Romans got two emperors for the price of one, when in 238, Gordian I and II became father-and-son tag-team Caesars after an insurrection against Maximinus Thrax, a rather unpopular emperor who had come to the position by the popular tradition of assassinating his predecessor.romeGordian I was a bit long in the tooth so the younger Gordian was attached to the imperial throne and acclaimed Augustus too – sort of like if Poppa Bush and W had been presidents together, mano e mano so to speak.

Some supporters of Maximinus Thrax who were not happy with this turn of events staged a rebellion in Africa. Gordian II fought against them in the Battle of Carthage but lost and was killed for good measure. Hearing the bad news, Gordian I took his own life.  All of this happened within a month. Fortunately, there was no dearth of Gordians in Rome, and Gordian II’s 13-year-old nephew Gordian III soon became emperor. During his six-year reign, the teenage ruler endured pimples, the fickleness of teenage girls, and Persians until he was done in by the latter in yet another battle. He was succeeded by Philip the Arab (son of Ahab) sometimes referred to as the Gordian Not.

Slow and steady wins the race

Back in 1767, Lord Robert Clive of the East India Company was given a gift of four Aldabra tortoises from the Seychelle Islands. Three soon died, but the fourth, a gent named Addwaita “the one and only,” prospered.  He was transferred to a Calcutta zoo in 1875.

Addwaita was a bit of a loner, content to pass the decades in his zoo cubicle, munching on carrots, lettuce, chick peas, bran, bread and grass, growing to a stately 550 pounds and living  to the ripe old age of 250, give or take a year or two.

Alas, Addwaita bought the reptilian ranch on March 24, 2006. Foul play was not suspected.

Charlie Chan’s Words of Wisdom





“Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! Great! The show looks good, the show looks good!”

American Broadway impresario, Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. was born March 21, 1867 (died July 22, ZigfeldFollies19121932). The theater bug came to Ziegfeld early; while still in his teens, he was already running variety shows. In 1893, his father, who was the founder of the Chicago Music College, sent him to Europe to find classical musicians and orchestras. Flo returned with the Von Bulow Military Band — and Eugene Sandow, “the world’s strongest man.”

Ziegfeld was particularly noted for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies, inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris – spectacular extravaganzas, full of beautiful women, talented performers, and the best popular songs of the time – and was known as the “glorifier of the American girl”.

“Let us grant that a girl qualifies for one of my productions. It is interesting to note what follows. First, it is clearly outlined to her what she is expected to do. She may be impressed at the outset that the impossible is required, but honest application and heroic perseverance on her part plus skillful and encouraging direction by experts very seldom fail to achieve the desired results. But it is only through constant, faithful endeavor by the girl herself that the goal eventually is reached.”

He also produced musicals in his own newly built Ziegfeld Theatre – Rio Rita, which ran for nearly 500 performances, Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, Whoopee! and Show Boat. Several of his musicals hit the movie screens, including three different versions of Show Boat. William Powell played Flo in the 1932 biopic, The Great Ziegfeld, and a 1946 film recreated the flamboyant Ziegfeld Follies.

Yellow Bird, Part III: Parrot Lust

The English ornithologist did not wear tweed; he wore casual island attire and was tan, not pasty. Rachel, Antoine noted, was doing her level best toYELLOW hide her beauty. Prim shirt and slacks hid beaux nichons; dowdy glasses framed dark eyes; and her hair was pulled up into one of those buns that so titillate the English. She was attired for her fellow ornithologist, not Antoine. They sat at a table near the edge of the patio looking out at the tamarind tree.

Antoine brought a bottle of wine to the table and placed it between them. “Compliments of the house.”

“Please,” said Rachel with a disarming smile that softened the severity of the glasses and bun, “sit with us.”

“Thank you,” said Antoine. “But only for a moment. The lunch patrons will be arriving shortly and I must prepare.”

“Antoine,” said Rachel, “this is Arnold Covington. Arnold, this is my friend Antoine.” The two men nodded at each other, as Antoine sat and poured wine for his guests. He filled Rachel’s glass, then turned to Covington, but Covington stretched his hand over the top of the glass and said: “None for me, thank you. I don’t drink.”

Antoine clucked as he pulled Covington’s glass back and filled it for himself. “You are from Martinique, I am told. A lovely place.”

“Do you think so?” said Covington. “I’m afraid I find it wanting.”

“There’s the parrot,” said Rachel. She pointed toward the top of the tamarind tree. “See? Up there.”

Covington looked up at the tree and hummed. On those rare occasions when the English mind works, thought Antoine, it’s noisy. Antoine stared at the staring Covington without attempting to hide his disgust, but then he felt Rachel’s hand resting on his knee. He turned to her and her smile at once melted his anger, and it said to him: “I know this man’s a complete ass. He’s a bore and I’m sorry I brought him. He’s a colleague and nothing more. He’s not half the man you are. But that’s to be expected isn’t it.” And Antoine felt better.

Covington continued to stare at the tree.

“Do you think he’ll fly down here, Antoine?” asked Rachel. “He did yesterday.”

