It started when somebody told me to write a funny story.  So, I did. It’s a very short story, but it was sufficiently long that I didn’t want to create yet another page on the blog for it–it’s getting crowded there.

I could publish it on Wattpad, but the trouble is that too many people have told me it’s a hassle to log in to Wattpad. I hate hassles.

Ultimately, I decided to just put it on Kindle. It’s free for the next four days (and permanently free if you have Kindle unlimited.) If you miss the four day window and don’t have Kindle Unlimited, it’ll cost 99 cents. I felt sort of guilty about charging 99 cents for such a short tale, but then I remembered that the vending machine where I work charges $1.50 for a soda. My story might be short, but I can promise it won’t increase your chance of heart disease, diabetes or cancer. All that and you might laugh a few times, too.

Anyway, you can get the story by clicking here or on the image below. Happy almost-Halloween!

 

[Lyrics by Berthold Gambrel and Maxwell’s_Maximums]

Here’s the tale of Steve the Pumpkin–

Steve the Pumpkin was my friend.

But on October 31st,

Steve the Pumpkin met his end.

Steve was sitting in the field that evening,

In silent thought, as oft he did,

When he was foully apprehended

By a passing neighbor’s kid.

Then they took ol’ Steve the Pumpkin

And they carved ’em up real good.

And put a candle in his noggin

Just because the bastards could.

I swore that I’d avenge him;

So I dressed up like a ghost

And barged in on my neighbors

Demanding candy, tea and toast.

And that’s the honest story

Of trick-or-treating’s youth.

Others may say different

But Steve the Pumpkin knows the truth.

[I wrote this a while ago, but never posted it. Then I saw Mark Paxson’s post today and thought “why the heck not?”]

Pericles was an ancient Greek politician who presided over what is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Age of Athens”. During this period, the Athenians made many artistic and architectural achievements that are still admired in Western Civilization.

However, what sometimes gets neglected is that Pericles also presided over the end of the Golden Age, and the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. The Greek city-states turned against one another, and Athens collapsed into war and plague, the latter of which killed Pericles himself.

“Life”, as the commercials say, “comes at you fast.”

What’s this got to do with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell?

Well, he presided over the Golden Age of Football in the United States. The NFL drew huge viewership numbers and was easily the most lucrative of the major professional sports during his tenure. In his tenure, American football has gone global, and stadiums have become bigger and more ornate than ever. Even the NFL’s premier event has changed from being a predictable blowout that it used to be into, more often than not, a highly-competitive and exciting game.

But now, the end of that Golden Age is at hand. A lot of it is the self-inflicted hubris of all great powers: from making teams play awful games on Thursday nights (dressed in hideous uniforms to boot) despite the fact that players and fans alike hate it, to relocating beloved teams to richer, but less football-loving markets, the NFL’s own greed now works against it.

And then there are political divisions that turn the organization on itself. The National Anthem controversy has made the league a lightning rod for criticism, and it has reacted by trying to come up with a “compromise” that has angered people on both sides of the issue.

Then there are the concussions, which are causing fewer children to take up the sport in the first place. The NFL’s supply of gladiators to feed to the brutal sport is drying up, and so they are changing rules to try to compensate. In the process, they are destroying football in order to save it.

For all these reasons, I think the NFL is in sharp decline, and that it will soon cease to be the dominant sports league in America. And yet, it was only a few years ago that it appeared to be an invincible juggernaut.

OK, maybe this post is a little unfair to Pericles. Although he and Athens fell on hard times at the end of his career, he at least was by all accounts a charismatic orator, competent general, and left the world some marvelous ruins that still stand today. I doubt anyone will be looking at NFL stadiums a thousand years from now.

But the general point holds: when you’re at the height of your power, always remember that there’s nowhere to go but down. Or, in the words of another legendary statesman, Abraham Lincoln:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.'”

