Here's part of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, 32nd edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition at

American cultures

Supposedly a melting pot, America sometimes seems more like a meltdown of minds on pot.



Holidays are when you’re required to join family and friends, to give hearts a warm glow; but sometimes the glow comes from a radioactive facade.

On Thanksgiving, we walk up to the dinner table, bow our heads, and pray:

Dear Lord, thanks for not making us be turkeys, Indians, or Pilgrims. Thanks for not making us attend that first Thanksgiving dinner, whose participants all became hunted creatures. Thank God we weren’t there! And could Thou please make our current relatives vanish?

Just on Mother’s Day, Mom gets off from kitchen work: Dad takes her to dinner. To show appreciation for such generosity, Mom tells the kids to buy him a tie but not strangle him with it until Father’s Day.

On Christmas, we celebrate the universe’s biggest miracle: that Joseph believed his wife when she said she got pregnant from “nobody.” This is a Jewish holiday: Christians pay Jewish merchants to create a holiday that stimulates the economy, while homeless bums wandering in the snow mumble carols such as “Chestnuts roasting on a funeral pyre.”

On Easter, Christ vanished then reappeared as a miraculous bunny who lays eggs tasting like chocolate.

Halloween is the ultimate “wear anything to work” day, when we wear costumes showing bosses and neighbors how we really feel. On this day, you can change your sex without raising an eyebrow: just raise your pitchfork.

February is the shortest month but makes you twice as crazy:

Valentine’s Day is the only day you can wish your lover “Happy VD!” On this day, you hope to get a card from a “secret admirer” — in vain.

On Presidents’ Day, the ghosts of Washington & Lincoln erase their true birthdays and create a joint holiday to sell cars at dealership joints.

So in February, if you don’t find true love, you get the booby prize of buying a car instead.

Martin Luther King Day was created by people who care about equality of car sales, to let you buy cars even in January, so fewer car salesmen will commit January suicide. It’s the day when car salesmen, happy at not having to wait another month for glory, sing “We shall overcome you today!”

On Saint Patrick’s Day, we dress up as green Martians but when asked “Where are you from?” pretend to be from “Ireland.”

On Memorial Day, we remember the poor creatures who died on our behalf in past years, then barbecue more of them because they taste so good.

On Labor Day, we thank unions for standing up for their rights, so prices go up and economists claim the economy is growing and we get the stock market’s Santa Claus rally at Christmastime.

Independence Day is when we Americans celebrate being independent from England, which is more civilized but too stuffy. Columbus Day is when we honor the man who got lost and dumped us here.

Sinful holidays


For the original Pilgrims, Thanksgivings were days of fasting, prayer, and attending Thursday sermons.

Just in recent years did Thanksgiving become a celebration of gluttony, which is one of the 7 deadly sins. God granted Americans the inalienable right to create holidays celebrating all 7:

7 deadly sins      Holidays to celebrate them

lust                         Valentine’s Day

gluttony                 Thanksgiving

greed                      Christmas (greed to get presents)

sloth                      Labor Day (workers relax)

wrath                     Martin Luther King Day (anger at racism)

envy                      Easter (envy at fashions)

pride                      Independence Day (pride in America)

I listed those sins in the order proclaimed by Pope Gregory (and copied by Dante’s Divine Comedy).

Christmas party

Planning a Christmas party can be a challenge, according to these memos on the Internet:

December 1 from Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director, to all employees

I’m happy to say the company Christmas party will take place on December 23, at noon in the banquet room of Luigi’s Open Pit Barbecue.

Plenty of eggnog! We’ll have a band playing carols; feel free to sing along. Don’t be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa!

A Christmas tree will be lit at 1PM. Employees can exchange gifts then; but to make gift-giving easy for everyone’s pocket, no gift should be over $10. Our CEO will make a special announcement at that time.

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

December 2 from Patty Lewis

In no way was yesterday’s memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees. We recognize Hanukah’s an important holiday that often coincides with Christmas, though unfortunately not this year. From now on, we’re calling it our “Holiday” party. The same goes for employees celebrating Kwanzaa.

There will be no Christmas tree, no Christmas carols sung. We’ll have other kinds of music for your enjoyment. Are you happy now? Happy Holidays to you and your family!

December 3 from Patty Lewis

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table: you didn’t sign your name. I’m happy to accommodate that request, but if that table has a sign saying “AA only,” you wouldn’t be anonymous anymore. How am I supposed to handle this?

Forget about the gifts exchange. No gift exchanges will be allowed, since union members feel $10 is too much, and executives think $10 is too chintzy.

December 4 from Patty Lewis

What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20 begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating & drinking during daylight. Perhaps Luigi’s can hold off on serving your meal until the party’s end (since the days are so short this time of year) or package everything for take-home in little foil swans. Will that work?

Meanwhile, I’ve arranged for members of Overeaters Anonymous to sit farthest from the dessert buffet. Pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms.

Gays are allowed to sit with each other. Lesbians don’t have to sit with gay men; each group will have its own table. Yes, there will be a flower arrangement for the gay men’s table. To the person wanting to cross-dress: sorry!

For short people, we’ll have booster seats.

For those on a diet, we’ll have low-fat foods. Since we can’t control salt in the food, people with high blood pressure should taste first. The restaurant can’t supply sugar-free desserts for diabetics, but there will be fresh fruit.

Did I miss anything?

December 5 from Patty Lewis

December 22 marks the Winter Solstice? So what? What do you want me to do, tap-dance on your heads? Fire regulations at Luigi’s prohibit burning of sage by our “earth-based Goddess-worshipping” employees, but we’ll try to accommodate your shamanic drumming circle during the band’s breaks. Okay?

December 6 from Patty Lewis

C’mon, people! Nothing sinister was intended by having our CEO dress up like Santa! Even if the anagram of “Santa” happens to be “Satan,” there’s no evil connotation to our own “little man in a red suit.” It’s a tradition, folks, like sugar shock at Halloween, family feuds over Thanksgiving turkey, and broken hearts on Valentine’s Day. Could we lighten up, please?

The CEO’s changed his mind about having a special announcement at the gathering. You’ll be notified instead by mail sent to your home.

December 7 from Patty Lewis

I have no f*ing idea what CEO’s announcement will be about. What the f* do I care? I know what I’m going to get!

If you change your address now, you’re dead! No more changes of address will be allowed in my office. If you try to come in and change your address, I’ll have you hung from the ceiling in the warehouse!

Vegetarians!?!?!? I’ve had it with you people! We’re going to keep this party at Luigi’s Open Pit Barbecue whether you like it or not. You can sit at the table farthest from the “grill of death,” as you put it. You’ll get your f*ing salad bar, including hydroponic tomatoes; but you know, they have feelings, too. Tomatoes scream when you slice them. I’ve heard them scream. I’m hearing them scream right now!

I hope you all have a rotten holiday! Drive drunk and die, you hear me? Signed, the bitch from Hell!

December 8 from Terri Bishop, acting Human Resources Director

I’m sure I speak for all of us in wishing Patty Lewis a speedy recovery from her stress-related illness. I’ll keep forwarding your cards to her at the sanatorium.

Management’s decided to cancel our Holiday Party and instead give everyone the afternoon off. Happy Holidays!



We’re always getting older. At a camp where I was a counselor, the staff used to sing:

No matter how old a prune may be,

He’s always getting wrinkles.

A baby prune is just like his dad,

Except he’s only half as bad.

When you get older, you gain wisdom and lose hair.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

When I was young and hairy,

I saw the world with glee.

But now I’m fat and balding,

A lump on which birds pee.

Just one thing makes me proud,

Though this might sound quite lewd:

At least I’m old and wise

Enough to not get screwed.

And when I meet the angels

(Or red guy with the tail),

I’ll greet my hosts politely

Then shut my eyes and wail.

“You’re 25”

If a woman asks you how old she looks, Joe Kita says you should answer “25,” because that’s the age all women want to be: women under 25 want to look as wisely mature as 25, while women over 25 want to look as youthfully pretty as 25.

I guess that means women who actually are 25 suffer by being content but bored, since they have nothing to look forward to and nothing to look back to reminisce about.

Though I respect Joe — he’s editor of Men’s Health magazine and author of the Guy Q book — I don’t think his advice is realistic.

If a woman looks 5 years old or 90 years old, saying she looks “25” will just get a laugh. Instead, try this:

Take 25, then add double the woman’s apparent age, then divide by 3.

That gets you a weighted average between 25 and her appearance. That weighted average will still be ridiculously complimentary; but instead of just laughing, the woman will actually believe you.

