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Columns - Issue 6
Tantra Bensko's
as it May Seem

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'Goatbreath Babble' by Sir Castor Bayley
Goatbreath Babble

The Ternary

           The union known as an “intimate relationship” inevitably produces a tertiary entity, distinct and separate from the progenitors, that while not being tangible in the physical plane is nonetheless emotionally palpable; the complete substance of this entity being composed of the points of convergence and divergence in the individuals’ perceptions, philosophies, inclinations, hopes and beliefs. It is inexorably this tertiary entity that is the largest contributor to misunderstanding within the relational boundaries, as it is ultimately the properties that compose this entity that are under discussion when two individuals set out to understand their “relationship.”

           Consequently, as the two individuals metamorphose and adapt to the growing intimacy of their relationship, inculcating their “progeny” with the current data each perceives to be truth, the face presented by the tertiary self changes in accordance, revealing to each an image in parity with their individual conceptions. Herein, lies the fault; for in the human experience, aleatory variations are the rule, not the exception.

           It is therefore with no surprise that as each in turn looks to their collective entity for an assuring and accurate reflection of their present union, they only too quickly discover that yesterday’s absolutes are today’s variables. That their bellwether has departed to yet another masquerade, leaving them only with the faintest reminder of its past incarnation while it hurtles forward with great abandon into a yet unknown reality, a yet uncharted destination. A ship without a captain, a compass without a needle, the hapless couple can only cling to the riggings and wait out the reigning storm.

           On the upside, the mirror does once again achieve clarity, and in that ensuing moment of lucidity the couple find themselves once more suffused by the bliss that accompanies hard-won gains, a newfound understanding of the road just travelled. And it is perhaps this element almost to exclusivity, that catapults its all too willing quarry time and again into the terpsichorean ritual of discovery; that dredging of the collective souls which invariably produces the dawn of a new relational era, one only alluded to in prior incarnations, one which was yet too incipient to be discernible at a distance, one where the tertiary being now appears in all its glory as the purest manifestation of it’s true self.

           Inescapably, this cycle will repeat, ad infinitum, throughout the duration of every relationship, becoming simultaneously the source of sublime exaltation and unfathomable dejection.

Readers may write to Sir Castor Bayley c/o Place "Goatbreath Babble" in the subject line of your email.

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Crazy Jane's Advice to the Lorn of Love
Image © 2006 Tony Juliano
Crazy Jane's Advice to the Lorn of Love

Dear Crazy Jane:

I’ve hit an extremely thorny patch in the garden of my marriage and I’m living in perpetual terror. To make a long story short, Mortimer, my husband of 34 years, a renowned professor of animal husbandry, began to turn into a pig several months ago. At first, when his ears started to grow and droop, we suspected cancer. The tests came out negative. Then his nose became a snout overnight and his skin turned pink. Then his hair fell out. At that point, we consulted a naturopathic homeopath nutritional specialist, who put him on an herbal bath and interior cleansing regime with strict orders to refrain from engaging in sexual activity and reading Kierkegaard. Needless to say, the treatment didn’t work. When Mortimer’s feet morphed into hooves and his snores turned into snorts, we panicked. We traveled all the way to Lily Dale to consult “Z,” a famous witch (I daren’t utter her name). She told Mortimer that I was an incarnation of the sorceress Circe, who (as I’m sure you know) turned men into swine. She chortled rather slyly, as I assume witches are wont to do, when we asked for a cure.

Since the witch’s “diagnosis,” my husband has fully devolved into a pig and worse. He’s been growing boar tusks and long sharp teeth, behaving wilder day by day, so much so that our daughter refuses to visit with her children. What’s worse is that he’s blaming me, insisting that I turn him back into a mortal. He’s convinced that I know the cure and maintains paranoid delusions about my motivations. Actually, he believes that I caught him in bed with his mother, and I’m taking revenge.

I’m terrified that Mortimer will eat me — literally — during cunnilingus.

Please help, Jane!



Dear “Doris,”

These are desperate times, calling for desperate measures. But one must be circumspect and extremely cautious with swine, particularly swine with sharp tusks and teeth. The problems seem insurmountable, but you must take courage and wage the war on terror, meaning your own sense of terror, my dear.

