Important Notice

Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Comedy Unnatural Disasters

America is a country blessed with an abundance of humor. Look to the Midwest to see amber waves of comedians fattened on childhoods spent in stupefying boredom, ignorance, and oppression—perfect for incubating shame, resentment, and a driving will to escape which are perfect ingredients for humor. The big cities that fringe the shining seas of the east and west coasts hatch comedians like salmon and cod. Being the class clown is a survival technique for skinny geeks locked up in maximum security urban schools.

America didn’t invent humor. Aristophanes was making jokes about passing gas over 2,000 years before the South Park kids became obsessed with the topic—flatulence is a field of comedy that has never lain fallow. Shakespeare still makes audiences laugh with material that is over 400 years old. No, America didn’t invent humor, we haven’t raised it to new heights or lowered it to never-before-imagined nadirs, but jokes for us are a natural resource as abundant as soy beans or corn.

In these flourishing years we take for granted the bounty of our humor harvests. We tend to remember the prosperous times: the novels of Mark Twain, the Marx Brothers, Bill Cosby, National Lampoon, Airplane!, Richard Pryor, SNL, and The Simpsons. The depth and breadth of our joke history is like an impenetrable fortress that protects our country from the forces of literal-minded zealots and the humor impaired. We have often enjoyed decades of uninterrupted prosperity in wittiness and laughter.

It is human nature to forget the worst of times. Just as modern Oklahomans have forgotten the horrible dust bowl era, today’s consumers of comedy have repressed the memory of some of the most crippling American comedy natural disasters. Some of the minor catastrophes are easily overlooked: the short and painful Paulie Shore career, Carrot Top, Police Academy III-XXII, Gary Coleman in middle age, and funniest home videos. In the early 1970s we endured the comic famine of crappy sitcoms and Johnny Carson’s nightly monologue. These were some of our bleakest years when comedy was buried deeper than any West Virginia coal miner or any Philippine village yet we persevered with polite laughter and the hope that we would reach better times.

It is a sign of our collective strength that we focus mostly on the happier times of our comedy history but there is one date that is branded into the minds of every adult. No one who lived through it can ever forget the tragedy of September 11, 1992. This was the release date of the Katrina of American comedy, the Nagasaki and Hiroshima of humor, the Whoopi Goldberg film Sister Act.

Plot Outline: When a worldly singer witnesses a mob crime, the police hide her as a nun in a traditional convent where she has trouble fitting in.

At least she wasn’t retarded. Or was he?

I never even saw the movie but I was subjected to the preview when I went to see Reservoir Dogs. I tried to escape to the lobby but I saw enough to be thoroughly traumatized for a long time. In fact, I may never fully recover. The negative comedic effects of Sister Act would be felt for years to come. It was truly a humor Chernobyl and I wish that I could say that we can all look back on that sad time now and laugh but not nearly enough years have passed.

Sister Act left a devastating wake of destruction. The movie rotted the souls of an entire generation of comics. Many of our most promising comedians gave up on the profession and pursued careers in juggling, ventriloquism, and magic—pursuits that are the polar opposite of humor. It was a time when American humor was as gangrenous as any foot in a Hemmingway short story and many felt that we should amputate. The United States could always abandon comedy and concentrate on making airplanes and automobiles. After several years of utter tedium a few courageous souls braved the devastated landscape. Someone told a joke, and after a very tense, very long pause, someone laughed. American comedy would survive.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Look It Up and Shut Up

Look It Up and Shut Up

There is no doubt about it; Google is destroying the art of barroom conversation. Thank God for Google. Bury it in a shallow grave and let’s move on with our lives.

A TV newscast on above the bar runs a feature on pandas at the Atlanta zoo.

“Pandas aren’t bears; they are in the rodent family.”
“We’re talking about ‘panda bears’ right?”
“It’s a misnomer. Anteaters are bears. Who would have guessed that?”
“Don’t change the subject. Pandas aren’t rodents.”
“They’re vegetarians.”
“Bears are omnivorous. Pandas just evolved into strict vegetarianism because they’re lazy.”
“I’m telling you, they aren’t in the ursidae family.”
“So you’re saying they’re rats? They’re six feet tall.”
“They are more like raccoons.”
“So they belong to the varmint family?”
“There is no varmint family outside of The Beverly Hillbillies, moron.”
“I’m being called a moron by someone who thinks pandas are rats.”

The TV shows a panda frolicking in the snow. A sigh settles over the bar like a foam head on a well-poured Guinness.

“You have to admit, they are cute.”
“A lot cuter than rats.”

Someone else at the bar has had enough of this happy hour drivel that is trying to pass itself off as conversation. They go over to the server station and query ‘panda’ on Google and the argument is mercifully ended.

Sports trivia arguments are shot off at the knees before they can even begin to take flight. Barry Bonds’ homerun count is spared the wishful thinking of a group of hostile detractors. It is only a few keystrokes away from undeniable accuracy. Seconds later someone finds a Web page that outlines the career trajectories of all current major league players and who among them could potentially break Hank Aaron’s homerun record. Google has become the most annoyingly knowledgeable sports geek ever to inhabit a barstool. Everyone hates the new guy but no one has the guts to challenge his sports acumen. Google is both empowering and emasculating.

Arguments over politics are buried under an avalanche of Web searches supporting both sides of every issue. Under Google’s reign of factual terror fistfights have dwindled but bar flies run the risk of being bored to death reading budget reports and trade deficit figures.

The other bar conversation taboo, religion, meets a similar horrible death on the search engine pyre. A discussion about the existence of a higher being devolves into a competition over which word will garner the most Google hits: “God” or “Atheism.” Man’s destiny has been relinquished to technology in a manner that even Isaac Asimov could never have envisioned.

Personal opinions are scuttled like so many empty rocket fuel stages as conversation flies to stratospheric lows of Google quantifiable dialogue. In a modern twist to the old “if a tree falls in the forest” philosophical quandary, we now question the existence of any bit of knowledge that can’t be found on the internet. I’m not ready to agree that cogito ergo sum but if you query it you come up with 681,000 hits.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Mister Manners

Over the course of my life I have picked up bits of wisdom that I am now ready to begin sharing with the rest of the world. Much of this insight has been acquired through tremendous personal effort, trial and error, cliff notes, forged notes, cheat sheets, purloined answer keys, cassettes tapes, diligent study, over-the-shoulder peaks, night school, imitation, invention, improvisation, correspondence courses, group therapy, private tutors, and home schooling. I will now offer this knowledge to you free of charge.

