Displaying articles for: May 2010


What am I doing here?


 -- It was your New Year’s resolution -- to overcome one of your fears and go paragliding. Now you have to see it through.


I knew you’d remind me.


 -- I’m your inner motivating voice. I want you to realize your dreams.


But why’d I pick paragliding? 


 -- You’ve fantasized about it ever since 1997 when you and Arthur were lying side by side on Pompano Beach. You saw them soaring with their brilliant colors above you.


I thought about how it could be Arthur and me, floating above the world. Then I heard him snoring in the sand. He didn’t even accompany me down to West Virginia for my three-day paragliding adventure! Said he wanted to work on that sauna he’s been building for the last ten years. He’s perfectly satisfied with his life. Designing routers. Waiting for our daughter Eileen to give us some grandkids. A special night meaning dinner at the Olive Garden.


 -- You know there’s more. You want to be like your friend Tracy. You read her last Christmas letter about helicopter skiing in the Cariboo Mountains. You envy the way she lives her life to the fullest.


It’s true. Oh no! The instructor just announced that there’s only one person ahead of me. I’m not as brave as Tracy. I’m going home. 


 -- And admit defeat? You’re forty-eight. Soon you’ll be a grandmother. Then a great-grandmother. Do you really want to look back at the age of ninety-six and regret you didn’t take a few chances?


You’re right. I can do this.


 -- That’s the spirit! I’m proud of you.


 -- Well, I’m not. This is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done.


Great, it’s my inner fearful voice. Get out of my head! You’re even more afraid of taking chances than I am.


 -- I’m only looking out for your well-being. What if you hit a wind shear and keep going up into the sky?


Good point. I knew I shouldn’t do this.


 -- You’ll do fine.


 -- No, you won’t. You stared at the instructor’s muscles more than you listened to his lessons. I bet you don’t even remember what he said about using the paraglider vario.


Listening to you two reminds me of something Tracy said. That the reason she likes to take physical chances is because of the adrenalin rush, which silences all the little voices in her head.


 -- Aw, c’mon, who needs adrenalin when you could be relaxing by the hotel pool? No one would ever know you didn’t actually paraglide.


Oh no, it’s my inner mellow voice! I’d never do anything if I listened to you.


 -- That’s right, follow my words instead. Chill out.


 -- Don’t be crazy.


 -- Kick back, baby.


Would you three stop arguing? I just heard the instructor say I’m up. What should I do?


 -- Soar like a bird!


 -- Say your prayers!


 -- Ditch this scene and have a margarita at a nearby bar.


     * * *

Wow, Tracy was right. It’s amazingly beautiful up here. And quiet. It’s the first time in my life I’m not hearing those little voices.


 -- Hello!


What? Who are you? I don’t recognize this voice.


 -- I’m your innermost voice. You’ve never had a chance to hear me before because those other three voices chatter so loudly.


Well, what do you have to say? I’m really doing it.


 -- Big deal.



Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker. She can be found on the web at  http://pollyfrost.com.

The Strange Case of Dr. Lehman and Mr. Hudson

(With Apologies to Robert Louis Stevenson)

     In the years before its collapse, Lehman used a small company — its “alter ego,” in the words of a former Lehman trader — to shift investments off its books…. While Hudson Castle appeared to be an independent business, it was deeply entwined with Lehman.
–The New York Times

Allow me to tell you the strangest tale I know. It concerns two men: Dr. Lehman and Mr. Hudson. They  were seemingly polar opposites: Dr. Lehman was sane and fiscally conservative; Mr. Hudson was a drunkard and a risk taker—a reprobate bound for debtors’ prison.

I first met Lehman when he and I were accounting undergraduates together at Harvard. Even then his head was filled with queer ideas: “If one could duplicate oneself,” Lehman said, “--say, create a sort of ‘alter ego'--one could transfer all of one’s bad debts and risky investments to it, and maintain a clean balance sheet.”

“But what would be the point, old boy?” I replied. “This alter ego of yours would still be you, as it were, and would still be responsible for your financial obligations.”

 Lehman had no response to this, but just shook his head obstinately and said no more.

The next time I ran into Lehman was several years later. He had earned his doctorate in advanced theoretical accounting by then; his bizarre thesis was that, properly insured, one could derive more profit from having huge debt than from having none. Over lunch we discussed the tittle-tattle of our trade.  “Like all great men,” Dr. Lehman said, "this fellow Madoff is misunderstood in his own day. His genius will be appreciated in the fullness of time.”

“Speaking of speculators, have you heard of this fellow Mr. Hudson?” I replied. “All of Wall Street is talking about him. He’s been making the most outrageous bets with his investors’ money in imaginary derivatives. It’s only a matter of time before the scoundrel is ruined.”

Up until then, we had been having a convivial meal, but at the mention of Mr. Hudson’s name, Dr. Lehman blanched, as if he had been forced to swallow a bad investment.  “I don’t know anyone named ‘Mr. Hudson.' " With that, he abruptly left me with the remains of our repast—and the check.

I quickly forgot about Dr. Lehman and his strange behavior; but I continued to follow Mr. Hudson’s exploits. As I had predicted, he soon came a cropper. His losses were so great that his insurer—the venerable old firm of Fyre, Woods, and Byrne— collapsed. With his creditors closing in and no means of escape, he took the one course of action that was still open to him: he committed bankruptcy.

So much you doubtless read in Portfolio at the time; but now let me reveal what happened next. It was suppressed by the authorities, fearing a panic. As corrupt, dissolute, profligate Mr. Hudson lay on the boardroom floor bleeding red ink, he took on the lineaments  of honest, diligent, thrifty Dr. Lehman! It seems they were one and the same financial entity all along!  “There are some things man was not meant to securitize,” he uttered with his final breath, and disincorporated.

I was subsequently surprised to discover that Dr. Lehman had named me the sole inheritor of his remaining real assets--his mansion, several protected offshore accounts, and his fiancé,  Nancy, who told me Dr. Lehman often seemed "not himself."

So we come to the end of my strange tale. But as I sit in the evening in my easy chair, a snifter of brandy in one hand, Nancy on my lap, I am still troubled by one thought: Are there more Mr. Hudsons out there—and whose hedges will they try to clip next?



Robert Brenner is a humorist, critic, and ventriloquist. His work has been published in New York Magazine, Open Salon (open.salon.com/blog/robert_brenner), and Happy. 

Jeff Howard's Unreal Property -- V

Land 4 Sale 4 Cheap! Due to temporarily lapsed zoning regulations, the area of land located behind the airport is possibly now available to the private sector! The 0.5 acre patch of land is ready to be developed by anyone interested in a great bargain. With convenient access to the airport--and the airport restrooms!--this land will surely sell quickly. So act fast. 

What are you waiting for? The land features grass and some handy giant concrete blocks left over from the recent airport construction project. These 20-by-20 blocks can be used as walls for your new home. Or you can hide behind them with a nice young woman you just met. Or break them down and use them…somehow. Whatever. The point is that these concrete blocks are yours! For FREE!

As you attempt to construct your home, you may also find pieces of broken glass, along with a bunch of cheeseburger wrappers and prescription pill containers. Simply flush these down the toilet in the airport restroom and they will no longer be your problem! But if you find a little plastic bag filled with white powder, let me know. That’s my oregano. White, powdery oregano. 