There once was a time long ago when I met a man who’d been transformed into a pig — by some sorceress, he claimed. After a fair bit of rough and tumble in a haystack, I realized that he was really a pig with an identity crisis. He had never been a mortal, or at least if he had, he’d been a swinish one with a deep-rooted loathing for women. Well, of course there’s no dearth of swinish men, but I digress. I recommended strongly that he take to the forest and find a heymish mate. He nearly bit my tits off, but last seen, he was flying in the direction of the forest. Yes, my dear, pigs do fly when their sexual drive attains a certain high altitude.

In your case, it’s evident that your husband suppressed his true identity and deep-seeded anger against women for most of his life. Was there an incident that triggered his metamorphosis? These changes frequently occur when traditional wives suddenly put their feet down and refuse to cook geese, wild boar and other craved delicacies for their husbands. Sometimes the transformation begins after a visit from the husband’s mother or mother-in-law, alive or dead. I know of two instances of husbands turning into pigs after their wives published best sellers.

Indeed, there is no easy solution, no simple how-to. Spells hardly work these days due to deleterious changes in air quality from pollutants. Burdock root mixed with kumquat leaves is useless. If you cannot get to the root of the problem by means of candid discussion with a third party acting as mediator (my cousin Beatrice specializes in swinish metamorphoses — my secretary will provide her contact information, if you wish), you will have to call The National Guard to truss the pig so you can safely flee the conjugal coop. There’s only so much you can do with swine. I personally like mine with Tasmanian truffles and reduced pinot noir from the Loire valley.

Verily yours,


Crazy Jane thanks Carol Novack for contributing the letter in this season's column. Readers may write to Crazy Jane c/o Place "Ask Crazy Jane" in the subject line of your email.

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Tantra Bensko's 'Strange as it May Seem Column'
Strange as it May Seem

           When I was in Andronico’s supermarket recently in the predominantly Asian Sunset District of San Francisco, the city’s most conservative area, I had a most startlingly delightful experience. I was in the checkout line, and the clerk put the dividing stick between my food on the conveyer and the person’s behind me. I guess he must have put it down a little forcefully, though I hardly noticed. But I did notice the tiny, elderly Asian woman behind me start laughing and looking at me. I didn’t know how to react, what she was laughing at. Her hair, I noticed, was dyed a magenta pink. Then, she nudged me, and picked up her two small ice cream containers and moved them forward toward the divider, setting them down one after another with a loud Bang Bang.

           She laughed again, looking at me, and said, “I’m the Big Boss!”

           She seriously didn’t fit a stereotypical profile. Most elderly Asian ladies tend to ignore me, and would never say anything as playfully enigmatic as that to a stranger. I laughed, though still not sure what was going on, or why she said that. She said some things I couldn’t quite make out, but I came to the conclusion that she had somehow made an association between the dividing stick and a gun. An odd association, but I had no feeling that she was mentally ill. She was having fun.

           My suspicion she had made a gun connection was validated when I felt something hard sticking in my ribs. “This is a stick-up,” she said.

           I laughed. I was faced away from her, and from the conveyor belt, so I didn’t know what she was using. I didn’t see her expression though I was curious. Turning around, however, is not what you do during a stick-up. I started laughing.

           She said, “Don’t laugh or I’ll shoot.” I couldn’t help laughing harder, and she pushed harder into my upper back, threatening again. This went on for awhile, and I did start vaguely considering the possibility that she was serious, had a gun or was insane. In the process, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw her pick up and use the divider to push into me, and later put it back, and change back to using her finger. I was having a grand time being stuck up and played along with it.

           She asked, still poking me, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

           I answered that I did. “Well, I’m going after him then. Where does he live?”

           “Oh, I forgot. He died yesterday.”

           She said, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

           She indicated her ice cream, and said she had what she really needed, had her priorities straight. Then she said she wanted me to find her a boyfriend. I asked what kind she wanted. She said, “I want him to not to be able to walk very well. ... And to have money.”

           I was thrilled with her answer, and asked her to show me what he should walk like. She dropped the “gun” and showed me, hunching over, and wobbling, one foot barely making it ahead of the other, going off to the side as she teetered and flailed. She kept it up, walking in Andronico’s.

           I told her I’d find her someone, and we hugged hugely, kissing each others’ cheeks, repeatedly, expressing to each other how happy we were to meet. My purchase was complete, and it was time to walk out into the world, a smile on my face.

Readers may write to Tantra Benski c/o Place "Strange as it May Seem " in the subject line of your email.