I have learned a very clever trick so that I don’t embarrass myself while out in public—at least this works in certain situations. There is no possible way that I can keep from embarrassing myself on a fairly regular basis. I have come to accept that an embarrassment-free existence isn’t going to be possible so I just try to keep my personal public humiliations to a minimum.

When talking to a woman who has a serious amount of cleavage showing I used to have a terrible time not staring directly at her breasts. I wouldn’t look and then I would try to sneak a peak and then there was always that awkward moment when I wasn’t sure whether or not she noticed that I was staring and then I would look again and “OH MY GOD WILL YOU LOOK AT THOSE!” and then I would quickly turn away, change the subject, cover my tracks, put on one of those fake glasses-nose-moustache things, and talk with a funny foreign accent in an attempt to make her think that I wasn’t looking. As you may imagine, that strategy didn’t always work very well. I have developed a new technique that I used last night for the first time and I think that I may be on to something.

I ran into a woman I know rather well who I haven’t seen in a few months. I was glad to see her and we had a lot of talking to do if we were to catch up with each other. The problem was that she was sporting quite a lot of cleavage. I know this because I looked, but I only looked for a split second even though our conversation lasted for about twenty minutes. I’m sure that you are all full of questions. How did my eyes escape the enormous gravitational-like pull emanating from her breasts? Didn’t I want to look? How could you not look? They are staring right at you. Stare back, you fool! Are Brad and Angelina going to have a baby?

Her: “So this whole business about the Danish political cartoons is certainly getting out of hand. I heard that some Pakistani cleric has issued…”

I remember that I am supposed imagine that she is standing there completely naked and this will make me feel less self-conscious and awkward. Or am I supposed to imagine that I am not wearing clothes because to imagine her with no clothes isn’t working. I’m breaking out in hives. Then I remember that I got it all wrong. You are supposed to imagine that the people in the audience aren’t wearing any clothes when you are giving a speech. The guy who taught me this was a Shriner and thinking of a room full of naked Shriners is fairly disgusting so I start thinking about the woman in front of me again. This is definitely a bad idea so I start counting backwards from 100 to take my mind off that illicit subject.

Me: “99-98-97-96”

Her: “Huh?”

To avoid staring at her chest I fixed my eyes on a spot just above her cleavage.

Her: “What the fuck are you staring at?

Me: “I’ll tell you what I’m not staring at. I’m not staring at your cleavage. I’m too classy for that. Want to know how I’m doing it? How I’m not looking at your boobs?”

Her: “Not really.”

Me: “Come on, guess.”

Her: “Whatever you are staring at please stop. You make me feel like I have a cyst on my chest.”

No matter how uncomfortable that little exchange may have been, I still feel that I scored a victory. But not just for me, I feel that I won a battle for all of mankind in our struggle not to stare at cleavage.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Scratching Our Four Year Itch

Scratching Our Four Year Itch

It’s funny how the Olympics come around every four years and make Americans care about activities that haven’t crossed their minds since the last time around. It often seems like they just make up a sport out of thin air and run with it at the Olympics. Snowboard cross? Skeleton? And for those of you not near enough to the Canadian border to intercept their TV emissions, Curling? As a close neighbor to Canada I have learned to accept their little eccentric drinking game as a sport.

We are all guilty of jumping on the Olympic bandwagon. Speaking of something I’d like to jump on, I must admit, the idea of a two-woman luge makes my blood boil. I don’t know if there even is such a thing, but I pray that there is and that there are videos I can download for my personal use.

By far the most popular events are the seemingly countless figure skating categories. The figure skating venue has become so popular that the discipline has been divided into two categories: figure skating and ice dancing. The bitter rivalry between participants of the two sports has sometimes led to violence. At the Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah a huge barroom brawl broke out between figure skaters and ice dancers when one of the figure skaters suggested that ice dancing was “fruity.” Athletes are now housed in separate compounds.

The appeal of figure skating is that is gives everyone the opportunity to be an armchair judge. In living rooms across America viewers who can’t even see their own toes—let alone touch them—watch the competition with one arm elbow-deep in a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and the other hand clasping a Pabst Blue Ribbon. “Aw, too bad. You see dat? She faltered a bit on the landing. Dats gonna cost her. Better luck next time, honey.” These armchair umpires are one hundred times more cruel and obdurate than any East German judge during the height of the Cold War. In living rooms across America heartless viewers seem incapable of even the faintest shred of pity.

Mr. Armchair East German Judge: “His technique was flawless but his eye shadow makes him look cheap. I’d deduct for that.”

Mrs. Armchair East German Judge: “How could you fall? I’m just glad that Mary Lou Retton isn’t alive to see you shame yourself. My God, man, have some pride!”

Mr. Armchair East German Judge: “Mary Lou Retton wadn’t no figure skater and she ain't dead.”

Mrs. Armchair East German Judge: “Shut up. You know what I mean. I just couldn't think of a dead figure skater. Make yourself useful and go take the pizza rolls out of the microwave. Wash your hands first; you got Ranch Doritos powder all over them.”

This dialogue shows that we Americans are a highly competitive people. We live for this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Vast Food Nation

Vast Food Nation

Human beings are, without a doubt, the most omnivorous animals on the planet. We are eating machines. Items that even a lowly maggot would spit out in disgust are eaten by humans with uncommon relish, but mostly without relish, just lightly salted. Parents of newborns would say that humans are good eaters. Food is the food of our nursery rhymes. Eating consumes much of our consumption. Eating eats at us throughout the day, every day. We wake up hungry and remain preoccupied with stuffing our fat faces until we go to bed. Sometimes we dream about food.

Let’s admit it to ourselves: We are addicted to food. We just can’t seem to live without it. I have a pretty vicious habit myself. Sometimes I’ll blow more than $100 a day on food, not including tip. I’ll wake up the next morning and start all over again. Some of us have food addictions so discriminating that we have to go to meetings to try and keep things under control. Our bookstores are lined with books that address the problems we have with food.

Scientists have been lecturing us for decades on which foods we should eat and others we should avoid at all costs. Very often one study will contradict an earlier study. Fat is good, fat is bad. Meat is bad, now it’s good. Don’t eat bread; it will kill you. Bread is the staff of life. Bacon is good. Actually, I don’t think that anyone has ever said that bacon is good for you, but I am saying it right now and I’ll stick with it until proven otherwise.

A major study was released this week that said that most of what we thought made up a good diet turned out to be unfounded. This negates almost a decade of trusted nutrition information. Where I come from, when someone tells you something that later turns out to be untrue, we call that a lie. Scientists probably have their own word for it.

