hill, and their basement windows appeared to be the source of the glacier. Mr. Wilhorsky was an enthusiastic amateur plumber but not a gifted one; it was not unusual to witness enormous volumes of water or soapsuds (or worse) flowing down the hill from their basement. But Mr. Wilhorsky usually worked his aquatic magic in the warmer months. This was his first glacier. In fact, it was probably the first glacier to hit town in roughly 10,000 years. "Let’s get our sleds," said Calvano. "This is gonna be the greatest sledding ever. You think snow is good? Ice is 20 times as good! We’ll fly!"

    Moments later the three of us stood at the top of the glacier with our sleds. I stepped onto the edge of the ice and suddenly I was 30 feet down the slope. My sled was still at the top of the hill.

    "Let’s learn from this, Picarillo," said Calvano. Picarillo nodded. He carefully placed his sled atop the glacier and even more carefully lowered himself upon it. His runners cracked through the ice and the sled did not move. Nor did Picarillo. "Nothin’s happening," he said after a few moments. Calvano nodded. He observed that the ice seemed thickest and smoothest in the very center of the glacier, so that’s where he aimed his sled. He stood up, pulled the sled tight against his torso, and leapt onto the ice. His speed was incredible. He shot the length of the glacier in less than a second. Of course as soon as the sled reached the end of the ice the runners buried themselves in the frozen dirt and the sled stopped dead, but Calvano continued skimming along the ground, maybe even picking up speed, plowing a Calvano-shaped groove in the earth. He didn’t stop until he came to the edge of the creek. His speed slackened, he tottered for a moment on the lip, he cried, "Aw No," and then he tipped slowly over the side. He caught on some tree roots sticking out of the creek bank so he didn’t slide all the way down. His boots stuck straight up over the edge of the creek, one pointing left, one pointing right, like two sea monsters that were no longer on speaking terms.

    Picarillo and I each grabbed a leg and retrieved Calvano. Calvano was silent—I could tell he was trying to find some way to blame this all on Picarillo, but he couldn’t quite figure out how yet. We stashed our sleds under a sticker bush and skulked by the basement window, in the hope of hearing Mr. Wilhorsky swearing. Instead, we heard Mrs. Wilhorsky pleading with him. "Well, you’ve just got to fix it. Mrs. Hoonhout will be here any minute. The washing machine at the parsonage doesn’t work. The pipes froze. And it’s the clothing drive!"

    "Only an idiot lets his pipes freeze," muttered the man who had just unleashed a glacier on the face of suburban New Jersey. When it became obvious that Mr. Wilhorsky either couldn’t bring himself to swear or had already depleted his entire stock of profanities we trudged up to Overlook Avenue, in time to see Mrs. Hoonhout’s Rambler pull into the Wilhorsky’s driveway. She was the Methodist minister’s wife, and she carried a large cardboard carton full of clothing to the Wilhorsky’s porch.

    "Look at the shirt on top," whispered Calvano. "The one with the big tomato stain. That’s Pete Cook’s shirt!" Pete Cook lived next to the Methodist parsonage; as far as we knew, he had never had a job, never been married, never uttered a coherent sentence or even one that could be printed in a newspaper without employing a dozen asterisks, and he looked old enough to have been around when the LAST glacier had arrived in Little Falls. He had no teeth and an unexplained, undying hatred for Dr. Joyce Brothers. He was everything we hoped to be someday.

    "We gotta get that shirt," said Calvano. "It’s the shirt he was wearing when they had his picture in the paper!"

    "When he chugged the ketchup bottle at the Sunday School picnic?"

    "No, the time with the Exlax and the tuba."

    "We gotta get that shirt," Picarillo agreed.

    Mrs. Hoonhout poured her heart out to Mrs. Wilhorsky on the windy porch.

    "He keeps calling the parsonage and saying he has more clothes for us to pick up! This is the fourth load today, and they’re all filthy, and when I went to the door, all he had on were a pair of horrible boxer shorts. I don’t think he has any other clothes left! He’s insane!"

    "We’ve been having a little trouble with the washing machine..." Mrs. Wilhorsky said, but we never heard the rest of the conversation because we were racing to Pete Cook’s house. We rang his bell for several minutes. Would he come to the door in his horrible boxer shorts? There was no answer. "Hey," said Picarillo. "Look! In the garage!"

