Today’s Grammar Quiz (Seriously, I don’t kid around about grammar)

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  1. In the sentence “Hortense was furious when the judges overlooked her rhubarb omelet,” the underlined word is an example of which of the following parts of speech?


  1. participle
  2. verb
  3. noun
  4. adjective
  5. adverb
  6. none of the above


2. In the sentence, “Hortense vowed, ‘There will be repercussions,” the underlined phrase is an example which of the following verb forms?


  1. the simple future tense
  2. the present tense, passive voice
  3. the future tense, passive voice
  4. the future perfect tense
  5. the future perfect tense, passive voice


3. In the sentence, “As she spoke, Hortense’s face turned an alarming shade of crimson,” the underlined word is what part of speech?


  1. a past participle
  2. a past tense verb
  3. a linking verb
  4. a causative verb
  5. (b) and (c)
  6. (a) and (b)


4. Which accurately describes the following sentence: “German shepherds are great problem solvers, and basset hounds never let go of a grudge”?


  1. run-on
  2. fragment
  3. compound sentence
  4. comma splice
  5. (c) and (d)
  6. (a) and (d)
  7. none of the above


5. In the sentence, “Infuriated bassets often exact revenge days after the perceived offence,” the underlined word is what part of speech?


  1. past tense verb
  2. gerund
  3. present participle
  4. past participle
  5. none of the above


6. Fill in the blanks: “A basset hound’s ideal afternoon consists of __________ on his back in the sun with _______ tongue hanging out.”


  1. laying, its
  2. lying, it’s
  3. laying, it’s
  4. lying, its
  5. lying, their


7. What punctuation does this sentence need? “Because of the city-wide truffle shortage Chef Monsoun will be unable to prepare Coquilles St. Jacques and patrons will have to make do with Coquilles San Souci.”


  1. a semicolon after “Jacques”
  2. a comma after “shortage”
  3. a colon after “shortage”
  4. a comma after “Jacques
  5. both (b) and (d)
  6. none of the above


8. In the sentence “Coquilles San Souci” is prepared from bizarre, literally nauseating ingredients,” what are the two underlined parts of speech?


  1. past tense verb, past participle
  2. past participle, present participle
  3. past tense verb, present tense verb
  4. none of the above


9. Which accurately describes the sentence “Basset hounds will eat almost anything, however even a basset will turn up its enormous nose at Coquilles San Souci”?


  1. a run-on
  2. a fused sentence
  3. a comma splice
  4. none of the above


10. In the sentence “On the other hand, to a discerning basset with refined taste buds, Hortense’s rhubarb omelet is the bomb,” the underlined words are what parts of speech?


  1. preposition, adjective
  2. adverb, indefinite article
  3. preposition, definite article
  4. none of the above




[d, a, e, c, d, d, e, b, c, c]






Won’t Nobody Help a Naked Man?

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New Naked Man headlines, as of 5/18/2022.  So many of these I had to cull.


Report: Naked Pace man attacks multiple people with hammer


Naked Man Perched In Shorewood Apartment Jumps, Swarmed By Police

Naked man accused in deadly Broward County crime spree makes first court appearance

Neighbors react to news of naked man shot, killed after attacking Lizella woman on lawnmower

Naked couple arrested on Rutledge Highway

Naked Man Running in Traffic Pleads No Contest to Meth Possession

2 Officers Hurt after Call for Naked Man in Hotel Lobby

Man Tells Police He Stabbed Naked Man Who Attacked him in the Street in Fort Worth


Police arrest naked man stretching, looking at glass reflection in front of businesses

Tulsa Police Arrest Naked Man They Say Hit Woman At Apartment Complex

Police: Naked man steals ambulance, crashes in Greer

Naked man went on rampage armed with ‘for sale’ sign as weapon and kicked cop in the head

Barely Any Details as Little Egg Harbor, NJ, Police Seek Naked Man

Naked man found shining laser beam at police helicopter he thought was UFO


Just a few (seriously) naked man headlines from September-October 2021:


Pawtucket man fights off catalytic converter thief naked

Police seek naked man seen walking around Catonsville senior facility

Naked man with spear shot by deputy in Monroe County

Naked man arrested after allegedly lighting motorhome on fire, running from police

DU issues alert for naked man near Gamma Phi Beta

Naked man found wandering streets in Vero Beach, claimed he saw snakes


Half-naked man sought in connection with alleged flag theft


Naked NYC man repeatedly spotted strutting his stuff


Naked man arrested after dancing in Lansing streets

Body-cam video shows Phoenix officers detaining naked man before dying in custody *

Totally naked man spotted at bar and netizens have ‘so many’ questions

Naked man runs past ‘Today’ show live on-air, forcing abrupt cut to commercial

*One assumes “before dying in custody” is a misplaced modifier


With the (current) waning of the pandemic comes an uptick in, among other things, Naked Man news.  There were so many stories in May that I’ve had to pick and choose.  What does this mean?