But if the woman then asks “Did you take the weighted average by reading the Secret Guide?” you’re in trouble.

Age tests

According to the Internet, here are 11 signs you’re aging and past your college days:

You go from 130 days of vacation time to 14.

6AM is when you get up, not when you go to bed.

You don’t know what time Taco Bell closes anymore.

You actually eat breakfast food at breakfast time.

A $4 bottle of wine is no longer “pretty good shit.”

Jeans and a sweater no longer qualify as “dressed up.”

Your car insurance goes down and your car payments go up.

You hear your favorite song in an elevator.

Older relatives feel comfortable telling sex jokes around you.

Your friends marry and divorce instead of “hook up” and “break up.”

When you learn your friend is pregnant, you congratulate the couple
instead of asking “Oh, shit, what the hell happened?”

A 25-question test was copied around the Internet, with the help of folks such as Father Dennis McNeil. The test tries to compute when you were born, by asking how much you know about American culture of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Here’s my corrected version. In each blank, try to put the right word or name. The more blanks you can fill, the older you are!


  1.  What helps build strong bodies 12 ways? __ __.

  2.  What do M&M’s do? __ __ __ __, __ __ __ __.

  3.  You’ll wonder where the yellow went, __ __ __ __ __ __ __.

  4.  “Brylcreem: __ __ __ __ __ __.”

TV shows

  5.  Superman fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and __ __ __.

  6.  “Hey kids, what time is it?” __ __ __ __!

  7.  M-I-C: see ya’ real soon! K-E-Y: __? __ __ __ __!

  8.  “Good night, David.” “__ __, __.”

  9.  __ __ said, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, __ __ __.”

10. “When it’s least expected, you’re elected. You’re the star today. __! __ __ __ __.”

11. Young folks know Bob Denver as the Skipper’s “little buddy,” but oldsters know Bob Denver is actually Dobie’s closest friend, __ G. __.


12. In 1962, a politician lost a race for governor, said he was retiring from politics, and told the press, “You don’t have __ to kick around anymore.”

13. 60’s protesters (beginning with Jack Weinberg) said, “Don’t trust anybody __ __.”


14.  Name the 4 Beatles: __, __, __, and __.

15.  “I found my thrill __ __ __.”

16. From the early days of rock ’n roll, finish this line: “I wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder who, __ __ __ __ __ __?”

17. And while we’re remembering rock n’ roll, try this one: “War? Hoo, yeah. What is it good for? __ __.”

18. “Every morning at the mine, you could see him arrive. He stood
6-foot-6 and weighed 245, kinda’ broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip; and everybody knew you didn’t give no lip to __ __,__ __ __.”


19. “I’m Popeye the sailor man; I’m Popeye the sailor man. I’m strong to the finish, __ __ __ __ __. I’m Popeye the sailor man.”

20. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and __ __ __.”

Movies & plays

21.  “Lions and tigers and bears, __, __!”

22. In a 1967 movie, Paul Newman played Luke, a ne’er-do-well who cut off parking-meter heads and was sent to prison camp. He tried to escape but was captured and beaten. The camp’s commander (played by Strother Martin) used that experience as a lesson for other prisoners and explained, “What we’ve got here is, __ __ __.”

23. Young folks remember Peter Pan was played by Robin Williams, but oldsters remember when Peter was played by __ __.


24. He came out of the University of Alabama and became one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Later, in a TV commercial, he wore women’s stockings. He’s Broadway __ __.

25. Long before he was Mohammed Ali, we knew him as __ __.


  1. Wonder Bread

  2. melt in your mouth, not in your hand

  3. when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

  4. a little dab ’ll do ya

  5. the American way

  6. It’s Howdy Doody Time

  7. Why? Because we like you

  8. Good night, Chet

  9. Jimmy Durante, wherever you are

10. Smile! You’re on Candid Camera

11. Maynard G. Krebbs

12. Nixon

13. over 30

14. John, Paul, George, and Ringo

15. on Blueberry Hill

16. who wrote the book of love

17. Absolutely nothin’

18. Big John, Big Bad John

19. ’cause I eats me spinach

20. he is us

21. oh, my

22. failure to communicate

23. Mary Martin

24. Joe Namath

25. Cassius Clay


How many correct      When probably born

20-25                               before 1950

15-19                               in the 1950’s

10-14                               in the 1960’s

  5-  9                               in the 1970’s

  0-  4                               in or after 1980

Baby boomers

Here’s another insight from the Internet:

Baby boomers then and now

then:  long hair

now:  longing for hair

then:  acid rock

now:  acid reflux

then:  a keg

now:  an EKG

then:  getting out to a new, hip joint

now:  getting a new hip joint

then:  killer weed

now:  weed killer

then:  moving to California because it’s cool

now:  moving to California because it’s hot



In different cities, Americans speak with different dialects. In 2003, Bert Vaux (at Harvard University) asked 30,788 Americans, in all 50 states, about their dialects.

Here’s the percentage of Americans using various words:


roads meeting in a circle                          39% traffic circle, 24% roundabout, 13% rotary, 9% circle

big road for fast driving, general term     57% highway, 12% freeway, 5% expressway

small road parallel to the highway        30% service road, 29% frontage road, 18% access road

diagonally across at intersection              50% kitty-corner, 30% catty-corner


long sandwich containing cold cuts         77% sub, 7% hoagie, 5% hero, 3% grinder

end of a bread loaf                                  59% heel, 17% end, 15% crust, 4% butt


sweetened carbonated drink, generic term  53% soda, 25% pop, 12% coke, 6% soft drink

thing to drink water from in school         61% water fountain, 33% drinking fountain, 4% bubbler


flying insect whose rear glows in the dark  30% firefly, 29% lightning bug

insect that skitters across the top of water  46% water bug, 14% water strider, 6% water spider, 4% skimmer

miniature lobster in lakes & streams       39% crawfish, 32% crayfish, 19% crawdad


wheeled grocery-carrier in supermarket  77% shopping cart, 14% grocery cart, 4% buggy

paper container to carry groceries home  90% bag, 8% sack

food bought at restaurant to eat at home  71% take-out, 6% carry-out


where you throw unwanted things       36% trash can, 27% garbage can

sale of unwanted items from your home 52% garage sale, 36% yard sale, 4% tag sale, 3% rummage sale

what you called your mother’s mother 51% grandma, 6% nana, 5% grandmother

big clumps of dust under furniture          72% dust bunnies, 21% dust balls

shorten the lawn’s grass                         67% mow the lawn, 18% cut the grass, 6% mow the grass

covering a house’s front with toilet paper   58% TP’ing, 21% toilet papering, 7% rolling, 4% papering


when you’re cold, points of skin on arms  90% goose bumps, 7% goose pimples

when walking, feet point outwards          29% duck-footed, 26% bowlegged, 5% splay-footed, 3% toed out

what women use for tying their hair        32% rubber band, 19% hair tie, 15% hair thing, 12% elastic

rubber-soled shoes in gym, general term    46% sneakers, 41% tennis shoes, 6% gym shoes


easy course                                             37% blow-off, 15% gut, 5% crip course

what you do with finished homework     76% hand in homework, 3% pass in homework


address a group of people                       43% you guys, 25% you, 14% y’all, 13% you all

rain falling while the sun shines          34% a sun shower, 6% the devil is beating his wife

Each total is less than 100% because, for each question, some Americans use different words instead or make fine distinctions about which words to use when.

Which of those dialects do you use? How about your friends?

Here’s how Americans pronounced words:

Simple example   Sounds like

“coupon”                  67% coo pon               31% cyoo pon

“crayon”                   49% cray ahn              35% cray awn    14% cran

“mayonnaise”           46% may uh naze        42% man aze

“almond”                 60% all mond              19% ah mond

“et cetera”              65% et set er a             15% ek set er a   12% et set ra

“realtor”                    44% reel ter                 32% reel uh ter   20% ree ul ter

“really”                    53% ree ly                   26% ril ly

“syrup”                    50% sir up                   34% sih rup        13% sear up

 “s” versus “z”

“s” in “chromosome”   43% z                          36% s

“z” in “citizen”          69% z                          30% s

“sp” in “thespian”     79% sp                         19% zb

“s” versus “sh”

“c” in “grocery”        52% s                          45% sh

“s” in “nursery”        88% s                          11% sh

Drop consonant

“nd” in “candidate”   50% nd                            24% n

“qu” in “quarter”       62% kw                        30% k

“sk” in “asterisk”      61% sk                        29% k


“ou” in “route”          30% oo (as in “hoot”) 20% ou (as in “out”)

“au” in “aunt”           75% a (as in “ant”)      10% ah

2nd “a” in “pajamas”  52% a (as in “father”)  46% a (as in “jam”)

“ie” in “handkerchief”  78% i (as in “sit”)        20% ee (as in “see”)

“ee” in “been”          65% i (as in “sit”)       29% e (as in “set”)

“o” in “Florida”        73% o (as in “sore”)       11% ah


“cream cheese”         56% CREAM cheese (emphasize 1st word)

                                  25% cream CHEESE (emphasize 2nd)

“pecan”                     29% pee KAHN

                                  21% pick AHN

                                  17% PEE can

                                  13% PEE kahn

Each total is less than 100% because, for each question, some Americans use different pronunciations instead or make fine distinctions about which pronunciations to use when.

