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In an unexpected development, The News from Gridleyville has been named an official outlet for TrikiLeaks, the supernal hacker group. We are greatly honored by this distinction, and we promise to exercise our responsibilities responsibly.

As you may know, TrikiLeaks specializes in secret documents involving Higher Powers, in particular communications sent through s-mail, the spiritual equivalent of e-mail. The instance presented here is a recent message between foreign ministers of the eternal kingdoms: Beelzebub, the secretary of state for The Depths, writing to Archangel Michael, his counterpart in The Lofts. The two grew up together before Bubbie, as he was known in his youth, joined the Dark One in rebellion against the Universal Authority. Their long friendship presumably accounts for the chummy tone of the missive.

We publish this now, not in an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election, but as a possible means of allaying the world’s heartburn.

To: His Lightness Arch. Michael

From: His Darkness Beelzebub

Subject: A Little Favor?

Yo, Mikey,

It’s been ages, I know, I been meaning to write, but we been awful busy down here. The crowds you send us get kind of rambunctious sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining, it’s so much fun torturing these ass-monkeys it don’t hardly seem like a job, but it’s an organizational nightmare, if you get my drift. Gotta keep track of who’s been waterboarded, who’s been burned on the eyeball with the Boss’s cigars, who’s had fingernails or toenails yanked, etc. etc. We’re still using these old Power Macs that’ve never been upgraded. When I heard that Steve Jobs geek was comin’, I thought he’d bring some newer gizmos, but your boys in the Property Department musta stripped him on the way. You better check for sticky fingers up there. Just sayin’.

Anyways, geeks like Jobs ain’t the problem, they just walk around twiddling with their thumbs. It’s the other types of sinners that get bored and restless. See, the whole principle of torture—I figure you’re too high-minded to think about this stuff, so I’ll explain it to you—is you gotta give the bums a break between times. If it’s all pain all the time, they get burnt out, their minds blown, their ghostbodies wasted, so when you give ’em another, say, electric zap to the privates, they hardly notice. Which is no fun for us. So the point is, let ’em have a decent life when we aren’t working ’em over, enough that when we grab ’em up for the next session, they get the shakes and the terrors and start pissin’ their ghostpants all over again.

Now, them Lethe waters are a big help, making them forget what they been through. In fact, we’ve been mixing Lethe drops into the waterboarding, so every round’s like a fresh torture ’cause the poor suckers don’t remember what’s coming.

Still, when it’s time for their R&R, we gotta keep ’em amused. Which is hard because they ain’t allowed their former enjoyments like murder, embezzlement, fornication or political campaigns. So what do we have for their entertainment? Mostly old TV shows—and your Big Guy won’t let us have the good ones, will He? No, we gotta make do with trash like Jerry Springer, Jay Leno and Hee Haw Honeys. The ladies down here, even lots of the guys, would kill for one episode of Mary Tyler Moore. True, our audience is pretty cynical, so they get into the so-bad-it’s-hilarious shtick, but that wears thin after a while. They get mopey and grouchy, which is not the right buildup for their next turn in the Iron Maiden. As I said, they should be happy, at least content, before we work ’em over again.

So what I’m writin’ to ask, and I know you’ll wanta help me with this, pal, is maybe havin’ a top entertainer come down to us a little early. No, I don’t mean Madonna, I know the Big Guy’s got a crush on her. (Which I don’t understand. I mean, really?)

What I’m talkin’ about is that Trump dude. You know we’re gettin’ him sooner or later, and if you can make it a little sooner, I’d really appreciate it, ’cause we’ve made some great plans for him.

It’s a show called Devil’s Apprentice. He’s gonna be the host, see, along with one of my cute little acolytes—you know, the one with the honkers? He’ll love her.

Here’s the bit: Contestants will think they’re competing for a full-time job managing the Grue Crew, our pitchfork guys that stab unsuspecting people in the ass and toss ’em in the pit for their next torment. Our huge TV audience will see the apprentices run around like crazy and bust their tails to please The Donald and then get fired anyway. But then the kicker is, at the end of the show, all the ones he’s fired will get to use their pitchforks on The Donald himself.

They’ll plunk him in the pit for a special persecution—watching hours and hours of documentaries—of Hillary’s whole career!

We’ll televise that too, to show him making faces and spitting insults at the screen. Then we’ll give everybody some Lethe drops and start over with a new season.

Ain’t that genius? Talk about entertainment—our restless masses will love it!

So think about it, will you Mikey? I mean, Trump’s already old and fat, it’s not like I’m askin’ for a major speedup. Just a little before his time, so to speak.

If you need to clear this with the Big Guy, give him my best, wouldya? Him and my Boss really oughta get together sometime, clear the air, y’know, discuss new ways to cooperate in this business of processing souls.

Okay, Mikey, gotta sign off now and go sharpen my pitchfork, heh-heh.

Keep that flaming sword of yours polished, boyo.