Buck naked: nude sunbathers fleeing deer fined for breaking Sydney lockdown

Naked man dives on tarp, crawls through tarp tube during Nats rain delay

Deltona man accused of breaking into woman’s home naked

Naked man in custody after barricading himself in car on highway in Glynn County

Naked man allegedly argued with customers in the basement, claimed people were trying to fight him

Naked Man Refuses To Leave Ocean At San Clemente Pier

Ramsgate mum’s shock at finding naked man in her hallway during early hours of morning

Shock as ‘completely naked’ Scotsman arrested walking down busy road in beauty spot

Naked man in beanie seen prowling outside Carlisle student homes ‘looking through windows’

Naked man ‘danced in front of shop window’ then ran off

Naked man was on train in Lancaster in nothing but shoes

Naked man driving stolen JSO cruiser crashes into woods on I-10

I’ve been remiss; haven’t done this for almost a year.  Here are the Naked Man headlines (curated) for the past month.  I don’t know why somebody doesn’t do a book about this.

Naked man accused of lunging at person inside bathroom in Fairfax County, police say

Naked man attempts to put out house fire in Cave Creek

Police Arrest Naked Man With Knife Running On Route 4: PD

Naked Florida man covered in mud bites K-9′s ear, deputies say

Nearly-naked man flees hospital, arms himself with shovel and terrorizes West Hills neighborhood

Half-naked man flees police from Akron Metro Transit Center

Naked Man Jumps from Moving Truck, Seriously Injured, in Wilton

Naked man who entered Prescott bar is caught


Naked Man Runs Amok, Slashes Approaching Policeman With Knife In Incident Caught On Camera


Ax Wielding Naked Man Damages Annapolis Home 

Police: Naked Man Runs Around McKeesport Building Before Running Into Wall, Causing Giant Hole


Naked man was surrounded by a parking lot full of Black Friday shoppers, NC cops say

Police: Surveillance Video Catches Naked Man Pulling On Doors Of Businesses In Plumstead Township


Naked man breaks into an Orange Mound family’s home


Naked man goes on drug-fueled home invasion spree in Arvada, police say


Naked man who fled after being found in bed with other man’s fiancee feared hypothermia



Police subdue naked man after Mashpee stabbing incident

Naked man arrested after being found inside Pepsi truck with numerous empty bottles

Naked man arrested for allegedly stealing, crashing pickup in Imperial

Naked man gives town exposure

Report describes fatal police encounter with a naked man performing yoga poses in Phoenix street

Naked man spotted running around La Grange leads police on chase

Naked man wearing sports bra linked to car burglaries, deputies say

Naked man arrested for breaking into Ottawa Co. homes, assault

Naked man arrested in Woodbridge bus terminal

A man broke into a house, showered — then sat naked on the porch to wait, Fla. cops say

Naked Missouri Man Says “Good Morning” to Neighbor, Steals Truck, Flips it

MPD arrest naked man for obscenity, trespassing

Naked Man Tells La Crosse Police He’s On ‘Tons And Tons And Tons And Tons And Tons Of Acid’


Blake Lively Got Trolled by Ryan Reynolds for Posing With a Naked Man

‘Gyrating’ naked man arrested after scared off by Florida grandma

LMPD: Naked man runs from police, bites EMS worker

‘That’s not my cat.’ Grandma uses false teeth to scare naked man off her porch.


Naked man outside Florida Chick-fil-A arrested for trying to fight passersby

Clearwater super boat race stopped by naked, drunk, disorderly man in water, deputies say

Naked man filmed ‘in sex act with blow-up doll’ on M1 hard shoulder

Charge: Naked man in park was ‘just in the woods masturbating, minding my own business’

Naked man on nature trail tells police he was sunbathing

Naked man urinates on officers during arrest in Camden County

Screaming naked man arrested for throwing rocks at police car

Naked man squirts his hose at cops while on school roof

Naked man armed with a gun wounded by police at church

Naked man storms courtroom and lies down in front of coroner

Naked man carrying hatchet gives Chanhassen jogger a fright

Post-Inaugural Naked Man Special

Naked Man Tased by Fresno Police Officer

Police investigate after shocked locals ‘find naked man in street after he jumped out a car boot’ in Edinburgh



Antioch police: ‘Nearly naked man’ running outside leads to hazmat alert

Melbourne man gets naked to protest lack of privacy

‘Drunk man who strips naked and steals taxi’ gets caught on camera as he joyrides it through crowd

IMPD officer tackles belligerent, naked man allegedly high on ‘wax’

Collier County deputies say naked man climbed atop building, tried to hide

Naked man claims God told him to run in Baldwin Park

Malaysian man roams apartment block naked, claims ‘Goddess Mazu’ summoned him to do so

Tallahassee pastor gets caught sleeping with man’s wife, flees naked

Florida Man Has Best Excuse Ever For Being Naked At Car Wash

‘Butt naked’ man runs at woman jogger on Riverwalk

Deputies detain naked man in Fort Gratiot

Naked man arrested after crashing car into house, punching trooper, telling cops he’s Jesus

A toilet tank, a naked man, tasers – charges filed in 2013 case

(HAMILTON – Nearly four years ago, John N. Miller of Missoula allegedly threatened to strike two officers with a toilet tank while nude. He was formally charged in that case this week…The case dates back to March 2013 when sheriff’s deputies were called to an apartment in Stevensville at 2:16 a.m. for a reported disturbance. The first officer on the scene looked into the apartment and saw Miller running around naked inside, according to an affidavit. The officers could see broken items scattered about the apartment, a refrigerator turned on its side and a broken window and door…The affidavit said he eventually “burst from the bathroom” holding a porcelain tank of a toilet above his head. Believing Miller meant to hit them with it, the officers deployed their tasers several times to subdue the man. Miller continued to resist after being handcuffed. His loud statements did not make sense to the officers.)