    Pete Cook had cut a 55-gallon oil drum in half, and was using one half as a giant cooking pot. Something was simmering in it over a low fire in the garage. He stirred it every now and then with a broomstick. The smell was unspeakable. Even though it was February he was indeed dressed in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts. It was not a pretty sight, but we couldn’t turn away. "What are you doin’, Pete?" asked Picarillo.

    "Broilin’ up some more PANTS for the minister-lady," he said. "Toss me that inner tube, will ya? She says she’s gotta WASH ‘em before they can give ‘em to anybody. Let’s see ‘em wash THAT."

    "Pete, do you have any other clothes left?"

    "I won’t give her the satisfaction!" he crowed. We drifted back out of his yard and headed for home.

    "Maybe we don’t actually need the shirt," said Calvano.

    "I was just thinking that," I said.

    We cut through the A & P parking lot. Calvano saw a discarded shopping cart by the dumpster. "Are they throwing that out?"

    "Look at the wheel," I said. One of the front wheels was broken—a chunk of the hard rubber had broken off and left an uneven semi circle.

    "Gentlemen, I think we can salvage this day after all!" Because the wheel was no longer a wheel we had to carry it back to Calvano’s house. We crossed Overlook Avenue, where Mr. Wilhorsky was refusing to let Mrs. Hoonhout bring Pete Cook’s clothes into the house.

    "It’ll be worth it once we replace the wheel," Calvano said. "It’ll be a floating clubhouse. We can have all our cool stuff in it, like the cow brain and the deluxe over-the-head werewolf mask. We can set up a club house anywhere, and then just as quickly pull it all down and vanish!"

    We could not remove the wheel. We did our best to trim it back into a more-or-less circular shape, but it was so much smaller than the other wheels that we had to trim them too, and we ended up with the sort of angled wheels you see in cartoons about Neanderthals. This took us well into March, which time the Methodists had returned all of Pete Cook’s clothes to him; the repeated washing did nothing to remove the stench. We toyed with the idea of mounting the shopping cart on a plywood sheet and screwing wheels into it, but in the end we dragged it back to the A & P parking lot.

    Later it occurred to Calvano that if we’d managed to get it onto the plywood sheet we could have all ridden it down the hill together the next time Mr. Wilhorsky produced a glacier but that turned out to be nearly 15 years and it probably wouldn’t have been worth the wait.

    To go directly to the NEXT Picarillo story, click HERE


    I generally do not touch upon current events in these columns but every now and then something happens that cries out for commentary. For instance, the case of the Swedish motorist who was arrested for calling a policeman "You big onion!" in 1991, or the sudden appearance of floating stuff that looked suspiciously like living brains in a Clifton, new Jersey pond in 1995.

    As a newspaper columnist, I could not but be appalled by the recent (dare I say ongoing?) series of revelations involving various other (that is, not me) columnists and their conflicts of interest. Most egregiously, there was Armstrong Williams, whose TV show accepted $225,000 in ads from No Child Left Behind, following which he wrote columns supporting No Child Left Behind ("I agreed with them, why shouldn’t I take the money?"). But there were other contretemps involving the liberal blogger Daily Kos, the conservative pundit Maggie Gallagher, and others. Although in virtually all these cases the issue was nondisclosure rather than * cough * bribery, you could be forgiven if you had the impression that every columnist in the country was for sale to the highest bidder. Of course, this is not the case. Not all of us are driving around in new Jags, bought and paid for by tainted money. Lord knows I’m not.

    This brings me to the crux of the matter: what about ME?? How is it that nobody is waving fistfuls of cash in MY face? What am I, chopped liver? Is it because of my personal integrity, long a by-word in journalistic circles? Well, forget about it. That noise you just heard was me flushing my personal integrity down the toilet. It’s gone! Wooosh! I intend to fill that empty spot where my integrity used to be with money. Money money money! And unlike some columnists who will only sell out to people they agree with anyway, I will sell out to anybody at all, even if I personally think your ideas are dangerous and / or insane.

