I Warned You Not to Touch That

Tag: random thoughts

Oh Canada

by on Feb.25, 2010, under Other

I’ve never had a problem with Canadians.  As a group, I find them nicer than many other nationalities I’ve run into.  Of course, there is the language barrier and I’m not sure television has made its way across the border, but they make up for it with their great cars.  I mean their beer.  I feel a certain kinship to our North American neighbors yet, I’m at a loss when it comes to one of their beloved pastimes, curling.  My cat, Zippie, and I recently watched the spectacle as it aired on the Olympics. 

In Canada, curling and hockey are viewed with the same passion many in the United States view baseball and football.  The problem with watching curling at the Olympics is the rules are a carefully guarded secret that NBC has contractually agreed not to disclose.  I love watching the sport.  It’s like trying to figure out cricket.  The playing pieces or “stones,” bear a striking resemblance to the kind of egg I’d expect to emanate from a granite dinosaur.  They slide and guide them down a small iced surface that looks like a cross between a shuffleboard court and hockey rink.

The main idea of the contest is to look cool as you launch the rock and then gaze at it lovingly while yelling HARD.  To look even cooler, it helps to scream REALLY HARD. Sometimes they do this by calling from the other end.  I think. They could throw a nine, which is their normal, or possibly make an intern drop.  It sickens me to encounter a rock that’s open by half to three quarters.  I wanted to see if the dropped intern would make a recovery or fall to her takeout weight.

The best part of the whole show is the sweepers and scrapers.  I’m sure that’s the wrong term for them but they are the action portion of this adventure.  Skittering down the ice looking at the stone they alternately lope along or scrape for all their worth. They have to keep an eye on their opponent’s stones and gingerly step around them.  Then, as if to counteract the play the offense just made, the other team jumps in at the end to do some sweeping and scraping of their own.  If they just joined forces, they’d have the ice cleared in no time.

The Canadian’s watching the event seemed wildly enthusiastic about it.  My cat, who knows a little about curling himself, took it all in and was unimpressed.     

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General Motors

by on Feb.13, 2010, under Essays

I judged a speaking contest last night.  Prior to the formal judging, the organizers served us a catered meal in the hospitality area.  As I scanned the full room for a place to sit, I spotted a chair next to an attractive 40ish woman.  She was blonde, perky, and had a pretty smile.  Sitting next to a stranger can be a wonderful opportunity to pin different personas on the line and see which one’s flap the most. Were it not for the better food and greater seat selection, I might have been on a plane.

Caris decided she was a Christian homemaker, originally from the Midwest, who regretted never pursuing a fashion design career in New York City.  I wondered if her parents were thinking of Paris when they named her.  Sort of a Midwestern twist on the City of Light.  She lived in Plant City.  I’ve never encountered anyone with that for a name.  I always thought it was an oxymoronic moniker for a city.  When I think of cities, I don’t think of plants.  I didn’t doubt that she lived there.  It just seemed like a long way from the Seventh Avenue fashion district in Manhattan.  Her excuse had something to do with her husband’s business.  He needed space for equipment.

The conversation drifted to what I did for a living.  I told her I ran General Motors.  I saw her eyebrows rise a fraction and a glint of increased interest wash over her face.  Perhaps I could help with a recalled vehicle or, better yet, get her a seat on the board.  She asked, “do you run it from here?”  “Here” I assumed meant the office I have in my home.  I explained that, thanks to modern technology, I didn’t need to be in Detroit that often.  Many Fortune 100 CEO’s run the companies from spare bedrooms in their homes.  I paused to let the gravity of my words sink in.  When they still seemed to be floating on the surface, I explained that I’m a pathological liar and didn’t even own a car.  I watched as her pretty smile careened off her face.  How I wished she’d told me she was the Queen of Sheba or even Sweden.  I’m sure I could’ve gotten her a deal on a Saab.

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Email Thread-Fan Mail (I think)

by on Feb.11, 2010, under Other

Don’t ever be afraid to say how you feel about my work.  These emails arrived before my blog was set up.  You, my close personal friend,  can leave thoughts right in the comment sections on these pages.  It’s a snap.  All replies are welcome and appreciated.

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Hire Education

by on Feb.07, 2010, under Essays

I noticed my educational opportunities had diminished in recent years and considered ways to correct the problem.  I thought about studying medical school billing but I hate paperwork.  Massage school had some appeal except I knew, eventually, I’d have to stop getting them and start rubbing my classmates. 

Medical school seemed like an excellent option except for two minor points.  Well, three.  I hate blood.  I don’t know what it is about the sight of someone’s brains splattered all over a gurney but I’ve always shied away from such things.  Two, I don’t fit the profile for medical school admissions.  I suppose I could lie about being close to retirement age.  Those convictions for racketeering and influence peddling?  They could be a plus if I got into hospital administration.  The big problem I have with a career in medicine is the paperwork.  I might as well be in medical billing. 

What other new and exciting possibilities were there?  Shepherding?  Yeah right.  Try getting in to one of their schools.  What area of learning would accept someone with my obvious deficiencies and allow me to gain some sense of purpose late in life?  After searching my soul and asking for inspiration from my letter carrier, it came to me.  Driving school.  What an opportunity to get back in the academic saddle.  I imagined firing up those atrophied brain cells and connecting with others like myself interested in advancing their educations. 

I hadn’t given driving schools much thought until I started hearing from them in the mail.  Much like my daughter’s many interested colleges, these schools were looking for students just like me.  Unlike the solicitations sent to my daughter, I’d never heard of the schools contacting me.  It had been a while since my student days and, perhaps this was academia’s new breed.  They had names like Iwannasavepointsonmyinsurance.com and safedriversrus.com.

I sensed the chance to build some lifelong friendships and wondered if financial aid was available.  Thirty dollars isn’t that much money but every penny counts.  I hoped I might qualify for either the aid or a scholarship.  I considered their online learning center but how would I get to know any of my classmates that way? 

I worried how much I’d learn about driving in four hours.  What kind of campus would there be?  I thought any selective school would have a wide assortment of arcade driving games where I could refine my skills.  Besides my fellow classmates, I wondered about my professors.  Would they be ivy-tower types or corporate bigwigs adding an impressive notch to their resume belt?  Is bringing an apple passé?  How competitive was their athletic program?  I always wanted to try fencing. 

After reviewing the many postcard options, it came down to what you’d expect.  The package.  Without grant money, it was difficult to justify the higher priced schools.  Eight or nine dollars, while not much monetarily, represents a significant percentage to save.  Location was important too.  Did I want to attend a school up north or closer to home?  What kind of meal plans did they offer?  What about used textbooks?

I called my first choice and, instead of reaching their admissions department, they prompted me to select from one of the following options:

          Press One for Basic Driver Improvement Class

          Press Two for Defensive Driving class to satisfy a ticket or court order

          Press Three for bail money

          Press Four to repeat these options or to hear them in Sanskrit

I merely wanted to verify the school’s address but the Sanskrit option spoke to me.  I pressed four.  Suddenly, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and started randomly pressing other numbers, hoping to return to English.  I never dialed the right combination and, after twenty minutes, hung up.  I hoped I hadn’t made a bad first impression. 

To my amazement, someone from the school called me back.  Here was my chance to redeem myself.  I didn’t want to be forced to attend my fallback school.  A Peruvian woman confirmed the address and told me I’d been accepted.  No standardized test.  No costly application fee.  No essay or teacher recommendations.  I was in.  They didn’t offer financial aid but, since this was my first choice, I felt compelled to enroll. 

Think back to your first day of school.  New shoes, new clothes, and writing instruments.  Remember how scared you were climbing onto the bus for the first time?  Letting go of your mother’s hand and waving goodbye to those days of innocence.  What would my driving school professor be like?  Would I know any of the other students?  I was so excited, I lost track of the time.  I had to speed to get to campus for my six o’clock class.  What was more important, bending the traffic laws a little or getting to school on time for the first day of class? 

I looked for the campus.  Keiser University?  That’s not it.  Kiddie Country Achievement Center?  I wish.  There had to be an ivy-walled castle of learning just ahead.  Imagine my surprise when I missed the school completely as I drove by.  I circled around and took another stab at finding it.  I discovered it in the back of a small plaza with Betty’s Bail Bond, The Racer’s Edge Pub and Dominos in the front.  What a perfect location. 

Once in the main administration building Rick, the Dean of the school, greeted me.  He was also my professor.  I discreetly left him an apple.  Only one student preceded me in the registration line.  Barbara.  She worked as a hydrologist, had a boyfriend for three weeks but would consider trading up.  She seemed earnest about finding ways to keep her truck from rolling through stop signs. 

Rick was a smoker.  That was a good sign.  I knew there would be frequent breaks to help keep my mind sharp.  I gave him my license information and ticket number.  These tickets are hard to come by.  Mine was for doing sixty-nine in a forty-five zone.  Well, I was going downhill.  When I entered the classroom, I was disappointed to find only two other students besides Barbara.  Mike was an Egyptian management consultant nabbed for going fifteen over the limit.  He said this was his first offense and he was just helping a sick friend.  With lines like that, I could see how he’d do well as a consultant.  Ramon was a short Hispanic guy from Michigan via New Jersey.  He drove a semi and got caught going too fast.  That was my class.  Except for Barbara, I couldn’t imagine any of my classmates joining me for fencing.

