What I miss

by St. Frank

The other day I was walking back to work at lunchtime in downtown Oakland. This being California, it was sunny and mild, and I caught sight of a guy in front of an office building enjoying a cigarette. Now, as I said, this is California, so it’s a tough time to be a smoker…and it ain’t cheap either. At any rate, I looked at this guy as I hurried back to my job, and I felt a pang of nostalgia. I am an ex-smoker.

What I miss about smoking is just standing around, watching the world go by. It’s nearly meditational, as you rhythmically breathe in and out, all the while checking out the scenery. As a non-smoker, I’d look foolish standing outside a building, huffing and puffing and gazing mindlessly at people.

I also miss the rush or buzz you get from having waited a little too long between smokes. For me, this would have been something like ten minutes. But that first drag! You can literally feel the nicotine course through each vein and capillary as it goes about its business, feeding your body’s craving. You might get a little light-headed and let out a giggle, as passersby glance at you to make sure you’re not dangerous.

I miss the paraphernalia and routines: Getting ready to get out of the office to “burn one”; the smell of the sulphur from a freshly lit match. These things usually accompanied the first one of the day, or one of the ones you’ve waited too long for.

Mostly, I miss the camaraderie of smokers. Actually, it was less camaraderie than it was a Bunker Mentality. Yes, even a few years ago, being a smoker in California was about as popular as being a Young Republican at UC Berkeley. We knew we were hated, but that merely strengthened our resolve to smoke more! To Hell with the “Health Nazis,” we’d say, give me another Menthol.

Now I’ve turned the corner. Now it’s me casting disparaging looks at them. I have become the enemy; worse, I am an ex-smoker. I am reformed, so I preach to the unenlightened about the horrors of their pastime. I have recently become more of a danger, as I have entered to race in the Sea Otter Classic Mountain Bike Race in Monterey this March.

Still, there are those times…

Die Zimmer

Paracelsus is spending time this week thinking about his parent’s fiftieth anniversary. He’s pulled out his family tree charts and is puzzling over the generations that came before. Coincidentally, the movie The Titanic has just been released in video (Wait! Stop! Please don’t rush away to rent it just yet — I should never have mentioned it this early in the column).

What’s the coincidence?

The Titanic was 882.5 feet long. It sank in the middle of the North Atlantic. There is a great temptation to think that the icy dark water that closed over it is, effectively, infinitely deep. It just went down down down into another realm entirely, a separate reality, a different world. But in fact, it’s sitting on the ocean bottom some 12,500 feet below the waves. That’s only 14.2 lengths of the Titanic deep. Because of the Titanic’s titanic size, it didn’t really fall that far relative to its length. The equivalent depth for a human six feet tall would be 85 feet deep. Deep, but not crazy go to heck and back deep.

When I first saw this depicted graphically, I was immediately struck by the image of a person’s life stretched back across time; the water isn’t really as deep as it seems. Lincoln pronounced the words “four score and seven years” in Gettysburg only 1.93 seventy-year lifetimes ago. And four score and seven years before that, the Revolutionary War, is only 3.17 seventy-year spans underwater. Deep, but not crazy go to heck and back deep.

This is strangely comforting to me. I can picture the sloping deck of the Titanic, not in a storybook dimension beyond imagination, but gently resting on a solid muddy landscape. And I can picture my great great grandfather Jay Whittington Lewis marching along muddy North Carolina roads to join the Confederate army. He’s still there, just as my parents are still kissing each other with wedding cake in hand. The past is more present than it seems. And that’s pure gold.

The persistence of the past figures into this week’s contribution: we are fortunate to be joined once again by St. Frank (see his wild tale of debauchery under the Christmas tree in the Naked Felix, in case you missed it the first time around). This time he takes us to a small room far far away (unless, of course, you’re reading this in Germany).

Continue reading “Die Zimmer”

Super-size it

by Wendy Gulley

The line at the concession stand for the local cinema megaplex was moving excruciatingly slowly. I was vainly hoping to buy some goodies before the previews started in my tiny booth they call a theater. As I inched closer, I discerned why it was taking my fellow moviegoers so long to make their purchases. The helpful young man behind the counter was wearing a button that says “Ask me about the SUPER COMBO.” But there was no need to ask, because he greeted each new customer with “Welcome to Loew’s. Would you like a Super Combo tonight?” Some customers didn’t miss a beat, but most customers were caught off guard for a few seconds before they decided to go ahead with their original order.

No one in line that night actually ordered the Super Combo (which consists of a very large bag of popcorn and a very large drink), despite his dogged persistence. But the helpful young man didn’t stop with just that question. When a customer went on to order a small or medium-sized drink or bag of popcorn, he immediately asked if s/he wanted the next largest size for only x cents more. I must have looked especially thirsty to him, because he asked me TWICE if I wanted to upgrade my drink to medium-size. “Look, I know it’s a bargain,” I said to him impatiently. “But the medium drink is too big for me to put my hand around!” He then gave me my small drink without further cajoling, and it fit in my hand just right as I raced back to the already darkened theater.