Naked man wearing a Santa Hat spotted jogging in Cambridgeshire village

Half-naked man’s luge joyride down Kaimai Ranges not illegal, say police – just ‘very unwise’


Clairemont woman finds naked intruder in her bed

SAN DIEGO – A 25-year-old man was arrested early Thursday in Clairemont after police said he went into a neighbor’s home, took off his clothes and got into her bed.

The woman returned about 12:30 a.m. to her home on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard near Limerick Avenue where she found the naked intruder and called authorities, San Diego police said.

Officers arrived and took the tattooed man into custody.

He told officers that he heard a noise at the woman’s residence, went inside to investigate and then got naked and into bed to wait for her because “he did not want to startle her, “ police said.

He was arrested on prowling charges, authorities said.   (San Diego Union Tribune, 8/9/2012)


Okay, from now on, Headlines Only. The most recent are at the top (it’s November, 2015). The Higbee mayor naked broom attack story is well worth a look.  Also, Arab is in Alabama. Also, and take my word for it, if you troll Google News for “naked woman,” you get nothing like this list. Apparently women don’t like to goof around naked in public.  Except in Alaska.

Naked man climbs on top of Metro bus in West Hollywood

Deputies: Naked Florida man breaks into home with pants on arms

Naked man in Stuart says he’s no exhibitionist

Naked man says he was looking for a wife at Mormon temple

Naked man found in Hiawatha now accused of killing mother

Naked man Tasered by police after attacking parked cars in the street

Naked man takes a walk in the mall

Trailcam Captured Naked Man on LSD Who Believed He was Siberian Tiger

Officers respond to screaming, naked man at reservoir in Washington Co.

Naked man climbed onto moving van and threw bricks before suffering heart attack, inquest heard

Naked man causes ruckus in Hanover neighborhood

Officers Catch Up to Naked Man Wandering Eureka After He Stops to Pet a Dog

Naked man breaks in home, bites resident, then dies

Naked man does bizarre pole dance complete with karate kicks after cops handcuff him to a lamppost

Naked man approached woman, son at Horseneck Beach in Westport

Bananas, eggs and a pair of naked men: online stir after nude photos at scenic Chinese temple go viral

Naked man arrested for hitting neighbor’s house with shovel

Two women approached by naked man in parking garage at Plaza Art Fair 

Naked man interrupts Maryland student’s workout

Naked man defecated on doorstep of Iowa City home

Naked man found standing on his head on East 7th Street

Man Strips Naked, Exposes Anus To Construction Worker

Man takes naked ‘fun run’ in yard

Man strips naked in airport departure lounge and dances in front of bemused travellers

Naked man storms in-law’s home to reclaim his ‘arrested’ wife

VIDEO: Naked man dances, takes selfies with petrol attendant

Naked man arrested in Schaghticoke, kicks hole in police barracks wall

State police looking for naked man who shouted ‘Jesus is coming’

Woman says naked man approached her on Newport News trail

Naked Man Accused of Breaking into East Wenatchee Homes Arrested

Man runs into Tenn. school half naked, thinks fire alarm contains smurfs

Naked man causes stir during rush hour in Roanoke

Naked man ding-dong-ditches police officer, caught on video*

Naked man raided B-Town International Market sauce aisle

Naked Man Watering Lawn Arrested After Allegedly Throwing Knife, Beer Bottles at Fresno County Deputies

Naked man lies down in the road, stops traffic in Orange

Naked man who ‘bear-hugged’ officer, grabbed her Taser sentenced to state mental hospital

Streaker drank nine pints, got naked, then ran through women’s rights march

Naked Russian Man Asks to Share Mausoleum With Lenin

Naked man caught performing sex act on himself in Carmarthen housing estate
Naked man marches with veterans

Police Arrest Naked Man Running Through Hotel Parking Lot

Dublin: Woman says she might have seen a naked man

Lamar deputies have their hands full with naked man on acid

Naked man jumps from B.C, ferry, later arrested ‘soaked, incoherent’

Naked man puts Xbox in oven, starts apartment fire, attacks police officers

Pantless woman and naked man arrested

Naked, masturbating man investigated in connection with airport bomb threat

Drunk, naked man attempts to steal grill cover, police say

Firemen call police, point to naked man

Nude man tased after running through Logan park carrying large rock

Man Strips Naked atop San Francisco Freeway Sign

Naked man in Liberty Village women’s sauna sought

Man, 29, arrested after he is found naked and screaming in flower bed in Crystal City

Naked man charged with stealing Hungry Jack’s Whopper from car in Derby

Naked man denies being naked to officers

Naked man causes rush-hour traffic jam after stripping off and sitting on top of his car


 POLICE LINES: There’s a naked man in the rotary

Hipster Café Really Sorry for Letting Butt-Naked Guy Walk Around Store for an Hour

Man Crashes Car, Strips Naked, Marches Down Busy Street Friday

GOP candidates arrive for debate; three charged in fatal fire; naked Chagrin Falls man in Cincinnati crash

