Displaying articles for: March 2013

Going Local



It’s been a wild ride, but sadly Grin and Tonic will cease web publication starting tomorrow. The website and all of its content have been purchased by the TriFoil Investment Group and the new leadership has decided to cease publication of Grin and Tonic, at least on a digital platform.


TriFoil Investment Group had expressed interest in the site since day one, and after a year of negotiations the deal was reached. The group sees profit potential in not only bringing Grin and Tonic to the printed page in the form of paper newsletters, but plans to franchise the name to local editors who will oversee the content on a more regional scale.


Those interested in starting their own Grin and Tonic franchise should contact the TriFoil Investment Group or its parent company, Canadian Missile Logistics. The franchise fee is reported to be roughly $200,000 for rural areas, and $550,000 for urban locations, and they will supply you with one computer, a printer, and three reams of mid-quality printing paper as well as a list of possible shipping and distribution methods. All of this will be explained during the eight-week orientation program at the new Grin and Tonic headquarters in Sarasota, FL.


The new direction of Grin and Tonic will take is an exciting one. Instead of covering national trends, Grin and Tonic will focus its satirical eye on local trends. A proof of concept issue features the prominent headline “Traffic Cones”  and the article jibes at Arthur Radley’s ice cream shop located smack in the middle of the Mill Creek Rd. construction project. It’s both hilarious and moving, but you won’t understand the joke unless you’re from there and know Radley’s unique accent and folksy mannerisms.


In a statement, a spokesperson for TriFoil Investment Group said: “We’re eager to explore local revenue and speak directly to our audience.” TriFoil Investment Group also owns Springhouse Inline Skates, which now publishes the country’s fifth most popular telephone directory.


The localized editions of Grin and Tonic will be available either through mail order subscription, fine retailers, or wherever newsletters are sold. The price for each two-color issue will be $4.90, and each region will publish between 10 and 26 issues annually.


The current editors and writers at Grin and Tonic would like to thank you all for the years of support. Many of the contributors will relocate and act as consultants for the new print versions of the newsletter, so if you live in Duluth, MN you’ll still see my name from time to time in the pages of G&T. (Does anyone know a good place to get seafood in Duluth?)


All previous Grin and Tonic articles will be taken off the website, of course, but the content can still be found in the hardback version (release date Holiday Season 2015).

It’s with a great "grin" and toast of "tonic" that we all say thank you. Cheers!


Dan Bergstein is currently en route to Duluth via ship.


The Whale's Tale

There are whales alive today who were born before "Moby-Dick" was written. --Smithsonian.com


Well, gee, where to begin.


You’re only as old as you feel.  I swim every day. And each day has its little surprises, its little delights. Sperm jokes, for example, never get old for me. And I’m still amazed that I can sleep without drowning.


Everybody wants to know about Moby-Dick. A book written by some guy I never met about some whale I never met. But the truth is, the book changed a lot for me. There’s that chapter about all the different kinds of whales, and I know a lot of people find that chapter hard to get through. So did I, but for different reasons. I knew almost all those guys. The right whale, whom Melville does not identify by name but was known as Al Henken, was best man at my first wedding.


On career day, my grandson asked me to come into his class and talk about what I do. I didn’t sugarcoat it. I said, “I swim, and dive, and eat enormous amounts of fish, and only half of my brain is operating at any one time.” And because it was a class of all-whale students, they really got that--you know?


I’ve lived in the ocean my whole life, and I’ve never visited the Great Barrier Reef. I should go.


When I was a kid, it was tough being a whale. There was discrimination and none of today’s emphasis on diversity. For example it was unheard of for a whale to marry a barnacle. And social suicide to even talk about having an oil deposit lodged in your head.  But after Moby-Dick, everything changed. All of a sudden whales were in. Whales today have it easy. But I don’t like to make a big deal of it. During that period of newfound fame I made some poor choices and that’s a time I’d rather not talk about.