The Modern Buckaroos' Guide to the Western World, Graphic by Shirley Harshenin
The Modern Buckaroos' Guide to the Western World


Dear Buckaroos and Buckarettes,

           The Cowboy Way beats in every pulse, like it or not, including mine and in a particularly vengeful vein. Recently I’ve received many phone calls from family members about their ailments and troublesome conditions; they can afford to neither diagnose nor treat. But they should take heart; they have company: only about 45,999,996 other American working stiffs without health insurance. I could offer that consolation, but I would rather dip into a bloody Luke Short pulp novel, like Savage Range, and gain inspiration there. Short wrote about a time — the mythical West of the 1870s — when men were men and women were women, and they both could kick ass. (My revenge fantasy was also fueled, I have to admit, by hearing about Bill Clinton’s sexcapades yet again, surely the crime of the century. Why can’t Bush get involved with a dominatrix — why doesn’t he have sexual urges—why doesn’t he just get laid? Hey! Maybe that’s what he wants, what he secretly desires, more than anything in the Western World! So why not give it to him?)

           So here’s a little something I call “Push Bush.”

           The only reason I tell George W. Bush I will suck his dick (Cheney or otherwise) is to promote the cause of health insurance for the working poor. All those phone calls from my family about my brother’s eye, my sister’s aching teeth, my brother-in-law’s epileptic seizures, all left untreated — I’ll see what I can do, I tell them. And one well-placed text message later, I proceed to the Oval Office wearing little else but a special edition DVD of Rawhide, Season Two.

           George W. Bush, baby face eager and shining with sweat, opens the door, naked but for a pair of Justin Boots. In between his puppy-sloppy kisses, he promises affordable health care for all. But first he has to consult with “Little Dickie.” I tell him, “Slide your gun into my honey holster so tight,” but his pud isn’t a Texas-sized organ, and he runs out of ammo.

           “I’m sorry, my little heifer,” Mr. President murmurs. “Little Dick tells me it’s an election year. I’ll make it up to you someday, I promise. Come on, lick my T-bone some more.”

           “Mr. President,” I say, “Your promises get me hot and bothered, but you keep leaving me high and dry.”

           “You calling me a tease?”

           “Yeah.” I say. “A yellow-bellied cocktease.”

           “It’s not my fault,” he whines, Little Dick at half-mast. “What about all the times you liberals—”

           Sometimes a liberal’s got to do what a liberal’s got to do. I grab the first thing on his desk that I can use. Rubberbands. Thick ones from an election campaign mass mailing. I hook the bands taut over each raised thumb and forefinger and aim straight at his balls.

           He covers his presidential nuts with his hands. “Don’t point those at me,” he says. “I’m the president.”

           “It won’t do you any good, Mr. Whoop-de-doo Leader of the Free World.” My voice is as hard as iron. “You’ve worked that for the last time. It’s about time someone holds you accountable. You promise the way you fuck—a lot of bang but no buck.”

           I’m about to give him both barrels when he explodes into action. He shouts out a reference to terrorism and orange alert, I go down, muffled by rhetoric. When I get to my feet, he’s gone.

           “You won’t escape,” I say, prowling the Oval Office, looking behind curtains and doors. “Look out!” I shout. “Behind you! Osama bin Laden!” He rolls frantically along the ground. I shoot with my right. The rubber band goes wild, knocking his newest non-political speech about 9-11 to the floor — small loss. But I only have one shot left. Better make it good. I listen, the sound of my breath harsh in my ears. I eye the rim of the desk. I bet he’s hiding under there … then he stands and does a quick draw. I throw myself to the side, but the sickening smack of the rubberband against my bare tit is as loud as a rifleshot. Shit.

           “Ha!” he yells, scooting under the desk again. “Give up?”

           “Never!” My nipple stinging, I grit my teeth, reach for the discarded band, and hook it once more onto my finger. I’m back in the game again, his ass is grass.

           “Listen.” The president’s voice is pleading, frantic. “I give up. After the primaries, I’ll do whatever you want.”

           “No more promises, bucko.” I pause, let that that sink in. “No more.”

           GW starts to curse, his voice high and wild. I crouch, both rubber bands tense on my fingers. I have his balls in my sights.

           “No,” he shouts. “Noooooo!”

           I shift my aim to one of his rosy nipples. “This one is for my brother’s scratched cornea,” I say as I shoot.

