Clown College Commencement Address

Following is the Clown College commencement address by Mr. Toots Nougat IV (as delivered).

Thank you, President Pickles, and hello to the parents, friends, and wacky faculty! It truly is a joy to be back at my alma mater.

A special hello to Dean Waffles Q. Syrup, who’s here with us today. We all know Dean Syrup has had a tough time since the unexpected death of his rubber chicken, so it’s great to see him and to see he’s no longer painting tears on his face.

To the Clown College Class of 2015: you made it! And while I’ve come to celebrate with you, I’m also here to deliver a serious message. You stand at a critical juncture. The world is moving fast, and we clowns have a choice: either adapt our clownish ways, or risk getting left behind.

I’d like to tell you a story. It starts after I’d just graduated Clown College and landed a job as a trombone inspector for that famed clown symphony, the Froufrou Frillharmonic.

Now inspecting trombones was easy-enough work, but after a few weeks I began to ask myself some tough questions. Questions like, “What is the goal of inspecting trombones?” and, “Are these even trombones? I think they’re telescopes.” It turned out they were telescopes, and the orchestra was forced to shut down and become an astronomy club.

Why am I telling you this? Because it was my first indication that sometimes we clowns are loath to see the world as it really is.

I’ll give you another example. After the Frillharmonic closed, I decided to open my own business—a bakery, specializing in whipped cream pies—and I mentioned it to some friends, fellow clowns. I thought they’d be happy for me, but instead they turned angry and started slapping me with live Spanish mackerel.

Why did they do it? Because they were frightened by change. And because there was a sale on mackerel.

What happened next was even more unsettling. As I was being fish-flogged I backed up and slipped on a plátano peel that someone, likely Señor Taco Butt, had absentmindedly left on the ground. I tried to stand but couldn’t put any pressure on my right floppy shoe and had to be rushed to the hospital on an emergency unicycle.

I arrived at the hospital and was initially relieved to find the attending physician was a clown. I told the doctor about my fall and he nodded thoughtfully, scribbling on a clipboard. I assumed he was taking notes, but then I saw he was just drawing a stegosaurus with a Jazzberry Jam crayon. He excused himself to consult with the orthopedist, who I couldn’t help but notice was a seal.

Now I know what you’re thinking: bad day, piscine pounding, unlicensed clown doctor. We’ve all been there, so what? But my point is that this kind of thing won’t fly in a 21st-century world where people will check the internet on their watches and say, “Oh, there’s another doctor in my neighborhood? Guess I don’t have to visit the clown with the seal anymore.”

Because you, the Class of 2015, aren’t just competing with each other. You’re competing internationally, with clown engineers from India and China, and with French mimes. And you’re also competing with people who aren’t clowns at all—people who understand logic, who can read, and who have symmetrical haircuts.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are things that we clowns do better than anyone else. Things like carpooling and juggling shorthair cats. But in a few years they’ll have computers that can juggle thousands of cats for months at a time. And then what?

So we must accept reality, and learn to adapt. Don’t forget: the future is bright for clowns, but only if clowns embrace it. That message is the one thing I hope you’ll remember when you look back on this day years from now. And also that I delivered this entire address from a pogo stick.

Congratulations, Clown College Class of . . . .

At this point in the address Mr. Nougat’s pogo stick skidded on a fudge sundae that Visiting Provost Giacomo di Pizza had earlier set on the floor of the dais and was saving for a post-degree-conferral snack. Mr. Nougat had a bad fall and was sped to the Clown College emergency room, where his ankle was successfully reset by a puffin.

License to Print Money Test

What follows is the written examination to receive an official License to Print Money.

At Art Basel, you have the right-of-way to a Twombly if:

A.  You used to run Gazprom.
B.  You’re third in line to the Saudi throne.
C.  Gagosian feels pressure to laugh at your bad jokes.

You wish to moor your superyacht at the Port de Saint-Tropez, but some children are fishing in a canoe near the slip. You should order the captain to:

A.  Sound the horn.
B.  Pelt the children with €2 coins.
C.  Proceed full steam ahead.

A solid white line of cocaine parallel to a broken white line of cocaine indicates:

A.  The IPO went very, very well.
B.  The IPO went very, very poorly.
C.  It’s Fashion Week.

Which of the following is NOT required when registering a private island?

A.  Documentation of the island’s make, model, and geologic history
B.  Proof of rising-sea-level insurance
C.  Blessing of the indigenous people

When ordering another round of caviar, what is the proper way to signal?

A.  Extend your left arm horizontally, angle your forearm downward, and point at the empty plate.
B. Extend your right arm vertically, gesticulate wildly, and yell threats in Russian.
C.  Extend both arms forward, and text your assistant to deal with this already.

Which of the following must you obey over the other two?

A.  Your spouse
B.  Your lawyer
C.  Your spouse’s lawyer

While skiing your mountain in St. Moritz, the weather worsens and visibility drops. You should:

A.  Make a controlled parallel turn off the trail and wait out the storm.
B.  Adopt a tuck position and get to the bottom quickly.
C. Neither of the above. You are not in St. Moritz to ski but to pack your chalet’s hot tub with rowdy heiresses.

Is it legal to talk on the phone while operating a polo pony?

A.  No. All calls must be placed between the second and third chukkas.
B.  Yes, provided the phone is held in the non-mallet palm.
C.  Yes, provided the phone is hands-free and houndstooth enabled.

You may pass another helicopter on the right if:

A.  The FBI is removing boxes from your office.
B.  Your Tibetan Mastiff is choking on his Kobe beef bone.
C.  The models are out of Champagne.

Which of the following is NOT permitted in a Horace Mann School zone?

A.  Three-martini lunches
B.  High-stakes baccarat
C.  Bunga bunga parties

Upton Sinclair Writes about New York's Meatpacking District

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) revealed the trials of migrants working in the unsanitary conditions of Chicago’s meatpacking industry. Lesser-known is Sinclair’s subsequent report from New York City’s own Meatpacking District, excerpts of which appear below.

THEY TOLD him stories, there in the penthouse ultra lounge on Washington Street—stories to make your flesh creep, but Kai-Sebastian would only laugh. He had arrived in the Meatpacking District a week before, an immigrant from Connecticut, and already he’d secured steady work as an unpaid intern, which the boss had promised him would soon become a job as a brand ambassador. “That is well enough for old, bent-backed 30-somethings like you,” he would say to the storytellers, “but my social network is broad.”

Kai-Sebastian, though a man, was like a boy, a boy with a degree from a fancy-pants liberal arts college. He was the sort the startups like to get hold of. When he was told to tweet a certain thing, he would tweet it the fastest and require no recompense for his time or exertions. Some called this foolish, but Kai-Sebastian could only feel sorry for the naysayers, the men who had no hope of ever becoming brand ambassadors. His internship started tomorrow.

As the boss had told him to, Kai-Sebastian arrived at eleven o’clock for his orientation at the word factory, and immediately he saw that almost all the space was occupied by interns; north and south as far as the eye could see there stretched an ocean of oversize headphones, row after row after row, so many interns no one had dreamed existed in the world. Kai-Sebastian nearly cried out with wonder that he was to become a sharer in all this activity, a cog in this marvelous machine.

But then he recalled the men at the penthouse ultra lounge, who had asked him, “And what will become of all you creatures, you interns?” Looking out over the sea of MacBooks, Kai-Sebastian felt a twinge of unease.

Later that week, he took his dinner at a restaurant with Emma, a woman he’d met at the word factory. After a long day making lists, Kai-Sebastian was very hungry, but when the food was brought to them by a man in black clothing there was scarcely enough of it to feed a small child. “Where is the rest?” Kai-Sebastian asked the man. “That is all,” the man had said. “We do small plates.” But when the bill was presented, it was hardly small, for in the Meatpacking District as a rule the less food you got the more money you paid. It was a rule with which Kai-Sebastian was unacquainted until that very night, when he left the restaurant with both his belly and his wallet empty.

RUMOR WAS SPREADING among the interns at the word factory that the public suspected the lists were of bad quality. The masses were right to be suspicious. Kai-Sebastian learned about the process day by day, little by little, in the gossip of those interns who were obliged to perpetrate the various parts of it, and gradually he came to learn how the lists were made.

There was never the least attention paid to what was in the lists; whether the interns were reusing lists, or using lists that had previously been inspected and rejected, or whether the lists had long passed their post-by date. An intern might find in a folder an overlooked list from years past, its content hopelessly moldered. But rancid though it was, that list would be published the same day, its staleness covered by fun fonts and gifs. Sometimes leftover bits and pieces of different lists were mixed together, and sometimes the lists were hardly edited; if the interns found a typographical error they would not even trouble to remove it and would instead package the list, mistakes and all, and send it out for consumption.

To a person who had to toil in such a thankless place all the week it was a great help to be able to look forward to some relaxation on Saturday nights. In the Meatpacking District there were many establishments where an intern could go for dancing and drinking, and Kai-Sebastian had decided he would take Emma to one of them. But at the dancehall door a heavyset man, again in black clothing, stopped them from entering; he admonished the two, and told them to stand in a line of people a block long.

