“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.


March 9, 1974: Lay Down Your Arms

soldierLt. Hiroo Onoda, a soldier in the Japanese army, was sent to the remote Philippine island of Lubang in 1944 to conduct guerrilla warfare. Onoda was supposed to blow up the pier at the harbor and destroy the Lubang airfield. Unfortunately, his commanders, who were worried about other matters, decided not to help Onoda on his mission and soon the island was overrun by the Allies.  Time passed, the war ended, but nobody officially told Onoda; so for 29 years, Onoda remained a dedicated soldier, living in the jungle, eating coconuts and bananas and deftly evading searching parties. Hiding out in the dense jungles, Onoda ignored the leaflets, newspapers, photographs and letters from relatives dropped by planes during the years; he was convinced they were all part of an Allied plot.

In 1974, a college dropout named Norio Suzuki traveled to the Philippines, telling his friends he was out to find a panda, the Abominable Snowman and Lt. Onoda. Where others had failed, Suzuki succeeded. He found Lt. Onoda and tried to convince him that the war was over. However, Onoda refused to leave the island until his commander ordered him to do so. Suzuki traveled back to Japan and found Onoda’s former commander, who had become a bookseller. On March 9, 1974, Suzuki and the commander/bookseller met Onoda and delivered orders that all combat activity was to be ceased, and Onoda laid down his arms.


All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part IV: The Fat Lady Sings

When he heard movement on the balcony above, Roberto pointed the little flashlight at Toussaint’s script and cleared his throat. Toussaint did not hear the creaking of the balcony, but he saw the appearance of the very large shadowy figure. He tried frantically to signal Roberto, but Roberto was staring at his script and reciting his words of love:

“Oh, petite flower, you make the moon stand still, because you’re such a thrill, you’re my blueberry hill . . .”

At the first words, the woman on the balcony started and began to retreat through the door. But then she stopped, returned to the edge of the balcony and looked down, searching the shadows below for a sign of the intruder.

“I walk the line over you, baby, baby, because you are my sunshine, my only sunshine, even though right now it’s only moonshine . . .”

She still watched, but now she was content to listen a bit longer to the words coming to her from out of the darkness.

“Hold me close, hold me tight, make me scream all the night. I don’t only have eyes for you. I have lips and arms and a nose – but just a little one – for you. With all these things I have, I want to caress you . . .”

The woman on the balcony swayed to the sounds below, and the balcony creaked even more, so Roberto was forced to speak even louder.

“I want to squeeze you like a snake, pinch you like a crab. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you and want to touch you . . .” Roberto heard heavy breathing from above, and although it sounded very heavy indeed for his diminutive Marianne, he guessed that his words were affecting her deeply, so much so that he skipped ahead a few lines to the good stuff.

“I want to touch you all over. Put my lips to your sweet . . .”

Toussaint was to him now, shaking him, whispering urgently, “It’s not Marianne.”

“Lips,” Roberto continued before fully understanding what Toussaint was saying.

Upon understanding the error, Roberto wanted so desperately to sneak away, to try another day, but the little hibiscus that was his concealment had become a prison as well. Now the balcony was quaking in earnest, and a thunderous soprano voiced pierced the tropical night with its melody:

“Take my hand, you little stranger in paradise . . .”

Roberto knew full well the import of that singing – it was too late for him and Marianne. If only he could escape with what little dignity a wretch such as he could have.

Having sung, the fat lady concentrated on coaxing her bashful secret admirer from his sanctuary: “Wherefore art thou, my little cupcake. Come out, come out, whereforever thou art.”

Toussaint was about to smugly point out the mistaken usage by the siren on the balcony when Roberto turned as white as a 400-year-old poet. Marianne had joined her mother on the balcony and together they were scanning the shrubbery for signs of Mama’s plucky paramour.

“Oh, don’t let her see me,” Roberto pleaded. “Make me invisible so she won’t see me.”