This prime area of land can be used to build many types of homes.  Build a ranch house, or how about a Tudor-style house? Build two or three smaller houses. You can live in one, and rent the other two houses out to passers-by. Your home can make you money! 

Or don’t build a house at all. Use the land to bury your unmentionables. Build a baseball field for very tiny people. Raise ducks and sell their feathers and meat. Plant a victory garden. Sell the dirt to people who need dirt. Dig for oil and dinosaur bones. Do others look down on you and your love of alchemy? Set up a tent and practice your arcane science away from prying eyes. Or use the land to meet mistresses, as previously indicated,  or as a private place from which you can call a doctor’s office regarding a very personal, embarrassing rash, odor, or fluid problem. 

It's not "Tweaky Jeff's" business what you do with the land. Just buy it! You won’t regret it right away! At three in the morning, there’s this great breeze that hits your face and makes you feel alive. It’s epic.

What are you waiting for? God to come down and just give you .5 acres?  If interested, please call me at the payphone at the airport. Do NOT call anyone else, especially the zoning department, because those pranksters will tell you that the land isn’t for sale. But I’m saying that it is. Just give me whatever you got. Meet me at the land patch in, like twenty minutes, OK? No cops. If you’re cop, you have to tell me.

Dan Bergstein once saw James Cameron in a restaurant.

Jeff Howard's Unreal Property -- IV

Smilin’ Jeff Howard is back in the real-estate game after a hiatus caused by reasons once again best left unspecified, and I’m celebrating by offering you this partially destroyed home for only $100,000. Real estate is all about location, and you can’t beat a home located right next to the prison. Think about it: Would you feel safer living far from a jail, unsure if the evil people are locked up safely, or would you rather live within earshot of this  prison, where you can hear the felons' every obscenity and moan of despair, and sleep safely knowing they are securely behind bars?

The two bedroom home comes complete with staircase and working mailbox. Some renovations need to be done on the roof and the missing walls, but it’s nothing a shopping trip to Lowes, a big tarp, and five weekends' worth of manual labor can’t fix. It’s just two walls away from completion – or one wall, if you’re willing to live in a trendy Diagonal House, just like the movie stars. 

 Due to the fire, the home has a pleasant smell of a rural smokehouse,  and the water damage has created amazing, one-of-a-kind abstract murals on the remaining two walls. The basement features a solid dirt floor, so it’s perfect for pets not yet housebroken.

Young families will fall in love with the neighbor’s swing-set, and you needn’t worry about the patches of poison oak in the abandoned lot behind the home, as officials agree it’s only dangerous if it comes in contact with skin or eyes. So enjoy the lush foliage from afar to your heart’s content.  The area high school is known for their remedial spelling program, and with more and more emphasis being placed on spelling during the vocational-training application process these days, can you really afford to send your child to any other school? Probably not, if this is where you need to live. Owing to safety concerns, our insurance company will not allow an open house to be held. But I’ll be parked in my van across the street from noon until 2 p.m. this Saturday. So drive by and have a look. I’ve already been hearing very real offers from a local photographer who is interested in using the property as the centerpiece for his upcoming show entitled “Abandoned Hopes.”

Do not let this one slip away.  Contact me, Jeff “Desperate Jeff” Howard today. (I’m currently between cell phone plans, so the best way to reach me is to come to the Property Palace office, located at 688 Paper Mill Ave., above the oncology clinic and across the street from the recycling facility.) 
Dan Bergstein pronounces "faux pas" “fox pass,” because it sounds manlier that way.

Jeff Howard's Unreal Property -- III

Home For Sale! As Seen On Jeff Howard's 15-Second Infomercial on Community Cable Channel KHUT.   This cozy 2-bedroom home was featured on the hit A&E reality show "Hoarders." The celebrity-factor alone is worth the asking price! The first thing you’ll notice about the house  is the luxurious privacy. The previous owner, worried that sunlight would damage her oceanic Beanie Baby collection, blocked all the windows on the first floor with duct tape, plywood, towels, and caulk. 

Though mostly hidden by the generous mounds of clothing and trinkets, the home is completely furnished, with a bed, two sectional sofas, and what could be either a dining room table or just a pile of wood. Along with the furniture, the buyer will also automatically acquire all of the house's contents! Who knows what else  they might include besides: Three large plastic containers filled with wigs, countless miniature schnauzer sculptures, a box inside of which is a box of empty jars in a third box, 233 genuine antique issues of Good Housekeeping, three vintage crutches, a bunch of previously owned felt, an odd Empire-Period box labeled “Dorothy’s [Unreadable]," and of course the completely un-sun-bleached Beanie Babies. 

The second floor of the house is at present used primarily by the cats. Dorothy refused to go up there because in 1987 her husband hanged himself in the bedroom and was not discovered until 1988. It’s a perfect sanctuary for teenagers awaitng medication. As an added bonus, there is a light switch in the kitchen that doesn't turn anything on and thus becomes a perfect  conversation piece.

This home would make an OK home or a great gag gift. And it’s also great for those interested in Dorothy’s life prior to  Dorothy's involuntary commitment to an assisted living facility. You can learn all about Dorothy by sifting and raking through her “history.”

Open House this Saturday from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. or court-ordered demolition, whichever comes first. Contact trusty Jeff “A Job’s a Job” Howard, at Move-Em-Out Realty, for more information on vaccines required before entry. 
Dan Bergstein just now learned that it's  "Sex and the City," not "Sex in the City."

Jeff Howard's Unreal Property -- II

No longer with Lydia Farnsworth Real Estate LLP, for reasons best left unspecified, Realtor Jeff Howard offers:  Historic Sweat Shop Turned into Hot, Hot, Hot Condos!  The perfect place for the young professional, the Tanner Factory Apartments is now accepting new residents. This former sweat shop was gutted and the interiors remodeled to give the entire building an urban-chic look, while the exterior has been left unchanged to honor the building’s history, right down to the crab grass growing between the busted-up asphalt in the parking lot and the red paint (we hope)  splattered on the sales office’s window.

Built in 1925, the Tanner Factory manufactured many of America’s shoes and leather aprons, and was briefly mentioned in the PBS documentary series "Indentured Servitude: America’s Nightmare." Since 1945, when the factory was closed due to near-infinite (you may wonder if "near-infinite" makes any sense; in this case it does)  child labor law violations, the building has gone through many changes. In 1980 it was reopened as a Very Young Peoples' Labor Museum, but due to lack of interest, and depression among the curators, it was shut down. In 1995 it was turned into a DJ club called “Hell Hole” for three weeks until everyone realized industrial dance music was awful. It was renamed “H. H.” and made into a family restaurant, but the economic collapse of 2008 crippled business and it has since been left vacant. 

A shrewd investment firm (Shrewd Investments L.L.C.) bought the property last year for $700, and hired out-of-work contractors to transform the sweat shop/dance club/restaurant into 490 individual condominium apartments.  Each unit has one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchenette, a closet-ette, two eclectic outlets, and 1.5 windows. (Each unit shares half a window with the adjacent unit.) The bathroom becomes a second bedroom or den simply by laying down a few towels and a pillow (pillow included in asking price). Units with a view of the power plant start at $200,000. Units with views of the hallway start at $180,000. And units with views of the factory’s historic boiler system start at $100,000.

