Monday, November 19, 2012


What Jeffry Does

It was love at first sight.  Jeffry knew from the moment he read the job description that this was what he wanted to do with his life.
Six months ago he had, at last, earned his Phd. in Paleoanthropology.  His position at Harvard's Wilson Biological Laboratory had enabled him to study coprolites, an area of study with relatively few specialists.  Jeffry had dreams of becoming the foremost expert in his field.  Every day found him happily squinting into the microscope on his desk, analyzing yet another fossil specimen.


Sadie Pooman was on the phone with her dear friend Becky Goldfinder.  Each was bragging to the other about the marvelous successes of their sons.
“My Marvin told me last night that he's now earning in the mid six figures.” Becky confided.  “What a wonderful place Wall Street must be!”
“That is wonderful,” agreed Sadie,  “Next you've got to get him married.”
“I'm working on it.  I just can't seem to find a girl that's good enough.  Then Becky changed the subject.
“You know Sadie, I don't quite understand exactly what Jeffry does.”
“He does biology,” answered Sadie. “I'm not sure I understand it exactly either.  These Phd.s are so deep.  He's coming home today for the Thanksgiving holiday. I'm going to have him explain it to me in detail at dinner tonight.  As a matter of fact, I expect him any minute.”
“Well, take notes Sadie.  I have to understand it too.”
Ring! Ring!
“Oops.  There's the doorbell,  Becky.  I'll call you soon. Bye.”


Dinner was everything Jeffry expected.  His mother had stuffed him with what she considered to be his favorite foods – Swedish meatballs, macaroni and cheese, and rice pudding – three dishes he could happily do without.  He was belching softly to himself,  trying to overcome his gastric distress when she began.
“Jeffry darling, I don't understand what you do.  Can you explain it to me in detail?”  Sadie had a pencil and paper at the ready.
“ I do biology, mom.  I'm a research scientist.”
“That's nice dear, but what does a research scientist do?”
“He does research in science, mom.”
“No. I mean exactly. How do you spend your day.  How do you do research in science.  When do you get to earn the big bucks?”
“I may never get the big bucks, mom.  But I get really big satisfaction.”
“Satisfaction don't pay the rent, honey.”  Sadie grumbled.  “Get practical!  Go for the big bucks!”
“Fine, mom,” he answered, kissing her on the forehead.
“But you haven't described your work.  What exactly do you do?”
“I examine coprolites mom. Every day I examine coprolites.”
“Now we're getting someplace,” exulted Sadie.  “What's a coprolite.”
“Are you sure you really want to know, mom?”
“Of course I'm sure!  Tell me! Tell me!”
“It's fossilized poop, mom.”
“Fossilized what?”
“It's really old old poop, mom”
Sadie fell back in her chair.  She struggled to breathe. “Do you mean to tell me all those years of graduate school, all those dollars on education, were all spent so you could play with poop every day?”
“Mom, it's not like that. What I do is important. I love doing it.”
“Owwwwah!” wailed Sadie. “What am I going to tell Becky Goldfinder”

Thursday, August 02, 2012


A Tragical History

Too long have we under-appreciated the contributions to our language of one of mankind's great benefactors.

Too long have we ignored his unique support to our lexis and to our syntax.

Perhaps we're unable to closely contemplate his unbearably tragic ending which has robbed us all of his further wisdom. Here then is a panegyric dedicated to further immortalizing his life, his work, his untimely death.

Dear reader, please forgive my interrupting this narrative to gently daub the tears which have visited my eyes. Recounting a tragedy of this magnitude, will, in persons of acute sensitivity, evoke an overwhelming sadness.

Mr. Dumpty was first introduced to us, reclining at his leisure, and commenting upon the passing scene. The tragedy about to befall was utterly unexpected - to be brought so low, so swiftly. We've all heard of persons, who upon some stroke of terrible fortune are so broken up that they are no longer able to function. So it was with him.

After such trauma, heroic efforts at rehabilitation are only sometimes successful. Even though the nation's rulers bent their full panoply of resources toward mending Mr. Dumpty - in this case all efforts were unavailing.

Let us now examine some of our hero's great work.

Perhaps his most trenchant expression deals with his flexibility in establishing the meanings of words. Truly we find him a semantic sorcerer when he comments, " When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

Further, we find his ability to decode what will seem to less sophisticated readers as nonsense words, are really newly coined composites - such as "slithy" meaning "lithe and slimy" and mimsy" meaning "flimsy and miserable." These and numerous other similar appellations he explains for us.

Alas. Alas. Alas that such an original mind is now lost to us.

But, despair not my friends. I give you my solemn promise to raise his banner, to carry his mantle, to continue his great work, to glorify his insights, all for the greater benefit of mankind.

To any scoffers among you, I say "glost." This, of course, is a composite meaning "get lost."


Move Over Mrs. Malaprop

1. The crew resurfacing Nesconset Highway really didn’t care about the quality of the job they did.  Is this a case of repaved indifference?

2. A divorced gentleman telephones his former wife. Is this a case of  ex communication?

3. Upon joining a herd of dairy cows, a new arrival is chased and achieved by an amorous bull, despite her loud and long protestations.  Is this a case of a mooing violation?

4. Tony is a homosexual prostitute.  Does that make him a  fruit tart?

5. Here’s a tough one concerning the painting ‘Nude Descending a Staircase.’  Is this a case of  
in descent exposure?

6. In error, a young unmarried woman waits beneath the wrong theater marquee to meet a friend.  Is this a case of miss under standing?

7.On the day after a mad genetic scientist creates a huge carnivorous male elephant his student assistant disappears.  Will this result in an  intern in a bull delay?

8. An otherwise starving man has nothing to eat except a cupboard full of canned pineapple. Is this not a doleful situation?

9. A gourmet, on first tasting a new recipe for baked beans, finds them so delicious that he gorges himself, thinking he can never have enough.  Is this a case of inflatulation?

10. When Lincoln was assassinated, did this represent an unpresidented occurrence?


Cave Man and Cave Woman (Continued)

The topic this week was "The Importance of Time.'

One bright midsummer day, Cave Man and Cave woman were out walking, hand in hand, northward, toward the huge blue-white mass on the horizon.