So Kai-Sebastian and Emma stood in the line without knowing why, and they watched as long-limbed screeching women who had already drunk a great deal and had not stood in the line at all approached the heavyset man and were warmly greeted and permitted entry. For two hours they waited, shivering in the pre-dawn chill. Emma claimed a headache and departed, and so Kai-Sebastian trudged home alone, to a room no larger than a steamer trunk that he rented for a criminal monthly sum, which did not even include basic cable.

IT HAD BEEN two months of wrist-straining work at the word factory, and Kai-Sebastian had heard nothing more about the promised job as a brand ambassador. After spending so many dollars on rent and small plates, his resources had dwindled far faster than anticipated; Kai-Sebastian worried that, with winter approaching, he would have to call his parents and ask for more money. Emma no longer answered his text messages. He heard from Luca that she now lived with a rich man who took art photographs of ferns.

He still had not been allowed inside the dancehall.

36 Hours in Mordor

Surrounded by forbidding mountains and inhabited largely by bloodthirsty orcs, Mordor has long been absent from most travelers’ itineraries. But change has come to this vast land, whose residents have watched an evil sorcerous government give way to vibrant parliamentary democracy, and myriad dungeons once brimming with lost souls converted to hip galleries and cute boutiques. Mordor, as the Mordorinos themselves don’t hesitate to tell you, is very much open for business.


1.     Raise a Stein | 5 p.m.
The journey to Mordor can be taxing, so kick your horse lag posthaste with a draft of lukewarm swill. At Slash Brewing Co. they make 14 varieties on site and give tasting tours at the top of every hour. If you’re feeling brave, order the Uruk-hai flight, which comes with eight six-ounce samples meant to be savored in the local way: with an eyeball chaser. (Uruk-hai flight is 90 lizard toes, or about $22 at the rate of 4 lizard toes to the dollar.)

2.     Feast Like a King | 7 p.m.
Mordor isn’t always on the best of terms with Gondor, the human-led kingdom to the west, but any lingering acrimony stops at dinner. Man Food, a restaurant serving traditional Gondorigian fare in the up-and-coming Necrosis District, packs the tables nightly. Try the rabbit (LT127), served Anórien style and still extruding the arrow that killed it. The owner, Akashmir, is said to be descended from royal Steward lineage. He can be found holding court at the bar most nights—buy him a mead and chances are he’ll tell you a few tales, whether or not you ask to hear them.

3.     Dancing with the Wargs | 10 p.m.
After dinner take a stroll down Ring Road, Mordor’s main drag, which was once a seedy Nazgûl hangout but now more resembles a fashion runway. Snag an outdoor table at Lair for first-rate creature watching; the drinks are pricey (and septic), but the scene is priceless. When the minstrels strike up their bone lutes, pay the cover charge (LT100) and head indoors, where you can writhe till the wee hours.


4.     Hoof It | 8 a.m.
Grab a traditional street breakfast of demon eggs and fresh-pressed slugjuice, then work off your hangover with a vigorous hike in the Ash Mountains. Mordor Explore offers guided day trips (LT450 per individual) or, if you’d rather roam solo, can provide you with a detailed map of the trails. Clamber to the top of Pus Peak (just follow the skulls) and marvel at the expansive views toward Mount Doom and across the plains of Núrn. Your Instagram followers will thank you.

5.     Get Loose | 1 p.m.
After all that exercise, make your way to Paralysis Day Spa for some much-needed relaxation (LT750 for an all-day pass). Have a light but wholesome lunch of quinoa salad (get it with the roach dressing), then spend some time unwinding in the soothing steam room, a former torture chamber. End with a classic Mordorino massage, which involves a Balrog bludgeoning your naked body with electric eels. (Note: Mordorino massage not recommended for those with heart conditions or normal hearts.)

6.     History Lesson | 5 p.m.
History is everywhere in Mordor, but perhaps nowhere is it more directly felt than at Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower (LT15 entrance fee). Constructed in the brutalist style by Sauron in 1600 of the Second Age, the Dark Tower was among the strongest fortresses ever built; now, its crumbling walls serve as a reminder of Mordor’s not-so-distant grim past. After touring the ruins walk several blocks south, to the Plaza de los Muertos, where during Sauron’s reign executions took place every day from sunup to sundown. From sunup to sundown these days, though, the square bustles with Mordorinos of all ages: young orcs kicking around a head, love-struck teenagers sneaking orgies behind the fountain, and adults at outdoor cafés, thoughtfully sipping their demitasses of diarrhea. No one seems to know anything about the Spanish name. 

7.     Forks and Forceps | 8 p.m.
For dinner, head to Chokepointe in trendy WoHO (West of Hell Opening), the restaurant helmed by celebrity chef Feral Adrenál. Start with the decadent plateau de fruits de terre, the grub worm platter (LT390), meant for sharing and heaped to the brim with slimy scarabaeoideans. Among the standout mains are the braised bat balls (LT105) and the fried chicken fingers (LT97), which never includes pinkies. Adrenál is best known for his “molecular” creations, however, and Chokepointe’s most famous dish has to be the astounding faux olive (LT115), created using a spherification process involving ingredients like calcium chloride and xanthan gum. But don’t be fooled—despite appearances, what you’re about to eat isn’t a true, solid olive. It’s spider semen.

8.     Cultural Imbibitions | 10 p.m.
Mordorinos serious about their cocktails, art, and music make haste for The Black Box, an old-limb-warehouse-turned-party-space at the corner of 4th and Agony, in Dwarftown. Order a Bloody Elf (LT36) from the bewhiskered bartender (yes, he’s a giant rat), and check out whatever exhibition is showing in the upstairs gallery (this month the artist Bolgash mounted the stirring “post-,” a meditation on Orc identity in the new age). Then head to the basement, where a rotating lineup of deejays mixes the best of Mordorino paintronica, goosestep, and bleak house seven nights a week.    


9.     Grits and Glamour | 11 a.m.
Sunday mornings in Mordor are all about that brunch. Beat a path to Zalg’s, an institution, for great jazz, the best omelettes, and all-you-can-drink Urine Royales (brunch is LT129 per individual, all-inclusive). Then burn off the calories shopping on Via Vomito, Mordor’s newly finished pedestrian avenue, lined with luxury brands like Vulgari, Diane von Hindenburg, and Charnel. Scabbard your longsword and unsheathe your credit card—this is the new Mordor.

This Is a Two-Way Street

Hi, can we talk?

It’s about us, about our relationship. Things are great and all. But I still feel like I have to make sure you know: this is a two-way street.

It’s just, I’ve been involved with a lot of people who are used to going only one direction on any given road. And it hasn’t really worked out for me.

I know you grew up in a place where most of the thoroughfares are single trajectory. So it’s really important for me to make sure you understand where I’m coming from, which could very well be the opposite direction.

Relationships are full of ups and downs. But they’re also full of reversals and three-point turns. And I need to know you understand that, and that you understand you can’t make a left on red into oncoming traffic.

Can I be honest? Sometimes, I wonder if you even know what oncoming traffic is.

I’m sorry. Okay, it’s probably time I brought this up. My last boyfriend raced. I mean, he raced race cars. He was a racer, I guess. And he was black. Does that bother you, that he was a Black Racer? I guess I just want to hear that you’re okay with the fact that I dated a really fast snake who won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Can I ask you something? Do you look both ways before you cross? I need you to be honest with me. This is a safe space, but it’s metered and I’m out of quarters. We can’t stay long.

What am I getting at? I guess even though this is a two-way street, I still sense we’re divided by a solid yellow line. And that can be hard, because maybe I want to reveal something about myself or pass a tractor, but I just don’t feel I can because I’d be breaking the law in most states. Do you get that?

Nevermind. I can see I’m annoying you. I guess I thought both of us really cared about traffic patterns. So stupid. It’s obvious you’re not interested in having a real two-way street that would help us grow closer and also increase the vitality of adjacent business districts.

No, please don’t touch me. I literally feel like I’m a thousand miles away from you, with no connecting interstate. This always happens. I open up to someone and get detoured and have to start all over on some unpaved backroad.

Whatever. I think I should go. Call me when you’re ready to get serious about us, and about four-way stops.

Bedtime Stories for Snobbish Children: The Adventures of French Press and Corkscrew

Sous Vide Comes to Call
It was a morning much like any other, and French Press, his early-hours work complete, was relaxing on the kitchen counter, listening to Mozart and reading the paper. Corkscrew was just waking up.

Réveille-toi, Corkscrew!” French Press said playfully. “It is time to greet the day!”

“Ohhh,” Corkscrew moaned. “My poor head. This Family and their all-night dinner parties!” 

French Press poured his friend a cup of strong coffee, which Corkscrew accepted with a groggy grin. After taking a few sips, he set down the drink, stuck out his lower lip, and made a face that could only be described as quizzical.

“French Press, what day is it today?”

French Press looked up from Le Monde. “Well let’s see, yesterday was Tuesday. So I suppose today must be . . .”

