Missing: One Link

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The search for an ancestor that might link the human to the inhuman goes on, like the search for Jimmy Hoffa (some experts feel that when we have found the one we will have found the other). What did our remote predecessors look like? No one knows, but all the indications are that in a family portrait, you’d want them to be holding the camera.

The hominid fossil record is scant — mostly jaws and teeth — and even this slim evidence was compromised by the recent discovery that these fossils are actually false teeth which the early men took out at bedtime and forgot to put back in. How and why they also took out their jaws is still a mystery.

What we do know about ancient man we have gleaned by picking through his garbage and going over his quarterly financial statements, and by talking to a woman named Maggie who knew him well. Maggie was a charwoman who became a slightly charred woman during the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino fire in Las Vegas in 1980.

“Not only were his teeth false, but his beard, too,” she said to us as she beat a still-smoldering Persian rug with a bullwhip. “I met him here in Vegas during Reagan’s first presidential campaign, sure. He was a little guy, about five-feet-two, eyes of blue — both on one side of his head, unfortunately. He was old, real old…about two million years, tops. No wonder he always insisted on the senior discount. I think it was him that started the fire. He cried on my shoulder one time and told me he was sore as all get out because he had invented fire way back when and never saw a penny of the royalties.”

Maggie paused thoughtfully. “One morning he took the blueberries off his cereal, stomped the juice out of ’em and painted the walls of his room with a dead branch — pictures of bison and ritual sacrifice, you know, but cute, like a little boy would do. He was just like a kid sometimes, always sulking because he knew his cranial capacity was about half the modern average and he couldn’t wear a hat without it falling over his ears. Also, he walked like Walter Brennan, but I told him it would never change the way I felt about him — I still hated him.”

Did this early man possess a brow only a bit higher than that of a teamster, or did he approach the human norm? Well, I don’t want to imply that his skull was pointed, but if you threw him headfirst into a dartboard he’d probably stick.

He used no “tools” as we know them today, although he was apparently able to crack nuts with his forehead and saw down trees with his eyebrow ridges. In short, he closely resembled a Chicago alderman, except that he lacked the power of speech, as did his wife — which is about the only good thing we can say about either of them, bless their hearts.

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Nature’s Little Seismographs

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I have here in my hand an article that would cause everyone a great deal of worry if there weren’t already so many things to worry about. It seems a group of scientists at UCLA have discovered a new method of predicting earthquakes based on the reactions of the common cockroach (Blatta orientalis). Regardless of what we may think of them (cockroaches, I mean), they are highly sensitive creatures. They’ve been around a lot longer than us and it doesn’t surprise me one bit to learn that they can spot an earthquake coming up to twelve hours away. After that, though, they simply make fools of themselves. They go all to pieces.

According to this article the average cockroach, when he feels an earthquake coming on, “may run in circles for hours and hours until he’s completely exhausted, then collapse on his back in a death-like coma.” What it doesn’t say is that the little fellow is probably screaming “Earthquake! Earthquake!” at the top of his tiny lungs, hoping that some responsible citizen will alert the authorities.

But no one hears him because, after all, no one listens to a cockroach except another cockroach, and even they don’t really listen — they just nod their heads and murmur “I know, I know.” So he passes out on the floor and usually has to be brought around with smelling salts. That’s when the full realization hits him. Many roaches will sit down right then and have themselves a good cry. Others turn to drink, and it’s no use trying to talk them out of it. They know.

Another sign of impending doom is that the roach “loses all interest in the opposite sex.” As soon as he feels the slightest tremor, apparently, the male drops everything and says “Not tonight, I have an earthquake.” There’s nothing for the female to do but smoke a cigarette until he gets over it. The female isn’t annoyed by earthquakes. She is only annoyed by the male.

