A Festive Friday Afternoon at the Haikulodeon

Here’s this week’s heap of haikus:

As the chaos fades,
I pause to think hard about
where to go from here.

( Photo courtesy Kristina Rebelo )

double haiku:

Diminishing light,
the quiet insistence of
each small breaking wave

The tide coming in,
The day going out,  a bird
flies through the sunset.

( Photo courtesy Kristina Rebelo )

Muted shades of dawn,
the pier in the distance is
still out of focus.

( Photo courtesy Kristina Rebelo )

Rows of orange houses
face the morning sun each day
without much squinting

( Photo courtesy Kristina Rebelo )

Silver icicles,
drip from Christmas tree branches,
teasing the kittens.

 Anguish and remorse
when embraced by solitude,
will shed bitter tears.

The beauty of Life;
On rare occasions, it will
approach perfection.

 Judging from sales stats,
you would never imagine
Santa employs elves.

Snow days filled with fun,
sledding down my neighbor’s hill.
crashing into trees.

This Saturday morn,
the sun’s out, the sky’s blue, but
I’m still missing you.

double haiku:

Bayberry candles,
in the windows, pine needles
on the parlor floor.

Xmas in small towns,
and our imaginations,
are things of delight.

Grandma’s old scrapbook,
is a journey through her past,
chock full o’ photos.

A snowy morning,
sipping coffee and reading,
the dog nuzzles me.

Minimize your pains,
but maximize your blessings,
and keep marching on.

She spoke to Santa,
(Confidentially, of course),
“Please bring my mom joy.”

Reading comic books
and playing travel bingo
got them to Grandma’s.

tanka haiku:

A marionette,
still dangled from the door-jam,
but it danced no more.

   His room remained as it was,
until both his parents died.


in a lonely room,
a writer pecks his keyboard …
inspiration strikes!

As you get older,
perspectives change; trivial
matters fall away.

In some dark cellar,
last year’s Christmas ornaments,
still wait patiently.

A large rubber band
was the only thing keeping
his Life together.

Hiding on the stairs,
they watched in awe (and glee) as
Santa ate cookies.

He trudged through the snow,
to get back home while it was
still Christmas morning.

What’s that you’re hiding?
Under your coat, what is that?
My Christmas present?!

Walnuts and filberts,
each Christmas forced to listen
to “The Nutcracker.”

Mom’s gold charm bracelet,
clanged against the banister,
as she climbed the stairs.

On his empty bed,
sits a present, wrapped, but left
out of his suitcase.

His pain’s too great, he
loses himself in movies …
to exist in dreams.

He sang Madrigals
in High School, standing next to
girls that frightened him.

I don’t move fast, but
the reticence of old age
has not slowed my thoughts.

Sitting quietly
a Beatles tune in my head
I weep for my youth.

There, lying in a
box of old photos. a house

now unrecognized.

It’s been lovingly
saved, but saved for what reason?
Don’t know, never will.


This week’s bonus material is a play I wrote and performed in 1995, The Vaudeville Diaries of Connie Betters.  

The Vaudeville Diaries of  Connie Betters
by Michael Tracy Smith – copyright 1995

 (Upon entering, the entire audience is given buttons indicating whether or not they have seen Connie before. If they have, their BLUE button reads, “I’ve been Betters-ed!” If not, their RED button reads, “Never Betters-ed!”)
At rise: A card is resting on an easel, stage left. It reads, “FINK’S MULES”. A
high stool with a table next to it is slightly left of center stage. A couple
of books rest on the table. (Music: The March from “The Love for Three
Oranges” is heard.)  At a certain point, Angela, a tall and pretty girl in a sexy
costume enters. She crosses to the easel. A spotlight comes up on the
easel.  The girl takes away the card to reveal another card which says
simply: “Connie Betters”. After a quick smile and a wink to the audience, the girl, in
time to the music, gestures sweepingly to the other side of the stage. The spotlight follows and there it discovers Connie Betters as he enters from stage right carrying a bag. The music ends as he reaches center stage. He stands there for a moment looking over the audience.