    And I will not even charge extra for backing your demented crackpot insanity! I am cost effective. I’m sure Armstrong is an excellent writer, but let’s face it-- $225,000?? For a guy who already agrees with you? If that isn’t the literary equivalent of the Pentagon buying a $3000 toilet seat, I don’t know what is. Make no mistake about it: whatever Armstrong Williams was willing to do for thousands of dollars, I will do for hundreds. If you can’t afford hundreds, we will work something out.

    And I will not limit myself to one side of any issue. If I’ve written a column supporting some position you find repugnant, just click the PAYPAL thingee I’m going to post on my website (as soon as I get it working) and tell me what position YOU want me to take, and I will take it! Bear in mind that I am not so naive that I think there is only one side to an argument—or even two. Some complex problems may have a dozen or more sides, and I will take them all, or as many of them as there are people willing to fork over the long green.

    What’s more, you won’t find me writing one of those embarrassing "I realize now that I showed poor judgment by not addressing the apparent conflict of interest" columns (unless of course you want me to write one!). No sir: when you buy me, I will STAY BOUGHT.

    QUESTION: If you admit that you will write anything for cash, doesn’t that reduce your effectiveness to zero? Why should anyone pay attention to your opinion if they know it’s bought and paid for?

    ANSWER: I would NEVER write something I didn’t believe in.

    QUESTION: But you just said you would.

    ANSWER: That is correct. I was lying a moment ago. I will be doing that a lot. As often as you like, in fact, and for very reasonable rates.

    QUESTION: You say that ‘when you buy me, I stay bought.’ Doesn’t that contradict what you just said about not limiting yourself to one side of any issue?

    ANSWER: Not at all. There is no contradiction.

    QUESTION: Yes there is. It’s a total...

    ANSWER: I totally don’t get those car ads where some guy is zipping down the road doing about 120 miles per hour and goes into a moonshiner’s spin, and they run a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen that says something like, "Professional driver. Closed course. Do not attempt this." That’s a selling point?? This car is capable of doing a lot of cool stuff that you’d better not even think about?? It’s like showing somebody eating a candy bar and the bottom of the screen says, "Professional eater. Don’t try this at home. You can unwrap the bar and maybe SNIFF a little, but keep away from mouth."

    QUESTION: But...

    ANSWER: I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for questions. It’s time to BUY THIS COLUMNIST. These low, low rates won’t stay here forever. Act now!


    The days when a snow shovel was nothing more than a stick with a wide, thin blade on the business end are long gone. They come in dozens of shapes and sizes and weights. Some blades have sides on them; some are concave, some are straight, some have heating elements along the edge that allow you to slice through the hardest ice as if it were nothing more than frozen water.

    Once upon a time, we used the same shovel to remove snow that we used to stoke the furnace with coal—and that shovel was often pressed into service as a sled or a TV satellite dish. No more. Sometimes it seems there are as many kinds of snow shovels as there are snowflakes. Now when you face off against a patch of snow, you have to consider your options as carefully as a champion golfer does when deciding whether to use the 9 iron or the putter or just give the ball a little nudge with the edge of his shoe when he thinks nobody is paying attention.

    When choosing a snow shovel, the most important thing to consider is ERGONOMICS. This word comes from the Latin "ergo," (‘Do I look stupid?’) and "nomicus," (‘No, seriously’). Back in the bad old days, the ‘handle’ of a snow shovel was invariably a long straight rounded stick-type thing, no different from the handle on a broom or an oven mitt. Over the years, however, scientists discovered that a curve stick, employed as a lifting tool, was much more cool looking than a straight one.

    The most common curve used in the handle of a snow shovel is the ‘n,’ or ‘one-hump’ curve. These usually cost about 3 bucks more than the old-style straight handles, so many people chose to put a new curve into an old handle. With a metal handle, this is relatively simple and only requires that you heat up a rock whose surface curves precisely the way you’d like your handle to curve. Once the rock is up to speed, you rest the handle against it until it conforms to the curve. NOTE: If you make the rock too hot, you will turn the handle into a pool of molten metal, so watch your temperature. You must also be careful that the handle does not curve too much, or you’ll have a rock stuck in the middle of your snow shovel handle. A snow shovel with the handle wrapped around a rock is ergonomically less efficient than one without a rock, so you will want to avoid this.