What’s frightening about all this is that the scientists are willing to pin their future — and ours — on so chronically high-strung an insect as the cockroach. Sure, he gets the jitters whenever he hears an earthquake, but maybe he falls out of bed when a train whistle blows in the middle of the night, too. Maybe any little noise sets him off. He’s continually on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

How do we know other, more trustworthy household pests can’t be trained to do the same job? I’ll bet sow bugs can predict earthquakes just as accurately as cockroaches, yet because they don’t go pulling their own legs off and sobbing into their handkerchiefs they never make the news. Instead, they hide under the nearest rock until it’s safe outside. Then when they crawl back into the sunlight, dusting off their antennae, they can always say “I told you so.”

I say let’s give the sow bugs a chance. It’s either that or climb under the rock with them.

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The Vulgar Boatman, or:
One Potato, Two Potato

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The following play marks the first appearance in English by the brilliant young dramatist Basil Dung. Mr. Dung is English, but by a court order (People of the United States vs. Dung) all of his works to date have been translated into ancient Egyptian to keep them out of the hands of children. Since the ban was lifted, Mr. Dung has graciously consented to translate his most famous play into English again. After seeing it, the editors are taking up a collection to have it translated back into ancient Egyptian, where they hope it will remain.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:

ALFREDO The human gyroscope

TARTINI A man trapped in another man’s body

SACCO AND VANZETTI Two innocent bystanders

THE EMERSON QUARTET The Emerson Quartet

MAXWELL An usher

MICHAEL An archangel

WARING A blender

OTHELLO A bellhop

ACT ONE

The time is 8 p.m. on a murky stage in New York. Two starving actors are silhouetted in the moonlight streaming through an unrepaired roof. They are lying stage right, moaning and holding their stomachs. Every few minutes they stop to cut out pictures of food from a women’s magazine. As if by accident the first one speaks.

TARTINI: Anyone here have change for a twenty? Just asking, of course.

In the meantime, Alfredo has died and been given a full military funeral. The curtain falls on Tartini, killing him instantly. A voice announces that there will be refreshments served in the lobby, and then we hear a blood-curdling laugh. End of Act One.

ACT TWO

The same stage a few minutes later. Most of the audience has been poisoned, but not so you’d notice. A light spring rain wafts through the hole in the roof. As if through a cheesecloth, an old song-and-dance man barks these words:

OLD SONG-AND-DANCE MAN: Program! Get your red-hot program here! Can’t tell the action without a program!

No one answers. He exits stage left, a disillusioned and embittered man. Enter the Emerson Quartet, playing crab soccer and Haydn’s Opus Number Two in E Major. They are drunk. After falling into the orchestra pit, they lie down and go to sleep. Eventually, some attendants dump them into shopping carts and roll them backstage, where we hear a sudden burst of gunfire. All this time Sacco and Vanzetti have been in the second balcony stuffing detonator caps into potatoes. Sacco leans over to Vanzetti to whisper something in his ear and Vanzetti breaks out laughing. Then he whispers to Sacco and Sacco does the same. Apparently it is some private joke between the two of them.

ACT THREE

A flourish of trumpets. Enter two heralds.

FIRST HERALD: The King!

SECOND HERALD: (as if hit from behind with a pipe wrench) King? What King?!?

The curtain is lowered for several months while repairs are begun on the roof, but it is no use, the Revolution can never succeed now.

ACT FOUR

An usher named Maxwell limps onstage to announce that the play is about to begin, and suddenly there is a rush for the lobby. Time passes. The continents continue to drift. Soon the Christmas holidays are at hand. Maxwell crawls back onstage and says that curtain time will be any minute now. There is a note of urgency, perhaps even of warning, in his voice. Somehow we know he will not live to see Paris. The gods become angry. We hear the rumble of distant thunderclouds — or perhaps not so distant. Through the still-open hole in the roof, lightning suddenly strikes a man in the first row, but amazingly, his watch still works. From the wings, a clothing dummy delivers Hamlet’s soliloquy in pig Latin, while an aging custodian pushes a dry mop across the stage. There is not a dry eye left in the house.

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Speech, Speech!