I have learned one thing from this recent study that I have suspected my entire adult life. I don’t think we have the slightest idea what it is that makes up the ideal human diet. Vegetarians claim that their diet is superior to those of us who eat animal flesh. People who eat low fat diets think that they are better off than the bacon consumers among us. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what we should and shouldn’t eat. They say that if you eat the wrong stuff you will die. Everyone has the right to an opinion, but few opinions have merit.

This new study makes me believe that we know a lot less about proper diets than we ever thought. I think that we should just eat anything that tastes good. That seems like a natural selection method humans can use to judge whether or not something should be ingested. Stuff that doesn’t taste good can be made eatable if you wrap it in bacon or smother it in chocolate sauce.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Gun Safety One, Two, Three

Gun Safety One, Two, Three

In the light of current events this may be a good time to review gun safety procedures. The current event in question, for those of you out of the loop, for those of you too busy to bother reading a paper, for people too caught up in the most recent American Idol competition to have even the faintest hint of what is happening beyond the realm of mediocre singing talent, for folks who may not remember back to the beginning of this tortuously long sentence, I am referring to Vice President Dick Cheney popping a cap in his hunting partner’s face.

When carrying firearms you should always remember the life-saving adage “Safety First!” These are certainly words to live by but are not always practical when you are hunting. Think about it. How seriously should you take a phrase like “words to live by” when you are hunting, which by definition means that you are out to kill shit? As sensible as the advice to put safety first may be, this can be hard to do when you have a shotgun in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. If you are also trying to smoke a joint you can pretty much forget about any of this “safety first” nonsense. Are you a recreational hunter or a juggler? Most hunters would agree that a mishap with a shotgun is preferable to dropping a half-full bottle of decent whiskey.

So if you throw booze or drugs into the firearms mix about as good as you can hope to do is to put safety second. “Safety Second” isn’t nearly as catchy as “Safety First” but it’s probably good enough for government work. Let’s face it; America has lost a lot of status in recent years. These days you almost never hear crowds of unruly Americans shouting jingoistic chants of “We’re number one,” so perhaps “Safety Second” is more appropriate for our place in the new world order. Besides, if you are drunk, or stoned, or both, chances are that you won’t hit anything if you discharge a firearm accidentally. It’s hard enough to hit anything while you are sober—not that hunters are ever sober.

There is no way in hell that gun safety should ever fall below third in your personal queue of priorities. Even in this era of diminished American standards, I don’t think that it is unreasonable to keep safety third. But then again, if you are as rich and powerful as the vice president, you can file safety as far down the list as you want. In no way am I implying that Cheney was trying to relight a joint when he shot his buddy, or that he was juggling a shotgun in one hand and a fifth of moderately-priced Kentucky bourbon in the other—he probably has a secret service agent to carry his booze and light his blunt for him.

After reading what I have written thus far I feel like I am trying to come across as some sort of gun safety Nazi. I don’t want to take all of the fun out of shooting by running around screaming, “Be careful, man.” Part of the fun with firearms is shooting anything that doesn’t move, and then shooting anything that does move until it stops moving. If you shoot something enough times it actually will disappear. Cheney only shot his pal once, so only a small part of his face disappeared. Shooting stuff is fun. Why do you think that “blast” is synonymous with “fun?”

I defy anyone to point out anything fun in safety.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Cartoon Violence

If anything positive has come out of this whole Muslim cartoon controversy it is that, at least for the time being, Denmark has overtaken the United States as the biggest pariah in the Islamic world. Thanks to President Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq, America replaced Israel as the number one target for Islamist hatred. We’ve had a few good years as number one but it’s time to hand over the torch. Our status cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Denmark usurped us with a couple of humor-free editorial cartoons.

Now Americans can shout “Don’t shoot, I’m an American,” when they are being attacked by an angry mob hell-bent on punishing an infidel. There are even reports of Danish kids sewing American flags on their backpacks.

In an extremely bold act of unmitigated cowardice, the Swiss company, Nestle, reminded its Middle East customers that they were not to be confused with Danes. Way to stay neutral in the battle over freedom of expression. Don’t forget to turn the light out when there isn’t any free expression to defend.

I think that the whole affair is just an excuse for mobs in Muslim countries to go on a homicidal rampage, burn a few effigies and embassies, and shout death threats until they are hoarse. I don’t think that they have television over there to keep people occupied, and from looking at the crowds it is pretty obvious that they don’t have any women, at least none that they are willing to let out in public. Look at the mobs, dudes only. If they paid more attention to their women they wouldn’t get into so much trouble. Instead of rampaging through the streets they could be home painting the kitchen.

I think the most interesting aspect of this issue is how it has divided many Americans. We have heard from staunch conservatives who see this as another opportunity to point out how Muslims are our enemy. Other conservative Christians oppose the cartoons as blasphemy. There are liberals who view the cartoons as an unpardonable breach in cultural sensitivity while other liberals defend the cartoons as an expression of free speech. As a devout liberal atheist, I think the cartoons are unpardonably unfunny. They are dumber than Dilbert, weaker than Family Circus, and more poorly drawn than Peanuts.

If Muslims want to see an offensive cartoon, a really outrageously offensive cartoon, they should check out the South Park Kids version of the Aristocrats joke in the movie, The Aristocrats. Show that to the mob in Damascus and I guarantee that they would stop dead in their tracks and shout, “Sweet Jesus, that’s offensive,” and they would immediately apologize to Denmark for overreacting.

Perhaps Muslims should get their revenge by drawing a series of cartoons mocking some people’s lack of belief in an afterlife to provoke radical atheists. We are a rather thin-skinned lot so I’m sure that it wouldn’t take much for us to do a little rampaging and burn a few effigies.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Thanks for the Memories

Thanks for the Memories
the conclusion (finally)

Nothing Arthur said could convince his parents to move out of the gatekeeper’s house, so in the spirit of family cohesion he decided to stay with them. Ice Pick and Peanut said that they wouldn’t be caught dead in that dump and so they set up in the mansion by themselves. They would keep themselves busy playing video games on the big screen TV and eating pizza while Arthur went about collecting the cherished memories of his fictional childhood.

After he settled in Arthur came out to the porch to meet his parents. He was wearing white tennis shorts, a white cable knit cotton sweater, and canvas boat shoes. He looked like a fifth grade male gigolo at Martha’s Vineyard. “We should take out the sailboat,” Arthur said to his dad. “Mom can take pictures of us.”

