Like any true philosopher, Mr. Carton found there was no aspect of creation that was void of meaning, unworthy of scrutiny. Infinity was in every grain of sand. Which grain of sand got the attention was arbitrary, and any conclusions reached were inevitably disputable, but we can only do what we can do, Mr. Carton believed.

Mr. Carton’s philosophical sweet spot was the human body. As a young man he looked at the human body in order to discern the workings of a soul, querying the divine spark. The inquiry proved too vast, too streaked with voodoo mysticism, and hackneyed to boot, even though it was a well-paved route to publication and Mr. Carton was desperate to publish.

Willy-nilly as he matured Mr. Carton got more specific, until in his prime, his powers at their peak, he zeroed in on the pelvic area, the Solar Plexus. He gave up the riddle of the soul, and with it the question of What is Consciousness. He was prospecting for something post-modern. Post-modern was a less frequently traveled route to publication but it was a route.

After months of concentration, Mr. Carton’s philosophical inquiry devolved into this: at what precise moment does a lap come into being? Is it a question of pure mathematics, the angle of the thigh, the declension of the butt? Or is volume more salient? Must a threshold be reached? The bellies of some of his colleagues were so pre-eminent that it was doubtful they could cross any such threshold. Sometimes getting through doors was success enough.

Here Mr. Carton had his long anticipated eureka moment. Lapless Males was a field wide open. Mr. Carton foresaw his byline in Psychology Today. He foresaw a series of articles.



How long does it take to get this? Linda asks. She has made progress the first three classes in ways that have seemed remarkable to her but the last class all her doubt came back. It was immensely deflating. She couldn’t get the backfloat. She kept getting water in her nose. Despite my suggesting otherwise, she wanted it to do it without a nose clip. To prove something, I guess.

I respond, it takes as long as it takes. This remark is a clunker, a stinker. I take another tack: I refer to the cultural meme given much currency: it takes 10,000 hours to master something.

Linda’s face falls accordingly.

But what if they’re 10,000 hours of fun?

She hadn’t thought of that.

What is my level of mastery? I don’t swim laps, find them boring and too much work. My mother was right. I am a lazy guy. Put me in the ocean and the butterflies-in-the-stomach would flutter out of their larval drowse.  I don’t’ have enough experience in Big Water yet. But all in all, I’m doing fabulously, considering I still have about 5,000 more hours to go.

I’d say about 4,998 hours of the first 5,000 have been fun.




Victory! Okay, it was only one battle but it was the first he’d won. When the apples got ripe the war would really heat up.

He allowed himself his temporary satisfaction. He spied, watching the squirrel do the math, calculate distance, angle of trajectory, how much weight the twig would sustain, the force of gravity: a multitude of equations from a variety of perches, the banister, the camellia, a twig overhead, and each time the answer was, can’t do it. Can’t get at the bird seed in the bird feeder.

Would his enemy give up? Could it? The squirrel had two settings, High Rev and Halt. There was no setting for Broody Melancholy. Now it was clambering branch to branch, wrapping its furry self around one branch after another, nibbling on something. The bark? That would instigate an immediate resumption of warfare.

How exhausting! Mr. Carton was ready to raise a white flag.

He grabbed his binoculars. The squirrel wasn’t nibbling the bark. With tongue (presumably) at warp-speed it was lapping up the white patches of wooly aphids colonizing the apple tree. One little sugar shack after another disappeared.   The squirrel was doing the tree, and Mr. Carton, a big favor. Mr. Carton had been planning on using a jet of water to eradicate the aphids but there was the drought and the fact of Mr. Carton’s procrastination.

What a lovely resolution to all the bitterness and conflict! Bitterness was not the state of soul in which he intended to live. But he wasn’t kidding himself. When the apples got ripe there would be war.



The announcement of The Director’s retirement occasioned greatly suppressed delight throughout The Institute. It wasn’t that the Fellows disliked The Director. What was not to like? He was an absolute charmer, a cavalier, a marvel of longevity, still able to drive himself to work. But facts must be faced: he was preventing anything from getting done at The Institute. The Institute, contrary to his belief, was not The Director. The Board complained that there were no goals, no plans for the future, that they didn’t know how best to spend their time.

Raise money, The Director said.

How much? the Board asked.