Antoine shrugged. “Who’s to say? The bird has a mind of its own.” But he was now satisfied that the bird had no intention of cooperating with the English ornithologist. Undaunted, Covington pulled a small pair of binoculars from his pocket, put them to his eyes, and continued to study the bird.

“Psittacus antilles vulgaria,” said Covington after a few minutes. “The pronounced yellowness of the head, the squareness of the tail – no question about it, it’s an Antilles Parrot.”

“Voila!” said Antoine, raising hands and eyes skyward. “I always thought it was a parrot.” Rachel giggled, but Covington just glowered at him. “I told the silly bird he was a parrot. He thought he was an eagle; but he’s merely a sittingwhatsis with delusions of grandeur.”

“He’s not merely anything,” Covington said with a sniff. “That’s a very rare bird. Very rare. They’re virtually extinct. We have four females in captivity on Martinique. But no males. Of course, I must take him to Martinique.” Rachel and Covington both stared at Antoine who looked out between them at the tamarind tree.

“I doubt that the bird would want to go to Martinique,” said Antoine, emphasizing each word. “I think he likes it here. I think he finds Martinique wanting.” Antoine’s remarks were lost on Covington who once again stared at the parrot through his binoculars. Rachel shook her head, and Antoine shrugged in return. Then, spotting a young couple sitting down at a table behind them, he jumped up and excused himself.

During the next two hours, diners came, diners dined and diners departed, singing the praises of Antoine and Bistro Francaise. The proprietor himself bustled here and there, keeping himself far busier than normal, never admitting to himself that he was avoiding the odious Covington and his parrot lust. Finally, only one table remained occupied, and Antoine was delighted to see that it was occupied by only one person – Rachel. They didn’t discuss Covington or the parrot again until later that afternoon when they had departed the cafe in favor of a pretty, black-sand beach – a secluded stretch of paradise where, Antoine pointed out, one could take the sun in the French manner if one chose to. Rachel took freely to the French manner, and now Antoine sat admiring the subtle movements of her body as she talked.

“He’s not that bad,” she said. “A little short on manners, perhaps, but so are some others.” Her dark eyes flashed at Antoine who just grinned. “And he is very intelligent. He’s right about the parrot. If they aren’t bred, they’ll disappear forever.” She leaned back to let the sun and Antoine’s steady gaze caress her.

“Do you have a relationship?” asked Antoine.

“Do you care?”

“I asked, did I not?”


“You have rebuffed him?”

“There hasn’t been any need to. He’s never attempted to move the relationship beyond professional.”

“He is a fool.”

Rachel leaned toward him and let the deep dark eyes do their thing. “Thank you,” she said. “At least I think that was a compliment.”

“A statement of fact. The man must be nearly dead to ignore such a companion to study a wretched bird in a tree.”

“A Frenchman, however, would ignore the bird, lure her to a romantic beach, coax her out of her clothes . . .”

“But of course,” said Antoine, clapping his hands.

“And?” said Rachel, letting her dark eyes drop downward in mock innocence.

“Beaches are for lovemaking,” said Antoine.

“Are they now?” said Rachel, looking at him again. “You’re a forward fellow, aren’t you?”

“Life is short. So is your holiday. It leaves little time for a cat-and-mouse courtship.”

“So we skip right to the seduction?”

“Seduction is such a harsh word. I find you amazingly attractive. I think that you perhaps do not find me distasteful. Given those circumstances, I believe a liaison is appropriate. Do you disagree?”

“What about your bird?” asked Rachel, pulling back.

“I do not find my bird that attractive.”

Rachel laughed and said: “No, I mean what about your bird going to Martinique?”

“Am I to assume that our liaison depends on it?”

“Of course not,” said Rachel, riveting her dark eyes on him.

“I must think about it,” said Antoine. “It is a difficult decision.”

“That’s all I ask,” said Rachel, leaning into him until their warm skin touched and their liaison on the black-sand beach enveloped them.

Antoine was working at his papers when the bird made its usual showy entrance, once more sending a flurry of papers into the air.

“Damn you,” said Antoine.

“Damn you,” said the bird.

Antoine looked up at the bird and smiled an apologetic smile. “I’m afraid I have betrayed you, mon ami.”

The bird cocked its head and looked back at Antoine. “You’re a frog.”

“Hurl your insults, little feathered friend. I deserve them. I am a beast. Base sexual desire has led me to cruel infidelity. Like a drug addict that will do anything to satisfy his craving. Willing to pay any price for a moment’s pleasure.”

Beaux nichons,” said the parrot.

“I’m afraid so,” said Antoine. “I’m afraid so.” He stared at the parrot, then broke into a grin. “But why do I say such things. It is not so. I have done you a great favor.” He clapped his hands, and the parrot lifted its wings and stepped backward as though about to retreat to the tamarind tree. “My selfless liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons has created for you a grand opportunity. You, lucky bird, are going to Martinique – a beautiful place – for a liaison with, not one, but four yellow birds with deep dark eyes and beaux nichons. “What do you say to that, ungrateful bird?”

“God save the Queen.”

This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.