Our professor was a regular guy.  Before he got into the driving school business, he was a retired air force pilot.  He liked going fast too.  He said he’d driven his ‘67 Shelby Mustang 165mph.  I felt honored to be learning from such a speed merchant.  The stories Rick told were the best part of class.  We might as easily have been sitting around a campfire as a dry erase board. 

To illustrate the dangers of unsecured items flying around in a crash, our professor told of one man whose ballpoint pen lodged in his carotid artery.  Rick said, “He bled out in three minutes.”  Perhaps he was a forger getting karmic payback.  You know your time is up when a ballpoint pen does you in.  Then there was the infant with her head severed by the “Baby on Board” sign.  Wow.  Sometimes, you just can’t win. 

I loved the story of the woman who refused to pay for tolls.  She’d rung up $115 worth and showed no sign of slowing down.  She told the judge she wouldn’t pay the tolls.  He gave her a week in jail.  She told him she didn’t care and still wouldn’t pay.  That’s the ticket.  You go girl.  Who is he to tell you what to do?  After hearing her refuse again, he gave her a month in the clink.  Apparently, jail didn’t agree with her because, after that, she seemed fine with the whole toll paying concept.

I learned a lot about Blood Alcohol Content.  It’s hard to believe police have been tipped off by drivers hugging one side of the lane or driving slowly with their brake lights on.  Reaction time amazed me too.  While DUI offenders react three times slower than normal drivers, cell phone users are much slower than the tipplers.  I hoped Florida would adopt California’s innovative approach to deterring drunk driving.  After the first offense, they crush your car and drop the metal cube in your driveway.  I think they let the driver hop out first.

Despite my disappointment with some aspects of school, like their athletic program, others more than exceeded my expectations.  By the end of the four hours, I felt a real connection with my professor and classmates.  We had a brief graduation ceremony, which made me swell with pride.  I did get two beautiful documents, on a high quality velum, commemorating my academic achievement.  Sadly, the original needed to be sent to the Clerk of Court.  Things went so well we all decided to knock back a few drinks at the bar next door before heading home.  I’m looking forward to future class reunions.

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Mr. Softee

by on Jan.15, 2010, under Essays

The screech of brakes applied moments before impact with a bicycle is a memorable sound.  Unforgettable as this noise may be, it doesn’t compare with the carnival tones played by the ice cream truck.  Since my childhood home rested in the Connecticut equivalent of Outer Mongolia, these lilting notes never drifted past my ears.  The cost of gas, even at nineteen cents a gallon, made a trip by my house financially imprudent.  I believe that’s the view shared in the assembly room before those crisply uniformed Good Humor drivers hit the road.  Having never been a part of such camaraderie, I can only speculate, but I imagine a rich conversational fabric.  Things like, “Has anyone seen my hat?” and “I gassed up for eighteen cents a gallon down at the Sunoco.”  Possibly even, “I just missed hitting the Hardcastle kid.  He didn’t even look before he rode his bike out into the street.  I must’ve laid a month a rubber on the pavement.”  Followed by, “Next time, try a little harder, Lou.  You’ll get him.”

Did Good Humor drivers have their own union?  Perhaps the United Brotherhood of Amalgamated Ice Cream Vendors.  They are truckers, of a sort, so perhaps they were Teamsters.  Maybe it’s the Jimmy Hoffa connection but I think of Teamsters as a more rough and tumble bunch.  Brawlers.  They don’t seem likely to wear a short-sleeved white shirt, thick black belt, pressed white pants, black bow tie, shoes, and white hat with black band and visor.  The kind of hat the Statue of Liberty would wear, if she sold ice cream.

I’m sure Good Humor drivers were carefully screened.  Besides questions about their driving record, math skills and mental stability, there had to be a joke section on the application.  Maybe they selected drivers after examining their funny bone.  I imagine weeks of classroom time with subjects like, Ten Ways to Break a Twenty, Every Penny Counts, and Stain Removal, Do’s and Don’ts.  Inventory management was critical.  It doesn’t do you a damn bit of good to pull up in front of a sweet-toothed crowd if you can’t find the ice cream sandwiches.  Good business practice means never having to say, “I guess we’re all out.”  Appearance counts too.  In many ways, the uniformed drivers who met the public were the face of the company.  The link between delicious creamsicles and corporate profitability.  

Sadly, they are all but gone.  The trucks, the drivers, the way of life.  Swept under the waves after years of financial imprudence and ill humor.  Washed away by a force of nature known as soft ice cream. 

Ice cream on a stick seemed like a good idea when it first came out in the 1920’s.  The problem with the stick concept is gravity.  Pieces of toasted almond crust would separate from the vanilla core and fall.  If you were wearing grass-stained shorts covered with a fine patina of dirt, the delicious coating would miss you completely on its trip to the ground.  These toppings aren’t stupid.  Why sacrifice yourself on an already trashed set of threads?  They’re cagey, waiting until you’re wearing your Sunday-best, white button-down shirt and black wool pants.  Like a guided missile, the slab of sugar would nail each article.  There was no controlling the stuff.  If you nibbled like a hamster until you reached the wooden stick, you were still doomed.  By then, the bottom layer had melted and chunks would separate and crash into you.  Napkins?  They’re as useful as an umbrella in a monsoon.  These devious fragments have a keen eye and evade all such impediments.  Any way you lick, nibble, chew, you’re beat.  Yes, it may taste good, but this momentary delight comes at a terrible price.  Your cleanliness. 

If manufacturers of ice cream on a stick had devised a solution to this problem, soft ice cream may never have gained a foothold.  But, they didn’t.  The soft ice cream industry not only solved this problem, they eliminated the need to search for freezer-burned flavors.  How?  By limiting selection to chocolate and vanilla, or combining the two and creating vanocolate.

In the 1970’s, to make up for a childhood deprived of such pleasures, and because I was desperate for work, I decided to pursue a career in soft ice cream.  I answered the following ad:

                                       Driver wanted.

                                       No exp. necessary.

                                       Must have valid

                                       driver’s license.

During the Nixon years, opportunities like this were plentiful in the classifieds.  I called the advertiser, a guy named Jerry, and he went over the basics on the phone.  “The route’s all set up.  I been drivin’ it for years.”  That’s not exactly the way he said it because he had a thick accent, no doubt the result of growing up in the Boston suburb of Revere.  Ordinarily, one might assume the correct pronunciation would mimic the tone of Paul Revere, whose name the city appropriated.  “Ree veer.”  No.  That would only serve to identify you as some hapless interloper from Dubuque.  Any self-respecting Greater Bostonian knows the correct pronunciation is “Ree vee ah.”  I don’t know what caused the aversion Bostonians have to the letter “r.”  They use it at the beginning of words.  After that, all bets are off.  The standard, “Shoot at me again an I’ll rip yah haat out thru yah eah” has the proper inflection.

I agreed to meet Jerry where he kept his truck, right off Mass. Ave. in Dorchester.  No one ever says Massachusetts Avenue.  It’s just wrong.  To be a successful driver, knowledge of local parlance is important.  If only Good Humah had known.  I arrived for my interview a few minutes early and discover I’m over-dressed for the occasion.  Gone were the glorious uniforms of the Good Humor era.  With Mr. Softee, every day is casual Friday.  The other driver’s jeans and t-shirts seemed like a breach of trust.  Just what face was this firm showing?  Having driven Good Humor trucks off the road, I’d say a profitable one. 

I waited for Jerry.  Just who was the mogul behind this soft ice cream empire?  Finally, a timeworn Cadillac the size of a parade float pulled up and out crawled Jerry.  He was a stunning mixture of slimy and hangdog.  He was wiry and his thinning black hair seemed immune to the benefits of shampoo.  With a Marlboro dangling from his thin lips, his rodent eyes measured me looking for signs of larceny.  Intelligence was secondary.  Was I, for two dollars and ninety cents per hour (with a possible raise in a month to three dollars per hour), likely to give him the full daily take?  The rest of his face looked so beaten down I had a hard time getting into the spirit of skimming. 

After provisional approval, he brought me into the truck.  I felt like I was treading on hallowed ground.  The front was what you’d expect and, I guess, the back was too.  It was, after all, an ice cream truck, not a tank.  Still, I loved my new set of wheels.  I was to become a purveyor of a fine assortment of milkshakes, cones and sundaes.  He spent most of the time showing me how to use the ingredients to create the perfect mix.  This is where skill came in.  Like mixing edible epoxy.  If you put too much hardener in, it would barely manage to worm its way out the machine.  Too little and you were peddling vanilla soup. 

Jerry taught me how to make the ice cream and showed me the route.  Despite this, he breezed over the most troublesome aspect of the entire job.  The music.  It was a twenty second repeating loop of cheerful festival-like tones.  Had this been a union job, the torture would’ve been limited to three five-minute bursts every hour.  Earplugs would be in the contract.  “What flavor did you say you wanted?  I can’t hear you.”  Scarier still is there are words to go with the merry rhythm.  Words.  I’m not making this up.  Fortunately, I didn’t need to sing along.

To control noise pollution on its streets, the City of New York proposed a ban on the wail of the Softee trucks.  The citizens of this beautiful city raised such an outcry that Gotham felt compelled to allow it to continue.  I had no choice but to turn on the twinkling tune when driving Jerry’s route.  I can imagine the gasps of delight, and dread, upon hearing my approach.  For the kids, picture the Pied Piper morphing with Pavlov.  Every young Sean, Caitlyn and Mary on my South Boston route perked up and swung into action.  “Please Ma.  I promise to go to confession.  Can I please get a Softee?”  Parents developed temporary deafness or hid the change jar.