As much as you can.

During the first months of his retirement, The Director hung around The Institute, hoovering plaudits. If not for The Director The Institute would not even exist. He could have been a professional saxophonist. He owned a Renoir and a Dubuffet.   His marriage was exemplary.

The encomiums, from near and far, shared a theme: his longevity. The wonder of it threatened to eclipse his other achievements, but then, he found it wonderful too. It was a sign of his election, never mind to what.

He read in the paper that the (formerly) oldest living person died at the age of 115. He announced to his 97 year-old wife that he would make it that far. It was simply logical. He couldn’t picture himself dying.

At his 103rd birthday The Director announced to a murmur of amused approval that he was “retiring from retirement.” Applause was universal and sincere.



My pal Darren thought he had gypsy blood,  psychic powers that with a little training and effort, he could augment. He claimed that a lot of times he’d be talking to someone and get an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.  It wasn’t that he’d had that conversation before but that he had foreseen it, or rather, fore-heard it. He could turn on a baseball game and know the score. Giants 3, Brewers 1.  He admitted this was all small potatoes. After all, he still hadn’t won the lottery or even figured out a way to keep from getting parking tickets  but he was wise enough to know that money wasn’t the goal of the exercise of his powers.  They could be of use to humanity.

My take, which I censored, was he was as accurate as a fortune cookie.

He began taking dubious classes from venues like the Institute of Parapsychology and the Consortium on Paranormal Exploration.

Why did he need the paranormal?   I would have been happy to have his normal life. His parents owned a large apartment building near the college which he managed in exchange for an apartment; the penthouse no less, with a fantastic view of the bridge and bay.  He was set for life but he complained about how his parents weren’t supportive of his true self. If he was such a good psychic he would know his true self  was an ungrateful jackass.

Spring is party time in our college town. Beer flows from unquenchable wells. I’ve graduated, so I’m past the age of complete depravity.  I use a little discretion about which parties to attend but when Darren told me that two former Sigma Chis were hosting a party in one of the apartments in his building I asked him, more as a joke than anything, if he could get me an invite. The Sigmas were the hottest sorority on campus by a tropical mile. He said he’d work on it.

It wasn’t exactly an invite but as good as one. Days before  the party Darren met Darlene, one of the hosts, and she mentioned that she was expecting a mob, and she didn’t know where she’d put everybody. Darren was permanently crushed out on Darlene.  It happened that a graduate assistant and his wife had just moved out of an apartment across the hall from her apartment, so Darren offered to let Darlene use it for the evening if she and her roommate needed the extra space. He would unlock it the night of the party. She was so effusive in her gratitude that his basic common sense, not to mention his psychic powers, couldn’t see that this was an invitation to disaster. Horny frat boys would descend like rats. I once was one. I tried to warn him. He seemed to think that the two of us could keep things from getting out of hand. Our strategy? We never got around to discussing one.

By midnight the building was rocking on its foundations. Guys were pissing off the balconies. I felt sorry for the other tenants in the building. No, that’s painting it with too fine a brush. I just pissed in the toilet, like a human being. The girls, the ones with any brains, had already left for saner habitats.

Poor Darren. He was scurrying around like an agitated squirrel. Sweating he told me he had a strong premonition, as clear as a vision, of the balcony collapsing, and he kept shooing people back inside. As a final recourse he locked the plate glass doors. That done  he rushed across the hall to the main party and tried to do the same. He was met with hostility, like who’s this shit, the landlord spawn, telling us what to do in our place? By the time he got people inside, someone had kicked out the glass doors in the apartment opposite and there were even more people on the balcony.

“Help me,” he begged me. “I have a really bad feeling.”

I couldn’t dismiss his agitation as groundless paranoia. A balcony collapse had made national news not long ago, eight people dead. But what  was I supposed to do?   Clock any revelers that stepped onto the balcony?

The bathroom was the only spot in the apartment you could hear yourself think. The time it took me to make a call was enough to make me wish everyone had pissed over the balcony.

I doubt it was the first call, but it may have been the tipping point to get get the cops off their butts, tear them away from world wide wrestling. What did they care about dead frat boys? There were always more where they came from.