Back in the 7th century on an island in northern Britain, the very holy St. Cuthbert gave up the ghost. The exact date of his departure was March 20, 689. Not only was Cuthbert very holy, he was, you might say, holier than thou, or at least holier than all his peers. He devoted his entire life to converting the half-savage heathens (and there were quite a few half-savage heathens at the time) and praying — lots of praying. Such was his devotion that those about him often wondered if he were not a man but an angel.

Cuthbert was duly shrouded and buried, remaining at rest for some 11 years until some curious monks dug him up to have a peek. They found Cuthbert in perfect condition, which they accepted as miraculous proof of his saintly character. They placed him in a new coffin, leaving him above ground so he might perform miraculous cures.

Another 174 years passed and, with Britain facing an invasion by the Danes, the monks (different monks) carried Cuthbert’s still perfect body away and wandered with it from place to place for many years.

Finally in the 11th century, Cuthbert’s body found a permanent home where it was enshrined and enriched with offerings of gold and jewelry from the faithful (there were a lot more of them now). In 1104, the body was inspected again and found still fresh. Another 400 years and another inspection.

Three hundred years. It’s 1827 and Cuthbert is past due for inspection. This time, however, the inspectors were much more rigorous, and it was discovered that Cuthbert was an ordinary skeleton swaddled up to look whole, including plaster balls to plump out the eye holes. It would appear that some monks along the way had been quite naughty. St. Cuthbert himself serves as a fine example of a person who was far more interesting dead than alive.

Deciders Unite

The Whigs didn’t last long as as political party. Formed in the 1830s out of annoyance with Andrew Jackson, they gave us four presidents — William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary republicanTaylor and Millard Fillmore, commonly known by their nickname, Who? (not to be confused with the rock group of the same name). As is the case with many political parties, they had disagreements over tents, finding themselves unable to deal with the concept of big ones, and eventually tore themselves asunder with internal disagreements.

The semi-official date of the party’s actual death was March 20, 1854. On that date, a number of don’t wanna-be Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin, and the result of that meeting was the birth of the Republican party, which lasted until 2016.

Yellow Bird, Part II: Lady Meets Bird

“Bon jour,” said Antoine, “you have returned.” He held his arms out in an expansive, embracing gesture that suggested he might step forward andYELLOW throw his arms around her. Instead, he dropped them to his side. “I am very pleased that you have come back and I am flattered as well.”

“You knew I’d be back,” she accused, leaning back against a post that supported the roof of the patio – rather seductive, thought Antoine, noting how her stance favored her figure, and rather reckless, given the condition of the structure against which she leaned. The simple blouse and short skirt were island skimpy but not as dramatic as last night’s outfit.

“I hoped,” said Antoine. “I only hoped. Please sit down.” He was relieved that even though she didn’t follow his suggestion, she did move away from the post. “All of the lunch guests have finished and departed. I’m sure, however, that I can find something in the kitchen to accommodate your desires.”

Her dark eyes flashed with the suggestion that they hid more desires than he or his kitchen could accommodate. “I purposely came late,” she said, and Antoine’s heart raced until she added: “I had a breakfast meeting, so I’m skipping lunch. I came late so I wouldn’t be tempted.” Antoine stifled a sigh. “At least not by food,” she said, and her eyes were once again toying with him.

“Then let us try to tempt you with something else,” said Antoine, and he too paused with playful ambiguity. “Some wine perhaps?”

“You’ve done it,” she said, laughing. “You’ve broken my will. I’d love some wine.”

Antoine departed, then returned a few minutes later carrying two glasses and an open bottle of wine. He found his guest wandering just beyond the patio. “You’re absolutely right. This is like what I’d imagine the Garden of Eden to be.”

“But there are no snakes,” Antoine said, sitting down on the edge of the patio and pouring the wine.

“There are, however, other tempters,” she said, returning to the patio and sitting down so that the two glasses of wine were between them. “That tree is magnificent. What is it?”


She studied the tree, squinting. “I’m not wearing my glasses. Do I see a parrot near the top of the tree?”

“I’m inclined to think it is some scoundrel from the Middle Ages changed to a bird by a sorcerer,” said Antoine.

She laughed. “I feel foolish having to ask. After all, I am an ornithologist, albeit a nearsighted one. I study North American species primarily.”

Nearsighted, thought Antoine. So those deep dark eyes are not perfect in every way. “You’re more than welcome to study that bird,” he said. As if summoned by Antoine’s words, the parrot descended from its lofty perch, glided toward them and came to rest, with much ado and fluttering, on the ornithologist’s bare knee. “Perhaps,” Antoine added, “you would like to dissect it.”

The ornithologist was startled for only a moment by the parrot’s arrival. She grinned at it and said, “Pretty bird.” Somehow Antoine would have expected an ornithologist to say something more meaningful to a bird.

Beaux nichons,” the bird answered.

“Hush,” said Antoine, reddening. “He just babbles sometimes.”

“I understand some French,” she said, flashing those dark eyes at the bird. “You are a brazen bird.”

Beaux nichons,” said the parrot. “Beaux nichons.”

“I apologize for the bird’s complete lack of civility and taste.”

“It’s all right,” she said with a giggle. “After all, he’s French.”