“If you don’t come out, I’ll come find you, naughty boy,” said Marianne’s mama as Marianne tried unsuccessfully to contain her laughter. In mortal fear of being identified as Mama’s Romeo, Roberto seized Toussaint and, with the strength of ten Robertos, hurled him into the open courtyard.

“There you are, my speckled bird,” cooed Marianne’s mama. Toussaint stood and grinned. “Wait right there, sweet boy. Your blueberry hill is coming for you.” Roberto watched from the hibiscus, and Marianne from the balcony, as Mama appeared in the courtyard and chased poor Toussaint into the darkness.

Roberto stared up at Marianne, as lovely on the balcony a she was on the beach, and suddenly words of his very own creation poured forth as effortlessly as if he were pantomiming to someone else’s speech: “All day, all night, Marianne . . .” And he stepped out from behind the hibiscus into full view of the balcony. “Down by the seashore sifting sand.”

“Aren’t you the one from the beach?” asked Marianne. “I’ve seen you many times, but you seemed not to see me.”

Let a hundred – no, a thousand – fat ladies sing, thought Roberto, as his words of love for Marianne continued to tumble forth.


This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.



March 8, 1969: Right After The Vows, Go To Your Room

Guiseppe Greco and Marcella Risciglione married in Paterno,holding-hands-dating Sicily, in 1969. The 21-year-old groom was an auto mechanic, the bride a sixth-grade student. She was 12. Somehow convinced that their parents would never agree to their marriage, the couple slipped away from home and spent two nights together, knowing that an unwritten Sicilian Code of Honor would leave their parents with no choice but to let them marry. Which they did.

Marcella’s father had the last word however. He grounded the newlyweds, not allowing them to go on a honeymoon. “She will go back to school and he to work on Monday,” said the father. And they will lose all Facebook privileges when it is invented.

A couple of centuries earlier, a poor young lad about Guiseppe’s age was walking down a London street, gazing into shops and lamenting his own poverty.  His fancy was taken by a portrait in one of the shop windows and he wondered to himself if he too might paint such portraits and perhaps earn a farthing or two.  (This was long before the days of ‘draw me three inches tall’ on matchbook covers.)  He hurried home, scraped together brushes, paints and a bit of a broken looking glass and set about painting a small portrait of himself..  He was quite pleased with the result, and others evidently were as well, since he began to get gigs painting miniatures.  Success followed and he eventually was called on to paint various VIPs including King George III.

One day when the poor King was too far gone in his mental malady to sit for portrait painters, our now thriving artist drew a quick portrait of the King on his own thumb nail.  He later meticulously transferred the portrait to ivory.  The portrait delighted the King who paid the artist a hundred guineas for it.

The artist was Robert Bowyer, a name that rings precious few bells in the art world today.  When he is thought of at all, it is in relation to the profession of his later years as a printer and in particular as the printer of an edition of the Bible that came to bear his name — an elaborate and costly work of 45 volumes with over 600 engravings.


All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part III:

What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks?

Later that morning, Toussaint delivered Herbert Trent-Phillips to a social gathering at the tip of the island, earning in the process the twenty dollars that was to pay for their research at the Crab Hole that afternoon. The Crab Hole was aptly named, except that no self-respecting crab would make a home in this particular hole. Its four rickety tables were generally filled by the water-taxi drivers during the afternoon lull when the French tourists drank wine and insulted each other, the British took tea in the shade, and pasty Americans tried to erase generations of hereditary white skin in an orgiastic bout with the Caribbean sun. The rum was cheap, and the vintage tunes on the Crab Hole’s jukebox even cheaper. Toussaint’s twenty dollars was split sixty-forty between rum and golden oldies, and the two young men spent the afternoon soaking up both. Roberto mostly sat and sipped his courage, for Toussaint was not about to let another day go by before his literacy brought these two starfish-crossed lovers together whether they liked it or not; Roberto would give his performance that very night at Marianne’s back porch. Toussaint himself scribbled on a paper placemat as the seductive words of Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, and the Purple People Eater filled the Crab Hole air. Roberto’s declaration of love was completed by 5 o’clock, and from then until dusk, Toussaint put him through a rigorous dress rehearsal.

