It’s a classic sci-fi scenario. A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. (or substitute your favorite location). A very trigger happy Army battalion immediately surrounds the alien vehicle. A single individual emerges,day-the-earth-stood-still2 looking for all the world like one of us except for his shiny spacesuit. He claims to come in peace but the Army is having none of it. We need to build a wall, everyone agrees.  The space visitor who arrived in theaters everywhere on September 28, 1951, went by the name Klaatu (as in “Klaatu barada nikto”) and was played with alien sophistication by British actor Michael Rennie. The film, as any five-year-old space junkie can tell you, was The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Naturally, within minutes of declaring his peaceful intentions, Klaatu is shot by an over-zealous soldier. Klaatu’s very large, metallic sidekick emerges from the spaceship and quickly turns all the Army’s weapons into so much NRA dust. Klaatu is taken to the hospital where, when no one is looking, he heals himself. He then goes missing to move among the people in attempt to discover just what makes earthlings tick We quickly discover that he is wiser and more reasonable than all of us put together.

Klaatu takes a room at a boarding house, where he meets a widow and her son who become thoroughly entwined in the plot. He also meets an Einstein-like professor who is smart enough to converse with Klaatu on his level. Klaatu explains to the professor in a non-belligerent manner that, even though he has come in peace, that doesn’t mean’s not going to destroy the planet  (unlike the aliens in War of the Worlds who pulverized first and asked questions later). It seems that folks from elsewhere in the galaxy are a little concerned about our playing around with weapons of mass destruction.

Various sub-plots play themselves out as the movie hurtles toward a final showdown during which Klaatu politely tells all the world’s scientists that if they don’t play nice “this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.”

Klaatu then bids them a fond farewell, and he and his metallic sidekick ride off into space, as one bystander asks another bystander: “Who was that masked man?”



Aunt Nancy’s Burden, Part 3: Adventures of Uncle Ed

“Look, Cinderella,” said Uncle Ed the next morning as Aunt Clara arrived poolside. “Here’s one of your evil stepsisters; wonder where the other one is.”

“Nancy dear,” said Aunt Clara, ignoring him, “you look done in and it’s not even nine o’clock. newsick3Why don’t you take a break, go do something for yourself. I’ll keep Ed company. As a matter of fact, I’ll take him out for a walk.”

“Why, that’s so thoughtful,” said Aunt Nancy.

“Won’t that be nice?” said Aunt Clara, the walrus, turning to Uncle Ed, the plump, endangered oyster.

It took Uncle Ed the entire day to get home from where Aunt Clara left him in the parking lot of a shopping center nearly five miles away. He had had a harrowing day. First, an elderly woman who coveted the parking spot he was occupying nudged his wheelchair out into the street with the nose of her 1985 Buick. Three boy scouts then tried to help him across the Meadowbrook Parkway even though he complained loudly that he didn’t want to cross. Lacking the patience, reverence and other scoutly qualities necessary to put up with his carping, they left him in middle of the Exit 4 ramp. The driver of the truck that came within eight inches of finally pushing him through death’s door was kind enough to bring him home, where he was welcomed as warmly as the cat that always came back. Aunt Joan did, however, take the time to hastily bake him a batch of his favorite oatmeal cookies.

Late the next afternoon, Aunt Joan, surprised to find Uncle Ed sitting at his usual poolside spot, inquired about the cookies.

“Oh, the cookies,” said Uncle Ed. “Reverend Hoffman stopped by this morning to invite us to the church picnic today. I gave them to him.”

Aunt Joan turned white and screamed all the way home. Her frantic phone call revealed that the Reverend and eleven members of his flock had been hospitalized for food poisoning, the source of which had been narrowed down to Selma Mayor’s crabmeat croquettes, Verna Johnston’s sweet potato surprise and the oatmeal cookies the Reverend himself had brought to the picnic.

The village rescue squad had done themselves proud responding to the church picnic crisis, performing professionally and efficiently, and all the suffering diners were expected to be just fine. It would be a busy week for the rescue squad; in fact they would be called to the same house on Hancock Street three times during the week.





Miracle on 34th Street is arguably the best ever Christmas movie. Early in the film, an indignant Kris Kringle, played by Edmund Gwenn, chides the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade Santa for being drunk on duty. The inebriated Santa was not Charlie Howard. The movie was made in santa11947; Charlie was the Macy’s parade Santa from 1948 to 1965.

Even before his Macy’s gig, Charlie was already the most famous and sought after Santa in the nation, having played the jolly old elf since his 4th grade Christmas pageant. He began passing his Santa skills on to other would-be Santas on September 27, 1937, when the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School opened its doors in Albion, NY. The campus was actually Charlie’s home, until in the late 1940s he opened Christmas Park right next door. There fledgling Santas could practice their ho-ho-hos on actual little children.

Now in its 79th year (Charlie Howard died in 1966), the school promises a well-rounded Santa education covering such topics as the history of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, the proper use of the red Santa suit and Santa make-up, working with reindeer, and flying sleigh lessons. Tuition is $475.  Students may major in either Santa or Mrs. Santa Claus. But hurry — classes begin in late October.