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In the 34 years it has been my pleasure to be associated with this company — well, not quite 34, actually, but very close to it, very close indeed — in fact, a good deal more than 33 — perhaps even more than 33 and a half, though I’m not sure, it might have been a leap year — but anyway, so close to 34 that it might as well be 34, even though it’s not — at least, I don’t think so…As I was saying: In the 33 (or possibly 34) years I’ve been associated with this company — and may I add that the association has always been a pleasurable one — of course I’m only speaking for myself, but in a sense, as president of this firm I speak for all of us when I say that the pleasure associated with my association with the company — or strictly speaking, the company’s association with me — has always been a great source of pleasure. Which is not to imply that it is not still a great source of pleasure — not at all — indeed, the continuation of the association will always continue to provide a continued source of pleasure — a very great source — for the company — or me, rather — or at any rate, someone. I hope.

As I look out over this crowd of eager faces — I think they’re faces — I mean, I think they’re eager — I say, as I eagerly face these equally eager faces — a crowd of them, mind you, and I remember the days when there were only a handful of us here, only a few — three, it was, unless you count Mrs. Kaiser, my personal secretary — that would make it four — I guess we really ought to count her, since she did all the work — stand up, Mrs. Kaiser, stand up, dear — I’m sorry, she can’t stand up, apparently, she broke her hip or something — of course if she had told me sooner I would’ve given her some time off, although technically she doesn’t have any coming to her until later this year — next year, I should say — that is, the next fiscal year…The point is, we had to wear a lot of hats back then, way back when it all started 34 — 33, really — years ago. No, it must have been 34, because that was the year Uncle Leopold fell down the stairs — I mean, the first time he fell down the stairs — I think he was only doing it for fun after that, trying to keep busy, you know — worked until he was 98. Of course he had to, we were charging him rent, and that man knew how to eat — I mean, you’d put one slice of bread on his plate and in no time at all he’d be asking for another — a hell of a man, Uncle Leopold was, a hell of a man — talk about a sense of humor, why he could make you laugh at nothing. Right out of the blue he’d say: “I’m going to smoke until it kills me. I’ve got nothing to live for.” Then he’d light up and we’d all burst out laughing.

He had another trick, too — did I ever tell you this story? — I guess not. We’d hide his checks — you know, pension, social security, whatever came for him — and then we’d make him look for them. He’d play along just like a true sport and pretend to search everywhere, days at a time — and then he’d give up. I can still see him standing at the top of the stairs, bawling his eyes out as if he really cared about those checks — of course he didn’t — he didn’t need them, he had $300 saved in one of his socks — we took it one month when he couldn’t make the rent, but we put play money there so he wouldn’t know the difference — uh —

Where was I again?

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I Concede

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Although the late returns are still coming in, I think it’s time to face reality and acknowledge that my opponents have won, and I have lost. There is no shame in losing — except, of course, the shame of losing. But I’m here to tell you that this campaign is about more than winning and losing.

I am comforted by the knowledge that my candidacy provided a lively platform from which to seriously address the pressing issues of the day — issues like, “Who is Kurt Luchs, that the gods should torment him so with low standing in the polls?” Now that my hopes have ended in defeat, it is time to let go of the struggle and simply wish in my heart of hearts that, as it must to all men, death will come to my opponents — a lingering and horribly painful death involving buboes and carbuncles swelling in the groin and armpits. I take comfort in knowing that, while my opponents received 60 percent of the votes cast by independents, I received 100 percent of the votes cast by Kurt Luchs.

There were so many meaningful moments in this campaign, moments I will always treasure. At one rally, a thoughtful voter asked me, “If you could press a button and make your opponents disappear, would you do so?” I didn’t like the question, so I pressed a button and my security detail made the man who asked it disappear. On another occasion a hostile reporter asked me if my years of struggle in posh private schools and the halls of privilege had turned me unhealthily inward and made me a solipsist. After looking it up, I can assure each and every one of my imaginary friends that I am not a solipsist. The correct term, I believe, is megalomaniac. And I think it will be a long time before anyone forgets my “I Have a Recurring Dream About Halle Berry and Kate Hudson” speech.