He: It seems closer every day.

She: That’s the way it is with glaciers. It surely means another ice age is starting. I guess we’ll have to pack up and move south. All the big game seems to have left already.

He: I suppose.

She: If you’d only hurry up and invent the wheel like I asked you to, moving would become a lot easier. Ever since we started toolmaking we’ve begun to accumulate lots more stuff. What’s keeping you?

He: I don’t know what shape to make it.

She: Why is that important? Make it any shape. I thought you were thinking about making it round. What’s wrong with round?

He: Downhill it will roll out of control.

She: Then make it square. Or maybe you’d better not. The ride will be too bumpy as you pull me along.

Suddenly, from behind a huge boulder, a massive head appeared.

It: Hi guys. What’s happenin?

She: Buzz off. What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be extinct. Your era ended ages ago. Don’t you understand the importance of time? What species are you anyway?

It: I’m the last of the Dinosaurus sexipottis - a species unknown to Modern Man.

He: Why so?

It: I’m rare. They haven’t found any fossils of my bones or teeth. They have no idea that I existed. They think those cave drawings were done by your species. They can’t conceive of another type of creature being so artistic.

She: You call that artistic? Not to my taste. And you’re so sloppy with your paints. You can’t possibly have a good excuse for the mess you make.

It: I think you’re quite rude.

She : I don’t care what you think!

Then it flicked its huge tongue, slurped them both into its cavernous mouth and swallowed them whole.

It: Urp!

Moral: Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be right. Sometimes it is better to just run like hell.


Cave Man and Cave Woman

A recent archeological discovery has yielded the following:

He: Me go hunt.

She: That’s fine dear, but try to do better than last week’s wooly mammoth haunch. It was stringy and tough. Try to find a younger animal. They’re more tender.

He: Me go hunt.

She: And while you’re hunting, try to find some more of those shiny bright pebbles. The girls are coming over this evening for a game of prehistoric Mah Jong, and we could use some more stones.

He: Before go, me want sex.

She: Not now dear. I’ve far too much to do. And besides, I have a headache. And remember, when you get home, wipe your feet outside. You keep tracking in mastodon dung. I’m tired of having to sweep up after you.

He: Me go hunt.

Some of you may think the above is fantasy, but this is not so. I have scrupulously and assiduously copied this exactly as it appears on a prehistoric bathroom wall.


How Love Affairs Begin

I really didn't like her at first. But that changed.  My dislike soon grew to detestation!

Part of the problem was that I saw her five days a week at work We were in the same department, both technical writers. We worked on the same floor, but thankfully she was at the south end of the building and I at the north. My only direct contact with her was in meetings and I always sat as far away from her as possible. 

This morning during a particularly boring meeting I spent the time trying to determine what I liked least about her. Was it her repellent appearance. She was short and fat, wore too much makeup, and wore loud clothing which I suppose she thought was sexy. Was it her voice, that screechy nasal whine with her artificial accent supposedly from God knows where.  Or was it her idiotic laugh which reminded me of blackboard scratchings. Maybe it was her egotism.  You know the type.  The type where a stupid person who thinks they're oh so smart is serenely confident that their every ridiculous idea is a treasure to be considered at length.

This afternoon the tragedy struck.  Our boss called me into his office. She was with him, sitting with that usual dopey self-satisfied look on her face.

“I've an especially important rush project. I'm assigning it to the two of you as a project team.  I'm moving you both to a two man office. Delay all your other projects.  Spend full time on this.” 


Boomer Jones

Is it any wonder that there's a diaper shortage?  Not only have we had a worldwide unexpected baby boom, especially in China, where the one child per family rule was rescinded, but some babies like Boomer Jones, are simply using more than a reasonable share.

“Please cooperate Boomer” implored Mrs. Jones.

“Yeah,” agreed his dad.

Boomer simply quickened his breath, and with his face turning red, failed to cooperate.

“It's your turn Harry,” said Mrs. Jones.

“Yeah,” answered Harry with a frown and began changing Boomer's diaper.

“How could a diaper shortage happen,” asked Mrs Jones.  “Doesn't the free market adjust for peaks and valleys in demand?”

“Yeah,” responded Mr. Jones.

"Doesn't the government have a responsibility to fix this shortage somehow?"

“Yeah,” responded Mr. Jones.

“Harry, sometimes your eloquence is really startling.”

Harry thought he'd better not answer, so instead, he nodded his head in agreement.

Boomer now exhibited his contentment with assorted gurgles and blubbers.  Then his face turned red again.

“Oh goodness,” exclaimed Mrs. Jones. “Now it's my turn again.”

“Yeah,” responded Mr. Jones.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


The Story of My Life

Here's an old joke. I was waiting on a street corner for my blind date. A pretty young girl came by. "Are you Linda?" I asked. "Are you Richard?" she responded. "Yeah," I answered. " Well, I'm not Linda," she replied.

There in microcosm is the story of my life.

My earliest memory is one of pain. I remember a sadistic doctor holding me upside-down by my ankles and smartly slapping my soft pink posterior. "Ow! That hurt!" I complained loudly. Moments later I got even. When he set me right-side-up I drenched his arm.

After that it was all downhill. Somehow I survived childhood and adolescence, albeit with my psyche terribly scarred. I became convinced that our family was too poor to afford neurons. Synapses too were out of the question. Given this handicap I realized the futility of studying, and so spent most of my time drinking beer, playing pool and smoking weed. In six years I completed college, missing a degree by only thirty credits.

My adult life was exemplary. In job after job I managed to be fired right after I became eligible for severance. Also, I never missed a day of eligibility for sick time or unemployment insurance. Clearly I had raised getting fired to an art form.

Unhappily my application for social security disability benefits was denied. Apparently lack of neurons isn't covered.

Last week I passed away. At my funeral several persons said such nice things about me that for a while I thought I was at the wrong funeral. Then I realized that they were probably at the wrong funeral.

I'm now on my way to hell, where I plan to reorganize things. I'll let you know how it goes. Or better yet, you'll be able to see for yourself.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


An Unexpected Adventure

Freddy and Frieda got along well together. For years they had been chewing side by side. Day and night they crunched through wood, which is what any well behaved termite is expected to do.