Aunt Nancy’s Burden, Part 2: Hanging on by a Thread

As the weather grew warmer, Uncle Ed grew to be more of a nuisance to Aunt Nancy. He required daily gurneying to and from the edge of the swimming pool where he would spend newsick2sunny days reading the Daily News, doing his crossword puzzles and word searches, and behaving as though Aunt Nancy had nothing more to do in life than his bidding. Her burden, as she now referred to Uncle Ed, continued to cling to life in his stubborn, self-centered way. The doctor who had given him only days to live last fall did, however, die.

Aunts Nancy, Joan and Clara would spend many summer days sitting side by side at the picnic table glowering at Aunt Nancy’s Burden, trying to stare him into dying while discussing the world or at least the part of it that mattered.

“Gwen says she going to marry this Sidney,” said her mother, Joan. This Sidney had been dating Gwen for two years.

“He’s a good provider,” said Aunt Nancy.

“He’s too short,” said Aunt Joan.

“He’s very intelligent,” suggested Aunt Clara.

“He’s Irish,” said Joan, silencing her sisters.

Silence remained until Aunt Nancy’s Burden shouted: “Sure could use a beer.”

As summer progressed, Aunt Nancy’s Burden grew steadily more demanding, and he adopted a rather nasty attitude toward his sisters-in-law — or the harpies of Hancock Street as he now frequently called them. Each time they would arrive to take up their stations at the picnic table, he’d announce their arrival loudly enough for Aunt Nancy to hear from inside the house.

“Oh, oh,” said Uncle Ed as he saw Aunt Clara approaching from the left. “It’s the wicked witch of the west.” Then he turned to see Aunt Joan coming from the other direction. “And — oh my God — the wicked witch of the east. Whatever will we do, Dorothy?”

The sisters murmured a curt hello and sat down at the picnic table where Aunt Nancy joined them.

“I saw Lenore Smith at the A & P yesterday,” said Aunt Clara. “Looks terrible. I think she’s losing her hair.”

“People who are losing their hair shouldn’t go to the A & P,” shuddered Aunt Nancy. “I hope she wasn’t in the produce section.”

“I hear Esther Babbit’s been in the hospital for two weeks now,” said Aunt Joan. “Hanging on by a thread, they say.”

“People shouldn’t hang on by a thread,” said Aunt Clara. “When it’s time to go, they should just go.”

Six eyes turned to stare at Aunt Nancy’s Burden who failed to take the hint. “I’m ready for a beer,” he said.

“Why don’t you put a couple dozen aspirins in it,” Aunt Clara suggested as Aunt Nancy stood up with a sigh. Aunt Joan looked at Aunt Clara, a funny look, and some sort of insight passed between them.






There’s a certain something that makes the scientific mind differ from the ordinary mind.

An example: We are in the habit of walking into our dog’s room (it’s a hypothetical room, okay?) at cocktail time and feeding Rover (becausepavlov he looks like a Rover, okay?) (and he’s hypothetical too). This makes Rover quite happy. One day we walk in, drinking our cocktail but forgetting Rover’s food. No, he doesn’t bite us (an angry look, maybe). But he salivates even though there’s no food. What do we do? We beat Rover, clean up his drool, drink our cocktail, and get on with our lives.

But a scientist? He’d stare at that saliva, ponder it, apply a little scientific method and possibly come up with a bunch of new scientific ideas. Ivan Pavlov, born on September 26, 1849, did just that. He saw his Rover drool, and he developed a major branch of learning called classical (or Pavlovian) conditioning with theories and laws and all sorts of scientific accoutrements. This in turn led to concepts such as comparative psychology, behavior modification and Brave New World.

Ever the scientist, even on his death bed, Pavlov engaged a student to sit with him and take notes as he died. He did not salivate. We don’t know if the student did.

I’ll be with you in apple blossom time

The animated 1948 film Melody Time, from Walt Disney Studios features a 19-minute segment with Dennis Day as an apple farmer who sees others going west, wishing he was not tied down by his johnny-appleseedorchard, until an angel appears, singing a happy apple song, setting him on a mission. When he treats a skunk kindly, all animals everywhere thereafter trust him. The cartoon features lively tunes, and a simplistic message of goodness, and probably helped to cement the image of Johnny Appleseed firmly in American lore.

John Chapman, the flesh and blood Johnny Appleseed, was born in Massachusetts on September 26, 1774.   At the age of 18, he persuaded his 11-year-old half-brother Nathaniel to go west with him to live the lives of carefree nomadic wanderers – rolling stones gathering no moss. Eventually Nathaniel grew up and quit the rambling around to gather moss and help his father farm. Johnny didn’t.

Johnny embarked on a career as an orchardist, apprenticing to a man who had apple orchards. Eventually, he returned to roaming, and the popular accounts have him spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went. He actually planted nurseries, built fences around them, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery.

And Johnny Appleseed was against grafting. Therefore his apples were of a sour variety and used primarily for hard cider and apple jack. “What Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus.”

Johnny also spread the Swedenborgian word of God, preaching as he traveled. The Swedenborgian movement was a popular new religion of the time promoting repentance, reformation, and regeneration of one’s life.   Johnny would tell stories to children and lay the gospel on adults, receiving a floor to sleep on and supper in return.  Said one of his converts: “We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrillin’—strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard.”

And a wee bit of apple jack didn’t hurt either.