           The President of the United States twitches with the impact, a bloom of pink spreads across his breast.

           “And this one is for my brother-in-law’s grand mals!”

           I shoot again, at his other nipple. He staggers back, chin thrown up, mouth gaping. He stays that way, every muscle straining, then he does a graceful pivot towards the desk, his knees buckle, and he falls face down and spreadeagled on the blotter.

           I walk towards him, blowing on my stinging finger, spaghetti western melody in my ears. But I underestimate the guy — I’m sure we all have done that at some point in his tenure as president. Looking up at me he writhes and begs, “Yes! Yes! This is what I want! This is what I’ve always wanted! You got me, girl, you got me! Forget about politics,” he screams. “Hogtie me, you cowgirl cunt! Whip my bucking bronco. Sear my bootie with a branding iron.”

           “You bet, Tex,” I say, and we dry hump on the latest global warming report until the president moans and groans and pants from the pressure of my hot heifer of love. I work him until he’s almost ready to empty both his barrels, then I back off. I push away and put one last rubber band on my hand, a big one from a grocery store produce department.

           “Hey, that’s not how it goes,” shouts the president of the United States, his balls as blue as a blue state can be.

           “This is the way it’s going to be,” I say, and I plug him one last time.

Yours in Western Wear,

E. “Bucko” Smith

E. “Bucko” Smith


Is someone you know appropriating or channeling the Cowboy (or girl) Way? Do you suspect “It” at work within political stratagems, workplace intrigues, fashion statements, or advertising? Readers may send Cowboy Way sightings, requests for investigations, or comments to, subject line: Freezebucko. These may be published, but definitely the best sighting will receive an official “Freeze, Bucko!” sheriff’s badge.


'Step to the Rear' by Rich Andrews Step to the Rear: Tales from a Lapsed New York City Bus Driver
by Rich Andrews

Semi-true stories from your NYC bus drivers.



           There will never be a lack of idiots in Brooklyn. They're one of our much-underdeveloped natural resources. Chopped up, we could export them as fertilizer to needy farmlands.

Retirement Gift - Signed Picture
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           On my evening express trip back to Brooklyn, I'm discharging passengers when this guy jumps up the front steps before I can shut the doors. I place my hand over the fare box so he can't deposit his money.

           "Sorry, this isn't your local bus and I'm not going where you wanna go," I inform him. He gets off, goes in front of my bus and presses his face to the outside windshield. I figure he can't stay there forever. I'll just wait him out. After a while he steps back a few paces. I start to pull away and he jumps back in front of me. I hit the brakes. We repeat this dance a few times until he begins dancing by himself to music in his head, with an obscene gesture thrown in for variety.

           Now it's rush hour, night has fallen and tired workers are going home... but they aren't THAT tired. A good-sized crowd gathers. My passengers are laughing now but it's only a matter of time before the inconvenience outweighs the entertainment. I pick up the phone-handset and call Radio Control for a cop to get this loony out of the way.

           Seeing me with the phone only provokes him to greater lunacy. With a quick pirouette he turns, drops his pants and bends over — as if we never saw a moon before. Still, it's always good to see such a fine tradition being kept alive and let's face it: few things are funnier, especially in front of such a large captive audience.

           On our job the flow of life is often elevated to street theater. It's impossible to avoid it. Those people who don't believe in the Muses are sadly deluded. All nine are alive and well and following buses around Brooklyn, trust me. Back to the scene...

           The street crowd and my passengers are still laughing at the full moon and some are turning to me to see my reaction. I quickly hide my smile. I scowl and grimace bringing my face closer to the windshield. Then with exaggerated motions I activate the handbrake, turn off the engine, fold my hands behind my head and lean back to wait for the sheriff and his posse. I'm going to enjoy the show through my wide-screen bus windshield.

           I notice passing motorists flicking on their high beams to see what's going on. They look like moving spotlights for this street carnival. Then the flashing lights of a police car approach. The climax is on its way!

           Mr. Moonbeams pulls up his blue jeans and hightails it away — exit, stage left. The cops arrive on the scene as the audience breaks into applause amid laughter and tears. In dénouement, I fire up my chariot, close the doors and pull away as the curtain comes down on the final act.

Readers may send comments to, Subject line: Step to the Rear. Comments may be published.