“I can’t make up my mind.” I just don’t know, what do you think?” “I’m not sure how I feel.” Those are three sentences that I have never before uttered in my entire life. That and “Should I lie down on the couch, doctor?” I’m Connie Betters and if you don’t know who I am by now, where the Hell have you been? I’m 95, and more judgmental than both of your parents … put together. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Y’see, if I’ve learned anything in this life, and I have, it’s that your judgmental feelings, if used properly, can be quite instrumental in erasing doubts and inspiring a clarity of thinking, virtually unknown to most of this generation’s whining little twelve-step-a-holics.  I know … Everyone’s out there striving to achieve complete control of their life. Searching for certainty in an uncertain universe. C’mon, admit it.Isn’t that what you’ve been doing all this time? Well, forget it. You’ve been acting like idiots. There you’ve been, aiming to achieve nirvana, but only making it up to self-deluded satisfaction. Am I right? (Picks out someone in the audience.) Oh, how would you know? You’re self-deluded. Perhaps I can help. Now don’t worry, I’m not an infomercial. I don’t want you to spray paint your head or anything. And I swear there are absolutely NO operators standing by. I just want to tell you, that the conscious mastering of your judgmental feelings is the key to unlocking the door of certainty, which allows you entry into the house of tranquility, where you can blissfully reside in a perfect state of mind, content in a cul-de-sac on the sunny side of the road to happiness, with only occasional detours down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams … To coin a phrase.

Y’see, God didn’t mean for us to live our lives being so incredibly confused. I mean, cripes, if God had meant for us to be all mixed up, we’d be chutney… Now I can’t say that I have much patience for new-comers. I figure that most of you people with RED buttons, should just leave him alone. (he laughs at his own joke)  Red Buttons. Leave him alone.  Well, If you had more than half an inkling up here, (pointing to his head) you’d have gotten here for my previous talks. Now, you blue button veterans will please excuse us, while the “initiates” and I quickly run over a few of the basics. And for God’s sake, if you’re sitting next to a newcomer, plug up one of their ears so the information doesn’t go whistling out the other side.  I used to be just like you … Well, almost.  After the armistice, I returned to discover that I had very little going for me.   What else could I do but go into show business?  I became a magician. Crescendo the Magnificent … Thank you very much.  I never played the Palace, but I wowed them in Kankakee. When vaudeville began its own disappearing act, my wife, Henrietta, persuaded me to go back to school and get a degree. After graduation, I became a teacher. Which has always been the perfect career for an extremely opinionated person. I have also been keeping a diary for almost 87 years now. In two parts. The first part of my diary is called, The Way It Should Be, and the second part is known as The Way It Turned Out. Anyway, I’m glad you could make it.  Frankly, I wouldn’t be here myself, but they keep inviting me back, so here I am. Besides, it was an excuse to tear myself away from a riveting canasta game over at the home.  Now, I really hadn’t planned on talking about anything terribly significant tonight. I thought I’d haul out some old show business anecdotes, make a few pithy observations, dazzle you with a bit of prestidigitation, and then get the Hell out. But I was sitting in the community room over at the Home this morning, preparing tonight’s talk, when Mrs. Garafaldo, the women who types for me, came in all aflutter. And I thought to myself, “Oh God, she’s back from the Crafts Fair and wants to know if I can use another pot holder.” But instead she waved some kind of a letter in front of me. It was informing her that she was now a bonafide super semi-finalist in some cock-eyed magazine sweepstakes. This news, to put it mildly, had Mrs Garafaldo completely agog. She sat there all afternoon, day-dreaming about some enormous Moolah Mobile pulling up, and a bunch of smiling Prize Police getting out and tossing a gigantic bundle of money into her lap. Then, when they hadn’t come by five o’clock, she got up and hopped on a bus for Atlantic City. Which is why my notes never got transcribed.  On the other hand, her steadfast belief in a magical solution to her problems, got me thinking. About the relationship between belief and magic. Y’see, magic suggests that the mind can control the forces of nature. And that skewed bit of logic further reasons that because we seem to have a mastery of our own thoughts, we should, therefore, also be capable of control over physical reality. Obviously, there are more than a few blatant contradictions involved in such ardent self- delusion. Not the least of which is the fact that if our minds really DID control physical reality, there’d be a lot more people
spontaneously exploding … And I can
name most of them … For my first feat of magic, I will make the entire stage and everything on it disappear. Presto! (He puts on sunglasses.) Thank you very much … By the way, I’d been told that residents of this area are quite susceptible to mysterious and random outbreaks of psychosomatic blindness, but I don’t believe it. (The lights go out. Connie continues speaking.) Now, for my next illusion, I will take these 4 beautiful white tigers, and make them sit up, spin around, leap onto the back of this enormous   African elephant and then both the tigers and the elephant will vanish into thin air. Ready? All right tigers, sit up, spin, leap, Presto! (The lights come back up.) Thank you very much. At this point, it seems like a good time to bring in my main visual aid for the evening. (Calling offstage:) Angela!   (The girl re-enters.) This is Mrs. Garafaldo’s grand-niece. I’ve known her most of her life. Watched her grow up … and up … and up. (To Angela:)  I’ve really shrunk, haven’t I?

Hello, Mr. Betters. I’m happy to help
out, but I can’t stay very long. I’ve got my aromatherapy session tonight.

Downwind, I hope.
(To Audience) I know it will come as a disappointment to some, but Angela is NOT the visual aid to which I was referring. (To Angela) This is where you bring out  the illusion.