Aunt Nancy’s Burden, Part 1: At Death’s Door

Uncle Ed stood at death’s door late last September. So close to the door that Aunt Nancy decided not to buy him a new winter coat. The rest of the family also accepted the doctor’s prognosis and, as a result, left him off their Christmas shopping lists. In late November, Aunt newsickNancy went out on a frantic search for a winter coat. And the weekend before Christmas, the rest of the family joined the hordes of last-minute shoppers, trying to find the proper gift for a man who still stood at death’s door but refused to go on through.

Perhaps Uncle Ed would have been more cooperative if they had told him he was dying. But they didn’t; they wanted to spare him that. So he didn’t know he was supposed to die before the winter cold set in. He knew he was sick, of course, and excelled at being so.. He complained loudly and frequently about his many aches and pains — aches and pains he was more than happy to describe in numbing detail whenever he had the opportunity. And he groaned — honest to goodness agonizing groans like those of someone bumping into death’s door. But when Aunt Nancy would ask him what was wrong, he’d answer: “Nothing. Life is good. Life is perfect. It’s a pleasure to be alive.”

And it was a pleasure to have him alive, Aunt Nancy insisted through gritted teeth, whenever asked. It was especially a pleasure to have him alive for Christmas — to lie on the couch in his robe and groan during “Adeste Fideles” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” to give his candid opinion of the gifts from his family — he appeared untouched by the burial plot the whole family had chipped in on — and to send Aunt Nancy to the kitchen every ten minutes for a new egg nog or some other kind of medicine.

Uncle Ed’s clinging to life was not only an inconvenience for Aunt Nancy but for Aunt Joan and Aunt Clara as well. The three sisters lived side by side by side in identical bungalows in one of those suburban clusters that popped up all over Long Island during the years following World War II, far enough out to ignore the rest of the country in general and New York City in particular, insulated by water and attitude. There at 44, 46 and 48 Hancock Street, they shared their lives and the trials and tribulations that were a part of life, the greatest of the tribulations being the uncles. Fortunately Uncle Stan and Uncle Sid had had the good sense to go to their rewards several years ago. Only that nuisance Uncle Ed remained to annoy the trio.

Valentine’s Day and Easter came on the heels of Christmas; the island turned green once again; and Uncle Ed’s winter coat went into the back closet with the rest of the season’s attire, there to be infused with the smell of mothballs and to remain presumably only until the time came to give it to the Salvation Army along with the rest of his wardrobe.





When Roald Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition to Cambridge University, Dahl said: “No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.” And Dahl born on September 13, 1916, did go to wonkafaraway places — Newfoundland, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Alexandria, Egypt, where as a fighter pilot a plane crash left him with serious injuries.

Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met author C.S. Forrester, who encouraged him to start writing. His becoming a writer was a “pure fluke,” he said. “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”

Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney, coining the word. He didn’t return to children’s stories until the 1960s, winning critical and commercial success with James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other popular books include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Despite his books’ popularity, some critics and parents have have taken him to task for their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was simply trying to satisfy his readers.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was filmed twice, once under its original title and once as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl died in 1990 and was buried with his snooker cues, an excellent burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave

Chocolate for the Masses

hersheyAnother really big name in chocolate was born on September 13, 1857. After a few years dabbling in caramel, Milton Snavely Hershey became excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury. Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and that he could sell to the mass market. He produced his first Hershey Bar in 1900, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was in 1908. Willie Wonka created a chocolate factory; Milton Hershey created a chocolate empire with its own town, Hershey, Pennsylvania.


Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are. ~ Matt Lauer

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 3: A Change of Fortunes

One Thursday afternoon, I was playing with my friends Bud and Lou and we were going through our favorite routine.

“What’s the name of the guy on first base?”

“No, Who’s on first.”

twins“I don’t know.”

“Third base.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the very young Mrs. Johnson — at least that’s what Bessie and Cora always called her.  She huddled with Cora for a while and then left, looking a little sad but not crying like some of the others.  But when she was gone Cora began to cry and mumbled something into Bessie’s shoulder.

Bessie said to her sternly:  “She’s got a right to know.”

“I couldn’t, “ said Cora, still sniffling.  “I saw such terrible things and — he’s so young; they’re both so young.”

I had never thought that much about the fact that there was a war going on.  It was far away, didn’t affect my daily life, and self-centered as I was, I pretty much ignored it.   I knew about war, at least war as it was shown in the movies, and I played war games with some of my conjured up friends, but I had a hard time thinking of war as something real.  But now suddenly it felt real and much closer.  I realized from the change in Bessie and Cora and the fortunes they told that we must be losing the war.  I hadn’t worried about my father before.  He was over there, but he wrote all the time, and most of the time the letters were happy and talked of funny things.  Everything always seemed fine, as though he were just on a business trip or vacation.  I missed him but didn’t fear for him.

Now I needed to know more.  I went to Cora and pestered her until she agreed to tell my fortune.  This actually seemed to cheer her up.  She began to rub my head and told me I’d see marvelous things, and do exciting stuff.  “One day you’ll shake hands with the President,” said Cora almost giddily.  “President Patton.”

“Tell me about my father,” I said.  She froze, and a look I’d never seen, a look of intense sadness, crept across her face.  “No more fortunes today, young man,” she said stiffly, abruptly standing and walking out, leaving me alone.

That was my last day with Bessie and Cora.  I didn’t see them again until many years later when I was a teenager and they had retired from the fortune-telling business.  I told my mother about that final day and she laughed it off but I could tell she was upset.  It had been too long since my father’s last letter, and we both knew it.  I was convinced that Cora had seen something horrible that she wouldn’t reveal.  And I remained convinced for the next two weeks until my father came marching through our front door, a full week before his letter telling us he was on his way home.

