Rare Public Appearance

March 5, 2018

State Street Reading SeriesIn spite of my satirical diatribes on this blog against the Twitterman administration and all other ANJs (American Nut Jobs), I’ve been invited to participate in the State Street Reading Series in Media, PA.  This will be one of my rare public appearances. Don’t worry, I won’t be reading political satire, just fiction.

On the other hand, practically everything we hear today is political satire, isn’t it? Even when it’s meant to be taken seriously.

My partner in crime will be Ken Pobo, a fine poet with at least seven books to his credit. The event is BYOB, but I will bring some wine that I’m more than willing to share.

It’s Thursday, March 15, starting at 7 p.m., and here’s a map:

https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d3060.033487255412!2d-75.40024008433988!3d39.91826679372679!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x89c6e9056b04a7f5%3A0xad4c7ec18b5066da!2s609+W+State+St%2C+Media%2C+PA+19063!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1520265511856” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>http://

My Garden

My Garden

After the latest school massacre—and there may be another before you read this—our politicians have done the usual dance around the topic of keeping our kids safe in school.

In every such situation, liberals overreact by proposing to deny decent individual folks—you and me—the right to own a personal collection of assault rifles, grenades, mines, and chemical weapons. This is truly un-American. Everyone knows we’re the murder capital of the civilized world because we want it that way. I, for one, will never give up the M-1 Abrams that I have in my backyard disguised as an interactive rock feature (see illustration). Besides, the Abrams is a good place for storing my canisters of chlorine gas.

On the other side, the conservatives have now proposed arming teachers, on the principle that one middle-aged scholar with a rifle can neutralize a determined assassin with an AK-47, a bulletproof vest, and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. This seems ridiculous on the face of it, especially given the frazzled, exhausted condition of many teachers. You can just hear the designated first responder yelling, “Where’s my gun?! Did someone move it? Who’s been in the closet!!!!”

So, can a real solution be found, other than asking Sweden to annex us?


We’ve already committed to having drones fight most of our overseas battles for us. Even Obama liked this option. Then why not have machines protect our schools?

One Hall-Sweeping Robot (HSR) would be sufficient to guard most elementary schools, and two could manage a large high school. At a top speed of 45 mph, an HSR would patrol the hallways every few minutes, ready to gun down any intruder. It would be equipped with facial-recognition technology to identify students, teachers, and support staff. Any unauthorized person, such as a textbook salesman, would get blasted. Outside, above the schoolyard, Playground Drones (PGDs) would circulate, searching for anyone with suspicious packages or a sloppy haircut.

This is surely doable, and it’s a solution that would appeal to conservatives and liberals alike. Conservatives will be pleased that no one at school is denied a gun. Liberals will be pleased that no one at school needs one. The only unhappy folk will be the parents and community members who thoughtlessly wander onto school property without authorization. But wouldn’t we rather sacrifice a few clumsy parents instead of scores of children?

Do think about it while cleaning your rifle.

In the midst of America’s absurd, untenable political situation, my wife’s refuge is to watch MSNBC every night, where the anchors tell her over and over again how absurd and untenable the situation has become. That has a certain reassuring quality, she finds. For me, it’s just too repetitive and depressing.

One of my own escapes is to read books that have nothing to do with the present-day USA or its foibles. For instance, I just finished Joyce Cary’s novel-cum-memoir A House of Children (1941), in which he describes vacation stays with relatives in Donegal. Lots of scenes about boating on the water, gossip about the older girls’ suitors, night-time swims in the lough, donkey-cart rides with a hired hand.… A fine respite from the 21st century—until I come upon passages like this one, which describes the children’s reaction after a play they have produced proves hilariously inept:

There was great applause, and Frances came to congratulate us. But we had lost heart. We were not only ashamed and disappointed; we had suffered a shock. Deeper than the sense of failure, there was the feeling that we had misunderstood the situation; that plays were not so easy as they seemed. With this went, as always, the feeling that life, too, was not so easy as it seemed. Like most children when they fail in a grown-up enterprise, we were subdued and secretly frightened; we wanted to get away by ourselves, preferably out of the grown-up world and back into our own refuges, the school-room or the kitchen. [Chapter 48]

Immediately, on reading that, I was back in the USA, wondering how much of our present state could be characterized as shock and shame at the failure of our self-conceived, long-running play called “American Democracy.” Are we frightened that it’s not as easy as we thought? Would we rather retreat to our refuges, like the couch and TV?