Is that the box with the orange cylinder inside?

That’s right.

Oh, wow, can I touch it?

If you can get it out here without touching it, I’m turning the show over
to you.

Oh, Mr. Betters.
(She exits)

It’s hard to believe she’s never been
on a stage before. Such natural beauty and grace. (There’s a crash offstage)  I’m sure she’s fine … (Angela enters with the illusion. Connie begins unpacking his bag.)   Ladies and Gentlemen, most of the REAL mysteries of Life are in our minds.  Circumstances simply occur. It is our attempts to make sense of them that creates the mystery. Thank you my dear … (He turns to see that she has brought in the box and cylinder separately) … Oh cripes, you’ve ruined everything.

                         Angela (Puzzled)
Sorry, but I thought you just said …

                         Connie (He puts the trick back together.)
Forget it. (He moves the table center-stage.) No, don’t help, I’ve been wanting to aggravate my hernia … and enlarge my heart, so if I get a pacemaker it’ll fit more snug. (To Audience:) I’m sorry, but I need to rest a bit before doing anything as strenuous as an illusion. (To Angela:)  Thank you, but I’ve decided not to do the trick right now.

                            Angela (Disappointed)
Ohh, why not? I hope I didn’t …

No, no, I’ve decided to talk for a little bit, first.

Oh … Should I leave?

Yes … But don’t wander.   Here.

(Handing her the trick.)  I’ll call you when I’m ready for you.

Okay. Great. That’ll give me a chance to work on my new wardrobe. I just
had my colors done. I’m a “Summer” … What season are you?

Flu …
(She exits.) … Well, I guess part of the “magic” of theatre is that anything can happen … Vaudeville was like that.   Between 1919 and 1925, I did three and four shows a day in what seemed like every backwater town in America for nine months out of every year … I suppose that most of you are too young to remember that at one time there was such a thing as seasonal foods. Not just fruits, but vegetables.  For instance, you simply couldn’t get lettuce in the winter.  In the early nineteen twenties, theatres were seasonal too. They closed down in the Summer. For twelve weeks, they shut their doors and hard-working vaudevillians found themselves on enforced vacations. However, like birds of a feather, vaudevillians tended to spend their idle time amongst themselves, often migrating to small ocean-front communities… Henrietta and I spent a delightful hiatus in one such vaudeville colony in Freeport, N.Y., as the guests of Caspar and Dotty Cluntz, better known as Winifred and Winchester, the Baron and Baroness of Ballroom Ballistics. They were a lovely couple. They used to waltz sedately around the stage, while the “Baron” shot clay pipes out of the mouths of volunteers from the audience. For their big finish, Winifred stood on her head, while Winchester, blindfolded and also upside down, swung from a chandelier and shot a dozen Royal Daulton teacups, one by one, from between her legs … Freeport is where we enjoyed our first,  “Christmas in July”. For those of you unfamiliar with the origin of this celebration, suffice it to  say that it was first made popular by vaudevillians, who, during the regular holidays, were always working. So, come Summer, they would celebrate in proper fashion. Historically, Christmas in July was also responsible for the very first East coast reports of Santa Claus heat prostration and a few minor episodes of reindeer mildew. Now I’m sure I brought that up for a reason … Oh, yes, closing the theatres. In those days, it felt like the weather was the subject of more judgmental feelings than just about anything else.

Let me read you an excerpt from my diaries during one of my earliest solo bookings. First, from The Way It Should Be: … The act went very smoothly tonight, and I must say, it was quite a thrill performing in such a pleasant theatre. Here it is, the first week of June, and at the matinee today, the audience remained alert and responsive thanks to the very comfortable atmosphere. (Changing books) Now, the same day from The Way It Turned Out: I was positively soaked through to the skin as I attempted to run through my opening card tricks in this velvet-lined boiler room that they’re trying to pass off as a theatre. I swear, it gets so hot in here, they’ve had to install a series of leaders and gutters around the stage to help drain off all the sweat that pours out of the actors. Some nights, the air gets so saturated with perspiration, that a warm, thick, fog settles in around the first two rows. Of course, sitting further back doesn’t help much. People in the last rows have trouble seeing through the angry, storm clouds which frequently form just beneath the proscenium arch. Not that it ever actually rains. However, last week, the Second trombone was struck by lightning and suffered third degree lip burns.   I tell you doing a show here is like playing tennis in a sauna wearing your winter woolens. Last night, I was drenched to such a point that when I pulled the rabbit out of my hat, the squirming bunny slipped out of my hand and flopped to the floor with a deafening splash.  Fortunately, the rabbit escaped drowning by dog-paddling into the orchestra pit, eventually finding refuge in the tuba player’s lunchbox … Now that’s something you wouldn’t see happen today …

Well, I’m feeling better.   Angela? (She has re-entered and is reading a newspaper.)