Yours 4ever & ever & ever,

Your pal,

Bubbie

Mosquito

Photo by James Gathany via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library; found on Wikipedia

As a straight guy of a certain age (SGOACA), I’ve long been aware of a central fact of male aging: We become invisible to young women. This week, on vacation in Mosquitoland USA, I’ve discovered what appears to be a corollary: Female mosquitoes, the only ones who suck blood, are also no longer drawn to me.

While I sit here totally unaffected by the insect population, all the others in my family are getting eaten alive. My companions have slathered on multiple types of bug lotion, applied half a dozen sprays, including those with extra-strength DEET, added citronella bracelets and ankle bands, and still they suffer big itchy welts on arms, necks, elbows, even the crown of the head. I have used no repellent at all except coffee breath and my natural blandness.

Oh god, does this mean that we SGOACAs are unattractive to females of ALL species? Turtles? Hamsters?

There goes my dream of romance with a shapely porpoise.

Wait, though, there’s another possibility, less devastating to the male ego. Maybe the corporate plutocrats deliberately make bug sprays and lotions ineffective so the deluded public will use gallons of the stuff and then buy more. In fact, come to think of it, these products must contain a secret ingredient that attracts mosquitoes, black flies and other nemeses. Why else would the bugs ignore me and swarm round those covered with so-called repellent?

I’m going to write to Donald Trump about this. I hear he may be running out of his own conspiracy theories.

Tzapping the Borders

August 31, 2015

I’ve never before used this blog to endorse a commercial product—other than my own books, of course—but a special case has arisen concerning the very integrity of our country, and I feel I must alert my fellow Americans to what I’ve discovered.

We’ve all listened to the proposals from presidential candidates to build a wall along the Mexican border to stem illegal immigration, and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has logically extended the proposal to the Canadian line as well. There is nothing hysterical or paranoid about these concerns. Just pause a moment to think what would become of this country if we allowed the Mexican-Canadian rapist-murdering-drug-dealers to steal the lawn-care jobs of American workers!

There is a major problem, however, that none of the candidates has addressed. The barriers would be enormously expensive to construct, possibly requiring a rise in taxes that no patriotic American would support. (Those who suggest that cinder block and labor could be imported cheaply from Mexico miss the point entirely.)

Moreover, the Great Wall advocates have overlooked thousands of miles of other entry points: the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Who knows when Mediterranean people-smugglers will invest in better boats so they can drop off Syrian refugees on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City? There’s also the possibility, remote at this time but certainly a concern for the future, that alien shark-creatures might swarm ashore and apply for work cooking fish fillets at McDonald’s. And what about mutant penguins? Has anyone considered the mutant penguins?

Thus it’s apparent that the political debate has been riddled with gaps in logic as huge as the holes in Carly Fiorina’s resume. Luckily, technology—American technology, best in the world!—can again save our butts as well as our souls. A leading innovator in the security industry, Pharr Integrated Security Solutions of southern Texas, is now marketing the Tzapp Total Border System, and this is the product I’m compelled to tell you about.

Based on the groundbreaking work of legendary physicist Seymour Tzapp, the laser-based system is both efficient and economical. One relatively inexpensive laser weapon, adjusted properly, can protect 425 miles of border or coastline; hence a complete system would cost a fraction of a Great Wall.

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS system

One unit of the Tzapp Total BS

How does it work? When any object larger than a hare begins to move across the secured line, the Tzapp Total BS delivers a pulsed, narrow-beam wallop strong enough to enforce immediate retreat. In tests conducted in the Rio Grande Valley, the system has scattered deer, terrified ocelots and caused skunks to spray themselves uncontrollably. The Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri), once Tzapped, has been timed at 30 mph, outrunning a raccoon.

One additional feature: The Total BS leaves a prominent raised scar, curved like a Nike swoosh in bright orange. This will prove as embarrassing to a Mexo-Canadian rapist-murderer as to a nefarious opossum, and a single Tzapp will be enough to discourage future transgressions, especially if the lasers are aimed to strike a delicate part of the anatomy. During the beta test, the tortoise was so mortified he never came out of his shell again.

I would supply a link to further information about the Tzapp system, but in its haste to bring this amazing product to the American public, the company has not yet developed an online presence. However, all interested parties—politicians, military officers, gun freaks and ordinary citizens—are invited to visit corporate headquarters in Pharr, a lovely community just a few miles from the McAllen Miller International Airport. Although it’s a small and unprepossessing city, you can’t miss the signal that you’ve arrived: a sign at the border tells you that you’ve gone to Pharr.

Togetherness

December 22, 2014

DogsOnLapThis holiday season I’ve been looking forward to relaxing in bed. Instead, I’ve become popular AS a bed.

This post is dedicated to all who experience the fine line between family togetherness and too much togetherness.

Would anyone like to borrow a dog?

Dear Author

November 4, 2014

One advantage of publishing in the distinguished Valparaiso Fiction Review, as I did earlier this year, is that Valparaiso University’s system sends you periodic updates about the readership. Here’s the latest message:

ValpoReportHey, that’s more people than I know, so it must mean that an actual Public out there is reading my work. Yay!

Just a minute, though. A “download” isn’t necessarily a reading. I sometimes download stuff myself, glance at it, say “What the hell do I want this for?” and discard it. How many people are trashing my work in that way? How dare they!