Long before Southie became gentrified, my route encompassed the finest projects and war zones it had to offer.  With some luck and good timing, I might catch a fistfight or an interleague softball game.  Mercifully, I could shut the music off at the game.  Here I could sink back and relax to the calming moan of the truck’s generator. 

At first, I looked forward to sampling the product.  I would make sure I had the mix just the right consistency.  By the third day, the smell of stale chocolate, jimmies and other toppings had taken its toll.  That, and the music.  How much punishment could I bear for two dollars and ninety cents per hour?  Eventually, I found ways to cope.  Thorazine, while pricey, is a lot cheaper than long-term care at the asylum.  After paying for the medication, I figure I netted about a dollar per hour, before taxes. 

I searched for places with large crowds.  Crime scenes, street brawls even the unemployment office.  Barring those, I’d keep my eye out for regulars.  These folks were easy to spot.  Massive ice cream consumption makes for large people.  Sometimes, to boost the day’s earnings, I’d slow down as I passed looking for converts to my sweet religion.  The siren sound of soft ice cream wafting through the air.  I could smell a sale.  They were mine.

One day, I pulled up to one of my usual stops, halfway up the hill on East Seventh Street.  I noticed the mix was particularly hard.  Too hard, I thought.  I’ve learned, short of waiting for it to soften, there really isn’t a solution for the problem.  If you wait, the kids get antsy and will leave.  I hated to lose a sale.  I felt like Jerry counted on me.  Occasionally, he’d meet me at the end of the day asking, “How’d ya do today?  I hope good ‘cause I lost a bundle at the track.”  It took me a while for the meaning of this to sink in.  Even now, many years later, I find it painful to swallow.  The incessant sound of Mr. Softee music was driving me nuts.  My life and limb were at risk on the front lines of a war zone, so Jerry can…gamble?  I felt my enthusiasm beginning to melt.

I began to wonder if a career in the soft ice cream industry was for me.  These doubts surrounded me as I considered my options with the hard mix.  As if sent from heaven, Jackie, a fresh-faced first grader, showed up at my window with a dollar.  A whole dollar!  I sized him up and then asked if he’d like to have the world’s largest ice cream cone.  Well, you’d have thought he’d witnessed the second coming of the Lord.  Or, at least St. Patrick.  His eyes lit up like high mass. 

At the time, a small cone had three loops of soft ice cream and went for fifteen cents.  Twenty cents got you four loops and, for a quarter, you got the large cone with five loops of bliss.  I did some arithmetic and determined twenty loops would be a fair serving for a dollar.  The question was, could twenty loops be done?  This was new ground.  Never in the history of ice cream had anyone attempted such a feat.  If little Jackie was game, so was I.

First, I filled the inside of the cone, carefully bringing the hard vanilla snake up to the lip.  Then I wound it around slowly.  I could hear the machine whispering, “I think I can, I think I can.”  Loop after loop, the tower rose.  Eighteen.  Nineteen.  Almost there.  One more.  You can do it.  My concentration, pure as a Tibetan monk’s.  Twenty.  I made it.

This was a masterpiece.  A landmark.  A structure so memorable you could, and should, sell naming rights to it.  The old Boston Garden became the Shawmut Center, then the Fleet Center and now, TDBanknorth Garden.  Similarly, this cone should become the centerpiece of a corporate marketing strategy.  The Autolight Glass cone or the Pine Sol cone.  It was majestic.  A sight burned into our collective consciousnesses for the rest of our lives.  As I gingerly lowered it out the window, I had to finesse it under the opening’s upper lip.  Finally, it was free.  It was like giving birth to a church steeple – for an arctic church. 

There was hushed awe for young Jackie, the financier of this edifice.  Flagler had the vision to build his railroad.  Ford his Model T and Carnegie his steel mills.  Jackie was the undisputed ice cream visionary of South Boston.  Southie, the poor Irish stepchild of Boston, would now take its place in the world order.  All because of Jackie.  Sometimes, the planets align and the forces of nature combine to make something magical happen.  Jackie, his pals, and I were fortunate to be a part of this moment.  Years from now, when walking into a pub on Broadway, Jackie would hear, “You’re welcome to the best we have Jack but your money’s no good here.”  This moment would change all our lives.  I watched with a mixture of admiration, pride, and joy as this little big man left the side of my truck.  His own distinguished walk into destiny.

After I recovered, I served the murmuring throng.  I knew they all wished they were Jackie.  That they had the guts to see something this big through from start to finish.  Yet, there was an unspoken agreement.  Jackie had dared to be great.  They would not challenge him.  Not on this day.  The rest would have to choose from the usual offerings.  Small.  Medium.  Large.

I had just finished serving everyone and was easing myself down into the driver’s seat when I heard a disquieting noise out on the street.  I checked my rearview mirrors.  There was a woman screaming about something.  Another day in paradise.  I started the truck and, as I was getting ready to pull away, I heard banging on the service window.  Loud, angry banging.  She must really want a cone.  Then I realized she was directing her wrath at me.  “Whad ya mean takin’ a dollah from my boy for a cone?”  She must be from Revere.  I went to the window and explained his was an extra special cone made to world record proportions.  She said, “I don’ care if it’s made outta gold, there’s no way in hell I’m spendin’ a dollah on a cone!”  She was getting madder every second. 

I started to explain the particulars when I caught a glimpse of Jackie some distance away.  The look of triumph had vanished.  It was replaced with the sheepish look a dog gives you after being caught stealing a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies from the living room table.  I noticed he was cradling some sort of white log in his arms.  A dripping, white log.  I gave screaming Mary her dollar and never looked back.

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Review of 95 Chances for Love & 1st Chapters

by on Dec.27, 2009, under Book

Amusing and engaging (5/5 stars)

Before reading this book, when I found out about its topic, I thought to myself that there was definite potential in the idea. Learning about the author’s experience after he decided to post a personal ad in a New York newspaper in 1985, discovering the traits of the women who answered, and finally finding out if the quest was successful, definitely appealed to my curiosity. But I never expected the experience to be as good as it ultimately was, since the book delivered much more than what it promised.

Bill Riddle writes with an approachable style, taking us on the journey as if we were his old-time friends, and showing us the good, the bad and the ugly from his experience. He does this while using fine humor that never gets old. Sometimes he made me smile, sometimes chuckle, and in other instances he caught me unaware and made me explode in laughter that drew weird looks from my wife. But it is not only the humorous characteristic of this book that makes it so good, since the author uses the technique of switching topics frequently and efficiently to keep our interest at its max. For me, this aspect moved the work from the very good category into the excellent one.

When I finally found out about the result of Riddle’s search, I felt like I had been a part of the journey and felt sad it was over. I recommend this book wholeheartedly and without any reservations.

Sebastian Fernandez

Book reviewer,  Amazon.com

Below are the first three chapters of a completed manuscript.  I seek representation, should you happen to be or know of a good agent.  Alright, I’d settle for a mediocre agent, I think.   


95 Chances for Love 


Chapter 1 – Sleepless In Manhattan


Finding love can be like eating soup with a fork.  At a soccer match in ninth grade, I saw a pretty, slim longhaired girl who was every preppy boy’s fantasy.  I maneuvered so we were next to each other.  Before long, we were talking and getting along like fish and water.  Her friendliness gave me confidence and she laughed at my witty observations.  I gladly spent thirty minutes watching the boring game just to be in her company.  Finally, I screwed up my nerve and asked if she’d like to go out sometime.  She thanked me for my invitation and, just when I thought I’d closed the deal, she told me something I’ve never forgotten.  “I’m sorry, I thought you knew.  I’m Mr. Domrick’s wife.”  Yes, the soccer coach’s wife.  Talk about clueless.

Perhaps my lack of awareness stemmed from my early years socializing with poultry rather than humans.  My three siblings and I grew up in a rural Connecticut farmhouse, complete with chickens and the classic big, red barn out back.  Our nearest neighbor lived a quarter mile away.  Aside from spilling out of my mother’s muddy green 1949 DeSoto at thirty-five mph, my childhood was reasonably calm and uneventful. 

Of the many benefits to falling out of a speeding car at age five, my favorite was having my head bandaged to look like a swami.  Not many mystics hung out at Hartford Hospital wearing plaid pajamas.  Since they were a rarity in Connecticut, people young and old flocked to me with one burning question.  “What happened to you?”  I divided my answers into two categories.  One for adults and one for kids.  For adults, I had to tone down the story. 

We were on the interstate when my older sister said, “Let’s open the car door and see if the pavement looks blurry.  You go first.”  I grabbed the door handle, swung out, and dangled over the road to get a closer look.  I hung on until she started tickling me.  When I let go, I bounced down the highway like a bag of laundry.

For kids, all bets were off.

My big sister owed money to Tommy Wingurtzman and there wasn’t enough in my piggy bank to pay him.  When I wasn’t looking, she tied me up and told him he could kick me in the head for a dollar a pop.  After paying Tommy, she had enough left over to buy a pony.

Somehow, I survived childhood and, not for lack of effort on my part, went off to college a virgin.  St. Pauli Girl beer has an ad.  The tagline goes something like, “You always remember your first girl.”  Fortunately, for me, there was a first girl.  God bless her.  Sherry Stromberg.  A nice Swedish girl.  Well, not directly from Sweden but who was I to be fussy?  I met her while home on Christmas break.  I’ve always admired the Scandinavians’ relaxed attitude about nudity and sex.  A blonde, Nordic goddess who could have posed for the beer ad, Sherry was an honest-to-God “older” woman.  Poor Sherry.  I’m sure our passion was much more memorable for me than for her.  Still, the drought was over. 