How do you pronounce those words? How about your friends?

This Website shows the rest of the 122 questions, with percentages for each state and maps of which dialects are used where:

Using that data, Josh Katz (at North Carolina State University) made fun summary maps at:

More info about his summary maps is at:

Josh Katz & Wilson Andrews made an updated version, using data from 350,000 people in 2013, for the New York Times at:

Try it! It asks you 25 of the 122 questions about how you speak. Then it guesses where in the USA you’re from — if your computer is modern enough to handle that Website.

More comments about accents, with video samples, are at:

Southern accents

The “South” is the home of the “sweet mouth.” People there speak so charmingly!

My Alabamian roommate, James, says you can tell a true Southerner from a fake by noticing how the person uses the expression “y’all.”

A true Southerner says “y’all” only when talking to a group, not to an individual. If you watch a TV movie that’s supposed to take place in the South but one of the actors says “y’all” to another actor, you know that the actors and scriptwriter are all damn Yankees.

A naughty TV show, “Candid Camera,” photographed Southerners trying to explain the difference between how they said “all” and “oil.” The Southerners thought they were pronouncing the words differently from each other, but Yankee ears couldn’t hear any difference and thought the Southerners were making fools of themselves.


The Southern part of the U.S. blooms with many strange accents — and they all converge in Dallas.

One girl in Dallas told me that she “sang behind the pasture.” I wondered why she sang to the cows, until I realized she meant she sang behind the pastor, in church.

When I attended a math class in a Dallas junior-high school, one of the girls talked about “ot,” and all her classmates understood her — except me. Later, I found out what “ot” was: the number that came after 7.

If 20 people gather in a room, how can you spot the Texans? A friend told me to spot them by asking everybody in the room to say “Osborne.” The only people he ever met who say pronounce it “Osburn” instead of “Ozborn” are from Texas.

Here’s how to translate to Texan:

English                                           Texan

Can I help you?                                Kin ah hep you?

Would you like some chicken?         Kin ah hep you to some chicken?

Can I drive you home?                     Kin ah carry you home?

Come again!                                  Y’all come back now, heah?

I live in rural Texas                          Ah live in rule Texiz.

I’m in the oil business.                    Ah’m in the awl bidness.

I need some cash.                             Ah need some cash money.

I want to chat with you on the phone.     Ah need ta visit with you on the phone.

That makes no difference.                That makes no nevermind, anyhow anyway.

Maybe I could do that.                      Ah might could do that.

I swear.                                             Ah swan.

I swear I’ll do it.                               Ah’ll do it, ah swan!

Amazing! He killed it!                      Ah swan, he killed it!

We had a drought.                             We had a drouth.

The milk’s gone bad.                        The milk’s gone blinky.

I knocked over a bucket of fresh milk.   Ah tumped over sweet milk.

I threw rocks at the squirrels.           Ah chunked rocks at the squirrels.

Let’s fight over the wishbone.          Let’s fight over the pulley-bone.

He’s my father.                                 He’s mah fatha.

She told him her complaints.            She told him right off how it was.

She divorced him.                            She gave him the gate.

They got divorced.                           They split the sheets.

You can find more Texan translations in How to Talk “Texian” (Robert Reinhold’s article in The New York Times on July 22, 1984, section 6, pages 8-10).


When Toyota built a car factory in Kentucky, Toyota’s Japanese employees took a course in how to speak Kentuckian, which is similar to Texan. They were taught that in Kentuckian, “can” is pronounced kin:

Ordinary English:                   Yes, I can do it.

Kentuckian pronunciation:     Yes, ah kin do it.

More confusingly, in Kentuckian the word “can’t” is pronounced can (since the a is held a long time, in a drawl, and the t is pronounced too quickly and too softly to hear):

Ordinary English:                   No, I can’t do it.

Kentuckian pronunciation:     No, ah can do it.

So if a Kentuckian says can, the Kentuckian means “can’t.”

The Japanese learned this important lesson: when a Kentuckian says he “can” do a job, the Kentuckian isn’t lying, just drawling.


To challenge your friends, ask these tricky geography questions:

What’s the most populous city that’s east of Reno and west of Denver?

Kids think the answer is Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, but the correct answer is Los Angeles.

Not counting Alaska, which state goes farthest north?

Kids think the answer is Maine, but the correct answer is Minnesota.

Which state is closest to Africa?

Kids think the answer is Florida, but the correct answer is Maine.

To prove it, look at a globe (not a traditional map, which is distorted).

Which state has the point that’s farthest from Hawaii?

Kids think the answer is Maine, but the correct answer is Florida.

To prove it, look at a globe (not a traditional map, which is distorted).

What’s the only Midwestern state whose name is not derived from a Native American word? The correct answer, ironically, is Indiana, since all the other Midwestern states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, and Nebraska — have Native American origin.

Which 2 states are the most crowded (have the densest population)?

New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Which 2 states are the least crowded (have the least dense population)?

Alaska and Wyoming.

Which state has the most states on its border?

It’s a tie: Missouri and Tennessee each touch 8 states.

What’s the only spot where 4 states meet?

The corner of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Which state is completely surrounded by water?


Which 3 states are totally artificial (no border has a river, lake, or ocean)?

Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming.

More geography puzzles are in the geography chapter of Peter Winkler’s Mathematical Puzzles. (The other chapters are about advanced math.)



Vermont is a bunch of farmers manipulated by outsiders.

Even the name “Vermont” was invented by an outsider, Dr. Thomas Young of Pennsylvania, in 1777. Since the place was full of green mountains and a bunch of radicals called “Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys,” Dr. Young named it “Vermont,” which is archaic French for “Green Mountain.” He named it in French instead of English to make the place sound as high-falutin’ as a French restaurant.

“Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys” tried to keep Vermont independent from the evil colonies of New York and New Hampshire, which wanted to capture it. Vermont stayed an independent republic until 1791, when it became the 14th state.

For a while, Vermont was full of dairy farms and had more cows than people. During the 1970’s, many hippies from New York moved to Vermont to get away from the city rat race and commune with nature. They tried to become farmers but discovered they were more successful at milking tourists than cows. Many tourists visit Vermont in the fall to see the leaves turn color while the cows moo.

Ben & Jerry

Ben and Jerry were a pair of New York Jewish hippies, both born in Brooklyn, 4 days apart. In 1977 they moved to Vermont, where they started a factory that turned Vermont milk into fattening ice-cream for hoity-toity New Yorkers, who felt less guilty about getting fat because Ben & Jerry gave them just tiny portions and donated part of the profits to liberal causes. In the year 2000, the company became secretly owned by Unilever, a Dutch-English conglomerate.

Farmer talk

Vermont farmers have an amazing gift of language. They talk in a slow drawl that’s very effective at deflating the egos of their natural enemies, such as bureaucrats, academicians, lost drivers, tourists, spendthrifts, New Hampshirites, and Texans.

Vermonter versus the bureaucrat This is a true tale. A Vermonter fell off the roof of a barn and died. The insurance company gave his family a death certificate to fill out. The certificate was long and complicated. At the bottom of the certificate was a space labeled “remarks.” For “remarks,” the family wrote, “He didn’t make none.”

Vermonter versus the academician A Vermonter riding a train struck up a conversation with the passenger next to him, who happened to be a Harvard professor. The Vermonter admired the Harvard professor’s brilliance, and the Harvard professor admired the Vermonter’s common sense.

The professor suggested a contest to see who could “stump” the other person. The person who couldn’t answer the question would have to pay 50¢.

“Okay,” said the Vermonter, “but since you’re so much smarter, I think it would be fairer for you to pay me a dollar.”

“Okay,” agreed the Harvard professor. “You go first.”