“I assure you there is not a single French feather on that vile bird. He speaks French only to embarrass me. Probably taught to him by an Englishman. His pronunciation is appalling. Apologize to Mademoiselle . . . Goodness me, I’m afraid I have inadvertently failed to inquire for your name.”

“Rachel,” she said, smiling back at him while she stroked the bird’s head.

“Rachel,” said Antoine. “A lovely name, but one would expect that.”

“Rachel,” said the bird.

“See,” said Rachel. “The old bird’s not hopelessly bad.”

Beaux nichons,” said the bird, and with another dramatic fluttering of wings, it lifted off toward the tamarind tree.

They sipped at their wine without speaking, emptying their glasses, and Antoine quickly refilled them. “The parrot’s coloring is quite remarkable,” said Rachel, and Antoine suspected that ornithology had erased any thoughts of romance. “I think it might be quite rare.”

“I would hope so.”

“I mean it might be endangered. I have a colleague that would know for sure. I’d like to bring him by. He knows tropical birds. He’s been working in the islands for years – most recently in Martinique.”

“Ah, he’s French,” said Antoine.

“No, he’s not.”

Antoine shrugged. “He can be forgiven for that.”

“I’m afraid he’s English.”

“He can’t be forgiven for that. Only pitied.”

Rachel laughed. “You’re such a chauvinist. He’s a very intelligent man. He has some great ideas about how to repopulate endangered species.”

“I once knew an Englishman who had an idea,” Antoine mused. “His head exploded.”

“Stop,” she said and leaned into him, but before he could respond, she was on her feet.

“Bring him by,” said Antoine. “If it means your returning, I’ll gladly suffer anything.”

She laughed and kissed him on the cheek, lingering just slightly, before quickly turning and departing.

“You were absolutely reprehensible,” said Antoine, staring at the strutting bird. “Pretty bird, my ass.”

The parrot cocked his head to one side, looked at Antoine as though seeking forgiveness but said: “God save the Queen.”

“The lady is an ornithologist. Do you know what ornithologists do? They eat birds – especially parrots.”

“Polly want a fucking cracker.”

“A rather attractive ornithologist,” Antoine continued. “I thought all scientists were dowdy. Like the English – all tweed and no substance. Tweed. One shudders at the thought. Yes, an attractive ornithologist. I think I would like to have a liaison with the ornithologist with the deep dark eyes and beaux nichons.”

Beaux nichons.”

“Ah bird, you are no stranger to such liaisons, are you? Yes, I remember that yellow bird and how shamelessly you behaved with her.”



This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.




When the swallows come back to Capistrano/ That’s the day I pray that you’ll come back  to me.

And the day is today, St. Josephs Day, although St. Joseph has nothing to do with swallows. Like feathered clockwork, cliff swallows year after year migrated from Goya, Argentina, to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern California. Every year the good townsfolk of San Juan Capistrano welcomed them back with an annual Swallows’ Day Parade and other festive events. And the tourists would flock as well. Yes, the past tense is appropriate.

Since 2009, the fabled swallows have failed to return to San Juan Capistrano, no matter how often folks sang that song they inspired. They have instead begun migrating to and nesting in the Chino Hills of Southern California, north of San Juan Capistrano. And they have built their nests in the eaves of the Vellano Country Club, next to a golf course. Will tourists now have to pay greens fees to watch the event? The picture just isn’t that powerful, and “when the swallows come back to the Vellano Country Club . . .” doesn’t cut it as a romantic song. An era has ended.

And what of the song? Written by Leon René and first recorded by The Ink Spots in 1940, reaching #4 on the charts, it has been recorded by Glenn Miller, Xavier Cugat, Gene Krupa, Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo, Billy May, the Five Satins, Elvis Presley, and Pat Boone, whose 1957 version reached # 80 on the Billboard Hot 100. Is it now headed for the scrapheap of forgotten music? Back to the Bluebirds of Happiness – they can be trusted.


2012: The Swallow Saga Continues

After a few swallowless years, the mission took steps to lure their fickle feathered friends birds back. A Cliff Swallow expert from the University of Tulsa led the effort. At first he tried seducing them with song — not their theme song (imagine being wooed by a continuous Pat Boone vocal) but a loop of swallow impersonations. A few birds swooped in to investigate, but didn’t fall for it.

In 2016, the mission added artificial nests, since it’s known that Barn Swallows, and probably Cliff Swallows, are attracted to sites that have old nests. The faux nests were attached to a large temporary wall in hopes that the birds would move in and eventually spill over and start using the actual mission structures.

Swallow alert:  Last year two real nests were discovered at the mission and several swallows were spotted in flight.  Stay tuned.


Now here’s a bird that is truly trustworthy:

Yellow Bird, Part I: Their Eyes Met, Sort of

A feathered kamikaze ablaze in reds, oranges and yellows, Antoine’s bird plunged from the top branches of the tamarind tree. But then, at the last possible moment, it reversed avian gears YELLOWand landed with a certain grace at the edge of the table where Antoine worked at his papers. It might have been a perfect landing were it not for the papers, but fluttering parrot wings scattered them.