I consider myself agnostic. Why would God make a creature that lives in the sea but has to go to the surface just to get a breath? But I was raised religious, Southern Baptist. As a child I was friends mostly with Jews, who account for a small percentage of whales, because how do you wear a yarmulke when you’ve got a blowhole?


When I turned 200, Esquire sent a reporter down to profile me. We spent a really pleasant afternoon together. Then I read the story. The first sentence was: “When I meet the 200-year-old whale, he’s floating naked in a dark, plankton-filled expanse of the North Atlantic.” I was like, what the eff? And around that same time my wife Liz left me. I was in a dark place and just feeling very needy. I know it’s a cliché, but I married one of my own barnacles. I was looking for someone to love me for who I was, and as they say in the song, “She was clinging to my back.”


I always said I would never go to Nantucket because of the whole whaling thing. And as I aged, I had trouble with changes in time zones. But after the Esquire piece ran, I said to hell with it, I’m visiting, and I did all the reefs, cavorted with the locals, let off some steam. You know--had a real blast. Does that make me a bad whale?

Gregory Beyer is a senior editor at the Huffington Post.


Why Bother?

Hey--I just noticed those flowers on your desk. A miniature rosebush, huh? Pretty. Did you get that for Valentine's Day? And it's still blooming more than a month later! And look, a drugstore teddy bear. He gave it you last week, for your second and a half anniversary. Nice touch, I guess.


No, my husband and I didn't do anything for Valentine's Day this year. We're not into that kind of thing. Blatantly commercialized holidays that are just an excuse to guilt couples into buying overpriced trinkets to express some sort of superficial Hallmark-type affection? Not really our bag. We deliberately don't celebrate Valentine's Day at all, actually. When you've been married for as long as I have, and you're as in tune with each other as we are, it's kind of unnecessary, don't you think? In fact, sometimes we'll make it a point to do deliberately unromantic things to each other on anniversaries and Valentine's Day. Like, in the morning I'll clean the baseboards in the bathroom with his toothbrush and then put it back. You know, silly stuff. We're kind of unconventional that way.


How did you guys celebrate? Dinner and a movie, huh? That sounds like a pretty typical romantic date. Yeah, we don't really go in for romantic "Date Nights". Like I said, we don't need to express our feelings for each other in a hollow, consumerist fashion. We like to just kind of celebrate our relationship by simply being married. It's enough for us. We don't need to constantly demonstrate our affection. That's the sort of thing I think couples do when they're insecure about things, you know? Well, no--I don't mean you and your husband, necessarily.


My husband and I just know that we will always, always be together until one or both of us is dead. So, it's like, what's the big deal? I know--pretty deep.


Yeah, that's right--although I'm married, and have been for over nine years, I don't wear a wedding ring. Not even a plain band. Didn't think it was necessary. When my husband proposed, I was just so, well, stunned that he was asking me to spend the rest of my life with him that I didn't even think about a ring until later-- and by then, I figured why bother? It's just a symbol anyway. I mean, sure, a big flashy diamond is really important for some girls; I get that-- at least, I guess I do. But it never mattered to me. It's the marriage that's important, right? The eternal commitment? I don't need a huge rock to demonstrate to everyone else that I'm legally tied to another person for life. Me? I'm constantly aware of it. I don't need a reminder. When people get old and have arthritis, they can't even get those rings off. A lot of people get cremated with them.


I guess you could say that we're the type of couple whose bond is so rock-solid dependable that there is very little we need to do to prove anything to anyone else, or to each other. Like the time last week that my husband scratched his cornea? Most wives probably would have driven him to the ER like he'd asked--begged, really-- but I didn't even feel the need to. I just knew he'd be insulted later if I gave in to his whining. In fact, I didn’t even turn the TV down. Barely even looked at him. We don't have the type of relationship where one of us is compelled to jump right up and take the other to the hospital just because he’s blubbering like a little girl. We're a bit more low-key than that. If he ends up going blind in his left eye, it'll just be one more memory we've created together. You can't build that kind of bond overnight. It has to just happen naturally.