Pets are welcome. In fact, they are encouraged because no matter what the maintenance staff -- Chuck, who comes in on Wednesdays 3-5 PM -- does, there’s a constant influx of fist-sized vermin of an as-yet-unnamed mutated rodent species.

There is no doorman, but Julie Diaz’s eight-year-old son Javier hangs out in the lobby all the time and loves to push the door buzzer. So … there ya go.

 Tanner Factory Apartments are conveniently located on highway 78, just a nine hour drive from downtown Manhattan, and a day and half away from Boston. It’s also located eight blocks away from the shopping district and a safe two blocks away from the Crips Territory. Given the state of the buses and their passengers, it's lucky that there's no bus access nearby.  Should you require transportation, surely something can be worked out with one of the other residents. I know Mr. Lewis, the purblind octogenarian in Unit #49, has a car. Better yet, have you considered working from home? 

Units are still available.  For more information, contact Jeff Howard of UpStart Housing Real-Estate. "We Hope That Elegance May Someday Be Our Middle Name." 

Dan Bergstein calls the knight in chess "Mr. Horsey."

Jeff Howard's Unreal Property -- I

From Jeff Howard, Aspiring Realtor to the Stars, new home for sale built by Lydia Farnsworth, a wealthy socialite who got into architecture and real estate last month after reading a few books and talking things over with her best friend, Olivia Spain, who said she built a tree house when she was eight.  This one-of-a-kind home is located conveniently in the LA hills, next to the home of someone who is trying out for a part in "Mama Mia 2: Who’s Our Daddy."  So you might well be living next to a celebrity! Close to many popular hospitals, this little-bit-of-brilliance comes with every modern amenity imaginable, including heated driveway, storage elevator (whatever that is), helicopter pad, submarine dock, and two zeppelin tethers.

The spacious 3-bedroom home sits on 2.4 beautiful acres and 0.32 acres that are just OK. It has a four-car garage, assuming two of the cars are small and parked at strategic angles. It also features a two-car living room, and a one-car dining room. There is also an entirely inaccessible room without a door that Ms. Farnsworth calls “The White Room" (a guess).  The hand-tiled kitchen was carved from a single redwood tree and comes equipped with granite countertops and counterbottoms. It also has a small koi pond/jacuzzi.

The master bedroom features a walk-in closet that always smells like a new Lexus and new-mown hay combined, and the master bath includes a five-person cushioned tub, two toilets, and a bidet (giggle). (The included instructional video “Bidet? This Way!” will relieve anxieties you may have.)  The master basement, located just off of the master staircase and next to the master laundry room, has been turned into a home theater, complete with old time popcorn cart. The sub-basement has been turned into a home office, and the sub-sub basement has been turned into a home giraffe sanctuary, which also has an old time popcorn cart.

The artisanal backyard includes a heated, pool-shaped swimming pool and a waterfall engineered to drop the water in such a way that the splashes sound just like the opening theme song of "Cheers." There is also a garden in which the words “Dream Your Love, Live Your Dream, and Love Your Dream and Also Your Life” has been spelled out with orchids.

Asking price: $44,400,000 (reduced from the original price of $44,450,000). If interested contact Jeff “The Closer” Howard, of Lydia Farnsworth Realty. 

Dan Bergstein makes a mean chili. The trick is to use an angry pot.

Mixed (Up) Reviews -- V

To Know Him Was to Be Acquainted With Him: My Life With Beauregard Lambkin
By Adelaide Brevoort Stumpf
Yellowslope Press; 401 pp.
Forty years after the death of Beauregard Lambkin, it is nearly impossible to understand just how long a shadow he cast over New York intellectual life. Certainly it is impossible to name a critic of comparable influence today, or to imagine any man with intellectual credentials so stellar he could routinely show up to parties holding a live trout and nobody would give him a hard time. And so this gossipy but substantial new book from the short story writer Adelaide Brevoort Stumpf is a welcome reminder of the importance of this literary giant, a man whose libido was as unencumbered as his writing style was restrained and his flatware was polished.

When Stumpf arrived in New York in 1951 after graduating from Vassar, she found that, in spite of her considerable beauty, she had a tough time meeting intellectuals, a difficulty she attributes to sexism and also her obsession with schist.  In time, however, she endeared herself  to the Partisan Review luminaries who gathered in Lambkin’s West 8th Street apartment, partly by charming Lambkin with her impersonation of a mid-sized wicker basket.

Lambkin, as Stumpf writes, was a talented provocateur, never letting his company forget that he was an outsider, being “only very slightly above middle class.”  He would lull the gathering into comfort for long periods of time, and then pounce. There was the time he spent two full years showering compliments on Annette Pew, the celebrated painter of denture fixatives, before taking her to see the sea-turtles at the Bronx Zoo and noting that he found between them "more than a little resemblance." And of course there was the time Clancy Von Dusselgoft used the word “we” and Lambkin thundered, with all his pent-up class rage, “There is no we, only the haves and the have nots!” (All Von Dusselgoft had said was, “What do we want on our pizza?”)

Women adored Lambkin. Stumpf, though she was often disgusted by his “colonial” approach to women, was no exception. Lambkin told Liza Pearson, after her shimmering opening night performance of “Bumpus DeVille” on Broadway, that she had “Calves like whole milk.” And to Edwina Mostel on New Year’s Eve 1955: “I am forever lost in the poached eggs of thine eyes.” As Stumpf admits, “It was not until Pierre Vadal’s essay in Commentary that we realized all his compliments had a barnyard element.”

Despite the raw sexual magnetism that made him a god among women, Lambkin was perhaps even more beloved among his male counterparts. For example, it was Lambkin who brought the actor Jude Hanson into the Partisan circle, despite the actor's Tourettic shouting of subway schedules, and who was in fact the only one brave enough to tell Hanson he had kale in his teeth during the filming of the famous pencil sharpener scene in the shoestring-budget workplace comedy, “Don’t Hire Bears, Carmine.”

To her immense credit, Stumpf does not hold back the dirty details of her own tumultuous relationship with Lambkin. Of their notorious fight on Martha’s Vineyard one summer weekend in 1958,  she says,  "A few rumors I can safely refute: Lambkin never tried to make popcorn in the washing machine.  I can, however, vouch for Lambkin’ s cheating at pickleball, while his published account of my violent retaliation seems suspect, because it was impossible to get prosciutto that year.”

The short story writer Matilda Brunswilke, Stumpf concedes, was the love of Lambkin’s life. “To know the pair of them,” she writes, “was like watching a good bowl of cereal – you knew it could not last.” Indeed, Lambkin would leave them both behind while he honed his trademark style of combining the political and the personal, which culminated with 1963’s “Contemporary Liberalism as it Pertains to My Damned Bunions.”  Several of Lambkin’s previously unpublished notes on that legendary work are included in this book’s appendix. There is also an early draft of the study he was working on at the time of his death, in 1970, a draft that would, of course, be published posthumously as “When Pushkin Comes to Shove: Conflict in the Russian Novel.”



Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Mixed (Up) Reviews -- IV

Life Is Expensive
Poems: 1968-2008          
By T. Avery Blockhart
New Bath Press; 356 pp.
T. Avery Blockhart, who took his poetic inspiration from big business, market data, and investment patterns, wrote more than seven hundred poems. But in an interview just months before his death, in 2008, he claimed he could not remember a single one, only that he wrote “with money, about money, and for money.” Then, in a move that his many critics saw as representative of his views on humanity and personal property, Blockhart produced a solid gold watch from his breast pocket and slipped it into in the interviewer’s cup of hot chowder.

At times one feels an entire generation has grown up knowing Blockhart only through such stories (and certainly Fritz Engleton’s four-hour film about the chowder incident was crucial in this regard). But “Life Is Expensive,” a new collection of his poems, edited by his longtime actuary, Roscoe Baum, may return the focus to his actual writing.

A characteristic Blockhart poem included detailed footnotes: pie charts, YTD graphs, and seemingly irrelevant information on ruble-exchange rates. It is easy to forget the anger engendered by Blockhart’s early poems; in the introduction, Baum reminds us that in addition to accusing Blockhart of elitism, furious readers frequently polluted his moat.

Born in 1933 to independently wealthy Greenwich Village unfired-pottery makers, Blockhart had no need of an income, and was said to have spent his youth in the pursuit of leisure and art at his parents' insistence. In his 1998 memoir, “Unbalanced Accounts,” however, he recalled a tormented childhood during which, he says, "I was required to spend hours upon hours in a candlelit room – though we had electricity – pausing only to further suffer the entrance of my parents, who would burst in occasionally to force feed me cups of rancid coffee, which they said was a purgative,  and tiny, ridiculous pastries."

As for his creative process, Blockhart divulged little, but his habit of reading Auden’s “O Tell Me the Truth About Love” before beginning his own work is occasionally evident, as in this much-lauded 1974 poem:
When it comes, will it tug at my collar
Just as I'm peaking my wealth?
Will it shatter the strength of the dollar,
And leave me in poor fiscal health?
Will it wallop my boldest prediction?
Will its shifting be gradual or swift?
Will it impact my Fortune subscription?
O tell me the truth about inflation.
 Blockhart will always be remembered for the way he pestered his fellow artists and poets and teased them about their money troubles. Once, while in conversation with the faux-minimalist Johansen Velps, Blockhart put in a call to his broker in New Jersey, listened jubilantly to news of a big oil merger, and declared, "Velpsy, the poet in me knows the march of time leads each man to his death. But for financial reasons, I can't wait till tomorrow."

As he aged and his assets increased, Blockhart showed a growing awareness that his privileged upbringing and financial stability made him the envy of his peers. The weight of this realization found expression in verse, as indicated by his last poem, published posthumously in Business Week. Like so much of his work, it stemmed from his experience filing taxes. But unlike his early poems, which flaunted his wealth, it hinted at Blockhart’s misgivings about the unusual and less-than-generous ways he used his money:
My conscience beats so loud a racket!
I fear my racing heart is ill.
For he belongs to the highest bracket
Who blows his nose on a ten dollar bill.


Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Mixed (Up) Reviews -- III

Praising Paisley: One Family’s Struggle with Haffenstrasser's Syndrome

Albatrice Press; 488 pp.

It will come as no surprise to attentive readers that in recent years the memoir has been dogged by criticisms, and in some rare cases even criticized by dogs. The honest among us will admit that these criticisms, however withering, have been largely legitimate. For memoir has been, at its worst, a gathering place for cheats and liars; at its best, the province of did-you-hear-about-my-childhood pansies. In self-defense, American readers have been asking about the memoir, much as an earlier generation did about polio, “Do we really need this?” And it is hard to feel that this increased scrutiny will yield anything other than a step forward.


It is against this shaky backdrop that we get "Praising Paisley," a harrowing and deeply inspired new memoir written on condition of anonymity in case it turns out not to be true.


At the book’s center is the relationship between parent and child. (Though the author is careful not to reveal his or her gender, an early and convincing breastfeeding scene on a roller coaster may well give it away.) The author is a divorced mother, then, of an eight-year-old boy, Paisley, who suffers from Haffenstrasser's Syndrome, and much of the book’s pathos derives from the mother’s gradual understanding that the child, her closest companion, is impossibly distant. Throughout this quiet and tender memoir the author describes her acts of superhuman patience with the child, who is at once precocious and severely limited. One memorable example is when she sits through one of Paisley’s one act plays, not commenting on the maddening lack of action, plot, or character development as the child licks the same colander for an hour and then passes out.


Halfway through the book it is discovered during a doctor’s appointment that Paisley doesn’t have Haffenstrasser's but was merely pretending because he thought it was the only way to get into a memoir at his age. With this revelation, the book vaults from concrete detail and straightforward narrative into meta-memoir, and for the remainder of the book the author is left pondering the Big Questions.


She is puzzled by her child’s capacity for deceit, and the book concludes with a lengthy rumination on the idea of multiple selves, even probing the politically explosive question of intra-self marriage. But she is not afraid to show her lighter side, as when she presents a chase scene through downtown Minneapolis in which one of her selves, in a satisfying act of retribution, hits one of Paisley’s selves in the face with a pie.


At the end, it is revealed that the child actually does have Haffenstrasser's: his claim not to have it was actually a symptom  of it. This breakthrough is probably "Praising Paisley’s" greatest contribution to medicine. While some will undoubtedly fault the author for exploiting her child’s illness for profit, not to mention kicking him nearly every Wednesday, it’s hard to stay mad at a book whose cover is a photo of a squirrel lounging on a tiny hammock.


Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Mixed (Up) Reviews -- II

The House on Cabot Ridge

By Fern Lepke 

Litehouse Press; 318 pp.


This deeply affecting novel tells the story of two sisters, Debra and Lanie, who were close in childhood but have grown apart into strong, independent women.


They live in separate worlds – Debra in St. Louis and Lanie in Aspen – but their lives are marked by striking similarities. Both have sacrificed careers for husbands and children. Both also have sacrificed goats, out of a shared but never explained fear of an eventual goat uprising. The two women silently shoulder the burdens of domestic life, with the exception of the time when Debra, a chronic sleepwalker, wakes up to her own screams while  trying to iron the wrinkles out of her stomach.


The sisters’ lives are brought together again one summer by the death of their mother, who ran  a bed and breakfast in a quaint seaside Massachusetts town. Until a new caretaker can be found, the sisters move in to continue the business, and in doing so rekindle their girlhood friendship. There is a touching scene in which Lanie, unable to sleep due to the sudden realization that she is a fiscal conservative, resurrects a childhood ritual of crouching in her closet and tapping on the wall, in a made-up language only she and her sister understand. But Lanie fails to take into account the architectural differences between this New England manse and the house where she and Debra grew up: Debra’s room is on the other side of the house, and she’d have trouble hearing the taps even if she weren’t running through town in her sleep, accusing mathematicians of disingenuousness and shrieking like a banshee. Lanie dies in a way that is sure to upset second-generation Lithuanians, and is posthumously diagnosed with spatial reasoning deficiencies; Debra gets some laughs at the funeral by futilely knocking call-and-response patterns on the closed casket.