But what about that last day with Cora; had she not seen something tragic after all?  I think maybe she had, because I also heard more about the very young Mrs. Johnson.  I guess she had every reason to cry, but it wasn’t the reason that Cora had withheld.  Young draftee Johnson had boarded the train for California but disappeared before it got there, never to be heard from again.  And many of Cora’s other fortunes went slightly awry.  You might just say that, for the most part, they were just a bunch of very inaccurate tomorrows, fun at first, but increasingly colored by Cora’s growing sense of the horror of war.  I guess she was really meant to be a fair-weather fortuneteller.

And I never shook hands with President Patton.


Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories



Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man in America, an honor usually reserved by Republicans for figures such as Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. Timothy Leary wasn’t always so “dangerous.” He had a distinguished military service and academic psychology career timothy-leary-until he started thinking way outside the box, promoting the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. It was your basic slippery slope, as he quickly evolved during the wild and woolly 60’s to a self-described performing philosopher and hippie guru. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD with such heady concepts as space migration and intelligence increase. Eventually, it was all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.

As a result, Leary also came to spend more time in jail than out of it, becoming intimate with 36 prisons throughout the world. In January 1970, he received a 20-year prison sentence for a pair of earlier transgressions. Upon his reporting for prison duty, Leary was given a series of psychological tests meant to help determine what work duties he was suited to. Having himself designed such tests, he found it quite easy to manipulate the results so that they would show him to be a model citizen with an interest in forestry and gardening, pursuits that would conveniently keep him out of doors.

Leary was assigned to work as a gardener in a minimum security prison. On September 12, 1970, leaving a farewell note, he climbed over the prison wall along a telephone wire to a waiting pickup truck supplied by the Weather Underground. For $25,000 (paid by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love), the weathermen smuggled Leary and his wife out of the United States and into Algeria. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Vienna and Beirut. In 1972, they headed for Afghanistan which had no extradition policy with the U.S. Unfortunately, they traveled aboard an American airline, and were arrested before they could deplane.

Leary was returned to prison where he remained until his release in 1976. He died in 1996.

Come Together

“Come Together,” written by John Lennon, became a big hit for the Beatles and an anti-war anthem. It was originally written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s aborted run for governor against Ronald Reagan.

Said Lennon: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; “Come Together” was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, “Come Together,” which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?


Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 2: My New Playmates

One Thursday afternoon Bessie, Cora and I were having tuna fish and mustard sandwiches, the only way they ever served it.  Wilhelm came by with the scarf draped around his shoulders that indicated he was going out for a walk, kissed Bessie on the forehead, and said:  “Cora, I’m going out twinsfor a short walk with Walter and Elliot.”  Bessie’s face tightened right up so it was even harder than Ludwig the Rock; Cora just sighed and shook her head.

“That’s what I want to do,” I said.

“What do you want to do, dear?” asked Cora.

“Go outside and see some friends.”

“But you don’t have any friends around here,” said Bessie.

“That’s what I want,” I said, a little petulantly.  “Some friends around here, someone to play with.”

“Poor dear,” said Cora. “A boy your age does need someone to play with, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does,” I said, poking my finger into my tuna to make little tunnels.

“Oh my,” said Cora.  “I wonder if maybe we could just . . .”

“Cora,” Bessie said in a voice that was probably as firm as Edward G. Robinson’s.

“Oh Bessie,” said Cora.  These twin fortunetellers were having a complete conversation just using each other’s names, and I didn’t have a clue to what they were saying.

“Cora,” Bessie reiterated.

Cora sighed.  “All right, Bessie.”  End of conversation. Certainly enlightening.  Bessie smiled a grim smile and picked up the empty plates and the scarred remnants of my tuna sandwich.  She gave Cora one last meaningful look and marched out of the room.  I knew it was time for Mrs. Halloran who came every Thursday at two for news of her husband, Warrant Officer Warren Halloran, who was in the Philippines and probably having an affair with a nurse.

I studied Cora’s face for insight and she did her level best to remain expressionless and enigmatic.  She failed miserably, and I was able to figure out that she had some plan for finding me playmates that Bessie didn’t approve of.

After ten minutes of an intensive, intimidating ten-year-old stare, Cora broke.  “If you could play with anyone you wanted to,” she said with a lot of hesitation, “who do you suppose you’d choose.”

“You mean someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood?”

“There aren’t many children your age in this neighborhood,” said Cora.

“Someone from my own neighborhood?”


“Someone from very far way?”

“I suppose.”

“Someone I didn’t even know, like someone in the movies?”

“Someone like Shirley Temple?”

I made a face.  “Someone like the Little Rascals, maybe.”