How did he scratch his cornea? I guess technically I did it. It’s funny the way things are when you’ve been married as long as we have—you sometimes forget where your fingernails end and his leering, bloated face begins. You’re so close that it’s almost like you’re the same person, or two halves of a greater whole—where one half likes to go out drinking with its buddies five nights a week and the other half is somehow the only half that knows how to take the trash out. You’d think both halves would have figured that out by now. You’d think both halves would also know how to shower more than twice a week—but I digress. That’s love, right? Unconditional, teeth-grinding love. The forever kind of love.


It’s actually our tenth wedding anniversary next month, and you know what we’re planning to go? You guessed it—absolutely nothing. It just feels right that way. Sometimes doing nothing is the most romantic thing of all. Sometimes you're so completely welded to each other that you don’t even want to think about the other person really ever. I know that’s the place everyone’s trying to get to; and we’re there, and it’s so great. Maybe someday you’ll be there too. But I wouldn’t count on it. It's pretty rare and special-- which is why I don't like to brag about it a lot. You won't see any teddy bears on my desk anytime soon, that's for sure-- and that's the way we both like it. But of course you should enjoy those roses. Just watch out for the thorns when the flowers wither and die and you go to throw them into the trash.



Molly Schoemann writes humor and satire and wears a wedding ring. Her work can be found at mollyschoemann.com.


Artisanal Preservington, New York

"As formerly boho environs of Brooklyn become unattainable due to creeping Manhattanization and seven-figure real estate prices, creative professionals of child-rearing age — the type of alt-culture-allegiant urbanites who once considered themselves too cool to ever leave the city — are starting to ponder the unthinkable: a move to the suburbs. But only if they can bring a piece of the borough with them."--The New York Times



 "... And, best of all, this home you're looking at today is just down the street from the local public school, Djuna Barnes Elementary, ranked in the top 1% of the nation's schools in ukulele-playing, pickle-making, and mustache-growing. The fourth-graders just finished an amazing three-month strike that finally persuaded the rest of the students — who run the school on their own as an entirely democratic enterprise — to switch to organic toilet paper in the co-ed outdoor bathrooms. They really learned a lesson in civic engagement, although we're hoping the missed time in class doesn't cause them to fall too far behind — they each need to form at least two indie folk bands before the end of the year in order to graduate."


"... Yes, absolutely, being close to the city is a must for the folks up here. And with the completely renovated train system, the commute is better than ever. Every train is now a hybrid, and made mostly from corn. You just hop on board, start pedaling, and you're back in Brooklyn in no time. Kettle-cooked taro chips and natural licorice soda are available in the dining car, and there's even a yoga class that takes up the last four rows of seats, every morning on the 8:07.


"... Stores? Certainly. We have everything you'd expect in a new-traditional suburb: six daily organic markets, each focusing on one specific family of vegetables — the brassica market is my favorite — nine independent movie houses, including three that constructed their own screens out of hemp, and twenty-six different optometry practices, so that it's easy to fulfill the town mandate that everyone wear glasses, whether they need them or not. Is there a bank? No, but we do have a money lending cooperative being built in the back of the custom-furniture studio, and I think the craft plumber down the block might have an old ATM in his basement, as part of an art exhibit. What's a craft plumber? He builds water pipes out of recycled bike parts.


"...Totally fair question, because how can you be sure that your neighborhood is safe when the police force is entirely made up of volunteers? But we rely very heavily on the neighborhood watch, which is a band of emancipated teenagers who live in the street and make their own clothing out of the scraps they find in people's compost bins. And their restaurant is amazing — you must try it, especially on Tuesdays, when they serve food. (And when I say 'must,' I mean it — they take away your messenger bag if you don't.) The restaurant is on Main Street, overlooking what used to be the highway but is now hosting a temporary installation called Car Park: A Story With Sideburns.