Naked Man With Garden Shears Breaks Through Windows of Home

Caught on camera: Naked man steals deputy’s patrol car

Naked man, 81, arrested for ‘having sex with bush in his own back garden’

Naked man escorted from Novi Kroger was having ‘episode’

Firefighters catch naked man at church

Naked man tried to take cops’ guns

Naked man runs around Topeka motel with knife

Naked man allegedly destroys Dollar General bathroom

Naked man arrested while working on tan lines

Husband and wife shocked to find naked man running around their house filling their kitchen drawers with water and smearing excrement on their walls

Wilbraham police: Naked man running through center of town was on ecstasy, suffering from psychiatric problems


Police seek to id waving naked man

Naked man fleeing at 30 km/h arrested after 1973 farm tractor inexplicably stalls


Drunk Man in Only Shoes and Socks Arrested for Candy Theft

Naked man dancing in traffic arrested along I-44 in St. Louis


Crazed naked man dives through woman’s sunroof


Naked man leads police on downtown chase, jumps in Elliott Bay

Half Naked Man Dressed as a Bumblebee Twerks on the NYC Subway


Police hunt naked ‘mop head man’ with pot belly

Palo Alto police arrest naked man in crime spree


Naked man in cowboy hat enters Georgia home


Naked man spotted on roof of BMV arrested in Portage


Police: Naked Temperance man threatened grandma with ax, sword


Naked man hit Higbee mayor with a broom


Naked man removed from tree with bucket truck in Arab


Police Charge Naked Man In Park Forest Attack


‘Very Shy’ Dude Posts Nude Selfie With Giant Gun in Craigslist Ad


Caught on Cam: Man Strips Naked on Top of SUV, Taunts Officers in Wilmington

Naked man tased twice by Clarksville police


British tourist appears in Dubai court accused of ‘running naked through corridors of holiday apartment block after getting drunk on rum in posh hotel’


Polite Nude Man Startles Woman


Naked man spotted roaming the streets of Taiwan, looks a lot like a  titan


Caught on Dash Cam: Naked man on motorcycle arrested in  Chickasha


Birmingham Sausage Man Crowd-Surfs Naked, Gets Invited Backstage By Kings of Leon

Woman: Naked man helping her with diabetes treatment


Naked man, UFOs and bears seen in Saugeen Shores


Yeiner Perez: Naked Man Attacks BART Passengers, Performs Gymnastics


Naked man arrested after refusing to get dressed, report says


Naked Man Covered in Crisco Just Wanted ‘To Party’


Naked man injured in fight on Elgin street


Naked man wielding gardening shears Tasered in Stafford County, police say


St. Paul: Naked man throws naked girlfriend off second-floor balcony, charges say


Naked man seen walking in Weymouth


Florida Man Smokes Synthetic Pot, Shoots Glock, Runs Around Neighborhood Naked


Naked man who crashed into pole: More details released


Tulsa Firefighters Pull Naked Man From Storm Drain


Naked man apprehended by deputies after foot chase


Naked fisherman rescued from shark infested waters in Australia


Naked Man on Dalton Road Heading to Court


Naked couple charged with domestic battery


Brockton police: Naked man pushed out third-floor window


Naked man emerges from bushes during planning meeting


Cops: Naked man danced in front of woman’s home


Naked man arrested following romp in Jimboomba


Drunk man found naked with monkeys


Inquiries continue after half-naked man shot in the foot in South Norwood


Naked rambler who has spent years in jail for refusing to cover up is ordered to see psychiatrist after appearing in
court in just boots and socks


Naked man allegedly tries to break into Boise business


Vernon Man Charged After Allegedly Swearing at Women – While Naked


Man strips-naked in Bulawayo nightclub


Naked man with rifle shot by police at Lansdowne motel


Naked Man Arrested After Destroying Bryan Hotel Room


Knox County man pleads guilty to doing yard work in the nude


Green Lake naked man charged, still not identified


Naked Man Walks Out of Woods During Unrelated News Report


Police: Naked Man Wielded Knife Inside 7-Eleven


Naked man drives car into 2 fences, porch


Naked man arrested at Sonic eatery


PA troopers: Half-naked man on bath salts throws cinder block at cop

Blotter: Nude Man Spotted Driving on I-476, Slashed Tires, Thefts


Naked man exposed himself to elderly dog walker in Hemel woods


Naked Drunk North Korean Man Washes Ashore In South Korea


Naked man with laptop found on bench at beach


Naked Man Causes Scare at Local Wendy’s


Naked man in women’s showers, falls one storey


Lacey man arrested because clothes kept “falling off”


Naked man jumps out second floor window, chews on woman’s head


Uncooperative naked man arrested in Boulder Creek


Man Found Naked In Swimming Pool Charged With Arson


Tempe’s Naked Burglary Couple Couldn’t Get Their Stories Straight, According to Records


Deputies: Naked man claimed friends set him up


2 naked men, alligator key players in bizarre burglary


Alleged naked man arrested on Route 540 in South Jersey


James Albert Kimrey, Naked Man, Falls Through North Carolina Church Roof: Police

Naked Woman, Allegedly High on Spice, Lays Waste to an Alaska Subway


Man accused of running around naked again

(This last headline merits the whole story.)