“I don’t know squat about boats, neither do you. I should remind you that ain’t both of us put together amount to much of a swimmer.” Mr. Andrews’ syntax was immune to Arthur’s derision so Arthur had stopped correcting him long ago.

The truth was that just about the last thing Arthur wanted to do was go sailing, but he had seen pictures of the young royals boating. Arthur was fairly certain that he would hate sailing and now he wondered if the royal kids hated it too. Maybe everything they did sucked? Before he had come across those articles in People Magazine describing the idyllic childhood of celebrities, he never had many complaints about his own. Maybe a youth devoid of memories of sailing didn’t represent neglect?

Tennis, golf, badminton, horseback riding, water skiing, and all of the other leisure activities usually associated with the rich also seemed like a total bore to Arthur and his parents. Arthur and his mother settled back on the porch swing of the cozy gatehouse with a book. Over the years reading had been the one activity that Mrs. Andrews could enjoy with her son in silence. Arthur also seemed contented with this speechless quality time.

Mr. Andrews looked around the compound for a way to entertain himself. He scouted out the boathouse but passed up the jet ski and speedboat as frivolous—he had a rule of never trusting toys with internally combusted engines that would need to be repaired. He settled on a riding mower in the six-car garage and cut the grass on almost the whole estate. Arthur wondered if his father’s choice of a pastime would rate him a discount on the rental of the mansion.

In the late afternoon on the porch of the gatehouse, Arthur and his parents sipped iced tea that Arthur had prepared himself from a recipe he found in Town & Country. For the first time Arthur explained to them the royal family envy that had infected him when he read the magazine article.

“That’s why you got me wearing a suit, because of them little royal pansy asses?” Mr. Andrews asked. “You’re picking a pretty lousy role model if you’re trying to be like royalty. Pound for pound they’s about the most worthless animals on the planet.”

Mrs. Andrews shook her head in agreement with her husband.

“Son, they got to build mental hospitals and drug treatment facilities just to house them folks. Good grief, if you need to admire people you might as well look at the most wanted posters down at the post office,” Mr. Andrews laughed. “The way we’s all brought up is pretty much a crap shoot as to how we’s gonna turn out in the end.”

Come to think of it, Arthur hadn’t really thought this through all the way. Historically speaking you’d have to go all the way back to Charlemagne to find a monarch who had actually achieved anything on his or her own merits—and Charlemagne was illiterate most of his life. In the modern era, our vestigial royalty had a completely shameful history. The same could be said for the progeny of much of our modern elite.

“I guess my whole strategy could use an overhaul,” Arthur said as he reeled from this new epiphany. “I had a pretty good life before all of this,” he said as he looked around at the trappings of the rich.

“You had it a lot better than you’re mother and I had it when we were your age.” Arthur was slightly startled by his father’s words until he decided that the proper pronoun and verb tense usage was completely an accident.

“I guess this means that I can shut down the casino and the sports betting operation,” Arthur added.

“I guess I can go back to my old job in the service department,” Mr. Andrews cheered. “I can save that suit for when you graduate from college,”

“Or maybe when I’m acquitted on my first insider trading conviction,” Arthur added. His parents had always encouraged him to aim for the stars.

Even Arthur’s mother was feeling elated, just not so much that she felt a need to verbalize any of her joy.

“I guess that I can call off the rather gruesome retaliation I was going to rain down on that Digotti creep and his thugs,” Arthur countered.

Mr. Andrews thought about that one for a second. “Wait a second, them the guys that kidnapped me and your mom the other night?”

“That’s them.”

“Hang on a second, Arthur. Let’s not be too quick to abandon all of your hard work. You probably spent a lot of time planning this thing, and besides, after what they done to us maybe you need to teach them a little lesson.”

“That will sure make my guys happy. Closing the casino they can live with, calling off Operation Overkill would probably cause an all-out mutiny.”

The next morning Arthur, Ice Pick, and Peanut drove back home in a private car. Arthur had a few phone calls to make along the way and he didn’t want to involve his parents in a criminal conspiracy by having them in the same car. Kick off time, for the game and for Operation Overkill, would be at 6:30 Eastern Standard Time.

In his planning Arthur had ignored all of the suggestions of the more pathological members of his organization. Slasher insisted that he could buy a few pounds of Semtec from a friend of his older brother in seventh grade. Rat Face offered the use of his extremely ill-tempered pit bull to help even the score with Digotti. Ice Pick came up with the idea to bribe the kitchen staff at the strip club to under-cook the chicken wings they were serving at the party. The Pièce de Résistance would be Arthur phoning in a huge bet under the name Sal Monela. Because Arthur was a very progressive employer and because he wanted to encourage his staff’s initiative, he gave them all bonuses for their ideas but told them that he already knew a nonviolent way to punish the gangsters. It was probably a good thing that Arthur was dissolving his operation and his crew could go back to playing little league baseball and video games. Childhood shouldn’t be filled with work. As much fun as it had been, there would plenty of time for jobs.

An hour before game time Arthur stopped taking bets and closed down his operation. He and his boys moved across town to the Déja-vu and waited across the street in a surveillance van they had hired for the day. The strip club had four exits: the front entrance and three heavy steel fire doors that all opened out. Arthur had hired a Department of Transportation crew for the day who quickly placed heavy concrete barriers, called Jersey Walls, in front of all the doors to bar egress from the Déja-vu immediately after kick-off. Everyone inside would be inside until they were rescued. It wouldn’t be the DOT crew as they all went home to watch the game.

Being stuck inside a bar with plenty of food and beer for the Super Bowl seems more like where good people go when they die rather than retribution, but then came the second part of Arthur’s plan. Frankie One Eye cut the satellite cable on the roof for all of the televisions inside. Sitting in the van across the street Arthur could hear the tortured howls inside the strip club. Arthur knew that he shouldn’t be so cruel but he cut the power at the club just to amuse the boys in his crew.

About the only people you can reach on the phone during the Super Bowl are pizza deliverers, and they wouldn’t be able to move twenty Jersey Walls, even if you gave them a really big tip. When someone inside called the police they were told that help would come first thing Monday morning. The Déja-vu was a known organized crime hangout and the police could care less about their game-day problems. Arthur had one more move to make as he and his crew pulled away. He punched in Digotti’s number.

“Digotti here.”

“Mr. Digotti, Arthur Andrews here. I just wanted to tell you that you won.”

“Wha?”

“I’m out of the business. I quit. I guess we’re even now.”