'From Under the Slush Pile' by Helen Ruggieri

From Under the Slush Pile
by Helen Ruggieri


I’d like to offer some suggestions for putting a poetry manuscript together. I have sent out many with varied negative results.


You need about 50 poems to begin with. If the contest asks for 60 don’t worry because there are at least ten pages of junk in the beginning: inside cover, dedication, acknowledgments,* table of contents, and so on. It will be longer if you add arbitrary divisions** for each section. That should give you at least ten pages’ leeway.


This is where you list all the places you’ve published the poems in the manuscript.

The editors/judges read it to see if you have published in any decent magazines.

If your publications consist of Ergo, Argot,, etc., don’t use them. Since poetry is not creative nonfiction, my advice here is to make up a list of publications. Use some decent mags like The New Yorker, Ladies Home Journal Go to the local library and get yourself a copy of Poet’s Market. Find some good places, ones with four stars like Hudson Review or The Partisan Review. Chances are one in a million they’ll ever check. Dazzle them. If you win, you can worry about it then.


All the winning manuscripts have these sections in their book. Usually you can't make the connection, but the titles sound real good. Again, use your creativity. Naked on a Slovak Bus or My Russian Orange. It doesn’t matter. Be truthful: have you ever looked at these and had them make sense? Of course not. Use big words to dazzle the readers. They’ll blame it on their own ignorance and why shouldn’t they. This is the time to dip into your "poem bank" where you file good lines that have no home in a poem yet. If you don’t have a bank, start one now.


Put the best stuff up front. What do I mean by best? Good question. By best, I mean poems that the grad students who read the incoming won’t get. They’ll assume you’re smart and pass you up the food chain. Use big words or words from another language they won’t be familiar with — Serbo-Croatian or Bengalese. Doesn’t matter what you use because no one will know but a few stray Bengalis or Serbs and they don’t usually end up reading poetry manuscripts.


The advice for titling is pretty much the same as supplying section titles. A catchy title with big words that few understand off-hand. For example, "Pentiamento Pizza." No one knows what Pentiamento means — maybe pimento in Italian or something and everybody likes pizza so you can’t go wrong and it gives a nice working class cachet. And if it’s, spelled wrong no big deal. How many people do you know with an Italian dictionary nearby?


Make sure the page numbers and the table of contents match. Academic presses get all bent out of shape about this. Language presses don’t care.



This is the most important part of the entire process.

Double the reading fee. It can’t hurt.

Do not double the entrance fee for academic presses.

They’ve taken vows of poverty and obedience.


Use a 9-by-12 envelope and seal it with strapping tape. It will take lots of energy to open the envelope and possible injure some pages and you’ll get bonus points if their energy damages the manuscript.

Don’t bother with a SASE for their reply.

If you win, they’ll get ahold of you.

And if you don’t win, who cares.

Good luck out there in manuscript land.

Readers may send comments to, Subject line: From Under the Slush Pile. Comments may be published.

'East of East' by Pete Dolack
East of East


It's OK to still like Pluto

           Even if it was the only scientifically realistic decision to make, I still have trouble not thinking of Pluto as a planet. I learned the name of the planets when I was 6 years old, and things that are put into your head at that age are awfully hard to get out. That’s the secret of the Catholic Church, incidentally; that’s why there are so few of us who manage to escape. (For those of you who still haven’t seen The DaVinci Code, don’t worry, that movie posits a different secret so I haven’t spoiled it for you.)

           Ah, one paragraph in and already I have digressed. I did manage to escape the clutches of the church so I’ll get used to thinking of Pluto as just a big Kuiper Belt object. Pluto had always seemed an appropriate coda for the solar system, wandering about in a strange tilted elliptical orbit, even ducking inside Neptune’s orbit for a while. But these really big telescopes keep getting built, and there are plenty of astronomers around to look through them, so things get discovered. Lots of things, and so Pluto has lots of company out there. One of those things is 2003 UB313, just given the official name of “Eris.”

           Eris’s now out-of-date nickname, Xena, didn’t have a chance of becoming the official name, since the body that decides the names of solar system bodies, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), has rules. The rule for Kuiper Belt objects, which is a second asteroid belt beyond the orbit of Neptune, is that objects should be named for mythological figures associated with creation or from Arctic cultures, which is logical since it is awfully cold beyond Neptune. So the large bodies out there have names like Quaoar. The IAU delayed giving approval to Eris because its members wanted to decide just what constitutes a planet. And since Eris, our erstwhile 2003 UB313, is bigger than Pluto, there was no way to further duck the question that had been brewing for some time on Pluto’s status.