                                Angela (Snapping paper shut)
Are you ready for me?

What are you reading? The weather report?

I was checking out my horoscope …
What’s YOUR sign, Mr. Betters?

I was born on August 1st, 1900.

Oh, Leo.

No, Connie … Can you do that later? I’m very old and when an urge to
perform comes over me, it’s not a good idea to ignore it.

Okay, but gimme a second. I left my lucky earrings in the dressing room …
be right back. (She dashes offstage.)

                            Connie (Calling after her:)
Don’t … go … (Too late, she’s gone.)  Lucky earrings. It’s been said, ladies and gentlemen, that when times become troubling or uncertain, there is a rise in magical thinking.  For example, in a recession, belief in  Astrology increases dramatically. Well now, doesn’t THAT make sense? Some young person like Angela can’t keep a good job because Jupiter controls her destiny … And Jupiter hates Angela’s guts … Just kidding.   (He looks to see if Angela has returned. She hasn’t.) … Do you know what the big fad was back in 1920? Ouija Boards. Talking to the spirit world became a mass-marketed parlor game. Allowing sophisticates and yokels alike to discover that contact with their ancestors was right at their fingertips. All you had to do was believe. Today, over in Germany, I understand there are thousands of people who claim to be receiving on their televisions, transmissions from the dearly departed.   Now, I say you can delude yourself all you want about the amount of control you have over your own life, but imagining that you have control over dead people’s lives has got to be the ultimate definition of rampant egoism.  Unfortunately, some things never change. In 1920, millions of people had their lives guided by astrology.  Today, millions still do. Believers apply the stamp of authenticity by saying it’s, “Derived from ancient wisdom” … Now let’s see, ancient wisdom, that would be the sun circling around a flat earth, while doctors are indulging in blood-letting, and curing insanity by drilling holes in people’s heads. Does that sound about right? It seems to me that any claim that an idea is based upon recently discovered information from thousands of years ago, is saying that we as a society, have been too stupid or arrogant to use and exploit for profit what really works.   And how often have you found THAT to be true? Y’know what I think? I think what makes these little diversions so popular is the implied sub-text that your fate is not in your own hands. That your destiny is controlled by others. That YOU are not responsible for your actions. That’s a very comforting thought … to idiot numbskulls all over the planet. The trouble is, you and I have to deal with them every day. Doesn’t that frighten you? … It should.  Hmmm, I guess Mercury’s in retrograde … My Uncle Eddie believed in astrology … until he went out on the so-called luckiest day of his life, and got run-over by a streetcar … Traffic accidents seem to run in my family.  Then again, if my family could run, they wouldn’t be in so many traffic accidents.  Some of you may remember my Grandson, Lawrence.  He was run over by an Eyewitness News van on the Grand Central Parkway. He was no Rhodes scholar … Road-KILL scholar might be more like it … He was such an idiot. He used to say things like, “Always remember the people you step on on the way up, ’cause that’s where the footholds are!”  Excuse me. (He crosses upstage to check on Angela.) …  I guess at this point, making Angela disappear would be redundant …  (Calling offstage:) Hello?!  