Lepke, whose previous books include “Nyla’s Crevice” and “You Take the Barley,” charts the women’s lives with the precision of a dentist and the detachment of a falcon. "The House on Cabot Ridge" stands as a powerful and enduring testament to the bonds of sisterhood. It is also offers a nuanced meditation on the nature of the artist, as Lepke chronicles Debra’s development as a poet. Each chapter ends with her latest effort, and the book culminates in her mature manifesto, titled  "The Bison":


            This morning I opened Mother’s drawer

            To find the hard candy had gone soft.

            Now I sit, forlorn,

            Entrenched in afternoon.

            Venting frustrations

            Sifting permutations.

            What was it Doctor Pilfrick said?

            "Go easy on the taffy.”


Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Mixed (Up) Reviews -- I

Guns, Grit and Glory: A Brief History of the Patio in America

By Henry Hayes

University of Panama City Press; 236 pp.


The chief flaw in this engaging illustrated history lies in its misleading title, which suggests there is only one patio in the whole country, an assertion we can refute by finding two nearby patios and looking at them at the same time. Aside from this oversight, though, "Guns, Grit and Glory" succeeds in revealing the history behind this often overlooked feature of the American home.


 “The patio, since its inception, has been a fringe figure, an outsider,” the historian Henry Hayes writes. Rather than feel sorry for patios, however, Hayes ventures into the heroic if little-known attempts to raise their status, including the effort among Confederate States to bring them indoors. This campaign nudged the nation toward civil war and prompted two lines in Abraham Lincoln’s diary: “If the South succeeds in bringing patios indoors, I fear it will portend an unfathomable rift in our sacred Union. Also, where am I going to conduct my daily 11 AM ritual of getting a bit of sun while feasting on a glistening, eight pound honey-glazed ham?”


Most thrilling is Hayes’ recreation of the duel between Federico Santiago de Patio and his rival Cristobal Bacaporch, who were among the 15th century Spanish architects competing for a commission to redesign the royal back yard of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who were bored with the existing options, because there were basically none. Hayes recognizes the presumptuousness of reporting on a historical event at which he was not present and thus renders the scene with the requisite murkiness, choosing to have his narrator observe the duel by crouching in nearby bushes and peering out at intervals.


“Definitely two guys over there,” his narrator reports. “Oh my God – were those gun shots? I have no idea what’s going on.”


Is the book best enjoyed on a patio? That depends on the reader, since some will be emotionally overwhelmed by being so close to – literally, on top of – the subject being discussed. Would one care to read about D-Day with both feet planted on the beaches of Normandy, or risk being called unpatriotic by standing on President Obama while reading "Dreams from My Father"? Read on a patio or not, Hayes’ book is likely to stir feelings of guilt, especially given the possibility that either Cristobal Bacaporch or Federico Santiago de Patio was killed in order to make it possible, though, owing to Hayes’ sensitive account of that duel, we cannot be sure.


While Hayes avoids telling his readers how to feel about patios, he discloses that he has spent time on them, and offers an exhaustive list of well-known figures who have done the same. But this, if anything, complicates the matter, since the list includes not only such figures as Frank Sinatra and Gerard Manley Hopkins but also Hitler and post-Godfather Francis Ford Coppola.


Dr. Hayes, who is the Cortisone-Snow Leopard Professor of Humanities at the University of Panama City, has made his career turning his attention to little-noticed aspects of American life, in books like "Keep In: The Difficulty of Scaling Fences," and “In the Back Yard: What’s Edible?” And last year he shifted from the academic to the personal with the publication of his memoir "Summer of ‘78," detailing the period when his stepfather locked him in the backyard and refused to let him into the house.


Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Oil Solutions

To: Oil Clean-Up Department

From: VP Scott Scott

Subject: Oil Spill


Stop everything! The  dome and top-hat ideas were stupid. I’m not even sure why we thought putting a dome or haberdashery over the oil leak would save the earth. Plus, once the media realizes that we made the dome from rainforest wood, seal hides, and bricks stolen from an underfunded public school, they’re going to have another field day ripping us apart.


Not to worry. I’ve come up with some other surefire or maybefire solutions to clean up the oil in the Gulf, thanks to talking things over with my six year-old son Joel and his friend Ethan (both of whom have been swiftly promoted to Assistant Vice Presidents thanks to these ideas, even though Ethan still has to check with his mom first.)


Joel was quick to point out that the oil leak could be stopped if we turned the Earth upside down. Doing so would make the oil pour back into the Earth. At first I laughed at him, but then I realized the cost to invert the Earth using rockets and super-magnets would still be substantially less than it would cost to clean up the oil. So it’s worth a shot. Harris Miller, Vice President of Rockets and Magnets, is currently looking into it. There is a protocol for inverting the Earth, according to Miller, but it hasn’t been updated since 1953, and is currently rather racist. He’s reworking the language.


In the meantime, we may wish to look into Ethan’s idea. According to Scootch (we all call him Scootch. Not sure why), if we drain all the water from the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing left would be oil. “Having a big pit of oil wouldn’t be that bad,” said Scootch. “Then, when your car is out of gas, you could go to the pit to get some oil.” I like this idea, but before we drain the Gulf, we need to set up fences along the coastline.  Then we will charge people a $25.00 admission fee to come in and scoop up as much oil as they want. We can actually profit from the cleanup!


Ethan said we could drain the ocean with sponges or “like a cool hose that would squirt the water into another ocean or maybe outer space, or maybe Texas. And it would be all like [makes hose noises while pretending to hold the hose] Suckers!”


Both Joel and Scootch recommend we look into magic crystals. Joel claims he has a few of these in his room. They look like common geodes, but they could react differently, magically, when placed in oily water. Scootchy also said that he’s willing to sell us his magic rocks that he collected on his field trip to the Arlington Slate Quarry. His asking price is $4, but after we sic Emma Klein from Sales on him, that price should drop to $3.40. (Emma, it should help negotiations if you mention basketball and how much you hate raspberry-flavored things.)


Other ideas include using time-travel, filling the leak with old blankets, moving to the International Space Station (this led to a rather interesting discussion between the boys regarding what happens if you break the law in space. We NEED to look into that),  freezing the ocean like a big ice cube, and something about using a big slide and crane and a submarine. (I didn’t really follow what they were saying at this point as the boys became over-excited and were running and yelling.) 


Anyway, one of these ideas is bound to work, and I really think we should put Joel and Ethan on the bonus track.


Dan Bergstein thinks Sirius Satellite Radio is spelled Serious Satellite radio.

The Great Facebook Uprising

My name is Aleksandr Fyodorovich Sokolov. I was born on June 1, 1873, in the province of Vronsk. After a year of military service I enrolled at the University of Irkutsk State (go Landowners!), and in 1896 took my law degree. My interests: kneeboarding, aeronautics, a good Cobb salad. Favorite music: Huey Lewis and the News. Anything 80s. I have a brother, Andrei, and a little sister, dear Anya, who is often photographed at wild parties and wears her long brown hair in a braid. But you know all this. Now, thanks to Facebook’s new policy, which makes public information we once thought was private, everybody knows it.