My track record for meeting women was far from stellar.  I managed to bumble along somehow and eventually learned I had better luck in Cambridge than Boston.  Maybe it was the town’s leftward tilt.  Maybe I was more comfortable and familiar with Cambridge since I lived there.  Maybe my small town brain found the scale easier to digest. 

Despite my ineptitude, I met a number of smart, beautiful women at parties, bars, school, even sailing.  In 1983, at the height of the Madonna craze, I went to Miami for a wedding.  I had long avoided Florida, convinced that something in the water turned hair blue.  I spotted a lovely young woman at the posh Grand Bay Hotel’s Friday happy hour.  At the time, they used the Grand Bay in the hit television series Miami Vice.  I figured, if it was good enough for Don Johnson, I should try it.  Rita wore an elegant grey business suit with a porcelain silk blouse.  She drew me in with her whimsical smile and curls the color of wedding rings. 

We began our whirlwind romance with me living in Boston and she in Miami Beach.  After a year of commuting for love, I proposed and she moved to Boston.  I remember thinking how happy we’d be when she left her apartment to live with me.  What did I know?  Living together went horribly awry from the outset.  Things began to unravel when she lost her cat in the move and continued downhill from there.  Conflict was part of Rita’s Jewish heritage.  Three thousand years of oppression and survival.  She told me, “My family always fights at the dinner table” as though this was something good.  Like saying, “our Brazilian chef makes mango chutney that’s divine.”  At one point, after a particularly draining argument, she said, “I know we can make this work.  You can make anything work if you try hard enough.”  Unfortunately, I believed her.  I now understand that theory works no better for cars without wheels than for interpersonal relationships. 

In 1986, I had the frothy idea of going to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City.  For some reason, Columbia wanted students to attend a new, small program in Real Estate Development.  Possibly to ensure its real estate program didn’t devolve into an academic meat market, Columbia decided on a male-female ratio of nine to one.  Two of the five women in the program were married.  If only I’d chosen nursing. 

 It didn’t take long before I realized I was out of my dating comfort zone in Manhattan, much the way I felt when I sought love in Boston.  With opportunities so limited at school, I’d have to get creative.  Try something different.  Go where only the desperate had gone before.  Place a personal ad.


      When I opened the large, white, rumpled New York Magazine envelope and dumped the letters on the table, one stood out.  I stared at the replies to my personal ad with a mixture of curiosity, hope, and skepticism.  1987 arrived days earlier in the Big Apple.  My eyes gazed at the 8½ x 11 manila envelope, a lump of hope inside of me.  The sender used Scotch tape as an extra security measure.  God forbid the normal, gummed seal and clasp failed.  This could hold the hopes of a lonely single guy inside its flat, constricted walls.
      Before considering how the writer addressed it, think back to your first grade teacher.  Remember her?  It was always a “her,” at least it was when I grew up in the Neolithic Age.  Mine was Mrs. Richardson.  I loved her.  She looked like Grace Kelly, only with dark curly hair.
      I also loved my classmate Paula McLave.  I’d known her since kindergarten but, not wanting to rush things, waited until first grade to tell her.  She seemed receptive.  The day after I told her, she stopped me with a sad look on her face.  I asked, “What’s wrong?”  She explained, “I’m sorry but I can’t marry you.  My parents said we couldn’t because you’re not Catholic.”  At least our age wasn’t a problem.
      Mrs. Richardson had the BEST handwriting.  Her ramrod straight letters and sublime arcs always ended perfectly. 

      The handwriting on the envelope was almost as perfect as Mrs. Richardson’s.  In fact, for one scary moment, I wondered if she was the one writing me.  My respondent used simple, controlled block letters.  There would be no confusing cursive for this address.  No red ink, felt-tipped pen or other untested way to write.  These were pure letters.  Carefully formed.  Skillfully constructed.  She even spelled out New York twice, just like the helpful guide in the “Personals” section recommended.

      The glue, Scotch tape, and metal clasp gave way to an elegant, 7×10 black, handcrafted card.  She placed a pink hand-cut heart in the center and outlined the edge in a darker pink.  It was a masterwork.  Was her last name Hallmark?  I hesitated.  How could anything inside compare with the sophisticated beauty of the exterior?
      Her card more than met my expectations.  On the left panel was a professionally taken full-length color picture of an elegant, ivory-skinned temptress.  She could have chaired any number of boards or fit in nicely on the social pages.  Her long, slender fingers were, no doubt, the result of years of piano training.  Her turquoise eyes said, “I know you want me.”
      What a dazzling effect.  The right panel had a pink letter to match the pink heart on the cover.  The black construction paper served as the perfect frame for the letter.  Before even reading it, my eyes darted to the signature.  Who was this woman?  Who would take the time to create such a masterpiece and send it to me? 

Jean Carol Shifton.

She said volumes with her exquisite presentation.  What more could she add with words?  

Jean began with:

      “Sure to please” me?  I could see that.  This was the standard to which all future replies would be measured.  The undefeated season.  Bowling 300.  2400 on the SAT.  I read slowly, trying to make the moment last.  Her handwriting was controlled, deliberate, yet soft and flowing.  The blue ink sat well on its pink background.  Could this be the woman of my dreams?  Had I discovered the motherlode of love?
      Why did love and happiness have to be so elusive?  With millions of beautiful women to choose from, how could I not meet someone in New York City?  After all, I had an IQ greater than an onion, lived above the poverty line, and knew enough to refrain from singing.  What’s not to love?  Apparently, plenty.  Despite my best efforts, I was still sleepless in Manhattan and unable to find Ms. Right.


Chapter 2 – Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures


      You’d think writing a personal ad would’ve been easy for a seasoned marketing person like me.  New York Magazine sure tried to make it that way.  They produced an attractive glossy 244-page magazine.  It came with two crossword puzzles, TV and radio listings, and an ad for the Helmsley Palace featuring that loveable future convict, Leona Helmsley.
      The ad for the Helmsley Palace was a classic.  Leona, draped in a shimmering gold blouse and black floor-length skirt, had her hair arranged to best accentuate her diamond drop earrings and coordinated tiara.  Posed at an elegantly set dining table, the look on her face said she might carve up a few guests as appetizers if things didn’t go her way.  The caption said it all.  “It’s the only Palace in the world where the Queen stands guard.”
      You may recall, Leona had an aversion to paying taxes.  In fairness, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Damn, I wish my tax bill was higher this year.”  Plus, I’m sure Queen Elizabeth doesn’t pay them.  Nonetheless, Leona felt taxes were the burden of “the little people.”  I think those were her words and I don’t believe she meant those short in stature.  Of course, it made perfect sense that, as the wife of a billionaire, she’d pay less to the government than a busboy at her “Palace.”
      Naturally, the Feds busted her.  I hoped, when she got out of prison, she would write some uplifting memoir about her life behind bars.  Perhaps she’d include a discussion of haute cuisine in a federal pen.  Possibly, some mention of her tireless work instructing cellmates in the fine art of linen selection.  As a title, Queen of the Slammer came to mind.
      Had I gotten the magazine’s media kit, I’m sure I would’ve learned the publication was a magnet for New York’s finest women.  Consider the advertisers.  Bloomingdales offered 25-50% off on your choice of mink, fox, raccoon, beaver, or coyote.  Coyote?  The Four Seasons, in their “Thirteenth annual love letter to New Yorkers” went with:

“…Chef Renggli’s insistence on hot and spicy flavors as the delicious substitute for salt keeps winning new converts, while our distinctive Spa entrée Skewer of Shrimp and Chicken with Bulghur became one of our most favored dishes.”

       Was this my target market?  I couldn’t say I’d always hoped for a coyote jacket, or even a date wearing one.  Still, at 50% off, it was tempting.  And what about Bulghur?  That’s something edible?  I thought it was an Eastern Bloc country.  I figured I’d get a better idea by reading the personals myself.
      After wading through the sizable classified area, I reached my destination.  A section called Strictly Personals with five pages of hopeful desperation.  As I studied the women’s and men’s ads, a pattern emerged.  Men and women promoted different things.  Guys emphasized security and women their looks.  I suppose this should come as no surprise.  Even with woman’s liberation, our culture still views men as the primary breadwinners.
      Since the ads sold for twenty-five dollars per line, you could almost guess the writer’s financial picture, or level of desperation, by the ad size.  Mine was eight lines.  That might seem like a lot, but others were even larger.  Consider the following plea lasting nineteen lines:

                              Catch The Rhythm- If you’re shapely
                              and the words are right/we’ll sin in the
                              morning and mambo at night.  This may
                              read unusual but I mean what I say/will
                              it matter in a month that we met this way?
                              I’m a self-made millionaire with sexy toes
                              and I even look better without my clothes.
                              I like my work and you’ll love to play/with
                              this handsome, younger Jewish Fernando
                              Rey.  Strong moral values: I don’t smoke
                              or eat scallions/intelligent gambling won
                              me my millions.  I’ve practiced ‘till perfect,
                              gained a national reputation/now relaxed
                              with my talent, I like to vacation.
                              Suggestions are welcomed, directions are
                              not/lose your mind but keep your work and
                              we’ll be hot.  If you know how to ship but
                              prefer to kiss/let’s gamble more than money
                              in St. Moritz.

