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Revelatory Physiognomy

red truck

Hey, ladies!

I have a friend named . . . actually, “friend” is a substantial word, with robust implications. I save that word for just a few people. I have an acquaintance . . . but “acquaintance” means you know someone well. That would be stepping off the path of veracity here. There is someone whose existence I’m aware of, named Lester Ray, who comes to my house sometimes and sits on my porch. If I give him a beer or two or four, eventually he goes away. So we have our relationship.

I have never been able to verify whether Lester Ray has told me anything that would not hold up in court on a busy day. Thus the story I tell here has some statistical chance of truth. I would not condescend to pass on this parable except as it was related to me. I do not fabricate.

Lester Ray, that is, had reached the grievous conclusion that the romantic part of his life had ceased to entirely meet his needs, consisting, as it did, only of himself. He decided to participate in internet dating. People, I know, you are asking “Why would anyone do that?” I condescend to tell you only what I know. As I mentioned, I seldom fabricate.

Lester Ray, that is, signed up for an internet dating service. It required a profile. He created a profile. It required a statement of interests. He described his interests. It asked for a photo. Lester Ray, that is, did not include a photo. “My physiognomy is more revelatory in real life, in terms of my qualities,” he said. Who could deny such precision? I have known photographs that frightened small children, whereas the actual person only made them wary.

Women, that is, did not reply to the profile. Oh, people, the superficiality of this shallow world. I know you agree with me. Lester Ray decided that perhaps the description of his interests needed the piquant stimulus of visuality, so he posted a photo of his truck, a red Ford with a small green air freshener in the shape of a Christmas tree, hanging gladly from the rear view mirror. “Ladies,” that little tree promised, “here is where it smells good.”

Women, that is, still did not reply. Lester Ray had a brief sojourn in the vale of perplexity. Women like good smells, and they like a man with property, and he had illustrated both, so what was the impediment to romantic vivacity? Then Lester Ray remembered that of course, women love animals. So he added a picture of his dog, Jimgoober, a brilliant hound of grace and poise known by every mailman in the county. That is, Jimgoober had known his day, and the fact that his day was slightly expired was not the dog’s fault. If he still had hair, he would have been handsome.

Women, that is, grew even less interested, and one woman who had looked at Lester Ray’s profile wrote him to say that just in case he was thinking of it, she wanted to make sure he never contacted her. “You’re not the sort of man I would want to date,” she wrote, “or know casually, or see on the street, or be aware of in any way.” Some women don’t like dogs.

Lester Ray, in his observations of the human condition, had also noticed how much people are drawn to mysteries, so he decided to post a photo of himself with the added allure of enigma. The photo showed him standing somewhere that wasn’t clear, and in light that was not very bright, so it wasn’t possible to be certain that he had all the standard facial features. Which I happen to know he mostly does.

Women, by God, did not respond.

Lester Ray looked carefully over his profile, wondering where the deficit was most acute. Perhaps, he thought, it was the listing of his interests, insufficient in detail. He was fond of movies, for instance, but was that fact entirely clear? He took down all the other photos and posted a picture of the actor Brad Pitt, to show how much he enjoyed movies.

Women, that is, began to write him, and he would give them opportunities to observe his physiognomy in person. “But every woman who I set up a meeting with,” Lester Ray said, “would walk in, and before she said a word, she would turn around and leave.” It turns out none of them liked movies after all.

People, what would you do when faced with such a great riddle? Lester Ray and I both drank another beer.


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Zeus on a throne

Who took my mouse?

Perhaps you’re aware of the literary/cultural phenomenon called “steampunk” that plays with alternative histories. Steampunk is influenced by Victorian culture and assumes that technologies such as steam power continued to be developed.

It occurred to me that if we took the internet and placed it back in ancient Greece, we might start a “stonepunk” phenomenon. Of course if the internet had existed, then Zeus, being the egomaniac he was, would have been sending out angry tweets about himself all day long.

Actually, all of the Greek gods were egomaniacs. That’s how the Greeks conceived of them. And as egomaniacs, if they’d had the internet, they probably would have all had a blog. That is, I’m not saying that everyone with a blog . . . Anyway, because I can travel through time and space in ways mere mortals cannot, I obtained copies of some of the Olympian blog entries.