“Oh we’re pretty far from even, you little shit. When I get out of here…”

Arthur cut him off. “Before you do anything you will certainly regret, and you will regret it, let me fill you in on my insurance policy. Does the word “Goodfellas” mean anything to you?”

“That’s my email password. How’d you get that?”

“I also have your ATM PIN number and all of your online passwords. I have a great picture of you that I photo-shopped wearing a French maid outfit that I’m thinking of posting on the web site for the Déja-vu. To put it mildly, the picture isn’t very flattering. You just sit in the dark over there and check game scores on your phone. When someone lets you out, if someone lets you out, you had better forget all about me.” Arthur hung up in the middle of Digotti’s string of profanity.

Arthur was well aware that men fear that which they do not understand. He knew that men like Mr. Digotti had no understanding of the computer world—to them it was like magic. It had probably taken Digotti three years to open an email account and any warning to destroy it would weigh heavier than a death threat. He wouldn’t bother Arthur or his boys.

Arthur was dropped off at home just in time to watch the halftime show. His parents were watching the game together. Mr. Andrews had the coffee table in front of the TV loaded with his favorite snacks: chips, dip, mini pizzas, and domestic beer. As soon as Arthur had renounced his über-yuppie lifestyle Mr. Andrews threw out all the stuff in the fridge their son was making them eat. If Mr. Andrews hoped that he would never be forced to eat sushi, hummus, pâté, or caviar ever again. He hadn’t been this happy and relaxed in months.

“Welcome home, son,” Mr. Andrews said as Arthur walked in the room.

“Thanks, dad,” Arthur replied. “How are you, mom?”

“I’m good, Arthur,” Mrs. Andrews spoke.

“Yes, you are good, mom.” Arthur sat down between them, put his feet up on the table, and watched the vulgar halftime entertainment with a relish that he once thought was reserved for the people in magazines.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Thanks for the Memories III

Thanks for the Memories
part 3

Of course there would be some sort of retaliatory gesture, or gestures, that’s the way it was in all of the mob movies Arthur had memorized. Arthur expected something fairly serious, but even he was a bit surprised with Mr. Digotti’s heavy-handed response to the strip club gag. Police investigators found over three hundred shell casings at the scene of what was to be called “the recess massacre” at Arthur’s grade school.

It was meant as just a warning but Ice Pick took a slug in the leg and Peanut was slightly injured when he dove under the merry-go-round for cover. Arthur wasn’t even at school that day—not that he would ever condescend to participate in recess. He said that recess was for wimps. Arthur had called in sick so that he could cover as much Super Bowl action on this last weekday before the game. On the strength of his outstanding picks in the last half of the season and thus far in the playoffs he was actually tilting the Las Vegas odds gradually away from Pittsburg and towards the Seattle Seahawks.

Arthur heard about the shooting almost immediately. Ice Pick was treated and released for the bullet wound but Peanut was being held for observation for the merry-go-round injury. Funny how stuff like that goes, Arthur thought. He wondered if this incident would somehow traumatize him later in life even though he wasn’t there. Arthur decided that enough was enough. He dialed Mr. Digotti’s cell phone.

“Hello,” answered the mafia don.

“Dude, that was just completely rude,” Arthur said.

“That is but a trifling of what I will do to you and your associates if you fail to heed the warnings that I have instructed others to impose upon you to carry out without question and to the letter.”

“What the fuck are you trying to say? Stop talking like that. You sound like the world’s worst fortune cookie writer,” Arthur shouted.

“Shut down your gambling operations or you’ll end up in a dumpster, kid.”

“That’s better. At least I understand you now. But here’s the truth: I need this last game. After that I’m out. I promise.” Arthur had actually processed several thousand dollars in wagers online since he had begun this conversation. He had three other phones on his desk that had been ringing constantly. “Listen, I’d love to talk but I’m really busy right now.”

“I’m not gonna warn you again, kid,” Digotti screamed.

“Losing your temper is never good in business. Just keep this thought in your little head, tough guy. There are some fates worse than death. That is my threat to you, so back off or you’ll understand what I’m saying. I have to get back to the calls. Go Seahawks!” Arthur hung up and manned the other phones, two at a time.

The next wave of retribution from the Digotti camp occurred on Saturday morning in a group of coordinated attacks against Arthur’s operations. Arthur was impressed by the extent of the assaults if not by their originality. Several of his employees had their BMX bikes vandalized, every window of the casino was smashed, and there were several incidents of personal attacks. Three of Arthur’s boys received rather severe wedgies and someone put gum in Frankie One Eye’s hair. For safety reasons Arthur had sent his parents out of town for the weekend and he had moved his operations to a suite at a downtown hotel. Digotti didn’t have too many moves available to him at this point. Arthur had nothing but options and he planned on using all of them.

Digotti was planning a huge Super Bowl party at the Déja-vu. They had placed three extra big-screen TVs on the dance floor. They were planning on a $50,000 day on strictly legitimate business on top of all of the wagering that would be going on right up until the end of the game. The big game was a big tradition at the Déja-vu. Mr. Digotti himself manned the barbeque grills in the back lot. It was Mr. Digotti’s pride and joy, his annual sweet sixteen gala.

The Super Bowl was a day of truce, a sort of cease fire between rival gangs in the city. Arthur knew that every no-neck thug and nickel and dime gangster would be at the strip club for the Super Bowl party. It was their one day of unity as they all cheered for the same team—the spread. Even with every tough guy within 50 miles in attendance, Arthur saw the party as a turtle on its back. Striking out at Digotti’s football bash would be more than retribution and revenge for Arthur, it was going to be entertainment, it would be performance art, and it was going to be too easy to pass up.

Ice Pick checked himself out of the hospital that same day because his room didn’t have cable TV. Peanut’s injuries were more severe than a gunshot wound, something not at all difficult to understand if you’ve ever looked under a merry-go-round or under any other piece of playground equipment. He had to undergo boosters for typhoid and tetanus with a cholera shit thrown in just to be on the safe side. He was released early Saturday morning and met up with the rest of the gang in Arthur’s bedroom to get their assignments for what was soon to be called Operation Overkill.

Arthur knew that the smart move would have been to simply take his winnings thus far and whatever he would make on the game and walk away and concentrate solely on building his perfect childhood memories. That is what he started this whole business for in the first place. He had gone toe-to-toe with the local Mafia boss and got away with it with only the scratches picked up by Ice Pick and Peanut. Firing off a couple dozen Uzi clips into a schoolyard was fairly reprehensible behavior, but what really pushed Arthur to carry out the final blow against Digotti was the sheer arrogance and stupidity of the man.