      What an ad.  I considered getting a sex change operation, just to be able to cruise to St. Moritz with him.  Well, actually, I did have a few concerns, albeit minor ones.  With a scant physical description other than “sexy toes,” I had a hard time getting a visual on him.  Was he a slab of whale meat?  Who was Fernando Rey?  He wanted me to “sin in the morning.”  What kind of girl did he think I was?
      Let’s face it, he wanted a hooker, and I’ve never charged a dime for my love.  His line, “will it matter in a month that we met this way?” said a lot about how people viewed the personals.  I will say this for him, he did provide a visual cue for those who knew what Fernando Rey looked like.  A quick, present-day online search revealed Fernando wasn’t my type, though he did appear in both French Connection movies.  I’m guessing, the advertiser might have had some luck finding a gold digger, but how likely would true love bloom from such an ad?
      In my opinion, what “Fernando” did wrong was harp on his wealth, if he wanted to find real love.  I know.  Mothers have long told their daughters, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.”  That said, I always thought women wanted the “sensitive type” who liked to cuddle by the fire and take them for long, romantic walks on the beach.  As long as he was stinking rich.
      I can hardly blame women for wanting it all.  That’s what guys want too.  I once placed a roommate-wanted ad in the Boston Phoenix as a joke.  I made something up I thought wouldn’t attract a single soul, just to see what happened.  The ad went something like this:

Roommate wanted.  Non-smoker.  Prefer a
“never home” mousey type who enjoys tender
moments with bowls of wheatgrass and
contact with hardwood floors.  Apply in
person at 7½ Centre St., Cambridge.

      I deliberately left off my phone number and couldn’t imagine anyone replying.  Weeks after the ad ran my doorbell rang.  It was some tall, underfed guy covered with a light patina of sweat.  He’d seen my ad.  Whoa.  After conducting an initial threat assessment, I determined he was a bit mousey and even had a thing for hardwood floors.  Best of all, he was a professional dishwasher, so my cleanup worries were over.  Learning such bizarre people floated around in society made me realize there was someone for everyone, even me.  The dishwasher seemed disappointed when I told him I’d already found a roommate.  Well, I couldn’t exactly explain it was all a joke, could I?
      Several of the personals ads lacked substance.  Some advertisers took a “less is more” approach.  I suppose, in a Zen way that might work.  If I wanted Zen, I’d have tried the personals section of Zen Monthly.  I couldn’t imagine finding someone with only two lines.  One ad whispered:

                              Fine Arts-And classical music lover, 51
                              seeks lady to share same.

Another said:

                              Accountant, Warm Exciting-60 Young
                              seeks playful friend/lover.

Perhaps this was the skinniest:

                              Dermatologist-Seeks thin, attractive
                              female 20-35.  Phone photo.

None of them gave me much to go on.  The following confused me:

                              Life is Play-For mortal stakes.  Male
                              mid 40’s, divorced, attorney.  Jewish
                              beliefs/Catholic tastes/Protestant ethic/
                              Zen perspective – healthy sense of the
                              ridiculous.  Seeks female teammate.
                              Let’s be one another’s best.  Note/phone,
                              please.  Photo if you prefer. 

      He certainly covered most of the religious cards in the deck.  Catholic tastes?  Did he like the little wafers doled out at communion?  I thought the ad seemed too wordy to have a Zen perspective.  What worried me most was playing for mortal stakes.  He might be better than Fernando, assuming you lived long enough to get to know him.
      Why couldn’t we have it all?  In a city the size of New York, there had to be someone for everyone.  What about the women?  What sort of ads were they placing?  Just as many guys alluded to their fat bank accounts, a number of women promoted their sex appeal. 

This one seemed seductive:

                              Sweet-Smart-Stunning-Slim – Straw-
                              berry blond attorney, 37, seeks single
                              Jewish business or professional man
                              35-42, who is sincere, stable and
                              supportive.  Photo/phone. 

So did this:           

                              Dark, Pretty, Slim – Dry wit, warm style.
                              36, 5’6”, Jewish.  Aim to enjoy Letterman
                              Show with my 30’s-40ish, sweet compadre.

      The Letterman Show was her goal?  If she were that pretty, I thought she’d end up there.  Religious preferences were rampant in the ads.  I even considered, for a few fleeting moments, converting to Judaism.  I just thought it might be too much to handle after having the sex change operation to be with Fernando.
      Much as I looked for it, I didn’t find the classic ad I expected.  The profile of what every female wanted.  Were New York women afraid to dream big?  I had nearly given up when the following caught my eye:

                              I am Looking For You-A man, mostly
                              happy in your life and, as myself, fulfilled
                              in your creative work world, but missing a
                              partner to share the special fun two people
                              can share together.  Cooking special dinners,
                              country walks, bicycle rides, traveling to
                              faraway places, fireplace talks, exploring
                              and sharing each other’s eyes and dreams.
                              Fun-loving, caring and wanting to be cared
                              about, this attractive, slim, shapely lady, of
                              50 years is looking for you.  No smoking please.

      She nailed it.  I admired her courage and candor.  What an inspiring, romantic ad. 

      Of course, it was a complete waste of $300.  No guy wants that.  Not even Dr. Phil. Guys don’t care about all the mushy, sensitive, romantic babble.  We pay lip service to it because we have to.  How else can we expect to propagate and ensure the survival of the species?  I think if women were smart, they would get a guy to write an ad for them talking in terms of the male’s highly refined interests.  I’ll throw a great sample ad out, just to be helpful. 

                              Sexy, sexy, sexy, hot, sexy woman with
                              cover girl face and playmate body seeks
                              ATM.  I love lingerie and spending loud
                              mornings waking up the neighbors with my
                              screams of passion.  My job as a contortionist
                              gives me a flexible schedule and body.

      I’m sure most women probably aren’t willing to be so revealing.  Nonetheless, I’ll bet if ten straight, sane, single guys saw this ad, all ten would be interested.  I know.  We’re as deep as a birdbath. 
      So, to be successful, I would have to write a male version of the “I am Looking for You” ad.  Throw in a pinch of visual imagery, stir it up, and submit it to New York Magazine.  How hard could that be?  I thought the most taxing part would be fitting all the letters in the tiny little boxes they made you use in the Strictly Personals coupon.
      But what visual cue would entice women?  I’d have to pick a celebrity most people knew.  Sadly, Fernando Rey was already in use.  Just whom did I look like?  I thought I might stretch things a bit and pick one of the hottest stars of the 80s, Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame.  We weren’t exact look-a-likes, but there was some sketchy similarity.  Although he had much better hair, we were both passable in t-shirts and Armani jackets.
      Despite being on the right side of the law as a vice cop in Miami, Don’s character, Sonny Crocket, had a bad boy image.  He lived off the grid on his boat at the marina surrounded by supermodels, Ferraris, and million dollar yachts.  In real life, Don was a stud too.  An A-list celebrity who dated the crème de la crème.
      I hoped my ad’s visual reference to Don would work but wanted to be careful not to scare away women looking for the stable, romantic guy.  I needed to somehow embrace Don and distance myself from him at the same time.  This would require finesse.  I settled on the following:


      I thought it covered as much of what I was seeking as I could for $200.  I wondered who, if anyone, would reply?
      Ninety-five women to be exact.  They wrote from as far away as Baton Rouge and Toronto.  The vast majority were neighbors of a sort, living or working near me on the island of Manhattan.  It amazed me to hear from so many women who were taking a chance at finding love through the personals.  Just who were they?

 Author - On a good hair day

 Don-Great hair every day!  


Chapter 3- Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda


      As I view these women today, I realize they were much more attractive than I’d grasped at the time.  Maybe, at age thirty-five, I hadn’t matured enough to have the perspective I now have.  Of course, that’s a polite way of saying I was an idiot.  While reading these letters twenty-one years later, I often ask myself, “What was wrong with her?”  “Why didn’t you call that one?”  “Are you blind?”  Some were beautiful, some full of wit and some very strange.
      The ninety-five chances for love came in all shapes and sizes.  The largest was a 10×13 envelope from an actress named Jane Vane.  Her 8×10 headshot included her name and phone number.  The next line said, “(On Camera:  Jayne Karma).”  I imagined her as a cast member of some daytime soap like Days of Our Lives, a dramatic outburst simmering right below the surface. 

“But, Ashley, Steve always wanted me.”
“That’s a lie!  Stay away from him you slut…he’s mine.”

      Was she the classic home wrecking vamp?  From her picture, she might have been.  Her steely eyes belonged on a shark.  Her thin red lips and straight white teeth said, “Feeding time.”
      She might’ve been as sweet as Godiva chocolate, but I’d never know.  Along with a brief typed note, she included the following personal ad she’d considered running herself:

                                          RAISED BY NUNS…WDF now a feisty,
                                          vivacious fashion editor.  MA.  Former
                                          model and commercial actress.  5’8” thin,
                                          auburn hair, very blue eyes.  Love sports,
                                          esp. good at tennis, skiing.  Looking for
                                          tall, Caucasian, successful athletic man
                                          40-ish to 60-ish with (PLEASE!) a sense
                                          of humor.  PS:  Looks Count! And I do
                                          smoke occasionally.

      What happened to my home wrecking hellcat from Days of Our Lives?  Here are my thoughts on Jane from past and present day perspectives. 

Thirty-five-year-old impression:

I don’t know if I want feisty.  My former fiancé Rita was feisty, and we fought like gladiators.  Why the big envelope and picture?  She’s gotta be in her forties.  She wants 40-ish to 60-ish?  I’m only thirty-five.  She’d consider someone my father’s age?  That’s a scary thought.  Raised by nuns and divorced?  That’s a really scary thought.