SOUTH CAROLINA (The Times Democrat) A mental evaluation has been ordered for a Rowesville man charged in a second incident involving nudity.

Circuit Court Judge Ed Dickson ordered the evaluation Monday after a second charge of indecent exposure in just over a year was levied against 34-year-old Paul Ott.

“After having been evaluated … we will schedule a bond hearing,” Dickson said.

The Bay Street man was arrested Saturday on a probation violation and later charged by county authorities with indecent exposure after a Rowesville family notified deputies of a naked man in their yard.

State probation agent Lisa Boltin told the court Saturday’s incident placed Ott in violation of a plea agreement in a prior indecent exposure charge.

In September 2011, Ott was charged with indecent exposure after being accused of trying to break into a Cope residence naked while demanding in crude form to have sex with the homeowner’s wife.

Ott pleaded guilty to that charge in January and was placed on probation.

Boltin requested a mental evaluation, saying a toxicology test showed no drugs in his system.

“We don’t have any indication this is the result of drugs,” she said. “It’s a safety issue for the community, but we are also concerned about Mr. Ott’s safety as well.”

Defense attorney Charlie Williams III agreed a mental evaluation is in order, citing the possibility of a bipolar condition.

Williams declined comment until after an evaluation, but did say his priority is the “well-being of my client.” Any health issues would be addressed first, he said, and legal matters at a later date.

Prosecutor Sarah Ford recommended a bond hearing be held only after the court can consider the results of the mental evaluation.

Ott was taken into custody Saturday after a Rowesville woman noticed a man “standing in her goat pin (sic) completely nude,” according to a Sheriff’s Office incident report.

The naked man ran at her, but stopped after she yelled at him, she said. When she asked him what he was doing, he said he “was running with the birds.”

The woman’s husband tried talking to the man, but the man refused.

Deputies found some clothing in a nearby wooded area and a hunter who said he saw an individual running past around daylight.

Ott was arrested last year after a Sept. 1 incident in which a Cope man reported a naked man trying to break into his residence.

When deputies arrived, the resident said the naked subject was at his back door using a stick in an effort to get inside.

According to the report, the naked visitor allegedly pointed at the homeowner’s wife inside the house and “started moving in a hunching motion.” The naked man crudely yelled he wanted to have sex with her, the homeowner claimed.

A public disorderly conduct charge was later dropped due to the incident taking place on private property.

And in a bench trial in November 2011, Ott was found not guilty of trespassing after Williams argued the Rowesville man had “good cause” for being on the property. Williams said Ott was seeking medical treatment after a car wreck that had happened immediately prior to the Cope incident.

Ott then pleaded guilty in January to indecent exposure related to the Cope incident. He was sentenced to 15 months of probation. (10/16/2012)


*No vivid headines please


Mind the Bollocks

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Accidentally shooting yourself in the crotch is becoming a thing, so here’s the beginning of a new list.

Yet another late-breaking update


Man accidentally shoots self in groin inside Buckeye Walmart

Florida man sits on gun, shoots self in groin, police say

Marion police respond after man accidentally shoots self in genitals

[Wichita] Man seriously hurt after accidentally shoots self in groin

[Nevada] Man Accidentally Shoots Himself In The Groin After Loading Gun

Colorado Football Mascot Chip Shoots Self In Groin With T-Shirt Cannon

[Zion Grove, Tennessee] Man facing charges after shooting himself in groin

[San Antonio] Man apparently shoots self in groin while trying to help woman on Loop 410

Man rushed to hospital after shooting himself in the groin with a home-made gun stuffed down the front of his pants

Police: Wanted Felon Arrested After Shooting Himself in the Groin

Police say NYC officer accidentally shoots self in groin

Man Accidentally Shoots Himself in Groin at Gun Club

Worcester man facing charges after accidentally shooting self in groin on Christmas morning

Watch Kevin Owens Shoot Himself In The Crotch In Bizarre New Year’s Accident [VIDEO]

Providence man accidentally shoots himself in crotch while sitting in bed

Man allegedly hiding drugs in butt accidentally shoots himself in testicles

Oregon man shoots self in groin while showing off gun in supermarket checkout

Omaha man shoots himself in the groin while putting handgun away

Gun Enthusiasts Celebrate Man Who Shot Himself in the Balls as Their King*

Trump Supporter Shoots Self Through the Groin in Attempt to “Trigger Liberals”

*“The reason we are calling him king is partially because the poor guy already shot himself, don’t think he needs to be chastised as well… I’m quite sure he’s learned his lesson without the entire world calling him an idiot.”

Here’s a fragment from my upcoming novel

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(at the moment called Amy Among the Serial Killers)


Amy was at the eastern edge of old age and death was ever present in her thoughts, though not yet in a frightening way.  She found herself tidying up a lot, tossing out old clothes and mismatched plates and teacups, painting and otherwise sprucing up the inner and outer walls of her house , her penultimate resting place.  Once every couple of months she brought to the Good Will a cardboard box loaded with videotapes, kitchen gadgets, small appliances she had not used more than once, and uncracked hardbacks foisted upon her by blurb-seeking agents.  Her impulse not to leave a mess was odd, since when she died she would also leave no survivors.   Still, there it was, and she honored it.