    Modifying a wooden handle so that it curves is a bit more labor-intensive, but there is no danger of melting the handle. First, soak the handle in warm brine until the handle is soft and pliable (generally about 120 days). Remove from the brine and slowly bend it around a garbage can or an Ottoman. Hold it in place using some sort of holder-type device, and keep it secure until the wood dries out and the curve is permanent (approximately 200 days). NOTE: The Ottoman is pretty much out of commission during this period, so do not use your favorite one unless absolutely necessary.

    While the ‘n’ curve is the most popular, multiple curves are gaining favor. The ‘S’ curve has the disadvantage of pointing the shovel blade straight down, so that you can only pull snow towards you, like a Vegas pit boss pulling in the chips, but you can overcome this by affixing another (straight) handle to the top curve of the ‘S’, which will allow you to push the snow away from you, although you have to be careful not to snag the first handle on anything. The ‘w" curve orients the blade so that it faces straight up, which is very striking, but top scientists warn that this is less than optimal for certain kinds of snow removal.

    In general, ergonomically speaking, the more curves and humps, the better the shovel. Many cutting edge snow shovel designers have been experimenting with handles patterned after various types of pasta. The ‘rotelle’ or spiral-handled snow shovel is operated by rotating the handle so that the blade lifts the snow and then drops it to the side, over and over and over, all in one economic motion. One problem technicians have noticed is that it’s impossible to keep rotating it over and over and over, and another problem is that it drops the snow right back in the same place the snow just came from. But these are minor defects in a very elegant design.

    Since one type of curved handle might work well for one type of snow but work less well for a different type of snow, the latest innovation (not yet available to the pubic) is the FLEXIBLE snow shovel handle, which permits you to curve and uncurve the handle at will. In essence, this handle is a straightened wire coat hanger, threaded through 36 inches or so of rubber erasers, in the manner of a shish-ka-bob. You bend it, and it holds the shape, just like Gumby. Unless you put more than 6 ounces of snow on the blade, or apply more than 6 ounces of pressure, in which case it will not. But this means that your shoveling has to be done slowly and carefully, and most experts agree that wide use of the flexible handle snow shovel would reduce snow-shovel-induced heart attacks by upwards of 70%.

    Mulberry Street Joey Clams Fights City Hall

    I arrived at the Custom Neon Sign Shop a few minutes late, because it was 15 degrees out and I didn’t want to wait on the sidewalk until Mulberry Street Joey Clams turned up. In theory Mulberry Street Joey Clams and I were partners and we both had keys to the shop, but his key worked and mine didn’t. "Oh yeah," he’d said when I told him about it. "Yeah, you got the DECOY key. In case somebody wanted to whack you and steals the key, they still won’t be able to get into the shop."

    "Well, I can’t get in either," I’d said.

    "That can’t be helped. If YOU could get in using the key, THEY could get in. You see what I’m saying? It’s for your protection."

    I did have a key to the Custom Neon Sign Shop van, since (unlike my partner) I had a valid driver’s license and could work a stick shift. And I used the key to unlock the van, because it was Tuesday morning and at 8 AM the space in front of the 40 Mulberry Street had ceased to be a legal parking spot. But as soon as I turned the key, Mulberry Street Joey Clams boiled out of the shop and cried, "No! No!"

    "We’re gonna get a ticket if it stays here," I said.

    "Just leave it," he said. "I got an idea goin’ on here." I shut off the engine and we went inside. "The idea," Mulberry Street Joey Clams explained, "is to leave the van right where it is, until the meter maid shows up and starts to write a ticket."

    "Great idea, Mulberry Street Joey Clams."

    "Wait a minute. That’s not the idea yet. The idea itself is, when she starts writing the ticket, I run out and protest, in the course of which," he paused for effect, "I put the moves on her." I stared at him. "Yeah, yeah," he said, "I know what you’re thinking. But THIS meter maid is really cute."