“Well,” said the Vermonter, “What has three legs and flies?”

“I give up,” said the Harvard professor. “Here’s your dollar. What’s the answer?”

“Darned if I know,” replied the Vermonter. “Here’s your fifty cents!”

Vermonter versus the lost driver Walter Piston (a famous Harvard music professor) was driving through Vermont, got to a fork in the road, and asked a Vermonter, “Does it make any difference which road I take?” The Vermonter replied, “Not to me, it doesn’t.”

Vermonter versus the tourist Many tourists visit Vermont in the summer. One of them told a Vermonter, “You have a lot of peculiar people around here.” The Vermonter replied, “Yep, but most are gone by mid-September.”

Vermonter versus the spendthrift Vermonters don’t like to spend money. Vermont legislators say, “When in doubt, vote no. Let’s not get something we don’t need and pay for it with money we don’t have.”

Vermonter versus New Hampshire Robert Frost wrote a long poem called New Hampshire, which proclaimed page after page of praise for New Hampshire’s beauty. But to understand the poem’s true meaning, you must read the last line, which says simply and proudly, “I live in Vermont.”

Vermonter versus the Texan A Vermonter was chatting with a Texan, whose drawling wisdom was no match for the Vermonter’s.

Texan:          What kind of farm ya got?

Vermonter:   Oh, I got a coupla acres.

Texan:          Why, why that’s a piddlin’ small farm. Why, where ah come
                    from, ah kin git in mah car and drive half a day, befo’ ah git ta
                    the end of mah farm!

Vermonter:   Yup, I had a car like that myself, once.

Recorded tales Those tales were collected by Al Foley, a Dartmouth College history professor who became a member of the Vermont legislature and president of the Vermont Historical Society. Hear him speak on a 33 RPM record called A Vermont Heritage.


New Hampshire

Like most Americans seeking adventurous fun, I moved to New Hampshire, the laughable state nicknamed “New Ha-ha.”


New Hampshire’s the most libertarian state. It believes in the fewest laws. The state’s motto is “Live free or die,” uttered by General Stark centuries ago and interpreted by modern New Hampshirites to mean “Get the government off our backs.”

Taxes New Hampshire brags that it has no sales tax, no income tax, and no other “broad-based tax,” which meaning “no tax affecting everybody.”

That sounds great and makes many idiots move here. After moving, we discover that the Machiavellis who run the government created many “little” taxes that affect “just a few” people. Here are little examples:

There’s a hefty 9% tax on “restaurant meals, hotel rooms, and rented cars.” But that’s not called a “broad-based” tax, since it affects just tourists (or natives who act like tourists).

There’s a huge “real-estate transfer” tax on buying a house and a huge “property” tax on using your house after you’ve bought it. But they aren’t considered “broad-based” taxes, since you can always live in an apartment instead. (Then your landlord has to pay the hidden 9% “room rental” tax; but that’s his problem, not yours.)

There’s a huge tax on registering your car. But instead you can jog or use a bicycle or skates — or take a bus, if you don’t mind waiting several hours for the bus to show up. (In New Hampshire, searching for a bus is like searching for a Puerto Rican: it requires sleuthing.)

There’s also an “interest & dividends tax” (for people who earn lots of money from bank interest or stocks), a “business profits tax” (for businesses that make a lot of money), and a “telecommunications tax” (on your phone bill). But you can avoid them if you have no money, no business, and no phone, so they’re not called “broad-based” taxes.

So in New Hampshire, you can “live free of taxes” just if you hide under a rock.

No restrictions In New Hampshire, you can do whatever you want, if you don’t get dangerously huffy about it.

For example, you can drive a car without getting a driver’s license. I was really surprised about that. When my stepdaughter wanted to learn how to drive, I asked the Department of Motor Vehicles about how to get her a “learner’s permit,” so she could practice; but the Department said she didn’t need one: she could just go ahead and drive. The only restriction is that a licensed driver must be next to her in the front seat and she has to say she’s “learning.”

In New Hampshire, you don’t need car insurance — unless you’re such a dangerous driver that the state declares you an exception. So I don’t have car insurance. I don’t have home insurance or general health insurance either. If my car hits you, or you trip on my lawn, just take me to court and take my house. Then I’ll have the pleasure of sitting outside and not having to pay the property tax.

New Hampshire is the only state where you don’t need to wear a seat belt if you’re an adult, even if you’re the driver. New Hampshire believes you have the God-given right to kill yourself on the highway. Seatbelts are required just for kids under 18, who are too young to appreciate the finer pleasures of suicide.

If you want to ride a motorcycle dangerously, go ahead:
you don’t need to wear a helmet. Massachusetts bikers love to come to New Hampshire and discard their helmets when they reach our border, so they can feel the wind blowing in their hair — and later feel their heads bobbling on the asphalt. As a result, New Hampshire is the state that has the most motorcycles per 1000 people.

Want to buy a gun? No problem. Just go to a store, say you want to buy a gun, and in less than half an hour you’ve got it. You don’t need a license: just wait the half hour for the store’s computer to check you’re not a felon.

You can carry a gun with you, loaded, practically anywhere you wish, without a license — even into your local bank or convenience store. The only restriction is you can’t take it onto a plane or into certain government buildings. If you carry a loaded gun, just make sure it’s visible, so everybody can see it and get properly scared and nervous: don’t hide it! (If you want to hide it, you must remove the bullets first, so you don’t get arrested for carrying a “concealed loaded weapon.”) But if you’re stupid enough to carry a loaded visible gun into a bank or convenience store, be prepared to get tackled by a nervous rookie policeman — who’ll then apologize to you for having impinged on your New Hampshire rights.

If you don’t want to pay a highway toll, you don’t have to. That’s because New Hampshire lawmakers made a mistake when writing the highway-toll law, and they’re too lazy to fix it. The law accidentally says it’s illegal for New Hampshire to arrest you for not throwing coins into the toll basket.

Want to kill your mom? Well, that’s against the law. We New Hampshirites need to have some limits! But it’s okay to strangle a squirrel.

Politics New Hampshire is run mainly by Republicans who tote guns. But they’re kind enough to donate shelters to Democrats who escaped from Boston when Boston’s real estate got too expensive for normal folks to live in.

For a while, the Republicans were kind enough to let a Democrat lady become governor. She was a kind lady who believed in education. When she had trouble balancing her budget, she decided the fairest solution was to add a sales tax and income tax. The voters decided the fairest solution was to get rid of her. They did. So we still have no sales tax and no income tax. We also got a new governor —Republican, of course — who still couldn’t balance the budget, so he got voted out too. The next governor was a Democrat who succeeded — for 4 terms — by being quiet, so nobody could object to him. Finally came the current governor, a Democrat woman whose husband runs a prestigious prep school. Republicans don’t worry, since the Republican legislature won’t let her do anything.

Since I’m a Democrat, I’m morally required by the Democrat religion to believe the fairest tax is an income tax, since it taxes the rich more than the poor. But I admit I secretly enjoy the evil pleasure of being in New Hampshire, since it’s sure nice to avoid the bureaucratic hassles of figuring sales tax and income tax and filling those stupid forms all you Non-Hampshirites must fill each year.

My friends back in Massachusetts love to taunt me by reminding me that “New Hampshire is great place to live, as long as you don’t have a handicapped kid or break a leg or need any other kind of social service.” New Hampshire ain’t keen on offering such services. Remember the New Hampshire motto: “Live free or die,” which means:

If you’re not good enough to live freely, just go die — or move to Massachusetts. Let them take care of you!


In New Hampshire, God is a frustrated artist: He keeps trying to draw out the perfect snowstorm. He keeps dumping his efforts on us in His attempt to create the perfect snow landscape but never quite gets it right. Finally, one day, the frustrated Deity of Dramatic Weather gives up, smiles, and breaks out singing:

I can’t get snow satisfaction —

And I try, and I try, and I try, and I try.

I can’t get snow —

Snow, snow, snow!

Then He creates — for His finale — one final gigantic snowstorm, called “The Oy’s of March.”

Afterwards, he takes His bow. That’s called “spring.” The flowers come up and applaud his past achievements but are secretly relieved to see the concert’s over.

Oops! I said the forbidden word “spring”! I shouldn’t have said that. In New Hampshire, we’re not allowed to say “spring.” Natives say instead, “It’s the mud season,” because that’s when the snow starts melting and all the shit is sopping wet. Each “yard” becomes a series of rivers and waterfalls running under the snow — until finally old man Sun gets really hot and angry and lets the birds chirp. But then “The Old Man in the Mountain” (New Hampshire’s godlike mountain stone face, still alive in spirit) gets grumpy, tells the birds to shut up, and throws snow on them — for many days in a row — in April or May. That’s called “Whitey’s surprise party.”