The sun took its evening dip in the placid Caribbean. With a sense of adventure amplified by alcohol and the growing belief that they had entered a new literary realm in which Toussaint, Roberto, and Herbert Trent-Phillips were the only living souls, pledges in the fraternity of immortality, and not unhappy to remain pledges if the price of full membership were death, they pointed Toussaint’s aquatic hack toward Palmas Bay, where Marianne and her mother lived, if you can call a life without Toussaint and Roberto in it living.

Roberto would find Marianne’s dwelling romance-friendly, for it had not just a back porch but an actual balcony in the Shakespearean sense, one that might have been designed for the delivering of soliloquies. And actually it had been designed that way, or at least as a romantic place to stare at the moon and breathe bosomy sighs, for Marianne’s mother had been a dramatis persona of sorts in her younger days. But that was three husbands, forty years, and 200 pounds ago.

Roberto and his speechwriter crept through the fragrant frangipani up to the back of the house. Toussaint remained at a short distance so he could see everything, but pushed Roberto ahead to where nature in her cooperative way had placed a pretty hibiscus, just the right size and shape for concealing a swain and his cue cards.

“Marianne,” whispered Roberto in a voice not unlike the wicked witch of the west’s. No answer.

“Marianne,” he said louder, his voice cracking but at least without menace in it. The fact that the earth had not opened up and swallowed him gave Roberto a little lift, and he said more assertively and louder still: “Oh, dear one.” When he heard movement on the balcony above, he pointed the little flashlight at Toussaint’s script and cleared his throat.


This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.



March 7. 1766: Gentlemen Rhymesters Out on a Spree

A certain Miss Molly Mogg of the Rose Tavern in Wokingham, England, turned up her dainty toes on March 7, 1766, at the age of 66. Some 40 years earlier she had been the subject of an amusing ballad written by “two or three men of wit.” The ballad — perhaps to the surprise of its authors, became quite popular. Literary historians have determined that the “men of wit” were Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Gay and that the three were probably quite drunk when they penned the tribute to the pretty Molly.

It begins:

The schoolboy delights in a play-day,

The schoolmaster’s delight is to flog;

The milkmaid’s delight is in May-day,

But mine is in sweet Molly Mogg.

and continues on for eleven verses each ending with “sweet Molly Mogg. This, of course required the three rhymesters to come up with 11 words to rhyme with Mogg. Which they did, the aforementioned flog, bog, cog, frog, clog, jog, fog, dog, log, eclogue and agog — bypassing hog and Prague.


All Day, All Night, Marianne, Part II: A Nice Face with a Tiny Nose

“I want you to help me,” said the chastened Roberto. He stared at his feet as he swirled them in the water.

“Okay,” said Toussaint, once again in command. “Now, Herbert was telling me this very, very famous story by a guy that’s been dead for close onto 400 years. Four hundred – now that makes him mighty important. The guy in the story is like you. His name is Romeo; that even sort of sounds like Roberto. This Romeo, he loves a girl whose name I forget. It doesn’t sound like Marianne, but I guess that doesn’t matter. Julianne, that’s it. I guess it sounds a little like Marianne. Now Julianne’s family don’t like Romeo one little bit.”

“Why doesn’t her family like him?” asked Roberto whose face now showed only confusion.

“Because Julianne is very beautiful, just like Marianne, but Romeo has this great big nose. So Romeo sneaks to Julianne’s back porch every night and hides in the bushes and says pretty words while her big fat mama sleeps inside. He says things like, ‘Julianne, my sweetest sweet, your face is like the moon.’ And Julianne says, ‘Oh Romeo, I can’t see your face; it’s behind the bushes. Show me your face.’ And Romeo says, ‘No, no, fair princess. I cannot. But it’s a nice face – with a tiny nose.’ And Julianne says, ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore are you, Romeo?’ See how they use each other’s names a lot? That’s very romantic.”