“Wednesday! It’s Wednesday!” Corkscrew exclaimed. “And Wednesday is the day Sous Vide is arriving!”

Sous Vide’s letter had come the week before. He was writing, he’d said in the note, on the recommendation of their mutual friend Whisk, who’d been Corkscrew’s college roommate at the École Normale Supérieure. Sous Vide had just been purchased by The Family and was soon to visit the kitchen counter for something called a “trial run.” He didn’t know how long he’d be staying; that wasn’t really for him to decide. But, he’d written, he was quite looking forward to arriving, and to making everyone’s acquaintance. 

Now, when French Press and Corkscrew read Sous Vide’s letter they’d done so with some trepidation. It’d been a while since a new implement last visited the kitchen, and on that occasion things hadn’t gone well. Mandoline was atop the counter just three hours before inadvertently lopping off The Man’s left-hand fingertips. After first aid requirements had been attended to, Mandoline was promptly boxed up and never heard from again.

But there wasn’t time to fret this morning. For just then, with Corkscrew not yet halfway through his coffee and French Press not yet halfway through his newspaper, the kitchen door swung open, and in walked The Woman. She was carrying a shiny metallic cube. She set the cube on the counter and plugged its power cord into the wall. She started pressing buttons and turning dials. Slowly, the cube began to glow and hum. The Woman smiled. Once she’d left the kitchen, the two friends hurried over to the cube to make introductions.

Bonjour! You must be Sous Vide! I’m French Press, and this is Corkscrew.”

Sous Vide whirred. 

“Yes, I’m Sous Vide—or so my label says!” Everyone chuckled good naturedly. “And herewith the famous French Press and Corkscrew. What a pleasure, and good to know my letter reached you without incident.”

“Indeed it did,” said Corkscrew. “And I must say: your penmanship is exquisite!”

But before more flattery could be bestowed, a booming belch resonated throughout the counter. French Press and Corkscrew turned round to behold their two nemeses, the kitchen’s dregs: Spork and Spam. What a shabby duo they were, Spork and Spam, and this morning, each seemed to be in a particularly potent state of dishabille. Spork clearly hadn’t washed in at least a week and was flecked all over with crusty fragments of Jell-O and macaroni and cheese. Spam’s lid was ajar, fully buckled and bedraggled—when he’d last refrigerated was anyone’s guess.

Spam spoke first. “Who’s the square?”

French Press sighed. “The square, as you so rudely call him, Spam, is Sous Vide. He’s visiting the kitchen and will be staying with us for an indeterminate period of time.”

Spam grunted. “What’s the square do?”

Now this question caught French Press and Corkscrew a tad flat-handled. Each was embarrassed to realize he hadn’t a clue about Sous Vide’s purpose. Thankfully, their “square” confrère took the opportunity to answer for himself. 

“Well, Monsieur Spam, what I do is rather complicated,” said Sous Vide. “You see, I cook ingredients in a water bath at a sustained temperature, thus ensuring an even distribution of heat, if you will. This allows the ingredients in question to retain their natural moisture. At a minimum I’ll cook a food for several hours, but occasionally I’ll cook it for several days!”

Spork and Spam glanced at one another, and then promptly fell over laughing. “Days!” Spork snorted. “I’d like some lunch . . . but not for a few days!”

“Now look here, imbéciles!” Corkscrew barked. “You roughnecks couldn’t tell a fine fillet from a can of corn syrup! Sous Vide is a sophisticated appliance, not to mention our guest, and I won’t stand to have him treated so rudely!”

“Oh yeah?” said Spork, smirking. “Well if the square’s so sophisticated, so good at cooking stuff, why doesn’t he prove it?”

Spam chimed in. “Right. And there’s only one way to prove it. The square has to win—a kitchen cook-off!”

To be continued

Laughter Is the Best Medicine


A previously healthy 37-year-old male presented with a three-week history of painful swelling on his right forehead. CT imaging showed a solitary lesion near the right frontal bone. Given that the lesion was heterogeneously enhancing, it was removed with knock-knock jokes, and the patient was discharged in uproarious condition.


A female in her 50s presented with a seven-month history of intermittent abdominal pain. A colonoscopy revealed a soft mass in the cecum. Surgery was performed but proved ineffective. The attending physician ordered a second-line treatment of interns skidding on banana peels, and the outcome was favorable, with significant diminishment of the mass and the patient vigorously slapping her left knee.


A 14-year-old male, having sustained a fall onto his right hand during a particularly spirited game of cribbage, presented with posterolateral displacement of the ulna relative to the distal humerus. Dr. Bozo was able to successfully reset the patient’s funny bone by slapping it with a rubber chicken. Subsequent X-Rays were a riot.


An 83-year-old female who had earlier led an abortive offensive during a local reenactment of the Crimean War presented with a bayonet firmly lodged in her left temporal bone just superior to the zygomatic arch. She looked ridiculous. The patient was shown her own goofy reflection in a mirror, gleefully declared it “just priceless,” and left the hospital fully recovered, with infantry care follow-up in two to three weeks.


A 38-year-old male presented with bilateral conjunctivitis and an erythematous macular rash on his neck and face. The patient had recently returned from the forests of Guyana, where he had orchestrated an unsuccessful coup. A standard course of Hot Tub Time Machine was administered every eight hours but did not result in a substantial reduction of symptoms. An alternative therapy of a ventriloquist wearing a sombrero proved highly effective, however, and the patient was discharged to the custody of guerillas.


Two males, ages 25 and 31, presented with severe head trauma after their rocking horses collided at high speed. The emergency room physician immediately began delivering Louis C.K. in a tutu singing “God Save the Queen,” then increased the strength to “La Marseillaise.” Both patients found this hilarious because they don’t speak French. Both left the hospital in gut-busting condition (the good kind).


A 59-year-old female presented with crushing substernal chest pain after witnessing her spouse engaging in sexual intercourse with a spatula. A capuchin in sunglasses reading The Wall Street Journal was administered, followed by a course of Jeff Spicoli on roller skates addressing the U.N. General Assembly, a sad mime doing his taxes, and your cousin dancing. These therapies proved inadequate. Given the failure of previous treatments, and with the patient rapidly deteriorating, the attending physician encouraged the patient to visually recall the incipient traumatic event (viz., spouse/kitchen-implement intercourse). Immediately, the patient began convulsively guffawing, entering a status epilepticus comicalicus that could not be terminated. The patient died laughing. 

Meet Wild Salmon

Whaddup, fishes! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Wild Salmon, and if you haven’t heard, I don’t play by the rules.

That’s right, I’m the kind of salmon who swims downstream, with the current! Because I’m a contrarian and that’s just how it’s gonna be. Yeah, I said contrarian—better locate a dictionary, kelpslime.

I’ve been wild since I was a small fry, when I used to sneak out of the school and swim with the older smolts. They showed me the ropes, and how to avoid the ones with hooks. Man we used to cruise around all damn day, just hollering at seahorses and getting loaded on krill. We didn’t even care!

That’s when I met my boy Coho. Coho was a legend, man. He was born in a hatchery but broke out in like two seconds—he wasn’t about to be raised in some pen with a bunch of aquaculture scrubs. “You can’t keep me down on the farm,” he’d always say, and we’d always laugh because it was so true, and also a double entendre.

We were always together, me and Coho. Staying out late, squid-inking graffiti, roeing Ms. Moray’s rock—breaking the rules was just in our fish DNA! Once we were chillin’, spaced out on Omega-3 or whatever, and Coho turned to me and said, “Dude. Let’s start a fucking band!” And that’s when Spawn was born.

There were four of us: me (lead vocals), Coho (guitar), Finn (drums), and Moby (echolocation). We’d get tanked and write music all night long. Then we started playing gigs for krill and tips over at Jenny’s Sandbar. During one of our sets this industry lamprey came into Jenny’s and boom!—just like that, we were signed.

Next thing we know we’re opening for Red Tide, touring all over. One day we’re in Lake Winnipesaukee and the next day we’re swimming in Bathurst Inlet or some shit. All of a sudden we’re hanging out in the best reefs, eating the best plankton. And the women! Girls we’d never seen before would just show us their gills in the open sea! So much tailfin. It was fucking crayfish.

This is where the story gets hard. After an awesome show I was feeling amped, and I got this major urge to leap over some waterfalls. I could tell Coho wasn’t into it, but he was still game because that’s the kind of ill fish he was. So we get to the waterfalls and we’re leaping around, no worries, just having fun like the old days. And then Coho says, “Yo, watch this!” He gets this big swimming start and leaps out of the stream, and then this bear caught him and ate him.

That was real tough, you know? I was mad and also confused because I thought bears only ate honey, but then someone told me that was just one cartoon bear, and that made me even madder. I blamed myself, got depressed, started swimming alone and doing lots of algae. The band suffered, too: our new songs were all loud and angry, and they were all about bears.

It wasn’t long before Spawn broke up. We went back to our old lives and lost touch. Things have worked out okay for Moby, I guess—I heard he made a habitat outside L.A., and has a wife and kids. He did the music for that movie Blackfish, actually. Good for him. Finn, though—Finn wasn’t so lucky. He got caught up in a dragnet, and now he’s doing a life sentence at Pike Place.