“Little Rascals,” Cora mused.  “I guess I could conjure up a rascal or two.”  And so Cora had me concentrate very hard, with my eyes closed tight, on the ones I wanted to play with.  And after a minute, she’d say:  “I see them now.  I see who you want to play with.”  She’d sometimes tell me I was thinking of so-and-so, usually a name I’d never heard of, but it didn’t matter.  If I thought hard enough, she’d conjure up the person I was thinking of, and we’d pass many Tuesdays and Thursdays playing together.  And my playmates became more and more fanciful.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick would say to me before he sent me off into the cutthroat-filled streets of Morocco with a highly secret document.  Or I might be called on to kick some wicked witch butt for Dorothy and her inept companions.  Capturing big cats with Clyde Beatty, searching catacombs for Count Dracula’s casket, watching the crazy world from under Harpo’s overcoat — there wasn’t much I didn’t do those Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sometimes when taking a break from my own frenzied activity, I’d listen in while Bessie and Cora told the young military wives their fortunes, and I sensed a change taking place.  One day, Bessie spoke to a young woman about something called a fraulein and sent her away crying.  But it was Cora’s fortunes that were changing the most.  Her futures had always been so bright, so happy — something to look forward to.  Now they were about making the best of bad times and being strong for the kids.


Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories 




Seventeenth century England was not without its share of eccentrics, folks who were not the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Roger Crab may certainly be categorized as one of them, although his misfortune at having his skull split open while serving in the Parliamentary Army might provide some excuse for his eccentricity. The unfortunate Crab was sentenced to death after the incident (for having his skull in the wrong place at the wrong time?), but his sentence was later commuted and, upon his release, he became a haberdasher of hats.

His wandering mind somehow happened upon the idea that it was sinful to eat any kind of animal food or to drink anything stronger than water. Determined to pursue a biblical way of life, Crab sold all his hats and other belongings, distributing the proceeds among the poor. He then took up residence in a makeshift hut, where he lived on a diet of bran, leaves and grass (the 16th century equivalent of a kale and edamame diet), and began to produce pamphlets on the wonders of diet.

“Instead of strong drinks and wines,” he wrote, “I give the old man (referring to his body) a cup of water; and instead of roast mutton and rabbit, and other dainty dishes, I give him broth thickened with bran, and pudding made with bran and turnip-leaves chopped together.”

mad-hatterJust as Crab persecuted his own body, others began to persecute him. He was cudgeled and put in the stocks. He was stripped and whipped. Four times he was arrested on suspicion of being a wizard. He bounced from prison to prison until his death on September 11, 1680.  Fortunately, our modern society treats its vegetarian eccentrics much more humanely.

Some scholars believe Crab was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter.

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 1: Bessie and Cora

I really don’t know why my mother took me to see Bessie and Cora.  Perhaps she was worried about the future, my future, and the future was Bessie and Cora’s forte.  These two sixty-something ladies shared a bungalow on the upper end of D Street, a bungalow from which they told fortunes, mostly to the young women whose husbands were off trying their best to wind down World War II.

Bessie and Cora were twins as well as fortunetellers.

Although they looked very much alike, they were not identical, which made life much easier for Wilhelm, Cora’s husband, who also shared the bungalow and whose eyesight and mental prowess had been waning since about 1939, so that it was difficult enough for him to identify his wife as it was.

Bessie and Cora each took a slightly different spin on divining the future:  Bessie was an avowed palmist; Cora dabbled in tarot, tea leaves and the other trendier methods.  Bessie was pragmatic; she gave her clients nuts and bolts information to help them cope with the near-term future.  Cora was a blue-sky seer; her flights of fancy took her clients into a distant romantic future filled with dark strangers and great wealth.

My mother took me to see Bessie and Cora twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays while she went to do her part for the war effort — I was never sure exactly what — I always assumed it was riveting airplanes, but that’s probably just a romantic notion I picked up later in life.  And so, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my future was in the hands of Bessie and Cora.  It didn’t take too many Tuesdays and Thursdays for me to completely read their meager library of children’s books and lose interest in the fortune telling paraphernalia that had outlived its usefulness and had been consigned to a cardboard box in the back hallway.

And how many times can you hear your future foretold?  I would be a good student, and if I studied hard, become very smart and eventually successful  — that’s what Bessie saw in my palm.  She held my palm tightly, looked at it sternly, her features as hard as the marble bust of Beethoven that watched from an upper bookshelf.  (I could never understand Wilhelm’s confusion.  The sisters did look very much alike, but even though their physical features were the same, Bessie’s were hard and Cora’s were soft — an incredible difference that should have been obvious to everyone, even Wilhelm. Bessie looked just as much like Old Marble Beethoven as she did like Cora.  At least I thought so.)  Bessie’s divination of my future never wavered; it was exactly the same on the third Thursday as it was on the first Tuesday, so I quickly gave complete control of my future to Cora.

Soft-featured Cora spread out her tea leaves and told me that someday I would fly in very fast airplanes to faraway places where I’d meet fascinating people — kings, queens, archdukes, emirs.  She consulted her cards to discover that I would, when I reached a proper age, have rendezvous with women as beautiful as Rita Hayworth, as lively as Carmen Miranda, as mysterious as Marlene Dietrich.  The bumps and contours of my ten-year-old head revealed that adventure also lie ahead — hidden treasures, Himalayan treks, maybe even a trip to Mars.  It was a wonderful life that Cora had planned for me, but even her big wide wonderful world of the future grew tiresome in time.

Wilhelm wasn’t particularly impressed by his wife’s or his sister-in-law’s prowess at prognostication.  Whenever the subject came up, he’d just snort and say:  “The future.  It’s just a bunch of tomorrows, pretty much the same as today.”  For a while I enjoyed sneaking up on Wilhelm to see how close I could get before he knew I was there.


Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories



It didn’t take long after the first automobiles were sold at the turn of the century for traffic congestion to become a problem. By the 1930s, America was fender-deep in automobiles – Fords, Packards and Nashes; Hudsons, Bentleys and DoSotos. And folks weren’t happy just driving these vehicles around; they wanted to park them!

Parking was becoming a big problem, particularly in cities. Downtown merchants were up in arms because their businesses suffered when parking spots were hogged by the same cars all day long. Carl Magee, an Oklahoma newspaperman, came up with an idea: allow vehicles to park for a specific time period, using some kind of timer – a great solution but he didn’t have the least idea how to make such a thing work. He shared his idea with two professors at Oklahoma State University who came up with an operating model of a coin-operated parking meter.

Magee founded the Dual Parking Meter Company – “Dual” because the meters served two purposes, controlling parking and generating revenue. Oklahoma City purchased 150 of the mechanical marvels at $23 each, installing them downtown under the cover of darkness on July 16, 1935.

The meters charged a nickel an hour. There were not a great many satisfied customers. In fact, citizens were outraged. Paying for parking was unAmerican. The brouhaha attracted national attention, but the meters stayed in Oklahoma City, and quickly spread throughout the land. By the early 50s, one million were in operation.

Today’s motorists would be tickled pink to pay but a nickel for an hour of parking – particularly in Chicago where downtown meters now collect $6.50 an hour.


Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Conclusion:  Enter Death, Stage Left

“My poor dear,” she said. “I hate to say it, but you look a little worse tonight. Not to dampen your spirits but I fear Death may come calling tonight. One thing I’ve learned with all the many deaths I’ve witnessed over the years is that Death comes to personally take each and every person away. Once Death appears, that’s it. There’s no prolonging it. You’ve just got to pass on then and there. Goodbye cruel world.” She paused to let the weight of her words rest on Aunt Agatha’s weary body. “Well, enough of such talk. I’ll just leave you here to think on it. Should Death happen to come while I’m gone, do rest in peace.” Bridget stood, a little shaky on her feet now, and scuffled out of the bedroom.

An hour passed without the sound of Bridget’s voice in the bedroom. Aunt Agatha began to twist uncomfortably, Bridget’s words filling her with dread. Suddenly she heard a low, monstrous groaning and forced open her eyes. As her vision grew clear, she saw, looking down at her from the foot of the bed where it seemed to be hovering in midair, a grotesque figure in a black shroud with only a skull for a face. Human-like eyes glowed malevolently from within two holes in the skull.

“Old woman,” growled the fearsome figure. “It is your time. Are you ready? I am Death, come to take you away from this mortal place. Have no fear. You go to a place much better by far, up there, the world above.” The voice became an unpleasant drone. “You’ll love it. So don’t dillydally. Die and get on with it. Die. Die.”

Aunt Agatha whimpered as she stared at the figure floating there at the foot of her bed. “How do you just die?” she asked in a weak voice. “Don’t you have to take me or something?” Death grew quite agitated at Aunt Agatha’s remarks and began to flail its arms and shriek. Flailing, shrieking Death now began to gyrate wildly as though out of control, then suddenly plummeted backward and crashed to the floor. The chair Death had been standing on bounced against the foot of the bed and rolled back over the still figure on the floor. Aunt Agatha pressed back against the headboard, eyes wide, gasping.

As Monty drove down the long road to the farm Monday morning, he passed the ambulance heading the other way. “Poor old girl,” he said to himself. “I hope she didn’t suffer. I’ll just grab a quick beer then go back and take care of everything. Three days. It looks like I beat old Bridget for a hundred bucks.

Monty entered the house and saw her sitting at the kitchen table, but realized even before she turned to him that the woman at the table wasn’t old Bridget.

“Hello dear,” said Aunt Agatha, placing her spoon back in her bowl of corn flakes. She looked . . . almost healthy.

“I’m afraid I’ve bad news, Monty. Old Bridget Berman — who’s not the nicest person in this world, I should point out — passed away last night. Went crazy. Dressed up in a Halloween costume, screamed and carried on, and dashed herself to the floor.”

“Oh dear,” said Monty, trying not to think about the fact that he now owed Bridget nothing. “But you, you look much better.”

“I feel much better Monty, I really do. But it was a real brush I had with death, I’m telling you. I came that close . . .” She held up her thumb and forefinger, almost touching. ” . . . that close to joining old Bridget.”




Every écolier and écolière knows that the breakup of France – Révolution française – began in 1789, its defining moment the storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14. 1789. This storming_the_bastille[1]medieval fortress in the center of Paris represented royal authority. That the Bastille housed only seven inmates – all with good reason to be there – was unimportant. It was a symbol of the abuses of the absolute monarchy, and the French had had it with monarchs, aristocrats, and pretty much anyone in power. Bring on liberté, égalité, fraternité.   King Louis XVI, exit stage right


Bye Bye Don

Another momentous breakup took place on the evening of the same day, nearly 200 years later, in 1973, at Knott’s Berry Farm in California (Knott’s Berry Farm was America’s first theme park and probably the only one devoted to grapes and strawberries and such things). Every schoolgirl and schoolboy knows that the Everly Brothers were one of America’s most successful pop duos, lending their sibling harmony to such hits as “Bye Bye Love”, “All I Have To Do is Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie”, a franchise that would seemingly go on forever. Well, forever is a long time, and brothers Don and Phil had, by the end of the 1960s pretty much had it with liberté, égalité, fraternité and most definitely with each other.