 

In P.G. Wodehouse’s 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters, there’s a great character called Roderick Spode. A parody of Sir Oswald Mosley, Spode is the dictatorial leader of a fascistic group called “The Black Shorts”. Bertie Wooster, the protagonist, describes his appearance “as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.”

Ultimately, Spode is thwarted when Bertie’s valet Jeeves reveals that he knows about “Eulalie”–which Bertie learns later is a ladies’ lingerie shop called Eulalie Soeurs that Spode operates. Spode fears that he will lose face if this becomes known to the other members of the Black Shorts.

Wodehouse was one of the greatest humorous writers of all-time, but Spode was a rare instance when he satirized a particular public figure. And a clever satire it was too; suggesting that a would-be dictator moonlights as an underwear designer instantly reduces them to figures of fun.

Of course, even in Wodehouse’s comic world, he still assumed that such people could be cowed by such basic things as shame. It was a more genteel universe that Wodehouse imagined, in which even the villains played by the rules.

For April Fools’ Day, I had a little fun over on my Twitter account, tweeting as my “assistant”/evil cousin “Waberthold Gambrel”. (I based the name on the Nintendo character, Waluigi, rival of Luigi.) I also tweaked my profile picture a little.

I’ve deleted the tweets now, but I saved a screenshot so Waberthold’s brief-but-spectacular (some would say Scaramucci-esque) career can be commemorated.

wabertholds tweets

Happy April Fools’ Day!

SCENE: INT.–OFFICE–DAY. I am discovered sitting at my computer, eating a granola bar, with an unopened box of cookies on my desk.

(Enter INTERN)

INTERN

Can I have a cookie?

ME

Sure.

(He opens the box and takes a cookie. Enter CO-WORKER)

CO-WORKER (to ME)

Can I look through your files?

ME

Yeah.

(CO-WORKER turns back to door, looks through file cabinet. Exit INTERN.)

CO-WORKER

All these files are a mess! It’s never been cleaned up since the guy who used to have your job. It was in great shape before he came.

(Enter INTERN, unseen by CO-WORKER)

CO-WORKER (Cont’d)

That idiot who was in here was so stupid.

INTERN

Hey, I’m right here!

ME

No, not you–he means the guy who used to have my job.

INTERN

Oh. (pause) Can I have another cookie?

ME

Sure.

CO-WORKER

These files are such a mess!

INTERN

Why do you have these cookies? You don’t eat food.

ME

I’m eating granola right now.

INTERN

I mean not this kind of food.

CO-WORKER (who has been grumbling about files the entire time)

You should have seen what it used to be like!

INTERN (To ME)

Oh, yeah, you did say you used to be fat.

ME

No, no–he means what the file system used to be like!

INTERN

Oh.

(Exit CO-WORKER, still grumbling, having apparently not found the file. Pause.)

INTERN

Can I have another cookie?

(Curtain.)

<RUSH TRANSCRIPT>

Honorable readers, distinguished authors, and fellow bloggers:

Tonight, it is my honor and privilege to appear before you to mark the 9th anniversary of this blog. I can think of no date more fitting for me to make such an address.

(laughter, boos from the opposition)

I’m pleased to report that the state of the blog is strong, thanks in part to wonderful authors and interviewees like Carrie Rubin and Audrey Driscoll, who have kindly allowed me to post their insightful and thoughtful answers to my questions here.

(applause)

I’m grateful also to readers like Eurobrat, l33tminion and Phillip McCollum,

(applause)

…who have contributed to the discussions on this blog on a number of topics, from politics to the craft of writing.

Now, while the blog is stronger than ever, I recognize that there are still improvements to make. And that’s why I’m glad to have input from Pat Prescott, Mark Paxson, and Barb Knowles

(applause)

…on how to better the site. I am therefore launching an Executive Initiative to improve the readability and layout of the site, some elements of which have already been implemented. It has, in my opinion, certainly gone no worse than any such initiative can be expected to, in that it at least vaguely resembles what the people have asked for.

(laughter, boos from the opposition)

With all this in mind, and most of all, with the insightful attention and comments of readers like you, I will continue to preserve, protect, and to post on this blog, to the best of my ability.