“That’s 400-year-old talk. But this is what puts smart dudes like me and Herbert over here and dumb dudes like you over on the beach with your mouth open and bugs flying in and out. When Julianne says wherefore, she isn’t wondering where Romeo is.”


“Of course not. She knows he’s in the bushes. What she’s really saying is why. Herbert explained that to me.”


“Because him and me is friends.”

“No, I mean why is wherefore ‘why’? And why would she ask Romeo why he is Romeo?”

“Because it’s literacy,” said Toussaint, trying his best not to patronize poor Roberto. “She wants to know why it has to be Romeo out there instead of someone else.”

“How come?”

“Because he has such a big nose, of course.”

Roberto thought about this story for a moment, kicking at the water with one foot and then the other. Toussaint studied him, looking for some sign that maybe he understood.

“Why doesn’t she just tell him to go away?” asked Roberto finally.

Toussaint grinned. “Because she loves all the pretty words he says to her. And before long, she loves him, too – nose and all. And all because he talked pretty. As Herbert says, the story don’t end until the fat lady sings.”


“The fat lady. I guess at the end of all these famous stories a fat lady sings. That’s how you know it’s over. So all you got to do, Roberto, is hide outside Marianne’s porch and say pretty words and hope she falls in love with you before a fat lady sings.”

“But I don’t know any pretty words,” Roberto whined.

“I’ll help you find some pretty words. It’s easy the songs on the jukebox at the Crab Hole are just filled with pretty words.”


This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

March 6, 1941: The Bigger They Are

If asked to name an important sculptor, the name John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, would not come tripping off most people’s lips, although his most important work certainly would. Borglum died on March 6, 1941, leaving the monument he had worked on since 1927 uncompleted.

Borglum sculpted big: a portrait of Abraham Lincoln carved from a six-ton block of marble, a 76 by 158 foot bas-relief of Confederate heroes, and what would have been his biggest ever, the 60-foot heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Although his work remains admired his legacy was tarnished by his strong nativist leanings, including membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

Mount Rushmore is home to 2 million visitors and has been extensively depicted throughout popular culture, probably most famously in the climactic chase scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest with Cary Grant swatting at secret agents from Lincoln ‘s forehead. Hitchcock later admitted: “I wanted Cary Grant to hide in Lincoln’s nostril and then have a fit of sneezing . . . the Department of Interior was rather upset at this thought. I argued until one of their number asked me how I would like it if they had Lincoln play the scene in Cary Grant’s nose. I saw their point at once.”

The Nose Knows

Cyrano de Bergerac, born in 1619, is of course best known in the modern times for his nose. According to legend, it was quite large. Depending on which account you accept, Cyrano was either a French aristocrat, author and military hero with a big nose or the descendant of a Sardinian fishmonger who suffered from syphilis with a big nose. He was an early writer of science fiction, and in his most famous work, The Other World, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers where he meets the inhabitants who have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it — the TV rights are still available, if you’re interested.  A  lesser known work, Noses from Mars, is self-explanatory.

Then we come to the story of Cyrano himself and how he courted the fair Roxanne on behalf of his friend Christian.  Although these people are real, the story is alas! pure fiction, which is probably just as well, for Roxanne was Cyrano’s cousin and had they ever consummated their relationship, their children would have been half-wits with big noses.


Here (in a very clever segue) is a little story about big noses:

All Day, All Night Marianne, Part I: Roberto’s Dilemma

Toussaint conned his small motorboat to the empty spot at the pier, near where Roberto lolled, dangling his big bare feet in the warm water. The boat, like Toussaint’s shirt and shorts, had the scars of a life well lived. On each side, the hand-lettered word taxi just above the waterline made it an official vehicle for transporting passengers up, down, and around the island’s seven-mile coastline.

Toussaint nodded and took up a cross-legged position next to Roberto.

Roberto grunted in reply.

“What’s the matter?” asked Toussaint.