           The funny thing, though, is that Eris is not a creation-myth figure, but the Greek goddess of chaos. In other words, it was named as if it is a planet, but it’s not a planet. I know bureaucracies aren’t supposed to be efficient, but if the IAU was going to give it a planet’s name, it could have just gone ahead and done so and not left us with such an unwieldy name as “2003 UB313” for such a long time. These are scientists, after all, not the sort of people who would give an important solar system body the name of a television character. But pop culture sort of snuck in because Eris has a moon, and that moon (previously nicknamed “Gabrielle”) has been given the official name Dysnomia, a figure who is the daughter of Eris and the Greek goddess of lawlessness. Xena, the television princess warrior, was played by the actor Lucy Lawless, so perhaps that is a little back-door consolation for her many fans.

           Michael Brown, one of the three discoverers of Eris, and many of the largest Kuiper Belt objects, said his team’s choice of Eris was to acknowledge the chaos and trouble the body caused astronomers, professional and amateur, and in the general community. Well, there’s a neat ending to everything, yes? So Eris it is. Of course Eris was a planet for two days, along with Quaoar, Sedna, Ceres and plenty of other bodies you’ve never heard of. An IAU committee proposed that anything round that goes around the Sun should qualify as a planet. This was dubbed the “Leave no iceball behind” plan by Brown, and like anything concocted by the Bush II administration, it was based strictly on ideology. The committee apparently wanted to keep Pluto a planet, perhaps wishing to yield to a good deal of public sentiment. Since to declare a planet anything that goes around the Sun and at least 2,000 kilometers in diameter doesn’t sound remotely scientific — this would be the only other way to keep Pluto a planet — it adopted the roundness test. There is one problem with this test — it leaves the solar system with 53 planets. For all the hang-wringing over children's placemats that would become out of date by having only eight planets, declaring, “Oh by the way, we now have 53 planets” seems much worse. Since this decision was quite embarrassing — remember, we are dealing with scientists here — the full membership of the IAU did vote for scientific rationality, declaring that an object that is round and big enough to clear the space around it is a planet. Pluto is just another Kuiper Belt object, so we now have only eight planets.

           We can still like Pluto, even if it’s not a planet. I don’t think the New Horizons space probe on its way there will be recalled by NASA. Brown, on his Web site [], wrote that he doesn’t think the debate is worth bothering about because “planet” is a cultural, rather than scientific, term. He argues that the term continent “sounds like it should have some scientific definition, but clearly there is no way to construct a definition that somehow gets the 7 things we call continents to be singled out. Why is Europe called a separate continent? Only because of culture. You will never hear geologists engaged in a debate about the meaning of the word ‘continent’ though. When geologists talk about the earth and its land masses they define precisely what they are talking about; they say ‘continental crust’ or ‘continental drift’ or ‘continental plates’ but almost never ‘continent.’ ”

           Maybe astronomy is just more interesting than geology and that’s why more people care about the definition of a planet than a continent. But I think Brown is on to something here. Why is Europe a separate continent? The Ural Mountains, the boundary with Asia, are hardly impressive. The Urals rise to one-fourth of the Himalayas, less than half of even the Alps. And the Ural River? Hardly an appropriate border for a continent, as it is between the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea.

           So in the spirit of scientific newness and consistency, or maybe more in the spirit of that IAU committee, I hereby propose we be consistent in how we treat continents: Let us create the new continent of East America. Yes, East America. We can draw the boundary between East America and North America the same way as the boundary is drawn between Europe and Asia. The Appalachian Mountains shall form the border between the two continents; officially we can follow the ridge line. As we go north beyond the Saint Lawrence River, a mountain ridge line already forms the boundary between Québec and Labrador, so we can continue right to the top of the mainland. The Appalachians end in Georgia, so we can follow the Urals precedent and declare the continental boundary to be the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers, down to the Gulf of Mexico. This will take a bit of getting used to, I admit — for instance, the “twin cities” of Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama, will be located on separate continents, but since they are already in separate time zones the new nomenclature will just add to the fun. Istanbul already boasts that it is a city so big it is located on two continents, so we should be confident that Americans will surely find a way to come up with a clever slogan to draw in tourists.