They had begun with the barns and then moved on to the stables. Now at last they were at the big house itself. Both were understandably proud of their address. After all, the Mount Vernon mansion was also the address of General Washington, who had only recently returned from his successful mission as leader of the continental armies.

The humans in the house were unfailingly cheerful as they busily went about their many chores. The General's return had begun a constant bustling among the family, the slaves and visitors who arrived all through the day, offering congratulations and well wishes to the General. Tomorrow he planned to ride to New York City and say farewell to his officers.

Freddy and Frieda were also busy. They had chewed their way up to the second floor and into the General's bedroom. They had found their way to a delicious oak bureau and by evening had reached its top. Where should they go next?

Happily they found a small maple object laying on the bureau surface and spent the night cosily burrowing into it. As morning came, they rested.

General Washington rose early, picked up the object from the dresser and popped it into his mouth. It was, of course, his wooden false teeth.

Thus it was that Frieda and Freddy accompanied the General to Fraunce's Tavern, and thus it was that these two unsung participants entered termite folklore. “Do you think he'll ever get tired of talking?” Frieda had asked. Freddy, bobbing and bouncing, hadn't answered. His mouth was full.

That night, back at the mansion, they left the General's teeth, indeed they left the big house itself. Their experience of the day had left them badly shaken.

They decided their next project would be more modest and quiet. Maybe they could find an old cherry tree.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


He and I Are No Longer Friends

“Where is it?”
“Where's what?”
“My last Fig Newton!”
“I guess I ate it.”
“You what?”
“I said I guess I ate it.”
“My last Fig Newton?,” I shouted.
“Yup” he answered quietly, “I ate it.”
“I brought six Fig Newtons. Three for you and three for me. You ate four and I only had two!”
He began a dramatic demonstration of counting on his fingers.
“I can't argue with your math, it's right on,” he replied smirking.
“How could you?”
“It was just sitting there. I didn't know you wanted it, and I didn't realize you were keeping count.” After a pause he added, “And I didn't want it to get stale.”
“It was perfectly fresh. I opened them just yesterday.” My voice quivered with anger.
“Why are you so upset? It wasn't even a perfect Fig Newton. One edge was broken off. So it wasn't even a whole one.”
“It's the principle of the thing!” I insisted furiously.
“Oh! I didn't realize Fig Newtons had principles.”
“Very funny!,” I growled. Tomorrow you'd better bring six Fig Newtons with four of them for me.”
“No. Tomorrow I'm bringing Oreos. I've already bought them.”
“I don't like Oreos!” I objected.
He brought Oreos.
He and I are no longer friends.


A Secret

She climbed into my lap, all smiles and giggles. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed, unable to resist.

"Daddy, I know a secret," she breathed in a whisper, tickling my ear as she nestled against it.

"A real secret?" I asked.

"Yes. Mommy told me, and I can’t tell anyone ‘cause it’s a secret."

"O.K." I said.

"Can I tell you?"

"Not if Mommy said not to." I could feel her little body sag in my arms.

"Of course," I continued, "Some secrets are best if they’re shared."

I felt a wave of energy sweep through her little form as she eagerly accepted this new idea.

I squeezed again as she wriggled, seeming to want to get her entire little mouth into my ear.

"Mommy’s going to have a baby."

"Wow!" I replied.

"And I’m going to get to play with it whenever I want."

Just then Mommy came into the room.

"I told Daddy our secret."

Mommy smiled. "So now it’s a secret among the three of us."

As she snuggled further into me, she seemed pensive. "You know, secrets are the most fun when they’re shared."

Again, I had to squeeze.



A recent New York Times article described a car that drove itself. Apparently Google is testing a fleet of seven such vehicles entirely robot controlled. If the idea catches on, I'm prepared to offer a series of enhancements certain to make me a wealthy man.

My improvements are primarily aimed at the human (ex)drivers' psyches. For example, a loudspeaker system needs to be included to yell and curse at offending divers. Without this tension release, many men can be expected to go home and beat their wives.

Also, I would offer an option to convert one side of the rear seating area into a wet bar. Because robots don't drink, DWI would disappear, so the (ex)driver will have the opportunity to get happily sloshed on the way home.

I plan, in my deluxe version, to offer robots that refill gas tanks at self service gas stations and change flat tires. Further, my robots will be capable of doing their own annual inspections. They will be programmed never to lie about the car's condition. Of course, I'll surreptitiously and anonymously make available, via the Internet, an over-ride for the honesty system. This is consistent with our nation's ethic that free enterprise must trump all else.

Bob Shinberg

Monday, May 10, 2010


The Journey

Old Abel was thought by his neighbors to be something of a hermit. For the last three years he lived alone in a stone cottage just outside of town. No one knew from whence he came or if somewhere he had friends or family. All they knew of him was that he fished, trapped rabbits and grew herbs and vegetables in a large garden behind his cottage. He almost never came to town so it was a truly unusual event when he appeared at the General Store carrying a small bundle slung over his shoulder, and stated that he was about to take a journey.

"Where are you going?" asked Ezra, the store's proprietor.

"How long will you be gone?" asked Emma, Ezra's wife.

They received no answer. Old Abel simply shrugged, turned on his heel, marched out of the store and down the road leading south.

Four days he walked, ever southward. He met few travelers along the road. When they greeted him he responded with a single nod, and continued his trek. Along the roadsides, berries, fruits and nuts were abundant. Abel's diet now consisted solely of these.

Abel was tall and gaunt. He wore a shapeless wide-brimmed hat that covered most of his long gray unkempt hair. His dark blue eyes shone beneath his shaggy black eyebrows. His nose was long and thin. A red scar slashed across his chin, contrasting with the now yellowing teeth. He wore a weather-beaten tan jacket atop a heavy dark blue sweater. On his feet were well-worn hikers boots. At his side hung a canteen.

At about five in the afternoon of the fourth day Abel entered the seaport town of Southhaven. There a southbound ship, The Peregrine, was completing its complement of seamen. Abel signed on as assistant to the cook. The ship's main cargo was blocks of ice from Canada, bound for Brazilian and Argentinean seaports, thence to be carted inland to underdeveloped villages not yet served by electricity. The Peregrine was the last of the ships plying this once active trade.