Fifty-seven-year-old view:

She is rather pretty and seems real.  I suppose she’s right about looks counting.  There must be a physical attraction or why bother.  Anyone with a sense of humor can’t be too bad.  I wonder if religion is important to her.  I wonder what happened in her first marriage.  Does she have any kids?  I wonder if she’s a hellcat.

      As Noah Cross said in Chinatown, “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”   Jane looks much better to me from my fifty-seven-year-old perspective.  Without a time machine, I’ll just have to imagine what might have been.
      Some letters were sublime.  I opened an exquisite Matisse card from a woman named Helen.  She fell into the category of “Are you blind?”  Her handwriting had a graceful flow that showed discipline and beauty.  Her elegant picture, made me think she’d just returned from an afternoon at Sotheby’s, perhaps acquiring a rare manuscript or Victorian bracelet.  She wore an understated ivory long-sleeved blouse, simple pendant earrings, and pleated linen pants.  Her face exuded an air of warmth and thoughtfulness.  Her dark brown hair was so inviting, if I were a wren, I’d build a nest.  She was fantastic. 

      Her note said she was a beautiful and caring lady.  I believed her.  She wanted to share:

      Dancing in Rio.  What a prospect.  Helen was thirty-six, widowed, no children, Jewish, and spent her weekdays as CEO of a major healthcare organization.  Besides travel, she enjoyed, “the warmth of entertaining close friends and family at my home.”  She included a sizable banquet of priorities.  As I scanned them, I wondered where I’d fall on that list.  Dead spouses have a way of becoming more meaningful after they’re gone.  Especially, if they die young.  Let’s see.

  1. Deceased husband
  2. Her family and friends
  3. Expired husband’s parents
  4. No longer among the living husband’s siblings
  5. Dead husband’s ashes
  6. Departed husband’s beloved chihuahua, “Marmeduke”
  7. Lifeless husband’s nieces and nephews
  8. Gone to his maker husband’s friends
  9. Memories of dancing in Rio with late husband
  10. The Healthcare Organization she ran
  11. Her religion
  12. Me

       There were many tantalizing parts to Helen but I got the impression her plate was full.  I knew I deserved to be someone’s priority and never called.
      I can imagine how difficult it must have been to reply to my ad, or any other for that matter.  None of us likes rejection.  Not getting a call back, after baring your soul, is disappointing.  Even the briefest Xeroxed letter in 1987 took more time and effort than an email reply to an online ad today.  No stamp, no paper, no envelope, no pen.  Simply cut and paste your copy and click send.
      One companion stood out.  Her soulful brown eyes stole my heart.  Never had I met such a charmer.  Soft to the touch, her body would arch in response to my tender caresses.  Often, when we walked together, complete strangers would catch my eye and I knew they were jealous.  She was sweet, loving and playful.  She found countless ways to show me her feelings without saying a word.  Her street smarts were acute but her sensitive side could read any mood.  Perhaps, her best quality was her loyalty.  She made the Pope’s Swiss Guard seem detached.  How she grew such long nails, I’ll never know.
      Her facial hair never bothered me.  The colors combined like a butterscotch sundae.  When I rescued her, Scylla was a street mutt.  For many years, including my stay in New York, she was my charming, funny sidekick.  Named after a figure from Greek mythology, she looked nothing like the six-headed monster guarding the Strait of Messina.  She resembled an overweight reindeer with tan barrel chest and spindly legs.  With her ears pinned sheepishly down and head cowering, she brought abasement to a new level.  I felt guilty for implying any malfeasance.
      Scylla could charm the stripes off a zebra.  Before I adopted her, the streets of Cambridge were her own buffet line.  With a regular circuit of backdoors to visit, her menus varied from leftovers to fresh canned goods and, occasionally, even dry food.  Everyone loved Scylla.  Naturally, she was an opportunist.  Her favorite targets were new friends. 

Scylla as hostess:

Ahh company.  Welcome, welcome.  It’s nice to have you here.  Come in and make yourselves at home.  Can I get you something to eat?  A light snack or, perhaps, more filling fare?  I do have a freshly roasted chicken.  Of course not…it’s noooo trouble at all.  I’ll only be a minute.  Make yourselves at home.

Dance of the sugar plum fairy drifts through her mind

There you are.  Why don’t I set it here on the coffee table?  The bathroom?  It’s right around the corner to your left.  Take your time.

      Were she able to read, I’m sure Scylla would’ve helped me sift through the possibilities.  Raquel sent me a Sierra Club card of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.  The tasteful image bore an irresistible classic beauty.  She didn’t enclose her picture but wrote the following description:


      From her artistic card, it was clear she had good taste and, while I avoid cannibalism, I’m sure she tasted good.  I called Raquel because these “facts” were enticing.  Ordinarily, I would’ve asked her to send me a picture but the chemistry was so good on the phone I decided to meet her in person.  We agreed to meet after work, six o’clock, at one of Columbus Avenue’s popular nightspots.  I was so excited I got there fifteen minutes early.
      I sat at the warm, mahogany bar watching the door expectantly.  I waited for the 1987 iteration of Medusa to come in.  An exquisite temptress, preferably without the snakes.  I have nothing against snakes.  It’s just that they can be a distraction when they’re crawling around in your date’s hair.  Columbus Avenue was a hot spot, a molten meadow for the beautiful people.  I knew Raquel was one of them.  I even thought her name was sexy.  I kept an eye on the door as I nursed my Glenlevit and, every time a “virtual knockout” entered the bar, I thought it had to be Raquel.  Tick tock, tick, tock.  Was she standing me up?  What would she be wearing?  Where was she?
      Finally, at six-fifteen, the door opened and Raquel looked me in the eye and smiled.  Life is full of moments that bring you from bliss to despair quite unexpectedly.  Falling off the stage after accepting your diploma.  Scoring a goal for your opponent.  Having your election reversed in a recount.
      I remember being at my grandmother’s house in my twenties.  She was one of my favorite people in the world.  A minister’s wife who lived in New Hampshire, Grandma’s home was as antique as she was.  With wavy silver hair and blue eyes that knew the gaze of respect, her smile rarely rose above a horizontal line.  She once mused about mining the gold electroplate on dinnerware bought at a church raffle.  Despite being legally blind, she managed to keep things cleaner than most people with good vision did.
      One evening, Grandma was watching the Lawrence Welk Show.  Because of her partial blindness, she turned sideways to see the TV.  Lawrence loved to play “Champagne music.”  I believe they called it that because it was better experienced after copious amounts of bubbly.  You could tell the show’s demographic by its sponsor, Geritol.  His band had an accordion player named Myron Floren and the senior set loved this wholesome entertainment.
      One of the things Lawrence liked to do was showcase his dancers.  Bobby and Cissy were the stars on the Welk show.  When he wasn’t wearing some outlandish dance ensemble, Bobby wore tight dark pants and floral shirts with elephantine collars.  Cissy kept her hem a few inches above the knee in dresses abloom with orange and gold.  Besides being clean-cut, they ripped up the dance floor.  I watched as Bobby took Cissy for a spin.  They flew out of the wings like an exploding watch spring, whirling, spinning, and twirling like dervishes.  Their footwork and leg kicks were so well choreographed I watched in amazement.
      After Cissy and Bobby finished their number, Lawrence asked if anyone in the audience would like to dance with Bobby.  That’s like asking a woman, lost in the desert for three days, if she’d like a ride to the nearest oasis.  After nearly having a riot, they restored order and picked a lucky woman named Shirley.  Shirley was much younger than the show’s demographic.  Maybe that’s why they chose her.  Maybe her uncle worked the soundboard in the mezzanine.  Whatever the reason, Shirley was surely excited.  Her curly brown hair and bangs seemed more country than polka, although I’m not positive I’d recognize polka hair if I saw it.  She wore a short gold dress with white scarf and heels.
      Shirley ran down the steps to the dance floor like the winner of the polka lottery.  Lawrence decided to build the excitement by asking her, “Where are you from?” and, “Do you like to polka?”  Shirley was so excited she burst into a spontaneous demonstration of her polka dancing.  Lawrence had to pull her back to the interview.  Then he asked, “Are you excited about dancing with Bobby?” to which she again went off doing the polka by herself for a few more seconds and had to be roped back in.  At one point Lawrence tried to keep up with Shirley on the dance floor.  Before he collapsed, he waved off the music and gasped, “This girl is too wild for me.”  I had to hand it to Lawrence.  He knew how to milk things.
      At last the moment arrived and, after a few “and a one and a two’s,” the orchestra started playing a polka.  Bobby and Shirley were off to the races.  From my untrained eye, I thought Shirley was every bit as good as Cissy, and possibly better.  She and Bobby were fantastic.  I feared Cissy might, in a fit of jealousy, grab an accordion and hurl it at Shirley.  But she didn’t.  They were twirling and swinging and everything was going so well.  That is until Bobby started swinging her hard and Shirley got on an angle like a gyroscope.  That’s when it happened.  No, Bobby didn’t let go, but Shirley’s wig did.  It scurried across the floor like a large, curly mouse heading for cover.  Poor Shirley. Her head was a tangle of bobby pins and shards of hair. She went running for cover too.  Bobby grabbed the wig and brought it up into the audience where she was still swirling from all the twirling.  Bobby slapped the wig back on her head and that wrapped up Shirley’s night with the stars.
      I tell you this so you’ll understand the importance of visiting your grandparents.  I’m nowhere near the dancer Shirley was, and I don’t look good in a wig, but I had a somewhat similar sensation when I saw Raquel.  The feeling of going from a high to a low in a split second.  I could have lied and said I was someone else.  I could have said, as we shook hands, “I’m sorry I don’t feel the chemistry,” and run out into the lonely streets.  By any measure, Raquel had oversold herself.  With rounded features, pasty skin and a haggard expression, she looked more like a bag lady than a supermodel.  After twenty painful minutes, I left.  I learned that, despite how charming someone sounded on the phone, physical chemistry is important.   Sometimes, late at night, in a dark bar, with the help of alcohol, loneliness broadens the range of possibilities.  On this day, it was too early, too bright and I was too sober for that to happen with Raquel.
      How I wished all the respondents included photos.  Some of them spent considerable effort describing their appearance when a picture would tell so much more.  Beth was an elementary school art teacher who started with the following:


       Life has many lessons to teach and I’ve always tried to not make the same mistake twice.  Since my time on this planet is limited, it’s important that I exercise good judgment when deciding who to spend it with.  Long before I knew what dentures were, I attended a piano recital at Mrs. Rotundi’s home.  My older sister was the pianist along with an interminable number of other students.  As the town’s only Italians, the Rotundis had dutifully opened a pizza parlor.  From the size of their home, it was obvious everyone ate there.
      The recitals were always around the holidays.  Perhaps she chose that time of year because of the Christmas music her students could play to torture me.  I’m not sure who ruined Christmas carols for me.  If I had to place blame, I’d say Alvin and the Chipmunks.  

Dave: All right you Chipmunks, Ready to sing your song?
Alvin: I’d say we are
Theodore: Yeah, Let’s sing it now!
Dave: Okay, Simon?
Simon: Okay
Dave: Okay, Theodore?
Theodore: Okay
Dave: Okay Alvin?…Alvin?…ALVIN!!!
Alvin: OKAY!!

      I don’t know about Dave, but I’m sure the chipmunks got a lot more than peanuts for the albums. 

      The Rotundi’s home seemed much nicer than ours.  It was big enough to have a music room, looked like they had actually purchased furniture, and had a paved parking lot instead of a gravel driveway.  After seating us in our gray folding metal chairs, Mrs. Rotondi dimmed the lights, leaving only the piano lit for dramatic effect.  One by one, the students made their way to the gallows.  The boys wore white, button-down shirts, dark pants, and clip-on bow ties.  My sister, Cindy, wore a celadon taffeta dress so wide at the hem, she had to round it up like a wayward calf, just to sit down.
      Church leaders learned in the dark ages that the best way to keep people awake during service was to force them to stand to sing hymns.  With no hymns to sing, recitals can turn to nap time for some.  An old woman sat next to me who could’ve lived in the nursery rhyme’s shoe.  I listened to the strange sucking sound she kept making, rather than the music.  In many ways, I preferred it to the labored chords coming from the front of the room.  It reminded me of the noise kids make when they put one hand under their arm and try to make a fart sound, only quieter.
      It’s always the times when you’re not supposed to laugh when you can’t help it.  Funerals, church confirmations, detention.  Well, that is if you’re a kid.  I listened to the succulent sounds of old fartbag trying to keep from cracking up.  I tried to contain it, but jigs and jags of laughter would seep out.  This was torture.  I thought if I stood up to get away from my scary neighbor, I’d lose it completely – laughter rushing from me like air from a popped balloon.
      Just when I thought I’d blow a gasket, the noise stopped.  Ours is a merciful world.  I listened hard, trying to block out the sound of the piano.  I thought she was still breathing.  I knew if I turned to investigate, I’d betray myself so I sat, eyes glued to the front.  The sound was definitely gone.  In the room, the noise returned to the normal throat clearing, rustling of programs and incessant piano.
      I’d barely brought myself under control when another noise began.  This one I recognized.  Snoring.  Ordinarily, snoring wouldn’t seem funny to me but, because of the circumstances, I found myself desperately trying not to laugh.  It was brutal.  I’d have rather been up on stage forgetting those practiced notes than suffer any more as the seatmate of Grandma Moses.  The snoring continued, gradually getting louder and louder until she added a small fart sound and barely audible plop, like a bird landing in a nest of grass.  This woman had no end to her own recital repertoire.
      By now, it seemed safe to look over.  After all, her snoring meant she was sleeping…right?  I noticed something in the darkness resting on the crease of her lap.  It wasn’t her program.  As I stared harder, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was her teeth.  A slimy pink curve with white mothball slivers planted in neat little rows.  What kind of monster was sitting next to me?  I pulled my eyes away from the spectacle and tried to focus on the music.  The notes sounded sweeter to me…like an escape route back from purgatory.  When the lights finally went up, I made a beeline for the punch bowl, never looking back.
      Just as I learned to choose my seatmates more carefully, I also learned to be wary of rosy descriptions lacking corroborating evidence.  Beth sounded inviting, but I wasn’t willing to take a flyer after my experience with Raquel.  If you’re so attractive, why not send your picture?

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Sgt. Tavera

by on Dec.20, 2009, under Essays

I saw Sergeant Joel Tavera when I arrived at the Purple Heart ceremony.  A hero at twenty-two, only he and one other survived when a rocket demolished their vehicle.  With burns over sixty percent of his body, he was blind, had limited mobility and a bandaged head.  In a different era, he would be dead.  As I drew closer to him, I became afraid.  Not by his looks.  I knew, if I tried to speak with him, I’d lose my composure. 

The military mandates a constant state of readiness, so the preparations took less than twenty-four hours.  Imagine creating a celebration for 175 people in less than a day.  Flags displayed.  Programs printed.  Generals flown in.  Family gathered.  To one side, a beautiful, one-legged soloist waited to sing the National Anthem.  Captain Kevin Lombardo, the hero who heard Tavera’s muffled cries and pulled him to safety, stood by his side.

I asked about seating while trying to keep a lid on my emotions.  The first rows were for family with an open area designated for wheelchairs.  Not counting Sergeant Tavera’s, I counted nine of them.  All different configurations.  They made up for what the bodies couldn’t do themselves.

Most of the guests wore military fatigues.  I studied the many versions of camouflage.  The soldier’s ranks clear to each other and invisible to me.  There were naval dress whites, air force blues, army khakis, and a marine in blue and red honor guard regalia.  Sprinkled in among the civilian’s attire, these added colors seemed planned and purposeful. 

Despite my own raw emotions, the mood was upbeat, even festive.  How could the crowd be so gay?  I saw burned faces, dented skulls, and missing limbs.  One veteran arrived tilted to one side with a sleeping baby secured to his lap.  When his wife spoke to him, she leaned close and gently held his face in her hands.  This was her best hope to reach him.  Another father touched the smile of a son he would never see.  Across the packed room, a service dog trailed his owner as he visited other wheel-chaired veterans.  The light mood told me the crowd chose to celebrate the living.  These were veterans.  Veterans of combat.  Of loss.  Of ceremonies. 

We stood as the official party entered.  Sergeant Tavera along with his parents.  Everywhere I looked, I saw smiles, yet my heart ached.  I knew nothing of this kind of bravery.  I looked down at the patterns of the carpet to hide my tears.  They looked like blurred official seals.  The hero endured fifteen months in recovery to reach this point.  He would have the rest of his life to continue it. 

The Invocation followed the National Anthem.  The chaplain was good.  His practiced words were a tribute to the hero and a balm to the crowd.  The guest of honor sat in his wheelchair facing us as the ceremony progressed.  I don’t know what I expected.  They save military flyovers for internments in Arlington National Cemetery.  I closed my eyes to push back a fresh wave of rain and tried to imagine the world as Sergeant Tavera saw it.  Sounds of babies fussing.  Cameras clicking.  A program falling to the floor.  I felt the warmth of the room on my face and wondered how much heat the sergeant must have felt.  Must still feel. 

Tavera’s father pushed a button and up rose his son.  It was a sight worthy of the finest Las Vegas illusions.  Miraculous.  After all he had been through, Sergeant Tavera stood facing Major General Michael Oates.  It didn’t matter that the chair created this miracle.  The effect was amazing.  His once-collapsed body recovered to stand in front of all of us.  It was a gesture of determination, of respect, of pride.

The announcer didn’t mention all the other awards and decorations already given to the sergeant.  When wounded March 12, 2008, he was twelve days shy of his twenty-first birthday.  After many months of pain and recovery, he sat among us.  It was official.  The Secretary of the Army and President proclaimed it.  The presenters carefully placed the ribboned medals over Tavera’s bandaged head.  They pinned the rarest medals to his chest.  The Purple Heart.  The Army Cross. 


I thought the ceremony was over.  The proclamations made and medals presented.  Sergeant Tavera wanted to say something.  The audience leaned forward, barely breathing.  Softly, he said thank you.  Thank you to his parents.  To the people who had put him back together.  To the army.  To us.  A young man who had nearly given his life for his country was thanking us.  When he finished, the room stood and cheered.

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I Queue

by on Dec.07, 2009, under Essays

I found myself seduced online recently.  I had no intention of getting so deeply involved.  It all seemed so innocent at first.  Just a few laughs and, perhaps, a chance to get to know myself a little better.  I was researching something when it happened.  An innocent looking box offered to tell me my IQ.  All I had to do was answer the following question: 

            If there are five apples on a plate and you take away three, how many do you have?

What a great question.  They gave me six choices, ranging from zero to five.  The answer was so easy even I knew it.  I imagined the results going directly to Mensa.  I felt a sense of pride swelling within me.  My parents had spawned a genius. 

