Displaying articles for: March 2012

Excuses, Excuses


"We know that we haven't been playing well and that we need to start turning it around." -- Former New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni

One of the most promising and brightest teams in professional basketball, the Wichita Pilgrims, is in serious need of help after suffering a 166-12 loss last night which worsened their 26-game losing streak. That is, made it a 27-game losing streak. How could such a team, which only weeks ago was wildly successful and a trending topic on Twitter, become the Charlie Brown of the sport?

"I blame the injuries and other unfortunate events," said assistant coach Richard Broderick. "[Starting center] Samson Gulliver is still dealing with a torn Achilles and this reoccurring dream -- which he often involuntarily re-enacts during games -- that he's falling. We can't expect him back on the court this season." Gulliver has been criticized for his injury after reports from a bar in Daytona suggest he tore the tendon on a dare "to see what it was like." Other injured players include forward Wade "Hmm" Thompson, who is recovering from poorly-timed Lasik surgery, and point guard Popeye "Popeye Rollins" Rollins, who had his knee replaced with a falcon's skull in an ill-advised attempt to "fly like the falcon."


"I can't lie," said head coach Nick Wall. "It's not good. A lot of our players are out from injuries, and two of our point guards have become Sufis, with all the obligations that kind of conversion brings with it. And Fred? Well, Fred went looking for that noise that, as he put it, was 'intermittently all up in my head -- you know what I'm saying,' and we haven't seen him since. It turns out that the sound was just a faulty smoke-detector battery in the locker room. So we got that taken care of. Tell Fred, if you see him. Thanks." 


The team began the season on a four-game winning streak, and many thought the mighty 'Grims would finally take home a championship. But that all changed after two of their star players, Omar Brown and Timothy "Yoda Spit" Billings were traded to a local car dealership. Pilgrims co-owner Jimmy Legree defended this transaction by asking reporters, "Haven't you ever made a mistake?"


"You have to understand," said Wall. "Our General Manager [Greg O'Brien] loved this car he saw at this dealer we drove past on the way to the Staples Center. He had to have it. But the GM, well, he doesn't have the best line of credit, and we were only in town that one night. So he traded a few of our players for the BMW. I'm not saying it was a wise decision, but it's a hell of car. Really is. And Brown and Billings? Well, they had a rough patch, but I'm told they're hitting their sales quotas this month. Damn proud of 'em." Wall went on to explain that the BMW gets wonderful gas mileage and handles "like a Glock, or a vanilla milk shake with chocolate syrup." 

With the two star players gone, the team took the opportunity to rebuild. Their first order of business? Signing the stadium janitor's son as the starting center. "Oh man," said Wall. "That would have been one hell of story, right? Poor janitor's kid gets the chance of a lifetime and wins a championship? Wowzers. We even sold the story to Disney before the first game." 14-year old Justin Fallon's first time on the court ended abruptly when after only seven minutes he yelled, "Will you guys please, please wait up!" as his teammates ran back on defense. He then spent several crucial seconds texting about how insulted he was to his friend Trevor. He was abruptly traded to the Chicago Bulls under the NBA's "pig-in-a-poke" rule, for three very nice jackets.

The Pilgrims needed help, and all hope was placed in the hands of Mike Kinnley, the UCLA star power forward. "Listen," said Wall, sweating. "I like Kinnley. He's a hell of a player. Always came to practice. Good guy. Did some amazing things for our organization. Really. But it was just too damn hard to overcome his penchant for killing otters. To me, they were only otters. Seriously, it was a non-story, but the media made those 138 Wichita River otters into some kind of big deal."

The team then put a bunch of orphans from China on the court, none of whom had ever played the sport. "Hahaha," said Wall. "OK. That was my idea. I figured, you put all those first-time players out there, beginner's luck has got to shine down on a few of them. Right? Had to! But it didn't." Wall then tried to build a team out of dogs after "seeing it in that movie." The current roster still has two dogs, Sparky and Thor, but Sparky is out of commission due to a hernia and Thor won't be playing anytime soon due to his habit of urinating at the foul line.