Antoine grabbed several out of midair and, reaching down to the ground for the others, shouted: “Damn you.”

“Damn you,” responded the bird.

“Feathered fiend,” said Antoine, stacking the papers.

“Damn you,” said the bird.

Antoine suddenly grinned at the bird. “Voila! Your lack of vocabulary betrays your basic stupidity and demonstrates very well why I am at the top of the food chain and you are very near the bottom. At any time, should I tire of you, you are soup.”

“Damn you,” said the parrot, its voice crackling with defiance.

Fou!” said Antoine, and went back to his papers. The papers pleased him, and he whistled as he shuffled them. The bird swaggered back and forth along the edge of the table. Other birds, coached by their owners, might declare themselves “pretty birds.” Not this one. He knew damn well he was pretty and remained smugly silent on the subject. His human companion was himself quite smug; the papers on the table proved that he was profiting from the café against odds. Located at the center of the island, five kilometers from the nearest beach, Bistro Francaise nevertheless attracted a steady stream of customers. They came to sit under the fifty-foot tamarind tree for lunch and on his small patio for dinner. At lunch, the parrot swooped out of the tamarind to a tree pregnant with bunches of light green bananas, past a pawpaw, and over the diners’ heads. He strutted on their tables and spoke to the lucky ones, sending them away remarking on the wonder of that bird. At dinner, Antoine strutted past their tables just to be sure they were in awe of his culinary ability. And after dinner he would sip cognac with them before sending them away remarking on the wonder of that man.

Not only tourists made the pilgrimage to the middle of the island; many locals dropped in to dine or just pass the time with a bottle or two of fine French wine. In a short time, Bistro Francaise had become something of an institution. Antoine was certain that this was a result of his congeniality as well as his culinary ability. Others, however, maintained that they frequented the Bistro Francaise because of the admittedly good food and the ambience of starry skies, crisp night air and the natural cacophony that surrounded them, untouched by manufactured sound, and that they did so in spite of the owner’s “congeniality.”

“You’re a frog,” said Antoine’s bird, annoyed at the lack of attention. “God save the queen.”

“I wish I could identify the swine who twisted your tiny parrot mind with this English prattle,” Antoine hissed. “God save the queen, indeed. It takes a very backward country to not only retain a monarchy but to dote and gush over it.”

“Jolly good.”

“Go. Go fly away before I pluck your feathers. You annoy me.” Antoine pushed his papers into neat little stacks and slipped an elastic band around each stack. He stacked the stacks, stood and marched toward the kitchen. Taking its cue, the parrot lifted off and ascended to the heights of the tamarind tree.

The Cuban black bean soup, amply fortified with sherry, was velvet on the diners’ lips. The grilled grouper with hearts of palm stopped conversations short. And the gateau led to an almost reverential silence. Antoine beamed. He paced the periphery of the patio, sipping at a glass of the same sherry that had so transformed the soup, and puffed at a hand-rolled eight-inch cigar, always keeping a watchful eye on the two young women who hurried back and forth bewitching the diners that crowded around every one of the cafe’s sixteen tables with not only their efficiency but their bashful smiles and the native lilt of their voices.

Antoine paused at a table occupied by four young men who were just finishing up. “Good fish,” said one.

“Good fish,” harrumphed Antoine as though the compliment were an insult.

“Did you catch them yourself?” asked another.

“Catch them myself indeed,” said Antoine, shaking his head and resuming his circumnavigation of the patio. As he neared the end of the short journey, he spotted an attractive young woman sitting alone, sipping at a glass of white wine and staring out into the night instead of the book that lay open on the table. She had dark hair and dark eyes and the pale skin of a new arrival. A soft white blouse embraced breasts that inspired staring.

“Good evening,” said Antoine with a slight bow. “I am Antoine, the proprietor and chef. I hope my efforts met with your approval.”

She turned toward him with a tentative smile and examined him with deep dark eyes that rendered him impotent, tethered by her gaze. “It was delicious, thank you.”

He paused, waiting to speak, afraid he might babble. “You had the grouper, I believe?” Easy assumption – only one person didn’t have grouper – an American, naturally.

“Yes, it was wonderful.”

His self-confidence was fighting its way back into the game. “Simplicity is the key with fresh island seafood. A subtle blend of lemon, wine and herbs, and searing heat. You are on holiday?”

“A little business, then a lot of beach. And, of course, dining.” She raised her glass to him, and he beamed before giving his little cough that was meant to indicate a modesty that didn’t exist.

“I hope you will be able to dislodge yourself from business and beaches long enough to join us for lunch. It really is a beautiful spot during the day. So peaceful, so unhurried.”

“It must be. It’s certainly beautiful at night.” She looked out into the darkness once again and Antoine let his eyes drop to where the slit in her dress plunged between her breasts to somewhere below the top of the table. When he looked up again, he discovered that he had been caught. She was now looking directly at him, and her expression suggested she was fully aware of his indiscretion.

“Ah, yes, the night. It is beautiful. And you bring additional beauty to it, if I may say so.”

She laughed a little and said: “Thank you.”