In New Hampshire each year, the weatherman admits again that “March came in like a lion and went out like a moose: a big, lumbering surprise whose journey was unpredictable.”

In other states, pixies sing “April showers bring May flowers.” In New Hampshire, we sing “April crud brings May mud.”

But if life here weren’t an adventurous challenge, why would anyone come?

During what month does snow here start? The answer is: “Whenever you don’t expect it.” For example, on a bright, sunny day in mid-October, I was foolish enough to ask my neighbor Tom (a policeman who’s lived here for many years) when snow would start. He said, “December or late November, but never before November 15th.” I shouldn’t have asked. Just asking the question sealed my fate: the very week I asked, it snowed many times, to drive home the point that newbies shouldn’t ask such stupid questions. It also reminded me that to find out what goes on here, don’t ask a policeman.

While other states have a storm that “rains cats and dogs,” in New Hampshire it “snows bears and moose.”

Since our gigantic storms hit us unpredictably, here’s how we New Hampshirites chat with our next-door neighbors:

“What’s new?”

“What snow!”

“What now?”

“Don’t know!”

“Here it comes!”

“Here we go!”

“Holy cow!”

“Holy Mo’!”

During winters, New Hampshire farmers don’t say “Have a nice day.” Instead they say:

Have an iced hay.

That sounds the same but is more realistic, since you can never have a “nice day” during a New Hampshire winter.

Dartmouth College

New Hampshire’s most famous college is Dartmouth. It was started centuries ago as a missionary school to teach Indians about religion and English. None of the Indians got to speak English real well, but the best of the bunch was sent to England to try to raise donations. His pitch was, basically, “Me Indian. Me speak English. You want more Indians to speak English? Give money.” Nobody gave very much. The idiot who gave the most was the Earl of Dartmouth, so they decided to name the college after him, in the hopes he’d give more. He never gave another cent.

Like New Hampshire weather, Dartmouth College is full of extremes: a hotbed of liberals peppered with silly arch-conservatives. For example, the arch-conservative student who lived down the hall from me hung a Confederate flag on one wall, hung a Rhodesian flag on the other, and wore an upside-down peace button showing a bomber and the words “Drop it!”

When Democrats vying to be U.S. president visit New Hampshire, they love to give speeches at Dartmouth College, so the college liberals will cheer them and make them feel good. The rest of the state, which is mainly Republican, ignores them.


I live in New Hampshire’s biggest city, which is spelled “Manchester” but pronounced “Manch has duh.” That pronunciation summarizes the city: Manch has, duh, stupid people. When I lived in Boston, I had the pleasure of chatting with advanced Harvard and M.I.T. students about the meaning of life; but now I’m stuck in Manchester, where the main intellectual question is:

Who has the greenest lawn — and why?

At first glance, Manchester is just a dying mill town, full of abandoned boarded-up textile mills along the river. But at second glance, Manchester is… still an abandoned mill town. Not until you take a third glance do you realize Manchester is full of secrets, such as:

It’s the only U.S. city whose main street has two dead ends. That’s one reason why Manchester is called “dead-end city.” The other reason is that living in Manchester will make your career go nowhere — like mine.

The only famous person who grew up in Manchester is comedian Adam Sandler. When he was a high-school student, he insisted in history class that Abraham Lincoln was Jewish, because the textbook said Lincoln was shot “in the temple.”

Though Manchester is New Hampshire’s “biggest city,” it’s small: just 110,000 people. Most of them live in suburban-style houses and within a 10-minute drive of each other.

Manchester has the best buffet deals, because of endless buffet wars here. The current buffet-war winner is Great Buffet, which stuffs you with unlimited high-quality American, Chinese, and sushi for just $6.99 (if you’re smart enough to come at lunchtime).

Manchester has the best deals on foot-long sandwiches. The winners are the foot-long veggie at the Subway inside Wal-Mart and the pastrami sub at the Mobil gas station near my house.

Though Manchester is small and in Yankee territory, it includes ridiculously many foreign restaurants: Italian, Greek, Mexican, Portuguese, Brazilian, Chinese, Thai, Polynesian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Nepalese, and French Canadian.

Nobody living in Manchester really wants to be here, but people live here anyway because the housing is cheap, there’s no sales tax, and Manchester is just an hour from each kind of fun: Boston, the ocean, the lakes, the mountains, and skiing.

Manchester has New England’s best airport, offering cheap, fast parking ($2) and discount airfares (on Southwest Airlines and competitors).

Manchester is where you’ll find the house decorated to look like a piano: the chimney’s bricks are painted to look like a giant piano keyboard.

Manchester has New England’s best newspaper: it’s a weekly, called The Hippo.


Manchester contains many cultures:

It has houses with big lawns, for the rich.

It has low-cost apartments, for the poor.

It has hotels, for tourists en route to fall foliage, winter skiing, summer hiking, and presidential candidates.

It has a drag strip full of shopping malls, surrounded by huge parking lots to hold Massholes (visitors who come from Massachusetts to avoid sales tax).

It has a downtown full of shops, restaurants, and wild bars (where bands perform and slutty girls gamble their lives away, giving Manchester the nickname ManchVegas).

It has a quiet lake, where visitors relax and residents get their drinking water. (Please don’t piss in the pool!)

It has a riverbank lined with hundreds of abandoned textile mills, which developers quickly turn into industrial-chic restaurants and other “playgrounds for the rich.”

South of Manchester, you see hoards of Democrats who wanted to keep living in Massachusetts but could no longer afford Massachusetts’ expensive housing. North of Manchester, you see rustic tribes of Republican outdoorsmen who want government to “leave them alone”: they hate Democrat socialists. Manchester is the dividing line between those two cultures, where the Democrats and Republicans clash.

Manchester is where you’ll find the hotel on which this poem is based:

The Fleabag Hotel

Police just released me. I’d nowhere to go —

Just dumped in the park in the rain in the dark.

I asked fine hotels, “Have you room?” They said “No,

The rooms are all taken for kids’ graduation.”

A cabbie said, “Sonny, I’ll show you a door

That always has room — like a bride for her groom.”

Just 5 minutes later, we got there. Oh, swell:

I found myself joining the Fleabag Hotel.

Atop a high hill overlooking its prey,

The Fleabag Hotel guarantees a bad day.

For victims who enter, there’s no other way:

You pay for your stay and then pray you’re okay.

Your life is real Hell at the Fleabag Hotel,

Where each ne’er-do-well gives his personal yell.

Broke bums join this hole when they’re out on the dole;

Cute toughs grab this goal when they’re out on parole:

Their violence beams to your eyes, which can’t nod.

You hear ev’ry bod say “Fuck you!” and “Oh, God!”

Stained carpets, gray foam make this “home” far from home.

The water pipes groan as the banged-up girls moan.

The lights on the fritz make the danger signs flash.

All paint’s peeling off. “We take cards, checks, and cash”:

The man at the desk tries to sell a night’s rest.

Your chest fills with screams in your night beyond dreams.

The ceilings all leak, dripping yellow from rain.

The floors kindly creak, just to harmonize pain.

Don’t breathe when you’re there, or you’ll take in the stench

Of old cigarettes and each weary whipped wench.

The bathrooms’ black mold covers curtains and walls.

No “tissue rolls” there, so you’ll scratch ass and balls.

The curtains, too short, don’t quite hide you from peeps

By gangs who come round to turn losers to weeps.

The phones never work: “You don’t call police, please.”

The exits are locked, so don’t try to run. Freeze,

And hope for the best as you hear clanging chains

All strike, just to test how your neighbors take pains.

You come for a treat, but you leave feeling beat

From bright candy canes that sure mess up your brains.

The girls who were slain in the bed where you’ve lain

Shall haunt you with blood that was poured down your drain.

I don’t understand all this. Neither should you.

Just stay far away, so you won’t be there too.

Okay, I confess I exaggerated a bit: not all the rooms have blood in the drains.



Years ago, I moved to Boston and made it my home town. Here’s why.

Who lives in Boston?

Boston is America’s most intellectual city. It bulges with about 100 wonderful colleges, and its suburbs contain others that are even more prestigious, such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Wellesley College, and Tufts University.