           The Rocky Mountains would be a more appropriate boundary, you say? Yes, they are far bigger, but we need to be consistent here — the Himalayas aren't a boundary, either. Maybe we can split Australia into two continents, the east coast in one and the rest in another. It has always struck me as ostentatious to have only one country for an entire continent; we might as well be gaudy as we can be and make it one country for two continents. But perhaps we should draw the line at renaming cities or nations. Eris is the body’s third name — that’s too confusing. Let’s keep Istanbul as Istanbul. Not Constantinople. After all, it’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

Readers may write to Pete Dolack c/o Place "Pete Dolack Column " in the subject line of your email.

'Dear New York' by Debbie Ann Eis
Dear New York


Dear New York,

           I’ve been OK, though things have gone a bit sour since I left you. I was living in a box for a while, of course, because it was so hard to change my ways after being with you, sweetie. And the box was so easy, what with the grasshoppers calling long distance, the aphids under my feat, and my ex-husband, now cicada (Did I tell you, he is now a cicada?). The box seemed appropriate.

           But, I must tell you, someone with magazine hair and a tennis racquet came around. She pulled me out of the box: “Oh do step out of the box, dear. Why would anyone be in a box?” Her voice, unctuous, sweet, insistent, was outside my box daily. She opened the box, all curious, pulled at my shirt, then tried to emulate me, slouching on her one leg, in a strange attempt at looking laid back, faux liberal, but still neurotic (Oh they are cute when they imitate you, New York) I laughed, ha ha, like I wanted to stay in the box, but everyone knew that no one wanted a box but something else.

           (Of course, no one is born in a box, you said to me, New York, remember? No one is put in a box, you said, didn’t you, New York? Everyone is stuffed there by little things. Well in New York little things, not here, New York. But we loved our boxes didn’t we?)

           My foot slipped out, followed by another, then my arm, then torso, then ego (I let my ego out of the box, New York!). I listened and watched at first; to get the hang of it, catch on to the subtle nuances, the upbeat tone, tilt of the head into the cell phone. Boy, driving that huge tank with the cell phone in my ear and tennis racquet on my lap was scary. But they put you back in the box if you don’t do it. Then that magazine haired woman comes around. No thank you!

           So I did it, for a while.

           I got bored, too comfortable, and it happened. They asked me questions. I thought, well, I have a great serve, a quick bridge mind, I can tell them anything. They need me! I told them all about my grasshopper parents, my aphid children, my husband who left and became a large cicada. But it’s OK, I said to their squinched-up eyes and silent mouths, it’s OK, my husband, while gone, will whirr every seventeen years! And my aphids are doing fine out in the garden, and who cares about my grasshopper roots; it’s fun to have grasshoppers come visit and keep my lawn in order. Ha ha! No one laughed. (Oh New York, please don’t sigh. I failed, I know!)

           Things got bad right when I started catching on to life, zooming all over the place in my SUV, running over small dogs after answering my cell phone, escaping the scene by taking back roads (All my bridge club members live on back roads). My aphids went nuts as we raced around, bouncing off my windows, eating faux tulips I bought at green grocers to save time.

           Anyway, despite my expertise at bridge and tennis, I stopped getting phone calls. Even my cell phone became silent. And when I showed up for bridge games everyone would stare and treat me like someone with Alzheimer’s. When I joked around (Remember how we laughed about grasshopper parents, New York? Ha ha! ) about anything, no one laughed; everyone looked at me like I was about to detonate and out of me would fly a million grasshoppers and aphids!

           They expected me to be miserable, of course, because aphid children and an ex-husband turned cicada were one thing, but the grasshopper parents were over the top, so they became anxious around me, waiting for me to implode, drop to the floor in tears. This all forced me to be happy, happy, happy, happier than the happiest church member. I had to cut my hair short, wear starched shirts, sing in the church choir and (Oh please forgive me, New York) tell everyone I was a Republican. All to prove I was not miserable!

           I began to wonder if this was why everyone had strangely tight smiles. They secretly had an insect in the family!

           I soon gave up and started entertaining myself. During moments of silent bridge game tension I blurted out things just to see what would happen. For example, once I said that the grass outside looked delicious (Yes, New York, I used that word). The women became stone-faced, sliding their eyes out in direction of the grass, thinking, I am sure, dear God this woman could fly out there with her grasshopper genes and devour my freshly manicured lawn.