Twice recently I’ve arrived at Mount Olympus to find all the other gods there, and no one was saying anything. What could I think but that they stopped talking when they saw me coming? I think they were trying to have a meeting without me. What does that mean? I’ve known for centuries that most of them are jealous of me, and if I were on their level, I’d be jealous, too. I wonder if they’re conspiring, if something is happening that I’m not being told about. I wouldn’t put it past any of them, not even my sister, so I’m watching them closely.

As if we don’t have enough trouble on Mount Olympus, with the stupid squabbles that go on nonstop, the girls have started some nonsense with the Trojans. I can see where this is going, and soon everyone will be involved, choosing sides. If it was up to me, a blazing sword of fury would be the answer to every argument. But Father Zeus doesn’t allow it, and how much does it benefit him to permit this bickering of the whining gods? If I could have my moment, it would all have a solution like red thunder.

What is it with Athena and Hera and Artemis (like anybody worships her), acting like they’re beautiful, like there’s some kind of contest going on? Yes, sure, they have their particular areas, necessary no doubt, but beauty? Have they never walked by a pool of water and looked down? I think there’s a reason why somebody whose name starts with “A” and ends with “phrodite” is the goddess of beauty, and let’s don’t forget sex. I am the goddess of sex. Try doing without that.

Every Body keppt telling me I should do this Blog thing, and I keppt saying whatt’s wrong with Fire and a good old Anvill, yah, something you can bang on. Whatt’s wrang with that, huh? Who wantes to look at a commputer when you could be bangging on hot metal, yah! But every Body sed no, Hephy, your the one boy, people wante to Read about whatt your doinng, you need a Blog thing. Allrite, here It is. Here’s whatt Im doing. Imm banging on hot metal. Yah!

Pardon my sublime and awesome wrath, but I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time. I hate olives. They’re bitter, they’re oily, maybe they’re good enough for humans, who will, frankly, eat dogs on occasion, but Olympian gods should not be eating olives. It’s time for Father Zeus to stop having bowls of those things sitting around. I’ve noticed, in fact, that no one but Hades eats them, and if that isn’t a clear message, then what is? Blast this blue sea, if I eat one more olive, humans are going to end up having to worship cockroaches, because I swear I’ll kill everything else.

[Zeus had a temper tantrum on Saturday and threw 157 lightning bolts in one minute. They created a power surge that shut the internet down, so he didn’t post this week.]

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I Feel More Perfect Just Thinking About It

man sleeping

Hey, wake up! I made you a list.

It is a long tradition as the New Year lurches toward us with all its grinning potential, to predict what the future might bring. Self-driving cars (cool). Gene therapy (cool). Meat grown in a petri dish (umm, it’s not spam, is it?). Another album from Justin Bieber (let’s kill ourselves).

Instead of predicting, we can follow a different tradition, of compiling lists of lies to tell ourselves, of all the ways we’ll improve as soon as that magic midnight minute moves to morning, and suddenly it is a new year. NOW we can do things differently! NOW we can haul our fat ass off the couch and start exercising. NOW we can start vacuuming the house more than twice a year. We will make New Years resolutions.

Up to this point in my life, I have always begun my list with a resolution to make more resolutions, but then I don’t keep the first one, so my list is always blank. This year, however, I will be conscientious, indefatigable, and assiduous at concocting reasons to castigate myself for moral failure within one week.

So here is my list of New Years resolutions:

1) I resolve to aim at spiritual growth, to be kind, thoughtful, and tolerant of other people, and to . . . No, wait, this one is too hard. Never mind this one.

2) I resolve to no longer wish for things I don’t want just so other people can’t have them.

3) I resolve to eat only those foods that contribute to strength of body and mind, on even-numbered weekends.

4) I resolve to tolerate no vice in my life that does not fit comfortably into my momentary whims.

5) I resolve to diligently help other people discover their flaws and discuss how bad those flaws are.

I suspect you are not going to get around to making a list, so I’ve made one for you. You can wait to thank me if we go out to dinner sometime, then you can pay.

1) You resolve to stop just talking about getting a tattoo and get one (go ahead and get the one of naked people and the monkey.)