In the midst of all of his plans for the Super Bowl and Operation Overkill Arthur had a bit of overdue business of his own to look after. He had a childhood to live out. He knew that all too soon he would be an adult and he would need happy memories to look back upon to get him through the tough times. At least this is what he had read in all of the self-help books on the best seller list and in countless text books on childhood development.

On a personal level he thought that childhood was pretty overrated. Arthur had never played with toys and the games most kids enjoyed bored him half to death. Take hide and seek, for instance. What was the point? The only thing Arthur liked about it was when he was “it” he could send his friends off to hide and then sit down and read a book undisturbed for an hour. His playmates would straggle back one-by-one to find Arthur sitting in a lawn chair reading a chemistry text. “You guys really did a great job of hiding. I couldn’t find anyone.” No matter how many times Arthur pulled that one on them, they always were proud of themselves for eluding him.

Just beneath the surface Arthur knew that he really wasn’t missing anything, but he wanted to cover his bases on this whole happy childhood concept, and he wanted pictures to prove it. He still had over 24 hours until the kick-off and he planned to use this time to the best advantage in gaining a few priceless memories. Because they had both been wounded in the line of duty he decided to take Ice Pick and Peanut with him to join his parents at the beach house he had rented for them. He told them to pack for an overnight trip and meet him at ten o’clock.

Peanut showed up with his backpack, skateboard, and a Mac 10 sub machine gun. Ice Pick knew better than to come armed but he was wearing a flak jacket. “Guys, I should have told you that dress was casual for this thing,” Arthur said. “You’ll scare the crap out of my parents. They are freaking out enough already.”

Arthur hired a car from the service to drive them the hour up north to where his parents were staying. Arthur suggested that the three happy playmates sing songs along the way and perhaps the driver could video tape them. Ice Pick told him that it was a good thing that he was unarmed or he’d shoot Arthur in the foot. He wasn’t about to perform in a sing along and he certainly wouldn’t agree to have it documented on film—he had a reputation to uphold. “I was just trying to think of something that normal kids would do on a car trip,” Arthur explained as he turned his attention back to his New York Times.

The car pulled up to the gatehouse just before noon. Arthur gave the digital code for the gate and as it began to open Arthur’s parents came running out of the small, two bedroom gatehouse. “What are you guys doing here?” Arthur asked.

“Ain’t this the house you rented for us? This is the right address,” Mr. Andrews answered.

“This is just the gatehouse to the compound. Before there were electronic gates the gatekeeper would live here. We’re staying at the main estate up the driveway,” Arthur explained. He knew from reading People Magazine that people like the royal family and the Kennedys spent their vacations at compounds, not houses. Arthur had rented this place from a prominent CEO who was now on trial for embezzlement.

“What’s wrong with this place,” his dad asked. As far as Arthur could tell there was nothing wrong with the gatehouse, it just wouldn’t look nearly as impressive in the photographs he had planned for later in the day. After a little fuss Arthur convinced his mom and dad to move into the mansion a quarter of a mile down the driveway.

to be continued...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Thanks for the Memories II

Thanks for the Memories
continued

Five days before the Super Bowl Arthur came home from a long and profitable shift at the casino and found his parents duct taped to dining room chairs and four thugs on the sofa watching Funniest Home Videos.

“You can take the tape off her mouth, she doesn’t talk much these days,” Arthur said as he reached for the remote and turned to Firing Line.

“Hey Harry Potter Capone, shut your face,” said a fat guy in a bowling shirt. “My employer, Mr. Digotti, is shutting you down. We’re gonna to take over all of your action for the game. If you want to make a bet you can do it with Mr. Digotti and I.” They all got a laugh out of that.

“You mean ‘Mr. Digotti and me.’”

“Wha?”

“Never mind.”

If Arthur was the least concerned he was hiding it well as he made himself a ham sandwich and sat down in front of the TV. “Guys, can this wait? I really want to watch this program.”

The head thug in the bowling shirt seemed a little confused with Arthur’s entirely reasonable request as he was more accustomed to a man begging for his life. “Turn it off,’ he grunted.

“Listen, I know that you aren’t going to harm a nine year old kid, so what other choice do you have but to let me watch my show? When it’s over I promise that I’ll listen to whatever dire threats you were sent here to deliver.” Arthur turned the volume up and sat on the remote control.

The TV show comes to the end. The Mafia guys are sitting on the couch. Arthur’s parents are still duct taped to the chairs but their mouths are no longer covered and the chairs have been moved so that they can see the television. Arthur hits the mute button on the remote.

“Who would have thought the Federal Reserve chairman had so much power?” Bowling shirt thug continued his thought, “I mean, you raise the prime rate a half a percent and the whole economy starts spinning.”

“I didn’t realize that Greenspan cost old man Bush the election in’92,” one of the lower echelon thugs added. “What a dick.”

“Can we get to the matter at hand, gentlemen? I have a lot of work to do,” Arthur said as he pulled out his laptop and began pecking at the keyboard. “If I understand you correctly you want me to stop taking action on the game. Let me just talk this over with my associates.”

Just then Arthur’s crew of little league henchman walked in without knocking. For fifth graders they carried a fairly threatening presence. “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Andrews,” they said in chorus. Even in a show of force the little hoodlums knew enough to show proper respect for the boss’s parents.

“What’re these little punks gonna do, not deliver my newspaper in the morning?” Bowling shirt guy had quite the sense of humor.

The half pint they called Ice Pick pulled a big squirt gun out of his back pack. This cracked up the four normal-size thugs in attendance.

“You’ll laugh and then cry. There’s a half gallon of habañero pepper spray in this thing of my own creation. One drop of this stuff is enough to reduce a seven foot grizzly to a blubbering bearskin rug.”

“Hey boss, I seen that on the Nature Channel. I’d rather take a slug right in the gut,” the lower echelon thug said as they all made their way to the door.”

“I didn’t get your names, but just so there aren’t any hard feelings, let me comp you guys some chips at my casino. Come by and introduce yourselves,” Arthur said as he handed each thug a generous stack and escorted them out.

Arthur wasn’t naïve enough to think that that was going to be the end of it. He knew that the tiresome mob honor dictated that there must be several rounds of retribution and counter-retribution. That was the life they had all chosen, except that Arthur despised people who talked in clichés, even if they were surrounded by heavily-armed men. The members of Arthur’s crew were quite a bit more sociopathic than their leader and they were begging him to escalate this into a full-scale war. Arthur didn’t object to violence as a management tool, but he was thinking of the long-term consequences. Fifth grade Arthur thought that middle age Arthur might be traumatized by the fact that a gang war had broken out in the middle of his childhood. He knew that he could probably out-muscle this Mr. Digotti grease ball, but he was positively certain that he could out-smart him. No, Arthur thought that a nonviolent approach was best—not the Gandhi, turn-the-other-cheek brand of nonviolence, but a rather malicious nonviolence.