Actually, despite time spent on old British novels, I’ve been doing something useful lately, namely, volunteering for Fair Districts PA, an attempt to stop gerrymandering in my fair state of Pennsyltucky. After ranting for years about people who don’t bother to vote, I’ve decided to help address one of the conditions that discourage voting. This does require certain compromises on my part. I’ve always been annoyed with the inefficiency of volunteer organizations. Also, any cause that counts Arnold Schwarzenoodle among its supporters is inherently suspicious to me. But I do believe that if we can do away with legislative districts that look like this—

PA's 7th Congressional District

—we’ll have less need to run away from the grown-up world and hide in our refuges.

By the way, that district shown above, PA’s 7th Congressional District—known as “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck”—is served (if that’s the right word) by the estimable Pat Meehan, who has voted to repeal Obamacare, to defund National Public Radio, and to ignore requests for President Twitterman’s tax returns. With borders drawn so well to suit their needs, he and his fellow Goofies can be re-elected forever.

Feelin’ Crabby

July 23, 2017

Wilderness House Literary ReviewPartly because my family was on vacation but more because I’m oblivious, I didn’t notice when a new story of mine was published in early July: “Crabs,” in Wilderness House Literary Review. If you’re feeling crabby in the summer heat, you may want to check it out. Thanks to the editors of WHLR!

Our vacation was to the island I call Mosquitoland USA, and the central image in this story comes from an event during our stay in the same place last year. Usually truth doesn’t make for good fiction (imagine a novel about Donald Trump—would you have the slightest inclination to read it?), but in this case the real incident, which lives up to the adage about truth being stranger than, may amount to a decent metaphor. Or it may make you queasy about seafood. Feel free to let me know.

In the meantime, watch out for the Trumpsquito, whose bite will make you itch uncontrollably for four years.

Baby rabbits in nest. (Photo by Karen Foreman; from the National Wildlife Federation.)

A late Saturday afternoon in the suburbs at our daughter and son-in-law’s house, in the backyard with two granddaughters and three dogs, tossing a half-deflated volleyball around (the six-year-old thrashing it wildly), birds chirping, sun beaming, tree branches waggling in the breeze … An American idyll, especially with cold beer on hand. Our dog Fergus, the beagle mix who presides over this blog, plays his favorite game of pretending to dig a hole in the lawn so that we have to chase him away from it, which leads him to dash to another spot and pretend to dig there …

Then a ferocious barking as a neighbor couple and their terrier walk by on the sidewalk. The three dogs in the yard rush through the perimeter of trees and bushes to guard the chain-link fence. The girls run over to talk to the neighbors. Eventually the animals inside realize the one outside is harmless, and Fergus exchanges a snuff through the fence with his terrier counterpart.

But as Fergus strolls away, he steps over a shallow nest hidden in the spotty ground cover around the trees. Nose alerted, he digs in, and suddenly baby rabbits are scrambling in three directions. The girls run after one rabbit. Fergus keeps his nose in the nest, jaw working, until I pull him away.

Last year, when he found a nest in the front yard and emerged with a baby in his mouth, the girls and parents tried to nurse it back to health, unsuccessfully. After a day they buried it with appropriate ceremony. Ever since, Fergus has been watched carefully when he visits Rabbitville.

Yet, once more, he was too quick for us. With the advice of—what else?—Google, we knew this time to leave the babies alone and let the mother find them. In a couple of minutes she duly appeared, hopping with caution across the yard while Fergus hyperventilated in my grip. In the end it appeared that all the bunnies were alive, though one was injured.

The nine-year-old called Ferg’s behavior “evil.” We had to explain that he can’t be blamed because it’s his instinct to catch rabbits, his basic nature. Eventually the girls did accept this.

Yet any quick excuse of that sort makes me question why we reproach humans but not animals. Consider Donald Trump: Isn’t it his nature to get up early in the morning and bark ferociously, via Twitter, in defense of his territory? Isn’t it basic instinct that leads him to keep suspicious foreigners out of his yard? What about amassing great wealth while denying health care to millions—isn’t that like Fergus refusing to share his extra treats after dinner?

True, humans are supposed to have reason and some degree of free will, making them accountable for their behavior. But the more we learn about animals, the more credit they get for having thought, some form of language and a surprising amount of psychological insight. Even plants exchange chemical signals, science tells us. So can we still insist that humans are ethically different?

Whenever I read moral philosophy, its principles seem nice enough but founded on air. Only determinism makes sense to me. While hoping there’s more to our behavior than electrochemical impulses—and contending we should always behave as if there is—I lack faith in a larger paradigm.

Still, still … I do hold Trump more responsible than Fergus. Logic be damned—the guy’s an ass.

Or, at least, if he’s as driven by instinct as a dog, I’d like to believe in the same ultimate recourse. When a pet proves dangerous and incorrigible, we take him to the vet—for a needle.

Don’t worry, Ferg, no such fate for you.