Fitting in my hand was one of the reasons I didn’t want a medium drink that night at the movies, despite its “better value”. The other reason is that I simply didn’t want to drink that much liquid! But recently I’m beginning to think that I am the only American that thinks smaller can sometimes be better.

The super combo costs $5.75, while a medium drink and medium popcorn total $6.24.

Size Matters

Perhaps it all started, innocently enough, with the “Big Gulp” 15 years ago. In addition to the ordinary small, medium, and large paper cups for fountain drinks, 7 Eleven Stores began offering gigantic cups that could hold 40 ounces of your favorite soda. For only pennies more, you could get twice as much Coke as a large cup would hold! Big Gulps were quite successful and remain so today, but does anyone actually ever finish all 40 ounces? Is it a bargain if you only drink 20 ounces before the ice melts and it’s too watery and warm to finish?

In the years since then, more and more everyday products are being packaged in bigger and bigger sizes. Ironically, this trend has happened at the same time that the size of the average American household is declining dramatically. Does a household of 2, 3, or 4 people really need to shop at BiggieMart to get giant boxes of cereal that could feed an army? But to get big sizes, you need not go to these special, buy-in-bulk stores that have sprung up like giant weeds in the past 10 years. At any ordinary supermarket, supersizes abound for any type of product. You can now buy a 64 oz. bottle of ketchup instead of the standard 20 oz. size, or a 24 oz. bottle of salad dressing instead of the standard 12 oz. size. Or buy a 45 oz. jar of Ragu sauce, instead of the usual 26 oz. For your cleaning needs, Dawn dishwashing liquid now comes in a 64 oz. bottle that is too big and heavy to conveniently squirt on your dishes. And Tide detergent now comes in a 200 oz. container (12.5 pounds!) that will give you a hernia to tip into your washing machine. But what a bargain. As you pant and heave with the Tide container for the next two years, try to focus on how you saved $2 with your smart shopping.

The trend towards abandoning standard sizes is a puzzling one. In the past few months I have unwittingly purchased: 1) a toothbrush that’s too fat for the built-in toothbrush holder in my bathroom; 2) paper towels that are too wide for the paper towel holder in my kitchen; and 3) soap that doesn’t fit my travel container. My contact lens solution, always a heavy bottle to take on trips, is now only available in a size that is yet a third heavier than before. Take a stroll down the toilet paper aisle in your local chain grocery store and you’ll see that 4 roll packages, the standard size for generations, are now in the minority. Bulky packages of 8, 9, and 12 rolls line the shelves. Perhaps you have been wondering why the sales of large vehicles (SUVs, minivans and pickups) now equal the sales of “standard” cars in the U.S.? Sure, family size is going down and studies show that SUVs put us at greater risk on the road. But we need supersize cars to hold our supersize groceries, not to mention our supersize butts (more on that later). That must be the reason for a couple I know from Indianapolis who has one child and TWO minivans.

Better Value, but at What Cost?

Back to food items, and fast food in particular. McDonalds and Burger King now offer “value meals”, which make it cheaper to get medium or large fries and a medium drink with your sandwich than to get small fries and a small drink. Or if this isn’t enough to fill your belly, just say “supersize it” and you’ll get supersize fries and a large drink for only 39¢ more.

Let’s look at some sample meals. If you want to eat a modest McDonald’s meal, you might order a basic cheeseburger, large fries, and a medium drink. There is no value meal in this case; you must purchase the items at their individual prices, which total $3.47. If however, you decide to splurge and get the “two cheeseburger value meal”, you’ll pay only $2.99 for TWO cheeseburgers, large fries, and a medium drink. That’s right, pay 48¢ less and you’ll get an extra cheeseburger. Or “supersize it” (two cheeseburgers, supersize fries, and a large drink) and pay $3.38, still 9 cents ahead of the one cheeseburger/large fries/medium drink meal.

Meanwhile, at Burger King, a similar meal of a cheeseburger, medium fries, and a medium drink will run you $3.97. But for the same price ($3.99) you can get a double whopper value meal, consisting of a double whopper, medium fries and a medium drink. Why eat that small cheeseburger, with only 380 calories and 19 grams of fat, when you can, for the same price, clog your arteries with the new supersized whopper, which has 870 calories and 56 grams of fat? If you add in the fries (21 grams of fat), you’ll have more than enough fat for your entire day, all accomplished in one meal for less than four dollars!

Of course, breakfast at these fine dining establishments offers bargains as well. At Burger King you can buy a biscuit sandwich and coffee for $2.38, or add hashbrowns to the meal and pay 20% less ($1.99). Why, you’d be a fool not to eat a heavy breakfast at these prices.

Given the Star Chamber’s highbrow readership, I’m sure many of you are smiling at this point, thinking to yourself: “I never eat at these burger places, so I won’t be enticed into eating bigger meals.” But a recent study comparing a typical (better than McDonald’s) restaurant on Long Island to a typical restaurant in London shows that portion sizes weigh about a pound on Long Island and half a pound or less on the other side of the Atlantic. And in addition to the huge portions, Long Island diners also get items such as a bread basket and complimentary appetizers.