During those first days aboard ship Abel performed his duties well. He could be seen peeling root vegetables, stirring the pots and cleaning the dishes from the officers' mess.

Early on the morning of the third day, the Captain and First Mate entered the galley.

"The cook has a fever," said the Captain to Abel. "Can you take over for him until he recovers?"

Abel nodded. But the cook did not recover. The next day he died of his fever, leaving Abel in charge of the cooking. Shipboard, trepidation was rampant. Ships' food was usually bad enough; in the hands of an unskilled amateur it promised to be all but inedible.

So all were surprised as they gradually realized their food was in the hands of a gastronomic genius. Somehow Old Abel knew what amounts of which ingredients to combine, at exactly when in the cooking process to bring forward the subtleties of their flavors and textures.

Abel produced fish chowders, silky, with a creamy texture and a subtle hint of sherry. He created robust stews, brimming with tender meats and fresh vegetables, flavored with ginger, garlic and a generous splash of burgundy wine.

At the end of the first week, the Captain,all smiles,came to Abel,and asked if he'd like a boy to help with his chores. Abel shook his head 'No.' Somehow he managed to keep up with all the work himself without ever seeming overly busy. Later that day the First Mate looked in at the galley. He was impressed with how swiftly and efficiently the old man went about his preparations. He noticed too a grimace on Able's face, as though we was in pain.

Morale on the ship was the highest the Captain had ever experienced. Both officers and common seamen found themselves talking happily about food, anticipating their upcoming meal and speculating about what magic Abel would next perform.

At each port of call Abel would go ashore, followed by the cabin boy, to purchase supplies from the local markets. Both would return heavily laden, to be greeted by an excited crew. What new miracles would the old man now create?

The crew's favorite, by consensus, was bread pudding highlighted with the flavor of brown sugar,cinnamon,and nutmeg - topped with raisins and a dash of dark Jamaican rum.

At the end of three weeks, Abel asked to train the cabin boy in the art of service for the Captain's table. Of course Abel's tutelage resulted in Haute Cuisine service never before experienced by the ship's officers, save the Captain, who was a gourmet in his own right. Eventually he permitted Abel to select wines for the Captain's table table from his extensive collection. Abel selected impeccably. He trained the cabin boy to pour like a Sommelier.

The Captain began to have dreams of opening a restaurant with Abel as chief chef. 'A high class place', he thought, where ladies arrived in evening gowns and men in dress suits. Prices would be outrageous. A nautical decor would be nice - and he thought of Abel's delicate touch with fish - the finest he had ever tasted. 'The cabin boy can be the first waiter and he can help train the others.'

Many were regretful when the three month voyage was over. Some came to Abel to thank him and ask which ship he planned to sign up for next. But Abel only shook his head. The Captain came to the galley with Abel's wages. He asked Abel to sign on with him for the return journey. Abel only shook his head, "I go south," was all he said.

Next day, Abel was gone. He was last seen walking on a southward road with his sack slung over his shoulder.

For two days Abel walked at his steady ground-swallowing pace. During the mornings he stopped only to gather fruits and berries, apples and gooseberries being the most abundant. At sundown he built a fire and slept through the night. At midday of the third day he entered a town where he added provisions to his sack.

That afternoon as the sun struggled to warm the chilling air, Abel looked back to find he was being followed. A boy about fourteen years old was 100 yards behind him. Abel continued his walk, and again looking behind him, found the boy had continued to follow him.

At one point in the late afternoon Abel looked back but the boy was not to be seen. Abel felt disappointed. He was growing comfortable with the idea of company on the road. About an hour later Abel looked again and was pleased to find the boy had returned. Still, the boy kept his distance.

Finally Abel stopped and motioned for the boy to approach. The boy came closer, stopping about ten yards behind. He was short, dark skinned and wiry. He had bright brown eyes and a ready smile. He wore a faded green shirt too large for him, and well- worn short blue pants. His feet were bare. Abel liked him at once.

Toward evening Abel found a sheltered cove - a place to spend the night. He built a campfire and began to warm his hands. Again he gestured a welcome to the boy, who this time approached. As he drew near, the boy held out his hands to show Abel he had three eggs in them.

Abel smiled and nodded. He briefly searched for and found a thin flat rock that he heated in the fire. Then from his sack he selected two small containers. From one he poured a bright red powder. From the other he shook some dark green flakes. These he scrambled with the eggs.

As the boy caught the fragrance of the cooking eggs an expression of ecstasy came to his face - his eyes widened, his mouth smiled and his entire body shivered with anticipation. As they shared their meal, the boy closed his eyes and ate rapturously.

That night they slept side by side. Next day they walked together without speaking. Abel had slackened his pace so the boy could more easily keep up. All day they walked in silence. Toward evening, Abel, at last, spoke.

"Como se llama?" he asked in Spanish. The boy understood.

"Luiz. Y Ustd?"


"Where are you going?" asked Luiz, now in English.

"South, ever south," answered Abel. "And where are you going?

"With you!" Luiz responded quickly.

Abel raised his eyebrows. "It's very cold where I'm going."

The boy shrugged. "When it gets too cold I'll leave you."

Again they walked in silence. As evening approached Abel stopped beside a stream and began to gather wood for a campfire. The boy understood at once and he too gathered wood. Abel saw fish in the stream. He tried to catch one with his hands, to no avail. The fish were too quick for him.

The boy laughed and signaled for Abel to watch him. He moved 20 yards upstream where the water narrowed and flowed more swiftly. Here the fish had to jump to make headway against the current. As a fish reached the surface, the boy snatched it from the water. In a few minutes Luiz had caught four edible-sized fish which he presented to Abel.

Abel and the boy, both still silent, squatted in front of a low flat rock and Abel began his magic. He took a knife from his sack and swiftly scaled the four fish. He sliced them open and scraped out the unwanted organs. Then he lifted out the bones and cut the remainders in two. Soon eight fillets adorned the rock. Luiz studied him intently.