My opponents and I disagree on many issues such as bestiality, Satan worship, and cannibalizing the newborn, but we all agree on the general direction for this country. Other than my continuing activism in the causes I believe in — like a system to carry mail for all Americans — I have no immediate plans personally except to retreat to a quiet place of reflection where I can torture my family in privacy and begin my long, agonizing slide into embittered alcoholism. As the Pretty Woman says, I want the whole fairy tale.

Let me promise you this, my friends: Though I have lost the election, and public interest in my opinions has dwindled to absolute zero, I will continue to snipe from the sidelines, to nip at the heels of my onetime opponents like a rabid schnauzer and to denounce them on Fox News whenever the guards once more permit me in the studio. In short, though I have dropped any pretence of seeking to become a public servant, I will continue to be a public nuisance until my sniveling, miserable opponents give up out of sheer fatigue.

Thank you.

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The Philosopher King Caper:
From the Casebook of Mike Freeman, America’s Only Truly Liberated Detective

By:

Normally I don’t take cases like this. But what’s normal about a geek named John Q. Public who has 1.7 kids, 2.2 cars and is between the ages of 18 and 35? When I arrived that morning he was already wearing out what was left of the carpet in the lobby.

My secretary had the day off — in fact, given our recent dispute about the constitutionality of the minimum wage, she had the rest of her life off — so after the introductions I let him into the office myself and sat him down in one of the two beautifully appointed folding chairs. Demographer’s dream or not, he was shaking like a paint mixer, except that there were no metallic clamps holding his five-gallon, flat enamel head in place. Suddenly tears and words came pouring out of him in a rush of pent-up emotion.

“I don’t know if I can take it any more, Mr. Freeman,” he sobbed.

“Call me Mike,” I said, “and you don’t have to take it, whatever ‘it’ is.” I reached into the bottom desk drawer and offered him a well-preserved quart of Old Granddad. But neither of us could unscrew the lid from the specimen jar, and the sight of Old Granddad’s gaze following us around the room from behind 32 ounces of formaldehyde was pretty creepy, so I put the jar back.

“I think I’m going nuts,” he said. “Either that or there’s a secret government conspiracy to drive me nuts. But that sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”

“Not in my book.” I handed him a copy of my book and helped him find the index entry for “Nuts, government trying to drive you.”

“I seem to have split into two disparate personalities,” he continued.

“No crime there, unless neither of your personalities can afford $200 a day, plus expenses.” He grinned.

“Nothing like that. You see, according to every newspaper editorial writer in the country, when I go into a polling place, I’m a philosopher king.”

“So?” I lit up a menthol Philosopher King and blew a smoke ring at the miniature plastic hula girl holding down the loose papers on my desk.

“So in an election year, they always say I combine the practical wisdom of Aristotle with the democratic idealism of Thomas Jefferson. Plus they assume I’ve read more history than Arnold Toynbee, I question everything, I’m familiar with all the issues, I’ve written my own position papers, I can recite the party platforms backwards, and I’ve taken the time to get to know each of the candidates personally. Naturally, I assume the same about them.”

“Naturally. Aside from your almost crippling sense of self-effacement, however, what’s the problem?”

“It’s what happens when I leave the voting booth and walk into the supermarket, Mike. According to these same editorial writers, as soon as I stop voting for politicians and start voting with my wallet, I instantly lose 100 IQ points. My mind goes blank. My will withers away. I shuffle like an extra from Night of the Living Dead, helplessly controlled by whatever blatantly commercial propaganda flashes in front me. A cartoon dromedary can cause me to inhale poisoned narcotic air. An action movie merchandising tie-in can convince me that a shooting spree is the best way to resolve all conflicts. The richest man in the world can get me to give him more of my money in exchange for a software package that barely works. In short, I become a drooling idiot with no moral center.”

“That is a problem, unless you are by profession a newspaper editorial writer,” I said. He shook his head sadly.

“I’m just a humble marriage broker. Although I’ve just bought a controlling interest in Larry King,” he added with a touch of pride.