I was strolling along the river when news of the Facebook changes came. The end of privacy, people screamed in the streets. Betrayal. And this is now the question: Where were you, what were you doing at the time? Every man, woman and child has a story. “I was tending my vegetable cart,” says Ivan Ivanovich, the farmer.  “I was slapping my wife with a braised haddock,” says Arkady Vasilevich, the watchmaker. Poor Arkady Vasilevich, whose twin vices are an inability to tell a lie, even for his own good, and a tendency to lose his temper and slap his wife with fish.

I hear their stories in the village square. In the streets, I loiter and listen. No one says, “When news of the changes came, I was pleasuring myself.” Yet probability suggests that of all the villagers at least one was engaged in this activity. Probably many more. I do not see why that one person should feel bad. Father Piotr himself has admitted that it is a natural act. So why should one feel bad if, by coincidence, one is being natural at the same time news breaks?

The hours after the change came were filled with fear and uncertainty. My dear, hotheaded brother, full of youth’s passion, was quick to join the resistance. I laughed at the idea of joining a Facebook group to protest changes to Facebook policy, and pointed out the obvious irony, but Andrei glared at me with an intensity that filled me with both pity and admiration. He rose angrily from his seat and stormed out of the room, pausing only to spit fourteen times on my left thigh, as tradition required.

That night, Andrei deleted his Facebook account. In the days that followed, he walked freely in the streets and went about his life as usual, hanging around pawn shops and entertaining locals by staging mock debates with Corbin, his beloved pet newt. He boasted of his new freedom from Facebook’s oppression, but we knew they would come for him. 

As we ate dinner a few nights later, there came a pounding on the door. Six armed agents entered, surrounded my brother, and demanded to know his favorite quotation.  When he refused, they moved in closer, sneering, and we all regretted that Andrei was wearing a lobster bib that, ridiculously, depicted a smiling lobster also wearing a lobster bib. In spite of their demands, he would not speak. My mother cried out as an agent beat my brother across the face with the butt of his rifle and then forced him to read aloud from press materials praising “The Lovely Bones.” “Now will you speak?” he said. My brother, his nose bloodied, stared up in defiance. “You talkin’ to me?”

Dear Andrei had not seen Taxi Driver, and had no idea he was quoting it. One of the agents scribbled the line in a notepad, and they left us in peace. My brother, horrified at his unwitting cooperation with the Facebook brutes, walked slowly to the sideboard and picked up a revolver. Defying my mother’s cries, he stuck it in his mouth. He was about to pull the trigger but changed his mind when he heard Anya putting in an order for steamed pork dumplings from Big Julian’s.  I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when the dumplings arrived.


Gregory Beyer is a writer living in New York. His journalism, essays and reviews of actual books have appeared in The New York Times.

Dear Family and Estate of John Updike

I am a writer named Rhon Penny (silent h) and I am no longer married. I am writing to you today, the legal custodian(s) of the complete works of John Updike, because I am seeking advice on how to take my (and John’s) career to the next level—the financial wealth level.


Are you a fan of absurd questions? Good. Here’s one: Have you read the terrific 1979 novel Flowers in the Attic? Of course you have. Not that you even need reminding, but this is the book where a brother and sister are locked in an attic and spend their days playing board games, reading old issues of National Geographic, and partaking in incest. It’s a lot of fun.


You’re thinking: What the heck is Rhon getting at? Well, here’s a little secret: the author of this book, V.C. Andrews, died in 1986 . . . and yet, to this day, Miss Andrews still produces obscenely popular books under the V.C. Andrews brand! How in the world does V.C. do it? Guess what ? She doesn’t! An alive writer does all of the writing for her! This is where I come into the picture.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but your father was known as “high-falutin’.” Meaning, he tended to write books that most people didn’t “get” or “buy.” And that’s fine. Not everyone can be Judy Blume. Truly, you should not feel ashamed. There’s little doubt that if I had a menu filled with writers, your father would certainly be one of the main courses. Let’s face it, though: he would probably be something like pumpkin octopus risotto--something that sounds all fancy but no one ever orders.  


A little bit about myself: I have over fifteen years of experience trying to get published, and by extension, much to offer you in your extended period of grief. Until recently, I worked at Kinko's and I am now on worker’s comp (yes, it was “alcohol-related”). I am a fan of body-switching movies and reruns of old game shows, and while I’ve never been a huge fan of your father’s work (too serious and stuck-up), I have a million ideas that just scream out “Put John Updike’s name on me!” As you can see from my following ideas list, I’m sort of going through a historical thing right now:

    — Has anyone written—I mean really written—about the Second World War? Oh, sure, there have been books and movies and perhaps even a rap song, but has anyone penned a fancy book about the subject? My answer: I'm not sure. Here’s my idea: a novel set in Nazi Germany about an adorable, wise-cracking gerbil who lives inside an SS person's helmet (without that SS person's knowledge or consent). The gerbil’s name has to be Rosco. 

    —Slavery through the ages has always bothered me slightly from a moral/ethical/historical perspective. But where to begin? This subject is, let’s admit it, a large one. How to tackle it? Where’s my “in”? Let me sleep on this one. 

    —The Bubonic Plague holds a great fascination for me, as I’m sure it does for all of the Updikes. How awful would it have been for a child to be sleeping on his or her straw bed one day, and then the next to be suffering from an awful bug-transported disease? How would this child have felt? Would it have coughed? Sneezed? Died? In that order? This subject is ripe for further investigation. We can also include a scene involving Christmas, if you want the book to be extra popular. 

Now, I’ve been burned in the past by sending out detailed outlines, but for each of the above ideas, I can certainly provide you with a hand-drawn illustration of what I am going for—as well as an ironclad promise that most of the action will take place in suburban Pennsylvania with ample nudity. And that your father and/or husband, John Updike, will have “written" it. (Notice the quotes.)

Additional ideas that I can’t wait to sink my (and your dead father’s) teeth into:


     — Did your father ever write an episode for a sitcom? How about a screenplay for a movie based on a TV show from the 80s or 90s? No? Let me write this for him.

    — Poetry-slams were very exciting and hip a number of years back. Let’s take advantage of this.

    — Children’s literature is kind of hot right now. I was thinking that a “John Grown-Updike Presents ” would be popular and would be a terrific way to launch our new partnership. Just off the cuff: A boy wants to become a wizard at a magical school, but has to apply for financial aid. I would concentrate on the financial-aid part, and I’d really get into the nitty-gritty of how little wizard boys go about acquiring favorable financial aid packages and such.

    — Something to do with “electronic books.” 


 For reasons gastro-intestinally based, I must end this correspondence immediately. But I will not leave you without quoting the following (seen on my therapist’s paperweight): "Excuses are like butts. Everyone’s got 'em, but I don’t necessarily want to see ’em."  Please . . . no excuses. Or buts. 


Your partner in the words,


Rhon Penny



Scott Rothman is a screenwriter living in New York City.


Mike Sacks is a writer on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. His first book, "And Here’s the Kicker," was published in summer, 2009.