2) You resolve to change every one of your internet passwords frequently, to something really complicated, as we’re supposed to (hint: use your birthday, plus your initials).

3) You resolve to send a birthday card to your parole officer, and to call her sometimes just to chat.

4) You resolve to wear more purple underwear (I just thought you might like that).

Well. I feel better about myself already. I feel better about you, too. I’m looking forward to seeing your tattoo. Or your underwear.

Happy New Year!

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Her Eyes—How They Twinkled!

woman in a yellow dress

You want me to come where?

In the bleak midwinter of polar snow, where only elves and white bears go, Santa sat at his kitchen table, drinking hot tea with just a touch of Irish whiskey. He shivered and wrapped a blanket around himself and took another drink.

“I’be feeling better,” he said.

“You’re not going out,” his wife said. “You’re sick. Someone other than me might talk about how smart it was yesterday afternoon to have a two-hour snowball fight with the elves with your coat off. All I’m going to say is that you have a terrible cold, you need to get well, and you won’t get better flying all over the world with that cold wind in your face.”

“Bud the toys,” he said and felt tired even as he spoke, pulling the blanket tighter.

“I’ve taken care of it,” she said. “I called your cousin.”


“Santa Clara agreed to deliver the toys, and she’s really good with reindeer. Those veterinarian classes she took are paying off. Now you get on to bed and get some rest.”

Santa Clara arrived in late afternoon, wearing a long coat with a floral pattern in red and orange. “Hey!” she said loudly, coming in the door. “That’s quite a white Christmas out there! Pretty different from Miami. When are you two coming to visit, by the way?” She hung the coat on a hook by the door and was wearing a bright yellow sleeveless dress underneath.

“Oh,” said Mrs. Claus, waving her hand in the air. “Trying to drag His Jollity away from here is a task for a moose. When he’s not working he just wants to sit on the couch and chill.”

“You can sure do that in here alright!” said Santa Clara, shivering. “I thought you’d have the heat on.”

“We keep the place kind of cool and wear sweaters,” Mrs. Claus said. “You should see the gas bill. Anyway, I had the IT elves put together an app to download tonight’s route on your phone. And I emailed you the naughty and nice list as an attachment.”

“I got it,” Santa Clara said. “Some of the things on that naughty list are, you know, not all that naughty where I live.” She stopped and smiled. “I was thinking I could at least give them a little Christmas piñata. You smack something, and you get something sweet.” She winked.

“Well, you decide that,” Mrs. Claus said. “You’re the one delivering the toys.”

Santa Clara laughed and said, “Or I could play it by ear. See if they left a mojito for mama.”

“And how about something to eat before you start packing the sleigh?” said Mrs. Claus. “I could make some grilled cheese sandwiches. The elves like those. Or I have leftover bratwurst.”

“Oh, thanks. Before I left I had some arroz con pollo and papas rellenas. I’m still stuffed like a Christmas goose, ha ha! I’m ready to get started, and I’ll be warmer if I get to moving.”

With the help of the elves, the toys were all loaded into the sleigh, and as the sun went down, with a thick blanket over her lap, Santa Clara shouted, “Rubiroso, guide my sleigh tonight!” Then down the runway the reindeer trotted, as they slowly, magically lifted off the ground.

“Now Chulo! Now Paco!” she shouted at the reindeer. “Now Cabrón and Cariño! On Pollito, on Primo and Jefe!”

Mrs. Claus watched as they rose higher in the air, and she heard the voice of Santa Clara coming back through the cold air. “Merry Christmas to all, and Feliz Navidad a todos!”

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Pumpkin Pie Like Heaven’s Velvet

slice of pumpkin pie

Like that

In honor of the Holiday of Feasts and Family Felicity (I mean Thanksgiving, in case you didn’t recognize it), I want to tell you a true story from my youth-hood long, long ago. When I say I want to tell you a “true” story, of course, I mean whatever pretense pops into my head in a random sequence.

I was thirteen at the time. My Uncle Wallow had come down to Georgia from Chattanooga to spend a few days for Thanksgiving. Uncle Wallow grew up with Mama, and they were both from here in Whatapig, Georgia, but he was invariably telling people he was from Tennessee. My uncle was a pillar of steadfast fabrication, resisting the winds of truth, however strong they blew.