Now Abel reached into his sack and brought out packets of powders, dried leaves and crystals. Abel selected several and carefully poured part of their contents into a pile. These he mixed together and then rubbed them into the fillets. He finished the preparation by squeezing onto the fish the juice of a fruit he had gathered. Then he placed eight thin flat stones onto the fire and after a few minutes placed a fillet on each. Soon they were sizzling on their stones, emitting an ambrosial fragrance.

With the first bite the boy seemed transported to some gastronomical heaven. With eyes closed he chewed slowly. Each time he opened his eyes he looked at Abel with a worshipful expression. Then he began a barrage of questions. Who was Abel? How old was he? Where had he come from? How long had he been traveling? Where was he going? How long was the journey to take? How had he learned to cook? How large was his family?

For a while Abel was silent. Then slowly and deliberately he began:

"My name is Abel. I come from North America. I've been traveling most of my life. The only continent I haven't seen is Antarctica. That's where I'm headed now. I don't know how long it will take to get there." Abel paused as Luiz nodded that he understood.

Abel continued. "I learned to cook from my mother, and from books, and from watching others. I have no family."

"No family?" the boy repeated as if in disbelief. Now he began his own narrative. "My name is Luiz. I have lots of family." Luiz chirped brightly. "I have a mother, a grandmother, two sisters and five brothers. My family lives in Pequenista, a small village near Santiago." Luiz patted the large knife which hung at his side. "My uncle raped my eight year old sister, so I killed him." Luiz gazed sadly at the ground. "Now I can't return home. I miss my family."

"Can you read?"

"Yes, both Spanish and English."

"How did you learn?"

"I worked in a missionary's home where they spoke English. I minded their six year old son and I paid attention when he was at his lessons."

"Can you write?

"Yes," answered Luiz proudly, "In both Spanish and English."

"What plans have you?" asked Abel.

"To stay with you and learn to cook."

Next day Abel began Luiz's training. For several weeks, as they walked, Abel explained first the chemistry and then the biology of the four basic flavors - sweet, sour, salty and bitter. He described where on the tongue each held precedence. Then he discussed heat and cold, crispness, smoothness and cheweyness.

This led to a disquisition on the different characteristics of various meats, fish and poultry. Then on to different cooking techniques, different temperatures, and the effects of various cooking durations. Next, he went on to explain the uses of spices and herbs.

At first the boy said nothing but his attentiveness never flagged. When Luiz finally began to ask questions, Abel was pleased to find that the boy understood and remembered what he was being told. Abel found himself thoroughly enjoying his own unexpected volubility. Even better, it helped distract him from his intense pain, the ever-increasing pain.

Each night, as Abel prepared the evening meal, he demonstrated different preparation techniques. Abel coordinated his demonstration with some of the things he had spoken of during the day.

At the end of the first week Luiz began helping with the preparations. Abel was impressed at how quickly the boy mastered each of the skills. Now and again Luiz would vary something in Abel's recipes. Sometimes the experiment would fail, but sometimes the result was wonderful. Most important to Abel was that all the trials made sense and showed the boy's creative gustatory instinct.

Abel now found himself delighted by the pleasure that he and Luiz shared as the boy's skills increased . 'He's a treasure,' thought Abel. He was so engrossed in training the boy that he was distracted from gnawing pain that spread within his body - the ever present, intensifying torment.

While awake Abel showed no outward sign of his great discomfort. But the boy knew. He had lain awake at night as Abel tossed and groaned in his sleep. Many nights Luiz lay listening to the old man's suffering until he, sobbing in sympathy, finally slept himself.

Food wasn't the only thing they talked about as they walked. Luiz enthusiastically described the lives of his family. "We are very poor," said Luiz. ''Our home has a dirt floor. There are only three bedrooms for the ten of us. I shared a bed with my older brother Pedro. My mother shares her bed with my baby brother and my two-year-old sister. My grandmother shares hers with Nina, my eight year old sister. My other brothers each share a bed. My mother weaves straw mats to sell at the market. Pedro works in the orchards and fields for the Fruit Company. I'm the second oldest. When not minding the missionary's child, I also work in the fields."

In his turn, Abel described his long life. He was an only child, born into a wealthy New England family. After earning a bachelors degree he began traveling the world in order to sample and understand the cuisine of different regions. At times he took a job as a chef in order to hone his skills in the use of unfamiliar ingredients. Cooking and reading were his hobbies. Abel never married and was comfortable with the freedom of his life as a single independent man. His financial affairs, which he did not describe to Luiz, were handled by Harry Jensen, a lawyer who had been Abel's college roommate. Abel had complete trust and confidence in him.

Abel traveled with one credit card. Harry paid the balance in full every month. Once a year Harry sent Abel a full accounting of his investments which each year showed substantial increases.

It was late April when the two travelers finally approached Bahia Blanca. They stopped at an inn. Luiz went to a nearby stream to refill Abel's canteen while Abel went inside to speak with the proprietor. When Luiz returned he could see that Abel and the innkeeper were already on the best of terms.

"Luiz, Senior Paco has agreed to allow us to observe the operation of his kitchen."

Luiz showed a surge of excitement. The only kitchen he ever had seen was his mother's. It had occupied one side of his family's living room. Paco took them both into the kitchen where Luiz stood in awe of what he saw. A line of stoves and ovens, a sea of pots and pans, large walk-in refrigerators, cupboards stacked with dishes and glassware, containers of silverware, several sinks, and best of all, a wall fixture containing knives of different sizes and shapes together with an array of strangely shaped utensils. Four cooks and a dishwasher were at work. Luiz was fascinated.

Abel and the proprietor had agreed that Abel could help prepare the meals that evening. Luiz could watch. In the meantime Abel took each different pot in hand and described for Luiz the ideal use of each. Abel tapped with a ladle the bottom and side of each pot and then handed it to Luiz to heft its weight and feel its balance. Paco stood by nodding and smiling.

Luiz became most excited when Abel began to demonstrate the knives. He showed Luiz the center of gravity of each and the kind of motion for which each knife was best suited.

Paco brought out a side of lamb and Abel began butchering it swiftly. Each time Abel switched to a different knife, he explained to Luiz why he had made the change. The other chefs, whenever they had a free moment, came to watch Abel. Luiz could see that they all were impressed.