Bigger Is Not Always Better

Next time you’re in a busy public place — at the mall, at the BiggieMart, at the Lard-Hut — try collecting some interesting data: what percentage of people you see around you are seriously overweight? I’ll save you the trouble: a lot.

Americans are the fattest people on earth, and they’re rapidly getting fatter. According to the Seattle Times (May 29, 1998) 54% of Americans are fatter than is healthy, and this percentage has grown by about a third in the past 20 years. 1 in 3 adults in this country is obese, as are a fifth of children; these rates have also risen dramatically in the past 10 to 20 years.

Medical researchers view Americans’ increasing obesity as nothing short of a big, fat epidemic. As well they should, since obese people face a 60% greater risk of death, especially from diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The number of Americans who die annually of obesity-related diseases is 300,000. (For tobacco-related diseases the figure is 400,000.) $100 billion is the estimated annual cost of lost workdays and medical care for obesity-related illness in this country.

And what are we doing to fight this epidemic? Eating supersized portions of food, encouraged by restaurants and food manufacturers. The Big Mac and the Whopper are no longer the big kids on the fast food block. Now we have the Big King, the Double Whopper, the Bacon Double Cheeseburger, the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and the soon-to-be-released-and-overhyped MBX (McDonald’s Big Extra). All at cheap prices.

Some Americans are undoubtedly eating healthier these days. Or trying to. But beware, healthy eaters, of two other food trends: bagels and lowfat foods. Many of today’s fresh-baked bagels pack 500 calories or more. And studies are now showing that people who eat lowfat foods often suffer from the “I deserve to indulge later” syndrome, consuming more calories in the end.

Americans could certainly improve their health by eating more fruits and vegetables, the natural nonfat foods. But only 22% of us eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If farmers could only grow those peas and carrots in supersizes, maybe people would eat them.

Keep your eyes out for more examples of supersized objects, bombarding us in every direction. The new Godzilla, the FleetCenter (47% of its seats would fall outside the physical confines of the old Boston Garden it replaces), the effects of Viagra (albeit short-lived), and finally– THIS ARTICLE.

The Naked Felix

or Things That Go Bump and Grind in the Night

by St. Frank

Author’s note: I have travelled across vast oceans and journeyed through distant continents; I have witnessed great savagery, seen exquisite beauty and have thrown up in over twenty different urinals… there is little of these adventures that I remember, for I am an old man and my memory is not what it once was. But there are some things one can never forget, no matter how hard one tries.

Part I. The Beginning

It was the best of weather, it was the worst of food. It was Isla Vista. Here is where the Legend begins; a small band of rogue intellectuals, known as Physics Grad Students, roamed the land espousing their own twisted ‘Weltanschauung’ on the unsuspecting Undergraduate populace.

Among this group of brigands was Alan ‘the Gash’ Lash, a Teutonic brute who stood well over Six Feet, four, whose gigantic wit was excelled only by his obscenely large liver. He was impervious to extreme cold, toxic levels of whiskey and Mark Sperling. Alan was an ‘odds’ man; his specialty: Fillies.

Another well-known n’er-do-well about campus was Jean ‘SCUM!’ DuBoscq, a shadowy figure from high in the Basque Pyrenees. It was rumored that he could eviscerate forty sheep while dancing a Can-Can… and still keep his beret on. It was also a well known fact that his body odor could make a Frenchman faint. Jean was a practical type; his specialty: Smoke and ‘mirrors’.

Then, of course, there was Chris ‘I love it when you call me Big Papa’ Felix. He was a mountain of a man; He once laid waste to a cafeteria, leaving only a bowl of Velveeta and a stunned food server behind. He could fart the national anthems of fourteen different countries and burp those of another twelve. Chris was omniscient; he knew everything and would tell you, too… those who were lucky escaped before anything by Douglas Adams could be discussed. His specialty: Lasers and ‘the Dance!’

These three Physicists formed a mighty Troika, a legendary threesome whose presence on campus sent ripples through the student body. (Their combined weight was well over 600 lbs.) They were a culture in and of themselves; they associated with like-minded individuals, they shunned style and good taste, but despite all this, they welcomed into their fold a certain undergraduate. This was not just ANY undergrad… he was a Poli-Sci major! That undergrad was me.

I was allowed into their world; and what a strange, bizarre world it was. I saw pocket protectors, I ate nachos until I felt like I would die; I drank vodka, cheap vodka, late into the night, playing insipidly clever word games. I listened to MATH JOKES! Occasionally, in an cathartic burst of energy, we would hurl obscenities at well-dressed Undergrads. All this time I had to feign interest. I had also to feign intelligence, for I had no idea what was being discussed when the conversation turned to Physics, which it invariably would as the hours wore on. The one thing this twisted gang of three did that even remotely interested me (besides the booze that is) was gambling. Oh, how they loved to gamble; the “probabilities”, the “odds” the statistical-freakin’-anomalies! I didn’t care, I was there to learn and to win… I wanted their money, but alas, rarely did I prevail… I had no head for probability.