“Wallow, damn it,” Mama said one Thanksgiving morning. “You’re from Tennessee as much as that dog is from the moon.” Mama was looking at Hotdog Happy Bonaparte, our cockapoo.

“Hildy,” Uncle Wallow said, “I wish you would leave the dog out of it. He hasn’t done you any harm except for that one bite two years ago. And you can look at him and see how tired he is. The heavy gravity is hard on him here, after growing up on the moon.”

“He might be from the moon,” I said. “He’s always howling at it like he wants to go back.”

“Yeah,” my sister said. “And he likes cheese.”

Mama looked at Uncle Wallow, then at the rest of us, and said, “Right about this minute as I’m standing here, you all are giving me the creeping jeepers. If you want Thanksgiving dinner, there’s a store down the road and black-eyed peas and cheddar cheese in the fridge. I’m going to Millie’s. Don’t follow me.” And off she went.

My sister looked astonished, staring around the room, but she always kind of looks that way, how she keeps her mouth half open, and her eyes have that odd look. “Who’s gonna cook?” she said. “I don’t know how. And that cheese is old, by the way.”

“We’re better off,” said Uncle Wallow. “That woman is like a police dog at a cat show, can’t anybody just relax when she starts barking.” He walked over and looked in the refrigerator, then said to me and my sister, “You’re in for a treat, because I’m gonna make Thanksgiving dinner. I took classes at a cooking school in Chattanooga.”

I can only speak for my own perception of events there, but I was thinking, Now wait a minute.

By chance, Uncle Wallow did wait a minute, thinking about something, probably. Then he said, “We’re gonna need to go to the store, though.” We hauled off down the road, and an hour later we were home with bags of food that demonstrated considerable hope and optimism, as the food in the bags was raw.

Uncle Wallow started pulling things out, and said, “We need to get this turkey going first thing. It’s kind of small, but there’s only three of us. One of those petite gobblers.”

“Hey,” my sister said, “that’s a duck, not a turkey.”

“A duck?” said Uncle Wallow. “Somebody must have switched it on me, the wretched snakes of deceit. Well, ducks are only used in Chinese cooking, so we won’t need that. I guess we’ll just have to do without the turkey. Most people prefer side dishes anyhow.”

Here’s what we made for Thanksgiving dinner: potatoes boiled over on the stove; canned green beans that were sort of mashed up from being pulled out with a fork, because the can opener broke with the can only partly open; a squash casserole that was kind of watery, after we added too much mushroom soup; brown and serve rolls that were hard and black from being forgotten in the oven.

Here’s what we ate for Thanksgiving dinner: microwaved bowls of black-eyed peas, and we gave the cheese to Hotdog Happy Bonaparte.

When Mama came home, she opened more windows to get the smoke out and gave us all a piece of pumpkin pie she brought from Millie’s house. Nobody in Whatapig, Georgia, makes better pumpkin pie than Millie.

Happy Thanksgiving, yall.

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Drinking Cocktails Called “Furryboy”

Man making a cocktailLast Friday, if I had been at a very hip, ultra chic bar named Moonster (with a werewolf as the symbol of the bar), instead of being home studying my Sunday School lesson, I might have ended up sitting next to two young men in their late 20s, one with short red hair and a bushy auburn beard, the other with a completely shaved head and an earring that was literally a dangling gold ring.

It’s a shame I wasn’t there. I can imagine how their conversation might have gone. Perhaps Mr. Beard would have made a little political commentary, such as, “Donald Trump is a full-on groadster.” We understand the slang term “full-on” to mean something like “complete” or “total”. But a groadster?

Mr. Ring addressed that. “No,” he said, “a groadster is somebody who’s dirty or disgusting.”

“Like I said?”

“It’s not for politicians. It’s for people who don’t shower or brush their teeth.”

“Well,” said Mr. Beard, wagging a finger at the bartender, then pointing at his empty drink, in his intentionally cool, sophisticated way. “I think you just don’t know how to use that word. Or maybe you think Trump is a charmpimp.”

Mr. Ring snorted with disgust. “Right, amigo mio. The only women he could charmpimp are overweight groadsters working at Walmart. Or women from Slovenia.”