When they showed up around one A.M, the party was at is most outrageous. One thrown beer bottle would have started a melee. The revelers were a privileged subset and nobody was going to ruin their fun. In the nick of time Darlene and her sorority sisters defused the male tension and one by one the frat boys streamed out of the building, taking their havoc elsewhere.

The party made the front page of the campus paper. Apparently there had been a mini-riot later that night, trash cans on fire, rocks thrown, the kind of asinine stuff that happens after a victory, or a loss, in the Big Game.

Probably due to the recent famous balcony collapse, the presshounds smelled meat. Soon there were articles about the heartless landlords and the lack of up-to-date inspections. Tenants aired grievances, filed lawsuits. The fact the landlords were Serbian immigrants added some measure of guilt.

To pay the lawyers, Darren’s parents had to rent out the penthouse. He moved back in with them just about the time he’d scored his first date with Darlene. That, of course, stopped things cold.


Last night I dreamed that I died, and the I saw the funeral procession coming down the road.  The lead car  looked like the same one that brought my mother home from the hospital.IMG_0008I was filled with a sense of peace.  Choirs of angels surrounded me.  IMG_0049Halleluia! they shouted.  Another sinner saved.IMG_0059I kept wondering if they had the right guy.

It was starting to seem like I was home free.  Heaven.  I had made it.  I looked around to see if I could pick out some celestial celebrities.  I wasn’t quite sure, given their heavenly raiments, who was who. I saw a few minor gods and some saints.  Wasn’t that Poseidon with a couple of his minions?  And wasn’t that St. Cecelia, patron saint of music,  offering me a heavenly  hankie to dry my tears of joy?IMG_0046IMG_0041I really started to relax.  And then most amazing, I had a vision of the Supreme Omnipotent Being, and knew that despite all the evil and sin in the world, Goodness reigned.IMG_0056

But then something happened.  I started falling, so fast I lost consciousness   When I came to, the mood had changed.  The color had gone out of things, and the feeling was of menace.IMG_0037Was that a whip?

Then doubt turned into terror.  There  he stood, the Prince of Darkness.IMG_0026Oops, I said.  I’m outta here.  And I woke up, determined to be a much better person.




It used to be all he had to remember was to check the burners, off off off off, and turn off the lights, shut the door, be on his way.

Water bottle. He has forgotten his water bottle. This would be the fourth time he turned around. He had forgotten his transit pass. He had forgotten his hat. He had forgotten his glasses. Now here he was, farther along, at the end of the block. No, he didn’t need the water bottle but it sure would be nice to have it.

Nice by itself wasn’t enough to turn him around. But what if he got dydrated? What if he got a urinary tract infection from not drinking enough water?

Oh come on Mr. Carton, he admonished himself, that’s not going to happen, but was he sure? One poor decision was inconsequential; however this was a pattern that could lead to misery and an early grave. Moreover, it would be nice to have the water bottle, comforting.

Mr. Carton turned around to retrieve his water bottle. People were going to wonder why he was walking up and down the block.

Nice was not a bad thing to ask from life. Like most people, Mr. Carton had had his helpings of grief and sorrow. He didn’t have to be told, though sometimes a little reminding didn’t hurt, how you lose everything you love and everyone too. So yes, what was the matter with nice?

It would have been nice when he returned to the house for his water bottle he had remembered his Chapstick. Sometimes his lips got cracked in the wind. How big a dent in his day would not having his Chapstick make? Would he be able to enjoy himself at Charlene’s party?

Not that big. He’d moisten his lips a lot. He could do that now thanks to his water bottle.

Thinking about Charlene’s party reminded him he forgot to bring his cloth shopping bag. He was going to pick up some fruit on the way home. He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk at the bottom of the hill. Now there were two things to go back to the house for, which would almost make the climb back up the hill worthwhile. Almost. He decided he could buy some Chapstick at the corner grocery store. And what did it matter, a few more plastic bags?

Mr. Carton had a low opinion of people who were wasteful, people who trashed the planet. His dirty secret was hidden beneath the sink. There were surely a hundred balled up there, bags within bags.

Mr. Carton, he said to himself, you are a hypocrite. Turn your ass around and get that cloth shopping bag.

Back at his house he rested for a minute on his couch and read his mail. He realized how nice it would be to take a nap. He was starting to wonder if he should go back out, whether he had the energy it took.