M.I.T. is New England’s top engineering school. Most students at M.I.T. are tops in engineering (and science & math) but weak in humanities. Many students at Harvard are the opposite: bright in humanities but weak in science & math. Hence this incident:

At a supermarket, a young man buying 13 items enters the express-checkout lane. The cashier says, “You must be from Harvard or M.I.T.” The man says, “Yes! How did you know?” The cashier points to the “12 items or less” sign and says, “You’re from Harvard (so you can’t count) or M.I.T. (so you can’t read).”

Boston subways are packed with students. The main subway station treats you to free music by student musicians.

In Boston subways, the image is “students” — unlike New York subways, where the image is “drunks.” I’ll never forget when I returned from a trip to Europe and found myself on a New York subway, where I saw a charming young couple cuddle. Behind them, out of their view, an old drunk woman was cursing them and pointing her finger at them. Her finger finally touched the back of the young woman’s neck. The young woman jumped out of her chair and yelled out a fearful scream. Then the old woman vomited all over the subway car.

That could happen just in New York, not Europe, not Boston.

Many Bostonians are escapees from New Jersey. As youngsters, they lived in New Jersey, graduated from fine high schools there, and got admitted to prestigious Boston-area universities. When they graduated from the universities, they’d fallen so in love with Boston that they didn’t want to leave — and certainly didn’t want to return to New Jersey! So they decided to live in Boston permanently. On the walls of their Boston apartments, they hang Kliban’s cartoon showing a man running away from a smokestack and entitled “Houdini escaping from New Jersey.”

Though Boston can charm you awhile, many Bostonians eventually move beyond it, to Maine’s countryside, just a few hours away. Maine is populated mainly by escapees from Boston, just as Boston is populated by escapees from New Jersey. Ornithologists call that the “migration pattern of creative humans.”

Before escaping to Maine, intellectual students are torn between a love of Boston and a love of San Francisco, whose suburbs include the great universities of Berkeley and Stanford. But San Francisco is worse than Boston in three ways: its monotonously foggy climate denies you the thrill of seeing golden sunshine and snowstorms; its steep hills, like warts, prevent you from jogging across the city smoothly; and it lacks Boston’s old-world charm. On the other hand, Bostonians visiting San Francisco are forced to confess that compared to San Francisco, Boston is a third-world country, technologically and socially 3 years behind.


Boston is a magnet that draws visitors from all over the world. We get to shake hands with proud parents (of Harvard students), French Canadians (coming “south” to Boston to spend an enjoyable day), history buffs (gaping at the birthplace of the American Revolution with its Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s ride, and Battle of Bunker Hill), engineers (analyzing the high-tech companies encircling Boston), and nature lovers (wandering through Boston while searching for beautiful fall foliage).

Yes, they come from all over. On the sideway leading up to my Boston apartment, I even found a matchbook saying, “Toot’n Totum is the only home-owned chain of convenience food stores in Amarillo.” I feel proud that my sidewalk’s magnanimous enough to receive litter from Amarillo, Texas.

What Europe gave Boston

Boston is America’s most European city. The street I’ve lived on is so pretty and quaint that my visitors believe they’ve been magically transported to an English fairy tale.

Boston has a history of being loads of fun, beginning with how the city got its name. Centuries ago, England had a saint called “Saint Botolph,” who started a town called “Botolph’s town,” which got shortened to “Bo’s town,” then further shortened to “Boston.” That’s how the English city of Boston got its name. America’s Boston was named after England’s.


Boston’s a patchwork of hundreds of tiny neighborhoods, each 4 blocks long and a fascinating microcosm of society.

The most famous neighborhoods are:

the Combat Zone (the red-light district), Chinatown (next to the Combat Zone), Haymarket (where Italians stand on the sidewalk to peddle fruits and meats), Hanover Street (where Italians beg you to come in their restaurants and pastry shops), Quincy Market (a paradise full of singles bars, hand-held foods, and lunchtime sunshine for secretaries), Newbury Street (where rich bitches buy uppity clothes, while the wish-we-were-rich gaze longingly from cafés), Bay Village (where gay men live in cute houses), the Fenway (the park for gay flowers and gay men), Northeastern University (where blue-collar students drag Africans, Iranians, and Venezuelans down to their level), Beacon Hill’s south side (where the richest Bostonians live), and Beacon Hill’s north side (whose slopes are as severe as San Francisco’s, with charming houses hopelessly subdivided into teensy apartments for students).

But those neighborhoods are just the obvious ones. Walk 4 blocks in any direction, and you’ll discover yet another neighborhood!

Moreover, in Boston, every single block has its own character — and its inhabitants are proud of it. Whenever a Bostonian reveals his address, he gives it with pride.

My own neighborhood I lived in Boston on Saint Botolph Street, which years ago became famous for its prostitutes. One of my elderly readers sent me a letter admitting that while a student back in the 1940’s, he flunked his freshman year at M.I.T. because he spent too much time on Saint Botolph Street.

The prostitutes eventually left Saint Botolph Street and moved to lusher pastures, but the street’s reputation lives on, and it’s attracted a strange bunch of folks — such as me!

My own neighbors My neighbors on Saint Botolph Street were lots of fun.

Down the hall from me was a pair of bedrooms whose occupants shared my kitchen and bath. That pair of bedrooms became home to many of Boston’s finest citizens:

“Mr. Neat” turned on the iron, rested it on the wood floor, then went off to work. (I guess he thought he was hot stuff — or am I just being ironic?)

“Mr. Drunk” came home every night at 3AM, turned on the oven, put his TV dinner into the oven, then flopped into bed with the oven still on — so each night I was awakened by a smoke cloud engulfing my building.

“Mr. Sportsman” put a dartboard on his door and threw darts at it, to discover how many times he’d miss the board. Then he complained to the landlady about how his door was full of holes.

“Mr. Clean” insisted on hanging his towel inside the bathtub, complained we got it wet, and retaliated by throwing water on everybody else’s towel every day.

“Mr. Honeymooner” borrowed a few hundred bucks from me for his honeymoon — and never came back.

“Mr. Gay” loved to cuddle his gay boyfriend in the kitchen.

“Mr. Gone” simply disappeared. At the end of the year, on December 31, when his lease ran out, he vanished. His parents and employer asked me where he went. I opened his room and found everything covered by a layer of cigarette butts, beer bottles, unread mail, shredded newspapers, and unwashed clothes, which when sniffed indicated they’d been unwashed for at least 6 months. On the wall, he’d hung all mirrors backward, so he wouldn’t have to look at himself. His personal effects were all there, but he was missing. We shrugged our shoulders, figured a suicide, and wondered how to tell his parents. Since a new tenant was coming the next day, we tried hard to clean the room and hide his effects fast. Several weeks later, the “dear departed” phoned us and said just “Sorry, but I had to get away.”

Those characters living down the hall can’t compare to the neighbors in the adjacent buildings.

For example, one night at 7PM, while I was lying in bed after a hard day’s work, I heard someone yell “Jump!” I looked out my window, and saw a guy jump out the window next to mine. His whole building was on fire. The 5-alarm fire needed 11 fire trucks to put out the blaze. The building was totally ruined; but we weren’t surprised, since it was the 5th fire there in 5 months. We figured it was arson for insurance money. Sure enough, the building was converted (at no expense to the landlord) into one of Boston’s finest condos.

The building on the other side of me also burned to the ground, in a dramatic blaze that was the highlight of the 11PM news. That building’s occupants escaped by athletically leaping from their windows into ours. The poor guys in our own building were shockingly awakened from sleep by guys leaping into their windows while shouting “Fire!”

It was probably arson again, since it had the same result: the building was replaced with one of Boston’s finest condos.

So now I have condos on both sides of me. That’s how Boston’s neighborhoods improve.

But before that latest fire, I got a real kick out of the people who lived in that building:

“Miss Bouncy” jumped out of the 4th-floor window to escape from her sister — and survived because she bounced off the roof of a car.

“Mr. Drummer” got up each morning at 5AM and tuned his steel drum. He sure knew native rhythms, since he made all his neighbors howl at him and gyrate violently while hoisting their weapons.

“Mr. Beater” loved to beat his dog for howling out the window. His neighbors achieved similar pleasures by beating their wives and babies.

In that building, the main source of income was drugs and fencing stolen goods. Truly an outstanding tribe of entrepreneurs!

But in that building, my favorite family was the one where mom and dad would disappear each day and leave their two 5-year-old girls alone in the apartment.

Those two cute little girls spent the entire day there, every day, smoking cigarettes — except whenever they left their room, climbed up on the roof, and pretended to jump off. I’d give them a friendly wave from my window, and they’d wave back. To solidify the friendship, they came over to my building, found the circuit breaker, turned off all my building’s electricity, then lit my building on fire by cleverly setting a match to the lobby’s rug.