“Nothing,” answered Roberto in a child’s whine, the kind that begs for additional prodding. “Nothing. I was at Pigeon Beach today.”

Toussaint sighed. “Man, you gotta get over this.”

“I can’t. She’s just so beautiful. She was there playing with the children again. And again she didn’t even see me. When she looked in my direction, it was like I wasn’t even standing there. She just looked through me like I was invisible, a ghost or something. Perhaps if she wasn’t so beautiful, she could see me.”

“Perhaps,” said Toussaint, turning it over in his mind. “But if she could see you, maybe she would see you ugly.”

“I’m not so ugly.”

“Of course not,” said Toussaint with a reassuring grin. “But you’re no Jean Paul either.” Jean Paul was the young man held up as an example of what young manhood was all about. The other men didn’t like him much – he was so knowledgeable and so arrogant – but they had to grudgingly agree that he was the handsomest of them all. And he paraded his handsomeness and pursued all the young women on the island, even many of the tourists. His only notable failure was with Marianne, Roberto’s young woman at Pigeon Beach, and this gave Roberto some small satisfaction. But as Toussaint tactfully pointed out, if Jean Paul couldn’t win Marianne, what possible chance could Roberto have?

“You should say something to her,” Toussaint argued. “You can’t expect her to pay you no mind, standing there like the ghost of Albert Verra.” In island history, Albert Verra had the dubious distinction of being the ultimate coward, selling out his island once to the French and once to the Spanish.

“I try, but I am afraid.”

“Maybe I have an idea for you, Roberto,” said Toussaint, lowering his voice even though there was no one within thirty yards of the pier. “You know the fine gentleman from that city I can’t remember that’s very close to London, the one who takes my water taxi wherever he goes and pays me very generously? Him and me, we’re friends now. He talks to me about all sorts of things. He’s very educated in literacy – that’s reading important books by dead people and looking at pictures and listening to music, all by dead people. It seems people who write books and paint pictures and make music become important when they die.”

“What good is being important if you’re dead? Doesn’t sound all that educated to me.”

“How would you know educated, man?” said Toussaint, just a little miffed at Roberto’s effrontery in questioning him. “His name is Herbert and he’s got two last names. Now, do you want me to help you, or do you want to spend your life on the beach staring at her with your mouth open and your brain shut until you both get old and die?”



This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.


March 1, 1504: Making Things Disappear

Christopher Columbus was not particularly known for his genius. After all, he thought a manatee was a mermaid (January 9) and the Bahamas were India. But in the wee hours of March 1, 1504, he showed himself to be a bit of a clever fellow and quite the showman to boot. Having stopped in Jamaica to make ship repairs during his fourth voyage (chances are, he had finally figured out that this was not India) he befriended the local natives (whom he referred to as the Pakistanis). However, Columbus’ crew was a surly lot and they soon wore out their welcome.

“When are you guys leaving?” the natives asked subtly. Then, when the Europeans refused to leave, the Jamaicans cut off their food and ganja.

The Europeans wanted to slaughter their rude hosts, but Columbus had a plan. He invited the Jamaican leaders to a late night pow wow. After a few rums and tokes, Columbus told his guests that his god was quite annoyed at their behavior and he was going to do something really nasty like smite them all dead. The Jamaicans were quite amused. Columbus then relented on the smiting part, but as punishment he said he would take away their moon. They were still quite amused, but when the moon began to disappear they changed their tune in a hurry, begging Columbus to please return their moon. Columbus said he would return their moon in exchange for all their papayas and all their pot.

It is lost to history how or if Columbus knew the moon would disappear that night. Perhaps it was just a lucky guess. Nevertheless, smug after his performance, Columbus warned the Jamaicans that they’d best behave or he’d send them packing back to India.


Some 400 years later Jamaican/American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist, Harry Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927. Known as the King of Calypso, he brought Caribbean music to an international audience in the 1950s. His 1956 album Calypso , featuring such signature songs as “Day-O” and “Jamaica Farewell.” was the first album by a single artist to sell a million copies.