“Let’s leave the sordid details of your job out of this and concentrate on the relevant facts, Mr. Public. As a citizen and voter, it appears you are proud, brilliant and independent — what was your phrase? — a philosopher king straight out of Plato’s Cave.”

“That’s right…if you believe all the newspaper editorial writers.”

“Like gospel. Yet these same infallible moral lighthouses say that as a consumer, you are a blind cave salamander, a quivering worm, a helpless, ignorant moron incapable of choosing a breakfast cereal without the aid of a corrupt, inefficient, multi-billion-dollar bureaucracy.”

“That’s it in a nutshell, Mike. Can you solve this one?”

“It’s not a one, it’s a two,” I said.

“Huh?”

“A dichotomy. There’s no mystery here. You suffer from Bipolar Buying-Voting Dementia, like every good American. When you vote, you’re a genius and whatever you decide is always the best of all possible worlds. When you buy, you’re a low-grade numskull who must be protected from himself at all costs. Oddly enough, that makes you two completely separate individuals who live in the same body yet have nothing to do with each other — unless you happen to be buying votes. Then you are still a genius, but an evil genius.”

“Sounds awful. What can I do?”

“Simple. Take this handy portable voting booth that I keep around the office for emergencies just like yours. Strap it to your back, carry it with you at all times, and you’ll always be a voter imbued with the wisdom of the ages, not a consumer imbued with the imbecility of the marketplace. And you’ll never feel like a bumbling, incompetent yahoo again … until you get married.”

“That’s very generous of you, Mike, but are you sure you won’t be needing this yourself?” I chuckled softly.

“You forget this is Chicago, Mr. Public. You have to be dead 20 years before they’ll let you vote. By my count I’ve still got 14 years to go. Anyway, I gave up voting when I realized it was worse for my health than smoking Cuban cigars, drinking Everclear and playing Russian roulette.”

“You mean I’ve got to wear this thing for two whole decades?” he yelped. “But when do I get to pull the lever?”

“If that’s all that’s troubling you, I suggest you take the next flight to Las Vegas. They’ll let you pull all the levers you want. It’s almost exactly like voting, except the odds are better, they take less of your money and at least you get a few laughs along the way.”

He looked as happy as Nick Nolte’s dealer.

“Gosh, Mike, how can I ever repay you?”

“I prefer bright shiny new Krugerands, but I’ll settle for some old-fashioned silver dollars,” I replied.

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Desserts Of The Aborigines

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We continue our survey of foods around the world (see “Strudels of the Outer Mongolian Steppes” and “After-Dinner Mints of the Kalahari Bushmen”) with a look at the desserts of the Australian aborigines. Some of our more cynical readers may doubt that the aborigines have any desserts, but I assure you they do, and very fine desserts they are, too. They may not always have time for a seven-course dinner, those aborigines, but they enjoy their desserts as much as the next man. In fact, there’s no surer way to enrage one of these gentle nomads than by hiding his dessert. And what antics! First he’ll tear his hair out, then in a sudden attack of remorse he’ll try to paste it back on with some “bokku” (mud), and then he’ll throw his oatmeal on the ground and cry himself to sleep like a baby. It really is something to see, if you have the heart to carry it off.

It may surprise you to learn that these hardy, vanishing people have their cake and eat it too, though it’s actually more of a simple mud pie filled with nutritious minerals and other small rocks, and often garnished with flying insects, forget-me-nots and what-have-yous. These plain slices of “kreenod” (mud) need not be cooked. They need not be eaten, either.

Another after-dinner delicacy popular with the aborigines is “bokku-ninga,” or muddy dog (literally, “living hairy filth”). The origins of this dish are obscure, and it’s probably just as well. Perhaps it has something to do with the abundance of dogs, and the even greater abundance of mud (“shoobiki”) in the area. The problem is how to bring the two together at a temperature high enough to keep the taste buds from growing suspicious.