Just last week, several members of the team formed a bluegrass band, and so on game nights their priorities are often elsewhere. And center Hamilton "Thermos" Lorp will only play with his friend Raj Grupa, and Raj isn't playing because one of his socks keeps getting bunched up in his shoe. Even the team's trainer, Stelton Smith, has often been absent from the locker room, after deciding to make and sell his own jewelry on artsy.com. "I wish him luck," said Wall. The team's new trainer is now a rather shoddy iPad app called "Hurty Be Gone," which may or may not be responsible for guard Alvin Kim's diagnosis of "too much foot skin," which in turn led to a botched pedicure in the locker room.

Yet still the team gives it their all every night. You can tell by the look on their pained faces that nothing is left on the court. Or off it, either. That said, the team decided to forfeit tonight's game due to a general malaise, and excitement about the upcoming new season of Game of Thrones.


"Look -- it's one hell of a show, you have to admit," Wall said to reporters yesterday.


Dan Bergstein is currently trying to adapt The Help (the film) into a book, and then into another film, and then, finally, into a statue.


Letters of the Law


DEREK JETER, shortstop of the New York Yankees, having been called as a witness on behalf of the defense of LIFE OF E'S, after being duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:


Q         Mr. Jeter, I am going to ask you a few questions. I'll ask that you speak clearly and direct your answers to the jury. Understood?


A         Okay.


Q         Can you tell the court where you were the evening of December 7th, 2011?


A         I was at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn.


Q         What was the occasion?


A         I was with other members of an organization I belong to called Life of E's.


Q         Can you explain for the court the exact nature and purpose of this organization?


A         Life of E's, to quote our mission statement, is "an exclusive society of thoughtful and committed citizens invested in the preservation and advancement of the mutual condition of its members."


Q         In your own words, Mr. Jeter, what is that mutual condition?


A         Basically, we're all famous people who have the letter "e" as the only vowel in our names.


Q         What year did you join this organization?


A         My rookie year -- 1996. The society threw me a welcoming party hosted by Werner Klemperer.


Q         The actor who played Colonel Klink on "Hogan's Heroes"?


A         That's correct. He was a great mentor to me. I remember he said to me that night "One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar."


Q         Whom was he quoting?


A         Our society's founder, Helen Keller. Then Mel Ferrer presented me with a baseball player figurine with a plaque that read "Life of E's Most Valuable Player (Except for Pee Wee Reese)." That made me laugh.


Q         Mr. Jeter, what was the purpose of your visit to the Brooklyn Marriott on the night in question?


A         Life of E's had booked the ballroom at the hotel for our annual Celebrit-E Karaoke Night. It's a fun event. When I'm on the mike, I pretty much stick to hip-hop. Ellen DeGeneres is partial to singer-songwriters. Jewel and Cher often finish the night with a duet. I like Cher a lot. She gave me a T-shirt once that I still have. It says "Click on this E-Male."


Q         In your opinion, Mr. Jeter, was the night's karaoke event a success?


A         A success? No. No, it was not. It was anything but a success.


Q         What happened?


 A        Well, when I got to the lobby that night I saw Cher standing by the front desk and we exchanged hugs. She starts telling me about her cab driver, a Hindu with a lisp, which reminds her of a dirty joke she once heard from Bert Wheeler. We then turn and tell the person behind the desk we'll be getting set up in the ballroom, but there's a problem.


Q         What was the problem?


A         They had double-booked the ballroom. Cher goes completely ape. She's screaming "That's impossible!" and whipping her hair extensions around. I duck to avoid her hair and then I...then I...Sorry. This is still very hard for me to talk about.


Q         Take your time, Mr. Jeter.


A         Then I turn and I see what -- "who," I should say -- is pressing up against my shoulder, pushing me to the side and wedging herself in between me and Cher.


Q         Who was it?


A         Julia Roberts.


Q         The movie actress?


A         Yes.


Q         What was Julia Roberts doing at the Marriott in Brooklyn?


A         As it turned out, meeting with her own organization, the Sequoias.


Q         The Sequoias?


A         It's like Life of E's but its members have all the vowels represented once each in their names.


Q         Wow.


A         No kidding. The hotel had double-booked us with the Sequoias. As Cher and Julia Roberts start having words, I ask if there are any other venues available but all the hotel's facilities are filled up. Meanwhile, most of our people are showing up in the lobby and wondering what's going on. Renee Zellweger comes over and says, "I think I just saw Evita outside having a cigarette with a Supreme Court justice."