    I set about melting down a misspelled "Happy Hour" sign we’d been working on while Mulberry Street Joey Clams re-wrapped the scarf around his neck and splashed a little cologne on his face. It takes a pretty fair splash of cologne to overpower the smell of a melting neon sign, I thought. Then there was a blast of cold air as Mulberry Street Joey Clams shot through the door once again, having caught sight of the meter maid.

    "Almost golden," he said, a few moments later. "Not quite perfect, but almost. Let’s say half-perfect. Onna one hand, she didn’t precisely agree to a date."

    "What precisely did she say?"

    "Technically, she said, ‘no.’ However, there was this little crinkly thing at the corner of her mouth that definitely indicates she was considering saying yes."

    "A smile?"

    "I wouldn’t go quite that far."

    "And this is half-perfect?"

    "No, no. That’s the half that didn’t go perfect. The other half couldn’t a gone better."

    "The other half?"

    "I got the ticket."

    It was a small ticket, but it had a wealth of information. For one thing, it had the meter maid’s signature, which would have told Mulberry Street Joey Clams the meter maid’s name if it had been legible. "Well, you try writin’ with a mitten sometime."

    "I didn’t say a word."

    "Yeah yeah. It would be nice to know if she’s Italian, that’s all."

    Another thing the ticket had was the date and time of the traffic court hearing, in the event that Mulberry Street Joey Clams decided to fight the ticket.

    "What I’m gonna do," he said, "is show up, but instead of complaining about the ticket, I’m gonna tell the judge what a terrific job the meter maid did."

    "A terrific job of what? Giving you a ticket?"

    "Exactly." He then spun this elaborate fantasy of the meter maid knocking on the door of the Custom Neon Sign Shop one morning to thank him. "The judge tole me what you said about how I give you the ticket so polite and professional and all," the meter maid was going to say, "and I wanted to say thanks and so on." "It’s no big deal," Mr. Suave would reply. "Any citizen who got a ticket so professional and polite woulda tole the judge exactly the same thing, especially considering if the meter maid doing the ticket giving was as pretty as the one which gave me my ticket." At this point words failed the meter maid and she could not but succumb to Mulberry Street Joey Clams’ charms.

    He thumbtacked the ticket to the corkboard where (in theory) the work orders and invoices were displayed. I went back to melting down assorted grammatical errors until we called it a day.

    The next morning I found Mulberry Street Joey Clams staring at the ticket, which now had the word "DONE!" scrawled across it.

    "What does that mean?" I asked.

    "I dunno. It’s... Well, it looks like Uncle Danny’s handwriting..."

    Mulberry Street Joey Clams’ Uncle Danny bankrolled our operation and (since his key worked) sometimes stopped by afterhours to use the bathroom or the telephone or to leave a folded newspaper containing $5000 in unmarked twenties, with instructions to hand it to a man in a Panama hat. But writing "DONE!" across a parking ticket was unprecedented. Mulberry Street Joey Clams dialed his uncle’s number. The half of the conversation I could hear went:

    "Yeah, hello, Unca Danny... Yeah, I seen the ticket—that’s what I called... Yeah, what does it... You took CARE of it? You mean... You mean you PAID it? Why are you laughing? Oh. Oh, right. You fixed the ticket?? But Unca Danny! I wanna... I gotta... Listen, you gotta unfix that ticket. Huh. You... okay. Okay." He hung up despondently. "He says there’s no such word as ‘unfix.’"

    "I think that may be true," I said.

    "Well, the point is, he got the ticket squashed. So the whole telling-the-judge-and-blah-blah-blah thing, I can’t do it."

    "That’s a shame," I said. "It sounded like a foolproof plan."

    "It WAS. Well, there’s only one thing to do. I gotta get ANOTHER TICKET."

    This proved quite simple. That very night he left the van overnight in a no parking zone, and in the morning he had a new ticket. This time the signature was quite legible, but it said "Patrolman Frank Bartilucci."

    "At least he’s Italian," I said.

    "That’s not funny," said Mulberry Street Joey Clams. Uncle Danny refused to fix this ticket and Mulberry Street Joey Clams did not fight it in traffic court. "Maybe we can write it off on our taxes," he mused, but it turned out we couldn’t.