“It is my pleasure, mademoiselle, my pleasure. But I must disturb your reverie no longer. I will excuse myself and return to my duties.” He pulled to attention and stood as though awaiting dismissal, then said: “Au revoir,” and turned away.

A demain,” she said, and as he turned his head back, winked.

“A demain,” Antoine said to himself as he strutted back across the patio, threading his way through the remaining diners without seeing them. “A demain.”


This story is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.




Tenor Enrico Caruso recorded ten arias for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company in Milan, Italy. He was paid 100 pounds sterling, and was not required to do any typing. These acoustic recordings, recorded in a hotel room on March 18, 1902, created a win-win situation for both Caruso and the Gramophone Company. The gramophone, and its flat circular discs, quickly became victorious in the recording competition, besting both Thomas Edison’s phonograph cylinders and eight-track tapes. The gramophone recordings became best-sellers, helping to spread the 29-year-old Caruso’s fame.

Caruso was signed by London’s Royal Opera House for a season of appearances in eight different operas ranging from Verdi’s Aida to Don Giovanni by Mozart. His successful debut at Covent Garden occurred just two months after his recording session. The following year, Caruso traveled to New York City to take up a contract with the Metropolitan Opera.

By 1920, Caruso had made nearly 300 recordings. His 1904 recording of “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci was the first sound recording to sell a million copies. All of these recordings are available today on CD, as digital downloads, and in garages throughout the world on eight-track tapes.


Ivan Was Probably a Baritone

Ivan IV Vasileyevich, known to his friends as Ivan the Terrible, died in 1584 while engaged in a particularly wicked game of chess. He rose to prominence, and some might say infamy, as the Grand Prince of Moscow a position he held from 1533 to 1547, when he declared himself the first ever Tsar of All the Russias, a title he held until his death. He was succeeded by his son, Feodor the Not So Terrible.

Historians disagree on the exact nature of his enigmatic personality. He was described as intelligent and devout, yet paranoid and given to rages, episodic outbreaks of mental instability, and late-night tweet storms.

He was also know as Ivan the Fearsome but is not to be confused with Ivan the Gorilla.

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons – No. 3


plät/  noun

~ the sequence of events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work that develops a story.

Use it in a sentence perhaps?

“What do you do when you’re not floating around the West Indies?” asked Albert.

“I write mostly.”

“A writer, says he,” Basil had returned from the bar and sat across the table from Terry. “I was a writer meself once upon. Never made any money at it, though. I was always a poor writer what never had a plot to piss on.”

Here’s where the plot thickens.




Is That a Shillelagh in Your Pocket?

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a major holiday for the Irish and for non-Irish hangers on who irishjust want to drink green beer. There is precious little celebration of jolly old St. Patrick himself who died on March 17, 461, which is a pity for he was an interesting guy, turning Druids into Christians with a wave of his shillelagh, hurling blarney stones and sham rocks at unrepentant heathens, and playing his pipe to drive all the snakes out of Ireland.

He was, however, a bit of an enigma. Some believe there were actually two Patricks. That might explain some of the contradictions – a good Patrick and a bad Patrick. The good Patrick worked among the poor, feeding them corned beef and cabbage, encouraging them to be chaste and follow a righteous path. The bad Patrick worked among young women, pinching them if they weren’t wearing green, encouraging them to be unchaste and look at his shillelagh. It was the good Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland; the bad Patrick, who when he didn’t get enough recompense, stole all the Irish children to feed to the English.

How high’s the water, mama?

Some medieval calendars suggest that St. Patrick shares his day with a Biblical superstar name of Noah.  They have him boarding his ark on March 17 and disembarking on April 29.  And in religious plays of the time, they give Noah and his wife rather more down-to-earth personalities than depicted in the original source book — particularly the wife who is painted as somewhat of a shrew (which would make three shrews aboard the ark).

In one such play, when Noah brings her the news that God has recruited him as a sailor, she sneers at him, calls him a gullible fool, and complains that he never takes her anywhere, let alone on a cruise with a bunch of animals.  Noah tells her to hold her tongue, she refuses, and they come to blows.  He sulks away to build his ark.  She changes her tune when the waters start to rise, jumping aboard at the last minute, only to start complaining about the ambiance.  They continue their fighting ways — frequently beating each other around their heads with their shillelaghs — for forty days and forty nights.


Shaking His Shillelagh at Prairie Dogs

Legendary mountain man Jim Bridger was born on this day in 1804. He was not Irish. Bridger explored and trapped throughout the West during the mid-1800s which is what mountain men do. Were they on beaches instead of in mountains they would be beachcombers or, worse still, ho-dads. He was one of the first white men to see the geysers of the Yellowstone region and the first European American to see the Great Salt Lake which he misnamed the Pacific Ocean. Most everything else he discovered he named after himself. He was a bit irascible, shaking his shillelagh at prairie dogs and playing his pipe to drive the Mormons out of Utah.



Puff your own magic Dragon

Peter, Paul and Mary released the single, “Puff The Magic Dragon” in 1963. It became a big hit for the folk trio, peaking at number two on the pop charts in spite of its being banned by several radio stations whose management  figured that the song was about the illicit joys of smoking marijuana. The group denied this, saying: “It’s about a magic dragon named Puff.” “Puff” was followed by “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a song about trying to smoke pot on a stormy day, and “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which is obviously a poorly disguised reference to getting high on the substance of your choice.