It was through countless nights of drinking, gambling and inane Physics stories that I eventually gained their trust. It was this trust that led Alan, Physi-Goth, to confide in me a story; a story whose basic facts would send me reeling, searching for something, anything, which I could grab onto and anchor myself in reality. I listened as he explained a night not unlike many others we had spent together. On this particular night, the carousing and gambling took a perverse turn: There was dancing, naked flesh and grinding bodies. I listened to him, but I could not believe it; I thought it was perhaps a test of my loyalty. After all was said and done, I soon put the whole sordid tale out of my mind… I was after all by then working in a coffee shop and this took nearly all the concentration I could muster in my waking hours. I was to spend several years in the pursuit of the perfect double espresso and my connection with the Physics Gang all but disappeared.

Part II. The Part II Part

As I said, I had all but fallen out of touch with the core group of Physics gangsters… we had scattered to the three corners of the earth (The Fourth corner would have nothing to do with any of us). I did stay connected with the Teutonic Knight of the Newton order, who had, in the meantime, broken ranks and joined another sect: Mathematix. It was the Teuton, Al, who was the most preoccupied with ‘probability’ and also the one who had told the strange gambling story.

As a Mathematiker, as they were known, he became more and more obsessed with numbers. This was demonstrated on a visit he made one holiday weekend. He arrived with his girlfriend, Lonnie, at our house in Richmond, California. It was raining pretty hard that weekend, so we resigned ourselves to just remaining indoors. After about two minutes, Al got bored.

“We need to gamble to take our minds off this boredom!” he said None of us were up for a poker game, so Al suggested craps.

“How are we going to play craps without a table?’ I protested. Al got an insane gleam in his eye; he ran over to the coffee table, shoved all the magazines off the top and flipped it over.

“Here, we’ll make a craps table out of this!” he bellowed. What could we do? We were stuck in a house with a madman… we went along with him. Within a few hours we had a craps table that vaguely resembled a real one. We spent the rest of the weekend throwing dice and loose change at each other. We had even gone so far as to include the ‘Don’t Pass’ and ‘Don’t Come’ bars on the table. In addition to that, ‘The Field’ was a panopoly of colored numbers…12 pays Triple! When Lonnie and Alan left at the end of the weekend, we turned the table back over and thought no more of it.

The months went by, and we got news that some of the original Physics Gang was coming out to the West coast for the Christmas Holiday. We arranged to have everyone over for New Year’s Eve, mainly because they were no longer showing the Village People on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.

Finally, the big day arrived. My wife, Deirdre, and I spent the whole day preparing a meal and a reception befitting such an august group. The Christmas tree was a shimmering gem that was slightly too large for the room it was in, but it’s beauty made up for any inconvenience it may have caused. There was a roast in the oven, whose heavenly fragrance filled every room in the house. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks were at the ready.

Alan and Lonnie were the first to arrive, and Alan wasted no time before sprinkling the room liberally with Wild Turkey 101. It was as if he was blessing our living room, except some of THIS ‘holy water’ wound up in our mouths. Lonnie immediately headed for the safety of the kitchen, where if the Teuton should enter, she could fend him off with beer.

Al cornered me in the living room and asked me if the coffee table still held its alter ego to its underside. I replied that it did, and offhandedly suggested we might throw some dice after the meal. The telltale gleam returned to his eye, but before he could utter another word, The Basque and Mr. Felix himself arrived.

The Basque went to the kitchen to survey the goings-on… he had an incredible talent for cooking, but had let it remain unnoticed for fear that if his roommates ever discovered it, they would chain him, naked, to the stove and force him to commit depraved culinary acts. The meal seemed to meet his approval and with that we all sat down and began fighting for food. Despite the wrangling and jockeying for bits of food, we all enjoyed the meal. The banter flowed as freely as the wine and soon we found ourselves talking about the old times; reliving the Glory Days as it were.

“Remember that time we almost left ‘Carny’ Dave on the beach, drunk and vomiting and sure to drown in the first wave that reached him?”, The Basque reminisced.

“Yeah, I remember that… No one wanted to put down their drinks so they could carry him”, Alan said. “It’s a good thing we put together that impromptu Rochambeau.”

“I always wondered what you guys would’ve done had I been the slob passed out on the beach,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Well… uh,” The Basque muttered.

“We would’ve, uh, you know…” sputtered Al.

“Hey, does anyone want that last potato?” Felix interjected, effectively changing the subject.

I couldn’t help but notice a collective sense of relief in all of their eyes.

We made it through the meal without any more awkward situations or injuries and decided to retire to the living room for some coffee. Al suggested we flip the coffee table over while we waited, so we did. Almost immediately, Deirdre and Lonnie moved to the other side of the room, with a look of foreboding clouding their faces. I, of course, thought it was their usual reaction to a bunch of guys getting ready to drink (not coffee either) and gamble. I suspect they had some intuition that something bad was going to happen; something so horrible, that their survival instincts took over and tried to move them as far away from that table as possible.

PART III. The Game

So, the women had moved to the other side of the living room, as the Physix geeks and I prepared to roll the mighty dice. Preparations included pouring large, stiff drinks and searching every inch of the house for small change, as none of us, with the possible exception of Teuton Al, were gregarious enough to wager more than 50 cents on any given bet. I would like to interject for a moment to point out another coincidence or bit of synchronicity: Small change is not just something we were throwing around that night; ‘small change’ would later play a major role in the events that would later unfold. (Check your old albums).