Amy centered “Leaving a Mess” at the top of the blank page and double-spaced twice.


An old woman, Lucy, watches television at night when her eyesight is blurry from reading. She mostly watches old CSIs and true crime reenactments, but one evening she chances upon a program about hoarders being buried alive.  She sees another old woman living in spectacular squalor, surrounded by objects with which she refuses to part. She nests beyond mountains of Chinese take-out cartons, newspapers, dirty clothes, boxed dress shirts, glass bottles, bicycle parts, radios, pizza  boxes, pizza, open bags of cat food, Hummel figurines, plastic Christmas trees, six mummified cats, and a three-quarter ton of National Geographics.  When asked about this or that hoarded object, the old woman explains its purpose in detail.  The pizza, for example, is still edible if warmed in her microwave, which abides beneath an eight-foot mound of souvenir throw pillows. She is led protesting offscreen by a posse of TV people, disaffected daughters, therapists, and moonlighting crime-scene technicians, all of whom stage-whisper about rat feces and stench.  Lucy shuts off the program and inventories her house.  Since she can easily move from room to room without displacing mounds of garbage, she must not be a hoarder.  In fact, the rooms look neater than they did when she was younger. But she does have a lot of books.  Every room contains bookcases, all overflowing, unshelved books piled in front of the shelved ones due to lack of space. She remembers a CSI where somebody was killed by falling bookcases, but this was not likely here, since none were freestanding.  Still, she does not want to leave a mess.  The following afternoon, seeking Good Will donations, she begins with her reference books, starting with her great-grandfather’s Farmer’s Almanacs from 1847. She bundles these along with her husband’s books on structural steelwork and carpentry and volumes K, M, N, and XYZ from the 1964 World Book Encyclopedia.  Loading one box so fast fills her with optimism, but the task soon becomes daunting. For every book she lays to rest, she finds herself leafing through another, boxing it, changing her mind, taking it out, reading some more.  How had she come into The Moldavian Book of Root Medicines?  The handwritten inscription on the inside cover uses an alphabet unknown to her.  She can remember noticing the book from time to time; it seemed always to have stood there on the middle bottom shelf in the hall. Here is The Short History of the World by H.G. Wells: She does recall buying that second-hand  since it was short and cheap and by H.G. Wells, but his history stopped with the formation of the League of Nations, which happened long before Lucy was born, so she hasn’t yet got around to it.  She shelves it between Birds of the Northern Plains and the Physician’s Desk Reference she bought when her husband was dying.  Which is of course outdated and useless and would not again be opened but apparently functions as some sort of monument, or else she would be able to toss it out now.  Frowning, she places it beside her on the floor.  It becomes the foundation of a pile of other curiosities, books she should discard but can’t quite.  Orange sunset deepens to crimson all about as she explores shelf after shelf, book after book, and by moonlight the shelves are half-empty with more than enough room for Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Lardner and Woolf and all the other respectables, and she sits amid stacks higher than her head, mountain ranges of etiquette manuals, idiot’s guides, ghost stories, Yiddish folktales, biographies of Mary Astor, Petroleum V. Nasby, Horatio Nelson, and  Davy Crockett, How to Avoid Probate, Girl of the Limberlost, Fun with Stunts.  Is she a hoarder? She thinks not.  If anyone asked the purpose of keeping The Wonderful World of Salt, she would, unlike the crazy old woman on that show, have no answer.  She found this comforting. Rising, she surveys a mess of piles and boxes and admits that the whole project was ill-advised without a game plan. She’d return to it later.  Sighing, she reshelves everything except for the oldest Farmer’s Almanac, which she takes it to bed…


[A couple of chapters later, Amy’s working on the title “Empty House” and coming up with no story ideas, so she goes back to “Leaving a Mess”]

–Maybe Lucy, the old book hoarder!  She’d never finished that one.


“Leaving a Mess”


…Lucy goes to bed with the October 1847 Farmer’s Almanac and starts to read.


Amy searched fruitlessly online for text from the 1847 Almanacs.