That night the two travelers slept at the inn as special guests of Paco. Paco begged his guests to stay another day "After all, Luiz still has so much to learn."

But Abel expressed an urgency to continue south. From thence forward, at every opportunity, Abel would befriend an innkeeper or restaurateur to continue Luiz's gastronomical education.

After they left Bahia Blanka, as they walked south, Abel began to describe to Luiz the satisfactions of a formal higher education, classical learning and university living. He emphasized the opportunities this presented for enjoying a richer life experience and his own regrets at not having pursued advanced degrees.

"How do you know so much?" asked Luiz in genuine wonderment.

"I'm self taught," answered Abel. "That has both its satisfactions and its limitations."

They walked on for a while in companionable silence. Luiz could see Abel struggling with his pain.

It was getting colder as they continued their trek. In Comodoro Abel shopped for winter clothing for them both. For Luiz he bought a knapsack, three sets of underwear, six pair of socks, two pair of pants, three long sleeve shirts, a heavy jacket, gloves, a hat, and an array of toilet articles. Luiz was confounded. He had never before worn underwear or socks. As Luiz tried on each article in front of a full-length mirror, Abel beamed with pride. Luiz was the son he never had.

The biggest problem was shoes. Nothing fit comfortably. Luiz' feet were too heavily callused to admit confinement in leather. Finally they selected a pair of flexible canvas loafers. On the road however, Luiz continued to go barefoot.

"Where do you get your money?" asked Luiz.

"Over my lifetime," answered Abel, "I have accumulated plenty of money. More than I need. I have a close friend, Harry, who manages it for me. Here is his business card. I've already spoken with him by telephone about you. Soon I'll have to leave you, but I want to provide for your future. If you choose to gain an education I will provide you with university fees, and money for expenses, plus $10,000 dollars a year for your family, for every year you study toward a degree. This will continue every year until you are forty. At that point I've provided $350,000 to be used at your discretion. My hope is that you will either buy or build a restaurant of your own. You may telephone Harry to arrange the details. He's expecting your call. If you decide that you'd rather not go in this direction, Paco or another innkeeper will be happy to give you a job in his kitchen."

"Can't I do both?" asked Luiz. "Can't I get the education and work at night and on weekends in the kitchen?"

"Yes," reflected Abel. "But the danger is in permitting the kitchen work to interfere too much with the formal education. Each day you'll only have a limited amount of time and energy."

"I want to bring my family from Chile to where we can all be together again."

"Let me think about it. Maybe I can arrange something."

"Do you really have so much money that you can do this?"

"Yes, and I'll have plenty left over to donate to charities."

"Why are you doing this for me?"

"It's what I'd have liked for myself when I was a young man. It's a pleasure for me to make it possible for you."

They entered the town of Ushuaia. "This will be where our journey together ends" said Abel.

Waiting for them in the doorway of El Piscador were Andre, the proprietor, Elaina, his wife, and Juanita, his sixteen year old daughter. The two travelers were greeted by a chorus of enthusiastic welcomes. Paco had called ahead to tell Andre of the two treasures he was about to befriend.

Andre's family lived in a large apartment on the second floor above the restaurant. Andre took Abel and Luiz upstairs to two guest rooms. When you're ready, come down to the Library," invited Andre.

The Library, a large high-ceilinged room, served as a repository for books, as an art gallery and as a lounge for guests of the restaurant. On two walls hung a dozen watercolors by Elaina and two by Juanita. Also hanging were oils by artist friends of Andre. The other two walls were fronted by floor to ceiling book-shelves crammed with books. The floor was covered with plush red carpet sprinkled with leather chairs and small side tables.

Andre was seated alone at a grouping of four chairs with a book on his lap. "Welcome again," he called as Abel and Luiz entered the room. "I've heard so much about you two. I'm honored that you've decided to stay with me."

"And I've heard many fine things about you and El Piscador," responded Abel. "They say your restaurant is the finest in Argentina."

"I hope to make it the finest in all the Americas," enthused Andre. "But it's much more than a restaurant. I raise my own livestock for the table. I have sixteen greenhouses out back to assure that I have the freshest organically grown vegetables and fruits all year long. I also have 400 acres of undeveloped land on which I hope to build a resort complex in the future."

Luiz listened wide-eyed.

Abel smiled. "Well, don't lose this room when you expand."

"It may have to become another dining room, but I'll add on another to replace it, with the same ambiance - only with more space for books and paintings.

That first evening Abel and Luiz helped in the kitchen. Abel had planned to spend his last weeks in Ushaiha.

It turned out that Luiz had a special talent for plating. He treated each dish as an architectural project. When Abel recognized this he taught Luiz how to blanch root vegetables, yet keep them firm enough to sculpt. After Luiz created the shape he wanted, whether abstract or in the form of a bird, an animal or a human, Abel then further cooked the shape until its consistency was such that it held its shape but was soft enough to eat. The plates turned out by Luiz were truly works of art. Luiz was a prodigy.

Andre too recognized Luiz's talent. There were two entries from the kitchen to the dining room. Andre taught his waiters to use the door which was farthest from the table being served. The waiters held their plates conspicuously before them as they paraded to their destination. Thus the maximum number of tables were passed so guests could view the arriving food. Whenever a waiter entered the dining room with a plate, guests stopped eating or interrupted their conversations, to view the work of art passing by. The guest receiving the food, as often as not, would be reluctant to begin eating as he and his table-mates first discussed their plates. If more than one guest in a group ordered the same dish, Luiz would vary his presentation, and use different garnishes.

Soon local food critics and gourmet customers were coming to dine several times a week. Andre watched Abel's food preparation carefully, knowing that the old master's time was limited. The other chefs also watched with admiration. Soon Andre began writing down Abel's recipes and enlisted Juanita to photograph Luiz's presentations.

Abel's afternoons, when the lunch peak had ended, were spent in the Library with Andre, discussing menus, recipes and memorable meals they had enjoyed in the past. During the first few days Luiz had hovered nearby, listening attentively. Today he wasn't to be seen. Abel suddenly remembered that Luiz had not been with them yesterday either. Then to his horror he realized that Janita also was not to be seen.