Jersey Wars

NEW YORK CITY – The New York City Council has passed a controversial new measure that gives city law enforcement broad new authority to stop, question, and if necessary deport any individual they suspect of being from New Jersey.   The same critics who say that Arizona’s controversial new immigration law amounts to racial profiling on behalf of the state now say New York City’s ordinance is based on "geographic" profiling. 

Pivoting off California Rep. Brian Bilbray’s contention that illegal immigrants could be spotted by the “different types of attire” they wear and “their shoes” rather than any kind of racial characteristics, City Council speaker Christine Quinn was quick to state that illegal New Jerseyans could also be identified by their dress and behavior.  “We can identify these interlopers based on things like their spiky hair, large mirrored sunglasses, overly tight muscle tees, and generally uncouth mannerisms." 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie deplored NYC's new rule, saying that the law was an example of “Snooki-Smashing and Guido Grouping." He pointed out that New Jersey residents are “hard-working” and bring much needed revenue to New York's  bars, clubs, gyms, house DJs, hot-tubs, and floundering energy-drink-based economy.  “It’s like if you don’t look or act a certain way they want to dehumanate you,” said Jersey-rights activist Frankie “DJ Balls” Calluchio. “I am a human being and deserve to be treated like one,” said Calluchio, and added, “Jager Bombs!”

Some advocates of stricter Jersey bridge and tunnel control say the measure doesn’t go far enough.  “Sure, we can crack down on people crossing the Hudson, but others are still flooding over our border from Long Island,” said Upper West Side resident Michael West, who advocates the construction of a 20-foot concrete wall around the city patrolled by unmanned   predator drones.

The issue of assimilation was brought up by Jennifer Ingram at community board meeting in Greenwich Village.  “These new ones aren’t like the New Jerseyans I grew up with.  Back then they wanted to come here and learn our culture and speak our language. Now they just want to use our dance clubs without paying taxes, and impose their way of life on us." Other supporters cited the increasing colonization of reality TV by the State of New Jersey, with shows like "The Jersey Shore," "Jersey Couture," "Garden State Cakes," "NJ Animal Detectives," "The BC: Bergen County."  Experts say  Jersey-based reality television is proliferating because, according to one anonymous network source, "Those yahoos will behave crassly and offensively on television for cheaper wages, taking jobs away from New York City heiresses, real housewives, and trust-fund teenagers who would only  degrade themselves for a substantially higher fees." 

Some in the NYC Police Department say that there are simply too many Jersey people in the city on a nightly basis to make the new law enforceable and recommend electronically tagging everyone entering the city from the New Jersey side for easy monitoring. As a response to this extreme measure, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce threatened a total boycott of the City of New York.  Mayor Bloomberg in return gave an impromptu press conference, in which he said, "We heartily endorse this boycott and are glad to see that at last our neighbors to the west have shown some responsible thinking."   


Will Menaker has confessed to flying out of and into Newark Airport in New Jersey.

Gaffe-ter Effects

The only one British Prime Minister candidate Gordon Brown will be able blame if he loses this election, as he seems about to do, is himself.  After referring to a woman he had just met as a bigot, it came as no surprise that British voters began to turn their backs on the incumbent candidate. Brown supporters argued that he never used the word “bigot” but instead called the woman a "big ot, "as in large otter. This excuse may have backfired, as the U.K. (Wales in particular) has enough otter aficionados -- even some Otter Supremacists -- to have cost Brown more than a few votes.   

Brown's gaffe is the most recent in a long history of hitherto obscure faux pas that altered it --history--with far more dire results than a lost election. The first gaff, occurred not when Eve bit the apple (Applegate is the rough translation of the original Hebrew)--that wasn't even a gaffe but a fully knowing and conscious act. The truth is that God began looking for an excuse to give these two lovebirds the boot after Adam told Eve, “Ugh. I have a head cold. God can be such a tool sometimes.” Adam knew that God was omnipresent but didn't know that He was omni-auditory. The angry creator couldn’t exactly banish the couple for such a minor offense, but, being also omniscient, He could set up the Apple scenario with a very good idea of what would happen.

 Napoleon’s fall at The Battle of Waterloo, or Waterloo-portillon, as the French press called it, was also caused by a simple slip of the tongue, when Napoleon softly said to himself, “That Prussian soldier over there looks like a fat biscuit.” (The meaning gets somewhat lost in English.)  Napoleon, who himself liked biscuits quite a lot and thus meant his remark almost as an endearment, didn’t realize that voices carry like crazy at Waterloo and  the enraged, offended Prussians rallied in support of the mocked soldier, and easily crushed Napoleon’s forces.

Similarly, the Russian Revolution was the product of an offhand remark. Tsar Nicholas II, upon meeting with a local farmer, muttered under his breath, “This man? He look like moist ferret, no?” We’re not here to argue if Tsar Nicholas actually spoke in broken English. But this comment, which unbeknownst to the Tsar was recorded on a nearby wax cylinder that was just lying around, incited the people of Russia and soon Communism took over.

Years later in Cuba, Dictator Fulgencio Batista was enjoying his reign over the Cuban people, and everyone loved him. Until one day a little spitfire named Che Guevara overheard Batista call a child who was bad at soccer a “sissy.” Che told Fidel Castro, Castro told his buddy Mark who worked at the newspaper, and soon the whole thing was blown out of proportion by the media who called the event “The Fulgencio Oopsie Story”, and later “The Cuban Revolution.” 

And just this morning I learned through a reliable blog comment that our own President, Barack Obama, was caught by a directional microphone using the term “dorkmeister” to refer to a NASA scientist. He was immediately tackled by his PR men and rushed to a media blackout cave where his aides are reported to be working feverishly on his resignation speech.  

"Dan Bergstein" is the nom de plume of the late Haile Selassie.

Kill the Whale!-- Part 5

“Inferno” is now a video game, with a brawny, armor-clad Dante as its protagonist…The game’s creators say there’s an audience for it. Their research showed that most people had heard of “Inferno” but few knew what it was about. This, they say, gave them license to make a few improvements.
     — The New York Times

TAGLINES: "Screaming lead came across the sky!" "Schmutzen nicht mit dem Raketemensch!” (Don’t mess with Rocketman!)
CHARACTER: You’re  Tyrone Slothrop, a randy U.S. Army lieutenant stationed in London toward the end of World War II.  Somebody’s stole your penis—or at least tampered with it. Somebody's gonna pay.  

MISSION: Fight your way across a war-torn Europe that anticipates the rise of American global hegemony. Don’t let anything stand in your way—Nazis, collaborators, narrative logic. "Inglorious Basterds" has nothing on you!
WEAPONS: Paranoia, conspiracy theories, V-2 rockets.
POWER-UPS:  Silly songs, "knee tremblers,"  kazoos. (Note: look for spinoff Kazoo Hero in stores this Christmas!)
BOSS DEMON: Pynchon himself, breaking the fourth wall. Tip: remove the brown paper bag from over his head to deplete his power.
HIDDEN LEVEL: The ending Pynchon declined to write. Tip: it was all a dream brought on by too many hallucinogens.
CHEAT CODE. Ctrl-H unlocks stash of hashish hidden at the Potsdam conference.
SOUNDTRACK: "The Flight of the Valkyries," by Richard Wagner; "Der Fuehrer’s Face," by Spike Jones; "Heroes," by David Bowie.
RATING: P for Post-modern.