           Another time I decided to truly entertain myself. I said something like, “What a bad hand. I could just die.” Then I reached inside my pocketbook. One woman screamed. “Calm down,” I told her. “The hand is not that bad. And I'm fine. I will admit to suffering a little from post-Democrat syndrome.” No one laughed. (Oh New York, why did I do this to myself? Because there are no therapists in the suburbs!)

           Needless to say, I sold my SUV and am back in the box, and it’s not cold at all, and, while quiet, not lonely, and my aphids have plenty to eat, and the ex- husband-turned-cicada will be back in sixteen years. I, however, have changed a little.

           Anyway, I must run. I just wanted to say hi. Please write back. I miss you!


Katy Did.

Readers may write to D. A. Eis c/o Place "Dear New York Column" in the subject line of your email.

'Random Acts of Insanity' by Shirley Harshenin
Random Acts of Insanity


Is it just my demented perspective or are random acts of insanity on the rise? I've been a walking, driving, thinking randomly insane act-or for years. It's a riot. Who needs to pay money for theatre entertainment when you can create it in your own head, free of charge!

I can't tell you how many belly laughs I've given myself visualizing random horn blasts to random pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, etc. They're just minding their own business (which makes it so much more delightful, and random, of course), thoughts focused on their destinations (or maybe they too are stirring the random acts of insanity pot and my random honk wouldn't even make 'em flinch, let alone jump out of their skin as I have so frequently visualized.) when this random lunatic driver creeps up behind them within inches, then leans on the horn! Hehehe, can't you just see 'em leap off the ground? Head snap, eyes wide, nostrils flared, arms and legs flailing! Moving on… .

Not only do I constantly think and plan (but, rest assured, rarely execute) random acts of insanity but I wholeheartedly enjoy and appreciate those acts performed by like-minded random comrades.

Have you seen the "Breakfast Television" ad? The chick that steps in front of a bewildered pedestrian, tilts her head and inquisitively utters, "Breakfast Television".

"I don't understand," the pedestrian blinks as the chick repeats her request.

Ha! Obviously a random-act virgin.

While I'm on the TV track, remember that Taco Bell dog? Now that was random. Well, it appeared to be so the first dozen times I saw it. While reaching out the window, the drive-thru guy accidentally drops the customer's bag of food. Camera zooms in low, shows bag on blacktop, then slides over to the scrawny Chihuahua where he tilts his can't-believe-my-good-fortune floppy eared head and says in perfect Mexican drawl, "Hellloooo Friend." Grin! Random! Love it!

Then there's this fella we knew who was on the serious side (poor guy) of Life 101 but obviously had a random streak in him. We were following each other on the highway when he pulled up beside us looking straight ahead, dead pan serious except there's a tissue stuffed in his ear flapping "hello." What? Ha! Random!

Another of my own random delights is the break-the-silence-with-a-totally-random-utterance act.

The littlest one's playing with her dolls. The teen has her nose in a text book. Hubby's staring at the idiot box. I'm slaving on the computer, working on the Mad Hatters' website, of course, and thinking, too quiet, too normal.

So I randomly blurt, "Melrose!"

"Huh? What?" Quizzical looks and questions rapidly subside to knowing head rocks and eye rolls, "Oh mom." *snicker-snicker*

My husband's on the more serious side, but every once in a while he reminds me we're a perfect match.

Another too quiet home moment only this time hubby's not watching TV. The teen's in control of the remote. The littlest princess is coloring at her desk. I'm slaving on the computer, yep, Mad Hatters' site again, of course, when the pushing fifty perfectly respectable husband and father of three nude, save for the tighty-whities, bolts from bedroom up hall, skids 'round kitchen corner one then two, dives into the dining room, jogs 'round the obstacle chairs, waves to wide-eyed teen on sofa, then in a blink back from whence he came, leaving us all gaping, then laughing hysterically. Random.

I dunno. Maybe it's all in the wiring – some have it, some don't. If you're at this moment rolling random act ideas 'round in your piqued brain, chances are you have it. If you're scratching your head wondering if this writer is "all there" or not, you don't. Yeah, random acts of insanity are here to stay…and definitely on the rise.

Readers may write to Shirley Harshenin c/o Place "Random Acts of Insanity" in the subject line of your email.

Mad Hatters' Review, Edgy and Enlightened Literature, Art and Music in the Age of Dementia
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page updated on: June 25, 2007