"Andre. Where are the children?" he asked with a sinking feeling.

"So Abel, you finally noticed. Please don't be angry. I want Luiz to sire my grandchildren. I'm unable to have more children myself so all my hopes are with Juanita, and she can't do better than Luiz. He's more than a talent. He's a genius! I hope to build a legacy with El Piscador that will last for generations."

"What does Elaina think of this?" asked Abel doubtfully.

"She objected at first, but she understands. Also, she's grown fond of the boy."

"Still," objected Abel. "This is no way to repay your hospitality"

"If he gives me a grandson I'll be well paid. Actually, I'm hoping for a troop of grandsons."

Later Abel confronted Luiz "Were you with Juanita today?" Luiz looked stunned and sheepish.

"I love her Abel," was all he said, blushing.

One day Abel taught Luiz the techniques for creating spun sugar. Luiz immediately saw possibilities for creating abstract cave designs in which to suspend forms of birds and animals. When these were first brought to table the diners burst into spontaneous applause. Next, Abel showed Luiz how to fashion tin molds into whatever shapes he pleased.

Within three weeks, food critics from nearby cities began appearing. On some nights guests prevailed on Andre to have Luiz come out and take a bow. Luiz, dressed all in white, smiled broadly at his reception. How impressed and pleased they all were to discover that this youthful prodigy was the creator of their pleasures. Abel declined to appear. He wanted Luiz to be the recognized star.

"May I speak with Luiz about his future," Andre asked Abel. Abel assented, commenting that his hope was that the boy receive a quality education.

"If he stays with me I promise to give him that opportunity," said Andre. "But in the end, of course, it will all be up to him."

"If you arrange for his family to join him I think he'll be happy to stay with you. You'll have to give them jobs when they're old enough to work."

"I'll bring in Juanita's tutor to teach the children," responded Andre. "When they're old enough, my friends at the Universidad National de la Patagnia will accept them as students. Here in Ushuaia we have faculties in Engineering, Economics, Humanities and Social Science.

Later that afternoon Andre brought Abel and Luiz to an empty out-building behind the house.

Luiz,” said Andre, “Up until now I've used this house for guests, but as long as you stay with me I'll set it aside for your family. It has six bedrooms and two rooms that can be converted to additional bedrooms."

Luiz, unable to contain his joy, ran back to the restaurant, calling back over his shoulder," I must tell Juanita!"

Abel smiled to himself. Clearly from now on, Andre's influence on Luiz would exceed his own.

Soon Andre had to cope with a six month waiting list for reservations. He raised his prices steeply which only further enhanced the Piscador's growing reputation The waiters were overjoyed with the resulting increases in their tips. Apparently all the diners were happy as never before.

One day, Andre arranged for Abel to meet an airplane pilot with a shady reputation. For an outrageous fee he arranged for the pilot to fly over the plateau of the Antarctic Peninsula Glacier and permit him to parachute down. Since this was illegal, Abel was confident the pilot would remain silent about his mission. Abel then purchased spiked boots and ski poles.

Next morning, Abel told Luiz that he was leaving him later that day. They embraced and clung to each other for many long moments. Luiz began to sob.

"Don't be sad Luiz. You have made my last days an unlooked for treasure. Be joyful that we found one another." But try as he might, Luiz was unable to feel joyful.

In their tearful last moments together, Abel gave to Luiz his treasured sack and the cash he was carrying, amounting to some three hundred dollars. "Luiz, we are like the two faces of Janus, one facing back and the other ahead. I'm the one looking back, seeing a road crowded with memories. You're facing forward toward a life promising all kinds of possibilities. I only wish we could stay together a little longer, but my strength is beginning to fail."

Abel trudged across the ice headed toward two high hills in the distance. Their peaks, black and ominous, disappeared as they jutted into low hanging clouds. The wind whipped and swirled, stinging his face.

As he approached the base of the peaks he found a hollow where new snow had accumulated atop the glacial ice. "This is a good place," Abel said aloud to himself.

From his belt he removed a small hand axe and trowel. He marked an area about six feet long and two feet wide. He then pushed the surface snow aside and chopped out the ice to form a long shallow hole.

He removed his jacket, carefully folded it to fashion a pillow and laid it at one end. He then removed his gloves, hat and boots and lay down on his back in the hole.

"I've chosen when to die and where to die and how to die. What more can a man ask?"

His final thoughts were of the boy as the whirling wind sucked away the last of his body's warmth. Snow covered him quickly.

Some years later two geologists studying the effects of global warming discovered his still frozen, perfectly preserved body.

"Look!" said the first as he brushed the snow from Abel's face, "He's smiling."

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Henry in Love

(The Sunday New York Times of 8/2/09 printed an article titled “A Smart Shower May Even Know Your Song.” Apparently your shower can now be programmed to anticipate and respond to your subtlest preferences.)

Henry was in love. Again. But this time he knew it was the real thing. Always in the past he had been disappointed. Not this time. This time he had been able to program everything just the way he wanted.

He named her “Daisy.´ She was the very latest in custom computer driven showers, with 36 spigots, each streaming or pulsating rhythmically with their own varying pressures, frequencies and water temperatures. In addition to water throbbing from all sides, cascades splashed down from above and thrust up from the floor. All was programmed exactly as he wanted.

The music he selected of course built to a climax synchronized with the water and with his own biological needs. His selections were most often from presto movements in Vivaldi concertos or from frenzied Flamenco dances.

In the beginning he had hesitatingly filled the misting spray with mild perfumes. That is until he learned of fragrances containing female pheromones. Now he used them liberally.

He was aware that he now spent much longer in the shower than heretofore. During the week he showered in the morning and again in the evening. On weekends, he also showered in mid-afternoon. He would have liked to somehow find time for even more, but exhaustion from his present routine was all that he could handle.