But man, not a day goes by I don’t think about Coho. I’m not like religious or anything, but I do believe Coho’s down there somewhere, up to his old tricks. Sometimes when I’m by myself, I’ll actually say a little prayer to Poseidon, and ask him to watch over my buddy.

As for me, it took a while, but I got my life right. These days I run my own T-shirt printing business. We also sell scented candles. I’m still as wild as ever, though—still living my own way and not taking nitrogenous waste from anyone. And I still write music from time to time. Protest songs, mostly, about overfishing and net neutrality. Shit like that.

Sometimes I think back on my life and wonder why I turned out like I did. Sometimes I think it’s because I never knew my parents, but then I remember all salmon don’t know their parents, so it can’t be that.

Man, whatever! Enough of this whiny guppy crap. I’m Wild Salmon, and I don’t play by the rules!

Historical Reviews

Men’s Luxury Loincloth 
★★★★★ smooth all over!!!!
By Lurg on 40,000 B.C.

one of my woman possessions got this loincloth for me for fire celebration and let’s just say she’s been spending more nights in cave ever since if you know what I mean ;-) these loincloths are literally amazing and when I’m out hunting creature or fleeing creature or just climbing tree for the hell of it they keep me covered but also aren’t “restrictive,” which is a word i just invented that means too tight.

Authentic Wheel (wood)
★ very bad wheel
By Babum on 3550 B.C.

I bought this as a gift after reading about wheels in an interesting article by Zamug The Maker in Mesopotamian Monthly. I guess I should’ve paid more attention when ordering though because this wheel is made by some crap company in Crete which obviously doesn’t actually know what a wheel is, because when I opened the box out falls a total square. DO NOT order this “wheel” i.e. square—it does NOTHING I read a wheel is supposed to do especially roll.

Aldwyn’s Fyne Mead
★★ honey much?
By Wyf of Bathmat on 937

I heard about this craft mead from a troubadour I trust but have to say I was disappointed. Every swig of Aldwyn’s was basically like gulping straight honey. I know mead is made from honey but still. On the plus side Aldwyn’s is brewed in Wessex so I guess it’s local.

Water-resistant Trebuchet
★★★★ Did a Good Job
By Musa Abd al-Azīz ibn Ali Yūsuf al-Atāhiya on 1188

I will admit I was wary of this item at first (a mechanical sling so what?), but it did a pretty impressive job knocking down the city walls at Jerusalem and elsewhere. You should know this thing is really big, so if you’re living in a tent or whatever you might not have enough room. Only real complaint is that it doesn’t come with any projectiles, which I did not realize and which definitely delayed our siege.

Black Cauldron
★ “Hellfire safe” … Not!!!
By T.W. on 1252

Where to begin. First off, I LOVED my old cauldron but it was starting to crack and potion residue was hardening in the cracks and blending with other potions I’d boil and before I knew it some old baboon’s blood was mixing with newt semen or something and none of my demon broths were working! My sisters were like Tiffany, you have GOT to get another cauldron! So I did. BIG MISTAKE. This cauldron is specifically marketed as hellfire safe but the first time I tried to cook a witches brew in the Lake of Flaming Souls the whole pot totally disintegrated. A HEX ON THIS CAULDRON!!!

Ye Olde Mappe
★★★ Just Okay
By Jan de Hooch on 1429

I purchased this item because my buddy Willem and I were planning a sea trip and figured a mappe would come in handy. Pros: good quality parchment, nice colors, and detailed drawings/locations of sea monsters. Cons: Mostly wrong. We wanted to voyage to Ibiza to go clubbing but ended up in Svalbard, where there aren’t really any clubs to speak of no offense.

G Brand Printing Press (medium)
★★★★★ Excellent press
By Cheng H. on 1442

I run a Chinese restaurant and we go through a ton of menus, which we used to get from the monastery. Don’t get me wrong—the monks there are really nice people, but they’re just very slow at transcribing Chinese menus, not to mention they’re constantly embellishing them with indigo and gold leaf and adding all these pictures of Jesus to the specials. So when we heard about the printing press we bought one right away and it’s been great. Now we have more menus than we know what to do with! Highly recommend.

Child’s Craniometer
★★★★ surprisingly good quality
By Callum W. on 1826

My son has been asking for a craniometer for ages so he can measure his friends’ skulls and determine their psychological attributes. Initially I resisted—in my day if we wanted to play phrenologist we used a tape measure!—but I guess all the kids have craniometers now and anything that gets him out of the house and away from that damn philosophers’ stone is fine by me. Anyway this is a very well-constructed craniometer made of high-quality metal and it seems to fit all the kids’ heads, even that fat one Angus.

Doc’s Moustache Wax
★★★★★ Works Whisker Magic!
By Otto v. B. on 1905

I’m a big fan of the Kaiser, so needless to say I’m also a big fan of handlebar moustaches! I bought this moustache wax because I heard it’s the kind he uses. And let me tell you, it works great and smells great too! I got the small size because I’m not really sure how long handlebar moustaches will be in style, but they say these things are cyclical.  

Hype Man Cover Letter

January 7, 2015

InterSys Systems Corp.
10100 Technology Way, Pod 7
Rancho Santa Boca, CA 94035

To Whom It May Concern:

I was pleased to read your advertisement seeking a full-time hype man for your software company. As a goal-oriented team playa, I believe I am well qualified for the position and am prepared to become an immediate contributor to the InterSys Systems Corp. crew.

My track record of hype-man success stretches over 33 years, beginning when I was five and pumped up the neighborhood for my best friend Tommy and his lemonade stand. After implementing tactical hype strategies, lemonade sales increased 347%, even though Tommy wasn’t using any sugar.

I also work well under pressure and thrive in a fast-paced environment. For example, I was recently employed by Tracy Jenson’s parents to hype her talent show performance of Für Elise. My responsibilities included but were not limited to: encouraging the pre-teen audience to get turnt; shouting intermittent lines during the performance such as “You know dat’s right!” and “Kaboom!”; and doing the Running Man behind the piano while wearing a whimsical Cat in the Hat headpiece. Applause increased 727% from last year’s talent show, when Tracy was booed after reciting portions of The Vagina Monologues.

I have consistently demonstrated a capacity to positively affect perceptions in a wide variety of environments and am adept at working both independently and as part of a posse. In all cases I have shown an ability to obtain measurable results and help clients achieve their objectives:

  • Daniel Finkwelter, Certified Public Accountant. Responsibilities included but were not limited to: hyping Mr. Finkwelter’s superior auditing game; accompanying Mr. Finkwelter to the cafeteria and insulting his colleagues’ lunches; and enhancing Mr. Finkwelter’s PowerPoint slides with photographs of diamonds and Buggattis, and Kate Upton gifs. After several weeks of my services Mr. Finkwelter was promoted to a higher-ranking position in his firm, at another office across town.
  • The Dunwoody Adult Center Chess Club. Increased chess meet attendance by 523%; increased sales of chess club fedoras by 413%; and increased the number of chess-club-member sexual experiences by approximately 12,000% according to self-reported data. In addition, deployed sophisticated opponent-dissin’ procedures that led directly to seventeen forfeited matches and five grown men sobbing.
  • Satan. Co-hyped with Mephistopheles Satan’s “Speak of the Devil” comeback tour. Responsibilities included but were not limited to spraying crowds with Beelzebubbly and adding select hype-man interjections to songs such as “Fallen Not Forgotten,” “High as Hell,” “Sinners Delight,” “Hot in Herre (Eighth Circle Remix),” and “2 Illicit 2 Quit.” Also provided integral support to Satan during his frequent scripture battles with angels.

I was interested to learn from your website that InterSys Systems Corp. is known for strongly valuing “responsibility,” “integrity,” and “commitment.” These three virtues, along with carelessly waving one’s hands in the air, are also the virtues I value most and at which I particularly excel. In addition, I noticed that your company’s mission statement—“Sell Software”—offers substantial catchphrase opportunities.

In closing, I am confident that my long history of superior hype-man performance, dedication to client service, comprehensive awareness of the latest developments in the hype-man industry, excellent verbal and physical communication skillz, and proficiency with Word and Excel make me the ideal candidate for this position. I look forward to speaking with you about the ways I can further the objectives of InterSys Systems Corp.


Rico Rowdy (aka Razzmatazz)

Emily Post's Etiquette: Suicide Notes

IN writing a suicide note, as in all other forms of social observance, the highest achievement is in giving the appearance of simplicity, naturalness, and joie de vivre. Foolhardy is the despondent correspondent who presupposes that imminent offing renders such appearance negligible. Quite the contrary: the last impression is of even greater consequence than the first!

Sadly, the art of suicide note–writing in the present day is shrinking to the point that the note itself threatens to become an e-mail, a text, a tweeted string of weeping cat emojis. There are of course those determined depressives who continue to pen suicide notes—employing a fresh turn of phrase here, a delightful keenness of observation there—but the point is that the practice demands effort, which is precisely the thing the melancholic Millennial seems to consider it wholly unreasonable to expend.