For cryin’ out loud, forget the damn earrings will you? … (Crossing back downstage) While we’re waiting, I suppose I could acquaint you with a few of the more intriguing people that I’ve met through the years, although none of them ever became stars, like Bob Hope or George Burns. This was smalltime vaudeville, where a lot of ordinary people were just trying to put food on the table, and in the process, displayed remarkable talents. I remember some of them so vividly,it’s as if no time at all has passed. For instance, in 1923, I was performing on a circuit which covered the Northwestern states, and a few cities in Canada. It was there that I met the Pen Man, a remarkably talented individual. His act was unique, even by Vaudeville standards. With a dozen fountain pens deftly stuck between the fingers of both of his hands, Pen Man stood in a small boat in the middle of a large tank of water. As the boat, or as he called it, “The S.S. Pen Man’s Ship”, rocked back and forth, Pen Man proceeded to write in perfect script , the entire book of Genesis, with the left hand writing forward from the beginning and the right hand backward from the end, eventually meeting in the middle. Pen Man would then offer randomly chosen pages from Genesis to the members of the audience to prove his astounding feat, and for the lucky few to take home as a souvenir suitable for framing. Pen Man had been a regular on the circuit for many years. He always kept a large supply of fountain pens in his dressing room, and he was always reluctant to part with one. One night, I discovered why.  Every time we played Vancouver, Pen Man would slip out of the theatre to a liquor store and buy two fifths of scotch. He would then spend hours in his dressing room, filling each fountain pen, not needed for the act, with scotch. After crossing back into the states, he would empty the two hundred or so pens back into a couple of empty bottles, keeping one for himself, and selling the other to the highest bidder. He had been doing this for years, and would have continued to do so, except one day, a police man at the border. recognized him, told him he was a fan, and asked for an autograph. Pen Man was so flustered by the Policeman’s unexpected attention, that he accidentaly signed his name in Canadian Club. (He looks offstage.) What could possibly be keeping her?  She must have an obsessive fear of naked lobes or something. Oh, y’know, before I forget, I also want to tell you that I have drawn up some rules that, when heeded by others, will make the world a much more tolerable place for ME to exist in. I call this the Connie Betters Contract FOR America”. In the next hundred days I’d like all Americans to conform to the following new rules: You must always look in the direction you’re walking … Never make a U-turn while I’m crossing the street … Avoid getting on escalators unless you swear that the speed you’ll move when you get OFF the escalator will equal or exceed the speed OF the escalator … Repress all desire to reveal intimate details of your social life while I’m present. And finally, and most importantly, whenever possible, JUST GET OUT OF MY WAY!  … Oh, and there’s one more … If you’re going to buy it, BUY IT! Don’t get on line unless the decision is final. AND if you can’t figure out the difference between how much you’ve got and how much it costs, DON’T SHOP! Naturally, compliance with these rules is only voluntary … so far. But I’m having breakfast with my Congressman tomorrow, so watch out. (Still no Angela) Y’know, how I found out about the Pen Man, don’t you? I bought one of his bottles of scotch. Trouble was the bladders of the pens were made out of rubber, which defnitely affected the taste. Still, compared to some bathtub gin I’d tasted, it wasn’t so bad … The year after I met the Pen Man, I came back East and got married. Henrietta and I had known we were destined to spend our lives together since the first month after we’d met. We were together for seventy years, and I miss her to this day. We didn’t get married right away, for a number of reasons.  Henrietta’s being only nineteen was one of them. I also promised her father that I would have five hundred dollars put away, before I’d ask to set the date. Those were different times, indeed. Mr. Blossom, that was Henrietta’s maiden name, was a strict, God-fearing Republican. And for a man named after a flower, he was a frightening figure. he was six feet tall, weighed an expansive three hundred and twenty pounds, and was bald with an enormous walrus moustache. He was bank manager for the Worcester Savings and Loan and a former county commissioner. He’d been widowed the previous year, and he relied on his two daughters to do the cooking and cleaning chores formerly provided by his late wife.