Q         Patti Lupone and David Souter?


A         Yeah. And sure enough, seconds later, they're both walking up to the front desk to where we're all standing. And others keep coming. Here comes Arlo Guthrie. Then Greg Louganis. Pretty soon everyone is aware of the misunderstanding and no one's happy about it and no one's backing down. I really don't like how things are going so I suggest to my people that we find another location for our karaoke night. But Cher and Ellen DeGeneres aren't having it. They're flashing their teeth and Phil Donahue is snarling back at them. It's really getting to be a Yankees-Red Sox kind of situation, but then, in an instant, all of the Sequoias back off. They all back away and bow down. They all just bow.


Q         What were they doing?


A         They were actually prostrating themselves.


Q         Why were they prostrating themselves?


A         Their leader had arrived.


Q         Who is their leader?


A         Emmylou Harris.


Q         Emmylou Harris is the leader of the Sequoias?


A         Yes.


Q         Why?


A         Yes.


Q         Yes, what?


A         Y.


Q         That's what I asked, Mr. Jeter. Why?


A         Yes.


Q         Yes?


A         I'm sorry?


THE DEFENSE: May I approach, Your Honor?


THE COURT: You may.  




Q         Mr. Jeter, I'd like to clarify your last answer. To the best of your knowledge, Emmylou Harris is the leader of the Sequoias because her name includes a single appearance of each of the vowels as well as the letter "y" which, in the case of the name "Emmylou," is being used as a vowel?


A         That's correct.


Q         This fact, judging by the reaction of the other members of the Sequoias upon seeing Emmylou Harris, makes her some kind of god in their eyes?


A         Super-deity -- yes.


Q         In your opinion, was it the godlike powers of Emmylou Harris and not the actions of the members of Life of E's that were responsible for the nearly $91,000 in property damage which was created that night in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott?


A         For the most part, yes.


Q         For the most part?


A         Well, Emmylou Harris shows up and Cher, as always, calls her "beaouitch." Then Emmylou Harris calls Cher "One-E," her put-down for Cher. Cher then gets a hand on Emmylou's throat to, you know, choke her, but Emmylou sends Cher flying into a baggage rack. Then, using her powers of levitation, Emmylou lifts the whole front desk and crashes it into one of the lobby's walls, nearly crushing two Hasidic men who are at the hotel for a night of speed dating.


Q         Holy smokes.


A         Yeah. And then, suddenly, there was a blinding white light.


Q         A white light?


A         It was coming from the front door of the hotel. After adjusting my eyes, I see it's an old man. I've never seen him before this moment. He's old...like mad old. Wispy white-beard old. I look around, and the others are all whispering "It's him! It's him!"


Q         Did the others tell you who it was?


A         Yes. But I cannot say his name.


Q         Is he in this courtroom today, Mr. Jeter?


A         Yes.


Q         Could you please point at him and describe what he's wearing?


A         He has on a red-and-white plaid hunting jacket.


THE DEFENSE: We ask that the court recognize that the witness has identified Pete Seeger.


THE COURT: The court recognizes that the witness has identified Mr. Seeger.




Q         You did not know Pete Seeger existed until the night your society and the Sequoias ran into one another in the lobby of the Brooklyn Marriott?


A         No, I did not. I had been told stories -- rumors, mostly. They call him the Great Wimoweh. Nobody speaks his real name. He's our leader, our god.


Q         So, when Pete Seeger showed up that night, he and Emmylou Harris proceeded to engage each other in supernatural combat. Is that correct, Mr. Jeter?


A         Yes.


Q         Mr. Jeter, do you see Emmylou Harris in this courtroom today?


A         I do not.


Q         Do you know where Emmylou Harris is today?


A         Bellevue Hospital, I believe. It is rumored she went mad after the Great Wimoweh enlisted a close friend of his to sing to Emmylou, over and over again, the classic refrain from "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." The friend was happy to volunteer because her name contains the same vowels, in consecutive order, famously sung in the song.


Q         Mr. Jeter, is the name of that friend Celine Dion?


A         Yes.


Q         Thank you very much.