For these lazy lachrymose youths, some frankness: If subject-verb agreement brings you to tears, if you’d rather die than piece together a coherent paragraph, if the whole epistolary enterprise seems hopeless and you simply cannot write a suicide note to save your life: then don’t. It is far from certain that friends, family, and the relevant authorities would not rather have nothing in lieu of a suicide note all too obviously displaying the meagerness of its message in out-to-lunch orthography and slapdash semantics!

I. Improving the Suicide Note’s Appearance

The suicide note is a reflection of taste and character, and a “sloppy” note badly worded and spelled, with unmatched paper and envelope, reeking of vodka and scrawled in blood reflects not some enticing insouciance but disinterest, disdain, and disregard—assuredly not the impression one wishes to leave directly before self-shuffling off this mortal coil!

While it is permissible to produce a suicide note with word processer and printer, it is the handwritten note on fine stationery that truly registers. One must take care to write neatly and legibly even while wailing, and to choose a tasteful paper. Mailing the note is not compulsory but, when appropriate, can be a thoughtful touch—though visits to the post office can be difficult for the woebegone wordsmith, already so sorrow-sodden and frustration-full. 

II. Beginning the Suicide Note

For those peering over the precipice of personally performed dispatch, beginning the suicide note is far and away the most arduous step of the whole undertaking. Pitfalls are plentiful. Here is an example of how not to begin a suicide note:

March 31, 2015

Oh CRUEL World!!!!!!!

Well I tried and tried but you just wouldn’t listen so now here we are. Happy?????

This is most certainly improper, starting with the form of address, which manages to be vague, pretentious, pejorative, sensational, and ungrammatical all at once. One should avoid random capitalization and repetitive punctuation, which is not merely tacky but also indicates insanity, and one must always ensure the subject to whom the suicide note is directed is made eminently clear, e.g.:

Dear God Who Does Not Exist
Dear Messrs. Thanatos & Reaper
Dear Martian in My Head

The above opening line (“Well I tried and tried . . . ”) is also much too egotistical, accusatory, redundant, gloomy, and plain boring. Far better to open a suicide note with an acute observation, or with an intriguing and humorous anecdote; one should endeavor in the first several lines to both engage the reader and tactfully display one’s own erudition and wit. And don’t skimp on that joie de vivre! E.g.: 

Camus once wrote that it was in the depths of winter when he found, within himself, an invincible summer. To which I say, Good for Camus!


Not long ago, on a visit to the Kunstmuseum in Basel, I happened upon a stirring painting, a Lichtenstein. It was titled Hopeless. I got to thinking . . . 

III. The Middle Part

An acquaintance was recently in receipt of a suicide note that contained the following passage:

And anyway, it won’t be long now before I’m floating along the River Styx—if I can afford the ferry, I guess (ha ha). We all know making money’s never been my strong suit, right Dolores? Not to mention I don’t do well on boats.

Fully dreadful! Irredeemably self-pitying and dreary. For composing the middle of a suicide note the instruction is straightforward and of a piece: be friendly, be jaunty, be fulsome with compliments, and don’t neglect to note things like pertinent passwords, when the Times subscription expires, and where you stored the cheese slate. E.g.:

Which is all to say that night on Capri was a gas and to thank you for introducing us to Paolo, who remains a dear friend. Speaking of Paolo, have you heard he’s been named the Teatro di Tagliatelle’s undersecretary for internal pipe organs? Marvelous, isn’t it? Oh, please do make sure Eleanor receives my chartreuse tassel loafers (which are behind the sofa, inside the cat)—she does adore them so.


Miss Marzipan, I must confess an abiding admiration for your intelligence, quick laugh, and shapely ear lobes; it was a pleasure to know you as my pet skink. And Thomas, trusty greengrocer! I’ve always loved you! My tuning fork is hidden beneath the Dutch oven.

IV. Ending the Suicide Note

An intimate letter has no end at all, but a suicide note is an end in itself. A smart suicide note closes without histrionics; contra Mr. Dylan Thomas, going gentle into that good night is precisely what we’re after. One should be pithy, be bright, and under no circumstances include a severed ear. Don’t neglect the abundantly aforementioned joie de vivre, of course. And, mostly, just get it over with.

The Cultural Scene: 'Just Desserts'

The Cultural Scene is an occasional review of cultural works and happenings.

One can be excused currently for not knowing the name Melvin Marigold, but the amnesty won’t last long. For Mr. Marigold, 23, who just weeks ago was darning socks to keep the lights on, has rapidly become something of an art world sensation owing to his debut show, “Just Desserts,” which opened late last month at the Tick Tock gallery.

That the art cognoscenti have found themselves another savant is hardly worth note. Unusually, though, Mr. Marigold actually deserves every bit of buzz, every grain of praise, he’s so far received—and perhaps more. “Just Desserts” is not only a revelatory show; it may well be a revolutionary one.

Mr. Marigold comes to us from Dubuque by way of Munich, where he trained as a Konditormeister, or master pastry chef, working 14-hour days in a hollowed out beech tree, staging for the Keebler Elves. His world was desserts, the fragile beauty and evanescence of which transfixed but also vexed him. In order to capture the fleeting grace of his creations he began to sketch them, and on rare days off would elaborate on these sketches, trading pencil for pastel, napkin for canvas, constantly building and revising. The results of this iterative process are currently on display at Tick Tock.

Mr. Marigold has no formal art training, a lacuna that works in his favor. His technique is largely self-discovered, and much of it is unique. Much of it is also uniquely stirring. In Pot de Crème No. 5 (KitchenAid Mixer–media on paper) assured brushstrokes are here and there interrupted by judicious spatters of vanilla extract, which provide not only visual freshness but olfactory depth and give the piece an invigorating sensual potency. More innovation comes with The Persistence of Pudding, into the custardy expanses of which we are inexorably drawn, lost in contemplation, until being whacked over the head by a gallery assistant wielding a double boiler.

Again, this is not novelty for novelty’s sake. The show, comprising 17 largely figurative depictions of desserts in various stages of consumption, has real power. Mr. Marigold manages to imbue each piece with pure and unembarrassed force. In Annunciation we see an archangel food cake kneeling before a bûche de Noël and proffering a lily, an indication of the Yule log’s purity. The scene is richly moving, and we are instantly and unconsciously convinced of its consequence.

These desserts are no afterthought. They are the focus: full, vigorous, and not infrequently carnal. In Garçon à la Piping, a startlingly forceful meditation on adolescent pâtissiers from Mr. Marigold’s so-called Rosette period, a boy tentatively fingers a pastry bag, perhaps for the first time, hints of a sly Eros-tinged smile forming on his lips. The Adoration of the Macaron, the work in which the Sugar Cubist Betty Crocker’s influence is most clearly perceptible, depicts the Baby Macaron as an adult, fully baked and ganache-filled. Here He is not flavored the traditional raspberry, either, but salted caramel. This is a muscular and virile Baby Macaron. He is nobody’s dinner denouement.

It’s important to emphasize what a sea change this is. Dessert has habitually deferred to that lord of the table, the entrée, but Mr. Marigold uncompromisingly upends this dynamic. His show is both paean to the proximate-postprandial and also a relentless attack on what the artist clearly feels is the entrée’s unearned supremacy. What’s more, he seems to be fast gaining converts. A recent review of “Just Desserts” in the French paper Le Fin du Monde appeared under the headline, “Le Dîner, Il Est Mort!

Yet the brightest star in this show studded with them is one of Mr. Marigold’s more unassuming pieces: the beguiling Girl with the Pearl Tapioca. A young girl, maybe thirteen, wears an apron and a striking ultramarine toque. She sits facing away, though her head is turned to face us directly. Her expression is hesitant, apprehensive. In her left hand she holds a shallow dish of pearl tapioca. It is a majestic portrait, thrumming with vivacity but still decidedly mournful. Does the somberness come from the darkly shaded background, or from the fact the girl is chained to an oven? The work retains its mysteries.

If there’s any dissonance in “Just Desserts” it’s the sense that keeping up such a profound first impression is hopeless. Can Mr. Marigold possibly meet the expectations that his debut has occasioned? He certainly doesn’t lack for ideas or energy: already he is wrapping up plans for his next exhibition, “Nobody’s Parfait,” a series of photographs of abandoned ice cream. We shall see. For now, the lines at Tick Tock are long. And for a change, justifiably so. 

Worst Day, Part II

(Read part one of this day here.)

My mind whirred. The Meyer business seemed a sterling opportunity, what with his Bank of England connection, but I couldn’t help thinking of my father, and of my grandfather, and my great grandfather, and the hedgehog who raised him—baton salesmen, all. Batons were in my blood, at least until the hematologists could find a cure. I knew what I had to do.

“Sorry to say it, Pierson. But you can tell Meyer I’m out.”