Davy, Davy Crockett

On this day eight years earlier, in 1955, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” by Bill Hayes, reached the number one spot on the pop music charts and stayed there for five weeks. The smash hit sold more than seven million records by several different artists. Coonskin caps were everywhere, and the words “born on a mountain top in Tennessee” on everyone’s lips – even though the next line “puffed a magic dragon when he was only three” was always bleeped.

Speaking of Substance Abuse:

Giving Up Smoking with Madame Zorene

I stood watching them — laughing young lovers, sitting on the bench, knees touching, talking conspiratorially.  Around them, lilacs and apple blossoms had burst into color, thanks to the fledgling warmth of spring.  As they puffed at long, sleek cigarettes, the exhaled smoke billowed lazily toward the blue sky.  There, sitting in the park, they created a richly satisfying tableau vivant, and I stood mesmerized as I contemplated descending upon them, ripping the cigarettes from their quivering lips and wildly puffing until my heart and lungs cried out in a tobacco-induced orgasm.  Instead, I popped a tiny square of nicotine gum into my mouth — it makes you burp and hallucinate yellow-toothed Doublemint twins — and stormed off.

People were meant to smoke, of course.  Why else tobacco?  A cigarette is tangible; a smoke-free environment hypothetical at best.  And cold turkey is just a dead bird defrosting for Thanksgiving.  Thus I reasoned, when I reached the store and demanded a pack of cigarettes, any brand, with or without filters, from the cowering clerk.  Back to the park, where I hastily lit a cigarette and let its mellowness caress my lungs.  I then smoked the entire pack, one cigarette after another.  It took me less than an hour.

Remorse naturally followed.  I cried out in anguish, bemoaned my weakness, condemned my cowardice — and I began to realize the hopelessness of my situation.  If I were ever to succeed in this quest –and doubts enveloped me — I needed a hired gun.

That evening, I let my fingers do the hobbling through the hypnosis section of the yellow pages.  The trusty phone book paraded before my anxious eyes a plethora of Ph.D.’s, licensed psychologists and certified hypnotherapists, any one of which, I found when phoning the following morning, would be happy to see me two weeks from now, three weeks from now, a month from now.  I had been decisive coming this far, and decisiveness is a fragile, short-lived thing.  I didn’t have that kind of time.

Then I found her.  She was neither psychologist nor hypnotherapist, but Madame Zorene would see me that evening.  I had my moments of doubt when she asked if I wanted her to put a curse on someone, but when I explained that I wanted to quit smoking through hypnosis, she seemed pleased.  “That’s good, too,” she said.

I chain-smoked on the way to my appointment with Madame Zorene, wondering if each cigarette might perhaps be my last.  Her office was tucked away in the back corner of a modern office complex.  I had feared that I would find her in an old shack in the middle of a bayou, although I was pretty certain there wasn’t a bayou within a thousand miles of here.  Upon opening the door, I faced her receptionist, and my fears returned.  A gaunt, colorless woman with stringy hair and sunken eyes, she had a vocabulary of three words:  “You pay first.”

But Madame Zorene herself was a pleasant surprise; a cheerful, chubby woman in her sixties, she smiled reassuringly and greeted me with a hearty handshake.  “Madame Zorene welcomes you,” she said as she opened a door and led me into her office.  “You are a brave man to attempt the smoking cessation.  Smoking is not good for your teeth or your lungs.  You will be happy when you quit.”  It sounded vaguely like a threat.

“Have a seat and relax yourself,” Madame Zorene continued.  “You must be relaxed.”

I settled into a comfortable chair facing her and tried my best to relax, but it wasn’t easy.  Staring at me over Madame Zorene’s left shoulder from the shelves at the other side of the small room was a human skull.  Several smaller skulls stood in a row next to it, each one staring.  On another shelf there were various jars in which dead toads and lizards were suspended in murky water.  There were no medical books, stethoscopes or sphygmomanometers, although there were masks, feathers and various powders.

“Are you a doctor or anything like that?” I asked.

“No, no.  Of course not.”

“What is your background?”

She saw that I was staring past her at her shelves.  “Ah, my little things, they upset you.  No need for you to worry.  I am a much experienced bokor.”

“A bokor?”

“Yes.  A bokor is a sorcerer in the voudun religion.”

“Voudun?”  I asked, growing steadily more anxious.  “Is that voodoo?”

Her eyes lit up and she grinned.  “Yes, yes.”

“And you do curses and things as well as smoking cessation?”

“Of course,” said Madame Zorene.  “But curses are not why we are here, are they?  Why don’t we start?  First I am going to give to you the great sleep.  Then I will lift from your body your ti bon ange.  That is one of your spirits.  I will talk to your ti bon ange, tell it that you no longer want to smoke.  Then when it returns to your body, it will guide you, so that you will no longer smoke.  Now you must relax.”