February 2, 1887: The Shadow Knows

The first weather forecast by a rodent meteorologist took place on groundhogFebruary 2, 1887, in the metropolis of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. His groupies, members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, in an effort to stifle all competition, declared that Phil (for that was his name), the Punxsutawney groundhog, was the one and only true weather-forecasting groundhog in all of North America. Pay no mind to those wanna-bes like Birmingham Bill, Staten Island Chuck, or Canada’s Shubenacadie Sam. Phil’s original prediction has been lost to history, but it was either six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

As a celebrity, Punxsutawney Phil can be temperamental, occasionally biting or scratching an adoring fan if given the chance, but Phil’s rude behavior doesn’t hold a candle to that of Staten Island Chuck. Sure New Yorkers are accused of being rude and Staten Islanders are certainly outliers — but biting the mayor that feeds you is a bit over the top.

The lucky mayor was Michael Bloomberg, the occasion was Groundhog Day 2009, and some would say it was the mayor’s own fault. Practically anyone, groundhog or otherwise, would not enjoy being roused out of a deep sleep at seven in the morning and asked to pontificate on the weather. Chuck wasn’t up for the celebration and the mayor was just a little too persistent, so of course Chuck bit him. Wouldn’t you?

Later in the day, Mayor Bloomberg, his left finger bandaged, was keeping mum. “Given the heightened response against terrorism, and clearly in this case a terrorist rodent who could very well have been trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, I’m not at liberty to say any more than that,” the mayor said.


coconut womanPart 3

Harriet studied the two men. She was an outgoing and trusting lady, but she was no fool, and she didn’t want to get stiffed for a night’s rent even if the New Orleans Suite was between guests this particular night. Nor did she want any of her semi-precious belongings spirited out during the night. As if sensing her apprehension, the shorter man produced a handful of twenty dollar bills as an unspoken offer of payment in advance, something Harriet couldn’t have brought herself to ask for but was more than willing, in this particular case, to accept. “The New Orleans Suite is available this evening,” she said, “Would you care to look it over. Some folks find it doesn’t fit their taste.”

“No need to ma’am,” the man answered. “We’re very tired. Won’t be doing nothing but sleep and we’ll be out right early.” He smiled at her, eyes twinkling. “So we really don’t care about ambiance.” He pronounced the word perfectly. “And what do you charge for your New Orleans room?”

“Ninety dollars,” said Harriet. “That includes a full breakfast.”

He counted out five twenties and handed them to Harriet. “Here you go. But I’m afraid we’ll be skipping breakfast. We’ll be leaving at the crack of dawn.”

“In that case, I’ll make it eighty,” said Harriet, handing back a twenty.

“If you insist,” said the man with another of his disarming smiles.

Harriet dug the key out of her pocket and handed it to him. ” It’s through that door and to the right. Hope you have a pleasant sleep.”

“I’m sure we will,” said the shorter man turning. The other man smiled for the first time as he turned to follow his partner. He was missing a tooth.

Harriet, sensing that the young couple were uneasy about sleeping under the same roof with the two strangers – the young woman was, in fact, certain they’d all be murdered in their sleep – said: “We get a lot of sailors and fishermen here. They pretty much keep to themselves. You know, aloof. But if you ever get them talking, well honey, they can really spin some stories. Too bad they’re not staying for breakfast. You’d get a pretty good picture about this part of the world.”

Harriet’s cheerfulness calmed the young couple and a few moments later they sought the privacy of their room to do fifth anniversary things. Malachi finished his beer and headed off down the road to his own apartment over Gunny’s Restaurant. Everett scribbled in his spiral notebook for a while, then made for his loft, where he would probably punch numbers into his pocket calculator for a good hour before going to sleep. Harriet mixed a batch of muffin dough, refrigerated it, and returned to the porch where she sat staring at the starry sky and swaying with the steady lapping of the surf. She loved this porch; she loved this place. She realized sitting here that this place was more important than any silly pirate treasure, even if she believed in such a thing, which she didn’t. Finally, she reluctantly quit the porch and went upstairs to bed.