In any event, we gathered around the makeshift altar, er, craps table and proceeded to play. We had to wedge ourselves between the fireplace, the couch and the Christmas tree. Chris, being the largest of the group, got the space next to the tree. The flickering candles and Christmas lights added that glitzy Vegas feel. The regular rules of craps applied, of course, with the small exception here that the ‘House’ rotated. That meant, that I started out playing the ‘House’ while the other three placed bets. When it came time to pay out the winner, I had to do it. This went on until the shooter crapped out, and in this case the responsibility of house would pass in a clockwise fashion. The house always retained the option to allow larger bets, double odds (or even triple odds), and side bets.

As I said, I started as house and play began. Jean the Basque was the first shooter and my primary goal was to get him and the other players to throw as much money as they could on the lamest bets.

“Come on now guy, how ’bout a Yo bet, bet that eleven, we gotta new shooter comin’ out!” I wailed in my best croupier’s voice. “Let’s go, let’s go, whatta ’bout those hard ways?!”

“Shut up idiot. Throw ’em Jean!!” was Felix’s response to my attempt at easy money.

I had forgotten already that I was in the company probability freaks, and it hit me like a sucker punch that in all PROBABILITY I was going to lose my shirt… or at the very least my socks. Little did I know how close I was: Clothes would be lost that night.

The Basque’s roll lasted through a few numbers. He made little because his bets were relatively conservative. Al, on the other hand, despite being obsessed with odds, could not help throwing money at the YO, all the hard ways and occasionally into The Field. Felix was reluctantly being drawn into Al’s slowly emerging insanity. Finally, inevitably, the Basque’s roll ended and the dice moved to Al.

He came out with bets on the Seven and Eleven, promptly lost those and, undeterred, kept placing Come bets to amass more numbers. We made sure to keep our glasses at a healthy level, and soon the level of play and that of our VOICES were on the rise. It began to get difficult to follow the action. The dice were passing hands quite frequently now, and there was a definite increase in absurdity: Amid the cacophony of voices and music, someone asked, screaming, why the hell there was no space for Avogadro’s Number on the board. Then someone else, Felix I think, piped in on the side of Pi… “What about Pi??” The next thing I know, a punch was thrown and the lights went out.

I opened my eyes and had the feeling that I had been away for a while, but with no recollection for how long. When I regained what little composure I had, I went back to the table to find that my stack of change was considerably smaller than I remembered… apparently I had made some unwise bets while I was out.

I resumed playing (and losing) and realized that the K.O. was not an isolated incident, but a turning point in the game. There was no rhyme or reason to any of the bets, except perhaps that they were all uniformly bad, and then Al jumped in to stop everything. Felix at this point was the House, and Al asked for permission to make an unusual bet.

“Chris, I want to bet The Naked Felix. Will you cover it?” Al asked.

The Basque and I flashed a look at each other that said, “Wha’?”

“The Naked Felix?” Chris said. “Yeah, I’ll throw a buck on Midnight (the Twelve) and if it comes up, you have to do a Striptease like that time in Santa Barbara. If it doesn’t, you get the buck.”

It might have taken Chris 10 seconds to respond, but in that room, everything stopped; our wives looked over at Chris, not sure if they heard correctly, but damn sure they WANTED to know. I swear to Christ I even held my breath. The Basque, on the other hand, slowly and measuredly began to hyperventilate. A year passed, then he answered.


Look up the word ‘Pandemonium’ in your dictionary… then throw it away!

I began screaming that I wanted to match the bet, Al was laughing hysterically, the Basque was beginning to sweat profusely and our wives started to get up from their chairs.

“Holy shit, I can’t believe it!” I cried, “Throw the dice! Throw the damned dice!”

“Okay, Okay,” Al said. “So you’re all right with this Chris? I mean…” He didn’t finish.

“Hurry up before I change my mind,” Felix said, as a grin that can only be described as ‘Shit Eating’ crawled across his face.

Of course, it wouldn’t happen. It COULDN’T happen; the odds of a Twelve coming up on a roll are 36 to 1… Only idiot’s and drunks bet on ‘Boxcars’. Of course, we satisfied both conditions with ease.


Go get the dictionary out of the trash and try to find ‘Apeshit’.

The wives were up now, saying in unison, “Oh no! Oh, no!” They knew something bad was about to happen and were making their way to the door leading to the bedroom.

Al was up, “Yes!!! The twelve! Look at it! Look at it! Igotit Igotit! I can’t believe it!”

I was intoning my new mantra: “Oh shit, now what? Oh shit, now what?”

And Chris Felix simply smiled and began getting up from his place at the table. He was chuckling as he stood up and asked, “Well, where am I supposed to do this?”

Al and I sprang into action; he moved the craps table and couch almost simultaneously and, it being my house, I went to the stereo. We would need music for this. What to play, what to play? Ah… What else? My eyes landed on Tom Wait’s CD “Small Change,” which happens to have a picture of a stripper on the front. Hmmm… Here we go, track number 7, “Pasties and a G-String.”