When my landlady tried to explain to them that nice little girls don’t set fires to buildings, those two cute little girls told her, “Go away, ya old biddy!” When my landlady told their mom they’d been lighting fires, their mom said it was impossible because the girls couldn’t get matches. When I told the mom her girls were indeed using her matches daily to light cigarettes, she wasn’t upset that her girls had been smoking, playing with matches, and lighting fires; instead, she was thrilled to find out why she was always short of matches.

When the police investigated, they found her tiny room housed not just her two daughters but also her many boyfriends and a big collection of scattered whiskey bottles. The police took the girls into protective custody. Shortly afterwards, the girls’ building burned, totally. I wonder why.

Edwin Arlington Robinson When I was hunting for a room to live in, I happened to wind up at “92 Saint Botolph Street,” because it was fine but cheap. After moving in, I discovered that one of my neighbors was one of my heroes: the famous poet Edwin Arlington Robinson lived just a few doors away, at 99 Saint Botolph Street. Years earlier, when I was a high-school kid in New Jersey, I loved reading his poems, so I was thrilled to discover he lived just a few doors away. Unfortunately, I never met him, since he died 22 years before I was born. We were both tortured writers.

In case you don’t remember who he was and can’t spend much time to learn, here are my abridged versions of poems he wrote in 1897, as part of his book called The Children of the Night.…

Recite this poem when you’re jealous of a rich person or think of killing yourself:

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said

“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Recite this villanelle (poem with repeated lines) when you move out of your home (or the White House’s occupant changes at the end of the 4-year term, or the House of Representatives goes on vacation):

The House on the Hill

They are all gone away,

  The House is shut and still,

There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray

  The winds blow bleak and shrill:

They are all gone away.

Nor is there one today

  To speak them good or ill:

There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay

  In the House on the Hill:

They are all gone away,

There is nothing more to say.

Give this retort if your friends complain you waste too much time writing poetry instead of making big bucks:

Dear Friends

Dear friends, reproach me not for what I do,

Nor counsel me, nor pity me; nor say

That I am wearing half my life away

For bubble-work that only fools pursue.

And if my bubble be too small for you,

Blow bigger then your own:

Remember, if you will,

The shame I win for singing is all mine,

The gold I miss for dreaming is all yours.

Boston’s old-world charm keeps getting struck by lightning thoughts from its professors and students:


How Boston always like a friend appears,

And always in the sunrise by the sea!

And over it, somehow, there seems to be

A downward flash of something new and fierce,

That ever strives to clear (but never clears)

The dimness of a charmed antiquity.

Street people

As you walk down Boston streets, you’ll meet the Dickensian characters who give Boston its special charm.

For example, a guy on Boylston Street wears a green plastic garbage bag on his head. An art professor named “Sidewalk Sam” has painted beautiful pictures on the sidewalk. “Mr. Yankee Doodle” has the amazing ability to whistle Yankee Doodle so loudly that he can be heard for many blocks — but with his mouth nearly closed, so nobody knows he’s the culprit. Another guy sports a black beard, black sunglasses, black cap, and black shopping bag and spends his whole life standing against a wall.


Boston is friendlier than New York. In New York, everybody is distrustful, expects to get ripped off or mugged, and lives in fear. In Boston, muggings are equally popular and prices are even higher — but nobody minds, because Boston’s crooks all smile.

Boston is more manageable than New York. New York is too big: it overwhelms. Boston’s buildings are shorter and its neighborhoods are tinier, so a brief walk through Boston lets you feel you’ve mastered it all. In Boston, you feel you own the city; in New York, you feel the city owns you.


My dad called Boston a “toy city” because of its tiny buildings, tiny neighborhoods, and tiny inhabitants (mainly kids who are students). He was a serious German who preferred New York, which he called the “real” city. (Cynics call New York the “real” mess!)

I love Boston, because I love to live in fantasyland.

Boston’s in Massachusetts, whose biggest fantasy was George McGovern. In the 1972 Presidential election, Massachusetts was the only state that voted for McGovern instead of Richard Nixon. After Nixon won, botched Watergate, and had to resign, Massachusetts cars sported proud bumper stickers saying, “Don’t blame me — I’m from Massachusetts!”



Boston is the 3rd windiest city in the United States. It’s much windier than Chicago. According to our beloved government, the only cities windier than Boston are Oklahoma City and Butte Montana (if you don’t count Washington D.C.’s windbag politicians).

Boston’s average wind speed is 12½ miles per hour. But that “average” is misleading. Sometimes, the air is perfectly still. At many other times, the wind whips by at 100 miles per hour — especially near Boston’s Hancock Tower.

Boston’s in New England, where the weather continually changes, quickly and unpredictably. Back in the 1800’s, Mark Twain said, “If you don’t like New England’s weather, wait a minute.” He also said:

The weatherman confidently checks off what today’s weather is going to be on the Pacific, down South, in the Middle States, in the Wisconsin region. See him sail along in the joy and pride of his power till he gets to New England, then see his tail drop. He doesn’t know what the weather’s going to be in New England. He mulls over it and by and by gets out something like this: “Probable northeast to southwest winds, varying to the southward, westward, eastward, and points between; high & low barometer swapping around from place to place; probable areas of rain, snow, hail, and drought, succeeded or preceded by earthquakes, with thunder and lightning.” Then he jots this postscript to cover accidents: “But it’s possible the program may be wholly changed in the meantime.”

Everywhere else, the weather is created by God. But in Boston, the weather is created by God’s son, “J.C.,” who’s a student at M.I.T. For his student project, J.C. launches the most daring weather experiments, using Bostonians as his guinea pigs. Whenever Boston’s passionate suffering excites him sufficiently, he exports the weather to the rest of New England and finally to the rest of the world.


Here’s mankind’s biggest challenge: driving through Boston.

For example, suppose you’re trying to visit a friend who says he lives on “A Street.” If you look at a map, you’ll find that Boston contains three streets called “A Street.” There’s an A Street in the part of Boston called “Charlestown”; but 2½ miles southeast of that, you’ll find another A Street, in the part of Boston called “South Boston”; and 6 miles southwest of that second A Street, you’ll find a third A Street, in the part of Boston called “Hyde Park.”

Similarly, Boston contains three B Streets. Boston also contains five Lincoln Streets, five Pleasant Streets, and six Park Streets.

After figuring out which A Street to go to, your next problem is to figure out which streets will take you there. That’s a major challenge, since practically every street in Boston is curved.

Boston was planned by meandering cows: each old street was a cow path, curved to avoid hills and ditches. When Boston city planners lopped off the hills to fill the ditches, they forgot to straighten the cow paths, so Boston’s streets are still curved, to avoid the hills and ditches that no longer exist. In Boston’s intellectual suburb (Cambridge), Massachusetts Avenue curves so sharply that the natives describe Harvard University as being “at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue.”

Traffic signs To make Boston driving a challenge, most of the popular streets are marked “One Way,” usually in the opposite direction from where you want to go, and with no obvious alternative route in sight. Those signs were put up at the request of neighbors who don’t want to deal with folks like you. To increase your challenge, Boston city planners consider street signs to be optional, so that you’re never quite sure which street you’re on. The few street signs that remain are often wrong.

My favorite signpost is on the outskirts of Boston. At the top of the post, a sign says you’re going south; underneath it is a sign that says you’re going north. Altogether, the signs say you’re going south on route 93 and north on route 128. Which direction are you really going in: south or north? The correct answer is neither: you’re really going west!

But suppose you’re nerdy enough to bring a map that even shows which streets are one-way. Your troubles aren’t over yet: you’re just about to turn left onto the street you wish, which even goes in the direction you wish, when all of a sudden you’re confronted by a sign saying “No Left Turn.” To be legal, you try to somehow drive around the block, but you get a surprise: each side of the block has a combination of “One Way” and “No Left Turn” signs designed so that you can’t reach your destination. “You can’t get there from here” is a popular saying in Boston. Every taxi driver knows the only solution: interpret the “No Left Turn” sign to mean “Turn left as fast as possible, before anybody notices.”

Traffic lights You can always tell a newcomer to Boston by the way he reacts to traffic lights. He’s under the mistaken impression that a red light means “stop.” In Boston, a red light does not mean “stop”; instead, it means “think about it, slow down a little, stare at the other cars, honk your horn at them, then continue straight through.”

A yellow light means “drive faster, before it turns red.” A green light means “wait for the cars in the other direction to finish going through their red light; then race.”