She slept in spurts. More than once she thought she heard noises above the natural rhythm of the night but when she listened carefully, even sitting right up once, she heard nothing, and she went back to sleep. Asleep, she dreamed about the man with the missing tooth. He was carrying water up the beach and pouring it on her porch. And then there were two of him, four of him, eight of him, just like the brooms in Fantasia. The water was up to her knees when she woke up to sunshine.

She shuddered at the nightmare, dressed quickly and hurried to the New Orleans Suite. The men were gone, and the only mementos of their stay were an empty whiskey bottle in the garbage can and a Fats Waller record out of its jacket on the floor in front of the stereo. Otherwise the room was perfect; they had even made the bed. She went back to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of half tomato juice half Bloody Mary mix, put the coffee on, beat ten eggs, and whipped up some Hollandaise sauce, all the while singing it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die; the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.

Breakfast preparation complete, she walked around to the front of the house, picked up the newspaper and headed for her spot on the porch to wait for her guests to arise. What she found on the porch was not her favorite chair; that had been tossed into the hibiscus bush. What she found were weathered boards strewn for ten feet around a yawning hole in the ground where her porch had been the night before. She stared into the hole in disbelief. At the bottom of the whole, she spotted indentations in the dirt suggesting that something heavy and rectangular had been sitting down there.

Then she spotted a coin at the edge of the hole. She reached down and picked it up. It was gold, and it had Spanish words engraved on it. She stared back at the hole then studied the coin again. Laughing, she said aloud: “Poor, poor Malachi. He won’t be a happy man.”

She pushed the coin into her pocket and went inside. After calling the carpenter, she returned to the kitchen where she put the muffins in the oven and wondered, just briefly, if the floorboards beneath her weren’t a little spongier than usual.


Coconut Woman originally  appeared in Tampa Tribune Fiction Quarterly.  It is one of the 15 stories included in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.


February 1, 1896: Poor People of Paris

Opera patrons packed the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, on the evening of February 1, 1896, for the world premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s latest, La Boheme. Conducting the evening’s performance was a rising young star, Arturo Toscanini. Critics were divided over the opera, but audiences lapped it up, and it remains the world’s most popular opera. It is a timeless story of love among struggling young artists in Paris during the 1830s.

Our Bohemians– a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher — share a garret in the Latin Quarter as they try to eke out a living. It’s Christmas Eve; it’s cold. Rodolfo, the poet, and Marcello, the painter, are feeding a small fire with one of Rodolfo’s manuscripts. Their two companions arrive with food and fuel, one having had the good fortune to sell a bit of music. As they eat and drink, the landlord comes looking for their overdue rent. They distract him with wine and, pretending to be offended by his stories, throw him out. The rent money is divided for a night out in the Latin Quarter. Rodolfo stays behind as the other three leave, fortuitously, as a pretty neighbor comes looking for a light for her candle: “They call me merely Mimi.” Merely Mimi faints (she’s not well, folks), she and Rodolfo immediately fall in love, and they head off to the Latin Quarter, singing of their love.

In Act 2, our Bohemians are making merry in the Latin Quarter. Marcello’s one-time sweetheart, Musetta, enters on the arm of the old but wealthy Alcindoro. Trying to get Marcello’s attention, she sings an aria about her own charms (Musetta’s Waltz, recorded as Don’t You Know by Della Reese in 1959). She sends Alcindoro off on a bogus errand and promptly leaps into Marcello’s arms. They all scurry off, stiffing the returning Alcindoro for the check.

Act 3 brings a series of flirtations, jealousies, lovers’ quarrels and, for Mimi, a lot of coughing. At this point, we’re pretty sure she’s not going to make it through Act 4.

Which she doesn’t. After a few attempts at being cheerful, the others leave Mimi and Rodolfo who recall their meeting and happy days together until Mimi is overtaken by violent coughing. The others return, Mimi drifts into unconsciousness and dies.