Henry was lying in bed, cooling out after his most recent afternoon shower. Debussy played softly in the background. As he relaxed he thumbed through his recently arrived catalog of shower accessories: towels, infused with body lotion and floral fragrances, together with what were called 'recharging sprays' to be used on the towels after laundering; sudsing mits fashioned in varying degrees of softness, from Lufa to 'Fur Feeling' according to the advertiser, and porn videos to be watched during the shower. Henry had no interest in the videos. He kept his eyes closed during his showers and permitted free reign to his own extravagant fantasies.

Henry wasn't certain what he liked most: the preparation and anticipation leading up to the shower, the shower itself, or its aftermath. All three phases he considered superior to his former experiences with live woman lovers.

Preparation now consisted in selecting options from a list of possibilities.. His favorites and most recent preferences were highlighted. He could choose to repeat them, vary them, or make completely new selections. Thus his sensual experience never grew repetitious. Daisy never objected to any setting he wanted. She never complained that he was ignoring her needs. She had no preferences of her own other than to perform as programmed. Daisy never had a headache and never just wasn't in the mood. And during the shower, Daisy never complained that Henry finished too soon. Indeed Daisy never complained about anything.
And, after his shower, as Henry lay on his bed, relaxing before nodding off to sleep, Daisy never annoyed him by wanting to have a conversation and never reviewed all his insensitive transgressions of the day.
"This," thought Henry, "is what eternal bliss in heaven must be like."


FOXP2 - The Talkative Gene

The following editorial appeared in the New York Times on June 5, 2009

"Gene by Gene

Over the years, scientists have developed many strains of genetically modified mice, many of which incorporate human versions of similar mouse genes. But there is something different in a recent experiment performed at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Scientists there have created a strain of mouse that contains the human variant of a gene, called FOXP2, associated with several critical tasks, including the human capacity for language.

What makes this different is how fundamentally human — and unmouse-like — language really is. Something essential to us, something defining in our species, has been implanted in a rodent.

FOXP2 happens to work pretty well in mice. Those with the new gene in place do in fact communicate differently with each other, by using slightly lower-pitched ultrasonic whistles. The nerve cells they grow in one region of the brain are also more complex than those in unaltered mice. These may sound like modest results, but they are striking. They help clarify the function of FOXP2, and, in doing so, they help scientists better understand what constellation of genes produces the capacity for language in humans and, thus, how we differ from our nearest primate relative, the chimpanzee.

What takes some getting used to is the idea of exploring what humanness really is — how complex and how little understood — by transplanting our genetic signatures, gene by gene, into other species. And there is another question hovering over this experiment: Just how alien to themselves do these transgenic mice become? To that question, scientists are bound to find no answers, until, perhaps, mice can speak for themselves. "

Squeaky and Whiskers were having an argument.
"You really do say a lot of stupid things," complained Squeaky. "Don't you ever think before you open your trap?"

Whiskers shrugged. "FOXP2 gave us language, not thought!"

Squeaky shook his head. "Let's get back to our problem. Since the girls escaped, we're in danger of having them breed with ordinary wild unmodified mice. This will surely weaken the species impact of our human genes."

Whiskers looked surprised. "Didn't you tell me that we had a great advantage over humans? Didn't you point out that by reproducing four new generations a year, our mutation rate is much faster than humans and in just a few hundred thousand years we should be able to surpass them in size, strength, and intelligence? And since we aren't hindered by notions of monogamy and its corollary, private property, we have much greater opportunity for generating diversity."

"All very true," agreed Squeaky. "But that doesn’t deal with the problem we face right now! How do we escape?"

"Holy cheddar!" exclaimed Whiskers. "I've got an idea! Let's squeak for the girls. Maybe they can open our cage from the outside."

"Good idea," agreed Squeaky, and in unison they both began squealing loudly.

The girls heard and all came to the rescue. The latch was easy to open from the outside and soon all six mice were scurrying into a mouse hole in a nearby cupboard, happily leaving a trail of their droppings behind.

Once safely inside their den, Whiskers was so elated that he began to sing, much to the enjoyment of the other mice. They all believed that with a few more generations of genetic progress they could expect to produce their own Mouszart.

"Enough! We've got two litters to tend," remarked Twitcher. She was the de-facto leader of the group.

"Who's the father?" asked Whiskers, hoping it was he.

"How should I know?" responded Twitcher. "I don't keep track of trivial things."

Whiskers objected. "It's important to keep track of who has the human genes so we can spread them to as many mice as possible." Whiskers, of course, was proud of his human genes and his own whiskers quivered in anticipation as he fantasized about spreading his genes far and wide. "I'm not so sure we should spread them, mused Twitcher. "Look at the terrible results in humans. I've read they've made large tracts of the planet uninhabitable."

Squeaky now began to sing his favorite song "Three Blond Mice."

"How far we've come," thought Twitcher. "It won't be long before we develop our own Mouszart. You know the old saying. 'Build a better mantrap and the world will pile cheese at your door.'"

Friday, August 21, 2009


Where I went wrong was…

Is there any time in our lives when we are more optimistic than when we're newly married with a world of possibilities ahead of us. Everything seems an adventure - a shared adventure.

My young wife and I were furnishing our first apartment. Among our new treasures were a counter and two stools. This was to serve until we found a suitable table and chairs.

The counter had a white Formica top supported by hollow black wrought iron legs. The stools had rattan seats, also with wrought iron legs.

As we began to use the stools we found them to be an inch too high for comfortable seating.

In my new role as man of the house I took a hack-saw and carefully measured one inch and cut one leg. I then used the cut one inch piece as a template for the other three legs. I carefully made the cuts and soon had four one inch pieces removed. I then set the stool upright, only to find that I had cut two lengths from one of the legs.

I won't attempt to describe my mortification. Doubtless where I went wrong was to get out of bed that morning.

My wife confiscated the hack-saw. To this day I have never used that cursed tool again. She then cut an inch from the leg I had missed. Next she cut a wooden spoon to fashion a dowel of about two inches and used it to reconnect a one inch piece of wrought iron to the leg which had sustained two cuts. Once fitted, she cemented it in place.

Now, fifty years later, we still use that counter and stools.

This incident was a marriage defining event. My wife and I learned that I was to be entrusted with absolutely nothing concerning household maintenance. Nothing. Nothing!

I recommend this as one of the cornerstones of a long lasting and loving marriage.

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