…Lucy goes to bed with a collection of classic ghost stories and starts to read. She settles in with an old English one set on the windswept moors.  Nine-year-old twin sisters share a room containing a locked teakwood armoire with a missing key, and they spend idle hours alternately trying to pick the lock and outdo each other with predictions about its grisly contents .  One of them goes mad and murders the other. In another story, a widow is haunted by her husband’s shade, which keeps popping up in his favorite armchair, on the front lawn viewed through her picture window, at her bedside in the dead of night.  Lucy shuts the book.  Lucy would not care what was in that armoire even if it were right here beside her and her house had a history of homicidal lunacy. She cannot imagine malevolence, or for that matter benevolence, attaching to a physical object, nor can she imagine being spooked by visions of dead people.  How would she respond if she turned on her left side and found her husband stretched out beside her, his head inches from hers on the pillow?  She tries a thought experiment.  There he is, his hair is mussed, he’s wearing his favorite  L.L. Bean pajamas.  She can see his fine gray hair and starched striped pajamas, but his face is wholly obscured by fog.  In words, she can describe each feature in detail, and she tries this now, but no matter how exhaustive her description, his face remains hidden from her. His image, such as it is, is neither frightening nor reassuring, and when she blinks it away, it leaves nothing behind.   Lucy can recall his voice, hear it clear in her inner ear whenever she likes, which is often, but the sight of him began to evaporate almost immediately upon his death.  If there are ghosts, which of course there are not, they must feed on visual memory.  How shallow of them! With that thought she sleeps, and, as sometimes happens, she does not wake up.  After her grandnephew has flown in to deal with the settling of her estate, he stands alone in her house, having completed almost all the necessary preparation for sale.  His great-aunt was a hermit; her body lay undiscovered for weeks, and he’s had to hire professionals to deal with what was evidently a mess, but none of that remains.  As her only heir he has claimed the best pieces of furniture for himself and dealt with the rest, so that nothing is left but these large bookcases, eight of them, each shelf so tightly packed that books need to be pried loose.   A conscientious man, a family man, he takes a moment now to summon up some memorial reflection, some childhood memory of her, but all he can recall is her face in the family albums, and he never really knew that woman, let alone the old one who died here.  He wanders through the empty house, its bare walls and floors hollowing the sounds of his footsteps, trying to work up energy to pore through a thousand books to see which are worth keeping.  Sighing, he begins.   He carries in Good Will boxes and starts packing one with useless reference books, setting aside the occasional  curiosity, like the ancient Farmer’s Almanacs.  He fills that box in good time; he should be able to finish up today. But as he proceeds, the pile of keepers grows, topples, so he has to make a second pile, and then a third.  Some books he sets aside because they look valuable, but most for reasons unclear to him.  Why did she keep a Moldavian study of root medicines?  Why doesn’t he want to give it up now?  What is he going to do with a biography of Mary Astor?  The day lengthens, the sunlight deepens through uncurtained windows, the bookcases slowly surrender their burden, some of the boxes fill, but the keepers pile up around him, he won’t finish today, he may never finish at all, and with this thought he stands and walks around to clear his head, and now he hears that his footsteps are no longer hollow.  The house is no longer empty.  He summons the will to pack up those mountains of keepers and empty the house; he knows he can and must do this.  But before he does, he stands among the books and remembers her.




Respect That Mechanism (Covid Post 2)

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Many years ago, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and I almost lost my mind.*  All around me, people were going about their lives, oblivious to the impending nuclear holocaust.  I spent my days lurking around newsstands (there was no Internet then), listening to news radio, shaking, and looking out my window, scanning the sky for that white light.  I slept one or two hours a night; my muscles ached from constant tension.  I envied  old people because they had lived complete lives. This went on for five weeks.  Then it stopped.  I woke up one morning and it was like that moment in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opened the door and the world had color.  My colors were back.

This never happened to me again.  I’m not confident it couldn’t (even a brief bout of mental illness is permanently humbling), but I don’t worry about it.

I don’t worry about it because it’s not something I can control anyway.

What I remember most clearly about this episode is my profound bewilderment when people (the few in whom I confided) said “Look, there’s no point in worrying about stuff you can’t control.”  I thought they were insane.

Denial is a wonderful human strategy.  It makes happiness possible. I’m sure we’re not the only animal that knows we’re mortal, but other animals don’t need denial because they’re too busy surviving.  To deny, and to need to deny, you need top-of-the-food-chain-leisure time.  Anyway, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, my denial mechanism crashed, and there I was in the howling void where anything can happen and tomorrow is hypothetical.

I’m not much of a sharer except in fiction, but I’m sharing this today because all around me I see good people worrying about stuff they can’t control, and I wish I could help them, and I probably can’t, because all I can do is tell them to stop it, and I remember how useless that advice was when the Russians invaded Afghanistan.

We hang by a thread.  We always have and we always will.  Sometimes a thing will happen and we glimpse that thread, which is just a metaphor but metaphors are all we can access because the void itself is unimaginable, and the metaphorical curtain parts and confronts us with what we’ve been blithely denying.

This is not fun.  Still, it isn’t unbearably scary if you’ve learned your lesson about the limitations of your own anxious mind.  All we have is now.  It’s all we’ve ever had and all we ever will.

This is one of those profound truths that you can “know” without really knowing.  Real knowledge sinks deep.  Millions of people know already, some of them so eminently sensible that they never thought otherwise, others having learned through experience.  Also, it really helps to be old.  But I do worry about the people who can’t sleep.

If you’re one of them or worried  that you might be, this is all I have to offer, and forgive my presumption:

Look after your colors and lean into the now.


*Not funny at the time, but that is a funny line.

A Brief Lecture on Sentence Structure

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My literary idols include the great humorists of the first half of the twentieth century.  They continue to entertain me when I read and inspire me as I write.  They knew how to craft a sentence.

They sometimes began their pieces with a quote they found especially ridiculous and proceeded to use it as a writing prompt.  For example, Perelman had a field day with Diana Vreeland’s Why don’t you rinse your blond child’s hair in dead champagne to keep it gold, as they do in France?

James Thurber begins “Something to Say” with a quote from a thing called “Memoirs of a Polyglot” by William Gerhardt.*

Hugh Kingsmill and I stimulated each other to such a pitch that after the first meeting he had a brain storm and I lay sleepless all night and in the morning was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

After that, Thurber is off and running. His fictional narrator recollects his experiences with the spectacularly obnoxious Elliot Vereker and explains why he was “the only man who ever continuously stimulated me to the brink of a nervous breakdown.”