    "Carpet’s getting a tad funky," I said to myself, by which I did not mean that my carpet was dressing like the black guy on "Starsky and Hutch" and yelling, "Get down! Wooooo!" It was the other kind of funky. I spent a week or so thinking about how to deal with this and I was leaning towards the default option (also known as "No, I don’t smell anything. Why?") when I noticed that the supermarket rented ‘carpet cleaners.’

    Well, I took the plunge and brought one of these things home, but as soon as I read the instructions, I realized I’d been taken. Get this: before you can engage the so-called ‘carpet cleaner,’ you’ve got to pick up all the stuff on the carpet! I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that pretty much the definition of ‘carpet cleaning?’ While I’m picking up all this underwear, what is the carpet cleaner doing? Sitting on the couch watching "Judge Judy?" Maybe every now and then it hollers, "Great job, kid. Hey, you missed a banana peel behind the radiator." None for me, thanks. So in the end, I gave the carpet cleaner an all-expense paid weekend at my place, and the carpet is just as funky as ever.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve been hornswaggled by ‘labor-saving’ devices. Every now and then when I’m rooting around in the kitchen cabinets trying to figure out where that other smell is coming from, I come across my Salad Chopper-Upper. I make a lot of salads and the idea of having a machine that would do all the chopping and shredding was mighty appealing. I would go so far as to say that, had this machine done performed as the advertisements lead me to believe it would perform, I would have had enough free time to gather up the underwear and banana skins around here, and the whole unfortunate carpet ‘cleaner’ episode would never have occurred.

    Well, after hinting around for like five Christmases that something to chop up my vegetables for me would be much appreciated, I finally received one. And when I opened and up and read the instructions, guess what? YOU HAVE TO CHOP UP THE VEGETABLES BEFORE THEY FIT IN THE HOPPER. Hey, excuse me, but isn’t that WHY I GOT THE SALAD CHOPPER UPPER IN THE FIRST PLACE? I’m not saying it doesn’t do a really good job of RE-chopping the vegetables after I chop them up first; but what’s the point? What am I missing here? It’s like buying a car, and you get in it to drive to Brooklyn, and the car says, "Uh-uh-UH. First you get yourself to Staten Island, and I’ll meet you at the ramp to the Verrazano Bridge." Who would buy a car like that?

    Well, come to think of it, I might, because I like a car with a little attitude, assuming there’s some spiffy detailing, a really good sound system, and a heater that works okay. Which is not the case in my current vehicle. The heat goes on, but not the dial that determines where the hot air comes out—it’s always coming out of the face-level blowers—and I’m tired of my feet freezing off whenever I drive for more than half an hour. I’d put up with a little back talk in exchange for warm feet. But then there’s the problem of how do I get to Staten Island? Probably in the old car. Why the hell should I have to use two separate cars to drive to one destination? It’s nuts.

    And yet, isn’t that precisely what both the ‘carpet cleaner’ and the ‘salad chopper-upper’ are asking me to do? They want me to get my carpet and or salad to the Verrazano, at which point they graciously announce ‘thanks, we’ll take it from here.’ Am I wrong to think this is absurd?

    Of course not. And yet: when I brought the carpet thingee back to the supermarket and the guy at the courtesy desk asked me how I liked it, I told him, "You know... I’m sure it does a fine job of recleaningonce the carpet has been cleaned, but that’s not what I’m looking for." When I explained about the underwear situation ("It’s a matter of calories, too," I said. "I’m not going to spend all my time bending over and picking up underwear and pizza crusts. When I want exercise, I go to the gym. I pay a lot of money for my membership. I’m not going to waste that money by doing all this bending over and picking up at home."), he gave me this look. He totally didn’t get it.

    This is the point: Do our machines work for us, or do we work for our machines? I’m not about to scrub my place down just to make some carpet cleaner happy. What next? Bring it some slippers and a brandy, and give it a back rub? Not me. I’ve got other fish to fry.