Thank you.

<END TRANSCRIPT>

Many moons ago, when I was in college, I had to take what they called a “writing course”, which was a class designed specifically to teach writing, but about subjects in our chosen major. (Mine was Econ.) I think the point was to prevent a bunch of mathematics geniuses from taking over the field with equations and graphs strung together by incoherent babble.

It doesn’t seem to have worked.

Anyway, the section I was in was unpopular, because the professor assigned not one, not two, not three, but four books. Now, they were all short books, and one of them (The Ghost Map) actually became one of my favorites. But that’s not the one I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the first one we had to read: The Doctors’ Plague.

The book is about Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who, in the 1840s, tried to reduce the so-called “childbed fever” then prevalent in the hospital where he worked. Germ theory was not widely understood at the time, and Semmelweis’s radical proposal was that doctors and nurses who treated infants and mothers should wash their hands.

This sounds absurdly obvious to us modern readers, but at the time it was heretical, and indeed, Semmelweis wasn’t taken seriously by the medical establishment. Whether due to his difficult temper, some unknown mental disorder, or possibly a language barrier, Semmelweis failed to prevail upon the medical community to adopt hand-washing as a regular practice. He died in an insane asylum, and his work was not recognized until long after his death.

Naturally, we Econ students were all puzzled by this. (Those of us that read it, that is. I suspect a quarter of the class just looked up the book’s synopsis online, and another quarter didn’t even do that.) What on God’s Green Earth does this have to do with Supply and Demand?

After the week or whatever our allotted time to read the book was, the professor started the class by giving his summary of the book–I assume for the benefit of the ones who didn’t read it. He finished up by raising the question we were asking ourselves: why did he assign this?

The point of the book, he said, was that Semmelweis couldn’t communicate his ideas to his colleagues. “So,” he concluded, “You have to learn to write well! It doesn’t matter if you discover something great if no one can understand you.”

I think he intended this as a carpe diem moment, but most of the class felt like they’d just been told the world’s longest shaggy dog story. But he was right; you do have to be able to write well, no matter how good your underlying point is.

I’m not even sure if that was really the main lesson of the Semmelweis story, but nevertheless, it’s true. And regardless of whether writing well has anything to do with Semmelweis or not, the professor created a helpful mnemonic: writing well is as important as good hygiene in a hospital.

[The other day I came across this unfinished humor novel I wrote when I was sixteen. I hadn’t looked at it for over a decade. Parts of it are funny. Most of it is stupid.  What follows are a few of the highlights–I left out the really lame bits. For background: it was intended as a satire of spy/thriller  stories, as well as poking fun at my favorite target, government bureaucracies. Teen-aged me was an ardent libertarian, so take all of it with a generous helping of salt. Also don’t miss my juvenile attempt at Gilbertian wordplay at the end. Enjoy!–BG]

NOTICE FROM THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF STORIES

The following story is true.

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The following story is in compliance with section V, article xii of the drama treaty of English-speaking nations. By reading this story, you certify that you are (a) literate and (b) not visually impaired in any way that would prevent reading. If you are found to be in violation of either or both of these conditions you may or may not be penalized. Before reading the story that follows, you must take out all your identification and read it aloud. If any or all of your identification papers are expired, you must renew them before reading this story. Reading of this story without proper and up to date identification is punishable by fine or imprisonment under article xii, section V of the California—Maine Fiction Code. No person or persons under the age of 21 may take away a moral from this story without filling out a moral-requisition form in compliance with article xvii of the Alaska state constitution. If multiple morals are taken away, a requisition form must be filled out for each moral. Any and all themes, motifs, etc. in this story are in compliance with article cvvxxi, section C of the American Motif Code. The character(s) in this story is/are certified and in compliance with all regulations regarding character(s) in English fiction. (English fiction referring to all fiction written in English by persons of any nationality.)

Reading of this story out loud is strictly prohibited.

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