This is one of my favorite Thurber pieces, and one which still sticks in my mind not just because it is funny but because of the structure of a single sentence.  Thurber was a rewriter—every piece went through multiple drafts—so you know that the published sentences were structured exactly as intended.

That single sentence appears within:

“…Vereker always liked to have an electric fan going while he talked and he would stick a folded newspaper into the fan so that the revolving blades scuttered against it, making a noise like the rattle of machinegun fire. This exhilarated him and exhilarated me, too, but I suppose it exhilarated him more than it did me.  He seemed, at any rate, to get something out of it that I missed. He would raise his voice so that I could hear him above the racket. Sometimes, even then, I couldn’t make out what he was saying. “What?” I would shout. “You heard me!!” he would yell, his good humor disappearing in an instant.

I had, of course, not heard him at all.  There was no reasoning with him, no convincing him. I can still hear the musketry of those fans in my ears. They have done, I think, something to me.”

Note the odd structure of that last sentence.  Most of us would have worded it

I think they have done something to me.

Thurber interrupts the sentence, sticking “I think” in the middle, creating an awkward rhythm.  If you try reading the piece aloud, you are likely to trip on “I think.” The narrator himself stops here, still grappling with what that “something” was. The structure of this sentence conveys the damage done to the poor man. It’s brilliant.

That’s the thing about the great American humorists of the last century: They weren’t just funny—they were wonderful stylists. We can learn from them.

Writers and their critics often focus on word choices, and of course they’re important, but they’re not enough.  Mechanics and syntax are equally crucial.  As we write, and as we rewrite, we must honor the rhythm of our sentences.


*To make sure that “Memoirs of a Polyglot” was an actual publication, I searched the web, and it was.  His name is listed as William Gerhardie, and he apparently wrote lots of books, including God’s Fifth Column and The Memoirs of Satan. 



Enough with the Plague, Write a Limerick (Covid Post 1)

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I remember when amusing yourself was not internet-dependent.  For example, my husband and I used to write limericks.  They’re not particularly good, but, unlike whatever Netflix thing I watched last night, they survive.


A silly old bag from Loch Lomond

Believed in a terrible omen

With chattering teeth

She fled o’er the heath

And stumbled and drowned in the gloaming


A near-sighted harpy from Wells

Confused all her magic and spells

She mixed up a potion

With Calamine lotion

Because of her love for the smells


A middle-aged woman from Guam

Sat down on a hydrogen bomb

Her feet and her face

Were completely erased

But her ass remained perfectly calm


[alternate ending:


Causing condition

Of nuclear fission

Depriving her bairn of their mom]


A grotty old guy from Vancouver

Employed as a furniture mover

Got horny one day

In a violent way

And made love to a customer’s Hoover


There was an old man in Dobb’s Ferry

Who went to the public library

He took, as his choice,

The works of James Joyce

To paper his new apiary


There was an old man from Rangoon

Who ate with a runcible spoon

He used his bread knife

To butter his wife

And fed her to his pet baboon


There was a young lady from Nimes

Who slathered herself with whipped cream

And traveled to Thierry

Dressed as a strawberry

Rendezvoused with a shortcake intime.


A tidy old broad from Spokane

Once fell face-first into a fan

But she was so neat

And so fast on her feet

That she caught the whole mess in a pan


Go ahead and write one.  It will improve your day.

My Mother; or Watching Out for Tests

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My mother was my hero, and here is why.

Back in the 1950s, she was active in Sweet Adelines, the women’s equivalent of SPEBSQSA (both international barbershop singing organizations). After Brown v. Board of Education, both organizations inserted the word “white” into their bylaws to keep African-Americans from participating in championship competition.

Lots of individual chapters protested, but in the end only a handful did so in a meaningful way, by challenging the change in the by-laws and, according to Sweet Adelines, generally being “troublemakers.” My mother was president of the Providence chapter; when Providence put the issue up for a vote, its members voted unanimously to withdraw. Theirs was the first chapter to do so; they were followed by Massachusetts chapters in North Attleboro, Scituate, New Bedford, and a Canadian chapter in Orillia. This small group started its own organization—Harmony, Inc.—which has since grown internationally and continues to thrive. (Both Sweet Adelines and SPEBSQSA discreetly deleted “white” at some point.)

Barbershop music comes across to many as square and very, very white (although its origins are anything but; I grew up listening to records of the Golden Gate Quartet), so all this may seem rather quaint and inconsequential. It wasn’t. This was the Fifties: These women were housewives, file clerks, factory workers, and once a week they got to sing, and once a year they went to international conventions and sang themselves hoarse for three days straight. Singing was their passion, and giving it up was a meaningful sacrifice. And the moral courage it took to buck the system was something I witnessed as a child and never forgot.

My mother went into the fight a young, idealistic, optimistic woman; she went in expecting that of course the right would prevail, the international board would see the light, or if not, then there would be a wholesale exodus of outraged members. She learned a lot about human nature, and so did I, from watching her.

Daughters watch their mothers very closely. Once she said to me, “In life there are tests. If you’re lucky, you’ll never get one, but if you do, you may not recognize it for what it is. Always watch out for tests.” I do.

In memory of Joanne Willett, 1925-2019.