Now, from what I understand, Henrietta’s mother was a dainty woman with impeccable manners. Like Henrietta, she was graceful and light on her feet. She also posessed a talent for silohuette portraiture which was discovered only after her death, when Henrietta was putting away the Summer comforter and discovered a large portfolio crammed with delicate artworks along with a pack of cigarettes and a silver hip flask on the top shelf of the guest closet… I don’t know what that has to do with anything … (Angela walks on listening to a walkman and cradling a handful of rocks.) … Angela? Yoo-hoo!  (Waving at her to get her attention.)


What are you doing? I thought you were looking for your earrings.

                             Angela (Not removing the headset)
I am. This subliminal tape is helping me locate them psychic-ly.

What are you doing with the rocks?

Huh? Oh.
(holding up the rocks) These are crystals … This one is for …

Never mind.
(Angela wanders off.)  Let’s see, I was trying to explain why Henrietta and I didn’t marry for almost 3 years. She was helping keep the house for her father during the day and selling candy at the theatre at night, and I was just starting to get some consistent bookings and had to stay on the road as much as possible to try to make a name for myself. But by October, 1924, we were ready to take the big step. Now, to make a long story short, which has never been easy for me, I was appearing in Baltimore, a city not exactly known, at least in my opinion, for its discriminating taste in theatre. But due to the nature of my bookings, this was the Easternmost point I would see for the next 6 months, so we scheduled the ceremony for the dinner break between the second matinee and the evening show. The only church available was a Greek Orthodox one, still under construction.  Fortunately, the weather was unusually mild. Of course it was a bit drafty, scaffolding was everywhere, and the bell tower was nothing more than a large hole in the roof. Henrietta and her father and older sister, Hortense, arrived by train in the morning, suffering only a few minor inconveniences along the way. One of which was that Henrietta had to sit next to her sister. Hortense, you may remember, has always been an extremely negative person. The Yin for Henrietta’s Yang. For the entire trip, Hortense maligned Men, Marriage and Me, not necessarily in that order. Well, at least the luggage arrived intact.  Henrietta’s trousseau was delivered to the hotel, and she went right to work getting ready. My older brother, Lester, who, on some kind of whim, had decided to drive all the way down from Connecticut, accompanied by our parents, wasn’t so lucky. When I arrived at the church,  I discovered that Lester and my parents were listed as among the missing. After twenty minutes, I had to reluctantly tell the priest to proceed, or else I wouldn’t be able to get back to the theatre in time for the evening show.   Henrietta seemed more than a bit nervous, yet she also looked more radiant than I had ever seen her. I learned from her later that she was having a minor crisis of her own, however. What with all the excitement, she had not gone to the bathroom since she arrived. Henrietta, always a bit shy about these things, kept this information all to herself as she was sewn into her wedding dress.  I suppose it’s a cliche to have the Best Man lose the ring. But in this case, there was an added twist. The best man was a contortionist friend of mine. In an effort to find the ring, he began shifting and rotating every which way and before anybody knew it, he had dislocated both his shoulders, his elbows and his left hip. There he stood, looking for all the world like a pretzel imitating a corkscrew. Then, to everyone’s astonishment, he quite literally turned himself inside out; but no ring. So, I began searching for it myself. Now, I thought I could save some time by wearing the same tuxedo that I wore in the act. It was, however, replete with hidden pockets, most of which were stuffed with compressed floral bouquets and long strings of colored hankerchiefs  along with a half dozen
birds of various temperments. Soon
my shoulders were resplendent with white doves and miles of cheap silk.  Then suddenly, from the back of the church, came a commotion. I turned to see, a bedraggled Lester come barrelling down the aisle, followed in slow-motion pursuit by my father and mother. The sleeves of Father’s suitcoat were rolled up to his elbows, and his face was smeared with a considerable amount of grease.  Mother looked like she’d been hit with a brick. She was immaculate, except for a glassy-eyed expression and the extreme tilt of her chapeau. Now, Father’s peripheral vision had never been too good, so naturally, when Lester stopped to genuflect, Father kept going and fell right on top of him.  Mother froze and watched the carnage, and then quietly, and with great dignity, slipped into a pew on the Bride’s side and pretended she didn’t know them.  Since the ring had still not made an appearance, we made do with what we could find; a piston ring left over from Lester’s auto repair work.  It was an extremely loose fit, more like a wedding bracelet, actually; which was not helped by Henrietta’s somewhat violent shaking. With the arrogance of youth, I assumed that her trembling, was in feverish anticipation of our first night together. Now don’t snicker. In those days, MOST people lost their virginity through marriage. And here stood my bride, so nervous and beautiful … I’d have to be gentle with her … This masculine bravado of mine melted away, however, when Henrietta picked up the train of her dress and took the recessional in double time. Suddenly I was panic-stricken. I thought, “My God, what is she expecting of me? What if I can’t … “perform” … I wasn’t referring to the act, I was referring to “the act” … Well,  anyway, with no other alternatives coming to mind, I quickly stuffed the birds and silk scarves back in my pockets and dashed after my brand new wife.  By the time I caught up, Henrietta had already burst through the church doors and hit the stairs at a flat out run, barely giving the spectators a chance to reach into their bags in order to throw the rice.  Without a word spoken between us, I drove her back to the hotel. She got out and whirled through the revolving door, and my last image of her was as she trotted through the lobby, her right hand still clutching the bouquet and her left arm held upright in order to keep the grimy piston ring from falling off.   Naturally I was a bit non-plussed …  (Angela hurriedly re-enters) Oh. Well,  (To Angela:) Welcome back to earth.  I was just filling in the eternity while you were occupied …

                             Angela (Whispering)

Why don’t you bring the trick back out and I’ll be right with you.  
(She exits.)

(To audience:) At the reception, and after three large glasses of excellent champagne, Henrietta and I talked things over, and from then on, we always recalled our wedding day with great fondness and laughter. I had the piston ring bronzed and we gave it to our daughter, Jenny, on her wedding day.  (To Angela:) All right, are you ready?

(To Audience:) And now, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to finish things up, hopefully with Angela’s assistance, by performing this time-honored illusion. (He crosses to Angela.)

                             Angela (Stage Whisper)
(Referring to her earrings)
I found them!

Very nice … Did the rocks help?

Uh-huh. Except now I’ve lost my tape player. See? My earrings are made of
Lapis Lazuli. They help align my chakras and cleanse my mental and spiritual auras, as well as amplifying my thoughts.

Oh … Well, no wonder you had to find them … Good gracious, your thoughts
are so amplified, I can actually hear what you’re thinking.

                             Angela (Thrilled)

                             Connie (To Audience:)
It must be genetic. (To Angela:) Yes, you’re thinking, “I can hardly wait to see the illusion.”

                             Angela (In amazement)
That’s right!

Thank you very much … Well, your wish has been granted. Just come
right over here. (She crosses to him.) Now show everyone the box. (She’s too excited.) Here, like this. (He shows her. She imitates him.) Good. Now show them the cylinder. (She does.)