And 181 total downloads, that’s not much, is it? Hardly a bestseller.

Possibly this is a sad indication of the limited readership of literary magazines.

However, it’s also possible that other stories in the same issue are being downloaded much more often. That would be heartening. Wait, no it wouldn’t–who’s getting downloaded more than me, and why? Are some authors in the 200s, even 300s? Whatta they got that I don’t?

Maybe the counter isn’t right. Do I trust this technology? No way!

Now I’m all anxious.

Well, look, being listed in Valpo “Scholar,” that’s an honor, right? In there with all them university perfessers. For someone who hasn’t been a scholar in many years, that’s pretty, like, awesome.

OK, I’m at peace now.

But hurry up, number 182–put down the stupid comics and read my story!

A Philistine’s Complaint

October 31, 2014

Keats

John Keats, looking poetic in a portrait by Joseph Severn

In my day job I often work with contemporary poetry that I don’t understand. Far too much a prose guy, I like passages that start here and go there, and if detours are taken along the way, fine, but I want to be able to look back and see where I came from, trace the route, and if all I see is a jumble of trees and broken glass and pizzas and penguins and other stuff that doesn’t seem to belong on the same street or even in the same country—and to me much recent poetry is like that—I wonder why I began the trip. In other words, I want poetry to be like that preceding sentence, difficult to diagram but coherent.

Clearly, then, I’m an idiot when it comes to present-day poems, and the following catterel* could be called “A Philistine’s Complaint.” Instead, being pretentious, I chose a clumsy echo of Keats for the title. Today being Halloween, I present this as a tiny contribution to our holiday of horrors.

*Catterel, of course, is verse not good enough to qualify as doggerel.

On First Looking into the Esteemed Poet’s Latest Volume

I don’t get this poem, do you?

The lines skitter

this way and

that, with no reason I can discern

and naturally no

rhyme, except from time

to time, seemingly at

random

and the images dance even more

W * I * L * D * L * Y

about in fervid or perhaps ironic

f r e n z y     , punctuated

oddly:

and though I mildly admit my slavery

to logical thought, it’s hard to guess

what this mess

might signify.

It’s profound, I’m sure. In a way, dreamlike.

Yet in earlier centuries the author of such tum-

bling imaginations

would have been burned or be-

headed for witchcraft. Surely this punishment is too dire

for a poet who

teaches other poets

at a poetically

ivied university,

and yet one could hope for

a true witch to boil

this cauldron of wordy gratifications,

stir it, curse it,

drain it

down

revealing a single tough

idea

stuck

to the bottom, like a burnt strip

of meat.

That, I could get my teeth into.

A Very Tender Topic

October 5, 2012

Nobody HomeHaving ignored the political conventions this year, I felt a tiny obligation to subject my ears to the first presidential debate. To build motivation, I set up a project: jot down phrases from the candidates and use them to make a sort of “found” poem, like a sculpture of found objects. Of course I’m not a poet, but incompetence never stopped any writer worth his pint of lager.

As I arranged the phrases yesterday, drawing more or less equally from Obama and Romney, a couple of things surprised me. Almost by chance, the poem came out with each stanza one line longer than the previous—kind of like the way politicians grow windier as they ramble on. (Is there a name for that poetic structure?) More important, some nonsensical sense seemed to emerge from the jabberwocky, and maybe—dare I say it?—an element of hope.

I’m curious to know what anyone else makes of it. Here it is:

A Very Tender Topic

A very tender topic, it’s on the brink of collapse,
and the reason is, is because
there’s a reason that indicates the degree
to which there may not be as much of
a focus on the fact that the path
we’re on has been unsuccessful.

See, there is no better way of dealing with
a fight we needed to have
and this is an example of where
those people who are less fortunate
can make a difference because
to promote and protect those principles
occasionally you gotta say no.

The proof of that is that
you can look at the record,
people are really hurting today,
and what ends up happening
is some people end up not,
and if the determination of the American people
has not displayed that willingness to say no,
that’s how we’re gonna wind down.

The question here tonight is not
where we’ve been but where we’re going.
So let’s get all the doctors together at once,
because we’ve seen progress even when
we were fighting about whether or not
to create frameworks where
we care for those that have difficulties,
at a time when it’s vitally important
to pursue their dreams.

Math, common sense, and our history,
we all know that that doesn’t get the job done.
What’s happening is, America
may not be the place to clear up
the record, where everybody’s playing
by the same rules. Let’s grade them,
I propose we grade the creativity and innovation
that exists in the American people, picking
winners and losers, the vitality we can
step in and see, a whole different way of life.

Thank you for tuning in, I have no idea
what you’re talking about, but there’s
still a problem as Abraham Lincoln
understood, endowed by our Creator.
Let me give you an example: Gas in the U.S.
is up under any circumstances, the biggest kiss
that’s been given to a baby out of work
since May. Can you help us? At the mercy
of your policies, it’s simply not moral—
the course of America, the great experience,
the burden paid, the bottom line.