To catch the dog, there are several common ploys. One way is simply to stand there and yell “Here, Sport!” or “Come and get it, Duke!” at the top of your lungs. This doesn’t fool any dog worth eating, but for some reason the canines find it an irresistibly funny line, and it never fails to crack them up. The Australian dingo, after all, has a highly developed sense of humor. He will laugh himself sick, thus becoming an easy prey to aborigines and other forms of carnivorous plant life. From there it’s an easy matter to freeze the dog with dry ice, stuff him with confetti and one shredded Sunday edition of the New York Times, and lower him into a vat containing not more than 236 and not less than 235 gallons of hot mud, plus a dash of chives. I can tell you right now, if you don’t have the chives it’s not worth the trouble; although if you do have chives I can’t see why you should bother with the dog or, for that matter, with the mud. Cooked muddy dog, by the way, is a dessert admitting of endless variations, and its taste has been described as being anywhere from “a little bit like shoe leather” to “quite a bit like shoe leather.”

By this time in the festivities most aborigines have either passed out or taken to writhing on the ground. Unless my interpreter is kidding, this ritual means “my compliments to the chef,” “hail to the chief,” or words to that effect. For the few rugged individuals left standing, however, there is one final concoction, the crème de la crème of outback cooking. It is called, aptly enough, “bokkura” (muddy mud), and it differs from “bokku,” or regular mud, both in the spelling and in the fact that no one has eaten it and lived. “Bokkura” is made by placing one “bokku” (literally, “awful muddy thing”) on top of another, and then throwing the whole mess over your shoulder, hoping no one notices.

And so we can see that dessert for the aborigines is very much like dessert for us, and that one man’s meat is another man’s poison (literally, “poison”).

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The Spirit Of Christmas

By:

My dear Mr. Vanderwoude,

Thank you for your recent gift. Now once again as the holidays approach we ask you to remember the plight of the Bosnian and Serbian orphans. For many of these children there will be no Christmas — no presents, no toys, and worst of all no parents to love and protect them. We thank you for your past generosity and hope you will not forget these little ones as you enjoy the comfort and affluence of your safe, warm home during this joyous season.

Yours sincerely,

Kurt Luchs

P.S. Please accept the enclosed paper Christmas wreath, hand-constructed by seven-year-old burn victim Susie, and hang it on your tree. I trust you’ll think of the orphans whenever you look at it.

´ ´ ´

Dear Mr. Vanderwoude,

If this letter happens to cross yours in the mail, please forgive me; I know the post office is slow and unreliable during the Christmas rush. I’m sure you received my last letter and that your generous gift is already on its way to help the homeless orphans of war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. But just in case our letter — or even yours, God forbid — might have gone astray, I’m sending this reminder to thank you for what you have already done and to ask if you can find it in your heart to do just a little bit more this Christmas.

Yours sincerely,

Kurt Luchs

P.S. The attached miniature pinecone, painted holiday green and dipped in glitter, was brought back from the former war zone in the tattered coat pocket of a little boy we call Buster. Enjoy.

´ ´ ´

Dear Mr. Vanderwoude,

I’ll admit I’m puzzled. Surely you must have received my previous letters asking you to add just a little holiday cheer to the lives of our orphaned Bosnian and Serbian boys and girls. And surely you cannot be unmoved by their tragic plight — after all, you made a significant contribution to our cause only a few months ago. Perhaps you yourself have faced unfortunate circumstances recently — a long illness, the loss of a job, or even the loss of a loved one. If so, I offer you my deepest, most heartfelt sympathy, and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future when things are going better for you.

But if you are not facing hard times, Mr. Vanderwoude, if what you suffer from is merely a hard heart…God help you, Mr. Vanderwoude.

Yours,

Kurt Luchs

P.S. The enclosed sketch of the dove of peace was done by little Amalric, a paraplegic war orphan who has learned to draw by holding a piece of charcoal between his teeth. I hope it fills you with the generous spirit of Christmas.