Trying to keep the women in the room to view the spectacle proved impossible. Then we noticed The Basque trying to sneak out with them; He was trying TO BLEND IN with a crowd of two! We grabbed him and placed him between us, unfortunately we were out of toothpicks, so any “Clockwork Orange” analogies would be lost.

This thing had taken on a life of its own; Chris was positioning himself in front of the Christmas tree, our wives were cowering safely in the bedroom and the three of us were standing there waiting… we had created this situation but were suddenly unsure if we wanted to see it through. The only reason I can give as to why we did watch, is to say that it was like slowing down to see a car wreck: You don’t want to look, but you CAN’T not look!

The music started and so did Chris. I had picked the perfect soundtrack; bass drum and hi-hat cymbal… what else did we (HE) need? Felix began to slowly gyrate, seeming a little nervous. After about thirty seconds, his anxiety disappeared, along with his shirt! We laughed uncomfortably as he flung off his shoes and began working on his socks. He was now shaking and grinding and bumping like a pro!

“My GOD! He looks like a human Lava Lamp!” the Basque shrieked.

Felix’s pants came flying through the air. Al caught them and started a victory dance of his own until he realized WHOSE pants they were; he threw them in the kitchen.

Felix was now as close to Totally Nude as you can get. I was experiencing the most bizarre sensation as his body writhed and rolled in front of one of Christendom’s holiest symbols: The Christmas Tree. Good Lord, I thought, this is sacrilege! It’s obscene! Why, we are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus, and Chris is slapping his cheeks in time to the music!! OH, THE HUMANITY!!

Each time he spun around in this salacious scene, we’d catch sight of his brief’s waistband.

“Jesus! He’s wearing BVDs… Beelzebub’s Vile Drawers!” Al could be heard yelling above the music.

“No,” I replied, “I think it’s HANES: His Ass Nearing Exhibition Stage!”

“You’re both wrong.”, interjected The Basque, “It’s Fruit of the Loom… THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT OF SATAN’S LOOM!!”

It didn’t matter; the skivvies in question were now hurtling toward us and it was all we could do to avoid their violent arc. Chris was now completely naked, after giving his ass a rub-down with the same tighty-whities that almost caused the three of to kill each other in our scramble to take cover.

What do you do when there is a giant, naked man dancing in your living room? Nothing I had learned in four years of college, nothing I had seen in Amsterdam could prepare me for THIS! I could only watch and hope beyond hope that I could someday forget this whole thing ever happened. Obviously, I haven’t…

It ended almost as quickly as it began. The three of us were still frozen in place, like three big, drunken deer caught in a giant, naked headlight. We didn’t know what to do; in a normal strip club, the “Act” returns to the dressing room, maintaining a little decency by being allowed to dress again in private. In this case, we sort of had to help Chris retrieve his garments, then we politely turned away. The only thing to do after something like that was to have a drink and relive what we had experienced, not unlike UFO abductees after a tough night of getting probed. And like so many abductees, when our wives returned to the living room, they didn’t really believe what we told them. Sure, they smiled and laughed along with us, but we knew they didn’t believe… WE KNEW!

In the end, it didn’t matter who believed us. We’d been to hell and back, and the bonds created by such an ordeal will last a lifetime. I’m still in contact with my Naked Felix buddies, sometimes we get together just to reminisce… sometimes, we try to tell others of that fateful night, only to be disbelieved or worse, scorned and ridiculed! I know what I saw… I BELIEVE. I will always believe in the legend.

Losing Over Marbles

by Bill York

May 3rd: This morning I was a bit overwhelmed by the sounds from the bird nest outside my window. I bought a bag of marbles and a slingshot. It seems that I’m not meant to be a sharp shooter as I did not hit a single bird with the marbles. I gave up trying to scare them off and collected the marbles in a glass jar which now sits outside my window. The evening sun which shines through the jar is quite nice.

May 9th: After a few days with little to no birds around, they are back in force and have taken a liking to the marbles. The sparkling marbles have the strongest effect. There were so many birds around the marbles jar this afternoon, I couldn’t get close enough to it to get rid of them. No problem. The squirrels are now intimidated by the birds and stay a safe distance away.

May 21st: More birds than ever now; the neighbors are starting to talk. This afternoon I put the marbles jar in the back seat and drove across town. The birds followed. They seemed to call other birds to join. By the time I reached my destination, the sky was black around my car. I’m not sure whether to be happy or sad. There was no problem with traffic, it seems that drivers around here don’t want to rush into a flock of birds.

June 7th: I bought another jar and some more marbles, that makes 5 jars. There’s one on each corner of the lot and one by the front door. I hardly ever see the sun.

June 21st: The neighbors are complaining about the quantity of bird do on their houses and have called in help from the local animal shelter. The birds don’t respond well to the attempts to make them leave and seem a bit agitated. One person from the shelter was scared off by the birds today. He had never seen so many wild birds in one place. It’s good that nobody got hurt, as the birds can be quite temperamental when disturbed.