What do YOU do?

Never mind. Now I say the magic word
… Presto!   (He reaches into the cylinder. it is empty.) Whoops … (He does the preliminaries again.) Voila! (Still empty.) … Abracadabra … (Connie peeks inside the cylinder. He approaches the audience.) Ummm… Is there a magician in the house?

                        Stooge in Audience
Why yes, I’m a magician …

                        Connie (Eyes him verydeliberately, then:)
How’s tricks? … (To Audience:) Oh come on, I’ve waited seventy years to say that line … I’m open to suggestions.

                        Stooge in Audience
Have you thought of re-configuring the ionic stabilizers inside the plasma
conduits in order to emit a high density, sub-atomic tachyon pulse?

                        Connie (Without missing a beat)
Yes I have … (He tries doing the trick again.) Hocus-Pocus. (He reaches into the cylinder. Still nothing.) Maybe I’m too old for this.

Aunt Sophie said you’d probably
screw it up.

Thank you so much. You can tell Mrs Garafaldo that she’s a pessimistic
little … old lady.

So what do we do now?

Pretend we planned it this way. We can say that NOT doing the trick was

Of what?…

The fact that humans have finally reached a point in their evolution
where they can give up their magical beliefs, and instead develop their own judgmental natures.

You’re loonier than Aunt Sophie.

There’s a dubious compliment.  Look, belief in Magic assumes that the
believer is themselves, powerless.

And being judgmental? …

Allows you to know your own mind and have a clear vision of how things
should be. It’s what I call, survival of the opinionated.

But it’s a very negative way of thinking.

That’s the misconception. Judgmental people are, basically, optimists.

Uh-huh … And Snoop Dog sings Puccini.

Work with me, will you? Ever hear of a Greek philosopher named Pyrrho?


He was known for his extreme skepticism. “All knowledge” he said,
“including the testimony of the senses, is uncertain.”  Pyrrho thought that to be truly happy a person must answer these three questions: What is the nature of things?

I don’t know.

What attitude ought we to adopt with respect to them?

I don’t know.

And what will be the net result for those so disposed?

I don’t know.

Well, Pyrhho answered his own questions thusly: The nature of things
cannot be known. Therefore, we ought not to put our trust in them, but be without beliefs, and the net result will be a disinclination to make assertions and a state of psychic quietude called “Ataraxia”. This has been defined as a calmness of the mind and the emotions. In other words, “Do nothing, Feel nothing”. Which just goes to prove…?

That even the Ancients Greeks produced lazy imbeciles?

Exactly. Unfortunately a lot of the so-called visionaries throughout the
early parts of this century followed a similar line of reasoning. Many French artists were proponents of something called, … “L’indifference”, which stated that inner tranquility is based on the absence of judgment …

Then “L’indifference” est le merde …


You know French? Never mind.  Correct again. Y’see, what I’m trying to say is that believing in things is how we construct the world we live in, and being judgmental is simply an expression of those beliefs.

But what if what I want to believe in, is Magic?

Than, you’ll be stuck in self-delusion forever, employing a steady flow of
lame rationalizations in order to validate your ridiculously mis-placed beliefs.

And that makes you an optimist?

No, I’m an optimist because I believe in things and have an opinion as to
how things should be in their perfect state. The most optimistic people in the world, my dear, are also the most healthily judgmental.   They are the people who have changed the world.  (To Audience:) I know what you’re thinking … but there IS a difference between being judgmental and just being crabby. Pioneers and leaders with strong visions of the future are judgmental. Sociopathic malcontents are crabby.  The fact that being judgmental has come to mean something negative or prejudicial is a reflection of how far our society has crumbled. The Politically Correct would eliminate judgmental feelings if they could. But they can’t. it’s human nature. And that’s good. A society where nobody cares about anything shrivels up and dies …

This is very enlightening, Mr. Betters,  but …

Did you ever meet my older brother?  Lester’s 104 now, and still waiting for
the big hello from Willard Scott. Every year he gets bumped by severe thunderstorm and tornado watches.  Which doesn’t upset Lester as much as it would me.  Lester seems to feel that a long life is directly proportional to your ability to make peace with the fact that things don’t always go your way. I suppose that’s true. Anyway, Lester thinks so …

I guess you don’t need me any more, huh?

Could you give me a ride to the Home on your way to your smell-a-thon?

Aromatheraphy … I’ll wait for you backstage.