Pierson stroked his chin and forced a flurry of iridescent orbs from his pipe. He was taking the news well, or so it seemed until he flipped the table and body slammed a passing sommelier. Startled, I briefly considered reversing my decision, if only to safeguard the wait staff, but by that point Pierson had progressed in the stages of grief from anger to self-flagellation with a soba noodle, which I took as my cue to leave. And anyway, I was now covered in clams.

I’d nearly escaped the Zsa Zsa’s premises when a stern tapping accosted my trapezius. I spun ’round and came face-to-face with that grouch of a maître d’food, his calumnious gaze fixed on the clam-baked burqa. After the hurling of countless recriminations, intimidations, and heirloom tomatoes, I found myself hopelessly dragooned into ponying up for the garment, which, just my luck, was Chanel. A prêt-à-prayer loaner burqa I could understand, but haute couverture?

Debouching onto the sidewalk, then, I was more than slightly frazzled. I craved something to calm the nerves, not to mention settle the stomach and cleanse the palate of shellfish residuals. I espied kitty-corner a trattoria and reasoned a stiff Sambuca would be just the thing to right the ship, as they say; I made for the establishment with haste.

I entered the trattoria and found it quiet. The host stand was unattended, despite having received rave reviews in Platform Weekly. Sensing movement I turned toward the bar and there beheld the most beautiful woman I’d seen since my days selling sandcastle timeshares on Ipanema. Her hair was dark, and she wore a tight red sweater beneath a navy apron, though whose navy I couldn’t tell. Our eyes met and had much in common, like an aversion to direct sunlight. Our mouths smiled.

“I’m afraid the kitchen’s closed right now,” she said. “The ramekins are on strike.”

“Not a problem,” I responded breezily, though I’m quite serious about aggrieved ceramics. “I’ll just take a Sambuca.”

Another smile. What great teeth she had! So pearly and flossable. She set the drink on the bar. “I’m Beatrice, and this,” she said gesturing widely, “is my place.”

I glanced askance at the menu. “Why is your place called ‘Vincenzo’s’?”

“Vincenzo is a liar!” she screamed, flinging my Sambuca to the ground, shattering the glass. She drew a deep breath, then hung it on the wall with her other sketches. Calmly, she poured me a second drink.

“You see, it is a difficult subject. For Vincenzo was my lover.” Beatrice began: “I met him seven years ago, in the scorched hills of Calabria, where he was working as a donkey massager with his uncle, Giuseppe di Pepperoni. I’d gone for a long walk outside of town when, from behind a cantilevered copse, I heard an intense braying. I came to the other side of the thicket, and there he was. Vincenzo. Shirtless, muscles glistening with sweat, expertly performing ashiatsu on a jack’s ass. I fell immediately in love.”

I nodded, struggling to feign interest in this predictable story. Beatrice kept talking.

“But I couldn’t love Vincenzo. Or rather was forbidden to love him. First of all he was a mule kneader, and I come from a good family. My mother was a celebrated prima donna and my father, well, my father owned several toucans. Second, I was already pledged to be wife to the Duke of Fellini! But most importantly my people, the Mortadellas of Cosenza, had had vendetta against the Pepperonis since 1473, when someone sneezed. I despaired that I could never be with Vincenzo, my one true love!”

My glass was empty and my patience about exhausted. Beatrice may have had a pair of world-class calves, but they weren’t worth this earache. Before I could stop her, though, she’d bestowed a refill.

“Vincenzo and I began to meet secretly at night, in the donkey stables. There amid the hay and the parasites we consummated our love, sharing passionate, feverish butterfly kisses until dawn!”

My head was pounding. I started to wonder how much more of this tale I could take—and how much Sambuca I’d already had.

To be continued

Such an Old Lady

I’m sick of my sorority sisters always calling me “such an old lady.” I mean, I may not be the wildest girl in the house, but so what?

So what if I didn’t attend the Oktobersex social? Can’t a girl spend a quiet night in? Maybe I just wanted to make hot chocolate in an oversize mug, snuggle up under a cozy blanket, remove my teeth, and have some me time. But apparently if you like hot chocolate, surprise! You’re an “old lady.”

I’m “such an old lady”? Well would an old lady plan Sister Dinner at Limón, the hottest restaurant in town? Sorry the reservations were “crazy early,” Erin, but I don’t eat big meals late at night. Not to mention I can’t legally drive after dark because of my cataracts, duh.

My sisters can seriously be so rude. For example, at Chapter meeting, after I announced I’d be attending several funerals on Thursday and had to miss Margarita Madness, Blair whispered “such an old lady” under her breath. I couldn’t hear her, of course. But my home health aide definitely did.

And I’m “such an old lady” for not doing a keg stand at Rhino’s rager? That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure old ladies hardly even go to ragers. Obviously I didn’t do a keg stand not because I’m “such an old lady” but because beer has a ton of calories, and being held upside down is total murder on my artificial hip.

And yeah, I said it: I’m over Club Posh. That makes me “such an old lady”? Umm, we go to Posh every Monday and it’s boring. Plus the coat girls are mean about checking my mobility scooter, and I’ve had several strokes in the Glow Zone.

Everyone knows I left Biker Bash before it ended. But I didn’t leave because I’m “such an old lady,” as the gossips will tell you, but because I soiled myself and had to change diapers. Also, why is it a major deal that I kissed Gena’s boyfriend that night? Mistakes happen. I drank a lot, and differentiating faces is tough with those cataracts.

And speaking of kissing, people are saying I’m “such an old lady” because I didn’t sleep with Jordan after Femme Fatale. But did people ever consider that maybe I didn’t sleep with Jordan not because I’m “such an old lady” but because I became disoriented, left his room, and wandered around the city all day muttering to myself? It’s like, don’t be ignorant. Dementia is for real.

It makes me so mad. But thankfully, some of my sorority sisters are actually pretty awesome. Madison and I play a lot of bridge, and Keira stops by at least once a week to read to me. She even gets volunteer credit for it. I really love those girls, even though sometimes I think they’re my cats.

So while it may bother me that a few people in my sorority say I’m “such an old lady,” it’s their problem, not mine. My plan is to just stay positive and be the better person, and to cut most of them out of my will.

Worst Day

It started at the coffee shop. I’d just polished off a triple-foam latherccino and salmon salad sandwich à la mode when, rushing out the door, I inadvertently dropped some paper into the recycling bin reserved for sandalwood. Remonstration was immediate, and came from a snarling man loitering nearby who’d witnessed the miscue in toto. I was already on edge. Earlier my salmon salad, surly as they come, had tried to make an upriver run for it mid-nosh, and I’d lost several of my better lures. So I turned on the fellow. “Who’re you, pal, the trash police?” And that’s when he showed me his badge.

The ride downtown seemed to last an eternity, and I was sweating bullets inside the garbage bag. But at least I had company. The peach pit was pleasant enough and the used floss was fine, too, though she mostly kept to herself. At the station a bunch of other undercover trash officers were standing around, shooting the breeze with their pistols. The floss sneered: “Guess that’s how they get their kicks.”

My lawyer arrived and sprung into action, winning over the trash cops with balloon animals. My lawyer’s a clown, you see, but don’t hold it against him. He’s the best in the business. The kazoo business, that is, or should I say what’s left of it. Within no time I was free to go and feeling swell, then less swell once I remembered what Gigglestein bills for helium.

I finally caught a cab but the driver was a banana, so I had to hoof it to the nearest subway stop and take the express train uptown. What time was it? My watch said 10:45, but you can never trust a talking watch. I was supposed to present to the Philharmonic at eleven, and they don’t allow late entry.

I transferred without incident and was mounting the stairs at 66th when I sensed an unusual lightness to my gait. A quick self-frisk confirmed my worst fear after giant squids (Architeuthis): I’d left my satchel brimming with baton samples on the train. I imagined some junky finding my batons and, craving a quick fix, flipping them for simple maintenance work. But this was no time for fanciful flights. I needed batons and I needed them yesterday!

Seven minutes hence I was hiding in the mezzanine, fashioning substitute baton samples from a handful of pilfered toothpicks and some freshly masticated Doublemint. Needless to say the results did not dazzle, and at my presentation the third bassoonist wasted no time showing me the door and then pushing me out the window. To add insult to injury, Maestro looked down and taunted my tennis elbow.

I was scheduled to lunch with Pierson at one o’clock but the defenestration hadn’t done my appearance any favors, and I doubted they’d let me in the Zsa Zsa Club with torn trousers and boutineer all adroop. The sun’s position indicated there wasn’t time for a sartorial tune-up and so I hailed the next available conveyance, telling the mahout, “Zsa Zsa Club my good man, and don’t step on anything!”

I arrived at the Zsa Zsa in record time but was awarded no medal. As expected, the maître d’food was unimpressed by the state of my livery, and before showing me to Pierson’s table politely yet firmly suggested I’d be more comfortable in one of the club’s crested burqas. I finally found Pierson, jolly as ever, holding forth to a breadbasket and puffing away on his bubble pipe.

“Still wasting your life in that baton racket?” Pierson paused to refill his bowl with soapy water. “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, there’s no future in batons, what with the Lithuanians turning them out ten thousand a day. Cufflinks, my man. Cufflinks are where the real money’s at!”