“You’re leaving out his major demographic,” said Mr. Beard. “White men who barely got out of high school and who are in touch with their gay shadow.”

“A gay shadow?” said Mr. Ring. “I never heard that.”

“I guess you’re not cool enough to keep up,” said Mr. Beard. “If you don’t know the lingo, Bingo, just let the big boys talk.”

“I think you made it up.”

“Everybody knows gay shadow. Except you. It’s that dark part of you that follows you around and wants what you can’t admit. Or if you admit it, then you don’t have a gay shadow.”

“I still think you made it up.” Mr. Ring finished his drink and opened up the menu that was still lying on the counter.

“I don’t have to make stuff up,” Mr. Beard said. “I know how to stay in touch with what’s going on. I keep up with the cool ways to talk. You can’t be zack if you don’t do that.”

“You’re the least zack person I know,” Mr. Ring said. “You wear a bowtie, for God’s sake!”

“Bowties are the new zack. See, I keep up. I’m not an agno like you.”

“If bowties are zack, I’d rather be an agno.”

“Don’t worry. You are.”

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A Midsummer Reunion

Christmas_CardThe weather was hot, with a slight breeze blowing in from the ocean, carrying a spice of salt and red wine across the city. Santa Claus was taking a few days of August vacation, walking along La Canebière in the city of Marseilles toward the old port. He had always liked southern France, but at the moment he was wondering why he was out walking in this August weather. To escape the heat, he stepped into a cool blue hotel bar.

As the hostess was leading him to a table, he stopped suddenly near a man with a long but neatly trimmed white beard, sitting at the bar. “Nick?” Santa said.

Saint Nicholas turned and said, “Well, look who the reindeer dragged in! Santa, how long has it been? Have a seat.” Instead of going to his table, Santa sat down at the bar with Saint Nicholas.

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Saint Nicholas said. “Hair back in a ponytail—”

“It’s hot out there,” Santa said.

“And sunglasses. You’re looking good, Mr. Claus, looking good. Tan pants, white shirt, you look like one of the natives here.”

“It’s good to see you, Nick. It has been a while.”

“What are you drinking?” Saint Nicolas said. “I’ll buy the first round. I’m having straight Scotch.”

“White wine spritzer for me,” said Santa. “I just bought your last book, by the way. It’s on my list to read.”

Saint Nicolas rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me that. I know you don’t want to read a book of theology.” He slapped Santa on the back. “I just remembered the last time I saw you, you were with your son. How’s he doing?”

“Oh…” Santa paused, raised his eyebrows. “He’s at the University of Edinburgh studying folklore. He’s writing his thesis on why people believe in mythical beings.”

“Like elves,” said Saint Nicolas.

“Yeah, elves, leprechauns, or… what are those Japanese… kami, I think they’re called. Anyway, all over the world, there’s something. Hard to believe my own kid is doing this. Where in the world did he get an interest in a topic like that?”

“Maybe his guardian angel nudged him into it.”

“Another mythical being,” said Santa.

“Now I’m disagreeing with you there,” said Saint Nicolas. “Angels are real. But here are our drinks.” He raised his glass. “L’chaim.”

Santa took a drink as well. “Nick,” he said, “how can you sit there and tell me you don’t believe in elves but you believe in angels?”

“Well, because angels are real. Pretty simple answer.”

“Have you ever seen an angel?”

Saint Nicolas squinted and smiled. “Have you ever seen oxygen? I don’t need to see something to know it’s real.”

“Yeah,” Santa said. “There’s logic there, but I still don’t find that persuasive. This drink is almost gone. Next round on me.”

“You know,” Saint Nicolas said with a sardonic smile, “it’s your guardian angel making you buy the next round.”

“Hey, I know better than to get into a rhetorical argument with you,” Santa said. “I was a hospitality major in college. While you were studying the ancient Greeks, I was taking classes in how to be jolly.”

“Like a bowl full of jelly,” Saint Nicolas said.

“Amen,” said Santa Claus, and they raised their drinks to toast one another.


Here where I’m sitting, way down yonder in the land of cotton, in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s Christmas day, and wherever you are on the earth, or if you are reading this in the future somewhere off the earth, I wish you a glorious holiday.

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