The defining moment of their breakup came in the middle of their set when the stage manager told the audience that the rest of the show had been canceled because brother Don was “too emotional” to play.  In reality, Brother Don was too drunk to play. His skipped guitar notes and bungled lyrics sent brother Phil into a real snit. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage into a solo career, promising he would “never get on stage with that man again.”


Phil and Don reached a sort of detente a decade later.  Louis XVI, on the other hand, was beheaded.

(Phil Everly died in January 2014).

I have no intention of sharing my authority. — King Louis XVI

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 2: A Bargain Is Struck

Monty hated the thought of paying Bridget Berman seventy-five dollars a day to do practically nothing and eat his food in the bargain. What if Aunt Agatha held on for three or four days? No matter how bad she looked, she was a tough old bird. She could rack up a couple hundred dollars while he was in the city.

By the time Monty bit the bullet and finally contacted Bridget Berman, he had already devised a scheme to avoid paying the old hag more than what he considered appropriate remuneration for her services. Emphasizing how sick the old lady was, how she probably wouldn’t make it through the next 24 hours, Monty proposed a flat fee for Bridget’s sitting services. “Ninety dollars,” said Monty, “It’ll be like getting paid time and a half most likely.”

Bridget didn’t trust Monty at all; she assumed right off that he was trying to procure her services on the cheap. But if the old woman were really dying . . . Bridget also hated to pass up something extra for next to nothing. She expressed doubt about the arrangement. “But I will consider it. Mind you, just consider it. First I must see your aunt for myself.” Bridget had watched a good many people check out of this world and felt confident that she could reasonably judge the amount of time a person had left.

Later, as they stood at Aunt Agatha’s bedside, Bridget, after carefully studying the dying woman for several minutes, concluded that here lay one very sick woman and that she had better get an agreement quickly, before Aunt Agatha expired. “I don’t know,” said Bridget, “She doesn’t look all that bad to me. But I understand your situation, and I want to be as agreeable as I possibly can. One hundred and fifty dollars.”

Monty stood silently thinking. Aunt Agatha groaned.

“One twenty-five,” said Bridget.

“You’ll stay until she dies,” said Monty.

“Or until you return,” said Bridget.


Ten hours passed. Monty was in the city, Bridget sat bedside, and Aunt Agatha lay there still looking as though the next minute would be her last. Bridget sighed and dozed off. She awoke Saturday morning to find Aunt Agatha just as ill and just as alive as she had been the night before. For eight hours, Bridget stared at the bedridden woman just lying there, continuing to breathe without consideration for others, taking money from Bridget as though she were a common pickpocket.




Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and some western cities have buildings called museums, opined The New York Times, but they are mere theatrical attractions compared to Barnum’s American Museum in New York City.  Make that Barnum’s former museum, since the occasion for the Time’s ode, was the destruction by fire of the amazing structure at the corner of Broadway and Ann.  Forget that the Times also talked of its “ever patent humbuggery with which (it) coddled and cajoled a credulous people,” it was still an honorable institution.

The always staid Times ran the story of the fire under the following headline:


Total Destruction of Barnum’s American Museum.

Nine Other Buildings Burned to the Ground.


A History of the Museum and Brief Sketch of its Curiosities.

Scenes Exciting, Serious, and Comic at the Fire.

The Police Prompt and Vigilant—The Firemen Earnest and Active.


Thirty Thousand People in the Streets

Pickpockets in the Crowd

Accidents and Incidents.














Leave the sensationalism to the Daily News and the Post.

From the Times Article:

On the floor above was a collection of “sassy” monkeys, subdued dogs, meek rats, fat cats, plump pigeons, sleepy owls, prickly porcupines, gay guinea pigs, crowing cocks, hungry hounds, big monkeys, little monkeys, monkeys of every degree of tail, old, grave, gray monkeys, young, rascally, mischievous monkeys, middle-aged, scheming monkeys, and a great many miserable, mangy monkeys. Those animals and other creatures may have been happy, but they didn’t smell nicely; they doubtless lived respectable, but their anti(c)s were not pleasant to look at, and, to tell the truth, they frequently fought fiercely, and were badly beaten for it. However, they are gone; all burned to death, roasted whole, with stuffing au naturel, and in view of their lamentable end we may well say, “Peace to their ashes.”

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 1: She’d Plucked Her Last Chicken




Monty turned each adjective over in his mind, looking at it this way and that to see if it fit the woman who lay in the bed in front of him, wheezing rather than breathing, each little gasp seemingly her last. Yes, Monty’s 95-year-old Aunt Agatha looked pretty bad, and the doctor confirmed that she was pretty bad, dying actually. Within the week, he had said on Monday. It was now Friday and she didn’t look as though she’d see the weekend. Of course, one had to bear in mind that Aunt Agatha had looked gaunt, haggard, cadaverous for thirty years now. Farming had taken its toll.

Aunt Agatha was one of those farmers of the old school, toiling from dawn to dusk, sleeping when not toiling. Monty wasn’t. He was one of a new breed of PhD farmers, calculating crops rather than just growing things. He had come to the farm when his father had died. Aunt Agatha, his father’s older sister, couldn’t run the place herself, and Monty, having grown disillusioned with the corporate world, guessed he might give farming a go.