He had a point, did Pierson, but usually covered it with sombreros. And also, what he said was true. Just two years prior he was barely making ends meet in the corner trade, and before that he’d spent his days hawking used clipboard springs on the Bowery. Now look at him, a cufflink kingpin, holding down a table at the Zsa Zsa Club and enjoying six-martini brunches and Steak Diane dinners on the regular.

“So look,” he said from behind a wall of bubbles. “You remember Meyer? Grew up outside Philadelphia in a tree house?”

I nodded.

“Meyer’s putting together a crew, a few guys with nothing to lose and the world to gain. Got your name written all over it.”

I liked where this was going but smelled trouble, and sure enough my burqa was on fire. Pierson flung a carafe of cab franc on the vestment and kept going. “Well how ’bout it? Should I tell Meyer you’re in?”

I stared through the smoke into my clam concassé, searching for answers. I knew Meyer’s pedigree. He was mixed up in all manner of skullduggery, and he’d done serious time upstate after the feds got wise to his operation smuggling black-market pomegranates in legitimate fruit hats. It was a seedy enterprise, and Meyer himself may or may not have ordered several cleanses.

But I also knew this could be the break I’d long sought, a chance to escape the soul-crushing province of baton peddling and make a real name for myself. Meyer always played by his own rules and I admired him for it, except when we sparred in fencing class.

Sitting there at the Zsa Zsa in a charred loaner burqa, engulfed in bubbles, I realized I was facing the most important decision of my entire life.

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Opposites Attract

Things have been going really well lately with my new boyfriend Ben. It’s crazy, because we actually don’t have that much in common. For example, I grew up on the West Coast, in a pretty progressive household, whereas Ben is a walrus.
So let’s just say that when we first started dating I had my doubts. But boy was I wrong. And really, I guess Ben and I aren’t all that different. We’re both mammals, for one, and pescatarians. We both also love the outdoors and 1960s Italian films.
Not that we don’t have our disagreements. As I mentioned, my family is pretty liberal, and I’ve been an atheist for as long as I can remember. Sometimes that causes tension, because Ben is a Norse pagan.
But we’re making it work, you know? I may think religion is a fiction but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate Ben’s beliefs. In fact, this month I helped him break the Fast of Njörðr by preparing a delicious meal of gazpacho, quinoa salad, and raw sea worms. 

After dinner, we stayed up all night, just talking and learning about each other. Ben told me how, growing up, he and his family were the only Norse pagans on their rock. It sounded like a really hard life, and it helped me understand why Ben’s faith is so important to him and why he’s always yelling about Christianized seals.
Which I guess brings me to the one area where we sometimes struggle: Ben has a temper. It can be pretty bad, and not just about the seals. A few Fridays ago we were supposed to meet for drinks after work. I had to stay late at the office, and I texted Ben to tell him. But he didn’t get my texts because he’s “obviously a goddamn walrus,” or whatever.
Anyway, when I got to the bar I could tell Ben was pissed; he was acting totally standoffish. Halfway through my first drink I knew the night wasn’t going to improve, and that I should probably just leave. Ben had been quiet the whole time, but when we got outside he erupted, rearing up right there on the sidewalk and baring his tusks! He apologized later, but I’d never seen him like that before, and it was actually kind of scary.
But Ben’s really a good guy, and 99 percent of the time he’s totally chill. A few weeks ago I was nagging him about getting a job instead of lying in the tub all day, urinating on himself. He looked up at me and was like, “Tracy, rather than worry about my life maybe you should examine your own.” And you know what? He was completely right. I’m always so busy, rushing from one thing to the next, while Ben focuses on just a few things: eating, sleeping, and, from January to March, aggressively mating. He doesn’t let other stuff get in the way of his priorities. I really admire that.
I also admire Ben’s positive body image. He basically eats what he wants (sea worms) when he wants (waking hours). Maybe he doesn’t exactly fit society’s definition of “not morbidly obese,” but he’s totally comfortable in his own skinfolds. I’m trying to be more like that myself.
So, yeah—I guess you could say I’m kind of falling for Ben. Yesterday he asked if I’d like to migrate with him back to the rock and meet his family. I checked Kayak and flights to Svalbard are pretty expensive, but I still might do it, you know? Sometimes you just have to take a risk. Like Ben always says, “Grugh grugh grugh, arrrgh!”

Buyer's Remorse

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really starting to regret buying a time machine. Ever since I molecuported the ZY-71 off the lot, my life has been one unending hassle.

The trouble began at the dealership. Phil, the salesman, was quite pushy, and he made a very low-ball offer for my Dodge Stratus trade-in. He also neglected to mention that the ZY-71 gets terrible yearage: three hours after buying the thing I was already at the Pump-N-Go. Imagine my shock when the attendant said it would cost two million dollars to fill the tank with plutonium. “No thanks,” I sighed. “Just use radon.”

That weekend I had some free time, so I decided to take my ZY-71 to the Paleozoic Era and have a look around. Frankly, it was a pretty disappointing era. I walked a long while and didn’t see any dinosaurs. Now I’m not so sure they ever even existed.

Anyway, before returning home I double-checked that no stegosaurus or whatever had followed me into the time machine, which would’ve been unlikely because, again, I hadn’t seen one so-called “dinosaur” all day. But some Paleozoic seeds must’ve attached to my clothes. Because the next morning there was a man-eating plant in my front lawn, by the mailbox, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there the day before. A few local dogs have gone missing so the neighborhood association is pitching a fit. I still can’t get my mail.

Another time I was reading The Great Gatsby and thought it’d be fun to check out the Jazz Age. So I hopped in my ZY-71 and set the dial. But when I opened the hatch and climbed out, I was immediately accosted by an angry man in goggles. He was pointing frantically at his Studebaker, which, unfortunately, was underneath my time machine. “Just great,” I thought. I wrote my phone number on a scrap of paper and gave it to Mr. Goggles. He yelled “Scram!” and then slapped me in the face with a leather glove.

They say when you become famous everyone you ever knew will “come out of the woodwork.” Well, ditto when you buy a time machine. A few days ago I got this e-mail from Cheryl, my second-grade girlfriend:

Hey, Rob, it’s Cheryl, from fourth grade! Just wondering how you’re doing. Are you still way into bugs? Oh, I almost forgot: I heard you bought a time machine??? Really neat. Anyway it would be great to catch up, so let me know if you ever want grab a drink or maybe use the time machine!

I’ve also been getting a lot of calls from random people asking if I could “do mankind a solid” and assassinate historical ogres, like Joseph Stalin and Skeletor, before they have a chance to hatch their evil schemes. Nice idea, but not really my thing. Before hanging up, though, I’d rhetorically ask these callers why they didn’t just use their own time machines. But then somebody said, “Because you have the only one,” which I did not know and which is honestly a lot of pressure I don’t need right now.

I guess I have had a few good experiences with the ZY-71. I enjoyed meeting Marie Antoinette. She was very kind and conscientious, despite what you read. I also loved wowing the medieval hordes with mundane technology, but I had to quit that after inadvertently launching the Zipper Crusades, which were just awful.

Yeah, buying a time machine was a definite mistake. But no more complaining. I have to get back to work, building these pyramids. Khufu’s a real slave driver if you know what I mean. Which reminds me: you don’t know any traders around here selling radon, do you? I’m very interested.

Deal Breaker

For me, life is all about making deals.

Big deals, sweet deals, real deals—there’s no type of deal I won’t make. I once cadged 96 kilos of premium Bluefin belly from some sake-bombed angler in a back alley off Tsukiji and sold it hours later for triple. Told my buddies I got a “raw deal,” and when they started scoffing and chiding like fools I pulled out my cash bucket and dumped thousands of yen all over the tatami.

Deals! Hell, sometimes I’ll make a deal on foot and then, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll make a second deal, but this time on the go. I’ll say, “Boy, I am wheeling and dealing!” which is something I know other people say, too, but I’m describing a very specific situation here.

Anyway you can probably see where I’m going with this, which is to point out that the one thing I can’t stand is a deal breaker.

Ugh, a deal breaker is just the worst! But unfortunately in this deal-or-be-dealt world sometimes even a deal you want more than anything can get sidetracked or sidelined, or dare I say even sideswiped? You just have to call it like you see it, and if you see it—by which I mean see a deal breaker, of course—you simply need to call it as such and walk away. No deal.

For example, last week at the deli the cashier rang up my sandwich and said, “Eight dollars, please.” Eight dollars seemed high so I negotiated, as any savvy deal maker would, by grabbing the sandwich and running out the door. But instead of modifying his offer the cashier yelled, “Stop or I’ll call the police!” So, sadly, I had to give up on that deal, which was too bad because I love both pastrami and making deals but was the right decision nonetheless, as any standard business school prof will tell you.