And look for GEORGE ORWELL'S ANIMAL FARMVILLE coming soon to Facebook ("Four legs good, two legs dead meat!") 


Robert Brenner is a humorist, critic, and ventriloquist. His work has been published in New York Magazine, Open Salon (open.salon.com/blog/robert_brenner), and Happy. 

Kill the Whale!-- Part 4

“Inferno” is now a video game, with a brawny, armor-clad Dante as its protagonist…The game’s creators say there’s an audience for it. Their research showed that most people had heard of “Inferno” but few knew what it was about. This, they say, gave them license to make a few improvements.
    — The New York Times
TAGLINE: "Yes, yes, yes! Die, die, die!"
CHARACTER:  You’re Leopold Bloom, an advertising executive. Somebody's stole your wife's affections. Somebody's gonna pay.
MISSION: Fight your way through a nightmarish re-creation of the streets of Dublin that anticipates the rise of Frommer’s. Rescue your wastrel young friend Stephen Dedalus from the fleshpots of Nighttown. You’ve got twenty-four hours—just like Jack Bauer!
WEAPONS: Stream of consciousness, mock-epic poetry, a lucky potato.
POWER-UPS: Drinking, gambling, whoring, rejecting God.


BOSS DEMON: The sexually voracious Molly Bloom. Many brave men have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle between her treacherous thighs.  Tip: she has a weakness for roses like the Andalusian girls wear in their hair. Bring her a bouquet—then blow her away!

HIDDEN LEVEL: "The Odyssey," by Homer.
CHEAT CODE: Ctrl-S unlocks the subconscious.
SOUNDTRACK: “A Day In The Life” by the Beatles, “In The Name Of Love” by U2,  anything by the Pogues.
RATING: M for Mature Audiences


Robert Brenner is a humorist, critic, and ventriloquist. His work has been published in New York Magazine, Open Salon (open.salon.com/blog/robert_brenner), and Happy. 

Kill the Whale!-- Part 3

“Inferno” is now a video game, with a brawny, armor-clad Dante as its protagonist…The game’s creators say there’s an audience for it. Their research showed that most people had heard of “Inferno” but few knew what it was about. This, they say, gave them license to make a few improvements.

     -The New York Times


TAGLINES: "Call me vengeance!” “Thar she blows—up!"
CHARACTER: You’re Ahab, Captain of the whaleship Pequod. Somebody’s stole your right leg, and possibly your manhood. Somebody’s gonna pay. You have a wife on shore, but she's not even mentioned by name.
MISSION: Hunt down and destroy the great white whale, Moby- Dick. You will be aided in your quest by Ishmael the novice seaman, Queequeg the cannibal harpooner, and Starbuck the coffee maker. Sink anything that gets in your way—rival Japanese whalers, Greenpeace vessels, those Deadliest Catch guys.
WEAPONS: Shakespearean language, Biblical imagery, exploding harpoons. Your prosthetic leg can be upgraded to a machine gun, rocket launcher, or flamethrower.
POWER-UPS: The open sea, the company of men, spermaceti.
BOSS DEMON: Two hundred tons of raging Dick. Tip: get close and try a little tenderness.
HIDDEN LEVEL: What really goes on below deck between Ishmael and Queequeg.
CHEAT CODE: Ctrl-L unlocks the libido.

SOUNDTRACK: "Moby Dick," by Led Zeppelin; "Nantucket Sleighride," by Mountain; "In The Navy," by The Village People. 
RATING: C for Cetaceans.


Robert Brenner is a humorist, critic, and ventriloquist. His work has been published in New York Magazine, Open Salon (open.salon.com/blog/robert_brenner), and Happy.

Kill the Whale!-- Part 2

“Inferno” is now a video game, with a brawny, armor-clad Dante as its protagonist…The game’s creators say there’s an audience for it. Their research showed that most people had heard of “Inferno” but few knew what it was about. This, they say, gave them license to make a few improvements.

     — The New York Times

TAGLINE: "You can't make an omelet without breaking heads.”
CHARACTER: You’re Raskolnikov, a student radical in St. Petersburg. Somebody’s stolen your birthright. Somebody’s gonna pay.
MISSION: Fight your way through a nightmarish philosophical struggle that anticipates the rise of Communism. Smash the capitalist class. Raise the consciousness of  the lumpenproletariat. Redistribute the wealth—to yourself.
WEAPONS:  Marxist dialectics, Napoleonic complex, an axe. You can upgrade your axe to a chainsaw.
POWER-UPS: Drinking, gambling, whoring, finding God.
BOSS DEMON: Your own conscience or doppelganger. Tip: you win by losing. Confess!
HIDDEN LEVEL: The petit-bourgeois class you secretly aspire to.
CHEAT CODE: Ctrl-P unlocks Sofia’s panties.
SOUNDTRACK: "So You Say You Want A Revolution," by the Beatles,;“Eat The Rich,” by Motörhead; "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," by Pink Floyd.
RATING: N for Nihilism.



Robert Brenner is a humorist, critic, and ventriloquist. His work has been published in New York Magazine, Open Salon (open.salon.com/blog/robert_brenner), and Happy. 

Kill the Whale!--Part I

Classic Novels as Violent Video Games


“Inferno” is now a video game, with a brawny, armor-clad Dante as its protagonist…The game’s creators say there’s an audience for it. Their research showed that most people had heard of “Inferno” but few knew what it was about. This, they say, gave them license to make a few improvements.

     — The New York Times


 First Person Slaughter is proud to announce an exciting new line of video games designed to make those old, fusty classics you never got around to reading in college  relevant again! We put the cannon into the canon!

TAGLINE: “Justice comes out of the barrel of a gun.”
CHARACTER: You're Joseph K., a senior hedge-fund analyst. Somebody's been spreading rumors about you on Twitter. Somebody's gonna pay.
MISSION: Fight your way through a nightmarish legal bureaucracy that anticipates the rise of fascism. Kill anyone that stands in your way—corrupt judges, incompetent lawyers, lazy advocates. You are judge, jury, and executioner! 
WEAPONS: Existential dread, religious parables, a shotgun named Felice.
POWER-UPS: Meaningless physical encounters ("booty calls"), schnapps, Max Brod.
BOSS DEMON: A giant talking dung beetle. Watch out for the flaming balls of dung! They do five points hit damage plus two points cleaning bills. Tip: pierce his carapace of complacency with your pump-action of pain.
HIDDEN LEVEL: Confront and kill your philistine father who wanted you to give up all this writing nonsense in the first place and become a butcher.
CHEAT CODE: Ctrl-G unlocks sense of guilt.
SOUNDTRACK: "Peter Gunn," by Emerson, Lake and Palmer; "I Shot The Sheriff," by Eric Clapton; "I Fought The Law And The Law Won," by the Clash.
RATING: A for Angst.


Robert Brenner is a humorist, critic, and ventriloquist. His work has been published in New York Magazine, Open Salon (open.salon.com/blog/robert_brenner), and Happy.  

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).