"... No, their reading scores are actually among the best in the state. We think it has a lot to do with the tattoo requirement. Every child is exposed to so many words each day, just on the bodies of their friends. And, you know, it's all vegetable ink. Completely organic. And no antibiotics if they get an infection. We don't believe in that. Yes, of course there's a hospital. It's staffed by only our best origami crafters and graffiti artists. It's also where we set off the all-natural fireworks on July 4th. They're made out of soap, so when you wake up sometime in the afternoon on July 5th, the streets are suddenly clean again. It's a wonderful day.


"... Gas stations? No, we haven't had the need. But there's an acupuncture stand on every corner. Look, it has been great showing you this property, especially the part that's made entirely of foam and deer antlers, but I really have to cut this short -- I'm already late for my shift at the school. I'm teaching the kindergartners a class in memoir writing, and helping to fit them for nose rings. If you want to buy the place, just send me some organic beads as a deposit and I'll start the paperwork."


Read more of Jeremy Blachman's work at http://jeremyblachman.com or tiny bits of it on Twitter @jeremyblachman


The New Pooh


Dear A.A.,


Thank you for your recent submission Winnie the Pooh . We at Button Books are always on the lookout for new material by promising authors. I found your manuscript to be well written, the characters engaging and the stories filled with enough charm and whimsy to entertain young readers.


Unfortunately I will have to pass on the book, at least for now. The characters and plot don’t have enough relevance in today’s world. The good news is, I have some recommendations that would help punch up the characters, add an edginess to the story and make it more appropriate and appealing for the 21st century. Please feel free to resubmit this work keeping in mind the following suggestions:


1. Rethink the bees and Pooh’s obsession with honey. With the rise in childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic in this country, you might want Pooh to count carbs, practice self-restraint and try using Stevia. Unless, of course, you have a sequel in mind called Winnie the Amputated Pooh.


2. Change some of the names. Perhaps Geraldo, Miguel or Diego the Pooh or Omar, Mohammed, or Jibar - to be more inclusive? And could Christopher Robin be gay bisexual, or transgender? Maybe rename him, too? Try Lance, Brooklyn or Apple.


3. It’s great that Christopher Robin, Winnie and Owl have some attention deficit issues and learning problems as evidenced by their confusion, inattentiveness, and appalling spelling, but maybe another character (Piglet comes to mind) could be shy, obsessed with origami, and socially inept? A little Asperger’s would go over big.


4. Good problem-solving skills exhibited when Christopher Robin reads to Pooh for a week waiting for him to lose weight so that he can get unstuck from the tree hole. Reading is big (and we do sell books), but with weight loss at an acceptable 1-2 pounds a week, it would take much longer for Pooh to escape. He might even plateau. To kill time, have Christopher read Pooh a book by Proust or Tolstoy and then share ideas.


5. The multigenerational characters are wonderful. Maybe a conversation about where to put poor, confused Eeyore as he ages out of living independently? The other characters might visit some assisted-living facilities or interview home caregivers. Show Eeyore learning to use a walker.


6. To beef up the plot line and add some excitement, replace the many days of boring, never-ending rain depicted near the end with a tsunami.


7. As the story is set in England, a Downton Abbey touch would be useful. Have the characters get dressed fashionably for dinner or enjoy high tea. The honey would work too if used in moderation, assuming the Stevia recommendation doesn’t pan out. Pooh could wear a monocle and address Christopher Robin as “My Lord.” Monogrammed velvet slippers might add to the mood.


All and all, this is a wonderful idea needing minor work. I look forward to seeing your revisions. Promotional dolls and stuffed toys might be developed. Think American Girl but more British Pooh. Imagine an HBO series adaptation “Game of Bees” or “Pooh Corner Empire” and perhaps a violent X-Box game called “POOHF!”



Paige Turner

Associate Editor, Children’s Division

Button Books


Ricki Miller, an elementary school teacher for decades, is now pursuing an MFA in Writing from Stony Brook. She carries a piglet keychain.


July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart disease at the age of sixty-one.

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).