Now Aunt Agatha was ready to buy the farm, so to speak. She’d plucked her last chicken, milked her last cow. Monty wished she’d get on with it. Not that he disliked Aunt Agatha or anything like that. Her lasting into the weekend was an inconvenience, that’s all. He had important business that would take him to the city for several days. And she couldn’t be left alone.

He had thought about just leaving her alone but couldn’t bring himself to be quite that insensitive. He hated the idea, but guessed he would have to call that harpy, Bridget Berman. Bridget had once been, or at least claimed to have been, a nurse. For as far back as practically anyone could remember, however, she had made her living as a sitter for the dying, substituting for family members who were too busy or to squeamish to be with the departing. She stayed at bedside night and day, charging seventy-five dollars for each 24 hours of her deathwatch. She was a bent, used up old bitch, and many suggested that her sitting at your bedside could only hasten death.



whipping boy

Harrison Ford cracked a mean bullwhip as the title character in the Indiana Jones series of films. Ford wasn’t born brandishing a bullwhip; he had to learn it for the films. And he was taught by bullwhip master, Lash LaRue born on June 16, 1917.

Like many actors in the 40s and 50s, LaRue spent most of his career making B-Westerns. Originally hired because he looked enough like Humphrey Bogart that producers thought this would draw in more viewers, he used his real last name as the name for most of his film characters. He was given the name Lash because, although he carried a gun, he was noted for preferring to use an 18-foot-long bullwhip to take on bad guys. Lash not only disarmed bad guys, he performed many stunts such as saving people about to fall to their doom by wrapping his whip around them — often while at full gallop on Black Diamond, his trusty horse — and pulling them to safety. Lash, like a guy named Cash, was also known for always wearing black.

After starting out as a sidekick to singing cowboy Eddie Dean, he earned his own series of Western films and his own sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John), inherited from Buster Crabbe. He also got his very own villainan evil, cigar-smoking twin brother, The Frontier Phantom.

His films ran from 1947 to 1951. The comic book series that was named after his screen character lasted even longer, appearing in 1949 and running for 12 years as one of the most popular western comics published.

face down in a cranberry bog, part 5: driving mr. corpse

We needed my car because she had asked me, and I had agreed, to mind the body for a few hours while she got a government car and fussed with the paperwork so that the vehicle would never have been on the island. I had agreed to this cloak-and-dagger enterprise only because I couldn’t come up with a better one and, face it, I was seduced. When I returned I found her standing at the scene of the accident, looking down into the bog. For a moment, I was afraid she’d moved him again. She smiled and took my hand as I reached her, then led me off toward the bushes, our arms swinging between us – a most romantic portrait, except for the corpse. He was still lying face down and I was happy for that. The red boxer shorts had been cloaked by a distinguished dark gray governmental suit.

“You dressed him,” I said.

“It was the least I could do,” she said, with a little laugh. “After all, I undressed him.”

We lugged the body out of the bushes and slipped it into the trunk of my car, keeping a wary watch for prying policemen until the deed was done.

We agreed to meet at my place – foolish, perhaps, but my garage is more private than most places. I slept for two hours – fitfully, even though the morning had exhausted me – and, once up, puttered impatiently, waiting for her arrival. Finally I turned on the TV and watched two senators calling each other names over an appropriations bill. The political repartee immediately brought to mind the politician in my trunk and I felt the need to check up on him – possibly afraid he’d disappear again. I went to the garage and, with just a little foreboding, carefully opened the trunk. Unwarranted foreboding, for he was still there. I never thought I’d be relieved to find a body in the trunk of my car. Unfortunately, he had shifted, and his ghostly face now looked up chidingly, suggesting that I was somehow unAmerican. I tried to push him back over and felt something hard in the jacket pocket. I reached in and pulled the object out – a knife, an ugly knife. Working almost mechanically now in the grip of this new fear, I unbuttoned the crisp white shirt and – to no great surprise – found a wound in his chest. Looking back to the knife, I was certain it was the father of the wound.

I returned to the house. On TV the smiling anchor paused to glare at me as though I had been holding up his news program and only now could he continue . . . “And boarding a private jet at Logan Airport, here is Prince Leopold, chief of state of this tiny but strategically important nation. No one has indicated why the Prince made this secretive trip to the United States, but rumors suggested that he was seeking financial backing to save his crumbling empire. Those rumors, and his own angry statements, suggest also that he is going home empty-handed. His companion, thought by many to actually be his mistress….”

And there she was, my bicyclist, my co-conspirator, my would-be lover, once again gazing at me. Even though she was getting on that plane and even though the smile wasn’t there, I could see it in her eyes – she probably still loved me.

The knife is sitting on the table in front of me. I’m sure mine will be the only prints on it. Did she seduce him for the cause, hoping to blackmail him, or did she kill him because he turned them down? Did she actually make love to him? Probably not. Probably just the promise of it, like the promise to me. I probably should feel sorry for myself. A lot of people bicycle to ‘Sconset, but I’m pushing sixty and had to stop halfway. And now there’s a knife on my table, a dead Secretary of State in the trunk of my car, and the chief of police doesn’t like me much.

The snarl at the other end of the line tells me I’ve reached him. “Hello there. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m the one who found the body this morning – you know, the body that disappeared. Well, you’re not going to believe this. No, let me put that another way. This is quite extraordinary, but I’m sure if you look at it logically and carefully, you will believe it. Anyway . . .”


This story is included in the collection Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.