(She exits) … I suppose Lester would also say that there’s no point in telling people that Magic doesn’t exist. Because they’ll just pretend it does.  When I gave up Magic seventy years ago, I knew it was the right decision for me. Let me read you my diary entries for my last day in Vaudeville … First, the W.I.S.B. … I sat in Joe’s diner, lingering over my bacon and eggs, this morning, thinking about the new direction my life was about to take. The trade papers, which I used to devour each week, in search of future employment, now sat in the chair beside me, waiting to be given to the dog act. I got to the theatre early, and went right to my dressing room to prepare. It was filled with flowers and telegrams from friends and family wishing me good luck in the future. Hank Johnson, the producer, came back before the last show to tell me how much he’d enjoyed my act, and if I ever changed my mind, he could get me at least four months of solid bookings at his other theatres statewide … (He closes the book.) I was next to closing on a bill which opened with a tramp juggler named Flip O’Connell, followed by the acrobatic Caswell twins, Piper’s Puppies, a male adagio team called Touch and Go, Velma Vincent, an accused murderess, whose act consisted of recounting the gory details of her “alleged” crime, a stooge act; Crenshaw and his Cretins, and headlining was Miss Maxine Maguire, the songbird of Trenton. (He reopens the W.I.S.B.) After my first piece of sleight-of-hand, the applause was enthusiastic. By the time I got to the big finish, where blindfolded, I cut Henrietta in half with a rotary saw, the audience was positively apoplectic. It felt like they
were never going to let us leave the
stage. We stole twelve bows, and I finally had to come back and make a short curtain speech before the crowd would let Maxine come on and warble a single note (Closes book.) The actual events played out somewhat differently: (Reads from the W.I.T.O.) I got to the theatre early and noticed they were installing a movie screen.  Hank Johnson says that he can’t afford to buck the trend anymore and that starting next week he’ll be cutting back on the live acts and replacing half of them with movies. The act went well, though not great. I fumbled one of the tricks, but adlibbed my way out of it. The audience, though sparse, was only slightly more than indifferent. Maxine Maguire kicked me in the shins as she made her entrance. After the show, I lingered backstage for as long as I could, just drinking things in. Finally, Mac, the stage manager came by and told me he wanted to lock up. His pals were waiting for him at the bar across the street. I apologized and, in the semi-darkness, made my way back to my dressing room. There, Henrietta was waiting for me with a sweet kiss. I changed out of my tux, washed my face, and threw my old
make-up sponges away.
(Closing the book) Then Crescendo the Magnificent and his lovely assistant, packed up their props and prepared to ship them to Akron, where my old mentor, the Great Greystone, would find a use for them. We had both grown too attached to the birds to think of giving them away, so Henrietta placed them in a small cage to take with us. I picked up our suitcases, and we left the theatre. Hal Fenster, a ventriloquist act playing up the block, stopped us just outside the stage door. He shook my hand and promised to send me the five dollars I lent him, as soon as he finished a split week in Omaha. I smiled sheepishly at Henrietta and she shrugged her
shoulders. I took her hand, and the
white doves cooed quietly as we walked through the alley leading out onto Main Street, where the street-lamps flickered with the glow of a new beginning  … The fact that today so many people look to Magic to solvetheir problems is a reflection of just how hopeless, powerless and out of control people believe their lives to be. And how lazy we’ve become. We need Magic as entertainment not as a belief system. Imposing Magic onto Life, blinds us to the fact that Life itself is Magic.  And Life’s wonders are magical for the very reason that they are out of our control. But that’s no way to live … Eventually we all need to re-establish control for ourselves and the way to do it is to be judgmental. Remember, your judgments are merely your mind’s attempts to express what is in your hearts. Your hearts hold your desires, which are, in turn, fed by your beliefs. It is those beliefs that enable us to muddle through this quagmire called life with some small shreds of optimism. And in the near future, you’re going to need all the positive vibes you can muster.   Trust me on that one.  Getting old is Life’s attempt to make to make you depressed, and you can’t get more negative than that … Well, you can, algebraically, but … Never mind. (He starts to exit) … What say I give the trick one more try, huh? … Angela? (She does not come on.) Oh, what the hell, I’ll do it myself. (He crosses to the trick. Still nothing appears.) So, all of a sudden you thought it was going to work? … (gesturing) Like a steam whistle … Look, if you want to feel more optimistic about things, consider this: No Utopia has ever given birth to a truly great society or civilization.  Great societies arise from the chaos of swamps.

(Angela enters.)

Did you call me, Mr. Betters?

Would you be good enough to carry this out to the car for me?

Certainly … Say, did you do the trick when I wasn’t here?

No, not exactly.

Then what’s this?
(She begins pulling a long silk scarf out of the cylinder.  After finishing with the scarf, she reaches in and pulls out a tape player.)

So that’s where my tape player went.

You’d better stop. God only knows what else you might find in there.

Oh. Okay … What happens now?

If we’re lucky, psychosomatic blindness.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  I will be taking next week off, but will be back with a year-end posting of the best haikus written by other dagbloggers this year.

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