July 4th: As I was watching the fireworks tonight I started chewing some gum on the back porch. First one bird flew up to me and landed on my shoulder, then another, then another. Within twenty minutes, I was surrounded by these birds. I’m not sure if they were attracted to the smell of the gum or the chewing sounds. But they sure liked it.

July 17th: A news reporter stopped by to get an exclusive interview about the bird activity near our house. She was very attractive and must have been in her late twenties. Too bad she did not like the birds. We could use some help at feeding time. Rosie (one of the blue jays) and Paul (a black crow) took quite a shine to the her and followed her home. Perhaps I should see if she will join us for dinner some time.

July 18th: The reporter’s story from yesterday appeared in this morning’s paper. She called me the Pied Piper of birds. The phone has been ringing off the hook. I let the machine pick it up and scanned the messages throughout the day. Most of the calls were from neighbors and old friends who wanted to hear inside story. A few calls came from local newspapers too. I even got a call from the Enquirer.

July 19th: Not as many calls today but the messages were more interesting. The police called and asked if I could help train their homing pigeons – the pay sounded good but I wasn’t sure. I also got a call from CBS but I didn’t want to do any more stories.

July 23rd: Steve Davis from the FBI called today, they need 2,000 wild birds for a top secret project. So I’ll talk to Rosie and Paul to see if the birds are interested in travel. I’ve gotten very good at juggling the marbles so the birds will now follow me most anywhere. Chewing gum, walking, and juggling is a bit of a chore but in the park, we’re a big hit.

July 31st: I’m now under oath not to discuss what we are doing with the birds, but I can say this, I’m glad they are on our side!

August 23rd: After weeks of working with the birds, the project is complete. In a few days the new system will be tested. We saw Ginny, the newspaper reporter, walking in the park. Rosie and Paul still like her; they perched on her shoulders.

September 12th: The Iraqi news reported power outages throughout the capital, some problem with birds gathering around the transformers and causing them to overheat. Another article mentioned that the Iraqi air force is no longer able to keep planes out of the restricted zones, birds swarming around the radar antennas make it impossible to observe incoming aircraft.

September 19th: The front page of the Pravda reported blackout conditions of undetermined origin and that many important documents were missing from government offices.

November 2nd: Throughout the world, governments are throwing their hands up in distress. The population of birds in all the major government centers has increased to the point of suffocation. Only Washington DC has been spared the agony of infestation. Major streets have been closed, highways are nearly impassable and air traffic controllers are stuck as a result of the radar interference. International commerce has come to a halt. Doomsday preachers appear by the thousands. Animal rights activists protest the use of force to remove the birds. Social structures are crumbling under the pressures from differing factions.

November 22nd: Four men in black tuxedos arrived today to take me to dinner with the president. Over dinner we talked about the bird problems throughout the world and how he wants to recruit my help. He also talked of how some of his critics want to remove him from office and take over the world by force. The CIA has a theory that there is some militia group in charge of the whole bird invasion and would like to try a counter attack so the US can regain control and come out looking like heroes. Steve gave me a subtle nod as if to say “play along” – so I did.

December 24th: Rosie, Paul, Ginny and I are all quite happy in our new home. The Blue Hill mountains are quite beautiful in winter. I seem to have lost my marbles in the move, but the birds followed us anyway.

The Mapmaker’s Art

by Ortelius
There were no clouds in the night sky, but no stars either. Arthur stood on the penthouse balcony, his thoughts slow but vast. Below him, cars crawled in intricate traceries, and buildings glittered, bright and hard. He wondered if the stars, like gods whose worshippers had turned toward brighter idols, would one day simply vanish into myth.

In the apartment behind him, Janet slept. He closed his eyes and saw her, bronze skin warm against the black silk sheets, breathing slowly. He remembered the faint apricot smell of her breath. He looked up again; he missed the stars. Then, chilled by the autumn wind, he stepped back inside, back into the mapmaker’s cathedral. A few steps down the hallway, past the bedroom and he emerged into the great rotunda. Here the walls leapt up, smooth and white, cut at regular intervals by arched windows twice his height. The dome above was pierced by an intricate stained glass band of Arabic design. Mounted on the walls in ornate frames were Janet’s unsold works.

Janet made maps. Maps that fused the fanciful sea serpents and dragons of medieval cartography with the accuracy of the Swiss Landeskarte. Maps that were as much art as science, and maps that were, it seemed, very much in demand. She was a master of color and line, her creations transcending the earthly materials that made them; like a sudden vivid memory, they commanded attention.

Six maps shone from the walls, lit by museum quality spotlights dimmed for the evening, but never extinguished. The west African town of Ife, at the height of its pre-European glory, the northwest quadrant of modern day Samarkand, the high white peaks of the Tien Shan, eastern slopes pinked with dawn, the ancient Near and Middle east, covered by Alexander’s sprawling empire, a detailed topography of Mt. Katadhin and an unnamed group of islands in a wide dark sea. Sketches for her latest work, the northeast coast of Sumatra and the Malacca Strait, covered the drafting table set up near one of the windows.