    Terrible Reception


    My grandmother had, for all practical purposes, a one-channel television. The dial was set to the local ABC affiliate and she had no curiosity about what might lurk on the other channels. Once when my father was visiting her, he idly flipped around the dial in search of a Sunday football game and she screamed, "Now I’ll never find the right station again!" Now this was this was 25 or 30 years ago, and there were only five or six stations to choose from, but it might as well have been half a million, distributed across the wavelengths in a random, ever-shifting order. My father promised to put the dial back to ‘her’ station when the game was over, and he did, but it was a traumatic event she mentioned frequently. A few years later my father again changed the channel and then changed it back, but neglected to nudge the fine tuning knob the 16th of an inch required to eliminate the visual static; my grandmother didn’t discover this until the next day and called the local TV repair place. They sent a man to nudge the fine tuning knob, at a cost of (the way my dad liked to figure it) ten dollars for each 64th of an inch.

    This is one of my favorite stories of technophobia among the elderly, topped only by the lady who spent 10 minutes trying to order a Happy Meal at the ATM some years back. I’ve told both of these stories so often that I feel a little guilty about my friend Dave, who probably had my grandmother’s fine tuning adventure in the back of his mind when he decided to help his Aunt Ruth.

    Aunt Ruth is way, way up there but she was born a good 20 years after my grandmother and therefore absorbed about 20 years more of technological advances before her brain finally said "That’s it! Brain full! No new information allowed unless it concerns Buy Three Cans of Cat Food Get One Free supermarket coupons, or celebrities with eating disorders!"

    "Just before the holidays I called Aunt Ruth at her retirement village and asked her how she was doing," Dave told me, "and she said she was fine, except for the TV set, which wasn’t working that well. So I said what’s wrong? She said it got very poor reception. I was surprised, because I assumed that she had cable. ‘I do have the cable,’ she said, ‘but the reception is very, very poor.’ So I said I’d come and fix it. ‘You can’t fix this,’ she said. ‘Everybody here says the TV reception is very bad.’ ‘Yeah yeah,’ I said. I figured it was either some incredibly tiny adjustment [which makes me suspect that Dave was thinking about my grandmother’s misadventure] or else I’d call the cable company. It takes about 2 hours to drive to Aunt Ruth’s but hey, she’s my Aunt.

    "So I get there, and she’s watching TV and the picture looks fine. ‘So what happened to the poor reception?’ I said. ‘Look at it,’ she said. ‘All these STUPID PEOPLE. This one is suing the fat one because the fat one let her dog loose and... I forget what the dog did, but look how they’re DRESSED. Don’t these people have shirts that BUTTON?’

    "‘I waited till there was a commercial and I clicked around. She gets about 150 channels and every single one of them comes in clear as a bell. ‘Aunt Ruth, your reception couldn’t be better!’ ‘Are you CRAZY?’ she said. ‘These shows are TERRIBLE. There’s nothing on I want to see! Just stupid people. Stupid stupid stupid. I can’t believe,’ she concluded, ‘how poor the reception is these days. Do you remember ‘December Bride?’ Well. I’d just driven 2 hours, and I was going to drive 2 hours back, because she hated every TV show after 1958. ‘I’m sure there’s something on you’ll like. What do you want?’ ‘I want to see NICE OLD MOVIES.’ ‘No problem,’ I said. I clicked around and I found Turner Classics in about 10 seconds. ‘There you go,’ I said. ‘Burt Lancaster in "Bird Man of Alcatraz."’ ‘I don’t like that movie!’ she said. ‘I want to see Olivia deHavilland. But NOT one where she DIES.’ ‘Well, I don’t think there’s a channel quite that, uh, specific...’ ‘I TOLD you,’ she said. ‘The reception is TERRIBLE. Everybody says so.’

    "And incidentally, her RADIO had terrible reception, too. As you might guess, the problem was that it couldn’t receive any radio shows from, say, 1947."

    It may sound like I’m making fun of Aunt Ruth but believe me, I am well aware that I am a finite number of years (months!) away from being Aunt Ruth myself. The only difference between me in 2025 AD and Aunt Ruth today is that when I say ‘terrible reception,’ I’ll be talking about the one where the bride’s maid threw up on my Uncle Charley. Eventually my brain will decide that nothing of interest happened after 1975 and I will agree with my brain wholeheartedly. I’ll take every technological advance since the invention of Cheese-in-a-can as a personal insult.

    In fact, I pretty much do already.

    THIS will take you back to the Crystal Drum Page, whence you may navigate to some older, even smellier archives...