´ ´ ´

Mr. Vanderwoude,

As I write this, the orphans are weeping. I had to tell them that there would be no toys this Christmas, that they might not even have a roof over their heads come December 25th. “Why?” they cried. “Because a man named Richard Vanderwoude has apparently decided that your unimaginable pain doesn’t matter,” I said. “Because he has put his own selfish whims and desires above your basic needs. Because he thinks you are not worth saving.” At that point I had to restrain one of the children, Tedescu, from leaping through a plate-glass window.

How can I be so sure of your lack of charity? You see, Mr. Vanderwoude, I did a little checking around. I found that you are not sick, that none of your friends or loved ones have died recently, and that you have not only not been fired but have received a substantial raise and promotion in the past few months.

I am not enclosing a postpaid return envelope with this letter because if you do decide to melt your icy heart and send a donation (which I doubt), I think it appropriate that you should pick up the tab.

Yours,

Kurt Luchs

P.S. The enclosed finger painting portrait of you (you’re the one with the fangs) is by Lisel, an eight-year-old deaf-mute. The bright object underneath you is either a holiday candle or the flames of Hell. Of course, we can’t ask Lisel, can we?

´ ´ ´

Mr. Vanderwoude,

If you think you can escape the consequences of your evil actions (or rather, inactions) you are wrong. You will pay. I will see to it personally. And I’ll have lots of help. You forget, Mr. Vanderwoude, that these are Bosnian and Serbian orphans. They have been handling firearms and explosives since they were two. They are really pissed off at the world and don’t know who to blame, but you make a very plausible target. We know where you live.

Kurt Luchs

P.S. The fiery red composition I’ve attached to this letter is the joint effort of Tommy and Tony, identical twins who have sworn a sacred blood oath (that’s their blood on the paper) not to rest until they have taken vengeance upon you. The artwork depicts your head as it would look after a losing encounter with a fragmentation grenade — a picture I hope to see someday in real life.

´ ´ ´

O Ricky boy,

You’ve really done it now, mister. I heard the cops coming up the stairs and managed to hide in an air vent while they ransacked my office. After they left I took the few weapons they had missed, stuffed my remaining files into a briefcase, and then torched the place.

So now you know there are no orphans — Bosnian, Serbian, or Martian. But that doesn’t let you off the hook, Rick. Not by a long shot. If there had been any orphans, they would have been just as hungry and hopeless as my letters made out, and you’d be just as guilty. Oh no, Vanderwoude, you aren’t out of the woods yet. Because no matter where you go or how much police protection they give your worthless ass, I’ll find you, I’ll hunt you down like a dog and show you ethnic cleansing like you’ve never seen before.

If I were you I’d start drinking gallon jugs of double espresso right now and make plans to never, ever go to sleep again. Better install rearview mirrors on your glasses, too. Wherever you are, I’ll be right behind you.

Kurt Luchs

P.S. Enclosed is an artist’s rendering of the place I’d most like to visit on this earth: your grave.

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Muzak Of The Spheres
(With No Apologies To Woody Allen)

By:

(An excerpt from Volume 56 in the Collected Works of the iconoclastic philosopher Allan Stewart Konigsberg.)

Let me say at the outset of my treatise that I am interested only in the ultimate questions: Is there a God? Did He create the universe, or did He buy it ready-made from one of the better mail-order houses? How do we know what we know, and if we don’t know, how can we fake it? What is morality, and why do all the girls I meet seem to have it? What is man? What is woman? And why don’t they ever sign their real names on the register?

These are not idle questions, but a matter of life and death. I’m locking the door right now, and if one of us doesn’t come up with the answers within the next ten minutes then both of us will die. Since I am a fictional character, I assure you this will be much harder on you than on me.

Philosophy begins with metaphysics, and as Kant was fond of saying to his mirror, “I never metaphysics I didn’t like.” This cryptic comment becomes much clearer when we consider that Kant was a boob — what’s more, a boob with a speech impediment. He would say “categorical imperative” when what he really wanted was a hamburger and fries. Nor was Spinoza any closer to the truth when he defined the will as a thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself was his wife, who divorced him for demonstrating the principle of Universal Love by giving a rubdown to a rabbi. It was Spinoza, however, who, in a brilliant paper on optics, proved that a magnifying glass could be used to commit arson.