The key would be to hurt the Mafia guys in their earning capacity. Arthur had already done a fairly good job of scoping out this Mr. Digotti, but where he had once seen him only as a competitor, they were now enemies. One of Digotti’s main operations, and his de facto clubhouse, was a strip club on the north end of town.

“Peanut, give me everything you got on the Déja-Vu strip club,” Arthur said to his shortest minion. “Slasher, you and Rat Face go mobile and head up there to 1009 North Blanchard. I’ll text message you with further instructions.”

Peanut printed a seven page file on the Déja-Vu and handed it to his boss. Arthur looked over the file and immediately found what he needed. From a desk drawer he took out a small electronic device and gave it to Peanut. “Use this voice box and call all the dancers at the club and tell them their shift is canceled tonight. There is a female empowerment and self-esteem workshop they are required to attend at the Holiday Inn.”

The voice box was one of Arthur’s inventions that could change the sound of a human voice to any human voice that you sampled. All they had to do was record a few sentences of one of the club managers and they could duplicate his voice. When Peanut called the dancers he was even more threatening than was usual for their employer. Arthur instructed Slasher and Rat Face to change the marquee on the club from “Live Nude Girls” to “Amish Night Every Night!”

The plan was to destroy the night’s business at the club but Arthur was surprised at just how much damage he did and he was more than a little surprised to discover that there were only two Amish fetishists in the entire town. They were the only customers at the Déja-vu and were promptly ejected after hounding the staff about when the Amish act was coming on. After those two left in their horse and buggy the parking lot was completely empty. Arthur had taken this round.

to be continued

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Thanks for the Memories I

Thanks for the Memories

Arthur Andrews sits on a divan near the mirrors as his father tries on a new suit at the upscale downtown department store. Arthur is nine years old, looks even younger, but talks like a seasoned Mafia enforcer. As he speaks to his father he balances this conversation by hurling threats and obscene vitriol into his cell phone headset.

“I already got me a suit, Arthur. The one I wear Sundays,” Mister Andrews said. His discomfort is audible.

“This is a business suit, dad. How many times do I have to tell you? You need it for your new job,” Arthur says to his father while into the phone he screams, “Cut him off. Do I have to do everything? He’s already down 3 Gs.”

“I don’t apprehend what’s wrong with my old job. I liked it. I was good at it.”

“We’ve been over this before, dad. Don’t be so resistant to advancement and self-improvement.”

“The other guys down at the shop see me wearing this to work, well, let me tell you, I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Just get over the fact that you are leaving those proletarian slobs behind, dad. You’re moving into management.”

“I just wish I could go back to wearing my canvas work pants and boots like I been doing all this time. I don’t need to wear no suit, even in management, not at Al’s Appliance Superstore.”

Mr. Andrews had worked in the service department of Al’s Appliance for the past twelve years until Arthur decided that he wanted his father to move into the realm of white collar employment.

“It’s all about image, dad. You have to look like a leader,” Arthur said as he returned to chewing out whoever had the unenviable task of being on the other end of his cell phone conversation. Arthur Andrews was extremely interested in image these days, ever since he read about those punks in the British royal family in People Magazine.

“Look at what this thing costs. I paid less for my first car. You and me could go see the races every day for a year for the same money.”

“And no more NASCAR, dad. I want you to play golf—it’s more dignified.”

The overly-solicitous salesman was becoming less so with every country-accented word, malapropism, solecism, and grammar gaff that Arthur’s father uttered. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable shopping in our discount store, sir. Of course, they don’t carry these brands.” The salesman turns to address Arthur, as it is obvious that the son is in charge of this outing.

Arthur cuts him off with a raised finger as he yells into his phone, “You, Slasher, Frankie One Eye, Ice Pick, Rat Face, and Peanut pick him up and use his head as a battering ram and throw him out. You got it?” Arthur turns off his cell phone and returns his attention to the salesman, “Listen, I’m sure what you make along with your store discount go farther over there at bargain world, but my dad can’t be seen in the kind of off-brand stuff you wear.”

Before the salesman has time to recover, Arthur is straightening his father’s new tie. “Shoot the cuffs, dad.” Mr. Andrews obeys and looks at himself approvingly in the mirror.

“He’ll take this one and the one in charcoal. Put it on this card.” Arthur dismisses the defeated clerk with the wave of a credit card. If Arthur’s father wondered how his son was going to pay for the clothing he was too afraid to ask him about it. Arthur was a little touchy lately, it was better just to let him have his way.

The Andrews has always been intimidated by their only child. Arthur had scored off the charts on any intelligence tests that he took and even as a baby he was peculiar. His mother would try to make him watch the Walt Disney cartoons like the other kids in the neighborhood enjoyed. Little Arthur would howl like a banshee until she took out “The Little Mermaid” and put in one of her husbands movies, preferably a gangster film.

When he was two little Arthur’s favorite movie was “Reservoir Dogs.” His parents were both proud and mortified that he could recite every line of dialogue by heart. The Andrew’s only heir especially loved to act out the scene where the cop gets his ear sliced off. After that you could put the happy little guy down for the night and he wouldn’t move until morning.

They were extremely proud of their son, although sometimes his high IQ was a burden to them. Arthur corrected his mother’s grammar so often that she quit talking altogether when he was about five.

“Daddy and me are going to put you in the college preparatory first grade class.”

“It’s ‘Daddy and I are going to put you in the college preparatory first grade class.’ I’m sure I’ll be bored to death.” Arthur’s mother wasn’t as thick-skinned as her inarticulate husband and soon resorted to communicating with her only child by whistling. She and her son quickly developed their own language completely free of the rules of grammar that had once so hindered their conversation.

The Andrews refused to let Arthur skip ahead several grades as school administrators had suggested. They wanted their son to have a normal life, as if that would be possible with Arthur’s freakishly high intelligence. Arthur quickly learned that he could do whatever he wanted in school, or not do whatever he chose not to do.

Any sort of discipline became impossible once he determined that he could hold the school ransom by refusing to take any standardized tests if they tried to punish him for any of his misdeeds. He single handedly raised the school’s test scores enough to keep them comfortably above minimum requirements. If Arthur were to fail a test purposefully it could mean that the entire district might have to sacrifice federal aid money.