Madame Zorene stared at me, looked commandingly into my eyes, and began to speak softly in a language I didn’t recognize.  I wanted to turn away from her gaze, which was intimidating, not relaxing, to close my eyes, to stand, to run.  But I couldn’t move and I found myself growing drowsy,  the nagging worry that I would wake up a zombie growing steadily more distant.  I felt as though I were floating through a void.  I could hear Madame Zorene as she continued to talk, and someone answered her.  Was it me, my ti bon ange?

Then I was awake, and Madame Zorene was smiling at me, that same reassuring smile she had first greeted me with.  “Would you like a cigarette?” she asked, and in her smile I now saw the self-satisfaction.

“No, I don’t think so,” I answered truthfully.  I didn’t want one, and I don’t want one now.   I feel good, have no problems.  Well, I do have one problem — it’s odd, really.  The cat stares at me all the time, an evil, possessed stare.  I think it wants a cigarette.




March 15, 44 BC: I Only Have Ides for You

I Only Have Ides for You

Beware. Today is the ides of March, a day once enthusiastically celebrated among the common people with picnics, drinking, and revelry. In the ancient Roman calendar, each of the 12 months had an ides (from the Latin to divide). In March, May, caesarJuly and October, the ides fell on the 15th day. In all other months, the ides fell on the 13th.  There is a reason for this, but the logic declined and fell with Rome, and the ides lost their original intent and purpose and eventually came to mean the day that a bunch of guys are going to stick knives into you.

This was thanks to Shakespeare,  Julius Caesar, and Caesar’s pals Brutus et al.  In Act I, Scene 2, of Shakespeare’s history, the old soothsayer utters these words, dripping with foreboding: “Beware the Ides of March.” Pretty straightforward, but does Caesar pay attention? Of course not. And on March 15, 44 BC, aided by his friends, he buys the forum, so to speak, exiting stage left halfway through the play even though it bears his name.

Despite an occasional pretentious allusion to the Ides of March and the popular song, today’s calendar is pretty much ideless (as ideless as a painted ship upon a painted ocean, to slip in a quick pretentious allusion).


Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons – No. 2




As a literary device, an allusion is an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference to another person, event, work etc.

For example:

“That’s a rather abrupt and indifferent exit. Feel guilty?”

“I’m not sure. You don’t approve?”

“Well, I suppose it’s better than ‘I’m running off to hook up with Lolita for a few days. I’ll be back when I’m tuckered out. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Lolita? You’re hardly a nymphet.”

“I beg your pardon,” Huey huffed. “Would you care to elaborate on that point?”

“A nymphet is fourteen or fifteen years old, tops.”

“Maybe I’m only fifteen.”

“You also pointed out that you weren’t trying to seduce me.”

“Maybe I was lying. And maybe I’m no Lolita – as hot as I am – but you most definitely fit the part of Humbert Humbert, you old fart. Just remember you’re here of your own free will. You can’t claim I forced you to come along.”

“I won’t if you won’t,” said Paul.

Not forcing anyone to come along, just inviting: Voodoo Love Song

March 14, 1885: Nanki-Poo and the Nattering Nabob

Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous work The Mikado premiered in London in 1885. It almost didn’t happen. A year earlier, Arthur Sullivan, whining about his precarious health and a Mikadodesire to devote himself to more serious music, told W.S. Gilbert that he couldn’t bring himself to do another piece of the kind the two had previously written. Gilbert was surprised to hear of Sullivan’s qualms, having started work on a new opera in which people fell in love against their wills after taking a magic lozenge. Gilbert wrote Sullivan asking him to reconsider, but the composer replied that he was through with such operas. Gilbert, after much whining of his own, persuaded Sullivan by promising a plot in which no supernatural element occurs “. . . a consistent plot, free from anachronisms, constructed in perfect good faith and to the best of my ability.”

The Mikado was born. With a setting in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, Gilbert was able to poke fun at British politics and institutions by disguising them as Japanese and, with Sullivan’s music, create one of the greatest comic operas, featuring such characters as Nanki-Poo, the wandering minstrel; Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo’s love, Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner; and Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else.  This is the origin of the word poo-bah — a pretty important person, a high muckety-muck, nabob, honcho, Donald Trump.




March 13, 1923: Rock-a-bye, Baby On the Treetop

In 1906, Eleanor Roosevelt, then a young mother living in New York City, bought a cage made of chicken wire and hung it outside the window of her townhouse. The cage was for her daughter Anna to nap in and enjoy the fresh outside air. Her neighbors threatened to call in the authorities. Young Eleanor wasn’t really a wicked mother; she was just a few years ahead of her time. Fast forward to the 1930s; baby cages are a booming business, particularly in London.

In between, Emma Read of Spokane, Washington, had the foresight to apply for a patent for “an article of manufacture for babies and young children, to be suspended upon the exterior of a building adjacent to an open window, wherein the baby or young child may be placed.” She envisioned a cage with removable curtains and an overlapping slanted roof to protect the suspended tyke from rain and snow — And from rattles and other toys maliciously thrown by the rotten little kid in the cage on the floor above.  Her patent was granted on March 13, 1923.

Interest peaked and petered out in the 1950s, and the baby cage disappeared into history despite the fascinating concept of children being caged.