Rotaries Boston city planners suffer from one major fetish: rotaries. Maybe it’s because Boston’s run by Irish Catholics, who misspell “rosaries”?

Driving experts have discovered that Boston and China are the only places in the whole world that have so many rotaries.

Driving into a Boston rotary is like jumping into a washing machine, filled with live sharks during the “spin” cycle: coming out is either miraculous or bloody.

Jams Boston traffic is so heavy that you’re guaranteed to find yourself in a massive traffic jam before you reach your destination.

Three of Boston’s main arteries are Storrow Drive, the Southeast Expressway, and the Mystic River Bridge. Because they’re the sites of so many traffic jams, they’re called “Sorrow Drive, the Southeast Distressway, and the Misery River Bridge.”

Parking To park, seasoned Boston drivers use the “Braille method,” which consists of bumping the cars surrounding you until you finally nestle into the space between them.

When you come back the next day to retrieve your car, don’t be surprised if it’s gone. Boston’s become famous as the car-theft capital of America. If you park your car, and it’s still there the next day, you’ll pat yourself on your back for being lucky — until you burst out in tears when you see the parking ticket. Nearly every parking space in Boston is marked “illegal.” A parking ticket can cost you $100 or more, depending on how cleverly you found an illegal place to park.

Jargon Instead of saying “turn left,” Bostonians say “bang a left.” Instead of saying “U-turn, Bostonians say “U-ey” (pronounced “yoo-ee”). Instead of saying “make a U-turn,” Bostonians say “bang a U-ey.”

No Republicans

Boston’s a Democrat city. In Boston, calling somebody a “Republican” is equivalent to calling the person an “ass.” The Phoenix (Boston’s underground newspaper) has run many personal ads where women say they want to date a man, any nice man, but “no Republicans.”

In Cambridge (the town containing Harvard and M.I.T.), Democrat Al Gore beat George W. Bush during the year 2000 elections, of course. But here’s the shocker: during that election, even Ralph Nader beat Bush. Yes, Bush came in 3rd.

Little peculiarities

Boston’s peculiar.

Charles River The Charles River separates Boston from its intellectual suburb, Cambridge (home of Harvard and M.I.T.). Three major bridges cross the Charles River: one bridge goes to Harvard; one goes to M.I.T.; and the middle bridge comes from Boston University and goes to nowhere.

The bridge that comes from Boston University is called the “Boston University Bridge.” But the bridge that goes to M.I.T. is not called the “M.I.T. Bridge”; instead it’s called the Harvard Bridge, because Harvard owns it.

As you walk across the Harvard Bridge, from Boston to M.I.T., look down near your feet: you’ll see a surprise! Painted onto the sidewalk is a marker saying “10 Smoots.” As you continue walking, you come to a marker saying “20 Smoots,” then markers saying “30 Smoots,” “40 Smoots,” etc., until you reach bridge’s far end, where the final marker says “364.4 Smoots, plus one ear.” Here’s why:

In the early 1960’s, an M.I.T. student with the unfortunate name of “Oliver Smoot III” was taking a class whose professor gave this assignment: measure the length of the Harvard Bridge in an unusual way. The night before the assignment was due, he hadn’t yet begun working on it; instead, he spent the whole evening getting drunk with his fraternity brothers in Boston. To help him find the length of the bridge, his fraternity brothers finally rolled him across the bridge. Altogether, they had to roll him 364.4 times — plus one ear!

The Charles River is beautiful, especially during the spring, when it’s dotted with sailboats. But its beauty is just on the surface: underneath, it’s polluted. One hot summer day, the water’s surface evaporated, to let the polluted water underneath reached the air and give off such a strong sulfurous stench that the drivers on Storrow Drive were overcome by the fumes, lost control of their cars, and crashed into each other!

Scrod Boston is famous for a fish dish called scrod (young Atlantic cod & halibut, split for cooking) and for intellectual cab drivers (often foreign students), which combine in this tale:

A lady got in a Boston cab and asked the driver, “Where can I get scrod?”

He replied, “I never heard it conjugated that way before.”

Wednesday Boston’s the only city where “Wednesday” has a special meaning. In fact, the best way to determine how long a person’s lived in Boston is to ask, “What’s Wednesday?” If the person can’t answer the question correctly, the person isn’t a true Bostonian.

For many decades, Boston was covered with signs proclaiming the answer: “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day.”

Those signs were courtesy of the Prince Spaghetti Company, whose first factory was on Boston’s Prince Street and whose owners were Italians who believed that “midweek” ought to mean “pasta.”

John Hancock Tower The John Hancock Tower is Boston’s tallest building, but you can make it disappear! Here’s how.…

Stand on Boylston Street, on the block between Clarendon Street and Dartmouth Street. Stand directly under the “R” of the green “STATE STREET BANK” sign.

From that position, the entire John Hancock Tower seems to “disappear.” Specifically, the building’s longest sides (which are a whole city block long) hide from your view (because they sit at a peculiar angle), so the entire Tower seems to be just a narrow, fragile, tall wall of unsupported glass.

Street performers The best street performers are the ones you find each summery day in front of Quincy Market. One group, called the “Shakespeare Brothers,” has an amazing way with words. The other group, called the “Dueling Bozos,” juggles on unicycles. Both groups include magic, audience participation, and practical jokes; they give you the best laughs to be had in Boston.

I remember the first time I saw the Shakespeare Brothers; I’ll never forget their act, which consisted of fake magic.

For example, one of the brothers had a deck of cards. He made a girl in the audience pick a card, not show it to him, and hide her card in the middle of his deck. Then he said he’d make her card rise to the top of his deck. He tapped his deck three times, and said her card was now at the top of his deck. He asked what her card had been. She said, “the Jack of Diamonds.” He looked at the top card, saw it was not the Jack of Diamonds, saw it was the Ace of Spades instead, and said, “See, I magically turned her card into the ace of spades!” The crowd cheered wildly. We all enjoyed the joke.

And that’s why we all love Boston. Boston isn’t a city: it’s a joke. It’s the world’s best-kept zoo. And we love it.


New York boroughs

New York City is divided into 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island.


Some folks say the Indians named the main borough “Manhatton” when they saw it get overrun by European men wearing stupid hats.

Staten Island

Some folks say “Staten Island” got its name when Henry Hudson first saw it and asked his crew:

’s dat an island?

Some say it should be spelled “Statin Island” because its residents love to pop pills that are statins (such as Lipitor).

The Bronx

This is the only borough that requires you to say “the” before it: you must say “the Bronx.” Here’s the true reason why:

The place began as farmland bought by Jonas Bronck from the Indians in 1642. When his family owned it, people visiting there said “I’m going to the Broncks.” Eventually, “Broncks” got shortened to “Bronx.”


This borough was probably named after Queen Catherine of England in 1683, though historians aren’t sure. In 1988, the government of Queens decided to erect a huge statue of her, 35 feet high, facing the United Nations (which is across the river in Manhattan), with encouragement from Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter. But when statue was built, Queens citizens refused to let it stay in Queens, because of these objections:

If the Queen faces the U.N. (which is in Manhattan), she’ll show her backside to Queens citizens and seem to fart at them. Moreover, she’ll stand at the spot where Americans turned chicken and ran from the British in the Revolutionary War, so don’t put a statue honoring British royalty there!

The Queen was from England, which oppressed Ireland, so the Irish in Queens consider her an oppressor.

The Queen headed Spain while its Catholic government burned 60 citizens for the crime of “being Jewish” during the Spanish Inquisition, so the Jews in Queens consider her an oppressor of Jews.

The Queen was actually the daughter of Portugal’s king, who gave her to King Charles II of England along with a dowry that included all of Bombay India and trading rights (in return for England’s promise not to attack Portugal), so people from India dislike her — and so do blacks, who are upset that her family made profits by shipping slaves.

Queen Catherine quickly became the most disliked woman in Queens. Now her statue hides in upstate New York, where her face got mutilated by Mother Nature and poorly reconstructed by an apprentice sculptor.


In Brooklyn, old Jewish residents speak English with a strange accent:

Instead of saying “the,” Brooklynites say “duh.”

Instead of saying “girl,” Brooklynites say “goil.”

The most famous example of a Brooklyn accent is this poem:

I have a goil named Goity.

She really is a boid!

She lives on toity-second,

Right next to toity-toid!

In that poem, “goil” means “girl,” “Goity” means “Gertie,” “boid” means “bird,” “toity” means “thirty,” and “toid” means “third,” so the girl lives on 32nd Street.