Enrico Caruso owned the role of Rodolfo during his life, as did Luciano Pavarotti. And Maria Callas was all over Mimi.  The Metropolitan Opera will broadcast La Boheme live in HD on February 24.


coconut womanPart Two

Everett and Malachi were both there that evening in March when Harriet entertained the young couple from Ottawa, here for their fifth anniversary. As usual, Everett was explaining to the newcomers his settling-land-rising-water theory.

“Now if you was to come back for your tenth anniversary,” said Everett, scratching furiously with a stubby pencil in a tiny spiral notebook, “the water’d be right up to here.” He held his outstretched hand between his nose and upper lip. The young woman from Ottawa looked at him and gulped as though she were already threatened, since a water level just below Everett’s nose would be well above hers.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Everett continued. “And not very much time at that. The forces of nature move ever and evermore onward.”

“Honey, you know that can’t be true,” said Harriet. It wasn’t clear whether honey was Everett or the young woman from Ottawa. “It’s like the ozone layer and global warming and such. Scientists scribble in their little notepads just like Everett here, and they come up with statistics to prove whatever they think needs proving. Now, if I was to get up at say seven in the morning, and it was say forty degrees out, but it got up to eighty by noon, I could scribble in my little notebook and come up with a theory that by five o’clock it’d be a hundred and sixty degrees, now couldn’t I?”

The young woman from Ottawa giggled a little, and her husband smiled. Everett glared, snorted and said: “It ain’t that simple, and you know full well, Harriet.”

“Well, maybe not,” said Harriet. “But Malachi’s ideas are pretty simple, aren’t they Malachi? When you going to start in on them?”

“I don’t know if it’s something I should talk about,” said Malachi, studying the couple from Ottawa.

“Why not?” asked Harriet. “You’re always talking about your pirates.”

“But lately I been wonderin’ if maybe too many people are gettin’ to know about it.”

“I’d say the more people the better,” Harriet teased. “If we’re gonna find that treasure, honey, we got to get serious looking before it’s all under water.” She hee-hawed and slapped the arms of her rocker. The couple from Ottawa joined in but only with polite little laughs that wouldn’t offend the two men and their theories.

“Henri Caesar was a pirate that learned his trade from the infamous Lafitte brothers,” said Malachi suddenly, evidently seeing his window of opportunity swinging shut. “Cruel, cruel he was. Plundered for nearly thirty years before they hanged him. Hundreds of ships. I’ve studied him a lot, and I’m certain that he buried some of his treasure around here, possibly on this very beach. Half mile south of here they found an old grave. Caesar usually killed his victims, all of them, right on the ship, except certain young women he took a fancy to. If they refused his advances, he’d kill them too. But if they accepted, they were spared, at least until he grew tired of them. They found one of them in that grave. At least part of her.”

The young woman from Ottawa, white-faced and wide-eyed, winced and said: “My goodness.”

“And in nearly two hundred years,” Harriet scoffed, “nobody has been able to find that treasure. But Malachi’s going to find it before this place becomes an aquarium.”

Harriet’s debunking of the Malachi treasure myth was interrupted by the appearance of two men whose arrival was so silent and sudden that it caused the young woman from Ottawa to let out a tiny shriek and Harriet herself to jump slightly. They were both rumpled and shaggy, though not dirty. The tall one could have passed for a pirate and probably was in the eyes of the young woman from Ottawa. The shorter, clean-shaven one spoke in a studied, polite, but somewhat gravelly voice. “Good evening, folks. Sorry to disturb you. We’ve tied up at the harbor down the road for the night. Headed to the out islands tomorrow morning. Gentlemen there said you were the closest place that took in folks for the night, and we were wondering if you might have a room available.”  continued


Coconut Woman is one of 15 (count ’em) stories featured in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean. Every story at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm up at  Amazon  or Barnes and Noble.  Or order it through you favorite book store.