The package lay open on the marble-topped island in the kitchen. As Arthur brushed by it in the dark, its dry smell stopped him. He looked down at it. Indistinct in the half darkness, the scroll was an enigma. It had arrived Friday afternoon, accompanied by a note that Janet said was from her uncle, but that she wouldn’t let him read. They’d unrolled the scroll partway. Arthur recognized the script as ancient Greek, but couldn’t read it. He’d grown tremendously excited, and had as much as begged Janet to let him bring the scroll in to work on Monday. Somewhat to his surprise, she’d refused, saying only that her uncle had given her the scroll for safekeeping, and that she didn’t want it leaving the apartment.

As he picked up the scroll to examine it again, he noticed one of the handles was loose. He flicked on the light over the island, and looked more closely. He twisted the handle to tighten it back up again and heard the faint rustle of paper. Curious, he twisted the handle the other way. A few turns and it was free of the wooden spindle. Stuck on the end of the spindle with a bit of red wax was a folded piece of paper, or as Arthur realized when he plucked it free, more accurately, papyrus.

Unfolded, it looked for all the world like a business card. About the size of his palm, it had a black border, and several lines of text of various sizes. The script was the same as that on the scroll.

Arthur looked at the clock over the stove. 2:54am. Too late to wake her, he thought. He tucked the odd little card into the pocket of his robe, making a mental note to show it to Janet in the morning. Suddenly tired, his drink of water forgotten, he headed back to the bedroom.

When Arthur awoke, he was alone in the bed. A note on the refrigerator told him Janet had “Gone out for supplies. Back by three. Love you.” He never could understand why she didn’t just have the pigments and papers delivered; she certainly could afford to tip the delivery boy. He’d asked her once, but hadn’t really gotten a straight answer. She’d tossed him some glib remark along the lines of “the only way to make sure a thing is done right is to do it yourself,” but that didn’t really sound like her.

With the prospect of a Sunday mostly to himself, Arthur wandered towards a window thinking how to spend the day. He thrust his hands into his robe, and discovered the bit of papyrus again. Drawing it into the light, a thought struck him, and he rushed to dress.

* * *

Arthur burst into the rotunda. Janet was bent over her worktable, the scroll unrolled on the floor beside her.

“Did you see this, Janet?”, Arthur laughed, shaking the small slip of papyrus at her. “Your uncle apparently had an account at the Library of Alexandria.” Janet’s eye’s widened, but she made no reply. “I had a couple of friends of mine in the Archaeology dept. look at it -”

“I wish you’d told me you’d found that.” Janet’s voice was hard, and very quiet.

Arthur stopped. “Hey, I thought you’d be pleased. Another piece of the puzzle. I even -”

“My uncle’s message was meant for me, Arthur. Not you, or your curious friends.”

“I am sorry. I didn’t think you’d be upset.” He shrugged. “I wasn’t hiding this silly thing from you if that’s what you think. You were asleep when I found it, and gone by the time I woke up this morning. And look, here it is, unharmed by its trip through the city.” He held the card out to her, and after a moment, her eyes softened, and she took it.

“I’m not really mad.” she said. “I knew something was missing from the package, and now I know what it was.” She held her arms open. “Apology accepted.”

Monday dawned grey and cold, the smell of coming winter in the air. After a quiet breakfast, during which the two of them exchaged perhaps two sentences, Arthur left for work. As the elevator doors closed, he caught a last glimpse of Janet mixing paints in front of a window, surest of getting the color she wanted in the natural light.

The morning went by quickly, a flash of lecture and meetings. When he stepped back into the office after lunch, the red light on his phone was lit. The second message was from Janet.

“Arthur,” her voice was slow and soft, “Arthur, I have to go. I don’t know when I’ll be back, or even if I’ll ever see you again. You can’t ask me why, and I can’t tell you.” She paused, and Arthur heard only the background hiss of electronics. “Stay in the apartment if you wish; it’s yours now. I wish I could give you more than that…I loved you, Arthur. Goodbye.”

Arthur surprised several colleagues as he bolted out of his office, down the hall and across campus.

The elevator doors opened into soft light and silence. The rotunda was empty, and the scroll was gone. One of the great windows was half open; the air was cold. “Janet?” Arthur called. “Janet, where are you?” Looking around, he noticed that the map of Sumatra no longer lay on Janet’s work table. He ran to see what was there in its place.

There was sand on the drafting table, a fine coat rippled like a sea of marching dunes. And in the center of this sea, another map, its edges blurred. He looked at the map; it gleamed like a clockwork jewel. Precise lines of ink built minature cities, and delicate shades of rose and tan explained the desert’s rise and fall. The Nile shone silver bright. Evening light touched the tops of the dunes and filled the tiny city streets with gold. He bent closer, and dizzingly, the desert rushed up to meet him.

For an instant he was suspended over an oasis; he smelled the dry desert wind, the smoke of cooking fires and heard the cries and bells of camels tethered to the palms. To the north, the whitewashed mud and brick of a city blossomed brilliantly beneath the violet sky. He drew a breath and the spell broke. A gust of wind blew the sand from the table and spilled it, a dry freshet, into copper whorls on the black stone floor.