Another time I was at dinner with a date. She was beautiful and pretty much stacked with joie de vivre. When the check came I ran the numbers and told her what she owed, and her expression turned sad and she said, “Wow, deal breaker.” I drive a hard bargain, sure, but who breaks a deal before even getting down to brass tacks? I could’ve walked away right then, but a good deal maker knows that compromise isn’t a dirty word, like asshat or philanthropy, and especially not if you’re itching to make more deals later that night. So I caved, adjusted my position, and offered to pay half. When she left the restaurant without me, that is called the Fait Accompli Tactic.

Not that I don’t have my own deal breakers, sadly. I once left a job and a mid-five-figure salary because a colleague hung taxidermy in his office and I do not like animals. Thus, an animal is for me a definite deal breaker (not to mention a downright pet peeve, but that’s obviously a whole other discussion).

You can’t win ’em all, they say, and they are largely correct in their reading of the situation. Deal makers have to be willing to accept defeat, though sometimes you must never do that.

So what have we learned? That every deal is different; so, too, every deal maker. And by extension, every deal breaker is also uniquely one in a million. If you can make a deal, seize it! But if it stinks, don’t be afraid to pack up and leave. Because when I’m dealing with someone who’s trying to force a square deal into a round hole, well, I have to just shake my head. Deal breaker.

Tapa Tells All

¡Hola! It’s me, Tapa! The crazy small plate from Cádiz! I’m spending the summer in Cap d’Antibes with my girlfriend, who’s working a bit while we’re here (if you call what bikini models do “working”). As for my own schedule? Only sand, sea, and sun. It’s nice, no?

Yes, I admit things have been going pretty well lately. I’m everywhere these days—at office parties, baby showers, and, ¡Dios mío!, even the Olive Garden!

But it wasn’t always so. When I was small—smaller—things were very difficult. The other plates, they would pick on me constantly, poking fun at my modest portions. “Hey pequeñito!” they’d yell. “Your offerings couldn’t sate a fruit fly!” Always I was the last one selected for games of street fútbol. Always I was left alone, in the corner, as the others danced flamenco and shared passionate red wine kisses deep into the balmy Andalusian night.

One of the lowest moments came in my teenage years when, after agonizing for weeks, I finally worked up the huevos to ask Sherry to the homecoming bullfight. She went with Paella instead. I’ll never forget her devastating words: “Paella contains multitudes,” she told me. “He and I are just a better pairing.”

So I was happy to leave during university for a study abroad program in San Francisco. And that’s when I noticed it: people there actually liked me. In my ingredients’ rusticity they found not crudeness but purity, and in their simplicity not facileness but integrity. Everything about me, in fact—they ate it all up.

I jumped at the opportunity. I left school and the West Coast for New York, where I gathered investors, started a restaurant, and watched, open-faced, as people rushed at the chance to spend more money for less food. Braised quail knuckle on mint sprig: $19.00. Fried dandelion tuft with tarragon dust: $27.00. Plankton en papillote: $43.00. No matter what I listed on the menu, it seemed my customers just couldn’t put down their tweezers.

I called my good friend from home, Pintxo. “Amigo!” I said. “Drop everything and get to New York!” He did, and we opened another restaurant together.

There were a few critics, of course, who called us provincial. And in a way they were right: we weren’t born at Le Cordon Bleu, with silver spoons for beds; didn’t spend our afternoons at the Ritz, lounging in duck fat; and didn’t dress for dinner in fancy haute-sauces from the house of Escoffier. But we also didn’t care. We were happy to let our few ingredients just be themselves.

New Yorkers understood that. We couldn’t open restaurants fast enough! But then Pintxo started becoming distracted by the newfound wealth and fame. He started wearing expensive garnishes and foams and partying with a hip new crowd. And he started dating a beautiful actress with whom he fell deeply in love, Penelope Crudités.

But Pintxo’s feelings for Penelope weren’t reciprocated, and after seven months together she abandoned him, running away with some playboy Italian finger bowl. My friend was inconsolable but I, busy with my own life, didn’t realize how bad it was. I will never forget that dark morning when I arrived at the restaurant and found him, there in the kitchen. He had drowned himself in balsamic vinegar. He was inedible. 

All of Pintxo’s new friends vanished, and so it was I alone who organized the funeral and I alone who, at the end of the ceremony, scraped poor Pintxo’s remains into the trash. For weeks I mourned, shutting away and covering myself in squid ink. And then one day I woke at dawn—and went back to work.

I knew that without my partner I’d have to toil five times as hard and that’s what I did, dreaming up new menu ideas while also running the business. I was no longer the laid-back and fun-loving Tapa I’d been over the past several years; instead, I was determined and shrewd. When I heard Meze was up to his gills in debt I bought him out, and when I learned Dim Sum’s growth was slowing I negotiated a tough fusion. I was a blur of activity, authoring a cookbook, giving interviews to food blogs, doing segments on morning television, and wearing a distinctive red toque everywhere I went.

But then, at a routine medical check up, I learned my lifestyle had become unsustainable. My body’s ingredients, the doctor said, were getting fattier, and wilting at an alarming rate. My personal life was a disaster, too. Another night, another cute little amuse-bouche—but in the morning I’d feel empty all over again.

And for what? I was working hard but hurting myself, unable to find satisfaction in anything. Worst of all, I was violating the very motto I held most sacred, the one printed atop the menus in all my restaurants: Less, it is more, no?

And that’s when I determined to embrace my Mediterranean roots—to slow down, relax, and start enjoying life. So I took a vacation. I rekindled relationships with old friends. And I met beautiful Katya. Lately, I’ve taken up oil painting. The light here, in the south of France, is so wonderfully inspirational. Magical, even.

Who knows what the future holds for Tapa. But as for now more immediate matters are at hand: I must begin preparing dinner. After all, these snail cilia will not caramelize themselves!

Pre-Smartphone Conversations

Two women in a restroom

Woman 1:  Whoa. Check us out in the mirror!

Woman 2:  We are hot!

Woman 1:  Seriously. The light in here makes our body parts look amazing.

Woman 2:  The stuff we want to be big is big and the stuff we want to be small is small. Likewise with round stuff and flat stuff.

Woman 1:  And our clothes! Have we ever looked this good, like, ever?

Woman 2:  Never! Too bad nobody will believe us.

Woman 1:  Let’s just make some pouty faces in the mirror and go.

A boy and a girl on a train

Boy:  What do you think Justin Timberlake’s doing right now?

Girl:  What?

Boy:  I mean, right now. Right this second. What do you think Justin Timberlake is doing? What’s he up to—right now?

Girl:  I dunno.

Boy:  It’s 12:30, so he’s probably eating lunch or something. But he might not even be in the same time zone. He might be in Seoul.

Girl:  Maybe.

Boy:  But I bet he’s probably just eating lunch and chilling by the pool with some bikini models or something while he eats.

Girl:  Whatever.

Two men at the gym

Man 1:  Leg day?

Man 2:  Better believe it. Love leg day.

Man 1:  Any day at the gym is a good day! I’m preaching to the choir, though—we’re both here all the time.

Man 2:  You’re the only one who knows how often I work out, actually.

Man 1:  Wouldn’t it be nice if all our friends knew just how many hours we both spend at the gym, maintaining our health, physiques, and general senses of well-being?

Man 2:  And if they knew exactly what time we got to the gym in the morning, so they’d come to respect us for our disciplined lifestyles, too?

Man 1:  I wish. Need a spot?

A man and a woman at a restaurant

Woman:  Wow! Look at these appetizers! They’re beautiful!

Man:  I have never seen appetizers more magnificent in my life! 

Woman:  And my god the colors! They almost glisten!

Man:  You know what: these appetizers are downright works of art. They should be in a museum. I mean that. I feel very strongly that the people we know should see these appetizers and witness their vibrancy, their glory.

Woman:  I feel that way, too! And similarly strongly. 

Man:  Let’s eat them, I guess.

Two men at an ATM

Man 1:  How much are you taking out?

Man 2:  Two hundred.

Man 1:  Two Gs. Baller status.

Man 2:  A G is a thousand, not a hundred. 

Man 1:  What? No.

Man 2:  It’s a thousand. It’s G like a grand. Like a thousand. 

Man 1:  No, it’s G like G, the Italian numeral for 100.

Man 2:  Dude, that’s not even a thing.

Man 1:  Yeah, well, agree to disagree. Asshole.

A man and a woman on a date

Man:  I went on another run this morning. 

Woman:  That’s great! Where’d you run? 

Man:  I have no idea.

Woman:  You don’t know where you ran?

Man:  Some streets. There were a bunch of turns. I saw a park with a lot of fountains. And this weird flagpole.

Woman:  How far did you go?

Man:  Miles likely.

Woman:  Right. So should we get the check?

A husband and wife on the sidewalk

Wife:  I wonder if there are any good bars in this neighborhood.

Husband:  Not sure. Why don’t we ask that guy?

Wife:  Eh, he looks like he doesn’t know the area, either. What about her, though, across the street? Let’s ask her.

Husband:  Her? No way. Look at her. She’ll give us terrible advice.

Wife:  Okay, let’s go home.

Husband:  Okay.

Two women on a bus

Woman 1:  Is that a new book you’re reading?

Woman 2:  Yes.