Throughout the ages, great thinkers have gone beyond the conventional wisdom to seek the inner meaning of life. Nietzsche went Beyond Good and Evil; B. F. Skinner went Beyond Freedom and Dignity; Russ Meyer went Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. These three profoundly different geniuses have one thing in common: they will never become championship bowlers. Yet their ideas will live forever, or at least until they are made into Broadway musicals.

“What is truth?” asked jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer (though he did watch it later on DVD). I define truth as that which should never be uttered before a subcommittee or a microphone. Further, true Being is distinguishable from being in Gary, Indiana — especially if you try to breathe.

If God exists then human life makes sense (with the exception of Gene Simmons); if God does not exist then everything is meaningless, and there’s no point making good on those gambling debts.

Some radical theologians claim that God is dead, while others insist He’s just “resting His eyes.” Either way, He’s not taking any calls. The Bible tells us He is an angry God and a jealous God — character traits the BBC might keep in mind the next time they’re casting Othello.

God or no, all rational beings, and even Unitarians, must eventually confront the problem of good and evil. Those sufficiently enlightened choose the good, but many elect to go into real estate instead. What dark mystery of the soul causes one person to abandon wickedness for a life of sainthood, and another to become a Top 40 radio programmer?

For that matter, how can we tell that we actually exist, that we are not mere phantoms? Of course I am — as I said, I’m only a mythical mouthpiece for a sick mind — but what about you? Are you too, perhaps, an invented character with fictitious needs and desires and cold sores created by a demented writer? If I stopped talking to you would you simply disappear? And if so, could the same method be applied to a Jehovah’s Witness?

Conversely, if you stopped reading this would I vanish? Most important, would the author still get his check?

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Irma Bimbo

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Did you ever notice how spring makes some people nuttier than a jar of Planter’s Party Mix, whereas some go goofy in fall, and others act silly in summer, and still others get weird in winter?

I must confess I’m in the latter group. When winter comes I hibernate like a grizzly bear, and brother, don’t try to wake me up — grrr! But when spring finally arrives I return to normal and leave my cave to go salmon fishing on the banks of a nearby stream. I stun the fish with a swipe from my huge furry paw, then gut them with my razor-sharp claws and pop them still dripping into my mouth. If only I could get rid of that yucky “fishy” taste!

But I digress. I was going to tell you about my wacky teenagers — or should I say sex machines? Every year they get spring fever so bad you’d think it was a terminal illness instead of nature’s way of saying “Beer drinkers make better lovers.” It gives this middle-aged mom the strangest feeling to watch them go through their elaborate adolescent courting rituals, rubbing their hollow legs together to produce a shrill song, or performing complicated dances to display the fire-engine-red bony crests on top of their heads, or building immense love bowers deep in tropical rainforests out of twigs, moss and brightly colored stones. Kids sure are different these days.

Remember how it was when we were young, back in the late Pleistocene? Before we girls could even contemplate a date, our parents had to meet our prospective beau and ask him everything but which side he dressed on (Dad would always check that manually). Then while the poor boy blinked away tears of frustration, they’d inflict a paralyzing bite and use their posterior silk glands to spin him inside a gossamer cocoon where they could store him against the hungry days ahead. Have things really changed so much, or am I just being old-fashioned?

And what about those kooky metrics? My too-bright-for-their-britches teens find them a cinch with their ten fingers to count by, but unless I cut two of mine off I’ll be using the base twelve system the rest of my life. Besides, I just can’t imagine anyone saying, “Give her 2.54 centimeters and she’ll take 1.61 kilometers.” How zany can you get? If we’re not careful, pretty soon we’ll be measuring feline toiletries in “kitty liters”!

I guess I haven’t really said what I started out to say about spring, but it’s hard to think warm, loony thoughts when your anything-for-kicks offspring have turned your kitchen into a recombinant-DNA lab and made you the subject of the experiment. What won’t they think of next?

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