THE COURT: You may step down, Mr. Jeter. We will recess until two o'clock at which time we will have the closing arguments.


THE DEFENSE: To avoid any suspicion of bias, Your Honor, my client asks that instead of "closing arguments" the court use the term "clsng rgmnts."


David Levinson Wilk writes for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.  (And yes, the period at the end is correct, as the show does not use a question mark in its title.)


The Old Biography Shop


The world my grandfather grew up in had a very different idea of biographies from the one we have today. Scan the shelves of any bookstore and you will find the life stories of the famous, the notable, the accomplished -- artists, titans of business, legendary entertainers, sports heroes, prolific substance abusers. And while the Everyman is celebrated in our novels and short stories, he has never really gotten a foot in the door of nonfiction. It is exceedingly rare in this day and age to encounter, on those same bookstore shelves, the life story of the man or woman down the street.


In my grandfather's village, deep in the old country, there was a tremendous hunger for well-written, deeply-researched works on the lives of ordinary people. The bound editions of these humble lives gave my grandfather his livelihood; he kept a biography shop in town. He also wrote biographies, such as Enid Fredericks: The Postal Worker Years and James Barrington: Psoriasis Sufferer, but his primary function was as a collector and dealer.


In that time and place, biographies were less literary and more social. Very often, they were simply vessels for common gossip. One example that captivated my grandfather's village -- and brought him a lot of business – was the rivalry between two elderly ladies who escalated a petty argument by writing unauthorized biographies of one another, including bilious anniversary editions. The first two volumes are generally regarded by the opposing clans as the best: The Dull and Dreary Life of Olga Pasternak, by Hilda von Ness (1936), and Pathetic, Jealous, Gassy Hag: A Life of Hilda von Ness, by Olga Pasternak (1937).


Perhaps most fascinating is the way biographies served as a line of communication among far-flung villages -- a way to share the life stories of people whom one would never otherwise meet. In his travels my grandfather would collect biographies from other villages and return with them, stocking the shop's shelves with the lives of others. I imagine him sailing into port like some proud explorer returning home with sacks of exotic spices (though this is only a fantasy -- he traveled by horse, not ship, and he feared spices).


Sadly, my grandfather's success in the old country did not translate to his life in America. With an immigrant's boundless optimism, he paced the streets of New York looking for a biography shop that might hire him. Finding none, he passed his hours writing biographies of dockworkers and deli mennotably Seamus Peeves: You Call This a Life? and Hey, Cold Cut Man: A Life of Emanuel Wisp. Their lives fascinated him, and he produced thousands of well-sourced pages, yet he labored in vain. The New York publishers laughed at him and he fell into a deep depression.


His sorry state was amplified by yet another struggle. Around this time, my grandfather fell in love with a pretty American girl, who returned his affections. But he had a terrible time convincing his would-be in-laws that they should let their daughter marry an unemployed biographer, to say nothing of a biography shopkeeper without a shop to keep. The pretty girl's father -- a captain-of-industry type who read only financial pages and restaurant menus -- mocked him relentlessly. A man of great wealth and influence, he tried to dissuade his daughter from marrying, using all the resources at his command, including billboards.


It was only when my grandfather offered to write a biography of him that the old man relented. Desperate to please, my grandfather glossed over the man's corruption, backstabbing, incurious mind, and genetic mutations. The result was a hack job painting him in a glowing light, titled A Hero in Our Midst: A Life of Abraham Fontana. Though my grandfather sold the book to a New York publisher, on the strength of Abraham Fontana's stature in the world of business and politics, it was the shame of his life: an untrue account, a farce. Years later, on his deathbed, he lamented that this book, his sole success, would have been unworthy of a place on the shelf of his old biography shop.


Though I am the only one equipped to write my grandfather's biography, and know that the story of his life is worthy of telling (at least as much as the life of Abraham Fontana, who went on to be Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York, and in his amateur laboratory discovered an effective treatment for thigh chafing), it is out of respect that I hesitate. As for the old biography shop, it's still there, operated by the grandson of Hilda von Ness, unchanged except for the addition of a café.


Gregory Beyer is a senior editor at The Huffington Post.


We Book You Writer


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Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer and has written for McSweeney's, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications that fall somewhere in between.


July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).