Arthur seemed content to live out his childhood in a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” détente between himself and the usual sources of authority for normal kids. Until one day when Arthur picked up that fateful copy of People Magazine in the office of his father’s realtor. Mr. Andrews had brought Arthur along with him so that his son could explain to the realtor the complicated refinancing scheme he had worked out for his parents. Normally Arthur wouldn’t be caught dead reading celebrity gossip trash, but People was all that was available. The magazine had a feature story with several photographs chronicling the life of the British royal family. There were pictures of young princes riding horse back, visiting chic European vacation destinations, and other activities of the leisure class. Arthur immediately compared their lives with his and saw that his own childhood was coming up short.

In fourth grade Arthur had begun an extensive study of childhood development. He had done extensive research on the traumatic effects of neglect in preadolescent children. Now Arthur was concerned that his lack of experience with summers spent of the French Riviera and black ties balls in the company of important and influential parents might one day come back to haunt him. It’s not that he thought that his own childhood could be described as unhappy in any way, but he felt that he should cover his bases by having experiences like the rich brats in the magazine.

Once Arthur had decided to focus his mental gifts on making money it didn’t take him long to get going, and his love of gangster films directed him to a life of crime as the quickest path to instant wealth. He started a casino and employed his group of unsavory friends to staff it—if “unsavory” is an appropriate term to use when describing fifth graders.

Arthur’s classmates or not, they gave Mrs. Andrews the creeps. She wasn’t concerned that they would have a bad influence on Arthur. Arthur had been above any influence from his peers and it was pretty obvious he was the ringleader of his little group, and it was Arthur, after all, who had given all of them those dreadful nicknames. She just wished that Arthur could have cute little friends that she could fuss over. Lord knows she could never fuss over Arthur himself; he was the least needy child on the planet. Arthur rarely even took meals at home these days. He was spending more and more of his time at that Boys Club.

The Boys Club was a front for Arthur’s gambling operation. He had rented a warehouse a few blocks from his house for what would soon become the most successful criminal venture in the city’s history. Arthur kept it simple, he wasn’t about to overestimate the abilities of his staff. He had three blackjack tables, a roulette wheel, a craps table, but his biggest earner was the sports book.

As gifted as Arthur was in academics, his true genius was in picking winners in professional football. He had beaten the Las Vegas bookies on four out of the last five regular season NFL games. He picked all of the winners and covered the spread in the first two rounds of the playoffs. His odds for the two division championship games were in stark contrast to the Las Vegas numbers. If his luck lasted this week he would be a very wealthy fifth grader.

It would be difficult to believe it from his appearance but Arthur wasn’t really interested in the money. Ever since he saw that issue of People he had become obsessed with acquiring his own collection of happy childhood memories. When he noticed that all the rich kids’ parents drove big off-road vehicles he leased the biggest one he could find for his mother. She couldn’t drive it very well and was completely terrified of the thing, but Arthur was more comfortable with the image it portrayed. It was a miracle that his mother had not killed anyone so far. She would often get home and find a tricycle stuck in the wheel well or streaks of paint on the bumpers.

Arthur was never very interested in playing sports but he felt that they were probably part of a happy childhood. He joined a youth soccer league although he rarely played—most of the time he sat on the sidelines furiously pecking on his laptop or shouting instructions into his cell phone. Although if you pressed him, Arthur probably couldn’t tell you which team he played for, he always seemed to make the winning goal, week after week.

The same scenario suspiciously unfolded at each game. The score would be tied with less than a minute to go. Arthur would put down his laptop and phone and come off the sideline. He would get the pass and dribble in front of the goal just as the goalie tripped over his own feet. Arthur would kick the ball in for the winning goal. Sometimes he would miss and they’d have to repeat the pantomime. You can’t put a price tag on childhood memories like those but if, just for the sake of argument, you were looking for a price, it would be somewhere around $50 for every player, coach, and referee. This doesn’t include the photographer’s salary. Priceless memories need good pictures.

Arthur insisted that his mother drive him to soccer. He could just as easily take a cab like he did for school every day (the bus was too noisy and slow) but that’s what kids’ mothers were supposed to do. When Arthur’s father offered to drive him one day Arthur screamed at him that there were no such things as soccer dads. Dads are too busy to drive their kids to soccer. His teammates would think that Mr. Andrews had nothing better to do. So Arthur’s mom continued to drive him even thought she wasn’t getting the hang of driving the monster truck he had forced on her. She would have had an easier time controlling a rampaging elephant.

Arthur’s plans for his perfect childhood were moving along nicely. He picked both winners in the division playoff games and the other operations at the casino are all highly profitable. Things are going so well that the gives his boys a day off and invites them over to his house. As much of a tyrant that he is in business Arthur also understands the value of positive motivation. All they needed was for the entertainment to arrive. “Hey Arthur, you have two women here to see you,” his father said through the locked bedroom door.

“Some of the guys are falling behind so I got them these math tutors,” Arthur explained as he led the two scantily-clad young women back to the party in his bedroom. Mr. Andrews was about to comment that they didn’t have any books with them before he thought better of it and returned to his TV show. Like so many other things dealing with Arthur’s personal life, Mr. Andrews knew that it didn’t pay to jump to conclusions. After a couple of hours of hooting and hollering from Andrew’s bedroom, the two “tutors” let themselves out the front door while counting fistfuls of bills. Mr. Andrews thought that lots of tutors probably get paid in small bills and dress like round card girls at a prize fight.

Mr. Andrews noticed that his son was becoming increasingly irritated. Arthur was on edge, no doubt about it. The other day at breakfast Mr. Andrews was commenting on an article in the paper about a kid being tried as an adult when Arthur when into a half hour tirade on America’s immoral judicial system that unfairly targets youthful offenders. Mr. Andrews thought that his son was fairly obsessed with that issue. While other kids were doing oral reports on whether or not chocolate milk should be served in the cafeteria, Arthur was lecturing anyone who would listen on recent Supreme Court rulings against minors.

Not that Arthur’s growing empire had much of a risk running afoul of the law; the rank and file members of the local police force were some of his best customers. Arthur wasn’t even bothered by payoffs, as most of the cops were so far in debt to him that he was considering a direct deposit system. He had convinced everyone in the town that his untaxed casino was not only a victimless crime but a public service. Arthur had achieved a status for gambling that was the envy of organized crime. Arthur should have realized from the Mafia films that he so admired that gangsters have their own way of dealing with envy.

to be continued...