The more I thought about my answer, the more I wondered if this was a trick question.  I’m leaning toward one of the six numbers I’ve been given.  Still, it could be a trap.  As I thought about my options, I came up with the following: 

  1. Answer the question to the best of my ability and see what happens.

  2. Select an answer using the eeny, meeny, miney, mo method.

  3. Give up on this rare opportunity to learn my IQ.

  4. Use a lifeline and phone a friend.

  5. None of the above.

I gambled on “a.”  I picked my answer and clicked.  To my amazement, there were only more questions.  No virtual parade.  No downloadable certificate of mental acuity.  Not even an indication of whether I’d answered the question correctly.  What a letdown.  I wanted results.  Something specific.  An IQ number.  Preferably over fifty.

As I feared, the questions got harder.  Consider the next one:

A rancher has 33 head of cattle standing in a field, when suddenly a bolt of lightning kills all but 9 of them.  How many head of cattle are left standing?

I wondered how a lightning bolt could kill twenty-four cattle at once.  I suppose, if all twenty-four were touching each other, lightning could hit the first one and travel through the rest.  The question was growing on me.  What were the nine survivors thinking?  Perhaps one murmured, “That was a close one Lou.  Lou?  Are you there, Lou?” 

There were seven more challenging questions on the page.  I wanted to skip the last one but it wouldn’t let me.  My choice of answers required me to disclose whether I was a man or a woman.  I wondered what that had to do with my IQ. 

As I reached the bottom of the second page, I found myself faced with another odd question.  To determine where the smartest people live, it asked for my zip code.  Compared to some of the questions, this was within my reach.  I didn’t mind divulging personal information if it would lead to a higher IQ. 

When I reached the bottom of page three, it asked, “Do people get smarter with age?  How old are you?”  What a great question.  Best of all, I think I knew the answer.  It looked like I was one step away from getting my personalized IQ results. 

It coaxed me saying, “Almost done!  We are generating your results.  Here are some optional offers while we process your information.”  Since I told them I was ninety-two, they asked whether I wanted to receive diabetic supplies.  I’m not a diabetic but who am I to turn down such an offer?  I wanted to impress them with my intelligence.  In small print it said, “No thanks, skip this offer.”  That would be the dumb thing to do.

The site went on with page after page of additional offers.  I started to feel listless and sallow.  I clicked “continue” hoping finally to learn how smart I am.  I reached a page telling me “Internal Error 404.”  404 seemed high for an IQ number.  After nine grueling hours, I concluded only an idiot would go through this torture to find out their intelligence.

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Food For Thought – Smithsonian 8-24

by on Nov.30, 2009, under Essays

I’ve never been good at sending back food.  If it comes before me with no visible infestation of maggots, I really am fine with it.  I’m not even upset when the portions are microscopic.  To be honest, I’m more of a quantity guy but small, artfully displayed “meals” are so complex and sublime that I can’t turn them away.  In fact, if I suspect that I’ll be dining at Chez Starvation, I’ll make a point of eating before stepping inside. 

While dining out with friends recently, I had the misfortune of ordering the Chilean Sea Bass Maria.  I’m not sure who Maria is.  For all I know, she may be an innocent victim in this blasphemy.  Perhaps she has a licensing agreement to allow the use of her name, taste concerns notwithstanding.  Maria’s Bass was best suited to those whose diet required high dosages of salt, like deer.

One of my dinner mates asked, “How’s yours?”  I replied, “It’s okay” which is the polite way of saying, “It’s swill.”  Since they chose this obscenely expensive Italian restaurant, “okay” was far from good enough.  They pressed further, a note of alarm creeping into, “Is there something the matter with it?”  I said, “No, really it’s fine.”  Now everyone wanted to taste the disappointing fish.  For some reason, there’s an irresistible allure of food on other people’s plates, good or bad.  The server could be bringing a bucket of lard to the couple on the far side of the room and it would look better than anything already ordered.  After descending on my meager helping like vultures, the critics agreed unanimously, “It’s really salty.”  “That’s not right.”  Then the dreaded, “You should send it back.”

My primary reluctance to returning food is that I’m afraid some underpaid chef will season the replacement with his or her spit.  Like political scandals, a bad plate of food has a way of taking on a life of its own.  The masses wanted justice.  The bass was salty and needed sending back.  I could hear a coliseum of gastronomes chanting, “Send…It…Back.  Send…It…Back.”  Bowing to the groundswell of increased pressure and, despite the obvious risks, I returned my finless friend.

The waiter didn’t blanche at the request.  I asked if I could replace it with the day’s special, Lobster St. Pierre.  If there is a Saint Pierre, I’m not familiar with him.  Perhaps he knew Maria.  Maybe they had the same agent negotiating the naming rights to these dishes.  I tried to imagine saints dining out.  Did they go as a group or split up?  How would they dress?  What would they order?  I wondered if St. Pierre would’ve returned the bass. 

My dining companions and I were in the honeymoon phase of our acquaintance.  This stage of the relationship is a time to be spoon-fed tantalizing appetizers of what lays under the top shelf of someone’s personality.  Little snippets about your pending cure for world hunger or the feeling of re-entry after nine days in orbit.  Your last three spouses or finer points of prison cuisine should unfold more gradually.

Jackie went with her experience working as a state employee.  “I thought, when people were getting paid to do a job, they should work hard for the money.”  She chose to rant about this despite leaving her job five years earlier.  It turns out Jackie has a long memory.  She covered the time her parents walked in while she was having sex with her high school sweetheart twenty-five years earlier.  “They weren’t expected back from their trip until the following day.”  If that wasn’t enough, I learned about her brother’s license being revoked after too many DUI’s.  More wine please.

Just when it appeared things couldn’t get any worse, my Lobster St. Pierre arrived.  By now, everyone had finished their dinners and was looking expectantly at me for a “thumbs up” on my replacement meal.  It had ¼ pound of buttery lobster meat drizzled over angel hair pasta with a creamy saffron sauce and, I thought, a mild hint of spit.  It was delicious.

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by on Nov.20, 2009, under Essays

My editor sent me an email.  She wanted to make sure I knew Shakespeare would be speaking in Tampa.  The news represented progress.  A few months earlier, she’d never heard of him.  This despite many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and numerous published works to his credit.  She told me classic literature wasn’t her genre.

My primary problem with Mr. Shakespeare is his use of language.  It’s deplorable.  I’ve been around long enough to know there’s a direct and indirect way to say something.  Can he be any less direct?  I hate his blather.

O Romeo, Romeo!  Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Cut to the chase.  “Romeo, where are you?”  That wasn’t so hard.  What a hack! 

Consider this drivel:

Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy, as a squash is before ‘tis a peascod, or a codling when ‘tis almost an apple.

A codling is a baby apple?  I’ve heard of a codpiece but never a peascod.  It sounds more indecent than codpiece. 

The funny thing is, no one ever complains about Shakespeare.  Is he some sort of sacred cow?  I think his writing is a comedy of errors.  Much as he troubles me, I had to spend the money to see him.  I wanted to know what he wore to these gigs.  Would he don something Elizabethan or go with a more contemporary look?  Perhaps a smoking jacket, ascot, and pipe.  What could he possibly have to say?  I worried the evening might be much ado about nothing. 

Perhaps he’d offer insights about, “the ending I didn’t choose.”  That would interest me.  The alternate ending to Romeo and Juliet.  Juliet wakes up just in time to give Romeo CPR?  Instead of drinking hemlock, they get hammered with ale until oak-cleaving thunderbolts singe their heads.  I think he needs to pay attention to two words that have guided Hollywood for ages.  Happy endings.

This guy is a literary morgue tour.  How much tragedy does he think people can handle?  Consider what would be the television equivalent of these fateful writings.  Some talk show or reality program that makes its money on the suffering of others.  The nightly news?  That’s almost cheating it’s so obvious.  Speaking of cheating, what about Cheaters?  For my money, the deception is the best part of the show.  I love when the wife calls the husband to see how he’s doing.  It’s always when hubby has his lover right next to him in the motel room.

           Wife:               Hey, how are you?

            Hubby:             Pretty good and you?

            Wife:               I’m okay.  When are you going to be home?

    Hubby:             I thought I’d be there by now but I’ve been trying to finish my proposal to give the merchant of Venice.

I love being in on the secret.  Of course, the wife is well aware hubby is involved with the taming of the shrew.  She feeds him additional rope to hang himself:

I wish we got to see more of each other.  It seems like you’re always gone lately.  This is the twelfth night you’ve worked late.

Maybe hubby enjoys the deception too.  He answers:

I know.  The two gentlemen of Verona have been hounding me.  If I can just make it through the next month, I promise to make everything as you like it.

His sweet concessions are a waste of airtime.  His fate sealed.  Love’s labor’s lost.

I think Mr. Shakespeare would reach a far wider audience if he dumped the Elizabethan shtick and got with the times.  Write about subjects that interest today’s readers.  Like weight loss.  Here’s a topic most people read about.  If he did some before and after photos, he could call the book Measure for Measure.  The Tempest?  With a name like that, no one will grab it off the discount table.  Jazz it up.  Try something new and compelling like, My Hurricane Katrina Nightmare.  No one knows where Windsor is.  Go with, The Merry Wives of Orange County.  The key is to lighten up.  Start speaking plainly.  Get a blog going.  With a name as catchy as Shakespeare, it won’t be long before people will know it from every city to hamlet.

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