#NFLDraft Closeup

April 29, 2017

The new function of Fairmount “Park”

More observations on the #NFLDraft Experience, which I have the privilege of viewing up close without leaving my front step. In the following notes I’ll try to be as unbiased and truthful as possible. This morning my wife took a potting class at a garden center and failed to bring home any pot, so you know I’m totally unmedicated and clear-headed as I write.

  • Around 9 a.m. about 75 police swarmed our neighborhood’s famous gilded Joan of Arc statue. It was interesting to see these beefy guys in blue surrounding slim little Joanie on her horse. She campaigned to protect a country and a prince that she loved from foreign invaders. Our cops are out there to protect NFL multimillionaires from their fans and the fans from themselves.
  • I never realized that choosing up players for teams required so many speeding black SUVs and siren-blaring motorcycle escorts. Back in junior high it was much simpler. The team captain just pointed and you stepped over next to him. I fondly remember the day I wasn’t the very last one picked.
  • The uniform for an NFL fan is a jersey with someone else’s name on it. The psychology is a little hard for me to understand. I mean, yes, you show allegiance to your favorite player, but at the cost of submerging your own identity? If I were going to wear a jersey with someone else’s name, I wouldn’t settle for any old All-Star runner or passer or tackler. I’d want to honor a rapist, girlfriend beater or dog torturer. Luckily there are plenty of those to choose from.
  • Despite the huge traffic jams clogging our streets, not many horns are blowing. This proves that most of the drivers are from out of town.
  • A traffic jam is actually entertaining to watch when you’re not in a car. Poor schlubs, hee-hee-hee. As long as no one has a heart attack.
  • People have been engaging in loud arguments on the sidewalk in front of my house, in the middle of the day. This, too, proves they’re from out of town. Philadelphians would wait till midnight.
  • Not even locals realized the iconic stature of our Art Museum. Because the mammoth stage constructed for the draft blocks the view of the Museum’s noble columns, the stage incorporates fake columns made of foam. Don’t believe that? Read about it here and here.
  • Realizing that exactly none of the estimated $80 million generated by this event will go to our impoverished, traumatized public schools, neighbors have brainstormed other fundraising options. For instance, what about the magnificent Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the boulevard leading up to the Art Museum that all these outsiders love to appropriate for mega-events? Noting that Franklin has done little for us lately, we’re proposing to sell re-naming rights to the street, all proceeds going to the schools. Corporations, think of this: with every televised event your name would be mentioned hundreds of times. We already have Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, so how about the Comcast Parkway? The McDonalds Mile? The Oprah Oval? Applicants, please write to Mayor Jim Kenney, and attach an appropriate political contribution.


Here in Poland, formerly known as the Art Museum neighborhood of Philadelphia, we are proud to welcome the NFL Draft Experience Extravapalooza. One in a long series of events that bring us hundreds of thousands of visitors and, in this case, the largest temporary stage ever seen in the city and perhaps the galaxy, this celebration promises days of enjoyment for all.

Already, in the run-up to the event, we’ve savored the following benefits:

  • Hundreds of convenient porta-potties installed around the neighborhood
  • Closure of major traffic arteries, offering the opportunity to sit meditatively behind the wheel and view the sights of our city through clouds of exhaust
  • Attractive military-style trailers and vehicles lining the streets
  • Outside security staff warning locals not to walk their dogs in the area
  • The sweet thrash and blare of helicopters cruising overhead
  • As shown in the picture, the locking of mailboxes, to defend us both from terrorists who hate football and from drunken fans who can’t distinguish a mailbox from a trash can

Some grumps—and I admit to knowing a few—have begun complaining about the frequency with which our neighborhood is rented out to private organizations that want to capitalize on the iconic Parkway and Rocky Steps. But we’re getting an estimated $80 million for this deal!—money that the city, still in many ways the most impoverished in the nation, desperately needs. With this influx of funds, we’ll be able to raise the salaries of our corporate leaders who live in the suburbs, bolster the political clout and intimidation power of union heads like our famous Johnny Doc, and ensure that agencies like our Parking Authority and Housing Authority—national models of featherbedding and corruption—continue their good work.

That is why the residents of our neighborhood have formally agreed to rename the area Poland, in honor of the frequent invasions from outside our borders. The entire city, in fact, has temporarily relabeled itself, as shown by this newspaper headline:

Most amazingly, the fuddy-duddies at the Art Museum, those conservative upper-crusters who have long sneered at the Rocky statue as a mere movie prop and lamented the sacrifice of the Museum steps for TV ratings, are now finally getting with the program. At a recent meeting, the Board of Trustees voted to allow the sale of naming rights for iconic objects in the Museum collections. The first such treasure, formerly known as Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, has now been unveiled in the main lobby with its new corporate moniker:

Trump Hotels® Luxury Visitor Accommodation